Terrill Lee Lankford, my favorite irritable writer pal (my nickname for him, due to the twisted brand of advice he offers, is Uncle Evil), wrote the account below of our nearly doomed outing to the Southern California Booksellers Association award banquet. He was nominated for his latest, EARTHQUAKE WEATHER - a great, highly irreverent take on Hollywood.
As for our clown-car scene, when six of us were crammed in my tiny car, Kim-From-LA's legs-from-LA sticking out the window and Jeff Parker shaking his head with amusement, well, Terrill was good enough to hop out and take some photos. So if you're good and write him, maybe he'll post them on his site.
TROUBLE AT THE POLLS
by Terrill Lee Lankford
In the most stunning upset since last Tuesday, Edward Wright ran off with the Southern California Booksellers Association prize for Best Mystery of 2004 for his novel WHILE I DISAPPEAR at the gala awards event thrown down in Long Beach Saturday Night. Paula Woods, Denise Hamilton, Jacqueline Winspear and I had to console ourselves with good company and lots of drinks. I had my speech all prepared - and I got to use it. It went like this: "It was an honor just to be nominated." I've been practicing that speech since I found out my book had been selected as a nominee back in August. It was rolling off the tongue very easily after three months of practice.
You may be wondering how the SCBA knows what the Best Mystery of 2004 is when we're still in November, so I'll tell you a bit about how it works. The nominations come in from all the members of the SCBA - independent booksellers in Southern California - and the time frame is actually for books released between July 1 of 2003 and June 30, 2004. So all the books released after July 1, 2004 will qualify for best of 2005. I'm not sure why they do this other than the fact that they've traditionally held their big dinners in November (maybe they are beating all the other award ceremonies to the punch as well). Once the votes are in, they whittle the pack down to five books in each category and a committee of three jurors renders the final decision as to the winner.
The SCBA also votes on the best non-mystery novel of the year (they call it "fiction"), best non-fiction book of the year, and best children's book of the year. Among others joining the four of us in the loser's circle this year were Steve Martin and Julie Andrews. That's more good company.
The party this year was held at the Long Beach Aquarium, which was very cool. We were like television for the fish. More than three hundred people were in attendance - booksellers, authors, publishers, vendors. A three-course meal was provided and during each course the fifty or so authors in attendance rotated tables and got to know some of the people who keep us employed. After the shindig, everyone got a big bag of books to take home with them. Public humiliation was never so much fun.
But seriously, congratulations to Edward Wright, he's a great guy and a terrific writer. The prize was well earned. And many thanks to the members of the SCBA. It truly WAS an honor to be nominated.
EVEN MORE TROUBLE GOING HOME
My girlfriend Heidi and our friend Sandra accompanied me to the ceremony. Gregg Hurwitz (whose most recent bestseller is THE PROGRAM) called and wanted to ride down with us. We met him at his place and decided to take his car because it was larger than ours (I think he's got envy issues). After the ceremony our friend Kim Dower - the publicist more widely known as Kim-From-L.A. - needed a ride back to town because her rented car wasn't due to arrive for more than an hour (Kim doesn't drive on the freeways - but that's another strange story for another day). T. Jefferson Parker also needed a ride to his hotel. So we packed six people and six giant bags of books into the car and hit the road. We passed a cop on the way and instead of ticketing us he just shook his head in awe of the fact that some people never grow up. We looked like a bunch of wrinkled teenagers going to the drive-in in 1959.
After we dropped Jeff off there was slightly more room in the vehicle, but things were still tight for the hour long ride to L.A. Kim lives in the heart of the city so we had to perform a major detour to drop her off. And this is where things get weird. We're cutting up Fairfax at about midnight and all of a sudden we hear sirens behind us. Helicopters are also arriving on the scene, spotlights shining down on us. Hurwitz pulls his car halfway out of the fast lane (I later asked him if this was what he considered the "author's lane") and all of a sudden a vehicle on three wheels and a sparking rim flamed past us going about sixty, barely under control. It missed the side of our car by less than five inches. Fifteen police cars then ripped past us in hot pursuit. The guy tried to make a left turn about three blocks up and he crashed out at the corner. By the time we got there cops were everywhere, guns drawn and ready to rumble. More police cars were coming in from every direction.
Due to the late hour, the event was not on the news when we got home and I'm still not sure of the details - who the driver was, why he was running, how he got the flat tire (spike strip or bad maintenance?), and what happened to him after we cruised by, staring at his car like angry raccoons. All I know is, if that car had slammed into us it would have taken the police a long time to realize that the guy had not blown up a library.
See you next week!