Tag Archives: Rex Stout

“Observing Venus on a Trip to Mars” by Mark Thielman

Every year in conjunction with The Wolfe Pack, AHMM presents the Black Orchid Novella Award to a work of fiction best exemplifying the tradition of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries. The winner this year (and in 2015) is Mark Thielman, a Texas criminal-law magistrate.  Here he talks about his BONA-winning tale, “The Black Drop of Venus,” which you can read in the current July/August 2018 issue. We have more tales by Mark coming up in forthcoming issues.

I love killing people in ships from the age of sail.

The setting provides a natural locked room. The killer must be onboard somewhere. The location allows for the sleuth to exercise his/her full powers of ratiocination. (I didn’t know that word until the Trace Evidence blog promoting the July/August edition of AHMM used it to describe my character. Now, I feel educated and obligated.)

Exotic words I don’t get to use in my everyday life—part of the fun of writing a sea yarn: I get to exercise my inner Patrick O’Brian.

The Black Orchid Novella Award is a partnership between the Wolfe Pack, the official Nero Wolfe Society, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine honoring the novellas of Rex Stout. I have been fortunate to twice win the award. The challenge is to write a story which celebrates the components of the Rex Stout canon without being derivative.

I found my story this time in Captain James Cook’s voyage to Tahiti in 1769 to observe Venus crossing the sun. In modern terms, the voyage seems the equivalent of traveling to Mars. Both trips would take about an equal length of time and have the common goal of hitting a tiny point of land in a vastness of void. A principal difference, however, was that the technology for determining longitude, how far a ship had travelled east or west, was still being developed in 1769. The captain, a man who had the intellectual wherewithal and confidence to steer a ship to a pinprick of land, presented an authentic Wolfe-like character.

Somewhere on my shelves is a dusty edition of Alistair MacLean’s biography of Captain Cook. Captain Cook’s journals from his voyage may be read online. His observations are readily available. Drawings of the HM Bark Endeavour can also be found through the Internet. I hoped to give the story the proper nautical feel through the details obtained by study.

The 1769 voyage of the Endeavour was a joint project of the British Navy and the Royal Society. The scientists, being gentlemen, were not berthed with the sailors, but rather shared the Captain’s space. Joseph Banks, the chief scientist, was a gentleman, unlike Cook, a man born to working class roots who rose through the ranks. Banks, younger than Cook, with his own unique skill set, housed with the Captain. He seemed a natural fit for Archie.

The Endeavour’s odyssey had an additional mission. The plan remained a secret until the ship had set sail. The Navy wanted Cook to search for a hypothetical southern continent, a land mass to offset those of the northern hemisphere. Geographers postulated that such a land was necessary to keep the earth from wobbling in its rotation. Captain Cook also tested foods to avoid scurvy, a plague of long ocean voyages. Secret missions with a culinary angle, reminiscent of Mr. Wolfe and his chef, Fritz. A natural pairing of strong individuals living together. Each bit of research heightened my enthusiasm that I had found an ideal setting in which to recast a Wolfe tale.

The voyage of the Endeavour was a naval expedition. Yet its purpose was not victory in battle but rather a search for truth and discovery. The existence of the great southern continent, the dimensions of the galaxy, and an effective tool for combatting scurvy were all undertakings on Captain Cook’s expedition. This search for truth provides an excellent backdrop for a whodunit. I merely added a body.

And, it allowed me to use cool words like fo’cs’le and bowsprit.

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On the 10th Anniversary of the Black Orchid Novella Award

Linda Landrigan, Steve Liskow, Jane K. Cleland, December 3, 2016

Linda Landrigan, Steve Liskow, Jane K. Cleland, December 3, 2016

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

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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

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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

Emily Hockaday, Linda Landrigan, James Lincoln Warren, Jackie Sherbow, 2011

Emily Hockaday, Linda Landrigan, James Lincoln Warren, Jackie Sherbow, 2011

Linda Landrigan, James Lincoln Warren, 2011

Linda Landrigan, James Lincoln Warren, 2011

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I recall:

  • 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
Linda Landrigan, Michael Nethercott, 2008

