The 2016 Edgar Awards

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Last night the Mystery Writers of America announced the winners of the 2016 Edgar Awards. You know this award is near and dear to my heart, and I’m delighted to congratulate the winners — and all the nominees. Take a look at this list, folks, and get reading. (Winners listed first in each category.)

Best Novel

Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy (Penguin Random House – Dutton)

The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Lady From Zagreb by Philip Kerr (Penguin Random House – A Marian Wood Book)
Life or Death by Michael Robotham (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
Canary by Duane Swierczynski (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
Night Life by David C. Taylor (Forge Books)

Best First Novel

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Atlantic – Grove Press)

Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (Simon & Schuster)
Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm (Penguin Random House – Viking)

Best Paperback Original

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)

The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay
(Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Woman with a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)
Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)
The Daughter by Jane Shemilt (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)

Best Fact Crime

Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully
by Allen Kurzweil (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper)

Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide
by Eric Bogosian (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company)
Where The Bodies Were Buried: Whitey Bulger and the World That Made Him
by T.J. English (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime
by Val McDermid (Grove Atlantic – Grove Press)
American Pain: How a Young Felon and his Ring of Doctors Unleashed 
America’s  Deadliest Drug Epidemic 

by John Temple (Rowman & Littlefield – Lyons Press)

Best Critical/Biographical

The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards (HarperCollins Publishers – HarperCollins)

The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue 
by Frederick Forsyth (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald
by Suzanne Marrs and Tom Nolan (Arcade Publishing)
Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica
by Matthew Parker (Pegasus Books)
The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett 
by Nathan Ward (Bloomsbury Publishing – Bloomsbury USA)

Best Short Story

“Obits” – Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King (Simon & Schuster – Scribner)

“The Little Men” – Mysterious Bookshop by Megan Abbott (Mysterious Bookshop)
“On Borrowed Time” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Mat Coward (Dell Magazines)
“The Saturday Night Before Easter Sunday” – Providence Noir 
by Peter Farrelly (Akashic Books)
“Family Treasures” – Let Me Tell You  by Shirley Jackson (Random House)
“Every Seven Years” – Mysterious Bookshop by Denise Mina (Mysterious Bookshop)

Best Juvenile

Footer Davis Probably is Crazy by Susan Vaught
(Simon & Schuster – Paula Wiseman Books)

Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi (Algonquin Young Readers – Workman)
If You Find This by Matthew Baker
(Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver & H.C.Chester
(HarperCollins Publishers – HarperCollins Children’s Books)
The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands  (Simon & Schuster – Aladdin)

Young Adult

A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis
(HarperCollins Publishers – Katherine Tegen Books) 

Endangered by Lamar Giles (HarperCollins Children’s Books – HarperTeen)
The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury (Scholastic – Scholastic Press)
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (Algonquin Young Readers – Workman)
Ask the Dark by Henry Turner (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Clarion Books)

TV Episode Teleplay

“Gently with the Women” – George Gently, Teleplay by Peter Flannery (Acorn TV)

“Episode 7” – BroadchurchTeleplay by Chris Chibnall (BBC America)
“Elise – The Final Mystery” – Foyle’s War, Teleplay by Anthony Horowitz (Acorn TV)
 “Terra Incognita” – Person of Interest, Teleplay by Erik Mountain & Melissa Scrivner Love (CBS/Warner Brothers)
“The Beating of her Wings” – Ripper Street, Teleplay by Toby Finlay (BBC America)

Robert L. Fish Memorial Award

“Chung Ling Soo’s Greatest Trick” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine 
by Russell W. Johnson (Dell Magazines)

Mary Higgins Clark Award

Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)

A Woman Unknown by Frances Brody (Minotaur Books – A Thomas Dunne Book)
The Masque of a Murderer by Susanna Calkins (Minotaur Books)
Night Night, Sleep Tight by Hallie Ephron (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson (Llewellyn Worldwide – Midnight Ink)

Grand Master

Walter Mosley

Raven Awards

Margaret Kinsman
Sisters in Crime

Ellery Queen Award

Janet Rudolph, Founder of Mystery Readers International

The Fargo Location Tour

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You know I’m a huge fan of Fargo. I love the movie. The TV show was one of my 2014 and 2015 favorites. I’ve never been to Fargo, North Dakota, itself. But I have now been to a bunch of locations where the TV series was filmed.

