About Debbie Burke

Crime novelist, suspense and mystery novels are her passion. Her thriller Instrument of the Devil won the Kindle Scout contest and the 2016 Zebulon contest sponsored by Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Her nonfiction articles appear in national and international publications and she is a regular blogger at The Kill Zone. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers. http://www.debbieburkewriter.com

Voices Lost and Found plus Two New Writing Tricks


Debbie Burke

Recently, a wonderful, unexpected opportunity came my way.

My pal, Susan Purvis, was invited to be the keynote speaker at the St. Eugene Writers Conference near Cranbrook, British Columbia. She invited me to tag along and share the hotel room the organizers had graciously provided for her.

Writing workshop, free room, and a favorable exchange rate—what’s not to like?

To Honor “The Children” at St. Eugene Mission School


Surrounded by snow-tipped mountains with the St. Mary River flowing past, the St. Eugene Hotel had a once-dark history and was supposedly haunted.

Built in 1910, on a road to hell paved with good intentions, the Canadian government and the Catholic Church operated St. Eugene as an Indian boarding school. First Nations’ children were separated from their families, not allowed to speak their native tongue, nor practice cultural traditions and customs.

The boarding school system broke down traditional family structure, resulting in generations of poverty with staggering rates of alcoholism and chronic unemployment. The school was closed in 1970.

For the next few decades, the building languished in decay—deserted, vandalized, and flooded. But the spirit of the Ktunaxa people prevailed.

In 1984 Elder Mary Paul said, “Since it was within the St. Eugene Mission School that the culture of the Kootenay Indian was taken away, it should be within that building that it is returned.”

Mary Paul’s vision of rebirth was carried forth by Chief Sophie Pierre, who had herself been a student at the school. The chief spearheaded years of rehabilitation of the old building.

St. Eugene is now a world-class resort hotel, beautifully refurbished with conference rooms, restaurants, and a casino. A championship golf course and KOA campground occupy former pasture lands.

Teepees at the St. Eugene Resort campground

Today, the resort employs more than 250 people; many are descendants of former students of the boarding school.

Sophie’s son, Joe Pierre, is the current elected chief and delivered a moving blessing at the keynote dinner in both the Ktunaxa language and English.

Photos from the past decorate the hallways, including one that appears to capture a ghostly figure among the solemn faces of school children. A presence has been sensed in various rooms of the hotel.

In a location so steeped in history, how could a writer not be inspired?


Now to what I learned:

Renowned playwright/novelist Anosh Irani divides his time between Vancouver, where he teaches, and his native India. Anosh introduced two new writing terms I hadn’t heard before.

The first concept Anosh talked about was The Wound.

The wound can be literal, like a physical problem, a disease, an injury, a chronic condition that restricts and constrains the character’s ability to function. The wound can also be mental, emotional, or psychological. Unseen wounds often affect the character more deeply than physical ones.

Questions to ask while you’re writing:

Is the story driven by a deep-seated wound in the main character?

Is the story about healing that wound?

Is the character free if s/he cures the wound/achieves the goal?

The second term Anosh talked about was The Crucible, which immediately brought to mind the Arthur Miller play about the Salem witch trials.

Photo credit: skeeze at pixabay


However, crucible also means: “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures.”

In playwriting, the author places the main character inside a container (the stage) under extreme pressure and temperature. The character is trapped. Unless s/he wins, there is no way out of that cage.

Before this workshop, I had not been mindful of a major difference between novels and plays:

In novels, characters may roam all over the globe in search of adventure or a solution to their problems.

But in plays, actors are literally trapped within the confines of the stage and cannot escape. The setting may change but the stage remains a limited space—a crucible.

That concept resonated with me. As novelists, we can borrow that crucible technique and put it to work in our stories. The more trapped your character, the more heat and pressure they are under, the greater the story tension.


For a marketing perspective, YA novelist/editor Jeff Giles entertained us with his funny essay about how not to promote a book. “See More About Me” describes a debut novelist who wrote 326 Amazon reviews for books by other authors but, in each review, shamelessly promoted his own novel.

Also during the weekend, Anna-Marie Sewell, Poet Laureate of Edmonton (2011-2013), and Danielle Gibson, a teacher and YA author, workshopped with half a dozen talented high school students. At the group open reading, the kids performed their work with the confidence and charisma of veteran public speakers. We in the audience listened in awe and muttered to each other, “I could never have done that at that age!”

St. Eugene was once a place where children lost their voices. There’s a sweet irony that new generations now find their voices there.

Conference organizer Keith Liggett, a ski journalist and award-winning cookbook author, sets up several writing events each year at St. Eugene. Top-name speakers draw participants from across Canada and the U.S. The next gathering will be in February, 2020.

St. Mary River flows past St. Eugene Resort

St. Eugene nearly descended into ruin as a relic haunted by dark memories. In the new century, it has experienced a renaissance, emerging as a major employer in the region and a thriving recreation destination and cultural center.


