Visit to Thrillerfest 2018: Craftfest

IMG_0168I promised a blog entry about my experience at Thrillerfest 2018, and here it is.

Thrillerfest ran from July 10-14, 2018, and, like recent Thrillerfests, was held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City. It has three components, Craftfest, Pitchfest, and Thrillerfest. In addition, there are several other events associated with Thrillerfest. Mastercraftfest, in which small full-day classes with a well-published thriller writer are offered, and a full day presentation by the Alcohol, Tobbaco, and Firearms Bureau. There are a large and sometimes bewildering number of pricing combinations for these events. Even one-day passes are possible. I attended Craftfest and Thrillerfest, and volunteered for a number of related events. I aim to write three blog entries, one for Craftfest, one for Thrillerfest, and one describing my volunteer experience. This entry describes what I experienced at Craftfest.

Craftfest is composed of a number of standalone classes lasting 50 minutes, on various topics relating to the thriller writing world. It lasts the entire first day of Thrillerfest and half of the second day. This is a great place to start for the aspiring thriller writer. My own background does not include a lot of formal writing training and absolutely no training whatsoever in writing any kind of novel. Most of what I heard was all new to me. The first session I attended was “Writing Authentic Heroines” run by Terri Nolan.  Then I attended a session by D.P. Lyle on “Making your Characters Come Alive” followed by a session by David Corbett on “Watsons, Wheelmen, and Sympathetic Heavies”, very informative sessions on character development. I felt I need a lot of work on my character development, particularly women characters, so I attended sessions that appeared to fill that need. A complete list of Craftfest 2018 can be found at Each session was well attended, well prepared, and pertinent to the announced theme. I found these sessions informative, energizing, and simultaneously intimidating. These authors put a lot of sweat into their work. A large lunch was included in the registration, and they announced the winners of the “Best First Line” contest. Hearing some terrific first lines was really fun. The main event of the lunch was a discussion of the publishing world by Neil Lyren, the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of G.P. Putnam’s Sons who was interviewed by John Sanford.

After lunch, I sat in on a session by Robert Dugoni on “Story Structure” that was very well done.

I attended a session taught by Paul Wilson, the creator of the “Repairman Jack” character and he is one of the best in my opinion.  The high point given was a reading of his descriptions of the same office from two different points of view. The descriptions included as much exposition of the characters describing the office  as they do about the office that was being described by these two very different characters. It was an example of the writing craft at its best. I also attended a session on “Bad Guys, Villains, and Antagonists, Oh My!” in which Cara Buckley and Jenny Milchman discussed classic protagonist types.

There was a cocktail party in the early evening in which a lot of Craftfest attendees mingled with the instructors at the event. It was a two hour event with very light hors d’oeurves and a cash bar. Each registrant for Craftfest was given a free drink ticket as part of their package. There was a lot of discussion and angst about the upcoming Pitchfest event and much practice pitching of the books the authors had written. It was a very friendly event, and provided a lot of good networking opportunities.

The second day of Craftfest included a half day of instructional presentations. I attended one session taught by Grant Blackwood on “The Premise Line” in which he discussed his method of coming up with a one-line summary of your plot, which is extremely handy for pitching your work as well as a method of keeping you on track while you write. I also attended a session on “Using TV Writing Techniques to Make Your Thriller Move Like a Rocket”. I felt that I was very far away from writing for television or doing a screenplay, I found this presentation highly entertaining and surprisingly pertinent to writing a thriller.

There were many more presentations that I did not attend, the most notable being on how to pitch your manuscript in preparation for Pitchfest, and how to manage the business aspects of thriller writing. I had attended Many of these sessions at earlier Thrillerfests, but did not attend them due to scheduling conflicts or volunteering assignments. Thrillerfest makes an audio recording of all sessions, and makes them available for sale, so it is possible to obtain a recording of all events, even the ones you did not attend.

In addition to the formal sessions, there is a bookstore at the conference site run this year by Strand Books. Works by a large number of thriller authors, especially those attending Thrillerfest, were available for sale. There are numerous book signings throughout the conference, in which you can obtain a signed copy of some book you admire, have a short conversation with the author, and even have a selfie taken if the author agrees to it. I have yet to hear of any unfriendly authors at this conference, and most really like to converse with their readers.

To summarize, Craftfest was really great for an aspiring thriller writer, or even just a fan of thrillers to attend. It is inspiring and intimidating at the same time. To hear the stories such as  Steve Berry’s 58 rejections before he was successful makes you admire his persistence, but presents the realities of the book publishing process. There is no sugar coating here. The advice “Don’t quit your day job…” is freely given. The discussions of craft were very relevant to someone at my stage of writing. This was my third Thrillerfest, and I am still learning new things even after having written a first draft of a thriller. On the other hand, these successful authors work very hard at their craft, but make it look easy. Simultaneously inspiring and intimidating!



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