Sunday, May 02, 2004

The long-awaited Edgar report 

While some folks ask how I could manage to be even more detailed and long-winded than I have been the last few days, the answer is: oh, I can. And so I shall.

One cannot start a report like this and leave out the most important detail: what I wore. Unlike two years ago (long black dress, cleavage) and last year (long black dress, cleavage) I went for something altogether different. For one thing--and it turned out as such--there was such a sea of black that the atmosphere might have been funereal had the vast majority of people not had wineglasses in their hands. As it happened, the royal blue chinese-style frock I had picked up in a nameless shop near Marble Arch in London last summer did the trick, although personally, I was far more admiring of Beth Saulnier's fire-engine red dress. Talk about traffic-stopping ability.

Anyway, my compadre and photographer Mary and I cabbed our way down to the Hyatt a little bit early because last year, we got there at six and it was mobbed, and a little breathing room never hurt. In the foyer we said hello to Lee Child (attending his first Edgars), Alafair Burke and her boyfriend Sean, and then made a pit stop in the bar to check in on the barflies. For Donna Moore and her friends Bev and Kathy weren't going to the ceremony--it is a little bit pricey--and instead chose to hang out in the bar until everybody convened afterwards. Not a bad choice, and when a couple of authors got wind of their plans the night before, they thought it was a great idea as well.

Up the escalators then and on to cocktails, where registrants were greated by the lovely sight of Margery Flax, bedecked in a gorgeous black gown with a pink shawl draped around her shoulders. She seemed to express approval at my earlier description of her here as "a goddamned ray of sunshine all the goddamned time." While it's true, I confess I stole the phrase from Sparkle Hayter, but that doesn't mean it's not a good one, right?

Meanwhile, Otto Penzler couldn't wipe the beam off his face as he was showing off his now-bride (they married yesterday, and congratulations to the happy couple) to his friends and fellow attendees. While some snarky comments were overheard about making bets on how long the union would last, the majority of people wished Otto well. After running into M.G. Kincaid and her daughter Heather, both looking flat-out stunning, I hustled over and got my first white wine (alas, not my last, not by a longshot) and started circulating madly.

There was Charlie Stella in one corner, chatting with Bonnie Claeson and Joe Gugliemelli of Black Orchid. Gay Toltl Kinman was there, sitting on the other side of the room with Marilyn Meredith. Larry Gandle, who reviews for DEADLY PLEASURES, spotted me and we chatted about the nominees and who was expected to win. Val McDermid, who is off to New Orleans and other cities on what looks to be some kind of road trip, was off to another corner. Her friend and fellow Scot (and best novel nominee) Ian Rankin made his way in a little later, presumably after attending the VIP party for the nominees. He chose the express route, literally--he'd only arrived earlier in the day and left early on Friday. He seemed a little discombobulated--especially as he'd only just completed the first draft of his new Rebus novel, FLESHMARKET CLOSE, which will be in UK shops everywhere in late September (!).

And then, there were the flashing lights. Caused, of course, by cameramen everywhere.

Natsuo Kirino was another Best novel nominee, and she is something of a legend in her home country in Japan. So she was followed by those eager vultures across the world to witness whether she'd take home the prize or not--and so, pictures were being taken of everyone and everything, and no doubt some embarassing moment has been captured for posterity on Japanese TV. That being said, whenever I joked to people about it, they were near-uniform in their enthusiasm for the prospect. Hey, it's TV after all. And it's not like the Edgars are going to be televised in North America anytime soon.

Eventually the signal came that it was time to go into the ballroom, and I bumped into Peter Blauner and asked why he hadn't been to any of the parties earlier in the week. Babysitting duties, as it happened--a noble cause if there ever was one. He, however, was sitting across the room from me and I slowly made my way over to one of two tables sponsored by Partners & Crime, and proceeded to eat my meal with Mary, Maggie Griffin, Lee, Alafair & Sean, Nina Revoyr (and her editor at Akashic books whose name escapes me at the moment) and a whole host of Himes. James Hime, as a nominee, was sitting with St. Martin's, who had a bumper crop of finalists (especially in Best First.) But he'd flown down nearly his entire immediate family from Texas or thereabouts and so I spent much of the time cracking jokes with his sons Travis and Josh, who returned the favor a number of times. Honestly, it was just so nice to spend a little time with people my age and act like a goofball.

Especially as any mood-lightening was a boon, because the ceremony itself is well, itself. I absolutely admire Bob Levinson's ability to produce a show and put everything together, because it has to be bloody hard work, no question about it. But perhaps in the next edition, it might be a better idea to keep the biographical information about presenters to a bare minimum. It's kind of equivalent to a mystery novel itself--the best ones are the ones that move, keeping the filler to a minimum unless it's absolutely necessary to do so. Also, last year the MC was Jerry Orbach, a total professional at keeping things going, whereas William Windom, fine actor that he is, just couldn't keep it up.

