October 30 – November 5: “Horror in thrillers, do they mix and match?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we’re joined by ITW Members Gordon Brown, Rick R. Reed, Thomas Malafarina, Vincent Zandri and Arthur Kerns as they discuss Horror and thrillers: “Do they mix and match?” Scroll down to the “comments” to read this chilling discussion!


Winner of the 2015 PWA Shamus Award and the 2015 ITW Thriller Award for Best Original Paperback Novel for MOONLIGHT WEEPS, Vincent Zandri is the NEW YORK TIMES, USA TODAY, and AMAZON KINDLE No.1 bestselling author of more than 25 novels including THE REMAINS, EVERYTHING BURNS, ORCHARD GROVE and THE CORRUPTIONS. He lives in New York and Florence, Italy.


Gordon Brown lives in Scotland. He has delivered pizzas in Toronto, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival, floated a high-tech company on the stock market and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final. Today, Gordon also runs a creativity training business called Brain Juice and is a DJ on local radio. Gordon helped found Bloody Scotland—Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival—and has been writing since his teens. He has five crime and thriller novels to his name.


In March 2013 Diversion Books Inc. released the acclaimed espionage thriller, The Riviera Contract followed by the sequel, The African Contract. The Yemen Contract was released in June 2016. Arthur Kerns joined the FBI with a career in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. On retirement, he became a consultant with a number of US agencies, including the Department of State. His lengthy assignments took him to over 65 countries.


Thomas M. Malafarina is an author of horror fiction from Berks County, Pennsylvania. To date he has published six horror novels “What Waits Beneath”, “Burner”, “Eye Contact” , “Fallen Stones”, “Dead Kill Book 1: The Ridge of Death” and “Dead Kill Book 2: The Ridge Of Change”. He has also published four collections of horror short stories; “Thirteen Deadly Endings”, “Ghost Shadows”, “Undead Living” and most recently “Malaformed Realities Vol. 1”. He has also published a book of often-strange single panel cartoons called “Yes I Smelled It Too; Cartoons For The Slightly Off Center”. All of his books are published through Sunbury Press.


Rick R. Reed draws inspiration from the lives of gay men to craft stories that quicken the heartbeat, engage emotions, and keep the pages turning. Although he also writes horror, thrillers, and comedy, his attention always returns to the power of love. He’s the award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction and is forever at work on yet another book. Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA.


Latest posts by ITW (see all)
  1. To be truthful, I’m not entirely sure the meaning of this question. Could be I’m just reading it wrong. Should it read, Horror and thrillers, do they mix and match? Or perhaps I should take it literally. Horror in thrillers. In other words, is it okay to mix some horror into a straight up psychological thriller, or even a detective novel?

    The answer for me personally, is that I’ve done so on both accounts. I wrote a novel called The Remains that to date has sold a couple hundred thousand editions from two different publishers. It not only mixes and matches the horror with the psychological thriller, but there some literary and women’s contemporary issues mixed in as well, the difficulties of having lost an identical twin sister to cancer among them. The follow up to The Remains, The Ashes is also a psychological thriller but it relies heavily on horror and suspense.

    As for a straight, traditional hard-boiled detective novel mixing with the horror genre, I wrote a novel for Thomas & Mercer called Murder by Moonlight, which most definitely combines the horror with the usual gum-shoe investigative plot. But this novel is special in that it’s based entirely on a true story that occurred in a small town outside Albany, New York back in the early 2000s. The morbid plot is as follows: when a seemingly normal if not popular and over-achieving college student decides to return home from school one night unannounced to axe murder both his parents in their bed while they sleep, an entire peace loving town becomes terrorized. The fact that this story actually happened only makes the novel more horrific.

    The mixing of genres in general has become far easier in recent years with the advent of indie publishing. While traditional publishers might be wary of mixing one genre with another, simply because they are reluctant to change anything about their age old model, the indies, on the other hand, will experiment with just about anything. Psych suspense with horror, western horror, African American BDSM horror, billionaire erotic romance horror, even space fantasy unicorn horror…You get the idea. But the point for indie writers is that there is nothing stopping them from writing precisely what they want, how they want, when they want. So long as their audience, or tribe, is happy, the sky is the limit. What’s next, cozy Christian mystery horror?

    Okay, so in the final analysis, it is indeed perfectly fine to mix and match horror with thrillers. But did I read the question right? You be the judge and let me know how you feel.

  2. The line between horror and thriller seems to me to be getting blurry. What makes something a horror story as opposed to a gruesome thriller? Tolerance levels for gore have risen dramatically too. Not for me though 🙂 I’m not a horror watcher or reader.

  3. As an author of horror, I’d have to say inserting the right amount of horror into thrillers can really work well for you. A good horror story should have its share of thrills and a good thriller can only be enhanced by the proper amount of horror added to spice things up.

    You may have noticed that I clarified my above statement with the terms “right” and “proper” amount of horror. The reason for this is although I’m a horror writer, I’m also a big fan of thrillers. As such, I’ve read my share of horror in thrillers. Unfortunately, much of it made me cringe with revulsion. Yes, even me who likes for lots of graphic violence in my horror stories.

