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.

It’s a Mystery!

When I was writing my first novel, a friend asked what kind of book it was. I said it was a cozy mystery, but she didn’t know what that was, so I explained, “It’s a mystery with no explicit violence, no explicit sexual content, and usually no profanity. After her cheerful, “I guess you realize there’ll be no audience” response, I pretended to smile. (I get that remark a lot.)

But then I got to thinking. Many, if not all, of Agatha Christie’s works fall into the category I had explained to my friend, as do Dorothy Sayers’ books. Why aren’t they considered cozies? So here I am, several novels down the road, and I wonder if I should revisit this whole genre thing.

* * *

Dictionary.com defines a mystery as “a novel, short story, play, or film whose plot involves a crime or other event that remains puzzlingly unsettled until the very end.”

The search for a definitive list of mystery subgenres was more complicated than I thought it would be. Mysteries can be subdivided in many different ways depending on the point of view of the person defining them. I found an article I liked on the website of the Handley Regional Library System, and I’ve used that as a basis for this list. (Please note this is not intended to be an exhaustive description of the genre. I’ve combined some of my own opinions with those I’ve found in articles on the subject.)

* * *

Classic Mysteries can be exemplified by Agatha Christie’s works. There is a crime, usually a murder, and the story is concerned with identifying the killer(s). Classic mysteries, like cozies, generally don’t include any explicit violence or sexual content, and there’s usually no profanity. Some of the notable entries in this category are Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novels and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.

Cozy Mysteries can be seen as a subset of classics. As noted above, cozies also don’t contain explicit violence or sexual content and rarely use profanity. The action usually takes place in a small village or on a university campus. Cozies almost always have an amateur sleuth who becomes involved in the case and may solve it. (But then, wasn’t Miss Marple an amateur sleuth?) Over the years, cozies have evolved, and current examples may include paranormal elements, animals helping solve crimes, or other unusual aspects. (This is why I wondered if my books are in the wrong category.) M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series and the Murder, She Wrote series are examples of this subgenre.


Hardboiled or Noir Mysteries – These two subgenres that were very popular in the 30’s and 40’s seem to be interchangeable. They’re often characterized by a no-nonsense detective who battles the creeps and criminals in an urban environment. According to the Handley Regional Library blog, “Noir protagonists are complex characters who are flawed, risk takers and often self-destructive.” Makes one immediately think of Raymond Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe: “I’m an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.” Or Dashiell Hammett’s detective, Sam Spade. Michael Connelly is quoted as saying, “Chandler credited Hammett with taking the mystery out of the drawing-room and putting it out on the street where it belongs.”


Police Procedural Mysteries focus on the investigation process of a police officer or officers. There are several in this subgenre that I like: The Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French, the Bosch series by Michael Connelly, and The Dry by Jane Harper.


Capers are a kind of mystery where the reader is in on the crime. I don’t know a lot about this subgenre, but the description sounds like some likeable criminals who pull off a crime and fool the inept authorities. One example in this category is William Goldman’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.


There are other subgenres that I discovered, including True Crime, Legal Thrillers, Howcatchem (the opposite of Whodunit), Historical, and Locked Room. But there’s so much crossover between subgenres that it’s hard to pigeonhole a book into just one area.

So I’m still not sure how to refer to my books. For now, I’ll just stick with Mystery.

* * *

So TKZers: What subgenre of mystery do you prefer? Who’s your favorite author or authors? If you write mystery, what subgenre are you in?


The Watch Mysteries: Books 1-3

The Achilles Option

Achilles was, of course, the greatest of all the warriors of Greek mythology and the magnificent champion of the Greek forces in the Trojan War. Here’s a brief (and, I hope, mostly accurate) retelling of part of his story.

Achilles’ father was Peleus, a mortal human, but his mother was the immortal sea nymph Thetis.

Thetis, being a good mother, wanted to protect her darling offspring, so she held the infant Achilles by one of his heels and dipped him in the river Styx to make him invulnerable. (What mothers won’t do for their children!) That one spot left him defenseless on his heel, but it also lent his name to the strong, fibrous cord that connects the muscles on the back of the calf to the heel bone, an area that’s susceptible to overuse injury. Ask any runner.

Back to the story: Although Achilles’ physical body was well protected, his ego was easily bruised. At the start of The Iliad, the epic poem about the Trojan War, we find Achilles pouting in his tent because the leader of the Greek forces has commandeered Achilles’ war prize for himself. Achilles can afford to be a spoiled brat. The Greeks need him to win the war, and he knows it.

