Ask the Author: The Book that Inspired You

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  • Tuesday, March 26, 2013
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  • Today is our first installment of Ask the Author, where we pose a question to some of our host authors. Our  topic is:

    What is one book that helped inspire you to write thrillers? What was it about that book that made it an inspiration?

    William Dietrich:

    Marathon Man by William Goldman was a 1974 thriller that drilled into my consciousness with its dental torture scene by demented Nazi dentist Christian Szell, who has come to New York to recover a cache of diamonds extorted from Jews during the Holocaust. Hero Thomas Babington "Babe" Levy, an unsuspecting graduate student, finds himself strapped to the chair and unable to make sense of Szell's continued question, "Is it safe?" Goldman, a great storyteller (he wrote the script for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the novel and screenplay The Princess Bride) used many devices of thriller ficiton. The characters are deftly sketched to be either memorably sympathetic, or viciously efficient. Babe is the everyman hero thrust into a shadowy conspiracy. Goldman's ingenious twists neatly reverse our expectations again and again. He taps into primal fears, like dental work or being trapped, naked, in the bathtub. And he braids fiction with reality, in this case the survival of Nazi war criminals in South America. He said he was inspired by the idea of bringing the worst Nazi imaginable to the biggest Jewish city in the world, New York.

    My first novel, Ice Reich, was a Nazi thriller. It wasn't directly inspired by Marathon Man but, two decades later, I still remembered Goldman's skill. If only we could all match it!

    David Wood

    I almost chose The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle. That's the book that first kindled my love of adventure and sense of wonder about legends and ancient mysteries. The question, though, is what book inspired you to write thrillers.

    I worked my way through a few years of college delivering pizza. The best part of that job (besides free pizza)? Listening to audio books. I worked my way, alphabetically, through the library's "books on tape" section. When I got to the C's, I discovered Inca Gold by Clive Cussler. I loved it! It had everything I like: mystery, action, adventure, history, archaeology, and a touch of humor. I read everything I could find by Cussler, then searched out other thriller authors. It was a few years before I tried my hand at writing a thriller, but I never forgot how much fun I had listening to Inca Gold, and I hope my Dane Maddock books capture just a touch of the things that made that book, and so many others by Cussler, great reads.

    Sean Ellis

    I wrestled long and hard to come up with a better answer to this one (for reasons that will quickly become obvious) but no matter how I rotate the Rubik’s Cube of my history as an adventure novelist, I keep coming back to one specific book as pivotal to my decision to focus on action-thrillers.

    I discovered my love for storytelling in fourth grade, but by and large, I favored science fiction and fantasy, both for reading material and stories of my own. The thing that made me really decide to switch gears was a novel called The Takers (1984 by Jerry Ahern, published by Gold Eagle). The Takers has everything I love in an adventure story—fights, gunplay, chases...oh, and aliens. But what really made this novel inspirational for me was its protagonist: bestselling Men’s Adventure novelist Josh Culhane, who—under the guise of research—makes an effort to learn all the skills his serial adventure hero would need to survive...which of course was just a clever contrivance designed to put Culhane into the thick of things. It was that character, more than even the story itself, that got me turned on to writing action-adventure.

    Now, I should point out a couple things. First…I’m not stupid. Ahern’s protagonist is an idealized fantasy character, and is about as useful for illuminating the life of a thriller novelist as a Barbie Doll is for explaining female anatomy. But sometimes a dream, as silly as it is, is what you need to get the ball rolling.

    Second, and I hesitate to say this because of how important The Takers has been for inspiring me…It’s just not a very good book. Oh, the story isn’t half-bad, but every time I read it—and I have done so many times—I cringe just a little bit more at how….well…how pulpy it is. Ahern wrote for a certain audience—he was the creator of the immensely successful Survivalist series…need I say more?—and believe it or not, I’m not exactly in that target demographic.

    But just like you never really forget your first...ahhh…kiss? I’ve never been able to get over The Takers. Maybe that’s because deep down, I secretly do dream of being Josh Culhane. He may be a fantasy ideal, but after years of trying to follow in his footsteps, I’ve written more novels than I can keep track of and done my own share of crazy things in the name of research. I guess it’s working out for me.

    If you'd like to submit a question for our authors, leave it in the comment section below, or email us at thrillercentral[at]


    Steve Manke said...

    I started reading the Cussler books after seeing Sahara. So I picked up reading the books in order, following the movie. Which means I started with Inca Gold as well! I was hooked from there! I wish the movie franchise had gained traction but they would've never done the books justice.

    I'm not as well read as some. Is there another author with the same propensity for writing himself into his books? Is that a Cussler original gag, or are there other authors who did it before Clive? I've often wondered.

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