It’s the Characters, Stupid

“It’s the economy, stupid.” That one sentence, spoken by then Clinton campaign strategist James Carville during the 1992 presidential campaign, referred to the notion that Clinton was a better man for the job because then President George H.W. Bush had not adequately addressed the economy, which was still healing from a recession.

Those four words still have resonance today and will continue to resonate into eternity because in politics you can talk about your plans for a better future, better education, better technology for the masses, better transportation, better energy that’s cleaner and more abundant, but if the economy is in the crapper, all the other grand plans and ideas don’t mean zip.

Writing, I think, is the same way, a notion I was reminded of during my lecture on being an “authorpreneur” last night. I was giving my “Beyond the Book: how being an authorpreneur will help you sell more books and make lifelong fans” at the Weatherford Public Library in Weatherford, Texas. They are starting a new book club and wanted me to come talk about the writing life, how to get published, how to get an agent, and my latest novel, The Brink. During the end of the lecture, I opened it up for questions and we talked about how I do my research, the formula for a successful thriller, and the conspiracy behind the book. Then, out of nowhere, one lady raised her hand and said that, for her, what made her like the book wasn’t all the action and conspiracy and suspense, it was the characters. The main character, Danny Cavanaugh, who also is the main character in my first novel, Five Days in Dallas, is a troubled soul, to say the least. In Five Days in Dallas, he was a Dallas detective that had some issues that had plagued him for most of his life and that he had dealt with by self medicating with the bottle. In The Brink, he is now a fugitive Texas Ranger on the run for killing a dirty FBI agent. In some respects he’s grown, in some he hasn’t. It’s only when he meets the woman in The Brink, Sydney Dumas, who forces him to deal with his issues while they are running for their lives, does he actually begin to take a hard look at himself for the first time in his life. I must admit, I love his character, and her character, too.

Anyway, her comment about it being “all about the characters” touched off a long discussion about characters and we came to find out that for all the people in the room, it is mainly about the characters. Readers see bits and peices of themselves in characters, either who they are or who they would like to be. If they didn’t care about the characters, and fast (meaning a few pages into the book) they would close the cover and be on to the next book.

“It’s the characters, stupid.” No one actually said those words last night, but I will make sure that no matter how fast-paced, suspense-packed or conspiracy-laced I make my next story, I will remember those words. I’ve already put them on a sheet of paper and taped it up next to my computer.

What about you? Do you agree about the importance of characters? Or is there something else that’s more important? To the keyboards!


The Brink by Mark Fadden has just been nominated for the Star Award from its publisher! Read more about The Brink and Mark’s writing at

Want a side of thriller with that financial analysis?

We are literally awash in non-fiction books about the current financial crisis. James Kwak and Simon Johnson, who run the excellent blog The Baseline Scenario, wrote 13 Bankers, a book that “identifies many causes of the recent financial crisis, from housing policy to minimum capital requirements for banks. The authors lay ultimate blame on a dominant deregulatory ideology and Wall Street’s corresponding political influence. Johnson, professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Kwak, a former consultant for McKinsey, follow American finance’s rocky road from the debate between Jefferson and Hamilton over the first Bank of the United States through frequent friction between Big Finance and democracy to the Obama administration’s responses to the crises.” – Publisher’s Weekly review.

Arianna Huffington, of the famed Huffington Post, has written Third World America. According to her publisher, Random House, Huffington, “has her finger on the pulse of America, [as she] unflinchingly tracks the gradual demise of America as an industrial, political, and economic leader.  In the vein of her fiery bestseller Pigs at the Trough, Third World America points fingers, names names, and details who’s killing the American Dream.”

Raghuram Rajan, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, has added to the financial crisis list with Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy. Princeton University Press, the book’s publisher, has this to say about Rajan and the book: “Raghuram Rajan was one of the few economists who warned of the global financial crisis before it hit. Now, as the world struggles to recover, it’s tempting to blame what happened on just a few greedy bankers who took irrational risks and left the rest of us to foot the bill. In Fault Lines, Rajan argues that serious flaws in the economy are also to blame, and warns that a potentially more devastating crisis awaits us if they aren’t fixed.”

Finally, there is former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich’s Aftershock. Again, here’s a blurb about the book from its publisher, Random House: “Reich’s thoughtful and detailed account of where we are headed over the next decades reveals the essential truth about our economy that is driving our politics and shaping our future. With keen insight, he shows us how the middle class lacks enough purchasing power to buy what the economy can produce and has adopted coping mechanisms that have a negative impact on their quality of life; how the rich use their increasing wealth to speculate; and how an angrier politics emerges as more Americans conclude that the game is rigged for the benefit of a few. Unless this trend is reversed, the Great Recession will only be repeated.”

Just from doing a little research into their backgrounds, it’s obvious each of these authors knows what they’re talking about. But, honestly, show of hands here, you don’t even have to go so far as to fill out an online poll – would you read any one of these books?

The answer is probably no. Yet, something like 50 million people read Dan Brown’s thriller The Da Vinci Code, which, at its core, is about subjects almost as boring as economics for most people: Italian art and religious history. Why? The answer, at least in my eyes, is simple. To paraphrase political strategist James Carville, “it’s the story, stupid.”

Story drives everything. That was my idea when I first conceptualized my latest thriller, The Brink, which is based upon the current financial crisis. Much like Reich, Huffington, and Rajan, I wanted to educate people about America’s precarious financial situation, but I knew that people also don’t want to be nagged or preached to. Most readers would rather sit down and crack open a compelling thriller than a fairly dry textbook-like read. So, I used real-world numbers and real economic theories within a thriller format when I wrote The Brink, and it works. It entertains and educates. Some readers and reviewers alike have even called it, “faction” – the meeting of fact and fiction.

What about you? Have you been researching something from “the real world”, maybe it’s something like global warming, that you think would make the good basis for a novel? Would you ever write a book of “faction?” Do you trust the things you read in fiction to be the truth? Or should fiction writers no try to educate? Should they just entertain and that’s it?   To the keyboards!

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,

Rest easy tonight my friends, but stay hungry tomorrow… 


Here’s what readers are saying about Mark’s latest thriller The Brink:

“I finally had a chance to sit down and read The Brink–all the way through in a day and a half. The story is gripping, even frightening, and you capture the suspense in the rhythm of your prose. In places I was reading so fast I felt like I was in the chase! I’ll put it on the shelf next to my signed copy of Lonesome Dove, in the gallery of great contemporary writers!” – Bob H., Amarillo, TX

“He’s the next Dan Brown.” – Arlene D., Southlake, TX

“Truly a pager turner for me. I could not put the book down. Every time I thought I had figured something out, the next twist came up. If you like conspiracy theories, you’ll love this one.” – Sharon L, Houston, TX

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