Showing posts with label Dale C. Andrews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dale C. Andrews. Show all posts

05 March 2018

Misadventures

by Dale C. Andrews                                                 
 

[A] pastiche is a serious and sincere imitation in the exact manner of the original author.  

    --  Ellery Queen
        The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes  (1944)   

We have been using the word "pastiche" for decades, at least since Ellery Queen's The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of such stories, was published in 1944.  

     --  Chris Redmond 
          "You Say Fanfic, I Say Pastiche -- Is  there a
           Difference?” (2015) 

       This week (I am happy to announce) marks the culmination of a project that has kept me fairly busy for a good bit of the last year -- the publication of The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, co-edited by Josh Pachter and me, Dale Andrews. The anthology collects, for the first time, 16 stories, written over the course of some 70 years. The stories are “misadventures,” that is, pastiches, parodies and other homages, all inspired by author/detective Ellery Queen. For Josh and me putting together this collection has been a work of love. And it has also been a project that has been, well . . a long time coming.   

       Many of you may remember from previous SleuthSayer articles that Ellery occupies a particularly warm spot in my writing heart. Over the years I’ve written three Ellery Queen pastiches that have graced the pages of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and I’ve written numerous articles on Ellery and his exploits that have appeared on SleuthSayers. While some of the backstory to The Misadventures of Ellery Queen predates SleuthSayers, the recent story of how the collection came into being can be traced through various footprints throughout the history of this website.   

     Books collecting “misadventure,” that is, anthologies that carry forth the exploits of an established character but in stories penned by other authors, have a long pedigree. The best examples of misadventures are the many stories and anthologies offering up new Sherlock Holmes stories written outside of the established Arthur Conan Doyle canon. And the first collection of such stories was The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by none other than -- Ellery Queen in 1944. (The collection was quickly withdrawn from the public following a copyright challenge from the Arthur Conan Doyle estate. Luckily for all of us the collection is now once again readily available.) 

       It was only natural that a fan of Ellery Queen who has also written new Ellery Queen adventures (that would be me!) would reasonably be expected to ponder why the stories not originally drafted by Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee but nonetheless featuring their detective creation Ellery have not been previously collected. EQ pastiches and parodies are not as numerous as those featuring Sherlock Holmes, but nevertheless many have popped up with some regularity since at least 1947, when Thomas Narcejac wrote (in French) Le Mystere de ballons rouge featuring Ellery, and the inspector. Since then Jon L. Breen, Francis Nevins, Edward D. Hoch and a host of others, both famous and lesser known, have also contributed Ellery Queen stories. So wouldn’t an Ellery Queen “misadventures” anthology make some sense?   

The Japanese Misadventures
     That was precisely the question I pondered in one of my earliest SleuthSayers articles, “Fair Play Mysteries and the Land of the Rising Sun,” which posted on October 25, 2011. At the time the article was written I had just received a request to allow my first EQ pastiche, “The Book Case,” written in collaboration with my good friend Kurt Sercu, proprietor of Ellery Queen -- A Website on Deduction, to appear in exactly such an anthology. That volume, also entitled The Misadventures of Ellery Queen was published in 2012. But, as that earlier SleuthSayers post explains, the book, edited by Iiki Yusan, who also heads up the Ellery Queen Fan Club in Japan, was intended for the Japanese market and the stories it collects have been translated into Japanese. All of this is explained (and lamented) in that earlier article. Even back then, as I indicated in a response to a comment, I was ruminating over the possibility of an English language Misadventures anthology.   

       From 2012 on my author’s copy of the Japanese Misadventures just sat there on my own book case -- staring at me accusingly as nothing happened and the years slipped by. Since I don’t read Japanese about the only thing I could meaningfully ponder in Iiki Yusan’s Misadventures was the list of contributing authors, which appeared in English at the back of the book. The list included the likes of Francis Nevins, Jon Breen, Ed Hoch, and even me. 

        Also a guy named Josh Pachter.   

       Josh Pachter? Back in 2011 when I wrote that first SleuthSayers column the name meant nothing to me.   

       Josh, it turned out, has written many mystery stories during a career of almost fifty years -- including several homages featuring a character by the name of E.Q. Griffen. The reason I was unfamiliar with  these stories is the same reason that I had concluded that we needed a collection of Ellery’s misadventures -- Josh’s Ellery Queen homages were nearly impossible to find. Like almost all EQ pastiches, parodies and homages they were published originally in issues of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and that had occurred many years ago. As a practical matter those magazine issues were unavailable to the vast majority of the reading public. But even given this, I began to hear more and more about Josh, including the fact that he lived not all that far away from me, outside of Washington, D.C. in the Virginia suburbs.   

       So let's skip a few years and eventually alight in yet another SleuthSayers article.   

       In the summer of 2015 I received an email from my friend Francis (Mike) Nevins informing me that he would be traveling through Washington, D.C. that September. I immediately offered up our guest room, and Mike accepted. 

