Worse than Dead: the Next Best Thing

Posted by Georgia Ann Mullen on April 2, 2013 | Leave a comment (2)

Author Nancy Gadzuk enrolled me in The Next Big Thing meme. First, I had to look up the word “meme.” The short definition: it has something to do with repetition. And that’s what we’re doing. Answering questions sent by our writer friends about our works in progress and posting answers on our blogs. Be sure to read Nancy’s responses for Moon Beach Magic, her next big thing.
At the end of the post, you’ll see which author I’ve tagged to continue the fun.

What is the working title of your next book? Worse than Dead. I’m not crazy about it, but no one in my writers’ groups liked my earlier suggestions. I’ve heard editors change a title anyway (not always for the better), and sometimes writers must fight for their choice.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?In Worse than Dead, abolitionist Tess Riley fights to rescue her friends who have been kidnapped by human trafficker Beau Maas and smuggled to the fancy houses of Louisville, Kentucky to be auctioned as virgins.

Where did the idea for the book come from?
I was cruising the Internet several years ago and stumbled on a comment about the 19th century “fancy houses” in Louisville. It got me thinking how, as the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. Today slavery is a $32 billion industry affecting mostly women and children in every country on the planet. I wanted to put a historical perspective on an age-old problem that continues to plague us.

What genre does your book fall under?Worse than Dead is historical fiction and the third book in a trilogy that starts at the beginning of the women’s rights movement (1848) and continues through the tumultuous decade preceding the Civil War.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
This is fun! While critiquing Worse than Dead, more than one member of my writers groups commented, “I can see the movie!”

Tess: Krysten Ritter, 31, (Breaking Bad, Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23) is older than 17-year-old Tess but does a good job portraying a brash, bold, risk-taking female.
Lucy: Scarlett Johansson (28) Brittany Snow, (27) Amber Heard (26): All seem too sexy for naïve, though assertive, Lucy Manning. Maybe Jennifer Lawrence as a strawberry blonde.
Beany: Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) was born in 2003. By the time the book is published and the movie made, she might be 14, Beany’s age in Worse than Dead.
August: Regina King (Boyz in the Hood, Jerry Maquire) has dark enough skin and exotic eyes. Very much like I picture August.
Wixumlee: Angelina Jolie has the sharp edges needed to play quadroon Wixumlee, leader of a militant abolitionist gang. Or perhaps Zoe Saldena (Pirates of the Caribbean) with some whitening makeup. Definitely Vanessa Williams. Queen Latifah has Wixumlee’s attitude, but would need to lose many pounds to pull off slim, fashionable Wixumlee.
Jonah: Whoever plays Jonah needs to be tall and very muscular, since Jonah is being trained as a prize fighter. There are many burly black male actors, but I don’t know of one as brawny as I image Jonah to be.
Beau Maas: Ryan Gosling looks sweet in his promo photos but sometimes has a gleam in his eye that makes my skin tingle—and not in a good way. Human trafficker Beau Maas is not a good man.
Larkin: Jesse Williams (Dr. Jackson Avery on Grey’s Anatomy) has Larkin’s beautiful eyes. All he needs are Larkin’s bouncing curls.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I started Worse than Dead before the first book in the trilogy was published. I started and stopped twice while publishing the first two books. After several drafts, I gave the manuscript to my morning writers’ group; then it went through my afternoon writers’ group. I had twelve writers advising me on plot, characterization, pacing, etc. To me, the real writing comes in the rewrite. I love it!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I might compare it to Hester, because both books do a good job of setting the stage, establishing a good feel for the period. Although it takes place 100 years later, The Help has a female protagonist with a solid sense of social justice who persists against all odds, as does Tess Riley, my driven, atypical female protagonist.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
As a child I was confused by what was taught in churches and schools about freedom and independence compared to what I saw in practice. I’m still confused. “All men are created equal,” says God and country, but both God and country place women in subservient positions. Equality of all people is drummed into our heads in grade school, but in practice, children notice early that white is a positive color compared to brown, black, yellow or red. I wanted to create a female character who stood up to male prejudices, who didn’t give a damn what other people thought, who dressed in a way that was comfortable and not hazardous to her health, who faced down bullies, and who defended those who couldn’t defend themselves. That’s my Tess!

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m looking for an agent. If I don’t get one in a certain amount of time, I’ll self-publish, perhaps through CreateSpace.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Readers of my first two books told me they never thought about historical characters’ daily lives. Abolitionists, early women’s rights advocates, politicians were just names in text books. Readers have complimented me on how my characters—and particularly the real historical persons—come alive through the common everyday actions I describe. This is the power of historical fiction. History is a lot more than wars and generals and acts of Congress. To me, the best way to learn history is to read historical fiction. If you have a strong sense of social justice, this book and the two that precede it tell a good story of how simple people persisted in fighting against what was wrong and for what they knew was right.

In a week or two, mystery writer Sheila Boneham will tell you about her Next Best Thing. Visit her website and blog and sign up for notifications so you won’t miss learning about her works in progress as well as her completed works. Enjoy!



  1. Patricia Petro — Tuesday, April 2, 2013 3:54 PM 

    Fascinating read! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Nancy Gadzuk a/k/a Natasha Alexander — Wednesday, April 3, 2013 9:41 AM 

    Thanks for telling us about your Next Big Thing! I love the way you weave your historical context into the [same] social problems and issues we face today.

    This is such a great line: “All men are created equal,” says God and country, but both God and country place women in subservient positions.

    Thank you for working to change that!

Any thoughts on Worse than Dead: the Next Best Thing? I would love to hear what you think.


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