CONGRATS TO PETRA, OUR LUCKY COMMENTER WHO HAS WON AN EBOOK COPY OF FEVER IN THE DARK! LOOK FOR AN EMAIL IN YOUR INBOX, PETRA!
I have to admit, I need to start with the boring bits to get the juicy stuff. Bear with me for just a couple minutes, because it’ll be totally worth it, I promise. So, the Mystery Writer’s of America (MWA) was established in 1945 by Brett Halliday, Anthony Boucher, Lawrence Treat, and Clayton Lawson to celebrate writers of crime fiction.
In 1953, the MWA’s Raven Award was established to celebrate non-writers who contribute to the mystery genre, and in 1955 the MWA Grand Master Award was created to recognize lifetime achievement by crime writers whose body of works were of the highest, most consistent quality. The very first Grand Master Award was given to none other than Agatha Christie herself. Over the years, MWA has bestowed the honor on the best of the bunch, including (in no particular order) Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Daphne du Maurier, Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Elizabeth Peters, Caroline Hart, and so many others.
This year, our very own Ellen Hart was honored (along with Max Allan Collins—there are many years where two Grand Masters are named) with the 2017 Mystery Writer’s of America’s Grand Master Award. This marks the first time an out lesbian author with a lesbian protagonist took home arguably the most revered award in the genre. Personally, not only I was thrilled because I adore Ellen and she absolutely deserved it in general, but specifically because of the perseverance, integrity, and consistency with which she has handled her entire writing career. She’s been a mentor ( I sure as hell would not be where I am today without her support and encouragement) a friend, and an author like no other. So of course I had to share this with all you guys!
I asked Ellen if she’d be willing to answer four questions I concocted about her Grand Master experience, and, by golly, she was graciously game. Did I mention that she was gracious? Oh yeah. SO gracious. Okay. I’m done blathering. Really. On with the goodness!
Jessie : How did you find out you were going to be awarded the MWA Grand Master Award, and what was your reaction?
Ellen: Donna Andrews, the executive VP of Mystery Writers of American emailed me and asked me to call her. Her first question to me when we finally connected was, “Are you sitting down.” Now, when someone asks you that, you figure it’s either really bad or really good news. I told her I was sitting. That’s when she gave me the news—MWA was making me the 2017 Grand Master. I’m sure I didn’t say anything for at least thirty seconds. When I did find my voice, I asked her if they had the right “Hart.” Of course, like so many other crime writers, I’d looked at the Grand Master list over the years and was in awe of these writers. Agatha Christie. Stephen King. P.D. James. Tony Hillerman. Alfred Hitchcock. Mary Higgins Clark. Too many to name here. They were my teachers, my mentors, and had given me hours of pleasure enjoying their works. Never—ever—did I imagine I would be on that list. It still feels surreal.
Jessie: You went to NYC to receive the award at the end of April. There were interviews and panels and talks before the awards ceremony, and you were interviewed by Oline Cogdill. What was that like?
Ellen: Being interviewed by Oline Cogdill (Jessie adds—a 2013 Raven Award winner!!!) was a joy. I’d met her very early in my career when the Fort Lauderdale Public Library in Florida hosted me, as well as RD Zimmerman and a group of LGBT authors, for a wide-ranging panel discussion. Oline, who was the book reviewer for the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel at the time, invited RD and me out to dinner. She was truly wonderful. So engaging, with such a love of mysteries. As an interviewer, she comes prepared. Her questions were probing, fun, and pretty much ran the gamut. I enjoyed every minute. I believe it was filmed, so at some point, I’ll be able to get my hands on the tape.
Jessie: You gave quite the speech when you accepted the Edgar, which is totally awesome, by the way. I haven’t heard it yet, but a few little birdies told me you pulled no punches and told it like it was. Care to share just a taste?
Ellen: Giving that speech, as short as it was, was very important to me. I started by thanking the people who have helped me so much over the years—my editors, agent, St. Martin’s/Minotaur, and of course, my partner of 39 years, Kathy. I told the story about the time I went to the Lambda Literary Awards in Chicago. I was certain J.M Redmann would win. I’d read all the books in the mystery category and thought hers was by far the best. When they called my name, I was stunned. I got up to accept the award and this disembodied voice (Kate Clinton’s) came over the loudspeaker, “Thank your mother.” Everyone laughed. What she couldn’t have known was that my mother had just died. I’m sure I stammered around. I may have thanked my mother, but the night of the Edgar’s banquet, I used my mother—my relationship with her—to make some points. Mom told me once that I was “marching” for gay rights in my books. On the other hand, for years I’d heard from the gay community that my books weren’t gay enough. (You can read into this my decision not to put sex scenes in my novels.) In a way, I felt for years as if I wasn’t pleasing anyone. Except for Kathy and myself. I persevered, writing the books I wanted to read. My mother and I never agreed on much. She was deeply religious. But she did teach me one of the most important life lessons I ever learned. She taught me that ideas are important. Ideas, in fact, rule the world. The one idea I wanted to put center stage in my books was that Jane Lawless, my main character, might be gay, but it was only one part of who she was. And important part, to be sure, but never the totality. I wanted her to live in the largest world possible. Somewhere along the line, I must have done something right. I closed by saying that women today are breaking through the glass ceiling. Not all the time. Not as much as we need to. But it’s happening. MWA gave me the opportunity to break through the lavender ceiling. I’m the first openly lesbian writer to receive the award, and for that, I’m deeply grateful.
See Ellen Give her speech here, with an absolutely amazing intro by my beloved Jean Redmann!
Jessie: Now, Grand Master, what’s next?
Ellen: What’s next? I’m working on the 25th book in the Jane Lawless series, A Whisper of Bones, which should be published in January of 2018. I’m also teaching a class this summer on crime writing at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. I haven’t taught anything for several years because of health reasons, so I’m really looking forward to that.
To celebrate Ellen’s Grand Master win, I’m giving away a free ebook copy of Ellen’s newest Jane Lawless book, FEVER IN THE DARK, to one lucky commenter. I’ll draw for a winner Monday May 15th. GOOD LUCK!