Without Achilles on the battlefield, the tide of war turns against the Greeks, and a team of Greek leaders visit Achilles to try to convince him to return to battle. But Achilles isn’t ready to abandon his version of victimhood, and he tells them he’s considering giving it all up and going home. So there. He explains that his goddess mother told him he would have two options in life: a) he would fight in the Trojan War and die gloriously, or b) he would return home to live a long, but uneventful, life. 

It’s a great metaphor for the options we have and the choices we make in our own battles.

* * *

As writers, we’ve made a choice to bequeath something of ourselves to posterity.

So, TKZers: in the manner of the Achilles options, I present two hypothetical possibilities for your writing life and livelihood. Please pick one of the following:

Option A) You are a wildly successful author. Your books live on the New York Times best seller list for months. You make millions, and you’re sought after for interviews and guest appearances on the most popular talk shows. But fifty years after your death, your books are considered prosaic. They’re almost never read, and your name has disappeared from all things literary, never to be seen again.

Option B) You’re a midlist author. You may eke out a living with your writing, or you may have to work another job to stay alive. But you have a story to tell, and you work hard at the craft. Fifty years after your death, your books are “discovered.” You’re hailed as one of the hundred best authors of the twenty-first century, and your books are cited as classics for hundreds of years.

Which option would you choose?

What’s In A Name?

Here on the Kill Zone, we occasionally talk about the art and craft of naming characters. We’ve gotten inspiration from some famous fictional names like Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Scarlett O’Hara. (Did you know Margaret Mitchell originally wanted to name her protagonist “Pansy”?)

I love creating names for my characters. Although I occasionally pick a name for no reason other than it seems to fit, more often I use names of beloved relatives, elementary school teachers, neighbors, friends, and even the name of the street a favorite aunt lived on. I’ve also been known to rearrange the letters of a surname. I like to think this is a way to honor people who have been positive influences in my life. Although my readers may not know how special these names are to me, I know.

* * *

Here’s a true story about names that you may not have heard:

In 1958, a man living in New York was about to become a father for the sixth time. He wanted to give his new child a name that would be an advantage growing up, so he named the boy “Winner.”

Three years later, he became a father for the seventh time. It was another boy. He asked one of his other children what she thought they should name the new baby. She said since they already had a “Winner,” he should name the new baby—you guessed it—“Loser.” Believe it or not, the father took her suggestion.

Remember, this is a true story.

Before I go on, I’d like you to reflect for a moment on what kind of lives you think these two boys must have had as they grew up. I’ll wait…

* * *

If you’re like me, you probably assumed Winner lived up to the appellation his father gave him and excelled in all he did. And Loser—well, we can only feel bad for the poor little guy.

But the truth is exactly the opposite.

The two boys grew up in the same environment with many of the same friends.

Winner became a criminal at age nineteen when he was arrested for aggravated assault. Over the years, he committed dozens of other crimes and spent time in jail. Eventually, he landed on the streets of New York as a homeless person.

On the other hand, Loser was a strong student, received a scholarship to a prep school in Connecticut, and attended college where he was an excellent athlete. After college, he joined the New York Police Department and rose to the rank of detective. Although he said his name never bothered him, others referred to him as “Lou.”

So it appears a person’s character can transcend his/her name.

* * *

According to an article published on dictionary.com in March 2022, there are laws restricting certain baby names. The United States is very lenient in this area. Each state can legislate its own name restrictions. For example, if you live in  New Jersey, you’re not allowed to give a child a name that contains obscenity, numerals, or symbols.

Other countries are generally more restrictive than we are here in the U.S. For example, the article in dictionary.com goes on to say:

In France, for example, parents have been banned from giving their children names that would “lead to a childhood of mockery,” such as Prince William and Mini Cooper. In Germany, a court ruled that a couple couldn’t name their child “Stone” because “a child cannot identify with it, because it is an object.” Möwe (“seagull”) was rejected as well, because the bird is “a nuisance and is seen as a pest and would therefore degrade the child.” In Denmark, parents must select from a list of pre-approved names, and if they want to use one that’s not on the list, they must get special permission.

I bet none of those countries would have allowed “Winner” and “Loser.”

* * *

So TKZers: How do you come up with names for your characters? Do you name them after people you’ve known? Do you try to select a name that reflects the character’s inner strengths and weaknesses? Or do you give them a name that’s in opposition to their character? 

* * *

Speaking of names: Mr. Tyme was the unfortunate victim in the third book of the Watch series of mysteries. You might be able to guess why I came up with that name.

