Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Transitioning from Traditional Mysteries to Thrillers @EllenByerrum
LUCY BURDETTE: Many of you have probably heard that the publishing industry is in flux, mergers and ebooks and Amazon and bookstores and self-publishing and traditional publishing are all part of the picture. Many of us writers are flapping around, suffused with anxiety, uncertain where we're headed. I admire our guest today for taking the bull by the horn and hewing a new path. I'll let her tell you about it. (And by the way Ellen, your author photo is stunning!)
ELLEN BYERRUM: There were times I thought the most difficult thing about writing a thriller would be needing a new author photo, looking stern yet glamorous, wearing a black leather jacket.
Only kidding. I wish it was the most difficult thing. But nothing worth doing well is easy, is it?
When you write, there are times when the story calls to you, stays with you, and nags you to write it. That was the case with The Dollhouse in the Crawlspace, my first suspense thriller. It is the story of a woman named Tennyson, who wakes up in a research facility with two sets of memories of two different people. Not knowing who to trust, she is in danger of having her memories stolen again.
It was the book I had to write, but I also had to fight the category I found myself boxed into.
Nobody wants to be stuck in a box, but it happens all the time. People see you as one thing but not another. You write funny books, you don’t write thrillers. Or an editor proclaims your readers won’t like it. I couldn’t let that stop me. After all, I was a playwright and a reporter, as well as a mystery writer. I was a Jill of more trades than one, wasn’t I?
The biggest challenge was finding time to write the book in between writing books in my Crimes of Fashion Mystery series. No sooner would I get involved in this story than I would have to start another book in my established series. Perhaps I should mention that when it comes to writing, I’m not much of a multitasker. Starting and stopping is simply too distracting. (I am trying to bring back the art of monotasking: doing one thing at a time and doing it well.)
I realized I finally had to commit to Dollhouse and finish it, no matter how long it took. Once I buckled down, it took almost a year.
One classic definition of the difference between mysteries and thrillers is that a mystery is the solving of a crime or a puzzle, while a thriller is a race to prevent something terrible from happening. In a thriller, you typically know the identity of villain or where the threat is coming from much earlier in the story. That was fun to work with and it gave me a chance to examine the bad guy from different angles and motivations.
There were various writing choices involved to make this book distinct from my ten Crime of Fashion mysteries, featuring fashion reporter Lacey Smithsonian. I found working within a different structure was exhilarating as well as intimidating.
Instead of writing in third person, which is very comfortable for me, I wrote Dollhouse in first person so the reader sees everything from the viewpoint of that character. I had a whole new cast of characters, none of whom were reporters, and a new setting, in and around Middleburg, Virginia, rather than Washington, D.C. The tone is more somber than my other work and the writing more “literary.” However, I’m happy to say that my thriller retains a certain mordant humor. My heroine, while facing dire circumstances, can still crack wise about those circumstances.
The look of a thriller is different than a traditional lighthearted mystery and I was highly involved in the cover design, from inception to completion. After we ran into trouble finding the right image, My husband built a dollhouse, I painted it, and we both ventured into our crawlspace to stage and photograph it. I don’t think I’ll do that again, but you never know.
So far, I’m finding that moving into thriller writing is easier than encouraging my mystery readers to join me on this new adventure. But I’m hoping to convince everyone that opening this book will be as rewarding as reading my traditional mysteries. And maybe then, I’ll surprise you all with—a new play!
Bio: Ellen Byerrum is the author of the popular Crime of Fashion mysteries, set in Washington, D.C. The Dollhouse in the Crawlspace is her first suspense thriller. You can follow her on Facebook or on Twitter or on her website.
You can order the book on Amazon: The Dollhouse in the Crawlspace
LUCY: Wow, Ellen, that dollhouse photo is amazing! Okay, Reds, questions for Ellen? Do you enjoy both thrillers and mysteries? If you prefer one, what would make you pick up the other?