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Ruler of the Night: Magnificent Euston Station

Aug 07, 2016 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

Ruler of the Night by David MorrellDavid Morrell’s Ruler of the Night is set on the harrowing, fogbound streets of 1855 London. A gripping Victorian mystery/thriller, its vivid historical details come from years of research. Here are photo essays that David prepared about the novel’s fascinating locations.

The railway era began in 1830 with the first train between Liverpool and Manchester. Ten years later, almost two thousand miles of tracks crisscrossed Britain. By 1855, a mere twenty-five years later, six thousand miles of tracks united every corner of the nation, with more being planned. Materials, products, and coal could now be transported with such speed and profit that Britain became the first nation to take full advantage of the Industrial Revolution, achieving unprecedented world dominance.

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London’s first railway stations were monuments of power and prosperity, but none equaled the grandeur of Euston Station, one of the principal locales in Ruler of the Night. Euston Station was graced with an impressive entrance courtyard and a huge arch that rose 70 feet high and was 44 feet wide, the largest of its kind in the world. Massive ornate bronze gates added to its spectacle.

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There was further grandeur. Beyond the arch, to the right, travelers entered the Great Hall, with its twin staircases, numerous columns, and eight statues. It was 64 feet high, 126 feet long, and 61 feet wide.

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But while the arch and the Great Hall evoked the wonder of classical antiquity, the actual railway platform represented the industrial age. Composed of iron and glass, it now seems more bleak than awesome. The original station with its arch and Great Hall was destroyed in 1961 to make room for a larger but less impressive one.

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Ruler of the Night is based on an actual incident: the first murder on an English train and the terrifying consequences.

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Laird Hunt and Christopher Charles in Conversation

Aug 03, 2016 in Fiction, Mulholland Authors, Writing

The Exiled by Christopher Charles The Exiled is Christopher Charles’s debut thriller, featuring a detective named Wes Raney who seeks refuge from his ignominious past in NYC in the brutal and beautiful New Mexican desert. Of Charles’s novel, Shelf Awareness writes “The Exiled is a fine piece of crime fiction with a keen sense of timing and character.” Here to talk about timing and character is Christopher Charles in conversation with his former writing instructor, Laird Hunt, author of the critically acclaimed novel Neverhome.

Laird Hunt: Which came first: Raney in New York or Raney in the New Mexican desert? When did you know you were going to give both Raneys more or less equal portions of the novel?

Christopher Charles: Raney in the desert came first, largely because the desert came first. I started with the crime, or an image of the crime: three bodies in a Cold-War style bunker in the New Mexico desert. The detective grew from the case. The murders felt urban to me—out of place in the southwestern landscape. The detective had to be urban and out of place, too.

To be honest, I’m not sure the decision to give them equal portions of the novel was ever really a conscious one—the past just seemed to be catching up with the present as I wrote, and I went where the story took me.

Hunt: The later Raney obviously contains the earlier. In what ways does the earlier Raney contain the later?

Charles: They’re both motivated in ways they don’t necessarily understand. They’re driven, but their drive is like a foreign entity. Raney at any age would likely launch full-throttle into anything you put in front of him. Both Raneys have an idyllic vision of who they’d like to be, but they can’t stop themselves from chasing after whatever seems urgent in the present. Older Raney realizes that he can only control himself by controlling his environment. But how long can you sustain that? How long can you remain isolated in the desert—even if the desert itself has become your passion—before civilization calls you back? Continue reading ›

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Read the First Chapter of Revolver by Duane Swierczynski

Jul 24, 2016 in Excerpts

Revolver by Duane SwierczynskiDuane Swierczynski’s new novel opens in 1965, but the events in the opening pages reverberate forward and backwards through the decades. The event crosses family lines, race lines, and legal lines, putting nearly all of Philadelphia in its cross hairs. Read the first chapter of Revolver below and discover the crime that sets everything in motion.

