Thrillerfest 2019 Inside Stories Part 1 (The Self Publishing Show, episode 184)



on this edition of the self publishing show suspense means letting them know that there's a question there's a problem that there's a mystery readers will come along out of curiosity and concern for the characters to find out the answer to that to that question so if you are providing clues hints along the way but not revealing the answer yet that will be that suspense and that's extremely is changing no more gatekeepers no more barriers no one standing between you and your readers do you want to make a living from your writing join indy best-seller mark Dawson and first time author James black as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success this is the self publishing show there's never been a better time to be a writer yes hello and welcome to the self publishing show we are here in New York City for thriller fest in the first of three special episodes from the Big Apple it's me James black and it's me Tom Ashford I can't help noticing that you're not mark Dawson I'm not look I noticed that about halfway through yeah yeah but halfway through your life you realize you weren't marked awesome yeah I think a lot of us realized we're not black Dawson and Tommy young Tom finally making an appearance on the main podcast standing in fur markets the summertime in the northern hemisphere and we're all trying to grab a week here and there of holiday or vacation time Tom you're here you're going away in August I'm going away next week mark is away this week so the week we've been in tougher seasons are having a well-earned break well not that much of a break because he keeps emailing us yeah yeah but anyway hopefully he's managed to get some downtime it's important to do that in all our busy lives we've had a really really good week of Thrilla fest now I will say from the outset not be very interested Tom to hear your views on Thrilla fest through these episodes it is still without question a quite traditional publishing event a lot of the marketing advice they give is to do with book tours and signings and you know I think a lot a lot of people in the indie world have worked out probably isn't worth the time and there's not a lot about paid Facebook ads or anything like that ever anyway however a large part of in fact the first few days of called craft fest and they have been about the craft of writing with some of the most brilliant writers and that has been extremely good hasn't it yeah is that it thanks so all you're gonna say in this podcast yes yeah it's very very focused on craft and he's very useful I think there's a few Indian authors that we we met out there that found it pretty useful but yeah it's very much more on the brighter side unless in the market yeah that's certainly true but we are going to bring you through these three episodes a clutch of interviews I think we may have 14 something like that in all so what you're going to get is divided up neatly into the areas that we've covered you're gonna get the very best of what people have been learning here in through the fest for free just for being a viewer listener of the self-publishing show I should say where we are we're actually in DUMBO I've got member exactly what Dumbo stones well some to do with underneath Brooklyn Bridge but Brooklyn Bridge is away on that side will show you a shot of that behind us is lower Manhattan the iconic skyline perhaps the most iconic skyline on the planet you might be able to see the Statue of Liberty we move out the way just out Lady Liberty is out there as a cormorant just flowing faster than if you'd call that and we're going to be here to record the links but we've been busy in the Hyatt and Grand Hyatt right next to Grand Central Terminal in Midtown where we've been busy all week right we're going to start we've divided up the interviews that are saying two good subjects for you and we're going to start with some ideas to the overall pace and moments do you want to hit in your narrative in the plot of your book so there are a couple of specific talks and sessions on that the first person we're going to listen to is Meg Gardner a Megas talked very specifically about plot twists how important they are how to do them how to get them right how lot to overload your reader and we're going to start with her then we're going to move straight on to Kimberly how kimberley house actually KJ how your many of you will know her as a thriller right it's actually quite a big week in a hole for the fest or ghen ization so we talked a little bit about the conference and then she talked about pacing that all important thing in thriller writing that she should know she's got million book sales behind there quite a lot I come and what exactly her figure is but she's got a lot behind us more than us more of us okay so let's hear from Meg & KJ how and then we'll be back to give you another segment of fantastic insight from for the first this is the self publishing show there's never been a better time to be a writer I'm Meg Gardner I'm the author of 14 thrillers I write fast-paced high-octane stories featuring strong female protagonists and I hope readers will stay up all night reading them fantastic was like a lord will aim for any novel writer okay say you've just presented a session on plot twists and we wanted to talk to you a little bit about that and then we'll talk about your writing as well so first of all the plot twists I would think from a thriller writer point of view an essential point not essential in every single thriller but readers love them writers will gain a greater ability to surprise delight bring people back gasping for more if they learn how to write a plot twist which is some unsuspected occurrence or a turn of events in this story radically changes the day before soon we should have all stopped first so how would you how would you describe this plot twist an unsuspected turn of events or occurrence that radically changes the the course of the story is up to the author to figure out how to surprise it's just a pretty sophisticated reading audience and lead them in an unsuspected direction okay so when were writing we're often taught to give our characters challenges to force them to be proactive and make decisions and people who don't plot to so the pants no way to use that expression I think will sometimes come up with a plot twist just on the fly just think well what the worst thing that could possibly happen to my character now and get in their way of doing something is that the type of thing we should be looking at is suddenly creating the death of a key figure or something it can work brilliantly it's if you come up with what you think is a great surprise you need to stop and think how would you logically get your characters to that point again you're absolutely right put your characters to the test the plot doesn't really develop unless a character is challenged forced to make choices unless there's conflict so we don't want things just to happen too especially to the protagonist that is the death of a story you have to have a character who takes control at some point rises to the challenge picks up the baton runs with it and makes a difference in the story if your protagonist doesn't do that if everybody else is doing that then you haven't written the protagonist you've written that you know the dude who's sitting at the cafe you know having a cup of tea he needs to go back and do that and have somebody else come in and be your protagonist plot twists random you know like yet another asteroid hitting the ballpark probably not what you want you want them to arise out of character out of the circumstances out of the conflict between the characters out of the culture of their world so you need to think about it if you come up with a brilliant idea pin that to the wall and think about how you can write backwards and forwards