Can Women Thriller Writers Shoot Out the Glass Ceiling?

by D. Pat Thomas 

At ThrillerFest last week in New York City, a high-powered panel explored the question “Is There Equal Opportunity Among Women Thriller Writers?” Editor in Chief of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Neil Nyren served as Panel Master, with Dan Conaway from Writers House and authors Lisa Gardner, Brenda Novak, Karen Rose, Erica Spindler and Kate White as panelists.

Gardner began the session with controversial statistics: half of the thrillers on the
market are written by women. However, in 1985 only 15% of them were reviewed by
the New York Times. By 1989 that figure rose to 25% and it now stands at 34%. A
survey assessing readers’ perceived quality in writing showed higher scores for
authors with initials over those with female names for the same material. While
the Prestigious ThrillerMaster award has been awarded fairly evenly, other ITW
awards have gone disproportionately to men. Gardner maintained ITW cannot start
counting gender, but White countered, “At some point you do have to look and
see if there’s unfairness there” and drew the categories into question.

”I like my tough guys really tough,” one reader told Gardner, stating he did not read female writers. Three of the other female writers recalled similar emails. “I don’t think there are a lot of female readers who don’t read men, but I do think there are men who don’t read women, and the reason is men suck,“ quipped Conaway; “Guys like to read Lee Child and say so.” The panel seemed to agree that ebooks could well signal a change,
since no one can tell what is being read. In the meantime, Gardner said she has
been instructed not to wear pink and not to smile in her pictures; black leather conveys a better image.

Conaway said he would rather sell a big hard cover deal to Nyren if the author is a woman, and explained there are more women readers. According to an audience member, more editors are asking for female writers, and more of those editors are women as well.

D. Pat Thomas is a new thriller writer who craves action, as can be seen from her website.


Fiction Writers – Do You Have a Vision?

by Pamela Hegarty

I attended David Morrell’s workshop at Thrillerfest this past Wednesday.  I’ve been giving much thought to his topic, Do You Have a Vision?  Before you spend a year (or more) writing a novel, ask yourself why you are writing it.  For fame?  For fortune?  Most who attained these have realized that they are false values.  Figure out what is compelling you to tell your story, and you will know the satisfaction of success when you have completed it.

Even better, with e-publishing, you can reach the reader directly with your vision.  Don’t try to chase the market and mold your book to sell.  It’s a losing, and eternally frustrating, proposition.  You now have the opportunity, and permission, to write what you love.

So, before you write another line, write down your vision for your book.  That vision will be your compass.

The Character-Driven Novel: Four Traits of a Likeable Character

by Pamela Hegarty

I picked this up at a Thrillerfest workshop offered by William Bernhardt.  A thriller novel thrives on action plots, but readers are only hooked into the action if they are rooting the hero onward to victory.  And who wants to cheer for a character we don’t care about?

Here are four traits to make characters likeable:

1.  Show that your character is very good at what he or she does.  James Bond and Lara Croft come to mind.

2.  A likeable character has a sense of humor.  Nobody wants a heavy-hitter all the time.  I particularly lean towards characters whose sense of humor is self-deprecating.

3.  The character suffers an undeserved misfortune, is the underdog, and possibly is (don’t shoot the messenger!) disabled.

4.  Another character likes that character and they like them back.  What better way to expose a character’s best traits without appearing boastful?

And, like the boy scouts, a likeable character exhibits honesty, integrity, loyalty, kindness, respect and trust.

An exercise for thriller writers:  Write down three positive and two negative traits of your protagonist and your villain.  Why do they have these traits?

Ken Follett’s Key Question

By Pamela Hegarty

I was lucky enough to hear Ken Follett speak at last year’s Thrillerfest.  Both entertaining and enlightening.  One of the key questions he asks himself when he is working on a book is:  How can I make this more dramatic?

This simple question can twist a sagging plot into a page-turner.  When writing or rewriting a scene, ask yourself how you can make it more dramatic.  It might mean upping the personal stakes for the hero, placing them in a desperate situation in which the right path is not obvious, or creating a conflict that is not just played out on a grand scale, but also is intimately meaningful.

More dramatic could mean a tweak to the mechanics of the writing.  Especially in thriller fiction, dialog and action trumps exposition.  For example, in a scene I rewrote today, the villain driving away was in the narrative, describing an action that occurred a few minutes before the start of the scene.  In the rewrite, the character sees the villain drives off.  He is in a panic.  The villain had kidnapped his daughter.  He’s getting away, here and now.  The character tries to convince the man he is with to go after him.

I’ve been using a version of Follett’s question.  With each scene of The Seventh Stone that I am rewriting, I ask myself, how does this escalate the tension?  If the reader isn’t more tense at the end of the scene than at the beginning, I fix it, or cut it out entirely.  I place those cuts in a document I call “outtakes” so it doesn’t feel so bad.

Ken Follett will be presenting “How Thrillers Work” at Thrillerfest 2011, on July 7, in New York City.

Look for more posts focusing on plot on Tuesdays here on

Top Ten Reasons to Attend Thrillerfest – The Best Conference for Thriller Writers and Fans

By Kimberley Howe

  1. NYC is a fabulous city full of things to see and do.  Stay a couple of days before or
    after ThrillerFest to explore the sights and sounds of The Big Apple.
  2. The Grand Hyatt has just completed a 130 million dollar renovation, so you can live in the lap of luxury while you’re at the conference.
  3. AgentFest is hosting a record-breaking 60 agents this year, so if you’re looking for an agent, this is the time and place to pitch your novel.
  4. CraftFest is one of the best places to learn the craft of writing—and who better to teach you than NYT Bestsellers like Ken Follett, David Morrell, Steve Berry, Heather Graham, Phillip Margolin, and Douglas Preston, to name a few!
  5. ThrillerFest offers a networking extravaganza.  Because we host the
    conference in NYC every year, we attract a phenomenal number of industry
    professionals, allowing you to connect with top editors, agents, publishers,
    and publicists.
  6. We host a sumptuous banquet on Saturday night where the Thriller Awards are presented,  so dust off your party dress and join us.
  7. Come meet our Spotlight Guests this year,
    including Robert Crais, Diana Gabaldon, and John Lescroart.
  8. Help us honor 2011 Silver Bullet Award Recipient
    Karin Slaughter and 2011 True Thriller Award Recipient Joe McGinness.
  9. Be there as 2010 ThrillerMaster Ken Follett
    presents the 2011 ThrillerMaster Award to R.L. Stine.
  10. ThrillerFest is often referred to as a summer camp for writers.   Everyone is welcomed with open arms.  Come join our family!

Visit us at  for more information.  We’d love to see you there.

KJ Howe, a two-time Daphne du Maurier winner, a four-time
Golden Heart finalist, and a finalist in the American Title III Contest, earned
her Master’s in Writing Popular Fiction in 2007. International intrigue and
pulse-pounding adventure are her passions. When she isn’t writing, KJ is
researching them by shark cage diving in South Africa, interacting with
semi-habituated elephants in Botswana, or scuba diving in the Red Sea. You can
visit her at