March 6 – 12: “Do thrillers contribute to the skepticism?

thriller-roundtable-logo5Societies are increasingly doubting the expert opinions in science, politics, economics and more. Does the internet, or do thrillers, contribute to the skepticism? That is the question posed to this week’s ITW Members Lynn Chandler Willis, Michael Niemann and Merry Jones.


Lynn Chandler Willis has worked in the corporate world, the television news business (fun job) and the newspaper industry. She keeps coming back to fiction because she likes making stuff up and you just can’t do that in the newspaper or television news business. Her forthcoming novel, Tell Me No Lies, is the first in the three-book Ava Logan Mystery Series published by Henery Press. Her novel, Wink of an Eye: A Gypsy Moran Mystery, was a Shamus Award finalist and winner of the St. Martin’s Press/PWA Best 1st P.I. Novel competition. She is also the author of The Rising, a Grace Award top winner for Excellence in faith-based fiction, and the best-selling true crime, Unholy Covenant. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the Randolph Writers. She lives in the heart of North Carolina with her shelter dog, Finn, a happy border collie who lives for the dog park.


Michael Niemann grew up in a small town in Germany, ten kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. During his academic career he focused his work on southern Africa and frequently spent time in the region. After taking a fiction writing course from his friend, the late Fred Pfeil, he switched to mysteries as a different way to write about the world. His first fiction publication was the story “Africa Always Needs Guns,” which appeared in the 2012 Mystery Writers of America anthology Vengeance, edited by Lee Child. Valentin Vermeulen, his protagonist, first appeared in that story. Check out his latest adventures in Legitimate Business and Illicit Trade.


Merry Jones is the author of non-fiction (including BIRTHMOTHERS), humor (including I LOVE HIM, BUT…) and suspense (including the Zoe Hayes, the Harper Jennings and the Elle Harrison novels.) Her work has been translated into seven languages and has appeared in magazines including GLAMOUR, CHILD and AMERICAN WOMAN. Jones taught college level writing for over a dozen years, has appeared on local and national television and radio to promote her work. She is a member of ITW, Mystery Writers of America, The Authors Guild, and the Philadelphia Liars Club. She lives with her husband in Philadelphia.


Latest posts by ITW (see all)
  1. In the words of French sociologist Luc Boltansky, “[i]n modern societies, reality is represented as robust and predictable.” Government, science, and the media are all part of this effort to create this sense that reality is, indeed, real. We couldn’t live our lives if we didn’t have at least some confidence in this predictability.

    At the same time, we know, deep down, that this predictability can fall apart at a moment’s notice. In the Anglo-Saxon world, the general distrust of government adds to this unease, no more so than in moments of societal shifts.

    Crime fiction doesn’t create or contribute this anxiety. Our readers know fiction from fact. But it profits from is by tapping into this anxiety and channeling it into a “particular form of excitement called suspense, [which] originates in the possibility of calling into question the reality of reality.

    So the skepticism referred to in the question has always been a source of crime fiction’s success as a genre. What we as writers do is create stories that could have happened but, fortunately, didn’t

    The book is Luc Boltanksi, Mysteries and Conspiracies – Detective Stories, Spy Novels and the Making of Modern Societies.

  2. These days, the public is overwhelmed with information (or alternate information)from questionable sources. I don’t think thrillers are to blame. Most people who read novels know, when they pick one up, that it’s fiction. Fiction writers do not–for the most part–intend to preach to or teach our readers. Our primary goal is entertainment. And though we might frame a book around topics we deem important, we turn to experts on those topics as we do research to make our stories more credible. But our stories are just that: stories. At best, they inspire readers to think more, ask more questions, consult more experts about the issues in our books.

    On the other hand, I suspect that the internet has harmed the public’s trust of experts in science, politics, economics and almost everything else. Anyone can post anything, regardless of its validity. So lots of false or mistaken information can be found there. And, regardless of accuracy, people tend to prefer posts that they agree with. Facebook, for example, shows people the kinds of posts that they “like”–So if you “like” climate change deniers, you’ll see more posts show up on your feed that deny climate change. Repetition, whether of true or false ideas, makes the ideas seem more acceptable,if not reliable. Thus, on the internet, experts’ voices can easily get lost among crowds of voices which have no basis for what they are saying.

  3. You are so right, Merry. Thriller readers are intelligent enough to know the difference between fact and fiction when they’re reading it in a book. What bothers me is the number of people who honestly believe everything they read on the internet is true. For that, I think the internet as a whole is doing a disservice to legitimate news organizations. But then again, legitimate news organizations aren’t exactly what they used to be, either.

  4. For some odd reason, my comments didn’t show up on the page until after Merry and Lynn posted theirs. I’m glad to see we all agree that our readers are know that we write fiction.

    In defense of the internet, let me add that all the internet does is facilitate access to information. Even before the internet we had the “yellow” press with its lurid headlines and little or no serious reporting. If you lived in big cities you were exposed to this type of reporting (taken from Wikipedia)

    scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news
    lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings
    use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudoscience, and a parade of false learning from so-called experts
    emphasis on full-color Sunday supplements, usually with comic strips
    dramatic sympathy with the “underdog” against the system.

    Sounds very familiar, doesn’t it.

  5. Indeed, Michael–It sounds VERY familiar. But I wonder if readers of yellow journalism actually believed what they read. I think a lot of them bought the papers for entertainment, enjoying the outrageousness of the stories(some of which were bizarre but true.)
    I can see how today’s internet stories are similar, but they aren’t framed as “yellow journalism” by being presented within a publication of the yellow press. Many stories online–whether accurate or not–are just out there in the untethered jumble of messages to be sifted through and evaluated by the public. And as I said before, the “truth” readers like online is the “truth” they will receive, as servers aim to please.

  6. Good point. What worries me is the ease with which anyone with a computer can make money putting up a fake news website. That’s definitely different from the Hearst or Pulitzer papers of yore. Wired Magazine had a great article about young people in Macedonia setting up fake news sites to cash in on Google and Facebook ads.

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