Tag: thriller


Hide in Place

Today is the launch date for our newest Miss Demeanor’s debut book, Hide in Place.

It sounds like an incredible story: She left the NYPD in the firestorm of a high-profile case gone horribly wrong. Three years later, the ghosts of her past roar back to terrifying life.

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Writing As Therapy

“We’re professional worriers. You’re constantly imagining things that could go wrong and then writing about them.”Novelist John Green to The Late, Late Show host Craig Ferguson.

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3 Things I Know About The Future… From Dystopian Fiction

A critical part of creating fiction is a careful examination of the world. Storytellers, first and foremost, must be students of the human experience. We have to spend time learning about what motivates people, how different personality types tend to form and respond to situations, how various societies react to different stimuli and challenges, how the setting we all share (the earth) responds to our existence. Sometimes this intense study leads to forecasting rather than fiction. Here are three inventions by famous authors that look like they will definitely come true–for better or worse.  #1. Meat won’t come from live animals.  In her book, Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood writes about chicken that is grown in parts by machines. Her ChickieNobs don’t have eyes or beaks, though they have a mouth-like orifice for receiving tubes of nutrients. It’s meat without the animal.  Such “nobs” are not a reality–yet. But since the 2003 publication of her book, “cultured meat” has been cloned from the muscle cells of beef cows. The process isn’t exactly like the blobs with tubes sticking out of them that Atwood envisioned, but when you hear about the “tubes” of muscle tissue that are grown and stacked to create one of these burgers, she doesn’t sound far off.   Personally, I’d like to eat protein that doesn’t involve killing a living creature. But, I wouldn’t want the dystopian future of genetic engineering run amok that Chickienobs is created in. So I hope Atwood’s prescience only extends to our food.  #2. Ads will know what I’m thinking Thanks to trading my privacy for a host of “free” and inexpensive services, like Web email and online-connected intelligent speakers, corporations can easily collect a lot of data about me. Right now, they don’t seem to use it for much more than delivering Web page ads about things I have Googled, mentioned in emails, or asked “Alexa” about. But, according to Matthew Tobin Anderson, writer of 2002’s “Feed,” eventually I’ll get such personalized ads directly into my head.  In Anderson’s fiction, the ads are delivered by an implanted chip in my brain. In reality, I think, facial recognition and biometric identification will advance to the point that nearby computers will simply be able to link who I am–based on what I’ve touched and my face–to an advertiser profile formed from records of my online interactions. My personal ads will appear on the nearest available screen. Given advances in virtual reality, that screen might very well be right in front of my eyes in the form of some Google Glass-type device. And, in my opinion, such a “feed” directly in my line of sight isn’t so far off from a brain implant.  #3. The Great Flood Will Come… To Manhattan This prediction from Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 is one of the most heartbreaking for me personally as someone who lived in NYC for a decade and now has a house in the suburbs about a mile from The Hudson River. But I believe it. Water levels are rising. The world is most certainly getting warmer–even if President Donald Trump remains skeptical as to the cause.   I’ve also seen The Hudson overflow its banks before. During Super Storm Sandy, I had to take my then baby to the second floor of my waterfront condo because the waves of water were coming dangerously close to the elevated first floor windows. Somehow, I didn’t flood. But neighbors on the ground floor lost their apartments. (And, yes, I should have evacuated like I’d been warned instead of just moving the car to higher ground and hoping for the best).  Robinson’s predictions are particularly dire–a NYC under water creates for a better story than one slowly eroding beneath the river. But I’d bet that a future in which Manhattan is dealing with a flooded sea port and financial district isn’t too far off.             

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Let's Talk About Sex… Scenes

