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B.C. crime novelist waits in suspense after being shortlisted for an Edgar
When crime novelist Eric Brown told his wife he'd been nominated for an Edgar, she was excited for him. But, he admits, "I don't think she really understood how big the Edgars are — most Canadians don't."
For the uninitiated, the Edgars, named after horror-meister Edgar Allan Poe, are handed out by the Mystery Writers of America to honour the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television.
Presented at a black-tie gala at the Grand Hyatt in New York atop Grand Central Station, the Edgars are considered the most prestigious awards in the genre.
Past winners include best-selling authors Dennis Lehane, James Lee Burke, James Patterson and Raymond Chandler.
Heavyweight wordsmiths Ian Rankin and Stephen King are among this year's nominees.
Brown, who lived in North Van until recently, discovered his book Almost Criminal had been nominated for the award after reading a friend's Facebook post.
Even then, he was suspicious, so he visited the Edgar website and scrutinized the nominee list, where he found his name in the best paperback original category.
He still couldn't believe it. "Even then, it's pretty amazing."
Almost Criminal is Brown's debut novel.
"It's both a crime novel about B.C. Bud and a coming-of-age novel," Brown explains, noting that the book's young protagonist goes from trimming bud for a local compassion club to falling deeper inside B.C.'s often-dangerous billion-dollar pot industry.
"Things go from bad to worse for him."
While this may be his first novel, Brown's been making a living with words for years as a copywriter and communications specialist.
A few years ago he was lunching with a client who told him about a soccer mom who was clipping buds at a grow-op to support her family. And while that isn't the premise of his book, it illustrated the pervasiveness of bud in B.C. culture and the shifting attitudes toward weed.
"There's a story in that," he thought to himself.
The first couple hundred pages of his manuscript took nearly two years to finish. Then, after a writing retreat at the Banff Centre, Brown returned home with a first draft.
To create an authentic world of B.C. grow-ops and growers, Brown devoured books and newspaper articles on the subject; interviewed people who worked in grow-ops; and emailed the "Prince of Pot" Mark Emery, who is currently serving time in a U.S. prison for selling cannabis seeds, to read the early drafts of his novel.
He also visited pot-growing hotspots in B.C. to clandestinely snap photos so he could better visualize the growers and the culture.
Four years after he started the book, he had a completed manuscript, but no publisher.
Eventually after contacting literary agent and doing some rewrites his book was sold to Toronto-based publisher Dundurn.
Almost Criminal was appropriately released on April 20, which coincided with "4/20," an annual event where pot legalization rallies are held across North America under a cloud of pot smoke.
Most of Brown's day-job work doesn't get a byline, so it was a nice change to have his name on something, even if he did have to alter it slightly because a sci-fi writer of the same name already existed. To avoid any confusion, he's gone with E.R. Brown for his fiction writing.
With only one title on bookstore shelves, E.R. Brown isn't planning on quitting his daytime job anytime soon but he already has another book that's nearly finished.
And so far, the reviews for his first have been gushing.
The Globe and Mail, for example, had this to say about Almost Criminal: "Funny and twisted in the same vein as Breaking Bad. This is Brown's debut and it's an auspicious one."
Still, Brown knows that he's in tough in the paperback category of the Edgars, up against Stephen King and some other strong nominees from big U.S. publishing houses.
But the fact that this is his first book and he had limited distribution in the U.S. has him feeling like the nomination alone is a victory.
On May 1, Brown will don a tux and attend the awards gala in New York, where he'll be rubbing shoulders with the genre's top writers.
And you never know, there could be a surprise ending on awards night when they announce the winners.
For more about Almost Criminal, visit erbrown.com
On Feb. 26 at 7 p.m., Brown will be reading from his new book at the Welsh Hall West at the West Van Memorial Library.