Over the course of my publishing career, friends have encouraged me to write a thriller: "How hard can it be?" Even my late mother used to say, "Write something like those books on the bestseller list." She meant thrillers, of course.
I've published memoirs, biography, psychology, historical fiction, mysteries, literary fiction, a Jane Austen mashup, an essay collection, and more -- but never a thriller. It's not snobbery. I love the genre. Some of my favorite authors are Ken Follett, Daniel Silva, Leslie Forbes and John Burdett. And when it comes to movies, I'm a huge fan of the Jason Bourne trilogy. I've watched recent films like Unknown several times and I even liked Eagle Eye and Salt, which most critics panned.
I enjoy reading well-written books where there are earth-shattering secrets, a race against the clock, harrowing twists and turns, lives constantly under threat. But I don't have an itch to create one. Writing a thriller would be like trying to cook a complex meal I'm not exactly sure I want to make and might not enjoy when it's done. And if I feel that kind of ambivalence, why would readers respond positively?
I don't agree at all with anyone who thinks that writing thrillers is easy. They demand even more skill than writing a mystery, even though they might look superficially simple. Perhaps it's the quick pace that deceives some readers. Or their ubiquity. Or the crazy success of very flawed thrillers like The Da Vinci Code. And there really are an awful lot of bad thrillers out there. I know, because I reviewed crime fiction for almost a decade for the Detroit Free Press and other newspapers.
I also don't agree with people like blogger Jeff Goins who encourage young writers to imitate The Hunger Games -- which I enjoyed as an airplane read -- because it's "the future of writing." How can anyone be sure what people will be reading even next year? And why should people attempt work in a genre if that's not where their natural talent lies?
Passion is a key ingredient for any book. Now, you may be passionate about copying a current success so that you can be translated into two dozen languages and sell millions of books. But is that hunger as deep as writing what you really want to, writing from your heart, writing a story you feel nobody else in the world can tell but you? If it is, good luck!
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