Sheila's Aussie Jay jumping a high jump.

A Mystery Writer’s Revenge (on Second Thought…)

by Shannon Esposito and Guest Blogger, Sheila Webster Boneham

I first met Sheila when I found the Facebook group called Writers and Other Animals. First of all, the name cracked me up. Then I joined and found it a great little group for writers and readers who love animals. (Here’s the link if you want to check out the group.)

Boneham_portrait_AussieKiss_600wAlong with supporting her fellow mystery writers with this group and her personal blog, Sheila writes nonfiction books about dogs and cats and has three books out in her mystery series: Animals in Focus Mysteries. Busy lady!

Luckily for us, she found the time to stop by our place. Here are her thoughts on the mystery writer’s favorite form of revenge.


Be nice to me or I’ll put you in my book is a popular saying among writers. Mystery writers often add “and kill you” to the end. After all, revenge, served hot or cold, is a powerful motive for murder and mayhem, in life and in fiction.

Taking revenge on the meanies in our lives can certainly be tempting, and more than one writer has done it. I have. At least I started to take revenge in writing, and in the process I learned a few things, or perhaps I remembered things I already knew.

mug with author's revenge saying on itLet me back up to my first mystery, Drop Dead on Recall, which begins at a canine obedience trial. When I started the book, I had just emerged from a very dark pit of online harassment by a nasty little group of people whose agenda still mystifies me. In retrospect, it was a tiny bump in life’s road, but at the time it was all-consuming. In the first draft of my book, a couple of the characters were remarkably similar to the harassers. I even had one of them kill the other one. Ha! Gotcha!

Then came the first revision, after a several-month hiatus from mysteries while I wrote a nonfiction book about dogs. It was good that I had a break from Drop Dead on Recall. When I came back to it, I found that the revenge impulse had weakened considerably. In fact, the characters were no longer very interesting to me, in real “online” life or in my book. So I merged them into a single character known only to me (and my husband, but he’ll never tell). I changed the nature of that character, and by doing so, I changed the book and, I think, myself.

By the final revision of the first book, even I barely remembered the original inspiration for the character in question. In The Money Bird, that character has made a few changes for the better, and as I wrote that second book, I understood that allowing a character I disliked at first to become less loathsome was useful not only to the series, but to me as a person. That character has continued to evolve in Catwalk and in my fourth book-in-progress.

Sheila's Aussie Jay jumping a high jump.

Jay would much rather play than seek revenge.

And I guess along the way my “get even” character has taught me a lesson, too (because our characters become very real as we write them). I’ve realized that letting go of the revenge-by-literary-murder impulse has served me well. Revenge takes time and energy, and icky people just don’t deserve that much of our lives. I still have the urge at times, of course. Who doesn’t? But I’m working it.

Now when I see a t-shirt or mug with that “be nice to me” quote, I mentally attach a different ending. The best revenge, I think, is to forget those who harm us, but that’s never easy and may be impossible. Still, I rather like the ring of, “Be nice to me or I won’t put you in my book.” Or, with the character in my series in mind, maybe I’ll rewrite the saying to, “Be nice to me or I’ll change you in my book and make people like you—but they’ll never know it’s you!”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject of revenge. (And no, I won’t tell you which character it is! You’ll have to read the books to figure it out.)

cover of CatwalkSheila’s newest book, Catwalk, is now available for preorder (due out 10/8/14 from Midnight Ink)

Animal photographer Janet MacPhail is training for her cat Leo’s first feline agility trial when she gets a frantic call about a “cat-napping.” When Janet and her Australian Shepherd Jay set out to track down the missing kitty, they quickly find themselves drawn into the volatile politics of feral cat colonies, endangered wetlands, and a belligerent big-shot land developer

Janet is crazy busy trying to keep up with her mom’s nursing-home romance, her own relationship with Tom and his Labrador Retriever Drake, and the upcoming agility trials with Jay and Leo. But when a body is discovered on the canine competition course, it stops the participants dead in their tracks—and sets Janet on the trail of a killer.

Posted by Sheila Webster Boneham. Sheila writes and plays with her animals at her home in North Carolina. She is the author of the Animals in Focus mysteries. Please visit her website’s Mysteries Page, and/or join her on Facebook or Twitter. Sheila also runs the Writers and Other Animals blog and Facebook group – for readers, writers, and animals of all kinds!

Autographed copies of Drop Dead on Recall, The Money Bird, and Sheila’s nonfiction books, including Rescue Matters, are available from Pomegranate Books. Also available from your favorite bookseller (think Indie!) and online: Paperback and Kindle editions HERE and Audible editions HERE

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  • Reply
    K.B. Owen
    September 30, 2014 at 7:43 am

    Hi Sheila! So glad you could guest blog here at Misterio.

    Such an interesting topic. I ran into it, too, creating several characters in my first mystery from real life, and one in particular started out as a “revenge” creation. But that character didn’t serve the story very well, which became obvious during the first revisions, just as you found out in yours. By then, it was more important to serve the story than anything else. Maybe I’d also gotten it out of my system. 😉

    Thanks so much for the insight!

