June 5 – 11: “What was the novel that turned you into a writer?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Carrie? A Separate Peace? The Road? Rabbit At Rest? This week we’re joined by ITW Members Linda Thorne, Khaled Talib, David Salkin, Alan Drew, Christine Goff, Susan Wingate and Kendra Elliott as they answer the question: “What was the novel that turned you into a writer?”


Alan Drew is the author of the critically acclaimed debut novel, Gardens of Water. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. An associate professor of English at Villanova University where he directs the creative writing program, he lives near Philadelphia with his wife and two children.


An award-winning author and Rogue Woman, Chris Goff‘s recent international thriller, RED SKY, hits the stands June 13th. Set in Ukraine and Asia, Agent Raisa Jordan tests the boundaries of diplomacy as she races to prevent the start of a new Cold War. Catherine Coulter had this to say: “Breathtaking suspense, do not miss Red Sky.” Goff’s series debut, DARK WATERS, was dubbed “a sure bet for fans of international thrillers” by Booklist, and nominated for the 2016 Colorado Book Award and Anthony Award for Best Crime Fiction Audiobook.


Kendra Elliot has sold over 3.5 million books. She has hit the Wall Street Journal top ten bestseller list four times and is a three-time winner of the Daphne du Maurier award for Romantic Suspense. She is also an International Thriller Writers’ finalist and a Romantic Times finalist. She grew up in the lush Pacific Northwest and still lives there with her husband, three daughters, two cats, and two Pomeranians. She’s always been fascinated with forensics, refuses to eat anything green, and can’t wait to wear flip flops every day.


#1 Amazon bestselling author, Susan Wingate graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in accounting. She has written thirteen books under her name and four under a closed pen name. Susan is the author of award-winning novels such as, The Deer Effect, Drowning, and the Bobby’s Diner series. She offers inspirational keynotes about the craft of writing and the publishing industry. She is a diverse author with books ranging from YA romance fantasy to upmarket women’s thrillers.


Linda Thorne has published numerous short stories in the genres of mystery, thriller, and romance. Her debut novel, Just Another Termination tells the story of Judy Kenagy, the first human resources manager to turn sleuth. She is currently writing the second book in her series, A Promotion to Die For. Like her lead character, Thorne is a career HR manager. She currently lives in the Nashville area of Tennessee with her husband and two border collies.


Khaled Talib is the author of INCOGNITO coming soon from World Castle Publishing, as well as the thriller, Smokescreen. Khaled is a former journalist with local and international exposure. His articles have been published and syndicated to newspapers worldwide, and his short stories have appeared in literary journals and magazines. The author resides in Singapore.


David M. Salkin is the author of 13 novels, with Penguin, Post Hill Press and Permuted Press. Salkin’s novels include military-espionage, action-adventure, science-fiction, horror, and crime thrillers.




  1. When I first read the Roundtable question of the week, I thought for a second that my answer would be some legendary giant of a book written with such literary genius to spark a number of readers to want to write a novel. A list of titles flashed through my mind: East of Eden, Grapes of Wrath, The Prince of Tides, The Great Gatsby. Although the ones mentioned here had an impact on me, none had anything to do with turning me into a writer.

    Then I remembered the book I’d been reading when I made the decision to write a novel. The book that launched me into the writing world was the fourth in Carolyn Haines’ bone series, a little cozy mystery called Crossed Bones. My husband and I were living in the town of Hanford in the Central Valley of California in 2005. Somewhere in the midst of reading Crossed Bones, the thought hit me, I can write a book just like this one! It was a light, fun read and at the time, to my chagrin, I thought it would be easy to do.

    Looking back, I’ve laughed at my naivety hundreds of times. I misjudged the simple, clean writing of Carolyn Haines as easy. I know now how hard it is to put words on paper that appear as effortless writing.

    1. Carolyn is a great writer to emulate. I imagine she would be pleased to think she inspired someone to take up the business.

      1. I’ve told Carolyn Haines the story of what happened to me when I was reading Crossed Bones. Some of the members of my Sisters in Crime local chapter met with her last year in Mobile and spent a couple of days visiting. We also got to meet some of her students from her University of South Alabama creative writing classes. At one point during that visit, Carolyn decided to name a character after me in the book she was currently writing. That book was just released last month. It’s Sticks and Bones and there’s an insurance adjustor in the book named Linda Thorne. Yes, I think she’s a great writer too. She also writes literary, general novels.

