Thursday, September 30, 2010


Seeking an agent or a publisher for a novel can be daunting task, like job-hunting in a tight economy. I’ve signed up for an agent meeting at a local conference, WriteAngles, in October. A conference committee member will assign me to one of four agents based on my query letter. One of the agents is the first agent I asked to represent me but for a different novel. I’m sure she won’t remember me but I’d like to meet her again because I’ve learned so much about writing and querying since that first meeting. I can’t believe I had the temerity to hawk such a terrible manuscript that started out as science fiction and ended as action/adventure.

Since I don’t anticipate wowing the first agent I approach, I’ve started a selection process. After attending the Crimebake conference for the last seven years, I’ve heard at least twenty agents speak and have met a few of them socially at the bar or during the Saturday evening banquet. Therefore, when I thumb through my 2011 WRITER’S MARKET, I pause when I reach an agent’s name I recognize and try to remember the agent’s wish list and caveats. Although these agents are unaware of my existence, I think it’s easier to write to them because I can picture their faces and hear their voices. Also, I can mention seeing them at Crimebake and learning about the books and clients they want to represent.

Through SinC-Guppy emails, I’ve learned of Mainly Murder Press, open for submissions in January 2011, and the e-publisher, MuseItUp Publishing. The latter is looking particularly for vampires and the supernatural so I may wait until I’ve produced a manuscript in that genre before approaching them.

Minotaur Books offers a competition for a first crime novel to be submitted by November 30, 2010. The judges do not offer critiques. I’m actively seeking competitions in which critiques are offered since a rejection with reasons is more interesting than a rejection without.

Published short stories help to give a writer name recognition. I subscribe to Duotrope’s Digest. Writer’s Digest has a short story competition with a deadline of November 1, 2010. The audio publisher, Sniplits is looking for genre stories. Pikes Peak Writers fiction contest, deadline November 15, 2010, is looking for short stories and book length submissions.

As well as being alert for publishing opportunities, I’m trying to keep up-to-date with publishing information and other subjects of interest to writers. has an email discussion group. Members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society participate in selecting stories for the Derringer award. provides industry news, book reviews, predictions for the future of publishing, and author information but the site is not specific to mystery. is a writers’ bragging zone. Authors can fill out a free interview questionnaire and promote their writing. On the site, a link brings a person to Writer Gazette that provides a free call for submissions with paying listings in alphabetical order. There are resources, articles, and a newsletter. Another link brings a person to EbooksCafe. A writer can list e-books for free and receive a full web page. Although genres listed do not include mystery, there are suspense, horror, romance, and general. provides writing classes for approximately $300. (I usually take classes through SinC with titles such as The First Five, or Getting out of the Slushpile.) The mystery instructor has published thirteen novels and has taught at colleges and conferences. The site also offers one-on-one tutoring, writers’ groups for support and critiquing, a newsletter, resources for mystery writers, and tips for library research into crime, forensics, and law.

I’m a novice at submissions and rejections, learning through trial and error. What methods have you tried to get published?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Interivew with Kate M. George

Sporadically, over the last few weeks, I’ve interviewed 2010 Daphne Award finalist Polly Iyer and winner Ann Charles, whom I’ll interview again on October 27th. In Polly’s interview, I explored the process of the contest. Ann’s interview provided insight into the immediate rewards of winning, and in the next interview, we discuss her book promotion. I’ve tried to ascertain if contests such as the Daphne were catalysts for success in the publishing industry. This week I’m interviewing 2009 Daphne Award winner Kate M. George, not to be mistaken for Kaye George, who I also interviewed this month. A year later, let’s see what has happened in her life after winning the Daphne Award for her novel, Moonlighting in Vermont.

Ms. George began writing novels in her twenties when she wrote a truly horrible novella about a marine biologist. She eventually earned her Bachelors degree in Anthropology from UC Davis but there aren't a lot of jobs for a budding anthropologist so she tried a number of different careers. Think police dog trainer and answering service operator and then let your imagination go wild. You couldn't possibly be far from the truth. Originally from California, Ms. George is currently living in Central Vermont with her husband, four children, three dogs, and two cats. She once had 28 chickens, none of which seemed especially keen to lay eggs. Unfortunately, Hermione and Speckles were eaten by coyotes. The rest of the chickens were given to good homes to avoid any further emotional distress.

EBD: Under what category did you enter the Daphne Contest?

KMG: I entered under mainstream. I didn’t understand the categories well enough when I first started entering contests and that was a big mistake. Finally a judge in a different contest mentioned to me that Moonlighting was not really romantic suspense. I owe that judge a lot because when I entered the correct category my work started doing a lot better.

EBD: After you won the contest, what were the effects? Did agents or editors contact you wanting to read your manuscript? If not, when querying agents and editors, did you feel that winning the Daphne opened any doors to publishing?

KMG: Here’s the thing. The timing between the Daphne and getting published was interesting. I submitted to the Daphne, forgot about it and a few weeks later accepted a contract with Mainly Murder Press. Then I found out I’d won the mainstream division of the Daphne. That spring was a real rush.

But you are really asking if winning the Daphne helped me get published. I don’t honestly know. It might have, if I hadn’t already been pending publication. However, I did get queries from agents who didn’t know Moonlighting in Vermont had already been picked up.

EBD: How did you get your manuscript published? Which agent and publisher contracted to publish your book?

KMG: I don’t have an agent. Mainly Murder Press was accepting un-agented submissions and I sent them Moonlighting. My editor and I were both thrilled when Moonlighting won.

EBD: How were you treated during the publishing process? Did you have input into your book cover? Did you have a marketing plan or did your publisher have any proposals?

KMG: Mainly Murder Press treated me very well during the publication process. I was given a lot of input on the cover. While I didn’t have a marketing plan per se, my editor had suggestions and I’ve been reading about promoting books. The learning curve is steep, and marketing doesn’t come naturally to me, but most authors need to figure it out these days. It’s just the way it is.

EBD: What did you do to promote your book?

KMG: I had a launch at our local library. I’ve done book signings at bookstores, fundraisers, craft fairs and at private parties. I blog regularly – three times a week. I maintain a web site; well actually my brother is maintaining it for me, thanks Ed! I have a presence on Facebook – both a personal and a fan page, Twitter, MySpace, Goodreads and Bestseller Bound. I try to check in to my online accounts every day.

EBD: What is your publisher’s distribution? Do they take returns?

KMG: Mainly Murder Press is a Print on Demand publisher. That means they do not warehouse books. They are printed as they are ordered. So there isn’t an initial run. I like this option because unsold books aren’t remaindered. Remaindered books have their covers pulled off, the books are destroyed – a huge waste of resources – and the covers are sent back to the publisher for refund. Print on demand eliminates those steps. My books are available through the traditional distributors so they can be ordered for you by any bookstore. They are also available from Amazon, B&N, Borders and from

EBD: What was the process of electronic formatting? In which formats are your book published?