Continuing on my theme this week of how much of our human bodily functions should make it into fiction, I would like to discuss sex scenes.  Human beings have sex. If you’re a believer in Freudian psychoanalysis, it’s a primary reason why we do much of what we do. Freud postulated that how a person pursues intercourse, as well as what he or she does while having it, betrays that individual’s true nature.  “The behavior of a human being in sexual matters is often a prototype for the whole of his other modes of reaction in life,”-SIGMUND FREUD, Sexuality and the Psychology of Love  Even if a novelist doesn’t subscribe to Freud’s theories, they still have to deal with the fact that interactions between people have a physical component that can give rise to sexual tension.  With few exceptions, if a novelist wants to create believable fictional characters and show them over any length of time, interacting with anyone, they have to address sexual desire, attraction, and, sometimes, the act itself. And that means they have to grapple with how much to show or tell. There are different rules on how much detail to go into for different genres and sub-genres. In cozy mysteries, the action typically must happen off screen, if at all. In most of my favorite thrillers, there’s at least one sexual interaction that does more than cut away after the characters kiss. In romance novels featuring adult protagonists, catharsis is often achieved by the physical union of the romantic leads. How much catharsis is necessary depends on how much tension was built up throughout the whole book, as well as the tone of the novel.  As a writer of psychological suspense stories and domestic thrillers that often involve couples, I consider a sex scene pretty much a must have. I use them, however, not to titillate, but to illuminate the power dynamics at play between characters and reveal behaviors that a character would naturally cover up in a less intimate setting. The sex in the book isn’t just about the sex. It’s about showing a character’s true nature.  Showing and not telling demands a little detail. But it’s a delicate balance. The goal is to add tension, not turn off my readers with too much gushy prose. In my book, Lies She Told, my protagonist Liza is a writer that addresses this issue of how much is too much in one of the chapters. After penning a sex scene about Beth, the flawed hero of the book that she is writing, Liza says:  “Writing about sex is tricky. Readers want details to stoke their own erotic fantasies, but they don’t want to be in the imagined room listening to each moan, witnessing every awkward position change. Intercourse, even for the most liberated observer, is embarrassing. Porn is rife with examples. People say uncalled-for, dirty things. They obviously fake orgasms. They scream words more suited to the hook in a Daft Punk song. Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.”  When writing a sex scene, as when writing all scenes, I try to think about what my characters are trying to communicate to each other and say about themselves. I want to treat the act as another form of dialogue or inner monologue, intended to unveil personality traits to the reader. For some characters, showing what I want only requires describing a kiss and then fading to black. For others, I need more detail.  So, writers and readers, weigh in. What do you want to see? When do the details become too graphic? If we’re not writing 50 Shades, should we all be fading to black?

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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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What's the Best Book You've Read Recently (in your genre)

