October 3 – 9: “What is your favorite online tool?

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we’re joined by ITW Members Benjamin Dancer, Margo Kelly, Colleen Thompson and Rich Zahradnik as they answer the question: “As a thriller writer, what is your favorite online tool?”




patriarchrun_front_final_rgbBenjamin Dancer is the author of the literary thriller Patriarch Run, the first book in a series that will include Fidelity and The Story of the Boy. He also writes about parenting, education, sustainability and national security. Benjamin works as an Advisor at a Colorado high school where he has made a career out of mentoring young people as they come of age. His work with adolescents has informed his stories, which are typically themed around fatherhood and coming-of-age.



Unlocked BGcvr.inddMargo Kelly is a native of the Northwest and currently resides in Idaho. A veteran public speaker, Margo is now actively pursuing her love of writing. Her critically acclaimed debut, Who R U Really?, was published by Merit Press (an imprint of F+W Media) in 2014. Her second novel, Unlocked, will be published by Merit Press in October 2016. Margo welcomes opportunities to speak to youth groups, library groups, and book clubs.



the-off-season-final-coverRITA-nominated, bestselling author Colleen Thompson writes stories that explore how love can kill, and how it can also empower us to seek healing and justice. From her fast-paced contemporary romantic thrillers to her sweeping historical romances (written under the pseudonym Gwyneth Atlee) she puts the reader in the heart of the story… when she’s not busy exploring remote corners of her adopted home state of Texas, working with her rescue dogs, or speaking and teaching on the craft of writing.



a_black_sailRich Zahradnik is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Coleridge Taylor Mystery series (A Black Sail, Drop Dead Punk, Last Words). The second installment, Drop Dead Punk, won the gold medal for mystery/thriller ebook in the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs). It was also named a finalist in the mystery category of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Last Words won the bronze medal for mystery/thriller ebook in the 2015 IPPYs and honorable mention for mystery in the 2015 Foreword Reviews IndieFab Book of the Year Awards.

  1. My favorite online tool is two-fold: Google images and Youtube. It is very important to write what you know. There is nothing more frustrating for me as a reader than to be ejected from my willing suspension of disbelief by a factual error. The reader does not want to realize that they know more about the subject of a story than the author. For example, many thrillers contain factual gun errors. As a matter of fact, those who are familiar with guns tend to joke about the thriller genre and its rampant mistakes on that subject.

    I am very proud of the endorsement Lt. Col. Dave Grossman gave my story: “Patriarch Run accomplishes something few thrillers have achieved: it gets the guns right, and it gets the psychology of the gunfight right. Benjamin Dancer writes the gunfight scenes with a realism seldom seen in fiction.” – LT. COL. DAVE GROSSMAN, author of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

    Although we must write what we know, I found myself needing to create scenes for my book for which I had no life experience. By using Google images and Youtube I was able to write so realistically about security threats to America that the thriller also garnered endorsements from national security experts from across the country.

    However, once you leave the safe territory of what you know, you open yourself up to errors, even with online research tools, which is why I asked the country’s top national security experts to vet my fiction prior to publication, and I feel very grateful to those experts for taking the time to do so.

    I do use Google images to make sure I am accurate about the details I describe. I also use Youtube to get actions or processes I am unfamiliar with correct. When possible, I have someone with real-life experience in what I wrote about vet the scene. That formula is a powerful way to win endorsements on realism.

    1. Yes, Benjamin, you’re absolutely right. I had a target practice scene in my current work-in-progress, and when my critique partner read it, she informed me I had the mechanics of the gun all wrong. I am a gun owner and know how to use it, but I’ve not shot enough to get the precise details correct. After watching numerous Youtube videos, I was able to get the fine details just right to suspend all disbelief for my readers.

  2. For quick, down and dirty, research for the novel I’m working on today I went to Google to learn the make and models of Russian handguns and sniper rifles. Then I wanted a feel for street life in Beirut, Lebanon in the year 2002—YouTube took me there. A couple of five to ten-minute videos walked me through the city, its sights, and sounds. A map site helped me trace my characters walking through the streets and neighborhoods of downtown Beirut, then an hour later it took me to the food markets of Byblos along the coast. Then I had my characters stop off at a café for lunch, so where did I go to know what they are and drank? To a cooking website. A caveat: you, the writer, should check multiple sources. Many of the so-called experts on the web are questionable.

    1. Hi Arthur. I used a map program, too, to help with the details of my novel, UNLOCKED. I needed to make certain the timing of my action scenes worked with the characters getting from one location to another in a realistic manner. I even printed out the maps and marked the fictional locations on it for reference while writing and revising.

  3. I became an accidental historical mystery writer. I wanted to do a low-tech rather than high-tech thriller. I didn’t want DNA matches in 10 seconds, facial matching in 30 and video cameras ev-very where (much of which is sci fi, not reality). For that reason, I set my series in the mid-seventies and suddenly found myself writing historical and needing to check facts going back 40 years. My key tool is the Times Machine, the online archive of the New York Times, with every edition in original form for the past 150 years. This has saved me running to the library hundreds of times—time for which I don’t have given how much I have to write and how fast. Google’s good for quick fact checks as long as I’m careful about the site I land on—is it accurate, can I trust it? Google Maps Streetview helps when I want to get the feel for the buildings on a side street in Queens I haven’t been on.

  4. My recently released novel, UNLOCKED, is a psychological thriller, and during my research for the novel, I relied heavily on Google to take me to psychology textbooks, trade journals, and more popular magazines to get my fine details correct. I also used online map programs to guarantee I had location elements in the right places. I found YouTube videos helpful for learning how to douse a room with sage. It’s amazing the online resources at our fingertips in today’s world. No longer does a writer have to follow the old adage of “write what you know.” Now, with a little research, an author can write about anything and make it believable.

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