HALLIE EPHRON: Australian author Diane Hester may be coming to us from far away, but the opening of her riveting new novel RUN TO ME will be something terrifyingly familiar and every mother's dread: the sudden loss of a young child.
Two years later, Shyler O'Neil's the loss is just as raw as it was in its immediate aftermath, and she retreats to an isolated cabin in the woods. A little boy, on the run, finds her there and she gets a chance to save him and get it right this time.
Diane, can you tell us where the inspiration for this story came from?
DIANE: After my first eight novels were rejected by every editor I
submitted them to, I began to lose hope of ever getting published.Then I heard the classic advice, ‘write the book you would love to be
reading’, and I started thinking about what type of story I might love
more than any other.
To help me, I wrote down lists of ‘my favorites’ – novels, films,
protagonists, villains, settings, themes – anything and everything
related to storytelling. I also looked at the people and places I love
in my own life. When I finished, I went through my lists and defined
what I loved about each item and then looked for recurring elements.
What I ended up with were the types of story elements that had deep
personal meaning for me. I learned that I love uplifting stories about
ordinary people acting heroically. In particular I’m drawn to damaged
characters who find the strength to push past their traumas in order to
help someone even more vulnerable. I also like feisty kids and wild
Looking back at my earlier novels, I could see I’d incorporated some of
these elements into every one, but never had I combined them all in one
So that’s what I did. I took all my favorite story elements, put them
together and said, ‘Right, this is what you have to work with, create a
story using these.’ The result was Run To Me.
HALLIE: There are so many really moving parts to this novel. Can you share any tips about how you write them?
DIANE: There are two questions I constantly ask myself as I’m plotting
my stories: What type of person would be most challenged by the
situation I’ve created? and What situation would most challenge the
character I’ve created?
Answering the first question gives me ideas for my characters, and answering the second gives me ideas for the plot.
Besides that, I simply try to ‘follow the emotion’ and skip as much
‘empty’ stuff as possible. Which is probably just another way of saying,
‘drama is life with the boring bits left out.’
If I find myself reluctant to write a scene it usually means it doesn’t
engage me emotionally and therefore probably wouldn’t engage a reader
either. If I can, I’ll cut that scene. If I can’t, I’ll try to combine
it with some other more interesting material.
HALLIE: You do such a great job with the setting: the woods of northern Maine. A long way from Australia. Is that somewhere you’ve spent time?
DIANE: I was actually born in New York and lived in various parts of the
state until after I graduated college. On summer vacations, my father
always took us somewhere in New England and to this day that is my
favorite part of the world.
For my story I wanted a remote setting where my heroine would be as
isolated physically as she felt emotionally. I knew from camping trips
how wild parts of Maine are and had read that the northern part of the
state is actually the last remaining wilderness in the eastern US. So
the area seemed perfect for my story.
HALLIE: So how did a New Yorker end up living in Australia?
DIANE: Before I took up writing I was a professional violinist. I
attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester and for a while played
in the Rochester Philharmonic.
When I was offered a position with the Adelaide Symphony I thought it
would be a good chance to see the world – I figured we’d stay a few
years and come home. But my husband found a job he loved and when we
tried to come back, jobs were in short supply in America so we ended up
We’ve thought many times since about coming home (I miss it so much!),
but both our children were born in Australia so it makes it very
difficult. You never think about these things when you’re young! We’ve
had to resign ourselves to coming home every other year to visit.
HALLIE: Is it true that you received a publishing contract after
pitching your manuscript at a Romance Writers of Australia conference?
DIANE: I started out writing romance and joined RWAustralia early on.
It’s a wonderful organization and I learned much from their newsletters
and author events.
When I switched to writing suspense I realized I could still pitch my
novels at RWA conferences as many of the editors and agents who attend
are looking for genres besides romance.
At the 2011 conference I made an appointment with Beverley Cousins of
Random House Australia to pitch my thriller Run To Me. She liked the
sound of it and asked me to send her the first 50 pages. A month later
she asked for the rest, and on December 20th she called with an offer of publication, making it my best Christmas present ever!
HALLIE: Wow! Random house!! Congratulations. Love the crossover, too, from romance to thriller. What a truly inspirational story.
Now I'm thinking about where I went in the summer - up in the mountains near Flagstaff, Arizona. Boulders and pine trees and rattle snakes... Hmmmm.
So would your childhood summer vacation spot make a great setting for a bone-chilling thriller?