Here’s how to make this miracle happen.

  1. Visit friends who have recently moved to the vast prairie of Alberta, Canada.
  2. See the wonders of the Canadian Rockies.
  3. Eat Poutine.
  4. Discover that the TV series was largely filmed in friends’ Calgary neighborhood and omigod there’s a map and omigod the place where Gus Grimly first confronts Malvo is right around the corner and so is Lou’s Coffee Shop and Lester Nygaard’s insurance agency and the sites of so many murders and OMIGOD so is the Pearl Hotel.

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Then:

  1. Conduct pilgrimage.
  2. Lament that the Waffle Hut (with its associated massacre and bad guy-through-the-windshield-of-a-Corvair scenes) is on private property and must be taken on faith.
  3. Binge watch Fargo with friends.

This is how a thriller writer gets her kicks. What a weekend.

May 14, 2016: Festival of Women Authors

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Next month I’ll be one of the speakers at the Festival of Women Authors in Irvine, California. This is an annual event sponsored by the Literary Guild of Orange County. I’m delighted that I’ll be joining fantastic authors Laila Lalami, Sarah Bird, Catriona McPherson, Cara Hoffman, Alison Singh Gee, Vicki Constantine Croke, and Lian Dolan.

If you’re interested in attending, hit the link.

Literary Guild of Orange County: Festival of Women Authors
May 14, 2016
Irvine Marriott Hotel
Irvine, CA

I hope to see some of you there.

This weekend: Pflugerville Book Pfestival

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Saturday and Sunday I’ll be taking part in the first Pflugerville Book Pfestival. It’s sponsored by KAZI FM and yes, it’s spelled Pfestival. Or pspelled, maybe. It’s a Pflugerville thing.

The festival is free and open to the public. Take a look at the great authors coming, and the great topics we’ll be discussing. Come on down!

Pflugerville Book Festival
April 16-17, 2016
1:00 PM - 6:00 PM
Pflugerville Library
1008 W. Pfluger St.
Pflugerville, TX 78660
Contact: (512) 990-6375

Questions about writing: falling in love with your own characters

Here are a couple of final questions from my students in ITW’s Online Thriller School.

When creating a protagonist who features in a long running series, how do you keep the interest in the character alive in book after book? Would love to know how you have done this with Jo Beckett. Any tips or do’s and don’ts would be much appreciated.

TTLL_US_pbo create characters who stay interesting, think about their wants, needs, loves, drives, faults, strengths, and wounds. Give them interesting abilities. Give them limitations to work around. Let them have something valuable to say and do. Make sure they’re intelligent, observant, perhaps witty. And most important: Put them in interesting situations. Challenge them in novel ways. Show how they work a problem against difficult odds. That will help keep them interesting.

One of the books on my recommended reading list, Stein On Writing, discusses character in depth. Take a look at it.

And here’s what I didn’t get a chance to say in the Online Thriller School Q&A, about Jo Beckett.

Jo is an MD — a forensic psychiatrist. Her job itself is interesting, and the books explore how she tackles a variety of cases. She’s also a young widow. Over the course of the novels, she deals with the loss of her husband, and gradually emerges from her grief to fall in love with search and rescue expert Gabe Quintana. She develops a friendship with prickly SFPD lieutenant Amy Tang. She deals with her infatuated neighbor and with his evil monkey. She faces and tackles her personal phobias — of small spaces, and of flying. She examines her sister’s accusation (and Gabe’s fear) that she’s too much of an adrenaline junkie.

Jo learns, and grows, and does a whole lot of exciting stuff. I hope that keeps her interesting.

How do you get out of falling in love with a character and not wanting to see them get THAT hurt? Especially when you’re drawing on your own experiences. It feels like your punishing yourself.

This is an important question. The answer is that when you write fiction, at some point you have to step back from protecting your characters and let the chips fall where they may. You have to write the story honestly. You can either stop putting beloved characters in mortal danger, or you can show the consequences they suffer when they do get hurt.

