The Winners of the 2016 Edgar Awards Are…
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Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Edgar Allan Poe Awards!

 
BEST NOVEL 

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

BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR

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

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney (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)
 

BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL

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

BEST SHORT STORY

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

BEST JUVENILE

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

BEST YOUNG ADULT

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

BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY

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

ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD

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

GRAND MASTER

Walter Mosley
 

RAVEN AWARDS

Margaret Kinsman
Sisters in Crime
 

ELLERY QUEEN AWARD

Janet Rudolph, Founder of Mystery Readers International
 

* * * * * *
 

THE SIMON & SCHUSTER – MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARDLittle Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)
 

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*The EDGAR (and logo) are Registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by the Mystery Writers of America, Inc.
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Detectives v. Patrol: Point Your Tale In the Right Direction

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Why does almost every crime novel feature a muscle-bound, sharpshooting, fast-driving, marathon-running, cool-as-a-fresh-cucumber detective? What is it about the suit-wearing investigators that attracts a writer’s attention? After all, detectives are often the last officers to see any real action.

Police investigators are rarely in shootouts. They hardly ever chase fleeing suspects. In fact, their job is pretty mundane—see a body, collect some evidence, send evidence to a lab, talk to a few people, evidence results return from the lab, get a warrant, arrest the suspect (or have a uniform pick him up), testify in court, and then start all over again.

Many detectives have been on the job for years and years, doing not much more than the above, and it’s this lack of activity that sometimes takes its toll in the form of flabby muscles, poor shooting skills, slow reaction times, couldn’t run if they wanted to (and they don’t), and yes, as more time passes by, even hot flashes, crappy eyesight and hearing, and bad knees and hips.

Writers are actually going about this thing all wrong. Bass-ackward, as some of the old-timers on my old beat used to say.

Patrol officers are the guys and gals who see all the excitement—going toe-to-toe with 350 lb. musclebound crooks who refuse to be handcuffed, shooting it out with armed robbers, 110 mph vehicle pursuits, chasing armed robbers through dark alleys, getting bitten by dogs, removing unwanted 20-foot-long snakes from beneath mobile homes, rescuing people from burning cars and buildings, performing CPR on unconscious and unresponsive drug addicts, climbing in windows after burglary suspects, capturing prison escapees, wading into a street filled with drug dealers, gang members, and prostitutes, and rescuing tiny puppies and kittens. Now there’s the complete package—excitement and action along with a tender side. And who doesn’t love puppies and kittens, right?

So let’s explore this concept a bit further. Lots of people are attracted to fit men and women in uniform, right?

But how many people could possibly be attracted to detectives who wear rumpled, out-of-style suits and scruffy facial hair? For example…

Ridiculous to even consider, right?

Patrol officers hit the gym regularly. They have to so they can match muscle-for-muscle with the thugs they arrest on a daily basis. Detectives, well, they do ride by a gym or two while on the way to their colorectal pre-surgery appointments.

Patrol officers hone their skills every single day. They’re out there in the trenches, staying sharp, looking sharp, and acting sharp.

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Investigators start their day in their offices, drinking a cup of coffee while solving the daily Jumble, using a pencil crudely sharpened with the pocketknives they carry for peeling apples and cutting loose threads from their suit jackets.

Uniformed officers are the front line officers, the “faces of the department.” Therefore, their hair is neatly trimmed, clothing neatly pressed, and shoes shined to glossy perfection.

Detectives are often seen wearing t-shirts, old jeans, and sneakers. And the last time they saw a set of hair clippers was the day they spent an entire morning grooming the family Lhasa Apso.

Patrol officers stare into the face of danger. Detectives work “undercover.”

Patrol officers fight crime. Detectives wait until everything is over before “going in.”

Patrol officers rush into active crime scenes to save the victims. Detectives serve search warrants in the middle of the night, hoping to catch the bad guys while they’re sleeping.

So give this a little thought when you sit down to dream up a character for your next thriller. Do you go with bass-ackward tradition, or will your tale be facing a new direction?

Besides, who do you want saving your puppies, a super-fit, handsome patrol officer…

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Or an out-of-shape, poorly-dressed detective who adores puppies, rainbows, and long walks on the beach at sunset?

