An open thank-you note to Edgars judges
(The nominees for the 2008 Edgar Awards were recently announced. Congratulations to them all!)
Thank you for your incredibly hard work over the past year. Recently, I had the privilege of serving on a Best Novel committee, so I know what the job entails. It is an honor to be asked to participate, and it is an unparallelled opportunity to immerse yourself in the work of the field. I thought of it as a masters class in crime fiction and that proved to be the case.
I don’t need to tell you, it was also a serious amount of work. In some cases, you had to allocate large amounts of space in your home to house the books—on the order of 500+ for Best Novel—and real estate is a consideration that probably didn’t occur to you until the process was already underway. Like me, you probably had to come up with an organizational system so you could find books under discussion, keep track of what titles you had and had not received, and then keep track of your opinions of the work. There’s also the organization of the teams, and the tireless work of the chairs in wrangling the judging process itself. The paperwork, the email, and the books take over your home and your life. Spouses and family members probably spoke longingly of free weekends and reclaiming the dining room at the same moment you were signing for boxes from FedEx, UPS, and DHL, each containing at least 25 books.
It was all in the name of an excellent cause, as you well know. You took on the role as a service to the crime fiction community. You gave up a year of your writing life—probably a bit more, near the end, reading and thinking well into the night—and probably you worked this around a day job, book promotion, private life, and myriad other things. But it’s so very worth it. I got to read widely across nearly every subgenre in crime fiction. I was introduced to authors I didn’t know and needed to. I got to know the folks on my team, who were thoughtful, educated, opinionated, honorable, professional writers, all of whom were dedicated to making our short list of nominees and winner the very best possible. I believed that acting as a judge is partial payback for the support I’ve received from the mystery community and an opportunity to make MWA stronger in its representation of us, our work, and our readers.
I’ll bet that inevitably, when discussion of the books came up, individual tastes came into play. So did the determination of what “mystery” and even “novel” means. But in my experience, and from what I’ve heard from my friends who also served, most personal differences are set aside and civil—not to say cool—discussions followed. These were not simple, easy choices we made. It is not an easy thing to love a book that others don’t care for. You wish you could have a short list of ten, twenty, fifty, and still there would be excellent books left unmentioned.
And always, always, it seems there will come a perfect storm of dissatisfaction after every nomination announcement. Personal favorites were left off the list. Popular books were left out. Bestsellers were left off or over-represented. One genre or gender was ignored or favored and when politics comes into the discussion, spitting and hissing ensues. Yes, there are biases at the cultural and industry level; that may be why you signed on, to consider and try to think past it. Lots of folks, in the sturm und drang after the nominations are announced, remind us to congratulate the nominees. A few might remember what the judges try to do, so fairly, in such a complex situation.
Last year, there were three women nominated, and three men. Americans and Europeans. Their books had contemporary and historical settings and were written in styles ranging from the traditional to the gritty to the political. They were all excellent mysteries and wonderfully written. You’d think that this would be about the most balanced mix you could hope for, right?
I think so. But people still kvetched. And people will kvetch every year. That’s fine, kvetch away. Some years I don’t know the nominees, sometimes I don’t agree with the choices, sometimes I ADORE them. But I know, every year, that the Edgars judges work their butts off, juggling their personal preferences with their opinions as writers and readers (for we were all readers and lovers of mysteries, first) while trying to listen hard to the arguments of the rest of the committee. Taste, opinions, rules. It’s not an easy path to navigate.
So please allow me to thank you for taking the time to do this work. And to thank the MWA Board and Committees who try, every year, to keep the faith and honor the best work in the community.