November 5 – 11: “Why do you read and write thrillers?”

This week, join ITW Members Aimée Thurlo, John Wayne Falbey, AJ Colucci, Patricia Gussin, Thomas M. Malafarina, Elizabeth Goddard, Shirley Tallman, Richard Doetsch and Chuck Greaves as they discuss why they choose to read and write thrillers. You just know it’s going to be thrilling!

A daredevil at heart, internationally bestselling author Richard Doetsch revels in the fact that his thrill-junkie protagonist in his acclaimed Michael St. Pierre series is based on himself and his adventurous exploits (skydiving, Scuba, rock climbing, breaking into forbidden places, racing, etc.) Doetsch published The Thieves of Heaven, in 2008 to critical praise, and hasn’t looked back since. Two additional Thieve cliffhangers followed (The Thieves of Faith in 2008 and The Thieves of Darkness in 2010), along with two highly acclaimed stand-alone novels, The 13th Hour and Half-Past Dawn. Not to mention, Hollywood loves Doetsch as Heaven, Darkness, and The 13th Hour are all being adapted to film by major studios. Now, with THE THIEVES OF LEGEND (November 27, 2012), Doetsch once again plunges his countless readers into the rarified world of ex-thief extraordinaire Michael St. Pierre.

Thomas M. Malafarina is a horror fiction writer from Pennsylvania. He has published four novels, “99 Souls”, “Burn Phone” “Eye Contact” and “Fallen Stones” and story collections “13 Nasty Endings”, Gallery Of Horror”, “Malafarina Maleficarum Volume One” and “Volume Two” as well as a collection of single-panel cartoons called “Yes I Smelled It Too: Cartoons For The Slightly Off-Center” through Sunbury Press of Mechanicsburg, PA. Thomas’ short stories have been featured in numerous anthologies.

Aimée and David Thurlo have been married for forty-two years. Aimee moved in next door to him and it was love at first sight. Three weeks later, they were married. David was raised on the Navajo Indian Reservation and left Shiprock to complete his education at the University of New Mexico. Aimée, born in Havana, Cuba, has lived in New Mexico for forty one years. The team’s popular Ella Clah mystery series, featuring a Navajo woman police officer, won a New Mexico Book Award. Their Lee Nez Navajo vampire novels are currently under option to Red Nation Films in Hollywood. They also write romantic suspense novels for Harlequin and have sold more than a million copies worldwide.

Best-selling author Patricia Gussin is a physician who grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, practiced in Philadelphia, and now lives on Longboat Key, Florida. She is also the author of Shadow of Death, Thriller Award nominee for “Best First Novel,” Twisted Justice, The Test, and And Then There Was One. She and her husband, Robert Gussin, are the authors of What’s Next…For You?

Elizabeth Goddard is the award-winning author of more than a dozen novels, including the romantic mystery, The Camera Never Lies—a 2011 Carol Award winner. A 7th generation Texan, she graduated from the University of North Texas with a B.S. in computer science and worked in corporate America for a decade before retiring to write novels.

Chuck Greaves, a former L.A. trial lawyer, is the award-winning author of this year’s HUSH MONEY and next year’s GREEN-EYED LADY, both legal thrillers, both from St. Martin’s Minotaur. His second novel HARD TWISTED (as C. Joseph Greaves), a work of literary/historical fiction based on a true crime, is forthcoming from Bloomsbury in November.

A.J. Colucci grew up in a suburb outside of New York City.  She spent fifteen years as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and writer for corporate America. Today she is a full-time author and self-proclaimed science geek who lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters and a couple of cats.

Shirley Tallman was born in Los Angeles, but spent most of her growing up years in San Francisco, California. She is the author of sixteen novels, including the exciting Sarah Woolson historical mystery series. She and her writing partner Nancy Hersage, wrote and sold movies to ABC, NBC and CBS. Their movie, THE BABYSITTER’S SEDUCTION, starring Keri Russell, Stephen Collins and Phyllicia Rashad, originally aired on NBC and continues to play regularly on the LIFETIME Channel. Shirley and her husband Bob divide their time between Eugene, Oregon, and Incline Village, Nevada.

John Wayne Falbey is a modern Renaissance man: attorney, martial artist, real estate developer, triathlete, university professor, competitive cyclist, lecturer, downhill skier, author, and adventurer. He wrote his first novel in his “spare time” as a student at Vanderbilt University School of Law in order to counter the regimentation of law school. His latest novel, SLEEPING DOGS: THE AWAKENING, a techno-political thriller, is the first of a planned trilogy. His next novel, THE QUIXOTICS, a post-Vietnam tale of three young veterans running guns to anti-Castro insurgents in Cuba, is due out on September 15th.

