The Battle of the Sexes
Spills Onto the Page
By Dawn Ius
The highly anticipated follow-up to the New York Times bestselling anthology FaceOff is MATCHUP, 11 original short stories from 22 of the most thrilling authors in the genre—with a twist.
“We decided that stories written by a man and a woman together might sharpen the edge—they might have a natural tension between their protagonists,” says MATCHUP editor, author Lee Child. “We have 22 big names, which spreads the appeal very wide. Can’t fail, really.”
And of course the book did not fail, drawing in boatloads of readers and critical praise from places like Publishers Weekly: “Highly recommended.”
However, just to keep things interesting, there was a little drama along the way.
Despite the star-studded roster, many of the pairings had to work through a few…challenges. Like Sandra Brown’s fear of collaboration, Nelson DeMille’s technophobia (he still writes long hand), or how on earth Lara Adrian might turn back the clock on her protagonist, Lucan Thorne.
The authors of MATCHUP not only rose to the challenge, but as evidenced in the stories, exceeded expectations. Steve Berry co-pens his first Cotton Malone story in the first-person point of view, Sandra Brown learns how to play nice with others, Jack Reacher finds the one woman in the world who might be immune to his charm, and David Morrell successfully puts Rambo back in our minds.
“Each of the 22 writers who contributed approach their storytelling differently,” says Sandra Brown, whose story with C.J. Box takes one of her characters to Wyoming, Jackson. “Each works at his or her own pace, has unique writing habits, a distinct ‘voice,’ traits and trademarks of their fiction. But unanimously, we want to create readers and keep them entertained.”
The stacked list of contributors helps, but underpinning it is the commitment each of these authors has to their craft, their readership, and the organization that made this all possible.
“When David Morrell and I started International Thriller Writers, we needed a way to finance the organization,” says Gayle Lynds, who partners with Morrell in MATCHUP for the action-packed, humor-infused short, Rambo on Their Minds. “So, I looked around and realized there’d never been a thriller anthology of original short stories.”
The result was Thriller: Stories to Keep You Up All Night, which was edited by James Patterson.
“He had no reason to trust an unknown, untested organization of crazy thriller writers, but still he called me, and agreed. His help was like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” she says.
With Patterson’s help, Lynds and a few trusted authors such as Steve Berry pulled together a roster of writers willing to donate any profits from the anthology to support ITW. “The result is that MATCHUP is the latest tradition of ITW writers supporting fellow writers through the written word,” says Lynds. “All of us are proud of it.”
Eric Lustbader, who shares the page with J. A. Jance in Taking the Veil, couldn’t agree more.
“I wanted to be a part of MATCHUP because these anthologies are an important part of ITW’s mission, and because it deepens the sense of community we have with ITW,” he says.
It also means the members—from seasoned pros to debuts—don’t have to pay a membership fee, a perk that is almost unheard of among author and writer collectives. That’s just as important to the authors of MATCHUP as the need to tell thrilling, original stories.
“I wanted a hand in this to see what these folks could come up with,” says Child.
For a sneak peek, scroll down for exclusive interviews and content.
Honor & …
By Sandra Brown & C.J. Box
When Lee Child asked Sandra Brown to be a part of MATCHUP, she sputtered a litany of polite declinations. After none made a dent, she flat out told him the truth. “I don’t write short stories. I lack the talent for it. Any attempt I made to write one would result in something lousy.”
Not to worry, Child assured her. “You won’t have to do all the writing. The story will be a collaboration.”
Brown is a self-proclaimed mama bear when it comes to her work. “I might have an ugly cub, but it’s all mine, and I protect it. Partnering would be a recipe for disaster. So, I told Lee, ‘thanks for asking, but No.’”
Call it charm or gentle harassment, Brown eventually gave in. “Lee and Steve Berry prevailed and paired me with C. J. Box. Poor guy.”
The resulting story, Honor & … is far from the disaster Brown predicted. The tale takes place in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, home for C. J. Box’s popular series character, rough around the edges game warden Joe Pickett. There he runs into Lee Colburn, who Sandra Brown fans may remember as the rugged protagonist from her bestselling novel Lethal.
