Showing posts with label Kaye George. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kaye George. Show all posts

05 April 2023

Here's What Happened


Please welcome a special guest.  Kaye George is an award-winning  writer.  As you will see below she writes novels in two very different series: one is cozy, the other not so much historical as pre-historical.  She has also published more than fifty short stories.

 — Robert Lopresti

 Here’s What Happened

by Kaye George

Writers live a little and die a little routinely. We’re used to it. I hope. Well, we’re not born used to it. We have to get that way.

When we first start sending queries out to agents, we die a little as each rejection rolls in. Facing rejection, no matter what kind, stings. Rejection when no one likes what you cooked, what you planned to see on TV, how you wear your hair. A lot of effort, toil and trouble, is rejected by an agent or publisher.

An occasional rave rejection (I loved this, but…) gives us a little boost. And when I say “we” I mean “me.” Those are my experiences.

Most mystery writers struggle to place the first book. They are (I was) always looking for advice, the magic formula. How in the heck do you DO it? How do you get someone’s attention and get published, so everyone can read your deathless prose? Your flawless gems of literature, pearls of wisdom? Your Great American Novel? (Make sure you don’t ever use clich├ęs.)

Here’s what happened (well, no, not The Great American Novel, if that’s what you’re thinking)—I had an idea. A brilliant one, of course. A writer with an ancient Roman main character (or maybe Greek, I forget which) said his work was popular, because “the further back you go, the better.” I thought, Hey! I can go back way further than that.

I put aside my Great American Novel, the mystery I’d been working on for 15-20 years, and changed direction.

My love of fossil hunting, fostered by a friend’s family in junior high who took me with them on a couple of trips (I found a beautiful trilobite once!), morphed into an interest in ancient peoples. At about the time I read the above quote, scientists were working on the genome of a Neanderthal whose tiny scrap of DNA had been acquired. Eventually, the whole thing was sequenced. Then new discoveries about these ancient relatives were being published almost weekly and I devoured all of them. One of them was red-headed and freckled! Imagine that!

The next step, since I’d been writing and writing, and collecting all those rejections, was to write a Neanderthal mystery. Tons of research was involved, and many hours of writing, rewriting, getting feedback on what worked and what didn’t—mostly what didn’t. But eventually, after over a year of hard labor, I had a novel I was proud of, so I started to shoot it out. More than one agent broke my heart, telling me how much they loved it and how they weren’t going to take it. “Better than Jean Auel,” one of them said, “but I don’t know how to sell it.”

At the time, I was envisioning this project as a Harry Potter sort of phenomenon, young adult crossover. Instant best seller. Worldwide success. Sell it to Scholastic!! I wanted to reply to those who didn’t know what to do with it. Scholastic published Harry Potter. Surely they’ll want this.  

After a year of querying and over 100 rejections, I was so disheartened, I decided to do the things everyone had told me NOT to do. I was angry. I wrote a character who was TSTL (too stupid to live), an inept detective with a funny name, Imogene Duckworthy. I put her in a single-wide, living with her obese mother, and gave her a child out of wedlock. I would show them. NO ONE would like this mystery!

She made every blunder, did everything wrong, and still solved crimes. I had so much fun breaking all the rules. To be honest, I’m not sure what I expected, but it was not an acceptance. I would get this out of my system, then go back to writing real mysteries.

You can guess what happened next, since I’ve written all this build up.  It was the first novel of mine accepted for publication. Huh? People liked it.

There’s no formula for mystery-writing, no matter what they say. There is no rule that cannot be broken. It remains one of my most popular series, three books were published and a fourth, Stroke, is coming soon. They have been consistently selling for over 10 years. The Neanderthal one, Death in the Time of Ice, sold too, eventually, and two more in that series, to Untreed Reads—the same people bringing out the fourth Imogene Duckworthy on April 11. They are an awesome outfit.

