About Kay DiBianca

Kay DiBianca is a former software developer and IT manager who retired to a life of mystery. She’s the award-winning author of three cozy mysteries, The Watch on the Fencepost, Dead Man’s Watch, and Time After Tyme. Connect with Kay on her website at https://kaydibianca.com.

Running and Writing – The Finish Line

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
—John Bingham, running speaker and writer

* * *

No matter how long or short the race or how well or poorly the runner performs, the finish line is always a welcome sight. Crossing the line is a triumph in itself, but once there, it’s time to do more than enjoy the refreshments. Here are a few things to check off the list:

  1. Celebrate the completion of another race.
  2. Congratulate the other runners on their success. (In long road races, you will often see the leaders cross the finish line and then jog back down to course encouraging the slower runners.)
  3. Analyze the results. Did you prepare and train well enough? Did your strategy work? Did you give it your all? The answer is often “no” to one or more of these, but that’s good fodder for #4:
  4. Plan for the next race. Write down your goals and schedule the next competition.
  5. Get to work.

* * *

As we come to the finish line of 2022, it’s time to reflect on what we’ve done, what worked, what didn’t work, and start to plan for 2023.

I’ve mentioned here before that each year I create a list of goals that I tape to the back of my office door. I glance at them now and then throughout the year, and their mere presence seems to keep me from going too far off-track. I took my 2022 list down today and reviewed it. I’ve met most of the goals, some I missed completely, and several I changed during the year. Here are a few I’m celebrating:

  • Contributing a bi-weekly post to the Kill Zone Blog. I loved the challenge of coming up with something new every other week and interacting with all the folks who comment. I particularly enjoyed co-writing A Mystery of History with Dale Ivan Smith and working with BK Jackson, Debbie Burke, Priscilla Bettis, Becky Friedrichs, Patricia Bradley, and Robert Luedeman on the TKZ Handwriting Experiment.
  • It must have been Steve Hooley’s influence that inspired me to try my hand at a fantasy short story, The Clutter Busters, in the Collierville Christian Writers Anthology Stories from the Attic. (Since my story is the first in the anthology, you can read it by using the “Look Inside” link on Amazon.)
  • Created a Box Set of The Watch Mysteries, Books 1-3
  • Although I planned to begin the fourth book in the Watch Series of Mysteries in 2022, I changed that goal and instead worked on the first book of a new romantic suspense series, Lady Pilot-in-Command. I finished the first draft and sent it off to my editor a couple of weeks ago.
  • Continued my monthly Craft of Writing Blog series of interviews on my website. This year the blog featured authors of mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy novels. Most of the guests are regulars on TKZ, and their answers to the interview questions are enlightening.
  • Attended two writers’ conferences: Killer Nashville and the American Christian Fiction Writers conference.

Lest you think everything was sunshine and roses, here are a couple of notable misses:

  • Even though I submitted several times during the year, I was unable to get a Chirp deal for the audio version of Dead Man’s Watch.
  • I didn’t publish a novel in 2022. That wasn’t actually one of my written goals, but maybe it should have been:

Well, that’s a pretty good summary of my writing year. I’ve started jotting down my goals for 2023 (in handwriting, of course), combining realistic expectations with flights of fancy. Walking up to the starting line now …

So TKZers: Congratulations on completing another year of writing!

What are you celebrating as we come to the end of 2022?

What are your plans for 2023?

* * *

 

The Watch Mysteries Boxset: Books 1-3 Kindle edition on sale now.

 

A Special Thank You

A couple of years ago, I was invited to participate in the creation of an anthology dedicated to honoring U.S. military veterans who had served during wartime. I accepted that invitation and agreed to write the story of 98-year-old WWII veteran Charlie Henderson.

I couldn’t conduct the interviews with Mr. Henderson in person because it was the summer of 2020, the first year of Covid, and we were separated by a couple of hundred miles, so we arranged to talk on the phone. Charlie’s age hadn’t affected his hearing, and we spent several hours in conversation about his life before, during, and after the war.

Charlie wasn’t thrilled when he was drafted into the army in 1942. He came from a close family in Mississippi, and he hated to leave, but he answered the call and spent most of his service in Europe. He was assigned to the 449th Gasoline Supply Company, a dangerous situation since the Germans wanted to destroy all gasoline supply depots. Charlie talked openly about the fear he felt when he and his fellow soldiers heard the sound of buzz bombs overhead, but he was proud of the part he played in delivering gasoline to the Allied front lines during the Battle of the Bulge.

