At first glance, it may appear that the New Title Tuesday recommendation, Thrill Me Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy, is targeted at English teachers and students. But then I realized it would also appeal to anyone who aspires to write the next-great-American-novel, which of course, considerably broadens the pool or potential readers. Once I started reading it, I realized that Thrill Me would also be interesting to anyone who has a passing interest in knowing the ingredients of a great recipe – even if they have no interest in becoming a chef.
Publisher’s Summary: Anyone familiar with the meteoric rise of Benjamin Percy’s career will surely have noticed a certain shift: After writing two short-story collections and a literary novel, he delivered the werewolf thriller Red Moon and the post-apocalyptic epic The Dead Lands. Now, in his first book of nonfiction, Percy challenges the notion that literary and genre fiction are somehow mutually exclusive. The title essay is an ode to the kinds of books that make many readers fall in love with fiction: science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, horror, from J.R.R. Tolkien to Anne Rice, Ursula K. Le Guin to Stephen King. Percy’s own academic experience banished many of these writers in the name of what is “literary” and what is “genre.” Then he discovered Michael Chabon, Aimee Bender, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, and others who employ techniques of genre fiction while remaining literary writers. In fifteen essays on the craft of fiction, Percy looks to disparate sources such as Jaws, Blood Meridian, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to discover how contemporary writers engage issues of plot, suspense, momentum, and the speculative, as well as character, setting, and dialogue. An urgent and entertaining missive on craft, Thrill Me brims with Percy’s distinctive blend of anecdotes, advice, and close reading, all in the service of one dictum: Thrill the reader.
I’d never heard of Benjamin Percy or the books he’s written before I saw this title on the shelf. However, he won me over by his early confession that he’d grown up on ‘pop lit.’ As a child he devoured books about vampires, dragons, and robots. Later he moved on to westerns, spy thrillers, mysteries, fantasy, and horror – basically he read for the thrill. It wasn’t until he took his first creative writing workshop that he began to recognize the “careful carpentry of story-telling.”
In Thrill Me, Percy writes in a way that draws in both the average reader to academics.
As Jason Heller said in his NPR review, Percy “peppers his observations of today’s literary scene with homey, witty anecdotes, and he couches his analysis in no-nonsense wisdom.” Heller said Thrill Me may not be unique, but it shines because of Percy’s ability to write about the craft of writing fiction in a conversational way.
Heller wrote, “Not only does he frame the ins-and-outs of the writing process with warm, wry reminiscences drawn from his own life, he refuses to lapse into stereotypical preciousness or pretentiousness. He talks bluntly and amiably about how stories work and why they matter, an approach that doesn’t take a fellow writer to appreciate.”
Thrill Me provides many brief examples of how novelists and screenwriters create scintillating scenes that keep the reader or viewer on the edge of the seat. Percy explains how a writer creates urgency, stages an iconic scene (think Maria on the mountain in The Sound of Music), how violence is treated by different authors (i.e., Flannery O’Connor, Alfred Hitchcock, Cormac McCarthy, et al); he also discusses effective techniques for works that include magic, fantasy, or fairy tales.
Percy does not make the process of creating the Game of Thrones or When Harry Met Sally sound easy or something swiftly delivered by a generous muse. However, he makes a case for paying attention to the details and the symbols the writer chooses. Also, Percy encourages the novice writer to “go the distance” and keep striving in spite of the long odds against success.
Sometimes it’s good to know how the sausage is made.
Happy Reading, Susan C.
Also By Benjamin Percy
Red Moon: Every teenage girl thinks she’s different. When government agents kick down Claire Forrester’s front door and murder her parents, Claire realizes just how different she is.
Patrick Gamble was nothing special until the day he got on a plane and hours later stepped off it, the only passenger left alive, a hero.
President Chase Williams has sworn to protect the people of the United States from the menace in their midst, but is becoming the very thing he has promised to destroy.
So far the threat has been controlled by laws and violence and drugs. But the night of the red moon is coming, when an unrecognizable world will emerge, and the battle for humanity will begin.
Dead Lands: In Percy’s thriller, a post-apocalyptic re-imagining of the Lewis and Clark saga, a super flu and nuclear fallout have made a husk of the world we know. A few humans carry on, living in outposts such as the Sanctuary—the remains of Saint Louis—a shielded community that owes its survival to its militant defense and fear-mongering leaders. Then a rider comes from the wasteland beyond its walls. She reports on the outside world: west of the Cascades rain falls, crops grow, civilization thrives. But there is danger too: the rising power of an army that pillages and enslaves every community they happen upon.Against the wishes of the Sanctuary, a small group sets out in secrecy. Led by Lewis Meriwether and Mina Clark, they hope to expand their infant nation, and to reunite the States. But the Sanctuary will not allow them to escape without a fight.