I’m so behind on social media that I completely missed a podcast back in October where a writer being interviewed referred to me as “The Meryl Streep of Short Fiction.” The claim is hilarious, and I have thoughts.
The podcast is Wrong Place, Write Crime, run by the crime fiction author Frank Zafiro. The person interviewed in Episode 17 is the Texas-born, North Carolina-based writer Eryk Pruitt, whom I know of but have never met. The podcast runs nearly an hour, and I come up around the 11-minute mark, when Zafiro starts asking Pruitt about “Knockout,” a short story of his that was a finalist for the Derringer Award in 2015.
At the risk of going inside baseball, the Derringer Awards are awarded each year by the Short Mystery Fiction Society to short stories in that genre. A lot of mystery organizations award a short story prize, but the Derringers are the only ones focused exclusively on short mystery stories, the only ones read blind (where the first round of judges are not told the name of the author whose story they’re reading), and the only prize awarded to stories in four different categories, based on length.
To cut to the chase, in 2015 one of my stories won the Derringer for flash fiction (i.e, a story that’s no more than 1,000 words). I have been fond of saying that the story was 684 words long, and that it’s weird to win something for so little work. When people ask about it, I tell them I’m currently at work on a 684-word novel.
But okay. In the podcast, Zafiro asks Pruitt who won the award that year, and Pruitt mentions me, and goes on to say,
“…[D’Agnese] apparently wins like all the time—he’s like the Meryl Streep…So basically I got beat by the Meryl Streep of short fiction… And Joseph, if you’re listening, I just called you Meryl Streep. Your move."
Well, that’s just a hoot on so many levels. Authors as obscure as me live for awesome blurbs like that, and so my first “move” was to immediately get some business cards printed up using my brand-new sobriquet.
Not just any old business cards. Fancy-ass, letterpress business cards by Hoban Press (whom I love) printed on 110-pound Neenah Cotton stock, thank you very much. Because I’m not just the winner of some obscure literary award. I’m the fucking Meryl Streep of Short Fiction.
I have to thank Eryk and Frank for making my day, but I should probably point out that in the realm of short mystery fiction, I’m pretty much a newb. It’s true I’ve been a Derringer finalist three times, but I’ve only won once.
When you look at writing awards in total, I can very modestly say that I’ve won only three others—an award from the Humane Society for a piece of science journalism I wrote ages ago, and two others for children’s writing.
I list all the awards on my website because that’s what you do, but in truth, my short mystery fiction output is nowhere near as huge as multiple Derringer winners like Robert Lopresti, John M. Floyd, or Art Taylor, to name only a few biggies in this field. I actually made a study of short fiction output for a talk I did once. All of us currently working in the mystery field probably have a long way to go to beat the late Edward D. Hoch, who wrote 900 short stories, mostly mysteries, in his lifetime.
But who’s counting? [he says, slinking off to a corner.]
If you like the Wrong Place, Write Crime podcast, I encourage you to check out the work of Zafiro, a former police officer who himself has a massive body of fiction, and Pruitt, who in addition to writing books and short stories is also a screenwriter, filmmaker, and radio show host. In fact, the bulk of this interview focuses on Pruitt’s recent true-crime podcast series, The Long Dance, in which he investigates a long-unsolved pair of murders in the Durham, NC, area. I’m listening to it now, and it’s amazing stuff. So amazing, Meryl Streep should do the movie.
By the way, if you can think of someone who really deserves the title of The Meryl Streep of Short Fiction, or Short Mystery Fiction, for that matter, let me know in the comments below.
My thanks to artist Jon Arge for the hilarious art of me above.
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