April 3 – 9: “Which thriller writers are skilled at educating the public on otherwise difficult public and business programs?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Fiction can educate – explaining the routines and need for national security, public safety, and other government or corporate operations. This week ITW Members Lisa Von Biela, Susan Froetschel and J. H. Bográn answer the question, “Which thriller writers are skilled at educating the public on otherwise difficult public and business programs?”




Susan Froetschel is author of five novels – the most recent are Fear of Beauty and Allure of Deceit set in Afghanistan. She is also managing editor of YaleGlobal Online, which covers all facets of globalization defined as the connectedness of our world.



Inspired by the likes of Stephen King and Rod Serling, Lisa began writing horror and sci-fi short stories near the turn of the century. Her first published story appeared in Greg F. Gifune’s small press ‘zine The Edge in 2002. She stayed with short fiction, honing her craft and seeing more of her work published, before finally embarking on her first novel, THE GENESIS CODE, released in 2013. After working in Information Technology for 25 years, Lisa dropped out of everything—including writing—to attend the University of Minnesota Law School. She graduated magna cum laude in 2009, and now practices law and writes in the Seattle area.


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.

POISONED TEARS is his third novel in English and has already garnered positive reviews and recommendations. Jon Land calls it “a splendid piece of crime noir.” Douglas Preston says it’s a first class roller-coaster ride.

He’s a member of The Crime Writers Association, the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor for their official e-zine The Big Thrill.

Latest posts by ITW (see all)
  1. “Education” may seem a deadly word and not at all what jumps to mind when one thinks of thrillers. Until one links education with “endless curiosity.” Curiosity in history, psychology, medicine, national security, foreign policy and on and on. Curiosity is the ultimate trigger to caring about our fellow humans and their circumstances. Thriller writers Ken Follett, Lee Child, Patricia Highsmith and others thrive on detail in place and process, mixing research and imagination. Perhaps all endeavors in writing and reading are acts of education.

  2. I’ve learned a lot from reading novels.
    In fact, the late Tom Clancy who practically invented the Techno-thriller as a genre, spent a great deal of his stories explaining how military equipment work, elaborated on the craft honed by spies, and in later works-when Jack Ryan became POTUS-he explained government in layman’s terms to the average reader.

    I found another example in David Morrell’s exquisite novel Ruler of the Night. The novel is set in the Britain of the 19th century when trains were the newest marvel of the world. Intermixed with the plot, Mr. Morrell inserted quite a bit of a lesson in economics when a character explained why a certain town had developed its economy far better than another one because of one thing: a source of permanent employment.

  3. On a more offbeat educational note, David Morrell’s Creepers comes to mind. It’s been quite a while since I read it, but it was about people who explore abandoned buildings, and all the issues that entails.

    Of course, balancing education and still writing a novel of thriller pace is the trick. Or skillfully taking some liberties and weaving reality in with fantasy for the sake of the story–and getting your reader to take that trip with you.

    1. Agree with you, Lisa.
      It’s all means to an end. We want to tell a story, but sometimes we need the reader to know a few things so they’d get the point.
      In that regard, I feel Sci-fi and fantasy have a larger toll as they must explain whole worlds to the reader. Doing that without sounding like a text book takes skill.

  4. Books like You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott take readers into the world of women’s gymnastics, the psychological toll on teens with perfect self-control who submit to constant control from obsessive parents and coaches. Details about the sport surprise with every page. And to follow up on what Lisa writes, the story emerges as primary goal for such books, and the research and “education” only follow the story.

  5. J.H. Bogran and Lisa Von Biela referred to my novels RULER OF THE NIGHT and CREEPERS, so I thought I’d make a few comments. Maybe it’s the professor in me, but I try to inform my readers as well as entertain them. In RULER OF THE NIGHT, I had a ready opportunity because it’s an imitation Victorian novel,and Victorian novelists enjoyed adding factoids, so it was “realistic” for me to add factoids to my imitation. For example, my narrator explains that the invention of the railroad made it necessary for England to have a standard time that was obtained each morning from the Greenwich Royal Observatory and telegraphed to each train station in the country. That information is essential to an understanding of the novel, but it isn’t something that the characters could say in dialogue–because everyone in the Victorian era knew it and would never have bothered to explain it to anyone. An omniscient narrator–typical of the Victorian era–allows me the freedom to address the reader directly. I’d like to see contemporary thrillers use an omniscient narrator more often (it’s the primary technique of Frederick Forsyth’s THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, for example. The first paragraph of my novel FIRST BLOOD also uses an omniscient narrator). At bottom, though, the task is to serve the story, so the trick becomes how much information to include in order to move the story along rather than impede it. That’s one of my 3 mantras. 1. Serve the story. 2. Be a first-rate version of myself and not a second-rate version of someone else. 3. Don’t chase the market. I’ll always see its backside.

