Thrillerfest is the premiere conference for thriller enthusiasts, bringing together famous authors and new ones along with industry professionals, agents, and fans. It’s a vibrant hub of literary networking and social interaction. An array of impressive names, including Clive Cussler, Lee Child, James Patterson, Sandra Brown, Harlan Coben, David Baldacci, David Morrell, Ken Follett, and R.L. Stine, linger in the halls of the Grand Hyatt every July. Included below are past memories of the Fest from many authors. The anecdotes will hopefully entice you to join everyone at next year’s event from July 5-9, 2016. We hope to see you there!
My first Thrillerfest memory was also one of the best. Back in Year One, the Thrillerfest was held in Phoenix, Arizona, about as far a cry from New York City as can be imagined. Within, it seemed, seconds of my arrival, I got involved in some plans to put together a “Killer Thriller” band. This wasn’t the grand production that some of the NY Thrillerfests have been, but just some musical guys and women who thought it would be fun to get together and jam. The spirit of camaraderie among so many of us whose main work was writing fiction was just magic. Heather, Harley and Alex were stupendous as the Thrillerettes. Daniel, Paul, Blake and I clicked and felt a little bit as though we might have been the early Beatles, and the actual performance — in front of so many people we admired and were just really getting to know as colleagues in this great organization rather than as competitors in a cutthroat business, was one of the standout moments of my life.
“I think my favorite moment of the conference was hearing Lee Child speak. It was a fascinating chat about his experiences as a writer, how he started, his process and what it was like to have one of his novels turned into a feature film starring Tom Cruise. Since I’m a blogger, I took notes during his talk, and one of my favorite quotes was this: ‘Individually, we [writers] stick to what we’re good at. Collectively, writers cover everything.’”
Robert S. Levinson
A favorite ThrillerFest memory? For me it has to be the inaugural event in ’06, at the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, where I had the privilege and pleasure of writing, producing and emceeing the first Thriller Awards show, whose highlights included a debut performance by a “Killer Thriller Band” comprising some of the genre’s most respected authors, among them ITW co-founders David Morrell and Gayle Lynds, John Lescroart, Michael Palmer, Heather Graham, F. Paul Wilson, and Blake Crouch.
“It’s my first ever Thrillerfest in 2011, and after having participated in a panel discussion and then a book signing in which some fans showed up with old hardcover editions of As Catch Can (now The Innocent), I found myself in an elevator all alone with Meg Gardiner on one side and Lisa Gardner on the other. Now these women are the very best at what they write as well as very friendly people. But they are also extremely beautiful, and for a brief second as the elevator began its rise upwards, I thought to myself, “Dear God, if ever I was going to be trapped inside a malfunctioning elevator, now would be the time.”
F. Paul Wilson
At the inaugural Thrillerfest (Phoenix 2006) I wound up in the all-star Killer Thriller Band. We had two drummers (Blake Crouch and yours truly), David Morrell on piano, John Lescroart and Dave Simms on guitar, Scott Nicholson on bass, Michael Palmer on congas, Daniel Palmer on vocals backed by the Killerettes (Heather Graham, Harley Jane Kozak, and Alex Sokoloff). Can you believe that line up? And when we started to play, Clive Cussler got up and danced in front of the stage. Surreal.
For me the best memories are the valuable cocktail parties and shmooze-fests, because that’s where all the wheeling and dealing goes on. I’ve come away from ThrillerFest several times with a work-for-hire job in my pocket.”
I’ve had so many great memories of Thrillerfest, it is so hard to identify a stand-out. For example:
- Attending writing classes with some of the great thriller writers of our time, such as David Morrell
- Seeing excellent presentations on technical issues, such as the impact of ballistics by John Gilstrap, and on forensic science by DP Lyle
- Meeting Harlan Coben, giving a copy of my book to Lee Child, chatting with RL Stine
- Making friends with other authors over a drink or breakfast
I have a memory of sitting down to the panel on setting in crime fiction (“Location, Location, Location”), moderated by the always gracious Steven James, and looking over to see Larry Light with a stack of books in front of him, all with bookmarks in them, and thinking, Omg, Larry did homework for this panel! He came prepared! And of course I felt like a piker.
