Every year, starting about a week before October, when the weather here starts its 90 degrees on Tuesday but 67 degrees on Wednesday flip flop routine, I start rereading Lois Duncan’s books. I don’t think about it or plan what to read, I just always remember one and the rest fall in behind it. This year it all started out with Ransom. Then I continued on with Down a Dark Hall, They Never Came Home and I Know What you Did Last Summer. I’m thinking that Summer of Fear is up next.
Basically, I love reading thrillers, mysteries and magical realism during the fall months. In middle school I actually used to get excited during major storms when the power would go out and I’d be able to sit in the darkest corner of the house with a flashlight and a thriller. Sort of. It could be hard to focus over the sound of my Mom muttering about something being seriously wrong with me.*insert epic teen eye roll here*
Since the very first day I opened up to queries, I’ve been looking for mysteries, thrillers, magical realism, and a bit of paranormal, but I haven’t gotten many queries in these genres. At all.
So, if you are thinking of querying me with any of these genres, please do! If you know an author friend who has a young adult manuscript that fits what I’m looking for please, please, please tell them to send me a query!
Here’s a bit more of what I’m looking for:
Stories that utilize setting
Remember that whole “my mom thinks there’s something wrong with me” thing? Probably also because of how much I loved FantasticLand by Mike Bockoven. If you haven’t read it, think Hunger Games in Disney Land. The major contrast between the massive amount of bloodshed and the happy theme park setting make this story utterly horrifying and completely unforgettable.
But you don’t have to have such a grand setting contrast to use the setting of your story to create those spooky vibes. Think of all the wonderful scary stories that take place in October or old Victorian houses (Lois Duncan’s Down A Dark Hall takes place in an old boarding school). The use of color or texture can create a vivid setting that you can use to create whatever tone you like. Even the weather can be used. Fact: it’s almost always foggy when characters walk through a graveyard for a reason. But remember that originality is key, so use whatever setting you like but make sure to put your own spin on it.
Ransom is my all-time favorite of Lois Duncan’s books, and the reason for this lies entirely with the characters. Duncan had a heck of a gift for creating dimensional characters. In my opinion, the thriller genre is the best place to showcase your most dimensional and diverse characters because you can get down to the very core of who they are in their reactions. Not only does this teach readers to look past the outward façade of those they meet, but it also allows the writer to cast a different type of hero.
Back to Ransom, Jesse is one of my favorite characters of all time simply because she isn’t the standard definition of a bad ass heroine. She’s bookish, quiet, and dang near antisocial. She doesn’t lead the group or fight back as they’re being taken, but she gets through everything with a quiet grace while protecting Bruce and caring for Dexter.
At their core, my favorite thrillers have both a huge challenge with life or death stakes and a larger element of psychological exploration or growth that is necessary for overcoming the challenge. What about the story is changing your main character to make him or her into the person they need to be in order to beat the villain?
Now, I haven’t actually finished reading The Cellar by Natasha Preston yet, but I have found I’m partial to thriller/mysteries with a kidnapping plot line. In The Cellar, Summer is abducted within the first few pages and then we see her trying to survive and escape her kidnapper’s cellar with three other victims.
Thrillers have their name for a reason. The stakes are so huge that the reader’s heart is set to pounding as he or she reads the story. Life or death is pretty common, but you can stray into horror territory with a fate worse than death. For example a kidnapping story has life or death stakes. A story dealing with the aftermath (where a character has to overcome their past trauma to face the present challenge) might be toying with a fate worse than death such as succumbing to the villain’s brainwashing.
Set your stakes high and early in the story to pull the reader in and really cash in on the suspense that the kidnapping, mystery, murder, etc. plot line will create.
And that pretty well sums it up. I’m sure I’m forgetting something and will probably be doing more posts on thrillers and the like. In the meantime, if you have a story that you aren’t sure fits the descriptions I have here, please feel free to send a query. I’d rather see more submissions than miss out on a story I’d love. Oh, and happy October!