And The Whimper Is…

Unpacking the Edgars

Unpacking the Edgars pre-banquet

By PJ Parrish

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

Today 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. I’ve been chairing the Edgar Awards banquet for ten years now, plus Kelly and I have been lucky to have been nominated for some awards over the years. Our second Louis Kincaid book, Dead of Winter, was nominated for the Edgar. We were desperately excited. Bought new dresses. Went to New York City. Kelly’s son Robert, her date for the big night, rented his first tux at Abe’s Formal Wear on Sixth Avenue. We met our agent for drinks in the Grand Hyatt bar but ordered diet Cokes because we wanted to be stone sober in case we won and had to give a speech.

We sat through the excruciatingly long evening, dry-mouthed and wet-palmed. Then our category came up and…we lost.  We all reached for the wine bottle in the middle of the table at the same time.  I think my agent cried. I’m pretty sure I got drunk.

Here’s the thing about awards. Yes, it is always an honor to be nominated. But it bites to lose. I can’t lie and tell you otherwise.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, and not just because of Frazier. This is the week I start gearing up for the Edgar banquet, which is April 28. (Click HERE to see the list of the 2016 nominees.)

Badges ready for the nominees.

Badges ready for the nominees.

I love this gig.  It’s really cool to see old friends again every year and hang out with the big names at the cocktail reception. But my favorite chore is helping to man the nominee greeting table, because I get to meet all the nominees who come in, spouses and children in tow, the mens’ clip-on tux ties askew, the women’s lovely faces flush with anticipation. They all are so darn happy. I want them all to win. Because I do know how that feels as well.

In 2007, our book An Unquiet Grave was nominated for the International Thriller Award. And just like the first time, all the toads and newts in my bog of insecurity bubbled to the surface.

I went to banquet with no expectations, sitting  between my agent and Ali Karem. Everyone wished me luck, but I was filled with dread. My sister Kelly couldn’t make it, so I felt pretty alone despite all the good vibes. We might write hard-boiled, but I am not. The evening dragged on through the various categories. 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 the 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, jot down a few bon mots so they don’t make asses of themselves. They at least think things through. These are the authors whose gracious and often clever speeches are quoted on Facebook 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? Damn, I forget his name! THE LIGHTS! I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING! Do I have lettuce on my teeth? Agent…mention her name. 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 them a drink later. I should have gone to the hairdresser before I left home. My roots are showing. Damn, did I thank my SISTER at least? 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….

So, here’s the thing, dear writer friends, as we enter the award season for the Edgar, the ITWs, the Shamus, Anthony, et al:  Awards are nice, but they won’t change your life or probably not even affect your writing career.  Truth be told, you can go back and read the list of past Best First Novel Edgar winners (click here), and you’ll be shocked how few made it big. And some of the brightest bestselling lights in our crime business have never won squat. They don’t keep an empty spot on their shelf hoping to fill it with that little porcelain Poe statue. They fill their shelves with their finished books. That is what really matters — hard work, consistency, and the constant quest to get better.

But…if you are ever lucky enough to be nominated for something — anything — enjoy the moment. It really is an honor to be recognized by your peers. Just leave the Spanx at home.

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17 thoughts on “And The Whimper Is…

  1. Your thoughts are hilarious!!! This is one of my big dreams. I can’t even imagine being honored with an Edgar or any other notable award. Congratulations, PJ.

    • Hey Sue,
      Well, you never know…
      Every year, around awards time, you see bloggers and FBook folks talking about the various nominees, trying to figure out why some books get the nods and others are ignored. And as someone who has judged the ITW awards and the Shamus, I can only add that yes, it is so very subjective. Except for the fact that all the books have something exceptional about them. I remember the year I did the ITW first novel…I read maybe 50 books and I could tell in the first ten pages if it was going to be a contender or not. I did have a rule that I had to read at least 100 pages just to be sure, but that 10 page thing always seemed to hold true.

