April 25 – May 1: “Imagine you could reach out to any author and ask a single question.”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Imagine you could reach out to any author (living or dead) and ask a single question. This week we ask ITW Members Thomas Kirkwood, Dustin Dodd, Elena Harwell, Jean Heller, J.D. Horn and J.L. Abramo which author would you choose? And, what is your question?




requiemThomas Kirkwood is an international author best known for his Cold War thrillers. His novels have been published by Macmillan, Collier Macmillan (Europe), Penguin (Donald I. Fine), Signet, Amazon, Brilliance (audio), ACX (audio) and Stjerne-Spenning (Europe). After years in the EU, he now makes his home in Salida, Colorado. His new release, THE THIRTEENTH DISCIPLE: A REQUIEM FOR AMERICA, describes how the world’s oldest democracy set itself up to become the world’s newest dictatorship.



one_deadElena Hartwell was born in Bogota, Colombia, while her parents were in the Peace Corps. Her first word was “cuidado.” At the age of nine months, she told two men carrying a heavy table to be careful in their native tongue. She’s been telling people what to do ever since. After almost twenty years in the theater, Elena turned her playwriting skills to fiction. “One Dead, Two to Go” is her first novel.




Jilo-ITW-For WEBJ.D. Horn was raised in rural Tennessee, and has since carried a bit of its red clay in him while travelling the world, from Hollywood, to Paris, to Tokyo. He studied comparative literature as an undergrad, focusing on French and Russian in particular. He also holds an MBA in international business and worked as a financial analyst before becoming a novelist. He and his spouse, Rich, and their pets have settled, at least temporarily, just outside Sisters, Oregon.



savageDustin Dodd was born and raised in the heart of the Central Valley of California in Clovis. He graduated in four years from California State University, Fresno, with a Bachelor of Science in Criminology with an emphasis in Law Enforcement and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. He also attended California State University, Long Beach, where he graduated with a Master’s in Public Administration. Dustin served on the street with his K9 partner Kota for over four years. It was from his exploits as a K9 handler, Bomb Squad technician, SWAT breacher, and detective that he crafted Savage Justice, his first novel with several more on the way.



hellerMost of Jean Heller’s career was as an investigative and projects reporter and editor in New York City, Washington, D.C. and St. Petersburg Florida. Her career as a novelist began in the 1990s with the publication of the thrillers, Maximum Impact and Handyman by St. Martin’s Press. Then life intervened and postponed her new book, The Someday File, to publication in late 2014. Jean has won the Worth Bingham Prize, the Polk Award, and is an eight-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.



Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00046]J. L. Abramo was born in Brooklyn, New York on Raymond Chandler’s fifty-ninth birthday. Abramo is the author of Catching Water in a Net, winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America prize for Best First Private Eye Novel; the subsequent Jake Diamond novels Clutching at Straws, Counting to Infinity, and Circling the Runway; Chasing Charlie Chan, a prequel to the Jake Diamond series; and the stand-alone thrillers Gravesend and Brooklyn Justice.


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  1. It’s question that immediately comes into my head whenever I’m in the company a mystery or thriller writer whose series I admire: How do you keep it fresh?

    I can’t limit myself to one author, but I will mention the first four that came to mind when I read this week’s question. Lee Child, Michael Connelly, John Sandford, and Robert B. Parker. They are, or were, prodigious writers, and my passion for their work never flags. Not every single one of their books is top-form, but they all get close enough. And after writing the same character in story after story after story, it amazes me that they can keep it up.

    I am about two-thirds of my way through the second book in the first series I’ve ever written, and even now I’m thinking about the next one and how to make it different and keep it interesting. If there’s a formula, I’d pay good money to know what it is.

    The character has to keep developing. I have to delve deeper each time into her history and what made her the person she became. She also has to evolve, at least in part because of what I put her through in each adventure. How long can you keep doing this?

    Well, if the four writers above are to be believed, you can keep doing it forever. But what’s the secret?

  2. I’m going to put my question to German novelist Thomas Mann (1875-1955), Nobel Prize in Literature, 1929. In particular, I’m interested in how Mann viewed the relationship between art and life.

