New York City & ThrillerFest 2017

It felt different this time. Maybe because I haven't been to New York City since having my son (midtown Manhattan isn't the easiest place to bring a small child), or maybe it's because it hit me this past weekend how far I've come, and how much further I still have to go.

By no means am I a veteran author. I was described that way once in an interview and I laughed and laughed. I haven't been around that long, but I'm not new. And after so many years of feeling new, it was both awesome and strange to realize that I'm no longer new. My first writing conference was in 2009. I've been with my (first and only) agent for over seven years. I'm working with my third editor on my fifth book and am writing my sixth. I've switched publishers. I've made good friends. I spent some time at the post-banquet cocktail party on Saturday night talking to a debut author whose first book hasn't even come out yet, and who's struggling a little with her second book (been there, and I totally know how she feels). She thanked me for all my advice. 

Advice? Moi

I remember what it's like to be new. I remember the first time I came to NYC for ThrillerFest, which was my very first conference. I was a bag of nerves, giant stars in my eyes. I knew nobody. Not one person. This was before I got an agent, long before I got a book deal, long before I knew whether this third-revision manuscript called CREEP (there would be three more revisions before I had the balls to send it out) was any good. New York was awe-inspiring and terrifying. Everybody seemed busy, rushing around with important things to do. I stood by the doorway before each panel, hugging the wall, clutching my ThrillerFest bag. I saw a big-name author in the coffee line, another in the bookstore room, and I stared at the backs of their heads, too scared to introduce myself. I waited ten minutes to have Jeffery Deaver sign his newest book for me, and I only got a photo with him because my husband at the time pushed me forward. I came home overwhelmed and exhausted.

And full of want.

This year, I went to the ThrillerFest banquet. This was my sixth ThrillerFest, and only this past weekend did I attend my very first banquet! (I won't even go into the stress of the ordeal of finding a dress for the event). The Grand Hyatt elevator doors opened at Ballroom level, and I was greeted with a wall of noise. I sat at the St. Martin's Press table with my new editor, Keith Kahla, along with a table full of their bestselling authors (Steve Berry, Allison Brennan, Phillip Margolin, and Andrew Gross, ahem). I applauded (probably a little too loudly) for all the award nominees and winners. I sang along with everyone else to the Beatles-inspired medley performed live, honoring Lee Child and his Lifetime Achievement Award. I was surrounded by authors who've stayed the course, and who've paved the way for the rest of us to have a shot at the same life. 

A working writer's life. Which is all I've ever wanted.

Fancy table. Everybody wanted that copy of Riley Sager's new book, FINAL GIRLS.

Fancy table. Everybody wanted that copy of Riley Sager's new book, FINAL GIRLS.

That yummy dessert tasted like dark chocolate Fererro Rocher, and was worth the price of the banquet ticket (which, okay, I didn't have to pay for, but you get the idea).

That yummy dessert tasted like dark chocolate Fererro Rocher, and was worth the price of the banquet ticket (which, okay, I didn't have to pay for, but you get the idea).

Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series, accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award.

Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series, accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award.

Over the years, I've seen writers come and go. I have writer friends who don't write anymore, for lots of reasons, both personal and professional. I've heard just about every writing scenario you can think of (both the dreams and the nightmares), and if you want to know anything about anybody, it's over dinner and drinks at the bar where you'll get the truth of it, the stuff we don't talk about on Facebook. 

But here's what I can talk about. 

I got to thank my beautiful agent for everything she's done for me, in person.

Me and my agent, Victoria Skurnick, of Levine Greenberg Rostan.

Me and my agent, Victoria Skurnick, of Levine Greenberg Rostan.

I got to visit the Flatiron Building, home of Macmillan Publishing, to meet my editor (finally) along with the publicity and marketing team at St. Martin's Press and Minotaur Books. I got to sit in a giant office filled with amazingly smart people who said, "So. Tell us the story of Jennifer Hillier." (I don't know if the story was exciting, but I tried my best).

The beautiful and historic Flatiron Building.

The beautiful and historic Flatiron Building.

The crazy, amazing, terrifying staircase inside the Flatiron Building that gave me vertigo. My editor assured me that nobody has fallen from here, but I don't know if I believe him . . .

The crazy, amazing, terrifying staircase inside the Flatiron Building that gave me vertigo. My editor assured me that nobody has fallen from here, but I don't know if I believe him . . .

