Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thrillerfest VI: Thursday

So, I don’t participate in the first part of Thrillerfest. That consists of “Craftfest” and “Agentfest,” and since I’m not trying to learn how to write and I’m not seeking representation, there’s no point. The Thrillerfest part of the conference officially kicks off late Thursday afternoon. Happily, I didn’t need to accomplish too much on Thursday before the festivities began.

This was good, because I was experiencing “cascade failure” with my body. It had started the previous day. My contact lens was bugging me early in the day, so I took it out. The previous night, while sitting quietly in a darkened theater, suddenly my eye went nuts. Tears were gushing out of my left eye. I’m dabbing with a Kleenex, and Elle is wondering why I’m crying in a comedy. Soon enough, my nose is also dripping and my throat was sore. I had a head full of salt water. I woke the next morning feeling like I’d been pickled in brine. A week later, my eye is still slightly wonky, though much, much better than during the conference when I was surrounded by cameras and couldn’t put any makeup on my face. *rolls eyes* My throat no longer hurts, but my voice is, if anything, worse. You’ll be glad to know, I’m never speaking again. But I was lucky. Symptom-wise, I was kind of disastrous all weekend, but I never felt sick. I kind of hurt and I felt tired, but there was a reason for that.  No sleep.

So, my first agenda item for Thursday was move into the Grand Hyatt, Thrillerfest’s host hotel. Unfortunately, the Hyatt was not so grand this year. The lobby is being redone, and not to put too fine a point on it, it’s a train wreck. This is disappointing, as the lobby has traditionally been prime mingling and meeting real estate. There was literally no place to see and be seen. Potentially even more disastrous, our bar had been turned into office space! Now, those that know me IRL will attest that I am a girl of moderate habits. So, too, on the road, actually, but when in Rome… What I mean is writers spend a lot of time in bars, and when I’m with them, so do I. Even more than the hotel lobby, it is the place to be. Our old bar at the Hyatt was a sort of dim, intimate Hernando’s Hideaway of a bar. The new bar is a long, stretched out glass and chrome hot house on the lobby’s mezzanine level. It’s a lovely, sunny spot for breakfast or lunch, but how many extramarital affairs or other scandals are going to start in a glass house? (I’ve been hanging with these people for seven years. You haven’t seen the things I’ve seen.)

I met up with Elle in the non-lobby of the Hyatt, because we were going to be rooming together for the long weekend. I was already looking and sounding pretty pathetic at check in, and Elle was having issues of her own. Consequently (?), we scored a fairly nice double room with a small attached seating area. That is where our luck with the Hyatt ended. I am not going to go into excruciating detail, but we had issues, many issues in the next 36 hours. I’m a calm girl, but at one point I threatened to shoot “someone” at the hotel. The next time we came up to our room, there was a bottle of wine chilling on ice, a selection of non-alcoholic beverages, a fruit basket, and cookies. In addition, over the course of three days, we were comped four breakfasts, $200 in hotel credit, and two room nights. I’m pretty sure they lost money on our stay, but things were handled very, very badly. And then once they finally got their act together, everything was fine. So, enough about that.

Reviewer extraordinaire Jeff Ayers
After checking in and getting the lay of the land, I headed down to the Conference Level and picked up my T-fest badge, tote bag, and other random items. This is, of course, where you start greeting friends. The awesome book reviewer and librarian Jeff Ayers was one of the first people I saw. Jeff is… he’s a shiny, happy person. I have never seen that man without a smile on his face. He is the very definition of likeable, and I admire him in so many ways. I also wish I could spend more time with the guy, ‘cause I think I could learn so much from him. Suffice it to say, if Jeff Ayers is the first person to greet you at T-fest, you’re off to a good start.

I’ll admit that I was killing time. I’d connected with several friends, but meetings with agents and the like were happening at the bar. It wasn’t quite social hour yet. There was a welcoming cocktail reception at 6:30pm. Having nothing better to do, I wandered back up to the Conference Level. It occurred to me that for the first time in six years, I might listen in on M.J. Rose and Doug Clegg’s Buzz Your Book session. It’s sort of the transition between Craftfest and Thrillerfest each year, and I haven’t sat in once. I approached with the best intentions, but as I neared, I saw novelist Alan Jacobson enter the room, camera in hand. Alan’s been the official T-fest photographer since forever. Why? He has skills. Skills beyond writing a fine thriller. Anyway, I was lurking outside when the flashes had stopped, and I grabbed Alan for a nice catch up. He lives right in the Bay Area like me, but I hadn’t seen him since Bouchercon. So typical. Happily, Alan and I generally do manage to carve out some one-on-one time wherever we are, and it’s a pleasure for me, because he’s a lovely, lovely man. Seriously, a favorite in the industry. And I’m a bad lady, because I still haven’t read any of his Karen Vail novels. He gets all these starred reviews in the publishing trades, but I’ve been reticent to jump into an ongoing series. I’m going to remedy that soon. He’s got a new one coming out with the enticing title: Inmate 1577. Hear me now, I will read Alan soon.

