Sunday, July 20, 2008

Thrillerfest wrap-up

Okay, 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. 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 tonight - Sunday, 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.


Bobby Mangahas said...

Wow, Alex, it sounds like a good time was had. Thrillerfest is a con that I'd really like to get too, but it's that cost thing.

I think a prep session before Agentfest sounds like a great idea.

Crimebake, the yearly confrence put on jointly by the New England Chapters of MWA and SinC, does have a prep session the night before the pitches. I went it to it last year and found it pretty helpful. This year however, is the year I go to it again so I can be ready to make my pitch.

Anonymous said...

Okay, that's really helpful, RJ. How long is the Crimebake prep session? Can you tell me a little about the format, who runs it, how many people, etc?

Bobby Mangahas said...

The prep session ran roughly between an hour and an hour and a half. It was run by Lynne Heitman. I think there were between 50-75 people there, I really couldn't tell.

The first thing we did was discuss some key steps for developing a pitch , the elements of a pitch, the difference between a short pitch and and extended pitch, and probably most important, how to immediately hook your reader.

Next, volunteers tried their pitches on the entire group. After that, the group was divided into smaller ones, with each group being led by an agent or editor. In the group we basically developed our pitches.

Another helpful thing learned was what NOT to say during your pitch such as "My novel is timely, so you have to act now" or "My book is the next (big name here)."

The Crimebake website also offers a few quick tips for the pitching session.

Marcia Colette said...

As always, you give the best conference wrap-ups. You're slowly turning me on to this conference. And it's not like I don't have a reason to go since I have friends who live in NY. ;-)