May 3rd, 2011

Edgar Gala! (And I can't just say a little, I have to tell you EVERYTHING!)

Did I really title that last post “highlights of the month?” That’s interesting because the real highlight of the month hadn’t even happened yet.

The Edgar Awards banquet was last Thursday, April 28. At one point my husband, two sons, and even my mother all thought they wanted to come to New York and attend the gala with me. But one by one they started to drop out.

First was my oldest son. He lives in Seattle, and he knew that the end of April was going to be a busy time at work. It was also a lot of money for him to fly clear across the country to spend maybe two days with us. It wasn't like I actually expected to it was fine when he ultimately decided not to come.

I was the one who talked my mother out of making the trip...because I didn't want to have to see a look of disappointment on her face when the winner turned out to be someone other than me. I really was happy just getting to that gala in the first place. I wanted to enjoy the evening with no pressure, no expectation of actually winning.

Then came the teenager. He knew he was giving up a chance to attend the National robotics competition with the West High robotics team to come with us, and he knew he was giving that up right from the start. Coming with us was his idea, not mine. Then a week before the trip he found out that the other programmer on the robotics team suddenly couldn't go to the competition...which meant the team wouldn't have a programmer unless my teenager changed his mind. He was torn. He wanted to go to New York; he wanted to go to the robotics competition. In the end, he decided to go to the robotics competition.

That left just me and my husband...and Margaret, from Albert Whitman & Co.

Okay, so everyone wants to see The Dress. People who know me know it's a BIG DEAL when I put on a dress. I'm lucky to have a fashion conscious friend (hi, Laura!). Laura went shopping with me and first tried to outfit me with a black suit and shawl combo...because she knows I don't do dresses and she wanted me to be comfortable. I did end up buying the suit because it will come in handy for future things I need to dress up for (Laura says it's "very New York")...but I wasn't sure it was really "black tie" worthy. So I tried on a bunch of dresses. It was the best shopping experience I've ever had; I just hung out in the dressing room and Laura brought me all kinds of stuff (I have NO idea where she even found some of this stuff or how/why she put it together). Unfortunately, NOTHING (except the suit!) I tried on looked or felt good... until I showed her a dress I already had. I'd bought it for a cruise to Alaska my husband and I took for our 20th anniversary five years ago. Laura draped the shawl/scarfy thing that she picked out for the suit over my shoulders and we both agreed: this was The Dress. (Sorry I don't have a full length shot of it...and no shot of the shoes, either. Some of us just don't think about stuff like that...)

BTW, much as I HATE to dress up, I sure do enjoy seeing my husband in a tux:

There was a reception for all the nominees and their guests before the dinner and awards ceremony. But the term "guest" did not apply to any publisher representatives. So Margaret couldn't come in with us.

The Edgars reception is NOTHING like a Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators reception. I felt SO out of my league. There were famous mystery authors there...people I've admired for years. I saw Harlan Coben's name on a name tag and just stared at him and tried to process the idea that I was in the same room with him. Then Sara Paretsky walked by. (BTW, she was born in Iowa...if I'd been just a little bit bolder, I could've said to her, "Hey, I'm from Iowa!" and maybe we would've had a conversation!)

I did eventually work up the courage to talk to a guy who was standing by himself. He wore both a Nominee AND a Judge ribbon. That was Doug Allyn (and later on he won the Edgar for best short story) and he kept offering to introduce me to "someone famous." LOL! After I spoke to one person there, it got easier to talk to a few more people. About the time I was starting to feel a little bit comfortable around all these people, it was time for group photos. They called us up by category to get our pictures taken with our fellow nominees. Here are all the juvenile nominees:

(From left to right that's Jim Krieg (author of Griff Carver, Hallway Patrol), Ben H. Winters (author of The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, me, Lewis Buzbee (author of The Haunting of Charles Dickens, and T.R. Simon and Victoria Bond (authors of Zora and Me) And yes, I read all their books...I always read all the Edgar nominees in both the juvenile and YA categories. In fact, for the last several years, I've even reviewed them in my newspaper column.

