“A human head weighs about the same as a large oven-ready chicken,” crime fiction author Peter James told a roomful of rapt listeners at ThrillerFest 2014 in New York City. If anyone felt queasy, they didn’t show it. After all, the panel was called Sick, Sick, Sick: Is it Possible to Write Great Thrillers and Not Be a Secret Sadist? It’s always fascinating to spend a weekend with writers who think a great deal about new and grisly methods to murder someone or how to commit the perfect crime. With my debut suspense novel coming out in two months, and having started a second one, I couldn’t think of a better place to be than this yearly International Thriller Writers event.
A simple question, and the first most people ask when you tell them you’re a writer. Crime fiction, I say. But they usually want to know more. That’s where it can get tricky. From the start, I called my first book a psychological thriller. It’s how I pitched it to agents a couple years ago. After hearing the plot, one asked me, “Are the main characters gay?” “All of them except the dog,” I said. Her quick forced smile told me she was neither amused nor interested. I moved on.
Should I have said upfront it was a gay thriller? Was the gay aspect a reason another agent expressed concern about “our ability to sell this work”? As I thought about it, gay protagonists did seem a rarity in current mainstream crime fiction. In Jonathan Kellerman’s popular Alex Delaware series, the gay cop is almost a sidekick. What about other genres? And next I’m shifting gears with a ghost story, but the same main character. Switching genres within a series and a gay hero? Was I insane?