Welcome to the Thrillerfest V Blog!

We hope you'll bookmark us, just as you bookmark so many of the hundreds of the International Thriller Writers that participate in our annual conference, held in New York City in July.

ITW is a youthful organization, always ready for a new way of looking at things. You'll find that dynamism here, in blog posts from authors, agents, editors and Thrillerfest attendees, past and present.

And that same excitement you feel from your favorite reads is evident in everything ITW does, and no wonder--the organization, staffing and publicity for ThrillerFest--including this new blog--is undertaken by volunteers, most of whom are ITW authors themselves.

So pull up a chair and stay awhile ... discover the latest news on what Thrillerfest V--the fifth anniversary of the conference--has to offer. Visit old friends, make new ones, ask questions, and hear about the remarkable things in store for the conference.

Whether or not you can come see us in New York--and we hope that you can!--please join us here. It's gonna be ... a thriller!

Kelli Stanley, Thrillerfest Publicity Committee Chair

Thrillerfest Publicity Committee:
Jeannie Holmes
CJ Lyons
Carla Buckley
Grant McKenzie

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why Am I Here and What Should I Do? ThrillerFest Opportunities Explored!

Whether you’re a reader, writer or industry professional ThrillerFest is an amazing opportunity to meet thriller writers and learn more about the craft of writing thrillers.

If you’re a reader there will be book signings and parties with plenty of opportunities to meet your favorite authors. It’s a more personal setting where you are a part of the group.
For aspiring authors there are many workshops and a lot of established authors who are happy to share their experience and knowledge with you. And that’s what CraftFest is for! Check out all the great workshops where you can learn more about your craft! http://www.thrillerwriters.org/thrillerfest/programming/

Are you ready for that next step? Do you have a manuscript finished, polished and ready to go? Then sign up for the entire ThrillerFest package and attend AgentFest! http://www.thrillerwriters.org/thrillerfest/agentfest.html
AgentFest is a fun and exciting way for you to talk to numerous agents and pitch your book!

ThrillerFest is an exciting experience where a variety of people get together to study, celebrate and discuss the thriller/suspense and mystery genre. Check out the ThrillerFest website to see details of workshops, guests and opportunities.

Here is best selling author Barry Eisler talking about what there is to do at ThrillerFest and why you shouldn’t miss it!

Sheila English
ITW Social Networking Chair

Monday, May 25, 2009

An Interview with Valerie Gray, Executive Editor of MIRA Books

The ink had barely dried on my contract when my new editor asked if I was going to Thrillerfest. Top thriller authors giving craft workshops? A chance to meet other thriller authors and my publisher? July in NYC? Who could resist such temptation?

Not I. “Of course”, I replied without hesitation. In anticipation of the long-awaited event, I have interviewed my fabulous editor, Executive Editor Valerie Gray, MIRA Books, about MIRA’s thriller fiction line and why she recommends her authors attend Thrillerfest.

PAM: When did MIRA start its thriller fiction line? What is the vision for the line? And where did the name MIRA come from?

VALERIE: MIRA Books got started way back in 1994 and began publishing a range of editorial including Romantic Suspense. Over the years this genre did very well for us and was always a strong part of the program. Then, about five years ago in 2004, we decided to really focus on Thrillers per se. We felt this was an important segment of the publishing business and we focused our attentions on ensuring our books had a strong female presence that was aimed at the female reader. This mandate is still relevant today. Many men enjoy our books, and we are happy about the so-called “crossover” reader, but we never want to lose site of the fact that our Thriller books remain female driven.

As to the name MIRA, it was chosen because it means “star”, and we like to think our authors and their books are the brightest stars in women’s fiction.

PAM: What do you look for in a thriller? Why do you enjoy editing thriller authors?

VALERIE: For me, it’s all about the writing and storytelling. I want to be surprised and moved; I want to be impressed. I want to think about something I’ve never thought about before. I want to engage powerfully with the characters, and I want to feel anxious and excited. I am a self-confessed snob when it comes to the words on the page—make me stretch as a reader and make me gasp with anticipation and make me wish I could do it.

As a group, I’ve found the Thriller community to be supportive, inventive and inclusive, and they are just about the nicest group of people you could meet—and so normal! It makes me laugh when I try to fathom where on earth a mild-mannered reporter, or a reclusive, anxious lawyer come up with these crazy, scary ideas. Must have been something about their childhood! What’s not to like about working with people like that?

PAM: Thriller 2: Stories You Just Can’t Put Down, edited by master thriller author Clive Cussler (MIRA Books, June 2009) is a very slick anthology. What’s the story behind the stories?

VALERIE: A few years ago ITW had the idea to publish an anthology of short stories by some of the best known names in Thriller fiction. Naturally, several publishers were interested in this project and MIRA Books was the lucky winner. The first anthology was published in 2007 and was titled Thriller: Stories To Keep You Up All Night edited by the esteemed James Patterson. The book was a terrific success.

Now, two years later, MIRA Books is proud to publish the second volume. The anthology this year features some of the best known names in the genre, along with new writers who are just making names for themselves. MIRA Books is very proud to be associated both with ITW and with these two wonderful volumes.

PAM: In your experience, how often have you signed on a new author from a pitch? What is the best pitch you’ve ever heard at Thrillerfest?

VALERIE: We rely heavily on agents to vet our material for us. If they tell us they have something exciting, we’ll look at it. So if you want to submit to us, getting an agent is your best bet.

Usually pitches make me nervous because, often, the writer is nervous and it can be a difficult experience. I spend the whole time hoping to be enthralled and knowing I probably won’t be. The best pitch I ever experienced was not at Thrillerfest, but at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference. I was riveted for more than half an hour and that is saying something. It is the only time I’ve ever bought a book as a direct result of a wonderful pitch. And, of course, the book was even better.

PAM: What is your favourite part of Thrillerfest?

VALERIE: Editors are groupies, too. It was a thrill to hear people like Steve Berry and Lee Childs, R.L. Stein, Karen Rose, Laura Lippman and James Patterson to name a few offer their encouragement and support for their fellow authors. The various cocktail parties are always fun, as is the closing banquet. As you will discover, many Thriller writers are also excellent musicians and singers. And there is no shortage of humor and bon mots.