KMG: I was initially published in trade paperback and because I retained the electronic rights, I was then able to load Moonlighting onto Amazon’s Kindle format as an ebook. The best format for Amazon appears to be Microsoft Word and as that was what I used initially to write the book, it wasn’t difficult to load.

EBD: Tell us a bit about your award winning book. What is the log line, hook, short synopsis?

KMG: Log Lines – My personal log line is Mystery with a side of laughter.

Moonlighting in Vermont’s log line is: Miss Marple meets Miss Congeniality – or – Murder in the sticks.

Hook: When a murder rocks the rural community of South Royalton, Vermont, small town girl, Bree MacGowan, pits her wits against the handsome but terminally stubborn Lieutenant Miles Brooks. Brooks believes she’s a murderer, Bree knows she’s not. Mud and mayhem ensue.

Synopsis: Rumor has it that nothing ever happens in small town Vermont, but for Bella Bree MacGowan there is no shortage of excitement. She becomes the prime suspect when she finds her boss dead in a pool of blood and can’t convince the officer in charge, hunky Lt. Miles Brooks, that she isn’t capable of murder.

Lt. Brooks believes two things, the first is that everyone is capable of murder and the second is that the simplest solution is usually correct. So when it appears that Bree MacGowan has both motive and opportunity he’s confident he’s found his killer

Meg Maverick owns the local paper and Bree’s been her paste-up tech and friend from the beginning. She has no doubt of Bree’s innocence but she’s worried. If her husband Tom, the captain in chief at the local state police barracks, insists on sticking up for Bree, he could end up ruining his reputation.

EBD: Have your sales prompted writing a sequel or second in the series? If so, when will it be published?

KMG: My second book is California Schemin’, which is the second in the series featuring Bree MacGowan. It comes out in March of 2011.

Thanks so much Kate for taking the time to answer my questions. Your book was bound for the stores with or without winning the Daphne Award. Keep current with Kate at her website, and look for her new book this spring.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Autumn Has Officially Arrived

My favorite season, Autumn, has officially arrived. The astronomers define the exact moment of seasonal change, but for me it’s more about temperatures and changes in light. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where I now live, temperature changes often start in August. Gone are the days I used to have to jog early or late in the day. Now I try to run in the midday warmth. I have to put on a blanket at night to sleep with the windows open. Mornings I often need to light a fire in the wood stove to raise the interior temperature to comfortable. Night skies are clear and with shorter days I can easily find Cassiopeia before heading to bed or early in the morning as I rise before the sun. Our prevailing winds shift from SW to NW.

Back in the dark ages when each sport had its own season, I played my favorite sport in Autumn. I reveled in playing soccer throughout high school, college and even a few years of semipro before joint problems put an end to that pleasure.

Autumn is about transitions. Many birds migrate during this season. Shorebirds migrate mostly during late summer, but I live in an area with only a sandpiper or plover or three and hardly miss them when they are suddenly gone. It’s the passerines I miss. My ruby-throated hummingbirds have moved south. Hummers (the birds, not the vehicles) are the hardest working avian: up before dawn, still feeding after dusk. The ethereal call of veeries and wood thrushes are now silent. Ruffed grouse (referred to as partridge in these parts) are moving around more and the least wily are ending up in hunter’s bags, although for another week or two the leaves still provide them decent cover. Deer are also moving in the woods as the bucks start to hormone-up for rutting season.

And of course the most obvious sign of autumn is the changing leaves. For us, high color is usually the third week in September—which incorporates the official Autumnal start. In good years the colors are absolutely stunning, rivaling anything New England can put on (and I’ve lived there too). In normal years they slide down the scale from absolutely stunning to merely marvelous. This year is one of those—too much wind and rain stripped the trees of some of their color.

However, only since I moved to these woods have I become aware of one of the finest natural sights this time of year. Late afternoon light slants through the forest—more open for the leaves now lying on the ground—casting long, long shadows. The light is a warm white and the world shimmers in its glow.

What, you wonder, has this to do with writing? Nothing and everything.

~ Jim

Monday, September 27, 2010

Stephanie Pintoff

Few new authors published catch my attention as Stephanie Pintoff has done. Ms. Pintoff burst onto the publishing scene winning the Edgar Award earlier this year for her novel, In The Shadow of Gotham. This breakout book was nominated for just about every award the mystery world gives, including the Macavity, Agatha, Anthony, and Reviewers Choice Awards. After reading her second novel, A Curtain Falls, I was compelled to write about her work.

The setting of her novels is New York City in 1906. Her research brings this period in the city to life. Never having lived in NYC, as I read, I became aware of how little I knew about it. Ms. Pintoff cites addresses where her protagonist, Detective Simon Ziele, investigates, which makes me envious of those readers possessing intimate knowledge of the city. Add to this setting historical detail of the city’s physical layout, neighborhoods and buildings, such as the newly created Times building in the area now known as Times Square. She cites what occupied that space prior to the Times creation and the area’s old name. Her story is sequestered among historic events, anchoring the stories in reality and reminding me of movies I’ve seen that begin with the image of an old still life photo, which comes to life with movement taking the watcher inside that moment.

Detective Ziele’s first person POV narrates the story. His history is interesting and sad, and it is within this context that the story is cast. His voice, his conscience and logic, draws in the reader. He is a moral man in a time when morals are often discarded in favor and zeal of scientific discovery. Ziele balances moral philosophy against science as he tracks down serial killers. Criminology and forensic science are in their infancy, as are psychology and criminal profiling. Ziele utilizes professors at NYU who are developing these sciences and arts. He collaborates with a wealthy lawyer, whose interest is understanding the criminal mind, and his widowed daughter-in-law, who is atypical of the day’s women. She assists her father-in-law in his pursuits and may be a potential romantic interest of Ziele’s. Fingerprints are just barely accepted in the courts, but criminals are already more knowledgeable than the police about manipulation of this evidence.

It is Ziele’s morals that make him a superior detective. When others settle for a convenient scapegoat, he tracks down the truth, keeping on the real murderer’s trail when others settle for a mediocrity that may close the case and satisfy political needs, but destroys the innocent and allows evil to win.

In The Shadow of Gotham won awards for its unique voice, historical research and intricate plot. A Curtain Falls includes all of those things, but its pacing is improved. Ms. Pintoff hones her already considerable expertise in this second novel, and if she can improve her craft after writing an award winning book, I’m looking forward to the series as I watch a master go where few authors have ability to go.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Introduction

An Introduction

My name is Warren Bull and I’m honored to join the ranks of Writers Who Kill. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Unlike Ramona Long, who I can personally attest is a wonderful editor and teacher, I don’t have much academic training in writing. In fact the most recent class I took in creative writing was in the seventh grade. It was a very good class but that was a while back. If I remember correctly, I rode a Pterodactyl to school and then back to my home cave.

