Killer Year–The Class of 2007

Witness to History…
September 30, 2006, 8:30 am
Filed under: CJ Lyons, KillerYear Friends

Okay, it wasn’t Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, but for a newly contracted thriller writer, it felt as momentous.  After all, David Morrell himself had escorted me here to this gathering which included so many of my writing heroes.  To say I was a bit overwhelmed would definitely be an understatement. 

Anyone arriving at the Toronto Convention Center’s meeting room on October 9th, 2004 knew something fantastic was about to happen.

We were crowded together, sitting knee to knee in folding chairs haphazardly arranged in a semi-circle.  Whispered and excited conversations buzzed through the crowd.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but we knew it was going to be big.

Finally, Gayle Lynds stood and stretched the microphone wire so she could stand in the midst of the crowd.  She kept looking around the room as if searching for something.  We craned our necks.  The room was large, designed to hold a hundred people, and while we didn’t fill it, it somehow felt overflowing.  With energy.  With anticipation.

Then Gayle spoke, her voice at first low, then rising. Did we want an organization devoted to furthering the thriller genre?  Would we support it, help to organize and build it?  Did we think this was a worthwhile cause?


We looked at each other, several of us edging forward.  David stood beside Gayle and gave us a glance that challenged each of us.  Gayle asked again: do you want an organization dedicated to thrillers?

Then a chorus of people spoke out.  It was an overwhelming and unanimous response.  YES!

And so International Thriller Writers was born.

According to the ITW archives these people were present at that inaugural meeting:  Natalia Aponte, Gary Braver, Debbie Carter, Lee Child, Wes DeMott, David Dun, Barry Eisler, Joseph Finder, Maggie Griffin, Peter Guttridge, Raelynn Hillhouse, Gregg Hurwitz, Alex Kava, Christopher Keane, Susanna Kearsley, Christine Kling, David Liss, Dennis Lynds, Gayle Lynds, CJ Lyons, Heidi Mack, Bruce Makous, Chris Mooney, David Morrell, Adrian Muller, Katherine Neville, Richard Pine, Lewis Purdue, Christopher Rice, M.J. Rose, Joel Ross, Leslie Silbert, William Staeger, Rich Thompson, and Angela Zeman.

Two years ago, almost to the day.  And look how far we’ve come!

A steering committee and then a Board were formed, followed by the adoption of by-laws, a highly successful membership drive, and the creation of the Thriller Readers’ newsletter.

Just seven months later we held a gala party at BEA in New York City with an overwhelming attendance by publishing professionals.  Here Gayle and David announced that MIRA Books had bought the THRILLER anthology for an outstanding $100,000 advance.

Three months after that we opened registration for the first ever ThrillerFest, held at the beautiful Arizona Biltmore Spa and Resort in June, 2006.  The most common reaction to the news of ThrillerFest: what took you so long, we’ve been waiting forever for a chance to celebrate our favorite thriller authors!

In case you’ve been in a coma for the past six months, some ThrillerFest highlights included: MIRA’s welcome reception with signings of the THRILLER anthology; special spotlight presentations with Sandra Brown, John Lescroart, Brad Meltzer, Doug Preston and RL Stine; the unforgettable Killer Thriller Band; Lee Child playing Jack Reacher on trial for his life; Tess Gerritsen hosting a death scene investigation; David Morrell revealing the origins of First Blood; demonstrations by special operations experts; a writing craft workshop; and the gala Thriller Award presentation produced and hosted by Bob Levinson.

Of course, most of the fun and excitement occurred after hours at various groupings in the lobby and bar where thriller authors and readers plotted the future of the genre.    

Next year’s ThrillerFest in New York City is sure to be even more momentous!  But ITW didn’t want to rest on its laurels, waiting another year to celebrate the thriller genre.

Instead, led by marketing genius MJ Rose and founding members Jason Pinter, JT Ellison, Brett Battles, and Sandra Ruttan, ITW decided to sponsor the first KillerYear class.  This group represents the crème de la crème of debut thriller novelists for 2007, each mentored by an ITW member.

What’s next for ITW?  For an organization that seems to thrive on conquering the impossible and constantly creating new avenues to promote the thriller genre, one can only imagine that it will be something outrageously bold, fantastically creative and stupendously unique.

I for one can not wait!



