Thriller Thursdays: Guest Author James L. Thane

Today I have the honor of welcoming author James L. Thane to Thriller Thursdays! Last week I previewed the first chapters of his debut thriller, No Place to Die. This week, he’ll be answering your questions about his book, the sequels, and what it means to write a thriller.

Welcome, James!

In one sentence, how would you summarize No Place to Die?

Phoenix detective Shane Richardson must stop a clever, elusive and sadistic killer who has kidnapped and brutalized an innocent woman while seeking revenge against a number of people he blames for an injustice committed against him.

What was the first crime novel you ever read?

Sadly, I can’t remember, but I’m certain that it would have been an old paperback reprint of one of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason mysteries—probably something like The Case of the Restless Redhead. My father was a huge fan of these books and he kept a stack of them at our summer cabin on the lake. I discovered them when I was around ten years old and from that point on, I was hooked on crime fiction.

This question is from commenter Ila from Maine: “I’d like to know how your reading habits have changed now that you are writing for a living? Do you still troll used bookstores to discover gems of paperback books or do you now only read what others recommend to you and authors you trust because you have read them before due to time constraints?”

An excellent question, Ila. I suppose that the principal change is that I now find myself noticing much more the mechanics that lie beneath a story, rather than simply being caught up in the story and letting it sweep over me. I find myself watching how the author constructs the story and how he or she maintains the level of suspense required to keep the reader turning the pages. In a book I’m enjoying, I now appreciate not only a riveting story, but the skill with which the author has constructed it. In a book that doesn’t appeal to me, rather than just tossing it aside, I find myself reading on in an effort to discover where the author went wrong and what he or she might have done differently.

As to the second part of your question, yes, I do still troll through used bookstores looking for those hidden gems. Sometimes I’m looking for books that are now out of print in series that I enjoy and where I want to own a complete set. Otherwise, in recent years I’ve developed a fondness for some of the old pulp paperback originals that used to be published in the 1950s, and it’s always a lot of fun to find some cheap, trashy novel with a great story. The problem though, as with almost any other reader, is that I’m always discovering new authors that I like both in new and used bookstores, which means that I just have that many more books that I have to track down.

If there was an equation for the perfect thriller novel, what would it be?

I’m not sure that there is a single equation for the perfect thriller. Authors have taken a variety of widely differing approaches to the genre and have still produced excellent books. At a minimum, though, I think that a good thriller basically has to grab you by the throat on the first page and not let go until the last. It also has to have an appealing protagonist that the reader will want to root for and a problem sufficient to challenge the protagonist and demand his or her very best efforts. It needs to have sympathetic victims whose well-being and very survival depend on the protagonist, and it almost always needs a truly despicable villain who is nearly the equal of the protagonist. I’ve heard it often said that a thriller succeeds or fails more often because of the villain rather than because of the hero, and I think there’s a great deal of truth to that.

You hold a Ph.D. in History; how does your expertise in history and (specifically) the American West translate to your writing?

Another good question. Obviously, that expertise is critically important to the non-fiction that I’ve written. I’m not sure that my knowledge of the West is especially important to the crime novels that I’m writing now, but what has been critically important is the training I received, especially as a graduate student, in the art of writing itself. I was fortunate to work with a number of professors who had published a fair number of non-fiction books, and their supervision of my M.A. thesis and doctoral dissertation made me a much better writer than I otherwise would have been.

This question is from commenter Linda B: “How many books will there be in the series and where do your ideas come from?”

I’m not sure how many books there might be in the series, Linda. I really enjoy working with these characters and would like to continue doing so for a while, if for no other reason so that I can discover for myself what life might have in store for them. I have ideas for three or four books that would follow Until Death, but I have no set goal in terms of the number of books I might write in this series.

As for the second part of your question, the ideas for these books come from a variety of sources. Usually some stray thought will cross my mind and strike me as a potential idea for a book. As an example, the idea for No Place To Die was occasioned by a chance remark that someone made at an author’s event at a bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. It got me thinking about a specific neighborhood in Phoenix which I thought would make an excellent setting for a crime novel, and the story evolved from that little kernel of thought. A lot of times, though, these ideas don’t work out and I have any number of stories archived on my computer that ran out of gas after only a few pages.

No Place to Die is a highly visual book. If it were optioned for film, who would you cast as Sean and Maggie?

This is a question I always dread when I’m attending an event by another author and someone in the audience asks him or her what actors they think would best portray their characters. And whenever an author ventures to answer the question, I always cover my ears because I don’t want to know the answer. As a reader, I like to formulate my own impressions of what a character might look like, especially if it’s a long-running series character that I really enjoy. My impressions may vary widely from someone else’s, but they’re my own and whenever I think of a favorite character, the image I’ve constructed for myself is the one that comes to mind.

I think this is part of the magic of reading a book. The author may give you some details about a character or a particular setting in the book, but you’re left to fill in the remaining blanks yourself. Your imagination has much more free reign in this regard when reading a book than when watching a movie or a television program, and in that sense, I think that reading is a much more collaborative effort between the author and the reader than you get with movies and television.

In writing my own books, I’ve been very careful to give the readers some specifics about the way the characters look, but I haven’t described them down to the last detail. I’ve left room for the reader’s imagination to come into play, and I hope that most readers will appreciate that. Which, I suppose, is a long and involved way of saying that I’d really rather not answer this question!

Can you tell your fans a little bit about Until Death?

Until Death takes place three months after the conclusion of No Place To Die and features the same principal characters, Sean Richardson and Maggie McClinton. As those who read No Place To Die will know, the course of the life of the main protagonist, Sean Richardson, changed dramatically at the end of the book. I was interested in seeing how Sean would react to that change and the principal sub-plot of Until Death involves the way in which he’s adjusting.

The book opens with the brutal murder of a prominent Phoenix businessman, and Sean and Maggie are assigned to the case. But they are soon at a dead end. They can find no motive for the killing; they have no real evidence to pursue, and they have no viable suspects. Within the few weeks following the murder, two other men are killed. The cases appear unrelated until one afternoon an extremely attractive young woman comes into Sean’s office and provides him with the connection that links the three crimes. And I think that’s all I want to say about it at this point!

For more on James, visit his Web site.

No Place to Die is currently available in e-book, with the trade edition following this December. Until Death will also be released in trade and e-book this December.

Leave a comment for James and be entered to win a free e-book download of No Place to Die!

3 Responses to Thriller Thursdays: Guest Author James L. Thane

  1. Pingback: Thrill me | Chill me | Don’t kill the MC | Wrestling the Muse

  2. deVona Brown says:

    I am very excited to add you to my short list of really great mystery writers. I am very very picky and I like your work a lot. At one time Lawrence Sanders was good. Johnathan Kellerman is also a great mystery writer. Like I said, I am picky and quick to find flaws but I was impressed with your first book and anxiously await the second. Dee

  3. Pingback: Thrill me | Chill me | Don’t kill the MC | Kim Koning

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