Episode 73: Crafting the twistiest thrillers with author Peter Swanson

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Twists, turns, suspense, unlikeable characters you can’t quite stop rooting for—you’re going to find it all in a Peter Swanson novel. And since I’ve told you before that I have a dark little heart that loves these kinds of books, I’m so excited to dive into the creation of them with Peter on the show today.

Peter is a fellow New England author who recently launched his 11th book, A Talent for Murder, and it’s SO GOOD. I knew I had to have him on the show to talk about his work, his process, all of it.

Like every writer I talk to on this show, he’s had his own unique experience getting into the business and getting to where he is today. We have a great conversation about:

  • Navigating the publishing industry. We get real about what to expect!
  • His writing process—because if there’s one thing you should take away from all these conversations, it’s that every writer’s process is different
  • How characters are born and how they evolve—and sometimes demand their own spotlight
  • The role setting plays in books
  • The notion of “no killing of animals in books” thing that I always manage to get in!

And so much more.

My favorite part of the conversation was when we talked about plotting vs. pantsing and Peter’s approach. I’ve been really thinking about how to make plotting work for me without putting myself through the paces of feeling like a failure if I don’t know everything about a book before I start writing it. Hearing different perspectives is super helpful for me and I hope for you too, if this is something you’re struggling with.

If you’re looking to write suspense that gets noticed, you don’t want to miss this episode!


  • “I think where a lot of people get hung up is the novel in their head. The first novel that they’re going to write that you think is going to be a masterpiece. And then it doesn’t come out that way because it can’t, because it’s the first one. So it’s just a matter of finishing it and then starting the next one.” 
  • On feedback: “I think you just need to be open and hear it. And then sometimes, after thinking about it for a while, you can dismiss it, but you have to listen to it the first time. These people are trying to make it a better book. Unless they’re trying to make it a different book. That’s the thing where you can get into trouble – if it’s an editor or an agent that’s essentially trying to get you to write a different book than the one you’re trying to write.Tthen maybe you have the wrong agent or editor.”
  • On plotting – or not: “I don’t overly plot, so I’m definitely a pantser where I come up with a premise. And I’ve thought a lot about where it’s going to go, but I haven’t written it down per se. I often know the ending or the ending that I would like to get to, and I usually don’t know the middle and I usually allow myself room to change the story midway through because I actually love a book that starts one way and you think it’s going in one direction and then you spin it.”
  • “Sometimes you can write half a book and you’re in trouble. There’s either not enough to go on to write a full book or you’ve painted yourself into a corner that you can’t get out of, or you find a way to sneak out of it or get back on track, and it winds up being a better book than one you could have plotted in advance.
  • And that’s the important thing about being a pantser – it leaves things open. And hopefully you can work your way out of problems and make a better book.”

You can find out more about Peter at https://www.peter-swanson.com/

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