Specials to the Big Thrill

A Crime Writer’s Guide to Raising Kids by Allison Brennan

Compulsion by Allison BrennanBy Allison Brennan

While I was driving my twelve-year-old daughter home from softball practice last week, she told me about her day—including an irate commentary about her history lesson. “Did you know that in Athens, women were considered the property of their husbands?”

Before I could respond, she continued. “I told Mr. B that if I lived in Athens back then, I’d kill my husband, hide his body, and tell everyone he disappeared.”

While I appreciate her independence and strong sense of gender equality, I fear I’ve ruined my kids. That, after writing twenty-five crime novels including my latest, COMPULSION, I’m raising five children who are plotting the perfect murder. I reminded her that we believe in Heaven and Hell and while there may be a perfect murder, she wouldn’t want to go to Hell later.

Yet, a little piece of my heart was so very, very proud.

Even before I wrote crime thrillers, I was interested in crime. I don’t know if it started with my love of Trixie Belden (age eight), or Nancy Drew (age ten), or Agatha Christie (age twelve.) In Cold Blood was the first true crime novel I read when I was in eighth grade, and for years I devoured both true and fictional crime stories.

When I worked in the California State Legislature, one of my jobs was to read public safety legislation then explain—in one page or less—what the bill would actually do, both pro and con. This analysis gave me not only an understanding of crime in California, but the ability to look at all sides of an issue. In this capacity, I read the news daily, and even when I left the Legislature, I kept up with current events, particularly related to crime.

So it’s not really surprising when, years later, my oldest daughter wanted a MySpace page (yes, this was many years ago), I printed out a slew of articles where girls had been beaten, raped or murdered because they’d hooked up with someone they met online. One of the saddest stories was a girl who lived only an hour from our hometown who had a private MySpace page. Her best friend posted information about a party and “tagged” her. A young man who had been stalking this girl showed up, kidnapped, raped, and murdered her, then dumped her body in the delta.
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International Thrills: An Interview with Adrian McKinty

gun street girl_coverBy Layton Green

I love international crime fiction—thus this column—and I’d long wanted to read something set during the Troubles (the brutal internecine conflict over the constitutional status of Northern Ireland that I remember so vividly from my youth.) Adrian McKinty, an award-winning Irish writer who grew up in Belfast, was recommended to me by a friend, and so I picked up a copy of GUN STREET GIRL, Adrian’s latest novel featuring Detective Sean Duffy, a Catholic police officer working the mean streets of Belfast during the Troubles.

And what an inspired recommendation it was. A fascinating mystery grounded in historical events, a setting that taught me something about the world, and spare but beautiful prose: GUN STREET GIRL was just what I wanted.

A little about Adrian: he’s written sixteen books in total, including four in the Detective Sean Duffy series. The first three form a loose trilogy, though Adrian tells me that any of the four can be read as standalones. While I’m itching to read the first three, I certainly had no problem jumping right in with GUN STREET GIRL.

Adrian’s complete list of awards and nominations is too lengthy to include. Some of the highlights: he’s been called a “master of modern noir” by The Guardian, and “one of his generation’s leading talents” by Publishers Weekly; he won the 2014 Barry Award for I Hear the Sirens in the Street (an Detective Sean Duffy novel), for which he was also shortlisted for the 2014 Grand Prix de Littérature Policière; The Dead Yard was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the twelve Best Novels of 2006 and won the 2007 Audie Award for best thriller/suspense; In the Morning I’ll Be Gone won the 2014 Ned Kelly Award for best fiction, was shortlisted for the 2015 Audie Award for Best Thriller, and was named as one of the ten best crime novels of 2014 by the American Library Association.
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Special to the Big Thrill: Why We Love the Political Thriller by Steve P. Vincent

From Fleming to Clancy and Beyond:

Why We Love the Political Thriller

the_foundation_cover_150_awBy Steve P. Vincent

We love a political thriller.

We love goodies and baddies, edge-of-your-seat suspense, epic stakes and politics far sexier than your average strongly-worded UN Security Council Resolution. But what’s remarkable is how robust the genre has proven to be in film and fiction; its evolution from James Bond through the Cold War to now. The political thriller remains a staple of pop culture storytelling.

Things were easy right up until the fall of the Berlin Wall: Western (usually American) hero battles maniacal USSR villain with earth-scorching consequences if he loses. Yet after spinning its wheels through the mid-90s with nobody to worry about, the genre found the road again, with the rise of Islamic terrorism and China as popular fears in Western storytelling. In doing so, the genre has shown itself to be the lens that reveals the collective fear of the time.

Ian Fleming and Tom Clancy, among others, toiled easily in the fertile soil of the Cold War, but both authors also showed a remarkable knack for predicting the next “other” that we’d fear. In Clancy’s case, some even considered his 1994 thriller Debt of Honor to be the blueprint for 9/11(extremists flying planes into buildings). In their work, political thriller authors give the audience what they want, but they also need to cast ahead for what the audience should worry about.

For the audience, the appeal is clear:

The hero. The villain. From James Bond to Jack Ryan to Jack Bauer to Carrie Mathison, the genre specializes in creating heroes who are fairly easy to cheer for. Combine that with shallow and entirely throwaway villains and an army of fanatics/terrorists/rebels/sycophants for all the black and white needed to pass a few hours in entertainment.
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Special to the Big Thrill: The Long Road to Collaboration by Grant Jerkins and Jan Thomas

Done in Fifteen Years:

The Long Road to Collaboration

doneinoneBy Grant Jerkins and Jan Thomas

Whenever a substantial creative endeavor (novel writing, film directing, music composition, etc.,) is accomplished by two or more people working together to achieve a single voice, the first things people want to know is: How did you come together to write the novel? And how did you do it?

In this Special to THE BIG THRILL, Grant Jerkins and Jan Thomas—co-authors of the police-sniper thriller, DONE IN ONE—take a look back at the unlikely circumstances that brought them together to write this “high-powered, bone-rattler of a novel.”

* * *

Grant Jerkins: In the late 90s, I was working primarily as a screenwriter. I’d written five spec scripts and managed to get a few of them optioned—one to a well-regarded director/producer/writer who had a critically-praised hit under his belt. He was the real deal, a Hollywood player, so naturally, I was excited at the opportunity.

I received no money for the option, and there were a lot of ups and downs with funding, casting, and rewriting my original script. During this process, the director told me about another screenplay he’d optioned—he loved it, but wanted to do a complete rewrite. He didn’t have the time, so he asked me to take a swing at it.

I was excited and proud that he wanted me to take this on, even though I was paid in promises and glitter. I was desperate for a break, a chance to make my mark, so I rewrote the script, putting everything I had into it. I thought it turned out quite well, preserving the best aspects of the original while injecting my own brand of storytelling.
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Special to the Big Thrill: The Importance of the Historical Thriller by Jerry Amernic

last witnessBy Jerry Amernic

From my observations, people, especially the young, are surprisingly ignorant of history. When I taught writing courses to college students, I was dumbfounded by how little they know about historical events.

That got me thinking about some important periods in history, and what a travesty it would be if they were forgotten, only to suffer the risk of history, as they say, repeating itself. Thus became THE LAST WITNESS, a novel about the last living survivor of the Holocaust. In the book, the character’s one hundredth birthday takes place in 2039, but the world has all but forgotten.

Like many novels, it was first turned down by various publishers, one of whom said he had to “suspend disbelief” with the premise that people would know so little about the Holocaust a mere one generation down the road.


To prove my point, I decided to make a video—but not your regular, book-promo thing. I had a mission. A videographer and I spent an afternoon asking university students in Toronto, where I live, what they know about the Holocaust. And since this was a few days before November 11th, we also asked them about World War II.

What did we find? Many students didn’t know what happened at the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, who FDR and Churchill were, or what the Holocaust was all about. “I’ve heard of the Holocaust but I can’t explain it,” one student said. When I asked how many Jews were killed, another said, “thousands”—which is a far cry from six million.

Not a single student knew what The Final Solution was, or had heard of Joseph Mengele, and most had no idea who the Allies were, and yet, our video was shot just before November 11th—Remembrance Day in Canada, Veterans Day in the United States. It made me wonder: What would a veteran who stormed the beaches of Normandy with Allied forces on June 6th, 1944 think knowing that university kids today know nothing about what happened that day?
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Special to the Big Thrill: The Room by Tim O’Mara

In something new for THE BIG THRILLBarry-nominated author Tim O’Mara, a special education teacher in New York public schools, wrote this great vignette.  It isn’t hard to see how his teaching led him to the world of detective fiction, with a series centered around a teacher / ex-cop who often gets involved with cases involving students or former students. —Eds

TOWebBanner_CrimeTapeThe Room

By Tim O’Mara

There’s something not quite right about the guy sitting across the table from me.

He knows it. I know it. But he’s not talking.

That’s why they called me. I have a rep for being good at getting guys like this to open up. If they go silent, it’s my job to pick up on the body language, subtle gestures, non-verbal clues.

After five minutes, I’m starting to think maybe they called in the wrong man. This guy’s as smart as they told me he was. Maybe smarter.

I decide to give him a task. Something to do that requires a set of skills unique to the situation.

He begins easily enough. He may be quiet and hard to figure out, but he’s willing to please. Most of them are. That’s what I count on. The quicker they give me what I want, the quicker they’re rid of me. That’s what they think, anyway.

I watch him for a while. I ease up out of my seat and walk to the back of the room. There’s usually not much to see from back here, but I give it a shot. I notice his back’s nice and straight. The head goes up and down more than it should, but that could just be a physical tick.

I move around to the side, just enough to give me an angle to observe as he continues to do what I asked. The head is still going up and down every three to five seconds. Too much. I complete my arc and stand in front of him. I check out his hands, his shoulders, his face.

And there it is. In the eyes. Poker players call it a “tell.” I call it squinting.

“You wear glasses?” I ask.
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Special to The Big Thrill: Thrilling Holiday Gifts

Six Mystery Bookstores Recommend Novels
You May Have Missed

By Barry Lancet

With the holidays approaching, the rush is on to find a seemingly endless string of perfect gifts. If you are passionate about thrillers and mysteries, why not pass on your enthusiasm to others? And what better way to do so, then introduce them to a new voice or a new discovery?

With that thought in mind, THE BIG THRILL asked a half dozen renowned mystery bookstores across the country to recommend the perfect gift. Our only criteria: they had to be books the stores loved—novels they regularly recommend to customers—that might have slipped below the radar this year.

The bookstores responded enthusiastically with an impressive array of twenty titles. So if you’re looking for gifts this year, check out the books below. And if you’re in the neighborhood, do yourself a favor and visit these iconic stores. Or visit them online, as every shop has a number of additional offerings, from book clubs to signed books to rare editions that can be sent anywhere—for a gift, or to add to your own collection.


1. enchanted-book-coverThis store is a required stopover for any crime-novel enthusiast heading to New York City. Founded by owner, editor, writer, and publisher Otto Penzler in 1979, the shop is celebrating its thirty-fifth anniversary this year. Aside from carrying an extensive catalog of mysteries and thrillers of every stripe, Mysterious Bookshop also stocks signed first editions, collector’s items, and “the largest collection of Sherlockiana in the world.” And should you be looking for a more expansive gift, consider a one-year subscription to one of its book clubs. Penzler and his crew also run Mysterious Press, which publishes books in paperback and digital editions. Ian Kern supplied these store picks for the holidays:
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SPECIAL TO THE BIG THRILL: The 1000 Thriller Giveaway

The Biggest & Best Book Contest Ever

1000books_banner_large_newBy Jenny Milchman

It won’t come as a surprise to readers of THE BIG THRILL that the International Thriller Writers is about to sponsor a contest the likes of which nobody has ever seen before. After all, this is an organization known for innovation; for vastly expanding the thriller world and building a unique community of readers, writers, authors, and fans. But giving away a thousand books? That seems like a tall order—a tall stack, that is—even for a group as envelope-pushing as this one.

Yet that is what’s about to happen.

For the past six months, titles by ITW members have been sent to an office in California that must by now resemble Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory…with books. Hot-off-the-press new releases, beloved and favorite titles, debut novels, and even advance reader copies normally impossible to get hold of except by reviewers and booksellers—all have been shipped from across the country and overseas, by FedEx and UPS and the US Postal Service workers, so that ITW can achieve the near-impossible.