I got to see the view of NYC from the pointy window of Sally Richardson's office (who just happens to be the publisher of St. Martin's Press), and then ride the subway with her back to the Grand Hyatt, where we were both attending the ThrillerFest opening cocktail party. And, because the whole afternoon already felt like something out of a movie, we got on the wrong train and almost got lost (what's a good movie without a twist?).

The incredible view from the top.

The incredible view from the top.

I got to hang out with my new St. Martin's editor, Keith. It was 90% work talk and 10% looking at his cat photos (and if that ratio ever changes to 80/20, that would be completely fine with me).

Me and my editor, Keith, at the banquet. This is his biggest smile (or so he says).

Me and my editor, Keith, at the banquet. This is his biggest smile (or so he says).

I got to have lunch and drinks with both of my previous editors at Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books.

Me and Natasha Simons, my editor at Simon & Schuster/Gallery. I miss working with her, but we're friends, and watching her star continue to rise is a hell of a lot of fun.

Me and Natasha Simons, my editor at Simon & Schuster/Gallery. I miss working with her, but we're friends, and watching her star continue to rise is a hell of a lot of fun.

I got to eat breakfast with author pals Joe Clifford and Ed Aymar, and cheer on the Debut Author Class of 2017, several of whom I'm proud to call friends (including Christina Hoag, KJ Howe, Christina Kovac, and Isabella Maldonado).

A panoramic view of the Debut Author Class of 2017. Who's that in the corner? Why, that's Ed Aymar, managing editor of The Thrill Begins.

A panoramic view of the Debut Author Class of 2017. Who's that in the corner? Why, that's Ed Aymar, managing editor of The Thrill Begins.

As soon as I posted this picture of me and Joe Clifford, my girlfriends back home immediately wanted to know if he was single. Sadly, ladies, he is not.

As soon as I posted this picture of me and Joe Clifford, my girlfriends back home immediately wanted to know if he was single. Sadly, ladies, he is not.

I got to give long-time friend Riley Sager (his pen name) a giant hug, because his new book FINAL GIRLS is pretty much the hot book of the summer (if you think I'm exaggerating, I most definitely am not - he's everywhere right now and I couldn't be prouder!). I also got to hug KJ Howe, who's the executive director of ThrillerFest, and whom I'll always have a soft spot for, because she made my own debut year special back in the day. Kim's now an author in her own right - and a fellow Toronto girl! - with one of the other hot books of the season, THE FREEDOM BROKER. And I got to congratulate Karen Dionne, whose new book, THE MARSH KING'S DAUGHTER is as fabulous as I've heard it was going to be (I'm reading it right now).

What should my hashtag with Kim be from now on? #TorontoGirlsDoItBetter or #TwoHotBlondes? HA!

What should my hashtag with Kim be from now on? #TorontoGirlsDoItBetter or #TwoHotBlondes? HA!

I got to thank author heroes Lisa Gardner and Joe Finder in person (I'll tell you why in a later post).

Me and Lisa Gardner. I was smiling so big when I met her that my face actually hurt.

Me and Lisa Gardner. I was smiling so big when I met her that my face actually hurt.

I got to meet so many new friends I'd only previously interacted with on social media, and make a whole bunch of new ones. Finally getting to meet author Danny Gardner was a treat, because that dude is every bit as cool as I imagined he'd be. It was also great to finally meet agent Michelle Richter, as we share a fondness for cats, and for Ed. (And if I didn't name-check you here, it's because so much of the weekend was a blur and it all went by way too fast! That being said, you are absolutely welcome to punch me when I see you next - just please not in the face).

Christina Hoag and I go way back. We met in a Gotham Writer's workshop in 2009, so meeting her in person for the first time was pretty special. She's part of ITW's Debut Author Class of 2017. Congratulations, Christina!

Christina Hoag and I go way back. We met in a Gotham Writer's workshop in 2009, so meeting her in person for the first time was pretty special. She's part of ITW's Debut Author Class of 2017. Congratulations, Christina!

Oh, and of course I was on a panel discussing muses, phobias, and fears with fellow authors Allen Eskens (moderator), Diane Capri, Nina Laurin, Melissa MacGregorJonelle Patrick, and Kelly Parsons, and somehow we managed to sound awake and funny even though it was 8 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Left to right: Kelly Parsons, Jonelle Patrick, me, Melissa MacGregor, Nina Laurin, Diane Capri, and moderator Allen Eskens. (Photo credit: Nina Laurin)

Left to right: Kelly Parsons, Jonelle Patrick, me, Melissa MacGregor, Nina Laurin, Diane Capri, and moderator Allen Eskens. (Photo credit: Nina Laurin)

(Photo credit: Nina Laurin)

(Photo credit: Nina Laurin)

Last but not least, I got to catch up with New York-based friends (Alex and David), and spend time talking about things that had nothing whatsoever to do with publishing (which is refreshing, and absolutely necessary for my mental health). 

