October 12 – 18: “Should a writer try to stay current, or avoid trends altogether?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Trends tend to emerge among thrillers. This week ITW Members Ellen Kirschman, Mick Sims and Len Maynard, Toby Tate, Paul D. Marks, William Lashner and DiAnn Mills discuss whether a writer should try to stay current, and anticipate these trends, or avoid trends altogether?




deadlockDiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels to thrill readers. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.


ConvalescenceMaynard & Sims are the authors of fifteen novels with more scheduled, as well as numerous novellas and stories. They have won awards for screenplays, have been editors, essayists, publishers and reviewers. They are currently working on new novels, novellas, stories and screenplays.



Right Wrong Thing high-resEllen Kirschman Ph.D is a clinical psychologist in independent practice. She is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Society for the Study of Police and Criminal Psychology, the American Psychological Association, and the International Association of Women in Law Enforcement. She is the recipient of the California Psychological Association’s 2014 award for distinguished contribution to psychology as well as the American Psychological Association’s 2010 award for outstanding contribution to the practice of police and public safety psychology. Ellen is the author of the award winning I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, I Love a Fire Fighter: What the Family Needs to Know, and lead author of Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know (2013). Her debut novel, Burying Ben: A Dot Meyerhoff Mystery (2013) is about police suicide told from the perspective of the psychologist. Ellen and her husband live in Redwood City, California.

primordialToby Tate‘s stories have been praised by the likes of New York Times bestselling authors Steve Berry, Douglas Preston, Jonathan Maberry and Steve Alten. He has been featured in The Big Thrill magazine and on Internet radio, blogs and newspapers. Owing to the inspiration of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, Toby became an author of what he likes to call “high-octane sci-fi, fantasy and horror” and has published several books.


Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-Winning noir mystery-thriller White Heat. Publishers Weekly calls White Heat a “taut crime yarn.” His story Howling at the Moon (EQMM 11/14) is short-listed for both the 2015 Anthony and Macavity Awards for Best Short Story. Midwest Review calls Paul’s noir novella Vortex “…a nonstop staccato action noir.” He also co-edited the anthology Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea.


Guaranteed Cover finalWilliam Lashner is the New York Times best-selling author of THE BARKEEP and THE ACCOUNTING, along with eight novels featuring Victor Carl, whom Booklist called one of the mystery novel’s “most compelling, most morally ambiguous characters.” THE BARKEEP, a Zen infused standalone and Digital Book World #1 Bestseller, was nominated for an Edgar Award. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and New York University School of Lawe, Lashner was a prosecutor with the Department of Justice in Washington, DC before quitting the law to write full-time.

  1. It depends on the subject matter of the thriller. Chasing the current trend is fatal and will only result in second rate work. Being ahead of a possible trend might sound sensible but it pretty hard to anticipate.

    Why does a trend become one? Good writing, interesting themes and characters, possibly news-related subject? These days the news is 24/7 and so writing a book – a good few months work – in the hope you will ride the crest of the trend-wave is a dangerous move.

    The real trends are timeless and it is those that should be followed. Good stories, interesting characters, tight plots, and a subject that fascinates are what makes a book un-put-down-able. Be your own trend.

  2. Maynard’s & Sims’ comments are right-on-the-money. Chasing a trend is the literary equivalent of a copycat crime. I’m constantly inspired by my fellow writers (sometimes to write as well as they do, sometimes to write better). But that’s different from following a trend because you think it will make millions. Very few writers make make millions. I write mysteries told from the point of view of a police psychologist. As far as I know, this is unique (Don’t hesitate to correct me if I’m wrong). I wasn’t following a trend, obviously, nor was I trying to be unique. I was structuring the book to support the story I wanted to tell and the best way I knew to tell it was through the eyes of Dr. Dot Meyerhoff. The subject of my latest book is very current. It’s about a cop who kills an unarmed teenager. I started this book long before the string of headline making police incidents began. I’d like to say I was prescient, but I wasn’t. Landing in the middle of a contemporary national conversation was a total fluke.

  3. The conventional wisdom is that if you’re writing on spec not to try to anticipate trends, but to write from the heart, write what you want to write. One of the reasons for that is that by the time you write your latest zombie epic the trend will have run its course.

    That’s not to say that you can’t write something that’s popular. That a current trend won’t last longer than “normal” trends. The zombies are an example of that. But things can be overdone, so if you’re going to do it you should try to bring something new and fresh to the table.

    It’s been said that there are only five or six basic plots, depending on who you listen to, and Shakespeare did them all a long time ago. So whatever you do you have to bring your own originality and heart to it. Make it your own.

    You’re either going to be ahead of the curve – and no one will want to publish your story ’cause it hasn’t been done before – or you’ll hit the tail end of the curve and they’ll tell you you’re too late: “it’s been done before.” So write what you want, write from your heart.

    The truth is no one really knows what the next trend will be, nor when current ones will fizzle and new ones take off, so if you write what your gut/heart tells you to write you have a better chance of being a trendsetter and not a trend follower.

  4. Martin Amis once wrote a story where the big money in the writing world was in poetry, with legions of writers trying to hit it big with their sonnets, while a few poor wretches dedicated their sad, unappreciated lives to the unpaid art of the screenplay. As writers we’re always chasing the market; would there be so many thrillers written if people weren’t buying them?

    So now that we write thrillers because a robust market exists, instead of small existential novels where the market – trust me on this – is not so robust, the question becomes how much should we chase the popular thriller novel of the moment? It’s tempting to start writing a vampire novel after Justin Cronin hits it big with THE PASSAGE, or a violent domestic novel after GONE GIRL takes over the list, and in a way it wouldn’t be so different from deciding to write thrillers in the first place.