The e-book is on sale today for 99¢ 


Plotting With Post-it Notes

There’s a three-door closet in my office. At some point early in my writing career, it occurred to me that this closet would be particularly useful for creating a storyboard as I constructed my novels. Each door represented one act in the story.

I’m a hybrid plotter/pantser. I think of my method more as a process of iterative writing, and the storyboard works well for me. First, I come up with a general plot idea, post the first scenes on the storyboard, and start writing. Each day, I stand in front of the storyboard and think about how the story is developing. I decide on additional scenes, post them, write them, and repeat the process.

Here’s a brief summary of the post-it note storyboard I created for my fourth novel.

* * *


Once I decided on the first scene and a few characters, I set the storyboard up.. It was laid out horizontally, left to right. I use different colors to represent different elements of the story. Here’s a reconstruction of the initial setup for my WIP with definitions added for each color.

The three acts are in orange. The purple notes are plot points (e.g., hook, inciting incident.) The story is mainly written in first person, so the white notes are for those scenes. There are a few flashback scenes that are denoted by light pink. There has to be a fair amount of real estate for the white and light pink notes since scenes are the greatest part of the.storyboard.

Characters are in dark pink.

With this book, I had the idea to note particular places where I wanted the reader to wonder what’s going on (e.g., Why is she so mad? Why would thieves steal something of so little value?) I call those Suspense points, and they’re in blue.

I also wanted to mark where information is revealed to the reader. (e.g., Ah, that’s why he’s so distant.) Those Reveal notes are light green.

* * *


I add or change the plot to satisfy something I’ve discovered, then I continue to write. Sometimes I decide on an ending before I’ve figured out all the details in Act 2. In the picture below, I’ve defined all the characters and have Act 1 pretty much under control. I’ve added scenes for Act 3, and I’ve begun work on the middle. Most of the purple plot points have been put in place.

This cycle continues until I think the story is completely fleshed out.

* * *



Here’s the storyboard as it appeared when I was close to completing the first draft.

You can see I added a couple of yellow post-it notes to the right-hand door. These are possible themes for the book.

At this point, the story is well-defined in my head, and I won’t bother changing the notes on the doors.

* * *


There are several reasons I like the storyboard.

  1. I like seeing the entire story laid out in front of me as I’m building it. I can reacquaint myself with the sequence of events in just a few minutes.
  2. It helps me spot places where a new scene should be inserted or others should be rearranged.
  3. Moving things around is fast and easy.
  4. There’s something satisfying about the tactile nature of jotting down a note and adding it to the story or moving a note from one place to another.
  5. i can design my storyboard the way I want it without having to adapt it to an app.

There are ways to do this electronically. I work in Scrivener, and there’s a corkboard feature that displays scenes on an electronic corkboard. I suspect there are apps that let you lay out the entire story as I did here, but I can’t see the “big picture” without having a big space to lay it out on.


So TKZers: How do you plot your stories? Are you a plotter or pantser? Do you use an outline or some kind of index card layout to organize your thoughts?

First Page Critique — Filthy Money

Let’s welcome another Brave Author who submitted a first page for review and critique. Please read through this submission, Filthy Money, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Filthy Money

It’s effortless, like a gliding albatross.

A shaft of sun bounces off the silver leading edge of the Cessna’s wing. I blink and glance down at the instrument panel. Only seven minutes, thirty nautical miles to the island. I scan the horizon.

And there it is.

Santa Catarina.

A dark iris surrounded by the tranquil cerulean blue waters of the Indian Ocean.

The runway, a bleached grey stripe, cuts through the sickle-shaped piece of land. It’ll have deteriorated. It’s been twenty years since this runway, once a carpet-smooth welcome to the wealthy and famed, was abandoned.

The question is how badly has it deteriorated?

I can see pockets sea grass in the still shallow waters. The dune bush barely ripples. I dip slow and low over the runway to check the condition of the surface.

I peer down. It’s a crumbling ribbon. The tar has cracked and burst in the searing sun. The hairs on my nape and arms lift.

Tall yellow weeds droop at the outer edges.

A second loop confirms my fears.

It’s not safe to land. Only an idiot would try. I’ve got to think of the safety of the five passengers sitting cocooned in luxury behind me. Never mind the likely damage to the state-of-the-art jet I am piloting.

Vonn will not take this news well. Not after all the months of strategy meetings and preparations. I wipe my clammy hand on my trousers.