Alex and me. We first met through our blogs back in 2009.

Alex and me. We first met through our blogs back in 2009.

So, I'm glad I'm not new. I'm glad I've been around a little while so I can appreciate how it feels to not be new. I no longer hover outside panels before they start (unfortunately, I don't have time to go to very many anymore), because now there's always someone to wave to, someone to catch up with, someone to hug. It's a blessed, blessed tribe to be a part of. And so much has changed for me in the past eight years. Highs and lows, ups and downs, stops and starts. I'm not new . . . but it still feels like it's just beginning. 

You know what hasn't changed, though? The stars in my eyes. Hopefully they never go away.

Book news!

Finally, finally, finally, I get to tell you my book news! Perfect timing, too - I just finished edits, but I haven't yet moved countries, so I'm still in this little window of time where I can just be excited and joyful and... thrilled.

Incredibly happy to be part of the St. Martin's Press family.

Seattle is my second home

But Toronto is my first love. And I'm thrilled to say that I'll be back there again come the end of May, this time with my little American family. Permanently.

This will be my fifth move in five years - and my fourth move from country to country in the last ten years - and so my anxiety is through the roof. My husband got his permanent residency approved almost a year ago, and if we don't leave soon, it will expire. People like to joke that we're only moving to Canada because of the election results, but we had his "green card" long before that (though the election sure as shit didn't help). Bringing him to Canada after we got married was always the original plan. We just have an extra person coming with us now - our two-year-old son, who'll have dual citizenship.

But I'm glad I moved back to Seattle again for three and half years, even though back in 2011 I thought I never would again. I was born and raised in Toronto, but I became a writer in Seattle. I've grown so damned much over the eight years I've spent here total, and while I know without a doubt that it's time to leave - and for good, this time - it's heartbreaking, too. I've written five books (yes, five, hint hint, with a sixth on the way) and they're all set in Seattle. I've never felt the same creative drive in Toronto as I've felt here in the Pacific Northwest. The only book I wrote in Toronto was THE BUTCHER, but it was still set in Seattle, and I had the idea for it and did all the editing here in the Emerald City.

Will my future books be set in Seattle, too? I honestly don't know. Writers write what moves them, and so I guess we'll just have to wait and see. I do feel like I'm evolving as a writer, so who knows what the next evolution will bring. 

Back to the land of butter tarts, ketchup chips, Timmy's double-doubles, poutine, the Swiss Chalet Festive Special, and Good Fridays as a statutory holiday. There's so much more, of course, but other than family and friends, those are some of the little things I've missed.

What will I miss about the Northwest? The rain, believe it or not. It makes everything smell wonderful and promising, and the trees turn extra green. A small handful of good people I'm lucky enough to call friends. Cuban sandwiches from Un Bien. Flowers from Pike Place market that only cost ten bucks for a giant bouquet and which last for two weeks. The entire Eastside area where my son was born, and where my favorite cat died, and where we all became a family. And of course, my beloved Seahawks, who I'll be cheering from afar. (I'm a 12 for life.)

Goodbye, Seattle. Until we meet again.

The Thrill Begins

I'm a regular columnist at International Thriller Writer's The Thrill Begins, so if you're a debut thriller author, or you want to be a debut thriller author, or you're a veteran author of any genre and enjoy reading about other authors' experiences in the world of publishing, then this is the site for you. All of the columnists are tremendously talented, hardworking writers who have a lot of stuff to say.

Here's a roundup of the articles I've written so far:

The Necessity of Running Away from Your Region (part of the Meet My Region series, published December 15, 2016)

"I jumped at the chance to start a new life somewhere I had never even visited, where I knew absolutely nobody. It was an opportunity at reinvention, a chance to do that complete 180 without anybody watching or offering an opinion about how my time might be better spent."

A Tale of Woe (published July 14, 2016)

"I lost a good writing friend after I got my first book deal. Let’s call her Gloria. And I don’t mean I “lost her” in that she died; she basically dumped me, and I didn’t see it coming. Gloria and I were in the trenches together. We met on a popular writers’ forum and instantly clicked, as much as two people – two straight women, anyway – can click online."

