Getting To Know The Edgar Finalists

Oct 5, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Terry Ambrose

In 2013, Mystery Writers of America considered six finalists in the Edgar competition for Best First Novel. The novelists, just like their books, are all vastly different. But, all now have one shared experience they will never forget: the honor of being nominated for one of the highest awards in the mystery genre.

Kim Fay is the author of The Map of Lost Memories. The book is historical fiction and the story of a treasure hunt in Cambodia. The Map of Lost Memories had enough mystery elements, however, to garner Kim one of those coveted spots as an Edgar Finalist. She said, “The Edgar nomination was one of the greatest things to happen to me as a writer. While I did not set out to write a mystery with The Map of Lost Memories, I was not surprised when the mystery elements began weaving their way in. Needless to say, when the mystery side of my story was recognized with an Edgar nomination, I was thrilled and honored.”

That reaction is common among all of the nominees. Susan Elia MacNeal had a slightly more graphic way of describing her reaction. The author of Mr. Churchill’s Secretary said, “It feels like a blessing and benediction from the mystery writing community. I remember putting on lipstick for the Edgar awards ceremony and my eight-year-old son asked me if I was nervous. I said no–because no matter who won, I’d be genuinely thrilled, because honestly I felt like Cinderella invited to the ball.”

With their first books behind them, each of the finalists must deal with the issue of continuing success. Daniel Friedman, author of Don’t Ever Get Old, sees himself as vulnerable. He said, “I think I’m in a situation where doing the same thing again isn’t going to be good enough. My protagonist has a very specific set of problems and a distinct voice and, while readers enjoyed that the first time around, it might–you know–get old, as I try to stretch the concept over multiple books. So my goal with the new book is to stay true to the character without repeating myself.”

Michael Sears, on the other hand, feels confident about his next book. “The challenge to not fall into sophomore slump is greater, but I think that with Mortal Bonds I have succeeded in avoiding that. In fact, I think it’s even better than the first.”

Matthew Quirk saw tremendous commercial success with his debut novel, The 500. He doesn’t see life as becoming any more difficult, merely different. Quirk said, “The Edgar nomination was a great surprise and a real honor. I don’t know that it has changed how I look at my writing. There was pressure for the first book, just trying to land an agent and an editor, and there are different pressures once you’re published. Fortunately, once I sit down to write, all the other stuff recedes into the background and there isn’t a lot of room to think about anything but the story.”

The winner of the 2013 Best First Novel Edgar was Chris Pavone for his political thriller, The Expats. His comments go to the heart of what each of these nominees felt. He said, “There may be nothing more fragile than a first novel. (Or for that matter a first novelist.) Such a wide variety of things can go wrong and any one of them can be fatal. And so the things that go right–an enthusiastic blurb, a positive review–are all tremendously uplifting. The Edgar perhaps most of all a wonderful validation and a great motivation to open up the computer every day, and type.”

All of the finalists are hopeful about their careers as writers and each has an attitude of persistence. It took Fay 14 years to complete The Map of Lost Memories, but she described the award as having awoken “a secret dreamer in me.” MacNeal, who researched for 12 years, said she was, “just too stubborn to give up.”

No matter how differently each of these writers deal with the expectations–from themselves, their readers, and their peers–they all would agree with Susan Elia MacNeal, who said, “It’s been an amazing year.”

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Terry Ambrose is a former bill collector and skip tracer who now uses that background to write mysteries and thrillers. His debut mystery Photo Finish was a 2013 San Diego Book Awards Finalist. You can learn more about Terry on his website.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for all this information, some of these will go on my “too read” list!


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