Sunday, August 19, 2012

Writing the Science-based Thriller

Nearly all of us work in some business and the better part of our waking hours is often spent engaged in that work, so placing my novels in an industry has always felt to me to be a natural extension of life.  The industry in STAR TIME (coming out this Wednesday) is network television.  In my legal thriller A QUESTION OF PROOF, the victim is a newspaper publisher.  BIRTHRIGHT (being published soon) is the saga of an investment banking family.  The amount of research that I had to master to be able to write knowledgeably about those industries was often daunting.  If one is not a scientist and, more specifically, a scientist in the specific discipline in which a novel is to be set, the research can be even more daunting.  Exposure to the science can be fascinating to readers, but that will prove inconsequential to creating a compelling novel if the characters and their concerns do not fascinate as well. 

Years ago, I conceived of a science-based thriller.  The science was cutting edge and, I thought, would be a revelation to the general public: immortality that might just be scientifically possible.  First I had to find the few texts that mentioned the new discovery.  Then I had to look up nearly every word in the texts, but I kept doggedly at it because the stakes were high: First, I wanted to write a compelling science-based thriller and, second, I wanted to live forever.  My agent eventually dissuaded me from pursuing the book any further because the characters and their concerns did not seem anywhere near so gripping to him as the science.  But now that I think about it – and he is no longer among those of us who can still benefit from that area's advances – I wonder if perhaps he had a prejudice against science-based thrillers.  The science is still cutting edge and still not that widely known.  Maybe if I went back and plumbed those characters and concerns anew, maybe, just maybe . . . 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How Do You Recreate the Legal Thriller?

Having just published A QUESTION OF PROOF, a legal thriller with twists and turns not resolved until the very last sentence, I’ve had some experience with the genre.  And being a lawyer by training, I probably have a leg up on legal intricacies.  But I would suggest that the legal thriller is only effective if it is a story about the people involved, with the legal system, say a murder trial, being the inexorable peril they confronting them.  Peril is the essential ingredient for any thriller, and an all-powerful legal system is a fearsome form of peril with some form of loss at stake for the defendant and, at its most intriguing, those around the defendant.  The threat can run from the loss of something the defendant holds dear to, at its most fearsome, death by a jury’s decree. 

In A QUESTION OF PROOF, Susan Boelter is charged with murdering her newspaper-publisher husband, who was divorcing her and appeared to be on the brink of taking everything from her, including custody of their thirteen-year-old daughter.  She asks Dan Lazar, a renowned criminal defense attorney, to defend her.  But he faces two obstacles to taking on her defense: He is about to lose his license to practice law due to trumped-up charges of witness tampering; and, more important, he and Susan are lovers.  The legal system has provided the hurdles and dangers, but they are only the means for exploring the acts, motives and relationships of the people trapped within it.  I say the story remains unresolved until the very last sentence, but that sentence relates to Susan and Dan and their relationship, not to a legal outcome.  If readers care about their story, they will be engrossed in discovering their fate until the very last word.