by D.L. Wilson
During my “day job” in the fashion industry I was fortunate, or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it, to have traveled and worked in 32 countries. The unfortunate part was the countless hours I spent on airplanes or waiting in airports. What got me through those endless trips with some semblance of sanity was reading novels. I was fascinated by thriller authors like James Patterson, Richard North Patterson, John Sandford, David Baldacci, Clive Cussler, John Grisham, Leon Uris, Dean Koontz, the list goes on and on. I became hooked on the thriller genre. It became my reading passion. After many years and reading over a hundred books, I decided to try my hand at writing. Of course, I wanted to write a thriller.
My career in the fashion industry taught me it’s vital for your designers to understand the market before starting to design a new fashion line. Even though I had been an avid reader, I knew I’d better learn the basics before I started the writing process. Lucky an agent suggested that I be sure I knew the basics of what a “thriller” really was. He told me many beginning writers often confuse mysteries and suspense/thrillers.
I learned that the answer to the mystery versus suspense thriller question was harder than I had thought. Someone defined a suspense thriller as being similar to the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography, “I can’t define suspense thriller, but I know it when I see it.”
After much research I discovered that a mystery often opens with a murder or some sort of event that the protagonist spends the rest of the story solving. Mystery novels developed from the concept of “who-done-it and why?”
A thriller or suspense novel involves a chilling event that is threatening to happen or an escalating series of events or murders that build to a thrilling climax. One of my favorite thriller authors, James Patterson, defines thrillers as “a rich literary feast defined by the intensity of emotions they create, particularly those of apprehension and exhilaration, of excitement and breathlessness, all designed to generate that all-important thrill. By definition, if a thriller doesn’t thrill, it’s not doing its job.”
The International Thriller Writers (ITW) characterizes a thriller as “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.” In short, a thriller thrills.
I found that the allure of thrillers comes from not only what their stories are about, but also how they are told: high stakes, non-stop action, plot twists that both surprise and excite, settings that are both vibrant and exotic, and an intense pace that never lets up until the adrenalin packed climax.
Was it the nature of the stories themselves, or the way in which they were crafted that made them so captivating? I reread a number of my favorite thriller novels and wrote analyses of their structure and content. I found it to be a combination of a great story concept and superb craftsmanship that captivated the readers.
In order to learn the basics I joined various writing organizations. At conferences and meetings I learned some of the basics of fiction writing and had the opportunity to meet published authors. That networking interaction was as valuable as the workshops and presentations. As I got to know a number of successful authors, I learned a very important basic lesson. I had ASSUMED the first novels they had published were the first books they had written. I’m sure you know what ASSUME makes out of U and ME. As I got to know these authors better, they shared the intimate details about their writing careers. I found out none of the top notch authors had gotten their first book published. Most of them had written numerous works before ever getting that first publishing contract.
One of the best thriller authors, Steve Berry, who has written numerous New York Times bestsellers and is published in 50 countries, shares his hard journey on his Website. After Steve decided to start writing, he spent 12 years producing 8 manuscripts. His agent spent 7 years submitting 5 of his manuscripts, each one was rejected, 85 rejections all total. On his 86th attempt, the right-editor-at-the-right-time-with-the-right-story was found. The rest is history. Berry went on to become president of the International Thriller Writers and become an icon in the thriller world.
How did Mary Higgins Clark become a bestselling suspense author of 42 books with over 100 million sold in the U.S. alone? Mary Higgins Clark, a former Pan Am stewardess collected 40 rejection slips before her first short story was published in 1956. It took until 1969 for her first novel to be published and only in 1976 did she hit the paperback bestseller list. Perseverance and constant practice brought Mary Higgins Clark to the head of the suspense class.
Andrew Gross, the bestselling author of RECKLESS, DON’T LOOK TWICE,THE DARK TIDE, and THE BLUE ZONE, didn’t sell his first effort at a thriller, HYDRA. Andy and I were in the fashion industry while he was working on HYDRA and I was working on my first effort at a thriller. After I took a time out to co-author a university textbook, which took me 2 ½ years to complete, I contacted Andy and asked him about HYDRA. He told me he had gotten a number of rejections and one publisher asked if he would mind if they sent a copy of his novel to one of their authors who was looking for someone to co-author thrillers with him. He agreed. That author’s name was James Patterson! Andy went on to co-author some of the women’s murder club thrillers and 3 other thrillers with Patterson that hit all the bestseller lists.
The lesson from these examples is that successful authors learn to accept rejection because they have a passion for writing. The most important point to remember is: Stick With It! Don’t Give Up! Do it for your enjoyment, not as a road to riches. The road is very long and hard with many car wrecks along the way. Write for the passion and enjoyment of the process, not for the money. If the money comes, congratulations!
D. L. Wilson worked his way through the ranks of engineering and management to become president, CEO, and Managing Director of US and international companies, consultant to industries and governments in 32 countries, and a university professor.
Wilson’s extensive international travel as an executive and consultant spawned his fascination with world cultures, exotic locales, diverse religious beliefs, and foreign governments. He found the perfect outlet for his interests in the captivating world of fiction.
Clive Cussler called Wilson’s first novel, UNHOLY GRAIL “a tale rich with intrigue that grips the imagination. A must read.” His latest thriller, SIROCCO is receiving rave reviews. James Rollins said “SIROCCO is both a razor-edged thriller and a tour de force.” Steve Berry said, “D.L. Wilson is a wry, appealing voice in the thriller world. This one is well worth a look.”
D.L. Wilson and his wife Miki, a property management executive as well as Wilson’s muse and research trip partner, divide their time between Bucks County, Pennsylvania and Baltimore County, Maryland. Visit his website at www.dlwilsonbooks.com.
Image courtesy of Belovodchenko Anton.