Which is this: award twenty lucky winners a new book every single week for a year. Friends, that’s one thousand books. That’s a “kilobook.”

All readers have to do for a chance to win the jackpot is subscribe to THE BIG THRILL when the contest kicks off on November 1. And if you’re already receiving this all-thriller, all-the-time collection of interviews, stories, news, and reviews? No worries, you can sign up again, here.

Twenty winners will be chosen, and each will receive a brand-new book by an ITW author every week all year long. Winners can even raid their book bonanza for holiday shopping, because books will be shipped at the beginning of December.
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SPECIAL TO THE BIG THRILL: Movie and T.V. Action Scenes

How Hollywood Gets It Wrong

firearmsBy Chris Grall

In Elizabethan times, an ordinance was passed preventing men from wearing swords to the theater. Apparently, in an age where dueling was commonplace, the crowd could become overly enthusiastic and join the cast on stage during a fight scene. Because much of the audience knew how to fight, choreography was vitally important to the success of the production. If the fight scene was not convincing, the actors could be mocked or booed off the stage.

Today, action scenes are ubiquitous in movies and television, yet relatively few people are versed in violence and/or the operation of modern weapons. This allows directors and producers a lot of latitude when it comes to action scenes. Mistakes and errors are usually glossed over by the rapid pace of the show—it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to look good. For this reason, misinformation about firearms or tactics are often passed on from visual media to the literary world.

In the following sections, we’ll explore how and why some of these errors are created, how writers can recognize—and avoid—them.

Foley Errors

One of my favorite cinematic errors—and by “favorite” I mean something that makes my skin crawl—is the sound of a gun cocking when a character points a pistol at something. Not all guns need to be cocked before firing. Yet, in many scenes you will hear the weapon being cocked when it is pointed at a target.

The Foley artist adds these sound effects during post-production, since not all ambient noise are captured properly during filming. Sound cues are added to the action with the proper volume and reverberation in order to incite an emotional response from the viewer. The sound of a gun being cocked generates the expectation in the audience that the weapon is ready to be fired, regardless of how the weapon actually functions.
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Special to The Big Thrill: Domestic Suspense

Spouses Andrew Grant and Tasha Alexandra’s Separate Roads to the Bestseller List

tashaBy Dawn Ius

One can only image the murder, betrayal, and intrigue that goes on in the home of Andrew Grant and his wife Tasha Alexander. Luckily, and to the delight of their legions of fans, all of it occurs on the page.

Bestselling author Grant was a precocious six-year-old when he penned his first thriller—a riveting tale about giant tortoises escaping from the Dudley Zoo in what proved to be a vain attempt to rally the British people in ousting Queen Elizabeth II, and insisting on republic, rather than monarchy.

Quite a complicated story for a first grader—and, completely untrue, a humorous anecdote made up by Grant’s wife of four years, New York Times bestselling author, Tasha Alexander.

While it’s conceivable Grant may have once imagined monstrous turtles, the references to history are more likely to come from Alexander (backed by a full black Moleskine notebook’s worth of research, of course)—which is why the couple is happy to share individual successful writing careers, but perhaps never the same story.

“Ha! That is something that would never happen,” says Alexander. “Though it could be hysterical. Contemporary thriller hero meets Victorian lady?”

True, the two aren’t likely to split a byline any time soon, but the power couple will celebrate two book launches this month—Grant with his latest thriller, RUN, and Alexander with the ninth novel in her Lady Emily series, THE COUNTERFEIT HEIRESS.

RUN, a calculated deviation from Grant’s “secret agent” David Trevellyan series, is a high-octane thriller that, in part, explores the scary side of telecommunications. For instance, when you send an email, do you know who will read it aside from the addressee? Makes you think, right?

Over the course of a fictional week, Grant puts his protagonist through hell—he’s stalked, ambushed, wiretapped, arrested, duped, and triple crossed, until he can no longer tell his enemies from his allies.

The inspiration for the novel stemmed from the idea of taking an ordinary guy and seeing what happens when “his safe and familiar world is dismantled piece by agonizing piece.”

“My favorite part of creating a new character is adding the little details that make him human and distinctive,” says Grant. “In Marc Bowman’s case, it’s his love of Lichtenstein, and the way he ends up drawing a parallel between art and computer code.”
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Celebrating Ten Years of Innovation

By Kimberley Howe and Anthony J. Franze

It wouldn’t be summer in New York without hundreds of the country’s top thriller writers ascending on the Grand Hyatt for the International Thriller Writers’ annual conference, ThrillerFest. It’s a place where a new writer can get discovered, an old one can learn some new tricks, and fans can get up close and personal with legends in the genre.

leechildhttp://www.thebigthrill.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/rose.jpgThis year’s event, held from July 8-12, was arguably the best yet, given that it was also a celebration of an incredible milestone: ITW’s tenth anniversary. “What began a decade ago in a meeting of forty writers,” ITW co-presidents Lee Child and M. J. Rose told attendees, “has turned into an organization boasting over two thousand members.” Child and Rose added that the event is the embodiment of the organization’s philosophy: “We believe that when we imitate, we fail, and when we innovate, we succeed.”

It was another year of innovation for ITW. The organization published FACEOFF, a first-of-its-kind anthology where bestselling writers co-authored stories pairing up their iconic characters. And what better way to celebrate ITW’s tenth year than with news that FACEOFF had hit the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.


T. Jefferson Parker signs the FACEOFF banner at ThrillerFest.

It’s impossible to capture all the great moments of ThrillerFest IX, but here are a few highlights from the FBI Workshop, Master CraftFest, CraftFest, PitchFest, ThrillerFest, FACEOFF FanFest, the banquet, and some fun parts in between.

FBI Workshop

The week kicked off early with a full-day workshop at the NYC FBI headquarters for more than one-hundred inquisitive authors. Ten special agents from different departments of the FBI, including intelligence, counterintelligence, cybercrime, special operations, and organized crime, offered insights from their areas of expertise. The agents were enthusiastic and patient, answering the countless questions from our members because they really want writers to get the facts correct. Former FBI agent Daniel DeSimone, who now works for Thomson Reuters, was the luncheon keynote, detailing his fascinating real-life thriller experience while undercover in Vegas.  “Sharing my story publicly for the first time, about my work as an FBI undercover agent, allowed me to demonstrate that truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction.”

Master CraftFest

This year, ITW created a new event called Master CraftFest. Participants worked in small groups under the tutelage of one of seven phenomenal New York Times bestselling author-instructors: Steve Berry, William Bernhardt, Grant Blackwood, Steven James, John Lescroart, D. P. Lyle, M.D., and David Morrell. ITW’s first intensive all-day writing retreat was a resounding success.

Steve Berry led the charge in organizing this special experience. “It’s something we’ve wanted to do for several years now.  This year we made it happen, and what a success. We were expecting around twenty students and we got seventy. I’d say Master CraftFest is around to stay.”

Berry Master Craft revised

Steve Berry teaching at CraftFest.

One of Berry’s students, William Nikkel, summed up his inspiring day: “I cannot give enough praise to Steve Berry for his contribution to ThrillerFest’s Master CraftFest session. As a published author, I entered the class dubious of the outcome. Even so, my goal was to elevate my writing to the next stage and to do that I needed to learn from a pro. The class stripped away the fluff, took me back to the basics, and then propelled me to a new level. Master CraftFest is a valuable experience I’d highly recommend to any writer. There is always room to learn. And there is nothing like learning from the best.”


CraftFest—ITW’s writing school—is always one of the conference’s most attended events, and grows in popularity every year. Just a few T-Fests ago, ITW hosted 150 attendees. This year, there were more than 400 students who learned the craft from our bestselling-author faculty.

craftfest crowd Revised

Students at one of the more than 50 CraftFest sessions.

ITW expanded CraftFest from three to four tracks to give attendees more choices. As usual, the instructors included a who’s who of thriller writers. In honor of FACEOFF, Wednesday and Thursday saw more than fifty classes, many taught by the authors featured in the anthology. FACEOFF authors who pitted their characters against one another in short stories “faced off” yet again in the classroom: F. Paul Wilson and Heather Graham taught a class on point-of-view, Lee Child and Joseph Finder on storytelling, M. J. Rose and Lisa Gardner on building characters, and John Lescroart and T. Jefferson Parker on finding your voice. Other FACEOFF authors—Linwood Barclay, Steve Berry, Linda Fairstein, Peter James, John Sandford, and R. L. Stine—also shared their wisdom with aspiring writers in an array of workshops.

wilson graham craftfest REVISED

FACEOFF authors Heather Graham and F. Paul Wilson in the classroom.

RL Stein CraftFest

R. L. Stine teaching at CraftFest.

But the classes weren’t limited to teaching. Weapons expert Chris Grall taught Firearms 101, PR extraordinaire Meryl Moss gave marketing advice, and editor Mark Tavani and literary agent Kimberley Cameron taught writers how to “bulletproof your manuscript.” The workshop hosted by Richard Krevolin and Jennifer Wilkov offered invaluable insights into the world of screenwriting.

Weapons man Grall, who is also a thriller enthusiast, said, “Imagine being invited to visit your favorite professional sports team and not only be accepted by your favorite stars, but to be treated like family. This was my experience at ThrillerFest.”

Meryl Moss

Meryl Moss taught “Establish Your Digital Footprint” and “Buzz Your Book” sessions at CraftFest.


Jonathan Karp, President and Publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Jonathan Karp, President and Publisher, Simon & Schuster.

The event continued to provide one-stop shopping to learn both the craft and business of writing. CraftFest culminated on Thursday with an amazing Q&A luncheon with Jonathan Karp, the president and publisher of Simon & Schuster.

Another highlight of the lunch was hearing the winners of the Best First Sentence Contest. The Master CraftFest teachers were given a blind list of all the submissions, and they chose their favorite opening lines. Safe to say, “It was a dark and stormy night” was not among the contenders, but you can see the winners here.


CraftFest Director, D.P. Lyle, M.D.

CraftFest Director, D.P. Lyle, M.D.

The Director of CraftFest, D. P. Lyle, M.D., summed things up well: “The original vision of CraftFest was to build the premier school for learning the craft of thriller writing. I believe we have succeeded. But you’re only as good as your last at bat so now it is time to expand and evolve. This year’s Master CraftFest, Best First Sentence Contest, and the Online Thriller School ITW launched in April are examples of this evolution. Each of these will continue. And we have a couple of other online things brewing. Stay tuned.”



CraftFest participants had the opportunity to learn the art of the pitch from experts Kathleen Antrim and Jon Land, and then used what they learned in real pitches to the more than fifty literary agents, publishers, and producers who participated in Thursday’s PitchFest.

Agent Noah Ballard hears a pitch from a PitchFest participant.

Agent Noah Ballard hears a pitch from a PitchFest participant.

John and Shannon Raab from Suspense Publishing hear a pitch.

John and Shannon Raab from Suspense Publishing hear a pitch.

No other conference offers writers such direct and immediate access to this number of industry professionals. And PitchFest has many success stories, including John Dixon, an author who got his agent at a past PitchFest and who appeared this year at the Debut Author Breakfast (more on the breakfast below), to celebrate his debut novel and the CBS television show based on his book. ThrillerFest Security Director Simon Gervais, who participated in PitchFest last year, landed a two-book deal.

Debut author John Dixon.

Debut author John Dixon.

This year, Marine Samuel Octavius created a stir with his pitch for GRASPING SAND, “a story about a Marine named Tyson who enlists in order to escape the guilt he feels over his brother’s suicide. In Iraq, Tyson encounters a ten-year-old girl who has been forced by insurgents to attack Americans. He must choose between saving her life, or his own.”

When asked about his PitchFest experience, Octavius said, “The PitchFest event topped the cake as one of the most amazing segments of the week. The agents were extremely patient and professional, and allowed every author the opportunity to pitch their novel without stressing the time limits. Whether I land an agent from the event or not, I learned a valuable lesson that I’ll keep throughout my entire career: I know I’m on to something when I can clearly describe my story in thirty words or less.”

