Wednesday, 17 December 2014 11:12

ravenoline mwa
The Raven Award, which is presented by the Mystery Writers of America, is one of my favorite awards.

And the reason is purely selfish. I had the honor of being presented this award in 2013, a thrill that never ends. I have my Raven placed prominently on my dresser so that each morning when I see it I never forget the prestige and pressure that comes with this honor.

So I feel a kinship with each person who is awarded a Raven, which recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.

This year, two Ravens will be awarded to three people—each of whom is passionate about the mystery genre.

Jon and Ruth Jordan, founders of Crimespree magazine, will be awarded a Raven.

The Jordans, who met at a Bouchercon in 1999, have chaired or co-chaired and planned numerous Bouchercons through the years. We have them to thank for the outstanding Bouchercons in Baltimore (2008), St. Louis (2011), as well as others. They already are in the planning stage, along with Erin Mitchell, for the St. Petersburg Bouchercon, scheduled for 2018.

They also are the co-founders and organizers of Murder and Mayhem in Muskego, a crime-fiction conference set in a Milwaukee suburb that this year became Murder and Mayhem in Milwaukee.

In addition, Crimespree magazine sponsors the Crimespree Awards.

The other Raven winner is Kathryn Kennison, the founder and “the heart and soul” of Magna cum Murder, a well-regarded Midwestern mystery conference that celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2013.

jordan jonruth
Back in 1993, Kennison suggested a three-day mystery conference in Muncie, Indiana. She envisioned a “sedate weekend affair” with about 65 people and maybe three or four authors.

Boy, was she wrong.

That first conference ended up with 265 registered guests including 40 authors, and the festival has only grown since then.

Guests of honor have included Alexander McCall Smith, Mary Higgins Clark, Donald Westlake, Sara Paretsky, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block, Louise Penny, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Charles Todd, Jeffrey Deaver, William Kent Krueger, and John Gilstrap. It has retained its roots as a fan festival.
Previous Raven winners include Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Molly Weston, The Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Chicago, Once Upon a Crime Bookstore in Minneapolis, Mystery Lovers Bookstore in Oakmont, PA, Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, MA, The Poe House in Baltimore, MD, and myself.


MWA also will present its Ellery Queen Award, which was established in 1983 to honor “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry.”

This year, the Ellery Queen will go to Charles Ardai, editor of Hard Case Crime, which debuted in 2004 as an homage to the great pulp fiction paperbacks of the 1950s and 1960’s.

Those years are considered to be the golden age of paperbacks. Those also are the books that helped shape and influence many generations of crime writers as well as the genre itself.

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Launched by Ardai and Max Phillips, Hard Case quickly established its impact on the crime fiction world.

Domenic Stansberry’s The Confession won the Edgar Award for best paperback original and several other Hard Case authors have been nominated for Edgar Awards through the years.

Hard Case has brought back into print forgotten novels by Donald Westlake, Erle Stanley Gardner, Harlan Ellison, Pete Hamill, and Lawrence Block.

Since it was launched, Hard Case has published more than 100 books, many of which have been nominated for awards. He also published Joyland by Stephen King. 

He also acquired the rights to the lost James M. Cain manuscript The Cocktail Waitress.

Previous Ellery Queen honorees include Mystery Scene magazine, Joe Meyers of the Connecticut Post/Hearst Media News Group, and Poisoned Pen Press, published by Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald.

The Raven and Ellery Queen honorees, along with the presentation of the Grand Masters will be held during the Edgar Awards on Wednesday, April 29, 2015, at the Grand Hyatt in New York City.

Congratulations to all the Raven and Ellery Queen honorees.


PHOTOS: Top, The Raven himself; center, Jon and Ruth Jordan; bottom, Kathryn Kennison

Sunday, 14 December 2014 10:12

duncan lois
Each year the Mystery Writers of America pick an author—sometimes two—to be named a Grand Master.

This isn’t some random title but an honor to recognize those authors who have made contributions to the genre by setting a new course through their works.

I hate the term “transcend the genre,” because I don’t think the genre needs transcending. Instead, a Grand Master is an author whose work enhances, expands, and energizes crime fiction.

