Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Guest post by Patrick Whitehurst

I’ve asked my friend Patrick Whitehurst to answer this week’s question. Patrick writes both fiction and nonfiction, the latter of which includes the books Haunted Monterey County and Murder and Mayhem in Tucson. His stories range from true crime to thriller fiction and can be found in Punk Noir, Shotgun Honey, Pulp Modern, Hoosier Noir, and Switchblade Magazine. His writing’s been featured in the anthologies Bitter Chills, Wild Violence, and elsewhere. You can also find his author interviews and book reviews in Suspense Magazine, and you can more about him on his website at — Dietrich

Awards for crime fiction from year to year ride a line between subjective merit and a popularity contest — agree or disagree? And what is your personal philosophy on awards — their impact on readers (and you, if you've won any) and on subsequent award years?

by Patrick Whitehurst

Social values, which are ever changing, are factors in determining what has merit (what’s considered as an award nominee) when it comes to crime fiction awards. One person’s idea of worthiness may not be the same as someone else, however.

This isn’t to say the criteria for awards aren’t met, but the relevance of the material does play a part. To me, this is interpreted as whether a particular story brings current social issues to the forefront. Judges for awards may pay attention to the process, and check off the procedural boxes, but I have no doubt they’re also paying attention to the plot and how it breathes life into the current political and social climate.

While merit, and how it is scored, has evolved over the years, the publishing industry hasn’t always kept up with the times. Recently publishers have begun to look at a variety of factors, such as racial diversity and gender, in determining merit. Gender discrimination laws lay clear rules for determining merit in the workplace; they’re designed to benefit everyone regardless of gender. There are no such laws when it comes to winning an award, which may be where the popularity contest comes into play. 

I often congratulate friends, and other authors, who have won awards and am very happy they’re happy. My philosophy as a writer is to expect nothing in the way of accolades, or from story submissions for that matter. You’ll never be disappointed that way. In fact, you may be pleasantly surprised when you do get a story published or win an award. Moving forward in the writing industry, getting offers from agents and publishing houses, can depend on those awards. It inches the door a bit wider at any rate. For those folks it may be more important.

As a reader, if I hear good things, or like the author, or like the premise, I dive in. I may notice whether it won an award later, but it rarely determines if I’ll buy it.

I was recently nominated to be a speaker at the 2022 Tucson Festival of Books, which is a big deal in writing circles. My publicist at The History Press made the motion thanks to my 2021 book, Murder & Mayhem in Tucson, and to be honest I thought I would be considered. Of course, I failed to make the cut. This I discovered when the festival published their list of presenting authors and saw my name nowhere on it. Being from Tucson, writing a book about Tucson, led to my assumption I had a shot. It soon dawned on me these things don't hold much water when it comes to festivals of this size. Was I disappointed? A little. Those who made the list are featured in the NY Times, TV, and have national exposure. I’m not at that level, so I moved on. I share that story because, like awards, accolades are a way to recognize a writer’s hard work, which is always sweet. But for every author recognized a handful of others are not.

For those writers, and for myself, I say keep writing. Write because you love stories. Write because it keeps you sane. Should it eventually lead to recognition, pop a cork. Should it not, pop a cork anyway.


Catriona McPherson said...

Welcome to Criminal Minds, Patrick, and thank you for such a thoughtful post. I was put in mind of Laura Lippman's saying she found it really helpful to keep an eye on what stories count as universal (all of them) and what stores count as very specific specific (all of them). I'm probably misquoting her but that was the jist.

Patrick Whitehurst said...

Thank you, Catriona! I would imagine they all count as specifically universal as well!