Since the seventh grade I’ve been educating myself about writing. I wrote plays that neighborhood kids put on for other neighborhood kids. We sold tickets. (A sure sign of an aspiring author.) My mother encouraged me to write. She kept spiral bound notebooks full of my writings. On my first visit home from college I was mortified to find that she had showed my letters home to everyone in the neighborhood.

During the summer after college and before I got a job, I sent off a series of short stories to Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines. The highlight of my early efforts was a personalized rejection letter from the editor of AH.

Writing was always a part of my education as a psychologist. In graduate school I was accused of plagiarism by a professor who said about a class assignment I handed in, “No graduate student could write this well.”

At an early job I worked with another psychologist who published a novel with an e publisher. I thought, “I could do that.”

My first fiction publication was the novel Abraham Lincoln for the Defense which came out in 2003. It’s out of print but available on Smashwords http// Since then I’ve written essays, memoirs, and more than a dozen short stories. I’ve won four awards for short fiction including the Missouri Writers’ Guild award for best short story of the year in 2006. I am currently working on a short story collection titled Murder Manhattan Style.

You can go to my website http// to find free short stories and other examples of my writing.

I am currently recovering from a second bone marrow transplant for multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer.) Luckily, I have a loving wife, a supportive family, great friends, health insurance and excellent medical care. Following each transplant, I lost and then eventually regained the ability to write fiction. I have only recently completed a short story based on an idea I developed after the transplant. It feels great to be back.

I have not written a blog before. Please let me know the sorts of things you like to read about.

Warren Bull

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Door Opens

by Ramona DeFelice Long

Crime writers know that any time a door opens, a character is compelled to walk through it. What’s on the other side can be bloody or wonderful, or bloody wonderful, but in a novel, a door opens for a reason. A character learns an important truth or an exciting event happens; otherwise, why was the door opened?

The same might be said for real life, or an artist’s career. A few months ago, Jim Jackson contacted me with a question: Was I interested in joining the blogging team at Writers Who Kill?

It was an open door, and I walked through it without hesitation. I had a good time posting on Fridays, offering some (hopefully) useful writing ideas using trains and highlighters, and giving some (hopefully) perceptive looks into how an editor works. I was glad I walked through the open door because I learned some important truths about writing from Jim, Pauline and Elaine, and from the revolving door of Wednesday guests.

But in crime novels, a character may walk through many different doors as the plot moves forward, learning something at each place. Sometimes, or eventually, the character passes through a place and moves on, and another character follows through the door left open.

There’s also the case, both in fiction and in real life, when many doors open at once. Right now, I have a lot of open doors, so I am going to move on through WWK and allow another writer to walk through the door behind me and take over the Friday postings. Maybe there will be more trains and highlighters, or maybe not, but each day at WWK allows the writers to share an important truth or exciting event or something else worth reading.

So I am moving on with a fond farewell and many thanks to Jim, Pauline, Elaine and the Wednesday guests for inviting me to hang around and post a while. Just like a character in a crime novel, I’m compelled to keep reading the weekday offerings here at WWK and hope that many readers feel the same and follow.

Best of luck to all who read, post and comment here. Happy writing!


Thursday, September 23, 2010


Although I’ve outlined my next WIP with crimes and plot twists, the villain is not yet clear in my mind. So far, the villain or villains seem motivated by greed but I want the sustained viciousness to be more personal. Perhaps, if I keep writing the first draft, the weaknesses of important characters will show me where they and the villain collide.

Most writers have heard the advice to make the villain a smart opponent so the protagonist pulls off a worthwhile victory. This advice makes more sense for a novel-length work where the villain has to plot and manipulate others to achieve his goal.

In short stories, villains can more easily correspond with the majority of bad guys. In her book, WHAT COPS KNOW, Connie Fletcher reports that officers and detectives working the streets often see offenders as not too bright. They kill relatives or friends and they are sometimes still holding the knife or gun when the police arrive. They might cut off a man’s head to make identification difficult and then leave the man’s business card in his jacket pocket. That could never happen for a fictional sleuth. Where’s the conflict and challenge? In real life, a victim might need brains and knowledge of how people think to escape harm. A man with a gun on a dark, lonely street doesn’t have to be a genius to shoot you. You have to think real fast to escape that bullet.

There are the rapists, killers, sexual predators, and stalkers who get away with repeated crimes because they don’t know their victims and they leave the scene before the law arrives. Real FBI profilers have written about these characters. John Douglas and Mark Olshaker wrote MINDHUNTER and OBSESSION. Stephen G. Michaud and Roy Hazelwood wrote THE EVIL THAT MEN DO. Sometimes, even people who live in low crime areas and wouldn’t usually spend time reading crime reports are fascinated by the psychologically disturbed criminals described in these books. What makes these criminals give up their tickets to the human race and perform acts that show their total lack of empathy? When a psychologically disturbed person is portrayed in a novel pursuing a victim or victims with whom the reader identifies, the writer can create a compelling and disturbing story. The reader can’t wait to have the criminal imprisoned or dead.

Hannibal Lecter is one of my all time favorite villains. Cannibalism is primitive behavior, or at least I think so. Yet Lecter has brains, an ethical code, and charm. Contrasts in a personality make it interesting.

I like to explore good guys turned inside out—the doctor who performs inhumane experiments on people, the angel of death who kills her helpless patients, the mother who destroys her child, the father who loves his daughter so much that he rapes her. What makes a policeman join the crooks? What makes a woman hate her own sex and seek to harm other women? What makes a priest prey on the innocent? What makes me dwell on these questions!

I see plenty of villainous characters waiting in the wings to step into my WIP. I just need to shine the light into the right patch of darkness.

Do you have favorite villains you love to hate?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ann Charles Interview-Part 1

Ann Charles writes romantic mysteries with a strong dose of humor. She is the 2010 winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and she has been a Golden Heart and Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest finalist. When she is not dabbling in fiction, she is penning writing-related articles or standing on her workshop soapbox, sharing what she has learned over the years about the craft and self-promotion. Stay tuned for Ann Charles’ and her partner, Jacquie Rogers’, upcoming, non-fiction book available in early 2011 about the secret of building an effective fiction writer’s platform.

Visit her at Ann Charles, or read her weekly antics at Plot Mamas. You can also find her on Facebook under Ann.Charles-Author. In addition, Ann is co-owner of the 1st Turning Point website where they and over two dozen other authors, reviewers, and PR consultants have joined together to teach and share (and learn from each other) all sorts of great information about promotion for both unpublished and published authors.

