Friday's Forgotten Books - The Edgar Winners - In Reference to Murder

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February 18, 2011


Todd Mason

It's a fine book, and it was a surprise that MWA didn't get around to doing this this way until this volume.

Though David Ely, particularly, was a well-known writer...mostly of best-selling suspense novels and slick magazine suspense stories, many adapted for for film (such as SECONDS, borderline sf) and television (the typically not too swift NIGHT GALLERY adaptation of his "The Academy"). He's kind of in the same niche as Richard Condon, William Sambrot, and a slew of others...Ira Levin was probably the most consistently successful of guys in this class.

William O'Farrell had a fairly film-oriented career, iinm. Though I think you're right about the paucity of Warner Law's other work...a handful of memorable stories such as "Little Foxes Sleep Warm" and then silence. Margery Finn Brown seems to have had a writing career rather peripheral to crime fiction, or fiction generally...

Todd Mason

Hm. "Many" Ely adaptations is overstating it; though several more were optioned for film, at least, IMDb only lists these two.

BV Lawson

I've heard many an author discuss the after-effects of winning a major award like an Edgar, with most saying it didn't necessarily translate into bigger sales or better name recognition. It's a little sad to see folks win these awards and then drop off the radar; there's too much unfulfilled promise in the world as it is.

Todd Mason

Well, in these cases, the folks weren't on your radar in large part because they were mostly flying in other airspace altogether (to distend the metaphor!)...though I'm surprised you hadn't come across Ely. I don't think the award had much to do with it at all, in any of these cases, though I would be interested in why Warner Law seemed to quite writing so quickly (though Barry Malzberg has noted to me more than once those who did indeed decide they could express themselves creatively in some other arena after hearing extended silence after an awards or similar splash).

BV Lawson

Ely is certainly a success in his own right, and by that token, I probably shouldn't have included him in the less-well-known category. However, my thoughts were more along the lines of folks whose success is *mostly* in the crime-fiction realm, and most people classify Ely in the "literary" vein (I dislike that term, by the way, preferring general fiction); Harlan Ellison won an Edgar for a short story, too! Definitely a successful author, albeit mostly in scifi. A look at Ely's published short stories, however, do indicate he wrote more of them as crime fiction. At any rate, I'm sure his Edgar was well-deserved. The borders between "genre" and "non-genre" continue slip and meld together as the years progress.

Patti Abbott

I doubt a short story writer gets as much bounce from an Edgar as a novel writer, but it still must be nice.

BV Lawson

Probably more of a bounce toward an agent if they go looking to sell a novel, I'd imagine; or, including the "Edgar award-winning" author so-and-so in the credits for an anthology might help sell more copies. Or not! This business is very unpredictable sometimes.

Todd Mason

Well, of course, a career such as David Ely's (or William Harrison's, or Jack Finney's) always meant the boundaries between "genre" and "non-genre" were pointlessly artificial at best, pernicious more often. You may not know how much I agree with you that "literary" and "mainstream" are other artificial/pernicious terms (I tend to refer to contemporary mimetic fiction in this fashion, when that's what's meant, and bestsellers as bestsellers, as far as those measures can be determined given all the industry obfuscation over the decades). But Ely, who wrote a lot of borderline sf (please, rather than "sci-fi"), simply didn't write much for the cf magazines, hence wasn't too much cloven to by the CF community...he wrote for the PLAYBOYs and COSMOs instead...and one shouldn't assume that the short story writer necessarily wants to be a novelist, at least not primarily, though of course it's been tougher for a while to be a commercial success that way, at least since the collapse of the big markets for short fiction (SEP, COLLIER'S, etc.) throughout the '50s and '60s...Algis Budrys is another Edgarist whose work mostly is sf, rather than being an "amphibian" such as Avram Davidson, Fredric Brown, Miriam Allen deFord, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Kate Wilhelm, et al. While Ellison has published a lot more fantasy (and some of it criminous) than sf, he's certainly another example.

BV Lawson

All good points, Todd! Thanks very much for the notes and added details. (Do you have an eidetic memory, perhaps? Something I wished for, but the gene passed me by.) As always, your encyclopedia knowledge is much appreciated.

Todd Mason

No, a very porous memory, alas...but what's important to me sometimes sticks...

BV Lawson

As someone who has battled a Swiss-cheese memory all her life, I'm amazed by anyone who can recall as much information as you, Todd! I know it's easy to look things up in this digital age, but I'd much rather have it lodged permanently in the little human gray cells.

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