Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Interview with Wayne Thomas Batson on Mystery/Suspence

To end our month long look at Mystery/Suspense I asked Wayne Thomas Batson, author numerous titles including The Door Within, Isle of Swords and The Sword in the Stars, for his thoughts on the genre. 

As you may know, Wayne is working on a suspense/thriller of his own titled Ghost that is slated for release July 1st  of this  year.  He will be releasing it in digital format as well as print-on-demand so be sure to keep checking his blog for all the latest updates and please thank him for taking time from his busy schedule to share his insights with us.

1.) How do you balance the darker aspects of suspense/mystery with a theme that glorifies Christ?

I'm not sure a balance is really in order because there's really no power that can compete with Christ. What I'm looking for is more of a reflection of what we see in the world around us. The world is a pretty dark place. Just watching the nightly news can break your heart. If the darker aspects do not accurately depict what's around us, then our stories probably won't resonate with readers. And I think, for a large portion of the novel, darkness must seem to have the upper hand--because, honestly, that's the way it "feels" in life sometimes. But we know that if the world is dark, then Christ shines all the brighter. It's my hope that by depicting realistic darkness, the Lord's light will shine like a purifying solar flare!

Depending on the age of your readers, you do have to consider the intensity and maturity level of the content. For Ghost, my supernatural thriller, I'm not shying away from intensity and I'm tackling an issue that is very important to most Christians, something that will likely set off a bit of a firestorm. But I won't be doing so gratuitously nor to be sensational. I'm just going to throw light on certain realities that mainstream America seems to want to brush under the carpet.

2.) When writing a mystery or story with suspense, how do you give the reader false clues or red herrings without making them feel like you cheated and tricked them?

Foreshadowing is a tricky thing, which is why I prefer to outline my works before starting in on the principle ms. I think what you have to do is see the story in a linear cause/effect string of events. This happens, leading to this, leading to that. But after you've got your straight-forward tale, go back and look at the actions. Could there be something else that might have happened there? And it must be a realistic possibility. None of this "Bob suddenly realizes he can fly" so whoosh, he's off to safety" stuff! But maybe, early in the story, Bob leaps a puddle and lands a few feet farther than he's used to. "What in the world?" Bob thinks. "That was a serious jump!"

With thrillers/mysteries where you often have a clever villain, you have to think, well, he doesn't want to get caught. What could he do to throw the detective off the scent--and therefore, the readers?

Also, think about the point of foreshadowing. I mean, why bother? It's not just to show off how clever you are as an author. I think it's more about providing heightened enjoyment for the reader. Give your readers enough clues that they can get suspicious about something. But make them suspicious about several somethings so that the reader must make a judgment call. You want to reward readers later on with an "ah ha!" moment where they can say, "I knew something was up with that dude!" Let your clues be subtle enough that you're not just handing it to them. OR, and this is what I like to do, make your clues seem simple and obvious and then pull the rug out from under readers. I'm doing that with The Dark Sea Annals. I've already begun to see post where readers are saying, "It's so obvious that such and such a character is this or that." But I'm planning big surprises. Take a cliché and smack it with a hammer. As Mallik says, "There are very few problems in life that cannot be solved with a great big hammer!"

3.) From Edgar Allen Poe's The Murder in the Rue Morgue written in the late 1800's to Sidney Sheldon's The Doomsday Conspiracy coming out this Summer, there is no end to deception, mayhem, and murder in print. Why do you think that mystery/suspense as a genre has endured so well over time?

Mystery/Suspense/Thriller as a genre helps perpetuate itself. The genre is familiar, so readers know what they're going to get and they like the ease at which they can slip into a new book in that genre. But there's also a draw because the genre issues a challenge to the reader's intellect. "Come figure me out!" the genre cries, tossing the gauntlet at our feet. And we come running to pick it up.

4.) When writing fiction of any type there is always an element of mystery. A good writer keeps back from their readers some important information and uses the reveal of this to throw them a curve and delight them with a surprise along the way. In mystery however, readers are on the look out for surprises and traps a writer will set. How do you throw the reader a curve when they are expecting one?

I kind of answered this above. The reader who is expecting a curve is, in some ways, easier to whack upside the head. You know the conventions of the genre, do you? Well, let's make you think you've got it all figured out. And then, whoops! It works like this: 1) make reader suspicious with clues.  2) lead reader to anticipate the obvious curve, but plan a post curve "wowzer." 3) deliver the expected curve, but make that curve crumble into something else the reader/detective didn't see coming.

5.) There has been a push to add an element of the supernatural (The Dresden Files, Forever Knight, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night) to the run of the mill mystery recently.  Traditional mysteries shy away from any form of paranormal explanation or elements, leaning instead on fact and rational thinking to reveal the flesh and blood culprit behind the events of the book. What do you think about blending traditional mysteries with the supernatural?

Big fan of it myself. I grew up watching Night Stalker and X-Files, so I've been infected with the genre-blending gene! I started writing GHOST with that in mind, and about 6-months into the writing, someone turned me on to The Dresden series. That really opened the floodgates of my imagination. And even though my GHOST books won't be derivative of Butcher's works, I hope fans of Butcher will like my "GHOST" stories. ;-)

And for the Christian writer, I think there's a built in and entirely credible supernatural element present in the Thriller/Mystery genre. After all, we do not do battle with flesh, but with the spiritual powers and strongholds in the heavenly realms, right? Not all villains and killers are just screwed up people. There's definitely spiritual good and evil going on behind the scenes. That's something else I'd like to submit to readers through the "GHOST" series.

Thanks again!

And if folks have questions, shoot them out there on Facebook, and I'll get to as many as I can!


Varon said...

Looking forward to GHOST!
Thanks Sir Batson, I'm always looking for clues on mystery writing. (pun intended)

Galadriel said...

Thanks for taking the time to answer, Sir Batson.

Christian Miles said...

Awesome interview! I can't wait to get GHOST on my kindle! :D

everlastingscribe said...

Fantastic insights, m'lord. I do agree you have to be mindful of your audience age when deciding what violence to leave in, what to hint at, and what to drop all together. And Mallik is correct, large hammers are wondrous things for problem solving.

I prefer my mystery/suspense straight up without the paranormal in it, but Ghost sounds intriguing. I'll definitely add it to my Nook collection!

Evergreena said...

Wow, great interview! Thank you, Sir Batson! Since I'm working on a mystery/suspense novel with some supernatural elements myself, these answers are very helpful.

GHOST sounds more intriguing every day. :)

Greg said...

When Wayne becomes the new Jim Butcher, let it be known I prophesied it. lol. no but seriously he should do a guest post about self-publishing!

Millardthemk said...


I read this when it first came out, failed to comment. I feel like this is the best interview you have done to date.(That I've read) Many thanks to Michelle for making it happen!

When you take a mystery and add the supernatural it becomes very thriller like, or can. I wonder, is GHOST going to be a thriller or a mystery? From what I've heard..I Can't tell! :-P

I appreciate that explicit scenes as well as graphic violence will not have a home in GHOST. I look forward to reading it, and wish the best of luck.

shieldmaidenthoughts said...

This looks GOOD! I love good, clean, intense thrillers! I can't wait to read this!

Jake said...

Fantastic interview! Definitely looking forward to GHOST as well as the Kindle price for it. ;) LOL. Again, great interview—-it was extremely helpful.

WayneThomasBatson said...

Thanks all for the kind words and for the opportunity to visit your wonderful League. Quite extraordinary what's happening with you. To quote DC Talk: "God is doin a new thing."

PS: Still pounding away on GHOST. Praying to get it release in July.