|Otto Penzler, renowned editor, publisher and proprietor of ‘The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City.|
Multi-award winning editor and publisher Otto Penzler, proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City and founder of The Mysterious Press, an imprint at Grove/Atlantic, is to be Special Guest of Honor at the upcoming Mystery Fest Key West, set for June 22-24 at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Grand Key in Key West. In advance of the annual celebration of sleuthing, he has agreed to answer a few questions:
Q: You are widely regarded as the world’s foremost authority on crime, mystery and suspense fiction. What does it take to hook you? Is there a #1 feature or characteristic that tells you a book is a hit? And how long do you stick with a one that does not pull you in from the very start?
Otto: It takes the same thing to hook me that any work of literature does. Good writing. A unique and compelling style. Characters that I want to hang out with and HAVE to know more about. A compelling premise can hook me even if the writing is kind of ordinary, but it’s harder to do these days since I’ve read so much.
There is never one thing that tells you a book will be a hit—and I’m usually wrong when I think one will be. Big hits are uncommon, and some of the greatest writers I’ve ever read never made the best-seller list.
I used to finish a book if I started it. But P.D. James, who was about 65 at the time, broke me of the habit. She guessed she had about ten more years to live. If she could read a book a week, that meant only about 500 books for the rest of her life. Why waste your time with something you don’t love. I adopted that philosophy from that day on. I think I now read one of five books that I start from cover to cover.
Q: Do you have a hands-down favorite crime fiction character? One that you feel is by far the best written to date?
Otto: No, I don’t. So many disparate characters bring so many different pleasures to the page. I’d read any Michael Connelly Bosch book, any Lee Child Jack Reacher. But also John Harvey, James Carlos Blake, Thomas Perry, Nelson DeMille, Charles McCarry—no matter who the character is. I think McCarry is the greatest espionage writer that America ever produced, though I think the early John le Carre was also brilliant. To try to name THE best is hopeless because there are so many different criteria for picking it, and mine may be very different from yours.
Q: What author among your discoveries has become the most widely read?
Otto: James Ellroy. I’ve discovered some outstanding writers, and published some outstanding writers but no one has surpassed Ellroy. “The Black Dhalia” became the first bestselling book that The Mysterious Press ever published, as well as our first New York Times bestseller.
Appearing with Penzler at Mystery Fest Key West 2018 are some two-dozen crime-fiction and true crime experts, including Keynote Speaker Ace Atkins, the multi-award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of twenty-one novels; New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Graham; New York Times bestselling authors Lisa Black, Diane A.S. Stuckart, and Charles Todd; bestselling and award-winning author Nancy J. Cohen; award-winning authors Patrick Kendrick and Lewis C. Haskell and many others.
Event highlights include workshops on the business of being an author, how to write and sell a first novel, crisis negotiation and the forensic use of fingerprints, multiple panel discussions on subjects ranging from the state of the publishing industry to book marketing and promotion, plus author book signings, a Keynote luncheon with Ace Atkins, a Conch Train mini-tour of Key West, an ice-cream social event with Atkins and Penzler at the historic Key West Lighthouse, and a Bloody Mary Morning breakfast courtesy of Mystery Writers of America, Florida Chapter, at the Schooner Wharf Bar at the Key West Historic Seaport.
Mystery Fest Key West is sponsored by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, the Key West Citizen daily newspaper, Mystery Writers of America – Florida Chapter, the Helmerich Foundation, and the Florida Keys Council of the Arts. Event registration is $195 and includes all panels and presentations, a luncheon and the Bloody Mary morning breakfast. For a full Fest schedule, online registration, and links to accommodations visit MysteryFestKeyWest.com.