August 6 – 12: “Do you enjoy films with authors as protagonists?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Whether it’s The Motorcycle Diaries and Midnight in Paris, or Misery and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, writers have always played some of our favorite protagonists. This week we ask ITW members James Hilton, Lynn Cahoon, Mysti Berry, David Bell, David Simms, Frank Zafiro and R. J. Pineiro the age-old question: Do you enjoy films with authors as protagonists? Why? Scroll down to the “comments” section to see how this one plays out!


James Hilton lives in the rugged but beautiful North of England with his wife Wendy. He is the author of the Gunn Brothers Thriller series plus has been published in various fan favourite anthologies. Not to be confused with the beloved author of Goodbye Mr Chips and Lost Horizon, this James Hilton is still very much alive. Alongside his older brother Matt Hilton (author of the bestselling Joe Hunter Thrillers), James trained in the martial arts since the age of 11, first in the strict routines of Shotokan Karate then later in the very effective combat style of Kempo JuJitsu. His other passions include visiting Florida and the Caribbean, reading horror, suspense and action thrillers. He is currently working on the next book in the ‘Gunn Brothers Thriller’ series from Titan Books and also researching material for the first book in a new YA series.


Lynn Cahoon is the author of the New York Times and USA Today best-selling Tourist Trap cozy mystery series. Guidebook to Murder, book 1 of the series, won the Reader’s Crown for Mystery Fiction in 2015. She also pens the Cat Latimer series available in mass market paperback. This year, she’s releasing Who Moved my Goat Cheese in March as part of the new Farm to Fork series. She also writes romance under Lynn Collins. She lives in a small town like the ones she loves to write about with her husband and two fur babies.


The authors of Low Down Dirty VoteKris Calvin, Alison Catharine, Ray Daniel, David Hagerty, Mariah Klein, Derek Marsh, Jr, Catriona McPherson, Camille Minichino, Ann Parker, Travis Richardson and James Ziskin, live on both American coasts. Amongst them they have dozens of writing awards. From high-tech, education, journalism, and more, the backgrounds and worldview of these writers are as varied as America itself. The editor, Mysti Berry, has been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and other anthologies. This is her first charity anthology.


David Bell is a bestselling and award-winning author whose work has been translated into multiple foreign languages. He’s currently an associate professor of English at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he directs the MFA program. He received an MA in creative writing from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and a PhD in American literature and creative writing from the University of Cincinnati. His previous novels are Bring Her Home, Since She Went Away, Somebody I Used to Know, The Forgotten Girl, Never Come Back, The Hiding Place, and Cemetery Girl.


David Simms lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with his wife, son, and animals. He works as a teacher, counselor, music therapist, ghost tour guide, book reviewer, and founding guitarist in the Killer Thriller Band/Slushpile band. FEAR THE REAPER is his second novel.



Frank Zafiro was a police officer from 1993 to 2013. He is the author of more than 20 novels, mostly crime fiction, including the River City series and the Ania series. In addition to writing, Frank hosts the crime fiction podcast Wrong Place, Write Crime. He is an avid hockey fan and a tortured guitarist. He currently lives in Redmond, Oregon.


R. J. Pineiro is a thirty-year veteran of the computer industry as well as the author of many internationally acclaimed novels, including The Fall, Without Mercy, and Ashes of Victory. Pineiro makes his home in central Texas with his wife, Lory.


  1. Yes, I enjoy the author protagonist situation but in my preferred genres of thriller/horror. The writer as a protagonist is not one that strikes us as an immediately heroic character, but just as in real life heroes come in all shapes and sizes. I must admit to having a soft spot for an ‘everyman’ hero thrust into peril.
    In order to fully answer this question, I had to resort to a wee bit of research a la google. In all honesty I struggled to think of more than my first two entries.

    The first two movies that sprang to mind were MISERY and SECRET WINDOW. Both of course from the imagination of a certain Mr King. The authors in both movies experience personal trauma (especially in Misery) and are forced into extreme circumstances. I also enjoyed the introspection and borderline madness within both characters. With Mort Rainey in Secret Window it is reminiscent of the style employed in American Psycho. Paul Sheldon in Misery is thrust into a survival horror situation that grows steadily into a life or death situation. I loved both the books and the movies equally. As with all adaptations, the written versions go deeper into the psyche, motivation and thoughts but we must give a fair nod to both James Caan and Johnny Depp in their roles.