  • Reply
    Sheila Boneham
    September 30, 2014 at 8:34 am

    Thank you, K.B. It’s a pleasure to be here! I think many of us have had this experience. And I suspect that revenge characters don’t serve our fictional stories very well because revenge itself doesn’t serve our spirits very well. It’s a promise never quite fulfilled.

  • Reply
    Shannon Esposito
    September 30, 2014 at 8:48 am

    First of all, let me say I’m sorry you had an experience like that. I’ve read about these horror stories of groups attacking writers online but it’s hard to believe grown people would act like that. Now I know someone, it’s creepy. Secondly, great post! It’s an important lesson… not giving the haters space in your head, your creative process or your life. They don’t deserve it. It’s also hard to let go when someone has hurt you in some way. I’ve never put anyone in a story, but I’ve wasted plenty of time fantasizing about revenge before time reminded me once again to just let it go. 🙂

    • Reply
      Sheila Boneham
      September 30, 2014 at 9:35 am

      You’re right, Shannon, it IS hard to let go, and I’m not always completely successful, but in the end, hanging on to hatred and obsessing with getting even hurts us more than them (unless they’re in a mystery where characters can act on their impulses!).

  • Reply
    September 30, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Great article!

    It’s nice to joke about doing that. But you’re right. It sounds like the “revenge motive” doesn’t serve the story. Writing real people into my books never set well with me. Heck, I can’t even people watch for inspiration.

    • Reply
      Nancy Levine
      September 30, 2014 at 11:07 am

      I also love to put people in my books that I don’t like and think of killing them off. I usually end up getting tired of them or the idea. I like the idea of a villain who can change and become nice–those are one of my favorite kinds of books to read. I’m anxious to read your books since I’m an animal lover myself (a cat person, but I like dogs, too).

      • Reply
        Sheila Boneham
        September 30, 2014 at 1:11 pm

        Nancy, you’re so right. Icky people really are boring in the long run. Thankfully, we can make our villains more interesting in fiction.

      • Reply
        Kassandra Lamb
        October 1, 2014 at 10:46 am

        Nancy, I’m thinking that maybe putting the person we don’t like in our first draft may be therapeutic. Then we get it out of our system, and edit them out in the second draft. Which could also be therapeutic…LOL

    • Reply
      Sheila Boneham
      September 30, 2014 at 1:10 pm

      Ha! I watch people all the time, and eavesdrop. I use bits and pieces, though, not whole people. 🙂

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      October 1, 2014 at 10:51 am

      I agree, Jennette. I tend to avoid putting real people in my books, for better or worse. Heck, part of the fun of writing is making up totally fictional people (and then controlling them…BWAHAHA).

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    September 30, 2014 at 11:33 am

    I love this post! I’ve always liked the saying: “The best revenge is to live well!” Which is basically your message. Don’t give the meanies room in your head.

    I also have a strategy for getting through bad times. I tell myself that “In six months, this will all just be a bad memory.” (Adjust time period accordingly, depending on the stressor.) Time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds but it can definitely help to put them in perspective.

    • Reply
      Sheila Boneham
      September 30, 2014 at 1:08 pm

      Exactly! I ask myself “what and who will people, including I myself, remember in 6 months, 6 years,” and that really helps.

  • Reply
    Sally Carpenter
    September 30, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Your post has good advice for everyone, not just authors. We all need to let go of the jerks in our lives. I’ve met people who nursed grudges forever and refused to forgive and they were the ones hurt by it. Time often does heal all wounds. As I tell people, I prefer to keep the drama on the page and out of my life.

    • Reply
      Sheila Boneham
      October 1, 2014 at 9:39 am

      You’re so right, Sally. I’m not sure we always need to forgive (some people don’t deserve it), but for our own sakes we do need to let things go and move on to the things that elevate us. Thanks for dropping by!

      • Reply
        Kassandra Lamb
        October 1, 2014 at 10:44 am

        Good point, Sheila, about forgiveness. As a therapist who worked int he trauma recovery field, I learned that forgiveness can’t be forced, but putting things in perspective so we can let them go and move on is another matter.

        Thanks for stopping by, Sally. I am definitely with you on the keeping the drama on the page, not in our lives!

  • Reply
    October 1, 2014 at 11:54 am

    My revenge plots center around people who bully in my dog world. I purely hate bullies, and picture scenes with them self immolating, falling off cliffs, being attacked by the horses they were trying to abuse. By the time I come to that scene, the story is often going in another direction. But, oh yeah, the scenes in my head…

  • Reply
    Elaine Charton
    October 1, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    It can also work to know if people have really read your books. I put the three oldest of my five brothers in one of my books. One I had murdered, One got beat up ad the third had to take care of him which is what happened when they were growing up. I now that at least my older brother would call me hollering because I killed him off.

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