To be successful, an author must master the craft and provide a fresh voice. How does one do that? One reads. Read the best books by the best writers in your genre learn how they did it. Read the most current ones to stay fresh. In particular, I think it’s important for writers to read the best of the new voices because these are the freshest voices, the ones at the cutting edge.
How does one find the fresh voices? I look to the major awards—the Edgar and Shamus awards. Because I write private detective stories, I go to the Shamus award for best first PI novel. Some of the past nominees, which include Walter Moseley, Laura Lippman and Denis Lehane, have transformed the genre.
The Shamus nominees for 2009 have just been announced. Here are the nominees for Best First PI Novel. According to the Shamus judges, these five are the freshest voices in private eye fiction. It’s too early to tell what impact they will have on the genre, but it’s a safe bet that writers and readers will be talking about one or more of these authors for years to come.
If you're thinking private eye stories are about two-fisted gumshoes in New York, Boston or Los Angeles tracking cheaters and discovering murders, this group will change your mind. The 2009 crop of newcomers brings us sleuths who walk the means streets of Minneapolis, New York, Beijing, Belize and 14th century London.
The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang (Simon & Schuster)
Mei Wang resigns from China’s Ministry of Public Security to go out on her own, a move that causes consternation among her family, friends and the important people of Beijing. Her first case, the search for an ancient jade missing since the Cultural Revolution reveals secrets about her own family and creates a crisis for Mei, her mother and sister.
Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer (Doubleday)
Minneapolis TV reporter, Riley Spartz, discovers that a serial killer is targeting women named Susan and killing one on the same day each year. For Riley, it’s all about lives, but, for her boss, it’s about TV ratings and, for the mayor, it’s about the city’s image.
In the Heat by Ian Vasquez (St. Martins Minotaur)
Boxer Miles Young is at home in Belize, looking for a last big fight. Isabelle Gilmore wants Miles to find her daughter, who’s run off with some of her mother’s money and her no-good boyfriend. Isabelle’s afraid Rian’s going to marry the kid, the only son of corrupt ex--police chief Marlon Tablada, and she wants Rian---and the money---found. In return, Miles gets put on a fight card with a $30,000 payday.
Swann’s Last Song by Charles Salzberg (Five Star)
Skip tracer Harry Swann cares only about money, so when a beautiful woman from the Upper East Side asks him to find her missing husband, he happily takes the case. The story moves from new York to Los Angeles, to Acapulco and Berlin.
Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson (St Martins Minotaur)
In late 14th century England, Crispin Guest is a man adrift in a culture where position is rigidly defined. Once a knight, a member of the upper tiers of society, Crispin was convicted of treason and stripped of his rank and his honor for plotting against King Richard II. Having lost his patron, his friends, and his position at court, and with no trade to support him and no family willing to acknowledge him, Crispin has turned to the one thing he still has—his wits—to scrape a living on the mean streets of London as a “Tracker,” i.e. a personal sheriff.
The winner will be announced at Bouchercon. I hope to have read them all by then.