*No puppies were harmed during the research portion of this article. I cannot say the same for turkey legs, donuts, and chocolate cake.

 

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5 Things To Avoid When Writing About Cops

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If your goal is realistic police procedure inserted between scenes of suspended disbelief, well, there are a few things you should avoid, much like you’d steer clear of walking through gang turf while wearing a neon green “Gang-Bangers’ Mamas Have Dumbass Kids” t-shirt. By the way, should you decide to take that walk and are subsequently evading the inevitable incoming gunfire, you could use that time to rethink the use of run-on sentences, the Oxford comma…and cordite (say NO to cordite!).

1. Guns, guns, and more guns. Since bad guys are inclined to use weapons when committing their crimes of choice, firearms and ammunition are, out of necessity, a big part of a police officer’s world. As writers it’s up to you to learn the basics about the firearm carried by your protagonist, and the one in the bad guy’s pocket. Four things you should avoid when writing about firearms and use of deadly force are:

a) police officers do not shoot to kill.

b) police officers are not trained to shoot arms, legs, hands, feet, etc.

c) handguns are not accurate at great distances, so please don’t have your hero cop pick off a bad guy who’s merely a dot on the horizon.

d) street criminals often carry cheap, pawnshop-type handguns, or stolen firearms.

2. Donut-eating, beer belly clown. Like dinosaurs, those guys are practically extinct. Present day officers are normally pretty health conscious. They belong to gyms and they exercise regularly (many departments and academies have their own workout rooms/gyms). They eat wisely, and they definitely shy away from what used to be a standard part of the diet…donuts. Weight training is also a regular part of many officers’ daily exercise routine. Criminals of today are often lean and mean, so officers feel that it’s important to be able to handle themselves when the bandits decide to attack or resist arrest.

So please do avoid the “fat officer” cliché. Those of you who’ve attended the Writers’ Police Academy, think back to the uniformed officers you saw there. Did you see any that were overweight? No, you didn’t. Not one. When there were donuts around, did you see any officers lined up to snag one? Nope. In fact, the requests we generally heard from them were for bottled water, salads for lunch, and a healthy choice for dinner, including skipping dessert.

3. Knock, knock. The business of cops and robbers is not a 9-5 job. Unfortunately, murderers don’t choose their time to kill based on what’s convenient for the rest of the world. This means that cops, in the early stages of an investigation, often show up at someone’s front door in the wee hours of the morning. When they do knock at 3 a.m. and Johnny Killer’s mom answers, it’s important that officers develop a rapport with her. It’s also important that cops are quick on their feet, noticing little things around the house—photos, trophies, etc.—that could help to begin a conversation and to put people at ease by talking about something they know and cherish. It places the officer and the killer’s family members on a bit of common ground. So please do avoid having the detective push his way into a house and start shouting, “Where’s Little Pauly? I know he whacked Tony Earwax!”

That sort of tactic rarely ever works. However, there’s a time and place for everything. Just be sure the time in your story matches that of the scenario.

4. Talk, talk, and more talk. Cops, especially detectives, must be the best used car salesman, ditch digger, auto mechanic, florist, circus dung shoveler, and warehouse box stacker in the world. What I mean by that is that investigators absolutely must be able to fit in by walking the walk and talking the talk no matter where they are and to whom they’re speaking. Dialogue is a huge key to solving crimes. Cops have to be able to “BS the BS’ers. So having the ability to carry on a meaningful conversation with anyone and everyone is an extremely important part of the job.

Where writers often fail is by having their fictional investigators use the same manner of speech throughout the book, no matter the setting. Attitudes and personalities among criminals change, even within the same neighborhoods. Culture plays a huge part in demeanor and personality. When those factors change, so should the manner in which the detective carries herself, and how she speaks (or not) to the various people in the story. In other words, when your hero finds herself at a marina she best be talking about the joy of fishing, not that the level of mercury in seafood is slowly killing everyone on the planet.

So, avoid the cop character who’s not a chameleon. They must have the ability to change when change is needed. Remember, they should have the ability to BS the BSer’s. You do know what I mean by BS, right? If not, take time out of your schedule today and have a nice barefoot walk in a pasture occupied by a couple of bulls. You’ll catch on really fast.

