Specials to the Big Thrill
What It’s Like to Write a Television Tie-In Novel by Karen Dionne
There 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.
By 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.
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.”
By 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!)
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 detachable, 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.
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:
By 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.
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.
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
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.
“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
By 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.
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.
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.
With 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
One 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.
While 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.
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.
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!”
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!
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.
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.”
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!
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.”
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.”
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!
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?
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.
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!”
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 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.”
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:
ThrillerFest VIII Press:
Kimberley 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.
By 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.”
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.
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.
FANFEST—THRILLERFEST’S INAUGURAL FAN EVENT!
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.
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.
The FBI Files: Gangs and Organized Crime
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, 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
- 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: email@example.com 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.
Anything that calls itself ThrillerFest has a lot to live up to.
Luckily, this year’s ThrillerFest—the International Thriller Writers’ annual conference—delivered more than its share of thrills. Held in the heart of Manhattan, ThrillerFest VII was the largest and most successful T-Fest yet. On hand were hundreds of the world’s top thriller writers, as well as scores of industry professionals, journalists, producers, aspiring writers—and let’s not forget the readers and fans.
Haven’t been to ThrillerFest yet? Not clear what it’s all about? Come take a journey with both the Chair and the Membership Coordinator of ITW’s Debut Authors Program as we give some background on ThrillerFest, and then go behind the scenes—way behind the scenes—at this year’s event.
What is ThrillerFest?
Officially, ThrillerFest is “a four-day celebration of thriller books, the authors who write them, and the fans who read them.” Or, as Co-Presidents of International Thriller Writers, Kathleen Antrim and Douglas Preston, say: “ThrillerFest creates an environment in which readers meet authors, and aspiring authors gain the tools and make the contacts they need to get published. It’s a place where agents discover new authors, and where up-and-coming authors find resources to move their careers forward. And finally, it’s a place where bestselling authors share their experiences, advice, and wisdom with those traveling the same road.”
Although it might be hard to believe, forty years have passed since David Morrell’s classic thriller FIRST BLOOD was first published. During that time, the book’s protagonist, Rambo, has become well known across the globe, primarily due to four movies starring Sylvester Stallone. We thought it appropriate to celebrate this milestone anniversary by sitting down with Morrell, the author who started it all with his creation of the traumatized ex-soldier, to get his perspective on the novel and its important literary and cinematic legacy.
This is the 40th anniversary of the publication of FIRST BLOOD. For the occasion, you revised your novelizations for the second and third Rambo films and then wrote introductions for them. You also wrote an e-essay, “Rambo and Me: The Story behind the Story.” What was it like, revisiting those works?
Four decades. Amazing. As I revisited FIRST BLOOD and the novelizations I wrote for Rambo (FIRST BLOOD Part II) and Rambo III, I was surprised by how little the world had changed since 1972. The United States is as polarized today as when FIRST BLOOD was published. The term “post-trauma stress disorder” didn’t exist back then. Nonetheless that’s one of the themes of my novel, and now after Afghanistan and Iraq, two wars that lasted even longer than Vietnam, PTSD is more prevalent, a daily item in the news. In Rambo III, the character went to Afghanistan. The day the movie opened, the Soviets retreated, probably because they knew Rambo was coming. That was the end of that. Or so it seemed, and yet two decades later, Afghanistan is as much in the news as ever.
By Brett King
From time to time, psychiatrist Carl Jung believed, we face events that seem unrelated or even coincidental until we find meaning in their shared experience. I think Alan Jacobson can testify to the importance of synchronicity in his career as a bestselling novelist.
While practicing as a chiropractor years ago, a hand injury forced Alan to retire and sell his practice. During the transition period, he had a chance encounter with the head of the Department of Justice’s Criminalists Institute. Although the criminalist was seeking a character reference, that moment of synchronicity led Alan to audit a course on blood spatter pattern analysis. His research at the DOJ crime lab, in turn, allowed him to meet rising FBI agent Mark Safarik who shared his insights and expertise.Agent Safarik later invited him to Quantico to tour the FBI Academy and profiling unit. Alan drew upon those critical influences to write his debut novel, False Accusations. His thriller became a national bestseller and also stimulated an enthused fan base abroad when it was published in several foreign countries.
By Julie Kramer
New York Times bestselling author Linda Fairstein is back with NIGHT WATCH, her fourteenth thriller starring sex crimes prosecutor Alexandra Cooper. Fairstein has certainly lived her research, spending a career as a New York prosecutor before becoming a crime novelist. She remains a leading legal expert on sex crimes and domestic violence.
Her latest tale of suspense features a wealthy financier charged with attacking a hotel maid – a ripped from the headlines premise. As an added treat, readers get an inside look at the ruthless business of gourmet dining. Booklist gave NIGHT WATCH a starred review, calling it “a real winner from a legal thriller master.”
Here in THE BIG THRILL, Fairstein discusses the difficulty of finishing NIGHT WATCH after the death of her husband, what scares her most about changes in the publishing industry, and her take on the 50 SHADES OF GREY phenomenon.
By Julie Kramer
LOVE IS MURDER says it all. Story after story. Romantic suspense is the theme of the latest International Thriller Writers anthology.
Sandra Brown, author of more than sixty New York Times bestselling novels, immediately accepted the task of editing the short story collection even though she’s never written a short story herself.
“The challenge of writing a short story is so daunting to me,” she said. “I’d rather write a
full-length novel than even attempt a short story because a good one requires a particular talent that, sadly, I don’t have. That’s why I was so impressed by the cleverness of the stories.”