Let me address something… I speak very highly about a lot of people in these circles. See Jeff Ayers and Alan Jacobson above. This is because I think very highly of these people. I’m super lucky to move in some very, very cool circles. Ironically, what I’m famous (or infamous) for in these circles is speaking my mind. So, sorry if I’m boring everyone talking about how totally awesome these people are. There are a lot of unbelievably awesome people at Thrillerfest. That’s why I’ve made and kept so many friends over the years. Not everyone is awesome, and I don’t mind naming names. I don’t know him personally, but I’m sorry to say that no one has a nice word to say about Stuart Woods. The consistency is stunning. But I don’t know him. I choose to surround myself with amazing, cool, beautiful people. And that leads us right into the opening cocktail party…

Me with Paul & Christi a couple of years ago.
OMG, so many good people that I haven’t seen in a year! ITW Co-President and all-around good guy Doug Preston; my buddy Bob Liparulo who I haven’t seen for two or three years; Paul and Christi Kemprecos who I love sooo much, but I can’t do more than wave at because I’m trapped by my own social circle! The frequently teasing David Liss gave me a warm hug. I connect with my dear friends Boyd and Randi Morrison. I’m chatting at length with Lissa Price, about whom you’ll hear much, much more later. Elle’s here too. Boyd, Lissa, Elle, Jimbo, me, and several others all go back to the very first T-fest in Phoenix, six years ago. We all bonded, and that bond has really held. It’s a wonderful, special friendship. And the nice thing is, as we each make more friends over the years, we share them. I met hunky novelist Graham Brown through those guys, but unfortunately our good friends Graham and equally hunky Chris Kuzneski had bailed at the last minute to meet their writing deadlines. Do you readers understand that you’re negatively impacting my social life? Another friend I’d met through Boyd Morrison is another Bay Area writer, the lovely and delightful, and very sociable Sophie Littlefield. Yes, I know everyone who reads this blog is very familiar with all of these names. It’s a combination of me reading my friends, becoming friends with the people I read, writing about my friends, and my friends being imminently newsworthy.

Mike Cooper & Margery Flax of the MWA
 Back to Sophie. She pulls me over and introduces me to her brother, Mike Cooper, about whom I’ve heard much. He’s a lovely friendly fellow, and pretty soon I’m introducing him to half the party as “Sophie’s brother.” It’s not that he’s not a talented and successful author in his own right, but as I explained to him, he just happened to be in a quadrant of the room that was essentially the Sophie Littlefield fan club. Me, Boyd and Randi, Elle, Lissa, Allison “Ali” Leotta, even Sophie’s editor Adam Wilson wandered by and joined the conversation. There were others, but I can’t even remember anymore. Is there anyone who doesn’t love Sophie?

I’d forgotten to eat all day, so I was snarfing up food while socializing. But eventually we started to talk dinner. God bless Lissa for practicality. But then my attention was caught by a very recognizable stranger, the debut author of one of the best novels I’ve read this year. I walked right up to him and said, “Dr. McEuen, I’m a big fan of yours!” In general, I’ve found this to be an acceptable way to begin a conversation, and it worked like a charm. Paul McEuen is not only a brilliant, world-renowned physicist working in nanotechnology, he is also the author of the uber-smart thriller Spiral. I think I was gushing when Lissa walked up and said, “Come to dinner with us.” (God bless you, Lissa, for being cool and assertive!) And he did!

The final contingent was me, Lissa, Elle, Ali Leotta, and Paul. We’d gone looking for Mike Cooper to extend an invitation, but couldn’t find him. Poor Paul, he was stuck with four ladies. Our concierge directed us to Avra, an upscale Greek seafood restaurant a few blocks away. We had a reservation, which worked out great. The ambiance was lovely, and I was feeling very New York chic. We were given this fabulous semi-circle booth, and I was seated smack in the center, with Paul and Elle on one side, and Lissa and Ali on the other. We had plenty of room, but this had the unfortunate side effect of fracturing our conversation in two. At one point, someone had the bright idea of us all smooshing closer together. It was unbearably adorable, all of us taking up about 2/3rds of our booth, but it worked like a charm! Conversation was vastly improved! There’s a photo in existence somewhere, and if I can ever get my 
Ali back home in DC
hands on it, I’ll post it.  For now, you'll have to make due with stock photos of everyone.

Now, let me tell you a little more about my girlfriends. They’re all beautiful and wildly accomplished. It’s enough to give a lowly blogger a complex, but I’m working on my issues. Ali Leotta is a Harvard Law grad who spent 12 years as a federal sex crimes prosecutor before writing her first legal thriller, Law of Attraction. She's also the married mom of two little boys aged two and four. Oy. I call her "The Underachiever." We met at Thrillerfest only last year, but have kept in touch since. I was so looking forward to introducing her to “the rest of the gang” this year, and she just hit it off with every single person I introduced her to. I didn’t even have to join the conversation.