Meet Your Heroes: Jennifer Hillier Interviews Joseph Finder (published June 28, 2016)

"Don’t pin all your hopes on the inevitable massive success of your first novel or your next book. Don’t spend all your time and energy promoting it — some, sure, but not all. Make sure you’re onto the next novel by the time your first one comes out. The biggest contribution we writers can make to our careers is to keep turning out the best possible books we can. Give your publishers something really good to work with."

My embarrassingly inefficient (but surprisingly effective) writing process (published May 12, 2016)

"I was whining the other day to a non-writer friend about my work-in-progress, and how I wished (for the umpteenth time) that I could outline a novel. As a “pantster,” it feels like I spend so much time getting lost in my own story. After five minutes of venting, when my friend didn’t say anything back, I asked her what she thought. And her response was, “What do I think about what? Your process? Because you do this with every book.”"

For the Good of the Story (published March 10, 2016)

"I may write books alone, but I sure as hell don’t edit them by myself. Even the best and most experienced novelist needs the critical eye of an editor whose sole job is to make the book the best it can be. Editors, even if they totally understand the vision you have for your book, still see it in a way you never will." 

A Conversation with Benoit Lelievre of Dead End Follies (published February 1, 2016)

"Anytime I’ve tried to plan a story, I’ve killed it and lost interest. With Wonderland, it just fucking grew. I like intimate stories, two or three characters, that I can really dig into and expose, and Wonderland wasn’t like that at all. The setting made it so challenging – it’s hard to have an amusement park that’s creepy as hell and not have a cast of characters to go along with it."

Let's Talk About Sales, Baby (published January 14, 2016)

"“I really think I can sell it,” my agent said to me back in 2010, “but my job is also to manage your expectations. It’s very difficult to sell fiction, especially debut fiction. And even if we do get an offer, a typical advance is between two and five thousand dollars. So don’t quit your day job.”"

How It Happened (part of the publishing journey series, published November 10, 2015)

"Query Hell was a totally miserable, stressful, awful, soul-sucking experience and it was the greatest day when I signed with my agent because it meant I could get off the merry-go-round of “your writing doesn’t resonate.” I don’t know if I can make this funny because my How It Happened really wasn’t funny, or even interesting. Honestly. It was statistics and tracking rejections on a spreadsheet and endless tweaks of my query until I got plucked out of the slush pile."

What I Wish I'd Known (published October 29, 2015)

"Your published book, even if it’s a fictional story, is a part of you. Once it’s out in the world, you can’t help but feel naked and exposed, and do any of us really want to know what other people think about how we look, naked? Does someone pointing out that I have jiggly thighs make me want to do more squats? No, it does not. It makes me want to camp out on the sofa and eat chocolate until I vomit."

Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans

There's too much that happened at Bouchercon in New Orleans last week to go into great detail about, so here are the memorable bits, more or less in the order they happened:

  • I got to the convention on Wednesday evening, a few minutes before registration closed. This year, each attendee received six tickets to exchange for books of our choosing. This was awesome because I got to hand pick which books I wanted to read and lug home. 
  • While eating dinner at the bar that first night, the older gentleman beside me who I'd been chatting with invited me back to his room. I declined. Later, when I told my husband that I seriously couldn't remember the last time a guy flat-out invited me to his hotel room, he said, "Uh, hello. ME. Three years ago. Las Vegas. The night we met." Oh. Right. 
  • I was on a panel called "Something for the Weekend: Morning Sex" with fellow authors R.R. Gilston, James Ziskin, Don Bruns, and Colin Campbell, moderated by Matthew Clemens. A fine bunch we were, making donkey sex jokes at 9 a.m. the first morning of the first official day of the convention (okay, not ME, but I laughed . . . and then I cringed).
  • I had an extremely intoxicated man named Brad (yep, I'm naming him) try to massage my neck in the bar on Thursday night. Twice. The first time, I warned him about being touchy, and the second time, he actually moved my hair to get to my neck, after which I freaked out a little bit, because gross. Also, it happened front of everyone, which was embarrassing. But let's not pretend you weren't totally inappropriate with me and the other women, okay, Brad? And that you didn't completely deserve to fall down backwards onto the floor on your ass, and flail around for a couple of minutes like a Muppet until two very nice people reluctantly helped you up.
  • I got to hang out with Ed Aymar, my good friend and the managing editor of The Thrill Begins. He took the group out to dinner on Friday night. Well, not really, we all went to dinner, and I suspect he picked the place because he liked the name Daisy Dukes.
Left to right: Rob Brunet, Ed Aymar, me, Wendy Tyson, Gwen Florio, and Elizabeth Heiter.

