Tuesday, 17 January 2023

Elle Cosimano photo by Powell Woulfe Photography

Photo by Powell Woulfe Photography

"If you sifted through the books in my office right now, including those I’ve written, you’d have a hard time placing me on a single shelf, and I love that."

Before I began writing humorous mysteries for adults, I was penning paranormal thrillers for teens, so it’s no surprise to me that my reading preferences straddle age ranges and span a variety of genres. As a reader, the stack of books on my nightstand is equally weighted between YA fantasies, mysterious capers, and twisty adult suspense novels.

Whether it’s a tale of self-discovery, explored through a character’s journey through their first formative experiences, or a careful unearthing of clues leading to the reveal of a culprit, it’s the discovery that has always captivated me as a reader. I’m drawn to novels that offer a slow but satisfying carving away of layers. I enjoy being along for the ride as a teen protagonist is unraveling the mystery of who they are. And I love that aha moment when their own power is revealed to them, when they realize the answer to whatever existential question they’ve been grappling with and make a conscious choice that will change the outcome of their own story. For me, it delivers the same satisfaction as the grand reveal of a crime thriller or a murder mystery, when the mask is yanked away and the bad guy finally steps out of the shadows.

In a story for any age group, in any genre, that moment of reveal should feel earned, and I gravitate toward stories that artfully craft layers of character within the plot, or the ones in which nuanced breadcrumbs are thoughtfully doled out, allowing me to make small discoveries alongside the hero. My favorite novels of all manage to do both, weaving a carefully constructed examination of a character’s formative years within the framework of a brilliant mystery or an unputdownable suspense story, like Steven Hamilton’s The Lock Artist, Megan Miranda’s All The Missing Girls, or Tana French’s The Secret Place. I balance these darker tales with lighter, more humorous ones like Lisa Lutz’s The Spellman Files, Darynda JonesA Bad Day for Sunshine, or Colleen Oakley’s The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise, each of which incorporates a cross-generational cast and coming-of-age themes, and all of which straddle more than one library category.

If you sifted through the books in my office right now, including those I’ve written, you’d have a hard time placing me on a single shelf, and I love that. My favorite stories (and storytellers) are the ones that defy age while bending genres.

Elle Cosimano is a USA Today bestselling author, an International Thriller Award winner, a Bram Stoker Award finalist, and an Edgar® Award nominee. Her acclaimed young adult novels include Nearly Gone, Holding Smoke, The Suffering Tree, and Seasons of the Storm. Elle’s debut novel for adults, Finlay Donovan Is Killing It, kicked off a witty, fast-paced contemporary mystery series, which was a PEOPLE Magazine Pick and was named one of New York Public Library's Best Books of 2021. In addition to writing novels for teens and adults, her essays have appeared in The Huffington Post and Time. Elle lives with her husband and two sons in Virginia.

Elle Cosimano on Discovery in Any Genre
Elle Cosimano
Thursday, 12 January 2023

2023 MWA Grand Masters Michael Connelly and Joanne FlukeWe look forward each year to Mystery Writers of America (MWA) announcing the honorees of the Grand Master, the Raven Award and the Ellery Queen Award. This is the chance to honor those who have elevated the genre through their novels or by working behind the scenes such as bookstores, organizations, critics, and publications.

MWA continues those high standards with this year’s honorees.

The 2023 Grand Masters are authors Michael Connelly and Joanne Fluke.
The 2023 Raven Award recipients are Crime Writers of Color and Eddie Muller.
The Ellery Queen Award goes to The Strand Magazine.

Each is well deserving. The awards will be presented during the 77th Annual Edgar Awards ceremony, which will be held on April 27, 2023, at the Marriott Marquis Times Square in New York City.

MWA’s Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality, according to MWA press release.

Michael Connelly is one of the most respected mystery writers—that’s my observation, not any press release. He is well liked and has a reputation of being a generous writer, helping other new authors and acknowledging fellow authors in speeches and panels. For me, he is today’s most consistently excellent writer. 

According to MWA, Connelly’s nomination, citing Bosch’s mantra from the first in the series, The Black Echo, to the present day, sums up Connelly’s approach to his craft: “Everybody counts or nobody counts,” adding “What those five words have meant to the readers of mystery fiction in the past 37 years can’t be overstated.”

MWA stated that on being notified of the honor, Connelly said, “All I can say is I’m overwhelmed. When you look at the list of previous Grand Masters you see every writer that ever inspired you. So overwhelming. I first got published 30 years ago and I remember everything about it. To think that that guy of 30 years ago would end up with this honor is really quite amazing. I am truly honored.”

Connelly is the author of 31 novels, including multiple No. 1 New York Times bestsellers. His books, which include the Harry Bosch series and Lincoln Lawyer series, have sold more than 74 million copies worldwide. Connelly is a former newspaper reporter who has won numerous awards for his journalism and his novels and is the executive producer of both Bosch TV series and The Lincoln Lawyer. He spends his time in California and Florida.