Stan Walczak – May 7, 1965

Officer Stanisław “Stan” Walczak usually takes his beer by the gallon, but he’s taking it easy this hot spring afternoon. He uses the backs of his thick fingers to wipe away the sweat beading up on his forehead. It’s seventy-two degrees and very humid. His Polish blood can’t stand the humidity.

He looks over at his partner, George W. Wildey. Unlike Stan, Wildey rarely breaks a sweat. He also hardly ever drinks. But after the week they’ve had, George said a cold one was most definitely in order. Stan couldn’t agree more.

They’re in plain clothes, but anybody setting foot in the bar would immediately tag them as cops. No white guy ever hangs out with a black guy in North Philly unless they’re undercover fuzz.

Technically, both are shirking duty.

A dozen blocks away, protestors are surrounding Girard College, and Stan and George are supposed to be there to help keep order. Over 130 years ago the richest man in Philadelphia willed most of his considerable fortune to establish a school for “poor, white, male” orphans on the outskirts of the city. Over the next 100 years, neighborhoods rose up around the campus. The neighborhood changed from German to Irish to Jewish and finally to black, even as the students of Girard College remained poor, white, and male.

After Brown v. Board of Education, however, blacks began to fight for their seats in the classroom. Picketing by the NAACP began seven days ago, and the commissioner dispatched a thousand police to the scene to make sure nothing got out of hand. The last thing the city wants is another riot like that clusterfuck on Columbia Avenue last August.

Stan and George were assigned to the protests from the very first day. Punishment detail, best they can figure. They must have pissed off someone high up. But despite fears of another riot, nothing has really happened. A few jokers trying to scale the twenty-foot wall onto the campus, but that’s been it. Otherwise, just a lot of standing around and waiting. Stan is pretty sure nobody will miss them. Continue reading ›

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Fictionalizing Crime

Jul 12, 2016 in Books, Guest Posts

Baby Doll by Hollie OvertonDebut novelist and television writer and producer Hollie Overton’s lifelong obsession with true crime inspired her debut thriller Baby Doll. The novel tells the story of Lily Riser, an identical twin who is kidnapped at sixteen and held captive for eight years. One day, her captor forgets to lock the deadbolt and Lily and her young daughter manage to escape. Baby Doll explores what happens next—to Lily, her twin sister Abby, their mother Eve, and Lily’s captor. Overton celebrates the publication of Baby Doll by sharing with us her favorite thrillers based on true crimes.

I had the idea for Baby Doll in 2013 when the three Cleveland women held captive for ten years by Ariel Castro finally managed to escape. As an identical twin, I kept thinking about Castro’s victims and all that they lost. I couldn’t begin to imagine how I’d cope if I lost my twin sister.

I also drew upon my own experiences, having spent my childhood with an alcoholic father who had his own own true crime past. As a member of Austin’s notorious Overton Gang, my dad spent seven years in prison for manslaughter, before marrying my mother and attempting to start a new life. This fascination with true crime, the people who commit them and the victims has evolved over the years. I love when other writers take true stories and make them their own. These are my top five thrillers inspired by some of the country’s most sensational crimes.

#5: Cartwheel by Jennifer Dubois

Cartwheel by Jennifer DuboisIn Cartwheel Lily, a young, optimistic foreign exchange student, travels to Buenos Aires and quickly becomes the prime suspect when her roommate is murdered. Lily’s family arrives to defend their daughter, but her strange behavior and lack of an alibi leaves them questioning what really happened and how well they know her.

It’s easy to see the similarities in Cartwheel to the Amanda Knox case. In 2007, twenty-year-old Amanda Knox was studying in Italy, when she was accused of murdering her roommate, Meredith Kercher. After Knox’s arrest, controversy exploded around the young woman’s behavior during and after her interrogation as well as countless media stories that painted her as an American seductress.

Like so many people, I found myself fascinated by this case, devouring news stories, analyzing what the media presented, wondering if there was any way to really know the truth. Despite the familiar subject matter, Dubois’s perspective on such a famous case is deeply engrossing.