After we completed our interviews, I sent Charlie and his nephew, John, the first draft of my article. They made suggestions and corrections and we repeated the process until we were all satisfied with the results. I sent the final copy to them and to the editors of the Forever Young Veterans Anthology.

* * *

Charlie’s nephew called me about a year ago to tell me Charlie had passed away at the age of 99. John wanted me to know how grateful Charlie was to me for having written his story. He had even asked John to hand out copies of the article at his funeral.

I was humbled that Charlie was grateful to me while it is I who owe so much to him.

I wrote a story. He fought a war.

As Diane Hight writes about our veterans in the Introduction to the Forever Young Veterans Anthology, “… many returned home to suffer silently and bury the pain of combat and war.”

* * *

 

In this season of Thanksgiving, I’d like to offer my special thanks to all U.S. military veterans. The Forever Young Veterans Anthology was released on November 2, 2022.

 

 

I’ll be traveling on the day this post appears, but I’ll check in when I can. An early Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

TKZers: What are you thankful for? Do you owe a special thank you to any person or group?

Results of the TKZ Handwriting Experiment

A month ago, I wrote a post entitled Handwriting Versus Typing on the Kill Zone Blog. That post spurred a lot of comment, and BK Jackson suggested we conduct our own internal TKZ experiment to see what we might learn. (Thank you, BK!)

Seven intrepid experimenters hopped aboard the TKZ Handwriting research train: Priscilla Bettis, Patricia Bradley, Debbie Burke, Becky Friedrichs, Brenda (BK) Jackson, Robert Luedeman, and Kay DiBianca. We each agreed to do some or all of our writing in longhand over a seven-day period.

Each one sent the results of their efforts to the group. For the sake of brevity, I’ve excerpted part of their feedback below. I hope they will all add to their experiences in the comments.

Priscilla Bettis

Surprisingly, even without editing as I wrote, the first draft didn’t turn out as cringe-worthy as I expected. Writing slower gave my brain extra time to reword a sentence before it actually made it down my arm and through the pen to the paper.

Overall, I think writing by hand took a little more time (the drafting plus having to type it all in afterwards), but in the long run it has no doubt saved me an entire editing pass.

In my WIP, the MC is a poet. Each chapter has a poetic epigraph. Writing poems longhand produced much better results.

Will I keep it up? Oh, I hope so! I dread it a little because it takes more concentration to write by hand, but the result is better.

Patricia Bradley

I wrote for about an hour a day on my iPad using my iPen and the software Nebo, mostly brainstorming. I don’t seem to be able to write a scene yet longhand. Using the iPen and iPad I didn’t have to then type it in but it didn’t totally transcribe it the way I wrote it. I blame that on my terrible penmanship. It probably would’ve been the same way if I’d had to transcribe it myself. Ha!

I will keep writing longhand for about an hour before I start working on the WIP since it seemed to give me good ideas and direction.

Debbie Burke

My experiment with handwriting was a mixed success. I wrote out a list of scenes in my WIP, trying to figure out the best order. That helped b/c I rearranged some scenes. It also showed me that there were too many very short scenes from different POVs that felt jerky.

Drafting by hand didn’t work at all for me b/c I edit as I draft. Soon there were so many scratched-out lines, words inserted above or below, and circled phrases with arrows pointing in different directions, it was unreadable.

Becky Friedrichs

My plan was to start a brand new story so I could go into it without any preconceived ideas from books I’d already started. I wasn’t going to try to get each sentence, each word, exactly right, but just get the story down.

On day one, it took me exactly two hours to write 1203 words, which was discouraging. I once wrote a book of 85,000+ words in ten days, so this seemed terribly slow. On the positive side, the story unspooled as I saw it in my mind, and I completed 7,223 words in the seven days.

I think I have a different perspective on writing now. I no longer believe I must be sitting at my desk in my office and typing on either a desktop or laptop, with the door closed and no noise.

Brenda (BK) Jackson

I wrote 4,659 words during that 7 day period. That was 6.09 hours spent handwriting, plus it took another 2.2 hours to transcribe.

Pros:

  • I found the time transcribing gave me time to add comments and thoughts about things I might want to revise later, ideas to add, etc.
  • I definitely felt freer creatively to write longhand–there’s just something about pen/paper contact that breaks through mental blocks. I’m not saying I solved all my story problems as I wrote, but I got scenes down, instead of just staring at my computer screen & having nothing to show for it.

Con:

  • It took a little over 8 hours to write/transcribe 4,659 words. That’s about 582 words/hour. However, while sometimes I can produce far more than that in an hour, there are plenty of times sitting at a keyboard where I can’t even produce that much.

