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Here is some fast facts on her:
- She’s written over twenty novels.
- A native of Plainfield, New Jersey
- Diane is a fan of Victoria Holt and Sinclair Lewis.
- She went to Glassboro State College in New Jersey before heading out to San Diego. Once there she received both her B.S. and her Masters in social work from San Diego State University.
Amie Flanagan: In your book, Necessary Lies, you reveal the story through alternating viewpoints. I love that you approach each chapter through first person narrative. In The Silent Sister, you tell the story from first person narrative. How did you decide that this form of storytelling was the best way to tell this story?
Diane Chamberlain: I often write in the first person. I love the sense of closeness I feel to the character when writing in the first person and I think it translates to a sense of closeness for the reader as well. In Necessary Lies, I wanted to tell the story from the perspectives of both Jane and Ivy—a young woman who had power and a young woman who had none—and I wanted the reader to relate closely to both of them. I hope the first person narrative helped me achieve that. In The Silent Sister, though, I had a different motive. The central character, Riley, tells her story in the first person. However, when I write about her sister Lisa I switch to the third person. I did this to clearly differentiate their ‘voices’ and to more clearly indicate that in Lisa’s point of view, I’m going back in time.
AF: Did you find it difficult to go from one perspective to the other in Necessary Lies?
Diane Chamberlain: No, it was quite easy because Jane and Ivy are such different characters. One has money and education; the other is poor and poorly educated. I actually found it fun to move back and forth between their stories to explore their different perceptions of the world around them.
AF: The characters in both Necessary Lies and The Silent Sister were so amazingly real. How do you come up with your characters? Do they just come to you? Do you base them on real people? Do you plan your characters out?
Diane Chamberlain: I’ve almost never based a character on a real person. I find that far too limiting; I can’t make them do things that real person would never do. What fun is that? When I’m thinking about a character, I think in terms of creating someone who would have the hardest possible time coping with the situation I’m throwing her (or him) into. That instant conflict makes a story more interesting. My favorite way to develop a character is to have that person “talk” to me. I usually sit with a pad and pen and ask the person to tell me how they feel about what’s happening in the book. As a former therapist, I’m good at that! It’s amazing the sort of responses I get from my characters. They (and my subconscious) are always surprising me.
AF: How do you choose the best character to tell the story?
Diane Chamberlain: The first thing I always ask myself is “whose story is this?” Since I frequently write from multiple points of view, I also ask myself who has the most at stake in a particular scene. That’s who will carry that scene in the narrative.
AF: Each story you write is so profoundly moving. Do you outline your storyline or do you just tell the story as it comes to your mind?
Diane Chamberlain: Thank you for that compliment. I am an outliner. I can’t seem to move forward until I know the beginning, middle, and end of a story. However, the outline often turns out to be a wasted exercise, since once the characters start moving around “on stage”, they tend to change the story. That’s all right. I’ve discovered they frequently have better ideas than those I came up within the outline.
AF: I love that The Silent Sister is more of a mystery while Necessary Lies is more of a light that shows a time in history people don’t think about. How do you determine the type of story you’re going to write?
Diane Chamberlain: That decision is never conscious. I start thinking about a situation I want to explore and begin to build on it organically in my imagination. Sometimes there is a mystery, sometimes the focus in merely on relationships. I don’t set out to make my novels fit into a particular slot or genre, which is why my stories are as varied as they are.
AF: You discuss a very difficult and quite alarming aspect of history in North Carolina in Necessary Lies. Did you use your background as a social worker to investigate the idea of sterilization? How did you research this topic?
Diane Chamberlain: I was able to meet the woman who blew the whistle on North Carolina’s forced sterilization program. She was an enormous help to me, sharing transcripts of her interviews with social workers and program administrators as well as some of the minutes from meetings of the Eugenics Board. As for my social work background, it wasn’t helpful in research so much as it was in my creation of the character Jane. I could understand her feelings about her work. And as someone with a masters degree in social work, I could also recognize how ill prepared she was through her lack of social work training.
AF: After you did your research, how did you tell this beautifully moving story without dumping a lot of information into the reader’s lap?
Diane Chamberlain: I tried to keep in mind that I wanted Necessary Lies to be an engaging read rather than a history lesson, so I focused on the human story and the relationships between the characters. The history is secondary.
AF: I love how I read the first chapter of your books and get instantly pulled into your stories. How do you determine how to start a story?
Diane Chamberlain: I also like being pulled instantly into a story when I read, so I work hard to make that the case for my readers as well. I try to enter the story at a point where there is some mystery, some question of “what is really going on?” Hopefully, with an engaging character posing that question, the reader will want to read on.
AF: You have an amazing ability to make a person feel immersed in your stories. I know I personally felt instantly connected with the characters and could vividly see everything the character saw. What is your secret to creating such a visceral reaction?
Diane Chamberlain: I think it goes back to having conversations with my characters. That helps me feel connected to them and emotionally attached to them. I also keep in mind a lesson from Novel Writing 101: use all five senses when describing a scene. If I describe what a character sees, hears, smells, tastes, and touches, chances are my reader will experience what the character does as well.
AF: What advice would you give to future writers?
Diane Chamberlain: Select a career or volunteer work that puts you in touch with people. That’s the only way I know to feed that creative well we all need in order to write rich and intriguing stories.