#4: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica KnollLuckiest Girl Alive tells the story of Ani FaNelli, a beautiful, young and successful, magazine writer, engaged to the man of her dreams. Ani is hiding a painful secret from her past, a secret that could destroy her perfectly constructed life.

Upon the release of Luckiest Girl Alive, author Jessica Knoll spoke about the Columbine massacre and how it informed the plot for her bestselling novel. Knoll spent countless hours researching the mental state of the Columbine killers and applying that to her own fictional account of a similar incident.

After publication, Knoll revealed in blog post on “Lenny Letter” that another storyline in her novel was based on a true story as well: Knoll’s own sexual assault in high school. Knoll incorporated her own feelings of misplaced guilt and anxiety, and created a fast-paced thriller. Her character’s pain and suffering feels all too real, expertly capturing the repercussions of trauma left unchecked.

#3: Defending Jacob by William Landay

Defending Jacob by William LandayDefending Jacob tells the story of Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber, whose teenaged son is accused of murdering a fellow classmate. Andy insists that his shy and gentle son is innocent, but mounting evidence, strained relationships, and Andy’s own dark past force him to question everything, including how well he knows his own son.

Landay said that his inspiration came from a story he read about a Long Island detective whose father was convicted of murder, and years later the detective’s own son was also accused of murder. Landay also explores “murder genes” and expert research that says violent tendencies may be hereditary. Landay, a former Assistant District Attorney in Massachusetts, created a realistic look at the legal issues that unfold as well as his own feelings about fatherhood, making this novel one of the most emotional legal thrillers I’ve ever read.

#2: Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the Fall by Noah HawleyBefore the Fall tells the story of a private jet crash that kills every passenger on board but two: a failed painter in his forties and a young boy who becomes the heir of a million-dollar fortune. As each of the victims and the crash itself are investigated, the mystery builds. Was the crash a result of bad luck or something more sinister?

The author Noah Hawley, also the creator of the “Fargo” TV series, has expressed a deep fascination with plane crashes. Hawley also explained in several interviews that the premise of Before the Fall was inspired by a story he heard about a man who was supposed to return his rental car to the World Trade Center on 9/11, but didn’t make it on time. The randomness of that day—those who lived and those who died—stuck with Hawley. It’s impossible to stop reading until you unravel the mystery, and Before the Fall is one of my favorite thrillers of the year.

#1: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha ChristieOne of my favorite crime novels of all time is Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, the tenth book in the Hercule Poirot murder mystery series.

In this classic thriller, Poirot must solve the mystery of who killed a disagreeable American businessman on the Orient Express. The twelve passengers on board all become suspects. Poirot uncovers clues that lead him to believe the businessman was on the run from a sinister past, and that everyone on board had a reason to want him dead.

Agatha Christie based her most famous novel on one of the country’s most famous true crimes: the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s baby. Lindbergh rose to fame when he became the first pilot to fly solo from New York to Paris in 1927. Despite paying the ransom, Lindbergh learned his son was murdered, and the kidnapper was never caught. But Christie gets fictional justice in this intricately woven tale of suspense that stands the test of time.


HollieOvertonTexas transplant Hollie Overton is a novelist and television writer. Hollie has written for “Cold Case” on CBS and Lifetime’s “The Client List,” and she is currently a co-producer on the hit Freeform drama “Shadowhunters.” Hollie’s debut novel, Baby Doll, is now available in bookstores.

For more information about Hollie visit www.hollieoverton.com or follow @hollieoverton on Twitter.

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How We Got to Underground Airlines

Jun 01, 2016 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

Ben Winter’s novel Underground Airlines opens in an America almost like our own, with the same smartphones, social networks, and Happy Meals. There’s just one crucial difference: in this novel, slavery is still legal in four states. How did this happen? Winters outlines the crucial events in this alternate timeline of American history.

Feb. 12, 1861: President-elect Abraham Lincoln is shot and killed on a hotel balcony in Indianapolis, en route from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, DC to be inaugurated.

