Last weekend, I attended ThrillerFest 2017, an annual crime fiction conference held in New York! I had such a fantastic weekend meeting crime writers, listening to panels, and picking up all kinds of book recommendations. I’m thrilled to share a recap of ThrillerFest with you! But first and foremost, I’d like to thank Meryl Moss Media and the International Thriller Writers for welcoming me to ThrillerFest—I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend.
In this post, you’ll find:
- Top book recommendations from the conference
- A day-by-day recap of my time at ThrillerFest
- A summary of the 2017 Thriller Awards - their winners + buy links
- Photos from the weekend!
Without further ado, let’s dive in! Read on for all you need to know about ThrillerFest 2017.
Top Book Recommendations from ThrillerFest 2017
Every time I go to a crime fiction conference, I’m somewhat overwhelmed (in the best way possible) by all the fantastic books and authors I learn about. Here are the top books that caught my eye at ThrillerFest!
LIES SHE TOLD by Cate Holahan
I’m currently reading LIES SHE TOLD, and am completely absorbed by this book-within-a-book psychological thriller. While at ThrillerFest, I had the chance to interview the author - you can read that interview here!
THE RED HUNTER by Lisa Unger
I have yet to read a Lisa Unger book, which is just a huge shame! After listening to Lisa speak on a couple panels, I can’t wait to finally check out one of her books. THE RED HUNTER is her newest standalone.
THE LEGACY by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
You already know how much I loved Yrsa’s latest US release THE UNDESIRED. Well, after chatting with her at ThrillerFest, I’m even more excited to dive into her new series which launches with THE LEGACY. It’s out now in the UK, and will be out in the US soon!
ThrillerFest 2017 Journal
A day by day recap of my time at ThrillerFest 2017, including photos, panel recaps, and more!
Day 1: Friday, July 14, 2017
After spending the morning at work on Friday, I headed uptown to the Grand Hyatt for ThrillerFest! After checking in and getting my badge (thank you, Meryl Moss Media!) I made my first stop, which could only be one place: the ThrillerFest bookstore!! Mystery Mike’s basically turned a hotel conference room into a mini-bookstore just for the conference—it was amazing. They even had special UK editions of books available for purchase! It took all my willpower not to buy everything. Click on the photos below to enlarge!
After my bookstore exploring, it was time to attend a few panels!
Panel #1: Meet the Masters - Past & Present ThrillerMasters
Panel Moderator: Jeff Ayers
Featured Authors: Sandra Brown, Lee Child, Heather Graham, Nelson DeMille, David Morrell, and R.L. Stine
Host Jeff Ayers asked this all-star panel a series of great questions - a few of the questions & responses that particularly stuck out to me are recapped below!
At what point in the writing process did you realize you were successful?
Heather Graham: I'm still waiting!
Lee Child: Writing and reading is a really mysterious thing - a book has to be read before it exists. I knew I was an author when I saw someone who wasn't my blood relative reading my book. I was on vacation somewhere and I saw someone reading my book by the pool.
Sandra: I live every day with fear that whatever talent I had yesterday has gone. My family has to listen to it every day! What's reassuring to me is when I talk to a reader who relates a story to me about my book.
What's your strangest book signing experience?
- Sandra Brown: I was first starting out and I was at a signing at a bookstore in a mall for 2 hours. And nobody came - not one person! And the store had a plate of cookies out and everything. And at the end, I was about to pack up when I saw someone coming and thought thank goodness… but then they came in and asked how much the cookies were!
- Lee Child: I'm at a booksigning and I see in the back a little family group. And the husband is carrying a baby. So they make their way to the front of the line, and the husband fishes in his pocket and pulls out a birth certificate for the kid who is named Jack Reacher! And that's actually happened to me twice.
- R.L. Stine: This is actually the worst bookstore appearance story I've ever heard - it’s not one of my own stories. This guy was doing an appearance at a mall bookstore. No one showed up. He's about to pack up when three men come rushing in and sit down in the front row. He thought, ok, I'll do my talk for them. And then three policemen rushed into the room!!! The guys in the front row had just robbed a store and knew that the bookstore was the best place to hide out.