Elder Mary Paul would be pleased.




TKZers – Have you attended a writers gathering in an inspirational setting? What did you take away from the experience? 


True Crime Thursday – DNA Solves Cold Cases


Debbie Burke


Memo to Criminals: If the statute of limitations hasn’t expired, don’t send your DNA to 23andMe.


The combined tools of genealogy and DNA databases are solving old murder cases.

Until recent years, a DNA sample from a crime scene meant little unless it matched an already existing profile in a law enforcement database. But the popularity of DIY home DNA tests adds a new wrinkle.

People seeking their ethnic roots send cheek swabbings to genetic genealogy databases like GEDmatch.com. There, DNA samples are used to build family trees reaching generations back in history.

While you may find it interesting that Mary Queen of Scots or Jesse James is a distant relative, what happens if your DNA also shows you’re related to a criminal?

Most famously, the Golden State Killer was linked to decades of murders and rapes based on DNA information from Parabon Labs.  Parabon claims to have helped solve 30 cold cases. According to their website:

“Genetic genealogy has traditionally been used to discover new relatives and build a full family tree. However, it can also be used to discover the identity of an unknown individual by using DNA to identify relatives and then using genealogy research to build family trees and deduce who the unknown individual could be. These techniques…apply equally as well to forensic applications. Genetic genealogy has been used to identify victims’ remains, as well as suspects, in a number of high-profile cases. Most recently, genetic genealogy was used to zero in on a suspect in the Golden State Killer case.”

Law enforcement can request information from consumer DNA databanks to trace suspects in unsolved crimes. But ethics concerns are on the rise after the founder of GEDmatch allowed access in an assault case in Utah without first informing its customers.

Surveys indicate most people believe consumer DNA databases should be used in cases of violent crimes. But what about offenses like credit card fraud or unpaid child support?

TKZers, have you sent your DNA to a database like 23andMe, Ancestry.com, Family Tree, My Heritage, etc.?

Are you concerned about the privacy of your genetic profile?

Where would you draw the line for law enforcement uses? Violent crimes? Non-violent felonies? Misdemeanors?


True Crime Thursday – Flying Bank Robber Thwarted by Cow

Creative Commons, public domain


Debbie Burke


Today’s true crime is a blast from the past, a 60-year-old saga of crime and justice.

FBI Wanted Poster for Frank Sprenz

Note: click on the photo and it becomes little clearer to read.

In the late 1950s, Frank Sprenz was a bank robber so successful he made the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. His MO: steal a car, rob a bank, flee to another state, and repeat, crisscrossing the country.

Sprenz upped his game when he learned to fly. After robbing a bank, he would then steal a plane and escape to new territory, earning his nickname “The Flying Bank Robber.”

Then came the fateful day when he landed his plane in a Mexican field across the border from Raymondville, Texas. He refueled, intending to escape to Cuba. But on take-off, a cow meandered into his plane’s path. He swerved, hit a tree, and wrecked the plane.

On April 15, 1959, in cooperation with Mexican authorities, the FBI ended Sprenz’s high-flying career.

Here’s the full story.

Sprenz was a lifelong criminal who eventually died in prison, yet his MO showed a certain dash and daring that seems missing in today’s crimes. Or maybe it’s just my nostalgia for the past.

What do you think, TKZers? Are crimes of yesteryear more romantic than current ones?


First Page Critique – Untitled


Today’s submission is an untitled first chapter featuring a bartender in a classic hotel. Please enjoy then we’ll open the discussion.



Under a trickle of air conditioning, Dylan swirled the bar spoon through a jumble of vermouth, bitters, Makers Mark, and ice. His shirt collar, rigid and wet, scraped against the back of his neck. Normally, he liked a penguin suit, the way it accentuated his biceps. But on the ten or so summer nights when the July heat pressed the moist cloth against his skin, he wished the owners would cough up enough cash for decent AC. Instead of cool comfort, they blew their wad preserving turn of the century crystal chandeliers, wrought iron balustrades, and red velvet wallpaper. Clayton Hotel’s clientele loved the ambience, confusing run-down with high style.

Dylan served the Manhattan to a regular at the end of the bar, a lawyer by the name of Jim whose pupils had overtaken the blue of his eyes. Must have gotten the 8-ball Dylan had stashed for him in room 414. This week, Jim wanted coke. Other weeks, ketamine or a tab of E. For the right price, Dylan could track anything down or make it himself. His meth was the purest in Portland. The graying lawyer sniffed hard and wiped his nose with a blue polka dot handkerchief for the fourth time that night. He set his half-empty martini glass on a gold napkin and waved his hand to get Dylan’s attention.

“You bruised my bourbon again.”

Dylan cleaned the mahogany bar top with a towel. “Ouch. Has it turned black and blue?”

