Saturday, January 23, 2016

Not the Laurel, But the Race

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: If you follow crime fiction news (and if not, you should!) you know the Edgar Awards, sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America, and the Lefty Awards, given at the Left Coast Crime conference, have recently been announced. We're thrilled to have three Reds on the shortlists. Hallie Ephron has been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and BOTH Rhys Bowen and Susan Elia MacNeal are on the list for the Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Fiction Award. (Will they go mano-a-mano for the prize, wrestling and throwing punches? Probably not, but you should attend Left Coast Crime just in case.)

Award wins and nominations are, to be perfectly frank, delightful. We at Jungle Reds like them a lot: between us we have won the Barry, the Booky, the Bruce Alexander, the Dilys, the Freddy, the Gumshoe,the Herodotus, the Lovey, the Daphne and the Nero Wolfe. We've been nominated twice for the Dilys and Bruce Alexander Awards, three times for the Barry and Edgar Awards, six times for the Mary Higgins Clark award, eight times for the Macavity, fifteen times for the Anthony and a staggering twenty-one nominations for the Agatha Award.

At home, on our bookcases, we can display two Barry Awards, three Sue Feder Historical Mystery Awards, five Macavity cats, five Anthony awards and eight Agatha teapots. For those of you scribbling figures on the back of an envelope, that's 13.14 awards and nominations per Red. Here's the thing, though: we don't write to receive nominations and awards. We write to please our readers. The teapot, the cat - or that oh-so-coveted Poe statuette - are useful. They draw attention to our work, make our publishers happy and raise our profiles in the community. But the best thing about them is that they're a tangible form of reader satisfaction.  Behind every nomination is eight or eighty or eight hundred readers who closed the cover and sighed, "That was a great book."

And that's one reason why crime fiction authors aren't (tooo terribly) jealous when our colleagues nab awards. Because we read - and love - each others' books. In 2014, Hank and I were both up for a Best Novel Agatha, for THE WRONG GIRL and THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS. When Hank won, as soon as she had finished getting her pictures taken, she rushed over to me and said, very seriously, "Is this okay?" It was, and I was happy for her, and we hugged and I had a great time that evening at the bar bragging on my sister Red.

If award nominations have any lasting impact, it's this: they remind us to always push ourselves to become better writers, to strive to deepen our understanding of the craft, and to promise ourselves to make every single book a little bit better than the last one. Reds, what are your thoughts on the role of awards in your career? And do you have any good award ceremony stories to share?

RHYS BOWEN:  Julia, the one time I was ever nominated for the Edgar best novel, you were a fellow nominee!  How seldom is a woman ever nominated and that year there were three of us. Laura Lippman was the third. I secretly felt we cancelled each other out! But I would have cheered loudly if you had won.

My most recent award ceremony memory is winning the Agatha last year and then cheering for Hank when she won hers and having our pictures taken together with teapots! You are so right that we are each others' biggest champions! We are in a great profession and wonderful community.  I feel blessed.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I was completely gobsmacked to be nominated for an Edgar for Best First Novel and I'm happy to say that we nominees (Kim Fay, Daniel Friedman, Michael Sears, and Matthew Quick) became fast friends there and have remained close! And I remember winning the Barry — not only did I never think I would win, but I didn't fix up my hair or put on fresh lipstick, and had a couple of glasses of wine beforehand. (Because I REALLY didn't think I would win.) I have no idea what I said, but my editor tells me it was sweet and people liked it. Thank goodness. Maybe that's the trick to winning? Not wearing lipstick and being completely unprepared? One of the unexpected benefits of being nominated for things is getting to sit at the awards ceremony with Lee Child, because we share an editor. Even after a few years, I'm always shocked Lee Child knows who I am. And once he even told me, "My wife loves your books." That's good — right?

JULIA: Absolutely!

HALLIE EPHRON: Julia, when you lay it out like that, we've got quite an impressive array of nominations and awards among us. Congratulations, Susan and Rhys! I had a lovely day on Tuesday when the nomination was announced -- with my phone and email pinging nonstop with congratulatory messages. I got zero writing done.

This will be my fourth time up for the Mary Higgins Clark and while it is certainly an honor to be nominated, and I admire my fellow nominees several of who I consider friends, is it okay to say: I want that glass doorstop!

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm so pleased and thrilled for our nominated Reds! I've been nominated for Agathas (up against Julia for best first, which she deservedly won), the Anthony, and the Macavity (boy do I want one of those cats one day...). I've also served on quite a few Edgar committees--best novel, best YA, best TV, best juvenile. From that perspective, a writer begins to see how much competition there is out in the world. Since we truly have no way to influence awards, my theory is we don't write for them--we write for you!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  OH, Rhys and Julia, what wonderful memories!  Thank you. I love my five teapots and my Mary Higgins Clark crystal bookend and my Anthonys  and Daphne and Macavitys. But think about it--we sit, alone alone alone, in our studies, making new worlds. something out of nothing but our imaginations. How does that even work? And then--at some point, someone will read it! Real people, most often people we've never met. And then-they decide if they "like" it. What does that even mean??  And what does"good" mean? Or successful? It's all such a magical impossible thing. So when someone says--we love it! It's the best! Well, how do you not burst into tears?

And then I work harder than ever.

Now Julia.  HOW did you do all that calculation??? Amazing.

