May 1 – 7: “What proportion do thrillers represent of your overall reading?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5We’ve got a full house to kick off May! This month we’re joined by ITW Members Karen Harper, S.W. Lauden, Sandra Block, Lisa Preston, William Lashner, Sam Wiebe, Sherry Knowlton and Sasscer Hill as they ponder the questions: “What proportion do thrillers represent of your overall reading? As a writer, do you read more non-fiction or genre fiction?”


Karen Harper is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of contemporary suspense and historical fiction. A former high school and university English instructor, she has been published since 1982. Harper is the winner of the Mary Higgin’s Clark Award. She and her husband have lived in both Ohio and South Florida the last 30 years. Her books have been translated into many languages. Her novels are available in hard cover, paperback and ebook.


Sandra A. Block graduated from college at Harvard, then returned to her native land of Buffalo, New York for medical training and never left. She is a practicing neurologist and proud Sabres fan, and lives at home with her husband, two children, and impetuous yellow lab Delilah. She has been published in both medical and poetry journals. Little Black Lies was a finalist for Best First Novel ITW award. The Girl Without a Name in the second, and The Secret Room the last in the series.


S.W. Lauden’s short fiction has been published by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Dark Corners, Dead Guns Magazine, Akashic Books, WeirdBook, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His debut novel, Bad Citizen Corporation, was published in November 2015 by Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, Grizzly Season, was published in October 2016. The first Tommy Ruzzo novella, Crosswise, was published in March 2016 by Down & Out Books.


Sasscer Hill, formerly an amateur jockey, was an owner and breeder of racehorses for decades. Her multiple award-nominated mystery and suspense thrillers are set against a background of big money, gambling, and horse racing. Her new “Fia McKee” series, to be published by St. Martins, Minotaur, won the 2015 Carrie McCray Competition for Best First Chapter of a Novel and was a runner up for the 2015 Claymore Award.


Sam Wiebe is the author of the Vancouver crime novels Last of the Independents, Invisible Dead, and Cut You Down (forthcoming, February 2018). Wiebe’s work has won the Arthur Ellis award and the Kobo Emerging Writers Prize, and he was the 2016 Vancouver Public Library Writer in Residence. His short fiction has appeared in ThugLit, Spinetingler, and subTerrain, among other places.


Lisa Preston’s experiences as a mountain climber, fire department paramedic and police sergeant are channeled into fiction that is suspenseful, fast-paced, and well acquainted with human drama. She has lived in Arizona, California and Alaska and now makes her home in western Washington.



William Lashner is the New York Times bestselling author of THE FOUR NIGHT RUN, GUARANTEED HEROES and THE BARKEEP, as well as the Victor Carl legal thrillers, which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and sold across the globe. THE BARKEEP, nominated for an Edgar Award, was an Amazon and Digital Book World #1 bestseller. Before retiring from law to write full-time, Lashner was a prosecutor with the Department of Justice in Washington, DC. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.


Sherry Knowlton, author of the Alexa Williams suspense novels, Dead of Autumn, Dead of Summer and Dead of Spring (release April 22, 2017) was born and raised in small-town Pennsylvania where she developed a lifelong passion for books. She was that kid who would sneak a flashlight to bed at night so she could read beneath the covers. All the local librarians knew her by name.


  1. Being an author is a tricky business. We all start out as avid readers, but the more I write the less time I have for my favorite pastime. Even when there’s a new book I desperately want to read it often takes a back seat to deadlines. Today’s a great example—my new novella, “Crossed Bones,” just came out and I’m already working on edits for the third Greg Salem novel, “Hang Time.” Great problems to have, but it definitely eats into my reading time.

    In my case, that problem is compounded by the weekly author interviews I do on my blog, and the many interviews Eric Beetner and I do for our monthly crime and mystery podcast, Writer Types. I like to have some sense of the writer’s style before I do the interviews, so the TBR can be towering. Lucky for me, most of those books are good too.

    But who am I kidding? There’s always time for a great book! These days, genre fiction is the majority of what I read including thrillers, hardboiled crime, noir and mystery—among others. I recently read Joe Ide’s “IQ” and thought it was fantastic. Now I’ve got my eye on Jo Nesbo’s latest, “The Thirst,” Don Winslow’s “The Force,” and “Into The Water” by Paula Hawkins. To balance that out, I also read some literary fiction by authors including T.C. Boyle, Robin Sloan, David Eggers and Donna Tart. And I’m a total sucker for a good rock and roll autobiography/biography, including “My War” by Keith Morris and Jim Ruland, and “Under The Big Black Sun” by John Doe and Tom DeSilva.

