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Suspense and Thrills: 
All in a Day’s Job
for This Lawyer

An Interview with M. Diane Vogt

By Elaine S. August

 

 

 

 

Diane Vogt successfully uses a contemporary blending of colorful Tampa flavors with a judicial touch to keep you one step behind the guilty. M. Diane Vogt’s third novel Gasparilla Gold is due out late this year. It continues with the Judge Willa Carson series. Diane’s writing triumphs, when picking up on all the flavors and settings as she walks us around the Tampa area so uniquely - you feel as if you are a part of the blend that has been captured by her love of the city. Diane Vogt is, in fact, a southern girl at heart - retaining her Alabama roots that keep shining through when she discusses favorite things. A wonderful dinner party, setting out the china, music, and of course, some lovely jewelry from shopping excursions - all make up one part of the author who has a long track record as a most respected trial attorney. Her career has taken her into co-authoring PeopleWealth’s book, Keeping Good Lawyers and is honored by her peers with being chosen to join the few as ‘a Leading Florida Attorney’. This background infuses Willa with all the makings for the dynamic character she presents.

 

Wilhelmina Carson, your main character and protagonist, is a wonderful blend as a feminine woman, with all the caring and senses about her - and moves into a no-nonsense mode without you even noticing - as a U.S. District Court Judge. How closely does Willa resemble you?

Willa is many things I and all women should aspire to be. She is strong and intrepid, knows her mind, is comfortable in her body and her life.  She keeps a healthy balance between work and play, and she focuses on what's important to her. Like Willa, I am a risk taker, and we both go after what we want. The rest of her qualities, I'm still working on! Willa's fears are not my fears. Her main character flaw is a deep fear of abandonment following the death of her mother when Willa was a teen. My mother is very much alive and well. I chose this Achilles heel for Willa because she could then be fearless otherwise--another goal of mine.

You've had an extensive legal career as a litigator and professor in both Florida and Michigan. Have your own personal experiences lead you into the paths of some questionable situations just right for hidden homicides?

Like many writers, I get most of my ideas out of the newspaper. When a homicide occurs in the arenas where I've had some experience, I'm always astonished. The main theme of all the Willa books is that nothing is ever what it appears. My personal experience bears this out. So often, I am absolutely sure I know the answer to something, but that knowledge is based on incomplete information. Willa blunders around and eventually figures it out, all while looking so cool, calm and collected to the outside world.

Tampa certainly is unique for a setting with the cultural and architectural diversity contrasting the military establishment. What actually inspired you to use this locale for your books?

I moved to Tampa in 1992 and just fell in love with the area. Tampa has a rich cultural history, a unique blend of "Old South" and "New Florida," and a very friendly atmosphere. On the commercial side, there were no mysteries set here, so I thought mystery readers might be ready for a new experience.

What is the biggest influence that drives your writing?

My goals are to write a continuing series with a long life that can be enjoyed in both print and on film; involving inspirational characters readers care about; dealing with issues that require some thoughtful consideration by the reader; and provide both of us with a fun learning experience.

I admire your absolute decision to 'keep the story' - clean! How do you view the challenges and trends in today's market by doing so?

Actually, writing "clean" stories is more popular than you might think. My youngest reader so far is age 9 and my eldest (that I know about) is 95.  I believe I reach a broader audience with a "clean" story than I would otherwise. Besides, I need to write things my mother and grandmother can read without embarrassing me!

With the many demands on your time - practicing law, writing and serving on a number of community tasks - how do you avoid burnout and could you tell us about some of your favorite achievements? Have you incorporated some of this into your stories?

I think of myself as a life-long learner. My work in improving job satisfaction for lawyers has taught me that goal directed behavior is the single most significant indicator of human happiness. To stay happy and productive (and happy and productive and happy . . . ) is my main goal in life. There are any number of reasons for doing that, not the least of which is the "use it or lose it" reality of the human mind. So burnout isn't a real problem for me because I use my goal setting techniques to keep myself in balance--or at least, that's the theory! :)

I often allow Willa to learn about things that I want to learn about; to struggle with people I struggle with; and to enjoy the things I enjoy.  For example, I absolutely love the cafe con leche, the strong Cuban coffee with milk that Willa guzzles by the gallons-full. She and I drive the same car and we both have collected an extensive Herrend Zoo. But I also give her things I will never have, such as a grand old home on a private island, a five-star restaurant, and an enjoyment of running.

You have stated that taking the reader up to the end to solve the mystery is your preference. How do you find your writing differs by doing this, rather than leading us up to the scoundrel?