Robert Luedemen

I tried it this week and it didn’t work for me at all. What I found was that using pen and paper slowed down the free flow of ideas, and I can try out different things at a better pace on the keyboard. Also, if I need to research a point about something I can open up another window and get right to it.

I still use pen and paper to jot down snippets of things I want to save for future reference.

Kay DiBianca

I wrote during six days of the past week, and only part of that was in longhand. Although I didn’t keep very careful note of word count, I’m guessing I managed between 1,500 to 3,000 words. The handwriting didn’t take as long as I thought it would. The problem was just having to type it in afterwards, but that gave me a chance to edit, so it wasn’t a total time waste.

I do believe the handwriting flowed a little better, though I can’t quite put my hand on why that was. It was just a different, and possibly more pleasurable, experience.

* * *

So there you have it. Empirical data from trusted sources.

* * *

 

So TKZers: What do you think of our handwriting experiment? Will you do part of your future writing with pen and paper? Any thoughts or suggestions?

Words and Pictures

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” –Nathaniel Hawthorne

* * *

Here at the Kill Zone Blog, we’re all about words. Combining those innocent words into sentences, paragraphs, and finally stories is the thing that drives us.

We’ve also heard it said, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But is it?

* * *

The movie Words and Pictures was released in 2013, but I saw it for the first time a year or so ago. The movie features a “war” between its two protagonists, both teachers at an elite New England prep school.

Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) teaches Honors English. He is brash and sarcastic and annoys his colleagues by trying to lure them into word games which he is sure to win. But Mr. Mark, as his students call him, is thoroughly in love with the English language, and the best scenes in the movie take place in his classroom where he challenges, inspires, and even berates his students, all in an attempt to engage their social media-deadened brains to appreciate the power of language. In one scene, he even gives them an assignment to invent a new word to add to the English language. The results are fun and appealing.

Actress Juliette Binoche has a harder task holding her own as the Honors Art teacher, Dina Delsanto, an educator who is less charismatic than the feisty Marcus. Delsanto suffers from rheumatoid arthritis which has robbed her of her independence and some of her ability to create. As a new addition to the faculty, she is immediately put into conflict with Marcus.

Of course, these two characters have to become involved with each other, and their verbal sparring sets in motion a “war” of words versus pictures that culminates in a school assembly where students will evaluate the power of each of the creative methods.

As the movie’s primary complication, Jack Marcus is an alcoholic. Although he’s managed to hide his problem from the school administrators, he fears “the fire has gone out.” When his sloppy behavior at a local restaurant and his lack of creative output threaten his position at the school, he’s forced to take extreme steps to keep his job. One of the best lines in the movie is uttered by Marcus when the headmaster bemoans his lack of output.

Headmaster: “You were a published author.”

Marcus: “I’m still a published author. It doesn’t go away like the mumps.”

There are minor characters and subplots that swirl around the main story, but the essence of the film is the comparison of the value of words vs. pictures. I know which I would vote for.

* * *

Incidentally, I was doing a little reading about how words and pictures affect brain function when I came across an article at thinkonyourfeet.com. The article states that right-brained people are more likely to think in images whereas those of us who are left-brained are more likely to think in words. One of the conclusions in the article is that writing demands a whole-brain approach. I like that.

So TKZers: Which is more powerful: Words or Pictures? Do you think in words or in pictures? Have you seen the movie Words and Pictures? What’s your opinion? What movie about writing and / or authors would you recommend?

Handwriting Versus Typing

I was listening to a podcast a few years ago that addressed the benefits of handwriting versus typing. The interviewee (I don’t remember her name) was a graduate student who had forgotten to take her laptop to a class one day and had to resort to taking notes by hand. To her surprise, she discovered she had retained more of the lecture information than she normally did. This led to a research project to compare the benefits of the two methods of taking notes.

The memory of that podcast recently prompted a question in my mind: outside of taking notes in class, does anyone write in long hand anymore? If so, what kind of writing lends itself to longhand vs. typing. I found some interesting information online.

*** 

In a 2021 article on whenyouwrite.com, Jessica Majewski summarized several benefits which I’ve paraphrased here:

Writing by hand is more focused. There are fewer distractions than using a laptop where there are constant temptations to check email or read the latest news story. Also, there are no word processing limitations when writing by hand. The author can draw a mind map, jot side notes, or doodle images without having to open another app.

