Monday, March 19, 2007

Thriller Awards, Part 2

I received an email from author Rob Walker regarding the Thriller Award nominations. He expressed some comments and questions that I think others might have as well, so with his permission, I'm posting our exchange.

>>> --- Rob Walker wrote:---
Not to be totally cynical but after the Mystery Writers of America named Stephen King their guy this year for lifetime achievement, now the ThrillerFest authorities decide James Patterson is due a lifetime award for the Thriller...None of these organizations are playing tiddly-winks with name recognition now are they? Tell me, do you think the awards have to go to American authors who've consistently hit the bestseller list? Is it possible that this is a great way to get publicity for the MWA and the ITW? Does it have to do with output--number of books published? Or number of books sold? Or is there a scarcity of truly good authors known to the typical man on the street--not a household name, so we pass on sayFrederick Forsythe for a James Patterson? Just curious.

Rob Walker>>>

My response:

First of all, I think Stephen King is one of the greatest American writers, a master storyteller and while I wouldn't classify the majority of his books as mysteries, there are enough for him to qualify. Does that help MWA get more publicity? You betcha. Is there something wrong with that? Nope. Does King not only write amazing stories but also support new authors? Yep. All in all, I totally support the MWA's choice.

As for the ITW, their ThrillerMaster award states it goes to an author who has a body of work spanning at least two decades, and while I wouldn't swear to it,I'm pretty sure the author has to be a member of the organization, which leaves out a lot of people, including Forsyth.

Furthermore, for years and years there has been a stigma attached to genre writers, and thriller writers have been one rung below even that, a subgenre, if you will, that many authors don't want to be associated with - of course, a lot of that feeling has changed since Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code stayed on that bestseller list for more than two years.

So, is Patterson a great thriller writer? Well, that depends on your perspective. He may not be what I would consider a great writer (have you read Patrick Anderson's book, [The Triumph of the Thriller: HowCops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured PopularFiction]? In my opinion, he condenses everything that's wrong with Patterson's writing into a short paragraph, it's brilliant.) But, that said, you can't argue with the millions of people who love his books, line up to buy his books every THREE months, and yes, have kept him on the bestseller list for a long time now.

Personally, I've enjoyed several of Patterson's books but I accept them for what they are - he's a good storyteller, no one can pace a book better or faster than he can with those ridiculous two page chapters, and enough character development, especially over the course of a series, to make the reader care. Does he support lesser known authors? Hell yes, they are writing his damn books for him and their names are front and center. And are you familiar with his PageTurner Awards? The man gives back.

Finally, Patterson has done more for the thriller genre than just about any other author except maybe Dan Brown - the bestseller lists are peppered with thrillers in large part because of Patterson. So all in all, I cannot argue with this choice for Thriller Master. And yes, I do think that these type awards do need to go to authors that consistently hit the bestseller list. Despite what you may think, popularity does count, especially in a lifetime achievement award. You don't get a career that spans a lifetime if you're not popular, it's that simple. If no one is reading your books except a small, diehard fan base, then no, you don't deserve this award.

I think Forsyth would be an excellent choice for this award and who knows, maybe someday he'll decide he is a thriller writer and join the organization. Or maybe they will offer him the award and then he'll join. There are a lot of very fine writers writing thrillers and this is only the second year of this organization and its awards, so I don't think it is fair to jump all over their choice when they pick someone who is obviously one of the most popular and most successful writers in that genre. In fact, to dismiss him because a lot of people don't like his writing would be doing a disservice to the genre and its fans. Yes, there will be more publicity for ITW because of their choice, but what on earth is wrong with a new organization getting some publicity?

I thank you for bringing these questions to me. I think a lot of people may be wondering about the same things you are.

Follow up from Rob Walker:

>>>Thanks for your thoughtful response and you covered all the bases well. I frankly in the end just would like to see an award for Excellence in writing, not Popularity in reading, I suppose.

Still, in my world, writing is an art not a souffle. When editors in New York are dictating to authors to write snippets instead of scenes and chapters, or to write a DaVinci Code type book, this bugs an artist. Most real artists rebel against the mainstream while still trying to be commercial and to get fed.>>>

My response:

I know that writing is an art, and most artists need to write to their muse, not to their editors. But the excellence in writing awards are out there, isn't that what the Best Novel, Best First Novel, and Best Paperback Original categories are for?

I was referring to the lifetime achievement type awards that, in my mind, require popularity as one of the components to that type of award. And it doesn't eschew excellence in writing either, it's just a completely subjective thing to judge.

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