Monday, July 13, 2009

Thrillerfest 2009

I'd like to say that Thrillerfest was a good conference for me, but I can't, because it was AWESOME... It was wrapped in 10 pounds of bacon and dipped in a vat of awesomesauce.

The first day was called Craftfest. It consisted of a number of sessions put on by well known authors to teach you how to become a better writer.

There was a session by Jon Land (who pitches movies to Hollywood) on how to create the perfect pitch. I was able to take what he said and modify my pitch from OK, to phenomenal. I'll post up later some of what changed and why.

There was a session from a criminal psychologist named Michael Weiner on how to create the most evil bad guy. Very creepy session that really highlighted what makes someone evil. FYI, this works for fantasy monsters as well, doesn't have to be a serial killer.

Lee Child talked about how to create a series character. The most interesting point he made was that his lead character didn't change over time as one would expect. Also he didn't spend a lot of time in excruciating details of his physical appearance. Lee said he worked with the reader to use their imagination.

Lisa Gardner talked about how to do a rewrite. She had a system of color coded index cards to analyze your book scene by scene so that you can make sure that you have all the right elements, in the right order. It was very useful.

Thursday morning was spent doing more crafting and the first session was by Donald Maass. OK, everybody bow to the GOD of agents. This guy was amazing. He gave his view on how to make your villain scary. Helpful insights.

James Rollins (who currently has a massive display at Barnes and Nobles) did a session on how to write 3 novels a year and still have a life. The key point was that to do this, all you had to do was 3 pages a day, and if you think about it, 365 x 3 is 1095 pages in a year. So that's probably 3 short novels, but I think the title was meant to garner interest, which it did. His main point was that set a page goal, stick with it, and you will finish novels at a quick pace.

The afternoon was spent pitching to agents. Last time I was at the San Francisco Writer's Conference there were over 350 conference attendants and 11 agents. I think I pitched to three. For Thrillerfest there were 125 attendants and 42 (!!!) agents. I got to pitch to 13 agents and 11 of them wanted the first 100 pages. (OMG, OMG, OMG) And these weren't second tier agents. They were from THE premier NY agencies. If you go to the Thrillerfest link, you can see who they were.

The two agents that said no, were surprising. Well, one not so much, she was looking specifically for historical thrillers. Nope, I don't do that. The other one was really weird. He was the one that I expected to like my military thriller, but he thought it should be YA. Excuse me, swearing nasty soldiers getting blown to pieces in YA???

Thursday night there was a small reception to open up the real Thrillerfest. Earlier in the day I had received an email from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots association updating what's new in aviation, because I am a pilot. There was a story about an author named David Morrell who had just received his pilot's license. Turns out David is one of the key players in Thrillerfest and a prolific author. So I walked up, introduced myself as a pilot and spent about 5 mintues talking pilot stuff. We hit it off well and had some interesting discussions. I told him about my aviation thriller and he seemed interested. (more on this later) Just in case you were wondering who David was, he invented Rambo.

Friday morning's first session was on why we like spies. The panel included Brett Battles, Joseph Finder (one of my favorite authors), Mark Greaney, Gayle Lynds (spy expert), and David Morrell. Before the session started I continued my discussion with David Morrell and offered him a copy of Lost in the Sky, my aviation thriller. He took it from me but they quickly said he couldn't take it. I asked why. He turned to me and said, "because you haven't signed it yet" I took care of that and he took his position on the panel holding my book. (wow!)

The conclusion about why like spies, turned out to be, because we like secrets. Makes sense to me.

The next session asked does technology twist the plot. Authors like Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, Andrew Grant, Chris Kuzneski, and M.J. Rose were on the panel. This panel was close to my heart because that's pretty much what I write, the unintended consequences of technology. The conclusion was that in thrillers, the technology drives the plot.

Right after lunch there was a session with a number of CIA agents. They didn't reveal a lot of secrets in the panel, but they did talk at length about the amount of information that now exists on the CIA public website. It's a lot.

The fun part was that after the session I was in a three way conversation with author Steve Martini, and a CIA agent discussing secret plots. Pretty friggin cool.

The last two sessions that I attended were How far can violence go in a thriller, and Do you worry that you are giving terrorists ideas. There were certain boundaries that most of the authors would not cross from a violence point of view, mainly because too much, makes the book and character boring. The character has to have contrasting characteristics, or they seem cardboard. As far as giving terrorists ideas, General A. J. Tata summed it up best when he said that he wasn't worried, he'd been dealing with their tactics for years and nothing they do seem to come from fiction books.

And that was where I stopped. I took Saturday off and did some touristy stuff. I was just too burned out to attend anymore sessions.

So what did I learn? I have blogged in the past that meeting agents in person really doesn't buy you much. I was amazed at the reception that I received at Thrillerfest. I think there is one important difference between meeting agents there, and typical writing conferences. The agents at Thrillerfest were specifically looking for thrillers. So I don't have an agent yet, but if the response was any clue, I think a targeted conference does make a difference.

I met some amazing authors, attended some great sessions, and even though it cost me quite a few bucks, I felt it was worth it, and plan on going next year.


  1. Wow that sounds amazing and congrats on your submission requests (best of luck!!)

    I also attended a Donald Maass session at the San Francisco Writers' Conference, he is indeed an incredible speaker.

  2. Wow, you certainly found the thrill in that conference! Best of luck with the partials.

  3. I couldn't agree more. ThrillerFest was among the very best conferences I've ever attended.

    Can't freakin' wait till next year.

  4. Great stuff! Now, I wish I'd gone and I don't write thrillers. I do write romantic suspense, which isn't too far off though.

    Lynnette Labelle

  5. wow. i am blown away. your experience sounds simply incredible...i'm so excited for you -- and *t*h*r*i*l*l*e*d that you went because now you can relate all you've learned to us!!! woot :)

    (good luck w/ the queries/partials!)


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