  1. Why I write horror.

    I have had a life-long love affair with the horror genre, whether it was in the form of film, art or writing. Like most people, I love to be terrified as long as it is done within the safe world of fiction. And since I love to read suspense and horror fiction it only seems natural that I write in that genre as well.

    Writing horror fiction provides me with an outlet for my wild and often uncontrollable imagination. I write because I absolutely love it. For me, writing a new story is as wonderful an experience as going to a movie or reading someone else’s book for the first time. I am often as excited with anticipation as the person who someday will be reading my book. That is what makes it so much fun.

    I also write not just because I want to but because I have to. When the creative juices start flowing, the ideas have to come out and be put on paper. And if done properly the often-arduous task of writing can be a much less painful and a much more rewarding experience. I love the idea of taking the reader on a journey into a world which he knows from the beginning is completely fictitious and impossible; then getting him to temporarily let go of reality and fall headlong into the abyss of horror.

      1. A. J.

        Sorry for the late reply. I just saw it posted. Then I replied in the wrong place. Oh well. I have only ever written horror, but have only been writing novels and short stories for about 5 years. Prior to that I never had the time to sit down and put my thoughts on paper. Since my first book was published in 2010 however, I have been writing like a wild man, spending all of my spare time writing and promoting my work. I also work a full-time job as a manufacturing engineer, play in a blues band on the weekend and am a father and grandfather, so my writing time is minimal and precious to say the least.


  2. I’ve always been drawn to the roller-coaster, edge-of-your-seat tension that is the backbone of suspense and thriller novels. Call it a thrill-seeker’s addiction if you will, an emotionally exhilarating story impacts like nothing else except the actual life experience. Let’s face it, not many of us want to endure the real life experience of being shot at or chased by killers, or even the pressure of saving the world, but we can live it through story characters. I’m grateful I wasn’t around during World War II, but I love reading novels set during the war, which is a powerful thriller setting—the world is at stake.

    As an avid reader, at some point I began crafting my own stories. It makes sense that I write what I love to read. Once the characters are in place and the story question is set up, then the adventure begins and the story must be told. Writing a thriller (or suspense) is as much fun as reading one, only now as the writer, the sky’s the limit. I can take my characters wherever they’re willing to go. My creativity thrives in exotic settings and heart-stopping, impossible situations.

  3. Why do you read/write thrillers

    My husband David and I co-write our books, and at the beginning we realized that we had vastly different tastes. I started in romances, and although writing appealed to him, having grown up reading the books of Ian Fleming and Alistair Maclean, David felt that the stories needed a kick of some kind. So we moved to romantic suspense. It was the perfect blend for two people who do everything together and often have to find a middle of the road.

      1. Thanks so much, Patricia. In this household everything is put to a vote, and we’re masters at compromise. cough. LOL! We argue like the dickens, but we’ve been together for forty two years so it works.

    1. How wonderful. My husband and I wrote a nonfiction book together “What’s Next…For You?” which tells how we both went from medicine and medical research to writing and publishing (we are the founding partners of Oceanview Publishing) and vintners in New Zealand. We had to do it in a “he said” “she said” format though to stay sane through the project.

  4. Thrillers are a genre of fiction in which tough, resourceful, but usually ordinary heroes are pitted against villains determined to destroy them, their country, or the stability of the free world. Often associated with spy fiction, war fiction, adventure and detective fiction.
    I’m obsessed with thrillers. I read them. I write them. They elicit the deepest of fears, they describe the most cataclysmic of events, the very essence of evil, and their breakneck speed gives me a swirling sense of exhilaration that is addicting. The intensity of the thriller-world maximizes every emotion, whipping them around in roller-coaster fashion. Thrillers engage at every level and across every domain from super-hero to everyday-person-hero, from a wide canvas to a pinpoint focus. They allow us ordinary, safe people to encounter the unconceivable from every dimension and every point of view. And we learn a lot as we go about different cultures, exotic places, historical events, every imaginable career path, every socio-economic class, every human emotion. One thing you can depend on with thriller writers, they don’t skimp on authenticity.

    1. Chuck, about the common theme:
      I read almost exclusively hard-core thrillers. The more action the better. I also highly value authenticity as I want to learn about places, cultures, you-name-it.
      The one exception is family saga. Probably because I come from a big family and I have seven kids and appreciate all those messy entanglements.
      As for nonfiction, I don’t have the tolerance – I know that makes me sound intellectually shallow.

