Page Updated:
Thu, Jan 22, 2009

Trish Macdonald Skillman
author of Writing the Thriller
"An Bestseller"

Various factors play a role in the development of an author. For Trish Macdonald Skillman, some of those factors were these:

  • Having a mother and an aunt who were librarians
  • Growing up with a public library in her backyard
  • Winning a city-wide essay contest while in fifth grade

Trish began plotting murder and mayhem at an early age. As an only child, the most important activity of the day began after tea parties and baseball games ended and playmates went home.

  • Heart stopping bike chases
  • Courtroom melodrama
  • Aborted hangings of innocent heroes.

Such were the flights of childhood imagination that laid the foundations that led to Trish's Dell suspese novels Someone To Watch Over and Buried Secrets, and her latest work, Writing the Thriller, a March 2000 release from Writer's Digest Books.

Along the way, Trish raised a daughter and son whose relatively uneventful childhoods added little to her knowledge of legal systems or prison procedures. Her supportive husband provided no research opportunities into domestic violence. Luckily, her 25-year banking career sparked enough murderouis thoughts to lend some personal insight into the criminal mind.

A member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Oklahoma Writer's Federation, Inc.,Trish has also edited and published Quick Reference Rules for English Grammar, drawn from instruction she and her mother received from the same high school English teacher.

A native of Shelbyville, Indiana, Trish and her husband now live in New Braunfels, Texas, where she is working on a new project. Watch this site in the coming months for updates.

Writing the Thriller Book Cover

Writing the Thriller

by T. Macdonald Skillman

The elements of technique PLUS interviews with best selling suspense authors who answer the questions aspiring suspense writers would ask if they had the chance.

This much sought-after title is out of print. Used copies are scarce but sometimes available from online booksellers, often reached via links at These USED copies were recently being offered at prices ranging from $40 to $120 and higher

The author recently discovered a VERY LIMITED number of UNSOLD copies of this title that had been misplaced during a major move shortly after the book's release.  These NEW copies can be purchased directly from the author for $75 each plus $6.00 S&H per book.  They will be signed and personalized if requested. This offer lasts only until this limited supply is gone.  NOTE:  Please email the author to confirm availability and reserve a copy before sending payment. (Order from the author)

Praise for Writing the Thriller

"Skillman walks the reader through the steps required to produce a novel that will captivate the editor, grip the reader, and bring a twinkle to the eye of the author's financial advisor. It is a pleasure to recommend this book."

--Ralph McInerney, author of the
Father Dowling and Notre Dame mystery series.

"Skillman has written a brilliant dissection of the thriller novel--not just the structure but the soul. Not just for beginners, but for everybody. I've been writing for twenty years and I learned a lot!"

Barbara D'Amato, author of the
Cat Marsala mystery series and the Chicago Cop suspense series.

"Even if you never plan to write a thriller, you'll enjoy reading Skillman's book. You'll be a smarter reader after looking over the shoulders of some of your favorite authors."

-Willetta L. Heising, Purple Moon Press,
publisher of the award-winning mystery series reader's guides
Detecting Women and Detecting Men

"Skillman offers all writers-published or unpublished-a fascinating, instructive, helpful and discerning exposition on how to write suspense. In Writing the Thriller, Skillman shares the magic of other best-selling authors in addition to her own insights. Superb from start to finish."

-Carolyn Hart,
author of
Death on Demand and Henrie O mysteries

"Wow! I wish I had this book before I started writing thrillers. Skillman begins by creating a clear picture of the genre, then deftly defines the different suspense subgenres and their various elements. I found myself thinking her quite clever, indeed. In my opinion, Writing the Thriller is a must for any aspiring suspense author."

-Erica Spindler, best-selling author of Cause for Alarm

Writing the Thriller Part I:
The Elements of Technique

Defining Suspense
A discussion of suspense, the suspense novel and its sub- genres; reading as a writer vs reading for pleasure.

Exploring the Categories of Suspense
What distinguishes the various classifications of suspense; how some overlap; which require specialized knowledge to write; suggested reading to help you decide the category that's right for you.

The need for reader identification and how to achieve it; bringing characters to life; the dreaded looking glass - how to describe viewpoint characters without using mirrors; avoiding stereotypes; why even villains need soft spots.

The importance of conflict and tension; determining where your story begins; foreshadowing - the subtle art of teasing the reader; the rhythm of suspense - climax and resolution.

Setting and Atmosphere
Effective use of these elements to draw the reader into your story; why research and believability go hand in hand; employing exotic locations without subsidizing your travel agent's retirement.

Point of View
Who should be telling your story and why; the pros and cons of first, second, and third person narrative.

Back Story
What the reader should know vs what the writer must know; how much to tell and when to tell it; the importance of playing fair without revealing too much; why less is usually more; when to rely on flashbacks and why effective transitions are key to their use.

Goals and Motivation
Establishing believable reasons for characters to jump into the fray and then struggle on when logic insists all hope is gone.

Using this element to establish character, reveal or disguise critical information, and temporarily lead readers astray; the proper use of dialect and regional accents.

The heart of a suspense novel; how to entice the reader into your story, slam the door, bolt the locks, and have them clinging to the edge of their seat till the end of the ride; mountains and valleys - the need for breathing room along the way.

Climbing a soapbox can involve more than an episode of vertigo; the need for an even-handed approach to controversial issues; how to achieve it and still make your point.

Determining which outcome is best for the type of suspense you've chosen; the balance between truth, justice, and reader satisfaction.

How style influences the type of suspense novel you choose to write - and vice versa.

Words on a Page
How the choice of language and the placement of words, sentences, and even paragraphs can strengthen or weaken a suspense novel; what to watch for in final revisions.

The Mechanics of Submission
Researching the market; determining which publisher is right for your book; knowing when you're ready for an agent and how to find the right one; a professional approach to submission.

Writing the Thriller Part II:
Interviews With the Experts

  • Clive Cussler
  • Joy Fielding
  • Tess Gerritsen
  • Marilyn Wallace
  • John Gilstrap
  • Judith Kelman
  • Shirley Kennett
  • Mary Willis Walker
  • John Lutz
  • Richard North Patterson
  • Michael Connelly



Books by Trish Macdonald Skillman

  1. Writing the Thriller, Writers Digest Books, (ISBN: 0-89879-928-7)
    [This title is out of print . If you have trouble finding it through a used bookstore or prefer an unread copy, you may order from the author.]

  2. Buried Secrets, Dell Paperback, June 1995 (ISBN: 0-440-21742-3)
    [This title is out of print and no longer available from the author. Please try used booksellers or online sources.]

  3. Someone to Watch Over, Dell Paperback, November 1994 (ISBN: 0-440-21739-3)
    [This title is out of print . If you have trouble finding it through a used bookstore or prefer an unread copy, you may order from the author.]

  4. Quick Reference Rules for English Grammar, T M Skillman, September 1996
    [This booklet is available direct from the author.]

This page created & maintained by the author's son, Jeffrey H. Skillman
©2009 Last updated Thu, Jan 22, 2009