But typing has its advantages, too. Doing research is a breeze if you’re on your laptop. Just hop over to another app to search out the information you need. Copy and paste articles into your research folder and keep going. But the primary advantage to typing is speed. And sooner or later everything you write is going to have to be typed into a word processor, so unless you’re fortunate enough to have a secretary to do the transition, you’ll have to do the additional work yourself.

But how do the different methods affect creativity? Majewski makes the following case in her article:

“When you are writing by hand, your cognitive processes are more involved than when you type and this can lead to some random springs of ideas. And at the pace of handwriting, you’re not worried about your hands outpacing your brain.”

In a 2017 article on qz.com, Ephrat Livni makes the following statement:

“Brain scans during the two activities also show that forming words by hand as opposed to on a keyboard leads to increased brain activity. Scientific studies of children and adults show that wielding a pen when taking notes, rather than typing, is associated with improved long-term information retention, better thought organization, and increased ability to generate ideas.”

That all sounds good, but does anybody actually write the first draft of a novel by hand? Well, yes. Here are a few authors you may have heard of who have written one or more novels by hand:

  • Joyce Carol Oates
  • Stephen King
  • J. K. Rowling
  • Quentin Tarantino

***

As an experiment, I wrote this blog post in long hand. My thoughts flowed as I was writing, and there was a sense of freedom in the process that was different from typing. Fortunately, I was able to read my own handwriting when I finished, and I transferred it to a Word doc.

Well, I’m almost out of paper, so I’ll stop now. We haven’t touched on another creative method: Speech to Text. Maybe we can cover that in a later post.

***

So TKZers – Do you ever write in long hand? What advantages or disadvantages have you noticed using handwriting vs. typing? Has this article convinced you to give handwriting another go?

Seven Reasons to Attend a Writers Conference

After a couple of years of Covid, writers are again taking to the highways and airports to gather with colleagues at writers’ conferences.

My husband and I recently returned from attending two conferences just a couple of weeks apart. Although the conferences were different in their content and presentation, they were each wonderful in their own way.

Killer Nashville is targeted (love that word) at mystery, suspense, and thriller writers. We were there for two reasons: First, Hank Phillippi Ryan was one of the keynote speakers, and studying Ms. Ryan’s book Truth Be Told had a great influence on me when I was working on my first book. Secondly, my novel Time After Tyme was a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award in the cozy mystery category.

The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference was held in St. Louis this year. One major reason we chose that one was to meet James Scott Bell and attend his Story Grinder course. Mr. Bell’s books on the craft of writing, his courses and novels have been hugely instrumental in my own writing career.

There are many reasons to attend a conference, and lots of benefits to be had. Here are a few:

  1. Gather with fellow writers. Authors spend a lot of time in solitary pursuit of the perfect story. It’s a good idea to get out occasionally and meet new people. Even for those of us who are introverted, the company of fellow authors is special. After all, most of those people are introverts, too.
  2. Learn a new skill. Workshops, lectures, and courses give writers an opportunity to sharpen their expertise in the craft.
  3. Get feedback on a current project. Most conferences provide some critical feedback of an author’s work for free. Others charge a small fee.
  4. Pitch your work. Conferences are an opportunity to pitch your work to an agent or an acquisitions editor. Remember to rehearse your pitch and have it ready. You never know who you may bump into on the elevator.
  5. Sell some books. Most conferences have a means to offer your books on consignment. We’ve had success in selling a few books at each of the conferences we’ve attended.
  6. Help a new author. Many attendees are first-timers. This is an opportunity to provide encouragement and feedback to someone who is just beginning their writing journey.
  7. Get motivated. Conferences have a way of energizing the author and getting the creative juices flowing. Use the excitement to build on your next novel.

Deciding on the ideal conference

Choosing a writing conference is similar to finding a college to attend. There are plenty of choices, and you’ll want to consider size, focus, cost, and travel distance. Some conferences are specifically tuned to a narrow genre selection. Others may be open to any writing area. There are plenty of lists online, but I think the best resource for finding a good conference is from your colleagues, like those here at TKZ. I hope we’ll see some recommendations in the comments.

Before you sign up

  • Check out the conference to see if it offers the kinds of courses and workshops you’re interested in.
  • Research the professional editors and agents who will be onsite for appointments, and register early to get appointments with the ones you want to meet with.
  • If you’re going to put your books on consignment in the book shop, be sure you understand when to drop the books off, when you have to pick them up, and any other requirements

One more thing

I wanted to have some clever and useful give-aways at the conferences this year to advertise my mystery series, so I had some jar openers made to take with me, but they didn’t arrive in time for Killer Nashville. No problem, I thought. I’ll take them to ACFW. However, when I arrived at the ACFW conference with over a hundred jar openers ready to be placed on a swag table, I was told they didn’t have an area for that. I should have checked.

