ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
In New York City this week, hundreds of writers, new writers, wannabe writers and fans have come together for ThrillerFest. It's a four-day gathering that's less about blood and guts, and more about the craft of writing and getting published.
As NPR's Margot Adler discovered, it's also a chance to get close to some best-selling authors.
MARGOT ADLER: The halls of the conference room of the Grand Hyatt Hotel are filled with rooms of writers and would-be writers listening to tips about everything from character development, to how to create your ending.
Eric Van Lustbader, who has published five Jason Bourne novels and took over the series after Robert Ludlum died, told his audience that their characters must have flaws.
Mr. ERIC VAN LUSTBADER (Author): Think about your own flaws. Think about the flaws of your enemies. That's even more fun. If you make your character flawed in some way or missing something, missing a piece of him or herself, by the end of the book, they need to be healed. That doesn't mean they're perfect, because nobody is perfect. The human condition isn't perfect, so characters shouldn't be perfect.
ADLER: The audience is mostly writers. Many have manuscripts they're trying to sell. Some have published nonfiction, and now want to try their hand at a thriller. Some tell me they've been mentored by these writers, and communicated with them on social networking sites. And why are thrillers interesting? Whitley Strieber's latest thriller is called "Omega Point." He says thrillers are the last great escape.
Mr. WHITLEY STRIEBER (Writer): The writer takes you by the hand, and leads you down a very dangerous path. And a good thriller, you don't even know he's there. But you do know one thing: You're going to come out all right.
ADLER: In one room, people are lining up to have their favorite authors sign books. They're all different ages, from all over the country. I asked Mike Draper, who is working on a novel, what he's learned.
Mr. MIKE DRAPER (Writer): Having at least two plot twists in a novel, and I think mine only has one. So that's something I have to work on.
ADLER: Give me one insight you got, I asked J.J. MacNab, who has published some nonfiction but hopes to write a thriller; and Mike van Blerkom, an engineer who wants to change careers and write.
Ms. J.J. MacNabb: How to make it so that you are either far away from your characters or really close in; how to develop intimacy or suspense - wonderful stuff.
Mr. MIKE VAN BLERKOM (Engineer): The villain needs to be developed just as much as the hero.
ADLER: Some people are simply looking for publishers and agents.
Mr. TODD HONEYCUTT (Writer): My name is Todd Honeycutt, and my book is "The Shambala(ph) Guardian." It's about a religious fanatic who basically, is trying to use American robotic technology and, you know, try to take over the whole world - and Americans who stop them.
ADLER: For Ken Follett, the best-selling, British author of "Lie Down with Lions" and "World Without End," it's his first ThrillerFest.
Mr. KEN FOLLETT (Writer): Yeah, a lot of writers here - some published, some about to be published, and some hoping to be published.
ADLER: Most surprising is that these big-time authors aren't in green rooms. They're wandering around, speaking personally to people, giving advice, and excited to be teaching them.
Again, Eric Van Lustbader, author of "The Ninja" and those Jason Bourne novels.
Mr. VAN LUSTBADER: This is my fourth time here, and it's - I usually don't like conferences at all, but I love this one because the people who come here are people who really want to write, really can write, and really want to learn.
ADLER: One aspiring writer told me: There are not a lot of marketing dollars out there. We are very savvy, but we're a little perplexed about the publishing industry now. We are here to get expert help in navigating our careers. Who would have thought that the writers of thrillers would be those experts?
Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.