Here’s the thing. New writers, I have no advice for you. You can follow the rules and have great success, or great failure. You can break all the rules and the same things might happen.

All I know is, this planet is a strange place. Good luck to all of us.

08 May 2020

Deconstructing a Narrator


A few years ago, a writer friend forwarded me a call for submission for an eclipse-themed mystery anthology. Though my previous fiction writing focused on thrillers, this time I would venture outside my comfort zone, into a new-for-me sub-genre of mystery.

I tried my hand at writing the oh-so-trendy psychological suspense. And by psychological suspense, I mean that my story would be told by an unreliable narrator. Rather than have my narrator lie to the reader, my goals was that she (a desperate mother) legitimately believed she was not only in the right, but that there was no question in her mind that her twisted actions were morally justified.

After countless agonizing rewrites, I finally locked in on a royal flush of techniques to nail my narrator in my first ever attempt at psychological suspense.  The result was my short story, "To the Moon and Back," thus far the darkest piece I've ever written.

I was thrilled (still am!) that Kaye George, the anthology's editor, accepted my short story for DAY OF THE DARK, which was published by Wildside Press and released a few months before the 2017 solar eclipse.



As a newbie psychological suspense author, I invited Kaye into the virtual hot seat to objectively assess the effectiveness of the techniques I used to pull off the unreliable narrator in my story.

If you'd care to ride shotgun--pun intended since the story involves a road trip to see the total eclipse--you can read "To the Moon and Back" online <here>.


#1 . Voice. To pull off psychological suspense, I needed to immerse the reader inside my narrator's mind. But for some reason, writing in first person POV wasn't intense enough. So I decided my (unnamed) narrator would deliver a monologue, sometimes by thinking and sometimes by talking to herself, to her daughter, and to outsiders. 

Kaye - This worked extremely well. I think it was probably difficult to do the progression from kind of kooky babbling woman, at first, to...other aspects. The first alarm bell rang for me when she explained away the crowbar to her daughter. Then didn't have her purse with her.

#2. Timing. I kept the time span of the story to a minute-by-minute correlation between both the reader's and character's experience during the road trip. In effect, the entire story is encompassed in one scene (driving the car on a lonely back road in the middle of the night) lasting about twenty minutes. That said, I did use flashbacks.

Kaye - As I said above, I admire the development of this character and the way you revealed her to us, bit by bit by bit.

#3. Engineered perception. Rather than plot the sequence of events, I plotted the ideal beats for a reader's experience. I wanted the reader to make the following progression:
  • First quarter - This character is normal but quirky
  • Second quarter - Okay, she has baggage, but I understand why.
  • Third quarter - Wait, I think she has a couple screws loose.
  • Fourth quarter - This lady bought a one-way ticket on the crazy train years ago.
Kaye - No wonder it was done so well!  You planned this out meticulously. I started out liking her because she was a garrulous ditz and I know a lot of those. I become one myself sometimes. You also develop the daughter, or un-develop her, as we go along. That gets more and more alarming.

#4. Embedded crime. (No spoilers!) Within the psychological suspense genre, I needed to solve some kind of mystery. But instead of the crime being a product of my narrator's flaws, I wanted it to be a morally-justified solution that fit naturally within her warped view of reality.

Kaye - Total success! And that was revealed in baby steps, too. I admire this story so much and am so glad you sent it to my submission call.

#5. Generate empathy. Through this emotional journey, I wanted to leave the reader torn between right and wrong. To understand the pain this narrator had experienced in such a heartbreakingly unfair turn of events. By the end of the story, I'd have hoped the reader would reflect, what would I have done? 

Kaye - As I said above, I started out sympathetic to her. I don't think I ever entirely disliked her. I do think I understand her emotions and her actions, given what she was going through. BRAVA on this accomplishment!  I just reread the whole thing and still love it.

Thank you, Kaye, for revisiting my contribution to the eclipse-themed anthology. If you would like to know more about Kaye George, her novels, and DAY OF THE DARK, please visit her website <here>.


