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Why Write a Serial Thriller?

12/07/2010

Today marks the paperback publication of WATCHLIST, the print edition of two serial thrillers I had the honor of participating in — THE CHOPIN MANUSCRIPT and its sequel, THE COPPER BRACELET. Both books were based on ideas by Jeffery Deaver and edited by Jim Fusilli, and a total of 22 authors participated in the projects, including genre masters such as Linda Barnes, Lee Child, David Liss, and Lisa Scottoline.

The books have been successful beyond all expectations. Not only were they bestsellers in audio format, but THE CHOPIN MANUSCRIPT won the Audie for best audiobook of 2008. It’s always a great feeling to be part of a successful project, but as I’ve given some interviews and participated in a roundtable discussion about these books, I’ve realized that I got some big benefits from the projects as well.

First, the process gave me new insights into my colleagues’ imaginations. One of the main attractions of writing a novel is the control it gives you over the world you create. I get to decide who the characters are, what they do, and what happens to them; I might never rule the world, but I rule my worlds. But it was exciting to see what Jeff Deaver came up with, and riff on his ideas. Likewise, especially in THE CHOPIN MANUSCRIPT, I was almost overwhelmed by the variety of ideas and plot threads jammed into those first eight chapters.

Second, I got some new insights into structure and pacing, or at least was able to use what I knew in a different way. I wrote Chapter Nine of THE CHOPIN MANUSCRIPT. So much had happened by that point that I had to work hard to make my chapter fit into the different storylines — not only from the writer’s point of view, but from the reader’s. By the time I got the story, other authors had given the reader several terrific action sequences. I wanted to write an action sequence, too, but I stopped myself; it would have been overload. What the book needed, at that point in the story, was something quieter. (I learned another lesson from that, too. When it came time to write the second book, I asked editor Jim Fusilli for an earlier chapter, and got Chapter 6 of THE COPPER BRACELET.)

Third, I got to use some ideas and material I hadn’t been able to fit into any of my own books. Every author has more ideas than he or she will ever have time to write, and I do so much research that I’ll never be able to use everything I know about a given topic. For THE COPPER BRACELET, I got to use research I’d done for VANISHED, and explore a subject that’s always fascinated me: how someone would get into Russia secretly. It had been much too long since I’d set anything in Moscow, which was my first love and my first area of expertise. I jumped at the chance to set a scene there, using both old memories and information from a more recent visit. I set a scene in a club for retired KGB officers that’s based on a real place, a place I was invited to. Few Westerners have ever been in there, and I was delighted to be able to write something based on the experience.

It’s been great to see these books have such a long life, and find their way to readers in both audio and print formats. I’m glad to have been involved, and I hope they’ll send readers to other works by all the authors who participated.