Blog Archives

Author Update: Charlene Bell Dietz

Before retirement, Charlene Bell Dietz never planned to be an author. But with so many stories to tell, after a long-term career in education and decades of volunteering, she devoted herself to learning the art of storytelling. She published the first novel in her flapper/scientist series in 2016 and the second in 2017. The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut (2019) is her newest installment. You’ll find Charlene on her website at and on Facebook. Read more about her writing in her 2017 SWW interview.

What do you want readers to know about the story you tell in The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut?
Sometimes we all have an inspirational moment of not knowing what we know. The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut takes readers on a dream vacation to the Caribbean with a bio-medical scientist and her rather neglected husband. Beth, an obsessive and inquisitive scientist stirs up an angry nest of islanders. She’s unnerved when she discovers some of her fervently protected truths may not be truths at all. Beth, up until now, has always defended the hard-cold evidence of science. Similarly when things are not as they seem, the impossibility of it all baffles her—such as poisonous fish that appreciate music, an old woman whose cups of tea change everything, and then there’s the business of objects and people reappearing in unexpected places. Beth, perplexed by the nut, struggles to merge her scholarly beliefs with these strange new events in her life.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
This story became a blending of four cultures: islander, voodoo, Rastafarian, and tourist. When each of these groups appeared and interacted with each other, I didn’t want to write my characters with stereotypical behaviors. I strived to unveil the unique humanism within each.

Tell us how the book came together.
My first two books (The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur and The Flapper, the Impostor, and the Stalker), both stand-alones, had a central unanswered question concerning the main characters. I knew when I wrote the first book that this new book would need to be created. Essentially, while writing the others, I was thinking, plotting, and researching this third story. I guess you could say it’s been in my writer’s mind since the very beginning.

When I finally sat at the computer in July 2017 and started writing seriously on The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut, I was in the final stages of writing book two. It’s strange how this happens, but I never seem to only write one story at a time. However, before my books go to a professional editor or publisher, I have a critique group as well as a select handful of wonderful beta readers look them over. They are ruthless and don’t hesitate to send me running back to my computer. I’m forever grateful for their sharp eyes and high intelligence. With their help, the book was published in November 2019.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
There’s no counting the number of times and different ways I’ve experienced the magic of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, in September 2017 two category five hurricanes (two weeks apart), Irma and Maria, devastated many of the islands and some of the places in this story. When I started writing the book, the Internet showed Mad Dog Saloon on Virgin Gorda had been totally destroyed, and Little Dix Bay was pretty much wiped out. The charming Hotel 1829 on St. Thomas suffered severe damage.

With a heavy heart, I kept writing and checking the Internet. I started following blogs about people who may have been hurt or missing. Next, the lovely Hotel 1829 lost all its charm when someone turned it into a storage facility. I finally finished The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut and again, with heavy heart, checked the island news one last time. Someone had rebuilt Mad Dog and reopened it for business. A company had purchased Hotel 1829, and it’s now being restored. Reservations and rooms are being booked at the newly renovated Little Dix Bay. In some private, tiny magical way in my mind, my story helped participate in the rebirth of these wonderful places.

The titles for all your novels are intriguing. How did you choose the title for this latest book?
Ah, the titles! Conundrum comes to mind. It all started with the unending search for the title of my first book. This novel took forever to write, and in the final hour it still didn’t have an appropriate title. A solid title should tell the reader what to expect from the story without giving away the plot. The title possibilities left me totally flummoxed because this book had two story lines. One night, I sat next to the husband of a good friend at an awards banquet. He leaned over and said, “So, I understand your book is about a flapper and a scientist.” And—BAM!—there it was. I answered, “Yes, and a saboteur!” Not only did I have the title for this first book, I now had a format for the other two in the series: The Flapper, the Impostor, and the Stalker and The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut. Right up front the reader knows the strange array of characters who populate the story as well as a hint about the plot. (I liked the word play for nut—it could refer to a person or to part of the plot.)

When did you know the story/characters were strong enough for a series?
Way back in 2005, I sent my draft of book one (under its first title Behind Smoke and Mirrors) to a New York editor. He came back with high praise for my characters and voice. However, he informed me I had three books in one. He told me the book would never be published in its current form and sent me back to my computer to do a complete rewrite. He also told me I hadn’t a clue about plotting. Plotting? Well, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. He offered to help me learn, but warned that writing novels or any book has to be out of pure love, not out of expectations to be published. He insisted all my characters, even secondary ones, needed to learn and grow throughout their journeys.

Right from the first, I knew my material would have the strength to become three books. This was validated when I learned both The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur and The Flapper, the Impostor, and the Stalker had received Kirkus Starred Reviews and were named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2018.

Besides novels, you also write short stories. What is it about the short story form that draws you to it?
Writing short stories helps me focus. Whenever I puzzle over some plot point or some confusing concept that needs to be developed, or I just need time to think, I write a short story. Some of my award-winning short stories took me only a few hours to write—but days to polish. These short stories never have anything to do with my other works-in-progress.

