Today in our “Genres (and why we write them)” blog series, we have Mystery and Suspense/Thrillers writer, Russ Hall, author of the Al Quinn series. Follow Russ on Facebook or find him at his website: www.russhall.com
Russ Hall: Writing Mysteries & Suspense/Thrillers. Vive la Différence
I write mysteries and suspense/thrillers because I like puzzles. Readers of mysteries like to be intellectually challenged, to dig, to discover, to work things out to a resolution. Readers in this genre are smart puppies and pretty good at figuring things out, so it’s a challenge to spin them a story that engages and pulls all the way to the end.
Mysteries are all about unraveling the knot, whether from Nero Wolf’s armchair to Sherlock Holmes sniffing around out on a trail. They are often, though not always, more intellectual than physical. Clues must exist in the story if the reader is to participate.
Suspense/thrillers, like the books in the Al Quinn series, have some element of mystery to the stories, in which the dénouement has to be unfolded, or untied by the reader. The reader’s path is additionally one of exploration and discovery. It’s interactive. However, the thriller part is action/adventure with danger that spices the story and keeps those pages turning at a blazing pace.
These are the kinds of books I like to read, because I am a participant in the discovery and danger, all from the comfort of a reading chair.
When writing these books I stay tuned to a mantra Stephen King shares: “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” So it’s important to share and show just enough of the looks, smells, and feel of the settings and characters so they become alive on the stage in the reader’s mind.
To keep my readers guessing I don’t outline the Al Quinn stories. I want to be as surprised
by the twists, turns, and outcome as the reader. If I can’t tell how the story is going to turn out, the reader usually can’t.
A lot has happened to books in the space in the past few years. Once a fan of such books could physically read all of them published in a year. Now that simply isn’t possible. Way too many come out.
What makes books in the genre stand out now is distinctiveness. As the books become more cinematographic, and the story lines character-driven, a lot depends on the hook for a series to gather a growing audience.
The hook in the Al Quinn series is that he is a retired sheriff’s detective and hoped to idle his days alone, but is instead beleaguered by a houseful of people as quirky as himself, all while being immersed in cases as dangerous as he’s ever faced.
In a genre that has been known to split into categories—from cozy to hard-knuckle to police-procedural—the Al Quinn books, are in a space kiddingly (I hope) known as “geezer” fiction. Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri series is one quite good example. Instead of a young and strong character battling the odds, the reader follows the adventures of someone older who must fight the good fight while feeling the same aches and ouches that the reader might experience.
Now, I’m not fond of breaking a genre down into such categories, because good characters and well-told stories can be a form of literature that deserves to be read by a wide audience. Putting aside his age, Al Quinn is pretty fit and able for his years, and he gets himself crossways of some messes I would certainly avoid.
But Al is able to sort himself through and scrap himself out of whatever cataclysmic tangle he faces to a conclusion few readers can anticipate. And he does so, albeit with a few scrapes and bruises, in the nick of time, heroically, while managing to save others. Now isn’t that just the sort of thing to read on the plane, on the beach, or in that cozy reading chair with the fireplace going and a glass of wine or beverage of choice within reach while poor Al is going through all that?
About the Author
A writer of mysteries, thrillers, westerns, poetry, and nonfiction books, Russ Hall has had more than twenty books published. In 1996 he won the Nancy Pickard Mystery Fiction Award for short fiction. In 2011 he was awarded Sage Award, by The Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation–an award for the mentoring author who demonstrates an outstanding spirit of service in mentoring, sharing and leading others in the mystery writing community. In 2014 he won First Place in the Austin International Poetry Festival. In 2015 The Writers’ League of Texas awarded “To Hell and Gone in Texas” its Fiction Discovery Prize.