At a book signing for The Shekinah Legacy in Wayzata, Minnesota, I was asked why I write thrillers. The question stumped me momentarily, since I never before had been asked to explain my decision to write genre fiction, let alone thrillers. Why not write literary fiction, which many critics seem to favor while sticking up their noses at genre fiction? After all, literary fiction (I’ve been told) has the capacity to become art, while genre books, well…
I grew up wanting to write like the great literary masters. I studied their works in high school and college, and continued to read literary fiction after graduation. But my great passion for thrillers of all types, learned from my father who loved genre fiction, held sway. My restless mind increasingly found it difficult to sift through the minute details of a life and the slow meanderings of relationships that seem to please critics (but these days find fewer readers). In thrillers the world came alive with vivid characters and escapist plots in fantastic places I surely would never visit except between the covers of a book.
As I remarked (tongue-in-cheek) to another author once, the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction is that in genre fiction something happens. And I too often get bored when something doesn’t happen.
After time, of course, I started to become more discriminating in the thrillers I read because too many of them seemed overly contrived. Too many plots relied on coincidence (the hero again arrives just in the nick of time—really?); the characters too often seemed shallow and predictable; the stories seemed to be about… well, about nothing—like the old Seinfeld TV series; and the writing (I came to realize) was cliché-riddled and unartful.
I wondered if I could write a thriller that would still be thrilling but would be about people who sometimes died unexpectedly and often made bad decisions. That would dispense with coincidences by tight and inventive plotting. That would use writing—not just plunge-ahead plotting—to give readers that adrenalin rush they crave in thrillers. And finally that had stories that were about something, so that after reading the book you wouldn’t just start another book, but afterward would reflect on something important.
So that’s why I write thrillers—to add something a little different to the genre I love. It turned out to be much more difficult than I had thought. Some say I succeeded modestly. Many think I failed miserably. But enough people seemed pleased with my odd mash-up of conflicting elements to make all my books #1 bestsellers.
The joy of writing for me is to push the envelope a little bit with each book, and bring to the reader something unexpected.