October 1 – 7: “Is there any myth about being a thriller genre author that you’d like to debunk?”

This week ITW Members J. H. Bográn and Amy Shojai will discuss being a thriller genre author: “Is there any myth about being a thriller genre author that you’d like to debunk?” You won’t want to miss this!


Amy Shojai is a certified animal behavior consultant, and the award-winning author of 26 best selling nonfiction pet books. She writes THRILLERS WITH BITE! as an ITW Debut Author with LOST AND FOUND, a heart-racing story that incorporates dog viewpoint, a heroic cat, and an animal behavist. Amy has been featured as an expert in many venues including The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Family Circle, CNN, and Animal Planet’s DOGS 101 and CATS 101.

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. He’s a member of the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator. His short story fantasy fiction, DEEDS OF A MASTER ARCHER, will be released in September. You can find him on Twitter @JHBogran, Facebook and Blogger.

  1. I’d like to debunk the notion that we, thriller writers, are always thinking up ways to kill anyone around us.

    Well, not sure that is a proper myth, but people have asked me, in more than one occasion, how do I come up with so many ways to dispatch my characters. I can only imagine what a nightmare that question must have been for the likes of say, Agatha Christie.

    On the other hand, when the main character of your book is a professional thief, you simply cannot go into a bank or office and not take notice of where the security cameras are located, if the guard carries a handgun or a shotgun, or what the fastest escape routes are. A few months ago I actually blogged about an instance when my research came in handy: http://thetaleweaver.blogspot.com/2011/10/random-and-truthful-event-in-life-of.html

    But no, we’re not out to kill everyone. We need some hostages, too. 🙂

    1. You mean you don’t look at people and wonder how you could kill them? 🙂

      I read your blog and was impressed. I honestly thought that the whole ‘open doors with a credit card’ only worked in the movies.

      What other tricks do you have up your sleeve that you’ve incorporated into your books?

  2. Great points J.H. I’m not sure why folks automatically assume that an author must have personal experience in XYZ in order to write about it. Mary Shelley was a teenager when she began writing Frankenstein. Did she have personal experience with weird science?

    I also get that question, “How did you come up with the story?” And I’m always tempted to answer that there’s a secret handshake and secret “plot” book that authors receive when they’ve reached a given level of expertise . . .

    Wait, you mean there IS? And I didn’t get one yet? I suppose that I need to keep writing! *s* Jokes aside, new writers are told over and over again to “write what you know” and perhaps that’s another reason why readers sometimes assume we know more about our subject than we do. Certainly my debut thriller LOST AND FOUND includes an animal behaviorist and an actual dog viewpoint character but that’s not so much because it’s what I know, but because it’s what interests me.

    That’s one of the big myths–“write what you know” I think should instead be “write what you LOVE!” Or better, “write the story YOU want to read.”

    I’ve been thinking about this question of “thriller myths” and I believe there are several. Probably the biggest is that you can easily define a thriller. What is it? Sort of a moving target these days. It’s no longer limited to heroic male protagonists, or exotic locals. The genre has broadened so much, and cross-genre pollination creates new “rules.”

    1. Yes, totally agree, writers get told all the time to write what you know. That tends to make things a tad scarier for a lot of people. I mean, how do I write about the police force if I have no actual knowledge?

      These days so many thriller authors have degrees behind them that a lot of writers tend to worry if they qualify to write.

      What advice do you both have for those of us who don’t have ‘qualifications’?

  3. Hi Lee, Great question! For me, research is great fun, especially if the topic of your book fascinates you.

    There are great resources out there for writers. Some of the expert thriller authors also have terrific nonfiction how-to books available. DP Lyle (he’s an MD) has great forensics books designed for writers to help them get it right…er, write. Check out MORE FORENSICS AND FICTION. *s*

    I just interviewed a fascinating author/attorney Leslie Budewitz who has a terrific legal info book for writers called BOOKS, CROOKS & COUNSELORS. If you’re interested in getting animal behavior dead-on for your werewolf thriller or drug sniffing/tactical dog, you can find help in some of my animal behavior books. There’s also a fantastic workshop I want to attend organized by Lee Loftland called WRITERS’ POLICE ACADEMY (the 2012 event just wrapped up).

    Also, don’t hesitate to go to the experts and ASK. Often they’re flattered that someone would be interested. Just be respectful of their time. A really good way to get neat information is once you’ve interviewed that first expert, ask them who else they think would be vital for you to talk to…then you’ve got a personal recommendation for the next request!

    I hope this helps.

  4. Amy, you’re right. I get the “how do you come up with that story?” a lot, too. I usually tell them I just pay attention to the muse. When they respond with the expected blank face, I add, “you know, writers are the only people who can publicly admit to hearing voices without getting thrown in the looney bin.”
    Now, about that secret handshake…contact me off the board. 🙂

    Thank you for the kind words, Lee. I try to incorporate as much as possible without sounding like a commercial. It’s a balancing act.
    For example, when it was time to select a handgun for a character in Highland Creek (Rebel E-Publishers, Jan/2013), I went with a little known but worthy of even James Bond. The A.S.P.:

  5. To continue the discussion, I think there’s a perception that a thriller must be all action all the time. The most satisfying thrillers for me are those that delve deeper into the characters, their relationships, and the “inner” motivations besides the ability to dodge bullets, outrace speeding trains and still rescue the kitten from the tree.

  6. Agree with you, Amy.
    Stakes are high for the thrillers, but unless we’re dealing with fantasy, the characters are only human. As such, their motivations, past experiences-even traumas, are all part of the story.

  7. JH…well in my thriller the dog isn’t human. *s* And it’s not a fantasy per se so there are exceptions. Shadow (the service dog) has his own character arc, his own goals and desires, but from a canine perspective. For me it was a challenge not just to put the protagonist and antagonist goals in conflict (as well as other human characters) but also ask “what does the dog want but can’t get” and how he’d overcome that when the human goals get in his way.

    Maybe that’s another myth. That is, that if there’s a non-human viewpoint character it must be a fantasy and not a thriller? Hmnnn.

  8. Interesting! A dog’s POV, okay.

    Definitely think that in your case, it should not be fantasy only because of the non-human protagonist.

    My one cent.

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