David Morrell (2009) – text of Karen Dionne’s remarks


It’s almost a cliche when a person presenting an award says, “It give me great pleasure to present this award to -” but tonight, I could say that and truly mean it. But before I tell you who has been selected as this year’s recipient of Backspace’s main conference award, the Bob Kellogg Good Citizen Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Internet Writing Community, I’d like to tell you a little about the award itself.

Backspace was founded five years ago on the principle of “writers helping writers” and that’s been our mission statement ever since. Even in the best of times, publishing is a difficult business, and writers can use all the help they can get. Backspace began in 2004 with a core group of 110 talented, serious writers who were determined to let cooperation and not competition be the guiding factor in their association. The helpful spirit works, as evidenced by the fact that in five years time, 45 of the original members have been published – most by major publishers, and 6 of them are now New York Times bestselling authors. The momentum generated by those early members continues, so that today, every month, the Backspace newsletter reports several agent signings, publishing deals including foreign rights and film deals, with between 8 and 10 members new releases.

One of the original members was Bob Kellogg. Across numerous web sites and message boards, Bob was known for his gracious, gentlemanly demeanor and his informative and entertaining posts. He had both aspirations and humility, a rare combination, and was always willing to share with and encourage his fellow writers – this in the days when Internet writers boards too often resembled the Wild West. Bob was a true gentleman and a source of inspiration for many. Bob passed away in 2004 before he could realize his publishing aspirations while on a charity run near his Del Mar, California home, and Backspace is honored to name our main conference award after him.

Bob’s positive approach toward writing and publishing and his helpful nature embodies the spirit that makes Backspace the resource it is. And so each year at our conference, Backspace honors an individual who has gone far out of their way to help other writers.  Past recipients include authors Lee Child, M.J. Rose, Joe Konrath, and one literary agent, Kristin Nelson.

This year, it gives me great pleasure to present the Bob Kellogg Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Internet Writing Community to David Morrell.

David Morrell is the award-winning author of First Blood, the novel in which Rambo was created. He was born in 1943 in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. In 1960, at the age of seventeen, he became a fan of the classic television series, Route 66, about two young men in a Corvette traveling the United States in search of America and themselves. The scripts by Stirling Silliphant so impressed Morrell that he decided to become a writer.

In 1966, the work of another writer (Hemingway scholar Philip Young) prompted Morrell to move to the United States, where he studied with Young at Penn State and received his M.A. and Ph.D. in American literature. There, he also met the distinguished fiction writer William Tenn (real name Philip Klass), who taught Morrell the basics of fiction writing. The result was First Blood, a novel about a returned Vietnam veteran suffering from post-trauma stress disorder who comes into conflict with a small-town police chief and fights his own version of the Vietnam War.

That “father” of all modern action novels was published in 1972 while Morrell was a professor in the English department at the University of Iowa. He taught there from 1970 to 1986, simultaneously writing other novels, many of them national bestsellers, such as The Brotherhood of the Rose (the basis for a highly rated NBC miniseries starring Robert Mitchum). Eventually wearying of two professions, he gave up his tenure in order to write full time.

Shortly afterward, his fifteen-year-old son Matthew was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer and died in 1987, a loss that haunts not only Morrell’s life but his work, as in his memoir about Matthew, Fireflies, and his novel Desperate Measures, whose main character has lost a son.

“The mild-mannered professor with the bloody-minded visions,” as one reviewer called him, Morrell is the author of twenty-eight books, including such novels of international intrigue as The Fifth Profession, Assumed Identity, and Extreme Denial. His most recent publication is the dark-suspense thriller Creepers, and David has another fine thriller coming out this July which I’ve been privileged to read, The Shimmer.

David has been helping aspiring writers for far longer than I’ve been writing. David is the co-founder and served for several years as co-president of the International Thriller Writers organization along with Gayle Lynds, setting aside his own career to create an organization that helps his fellow thriller writers.

From Gayle Lynds:

There is no better partner in thriller crime than David Morrell.  What a joy it was to work with him in founding ITW.  We started with nothing – no money, no volunteers, no idea whether it would work, and several folks who very definitely announced that a professional thriller organization for authors was not wanted or needed.  Still, full of enthusiasm and faith, we forged ahead.             

David and I conducted our first meeting in October 2004 at Bouchercon in Toronto, with some 30 authors in attendance.  They told us they did indeed want an organization, and that was the beginning.  From there our first board of directors came, outstanding people who shouldered great responsibility – MJ Rose, David Dun, Lee Child, and Tess Gerritsen – and helped us to carve out a vision for ITW’s future. 

As co-presidents, David and I shared the work of coordinating, overseeing, and trouble-shooting.  We occasionally disagreed but there was never a cross word between us.  David has a stratospheric IQ, a heart as big as the planet, and talent that’s immeasurable.  I will always consider him one of my most cherished friends and colleagues.  It’s been a privilege.

M.J. Rose, a former Bob Kellogg recipient, agrees:

As for the amazing Mr. Morrell.

“The brilliant writer David Morrell  – one of the founding fathers of the thriller as we know it – is one of the most generous and gentle men I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet and work with. We spent four years developing and helping build ITW and over and over he was the voice of reason and wisdom. What I think it the most amazing thing about his is that as much as he knows — he always stops to listen. David blew me away when he offered to blurb one of my books without me ever asking and gave me editorial advice that was invauable. I fell incredicbly lucky and grateful to have him as a friend.”

David is going to be honored this year at ThrillerFest by his peers with the Thrillermaster award in recognition of his body of work, joining such notables as Sandra Brown, Clive Cussler, and James Patterson.  When you consider the stature of his achievements, this sort of comment from a first-time thriller author is all the more extraordinary.  From Jeremy Duns:

‘I’ll never forget David Morrell’s kindness to me. I’ve enjoyed his writing for many years, from First Blood to his wonderful espionage trilogy, and I knew from interviews with him that we shared a love of the work of the great British thriller-writer Geoffrey Household. And so it was that several months ago, I screwed up my courage and sent an email to his website asking if, by any chance, there was a way I could get my debut novel to him, as I thought he might enjoy it. Imagine my surprise to receive a reply from the man himself – and imagine my amazement when, a few months later, he provided me with an extraordinary jacket quote, which I intend to use for the rest of my career! I have never met Mr Morrell, but from our brief correspondence I feel confident in saying that he is not only the father of the modern action novel, but the soul of generosity, and a true gentleman. Thank you, sir, and congratulations on this well deserved award!    


The Bob Kellogg award is different from most conference awards in that it’s a service award, given not for literary accomplishment, but in recognition of a giving, generous spirit. Thank you, David, for all you do.