Wednesday, May 8, 2013

My Family Is Driving Me Crazy

Today I’m pleased to be hosting Lesley Diehl, a retired professor of psychology and author of several murder mysteries: Dumpster Dying, Grilled, Chilled and Killed, A Deadly Draught, Poisoned Pairing, and Angel Sleuth. I asked her about two topics on which she is an expert: murder mysteries and the psychology of family relations. Now that’s a killer blog!

Family and Murder

In the programs I do for libraries, literary groups and others, I often comment on the downside of being a psychologist.  Many assume that if you chose to go into the mental health field it was because of family issues.  So I say in defense, “No one assumes that Mary became a mathematician because she couldn’t add a column of numbers.  Sadly, however, there is much truth to the assumption that many psychologists choose the field because of family history.  In my case, I can safely say it was because my mother was more than a little odd.  Okay, she was crazy I guess.  My father, however, was about as sane and normal as a guy can be.  Me?  I carry some of Mom’s kookiness, but I knew when I was about three that she wasn’t like other mothers and by my teenage years, I knew better than to blame myself.  Goes to show you how one normal parent can help.

My family background coupled with my training can’t help but influence my writing. I think its impact is not as direct as one would suspect. I don’t dwell on the mentally unstable adults and their impact on their children; rather I focus on the family broadly defined and weave that together with my background in developmental psychology specifically with the issue of individual identity. Identity seems to me to be the major developmental hurdle for all of us, and it is one we confront again and again, redefining who we are when confronted with challenges in our lives. 

Murder constitutes a perfect challenge to use as a way of viewing a protagonist’s change and growth. Like other developmentalists, I believe we leap forward in making ourselves emotionally, socially and intellectually stronger when confronted by life change events. Certainly finding a dead body can be construed as one of them!  And events requiring adjustment can shake the identity we’ve so carefully constructed, even positive happenings.

In the case of my protagonist Hera in the microbrewing series (i.e. Deadly Draught and Poisoned Pairing), she has defined herself as a microbrewer with a love for her art. But what about when she stumbles over the dead body of her closest competitor? And what happens when she falls back in love with her old college flame? Who is she now? I answer that in the book by forcing her to find the killer to save her business. She’s suddenly an amateur sleuth. And her passion for her old lover?  It opens her heart to the possibility of love again, of taking emotional chances.

In my other work set in rural Florida (i.e. Dumpster Dying, Grilled and Chilled and Killed), I focus on family by examining what happens to both my protagonist and her friend when they keep family secrets. In this case I do so with humor, yet the message that change is necessary when confronted by murder and the truth influences both of their lives.

Only in my stand alone work, Angel Sleuth do I explore the impact of bad parenting upon the adult child, and, in this case, the mother is not so much mentally unhealthy as simply confused and in need of some identity work of her own.

In all my work, I enjoy writing about the family and identity and making murder the vehicle for my protagonist’s journey in the book. What issues do you like to explore in your protagonists’ lives to propel them toward change? A man, a parent, a child, emotional damage, money, career issues, marriage, children?

Learn more about Leslie at her website: and her blog