Today’s Psychological Thriller: What Makes Us Love It So Much?

“A Gripping Psychological Thriller with an Unusual Twist!” a book cover proclaims in big, bold lettering. But the book itself has little to do with the inner workings of the characters’ minds.

Is this truly a psychological thriller? Or has psychological thriller simply become a buzz phrase that we slap haphazardly on the cover of a book to make it more attractive to a select audience?

I’m not criticizing, mind you. For a short period of time, my second book had that tagline on the cover. The idea was that readers searching Amazon for psychological thrillers would also happen upon my book and become instantly intrigued.

I’ve since removed that particular description from my books because, with the exception of Sweet Cold of Winter, they aren’t psychological thrillers at all. They’re literary fiction, and misleading your readers is not only shady, but it’s risky, too. An excited reader who expects a gripping psychological thriller doesn’t want to be met with a cozy mystery or historical fiction.

What Is a Psychological Thriller?

Bill Paxton’s portrayal of an off-the-rails dad in Frailty was the stuff of nightmares.

Readers of psychological thrillers want The Silence of the Lambs. They want The Girl on the Train. Possibly, they want Frailty. Frailty was actually a movie, but it’s still an excellent example of a psychological thriller — dark, inner workings of a disturbed mind? Or messenger of God?

Readers who find something other than what they paid for in a book are apt to leave THE REVIEW.

Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of THE REVIEW. THE REVIEW is a psychological thriller in itself — the stuff of nightmares and Goodreads.

Needed Elements of the Psychological Thriller


But then again, if an author intentionally misrepresents the content of his book, he deserves THE REVIEW. A psychological thriller should leave you wondering exactly who you can trust. It should build tension and contain unexpected plot twists that you never saw coming. Skewed thinking, irrationality, unexpected reality — all are important literary techniques needed for the proper telling of a psychological thriller. And speaking just for myself, I need that A-ha! moment at the end.

I have my own ideas on what makes up a psychological thriller, and some might disagree. But when I see that tagline on the cover of a book, my heart begins to race, and my mouth waters, accordingly. I feel a smile form because the psychological thriller is one of my favorite genres, when it’s done well.

The Psychological Thriller Defined


Cujo was a classic psychological thriller


Author Mark Edwards of The Magpies and Because She Loves Me offers sound advice on what readers should find between the pages of a riveting psychological thriller. In his guest post at Writer’s Digest, Edwards recommends a few key components, including:

  • Average People
  • Unusual Circumstances
  • Recognizable Surroundings
  • Unexpected Plot Twists
  • Tension, Tension, Tension

In other words, the goal is to successfully enact terrifying events on unsuspecting people just like ourselves. The more identifiable the characters, the better. The more mundane the setting, the more we can imagine ourselves inside it.

One of the most impactful books I ever read was Stephen King’s Cujo. Not because the dog was so big and scary, but because I drove an unreliable old beater at the time and could put myself inside that sweltering car with that desperate mom who was so determined to keep her small son safe.

I’m not going to lie. Cujo made me cry. The book ended differently than the movie, and if you’ve read it, you understand. If you haven’t, and you like a good psychological thriller, you should. Some might actually say Cujo leans more toward the horror end of the spectrum, but I disagree. The characters are just relatable enough to feel decidedly real. And real dogs get rabies, no one can deny. Men abuse their wives and kids, mothers have extra-marital affairs, and children are more fragile than adults. As a result — reality.

Reality with a side of OH MY GOD!

THAT’s what makes a good psychological thriller.

Oh, how I love them.


Writer’s Digest








Pets and Depression: Can Snuggling with Your Dog or Cat Help Ease Your Pain?

If you’re someone who regularly experiences depression or low moods, you should eat better.

Exercise more.


You know — everything you absolutely can’t do when you’re feeling sad.

Advice such as this is well-meaning, but impractical.

pexels-photo-395196You COULD conjure up a big salad filled with green plants and berries, but that would mean finding the energy to wash and chop produce, arrange it nicely in a bowl, and put everything away afterward.

It might also require washing a bowl first.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find the desire or the energy to wash dishes and clean up the house when the world waxes gray.

Yes. You could go to the gym or eat some sushi, but let’s be honest … that’s not going to happen. Probably, you’re going to forage in the freezer for the first thing that looks like ice cream and drag it onto the couch beside you.

So, let’s overlook the science of eating well to feel better for a moment and focus on a task that’s less scientific, but completely tangible in the shadow of a gray day.

Let’s snuggle with a beloved pet.

The Many Benefits of Pets for People With Depression

There are some things you probably don’t know about pets and depression, including:

  • Roughly 74% of pet owners say furry friends impact their mental health in positive ways.
  • Pet ownership helps keep you on a schedule — something that many people prone to depression have difficulty achieving. You have to feed, water and possibly walk a pet several times a day. This not only gives you purpose, it may also get you out of the house and into the sunshine for much-needed vitamin D.
  • Stroking a pet increases your levels of oxytocin and decreases your levels of cortisol. This makes you feel less stressed. Additionally, the sound of purring is the sound of calm contentment.
  • Pets may also help you build social connections, regardless of how introverted you may be. When you walk your dog, you feel inclined to speak to neighbors and passers-by. A bright smile and a moment of conversation from the right person at the right time has been known to alter destinies, after all.

