Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Great Moments in Edgar Award History with Donna Andrews

The Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is holding it's 70th Edgar Awards ceremony tonight in New York, where they will honor the best of the best in mystery writing. Lois Duncan and James Ellroy will be named Grand Masters (I'm still haunted by Duncan's I Know What You Did Last Summer). You can see the fabulous list of the nominees here.

To celebrate the Edgars, best-selling author Donna Andrews Executive Vice President of MWA, is here today answering all of our questions.

The original slogan for MWA was "Crime Does not Pay – Enough." Have things improved since 1945? What has changed?

I’m not sure things have improved, but they have certainly changed.  The publishing field today is very much more complicated than it was in 1945, so there's a greater need than ever for us to help our members cope with the complexity and manage their writing careers successfully.

What unusual suspects have received Edgars over the years?

A lot of unusual suspects, if you consider the fact that the awards sometimes pluck someone out of relative obscurity and make him or her a star.  That happens because unlike awards that are voted on by large numbers of readers or reviewers, the Edgars are juried—a small panel of professional mystery writers spends an entire year reading everything submitted in that category.  In the Best Novel category, that could easily be 600, 700, even 800 books. And because the committees read so widely, a relatively new author from a small press who happens to have written a brilliant book has as much chance of winning as an established author with a big press. 

Raven Award Winner FDR
Another type of unusual suspects—well, maybe not so much unusual as just cool. Did you know that in 1959 Franklin Delano Roosevelt was posthumously awarded a Raven as “Reader of the Year”—and Eleanor Roosevelt came to accept it? Oh, to be a fly on the wall that year! Or in 1961 when Charles Addams was given a special Edgar for his role as cartoonist of the macabre.. . 1966 when Truman Capote won Best Fact Crime for In Cold Blood. . . 1978, when Edward Gorey won a Raven award for the sets he designed for the Broadway production of Dracula.

Charles Addams
His creation, Morticia Addams

 In fact, I think of all the past years, 1978 might be the banquet I most wish I could have seen—not only did it have Edward Gorey, but also Alfred Hitchcock accepting his Grand Master award.

Some consider the Grand Master the most important Edgar Award. Who was the very first Grand Master, and did they serve to inspire future writers?

The first Grand Master award was given in 1955 to Agatha Christie—and very fitting, if you ask me, since she’s the best selling novelist ever, with over two billion copies of her books sold worldwide. If you look at the list of Grand Masters over the years, it’s a partial roll call of the giants of our genre—partial because we only give the award to living writers. Some of the greats, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe himself, died before we began giving out the masters awards, and there are others, like Dorothy Sayers, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett, that I’m sure we would have honored if we’d known we’d lose them so soon. Still, a list of names to conjure with, from some of the early recipients, like Rex Stout, Ellery Queen, Earl Stanley Gardner, James M. Cain, or John D. Macdonald to some who, sadly, we’ve lost within the past few years, like P.D. James, Barbara Mertz, Dick Francis, Tony Hillerman, Micky Spillane . . . I know I’m leaving out a lot of important names—but there aren’t any unimportant names on the list!  And I’m looking forward to seeing this year’s honorees, Lois Duncan and James Ellroy, accept their awards.

MWA has just released a cookbook with recipes contributed by its members. Any killer recipes to recommend?

So far I’ve only made one recipe, Sheila Connolly’s Apple Goodie, which was excellent.  You have to keep in mind that I’m not an expert cook—if I were, maybe I’d have contributed a recipe!  But I have a couple on my hit list to try soon. Lorenzo Carcaterra’s “Grandma Maria’s Pasta Puttanesca,” for example—I love puttanesca sauce. And Raymond Benson’s “Zillion Calorie Mac and Cheese” is calling me. Gillian Flynn’s “Beef Skillet Fiesta” and Charlaine Harris’s “Charlaine’s Very Unsophisticated Supper Dip” both sound right up my alley. If I can borrow a slow cooker I’m going to try Greg Herren’s “Greg’s New Orleans Slow-Cooker Meatballs.” And if I can figure out how to cut it down from something that sounds as if it would serve a small army, Mary Higgins Clark’s “Mary’s Celebratory Giants Game Night Chili” sounds fabulous.

You must have attended many Edgar Award ceremonies over the years. What is the most memorable thing that happened? Any stories from the event?

Actually, I’ve only ever been once before.  In addition to working in MWA, I’m also involved with the Malice Domestic mystery convention, which nearly always starts the day after the Edgars.  (Yes, when it comes to volunteering, I’m a repeat offender.) So that time of year is usually a crazy busy one for me even without adding in a trip to New York.  The last time I went was in 2002, when I was on the committee that judged the young adult category and got to present the little ceramic statue of Edgar Allan Poe to Tim Wynne-Jones.  And it’s magical, to read a book, love it, and then be able to hand an award like the Edgar to the person who wrote it.

What has been the best part of serving on the MWA board? What will you miss most when your term is over?

The best part? It’s exciting to be playing a part in the history of such a grand old institution—and also helping to shape its very lively future.  I notice you don’t ask about the worst part, but I’ll tell you anyway: the email. All of us on the board are writers, and none of us are shy, so we have very lively email discussions about the issues facing us. If any of us is away from his or her computer for most of the day, odds are we’ll return to a very full in-basket. And I think what I will miss when my term is over—which won’t be till this coming January—is the chance to spend time working with such a wonderful group of writers. Of course, I should be careful about saying that--I said much the same thing when I left the board upon completing my term as president of the Mid-Atlantic chapter—I think that’s where they got the idea to recruit me to server as Executive Vice President.

When is your next book coming out and what will it be about?

The next book will be The Lord of the Wings, coming out in August from Minotaur.  It’s the nineteenth in my Meg Langslow series of humorous mysteries, and takes place during a Halloween festival being run in the small town where my heroine lives. Meg;s noted for her organizational skills, but for once she’s not in charge of the whole festival—only heading up the Goblin Patrol, the volunteer security force recruited to help the local police. But then a dead body turns up in the woods outside town . . the Goblin patrol uncovers a creepy Halloween-themed scavenger hunt that might have something to do with the murder . . . and the woman who’s filling Meg’s usual role as the chief organizer disappears.  Meg has to help find the killer while keeping the festival on track and helping her six-year-old twin sons devise the perfect Halloween costume.

A big thank you to Donna for stopping by, especially during Edgar wee. Come on back, we'll have the Edgar Award Winners for you later tonight. 

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