This is one reason I urge writers not to stick too closely to their own experiences. If you’re writing fiction, you have to let go of the way “it really happened.” Instead, you have to take the story as far as it can go within the confines of the fictional world you’re creating. A character can have autobiographical characteristics, but you MUST separate yourself from your creations, or you’ll pull your punches.

I’ve been through this wringer with my own books. If you want to read about why I decided to stop protecting my characters, this blog post goes into it at greater length: Kill Your Darlings?

(If you’re interested in ITW or next year’s Online Thriller School, hit the link.)

Questions about writing: How do you increase tension?

Here are a couple more questions from my students in ITW’s Online Thriller School.  The topic: tension.
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You have mentioned that it’s the characters who drive the plots and not the other way around…

In the previous lecture, David [Corbett] said that we need to increase tension in every scene as we progress, hence the characters would be acting accordingly… I mean, I don’t get it, I’m unable to understand how these two things tie up.

To increase tension (and keep the story interesting) I need to make scenes that would drive my characters (almost) insane with that specific goal that the story is about; at the same time, these scenes will in turn affect the character and how she would be reacting to each scene and progress; BUT you say, characters would be driving the plot…

I’m sorry if I seem to be going in circles, but could you clarify that for me??

Remember, characters don’t just react to tension. They are the ones who CREATE the tension. Every time one character does something, another responds. The protagonist and antagonist cause increasing problems for each other through their choices, actions, and reactions. This IS the plot. And it is shown in scenes. Tense scenes.

Thanks for the scene tension/reaction clarity. From your book, Phantom Instinct: “Then somebody throws a Molotov cocktail, and the club is quickly engulfed in flames. L.A. Sheriff Deputy Aiden Garrison sees a gunman in a hoodie and gas mask taking aim at Harper, but before he can help her a wall collapses, bringing the building down and badly injuring him.”

The “somebody” who threw the cocktail was the character who created this tension of the roof falling?? The gunman in a hoodie aiming at Harper is another character creating more tension??

So tension can be created by anyone? A bus driver swerving off to the side, a bike rider stopping to take a breath, it can be anyone from the protagonist/ antagonist to any insignificant character that comes for a split second and is never heard of again?

Yes, tension can be created by any character. It can also be created by nature (a cyclone, an earthquake, a fire). When you’re writing, keep in mind that you’ll create the greatest tension when it arises from conflict between the major characters.

(Interested in next year’s Online Thriller School, or ITW? Hit the link.)

Questions about writing: psychological thrillers

Today I’m posting more of my Q&A with students from ITW’s Online Thriller School. Here are a couple of questions about writing psychological thrillers. There’s a mild spoiler in my answer to the second question, if you want to avert your eyes.

“What would you say is the major difference between a suspense/thriller and a psychological thriller? So, for example, in a novel like Shutter Island, where the distinction between protagonist and antagonist blurs, what is the one major element that we need to keep in mind while creating a story in this genre?

Psychological thrillers focus on the psychology of the characters, of course — they deal with the mind, mind games, and mental and emotional competition between characters who are fighting to get what they want. They often feature unreliable narrators. If you’re writing a thriller that heavily features psychological aspects, the characters need to be deep and intelligent and full of wants, needs, and secrets.

Secondly, in Gone Girl the manner in which they introduced Amy’s character and virtually twisted the whole premise around came across as being highly manipulative. From that point on, the character motivations seemed totally inauthentic to me. Even though Shutter Island does the same thing, somehow the story was much more realistic and believable (at least to me). Do you think the difference lies in the way the stories were structured? And what is the one thing that as a writer I can do to make the story more believable to the reader/viewer?

Gone Girl is deliberately structured to reveal Amy’s manipulation halfway through. At that point, readers have to re-evaluate everything they’ve read so far, and wonder what in the world is going to happen next. Shutter Island holds back its key revelation until the very end. That’s neither better nor worse; it’s an authorial choice. I think one main difference between the two novels is that Shutter Island is told by a character who has empathy. That empathy suffuses the whole book.

To create believable stories, create believable characters and let them come to life on the page. Give them integrity. Understand who they are and why they make the choices they do. Never turn them into puppets who make choices because the plot demands it.

(If you’re interested in International Thriller Writers or next year’s ITW Online Thriller School, hit the link.)