The Writer’s Corner: The Craft of Writing Political Thrillers
To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. I’ve heard this old adage many times, and I wholeheartedly agree with it. I am a voracious reader, and my budget for buying books is probably higher than my wife, Lynn, wishes it was. In the past, my bias had always been toward nonfiction. Not because I didn’t enjoy fiction, but because my job was such that I didn’t have much time to read it. While I lived in Washington and worked in politics, Lynn or my sister-in-law would usually give me a Clancy or a Grisham thriller for Christmas and I’d read as much as I could over the holidays. But most of my days were spent having to keep up with the news.
More recently I’ve carved out more time in my schedule for fiction. I’ve been eager to read what my colleagues who write bestselling political novels are doing, not because I’m looking for ideas but because I’m a fan of the political thriller and spy novel genres. I thought I’d list here some of my favorites.
Vince Flynn endorsed my first novel, The Last Jihad. That was most kind and deeply appreciated, particularly since he was a master of the thriller. I enjoyed his fast-paced style and his great protagonist Mitch Rapp, the Syracuse student–turned–CIA assassin. Sadly, we lost Vince way too early in his life. Kyle Mills now carries the Rapp series, and he does it with great skill and creativity. Even though we haven’t met, I’ve gotten to know Kyle a bit through online events and interviews. He generously spent an evening helping me kick off The Beirut Protocol virtual book tour with an event hosted by the Poisoned Pen bookstore. (Other events included ones hosted by the Georgia Center for the Book with the DeKalb County Public Library and Beyond the Book Jacket with the Cuyahoga County Public Library.) Kyle’s a good guy and sharp writer, and I’m a tad jealous because his father was an FBI special agent, so Kyle grew up with this stuff in his blood.
I’ve also loved reading the Jack Reacher books. Lee Child is a fantastic storyteller and has crafted a fascinating series. A six-foot-five, 250-pound ex-Army drifter ambles into a town, finds trouble, fixes it with cunning and brute force, and just seems to mosey on. The books are far better than the movies, but I’ve actually enjoyed both films a great deal. They should make more.
Brad Thor rocks. I’ve read several of his novels and enjoyed them immensely. I have no idea where I was, but I should have started reading him earlier.
Unfortunately, I am an even later arrival at Daniel Silva’s books. The first I ever read was The New Girl, which wove together a Saudi crown prince, an Israeli Mossad chief, assassinations, global intrigue, and some very fine writing. It was right up my alley, and I loved it. I now hope to begin the Gabriel Allon series from the beginning.
There is one more writer I want to mention who doesn’t get a lot of attention anymore—Agatha Christie, the dame of the spy novel. I remember watching a number of Agatha Christie movies and thinking they were lame. I couldn’t understand what the big deal was about her. Then I heard that she sold more than two billion copies of her novels and decided to find out what I had been missing. Wow! She’s good. Really good. I don’t know why Hollywood can’t do Agatha justice. The plays are better. Lynn and I have seen The Mousetrap (several times) and The Witness for the Prosecution and loved them both. Still, the novels are better. Agatha was just a brilliant writer and storyteller, and I commend her books to you, especially the Hercule Poirot mysteries.
I love losing myself in other people’s stories. When I read fiction, I’m not making notes in the margin or analyzing it for deeper meanings. I just want to be swept up in the action and immersed in the intrigue. My hope is that you feel the same when you pick up one of my novels. Leave the pen in your desk. Don’t analyze the text. For heaven’s sake, don’t overanalyze it. Just sit back and let the story transport you to another world.
—Joel C. Rosenberg