The Writer’s Corner: The Craft of Writing Political Thrillers
Life and death are subjects that most people do their best to avoid. Yet there is no more important subject we must deal with than coming to terms with why we are here on this earth and what happens after we die. For me, novels about life and death are an interesting and effective environment to talk about life and death. They allow me to communicate essential truths in a palatable and even enjoyable way.
When Lynn and I used to live in Washington, D.C., we had some neighbors. They had young boys who were the same age as our kids. One day, the mom told us that she struggled to get their children to eat enough protein. So sometimes she would put leftover meat loaf into the kids’ smoothies. They had no idea and drank it right down. We were like, “Augh! How can you do that?” But there was no questioning her results.
If I emblazoned a subtitle on my next Marcus Ryker thriller that read, “A Novel about the Deep Truths of Life,” I’m guessing my sales would plummet. But if I can write another book that is a roller-coaster ride where the adrenaline is pumping and the heart rate is up and people are staying awake late into the night, saying to themselves, “Just one more chapter,” then readers will forgive me if deftly woven into the fabric of the story are important themes of who we really are and what this life is all about. In fact, if the story is good enough, I will earn the right in many readers’ minds to deal with subjects like Jesus Christ and salvation and eternal life.
I don’t shy away from the fact that I am an evangelical Christian. However, my characters are all over the map in terms of what they think and believe. Some are very devout Muslims, some are very devout Jews, some are very devout atheists, and some are very devout about not being very devout. It’s important that people see lots of different types of individuals. And if there is an evangelical in my book, I always ensure that they are not preachy or off-putting. Most Christian characters that one finds in books, movies, or television are either sanctimonious hypocrites or proselytizing weirdos. I want people to look at a character like Marcus Ryker and think, He’s a guy just like me. Maybe he leads a more dangerous life than I do, but he seems to have some of the same struggles and doubts as I do. And he also appears to have more hope.
My latest novel, The Beirut Protocol, deals with these deeper subjects more than any others in the Marcus Ryker series. Throughout, Ryker and his companions are faced with a very probable death. How does he handle that fear? He also must deal with an almost-impossible choice whether to leave his companions to save himself and hopefully bring back help or to remain behind with them to likely be slaughtered. They are certainly deep themes, but I believe that because of the action and intrigue of the story, I was able to mix them into an exciting thriller that will draw you in enough that you will never even taste the meat loaf.
—Joel C. Rosenberg