    But enough about me. What do you like to read?

  2. It is a real balancing act to be published, keep up with social media, plan the next books–and have a little something called ‘real life.’ I love writing in two genres with two different publishers, but it is a balancing act, to keep “both strands” going and growing as my agent put it. So sometimes, my reading of genre fiction, which I love, suffers.

    I love research (non-fiction), but it saps time I could read in fiction genres. I’d like to keep up with my author friends’ books and just read for pleasure sometimes. Of course, once one is a writer, you never exactly read for pure pleasure anymore. I’m always thinking, “Look how he did that…I see this is foreshadowing…I believe this is a red herring to throw the reader off,” etc.

    More to come. I’ll be interested in other writers’ take on time management and time for reading both non-fiction and (genre) fiction.

  3. I am more naturally drawn to suspense fiction (particularly by female writers for some reason). But, sometimes reading other writers in your genre feels like “work” instead of “play.” When, I get too “writerly” with my reading, I switch it up and usually go with literary fiction or women’s fiction (or a combination therof.)

    Back later with some recent reads and my insane TBR!

  4. When I read, I prefer genre fiction, mostly thrillers and suspense. I have a long list of favorite authors. Lately, I’ve also been sampling new thriller authors, many of whom I’ve learned about through International Thriller Writers. Unfortunately, in recent years, I find that I don’t have as much time to read as I’d like. Instead, I’m writing or editing or doing marketing for my own books. But, of course, I still carve out some time to read; it’s my preferred way to relax. Once I begin a book, I often don’t put it down until I reach the end. I’m so looking forward to my upcoming beach vacation because I regard a week at the beach as a read-a-thon. I usually pack my bathing suit, a few clothes and at least seven books for the week.

    I do like other types of fiction, primarily historical and literary fiction. And, there’s always room for a sweeping fantasy saga, such as Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. I’ve been an avid reader all my life and was an English major in college. So, I read most of the classics in my early years. But, from time to time, I go back and reread a particular favorite – or one that I missed along the line.

    This weekend, I picked up the new Greg Iles book, Mississippi Blood. I love Iles’ work and have been waiting for this third book in his trilogy. And, I’m a big fan of Lee Childs, Sara Paretsky, Preston and Child, Daniel Silva, Steve Berry, Lisa Scottoline…. (the list goes on and on).

    What about you – are thrillers and suspense your go-to read? Do you prefer stand-alones or series?

  5. not being an author leaves me plenty of time to read the authors I do love so much. The authors I just have to be the first to read are John Sanford, C.J. Box and Sara Paretsky. The characters in their books are so, I want to say real to life, but that sounds to crazy. I do not know anyone like them but can see them in my mind. It does a body good to think that there could be someone like Jack Reacher out there or Lucas Davenport catching the worst bad guys.
    I guess that I would have to say that I read close to 100% fiction.

    1. I understand you completely when you say that “it does a body good to think that there could be someone like Jack Reacher out there or Lucas Davenport catching the worst bad guys.” I have to admit that there have been several times in the past year or so that I’ve wished for Mitch Rapp to step off the page and save the day. Mitch is the tough-guy intelligence operative originally written by the late Vince Flynn.

      We seem to easily accept thriller heroes who are larger than life. Perhaps, these characters speak to our need (certainly my need) to believe that good triumphs over evil.

  6. My reading is all over the place. Rather than get too philosophic, here are some recent books I’ve read. I’ll try to explain why exactly I picked those, out of the hundreds (let’s be honest, thousands) currently sitting on my shelf.

    Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson – My local bookstore owner recommended this one, practically at gunpoint, calling it “an aboriginal Twin Peaks.” It’s about a teenaged indigenous kid trying to negotiate his hellishly dysfunctional family. Robinson writes characters who understand the desperation of small-town poverty—something that can also be said for the next author.

    ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining by Stephen King – Horror and the supernatural aren’t my usual fare, but both books were terrifying page-turners that kept me up nights. What else can be said about King, other than On Writing is the best how-to book since Aristotle’s Poetics, and the guy can turn a hell of a phrase.

    Ghettoside by Jill Leovy – A non-fiction account of LAPD homicide detective John Skaggs’s investigation into the murder of Bryant Tennelle, a black teenager in South Central who also happened to be the son of another detective. Leovy’s account is fascinating true crime, but also full of sociological insights into police culture, race, and the legal system.

    Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang – A historical novel about a mixed-race orphan raised by a prosperous family in revolution-era Shanghai.
    Chang adds touches of folklore and family history, and the world is so well-created that it adds to the sense of tension—knowing how unlikely Jialing’s survival will be makes us root for her all the harder. I loved Chang’s first book, Three Souls, and this one is just as good or better.

    If I can draw any conclusions, it’s that I can make a case for ALL these books being thrillers…and all of them being something else.

    What thrills me is storytelling—when a writer understands her characters and setting and knows how to unfurl each detail at just the right moment. That’s what I aspire to do with my own writing, and the books I read are part of an ongoing education.

  7. I use the internet for much of my research. My thrillers are set in Thailand so I travel there every year for on the spot research. I’m an independent author without agent or publisher. Can I ask those of you responding to this roundtable for a favor? My latest thriller, The Crocodile’s Tail has been accepted by Kindle Scout for possible publication. Can all of you go to the KS website and nominate (vote for) my book? You’ll need an amazon account. If I’m selected my writing career will receive a tremendous boost. Thank you all in advance.

  8. I fear I’m a bit of a stick in the mud in my reading habits—I read only mystery/thriller/suspense novels. These are the stories I love, so it follows that these are the stories I write. Of course, I glance at magazines in doctors’ offices, listen to the news on TV and radio, but for pleasure I read genre fiction. I gave up on my book club as they kept reading the latest “literary” fiction which is often devoid of action. As a former amateur steeplechase rider, I’m drawn to action, adventure, crime, and psychological suspense.

    1. There is a book from one avid reader of suspense to another that I would recommend. “Three Graves Full” by Jamie Mason. It will keep you guessing and on the edge.

  9. Hey Guys,

    I love this topic because I make it a habit to read as much as I can of all different types of fiction books. I adore thrillers and mysteries, but I also read non-genre novels just to see what is going on out there. One of my favorite things to do is browse the Amazon site, going from one book to the next, trying to find something that intrigues. Their algorithms often send me on interesting journeys.

    I recently read NUTSHELL by Ian McEwan a sort of pre-murder mystery told by an unborn baby — yes that’s right — and THE NOISE OF TIME by Julian Barnes, about the composer Shostakovich and his battles with the Soviet system. The books that impressed me the most lately are ARCADIA by Lauren Groff (just beautiful writing) and REGENERATION by Pat Barker, about Siegfried Sassoon an Wilfred Owen, two of my favorite poets. And I read old stuff, too. I just finished Kerouac’s first novel, THE TOWN AND THE CITY, and John Le Carre’s first murder mystery, CALL FOR THE DEAD.

    Now here’s the key. As a writer, I read not just to be entertained but to expand my writerly horizons. How does that voice become so seductive? How did that plot twist work out so well? Why am I suddenly bored? I don’t think of it as wasted time, I think of it as crucial work to keep my writing fresh.

    One thing that reading lots while writing does do is give you a nice shot of bravery. We tend to do things the way we do things, but when you see something that amazes, you want to be amazing, too, not by copying but by unleashing the demons and going for it. That’s really where we want to be as a writer and where reading other people really helps.

    1. I really like what you said at the end there. I always go back and forth on whether or not I should read while I’m writing or editing. But I agree that, for writers, reading amazing books is like training. Very insightful.

      1. Thanks, S.W. One other thing about reading while you’re writing: you need to be a little careful that the stuff you’re reading isn’t throwing off the thing you’re working on. Sometimes the voice is just so close to the thing I’m doing that I have to put it down or I won’t sound like myself. Other times, if I need to get some tone right, I’ll read something that nails it down for me. Once, for one of my thrillers, when I was writing a diary written by a woman in the early 1900’s, I read a lot of Edith Wharton to get my rhythms and word choice right. But it was a little hard to shake it off when I went back to my normal voice.

        1. You are totally right about the voice! I once read Pete Dexter’s The Paperboy and I couldn’t hear my own voice right for day!

  10. Even something as obvious as picking an interesting career for a protagonist or key character can lead to reading–on-line or non-fiction on the page. My current female lead is a forensic psychologist; past ones have been a midwife–something else I knew nothing about. I’m currently reading non-fiction, memoir and biographies which have to do with forensic archaeology,focusing on bog bodies. Who knew? My latest reads include Bodies from the Bog; No Bone Unturned; The Bone Lady, etc.