So, TKZers: What conferences have you attended and which would you recommend? What benefits have you experienced by attending a conference?

 

A gripping experience! If you’d like one of these FREE cute and practical jar openers (5-inch diameter), send me an email or contact me through my website at kaydibianca.com with your name and address. I’ll send you one while supplies last.

Walking with the Wise

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise” – Proverbs 13:20a

***

Over the past several years, I’ve been privileged to conduct interviews on my blog at kaydibianca.com with many highly-respected authors of books on the craft of writing. One question I’ve asked almost every interviewee is “What advice would you give a new writer?” Here are some of their answers:

***

James Scott Bell (Plot & Structure) “It’s the same answer every time: write to a quota. Get in the habit of writing a certain number of words every week, week in and week out. You have to practice what you learn in craft books and classes. You have to exercise your imagination. You have to produce the pages if you want to make it in this game.”

Steve Laube (The Christian Writers Market Guide) “To quote a line from the movie “Galaxy Quest”: Never give up. Never Surrender. Seriously. This is an industry that demands excellence. Few writers are born as a perfect writer. Instead, most writers are marked by a dogged determination to improve their craft, learn the industry, build relationships, and create great ideas.”

Randy Ingermanson (How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method) “Create a habit of writing every day. You can analyze author success mathematically, and there are four crucial factors. One of the factors of a successful career is production. A habit of writing every day drives production. One of the other factors is quality. A habit of writing every day builds quality. So write every day. Every single day.”

Renni Browne (Self-editing for Fiction Writers) “Don’t self-edit your first draft. Let the story pour out, unimpeded by self-editing points, grammar, anything you’ve read or heard from famous writers, and so on. Story first, style later.”

Dave King (Self-editing for Fiction Writers) “Writing is hard.  It doesn’t take long to learn the basics of writing well enough to write competently, especially if you have the help of a professional editor (ADVT).  But to really develop the writer’s gifts – the insight into people you need to create layered characters, the awareness of how your readers will react to your story, the ability to make all the different aspects of your novel work together – takes time to develop.”

Angela Ackerman (The Emotion Thesaurus) “Tough to narrow it down to a single piece of advice, lol. I think what I would probably say is to not be in a rush. Developing strong storytelling skills takes time. Can anyone belt out a book and publish it? Yes. Should they? Not if their intent is to have a satisfying career if their skills are not at the level needed for that to happen.”

H.R. D’Costa (Story Stakes) “The advice I’d give is to make sure that you work on cultivating the right mindset. In fact, I’d put that above even developing plotting and marketing skills. With a healthy mindset, when you run into a thorny plot problem, you won’t give up on the manuscript (or perhaps on writing itself). Instead, you’ll persevere. You’ll power through.”

Jodie Renner (Fire Up Your Fiction) “Don’t be in a rush to publish your novel or send it off to agents. Be sure to go through it several times, then get some volunteer beta readers to go through it and give you their impressions. Then, if you can afford a professional editor, that would be invaluable. Agents and small publishers are flooded with submissions, so the slightest off-putting issue (wordiness, repetition, bland characters, stilted dialogue, not enough intrigue or tension, typos, punctuation errors, bloopers, etc.) will quickly land your story in the “rejects” pile.”

K.M. Weiland (Creating Character Arcs) “Find the process that works best for you. Explore and experiment and figure out what best unleashes your creativity. For example, outlines aren’t one size fits all. My outline won’t look anything like someone else’s outline. So just because one outlining approach doesn’t do it for you, don’t give up right away. Play around and see if you can find the right blend of tools and techniques for you.”

Martha Alderson (The Plot Whisperer) “Understand that writing a novel from beginning to end takes you on an epic journey. You’ll learn as much about yourself as you do about stories the longer you write. Keep going. Trust the process.”

***

So, TKZers: What advice would you give to new writers?

***

                    It’s About Time

The Watch Series of cozy mysteries is available here.

Mountweazels and More!

The 1943 edition of Webster’s Twentieth Century Dictionary contains the following definition:

jungftak, n.–a Persian bird, the male of which had only one wing, on the right side, and the female only one wing, on the left side; instead of the missing wings, the male had a hook of bone, and the female an eyelet of bone, and it was by uniting hook and eye that they were enabled to fly, — each, when alone, had to remain on the ground.

***

Wow. What a wonderful definition. Who knew there was such a bird?

