I’ve always enjoyed reading about authors who lucked up by hitting the right agent who sent their manuscript to the right publisher at the right time. Problem is it never happened to me. I got a good agent for the first book I wrote when I turned to fiction fulltime after retirement. He promptly sent the manuscript to several editors who viewed it favorably but turned it down for a variety of reasons. Then he left the agency and the principal agent informed me she couldn’t take it on because she concentrated on non-fiction.
By that time I had finished the second book in what I had decided to make a trilogy of thrillers. I had another disappointing experience with that manuscript (the agent died), and the last book in the series met a somewhat similar fate. They lay on my office floor for the next twenty years until the ebook revolution coaxed me to dig them out, polish my prose, have them re-edited, create attractive covers, and put them up on Amazon. The first two are out and the third will be soon.
During the intervening years I had switched my emphasis in writing from the thriller to the pure mystery, or whodunit, if you prefer. But reading and revising those first three books reinvigorated my interest in the thriller genre. I’ve done some interviews lately and one of the favorite questions is what books or authors would you compare yours to?
At the suggestion of some fellow authors, I chose to call my trilogy Post Cold War Political Thrillers. They take place in the early nineties just after the end of the Cold War. I would compare them in many ways to Tom Clancy’s books. While my stories include a modest amount of technological developments, they’re nowhere near the techno-loaded style of Clancy. Besides exciting plot elements, I concentrated on building realistic, fully-developed characters. In his review of the first book, Beware the Jabberwock, Tim Hallinan, popular author of the Poke Rafferty Bangkok thriller series, wrote:
“Here he’s working in the global intelligence thriller territory of Ludlum and Trevanian, but (I’m happy to say) with more character development.”
In his introduction to an anthology of thrillers, James Patterson mentioned a long list of types, then added, “But what gives the variety of thrillers a common ground is the intensity of emotions they create, particularly those of apprehension and exhilaration, of excitement and breathlessness, all designed to generate that all-important thrill.”
While I strive to include all of those ingredients, I provide ups and downs rather than nonstop nail-biting. I think readers need an occasional opportunity to catch their breath. The second book on my trilogy, The Poksu Conspiracy, is a hybrid of a political thriller and a mystery thriller. While the main protagonist, American Burke Hill, is involved in working to thwart an international catastrophe, the secondary character, South Korean Homicide Detective Yun Yu-sop, methodically tracks down a hired assassin.
The third book in the trilogy, Overture to Disaster, has plot threads that race back and forth to keep the tension high. The book blurb sums it up this way:
“The theft of Soviet nerve gas weapons as the Cold War ends, and the fate of a Special Operations helicopter mission to Iran set the stage for a thrill ride across continents as international chicanery gone wild seeks to restore dictatorial rule. Can a disgraced Air Force colonel, a Belarus investigator framed for murder, and a spymaster suddenly left in the cold stop a disaster in Washington?”
If you choose to write international thrillers, it helps to have experienced an up-close view of other parts of the world. Following a sojourn in war-torn Korea courtesy of Uncle Sam, I had toured England and much of Western Europe, Mexico, Canada, and a good portion of the Far East. I used various books and guidebooks to supplement my firsthand knowledge.
In his anthology introduction mentioned above, James Patterson listed “the legal thriller, spy thriller, action-adventure thriller, medical thriller, police thriller, romantic thriller, historical thriller, political thriller, religious thriller, high-tech thriller, military thriller” as examples of the genre. It has been one of the most popular areas that fall under the broad mystery umbrella. Will I forsake my private investigators and return to it?
Probably not. I have gained a following with my older protagonists, Greg and Jill McKenzie and the slightly younger Sid Chance. At my age, I’m more comfortable with that crowd. But I might try a different take on the pure thriller in the future. Maybe an old guy who discovers something more sinister than a questionable prediction about December 21, 2012.
Chester D. Campbell has written five Greg McKenzie mysteries featuring a retired Air Force OSI agent and his wife, two Sid Chance PI mysteries, and has published two books in a Post Cold War thriller trilogy. Chester is a former newspaper reporter, freelance writer, magazine editor, political speechwriter, advertising copywriter, public relations pro and association executive. He was an Air Force intelligence officer in the Korean War, retiring from the Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel. He is past secretary of the Southeast Chapter of MWA and is past president of the Middle Tennessee Chapter of Sisters-in-Crime.
(The Killer Nashville Guest Blog series is coordinated by KN Executive Director Beth Terrell (http://www.elizabethterrell.com/). To be a part of this series, contact Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org.)