The loose skin around Jim’s neck tightened. He was about to say something when a tall brunette in Lucite heels and a red leather bodysuit strolled past the dining room manager, a thin 40-something who looked so much like Rod Stewart in his sparkly blazers that everyone called him Rod. From deep down in his Rolodex, Rod could find the perfect escort for every man.

The brunette waved like a beauty queen. While she made her way across the dirty-blue carpet, her tits bouncing in gorgeous synchrony, everyone checked her out. She looked like a girl who came from someplace Dylan wanted to visit, like Malta or Majorca.

She took a seat next to Jim and clapped her red gloved hands against the bar top. Before Dylan could respond, she shot out, “Scarlet O’Hara.”

He walked towards her. “Scarlet? Nah. More like Rita Hayworth.”

She leaned forward, titties barely contained inside her sweetheart neckline. “Go heavy on the cran. Make it pretty and scarlet, just like Miss Morgan.”


The Brave Author does a good job of setting the scene without slowing the action to describe it. The reader is grounded right away: Clayton Hotel, a hot July night in Portland. The writing is generally clear and economical without extraneous verbiage.

The tone is noir and the scene has a 1980’s vibe, evoking the Tom Cruise film Cocktail. The dining room host-procurer character “Rod Stewart” reminded me of the tune “Some Guys Have All the Luck.”

Dylan, the POV character, quickly comes across as a disaffected bartender with a detached, snobbish, superior attitude toward his customers.

He’s vain and likes to show off his biceps, even though a tuxedo is miserably hot. Nice sensory detail of the collar chafing. One small nit: stiff collars generally cut into the throat rather than the back of the neck.

He takes pride in his skill set—“His meth was the purest in Portland.” He has no problem accommodating legal or illegal requests from his customers and feels disdain for them at the same time he profits from their cravings.

His banter is clever but insulting—“Ouch. Has it turned black and blue?” That crack nearly provokes an argument with Jim, the annoying, hopped-up lawyer whom Dylan can’t please.

Dylan is unabashedly sexist in his description of the brunette who flounces in on Lucite heels. He immediately flirts with her in front of Jim, even though Jim appears to be her john for the night. Dylan again pushes Jim’s buttons.

The potential for conflict is high. But…

Will readers want to follow a self-absorbed, egotistical, snobbish, drug-dealing, misogynistic antihero? 

The Brave Author takes a chance by leading off with an unsympathetic character. Some readers (especially women) will instantly dislike Dylan and put the book down. Others may read a little farther to see what happens next. But, unless Dylan shows more promise, they will soon grow weary of him.

Author-screenwriter Heywood Gould said about Cocktail: “…met a lot of interesting people behind the bar and very rarely was it someone who started out wanting to be a bartender. They all had ambitions, some smoldering and some completely forgotten or suppressed.”

Gould has expressed what’s missing—at least for me—in this first page.

Readers don’t necessarily have to like a character as long as there’s a quality they can relate to and identify with. How can the Brave Author add depth and humanity to this character to make him resonate with readers?

Here are a few questions that might trigger ideas:

What ambitions or longings does Dylan have? What does he want to find or achieve?

What does he struggle against? What disappointment marks him? What traps him in a job he dislikes?

I’m not suggesting a backstory info dump but rather a carefully chosen line or two that hints at the trouble that haunts him.

Another method to make an antihero work is to give him a distinct, unique voice or an unexpected worldview that fascinates the reader. A few examples of recent successful antiheroes: Dexter, Walter White in Breaking Bad, and Tony Soprano.

Literature through history is full of compelling antiheroes: Hamlet, Raskolnikov, Jay Gatsby, Michael Corleone.


I made the assumption that Dylan is the main character. But maybe he’s not.

Perhaps this first page introduces Dylan to set him up in an inciting incident. On page two, he could wind up dead in the Clayton Hotel dumpster and the story focuses on solving his murder.

Or maybe Dylan is the prey and the prostitute in the red leather bodysuit and Lucite heels is actually the undercover cop who busts him.

The story could go in dozens of different directions, which is why it’s difficult to judge from 400 words. However, in today’s competitive market, an author must grab the reader right off the bat. Often, the first page is the only shot you get and that’s why it must be pitch perfect.


A few line editing comments:

He was about to say something when a tall brunette in Lucite heels and a red leather bodysuit strolled past the dining room manager, a thin 40-something who looked so much like Rod Stewart in his sparkly blazers that everyone called him Rod.

The sentence is too long and gets confused between the brunette entering and the description of Rod. Suggest you split it up into shorter, punchy sentences and more paragraphs:

The loose skin around Jim’s neck tightened. He started to speak but movement at the entrance distracted him. 

A tall brunette in Lucite heels and a red leather bodysuit strolled across the room. She bounced in all the right places. Dylan and Jim stared, along with everyone else in the room.

Dylan winked at the dining room manager, a thin 40-something everyone called Rod because he looked like Rod Stewart in his sparkly blazers. Rod’s Rolodex guaranteed he could find the perfect match for every man. Looked like he succeeded again tonight.