Actually, there isn’t. It’s an example of a mountweazel, an entirely fabricated definition. But why would Webster’s dictionary, a highly professional and well-respected tome, include it? Well, because dictionaries, like encyclopedias and maps, contain some bogus data.

Why would they do that? To protect their copyrights. A lot of effort goes into the production of these works, and they can be simple to copy. However, if the dictionary contains some definitions that are made up, it’s easy to catch copyright violators.

The source of the term mountweazel is from this bogus biographical entry in the fourth edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975).

Mountweazel, Lillian Virginia, 1942-1973, American photographer, b. Bangs, Ohio. Turning from fountain design to photography in 1963, Mountweazel produced her celebrated portraits of the South Sierra Miwok in 1964. She was awarded government grants to make a series of photo-essays of unusual subject matter, including New York City buses, the cemeteries of Paris, and rural American mailboxes. The last group was exhibited extensively abroad and published as Flags Up! (1972). Mountweazel died at 31 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine.

Although Ms. Mountweazel did not exist, a new word found its way into the English language.

***

In addition to mountweazels, this language of ours abounds with opportunities for fun. For example,

  1. Spoonerisms

Named after Rev. William Spooner, who became infamous for inadvertently switching the beginning sounds of words to hilarious effect. One of Rev. Spooner’s most famous spoonerisms was when he attended church and found someone sitting in his usual seat:

“Someone is occupewing my pie. Please sew me to another sheet.” (“Someone is occupying my pew. Please show me to another seat.”)

  1. Malapropisms

Named after the character “Mrs. Malaprop” from the 1775 play The Rivals, malapropisms replace a word with an incorrect homonym or close relative, again to hilarious effect. One example:

He is the very pineapple of politeness!” (“He is the very pinnacle of politeness.”)

We had a friend who used malapropisms frequently, but unintentionally. She once told me she had a doctor’s appointment. “Is everything okay?” I asked. “Oh, yes. I just have to have my annual milligram.” Our conversations were often bewildering, but always fun.

  1. Tom Swifties

A Tom Swifty is a play on words using a quotation usually ascribed to Tom and followed by an adverb. Here’s an example:

“I need a pencil sharpener,” Tom said bluntly.

Some of my favorite Tom Swifties have been offered here on TKZ.

***

Okay, TKZ sothers and bristers: It’s your turn. What’s your favorite word? Do you have a favorite play on words or fabricated definition you’d like to share? I bet you’ll come up with some real wise prinners.

A Mystery of History

“Truth is the daughter of time.” – Francis Bacon

Several months ago, I posted The History of Mystery on the Kill Zone blog, and I listed twelve examples of novels and authors that represented important milestones in the history of the genre. In his comment on that post, Dale Ivan Smith mentioned a book I had not considered: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Dale pointed out that Ms. Tey’s novel had some very prestigious acclaim:  In 1990 it was voted number one in The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time list compiled by the British Crime Writers’ Association.

Of course, with that endorsement, I had to read the book, and I was captivated by it. So much so that I asked Dale if he would co-write this post with me, and I’m deeply grateful that he agreed. Without further ado, join us in the Court of Literary Criticism as we examine two aspects of The Daughter of Time, a mystery of history.

SCENE I: THE COURTROOM

The judge banged her gavel, and the room fell silent. She allowed her gaze to slowly sweep across the crowded courtroom until every eye was firmly focused on her.

“It is said that truth is the daughter of time,” she announced in a commanding voice. She turned her head and peered over the rims of her glasses at the two people in the jury box. “Dale Ivan Smith and Kay DiBianca, you have been appointed to decide two issues related to this proverb.

“First, is Josephine Tey’s mystery, The Daughter of Time, truly the greatest crime novel of all time?

“Secondly, as discussed at length in the novel, is King Richard III of Great Britain guilty of the murder of his nephews Edward and Richard, also known as the Princes in the Tower?“

Then she read a summary of the book for the edification of the court.

The Daughter of Time is an ambitious novel that begins quietly, with Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant laid up in a hospital while recovering from a fall and unable to leave his bed. Failing to find books to entertain him, Grant is bored and irritable. But when his actress friend Marta presents him with a stack of images of various people, his talent for analyzing faces is aroused.

“He settles on a picture of a medieval prince and discovers it to be Richard III. He then begins to read about the monarch and his alleged murder of his nephews.

“Aided by a young American scholar, Grant begins a deep dive into the events surrounding the episode and concludes that Richard III was innocent of his nephews’ murder. He theorizes that the boys lived into the early 1500s and were murdered in secret on the orders of Henry VII, the man who became king after Richard III was slain at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.”

