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I'm back from my annual whirlwind trip to New York City for ThrillerFest – will there ever be a visit to NYC with no whirl and no wind? – and of course I had the best time.
The energy at this year's conference felt very different. While last year's event was great (especially for my first in-person conference since the pandemic), this year's ThrillerFest was just next level.
One of the first things I noticed was how much younger the event felt. Don't get me wrong, there were still old-timers like me wandering around, complaining they forgot their reading glasses and using their phone flashlights to read menus. But I was happy to see so many bookstagrammers attend this year, as well as more authors under the age of 40, and more diversity. Things have changed since my first conference in 2009, and for the better. (And yes, I do consider myself an old-timer. Having been to ten ThrillerFests in 14 years, I’m an OG now, as the kids say).
Here are a few of the highlights from the weekend (and you can always check out my Instagram for more photos):
I had a lovely lunch with my editor Keith, my publicist Sarah, my marketer Martin, and my agent Victoria. In the six years I've been with Minotaur Books, this was the first time we've all been able to get together at the same time, and I admit I felt a tiny bit emotional. This is the team that built my career. So okay, I had to write the books and stuff, but nobody would have ever read them if not for the hard work of these amazing people. And wow, am I ever lucky to work with them.
I also got to have dinner with authors I've been fangirling over for years (and in some cases, decades). Here’s a selfie from one of those dinners (or an “ussie,” if you watch Ted Lasso) with Wanda Morris, Lisa Unger, Dervla McTiernan, Lisa Gardner, and Karin Slaughter. So. Much. Laughing.
And of course there were the panels. I was assigned to two - an award nominees panel on Friday, and a panel about villains on Saturday. The second one was moderated by Brian Andrews, and featured James Comey (yes, that James Comey, the former director of the FBI, who just published a thriller), Alma Katsu, Dervla McTiernan, Karin Slaughter, and me. (Jeffery Deaver was also a panelist, but he couldn't make it). I'm told we were quite entertaining, but with this lineup, how could we not be?
Fun fact: Alma and I were on the debut author's breakfast panel back in 2011, when we were both published by Gallery Books. I remember very clearly how nervous I was, having to stand up in front of a ballroom full of people eating bacon and eggs, and talk about my first novel. I actually chose not to talk about it, and instead shared with the audience what it was like to have Jeffery Deaver, an author I'd been reading forever, endorse my debut thriller, Creep.
And the keynote speaker of that breakfast, the rock star author who welcomed me, Alma, and all the other 2011 debuts into the fold?
As I said to Alma after our panel with Comey, I can't believe we're still here. We've come a long way, baby.
And now for the big news…
Things We Do in the Dark won the Thriller Award for Best Audiobook!
Let me just say, it's absolutely bananas being at an awards ceremony as a nominee, and even more so this year, as I was nominated for two. I never, ever go into it thinking I could possibly win, and yet I'm nervous as hell, anyway. How does that even make sense?
My 8-year-old snapped this photo of me waiting for the elevator:
To prepare for the evening's gala, I did the same thing I did back in 2019 when I was nominated for Jar of Hearts. I didn't write out a thank-you speech, but I did quickly scrawl a list of names on two small sheets of hotel stationery just in case, and stuck them in my purse.
Here’s me with Tosca Lee, the hardworking VP of Awards for ITW [photo credit: Tosca Lee]:
And I love this pre-banquet photo with Shawn Cosby and Heather Chavez [Photo credit: Heather Chavez]:
The Best Hardcover Novel Award went to Catriona Ward for her book Sundial, and it was much deserved! While I admit to feeling a teeny tiny prick of disappointment at not hearing my name called, it passed lightning quick. After all, I was sitting at a table surrounded by my agent and the entire Minotaur team, who'd just been honored with the Thriller Legend Award. What was there to feel bad about?
And here's what I also know, having lost far more awards than I've won: it's a really, really great feeling to be happy for someone else.
Here’s me with my agent, Victoria, at our banquet table. She’s been my agent for 13 years now - longer than either of my marriages, HA! She signed me on February 5, 2010 (yes, I still remember the exact date, because it basically changed my life).
Being perimenopausal, my hot flashes are triggered by stress and alcohol. Up until the hardcover winner was announced, the evening had felt like one long hot flash, and so I hadn't allowed myself to drink because I knew it would only make it worse. But once the hardcover winner was announced, I totally relaxed. My body temperature dropped. My lovely publicist poured me a glass of wine. I became more chatty, more present, more there.
