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Thrilling New Suspense Too Grisly?


Recently I participated in a Zoom meeting with my publisher, Level Best Books, and participating colleagues to hear what the subrights literary agent had to say. I learned that there is such a thing as ‘too much violence’ in books that are marketed to mass market trade paperback companies, like Harlequin. As I write gritty suspense books, and I really like over-grisly-ing violent scenes, I don’t know if I’m a candidate for the Harlequin market. However, in the last thirty years, hasn’t the bar for ‘violent’ risen exponentially? I would assume that it has. What I consider too grisly is probably under today’s current bar. I’ve sent the literary agent an email. I suppose I’ll know if I’m a candidate for a mass market pitch soon. Also, this market doesn’t want the F-Bomb and ohmigosh I certainly am okay there, I never use that word in my books, but reality is reality and most people do use a degree of profanity in everyday speech. Depending. One of my characters is in prison, so obviously the guy isn’t going to mince words, for instance. Others are caught up in risky and dangerous conditions, so well…a few choice words are going to erupt, no getting around it. I want my books to be authentic. Not authentic enough to use the ‘F’ word, but authentic to a point.


In book three – which I’ve just sent to beta readers to give me objective remarks and point out discrepencies or deficiencies – Olivia has made remarkable progress in transitioning to a new career. I’m excited at the savvy, determined woman she’s becoming and the obstacles she is overcoming. There’s a lot of shooting in this book. Her new career involves guns. I suppose the reason for that is that I now own my own cute, little Smith & Wesson MP Shield and have spent time at the range. As it turns out, Olivia is going to need that gun in my third book. A lot. And I wonder…how much shooting constitutes ‘too grisly’ for my new thriller book? Or does it just count if I describe the scene in painstaking detail? And if I didn’t describe the scene, what would be the fun, oops I mean authenticity, in that?


Publishing is a funny business. The different niches have different requirements. Some don’t want to offend. Some REALLY want to offend. The term used is ‘gritty’, or ‘hard-boiled’ but without extreme violence or exploitative sex or extreme profanity. I’m like…where’s the line, here? What the heck is extreme violence vs. non-extreme violence? Plus, it’s a changing landscape, and much of what is acquired reflects the current trends and moods of culture. Interesting that sci-fi has rocketed to the top of the charts, and apocalyptic stories. My agent told me a few weeks ago that ‘menopause suspense’ was hot right now, because readers are looking for older protagonists.

I had to laugh. One, menopausal women are always hot (and sweaty), and two, I can write the heck out of that character. I can’t wait. In this series, I won’t have to ride the fine line between extreme violence and non-extreme, and I rarely touch a sex scene in my books. However, I am not sure how to write a menopausal character without a good bit of tasteful expletives.

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