The judge took off her reading glasses and addressed the two jurors. ”You may deliberate as long as you like. Please report back when you’ve accomplished your reading assignment and reached your verdicts.”

 

SCENE II: THE JURY ROOM

Kay: Okay. I read the book twice. How should we go about analyzing its quality?

Dale: I also read the book twice. Why don’t we list the various criteria we will judge the book on and write our opinions under each one?

The Setting

Kay: The entire novel takes place inside a hospital room. In that way, it reminded me of Rear Window which also takes place in one room. Did the author succeed in keeping your interest?

Dale: Yes. The hospital setting for the novel was literally the classic white room, but Tey infused it with detail, mainly by keeping us close to Grant, POV-wise, so that we were right there with him at all times as he lay in bed and stared at the cracks in the ceiling, listening to the sounds outside his room, and later, surrounded by books.

The Structure

Dale: The novel’s structure is one of its greatest strengths. Once Alan Grant begins his investigation from his hospital bed, the story unfolded, to my mind, like the classic murder mystery plot, with unexpected developments, setbacks, and even a ticking clock as time ran out. What did you think of the novel’s structure? Did you find it effective?

Kay: I liked Tey’s use of a story within a story. Although that’s not unique, investigating a historical event within a fictional book was particularly appealing to me.

The Characters

Kay: There were two sets of characters in this book: the fictional characters of Alan Grant and those around him, and the historical characters that include Richard III, Sir Thomas More, William Shakespeare, and others. I had a little trouble keeping up with all the historical Elizabeths, Henrys, and Georges, but I thought the fictional characters were well-constructed and engaging.

Dale: The fictional characters of Grant, Marta, Brent Carradine, and others were vividly drawn, especially through dialogue, and each was distinctive. The way she zeroed in on the mystery, starting with Richard III and the princes, and then moved through the numerous Woodvilles and other personages, let the reader become familiar with each. She kept her focus on Grant and Carradine’s views of these personages, with Grant’s detective inspector’s view of human nature bringing a pragmatic angle to how those people were viewed.

The Investigation

Dale: Tey was convincing in how she portrayed Grant and his investigation, which looked at who had motive for the murder other than Richard, and who stood to most benefit. His dogged determination to follow the investigation to wherever it led fit his modern detective’s mindset and approach.

Kay: The portrayal of Grant’s use of modern detective methods to investigate the alleged crime was clever and well done.

The Criticism of History Books

Kay: Josephine Tey went beyond the determination of Richard III’s culpability. Her real message was about the fallibility of history writings. Some of the examples that she wove into the story were eye-popping. Had you ever heard about Tonypandy before?

Dale: I had not heard of Tonypandy before. It was a terrific illustration of how historical myths arise, and how they can form narratives that serve those in power. By the same token, as someone with a degree in history, I found Grant’s depiction of Sir Thomas More’s historical account of the murders as biased and flawed a bit problematic, though great fun. I did enjoy Grant’s embrace of primary sources, and uncovering them with Carradine’s help was more exciting then I would have imagined.

Josephine Tey’s Style

Dale: Tey is a superb writer, with an evocative narrative style that brought the story to life. The dialogue is precise and equally evocative. An example taken at random: Grant, “If your two sons had been murdered by your brother-in-law, would you take a handsome pension from him?”

Kay: I admire Tey’s prose. One particularly amusing description of Mrs. Tinker leaving the hospital room: “When she had gone creaking away, in a shoes-and-corset concerto …”

***

Dale: I guess we’ve covered all the bases, and it’s time to report back to the judge. Are you ready?

Kay: Yes. Let’s go.

 

SCENE III: THE COURTROOM

Judge: Members of the jury, Dale Ivan Smith and Kay DiBianca, what is your verdict? Is The Daughter of Time the best crime novel ever written?

Dale: I can not declare it to be the best crime novel ever written, but it is certainly one of the very finest ones, for the way in which it unravels an ancient mystery, and the way it shows the police mindset being applied to solving that mystery.

Kay: How can you compare The Daughter of Time with Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None or Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep? All three books tell vastly different stories, but In each case, the style matches the narrative. Having said that, Tey’s novel deserves special consideration since it challenges the reader to discern truth out of the cacophony of information and misinformation we encounter in our lives. For me, that elevates The Daughter of Time to the #1 position. (Besides, I thought the title was brilliant.)

Judge: And how do you find the defendant, King Richard III? GUILTY or NOT GUILTY?