- Heather Graham: A guy came in one day to a signing I was doing and asked me to sign his back. And he came back the next day to show me he'd had the signature tattooed into his back!
Panel #2: Booze, Unemployment, or Drugs? Developing Flawed Characters
Panel Moderator: Patricia Gussin
Featured Authors: Paige Dearth, Mark Leggatt, William Nikkel, Daniel Palmer, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Carrie Smith
This panel explored how authors craft flawed characters. As always, I was so excited to hear from Yrsa in particular! A few highlights of the conversation:
How do character flaws strengthen the plot of our thrillers? How can something that's a weakness become a strength?
- Carrie Smith: A flaw can be the thing that motivates. It can be that thing that your character is fighting against, that makes them do bad things or that makes them do good things to compensate.
- Yrsa Sigurdardottir: Aside from providing motivations, a flaw can make the character more relatable and more interesting. In Scandinavia, we like Donald Duck not Mickey Mouse - Mickey is too perfect! Donald is more interesting - he's a total washout! And the same goes for adult fiction.
- Paige Dearth: It makes me love characters more when they're missing something that's really personal, something that gets us through life. Whether that’s love, safety, connection - whatever it might be. So they're always striving to find that missing piece of themselves.
Are character flaws pre-ordained, or do they develop as the story goes on?
- Carrie Smith: I think of it more in terms of a burdened character. They carry a burden with them that they have to contend with in some way. Backstory is always very important because that fuels the character and provides a lot of who they are as a person.
- Yrsa Sigurdardottir: The characters have to have a reason for their burdens. It makes it much more tangible if there's a strong reason behind it. What's most important is that things have to be consistent - you can't go immediately from being a chicken to a hero. Consistency makes these flaws believable.
Are there character flaws that you find annoying or disingenuous?
Yrsa Sigurdardottir: Negative flaws in my mind would be, when you have super perfect characters who are just over the top, good at everything. Like, I'm the best lawyer in the world and also good at parkour! That to me is a negative flaw.
Where is the line between an unlikable character who people still want to read about, and a character who's just super annoying? For example, in GONE GIRL - both characters are unlikable, and yet we want to keep reading about them.
- Yrsa Sigurdardottir: if a character undergoes injustice, you will want to root for them and want them to get justice. In Gone Girl, both characters are unlikable but they are also both recipients of injustice. That's what makes us want to keep reading about them.
- Daniel Palmer: One way to address this is to make sure there's a compelling question posed at the beginning that keeps the reader hooked - something that compels the reader to keep reading, even through the unlikeable characters.
After this panel, it was time for cocktail hour! I always love the opportunity to hang out with authors in a relaxed setting. I had a blast at the cocktail hour - I hung out with Sara Blaedel, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, and Lisa Unger, and I also ran into JD Barker, the author of THE FOURTH MONKEY! It was so much fun.
After that, it was time to call it a night!
Day 2: Saturday, July 15, 2017
I was up bright and early to head back into the city for ThrillerFest Day 2! Saturday was a big day for ThrillerFest activities: between panels, author interviews, another cocktail party, and the ThrillerFest banquet, it was a day jam-packed with crime fiction fun.
First things first - Saturday’s panels!
Panel #1: Newspaper Magazine or Blog? Stories Ripped from the Headlines
Panel Moderator: Linda Stasi
Featured Authors: Fiona Barton, Sara Blaedel, Rick Mofina, Susie Steiner, David Swatling, Lisa Unger
This panel was my most-anticipated of the weekend. It had such a fantastic roster of authors, and they did not disappoint! I loved hearing from Fiona Barton, Sara Blaedel, and Lisa Unger in particular.
Writing series characters - why would you want to keep revisiting them?
- Lisa Unger: I have a bunch of sets of books, some series and some standalones. I have a lot of voices in my head - ideas and characters - and it's about corralling those competing voices. Whichever is loudest is the one I will start to pay attention to and write about.
- Sara Blaedel: When I started the Louise Rick series, I actually thought it would just be a standalone. I've never known how many books would be in the series. But my readers really want to know what will happen for Louise - they're invested in her. Giving Louise a life, letting her grow - that's the most interesting. For the new series (THE UNDERTAKER’S DAUGHTER), I knew from the beginning how many books I would write in the series. That's very different from Louise Rick, where everything developed over time.
