I am thrilled and honored and humbled to announce that my novel, The World Beneath, just received International Thriller Writers’ Best Ebook Original award. I’m still in shock, but I know it must be true because it’s engraved–and everyone knows that you can’t take something back after it’s engraved. Those are the Rules of Engraving.
To get any award is amazing and wonderful and a surprising validation to someone who spends most days sitting alone and listening to the voices in my head, things I would have been burned at the stake for a couple of hundred years ago. But to not get burned at the stake and also to receive an award is even more wonderful, because it’s from International Thriller Writers (ITW).
I grew up as a writer in that organization. When I was still a baby writer, before my book even came out, I was accepted into the ITW Debut Author program (a program I can’t recommend highly enough. If you qualify–sign up NOW). I hung out with the other baby writers (Class of 2009!). We talked and worried about new author things (how do I ask for a blurb? what do I do when I get a terrible review? do I have to do marketing and, if so, what kind?) and got help from our program mentor. I was in the program for two years and my mentors were Lee Child and Andrew Gross. Yes, those famous guys actually answered our dorky questions and got us through our first year.
When we attended our first Thrillerfest we dubbed it ‘Author Summer Camp.’ Thrillerfest is an inclusive place to hang out with authors you know and make friends with authors you don’t. You can help those who are newer than you and will receive help from those who are more experienced. Plus, you can meet readers and sign books. It’s a wonderful place to be a writer.
So, for those folks to nominate me for an award was a wonderful moment. I didn’t expect to win, but I was up for another round of Author Summer Camp anyway. I couldn’t wait to see what my classmates were up to. The Class of 2009 had some great writers: Kelli Stanley, Josh Corin, CJ Lyons, Carla Buckley, Andrew Peterson, Karen Dionne, Michael Stanley (another nominee this year for their fantastic Detective Kubu series), Keith Raffel, Reece Hirsch, Julie Kramer, Kieran Crowley, Matt Richtel, Jeannie Holmes, Sean Black, Anderson Harp, Graham Brown, Sophie Littlefield, Jamie Freveletti, Laura Benedict, Jordan Dane, Rip Gerber, Jonathan Hayes, Bryan Gruley…and a few I apologize for forgetting (remind me in the comments and I’ll add you). They’ve gone on to do some great things, but back in 2009, we were all just babies waiting for our first books to come out.
But when the award was announced and I stood on stage, I was overwhelmed. I didn’t cry, but it was a near thing. I couldn’t believe that I was standing up there in front of so many friends receiving this award. And it wasn’t just for any book, it was for a book that I had self published. None of the other big organizations have an award category that self pubbed authors can enter. But ITW does–because they are inclusive, and they care about writers. All writers. That night I became the first writer to win a major award while going head to head with traditionally published books (mine was the only self pubbed book on the slate) at the one place where it could have happened: ITW.
Thank you, ITW, for everything!
“The World Beneath” was nominated for the Best Ebook Original Novel award by International Thriller Writers. The winner will be chosen at Thrillerfest in New York in July.
I’m nominated with a wonderful group of writers and books: J.G. Faherty for “The Burning Time, “ Joshua Graham for “Terminus,” James Lepore and Carlos Davis for “No Dawn for Men,” and Luke Preston for “Out of Exile.” Congratulations to all!
International Thriller Writers has always had a very special place in my heart. I was part of their Debut Author program when my first novel was published, and I’ve made many friends through the organization over the years. For me, it’s been the best writing organization I belong to. I’ve been constantly struck the by kindness and generosity of the writers there–some of the biggest names in writing and some of my literary heroes. And to actually be nominated for one of their very prestigious awards has knocked my socks off!
Sure, my feet are cold without socks, but it’s worth it!
The novel follows Joe Tesla into the tunnels under New York City, since he lives in a Victorian house buried deep underneath Grand Central Station. I started writing it not long after I moved to Berlin a year and a half ago, and for months all I had was the first line “Subway tunnels breathe.”
Every time I rode the subway around Berlin I wondered whose story was hidden in that first line, and over time Joe Tesla appeared. At first, I wrote his story in between stops, thumbing it into my iPhone. I quickly realized that he lived down there full time. Unlike me, he wasn’t passing through. His world was in the in-between spaces that we all ride through without thinking about.
Why was he there? Was he homeless? The more I learned about him, the more I realized that he was just the opposite. He wasn’t in the tunnels because he had nowhere else to go, he was in the tunnels because he couldn’t leave them. If he could overcome that, nowhere in the world would be denied to him. But he can’t.
