By Karen Harper
Fans of romantic suspense will be impressed with DiAnn Mills’s latest thriller, FATAL STRIKE. Mills’s story, her attention to detail, and her immersive research—she spends time in the trenches with working FBI agents—all add up to a blockbuster novel. Mills also mentors other writers through organizing author groups and conferences. With more than 40 published novels under her belt so far, she’s a busy and talented writer to watch.
In this exclusive chat with The Big Thrill, Mills talks about conducting research with the FBI, finding an unusual murder method for her latest villain, and giving back to a writing community that helped her gain the confidence she needed to become such a prolific author.
Please tell us what your new book, FATAL STRIKE, is about.
There’s a killer on the loose in Galveston, targeting law enforcement officials and using a fatal injection of snake venom to take them down. Authorities have reasons to believe the Veneno gang is behind the hits, and FBI Agents Leah Riesel and Jon Colbert team up to track down those responsible. Their best lead is an eyewitness who identifies a young man dumping the third body on a church doorstep. But their suspect has gone into hiding, and those closest to him are reluctant to reveal anything that might help investigators find him.
As Leah and Jon check connections among the victims and dig deeper into motives, they discover appearances may be deceiving. Someone is desperate to keep their secrets hidden, and Leah and Jon must face their greatest fears in order to stop the next fatal strike.
The cover of FATAL STRIKE is attention grabbing, with its dynamic colors and the silhouette of the woman with the gun. How much input did you have? Some of your other covers have a close-up view of faces. Do you prefer one style of the other for your romantic suspense novels?
I love the cover of FATAL STRIKE. For my book covers, the design team at Tyndale has me complete a questionnaire about how I envision it. That information plus feedback from my editor and marketing team allows the designer to create a cover. I looked at two for FATAL STRIKE, and this one was everyone’s favorite. In addition, the designer stated, “Our heroine is all business as she walks dramatically into the scene in front of her. You can almost hear the dramatic music playing and see the slow motion video of her going in!
“The silhouette lets the reader fill in the gaps for what Leah looks like while also creating a strong level of suspense. The colorful background is dramatic and eye-catching.”
The aspects for this book that appeal to me: mysterious, pink/purple for a feminine effect, [and] the amber hues remind me of caution and danger. This may be one of my favorite covers. I like the idea that we don’t see the heroine’s face so the reader can imagine what she looks like.
Was it challenging to use FBI agents as your main characters? How do you keep their careers realistic?
I’m fortunate to have forged a relationship with Houston’s FBI, and I’m a part of their FBI Houston Citizens Academy Alumni Association. In 2013, I was invited to take their seven-week course to learn about the various divisions. These sessions were taught by special agents who had either handled prominent cases or worked that division. Houston agents are incredible. I now work with a woman in public relations at FBI Headquarters in DC who answers all my questions. I’ve interviewed the agents who work the divisions in my stories for personal and professional input. Research can be difficult at times, but I believe in going straight to the source. The FBI, as well as other law enforcement agencies, want accuracy in our books and for the community to see them appropriately.
As many years as I’ve read and written thrillers, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a killer who uses snake venom. How did you decide to use that unique murder method, and was it a challenge to work it into plot and character?
I’m laughing! I chose snake venom because I hate snakes. My biggest fear helped me write the emotions of those who were working the case. My bad guys didn’t want bullet casings or weaponry that could be traced back to them, so they found an isolated area to dig a pit for the rattlers. As I take a look at my flower beds and the need to pull weeds, trust me, I’ll be wearing leather gloves.
You have written in several genres and for different age groups: fantasy and suspense, historical and contemporary settings, nonfiction, adult, and middle-grade. Do you have a favorite genre or age group? How do you decide what to do next?
I started out writing for a book club that published a historical and contemporary romance each month, so I became accustomed to writing both genres. After several of these, I realized I preferred reading and writing contemporary romantic suspense. Although during the past 20+ years of publishing, I’ve written two nonfiction books and a middle-grade fantasy with my granddaughter. My passion for story remains romantic suspense.
You are one of the founders of American Christian Fiction Writers, which has many members and varied offerings to help writers: a conference, classes, and support of many kinds. You no doubt are a great contributor to this dynamic, diverse group. What has this organization given you and your writing back in return?
The leadership at ACFW is dedicated to helping writers move forward in their goals of writing and publishing exceptional stories. “The Voice of Christian Fiction—a professional organization devoted to the craft of Christian Fiction.” Through ACFW, I’ve learned much about the craft, publishing, marketing, and promotion. Through ACFW, I’ve gained confidence to continue my writing career, attempt difficult and new projects, teach other writers, and mentor new writers. I continue to give back to the organization by sharing what I’ve learned.
You obviously have a busy professional life. Can you share any advice on how you balance a writing career with everyday family and life interests and demands?
Currently I’m under contract for additional romantic suspense novels through Tyndale. In addition, I’m the director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference with Edie Melson. Edie and I also direct Mountainside Marketing Retreat, Mountainside Novelist Retreat, and soon to add Mountainside Nonfiction Retreat and Mountainside Speaking Retreat. With that said, busy writers must be organized. My biggest tip is to always have their work done two months before it’s due to the publisher. That ensures life’s interruptions, holidays, vacations, and other special days are enjoyed without the headache of not meeting a writing or event deadline. God and family always come first.
DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She weaves memorable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels. DiAnn believes every breath of life is someone’s story, so why not capture those moments and create a thrilling adventure?
Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests.
DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference, Mountainside Marketing Conference, and the Mountainside Novelist Retreat with social media specialist Edie Melson, where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.
DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.
DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on: Facebook, Twitter, or any of the social media platforms listed on her website.