The following line confused me: “Make it pretty and scarlet, just like Miss Morgan.” Is the woman introducing herself as Miss Morgan? Or is there another meaning?

I googled “Miss Morgan” to see if it was also the name of a cocktail, like Scarlett O’Hara and Rita Hayworth. I found a reference to an actress “Miss Morgan” in a TV series, “Keye Bondage Images.” Hmmm.


Brave Author, your writing is solid. You do a good job of setting the scene and describing characters while keeping the action moving forward. Well done.

If Dylan is the lead, work on developing his depth and humanity. If you make him a more compelling character, readers will want to follow him.



Over to you, TKZers. What do you think of Dylan? Do you have suggestions for our Brave Author?


Tribute to a Mentor

by Debbie Burke


In the early 1990s, a successful screenwriter, producer, and military consultant named Dennis Foley left Hollywood to move to the small ski village of Whitefish, Montana. He’d been a popular writing instructor at UCLA and was now on the forefront of a brand new wave in education: online classes. He could live wherever he wanted, while students sent him assignments and manuscripts via email.

At the time, our local group, Authors of the Flathead, was a small rag-tag gang of hobby writers who fiddled around with words and supported one another in our fledgling attempts at publication. I’d sold my first story to a literary magazine that paid me a $5 check that bounced. A couple of other members wrote unpaid columns for weekly newspapers. Definitely not the big leagues.

We were the ignorant leading the inexperienced.

In a small town, it didn’t take long for word to get around about the new guy from Hollywood who had worked on hit TV shows like MacGyver, Cagney and Lacey, China Beach as well as motion pictures. The club president and I summoned our courage to invite this Hollywood big shot to speak at a meeting.

Dennis graciously said yes and he turned out to be anything but a Hollywood big shot. He not only spoke at that meeting, he came to the next, and the next. Pretty soon, he adopted Authors of the Flathead and was teaching our rag-tag gang the same material he was teaching at UCLA.

For free.


He showed us how to become professionals. We learned plotting and organization. He taught us John Gardner’s terms like profluence, the sense of a story always moving forward; and fictive dream, the near-trance state when writers delve deeply into imagination to create a fictional world more vivid than reality. He urged us to take the reader into that world and gave us tips how to preserve the trance.

He explained schadenfreude (delight in the misery of others) and urged us to chase our characters up a tree and throw rocks at them. Conflict was the key to riveting fiction. If life went well for the character, it was bad for the reader; if life went badly for a character, it was good for the reader.

He recommended scenes in novels needed to accomplish four tasks:

  1. Reveal character;
  2. Increase conflict and tension; 
  3. Move the story forward;
  4. Foreshadow.

A really effective scene accomplishes all four tasks but at minimum a scene should include two or three.

He taught us that consistent daily production would carry us farther than occasional brilliant flashes of talent. He counseled us to lower our writing goals to a level we could meet, even if it meant only writing a paragraph or page a day. At a page a day, he often reminded us, in a year, you have a book-length manuscript.

Consistently meeting smaller goals was a better habit to develop than setting goals too high and becoming frustrated when you fail.  

For show and tell, he would bring us Oscar-nominated scripts to study, like Earl Wallace’s Witness.

Dennis had also published four military novels about Vietnam and a memoir about long range patrols. But he rarely talked about his own work; instead he concentrated on our work and how to improve it.

In addition to teaching, Dennis continued to polish his own craft, earning an MFA from Vermont College. He brought back fresh techniques and shared them with us.

Dennis’s one inviolable rule: Don’t bore the reader.

When we needed speakers for our group’s annual conference, he contacted Hollywood colleagues as presenters, contributing to its well-respected reputation. When the pros from New York and Hollywood attended, they invariably commented about how rare it was to find such camaraderie and helpfulness in a writing community. Dennis had set that tone and example that has remained our trademark.

After weekly meetings, we often adjourned to a restaurant for coffee and camaraderie. At one of those early gatherings, we asked Dennis why he shared his knowledge and experience so generously with us.

For the first time, I heard what became my favorite Dennis story.

Before his retirement as an Army officer, Dennis worked in Hollywood as a military adviser for films and television. Once, when a writer didn’t meet his deadline, Dennis was tasked to rustle up an emergency script overnight. He delivered and more assignments followed, even though he had no formal training as a writer. In fact, he’d nearly flunked English in high school. He freely admits he didn’t have any idea what he was doing.

Stirling Silliphant, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of In the Heat of the Night, took then-newbie Dennis under his wing and coached him. When Dennis wrote himself into a corner, he would call Stirling, who always guided him to a solution.

One day, Dennis said to Stirling, “You have helped me so much, how can I ever repay you?”

To which Stirling replied, “Pass it on. If you don’t, you’re an asshole.”

Dennis took that admonishment to heart.

For nearly three decades, the Authors of the Flathead have been the fortunate recipients of his generosity and knowledge.

He taught us week after week, year after year, never accepting anything in return.