I’ve visited New York City many times and was always fascinated by the beauty of Grand Central Station with its iconic clock. When I learned that the pillar inside the information booth has a door that leads to a secret room, I knew that it must lead to an elevator that would spirit Joe down to his house.
Joe stayed in the back of my mind while I wrote Innocent Blood with James Rollins, adding a scene or two to Joe’s story while I chased vampires around the world. James, being a former veterinarian who just got a pair of puppies, suggested that Joe have a dog and thus he acquired Edison, Joe’s best friend and his psychiatric service dog. A dog who looked similar to one I saw riding the Berlin subway with his owner.
I found Edison in that train car because I wrote big parts of this book while sitting on a subway seat, watching who got on and off, missing stops because I was too immersed in my story to notice.
The Berlin subway is a great place to writ e a book, because of the ring line that circles the city center. This means that I can board, find a seat, and ride around for hours without ever having to leave the car. Also, there’s no Internet, so I can write in a focused cocoon without any e-distractions. Every time I’m stuck, I pack up my laptop and walk to the subway, ready to ride around until Joe’s next adventure is revealed to me.
It’s no secret that Berlin is my favorite city. After all, I’ve written four Hannah Vogel novels set here. It captured my imagination when I was a teenager here in the 1980s, when the wall was still up, and it’s never let me go. Here’s a list of movies that show the city that inspires me.
1. Wings of Desire.
Aka Der Himmel Über Berlin (1987), directed by Wim Wenders and starring Bruno Ganz and Peter Falk. This takes you on a gorgeous aerial view of Berlin as you follow an angel who falls in love with a human and gives up his immortality for love. This one I watched when I’d moved back to the states and missed Berlin desperately.
(I couldn’t find a clip that I could embed, so you’ll have to click here to watch it. Sorry!)
2. Berlin: Symphony of a City.
Directed by Walter Ruttman (1927). Warning: this one’s a silent film. It depicts scene after scene of Berlin in the 1920s. Fascinating and gorgeous. I watched this over and over when I wrote “A Trace of Smoke.” (this clips shows the full movie)
Released in 2008 and directed by Bryan Singer and starring Tom Cruise and Bill Nighy because this is where Claus von Stauffenberg died after his involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler was uncovered.
(sorry about the ad at the beginning. It doesn’t seem fair to make you watch and ad to see a movie ad)
4. The Lives of Others.
Released in 2006 and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and starring Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, and Sebastian Koch (my actor pick for Boris in A TRACE OF SMOKE).
Wannsee is known inside of Berlin as a wonderful beach and place to take your kids in the summer. My high school prom was held on an island in the Wannsee. But outside of Berlin the name is forever linked with the Wannsee Conference—where Nazi leaders met to come up with the Final Solution to the Jewish Question and made plans that would result in the death of millions of Europe’s Jews.
Directed by Frank Pierson and starring Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci and released in 2001.
From 1972, directed by Bob Fosse and starring Liza Minelli and Michael York. This shows another world just before it would be systematically destroyed by the Nazis—Germany’s gays.
This tells the story of Jewish German men married to German women and what happened when they were rounded up for deportation. This one has subtitles, but is worth the extra reading.
8. Judgment at Nuremberg
The next film deals more with the aftermath, (1961) directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Burt Lancaster, Spencer Tracy, and Berlin’s own daughter, Marlene Dietrich.
9. Olympia (1938, two parts)
The Nazi Olympics were covered in full in this film directed by Leni Riefenstahl and starring the athletes (including Jesse Owens). If you want to see the whole Olympics, this is the film for you.
(the entire film, part 1)
10. The Jesse Owens Story
Who was the hero of the 1936 Olympics? Jesse Owens. I’m putting The Jesse Owens Story (1984) on my list, even though it’s mostly not set in Berlin. It was directed by Richard Iriving and stars Dorian Harewood. I might switch this out if I really love the upcoming “Jesse and Me.” I couldn’t find this on YouTube, but here’s a half hour documentary that also talks about the problems he faced as a black man after he returned:
(sorry about the ad at the beginning, and the last few minutes become and ad for Ohio State University)
This list was hard to make because there are simply so many cool movies set in Berlin (here’s a list of more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_set_in_Berlin).
I’m thinking another list of Top 10 Berlin Thrillers is in order soon!
What movies do you think should be added to this list? Pipe up in the comments below.