Deep From the Archives
This is an author interview that I did in 1996.
The Strange Files of Fremont Jones by Dianne Day
After Dianne Day’s youngest son started college, she awoke one fine Saturday morning and realized, “Hey, I can do whatever I want today, as long as it doesn’t cost too much.”
“And, that was when I knew that i wanted to write a whole novel more than anything else in the world,” Day said. “So, I bought an electronic typewriter from Seas on the never-never plan, and I wrote one. That experienced hooked me and I’ve never stopped writing since.”
“I think I waited that long to start writing because, somehow, I knew that once I started, I wouldn’t stop,” she said, “and that I would become obsessive about it and sacrifice things like hobbies and a social life in order to have time to write—which is exactly what happened.”
Once she plunged into her writing career, Day wrote a romance novel because she’d heard they were easiest to sell. “That was a mistake, though,” she said. “I got an agent with it, but he was never able to sell it because I broke too many of their rules. I told I really wanted to write mysteries because that’s what I like to read.”
Her agent discouraged her from writing a mystery. “I was too new and raw to understand what was going on,” she said. “We finally compromised on what is called romantic suspense.”
So, Day went on to write eight novels and one novella, all paperback originals. “But, I was still frustrated and rebellious,” she said. “I wanted to write a mystery, even if it cost me my agent.”
To make matters worse, “I was living in the South in an academic community where I’d gotten stuck after my divorce, and I had no support group of people who were writing popular fiction.”
Day envisioned a mystery that took place in San Francisco, because she’d lived in San Jose as a child and she missed the area. “I thought if I wrote about it, I could at least do my research there,” she said. “But I knew there were a lot of contemporary mysteries set in San Francisco, so I decided to do a historical.”
“Now, it happened that my agent had also recently nixed another historical idea from me,” she added, “so that was equally pleasing to my rebellious nature. So, I thought up Fremont—dreamed her, actually—and I let her rip!”
In The Strange Files of Fremont Jones, the young, well-bred Fremont leaves her family on the East Coast to find her own fortune on the opposite coast. Setting up a writing service, she types letters and manuscripts for people on her amazing new machine, the typewriter. One mysterious customer then leads her into adventures she’s never imagined were possible.
Day said this book was hard to plot. “I did what I call free-form plotting,” she said. “The characters are what I’m more interested in. For me, the plot comes later. I like to start with an idea of what I want to do, an idea of what the crime in and whodunit and how it will end, but then I left the rest of it just take shape.”
“With Strange Files, I didn’t even do that—and it shows,” she said. “I’ll probably never write another book like that again. The inclusion of the Gothic stuff was pretty much a one-shot deal, and the story within a story is head to repeat, although I did so some of that in Fremont #3.”
The second book in the series, Fire and Fog, has only recently been released. In that book, the newly settled Fremont is once again uprooted when an earthquake destroys the boarding house where she was staying. While learning to drive around in an automobile, Fremont offers first aid to earthquake victims, as she tries to sort out her confusing romantic life. At the same time, she puzzles about the strange deaths of the Swedish couple who used to rent office space to her.
“I’m about to be reviewed n Marilyn Stasio’s column in the New York Times Book Review,” Day said. “And, I’d like people to realize the important part that historical mysteries can play in life. They give us an opportunity to learn about a period in history as well as have the fun of a mystery.”
“For that reason,” I try to be very accurate and probably do much more research than is necessary,” she said. “I’ve read many romances that are just plain irresponsible where history is concerned.”
She reveals bits of the future of Fremont Jones in the upcoming books of the series. Book three, The Bohemian Murders, will find Fremont traveling to Carmel while San Francisco is rebuilding after the earthquake. There, she’ll meet the artists and writers who settled there. “A wild bunch,” Day said, “to be sure.”
In book four, Fremont returns to San Francisco, in Emperor Norton’s Ghost. The fifth book sends her back to her home in Boston for a while (note: this became Death Train to Boston) and, in book six, she’ll be working towards women’s suffrage in California (note: this became Beacon Street Mourning).
Day is also working on a new standalone suspense novel titled Forced Choice. “The is on spec, with no publisher yet.”
She reminisces about her first-ever mystery, written when she was just eight years old. “It was called The Case of the Cross-Eyed Cat, and the heroine was named Misty Waters,” she said. “I kid you not. It was 30 or so pages long.”
Day enjoys helping beginning writers write their first mysteries. “The best kind of mentoring I can do is the sort of encouragement that I couldn’t get when I was so isolated in an academic community,” she said. “Now I can help people feel that they aren’t alone, and that there is hope.”