What’s REALLY Thrilling About ThrillerFest: Fabulous Authors Weigh In!

“An artist cannot fail. It is a success to be one.” – Charles Horton Cooley

What do you get when you put a bunch of story lovers with dark imaginations together in one of the world’s most dazzling cities? Besides Sharknado. (Kidding. I have no idea what that is.) I’m sure some of you guessed right: ThrillerFest. “Thriller” may be intended to describe the book genre, but the biggest thrill of the annual conference is undoubtedly its people. I’ve honestly never encountered such a warm, supportive crew—and I’m not talking blood-curdling, criminal heat.

I first attended two years ago, namely for AgentFest. (Think speed-dating with agents.) I hadn’t read the “how to pitch” tips on the website or attended the pitching preparation panel. Sitting outside the agent-filled room, internal butterflies spasming, a fellow writer who’d done his due diligence voluntarily filled me in. I used a couple of his tips and ended up meeting my agent that day. Then last year, I met Lee Child for the first time. Thinking I would shake his hand and scurry off, letting him get onto whatever it is that super famous authors do, he shook my hand and said, “August McLaughlin. Now that’s an interesting name. What do you write?” (Huh?!?) We chatted for a bit, as though we were from the same planet! 😉 Whether a writing newbie, a volunteer or a librarian, bookseller or agent, ThrillerFest folks are truly that congenial.

I really should've offered him my smoothie.

I really should’ve offered him my smoothie.

Rather than share my own ThrillerFest experiences this year, I thought I’d give you a glimpse through the eyes of some of my favorite attendees. I’m so honored to share their thoughts, and hope you’ll not only read their words, but visit their websites. I suspect that you’ll be grateful you did.

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JOHN DIXON, Author of Phoenix Island (Simon & Schuster / Gallery, February 2014), inspiration for the upcoming CBS TV series Intelligence, starring Josh Holloway and Marg Helgenberger:

“This was my third and favorite ThrillerFest, partly because I came to it loaded with happy news—my first book deal and the stop-the-presses announcement that CBS TV ordered the show based on my debut novel—but mostly because of the people with whom I could share it: excellent friends, some old, some new, all of them smart and charming and practically glowing with good energy. That’s the magical thing about ThrillerFest; everyone, from bestsellers to aspiring authors, comes together in the spirit of celebration and support. I’m already looking forward to next July!”

Twitter: @johndixonbooks
Facebook: John Dixon

Left to Right: Todd Gerber, John Dixon, Kyle Steele and Peter Aragno

Todd Gerber, John Dixon, Kyle Steele and Peter Aragno

JON McGORAN, Author of Drift

“I didn’t get to many panels, but the ones I went to were excellent. The YA panel was particularly good. R. L. Stine did a great job moderating, hilarious as always, but he also managed to keep things moving and informative, with lots of great insights from Barry Lyga, Michelle Gagnon, Lissa Price, Kat Rosenfield, Linda Gerber, and Allen Zadoff. The best part, of course, was seeing old friends and making new ones. It’s not always easy being a writer, and you definitely make sacrifices, but once again I was reminded that one of the best perks of being a writer is being able to hang out with such amazing, smart, warm and hilarious people.”

Twitter: @JonMcGoran
Website: http://www.jonmcgoran.com

AUSTIN S. CAMACHO, author of the Hannibal Jones thriller series:

“ThrillerFest was one great moment after another. The highlight for me may have been seeing Ann Rice interviewed by her son (Christopher is the best interviewer EVER!) But my favorite memories are meeting with so many Facebook friends I’d never met in person before. Yeah, turning those electronic pals into 3-dimensional friends that was a series of favorite memories. And many will join me at the next great conference, Creatures, Crimes & Creativity.”