After the group photos, it was time to go in to the ballroom for dinner. It was a relatively dark room. And big! Not as big as the Newbery/Caldecott banquet, but big. There was a stage in the center and large screens at either end of the room.

Dinner was wild mushroom bisque en croute, filet mignon with cabernet shallot butter and madiera sauce, garlic whipped potatoes, vegetables and rolls. My dessert plate had three different desserts on it: a "mini chocolate purse," (translation: chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate), a key lime pie bar, and a "mini chocolate tulip filled with fresh berries and creme anglais" (translation: the best thing on the plate! And that's really saying something.). This was sitting in the center of the table (and now that white chocolate square with Edgar's face on it is sitting on my desk!):

I did manage to eat most of my dinner, but not all of it. Because I just couldn't believe I was really there! They flashed previous Edgar award winners on the large screens throughout the dinner, which reminded me what a long tradition the Edgar awards have. Did you know there was originally a category for Best Radio Drama?

Laura Lippman, the previous Mystery Writers of America president, spoke briefly...then the new president, Lisa Scottoline spoke. And then it was time for the awards.

The Best Juvenile was the fifth award of the evening. Adam Meyer was the one who presented it. I'd met him earlier in the evening and he told me he'd really enjoyed my book. I didn't realize then that that nice man was one of the judges. Or the person who would present the award. Or the author of The Last Domino, which I'd just heard about a few weeks ago (it deals with bullying...and a friend told me I needed to read it, so it's on my stack of books to read).

Adam began by holding up Edgar, which was in two pieces. Somehow that particular statue, the one that was going to go to the Juvenile winner, had gotten broken on the way to the ceremony or during the ceremony. No one was really sure how or when it had happened. It was a mystery!

My husband reached for my hand as the nominees were read and their books flashed on the big screens. I remember thinking I really wanted to stand up and take a picture of those books on the screen, but no one else was taking pictures of the screens...and then I would've had to let go of my husband's hand. Not that I needed him to hold my hand...I wasn't nervous.

Not until Adam announced the winner...

I was shocked! I was so shocked that I just sat there. I was sure I'd heard it wrong. But people were clapping...and no one else was walking up to the stage. So I went to claim my statue (both pieces!)...and on the way to the stage I realized I was going to have to say something when I got up there. And people like Harlan Coben and Mary Higgins Clark would be listening.

My husband had asked me several times before the ceremony whether I'd prepared any sort of acceptance speech...and of course I hadn't. I was too busy with school visits this past month to even think about anything like that. There was no time to prepare for a short speech I was unlikely to have to give.

So the first thing out of my mouth when I got up there was, "Four years of Toastmasters has not prepared me for a moment like this." Which is the absolute truth! But then I took a deep breath and told myself, "this is just table topics at Toastmasters." In fact, my acceptance speech was supposed to be about as long as a typical table topics response. So I pretended I was back at Old Capitol and the question I've been asked is what do you say when you're presented with an award you've dreamed of winning since you were fourteen?

And then I blathered on about the day I first discovered what an Edgar award was. (Yes, I actually remember that day.) I was checking out the "New" shelves in the brand new young adult section (I loved thinking of myself as a "young adult" at age 14) of the Martin County Library in Fairmont, Minnesota, and I came across a book called The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore by Joan Lowery Nixon. The book caught my eye because it had a seal on the front that said Edgar Allan Poe award winner. I figured that meant it would be a pretty good book...and it was! I loved that book. I read it several times before I returned it to the library. I remember thinking, "THIS is the kind of book I want to write one day." And I dreamed of growing up and publishing a book of my own that would say Edgar winner on it.

I also thanked the Mystery Writers of America for this incredible honor, my publisher for taking a chance on a brand new series, and my husband for supporting me and believing in me all these years.