Boyd Morrison, ITW’s PitchFest Director, gave his parting thoughts about the event. “In my third and final year as PitchFest Director, I had the pleasure of meeting many eager new authors hoping to make their dreams of publication come true. After the session was over, authors excitedly told me how many agents and editors wanted to see their manuscripts. What those authors may not realize is how many agents and editors excitedly told me afterward about the pitched manuscripts they were eager to read in the hopes of finding the newest bestseller. I know that in the coming year we’ll be reading about success stories from those connections.” The phenomenal Sandra Brannan will be taking over Morrison’s role as PitchFest Director. ITW extends a huge thank you to Morrison, Brannan, Terry Rodgers, and Shane Gericke for all the work they do to make PitchFest such a special event.


Panels, federal agents, and drinks, oh my . . .

Friday and Saturday brought on the amazing panels—nearly fifty this yearon a myriad of topics, including a phenomenal panel on military thrillers that featured SEAL Mark McGinnis. ThrillerFest included everything from Jeffrey Deaver on a panel about thrillers and literature to Chelsea Cain on how to end a novel; from Michael Connelly on writing a series to Steve Martini on writing about the law.

Faceoff panel rankin, morrell etc

ThrillerFest panel featuring Joseph Finder, Lisa Gardner, Peter James, Raymond Khoury, David Morrell, and Ian Rankin.

deaver jacobson

Alan Jacobson and Jeffrey Deaver sign some books for fans.

Speaking of the law, let’s not forget the G-Men in the house. Three FBI special agents—Daniel McCaffrey, David Chaves, and Andrew Cordiner—participated in an incredible Q&A with writers. Not to be outdone, Edwin M. Donovan, Deputy Assistant Director of the Secret Service, gave an insider’s view of his agency.

Friday ended (officially, anyway) with the FACEOFF FanFest cocktail party and book signing. As the Huffington Post described the event, it was a night of drinks with 2014 ThrillerMaster Scott Turow, posing for photos with R. L. Stine, and watching Lisa Gardner’s mother help her work the room.

Gardner at fanfest cocktail

Lisa Gardner signing books at the FACEOFF FanFest cocktail party.

Finder at Faceoof cocktail

Joseph Finder signing books at the FACEOFF FanFest cocktail party.

ITW was thrilled to have so many authors traverse the ocean to attend ThrillerFest, including FACEOFF contributors Ian Rankin, Peter James, and Raymond Khoury. Rankin commented on the experience: “Writing a story for FACEOFF (with fellow Brit Peter James) was a challenge, but one delicious result was the opportunity to visit ThrillerFest and meet so many colleagues (old and new) and see so many heroes. ThrillerFest is unlike any other writing festival I’ve been part of, because so much of the focus is on the actual craft. I came away filled with fresh insights and enthusiasm, which I hope I can bring to bear on future writing projects, be they solo or collaborative.”

The Debut Authors Breakfast

One of the highlights of ThrillerFest every year is the Debut Authors Breakfast on Saturday morning. This year, two dozen authors from the Debut Authors Program had their moment to shine. And shine they did.

ITW’s Debut Author Class of 2013-2014.

ITW’s Debut Author Class of 2013-2014.

It was a remarkable group. As Library Journal reported, “[c]ollectively, these authors had rights sold to twenty countries, earned at least ten starred reviews, and could boast a LibraryReads pick, a New York Times Editors Choice pick, and a Goodreads debut feature among them.”

Debut author Barry Lancet, who already had remarkable success, including his first novel JAPANTOWN optioned by J. J. Abrams, said that “the idea of a debut breakfast, where first-time authors are introduced to the world, is a brilliant one.  By ‘world’ I mean to an audience of fans, journalists, other media, and so many people just interested in the genre, who spread the word.  For debuts, this is invaluable.  And as if that were not enough, ITW goes a step further by arranging hands-on opportunities to promote debut authors’ books, including feature stories, interviews, and, this year, free book trailers.  It’s really representative of what ITW does—the organization reaches out to authors at all levels.”

Preston mc breakfast tall

Douglas Preston, emcee of the Debut Authors Breakfast.

lancet at breakfast tall

Debut author Barry Lancet.

After the debuts took the stage, they were treated to a keynote address and advice from Silver Bullet Literary Award recipient Brenda Novak, who was honored for her literary work and her philanthropic efforts to battle diabetes. Novak, who has raised more than two million dollars at her annual diabetes auction, said, “ThrillerFest was amazing! I loved the workshops, the people, and the setting (who doesn’t love NYC?). I can’t wait until it rolls around again next year so I can present the Silver Bullet to the 2015 winner. It was truly an honor to be recognized.”

brenda novak

Silver Bullet Literary Award recipient Brenda Novak speaks to the Debut Class of 2013-2014.

Later on Saturday, Douglas Preston’s phenomenal interview of 2014 ThrillerMaster Scott Turow captivated the packed ballroom. The ThrillerMaster theme continued later on Saturday with Christopher Rice as a most entertaining panel master for a panel that included ThrillerMasters Scott Turow, David Morrell, Anne Rice, and R. L. Stine.

Douglas Preston interviews Scott Turow

Douglas Preston interviews Scott Turow.

The Awards Banquet

ThrillerFest closes each year with a banquet. This year, the event was bittersweet as ITW mourned the loss of Michael Palmer, whose musical numbers with his son Daniel were an annual banquet tradition. Daniel performed a moving tribute to his father, reworking the song Cat’s In the Cradle, with lyrics that were at once humorous, touching, and memorable.


Daniel Palmer’s tribute to his father.


Daniel Palmer.

Daniel Palmer found the evening unforgettable: “I knew everyone was looking forward to the song as a way to honor my dad’s memory, but I was really nervous to perform it. I thought the song was good, but I wasn’t sure how it would be received. When I started to play, the audience was right with me from the very first bars and it really lifted me up. I think folks were glad the song captured my dad’s spirit by having both humor and heart. After I finished and saw hundreds of people on their feet applauding, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for this community. As much as people seemed to enjoy the song, they were also applauding my dad’s legacy of kindness and friendship. It’s a moment I’ll never forget, and will treasure always.”

In addition to some great speeches and memorable moments, the winners of the Thriller Awards were announced. This year’s winners included Andrew Pyper (hardcover), Jennifer McMahon (PBO), Jason Matthews (debut), Rebecca Cantrell (eBook), and Cristin Terrill (YA), Twist Phelan (short story). Cantrell said, “I was so thrilled to find out I was nominated for the Best eBook award by ITW, the organization where I grew up as a writer, and gobsmacked when I won. Thank you, ITW!”


Andrew Pyper, Winner of the Thriller Award for Best Hardcover.

Anne Rice’s presentation of the ThrillerMaster Award to Scott Turow was a special moment, as she had reviewed Scott’s blockbuster novel PRESUMED INNOCENT years ago when he was first starting out as a novelist—and now they had come full circle—Rice presenting him with a lifetime achievement award that she in turn had received the year before.

Turow Rice

Anne Rice presents the ThrillerMaster Award to Scott Turow.

turow banquet

Scott Turow, 2014 ThrillerMaster.

At the banquet ITW also honored the two writers who helped start it all, the organization’s founders, David Morrell and Gayle Lynds. After blowing out the ten candles on the ITW birthday cake, David Morrell “couldn’t help comparing the five hundred people at this year’s ThrillerFest banquet with the few dozen people who attended the first ITW meeting at Toronto’s Bouchercon ten years ago. As founders and the first co-presidents, Gayle and I spent many months phoning people, enlisting support. Many of them went on to become key developers of the organization. ITW wouldn’t have survived and flourished without a lot of help from a lot of generous, talented people.”

Lynds added that “wherever I look around during ThrillerFest, I see halls and rooms filled with smiling faces—readers, authors, other industry professionals.  There’s always a lot of animated talk, collegial exchanges, and opportunities to meet people whose work one admires.  It gives me a tremendous sense of awe.  I think David and I will always be grateful for the privilege of having been in the right spot at the right time to start ITW, and to have been able to watch others step in to carry the organization so successfully, and happily, into the future.”

gayle david blowing out candles

ITW co-founders Gayle Lynds and David Morrell celebrate ITW’s ten-year anniversary.

As for the future, ThrillerFest X will be held July 7-11, 2015, will honor 2015 ThrillerMaster Nelson DeMille, and will have many surprises. As always, it’s gonna be a thriller.

Thanks to our sponsors, our spotlight guests, our ITW board, our attendees, countless industry professionals, our ThrillerFest staff, and all our special volunteers for taking the time out of their busy schedules to come together in NYC for such a fantastic celebration.


kjKimberley Howe has the honor of winning three Daphne du Maurier awards for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense and numerous other writing awards. She works as a medical, health, and fitness writer, excellent training ground for research and answers to countless Jeopardy questions.

Travel and adventure are her passions. She has had the pleasure of riding racing camels in Jordan, learning how to surf in Hawaii, hanging upside down on the zipline in the Costa Rican jungle, swimming with Great White Sharks in South Africa, and working with elephants in Botswana. Home is in Toronto, Canada, but she is often missing in action!

To learn more about Kimberley, please visit her website.

anthony-franze-pressAnthony J. Franze is a lawyer in the Appellate and Supreme Court practice of a major Washington, D.C. law firm and author of the debut legal thriller, THE LAST JUSTICE. Franze also is an adjunct professor of law, a legal commentator for several news outlets, and the Managing Editor of THE BIG THRILL. Franze lives in the D.C. area with his wife and three children, and is currently finalizing his next high-court thriller.

To learn more about Anthony, please visit his website.

Special to the Big Thrill: THE KILLING Novel: The Rewards and Challenges of Bringing Linden and Holder to the Page by Karen Dionne

What It’s Like to Write a Television Tie-In Novel by Karen Dionne

The Killing - new cover, frontThere are two broad categories of television and movie tie-ins. A novelization is a retelling of the show or movie. An original novel based on the show uses the show’s characters, but the story is the author’s. Neither are fan fiction, since tie-in authors are hired by the license holders to write their books.

Well-known tie-in writers include Kingsley Amis, Raymond Benson, Lawrence Block, Orson Scott Card, Leslie Charteris, Arthur C. Clarke, Max Allan Collins, Ian Fleming, Jonathan Maberry, David Morrell, and Robert B. Parker to name just a few.

Tie-in books are published by major publishing companies, sell tens of millions of copies worldwide, and regularly appear on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists.

Writing a tie-in novel presents a unique set of rewards and challenges. Unlike my previous novels, which were 100% my own creation, in my latest novel, THE KILLING: UNCOMMON DENOMINATOR, the story is mine, but the characters are not. They belong to the show, or more accurately, to fans of the show. My job as the author is to bring the characters fans know and love to life on the page.

When I was first asked if I’d be interested in writing an original novel based on the television series The Killing, I wasn’t familiar with the show. I purchased the pilot episode from Amazon, and was hooked. The Killing is inspired by the wildly successful Danish television series Forbrydelsen, and tells the story of the murder of a young girl in Seattle and the subsequent police investigation.
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Special to the Big Thrill: Industry Focus: A Q&A with Simon & Schuster Senior Editor Sarah Knight by Barry Lancet

Sarah Knight photo June 2014-2By Barry Lancet

Lovers of thrillers and mysteries will find Sarah Knight’s pedigree of more than passing interest. During her long career at several major publishing houses, Knight has worked with a star-studded array of writers, including James Lee Burke, Stephen Hunter, Jeffery Deaver, Taylor Stevens, and Gillian Flynn, among many others.

Before she moved over to Simon & Schuster to work with the house’s stable of bestselling crime writers, Knight plied the editorial waters of Scribner, Henry Holt, and, most recently, Random House, where she was fortunate to edit Gillian Flynn’s DARK PLACES and then pick up a little property called GONE GIRL—only to accept a job offer from S&S soon after. She still finds leaving behind that future bestseller painful to recall.

While she continues to seek out debut talent for S&S that might one day reach GONE GIRL proportions, she also casts a wider net, searching for compelling “narrative nonfiction, memoir, travel and food writing, pop culture, and humor.”

