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The Authors Who Took Home the Prizes

By Dawn Ius

Next time you’re at a Gregg Hurwitz signing, don’t be alarmed if he’s guided into the room by a marching minion—that’s just who he’s hired to announce him as the 2018 winner of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) Award for Best Young Adult Novel, a prize that Hurwitz admits means more to him than any other writing accolade.

“As much as we’re not supposed to say so, not all awards are created equal,” he says. “As a thriller writer, I have to say that an ITW award is the pinnacle of the field.”

Professional kudos aside, what Hurwitz says comes with an extra emotional layer because he attended the brainstorming meeting years ago when ITW was first conceived. As he looked down from the stage at Gayle Lynds—one of the organization’s founding members—Hurwitz took a quick trip down memory lane before delivering a speech that was both humorous and profound.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have been nominated in the past,” he says. “I’m so accustomed to not winning that I have to confess, hearing my name caught me off guard.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by all of the 2018 winners lucky enough to be in attendance at this year’s ThrillerFest banquet. For K. J. (Kim) Howe, taking top honors in the Best First Novel category came as a complete shock. And as she took the stage, her voice shaky with emotion as the crowd cheered with unabashed enthusiasm, Howe paused for a brief moment to absorb the enormity of what she now held—the realization of a dream.

The trophy will live on the mantle in her living room where it will “motivate me to keep striving to improve my skills as I write thrillers,” she says. “All these years as executive director, I’ve always thought the trophies are absolutely beautiful—it’s an honor to have one.”

As aesthetically pleasing as the awards are, they’re also heavy, as Christine Bell—winner in this year’s Best Paperback Original category—can attest. So far, her trophy has made the rounds to every room in her house, but seems to have settled, for now, on the window ledge above the kitchen sink—fitting perhaps, since Grievance is a domestic noir.

“I knew I would be so glad and envious of whoever got the award,” she says. “And I was! I clapped and screamed and then had a lovely moment of falling back into myself and the room and the thrill.”

Best Hardcover winner Riley Sager also enjoyed a brief out-of-body experience before taking the stage to accept his trophy and deliver a speech he crafted on the fly— because he truly didn’t think he’d win.

“I’m not new to this business,” he says. “I’ve been kicking around the publishing world for almost a decade, with little success. When I wrote Final Girls, I was at a low point. I’d been dropped by my previous publisher. I had been laid off from my job. It was a scary, uncertain time. Final Girls was my last-ditch attempt at a writing career.”

Proof that giving up isn’t—or at least, shouldn’t be—an option.

That’s the attitude of Sean Black, who although unable to attend this year’s ThrillerFest, took top nod in the Best E-Book Original Novel category, after being nominated three times previously.

“It’s very good to get some validation from your peers that your work has some kind of quality,” he says. “As every writer knows, we get so close to a book that it’s near impossible to have any sense whether it works or not. This confirms that while I still have a long way to go to become the writer I know I can be, at least I’m moving in the right direction.”

Black intends to keep his award visible, most likely in his office—but maybe at Straight Blast Gym in Swords, Dublin where he trains.

“I’ll let my coaches Chris Fields and Tom King stick it up next to all the MMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu championship belts that are in display,” he says. “It would be good to have a little contrast on the walls.”

Zoe Dean, this year’s winner for Best Short Story, also plans to show off her award—but then will put it on her bookshelf near where she writes, so it’s always in view, a happy reminder of her successful publishing journey so far.

“Given the quality of the other nominees, I never expected to win,” she says. “Not even in the back of my mind.”

Giving sincere props to the breadth of talent represented by the nominees was emophasized by each of this year’s winners, as well as by Anthony Franze, ITW Vice-President of Awards.

“The nominees this year were an incredible ensemble of talent representing a diverse group of publishers,” he says. “With more than 1,000 titles entered from the best thriller writers in the world, it’s not cliché to say that it should be an honor just to have been nominated. And winning, well, wow.”

Entries for the 2019 ITW Thriller Awards open on September 4, 2018. Eligibility requirements will be posted on the ITW website over the next couple of weeks.


Dawn Ius
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