EBD: Your title, NEARLY DEPARTED IN DEADWOOD sounds paranormal, and yet you entered and won the Daphne Du Maurier Award in the Mainstream Mystery/Suspense category. Is there some subgenre elements? Or am I reading more into the title than there is?

ANN: I classify Nearly Departed in Deadwood as a mystery with romantic subplot and paranormal elements. Yep, I’m a genre mixer. My brain just has too much fun mixing different elements into a story to stay true to one genre. Because of this mixing, when I was trying to select a category for my entry, I had to consider the main plot and choose where it fit best, which was the Mainstream category. If the paranormal elements had played a bigger part in the main plot, I would have chosen that category. This book is also the first in a series, so it didn’t fit the Single Title category.

EBD: Did you already have a manuscript written, or did you write a manuscript with the Daphne in mind?

ANN: I had the manuscript written when I decided to enter. I was in the revision process when someone mentioned in one of my Yahoo groups that the Daphne was open for submissions. I’d heard of the Daphne, but I hadn’t considered entering it before. I read the instructions and liked what it had to offer in regard to judges’ comments. I entered with the hope of getting some good feedback on my story and maybe (a pipedream) landing a finalist spot if the stars aligned and I sacrificed a chicken or two. I didn’t tell even my agent I’d entered, though, because I really didn’t figure I’d place as a finalist. Why? Because if you read my first chapter on my website, you can see that my “voice” is a little quirky. So, again, my main goal was to get honest feedback from readers who didn’t know me, people who don’t have to sit across the table from me at Thanksgiving dinner when I’m holding a fork.

EBD: Tell us about your book. What is your hook?

ANN: Following is the back cover copy for Nearly Departed in Deadwood:

Little girls are vanishing from Deadwood, South Dakota. Fearing her daughter might be next, single mom, Violet Parker, is desperate to find the monster behind the abductions.

With her savings dwindling and just three weeks left to sell her first house or lose her Realtor job, Violet must convince her only buyer to stop rejecting the vintage homes she shows him as if they’re haunted. So when a handsome jeweler hires her to sell his century-old, Victorian masterpiece, she’s ecstatic…until she sees the dilapidated dwelling.

Short on time and long on worry, she refuses to give up her dream of a fresh start in Deadwood. But with a malicious coworker trying to get her fired, a secret admirer sending her creepy messages, and a sexy, dark-eyed stranger hiding skeletons in his closet, Violet could end up as one of Deadwood’s dearly departed.

My hook? I’m playing on fear—losing one’s child. It’s a horribly frightening concept for any parent, myself included. Unfortunately, the boogieman really exists in this world, and Nearly Departed in Deadwood is the story of how a lone mother juggles life’s struggles and stresses while fighting off the boogieman at the same time.

If the back cover copy hooks you enough to open the cover and peek at the first paragraph, you’ll read the following:

The first time I came to Deadwood, I got shot in the ass. Now, twenty-five years later, as I stared into the double barrels of old man Harvey’s shotgun, irony was having a fiesta—and I was the piñata.

You get a flavor of what’s to come in that first paragraph, and my hope is that you like the taste and keep on reading...all the way to the end.

EBD: You mentioned the great rewards of winning the contest. What are they?

ANN: To be honest, I’m still finding out all of the great rewards that come with this win. To start with, however, we have to go clear back to the beginning when I first sent in my submission to the contest. I received an email from one of the coordinators confirming she’d received my entry and asking if I’d be willing to judge entries for one of the other categories. I noticed in her signature line and then on her website that she had her first mystery coming out from St. Martin’s Press this fall. I’d been struggling to get Nearly Departed in Deadwood published for almost a year by this time, so I told the coordinator that I would judge if she would tell me what she did different to land her first book contract.

I knew there was more to it than just writing a great story. She agreed and showed me her platform, which would make many marketing department members drool. This was the first reward I stumbled across, learning more about the things I needed to develop further in my own fiction platform. On top of that, I made a new friend—we still keep in touch and I hope to run into her in person someday soon.

Next, I judged the entries assigned to me and got an idea of what several other authors are writing and how they are going about it. Judging entries is a great learning tool!

After the news came out that I was a finalist, I looked up the other finalists in my Mainstream division and emailed them a note of congratulations. They replied to me and were very friendly. A few of them have kept in touch with me periodically, and one of them I got to know very well. She has since become a good friend, too, and getting to meet all of them and sit with them at the awards ceremony was a lot of fun. I plan to continue to keep in touch with them, and so there’s another reward—more great writing friends.

After the Daphne win happened, I received a lot of congratulatory emails from other writers, friends, family, and strangers who were kind enough to want to wish me great luck with my book. Many of these folks want to read my book now, and I’m going to send out quite a few ARCs to these folks. The benefit here is an increased readership base, and for an unpublished author, that’s golden.

After returning home from the awards ceremony, I wrote a press release with some help from a few reporter friends of mine and targeted an audience who I thought might take an interest in my announcement about winning this prestigious writing award. I sent out seven press releases to mid-sized and smaller papers (the big papers wouldn’t care about this too much, I figured, so why waste any of our time and energy there). Of those seven releases, three of the newspapers are going to put something in their newspapers about my book and the award. I will be contacting the other four again soon to see if I can convince them to play along, as well.

On this front, the reward is huge because I’m reaching out to a targeted audience, who are most likely to have an interest in me or my book, with a carefully crafted message which I hope hits them on a personal level. On my website, I also have a “Join Ann’s Mailing List” option which may help me acquire more names in my reader database.

In addition to what I’ve said so far, I’ve been asked to write on some other blogs and I have increased my name recognition with all of the announcements going out after the win.

Now, these are just some of the benefits that come with a Daphne win. Check back with me in another six months and I’ll let you know more on the long-term benefits of this award. I’m fortunate to have studied marketing and promotion for fiction authors in great depth over the last four years. I have a lot of plans yet for the Daphne and my book, and I’m excited to get hopping.

Thanks for your insight Ann. I’ll continue my interview with Daphne Award winner Ann Charles next month when we discuss her book promotion. Congratulations on your win and good luck with the publishers.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I pulled the trigger today.

I pulled the trigger today. [Er, Sunday when I wrote this.] After months of fussing to make my novel Bad Policy as polished as I could, after sweating over what to put in and what to take out of the synopsis (should someone ask for it), after multiple drafts of a query letter to entice agents to ask to read the manuscript, I sent out the first agent query today.

And all that work was really the easiest part—if we’re talking about preserving self-esteem.

I’ve already discussed the despair I can reach during the long editing process [read I hate my WIP], but I’ve gotten through that dark winter night to be faced with writing the “query letter.” According to advice at Folio Literary Agency, “If you, as a writer, can truly write, if you’ve really learned your craft so that writing is like breathing, the cover letter just comes out.”