After our last meeting, Dennis and I were talking in the parking lot. His special forces years in Vietnam have taken their toll and long-term effects of Agent Orange are worsening. He expressed concern he soon may not be able to carry on the teaching he loves.

With tears welling, I hugged him and said, “We’ve had a good run.”

“A helluva good run,” he replied.


Even though this post will embarrass the hell out of him, I had to write it because Dennis has shied away from recognition these many years.

The sum total is his mentoring has improved the writing of thousands of students and launched many of us to publication success.

But the most important contribution Dennis has given us is his generous spirit of sharing knowledge. He followed Stirling Silliphant’s admonishment to pass it on and far exceeded it.




TKZers: Have you had a mentor who changed your life? What did s/he do to help you? 

Your homework assignment is to track down that special mentor (if they’re still alive) and tell them thank you. 


First Page Critique – Broken Thrones

Photo credit: Pixabay


Debbie Burke


Please welcome another Brave Anonymous Author offering a submission entitled Broken Thrones.


Joanie Brown opened one eye. The darkness had lifted. Light filtered from a slit in the ragged curtains covering the one window in the room, dust drifting down in the narrow beam. She breathed deeply and gagged. The stench of human filth and the sweet smell of pot overpowered her senses. Her head pounded, keeping time with her racing heart as she struggled to make sense of her surroundings.

Where am I? Why can’t I remember?

She lay on her back on a concrete floor. Under her fingers splayed out at her sides, she felt a gritty moisture. She hastily wiped her hands on her pant legs. She reached out and brushed a cold, rough wall with her left hand. Deep snores sounded from somewhere in the room, so she knew she wasn’t alone. Out of her one eye—the other one wouldn’t open and it hurt—she saw a closed door and four dingy gray walls. The floor was littered with bits of paper, discarded needles, condoms, and a filthy jacket tossed in the corner nearest her. She saw no furniture of any kind, except a soiled striped mattress across the room. She squinted at it, seeing a dark shape curled up on it. The source of the snoring, no doubt. The only other sound was the clack-clack of some insect as its feet raced across the hard floor. She scooted closer to the wall at her left and hoped it wouldn’t come her way. Joanie hated bugs.

She reached up and brushed thick hair out of her face, running her fingers over her other eye, wondering why she couldn’t see anything out of it. Now she knew—it was swollen shut. Wincing, she tried to pry it open. Her fingers came away with a smell of blood. She knew that smell. Her brain kicked into high gear now.

Memory now returned in chunks. Kyle. Where was he? The thought of him made her chest heave.

The last time she’d seen him, he was getting the crap beat out of him in a potholed alley littered with garbage and weeks-old refuse—by two thugs who’d dragged him there from the LA street corner where she’d finally found him. She’d hunkered down and watched from behind a dumpster reeking of rotting vegetables and month-old French fries.

Before that, she had spent hours searching for him.


Brave Author, your excellent title makes a promise of dire conflict. Broken Thrones implies destruction and violent overthrow of power. It’s short, punchy, and memorable, especially effective since Game of Thrones is currently a popular topic of conversation. Well done!

Your writing is crisp, competent, and vivid. You immerse the reader in the scene by making good use of the senses—sights, sounds, touch, and especially smells. We’ve all caught a nasty whiff from a stinky dumpster and know exactly what you’re describing.

The sense of foreboding is strong. Something bad already happened and worse is yet to come—like bugs crawling over Joanie.

That said, I see two problems with this first page.

First, this opening has been done before. Editors and agents always ask for something “fresh.” They’ve likely read many submissions with opening pages about an injured character waking up in a strange place without any memory of how she got there. This may be an easy fix and we’ll get to that in a minute.

The second problem: lack of action. Almost the entire page is spent setting the scene—a filthy shooting gallery basement littered with drug paraphernalia, an unknown man snoring, Joanie’s swollen eye, and her confusion. She’s taking stock in a scary situation but she’s in the passive role of watching and waiting, rather than driving the action.

The last two paragraphs are a flashback: Joanie watches someone named Kyle, whom she’s been looking for, while he gets beat up. And she hides.

Now that’s action!

Let’s consider if the story would work more effectively if you start there.

A character getting the snot pounded out of him immediately piques the reader’s curiosity, even if it’s not yet clear who that poor soul is or why he’s being beaten. Is Kyle a mugging victim? A druggie who owes his dealer? Or did Kyle sell bad junk to the daughter of the guys who are stomping him?

What is the relationship between Joanie and Kyle? Is he her boyfriend? An ex-husband she’s been chasing for child support? Or perhaps her dealer?

Those answers lead to the next questions: Why has Joanie spent hours searching for Kyle? Did he run away? Does she desperately need a fix?

The most provocative question of all: Why is Joanie hiding? If she fears for her life, why not yell for help or use her cell to call 911?

Does she feel guilty for watching the attack without doing anything to help?

Or does she feel he deserves what he gets?