  2. Not all writers are thrilled to get up in front of a roomful of people without a script and have a spotlight shined on them. “If it weren’t for the honor of the thing,” as Mark Twain or someone once said. I always figure we are at our best and loveliest on the page.

    • Kate,
      Boy, we all hear you loud and clear on that account. I think there are very few writers who actually revel in public speaking, but many have learned to do it. One of the most popular workshops we ever had at our MWA Florida chapter conference SleuthFest was on public speaking.

  3. Kris,

    Interesting to read your thoughts. Congratulations on the awards you have won.

    What I really wanted to express is how much I enjoy your Louis Kincaid mysteries. I’m working my way through the series. I repeatedly start to read another “must read.” I find myself asking, “Why am I reading this book?” And I set it aside and reach for Louis – liking eating comfort food.

    Enjoy all your posts. I usually don’t have time to respond, because things are too hectic at my day job. Had time today. Just wanted to say “THANKS!”

    • Wow, you made my day, Steve. Interesting that you mention putting a book aside. I just read an interesting story in the New York Times biz section about a new company called Jellybooks, which is working on providing tree-book publishers “analytics” that will help pubs gauge what happens when a reader opens a book. One example they already charted: A European publisher, that paid a fortune for a first novel, cut back its marketing budget when Jellybook data showed 90% of the readers gave up after only five chapters.

      This will, the article said, be chilling news for writers. Well, gee…wouldn’t it be sorta good for a writer to know this? And besides, Amazon has been doing this with its eBooks for years. The future continues to march toward us…in double time.

      Thanks for taking a moment to respond today!

      • I don’t see why the publishers care how much of the book was read as long as the books are selling. They might want to consider the information if another book by the same author is in line for publication.

  4. First, of course, congratulations. Awards are cool (or we wouldn’t enter, right?). I was recently honored with a conference-specific award and knew there was no way I could win, because the other 4 finalists were BIG NAME NYT best-selling authors. But I added the cost of the awards banquet to my registration, reveled in the sight of my name up with those BNNYTs on the website, and prepared myself for a long, dull evening. (I did pack a dress, but this was a regional conference, so it was my LLBean lbd, not a ‘gown’ by any means.) When the winner was announced, it didn’t register that it was me, because I was listening for names, not book title (it was the first category announced, so I didn’t know the pattern). So, I heard “C” and immediately was happy because I’d loved that author’s book. But what they were saying was “Seeing …” and it wasn’t until I heard my name that I realized it was me. Yes, I shrieked in astonishment.
    (Disclaimer–this was one of those ‘attendees vote for the winner’ awards, and none of the other 4 in my category showed up.)
    Did it do anything for sales? Not that I can see. Do people come up to me and say “Oh, you won the XXX award?” Nope. Did I get a trophy to look at? Nope — not even a certificate, although they promised one would show up eventually.
    Do I love that I won? Yes!

      • LL Bean (you’ve heard of them, right?) Little Black Dress. I live out in the boonies now. You may have noticed my casual attire at SleuthFest.

        • Ah! I have an lbd from Chico’s. It can be balled up in a carry-on. The only things more indestructable than my lbd is Astroturf and Trump’s hair.

  5. Loved your story, Kris. When I did TV, I was nominated for a local Emmy. I didn’t expect to win because I was a newspaper reporter and didn’t belong in that crowd. Still, I got the dress, the heels and earrings that weighed 10 pounds.
    But they did call my name. And I said those words I never expected would come from me, “I’d like to thank my producer.”
    Here’s to more wins for you. You know I’m a fan. And your new Thomas & Mercer book, SHE’S NOT THERE, is definitely award-worthy.

  6. AN UNQUIET GRAVE. Congratulations on receiving your award. I will read this book.

  7. I laughed out loud reading your “…what was REALLY in my head.” Having read several of your books (and still reading), I’m glad you and your sister were recognized. Well deserved.

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