  2. The first book that ever “wowed” me was a Young Adult book called “Escape” by Ben Bova. I was maybe 10 or 12, in elementary school, and this story about a futuristic jail for juveniles was decades ahead of its time. By today’s standards, the futuristic parts of the story are now non-fiction, but it was beyond cool at the time, and I was captivated. Many years later, my very first literary agent was the late Barbara Bova, Ben’s wife. Getting to talk to him on the phone was quite amazing to me…my writer life had come full circle.

    While Escape was the first book to get me into reading, later books would also inspire me as I read on in high school and college. Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut was another that had my mind going for weeks after I read it. I’ve probably read it three times since. In college, the works of John Milton and Rudyard Kipling became favorites as well.

    Nowadays, I read mostly non-fiction as I research for my own novels, but my favorite writers include Ken Follett, Lee Child, Nelson DeMille and Robert Crais. I try to always make time for their new releases, no matter how busy I am. These thriller all-stars continue to inspire me, with the ultimate goal being one of them reading my books and loving it!

    1. I’m always fascinated by coincidences. How did it happen that you found Ben Bova’s wife for your literally agent? Did you keep track of him, his life and find out she was an agent that way? Or did the writer/agent relationship just come about while you were submitting your work in a true coincidental manner? You’ve got my curiosity going on this one.

      1. I was “Agent Shopping”, and came across that unusual last name. I thought they might be related, so I queried, and in the letter I asked if she was any relation to Ben Bova… explaining what I fan I was, etc. Turns out, she was his wife! We hit it off and worked on HARD CARBON for many months together.
        When it was finished (she had been a great editor) I was leaving for vacation. She said, “Have a great 2 weeks, we’ll talk when you get back.” When I returned, there was no word from her, so I called and reached Ben. Long story short, she was sick. She passed away almost immediately after that. It was heart-breaking, and also killed the momentum for that manuscript. It ended up sitting for almost 8 years before I sold it.
        Since then, I’ve managed to have 14 books published with Penguin, Post Hill and Permuted, all on my own. I am THRILLED to announce that I JUST signed with Jan Kardys and Barbara Ellis two days ago! Hoping for big things going forward! (It’s been tough doing this alone!)

        1. That is some story. Sad, but there you were speaking to Ben Bova. You’ve probably had some what-might-of-been thoughts if she had not died at that time. Sounds like you’ve done well for yourself since and maybe even better now with the help of Jan Kardys and Barbara Ellis.

          1. It’s funny, I’ve never been one for autographs or meeting famous people. I just don’t care about that stuff. But when Ben answered the phone the very first time, I was like… “BEN? BEN BOVA?!” lol I was so excited I probably sounded like an idiot.
            Some years later, he was kind enough to give me the cover quote for DEEP BLACK SEA. To have him on MY book was just the coolest thing ever, to me!

    2. One of my favorite books for young adults is a book called “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. It inspired by grandson to read. I’m going to check out “Escape.”

      1. ESCAPE is an old book, written for teenagers I’m guessing. What was science fiction THEN is probably just common now… but I LOVED it as a kid!

      2. What a great experience to have Ben Bova give you the cover quote for Deep Black Sea. Your talking to him years later and the connection is a story in itself. Authors seem to want to help each other. I never heard of Escape, but I’m looking it up online after dinner.

    3. Thanks for highlighting Escape by Ben Bova. I’m going to add Escape in my TBR list. I read everything these days, be they children, YA or Adult.

  3. I hated writing in high school and college. Even though I have a degree in Journalism, my goal was to work in advertising…which never happened. But I’ve been a voracious reader since I was eight, and I always reread my books multiple times because it would cost a fortune to keep me in new books.

    After I had three kids within four years, books were my much-needed escape. One day after reading a Diana Gabaldon Outlander novel for the umpteenth time, I set it down and realized I wanted to make a reader feel how I was felt at that very moment: satisfied, happy, and content. So I tried my hand at writing a novel. My third novel sold.