“In our initial conversation, C. J. and I established that we had two characters that couldn’t be more different, which, from a storytelling point of view, was a boon,” Brown says. “Right off the bat, we had conflict, not only with the bad guys, but between Pickett, who is honorable and duty bound to do the right thing, and Coburn, who is anti-Pickett. Pickett takes people to jail. Coburn takes no prisoners.”
But rather than find themselves on opposing sides of the conflict, the two characters form a “bromance” that results in witty dialogue, page-turning suspense, and a satisfying end that answers the question posed in the story’s intriguing title.
“I can’t speak for C. J., but when I worked on their dialogue, it flowed naturally,” Brown says. “I merely had to write down what they said. The two of them sparred continually, but the life-threatening circumstances made them codependent. Out of that grudging reliance on each other, a mutual respect emerges.”
Brown can personally relate on some levels. Although she went into this project with reservations, “C. J. made it easy, painless, and actually fun. Now I get to bask in the glow of his achievement. And I didn’t have to decline Lee Child’s request—and who would want to do that?”
Despite the success of this story, fans shouldn’t get too excited about seeing more “shorts” from Brown—she’s a novelist through and through.
“I look at this roster of bestselling writers and still can’t figure out why they wanted me, but I’m so proud to be on that list. An anthology like this brings to readers’ notice writers that might otherwise have been overlooked or dismissed as ‘not someone I would read.’”
To read Honor & … fans need only to flip to the first story.
By Val McDermid & Peter James
As Lee Child notes in the anthology introduction, the idea for Footloose came to Val McDermid while she was having her feet worked on by a brisk German reflexologist. While lying there, she began to ruminate about a foot-fetish killer obsessed with finding the most perfect pair of feet—and wanting to keep them forever.
“I always find the hardest part of starting any story is what I call ‘finding the way in,’ ” says Footloose co-author Peter James. “It’s a kind of lightbulb moment in which you know, in your heart, you have something that excites you and you want to write.”
That’s exactly how he felt when McDermid suggested this idea for MATCHUP—which led them each down the murky and often shocking rabbit hole of foot- fetish research, including the notion that each individual may have a personal gait that is as unique as their DNA.
“The thing that most astonished me during our research for Footloose, was the number of fetish websites,” he says. “I’m sure if the police ever seize my computer, they’ll have a field day questioning me.”
Particularly in light of the fact that James’s “foot” research isn’t finished—at the time of this interview he was en-route to Rotherham, in northern England, to retrace the steps, for a TV documentary, of a man known as the Rotherham Shoe Rapist.
“This was a man who between 1983 and 1986 raped a series of women who wore stilettos, tied them up, and then took their shoes,” he says. “When the police eventually caught up with him, they found 126 pairs of ladies shoes, from victims, beneath a trapdoor in his office. Each pair was lovingly wrapped in cellophane and tied with a blue bow. I used this as inspiration for an earlier Roy Grace novel, Dead Like You.”
In Footloose, Grace is hot on the heels of another killer, where he is paired with Val McDermid’s Carol Jordan and Tony Hill, for a unique installment in MATCHUP that is both darkly macabre and filled with terrible—but hilarious—puns about feet.
Faking a Murderer
By Kathy Reichs & Lee Child
Fans of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher know him to be a man used to doing the intimidating. So, it’s perhaps ironic that when the creator of such an iconic and beloved character was paired with a writer (and character) known for her thoroughness, he found himself a bit on the receiving end of that intimidation.
“I love Kathy Reichs as a person and as a writer, but she’s also a world-famous scientist,” Child says. “Compared to her, I’m just a scuffler. I transferred all those feelings onto Reacher. He’s a knockabout maverick with no respect for rules, but he had to be on best behavior around Temperance Brennan, just like I had to be around Kathy.”
He needn’t have worried. Reichs says that while Brennan and Reacher are opposites in many ways—she is cerebral, fixed in place, he is more intuitive, a free-ranger—Reichs was thrilled at the idea of working with the “funny, flexible, and of course, fabulously handsome” Lee Child.
“Our characters are different, but I think we approach the creative process in a similar way. Perhaps because we both have experience in writing screenplays. Whatever the reason, the pairing worked beautifully,” Reichs says. “Reacher’s brawn and Brennan’s brains clicked from the outset.”