See what happens if you start with action? The reader is immediately engaged, wondering and guessing, rather than passively watching the scenery, even though the scenery is skillfully and vividly described.

Additionally, that avoids the need for a flashback, which always risks reader whiplash. Just as they’re settling into the story, you yank them to a different place and time. Why flash back when you don’t need to?

If, while Joanie’s crouched by the dumpster, you reveal her character in a way that makes the reader care about her and her quest, we’ll willingly follow her into the next scene in the basement.

When she wakes up, you can still use the vivid description of the disgusting drug den with discarded needles and used condoms. The only difference: it’s probably now page 2 instead of 1. And the reader is more invested in the story and characters.

Then introduce a new series of questions to intrigue the reader. Did Joanie try to stop the thugs and they turned on her? Did their accomplice sneak up behind her and knock her out?

While she’s lying on the floor, reveal her character more deeply through her thought process and actions. Does she crawl to the mattress to see if the snoring man is Kyle? Does she look for a way to escape? Does she grab a syringe and hide it as a weapon for when the bad guys come back?

Keep raising questions while building characters who make the reader care what the answers are.

One tiny nit: since dumpsters are usually emptied at least weekly, “month-old French fries” didn’t quite hit the mark. Otherwise your scents are spot on. Made me gag, but I mean that in a good way!

Brave Author, you have a promising beginning for a dark thriller/suspense novel. Thanks for sharing your work.


Over to you, TKZers. What suggestions do you have for today’s Brave Author?




Today is the last day to download Debbie Burke’s thriller Instrument of the Devil for only 99 cents. Here’s the link.








True Crime Thursday – Employment Scam

by Debbie Burke



Photo purchased from Shutterstock by Debbie Burke

You thought you’d found a home-based job to earn extra income. Instead, you became the unwitting participant in money laundering.

Today’s True Crime is a sneaky scam that the Better Business Bureau reports is sweeping the country.  It recently hit a man in my small home town of Kalispell, Montana. Here’s his story.




Debbie Burke regularly launders money when she throws jeans in the washer w/o checking pockets. Her thriller Instrument of the Devil is on sale during April for only 99 cents. Here’s the link.


Nancy Drew – Immortal Female Detective


Debbie Burke



Credit: www.nancydrewsleuth.com

Nancy Drew was the original Super Girl—independent, confident, smart. She was competent to handle any challenge, fearless in the face of danger, and resourceful at solving problems decades before MacGyver came along. She drove motorboats, rode horses, and played tennis better than her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. The girl sleuth never backed down from threats and brought villains to justice.

She is credited as an early influence on many girls who grew up to be accomplished, notable women, including Sandra Day O’Connor, Oprah Winfrey, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Laura Bush.

Credit: www.nancydrewsleuth.com


Nancy’s heroic adventures kept my friends and me up long past bedtime, reading with flashlights under the covers. I remember saving for weeks to buy the latest release when it hit the neighborhood toy store that carried her books. If I recall correctly, the hardbacks in the late 1950s cost around a dollar, a serious investment for a kid earning a dime a week allowance.

Credit: www.nancydrewsleuth.com


Additionally, I devoured the local library’s collection of Nancy’s earlier books published in the 1930s and ’40s, with dark blue boards and cool pen-and-ink illustrations.

The dust jackets on older editions had long since disappeared and, after thousands of check-outs, bindings were often held together by heavy tape.


I didn’t really know what a “roadster” was but I sure wanted a blue roadster convertible just like Nancy’s.

Credit: www.nancydrewsleuth.com



In the 1950s, the books featured lighter blue, tweed-pattern boards with dust jackets.






Credit: www.nancydrewsleuth.com

By the 1960s, the dust jackets disappeared and the spine became bright yellow with illustrations incorporated into the front hardcover.

The last one I remember reading was The Secret of the Golden Pavilion (1959) which took place in the then-exotic locale of Hawaii around the time it became the 50th state.

Throughout the 30 or so books I read, Nancy remained eternally 18-years-old (16 in earlier versions) but never attended school or college. Her successful attorney father, Carson Drew, encouraged her to pursue all kinds of dangerous adventures but no one ever got murdered.

Nancy’s only job was solving mysteries and she didn’t get paid for her efforts.

Realistic? Not very.

Fun and exciting? Yes!

Nancy solved her first mystery in 1930 (The Secret of the Old Clock) and kept unraveling puzzles in 56 classic hardcovers originally published by Grosset & Dunlap. Simon & Schuster added eight additional books in paperback. A complete set of 64 classics in hardcover sells for over $400. The classic series ended in 2003 with 175 books. Spinoffs continue to the present day, totaling more than 600 books, TV series, video games, and films.

Here’s a trailer for The Hidden Staircase, the Nancy Drew movie released in this past March.

Nancy Drew was the brainchild of publishing magnate Edward Stratemeyer. His syndicate had launched popular series with male heroes like Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys and he decided to try a strong female heroine to appeal to girl readers.

