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?


Joan Emerson said...

Since I enjoy both mysteries and thrillers, I have no real preference one way or the other, although I tend to pass up the horror thrillers. Generally I select books, either mystery or thriller, because the author is someone whose books I enjoy reading or the intriguing plot has captured my interest.

I love the Dollhouse cover; this book is on my want-to-read list.

Mark Baker said...

I don't read that many thrillers. I prefer the light of the cozy/traditional mystery. However, kudos to you for writing and finishing it and getting outside your box. The premise certainly does sound interesting.

Now, I'm really looking forward to that romantic comedy play you'll finish next.

Ellen Byerrum said...

There are many thrillers I leave alone myself, Joan. Mine is suspenseful and leaves the blood trails outside the door. It's not a horror but plays with the idea of identity. And Mark,I'm glad you'll be interested in my next play. it gives me hope there is an audience out there.

Rachel Mustain said...

I'm not a huge thriller person, but if it has wise cracks, I am definitely more interested.

Hallie Ephron said...

LOVE the cover photo and the title: DOLLHOUSE IN THE CRAWLSPACE brilliant! It oozes suspense before you even crack the spine.

I think the term "thriller" is tricky and to some it telegraphs a hard edged even militaristic (snipers, helicopters, explosions...) vibe which "suspense thriller" softens. I like stories about real people (at least some of whom are women)... with an edge. Sounds like that's where you've gone with this new book.

FChurch said...

My sister and I are opposites here--she mainly reads thrillers (and I will definitely tell her about yours, Ellen!) and I mainly read mysteries. I get anxious reading thrillers--I often check the ending to see who is still alive at the end of the book! I think I got tired of all the serial killers,too, but I like your statement about the blood trails being minimized--and I really like that cover! Creepy and intense!

Ellen Byerrum said...

Thank you, Hallie. You've nailed where I was going with this book. It seems that people really only allow mysteries a couple of descriptions these days. It's either thriller or cozy. This definitely falls between in the suspense area. I felt with this book, I had a bit more freedom that I hadn't explored before. And I was able to play with the language. And so glad you loved the cover, FChurch. That alone was an adventure, hard hats and all under the house.

Mary Sutton said...

I love the cover and the title, Ellen. How wonderful that your husband helped.

While I like all mysteries, I lean toward the thriller end of the spectrum. As long as there isn't gratitude violence and horror. If there's a little humor, that's good too.

I'll definitely be checking this one out!

(And thanks, Captcha - now I want waffles!)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hurray! And this is a wonderful new adventure. SOunds terrific. Hurray!

And Ellen, I am SO with you on mono tasking. I am a big fan. I insist that's the only way to really do well. Organize, prioritize, calendar--then do the one thing. Reds, what do you all think about that?

Rhys said...

Ellen, it's so hard to escape from the box your publisher has put you in. After all, they don't want to risk upsetting your fan base with a book that is different. So good luck with this new venture. It sounds wonderful.

Ellen Byerrum said...

Hi Mary, so glad you like the book. It was really a labor of love, and well, just labor. Bob is an integral part of my work, he's a marvelous editor, better than anyone else I've worked with. I don't know what I'd do without him. Hank, I'm delighted to find someone else who believes in doing one thing at a time. We're all whipped into a frenzy of multitasking. Thanks so much for the kind words, Rhys. I know we all can do more than one thing but other people's expectations, while they can be wonderful, can also be limiting.

Mary Sutton said...

I'm a mono-tasker when it comes to my writing. Each day, I have the thing I need to do, and I work that thing until it's done. Then I move on to the next thing. Unfortunately, my day-job isn't so simple. I support five different products, and that often requires me to fracture my time. I try to say, "This hour (or two) is the time I'm going to work on Project A and nothing else," but that doesn't always go the way I'd planned - for one reason or another.

Deborah Crombie said...

Hi Ellen! Love your cover. Kudos to you and your husband for making it work. And the title and the premise are great. I admire your determination to write something different while also working on an established and popular series.

It's shame that the term "thriller" had become associated with serial killer stories. While I won't read those, I will read a good "suspense" novel and yours is going on my list.

As for mono-tasking--yay! I don't get anything done otherwise. It's just getting there that's hard!

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Welcome Ellen, I checked early this morning and was going to remind you that you were up, but delighted to see you were already here:).

Lethal Black Dress Press is yours, am I right? So you were not only writing something new, you were learning how to publish, how to create a cover, and then how to market the thing. That's multi-tasking and it sounds daunting!

Any tips on the marketing end that you can share with us?

Mollie Cox Bryan said...

I LOVE this book. I have already written Ellen a "fangirl" email (or two). I've been calling it "deliciously creepy." It is a fabulous read! I think publishers tend to not give readers much credit when it comes to reading across genres. A good story is a good story, no matter what genre it's in. When a writer writes what he or she is called to write, it can only benefit readers. Best of luck with it, Ellen!

Kathy Reel said...

Congratulations, Ellen, on your courage and persistence in venturing forth into something new. That can be a challenge for anyone, but in writing, it's definitely a risk. I enjoy both mysteries and thrillers, and thanks for pointing out that simple distinction between the two.

Your cover is amazing, and your (and your husband's) dedication to getting it right is most admirable. I love it, and it will be going in my "great covers" category on Goodreads when I read it. I'm thinking that Dollhouse in the Crawlspace is going to be a perfect Halloween read this year.

Oh, and mono- or multi-tasking. I am a one task girl. I've never understood how people can read more than one book at a time. I become too engaged with a book to leave it for another.

Pat D said...

I do like the explanation of the difference between a mystery and a thriller. I like to read both. I especially enjoy any humor that pops up in these stories. After all, there must be some humor in life's situations or we'd all be gaga!

Laura DiSilverio said...

Good luck with the new venture, Ellen. I'm right there with you, with my first suspense novel, The Reckoning Stones, out for a week now. Time will tell if our cozy readers will like our branching out, or if new readers will find us. Like you, I don't like being put in a box (or a crawlspace).

Ellen Byerrum said...

Mono-tasking is a goal, not always achievable. Some people are brilliant at it, I'm not one of them. Things always go better when I can take one or two things off my to-do list and go on to another. I once knew a woman who told me she was writing five books. She was so scattered, she never finished them.

I am so gratified by all these wonderful comments. I am sure there are more distinctions between the various categories, but I have heard that publishers are in the cozy/thriller camp and don't bother with other distinctions. And that is simply not the whole story. There are so many great books out there that don't necessarily fit the mold.

Kathy, I do hope the book is a good Halloween read. I also have a Halloween ghost story, if you're in the mood, The Last Goodbye of Harris Turner. Mollie, I so appreciate your positive comments and and everyone else's as well. They help keep me going.

Lucy / Roberta, Lethal Black Dress is mine as well :). Putting a whole book together is multi-tasking, but the various parts can all be mono tasked. As far as marketing goes, I'll start compiling a list. The thing is, while publishing rules are shifting every day, so are the marketing rules. What may have worked a month ago, might not work today. It's challenging to reach out to readers who don't know you. The best and first is word of mouth and lots of reviews, hopefully most of them positive.

Ellen Byerrum said...

And good luck with The Reckoning Stones, Laura. We both agree on being categorized. Perhaps we should check in and see how our transitions are going. There are so many things to learn.

Denise Ann said...

I like both, and this thriller looks amazing. The idea of a dollhouse and danger is a tantalizing mix!

Leslie Budewitz said...

Congratulations on the new book, Ellen -- and on following your muse!

And Bob gets Super Husband points for building the dollhouse!

Ellen Byerrum said...

So glad you like both types of book, Denise Ann. And yes, Leslie, Bob gets extra points for the construction of the dollhouse. he is super. I painted it the thing, and we both crawled into the crawlspace for the photo shoot. It's very dry under out house.

Patricia Guthrie said...

I love cozies--grew up on Agatha Christie. I also love (and write) thrillers. I think my main writing genre would be Romantic Suspense, which can be then taken into psychological suspense and paranormal. The romance always plays a major part, but the rest of the story is either psychological or (right now) paranormal.

I'd be very interested in reading your dollhouse story. Sounds chilling. Cover's great so is the dollhouse. Reminds me of my mom's dollhouse.

Patricia Guthrie said...

I love cozies--grew up on Agatha Christie. I also love (and write) thrillers. I think my main writing genre would be Romantic Suspense, which can be then taken into psychological suspense and paranormal. The romance always plays a major part, but the rest of the story is either psychological or (right now) paranormal.

I'd be very interested in reading your dollhouse story. Sounds chilling. Cover's great so is the dollhouse. Reminds me of my mom's dollhouse.