‘Mr Le Clezio?’ At first, he doesn’t hear me. My voice is reluctant. I clear my throat and call again.

He acknowledges me with a nod of his head, then swallows the half inch of Wild Turkey in the tumbler and turns to Butch. ‘Drink up, we’re about to land.’ He slips the now half empty bottle into the side pocket of his holdall.

‘Mr Le Clezio, I’m sorry. It’s not safe to land. The runway’s in a far worse state than we were advised.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous, José.’ He spits the words at me.

In my peripheral vision, I’m aware of Butch turning to face me. Judging, watching. He’s the only investor invited to join Vonn in this first recce. Embarrassing Vonn is not an option. Sweat pricks in my hairline.

‘I thought this bloody fancy jet was designed to land on rough terrain?’

‘It is, but —’

‘Well, land it. That’s what I pay you for.’


* * *

First Impression: Right away, the first sentence caught my attention by juxtaposing the serenity of gliding with the foreboding of the word “albatross.” Nice. And anytime a scene begins with people in an airplane, you know there’s going to be trouble.

The setting: The author did an excellent job of setting up the environment without going into too much detail. “A dark iris surrounded by the tranquil cerulean blue waters of the Indian Ocean.” We know where we are geographically.

Pace: Each sentence drew me to the next one. The contrast between the beauty of the island and the impending danger is well done.

Stakes: In just a few paragraphs, we learn the problem. We can feel the pilot’s angst, and we know even before he turns to call to Mr. Moneybags that things are going to escalate quickly. James Scott Bell wrote in a recent TKZ post, “Unless the conflict is a life-and-death struggle, the plot will not engage as it should.” This plot clearly avoids that problem.

POV: I also like the use of first person, present tense. It gives a sense of immediacy that works well here. (There were several comments about writing in first person, present tense on John Gilstrap’s TKZ post last week, so I’ll be interested to see what others think of this.)

* * *

There were a few areas I thought needed some work:

The Title: I don’t particularly care for Filthy Money as the title. “Filthy” isn’t one of my favorite words, but I don’t have an alternative since I don’t know the entire story. Maybe some commenters can chime in and make a suggestion.

Grammar: I spotted a couple of small issues in one sentence and I show the corrections here:

I can see pockets of sea grass in the still, shallow waters.


Other Issues:

“A shaft of sun bounces off the silver leading edge of the Cessna’s wing.” When I initially read this, I assumed the Cessna was the kind I flew: a single-engine, propeller-driven, four-seater. To avoid that misunderstanding, add the specific model (e.g., Cessna Citation).

“He’s the only investor invited to join Vonn in this first recce.” I had to look up the word “recce.” The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “the process of visiting and quickly looking around a place in order to find out information about it.” Maybe readers of thrillers would know this, but I didn’t. If it isn’t common knowledge to the intended audience, replace it.

“The runway, a bleached grey stripe, cuts through the sickle-shaped piece of land.”  The island was originally described as an “iris,” which I assume is round.

British vs. American spelling and punctuation. The use of the word “grey” rather than “gray” in the snippet above and the use of single quotes rather than double quotes to enclose dialogue throughout the piece indicate the author is British. If the intended audience is largely American, it would be wise to change to the American standard. (i.e., “gray” and double quotes for dialogue.)

Those were the only real issues I found. However, I think the prose could be tightened up a bit. I noticed the words “deteriorated” and “runway” were used more than once in close proximity. I’ve taken the liberty to make suggestions below. A few of the suggestions rely on my own sense of cadence. Deletions are in blue, changes and additions are in red. My comments are in green.

* * *


It’s effortless, like a gliding albatross.

A shaft of sun bounces off the silver leading edge of the Cessna Citation’s wing. I blink and glance down at the instrument panel. Only Seven minutes to go. Just thirty nautical miles to the island. I scan the horizon. [Good short sentences set the pace. I changed a couple of words around.]

And there it is. Santa Catarina. A dark green iris surrounded by the tranquil cerulean blue waters of the Indian Ocean.

The runway, a bleached grey stripe, cuts through the sickle-shaped piece of land. It’ll have deteriorated. It’s been in the twenty years since this airstrip runway, once a carpet-smooth welcome to the wealthy and famed, was abandoned. [Rewrote two sentences into one and changed the second use of “runway” to “airstrip.”]

The question is how badly has it deteriorated? how bad is it? [No need to repeat “deteriorated.”]

I can see pockets of sea grass in the still, shallow waters. The dune bush barely ripples. I dip slow and low over the runway to check the condition of the surface.

