Edgar in a fluff

This entry is in response to a discussion going on over in Sarah Weinman\’e2\’80\’99s excellent Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, regarding the Edgars awards and privacy. Sarah\’e2\’80\’99s remarks were sparked by a DorothyL posting from one of last year\’e2\’80\’99s judges (Tony Fennelly) regarding her strong objections to the book that won, and that led to a discussion of whether or not Ms F. had the right to air her objections in a more or less public forum, and then to the question of whether that year\’e2\’80\’99s other nominees should know what was going on, and then to whether or not the comments (by this time numbering in the fifties) might not get back into a discussion of the topic and not a discussion of the discussion\’e2\’80\’a6 Highly entertaining, all of it, and I won\’e2\’80\’99t mind if you go read it before coming home here. Anyway\’e2\’80\’a6

I was (as careful readers of this blog may remember) chair of one of the other Edgars committees this past year, and was rather taken aback by the whole discussion, mostly because I couldn’t remember anyone telling me to keep mum forever and ever. Since I also chaired it several years ago, and even wrote an article for the late lamented The Armchair Detective on the judging process, you can understand my concern–senior moments lurk over the horizon, but I’d thought I was safe for a while.

But it turns out, to my relief, that the nondisclosure agreement is a new development for 2005. Looking over the MWA guidelines we judges were sent last year, I find the following:

Committee members should use discretion and not comment on the judging process of their committee while they are judges.
Results of interim ballots, plus any discussion among committee members should not be shared outside the committee. No committee member should answer questions or make comments directly to an author, except to confirm receipt of the work. After the balloting, Committee Chairs should impress upon each member the need for absolute secrecy concerning the winner, so that all nominees may enjoy their full two months in the spotlight with their publishers and public.

Note: “While they are judges” And \’e2\’80\’9ctheir full two months.\’e2\’80\’9d The MWA concern here was clearly that the winner not be leaked prematurely, not that the process never, ever be discussed in some Masonic pledge-unto-death. However, now one is sworn to secrecy, so I suppose my long-ago article will be, almost literally, the last word. The last legal word, anyway\’e2\’80\’94although one has to wonder how this new policy of silence will be enforced. Will MWA instigate a yearly Brute Squad? Harlan Coben and Gary Phillips, say, whose job is to stand around the bars in mystery conventions listening for indiscretions, prepared to pick the offending judge up and dunk him or her in the fountain? (You know, I\’e2\’80\’99ll bet that\’e2\’80\’99s ONE committee MWA won\’e2\’80\’99t have trouble filling.)

However, to come back to earth for a moment, what concerns me is this:

A minimum of two rounds of voting is required. [details of the voting process cut here]… When a winner is clear, the Chair should poll the committee to determine that each is, if not happy with the result, at least not actively unhappy. If there is any such instance, the Committee Chair should discuss it with the General Awards Chair who will discuss it with the Executive Vice President, if necessary.

In other words, there is a mechanism in place for lodging objections. I do not know if Ms Fennelly used this option and was overruled, or if she failed to use it. In either case, I would strongly assert that she should have had every right to request that her name simply be removed from the committee and the voting process. Whether it\’e2\’80\’99s an award or a book blurb, a writer must be able to stand by anything with his or her name on it.

However, I beg everyone to keep in mind that, although the Edgar is a tremendous honor among ourselves, that we love the awards ceremony, dutifully read all the nominees, note the award on a book\’e2\’80\’99s cover, and those of us lucky enough to have one count it among the things we would grab first in a fire, an Edgar is not (alas) a guarantee of success in the bigger publishing world, and losing is no condemnation to failure. The truth is, publishers look at the award with a polite but jaundiced eye, and a glance at the list of past winners and nominees is sobering.

I agree that it is impolitic of Ms Fennelly to blurt her objections aloud, but then I was raised in the “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all” school, and the article I did for TAD was cautious about naming names. Maybe that\’e2\’80\’99s why no gag rule was slapped down after it came out? I really must learn to be more disruptive.

Finally, concerning the question of talking to the losers. I personally was overjoyed to hear that my very quirky third book, TO PLAY THE FOOL, was sixth on the list of five back in 1995. Not even a scroll for the wall, but a source of pleasure nonetheless. If that insider\’e2\’80\’99s knowledge comes to me in the future, I suppose I\’e2\’80\’99ll be morally obligated to pick up the ex-judge and look for the nearest fountain.


  1. Anonymous says:

    The link to the page in question is incorrect. It should be: http://www.sarahweinman.com/confessions/2005/05/guess_it_wasnt_.html.

  2. Laurie, thanks for sharing these fascinating insights with us. The bit about ‘enforcement’ was especially wonderful!!

    linda in delaware

  3. Laura Lippman says:

    Laurie, I cited your blog on DorothyL for its thoughtful (but within bounds) discussion of the Edgar process, going back to the way you responded to those who wondered at the list for best first.

    There was, I’m sad to say, the threat of a lawsuit against MWA from a writer who felt the work had been overlooked for reasons that were unfair/biased. The new rules are, in part, a response to that. I don’t think it’s meant to squash confidences such as the one that gave you a boost. I think such confidences may, in fact, continue. But very, very cautiously.

  4. Mary Root says:

    Part of why I found the judge’s complaint to be inappropriate is that it was sent to the list only a few days after the awards were announced and gave away the identity of the killer!

    After the announcement of an award is a prime chance for a novel to gain a wider audience. But if the ending has been publicly spoiled, it will have less of a chance to do so. Ms. Fennelly could have just posted to DorothyL that, although she was on the judge’s panel, she disagreed with the final selection because of its depiction of violence against women. Everyone would have known how she felt, but the novel would have not been harmed.

    As an unpublished writer, I do buy and read the annual award winners. When all the fuss came up on the list, I said to myself “Well, no point in reading that one now.” But then I got angry, (and I do enjoy noir in the Woolrich/Thompson vein) so I went out and got THE CONFESSION.

    Believing that people who like violent entertainment are somehow morally suspect is a topic for another day.

  5. Katherine says:

    I know this is off topic, but I couldn’t let the mention of TO PLAY THE FOOL pass without telling you that I absolutely loved that book.

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