With her strong background in suspense, it may have been something akin to fate that Knight acquired the International Thriller Writers’ latest anthology, FACEOFF. In her introductory letter to the collection’s advance reading copies, the senior editor recalled her first impressions:

The minute I saw the list of contributors, I started fantasizing about the possibilities…. This was going to be huge. Eleven stories later, I knew it wasn’t just a great concept—it was (pardon the pun) a stellar execution…. [T]his anthology is a love letter to the craft.

Once again her editorial sensibilities hit the mark. FACEOFF clambered onto the both the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists in its inaugural week.

In the interview that follows, Knight offers candid, often eye-opening observations—from further thoughts on FACEOFF, to what constitutes an irresistible book, to how editors prefer to work with authors. So let’s dive in.
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Special to The Big Thrill: Screenplay vs. Novel Writing by Terry Hayes

pilgrimBy Terry Hayes

Not long after I had first moved to Hollywood, I ended up in a meeting with several senior studio executives on the 20th Century Fox lot. The subject we were dealing with was a remake of PLANET OF THE APES, the classic 1968 movie starring Charlton Heston as an astronaut and the great Roddy McDowell as a chimpanzee.

Oliver Stone was a producer – and being courted assiduously by Fox to also be the director – and Don Murphy, who some years later would be hugely instrumental in bringing the Transformer movies to the screen, was the other producer. My role was to write the script – an assignment which had come my way thanks to my writing work on, among other things, two of the Mad Max movies and DEAD CALM, which had launched Nicole Kidman’s international career.

The Apes project was no easy task – for a start, the screenplay of the original had been adapted from a novel by the legendary Rod Serling, the former paratrooper who created the TV series THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Not only that, the ’68 version is widely regarded as a classic movie with what is, in many people’s opinion – mine included – one of the greatest movie endings of all time. Not intimidated by such an illustrious pedigree – you should understand, I was very young then – I had set to work and written a first draft of the proposed reboot. It was that 120-odd pages which were under discussion in

the expansive executive office on the lot – how to improve it, how to sharpen it, how to get it one step closer to that ever-elusive target called a greenlight.

In the midst of endless talk about character arcs, second act climaxes and various ideas to match that remarkable ending, the senior Fox executive in the room – who had been looking increasingly distracted and preoccupied – suddenly interrupted and said: “You know what we need?”

Everyone shook their heads.

“A baseball game.”
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Special to the Big Thrill: Top Ten Firearms Mistakes in Fiction by Chris Grall

tactiquillBy Chris Grall

There is nothing I love more than a good story. I’ve been a voracious reader since the second grade, when I cut my teeth on just about every Hardy Boys book ever written. As I grew older and left Frank and Joe behind, my taste evolved to more complex fare. Growing up also meant a career, which for me happened to cultivate an expertise in firearms and tactics.

Put those two things together and you have an avid reader who recognizes weapon errors in fiction. If it were just firearms instructors who notice these mistakes, I wouldn’t worry too much about them. However, with between 270 to 310 million firearms in the United States* it’s a good bet that simple errors could distract many of your readers. Here are ten of the most common firearms mistakes that I’ve encountered, and some advice/tips on how to avoid them.

1. Clips and magazines (The most common mistake in fiction!)

mauserWhile the term “clip” may seem interchangeable with the term “magazine,” they are completely different items.

Analogy: belt and suspenders… What’s the difference, they both hold up pants, right? Not necessarily.

A “clip” is a small metal device that bullets slide into. The clip is used to load a magazine that is internal to the weapon. The clip is discarded after the bullets have been loaded into the magazine. The M1 Garand is a WWII rifle that uses this loading system. Handguns mainly use a glockdetachable, or an ejecting, box “magazine.”

All modern pistols use this system. In fact, the only pistol reloaded by a clip, that I’m aware of, is the Mauser C96. The C96 is one of the classic handguns German officers brandish in WWII movies—not exactly a common handgun on today’s streets. So, use “magazine” or the slang/lingo “mag,” when referring to loading and reloading handguns.
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Special to the Big Thrill: ITW’s Online ThrillerSchool

thrillerschool_logoTHRILLER SCHOOL: ITW’s New On-Line Craft School

Want to write a better thriller? Want to crack into publishing? Or maybe the bestseller list? Here’s your chance.

Thriller School begins April 7.

Fiction writing isn’t easy. Not for anyone. Whether you’re writing your first manuscript or your fiftieth, it’s difficult and time-consuming work. And a life-long pursuit. Professional writers never cease improving their craft. I think every writer understands this simple truth.

Virtually any writer will tell you that regardless of how many times you’ve done it or how far up the bestseller list you’ve climbed, that first blank page is a scary proposition. Fears and self-doubts always rise up.

But experienced writers will quickly add that the more you know, the more you write, and the more tools you have at hand, the less intimidating the process.

This is where Thriller School comes in.

For years ITW has presented CraftFest at ThrillerFest each July in New York. The success of CraftFest is primarily due to the outstanding cadre of teachers, many of whom are New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors, that come each year and share their knowledge and experience with both aspiring and published writers.

Now ITW has developed a new program to help writers continue their growth: Thriller School. In this seven-week program, the craft of thriller writing will be front and center. Each instructor will teach an aspect of craft through a podcast, written materials that include further reading and study suggestions, and an entire week of on-line Q&A with registered students. The goal is simple: to make each student a better writer.

We are very excited about this new endeavor. I think you will be also. Here is the schedule for the inaugural program along with a few words from our instructors:
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Special to the Big Thrill: R.L. Stine and the Return of Fear Street by Dawn Ius

fearstreetBy Dawn Ius

It started with a tweet.

A one-hundred-forty-character plea from a fan asking R.L. Stine to revive the sprawling creeptastic series that vaulted the FEAR STREET author from funny man to “the Stephen King of children’s literature.”

For Stine, the request came as quite a shock. It had been more than fifteen years since he’d abandoned the harrowing halls of Shadyside High School, leaving behind nearly one-hundred books that have sold more than eighty million copies worldwide.

“Before I knew it, a whole bunch of people started tweeting me with the same request,” he says. Fans of all ages began reminiscing about gory deaths, favorite characters, and the books they’d dug out of their basements and passed on to younger generations. “These kids grew up on FEAR STREET and to my surprise, they wanted more of it.”

The twitter campaign got Stine seriously thinking about reviving the series. He shopped it around, but despite the ongoing success of GOOSEBUMPS, a handful of movie and TV options, and a couple of adult novels under his belt, he couldn’t find any takers for a FEAR STREET revival. Publishers felt the genre had changed too much, the titles were too young, young readers had moved on—Stine almost gave up.

“One night on Twitter, I decided to be honest,” he says. “I told my followers that I would love to do more FEAR STREET books, but it wasn’t going to happen. No publishers are interested in it.”

A short while later, he received a tweet from Kat Brzozowski, an ambitious editor with St. Martin’s Press.

“She said, ‘I’m an editor and I am very interested in doing more FEAR STREET books.’”

They met for lunch, and much to readers’ delight, the publisher bought six new books.
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Special to the Big Thrill: Classified: Secrets to the High Tech Thriller by James R. Hannibal

shadowBy James R. Hannibal

I am often told that my top-secret clearance gives me a leg up in thriller writing. True, I won’t deny it, but a military clearance is not as big an advantage as you might think. Non-disclosure agreements and a general sense of operational security prevent me from relying on my professional past. As a writer, I am stripped of my background, forced into that blinding white space beyond my experience. I do, however, carry my training forward with me into the emptiness. Let me share with you the most important principle from my intelligence past that guides my novelist future:

You don’t know what you don’t know.

It sounds like something you might hear on PBS, a tagline to the Reading Rainbow, but it describes a mindset that is vital to intelligence work. You don’t know what you don’t know is a reminder that an operative or analyst whose hunt is too focused on the evidence he already has is hamstrung right from the starting block. His senses and intellect are blinded to other trails that may ultimately lead to mission success. More directly, this principle helps professionals absorb open-source information and turn it into valuable intelligence. It can help you absorb the same information and turn it into your next great thriller. I am about to give you a list of practical applications, but if you forget everything else, just remember that you don’t know what you don’t know, and that mantra will guide you to the rest.

Application One: Expand your library, but not with books

I’ve heard it said that to write fiction, you must read fiction. Writing high-tech thrillers means reading a whole lot of non-fiction as well. And because you are trying to stay on the cutting edge of a wide breadth of topics, your starting point should be periodicals rather than books.
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Special to the Big Thrill: The USO Tour by Kathleen Antrim

usoBy Kathleen Antrim

Harlan Coben, Phillip Margolin, F. Paul Wilson, Kathleen Antrim, and Heather Graham, recently returned from the “Operation Thriller IV” USO tour where they shared time and special moments with our troops and their families. The group kicked off the tour with a three-day, morale boosting visit to Washington, D.C. where they met with wounded warriors at Walter Reed Bethesda National Military Medical Center and later aided with the presentation of this year’s Service Member of the Year Awards at the 2013 USO Gala. From there, the authors traveled to Kuwait, Germany, and the UK, bringing a touch of home to our nation’s heroes.

We hope you enjoy reading about some of the authors’ experiences.

F. Paul Wilson

fpaulwilsonHumbled. That’s the word. I go to bed tonight a humbled man.

We spent the afternoon at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. I knew it as the Walter Reed Army Medical Center back in my college days at Georgetown. Since then it has merged with the old Bethesda Naval Hospital and now serves the Air Force as well.

We set up in the cafeteria of Building 62 where the wounded warriors transition from hospital life to real life. This reminded me very much of the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio that I visited a number of years ago with a clutch of my fellow Macmillan authors to sign and give away copies of our books to the rehabbing soldiers down there.

“Freedom isn’t free.” Like me, you’ve probably heard that phrase often enough to dismiss it as a hoary cliché. Let me tell you, it stops being a cliché when you visit a place like Building 62. These young men and women are survivors, though all have had friends who paid the ultimate price. But many of these survivors have paid within a hair’s breadth of that ultimate.
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Special to the Big Thrill: 10 Most Common Mistakes in Fiction Regarding Forensics featuring D.P. Lyle & Jan Burke

forensicsBy Jeremy Burns

Jan Burke and DP Lyle M.D are not your ordinary writers.  For one, there’s the literary awards:  Burke’s won the Edgar, the Macavity, and the Agatha; Lyle’s won the Macavity and the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award and been nominated for the Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, Scribe, and USA Best Book awards.  Then there’s the multiple bestseller lists.  And their leadership roles over the years in ITW and MWA.

But Burke and Lyle also have been instrumental in helping other authors “get it right”—when it comes to forensics.

Before the OJ trial or television’s CSI, Burke and Lyle were at the forefront of forensics in fiction and film.  Though neither are forensic scientists, they have become the go-to sources in Hollywood and the fiction world for accurate, real-world information on forensics.  Along the way, they’ve advocated for the improvement of forensic science and increased public awareness of the funding and other difficulties faced by crime labs across the country.

To the delight of thriller writers everywhere, they recently joined forces to co-host a radio show, “Crime and Science Radio,” for SUSPENSE RADIO.

Burke and Lyle were kind enough to tell THE BIG THRILL about themselves and their work.  They also identified the most common mistakes that fiction writers make in forensics.

Tell us about yourself.

JB: I was born in Texas but have lived in Southern California most of my life.  I was president of the Science Club in high school, but eventually both my lack of attention to my math homework and my love of history classes changed my career direction.  I have a degree in history from California State University, Long Beach—history is an excellent major for people who enjoy research.  From the age of seven, I wanted to write, but had it drummed into my head that no one made a living at it. I didn’t give writing novels a serious try until I was in my late thirties.  Before that, I worked at a wide variety of jobs, but the last one I had before I sold my first book was manager of a manufacturing plant.

