Organiser to author - a memorable ride

KJ Howe
Opinion - Books Monday, 31 July 2017

KJ Howe reports on how directing ThrillerFest, and receiving generous help from bestselling authors, has helped her launch her own career in thriller writing


It has been my privilege to be the executive director of ThrillerFest, the annual conference for the International Thriller Writers, for over eight years. A former medical writer, I have always dreamed of becoming a published novelist, and ThrillerFest was instrumental in making that vision a reality. It starts with the positive energy of the event. ITW members - from NYT bestsellers to debut authors - offer encouragement, sharing their own journeys and success stories. The vibe is very much, "If I can do it, you can do it." Just walking the halls is inspiring, as many of the top names of modern suspense fiction gather in NYC every July to share their enthusiasm for thrillers. This year alone, we had blockbusters like Clive Cussler, Sandra Brown, Lee Child, Heather Graham, Lisa Gardner, Steve Berry, RL Stine, David Morrell, CJ Box, Nelson DeMille, and countless others.

I can also attest to the fact that ThrillerFest is a brilliant place for aspiring authors, as it provides insightful classes on the craft of writing. During the CraftFest portion of the conference, the masters in the genre share secrets on how to hone every aspect of your craft to a razor sharp edge. Audience questions are welcomed, providing an amazing opportunity to have direct input from elite writers on the issues that are plaguing you and your book. And once you have a polished manuscript, you can pitch your novel to over 60 top agents at PitchFest. I've learned so much from being part of ThrillerFest, and I'm honoured to have my debut, The Freedom Broker, coming out in the UK, US, Canada, Poland, and many other countries. I attribute this fabulous opportunity to internalising all the valuable lessons from the festival.

And the lessons don't just take place in the classroom. Authors gather for social events to discuss the business side of the publishing industry and share frank insights into how to develop into a full-time author. You're likely to share a glass of wine and some stories with top NYT bestsellers over the course of the week, and their heartfelt advice can help you avoid the many pitfalls of publishing and continue on the road to success. Over the years, I have never ceased to be amazed at just how generous the leading lights of our profession have been to me, and their kindness has been instrumental in helping me become a published author. For example, Karin Slaughter introduced me to her agent, and now I work with Victoria Sanders, one of the top agents in the genre. David Morrell, Rambo's Daddy, mentored me on craft, helping me dig deeper into the emotional aspects of character. Steve Berry has one of the most brilliant business minds in the industry, sharing many beneficial lessons. Lee Child taught me that writing is like music and how important it was to listen to the rhythm of your prose.

One of the key takeaways I learned at ThrillerFest is that you must be passionate beyond belief about the subject matter of your novel, especially if you plan on writing a series. I took that advice seriously. Because I lived all over the world growing up - in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Caribbean - I knew I wanted to write an international thriller. And kidnapping captured my imagination, as it is a purgatory of sorts, where you're alive but not really living, dependent on your captors for everything. Then I met Peter Moore, the longest held hostage in Iraq - almost 1,000 days; his heroic bravery was inspirational.

So for the last four years, I have immersed myself in the world of kidnap and ransom, a growing international crisis given there are over 40,000 kidnaps a year. I created an elite female kidnap negotiator named Thea Paris who travels to the globe's hotspots to bring hostages back home.

Writing about such a timely and critical topic, I wanted to bring authenticity and verisimilitude to The Freedom Broker. I'm hoping readers will be entertained as well as educated. For me, it's important to put down a novel and feel better informed, and via my book, I hope I can offer insight into the world of kidnap and ransom as well as offer readers travel safety tips to help prevent kidnapping in the first place. The story centres on the Paris family - and the many secrets, lies, and omissions within their inner circle, making it a mix between a thriller and a family drama. Thea Paris is at the top of her game in the kidnap milieu, but she faces the most challenging case of her career with a very special client: her father.

Please visit me anytime at www.kjhowe.com, where I have a world map detailing the kidnapping hotspots. I'd also be delighted to offer any help I can to aspiring authors. At ThrillerFest, we're all about making dreams come true - as one of mine did today, seeing my book displayed at Heathrow airport. If you're passionate about writing a crime novel, please consider coming to ThrillerFest. It's a magical week in NYC every July, and next year's dates are 10 to 14 July 2018. We'll be honouring George RR Martin, our 2018 ThrillerMaster. Hope to see you there, so I can help you reach for the stars.

KJ Howe is the author of The Freedom Broker, out now in paperback (Headline, £8.99).

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