Saturday, February 9, 2013

Writing for the Thrill

by D. L. Wilson

A thriller novel must be exciting, a real page turner, a book that readers just can’t put down. A successful thriller must start with a bang, build excitement, create tension, and finish with a bigger bang.

After writing a university textbook and a cookbook to learn about the publishing world, which was a lot more complex than I had ever dreamed, I decided to try my hand at fiction writing. During my day job as a fashion executive I had traveled to 32 countries and spent countless hours on airplanes reading . . . reading . . . reading. I had become infatuated with suspense/thrillers so I decided to try my hand in the genre I had been enraptured by for many years.

I found a real challenge in writing thrillers. My goal was to create fiction with content. I wanted my readers to become engrossed with my characters, scenes, and plot and after reading my novels, come away with a newer and better understanding of important factors in our complex world. Many things in life are not black or white, true or false, right or wrong. Much of what we accept as fact is based upon theories, claims, beliefs, and the level of science and technology at the time. One misquote, misinterpretation, or misread can confuse fact and fiction. What is accepted as fact today doesn’t always stand the test of time. A good example is the Shroud of Turin.

My first novel, UNHOLY GRAIL, is based upon broad research into the facts, legends, myths, and even conspiracy theories relating to Christianity and Judaism. A trip to Vienna, Austria and the South of France presented great insight into Fr. Berringer Saunier who had somehow amassed great wealth and built a beautiful church and villa in the small village of Rennes-le-Château high in the Pyrénées. Through reading over 60 books on the various theories and philosophies, I learned that a lot of the historical “facts” that were presented in many documents and books were passed on through “oral tradition.” If you’ve ever played whisper down the line, remember what bizarre results came out of the mouth of the tenth person in line.

To keep the thrill alive in UNHOLY GRAIL, I created a Fordham University theology professor, Fr. Joseph Romano, who receives an anonymous call offering him a secret Gospel written by James, the brother of Jesus. When he arrives at Grand Central Station to meet the mysterious caller, a shot rings out, bedlam erupts, and Fr. Romano is thrust into a centuries-old conspiracy that threatens the very sanctity of the church.

My second novel, SIROCCO, is a bioterrorism thriller. As usual, I did way too much research. I visited bio-research labs and met with experts in biotechnology, pharmacology, and medicine to provide valuable insight into the potential dangers of bioterrorism. I researched government agencies and again read many books relating to the potential dangers of bioterrorism. I studied Islam and interviewed Muslim businessmen from small, medium and large cities in the Middle East to try to understand how a religion could be used as a foundation for terrorism. Like with most religions, I found it was based upon how the Koran was interpreted and presented to the followers. The words from any pulpit can be distorted to meet the speaker’s objectives.

To keep the thrill alive, I had to start with a bang. Brett Reynolds, an attorney representing the pharmaceutical lobby, is summoned to Washington for an urgent meeting by Homeland Security to investigate a threat by a Middle Eastern terrorist group, Sirocco, to unleash a bioweapon at the heart of the United States. With a bioterror looming that could devastate the U.S., Brett learns of his brother’s death in a bizarre murder/suicide. As the plot unfolds he discovers connections between his brother and the terrorist threat. His investigation leads him on a harrowing chase that ends in a deadly confrontation with Sirocco and a chilling climax in the Oval Office.

I write for the thrill. What in a novel gives you the thrill of reading?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

It’s All In The Name

There are books, songs, and games relating to the “name.” The names of characters in novels are very important to keeping readers enthralled, turning the pages to find out what will happen next to Mr. X or Ms. Y. A great novel must have a powerful story line, excellent writing, fascinating scenes, but it must also have incredible characters. Characters who readers can relate to, have a passion for, that come alive with the words an author uses to describe them. An important element in developing a passion for a character surprisingly can be the character’s name. As they say, “it’s all in the name.” Well, maybe not all, but it really helps if a character’s name captivates readers. 

If a name resonates with readers, if it becomes embedded in their memory they will be more likely to buy the next Cotton Malone or Alex Cross , or Oliver Stone, or Lucas Davenport novel. Steve Berry, James Patterson, David Baldacci, and John Sanford created these memorable characters. The name game plays a role in keeping fans attached to a series, waiting in excitement for the next opportunity to relate to their favorite character.

