The Survivor is about a cop who runs into an Active Shooter situation at his daughter’s high school. Of course, everything at Saint Patrick’s High isn’t as it appears, and soon Homicide Detective Jacob Striker finds himself in a very dangerous world, one that not only puts him directly in the line of fire, but his daughter as well. The idea came from the high amounts of intensive training we cops do for this kind of horrific situation. As police, we train for this all the time, but I don’t think anyone can ever truly be prepared for such an event. How can you be? All you have to do is look around the world at events like Columbine and V-tech and Winnenden to see the sheer brutality and sadness of it all. It’s a very scary thing. What propels The Survivor forward isn’t the actual shootings (this only happens in a very short section of the book), but the dark mystery behind the tragedy. That one great question we all ask: why? In The Survivor, that question is answered.
Having the desire to be a professional writer is a difficult thing (actually, it’s a little masochistic at times). You’d better have a thick skin if you want to last. I was smart enough to always follow my favourite authors and remind myself that, hey, they made it, therefore, so can I. Some of the authors I followed were the likes of Michael Connelly, with his brooding protagonist Harry Bosch, Lee Child with the ever prominent Jack Reacher, James Patterson with the tormented Alex Cross, and John Connolly with his dark and mysterious protagonist, Charlie Parker. These authors have written fantastic series. Hell, how could I not be inspired by writers like them? And to be blunt, if you’re gonna dream, dream BIG. Why not? There’s no charge. In the world of thrillers today, there is such an abundance of talented authors. But I really notice certain things from each one. Connelly always keeps me reading because Harry Bosch is so interesting, whereas with Child, I always find Reacher enmeshed in such a twisted storyline. Patterson is the master of pacing, as far as I am concerned, whereas Connolly creates an unnerving, dark intrigue. I read all their books. I try to take what I can from masters like these (aforementioned) ones—and others as well. The list is endless: Dennis Lehane, Mo Hayder, Nelson DeMille. I also read outside the genre, too. Koontz and King (like the rest of the world), George R.R. Martin. Max Brooks. The bookselling business separates stories into genres so the general public knows what they’re getting, and this makes perfect sense. But there is always a blend of genres somewhere in the story. How many good thrillers also have a little romance in them? And what better people to learn a little romance from than Diana Gabaldon or Nora Roberts? There is so much good fiction today that I read as much from varied genres as I can. You’re doing yourself a disservice (as a reader and writer) if you don’t. Just read my book first!
Violence is a necessary part of any thriller, whether it’s implied or right there in your face. I have no problem with this, but there are certain rules I follow for myself. The main one is that any violence must be essential to the story. For example, I never have torture scenes without a purpose, and even then, it is done sparingly. Why bother? No one needs to read about someone getting tortured for twenty pages. I also don’t have any violence involving kids or animals. And when violence is necessary to the plot/character/story, I find that I can get just as much tension across the page by implying things as I can by showing them. As a city cop, I’ve seen enough really bad things to last me a lifetime, and I know I am desensitized to the brutality. So when something bothers me, I know it’s over the top, and I try to edit it as much as possible. People read for the thrill and escape, not to watch some poor sob suffering senselessly. And really, if someone wants to watch tragedy for no other reason, there’s a little something call the nightly news. God knows there’s plenty on that.
The same thing goes for sexuality. In my novels, the story focus is never on sex—but you can show wonders about a character or a situation by people’s responses to it. The key here is to be honest. People will know when you tone things down for a character or ramp them out of control (or when you’re living out your own fantasy). As for the kind of sex a person is into, again, it is a wonderful telling detail. It can hint at a person’s past, foretell their future, show their innermost conflicts, and definitely their darker side. When you get right down to it, the story and the characters in that story will dictate how delicate the author should write it. Again, no kids or animals.As an author, you do need to know your intended audience here. I can’t picture Harry Potter in an S&M scene, and I doubt the readers would put up with it (though I bet it would have been a riveting scene at Hogwarts) When it comes to writing thrillers, I think you have to be bang on in a few areas. Character, plot and pacing especially. If you don’t care about the character, the story is less powerful. If you have a wonderful character but nothing happens to them—boring. And if you have a great character in a great story, but it takes till page 342 for something to happen, people likely won’t get that far into the story to know it. So I think all three are critical. That being said, I think the biggest factor driving my books is dark intrigue. People want to know what has happened behind the scenes and why. They want resolution. Of course, they want to know this because they care about the characters involved. And the pacing of the story keeps them involved. See what I mean? It’s a full circle. You need all three.
People often ask me if I write for myself or my audience, (and if they’re a writer, they ask whether they should write for themselves or the audience.) The answer: Well, that depends on if you want to be published, I guess.Let’s be blunt here. Writing is an art; I get that. I write every story for myself first and foremost because I love the art of writing fiction. It’s my escape. It can be yours too. And if you want to write for the mere pleasure of writing, then do as you wish. But the selling of the books is a business. Don’t ever kid yourself about that. Money counts. Numbers count. The number of people working behind the scenes on your book is staggering—your agents and their staff, your editors, copyeditors, publicists, sales reps, cover artists…The list goes on and on. They all depend on the book selling well. And the book will sell better if you keep your readership in mind. After all, you might want a torture scene in the middle of chapter ten, but if this is a cosy tea mystery, sorry, that ain’t gonna work. People will never buy your book again. So when people ask me who I write for, I just say both. I matter, but as far as my career goes, my readers matter more. They’re the ones who are going to keep me in business, book by book—and I intend on writing a lot of books.
Even now, to write this article, I am taking a break from my revisions on the next book of the series, Snakes & Ladders. In it, Homicide Detective Jacob Striker returns again with his partner Felicia Santos. Someone out there—a person who calls himself The Adder—is filming the deaths of his victims. And he has made one crucial mistake. The last woman filmed was Mandy Gill. Someone Striker cared about deeply. This is one investigation he’s taking personally. Read more about it at my website: seanslaterbooks.com
The Survivor is published by Simon & Schuster