Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why Thrillers Thrill

In a far-ranging profile of bestselling author David Baldacci (Absolute Power, First Family) in the March 30th edition of Newsweek, writer Louisa Thomas muses on what makes thrillers so darn... thrilling:
What makes a thriller work is a million-dollar question, but why they matter is more than an economic concern. Baldacci’s prose might be clumsy (a typical Baldacci line: “As with scissors, one should avoid running with a loaded gun while the safety was off”), but if anyone could do it, more people would. On the most basic level, a thriller works if it can persuade the reader to turn the pages as fast as possible. The easiest way to get someone to keep reading is to withhold information expertly, but a blockbuster has to offer more than just suspense.
What Baldacci offers, Thomas suggests, is the whole package:
Like other thriller writers, Baldacci depends on a mixture of inventive plotting, appealing characters, luck and consistency. Unlike others, his books rely more on characters’ relationships than whiz-bang technology or procedural twists. Baldacci is more likely to set a scene in the Washington suburbs than a submarine (though any thriller worth its name has a decent armory), and the courtroom is rarely the site for drama (though, as a former lawyer, Baldacci usually includes a little law and order). What he offers is in some ways more unusual.
Though the article covers a lot of personal and professional ground, I really like this image of Baldacci at home:
Baldacci clearly has an ambivalent relationship to his wealth. His house is huge and his Reston office is well appointed -- the enormous wooden conference table is polished to a shine; the library furniture is soft and deep. (“I always wanted a room like this,” he says as he looks around the library, his tone more surprised than satisfied.)
Online, Thomas’ piece can be found here. One of the things Baldacci talks about with Thomas is his literacy foundation he established with his wife, Michelle. Information on the Wish You Well Foundation is here.



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