There’s even a hint of romance between the two characters in their MATCHUP story, Faking a Murderer—a page-turning tale that speaks to society’s fascination with true crime and fictional mayhem.
“I think Brennan is quite smitten with Reacher. And who wouldn’t be? Good looking guy like that, came all the way from another city to help her out,” Reichs says. “However, during the story, they are both focused on clearing her name and catching a killer. But who knows what happened after the closing sentence?”
Fans of both characters are sure to have fun filling in those blanks.
By Diana Gabaldon & Steve Berry
New York Times bestselling authors Diana Gabaldon and Steve Berry were tasked with a significant collaboration challenge for their MATCHUP story, Past Prologue. How would they seamlessly meld the 18th-century world of Gabaldon’s Outlander series (time travel and Jamie Fraser included) with Berry’s modern-day thriller hero, Cotton Malone?
The result is brilliant, making this particular match up one of the most anticipated in the anthology.
“Together, Diana and I worked through the plot, going over what we wanted to stress, things that should be in it, and the timeline,” Berry says. “She took care of all things Scottish since, as she correctly noted, that’s not my strong point. The result is a merger of her fantastic world with my thriller character. It’s a story we think both of our fan bases will enjoy.”
No question, but for Berry, the potentially complicated plot wasn’t the only issue he had to overcome. Like Sandra Brown, he considers himself somewhat short-story challenged, which is why he gave over the reins to Gabaldon to carve out a surprising first draft.
“Initially, the story was in third-person. To my surprise, Diana told it all from Cotton’s point of view. When I read it, I realized the tale screamed first person,” he says. “Of course, I’ve never written in first person. So, I gave it a shot and re-wrote everything to first person, past tense. When my wife, Elizabeth, read that draft, she said it needed to be first person, present tense. I re-wrote it again. Diana loved the changes. First person, present tense is as close as a reader can get to a story. There’s a real immediacy.”
Though this was Berry’s “rookie” attempt at first person narrative, it won’t be his last. As he revealed in an earlier interview with The Big Thrill, his 2018 Cotton Malone thriller will be his initial foray into first person (past tense), novel length.
Until then, fans can dive into Past Prologue which takes Cotton Malone back in time— where he briefly encounters a heart-broken Jamie Fraser—in his quest to chase down a 15th century grimoire.
Yes, kilts are involved.
Rambo On Their Minds
By Gayle Lynds & David Morell
Perhaps one of the most natural author pairings in MATCHUP is that of Gayle Lynds and David Morrell—the two co-founded International Thriller Writers, are close friends, and have worked together in the past.
That said, Rambo, Morrell’s iconic character from First Blood, and Liz Sansborough, the kick-ass female spy who first appeared in Lynds’s New York Times bestselling novel Masquerade, had not.
If that were not challenging enough, Morrell hadn’t quite figured out how to revisit Rambo, particularly in light of the fact that technically (spoiler alert), he’s dead.
“Colonel Trautman, the man who trained him, kills him,” Morrell says. “In the first version of the film adaptation, Rambo dies also, but in a different way—he committed suicide. Test audiences rioted, forcing the producers to return to Hope, B.C., and film a new ending, in which Rambo lives. Hence the possibility of sequels, which weren’t planned.”
Morrell wrote novelizations for the second and third movies, making a note for readers about the differences between his original script and what was on the screen. The only way he could justify writing a new story about Rambo, then, was in a prequel—but that didn’t quite fit the story he and Lynds wanted to tell for MATCHUP.
“Eventually, we figured out how to include him in a way that’s legitimate as well as a tribute to how much he gets around,” Morrell says.
The result is an action-packed adventure with a deeply emotional connection, which Morrel credits to the love between Lynds’s characters, Liz and Simon.
“Who knew Liz would turn out to be such a great character?” Lynds says. “When I began her, I knew only that she and her cousin looked alike, and her cousin was the book’s star, with amnesia and a long and dangerous road ahead. So, the reader and I caught only tantalizing moments in the real Liz’s life. That was in Masquerade. When Liz and her cousin reappeared a couple years later in The Coil, Liz took over full-blown as a formidable character, opinionated, smart, and thoughtful, but with lethal skills she thought she’d put to rest.”