    For me, writing was never about wanting people to read what I had to say or creating amazing pieces of literature. It was about delighting a reader with a great story and making them want more after they were done.

    1. That’s sort of how my moment of deciding to write a book came about. I was so enjoying the book during a period of unemployment and thought how nice if I could just write a light mystery. It was an easy read, so thinking that writing such a book would be a fairly simple task helped push my decision along. It was shockingly difficult to write and I learned by so many rewrites, I can’t count them.

    2. I know what you mean. To see a reader’s eyes sparkle when they talk about your book gives a sense of satisfaction like nothing else.

  4. The novel that turned me into a writer was The Mystery of the Green Ghost by Alfred Hitchcock based on The Three Investigators series. I’ve been reading other detective novel series like Franklin W. Dixon’s Hardy Boys and before that, the Famous Five by English author, Enid Blyton. But it was The Mystery of The Green Ghost that set my subconscious thinking why am I not writing my own stories? I was ten years old then.
    When I was thirteen, I started to write my own detective novel on a school jotter book. I paused when a classmate pried into my writing and laughed at me. I never wrote again until I was about twenty-six. But once again I failed because I lacked the know-how, and I lived in a society where writing a novel is unreal – it doesn’t happen.
    When I was a teenager, I saw my uncle reading a novel by Robert Ludlum. It was the first time I’ve heard of this author’s name, so I read a few pages and I couldn’t stop.
    I tried writing again when I was in my twenties.Clearly, my subconscious refused to leave me alone. But it was many years later when I slowly began to pick up the skills. I realized that you don’t just write, you create.
    Now, I’ve written three novels, the third, also a thriller, due this year.

    1. I think it’s interesting how so many of us were intrigued by the notion of writing a book from such early ages. I only wish I had pursued it sooner vs waiting. The result was, I didn’t publish my first book until I was nearly 45. So many wasted years.

      1. I know what you mean. I regret not having started earlier.I remember finding several boxes of old books in the storeroom belonging to my mother. One of the books was written by a 16-year-old French girl. I was around 14 at that time, and the first thing I thought, “Wow, an author at 16!”

    2. I loved Alfred Hitchcock, but he could scare me so much in his books, movies, I shied away from wanting to do that to others. If he and Robert Ludlum influenced you, I can understand why you are writing thrillers. The Hardy boys takes me back quite a few years.
      I’m like Chris Goff, a little envious of people starting early. I wish I had too. I was older than she when I first started writing and it took me years to get published. All I can say, is I wish I hadn’t waited, but better late than never.

      1. The Hardy Boys! Wow… I haven’t thought about those books in decades! LOL Yes… I had a BUNCH of them, in hard cover, on my bookshelf as a kid!

        1. I could relate to school books, found them boring. So after staring me with the English writer, Enid Blyton, my mom stared buying me copies of The Hardy Boys. Yep, Hard covers mostly. Beautiful! They were my world…

  5. I didn’t read much as a kid, and I certainly didn’t write. I wasn’t one of those authors I meet who say they were reading by the time they were three and wrote their first story when when they were four. I grew up in Southern California, my house was surrounded by orange groves, and I spent every second I could outside, skateboarding with my buddies. But something clicked in college. I was nineteen, angry at everything, and I took an English class. We read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and I was hooked. My father was in the Army and he and I used to watch war movies all the time. One that killed me was Apocalypse Now. When I learned that Conrad’s book was the inspiration for that movie, I dove in. But I found the book to be better than the film–a surprise for this non-reader. It was my first real awakening to the horrors of colonialism in Africa and I quickly made connections between that book and our military interventions elsewhere, particularly in the Middle East. Heart of Darkness began a political awakening for me, and it set me on a path to becoming a serious reader. I can’t say which book set me on a path to writing, though, because I read constantly that year and after a trip around the country with a buddy of mine, I declared an English/Creative Writing major. If I had to choose, though, it’s probably Norman Maclean’s a River Runs Through It. I was doing an independent study with Rafael Zepeda at Cal State Long Beach, and he gave me this beautiful little novella and told me I needed to read it. The beauty of the prose, the depth of emotion, the sense of the American wilderness and fishing in particular as a thing to offer spiritual transformation moved me deeply at the time. So much so, that I started reading more “western” writers–Thomas McGuane, Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich. I even moved to Montana and ended up working on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, an experience that changed my life–pushing me to become a teacher. If I had not become a teacher, I don’t meet my wife, I don’t move to Istanbul, Turkey and write my first novel, and I’m certainly not teaching at Villanova and writing a blog post here after the publication of my second novel. So, reading truly can change your life. Thanks to Rafael Zepeda and Norman Maclean!