DPL: I was born in Huntsville, Alabama but have lived in Southern California for the past thirty-seven years. My childhood interests revolved around football, baseball, and building rockets in the backyard. This latter pursuit was common in Huntsville during the 1950s and 60s due to the nearby NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center. I then received a Chemistry Degree from the University of Alabama (ROLL TIDE) followed by medical school and internship, also at Alabama. Then on to Houston, Texas for an Internal Medicine residency at the University of Texas at Houston, and Cardiology fellowship at the Texas Heart Institute, also in Houston. Since then, I’ve practiced Cardiology in Orange County, California.
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Special to the Big Thrill: Tribute to Michael Palmer


“We are heartbroken at the loss of one of our most beloved members. Michael Palmer was an amazing writer, a wonderful mentor, a great friend to all of us, and a tireless worker for good causes. No ThrillerFest will ever be the same without his smiling face and the funny, wonderful songs that he and his son Daniel performed. On behalf of the whole organization, our thoughts and hearts are with the Palmer family.”—Co-Presidents Lee Child and M.J. Rose

“What a dear hilarious guy! What a joy, so funny and so generous, and so talented…and so enthusiastic, and he just—drew you in, sharing and laughing and singing and looking at the world in the most spectacular of ways!…He did it, though, right? He got it. He enjoyed it, and embraced it, and loved it and loved us. Oh. I will truly miss him. I miss him now.”—Hank Phillippi Ryan
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Special to the Big Thrill: ITW’s 10th Anniversary by Gayle Lynds and David Morrell

David and Gayle Lynds at Chicago BoucherconITW’S ORIGINS

By David Morrell

 ITW’s origins date back to the early summer of 2004 when Barbara Peters of Scottsdale’s Poisoned Pen Bookstore hosted a literary event at the famed Arizona Biltmore hotel in Phoenix.  Barbara invited (in alphabetical order) Lee Child, Clive Cussler, Vince Flynn, Steve Hamilton, Gayle Lynds, myself, and Kathy Reichs to give presentations throughout that Saturday.

As we bonded at an authors’ reception and over late-night drinks at the Biltmore’s bar, many of us felt that it would be fun to get together again. Our fiction tended to be different and yet fit into a general category of thrillers.  “Why not have an organization for thriller writers?” someone suggested.

Over the summer, Gayle Lynds and I had several telephone conversations about this idea with Adrian Muller, who attended the Biltmore event and later founded an annual crime writers’ conference in Bristol, England.  Besides other critical tasks, Adrian arranged for a room at the upcoming 2004 Bouchercon in Toronto, where those interested in a professional thriller organization could meet.

Thirty-five people showed up, a small group in what was a very large conference room. The enthusiasm was huge, however. When C.J. Lyons received a Thriller Award at our 2013 conference, she recalled crossing paths with me at that long-ago Bouchercon and saying that she was eager to meet like-minded thriller authors. “Then follow me,” she remembered me saying. “We’re about to have a meeting.”

Gayle and I acted as moderators for that meeting. The group agreed on two guiding principles: to educate readers about the creative possibilities of thrillers, and to help one another achieve those possibilities.

TF-site-small-banner11 (1)In her separate account of ITW’s origins (below), Gayle gives special mention to David Dun, and I’ll add to what she says. An author/attorney, David volunteered his office and staff as ITW’s address and base of operations. In the rapid months to come, he wrote various drafts of ITW’s bylaws. The organization would never have moved forward without his generosity and legal expertise.

For Gayle and me, the most important part of the meeting was something that I didn’t know happened. I nodded to a friend who came to the meeting near its end. Belatedly, I realized that while I was distracted, Gayle and I had been elected as ITW’s first presidents. Other people graciously agreed to help, Gregg Hurwitz, Alex Kava, Lewis Perdue, Richard Pine, and Will Staeger among them. Teetering, we were on our way.

Throughout the next year, Gayle and I put our writing aside, spending long days contacting writers who we felt would be attracted to the organization. Some were hostile and actively tried to sabotage us, telling other writers that they shouldn’t have anything to do with ITW. But many authors got the point, especially those who were just starting their careers and welcomed a support group. In a way, they were the unofficial version of our much-respected Debut Authors program.

Lee Child and Tess Gerritsen joined Gayle, me, David Dun, and M.J. Rose on the first board. As Gayle notes, M.J. had the brilliant idea of presenting a gala party during Book Expo in Manhattan the next spring in 2005. The setting was famous for its association with authors: the Algonquin Hotel. Editors and agents were invited to what many remember as one of the most joyous literary receptions ever. That helped our credibility. If we could put together so splendid an affair (and afford it, thanks to generous donors), maybe ITW had possibilities.

In July of 2006, we presented our first ThrillerFest at the Arizona Biltmore, where almost two years earlier the idea for ITW was born. As with the Algonquin soiree, many people who attended that first ThrillerFest never forgot its energy and spirit.

I served as a president for three years. Gayle remained for an additional year, establishing a pattern in which the board would always have a mix of veteran officers and new ones, guaranteeing an institutional memory. Thanks to authors such as Shane Gericke, Jon Land, D.P. Lyle, and Shirley Kennett, each subsequent ThrillerFest had something fresh and exciting. CraftFest was added, then AgentFest, and new award categories, such as e-publications and the Silver Bullet award for achievement in promoting literacy.

T2With Hank Wagner, I co-edited THRILLERS: 100 MUST READS. I speak from experience about the generosity with which authors donated their time and talent to write stories and essays for our various anthologies. Never taking a dime in royalties, they enabled ITW to accumulate sufficient funds that we not only survived but also stopped charging dues.

The dedication and wisdom of later board members, committee members, and volunteers are inspiring as we mark the end of our first decade and approach the challenges and triumphs of the second. I wish I had the space to list everyone to whom the organization is indebted. I mentioned some here, and Gayle mentions others in her separate piece about ITW’s origins. Please look at the History page of ITW’s website, which also includes a list of the donors who helped us get started.



By Gayle Lynds

TBT-cover2One wanders in the wilderness until one makes one’s own path. That’s the way ITW began.  What fun we had. It was a time of dreams, but there was a lot of nail-biting, too, of hours reaching out through email and the phone, and of brain-storming to create innovative programs our new membership would enjoy and value.

Today, it probably seems inevitable ITW was born, but that wasn’t true in 2004. The very idea of a new author organization was met with dismay by some. “We have enough of them,” we heard. “We don’t need any more.” Others thought the thriller form was a sub genre, not strong enough to stand on its own. One author told us he would join if we took the word ‘thriller’ out of our name. Really. Even then it was funny.

We wrote personal letters to writers, inviting them to join. The price was deliberately bargain-basement – $50. (“It’s deductible as a business expense,” we’d remind them enthusiastically.) To help those who couldn’t afford it, David Morrell and I wrote checks to cover their memberships. ITW had no money to run the organization, until David Dun came up with the idea of offering higher-level memberships (i.e., more expensive).  David sat on the first board and today remains ITW’s valued treasurer and financial officer.

Searching for other ways to make money, I realized no one had ever published an all-thriller anthology, so I went to James Patterson who bravely said he’d gamble on our unknown and untried organization.  He agreed to be editor. With that, I solicited 16 other best-selling authors, each of whom promised not only to write an original short story, but to do it for free, as a donation to ITW. One of those was Steve Berry, who became the managing editor and eventually an ITW co-president.  He sent the anthology, THRILLER: STORIES TO KEEP YOU UP ALL NIGHT, sky-rocketing.

t1While all of this was going on, David Morrell was thinking about the future, too.  He set about the monumental task of compiling the nonfiction compendium THRILLERS: 100 MUST-READS, which went a long way to proving thriller authors across the ages have been and are – amazingly! – fine writers deserving respect.

Within seven months of ITW’s founding, M.J. Rose put it on the industry map – first by convincing BEA to choose the thriller novel as that year’s theme, and second by orchestrating a cocktail party during BEA to introduce ITW at the famous literary haven, the Algonquin. It was incredible.  All sorts of publishing executives did the unthinkable – they asked to be invited, and then the party was covered by the national press.  M.J. and original board member Lee Child are ITW copresidents.

Next we needed thriller awards. Gregg Hurwitz headed a committee to create rules for judging – another area of terra incognito for us.  Then Jim Rollins took over and recruited judges, a daunting task since the awards were just as untested as ITW.  After I retired, Jim joined Steve Berry as ITW copresident.

Finally, there was the thriller convention. We were warned that we needed at least 3 years to create a successful one. But we were in a hurry, so we did it in 18 months, with Diane Vogt at the helm and later Kathleen Antrim taking over and becoming copresident.  I was fortunate to be the one who coined the titles – ThrillerFest and ThrillerMaster.

How things have changed.  ITW’s membership has grown from a handful into the thousands, our publications have been so financially successful that we don’t even have to charge dues anymore, and ThrillerFest gets larger and more interesting every year. I love to walk the halls, looking at the smiling faces and listening to the talk of books and the future. Who knew anyone could have as much fun as we did starting ITW, and do it well enough that those who followed us would better us over and over?

Our tenth anniversary celebration, in July, is going to be a blast. No one should miss it. We’re not just feting what ITW has accomplished, but what the next ten years will bring. Stay tuned. It’ll be a thriller.


The 35 members who attended the first meeting (in Toronto, October 2004) to decide whether they wanted a thriller organization:

Natalia Aponte, Gary Braver, Debbie Carter, Lee Child, Lori Dandrea (A.K.A. C.J. Lyons), Wes DeMott, David Dun, Barry Eisler, Joseph Finder, Maggie Griffin, Peter Guttridge, Raelynn Hillhouse, Gregg Hurwitz, Alex Kava, Christopher Keane, Susanna Kearsley, Christine Kling, David Liss, Dennis Lynds, Gayle Lynds, Heidi Mack, Bruce Makous, Chris Mooney, David Morrell, Adrian Muller, Katherine Neville, Richard Pine, Lewis Purdue, Christopher Rice, M.J. Rose, Joel Ross, Leslie Silbert, William Staeger, Rich Thompson, and Angela Zeman.

Special to the Big Thrill: Up Close and Personal with Allison Brennan and Laura Griffin

AllisonBrennanLauraGriffin_CrashandBurn_smallUp Close and Personal

NEW YORK TIMES bestselling authors Allison Brennan and Laura Griffin discuss how spending time with cops, CSIs, and SWAT jocks helps them write edge-of-your-seat suspense novels. Brennan and Griffin’s newest book, CRASH AND BURN, is a collaboration featuring the Southern California detective duo, Moreno & Hart.

Griffin: Some of my favorite writing advice came from my first boss, who was the news editor at the paper where I landed my first job. He told me, “Don’t write from your chair.”

Each time I begin a new book, I like to go on field trips. I track down people who have the same jobs as my main characters and then go interview them about what they do. Whether it’s a police sniper or a cold case detective, people out in the field are a great source of those colorful details that bring a story to life.

I’ve toured crime labs and FBI offices, even visited a body farm. One of the most fascinating field trips I ever did was in Los Angeles, where I got to meet LAPD’s elite SWAT unit.

Brennan:  SWAT is a lot of fun. Through my involvement with the FBI Citizen’s Academy, I’ve participated as a role player in numerous SWAT training sessions—both small groups and large regional training days with more than 30 teams from all over Northern California.

I’ve watched first hand (as a bad guy or a victim) how individual SWAT teams address a variety of situations, but it’s what I learn during the subsequent de-briefing that provides the most useful information to bring my stories to life. Why did they approach the target as they did? What were they thinking? Often they relate real-life scenarios that have impacted their experience, reminding me these men—and a few women—put their lives on the line every day.
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Special to the Big Thrill: ThrillerFest VIII by Kimberley Howe

ThrillerFest-VIII-logo-200By Kimberley Howe

Temperatures soared to record heights in New York City during ThrillerFest this year, paralleling our skyrocketing attendance.The atmosphere was positive, alive, adrenalizing—exactly what one would expect with over 900 thriller enthusiasts coming together to celebrate the genre.  M.J. Rose, ITW’s VP of Marketing, captures the mood perfectly when she shares, “There was a special energy to ThrillerFest this year, wasn’t there? I’m not sure what exactly it was…but everyone seemed aware of it.  From each debut author to every superstar—there was a congeniality and warmth to our 8th ThrillerFest that made it one of the best ever!”

Between CraftFest, AgentFest, ThrillerFest, FanFest, and the memorable banquet, we had four incredible days of education, entertainment, and celebration, as we reconnected with old friends and made new ones.