Newly named Grand Master Joanne Fluke launched her series 21 years ago with Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder (2001). Since then, she has written 30 Hannah Swenson Mysteries, the most recent being 2022’s Caramel Pecan Roll Murder. The series also has been turned into five hugely successful Murder, She Baked films for the Hallmark Channel. Fluke has also written suspense, thriller, and romance novels under her own name and pseudonyms. Like Hannah Swensen, she was born and raised in a small town in rural Minnesota, but now lives in sunny Southern California.

MWA stated that on being notified of the honor, Fluke said, “I am very grateful to be mentioned in the same breath as such legends as Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen and John le Carré . . .  Speaking of breathing, I'm very glad I still am!”

As I can attest, anyone who has been at one of her book signings knows how delightful her talks are. She also almost always brings cookies, another plus!

Previous Grand Masters include Laurie R. King, Charlaine Harris, Jeffery Deaver, Barbara Neely, Martin Cruz Smith, William Link, Peter Lovesey, Walter Mosley, Lois Duncan, James Ellroy, Robert Crais, Ken Follett, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Stephen King, Ira Levin, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie, to name a few.

The Raven Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. Personally, this may be my favorite award as I was honored with it—a career highlight.

This year, the award shared between the group Crime Writers of Color (CWoC) and Eddie Mueller, host of the Turner Classic Movies series Noir Alley and founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation.

The Crime Writers of Color is “an association of authors seeking to present a strong and united voice for members who self-identify as crime/mystery writers from traditionally underrepresented racial, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.”  

Speaking for CWoC, cofounders Gigi Pandian, Kellye Garrett, and Walter Mosley wrote, “When we first started talking about the idea that became Crime Writers of Color, we never imagined the small informal group would become such a big and thriving community in just a few years. Our goal was always to create a safe and supportive space for fellow writers of color to network and thrive. So, to know that the group is making a positive impact in the mystery community as a whole is so gratifying, and to be recognized by MWA in our fifth year is such an honor! We thank you on behalf of all our 350-plus members who are in all stages of their career."

Eddie Muller is best known as the host of the Turner Classic Movies series Noir Alley, a weekly showcase for the best of crime cinema and for his lively, erudite intros and outros to these movies, in which he always mentions writers—novelists and screenwriters both—in the conversation. At the Film Noir Foundation (FNF), which makes restoring and preserving films from around the globe a priority, Muller has personally saved many motion pictures from disappearing, among them acclaimed titles like The Prowler, written by blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, and Too Late for Tears.

Mueller told MWA that “I was completely surprised! The crime and mystery fiction community—writers, editors, booksellers, and readers—is a wonderfully warm, supportive, and generous tribe and I’m happy to have been a small part of it for the past 20 years. Having my eclectic endeavors rate a Raven—what a delightful surprise, and what an honor! I'm extremely grateful to MWA.”

Previous Raven Award recipients include Lesa Holstine, Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime, Marilyn Stasio, The Raven Bookstore, Sisters in Crime, Kristopher Zgorski, and Oline Cogdill.

The Ellery Queen Award was established in 1983 to honor “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry.” This year the award honors The Strand Magazine, a bimonthly periodical known as much for its incisive articles about the mystery world and its practitioners and penetrating interviews with top authors like James Patterson and Lee Child, as for unearthing lost short stories penned by now-dead literary greats, such as a 600-word short story by Raymond Chandler, written in the 1950s toward the end of his life, as well as the forgotten fiction of such giants as Dashiell Hammett, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and H.G. Wells.

According to MWA, when told of the Ellery Queen Award, managing editor Andrew Gulli said, “When The Strand started 25 years ago, we had no idea how big it would get. So, it’s great to see The Strand being honored with the Ellery Queen Award from Mystery Writers of America.”

Gulli added, “MWA has always felt more like a community—one in which I’ve formed strong friendships and where The Strand has found some of its best authors. As a print publication with a strong online presence, The Strand has had to continuously adapt to an ever-changing industry and being honored with the Ellery Queen Award from MWA serves as definite proof that print is not only alive but kicking! Here’s to another 25 years!”

Previous Ellery Queen Award winners include Juliet Grames, Reagan Arthur, Kelley Ragland, Linda Landrigan, Neil Nyren, Charles Ardai, and Janet Hutchings.

“Mystery Writers of America is thrilled to announce the recipients of our special awards for 2023. It’s always such a joy to recognize deserving individuals for their outstanding contributions to our genre. Michael Connelly and Joanne Fluke have contributed so much to the genre through their hard work and amazing careers, and they will continue to influence and inspire future generations of writers long after they receive their awards,” said MWA Executive Vice President Greg Herren.

