Thriller writers: Are we scary?

I had to chuckle while reading Sunday’s post by PD Martin.

In the comments section, a reader confessed, “I do have to say that thriller writers scare me a little.”

She’s not alone in that sentiment.

At an MWA meeting a couple of months ago, a fellow mystery writer approached me. With a glimmer in his eyes, he asked me whether I’d read the books by one of our Kill Zone authors (And no, I won’t say which Killer he was asking about, or even if it was one of our guys or gals. Hah! You have to guess).

“Have you read (his) books?” Mystery Writer wanted to know. “(He’s) sick.”

Sick. To a thriller writer, there’s no higher compliment.

By trade, we thriller authors write scary, gory tales. Our books are peopled with weird, unbalanced, downright messed-up characters. Twisted stuff happens. And when we do our jobs right, our readers might even assume that the writer is a tad strange. Suspect, even.

After reading enough of this dark matter, a reader might feel compelled to eventually ask: How do you think this warped sh*t up? And why do you?


As a writer, you have to be able to unleash your imagination to the extent that you give that kind of a chill. But in reality, all the thriller writers I know are gentle, kind souls. It’s only our writing that’s dark and strange.

Writers, have you ever gotten the vibe that someone thinks there’s something perhaps a bit off about you because you write about death, murder and mayhem?
And I’d be interested in knowing from readers: Is there anything you’ve ever read where you’ve thought, “Oh my God, there’s something scary about that writer”?
Oh and before I forget, I thought I’d add a postscript to PD’s post about body-dumping grounds.

PD had posited the question about what makes a good dumping ground.

Here are some of the tidbits it reveals about the art of body-dumping:

  • Most dumping grounds will be found near road networks (proximity to covered vehicle required).
  • Most people can drag a body only about 50 feet. About 200 feet, max.
  • Bodies are normally found off the right passenger
    side of the road, heading outbound from a city or town.
Oops. Did that sound scary?
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Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Eric Stone, Tim Maleeny, Oline Cogdill, James Scott Bell, and more.
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20 thoughts on “Thriller writers: Are we scary?

  1. “Is there anything you’ve ever read where you’ve thought, “Oh my God, there’s something scary about that writer.”

    The first time I read RED DRAGON by Thomas Harris, I remember pausing a number of times to glance at Mr. Harris’ picture on the back dust cover and asking, “What the hell were you thinking???”

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  2. My co-sponsor of our school’s literary magazine and I will sometimes sneak a poem or flash piece into the grouping of poems and shorts to see what the kids will say when they honestly don’t know it’s ours.

    I put in one short that received an, “I feel like I need a shower now,” from one of the girls.

    Works for me.

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  3. Interesting timing, Kathryn. I recently finished a flash piece about why it’s important to dig the hole first, because a burial site has to be close to where you can get the car, and the more time spent with the body, the greater the chances of some pain in the ass innocent bystander coming by, in which case you need a bigger hole.

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  4. Joe, that’s it. You start to wonder about the writerat some point. I think that’s when our writing must be hitting the ultimate chill, or thrill, point. But we’re still all a bunch of really nice people–we just think up weird stuff. Dana, it took me two readings to realize that the “bigger hole” would be needed because you’d have to kill the innocent bystander. LOL!

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  5. Personally, I think that thriller/murder mystery writers tend to be far better adjusted than the average person. I mean, think about it. You have a profession that allows you to take all those deep, dark, forbidden desires and fulfill them via sublimation into a socially acceptable outlet. Everybody else is just hanging out daydreaming about what they’d like to do to their boss. Thriller writers are, I think, more in touch with ALL sides of their humanity.

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  6. The term I’ve been labeled with most is “warped.” Of course I’m just getting started good.

    Hopefully I’ll become scary one of these days.

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  7. I once had a guy saw his own leg off, in lieu of being devoured by a flesh eating bacteria that a dying terrorist had splashed on him. I asked a few friends at the VA hospital where I work to read it. They did, then asked why I wanted to torment them with such images. Apparently it awoke PTSD in a couple of them and they were unable to sleep for days. Maybe too far? Or maybe should’a picked a different audience to bounce it off of.

