Monday, May 14, 2012

Wordcraft -- Thrills and spills of thriller writing

I leafed through the schedule for the conference sponsored by the Houston Writer’s Guild, marking possible programs to attend. One was about thriller writing, something I’d meant to try, and the speaker was a lawyer named Larry D. Thompson. I marked it as a maybe. And then the announcer introduced Thompson -- as the younger brother of the late Thomas “Tommy” Thompson, author of the bestselling true crime narrative, Blood and Money.

Thompson’s discussion zoomed from “possibly” to “definitely, absolutely, must hear.” Because besides having an interest in gory details to an extent sometimes embarrassing to my family, I lived in Houston during the events described in Blood and Money, the story of the suspicious death of a Texas socialite, followed by the hit-man style murder of her husband (and the prime suspect in her death). I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t hear what someone who knew Tommy Thompson as well as a brother could, had to say.

“I don’t have to make up stories,” Larry Thompson quoted his brother as saying. “I hear a story and go out and do my investigation.”

He follows his brother’s procedure -- with a twist. Show him a news article and he can imagine a story to go with it.

For his first novel, “I decided to pick a subject that was not in the least bit controversial, so I chose the abortion debate,” he told his conference audience with a self-deprecatingly deadpan expression. The result, So Help Me God, told in the form of a mock trial, was rejected by traditional publishers.

But his dentist and a client read it and liked it. The dentist asked Thompson to run off a few print on demand copies for a book club. After more favorable comments from readers and attention at the publishing conference, BookExpo America, Thompson wrote a second book, dealing with the insanity defense. Although rejected again, it gained Thompson contracts to write his next two books -- The Trial, dealing with pharmaceutical drug testing; and his latest, Dead Peasants, about employers who benefit from life insurance on their employees.

So far, Thompson still writes thrillers around his schedule as a trial lawyer. The key to doing both, he said, is writing consistently, “daily or at least several times a week.“

He heeds his big brother’s advice as well. “(Tommy) said he always quit in the middle of a sentence because he knew he could come back the next day and finish the sentence.”

And he recommends getting to know other thriller writers and their work, for instance, by attending the annual convention ThrillerFest, scheduled for July 11-14 this year in New York. For more about Larry Thompson, see his website, See more about ThrillerFest at


Want to hear more about thrillers? Steve Berry will discuss his latest book, The Columbus Affair, next week, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 22, at Highland Park United Methodist Church, 3300 Mockingbird Lane, in Dallas. And Berry will lead a writers’ workshop Wednesday, May 23, at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 5501 Main St., in Houston. (Not to mention signing volumes at Houston’s Murder By The Book the evening of May 23.)

For information about the Highland Park event, see Register online for the Houston workshop at And for information about signings at Murder By The Book, see

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