May 9, 1861: Congress passes the “Crittenden Compromise,” a package of resolutions and amendments narrowly avoiding a war between the states and permanently enshrining slavery in the American political system.

1898: Maryland passes legislation allowing for a periodic referendum on slavery, a model that will be adopted by several other states and territories.

March 4, 1934: President Franklin Roosevelt (over the objections of the remaining slave states), signs the federal Clean Hands bill, prohibiting the “possession, sale, or consumption” of slave-produced goods in any non-slave state or territory.

Autumn of 1942: In a successful effort to head off a ballot-box land rush like the one that turned Texas free, conservative lawmakers and power brokers in the states of North and South Carolina perform a set of legislative and electoral maneuvers, merging into one state, known simply as Carolina.

1944: President Truman claims a huge victory for the abolitionist movement, convincing Georgia and Kentucky to abolish slavery in exchange for lucrative wartime munitions contracts.

June 1964: The “Freedom Summer” brings busloads of abolitionist activists, black and white, into the heart of the slave-holding south to bear witness to conditions inside the new mega-plantations.

1964-1975: After Texas declares that it is seceding from the union, and President Johnson pronounces this illegal under the Constitution, the Gulf War erupts. Fought primarily in the Gulf of Mexico and along the East Texas coast, the conflict claims hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides, ending not in surrender but an uneasy detente.

Summer of 1972: The “Starman Revolt” in and around Asheville, Carolina is the largest slave uprising in modern history. The bloody revolt and its suppression, along with the lengthy manhunts that follow, lead to a raft of new “citizen protection enforcement” measures in the Southern states, and contribute to protracted, often bitter soul-searching among northern abolition movements, over the appropriateness of encouraging disobedience.

September 27, 1984: The latest reauthorization of the Fugitive Persons Law includes the Moore Amendment, exempting African American law-enforcement officers from its enforcement.

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters will be available in bookstores July 5, 2016. Preorder it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, or your local independent bookstore.

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Author Tom Fox On Choosing Your Central Characters

May 25, 2016 in Guest Posts

DominusTom Fox, author of Dominus, shares his thoughts on what qualities make for powerful central characters. Outsiders, iconoclasts, observers, or protectors—what kinds of characters do you think drive the most powerful stories? Let us know in the comments!

There comes a point in every writer’s work, or “process,” when decisions have to be made about just who the central characters of a book are going to be. Will they fly solo, or will there be a team? Will they be the macho type filled with back-stories of skills and experience, or ignorant and accidentally thrust into strange surroundings? Or will they be frail, broken? Will they be loved, or hated?

I knew from the outset that I wanted two protagonists in Dominus: no solo hero leading the cause alone, but a partnership of sorts. I wanted to be able to explore some of the key themes of the book—deception, reality, faith, doubt—from different perspectives, so it seemed natural to create two characters whose own backgrounds would allow different approaches to be taken to some of these central questions. Continue reading ›

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You Call That A Crime Novel?

May 18, 2016 in Fiction, Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

Why isn’t every novel that hinges on a crime or criminality considered a crime novel? When books come along and we throw them into their chosen pigeonhole, it feels like our aim is often a little off. Here are five famous books that could, with just a little argument, be considered crime novels.

upatthevillaThe Literary Novel: Up at the Villa by William Somerset Maugham

A story about passionate affairs that becomes a short novel about dumping a body without being caught. When the overwrought waiter she took pity on shoots himself in her bedroom, Mary turns to good, old-fashioned cad-about-town Rowley Flint to help her get rid of the evidence.

They laid him on the floor and Rowley wrapped the towel around the dead man’s middle in case the jolting caused a flow of blood. He jammed the soft hat on his head.

Switch it around and present the story from the point of view of someone looking for the dead man, or trying to work out where the gunshot had come from, and you have an unabashed detective novel. Present it from Mary’s view, throw in some posh angst, and you get to dress it up as a literary novel.

 

thespywholovedmeThe Spy Novel: The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming

According to Wikipedia (so it must be true) the reaction to this book was so disappointing that Fleming tried to suppress elements of it. Perhaps the disappointment is that it’s really a crime novel, shorn of many of the usual Bond tropes. It’s the least Bond-y Bond, and no worse for the experiment.

I heard a single bullet crash into the metal frame of the door, and then, with my hand cushioning the ice-pick so it didn’t stick into me, I was running hell for leather across the wet grass.

Calling it a Bond novel when he only turns up on page 100 of 164 is rather… bold. It’s really a Vivienne Michel novel, the young Canadian woman working as a caretaker at an American motel out of season when two murderous gangsters turn up. It’s a gangland crime novel that a sociopathic Englishman happens to wander into the middle of. It was published in 1962, and in 1966 Richard Stark published The Handle, a Parker novel that had a faint whiff of Bond’s world about it. The moral of the story, I suppose, is that great writers influence other great writers, even if accidentally.

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The Classic: The Trial by Franz Kafka

A lot of crime novels are not about crime, but about justice. In many it’s the successful pursuit of a definitely guilty party, but there are some where we see things flipped around, and the innocent become the hunted.

All I want is a public discussion of a public outrage. Listen: I was arrested about ten days ago. I can laugh about the fact of the arrest itself, but that’s not the point.

A novel about a crime not committed is still a novel about a crime. The consequences of what did, or did not, happen lies at the heart of much crime fiction, and poor Josef K wasn’t laughing about his arrest when they (spoiler alert) stuck a knife in his heart.

 

medeaThe Classical: Medea by Euripedes

Looking for references to the earliest crime fiction tends to lead to the early- to mid-nineteenth century and names like Edgar Allen Poe and Wilkie Collins. Terrific writers of crime fiction, no doubt, but arguably two and a bit thousand years late to the party.

…she and all who touch the girl will die in agony; such poison will I lay upon the gifts I send. …I weep to think of what a deed I have to do next after that; for I shall kill my own children.

Take away the mythological flourishes and the heart of the story is a wife and mother, Medea, abandoned by her husband, Jason of “Golden Fleece” fame, for another woman. Medea extracts hideous revenge by poisoning Jason’s new wife and murdering two of her own children. The evil wrought by revenge, criminal acts in a family setting. This is slightly cheating in that it’s a play and not a novel, but as there were no novels in 431 B.C.m we’re categorising it as crime fiction and putting on the list.

 

therepublicofthievesThe Fantasy Novel: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

There’s a clue, I guess, in the title of this, the third of the Gentleman Bastards series. Protagonist Locke is hired to help rig elections, while in flashback we see the start of his career as a thief among a youthful gang pretending to be actors.

It wasn’t any sort of row that Locke recognised. Fisticuffs, theft, murder, domestic quarrel—all of those things had familiar rhythms and notes, sounds he could have identified in a second.

A lot of fantasy follows themes of murder, betrayal, revenge, and other staples of crime fiction. Sure, there are a hell of a lot more swords, magic, and funny-looking kingdoms to draw the eye, but there’s more than enough crime and criminality to fall onto our list.

Malcolm Mackay is the author of The Night the Rich Men Burned, which is definitely a crime novel, and the Glasgow Trilogy, which has been nominated for several international prizes. The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter was shortlisted for the Edgar Awards’ Best Paperback Original, the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger, and the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. How a Gunman Says Goodbye won the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award. Mackay was born in Stornoway on Scotland’s Isle of Lewis, where he still lives.

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Ralph Pezzullo Explains Why the New Thomas Crocker Thriller Is Set in North Korea

May 17, 2016 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

SEAL Team Six: Hunt the DragonLike other SEAL Team Six thrillers, Hunt the Dragon started with a comment by my co-author Don Mann about a top-secret mission he went on to North Korea as a member of SEAL Team Six. The real mission took place years ago. But as Don talked about it, I started to imagine what would happen if members of SEAL Team Six were called upon to deploy to North Korea today, and if so, what might be a likely cause.