to make sure that that really fits that's it that it's set and set up and that it then launches from that point do you have some good examples of classic plot twists that we should think about classic plot twists I will give you some plot twists that are so well known in popular culture that I'm not spoiling them I hope okay of course Titanic sinks yeah Titanic is it actually a perfect example how not every story needs a plot twist yeah you know millions of teenage girls my daughter included went into that movie saw it 45 times knowing exactly what happened but famous plot twists you can use misdirection make readers viewers think that the story is going along on this level while there's actually something else happening underneath of course the sixth sense is a classic plot twist where the psychologist has spent the movie helping a troubled young boy who says he sees dead people of course it's actually the psychologist who's being helped by the young boy because he's he's the dead person but when you you're shocked you gasp but when you go back and think back through the whole film you see that that's been set up brilliantly and shown and hinted at all through the movie Luke yes twelve years old I didn't see it coming that's exactly I didn't either hope he whenever told you what happened to your father and then you've got two movies worth of plot where you've been led to think that the Luke's quest has been driven by this whole disaster this whole evil event that the man he's confronting now killed his father yeah that turns out that's not exactly what happened and that's a very good example also you talked earlier about building and building it working up to it then working away from it because after that point then Luke's mission changes who wanted to destroy Vader torn in to save him precisely at that moment so it becomes instead of instead of becoming being a revenge plot becomes a redemption story yeah there's a lot of Redemption you got to do with Darth Vader but Luke's gonna go try for it yeah that's that is what they're to two wonderful examples and the two thoughts are catalyst the kind of the whole conceal reveal and I'm a first-time novelist a novels this year and hopefully the latter stages now and the revision process but one of the difficulties I had in my first couple of drafts was not really understanding how much to conceal from the reader i concealed far too much and hinted at things so they were a surprise and my editor started to talk to me it started to explain to me how you want to take people on the journey they want to enjoy the decisions being made not suddenly discover something office so there's a balance here isn't there with the plot twist absolutely suspense and surprise can can bolster each other or they can be at odds and exactly like you when I first started writing I thought it was brilliant to just withholds all the information and then spring it on the readers at the end but but that meant they just kind of you know burbled along on a you know a very slow pace it's less interesting fool it's much less interesting for them suspense means letting them know that there's a question there's a problem that there's a mystery you rate the author raises a question but then doesn't provide the answer the readers will come along out of curiosity and concern for the characters to find out the answer to that to that question so if you were providing clues hints along the way but not revealing the answer yet that will be that's suspense and that's extremely enticing to read I think maybe da Vinci codes a really good example of that because you read the book and you find yourself as a reader ahead of the characters because they've raised the questions they look at the answers and I think that rayo cleverly writes the book so that your readers are ahead of the game it's an extremely clever novel and that's a that's a way to to create suspense by creating a mystery for the reader at some points is ahead of the characters because then you become concern for the characters oh they don't know about you know that the bad guys are waiting lying in wait for them ahead so you you're biting your nails hoping that they will figure it out or or managed to escape some some disaster that's being set up for them so yes if Ellison that's what rewritings for yes editing yeah and as you alluded to earlier you can go overboard with this I'm guessing as a as a danger of putting too many plot twists in it of course if you just are trying to twist you know you don't want people to be like on some amusement park rides where they get nauseated because they're spinning too fast it has to land each twist needs to land emotionally – is it going to be a revelation a cliffhanger some kind of escalation in the story a complication or is a secret revealed is that someone betrayed it someone's love professed that you never saw you never coming but it had it has to land emotionally otherwise it will just feel like you know an amusement park right and those are entertaining but that's not what gets reduced remember your characters or want to want to come back to you make work sorry you're a thriller right and we hear it through the festival talking about thrillers but actually this would go to almost any genre I think even a romance book or just having that same yeah about the same yeah in a in a in a in a row romance novels probably less likely that somebody will be revealed to be an you know international super assassin but it might be revealed to be having an affair with somebody else and you know the same principles of suspense flood fest apply and you know drama and they have across millennia yeah so do you plan your plot twist sword when you're doing your first draft your rough draft or do you allow it to spill out of you do I plan my twist yes I I try to eye out line so I try to build the story and as I'm developing it I try to see where it's becoming predictable and figure out how I could send it in a different direction I write a complete outline but then as I start drafting the story as I am you know bringing the characters more fully onto the page hearing their voices as I write dialogue seeing how they interact in their world sometimes I come up with what I think is a better idea that will enrich the characters provide a deeper assist you know a deeper surprise and lead to a more dramatic plot so if I come up with something better I got yeah that's well that processes horse wasn't it an in your session how did you set about teaching plot twist what was the aim of your session the aim of the session was to explain what a plot twists are how they work in the story to increase suspense drama surprise and to talk to craft fest participants about how they can learn to hopefully create plot twists and then techniques to build them into the story themselves so you know do they do you hide them as close do you withhold information do you use misdirection do you decide that anybody can die do you use flashback foreshadowing ways to to use to to cleverly concealed built and then reveal a surprising twist in the story I love a bit foreshadowing yeah um so do you see what does what what do you see the main purpose of a plot twist in a book is it is it to do with the character or is it to do with the story and the entertainment for the reader all three obviously plot and character are intertwined plot is what the character would do that's you know that's about there the push and pull and the conflict between them so a plot twist takes readers in a reader's love surprise it just makes it part of the entertaining experience for them if you can have a surprise that makes them care more about the characters then you know they invest themselves into the journey that the characters are on so it's it just may come on yeah yeah yeah it does and I'm thinking some books or mystery books red Sparrow and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy books like that they're built around that twist I mean they're with the reader what's well first of all I wasn't book first or film like it wasn't work wasn't it so the reader goes into those books basically because they're buying a ticket for the twist right they are and I didn't have time to talk about it my session Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy it actually tells you like the title gives away what the twist is going to be Tinker Tailor so that's my you know it's all about hunting them all and so you know that pretty much up front so the question then becomes how you know liquor bills all of the uncertainty of you know the Hall of Mirrors that these people live in to figure out who could be doing this why and what's going to happen when they're you know it's not just revealing the identity the mole it's about how this affects the entire structure of the people who worked for intelligence service keep them guessing like yes Meg well look thank you so much for chatting to us did you get a good response from your audience today they seemed like they were ready to go right so that's about as much as I could ask for perfect thank you so much you're very welcome Kimberly here we are back in thriller fest and I have to say you are looking remarkably calm considering this is like the top of the mountain now isn't it a lot of work must have taken place between the end of last year and today well I mean we work all year long and try very hard to prepare ahead of time so that on site it's really just execution and I'm very lucky to have a phenomenal team and we have about 15 staff and over 200 volunteers who help run in the conference and it sort of also like as a conference coordinator you need to be a duck very very calm on the surface and paddling a lot underneath furiously moving away but it's a fantastic event it's a place where we I think we just mentioned it I particularly enjoyed just rubbing shoulders with some of the great stars and the people who've got fantastic bestsellers after bestseller to their names film adaptations TV adaptations and you're talking to the most on they realize when you're talking they're just humans who talk about hard work characters that are compelling and a reason to turn the page there's no magic or secret about it which is quite a bit inspiring well I think most people are not overnight successes to be successful in publishing you generally have to study the craft for a long time and then put in the time to build an audience so someone like Lee Child I mean I believe he said he it was like between book 8 and 10 where he started to see enormous success and CJ box found he was annoyed New York Times best seller on his 11th book so I think when you see that you know you realize that it does take time with social media these days sometimes there can be overnight successes like gone girl you know but but actually if you think about it Gillian Flynn wrote sharp objects before that so it wasn't really an overnight success it was just her most successful book and it blew up and her career is really continued to flourish why do you get involved in Thrilla fest what brought you into the organizational side of it well I came to the very first thriller Fest in Phoenix Arizona and I volunteered and my goal was to write thrillers I was former medical writer and for me it was an opportunity to learn the craft because journalistic style writing that used in medical work is very very different than the dramatic showing that you need to do with thrillers so as a result I just really wanted to study the craft and I knew that thriller Fest had an incredible education program and that's what it would do me in and then before I knew it I started volunteering and guess what now I'm lucky to be a executive director yeah and we're talking about your writing in advance I would still wear your writing but I'm interested to know about sort of community that's built up around Tooele fest because there's almost the family atmosphere amongst the people who arrive and attend this event and I guess that's where you've aimed for Bates it's big so thousand people as well sure there's an intimacy we have here and I think is because we don't have a VIP room or green room everybody is out in the floor mingling and talking and that's we wanted to create you wanted to create caring support of some of our top authors mentor others give back you know help others grow their careers we have an incredible debut program as well so we really emphasize helping people start their career the right way and we also have something for aspiring authors where they commonly study the craft and then they polish their manuscript in masterclass and then when they're ready they can pitch to the agents at pitch fest so we kind of have I would say from A to Z how to get published and how to be successful in the thriller market and at the same time do you feel that your case of people who want to take the indie route a hundred and ten percent we we actually realized that you know if you look at the statistics right not everyone is going to be traditionally published and it may not work well for some people and we encourage those you know to study both avenues and to decide what would work best for them some marketing gurus love the indie route because they do very well yeah if you like the some box marketing is not for everyone but for the people who like it it can be very successful and that's what we're all about really on this show so and but I also am reminded that it doesn't really matter how you get published the writing side of it which is what we're talking about most of the time with people is the same very true and I mean I think there's so much emphasis on writing the best book possible because at the end of the day that's what readers come back for if you write a very good book and they're satisfied at the end they'll be looking for your next book so Kim talking about books so you're a medical writer I was and what does that mean sure so what I did there's many different types of medical writers but in my case I did a lot of patient education so I would take complex medical issues you know like about how to handle diabetes or a heart or a blood pressure anything like that and make it very accessible for people to read about so I would do you know you may go the drugstores and you get brochures I would do some of those who do calendars I would do a host of different things just trying to educate people on good health okay right there was a desire within you to expand the writing into fiction well let me tell you as much as I enjoyed learning about you know writing medical things and research in that it's a lot more fun to make stuff up and blow stuff up sure I don't kill people and resurrect yeah it's very good therapy yeah so when did that start for you well a few years ago I went back into a master's in creative writing because I wanted to study you know how to show how to dramatize the action properly as I mentioned the different type of writing and from there I was very lucky you be able to write the freedom broker which I was very very honored to win the best first novel last year and I've been studying kidnap and ransom for six years so I've immersed myself in that world on purpose so that I can write with authenticity about my character who's a female kidnap negotiate your name via Paris K&R is your thing it certainly is a fascinating world and as you say suddenly is a little bit more exciting then although very important to tell people how to take their drugs properly but I can see the alert I kind of combine the two because the appearance my character actually has type 1 diabetes okay I noticed that many lead characters you know didn't have any physical illnesses other than alcohol a drug addiction what seems to be the case and I thought to myself there's so many people out there with chronic illnesses