CraftFest is our fastest growing section of the conference.  Just a few years ago, we hosted 150 attendees, and it has now blossomed to almost 500.  NEW YORK TIMES bestsellers like Michael Connelly, Steve Berry, T. Jefferson Parker, Michael Palmer, David Morrell, Catherine Coulter, Charles McCarry, John Sandford, and many others shared their secrets on the craft of writing during the two-day event.

We were honored to host the first co-writing workshop by the #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  Doug Preston recounts his experience of this entertaining class.  “Linc and I shared with an enthusiastic room of aspiring co-authors advice from our 25 year experience writing books together. It was the first time Linc and I had talked about the lessons of our partnership. It was a great experience for us not just to teach what we had learned, but also to discuss with each other our strengths and weaknesses as writers. We even managed to get in a couple of zingers at each other, much to the amusement of the audience.”

Spotlight guest T. Jefferson Parker joined us for CraftFest this year, and had a phenomenal time.  “I think my favorite part of ThrillerFest was all the good comments I got from the guests on my CraftFest presentation, and later, on the Spotlight talk with Doug Lyle.  I was really sweating the CraftFest class I taught, because if there’s anything harder than outlining a thriller, it’s trying to teach somebody how to do it! I even had note cards to help remind me.  But people seemed to like it and not one person snored!”


D. P Lyle, MD and T. Jefferson Parker

We were also thrilled to welcome Spotlight Guest Michael Connelly to ThrillerFest.  His workshop on Series Characters resonated with our attendees, as they all dream of creating the next Harry Bosch!

Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly

We’d like to express appreciation to Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s Vice Presidennt of Kindle Content, who was our keynote for the CraftFest luncheon, graciously answering the countless questions from the enthusiastic crowd.

People are still buzzing about Leonardo Wild’s unique workshop on Subtext at CraftFest—and hisentertaining tale about a late-night NYC adventure demonstrates that the thrills at ThrillerFest don’t end with the programming.  One night, after visiting with friends at the Grand Hyatt bar until midnight, Leonardo headed back to Queens where he was staying at a friend’s apartment:

“As the N train left Lexington Avenue and was about to enter the Queensboro Plaza, the announcement came that it would be the last station.  All passengers—quite a full train in spite of the hour—were sent off to get a bus, yet with no clear directions on where to take it.  I used my Ecuadorian street-smarts to catch a transport in the right direction … but it didn’t take me all the way to Ditmars. As New York’s geospatial arrangement of streets wasn’t rocket science, I decided to risk it. I’d been a photographer in a gold survey expedition in the Upper Amazon, had crossed the Andes on foot into the jungle three times, and though I’d never been in this part of town, a stroll through Queens at two a.m. suddenly felt like a good way to end a thrilling day. And I thought, If Jack Reacher can walk it, so can I.”

Leonardo, we’re pleased that Lee Child’s iconic character inspired you to make the trek home!

East Meets West

As the various fictional mediums merge, many of our members are crossing over into Hollywood, signing TV and film deals.  Perhaps you were lucky enough to get an autographed mini-poster from Joseph Finder at the conference? His book PARANOIA was turned into a movie that will be released on August 16, starring Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, and Liam Hemsworth.


Joseph Finder

Joe shares his thoughts on this incredible opportunity to reach a new audience.  “I’m excited about the movie’s release.  Even though it will no doubt be quite different from the book, and I had nothing at all to do with making the movie, I’m hoping it brings in a new legion of readers—and makes for a good date movie!”

We want to give our members insight into the inner workings of Hollywood, so next year CraftFest Director D.P. Lyle, MD is “looking into a 4th CraftFest track that would feature a novelist and a screenwriter “facing off” over a craft topic. Each would share his or her perspective on such subjects as character and plot development, pacing, dialog, and other areas of story creation. The plan is to pair a novelist and a screenwriter, each teaching a 50-minute class, “facing off” as it were, and offering students differing views of each topic covered. These “face off” points of view should help authors and screenwriters look at story from a slightly different perspective and hopefully lead to better story creation.  2014 will indeed be special.”


Every year, AgentFest gives aspiring authors an incredible opportunity to pitch to the over 50 agents.  Huge thanks to the fabulous AgentFest team of Boyd Morrison, Terry Rodgers, and Shane Gericke who work tirelessly to organize this dynamic event.

AgentFest Director, Boyd Morrison, shares “My favorite part of AgentFest is hearing the success stories from new authors. Even before the ThrillerFest weekend was over, I met Simon Gervais, who had just signed with Eric Myers, an agent he met at AgentFest only a couple of days before. It was also exciting to meet past AgentFest attendees who have gone on to big things. John Dixon met his agent at AgentFest just two years ago, and now he has a major TV series coming out on CBS next February called INTELLIGENCE. The best part about it is that Simon and John are both nice guys, so it’s great to see them taking the next steps in their writing careers and wonderful to know that AgentFest made it possible.”


AgentFest 2013

We couldn’t agree more.  This year’s first success story set an AgentFest land-speed record with Simon Gervais signing with his agent two days after the event.  Simon is a Canadian federal agent and close-protection specialist who has guarded everyone from President Barack Obama to Queen Elizabeth II.  We’re very fortunate he kindly donated his time and expertise to create the first-ever security team at ThrillerFest this year.  Simon signed with agent Eric Meyers of the Spieler Agency, and they are already plotting how to take the publishing world by storm.  Simon confides, ”When I signed up for the 2013 ThrillerFest last February, never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be signing with an agent before the event was over.  I was confident the agents would like my pitch but never did I expect to hear from one of them only a few hours later.  It was surreal…actually, when I think about it, it still is.”

We hope to report more success stories from AgentFest as the agents have time to read our attendees work.  Stay tuned!



Special Agent Austin Berglas

We were very fortunate to have the FBI join us this year.  Betsy Glick, a public affairs specialist from Washington, D.C., helped us coordinate a pre-conference workshop, which received rave reviews, leaving our members clamoring for more.  Special Agent Austin Berglas also joined us as the ThrillerFest keynote speaker, sharing his extensive knowledge in an accessible and entertaining manner.  We’d like to express ourdeep appreciation to Special Agents Austin Berglas, Martin Feely, and Anne Beagan who stayed after the keynote to answer our attendees’ questions about the inner workings of the FBI.

Austin Berglas comments, “ThrillerFest provided the perfect opportunity for me to represent the FBI and dispel typical myths and misconceptions surrounding the special agent position and the Bureau’s role in cyber and other investigations. The conference allowed for plenty of interaction with writers and agents, both before and after the presentation.  I was impressed by the level of detail in many of the questions, which encompassed sources, investigative jurisdiction, technical cyber scenarios, and inter-agency cooperation.”

Another memorable ThrillerFest VIII moment was M.J. Rose’s interview with Silver Bullet recipient Steve Berry and ITW Executive Director Liz Berry, talking about their efforts to make a difference via History Matters.  As Steve recounts, “That was our first interview on stage together, and we so enjoyed it.  Receiving the Silver Bullet was a once in a lifetime experience. Truly a big thrill.”


Steve Berry, Elizabeth Berry and M.J. Rose

Members of the press were also caught up in the excitement. Tatsha Robertson from PEOPLE MAGAZINE, was bursting with enthusiasm, “I work as an editor of real crime, but reading thrillers and watching brilliant crime series like BBC’s THE FALL are my hobbies. I am working on my own thriller, so sitting down to talk with Anne Rice and Lee Child about how they got started was thrilling to say the least.  I loved all the workshops, and bought four CDs of those workshops I missed.  I finished them all and finished reading an anthology I bought at the Fest: THRILLERS: 100 MUST READS. I have become a student of the thriller, and ThrillerFest (my second visit) is my master class.”

Debut Breakfast

The Debut Breakfast is one of the highlights of ThrillerFest every year.  Saturday morning, bright and early, the debuts authors trek up to the microphone to share their excitement about their novels.  Douglas Preston, the debut author mentor, introduced the new ITW members, and also took them on a field trip to a bookstore afterwards.  Silver Bullet recipient Steve Berry kindly joined us as the keynote, helping the debuts with “secondbookitis,” a very real and crushing issue for many new writers!


2013 Debut Authors

Our Debut Author Liaisons, Anthony Franze and Jenny Milchman, worked tirelessly with the debuts to make sure their launch would be a success.  It was a special year for Jenny, as she was on the stage celebrating her first book, COVER OF SNOW.  “The Debut Breakfast was a thrill-a-minute, literally. Each sixty second introduction by twenty-eight Debut Authors had us all laughing, nodding, and even tearing up. When it came time to give my own little speech, I didn’t think about being nervous up there, in front of four hundred or so people. I just felt as if I were walking past family members…and talking to friends.”

Anthony Franze shares, “I was knocked out by the impressive group of debut authors—which included military officers, journalists, lawyers, teachers, and other distinguished professionals—who already have achieved amazing success as authors.  What struck me the most, though, was the reception they received from the ITW community who listened to the debuts’ remarks with pride.  I had the honor to sit at a table with ITW’s co-founder David Morrell as well as Steve and Liz Berry, and they couldn’t say enough kind things about this debut class.”


Our inaugural FanFest (created by M.J. Rose) was also a huge success, a wonderful opportunity for our ITW authors to give back to their fans.  Author host Andrew Gross was touched by his interaction with his loyal fan Bill from Florida who has been a tireless caregiver for his wife over many years.  Bill’s eyes lit up as he told Andy, “This was my best night in years.”  What better gift could there be?


Simon Toyne

Author hosts Peter James and Simon Toyne even traversed the ocean to join us at the first FanFest celebration.  Simon Toyne, who ran a phenomenally successful contest to choose his fans, shares, “Fanfest was a new thing this year at Thrillerfest, as was I, so we were clearly made for each other. In truth, I was pretty excited myself at the prospect of drinking cocktails in the same room as some of the authors listed and offered my five tickets up as a sweepstake to fans on my Facebook page hoping they might feel the same. Plainly, they did, as I got almost a thousand entries. I’d like to think this was entirely down to the prospect of clinking ice with me but, whatever the reason, a sublime evening was had by all. I had a blast, Thrillerfest—see you again next year.”

ThrillerFest Awards Banquet

The banquet had a magical quality this year.  Brad Meltzer and his adorable daughter Lila presented both Silver Bullet Awards, and Brad made us laugh, cry, and inspired us to do more to help others.  Steve Berry received a standing ovation, not only for his work on HISTORY MATTERS, but for all the time and care he has given ITW over the years.


Brad Meltzer, Lila Meltzer and Sloan Gibson

We also had the pleasure of honoring Sloan Gibson, the President of the USO, as the USO received the Corporate Silver Bullet Award this year.  Sloan kindly flew in from Asia just to join us at the banquet.  “The recognition of the USO with the Silver Bullet Award at ThrillerFest was a special honor!  We are so grateful for all the ITW does to support America’s troops and families. For me personally, I am always reading a thriller.  To have the chance to meet many of my favorite authors was a special thrill!”


Michael Palmer, Brad Parks, and Daniel Palmer

No evening would be complete without the entertaining trio of Michael Palmer, Daniel Palmer, and Brad Parks.  Their annual song always leaves the audience breathless with laughter, and they even introduced puppets into their routine this year! Spotlight guest Michael Palmer’s highlight was “R.L.  Stine’s wonderfully witty, impeccably timed introduction of Anne Rice. Bob is a treasure, and could make it in stand-up if he hadn’t sold a gazillion books around the world over the years. I have already marked my calendar for 2014.”

Anne & Christopher Rice

Anne and Christopher Rice

Anne Rice’s ThrillerMaster acceptance touched all of our hearts, and everyone was thrilled that she promised to return again next year.  As M.J. Rose shares, “Anne’s energy, charm, her sincerity, her appreciation for our appreciation…all contributed. So did her son. Chris Rice conducted one of the best interviews ever of his mom. And it was especially wonderful because he’s such a great writer in his own right but he was there 100% for her.”



ThrillerFest 2014

Every year, we reflect on how fortunate we all are that co-founders David Morrell and Gayle Lynds decided to start this supportive organization back in 2004.  The International Thriller Writers is thriving, adding new members on a daily basis. Co-President Kathleen Antrim comments,  “ITW has grown to an organization of almost 2,500 members in 41 countries.  And ThrillerFest has become a premier publishing event with a team that continues to outdo themselves year after year.”

