August 7 – 13: “How many thrillers do you read each year?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5How many thrillers do you read each year? How do you choose from the vast selection? Those are the questions this week for ITW Members Don Helin, Jonathan Ashley, J. B. Manas and Danny Lopez. Scroll down and click on “Comments” to read what they have to say.


Jonathan Ashley is the author of Out of Mercy and The Cost of Doing Business. His work has appeared in Crime Factory, Out of the Gutter, A Twist of Noir, LEO Weekly, Kentucky Magazine, and Yellow Mama. He lives in Lexington, KY.



J. B. Manas is a Philadelphia-based author of fiction and nonfiction. He is the author of the new sci-fi thriller, ATTICUS, and co-author of The Kronos Interference, named to the “Best of 2012” by Kirkus Reviews, which gave the book a starred review, calling it “impressively original” and “[a] tour de force.” His nonfiction books (written as Jerry Manas) on leadership lessons from history, science, and the arts have been translated into eight languages and course-adopted in universities worldwide. Manas writes out of his home in suburban Philadelphia, where he lives with his wife, daughter, and dog Kayla, an American Dingo rescued from the swamps of South Carolina. He is a member of the Authors’ Guild, International Thriller Writers (ITW), and the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO).


Danny López is a pen name. The author was raised in Mexico, Texas, and Florida. He worked numerous menial jobs before becoming a photojournalist, which allowed him to travel around the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean and meet many of the characters that populate his stories. THE LAST GIRL is his first Dexter Vega novel.



Using his experience from the military, including eight years in the Pentagon, Don Helin published his first thriller, Thy Kingdom Come, in 2009. His second, Devil’s Den, was selected as a finalist in the 2013 Indie Book Awards. His latest thriller, Secret Assault was selected as the best Suspense/Thriller at the 2015 Indie Book Awards. Don is an active member of International Thriller Writers, Military Writers Society of America, Pennwriters, a state-wide writers group in Pennsylvania, and a mentor with the Mystery Writers of America. He makes his home in central Pennsylvania where he is hard at work on his next thriller, Long Walk Home.


Latest posts by ITW (see all)
  1. I used to read strictly noir penned before 1980. Once I hit my stride as a writer, and once I discovered that I’d never be the kind of author that mapped out a plot and faithfully followed a diagram or formula, I decided that reading anything, fiction or non-fiction, crime or classic literature, is beneficial to anyone trying to grow creatively and as a human being. My plots are unpredictable enough without me having to force originality. Since I am reasonably certain that I don’t have to worry about that, I’m now more interested in producing better prose. THE FORCE by Don Winslow, which I am about to finish, is the first book that I’d describe as a thriller that I’ve read in about four months. The last was only a crime novel in structure. THE DEATH OF THE DETECTIVE was nominated for the National Book Award and, while as a reader I was kept on the edge of my seat, the musicality I devoured on every page better suited my current interests as have the works of Richard Yates and Cormac McCarthy, both of whom I’ve studied like a graduate student for the past year. I desire to write something worth reading. If I were penning a screenplay, the quality of the writing would only matter as far as dialogue and action were concerned. With a novel, or a short story, we have to concentrate more on avoiding redundancy – I hate it when any writer uses the same word twice in a paragraph. I have a hard enough time dealing with it when it happens twice on a page.I especially hate it when I catch myself doing it. In order to avoid being guilty of this party foul, I have had to vastly extend my vocabulary. I keep a thesaurus in the office, adjacent to the keyboard, and I read authors who know what they’re doing, who’ve learned, as I’m learning, through a lot of trial and error. You can’t be afraid to fail in this business. And, thankfully, since I’ve experienced an absurd amount of defeat in my personal life, I have grown nearly immune to that sickening, suicidal feeling I used to experience when things went south, or I didn’t succeed at the level to which I had aspired. You also can’t be afraid to try new things, especially if you’re in it for the glory and not the fame. Once I’m done with THE FORCE, I’m going to get back into Robert Olmstead, one of the finest stylists I’ve studied since Jim Harrison. I know though, that since my next project is something I’ve never tackled, I’ll be stocking up on standard detective fiction for a good while, just to reacquaint myself with more formulaic plotting. These last few books, I din’t have the luxury to plan any twists or to decide ahead of time where the protagonists might end up. I didn’t want to know and I was sadly aware of the fact that any planning would render the final product contrived. I have to be a little more anal retentive about my next project, much to my chagrin.

  2. I’m pleased to participate in this Thriller Round Table as I believe it’s an important topic.
    As I’m sure with everyone, I have a number of thriller writers I always look for whenever they have a new book out. These include John Sanford, James Patterson, Harlen Coben,and Daniel Silva.
    Now, I’m reading a couple of really great books: Scott Turow’s Testimony, and the third book in Greg Iles’ trilogy, Mississippi Blood.
    You would think with all these wonderful thrillers to choose from, I’d read a lot of thrillers each year.
    But, during my debut author year at ITW, I learned a valuable lesson. Read the best authors slowly. See what they use for an inciting incident, how they pull their readers in, how they describe their characters and setting. There are many lessons to be learned here. Lessons that have helped me in my own writing.
    I look forward to the discussion this week.

