Archive for May, 2010

Even among “experts,” there seems to be quite a bit of confusion (mostly on my part) about what a thriller is. And how does a thriller differ from a mystery?

I’ve heard several definitions, some contradictory.

I heard one definition at a writers’ conference: Mysteries are more cerebral with a puzzle (usually a murder) to solve; thrillers are more action-oriented.

Donald Maass in his great book, “Writing the Breakout Novel,” says that the plot events in thrillers have to accomplish 2 things: they need to be utterly believable and utterly incredible. High stakes are required whether they’re personal or global.

“Writers Market FAQ” by Peter Rubie explains that in Thrillers (and Suspense novels), the protagonist is constantly in danger.

I recently read that it’s a matter of the “stakes.” Is it a global story involving espionage, the fate of thousands if not millions of people, etc.?  Then it’s a thriller. If it’s smaller, more intimate, a more confined setting, it’s a mystery.

In “Don’t Get Dead,” my protagonist, Gracie Kinkaid, faces obstacles on three fronts. Two are physical: the elements (she gets stranded in a blizzard high in the mountains and must keep Rob Christian alive with very limited resources) and an unknown killer stalking her and Rob for unknown reasons. The third is emotional/psychological–she must battle her own self-doubts. The stakes are constantly raised, then raised again throughout until the final confrontation.

Which still doesn’t solve the problem: Is “Don’t Get Dead” a thriller or mystery?

My conclusion: Pick one. It’s whatever the person you’re dealing with (agent, editor, publisher) says it is. If they want to label it a mystery, that’s what it is. If they say it’s a thriller, then that’s what it is.

So, for the moment anyway, I’m plugging “Don’t Get Dead” as a mystery.

Any ideas? Suggestions? Opinions?

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Just how far would you go to save the life of someone you don’t know?

I’ve just finished my new book, Don’t Get Dead, a mystery about Search and Rescue expert, Gracie Kinkaid. who is caught in a sudden snowstorm in the mountains of Southern California. She has to fight to keep not only herself alive,  but also injured British movie star, Rob Christian. Her teammate has disappeared with the only radio, their food is running out, and the only thing between them and the storm is a makeshift shelter Gracie has built with a sheet of plastic. If that’s not bad enough, Gracie discovers the frozen body of one of Rob’s hiking partner, Tristan Chambers.  She realizes that not only has Tristan been murdered, but the killer is out there in the wild stalking Rob and Gracie.

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An agent I had queried agreed to read “Don’t Get Dead.” She eventually rejected representing it/me; however, she sent me such valuable, detailed feedback, it was like a lightbulb went on in my head. I got it. I knew exactly what had to change about the book and its characters and did yet another major revision of the book incorporating many of her suggestions. (Some I didn’t agree with, and so left those portions as is.)

The result? A much more compelling book. Gracie, the heroine, is much more active and her and the antagonist’s characters are better fleshed out and complex.

So even though the rejection was disappointing, in the long run, it was a good thing.

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