Sunday, June 26, 2022

Crime Writing Twins impress the Debut Dagger judges

Yesterday we had one half of a couple who both made the Debut Dagger shortlist with different manuscripts this year. Today we have a set of twins whose joint manuscript made the longlist. Welcome to American writers Jennifer Slee and Jessica Slee.
Jennifer Slee

 Congratulations to you both on coming to the attention of the Debut Dagger judges!  Tell us, please, how did twins come to co-writing a crime novel. Can you remember whose idea started the whole project?

Jennifer and Jessica: We’ve been writing short fiction on our own for years—we were both fortunate enough to go through the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where we learned from Lawrence Naumoff, Daniel Wallace, and Randall Kenan, and this experience gave us a great foundation in fiction and non-fiction—though we can’t say crime writing was ever seriously discussed! That interest came more from what we were reading growing up—we had bookshelves full of mysteries and thrillers.

We started by each attempting to write a novel on our own, but quickly realized that when we worked together, the writing was so much stronger and we progressed much faster. While this project began as Jennifer’s idea, since our work features large ensemble casts and multiple POVs, we both take the lead on different chapters. We’re lucky that we have extremely complementary strengths. Jennifer is skilled at research and big-picture plotting, while Jessica takes charge on editing and rewriting. In the end, despite having two authors, our goal is to make the voice match feel seamless.

Jessica Slee
Tell us a little bit about your shortlisted manuscript, set in The World’s End State Park (is Pennsylvania your home turf?). Geo-caching has long fascinated me, and I can see how it gives you authors the opportunity to showcase a lot of the park’s notable features. How well do you two know the park?

Jessica: We’re from North Carolina, not Pennsylvania, but PA is a beautiful state! In Dead Reckoning, a federal agent investigates the disappearance of an environmentalist in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains when his niece announces she will be participating in a geocaching competition (a ‘geodash’) that runs through that same area. The agent’s junior partner—a brilliant young woman whose talents and personality are unsuited to spending her nights camping in the woods—goes undercover as a participant in the contest to find answers and to keep everyone else safe. It’s a plot-forward, high-concept thriller that touches on the environmental concerns of fracking and mining, and is very rooted in the geography and history of the area. One interesting, little-known aspect of PA law is that the state often doesn’t own the mining rights to the land beneath their own state parks! The World’s End State Park falls into this category—the owner of that area’s mineral rights is completely unknown to the general public.

Jennifer: Geocaching has always fascinated me, too! calls it “the world’s largest treasure hunt” and I’m surprised it’s not more popular! We know the park about as well as someone can without hiking it ourselves—with the pandemic, we have gotten very skilled at location research and getting a good idea of places that we can only visit virtually. However, location research is just the beginning—we’ve learned so much about camping, long-distance hiking, and hydraulic fracturing and its effects on that region. We hope that a reader would be both entertained and encouraged to think of the Earth as a resource to be preserved so everyone can benefit, instead of something to exploit for personal, short-term gain.

The Rock Garden at the World’s End State Park, which features in the opening chapter of Dead Reckoning

Attribution: Wikimedia Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0, Photographer: Ruhrfisch

Is this your first entry into the Debut Dagger, individually or together? Where did you hear about this contest for unpublished crime novels, and what decided you to enter? Have you entered other writing contests with this or other works?

Jessica: We entered last year with a novel that includes some of the same characters. When it comes to contests for unpublished authors, the Debut Daggers are so highly regarded that their reputation precedes them, in a way. We were also finalists in Book Pipeline’s Unpublished Competition (mystery/thriller category), and semifinalists in the Adventure Writer’s Competition, sponsored by the Clive Cussler Collector’s Society. There’s even more we wish we could share, that we unfortunately can’t talk about publicly yet!

Jennifer: The Debut Daggers are incredible for what they can do for writers. Competitions like this are what I’ve always thought of as ‘door-openers,’ where every year people have opportunities for career-founding success, and we try to enter as many door-opening contests as we can. I’ve placed second two years in a row at the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition, and my first publishing credit, in the iconic magazine The Saturday Evening Post, was due to entering their annual contest. We find competition energizing (as twins, this is common!), and competing helps bring out the best in our writing. With all the writing scams out there, we can vouch for the competitions we mention above as being honest, delivering on their prizes and being run by people who want to promote their writers and work hard doing so! 


Having started my writing career by entering contests for both short and long fiction, I agree that the reputable ones are door-openers. Thanks for mentioning that not all writing competitions are honest, and for vouching for the solid ones.

Now, please tell us something about yourselves. What are your lives like when you’re not writing? Similar or different to each other’s?

Jennifer and Jessica: We live together, so our lives are very similar! When we’re not writing, we like going to museums, theatre, and concerts. One of our hobbies is watching TV together—we’ve just gotten into American Ninja Warrior, which isn’t the sort of thing we usually watch at all! It’s so fun seeing athletes finishing the course and supporting each other, it’s incredible to watch. And it hypes you up!


Do you like your hero(es) or your villain(s) better?

Jennifer: Hard question! I usually love side-characters, the people who support the main hero or antagonist, so those can be heroic or villainous. If I had to choose, heroes! I like watching/reading stories where people succeed at their goals.

Jessica: I like a good, stylish villain. And I think the better the villain, the more the heroes have to rise to the occasion to defeat them, so that’s a win/win to me.

What is one thing you each wish you’d known when you started writing this novel, that you would warn other beginning crime novelists about?

Jennifer: I would warn beginning novelists to listen to your body when you spend hours writing every day! I’ve always had headaches, but the eye strain and migraines can make it difficult to stick to a routine. It’s okay to take breaks if your body is telling you to stop, and especially when you begin to submit your work for publication, the stress is intense and it never goes away. Having someone to talk to, to weather rejections with, is invaluable to me. I’m so glad we’re going through this journey together. I couldn’t do it on my own!

Jessica: That distance really helps you self-evaluate your work. Putting something down and then giving yourself plenty of time before you come back to it gives you such fresh eyes. You might think you have to be creating something all the time, but your work will be so much better if you give yourself the space to reflect and recharge.


Are there any writing/publishing resources that you’ve found especially helpful that you want to share with other aspiring authors?

 Jennifer: This is a collection of essays all about writing and publishing, written by David Moldawer, who has years of experience in the publishing industry. I find them motivating and informative!

Jessica: Authors often dread writing a synopsis, and this is the best resource I’ve found for creating one.


 Thank you, Jessica and Jennifer. Your manuscript sounds thrilling, and I hope you will let everyone know about your secret news when the time is right.

Find out more about Jessica Slee and Jennifer Slee at


 #Debut #Dagger #DaggerAwards #CrimeFiction #CWA #contests #longlist #Pennsylvania #SouthCarolina #amwriting #WritingCommunity #Mystery


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