    But here’s the key: if the hot story doesn’t line up with the writer’s passions and concerns it’s going to be crap, and no one wants to read crap no matter how hot the topic. That’s the real problem. The other problem is that by the time you write the thing and get it sold and get it published, the moment will probably have passed and there will be another hot theme to chase. But it’s the first problem that’s preeminent for me.

    If I’m going to be chasing something for the year or so it takes me to write a novel it’s going to be my own crazy ideas and themes and infatuations. That’s the reason I write in the first place. Hopefully, instead of chasing trends I’ll be creating them.

  5. I actually Googled that question just to see what the latest trend in thrillers was, and it came up with something called the “marriage thriller,” AKA “chick noir,” though that term seems a little degrading to women. Apparently this trend was started by Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” and involves lots of plot twists and characters with deep, dark secrets.

    As a writer, I tend to steer away from trends. Almost any writer’s blog or book written for writers will tell you not to follow trends. Authors should write about what moves us, not what we think will sell. In other words, if we chase the dollar, we end up writing things we don’t really care about, and neither will anyone else.

    My job as a writer is to watch the trends precisely so that I don’t repeat what’s already been done, to read as much as I can so that I know what other authors in my genre are writing.

    We all know of course that there’s nothing new under the sun, but our job as authors is to make it new. We have to write the story in such a way that readers will be completely captivated by the worlds we’ve created. If I’ve written something that’s so fresh and so alive that readers can’t stop turning pages, then I know I’ve done my job.

  6. The latest trends will always capture some writer’s attention. That doesn’t mean it will grab mine. Should a writer stay current, anticipating these trends or avoid them altogether? 

    The latest trends regarding techniques with the craft and those promoting marketing and promotion are worth exploring. But I create story according to what my heart is telling me.

    Jumping on board the latest plot idea destroys creativity. I want my stories fresh and unique. My goal is for story to stand out and shine, a snapshot of life that doesn’t mirror other plot lines.

    Trends can be nuggets of gold. Or coal. I encourage each writer to decide what works best for his/her brand and personal aspirations.

  7. I write what interests me and what I know. Given my thirty years as a police “shrink” I have lots of stories knocking around inside my head. The stories own me and I own them. I have something to say about the challenges and emotional lives of cops and their families, some of it better said in non-fiction, some better said using fiction. I am not interested in para-normal universes, time-travel, zombies, vampires, teen-age warriors, graphic violence, sci-fi or romance. I’m talking only about my own taste. Other people love these genres. If I tried to write one of those books, it would be terrible. Guaranteed.

  8. I agree with Ellen. I write what excites me and sometimes what keeps me awake at night. Fears and what-ifs are explored while reading the authors that build thrilling and suspenseful stories. The combination of elevating craft, creating story, and reading those authors whom I admire and respect challenge me to explore techniques. That doesn’t mean I ignore trends, but why would I want my novels to read like a half dozen others?

      1. Currently reading David Corbett – The Devil Prayed and Darkness Fell
        In addition, my favs are Harlan Coben, David Baldacci, Joel Rosenberg, Steven James, Robert Dugoni

          1. I just finished Catriona McPherson’s THE CHILD GARDEN. Loved it. I also loved William Kent Kruger’s ORDINARY GRACE, part coming-of-age story, part mystery. I am a fan of Louise Penny, Colin Cotterill. I took a class with David Corbett and thought he was great. I have one of his books on my TBR pile.

    1. I think you make a good point, DiAnn when you say “why would I want my novels to read like a half dozen others?” I hope that’s what we all strive for.

  9. Any novel in any genre can b thrown into an existing trend stream or narrowed down so specifically that it becomes a new trend stream. Like Humpty Dumpty’s word, a trend means just what those citing it “choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

    A trend is a tool for convenient, capricious classification. Authentic writing should never succumb to convenient, capricious classification.

  10. My log line is “It’s Only Fiction ‘Til It Happens” That arises from the fact that as a commercial techno-thriller, much of the elements of the story have to be true and current. The manipulation or utilization of those elements is the work of fiction. I believe I have been successful in creating tension, dread and speculation that this could really happen “real world” by basing the scenarios on actual factual foundations. I always run my plots by the FBI or State Department and appropriate science, law enforcement and experts to make sure I am not creating a how to book for bad guys. I end most of my books with explanations of where I messed with the “Terrorist Recipe” so as to not unintentionally hand them an idea.

    1. Hi Tom: My WPR is about an officer who is investigating internet child pornography. I was warned by several people not to write anything that would be of value to pedophiles and pornographers. Like you, I have been careful not to reveal any behind-the-scenes info. If I ever finish the d–n thing, I will let a few cops read it to make sure.

  11. Talk about trends is quite appropriate with my current reading – or re-reading. I am working my way through some of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels and thoroughly enjoying what is the third or fourth read for many of them.

    He started in the 50’s and carried on until his death in 2005 from cancer. I began reading him again quite recently after finding his factual book about his battle with cancer of the larynx in a charity shop in London. Let’s Talk was published just before he died I believe and in it he writes about his ten year battle with the disease.

    He started a trend of police procedurals that no-one in my opinion has been able to better, and he carried on his own trend for fifty years. I have always owned all the series but many were in the original paperbacks so a few years ago I spent a year tracking down and buying them all in hardcover which was fun to do – frustrating and expensive with a couple of titles.

    I tried – and failed – to imitate him – a lesson about following trends that I learned. Falling Apart At The Edges was fun to write though.

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