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Genres can be stern taskmasters, none more so than the thriller with its conventions of suspense that come variously from Aristotle, Poe, and Dan Brown. The action must unfurl from the novel’s inception and should be compressed to fit into a short time window. A web of intrigue should span the globe and reach the very highest vaults of power. Forces of darkness conspire to work against a sympathetic protagonist who must battle relentlessly, overcoming obstacles, solving puzzles, and usually saving the planet from wickedness or annihilation.

Taskmasters can coax mediocre work from the lazy and great work from the inspired. The trick is in mastering the conventions of genre with the required depth and confidence so that an author can turn the tables. The reason that Dan Brown sold 40 million copies of The Da Vinci Code wasn’t because he slavishly followed all the rules of the genre; it’s because he had years of erudition in his head that genre allowed him to organize in a coherent fashion. In effect, genre gave him a road map to follow but without a destination clearly marked out. He began with a dead body, but the dead body of a very interesting person — perhaps the greatest dead body in all of commercial fiction, a curator of the Louvre. This was the hook of all hooks, and Dan Brown has been justly rewarded. …


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I was finding it really hard to be grateful for just about anything.

I’d been married just six months when my doctors gave me a terrifying health diagnosis. They informed me I had the same gene that caused my dad’s muscular dystrophy, a disease that crippled him in his forties and led to his death in his early sixties.

I was told I would show signs of the disease within a few years. I was only 35 and I had just married a man who loved climbing mountains and skiing and hiking and doing anything at all with a pair of two strong legs. We’d fallen in love on an adventurous trip in the Galapagos islands, hiked a small mountain to get engaged and had plans to spend the rest of our lives chasing after one another through rugged terrain around the globe. As we shuttled in between doctors appointments and saw specialists who drew what felt like a pint of blood at a time, I had a hard time looking at the bright side of things and enjoying my year as a newlywed. …


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Like many people my age or younger, I came to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by way of the film adaptation: Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece Blade Runner. The film still stands today as my favorite movie, so much so I gave my son the middle name of Deckard (Rachel being high on our list of names for girls, had fate taken us in that direction). …

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