Diane, would you introduce yourself to readers?
I’m a former tax advisor who escaped the Internal Revenue Code and tax forms to do something much more fun – writing crime fiction! I became fascinated with white-collar crime while still working my day job. I accidentally worked for criminals a couple times. Yikes! Lest I end up behind bars myself, I figured self-employment was a good idea.
Would you introduce us to Officer Megan Luz and her K-9 partner, Brigit?
Like most of us, Megan and Brigit are both typical American mutts. Megan has both Irish and Mexican roots, while Brigit is primarily shepherd with some who-knows-what tossed in. Both are skilled, clever, and doggedly determined to bring the bad guys to justice. Megan aspires to become a detective one day and, though she’s technically still a beat cop, is often drawn into investigations thanks to a couple of detectives from her station who realize how smart and hardworking she is. Brigit and Megan make a formidable team and, despite a rocky start, have become best friends.
Tell us about Paw of the Jungle, without spoilers.
I like to feature unusual crimes in my books, and this one is no exception. In this book, animals go missing from the city zoo. How the animals are removed with nobody noticing is a big mystery. I am personally very interested in animal welfare, and this book allowed me to explore the issue. When I first submitted the synopsis to my publisher, I’ll admit I had no idea how I was going to get the animals out of the zoo, especially the huge rhino. But I figured it would be fun to see how I would get myself out of the corner I’d backed myself into. Ha ha! I always have a secondary crime subplot and, in this book, it involves stolen jewelry.
This is the eighth book in the Paw Enforcement series. What interested you in writing about a K-9 team?
After writing my IRS Agent Tara Holloway series, I realized how fun it was to write not only a feisty, strong heroine, but to also give her some authority, training, and weapons. I decided a female police officer would star in my second series. I’ve always been a dog lover, so giving her a canine sidekick seemed natural. I have three dogs and they bring a lot of unintentional comedy to our lives, so I knew a K-9 would be a fun and funny character to put in a book.
Tell us about your local citizens’ academy.
The classes stretched over three months and were so interesting and helpful. The instructors were members of law enforcement, and they taught us the ins and outs of police work, everything from traffic stops to crime scene techniques to K-9 handling. The night Officer Hatch brought his K-9 partner Rocket to class for a demonstration, I was absolutely fascinated. The dog didn’t obey immediately, truth be told. But once Rocket spun around and relieved himself of the “load” he was carrying, he performed an efficient building search, finding the hidden person in mere seconds. We students got a kick out of that.
Two of your series are set in Texas. What do you love about that state?
Texas was home to me for most of my life. I grew up primarily in Austin, which is in central Texas, and then lived a large part of my adult life in the suburbs of Dallas-Fort Worth. The cities have distinct personalities that form a good backdrop for the stories. Dallas is sophisticated and upscale, while Fort Worth embraces both its western heritage and the arts. People in Texas are pretty friendly overall, but they’re not shy about putting their crazy on display, either. My latest series, the House Flipper series, is set in Nashville, Tennessee, where I lived from 2014-2016.
Now, a few personal questions. Tell us about your favorite books when you were a child.
I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, and so did my two older sisters. We lived in the Midwest when I was very young (before moving to Austin). My family took family vacations to visit several of Laura Ingalls’s homes, much to the dismay of my older brother, who got tired of going to “another one of that pioneer girl’s houses.” I also liked books where girls had a mission or adventure. I remember one called The Witch’s Buttons that was magical and fun. I also liked Strawberry Girl and Depend on Katie John. Like a lot of girls, I had a horse fetish, and I loved Misty of Chincoteague. The Harriet the Spy books were great, too. She was so bold and didn’t seem to care what people thought, a trait I admired in her. I also remember a really creepy book called Dorp Dead (the title was intentionally and ironically misspelled by the author). It’s about a boy who is essentially held hostage by a man who is very particular about the way things must be done. It was terrifying, but incredibly engaging.
Neil Gaiman said, “Trust your obsession.” Did you ever have an obsession that you had to turn into a story? What was it?
After working twice for white-collar criminals, I became obsessed with figuring out why people do it. I was shocked the people I knew would risk their careers, reputations, and even families just for money. Was it greed? Power? Some type of sick thrill? I’m not sure I’ll ever know the real answer. I also have a bunch of minor obsessions that become small parts of my stories. I love cats and dogs, so naturally they play prominently into my stories. I also love muscle cars. My granny had a blue ’72 Nova that had a powerful engine and was a blast to drive. I’d always offer to run errands for her just so I could drive the car around. It’s no coincidence that Seth, the firefighter boyfriend in my Paw Enforcement series, drives that exact car. I love old Victorian houses, too, and that’s just the type of house I had my Tara Holloway character grow up in. I went through several food kicks that ended up as titles and elements in my Tara Holloway series. Death, Taxes, and a Skinny No-Whip Latte. Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangria. Death, Taxes, and Green Tea Ice Cream. Death, Taxes, and Sweet Potato Fries.
If you had to recommend 5 books to a person so they could get a feel for your reading taste, what 5 would you pick?
The first would be Janet Evanovich One for the Money. It’s hilarious, and the interplay between the characters is so much fun. For the same reason, I’d recommend Carl Hiaasen’s Tourist Season (or any of his funny mysteries, for that matter). Christopher Moore is incredibly creative, and his descriptions are often nothing short of masterpieces. In his book Fluke, he described the sound whales make as “an ambulance driving through pudding.” But his book Fool is the one I’d recommend if someone is only going to read one of them. Christie Craig’s Divorced, Desperate, and Delicious is an absolute hoot, and the first in her Divorced, Desperate series. Finally, I’d recommend Operation: Afterlife by Angela Cavener. She was a valuable critique partner and expert plotter, and she helped me immensely in developing my early works. I also love the humor of Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry.
Diane, I’m a librarian. I usually end with this. Please tell us a story about you and a library or librarians.
Libraries are heaven on earth! My father was in the Air Force, so when I was young I not only had access to the school library and city library collections, but I could also borrow books from the library on base. Having easy access to three libraries and so many books made me feel like the luckiest kid in the world! As an adult, I want to make sure today’s children (and adults) have access to lots of great material, too, and I’ve been active with the Friends of the Library to help make that happen.
Diane, thank you for answering questions, and for your active support of libraries!
Diane Kelly's website is www.dianekelly.com
Paw of the Jungle by Diane Kelly. St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2019. ISBN 9781250197375 (paperback), 368p.