The Stars Are Out at ThrillerFest

by Boyd Morrison

I would love going to an actors’ convention where I could have dinner with Sandra Bullock, take an acting class from Michael Caine, audition for a role in the next Spielberg movie, and share laughs at the bar with the cast of Castle. Won’t ever happen. It sounds too good to be true because it is. But that kind of dream conference does exist for thriller writers and fans. It’s called ThrillerFest, which will be held in New York City on July 10-13, 2013.

The attendees this week include writers who live on the New York Times bestseller list. The five spotlight guests alone–R.L. Stine, Anne Rice, Michael Connelly, Michael Palmer, and T. Jefferson Parker–have sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 million books. And everywhere you look at the conference, you’re blinded by the star wattage: Lisa Gardner, Steve Berry, Lee Child, Catherine Coulter, Douglas Preston, Heather Graham, Brad Meltzer, Joseph Finder. It’s as if you could get into the Oscars merely by paying a registration fee.

But the really amazing thing about ThrillerFest is that you get to meet and talk to these people, not just ogle them from afar. When I was a newbie unpublished author at the inaugural ThrillerFest in Phoenix seven years ago, I didn’t know a soul. At the opening cocktail reception, I spent most of the time ambling about, listening in on snippets of conversation as I tried not to spill red wine down my shirt. Then I spotted Jon Land, an author I’d been reading for years. I gathered up my courage and nervously introduced myself, telling him that I was a huge fan. To my shock he asked me to join his group for dinner, where we had a fantastic time. In what other entertainment medium could that happen?

While I’ve mentioned some of the big names you can hobnob with, there are also plenty of up and coming writers who attend, some of whom will be household names in a few years. Imagine getting to know Dan Brown or Stephenie Meyer just before they hit it big. And because I’ve gone to the convention every year, I’m lucky to count many of these future publishing phenoms as friends.

ThrillerFest is also a great deal for unpublished authors looking to break into the business. Through an event called AgentFest, aspiring writers can pitch their novels to a who’s who of the biggest agents in publishing. I was fortunate enough to find my own agent there. Before I met her my manuscripts barely got a nibble. Now I’m the director of AgentFest, my sixth thriller, THE LOCH NESS LEGACY, has just come out, and my novels are published in 22 languages. If I hadn’t attended ThrillerFest, who knows what I’d be doing?

For those looking to hone their writing skills, CraftFest offers a wealth of knowledge that is available nowhere else. You can actually take writing classes from legendary authors like Connelly, famed for books such as THE POET and THE LINCOLN LAWYER, and David Morrell, the creator of Rambo. The biggest problem is the information overload you might experience trying to cram every nugget of wisdom into your brain.

The best part of the conference is hanging out with these authors at the bar, the central gathering place. At first you’ll regard them with awe that they have descended from the heavens to walk amongst us. Then when you’re introduced to them, you’ll realize that they’re just people, too–although extremely talented, friendly, fascinating people. They’re happy to greet fans and share their insights about the business. Buying them a drink doesn’t hurt, either, though this being New York you’d better hang onto your wallet for a bumpy ride.

If you do get some of these writers liquored up, don’t be surprised if you laugh yourself silly as they spin wild tales of publishing wackiness, crazed fans, and book tours gone wrong. After all, these people know how to tell a story.

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11 thoughts on “The Stars Are Out at ThrillerFest

  1. Oh, how I’d love to go. 2011, I went to Scene of the Crime at Wolfe Island. 2012, it was Bloody Words in Toronto. Not only did I meet interesting and motivating people, I wrote a lot. There is something stimulating about a quiet hotel room. That has room service. And a mini bar.

    Let me have another look at my finances. Sigh.

  2. If these conferences weren’t so far away, I’d love to attend! ThrillerFest sounds like a blast. The farthest I’ve been away from Tallahassee for conference is Orlando.

    The closer I get to completing a manuscript, the more anxious I become about attending one day.

  3. This year I had already committed to Bouchercon and finances wouldn’t allow both. However, Thrillerfest is top on my list for next year. So cool you run AgentFest. I look forward to meeting you.

    I will be at Killer Nashville and finally get to meet Joe Moore and Jodie Renner. That will be a great warm-up.

    Heck, I’m here at TKZ because of the Midwest Writers Conference. Writing conferences at the best.

    Have a great time! Terri

  4. I’m heading off tomorrow for Craftfest and Thrillerfest, for my fourth year in a row! This year and last, I’m also volunteering there. And I’m especially thrilled this year because I’m on a panel, so my two craft-of-writing books will be on sale in the conference bookstore. I’m hoping to sell a lot of WRITING A KILLER THRILLER! Perfect venue for it. Thanks for the reminder of why I keep going back to Thrillerfest despite expensive NYC hotels, Boyd! 🙂

  5. It’s so hard to pick and choose which conferences to attend. I’m saving money this year so I can do SleuthFest and Malice next year.

  6. Great post, Boyd!
    I was there for ThrillerFest 2010. Like you, I talked quite a bit with Jon Land, and had my picture taken with Ken Follett, although I think he left with an impression that I had a speech impairment.:-)

  7. I’m not an aspiring author but I’d still love to go to ThrillerFest someday. All my favorite authors in the same place? Yes, please!

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