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  8. By the way. Although I am not a crime writer, it is cool to have a father in law who is a Crime Lab Evidence technician and certified crime scene investigator. Some times he goes to great length describing a particular blood splatter pattern or suicide scene. The worst was when he described a gang rape in the woods.
    I had to stop him because my kids were in the next room and I could hear that they stopped their playing as he talked. He even brought me a full color text book of suicide images one time, to help with describing a massive wound I was writing. Great guy, terrific reading…some of you here would probably love it.
    Gotta be careful what the kids pick up at Grandpa’s house.

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  9. Kait, when it comes to being a writer or any creative type, I once heard the saying, “It helps to have a wound.” I suspect that crime fiction writers are like other artists in that sometimes we’re working out issues, and the writing is one outlet. Only we definitely keep it on the page, at least as far as I know, grin!

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  10. Very cool to have a crime scene investigator in the family, Basil. Jake and Dana, you’ll have to explain sometime what “flash pieces” are. I’m not quite sure I even know! Now I feel like a Luddite.

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  11. Are you scary?
    I don´t think I have ever met a thriller writer, but my guess would be: the scarier stuff they write, the more ordinary in real life.
    But if you want to be a little bit scary, I can try to pretend 😉

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  12. I’m only a thriller/crime reader not writer but I’ve met a few writers and a lot of readers and I don’t find either group scarier than the rest of the population. I think Kait is probably right – you work out any fantasies you might have about killing your boss/ex/neighbour-from-hell by killing them off in a grizzly way in your book and move on with your life. On the other hand there’s a guy in my office who is happy and positive all the time and he has declared he never reads or watches news nor does he read fiction of any kind nor does he watch fiction movies. He scares me senseless 🙂

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  13. Kathryn,
    Flash=Flash Fiction. That’s a short-short story, and depending who you ask, it is 750 words or less, or as little as 500 words or less. It forces you to be concise, to tell a compelling story with a decent background and complete plot arc in a very short span. Sort of a “scene with meaning” if you will.

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  14. There must be something in the air. Did you see Tess Gerritson’s blog over on Murderati?

    And what does it say about those of us who avidly read all this? And who critique your story about the how’s and whyfores of what you write. It seems to me you guys should be more nervous about meeting your fan-base than about scaring people!

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  15. Kathryn,
    An example of flash… 70 word story…

    Nose stings from the gunsmoke.

    Tastes metallic on the tongue.

    Dragon lying in wait.

    Cinder block dust and street dirt cakes my face.

    110 degrees out there

    A cool 100 in this shade.

    Armed figures slither into the street, checking the body.

    Step into my crosshairs.

    Inhale.

    Exhale.

    Squeeze slowly.

    Nose tenses, anticipates cordite sting.

    Puff. Slap.

    Another down, the rest scurry like rats.

    Long day ahead.

    Semper Fi, Haji.

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  16. I’m a day late catching up on blogs again!

    My husband read one of my first chapters once and told me I was sick. He hasn’t read one since then. And my oldest son read my new short story in Mysterical-e and told me I was insane.

    On Saturday, my husband and I went to a log home seminar. When we toured the plant, there was a huge cylinder that they use to pressure treat the logs. I told hubby that it would be a great place for a murder. Shove someone in, and throw the switch. I’m not sure if anyone overheard me or not, but no cops showed up.

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  17. Joyce, you’re right, that log-pressure thing sounds like a perfect scene of a crime! Jake and Basil, thank you for the lesson in flash fiction. I never delve into any new writing formats because I’m constantly behind schedule in my one-and-only, lol. Fran, thanks for mentioning Tess’s blog. I just read it, and it’s very resonant with the topic today. Bernadette, you’re probably right about the too-happy people of the world. They’re obviously hiding something, grin.

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  18. A while back, I sat and talked with a well-known mystery writer who told me one of the reasons he’s good at it is because he’s a sociopath. He sees things differently and can write them that way. To the best of my knowledge, he’s never actually killed anyone. But then the proof is in the getting away with it, right?

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  19. I remember a time last year when a bookstore owner discovered I was a fan of horror fiction. Her face immediately grimaced, as if I’d professed my devotion to the KKK. Lord knows what her reaction might have been if I told her I wrote the stuff too.

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