Writing psychological thrillers- plus the pleasures of genre-bending
I recently sat down with Bookreporter to discuss writing and my new psychological thriller, The Marriage Pact. We talked about the inspiration for The Marriage Pact, why I love writing psychological thrillers and suspense, four primary rules of The Pact, collectivism gone awry, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, genre-bending, writing really scary scenes, and writing process.
Here, we talk about how to write a novel that bends or at least blurs genre. Read the entire Bookreporter author interview.
BRC: Each of your books has tended to blur genres, and THE MARRIAGE PACT doubles down on that. The controlling and threatening aspect of The Pact clearly landed it in the thriller genre for me, and there are elements of romance and even some science fiction to it. Are you drawn toward or away from any particular genre? Did you find that you had to rein yourself in while writing the book to keep it from swerving into one genre or another? If so, how did you do it?
MR: It’s true, my books have always crossed genres. When I write a book, I don’t really think about genre. I think instead about a specific person in a particular place and time, facing a specific and significant problem. Before I turn it in, I begin to think about how it will be received in terms of genre and where it will fit. There is a tendency in the publishing industry to want to put every book in a single category, and to strip away everything in the manuscript that doesn’t fit the prescribed category. Every book can only sit on one shelf, but that doesn’t mean it neatly fits into a single genre. That said, genre can actually be very helpful in leading readers to books they will enjoy.
While THE MARRIAGE PACT is the first novel I’ve written that has landed on the suspense shelf, I always try to write suspenseful novels, because I want to entertain the reader. There are many different ways to do suspense, though, and not all require the kind of pacing that is expected in a thriller. THE YEAR OF FOG begins with a child who goes missing on a foggy San Francisco beach, and GOLDEN STATE involves a tense hostage crisis at a Veterans Administration Hospital. NO ONE YOU KNOW, which reviewers described as a literary thriller, derives its suspense from an unsolved murder that happened 20 years before.
Every one of my novels has a romantic relationship front and center, because I am a (practical) romantic, and I like to think about and write about the way two people stay together or break apart. What causes the ruptures? What helps them to repair those ruptures? I also believe that humans need intimacy. We look for it in our literature and films just as we look for it in our lives. Emotional intimacy between two characters helps us feel connected to a story and its characters, and it also inspires us to think about our own relationships. Also, in romantic relationships, we are often the truest version of ourselves, because our private moments with people we love tend to be when our defenses and masks fall away. Put your character in a room alone with his or her spouse, and you begin to see who that character really is.
The scene or scenes to which I think you’re referring that verge on horror are a true departure from my other novels, but it just felt right and organic to those moments in the story. I often have a tendency to hold back in my writing, to have protagonists proceed with caution the way I do in my everyday life. I wanted to let go of caution in THE MARRIAGE PACT, and get the characters into situations I’m pretty certain I will never encounter. I wanted to let the narrative spin out to a scarier place than I’ve been willing to go before. I had so much fun, I just might do it again!
Originally published at Sans Serif.