Earlier this month, as is usual for the evening of the first Saturday in December (chosen to coincide with Rex Stout’s December 1st birthday), we attended The Wolfe Pack’s Black Orchid Banquet. Among the night’s features are toasts (one of which associate editor Jackie Sherbow gave) and the presentation of the Black Orchid Novella Award, given by our editor Linda Landrigan in conjunction with BONA awards chair Jane K. Cleland. This year’s winner is a BONA first, as Steve Liskow garnered his second win—this time for his story “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma,” which will appear in the July/August 2017 issue. The occasion was also special because it marks the award’s tenth year. We asked the BONA winners from years past to share their memories, and we’re sharing some of them with you here.
I loved spending time in New York City for the banquet. I was born in Manhattan and my parents moved to Long Island when I was a child. My grandfather was a NYC cab driver. . . . It was especially fun . . . during the holiday season, so being in the city for the banquet at that time was especially meaningful for me. I got to visit old haunts and even met up with Santa Claus in Macy’s.
The banquet itself was wonderful. Jane Cleland is one of the most fun people I’ve ever met. . . . It was an honor and pleasure to meet Linda Landrigan. She was so welcoming and so great to talk to that it made me a whole lot less nervous about delivering my acceptance speech. . . . I had such a good time and have such warm memories of the banquet. It was a magical experience set in a city I love during a time of year I love and I’ll be forever grateful.—Susan Thibadeau, 2013 winner
The banquet was a few months after Hurricane Sandy, which led to real difficulty getting in and a smaller-than-average, though very enthusiastic crowd. . . .
In the few months after receiving the BONA I sold stories to two very hard-to-crack markets. Was it a coincidence or did they notice the award? I have no evidence, but I have an opinion.
It was a great honor, especially since AHMM is my favorite magazine, and I have been a fan of Stout and Wolfe since sixth grade—Robert Lopresti, 2012 winner. For more BONA reminiscences, visit Rob Lopresti’s related blog I’m Dreaming of a Black Orchid, Picking More Black Orchids, and Addressing the Red Envelope
The old saw that being a writer is the most solitary of occupations is completely wrong. Honestly, I can’t think of a more social activity, because a writer is nobody without readers, and readers form a community, as this gathering tonight so clearly demonstrates. . . . . Of course [the armchair detective in my novella] Miss Enola is not alone. She has Erica to keep her company, even if she spends most of her time in her own head. Mostly, though, she will never be alone as long as there are people who love to read detective stories. I hope that when “Inner Fire” is published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine this coming summer, you will all have the opportunity to read it. I wrote it for you, and I am deeply and humbly grateful for the honor you have done me in granting me this award. I tell you from the bottom of my heart that it is one of the brightest highlights of my career as an author of crime fiction.—From the acceptance speech of James Lincoln Warren, 2011 winner
- My wife Helen and I making the 4 + hour drive to NYC from Vermont and scurrying across town in time for the banquet’s 6:30 cocktail hour.
- Realizing early on that Wow, these Wolfe Pack folks are really into their Rex Stout.
- Taking part in a table-versus-table competition of songwriting with a Nero Wolfe theme. Our table accepted my suggestion of using the tune from the 1950’s Davy Crockett show. As I recall, we acquitted ourselves admirably.
- Taking the podium to accept my award. For my acceptance speech, I began, I’ve recently committed the complete cannon of Nero Wolfe to memory and will now recite it . . . I then began rattling off the opening passage of the first Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance, (which I had memorized for the occasion). After three or four lines, I stopped and said, You know . . . I realize now, you probably all have memorized his complete works yourselves, so I’m just being redundant. I’ll move on . . . Laughter ensued.
- Laughter not ensuing when I tried to make some jokes about Stout’s early efforts to name his detective. I suggested that prior to becoming Nero Wolfe, the character was originally called Caligula Bobcat. That joke died in the air, swiftly and soundly.
- After the banquet, leaving at the same time as Linda. She graciously led Helen and I down the city streets and gave us a tour of the various shop window Christmas displays. A splendid end to a splendid night!—Michael Nethercott, 2008 winner
When I accepted the award, I mentioned how I was mostly a science fiction author. After the banquet was ending, a long-time mystery writer (who got his start in the science fiction pulp magazines in the 1950s) shook my hand, said, “Get the hell out of science fiction!” and walked away. I have taken his advice to heart and haven’t written a science fiction story since then!—John Betancourt, 2007 winner