“How Characters I Know Affect What I Write” by (Terrie Farley Moran)

Terrie Farley Moran began her fiction-writing career with short stories, and her 2015 Agatha-nominated story for EQMM, “A Killing at the Beausoleil” is a prequel to her Read ’Em and Eat novels. The first book in that series, Well Read, Then Dead, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel in 2014, and it has been followed by two more books, Caught Read-Handed and Read to Death. In this new post she talks about some of the differences between writing short stories and novels.—Janet Hutchings

I always brag that I received my first subscription to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine from a generous aunt when I was fourteen years old. And so I have enjoyed every issue over the many (MANY!) years since.

It was the absolute perfect gift for a young girl who loved to read mysteries and eventually my love of reading mystery stories led to my desire to write them. So with many starts and stops I began writing. First, a novel that was never published and then a short story followed by another and another and eventually, the stories were published here and there. Finally I bit the bullet and submitted a story to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The story was “Fontaine House” and it was published in the August 2012 issue.

I love the variety of the stories I read in every issue of EQMM, so it is not surprising that the short stories I write wander all over the mystery genre: a paranormal mystery here, a noir tale there, a revenge tale or two.

Well I kept writing. More short stories, another novel, and one fine day my agent sold the cozy Read ’Em and Eat series to Berkley Prime Crime. When the first novel in the series, Well Read, Then Dead hit book shelves everywhere, I started to hear from readers. Variations of the same question came up more than a time or two. “What happened when Sassy and Bridgy moved from Brooklyn to Fort Myers Beach?” “How did their beach life begin before they opened the Read ’Em and Eat Café and Bookstore?”

And there were a number of folks who were insistent that the Read ’Em and Eat series deserved a prequel short story. Now on the face of it, that sounded like a genius idea. I love writing short stories. BUT, in all my short stories I have never used the same characters in more than one story. I have found characters I loved, gave them the best story I could think of and then I left them in that story forever.

With a prequel I was trying to write a short story with characters I actually knew; characters who were familiar. I am still fascinated that it was such a struggle for me to write the story that ultimately became “A Killing at the Beausoleil.” I do realize that in my short fiction I love discovering how a character is going to respond to a situation because I never met her before. But I had already written two novels with the same protagonist and sidekick; I knew their personalities and probable responses and that changed the dynamic of writing the story.

Still, I admit, I have always envied the short-story writers among us who can write a series of stories using the same main characters. Our beloved Ed Hoch charmed us with story after story about his series characters: Nick Velvet, Captain Leopold, Ben Snow, Michael Vlado and many others including my very favorite Dr. Sam Hawthorne. Perhaps now that I have used repeat characters in one short story, I can do it again. Hmm, I wonder who I’d like to revisit next.

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19 Responses to “How Characters I Know Affect What I Write” by (Terrie Farley Moran)

  1. tfmoran2014 says:

    Good morning everyone. I am delighted to be here talking about a problem that may be unique to me. I would love to here about other writers experiences in using the same characters in multiple series. What say ye?

  2. Eleanor Jones says:

    Wonderful article! I grew up reading EQMM too. I remember Nick Velvet well, and looking forward to more from you.

  3. Terrie, you can be proud you DID write a short story with your novel series characters and got it published. I’ve done three stories involving series characters, and I’ve never liked them enough to even submit them anywhere. I keep promising myself I’ll go back and fix them, but I never do. Good luck with the next one!

  4. Terrie,

    It’s great to establish characters for a readership that you carry over from novels to short stories and vice versa. Congrats on both your success with short fiction and mystery novels!

    • tfmoran2014 says:

      Hi Jacqueline, You are very kind. I agree it is great to establish characters that go back and forth but it is hard. Thanks for your kind words.

  5. Lou manfredo says:

    Keep at it, Terrie! I’ve used my series novel characters in short fiction and made a great discovery: it’s a lot of fun. I get to revisit my old pals and see what they’ve been up to, and there’s nothing better than that for a writer.
    Thanks for this great piece, loved reading it.

  6. tfmoran2014 says:

    Hi Jeff, as did we all.

  7. Art Taylor says:

    Great post, Terrie! And loved your story, as you know. Looking forward to more!

  8. R.T.Lawton says:

    Terrie, I enjoy your short stories, keep ‘em coming. In answer to your question, since I have five series in AHMM, those characters of mine pretty much stay in my head clamoring to be in just ONE more adventure, ONE more story. This makes it easier for me to continue on with the same criminal protagonists, some serious and some bumbling (depending upon the particular series), as they try to survive in a rough world of other criminals.

  9. larrywchavis says:

    I agree, keep ’em coming. I always enjoy your stories.

  10. marystojak says:

    Great post. I think I would miss my favorite characters if
    I only used them once. As always, enjoy your stories! M

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