Need A Writing Boost in 2018?

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Are you struggling with that dreaded first page of a story? Remember that you can submit your first page for an anonymous critique by one of the TKZ writers and editors. For details on how to submit your first page, see First-page critiques.

Happy writing in the New Year!

Hey, It Could Happen To Anyone

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On this day in 1493, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, sailing near the Dominican Republic, saw three “mermaids”–actually, they were manatees, corpulent marine mammals.

Columbus relayed the disappointing news that these mermaids were “not half as beautiful as they are painted.”

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Happy Holidays From TKZ!

It’s Winter break here at the Kill Zone. During our 2-week hiatus, we’ll be spending time with our families and friends, and celebrating all the traditions that make this time of year so wonderful. We sincerely thank you for visiting our blog and commenting on our rants and raves. We wish you a truly blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous 2018.

We look forward to ringing in the New Year with you upon our return on Monday, January 1st!


One Moment That Reveals Everything You Need To Know About A Character

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I’ve been revisiting(read: binge-watching) some favorite films recently, and started noticing how one moment or a single line of dialogue in a movie can reveal everything one needs to know about a character.

These were a couple of my favorite character-revealing moments in film:

Casablanca, Captain Louis Renault: “Round up the usual suspects.”

Captain Renault actually delivers variations of this line twice, and that repetition reveals two important aspects of this secondary character. Renault is speaking to newly arrived German Major Strasser the first time he refers to rounding up suspects, in a way that establishes the French Renault as a compliant bureaucrat who is implementing a foreign power’s bidding. He delivers the line again right after Major Strasser has been shot, simultaneously saving Rick Blaine and indicating that his character has broken away from his obeisance to the German/Vichy Regime.

Lawrence of Arabia, Omar Sharif: “He is dead…(Y)ou are welcome.”

Between the long, slow cinematic entrance (during  which he emerges from a distant dust cloud on the horizon to filling the screen) and a couple of lines of terse dialogue, Omar Sharif makes an unforgettable impression as Sherif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia.

In that scene we watch Sherif cut down a trespasser on his property, while simultaneously extending traditional courtesy to a visiting stranger.

Of course in literature, dialogue and prose must establish the essence of a character without any assistance from camera tricks and musical scores. In your own writing, can you think of a moment or a line of dialogue that revealed the true nature of one of your characters?


Any Questions??







Hello dear readers, the HDW (Highly Distractible Writer) for today is still thinking about today’s topic, so I’ve decided to toss my two cents into the blog.  I was wondering, what would YOU like to read about?  What is important to you as a mystery writer? What do you need to get moving on your latest WIP (work in progress)?  Thank you all for your submissions and comments.  Lynne




Detecting Hidden Serial Killers

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Interesting Reading 

A recent article in The New Yorker,  “The Serial Killer Detector,” has given rise to a veritable barrage of scare-headlines across social media  (“More Than 2000 Serial Killers At Large! In The United States!!”)

The article by Alec Wilkinson describes how a former journalist, Thomas Hargrove, developed a data analytics tool to identify previously undetected serial killers. Hargrove’s Murder Accountability Project (MAP) has catalogued a total of 751,785 murders since 1976 — a number that far exceeds the official tally reported by the FBI (The discrepancy between MAP and the FBI’s totals reflects the fact that many states fail to report their murder tallies accurately to the Feds. Hargrove has taken states to court to reveal those unreported numbers.)

Hargrove’s MAP tool uses an algorithm he wrote to detect patterns in unsolved murder reports within a geographical area. A high rate of unsolved murders is one indicator that a serial killer may be at large (In 2010, Hargrove spotted a pattern that suggested that a serial killer might be responsible for a series of unsolved murders in a Midwest city. Local officials brushed off Hargrove’s attempts to alert them to the potential threat; years later, a man arrested on another murder volunteered a confession that he had committed many of the earlier killings.)

Hargrove says he is still debating how and when to reach out to local police departments when MAP detects a possible serial killer within a vicinity, according to the article. But MAP has already succeeded in making the public aware that the United States is doing a poor job of solving its murder cases. (In 2016, less than 60 percent of killings were solved, down from 92 percent solved in 1965.)

