Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Hugging the Porcelain


By P.J. Parrish

A friend of mine got some pretty good news this week. He won the Edgar for Best Novel.

William Kent Kreuger is his name. The book is Ordinary Grace and there's nothing ordinary about it. Now I didn't read all the best novel nominees this year, but I can vouch for this book and for Kent himself. He's one of the good guys. He's paid his dues, is generous to other writers, and has kept his Cork series going at a high level for fourteen books now. (Not an easy feat!)

So last Thursday night, I was delighted to see him hugging that ugly little porcelain statue.

I've had a front row seat to the Edgars for seven years now. My sister Kelly and I are the banquet chairs. That's us in the pic above just before the night got started. We produce the "show" that is sometimes called the Oscars of the crime world. It's a great gig because Kelly gets to make movies for the night, I get to make the Powerpoint and work with great writers to produce the annual. It's even fun to help MWA's Margery Flax set things up. Can I share some backstage snapshots?

Here's how Eddie arrives at the Grand Hyatt, rather unceremoniously:
Here's me doing grunt-work, unboxing the annuals.
And Kelly helping Margery set up the registration table.

I can hear you sighing. Ugh...awards. Who cares?

True, there are some great and successful writers in our genre who never won an Edgar. Or an ITW Thriller Award, or Shamus or Anthony or Dilys. Many really good books are overlooked every year. Some publishers neglect to even enter their authors' books. And except for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and the Agatha Award, there is a bias against traditionals and cozies. But after working the Edgars for seven years now, come banquet time it is fun to see folks who slave over their Macs in sweatpants put on tux and gown, put aside their cynicism, and get their moment in the sun.

But can an award change your life?

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. We didn't even understand what the Edgar was, to be honest.  I do 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.
"I thought the cat drowned in the pool. What's an Edgar?"

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. We got some late reviews from folks who had ignored it the first time. (Paperback originals don't register on most reviewer radar screens).

Then came the Edgar banquet. We bought new dresses and went to New York. At the hotel bar, we sat in a quiet circle: Kelly, her son Robert, my husband Daniel and our agent. 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, ogling and pointing. There goes Harlan. Was that T. Jefferson Parker? 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 sitting 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. My good friend Reed Farrel Coleman has been nominated three times in three different categories. He was up this year for Best Short Story. He lost.  He says he is now chasing Jeffrey Deaver's record who has lost seven times.

It is now ten books later for us. There have been dark days when I couldn't put two decent sentences together and darker nights when I have fretted that the world was finally going to discover that I have no talent and am 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. So yes, I think getting an award can change your life. Hell, a nomination can change your life.

Not because it's some outer confirmation like a bump in sales, or a translation into a better contract or a bigger publisher. It is because it is an inner validation -- that something you did, something you created out of the ether of your imagination and the sweat of your faith -- is real. And your peers know and honor that.


12 comments:

  1. I went to U.C. Santa Barbara in the 70s, so the title of this post took me initially to an entirely different place. That aside, winning is of course fun, but "losing" seems an odd word if you've managed to make it into the top 5 or whatever. Awards are part of our culture, though in the arts it's a dicey concept. When a runner breaks the tape we all know who was the best. But how do you decide what's "best" in the arts?

    The really important question about these fetes is this: how was the food?

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    1. It tasted like chicken.

      No, seriously, the Edgar banquet has really good food. Margery and I get to pick the menu every year and we always order some kind of steak thingie because attendees have asked NOT to include fish. Good goat cheese and beet salad and a devil-good chocolate cake thing. And lots of wine...

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  2. I agree with JSB. Top 5 is not losing. And your readers vote for you every time you sell another book. TKZers vote for you every time they read and comment on your posts. Don't let others define "winning" for you.

    (I also agree with JSB that "Hugging the Porcelain" gave me very different visions than what the post turned out to be. I'm glad!)

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    1. I have hugged the porcelain myself (after a particularly unmemorable frat party). But I have never hugged the other kind. :) But as you say, top five (or ten or 20) is not a bad place to be.

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  3. I got to meet William Kent Kreuger at the same conference where I met Mr. Gilstrap and landed on this blog. He is charming and funny and self-effacing and gives a great workshop. I look forward to seeing him again at Killer Nashville in August.

    Winning doesn't define you or your career, but it certainly improves the evening. The next day you're back in the fray, albeit with a little glitter still caught in your hair.

    Terri

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    1. Exactly, Terri. I gave myself one day to loaf but was back tackling chapter 14 the next day. It went well...maybe I got a little inspired.

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  4. "True, there are some great and successful writers in our genre who never won an Edgar."

    And many others who will not only never win an Edgar, but cannot even get into the event because they are self-published.

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    1. Or can't get in because the security staff got my....er....their picture last time.

      Note:
      1. Hacking the sound system is pretty easy
      2. Necessary gear for such hacking can get kind of hot
      3. Potted plant disguises catch fire easily.

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    2. There are several potted plants who show up at the Edgars every year. They get more potted the longer the night goes on...

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  5. You hit the nail on the head--winning an award is inner validation. Great article!

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  6. I started entering my novels in indie awards about 18 months ago. The first book won one award (well, a category of :D) and was shortlisted for most of the others.

    My main intention for entering these awards was purely for the marketing advantage. Being able to say that my book is award-winning or nominated can make it a more attractive option for would-be readers wanting to try out a new author. And many readers have told me just that.

    Did gaining the inner validation that my book is "good enough" make me happy? Yes, it did. But then I put my head down and carried on writing and improving my craft.

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    PS: Incidentally, the second book in the series just won the action/adventure category of Next Generation Indie 2014 :) The first book was a finalist last year.

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