There were some, shall we say, interesting touches about the ceremony, although Angela Lansbury's taped introduction for Windom disturbed me somehow, though I'm not certain as to why. Don Bruns entertained the crowd with his opening number, although when he returned in the second half, there was an antsy mood in the air and suddenly the noise level increased considerably. I thought it was rather sad, but I suppose some people would prefer their musical interludes not to take center stage. Ah well. Parnell Hall returned to do a second version of last year's wildly popular routine "Who Didn't Win the Edgar" but unfortunately, the "sequelitis" rule doesn't just apply to movies (although I did like his crack about James Patterson--who never won an Edgar, thank god--making a deal with Milli Vanilli. Even if the majority of the crowd seemed to blank on the reference...)

Dominick Dunne made a nice, if somewhat self-absorbed, speech about his boss Graydon Carter, who much to my disappointment, wasn't around to accept his Raven Award for the true-crime coverage in VANITY FAIR. As for other memorable moments, Rebecca Pawel was so thrilled to win, and made a very lovely speech about how humbled she is in her ordinary life, and was even more so now. When I asked her later about the speech, she said she could hardly see anyone and worried that she had been babbling and incoherent. I reassured her that it wasn't the case. I do hope Pawel's win will be a harbinger of wonderful things to come--especially further deals in other countries--like Spain, perhaps?

A roar went up when G. Miki Hayden won for Best Short Story, and she made a special note to thank those in Haiti dealing with the conflicts in the country--relevant as her winning story was set in 17th century Haiti. Sylvia Maultash Warsh was a deserving winner for Best Paperback Original, although as seems to be the usual, most people in attendance weren't overly familiar with her work and responded accordingly, but I was so extremely impressed with FIND ME AGAIN, and am eagerly awaiting her next book. Warsh appears to be a slow writer, but I suspect it will be worth the wait.

Then came Best Novel. The consensus throughout the week was that the competition would be between Rankin and popular Irishman Ken Bruen, nominated for his bleakly noir turn THE GUARDS. However, when Rankin's name was called, I sat there and found the moment to be somewhat anticlimactic--mostly because when I got wind of his travel arrangements, there went any sort of suspense. (That being said, when I told this to Rankin afterwards, he effectively replied, "I wish someone would have told me.") But his win was a popular one, although another author commented that perhaps the right author took it, but for the wrong book. Well, the Lifetime Achievement effect is certainly not uncommon in other awards circles, and it's likely been the case for the Edgars before--and, no doubt, will be again in the future.

As the winners posed for pictures for an unearthly amount of time, I made my way outside to collect on what some people seem to love best about the Edgars--the free books. After scoring some in a manner that, interestingly, made me look rather like a shopper at the bargain sections of Filene's Basement, I chatted with a few more folks. I made the acquaintance of Charles Ardai, the commissioning editor of Hard Case Crime, a new line of paperback original pulp novels in the vein of the Gold Medal paperbacks of old. I'm really excited about this venture and when I saw the sampler they had put together, I was even more impressed. HCC has been getting tons of buzz and press, including the cover of the April 19 issue of Publisher's Weekly. While this year's lineup includes work from Lawrence Block, Erle Stanley Gardner, Max Phillips and Dominic Stansberry, next year features the reissue of an early Donald Westlake novel, 361, another book by Wade Miller (who authored TOUCH OF EVIL) and Allan Guthrie's second novel, KISS HER GOODBYE. Like I said, impressive stuff.

Eventually, oh so eventually, I made my way down to the bar where I hung out with my fellow barflies and met Jim McDonough, who heads up Brandon Books, Ken Bruen's publisher in Ireland. He was, naturally, there to cheer Ken on and we talked at length about other authors he published. I was especially excited to hear that Chet Raymo, who wrote the marvellous novel THE DORK OF CORK, will have a new book out next year (I believe), and the first edition will be from Brandon Books. Glad to see Raymo's making another return to fiction. Then I saw--and finally was introduced to, after years of seeing him at conventions and parties--Con Lehane, whose first book, BEWARE THE SOLITARY DRINKER, was a great piece of atmospheric noir set in the dive bars of the Upper West Side. Lehane's been picked up by St. Martin's, who will publish his next book early next year. Glad to see he's made the move to a major publisher.

After chatting again with Margery and Bob Levinson, I fell into a group that ventured down to the Collins Bar in the Times Square area and stayed a few hours there drinking with the girls as well as Bruen, Olen Steinhauer (who, I must say, has been summarily adopted by certain writers and will no doubt look back on his experiences this week with considerable fondness), Jim Born (same applies) and Jonathon King.

It was a long night. It was a good night. If writers weren't coming up to me and complimenting the blog, they were introduced to me by those who did the same thing. Any way it went, such praise was most gratifying because sometimes I forget that people really pay attention to what I write. It means I have to be careful (my new rule: if someone tells me something in a bar, I don't report it, mostly because I can barely remember what I said either) but a little deliberation never hurt anyone.

And so that ends Edgar Week, which has been, I must say, an absolute blast. A great many writers went on to the Malice Domestic convention that's held annually in the Washington, D.C. area, and I've been promised a report from Alina Adams, who is attending for the very first time. It'll be interesting to get her view on a smaller, but certainly popular, convention, and I'm looking forward to it.

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