Before commencing her career in writing, Diane Hester was a professional violinist. Born in New York, she attended the Eastman School of Music and went on to play in the Rochester Philharmonic. In 1978, she secured a position in the Adelaide Symphony and has lived in Australia ever since.
Since discovering writing, Diane has done little else. When she isn’t hard at work at her latest novel, she’s planning her critique group’s next retreat or a workshop for her local writing club. RUN TO ME, her debut novel, combines a love of Hitchcock-style suspense with memories of summer vacations in New England, her favorite place on earth.
From professional concert violinist to thriller writer is quite a leap, what lead you to do it?
When I married, I left the Adelaide Symphony and moved to Port Lincoln (a small country town on Australia’s south coast) where my husband was teaching. My performing options were limited there so I began to explore other creative outlets. Once I discovered writing, however, I never looked back.
What took you from the States to Australia?
I was young and wanted to travel, so when I was offered a position in the Adelaide Symphony I accepted. I only planned to stay in Australia for a couple years, but my husband loved his job so much we ended up staying.
Give us the elevator pitch of RUN TO ME.
Set in the woods of northern Maine, a woman suffering post traumatic stress saves a homeless boy from killers and comes to believe he’s the son she lost two years earlier.
How’d the idea for the thriller present itself to you?
Oddly the idea didn’t ‘come’ to me, I went looking for it. I started by making lists of all my favorite stories and plot elements: movies, books, protagonists, villains, settings, situations, etc. I then went through the lists and tried to define what I loved about each item, and discovered there were recurring elements. (Adults befriending children was one, the belief there are still kind, noble people in the world was another, and my love of New England forests was a third.) I decided these elements must have special resonance for me so I put them all together and said, ‘Right, this is what you have to work with, come up with a story.’ It turned out to be a good move as I have never enjoyed writing a story as much as RUN TO ME.
It sounds like you’ve written other novels. What happened with those?
When I first started writing, I wasn’t sure what genre I wanted to write. I tried several before deciding suspense was the one I loved most. RUN TO ME is actually my eighth novel – the others I’m prepared to chalk up to practice.
Is there any aspect of being a professional violinist that has helped you in your writing?
Definitely! In preparing to pitch my work to editors at writers’ conferences, I used the same visualization exercises I used in preparing for a performance. Also, the many hours I spent practicing violin gave me the discipline to do the same with writing. And, believe it or not, I think having studied musical form actually helps me with pacing a novel – how to build tension and create the right balance of highs and lows. And, lastly, from years of missing out at auditions I learned never to give up.
Why did you set RUN TO ME in the Maine woods and not somewhere in the Outback of Australia?
New England is my favorite place on earth and I love writing about it. I wanted a setting that was remote and wild and I know that northern Maine has been called ‘the last remaining wilderness in the eastern US,’ so it seemed perfect.
You belong to a critique group, does that help you as a writer?
I’ve been a member of the same crit group for 14 years! The four of us have evolved into a tightly knit team and I can’t tell you how much I value the feedback I get from the others. My partners have seen me through every stage of this book’s development – from the first glimmer of an idea to the final edit of the final revision.
Would you recommend a critique group to a novice writer? A published writer?
One thing I’ve learned from my years of critiquing is that it is an art and you can do more harm than good if you aren’t careful. Feedback should vary, not just for different stages of a project but also for the writer’s level of skill. So my advice would be the same for any writer: Be sure you’re ready to receive criticism on your work and choose your partners carefully. Play the field a bit before committing to a long-term relationship. And in the end, choose people who bring out your best writing, and avoid like the plague those who discourage you.
As a writer, are you looking at your character Shyler O’Neil to be a series character?
I think what Shyler went through in the story was just too intense to make her a series character. At this point, I can’t imagine putting her through something like that again, but it’s possible I’ll change my mind.
What background research did you use to create Shyler? Or is she drawn from real life?
I don’t know anyone in my life like Shyler. I had to do a fair bit of reading on post traumatic stress disorder to understand her. Other than that, I pretty much use Hitchcock’s philosophy of creating characters: first decide what your character must do, then give them enough characteristics to make it seem plausible that they would do it.
What are you working on now?
Another thriller set in another fictitious New England town. This time it’ll either be set on a cape or an island, I haven’t decided. The villain (a woman) is fast turning into a cross between Norman Bates and Annie from MISERY!
Do you have any plans of doing signings outside of Australia?
Not at the moment. At this stage I’m still waiting to hear what other countries will publish my book in print. My husband and I are hanging out to visit family in the States, so I’m hoping the book comes out there and we can combine our trip with a book signing tour.
Do you consider yourself an Australian writer who writes about Maine or an ex-pat who writes about home?
The latter, definitely. I think the reason I write about that part of the US is because I miss it so much! And actually I’m still a US citizen so it’s not out of the question that we’ll end up spending more time there when my husband retires.
How can readers find out more about you?
Born in New York, Diane came to Australia in 1978 as a violinist with the Adelaide Symphony. RUN TO ME, her debut novel, combines a love of Hitchcock-style suspense with memories of summer vacations in New England, her favourite place on earth.
To learn more about Diane, please visit her website.