April 23 – 29: “What made you decide to write in the thriller genre? Why?”

This week we discuss why we write thriller and answer the question: “What made you decide to write in the thriller genre and why?”

With James Conway, William Todd Rose, J. H. Bográn, Jeremy Burns and Sharon Linnea. You won’t want to miss it!

William Todd Rose was named by The Google+ Insider’s Guide as one of their top 32 authors to follow. He writes speculative fiction that lends itself to the dark, and often surreal, realm of the macabre. For more information, including links to free fiction, please visit his website.

William Todd Rose was featured in TheBigThrill’s April edition. Click here to learn more.

James Conway is a pseudonym for a hedge fund insider and a global creative director at a major advertising firm. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/@ByJamesConway or JamesConwayBooks@gmail.com

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. His March/2012 release, THE ASSASSIN’S MISTRESS is gathering 5-star reviews.

Jeremy Burns is the author of the historical conspiracy thriller, FROM THE ASHES. Like his protagonist, Jonathan Rickner, Jeremy is holds a degree in history, has lived overseas for several years, and is an intrepid explorer whose own adventures have taken to more than twenty countries across four continents. When not exploring a new corner of the globe, Jeremy lives in Florida, where he is working on his next thrilling novel.

Visit Jeremy on his website and on Facebook.

Sharon Linnea is the bestselling author of the Eden Thrillers: CHASING EDEN, BEYOND EDEN and TREASURE OF EDEN. She has also written award-winning biographies of Raould Wallenberg and Hawaii’s Princess Kaiulani. Her newest novel is the mystery THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS (April 2012). Click here to watch the Official Book trailer.

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  1. It’s hard for me to think of writing thrillers as the result of a conscious, planned decision. If anything, the “decision” was forced by stories, scenarios and characters that had begun to consume me — each a sort of creative response to current events and activities I have been exposed to in my “real world” job…cyber-terrorism, the collapsing economies of once thriving nations, the Maddoff scandal and the ramifications of unchecked corporate greed. What began as a series of simple, yet disturbingly plausible “what if” scenarios about the convergence of Wall Street greed and emerging technology began to take on a life of their own. What if someone gamed the U.S. stock market and tried to choreograph an event that could set its collapse in motion? What if a hedge fund sociopath like Maddoff wasn’t just fixated on personal gain, but on causing damage on a grand global scale? Who could stop such a plot? While I had never written a full-length thriller I knew that there was no other way to do this story justice. I knew that these characters and scenarios had to be brought to life in the most thrilling, high-velocity form of storytelling I could muster. It was thrilling and difficult to write this type of fiction, and it was also incredibly satisfying. Not far into the process I realized that THE LAST TRADE was only the beginning. I wanted to tell many more stories in this genre, and that my particular patch of thrillerdom would revolve around an anti-hero (Cara Sobieski) whose tale was far from down, and my plots should and would be a bi-product of my interests and expertise – the intersection of emerging technology and global finance, big business and all too plausible terrorism.

  2. When I was eleven or twelve, I handed my father a poem I’d written. He was kind about the language and imagery, but then he said, “but it doesn’t scan.” Rather than being annoyed, I was intrigued by the fact that there were different types of poetry with different kinds of meter and rhyme schemes. It felt much the same way the first time I read a really good thriller. The short chapters, dangerous villains, world-threatening stakes, the international playground; it seemed like it would be great fun play inside the conventions. Then also, as James said, you see news stories and think, “what if?” At the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who was responsible for the simultaneous burglary of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad and the satellite in Mosul? What did they want? Were they powerful enough to keep guards away? Powerful enough to start a war? That became CHASING EDEN.

    I also love the international scope of thrillers. I love researching foreign cultures and intriguing world events. A Bedouin wedding, the World Economic Forum, the labyrinths under the Monastery of St. John on the island of Patmos. I can give guided tours of many, many places I’ve not yet been. Thriller writing is perhaps the most intriguing way to earn a living imaginable.

