Monday, July 13, 2009

ThrillerFest Report

Keith here, in one piece but exhausted.

With Sophie Littlefield, Alex Sokoloff, and Jim Rollins at ThrillerFest.
(I'm drinking regular iced tea. Honest.)

I left home on Sunday July 5 and got home last night. The first four days of the trip I visited my daughter in Boston. I'd arranged for researcher passes, and we searched through the archives at the JFK Presidential Library to explore an idea for a thriller. Did everyone but me know he got a D+ in European History?

My daughter is a college student and knows how to cut corners. She recommended the Bolt Bus which left the train station in Boston at 10.30 AM Thursday and delivered us to Penn Station in NYC four hours later. I really lucked out by sitting next to Hallie Ephron, who is as good a conversationalist as she is writer and reviewer. I also managed a few pages of the terrific Prime Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan. The time whizzed by. (Did I mention the ticket cost $10?)

Thursday night the opening reception at ThrillerFest was sponsored by Writers House, my literary agency. While everyone else was imbibing, the other Writers House authors and I (I was next to fave M.J. Rose) were signing books. That night my agent Josh took me and James Phelan, who is plotting world literary domination from his base in Melbourne, Australia, out for sushi.

The next morning I met with Carol Fitzgerald and Erin Quinn of The Book Report to discuss revisions to Good things are coming. From there I toddled over to see old pal Rick Wolff of Grand Central Books. Friday afternoon I managed to hit a couple panels, one with Simon Lipskar of Writers House acting as a family counselor between authors and editors and the next with Hallie, Doug Preston, and more on creating great villains. After, I bought Joe Moore, co-president designate of International Thriller Writers, a drink, but one without the umbrella that I thought he favored. Two beers with tip ran $23. That's the downside of NYC. Joe and I finished our brewskis at 5.45 at the bar in the Grand Hyatt at Grand Central. I was supposed to meet friends Ian, Lexa, and Sam, my much put-upon hosts when I visit to NYC, at Telepan at 6. God bless the subway. I was seated at 6.04, although there was the incident when the subway doors shut on my glasses along the way. Great to spend some time with them and enjoy that sublime smoked trout appetizer.

Saturday morning I had the best of intentions. I got to the Grand Hyatt with the panels I planned on attending all picked out. But I sat down for a minute in the lobby with homegirl Sophie Littlefield, whose Bad Day for Sorry is out next month, and with old bud Alex Sokoloff, who would win a Thriller Award later that night. Then came Sophie's Shamus-winning brother Michael Wiecek and then Maggie and Sheila.... Well, you get the idea. Never quite made it to any morning panels. I did sneak in to hear most of Doug Preston's interview of Sandra Brown, who is charming, beautiful, and articulate. She sold me. I'm going to give one of her 57 New York Times bestsellers a try.

Any hope of making it to the afternoon sessions started to evaporate when I ran into Becky Cantrell, whose A Trace of Smoke has been garnering praise everywhere. We gathered up Andy Peterson, Bobby Rotenberg, Pam Callow, C.J. Lyons, Shane Gericke, and more and found a place that would serve us sandwiches. Shane's theory about thong underwear and female police officers was pooh-poohed by the women at the table. Just as we were going to split up, Jim Rollins strolled by. Jim's The Doomsday Key is #2 this week on the NY Times bestseller list (not shabby). (#4 loved the autographed copy of Jim's Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow that I brought home for him.) We retired to the hotel bar with Jim, his partner David, and Sophie. We managed to stumble across Alex again and ITW co-founder Gayle Lynds whose terrific The Last Spymaster I read just last week. Gayle and I compared notes. She's busy writing about the tunnels underneath Moscow while I'm writing about what's under the streets of Jerusalem. We got so caught up in the conversation, I almost missed my own panel.

The panel was scheduled at 4, in the last slot before the pre-awards banquet reception. Other panels we were up against boasted writers like Eric Van Lustbader, Karin Slaughter, Joe Finder, David Hewson, David Liss, Brad Meltzer, and M.J. Rose. I was amazed to find 30 people ready to listen to us prattle on about "Do We Need Another Hero?" Under Tony Tata's expert guidance, Andy Harp, Ward Larson, Paul Wilson, and I talked about what writers needed to do to make their protagonists shine with appeal and originality. My first suggestion was to make them bald. Anyway, I did voice my opinion that we don't need another protagonist who is consumed by work, is divorced but with strong feelings toward an ex, and has problems with alcohol and a precocious child.

