Wanda Dyson

Wanda Dyson is the critically acclaimed author of The Shefford Files series. Her true story, Why I Jumped, was featured on Oprah and Good Morning America. In April, Random House/Waterbrook released her newest crime thriller, Shepherd’s Fall, the first in the new Prodigal Recovery Series. She lives on a horse farm in Maryland with dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, and Duke and Daisy, her ducks. While writing full time, Wanda also serves on the conference committee as Appointment Coordinator for the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference, the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writer’s Conference, and the ACFW Annual Conference.

Blurring the Lines...

I can remember walking the four-plus miles to my local library when I was young, selecting a book, and curling up for hours in a corner, devouring every page and every scene. If I was in the mood for a mystery, I chose a Nancy Drew novel, and if I wanted adventure, I would read The Black Stallion or Misty of Chincoteaque. Whatever I was looking for, there was a genre to fit. Of course, if you were an adventure/mystery lover like me, you had to read several books in a day.

Shepherd's FallA clear and defined line used to stand between the mystery whodunit, the spine-tingling suspense, and the mind-chilling thriller. For mystery writers, it was all about hiding the culprit in the background while the main character wove through a maze of clues and red herrings to find the killer. For suspense writers, it was all about getting the protagonist through a haze of life-threatening incidents to come out victorious in the end. And for the thriller writer, it was all about high-octane, page-turning, cranium-burning pacing that drove a protagonist through a series of impossible obstacles.

Now . . . not so much. The lines are blurred to the point that for some writers (like me) there are no lines at all. You can mix all the elements into a story that will keep readers glued to the story until the last page. Reviewers have trouble defining the genre, so the book may be referred to as a mystery by one critic and a thriller by another, but as long as the story stays true to itself, does it matter what it’s called? What’s the old saying? “I don’t care what you say about me as long as you spell my name right?”

I think Terri Blackstock was the first author I noticed who started to blur the lines. She is a master at weaving the elements of suspense and mystery together into a hybrid that draws readers by the thousands. Since then, many

have followed her lead, and then the lines between the hybrid and the thriller began to fade. Frank Perretti took suspense over the line into horror and upped the ante, with Ted Dekker right on his heels to take it a step farther. Then Kathy Mackel came out with the “chillers,” a combination of suspense, thriller, and horror. Randy Ingermanson went so far as to mix suspense, historical, and sci-fi into a three-book series. If I were able to define my own genre, it would be action/adventure–crime thrillers. I guess I haven’t strayed far from that little girl in the library, have I?

Readers may look for lines between contemporary and historical, or between romance and horror, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have a little romance in your horror, and some successful stories have blended historical and contemporary. Lovers of Westerns will most likely stick to Westerns, and no doubt Tracie Peterson would shudder at the thought of a serial killer in her books. But as Randy Ingermanson proved, there’s still plenty of room for stretching our stories into uncharted territory.

Does a clear line stand between what you write and anotherShepherd's Run genre? Does there have to be? What would happen if you were to blur that line a little? There’s a joke going around in the industry that the next great thing will be an Amish Sci-Fi Historical. Totally ridiculous of course, but you get the idea. But what will the next “big hit” be? Speculative Suspense? It’s hard to say for sure. As always, we’ll know it when we read it. But if your story demands that you move outside the lines, don’t be afraid to move. Blur those lines a little.