We arrive to a fanfare of police sirens and an intense gaggle of security men at the entrance of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in midtown Manhattan. As we descend from the taxi on to the red carpet it slowly dawns on us that this welcoming committee is not for the Connemara contingent arriving to take part in ThrillerFest – the annual conference of international thriller writers. They’re here to greet Barack Obama who is about to make a speech in the ballroom. Undaunted, we proceed to the welcoming reception. As the cocktails flow we find ourselves face-to-face with David Morrell – the creator of Rambo – outgoing co-president of ITW. We chat with Raymond Benson, the chosen successor to Ian Fleming, author of the novels immortalising one James Bond. David Hewson, the English author of the Nic Costa series of novels set in Rome, impresses us with his self-effacing, gentlemanly charm and wit.
Andrew F. Gulli
I have a very special memory of ITW which ended up raising a quarter of a million dollars for cancer research.
This was during the launch of ITW, it was my first time in New York and I was visiting to attend BEA. I ran across my friend Joe Konrath, who invited me to the party at the Algonquin. It was also my first time in NYC so I was rather disoriented and tiredly climbed up the stairs to the cocktail party. It was there that I met Tess Gerittsen and we chatted a long time, then I ran into John Lescroart and told him of my admiration for his writing, then I ran into Michael Palmer and found that he had a name badge on the back of his shoulder, I took it off of him, said hello and then went back to my hotel where I crashed. That party forged friendships which were the nucleus of NO REST FOR THE DEAD an anthology I co-edited with my sister where we gave all the money to cancer research. The first two people who agreed to be a part of the book were Tess and John and eventually Michael signed up for the ride, so I’ll always have fond memories of that party for helping create a smash thriller and raise money in the fight against cancer.
My best memories come from the very first ThrillerFest in Phoenix in 2006.
One of the highlights of ThrillerFest in Phoenix was the proximity of the Scottsdale Gun Club and the chance to go shooting with a load of author friends.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement officer and thriller writer James O. Born (third from the left) gave a terrific demonstration of weapons and tactics at ThrillerFest 2006
My favorite memory of Thrillerfest was taking part in the Debut Author breakfast of 2012. I had worked so hard to become a published author that I found it surreal to be sitting up on that stage next to my fellow debuts, surveying a packed ballroom of people, while none other than Doug Preston introduced us to the crowd. Thrillerfest has been an invaluable source of friendship, education, and inspiration for me, and I look forward to taking part in many more wonderful conferences.
I’ve been an ITW member since 2007. The ITW Debut Author Program provided me a terrific mentoring opportunity from some of the best in the business, and I made a number of close friends, many of whom now are best selling authors. Thrillerfest is a blast. I’ve helped out on the Registration Desk (lots of laughs and lots of connections) and participated on a number of panels. My last one.
Donald Maass in his workshop, “Writing the Breakout Novel,” says that an author should not focus on only selling books, but rather building a community. International Thriller Writers already provides that community along with a host of fun memories.
You’re right – there have been so many terrific ThrillerFest memories for me. Creating the first ever Jack Reacher trial and presenting it at the very first ThrillerFest with Lee Child playing the role of Reacher, me as Judge, as ITW Members Paul Levine, Michelle Martinez, James O. Born, and David Dun role played their parts to perfection, too. Interviewing ThrillerMaster Sandra Brown and rubbing elbows with ThrillerMasters James Patterson, Clive Cussler, and more. But perhaps the most memorable moment for me was when ThrillerMaster David Morrell serenaded me onstage at ThrillerFest 2007! What a surprise! And so much fun!
How many women have been serenaded on stage in front of hundreds of people by one of the most iconic characters of the past 50 years, Rambo’s father? At least one. That’s my story and I’ve got witnesses to prove it. David Morrell had a terrible case of laryngitis, but to me, he sounded as good as that other Canadian crooner, Michael Buble.