    Other notable entries would include:
    Death Trap with Christopher Reeves and Michael Caine. The murderously envious mind of the writer is deliciously explored in this slow burn thriller. Excellent.
    Naked Lunch…sheer madness.
    A nod must also go out to Hank Moody of Californication fame. Hank’s frustrations, writer’s block, addictions and personal problems are all fully explored in this eye-opening program. The full range of human emotions are skilfully covered in this show.
    Big Driver, another Stephen King adaptation once again ventures into the survival horror genre but is interesting as the author is a woman. Harrowing at times.

    All of my choices of course examine the darker aspects of the writer’s life, but hey, I too am a thriller writer, I like the darkness. I just wish I’d written some of these on my list. Hey Mr King, I’m your number one fan…

  2. Real writers spend much of their time sitting still, thinking or typing, broken up by brief periods of passively observing other people. It’s very hard to drive a plot from behind a typewriter! So filmmakers have to take the writer out of their normal world, as in Romancing the Stone, and they cease to be writers in the context of the story. My first thought is: writer-protagonists in movies seldom stay writers for long.

    [SPOILER ALERT!] My favorite film with a writer has the luckless fellow as the protagonist’s murder victim: The Player. I saw this movie shortly before I moved to L.A. to try my hand at screenwriting. I only lasted 18 months, but at least I escaped with my life. That film forever colored how I look at the relationship between screenwriting and producing movies.

    One kind of writer-as-protagonist movie that I find compelling: stories about journalists. Because the spine of most of these movies is a dogged pursuit of the truth hidden by some sort of mystery, I’m a total sucker for them: All the President’s Men, Spotlight, The Post, I love them all. Finally, biopics about women writers always pull me in: Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, Angel at My Table, Dash and Lil, and The Hours jumped to the top of my To Be Seen pile. Okay, Barton Fink and Deconstructing Harry, too, though I’m not sure how many pages a day Barton actually churned out… Hm, I guess I do like movies with writer-protagonists after all!

      1. I suppose that’s true for lawyers and accountants, too, except for the hyphenates like accountant-hired-killer 😉

  3. I love writers as a major character in film adaptations. Of course, I love the twist of the writer. And I’m addicted to happy endings. In Supernatural, the writer character turned out to be actually writing the lives of the demon hunting Dean and Sam. And was it any surprise when the writer turned out to be the missing God?

    I just finished AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman and one of his characters, an old Egyptian god, is also a storyteller. I don’t know exactly how they’ll portray this character on the Starz film version, but I know he’s there since the first episode has his opening lines being written on camera.

    Having a writer in the film gives people an idea of what authors do, but usually an incorrect version. I’d love to see a version of American Writer (versus Idol). Contestants would write to a theme, then the judges would read their works and kick off the least successful. Two hours of watching people write. Okay, so maybe not.

    Writer protagonists are successful because readers what to know the magic stuff. What does a writer do, day after day, to finally surface with the story. I think they’d be less excited to know if they realized the magic stuff is sitting down and working.

  4. The Ghost Writer is a terrific film of The Ghost by Robert Harris. He and Polanski did the screenplay.

    The Muse is another about a screenwriter–can’t remember much about it though which may say something.

    Does Chevy Chase count as a writer in Funny Farm? He certainly portrays the difficulty of a wannabe writer with all the talk and no ideas whereas his wife just quietly does it. Interesting contrast, I think.

    1. Oh, great call! The Ghost Writer was fascinating! I’d forgotten about The Muse, too 🙂
      Will have to rent Funny Farm, I missed that one…

  5. What a delicious question! First, I hate it because if I’m writing so much, what writer wants to watch a film about another writer suffering? Hell, we suffer plenty already! The writing is fun for me, but the rest of it, especially the business side? I’m also a teacher. I can’t stand films about teachers. Why? They’re kind of boring, just like the author movies. I want to live vicariously through others, like someone with a cool profession.
    Second, I love them – when they’re done right, they can be great. Misery? Definitely. I’ve yet to have a #1 fan, but if I do, the psychologist in me is ready for it. Ghost Writer? Sure, falling into the dark world of espionage? Awesome. Then there’s Lee Goldberg’s True Fiction. I sure hope that gets made into a film because it’s pure off the rails fun and most ITW authors I’ve met love it.
    Then there’s The Shining.
    Writers are just like the normal people, without the normal side. We want to be thrilled and taken out of our shells. I think Jurassic Park or The Avengers needs a writer… or teacher. Just sayin…

      1. Yes, THE SHINING. Every spouse or partner of a writer expects to one day walk up to the computer and see “All work and no play…” over and over again…

          1. Actually…
            There’s a ghost story about kids running the halls at night (heard but not seen).

            And… they play The Shining 24 hours a day on the hotel network.

