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April 30, 2005

Authors Authors Everywhere

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The Mystery Writers of America held its 60th Anniversary this week, which culminated in the Edgar Awards ceremony last night. I think the best way to share this event is to write it like a travel diary. Sooo here we go.

The celebration kicked off Tuesday night with the Agents and Editors Cruise from midtown to the Statue of Liberty. The seas were a tad rough (i.e., whitecaps) and the wind was whipping around. It was a night for flat shoes and windblown hair. At one point glasses were flying on the upper deck, which prompted M.J. Rose to say it was a perfect element for a mystery cruise as there were murderous elements everywhere. As she said this I saw authors churning those details and could picture their fingers flying across the keys telling that story. When you are in the presence of this many writers, you know everything that happens is story fodder.

The evening gave me time to catch up with authors who had been panelists with me in past years like Chris Mooney, Carol Goodman and Con Lehane. I also got to see Sandy Balzo, who is one of the most fashionable women at these events. Parties like this are fun as you read nametags and realize that you finally are face to face with a name you have heard so much about. For me this encounter was with Carolyn Marino, the HarperCollins editor who has worked with so many authors I know including the afore-mentioned Andrews, Lisa Scottoline, William Lashner and oh so many others. Talking titles with someone like this gives the writing new meaning. Carolyn was honored for her work in the genre with the Ellery Queen Award on Thursday night.

Mary Kay Andrews lifted a glass as we passed the Statue of Liberty and held her hand aloft just like Lady Liberty clutching the torch. Mary Higgins Clark, who truly is the Queen of Suspense, and one of the classiest women in publishing, stood at the stern with nary a hair out of place. May I be this poised when I grow up.

Wednesday there was a full-day symposium with some of the best author panels that I have been privvy to. My day kicked off with a panel moderated by Mary Higgins Clark who hosted two powerful literary agents --- Donald Maass and Maria Carvainis. Their mission: to let would-be authors know how to get serious about getting published. The next panel had Ridley Pearson, Suzanne O'Malley and Paul Levine talking about books being made into movies. O'Malley and I have exchanged emails over the years and I had the opportunity to interview her when her Edgar-nominated book came out, ARE YOU ALONE THERE?: The Unspeakable Crimes of Andrea Yates. It was nice to finally meet. I am reading Levine's SOLOMON VS LORD, which will be in stores in October. It has some of the best-paced prose and dialogue that I have read in a while. Think "Moonlighting" or "Adam's Rib." You will hear more about this one.

Lunch was a reading at the Borders 57th Street store. Had a chance to hear authors read and share some commentary about their books. Among them was Marcia Muller, who was the Grandmaster of this event (a Grandmaster being one who is honored for his or her battery of work. She has more than 28 books to her name; 22 in her Sharon McCone series.). She read from THE DANGEROUS HOUR. I also heard Richard Aleas read the opener from LITTLE GIRL LOST and immediately emailed the office asking Tom to get me a copy. It's published by a newish publisher, Hard Case Crime, who is getting a lot of nice press. Also at this event, I got caught up with Michele Martinez, whose debut novel MOST WANTED is one of my favorites this year. She was in the audience and we caught up for the first time since her book came out. I was very happy to hear how well it is doing!

Post lunch Katherine Neville, author of THE EIGHT brilliantly hosted a panel of some of the mystery genres' well-known editors --- Keith Kahla, Jonathan Karp, Barbara Peters and Mark Tavani --- talking about the writers they love. Three names were prominently mentioned --- Joseph Finder, Rupert Holmes and Steve Berry. Hearing the stories of how each author was discovered and nurtured by his editor showed me the passion these editors feel for their craft. I subtitled this panel, "The Care and Feeding of Authors." There was something very special about it being hosted by someone as enthusiatic as Neville.

Next up was a panel hosted by Twist Phelan where Philip Margolin, Jacqueline Winspear and P.J. Parrish talked about how to bring readers into a mystery with clues. There was a lot of conversation about pacing and plotting and outlining. And yes, there was a great line from Twist about how there can never be enough twists in a plot.

Wrapping up the symposium, S.J. Rozan interviewed Marcia Muller and covered a range of topics including the info about how Muller has kept McCone's character fresh after all this time --- and how they both have evolved over the years. BTW, at some point during the day I learned S.J.'s real name is Shira. Well, there is a mystery solved.

Okay, you can groan.

Wednesday evening there was a birthday party for the organization at the New York Yacht Club. No photos allowed inside, but let me share that this is one incredible location. Lots of good hors d'oeurves, but as this was my second night of finger food, I started to long for a meal requiring utensils! At one point just before I left there was a group standing together with Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Laura Lippman, Jonathan King and Chris Mooney. Talk about collective star power.

Thursday morning a pair of children's mystery authors took a detour to New Jersey and spent time in my younger son's classroom. Daniel J. Hale and his nephew Matt LaBrot write the Zeke Armstrong Mysteries. Cory became enamored with these books; I think he pulled his first "close to all-nighter" reading one of them. Dan and Matt were kind enough to spend an hour answering my son's class' questions and shared stories about their writing. They gave the class quite a special memory!

Last night at the Edgar Awards the ceremony was very snappy. Usually nights like this drag on and on and on. Instead Jane Dentinger, who is Senior Editor at the Mystery Guild, was Master of Ceremonies and she punctuated the evening with smart banter and great segues of film clips. By the end of the night I was ready to give HER an award. I was seated with a number of judges in the Best Novel category, all of whom had read an astonishing 500 books. And I thought I read a lot in the past year!

A list of the award winners follows, but the list of presenters included such names a Lawrence Block, Rozan, Scottoline and Lippman. At the start of the evening we were given a program where the attendees were listed table by table. Reading through this you could see the wealth of author, agent and publishing talent that collectively was present in the room. I felt like I could go table to table and find someone who had had a hand in so many of the books that I loved at each.

A very energizing three days has left me exhausted tonight. But I will share that my personal reading list grew this week --- and that is what celebrations like this are all about.


Best Novel:
CALIFORNIA GIRL by T. Jefferson Parker (William Morrow)

Best First Novel:
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN by Don Lee (W.W. Norton & Co)

Best Paperback Original:
THE CONFESSION by Domenic Stansberry (Hard Case Crime)

Best Short Story: "Something About a Scar" - Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You by Laurie Lynn Drummond (HarperCollins)

Best Fact Crime: Conviction: Solving the Moxley Murder: A Reporter and a Detective's Twenty-Year Search for Justice by Leonard Levitt (Regan Books)

Best Critical/Biographical: THE NEW ANNOTATED SHERLOCK HOLMES: The Complete Short Stories edited by Leslie S. Klinger (W.W. Norton)

Best Young Adult: IN DARKNESS, DEATH by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler (Philomel Books)

Best Juvenile: CHASING VERMEER by Blue Balliett (Scholastic Press)

Best Play: Spatter Pattern (Or, How I Got Away With It) by Neal Bell (Playwrights Horizons)

Best TV Episode Teleplay: Law & Order: Criminal Intent - "Want", Teleplay by Elizabeth Benjamin. Story by René Balcer & Elizabeth Benjamin

Best TV Feature or Miniseries Teleplay: State of Play by Paul Abbott (BBC America)

Best Motion Picture Screenplay: A Very Long Engagement - Screenplay by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, based on the Novel by Sébastien Japrisot (2003 Productions)

And earlier, the announcement was made that the Mary Higgins Clark Award went to GRAVE ENDINGS by Rochelle Krich.