It felt different this time. Maybe because I haven’t been to New York City since having my son (midtown Manhattan isn’t the easiest place to bring a small child), or maybe it’s because it hit me this past weekend how far I’ve come, and how much further I still have to go.
By no means am I a veteran author. I was described that way once in an interview and I laughed and laughed. I haven’t been around that long, but I’m not new. And after so many years of feeling new, it was both awesome and strange to realize that I’m no longer new. My first writing conference was in 2009. I’ve been with my (first and only) agent for over seven years. I’m working with my third editor on my fifth book and am writing my sixth. I’ve switched publishers. I’ve made good friends. I spent some time at the post-banquet cocktail party on Saturday night talking to a debut author whose first book hasn’t even come out yet, and who’s struggling a little with her second book (been there, and I totally know how she feels). She thanked me for all my advice.
I remember what it’s like to be new. I remember the first time I came to NYC for ThrillerFest, which was my very first conference. I was a bag of nerves, giant stars in my eyes. I knew nobody. Not one person. This was before I got an agent, long before I got a book deal, long before I knew whether this third-revision manuscript called CREEP (there would be three more revisions before I had the balls to send it out) was any good. New York was awe-inspiring and terrifying. Everybody seemed busy, rushing around with important things to do. I stood by the doorway before each panel, hugging the wall, clutching my ThrillerFest bag. I saw a big-name author in the coffee line, another in the bookstore room, and I stared at the backs of their heads, too scared to introduce myself. I waited ten minutes to have Jeffery Deaver sign his newest book for me, and I only got a photo with him because my husband at the time pushed me forward. I came home overwhelmed and exhausted.
And full of want.
This year, I went to the ThrillerFest banquet. This was my sixth ThrillerFest, and only this past weekend did I attend my very first banquet! (I won’t even go into the stress of the ordeal of finding a dress for the event). The Grand Hyatt elevator doors opened at Ballroom level, and I was greeted with a wall of noise. I sat at the St. Martin’s Press table with my new editor, Keith Kahla, along with a table full of their bestselling authors (Steve Berry, Allison Brennan, Phillip Margolin, and Andrew Gross, ahem). I applauded (probably a little too loudly) for all the award nominees and winners. I sang along with everyone else to the Beatles-inspired medley performed live, honoring Lee Child and his Lifetime Achievement Award. I was surrounded by authors who’ve stayed the course, and who’ve paved the way for the rest of us to have a shot at the same life.
A working writer’s life. Which is all I’ve ever wanted.
Over the years, I’ve seen writers come and go. I have writer friends who don’t write anymore, for lots of reasons, both personal and professional. I’ve heard just about every writing scenario you can think of (both the dreams and the nightmares), and if you want to know anything about anybody, it’s over dinner and drinks at the bar where you’ll get the truth of it, the stuff we don’t talk about on Facebook.
But here’s what I can talk about.
I got to thank my beautiful agent for everything she’s done for me, in person.
I got to visit the Flatiron Building, home of Macmillan Publishing, to meet my editor (finally) along with the publicity and marketing team at St. Martin’s Press and Minotaur Books. I got to sit in a giant office filled with amazingly smart people who said, “So. Tell us the story of Jennifer Hillier.” (I don’t know if the story was exciting, but I tried my best).
I got to see the view of NYC from the pointy window of Sally Richardson’s office (who just happens to be the publisher of St. Martin’s Press), and then ride the subway with her back to the Grand Hyatt, where we were both attending the ThrillerFest opening cocktail party. And, because the whole afternoon already felt like something out of a movie, we got on the wrong train and almost got lost (what’s a good movie without a twist?).
I got to hang out with my new St. Martin’s editor, Keith. It was 90% work talk and 10% looking at his cat photos (and if that ratio ever changes to 80/20, that would be completely fine with me).
I got to have lunch and drinks with both of my previous editors at Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books.
I got to eat breakfast with author pals Joe Clifford and Ed Aymar, and cheer on the Debut Author Class of 2017, several of whom I’m proud to call friends (including Christina Hoag, KJ Howe, Christina Kovac, and Isabella Maldonado).
I got to give long-time friend Riley Sager (his pen name) a giant hug, because his new book FINAL GIRLS is pretty much the hot book of the summer (if you think I’m exaggerating, I most definitely am not – he’s everywhere right now and I couldn’t be prouder!). I also got to hug KJ Howe, who’s the executive director of ThrillerFest, and whom I’ll always have a soft spot for, because she made my own debut year special back in the day. Kim’s now an author in her own right – and a fellow Toronto girl! – with one of the other hot books of the season, THE FREEDOM BROKER. And I got to congratulate Karen Dionne, whose new book, THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER is as fabulous as I’ve heard it was going to be (I’m reading it right now).
I got to meet so many new friends I’d only previously interacted with on social media, and make a whole bunch of new ones. Finally getting to meet author Danny Gardner was a treat, because that dude is every bit as cool as I imagined he’d be. It was also great to finally meet agent Michelle Richter, as we share a fondness for cats, and for Ed. (And if I didn’t name-check you here, it’s because so much of the weekend was a blur and it all went by way too fast! That being said, you are absolutely welcome to punch me when I see you next – just please not in the face).
Oh, and of course I was on a panel discussing muses, phobias, and fears with fellow authors Allen Eskens (moderator), Diane Capri, Nina Laurin, Melissa MacGregor, Jonelle Patrick, and Kelly Parsons, and somehow we managed to sound awake and funny even though it was 8 a.m. on Saturday morning.
Last but not least, I got to catch up with New York-based friends (Alex and David), and spend time talking about things that had nothing whatsoever to do with publishing (which is refreshing, and absolutely necessary for my mental health).
So, I’m glad I’m not new. I’m glad I’ve been around a little while so I can appreciate how it feels to not be new. I no longer hover outside panels before they start (unfortunately, I don’t have time to go to very many anymore), because now there’s always someone to wave to, someone to catch up with, someone to hug. It’s a blessed, blessed tribe to be a part of. And so much has changed for me in the past eight years. Highs and lows, ups and downs, stops and starts. I’m not new . . . but it still feels like it’s just beginning.
You know what hasn’t changed, though? The stars in my eyes. Hopefully they never go away.