If you’re adept with statistics you can run the MAP tool from their website  to ferret out unsolved murder patterns in your own hometown.

Have any of the crime detectives in your stories (or your favorite author’s stories) used cutting edge data analytics such as MAP to help solve a fictional crime?





Giving Thanks for Dark Blessings







By Debbie Burke

Without villains, there are no heroes. Without conflict, there is no story. Without lies, greed, theft, lust, jealousy, betrayal, rape, and murder, there is no crime fiction.

Those of us who write mystery, suspense, and thrillers embrace evil as a dark blessing to our chosen profession.

Sue Grafton famously admits the inspiration for her alphabet series sprang from an ugly divorce during which she fantasized about killing her ex. She grabbed adversity by the throat and transformed it into a blockbuster series.

TKZ’s Elaine Viets turned her own medical catastrophe into a unique mystery series starring Angela Richman, Death Investigator. Way to go, Elaine!

Dark Blessing #1: In the 1980s, my husband and I were parties in a grueling lawsuit. Our opponents retained a greedy, unethical attorney. During weeks of depositions in his office, I noticed this framed image titled “The Lawsuit” on his wall. In person, the lawyer’s smug mug bore a startling resemblance to the illustration.

He was quite proud of himself as he milked hundreds of thousands in fees from his clients, which naturally raised our own legal costs as we had to fight back.

For five long years, this attorney dragged out the suit, convincing a judge to rule against us for reasons that had flimsy legal basis. We suspected the attorney was paying off the judge, but couldn’t prove it.

Then again, maybe the terrible strain of the lawsuit had made us paranoid. Maybe.

We ultimately won the case, but it nearly killed our bank account…and my spirit.

Some years later, the judge was convicted of bribery and sentenced to prison. Too late to help our case, but our suspicions had been vindicated. We weren’t paranoid after all.

The attorney retired comfortably and later died of cancer. Nope, we didn’t send flowers to his funeral.

In a twisted, unintentional way, the attorney did me a favor.

Because of that ordeal, we moved to Montana. There, I’ve followed my dream of fulltime writing ever since. Plots and villains continue to pour from the cornucopia of that lawsuit. And I’ve repeatedly inflicted fictional revenge on the attorney.

Dark Blessing #2: My adopted mother was a sweet, kind, loving lady. This photo was taken at her birthday several years ago.

She was also ferociously independent and determined to remain in her San Diego home where she’d lived for over forty years. Despite health problems, she refused to move in with her daughter in L.A., nor me in Montana—too cold. She could take care of herself just fine, thank you very much.

My sister and I respected her wishes, but wangled one concession: a visiting caregiver checked on her several times a week. That solution appeared to work until…

Mama had a stroke a month shy of her ninety-first birthday. While she was in the hospital, my sister and I discovered the caregiver had run up more than $15,000 in fraudulent charges on Mama’s credit cards. We confronted the woman who admitted wrongdoing. We also reported the theft to the police and the elder fraud unit. They promised to investigate further.

Dear Mama maintained her independence to the end. Two weeks after the stroke, she died with dignity, on her own terms.

After her death, my sister and I learned to our horror that, despite abundant evidence and the caregiver’s admission, she couldn’t be prosecuted without Mama’s testimony. What???

Eventually, the credit card companies reversed the bogus charges, but the caregiver skipped away free, no doubt looking for her next victim.

Guess who’s receiving her comeuppance in my current WIP about elder fraud.

Justice that eludes us in real life can sometimes be found in fiction.

This Thanksgiving Day, I count many happy blessings. My incredible husband makes sacrifices so I can live the dream. I’m surrounded by a large community of supportive writer friends. TKZ gives me daily valuable lessons in craft, as well as the opportunity to write guest blogs.

And…there have been enough dark blessings in my life to provide endless inspiration for more novels.

Happy Thanksgiving to all at The Kill Zone!

Your turn, TKZers.