PAM: What makes Thrillerfest stand out in your mind?

VALERIE: Thrillerfest stands out in my mind because of the unabashed support these authors have for one another.

PAM: What was the most fun you’ve had at Thrillerfest?

VALERIE: If I had to single out any one thing it would be the hilarity at the closing banquet. But, be warned, dress for the arctic. The ballroom was like a meat locker.

PAM: Why do you recommend that your authors attend Thrillerfest?

VALERIE: You will meet wonderful people who will inspire you. There is no other reason.

That’s reason enough for me. What I love about conferences is the serendipitous nature of them, where a chance remark can stoke the creative fire. And that’s why we all began writing, isn’t it?

See you in NYC.

Pamela Callow

Pamela Callow is the author of a new legal biomedical thriller series for MIRA Books. DAMAGED will be released in June 2010, followed by INDEFENSIBLE in January 2011.

The Mayor

By Jeff Ayers

Fifth grade:
I discovered two television shows that will change my life forever. Star Trek with Captain Kirk and his crew and the Twilight Zone. I’m completely overwhelmed by the quality of the stories and quickly learn that people actually wrote them! I started devouring every science fiction book I could find, and one of the books I discovered was a book by Ray Bradbury called The Martian Chronicles. After reading it, I immediately decided I must become a librarian and a writer. My first novel, all twelve pages of it, was titled Airplane Smashup and a Gun. The characters in the novel were my classmates. I learned two things about that experience: Don’t make the bullies mad by killing them in extra harsh ways, and don’t reveal the crush you have on the girl in class. The question I have now looking back is: Why was I reading science fiction and writing a thriller?

Flash forward: I always surrounded myself with books, from helping out in the school library and bookroom to my first paying job as a shelver at the public library. I worked my way up the library food chain and even spent some time working in a law library in San Francisco (ask me about working for attorneys sometime) and in a corporate setting (Boeing). But my love of reading called me back to the public sector and I got my dream job helping select the material for the entire library system. I had a wonderful boss, great co-workers, was working with publishers, and learned about advance reader copies. (ARCs). True heaven for the fan boy.

Time stop: I was sitting in the office of world famous librarian Nancy Pearl, (you may have seen the action figure-actually comes with a book cart and shushing action) and she was on the phone talking to someone at Library Journal. Nancy looked at me and asked, “Would you be interested in reviewing suspense thrillers for Library Journal?” When I regained consciousness, I, of course, said yes. I was told to write on the spot a review of the book I was currently reading. (I remember it was the thriller Quicksilver by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who have also written--wait for it--Star Trek novels). Nancy looked at it and then faxed it to the editor at Library Journal. I was told it would take two to three weeks to come to a decision. When I got back downstairs to my desk, there was an email congratulating me.

Real life intrusion: I loved both my job and writing reviews. Then, circumstances changed. Once again feel free to ask for the whole scenario when you see me. Anyway, changes at work, mid-life crisis, the whole shebang. I had turned in a review to LJ a couple of weeks earlier, and while I was driving to work, feeling miserable, I heard a voice. It told me that I would interview the author. I had never done anything like that before and had no idea how to even begin to do something along those lines. I contacted my editor when I got to work and she said, “If you were going to interview him, you would have had to turn it in with the review. Sorry.” So, I figured that was the end of the idea. But the voice persisted. So, I contacted my local newspaper, the recently defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and asked if I could interview this author to coincide with an appearance in a Seattle bookstore. After a ton of writing samples and reassurances I could do it, the editor at the PI agreed. It was then I realized I had better contact the author and see if he would let me interview him. Thank God he said yes. After the interview, I wrote and rewrote that article until I was almost dead. Without the guidance of my wonderful wife and a great friend who continued to challenge me to do better, it would have been a piece of garbage. When it was published, I was thrilled beyond belief. A couple of days later, the author came to town, and when we met, he said, “That is the best article anyone has ever written about me. Why are you not writing full time?” I took his advice to heart and even my wife said, “Writing is what you are supposed to be doing. I never saw you happier when you were working on the that interview.” Within six months, I had an agent (she represented--wait for it--a book on Rod Serling and another on Gene Roddenberry) and four months after that, my first book deal. It was my interview with Dan Brown and the discussion of his book The DaVinci Code that launched my writing career.

Who knew authors actually read my comments?: Around this time, I did a column on suspense thrillers for Library Journal. I praised Gayle Lynds and her book Masquerade. A couple of days later, I got an email from my editor at LJ asking if I would mind giving out my contact info to an author. When Gayle emailed me, I had the stunning revelation that not just librarians, but authors, read the reviews. My writing continued to grow--more columns, and more interviews with such wonderful people as Harlan Coben and Jeffrey Deaver for both the PI and Library Journal.

Interlude: I found my literary agent at a Writer’s Conference (PNWA) and I ended up joining their board. An editor from Writer Magazine was at the PNWA conference in a subsequent year and I decided to pitch an interview with Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. The editor said, “Sorry, not interested.” Jump ahead to that evening where Douglas Preston gave the keynote address. After his talk, Doug was sitting next to me. I mentioned that I pitched an article on him and Lincoln without success. Shortly afterwards, the editor from Writer came over and said to Doug, “I would love to have you write an article for us.” Doug looked at him and said, “If you want an article, Jeff should write it.” Booya! When I regained consciousness, I wandered out in the hallway where the editor was standing. He handed me his card and said, “Contact me next week.” I ended up interviewing Doug and Lincoln, along with other amazing authors like Joe Finder and Robert Crais. I continue to write for them.

Mystery goes global: LJ asked me to write the feature story on the mystery genre for their special issue. While working on the specifics with my editor, she said, “You should interview Gayle Lynds, who started this International Thriller Writers, with David Morrell.” While interviewing Gayle, she gave me the background and revealed the sheer awesomeness of the group. All of my favorite authors in one place? How cool was that? She then said, “You can join.” When I regained consciousness, I became a member. Shortly after the article came out, I started writing for the ITW monthly newsletter. I started with the first issue and haven’t stopped. Then, my Star Trek book, Voyages of Imagination, was published by Pocket Books in November 2006.

