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Your Psychological Thiller

AUGUST 2, 2011
All Images © Bill Mayer 2011

A new little illustration for a great Art Director, Greg Klee, at the Boston Globe that ran last Sunday. We thought it was one of the funniest things we had read lately. The writer, Chris Wright, gives a blow by blow account of how you too can write your own "Psychological Thriller."

Here are the first and second sets of thumbnails we did while we were trying to decide between one panel or multi panel versions. The copy was so long Greg decided to wrap the illustrations around the copy. so much funny stuff, it was hard to narrow down. I kept the illustrations more graphic rather than literal with what was going on, since there was good chance that the copy could change. Greg's only comment was no nudity; that he personally liked it but the newspaper would have a problem with it.

Earlier this month the Grand Hyatt New York hosted ThrillerFest, a four-day celebration of a literary genre that has produced such modern-day classics as “Attack of the Fiend” and all 72,000 novels by James Patterson. A highlight of the festival was the awards ceremony for the nation’s top first-time thriller writers, a set of people whose incomes can soon expect five or six new zeroes.
         Could this be you? Writing a psychological thriller might sound hard, but the fact is that anyone who has dreamt of peeling the skin off the skull of a neighbor with the rusty blade of the lawnmower he insists on dragging across the yard every Sunday morning could do it. Follow these simple instructions, and you will concoct a stew of fetid viscera that will leave readers feverishly turning the pages until the final horrifying showdown (see "What you will need," below).
What you will need:
· A laptop
· A quiet nook
· A blurb from Stephen King
1. Prologue
The most reliable benchmark of good thriller writing is the speed with which you excite your reader’s gag reflex.. So get to your maniac quickly, in the midst of an unthinkable act- stuffing a chicken into a duck, the duck into a cheerleader, then popping the lot into a pre-heated oven. The perpetrator- we’ll call him Cheerducken- should be wearing nothing but a sheen of acrid sweat.
2. The Hero
Introduce Tom Hardhart: loner, divorcee, Detective. He will arrive at the crime scene with a hangover. The carnage makes him remember a case from five years ago, in which his partner died. A CSI technician tweezes something from the rear end of the chicken: a kitten. Looks are exchanged.
3. The Love Interest
Also at the scene is Sarah Lovell, an investigator for the Medical Examiner's office. Short but shapely, Lovell will be assigned to work with Hart on the case. His resentment will give way to physical attraction, and then respect. She knows Tai Kwon Do.
All Images © Bill Mayer 2011

4. Cat-and-Mouse
The crimes should escalate in frequency and depravity. A boy scout stuffed inside a nun stuffed inside a racehorse, etc. Hart stays up night after night trying to discern a pattern. The killer is intelligent and organized; he doesn't play by the rules. He sends Hart a gift: The Mammoth Book of Sudoku.
5. Extras
A Mayor who wants answers and wants them now; an unscrupulous reporter who tries to contact the Maniac and gets a spike in the eye for his troubles; an unctuous but darkly handsome neurosurgeon who has started courting the Love Interest; Hart's five-year-old niece, who will utter the line, "What you doing, mister?"
All Images © Bill Mayer 2011

6. The Raison
Provide occasional, italicized insights into the Maniac's tortured psyche. As he looms over a victim in a dank urban basement, he will recall an incident from his childhood: Thanksgiving... Such a lovely day... Tra-la-la... Then walking into the kitchen... Seeing his mother with her hand inside... Inside the bird!
All Images © Bill Mayer 2011

7. Crisis of Confidence
Hart visits a dingy tavern, where he brawls with a local loudmouth. He staggers out into the rain, falls to his knees. "Why!" Then it hits him. Dickle, the Neurosurgeon: Something's been bothering him, something about the man's eyes. He calls Lovell but her phone is switched off.
8. The Horrifying Showdown
A doorbell rings. Lovell answers. It's Dickle, a crazed look on his face. "What do you want?" Dickle falls forward, dead. A noise from the basement. Lovell creeps down the stairs. Click. No light. The Maniac moves in, a baster and Barney doll in hand. Lovell is knocked unconscious. Hart arrives. A scuffle. Gunfire. Silence.
9. Epilogue
Flash forward five years. Hart is in the den watching football. Lovell is in the kitchen, putting a lobster into a steaming pot. A boy stands in the doorway, looking into the lobster's bottomless black eyes.
And there you have it: “Stuffed.” All that's left to do now is to submit your manuscript to the ThrillerFest people, keep an eye on the best-seller lists, and start work on the sequel, which will almost certainly be named “Hot Water.”
  Copy: Chris Wright  (Writer living in Spain). © Boston Globe 2011
All Images © Bill Mayer 2011

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