September 28, 2006, 8:27 am
Filed under: Killer Year Members, Patry Francis

by Patry Francis
Okay, I admit it. I’m a little sensitive about my age. When JT first sent out a request for birthdates for the Killer Year press kit, I delayed as long as possible. I’d seen those photos of fellow classmates like Dave White and Jason Pinter, and I figured their ages just about matched mine–if you combined them, that is.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the oldest living first novelist (there was that woman in her seventies who released a lifetime’s worth of stories in one massive thousand-page epic a while back, wasn’t there?) But I’m not Marisha Pessl either. For anyone who’s been living under a rock, Pessl is the woman who hit the bestseller list with her first novel, SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS. The novel, which I recently finished, is a great read, but the media has frequently focussed more on Pessl’s youth and good looks than her book.

So I guess you could say publishing a first novel over forty has its advantages. You won’t have to waste any time defending yourself against the jealous mob who might claim you only got your deal/your great reviews/or your media attention because of the photo on the book jacket. Nor will you have to deal with your spouse’s insecurity when you get nominated in the next “hot author” contest because hey–you won’t.

So all in all, being a “seasoned” author isn’t that bad–providing you get a little of the wisdom stuff along with the wrinkles. I was beginning to accept my lot, maybe even be a little bit proud of it. A lifetime of experience had to be worth something.

Then yesterday I was trolling around on line and I found an article about an eleven-year-old Chinese girl who got a million dollar book deal. And how did she pull off this feat? Why, she just e-mailed her novel to an editor at HarperCollins, of course.

Suddenly, all the years I spent poring over my dog-eared copy of THE GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS, or sending out dozens of polite, carefully-crafted queries flashed before my eyes. And we won’t even talk about the money I spent in postage–though it probably could have put a couple of my kids through college.

When my husband came in from work, he found me crying in front of my computer screen. And when he asked what was wrong, all I could do was mutter incoherently, “A million dollars…to an eleven-year-old…”

Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

“Beautiful Day”
September 27, 2006, 7:30 am
Filed under: JT Ellison, Killer Year Founders


There are moments in life to remember.

I tend to gather these moments like presents under a Christmas tree, opening them, rejoicing in their glory, then mentally rewrapping them and hiding them away in some recess of my brain to bring out and enjoy over and over again.

I had one of these moments Monday night.

Monday was a big day for us, to say the least. Let me extend a warm thank you to everyone who has supported Killer Year – believe me, we couldn’t do any of this without you.

So after a long, happy day, I made a big pot of chili, cut up some jalapeno cornbread and sat down with Hubby to watch Monday Night Football. I wanted to bear witness — the Saints triumphant return to New Orleans. (By the way, someone buy the Saints’ special teams a drink!)

The pre-show caught me off guard.

Music Rising, the organization started by US’s The Edge to help bring music back to New Orleans, sponsored the show. With a jubilant horn serenade, Green Day took the stage. Now, here’s where we start with the memory moments. Green Day is a personal talisman for me. Every time I hear their song Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life), something good happens. Corny, but true.

They took the stage and opened strong, with The Edge playing guitar. Then Bono joined them. And I started thinking about that phone call.

“Hey, Billie Joe. U2 wants you to fly to London, record some tunes, then go live on Monday Night Football in New Orleans for the pre-game show.”

Uh, yeah. Think they thought about that for more than a millisecond? I mean, let’s face it. The Baby Boomers have the Rolling Stones, and The Beatles, and well, Cat Stevens. My generation has U2. We win, hands down.

As the melded bands played an original composition combining “House of New Orleans” and “Beautiful Day”, I teared up, enjoyed the show and the message. When my goose bumps finally packed suitcases and went on vacation, I marked my mental moment. Then I started thinking about mentors.

Now, I’m assuming here, but roll with me.

I’d be willing to bet that Green Day views U2 as an iconic band. Perhaps now they even view them as mentors in their musical careers. To have the greatest of the great want to work with you is a humbling experience. I’m sure they jumped at the chance.

That’s how we feel about our Killer Year mentors. We were overwhelmed at the prospect – the best minds in our industry would mentor us? As Marcus Sakey said, “I grew up on books these people wrote. I never dreamed they’d one day be helping with my own.”

He summed it up perfectly. These are our heroes, these giants of the mystery and thriller genres. And they’ve agreed to help us, show us the ropes, share their considerable insight into the publishing game? Would someone mind pinching me, please???

