“Thriller Thursdays” – Keys for Suspense

Present word count of WIP:  59,985

How to write “Killer Thrillers” that make readers say, I can’t put the book down because the suspense is killing me?

I hope to come up with answers to that on my own as I read these top thrillers. The Silence of the Lambs was terrific all the way through.

I’ve now begun Stieg Larrson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and honestly found the beginning a bit spotty. The prologue was wonderful (I am not against prologues when they’re done well), but the next 15 pages or so felt info-dumpy…until I got to that girl. You know. The one with the tattoo. Talk about an intriguing character! Now I’m hooked.

Stay tuned. I should have it finished by next Thursday.

In the meantime, here are five suggestions given by novelist Daniel Palmer (son of bestselling writer Michael Palmer) at this year’s Thrillerfest for getting started on writing a “killer thriller.” (I particularly loved the idea of “cannibal stew.”)

What do you think of his suggestions? And do you think prologues get in the way of a good thriller? Do you even read them?

Originally posted 2012-07-12 11:28:55.

“Thriller Thursday” Preview and How Suspense Fits In

Present word count of WIP:  59,427

They say not all thrillers are suspense novels and not all suspense novels are thrillers. So what’s the difference? And how does Mystery fit in?

It remains confusing in my mind, but I like Maeve Maddux’s delineation here. Nevertheless, I think one of the reasons I’m taking on this huge reading project is to help me clarify these genres.

As defined by International Thriller Writers, you can characterize a true thriller by “the sudden rush of emotions, the excitement, sense of suspense, apprehension, and exhilaration that drive the narrative, sometimes subtly with peaks and lulls, sometimes at a constant, breakneck pace.”

For a lengthier description of what makes a novel a thriller, I recommend this site.

For those of you who haven’t yet looked up NPR’s list of “Killer Thrillers,” these are the first 20 I’ll be devouring in order:

1. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris 

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

3. Kiss the Girls, by James Patterson

4. The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum

5. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

6. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

7. The Shining, by Stephen King 

8. And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie

9. The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy

10. The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

11. Dracula, by Bram Stoker

12. The Stand, by Stephen King

13. The Bone Collector, by Jeffery Deaver

14. Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton 

15. Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown

16. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham

17. The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton

18. Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane

19. The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth

20. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

In all honesty, I’ve already read at least seven of these thrillers (I can’t recall for sure if I read “The Andromeda Strain” or if I’m simply remembering the movie). However, I am not going to skip over those I’ve already read. I’ll read ALL of them in order to gain the full perspective.

One of my readers, Bob, already contacted me about having read and/or seen the movie version of most on this list. I realized then that much of what we might think of these stories has likely been slanted either positively or negatively by their movie versions. I thought that would make for a couple of good questions to put to all of you:

How many of these first 20 have you actually read (before seeing the movie)? (If you only saw the movie, it doesn’t count.) Of those you have read, which would you rank at the top?

 

 

 

Originally posted 2012-06-28 13:16:14.

Publishing’s Paradigm Shift – e-Books and e-Readers

Electronic readers, or eReaders, have been around for a while. I remember visiting a good friend six or seven years ago, whose husband was an avid fan. He pulled out two or three different kinds to show me. While I wasn’t that impressed at the time, he wisely predicted the day would soon come that the right platform and right device would eventually come along and tear down the wall that major publishing houses had built around themselves and all their readers.

Enter Amazon (the most popular platform of choice at present) and the Kindle. Soon after the Kindle, we got Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Sony eReader, and then Apple’s iPad. Here are some statistics I shared at the retreat:

  • There are currently 49 different E-reading devices, including:
  1. –Kindle (Amazon)
  2. –iPad (Apple)
  3. –Nook (Barnes & Noble)
  4. –Kobo (Kobo Books)
  5. –Sony Reader (Sony)
  6. –? (Google)
  • Retailers will sell 6.6 million e-readers this year (3 million iPads have already been sold)
  • By year’s end, 20% of households will have an e-reader.

I put a question mark at #6 above, because a lot of rumors are flying around about Google coming out soon with its own device to hook up with its platform, Google Editions. A recent LA Times article by Carolyn Kellogg played up this point:

“…Google announced it would move forward with its e-bookstore Google Editions, filling it with books whose rights were not under dispute…As if Google Editions weren’t enough, Google has another big question mark looming this season: Will it launch an e-reader? It is well positioned to rival Amazon.com and Apple as a major purveyor of e-books—and if it follows their leads, it will pair content with device and launch its own e-reader. The most recent rumors say that Google will launch a tablet manufactured either by HTC or Motorola, based on either Chrome or Android. Everyone seems to agree that Verizon is the likely wireless partner.” (Carolyn Kellogg, “Fall Preview: Publishing,” LA Times, Sept. 12, 2010)

My friend’s husband was right. Now that we’re coming out with the right platforms and devices, electronic books are here to stay.

At first, regular readers weren’t so sure. The Kindle was priced kind of high when it first came out, but as others joined in the competition, prices began to drop. Here are some more statistics I shared about eReaders:

  • 10 average priced e-books will offset $139 cost of Kindle
  • 12 average priced e-books will offset $149 cost of Nook
  • 39 average priced e-books will offset $499 cost of iPad (which is a good bit more than just an e-reader)
  • $99 can buy you the 5-inch Libre at Borders

Do you have an e-reader? I do, through my iPhone (which has a Kindle app). And we’re not alone. It’s estimated that, by the end of this year, 10.3 million U.S. homes will have an e-reader, according to Forrester Research. Not only that, but book sales are increasing because e-reader owners buy more books. E-reader owners buy an average of 15 e-books per year (and two thirds of e-readers already owned are Kindles). According to a recently released Harris poll, those who have e-Readers do, in fact, read more.

