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The Ultimate Writers’ Get Together

By Nancy Bilyeau

ThrillerFest, the annual conference sponsored by International Thriller Writers, Inc., broke its attendance record in its thirteenth year.

And that should surprise exactly no one.

From an ATF workshop to a Master Craftfest and Craftfest packed with classes, from a Pitchfest matching writers to agents to a ThrillerFest offering panels that covered the hottest topics, the conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York City was blazing on all cylinders in 2018. Plus… George R. R. Martin.

Kimberley Howe & George R. R. Martin

Kimberley Howe, executive director of ThrillerFest, says, “2018 ThrillerMaster George R. R. Martin shared many entertaining and touching stories during his spotlight interview and panels.  Although he wasn’t able to sell his fifth book, he never gave up, switching to television writing before returning to novels, demonstrating that perseverance and resiliency is critical in the industry.  George’s warmth and generosity to everyone he met onsite helped make ThrillerFest 2018 a resounding success.  And now the NY Mets know they have dragons on their side.”

At the banquet on Saturday night, the packed room also honored James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author. Introduced by Lisa Gardner, Rollins received the Silver Bullet award. He gave a witty speech, reminiscing on the early days of ITW and how he himself was once the master of ceremonies for the banquet.

An homage from Brad Parks and Daniel Palmer that no one will ever forget, including GRRM!

Reached later for comment, Rollins said, “While it’s always great to be able to accept an award, the Silver Bullet is a distinctly special honor. Not only does it recognize charitable work—and hopefully encourage more—it allowed me a platform to educate a larger audience about US4Warriors, a grass-roots organization out of San Diego that is helping veterans in many ways, including telling their stories and getting published. As a writer, there is no greater thrill than discovering other storytellers and nurturing their talent. Of course, getting an award is pretty cool, too.”

Also honored at the banquet were publishers Bob and Patricia Gussin, founders of Oceanview, who were given the Legend Award. They said later that receiving the award  “was by far the highlight of our publishing career. The award itself is so spectacular, but receiving it in the presence of so many that have become our friends was over-the-top surreal—off the charts fabulous. Thank you ITW and thank you, our talented authors, for making this possible. Now, it’s on to more and better thrillers!”

In his talk before attendees at ThrillerFest, interviewed by Anne Groell, his Penguin Random House editor, George R. R. Martin made a point of sharing the peaks and valleys of his writing career.

Martin accepting his award from Lee Child

It’s always been important to Martin that people realize that his success was anything but overnight.  “Some of the fans of A Song of Ice and Fire seem to believe that I burst onto the writing scene full-grown with the publication of the first book of the series,” Martin wrote in the “Oldies But Goodies” section of his official website, “but actually I had been a professional writer for 25 years when A Game of Thrones was published in 1996.”

At ThrillerFest, Martin talked about the history of Nightflyers, a novella he wrote in 1980 that is being made into a new series for the Syfy channel, premiering this autumn.

According to Martin, he wrote the story’s protagonist, Melantha Jhirl, as a black woman. The name “Melantha” translates to “Black flower.” But when the story was first expanded into a book anthology, it showed a white woman on the cover to illustrate Nightflyers. When he protested to the editor, he was told, “You want people to buy the book, don’t you?”

A panel of champions

Since this was the 1980s and Martin had no power, he couldn’t make enough of a fuss to force the editor change the model who was used on the cover.

So when Martin heard that the Syfy channel had optioned the novella and planned to make it into a TV series, he said he had one condition: the actress playing Melantha must be a woman of color. Syfy executives agreed.

And an author was able to use his clout exactly the way he wanted.

Another Spotlight author was Megan Abbott, interviewed by Lee Child. She revealed that her mother let her stay home from school to watch gangster movies. That seems to have made quite an impact, as later she wrote a Ph.D. thesis on film noir and hardboiled fiction.

Abbott, too, spoke about the long climb to author success. In the beginning, she says, her writing was like “fan fiction.” No one would describe her novels of the last eight years that way: Dare Me, The Fever, You Will Know Me, and her latest, Give Me Your Hand.

A writer on the HBO series The Deuce, Abbott had this to say about writing a screenplay of your own novel, “It’s like an ex moving back into your apartment and not leaving until you solve all your issues.”


Nancy Bilyeau
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