I want to be representative of that and so I thought it'd be really good to have you have something like this and she needs insulin to survive so at the end of the day I think it's really critical you know that you have this ticking time bomb if this character doesn't get their insulin she won't survive yeah very late unfortunately very very lot of people across the globe have diabetes so you're doing brilliantly we should say that they have decided to start hoovering the smoke detectors there's a man there's one right above you so I fear any moment it's gonna get even louder but let's let's persevere because these mics are very good at picking us up so we should talk about you right on 2kj I certainly do yeah and how many books do you publish them so I have the freedom broker which is the first in the series and then the second book is called sky jack and I had a great time researching aviation and that was a lot of fun and if you want to know how to break into a cockpit you're the person I have researched and found a way that puts us on a watch list I'm sure I am because of the things I research people I talk to you regularly I mean that is a really fun thing when you're working at how to break into a bank vault or open the door an airline cockpit I've Institute to hear what you found out about that well I would invite you to read because but but it was very very intriguing to learn everything about aviation I was I benefit greatly from experts from both aviation and kidnapping I'm very fortunate to know some of the top came out negotiators in the world there are over 40,000 kidnappings a year and it's growing and the main reason is military and police in developing countries are not getting paid and they need to put food on the table for their families they've turned to kidnapping as a way of making a living as well as terrorism because it's a great fundraising mechanism a lot of terrorists like Isis have used oil for you know money and now that that's tried up they've turned to kidnapping because if you think about it there's an endless supply of you know humans which they see as commodities that they can trade for finances yeah certainly isn't growing issue there's been some greater a true story books on this subject people have been on the wrong end of that absolutely yes so came here we are for 2019 Thrilla fest continues to grow I think absolutely every year and we're very lucky we have over three billion books in print when you count up all of our members we have over 5,000 members in over 52 countries yes because we should say there is the international thriller Writers Association is correct yeah organization that is correct and it's wonderful because for published authors it's free to join and our we're not-for-profit organization and our whole mandate is to support thriller authors so everything we can do to help others we will so what's that what are the benefits for somebody joining absolutely there's multitude we have a enewsletter called the big thrill that goes out to thousands and thousands of people we do interviews and you know features on each author's when they have releases we definitely support the debut team with the whole support system we have incredible publicity opportunities for them basically everything you can imagine you would need to get your book out there in front of the public okay superb well thank you for the work that you put in I know it's um you know you don't do it for the monies but that way organizing a conference like this and there's a lot of blood sweat tears going until we just won in at the last minute and enjoy it so I should say thank you thank you for coming because you know it's really a joy we call it summer camp for writers and I hope that you'll return the out here and spread the word because I think it's a very positive nurturing environment in which you know people with the same kind of voices in their head all gather together to share their you know passion even if those voices are telling them to the cockpit so true I know but see we find like many people here and that's what we need thank you this is the self publishing show there's never been a better time to be a writer there you go that was KJ how rounding off that first couple of interviews we started with make Gardiner talking about plot twists KJ how talking about pacing and thrillers and of course we talked to her about for the Fest itself so Tom an experienced novelist some some would say arguably well you've written nine novels yes yeah experience a novelist not experienced monitor you know getting into the marketing side of things now but did that resonate with you we talk I mean these are critical factors to getting the novel that someone's going to want to read and turn the page yes do you know anything to expand on it comes to pacing and well yeah I mean you they the sessions were very useful and obviously you don't want to create a novel that's going to anyone wanting to want to put down because if someone puts down a novel like it's got to do something else particularly stuff like Netflix and then instant gratification sort of we do now if anyone if someone can put down your novel then there's there's always a fair chance they're not gonna pick it back up so yeah and I want them to be if they have to put it down cuz they have to go sleep or gonna work or something that you know initially have to do then you want them to be wanting to pick it up as soon as they get back not just put to the side yes it needs to be UNPROFOR know mark sources publishing company we've got helicopters about to come and drown us out it reminded me a bit makes interview one big bit of Peter James who was here again this year we talked to him last year and we're gonna get the explicit tag now but Peter James said that you need that for me moment in your book and that's what meg was getting at really is it's got to be that I didn't see it coming and we've got we've got James Rollins coming up in the podcast after next and he's brilliant at that he's brilliant at having that moment what you think I did not see that coming and then the whole book takes a tangent so very important things okay now the next couple of interviews are all about psychology so this is about narrowing your characters is about getting not just that one-dimensional villain or something we talk about a lot or or hero where'd you get those complexities from where'd you get those floors from and how these are two people who talked about how to derive for real life that sort of things that are gonna make your characters become realistic and compelling for your reader we're gonna start with David Corbett I love this interview David thinks a lot about these moral you think when you're in school and you talk about these ethical dilemmas about the train going down the track it's gonna kill one child playing on track or everybody on board and it's your choice who you save and so on but he's really taken that on a little bit to play with those ideas and then suggested that that's what we do to our character mainly to our hero our protagonist we put them in these almost impossible to solve moral dilemmas and so let's let's talk to him first of them will will bear that back for our last interview for this episode this is the self publishing show there's never been a better time to be a writer David Corbett I'm the author of six novels the last was deep long lost love letters of donc holiday I've written one book on craft the art of character there's going to be follow-up this October called the compass of character on complex motivation for long format TV and novels and I was a private investigator of 15 years before I started writing my novels I worked on the Michael Jackson case the People's Temple trial the DeLorean case and a whole slew of cases related to a group of guys out of Coronado which is near San Diego it was called the Coronado company they were the