A great character doesn’t need a macho name. Cotton, Alex, Oliver, and Lucas don’t create visual images of big macho men like wrestlers Hurricane, Hacksaw, Primo, or Undertaker. But they are names readers can relate to and fit the complex, interesting characters the authors have developed. How many readers can relate to Lisbeth Salander, Stieg Larsson’s character in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, and THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST? A character name must be memorable, captivating, and make an impression on readers.

D. L. Wilson is on the board of the International Thriller Writers and the author of UNHOLY GRAIL, a national bestselling thriller translated into 8 languages. His latest bio-terrorism thriller, SIROCCO, is getting rave reviews. Visit his website at

Image courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Don’t Give Up Your Day Job

The life of an author is a complex world. Getting through the publishing door required a lot more time, commitment, and dedication than I could ever have anticipated. I was fortunate to have spent a number of years learning the basics before giving up my day job. Well, actually I didn’t give up my day job to dedicate myself to the writing life. I waited until I retired from my regular career as a fashion executive and university professor to become a full-time dedicated writer.
During the years of learning about the writing life, I attended many conferences and workshops and joined writing associations, which gave me access to successful authors. When I got to know a few of them to the point where they were comfortable sharing the inside scoop as to how they got to be full-time authors, they provide similar advice. Don’t give up your day job until you have a very successful, established brand in the publishing world. One of the best thriller authors, Steve Berry, shares on his web site that his “road to publishing was long and arduous, spanning 12 years and 85 rejections over 5 separate manuscripts.” He waited until he had published 10 bestselling novels before he gave up his day job as an attorney.
If you want to write, do it because you enjoy writing. A writer must gain satisfaction by engaging hours upon hours in a thought provoking process, living in your own dream world, and having the finished product of the words on the page provide a sense of accomplishment. If you are fortunate to become published, the rewards are having others enjoy reading your book, compliments from readers, and if you are lucky, you might receive some financial gain. But don’t forget that books are works of art and art is in the eye of the beholder. Write because writing is your passion.
Image courtesy of RAWKU5

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Top Five Tips for Writing a Bestselling Novel

All writers dream of creating that bestselling novel. Very few reach that dream since it’s a difficult journey that involves many twists and turns. Producing a novel is a complicated task that requires the author to master both the Art and the Craft of writing. The following is a list of 5 key ingredients for creating a great novel and each one of these requires practice, practice, and more practice.

1. Powerful Storyline. In today’s fast-paced society authors must captivate their readers so they continue turning the pages. The beginning of a novel sets the stage and introduces the characters and basis of the plot. The body of the novel builds the plot up to the climax and resolution of the storyline. All genres of writing require some form of tension or conflict to grab and hold the reader’s attention. Some writers outline their books and some rely on their creative muse to guide them through the writing process. James Patterson creates very intricate scene-by-scene road-maps for his novels. Michael Palmer spends 4 to 5 months developing a detailed outline before he starts the actual writing process of putting the words on the page.

 2.   Fascinating Characters. A good read requires compelling characters. The key to maintaining an intimate relationship between readers and the characters of a novel is to “show, don’t tell.” Show a character’s actions and thoughts rather than tell through the narrator’s description. Let the reader become the character or be in the scene with the character viewing the action. Bring the reader into each scene through powerful, intimate relationships with the key characters. Make your characters three-dimensional. Give them weaknesses and flaws and show them evolve with a sense of realism.

3.   Captivating Scenes. Vivid descriptions of the scenes in a novel are the key to creating the suspension of disbelief. Bestselling authors transform readers into people who are mentally experiencing their story. The readers visualize being present as the story unfolds. Photographs and videos are a godsend to allow writers to describe scenes in realistic detail. Stimulate the reader’s senses with sounds, odors, tastes, and tactile experiences. Bring your readers into the real world.

4.   Thrillride to a Gripping Climax. Keep the pace moving and readers turning the pages eager to see the next twist and turn in your story. Readers want an emotional impact with tension, high stakes, and powerful conflicts. They want to live the thrillwith your characters. End each scene with a hook that will grab your readers by the throat and make them turn the page. Make sure your plot threads grow throughout the story and weave together to end with a powerful realism that readers will appreciate and accept with a sense of awe and satisfaction.