Thanking ITW for this amazing opportunity isn’t enough. I’d like to take it one step further. At the risk of sounding too much like a Girl Scout, a promise.

A promise to pay attention. A promise to listen before we speak. A promise to take the considerable time and attention being paid the Class of 2007 and give back to the Class of 2008 and beyond, if they’d like it. A promise that we’ll be the best mentees we can be, and always, always promise to do our best.

And on a more personal note, I promise to stop waxing poetic in my blog posts.

Safe travels to all of you heading to Madison today and tomorrow. I know you’re going to have a wonderful time, and I’m bummed I won’t be there. And if you see your mentor, tell them thank you.

Do you have a mentor story you’d like to share? We’d love to hear it!

Humbly Submitted,

JT Ellison


November 2007, Mira Books

We’re Back… with Big News From MJ Rose!
September 25, 2006, 8:17 am
Filed under: KillerYear Friends, MJ Rose

Two years ago International Thriller Writers was created at Bouchercon in Toronto. Our goal was to celebrate the thriller, enhance the prestige and raise the profile of thrillers, create a community that together could do more – much more – than any one author or even any one publisher – could for the genre.

But the mandate that mattered the most to me personally, and the one that made me accept a board position, was the goal of creating creative marketing opportunities.

This past spring, when I first read about Killer Year 2007 on Jason Lee Pinter’s blog, I recognized our same spirit and drive behind that effort: a group of writers willing to band together and help each other rather than view each other as competition. To do something different. And to do it right.

I wanted to help – not just because I was so damned impressed with the creativity of the idea but also because when I was starting out I would have killed to be part of a program like this. And I saw the potential synergy between ITW and KillerYear.

Once upon a time – be it twenty-five years ago or last year – each and every one of ITW’s more than 400 members was debut novelist.

And most of us remember every single difficult step of that process.

For some of us that means remembering the people who helped us.

And how hard it was to ask for help.

For some of us that means remembering that there was no one to help us.

And how isolating that was.

Wouldn’t it be great if ITW as an organization could help the debut authors who are going to be the future of our genre?

I was thrilled when this summer the full ITW board of directors approved the idea to adopt Killer Year 2007 and take some of the tough work out of being a debut.

Instead of the classmates asking for blurbs we’re asking for them. So if someone says no, it stings a little less. We’re also getting one of our stars to review each of the debuts and we’ll be publishing them in the ITW Thriller Reader’s Newsletter. And an ITW author has volunteered to mentor each of the fourteen members of the Class of 2007 through their baptism by fire into the publishing world.

Lee Child, Jeff Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, Gayle Lynds, David Morrell, Jim Rollins, Anne Frasier, Douglas Clegg, Duane Swierczynski, Cornelia Read, Harley Jane Kozak, Allison Brennan, Ken Bruen and Joe R. Lansdale have all signed on.

In addition, ITW will sponsor a Killer Year breakfast at ThrillerFest ’07 where each of the debut novelists will be presented by his or her mentor to readers, reviewers and the press.

After 2007, Killer Year will remain an ongoing program, with ITW welcoming a new class of debut novelists.

It’s a great honor to have helped put this program together and to introduce it here as the first post at the KillerYear blog. May it be a bestselling year for each and every one of you!

M.J. Rose
ITW Chair of the Marketing Committee

The new Killer Year website is now up! Check it out!

The Official Killer Year Press Release

Killer Year 2007


Brett Battles
JT Ellison
Jason Pinter
Sandra Ruttan


Rob Gregory Browne
Bill Cameron
Toni McGee Causey
Sean Chercover
Patry Francis
Marc Lecard
Derek Nikitas
Gregg Olsen
Marcus Sakey
Dave White

Get ready…
September 23, 2006, 11:08 am
Filed under: Killer Year Founders, Sandra Ruttan

It’s almost Monday, and we’ll be back.

With some very big news.

46 hours and counting…

An Important Message
September 8, 2006, 9:05 am
Filed under: Killer Year Founders, Sandra Ruttan

killer year vacation

Yes, there’s been general insanity in the Killer Year circles lately. A wedding, a baby. A lot of us are on deadlines at the moment, or recovering from deadlines.

There’s also exciting news. You can find Killer Year founding member JT Ellison in the debut issue of Mouth Full of Bullets. And JT will also be in the next issue of Spinetingler Magazine, which will be out September 15.

