ThrillerFest XIII • July 10 – 14, 2018 • Grand Hyatt • New York City

I wasn’t really a writer

By D.A. Bartley

I wasn’t really a writer. A reader? Absolutely. The first grown-up book I remember getting my hands on was an Agatha Christie. I’ve worked as a lawyer and an academic, so I read professionally. I guess I wrote, too, if you count legal briefs and academic papers well suited for curing insomnia, but I didn’t think of myself as a writer.

That was before I saw the house in Pleasant View, Utah: the enormous 16, 000-square-foot house with its spectacular views of the Wasatch Mountains in front and the shimmering mirage of the Great Salt Lake in the back. It had been empty for years. What could happen in a house like that?

That’s how it started for me. It starts differently for every writer I know. Some have written stories their entire lives. Others write here and there, off and on, until eventually they have something ready to share. For me, it started with that house. The house I couldn’t leave until I wrote about what could happen inside its walls; the house that became my home until I finished writing Blood Atonement.

Not really being a writer, I had no idea about the world of writing, no idea about the universe in which manuscripts turn into books. I had to learn about query letters, agents, editors and publishers. So I researched, which is something I did know how to do. The result of that research was quite clear: if you’re interested in thrillers or mysteries, ThrillerFest is the place to be.

In 2015, I signed up for pretty much everything ThrillerFest had to offer, including Master CraftFest. The Master Class turned out to be one of the most transformative days of my life as a new writer. My instructor was David Corbett, who not only has a gift for writing, but also has a gift for teaching others how to find their best writing.  On top of that, the fellow writers I met are some of the most talented, generous and supportive people I know.  I left David’s class inspired, excited, and absolutely certain that what I had written so far was unequivocally terrible. There was a good idea for a book somewhere in that manuscript, but it was buried beneath layers of novice mistakes and unnecessary words. I had signed up for PitchFest that year, but deep down I knew wasn’t ready.

Between ThrillerFest 2015 and ThrillerFest 2016, I prepared: I edited, revised and rewrote. I cut a total 40, 000 words, moved chapters around, wrote a new 40, 000 words and changed POV more times than I care to count. I was committed to having a pitch-able manuscript this time around. I researched agents, read every Writer’s Digest interview I could find and created an extensive, color-coded table to keep me on-target at PitchFest.

This was the PitchFest where I met Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary Services. I knew she was my top choice the moment I read she loved Terry Tempest Williams (one of my favorites, too). After waiting in the very long line to speak with her, it was finally my turn. Paula was as smart and charming as I had expected her to be. My heart skipped a beat when she asked to see the entire manuscript. Months later, through a series of improbable events, Editorial Director Matt Martz of Crooked Lane Books contacted me to discuss publishing Blood Atonement. I knew I was out of my depth when our conversation turned to the business side of publishing. I needed an agent.

My fellow writers from Master Class suggested I contact my favorite agents from PitchFest who’d asked to see the manuscript, but hadn’t gotten back to me yet. Within minutes of sending a few emails, my phone rang. It was Paula. Today, not only am I represented by the fabulous Paula Munier, but I am thrilled to be working with the creative and dynamic Matt Martz and Sarah Poppe of Crooked Lane.

ThrillerFest is many things to many people. It’s a place to meet your favorite authors, it’s a place to hone your craft, it’s a place to learn about the business of books and it’s a place where everyone can feel at home…especially if you like your home to be a crime scene.