I’m flying home on an early morning shuttle, LaGuardia to O’Hare, after almost a week in New York. Can you fall in love, in less than a week? Less than a day? Terminal romanticism has always been my greatest weakness, and NYC blindsided me. This city moves fast.

I was in town for ThrillerFest 2016, the official convention of the ITW (International Thriller Writers). I’d been eyeing the con for a few years now, but that good old inner critic kept me home; I couldn’t possibly show my face at a pro convention until I was a “real” writer, you know? Then I finally sat down and said, “I’m a full-time author who’s written over ten novels. If I’m not ‘real’ now, I never will be.” Call it a rare moment of clarity. That, and confronting my own introverted nature and forcing myself out of my comfort zone.

(Hint: that big scary world outside your comfort zone? There’s a lot of fun stuff there, just waiting for you to find it. If I can do it, you can too.)

I needn’t have worried. ThrillerFest is a beacon for writers at all levels of experience, and the cooperative, supportive ethos was evident from the opening reception. All these writers in one room, sharing their experiences, their stories, and everyone was welcome. I was able to rub elbows with veterans I’ve admired for decades, legends of the field, and offer some advice to a few aspiring pros (I hope I was able to help!).

I met Lawrence Block. Lawrence Block, y’all. The Matthew Scudder series, the Bernie Rhodenbarr series, the dude who’s been a legendary writer longer than I’ve been alive, that Lawrence Block. When I was younger (a lot younger) his book Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print was an ever present, dog-eared presence on my nightstand. I told myself I wouldn’t fanboy, that I’d be cool and calm and collected. I lie to myself sometimes. Fortunately, he took my babbling in good stead and was incredibly gracious.

No Sleep ‘Till Brooklyn

I might be babbling now, for that matter. Haven’t slept much since I arrived. Part of that is the swing of a great convention, wine parties, the kind of good company that makes you hate to say goodnight.

The other half is the beds at the Grand Hyatt. Let’s just say, as much as I'm sad to be going back home, my back aches for the comfort of my memory foam mattress. Literally aches.

The convention was wall-to-wall panel discussions, with some great programming and well-informed presenters. There were discussions on methods of building suspense, the use of horror (and it’s close cousins, shock and dread), technical discussions about legal jurisdictions, Federal agencies and all the elements that make up a good thriller. And that’s just the starting point; my notes are many and diverse, and I think I found a few gems to bring home with me.

Parting was bittersweet, but the best part of the trip was yet to come.

Shooting on Location

The other aim of my visit was to get a feel for the city, putting together background material for The Secret Trilogy. No, I can’t talk about it just yet; soon, though. I had the best of tour guides in the form of Susannah Jones, who you may know as the narrator for the Revanche Cycle audiobooks (and more — hopefully many more — to come). We walked the streets of the West Village on down to the Hudson, taking in the sights, drinking the atmosphere.

See, I had a thematic notion, the symbolism of the Crossroads of the World being the perfect starting point for this new story. Turns out it’s not the perfect place, it’s the only place. I went into Writer Mode, and saw the ghosts of chapters yet to be written play out on those mist-touched streets, just before a rainstorm came rumbling through. 

I could tell you about a candlelit dinner at at a little Italian restaurant called Cotenna, or a cop with no badge standing on the steps of a twenty-million-dollar brownstone in the West Village. Or a furtive and fateful rendezvous at a small, rustic bar in the lobby of the High Line Hotel, where dangerous decisions will be made. Instead, I’ll just have to show you. It won’t be long; I feel like my heart is bursting and the only cure is to get these words out on the page.

I’m writing a love story, with bullets and razor blades and a one-way drive to the end of the world.

I think part of the writer’s condition is to fall helplessly in love with people who don’t exist. You feel the pangs of longing, just as if you’d seen them in the flesh from across a smoky room, but you’ll never take them home. All you can do is tell their stories, and try to dream up a worthier partner than you, the one they really deserve.

We’re getting ready to land now, coming down from a rocky sky, and there’s an hour of road between my suitcase and my front door. Already wish I was back in New York. But I’m driving home with a bagful of memories that will tide me over until my next visit, and that’s the best I can do.