And then my name was called as the winner of the Best Audiobook Award.
List! Where's my list of my names?! I’d written two separate lists of people to thank for each nomination, and neither was in my blingy-but-cheap evening bag where I’d just seen them a few minutes earlier. So, armed with absolutely nothing, I walked up onto the huge stage, accepted my trophy, and then stood at the podium with the bright lights directly in my face, which made it impossible to see anything or anyone.
And then I said… words.
A decent amount of words, apparently. Which words exactly, I don't quite remember, but I do know I was up there longer than I thought I'd be. I'm told it was a lovely speech? But also my friends are kind and will totally lie to make me feel better.
What I do remember are all the emotions I cycled through when I was up on that stage. Shocked. Overjoyed. Humbled. Inspired. And so, so grateful.
I'm so thankful for this award, and for everything Macmillan Audio and Minotaur have done for Things We Do in the Dark. I only wish that the book's narrator, Carla Vega, could have been there to accept it with me. This award is as much hers as it is mine.
Thank you, Carla, for elevating my story with your incredible voice, and for making my words sing.
As for the missing list of names, I found it at the end of the night on the floor under my chair. Which just proves that, no matter how well you plan, you can never be fully prepared for life's greatest moments.
Here’s me after the banquet with my editor, Keith Kahla:
Huge thanks to ITW and all the judges, and congratulations to all the Thriller Award winners and nominees!
2019 and 2023. Just… wow.
Final thoughts about ThrillerFest
It turns out that many of my favorite moments from the conference were actually not documented anywhere on socials:
Traveling into New York City with my close friend Hannah Mary McKinnon, once we realized we’d booked the same flight. (Her instant bestseller, The Revenge List, is out now).
Several conversations with my good friend Shawn Cosby and his wonderful wife, Kim. I’m so proud of him I could burst. (His new book, All the Sinners Bleed, came out yesterday and received a terrific review in The New York Times from Stephen King).
Watching Shawn introduce himself to Michael Connelly. Except he really didn’t have to in the end, because Connelly already knew who he was!
Hiding out in a quiet corridor with my old friend Riley Sager (who gets mobbed by fans every two seconds) for a whole hour, the two of us sitting on the floor with our coffees, finally able to catch up on everything that’s happened in the past few years. This uninterrupted time with him was a long-overdue treat. (Riley’s new book, The Only One Left, is coming out on June 20).
My sweet friend Vanessa Lillie giving me her morning coffee before my panel when I didn’t have time to grab my own. Later, a bunch of us hung out in her suite, where she read everyone’s Tarot cards. She had so many interesting things to tell me. She also read cards for me last year, and everything she said was bang on. (Vanessa’s new book, Blood Sisters, will be out on October 31st, so be sure to pre-order it).
Having a normal conversation with James Comey and two other authors in a quiet hallway after our panel. I’ve actually been thinking about this one a lot.
A fun meet-up in the hotel bar with members of the Crime Writers of Color group.
Running into writer friends on the street after getting lost with Hannah in Times Square.
My son, up way past his bedtime, sneaking into the post-banquet cocktail party, running up to me, and giving me the best and longest hug after I won the Audiobook award.
One of the reasons I love ThrillerFest (other than that it's in NYC every year) is that it's a clear way to mark my growth as an author. And, despite how it sometimes feels on the inside, I have grown. Ever since I first got published, I've had this super annoying, self-deprecating thing I’d do where I'd still behave as if I was new and maybe didn’t even belong at events like ThrillerFest. Did I think it was cute, or endearing? I don't know, but I did it ALL. THE. TIME.
A friend finally called me out on it back in 2019:
Me: I’m so nervous. I can't imagine anyone will care what I have to say on my panel.
Friend: Don’t do that. You’ve been around for a while now, and you need stop acting like a wide-eyed newbie. That's not you anymore, and it's getting old.
Was this friend a blunt mofo? Yes. Was he correct? Also yes.
And then, in 2022, variations of the following conversation, multiple times, with multiple people:
Friend: Congratulations on Things We Do in the Dark! So happy for you!
Me (a.k.a. Eeyore): Aw, thank you! But you know, this business is so hard. Who knows how it will do. The book could totally flop.
My agent, once the friend leaves: Honey, I'm as self-deprecating as they come, but watching you diminish yourself in real time, over and over again, is quite something. Just say thank you.
So once again, from the deep recesses of my dark thriller writer heart, thank you.