Thrillerfest 2007: I was so excited to be in New York. I had missed the first Thrillerfest due to a work promotion. To my amazement, a lot of authors knew who I was from my reviews and my interviews. When I ran into Jeffrey Deaver in the hallway, he said, “That was a great interview you did with me.” He remembered who I was just by seeing my nametag! Other authors said similar things. I made some wonderful friends and discovered some new authors that I hadn’t read before. And, thanks to David Hewson, I was able to wander the halls and do quick interviews with several authors. The recorder I had worked great except for one author. For some reason, Jon Land kept breaking the recorder. Three attempts--three failures. I was such a huge fan of his and meeting him in person already threw me into fan boy mode--so I want to give a shout out to Jon for not making me feel too bad about it. One other highlight--I was standing next to Clive Cussler when a woman came running down the aisle toward us. My job was to move Clive from the room to the signing area and I thought, “Oh, no, another fan I have to tell to head downstairs and she could chat with him there.” She got to the stage, I started to tell her she needed to go downstairs, and she said, “No, I’m here to see you. You wrote that wonderful Star Trek book.” I said, “You want to talk to me? Seriously?” I then pointed next to me and said, “That’s Clive Cussler!” Clive laughed and said, “Jeff’s got a fan.” It was surreal to say the least. Shortly after Thrillerfest, I got an offer to review for Booklist.

Thrillerfest 2008: Prior to the event, I was asked to be an official media escort for Xetera Media Services. Next time you are on a book tour that takes you to the Seattle area, have your publisher give us a call. Thrillerfest itself: Another surreal event. Authors I love to read just wandering the halls. I moderated a panel on Getting Yourself and Your Books Noticed and sitting in the audience were several writers I admired--I wanted to stop the proceedings and just run over to them and say hello. But I maintained my composure. I walked the hallways with another author and we were chatting about the big names attending. As we walked, several of these authors walked by us, stopped and said hello to me. This author kept looking at me and finally he said, “How do all of these authors know you? Are you the Thrillerfest Mayor?” I told him I honestly didn’t know and it was just a fluke. We walked upstairs and Robert Crais was just coming into the area. He saw me and said, “Jeff, how’s it going?” The author I was with looked at me and whispered, “You are the mayor.” Two seconds later, Steve Berry walked up to me and greeted me by name. I didn’t realize until later that throughout that entire experience I was not wearing my nametag. To this day that author still calls me “Mayor.” Soon after the conference, I started podcasting author interviews for Author Magazine. (www.authormagazine.org). My very first audio interview? Jon Land. And my equipment survived!

Thrillerfest 2009: I was thrilled to be asked to moderate a panel this year again and when I saw the lineup of panelists, you guessed it. When I regained consciousness, I started thinking about how amazing and fun the whole Thrillerfest experience is. The panel is called Do Thrillers Deserve More Press? And it will be on Saturday Morning at 9:30 am in the Broadway room. I will be showing some intriguing data and I think it will be a great time for both the panel and the audience. And I’m happy to report that this year will bring another level to my time at the conference. I will have a thriller that is looking for a good home. I will also be wandering the halls with two different hats on--I’ll be walking around with a recorder again (grab me and let me interview you) and I’ll be doing some behind the scenes stuff as well.

As the unofficial “Mayor” of Thrillerfest, I decree everyone come and have a great time. And, please say hello.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Character Studies--Sherlock Holmes

I’m sitting in Chicago, Illinois as I write this, and I assume it comes as no shock to anyone reading that our recent past governor has been impeached. What has come as a shock has been the ex governor’s response to his impeachment. Rather than retreat behind the locked front door of his house, he’s thrust himself onto the national stage, giving radio interviews and signing up for a celebrity reality show. His antics have been somewhat bizarre and clown-like. As writers we could learn from watching the scenario as it plays out. How many of us would have written the deposed, soon-to-be- indicted governor as reality show contestant? One writer who might have thought of that angle is the wonderful Carl Hiaasen, who lives in Florida, where the politics can often rival Chicago’s on the bizarre meter.
This came to mind one night as I was listening to Augie Aleksy, the owner of Centuries and Sleuths bookstore in Forest Park, read from a Sherlock Holmes story. He described Holmes, as he sat in a chair in his room firing a gun into the opposite wall, forming the letters “VR” (initials of the then queen, Victoria Regina) in bullet holes. I sat up straighter. Sherlock Holmes, the intellectual violin player and brilliant but maladjusted detective hammering bullets into his own bedroom wall? The image didn’t fit with my view of Holmes. Sure, I knew about the seven percent solution of cocaine he injected at odd times, but the image of Holmes leaning back in a chair and shooting the wall, bits of plaster spraying and the noise echoing in the room, brought to mind a dark genius, too dangerous to be near and whose anger ran very, very deep. There was none of the cool logic of the world class detective.
I had the same reaction that a student might have had upon discovering that their mild- mannered professor was actually Indiana Jones. I ran to the collected works of Conan Doyle and read for myself. Not only did Holmes fire into his wall, but he’d rammed a knife through his unanswered correspondence, affixing it in the center of his mantelpiece. This last image made me laugh. It spoke volumes about how Holmes viewed the intrusion of the outside world.
Reading this classic tale of an unforgettable literary character helped me view my own characters in a new light. I’m working on my third novel now. You can believe they will do the unexpected.

Jamie Freveletti
Running from the Devil

Thursday, May 21, 2009

TWF seeks PWM

Thriller Writing Female seeks Published Writer Mentor.

For this match, Craigslist simply won’t do. ThrillerFest 2009 is the pickup joint for me!

Fear not, fellow writers. I’m happily married and emotionally stable, not a predatory cougar on the prowl. But I do have an unmet relationship need. I’m an aspiring author—an unpublished novelist—and I could really benefit from a friendship with a more experienced writer. The Internet and bookstores are loaded with wonderful information about the business and craft of writing, and I’ve made good use of this material. But just as textbooks will never replace good teachers in the classroom, no amount of study can replace the role of a good mentor in a new career.