5.   E-promotion and Marketing. In today’s Internet driven society, a new author must dive headlong into promoting the result of months, or years, of mastering the art and craft of writing. The publishing industry is evolving into a new enterprise with the advent of e-books, social networking, and e-promotion. More and more books are being sold through the Internet and directly through e-readers. New authors must promote themselves and their books through this rapidly expanding world of technology.

Image courtesy of Lukáš Patkaň.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ian Walkley Interview with D.L. Wilson

Ian Walkley Interview with D.L. Wilson
Tell us a little about your background.
My love of novels evolved during my day-job in the fashion industry which took me to 32 countries. The countless hours on airplanes drew me into reading thrillers. My extensive international travel also spawned a fascination with world cultures and exotic locales. Eventually I was hooked and decided to write novels. The process was much harder and longer than I had ever imagined. I was extremely fortunate that my years of practice to become a writer paid off. My first novel, UNHOLY GRAIL, became a national bestseller and has been translated into eight languages. Clive Cussler called UNHOLY GRAIL “a tale rich with intrigue that grips the imagination. A must read.” You can find out more about my writing life at my website

Have you written another novel?

My second novel, SIROCCO, is a bio-terrorism thriller. I’m very proud to say it’s getting rave reviews from some of my favorite thriller authors. James Rollins said “SIROCCO is both a razor-edged thriller and a tour de force.” Steve Berry said “D. L. Wilson is a wry, appealing voice in the thriller world. This one is well worth a look.” You can view a SIROCCO video trailer on my website

Tell us about the protagonist and antagonist in the story—what do you like about them?
The protagonist in SIROCCO, Brett Reynolds an attorney representing the pharmaceutical lobby, rushes to Washington for an urgent meeting of Homeland Security to investigate a terrorist threat by Sirocco, a secret organization within the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
With a bio-terror looming that could devastate the U.S., Brett learns of his brother’s death in a bizarre murder/suicide. He discovers connections between his brother and Sirocco’s terrorist plot. His investigation leads him on a harrowing chase that ends in a deadly confrontation with Sirocco and a chilling climax in the Oval Office.
I enjoyed the opportunity to present a character caught in the maelstrom of a family crisis and a deadly threat to his country. I try to get my readers to envision the daily turmoil gripping my characters and to be there in the moment with them experiencing every joy and every pain.
The antagonist in SIROCCO, Sharifah Abbas, is an intelligent woman who turns to terrorism as a means of gaining power and control in a society that delegates women to a position of subservience to men. Many of my female readers expressed a strange attraction to Sharifah due to her ability to manipulate the restraints of her culture to attain total dominance in her secret terrorist stronghold.
I also used Sharifah to demonstrate how terrorists can manipulate a religion as a means of supporting their evil objectives. In my extensive research I found that it’s not a religion that creates terroristic ideals, it’s terrorists who translate religious manifestos to meet their own sinister desires.
I try to develop my characters as real people who my readers can relate to and feel, see, and experience their lives as my story plot unfolds.

How do you work on a story to bring the components like character and plot together into the final product?
My goal is to write Fiction with Content. I begin with a basic concept of the story line and my key characters. Then I do way too much research into fascinating aspects that support my plot and develop my characters. I focus on the history, technology, associations, people, and locations that become major factors in creating a powerful suspense/thriller. I interview fascinating individuals who work in the fields my characters represent. I want my readers to be caught up in the “thrill” of my novel, turning the pages to follow the tension and twists and turns of the developing story. When they close that last page, I want my readers to reflect on the “content” within the story that opened new interesting perspectives they had taken for granted.
My greatest thrill is receiving the many reader comments through my website telling me they thought some of the content I had presented was incorrect and then they did their own research and realized they had learned something new. If I can enhance readers’ understanding of important aspects of history, culture, and technology as they keep flipping the pages enthralled with the characters and plot of my story, I’m achieving my goal.

In order to bring all the aspects of my novel together, I create a very detailed story analysis that contains Chapters, Scenes, Time Line, Story Line, Point of View, Characters, Tension/Conflict, Setting, and General Comments. I use this to bring a balance to the development of the plot and characters. This becomes my map as I put on my creative hat and start the actual writing of the novel. It’s important to note that as I’m writing my manuscript, I may find a fascinating side trip that takes me from my detailed analysis. But just as I might take a detour during a drive, I always have my analysis like a road map to get me back on the road to my final objective.

