Monday, March 22, 2021

Reading For the Edgars

 Q: Last year, about a month into “Lockdown Life”, the internet was a-buzz with ways to “pass the time”; reading was high on that list, for many people. Have you read more/more widely/differently/less during the past 12 months? Please tell us a bit about what, and why?

-from Susan


Boy, was it different! More. More widely. Differently. I chaired the Edgar Awards jury for Best Novel for the 2021 awards (Nominees already announced on the MWA site; winner to be announced with a flourish Thursday, April 29 by zoom.)


That meant starting in late January 2020 an ocean of brand new, beautiful, hard back novels showed up on my front porch in pouches and boxes every week, plus another number as files to transfer to Kindle. More than 420 in all. It meant I and the rest of the team read and read and read and read…all the way until the early date in December that was the submission deadline. 

In January 2020, I could unroll my yoga mat in the guest room and do my exercises. By the end of March, there was no room for spreading my arms to the side or over my head. By the end of September, I had to create a pathway to get from the A-C cartons to the T-Zs. One blessing: There was no space to set up the ironing board. Who needed ironed clothes in 2020 anyway?


In December 2019, when I was asked to do this, I felt so honored. By August 2020, I realized I was probably the 20th person to be asked and the first not to understand exactly what this job would be like! But on December 10, 2020, when our dedicated, awesome team of crime novelists met for the final time on zoom, debated with passion about the books that thrilled us, and voted on six, I felt overwhelmingly glad to have had this chance.


I learned so much in this Year of Reading Madly. What gets me into a book. What lets me down after a good start. What pulls me out of the story fatally. What I personally want to read (and write). What smacks of writing to a fad or a formula. What defies trends and shines with originality (and at times bravery on the part of author and publisher). What I love even when others aren’t as impressed. What other readers love and what they see in a book that I didn’t respond to. 


Most of all, I realized that I will only be happy writing the book my heart insists I write, and that somewhere there may be an editor who is tuned the same way and will want to put it into print as the publishers large and small of these 400-plus books did. 


The MWA rules for Edgar judges prohibit us from reviewing or comparing the books with others beyond listing the six finalists and the one we chose as the winner in our category. That has had me biting my tongue all year and even now as I write this. That’s been tough since I love talking books with other writers. So a big reading year, a quiet sharing one. But I can say, read the nominees in the Best Novel category! Winners all!

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (Penguin Random House – Random House)

Before She Was Helen by Caroline B. Cooney (Poisoned Pen Press)

Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (Penguin Random House - Pamela Dorman Books) 

These Women by Ivy Pochoda (HarperCollins Publishers - Ecco) 

The Missing American by Kwei Quartey (Soho Press – Soho Crime)

The Distant Dead by Heather Young (HarperCollins Publishers - William Morrow) 




Dietrich Kalteis said...

That's quite an undertaking, Susan, and you picked the perfect year for it.

Frank Zafiro said...

I got tagged for the short stories this year and accepted. A day later I got invited to do the novels and declined. Sounds like I dodged a beautiful bullet!

Not that the shorts will be a piece of cake, given the numbers. But still... they're shorter!

Earlier this month, when I got the email saying to prepare for the stories conveyor belt to start churning, I began to worry about the same thing you did in August... what have I gotten myself into? Was I that twentieth ask? Does that make me the dumbest writer in the room? And don't these wonderful authors deserve a better judge? Sheesh, it's akin to jury duty - critically important but carried mostly by people who couldn't get out of it or didn't know they should try!


I'm sure you're glad you did it now, though...?

Cathy Ace said...

Good for you, Susan! (And good for you too, Frank!)

Catriona McPherson said...

What a serendipitous task + year combo, Susan. But yes indeed the lip-biting must have been a killer!

Susan C Shea said...

You're so right, Dietrich - trhe best imaginable year for this task!

Susan C Shea said...

Frank, As you know, no good deed goes unpunished. But I hope art the end of the year, you realize how rewarding it is overall.

Susan C Shea said...

Thanks, Cathy. And, yes, Catriona, it was so hard. Many of my best friends and many authors I don't know but am a fan of published great hard cover books in 2020 and I couldn't do what I usually do - help promote them, rave about the ones I loved, share others' good was so hard. I felt disloyal to the community even as I was admiring everyone in it.

James W. Ziskin said...

Great post, Susan! And great job on the Edgars panel. It’s really hard work.