The book’s appeal is also that Brown shares her gut reaction to each narrative’s mechanics and passion, heightening readers’ expectations story-by-story.
“These writers knew what they were doing,” she said. “Each is different. Some are poignant, others scary. Some focus on high octane action, while others are shatteringly emotional or psychologically terrifying. Reading them for the first time, I was truly, jaw-droppingly amazed by the variety of talent.”
Brown says the allure of romantic suspense as a genre comes because it crosses over so many other genres — mystery, thrillers, even science fiction. “Diehard readers of those genres find all the elements they expect and favor, plus the love story angle. The romance adds spice, certainly, but it also raises the stakes for the protagonists. Love is a dramatic and powerful motivator that can instill in a character strong emotions like rage, bravery, despair, all of which makes for great storytelling.”
Imagine you’re forty years old. You’re married with a teenage daughter. You’ve been at your job for eighteen years. And one day, you come home to a message on your voicemail: you’ve been fired (“downsized”) and shouldn’t come back in to work.
For many, this would be the first step down a path of defeat, desperation, and despair. They’d find themselves in a dark room curled up in a ball — or in a dark bar curled up in a bottle.
But not Lee Child.
In the mid-1990s, he received that call — the third message on his voicemail after returning from vacation. Child’s career as a British television director was over. His response? He went to the store, “bought six dollars’ worth of paper and pencils,” and sat down to write his first novel, KILLING FLOOR. It was about a man who had been downsized from the U.S. military, who wanders the American landscape righting wrongs and dispensing justice. His name was Jack Reacher.
Today, nearly two decades later, Child is one of the most successful writers in the United States, if not the world, selling more than 50 million books. And Reacher, well, he’s one of the most celebrated characters in fiction. The millions of Reacher fans (“Reacher creatures”) soon will see the beloved character immortalized in ONE SHOT, a film starring Tom Cruise as Reacher. Paramount Pictures is so confident in the film that it recently moved up the release date.
On March 18th I met with Child in a “mentor forum” hosted by the International Thriller Writers Debut Authors Program, where he dispensed his wit and wisdom to a small group of the newest generation of thriller writers seeking to learn from a master. Participating via Skype, writers from across the country spent over two hours peppering Child with questions about writing, book promotion, and the publishing industry. To his credit, Child agreed to answer “any question at all.” And he did so, breaking only to fill up his mug with coffee and to give an occasional longing glance at his computer where he is putting the final touches on his forthcoming Reacher book, A WANTED MAN.
Doug Preston, current Co-President and a founder of ITW, began writing books in 1985. Twenty of his novels and five works of non-fiction have been published. Fourteen of his books were best sellers including his latest, COLD REVENGE, written with Lincoln Child, which reached number one on the NEW YORK TIMES best seller list. Doug’s thrillers contain suspense, intrigue, danger and a fascinating cast of characters. Ironically, Doug experienced an international real life thriller that included many of the elements of his fiction and gave him the unique perspective of being his own protagonist. He recently shared his adventure with me.
Your real life thriller took place in Italy. Why were you there?
I went to Italy with my wife and two children in 2000 intending to stay four years. I planned to write a murder mystery set in Florence involving an art historian who is murdered, his body found by the side of the road with his eyes gouged out.
Special to the Big Thrill by Andrew F. Gulli
It was hot and humid in New York, not many of you will remember the 2005 edition of BEA, but I will for many reasons…
For starters it was the first BEA I attended (and so far the last) and also, I was so damned tired from talking non-stop, shaking hands, and being stuck in that sauna of germs the Javitz Center, that on the airplane journey back home, I was struck with a flu which was biblical in its severity. Being on a runway for three hours and for another three hours on a flight that usually took 90 minutes didn’t help.
A distant memory from that stifling trip that today shines brightly was welcomed by the ITW. I had arranged to see my friend Joe Konrath at the Javitz, “Hey, Andrew you’re coming to the party right?” he asked.
ThrillerFest VI delivered four days of non-stop action, setting new attendance records and gracing the Grand Hyatt with the best of the best in the genre. The eye-catching banners on the bustling streets of NYC caused a buzz, enticing both locals and tourists to join us and meet their favorite authors. People came from around the corner and from around the globe–including Australia, England, and Qatar–to celebrate the sixth year of ThrillerFest. Click through to read the full story.
By Dan Levy
Imagine you’re at ThrillerFest attending one of the many social events. You turn, and just out of earshot, Steve Berry, David Morell, Lisa Gardner, Tess Gerritsen, and Lee Child are talking. You can tell by their faces, the discussion isn’t current events or cocktail party chitchat. They’re discussing something deep…some element of writing thrillers, you’re sure.
More than knowing, you feel the burn that tells you just two minutes with this group would unearth some huge nugget. The kind of intel that would send your own protagonist charging into Act III, and put your novel in the homestretch. Mentally, you begin cataloging the body parts you would give just to be able to stand there, to hear what topic has the thriller elites so rapt.
Then one of them turns to you, “Do you have a minute to join us? We’d really value your opinion on…”
Not many of us listened to our parents when we were growing up, but we always listened to the words we read in books. I remember my own childhood through the novels I read—Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Case; The Secret of the Old Clock; Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret; Flowers in the Attic; Gone With the Wind.
I am hard pressed to find a successful writer who doesn’t have a similar story to mine—transformation through the public library. This is why I am beseeching all ITW authors and thriller fans to support the Save the Libraries program.