Don and I try to keep our books as believable and up-to-date as possible, so my first task was to read everything I could find about North Korea. I learned that the totalitarian regime that has ruled the country of twenty-five million people since the 1950s is a self-described revolutionary and socialist state. Political power is highly centralized in one party and thirty-three-year-old Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un of the Kim family heads all major governing structures—as did his father Kim Jong-il and his grandfather Kim Il-sung before him.

All three leaders followed a strategic policy known as Songun (or military first), which explains why a country with per capita GNP of $1,800, according to the CIA World Factbook, maintains the world’s fourth largest standing army.

A friend in the intelligence community explained that Songun is derived from the Maoist idea that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” It is the primary reason that North Korea funds a very aggressive nuclear arms program, whose stated aim is to develop nuclear missiles capable of striking the mainland United States. In international terms, said one State Department expert I spoke to, Songun is a threatening posture towards the rest of the world so that other countries have to take impoverished North Korea seriously. Internally, it assures the Kim family will maintain political control over the government by passing on the title of Supreme Leader of the Korean Peoples’ Army.

I also learned that economically, North Korea is classified as a low-income country. A three-year famine that began in 1995 resulted in an estimated two million deaths. According to Human Rights Watch, North Koreans are “some of the most brutalized people in the world.” Amnesty International estimates that thousands of people are executed annually for political crimes and as many as 200,000 people are housed in six large political prisoner camps where they’re forced to do slave labor.

Armed with this basic understanding, I tried to imagine a credible contemporary scenario that would cause the president of the United States to authorize a top-secret SEAL Team Six mission into North Korea. Since the Kim Jong-un regime runs a criminal unit called Office 39 that specializes in counterfeiting money, stealing nuclear and missile technology, and even kidnapping scientific experts, I devised a plot that involves the kidnapping of a U.S. missile guidance system specialist in Switzerland, coupled with escalating threats to the U.S. from North Korea.

Now that we had a threat and a ticking clock, Don and I talked through the technical logistics of how a SEAL mission to North Korea might work—specifically, what would go into the planning, how the SEALs could deploy into North Korea undetected, and the kinds of weapons and equipment they would use. Then, because the unexpected usually happens on missions of this kind, I threw a big wrench in the works to see how Crocker and his men would react.

We hope you like it.

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Mulholland Books Unveils Strand Originals Publishing Program in Conjunction with Strand Magazine

May 10, 2016 in eBooks, Mulholland News, Short Stories

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Anthony Goff, Senior Vice-President of Content Development & Audio Publisher of Hachette Book Group, Josh Kendall, VP, Editorial Director, Mulholland Books and Executive Editor, Little, Brown, and Andrew Gulli, Managing Editor of Strand Magazine, announced today the co-publication of The Strand Originals Program. Strand Originals will consist of twenty of the best and most popular Strand Magazine short stories of all time, now being published by Mulholland Books as simultaneous e-book and audio digital downloads. The debut of Strand Originals begins with the publication of “Where the Evidence Lies” by Jeffery Deaver, “Meet and Greet” by Ian Rankin, “Jacket Man” by Linwood Barclay, “The Voiceless” by Faye Kellerman, and “Start-Up” by Olen Steinhauer, all published on April 19th, 2016.

The remaining 15 titles in the program, to be published throughout the remainder of 2016, include stories by Tennessee Williams, Michael Connelly, Ray Bradbury and Joseph Heller. The full list of titles and publication dates is below.

Josh Kendall said, “We at Mulholland Books have tried to make a lasting impression in our five years; Strand Magazine has been doing so for ages. We’re therefore more than proud to have formed a partnership with the Strand, publishing digital and audio versions of some of their best short stories. I’d say that we’re lucky to have them part of our family, but we’re lucky to now be part of theirs.”

