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Gillian French

By Dawn Ius

A lot of authors credit Stephen King for inspiring their love of the thriller and horror genres. A lot. And it makes sense then, that they’d want to give him a shout out—such as ITW Best Young Adult Novel award nominees Dana Mele and Gillian French, who say King has very much influenced their writing careers.

But for French, author of The Lies They Tell, it’s also King’s wife, Tabitha, that has earned some credit in the inspiration department.

“She doesn’t publish as frequently, but her writing is so incredibly powerful,” French says. “Her insights into the human condition are incomparable.”

Words Tabitha would likely be thrilled to hear—even if French got a little tongue tied trying to deliver the praise. French admits she’s extremely shy and self-conscious—the kind that makes her blush when speaking in public. Something she’ll need to conquer if her book is chosen as this year’s Best Young Adult Novel at ThrillerFest, July 14.

Teri Bailey Black

A win would be life-changing, but of course, French recognizes that her novel faces some steep competition. Also nominated is Dana Mele’s People Like Us, Peter Stone’s The Perfect Candidate, Warcross by Marie Lu, and Girl at the Grave by Teri Bailey Black.

Black says the nomination comes with an extra special boost as Girl at the Grave is also her debut.

“I’ve been riding the usual new-author roller coaster for the last few years,” she says. “Waking up at four in the morning to write, sure my latest chapter is brilliant. Followed by days of bleary-eyed doubt. Getting oh-so-close, then rejected. Starting over with a new story. Finally, success! Followed by a huge revision, sure it’s all dreadful. Winning the Thriller Award would be wonderful validation—a fabulous high on that ongoing roller coaster.”

Neither her career—or pieces of her life—have been particularly easy. Black’s daughter, now 29, was born with severe intellectual and physical disabilities.

Peter Stone

“Lots of doctors and worries and pushing a wheelchair and pulling a grocery cart at the same time,” she says. “But Kelsi is my sweet angel and brings me so much joy. She’s now 29 and keeps me company while I write all day.”

Black is currently working on her second novel also set in the YA world, while some of the other nominees—such as Peter Stone and Dana Mele, are shifting their focus to adult thrillers.

“My new book is a standalone thriller that takes place worlds away from the marble corridors of Washington, D.C.—but in a setting that I found to be even more intense and scary,” Stone says, noting that The Perfect Candidate is also his debut. “A number of times as I’ve been writing at night, I’ve turned on a few extra lights in the room.”

Dana Mele is all too familiar with fear—she’s terrified of scary movies, and often turns away from killing scenes. But she still gravitates to the work of Stephen King for inspiration, though admittedly in large part to the writing advice he delivers in his craft memoir, On Writing.

Dana Mele

“It gave me the courage to start querying in the first place, which I’d avoided for a long time,” she says. “My feelings toward rejections have since cooled and I’ve once again embraced worrying, but I had a moment, and I wouldn’t be a published author if that moment never happened.”

Like the rest of the nominees, Mele will have to wait to see if that publishing moment will also translate into an award-winning moment.

Scroll down to read excerpts from the Goodreads descriptions of each of the award finalists. Which one of them would you cast your ballot for?


Teri Bailey Black

Valentine has spent years trying to outrun her mother’s legacy. But small towns have long memories, and when a new string of murders occurs, all signs point to the daughter of a murderer.

Only one person believes Valentine is innocent—Rowan Blackshaw, the son of the man her mother killed all those years ago. Valentine vows to find the real killer, but when she finally uncovers the horrifying truth, she must choose to face her own dark secrets, even if it means losing Rowan in the end.


Gillian French

Everyone in Tenney’s Harbor, Maine, knows about the Garrison tragedy. How an unexplained fire ravaged their house, killing four of the five family members. But what people don’t know is who did it. All fingers point at Pearl Haskins’s father, the town drunk, who was the caretaker of the property, but she just can’t believe it.


Marie Lu

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.


Dane Mele

Kay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she’s reinvented herself entirely. Now she’s a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl’s body is found in the lake, Kay’s carefully constructed life begins to topple.



Peter Stone

When recent high school graduate Cameron Carter lands an internship with Congressman Billy Beck in Washington, DC, he thinks it is his ticket out of small town captivity. When he lacks connections and Beltway polish he makes up in smarts, and he soon finds a friend and mentor in fellow staffer Ariel Lancaster.

That is, until she winds up dead


Dawn Ius
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