Kirkus review for FREAK!

It's been an amazing week for FREAK. The book just received great reviews from both Kirkus and Suspense magazine! Woo hoo!

Picking up where Creep (2010) left off, the latest from Hillier reassembles a cast of characters facing the aftermath of serial killer Ethan Wolfe’s death. The second book in this series leaves readers hungry for the next. Taut and fraught with surprise twists, Hillier’s thriller is addictive.


“Freak” is a 5 star thriller and I recommend it. If you really want to understand how the main characters are involved, go back and read “Creep.” Like I said, you don’t have to, but why not? It’s a great book! So, my last question is: when is the next one coming out, Hillier?

I've been holding my breath waiting for the trade reviews for FREAK to roll in, and let me tell you, it's just as scary as it was last year with CREEP!

Did you hear that? That was me exhaling.

* * *

Hustle and flow

I think back to when I wrote CREEP, long before I had an agent or a publisher, when I had all the time in the world to just sit and write. I didn't have a blog or a Facebook author page or a Twitter account. Nobody was asking me for interviews or guest blog posts. I wasn't going to conferences. There were no reviews to stress over. There was just this book I was writing, and all my energy was spent on making that book the best book I could write.

Those days are long gone.

Not that I'm complaining. Life is good! I'm on the verge of releasing a second book, and I have a terrific agent and an amazing publisher supporting me every step of the way. Over the past couple of years I've formed so many great friendships with fellow writers. I've received great reviews. I've been featured in Suspense magazine and was June's Fun Fearless Female in Cosmopolitan Philippines. I've written for the National Post. I've been to ThrillerFest three times and am looking forward to my first Bouchercon this October. I've met Jeffery Deaver. I've had dinner with Margaret Atwood.

So, no, I'm definitely not complaining. Life is amazing, and if you've been reading my blog from the beginning, then you've been on this journey with me, and you know how crazy-amazing it's been.

CREEP and FREAK

And if you're a long-time reader, then you also know that I've always tried to be honest about my writing life on this blog (maybe too honest!). I've always tried to paint an accurate picture of how things are, and how I feel, and what I think.

And keeping with that, I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the days when it was just about the writing. When it was just me and my laptop, in a quiet spot in the house, and the only thing I needed to accomplish on any given day was adding a thousand new words to a manuscript nobody had read yet. When there was no pressure. When there were no expectations. When I didn't have to worry about finding enough hours in the day to do everything that needed to be done.

In 2008, a typical writing day looked like this:
  • Write 1,000 new words for CREEP

Now a typical writing day – today, for example – looks like this:
  • Contribute thoughts about what makes a good ending and send to the National Post
  • Write a guest post for Open Book Toronto about my work space and writing process
  • Tweet and Facebook a teaser about the great Suspense magazine review for FREAK (to be published in their August issue – they called it a "five-star thriller")
  • Tweet and Facebook a teaser about the fantastic Kirkus review for FREAK (to be published August 1st – they said it was "taught and fraught with surprise twists" and "addictive")
  • Finish reading a fellow author's debut novel and send a blurb to his editor
  • Work on a synopsis and proposal for the new book
  • Respond to emails from my editor, agent, and New York publicist
  • Check in with my Toronto publicist and discuss venues for a future Toronto book signing
  • Write 1,000 new words for the new book
  • Write a blog post for The Serial Killer Files
  • Tweet and Facebook about FREAK's release on August 7th
  • Tweet about blog tour for FREAK
  • Check in with my UK editor about sales for CREEP and promotional plan for FREAK
  • Tweet and Facebook about CREEP's mass market paperback release on July 31st

I haven't accomplished all of these things yet today, but by the time I eat dinner (around 7-ish), hopefully everything will be done.

Right now it's all about the hustle. And I totally get that it will continue to be all about the hustle for a long, long time, because I'm a new author with a lot to prove, and I've worked hard to get here, and this is not the time to slow down.

