Tag: ThrillerFest

ThrillerFest

Steve Berry

Last week I went to the ThrillerFest Conference in NYC for the first time, and as part of it, I signed up for a Master Craft Class. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to Steve Berry’s class.     I’ve been working on a manuscript I thought was good. The opening pages received a finalist award for a fairly impressive literary competition. So I wasn’t concerned about the writing, but I worried they lacked oomph. And if you are writing a mystery or a thriller, oomph is a very nice thing to have. Enter Steve Berry. His class went from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and he gave lots of concrete information about plotting and openings and so on, and then, he met with each of us, one-on-one. I am talking about meeting one-on-one with a man who has sold 25 million books! Or 25 million and 5 because I went out and bought a bunch of them. So I sat down across from him and handed him my pages. I think he likes to read them fresh, to get a sense of how someone just picking up the book might feel about them. He read the first paragraph, the second, the third. Then he went back to the first paragraph, the second, the third. Then he put his head in his hands, which was probably a bad sign. And then he began to ask questions. Who’s this? What do you mean to say here? What’s this? Fortunately I knew the answers because I had spent a lot of time thinking about the plot and the characters, and then he got to about page 6 and said, “This is where the book begins.” He was absolutely right, and it had never occurred to me. Then he began asking about chapter 2, 3, 4, 5 and he began brainstorming how to set up all of that starting with the changes to chapter 1. I was writing down notes like a maniac.  It was genuinely the most helpful experience I’ve ever had. I walked out of there, or perhaps better to say I crawled out of there, with a strong sense of how my story should go. Got home, starting making the changes, and now feel so enthusiastic. My manuscript has oomph.  

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How Much To Drink On The Job?

Here’s a real question for all the writers out there and non writers, too. When at a professional event where much of the business happens around alcohol, should you have a drink or two, despite it killing a few brain cells that you might need to be on your game, or remain stone cold sober? #askingforafriend  Personally, I’ve had conferences and panel events during which I’ve imbibed very little (potentially coming across as a too reserved and standoffish as a result). And others when, in embarrassing retrospect, I probably had one too many and wasn’t my best self by the end of the night. Alcohol is a social lubricant and it helps me, like many people, feel less anxious in large groups of folks that I don’t know very well. Feeling comfortable leads to more natural conversation and, I think, genuine friendships. (And, yes, I understand some people can totally be themselves and have lovely conversations without any alcohol. Kudos to them!….Moving on.)  But these conferences are also where I meet other authors and editors, on whom I hope to make an impression as a smart, capable person. When working and writing, I think that I am a smart, capable, creative person. When drinking, I can become a too-revealing chatterbox. It’s not always so easy to catch and hold the moment between being the former person, yet socially relaxed, and the latter.  So, how much do you drink at these things? One, Two… Hell with it, who cares? I’m thinking no more than one glass… and only seltzer lime for the important meetings….   

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No One Should Fear The Big Bad Thriller Writer

On Thursday, one of the biggest conferences for the mystery/thriller writer community commences: ThrillerFest. I’m looking forward to seeing writers that I’ve gotten to know over the years and listening to their thoughts on our mutual craft. I am also looking back, remembering my first Thrillerfest–before I was published.   I had an agent at the time but no deals and no books. I went to the conference feeling completely outclassed and intimidated. The other writers, I thought, would feel that I was a phony for infringing on their territory without having proven myself. They wouldn’t want to associate with me. I’d show up at the cocktail party and be completely shunned.  That didn’t happen. I wish I could say it was because I am particularly charming, but it’s really because the mystery/thriller writer community is such a supportive group. There are a few reasons, I think, for this. The first is that most writers remember what it was like to be penning their first novel and feeling the same uncertainty that new writers feel. They identify with new writers and, with that identification, comes sympathy and a genuine sense of camaraderie.  A second reason is that most writers don’t see themselves in competition with other writers. A truly great book can generate interest in the genre and lift sales for everyone. Yes, I’d like my book to the be the one that does this. But, if it’s yours, it helps my sales too. For the most part, we all genuinely want one another to succeed.    This also goes for writers in our publishing houses. A great book means more money that the house can spend on an advance for another great book, maybe by a different author. To put a twist on the cliché about rising tides, a good rain fills the aquifers that we all drink from.  The other day, I was fortunate to meet a woman in my town that is writing her first novel. Her daughter, whom I had only met once, had read my last book and mentioned to her mother that we belonged to the same pool club. The next time that we were all at the club, she introduced herself and told me about her novel. She was clearly nervous that I might be annoyed talking with her about it. But I was anything but. It was so nice to be able to share my experience with her and listen to her own, which in many ways mirrored trials that I had gone through when starting out.  I know most of my fellow MissDemeanors feel the same way and are very generous with their time at conferences. So, if you run into any of us — or really any thriller writer (even Stephen King who, the one time I met him, was amazingly lovely and generous with his time) go say hi. They’ll probably be happy to chat.    – As far as most authors are concerned, they’re not competing against another author for a book sale, we are com