Left to right: Rob Brunet, Ed Aymar, me, Wendy Tyson, Gwen Florio, and Elizabeth Heiter.

  • After the Brad incident, Ed gave me this cool little voodoo cat, designed to ward off "rude and inappropriate people." I wore it on my badge for the last couple days of the conference. Totally worked. I will keep it with me always. Thanks, Ed!
  • I had a lovely chat with Gracie Doyle, the editorial director of Thomas & Mercer, who also happens to be a friend and former co-worker of my husband's. 
  • I got to congratulate one of my old writing buddies, Mark Edwards, on selling close to two million books. That's almost a million more books than he'd sold the last time I saw him, which was the last Bouchercon, eleven months ago. (Be sure to read his latest psychological thriller, THE DEVIL'S WORK, about working in the office from hell - it's creepy!)
  • I got to meet David Swinson, author of THE SECOND GIRL, whose book I was already in the middle of reading! Love when that happens. He's fantastic, both as an author and as a person.
Not my best angle, but who cares, it's DAVID SWINSON!

Not my best angle, but who cares, it's DAVID SWINSON!

  • I got to smell Mark Pryor again. He smells as good as you think he would. (Be sure to read his latest mystery, THE PARIS LIBRARIAN. One of the characters is a French police officer of Filipino descent named, ahem, Jennifer Hillier.)
  • I got to spend significant time with the other members of TTB who were at Bouchercon, namely Elizabeth Heiter, Wendy Tyson, Gwen Florio, and my fellow Torontonian Rob Brunet. There were lemon drop shots consumed in the bar, and many strange conversations about who would make our "Top 5 celebrities we would sleep with" list, what you would do if your spouse suddenly didn't have any lady bits or man parts, what the ideal superpower would be, and so on. You know, casual bar talk.
The bar at the Marriott hotel, also knows as the Bouchercon bar.

The bar at the Marriott hotel, also knows as the Bouchercon bar.

  • Elizabeth, because she's fabulous, introduced me to Lee Child. I shook his hand, and squeaked about what a huge fan of his work I am. Lee was gracious, as he always is, with everyone.
  • Sara Blaedel offered me her lap to sit on. Partly because there were no free chairs at her table where she was sitting with Lee, and partly because she (rightly) suspected I was close to passing out from the excitement of meeting Lee. I didn't sit on Sara's lap. I didn't want to squish her (she's too lovely).
  • Ed and I attempted to get beignets at Cafe Du Monde, where everybody at the convention was insisting we should go. We took a cab down on Saturday morning, because lazy. We didn't get out of the cab when we got there, because lineup. We had the cab driver take us back to the hotel, because hot.
  • I got to say a quick hello to Joseph Finder, one of my writing heroes. He is such a nice guy, it's all I could do not to gush (again, as I interviewed him for The Thrill Begins). 
  • Elizabeth, because she's a goddess, made me her plus-one at an intimate panel moderated by Lee Child, which was invite-only. It was with bestselling authors Sara Blaedel, Karin Slaughter, Kate White, Alafair Burke and Lisa Unger, and the topic discussed was why more men aren't reading books written by female authors. Y'all, I was in the presence of greatness. This panel may have been the highlight of my conference.
Left to right: Lee Child, Sara Blaedel, Karin Slaughter, Kate White, Alafair Burke, and Lisa Unger. WOWZA.

Left to right: Lee Child, Sara Blaedel, Karin Slaughter, Kate White, Alafair Burke, and Lisa Unger. WOWZA.

  • At the airport, before boarding my flight for home, I met a woman who currently works with law enforcement in Seattle and has a serious background in corrections. Over two large glasses each of "voodoo juice" made with lots of rum, she answered every question I had about life in women's prisons, serial murders, missing persons, pedophiles, psychopaths, foster care, and the best way to get a cell phone past a cavity search. I was drunk when I got on the plane, but that was okay, as I have about fifty different ways to make my current book better now.

All in all, it was a fabulous convention. Next year, in 2017, Bouchercon will be in my hometown of Toronto. See you there?