  3. I’ve always been a big-idea kind of guy. International intrigue, exotic locales, ancient mysteries: all of these can only be done (or at least, can be best done) within a thriller. Moreover, anything that I as an author find interesting – be it in my travels, in science, history, culture, politics, or current events – can be integrated into the story to give it extra dimensions, and, indeed, open up new avenues to up the ante altogether. I agree with Sharon in that the scope – in the geographic sweep, the historical tendrils reaching from the past, and the level of the story’s stakes – tends to be much higher in thrillers than in other genres. Using real-world events and real-world places also makes the story that much immediate to readers. I love working within the established framework of history and finding the what-ifs to unresolved mysteries from our past. The world – past and present – becomes your oyster. FROM THE ASHES began when I traveled to a rather famous landmark in New York and asked “What if?” What would be the absolute worst thing, the most hideous secret, that this landmark could hide on behalf of its creator? And if that shocking secret were true, what would it mean for the country as a whole, both then and today? Thriller writing is about bringing your characters and your readers to the very limit of what they think they can handle, and then pushing them over. But more than that, I think a truly successful thriller is one that resonates with readers so profoundly that, at least in some subtle manner, it changes the way that they view the world afterwards.

  4. I can’t really say that it was a personal choice; in some ways, it’s almost like the genre chose me. Thrillers are what I always enjored reading as a child, especially the darker ones. By the time I started writing, that type of story was just a natural extension of my interests. I could never write something that I wouldn’t personally read if it were written by someone else. That’s just not me. In writing thrillers, I’m basically staying true to myself, which –in my opinion — is the most important thing for an artist to do.

  5. To play on the opening of “Castle,” there are three types of people who sit around all day figuring out how to put the whole world in peril: psychopaths, CIA task forces, and thriller writers. I’m relieved to be the third kind, because I don’t want the responsibility of the second, and I certainly couldn’t be the first.

    Oddly, writing multiple thrillers has made me feel much more a citizen of the world. With each book, I feel like I have taken the time to really UNDERSTAND how one corner of this crazy place works–and what would make it not work. And, as Jeremy says, the idea is to somehow impart that information and understanding to the reader, in a visceral rather than didactic way. You understand it because you’ve been there, alongside these characters, who are friends for the duration of the read.

    My most recent book is a mystery, and while it’s satisfying to threaten a group of people (in this case, the cast and crew of a film) and have the antagonist come from within, it’s a different adrenaline level to have the safety of the world as your necessary goal. I went back there (YA thriller) for my next book, and it’s nice to be back.

  6. I started reading outside of the school homework in middle school. A few books that impressed me were The Godfather, The Cardinal Sins and Hamlet. I became really upset when I read everybody dies in Hamlet.

    Typical of my country, I started working just off High School and attended college in the evenings. One of the partners in the company lived in the U.S. and when he knew I liked to read, on his next trip to Honduras he brought me, literally, a case full of old paperbacks.

    The first three that I read made an everlasting impression: they were Triple by Ken Follett, The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy and Deep Six by Clive Cussler.

    When I decided to take writing as more than a hobby, these early influences permeated through my first drafts: air jacks, kidnappings, car chases, shoot outs, high stakes. Before I realized it myself, I was already an unrepentant thriller writer.

    1. Great story, J.H. No matter how old or used the book, the story is always new for the next reader.

  7. I’m glad we’re doing these roundtables again. I’ve taken a few days off from my day job to work on the next Jericho Quinn– and these discussions allow me a chance to step away without really stepping away…
    It’s interesting that all of you basically say that Thrillers chose you. I like that. I’m sure that comes out in an author’s writing and makes it more authentic.
    I started writing Westerns because, to make ends meet as a starving policeman, I took up horse shoeing and training–and found I had a few Western stories to tell.
    Lawmen (and women) are by and large big story-tellers. At parties I would do trial runs of some of my ‘war stories’ to see how people reacted. If they were enthralled, I’d commit those stories to paper. The more I wrote, them more I realized some of the things I was taking for granted sounded interesting to others–investigative methods, what a body looks like after a few days in a closet, something a particularly bad criminal happened to say to me at the time of arrest– so I started elaborating on the real stories and characters, turning them in to fictional adventures.
    There’s a great painting in the stairwell of my agent’s office where Ken Follett is sitting in his study with many of his most famous characters gathered around him. It’s haunting. And really, I suppose that’s what good characters do–haunt us–until we put them on paper and tempt or save or kill them. Like you all, I guess Thrillers hunted me down.

    1. Well, for some reason (me, not paying attention?) my reply uploaded as a seperate post. See below.

      All these difficult pre-post mathematical formulas cause me to lose focus. 🙂

  8. Marc, I always enjoy your posts (and your books). You seem to be a natural storyteller, with a good mix of humility, sincerity, and urgency, with action that is deadly without being overblown, and an ability to mix in gritty detail that spices up the story without slowing the pace. You strike me as sort of a combination of Elmore Leonard and Louis L’Amour; two American favorites.

