Tag: domestic suspense

domestic suspense

Why the pseudo?

Why the Pseudo?     It’s the question I get asked most when talking about my debut novel, I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU (Thomas & Mercer, 2018). If you look on Amazon, you’ll find the author of that book is “S.M. Thayer.” Which doesn’t match the name listed on  the byline of this guest post. So what’s up with that?  Until a couple years ago, I saw myself as a writer of wry absurdist fiction. Despite the efforts of several really good literary agents, none of my novels came close to being published though. The emotional toll of writing these failed novels was high. Something had to give—I either needed to stop writing to spare myself of the heartache of failure or drastically reconceptualize what I wanted to do. In January 2016, I read Paula Hawkins’s THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. It was my first dip into the domestic suspense/psychological thriller genre. Hawkins’s fast-paced twisty plot, her bevy of largely unlikeable characters, and the inadvisable choices these characters made, provided immense readerly pleasure. More than anything, I was struck by the novel’s narrative propulsion. I tore through the pages and then dweebishly Googled, “Books like GIRL ON THE TRAIN” to find similar books. The genre had me hooked. I devoured domestic suspense and psychological thrillers like nobody’s business, reading about twenty of them over the course of a few months.  More than anything, I wanted to write a domestic suspense novel of my own.  Before beginning to write I’LL NEVER LEAVE YOU, I never tried to write an accessible plot-based novel. It felt immediately different to me, and exciting. My characters were fundamentally selfish in an underhanded way, yet human enough to have moments of sublime generosity and noble aspirations. The conflict between selfishness and generosity hooks each of these characters up and creates the novel’s tension and narrative momentum. The novel had life. Which, honestly, was what my failed novels lacked: life. Several agents offered to represent this new novel. A couple voiced concerns that the digital footprint I established as “Nick Kocz.” If you Google my name, you’re apt to find a bunch of bizarre short stories that could prejudice the way potential editors and readers approached my novel.  To get around this problem, I weighed the idea of using a pen name. I’m a Scott Fitzgerald buff. During Fitzgerald’s last years, he’d been unable to sell his stories to top-flight commercial magazines. The Saturday Evening Post, which had long been Fitzgerald’s cash cow, quit publishing him in 1937. By 1940, he was desperate. In a letter to one of his editors, he wrote,“I’m awfully tired of being Scott Fitzgerald anyhow, as there doesn’t seem to be so much money in it, and I’d like to find out if people read me just because I am Scott Fitzgerald or, what is more likely, don’t read me for the same reason.” Fitzgerald’s solution was to try using a pen name.  Lord knows, there’s really no money to be had in being Nick Kocz. I wish it were otherwise. None of my previous book-length manuscripts have been published. More than anything, I wanted to give I’LL NEVER LEAVE YOU the best chance possible at finding a readership. The novel represented a rebirth for me, something befitting of a new name. So I offered to let the novel go out under a pseudonym. If Fitzgerald was willing to try a pen name, who was I to say I was above giving it a try? In the end, the name on the cover means nothing. What matters are the words and stories between the covers.  Nick Kocz’s debut novel, I’LL NEVER LEAVE YOU (Thomas & Mercer, 2018) was written under the pen name of S.M. Thayer. He’s an award-winning fiction writer and McDowell Fellow whose work has appeared in numerous publications and received several Pushcart Prize nominations. A native of New York, Thayer lived for decades in the Washington, DC, metropolitan region before moving to rural Virginia and earning an MFA from Virginia Tech. He lives in Blacksburg, VA with his wife and three children.

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Fitting Reading into a Writing Schedule

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”–Stephen King If anyone can speak authoritatively on what’s required to be a writer, it’s prolific Stephen King. I found his book “On Writing” to be an enlightening mix of craft instruction and autobiography and I have admired his work since first sneaking a collection of his short stories from my parents’ bookshelf as an eight-year-old. I agree with his point on reading. Writers must read other books in their genre to understand what is working and why (and what isn’t). And, we need to read writers that we admire in order to push ourselves and elevate our own craft. Finding time, however, is a challenge.  I don’t read when I am writing. I am too concerned about unconsciously adopting aspects of characters that I like or another author’s cadence.  In between edits is when I devour books, particularly those in the genre of my upcoming novels so I have a sense of how my book will fit with and, most importantly, bring something new, to the cannon. I have a couple weeks until I get my new edit back and I am trying to read a book every other day. It’s been a fun week filled with great psychological thrillers. I’ve read The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena, Little Pretty Things by Lori Radar Day, The Good Girl by Mary Kubica, Summer House Swimming Pool by Herman Koch. Now onto The Girls by Emma Cline.  When do you fit reading into your writing schedule?  

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The Danger Of Too Much Truth In Fiction

Thriller writers must be careful about being too honest about the extent of human depravity lest we be accused of unbelievability. In truth, human beings are capable of far more horrific behaviors than most of us thriller authors could ever write about. Today, for example, I read a story in the Washington Post about people who brutally murdered a former friend for allegedly attempting to steal their marijuana smoking device. The brothers presumed responsible made the victim consume kitty litter before posting photos of the brutal attack on snapchat, an online messaging platform. If I had a villain who I had not established was a psychopath or drug syndicate enforcer perpetrate a similar crime, I’d certainly be accused of taking too much license. How could readers believe that individuals, not under the influence of some psychosis-inducing PCP-type drug, would be so horrible to another human being, especially a person they had liked enough to invite into their home?  In my last book, The Widower’s Wife, a few readers took issue with a character sneaking back into America via a cruise ship. They said that coming into the U.S. without papers couldn’t possibly be that easy and that human smugglers wouldn’t have acted in the way that I portrayed. I had gotten much of my information for that part of the book from a New York Times expose in the 90s called “Loophole At The Pier” in which human smugglers did what I described. To satisfy these readers, I should have probably made sneaking in seem more treacherous than it actually was according to well-respected news sources. What do you think? Has truth ever been stranger than your fiction? 

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New Cover: Lies She Told

Catcher In The Rye, The Bluest Eye, Crime and Punishment, Middlesex, Gone Girl, The Dinner, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Lovely Bones… these are some of my favorite books. The authors, styles, and genres are all different. But, they have one thing in common: though I could write the Sparknotes for all these stories, I cannot recall their covers. I don’t mean to suggest that cover art isn’t important. It is. Before a book browser picks up a novel and reads the riveting pitch on the inside flap or the praise from well known writers and critical publications, he or she needs to take the work off a shelf. I write this to underscore that I have no business deciding what my own cover should look like. I deal in character arcs and plot structures, red herrings and twists, research and, even, social commentary. I am not best qualified to pick the single image that will evoke my story and also beckon a reader from across the room. Not surprisingly, I had very little to do with the covers on my prior two books and had about the same amount of input on this one. My publisher has changed all my working titles as well. That’s fine by me. Marketing is not my forte. So, all that said, here is the cover of my upcoming book. I hope people like it. I do. Though if you do, I can’t take any credit. 

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