Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Was There Sufficient Planning Here?

Like most people who had the privilege of sending in nominations for this year’s Anthony Awards--which are to be given out in early October during the Raleigh, North Carolina, Bouchercon--I was curious to see which authors and works had actually gathered enough support to make it onto the ballot. (All of the many folks who attended Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach or have registered for the Raleigh event were eligible to participate in this selection process.) A few of my favorites have earned finalist distinction, among them Laura Lippman’s After I’m Gone and Ben H. Winters’ World of Trouble. I was surprised not to also see editor Otto Penzler’s The Best American Mystery Stories of the 19th Century earn a spot in the Best Anthology or Collection category, but hey, you can’t have everything, right?

And then we come to the Best Critical or Non-fiction Work category. It features four books … and a single blog: Dru’s Book Musings, which is penned by a woman named Dru Ann Love. I confess that until earlier today, I hadn’t heard of Dru’s Book Musings, but it is a fairly active book review site with a history dating back at least to July 2008.

I remember when the Bouchercon folks first announced, in late February, that they were e-mailing around Anthony Award ballots. There was some discussion online (in Facebook and elsewhere) about this year’s unusual wording of the requirements for entries in the Best Critical or Non-fiction Work category:
4. Please list up to 5 books in the Best Critical or Non-fiction Book or Body of Work Category in no particular order. This may include any non-fiction work in the mystery genre, along with any body of work not necessarily combined in a single bound volume, such as book reviews, newspaper columns, etc.
That introduction left open the possibility that someone could be nominated in what is usually thought of as a books category, for having produced something other than a book. Maybe a series of author interviews in a print periodical. Or even a blog or Web site. Since the proliferation of crime- and mystery-fiction sites on the Internet, there have been intervallic efforts to honor them with a separate Anthony Award, and such commendations were dispensed at the 2010 Bouchercon in San Francisco and the 2011 convention in St. Louis (on both occasions, won by the online resource Stop, You’re Killing Me!). But in more recent years, the idea seems to have died away.

Now, though, a back door seems to have been thrown open, allowing such endeavors to compete for their share of Anthonys.

Shortly after the 2015 award ballots started going out, I dashed off an e-note to Bouchercon board member-at-large John Purcell, asking whether such an expansion of the category of Best Critical or Non-fiction Work had been intentional. His response:
Technically it just says in the [Bouchercon] Standing Rules that we have to give the Award in at least 5 categories, one of which is for “Best Critical Non-fiction Work.” It doesn’t define what that is, but it also doesn’t use the word “book.” In discussion with a Board member when I was preparing this [ballot], he pointed out that a body of work, like newspaper columns or reviews, or something similar, could be considered for the award, as long as it was mystery/crime fiction related, it’s critical in scope, and it was published in 2014.

We’ve had awards in the past for Web sites and blogs, but I think if this is properly considered, we’re looking at the writing, and not the space the writing occurs in, if that makes sense. A body of critical non-fiction doesn’t have to be bound between the covers of a book.

This is kind of new, but I thought I’d write it up to encompass that type of work. In the past there seemed to be far less contenders, limited to published books, and maybe this will open that up a bit. But I don’t want to exclude serious critical books either.

Hope I didn’t stick my neck on the chopping block …
Well, John, you probably don’t have to worry that you’ll lose your head over this matter, but the case could certainly be made that Bouchercon 2015 organizers didn’t do enough to make clear that this category of Anthony Award nominees had been altered in a significant fashion. Had such an explanation been delivered, had Bouchercon-goers been explicitly invited to nominate blogs or other Web pages, Dru’s Book Musings might not be the only such site appearing under the heading of Best Critical or Non-fiction Work this year.

We’ll have to wait until October to see how all of this shakes out.

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