Perhaps the agent who wrote that sentence has personally written dozens of successful query letters. Or maybe the quote from Folio is similar to me (a guy) telling a woman that giving birth is a breeze if she’ll just remember to breathe correctly. And if she can’t do that easily, perhaps she ought not be a mother.

No matter, I finally have a query letter I think is good. And now I am strapping on my esteem-protection-padding for the rejections that will come through a polite email, in an SASE or by way of terminal silence. I tell all who will listen that this is a business where many knock and few are asked to enter. I say rejection is all about their needs and very little about the quality of my stellar novel. But that’s bullshit. You know and I know that I want them to love it. I want them to fight over me.

Hey, I’m a numbers guy; I know better. Many people are writing. Now that it’s free to submit queries by email (it used to cost a couple of bucks to send off a query and a sample chapter or two) everyone who thinks they have a finished novel is inundating the agents. And I know that the first person who reads my query is looking for a reason to say no. From a probabilistic standpoint, I have much less than a 1% chance of being selected—of course, I did mention that my particular novel is stellar, didn’t I?

I ping pong between flights of fantasy of a bidding war and wonderment that I waste my time polishing words few will read and none remember in some nearby future.

So what am I going to do tomorrow after I send out another query letter? I’m going to write at least a page of my dystopian novel that’s in its first draft, and then I’m going to pick up the completed first draft of a sequel to Bad Policy and wrestle it into an excellent story so when an agent asks, “what else are you working on?” I can tell them without a hem or haw.

If you happen to believe in the interconnected universe, then I’d appreciate it if you’d spare me a positive thought or two. I’ll do the same for you when you need it.

~ Jim

Monday, September 20, 2010

Paranormal Themes

Since I’m writing a paranormal romantic mystery, I’ve read many paranormal novels lately. Most are new, but I’ve included books copyrighted within the last four years, looking for what is popular, what other writers have tried and trying to find a new take on it all. After reading these books, I’ve categorized them to log lines.

• The appearance of a ghost(s) exacerbates the protagonist’s dilemma, but, in the end, the ghost(s) helps solve the problem/mystery.

• The ghost(s) have a problem (usually their own murders) that the protagonist solves after having a nervous breakdown about believing in ghosts.

• An innocent protagonist discovers new creature(s) (vampire/poltergeist/werewolf/shape shifter) and may or may not be converted to the creature, but always retains universal humanist values while helping the creature(s) with a problem.

• An innocent protagonist wakes up (new take on “Metamorphosis”) to find themselves changed into a new paranormal creature and must find out how to live in their brave new world, making new alliances and fighting new enemies usually stemming from some leftover dilemma while human.

• Ghosts of history-past reveal themselves and the protagonist travels back in time to understand the reasons for the problem and then solves the mystery so that the ghosts may live in peace forever (bidding protagonist a “forever in your debt” wave) but then the protagonist’s own problem is mysteriously solved through their own efforts on behalf of the ghosts.

• Sensitive protagonist has vision of murder and helps detective(s) solve the case while building a relationship (of various kinds) with the detective(s).

• Human and paranormal creature have incredible sex while solving murder.

• Dead detective helps human solve murders, and by doing so, makes up for mistakes made personally and professionally while alive.

• Undead vampire detective solves murders and helps people while trying to figure out how to survive without killing people.

• Good ghost or creature teams with human protagonist to solve problem or murder, in which the perp is a bad ghost or creature.

In my novel, TOASTING FEAR, there are four paranormal characters, pushing and pulling one human, two to protect her and two to drive her to the brink. Of course, she does get a little help from her human friends. For now that’s all I’ll say because tomorrow it may yet change.

If there are other paranormal storylines that I haven’t listed, please let me know by posting the log line in the comments section. Thanks!

Friday, September 17, 2010

What Just Happened?

by Ramona DeFelice Long

I had half a blog post written about Author Intrusion (see next week) when an intriguing comment on Facebook gave me pause. Do readers want story endings all wrapped up, or do they like endings to be left hanging and/or open to interpretation?

I know what I like. I like endings that are open, that make the reader sit up and say, “What just happened?” But I know that just as many readers get to an ending like that and want to throw the book against the wall.

I have a vested interest in this question. A few months ago, I wrote a short story that ended in a way that left much of the story up for interpretation. In it, a woman who just ended a romantic relationship makes a discovery that is disturbing and frightening. She’s not sure if she, in particular, was meant to find this thing; if it was meant for someone else; if it was a totally random occurrence. She does what she thinks is right—reports it to the police—but their reaction is strange. To make it extra fun, I wrote her as someone a bit unstable, so maybe she’s not the most reliable narrator.

I ended the story with a surprise, a twist that—if successful—makes the reader realize that clues to the surprise were woven into the story all along. That’s what I tried to do, anyway.

I submitted it to my critique group. Sometimes we tell one another what we are trying to accomplish, or if we have any particular concerns about a story. I did none of that. I didn’t want to alert them that there might be a quirk. To my surprise, each of my critique partners had a completely different interpretation of what they’d read. This worried me. I was trying to experiment, maybe have some fun with the reader’s head, but I never expected three different reactions.

But my critique group members are all short story writers, not mystery writers, and I wondered about that, too. Maybe mystery readers would read the story a different way. Maybe mystery readers would be more attuned to subtle hints and possibilities.

So I sent it to two mystery writer friends. The first told me what she thought the ending meant, but she was not sure. She said, “I feel like this story is a puzzle.”

The second mystery writer had an entirely different idea about the ending. She said, “I feel like you’re making me work very hard to figure out this story, and I couldn’t—but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’m 95% sure I know what happened, but the 5% won’t leave me in peace.”

Heh. I liked that—I think. Is puzzling readers a good thing? I like the idea of making a reader work, but I don’t want to be a tease. I was intrigued with all of these interpretations, so I went to one final test subject—a friend who is a reader but does not write. She is my walking partner, and she has spent many miles listening to me bounce ideas and rattle away. She offers opinions that are decidedly different from those offered by other writers.

Other writers say, “How could you make that work?” “Is that true to character?” “Is that too close to coincidence?” “Is that marketable?”

Not my walking friend. She says things like, “Why would a person do that?” or “No way. Who is that dumb?” or “That sounds like something you stole from the news.” She’s my street smart reader. She expects stories to make sense, and she doesn’t need to know how they got that way. She just wants them to be that way.

I gave her the story. Two days later, when we met for our walk, her review began with, “I hate that story! Why did you make me read that story! I’ve been thinking about it for two days!”

When I stopped laughing, I asked her what she thought happened at the end. She told me, with great confidence, that blank blank blank blank blank.

She was right. That’s what happened in my mind, too, although I wasn’t sure myself until that moment. But what she said happened was completely different from what the other five people who read it said happened.