    I know there are several other authors doing leads who are forensic psychs, and I’m “dying” to read them, but I don’t want to borrow or be swayed, so my to-be-read pile deepens.

    1. I’m with you on staying away from books that could sway my work in progress. My latest book, Dead of Spring, deals with fracking. So, I gave a wide berth to both fiction and movies that dealt with fracking for quite some time. Now, I’ve got two thrillers with fracking themes sitting on my bookshelf, ready to read.

  11. I read widely, with a lot of soft science supplementing my nonfiction tastes, in addition to as much good fiction as I can find the time to enjoy. It’s difficult to give an actual percentage, as it is variable.

  12. I agree with Lisa, that I can’t give a percentage of non-fiction vs. genre; it does vary. I tend to binge read genre fiction between my own research and writing (after I finish a book and send it in). I also have a file of reviews or note or ads about books I want to read “someday” but don’t seem to get to now.

  13. Karen raises a good point. Research often requires that I read non-fiction books, but I also find a lot of my research in articles, news sources, etc. on line. But my research never includes fiction on the topics that I plan to include in my own book. I don’t want to color the direction of my writing – even subconsciously.

    In my original response, I spoke primarily about the reading that I do for pleasure — that’s when I most often turn to thrillers and suspense. From time to time, I’ll also pick up a non-fiction book that really captures my attention. River of No Return about Teddy Roosevelt and Then All Hell Broke Loose by Richard Engel are two that leap to mind.

  14. I seem to be like most of the comment crew here, reading mostly (all) fiction and mostly, but not all, thrillers. I like to throw in a good old mystery now and then, too. When I kind an author or protagonist the I like I do a bit of research and start at the beginning. with some series, like Silva, he is kind of essential to read through the series. One downside to that is that when you finally hit the end you have to wait for the next one. Some authors are quite regular (come on July for the next Silva) while other can leave you just waiting. Sanford is another that I sit and wait for since I am caught up. Working through the Bolitar books now. Great use of comedy.

  15. I’m wondering how many writers, especially those who write contemporary fiction, get ideas from the “non-fiction” world of journalism–magazines and newspapers. I read 2 newspapers every day, partly looking for events (crimes?) or up-to-date technical news to use for my books. Besides my local newspaper, I also read USA TODAY to keep up with national events, unusual travel spots for settings, etc. I get Time Magazine to keep up with current people and places and Smithsonian Magazine, which focuses on historical eras and events. The latter has given me some interesting starting points for my historical novels.

    If I could figure out a percentage of my non-fiction vs. genre reading, I’d have to include these non-fiction sources–mental grist for the fiction mill. Or in this day of is-it-real-news-or-not? maybe these sources are partly fiction anyway.

  16. Lately, if I read any non-fiction, it’s memoir. I read Fuirious Happy recently which was a lovely break from my usual dark mystery/suspense!

    I’m a sucker for series – Ian Rutledge (Charles Todd), Precious Ramotswe (Alexander McCall Smith) or the Shetland series (Ann Cleeves) are standbys. But, then of course there’s Claire DeWitt!

    I want to meet Claire DeWitt. Total character girl-crush…

  17. My editor at HarperCollins recently asked if I had suggestions for endorsements for my October release. As I wrote authors and title to her, I realized that only some of them were for fiction authors. I also sent her names, titles and publishers by some of the best non-fiction research books I read for background for my book. The line between excellently written nonfiction research on say Flappers of the 1920s and fiction novels about a famous flapper can be very close in content and impact. I hope fiction readers get intrigued to pursue non-fiction related to a novel they like. In my Author’s Note at the back of each novel, I include non-fiction suggestions for further reading.

  18. Surely if you want to be the best thriller writer that you can be you have to read the best and learn from the masters. If a thriller novel doesn’t keep driving the plot forward I find it hard to finish. Something always needs to be going on, constant subplots and action. Books where the writer gets bogged down in talking about the lead character’s shoe size and why his wife left him definitely don’t do it for me. In Disciples of Death by Paul Howard, my first thriller novel, I tried to write the book I’d want to read and hopefully, I achieved it.

  19. Paul Howard, I’m with you. I have always loved the books that are hard to put down, the books that give me a terrific place to visit and hang out, books that lift me away from my troubles. That is the type of book I want to write, and like you, I spend little time on books that don’t have that magic formula. I try to give readers a place to go for entertainment, satisfaction, and a place to forget their troubles, at least for a while.

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