Here’s how it breaks down: Forty percent of Americans read 11+ books a year. Of those, only nineteen percent read 21+ books a year. But among those with e-Readers, 56% read 11-20 books a year with 26% reading over 21 books a year. E-reader users are also more likely to buy books (good news for us authors). And 53% of those with e-Readers say they read more now than they did six months ago. (I know I do.)

So, how are e-books doing over all?

Sales of e-books are up 200% from last year, but still only represent 3-5% of total sales for publishers (I think this statistic has probably changed over the last month). Mike Shatzkin, a publishing consultant, estimates e-books could be 20% to 25% of total unit sales by the end of 2012. Carolyn Reidy, the chief executive of Simon & Schuster, said in an interview that e-books currently made up about 8% of the company’s book revenue. She predicted that it could be as high as 40% within three to five years. Others are predicting it could go even higher–50%–by 2013.

Are e-books a good thing for us, as authors? Definitely. I tend to agree with literary agent Alexandra Machinist:

“At the moment, anything that gets readers to buy more books is a good deal for writers. I’m of the opinion that e-books provide a vast landscape of impulse purchasing and middle-of-the-night, next-in-series buys that don’t exist with traditional paper books.”

Can we make money by making our books available electronically? Definitely, but the amount we make depends on how big our audience, or platform, is.

The late Swedish writer Stieg Larsson was the first writer to sell more than 1 million Kindle books. But his books kind of caught fire and he developed a huge fan base quickly.

Can your e-book outsell your traditionally published book? Yes, given the right buzz.

In its first five days, Laura Lippman’s thriller, “I’d Know You Anywhere,” sold 4,739 e-books and 4,000 physical hardcovers. “This is the first book of ours of any consequence that has sold more e-books than hardcovers in the first week,” said Frank Albanese, a senior vice president at HarperCollins. “What we’re seeing now is that if a book gets a good review, it gets a faster lift on the digital side than it does on the physical side because people who have e-readers can buy and read it immediately.”

Every serious writer today should definitely become familiar with digital publishing. We can’t afford not to.

In my next posting, I’ll be talking about the effects of this shift on Publishers.

Originally posted 2010-10-22 11:36:13.

“Thriller Thursdays” – Slow Suspense of That Tattooed Girl

Present word count of WIP:  57,034

Stieg Larsson’s original version of the suspense novelThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, was to have been titled Men Who Hate Women (in Swedish, of course). And that may be all you need to know in order to look beyond the plot in this story for a theme.

While it has been praised all over the world and even won several awards, I have to say I was disappointed. After having just read The Silence of the Lambs, so tightly written with the type of spare and sometimes poetic prose I love, Larrson’s book felt dense and cumbersome. And I was confused about the quoted statistics regarding violence against women which began each new section…until I discovered his original title. This is definitely a book that is not nice to women, but fortunately an unlikely heroine arises to defend her gender.

Of course, this novel was edited and translated after Larsson died, so who knows how closely it hues to his original vision. It would have been interesting to see how the book might have fared had it been published before the author’s death.

For me, the main problem was that he had a terrific family saga mystery wrapped in the distant world of Swedish high finance. And that’s an Achilles heel for me. Anytime I start reading or hearing about economics, business, and numbers, my eyes glaze over and my brain tends to want to shut off. I would have enjoyed the book a lot more had he minimized the corporate world stuff and amped up the personal family story. (By “amping” I mean increasing the pacing.)

The opening Prologue was terrific because it honed in on the central mystery, intriguing the reader without giving away much. But then the story veered off into the corporate stuff in order to introduce the finance reporter who ends up tasked with solving the family mystery. My interest didn’t pick up again until about 30 pages in when the tattooed girl, Lisbeth Salander, is finally introduced.

Any time she was in a scene I was hooked. Any time she wasn’t, I found myself missing her. She’s that strong of a character. (I wasn’t surprised to learn later in the book that she’s likely on the autism spectrum.) The reporter was really quite bland in comparison and yet he appears to be the protagonist, since he takes up most of the book. Once they’re teamed to solve the mystery of the missing/dead girl (which only happens about two thirds of the way through the book), the pace finally begins to pick up.

Then, after the mystery’s solved, Larsson brings back the corporate stuff so the reporter can get his revenge on the corrupt financier who had sued him in the first place…but it takes away from the power that was in essence returned to women in the conclusion of the mystery.

In sum, I don’t understand why this was the huge hit that it was. The novel was too drawn-out and disjointed for my taste, not to mention it had some offensive scenes I skipped over. I’m giving it three stars.

Still, there were some quotes I liked:

“Normally seven minutes of another person’s company was enough to give her a headache so she set things up to live as a recluse. She was perfectly content as long as people left her in peace. Unfortunately society was not very smart or understanding.”

“Everyone has secrets. It’s just a matter of finding out what they are.”

“Friendship – my definition – is built on two things. Respect and trust. Both elements have to be there. And it has to be mutual. You can have respect for someone, but if you don’t have trust, the friendship will crumble.”

If you’ve read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I’d love to hear what you thought. Did it hold your interest the whole way? Who was the real protagonist?

Next on my list: James Patterson’s Kiss the Girls . . . I’m expecting a fast read, so I’ll be reviewing it next Thursday.

 

Originally posted 2012-07-19 11:34:58.