Now that I’m forced to think about it, I believe it’s the control of the short story that attracts me. Every single word must be necessary. If it doesn’t drive the story forward, it needs to be cut. Still, you have all the elements of a novel to work with except for numerous characters, subplots, and multiple settings. Usually it doesn’t take long to develop the story, so there’s the reward of quick closure on the task. I have so many ideas, incidences, and exciting experiences dancing around in my head, it’s a relief to organize them, fictionalize them, and then corral them into something readable.

Which do you prefer: the creating, editing or researching aspect of a writing project?
Creating can be energizing as well as exhausting. It uses parts of the brain that require divergent thinking that must be presented in an intelligent, readable form. My books require abundant research, which I really enjoy. Except there’s always underlying fears with research: “Do I have it right? Have I left something important out?” Editing has many hats: looking for typos, misspellings, faulty word usage, grammar and punctuation, or plot holes. I detest this type of editing. I’m terrible at it and can’t spell worth a plastic banana.

However, I absolutely get lost in revisions. Revising is the whipped cream on top of it all. Thoughtful, mindful, careful revisions can make or break a good story. They help a plot flow more logically with a simple tweak such as moving a sentence or paragraph around. Reading the words out loud helps discover if the sentences are smooth and have an engaging cadence with the right tone. If the out-loud reading reveals rough passages, then rewording or finding a more powerful or correct word can make all the difference. Out-loud reading also lets the author actually hear the various characters speak. The last thing a book needs is all the characters sounding the same. Distinct voices can make the emotional parts of the story soar. If an author loves revision, the reader will love the book.

Tell us about your writing process or your writing routine.
I have no daily ritual. When I am inspired with an idea, I check to make sure it can actually be a good book. I do this by drafting a beginning (which always changes as I get into the story), and I draft the ending in my mind (because I want to know where I’m going but understand at this point the trappings of the ending will change). Then I do some research, if needed. When I’m satisfied, I start by jotting down several plot markers between the beginning and the end. If it’s a murder mystery, I can guarantee that the person I select to be the killer, won’t be.

And I think, research, and think some more. Long walks and driving helps this process. When the voices start talking to me, when I can actually hear the characters get emotional and discuss their conflicts and desires, I start to write. Halfway through each book, the characters wake me up in the middle of the night, screaming at me that I’ve got the wrong assassin. It happens every time. Unfortunately, they leave me to figure out who really dunnit.

What writing projects are you working on now?
My current project, a historical biographical novel, takes me away from the flapper-scientist series. Margaret Brent, one of thirteen children, was born in England in 1601 to an aristocratic Catholic family. She became a powerful-driving force to insure the security of Maryland. Today the American Bar Association still recognizes her accomplishments through a yearly Margaret Brent Award given to talented women attorneys who mentor other women. Little is known about her early life in England, and she left no diary or letters. As a spinster in 1638, she and a sister and two brothers sailed to the coast of Maryland to become part of the first 400 Englanders to settle there. Others share my questions about her: What motivated her to make the dangerous voyage across the ocean in a time when Catholics were prohibited to do so, probably on penalty of death? Why did she never marry? How did she gain the skills to present case after case (over 100 documented) to the Provincial Court and the General Assembly? Her aptitude to discuss political and legal matters reached the degree that Leonard Calvert, the Governor of Maryland, on his deathbed appointed her as his executrix.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?
If you’ve read a book you enjoy and want to show gratitude for the author’s work, there is no better way than to leave a book review. Authors love their readers, especially readers who let the world know how much they enjoy our stories.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Charlene Bell Dietz

In her search for “the parts of life that really matter,” Charlene Bell Dietz discovered “if you throw your heart and soul into what you care about,” the little things you fuss over disappear. She developed a firm foundation for creating plots and characters during a long-term career in education, plus time spent volunteering in the scientific community and caring for elderly relatives. The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur (2016) is her debut novel inspired by the real life of her mysterious aunt. Look for Charlene on her website and on Facebook.

What is your elevator pitch for the book?
In this novel a workaholic bio-medical scientist, Beth Armstrong, is torn between saving her sabotaged ground-breaking, multiple sclerosis research or honoring an obligation to care for her chain-smoking, Cuba-Libre drinking, ex-flapper aunt.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur crosses the traditional genre lines because the story intertwines corporate espionage with a generational battle-of-wills family saga. Even though I received kind and even complimentary rejections, I discovered most agents and larger publishing houses weren’t willing to put time or money into something this different.

Tell us about your main characters. Will those who know you recognize you in your main protagonist?
Being a nursemaid ranks a notch above catching the plague on Beth’s scale. She’s an obsessive professional dedicated to keeping her science institute a world-class organization. Unlike Beth, her aunt would prefer anything deadly to losing her independence under the care of her compulsive niece. While a murderous culprit runs loose in the science institute, frustrating Beth at every turn, her raucous aunt entertains Beth’s neglected husband with nightly cocktails and stories from the Roaring Twenties.

