Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Hugging the porcelain

My friend Reed Farrel Coleman is flying high today. He just got nominated for an Edgar. He got the news on the same day he was also elected executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America. Which is kind of like hitting a home run and running the bases with a bad case of jock itch. Do you laugh or cry?

Just kidding. But barely. See, I am just finished with my tour of duty serving on the MWA national board and it is hard work for no pay, very little glory and a lot of grief. I can tell you, though, that I got more out of the experience that I can ever say. I can tell you, too, that Reed is going to be a helluva a EVP. So I was thrilled to see him get an Edgar nod for his splendid book, The James Deans -- because an Edgar nomination can change a writer forever.

You're scoffing. But hear me out.

My sister Kelly and I got an Edgar nomination for our second book,Dead of Winter. We were pretty naive -- hell, stupid -- about the book biz in those days but we DID know enough to get our book entered. (our debut was never submitted; many publishers neglect to enter their authors' books which is why you don't see some good titles on the lists that should be there.)

I remember exactly what I was doing when I got the news. The Bucs were beating up on the Raiders so everyone at our Super Bowl party was three sheets to the wind, including me. The phone rang and I took it outside so I could hear. When the person delivered the news, I screamed. My husband came running outside.

"What the hell is wrong?" he yelled.
"We're an Edgar nominee!" I yelled back.
"Thank God," he said, "I thought the cat drowned in the pool."

Things got better fast.

First, the book jumped a couple notches on Amazon. It was probably from 1,4456,957 to 56,789, but hey, you take what you can get. It started to get some late reviews from folks who had ignored it the first time. (Paperback originals don't register on most reviewer radar screens). And there was our name -- on a list with such folks as Jeffrey Deaver, S.J. Rozan, Jan Burke, Margaret Maron, Harlan Coben, and Ed friggin' McBain, for god's sake. It was heady stuff for two newbies.

Then came the Edgar banquet. We bought new dresses and went to New York. We even had our hair done that day. At the hotel bar, we sat in a quiet circle: Kelly, her son Robert, my husband Daniel and our agent Maria. We allowed ourselves one drink because if we did win, we didn't want to make asses of ourselves up there.

Inside the cavernous dining room, we sat at our publisher's table. We ogled and pointed. There goes Harlan. Was that T. Jefferson Parker? Geez, Laura Lippman is taller than she looks in her pictures. Look at the red dress Mary Higgins Clark is wearing. Omigod, that's Edie Falco over there!

Everything was a blur. Then they started announcing the winners. It is excruciating to sit through all the categories knowing your moment is coming. The sound starts rushing in your ears and your vision grows dim. You're stone cold sober but you feel like you're going to pass out.

I felt my husband grab my hand.

Then...

We lost.

I applauded the winner then grabbed the wine bottle and poured myself a tall one. The next day, we went home and I went back to chapter 12 of what was to become our fourth book, Thicker Than Water.

I wouldn't be honest if I didn't tell you the truth: Losing bites. And I would bet you that for all the grousing, bitching, complaining and second-guessing that surrounds the Edgars, there isn't an author out there who wouldn't kill to have one of those ugly little statues.

So many good books. (There were over 500 books entered in Best Novel alone this year and an astonding 1701 total Edgar submissions.) But there are only five nominee slots. And only one winner. So to Reed and all the other nominees, all I can say is that even if you don't win, just remember:

...that the Edgar, unique among the mystery community's awards, is judged by other writers and that your peers thought enough of your work to single it out.

...that you are part of a 60-year tradition of honoring what is good about our genre.

...that you will never forget the high.

...and that it will sustain you through all those dark nights when you can't put two decent sentences together, your numbers are shit, and you are sure the world is finally going to discover you have no talent and are a complete fraud.

Writing is a lonely affair. It's a cliche but a true cliche. And the egos of most writers I know are swiss-cheesed with doubt. I think that is how the Edgar can most change a writer's life. It's not the outer confirmation that the award represents -- things like a bump in sales, or a translation into a better contract or a bigger publisher. It is the inner validation -- that something you did, something you created out of the ether of your imagination and the sweat of your faith -- is real.

Enjoy.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Bob Morris said...

OK, OK. When we were both at A Sunday To Die For this week and you asked: "So how did it feel to sit at the Edgar banquet last year and LOSE?" I thought it was just a rhetorical question. Or a really clumsy icebreaker.

Actually, I thought it was sort of an assholey question and were you not so much shorter than me and there were not ladies there getting ready to drink tea and eat scones and watercress sandwiches then I might have responded in a way that would have eventually led to fisticuffs and both of us getting booted from the Don Cesar.

But then I realized that you were a LOSER, too, and just trying to sympathize in your own twisted way and decided not to punch you out.

So I answered: "Gee, I was just glad to be asked to the dance. It was a great honor." Or something equally vapid.

But I was lying my ass off. And I shoulda answered: "Man, it totally sucked. Because the guy who won for Best First Novel didn't write a mystery (even he said so) and I've got two kids in college and could have really used the bump in sales and the extra juice that being an Edgar winner can bring. Plus, it would have justified me showing up for the banquet in a tuxedo looking like I thought I was going to win, when all the other nominees in the category were just wearing suits. Plus,my wife wouldn't have cried and my editor wouldn't have gotten so drunk and I would have felt better about paying the monster bar tab that I got stuck with."

Yeah, it totally sucked.

And it wasn't really that assholey of a question.

6:43 AM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Bob,

Whew. Don't you feel better now? And you didn't even have to pay a shrink.

If you think Bob's post is funny, you should read his books "Bahamarama" and "Jamaica Me Dead" featuring ex-Dolphin Zack Chasteen. Especially if you're one of those folks who grouse that funny stuff never gets nominated for the Edgar.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Yes, and it's kind of hard to describe how you feel when you asked your editor to submit your novel and they say they will and then they forget.

So, uh, I won't describe it.

12:42 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Mark,

You can't hit a home run if your coach never puts you in the game.

Which is why is a good that the Edgars allow writers to submit their own works.

12:49 PM  

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