Monday, November 12, 2007

Regular Joe, Not G.I. Joe

This is a picture of the Terra-cotta Warriors being unearthed in Xian, China--the closest I could come on short notice. It does show the "multitudes" and no individuality. Sort of what this post is about.

Not to take one iota away from Veterans Day and the special recognition it brings to every American, there's something I want to share with you. My writing buddy, Wanda Dyson, recently posted this article on Keep Me In Suspense. She has generously agreed to let me reprint it here.

Heroes: To FBI or Not to FBI

Go to any bookstore. Any one. Your choice. Pull any 25 suspense/mystery titles down off the shelf and find out what the hero does for a living. How many do you think will NOT fall into the category of: Cop, FBI, Detective, Seal, Special Forces, Mercenary, or Elite something-or-other? That’s right. Not many. One or two… maybe.

And editors are tired of seeing the same-old thing coming across their desks.

When editors ask to see something different…they really do mean DIFFERENT. They want to see everyday people become heroes, not heroes doing another heroic thing. They want to see the guy next door get in over his head and make it out by the skin of his teeth.

I had the opportunity to chit-chat with several editors in Dallas at the ACFW conference. They were talking about being snowed under with the same old stuff. If it’s a legal thriller, ya gotta have a lawyer. If it’s a medical thriller, there’s going to be a doctor. But if it’s a suspense novel, why does it HAVE to be a cop, a detective, or some other law enforcement/military trained hero taking the lead?

I almost asked them how they would take to having the ex-mercenary hero break his leg in the first chapter and his geek brother have to take over… but I restrained myself. The editors were serious. They’re looking for something different. They want to see something OTHER THAN a cop, a detective, a soldier, a SEAL, a mercenary go up against impossible odds and walk away a better person for it. They want to see a regular guy (or gal) quake in his tasseled loafers at the prospect of defeating the force that is coming against him. Then they want to see him win in spite of himself.

Now, I say all this and I’m in the middle of writing a three-book series for Waterbrook about…. drumroll please…bounty hunters. But at least it’s a little bit different. And trust me…these bounty hunters are no “Dog the Bounty Hunter” types.

But next time you sit down and put together a suspense novel proposal with the beautiful girl, the evil villain, and the cop, scratch through the cop and write in “Phil Smith, car mechanic by day, bowling fanatic by night”… or “Tommy Harris, Starbucks Manager.” You might just get a request for the entire manuscript…

Wanda Dyson (


  1. Thanks for the encouragement. I love to read John Grisham, but know I can't write like him. I'm not a lawyer. But if the world is ready for stories about regular people. Maybe there is hope for my writing. . . and yours.

  2. Yep, that's what the editors want. But I wonder what the reader wants? I just listened to Dee Henderson's, Danger in the Shadows audio book with an FBI agent and a writer as 2 of the 3 main characters. This is Bad, Bad, Bad according to editors (especially the writer part). But it was a good story. Not sure I would have enjoyed reading about Tommy the Starbucks manager quite as much.

    Part of story telling is for characters to be who I can't be.

  3. This calls to mind the episode of Alias where the desk-jockey-type CIA officer is thrown into the field with Sydney. Sure, he was CIA, but he was completely unprepared for undercover work. For me, it was one of the more memorable episodes because the odds against his success were oh so high.

    And his ineptitude was hilarious. :)

  4. Renee Gutteridge has a hero who worked for a government agency--in the accounting department.

    Of course, he was also a storm chaser. Kind of romantic, eh?