  5. My interest in thrillers probably has something to do with all the horror stories I read growing up. I must have been about eight years-old when I discovered Alfred Hitchcock anthologies on my mother’s bookshelf. I was also addicted to television and watched all the old sci-fi movies from the 50’s, like The Blob and The Fly. I’m sure many authors can trace their love of thrillers back to childhood experiences.

    I’m a science geek, and after seeing a documentary on killer ants I was blown away by their terrifying capabilities. So I wrote a science thriller about a supercolony of insects attacking Manhattan and it was the most fun I ever had writing fiction. That’s key; writing a story that excites you. Because when you’re passionate about what you’re writing, it really comes through.

  6. True confession: While I consider myself a fairly voracious reader, I don’t often read mysteries or thrillers. I do, however, write them. Why? That’s an excellent question. Let’s see whether, with a little introspection, I can answer it.

    As an adult, my reading proclivities have tended strongly toward literary fiction. The last three books I’ve read, for example, are: Swamplandia!, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and (currently) The Sorrow of Archeology. The last mystery I read was probably Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories. Which is more of an extended character study than an acutal whodunit. But damn good nevertheless.

    Mysteries are, however, rooted deeply in my psyche. The first books I can recall reading were my sister’s complete set of Nancy Drew mysteries, which proved a gateway drug to Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe. Since then I’ve enjoyed Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch stories, and Nelson DeMille’s John Corey novels. I’m searching for a common denominator here, but I’m not finding one. If anybody sees a trend I’m missing, please let me know.

    When I sat down to write my first novel, the mystery gene definitely expressed itself. I felt that, by dint of my 25 years in trial practice, I could offer readers some real insight into the legal profession, and so a legal thriller was the obvious choice. That it turned out to be great fun — this business of skewering intra-firm politics, pompous judges, and rapacious insurance companies — was icing on the cake. Then HUSH MONEY won the SouthWest Writers’ grand-prize Storyteller Award, and suddenly I had a multi-book deal with Minotaur. So, the fun will continue.

    But I also aspire to literary fiction, and so wrote as my second novel a gritty Depression-era true-crime story called HARD TWISTED (Bloomsbury), which will be in bookstores November 13. From an auctorial standpoint, this was a totally different experience from writing mystery fiction. Harder work, definitely, but more satisfying somehow in its execution.

    So maybe my “insight,” such as it is, is this: When I write my first-person mysteries (GREEN-EYED LADY, the first sequel to HUSH MONEY, will be out in June), I write in what I consider my “natural” voice, meaning that the words spill onto the page directly from my imagination with little in the way of filtration. I suspect this to be true as well of other mystery writers, in contrast to authors who, trying for a more “literary” style, can put their sentences through some pretty exhausting contortions. And maybe — just maybe — this attribute that I’ll call the inherent genuineness of the writing (combined, of course, with a compelling hero and a well-executed plot) is what makes mysteries so popular, and imbeds them so deeply in the minds of the reader.

    Then again, I was never that great at introspection.

    1. Not in the sense of writing in the romance genre, but there is a plot-critical romance in HUSH MONEY, and a disfunctional “romance” of sorts at the center of HARD TWISTED. (It’s nice to be called “complicated” after hearing “simple” all my life. Thanks, Pat!)

    2. Chuck,
      Was it difficult for you to go from the third to the first person?
      Have you ever written a book that alternated first and third person?
      I’ve never tried first person, because I fear that it would be too limiiting to stay only in one point of view, so I admire your skills.
      In the future, do you plan to move foward in first or third person or a mix?
      Pat G.

      1. Both HUSH MONEY and GREEN-EYED LADY are in first-person, but HARD TWISTED is in third. I actually perfer first — I think it’s more natural. (Cave men around the fire, etc.) I’m working on a book proposal right now that alternates four points of view, first and third person, past and present tenses. Hope I get to write it!

  7. Adventure, excitement, adrenaline. I grew up reading Alistar Maclean, Robert Ludlum, Ian Fleming, Peter Benchley, they pulled me from the edge of my seat to far off places, exotic, toxic, pulse pounding places where I always imagined myself. Years later, I found myself in many of those places leaping out of planes, scuba diving, or racing across their deserts finding so much of that adrenaline that I imagined in my youth.

    And as my life went on I wanted to find stories that excited me the way the authors who filled my shelves did years ago. But when I didn’t find them, when I didn’t have the same fun losing myself in the pages, I decided to create what I was longing for.

    It was only a natural progression, a completing of the circle that stories began to fill my head to the point I needed to tell them. I began to weave tales like I read growing up pulling from my life and not just the adventure part, but from my experiences, from the relationship with my wife, from the businesses I dabbled in.