So, don’t worry. We’re taking a breather, but we’ll be back with a new format for the blog, the most exciting news about Killer Year and you’ll still find some of us on our own blogs until then.

Confessions Of A Hypocrite On How An Author’s Life Is Never Their Own, Exactly
September 6, 2006, 8:00 am
Filed under: Killer Year Founders, Sandra Ruttan

How many of us have had that horrid moment, when we’re saying something we might not mean, exactly, but we’re venting our frustration? Suddenly, we have the feeling the person our annoyance is directed at is standing right behind us.

I have. And the shoe has been on the other foot from time to time. I’ve overheard people talking about me. One of the best was when someone sent out an email trashing me, and included me on the cc list. Best thing was, I could see the email had been sent to a bunch of people I didn’t know, and this was a long time ago, before the blog, the book deal or the time when Spinetingler really took off.

Sometimes when things like that happen I want to go cry, and other times I want to kick someone’s ass.

Since I’m airing dirty laundry, I may as well come clean about the fact that I used to work at a residential Bible school, a lifetime ago. And, as anyone who visits my blog knows, a lot of four-letter words ago. ☺ A hell of a fucking lot of four-letter words ago. Back then, I lived where I worked and I had a conduct clause in my contract, to uphold specific values and live a certain kind of life.

One of the things I learned there – one of the reasons I don’t have anything to do with formal religion in any manner now – was that the worst things about a person can’t be changed by a conduct clause. Someone can externally follow a list of ‘rules’ and still be spiteful, manipulative and hurtful. They can actually be evil. Façades don’t make you good or bad – it’s what’s in your heart that counts.

I always have difficulty when personal and professional lines blur. In the writing business, this has probably been most evident for me when it comes to blurbs. God, I hate asking people for blurbs. I have some people I know so incredibly well, they could laugh in my face at such a request and I wouldn’t take it personally. Those are the people I ask. They know I’ll still be their friend, even if they say no, because I’m not just being nice to so that I can get something – I actually like them. And there are those I really like, but just don’t have that comfort level with. The ones I’m still afraid have the ‘deer in the headlights’ reaction. They aren’t quite sure if I’m just talking to them because they can do me a favour. I would never ask those people, no matter how famous.

I know some people have said to me, “You know X and you know Y, you interviewed Z last year… Why don’t you ask them for blurbs?” They can’t understand how I feel, which partly goes back to the three years I spent working at that Bible school, when there were no boundaries between my personal and professional lives.

People used to attend conferences or the school program, and come to me (or others on staff) with all their problems. After all, we were supposed to have it together – we worked there – but I didn’t have it all together. And some of the things I knew and lived with made me sick, things that if I put here even now I could be slapped with a lawsuit for saying.

Until this year, I still had friends working there, people I do love. I would go back to visit them, my 66-year-old ‘adopted’ mother, who’s been a constant in my life for 14 years. She told me once that one of the staff said that it was nice to see I didn’t hate the place anymore.

I never did tell her that they were mistaken. It wasn’t the place, it was what it represented. Really, it was the people I hated. Oh, not everyone. I save that kind of energy for those who really deserve it.

As a result of that experience I loathe hypocrisy… but I’m a hypocrite. I got a message the other day from someone, mentioning they’d read about me in a publication, and then they carried on with the email. I’d never heard of the publication. I didn’t know what it said. I thought, How unfair. People are talking about me – in print – and I don’t know what they’re saying. Know how it feels to walk into a room and have everyone stop talking? I felt vulnerable.

Can I get upset about it? Not really, for a few reasons. I blog about people all the time. I gently teased Mark Billingham in my first post on this blog. I didn’t feel guilty, because I was referencing a news article he’d been interviewed for. It wasn’t as though I divulged personal information about him. And Mark knows I adore him (surely he knows everything I said was with sincere affection because he’s a friend?) and he can read it here if he wants to, so it isn’t like I’m whispering behind his back.

Yet I always feel a bit odd when people are mentioning my name on blogs. Sometimes, it’s nice. Sometimes it’s just strange. And when the shoe was on the other foot, when it was my name in print somewhere, I was startled and wanted to know what was said. When I couldn’t find out, I told myself not to be upset…

That it wasn’t like what I went through, all those years ago, on that island. Or all the things I’ve heard said about me by people there, in the years since I left.