major marijuana smugglers on the west coast to the late 70s and and 80s basically Navy brats and Vietnam vets who brought in 50 ton loads at a time onto the West Coast and distributed it Wow say you've been there all the cultural touch points of my life you are in the background of the mark Jackson trial and the glory I remember DeLorean everything huh well you weren't part of the bust we together with the well the firm I work with had worked on his previous case with the same DEA agents in same informant and they had set up a Lebanese bismuth the business man with the same techniques okay and there's a crucial interview that of course the recording disappears and it's not there and that's pretty much they did they set him up not that he wasn't stupid nothing to do wasn't greedy with that not that he wasn't venal but he did not agree to a cocaine shipment that wasn't worth what the money was coming from and once he found out he tried to get out and they threatened him but of course those recordings and not their that the informant was the informant had basically betrayed absolutely every human being in his life even his brother you know would no longer speak to him so it's pretty that was pretty fascinating that was really the first major case I worked on what I got into the firm now I'm guessing that these experiences have led to your thoughts and your work in terms of novelization and particularly character so this morning you had a session where you spoke about ethical dilemmas moral dilemmas more how to create more dilemmas you know in the story that forced the character to choose between two totally terrible you know unacceptable alternatives you like both both options to be options were bad option you know the choice is easy it's like okay I've got a choice between two evils and what do you rely on is it a code of conduct that you grew up with and that you rely on and you're a stickler for the rules or do you think in terms of consequences you know which one will have the worst consequences and for how many people these instead try to live up to an idea of what it means to be a good person and that's what guides you or is it you know the example of somebody else you knew or is it just sort of A mish-mosh of all of that and that you've never had to make a really bad decision before and now you have to and you just don't know and we just have to go fly by the seat of your pants so what's the advantage if for those of us writing books what is the advantage of giving your character and almost impossible set of choices it identifies them it makes them you know recognize who they really are when they have to make that difficult choice and they have to stand by it and face the consequences it's totally a life-defining and that the decision will haunt them or reward them the rest their lives so it is well we always talk about having layered characters and not straightforward and we felt we've just spoken to James really about flawed person who's never really sure it's a much better hero or villain than the one who's sure themselves this kind of draws are that could nobody can be certain about this decisions no and especially once you've realized that you can't realistically foresee the consequences of anything you never know how it's really going to turn out and if you're really shorten the time and make it even more dramatic so that the person only has you know a few moments at best to have to come to a decision then they have to live with the fact that if I'd been given more time maybe I could have had it made a better choice but I didn't have that and I have to accept that and I have to realize that whatever my gut instinct was wherever it came from that decided at the moment and that now defines me for the rest of my life how am I going to live with that because there's repercussions oh yeah whichever but you can't see him and you never know that you know me I mean you can you can guess but you know it's really difficult down the road to realize like I'm sure that all the guys who were thinking that going into Iraq was going to be real easy and de cakewalk and we were gonna you know declare victory and walk home well guess what yeah you know and it's just that consequences almost always are far more complex far more unfathomable than you can predict and yet we have to make these kind of decisions every time and then where you can put your protagonist in a position where they have to make that the more dramatic compelling they are because we can all imagine ourselves in those situations and we'd like to avoid them but we can't when we see that protagonist having to do that it's usually a transformative moment for him and within the story and it kicks the story into a completely different gear so that's what we sort of covered think about george w bush's presidents and tony blair yeah this day where they are today at some point during the day ruminating on that decision that they made and i'm not going to be cynical about i think they had very difficult choices in front of them it's easy to hold a placard up and say no or yes yeah but the truth is they had to make a call what's interesting is for us as novelist exploring that effect on them later that effect on them and and whether they will don't address it or not honestly and that also addresses them it's very easy the problem with huge events like that for public affairs the realist school is basically designed around the premise that matters of state rise above matters of individual morality that the concerns of the state are so broad and concerned so many people that worrying about individual moral concerns can actually impede the best decision now me just goes back to Machiavelli but you know you get it very much in the realist school which has very much informed i'd say US and UK policymaking since world war ii and so and yet it's not as though it's above morality you're just saying our morality is that we can't be concerned with the little stuff we have to see the big review and we just have to make the tough calls so it's the it's the classic theoretical one I can I think I remember this from a play of the the train going down the track and is a little child playing on one track and the train goes over a ravine with everyone the 12 people on board killed or you diverted onto the track with the child playing and the child gets killed but you save the people on board it's your call right that's that's that's one of the scenarios yes that one knows there's five people on one path there's one person on the other which one do you choose most people they say you know they throw the switch to save the five at the expense of the one they wouldn't like doing it but that's an easy call there's another scenario where well let's say that you're actually on a platform above the switch and you can't reach it but there's a very obese man next to you and if you push him in front of the Train it will stop it and only he will die and everybody else will be saved what do you do and people recoil from the whole idea of being physically involved yeah and having to do something that would harm another person it's not that one against many calculus it's a really that's a really that's a clearly classic moral conundrum that comes up at all the time and I'll tell you every time I've ever talked to a cop about it she goes are you kidding he've the fat man is not at you I wouldn't stay for a second so that's kind of yeah and I suppose most of the characters who get written in thrillers probably would I mean James Bond would instantly see it he's almost a Maura doesn't he would push the fact I think probably well I gotta tell you I've got a whole new review of James Bond ever since the audiobooks of all the novels came out of the original Ilias and thereby you know Bill Nighy and a whole bunch of other wonderful British actors and actresses and so I've rediscovered the books because we do a