Carolyn Keene was the pseudonym for numerous ghostwriters who were paid flat fees to write books based on outlines Stratemeyer generated. The ghosts gave up all rights, received no royalties, and were sworn to secrecy. Reportedly, the flat fee had started at $125 but was lowered to $75 because of the Depression.

Credit: www.nancydrewsleuth.com

The first ghostwriter was Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson, who brought the smart, feisty, courageous Nancy to life. The series was an immediate success. For Christmas, 1933, Macy’s ordered 6,000 books that sold out in days, even in the midst of the Great Depression.

Mildred wrote 23 Nancy books, in addition to other series like the Dana Girls and Penny Parker.

As a teenager, Mildred had been determined to become a great writer. Her stories won contests and were published in high-end children’s magazines alongside authors like Louisa May Alcott. Mildred earned the first-ever master’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa.

After her Nancy stint, Mildred wrote many more books under other pen names as well as her own. For more than a half century, she covered the crime and court beat in Toledo, Ohio and later wrote popular newspaper columns. The day she died at age 96, she was at work on an article.

Ironically, despite Nancy Drew’s profound influence on many generations of young women, Mildred wasn’t publicly acknowledged as Carolyn Keene until 1993, nine years before her death. Her archives are kept at the University of Iowa.

Nancy Drew fan conventions kicked off in 2001 and are scheduled as far ahead as 2030, Nancy’s 100th anniversary. For 2019, events will be in Toronto and Savannah.

Nancy Drew expert Jennifer Fisher has compiled vast amounts of history into a fun website that’s sure to bring back memories: http://www.nancydrewsleuth.com/   Thank you, Jenn, for your gracious assistance with this post.

Plenty of authors, including TKZ’s Kathryn Lilley, P.J. Parrish, and myself, credit Nancy with igniting their interest in writing mystery fiction. Kathryn was an ardent fan as a child and later wrote four Nancy books under the enduring Carolyn Keene pseudonym. In 2015, Kris wrote a great post on sidekicks, citing the example of Nancy’s friend, George.

Early editions, especially dust jackets, are collectors’ items. The asking price for a first edition of The Secret of the Old Clock is $2,000. Click on the bottom listing from bookbid2  to browse photos of the vintage cover and interior.

Can children’s books shape lives and careers?

Nancy Drew seduced me into a life of crime [writing]. How about you?

Credit: www.nancydrewsleuth.com


TKZers, please share your favorite memories of childhood books. What books influenced your reading preferences as an adult? Did Nancy, or another character, inspire you to become a writer?




Debbie Burke’s thriller Instrument of the Devil is on sale for only 99 cents during April at this link.




How To Build Conflict Using Myers-Briggs Personality Types

by Debbie Burke


In recent TKZ posts, Myers-Briggs has been mentioned by John Gilstrap and TKZ regular Eric Beversluis. Kathryn Lilley also talked about Myers-Briggs in this post from 2015.

Which brings me to today’s discussion about how authors can use this personality test to build characters and foment conflict.

Image purchased from Shutterstock by Debbie Burke

Have you ever met someone and instantly disliked them for no apparent reason?

Conversely, have you ever “clicked” with a stranger and didn’t know why?

Have you ever been fired from a job or had to leave because of “personality conflicts”?

Have you ended a relationship or been dumped because of different values?

Do you have a hard time figuring out the needs, desires, and priorities (or lack thereof) of some people?

Do people sometimes act in ways you can’t understand or justify?

How about your characters? Do they struggle with the above issues?

If so, that’s great because conflict is the mainstay of fiction.

Myers-Briggs (MB) is a tool that can help writers answer these questions.

What is Myers-Briggs?

Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers-Briggs
Wikimedia Commons

In 1923, the mother/daughter team of Katharine Cook Briggs (1875-1968) and Isabel Briggs Myers (1897-1980) became interested in the study of personality types based on research by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961). The two women developed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test that classifies the different ways people function in life.

Their purpose was to help people make career and personal choices that best suited their individual personalities. The test has been widely used by psychologists and industry to put people in the right jobs based on their particular traits, as well as to improve communication between vastly different personalities.

In other words, to solve problems.

However, in fiction, writers want to create problems for their characters.

If you understand why certain MB personality types clash with other types, you can use that knowledge to increase tension among your characters.

With the MB test, let’s dig a little deeper into reasons why you instantly dislike a person or can’t understand why they act the way they do. Then we’ll extrapolate those reasons into opportunities to create conflict among characters.

What are the MB components?

Introvert/Extravert (I or E)

Are you shy among strangers? Do you prefer to be alone in an interior world of thoughts and ideas? If so, you may be an introvert (I).

Are you outgoing and like large groups of people? Are you interested in what’s happening in the big, wide world around you? If so, you’re likely an extravert (E).

What happens if you take “I,” a shy character who avoids conflict at all costs, and force him/her to interact with “E,” a bold, boisterous character who loves to scrap?