    I wonder if the fact that you’ve been a protagonist facing real antagonists (just as Leonard and L’Amour did) helps you get a feel for how to find that balance of detail and action, as if you’re reliving the events (or similar events), when you’re writing your stories.

    I’m looking forward to Act of Terror. Only a few more days. . ..

  9. I have a question for readers, which i assume we writers are also. People tell me that they often re-read mysteries, enjoying it differently the second time around because they’re watching the characters and situations being set up, knowing what they know. Do people ever re-read thrillers? Or is it different? Is it the race, the heart-pumping action that propels you through the first time, and, knowing the ending takes away that thrill? Do people read thrillers for a different reason?

    A criticism I sometimes see leveled at thriller writers is that secondary characters aren’t that well developed. In mysteries, “whodunit” depends on the development of those people. But it’s hard to stop for a lot of character development when you’re racing against the clock. Any thoughts?

    1. Sharon, how much of whether a book is reread is determined by availability? Think how many more options we have now, compared to 10-20 years ago. A person in a rural area used to have to drive into town to the library, which was probably small with a limited selection. Same with bookstores, if the town even had one. So, with limited options, the good books were read again. Same for people on tight budgets.

      Now a person can buy a book online and have it shipped to anywhere there’s a zip code.

      And then there’s the advent of ebooks and ebook readers. Travelers have more reading options if they have an Ipad or Kindle or Nook, etc. Instead of worrying about limited luggage space, they can download as many books as they want, or can afford, and take them all in the same little ebook reader. No need to read the same book twice on a long trip.

      Having said all that . . . sometimes I’ve read a book a second time just because I liked the characters or the action or the setting. Knowing the ending doesn’t “take away the thrill” for me. I don’t read stories just to see how they end, although if I know it’s a bad ending I won’t waste my time with it again. If the story is good; if I like the characters, and if the setting comes alive and the action fits the plot and the characters, then it’s worth reading again.

      Great question.

  10. Thank you Michael. I grew up reading L’Amour and have devoured everything Elmore Leonard has ever written. Plus, I’m a faithful disciple of Justified–one of the few television shows I take time to watch. Just the right blend of grit, guts and gallows humor. I understand the script writers have a sign in their pit that says: What Would Elmore Do?

    Sharon–I re-read the Key to Rebecca not too long ago and now, after JH brought up Triple, I’ll re-read that one when I finish this Jericho Quinn. Triple is one of my favorite Follett stories and isn’t often mentioned.
    Years ago I had an assignment that put me in a county jail in the deep south for a few weeks. (It wasn’t undercover–just an added layer of security for some really bad dudes during a really bad time…) Anyway, I had a lot of time to talk to three particular outlaws. We had pushup contests, told stories ( I took copious notes) and watched a little black and white TV. It was a small jail and a lady down the road cooked some the best fried chicken and collard greens…anyway, I digress. The time the prisoners liked most was when a guy with a box of used books would come around. One inmate found a John D. McDonald book he’d never read and looked like he was going to cry he was so excited. He picked up a couple of McDonald’s that he had read to read again.

    1. There you go again. That’s what I’m talking about.

      By the way, who won the pushup contests?

      1. You take a deck of cards and start drawing one by one. If you draw the ten of hearts, you do ten push ups. A two means you do two and so on. The aces are twenty. You can play doubles if you’re feeling sassy. The game moves very fast and the point is supposedly to outlast the other guys, but really it’s about posturing. I should say here, least you think that I had lost my tactical marbles, I was on the other side of the bars from these guys in a small day room, when I got down to do my pushups. They were, after all, killers. Pleasant fellows and good story-tellers, but still killers.

        1. Wow, Marc! That is an amazing story on the length we go to get some research. Glad all worked out for the best on the push up contest!

          The treasures you can find in unexpected places. Last week I was helping my mother in law to move some furniture around and I found a very old, teary copy of Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy. And some others. I received the books as compensation for the help. I still feel I may have overcharged.

  11. This morning I was perusing Entertainment Weekly. An article about the new Avengers movie–all the superheroes working together; then a piece about movies about writers. And bam! New series idea. A top-secret group of thriller writers who began as consultants to the CIA, because some bright young agent realized they could think like the evil masterminds–but soon transformed into a brilliant, kvetching, hard-drinking, PTA-attending, depressive, perky (not all fall under every category) group of world-savers. And of course the CIA guy found them on a thriller-writers blog round table…

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