If you’re a writer, how have real-life tribulations inspired your stories?

If you’re a reader, what books helped you through difficult trials?

Debbie Burke considers her smartphone a dark blessing that inspired her thriller Instrument of the Devil, available here.


First Page Critique: The Wickedest Girl

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Today we are critiquing the first page of a story called “The Wickedest Girl”. I’ll add my comments at the end, and then please give your feedback in the Comments.

The Wickedest Girl

When my brother Nico gave me a Wicked CD for my eleventh birthday, we all knew what he wanted as a graduation present. He had done the same thing four years ago with Matilda, and then we went to the show in July. Now it’s the week before school, and no one had mentioned anything.

I stretch out on my bed and run my hand over my side table until I find the stack of CDs. I have five in all: Wicked, Matilda, Legally Blonde, and two Broadway Christmas albums. I pick up the top CD and read the braille on the cover: Wicked: the Musical. On the back it says: to Olivia who is always defying gravity.

I can’t help smiling. The messages are from Nico, brailled on to a thin sheet of paper that can peel like a sticker. How he managed to get it done—while at college no less—I’ll never ask.

I lean over and press play on my CD player—a machine I only ever use to listen to Wicked since the songs aren’t yet copied on to my iPod. I press the skip button until I reach song eleven, and then flop on my back to listen.

“Something has changed within me/ Something is not the same/ I’m through with playing by the rules/ Of someone else’s game”

I don’t know why I keep listening to this song. It tells me to break rules. It tells me to not listen to grownups. It tells me to defy gravity. And that has never worked for me before.
“With you and I/ Defying gravity / They’ll never bring us down.”

Back in second grade, I had a horrible teacher. Well, she wasn’t exactly horrible, just dry and sour, a person who despised fun and creativity. Back then I was obsessed with Matilda, and had followed her orders to be naughty. My friend Rosa and I had done it together—smeared Mrs. Walsh’s blackboard with glue and dirt and written the worst messages we could think of—but since I was the one under a magnifying lens for being blind, I was the one who took the heat. The general group of teachers that governed my life back then had labeled me mentally delayed and behaviorally unstable. Mamma had managed to clear all of that up before Christmas, but I will never forget it.

Matilda led me astray once, I won’t letting Elphaba do it again. Yet here I am, listening to the song that will influence me the most.

My comments 

I’m intrigued by the narrator in this story—her physical handicap gives her an immediate obstacle to overcome, and makes me want to learn more about her. I loved the anecdote about the chalkboard, and the way this writer establishes her close relationship with her brother at the top.

I got tripped up by a few issues. I stumbled over change of tenses in the transition between the first and second paragraphs. The switch to the present made it feel as if I’d entered a completely different story. (Disclosure: I’m not a fan of stories written in the present tense, although I understand it is used by many YA authors. I find it a tedious to read a story written in the present tense. I once had a lengthy debate with an aspiring YA author in my critique group about the perils of using the present tense. She decided not to use it).

In the last paragraph, I stumbled over a missing word (be?) in “I won’t letting Elphaba do it again.” I also think it would help bring the reader back to the present if the writer would add a “had” to “Matilda led me astray” in the first sentence of the last paragraph. (I was puzzled by the reference to “Elphaba” in the next line, but I suspect it’s a musical reference that I’m too old and tone deaf to recognize 😁.)

Those nits aside, I do love the character and relationships that are being introduced in this story. The voice is engaging, which is a huge accomplishment by the writer—creating a compelling voice is one of the biggest challenges in writing. I hope to read more of this story at some point in the future. Thanks to today’s courageous writer for submitting this page!

TKZers, please add your feedback about “The Wickedest Girl “ in the Comments. Thanks!


Reader Friday: Aloha! (And Mea Culpa)

Note: Reader Friday is kicking back in Maui today, and forgot to post in time for early morning. Reader Friday blames an excess of parasailing and Mai Tais by the beach. Aloha!

Speaking of zen, Iif you could pick one tropical paradise or idyllic location to live on as your personal writing retreat, where would that be?