Sadly, I was unable to attend Thrillerfest this year, due to a family health emergency. But the Fearless Bloggers were there in force. I asked Jen Delozier, who was a Debut Author last year, to write a guest post about what it was like to be a Debut Author. She returned this year with her prequel, Storm Shelter. Her story is below, followed by the other blogs by the Fearless Bloggers. As a bonus, a video from the banquet and awards ceremony where Thrillermaster Lee Child was honored with a serenade.
THRILLS, CHILLS, AND…CHURCH?
2016 marked my ThrillerFest baptism. I dipped my toes in its holy waters by attending Friday and Saturday’s events. A new author, I wrote my debut thriller, Type & Cross armed only with sheer will and naiveté. I found the International Thriller Writers organization online and begged my small press to register as a recognized publisher so I could participate in the debut author program. Offering support, education, and networking, the program was a neophyte’s dream. My groveling paid off, and soon I found myself mingling with the thriller elite. I kept my mouth shut and my ears open and vowed to return when I could speak without embarrassing myself.
This year’s ThrillerFest was my confirmation. Now that I had two books on the shelves and a modicum of confidence, I decided it was high time I became a “proper” writer and learned my craft. I’d already committed to most of the week-long events when I received notice that Type & Cross was nominated for the “Best 1st Novel” award. I was assigned to a panel—“Hardcover, Short Story, or E-book”—with the other nominees and was given a ticket to the ultimate event—the swanky awards banquet Saturday night. This would be a week of firsts: first full ThrillerFest, first nomination, first panel appearance. My confidence wavered, so I buckled my parachute and swooped into Manhattan before I could change my mind (I actually rode Amtrak, which was infinitely less thrilling.) Here’s what I learned:
1) Thriller writers are the most generous, unassuming, and supportive professionals I’ve ever met. This year, the debut program graduated its 500th writer. Each was given individual attention and nurturing by the likes of people like Steve Berry, Jenny Milchman, and Elaine Hartwell. Where were the ego clashes, the twirling moustaches and fake berets, the pretentious faux accents? In truth, all writers within a genre compete against each other for sales, yet the ITW members want the young’uns to succeed. Why? For the love of the craft. They care about the written word and each other, and it shows. They’re what my mother would call “Good folk.”
2) Being around your fellow writers is inspiring as hell. I couldn’t wait to return home and tear into my manuscript, applying fresh tips and techniques lifted from authors such as Grant Blackwood (my MasterCraft instructor) and “the Professor” David Morrell.
3) Even when you lose, you win. While Type & Cross didn’t win its award, it hardly seemed to matter. I met fellow nominees, bright-eyed debuts, publishers, and agents, and the new friendships (I prefer “friendships” to “networks”) I forged are priceless. And that’s without the gargantuan boost in confidence I got simply from being recognized by my heroes.
4) There’s something for everyone. While joining the ITW is free (you are a member, right? Right?) ThrillerFest is not. When combined with the cost of a week in Manhattan, things get pricey fast. Pick your goal and hone in. Need to concentrate on the nuts and bolts of writing? Do MasterCraft and/or CraftFest only. MasterCraft matches a successful author (think: Lee Child) with ten students who submit a ten-page writing sample ahead of time. The day-long intensive class includes didactic sessions as well as a personalized critique of one’s work. CraftFest is a packed schedule of lectures from the masters of character and plot development, pacing, world-building, etc. It’s followed by CareerFest and PitchFest, which allows students ample time to mingle with and pitch (or practice pitch) editors and agents.
Not quite there yet and looking for the inspiration to get started? Do ThrillerFest, where you can watch your idols interacting on three-to-seven-person panels and absorb their quirky comments on everything from sex in thrillers to how to pick your character’s perfect weapon. Dip your toe in the baptismal waters like I did, and be transformed. Hope to see you next year!