Friday, July 27, 2007


Saturday morning began with the eye opening panel called "Dark Secrets: The badder the villain, the more adrenalin junkies like it" - no caffeine needed here! The always funny James O. Born was the "Panel Master", a title he deemed "a little too S&M" so he decided to moderate instead. I was really excited about this one because I finally got to meet one of my favorite new authors, Robert Fate, author of the fabulous Baby Shark series. Also on the panel was the very bright and always interesting J.D. Rhodes, police officer/author Robin Burcell who writes a terrific police series and is coming out with a stand alone thriller called THE FACE OF A KILLER, Kate Pepper, and Mallory Kane.

Jim asked the panelists how they make their bad guys believable without making them caricatures and I liked Dusty's (JD Rhodes) answer a lot; he said, "Always remember that the bad guy thinks he's the hero." Rhodes also said he prefers to think of the "bad guys" as the antagonist of the book, while Robin Burcell pointed out that "antagonist" has 4 syllables, two too many for the cops in the room, so she was sticking with "bad guys." She added that she never writes from the bad guy's point of view because she finds it "more suspenseful not to show that much." Kane said that she likes to write "intelligent bad guys who can outsmart the cops - a worthy opponent," while Pepper says she just "can't get inside the head of a villain, it's too creepy!" Fate said he enjoys writing bad guys because "they don't have any limits." It was a really good discussion, partly because Jim Born is such a good moderator, contributing his own comments on occasion as well as getting all the authors and the audience involved. Born gave out a set of those plastic handcuffs that cops use, only after making the lucky winner swear she understood that the only way to get them off is with a bolt cutter!

One of my favorite panels was “The Art of Deception: Can you write what you don’t do?” moderated by Christine "I sailed from Fort Lauderdale to New York for this!" Kling, and featuring a couple of my favorite authors, Lee Child and David Hosp, as well as new guys Phil Hawley and Nick Santora, and Lori Andrews. They were all asked to tell something about themselves and the audience had to guess if they were lying or telling the truth. All except Dr. Hawley, a pediatrician, were lawyers and surprisingly enough, all were very good, shall we say, story tellers? Santora claimed that he was arrested for attempted murder during his junior year of college while on spring break. Andrews told us that she was asked to help set up laws in Dubai for cloning men only. Hosp said he was stabbed in the chest on the upper east side of New York City. Child said he suffered with learning disabilities when he was young. And Hawley claimed that he was the third test tube baby born in the United States. The only liars? Hawley & Child.

An interesting side note: SLIP & FALL by Nick Santora is the first book published by the new publishing arm of Borders Bookstores. Towards the end of the panel, Panel Master Chris Kling asked for ten volunteers to stay and chat with Santora afterwards. I was one of the volunteers, and turns out his Borders rep was there with ten hardcover copies of his book, which he personally signed for all his "volunteers". It was a lovely and generous thing to do, and I can't wait to read it!

I returned after lunch to a panel entitled "The Killing Hour: How authors keep us turning pages into the wee hours" that had an all star cast: John Lescroart, Robert Liparulo, Andrew Gross, Heather Graham, and Lisa Gardner. They all had interesting ideas about that, like Heather Graham who uses prologues to "grab the reader in the first few pages." Lecroart says "you have to care about the character to care about the plot." Gardner feels that "it's not the "what" that's happening but the "who" it's happening to that hooks a reader." She also says she likes to use romance to "up the stakes: - what terrifies anyone more than losing their own life is losing someone they love." When asked how she felt about killing off the main character at the end of the book, her response drew the biggest laugh of the afternoon: "WOO HOO! Oprah book!"

Graham shared that setting is very important and she uses Miami, where she lives, quite a bit. She told a great story about a man who was sentenced to death in Miami and was sent to the electric chair. Usually they shave the prisoner's head for that but for some reason, they didn't for this guy and his hair caught on fire. She said the headline in the Miami Herald read "Electric Chair Deemed Dangerous."

Gross thinks that "married sex is less compelling," but only in his books! He also talked a bit about writing with James Patterson. He said he learned to do a thorough outline; they usually average about 80 pages. He said Patterson would send it back with notes inserted like "a horrible death" or "a clue that solves everything" as chapters to be written. Andy ‘fessed up to being co-author of more Patterson novels than his name actually appears on, leaving readers with another mystery to solve.

I also ran into another James Patterson co-author, Maxine Paetro. I couldn’t help but ask how the process of writing together worked. Ms. Paetro replied, “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.” She did allow that she’d known Jim since his advertising days.

I was really looking forward to the next panel, "In the Thin Air: 2007 Thriller Award nominees" that included Joseph Finder (KILLER INSTINCT); Lisa Unger (BEAUTIFUL LIES); Pat Gussin(SHADOW OF DEATH), George Shuman (18 SECONDS); Jack DuBrul (SKELETON COAST)& P.J. Parrish (AN UNQUIET GRAVE). I was not disappointed, these were interesting, articulate authors and it was a lively discussion. They all shared some secrets, which I will share here: DuBrul says that while writing his first two books, he always wore a hat. Finder spoke Farsi as a child, Unger lived in an apartment in NYC that was over a pizza place, much like her character Ridley, and Gussin has seven kids and seventeen grandkids!

Finder is another author that really likes giving back to the writing community because he knew nothing about the publishing business when he got started. He told us how he wanted to write but didn't know anyone he could even ask about how to go about getting published. He was in a bookstore one day looking at some books, and was reading the author bio on the back flap when he realized that the author lived in his hometown of Cambridge, Mass. So he took a chance and looked the author up in the phone book, and braved a cold call seeking information on how to go about getting published. That author was kind enough to help, and they became good friends. But Joe doesn't want other authors to have to do that, so he tries to make himself available to any interested authors who have questions.

I headed over to the spotlight interview with Clive Cussler. James Rollins asked the questions, and Dr. Cussler told some great stories. He talked about how he came up with the name for his Dirk Pitt character. He wanted a short name, like James Bond, so he decided to use his son's name, Dirk, and needed a last name. He was watching TV and saw something about "Pitt the older and Pitt the younger" and thought that would be the perfect name - and it was. And the Dirk Pitt is the new version of the orange faced Doxa diver watch that Dr. Cussler has been wearing since the 1960's.

Cussler also talked about how he likes looking for lost ships, but he says when people come to his office, they're always surprised that he doesn't have all sorts of treasure strewn about. In fact, he doesn't have any, because he's not a treasure hunter - he thinks those people are "weird." If he finds anything, he just turns it in.

As far as his writing habits go, he says he always writes a prologue, and he always starts with a beginning and an ending - but he writes the middle as he goes. He calls the actual writing "a pain in the ass," but loves the research, and usually spends about three months on it. Cussler says he always thought of himself as "an entertainer, more than a writer."

Please check out my report on CraftFest, ThrillerFest: The Beginning and ThrillerFest: The End, for this year...

A much abbreviated version of this report will appear in the September 1 issue of Library Journal. Copyright © 2007 Cahners Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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