But man, what I wouldn't give for a little flow. What I wouldn't give to just coast for a few weeks, and not write anything, and not promote anything, and just lie around, reading books for pleasure and totally unplugging from anything related to social media.

Maybe someday.

But not yet.

Not yet.

(Totally stole those last two lines from Gladiator.)

* * *

ThrillerFest VII, NYC

I'm back from another fabulous, whirlwind trip to New York City!

I always get excited when I'm coming down East 42nd Street (which, in a taxi, is always kind of a near-death experience) and I see the ThrillerFest banners as we approach the Grand Hyatt:

Welcome to ThrillerFest!

And the hotel's a beast! So big.

The Grand Hyatt, NYC

My trip started off with a bang on Thursday. After I checked into my room, I decided I needed to eat something. I only had a half hour before I had to meet a guy to do a podcast interview, so I grabbed something quick, thinking I'd leave myself a few minutes to freshen up and change my clothes before the interview.

Except . . . my key card didn't work when I got back to my room! Out of time, I ended up going to my first ever face-to-face interview for FREAK in Lulu pants, flip flops, and a hoodie. Not exactly the professional impression I wanted to make. Ah, well.

Once the interview was over, I cruised by the ThrillerFest bookstore (Barnes & Noble sets up a room with all the attending authors' books for sale) just to see what was there. And lo and behold, what did I see as soon as I walked in?

FREAK hardcovers!

I shrieked so loud, I may have scared a guy who was browsing nearby (but he was cool about it, and we're Facebook friends now). Up till that moment, I hadn't seen the hardcover! The official release date isn't until August 7th, and I wasn't expecting to see copies at the conference, but there they were.

Guys, the cover is so beautiful. All the water droplets are shiny, and the title and my name are embossed. I couldn't stop stroking it (so pervy, I know, but it's my book and I can stroke it if I want to).

And over in the paperback section . . .

CREEP in mass market paperback

The mass market paperback of CREEP! Again, I had never seen it, because it's not officially out until July 31st. The guy in charge of the ThrillerFest bookstore told me that he and my publisher hustled to get copies early just for the conference, and I couldn't have been happier. There were also hardcovers of CREEP there, too.

You know how you try to play it cool, but just can't? Yeah, that. I took several pics of myself with my books, and this was the least dorky one (but still fairly dorky):

Dorky girl at the bookstore

Speaking of trying to play it cool, guess who I ran into outside the elevators?

There I was, all in my head and all euphoric about my books being in the conference bookstore, and the elevator doors open, and out steps Lee Child.

LEE. CHILD.

I shrieked, "Lee Child!" at Lee Child, as if Lee Child doesn't know his own name. Thankfully, Lee Child is a gracious man, and he stopped and said hello and spoke in a perfectly normal and pleasant voice even though I was flustered and blubbering like an idiot. I managed to introduce myself and gush about what a huge fan I was of his work, and yet still somehow managed to forget to ask him to take a picture. Even though I had both my phone and my camera with me.

Argh. Jenny Jenny Jenny.

The next morning, I went to see Lee speak to a packed audience in the Grand Hyatt ballroom. He gave us his honest opinions about Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher in the movie (which is out in December, and yes, he thinks Tom's a great choice), and told us about the experience of having a book made into a film. Lee's going to have a cameo in the movie, too! He also answered questions about his writing process.

Lee Child being interviewed by Kathleen Antrim

After Lee's talk, I went to lunch with two very important people in my writing life, my agent, Victoria Skurnick, and my editor, Kathy Sagan. I think between the two of them they must have fifty years of publishing experience. They know EVERYBODY. Lunch was a blast, full of interesting publishing stories, a little gossip, and a lot of laughs. And we also had a great conversation about my work! I now have a solid idea of where to go with my next book.