Thus one of my goals for ThrillerFest is to make connections with published writers who will give me the kind of advice that only a mentor can. A year and a half ago when I attended my first writers’ conference in San Francisco, I had the single-minded agenda of an eager beginner: get an agent. That was my only goal, but at the conference I learned so much that I was not only content to leave without an agent, I ditched most of my manuscript and started a massive rewrite.

Since then my writing, and my perspective, have changed. I still want to sell my book—so meeting an agent is important—but I’m thinking beyond that first book to my career as a whole. A published writer mentor may be the greatest asset I could have.

With that in mind, to prepare for my first ThrillerFest I’m reading as many books as possible. My choices come from a list I made of thriller writers who are currently publishing novels with a scientific or medical angle. I’m trying to read at least one book from each author to get a feel for their style. Then I’ll try to memorize the names and titles to give me instant conversation starters.

In a perfect ThrillerFest, I’d find myself seated at a table next to James Rollins, the bestselling writer who (like me) uses real science in his fantastic stories. We’d share a bottle of wine, and I’d tell him about all the remarkable things we have in common: we both live in Sacramento, we’re both doctors who trained in Missouri, and we both have secret Polish surnames. Given that such an occurrence is about as likely as some of the events in one of his Sigma Force novels, I hope to at least run into him in the hotel lobby or something. My one-second self-pitch still needs a lot of polishing: “Excuse me, Mr. Rollins, would you be my friend?” “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Czajkowski,” (horribly mangling the pronunciation, of course). “Howdy, Jim, I’m your biggest fan!”

Barring the perfect Rollins Encounter, I’ll take advantage of whatever networking opportunities come my way. My mentor doesn’t have to be famous, just knowledgeable and willing to share. My attitude for the week will match the tourism ads I’ve recently seen for Aruba: ThrillerFest. Hundreds of friends you haven’t met yet.

Dr. Amy Rogers, author of The Han Agent

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Choosing Your ThrillerFest Experience – Establishing Goals

Writing and time management and getting the most out of your ThrillerFest experience means knowing what’s available during the convention and matching it to your wants and needs as a writer, editor, marketer or reader.

When preparing for a convention that has multiple opportunities I like to be very specific about what my goals are when I arrive. Some people like to look at the list of events, show up and play it by ear and that’s fine, I’m just not that kind of person. I worked in clinical laboratory science for 18 years so I tend to be more methodical and outcome driven.

Conventions are fun, but they are also an investment. You invest in money and in time regardless of why you’re going. If you’re going just for the fun you still need to know what’s going on and arrange to be where you think the most fun is bound to occur.

As I prepare for ThrillerFest I continually go back to the website to see if any additions or changes have occurred. I read the newsletters and emails that come in from ITW with an eye toward opportunity. I have my ThrillerFest list that includes the following:

1. What writers to do I want to meet for fun?
a. Where will they be available that I’m most likely to get to chat with them?
b. Are they doing a signing and what books would I like signed?
c. Will there be in photo ops? Where?

2. What writers to I want to meet for business?
a. Should I make an actual appointment?
b. Will I meet them as/if I can? Where?
c. What exactly do I want to talk to them about?
d. How long will the meeting last and what should I bring with me?

3. What business will I do for COS Productions and what do I need to do for ITW?

4. As a writer, what workshops or events should I attend to work on my craft?

5. As a marketer what workshops or events should I attend?

6. I like to write out goals that I can measure after the event. It gives me a sense of attaining ROI (return on investment). So I make my list and then review the percentage of workshops, events or meetings that I was actually able to attend. I’ll get very detailed in what my goals are –
a. Network with industry professionals
b. Get at least 10 business cards for COS to follow up after ThrillerFest
c. Get at least 10 commitments for ITW Interviews for later this year
d. Attend all marketing and promotions workshops and blog on those post con
e. Get pictures of party events for fun blogging on ITW social sites
f. Connect with COS clients attending ThrillerFest
g. Get at least 2 video interviews with authors attending TF to put on ITW sites

My list may change according to events and attendees. But, you can see how it is developing to ensure best ROI for the event.

Next Wednesday I’ll go over what goals you might set according to why you’re attending ThrillerFest. In the meantime, here’s a video interview I did with Alexandra Sokoloff last month during a book lovers convention in Orlando. Alex talks about some of the benefits of attending ThrillerFest. You can find more on the ITW MySpace or get up to the minute information by following us on Twitter at- thrillerwriters.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Accidental Thriller Writers, Part Two

Thrilleresque authors Julie Compton and Carla Buckley met last July at ThrillerFest 2008 and discovered they had more in common than raising teenagers and driving carpool. Below, they continue the discussion from their May 4 post as to what makes a thriller… a thriller.

CARLA: The very first thing I did when I sold my novel (besides jumping up and down and squealing in a high-pitched voice) was to ask: What is a thriller? You know, since I’d apparently sold one. I’d heard the term, of course, and I knew it was supposed to be a really good thing to be a thriller writer, but I didn’t know exactly what distinguished a thriller from, say, a mystery. So I very casually started poking around. The first definition I got was that a mystery is when the reader doesn’t know who committed the crime until the end; a thriller is when the reader knows who the villain is from the start and reads on to find out if the protagonist will stop him (or "it," since the villain doesn't have to be human) in time. In the case of the book I’d just sold, the villain isn’t human; moreover, the reader knows before cracking open the book exactly who the villain is.

JULIE: I think the jumping up and down and high-pitched squealing is a common occurrence among women writers who learn they've sold their first novel. I wonder what the guys do?

CARLA: Rev a Camaro. Buy cigars.

JULIE: I almost guessed "smoke a cigar," too. We think alike, Carla, have you noticed that? Perhaps they emit a low-pitched growl. Anyway, because my first novel was deemed a legal thriller – and I thought I had a pretty good grasp of that term – I really didn't start investigating the difference between a mystery and a thriller until a few reviews and interviewers referred to my book as a mystery. I started wondering, is my book a mystery? Or is it a thriller? And really, what's the difference? The definitions you found at the beginning of your search were the same ones I found, yet my novel didn't fit neatly into either definition. A legal thriller is simply a different beast. We know to expect lawyers, and we know to expect some sort of showdown in the courtroom, but otherwise, there seems to be a lot of leeway in the structure. I've read legal thrillers that have a murder near the start of the story, which would suggest they are mysteries, yet I can think of others that don't have a murder at all, or, if there is a murder, it occurs later in the plot (like mine) or the characters and reader are unaware of it until later. And then there are those legal thrillers that are more akin to a pure thriller, in that the protagonist is in a race against time to stop the "villain" – yet in many of these, even, neither the characters nor the reader know who the villain is until much later in the novel. Are you following, Carla?

