And yet another Thrillerfest wrap-up

by Alex

I’m one of the ones who grumbled about TF being in NYC again this year – not that I don’t love New York, I mean, please! – but I felt last year’s con was very – UNintimate compared to that magical first one in Phoenix. To be fair, last year I was having a rough time personally – a longtime friend of mine had died that week and I felt like an open wound.

This year, though, every single thing that went wrong about last year went beautifully right. Con organizers bent over backward to make sure that this Thrillerfest was awesome in every way. I can personally attest to the remarkable efforts of Steve Berry, the truly amazing Liz Berry and Kathleen Antrim – can we just bottle them? – Jim Rollins, Jon Land, Laura Benedict, Michelle Gagnon, and I know there are many more that I should be thanking. The panels were imaginative, lively, and well-attended, the mixers seemed to be as well (I was mostly running around too much to attend), everyone’s energy was WAY up, and the banquet and awards show (which I personally was sweating bullets about after last year’s 17-hour debacle) came in at under three hours and played like a variety show with debonair sweetheart Jim Rollins emceeing. There was much laughter (including everything Jim said and a Dating Game style introduction to the board members and a hilarious send up to the NY Times Bestseller list by those gorgeous and multitalented Palmers, Michael and Daniel…) and some incredibly moving moments (Tor editor Eric Rabb’s heartbreaking tribute to NYPD Auxiliary Officer Nicholas Pekearo, slain in the line of duty, whose first novel The Wolfman was bought four days before his death)

I was so thrilled to see Doug Clegg post this on another message board:

“It is the single best, most professional writers’ conference I have ever attended in 20 years in this business. It reminded me of the way Hollywood might portray a writers’ awards and events weekend.”

That is I think exactly what ITW is going for, and it’s working like a charm.

As usual I was doing way too much at this con this year:

– Singing for the banquet with some of the Killer Thriller Band again, down and dirty garage style this time… with Heather Graham, F. Paul Wilson, Dave Simms and Jeff Buick (although singing without Harley Jane Kozak was like trying to perform with a limb missing…)

– Meeting with my fantastic editor, Marc Resnick, and the St. Martin’s crew. As JT said yesterday, it’s gold to have that face time with your publishers – the planning you can do for the year is exponential, and I’ve got to admit that having TF in NY makes that all easily possible. St. Martin’s also hosted their usual packed-to-the-ceiling cocktail party, this time without any alcohol whatsoever. (Yeah, right…)

– Meeting with Eric Raab, my Tor editor on the almost-out THE DARKER MASK anthology and getting the first copies of the book.

– A fantastically successful book reading/signing at Borders on Thursday at 7 pm called “Quick Thrills from Out-of-Towners, with Michelle Gagnon, Laura Benedict, JT Ellison, Mario Acevedo, Shane Gericke and Tim Maleeny, emceed by James Bond… I mean Lee Child. We were standing room only and it really showed that putting some group effort into an event can pay off in spades.

– A Screen/vs. Page panel on Hollywood and publishing with Paul Levine, Thomas Sawyer, John Gilstrap and Lorenzo Carcaterra, emceed to the hilt by the irrepressible Jon Land. Those guys put together are their own film school and so funny – we could have gone on for hours.

– A spiritualism/parapsychology panel with Heather Graham and Wendy Corsi Staub, Friday night. It was billed as “a séance” which the three of us quickly nixed (we’ve all participated in them but for numerous reasons didn’t want to do that for entertainment). All three of us write on topics of parapsychology and the paranormal from a very realistic standpoint, and we were privileged to have Dr. Lauren Thibodeaux, a professional psychic – and psychologist – from the Lily Dale spiritualist community with us to discuss the real-life explanations of psychic events. People from the audience shared some amazing stories. We’d dimmed the lights for atmosphere and halfway through the program the recessed spotlight above Lauren started flickering on and off. None of the rest of the lights –just her light. And the second the panel concluded, the light came on full strength, completely normal. Our audience ate it up.

– Lunch with my uber-fabulous agent Scott Miller… perfect combination of work and play. Unfortunately I had to miss the debauched 3-hour dinner with the Scott Miller posse (we do have the coolest agent on the planet…)

– An interview with NPR.

Plus all the usual conference magic and madness… an outside highlight of the trip this year was going to the drag restaurant (yes, that’s what I said) Lips, where seven foot (in platforms and screaming pink wig) All-Beef Patty served us frozen Cosmos and dinner in between hilarious Karaoke and comedy acts and “Bitchy Bitchy Bingo”.

