August 27, 2014

The Inner and the Outer of Writing

By Shelly Frome

Not long ago I received two reviews simultaneously. One was from an e-publisher who was disappointed in my crime-and-blues odyssey because it didn’t follow the standard formula of a mystery. The second was from a noted Hollywood novelist and screenwriter who was disappointed because he didn’t want the story to end. He wanted it to go on and on.

Recently, after polishing a new manuscript, I attended a Mystery Writers of America conference in Orlando to try and come to terms with my way of working. Did it jibe with what was currently going on in the field?  

A chat with keynote speaker Laura Lippman before and after she signed a copy of her new crime novel for me plus another chat with her and a few others around the pool gave me an inkling of her method. It entailed numerous flashbacks and back-stories of family life as well as following a retired detective on the trail of a cold case. In this instance, the flashback chapters take you to family dynamics 50, 40 and 26 years ago and deal with the social, individual and economic effect of a missing man’s ploys on his wife and three daughters. The cold case centers on the death of the man’s mistress and possible foul play.

At the same time, I had a few meetings with a senior editor who insisted I follow her three-part submission format to the letter. Moreover, every page, paragraph and sentence of my tale had to move the story forward in order to comply with strict mystery rules and expectations.

Moving on to a panel featuring “new departures,” I discovered what these women writers thought was unique was pretending they were the heroines of a pursuit using their own interests in flying small planes, backpacking and trekking and what-have-you. In other words, their readers want to imagine they too were off on these ventures, encountering provocative men, etc. with no real worries about dire consequences.

Which left me where? My way of working is organic and character/driven. I find myself involved with flawed characters unwittingly caught up in some kind of conundrum—a pursuit that eventually puts them on a collision course.

And so, how do you reconcile your integrity with all the externals, including small presses that may or not be legitimate, about to fold their tents or are no longer accepting submissions? Or up against the effort and expertise it would take to successfully self-publish? Or should you return once again to your old publisher who doesn’t quite know how to categorize your fiction?  

I was once at a small gathering where a prize-winning writer revealed he was a marginal artist. He wrote for the few people who could relate to whatever happened to be haunting him at the time. Well there then now. Maybe that could lead to an answer.

Shelly Frome is a member of Mystery Writers of America, a professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University  of Connecticut, a former professional actor, a writer of mysteries, books on theater and film, and articles on the performing arts appearing in a number of periodicals in the U.S. and the U.K.. His fiction includes Tinseltown Riff, Lilac Moon, Sun Dance for Andy Horn and the trans-Atlantic cozy The Twinning Murders. Among his works of non-fiction are the acclaimed TheActors Studio and texts on the art and craft of screenwriting and writing for the stage. His latest novel is Twilight of the Drifter. He lives in Black Mountain, North Carolina. His works can be found on Amazon, through his publishers or via independent bookstores. He can be found at and has a profile on Facebook where he can be reached or on twitter @shellyFrome.

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