CARLA: Completely. It’s a brilliant analysis. You must have been a killer in the courtroom yourself.

So, shortly after I got that definition and confidently bandied it around a few discussion forums (note to newbie authors: post under pseudonyms until you know what the heck you’re talking about), an author whom I respect said, Oh, is that what you think a thriller is? Which naturally made me stop and say, it’s not? She shook her head. A thriller simply is a book that employs a ticking clock, introduced early on, to add that thrilling, non-stop element. Now you have the protagonist racing against time to stop the villain. So I thought, okay. That makes sense.

JULIE: Are you kidding? I never know what I'm talking about. If I waited until I did, I'd never get to post anything using my real name.

Okay, so let me see if I understand. Your author friend considers a thriller to be any novel that employs a "race against time" (which, of course, adds the "thrilling" aspect to the story)? But she doesn't think it's necessary to know who (or what) the villain is right off the bat?

CARLA: Exactly. Think The Da Vinci Code. That clock is ticking so loudly you can hear it from across the room.

JULIE: I think I like that way of looking at it. It allows for a broader spectrum of structures when considering what constitutes a thriller. For example, in my second novel (which is not a legal thriller – I'm sure of that, at least), my protagonist is most definitely in a race against time to save his girlfriend's life, yet he doesn't know until later whom, exactly, he's fighting against. Hmm, I wonder if this makes it a quasi-mystery?

CARLA: Eek. Do NOT throw other terms into the blender. I’m confused enough.

So now I had two definitions, but which one was right? It seemed sort of urgent that I find out. After all, I’d signed a two-book contract. Before I began writing the second one, I thought I’d better have a firm grasp of what it was I was supposed to be writing.

Accordingly, I consulted The Oracle (aka, writer's blogs) and came across yet another definition that sounded pretty good: a mystery has the welfare of one person at stake; in a thriller, many people are threatened. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, because in my book, the entire planet’s at risk.

I have such a great villain. Too bad it comes with mucus.

JULIE: Oh, but it's the mucus that makes it such a great villain!

I've also heard that definition, but I think it's too limiting. Many thrillers are based upon a threat to only one or two people. Most often the threatened are loved ones of the protagonist. Think about Harlan Coben's Tell No One.

CARLA: Glad you like the mucus. It’s hard to write good mucus.

Anyway, I know what you mean. If we narrow the scope too much, then it excludes many books that by all accounts are considered thrillers. But I still think it’s a valid observation. When you’re talking about a threat that targets more than a single person, when the welfare of a community, or even the world, hangs in the balance – well, that’s pretty thrilling. It’s definitely not a mystery in that case, right?

JULIE: Agreed. That kind of book is most definitely a thriller. But so many others can also be considered thrillers, I think, that don't fit that particular definition. The more the merrier, I say.

CARLA: And that’s exactly why I like you. You’re like a party waiting to happen. Throw the margarita mix into the blender and throw open the doors. Everyone’s welcome!

JULIE: Just like ThrillerFest!

I think what I've come to decide is that there really is no one-size-fits-all definition for the term "thriller."

CARLA: Maybe determining what constitutes a thriller doesn’t really matter to authors. We write what we write. Maybe what really matters is how the sales teams position the books they are entrusted with and where the bookstores ultimately shelve them. One of my author friends wrote a mystery which she found shelved in the romance section of her local bookstore. She was upset, because she felt her readership wouldn’t be able to find her, but then she ended up winning a RWA award that year.

But that’s a story for another post…


Julie Compton is the author of the legal thriller, TELL NO LIES (St. Martin's Minotaur 2008), which is also published in the UK, the Netherlands and Spain. Her second novel, RESCUING OLIVIA, will be released in February 2010.

Carla Buckley is the author of OUT OF THIN AIR, coming from Bantam Dell in 2010. She is currently at work on her second Bantam Dell novel, INVISIBLE. Both books will also be released in Germany and the UK.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

You Want Thrills With That?

Whether you're a fan, a yet-to-be-discovered author, or an author with countless novels to your credit, ThrillerFest offers something for everyone, and one of the best ways to be certain you don't miss any of the action is to volunteer.

The International Thriller Writers (ITW) is a volunteer-operated organization. Everything from the website to this blog to ThrillerFest is built on the generosity of those who freely donate a portion of their time. It doesn't matter if you haven't attended a previous TF, in fact, if you are a first-timer, volunteering is a great way to meet people.

My first year to attend was in 2007. ThrillerFest was the largest conference I'd attended at that time and it was coupled with my first ever trip to New York. It may surprise some to know that I'm a shy person by nature. (Pause for the Peanut Gallery snickering to subside.) When I registered for TF07 I marked the little box on the form that said I'd be interesting in volunteering. It was one of the best decisions of my life.

That first year, I met many of the authors in attendance and other yet-to-be-discovered authors. Giving up a total of a few hours over the course of an extended weekend was time well spent because I had a lot of fun. Unsure of how you can contribute? It's easy. Some of the duties regularly preformed by TF volunteers include:

* Filling tote bag with goodies
* Keeping time for panels and Q&A sessions
* Transporting ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of books
* Acting as greeters for special events such as special guest interviews
and the awards banquet
* "Traffic controllers" for book signings

There are many other ways and areas in which to contribute your time and talents. If you're attending ThrillerFest 2009 and are interested in volunteering, visit the official ThrillerFest website and click on "Contact ThrillerFest" for more information.

Jeannie Holmes

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wedneday's Thrill - Preparing to Prepare for ThrillerFest!

Over the next few weeks I’ll be joining the blog on Wednesdays to talk about my own ThrillerFest experiences, share some recommendations and experiences of some other ITW members and talk about how to best prepare for ThrillerFest to get the biggest return for your time, money and effort.