Looking back over the past nine years, David Morrell shares, “It seems like yesterday when at Bouchercon in 2004 Gayle Lynds and I organized the first meeting of what became International Thriller Writers.  How quickly the time has passed and how much ITW has grown.  This year’s ThrillerFest was the best ever, with even more enthusiasm and good nature.  It’s a joy to see old friends and to make new ones.  Next year, ITW has its tenth birthday. I look forward to the celebration.”

Gayle Lynds has similar feelings, “Our tenth anniversary is going to be a blast.  No one should miss it.  We’re not just celebrating what ITW has accomplished, but what the next ten years will bring.  Stay tuned.  It’ll be a thriller.”

To give you a sneak peek into next year’s programming, CraftFest Director, D.P. Lyle, MD, shares, “With the June 2014 release of FACE OFF, the new ITW anthology featuring tandem authors and their iconic protagonists “facing off” in new, original stories, next year’s ThrillerFest/CraftFest will embrace this face-off theme throughout. For CraftFest, we are considering offering classes taught by the FACE OFF author pairings. How could that be anything but great?”  We’ll be updating the website in early fall, so please check in at www.ThrillerFest.com to learn more about this exciting line-up.

In the meantime, you can order CDs from this ThrillerFest VIII.

Thanks to our sponsors, our spotlight guests, our ITW board, our attendees, countless industry professionals, and all our special volunteers for taking the time out of their busy schedules to come together in NYC for such a fantastic celebration.  Also, special thanks to Alan Jacobson for the incredible photos attached to this article.

See you next year, July 9-12, 2014, where we will honor ThrillerMaster Scott Turow!


Special Thanks to ThrillerFest photographer (and author) Alan Jacobson:

Alan Jacobson with Frederic Colier from BookCaseTV

Alan Jacobson with Frederic Colier from BookCaseTV


ThrillerFest VIII Press:

Huffington Post
CT News
Publishers Weekly
Library Journal
Next Venue / Forbes
Mina’s Bookshelf
The Guardian
Shelf Awareness
USA Today


kim colorKimberley Howe is the Executive Director of ThrillerFest. She’s also a medical, health, and fitness writer whose passion is international thrillers. She has a Master’s in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania and has the honor of winning three Daphne du Maurier awards for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense. Travel and adventure fuel her imagination. She has raced camels in Jordan, learned how to surf in Hawaii, zip-lined in the Costa Rican jungle, dove with Great White Sharks in South Africa, and hung out with elephants in Botswana. Home is in Toronto, Canada, but she is often missing in action.

To learn more about Kimberley, please visit her website.

Special to the Big Thrill: Requiem for Vince Flynn (1966-2013) by Julie Kramer

vinceflynnBy Julie Kramer

Thriller author Vince Flynn’s funeral was a heartbreaker. The line of mourners stretched for blocks. The ceremony had been pitched as a celebration of his life, but that’s difficult to take as gospel when someone dies at age 47, at the peak of talent.

Flynn, creator of the Mitch Rapp counter-terrorism series, died recently in Minnesota of prostate cancer. Not only did he top the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller lists, he had fans in high places – even the White House.

Former President George W. Bush sent a condolence note to Flynn’s widow, Lysa, reading, “Vince really loved you. He told me so.”

For a writer of political thrillers, there’s no finer praise than to be noticed in Washington. Other world leaders on the record as being fans include former president Bill Clinton and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

At signings, Flynn often entertained readers with a fun tale of meeting then-President Bush and being invited to continue their conversation in the presidential limo. Known for his extensive research regarding espionage, Flynn could always count on someone in the crowd to ask, “What did you and the president talk about?”

“He wanted to know where I got my information,” Flynn would laugh. “He thought I was a little too accurate.”
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Special to the Big Thrill: The Questions I Get by D. P. Lyle, MD

The Questions I Get

Credibility. Verisimilitude. The willing suspension of disbelief.

These are what authors strive for and what readers demand. And for good reason.

Every author attempts to create a story world that draws in the reader, that takes him or her to an unfamiliar place or into a fascinating and suspenseful situation. A place where the reader, page after page, will ask, “What happens next?” But if the author stubs a toe on the details, the reader will fall out of the story and will no longer trust the author.

Writing a credible story requires an understanding of the story’s world. In crime fiction and thrillers this often involves various types of science, arenas that are foreign to many writers and readers. Until the writer does the research and imparts this new-found knowledge to the story in a palatable and believable way, that is. Then, the writer and reader are on the same page—pun intended. If the writer doesn’t get the science right, how can the reader trust that anything in the story is correct?

Verisimilitude is the appearance that something is true and real. It doesn’t necessarily have to be true but must appear so. It must “feel” right. That said, the best way to maintain verisimilitude is to get the facts right. Then the story elements not only appear to be true, but actually are.

Take the STAR WARS and HARRY POTTER series as examples. Obviously, neither is factual. Each bends truth, physics, and about every other science you can think of into pretzels. But do we care? Of course not. The reason is verisimilitude. These stories came alive and became real because the creators built a believable world with believable characters and told us believable tales. To heck with facts. We bought into these sagas because we became immersed in an unbelievable world that was absolutely believable.
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Between the Lines Interview with Jonathan Maberry by Paula Tutman

By Paula Tutman

Have you seen the cover of Jonathan Maberry’s new novel, EXTINCTION MACHINE?  If you didn’t know that Joe Ledger was a bad-ass before, the cover leaves absolutely no doubt.  The fifth installment of the series of books published by St. Martin’s Press, the new release takes the Baltimore detective to new highs and lows.

I’m from the Baltimore area.  I remember when it was a dusty, dingy little industrial town.  With the Inner Harbor, the baseball stadium and the explosion of downtown, it has become a charming, dingy little industrial town.  Its proximity to Washington D.C. means the smog of politics wafts along the breeze and settles in the nooks and crannies of ‘Bal’more’, sealing the cracks with espionage, intrigue and duplicity.  Joe Ledger seems to be right at home in all of it, with a few demons of his own working interchangeably as sidekicks and advisors.  In the new novel, Maberry sums the adventure up like this, “In this one, Joe and the Department of Military Sciences  rush headlong into the heat of the world’s strangest and deadliest arms race, because the global race to recover and retro-engineer alien technologies has just hit a snag. Someone—or something–wants that technology back.”

Maberry goes on to say, “This book is my first exploration of the phenomenon of UFOs and alien tech. Is it real? Is it all a hoax? What’s the rationale for keeping the truth hidden from the public? That’s what we explore during the process of telling a wild adventure.“The President of the United States vanishes from the White House. A top-secret prototype stealth fighter is destroyed during a test flight.  Witnesses on the ground say that it was shot down by a craft that immediately vanished at impossible speeds. All over the world reports of UFOs are increasing at an alarming rate.  And in a remote fossil dig in China dinosaur hunters have found something that is definitely not of this earth. There are rumors of alien-human hybrids living among us.”

How does he do it?  How does Jonathan Maberry come up with this stuff, make it plausible, believable and downright thrilling?  Jonathan was kind enough in the midst of rolling out the new novel to play 20 questions with me.  Okay, it was really only fifteen but they give interesting insight into the mind of Jonathan Maberry and man and myth who is Joe Ledger.
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Special to the Big Thrill: FanFest by Kimberley Howe and Jamie Freveletti


One thing you can count on is that the team at ThrillerFest will find a way to keep things interesting. This year, the annual ITW conference will include a cocktail party called FanFest that will allow authors to give back to their readers in a unique way.  ITW’s VP of Marketing, M.J. Rose, created the event, and shares her thoughts about the premiere,

“ThrillerFest is a great conference, but how could we make it greater?  How could we fashion an event that would make our members look like heroes to their fans?  That members could use as a marketing tool?  Our idea—FanFest, the prize authors could offer in contests on their blogs, newsletters, Facebook pages, and Twitter.  A way to get attention in the best way—by rewarding our most ardent fans.”

Scheduled for Friday, July 12, 2013 from 6:00-8:00pm, FanFest offers authors a chance to invite their readers to a signing and cocktail party that features not only their favorite thriller writers, but some of the most recognized names in the Thriller world. Look for Steve Berry, Lee Child, Joe Finder, Heather Graham, Andrew Gross, John Lescroart, and R.L. Stine, just to name a few.

Co-President Kathleen Antrim comments, “At ThrillerFest, we’re all about having a wonderful time with our readers, and the addition of FanFest takes fun to a whole new level!  It’s going to be a fantastic party.”

If you’ve attended writing conferences before, then you know that finding a group of authors together in one area is often tough to do. Well, the hotel bar is one place you might catch more than usual, but by no means is a “sighting” guaranteed. At FanFest, it will be.

The joy of Thrillerfest is that it’s located in New York City and because a big chunk of the publishing industry is also there, the conference is packed with agents, editors, publishers, and authors. While this is one of the best aspects of the conference, it also can lead to lots of appointments for the authors. I know that after the panels for the day are done, I’m often off-site at dinners with my agent or editor, and I suspect so are a lot of the other authors. By creating FanFest, ITW will keep the buzz going.

Avery Ames (The Cheese Shop Mysteries) shares,

“It’s a great way to offer my readers an opportunity to mingle with some of their favorite authors in a relaxed setting.“

Hank Philippi Ryan, (THE OTHER WOMAN) agrees,

“I see it as a way to give something back to my readers. It’s rare, or even impossible, to get this many thriller writers in one room under other circumstances.”

Richard Bard began his career as an indie author and his third novel (BRAINRUSH) will launch with the Thomas and Mercer imprint just a week before the ITW conference, so he’ll have a lot to celebrate. Contacted by email, he said,“I can’t wait to share a toast with them at the party. Fun!”

Andrew Gross (NO WAY BACK) echoed a lot of the comments when he said I’m local, and it’s a nice way to both reward fans who will be thrilled to be in such favorite author company, and also open Thrillerfest to a broader audience.”

And as Vincent Zandri (MURDER BY MOONLIGHT) notes:

“Authors rely (on) readers. Loyal readers…the relationship between author and reader is one of the most special and precious ever devised, and now with FanFest, we have a chance to give back just a little.”

In addition to the cocktails and mingling, there will be a signing and specially created swag bags for the attendees.  We’re also excited that SIRIUS radio hosts Kim Alexander and Maggie Linton and their fans will be joining us.

Because a host has a limited number of readers they can invite, I asked the participating authors how they were intending to offer their available spaces.  Most are looking to do a combination of Facebook sweepstakes and email contests, but the funniest answer had to be from Daniel Palmer, (STOLEN) son of Michael Palmer and a fine thriller writer in his own right.

I was going to host a gladiatorial type competition—the last five people standing could come. Surprisingly, that idea didn’t get a very large response. So, I was thinking about asking my social media followers to email me if they want to come, and then I’d pick the winners using a random number generator. Not very creative, I know.

Maybe not as electrifying as a fight to the finish, but definitely safer!


Kimberley Howe has the honor of winning three Daphne du Maurier awards for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense and numerous other writing awards. She works as a medical, health, and fitness writer, excellent training ground for research and answers to countless Jeopardy questions.

Travel and adventure are her passions. She has had the pleasure of riding racing camels in Jordan, learning how to surf in Hawaii, hanging upside down on the zipline in the Costa Rican jungle, swimming with Great White Sharks in South Africa, and working with elephants in Botswana. Home is in Toronto, Canada, but she is often missing in action!

To learn more about Kimberley, please visit her website.


Jamie Freveletti is the internationally bestselling and ITW and Barry award winning author of four thrillers in her Emma Caldridge series and her latest, DEAD ASLEEP, hit #1 on Amazon. She also writes for Robert Ludlum’s Covert One series, titled THE JANUS REPRISAL. She lives in Chicago.

To learn more about Jamie, please visit her website.


