Going for the Gold

[February 2010] Canada is in the global spotlight at the moment, thanks to the 2010 Winter Olympics. As some of you may know, I come from Canada, though I’ve been living south of the 49th for the past two decades. I’m rooting for the home team and watched the opening ceremonies with a strong sense of national pride. Hearing the O Canada a couple of nights ago after we won our first gold medal at a Canadian-hosted games was thrilling.

Modesty is a trait often associated with Canadians. We tend not to boast, and we find self-promotion difficult. Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged his fellow countrymen to get over this cultural shyness—for the next few weeks, at least. “We will ask the world to forgive us this time, this uncharacteristic outburst of patriotism and pride, our pride of being part of a country that is strong, confident and stands tall among the nations,” he said.

What’s all this got to do with writing or publishing, I hear someone in the back muttering.

It’s award season, and I’m not talking about the Oscars. The nominees for the Bram Stoker Awards will be announced shortly, and the nominations for the Edgar Allen Poe Awards are already out, as are the winners of the Black Quill Awards. John Rosenman expressed his thoughts on the subject a couple of days ago but I already had most of this article written by then, so I decided to plunge ahead anyway.

What does a nomination signify? Depends on the award. In some cases it means that a very small group of people (i.e. award jurors) evaluated the works eligible in a category and came to some consensus. In other cases, it means that the entire membership of an organization voted to produce the list of nominees (that’s how the Oscars work, though the tallying system is really arcane). And in still other cases, the voting is open to anyone on the planet who cares to express an opinion—the Preditors and Editors awards are run that way

Here’s where I take Prime Minister Harper’s advice to heart and confess that over the past couple of months I’ve been nominated for two awards and won two others. For a while I was a Black Quill Award nominee and ultimately my book, The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, was named as the Reader’s Choice award winner. The book also won the London Book Festival prize for non-fiction, and the Mystery Writers of America nominated it for an Edgar Award. The latter is a juried award, so five or six people selected the nominees from the eligible candidates and the same people will also pick the winners, to be announced in late April. I also made the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards, a short list formed by recommendations made by the entire membership of the Horror Writers Association. The actual nominees should be announced a few days from now.

There. I said it. Went all un-Canadian and got it out of my system. It’s been an exciting time for me. I’ve been getting calls and e-mails from local newspaper reporters who want to do stories about the Edgar nomination. “Local guy does good” pieces.

I confess to being conflicted about the attention. I’m shy when it comes to talking about myself (there’s that Canadian gene expressing itself) and especially shy in front of a camera (“At least pretend you’re happy about this,” the photographer for the Houston Chronicle told me).

On the other hand, I am pleased the book is getting all this attention, and I hope it means that a bunch more copies get sold, that the publisher decides to do a second printing this year, and a few more dollars (or loonies) end up in the coffers. I also hope that the Edgar nomination means that when I have a crime novel to shop around in the future, an editor will file that fact away in the back of his or her mind and decide to bump the manuscript up a notch on his or her stack.

Of course I sling the nominations around in every cover letter for anything I submit these days, including my Stoker nomination from 2004. Does it make one iota of difference to the person reading my submission? Probably not, but what’s the point in getting nominated for an award if you can’t brag about it? And where do we get to brag about it? On our web sites and in our cover letters, mostly.

My wife and I have decided to attend the Edgar Award banquet at the end of April. I don’t stand much of a chance of coming home from New York with the cute little statue of Edgar Allen Poe (though wouldn’t it look nice on the mantelpiece?). Of all the years for P.D. James, past Grand Mistress of the MWA, to write a non-fiction book instead of a novel. It’ll be fun to attend the banquet, though, and hobnob with the other nominees and MWA members. Spend an evening basking in the glow of being an Edgar nominee. How often does one get to do that?

I’ll also be at the Stoker banquet in Brighton, England this year, regardless of whether I’m nominated or not. I decided to attend World Horror several months ago and figured the banquet would be a good way to spend Saturday evening. I haven’t been to a WHC for a few years, but the chance to go back to England and to attend the launches of a couple of projects I’m involved with was a lure I couldn’t resist.

I’m thrilled to win the awards that have already come my way, and to be nominated for the others. I’m proud of the book that generated all of this positive attention. The readers’ choice Black Quill Award means that a bunch of people with no particular investment in the outcome signed up and expressed their opinions. Critical accolades are terrific, too, but the readers, after all, are the people we write books for, and to discover that they are pleased with something I helped produce is gratifying.

At the end of the day, these nominations and the awards themselves amount to a highly visible pat on the back. Job well done, mate. Writers mostly toil in isolation, and our successes are usually experienced that way too. Every acceptance letter, for example, is a little moment of validation, as is every letter from a reader who took time from his or her busy schedule to tell you that he or she liked something you wrote. So getting recognized on a larger stage is like having a spotlight aimed at us, however briefly.

Then, like Punxsutawney Phil, we see our shadows and retreat to our caverns for another six weeks of writing.

Comments are closed.