5. The “so-called” expert syndrome. Please use caution when seeking an expert to help with the cop facts in your story. If you want readers to open your book and “see” officers and investigators going about their daily activities, then it is an absolute necessity to have someone who’s lived the life answer your questions. Better still, sit back and let them talk. Listen to the little things they have to say—the ripping sound of Velcro when they remove their Kevlar vests, or the smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke, along with the surge of adrenaline felt when wading into a crowded bar to arrest a drug-fueled, angry biker. The feel of your heart slamming against the backside of your breastbone as you search a dark, abandoned warehouse for an armed killer.

These things can only be described by someone who’s actually experienced them. Not someone who’s merely read about it. And especially not when the information is relayed through the family and friend network—“My uncle knows everything about cops because he used to deliver propane to a guy who lived next door to a woman who divorced a man who once played softball on Sunday afternoons with a man who used to live near a police station. Believe me, the stories my uncle can tell. Know what I’m sayin’?”

If you want realism when realism is needed, avoid the “so-called expert syndrome.” Talk to real cops, forensics experts in the field, etc. And for goodness sake, attend the Writers’ Police Academy. It is THE gold standard of hands-on training for writers. By the way, due to a couple of emergency cancellations we do have those spots available!

Remember, though, as important as it is to be absolutely realistic when writing certain scenarios, as long as you can effectively show why and how reality has been suspended, then most readers will forgive and understand why your character did what she did. “It” doesn’t have to be true, the reader just has to believe it is, or that it could be true in the hero’s world. In other words, write believable make believe.

 

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The Day Uneducated Men Fell From the Sky

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Emily, my second cousin and daughter of my first cousin Shelley, was assigned to write a paper about D-Day for history class. Wanting to do her absolute best, Emily set out on a fact-finding mission for the project that included visiting various online sources. I understand she wound up writing a very nice report, but Emily’s narrative incorporated one tiny bit of unexpected and puzzling information.

Obviously, the subject matter surrounding the entire D-Day campaign is of an extremely serious nature because so many troops lost their lives on that day. But, in spite of the gravity of the real-life story, it was that one small tidbit of “information” in her paper that sent her mom into a spell of side-splitting laughter. I’m posting this because as writers we’ve all been in Emily’s shoes at one time or another.

In her detailed summary, Emily covered the overall basics of the invasion by penning facts found in most research sources. Things such as—On June 6, 1944, thousands of troops began the Battle of Normandy. The day, of course, is known as D-Day. The invasion began when Allied troops stormed the beaches in the early morning hours. More than 4,000 troops lost their lives in the invasion with many more wounded. However, approximately 156,000 successfully completed the operation. Within a week, over 325,000 troops were in place along with 50,000 vehicles and 100,000 tons of much-needed equipment.

But my young and well-intentioned second cousin wanted to delve a bit deeper into the incredible accounting of such bravery and intricate battle planning, so she included an unexpected “fact” about the paratroopers who were dropped that day. Later, while proofreading the paper, her mom came to the part about the paratroopers and stopped in her tracks to do a bit of head-scratching. For some reason, she said, the sentence didn’t quite seem to make sense. So she studied it again to be sure she hadn’t misread it. But no, it was what is was.

The line in question in Emily’s intricately-crafted and well-researched paper was, “Thousands of uneducated soldiers were also dropped in order to draw fire and confuse the enemy.”

Shelley asked her daughter to clarify, saying the sentence didn’t make sense and that surely the part about airdropping uneducated men onto the beaches couldn’t possibly be correct. Emily told her the information was solid, but that she re-worded it so as to not plagiarize the material. Shelley then asked her daughter to show her the site from where she’d gotten the material. And then it all came to light. Here’s the material that Emily so studiously transposed to avoid plagiarism, and I’m paraphrasing…

“Thousands of “dummies” were also dropped in order to draw fire and confuse the enemy.”

I can see how the tactic easily confused the Nazis, because the word alone scrambled poor Emily’s thinking. Now, whenever I write something that’s just a wee bit askew of an actual meaning, well, those bloopers will forever be known as “Emily moments.” Sorry, cuz…

(Gee, I hope my sweet, understanding cousin has a good sense of humor because I didn’t tell her what I planned to write).

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Emily

 

 

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