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?

You probably think I hate social media

I don't actually hate social media. I think what I have is an aversion to the obligation of it. I remember back in 2007, jumping into Facebook, and being really excited that I actually knew 30 people who also had Facebook accounts, and that there was a place where I could talk about myself in a way that didn't seem narcissistic because everybody else was doing it, too. I wasn't trying to get published back then. I had no writer friends. It was just a place to hang out online with people I already knew in real life. 

And then I got into blogging, and then Twitter, and then Instagram, and now there's this thing called Snapchat which I've also joined (but only to send pictures of myself with animal face filters to my girlfriends, because we find that shit funny). We're told – no, encouraged – no, expected – as writers to have an online presence, to make ourselves accessible to our readers. And yes, I see the importance of that. 99% of the time, hearing from readers is a joy. Every so often, though, I'll get a mean email, from someone who didn't like something I wrote, and they'll come at me with their metaphorical fists up, wanting to fight. It comes with the territory, and I totally get it, but I'm still a person, and when someone goes out of their way to make me feel bad, it's hard to not actually feel bad.

Social media is bigger and louder than it was back in 2007; more personal, but less intimate. It's the #1 place for me to get my news about the world, but there are days when it seems like all of the news is terrible, and I can feel myself buckling under the weight of it. People share a lot of information about their kids and their dogs and last night's dinner and the movie they watched that I already know I'll never see. I share that stuff, too. Occasionally I'll see a really good meme that makes me laugh or ponder, but I can't bring myself to hit the share button because your was used instead of you're, and hello, I'm a writer and can't share shit that has grammatical errors.

I'm equal parts introvert and extrovert, and it's a finely-tuned balance that requires adjustment every single day. There are days when I crave the noise and camaraderie of social media, because it makes me feel valued and included and not alone. But there are days when I need to fully retreat. Especially when I'm writing something new. I write best when the space around me is silent.

I just finished exporting all my old posts from Blogger, and got to skim over the stuff I wrote back in 2009, long before the first book was even finished. It's easy to see how much I've grown, and not just as a writer, but as a human. I used to be so focused on outcomes. On end results. On getting to where I wanted to be. Not anymore. Why? Well, because the goal post keeps moving, and the endless pursuit of "success" (whatever the fuck that is) is exhausting, and it makes me miss everything else that's happening around me. But also because – if I've learned anything in publishing so far – it's that you can't control the outcome of . . . well, most everything. 

Except the book, as you write it. That's where the magic is. That part hasn't changed, not even a little bit. I need to be reminded of this occasionally. Sometimes I get so caught up in listening to what other people are saying, I can't hear my own voice. Because that voice doesn't shout. It whispers.

What's the point of this post? I guess I just wanted to say that I'm still here, still writing, still living, still doing my thing. And also, it's really good to see you. Your kids are cute and so is your dog, and whatever it was that you had for dinner last night, can I have the recipe?