May 27 – June 2: “How do writers invite readers into the conspiracy?”

George Bernard Shaw said that “all professions are conspiracies against the laity.” This week, we ask ITW Members Robert RotsteinEvonne Wareham and J. H. Bográn “How do writers invite readers into the conspiracy?” You won’t want to miss it!


Welsh author Evonne Wareham writes romantic suspense, set in Europe. Her debut novel, Never Coming Home, won the 2012 New Writers’ prize, presented by the Romantic Novelists’ Association of the UK, and was recently a nominee for a Reviewers’ Choice award from RT Book Reviews magazine. Her second book, Out of Sight Out of Mind, features a scientist who reads minds and a down and out who can’t remember his own name.

Robert Rotstein is an entertainment attorney with over thirty years experience in the industry. He’s represented all of the major motion picture studios and many well-known writers, producers, directors, and musicians. Corrupt Practices is his first novel (June 2013, Seventh Street Books). He lives with his family in Los Angeles, California, where he is at work on the next Parker Stern novel.

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. You can find him on Twitter @JHBogran, Facebook and Blogger.

  1. I’ve never thought of myself as a conspirator – but I’m wondering if the writer/reader relationship is actually all about the conspiracy. The writer of fiction is offering to divert and entertain, and maybe on occasion to inform and inspire, in exchange for the reader’s time and their willingness to enter a world that both know is a creation of the writer’s imagination. In the case of my own books the reader also has to be ready to suspend disbelief on a generous scale. While anyone might have the misfortune to be involved in the kind of events depicted in a police procedural, they are a lot less likely to encounter a paid assassin who specializes in realistic accidents – or at least I hope they are! That’s even more the case in my latest release, as both hero and heroine in that book can read minds. It’s entertainment, escapism, whatever you like to call it. The presence of the book is the invitation, by picking it up the reader accepts the conventions and joins the author in a shared alternative reality.

  2. As a practicing attorney as well as a writer of legal thrillers, I know first hand that many non-lawyers consider the legal profession to be a grand conspiracy. That’s not surprising, because the profession displays several indicia of conspiracies. First, conspiracies depend on secrecy. For the legal profession, confidentiality—in the form of the attorney-client privilege—holds an exalted place in the system. In fact, attorney-client confidences are more sacrosanct than communications between doctor-patient or priest-penitent. In addition, lawyers employ their own jargon—their “secret code” in a sense—a second characteristic of a conspiracy. And, conspiracies are about power, and lawyers seem to have power by virtue of their knowledge of a system that seems Byzantine to the non-lawyer.

    One way writers invite readers into the conspiracy—or perhaps demystify the conspiracy—is by revealing the inner working of a profession. This is certainly true of authors of legal fiction, who not only make an arcane system comprehensible to the layperson, but also reveal the system’s capacity for drama and conflict—the limits of its ability to do justice, the ethical choices that lawyers and judges face, and the moral ambiguity that often arises when following the letter of the law.

  3. Evonne: You seem to describe the relationship with readers as that of a covenant, a binding contract between author and reader. I agree with you, in fact just this past week as I attended the Backspace conference in NYC, an author (sorry, can’t remember who exactly), elaborated on that same premise and how we as writers must deliver the goods and fulfill our part of the deal with a great story.

    Robert: You’re right, lawyers do fit the bill of the ultimate conspirators. As a Catholic myself, I do hope the sacrosanct priest-sinner confidentiality stands, or boy, am I in trouble!

    A bit off topic, but medical TV shows like E.R., Grays Anatomy and House seem to have demystify to a certain extent the closely guarded secrecy of illness. In the same manner, I think the early books of Tom Clancy opened the world to of secret weaponry and how the functioned to the layman reader. I remember very distinctly in the Sum of All Fears how Clancy elaborated for one entire chapter about the process of an atomic bomb explosion. Of course, he wrote a note at the end to prevent the weirdoes into thinking they could use the novel as an instruction manual.

    Drawing readers in the secrecy of worlds unbeknown to them is the ultimate author-reader covenant. We owe it to them to not cut corners and put the best piece of entertaining work we can, right?

  4. Robert,

    Do you find that in writing thrillers you tend to confine yourself to the letter of the law when writing on subject or in a particular situation to make the work more thrilling or approachable to the reader? Are you able to break away from authenticity and allow your characters to behave in ways that would not be acceptable in the practice of law, or what might be considered otherwise unethical, considering that the layperson is not always familiar with standards for attorneys?

  5. Excellent question Daco. I strive for authenticity with the law, but try to get close to the line — to write scenes where the reader might ask, “Could that REALLY happen?” and have the answer be “yes.” But that’s a personal choice, and a lot of wonderful legal dramas/thrillers sacrifice authenticity for art. One of my favorite legal movies is Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men,” starring Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb, among others. The movie involves a jury’s deliberations in the trial of an eighteen-year-old boy who allegedly stabbed his father to death. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor credits the film as influencing her to become a lawyer. Yet, she also correctly notes that a number of the plot points in the jury’s deliberations would, in real life, have resulted in a mistrial. But the liberties that the writer took with the law actually helped shine a light on the legal system and the way juries deliberate — and on prejudice and human nature — in a way that perhaps slavish adherence to authenticity couldn’t have done.

  6. Hi Robert, Daco, Jose
    Some interesting stuff here! On Robert’s point about certain groups having their own jargon – a classic way of excluding outsiders – that one doesn’t apply to writers – we share our vocabulary with the audience, which gives us a head start with the invitations. Jose – in answer to your question – yes, I do tend to think of the writer/reader relationship as a bargain and the writer’s part is to deliver the very best story they can, as you say. Daco – interesting point – one of the reason I stress that my books are escapism is so that readers know what they are getting – mind reading and all. I do my best to ensure that things like forensics are as accurate as I can get them, given the limits of my own understanding, as a non-expert, but I am telling stories to entertain – and thrillers, with larger-than-life-events, do require that essential suspension of disbelief.

  7. Evonne, I wonder if it’s true that writers necessarily share their vocabulary. I think thriller writers do. But a lot of so-called modernist and post-modernist “literary fiction” – which I think is itself a construct to create a conspiracy against the laity – seems quite inaccessible to many, if not to most readers. In such cases, it seems that literary critics or university professors are charged with letting the laity into the writers’ conspiracy.

  8. Evonne, your response that you no “expert” on literary fiction is revealing and interesting. The fact that one needs to be an expert on a certain type of writing shows, to me, that certain aspects of the “writing profession” is a conspiracy against the laity in the sense Shaw meant it. The wonderful thing about “commercial fiction” is that it debunks conspiracies. The reader need not be an expert.

  9. I completely agree with Robert on commercial fiction debunking conspiracies.

    Furthermore, what better genre that thrillers to bring down conspiracies, right?

    Thrillers, being historical,medical, or techno-thrillers, expose people to new terminology. In fact, it is a common occurrence that when somebody surprises us with some bit of trivia, they tell us “oh, I read it in a book once.”

    If knowledge is power, then we’re empowering the readers.

  10. Jose, it’s interesting that a number of thriller subgenres are identified by profession: medical thriller, legal thrillers, financial thrillers, for example. Some have described my novel as a “conspiracy thriller.” And indeed, the purpose of thrillers is most often to enlighten, not to confuse the reader.

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