Awards Season: A Survival Guide

By. P.J. Parrish

So I am doing my usual warm-up before hitting the computer yesterday morning: folding laundry and watching “Frazier” reruns. I love Frazier because beneath his smooth surface is a roiling bog of neediness and insecurity.

Yesterday was the episode where Frazier and his producer Roz are nominated for the Seebee Award, given out to Seattle’s best broadcasters. Frazier tries to be above it all, but he just can’t. He wants to win, dammit! But at the banquet, he finds out he is up against the aging icon Fletcher Grey. Fletcher has been nominated 11 times in a row and lost 10. Fletcher’s date is his 84-year-old mother who has flown in from Scottsdale — for the 11th straight year. Fletcher is also retiring. Frazier tells Roz, “if we win, they’ll string us up.” Roz says, “I don’t care. I’d crawl over his mother to win this award!”

Frazier loses, of course. His agent Beebee deserts him. Roz gets drunk on Pink Ladies.

Sounds like a couple award banquets I’ve been to. A couple I have chaired, in fact. My sister Kelly and I are the chairs of the Edgar Banquet. (That’s me in the photo above unpacking Edgar programs in the Grand Hyatt ballroom. I also do windows). We’ve been doing this chairman gig for about five years now. It’s a lot of work and a lot of fun. You get to meet a lot of nervous but sweet debut authors, a few movie stars (I did an embarrassing fan-stalk of Richard “Munch” Belzer one year) and some really classy dames. (That’s Kelly and me below with Mary Higgins Clark.)

We also been judges for the Shamus Awards, the Mystery Writer of America St. Martin’s Best First Novel contest, and  the International Thriller Awards. So we’ve seen how the sausage is made.

The stories I could tell…

But I won’t. And not just because sometimes they make judges sign confidentiality agreements. Mainly it’s because ours is a very small community and I believe in author Karma. If you make a fool of yourself in public, it will come around and bite you on the butt. You can put good money on that.

Also, I’ve been on the other side of the whole awards thing. We’ve been lucky enough to be nominated for some awards over the past twelve years. Yes, it is an honor to be nominated. But it bites to lose. I can’t lie and tell you otherwise. Our second book “Dead of Winter” was nominated for an Edgar. We were wide-eyed newbies in those days — didn’t even know what Mystery Writers of America was — and we went to New York with our new gowns, got our nails done and gathered with spouses, son, and agent in the Grand Hyatt bar before the banquet to calm our nerves. Not a drop of alcohol because if we DID win, we didn’t want to go up on stage three sheets to the wind and say something stupid. (As I said, I now have stories I could tell…)

Well, when our name wasn’t announced, we all grabbed for the wine bottle in the middle of the table. The rest of the night is a blur. So is the rest of the decade, as far as awards go. Because as I said, although we got nominated for a couple, we never won. Which brings me to July 2008.

Our book “An Unquiet Grave” was nominated for the International Thriller Writers Award. Back to New York City we went, back to the Grand Hyatt. No expectations this time. My sister couldn’t make it so I sat between my husband and Ali Karem. My friend the late Elaine Flinn kept saying it was our night. Doug Lyle wished me luck. Without Kelly at my side, I sat there feeling alone and sort of empty. We might write hardboiled, but I am not. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I bolted for the lobby.

Jim Fusilli was standing there and barred my way, putting an arm around my shoulders. Each nominee was announced by reading the first line of their book. Ours is “The Christmas lights were already up.” I remember thinking, “God, that sucks.”

I heard the title of our book announced as the winner. I started crying. I don’t remember what I said on stage. Many authors, when they are up for awards, have the sense of jot down a few notes beforehand so they are gracious, and  their clever speeches are quoted in the blogs the next morning.

This is what SHOULD have been in my head as I went up there:

“Thank you so much for this great honor. First, I want to thank the ITW judges who put their careers on hold for months. Their job is doubly hard in that they first must read hundreds of books but then, they must decide on just one when any of the five finalists would be worthy. Second, I want to thank my fellow nominees. I am honored to have my book mentioned among their fine works. Third, I want to thank my agent and editor who….”

This is what was REALLY in my head:

“God, I can’t believe I am crying! How pathetic and needy! Where’s the friggin’ stairs? I can’t see! Who is that man at the podium? Shit, I forget his name! THE LIGHTS! I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING! Do I have lettuce on my teeth? My bra is showing, I just know it. DON’T PULL AT YOUR BRA!! He’s handing it to me. Jesus, it’s heavy…don’t drop it…don’t drop it…don’t drop it. Say something nice about the other nominees! Can’t…can’t…can’t remember their names. YOU TWIT! You just sat on a panel with TWO of them this morning! Wait, wait…is it Paul LeVEEN or Paul LeVINE??? Forget it…buy him a drink later. I should have gone to the hairdresser before I left home. My roots are showing. Shit, did I thank my agent? JESUS! THE LIGHTS! Stop talking now…you’re rambling, you ass…stop now and just go sit down. Okay, leaving now. TAKE THE AWARD! Don’t drop it…don’t drop it…don’t drop it. Good grief…I’m here in New York City wearing Nine West because I was too cheap to spring for those black Blahniks at Off Fifth. Dear God, just let me just off this stage so I can get to the john and pull up my Spanx and get a glass of wine…”

Well, we’re entering award season soon. So here’s a few reminders. Entries are due for ITW’s International Thriller Awards. CLICK HERE for the link. There is also time to still enter the Edgars and you, the author, can do it yourself if you wish. CLICK HERE.