Dale: I find Richard III GUILTY as charged. My own research revealed that Sir Thomas More spoke with the sons of one of the alleged murderers, Miles Forest, using that as a the basis for his account. Both sons rose to very important positions in the Tudor court. Moreover, Richard III faced a serious rebellion in 1483 by supporters of young Edward IV, so he had additional reason to have the two princes put away, permanently. The politics of that age could be ruthless, and Richard III was very much a product of that time.

Kay: I find Richard III NOT GUILTY. There are other plausible explanations for the deaths of the two princes, and there is simply not enough evidence to prove Richard III’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Judge: Thank you, members of the jury, for your service. You are hereby dismissed.

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” – Proverbs 18:17

So TKZers: Have you read The Daughter of Time? What novel would you recommend as the best mystery ever? Do you have an opinion on the validity of history books? Do you think Richard III is guilty or not guilty?

Adventures in Reversion – Getting the Rights Back

Reversion, noun. the act of turning something the reverse way.

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I recently received the rights back to my first novel, The Watch on the Fencepost. Since many writers either have gone through this process or will in the future, I thought it might be valuable to share my experience.

DISCLAIMER: This is not legal advice. It’s just a list of a few of the lessons I learned while navigating this new pathway in the writing journey.

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First, let me say I was happy with the company that published my first book. The publisher was easy to work with, and I had fully intended to leave the book with them. For several reasons, though, my husband and I decided to publish the next books in the series independently through our Wordstar Publishing Company. So, in order to promote the series as a whole, I needed to have the rights to the first book.

Once I had met the obligations required by my contract with the publisher, I requested the reversion of the rights to me, and the publisher agreed. That was the easy part of this whole process.

Note: This is still a work in progress, but here’s a list of some of the things I’ve learned:

  • Cover – I had to get a new cover since the original one was licensed by the publishing company. No problem here – I wanted a new cover anyway.
  • ISBN – a new publisher requires a new ISBN.
  • Content – I didn’t change any of the story content. The only changes were to the Copyright page and the About the Author page. However, this is an opportunity for authors to make significant changes to the content if they like.
  • Formatting – Since the publisher had made a few changes to the manuscript after I turned it over to them, I didn’t have the latest copy on my laptop. I requested and received the latest copy from them and they sent me a PDF. I had to convert it to Word in order to work with it in Vellum. There were a few “gotchas” along the way that made this the most time-consuming part of the process.
  • Reviews – I wanted to retain all of the 200+ reviews the book had on Amazon, so I contacted KDP Support and Author Central to make sure I was doing everything needed to keep the reviews. Basically, they told me the title, author, and metadata in the new edition had to be exactly the same as in the old edition. They suggested I publish the new edition while the old one was still online so that they could be linked.
  • KDP requirements – I decided to publish on Amazon first. When I had all the files in place, I let my publisher know the plan and I published the ebook and paperback through KDP. Everything went well until KDP did the content review and discovered the content was like the old version of the book which was still live on Amazon. I supplied them with an email the publisher had sent me that verified he was returning the rights to me. Then they linked the new edition with the old one so that the reviews would appear on the new detail page. There are still a few issues left to be resolved, but the new Wordstar version is available and can be purchased on Amazon.
  • Other retailers – I also published, with varying degrees of success, to the other retail platforms: Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play, and ingram Spark. As of today, there are still some wrinkles that need to be ironed out. The publisher has not yet unpublished the first edition, and a few other issues need to be addressed.
  • The Audiobook – This is still uncharted territory to me. I’ll have to work with Findaway Voices to have the rights transferred to me and to change the cover image. The audiobook has more than 250 reviews on Chirpbooks, and I hope to find a way to keep those.
  • Miscellaneous – If you decide to get your book rights back for a book that was traditionally  published, be sure to save all the information from the former version, including ASIN and ISBN.
  • Major lesson learned – Be ready to deal with unanticipated problems.

Like most other things in life, this has taken a lot longer than I thought it would. And I discovered different members of support staffs had different answers to my questions. At least KDP will talk to the customer. The other retailers would only work through email, and that slowed things down considerably.

All in all, the reversion process has moved ahead reasonably well, and I’m still optimistic that we can resolve the rest of the issues.

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So TkZers: Have you gotten rights back to a previously published book? Do you have any insights or advice to add to this list?

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In celebration of having gotten this far, The Watch on the Fencepost ebook is available on Amazon all week for 99¢. Click here to get your copy.

 

THE WATCH ON THE FENCEPOST – A PUZZLE OF A MYSTERY.

“I started it … and to my surprise, I couldn’t stop. Nice job!” – Will Shortz, New York times crossword puzzle editor and NPR Puzzlemaster.