What is one thing that has helped you develop as a writer?
The most important factor that has helped me is sticking to my goal of practice, practice, practice. Writing is an art and a craft and art is in the eyes of the beholder. In order to master the craft requires practice and mastering the art, which is constantly changing, requires reading your genre to keep up with the changes and more practice, practice, practice. Every little tweak that grabs your readers by the throat and keeps them turning the pages is a step toward success.

What is the most successful thing you’ve done to market your book(s)?
In today’s technology driven society, I don’t think there’s one simple marketing factor that can make an author successful. I’ve been focusing on the developing e-promotional arena to market my books. It’s a combination of many factors: a good website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Blogging, and new areas like Pinterest that bring your novels to new readers. I’ve gotten great comments about my latest marketing tool, a video book trailer. In today’s market people are attracted to things that are short and sweet. My book trailer is on the opening page of my website at where visitors can click links to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and my Blog.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Writing is an Art and a Craft

I waited until I retired from my day job before focusing on writing full-time. I learned that advice at a few writingconferences while I was trying to learn the basics of writing. Successful authors stressed it’s not a good idea to quit your day job to become a writer. Being a successful author is a long and arduous task. The big dollars are only earned by a very small percentage of authors. Before you can write that “successful novel” you must learn the skills and technology of writing. And that doesn’t come overnight. Learning can be achieved through university courses, writing seminars, Webinars, books on writing, workshops, and writing groups. During the learning process one mustn’t lose sight of the very import fact that writing is an ART and a CRAFT.
Don’t forget, ART is in the eye of the beholder. Not every reader will love your work. I could hold up two famous, but different style paintings and ask a number of people to vote on which they prefer. The result would be mixed. I have asked members at a writing workshop to write down the name of their favorite author on a slip of paper. At one recent workshop, 30 responses had only one duplicate name. In the words of the famous poet John Lydgate, or possibly P.T. Barnum, or possibly Mark Twain, or maybe even adapted by President Lincoln. “You can please some of the people all of the time. You can please all of the people some of the time. But you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
It is our job as writers to find what our readers are looking for and try to provide them with exciting enjoyable reads. To do that we must learn the art and the craft of writing. But no matter how many courses or workshops we attend in the technology of writing, success requires practice, practice, practice. A first chair musician at a major philharmonic orchestra does not get to that position after simply learning the art of music by taking music classes. It takes practice, practice, and more practice. A very small percentage of musicians make it to a major philharmonic orchestra, much less that first chair. The same is true for writers striving for a bestselling novel.
When I decided to write thriller novels, I attended conferences, went to workshops, participated in writers’ groups, and networked whenever I could. I was very fortunate to talk to an editor and an author who gave me the same very important advice. Learn the craft and write a novel just for the practice. Don’t intend to send your first attempt to an agent or editor. Treat it as your practice session. Make it your test surgery like the first surgeries a surgeon in training makes on cadavers. Learn from your mistakes without having to suffer the rejection, after rejection, after rejection. Put that first novel into your closet. Lock it in your file cabinet. Then try the real thing. Go for the gusto with a better shot at becoming a published author. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from the author and editor. But then I thought about my many years in the fashion industry and how often I learned from my mistakes and was better for it.
My first effort at writing fiction was CHILDREN OF THE SUN. Only members of my critique group ever read the words that went into that manuscript. I hid the manuscript deep in the back of my file cabinet. When I set about writing my next effort at fiction, I didn’t think I had reached a level where I could feel comfortable that my writing was on a close enough par with the thriller novels I was reading. I created outlines of a few thriller novels and used them as a guide to create an outline for my next effort. I re-read CHILDREN OF THE SUN and came to the conclusion that, as the book progressed, I was improving, but still had a long way to go. I decided to write another suspense/thriller and focused on developing a detailed outline to guide me. The title was PRESIDENTIAL SANCTION and I vowed to once again destine it to my own personal slush pile.
About two years ago when I was working on my latest thriller, SIROCCO, I participated in a monthly critique group that was providing me with great input on polishing SIROCCO. One day I brought a scene from PRESIDENTIAL SANCTION and read it to the group. I watched the expressions of the group changing into weird looks. Finally, one of the members said, “You didn’t write that.” When I asked them why, another member said, “Your writing is much better.” That made my day.

That experience showed me that maybe practice doesn’t make perfect, but practice does go a long way in helping us improve our writing. Practice, practice, practice. 
Image courtesy of Flavio Takemoto