What? You weren’t there? See for yourself!
After many years, I had finally finished writing a 400-page manuscript—my first thriller. I used to write textbooks and happened to be in New York the next month at the Book Expo America tradeshow. Steve Berry was signing copies of his latest Cotton Malone thriller at the Ballantine Books booth. When I reached the front of the line, he glanced at my “Author” name tag as he was signing books and said “What do you write?” Screwing up my courage I replied “I just finished my first thriller. Know any good agents?” He stopped, looked at me and said “You need to talk to her, RIGHT NOW.” He pointed to his wife 20 feet away, and called her over. (Liz Berry was some sort of ThrillerFest director that year.) She explained to me what ThrillerFest was. I registered the next day. I had no idea such things existed. It’s been like a launching pad for my writing. I’ve attended three times since then and learned so much from CraftFest presenters, agents, and fellow attendees. Steve Berry’s kindness will never be forgotten.
To learn more about Richard, please visit his website at www.richardgodwin.net.
Priceless ThrillerFest Moments:
“As a first-time ThrillerFest attendee just a couple of years ago, I was impressed by the numbers of fine thriller writers in attendance, the staunch enthusiasm they all had for their work, and a general inclusiveness that was bracing. The whole thing buzzed with energy and innovation and the sense that there was work to be done and fun to be had. Nice combination!” ~ T. Jefferson Parker
“Nearly twenty years ago, when I was hawking my first manuscript to agents, I was addicted to Steve Martini novels. Whenever I read his prose, I’d have to run to the keyboard to write. One day, I heard that he was signing at my local Barnes & Noble, so I bought his new hardcover and asked him for some advice. Seventeen years later, after three published novels, I was at the Thrillerfest opening cocktail party when there was a tap on my shoulder. I turned and saw my publisher, who said, “Alan, I want to introduce you to Steve Martini.” It was an honor meeting him—as a peer, this time. Months later, I asked him if he would read my new manuscript, CRUSH. Three weeks later, he told me he didn’t just like it—he loved it—and he offered a terrific blurb. The following year, I was back at ThrillerFest and waiting for the elevator when I again felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and Steve was standing there holding a copy of the CRUSH hardcover. “Alan,” he said, “would you sign this for me?” I’d come full circle—and that’s when I realized the power of Thrillerfest. Compared to the day when authors were rarely accessible to their fans, Thrillerfest stands in stark contrast. We mingle with our readers and even have drinks with them. When I think about how much publishing has changed during my two decades in the business, the author-fan access that Thrillerfest affords is one thing that often gets overlooked.” ~ Alan Jacobson
“My best moment came just before the first ThrillerFest in Phoenix – I arrived from Europe a day early because of airline issues and decided to spend the time in the Arizona Biltmore’s famous spa … so there I was, lounging around in nothing but a (very small) towel … and in walks Libby Hellman, also wearing nothing but a (very small) towel … we became friends fast and now when we meet we always say, sorry, didn’t recognize you with your clothes on.” ~ Lee Child
“For me, one of the greatest thrills of last year’s ThrillerFest was interviewing Clive Cussler. He’s been a literary hero of mine going back to Junior High when I first read Raise the Titanic. He was charming, witty, and gracious. It was both an honor and a thrill to share the stage with this literary giant.” ~ James Rollins
“I was at a ThrillerFest reception and suddenly realized how many authors I admired were in every direction around me. The experience reminded me of what MGM used to say about having more stars than there were in the sky.” ~ David Morrell
“Talking to Lee Child and discovering, from his chapter in The Chopin Manuscript, that he’s even more of an audio geek than I am (as his chapter in Chopin proves).” ~ David Hewson
A Toast to ThrillerFest by M.J. Rose
I was sitting at the signing table on Sunday of ThrillerFest when a gentleman approached with a copy of my latest novel, The Venus Fix and a copy of the ITW anthology Thriller, and asked me to sign both. Of course, I said. I asked him his name and proceeded to inscribe both books. I’m slightly in awe when someone asks me to do this – of all the things that make me “feel like a writer” it’s this moment and I love the chance to stop and talk to readers: find out what they like, what they’re tired of, what else they read, anything — I’d be happy to talk to readers all day.