  6. Yes and no. Obviously a lot of well-known books and movies have done this. Stephen King does it all the time. (SALEM’S LOT, MISERY, etc) But it can seem like a little bit of a cop out to me when it happens. There are a couple of reasons to have a writer as a protagonist in a movie or book. 1. That’s what a writer knows about instead of having to research or learn about another career. 2. Writers can have a lot of free time. They can drop what they’re doing and dash off from the keyboard to solve a crime or get involved in other trouble. (I know most writers have day jobs and families and can’t do this, but fictional writers can do it all the time.)

    I think it’s only really relevant to have a writer as a protagonist if the job of writer relates directly to the story being told. BARTON FINK was about being a writer. Then there are biopics in which we learn about the life of a well-known writer. (Like TRUMBO.) But it can also seem a little bit like naval gazing. A writer writing about the life of a writer.

    I like it the most when movies and TV shows and books show a fairly realistic representation of a writer’s life. Not all writers are rich. Not all are famous. Not all are drunks or deadbeats.

    1. Great call on avoiding the cliches! Barton Fink is my favorite “guard rail.” As long as I don’t start acting/talking like Barton Fink, I’m probably okay 🙂

  7. I certainly do. I’ve always felt that writers who go on to star in their own movies–and sometimes even direct them–add a level of authenticity and passion to the film. I can almost feel the countless hours spent behind the keyboard permeating in their performances on the screen. As an author, I have this feeling in the back of my head that sometimes there may be something that gets “lost in translation” from the scriptwriter to the film protagonist–a gap that is bridged by skilled authors who also have the gift to perform in front of a camera.

    Some notable examples that come to mind are the Rocky series and The Expendables movies starring Sylvester Stallone. Good Will Hunting won Ben Affleck and Matt Daemon their first Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Adam Sandler co-wrote and starred in Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison. There’s also Emma Thompson, who authored the screenplay and then starred in the 1996 Oscar-winning Sense and Sensibility. And a final example would be Billy Bob Thornton, who made his own luck by writing, directing, and starring in the 1996 film Sling Blade, which earned him his first Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

    1. Obviously if you can get the writer involved as closely as possible you can get a better movie. It helps to have someone who cares that much about the story, right?

    2. I think there’s also a downside to have the writer also direct or act. Film is such a collaborative art form–the push and pull amongst writer, director, shooter, and actor can sometimes create something better than if two or more of them fill the same role. Can prevent indulgences. That said, I think all your examples (dang it, I keep missing Expendables) are of the good kind–where the vision of the author was well served by the talent of that same person as actor. (Also, I love the notes Thompson wrote in the book about S&S–she’s a lovely writer!). Maybe writer-director is the more dangerous hyphenate? Nonetheless, I miss that little bubble of indie film from the 1990s…

  8. One of the first movies that I thought of for this roundtable was “Throw Momma from the Train” released in 1987 starring Billy Crystal as the writer and Danny DeVito as a student in Crystal’s writing class. They have great chemistry together and it’s a very funny movie. It has a happy ending with both of them authoring best sellers. Hooray for Hollywood!

  9. My initial thought was no. I mean, what’s exciting about a writer? Unless you’re talking about a journalist investigating something, then nothing.

    Then I realized that, just like any other profession, it is more about the story and the characters than the particular job the protag holds.

    THEN…I started thinking about all of those things that are particular to writers, because let’s face it, we’re a weird bunch. Even when you throw in this factor, though, I realized that for the most part, a writer protag isn’t super interesting to me.

    And then… I thought of FALL FROM INNOCENCE: THE BODY, a novella in Stephen King’s DIFFERENT SEASONS that was the basis the film STAND BY ME. Love that story. And I had to admit that some of what makes the novella compelling to me is the way the protag sees the world, both through his writing, in his retrospective, and as a kid. So I suppose there’s at least one exception to my initial response of “No, not really.”

    1. Oh, I was wondering about that one! it’s going on the top of my queue since you recommend it!

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