    I wanted to write thrillers. And talk about fun, imagining myself into impossible scenarios, into amazing worlds, pushing the envelope to give people the same feeling I had growing up was the most fun I had since… well, ever. I couldn’t imagine not writing thrillers, not creating characters and puzzles. It’s part of me. And the fun I have freefalling, climbing, diving is the forever research (tax deductible?) that continues to make my life a circle.

    1. The thing about thrillers are that they can be so all-encompassing. If you have not read ITW’s “Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads” edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner, i would advise getting a copy (available in hard, trade paper and ebook). One hundred essays written by today’s leading thriller writers about the most impacful thriller of all times. Starts with Lee Child’s essay on “Theseus and the Minator and concludes with Steve Berry’s essay on Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” What a collection!

  8. Why thrillers for reading? To escape, to feel the exhilaration, to taste experiences that are out of our reach. I think the thriller reader is looking for that excitement, that rush, that visceral feeling you may not get from literary fiction, from romance, from pure mystery, or drama. The great thing about a thriller is it is one of the genres so easily combined with others. Action thriller, romantic thriller, historical thriller etc… but they all have the underlying component of thrills, of excitement, of making your heart pound. Do you agree? Or do you find that same feeling in other genres?

    1. I think you’re right about readers wanting excitement from thrillers. I’m probably more emotionally invested with characters in literary novels, but i don’t necessary want a complex emotional experience from a thriller. I want an engaging story and heart-pounding action. I once told an agent i was trying to more fully develop the protagonists in The Colony and he said, “Don’t. It’s not about the characters, it’s about the ants.”

      As an author of a crossover genre, science thrillers, i agree that the definition of “thriller” is expanding across the board. Readers are embracing mixed genres, and now retailers are finally figuring out ways to better position them.

  9. I think I was born with a sense of adventure. According to stories told by my mother, she and my father were in a theater watching a horror/thriller movie when my Mom felt her first labor pains. After a wild race to the hospital, I entered this world as she was being pushed down the hospital corridor on a gurney. According to more “family legends,” I started crawling when I should have been still placidly lying in my crib watching my Winnie the Pooh mobile, and by nine months I was toddling around the house investigating every cupboard, closet, and drawer I could reach, causing general havoc around the house. By second grade I was gobbling up every Agatha Christie book in the house, by third grade I organized all the girls in my class to rally against the third and fourth grade boys because they stole our bean bag. When I refused to apologize to any of the above mentioned boys, I received the one and only “F” ever to appear on my report card — in deportment. By junior high, I spent a good part of my allowance buying notebooks that I filled with mind-boggling sci-fi, horror, and murder mystery stories. If real, the number of corpses in these tales would have filled every mortuary in San Francisco — to capacity!

    In high school I became hooked on Edgar Allen Poe, Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and every other story or fictional character that sent shivers down my spine. There was something exhilarating about curling up in bed (or behind a school book in class) with a wild adventure that could carry me off into an exciting world that existed beyond the school room. This is what I would do with my life, I vowed. I would join the ranks of writers who were capable of creating this sort of magic!

    My parents, fearful of these flights of fancy, tried to convince me that writing as a career would not pay the rent nor put food on the table. And surely writing stories of death and mayhem couldn’t be healthy for a young girl. Yet after college, marriage and children, the urge to write simply wouldn’t go away, and I was constantly drawn back to the typewriter. I wrote a successful newspaper column, then contemporary romance novels under the pen name Erin Ross, but every time I tried to put a little mystery and suspense into my stories, my editors would remind me that these books were romance and character driven, and that I really couldn’t go willy-nilly killing off people.

    In a very real way they were right; learning to write character and honest emotions are vital to any story. They’ve certainly proven helpful in writing my Sarah Woolson mystery series. With these books I’ve finally found my niche; I can create all the twists and turns I so love in a mystery novel, sprinkle around clues so that my readers can participate in solving the crime, and kill off as many characters as I like. One of the oldest rules in the book, after all, is to write what you know and what you are passionate about. For me, it will always be thrillers and mysteries!

      1. They do, Patricia. What’s a story, even a murder mystery, without a little romance? Currently, Sarah has two men competing for her affections — to her consternation!

  10. Like most writers, I’ve been an avid reader from an early age, particularly books in the thriller genre. I devoured the Hardy Boys series early in grade school.

    An only child, I’ve always been über independent; thus, adventurous by nature; eager to see, do, and explore things and places before anyone I know has done it. Thrillers – reading them and writing them – are a natural offshoot of such restlessness and curiosity. In fact, for me, writing is more than a desire; it’s almost a compulsion.