The other day I screwed up. It wasn’t the first time, it won’t be the last. No, I’m not going to tell you what I said but it got me thinking about the different aspects of my new ‘public’ life and how it could affect me personally.

I understand people are going to talk about me. And that isn’t even necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s a great thing. When you have a career that relies – in large part – on word of mouth and referrals, it’s imperative that people talk about you.

I just really realized that my personal life will never be 100% my own, ever again. Not as long as I’m in this business. My words, my behaviour… It’s all subject to scrutiny and people may even report on it.

I maintain that I’m a fairly open person. Just visit my blog. Uncensored thought – and language – on whatever I feel like discussing. I’ve shared about being estranged from my parents, about my mother’s sudden reappearance in my life this year, about abuse and some of my deepest fears and insecurities.

Yet I have to admit, it’s a bit of a façade. I talk about what I’m comfortable talking about. I choose when I’ll put the information out, and how. If I don’t want to answer a question, I don’t have to. The reality is, I tell people about the darkest parts of my life because it lessens the value of that knowledge. Nobody can pull it out and rub my nose in it – if someone showed up on my blog who thought they could spill secrets I’d be able to point to a post where I already told the world about whatever that fact was. It isn’t really because I’m open – it’s because I’m protecting myself by defusing the bombs people could potentially throw. Sounds paranoid, right? Yet I remember the day my former ex got engaged to someone else, when I was still working at that Bible school. Yes, we’d been planning to get married. Obviously, things didn’t work out. But the day he got engaged to someone else, people who never had the time of day for me or spoke to me suddenly felt the need to beat a path to the office where I worked. They just all felt the need to talk to me that day, and were almost giddy with the anticipation of the moment when someone would break the news so they could see how I’d take it.

In the first few chapters of Suspicious Circumstances one of the critical elements of the story is that neither protagonist is certain of how much the other knows about them. Farraday overhears a conversation Lara has with a colleague. She suspects he heard, but can’t be sure. It’s all about doubt and trust and how hard it is to know if what you’re seeing is the real person or just a front.

I’ve had fronts of my own I’ve been hiding behind, for better or worse. I don’t like talking about the years I spent working at that Bible school, but I don’t know of any better way to explain why I struggle so much with feeling hypocritical for having public and personal lives.

Thinking all this through, I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t important if people talk about you or not. It’s only their motives that matter. Is it to stab you in the back or to report on something newsworthy about your career? Is the person drawing attention to you and your work or trying to make you look like a jackass?

This is part of the reason I find electronic communication easier than face to face when I’m getting to know someone. If a person emails you, they took the time to respond to you and chose to communicate. If you approach them at an event, what if they get that ‘deer in the headlights’ look that tells you they’d rather be anywhere but right there, stuck talking to you? For me, I live on the assumption that anyone who doesn’t want to talk to me via email wouldn’t want to talk to me in person. It’s another defense mechanism, I suppose.

And I suppose part of the reason that I focused on trust and distrust in Suspicious Circumstances was because I was still struggling with that.

Now I find myself wondering at what point it’s dishonest to stay silent. We can all pull out the big examples – those who didn’t oppose the Nazi’s, for example – and praise those who did stand up for their convictions. But how does that translate over when you’re trying to make sense of what part of your life has to become public, and what part it’s okay – or even wise – to hold back?

The reality is, in any given month I get dozens of requests for things from Spinetingler. Reviews, interviews profiles… I’ve had my share of people who’ve approached me only to see what they can get from me, and then move on to the next publication. And I see that it’s made me guarded and a bit suspicious, already, when I’m just a baby in this business.

It’s frustrating that I have to worry that my honesty about an issue might be misinterpreted or held against me. It’s discouraging that so many appear to be looking over their shoulder, checking for an escape route, in case you’re one of those people who just want to use them.

I can’t blame anyone. This isn’t about anyone’s life but my own. I’ve been maintaining all along that I’m a person first and that I shouldn’t lose myself along the way, but I’m starting to see how that can happen.

I just find it sad. Perhaps it’s inevitable. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the ‘how being published will change your life’* memo that came with my contract.

*Am I the only one who thinks there should be one of these?

Sandra Ruttan
Author of Suspicious Circumstances
January 2007
On Life and Other Inconveniences