Have you written any psychological suspense?  What tips and tricks can you share to create an unreliable narrator?


Fun fact - Kaye arranged all twenty four stories in the DAY OF THE DARK anthology according to their location on the eclipse's actual Path of Totality across North America. Creative, eh?  Since my story was set on a road trip from Virginia to Greensboro, South Carolina, "To the Moon and Back" was the nineteenth story.


PS - Let's be social:
Twitter @KKMHOO
Facebook - Kristin Kisska
Instagram - @KristinKisskaAuthor
Website - KristinKisska.com

28 April 2020

For the Love of Malice


In the spring of 2001, I was taking my first mystery-writing workshop. My instructor, author Noreen Wald, told us—all eight of us, I believe—that we had to go to Malice Domestic. I didn't even really understand what Malice Domestic was, but I knew I wanted to write mysteries, so if Noreen said I had to go, I had to go.

That was the beginning of my love affair with mystery conventions. Over the years I've been to Sleuthfest once and to Bouchercon nine times, but Malice is the convention I never miss. It's a place where I feel at home, among friends who love traditional mysteries, many of whom I now consider family. This year was to be my twentieth Malice, and not getting ready to drive to Bethesda on Thursday for the start of the convention just feels wrong. I'll miss the dinners and the panels—as the former program chair, I always have to plug the panels—and I'll especially miss the hugs. Remember when we all weren't afraid to get within six feet of one another, nonetheless to hug?

But just because Malice is canceled this year doesn't mean that we can't still celebrate the traditional mystery this week and the people who write and read them. The Agatha Award voting will be held later this week (links to read the nominated short stories are below), and the winners will be announced in a live stream Saturday night. The Malice board also will be announcing next year's honorees (who will be sharing the stage with the wonderful people who were supposed to be honored this year, in what I understand might be a supersized Malice), as well as the theme for the anthology to be published in the spring of 2021. I believe the Agatha board of directors will be sending out more information about all of that very soon.

And that brings me back to getting into the Malice spirit. I was talking last week with my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor about it and how we could use my blog post today to do it. Art wisely suggested that since one of the great things about Malice is it allows readers to learn about new writers, it would be wonderful to have this year's Agatha short story finalists tell you, our SleuthSayers readers, about some great up-and-coming short story authors. I shared the idea with the rest of our fellow finalists, and they all were in faster than you can read flash fiction.

So, without any further ado, here are five short story writers whom we five nominees admire. I hope you'll check out their work.

Art Taylor, talking about Kristin Kisska (who recently joined our SleuthSayers family)

I admired Kristin Kisska's fiction before I knew that she was the one who wrote it—literally, since her name didn't accompany that first story. "The Sevens" was a blind submission for the 2015 Bouchercon anthology, Murder Under the Oaks, which I edited. Set at the University of Virginia in 1905, "The Sevens" stood out for its intriguing plot and its rich sense of both place and historical detail. It became Kris's first published story, and as editor, I was thrilled to introduce this tremendous talent to the mystery world. Since then, Kris has published short stories in several collections, including two Malice Domestic anthologies—Mystery Most Geographical and Mystery Most Edible—and Deadly Southern Charm from the Central Virginia Chapter of Sisters of Sisters in Crime. Checking her website as I write this, I found a more recent story I'd missed: "Prelude" in Legends Reborn. Score! And even better news: Kris just signed with a literary agent for her first novel. Save me a place in line for this next debut—book-length this time!