  6. Yes, J.H., sci-fi *is* tough that way. Not only do you have to create whole worlds, you have to be consistent about it. Sort of like being an especially good liar! I set Blockbuster far enough into the future that I had to “invent” numerous sorts of daily-use electronics and devices–and keep their appearance and functionality consistent. To David Morrell’s point, they also had to be functional parts of the scenery, not an interruption to the flow of the story.

    I’ve also read David’s Murder As a Fine Art, where the depth and breadth of his research is quite apparent–yet it doesn’t interfere with the flow. Rather, he strikes that balance and creates a finely detailed, immersive experience. Seamless.

    David makes a point about the omniscient narrator that I’d like to explore a bit more in light of this week’s topic. It would seem a great way to inform/educate the reader, as he describes. Why don’t we see this more often in modern works? Is it purely a matter of fashion? Hard sell to publishers? Do today’s readers tend to have less patience? I curious what you all think.

  7. Lisa, yes, for some reason, the omniscient narrator fell out of fashion. If you look at Michael Crichton’s THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN in the late 1960s, it’s omniscient, and as I mentioned so is Frederick Forsyth’s DAY OF THE JACKAL (1971). A thriller from that period, REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER, was composed entirely of documents such as witness reports and notes from debriefings. But these days, I seldom see this kind of formal invention. The third-person limited viewpoint took over, and as its name indicates, it is indeed limited, even if it’s fashionable. One of the reasons I wrote my three Victorian novels was to embrace the expanded possibilities that Victorian novels demonstrate. I did use 3rd person limited as well as omniscient. But I also used a first-person narrator in the manner that Dickens used in BLEAK HOUSE, alternating first and third. Great fun. If you’d like to see some fancy use of viewpoints, particularly first person, look at Wilkie Collins’ THE WOMAN IN WHITE and THE MOONSTONE, Victorian novels that influenced me.

  8. I hesitate to mention this (because I don’t want to look like I’m selling anything), but my writing book THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST has chapters about first person and third person viewpoints, their histories, their strengths and limitations. (I was indeed a literature professor.)

    1. On the topic of education… Irony alert: I have LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING, which appears to be an earlier edition. It saved my bacon. Back in 2004-2006ish, I was wrestling with my first novel-length manuscript. (I’d only written short stories before.) I was stuck partway through. Not writer’s block, but a part of the plot just wasn’t working and I didn’t understand why. I read your book, figured out my problem, finished the manuscript. It later came out as my debut novel. So, a belated “thank you”!

      1. Thanks, Lisa. If anything in my book helped you, the teacher in me is gratified. Yes, you’re right, LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING is an earlier edition of THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST (with Source Books instead of Writers Digest). The text was revised somewhat, and a new chapter about publicity was added. On the WRITING page of my website http://www.davidmorrell.net, there are several free downloadable essay. “5 Rules for Writing Thrillers” is one. Another is about principles for naming characters.

  9. I look forward to reading one of David’s novels. Books by those who teach writing, especially on a second read, are often revealing about the many choices a writer makes.

    And congratulations to Megan Abbott, who I mentioned yesterday without knowing she would land on the list, and the other nominees.

  10. Books I’ve recently enjoyed which revealed insights into international politics include “The forgiven” by Lawrence Osborne which had a good interplay between Western and Islamic perspectives; “Bingo’s run” by James Levine did good job showing complexities of life in Africa; and “Snow” Orhan Pamuk which gets into the pull of terrorism.

  11. Both of Susan Froetschel’s latest books Fear of Beauty and Allure of Deceit explore the world of domestic society as it intersects with international conflict and cultural adversities. Firmly yet gently, Ms. Froetschel builds her stories addressing these elements with insightful balance. She is a realist skillful at weaving together the private with the public. She does so through the adept development of her characters. They come alive through her pen. While the suspense builds, these people become more believable; more vulnerable; and for some, more treacherous. The situations that facilitate their decisions and actions become more real. Ms. Froetschel is keenly aware of the world and its complexities. Her stories are a reflection of that awareness and her desire to introduce us to their importance. They are a pleasure to read. I look forward to her next book.

MATCH UP: In stores now!


ThrillerFest XVIII: Register Today!

One of the most successful anthologies in the history of publishing!