I peer down. It’s a crumbling ribbon. Tall yellow weeds droop at the outer edges. The tar has cracked and burst in the searing sun. The hairs on my nape and arms lift.

Tall yellow weeds droop at the outer edges. [Moved this sentence up for effect.]

A second loop confirms my fears.

It’s not safe to land. Only an idiot would try to land on that corroded strip of disintegrating asphalt. [Strengthened the danger.] I’ve got to think of the safety of the five passengers sitting cocooned in luxury behind me. Never mind the likely damage to the state-of-the-art jet I am piloting.

Vonn will not take this news well. Not after all the months of strategy meetings and preparations. I wipe my clammy hand on my trousers.

‘Mr Le Clezio?’ At first, he doesn’t hear me. My voice is reluctant. I clear my throat and call again.

He acknowledges me with a nod of his head, then swallows the half inch of Wild Turkey in the tumbler and turns to Butch. ‘Drink up, we’re about to land.’ He slips the now half empty bottle into the side pocket of his holdall.

‘Mr Le Clezio, I’m sorry. It’s not safe to land. The runway’s in a far worse state than we were advised.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous, José.’ He spits the words at me.

In my peripheral vision, I’m aware of I see Butch turning to face me. Judging, watching. He’s the only investor invited to join Vonn in this first recce. Embarrassing Vonn is not an option. Sweat pricks in my hairline.

‘I thought this bloody fancy jet was designed to land on rough terrain?.

‘It is, but —’

‘Well, land it. That’s what I pay you for.’

* * *


Lasting Impression: Fine job, Brave Author. I’d turn the page. Now let’s see what everyone else thinks.


TKZers: What’s your impression of this first page? Would you keep reading? Please offer your comments and suggestions.

Writers’ Longitude

“at sea” – an idiom meaning “confused” or “lost”

* * *

I recently read a book entitled Longitude by Dava Sobel. It’s the story of an invention that first made it possible for sailors to pinpoint their location at sea. According to Sobel,

“Lines of latitude and longitude began crisscrossing our worldview in ancient times, at least three centuries before the birth of Christ. By A.D. 150, the cartographer and astronomer Ptolemy had plotted them on the twenty-seven maps of his first world atlas.”

Knowing one’s position on the face of the earth is just a matter of knowing the latitude and longitude. . (You’ll remember latitude are the horizontal lines around the earth, all parallel to the equator. Longitudinal lines (meridians) are lines drawn from the North Pole to the South Pole.)

During the Age of Exploration, roughly from the 15th to the 18th centuries, one of the major seafaring problems was the inability to establish the ship’s position on the high seas. Latitude was fairly simple to determine by the height of the sun as it progressed across the sky or by the position of certain stars, but there’s no similar way to determine longitude. Once a ship sailed out of the sight of land, it had no reference point for which to understand its east/west position.

Since longitude is a measure of time, not distance, an easy way to determine it is to compare the time of day on board ship with the time at the home port from which the ship sailed. This can be accomplished by setting a clock to the home port time before sailing and keeping that clock on the ship. The actual time aboard the ship is determined by the position of the sun and compared to the clock. Each hour of difference corresponds to fifteen degrees of longitude. Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately, there were no clocks in existence during the early days of the great explorers that would keep accurate time on board a ship. The movement of the ship and the changes in temperature, pressure, and humidity affected the clocks’ mechanisms, and the results were unreliable.

Some of the best minds of that era, including the great Sir Isaac Newton, had tried to find an astronomical solution to the problem, but the quest seemed out of reach. (Pun intended.)

It was such a big problem that in 1714 the British Parliament passed the Longitude Act which offered a lucrative prize for the first person who could deliver a practical means of determining longitude at sea.

Into this environment stepped John Harrison, a carpenter and self-taught clock maker, whose skill and determination were just the attributes needed. Harrison solved problem after problem in his dogged persistence, and finally in 1736, his first clock, unimaginatively named the H-1, sailed aboard the HMS Centurion to Lisbon and returned aboard the HMS Orford. The clock performed admirably, and the Longitude commissioners asked Harrison to continue his work.

Over the course of the next twenty-five years or so, John Harrison created a total of three more clocks. The fourth one (you can guess the name: H-4) was actually a watch, and it was the H-4 that sailed to Jamaica in 1765 and performed within the limits required by the Longitude Board for the prize. John Harrison had solved one of mankind’s thorniest problems, and he likely saved the lives of many sailors in the process.