Twitter: @ascamacho
Facebook: Austin Camacho / Mystery Thriller Author

Austin S. Camacho

Austin S. Camacho and Maria Hudgins

D.P. LYLE, MD, ITW VP Education/Member Services; CraftFest Director; Author of the Edgar-nominated author of the Dub Walker Thriller Series:

“ThrillerFest was very special this year and I have many great memories including being ravaged, or is it savaged?, by a host off insane vampirettes, dinner with the wonderful R.L. and Jane Stine at their marvelous home and again at the Awards Banquet, and the opportunity to interview my friend and Spotlight Guest T. Jefferson Parker. And of course hanging in the bar with August as well as Heather Graham, Jennifer Hughes, Kathy Antrim, Twist Phelan and her husband Jack, Hans Watford, Phil Donlay, Bob and Pat Gussin, Tony and Tori Eldridge, and many others.”

Twitter: DPLyleMD
Website: www.dplylemd.com

D.P. Lyle and his throng! (Me, Amy Shojai, Carol Shenold, Twist Phelan)

D.P. Lyle and his throng! (Alexandra Sokoloff, Me, Amy Shojai, Carol Shenold and Twist Phelan)

 DANIEL PALMER, author of Delirious, Helpless and Stolen:

“Interviewing my father in front of a packed ballroom during his Author Spotlight appearance was a highlight, as well as an honor and a privilege.”

Twitter: @DanielPalmer
Website: http://www.danielpalmerbooks.com

Daniel and Michael Palmer

Daniel Palmer and Michael Palmer

BOYD MORRISON, Author of the Tyler Locke Thriller Series:

“Because the Yankees catcher Chris Stewart is a fan of my books, he arranged for me and my wife to get field passes and tickets to the game on Saturday. We had a fantastic time meeting him and watching the game from great seats. Not a bad perk for being a writer!”

Twitter: @BoydMorrison
Website: www.boydmorrison.com

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AMANDA KYLE WILLIAMS, Author of the Key Street Thriller Series:

“No one understands the panic of blowing a deadline or the fear of dry days like another writer. This is one of my favorite things about conferences like ThrillerFest. It’s one big therapy session. Usually in the bar.”

Twitter: @AKyleWilliams
Website: http://amandakylewilliams.com

Amanda Kyle Williams, Carla Buckley, Julia Heaberlin and Stefanie Pintoff

Amanda Kyle Williams, Carla Buckley, Julia Heaberlin and Stefanie Pintoff

ANNE RICE, Internationally Celebrated, Award-Winning Author of the The Vampire Chronicles (and so much more!)

“What I loved most about ThrillerFest was the generous high spirits of the top flight professional authors who’d come there to host and to mingle with all sorts of up and coming and aspiring writers. I mean the whole atmosphere was hospitable and fun, from start to finish, and it gave aspiring writers a chance to connect with professionals, to learn from them about craft and to connect with top flight agents. It was a terrific event. I felt so welcome. I want to support the International Thrillers Writers in any way I can.”

Twitter: @AnneRiceAuthor
Facebook: Anne Rice Fan Page

This year Anne was awarded the International Thriller Writers Lifetime Achievement Award! Congratulations, Anne!

Christopher Rice and Anne Rice, holding her brand spankin' new award!

Anne Rice with her son and fellow author, Christopher Rice, holding her brand spankin’ new award!

I have chills thinking of how inspiring these folks, and many others who attended ThrillerFest, are. I could go on and on and on… Instead, I’ll pass the mic to you. If you attended ThrillerFest, what was your favorite part? Are you thinking of going next year? Any questions for me and/or other attendees? I always love hearing your thoughts. ♥

Daniel Palmer on Writing, Success & the Dog that Saved his Career

Had my number-dyslexia not kicked in on the last day of Bouchercon this year, I might not have read what’s become one of my favorite thrillers of the year, written by one of my new fave authors. (I still swear my flight itinerary said 5pm, not noon. Ironic, or maybe not; Daniel Palmer’s book, DELIRIOUS, is chockfull of such mind trips. Hmm…)

Because of my “bonus” time at the conference, I had the opportunity to meet Daniel, thank him for his contributions to a panel I’d attended and learn more about his work. When I told him I write psychological thrillers, he said I might like his. Forget ‘might,’ I loved it. The characters, including those with psychiatric disorders, are relatable, the plot wicked smart and the opening and ending gratifying and unique. Books as enjoyable as DELIRIOUS are what led me to pursue a career in writing and keep me enthused about the thriller genre.