Part of my job writing psychological and domestic thrillers is reading them. I read most of the top books in my genre every year, both because I love the genre and because reading them is necessary to understanding the market that I am in. I don’t want to write a story that will feel derivative, nor do I want to pen something so completely out there that my publisher might have difficulty getting it on bookshelves.   Most writers do the same. So my question this week to the MissDemeanors was: what book have you read recently in your specific section of the mystery/thriller community that you have really enjoyed. I know that since we all read a lot in our genres, I can trust their recommendations.  First up, my picks. A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window was great. Deep characterization, an unexpected but believable ending, and fantastic descriptions. It deserves the comparisons to Hitchcock. I really enjoyed Kate Moretti’s The Blackbird Season, recently, and Peter Swanson’s Her Every Fear. Moretti’s book is a twisted tale about love and friendship. Her vivid characters explore what bonds people and the stressors that can break them apart. The ending was interesting and flowed from the narrative. Also, her setting is fantastic. I could feel the oppressive atmosphere of living in a town where the main employer is gone and people feel trapped.  Peter Swanson’s Her Every Fear had me at the edge of my seat. I suspected every male character in the book, but I never felt that the author was playing with my emotions. He was making me see through the eyes of a main character that is simultaneously relatable and completely, necessarily, paranoid. I loved it.  D.A. Bartley: In the last week, I finished both A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window and Harlan Coben’s Fool Me Once. Both were fabulous reads and worthy of all the accolades they’ve received. Your question asked about a book in my genre. I think Coben is closer to what I write than Finn is, so for no other reason than that, I’ll tell you what really impressed me about Fool me Once. First of all, Coben does a masterful job of writing women. I find some male writers write the women they want to sleep with and not real women. Coben writes women I can relate to. Beyond that, I feel like that for a genre-straddling mystery/suspense novel, Coben plays fair. As a classic mystery lover, that matters to me. I can enjoy suspense, but I feel a little resentful when explanations come out of nowhere after the fact. I’m impressed with the writer would can surprise me, but when I’m surprised, I realize I should have suspected. That, for me, is the highest form of the art of mystery. Coben doesn’t disappoint. Paula Munier: I just finished reading all of Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway mysteries, mostly in order. I love Ruth and Nelson, the dual protagonists, and how the author handles their relationship over time. Robin Stuart: Lately, I’ve been reading early works by best-selling authors in my genre. Joseph Finder’s Paranoia stands out as one that impressed me because the protagonist is a tech guy and I didn’t roll my eyes once. I jumped ahead to the acknowledgments early on to see who Finder thanked because it was so accurate – I’m not used to that. I actually reread it as soon as I finished the book to study the language and terminology. It isn’t often readers with my background are satisfied, as well as readers who never give a second thought to how their gadgets work. It’s quite an accomplishment 🙂 Susan Breen: I just read Jacqueline Winspear’s book, Among the Mad, which is not exactly my genre as it is historical, but she does have an amateur sleuth with a community of friends. I loved it because Winspear does such a beautiful job of bringing Maisie Dobbs to life, scarred and troubled as she is. She makes a so-called ordinary woman heroic. She writes about her characters with respect. She also always surprises me with the ending. (I think this is the sixth book by her I’ve read.) Tracee de Hahn: Martha Grimes’ newest Richard Jury mystery, The Knowledge, comes to mind. I am a longtime devotee of Martha Grimes and eagerly awaited this one. From the start, she lives up to expectations. She creates a cast of characters and a world that is charming and interesting. It is an altered reality, with London or various places in England recognizable and also shaped to fit her vision. It is England as we might wish it to be. For me the charm is escapism – people have real problems but they are not precisely real people. They are the essence of people. Grimes constantly impresses me with her ability to have the reader play along with her quirky cast. For example, in The Knowledge I bought into an eleven-year-old girl conning her way onto an international flight and following a bad guy to Nairobi. I’m the same person who when reading some thrillers thinks – really, they wouldn’t find a way to contact SOME branch of law enforcement!! My mind wanders as I think of ways to secretly contact my neighbor, distant relatives, or the head of Homeland Security without the bad guys catching on. At some point I have to deliberately say, okay, let’s believe the author and keep reading. That’s one of the joys of reading Grimes. Through her attention to detail, she creates a slightly altered universe where all things on the page seem possible. We are, in some ways, through the looking glass. C. Michele Dorsey:  I loved Before We Were Yours because it was a mystery without a murder and blended history with mystery through the voice of a contemporary hero. I was impressed that the hero never whined, something I am really tiring of in books. The author (Lisa Wingate) was masterful in blending backstory with the protagonist’s own story. Not my genre but an impressive book combining two.  Alexia Gordon: This question has been hard for me to answer because, honestly, much of what I’ve read lately has disappointed me. (I echo Michele’s comment about whiny characters.) I’ve been trying to expand my reading from classic/traditional mystery into other sub-genres of crime fiction but I keep running into protagonists who annoy me (take a pill, already, sister.), bore me (do something. Do anything.), or remind me why I’m not a fan of pastiches (nowhere close to the original author’s voice; should have created your own characters.) The most recent book I’ve read, in my sub-genre, that I’ve enjoyed is Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries, a collection of Golden Age short stories in the British Library Crime Classics series. Golden Age mysteries focus more on the detective’s skills, the puzzle to be solved, and the delivering of justice than on the detective’s inner demons and dysfunctional personal relationships. I’m much more interested in seeing how the protagonist is going to stop the antagonist from killing a village (or town or city or suburb)-worth of people than in reading endless descriptions of the protagonist’s personal traumas. If I find myself saying, you know they have meds for that. And therapy.” more than twice while I’m reading, the book goes on my never-getting-that-chunk-of-my-life-back list. I will call out one novel (one more recent than DuMaurier’s Rebecca–which I like because of Mrs. Danvers and because DuMaurier wrote suspense that was actually suspenseful) in the domestic suspense sub-genre that gives me hope that I may find something appealing if I just keep trying: Cate’s Lies She Told. (And I’m not just saying that because it’s her question.) I read the ARC, so I don’t know if it makes the “recently” read cut off but it’s the only domestic suspense novel written in the past decade that hasn’t made me wonder if the author only knows stupid, whiny people IRL. Cate’s protagonist has guts and does stuff. She’s proactive, not reactive, and that’s a quality I value. I’m open to suggestions for thrillers and other crime fiction sub-genres which I haven’t explored, so I’m going to enjoy reading this post and responses.

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The Omnipresent Villain

Yesterday, I read a book (which will remain nameless) that made me want to bury it in the sand. The characterization was deep, the writing was vivid, and the villain was such a minor player that by the time he was revealed I felt betrayed.  In psychological and domestic thrillers/mysteries (the genres in which I write), the villain should be hiding in plain sight. Don’t tell me the butler that showed up every now and again to deliver a cup of tea is the kidnapper–especially not after making me suspect the victim’s mom. It will feel like the bad guy came out of nowhere and that the writer manipulated the reader’s emotions rather than actually created a puzzle able to be solved. 
In my opinion, the best mystery writers make the villain a POV character or close to it. He or she should be someone in many of the scenes, ideally someone even trying to help with the investigation. We should have a sense that we know who he or she is and what his or her motivations are. It should feel like we had a shot at figuring out that the person was, at least, hiding something.   

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