Turns out Sansborough’s skills weren’t that difficult for Lynds to pull out of remission.
“Bringing back Liz was like bringing back the best part of myself,” she says. “I can’t tell you what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I’ve forgotten nothing about her. Indelible, and completely unplanned.”
Which is in stark contrast to Lynds’s creative process—and the method of collaboration for Rambo on Their Minds. Lynds and Morrell spent several hours on the phone planning the story, and then took turns writing the scenes, adjusting the plot to uncover the hidden emotions, motives, and humor as they went along.
Fans will want to savor this story as, sadly, neither character is apt to make a reappearance anytime soon.
By Karin Slaughter & Michael Koryta
When Karin Slaughter agreed to be a part of this anthology, she had two conditions. One, that the story take place in 1993 so she could explore Jeffrey Tolliver’s younger years, and second, that she be paired with Michael Koryta.
MATCHUP Editor Lee Child says he readily agreed to both provisions. Thankfully, so did Koryta, who embraced the challenge of taking Joe Pritchard back to the 1990s. For Koryta, whose Pritchard stories were always told in first person, MATCHUP also afforded him the opportunity to change his point of view.
Through the course of the writing, both authors learned something new about their characters—and each other. But to find out, you’ll have to read Short Story, a tale that begins with Tolliver in his underwear and morphs into a great thriller with just the right amount of macabre, and a blast of familiar Slaughter humor.
As Child notes in the introduction, readers are not only in for a great story, but also some fun insider information—Koryta fans, for instance, will connect with one of the story’s characters who is named after a bet he lost to the novelist Alafair Burke. Can you pick out which one?
By Charlaine Harris & Andrew Gross
Dig Here was inspired by a research trip taken by Andrew Gross—but to say that Charlaine Harris was dubious about sending her series character, Harper Connelly, to Alexandria, Egypt, is a mild understatement.
“Harper had never, in my imagination, left the continent of North America, and I was pretty sure she didn’t have a passport,” Harris says. “So, I had to change my thinking about her to encompass this sudden and lengthy trip.”
This was the first hurdle in the seemingly unlikely collaboration between Harris and Gross, two authors who, by their own admission, are about as much alike as their protagonists. But Harris admits, weaving Connelly and Gross’s gritty detective, Ty Hauck, into the story was easy once the authors hammered out the plot.
“A family wealthy enough to hire Ty was also wealthy enough to hire Harper, who was the only one of my series characters likely to be called in on such an investigation,” Harris says. “But Ty is a skeptic, as professional investigators tend to be, and Harper, though equally professional, depends on a supernatural talent for her skill—or rather, a talent caused by being hit by lightning. This is a lot for Ty to handle, and while she is prepared to disregard him, he’s maybe not as prepared to learn to respect her.”
Of course, mutual respect does emerge—on the page, and in the writing room. While Harris is a veteran short story writer, Gross has less experience with the format—but as a former cowriter with James Patterson, he’s no stranger to collaboration. The melding of each author’s experiences and skills churned out an entertaining entry in MATCHUP, a thrilling story that will appeal to fans of both authors.
Deserves to Be Dead
By Lisa Jackson & John Sandford
Lisa Jackson and John Sandford attacked their collaboration a little differently than many of the author pairings in MATCHUP—once Sandford came up with the initial idea for the crime story, he went ahead and wrote the entire first draft, leaving holes for Jackson to fill in.
Some of those gaps included the backstory for Detective Regan Pescoli, the protagonist from Jackson’s bestselling To Die series who, in the MATCHUP story, Deserves to Be Dead, locks horns with Sandford’s Virgil Flowers while they’re on the case to catch an insidious murderer.
“I edited the manuscript giving Regan perspective and backstory, and adding in what I wanted, especially reworking the ending but all in all, John did write the entire story and he achieved a great balance, I think,” Jackson says. “My hat’s off to him.”
In fact, Sandford is the primary reason Jackson agreed to be a part of MATCHUP—the opportunity to work with a master.
“I’m a big fan of John’s,” she admits. “But it was also important to do something gratis, for the good of writing and thriller fans. I’ve met a lot of the contributors and wanted to be a part of something so unique. This is a great way for fans of one author to get to know a new one or two or twenty!”
