Friday, December 12, 2008

What Have You Done for Me Lately? by Jess Lourey

I have just been elected to the national board of the Mystery Writers of America (MWA). Thank you to all of you who voted for me, even if you just checked the box next to my name because there were only as many candidates as there were spots.

mwa Harlan Coben is the current president, and other board members include mystery-writing greats like Lee Child and Reed Farrel Coleman. They're flying us all out to New York in January to rub elbows (lay money on me making an ass of myself) and get oriented.

I don't know what crazy series of events led to my nomination for this position, but now that I'm in, I feel obligated to represent what I know: the small press mystery writers, independent bookstores, and cozy/soft-boiled readers out there. To those of you in those categories, I ask you:

What do you want MWA to do for you? It's a huge organization with some big guns in it, originally founded by amazing mystery writers in 1945 who believed that "Murder doesn't pay--enough" (here's a slightly more detailed history). MWA has brought recognition and respect to the field over the years, but now when I hear mystery writers mention the organization, it's only as a line in their bio. It doesn't have to be that way. Here are some points I'd like to see addressed:

  • Could MWA have more visibility in schools and/or bring mystery reading program to at-risk/low reading score schools? MWA Reads is a wonderful program that's grown dusty; would it be worth it to revive to help promote all the great YA mystery authors out there?mwa_logo
  • Genre diversity. Edgar-nominated novels, while all amazing, are almost without exception dark, urban, and gritty works that feature heterosexual male protagonists. Is it time to broaden what the MWA/standard-bearer considers a great mystery? Can it be soft-boiled or a cozy, take place in a small town, or feature a gay and/or female and/or supernatural protagonist? Or maybe, how are the judges chosen (besides based on their heroic commitment to the field) and what are their guidelines? I don't know the answer, but this is a conversation that I'd like to enter at the national level.
  • How can we link MWA up more actively with book clubs? Create a list of books, organized by sub-genre, that have discussion questions included and whose authors are available for teleconferences, free of charge? Get the list to box stores, independents, libraries, and book club sites?
  • I found this on the MWA website: "MWA also works to educate writers and those who aspire to write regarding their rights and interests, and to make writers and readers aware of matters which may affect crime writing through legislation, publishing industry practices, judicial decisions, or in other ways. " How do we help published writers get better contracts, represent a united front to publishers, get more film and TV options? Is this something we need to pursue more actively?
  • What about health care for members? This came up in the past. Should it be revisited?
  • Recently, the guidelines as to who can be considered an active member (or a published author) were updated, eliminating a wave of small press authors. Should that decision be revisited, and if so, why?

questionsAre any of the above issues important to you? Do you have others that aren't listed up there that I should bring to the board? What would your ideal mystery-writing organization do for you and for the community? If you aren't a member of MWA, why is that? Please start a lively discussion that I can take to NYC, or, if you'd rather your comments remain anonymous, email me at, and I'll forget where I heard them.

p.s. One thing everyone who knows anything about MWA agrees on--Margery Flax does a fantastic job as coordinator/supporter of the organization.


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Congratulations, Jess!

I'm up for all of your bullet points, especially the genre diversity.

And more representation and respect for the smaller presses.

Go get 'em!

Jess Lourey said...

Thanks, Sue Ann! I wonder about the genre diversity. What sorts of universal guidelines does one use to judge the quality of a mystery novel and to distinguish a really good one from a great one?

G.M. Malliet said...

Congrats, Jess. So proud of you.

Could they split the awards categories into two types and give an award for each type? Let each type compete against its own kind? It's the only way a soft-boiled is going to stand much of a chance.

Deb Baker said...

Congrats, Jess. I can tell from your thought-provoking ideas exactly why you were chosen. Genre diversification is a huge issue with all of us who don't write dark and heavy. Categories would work.

Jess Lourey said...

I like the suggestion of categories a lot. I wonder why it isn't done? I'll ask when I get there. Thank you, ladies!

jbstanley said...

Congrats! You got my vote, lady!