I spent some time with a few ITW members at a book lover’s convention in Orlando. I was lucky enough to get a few of them to find time in their busy schedules to chat with me on video! I'll be posting those on Wednesdays too starting next week.

I attended my first ThrillerFest last year and was so impressed! Very well organized, lots of opportunities for a variety of people and just plain fun. I got to meet one of my favorite authors for the first time, Douglas Clegg and hung out with my friend Barbara Vey who did these great “Drive By Videos” Here’s a video of Barbara from last year at ThrillerFest where she caught up with author David Baldacci.

She also got one of Douglas Clegg in her shower, but perhaps we should move on to something else? You can see more of Barbara’s videos from last year (including the Clegg video) at http://www.youtube.com/barbaravey

Next Wednesday I’ll have a video up of Alexandra Sokoloff, author of The Unseen which will be out this month. She talks about being a new author and the benefits of attending ThrillerFest. We will also look at establishing ThrillerFest goals and other points of interest for your ThrillerFest experience. In the meantime please do join us on MySpace, Twitter @thrillerwriters and Facebook under International Thriller Writers Organization!

Sheila English
ITW Social Networking Chair

Friday, May 8, 2009


I haven't been around that long (I was an ITW Debut Author just last year, and my second novel comes out next February ... yeah, I know the Indiana Jones line about mileage. ;) )

Anyway, though it seems light years and all time-warpy, I'm still a relative neophyte in many ways. This is a career and a profession and a community in which you learn all the time--one of the most wonderful things about being a writer!

One lesson I have earned, though--and would like to share--is about definitions. I am occasionally told by other writers or pre-published folks: "But I can't join ITW! I don't write thrillers!"

Now, I want to put this idea to rest once and for all, so let's talk a little. And we'll try to get beyond the "I know it when I see it" approach. :)

The mystery is considered puzzle-oriented, from the British locked-room classics of the '20s and Agatha Christie to today's craft-and-murder bestsellers.You might think of a mystery as being plot-driven, the "whodunnit" something many authors want to give their readers a chance to figure out.

Thrillers are generally thought of as suspenseful, high-octane, big-stakes books, where the reader gets taken for a roller-coaster ride. You might think of a thriller as driven by emotional engagement.

But what about straight suspense? Police procedurals? Espionage tales? PI novels? Noir? And where, in the name of Dorothy L. Sayers, does paranormal fit in?

Hammett, Cain and Chandler were referred to as thriller writers when they first hit the scene. And writers like Patricia Highsmith--high-priestess of what we may now call noir--was a suspense writer on par with lesser-known Chandler favorite Elizabeth Sanxay Holding. And how can we classify Shirley Jackson? Is she suspense? Is she horror? Is she a thriller writer?

Here's my point: authors write the best books they can by blending all of these elements. No mystery writer wants a book without emotional engagement; no thriller writer wants a novel without intellectual plausibility. The truth is that genres exist to help readers find our books, and our beloved libraries and booksellers to organize them--and in today's market, we have genres and subgenres and crossgenres and new genres--I even coined one ("Roman noir") for my first novel.

One of the most important lessons I've learned in my career thus far is that not only do you learn all the time, but you learn from everyone. ALL good writing--be it mystery, thriller, horror, classical fiction, comic books, poetry, or a non-fiction expose--all of it can help shape you as a writer, can help inform you about ways of doing things you may not have considered.

When I first joined the ITW Debut gang when it was initially formed, I admit it--I was trepidatious. Should I be a member? I thought of myself as a mystery writer. Then I realized I was a mystery-thriller-noir-PI-historical writer. These days, I just think of myself as ... a writer. :)

So please--don't let genre considerations hold you back from joining ITW. If you go to Craftfest, you can see first hand how thriller-writing techniques can help put sparkle in your next novel--no matter what its predominate genre. You will be welcomed with open arms, whatever you write ... because, ultimately, ITW is about supporting writers. And the community. Not just about supporting genres.

See you in New York!

Kelli Stanley's debut novel, NOX DORMIENDA, won the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award and is nominated for a Macavity. Her next book, tentatively titled RICE BOWL, will release in February, 2010, from St. Martin's.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What Makes Authors Tick

I’m always so curious about what makes authors tick. My family and friends often wonder about me. How can such an outwardly calm, gentle, happy, laid back individual such as me write an horrific thriller such as Worst Nightmares yet not be hiding a very dark side to his nature - one they’ve never been aware of before?

I know that those who have read my novel now look at me in a new way. Perhaps their opinion of my nature has changed; they now view me as some kind of a Hannibal Lector?

What’s interesting is that usually serial killers look very normal. Almost kind. Ted Bundy for example. Yet what do we really expect in such deviants? Someone with fangs, dripping blood? Killers with strong hands and a demented look in their eyes? No.

So, why does my sister-in-law as well us her mother harbor thoughts that I am morally twisted in some fundamental way? Because I am able think up the most devilish and delicious way of terrifying my characters, and putting them to death in unusual and intriguing ways? (According to their worst nightmares, it goes without saying!)

The fact is, I find conjuring up horrific fantasy images fun! I admit – I enjoy it. Quite often it makes me laugh aloud when I come face to face with my extreme dark humor. And in case you now think I am barking mad, let me assure you that I find actual violence anathema. I’m the first to be shocked when I see people involved in any ‘biffo’ at all.

Before I start reading a new novel I always look for a snapshot of the author. It’s important to me to look into the eyes of the creator and imagine his mindset. More often than not, authors look quite normal. Occasionally they don’t—for instance, there’s something about a hugely celebrated bestselling novelist’s hair that I find just a tad disturbing. Maybe it’s the eyes—like the Mona Lisa’s, they follow you around the room. I’m sure he’s a gentle man, and he certainly writes superlative thrillers, but.... it’s that look....

That’s most probably what my sister-in-law sees in me now. Is it possible that Worst Nightmares, the novel, is a clue to my innate madness?

Which brings me to another point. Why did I choose to write what my wonderful agent referred to as ‘the most cruel and brutal novel’ she had ever read? The answer to that one isn’t so easy. I’ve though about it quite a lot recently. Worst Nightmares is not the catharthic experience of a would-be homicidal maniac. I’m simply attempting to write a gripping thriller that’ll keep readers turning pages way into the night, while reaching for strong liquor.

Readers love being scared. I know I did as a child reading Edgar Allan Poe, Dennis Wheatley, Steven King and Truman Capote. I was transported from castles in Transylvania to fields of horror and bloodshed in Texas; yet the moment I closed the cover I was back in my safe world.

Now I feel like a starving man looking forward to dinner at Cipriani’s! The thought of meeting all my favorite authors at Thrillerfesr, those who’s books I’ve been reading all my life is mind-boggling! And to be debuting my first book in America, with all the hype Vanguard have given it, is massively exciting.

Just yesterday I received an email from a blogger in Boston. “Are you sure your novel Worst Nightmares is not autobiographical?” he asked; somewhat rudely, I thought. “You write of an author who plagiarizes the grizzly diary of a brutally sick serial killer. Did you, in fact, receive such a diary from a real killer? Are there bodies out there?”

I took great pleasure in replying to this man. “Of course! You found me out. There are bodies....lots of them...everywhere. And strange as it may seem, I live only a block from your home. Let’s go find them. What do you say?”

Shane Briant
Worst Nightmares
Available May 12, 2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

Accidental Thriller Writers

Authors Julie Compton and Carla Buckley went along for years, thinking they were misunderstood. Knowing there was something missing. And then they bumped into each other at ThrillerFest 2008 and found out there was something else just as unusual as they were: their novels. Here they talk about that fateful meeting and what it meant for their writing careers.

Julie: I began to have creeping doubts about whether I belonged at ThrillerFest as soon as I checked in and was on the way to my room. Badge around my neck so others could identify me as a fellow conference-goer, I stepped onto the elevator at the same time as several other attendees. (I knew this because they, too, had ITW badges around their necks.) As I would later learn, thriller writers are a friendly bunch, and in keeping with this tradition, the group began to introduce themselves to one another. A gentleman near the back wall of the elevator extended his hand and said, "Hi, I'm David Morrell. I'm one of the founders of International Thriller Writers." I, in turn, introduced myself and explained that I was a debut author and it was my first time at the conference. In other words, I gave him a pleasant response as I would any person I'd just met.

So you can imagine my horror when I got up to my room, started flipping through the conference brochure, and discovered that the man I'd just met in the elevator was none other than the David Morrell, author of FIRST BLOOD (the novel in which Rambo was created) and many, many other novels. He is often referred to as the father of modern action novels.

But I didn't know this, because until my publisher categorized my novel as a legal thriller, I hadn't read many thrillers, or even many mysteries. (Unless you count the Nancy Drew books, of which I've read all, many times over.) Sure, I'm a lawyer, so I'd read Turow and Grisham and the like, but I simply wasn't familiar with some of the big names as most thriller writers are.

Now, I'm sure Mr. Morrell doesn't even remember this encounter (at least I hope he doesn't), but after a long weekend spent schmoozing with both chart-topping authors and debut authors like myself, I'm convinced that even if he reads this now, he'll forgive me my ignorance for not realizing just who it was I was meeting in that elevator. Why? Because above everything else I learned at ThrillerFest – and I learned a lot – I learned that no matter who you are, what you read, what you write, how many books you've written, how many books you've sold, and how well-known you are (or aren't), you're still welcomed with open arms into the ITW family.

Carla: Now, see, practically all I read are thrillers. I have to be force-fed anything that doesn’t have blood or death or a kidnapping by the end of chapter one. I blame this on Nancy Drew. She just dove right in. She didn’t listen to her dad, and she certainly didn’t listen to her boyfriend. By the time I was eleven, I was ready for the hardcore stuff – Ngaio Marsh. People died in her novels. Fortunes were stolen. Crimes were committed. I was a goner.

When it came time for me to write my own books, it made perfect sense to write what I’d always read. And of course I had to go to writers’ conventions, schmooze with my idols, suck up to every editor and agent who had the misfortune to cross my path.

Along the way, I found the agent of my dreams and stalked her until she gave up and sent me a contract. Back then, you could get away with a little stalking. Now they lock you up. She submitted my novel, then my next. And the one after that. The fifth one sold (or was it the tenth?) and the first words out of her mouth were, “You should join ITW, and if you can, go to ThrillerFest.”

Well, of course I could. Thriller writers are My People. We understand you have to have a lot of scary to make a person really feel alive. The scarier the better, and just I’d written a scary book. In fact, it was so scary, some editors were afraid to touch it. Seriously. They were.

So I registered for ThrillerFest, figured out which airport to land in, and practiced hailing a cab (no small feat in cornfield, Ohio.) I had my list of authors I wanted to ogle. I was meeting my editor for the first time. I was reuniting with my agent. It was going to be great.

Until my editor told me she wasn’t certain that what I’d written was a thriller.

Julie: So you thought you'd written a thriller, and your editor said you might not have, and I thought I'd written a "relationship-y" book about love, lawyers, and betrayal, and my editor said I'd written a legal thriller. Hmm . . .

Carla: Well, I should’ve seen it coming. My agent had said the same thing when she first read the manuscript, but I just clapped my hands over my ears. I’m not listening. But then we started getting feedback about how scary it was. Doesn’t that say thriller to you? And it sold and apparently it wasn’t a thriller. Very confusing.

Julie: Scary? Yes, that does say thriller to me. But it was exactly this "confusion" that sparked our friendship, I think, don't you?

Carla: That, and our winning personalities.

Julie: Well, of course, that too. It was the second night of the conference, and the debut authors had dinner together at . . . do you remember the name of the restaurant?

Carla: All I remember was I paid twenty bucks for a diet Coke.

Julie: I think I shared my appetizer with you, didn't I? Anyway, I had the good fortune to plop myself down right next to you, and I'll never forget your first words to me after telling me your name: "I'm not really supposed to be here."

Carla: You didn’t plop. You slid very gracefully onto the hard vinyl bench. And I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was party-crashing. Just minutes before, I bumped into Karen Dionne outside the Random House opening reception and she immediately invited me to join the debut authors that evening. I was next year’s class, which is actually now this year’s class, but since my publication date’s been moved into 2010, I had to move, too, and I’m now in next year’s class. Stay with me, Julie. You haven’t dozed off, have you?

