Edgar Award: “English 398: Fiction Workshop”

I’ll admit to a bit of superstitiousness at times. For the couple of weeks leading up to the Edgar Awards Banquet, I’ve been having an evening cocktail from an Edgar Allan Poe glass that was sent to me by my friends Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kiernan soon after this year’s Edgar finalists were announced—and that cocktail has sometimes been a couple of ounces of Fortunato’s Fate, a rye whiskey (from Philadelphia’s New Liberty Distilling) that takes its name from Poe’s story “The Cask of Amontillado.”

I don’t actually believe that there’s a connection between my evening cocktail and my news here—call it a theme instead of pure superstition—but for the picture here at least, it’s a pleasure to bring together my last glass of Fortunato’s Fate and this year’s Edgar Award for Best Short Story.

I was stunned and thrilled and honored—in equal measure—that my story “English 398: Fiction Workshop” won this year’s Edgar Award in the short story category. The story was in fine company, with short fiction by Paul Doiron, John Lutz, Val McDermid, and Lisa Unger—such a distinguished group of writers and stories with such a wide range of styles and structures that I felt fortunate simply to be listed alongside them. And I was so pleased to be celebrating the evening at the Dell Magazines tables—my wife Tara Laskowski and me invited there by Janet Hutchings, our editor at Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, who accepted and published my story in the magazine’s July/August 2018 issue. Joining us at the tables were Linda Landrigan, editor of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and the winner of this year’s Ellery Queen Award; Jackie Sherbow, associate editor for both AHMM and EQMM; and a distinguished group of short story writers, ranging from veteran masters Doug Allyn, David Dean, and Josh Pachter, to some of my favorite peers, Deborah Lacy and Terrie Farley Moran, to a pair of stellar first-time writers, Stacy Bella Woodson (winner of this year’s EQMM Readers Poll for her story “Duty, Honor, Hammett”) and Nancy Novick (recipient of the Robert L. Fish Award for her story “How Does He Die This Time?”).

Finding myself on a fine slate of nominees, finding myself seated amidst a tremendous amount of talent, and then being named a winner alongside Martin Cruz Smith, Walter Mosley, Sara Paretsky, Alison Gaylin, Leslie Klinger, Sujata Massey, and so many others—well, all of it was occasion for one final toast once we got home. And thus the picture here.

Thanks to everyone who reached out before and after the awards ceremony with encouragement, support, and congratulations. Thanks too to Mystery Writers of America, and especially to Margery Flax, for what was ultimately a magical evening. And congratulations in turn to my fellow winners and to all of this year’s finalists.

Finally, for those who weren’t there or missed the livestream online, below is the acceptance speech I wrote—just in case I got the chance to give it. And video of the speech is also available on YouTube as well.

When I was in—I think it was the fifth grade, my elementary school in Richlands, North Carolina, tasked us kids with selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door as a fundraiser for the school. I don’t remember selling any magazines, though my parents must have signed up for something. But I very clearly remember checking the square for a subscription of my own—to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
Reading the stories in those issues—my introduction to short mystery fiction—I don’t think I ever dreamed of being in those same pages myself one day.
And the idea of having my work listed alongside the distinguished writers and the fine range of stories on the Edgar slate this evening—of standing up here right now…. I wouldn’t have believed it.
My parents and my brother—Gene, Jenny, and Jason Taylor—couldn’t be here tonight, but I’m grateful to them in so many ways—not just for that subscription to Ellery Queen but also for all the encouragement they’ve shown both my reading and my writing throughout my life.
Short stories don’t come with acknowledgements pages, so I actually have a long list of folks to thank, beginning with the Edgar judges. I’ve been a judge myself three times—once, years ago, in this very category—and I know firsthand the weight of the work they take on and the decisions they face and all the many, many stories that could also, so easily have made this final list.
I want to thank everyone who read my own story in its early stages, including my writing group—Donna Andrews, Ellen Crosby, John Gilstrap, and Alan Orloff—as well as Brandon Wicks and Laura Ellen Scott.
Laura is one of my colleagues at George Mason University, and I want to thank the folks in the English Department at Mason generally—too many to name here—for their support of my writing and of my teaching.
As I’ve said many times before—can’t say enough—I appreciate Janet Hutchings, my editor at Ellery Queen, for giving me a home in the mystery community. Without her encouragement of my work—and now our long friendship—I would not be standing up here right now.
And the same could be said for my wife, Tara Laskowski, herself as fine a writer as I know, and both my best reader and my best friend.
Finally, I want to give a shout-out to those folks who have built much of their own career in short fiction. At the Dell Magazines tables this evening, I’ve been sitting with David Dean and Doug Allyn and Josh Pachter. And I’m also thinking of writers like Michael Bracken and Barb Goffman and John Floyd and Brendan DuBois and the late B.K. Stevens. You and many others have been a model and an inspiration to me.
In so many ways, this award is for you.