By Lara Adrian & Christopher Rice
In many cases, the authors in MATCHUP have been asked to stretch their skills, work outside their comfort zones, and open themselves up to the foreign concept of collaboration. But Lara Adrian and Christopher Rice had a unique challenge to add to the mix—creating a world in which both their characters could exist.
For their haunting paranormal story Midnight Flame, that meant turning back the clock—at least for one of them.
“For the story to work, Lara’s character, Lucan Thorne, had to enter the action from a present-day frame in a series that’s advanced years into the future,” Rice says. “I really credit Lara for being open to that idea.”
Rice is also grateful Adrian was open to the idea of introducing Thorne to Chris’s Desire Exchange series character Lilliane in New Orleans, during a theft.
“I came up with the circumstances around why Lilliane would be in the French Quarter, and what she’d have in her possession that would be worth stealing, and Laura found a way to make Thorne’s adventures fit into my ideas,” Rice says. “And she captured Lilliane perfectly in her first draft, largely because she’d read The Desire Exchange books featuring Lilliane, which again, was so generous and lovely of her.”
From that point, everything else kind of locked into place, including the process for their collaboration. Rice, having just finished co-writing a book with his mother, Anne Rice, says the story flowed naturally between them, with each peppering in the details that would bring their characters to life.
“Since Lara comes from romance and I’ve been writing in romance now for a few years, I think it was interesting for both of us to write a story with a male and female character where we knew they weren’t going to end up together by the end of it,” he says. “I can’t emphasize enough how generous Lara was with this.”
By Lisa Scottoline & Nelson DeMille
“John Corey is in law enforcement and Bennie Rosato is a lawyer, and they’re geographically close—New York and Philadelphia—so Lisa and I had a lot of opportunities to put them together,” DeMille says. “That being said, we chose a chance encounter at a lake rather than a professional encounter. The real challenge was to get two alpha-personalities to put aside their egos and work together. I’m talking about the characters, not the authors.”
What made it work is that the characters and the authors are professionals, he adds.
“All four of us—John Corey, Bennie Rosato, Nelson DeMille, and Lisa Scottoline— respected one another and we knew when to listen, and when to compromise,” he says. “With alpha personalities it’s always about us, but it’s for the reader.”
“We agreed that there was a terrorist training camp in the woods, and before I could figure out the rest of the plot, Lisa sent me a complete first draft,” DeMille says. “All I had to do was put wisecracks in Corey’s mouth.”
Unfortunately, his attempts at charming Rosato are thwarted—despite the kind of chemistry on the page that makes you want to root for them, even if just for this story.
“Lisa let me know that Bennie was in a committed relationship, and though Bennie found John attractive, she was not going to cheat on her boyfriend,” DeMille says. “Corey gives it a good try but has to gracefully accept defeat in love.”
Taking the Veil
By J.A. Jance & Eric Lustbader
“When Steve Berry called me to tell me he’d paired me with Judy Jance I was quite surprised,” Lustbader says. “But as Steve pointed out the whole point of MATCHUP was to pair up authors whose style and milieu were dissimilar. As Steve said, ‘We want you guys to try working out of your comfort zone.’ He wasn’t kidding with the two of us.”
For starters, neither Jance nor Lustbader had collaborated before, and at first glance, their characters—Bravo Shaw and Ali Reynolds—seemed lightyears away from each other.
“That was before I read the latest Ali Reynolds novel and I was introduced to Sister Anselm, one of Ali’s best friends,” Lustbader says. “That clicked with me right away because my protagonist, Bravo Shaw, from The Testament series, deals in ancient religious artifacts outside the scope of Catholic orthodoxy. That was the peg on which we began our work.”
It wasn’t smooth sailing. After hashing out the first five pages, Jance and Lustbader found themselves deadlocked. So, they called Steve Berry and asked for advice. The boost was exactly what they needed for Lustbader to carve out a first draft.
The result is a smart thriller that sucks you in from the first page. In the process, Lustbader says he and Jance learned a little about each other—and a lot about how best to work together.
“The key to collaboration is keeping your ego on the shelf,” he says. “It’s like a marriage: to make it work you need to compromise and to communicate honestly.”