Lissa Price, the Next Big Thing
You haven't heard of Lissa Price yet, but you will. As I said earlier, she's been my friend since the very first T-fest, and her forthcoming futuristic thriller, Starters,  will be Random House's lead YA title for Spring 2012. (Check it out, it's available for preorder now--cool!)  They're going all out for her, and it sounds like they're positioning her to be the Next Big Thing. So many of our good friends have achieved big success in the years since we’ve met that at times it seems astonishing, but there’s always room in the pool for one more. We're all very excited for her!

Sophie Littlefield & Elle Lothlorien
 And lovely Elle Lothlorien hasn't been traditionally published. She's had several near misses. She's another friend who I've known since the very first T-fest six years ago. After her thriller failed to sell, she decided to go in a completely different direction. She wrote a chick lit novel called The Frog Prince and posted it to Amazon. Without any name recognition or platform, she's selling steadily at a rate that would impress any publisher. The reviews and word of mouth have been stellar, and fans are clamoring for her next novel, Sleeping Beauty, which should be available soon. At this point, she holds all the cards with her career.

Paul McEuen, my new favorite person
And, as mentioned earlier, Paul McEuen will probably be, like, a Nobel Laureate one day. I mean, can you imagine the honor of just being allowed to sit at that dinner table? The conversations were FANTASTIC! At one point, Paul looked around and said, “This table is so not typical of America.” I think it was because Elle and I were totally geeking out over the science, like the geeky science nerds that we are. Anyway, by the end of that dinner, basically all of us girls (married and single) were crushing on Paul. Jimbo (Rollins) later dubbed us "techno-sluts" because we wouldn't shut up about him all weekend, LOL. (And relax, Mrs. McEuen, it was all very innocent and intellectual, I swear.)  But he is kind of a hottie.  Am I right?  In a brainy, mountain man kind of way?

After dinner, we found ourselves back at the Hyatt’s bar, where we reunited with our other friends. I saw Jimbo for the first time since our cab ride into the city. After greeting him, he was like, “When did you become Brenda Vaccaro?” The voice truly was awful, and the worst part is the people who were only just meeting me don’t know that I don’t (in the words of David Liss) sound "like a 90-year-old smoker." I had fun introducing Paul to Jimbo and Boyd and so many others over the course of the weekend, leading him to believe I’m a Yenta.

My friends are always trying to propose an actual paying job for me in the publishing industry. That should be it. I’m a Publishing Yenta, a matchmaker. It really is what I do best, just ask anyone. The phrase I heard over and over all weekend is, “Susan knows everyone.” Clearly that’s not true, but of the people I do know, I like to get people who should know each other together. And I’m quite good at that.

I’m not sure how late we were out that night, but Elle and I were among the last to hit the road. I seem to recall us being among the last of the women, and at some point that night, we met these two guys, Ethan and Jeremy. It turns out they were sharing a room a few doors down the hall from us, and I seemed to see them constantly all weekend. Ethan Cross has just published his debut novel, The Shepard, and Jeremy Burns is still working on getting published. Now watch, he’ll probably become the next Lee Child or something. Seriously, everyone I meet at these things becomes wildly successful. Just a heads up for you, Jeremy. Anyway, these two were good fun, and we saw a lot of them as the weekend progressed, often late, late at night. Ah, to be that young again. Alas I’m not. I slept in the next day.

More soon…


  1. great post sugar and not just cause you were completely and unnecessarily sweet about me and my bro! You truly *are* the publishing yenta and now i simply must hunt down McEuen myself...and you're a bit of a starmaker, aren't you, since you "launched" Boyd and now Lissa?

    And wow, i wish you'd given those Hyatt folks a piece of your mind *before* they'd destroyed a perfectly good lovely bar....

  2. I had so much fun hanging out with you last week, Susan! I get kinda shy at those conferences, but standing at your shoulder, I felt like I was at the center of the literary world. Thanks for adopting me into your wonderful group of friends.

  3. You do know how to have fun, Susie! You're in your own little heaven when you're at a book event like this. I don't think I've read any of these people's work, aside from Jimbo's of course. Maybe I need to meet them all, which will compel me to go out and snap up one of their books and become hooked, as happened with him. When's BEA coming to DC again?

  4. Did Paul McEuen happen to mention another book? You know that I loved Spiral. Funny that you would call him a hottie in a mountain man sort of way, because he looks like a lot of the guys up here in AK. Sort of rugged individualistic. How neat that he was able to meet James Rollins and Boyd Morrison through you. Aside from his awesome book, I would have loved to join you in picking his scientific brains.

  5. Sophie and Ali, thanks for the kind words. I feel like I've just been blurbed, LOL. Oh, and Soph, definitely do check Paul's novel out, but never call me a star-maker again. I just know good when I read it.


    Sorry, BEA is stuck in NY fore the foreseeable future. But do catch any of the above on tour. I think you'd enjoy them all.


    You crack me up. Perhaps if I was in Alaska, I wouldn't be a spinster.

    I did briefly discuss a next novel with Paul, but he's only just got an idea. I don't think we're going to see a follow up anytime soon. But, if I hear otherwise, I'll be sure to let you know!