One day, Charlie Giles is an up-and-coming electronics superstar. The next, he’s a prime homicide suspect as his former employers are picked off one by one. Charlie watches his life unravel as his company and inventions are wrenched from his control, and his family is decimated. With nowhere else to turn, he enlists his schizophrenic brother to uncover the dark family secrets that lie at the heart of the unfolding terror. “Delirious” is a mind-bending story where the line between what is real and what is imagined twists and turns…an addictive literary puzzle that every reader will want to solve.
(Kensington, 2011)

What others are saying about DELIRIOUS:

“Smart, sophisticated and unsettling…not just a great thriller debut, but a great thriller, period.” —Lee Child, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Delirious is one awesome kick-off for an exciting and multi-dimensional talent. It’s an electrifying ride, whetting the reader’s appetite for more. Daniel Palmer is a writer to watch. This guy is going to be around a long time.” —Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author

 “Daniel Palmer delivers a high-speed thrill ride, filled with shocks and mind-bending twists. Delirious is a terrific debut!” —Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author

Palmer is also a super nice guy who took the time to share some insight with us all…

AM: I loved DELIRIOUS. What inspired you to write it?

DP: Thanks so much, August. I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. DELIRIOUS wasn’t my first attempt at novel writing. I started out writing romantic comedies from the guy’s point of view, only to discover that women, who tend to buy the majority of romance books, don’t particularly care about the guy’s point of view. I decided to take a swing at writing suspense novels, which happens to be the genre I love the most. I set off in search of a compelling ‘what if’ question that could be the basis of a thriller. I looked to my background in e-commerce and Web start up companies for inspiration. I thought, what if a super successful software/electronics entrepreneur, suddenly and inexplicably starts to go insane? I guess you could say the novel evolved from there.

AM: You threw some mighty intriguing twists into the story. Were these planned? Did you know the ending before you began?

DP: I wanted DELIRIOUS to feel like a trip down the rabbit hole. To pull the reader into the story I knew I had to emphasize how it might feel to go crazy. I made up a lot of the scenes showing Charlie’s decent into madness as I went along. However, I wrote with a framework for the story already in place. I knew how it would open. I figured by the middle of the book he’d be forcibly committed in a mental hospital. I had a rough idea of how it was going to end. Basically, I had markers I wanted to hit, but I didn’t have a detailed outline of how I was going to hit them.

AM: I felt you handled mental illness in a respectful, realistic way. Was this your aim? Can you tell us a bit about your research?

DP: I’m so glad you felt that way. Next to delivering non-stop suspense, it was my top priority for the book. It was important to me that I portrayed Joe’s schizophrenia as accurately as possible. I set out to write a story that avoided stereotypes of the disease without being didactic or sounding preachy.

My cousin is a Harvard trained neuropsychologist. In addition to her being my inspiration for Rachel’s character, my cousin educated me about the disease and various cognitive therapies. I read a ton on the subject as well, but she validated and vetted everything I wrote. In addition, I leaned heavily on an uncle who is a neurologist and a psychiatrist cousin. Bottom line, it helps to have really, really smart people in your family, or a network of friends who are generous with their time and expertise.

AM: I think I have a crush on Monte, the beagle. 😉 Was he based on a pet? Can I have him?

DP: I seriously owe my writing career to Monte. Acquiring editors at various publishing houses loved the book, but thought Charlie was too rough around the edges. He wasn’t a very kind person at the start of the story. I conveyed my publishing woes to a good friend of mine over burgers and beers and he suggested I give my protagonist a dog. It took me about two seconds to see the genius of his idea. I contacted my agent who took about one second to see it. “Yeah, a dog,” she said. “Give him a dog.”

