Long Distance Death

By Joe Moore

Dear friends and blogmates. Today I am retiring as a regular TKZ blogger. After 8 years of posting writing advice and tips, I have run out of things to say—you now know as much as I do about the mysterious black art of writing novels. It’s been a good run. I’m happy to announce that my friend and TKZ emeritus, John Gilstrap, will be returning to take over my slot every other Wednesday. John is a great thriller author with tons of advice and insight to share with all the Zoners out there. I wish John success and I thank all of you for the kind words over the years. Keep writing and keep coming to TKZ.


I’ve killed a lot of people. I’ve shot down a fully loaded commercial airliner, set Moscow on fire, infected thousands with an ancient retrovirus, massacred an archeological dig team in the Peruvian Andes, assassinated a Venatori agent, killed a senior cardinal along with a Vatican diplomatic delegation, murdered the British royal family, and even brought down the International Space Station. I know I’m responsible for more deaths–I just can’t remember them all.

So I confess, I’m a killer.

It’s not always easy. Some of these people I really cared about. The dig team members were likable folks except for the chief archeologist who got on my nerves. I didn’t mind seeing him bite the dust. I really grew to like the Venatori agent, but he wasn’t doing what I wanted him to do, so he “slipped in the shower”. And the British Royals? Well, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But being a killer comes with the territory when writing suspense thrillers.

In real life, death is serious. Whether it’s by natural causes or violence, it’s not to be taken lightly. If the deceased is a loved one or friend, the emotional impact can be staggering, even debilitating.

But there’s a different level of death that we all come in contact with every day that rarely causes us a second thought: Long distance death.

Several hundred passengers drown in a ferry accident off the coast of India. Thousands are trapped in an earthquake in China. Millions starve in Darfur. A Russian jet crashes and kills all on board.

Do we care? Of course we do, but unless those victims were family or friends–unless we have an emotional connection with them–we only care for as long as it takes to turn the page of the morning paper or switch channels.

In developing our main fictional characters, it’s vital that the reader care about them enough to show emotion. Whether they’re heroes or villains, the reader must love or hate them. Neutral is no good.

And that’s a problem I see all too often in books, movies and TV shows. Sometimes I just give up reading or watching because I don’t care enough to care. The characters may be interesting but they get buried in the plot (or CGI effects) to the point that it doesn’t matter to me if they win or lose, live or die. And that’s the kiss of death for a writer. The wheels come off the story and the book winds up in the ditch.

I utilize long distant deaths in my books because I write high concept thrillers that span the globe–what some have called telescope stories rather than microscope stories. I need long distance deaths to support the big threat. But when it comes to the main characters, they better be worth caring about or the wheels just might come off.

57 thoughts on “Long Distance Death

  1. Wow, Joe. You will be missed, my friend. Your sage advice over the years always resonated with me. Your contributions at TKZ helped me a great deal as a writer. You are, and always will be, a cornerstone foundation to the TKZ family. Thanks for everything you did to make TKZ a success, online and behind the scenes.

  2. I know I’ll miss you, Joe. Looking forward to John Gilstrap–he’s great.
    I totally agree about the character connection. I was just looking at my false start opening for my upcoming book, thinking I’d use it as a “cutting room floor” scene on my website, and *I* didn’t like my heroine. Scrapped that one, for sure.

    Getting that “I want to follow this character to the ends of the earth” connection in the first few pages is definitely a challenge.

    Hope you’ll pop in and visit TKZ every now and then.

  3. Thanks for your years at TKZ. And your parting words, including “neutral is no good” are excellent ones. It is missing from a lot of work I see but by the same token I know it’s not so easy to accomplish in the mind of a reader “I DO care!” about the characters and events in a story. But that’s why we keep coming back to great blogs like this—to keep educating ourselves toward improving our writing.


  4. Don’t leave me, Joe!

    Okay, so I’ll let you go because my mommy taught me that if you love someone, you must allow them to be free.

    Thanks so much for your insights and inspiration over the years.

  5. Joe, your sound, practical advice on the craft has been a boon to all TKZ frequenters. I expect to see you in the comments from time to time, being sagacious and perspicacious on matters fictitious.

  6. Joe-
    Thanks for the years!
    I found my ninja-level editor (Jodie Renner) through you. Your on-target posts shared useful advice on how to craft characters whom readers care about – absolutely essential as you’ve emphasized often and well.
    Thank you and wish you all the best!

  7. Joe, so very sorry to see you “retiring” from TKZ. Glad to see John taking your place, but really…no one can take your place. Thanks for all you’ve done.

  8. I can’t thank you enough for all that you have contributed through this blog. You have been so generous with your knowledge, experience, wisdom and skills. Best regards and wishes to you.

  9. Oh no! I hate to see you go, Joe. You’re such an integral part of TKZ. You, and the solid advice you’ve always given, will truly be missed. 🙁

  10. I know we’ve never “met” but this doesn’t feel like long distance loss to me. I loved hearing from you every week. You will be missed. Best wishes to you!

  11. Staci is so right. Joe, your retirement isn’t a long distance loss, but a personal one.

    I’ve benefited from your insight, understanding, and encouragement. Someday hope meet you in person to thank you. For now, a long distance hug.

  12. Well, nuts. Like I need to hear this before I even finish my coffee…

    Seriously, sorry to see you go, good friend. And glad John is coming back. But thanks for inviting me aboard and for all your good posts and bonhomie. Go enjoy that glass of cabernet at the end of your dock with that great sunset view!

    Can I still call when I need puter help?


  13. Joe, Thanks for your wonderful posts; come back and visit.
    I agree with everything in today’s post except this:

    “…you now know as much as I do about the mysterious black art of writing novels.”

  14. I can’t tell you how much you will be missed, Joe. Without you, there would have been no TKZ. (And I’m struggling to imagine how we will forge ahead without you, but we will try!)Thank you so very much for everything you have contributed during our years together. I look forward to keeping you in the family, if not as a daily blogger, then as a guiding spirit!!

    • And p.s., needless to say we’re happy to welcome John Gilstrap back into Active TKZ Family status! I have missed hearing his voice over the past couple of years, looking forward to his return!

  15. As the shadowy figure slips down the dark alley we hold our breath. Who was he really? And will he slip silently back on the scene holding a knife that drips red in one hand and a roll of duct tape in the other. Hmmm….

    Sorry, wrong scene. I’m giving you a hearty wave good bye because you’ll be missed. Hope to see you drop in for a cuppa from time to time.

  16. I want to second Kathryn’s sentiments – without you, Joe, there would have been no TKZ! Your guiding presence, terrific blog posts and technical help for us mere mortals will be greatly missed!!! I will just have to live vicariously through your ‘red wine on the porch posts’ on FB:) Hope to see you back at the TKZ (at least for a visit)!

  17. Well, bummer. I’ll miss your musings. OTOH I’m glad to see JG returning. So, mixed sentiments. As the saying goes “The King is dead. Long live the King!”

  18. Thank you for all of your insights and instruction on the wonderful craft of fiction. I will miss your posts and hope to see your comments on here from time to time. Don’t forget us! 🙂

  19. So sorry to see you go, Joe! How will TKZ survive without you?! I enjoyed editing two novels for you and Lynn Sholes, and I look forward to your posts on Facebook – and more wine and sunset/sunrise photos!

    Welcome back, John! 🙂

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