lot of with my wife's families on one coast and we were on the other so we're doing these five-day drives so audiobooks were how we made it through and we listened to a bunch of those and the books are far more nuanced and he's far more interesting a character that comes across in the film's at all he's nowhere near they just sort of callow devil-may-care you know he's actually very thoughtful about things and and far more caring toward women than we see him in the films that's I found that really interesting though he's still a bit of a fifties CAD but yeah nowhere near as bad as he was in films so so to make it more practical then in terms of our thriller writing it's a good device for your character to find to engineer some almost you almost don't want to do though do you and your writing you I find it quite a pull to create a really horrible situation for my character no you know and I brought that up in the class we naturally resist you know ourselves wanting to put ourselves in that position but you know we have to write those scenes Steven James talks about you know whatever the problem is make it worse and you we just got to attune ourselves physically to end and psychologically to be willing to go into the situation just go okay what's the worst thing that could happen all right then I've got to write that and I've got to deal with however I feel about it and whatever happens you know I just got to get in there because we did sort of we have a tendency to naturally pull back just because of the the uncertainty and the ugly feeling is we go through and what we're having to face that but that's what makes stuff interesting and people that the reader will ultimately enjoy this because it's a bit like pig at a roller coaster or watching a horror film it's not you yeah exactly and I mean one of the classic examples are brought from it from a mystery book was Charles Todd's their series where the main protagonist Rutledge was a captain in World War one in the infantry and he had a corporal Seamus Hamish who refused to send his men over the top in direct defiance of an order from you know from the high brass he just said we're gonna get slaughtered I'm not gonna do that to my men our refuse and sovereignty was Rutledge was in the position where he had to have him convicted of insubordination and executed I mean one that's the rule you know that's that's military but code of conduct but two consequences he knew that if you allow that to happen I mean nobody's gonna go over the top nobody's gonna you know it risk going into harm's way because everybody hates the brass I mean there's it's going to be chaos unless you enforce this in this way so he's justified it on both the consequentialist and the rule-based grounds the problem is the consequences are something he finds himself over time not being able to live with because they had a great deal of respect for this man and he ends up haunting him and he ends up sort of being the spectral sidekick through the course of the series two trips remind Rutledge you know you're not the moral man you pretend to be and maybe you should have more compassion for the people you're investigating and it really adds a really interesting psychological and moral complexity at this series but I think kind of fascinating the unintended consequences of making the right decision yeah yeah interesting do you think about this philosophy philosophically as well it's a good exercise for us to go through as in do as humans do yeah well I just some of the examples are brought up or you know the rubber meets the road here when you actually see in real life experience and examples I gave her you know you're told not to lie but then let's say you're in a situation well you're an accident with your brother and your brother and your big brother just says look don't tell the parents you know just just don't tell him we got sideswiped it we've got it got hit in the parking lot you just don't do this to me I mean it'll kill me if they think I'd actually did this and so little brother you stand by him he doesn't get in trouble and from that point on he's really nice to you and what you learn is okay you know every now and then it's okay you know it's situational and another one I use this happened a lot in the town I live in it was a Navy base and guys were walking off the Navy base and these are these were all like blue-collar guys so we're the carpenters tool a guys plumber or so and so forth and they would just load up their pickup trucks put a tarp over it and drive it and there are so many houses in my hometown that were renovated for stuff from the Navy base and I mean you see it I hear it from building inspectors just going oh yeah I'm it's like half of the stuff that we had is in somebody's house you know in this community and of course the way they justify it was you know the Navy was wasteful obscenely wasteful so what I'm doing is drop in the bucket and – I'm really underpaid and this is my bonus yeah and so there's always a situational justification and if you can put something like that in the characters past where they sort of learned that oh no it's okay to bend the rules if you do it like Uncle Jim man or if you do it like my brother there's a personal connection to seams it's just about it well what happens if that thing comes up again and that relative isn't there are you gonna do the same thing are you gonna do something different this time again it's life define it defines you and your conscience in the moment in those in the story excellent the tape it's faster than really genuinely fascinating well right thank you so much for doing this and grant I'm really glad that you're here because there are some wonderful teachers in this world yeah I was really really impressed when they got this I just thought it was where this is the self-publishing shop there's never been a better time to be a writer yeah that was David Corbett and we've got one more interview for you in this first of three episodes from New York and this is Dennis Palumbo he has a great background and he is going to talk to us a lot interview about the psychology of your heroes villains and he thinks a lot about trauma he thinks we live in the age of trauma we don't fully perhaps understand the effect Rama has on people but we get into stuff in the interview about decisions that people make and then not just the immediate narrative ramifications those decisions but the impact it has on them as characters now before we get into the Dennis Palumbo interview I must tell you that one of our lovely new cameras decided to focus on a fly on the wall behind him for about seven minutes of this interview which is not great if you're watching on YouTube I can only apologise but the interview is great the audio is farting but then it is out of focus until it's 7 or 8 minute mark something like that say but do keep listening this is Dennis Palumbo this is the self publishing show there's never been a better time to be a writer my name is Dennis Palumbo I spent 20 years writing film and television in Hollywood and then changed careers and for the last 30 years I've been a psychologist in private practice and my specialty is working with creative people writers directors actors I'm also the author of a series of mystery thrillers featuring a character named Daniel Rinaldi who like me was born and raised in Pittsburgh went to Pitt has a beard and glasses and is an italian-american okay and so he is a trauma expert and so he consults with the Pittsburgh police and he specializes in treating victims of violent crime he himself was a victim he and his wife were mugged years and years before the book starts his wife was killed he was shot but he survived and so he struggles with his own survivor guilt as he goes about treating others and of course because he's an amateur sleuth he ends up getting in in a bunch of mysteries sounds like a great setup now the psychological side of it you're talking about there what you've been talking about here at thriller fest so I'm going to talk about that with you in a moment but just tell us about the the early part of your career he's got a huge success quite a high-profile success in the early 80s well I was very very lucky I was on a number of television shows I wrote the first episode of Love Boat I was a writer on love love books yes you know it's funny because when I tell that to people they always laugh and then I go yeah but I just got a 13-cent residual check from the Balkans you know where those things are still airing the live it or not all over the world and I was a writer on show called Welcome Back Kotter which is a pretty big sitcom and then I wrote a co-wrote a movie called my favorite year with Peter O'Toole and then I had a couple other series that I worked on I think about six series and then right around that time around 38 39 I went into therapy as a patient and fell in love with the process so I went back to school started taking classes I thought to myself well it can't hurt a writer to take classes in psychology but then I began to fall in tearing at psychiatric clinics and the next thing you knew I wanted to change my career and so I did I retired from film and TV and I went not only into private practice but I went back to my first love which is writing prose I had been in college I had always thought I was going to be a novelist and through the journeys of life I ended up in Hollywood writing television and film but now I get to the opportunity to write novels which which I'm very very pleased about okay well so you are well-positioned to talk about the psychology of your characters oh yeah which is what you've been talking about today and I guess in in simple terms this is avoiding your characters not having in a credible motivation or being one-dimensional that psychology is the key isn't is it not yeah for me what's important is the psychological depth of make characters I mean I try to make the books as suspenseful as I can with a lot of momentum there's a lot of twists and turns but that doesn't interest me as much as the psychological underpinnings of my characters not only my lead characters but the secondary characters you know because my hero treats the victims of violent crime most thrillers are about catching the bad guy mine are too but they most thrillers don't really deal with the victims what happens to them afterwards what's their life like what are they going through what PTSD symptoms might they be having my character is very involved with that and so there's a lot of empathy in the book in the books and also there's a lot of information about what it's like to be a therapist and the state of the mental health community in modern times and this is against a backdrop of the police with whom he works but they have a very uneasy relationship they they think my character is just a nuisance but they end up grudgingly I think having some respect for each other and I think that's what gives the books their meat and this feels quite some zeitgeist as well because yeah I think there is a growing awakening to PTSD and yeah and psychological well while the leading trauma experts Bob dostala' Roe says that he thinks this is the age of trauma you know because of the internet and the media we now know about pandemics and tsunamis in some country we usually never heard about and there's terrorism and so there's the sense that there's so much more trauma that we have to absorb and the internet gives us a 24/7 picture of a world going crazy which it really isn't but it feels like it is this is worried you yeah yeah I mean I've got a 15 year old daughter who does have a very bleak outlook on the world I think mainly because of climate change yeah I think so too I think that actually climate changes the biggest issue that people aren't quite dealing with the way they should because I think it feels too big for people in a way and I think they don't want to believe it so we have a we do have an escalator being as far as I can tell completely rebuilt from the ground up in the background so I've been a client King going on but we can hear each other fine and so what did you teach this morning what was your practical lessons of people here at thrilla first my lesson this morning was about taking your own experience and issues and using them mining your own experiences and psychological issues and using that to give your characters relevance and relatability and to use that you know Henry James said plot is characters under stress and so what I tried to do is help people I did some exercises in the class and then some lecture to get them to see that what goes on inside of them will infuse their writing with a lot more relatability and so we all have that in us even if we haven't been to war being in an accident little I think we have everything in it as writers I think we have you could be a nun or a serial killer you know we all have everything we have all the emotions you know anger and yearning and hurt and love and lust and envy and all you know the way I always put it is you could like not like your brother in law but if you write crime fiction you get to run them over in a car yeah yeah so you could take the things in your life and just criminalize them since those little moments when it's the sort of falling down yeah the little moments when we imagine suddenly just shooting everybody who's annoying us or catching the swagman I always say to my wife I don't want to hurt anyone but there's certain people whose obituaries I wouldn't mind reading yeah so if getting in touch with that I'm pretty much the book and putting been exaggerating it yeah yeah and exaggerating it and making sure that whatever those excuse me issues are the plot mechanisms keep stressing those purse that person that's where the stakes come from you know so if you're let's say jealous because your brother invented some internet sensation and he's rich you want to keep stressing your character by saying oh now he's building another thing he's on the cover of Time magazine he's so famous you're now known just as his brother and then that builds your resentment and so we understand why you might do something either to the brother or just out in the world to get your own renown well I think I might be a good pupil of yours already so my first levels this year and just a little personal level and my father face of non demonstrative very very very reserved and my book is about that 1960s stiff-upper-lip of pushing stuff down deliberately burying it not confronting it and the long-term effects of that so I think I've already started keying into sort of things you're talking about I'm fascinated like this well absolutely I mean the idea of feelings being suppressed or unconsciously repressed is very important because when we read about a character who's super expansive to the point of being histrionic they're not that interesting what's interesting is when we get the sense that there's a lot of banked fires there there's a lot of feeling that's barely leaking out and then what stresses the person enough in fiction to make those feelings start to come out and luckily being a repressed Englishman I can I can find my own a motivation yes thank you yeah absolutely not wanting to talk about it so in terms of practical steps how do we if we're looking at our writing now maybe the revision process what what things we've given us some example well right in my class for example I said to my attendees take a character in one of your work-in-progress some work you're doing right now and give that character a trade of yours either something you like about yourself like you're punctual or you always pay your debts or whatever or something you don't like about yourself that you're always late or that you have a lot of envy or whatever and give that trait to