Edgars Week, 2005, a 60th Birthday for MWA
G. Miki Hayden
Invariably held in New York City, Edgars week is different from every other confab in the genre world in that it isn't so much days of an event as simply a couple of nice get-togethers. The Mystery Writers of America-sponsored Edgars award dinner, always on a Thursday, is accompanied by a Wednesday full-day symposium (which I organized twice) and an evening party with agents and editors. This year, a 60th Birthday Bash for MWA will also be held one night at the New York Yacht Club.
With so many 2005 events--too pricey for many--packages to do it all at less cost were offered by the organization. Often, though, the published authors skip the symposium entirely (unless they're speaking themselves), and take the day to visit those who put together the deals and get the books on the shelves. Thursday night at the pre-dinner cocktail party is almost enough time for collegial chin wags with those encountered now and again on the fan conference circuit. Who do I expect to see this year? Old friend Larry Karp (The Music Box Murders), now publishing with Poisoned Pen Press (First, Do No Harm); Susan McBride, who has made it from the independents to the biggies with her chick lit mysteries; Rochelle Krich, nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark award; Edgar nominee, Dr. Doug Lyle, ever advising the faithful on how people die and what evidence they leave behind. Well, everyone I know will show up, either now, or at the American Booksellers Association blowout here in June, or at Bouchercon (run by pal Deen Kogan this year in Chicago) in September.
Novice writers may complain that the Edgars events ought to be held in cities nearer to them, but the celebration takes place in the publishing capital for an obvious reason-this is where agents and editors generally hang out and take care of business. In order to get the powers that be to attend at least the banquet in droves, the partying has to convene on their own turf. Yes, editors and agents attend other industry events across the country, but not in such numbers as at the Edgars, in the city where traditional publishing originates. (If you see someone in corporate attire, rather than gowned or tuxedo Thursday night-he or she probably works for one of the mystery imprints.)
For individuals, Edgars "week" comes down to a pragmatic occasion, and yet verges on the glamour that everyone in the business seems to be striving for. The teeming mass of mid-list authors who struggle to hang on in an increasingly dense field with fewer spots nudge one another to see the elite pass by: Mary Higgins Clark, sterling sport (and empress of the suspense novel) that she is, is usually there (she's been kind to me), and certainly three-time Edgar winner (The Black Echo, Blood Work, City of Bones), good guy Michael Connelly-who never yet has recognized that he's a much-admired star (God bless him).
But the Edgars, as well as a tax-deductible excuse to come to town, is about mystery writers honoring their own. All year the committees have read--and viewed--work, each member making a genuine sacrifice of his own precious writing time, and taking the process very, very seriously. The competition is open to those both inside and outside MWA, and with greater frequency of late, small press authors have received the nod. Few things in life can't be taken away, but the distinction of an Edgar nomination and, sometimes, an incredible win are credentials that remain with the writer from that moment on. Writers go through a major suspense before the nominees are announced in February and then terrible stomach churning on the night of the awards (I suggest taking a friend's anti-anxiety medication). And while the committees choose the winners at the same time they make the noms, never once since the initiation of the awards in 1946 has anyone breathed a word ahead of time of who has won.
In addition to the glamour and the sense of having one's writing acknowledged by one's peers, this event is all about the business of the business we love. People vie for major awards such as an Edgar in order to sell future novels to their publishers (`see, I told you I'm great') or, to snag better publishers, better agents, bigger print runs, or anything that means they are building a career and about to make a little or a lot more money.
Then, the next day, Friday, after all the hoopla of the night before, half of the writers-more women then men-rush to make the noon Metroliner or Acela Express. This is the annual cozy writers' crowd, hurrying down to D.C. for Malice Domestic, where several will go through another day of tension before finding out who wins the teapots given out as Agatha awards.
Bear in mind that for writers, nothing is certain. A nomination, an award, even a super review in The New York Times might mean zero ever in terms of tomorrow. In the meantime, those addicted to producing the page live on the entrancement of a turn of a phrase; on the stunning, sterling, shocking plot; and, on hope.
G. Miki Hayden, a one time MWA national board member, has a 2004 short story Edgar to her name and was an Agatha nonfiction nominee in 2001.
G. Miki Hayden
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