Shawn Reilly Simmons, talking about S.A. Cosby

I first met Shawn (S.A.) Cosby when I was invited to read at a Noir at the Bar event three years ago in Richmond, Virginia. All of the stories that night were good, but Shawn's was uniquely memorable—he writes gritty southern noir woven through with glittering threads of humor. Since that night in Richmond, Shawn and I have appeared together at N@TB events many times, and have downed more than a few cocktails together at Bouchercon in St. Pete and Dallas, where he won the 2019 Anthony Award in the short story category. He's one of the most upbeat and nicest guys in the mystery world, and each new story he writes brings that unique flair that is his alone. Shawn's newest story is "The King's Gambit," which will appear in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in June, and his novel Blacktop Wasteland will be published in July by Flatiron Books. It's described as Ocean's Eleven meets Drive with a southern noir twist, and it's recently been optioned for film.

Cynthia Kuhn, talking about Amy Drayer

I had the good fortune to meet Amy Drayer at the Colorado Gold conference, and she immediately impressed me with her smart, engaging perspectives on writing in general and mystery in particular. After she joined our Sisters in Crime chapter, I read her fantastic work and was even more impressed. Amy's writing is compelling, witty, eloquent, and thought-provoking. Her published short stories include "The Clearing" in False Faces: Twenty Stories About the Masks We Wear and "Honorable Men" in Shades of Pride: LGBTQAI2+ Anthology. "Schrodinger's Mouse" is forthcoming in Wild (Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers). She has written short fiction in genres ranging from horror to fabulism, literary flash to pop fiction. The first book in her wonderful Makah Island Mystery series, Revelation, also came out in March.

Kaye George, talking about Joseph S. Walker

Joseph S. Walker came to my attention when he submitted a story, "Awaiting the Hour," for my own 2017 eclipse-themed anthology, Day of the Dark. The story was stunningly good, and I was amazed I'd never heard of Mr. Walker before. I've certainly heard of him since. I gave a couple of stories from that publication to Otto Penzler, and he mentioned Joseph's in his annual publication honoring the best of mystery short stories. Joseph went on to win the Bill Crider Prize at Bouchercon 2019 in Dallas, then the Al Blanchard Award at New England Crime Bake. His latest published fiction is "Etta at the End of the World" in the just published May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

Barb Goffman, talking about Stacy Woodson

It seems appropriate for me to end this column talking about Stacy Woodson because I met her at Malice Domestic in 2017, when I served as a mentor/guide to Stacy and fellow Malice first-timer Alison McMahan. Since then Stacy has become one of my closest friends, not only because of our shared love of Mexican food (Uncle Julio's forever!) but because she is as passionate about short stories as I am. Everything she writes showcases not only her raw talent but also her heart. I was honored to edit her first published story, "Duty, Honor, Hammett," before she submitted it to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. It not only ran in the magazine's Department of First Stories in 2018, but it went on to win the magazine's annual Readers Award, only the second time in history an author's first published story took the top honor. Stacy has since gone on to be named a top-ten finalist for last year's Bill Crider Prize at Bouchercon, and she's placed a number of stories in Mystery Weekly, Woman's World, and EQMM, where her story "Mary Poppins Didn't Have Tattoos" will appear in the July/August issue. Stacy's most recently published story is "River" in the anthology The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell. "River," like so many of Stacy's stories, gives a window into her experience as a US Army veteran. Given Stacy's insatiable desire to learn and grow as a writer, I have no doubt you'll be reading much more from—and about—her in the future.

I hope you've enjoyed learning about these newcomers to the crime short-story field, who are already wowing readers. Please consider checking out their work. There are so many independent bookstores that could benefit from your business, especially during this pandemic. The stores might be closed, but many are still mailing books out.

And before we go, to those of you who were registered to attend Malice Domestic this year and who either transferred your registration to next year or donated your registration payment to the convention, it's nearly time to vote for the Agatha Awards. The electronic voting is going to begin soon (tomorrow or Thursday, I expect). It's not too late to read the short stories that are nominated for the Agatha. They are:

  • "The Blue Ribbon" by Cynthia Kuhn, published in Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible
  • "The Last Word" by Shawn Reilly Simmons, published in Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible
  • "Better Days" by Art Taylor, published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
Just click on the titles. Happy reading, and I hope to see all of you next year at Malice!