Thursday, March 14, 2013

Clean, Adult Thrillers? - Guest Post by Jim Haberkorn

After reading and enjoying his edge-of-your-seat action adventure, A Thousand Suns, I asked author Jim Haberkorn if he'd be willing to share with my readers a little about what drives him to write thrillers in a way that seems contrary (yet so perfectly works!) to the nature of what society perceives thrillers to be.(To read my review and a little bit more about Jim, click here.

Without any further yammering on my part, I turn the floor over to Jim: 

     I choose to write clean, adult thrillers – not to be confused with adventure stories or young adult lit. I actually enjoy the challenge. Instead of throwing in a flurry of curse words to make my book seem ‘realistic’ and  my characters gritty, I actually have to work out scenes, dialogue, and actions that demonstrate those points to my readers. And instead of having the characters jump into bed with each other five minutes after meeting, I have to construct plausible dialogue and romantic situations to realistically pull characters into a mature, constructive relationship. And instead of shooting and torturing everything that gets in my hero’s path, I have to leave some of them alive and maybe have to deal with them again later in the book.  
     Yes, writing a clean, adult thriller is hard work. By leaving out those other unsavory elements, I feel I have to compensate by having better dialogue, better research, and a better plot. I also feel that my books have to be more realistic than the average. What I mean is that I find many thrillers striving hard for realism when it comes to language, sex, and violence, and while they may get the language part right, they flunk miserably in the sex and violence department. I find that ironic. For example, in real life, a lifestyle of promiscuous, unprotected sex leads to a lot of venereal disease and self-loathing. Sorry, but that’s realism. And when it comes to violence, you can’t miss death by a centimeter, brutally kill a person, and then casually light and smoke a cigarette afterwards. Humans are not built that way.            
     If you don’t believe me, read the book On Combat, The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and Peace by Dave Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor and Army Ranger. After reading that book, you will realize how unrealistic the violence and behaviors in most thrillers – whether books or movies – really are. One example of realism in my first book, Einstein’s Trunk, was after a particularly violent scene, my hero Rulon Hurt, felt an incredibly powerful need to hold onto his gun. He felt vulnerable and refused to be disarmed. This is how people really behave when they survive a deadly conflict. It’s all in Dave Grossman’s excellent book.
     In my books, the characters in bed with each other are married, the dangers of sex outside of marriage are clearly understood, and people are faithful to each other. That’s how most people really are. In regards language, I have some really tough guys in my latest book A Thousand Suns. One in particular, Boris, an agent in the Russian foreign service, is someone who you realistically would expect to swear up a storm. I get around that by having him stay close to my main characters, Rulon and Yohaba, who make it clear to him that swearing is not acceptable in their presence. They do it respectfully, and because Boris respects them, he complies. He’s adult enough to realize that to a lot of people, bad language is jarring and offensive. That too is realistic.          
     With all this said, I must say that there are some masterful thriller writers on the market today who don’t necessarily share my attitude about totally clean thrillers. John le Carre’, Olen Steinhauer, Martin Cruz Smith, Lee Childs, and Barry Eisler are all exceptional writers. John le Carre’sTinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley’s People are arguably the best spy thrillers ever written, but they are so much more than just thrillers. Lee Childs writes a pretty clean book, and I’m always looking forward to the next one. Olen Steinhauer’s Tourist series – fairly gritty but great, intricate characters and plot and extremely well written. Martin Cruz Smith – gritty but never sordid; his best thriller, Gorky Park, is an absolute classic. Finally, Barry Eisler and his John Rain series - okay, I flip past the occasional sex scene – but his books have a humanity in them that is quite gripping and unexpected given the subject. Also, his action scenes are meticulously planned and realistic. I strive to emulate him in that regards.       


Thanks for sticking to your guns, Jim, and writing fiction I feel good about recommending. To learn more about his work or to pick up a copy, visit his website


  1. Thanks for posting this, Stephanie. Not to belabor the point, but it does make me scratch my head at all the books and movies that strive to achieve realism primarily through the depiction of immorality and dysfunction. Also, thanks for being part of my blog tour. Jim

  2. Jim, Well said! I discovered Dave Grossman's book while researching an English assignment. Most of my friends couldn't even fathom that most people in battle don't want to kill each other. I questioned my classmates that had been in combat and they all totally agreed with what he said. Thanks for standing up against the current trend.


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