Pets and depression have other benefits, too. There are no dreaded side-effects to snuggling with your pet. You won’t wake up tomorrow feeling hung-over or depleted. It won’t cost you a co-pay to cuddle on the couch with Tiger and Wolfie. Neither does it require expending energy that you simply can’t find in the moment.

Pets Bring Unconditional Love to those Who Feel Unloved

pexels-photo-3616232Another important connection between pets and depression is the unconditional love we find in our pets — that same unconditional love that we search so vainly for in humans. Pets are empathy on furry little feet. They sense when we’re sad, and they offer the only thing they have as comfort in return.

They offer themselves.

It’s soothing to be in the presence of a roly-poly cat or a playful pup. Pets give us a warm presence to touch. They let us ruffle their hair and scratch their ears, and sometimes, they give us a warm lick or a playful nose bump in return. They distract us, too. And sometimes it feels SO good to JUST STOP THINKING.

Pets and Depression Trump Unwanted Advice

This isn’t to say that it’s okay to ignore medication and therapy and your doctor’s orders the next time a dark day beckons. I’m actually an enthusiastic supporter of eating well and exercising often … just not so much on the gray days.

What you should feel free to overlook, however, is all the good “advice” that comes your way when you’re feeling your worst. It’s okay if you can’t conjure up the energy to run the dishwasher or run the track. It’s okay to relax on the couch with your pint of butter pecan and your TV remote occasionally. And it’s definitely okay to bump relaxation up a notch by adding the weight and lolling tongue of a fuzzy friend or three.

Some might even call it therapeutic.




How One Author’s Books About Abuse and Neglect Reflect Real Life

I write books about abuse and neglect.

My books aren’t for everyone. In fact, readers either love them to death and follow them passionately, or they hate them in the extreme.

There is no middle ground.

As an author, as a describer of worlds, this used to bother me, but I’ve since discovered a hard truth pertaining to books about abuse and neglect: Some readers identify; others don’t, and it’s the farthest thing from personal.

Abuse and Neglect: Sticky Topics

For other readers, however, The Ashkettle Boys Book Series remains sticky. Sonny, Bo, and Dack linger in the minds of these readers long after the last page turns.

And that, my friends, is what writing books is all about.

These are my readers, and I appreciate them.

Everyone can never love you, but to a select few, maybe you’re doing a good thing.

A Fictional Series of Books About Abuse and Neglect

cropped-fb-cover-1.jpgThe Ashkettle boys are brothers. The series begins when Dack is just sixteen and trying to survive a life ruled by a cruel step-uncle. The opening scene is explosive, but satisfying, and it catapults readers into the worlds of Sonny, Bo, and Dack Ashkettle — devoted brothers fighting to save each other, regardless of the consequences.

The setting is cold — a mostly fearful community of neighbors in the reclusive Appalachian Mountains, reluctant to get involved. From the opening pages, however, the story warms. My favorite parts of these stories, ones that fought their way to life through the overwhelming powers of self-doubt and procrastination, are the passages that echo the love of a determined family to escape abnormality and find at least momentary peace, however fleeting.

How Books About Abuse and Neglect Reflect Real Life

Sadly, many children and teens live much like the characters portrayed in books about abuse and neglect. In fact, statistics from are heartbreaking:

  • Five children die every day in this country from abuse and neglect.
  • We report an incident of child abuse every 10 seconds in America.
  • There are enough mistreated children in America to fill at least five football stadiums. These are only the ones about which authorities are aware.
  • Abuse and neglect in childhood can shorten your life expectancy as you grow older and leave you with mental scars that make life difficult to understand.

The last is a pervasive theme throughout the Ashkettle Boys Books, because keeping mental illness real and portraying it truthfully is important.

Meet the Ashkettle Boys

Thoughtful handsome. Handsome young man in full suit and sunglasses holding hands clasped looking thoughtful while sitting against grey background

In the Ashkettle Boys books, Dack is the youngest brother who took the brunt of the abuse and neglect for seven long years. He battles daily to control his mental state and to navigate life in a “normal” fashion. Luckily, he has his two older brothers to help.

Some people read my books and leave reviews stating that they’re exaggerated or unrealistic. Others say things like, “Yes. That’s exactly what happened to me.”

Unless you’ve experienced it, or you grew up with someone who experienced it, you’re probably not going to get it. And that’s wonderful. I wish that very thing for all my readers. Trendy young man in black shirt, portrait of sexy fashion boy lo

But if you do identify with books about abuse and neglect, you’ll find hope in the Ashkettle Boys books. These are books about abuse and neglect, it’s true. But these are also books about hope and redemption, books about moving on and letting go, books about finding your way in a dark so black it solidifies, forcing you to kick, claw and scream your way out.

Handsome man faceMostly, however, they’re books about the strength of family and the undefinable power of love. I hope you’ll begin reading with Ashkettle Crazy and work your way through:

  • Ashkettle Haunted
  • Ashkettle Fierce
  • Downers
  • Shaw’s Obsession
  • Sweet Cold of Winter
  • Ashkettle Boys: The Trilogy (Featuring books 1,2, and 3)

You know, if you identify with books about abuse and neglect.

Explore Ashkettle Boys Titles.


Adult Children of Alcoholics