Two authors have been named the 2015 Grand Master and while Lois Duncan, at left, and James Ellroy, below right, couldn’t be more different, they are each deserving of this honor.

The Grand Masters will be presented their awards during the Edgar Awards on Wednesday, April 29, 2015, at the Grand Hyatt in New York City.

Lois Duncan’s work has been familiar since the mid-1960s. Duncan was only 13 years old when she sold her first short story to a national magazine. She was 18 years old when her first novel, Debutante Hill, came out. That was in 1957. While Debutante Hill sounds like one of those simple tales about rich girls that were so popular in the 1950s, Duncan brought a sense of social issues to the novel, an approach that she would continue to expound on in all her some 50 novels.

In Debutante Hill, wealthy teenager Lynn Chambers spends her senior year hanging out with her rich friends, waiting for letters from her college boyfriend and planning to become a debutante when this tradition starts up in her hometown. But when her father refuses to allow her to participate, Lynn suddenly is no longer part of the “in crowd.” Now an outsider to her wealthy friends, Lynn becomes aware of teens who are not in the same economic class. She begins to develop strong opinions about prejudice and social status, and rethinks her relationships with her former friends.

ellroy james
Pretty heady stuff for a teen a novel in the 1950s, especially one written by an author who was a teenager herself.

But that was mild compared to Duncan’s two novels credited with revolutionizing young-adult fiction. In Point of Violence and Ransom, both published in 1966, Duncan used a realistic viewpoint, presenting her main characters with choices and decisions that had consequences, paving the way for many other young-adult authors that followed.

Social issues are a mainstay of her novels. For example, Daughters of Eve tackled societal sexism, Killing Mr. Griffin the pressure placed on teens to perform and get into good colleges, and I Know What You Did Last Summer dealt with the Vietnam War and society’s reactions to it, plus the struggles of returning veterans.

Duncan has been nominated several times for the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile, and her books have been made into films.

James Ellroy’s novels are the complete opposite of Duncan’s work. One would never mistake Ellroy’s books for young-adult novels.

Ellroy writes about a dark Los Angeles that is fueled by crime, sexism, racism, and homophobia. He lays bare those issues, showing their ugliness and the decay that chips away at society.

L.A. Confidential probably is his best-known and most accessible novel, and was made into a brilliant movie that starred Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, and Kim Basinger.

This 1997 film earned nine Academy Award nominations and took two, including best supporting actress for Basinger.

Previous Grand Masters include Robert Crais, Carolyn Hart, Ken Follett, Margaret Maron, Martha Grimes, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Bill Pronzini, Stephen King, Marcia Muller, Dick Francis, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie.

Congratulations to both Grand Masters.

(Coming Wednesday: A look at the Raven winners.)

Tuesday, 09 December 2014 09:12

coben harlan-credit-Claudio-Marinesco small
We are officially in the holiday season and that means gifts—those you buy and those you receive.

After all, books can make the best presents for the reader on your list.

And what started as a small campaign to encourage book buying—and support literacy—seems to have grown by leaps and bounds.

Penguin Random House has launched its #GiveaBook social media campaign that encourages books as gifts and works as a way to help donate books to U.S. children.

Each time the hashtag #GiveaBook is used on Facebook and Twitter by Dec. 24, the publisher will donate a book to the aid organization Save the Children. The publisher is committed to donating up to 25,000 books.

And this campaign has taken off with other publishers, libraries, and bookstores getting into the act, not to mention many authors. People are creating videos of themselves naming a book they are giving to someone and why and then challenging at least two others to make their own #GiveaBook video.

Among the mystery writers who have posted #GiveaBook videos are Sara Paretsky and Harlan Coben, left.

Other mystery writers who are posting about their #GiveaBook ideas are Megan Abbott, Dennis Tafoya, Laurie R. King, and Gary Phillips.

Also doing #GiveaBook are J.D. Robb and Nora Roberts (presumably they have discussed this between them) as well as many others from all genres.

Put #GiveaBook at the top of your list.

And if we have left out any other authors participating in the #GiveaBook campaign, please add your name.