Left to right: Victoria Skurnick (Levine Greenberg Literary Agency), Kathy Sagan (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books), me

After lunch, I had to head back to the hotel for my panel, "Does Sex Really Sell?" Despite me being super nervous (because it was my first panel ever, and hello, it was about SEX), the panel was a lot of fun. The panel moderator, Shane Gericke, kept everything lighthearted, and my fellow panelists (Lori Andrews, Karna Bodman, Laura Elvebak, W.D. Gagliani, and Chris Knopf) were all so interesting and articulate! I may have been a little intimated by all their credentials (I was definitely the newbie author of the group).

Crap . . . just realized I don't have a picture of my panel.

But! At the book signing later, I did snap a pic with the amazing Alma Katsu, author of THE TAKEN and THE RECKONING, who's also a fellow Gallery Books girl. I love Alma. She's the funniest, sweetest person (and so tiny!).

Me with the fabulous Alma Katsu

And! Guess who stopped by to see me at the signing? David Batista, my long-time blog buddy, who lives in the Bronx. We've been reading each others' blogs for a couple of years now, and we're Facebook friends, but we hadn't met in person until last Friday.

Me with long-time blog buddy, David Batista
And another one!

David's taller than I realized! I'm 5'5" and was wearing sandals with 4-inch heels here, and he's still so much taller than me. See, things you can't always tell from social media. It's always so great to meet people from the online writing community in person.

Saturday morning was the Debut Author's breakfast and panel. Alma and I were on this panel last year, and I was looking forward to actually eating the breakfast this year, because I was so nervous I couldn't get anything down last year.

Not surprisingly, the food was delicious. And the one-minute speeches by all the 2012 debut authors were fantastic. It was great to finally meet Facebook/Twitter pal Donna Galanti, and see my friend Dan Friedman again (he and I are both repped by Victoria).

Left to right: Donna Galanti, Robin Gainey, Daniel Friedman

We were all very inspired by the speech given by this year's honored guest, Richard North Patterson.

Richard North Patterson

After the breakfast, I had a nice chat with Janice Gable Bashman, managing editor of International Thriller Writers' Big Thrill magazine. And then I went to see my friend, Hilary Davidson, on her panel (but of course forgot to take a pic).

And then later at the book signing, Dan signed my copy of his critically acclaimed debut novel, DON'T EVER GET OLD. The book has received starred reviews from all four trade reviews. And he sold the movie rights. I mean, dude!

Daniel Friedman, author of DON'T EVER GET OLD

I met so many more authors this year than I did in my last two trips to ThrillerFest, and I also signed way more books this time than I did last time, which was so exciting. I actually had random people stop me in the hallway and tell me how much they enjoyed CREEP, and that's an amazing feeling.

In between panels, I was also hard at work writing articles for a Canadian national newspaper. The National Post invited me to be a guest editor all this week, and of course I couldn't say no. Here are they are:

ThrillerFest DO's and DON'Ts

Murder weapons and kindred spirits

Sex and public speaking

The magic of being a fan

Whew! I think that about covers it! 

What's new with you?

* * *

FREAK: chapter one

I can hardly believe that FREAK will be out in less than a month. Where does the time go?

Coming August 7th! Click here for links to pre-order!

I was excited to see this review from The Mystery Site:
FREAK definitely has a creep factor.  Well thought out, it is an evenly paced, fast read, which keeps your attention. (Read the entire review here.)
And also this very detailed and insightful review from Dead End Follies:
Has Jennifer Hillier started drawing outside the lines? Oh hell yes, she did and it makes things a lot more interesting. It's still a commercial thriller, but it's about as original as the genre will ever get. (Read the entire review here.)
And this one from Harriet Klausner:
Although serial killer thrillers inundate the market, sub-genre fans will want to know who the twisted Freak is... (Read the entire review here.)

If you were thinking of pre-ordering FREAK but weren't sure yet, here's a sneak peek at the first chapter. (And here's the flap jacket summary for a taste of the overall story.)