At the banquet I was at the Writers House table with, among others, agents Simon Lipskar and Dan Conaway, James Phelan, Charlie Newton (whom I'd interviewed about his Calumet City, nominated for both an Edgar and Thriller Award, but never met face to face), Josh Gaylord whose Hummingbirds will be out this fall and whom I'd met on the phone without knowing who his wife was, and that very wife, the brilliant Megan Abbott. I was so tickled with Alex's win for best short story.
Last year, after the banquet I found myself in a midtown Irish bar with Dusty Rhoades, Tom O'Callaghan, Tasha Alexander, and Sean Chercover, among others. When I suggested to Sean we do it again, he was up for it, but I was bluffing. Home by 1.30 this year.

Liz Berry, Kathy Antrim, Shane Gericke. Shirley Kennett, Steve Berry, and the whole ITW team did an amazing job. In the face of this economy, attendance was up.

Display at airport bookstore

At the airport on Sunday went to the book stall to pick up a paper and saw the display of Jim Rollins' The Doomsday Key. There it is above. Terrific. Not a nicer guy in the biz. On the flight itself, I was on American to SFO, seat 37G. Guess who were in 37 H and J? The effervescent, Bruce Alexander Award-winning Kelli Stanley and partner Tana. I read the Sunday Times, did the crossword, discussed the previous three days with my seatmates, and listened to some of the compelling things Kelli had turned up in her research. Also promised Tana that Dot Dead wasn't too dark for her tastes and that no dogs were hurt in the book.

Home now. Beat but with a pile of to-dos as high as an elephant's eye.


G.M. Malliet said...

Great, great reporting, Keith, especially since you're tired. Do you constantly take notes or do you have total recall?

Keith Raffel said...

Gin, neither. I write fiction.

Julia Buckley said...

Conferences are fun, but exhausting, no?

This brings up the question for me about mysteries and thrillers again. Aren't a lot of the people you listed (and you) officially mystery writers?

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

It sounds like ThrillerFest had a ton of great authors there (including you, of course!)

Good point about the need for original protagonists. I get tired of precocious kids, too.

I think I'm still in shock over the price of the beers!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Alan Orloff said...


It sounds like you had a fantastic time. I think I'm going to hire you as my conference consultant, next time I go to one. And I am planning on being at next year's Thrillerfest. I can't wait.

Thanks for giving us the rundown. Now get some rest!

(and if not bald heroes, at least ones with graying hair!)

Lisa Bork said...

Wow, sounds like non-stop activity but fun catching up with friends, too. Glad you had a good time.

Keith Raffel said...

Julia, I kind of think of a mystery as a whodunnit and a thriller as a can-we-stop-'em-in-time. Lots of overlap. Lee Child edited the first thriller anthology for Int'l Thriller Writers and now is president of, you guessed it, Mystery Writers of America.

Alan, no, I am adamant. Bald.

Elizabeth, you should have seen the dinner bill! Lisa, thanks.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Well, Keith--I can report that every time I saw you, you were surrounded by pals and fans and looking extremely happy!

And I do want to thank you for the adorable inscription your wrote in my copy of Dot Dead. I treasure it! But I will never tell anyone what you wrote...our secret.

Hope to see you soon..

Kelli Stanley said...

I think that was the best time we've ever had on a plane, Keith ... I'm thinking we've got to make sure we always book in your row. :)

Thanks for the wonderful conversation and I'm just really excited about that Boston research project, so please -- write the damn thing!! ;)

BTW--the gentleman with the panama wanted to know our names/books, etc., and approached us at the luggage carousel ... he said he will definitely look up Dot Dead. :)

Get some rest, sweetie--and see you soon!



Deborah Sharp said...

You da man, Keith! I need a nap after simply READING about the pace you kept at Thrillerfest (plus, that trans-USA flite. Yikes!)
BUT ... I have plans to travel in my pick-up truck two hours north to Okeechobee, Fla., for the National Day of the American Cowboy. Top THAT, Mr. Thriller Writer!

Keith Raffel said...

Hank, Kelli, great hanging out with you both! Let's do it again! Deborah, they're celebrating cowboys in Florida? Here in Palo Alto, that's the Wild West.

Anonymous said...

Wow-you met James Rollins? And sat down with him for a photo? How cool is that?

Stephen Tremp

Keith Raffel said...

Stephen, very cool. Jim is a great guy.

Sophie Littlefield said...

y'all believe Keith was drinking *tea*?? Sheesh.