Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The workplace and the thriller novel

Almost everyone who has ever worked in a corporate environment has felt anxiety from time to time. Many people complain that their jobs keep them up at night.

Nevertheless, relatively few thriller novels are set in the workplace.

There are exceptions, to be sure. Japanese-language thrillers (most of which have not been translated into English) often feature corporate settings. Among English-language thrillers, there are the novels of Joseph Finder, who wrote the fine corporate thrillers Paranoia and Company Man.

But the number of corporate thrillers is minuscule overall, dwarfed by the vast quantity of thrillers set in courtrooms, airplanes, police stations, on the battlefield, and in the halls of government. 

I see two reasons for this. First of all, a relatively small percentage of the people who are drawn to writing fiction have corporate experience. 

Yes, you will occasionally meet the odd fiction writer who temped in a corporate office during one summer while he was getting his MFA. But that view is strictly peripheral. The corporate setting is a unique one, and an insider's perspective is required to depict it convincingly.

I feel comfortable writing corporate thrillers, because I spent more than 20 years in and around the Fortune 500 environment, mostly in the automotive industry. One reviewer said that my novel TERMINATION MAN was extensively researched. I appreciated the compliment, but the truth was that TERMINATION MAN had been extensively lived.

Secondly, a thriller set in a corporate environment requires a bit of enhancement and extrapolation to make is “thrilling”. Back to TERMINATION MAN: TERMINATION MAN is a novel about a business consultant who goes undercover in corporate workplaces, to help employers maneuver problem employees into compromising positions, whereby they can be easily fired, or forced to resign.

The novel does have an element of truth. Companies do, in fact, "manage out" problem employees. But TERMINATION MAN takes the practice to extraordinary (though plausible) extremes. 

I will be the first to admit that the corporate thriller is difficult to write. I sweated a lot more over TERMINATION MAN than I did over BLOOD FLATS, ELEVEN MILES OF NIGHT, or 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN. 

But given that so many readers are anxious about work, the corporate thriller seems like a novel well worth taking on…if the writer can do it.