ThrillerFest: Day One

Dan Conaway interviews Spotlight Guest Greg Iles at ThrillerFest 15

The mood of ThrillerFest is palpably different from CraftFest. There’s more excitement and the personalities come out. Such as Brad Parks, author of the Carter Ross mysteries, recognizable as the tall thin man in the gray suit, and Karin Slaughter, dressed all in black with a short blonde bob, but both are unforgettable with their sharp timing and wit. Slaughter interviewed Charlaine Harris, powerhouse author of the Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) novels, and it was a great hour of back-and-forth between two smart Southern women who aren’t afraid to speak their minds. Life Hack: If your decision is greeted with “What a bold choice,” perhaps you ought to reconsider!

Both Slaughter and Harris have trained in martial arts and spoke of the empowerment it delivers, something I know myself. Their eyes lit up as they discussed the first time they punched someone in the face in training, and I assure you, that’s no hyperbole. I also met a few nervous people at ThrillerFest—relatively new authors, or media people not yet used to the crowds—and while a public speaking course might help, so might a few months of going to the right dojo. Lighten up, folks! We’re all friends here. As a rule, crime fiction and thriller writers put the knives in their stories, not in each other’s backs.

Author Greg Iles, interviewed by agent Dan Conaway, said about the same thing. I'm paraphrasing, roughly, “Other than three jerks, we’re a nice bunch.”  Iles would not name names, despite an audience member’s plea. His interview was quite entertaining as he walked through the risky choices he made throughout his career. He reminded writers that he’s not a role model, and if you want to stick to your guns, you had better believe in your heart of hearts that you are right, because some of the risks he took could’ve been career-ending. My favorite story, which “says all you need to know about publishing,” revolved around his novel Footprints of God, which his publisher did not want to publish. He stood his ground, and changed their minds after asking a friend if he thought Dan Brown—right after The DaVinci Code hit—would blurb him. The friend said no, but Iles shipped his manuscript to Dan Brown anyway, and got lucky. That blurb changed his publisher’s mind, and the book was a bestseller.

There were a few other, dry panels (I chose unwisely, and did not want to walk out mid-panel) and then the cocktail party, where everyone rubbed elbows over drinks. Some feel that these moments are the “best part” of any convention, and I can’t disagree. The badges usually come off, so you need to recognize people if you want to have a brief, polite chat, but most writers are friendly. They know that to be a good writer in any genre, you need to be a fan and to know the market. So why alienate a fan?

Photo courtesy of the International Thriller Writers Organization Facebook Page.

Thomas Pluck writes unflinching fiction with heart. He hosts Noir at the Bar in Manhattan. You can find him online at and on Twitter as @thomaspluck.