- Fiona Barton: I actually kept a character (Kate Waters) in my second book (THE CHILD) who I never meant to keep. She's not the central character in book one (THE WIDOW) - but it was the readers actually who clamored for more of her. Readers wanted to know more about what it's like to be a journalist - that's what book two is about. So I kept Kate! And I'm keeping her for book three a well. But I do wish I had known from the beginning that that's what was going to happen, because then you can build up more interesting characters.
Did you ever have an idea that popped into your head that wouldn't leave you alone?
Fiona Barton: Both of my books are based on my journalistic career. THE WIDOW was sparked by a number of cases I covered, where I sat in court for a trial and wondered what the wives of the men accused were thinking - what they knew about it, what they had decided not to know about it. And THE CHILD begins with a reporter finding a tiny story in the paper that she rips out and thinks she just has to find out more about this. I wanted to know what sort of desperate space you'd be in when you would hide a baby in that way. It always popped back in my head after that.
Panel #2: Hola, Hallo, or Ciao? International Thrillers
Panel Moderator: Simon Toyne
Featured Authors: Sara Blaedel, Martina Cole, Maria Gustaffson, Peter James, Val McDermid, Michael Niemann
My favorite crime novels tend to be international, so I was just thrilled to listen to these fantastic international crime writers!
What were your backgrounds before you became a writer?
- Val McDermid: Started as a journalist but fact was never enough. Being a journalist was what she did while she worked to become a writer. Val chose journalism because it was the job she found that most suited her personality. She said "I've never been good with authority" so she needed to find something that was flexible and not super hierarchical. She had a very long and high powered job in the newspaper, but she had to find a way to structure her days so that she could find time to write what she wanted to write. She would write on Monday afternoons because that was the day she had off. All week she was thinking of what she would do when it was her day off. She wrote her first 4 books on Monday afternoons!
- Peter James: He was in the movie business for many years. He actually started with horror movies! But his first job was as Orson Welles' house cleaner - he was 19 and was in film school, and accepted a job cleaning house because he needed money to take a girl he liked out on a date. And it ended up that he was cleaning house for Orson Welles!
- Sara Blaedel: “What did I not do before I was a writer?!” Sara never thought that she would be a writer one day. 25 years ago, she started her own publishing house - publishing crime fiction, because that was what she always loved to read. But she didn’t sell that much! She was also a waiter, and she was a journalist for 12 years. While working as a journalist, when things got stressful, she would tell herself stories to de-stress. And she became really curious about this story. So she wrote a letter to the Chief of Police in Copenhagen, asking if she could visit and learn from them. And the Chief of the Police said yes, and invited her in for a coffee! And that was when she realized she was really working on a book. That was her transition into becoming a writer.
Along with the day’s panels, I also had a fantastic interview with author Cate Holahan, whose forthcoming thriller LIES SHE TOLD sounds right up my alley. This “book within a book” psychological thriller tells the story of a thriller writer whose real life begins to blend with the fiction she’s writing. You can read all about my interview with Cate here—I had such a great time speaking with her!
After all of these fun activities, it was time for the highlight of the whole conference: the ThrillerFest banquet!
ThrillerFest Banquet & Thriller Awards
Each year, the International Thriller Writers hand out the year’s Thriller Awards at the banquet! The banquet is preceded by a cocktail hour and followed by an after party - basically, it’s such a fun night. At the cocktail hour before the banquet, I ran into the awesome JD Barker again, and this time got a photo! Pictured here is JD’s awesome wife, JD, and me. You can learn more about JD's chilling and cinematic serial killer thriller THE FOURTH MONKEY here!
When I was in Oslo for Krimfestivalen 2017 earlier this year, a tradition started where whenever Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Sara Blaedel, and I are in the same place, we always take a photo for our friend Thomas Enger (the author of the Henning Juul series!) where we pretend to say "Where are you Thomas?!" It's become a tradition for all of us—now, whenever any grouping of us gets together, we take these photos for the others who aren't there! Sara, Yrsa, and I kind of failed to get a good photo for Thomas this time... but the results are pretty hilarious!
Then it was time for the banquet itself - you can learn all about the Thriller Award nominees and winners below! At the banquet, a couple crime writers were also honored for their contributions to the genre and the crime fiction community. Lee Child was made the 2017 ThrillerMaster, and Lisa Gardner was given the Silver Bullet Award for her charitable work.
The 2017 Thriller Awards
BEST HARDCOVER NOVEL
THE WINNER: BEFORE THE FALL by Noah Hawley (Grand Central Publishing)
On a foggy summer night, eleven people--ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter--depart Martha's Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are the painter Scott Burroughs and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul's family.
Was it by chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something more sinister at work? A storm of media attention brings Scott fame that quickly morphs into notoriety and accusations, and he scrambles to salvage truth from the wreckage. Amid trauma and chaos, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy grows and glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, morality, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.
BEST FIRST NOVEL
THE WINNER: THE DRIFTER by Nicholas Petrie (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Peter Ash came home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with only one souvenir: what he calls his “white static,” the buzzing claustrophobia due to post-traumatic stress that has driven him to spend a year roaming in nature, sleeping under the stars. But when a friend from the Marines commits suicide, Ash returns to civilization to help the man’s widow with some home repairs. Under her dilapidated porch, he finds more than he bargained for: the largest, ugliest, meanest dog he’s ever encountered...and a Samsonite suitcase stuffed with cash and explosives. As Ash begins to investigate this unexpected discovery, he finds himself at the center of a plot that is far larger than he could have imagined...and it may lead straight back to the world he thought he’d left for good. Suspenseful and thrilling, and featuring a compelling new hero, The Drifter is an exciting debut from a fresh voice in crime fiction.
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL NOVEL
THE WINNER: THE BODY READER by Anne Frasier (Thomas & Mercer)
For three years, Detective Jude Fontaine was kept from the outside world. Held in an underground cell, her only contact was with her sadistic captor, and reading his face was her entire existence. Learning his every line, every movement, and every flicker of thought is what kept her alive.
After her experience with isolation and torture, she is left with a fierce desire for justice—and a heightened ability to interpret the body language of both the living and the dead. Despite colleagues’ doubts about her mental state, she resumes her role at Homicide. Her new partner, Detective Uriah Ashby, doesn’t trust her sanity, and he has a story of his own he’d rather keep hidden. But a killer is on the loose, murdering young women, so the detectives have no choice: they must work together to catch the madman before he strikes again. And no one knows madmen like Jude Fontaine.
BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL:
THE WINNER: STEEPLEJACK by A.J. Hartley (TOR Teen)
Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga lives and works as a steeplejack in Bar-Selehm, a sprawling city known for its great towers, spires, and smokestacks – and even greater social disparities across race and class.
Ang’s world is turned upside-down when her new apprentice Berrit is murdered the same night that the city’s landmark jewel is stolen. Her search for answers behind his death exposes unrest in the streets and powerful enemies. But she also finds help from unexpected friends: a kindhearted savannah herder, a politician’s haughty sister, and a savvy newspaper girl. As troubles mount in Bar-Selehm, Ang must discover the truth behind both murder and theft soon – or else watch the city descend into chaos.
BEST E-BOOK ORIGINAL NOVEL
THE WINNER: ROMEO’S WAY by James Scott Bell (Compendium Press)
Mike Romeo, the former cage fighter living low in L.A., doesn't look for trouble. He doesn't have to. It comes after him. So when he's hired by a California senatorial campaign to do undercover work, Romeo doesn't have any illusions. Especially when his duty takes him to San Francisco.
But as Romeo gets closer to solving the mystery of who is behind the hit job on an honorable man, things heat up in the City by the Bay -- and between Mike and a beautiful political operative. Until a bullet nearly takes him out for good.Now all bets are off.
And that's a wrap on ThrillerFest!! I had such a fantastic weekend, and I’m so appreciative to Meryl Moss Media and the International Thriller Writers for making my time at ThrillerFest possible. I’m already looking forward to next year!