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 25, 2009

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.

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