  3. Thank you for including me in this Thriller Round Table. I am a very eclectic reader, just as I am very eclectic in my taste for music. I don’t read thrillers or mysteries as a rule. What I read depends mostly on my mood, a recommendation, a book review that caught my atterion—and occasionally the book cover. This last one usually leans toward the Hard Case books. I love their covers and I love those vintage mysteries. They’re mostly all plot, all mystery and a lot of fun to read. As far as more modern fiction, I am a fan of Dennis Lehane, Elmore Leonard, and James Ellroy. If this says something about my taste it’s that I like character driven fiction. Everything I write stems from character as well.
    When I was younger I stuck to the classics like Hemingway and Steinbeck and Henry Miller and the beats. Then I moved on to vintage paperbacks like John D. MacDonald, Graham Greene, John Le Carré, etc. These days I mix my thriller/mystery roster with literary and foreign fiction.
    In the end, I am not very patient with a book that doesn’t transport me. I try to write for entertainment, just as I read for entertainment. Character and story are everything to me.
    I’m looking forward to the discussion, maybe get some good recommendations, and as always try to learn something new.
    So bring it on!

  4. I agree with what Danny has to say. Character and story are everything. I think that why I enjoy John Sanford so much. Lucas Davenport is a class character. Tough but with a heart. And who wouldn’t like Alex Cross in James Patterson;s novels.

  5. Like Danny and Don, I have very eclectic tastes in books, music, and movies. With books, I tend to read multiple genres, from thrillers, to mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and more. I tend to be a slow reader, as I find whatever time I can after I’ve had a day of writing and other work, but I always have something I’m in the middle of. In fact, if it weren’t for the usual recommendation to write within a single genre (unless your name is Stephen King), I’d probably write in a variety of genres as well (like Spielberg does in film), and still may.

    From a thriller perspective, these days I’ve been really into the Harlan Coben books. For me, he’s the literary equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock, with tight stories, clever twists, and “everyman” protagonists. Ironically, I first became exposed to him not from his books, but from seeing the French film, “Tell No One” (based on his novel of the same name). Hitchcock has always been a big storytelling influence of mine, so I have a weakness for anything Hitchcockian. I also recently read “Bad Things Happen” by Harry Dolan, and really enjoyed that.

    For something to catch my eye, it either has to have a killer premise (like James Patterson’s “Zoo”), be an author I’ve read and enjoy (like Coben), be recommended my someone (as in the case of “Bad Things Happen”), or be something I’ve seen a rave review for and and looked interesting (like Girl on a Train, Gone Girl, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). So maybe it just needs “girl” in the title!! Actually that’s a pure coincidence for me.

    While it’s not a “thriller” per se, I’ve also been catching up on George RR Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series after having been a huge fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

    I grew up reading Ian Fleming’s Bond books and still read anything Bond-related, no matter who writes it. I tend to like thrillers with a touch of mystery, science, and history, so titles like A.G. Riddle’s The Atlantis Gene, and James Rollins’ books also appeal to me. And that’s my reading persona in a nutshell.

  6. I should add that while plot often hooks me into wanting to read a story, ultimately it’s usually the characters that make it memorable for me.

    While I couldn’t even tell you what the intricate plot of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was, short of a financial journalist getting caught up in a murder mystery in a small Swedish town, the unique character of the rebellious, bipolar computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander, stuck with me long afterward.

    I may not remember every detail of Silence of the Lambs, but I’ll never forget Hannibal Lecter, or Clarice Starling for that matter.

  7. Don and J.B. Good points. As I read this I feel I need to up my mystery/thriller reading. I’m gonna take some of your suggestions here. I have the Girl on a Train on my night table and for some reason have not gotten to it! Not sure why. But the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one I forgot all about. By the way, J.B. do an online search. Somewhere there is an interview of Raymond Chandler conducted by Ian Fleming. Pretty cool stuff.

    1. Danny, thanks for the tip on that Ian Fleming overview. I’ll have to look that up! Jonathan, great point about conflict as well. Vivid settings and layered meanings are nice, but it’s conflict that really moves the story forward and helps define characters, even conflict among allies (the Marvel Avengers films are perfect examples, or even the Hunger Games).

  8. J.B. is right on with those two characters. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is really driven by Lisbeth. And oh, ya, Clarice Starling and Hanibal Lecter, what a team. And the way it ended. Hanibal says he going to have someone for lunch. Classic. Characters are critical.

  9. Conflict is an element that seems to be largely missing from the works I read that academics would label “literature.” I try to only write scenes that propel the story forward. This is why I keep returning to the godfathers of the crime and thriller genre, Hammett and Goodis and Chandler. If the scene has some deeper meaning, great. If you want to send a message, call Western Union.

  10. Jonathan Ashley, ” If the scene has some deeper meaning, great. If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” Amen to that. Pretty writing doesn’t make a story.

MATCH UP: In stores now!


ThrillerFest XVIII: Register Today!

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