by Andrew Zack
April Smith has the kind of career most authors genuinely dream about. Her fourth novel featuring FBI Special Agent Ana Grey will be published in June. WHITE SHOTGUN takes Grey to Italy, where she finds herself called upon to investigate a half sister she never knew she had and her mafia-connected husband. Connecting with her family under false pretenses becomes more than complicated when her nephew is stabbed and her sister goes missing. Now Ana must face an almost impossible choice between duty and family…
Four critically acclaimed novels, published by Knopf, edited by the famed Sonny Mehta, and a deal to adapt one of her own novels for television could make Smith the perfect protagonist of her own thriller. Of course, having many friends in the FBI and having participated in training scenarios at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, could make her a bit of a hard target.
But those things are also what make her writing so real. “I make it a priority for my books to be accurate. They are read several times by different agents to make sure of the accuracy,” says Smith, speaking with great appreciation for the real agents who inspired her fictional characters. “They are bright, educated people, with a sense of humor. They take care of people. The political environment we see in the paper is very different from the day-to-day. I admire them.”
But writing an effective thriller takes far more than good contacts in law enforcement. Smith began working on her first novel in earnest during the 1988 television writers’ strike. A television writer on shows such as LOU GRANT, CAGNEY & LACEY, and CHICAGO HOPE, she spent five years crafting her first novel. Her TV agents at CAA put her in touch with her book agent, Molly Friedrich, who sold the novel in a matter of days. But Smith didn’t take the first offer, which came tied to unacceptable changes to the story. But when she spoke with Sonny Mehta at Knopf, she knew immediately that he was the editor with whom she wanted to work.
Smith doesn’t bang out a book every year. Instead, each book is carefully crafted with a focus on the core relationships between her characters. “It’s these relationships that are fundamental to the core of the thriller. If a writer learns to develop these relationships, their thrillers will have the depth that draws readers, because readers want to come away having had an emotional experience, not just a diversion. I think that’s why they read.”
She encourages would-be thriller writers to “study the masters” and speaks of veteran thriller writer Frederick Forsyth with admiration, having recently read DAY OF THE JACKAL and DOGS OF WAR. “His plotting is very precise and logical and realistic and from that you can structure a believable story. He really understands core relationships. He sets up the motivations and relationships between the good guy and the bad guy and builds on that and expanding on that.”
Smith plans to attend ThrillerFest and says she’s looking forward to discussing the “nitty-gritty” of thriller writing with her fellow authors.
To learn more about April, please visit her website.