I went down the stairs and had an official picture taken. And until I actually saw this picture last night, I had no idea whether anyone else was actually in it with me (it turns out Adam was on the picture with me!); I just knew one had been taken. I was so in my own little world at that moment...and my entire body was trembling...and I was afraid I was going to drop that statue and break it into a few more pieces.

Someone from Mystery Writers of America asked me if I wanted to take the broken statue or did I want them to send me a new one, which surprised me a little. Would anyone actually prefer the broken statue? So I went back to my table with just my envelope (no statue)...

...and I hugged my husband...and I think I hugged Margaret, too. Margaret wanted to know where my statue was, so I explained that I was offered a choice between the broken statue now or a new one later and I chose the new one later. Margaret told me it wasn't an either/or; I should go back and get the broken statue now, so I'd have something tonight, and then Nice Marketing Lady would call in the morning to make sure I also got a new statue...

Despite the fact that I'd previously warned my husband I did not want to see that cell phone of his out during the ceremony AT ALL, I made him get it out so he could text the kids (because I hadn't brought my cell room in the clutch purse (why do women carry these things anyway? Either carry a bag or don't carry a bag...a "clutch" is NOT a bag))...

...and I couldn't tell you anything that happened after that (except Charlie Price won the Best Young Adult Edgar for The Interrogation of Gabriel James...Charlie was actually at my table, too!) until I heard the Typewriter Song begin to play. That was the moment it suddenly felt real. I LOVE the Typewriter Song...I have a group I dance with every Sunday night, and for some reason we almost always dance to the Typewriter Song. Those women and that song always make me smile...but hearing that song in that ballroom...and then seeing this tribute to Sara Paretsky, who was about to claim the Grandmaster award, flash across the screen, I suddenly tuned back in to what was going on. And I realized I HAD JUST WON AN EDGAR AWARD. It really was one of the happiest moments of my life.

And here I am at the end of the evening...with all the winners:

That's Lisa Scottoline to my right...and Sara Paretsky just to my left. I actually engaged in conversation with both of them. For just a second, they both knew who I was!

And here's a picture of all the nominees (taken during the reception before the ceremony):

There were a bunch of books in the lobby...normally when I go to conventions I don't have my husband with me, so I take as many books/ARCs as I think I can carry. But this time my husband was there to remind me how little shelf space we have left (which, as far as I'm concerned, is the BIGGEST advantage to e-readers), so I restrained myself. Some.

And then I called Nice Marketing Lady. I really wanted to hear her voice before the evening was over...and congratulate her, too, because she's worked tirelessly for me since the day I met her. Probably even before that. She and all the wonderful people at Albert Whitman helped make The Buddy Files what it is. This award belongs to them just as much as it belongs to me (but I'M keeping it! Sorry, Albert Whitman & Co....).

I didn't really want to take a cab back to the hotel. Who needed actual transportation on a night like that? I figured we'd just sort of float down Lexington Avenue. But before we left, my husband asked me if I was sure I didn't want to go back and mingle with the people in the lobby...maybe talk to some of the people I didn't have the courage to approach before?

I looked over and saw Harlan Coben was there...and then I didn't think, I just walked...I walked right over to him with no idea what I might say when I got there. Fortunately, he spoke first. He congratulated me...and then I realized, wait a minute; he's not holding a statue! He didn't win in his category. I felt a little funny about that, but we had a nice chat anyway...and he even posed for a picture with me:

His wife told me that she'd accidentally broken his statue when she was dusting, and MWA replaced it. So that made me feel better about getting a new statue myself.

It was a really amazing night...the fourth best of my life (after my wedding and the births of my children).

When we got back to the hotel and I checked my e-mail, I was surprised to see how many of my friends already knew! Which brings me to the secret to how I may have won...

Remember I said I didn't have room in the clutch purse for my phone? There was only room for three items in that clutch...a camera, a comb, and my good luck charm (given to me the day after the nominees were announced...thanks, Katherine!). I definitely made the right choice bringing this to the gala and leaving the cell phone back at the hotel:

(Photos 1, 3, 10, 15, and 16 courtesy of Matt Peyton Photography in New York.)