    What makes Thrillers unique is that they are realistic, and rarely require the suspension of disbelief necessary in the sci-fi or fantasy genres; although some writers do purposely mix the genres. Thrillers thrive on realistic characters who deal with plausible challenges. They revel in being politically incorrect; at being anti-heroes without risking the societal stigmata that might be attached to such actions in real life. Familiar examples are Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp, David Baldacci’s Sean King, Brad Thor’s Scot Horvath, and Alex Berenson’s John Wells.

    In creating characters like these, writers get to know them as old friends; almost family members in some cases. We purposely put them in harm’s way and then create the means for them to rise above these challenges.

    For me, story lines develop over time in my highly imaginative mind, based on current events. They build and expand and, hopefully, flesh out into novel length stories with plot twists, nuanced characters, dialogue, and fully developed scenes and backgrounds. At some point, when research has filled in the blanks, they demand to be “let out”, that is, expressed.

  11. The Hardy Boys kicked off so many writers as did Nancy Drew. Interesting that they were all written by a secret consortium. But they surelty did stand the test of time.

  12. Let me pose a question to my fellow panelists. Are you ever concerned that by reading other writers within the same (thriller) genre — especially while you’re writing a thriller — you’ll be, either consciously or unconsciously, influenced in some way — discouraged, for example, or inclined toward mimicry?

    1. I’m always amused when critics say that one of my books hews too closely to another author’s work, and it’s an author I’ve never read. That just happened to me with HARD TWISTED and Horace McCoy. Maybe I should be flattered.

  13. That’s a good question Chuck. I think it’s important to read a lot in your genre, and i pick up a lot of ideas and tips from other authors. Not specific to the actual story or characters, but general techniques. Like how an author creates tension at certain moments, or brings humor into a dramatic situation. i was writing about a tropical island and read similar books so i could get a feel for tropical islands.It also helps to know what NOT to do. The danger is, that you might fall so in love with a character, you end up subconsciously using pieces of them in your own story – like i’ve seen in many twilightesque vampire stories – but then you have to make a conscious attempt not to do that.

  14. Yes, a very good question that I find particularly relevant since I am the editor in chief for Oceanview Publishing ( I am constantly reading submitted manuscripts and I read a whole lot of comercial thriller fiction to maintain a sense style and content. I guess that makes me a bit scitzoiid.

  15. I’d like to comment on a couple of threads that arose in earlier discussions. The first is the subject of romance in the thriller novel, raised by Shirley Tallman and Patricia Gussin. In a well-written thriller, the main characters, especially the protagonist, should reflect the fullness of character that real people do. As real people, we are multifaceted and complex entities with numerous relationships, including romantic. It stands to reason that even the typically hardboiled protagonist of a thriller novel would have a romantic bent. Now, I’m not suggesting a mixture of thriller and bodice-ripper genres by any means. For example, there’s Robert B. Parker’s tough guy PI, Spenser, and his long-term affaire de coeur with Susan Silverman. I created a hot-blooded love affair between my main protagonist and a beautiful Cuban anti-Castro guerilla, Felicia Pérez, in my latest thriller, The Quixotics. It makes the angry, disillusioned former Special Forces soldier, Rick Stevens, more human.
    Chuck Greaves raised the other subject – is it a concern that reading other thriller writers might influence (adversely) our own writing efforts? I’m a big fan of the genre and am always reading one or more books by Lee Child, Brad Thor, Vince Flynn, David Baldacci, Alex Berenson and others. The protagonists in the first book in my Sleeping Dogs trilogy, Sleeping Dogs: The Awakening, which was published in June, are very rugged and deadly individuals. However, I don’t think any reader would confuse them with Jack Reacher, Scot Horvath, Mitch Rapp, Sean King or John Wells. The reason I believe that is because I constructed each of these characters as a composite of many people – real, imaged, and fictional. However, because the above-mentioned authors do excellent research across a broad range of fields, I do get information from their books concerning technology, armaments, political agencies, and foreign affairs and cultures.

  16. A. J.

    Sorry for the late reply. I just saw it posted. I have only ever written horror, but have only been writing novels and short stories for about 5 years. Prior to that I never had the time to sit down and put my thoughts on paper. Since my first book was published in 2010 however, I have been writing like a wild man, spending all of my spare time writing and promoting my work. I also work a full-time job as a manufacturing engineer, play in a blues band on the weekend and am a father and grandfather, so my writing time is minimal and precious to say the least.


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