Considering a rise in true crime documentaries and an ongoing horror film renaissance, it seems that the entertainment world has developed a taste for the dark and dramatic in recent years — and the realm of literature is no exception.
On Saturday morning, residents of the Bay Area took their own dive into the dark side with a lively panel of four internationally renowned crime writers: Stefan Ahnhem (“Eighteen Below”), Jonas Bonnier (“The Helicopter Heist”), Catherine Ryan Howard (“Liar’s Girl”) and Ragnar Jonasson (“The Darkness”). The four European authors were joined by Oakland-born fellow crime writer Laurie R. King as the panel’s moderator.
King started off the panel with a discussion of the crime genre as a whole, asking the panelists if they considered crime writing to be different from other forms of literature. Surprisingly, Howard was the only one to offer a distinction: She believes that literary fiction can sometimes be showy or self-aware of its own prose, while crime writing should attempt to remove any “friction” between the reader and the story. On the whole, however, the authors were adamant that good writing is simply good writing, determined by neither genre nor style, but by its ability to make the audience feel invested.
The rest of the panel turned out to be a testament to this fact. As the authors discussed the process of creating a novel, touching on every stage from idea generation to editing, it became clear that there is no one way to write crime stories.
Research was one of several topics that the authors differed on. The three fiction writers — Ahnhem, Howard, and Jonasson — all agreed that they didn’t conduct extensive research before they wrote: “Use what you know,” Howard said, advising any budding writers in the audience to draw from their own experiences. Meanwhile, Bonnier, whose true crime novel will soon be adapted into a thriller for Netflix, spoke of the importance of research in writing about real-world events. His advice was slightly more niche: When interviewing four high-profile robbers, make sure to put them in the same room, or else they’ll give you four different stories.
Despite their different stances, however, the four panelists maintained a lively rapport and kept the audience laughing throughout their hour onstage. Ultimately, it seems that even writers of such a dark genre still know how to have fun.