So when you appeared beside me, looking so friendly and totally together and genuine, I thought I’d better let you know I was an imposter.

Julie: I'm not so sure about that "totally together" part, but I immediately identified with the sentiment, because like I said, I wasn't really sure if I was supposed to be there, either. We began to talk, and we discovered we had much more in common than an "author identity crisis." We're both stay at home moms with two kids . . .

Carla: Actually, I have three kids. It’s hard for me to keep count of them, too.

And, please. You are totally together.

Once we started talking about our kids and the fact that we both used to do something other than drive carpool and make cupcakes for the bake sale, we definitely clicked. Plus we had both moved away from the places we considered home: me from the East Coast to the Midwest, and you from the Midwest to the East coast. So we knew a little bit about making homes away from home, and feeling like outsiders. But when I confided to you that I’d been told my book might have more in common with Jodi Picoult and Anita Shreve, than the thriller writers I’d been worshiping, you lit up. Christmas had come to Times Square (which was actually ten blocks away, but you get the idea.)

Julie: Three kids? Really? I knew that. I meant to say, we have two kids the same age . . .

But yes, it's true. I did light up, and I don't even smoke. After all, my publisher described my novel as part Scott Turow, part Jodi Picoult. For the first time I started to think, hey, maybe I do belong here. Maybe a novel doesn't have to have explosions and car chases and Bruce Willis waiting to play the lead in the screenplay in order to qualify as a thriller. (Because I've been told Patrick Dempsey aka McDreamy would make a much better Jack – the protagonist of my novel.)

Carla: See what I mean about her being so together? She’s already talking McDreamy for the movie.

Julie: Well, when people first suggested him, I wasn't sure. After all, Jack is fair-haired. But if accepting Jack as tall, dark and handsome instead of tall, fair and handsome is the price for seeing my story on the big screen, I'm willing to pay.

Carla: Smart girl. Anyway, I was hugely relieved to find someone who not only knew what the Picoult/Shreve reference meant, but actually thought that it was a good thing. All of sudden, I began to think that maybe it was okay my novel didn’t have car chases and explosions in it (it does have some mucus, but I suppose that doesn’t count.) Maybe it was cool to be Thrilleresque. That was us: we were Thrilleresque.

Julie: Thrilleresque! I love it! I think we're starting a new sub-genre. If David Morrell is the father of modern action novels, maybe Carla Buckley and Julie Compton can be the mothers of modern chick-thrillers.

Carla: I like how you put my name first. See why I like this girl…chick, I mean. Julie is definitely chick material. She has a motorcycle. I have a minivan. I long to be a chick. Chicks read thrillers and Picoult; they write thrillers a la Shreve. They go to ThrillerFest and start a little something.

Julie: Some say write what you know, but I prefer to know what I write. When I started my second novel and decided to make my protagonist a biker, I figured I'd better learn how to ride. And then, once I learned how to ride, I figured I needed a bike. You see where this is going . . .

But I think what we're trying to say is, you can't always be sure what you've written. And when that's the case, listen to your agent and your editor when they tell you that your novel is – if not a pure thriller – Thrilleresque. Otherwise, you might not have the opportunity to attend ThrillerFest and strike up a friendship with a cool chick like Carla. (And yes, Carla, you most definitely qualify as a cool chick.)

Check back when Thrilleresque writers Carla and Julie return to discuss: What IS a thriller, anyway? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: For those who'd like to post a comment and want to maintain a little anonymity (we're thrilleresque writers--we like a little scary), you don't have to sign in. Simply select OPEN ID and type in the name you'd like to appear as (this could be your pet's name and we'd never know...)

Julie Compton is the author of the legal thriller, TELL NO LIES (St. Martin's Minotaur 2008). Her second novel, tentatively titled RESCUING OLIVIA, will be released by St. Martin's in February 2010. TELL NO LIES is also published in the UK, the Netherlands and Spain.

Carla Buckley is the author of OUT OF THIN AIR, coming from Bantam Dell in May 2010. She is currently at work on her second Bantam Dell novel, INVISIBLE. Both books will also be released in Germany and the UK.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Great Week in the Life of A Debut Author

I think this week ranks as one of my great weeks. Three wonderful things happened to me.

First, the Independent Booksellers of America voted Running from the Devil a “Notable Book” for May! Although I’d been informed about this earlier, I admit I didn’t quite believe it until I was able to check the link at Indiebound.org. http://www.indiebound.org/indie-next-list?edition=200905
And there it was.
I immediately wanted to throw a big kiss out to every one, because I know just how dedicated they are to all things literary. What a thrill. On May 1st, in honor of “Buy Indie” day, I went to my local independent, the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square, Chicago, to attend a signing and buy a book. (Free Range Kids, Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry). Had a great time and Lenore Skenazy is a riot.

Second, the running apparel company, Sugoi, offered to provide running apparel and to host a book trailer on their site! I’m an avid runner, and wear running clothes of all shapes and sizes, but the piece of clothing by Sugoi that I loved before the trailer was actually not for running at all, but for biking. It’s a biking skirt, with the padded seat needed for cycling hidden under the perfect skirt. You can bike all day and not have to look like Lance Armstrong preparing for the Tour de France. Excellent.

When their running clothes came I soon found two new favorites. The book trailer shoot was grueling, but the clothes hung in there. I spent part of today looking at a final edit, and I am struck by how well everything looked on camera.

The third wonderful thing was the ability to work with creative people in other mediums. The director of my shoot worked tirelessly to get just the right shots, the photographer managed to capture the highlights of the shoot in candid behind the scenes shots, and the musician and I discussed the soundtrack today. I can’t wait to see the finished product. You can find a blog about Day 1 of the shoot on my website, http://www.jamiefreveletti.com/blog/book-trailer-shoot-day-1 as well as photos on my HarperCollins author page http://www.Harpercollins.com/authors/34458/index.aspx I’ll blog about Day 2 shortly.

What a week!

Jamie Freveletti
Running from the Devil
May 5, 2009