Unpacking from Thrillerfest 2016

I went to Thrillerfest in New York City in early July, and I’m still trying to unpack.

The clothes I wore are still on my bedroom floor while my wife waits patiently for me to put them in the hamper. Then there’s the confounding jumble of thoughts I can’t make sense of while my wife waits patiently for me to figure out what the hell I want to be when I grow up.

Matt at Thrillerfest 2016
Still in the dark …

I put everything I had into that trip. It was my self-imposed deadline to finish my first novel, and I did that. I spent the month of June between my day job and my night job of editing, and I just about hit my limit.

I spent the first day at the conference with a small workshop led by Gayle Lynds, spy writer extraordinaire. Our group gelled, and Gayle dispensed reams of advice. I floated away, ready to brave her edits for my first chapter and conquer the publishing world.

Day two was good, too. I happily volunteered for seminars and handing out registration packets. The rest of the time I attended several seminars by published authors that varied from good to so great I can’t tell you. Walter Mosley just about had me standing in my chair shouting “O Captain! my Captain!”

Day three things hit home. More morning seminars, with some interesting fireworks among a panel of agents. I ignored that, my head focused on the afternoon of PitchFest. Think of the event as speed dating meets sales pitch to land an agent. They packed us into a ballroom, then into a serpentine line I still don’t know where it started and ended, then into much smaller conference rooms packed with anxious writers and waiting agents.

My pitches went well. I had two request a full manuscript, a few more request partials. I paid dues with a couple that weren’t much interested. I had every reason to walk out of there excited to conquer the publishing world. Instead, I exited in a state of emotional confusion that I still can’t figure out.

With all the feedback from agents, and all that I observed, I can’t make sense of any of it. I don’t know how to make my manuscript meet what they want at this point, but I think that’s what they need from me.

Much of the industry baffles and terrifies me. I see my potential future selves walking around and wonder if I want to be them. Or wonder if I have the writing chops they have. I wonder if it’s too limiting to follow the rules they live by. Or do they find it freeing to be published? I know I want to publish my work. But the day taught me my goal isn’t as clear as I thought.

I’m a thinker that way, which doesn’t mean I’m smart. I brood and think through things. Three weeks later I still can’t figure this one out. It’s driving my wife nuts even today, which is our nineteenth anniversary.

I’m at the edge of a next novel, and two very different ones are fighting inside my head for attention. I don’t know what I should do.

One thing I do know is that behind me was a guy who didn’t write, and that guy’s not ahead of me anymore. I hear him sneaking up on me, always.

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