one of the characters in your book and see if that doesn't make the care come more alive and everyone when I said how was this exercise for everybody because I gave him like five or six minutes to write a scene with this added trait and everyone oh my god it just came a lot yeah you know it's sort of the the when I used to teach writing at UCLA I would say let's take a scene where a spy is being chased down an alley and people would write these scenes they look like everything we'd ever seen in a movie before I said okay you're the spy being chased down an alley and they go oh well if it was me and then all these funny interesting strange things would come out so I always said them don't make don't write a character like you think a spy should be you're the spy make the character come from you and of course this is you know we hear this repeated from other people's well that's those floors those uncertainties those that suddenly makes it look at drama Caray I mean what makes George Smiley a great character is he's essentially John linka right yeah and not only is he that character but he gave him a tragic flaw that his wife is having a bunch of affairs and everybody knows it so here's a guy that's supposed to be so smart and so good at rooting out spies and moles and stuff like that cuckolded constantly by his wife and she has a great line at the end where she says to him at the end of Tinker Tailor she goes life is a really a puzzle to you isn't it George and we think wow a hero we love is so tragically flawed yeah perfect that's the second interview in a row with John Kerry in fact Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has been referenced as well loh you can't go wrong you absolutely love it so for you now you're enjoying your murder mysteries is that what the or you would describe your yeah my I call mine psychological thrillers or mystery thrillers because there are elements of thriller in it there's a lot of twists and turns and a lot of suspense I don't write cozies I don't write you know the kinds of mysteries that mine are kind of intense with a lot of dark but because I used to be a comedy writer the conversations between my hero and the police with whom he works there's often a lot of humor because they are are the best of enemies yeah in a certain way and that's what makes it fun to write and any thoughts of film and TV again or is that oh we always have someone sniffing around talking about turning the books into a TV series I've been around the pool long enough yeah that interest is terrific and it's great for your ego but the journey from that interest to something getting on-screen is a very torturous journey yeah I often quite Douglas Adams to put the front of all of his books is the Hitchhiker's Guide to the galaxy has now been optioned by Hollywood so it's gonna be made any decade well this is the self-publishing show there's never been a better time to be a writer they get on difficult not to think of Columbo whether you introduce Dennis Palumbo yeah and Columbo I feel was a man who understood the psychology of people even watched a Columbo episode he's never watched a Columbo episode John John's behind the camera off or anything so well I'm Columbo was a brilliant detective here I guess it was in the Odyssey in New York Columbo forgot that role maybe somewhere else he wasn't in New York he was somewhere else he was in the West Coast okay but he would say he would go in and ask a couple of things but what his spots was a few things going on in the room the way the person acted and just before he left his famous thing was just just one more thing and then he'd asked that key question unlock the case so this psychology and I really like Dennis's way that he was talking about like these effects and we talked about Tony Blair and George W Bush is an example so we all remember the decision they made about going to war in 2003 very controversial decision lots of people opposed it some people backed it but what's interesting is is the effect it had on them as individuals and to this day and that's what's gonna make your novel work it's referring back to that thinking this is not just an event that's happened for the story but every sentence you write about that character Mellon is informed by the decisions they make yeah well I mean I saying david and dennis is a sort of speeches for conference reports and yeah they kind of they both stood out because rather than just talking about how to approach the craft or something they're much more about how to think about the decisions that will impact your character and then for inform your character so rather than just going all my characters really strong because of this what my characters got this week were suppose of this putting them in situations or giving them like traumas or psychological things that will literally like influence the way they behave through the story and definitely fleshing it out more than just okay yes so using your own do you know what the great thing about getting this bit rice is it actually helps you out a lot yeah when you start to think about oh how would i you know how – dennis said how would you feel about that if you were faced with this decision one day at a railway station you come home how would that evening be for you how would it be a month later that allows you to you know that gives you the ideas that the content of your writing yeah yeah good well welcome to the podcast the first one down we've got a couple more to go here in DUMBO in new york we've got two fantastic episodes I mentioned James Rollins we have a couple of superstars to interview coming up in the next couple of episodes and I should also say that although this is thriller fest a lot of what we're talking about pertains to all writing not just thriller so don't worry if your romance right or another genre you're gonna pick up plenty of stuff these these episodes right Mary is in that looks like it should be taking us for lunch over there what do you think yeah yeah yeah it's always says yes to lunch thank you so much indeed for joining us the first of three episodes we're back next week with some more good stuff from New York and for the first get show notes the podcast archive and free resources to boost your writing career at self-publishing show.com join our thriving facebook group at self-publishing show.com forward slash facebook support the show at patreon.com forward slash self-publishing show and join us next week for more help and inspiration so that you can make your mark as a successful indie author publishing is changing to get your words into the world and join the revolution with the self-publishing show

11 thoughts on “Thrillerfest 2019 Inside Stories Part 1 (The Self Publishing Show, episode 184)

  1. I attended a class with David Corbett at the San Miguel de Allende Writer's Conference in Mexico, 2015. Nice guy and very informative. Great stuff, team SPF.

  2. I hope you guys drank a cold beer after the interviews that day. Cleaning crews, construction, camera issues; I have been there. Difficulties aside, WOW, Great Content. I really enjoyed the interviews, especially the last bit about adding a bit of myself to my characters. Keep up the good work!

  3. This turned out to be one of my favourite interviews. So many small gems to take away and use in my writing. Thanks guys!

  4. Thanks for a very interesting episode with a lot of actionable information! I must admit that the very first thing I did was visit the thrillerwriters.org website. It was rather less than enticing. Sounds like they only want writers who have already made it, but maybe they might put up with the rest of us.

  5. Thanks, listening to the various experts has given me the feeling of I was at the conference. I have added three books to my TBR list, and pulled my 2017 WIP mystery book out of the drawer.

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