More than 160 years after the death of Edgar Allen Poe, he is still influencing people from beyond the grave, and in a way, rewarding writers for their hard work.
Two CU alumni have recently been nominated—in separate categories—for the prestigious Edgar award, named after Poe himself. The award honors the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced annually. The Mystery Writers of America announced the nominees on Jan. 19. with nine categories ranging from best novel to best television episode screenplay.
Luis Urrea was nominated for best short story “Amapola” and Dave Cullen for best fact crime “Columbine.”
Kelly Lundquist, assistant account executive for Danielides Communications Inc. said Cullen is a leading authority on the Columbine killings, appeared on Oprah.com and in O! Magazine listed under the 2009 summer reading list.
According to Urrea’s Web site, he is a member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame and a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his non-fiction book “The Devil’s Highway.” His most recent nomination focuses on the short story “Amapola” published in Phoenix Noir.
Cullen, like Urrea, took time out of his busy day from working on his second book—which he swears will be done in three years—to do a phone interview, while Urrea was traveling in Connecticut en route to an event.
Currently a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Urrea left Boulder after graduate school in 1995. Upon hearing “Luis Urrea” mentioned, Cullen immediately remarked about the familiarity of the name and how he knew Urrea was at CU before himself. The two didn’t attend graduate school together but were there within two years of each another.
Cullen described the two catalysts which developed his writing as his time spent at CU and a job at Salon.com.
“I’ve been writing since I was a little kid,” Cullen said. “I didn’t go to grad school until I was 35. I grew up as a writer, but it was in my late 30s where I really became a writer and it’s because of those two things: the writing program at CU, and working for Salon.com. And a third would actually be writing [Columbine].”
Cullen described “Columbine” as a narrative non-fiction and true account, which explores two questions: Why did the killers do it, and how did the community respond?
“The story of Columbine is all in one place for the first time where you can see one whole picture of it,” Cullen said. “The cast is huge, the canvas is vast and you’re trying to tell all different points of view and see the whole complex of that on one huge canvas. And the reader is experiencing just how complicated and intense this is. That’s the center of what the book is about.”
The story itself, as Cullen described, tells the before, during and after in alternating chapters, allowing the reader to experience exactly who the killers are and how events unfolded.
“You experience who these killers are and what led them to this. There are 10 different storylines, which I didn’t think I could pull off in the book; the stories are all intertwined.”
View a video trailer of “Columbine.”
Elaborating on his short story “Amapola,” Urrea said it focused on two boys attending high school in Phoenix who develop a friendship.
“One of the guys is a really semi-mysterious misfit character that fascinates the boy who’s the narrator, and they become friends and share interests in Goth music and stuff,” Urrea said. “The narrator starts to fall in love with this guy’s kid sister, who’s named ‘Amapola,’ which means ‘poppy.’ And what he doesn’t know is that the family is a big time narco-smuggling family, and he finds himself suddenly embroiled in the cross-border drug culture. He doesn’t understand what he’s getting himself into until the last moment when he’s compromised with an evil act that will probably destroy his life.”
With more of a lighter tone, Urrea continued. “It’s a happy story!” he said.
Notice of being named a nominee for the award surprised both authors, as they shared with a tone of disbelief.
“I was really excited!” Cullen said. “It’s a really great award and I didn’t realize I was eligible—I didn’t know they had a non-fiction category.”
Urrea shared a similar reaction.
“I don’t even write mystery stories,” Urrea said. “But the editor of the book invited me to the event and I was like ‘You know OK, I’ll do it, but I don’t want to embarrass myself.’ And then it got nominated for an award so I was shocked. And it just got accepted for one of the best mystery stories of the year anthologies too. How’s that for a weird story?”
Sharing nominations for the Edgar award is but one similarity the two authors have in common, another being success which was generated while attending CU.
“The funniest thing happened when I came to CU,” Urrea said. “I had been trying to publish my first book for 10 years… I came to Boulder, and the first month of grad school New York Publisher bought the book — it totally screwed things up. It took me 10 years to get my MA; I was on the road and it was all crazy.”
Cullen, sounding more chipper, went on to explain his past successes and other current nominations.
“I won the Barnes & Noble Discover award a couple weeks ago,” Cullen said. “I also felt relieved because I’m up for three awards and I just didn’t want to lose all of them. I was relieved for the first one, thinking now I could go home and lose the other two. Odds are against me but I would like to win [the Edgar].”
After Cullen elaborated on all his successes and goals, he then gave advice directed towards up-and-coming writers on how to prosper and develop their writing.
“The biggest thing is in the early years how much you write, it’s important to write every day,” Cullen said. “If you play the piano you have to do warm-up exercises everyday and practice. Nobody goes on a concert tour and decides after they haven’t picked up the guitar in six months and they can just play the thing; you have to practice all the time.”
He continued with passing along advice a friend gave him once before.
“A friend told me years ago if you write six days a week, you’ll probably write something good worth keeping two-to-three of those days. And if you write just once a week, you’ll never write anything good. You’ll be out of practice and just be warming up.”
Contact CU Independent Entertainment Editor Adrian Kun at Adrian.email@example.com.