Anthony Goff said, “A couple of years back Andrew Gulli came to me to discuss the possible digital distribution of Strand Magazine’s short story gems. Mulholland books had at this time really begun hitting its stride in establishing itself as a rising star in the suspense genre, and I saw this as a perfect home for Strand to team up with Hachette Audio. Much like some of the plot lines in the stories we’re publishing, it’s been a complex and windy road to get here. But, I could not be happier to roll this program out as a part of Mulholland’s 5th Anniversary celebration this spring.”

Andrew Gulli said, “The first place we had in mind for finding a company that would distribute a curated list of short stories that we’ve published was Hachette and Mulholland. I have nothing but respect and admiration for how they’ve published high quality works of fiction that are also commercially successful. Also, from my relationship with Anthony Goff, Josh Kendall, and Michael Pietsch; they’ve always proven to be loyal and determined group, so we’re happy to work with them.” Continue reading ›

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How To Write A Thriller

May 05, 2016 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors, Writing

Aspiring writers, here it is: lessons on writing a thriller, delivered to us by Matthew Quirk, the bestselling author of The 500 and Cold Barrel Zero. How many of you know where your heroes and villains begin and end before writing? Do any of you dive right in to let the conflicts and twists emerge as you write? Let us know how Quirk’s advice resonates with you in the comments.

Here are a few writing lessons that have helped me over the years. They might not work for everyone, and I’m still learning every day, but it’s what I can offer to those who come to me for help. This is practical, in the trenches, writer-to-writer talk. Please don’t take any bluntness as a lack of reverence for craft and language and literature. I’ve found, however, that romanticism about the writing process can really throw you off when you’re starting out. Writing is work, and here’s how my work gets done.

Figure out your story before you start writing. Genre is the critical consideration here. Genres have certain broad conventions. They’re conventions for a reason—your story probably won’t work without them.

For thrillers, here are the basic elements you need to figure out: There’s a good guy, and a bad guy. Bad guy is doing something horrible. Good guy gets involved and needs to stop bad guy at great personal expense. You should figure out who they are and what they both want, and what sort of conflict they find themselves in, inevitably, because of what they want. Determine an incident at the beginning that puts them, inevitably, on a collision course, and have a good idea of how they will face off at the end.

Alternate successes and setbacks for your hero, raising the stakes of each encounter, and then, as you approach the climax, take the hero all the way down, as hurt, hopeless, and desperate as possible, and then have him somehow overcome. Invert that for tragedies.

It sounds simple but it takes an extraordinary amount time and brain-breaking thought to get down to the heart of your novel. Often a fascinating concept (“what if…”), scene, or character gives the initial notion for a thriller, but a concept isn’t a story until all of the above has been thought through. I constantly remind myself of these points to stay disciplined and build a strong, clean spine for a book. It took years to learn to keep it simple, or try, when it comes to the fundamental through-line.

This is how a good thriller works. It’s also not too far off from Aristotle’s advice in Poetics. Give it a try. Having a solid arc from the beginning to end of your book doesn’t dumb it down or make it formulaic. It makes it an incredibly strong, compelling structure upon which you can build complex characters, or subplots, twists, or beautiful writing. But get that bad guy vs. good guy collision course down first.

This may be awful advice for people whose books are too schematic, but I have the opposite habit of overcomplicating things, so this has been a lifesaver.

The best part of working this all out is bringing in friends and family. If you can’t explain the central arc of your story in a few lines, and describe all these points in ten minutes or so, it’s too complicated and you haven’t worked it enough. There are some ideas that are genius in your head, and preposterous out loud. It’s far better to hear about it now than after you’ve spent two years writing the book. Trust me on that one.

That’s the beauty of it. People love stories. Bring them in. Have coffee. Walk through the mall having an animated discussion about your favorite ways to get rid of a body. It’s so much more fun than staring at a blank page or writing and rewriting without making any real progress.

There’s a lot more advice where that came from. Read Matthew Quirk’s full list of writing tips on The Story Grid.

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