    In his 1903 novella, Tonio Kröger, he advances the notion that an artist must sacrifice a normal life in order to create. Consider the passages below:

    “. . . good work only comes out under the pressure of a bad life, that he who lives does not work; that one must die to life in order to be utterly a creator.”

    “There he stood (a lieutenant reading a poem he had written), suffering embarrassment for the mistake of thinking that one may pluck a single leaf from the laurel tree of art without paying for it with his life.”

    Yet, at the end of the story, he writes:

    “But my deepest and most secret love belongs to . . . the fair and living, the happy, lovely, and commonplace. Do not chide this love . . . it is good and fruitful. There is longing in it, and a gentle envy, a touch of contempt and no little innocent bliss.”

    My question to Mr. Mann would be: Given that your “deepest and most secret love belongs to the fair and living, the happy, lovely, and commonplace,” do you really believe that art only comes out under the pressure of a bad life? Does your work really put your “deepest and most secret love” beyond reach. Is it impossible to be “utterly a creator” while also living a good and normal life?

  3. We’re all thriller fans here, so I feel a tad less crude than I might in other settings admitting that my question would be “Tell me, Agatha, what were you up to during those eleven days you went missing?” Sure, I know I should probably pose an incisive question to some great literary author about her craft, or a canny one to a best-selling author about his marketing savvy, but come on, here’s a case where an eminent mystery writer became the leading figure in an actual mystery. And I do love a mystery.

    The short version of the story—go ahead, look up the details on Wikipedia, I did—is that in December 1926, Agatha Christie’s car was discovered near a quarry, but she, herself, was nowhere to be found. Her disappearance prompted a nationwide search, reward offers, and even a séance sponsored by Arthur Conan Doyle. (Methinks Sherlock would have cringed at the thought, but I have such a weakness for all things paranormal, I wish I could have attended.) Agatha was eventually found at a hotel, registered under her husband’s mistress’s name, and purportedly suffering from amnesia.

    People—especially writers—have speculated for decades about what happened during this period. Was she attempting to frame a faithless husband and his lover for her own murder? Was she a spy, or kidnapped by spies? Was she helping Dr. Who fight insects from outer space? Agatha Christie managed to inspire generations of writers not only through her work, but also through this curious episode. So yeah, given the opportunity, I’d ask Dame Agatha to spill the beans on what really happened.

  4. As a longtime theater artist, talking to Shakespeare, of course, was my first thought, partly just to see who showed up to chat. Then I thought about J.R.R. Tolkien and wondering about the impact his experiences in World War One had on his writing.

    I thought about Sophie Treadwell, a writer who lived an incredible life, including being the only foreign journalist allowed to interview Pancho Villa during the Mexican revolution, in addition to having her plays produced on Broadway.

    Then I asked myself, who would be interesting and informative, and the most fun.

    Dorothy Parker, I said to myself. She’s someone I’d love the chance to ask a question. Dorothy did it all. Activist, writer, critic, she had a sharp wit and a sharper eye. She also had a challenging and difficult life.

    So here’s my question to Dorothy Parker: Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

    1. Elena,
      Great question for Dorothy Parker. I’d love to know how she would have answered. When I lived in New York, I once had a birthday dinner at the Algonquin Hotel. I was assured we were seated at the famous Round Table. I wondered if I was sitting in Dorothy’s chair. What fun that was.
      Sharon St. George

  5. A quick remark on Jean’s fantastic question. I’ve never been able to write a series, precisely because I couldn’t answer what Jean asks. People love them, I love reading them. But attempting to write one is another thing altogether. My own problem, I suppose, is boredom; boredom with the continuation of a narrative with the same protagonist which, ultimately, must be boredom with myself!

  6. I am infamous for my inability to shut up, so I’d be hard pressed to keep it to a single question with anyone, especially a famous author from history.

    I would love to sit down with the Apostle Paul, who is credited with authoring many of the books of the Bible. I’d ask him to describe how it felt to hear the voice of Jesus, and then be blinded, to ultimately put those words to paper. It what had to be an absolutely humbling and overwhelming experience, it would be interesting to hear how he would have described it from a first person perspective.

    Then again, Moses was credited with writing the first books of the Bible…

  7. I’ve always wondered how very successful authors felt as they transitioned from emerging writer to big success. Did they know they were crafting something big, a best seller? Did success come when not expected?

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