From there, I reached out to a cousin (see a theme here?) who happens to be a veterinarian. We spent an hour talking about dog breeds, searching for the best breed for Charlie. We settled on a beagle. From there I gave Monte his quirks, chewing shoes and his devote love for the neighbor’s poodle, Maxine. A few weeks later I signed a three book contract with Kensington. Oline Cogdill wrote a blog post for Mystery Scene all about Monte. Soon after, I got a letter from a delighted reader informing me that she named their new family dog Monte. Apparently, a lot of folks were taken with my beagle.

AM: *Pauses to gush for Monte* You’re also an uber-talented musician. How does your experience as a songwriter influence your book writing?

DP: That’s very kind of you to say. I think of songwriting as just another form of storytelling. Often times, the magic beans that go into making a song work can be found in a compelling novel as well. A suspenseful story requires the right mix of conflict, character and stakes in order to take flight. I try to write songs that contain some (hopefully all) of those elements, albeit in a very condensed format. Songwriting has also been great for developing my sense of word play. The craft challenges me to write emotionally, without being obvious or clichéd. I try to bring that sensibility to my longer prose as well. I love writing novels and songs with equal passion. My only wish is that I could write a novel in one sitting the way I can sometimes pull together a completed song.

AM: I’m excited to read your second book, HELPLESS, come January. Was it easier, harder or otherwise different to write?

DP: The simple answer to your question is yes. Parts of it were easier because I had a better grasp on the craft of storytelling. There is something to be said for experience. At the same time, it was a very challenging book to write. I wanted to show the reader the hidden dangers of our tech-centric world without losing them in the jargon and concepts. I also wanted to show the inherent dangers of sexting without sacrificing the scope of my story.

HELPLESS is part family drama and part action thriller. A friend described it as Tom Clancy invades the O.C. I think that’s a pretty fitting description but those incongruous elements made for some interesting writing challenges. Library Journal gave HELPLESS a starred review so hopefully others feel that my efforts have paid off. The research for HELPLESS was similar to DELIRIOUS in that I had experts at the FBI and Navy SEALs who helped me bring the story to life in a realistic fashion.

AM: What are you most proud of in your writing career thus far?

DP: Pride is an interesting thing because it’s not woven into the DNA fabric of most writers I know. In this business, we’re as good as our last book. From what I’ve seen, the fear of losing our touch doesn’t really go away, regardless of having a publishing track record. I think a healthy dose of the skepticism is good for fueling the drive to write and create to the very best of our abilities. So if I had to pick my proudest moment, I’d say it was the first time I heard from a truly satisfied reader. That said, I haven’t made any best seller lists yet, so I reserve the right to change my answer.

AM: Ha… So granted! What do you find most challenging about novel writing?

DP: Solidifying the idea is for me the hardest part. It’s easy to come up with ideas, but to mold something into a workable structure, one that could carry the reader for four hundred plus pages, takes time, patience and the discipline to stare at your computer screen, or pad of paper, without jotting anything down.

AM: Any major goals or aspirations you hope to reach—writing or otherwise?

DP: I just hope to stay in this game.  I have a tremendous passion for creating. It’s a true blessing that I can do something I love and call it working.

AM: Many unpublished writers consider themselves “aspiring authors.” What’s your take on this? Any suggestions for newbie/ wanna-be/gonna-be authors?

DP: Writers write. I was never an aspiring songwriter. I was just a songwriter. If you want to write, then do it. Don’t think about it (unless you’re thinking about your idea).  To be good at this craft you’ve got to read a lot and write a lot. It takes time and perseverance. Unlike reality TV, there are no short cuts to success. There’s a reason nobody has made a reality show about becoming a novelist. Well, perhaps the reason is it would be a really dull reality show.

AM: Except for maybe the contestants… 😉 Thanks so much for sharing your time and insight, Daniel. Wishing you all possible success.
To learn more, including where to purchase DELIRIOUS, visit DanielPalmerBooks.com.
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CONTEST: Purchase DELIRIOUS today and email me a copy of your receipt for a chance to win a $20 Amazon.com gift card.
What about you? Any insight you’d like to share with Mr. Daniels? Do you consider yourself an “aspiring” author? Has adding/changing a character taken your book from good to great?