ThrillerFest XIV Returns to NYC

This year’s ThrillerFest, the 14th annual meet-up of authors, aspiring writers, readers, agents, booksellers, and thriller fans, was held (as it has been since nearly the beginning…) at New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel, July 9–13.

This year’s ThrillerFest, the 14th annual meet-up of authors, aspiring writers, readers, agents, booksellers, and thriller fans, was held (as it has been since nearly the beginning…) at New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel, July 9–13.

The first days were devoted to CraftFest, a four-track writing workshop course led by authors, ATF (U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives) agents, and a few literary agents. PitchFest gave aspiring writers a chance to speed date with agents; ConsultFest, new this year, had publishing professionals providing instant feedback on query letters or manuscript pages; and a preconference ATF workshop seminar instructed attendees on proper use of weapons.

ThrillerFest “proper” began on Friday, July 12, with 24 possible choices for panels. Cleverly named in the “multiple choice” vein, the discussions included how to promote your thriller (“TV, Twitter or Road Trip?”), reviewing practices (“One Star, Five Star or All-Star?,” featuring LJ reviewers Jeff Ayers and K.L. Romo), historical thriller writing (“Medieval, Victorian or Ice Age?), writing underrepresented characters (“Many Voices, Diverse Cultures or Status Quo?”), and religion in thriller fiction (“Inner Strength, Spiritualism or Prayer?”). In between sessions and author signings, big name writers John Sandford and Harlen Coben held the crowds spellbound when they spoke with authors Neil Nyren and Heather Graham, respectively.

Saturday’s schedule opened with early workshops, then “Breakfast with the Debut Author Class of 2019,” a ThrillerFest staple. Among the 34 debut authors were D.A. Bartley,  Kelsey Rae Dimberg, Wendy HeardJohn McMahonPaula Munier, Carol Potenza, and Stuart Turton. Look for LJ reviews of sophomore efforts from ITW debut authors Catharine Riggs and Edwin Hill in upcoming issues.

The "Dark, Upbeat or Unhinged?" panel, l-r: moderator Tom Wickersham; Peter Blauner, Meg Gardiner, Adam Hamdy, Peter James, D.P. Lyle, R.L. Stine
New author Catharine Riggs at ThrillerFest author signing 

Saturday afternoon Spotlight Guest interviews were: Lisa Unger, by Karin Slaughter; and Stephen Hunter, by James Grady.

More afternoon panels posed the multiple choice questions “Dark, Upbeat or Unhinged?,” which featured more than a few references to Hannibal Lecter, harrowing prison visit stories, and author Peter James’s observation that “humor and horror go hand-in-hand”; “Id, Ego or Super Ego?,” with stirring stories of nonreaders turning into readers after getting their hands on books by Riley Sager, Shari LaPena, and Karen Dionne; and observations that Superman “is boring” by “Superman, Wonderwoman or Dexter?” panelists Joe Clifford, J.T. Ellison, Kira Peikoff, and Cate Holahan.

The denouement, the ITW Thriller Awards Banquet, saluted 2019 ThrillerMaster John Sandford. Author R.L. Stine, the 2011 ThrillerMaster, spoke about Sandford and introduced another “ITW tradition,” the celebratory song, which was performed by ITW author-pranksters Daniel Palmer and Brad Parks. Palmer and Parks bent Bob Dylan’s song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” into “Subterranean John Sandford Blues,” complete with Parks tossing cue cards à la Dylan in the much-parodied scene from D.A. Pennebaker’s 1965 documentary, Don’t Look Back.

The 2019 Silver Bullet Award was handed to Harlan Coben by last year’s Silver Bullet recipient, James Rollins; Steve Berry presented Margaret Marbury, Harlequin VP, Editorial, with the 2019 Thriller Legend Award. The 2019 ThrillerFan Award went to much-loved bookseller and superfan “Mystery Mike” Bursaw.

Here is a listing of the other ITW Award nominees, with the winners starred:

Best Hardcover Novel

Lou Berney—November Road (Morrow)

Julia Heaberlin—Paper Ghosts (Ballantine)

*Jennifer Hillier—Jar of Hearts (Minotaur: St. Martin’s)

Karin Slaughter—Pieces of Her (Morrow)

Paul Tremblay—The Cabin at the End of the World (Morrow)

Best First Novel

Jack Carr—The Terminal List (Atria: Emily Bestler)

Karen Cleveland—Need To Know (Ballantine)

Ellison Cooper—Carted (Minotaur: St. Martin’s)

Catherine Steadman—Something in the Water (Ballantine)

*C.J. Tudor—The Chalk Man (Crown)

LJ Senior Editor Liz French with ITW "Best First Novel" winner C.J. Tudor

Best Paperback Original Novel

*Jane Harper—The Lost Man (Pan Macmillan Australia/Flatiron)

John Marrs—The Good Samaritan (Thomas & Mercer)

Andrew Malone—The Naturalist (Thomas & Mercer)

Kirk Russell—Gone Dark (Thomas & Mercer)

Carter Wilson—Mister Tender’s Girl (Sourcebooks Landmark)

Best Short Story

Jeffery Deaver—“The Victims’ Club” (Amazon Originals)

Emily Devenport—“10,432 Serial Killers (in Hell)” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)

Scott Loring Sanders—“Window to the Soul” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)

*Helen Smith—“Nana” (Killer Women Ltd.: Crime Club Anthology #2)

Duane Swierczynski—“Tough Guy Ballet” (For the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon, Pegasus)

Best E-Book Original Novel

Clare Chase--Murder on the Marshes (Bookouture)

Gary Grossman—Executive Force (Diversion)

Samantha Hayes—The Reunion (Bookouture)

T.S. Nichols—The Memory Detective (Alibi)

*Alan Orloff—Pray for the Innocent (Kindle Pr.)

Best Young Adult Novel

*Teri Bailey Black—Girl at the Grave (Tor Teen) 

Gillian French—The Lies They Tell (Harper Teen)

Mari Lu—Warcross (Putnam)

Dana Mele—People Like Us (Putnam)

Peter Stone—The Perfect Candidate (S. & S.)

Next year's ThrillerFest, ThrillerFest XV, will be held July 7–11, 2020, at the Grand Hyatt, NYC. More info and coverage can be found at

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Liz French

Liz French is Senior Editor, LJ Reviews.  Email:; Twitter: @lizefrench

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