I handed him back both books and he proceeded to hand me a bottle of wine. A gift he said, for me, and explained that authors give him so much pleasure that he likes to give them something back as a thank you.
The “thank you” I told him is buying the book – but wine too? It was his pleasure he assured me.
I was tired, it was the last day of the conference, it had been a lot of fun and work for those of us who were involved in the event and when this man gave me this gift out of the blue, I was not only blown away, I was speechless.
The cost of ThrillerFest – $300 plus
The cost of the two books – $32.00
The cost of the bottle of wine – $15
The moment: Priceless
Friendships sometimes vanish. Too little time and too much distance are often the culprits, and one mourns for what might have been. How are they now? Who are they now?
We knew the first ThrillerFest was going to be special. After all, no one had ever created an international gathering to celebrate the field. But there were other remarkable bonuses in store….
As I was walking past the Biltmore bar (why do so many interesting moments erupt in or near bars?) when I heard a woman call my name. I spun, and there was Jean Jenkins’s beautiful face. She’s a wonderful writer from San Diego. I’m from Santa Barbara, and here we’d met in Phoenix – at ThrillerFest. I hadn’t known she’d changed directions and was writing in the field. We sat together and caught up on that and five years of life. So beware … it’s not only new friendships one finds at ThrillerFest, but old cherished ones. ~ Gayle Lynds
At the first Thrillerfest, in Phoenix, I got to do a wonderful panel with John Lescroart and MJ Rose, moderated by Steve Berry, called “Sex in Thrillers: With Booze.” To get the audience in the mood, so to speak, we made Screaming Orgasms in pitchers and poured as people entered (damn, you really can’t discuss this stuff without becoming self conscious about word choice, can you? Or at least I can’t) the room. As one woman walked in, I approached with my standard line — “Can I offer you a Screaming Orgasm?” — to which she, with a satisfied smile, replied, “No thanks, I just had one.” I imagine that for her, the panel was anticlimactic… ~ Barry Eisler
“Last year, they gave me a trophy resembling the Stanley Cup. This year, I get to give it to someone else. I love continuity like that. Plus, any chance I get to help someone new, I’m there. I still remember when I was starting and I was searching for that advice. My favorite fan encounter at a conference was the person who told me that they named a character in their own novel after my wife. Was the nicest thing around. And he said it in front of my wife, so I got extra points.” ~ Brad Meltzer
Nearly twenty years ago, when I was hawking my first manuscript to agents, I was addicted to Steve Martini novels. Whenever I read his prose, I’d have to run to the keyboard to write. I heard that he was signing at my local Barnes & Noble, so I bought his new hardcover and asked him for some advice. Seventeen years later, after three published novels, I was at the ThrillerFest opening cocktail party when there was a tap on my shoulder. I turned and saw my publisher, who said, “Alan, I want to introduce you to Steve Martini.” It was an honor meeting him—as a peer, this time. Months later, I asked him if he would read my new manuscript, Crush. Three weeks later, he told me he didn’t just like it—he loved it—and he offered a terrific blurb. The following year, I was back at ThrillFest and waiting for the elevator when I again felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and Steve was standing there holding a copy of the Crush hardcover. “Alan,” he said, “would you sign this for me?” I’d come full circle—and I realized the power of ThrillerFest. Compared to the day when authors were rarely accessible to their fans, ThrillerFest stands in stark contrast. We mingle with our readers and even have drinks with them. When I think about how much publishing has changed during my two decades in the business, the author-fan access that ThrillerFest affords is one thing that often gets overlooked. ~ Alan Jacobson
Don’t miss your priceless ThrillerFest moments. Register now!