    I think the reason for this is, in a “horror story” people are expecting to find over-the-top graphic horror. Also, in a horror story the mayhem is usually perpetrated on unsuspecting humans by monsters or demons. Since we all know these creatures and situations are completely imaginary and can never really happen, we tend to gloss over the gore and violence and accept it as part of the whole package.

    In the case of a thriller where we are dealing with human on human interaction, most of which actually is very possible and often probable in real life, care must be taken when adding scenes of graphic horror. For me personally, it’s disturbing to read graphic human on human violence. I can see how it might turn off someone who might otherwise enjoy the story. I just think the author needs to be careful.

    But hey, maybe that’s just me. You might feel differently.

  4. Good comments…It’s all interesting, especially the note about human on human violence Thomas, because when I wrote The Ashes, one of my beta readers (and I only have a couple), reacted by saying, “Wow, you’re now officially entering into he horror genre.” And yet, aside from some scenes in The Remains, I never intended to write a horror novel. Sure, I intended the violence, even graphic violence since it was an integral part of the story, but I never set out to write anything that could be labeled horror. Same goes for Murder by Moonlight.

  5. I stumbled upon an interesting conundrum when writing the first of my Craig McIntyre novels, Darkest Thoughts. With a supernatural element to the novel there is a smattering of violence and I felt it was edging into horror territory. Thomas makes a good point in saying that ‘horror’ readers may expect one thing and thriller readers another – and you can end up in no man’s land. For books two and three I pulled the ‘horror’ element back – it was far more impactful when I left it in the background for the reader to think on. The old ‘less is more’ approach came good as I think both novels work better because of this.
    For my tuppence worth I also think that horror is a changing term. I’m re-reading Christine by Stephen King and although it’s termed horror it’s not a blood fest – but still gives me a chill. When I read James Herbert’s ‘The Fog’ as a teenager I was scared daft. But with movies like Saw’s more visceral violence – horror has changed and so has the term. For me Vincent Price as Dracula was horror – then along came John Carpenter’s Halloween and that changed – but now with torture porn in the mix it makes the term ‘horror’ a label, as Thomas points out, that you need to be careful about as some readers may dismiss the novel out of hand if the word horror is attached to it.

  6. Horror in thrillers? Tough topic this week. If you want to stay in the Thriller genre my suggestion is don’t overdo the horror and use it with some finesse. My feeling is introducing too much horror into say a crime, espionage, or doomsday thriller draws attention way from the story line. Still, as genres become mixed and matched, the reader today has become accustomed to hybrids.
    Personally, I keep the horror off stage. In my The African Contract the threat of a nuclear weapon in the hands if terrorist is present. The bomb is described and is transported in a scene, but the results of an explosion and radiation are not described. That is left to the imagination of the reader.

    1. I agree. I much prefer psychological horror to chainsaw massacres. It’s much more subtle. How about The Boy In Striped Pyjamas? For me that is a truly horrifying story. Or Sophies Choice.

      I remember going to the drive-in once with my brother, (must have been in the late 60’s ) to see a movie billed as the most terrifying movie you’ll ever see. It was about a couple of blokes driving a truck full of nitro glycerine down a rough mountain track where any slight bump could blow everything up. Never happened of course and we knew it wouldn’t or there’d be no movie.
      Duel is still up there with the scary ones, though.

  7. As an author of both, and of books that sometimes combine the two, I have to come down on the side of–they most definitely do mix and match. I suppose it depends on how you define each genre. If you think horror is all about blood and gore and monsters under the bed and thrillers are crime procedurals, espionage, and the like, then the pairing would be off. But if you’re like me and you think horror and thrillers, at both their roots, are about fear, then I think you can see how the two actually pair very well together.

  8. I was in Salem, Massachusetts last week. If you dig a little deeper into the story, beyond the tourist stuff, into what happened back in 1692 there are some moments of horror that really hit home. Peine forte et dure (French for “hard and forceful punishment”) was used to extract confessions from a few of the poor souls in the hysteria that surrounded it all. I’ll put my hand up and admit I’m not the best with blood and the like. I’ve fainted while giving blood and passed out at the dentist when the needle appeared. When I heard about this form of torture I had to sit down for a moment. It was used by the Salem ‘court’ and involved placing weights on the chest of the person until they entered a plea. The problem is that if you pleaded guilty or not guilty your worldly goods would, either way, go to the state when you died. If you say nothing you will certainly die, but, in law, your family will inherit your wealth. When I thought of the pain and dilemma you would face under such extreme conditions it gave me half a dozen ideas that would work in my writing. So, although I may not want to place too much horror in my books, it can be an inspiration.

  9. As someone who loves horror, I generally enjoy it being present in a thriller title as well. How to mix the two is a difficult thing to define though. Me personally, I tend to view thrillers as a sub-genre of horror (but there are exceptions to every rule). This goes with the fact that horror itself is a very large, very subjective genre. Thomas mentioned human/human versus human/monster violence; for people who view human/human violence as more frightening, a thriller can and will be just as unnerving (or more) as a horror story. For others, the reverse is true. The difference that people see between these two genres often comes down to what scares them.

  10. I try to steer clear of the “horror” genre but as has been pointed out, the line between thriller and horror is blurry. There’s a lot of horror in military thrillers, but I consider that realism, not horror. I use the cover art when trying to differentiate.

MATCH UP: In stores now!


ThrillerFest XVIII: Register Today!

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