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

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.


  1. Julie: I enjoyed your first book so much I can not wait until the second one hits the stores. What a great ending the book Tell No Lies had!I know that you will be very famous before long.

  2. Oh, aren't you girls fun! Can I sit with the two of you this summer?!? Pretty please?

  3. Pat--I completely agree. TELL NO LIES was a wonderful read and the ending was especially fabulous.

    Kendra--I'd love for you to join us! You can share my twenty dollar diet Coke (this time I'm definitely ordering a refill!)

  4. Wow, Pat, thank you!

    I think ya'll (now that I live in the South, I can pronounce it this way) should come down to Florida and we can drink pina coladas on the beach and read lots of thrillers! And Kendra, I promise you won't have to pay $20 for a Coke or even for the pina colada!