Please note: This chapter contains profanity and violence, and references to sex and drugs.


FREAK: Chapter One

There was something fucked up about a job where cocaine was overlooked, but cigarettes would get you fired.

In a stall in the bathroom of the Sweet Chariot Inn in downtown Seattle, Brenda Stich (professional name: Brianna) shook out another line of the wondrous white power onto the back of her hand and snorted. It took about three and a half seconds for the shit to kick in, and thank God for it. It had been a long three days with the guy from New York, and she was delirious with exhaustion. The bitterness dripped down the back of her throat and she swallowed. The coke coursed through her veins, and just like that, the world was back in high definition. 

Okay. All right. Much better. 

She exited the stall, grateful the bathroom was empty so she could fix her makeup in peace. Brenda had been hoping for a night off to recharge, but Estelle’s text didn’t leave room for argument. You never argued with Estelle. You worked when she wanted you to, and there was really no such thing as a night off. The Bitch even had all the girls on that new birth control pill where you only bled three times a year, so forget using your period as an excuse. You were always on call, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. If you were what the client wanted, and you weren’t available, they’d go elsewhere. And Estelle hated to lose money. 

Hated, of course, was an understatement. They didn’t call her the Bitch for no reason. 

Brenda checked her makeup in the bathroom mirror one last time. She’d done a decent job covering her dark circles, but her eyes were still red. No problem. An escort always had five things in her purse at all times—condoms, lube, a cell phone, breath mints, and Visine. And sometimes drugs, though of course Estelle never tested for that. If drugs helped her girls work, so be it. Brenda dug out her bottle of Visine and squeezed a few drops into each eye, blinking to move the fluid around. 

Better. 

Estelle might not test for drugs, but she did have the girls screened regularly for venereal diseases, and none of them were able to work during the seventy-two-hour period it took for the tests to come back. Unfortunately Brenda wasn’t due for testing for another week. Dammit, she should have gotten tested today—at least then she’d have had the next three days off. Her last appointment, which had ended only a few hours earlier, had been a fast-talking businessman from Manhattan, in town for four days and determined to make the most of it. He’d had a voracious sexual appetite, made even worse by Viagra. Brenda had once had a conversation with a veteran escort named Charlotte (real name: Carla), who’d spoken of the pre-Viagra days with longing. “Back then, they’d pop after five, six minutes. Ten if they were trying to impress me. Nowadays? The fuckers’ll go all night, thanks to all the fucking drugs. Pun intended.” 

Brenda’s New York client had indeed gone all night, every night, for the past three nights. She’d showed him a good time and he’d tipped her nicely (a fat wad of twenties was stashed in the bottom of her purse beneath the lining, and no, she didn’t have to share this with the agency), but now she was sore and there was a bruise on her knee from where she’d slammed it into the bedpost during one particularly acrobatic session. 

Man, what she wouldn’t give for a cigarette. But smoking on the job was a big fat no-no. The clients could always smell it. And taste it. Estelle didn’t care if you did blow, but if you smoked a cigarette and the client complained, you were done. Unlike cocaine, cigarettes weren’t considered a performance-enhancing drug. 

She backed away from the mirror to see her full self. She looked good. Tight dark blue jeans were tucked into sleek black boots, and a thin white sweater showed off everything it was supposed to without revealing any skin. A short fitted jacket completed the ensemble. Her makeup was deliberately subtle, and her long, dark hair was left loose and straight, as per the client’s request. He had specifically asked for a Girlfriend Experience, which meant she was to provide a very relaxed, “date night” type of encounter, with lots of easy conversation, foreplay, and non-kinky sex, topped off with cuddling and sweet talk afterward. Tonight, the sexy tight dresses and five-inch stilettos had been left at home, and that was fine by Brenda. GFEs, as they were known in the business, were her specialty. 

