Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Web Review:

A Thrill A Minute: International Thriller Writers' Website

By Erin Hartshorn
© 2005,
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 ( 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, though. 

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 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 unsubscribing. 

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.