Surprises at Every Turn: ThrillerFest 2013

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Community

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending ThrillerFest, a fantastic event from International Thriller Writers (ITW). Like last year, the theme that tied together my ThrillerFest experience can be summed in three words: “Expect the unexpected.”

You might assume an event put on by thriller writers would have an icy vibe. You might assume the conference would reflect the grit and darkness found in stories by the authors in attendance. You might even assume that a “genre conference” such as this would flit across the surface of writing craft. And you would be wrong on all counts.

No Chills, Just Thrills

The truth is that thriller writers are among the friendliest, warmest members of the literary family and ThrillerFest reflects that welcoming attitude. Coming back for a second year was like going to a summer camp reunion, only the campus is in the heart of New York City and instead of macrame and capture the flag, it’s all about books and writing.

But the warmth of this conference goes far beyond making friends and welcoming newbie authors into the fold. This is one of the few writing events I have attended where service is an integral part of what the organization stands for and this fact speaks volumes about ITW as a community. Not only is there an army of volunteers helping the event run smoothly, but this is one of the few writing organizations I’ve seen that prominently honors community service among its members.

Not Much Dark, But Lots of Heart

As for the grit and darkness-quotient, nothing about ThrillerFest could be farther from that. These writers know how to have fun and they throw a darn good party. I have a theory that thriller writers express their sinister sides on the page so they can be more joyful in their actual lives. This past week’s celebration is a case in point.

There was joy at every turn: from a hilarious musical performance by Michael Palmer, Brad Parks and Daniel Palmer (pictured above from left to right) to a fall-out-of-your-seat-laughing speech by Goosebumps author and Thriller Master R.L. Stine. You can tell just by watching these writers interact that there’s a lot of love in this community. Their pages might be filled with monsters, but put these writers together in a room and all you see is heart.

And Did I Mention Smart?

Finally, if you think all there is to writing thrillers is a good premise and a plot the moves along, you’d be dead wrong. The line-up at CraftFest (the pre-ThrillerFest all-craft conference) proves that while these writers might be lighthearted in person, they are also serious about their work. Add to that the ThrillerFest schedule, alternating between high quality panels and big-name interviews, and you get a truly top-notch event. The speakers roster reads like a bestsellers list and the biggest challenge attendees face is deciding which tracks to attend. (Anyone figured out self-cloning yet?)

But what I love most about this event is that it’s not just for thriller writers. Several attendees and speakers at the conference don’t classify themselves strictly as authors of thrillers, but instead use thriller elements in completely different genres or categories. One attendee confided in me that while her books were not at all thrillers, she wanted to learn how to keep her readers turning pages and ThrillerFest seemed like the logical place to go. I couldn’t agree more.

After two years of attending, ThrillerFest has earned its spot among my top conference picks of the year. Stay tuned over the next few weeks as Bess Cozby (DIY MFA Web Editor extraordinaire) and I share more articles and photos from the awesome event.

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