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Authors and Books and Readers, Oh My

 Crime conference season is still in full swing. Thrillerfest takes place in New York City in a couple of weeks. (Yes, I’ll be there!) Bouchercon happens in Florida in September. Dozens of other events are scheduled worldwide between now and November. I counted 17 on Sisters in Crime’s upcoming events calendar. Libraries also kick off their summer reading programs this time of year. They host author events in conjunction with their efforts to encourage people to get out and read. This Saturday, June 30, from 1-3pm, I’ll be at the Dixon Public Library in Dixon, IL as part of their Summer Author Series. Author events and conferences have several things in common—authors, books, and readers. Beyond that, they’re as different as, well, authors, books, and readers. Some feature moderated panels. Several authors answer questions they may or may not have received in advance. Some feature interviews. Someone, usually an author, interviews the featured guest author in front of an audience. Authors read from their works at some events and give prepared speeches at others. Sometimes an author hosts a table. Readers may spend the entire event seated with the table’s host or they may move from table to table and meet several. These events usually involve food. Yum. This weekend’s event at the Dixon Public Library is a meet and greet and Q and A. Readers will ask me questions and I’ll try to answer them. What’s your favorite format for author events?

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Talking Political Thrillers with Rick Pullen

Rick and I met in a master class at ThrillerFest when I first got to read the beginning of Naked Ambition. I was hooked. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Rick already is following up his debut novel with Naked Truth. On top of that, he’s working on another series. I managed to steal some of his time to ask him about how he got started, what he’s up to now and if he has any words of wisdom for writers who are just starting out. I think of Naked Ambition as a political thriller. How would you describe it? Rick: Beck Rikki is a newspaper reporter investigating a corrupt politician. His investigation soon elevates into something much broader than he ever suspected. His efforts are complicated when he meets a woman whose motivations clash with his and he is torn about what to do. Just when he thinks he’s figured it all out, he realizes he hasn’t. You have an interesting story about how your first novel was published, and where that took you. Can you tell us a little about that? Rick: I’m a huge fan of Mary Buckham’s writing books on active setting. We became email friends and I told her if she was ever on the east coast to speak to a group, I wanted to meet her. She was speaking to the Virginia Romance Writers in November 2015 so I contacted the chapter president and she allowed me to attend. I was one of two men in a room of 60 woman writers. They introduced me and explained I was writing a thriller. At the end of the day I was standing in line to purchase some of Mary’s books when a woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked if she could read my manuscript. I said sure. Then she told me she was a reader for a New York agent, and I said SURE! That was Saturday evening. On Monday morning I emailed her my manuscript. That afternoon she emailed me back saying she hadn’t finished it but it was one of the best she had read. I thought, yeah right. I had already been turned down by 38 agents. She said she would give it to hers. She did. He got back to me two months later. He liked it a lot but said it wouldn’t be a breakout novel so he declined to rep me. That did it. I’d had it trying to find an agent. I needed to jumpstart my writing career. A niche publisher friend of mine, Ron Sauder, recommended I try the Kindle Scout program. You sign up with Kindle Press and they put a few chapters on the Scout program webpage to gauge support and find future book reviewers. After 30 days, they offered to publish my novel, Naked Ambition. It was published May 3, 2016 and hit number one May 20 in three different Amazon thriller categories. My sales attracted the agent’s attention again and he signed me. That took place at ThrillerFest 2016. This year at ThrillerFest I met another publisher who has asked me for a book proposal for a new series. If the deal goes through, that will be published in 2019. In the meantime, Kindle Press is publishing a new series of mine, The Apprentice, this fall and Naked Truth, my sequel to Naked Ambition, is schedule for January publication. So now I have two series in the works and a request for a third. I will be busy. Is there anything you know now that you’d like to have known when you were starting your writing career? Rick: I know how difficult it is to both find a publisher and an agent. I found you sometimes have to go an unconventional route to get someone’s attention. Kindle Press opened up opportunities for me. I got an agent after selling a lot of books and I’m talking seriously to another publisher about a new series. What is something about you that would surprise us?  Rick: When I was young I struggled to read. I was very slow and slightly dyslexic. It still sometimes juxtapose numbers. It’s a damned good thing I didn’t take over my Dad’s accounting firm! I didn’t become a real reader until college and then I gobbled up everything. For a while I was a typical male and read only non-fiction. I thought reading fiction was a waste of time. Then I read Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent and that changed my life. I think it is one of the most brilliant novels ever. I’m still not a speed reader, but when you read for a living eight hours a day, it doesn’t really matter. 