    1. I think it’s what each of us as individuals bring to the table that makes the stories interesting. If we all start with the same idea, we all write a different book because of what it is that each of us has to say. Writing is a window into the soul. Thanks for taking it up.

    2. It sounds like you had more than one contributing book to prompt you to write. I did not know that Conrad’s Heart of Darkness inspired Apocalypse Now. This is very interesting information. I know about Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It. Great book. You’ve had some interesting influences.

      1. I read Heart of Darkness in school. Yes, it inspired A.N. Remember the river boat scene? Anyway, I was 18 then and it was a tough book to understand in terms of literature. My mind was elsewhere 😉

        1. I don’t know why it hit me so hard. I was mad at the world, just really starting to pay attention to the news and politics. I’d left the sheltered world of Irvine, CA and found myself in a multi-ethnic political soup of a huge public university and loved it Something just clicked. After that, I think it was a lot of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, Graham Greene. The big mid-century dudes.

  6. I loved reading how each of us got here. Always a different path, of course.

    Like Kendra, my novels have never been striving towards great literary works, but rather, trying to entertain readers and provide an escape.

    That changed with my newest release. Book #14 is a novella called BATTLE SCARS, and it wasn’t written to simply to entertain. Instead, it’s the raw, gritty look into a combat and injury in Afghanistan. The daily life, the trauma of combat and injury, and the story of “what happens now?” First time I ever tried to write something I considered “important”… far beyond just being entertaining, and it was extremely satisfying. Moreover, I think the exercise showed me what I’m capable of, and will have me striving to be better. Receiving the endorsements from some American heroes has been humbling and taken to heart. It’s reminded me that writing anything less than my very best is now unacceptable. These guys are an inspiration.


    1. I think the best writers are the ones that strive to be better with each book. It sounds like you’re doing something very important with Book #14.

  7. In response to the question, what was the novel that turned me into a writer? I have to admit that I had been writing a few years before reading the book that turned me into a writer. Kurt Vonnegut’s made me understand the creative power of a well-developed narrator and how to employ in my stories other literary devices such as form. Vonnegut’s novel also allowed me the freedom to involve the reader in storytelling. Of course, his word choice and sense of humor is other-worldly. But it was Breakfast of Champions that exemplifies, for me, how a master craftsman uses storytelling as a weapon–how he makes the pen mightier than the sword.

    1. As popular as Breakfast of Champions was, I’m afraid I’ve never read it. I missed out on so many of the older literary works. I went through reading sprees in high school, after college, and then seemed to let it all go when I got married and step children moved in. I’m an Arizona State University graduate too. I noticed your degree was in accounting. Mine was in business administration. Neither of us have degrees that have much to do with writing either, but here we are, writing. Congratulations in your Amazon bestseller rating. That’s impressive.

  8. I always wanted to be a writer. From the time I was five and my dad read me Pinocchio one chapter at a time at bedtime, I vowed that someday I would write a book. I loved to read, went to school, wrote stories and poetry, and then became a journalist. What pushed me to try my hand at writing a book was getting married. I lived in a small town in the mountains of Colorado, and my new husband had sole custody of three children. It soon became clear that I needed to be home in the afternoons when the kids got out of school, so I switched to working part-time, which meant I had a couple of hours free every afternoon. Thinking back to my favorite childhood books and looking at what I was reading at the time, I realized I had always gravitated toward crime fiction. I read anything and everything: cozies, gothic romance, hard-boiled detective, PI, spy thrillers.

    My first attempt was a young adult mystery. Living in the boonies meant no mentors, so I signed up for one of those Institute of Children’s Novel Writing Courses. I received the course material, then wrote a first chapter and sent it off. It came back in a week or so, all marked up, and a wrote chapter two. By the end of the lessons, I had a book.

