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Genres and sub genres are the meat and potatoes of the literary world. There’s the old reliable fiction and non-fiction, but publishers will tell you it’s in the sub-genres where the action is. There’s mysteries, cozies, true crime, horror, sci-fi, young adult fiction, vampire, erotic vampire, and the list goes on like the choices at a sub shop.
And publishers are always looking for the hot new genre and then cultivating authors who write in that genre. One of the hottest genres at this time is domestic thriller. I discovered this after I came across the phrase in a publicity release for a book by author Allison Dickson, who will be making a mid-Michigan stop at Schuler Books in Okemos next week.
I caught up with the author by phone as she was attending the annual ThrillerFest Conference in New York City. She filled me in on what a domestic thriller is and why her new book “The Other Mrs. Miller” fits into that genre.
The concept for domestic thriller, also called domestic noir, is quite simple. The plot takes place in the home or work place of a woman and most often delves into the human experience of the day-to-day life of a woman. If you put it that way, it can sound boring. However, I can attest that “The Other Mrs. Miller” is not boring, but rather a race-for-your- life thriller with twists and turns, speed bumps and shocking reveals around every corner.
To put the genre in context, the biblical story of “Deborah” may qualify as a domestic thriller right up there with the ‘90s movie “Basic Instinct.” In the recent literary world, the most notable entries in that genre are “Gone Girl,” by Gillian Flynn and “The Girl on the Train,” by Paula Hawkins. Delia Owens' “Where the Crawdads Sing” might be shoe-horned into the genre if you consider the swamp as a woman’s home and place of work.
In our phone conversation, Dickson described how she toiled at short stories, sci-fi and horror for a decade with some fame, but little success.
“I’d been wanting to write fiction since I was a teenager, but college kind of killed my desire to write and I became disillusioned,” she said.
Dickson became a stay-at-home mom and started writing short stories in 2008. She described them as “creepy short stories” in the Stephen King vein.
“I was addicted to Stephen King as a teenager,” she said.
She took a leap when she queried Gillian Flynn’s agent and was accepted into her fold. Dickson said Flynn is a huge inspiration behind her work and that she “owes everything to her.”
She said she’s never met Flynn, but hopes to soon.
Dickson said she was ready to give up writing if “Mrs. Miller” didn’t sell. The lack of book sales would’ve simply been a sign that “It was time to go on.”
“The Other Mrs. Miller” is considered a debut for Dickson since she switched genres.
“Debut authors are hot things, and I just hope my second book does as well,” she said.
It’s hard to write about the book in detail without giving away any of the incredible plot. The story is set in the Midwest in a neighborhood of Lake Forest, Illinois. The protagonist, Phoebe Miller, is not happy in her marriage to a psychologist. She inherited a huge estate from her father, who was generally loathed, and she is being stalked by a mysterious person. Phoebe has become a near agoraphobic and a big fan of “cab sav.”
The book has all the makings of a “Peyton Place” beach read. But about 100 pages in, the reader is confronted with a stunning plot twist. Readers will think to themselves, “I didn’t see that coming.”
“Readers will either really love it or be very angry,” Dickson said referring to the unexpected turning point.
The second half of the book continues with buried secrets, varying points of view and several clever Hitchcockian twists and turns.
Dickson likes to call the experience “a twisty ride.”
“The second half of the book was the hardest to write from a technical level. It’s a kooky concept and all the plot elements had to be weaved together,” she said.
Readers will agree Dickson has not only found her genre, but also her voice with “The Other Mrs. Miller.”
Allison Dickson at Schuler Books
Wednesday, July 24, 7 p.m.
Schuler Books & Music
1982 Grand River Ave. Okemos