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Conferences–Worth it?

 I am writing this blog when I should be booking a ticket to Nashville. I’ve already signed up for Killer Nashville, you see, and–though I’ve paid my conference fee and for my hotel–I have yet to book a flight. I will. I’m hemming and hawing about airline prices and not yet wanting to part with the money in my savings account.  Conferences can empty wallet. I’ve yet to attend one that didn’t ultimately set me back a grand with all the travel expenses and registration fees–not to mention the cost of promotional swag. So, a natural question is, are they worth it?  I think conferences help build an author’s brand and enable writers to connect with other novelists, both of which can sell books. Though I think anyone that believes he or she will go to a conference and see a resulting spike in his or her Amazon ranking will be ultimately disappointed. Conferences are largely attended by other writers. And, though writers buy and read lots of books, they are there to sell their own work–not to spend a bunch of money on their friends’ novels. What’s more important, though, is that writers talk about other writers and, ultimately, will read and promote authors whom they respect. This community promotion can help legitimize a new author’s career and get mid-list authors noticed. Successful writers, in my experience, are very generous with their time and platforms, perhaps because they were once in a similar situation on the mid-list or struggling to get published. (I also believe that people who spend a great deal of time imagining the feelings of others in various situations might be trained to be more empathetic than the average Joe. Though, this is a theory based entirely on supposition).  Conferences also give out awards recognizing stellar books, which can be helpful for sales. And, since writers typically vote for the winning titles, it can be difficult for a novice to get noticed for such recognition if he or she doesn’t have other authors–likely met at conferences and book signings and panels–who are aware of his or her work.  So, I guess that means I should go on Travelocity.     

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Fan conferences

 Readers who haven’t heard about fan conferences are missing something. They are – to my mind – a unique opportunity for writers and readers to mix. And honestly, aren’t all writers also readers, so it’s a perfect storm. More seriously, for those choosing which conferences to attend, writers have a to remember that these conferences aren’t about craft. Panels tend to focus on the experience of reading – what’s it like to set a book in a hot climate or why do you write such scary books. If you want a seminar on plot or constructing believable characters pick another type of conference. That said, fan conferences are a chance for writers to have down time with their fellow scribes and network among colleagues. If you are a beginning writer then you can take advantage of the (often) more relaxed atmosphere and get to know some of your favorite authors and make connections that may help your career down the road (when you need that blurb for your first novel). For fans who have no intention of writing these conferences are a vacation. I’ve met mother-daughter traveling teams, groups from book clubs who want to take their reading interest to a new level, and families who use the conferences as a base for their vacation (particularly true in cities like New Orleans). There are large national conferences and small region ones, which means that there is probably an event for all budgets and needs. Some of the ones I’m familiar with for mysteries/thrillers are listed below. -Thrillerfest in NYC every July (a fan conference with a CraftFest component prior) -Bouchercon every fall. This conference is huge (which means a little something for all mystery/thriller fans) and moves around North America (guaranteeing a good vacation spot) -Killer Nashville in August (small enough to have a chance to interact with anyone you want, even the big-name headliners) -Malice Domestic in Bethesda every spring (focus on cozy mysteries but with room to include others. Again, small enough to allow access to the superstars) -Suffolk Mystery Festival (I’m going for the first time this year) I’d love to hear about any other great fan conferences out there!

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