    It never sold.

    By then I’d discovered another writer in town, a bestselling romance author. She agreed to be my mentor, and I learned an incredible amount under her tutelage. With her encouragement I wrote this great romantic intrigue filled with skiing, car chases, counterfeit operations and–or course–romance. I called it Frozen Assets.

    It never sold.

    The story goes on, through two more attempts, until I hit on the idea for a cozy series that did get sold. I’ve sold six books in the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series, and it’s done alright, but I wanted to write BIG books. I’d come up with the idea for my first Diplomatic Security Service Agent Raisa Jordan book, DARK WATERS, so I spent some time making sure it was worthy of the story I wanted to tell. That book came out in September 2015 to some nice critical acclaim, and it received several award nominations. The sequel, RED SKY, comes out June 13th. Fingers crossed it does as well–or better.

    So, long story short, I guess I would have to say Pinocchio: The Tale of a Puppet by C. Collodi and illustrated by Alice Carsey turned me into a writer. Originally titled The Story of a Marionette, it was published in serial from 1881 to 1882 in the first Italian magazine for children. In that version, Pinocchio dies a gruesome death at the end of Chapter 15, hanged for all of his faults. Later, at the request of his editor, Collodi added chapters 16-36, where Pinocchio is eventually transformed into a real boy, making the book much more suitable for children. Collodi died in 1890, and the book wasn’t translated into English until 1892. Since then it has been translated into over 260 languages and become the most translated non-religious book in the world. According to Francelia McWilliams Bulter, an American scholar and writer of Children’s Literature, it is also “the most widely read book in the world after the Bible.”

    If you haven’t read it, I recommend it!

    1. Perhaps the one that read the version where Pinocchio was hanged. It makes me think of the original Grimm’s Fairy Tale of The Three Little Pigs. We bought a copy of the book in a truck stop in Kansas, and my older daughter was reading along to her younger sister when she hit this line “And that was the end of the first little pig.” Thirty years later they still love to tell that story.

  9. It will be easy to remember you as the author who was turned into a writer after reading the story of Pinocchio. I always loved that story. Glad Collodi came up with the happier ending in a later version. I’d consider this a bit of a promotion hook too. Readers may want to look for signs of Pinocchio’s influence in your published works. I know the thought hit me while I was reading this.

  10. And… it’s D-Day.

    Without question, American history, corny John Wayne movies, stories from my uncles who served in WWII and Korea, and loving my country have all played a BIG part in my writing.
    Military-espionage thrillers pour out of me, and I know those seeds were planted from the many stories I heard as a kid. God Bless America… and remember those brave folks who hit the beach today, so many years ago…

    1. Absolutely David. My Dad was D+2 on Omaha Beach. I’ll never forget drinking Calvados with him, perched on the German Bunker overlooking the beach. He was 75, and we had gone to visit for the first time since the war. It’s one of the only times I ever heard him speak of his experience there. Later, we were looking for the courtyard where he was wounded on August 12th in Mortain. I had found the maps of the battles on the internet, but the hedgerows had grown so high, it was hard to find the routes. We were standing in a fruit stand talking, when I overheard a little old man tell his wife and daughter to go home without him because he was going to help us (at least that was the gist–my French was a bit rusty). He came over and then spent the next two hours helping us find the spot where my dad went down. I was privileged to sit in the backseat and listen to the two of them talk about the war from the perspectives of an American soldier and a Frenchman. That trip was full of revelations. It always astounded me how many people recognized my dad was a World War II vet and would send drinks to our table, or pick up our dinner tabs. But, perhaps the most moving was when a camera crew interviewed Dad at the American Cemetery. They had found a Navy tank, and the SEALs were diving, so they were interviewing Churchill’s granddaughter. The camera man approached and stuck a mic in Dad’s face. They asked him what he remembered it being like and he said, “I remember how much it smelled like death.” The man asked if he meant because of the dead bodies, and dad said, “No, just death. The crops were rotting in the fields. The earth was scorched from battle.” He spoke of how many of his fellow company men were dead or MIA on the wall, and when they camera man walked away this kid walked up. He was an American, and we’d seen him walking around. He was with his family, and very sullen. He had piercings all over, long hair and grunged out. When he reached Dad, he stuck out his hand and that’s when I realized tears were streaming down his face. He shook Dad’s hand and said, “Sir, I just want to thank you for your service.” That’s when we all broke down and cried. I’ll never forget it.

