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J. Philip Horne

Is the adult thriller you’re working on speculative, or does it have a more realistic setting? So far, what’s been the biggest difference between writing it and writing your other books?

Good question… it’s not speculative, though that has not been the biggest difference. My current novels are set in the real world with fantastical elements (and a second world in the case of the Lodestone), so they’ve had to account for “things as they are” to a degree.

I was impressed by Stephen King’s advice in On Writing… I don’t remember the exact quote, but it was effectively, “Tell the truth.” In novels meant to be consumed by kids (as my first three are), one has to paint with a limited palette, yet still paint the scene and characters as they are. I therefore reference strong language in some scenes without putting it into the dialog, but it’s there, because that’s the truth. Not truth capital T, but truth, that’s how people actually behave. There’s a drunk father who tries to be violent in one scene that I rewrote countless times to strike the balance. There’s a bit of violence that’s described later via a news program instead of playing it out in real time. That sort of thing. So writing novels for kids that involve real peril had that challenge.

In the thriller, I’m trying to figure out what my palette is… I’m not used to having access to so much range! I’d actually gotten quite competent at keeping the stories anchored at the young teen level. I’m having to find my way with the language, sexual content, violence, etc. I have a couple firm boundaries (I’m not going to purposefully write anything titillating), but I’m having to work out the rest.

The other big difference is setting. I kept my kids novels grounded in locations I generally knew. I’m attempting to set the bulk of the thriller in Rome. And my protagonist has a specific skillset (ex-pararescuer). Again, the kids novels were about kids. I know as much as most kids… I don’t know how to give a field transfusion when the veins have collapsed from blood loss. I’ve struck up multiple conversations with trauma nurses, watched videos of people driving through Rome, etc. to prepare.

Lastly, I’ll add that in all my novels, I let my faith find it’s way onto the pages… magically? I’m not sure what the process is, or if there is even a process at all. I put myself into a character and a situation, and I let the struggle take place at all levels. I’m still curious to see what that will look like in a book for adults.

Here’s my thriller synopsis with the fake draft cover attached. Cheesy, I know, but having a synopsis of any sort helps me write.

Michael Grimm, a recent veteran of both the military and marriage, feels lost. He works construction and takes gigs as a rescue nurse, rendering aid to injured people on flights home from abroad. He needs more. He needs to save someone.
Michael is sent to Rome to accompany an injured woman to Montreal. In Rome, he discovers his patient, Ariana, is riddled with bullet wounds, and Michael realizes she’s in deep with some very bad men. When she reveals the real reason he was brought to Rome, Michael has to decide where his loyalties lie. The answer just may get him killed.