Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Story Behind The Story by Mark Troy

One of my short stories, Kill Leader, is being released as an audio short in September on Sniplits. It will be in mp3 format for downloading to a variety of audio devices. Kill Leader was originally published in 1999 on Plots With Guns.

The idea forKill Leader came to me at a volleyball match. The program noted that one of the players was leading the conference in kills. I thought, “She’s the kill leader.” Could any mystery writer worth his salt pass up a title like that?

I already had a character for the story, Val Lyon, a private eye who appears in seven short stories and one novel. I changed the venue from indoor college volleyball to professional beach volleyball, (Just doing my part to make beach volleyball the national pastime.) The story is about Paula Evangelista, the kill leader of the title, who receives death threats and hires Val to protect her.

By coincidence, pro beach volleyball player Gabby Reece had just come out with her autobiography Big Girl In The Middle. I ordered it from my local bookstore, thinking it would provide valuable background research. That was a mistake.

A critical point in the story comes when Val discovers a trove of family photos belonging to Paula and recognizes something about them that resonates with her own life and her own motivation. I won’t tell you what she recognized (you’ll have to buy the story). Suffice it to say that it’s an important clue.

I was nearly finished with the first draft when Big Girl In The Middle arrived. I’d been looking forward to reading it, of course, because I had a lot of questions about the pro volleyball tour. I opened the book to a set of Gabby’s family photos. It didn’t take long to discover the same clue that Val had found in Paula’s photos.

I shut the book immediately. Kill Leader was supposed to be Paula’s story and Val’s story. I was afraid that, if I read any further, it would become Gabby’s story. The book sat on my desk, untouched, through the six or seven revisions it took to get the story in shape, and through the entire process of submission and rejection.

It wasn’t until Plots With Guns published Kill Leader that I read Big Girl In The Middle. I can happily report that Kill Leader is not Gabby Reece’s story anymore than Big Girl In The Middle is Val or Paula’s story. For what it’s worth, Big Girl In The Middle is an engaging book. It is most powerful when it discusses the balance Reece seeks between aggression and emotion, beauty and brains, masculinity and femininity. I referred to it frequently for nuances to Val’s character in later stories.

The experience taught me that there is a danger in too much research. To thine own story be true.

You can read other Val Lyon stories at


Earl Staggs said...

Mark, I remember KILL LEADER and thought it was an excellent story. That's when I first fell in love with Val Lyon. I'm happy to learn she will have another life on Sniplits. Congratulations!

Mark Troy said...

Thanks Earl. It was one of my favorites too.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Don't know that one. Congrats on the sale then AND now.

Kevin R. Tipple