ThrillerFest 2019

The entrance to ThrillerFest 2019

Sadly, ThrillerFest 2019 has come to an end.

Wait… you don’t know what ThrillerFest is?? Seriously?


Well, if you hang on a sec’ I’ll give you a quick rundown.

Are you ready? OK; good.

*channels the voice of the Micro Machine Man*


ThrillerFest is the annual, week-long event, held every year during July in New York City (The Grand Hyatt Hotel) where acclaimed authors (and aspiring ones), agents, publishers, editors, and book reviewers come together in celebration of the thriller genre.

It’s a who’s who of the writing community. Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of some of the big names from this year’s lineup:

  • John Sandford
  • Harlen Coben
  • Margaret Marbury
  • James Rollins
  • Lisa Unger
  • Stephen Hunter

*takes deep breath and slows down*

Pretty cool; right? I thought so too. But these writers were just the tip of the iceberg. There was so much more to this event… and so many more talented authors.

Want to hear more? Excellent.

*summons speed voice again*

This year, there was an ATF Workshop where agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives briefed attendees on the background of this agency’s mission, its people, the laws it enforces, and the tools brought to bear in the fight against violent crime.

Then there was Master Class, where writers of all levels had the opportunity to work hands-on with some of the biggest names in the literary world. Writers like Steve Berry, Grant Blackwood, David Corbett, Karen Dionne, Robert Dugoni, Steven James, Gayle Lynds, Donald Maass, Hank Phillippi Ray, and F. Paul Wilson.

Then there was CraftFest and PitchFest. CraftFest is another teaching seminar, similar to Master Class, where attendees are given the tools they need to take their writing to the next level and to help them reach their individual career goals. PitchFest is designed to put authors and literary agents together for pitching projects/manuscripts. And many an aspiring author has snagged his/her agent during PitchFest.

*another gulp of air*

OK; so, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to why you are here reading my blog… you want to hear about about my personal experience at ThrillerFest. Right?

I’ll even include some photos. I mean c’mon; who doesn’t like photos?

Anyway, let’s rewind and start from the top.

It was early Thursday morning. I’d packed a bag (I made sure I had my Hawaiian shirt and Detroit Tigers ball cap — you’ll find out why further down) threw it into the back of my Jeep, and headed north toward New York City.

My Jeep. Looks good; right?

Luckily, I had the good sense to put the top up, because, by the time I hit the Maryland border, a major thunderstorm had rolled into the area.

I arrived in New York City, and after I checked into my hotel, I scouted out the ThrillerFest venue and hit up my friend, fellow scribe and author of the “The Body Man,” Eric Bishop. We meet in the lobby. And as we stood talking, Eric pointed behind me. “Hey,” he said, “that’s R.L. Stine.”

Yes, the man responsible for spinning the Goosebump tales was standing two feet behind me. And what do you do when you see R.L. Stine? You turn to him and say, “Mr. Stine, I’m a big fan… can I get a picture with you?”

Me and the incomparable R.L. Stine.

Later that evening, at the Thrillerfest Opening Reception, Eric and I hooked up with the rest of our writing crew: Sean Cameron and Mike Houtz.

“THE CREW.” From left to right: Eric Bishop, Mike Houtz, Sean Cameron, and me.

And then the fun began.

Me, Lori Twining, and Eric Bishop
Eric Bishop, Me, Brad Taylor, Sean Cameron and Mike Houtz

After the reception ended, we gathered our now slightly larger crew and headed out for some food [and drinks]. And it ended up being a late, but fun night with friends.

Left to Right: Collen Winter, LA Chandlar, Tracy & Mike Houtz, Adam Hamdy, Sean Cameron, Eric Bishop, Me and Lori Twining
Yeah it’s an Irish Pub.

The next morning was jammed packed with some amazing panels. And after an early presentation titled “Popcorn, Tickets or Trailers,” I finally had the chance to meet Don Bentley, author of the upcoming thriller “Without Sanction” (March 2020).

On social media, Don and I usually bust each other’s chops. It’s a light-hearted thing, him being a former FBI agent and me a former Secret Service agent. But in person–and it pains me to say this– Don turned out to be a great guy. Damn FBI…

Mike Houtz, Eric Bishop, Kyle Steele, Don Bentley, Me, and Sean Cameron

They even let Don sit on a panel titled “Inner Strength, Spiritualism or Prayer?” Hell must have frozen over.

And then in the evening, there was a cocktail party. And like all good cocktail parties, there was a theme… well, not an official one. OK, the organizers had no idea about any themes for the night. But it had one because we brought it.

I’m sure you can guess what that theme was by the pictures below (Make sure to swipe through them all). And no, it wasn’t simply “Hawaiian Shirt night.” Take a closer look at the hat I am wearing…

Ah, now you get it… Magnum P.I.

Anyway, we dressed up in support of former Navy SEAL, turned amazing author, Jack Carr, who was up for the Best Debut Novel award the next day.

Saturday came and brought with it the “Breakfast With The Debut Author Class of 2019.” Steve Berry gave the introductions.

Breakfast With The Debut Author Class of 2019.

And it just so happened that one of the CREW was up on that stage.

Mike gave a sixty-second speech about himself and his debut thriller “Dark Spiral Down.” Trust me, you have to hear what he said.

Mike Houtz’s speech

Afterward, there were more panels to attend, and more opportunities to meet up with friends and authors. Including Jack Carr, Lt. Col. Rip Rawlings IV, Mark Greaney and even British writing phenom CJ Tudor. CJ Tudor’s book, “The Chalk Man,” ended up winning Best Debut Novel. And she was kind enough to let me snap a photo with her.

At the end of the last day of Thrillerfest, the CREW had the chance to chat with some of the best and brightest in the industry.

Left to right: Eric Bishop, Jack Carr, David Brown (The Mystery Bus – #LiveUnboxing), Brady Taylor’s wife, Sean Cameron, Don Bentley, Brad Taylor, Me and Mike Houtz.

And then the CREW got to spend time talking with literary titan Ted Bell.

Wait… you made it this far!?! Jeez, you’re persistent.

Well, I can’t let you go empty-handed. So, I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom that I heard Stephen Hunter utter while James Grady interviewed him. It went something like this: “Sleep late, drink early, and shoot in between.”

See you at ThrillerFest XV • July 7 – 11, 2020• Grand Hyatt • New York City

And make sure you check out the International Thriller Writers “ITW,” an honorary society of authors, both fiction and nonfiction, who write books broadly classified as “thrillers.” You can get more information about the ITW by visiting their website:

Oh, one last thing, if you like reading thrillers then you need to subscribe to “The Big Thrill Online Magazine.” You can do that HERE.

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