“Eddie Muller’s dedication to preserving the marvelous legacy of noir and crime films by bringing classics to new generations of viewers through his work with TCM and his foundation is more than worthy of recognition,” Herren said.

“The Strand Magazine’s legacy of quality has never faltered and remains a must-read for crime fans. The impact of Crime Writers of Color, not only in crime fiction but across the board in publishing, may not be quantifiable, but can be seen at every conference, awards ceremony, and bestseller list. It’s an incredible list of honorees. We are in a golden age of crime fiction, and it’s very exciting to see.”

For more information on Mystery Writers of America, please visit the website www.mysterywriters.org.

Photos, from top: Michael Connelly, photo by Mark DeLong; Joanne Fluke, photo by Kim Butler; CWoC, cofounders Kellye Garrett, Walter Mosley, and Gigi Pandian, photo courtesy MWA; Eddie Muller, photo courtesy MWA; Andrew Gulli, photo by Farris Gulli

Oline CogdillOline H. Cogdill is a longtime contributor to Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been a journalist for more than 25 years, and is the mystery columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

MWA Announces 2023 Grand Master, Raven, and Ellery Queen Award Recipients
Oline H Cogdill
Friday, 06 January 2023

Nita Prose photo credit Tony Hanykphoto credit Tony Hanyk

Nita Prose’s first novel, The Maid, tells the story of Molly Gray, a woman whose obsessive cleaning habits and commitment to order and etiquette are put to fine purpose at the Regency Grand Hotel where she works as a maid. Molly's socially awkward quirks endear readers to her, but, alas, also raise suspicions against her after she finds the body of a wealthy man named Charles Black in one of the suites at the hotel.

What ensues is an absorbing and cleverly penned locked-room mystery, with a delightfully difficult and winning character as its heart. Prose obviously loves Molly and readers and critics seem to agree. The Maid took home the Ned Kelly Award for Best International Crime Friction from the Australian Crime Writers Association and was named a 2022 Goodreads Choice Winner in the mystery category.

While The Maid is the Toronto-based Prose's first novel, she's a veteran of the publishing world where she's worked ever since her early days as an intern "photocopying edited manuscripts and secretly snooping the fascinating margin conversations between editors and writers." She took some time from writing and her work as vice president and editorial director at Simon & Schuster, Canada, to share some thoughts with Mystery Scene on creating her protagonist, remembering her mother, and making the jump from longtime editor to writer.

The Maid by Nita ProseRobin Agnew for Mystery Scene: This is such a character based book—the whole plot flows from Molly’s personality and the way she sees the world. Can you talk about creating her?

Nita Prose: Molly definitely has a unique moral lens and some social awkwardness that makes navigating the world a challenge. My goal in her creation was to have the reader step into her skin, to see from behind her eyes and deep into her thoughts. There are times, of course, when as a reader you might be so frustrated with her that you want to shake her by the shoulders, but if I’ve done my job right, to live as her is to come to love her over time. In Molly, I wanted to create a character who was challenged in one way, but who was more capable of extraordinary bravery and empathy than most of us.

Before I was an editor, I worked for a time teaching high school kids with special needs. When I took my students out of the classroom on field trips, I witnessed how cruelly they were sometimes treated by so-called “normal people.” But what I also saw were kids who responded with incredible resilience and human dignity in the face of prejudice. In some ways, I think Molly is a tribute to those kids that I taught so many years ago.

How did you get the idea to set your story in a hotel?

The Maid was inspired by a chance encounter with a maid at a hotel while I was on a business trip about two years ago. I was staying at a London hotel. One day, after a meeting outside the hotel, I returned to my room and startled the maid who was folding the jogging pants I’d left in a tangled mess on the bed (embarrassing!). The second I entered the room, the maid jumped backward into a shadowy corner. It occurred to me in that moment what an intimate and invisible job it is to be a room maid. Simply by cleaning my room every day, this maid knew so much about me. But what did I know about her? On the plane home a few days later, my protagonist Molly’s voice came to me. I grabbed a pen and a napkin, and wrote the prologue in a single burst. I didn't know it at the time, but I'd just begun my debut novel.

I love Molly, but also loved the people around Molly. The way she perceives them and the way the reader begins to perceive them through her are different—and it makes it more interesting to discover their characters this way. Did you have a favorite character other than Molly?

Gran was a joy to write. She’s a fiercely loyal matriarch who will do whatever it takes to protect her granddaughter, Molly. In some ways, she’s modeled after my own mother who died a few years ago. I am fascinated by the absence that death creates and how we can sometimes create a distillation of presence beyond someone’s passing. I certainly experience this with my mother, whose wisdom and jokes I still hear in my head to this day. In The Maid, Gran died months before, and yet Molly resurrects her in her own mind. Even in her absence, Gran acts as a moral compass and a navigational force in her granddaughter’s life.