Linda Landrigan, Michael Nethercott, 2008

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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

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Press Release from The Wolfe Pack— 2016 Nero Award and Black Orchid Novella Award Winners

NEWS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 4, 2016
The Wolfe Pack
New York, NY

2016 NERO AWARD & BLACK ORCHID NOVELLA AWARD WINNERS

The Nero Award is presented each year to an author for the best American Mystery written in the tradition of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories. It is presented at the Black Orchid Banquet, traditionally held on the first Saturday in December in New York City. The “Nero” is considered one of the premier awards granted to authors of crime fiction. This year, the winner is David C. Taylor’s Night Life, (A Forge Book Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC).

The Black Orchid Novella Award is presented jointly by The Wolfe Pack and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine to celebrate the novella format popularized by Rex Stout. This year’s winner is… for the second time…  Steve Liskow.  The novella is titled “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma.” (Steve also won in 2009.)

About the Wolfe Pack

The Wolfe Pack, founded in 1977, is a forum to discuss, explore, and enjoy the 72 Nero Wolfe books and novellas written by Rex Stout. The organization promotes fellowship and extends friendship to those who enjoy these great literary works of mystery through a series of events, book discussions, and a journal devoted to the study of the genius detective, Nero Wolfe, and his intrepid assistant, Archie Goodwin. The organization has more than 500 members worldwide. For further information, please see http://www.nerowolfe.org.

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The Ninth Annual Black Orchid Novella Award Given

Congratulations to Mark Thielman, whose novella “A Meter of Murder” won the 9th Annual Black Orchid Novella Award! The author was celebrated at the December 5th Black Orchid Banquet as part of The Wolfe Pack’s weekend of festivities. Mr. Thielman, who currently hails from Texas, is a former prosecutor. You can look forward to reading the novella—his first published piece of fiction!—in the July/August 2016 issue of AHMM.

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NAMING THE DETECTIVES: Robert Lopresti

AHMM regular Robert Lopresti is the winner of the 2012 Black Orchid Novella Award, or BONA, for “The Red Envelope,” which appears in our July/August issue. We co-sponsor the BONA contest with The Wolfe Pack, the Nero Wolfe appreciation society, to encourage the ratiocinative detective style exemplified by Wolfe. Here, Rob discusses the important matter of finding the right name for your character.

If you’re a writer creating a character, you need a name. (Oh, there are exceptions: Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op and Bill Pronzini’s Nameless, for instance, but if you fill an entire book with Anonymous and Mr. X it might get tiresome pretty fast.)

I’m usually pretty casual about names, but when I started writing “The Red Envelope,” my entry for the Black Orchid Novella Award contest, I was hoping that this might be the beginning of a series. That meant that if I were lucky, I might have to live with those characters for a long time.

So I gave a lot of thought to matching the characters to their names. Consider my detective. The story is set in Greenwich Village in 1958 and the hero is a beat poet, a bit of an oddball, and definitely a man who likes to be the center of attention. Surely his name would be unusual. Something that stood out in some way. Hmm . . .

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Toasts and Resolutions

Resolutions first: and for would-be bloggers, this ranks up there with “lose weight” and “exercise more” as a resolution cliché, but here goes anyway. In 2013, I resolve to blog more regularly. (Also, to lose weight and exercise more.)

The arrival of the new year is also a traditional occasion for offering toasts, and I have a great one for you. Earlier, I mentioned the wonderful Black Orchid Banquet that I attended December 1st. This is the annual fete of The Wolfe Pack, the Rex Stout/Nero Wolfe appreciation society, and for the past several years, I have had the pleasure of presenting the Black Orchid Novella Award, co-sponsored by the Wolfe Pack and AHMM.

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A Gala of Wolfeian Proportions

The Wolfe Pack’s annual gala is a lively affair. The Black Orchid Banquet, always held on the first Saturday of December, features toasts to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, to their creator Rex Stout, and to many of the other characters who enliven the series. There is also singing, as each table competes (informally) to create a (semi-)spontaneous and wholly witty tribute in song to oversized detective.

And there are awards.

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