BEA 2012: Thriller Panel Featuring Connelly, Meltzer, Koryta and DeMille

Mystery readers were in for something special during BookExpo America 2012 when President and CEO of Ingram Content Group Skip Prichard moderated a discussion between four very different thriller authors. This author chat, which included Michael Connelly, Brad Meltzer, Michael Koryta and Nelson DeMille, gave the audience an insider’s look at their paths to writing, the authors they love to read — and even weigh in on the discussion about print versus digital books! If you weren’t able to make the panel, here is a snapshot of what you missed:

(from left to right) Authors Nelson DeMille, Brad Meltzer, Michael Connelly and Michael Koryta

It’s no secret that these four authors came to writing from different corners of the professional world. They were a private eye (Koryta), a journalist (Connelly), a lawyer (Meltzer) and a soldier in Vietnam (DeMille). The result is four very different types of writers. What they have in common? They all write stories that make us double check the locks at night and check under the bed before we climb into it. These tales are thrillers with a capital T.

So how did their pre-writing professions affect the stories they craft? Well, in one way or another, they’ve all relied on the skills they learned (and often even written parts of their previous lives into their novels). Koryta and Connelly were quick to agree that everything that came before writing professionally was all “grist for the mill.” And all four authors revealed that their previous professions have given them insight that helps them get inside of their heroes.

“So a P.I., a journalist, a lawyer and a vet all walk into a publishing conference...” sounds like the set-up to a joke. But it turns out that the differences in what these authors were doing before writing actually led to some very interesting tales about why they write the books that they do.

Sometimes the path was practical. For instance, DeMille told us that he never sat down and said, “I want to write thrillers.” In fact, the inspiration to write this type of genre fiction came as a suggestion from an editor friend of his back in the 70s, when the author had just returned from fighting in Vietnam and was first thinking about writing. DeMille shared, “this is what they were looking for so this is what I gave them — and then I branched out.”

But in the cases of the other men, it was more emotional. Meltzer revealed that when he was younger Agatha Christie’s writing “was the only thing that made [him] turn the pages.” So for him it was a matter of following the path that he loved. And he wasn’t the only one, Connolly said that “you write what you read” and that crafting thrillers was “natural.” While Koryta agreed, he was interested in writing the same types of stories that some of his favorite authors had published.

So which thriller authors inspire these four fantastic writers? There was a lot of crossover on their YSR (You Should Read) lists! Of course, all four men mentioned the incomparable Agatha Christie and her tales of suspense and thrills. But it didn’t end there. The four chatting authors hit on such classic writers as Hemingway, Steinbeck, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross MacDonald, Ian Fleming and Dorothy Sayers. (At this point, DeMille pointed towards the pantheon of English mysteries and told the audience that he could read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes “over and over again.”)

And when it comes to more modern authors, the panel said that Stephen King and Dennis Lehane are not to be missed. And if you’re looking for your very next thrilling read, Meltzer suggests that you pick up a copy of to Ken Grimwood’s Replay. This Groundhog Day-esque story will, in the Meltzer’s words, “make you ask ‘what would I do if I could live my life over and over again?’” The author shared that it has certainly given him food for thought each of the many times he’s re-read the story.

Once the author's shared which writers like to read, the moderator asked the speakers to weigh in on how they prefer to read books. Are they digital enthusiasts or do they like to stay more traditional when it comes to the format of the books they want to devour? Well, they were instructed to answer in just one word and this was one of the fastest answers to a question we’ve ever heard. So what type of books would these authors rather read? Print books all the way!

With all this talk of how these authors began writing and some of their personal reading preferences, there was one very heartwarming moment that seemed custom-made for aspiring authors. Brad Meltzer shared the message don’t let rejection get you down when he shared an anecdote about why the audience members should keep pursuing our dreams. He said, “I got twenty four rejection letters even though there were only twenty publishers, which means some of them were writing me twice to make sure that I really got the point.” But here he is making a living (and many, many readers happy with his novels).

For more news and reviews about the genre, be sure to check out RT’s Everything Mystery/Suspense/Thriller Page. And to get a good look at all that’s going on during BEA 2012, make sure to return to the RT Daily Blog later today!