Participating Authors:

Avery Ames

Kim Alexander

Axel Avian

Richard Bard

Steve Berry

Diane Capri

Joseph Finder

Heather Graham

Andrew Gross

Peter James

John Lescroart

Maggie Linton

D. P. Lyle

Daniel Palmer

Michael Palmer

Brad Parks

W. Craig Reed

W. Craig Reed

M.J. Rose

Hank Phillippi Ryan

R.L. Stine

Simon Toyne

Larry D. Thompson

F. Paul Wilson

Jeff Wilson

Vincent Zandri


Special to the Big Thrill: Operation Thriller USO Tour

Top Secret: Operation Thriller III by Andy Harp

Author Michael Connelly climbs into the van just before midnight to get to the airport for a 2 a.m. flight. Much like Mickey Haller, the protagonist in Connelly’s THE LINCOLN LAWYER, he’s taking part in something undercover.  Connelly’s most dedicated fans won’t learn what is going on until he returns.

He’s not the only one. Brad Meltzer, Joseph Finder, Kathy Antrim and myself are all on the same undercover mission. We’ve each had, at best, three hours of sleep. It is day three.

Why would the authors of THE LINCOLN LAWYER, PARANOIA (Finder), CAPITAL OFFENSE (Antrim) or the creator of the popular television show DECODED (Meltzer) spend 20-hour days away from home?  Why would Connelly join the ranks of James Rollins or Sandra Brown, authors who have embarked on this mission previously?  Why would authors like Kathy Antrim live out of their bags for a ten-day tour where showering might involve a 100-yard hike in the dark?

Their mission is clear: They’re part of the USO’s Operation Thriller, a tour that brings authors across the globe to meet the men and women who serve.
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Special to the Big Thrill: Interview With FBI Agent Michael Plichta by Kimberly Howe

The FBI Files: Gangs and Organized Crime

By Kimberley Howe

THE SOPRANOS brought organized crime into our living rooms, and SONS OF ANARCHY revved our interest in the world of motorcycle gangs.  But are these popular television shows an accurate portrayal of what gangs and organized crime look like today?

Michael Plichta

Michael Plichta, Unit Chief, La Casa Nostra/Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs/Major Theft Unit,was kind enough to appease my burning curiosity about this fascinating subject.  His informative answers opened my eyes, as I hope they will open yours, to this growing international issue.


How are gangs growing and evolving?

For most people who join an urban street gang, the decision is less of a choice, and more a way of life.  These gang members are not weighing options, but rather accepting a lifestyle within their comfort zone.  Rough neighborhoods provide a ready-made membership.

Gangs are growing both nationally and internationally.  The demographics have changed, and gangs are not only popular in inner cities, but suburbs as well.  The smaller local police departments don’t have the proper resources to deal with the gangs, so they prosper in the suburbs.  Gangs are also becoming more sophisticated, exploiting new and advanced technology as a means to recruit, communicate discretely, target their rivals, and engage in criminal activities.

How are gangs impacting our society?

There are more than 33,000 gangs in the United States, and membership has skyrocketed to approximately 1.4 million.  Gang membership has increased most significantly in the Northeast and Southeast regions, although the gangs in the West and Great Lakes have the dubious honor of having the highest number of members.  Many communities are experiencing an increase in ethnic-based groups, such as African, Asian, Caribbean, and Eurasian gangs.

Gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in many jurisdictions, and up to a breathtaking 90 percent in others.  Large cities and suburban areas are the sites of most gang-related violence.  Neighborhood gangs and drug crews pose the most significant threat to communities.

What makes gangs increasingly more dangerous?

The days of simple street crimes are gone.  Gangs have become more sophisticated, better equipped, and highly organized.  The crimes are more varied and profitable.  Alien smuggling, human trafficking, and prostitution are becoming prevalent.  White collar crime, such as counterfeiting, identity theft, and mortgage fraud are also on the rise.  Gang members are looking for crimes with high profitability and lower risk of detection.  They are also more apt to commit crimes with lighter sentences than drug and weapons trafficking.

High-powered, military-style weapons and equipment have made gangs more lethal.  Gang members often raid military and law enforcement officials, facilities, and vehicles to secure weapons, ammunition, body armor, police gear, badges, uniforms, and official identification.

Prison time doesn’t mean that members will stop engaging in gang-related activities.  Family members often play roles in assisting the facilitation of criminal activities and recruitment during a member’s incarceration.

How is law enforcement dealing with gangs?

In January 1992, the FBI created the Safe Streets Violent Crime Initiative, which allowed each field office to address violent street gangs and drug-related violence through the establishment of FBI-sponsored, long-term proactive task forces focusing on gang issues.  The Violent Gang Safe Streets Task Force became the medium for all federal, state, and local law enforcement to join together and fight violent crime perpetuated by gangs.  This task force administers 160 Violent Gang Streets Task Forces across the nation.

To assist this effort, Congress established the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) in 2005 to support law enforcement agencies in their fight against criminal activities perpetuated by gangs.  The NGIC includes members from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), US Drug Enforcement Administration, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), US Bureau of Prisons (BOP), United States Marshals Service (USMS), US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  This multi-agency center gathers gang intelligence assets to serve as a central intelligence resource for gang information and analytical support.

To keep up-to-date in our fast-paced information age, NGIC has unveiled NGIC Online, an information system with web-based tools designed for researching gang-related intelligence.  Law enforcement officials can now look online to search the large library of intelligence products and images, post announcements, access officer safety reports, request information, and view the status of requests and submissions to NGIC.


How does organized crime prosper?

Organized crime rings reap illegal profits of around one trillion dollars a year.  How do they rake in this astronomical amount?  They manipulate financial markets and labor unions along with construction and trash hauling industries.  These rings also bring drugs into our communities and raise the levels of violence.  Some of the techniques they use include bribing corrupt officials, extortion, graft, intimidation, and murder.  They also run underground businesses like human trafficking and prostitution, and they con people out of millions of dollars every year through stock frauds and financial scams.

What does the face of organized crime look like today?

The group we think of as the Italian Mafia, La Cosa Nostra (or the LCN as it’s known by the FBI), is literally translated to “this thing of ours.” These “families” or groups are engaged in significant and organized racketeering activity.  The LCN is most active in the New York metropolitan area, parts of New Jersey, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, and New England, but it has members in other major cities, and it is involved in international crimes.

Although the Italian Mafia remains a powerful force, globalization has changed the face of organized crime. The focus has shifted from regional families with a hierarchical structure to a variety of flat, fluid networks with global reach.  International enterprises are more anonymous and sophisticated.  Some of the threats surging to the forefront of organized crime include:

  • African groups have become a powerful force.  Consider the millions that corrupt Nigerians have made from their internet scams or the boon of Somali pirates.  Africa has also become a player in the narcotics trade, with drugs being shipped from South America to Europe via ports in Africa.
  • Asia offers the Chinese triads and tongs, the Japanese Boryokudan, and other Asian crime rings.
  • Criminals from Russia became rich after the Cold War because they understood basic unregulated capitalism.When the travel/immigration restrictions relaxed, some lower level Russian organized criminals traveled to the U.S. to try their luck at establishing criminal organizations in the United States.  So far, they have been kept in check.
  • Eastern European nations like Hungary and Romania have criminal enterprises that are becoming powerful entities.

Making things even more challenging, the FBI is seeing cross-pollination between groups that have never worked together before.  The internet facilitates these collaborations. These criminals may never actually meet, but their common greed results in shared ventures.  Internet crimes that generate money are increasingly becoming tools of the trade.

The players have transformed.  Former members of nation-state governments, security services, and the military use their specialized knowledge to exploit rich targets.  The shake-downs of local businesses showcased in THE SOPRANOS have been replaced by high-stakes, profitable enterprises.

The FBI has also changed, especially after 9/11.  It was given broader permissions to use tools to prevent crimes and purposeful acts of terror.  The FBI has evolved from a law enforcement agency to a national security service that is focused on threats and intelligence gathering.

How does the FBI combat organized crime?

Organized crime comes at us from every corner of the globe.  The FBI fights to minimize the damage caused by these national and transnational syndicates through undercover operations, confidential sources, surveillance, intelligence analysis and sharing, forensic accounting, multi-agency investigations, and the use of racketeering statutes to help take down entire organizations.  The FBI also maintains close ties with its international partners to build cases and disrupt groups with global ties.  For example, FBI agents have worked side-by-side with the Hungarian National Police for over 10 years targeting Eurasian organized crime to bring criminals from Russia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and others to justice.

All of this hard work does pay off.  In October 2010, the FBI (along with its state and local partners) arrested 52 individuals, many of whom allegedly belonged to an Armenian-American syndicate, for health care fraud amounting to more than $163 million dollars.  Among those arrested was an individual believed to be a “Thief-in-law” (may be more closely translated as a “thief who follows the law,” figuratively referring to a criminal who obeys the Thieves’ Code), an elite in today’s world of organized crime.  Cases like this one require serious commitment and cooperation of many individuals, and to remain successful in the fight against crime, the FBI must continue to adapt to the evolving threat of organized crime.

The FBI’s organized crime section is divided into three units, devoted to:

  • La Cosa Nostra, Italian organized crime and racketeering.
  • Eurasian and Middle Eastern organized crime.
  • Asian and African criminal enterprises.

FBI headquarters handles the overall coordination and support of all organized crime investigations.  The 56 Field Offices and Resident Agencies investigate crimes within their own territory and they rely on headquarters for additional support and assistance.  The FBI also participates in joint task forces with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to help combat organized crime. There are also 63 Legal Attachés overseas.

TV shows like the SOPRANOS, SONS OF ANARCHY, and BOARDWALK EMPIRE glamorize organized crime and gangs, seducing people into “the life.”  But as you can see from Michael’s helpful information, this lifestyle can lead down a destructive path.  If you are interested in learning more, Michael recommends reading CLOCKERS by Richard Price, a fascinating tale about the underside of a gritty New Jersey housing project or GANG LEADER FOR A DAY by Sudhir Venkatesh, a gripping tale of how a young sociologist was able to infiltrate a Chicago gang and befriend a gang leader.

I hope you enjoyed these insights into such a timely topic. Michael Plichta was incredibly helpful and forthcoming about his extensive background in organized crime and gangs.  I’d also like to thank Betsy Glick in the Office of Public Affairs at FBI Headquarters in Washington D.C. for her efforts in coordinating this interview. 

WORKING WITH THE FBI: A Guide for Writers

If you are a writer who wants to feature the FBI in a TV, film, and literary project, the FBI may be able to work with you to help create an accurate portrayal of the Bureau’s work.

The FBI’s Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit (IPPAU) in the Bureau’s DC-based Office of Public Affairs works with screenwriters, producers, authors, and other industry personnel associated with TV programs, documentaries, made-for-TV movies, films, and books.

What the FBI needs from you:

  • Company name, point of contact, address, email, and phone number
  • Project status, i.e., sold, green-lit, commissioned, or speculative
  • Scope of FBI’s importance in the script
  • Overview of FBI characters and actions
  • Copy of the script or treatment
  • Project status and/or production schedule
  • Specificity regarding cases, procedures, or information needed
  • A list of FBI personnel desired for interviews and/or background meeting(s)

What the FBI can consider providing you:

  • Guidance on content and/or dialogue regarding FBI investigations, procedures, interagency coordination, structure, and history
  • Information on costumes, props, scenery, or weapons
  • Fact-checking
  • Liaison and coordination with local FBI field offices for interviews or B-roll footage
  • Coordination of visits to FBI headquarters and other facilities
  • Background briefings

For project assistance, please send a written proposal with the above info to: public.affairs@ic.fbi.gov or call the Office of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. at (202) 324-5348.

Please note that IPPAU considers and/or approves project assistance on a case-by-case basis. The FBI’s unit has limited resources and cannot assure cooperation or offer reviews or critiques of submitted projects/proposal. Please allow ample time for approval/clearance process.


Kimberley Howe has the honor of winning three Daphne du Maurier awards for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense and numerous other writing awards. She works as a medical, health, and fitness writer, excellent training ground for research and answers to countless Jeopardy questions.

Travel and adventure are her passions. She has had the pleasure of riding racing camels in Jordan, learning how to surf in Hawaii, hanging upside down on the zipline in the Costa Rican jungle, swimming with Great White Sharks in South Africa, and working with elephants in Botswana. Home is in Toronto, Canada, but she is often missing in action!

To learn more about Kimberley, please visit her website.

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