So now I’ve had six people read this story. No one agrees on the ending and what it means. Does that mean the story works because it stays in the reader's head? Or that it’s such a mess, it’s beyond deciphering?

I like the story; I like this type of story. But I wonder if I am alone in that. Is it frustrating to get through all those pages, only to be left to decide what happens next on your own? Does this intrigue you, or make you want to throw something against a wall?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Spaghetti Westerns, okay; fish and chip Westerns, no

While waiting to find a publisher for my suspense mystery, THE STINKING FLOWER, I’ve started another mystery. Although I can delay deciding on all the key turning points, all those who’ll end up dead, and even on the name of the villain, I do need a setting. The where of a story can include so much and make such a difference to a story that I’m revisiting it for a second week.

My fellow blogger, E.B. Davis, has referred to the location of her novel, the Outer Banks, and has included in her story a local celebrity, Blackbeard. I look forward to reading her published novel and visualizing the setting. I will not be visiting the Outer Banks to find out if Elaine’s portrayal of the area is totally accurate. I don’t care if she’s missed out a one-way street. If a story feels real to me while I’m reading, that is all I ask.

Certain activities in a story are included in the setting. I can understand an avid gun person being annoyed if the way a gun fires or the type of bullet used is incorrect in a story. Annoyed yes, and maybe the irritated reader sends an email to the author so he/she does better research. However to stop reading the story that otherwise works, that isn’t something I’d do.

I’m familiar with hospitals and medical treatments and I’ve seen writers make mistakes with code blues, medical machinery, and drugs. I feel the need to correct these mistakes and do so, in my head. I will continue reading the book if the characters and story hold my attention.

Writers sometimes tell me they are tired of Agatha Christie settings. So am I. I read her books in grade school and was amazed that such a seemingly old-fashioned and lady-like woman could come up with so many crime plots. The society into which she was born no longer exists. Modern British authors write police procedurals, PI’s, amateur sleuths, thrillers, and cozies.

When I was growing up in the UK, I saw many cowboy movies. The whole setting was foreign to me, men on horseback for days, vast plains, and cattle as numerous as the people in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. As a young girl, I was interested in horses so I watched the cowboy movies but I forgot the plots and lonely male characters before I left the cinema.

Recently I watched a TV series on the last cowboys. Instead of horses, the cowboys had trucks and ATV’s. On small farms, the wife helped and the children were training to take over the farm one day. On larger farms, extended families and employees worked together. Calving season corresponded with the snow season and every dead calf meant the cowboy farmer lost money. I was sad to see a young animal born and then freeze to death within the first few hours of life. I cared about these latter day cowboys and their families, and wanted them to succeed. I never did know where the cowboys in Western movies were taking all those cattle.

Sometimes writers are urged to find unusual settings so they stand out from the pack. As many readers, I enjoy learning new things while I’m being entertained. Maybe I have a morbid mind or a little bit of vulture DNA because I especially like learning about autopsies and funeral homes.

Although the web and smart phones have changed the way many of us live, there are areas near my home where people can’t connect with the web and there’s no cell phone reception. My daughter tells me texts always get through but I haven’t yet put that to the test.

A setting is so much more than the accurate depiction of streets and public buildings. An in-depth setting captures the thinking and mood of the time, and the ripple effect of both personal and public events on the local community. Even a thunderstorm is a very different event in a city compared with a rural area. My protagonist, in her early thirties, likes cities but she also longs for the peace and proximity to nature of rural areas. Her story takes place in Boston and Western Massachusetts.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kaye George Interview-Part 2

Kaye George is a mystery novelist and an Agatha nominated short story writer. She belongs to Sisters in Crime, Guppies, Writers' League of Texas, and Austin Mystery Writers. Her novel, CHOKE, will be issued by Mainly Murder Press in May, 2011. Her stories have been published both online and in print magazines and articles appear in random newsletters and booklets. She blogs often for two group blogs and one solo one. She, her husband, and a cat named Agamemnon live together in Texas, near Austin. Visit for more details.

Last week I interviewed Kaye George, who recently signed a contract with Mainly Murder Press for the publication of her novel CHOKE. This week I’m focusing on what happens after the novel is finished. To read the first part of this interview, please link to last week's interview.

EBD: In one of your blogs, you mentioned trying unconventional routes to publication, such as e-publishing a collection of your short stories on Amazon through Smashmouth, Thinking About A New Journey . Do you still want to do that now that you’ve accepted a publishing contract for one of your novels from Mainly Murder Press?

KAYE: Yes, I do want to self-publish my stories. I'm very proud of them and short story collections are, I think, even harder to get conventionally published than mystery novels. There are very few instances where I think self-publishing is not shooting yourself in the foot, but I think a short story collection is not one of them. Hope I'm not wrong!

EBD: The main difference between going with a smaller publisher such as Mainly Murder Press and getting an agent to sell it to a larger house is getting an advance as well as getting promotion and advertizing dollars. And yet, I’ve heard that few authors really get much promotion help from even the larger publishers. Isn’t the publisher’s distribution network another factor that can really affect sales?

KAYE: My publisher makes all their books available at Ingram's, Amazon, Baker and Taylor, or Barnes & Noble. I think it will be up to me to get it into bookstores, but any bookstore can get it. With local stores that should be no problem. I have no illusions about the burden of selling and know it will be on me. MMP does have a distribution network but I'm not sure how it works. I know they will provide ARCs as an electronic .pdf file before publication. A small number of free copies for review will be provided after publication. I've been collecting places to try for reviews. We are to notify each other of reviews. I can also buy as many discounted copies as I wish to distribute for review. I figure that, if a book is available on Amazon, I can sell it.

EBD: Has Mainly Murder Press been forthcoming with its distribution? This information would be vital in mapping out a self-promotion plan, I would think.

KAYE: I think the contract is very clear about distribution.

As my daughter said, it's not a contract Nora Roberts would sign, but it's good for a first-time mystery writer. (I imagine La Nora can write her own.) As a small press, they are not going to take out NY Times ads for me. But here's a big plus in my contract. As soon as my royalties amount to $25, I get a check.

What they will do is promote my book through Ingram's Wholesale Catalog and their own website. And I'll promote everywhere I can think of.

I appreciate the fact that I'll be printed in trade paperback, a more affordable option than hardcover. In fact, those are the only rights, English language trade paperback, that they are taking. I'm wide open on other rights.

EBD: For Amazon to offer a print book for sale, doesn’t the publisher have to guarantee to print a large number of books before Amazon will offer it, and will Mainly Murder Press make that guarantee?

KAYE: I don't know the specific requirements between Amazon and MMP, but I do know that all the books from MMP are available on Amazon on the first day of issue.

