Doni’s Dish: A Conversation With Charlie Price, Edgar-Award Winner

Doni: First, Charlie Price, I am absolutely beside myself with joy over the news that you won an Edgar Award in New York Thursday for your book, “The Interrogation of Gabriel James”.  What a spectacular honor – the thrill of a lifetime. You must feel so … gosh, forgive me, I almost said what you felt. Sorry.

So, Charlie, tell us, how do you feel about this award?

Charlie: Doni, I am so gratified, so utterly delighted. Joyful that this book I worked so hard and so often on has been recognized in such excellent company.

Doni: You deserve this award, and you do deserve to be in such distinguished company, Charlie. And I’m not just saying that because you’re one of’s talented contributors, or that we’re friends.  May I have your autograph?

Fact is, I don’t imagine there are any other Edgar Award winners in Redding, or Shasta County. I guess we can agree that you won’t be able to form a local Edgar-Award winners club or anything, because Edgar-Award winners are a pretty exclusive group.

Charlie: I don’t know of any other Edgar winners. I don’t know if anyone else has tried for it or had their book submitted. It is a marvelous club to belong to. For years I have researched the yearly Edgar winners and nominees to know which books I want to buy.

Doni: The trip to New York for the Edgar Award gala must have been quite an experience. Did your expectations differ from what actually happened?

Charlie: I was expecting to visit old friends, meet my agent for the first time and my editor for the first time. Instead I met everyone including the head of allMacmillan children’s and adult literature as well as the head of FSG (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, a New York publishing company) at a toast they held Thursday afternoon. Their remarks were both gracious and flattering and I got a chance to tell them how much I appreciate the quality of their work … cover designer too … copy editors, et al.

The Edgar Ceremony was more formal than I expected … more like movie awards or something and while I was figuring out how to lose gracefully, they announced “Interrogation” as the winner. My editor shouted and I cried. The Library Journal online said mine was the most moving talk of the evening.

Doni: I’m not the least bit surprised yours was the most moving talk of the evening. Wait. Let me see if I can find a link to the Library Journal. BRB. OK, here it is.  Yup. You’re right. There it is, last paragraph, you are quoted:  “When I started writing at age 60, I thought I really should have bought a red convertible instead!” That so sounds like you. Very funny. Just like the columns you’ve written for, back before you were completely immersed in your novels.

Oh, it occurs to me that perhaps I’ve gotten ahead of myself here. Two questions. First, for the unfamiliar, can you describe your book, and second, tell a bit about the Edgar Award itself?

Charlie: The book is centered on a quiet girl’s secret home life and the boy who finds out about it. He encounters so much more than he can deal with or understand, yet it is a wrong that he feels he must address. Woven into that are hate crimes against a Native American cross-country runner, love, sports, missing pets, arson, two murders and the criminal investigation that follows. On another level it deals with a high school boy’s relationship with his mother and his ongoing search for a romantic relationship.

Doni: You certainly covered a lot of area.

… And were telling us about the Edgar Award?

Charlie: The Edgar Award is a 65-year-old traditional prize for the best mystery writing, named for Edgar Allen Poe. There are a few categories: Best adult book, best play, best young adult book, best juvenile book, and so on. Five books are nominated each year in each category.

Doni: And yours won. That’s really something. I’ll bet you’re still pinching yourself. What was your inspiration?

Charlie: The adolescents with whom I’ve worked, their courage and resilience in the face of destructive home-lives, bigotry, cultural pressures. I learned about the quiet girl’s deviant home situation a long time ago and it’s haunted me since. I wrote a story about it eight years ago, then began working on this novel.

Doni: Can you tell us about your process?

Charlie: I started with two areas I wanted to explore:  How a girl can cope with and survive a bizarre home, and how western-state prejudice against Native Americans can mimic racism in other areas of the country. I wove in the destructive effects a sick family can have on its own members as well as the surrounding community. I wrote the story sequentially 12 to 15 times with different titles from different points of view but none seemed to do the whole story justice. A few years ago I thought, what if the whole story gradually came out during the investigation authorities conducted in the aftermath of the murders? That was exceptionally challenging, but the effort produced a tale that engaged and excited me when I re-read it.

Doni: I am still trying to get my brain around the fact that you wrote the story 12 to 15 times from different viewpoints. But it worked. You succeeded in bringing all the parts of your story together.

Do you have a favorite part of the book?

Charlie: I began the whole project with the scene where the boy is angry about being rejected by a girl who obviously liked him. Since he can’t understand why, he follows her home. He creeps up close to her house at night and sees something that he is not prepared to deal with, something he’s not sure he understands. Nonetheless, he knows it’s a wrong that he must redress.

Doni: That part of the book that still haunts me.

Your book has so many characters. Which did you most enjoy writing?

Charlie: I had the most fun with Durmie, the dumpster-diving street warrior, a composite of many men I met while working on locked psych units. He speaks in a rhymie patter that he thinks is cool, misuses words, and always has a scam he’s working on to make a little bit of money. He is sad/fragile in that the place he feels best is a psych hospital, but he is also absolutely irrepressible and the head frog in his particular pond.

Doni: Head frog. Great term.  So, about your characters, if you could give a character one piece of advice, what would it be?

