Earl Emerson, whose novels featuring wisecracking Seattle private eye Thomas Black helped usher in a golden era of Pacific Northwest crime fiction, is being honored by the Mystery Writers of America-Northwest Chapter with its annual Willo Davis Roberts Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Emerson, 64, will receive his award at an April 20 ceremony in Bellevue.
“I know I've had a lot of good luck and some bad, and that the good has mostly overwhelmed the bad,” Emerson said. “I feel very fortunate to be writing in an area that supports its local writers to the extent the Northwest does.”
Emerson, a North Bend resident who retired in 2010 after a 32-year career with the Seattle Fire Department, has published 23 novels, beginning with 1985’s The Rainy City, the first Thomas Black tale. His oeuvre includes twelve Black novels and five novels featuring investigating firefighter Mac Fontana, along with six standalone thrillers. One of his Black novels, Poverty Bay, was honored in 1986 by the Private Eye Writers of America with its Shamus Award as the best paperback original of the year.
Emerson sold his first novel in 1983, at a time several other Northwest crime-fiction notables were emerging onto the Seattle literary landscape. Some of his more successful contemporaries include J.A. Jance, Mary Daheim, Aaron Elkins and Ridley Pearson.
“Earl Emerson has made more than a mark on the Northwest crime-fiction landscape; he IS the Northwest crime fiction landscape,” said Elkins, a Sequim resident best known for his mysteries featuring forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver. “Sure, we have an amazing group of terrific mystery writers in this corner of the country, but for the rest of us this just happens to be the place we live in and sometimes write about. Earl’s lean muscular (and often very funny) prose feels like the Pacific Northwest in a way that no one else’s does. I find his writing a continuing source of inspiration and admiration.”
Added Bill Farley, founder of Seattle Mystery Bookshop: “Earl Emerson's Thomas Black and Mac Fontana novels were major contributors to Seattle becoming recognized as a major venue for crime fiction. His Mac Fontana books show Earl's emotional commitment to firefighting; his Thomas Black character gives a wholesomeness to the private detective business as few other authors have done. A private detective can be clean-cut. Who knew? As a reader and a bookseller, I’m indebted to Earl.”
Emerson hasn’t put out a new novel since 2009, but says he has completed two new Thomas Black tales as well as a thriller, and is shopping for a publisher. In the meantime, he has reacquired the rights to most of his work and has slowly been re-releasing them as budget-priced e-books. Of the turbulence in book publishing, Emerson says: “Authors are walking across a stream of turtles, and you’re just jumping from one to one, hoping to hit a rock. There is so much luck involved.” But though he’s retired from firefighting, Emerson makes it clear that he’s nowhere near done as a writer: “The books are coming faster, now that I have the time and I’m not exhausted when I get home from a twenty-four-hour shift at work.”
About the Willo Award: Every year the board selects a winner based on strong ties to the Pacific Northwest and a distinguished body of work in the mystery/true crime publishing field as either an author, bookseller, editor or agent. It is named in honor of Northwest Chapter stalwart (and two-time Edgar Award winner) Willo Davis Roberts, who passed away in 2004.
“It is a pleasure to award this year’s Willo to the pride of North Bend, Earl Emerson,” said Brian Thornton, MWA-Northwest president. “In many ways Earl has helped define the Northwest in crime fiction during his long run of success, and he has definitely left his stamp on the genre with unforgettable characters such as Thomas Black and Mac Fontana.”
Past Willo winners include J.A. Jance, Portland legal-thriller author Phillip Margolin, and Seattle Mystery Bookshop founder Bill Farley.
For immediate release Contact: Jim Thomsen at (206) 714-0931 or firstname.lastname@example.org