      1. Man, that’s an incredible story. My father was Army, but just missed the Vietnam War, and was forever disappointed he did not go. We used to sit together and watch Patton and The Bridge Over the River Kwai, etc. and he always welled with Patriotism. Later, we’d watch Vietnam war films, which were inevitably anti-war. I pointed this out to him once when I was a punk teenager, but there was still a romance about it for him. Something very powerfully important about fighting–something rooted in patriotism and a sense of duty and masculinity. A couple years ago, though, he told me over drinks the he was glad he didn’t got to Vietnam. Not sure why the change in sentiment, but obviously that was a different war than WWII. Hats off to your father and all the others who landed on that beach. Cannot imagine how terrible that was.

        1. Your war comments are interesting and bring back a lot of memories for me. My father lost his two brothers in World War II, but still had a great deal of patriotism and was proud of the role he played in it. So many great books (and movies) came out set during that war. People did not feel the same about Viet Nam and it shows in the books and movies written with it in the background.

      2. Great story, thanks for sharing. I’ve been working with veterans for 20+ years, and the countless stories are always astounding. “Uncommon valor was common”.

        I just recently re-watched the movie “FURY”. It’s an interesting WWII story in that it’s just one tiny little story about 4 guys in a tank… and yet it’s so universal in so many ways. The characters are all so real and unique, and it takes on such a human quality, in such an epic backdrop. I guess my point is, even in something so vast as the history of WWII, it’s the personal stories that hit us so hard. To quote Stalin, “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of a million is a statistic…”

  11. Linda, being in Nashville, a nexus of mystery writers, has made you shine among others in the field. With your HR background, you honed the skill to spot character flaws before hiring or keeping employees. Knowing human nature brought you a special take on the criminal mind, a take you turned to good use in your series about Judy Kenagy, HR manager-turned-detective. Fear and curiosity make Judy appealing whether readers like a cozy or full-on mystery.

    1. Yes, non-school books, often called educational fiction, serve as a genre that can fill in the gaps of information not covered by textbooks. School materials don’t have to be dry but may be when they don’t spark the reader’s imagination or motivate the desire for further reading or research. A trend toward downloading/printing/stapling PDFs for school content, is just another example of an attempt to keep up with a changing society but ingore unchanging concepts. In the past 3-4 decades, school books and curricula have become replete (nay, watered-down) with rewritten history, victimology, sociology meant for more mature students, progressive politics, and a pedagogy that has moved from classic content to promoting a cultural viewpoint that does not constitute nor qualify as education but indoctrination, especially when it does not carry a broad alert/disclaimer so parents can monitor what’s being taught their children. Such side-stepping produces glutted administrative staffs and self-congratulatory standards. Critical thinking courses are touted without gleaning any practice of true critical thinking. Therefore, dogmatized, fearful, and exhausted teachers seek early retirement because of meager, unsatisfying results. No wonder homeschooling grows in popularity while public high school cranks out 50%+ of its graduates required to take remedial classes before matriculating university. Having taught those remedial classes stimulated me to want to prevent that need. My middle school mystery series The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple serves a community of parents who want to prepare their children for success while providing wholesome but not whitewashed literature that is totally realistic. My series represents the world we live in, not one of aliens from outer space, vampires from derivative classics, wizards from masked occultism, or zombies from the grave. Feeding the minds of kids has become a battle between popular/unreal/disturbing content and that which is safe/helpful/exciting but maturating. Therefore my series motto is Have Fun. Get Smarter.™ With a post script of “No Judgement,” the motto encourages readers to choose whichever route suits them at first read or later. Although the vocabulary is PSAT into SAT level to give readers’ multiple exposure to more refined word choices needed for academic tests at ages 14-18, IMASODES I & II can be easily read by kids 10-11 years old. Later IMASODES require a level of “life experience” to appreciate and heed the content. My goal for “literature-light” is to give a clue of what is expected down the line for successful college comprehension and composition.

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