No one who’s read this story has ever mentioned that Beth reminds them of me. That’s a relief, because at first Beth might not be likeable to readers. I write a lot of short stories, and having my characters change from beginning to end is always on my must-do list. In this book, and also in my next book, I hope readers notice how at the end even my secondary characters have grown and changed from the beginning.

Why did you choose Colorado for the setting?
For over twenty-five years I volunteered at Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute at Sandia Laboratories in Albuquerque as their lay person for the Institute Animal Care and Use Committee. I read researchers’ protocols, participated in their monthly meetings, and helped the committee with their biannual inspection of all the animals. Since my story took some artistic license with what I know about research science institutes, and because my story highlighted the economic espionage act with some nasty characters, I needed to remove any suspicion concerning my imaginary story with my connection to the Sandia Laboratory institute.

Denver became the logical place for several reasons. When I was in grade school, I spent many summer days running all over the city with my young cousins via city bus. As kids do, we believed we owned the place—from the Capitol building stairs to the Aladdin Theater on Colfax to the elevators in the Museum of Natural History. As an adult, I continued to spend time there visiting relatives. I know the city. The size of Denver allowed me to invent a science institute without identifying its exact location. I also needed a small, mountain town several hours away for my protagonist’s family home. I’d once lived in Cañon City, Colorado, so it became my Valley View—with artistic license again.

How did the book come together?
When my mother died, her mysterious elder sister needed help. You guessed it. Her photo is the one on the cover of my book. She kept most of her antics as a flapper secret, but after an evening of rum and Cokes, she dropped names of people, places, and dates. Without her knowing, I took notes on anything handy—napkins, grocery receipts, envelopes, whatever I could put my hands on. When she died five years later I didn’t really know her story, but it needed to be told. Most of it is fiction, but still researching, editing, rewriting, getting rid of all the bad advice and keeping the good parts, plus finding a publisher took me well over ten years.

What did you enjoy most about writing the book?
Listening to my aunt’s voice in my head as I wrote made the writing easy. She seems to have won the favorite character award for this story, and I know why. When this aunt kicked up her heals as a teenager running away to Chicago, she gave up her college career. Probably because she didn’t get a high school diploma, she read all the time so she could prove she wasn’t stupid. She did seem to know everything about everything. I’ve discovered tremendous enjoyment in writing about strong women who follow their passions.

Is there a scene in The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur you’d love to see play out in a movie?
From the first conflict on page one to the final emotional last page, I wanted the reader to live every scene. Because of this, my writing style doesn’t use a lot of physical descriptions except when connecting bits of it to motives, emotions, and the characters’ deep internal conflicts. In my opinion, the whole book would make a tension-filled, eye-appealing movie—especially if Maggie Smith played the aunt (big smile here).

Your second book in the series (The Flapper, the Imposter, and the Stalker) will be released in the fall of 2017. What are the challenges of writing a series?
In The Flapper, the Imposter, and the Stalker the reader learns more about the ex-flapper aunt as a young woman. In 1923 this beautiful, bright teenage girl flees to Chicago looking for happiness, love, and an escape from being murdered. Since it’s a prequel to the first book, I had no problem creating it as a standalone. In the first book I give the reader hints about some of the aunt’s antics in the Roaring Twenties. Readers of the prequel may believe they’ve heard some of these tales before; however, now they’ll learn the full story behind all of her misbehaving.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
Before being awarded the 2016 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award in the First Book category, or being selected as a finalist in the International Book Award, I would have said the best compliment happened when a professional editor told me she couldn’t get my characters’ voices out of her head months after she’d finished working with my book. All the other compliments I’ve received naturally made me feel good inside—but kind of like your mom saying, “Good job, sweetie, I’m proud of you.” You know authors; we have fragile egos when it comes to our work. Having those award judges select my book from all those submitted totally validated my writing ability.

You mentioned you took lots of notes when your aunt told some of her stories from her flapper days. What have you done with them, and where can readers buy your book?
The notes are amusing to read. I never knew what might come out of her mouth: funny, inappropriate, or heartfelt. I’ve slid each of them into sleeve protectors in a three-ring binder. Along with photos, these are items I take to show-and-tell after a book club has read the book. When a book club reads The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur, I’m excited to come, answer questions, and show them the rest of the story. Book clubs can message me through Facebook or email me at Op Cit in Taos and Santa Fe, along with Collected Works, has copies of my book, as does Bookworks, Treasure House Books, and Barnes & Noble in Albuquerque. Naturally, it can be ordered online, too.

What writing project are you working on now?
Whenever I need a break, I write short stories. Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers published one last year in their anthology. I’m submitting two more for consideration in other anthologies. In a few days I’ll get back to the third book in the Flapper series. This one takes place in time right after The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur. Right now I’m about fifty percent through the first draft.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

Sign Up for Elerts  Stay Connected

SWW YouTube Videos

Search Posts


More information about SWW Programs can be found on WhoFish.