I’ve been ruminating a lot lately about the market for adult thrillers. This is something my friend, Lisa Regan, and I have talked about many times, as she also writes in the genre along with me. Her book, Finding Claire Fletcher, has been on submission for thirteen months just waiting for a home. And while it is still in the running with three major publishers, in the time she has been on submission, she’s seen few titles close to our genre sell besides cozy murder mysteries, which I just don’t understand. Murder is anything but cozy. It’s difficult to figure out why good thrillers aren’t selling when forensic TV shows are so popular and thrillers are a favorite in the movie theater. So why aren’t adults buying and reading thrillers much any more?
Yeah, we have the same old, same old from the tried and true like Patterson and Cornwell, but publishers aren’t biting from newbies much these days. A couple of editors who turned down Lisa’s book said they couldn’t believe that a young kidnapped girl wouldn’t try to escape her captor. Uh, hello? Ever heard of Elizabeth Smart? Does Jaycee Dugard ring a bell? Their true-life stories were more horrific than anyone could have ever imagined or written, and they didn’t try to escape. That’s real life and it harkens back to that saying that life is stranger than fiction. I’m beginning to think that it’s the selling of reality as entertainment that is desensitizing us to what might otherwise thrill us.
About a decade or so ago, the Writer’s Guild of America went on strike for better residual compensation. That strike lasted a long time and the big TV networks had to come up with an idea to replace the scripted programs affected by the striking writers. This is when we first started seeing a glut of reality TV programming. And I’m not talking about shows like
’s Most Wanted or Cops. I mean shows like Survivor, which were good ideas based on the question, “What if…?” They were interesting and marked the first time Americans became fixated with other relatively unknown Americans, people whose lives were transformed overnight. This was the beginning of our obsession with being famous. America
Since then, a plethora of reality programs have come onto the market, but these aren’t “What if…?” kind of shows. They are simply tapings of average folks doing their thing, whatever that is. It might be buying unseen junk left abandoned in a public storage unit, or maybe a mother’s consumption with getting her three-year-old daughter every pageant tiara in existence, or watching a Nazi-like dance instructor bully her students into performing better, or perhaps even following the lives of the relatively unknown, but totally spoiled step-children of former star athletes. Whatever it is, these shows are all supposedly unscripted. No writers had any part in the performances of the participants. Yeah seriously, you couldn’t make that stuff up. And frankly, would you really want to? Quality it is not.
This fascination with reality TV has skewed the way we seek entertainment. Gone are the days when we were fascinated by a story where dinosaurs are reanimated from DNA strands extracted from insects entombed in crystallized amber, or where an average married man is drawn into the intrigue of a long lost lover come back to haunt him. It’s all about fame these days, about how a former Playboy bunny married a famous football star and had a baby, or the daughter of a prolific TV producer reflecting on her life as a “poor little rich girl,” or *gasp* an actual novel—yes that means fiction, baby—written by an overly indulged young woman whose drunken and promiscuous antics have proven fodder for public disdain.
Man, do I ever crave a good, action and emotion-packed adult thriller where the protagonist has to overcome unbelievable odds to save his life and win the girl, where the woman FBI agent has to battle the misogynistic status quo just to get her boss to believe she knows what the hell she’s doing and can solve the serial murder case, where a newly-engaged, sex-addicted college professor goes head to head with her former student-lover who’s kidnapped her, or where a grief-stricken man seeks revenge on the woman who killed his pregnant wife only to discover he’s victimized the wrong woman, imperiling not only her life, but his own and his brother’s, as well.
Yes, I want reality, too. I want real life, down and dirty and gritty. But I also want real people. Not homespun wannabe stars. Real, authentic heroes who might be anything but, yet they still soldier on and at least try to save the day.