Friday, November 11, 2011

Why I write mysteries and thrillers

By April Henry

I may lose all my street cred when I tell you this, but I started writing mysteries and thrillers purely by accident.  

My initial goal was to write the great American novel. Or at least literary fiction.

So I wrote a book called Empty Spaces about a woman who works in the admitting department of a hospital and who falls in love with a long-term rehab patient, despite the fact that she's married and he's in a wheelchair.  

I couldn't get even an agent interested in that book, although, years later, I still have a depressing file of rejections.

Then I wrote a book about a woman who comes home because her mother is dying and ends up dealing with how she was raised in a religious cult.  The Laying on of Hands is told in four first-person points of view, which is not exactly what editors are dying to read.  But I did get really lucky and got an agent who believed in the book and shopped the hell out of it. It actually got a lot of nice rejection letters from editors.

And then I wrote Keeping Track, about four kids from one family who are put on an Orphan Train and end up in different states. That one didn't even get good rejection letters.  

And then I wrote Circles of Confusion, which my agent said she thought would sell well as a mystery. 

A mystery? But it didn't even try to solve a murder! The only person who dies falls out a window. But by that point, I would have been excited if she had told me it would sell well as a cookbook.  And it did start me thinking about my book in a different way.

Three days after my agent submitted it, we had a two-book deal. A two-book deal for a mystery series.  I remember going to the library and getting every book about how to write a mystery I could find. I mean, sure, I had read some mysteries - who hadn't - but what did I really know about writing them?

But since I've published 11 mysteries and thrillers, with six more under contract.

And you know what?  It turns out I love them!

Betrayals, scary noises at night, doors that are ajar, guns, car trunks, shallow graves, dark alleyways, double crosses, desperation, blackmail. I've attended the FBI Citizen's Academy and the Writers Police Academy. I'm close to getting my purple belt in kajukenbo and have a pretty good reverse punch.  

Sometimes things work out just exactly like they should.  


  1. Nice post. I think it takes a lot of writers time to figure out who they are. Glad you found your niche.

  2. Talk about perseverance! I thought I was tough but I've only got one novel in the drawer. Thank you for the very inspiring story.

  3. Great blog, I think some of us find out what we really want to write by accident. That's the quirks of being a writer.

  4. How cool! I actually think that some of those rejected books sounded amazing, so it just shows how much I know.

    But I love how you were smart enough to listen to your agent and go with the flow!