Charlie: I would tell the guru to remember that everything has its time. Everything and everyone blooms and fades. Part of wisdom is the ability to enjoy the blooming without arrogance and to accept the fading without rancor. Wisdom is honoring all we have learned during our passage. Of course, it wouldn’t do any good. We usually change as a result of our own mistakes, once in a great while because we are dramatically inspired, and almost never because we got some advice.

Doni: Really, at this point, Charlie, if you gave me writing advice I would totally, completely take it.  I swear I would. May I join your writing group … show you my outline? Get a grip, Doni. Focus.

Back to your characters for a minute. Did you identify with any of them? Is it possible not to identify with all of them?

Charlie: I lived with them, watched them operate in the world, could see parts of myself in all of them. I am persistent like Gabriel. I have some particular talents like Danny. I have a past like Gabe’s mother. I can be demanding and far too certain that I’m right like the Guru. In some way to some degree, I share all the positive and all the negative attributes of my characters.

Doni: Pretty heavy stuff, Mr. Price. Was there a particular scene of the book that was easy – or difficult – for you to write?

Charlie: By the time I got around to telling the story as an interrogation, I knew all of the particular scenes well and had written them in different ways several times. What was hard was telling a mystery story in response to almost random questions by two different interrogators with two slightly different agendas. They ask what interests them, not what goes next sequentially in the events. So I had to constantly shuffle the plot and yet never reveal anything before its time. I finally decided it was like doing a striptease that ends in a card trick … at the final reveal, all the suits come out in order.

Doni: I’m getting the idea that this was a long and tedious process. Even so, if you had the opportunity to go back and make any changes, would you?

Charlie: In this particular book, I worked on it until I got it exactly the way I hoped it would be when I began. I wound up loving all of it, including the ending.

Doni: Your success is an over-the-top inspiration to anyone who aspires to write a book, let alone get it published. But to have the kind of acclaim you’ve received – an Edgar Award – for your writing, that’s a rare and wonderful experience. Can you share a bit about your writing journey?

Charlie: I have fantasized about being a novelist since junior year high school, but I thought it was impossible. Like being a movie star or a rock star. Over the years I read voraciously and always attempted to notice what I liked, admired, or appreciated about the work I was reading. Unconsciously, I think I taught myself a little about writing in this way. At different jobs I wrote or edited newsletters. A few years ago here in Redding Melinda Brown asked for submissions for an anthology of Northern California writers. She wound up choosing a piece or two of mine and a writing group grew out of that anthology. We had to produce a new piece every week or so and the members taught me a great deal about how to say what I meant, how to create moods, how to describe characters and events effectively.

In 2004 I got fired/laid off from an academic dean position and with my few months’ of unemployment, decided to try writing seriously, to create a book of my own. I wrote a largely biographical novel and while I was shopping it around, wrote another book called “Dead Connection”. That one was bought by a subsidiary of Macmillan press, and with a great deal of support and encouragement from friends and from my wife — therapist Joan Pechanec — a writing career gradually developed. “Interrogation” – the book that won the Edgar, is my third. In October my fourth will be released: “Desert Angel”.

Doni: Imagine that … being fired and then going on to do better things with your life! What a concept!

Why young adult books?

Charlie: Many reasons … my own adolescence was very formative … I worked with at-risk teens in schools and psych hospitals for many years … I wanted to talk with young people about topics like abuse, addiction, domestic violence, crime from a reader-to-reader or writer-to-reader perspective instead of a teacher/counselor/therapist perpective.

Doni: What’s your favorite part about writing for kids?

Charlie: When I was a teacher/counselor/therapist I would talk with kids about abuse or domestic violence or addiction or bullying or criminal activity but there was almost always a barrier because I was in a position of authority over them. As an writer, the reader and I are in this together. It is the characters we’re discussing, the situation in the book we’re examining, and we can often be far more real or candid about issues like drunken behavior or incest because the subject of the behavior is removed from the specific personal realm.

Doni: That makes sense – brilliant, really. So, any other writing tips for the rest of us wanna-be novelists? We’re taking notes.

Charlie: Read people you respect and find out how they create the images you admire. Take a writing class from an inspiring teacher — Shasta College has several. Give yourself permission to say whatever you’d like and revise it over and over again until it shines.

Doni: What’s next for Charlie Price, Edgar-Award-winning author/ most-moving speech-giver?

Charlie: “Desert Angel” in October. “Dead Connection” released in different languages, a new book in progress is currently titled “Dead Girl Moon” — SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators)  workshop May 21 in Cottonwood, New York City New School Writer’s Talk in November, and so on.

Doni: I know you’re so very busy, and we really appreciate how much time you’ve already spent with us answering questions, especially since you’re probably still suffering from jetlag. Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

Charlie: My darling wife has the endurance of a pyramid for reading and re-reading hundred of chapters over and over again — myopic now, but fun and bright and beautiful as ever. My daughter is one of the sharpest critics I know and is never shy about giving me her candid opinion. I have a current writing group that is brilliant and inspiring.

And so far this year I haven’t waded in a river and fly fished but life is short and I expect to be waist deep somewhere by June.

Doni: Charlie, I wish you and Joanie many hours of relaxation together, and I wish you many hours of fly-fishing. You’ve both earned a break, I’d say.

Thank you so very much, Charlie, and please accpet our most sincere and heartfelt congratulations from everyone at Oh, and Charlie, a very special thank you for your contributions to this site, too.  You’ve made us all doubly proud.

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