A few more final reminders about this awards thing from an old veteran:

If you don’t get nominated, don’t go to Amazon, read the samples and obsess about what hacks the writers are or whine that nobody has HEARD of these books and the judges don’t appreciate commercial fiction.

If you never get nominated for anything in your life, remember that many great and successful authors haven’t either. Vonnegut lost the Nebuba Best Novel award. Nabokov whiffed on seven National Book Awards AND lost the Nobel to some guy named Eyvind Johnson. And do you think guys like Lee Child go to sleep at night worrying about not winning an Edgar?

If you DO get nominated, have the sense to write out a little speech and try not to use it to give the finger to everyone who has slighted you in the past. (I told you…I have stories I can tell.)

If you lose, don’t get drunk, sling a woman over your shoulder and drag her into the the hotel elevator (Yeah, I saw that one too).

If you win, be thankful and gracious then get right back to writing.

Winning an award is nice but it won’t get the laundry folded.

17 thoughts on “Awards Season: A Survival Guide

  1. Well what I took away from this post is totally different than what you intended, but what the whole thing shouted out to me is: “This is the life of a writer who constantly gets their books DONE and out there.”

    A place where I am not. It’s nice to view it from the perspective of a writer who breathes “get it done and out there”–and can perhaps do that so well that winning an award (or not) is a luxury to deal with.

    • Oh geez, BK…thank you for saying this.

      Because here’s the truth. I am so far behind on my WIP right now that I am “singing Sinatra.” (in the wee wee hours of the morning, I am NOT sleeping). You are right, that you have to get it out there. It’s number one duty. Starting a book is easy in a way. Finishing one? Wow, that’s the rub, right? Because for most of us, as we plug along, there is always at least one crisis of confidence where we are convinced what you are doing is garbage. Or, after 12 books, that you’ve lost it. It’s so easy to get distracted or spin your wheels folding laundry or rewriting the same chapter over and over. So what you said “get it done and out there” is just what I need to hear today.

  2. I wish I could have witnessed some of those scenes you describe! This is the stuff that makes conferences such fun. Good advice about always bringing notes, whenever approaching a podium for any reason. It’s a shield against a sudden attack of brain fugue… Winston Churchill, the master orator, used to memorize and practice his speeches obsessively, but even he once suffered a complete loss od words under pressure. From then on, he always brought notes as a backup. (You can tell I’m still reading THE LAST LION, his biography, right?).

    • The stories about conference mishaps tend to become fish stories. Some take on the stuff of legend. One year after the Edgars I was sitting at the bar and a drunk threatened some writer. Barry Eisler got the drunk in a quick arm-lock and marched him out of the bar. (true story). But now the story usually involves Barry leaping over the bar, pulling out a saber or gun or dispensing the guy with a karate kick. And of course, everyone was an eye witness.

  3. I love this because I just went through it. The restless preoccupation with the length of the program before they get to the awards announcement. How dry the wonderful buffet tasted because of the adrenalin in my system. I will confess, the off-the-cuff remarks I was complimented on the next day were the result of 2 weeks of obsessive visualizing of a win.

    This post is superb. Nice to hear that publication doesn’t automatically turn you into a cool urbane glib cocktail party denizen.


    • Terri,
      One of the first things Kelly and I did when we took on the Edgars was cut the length of the evening. (It used to run past 11 p.m., sometimes midnight). Now the editors can catch their trains home. πŸ™‚

    • Congrats on being able to use your comments! What award did you receive?

      I’m reminded of a recognition moment in my distant past. I sat at a football awards dinner as the coach described the play of the chosen “Most Valuable Player” in build-up to the announcement. I became aware he was unquestionably describing ME!

      He announced the winner and I was halfway out of my seat before it registered that he’d said the name of a fellow linebacker.

      I’m embarrassed for myself to this day when I recollect – but then I laugh.

  4. Very cool stories, I’d love to watch some of that stuff live. Plenty of story material in those events I’d imagine.

    Speaking of imagine I once imagined the aftermath of a super-heroes awards conference and now reading your article, seems like maybe it wasn’t too far off. Here’s my take on it.

  5. Kris, I always love your posts! They’re both informative and highly entertaining. πŸ™‚

    I’m a complete newbie at this fiction thing, not yet published. But I cherish the wisdom of all of you who have gone before me, especially those in this fabulous KZ community.

    Thank you for informing and entertaining me today!

    • Thanks Diane. I didn’t really have any “practical” advice to offer today…my week was pretty hectic and I was distracted to be honest by my WIP. So I had to do this personal post. So I am glad you got something out of it.

    • Kris — The honesty in juggling a WIP with commitments like a weekly blog post is helpful! Thanks for being willing to “live out loud” for the rest of us. Wishing you the best with your WIP!

      We’re cheering you on here in the cheap seats. πŸ™‚

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