Intuitive/Sensing (N or S)

Do you draw conclusions based on hunches? Do you look below the surface to determine what is going on? If so, you’re probably intuitive (N).

Do you use your five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch) to observe the world around you? Do you like facts and figures? You might be sensing (S).

Take “S,” a detective with the attitude if-I-can’t-see-it-it-doesn’t-exist. Add “N,” an intuitive who plays hunches and follows his/her gut instinct. Partner those two up and watch the fireworks.

Thinking/Feeling (T or F)

Are you logical and fact-oriented? You’re probably thinking (T).

Are you in touch with emotions and driven by them? You’re probably feeling (F).

Arrange a date between “T,” a logical, analytical woman, and “F,” a warm-fuzzy metrosexual. Lots of problems for that romance.

Judging/Perceiving (J or P)

Are you decisive and want things settled, organized, and clearly defined? Probably judging (J).

Do you prefer to take things as they come, remaining open to new opportunities? Probably perceiving (P).

The Odd Couple is the classic example of conflict between “J” and “P”. Felix demands neatness and precision while Oscar thrives on disorder and chaos. Remember this scene: “It’s not spaghetti, it’s linguine.”

Sixteen Variations:

The combinations of the above characteristics yield sixteen variations of personality types. If you’re not already familiar with MB types, here is a link that describes each one: https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/the-16-mbti-types.htm

Pitting Opposites Against Each Other:

If you instantly dislike someone when you first meet them, their four dominant traits may be the opposite of your four dominant traits. This doesn’t mean they’re right or wrong; they’re simply different ways in which you perceive the world around you.

Here are a few examples to build personality differences into fictional conflict.

An extravert “E” can’t understand why the introvert “I” wants to stay home rather than go out partying. “I” is sick and tired of being pressured to mingle with other people when s/he would much rather read a book.

A sensing “S” doesn’t see why an intuitive “N” doesn’t act on facts that are as plain as the nose on your face. “N” trusts flashes of insight from the subconscious and thinks “S” is hopelessly unimaginative and dull.

A thinking “T” has no patience for a feeling “F” who always gets upset over the stupidest things. “F” is constantly frustrated by “T” who never understands his/her feelings.

A judging “J” is fed up with that loosey-goosey perceiver “P” who never plans ahead and flops haphazardly from one activity to another. “P” is annoyed that “J” is so rigid, inflexible, and set in his/her habits.

Characters who are too much alike can also mean trouble:

If characters share the same traits, they may lack balance and believe that is the only way to be.

For instance, judgmental J extremists convince their followers to condemn anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs. This manifestation brought Hitler to power.

Feeling F characters can go overboard emotionally. Because of intense feelings, poor Romeo and Juliet both end up dead.

Wikimedia Commons

Characters can also be defined by their lack of a trait. A classic example is Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, an extreme “T” for whom logic is the supreme law. Whenever he was confronted by another character’s emotional “F” reaction, his response was: “That’s illogical.” 

Personality traits run along a continuum. Some traits are well-developed and dominant; others are more subtle. Our job as writers is to combine dominant and subtle variations into unique characters who are not stereotypes.

The opposite qualities may be fairly equally developed in the same personality. For instance, when I took the MB as a teenager, the result was INTP but T and F scores were almost equal, meaning I possessed an analytical, logical mindset (my husband would dispute that!) but was also highly emotional (that, he agrees with!).

My Intuition N was well developed while my Sensing S scored low. That explains why I rarely notice someone’s eye color, clothes, or shoes, yet I know the depths of their fears and secrets.

Underdeveloped S makes me a lousy eyewitness. What was the bank robber wearing? Huh? What did the getaway car look like? I dunno.


Dominant traits can change with time and experience, giving your characters an opportunity to transform themselves.

As a child, I was extremely introverted and shy. Due to career requirements, my extraverted side developed because I had to deal with people. Now, I’m no longer paralyzed with dread at a party. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy meeting new people at writers’ gatherings and book festivals.

Not surprisingly, many writers fall into INFJ or INFP, a pattern Tom Kuegler explores in this article on medium.com.


Try guessing the traits of your mate and your children; that obnoxious neighbor you don’t get along with; your annoying boss.

You might gain insight into why they act the way they do.

Then put your characters through the MB personality type test and use their traits to increase conflict among them. 


Now it’s your turn, TKZers.

Using MB traits, which category does your favorite fictional character fall into?

Who is the most memorable (not necessarily likable) character you can think of? Can you guess their category?

How do their traits cause conflict with other characters?



In Debbie Burke’s thriller, Instrument of the Devil, find out how the attraction between two INFP characters means trouble, while an ENTJ causes further complications.

Instrument of the Devil is on sale for $.99 during April. Here’s the link.





True Crime Thursday – Property Seizure

Shutterstock image purchased by Debbie Burke

Can police take your property even if you haven’t been arrested or convicted of a crime? The disturbing answer is yes, according to this story from South Carolina: