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WHERE I'M WRITING FROM: Getting the key to the kingdom

by Eli Cranor, Special to the Democrat-Gazette | March 19, 2023 at 2:10 a.m.
Peter Lovesey and Eli Cranor, on split screen (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

This time last year, my life changed forever.

My debut novel came out sometime between March 7 and March 22 (a discrepancy caused by a post-pandemic shortage of binding glue). Nevertheless, I packed my bags and headed off on a book tour with stops in Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Oxford, Jackson, Asheville, Raleigh and Minneapolis, and now I'm gearing up to do it all over again.

It's been a blast, a dream come true, and none of it would've been possible without Peter Lovesey.

If that name sounds familiar, it's because Peter is a king in the mystery writing world. He has penned and published more than 40 novels, and he's one of only two living writers who has been awarded the Crime Writers Association's Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement and the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master designation. (The other is Sara Paretsky.) Peter's backlist is rich in puzzle-mystery delight and laugh-out-loud funny whimsy. I reached out to our mutual editor Juliet Grames to see if she had a backlist favorite. Juliet chose "The Tooth Tattoo," a mystery featuring the irascible luddite police investigator Peter Diamond, who must unravel a chain of mysterious violence surrounding an elite classical string quartet.

Long story short, Peter is a big deal.

He's also an octogenarian who's been writing mysteries for over 50 years, and it was that 50-year mark that resulted in my big break.

You see, Peter's publisher, Soho Press, wanted to host a gala in New York to honor his years in the business. Peter asked if they'd be willing to champion a first-novel contest instead. His first published novel had been a product of a similar contest hosted by Macmillan, and Peter — being Peter — wanted to pay it forward.

I came across the Peter Lovesey First Crime Novel contest after five years' worth of defeat. Along the way, I'd collected more than 200 agent rejection letters and had all but given up on ever publishing "Don't Know Tough." As fate would have it, fellow author and dear friend William Boyle pointed me in the direction of Peter's contest.

I fired the submission off and didn't think much about it. I didn't know much at all about Peter other than the fact that he was a British mystery novelist. I seriously doubted such a man would connect with my gritty, American-football-based story set in Arkansas.

Boy, was I wrong.

Turns out, Peter and I had much in common. Like me, Peter was a 34-year-old teacher when his debut novel, "Wobble to Death," won the Macmillan contest, the same age I was this time last year. There are similarities in our manuscripts as well. Both books are mysteries set around a sporting event. Peter's story follows a long-distance walking competition; mine takes place in the throes of a high school football season.

I knew none of this when I got word that I'd won the contest, which made it all the sweeter.

Over the course of the next year, I got to know more and more about my mysterious benefactor, the man who'd given me the key to the kingdom of my wildest dreams.

I'll never forget the virtual event Soho organized to honor Peter's anniversary and reveal the winner of the contest. A host of legendary crime writers, including Jeffery Deaver, Louise Penny and Lawrence Block, were all gathered "backstage," going through a technological checklist, making sure our Zoom cameras were working and our mics were on.

My screen was set up "Brady Bunch" style, displaying all those world-renowned authors in tiny digital boxes. I was in awe. My armpits were sweating.

At one point, the host asked us to turn our cameras off. It was something we were going to have to do during the event, a way to give everyone their allotted time with Peter.

One by one, I watched each famous author's digital window go black. The host disappeared as well. Her voice, however, remained, asking everyone to please turn their cameras back on, the practice round being over.

My monitor flickered as the novelists reappeared, still sitting in the same spot, with the same background as before. Every author, that is, except Peter.

When Mr. Lovesey's camera clicked back on, his bookshelves were still there; his desk chair too. But the man for whom we'd all gathered to celebrate was gone.

A few anxious seconds later — just enough time to build genuine suspense — a wrinkled hand appeared along the left edge of the screen, waving as Peter's head and body materialized next.

The legendary novelist wore a Cheshire grin, thrilled that he'd been able to pull one over on a cast of such decorated crime authors. Jeffery Deaver was particularly impressed, noting that the trick Peter had just pulled would make a perfect opening for a mystery novel.

The rest of the gala went off without a hitch. Each author came forward and explained the impact Peter had made on his/her life. When it was my turn, there was a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. As a result, I can't remember much of what I said. I've always felt like I flubbed my one chance to properly thank the man who gave me everything.

Which is why, as I gear up for my second novel's release, I wanted to pause and reflect on the man who not only paved the way for me but also brought the limousine.

So, without further ado ... Thank you, Peter, for deciding to host a first-novel contest instead of an extravagant gala. And thanks, more than anything, for inviting me to the party.

Eli Cranor is an Arkansas author whose debut novel, "Don't Know Tough," is available wherever books are sold. He can be reached using the "Contact" page at and found on Twitter @elicranor.


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