John Harrison is revered in England for his work. All four of his sea-faring clocks reside in the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. In 1884, the Prime Meridian (longitude 0°) was defined as the longitudinal line that runs through the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Hence, our definition of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) from which all other time zones are offset. If you visit the Royal Observatory, you can have your picture taken astride the Prime Meridian, one foot in each hemisphere.

* * *

As I was reading about the longitude problem, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity to writing. PJ Parrish quoted Walter Mosley in her Kill Zone Blog post last week:

Writing a novel is like taking a journey by boat. You have to continuously set yourself on course. If you get distracted or allow yourself to drift, you will never make it to the destination.

So how do we as authors keep ourselves on course? It’s easy to feel like you’re “at sea” when you’re in the second act muddle, not sure how to get to your destination, or even exactly where your destination lies. But there are experts who can help us find our writing longitude. I have a stack of craft books I love to refer to. Here are a few:

  • Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
  • Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Fire Up Your Fiction by Jodie Renner
  • Writing Novels That Sell by Jack M. Bickham
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
  • On Writing by Stephen King

 * * *

So TKZers: What resources do you use to chart your course across the great ocean of writing a novel?


And speaking of time … 

The Watch Mysteries is a box set of three complete novels in which clocks, watches, and time play an important role.




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Using Your Writing Superpower in 2023

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”  –T.S. Eliot

* * *

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’m honored to be the first to welcome TKZers to 2023! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season, filled with family, food and fun, and ending with a resolution to use your writing superpower to its fullest extent in 2023.

* * *


“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” – Proverbs 25:11

In a 2013 article on workhuman.com, Darcy Jacobsen wrote:

“Words matter. Anthropologists tell us that our ability for complex reasoning evolved at the same time as humans developed language. That’s because language provides us with a sort of source code for advanced thought. Before we had it, we simply lacked the ability to THINK the way we do now.”

But spoken language has its limitations. It isn’t as structured as written communication and lacks the permanent nature of the written word. And spoken words tend to morph over time and evolve into something that may have an entirely different meaning than the original.

* * *


“If you want to change the world, take up your pen and write.” –Martin Luther

Jacobsen addressed the additional power of the written word by stating;

“…writing ideas makes them more concrete to us, and by mulling written words, we are better able to internalize and understand them, and to allow them to affect our behavior… In other words, every major accomplishment our species has made has been powered by writing, because writing gives our brains the code to organize ideas and create systems for advancement.”

Consider just a few of the things we would lack in a world without the written word:

  • The Bible
  • The Magna Carta
  • The U.S. Constitution
  • Written history

Without such documents, we would depend on oral communication to tell us how to interpret our world, what events happened in history, and how to treat our fellow human beings. But the written word is more than historical documents, biographies, or reporting on true events. There is also fiction.

* * *


Joseph Conrad recognized the power of fiction when he said,

“My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see.”

Here at TKZ, we often focus on the craft, the HOW of writing. We examine plot structure, character arcs, point of view, conflict, and other aspects of the novel. But given what we know about the power of words, I’d like to home in on the WHAT and WHY of fiction writing.

In a 2016 article in litromagazine.com, Vineetha Mokkil looked at the effect fiction has on readers:

“Scientific research has proven that reading fiction makes us more empathetic. Psychologists at the New School for Social Research, New York say that reading literary fiction literally makes us better people. It improves our ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions. This equips us to negotiate complex social relationships in the real world with greater skill. In this context, the writer essentially helps us connect to our own humanity. When fiction writers bare the inner lives of their characters it makes us reflect on our frailties and flaws.”

The writer of novels goes beyond the limits of historical fact to create new worlds where readers can connect with characters through emotion and intellect, discover new perspectives, and even search for the truth. The impression a good work of fiction makes on a reader will last long after he or she has put the book aside.

Of course, we all want to make money with our work. But if we spend months – or even years – crafting a tale to release upon the world, we surely want the result to be meaningful. Whatever our motive for writing a story — whether it’s to give the reader a sense of hope, a lesson in problem-solving, or a different perspective on the world — authors have the potential to make people think and to transform their lives. That’s a powerful skill and a great responsibility.

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So here’s to the new year with all of its days spread out before us like 365 blank sheets of paper. We have the ability to choose how we’ll use our writing superpower to fill those days. Let’s roll up our sleeves and choose wisely.

“But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.” — Lord Byron

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So TKZers: How will you use your writing superpower in 2023? What story will you release into the world? And why do you want to write it?

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.”

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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.


  • 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.


  • 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.

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

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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?