She left the bathroom and headed toward the elevators, nodding to the uniformed concierge in the main lobby. He nodded back, looking bored. She’d seen him before, having had business in this hotel several times, but she didn’t have to pay him off—Estelle would have taken care of that. Estelle’s girls never handled money, because the Bitch didn’t trust anybody. In fact, the client would have paid for Brenda’s services yesterday, by cash or PayPal. Once Brenda got the text that payment had been received, it was on like Donkey Kong. 

No background checks were ever done. The clients always preferred anonymity, and that was the risk you took in this business. A little scary, yes, but the job paid better than anything else she could do, like waitressing or retail sales. And it was putting her through school. Besides, it wasn’t like she was working the streets, something Brenda would never do. Even sex workers had standards. 

She was, however, required to check in with the agency five minutes before her scheduled appointment time. The check-ins were primarily to ensure that Brenda had arrived on schedule. She was not required to check in after the appointment was over, because frankly, Estelle didn’t care how long she stayed with a client once she had received her money. It was always about the money. Brenda could probably work for a different agency, some place with more stringent safety measures, but none paid as well as Estelle did, and that was a fact. 

The client was made fully aware in advance of the required phone calls, but Brenda often wondered what Estelle or her assistant, Lynne, would actually say to the police if it turned out they had to call the cops. “Hello, nine-one-one? My escort’s not answering her cell phone and I’m worried she’s being beaten and murdered by her client. Could you send someone over to the hotel?” 

And, oh yes, at this price point, they were always clients, never johns. And Brenda was never a hooker, prostitute, working girl, or whore. Always an escort. At five hundred dollars an hour (50 percent of which went to Estelle), it would have been damned insulting if someone called her a hooker. 

She knocked on the door to room 1521 and waited. A moment later, the door opened. Brenda pasted a smile on her face, feeling a bit more alert now that the coke had fully kicked in. But her smile faded as she took in the client, who was definitely not what she was expecting. 

His face, already flushed with excitement, lit up at the sight of her. “You look great,” he said, breathless. “Just perfect. Exactly what I asked for.” The door opened wider. “Please, come in.” 

Brenda hesitated, wondering if she should call Lynne to make sure they knew just how old this particular client was. 

 “I know.” His smile was impish. “A little younger than you were expecting. But I’m eighteen, I swear. It’s actually . . .” He poked his head out the door and checked down the empty hallway. His face reddened even more and he lowered his voice slightly. “It’s actually my first time. Hope that’s okay. I paid and everything.” 

Of course he’d paid. Brenda had already received confirmation of that. Okay, so he was young, probably still in high school. What was it to her? Actually, his inexperience would make for an easy night. At least he wouldn’t have any weird requests. 

She stepped inside. The door shut behind her. 

“Not a problem,” Brenda said. “Let me just check in with my agency, and then I’m all yours.” 

Turning away, she pressed two on her speed dial, murmured a few words to Lynne, and disconnected. She turned back to her young client with a smile. “There, all done. I’m Brianna. So happy to meet you.” She reached forward to give him a hug, as she always did at the start of a Girlfriend Experience. 

She didn’t see the knife on the bed—long, sleek, and shiny—until a minute later when he had a hand over her mouth so tight she couldn’t breathe. 

She struggled against him, legs kicking out in front of her, hands clawing at the arm that had wrapped around her waist like a steel trap, but her efforts were futile. For a kid, he was surprisingly strong. Then a fist slammed into the side of her head, and her knees went out.  

Fuck me, Brenda thought as the room turned hazy. She felt the sharp tip of the knife graze her throat, and if she could have screamed, she would have. 

* * *

Hope you enjoyed! I'll be going to New York for ThrillerFest this week, but I'll be back next week with all the juicy news and hopefully lots of pictures.

Oh, and wish me luck, because my panel is called "Does Sex Really Sell?"  YES. I KNOW. Hold the jokes and pass the tequila.

Have a great week!

* * *