EBD: I understand that most major bookstore chains won’t buy from publishers who won’t take returns. Will Mainly Murder Press do so?

KAYE: Yes, they do take returns. But, with print on demand technology, the situation of inflated print runs doesn't exist. That's what makes a lot of returns inevitable. There should be very few.

EBD: How did you get the idea for Choke?

KAYE: The setting is a thinly disguised version of a place I lived for awhile. Until we moved there, I had no idea men still make a living being cowboys and working on horseback. I've tried to put the contrast of the harsh climate and the warm, friendly people into this work.

A vague idea for my main character had been flitting around in that strange place that is the inside of my head (I assume all mystery writer's heads are strange inside). But she sprang to life, fully formed one night. We were driving home to Taylor, past the Hutto High School football stadium, which is, incidentally, shown in the opening credits for the TV show Friday Night Lights. I had decided I wanted to write about a humorous Inept Detective, so I had those initials in mind. Some swirling around was done up there in my cranium that involved the Hutto team, called the Hippos, and the Taylor Ducks, both of which I consider humorous, and Imogene Duckworthy was birthed.

Here's a bit about the book:

Imogene Duckworthy, resident of tiny Saltlick, Texas, longs to be a PI. When her Uncle Huey is found murdered, a half-frozen sausage stuffed down his throat, and her mother, Hortense, is taken in for the crime, she gets her chance. Unclear on the exact duties of a PI, Immy busts Mother out of jail with a fire in the bathroom wastebasket. But, on the run from the law, along with Immy’s toddler daughter, Nancy Drew Duckworthy, now what? Time to consult her second-hand copy of The Compleat Moron’s PI Guidebook. That should work.

The writers here at Writers Who Kill congratulate Kaye and want to further our understanding and yours about the publishing process. We’ll catch up to Kaye in a few months to see what the pre-publishing process encompasses, what’s she’s learned, what she expects and how much contact she’s had with the publisher. Stay tuned here and follow Kaye’s journey at Travels with Kaye.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Harsh Economics of Agent Love

Recently I read a lively discussion about the purported absurdity of agents insisting they “fall in love” with a novel from a pre-published author before they choose to represent it. Essentially the complaint came down to “if it’s at least as good as the stuff you can buy at the book store, why isn’t that enough?”

A quick refresher in agent economics may shed some light on the question. Let’s say Ms. Agent has decided she needs to clear $75,000 to make a go of the agenting business. Further assume 25% of her gross will go for overhead: rent, supplies, a part-time reader maybe, lunches with editors. By golly, that means she needs to earn $100,000. [I've made up all the numbers, but they’re sufficient for our purposes here.]

With a 15% commission, she’ll need her authors to earn $666,666.67. If she could sell an “okay” book for a $5,000 advance (and assuming the advance is exactly earned out), she would have to make 133+ sales or better than 2.5 sales a week.

Ain’t going to happen.

Turn this around: If she can make a sale a week (which would be spectacular) each sale needs to generate almost $13,000 and at a more realistic, but still pretty good, twenty-five sales a year, author royalties need to exceed $25,000 a book.

On average – and that’s the rub. What makes this whole industry work (currently) is not the average, but the positive outliers. A best seller covers a lot of minimal advances that never earn out—even though they might be just as well written as the best seller. Furthermore, it is rare for a first book to be a best seller.

A bunch of really good books, one per author, won’t generate nearly as much revenue for anyone as a series of good books by a single author. Haven’t we all read something by a new-to-us- author and then gone back to read their earlier books? That’s why agents want to sign people who can write multiple books.

This means the agent must invest time and effort on pre-published authors before they are profitable; and time and effort are precious resources for an agent. Like the rest of us, there is no way to get hours back once we have expended them. With so many pre-published authors vying for agent representation, why would an agent choose to represent an author whose first work they didn’t love?

It makes complete sense to me [but hey, I’m probably better at the finances stuff than the love angle anyway.] Now I just need to develop a strong enough query letter so an agent will want to read my stuff. Once they do, I know they’ll fall in love!

~ Jim

Sunday, September 12, 2010


My paranormal-romance mystery novel, TOASTING FEAR, is set on the Outer Banks and includes Blackbeard, the islands’ only celebrity, as a character. He still haunts these waters, the Graveyard of the Atlantic, where he lived and died nearly three hundred years ago.

What amazes me about Blackbeard is that he became a legend in his own time. He awed Benjamin Franklin. At the time of Blackbeard’s death, 1718, Ben was twelve years old and apprenticed to his brother, a printer, who lived in Boston. Reading the type he set, Ben learned of Blackbeard’s death in the Battle of Ocracoke Inlet, and wrote a poem, which he printed, about the battle. In his autobiography, (The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Frank Woodworth Pin, Garden City N. Y., 1916, p.23), Franklin laughed about trying to sell the poem on the streets of Boston and reflected that he “escaped being a poet, most probably a very bad one.”

Benjamin Franklin is one of my heroes. If Blackbeard caught his imagination, I wanted to find out more about this pirate, especially since I know his hide-out, Ocracoke, well and his character fit my story.

His choice of Ocracoke as a hide-out shows his intelligence because of its surrounding shoals and its fresh water. The shifting shoals surrounding the Outer Banks made navigation difficult, enabling him to elude the authorities and takeover ships, whose crews were unfamiliar with the channels, by running them aground or sinking them in the strong currents. Blackbeard needed fresh water readily available at Silver Lake, which eliminated his need to go inland. Silver Lake is navigable directly from Pamlico Sound, not far from the Atlantic Ocean, via Ocracoke Inlet.

His real name wasn’t Edward Teach (which has several spellings). The name was a pseudonym he used, presumably to protect his family back in Bristol, England. No one knew his real name. The year of his birth, 1680, is merely an estimate since documentation of his birth is nonexistent. His family couldn’t have been poor since Blackbeard was apparently articulate and literate. He corresponded with governors and merchants, entertained Tobias Knight, who held the positions of North Carolina’s Secretary of the Colony, Collector of Customs and Chief Justice. Blackbeard kept captain’s journals, which no longer exist. He communicated and managed his uneducated crew, proving he dealt equally well in the company of the rich and the poor. His skills in navigation were evident through his exploits. As a captain, he had the foresight to keep a physician on board to treat his crew.

Blackbeard served his apprenticeship as a privateer, monarch-sanctioned pirating of Spanish enemy ships in the War of the Spanish Succession, more commonly known as Queen Anne’s War. Through privateers, Spain helped to finance England’s war costs. The English monarchy took about one ninth of the bounty from privateers while the privateers eliminated Spanish ships. Privateering was a win-win situation for England, but after the war, the crown reversed its policy, no longer sanctioning privateers, and those who kept up the practice became outlaw pirates. Most headquartered in Free Town, in what is now Nassau.

