I had been scanning the crowd all day trying to find him. All I knew was that he was a dark-haired man with glasses, maybe in his late 50s. As I was about to give up hope, my colleague tapped me on the shoulder and said two words that forever changed my life. “That’s Bob.”

Before I had a chance to compose myself, he was standing in front of me, cracking a joke. R.L. Stine, author of the Fear Street series that kept me penniless and out of trouble as a middle school girl, was telling me a joke. My inner 12-year-old did cartwheels and set off fireworks while my outer adult smiled politely and introduced herself. (I was rather proud that I was able to keep the babbling to a minimum.) This is part of the greatness that is ThrillerFest, the world’s largest gathering of suspense writers where published authors, aspiring authors and fans mix and mingle, learn from the best, network and find the agent of their dreams.

As a ThrillerFest neophyte, I was ignorant of what to expect. Nervous energy of hopeful authors mulling over their pitches? Perhaps. Thriller fans clamoring for a chance to meet their favorite author? Maybe. What I was not expecting was the overwhelming sense of community and acceptance. Unpublished authors came together to review pitches before the frenzy of PitchFest. Superstars gave classes in writing at CraftFest. Big name authors like David Morrell, Joseph Finder and Linwood Barclay led panels designed to educate, encourage and entertain fans and fellow authors. One hilariously humanizing moment came when Anne Rice stated that she does not force herself to write daily, in direct contradiction to Scott Turow who said he believes that writing often is most important. While the exchange elicited quite a few chuckles, it made things clear that there is no single path to literary success.

Empty Fizz

From panels to book signings to cocktail hours where a tasty libation known as the FACEOFF Fizz (named for the International Thriller Writers’ FACEOFF anthology) was the darling of the evening, I found myself being embraced by the community. And what a community it was! Conversations about the best way to kill a man and dispose of the body were unexpectedly common. More than a few people gently nudged me to write the novel whose outline is in a notebook in a secret secure location.

My first ThrillerFest was, yes, a thrilling experience—it was the best of fan conventions, craft seminars and business networking events rolled into one. And I might just take a crack at that novel.