I thought the debut authors’ breakfast (which I managed to wake up for) was a great success – it’s not unique to Thrillerfest but a really important feature. I was happy to meet Jordan Dane – what a lovely person, I just adored her instantly – and get a few moments with Kelli Stanley – a study in noir all on her own.

I heard mixed reviews about Agentfest – the speed-dating session with 140 writers and 40 agents (a few editors), but it’s a great concept and the lineup of agents was just stunning. I think they just need to work out some logistical kinks, and I have no doubt that will happen.

On the slightly darker side, maybe because I’m so comfortable with this group and the whole drill myself, this year I was more aware of some underlying pain and trauma at the con. Hopes are so high, and I know some people who attend looking for an agent or a deal feel like they’re putting all their eggs in this one basket, or all their chips on one number – whatever metaphor you want to use – they think they’re taking their one shot. That really isn’t true at all – for example, I see Agentfest as a chance for an aspiring author to get a good look at and vibe from 40 great agents – and THEN do the querying and follow-up with the agents they feel a click with. But there was a bit of an undercurrent of all-or-nothing desperation, and I’d really like to see ITW do more of a prep session for aspiring authors – on conference etiquette, on how to pitch, on how to make the most of this divine madness. A kind of mini-mentoring program for aspiring authors, just as there’s a mentoring program for debut authors.

Finally, I had to mention what I think is a canny move by ITW: they’ve abolished dues for active members. Read here. It’s really not about the money – what it means is that every traditionally published thriller author is automatically a member of ITW, dues free. Of course, you the writer have to reach out to ITW to get the benefits of the organization, but this policy instantly swells the ranks of ITW in a way that can be profound.

So okay, call me converted to Thrillerfest in New York. What ITW does pretty brilliantly is star power – and the agents and editors and publishers and reviewers and journalists flock to that light. Having the con in NY makes it easy for all those people to attend. And as for the cost? Well, what I say is – slumber party!!!

FYI, I’ll be a guest in the Writers’ Chatroom this Sunday evening, so please pop in if you’ve always wanted to know what I most like in…

Well, okay, maybe never mind that.

Sunday, July 20, 2008
7-9 PM EST.

7 thoughts on “And yet another Thrillerfest wrap-up

  1. Bryon Quertermous

    I’ve always doubted the usefulness of organized agent pitch fests. When I’m at a conference I’ve made many more professional connections by sitting in the bar talking to agents about baseball or current affairs or movies and such. I think that eliminates the desperation you’re talking about.

  2. JT Ellison

    Alex, I sensed a bit of desperation too — and I love the idea of an etiquette, how to pitch, what to expect session for the folks pitching. I gave advice where I could — have your story distilled into a comprehensive logline, be able to talk about your plans for your books, and most importantly, be yourself. Agents need to connect with you as well as your work. Those poor folks only had three minutes, and the agents were inundated, but I imagine after the first two or three, they were able to settle into the pitch.

    Am I right? Any Murderati readers who pitched want to tell us about it?

    We missed you dreadfully at the dinner. You might have been able to control the boys if you’d come. I say might.

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Some people were really prepared but others just had no idea how to go about it. I can’t imagine that pitchers wouldn’t benefit from a prep session.

    Again, I think the benefit of that big a pitch fest is being able to make an initial contact and then send queries from there.

    And JT, honey, you know I’d probably have done more instigating than controlling. But I am REALLY sorry I missed it.

  4. Pari Noskin Taichert

    This sounds like a magnificent convention — all pluses and no minuses. If I come into some good $, I’ll try to attend one of these years.

    On the desperation:I’d like to offer a slightly perspective.

    I’ve noticed that the longer I’m published, the more I sense the incredible yearning to be published among those who aren’t. I almost want to tell these people that when you cross that particular Rubicon, there’s a whole new set of things to learn and realities with which one needs to come to terms. But that comment would fall on deaf ears.

    The other reality that’s difficult, but true, is that not everyone in the room — no matter how deserving or fine — is going to get published traditionally. I find myself not wanting to dampen hopes, but not wanting to go overboard in painting a rosy picture either.

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Wish you had been there, L! But Bouchercon…

    Yeah, Pari, I know. It was a long time ago that I broke in to screenwriting, but I remember how it felt to be OUTSIDE – like circling a glass dome that encompassed the Emerald City and wanting desperately to be INSIDE.

    And no matter how hard the work and the life is, there’s no question that you relax in a way that you’ve never felt relaxed before, once someone has cut that check and said, “Yes, you’re a pro, now.’


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *