Number five on the Dalai Lama’s rules for living is “Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.” Since this is my first foray into mystery, and mystery is one of those genres with lots of rules, I needed help learning them so I can be on my merry with breaking them properly with fusion.

I found that help in Hallie Ephron’s Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel. This is the first how-to book where I am going through systematically and doing Every. Single. Exercise.

Several of the exercises involve really getting to know your sleuth inside and out, down to what they eat, wear, and listen to. Most of this is in a spreadsheet that I created, but the exercises to learn your sleuth’s voice were a little different. After all, you can’t learn someone’s voice without hearing it or thinking in it. For fun, I thought I’d bring you along on some of my journey into voice.

Now, I’ve always hated that overly common scene in a first-person novel where the character randomly looks in a shop window or a pond or whatever on page two and waxes poetic over what they look like. Really, how many of you look at your reflection and say to yourself “My eyes are the color of oak leaves, and my skin as silky as custard”? Pfft.

Of course, one of the exercises is to have your sleuth describe herself. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I. Will. Do. Every. Single. Exercise. No. Whining. But how to be real? When would my sleuth describe herself? Well, Jo Lee Reilly wants to be a novelist, so she must take some sort of creative writing class! Aha! So here you go: Voice exercise Number One. Enjoy!

Creative Writing Assignment 1 – Due End of Class Friday, September 21: Describe yourself so that someone would be able to pick you out of a crowd leaving a large event.

Unless I’ve been to an interview or a 1:1 business meeting, I live in tank tops, cargoes, and leather hi-tops, so you’d notice the ink first. The eyes always slink to the ink before they take notice of who’s wearing it.

Half sleeve on each shoulder. Armored Bears in a Norse/Celtic black, white, and grey style. Right is posing as Thoth, patron of writers. The clay tablet Thoth Bear is scribing in runes is a quote from Miyamoto Musashi (though he was the Sword Saint, I consider him the patron saint of analysts) about self-sufficiency. To date, only one person has found that Easter Egg without my help. Left shoulder bear is a mashup of Beorn and August Zang (possibly the patrons of honey and baking journalists) slipping a peel of dill bread loaves into a beehive oven.

After the ink, you’d see joy – I’m rarely grouchy. Only in the multiverse a century, give or take, so why waste it being gloomy? I’m alive, in a great place, doing the things I love, and finally walking my path instead of the one everybody tells me I should be walking. No RBF for me, though I have been accused of having a resting smiley.

Next? Eyes. Grey. Thunderheads rather than silver ice. Warning. They see more than you think and tuck those observations away until I need them. Then they strike like lightning.

The box says my hair is copper gold, but with the meh brown under the dye, it’s a darker red that highlights goldish on its own where the silver is creeping into it. Come winter, I do shoulder length with a half ponytail at the top to keep it out of my face. Summer, it’s a pixie cut. Each year I go shorter. Maybe by the time I hit the big five oh, I’ll be ready to go down to a buzz cut just to rid myself of the annoyance of dealing with it.

A lot of people think I’m straight outta college; it’s a hoot to get carded, considering. But if life really begins at forty, I was, in fact, born yesterday.


  1. I loved this snippet of your writing. The voice of the character really shines through. And yes, 1stP self descriptions in the actual book are generally painful. You made that work but I doubt it needs to be in the book. Maybe useful for a phrase here and there? Her thundercloud eyes…

    1. Thank you so much! I think the only way I would ever put it in the book would be as maybe an extra as the writing exercise… I have an inkling that the other writers in the class may show up now and then 🙂

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