This is a very difficult thing for me to do, because once I know who the killer is, I can never "un-ring the bell." I ask my readers to tell me, "when did you figure out who did it?" If the answer is anything other than, "not until you told me," I head back to the drawing board.  Like most things about the Willa Carson series, the reason I try to keep the reader guessing is that I prefer to read books in that style myself. I figure if I like it, other readers might, too.

Is your ending ever different than planned because you found a different path by surprise?

All the time. It's a lot of the fun of writing for me.

Are you interested in joining 'the bench' as Willa did and continuing your circle of accomplishments?

Absolutely not!!! I have several friends and acquaintances who are judges. For the most part, I feel it's a very hard job with very few rewards. I feel very grateful that there are good people who are willing to serve our legal system and our society in the role of judge. Alas, I am not so altruistic!

Gasparilla Gold is due out in the Fall of 2001. Following Silicone Solution and Justine Denied - both Wilhelmina and George Carson have gone through some challenges and revelations. Will they be back with their sunsets, sipping cocktails, and allowing the evening breeze to work magic?

Of course they will. My plan is for George and Willa to live forever. As long as the readers enjoy them, that's what I plan to do.

It seems the marketplace for mystery remains the most popular genre today. Why do you think people are so fascinated with a character falling from grace and the 'murder' element in a story?

Most of my readers are more interested in the "puzzle" aspects of the murder or other crime than the psychological abnormalities of murderers.  My books have no on-screen violence and there is always a strong human emotional motive for murder. I think those who read the darker side are seeking to scare themselves to death!

In Justice Denied, George shares the stage with Willa. Will this continue and will there be other new main characters?

Yes, there will be other main characters in each new book. For example, in Gasparilla Gold, we learn quite a bit about Willa's secretary, Margaret Wheaton and Willa's dad, James Harper. In book four, Six Bills, another whole cast of characters will be with us. Each of the Willa books has three story lines, all of which are related to the plot: the main murder mystery, the sub-plot having to do with Willa's courtroom, and the "Willa story," having to do with what's going on in Willa's personal life. George and Willa will always have a major role. The supporting characters will vary.

What do you see as the difficulties in the industry today?

The book business has more opportunities for writers now than at any time in the last twenty years, just because getting published is easier than ever. Print on Demand technology and companies like iUniverse (who has a contract with MWA members) make getting your work into print and keeping it there much easier. The struggles are still with getting the books to readers and the amount of competition for readers this abundance of publishing opportunities has created.

What are your thoughts for writers trying to break into the publishing world?

The happiest writers I know are the ones who go into the business with a realistic view of what's involved and a genuine love of writing. So I would say that developing those two traits will serve any writer well these days. The third most important trait is a genuine willingness and desire to market your own work. Publishers don't have the time or the money to do as much as they once did. If you're not going to promote your work, you are less likely to sell it to a publisher in the first place and substantially less likely to sell it to readers. While a publicist can do much of the "grunt" work of promotion for you, readers will want to connect with you personally. Some writers are so shy that they find this aspect of the business too hard to do. You can save yourself a lot of frustration by developing a healthy friendship with the idea on the front end!


From Diane’s twenty-first floor office window, she has the feel of island living; although it is downtown Tampa. The skyline is much changed since its’ early days of being the Gulf’s gateway as a frontier station and cattle center. Yet one can still find samplings of the olden times here. The view inspires this author with the living history and provides her with "divine inspiration".

I wonder if she will see Willa skating along Bay Shore Boulevard at sunrise?  Minaret is Willa and George’s apartment/home above the restaurant.  Actually Henry Plant built such a home and the Tampa Bay Hotel. The hotel was a grand winter destination attracting the likes of Teddy Roosevelt! It is now part of the University of Tampa. The onion domes still sit atop the building showing off the Moorish design. The nineteenth century home had a ballroom that has been transformed as the dining area for Minaret in the series. Vogt sets up wonderful scenes here among the antiques - where the elite mix with aromas from the kitchen delights and perfumes of the famous and infamous. It is as if she has brought Henry Plant back to life! When Willa and George decide to retire for a casual evening alone upstairs, they might call down and have dinner sent up. And perhaps afterwards - brandy and a cigar on the veranda overlooking the Gulf. Good dining. Great storytelling!


M. Diane Vogt’s Official Web Site: http://www.mdianevogt.com

 

Selected Books by M. Diane Vogt

Justice Denied, Writer’s Showcase Press, 2000

Silicone Solution, Sterling House Pub., 1999


© 2001 Elaine S August, All Rights Reserved