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Really, Julia, how did you do that?? I must say I'm collectively impressed with us. Wow! I've been nominated for the Agatha, the Edgar, and I think four times for the Macavity, which I've won twice. I know we always say, "It's great to be nominated," but it's really true. Having served on several Edgar committees over the years, I know how seriously the judges take their task, and how hard it is to choose between that top handful of books. And the awards given by readers are really special, because it means we've done our jobs and given readers a book that touched them in some way.

So thrilled for our nominated REDS this year! Will be holding my breath on awards nights!

JULIA: Coming up with those numbers involved a lot of checking out everyone's web sites and then cross checking against award records. Thankfully, most of the crime fiction writing awards have searchable databases!

Dear Readers, I think our thoughts about the role of awards is well captured in this poem by Gelett Burgess:

Not the quarry, but the chase,
Not the laurel, but the race,
Not the hazard, but the play,
Make me, Lord, enjoy alway. 


  1. Congratulations to Hallie, Rhys, and Susan on your award nominations . . . each so well deserved.

    Those of us who love reading the books each of the Jungle Red ladies write are thrilled when you are nominated for awards and when your outstanding writing is recognized with an award.

    We know how wonderful your books are, and we love that you keep writing them for us to read.

  2. Really, quite an array of noms and awards - and all so well deserved! Best of luck this year to Hallie, Rhys, and Susan - because winning is nice, too.

    I was gobsmacked to have my short story nominated last year for an Agatha - bu I can tell, you Susan, having wine at dinner did NOT work for winning. ;^) Maybe it was because I brushed my hair?

  3. So pleased for all of you, on both noms and wins. And as Joan said above, well deserved.

    I've been privileged to see some of you win those very awards, which was thrilling. But as a reader, it's very hard to choose between you when you're all competing head to head in so many of the events. Like trying to choose which child to spare, you know? Impossible!

    As problems go, though, it's a good one to have!

  4. You are a wonderfully talented and gracious bunch of ladies. Congrats on all your nominations - and if I could, I'd say those of you nominated in the same category in the same year would both win!

  5. Awards are great because they reward your hard work. We are privileged to know just how hard you all work, because week after week, you let us glimpse the process. We know when you are struggling, when the work comes smoothly (yay!), when a character or plot turn comes out of nowhere and surprises you! We hear about the research, the many drafts. You earn those nominations, those wins!

    But none of the awards mean anything to me, when I go to read a book. If I come back to an author, if I stay up late to finish a book by a new author--it's because the writing speaks to me--the characters, the plot, the setting (okay, on setting, please no more blizzards, okay, Julia?!). You all obviously have talent--but it's the hard work you put in on each and every book that makes you all winners in my book.

  6. Congrats, ladies! Yes, we do love you, and are thrilled when you win because that means you can keep giving us all these marvelous books. I'll bet there is no other blog site with such a collection of wonderful writers (and fun posts).

  7. Thank you all so much! It really is an honor. I've also had the privilege on being on the other side, on a nominating committee.

  8. I like to introduce myself as an Edgar Award loser...:-)

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  10. Julia! LOVE that little poem. Perfect.

    And HURRAY for Hallie, Rhys and Susan! WInners all! xooxooo

    And yes, as a judge for these things, it makes you really aware of the work. And the bravery it takes for putting it out there!


  11. I am so proud of you - ALL of you. You have no idea. It is such a huge part of my life to know you and watch you as you "grow."

    and what a perfect poem this is. I love it.

  12. How impressive, but not really a surprise!

  13. When I first met the Reds at my first Bouchercon in Albany, I had spent that year reading lots of books by you all, and I knew I had found a special group of writers to follow. Each one of you showed such generosity with your fans, and as a first-time meeting, I was as thrilled as a kid in a candy store just how wonderful you were. I didn't meet Susan at that time, but I did meet you, Susan, in Raleigh, after catching up with your amazing book, and you were as sweet as could be. Participating in this blog has brought me into a community of talent, kindness, generosity, and authenticity that has enriched my life immeasurably.

    I'm so proud every time one of you Reds gets a nomination, and I do the fist pump and say, "Yes, that is a great book." And, as you pointed out, Julia, you are so supportive of one another and genuinely happy for the winner, even if it isn't you. You are truly sisters to each other, and I'm so pleased that I am a part of this beautiful Reds family, too. Good luck to everyone in the upcoming awards, and I'm sure that I'll be seeing all your names in the Bouchercon award mix, too.

  14. Boy, I don't know how you could judge the books. Such dissimilar stories and styles and characters. Really. What are the guidelines if you're a judge?

  15. Easy to see that the Reds rock! Thrilled to be reading this blog.

  16. Gotta add this, even Captcha knows how special you all are, my photo captcha had me identifying limos! Best of luck to all the nominees. Looking forward to hearing the news.

  17. JRWs, I am so glad you have your nominations and awards, because you deserve them. But, with or without them, I love you and your books. xo

  18. I am going to Left Coast for the first time this year and looking forward to clapping when the award is given of you!

    (Loved the poem, too. Isn't he the guy who wrote "I never saw a purple cow...")

  19. Well-deserved awards -- and may they keep coming. But, mainly -- keep the books coming!!! Love from an avid fan.

  20. Triss, he was! He followed it with a sequel:

    Ah yes, I wrote "The Purple Cow"--
    I'm sorry, now, I wrote it!
    But I can tell you, anyhow,
    I'll kill you if you quote it.