The pirate life in the Caribbean appealed to many young men, consisting of rum, music and women (and resulting in STDs, which I will return to shortly). During these enjoyable years, he developed the fear-based persona of Blackbeard, much like today’s PR experts creating brand names, calculated to boost his reputation. This persona enabled him to capture ships without loss of life, manage a crew that multiplied to over three hundred spread among three ships, and in the end, cost him his life.

He invented, what we now call, a grenade, but one that mostly produced smoke, allowing him to board ships while their crews were blinded, almost like a magician. Enhancing his persona, he grew his beard long, sometimes tying candles or threading fuses through it and lighting them. He looked crazy.

His blockade of Charleston’s harbor and hostage-taking forced the monarchy’s government to capitulate to his demands, which were medicines to treat his sickly crew and those infected by STDs. This single incident boosted his reputation so much, the authorities, especially the Governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, put him on the precursor of American’s Most Wanted list.

Blackbeard knew his days were numbered. He sank his flagship and man of war, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, in Beaufort Inlet (the wreck has been discovered), discharging the crew and cutting his responsibilities by one third. He kept The Adventure, a smaller and more easily maneuvered ship for sailing on Pamlico Sound. Settling in Bath N. C., he obtained a pardon for his pirating, which the English Crown had extended several times but Blackbeard had failed to garner. He took his fourteenth wife (he took marriage vows casually), supposedly settled down and became friendly with people in power.

Spotswood would buy none of Blackbeard’s new façade. In an act later protested by North Carolina’s Governor Eden, Spotswood sent two ships to Ocracoke, a location outside of his jurisdiction, to kill an unsuspecting and pardoned Blackbeard. Before the fight, Blackbeard was attributed as having said, “Damnation seize my soul if I give you quarter or take any from you.” Blackbeard died in the fight, suffering from five pistol shots at close range and over twenty knife cuts, two of which were fatal. His severed head hung in Hampton, VA harbor, now Hampton Roads, as a warning to those defying Spotswood’s authority and as proof for the reward given to his henchmen. Ironically, the crown later pardoned one of Blackbeard’s condemned men.

The stories are too numerous to relate. His exploits and his ability to elude English law enthralled pre-revolutionary colonists, another reason for Blackbeard’s celebrity status. His mockery of the English law incited admiration by those, many native born who had never set foot on English soil, chafing against the English. The revolution was in its infancy, and Blackbeard became an example of defying English law. He became an outlaw hero, a theme that many Americans to this day hold dear. This pirate, an intelligent outlaw, still captures imaginations, mine included. His character belongs in my novel and is one that I never could have invented.

For more information about Blackbeard, read Blackbeard The Pirate: A Reappraisal of His Life and Times by Robert E. Lee, Dean and Professor of Law Emeritus, Wake Forest University, John F. Blair, publisher, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 1974.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Is it Drama? Or is it Melodrama?

by Ramona DeFelice Long

A long time ago, in a land called High School, I was given a writing assignment: write a story full of drama. For a week, the teacher let us write during class. On Friday, she read some of the results out loud.

What is drama? I wondered this at the time, and wonder still sometimes. Does drama require excitement, or is it an in-depth look at characters? Does drama mean overt conflict and a fulfilling denouement?

To high school students, “drama” translated to shootings, explosions, girls breaking up with boyfriends, touchdowns with 0 seconds left on the clock, drowning children rescued from overflowing creeks, a rodeo, and a mean school librarian opening her card catalog to find it full of baby snakes. (That writer got sent to the principal, if I remember correctly. Hopefully, he got send to the school counselor, too.)

The best story ended with a car plummeting off a cliff. It was the best for two reasons, the teacher said. First, it contained internal and external conflict: the driver (a killer on the run) chose death over jail. Second, the car didn’t zoom off into air and land in a huge fireball. At the edge, one of the tires got caught in a tree stump and, for a few seconds, the car hung at the precipice. It was just long enough for the driver to think he was thwarted, and for the reader to think he might get captured. But the driver jerked the wheel, the tire spun and…fireball.

The class liked that story. (It was not the most popular; that was the baby snakes story, of course. Remember high school?)

My story was not read aloud. I’d written about a girl who had told a terrible lie and got caught by her father, who told terrible lies on a regular basis. This was the girl’s first lie. She stuck to it until Father pulled out the family Bible and demanded that she swear on it that she was not lying.

I wanted to dramatize internal angst, because that’s what I liked to read at the time. But how could I make internal suffering dramatic?

I decided that, when faced with her Father and the outstretched Bible, her knees knocked; her heart hammered; her sweet round face flushed the color of a rose. She tried to swear, but the untrue words would not pass her trembling lips. Her outstretched limb fell from the Good Book like a withered vine dropped from off a tree.

Yeah. That was my idea of drama. All these years later, I remain grateful to my teacher for NOT reading that aloud. And for the comment she wrote on my story:

That’s not drama. That’s melodrama.

What’s the difference between drama and melodrama? According to various reference sources on my professional bookshelf, melodrama is a work containing overblown emotional content combined with over the top action. In writing, that may mean too much sentiment and clichéd phrases; overusing adjectives and adverbs; indulging in emotionalism rather than credible responses.

Or, to put it simply and harken back to the beginning of the post, drama is a rational reaction to an event; melodrama is how a teenager would respond.

Don’t get me wrong—I like teenagers. One of the reasons I like teens is because of the melodrama. Now that I’m an adult, I understand that if I get a bad haircut, it will grow out; if I wear the wrong skirt, I won’t be shunned for life; if my boyfriend dumps me, my life isn’t over. I remember those feelings with sentiment now. I think it’s valuable as a writer to recall that time, when feelings meant more than sense or logic.

When reading a book for adults, however, I expect the writing to reflect sense and logic. That means that emotional moments deserve accurate, respectful descriptions, not a pile-on of adjectives and adverbs. If a character is suffering, I want to be moved by the conflict, not steamrolled by sentiment. I can’t feel empathy if I’m rolling my eyes.

In other words, I will connect more with a character who simply removes her hand from the Bible than one whose limb falls away like a withered vine. I want to feel the suffering, but as a mature adult reader would. When a man walks away from his lover, tell me her heart felt torn in two to see him go; don’t tell me it felt caged like a bird within her chest, beating uselessly against the bindings that would not loosen, not now, or evermore.

But, like many things in writing, drama and melodrama pose a conundrum. When I asked my teacher to give examples of the two, she thought for a while. Finally, she asked if I had seen Gone With the Wind. When I said, yes, of course, this is the South, what kind of question is that?, she said, “The burning of Atlanta is drama. ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ is melodrama.”

Which, to be perfectly honest, didn’t help at all. Can you imagine GWTW without the melodrama?