A Thrill A Minute:
International Thriller Writers' Website
By Erin Hartshorn
International Thriller Writers is a new
writing organization (founded October 9, 2004, at Bouchercon) that covers
the gamut of thrillers -- scientific, spy, political, medical, legal -- both
in membership and in content available on their website (www.thrillerwriters.org).
According to the by-laws posted on the site, the organization’s primary
purpose is “to
promote the thriller novel, to provide opportunities for collegiality among
authors and other industry professionals, to award prizes and to sponsor and
support events and conferences and all related activities."
It helps to peruse the front page of the
site before selecting any of the links on the left-hand side. It is not at
all clear that "The Thriller World" in the sidebar refers to a collection of
articles on being a thriller writer unless one first sees the heading "Visit
our World of Thrillers" with the capsule description. The homepage also
defines what makes a thriller -- the emotion and pacing, primarily. "By
definition, if a thriller does not thrill, it is not doing its job." I
appreciate the emphasis the co-presidents placed on research and accuracy of
detail where thriller writers are at their best.
A good place to start is with Must-Read
Thrillers. It lists books and authors that have had an impact on the field,
from Poe to Conrad to le Carré to Neville, but doesn't cover anything more
recent than 1995. The organization believes it is too soon to judge what
effect, if any, recent works will have on the field. A second list of more
recent works is slated to be added to the site at some unspecified date.
These will include popular choices, rather than influential ones, and give
an idea about the current state of the thriller.
The list of influences is chronological,
from The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (Poe, 1838) to Night Sins
(Hoag, 1995) and Absolute Power (Baldacci, 1995). Many of the entries
on the list are annotated with the reasons for their inclusion. (Given time,
all works should have such notations.) Only one title is included per
author, and the choice of title by a given author is arbitrary. Thus, The
Hunt for Red October and The Heart of Darkness are representative
works, not exclusive listings of merit.
I am not convinced that the best way to
read these thrillers is in order of their publication. Although that may
yield a picture of the historical development of the genre, it may not be
practical. Difficulty finding some of the older books, having already read
some -- or many -- of the books out of the listed order, or being interested
in only a subset of the books (for example, medical thriller or spy
thrillers) might prevent a reader from following this suggestion. However, I
did print out the list and am trying to fill openings in my reading pile
with entries from it. One hundred books can take a long time to get through,
For writers, a series of articles written
by members provides both insight and guidance.
"Ten Rules for Suspense Fiction" by
novelist Brian Garfield was used by
John Grisham as a checklist when he was writing The Firm. David Dun's
article, "Character, Genre, and Other Incidentals in the Thriller Art,"
discusses what a thriller is by eliminating what it is not. He also goes
into detail on character-driven fiction and says, "I think we're using it as
a device to put readers ever closer to the edges of their seat" -- again,
going back to the definition of a thriller. There are also articles by
Jeffrey Anderson, Steve Berry, Peter Blauner, James Grippando, Raelynn
Hillhouse, Gregg Hurwitz, Eric Van Lustbader, Gayle Lynds, Katherine
Neville, Christopher Rice, and Allan Topol. I had not heard of some of these
authors before I found this site, but each has something interesting to say.
The article section of the website makes up
a self-contained book on how and why to write thrillers. It should be read
by anyone interested in working in this genre. Several of the articles
provide episodes from the history of the thriller and its ups and downs in
publishing. The glimpses into lives of other writers are amusing, such as
Peter Blauner's visit to teach writing to convicts, James Grippando's saga
of selling his first book, and Katherine Neville's discussion of why it does
not matter that it takes her a long time to write a book. The title that
really sticks in my mind, though, is Gregg Hurwitz's article "As Much Fun to
Write as to Read." That's my goal for all my writing, and his enthusiasm for
this "badder, meaner, and bigger" form of crime fiction is infectious.
If one is curious about where the group
came from (organizing thriller writers doesn't sound as difficult as herding
cats, but everyone wanted someone else to take charge), a history page is
available. It explains how they came to be incorporated with by-laws and a
new convention as well as their plans for awards for outstanding books and
movies in the thriller genre. Further reading on the history discusses such
things as why they chose to be a mutual benefit (rather than a charitable)
corporation. (For comparison, SFWA is organized as a charitable organization
according to its by-laws, and RWA simply declares itself a nonprofit.)
Most of my complaints about the site
revolve around their guestbook and mailing lists. The site has a mailing
list for announcements. Although I have signed up for it and received
acknowledgment, I received no e-mail notification about the Thriller Writers
Conference in 2006 (June 29 through July 2) -- surely news, and not on the
site when I first visited. There are also items mentioned as "coming soon"
(such as an article on more recent thrillers that are recommended reading)
with no hint of when.
Another problem I have with the mailing
list is that signing up for this also puts one on a separate mailing list to
receive chapters of current thriller books via Dearreader.com. This is a
wonderful service, and those who aren't interested can unsubscribe from
DearReader (once it actually starts; again, nothing seems to be happening
with this yet). However, the default shouldn't be that one registration puts
a person on two different mailing lists, with different rules for
There's also the niggling little detail
that the drop-down menu (on the mailing list registration) for what type of
book one reads most often contains only a few options: thriller/mystery
(lumped together), science fiction (no mention of fantasy or horror, but
presumably this is meant to cover all speculative fiction that is not also a
thriller), romance, non-fiction, and general fiction.
Overall, this is a site well worth a visit
from both writers interested in the genre and those who want to expand their
range of techniques. The website is still under development, as one might
expect for such a recently formed organization. I hope that the mailing
lists will soon become functional and some of the promised content will be
added to the website, making it worthy of many return visits.