I enjoyed the references to Columbo and his detection methods—though Molly actually reminds me a bit more of Monk, or going back further, of Poirot. What were your detective fiction influences?

There are shades of all three of those characters in Molly!

As for other mystery influences, the first and foremost is the great master of mystery, Agatha Christie, who defined the genre in central ways. The second is the wonderful film Knives Out, which is a character drama that plays with classic mystery tropes but in a contemporary setting. And lastly, the board game Clue. Adding Clue was my way of inserting whimsy into the whodunit, so that the reader gets to ask similar questions to the ones asked in that game—is it the waiter with poison in the restaurant? Or is it the maid in the bedroom with a pillow?

Is there any other book you'd say was transformational for you, as a reader or as a writer (or as an editor)?

There are so many books and writers that have been transformational to me! On the one hand, Agatha Christie, for creating a style and classic tradition around the mystery genre, but on the other Gail Honeyman’s novel Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, for being a genre-busting book that provided a powerful answer to a difficult character conundrum: How do you love a cactus? In that novel, the main character, Eleanor, is very prickly and seems unlovable, and yet we as readers come to love her as we progress through the story. The same “cactus conundrum” guided me as I wrote Molly. I had to find my own way to make a cactus beloved.

Eleanor Oliphant in Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

The plot (woman stumbles upon a murder and has to solve it to clear her own name) seems deceptively simple, but I think sometimes "simple" is the hardest to get right. How did you structure your plot and what were your guideposts?

If the structure seems simple, then I’ve done my job right; so many plots that seem simple in genre fiction are much more complicated than they appear. The trickiest part of this novel was dealing with time—how to move deep into memories in a seamless way, and then make sure that the reader wasn’t lost in time when they emerged into the present from the past. Any writer can tell you that “time management” in a novel is a very challenging aspect of structure, and literally everything in a mystery depends on it.

I have seen The Maid described as a “traditional” detective novel, though I think it’s in a space between psychological standalone and straight-up detection. Was where it fit in the genre anything that you thought about as you wrote?

I don’t feel The Maid is a traditional detective novel at all. Molly is a maid, not a detective, and she often misses clues. It’s the reader who is actually cast as the detective. I’d also say that The Maid is very character-driven, and most traditional detective novels are not. While the whodunit is certainly a driver of suspense, what most readers respond to in the novel is character, not the mystery plot.

When I began writing this book, I wanted to see if I could meld a traditional, classic mystery style with what becomes a character-driven journey of the spirit as Molly moves through a period of seismic growth in just a few days and weeks. It’s that genre-bending and blending that interests me most as a writer.

What are some of the other things you learned from or explored writing this, your first book?

I learned how to pace a scene, and I am still learning how to trust my writerly intuition. As an editor myself, I feel much more confident in that role than I ever feel when writing. But I’ve also learned that a certain amount of authorial blindness and vertigo—that feeling that I don’t quite know what I’m doing or where I’m going with the story—is an essential part of the process.

As a longtime book editor turned author, what are some of the differences you found between editing a book and writing one?

Becoming an author is a natural extension of my editorial and ghostwriting life, with the one difference that I now have to reckon with blindness in the labyrinth. When I’m editing a debut author, I often explain “the labyrinth,” a metaphor for the editor-author relationship. When a writer writes, she embarks upon a journey into a labyrinth. She’s on the ground, entering the maze. She can see what’s just up ahead, a barrier or a surprise down the corridor. She does not want to write herself into a corner. I, as her editor, am seated on a tall ladder outside of the maze. I can’t see close-up the way she can, but I have a bird’s-eye view. I can tell her that if she goes down that passage, it will lead to a dead end. Together, we work best: We help each other see.

While I knew this paradigm intimately as an editor, I had never experienced what it’s like as a novelist—to be visionary and completely blind at the same time! When I started The Maid, I knew a few things—I could envision certain twists and turns in the novel, but I didn’t know which path to take to get to the end, and for sure I didn’t know if I could make it all the way there. I have a newfound appreciation for the courage it takes to write and for just how disorienting the process can be.

What is next for you? Are you working on another book?

I’m currently hard at work on my second novel, which will be a standalone book and another genre-blender. It will feature Molly the maid and a host of new characters, too. I’m very much looking forward to sharing this work with readers, hopefully in 2024!

Nita Prose is a longtime editor, serving many bestselling authors and their books. She lives in Toronto, Canada, in a house that is only moderately clean. Visit her at nitaprose.com or on Twitter @NitaProse.

Robin AgnewRobin Agnew is a longtime Mystery Scene contributor and was the owner of Aunt Agatha's bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for 26 years. No longer a brick and mortar store, Aunt Agatha has an extensive used book collection is available at abebooks.com and the site auntagathas.com is home to more of Robin's writing.

Nita Prose on Her Breakout Novel "The Maid"
Robin Agnew