        Mike Nevins, as many of you will know, is an emeritus professor at St. Louis University Law School, a preeminent Ellery Queen scholar and the author of many short stories and books, including two seminal biographical works chronicling the lives and works of the two cousins who were Ellery Queen -- Fred Dannay and Manfred B. Lee: Royal Bloodline: Ellery Queen, Author and Detective (1974) and the more recent Ellery Queen: The Art of Detection (2013). Mike’s 2013 book was, in fact, reviewed by me right here on SleuthSayers in January of 2013.   

       Mike is also the author of one of the finest Ellery Queen pastiches ever written -- “Open Letter to Survivors.”   

       When Mike accepted my invitation by return email he told me that he would really like to get together with an old friend during his D.C. stay. Another author. Named Josh Pachter. As I said, by then I knew who Josh was. Mike and I contacted Josh by email and dinner was scheduled for a September evening in the backyard of my home. The dinner (you guessed it) was the subject of my SleuthSayers article of September 27, 2015.    

Josh, Mike and me in the backyard. 
(Animation courtesy of Google!)
     As we chatted that evening it turned out that I was not the only one who had contemplated a collection of Ellery Queen misadventures. Josh’s first EQMM story -- that E.Q. Griffen homage -- was published in EQMM when he was just 16 years old, at a time when Frederic Dannay was still editor-in-chief of the magazine. Josh had thereafter become close friends with Dannay and had even broached the possibility of exactly such a volume with him. But nothing came of it.   

       It didn’t take long for the gears to begin to mesh. Maybe each of us thought. Just maybe working together we could actually do this.   

       And, to make a longer story short, we did! The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, which we compiled over the course of almost a year, has one story by each of us -- “The Book Case” for me; “E.Q. Griffen Earns his Name” for Josh. The other 14 stories are by other authors.  We had a lot of stories to choose from, and the final volume differs in many respects from the Japanese Misadventures anthology. Our book includes the first ever English translation of that 1947 Thomas Narcejac pastiche “The Mystery of the Red Balloons,” as well as Mike Nevin’s “Open Letter to Survivors.” Readers will also find Jon Breen’s pastiche “The Gilbert and Sullivan Clue,” and a particularly sneaky pastiche by Ed Hoch, which spent most of its literary life masquerading as an Ellery Queen-authored story . There are stories by Lawrence Block. William Brittain, James Holding and others. And the book also includes what is probably the most recent Queen homage (a sort of pastiche with it’s own twist) Edgar winner Joe Goodrich’s “The Ten-Cent Murder.” All of those, and quite a few others by authors famous and authors obscure share one thing in comon --  each was inspired by Ellery.   

       Josh and I are particularly pleased with the final product shaped by our publisher, Wildside Press, which has made the collection available in hard covertrade paperback, and Kindle editions.  

Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee
Picture courtesy of "Ellery Queen -- A website on Deduction"
       Choosing the stories, writing  introductions, and otherwise putting this volume together has been a joy for Josh and me for many reasons. Perhaps the greatest joy is mirrored in an observation by Janet Hutchings, editor of EQMM.  In these Misadventures, she has written, “Ellery Queen lives again.” That's what we were hoping for.   Dannay and Lee, writing as Ellery Queen observed in their introduction to that 1944 Sherlock Holmes Misadventure anthology that pastiches and parodies are "the next best thing to new stories."  

       And that was always what we wanted most to accomplish -- bringing some of the many adventures of Ellery Queen written by authors other than Dannay and Lee together in one volume.  We hope that readers will enjoy diving into these alternative adventures as much as we have enjoyed collecting them.

       One final note -- in addition to availability on-line, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen will also be on sale at the Malice Domestic convention at the end of April.  And Josh and I will both be there.  Just in case anyone might want . . . uhh . . . a signed copy?


24 April 2016

Shakespeare's Words at 400

by Dale C. Andrews 
William Shakespeare:  You will never age for me, nor fade, nor die.  
                                                              Marc Norman
                                                              Shakespeare in Love:  A Screenplay 
I understand a fury in your words.  But not your words.
                                                              William Shakespeare
                                                              Othello 

       Shakespeare, we are told, died on his birthday -- 400 years ago yesterday. It was Shakespeare himself, in Sonnet 18, who predicted that his works would be with us "[s]o long as men can breathe or eyes can see."  That observation has proven prescient.  Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, after 400 years, are staking out a great case for immortality. But that is not to say they are also age-less. The English language has seen a lot of changes since Shakespeare gave up the ghost.

      Language can sometimes lull us into a sense of presentism. Because it evolves slowly it is easy to assume that it doesn’t really change all that much. But that is not the case. Language growth may be a slow process but it is also an inexorable one.  Measuring that growth is at its easiest when we are confronted with literature borne of a different time.  This is readily apparent in the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare.  But before we get there, lets pause for a minute to contemplate more recent language changes.

       As discussed in a previous article, each year’s new edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is accompanied by a description of new words that have been added in a race to keep up with the evolution of our language. We are about due for the 2016 update to this list, but back in spring of 2015 over 1700 new words were added to the the dictionary’s list of recognized words. These included “emoji,” “net neutrality,” and “meme.” Also on the list was the now nearly ubiquitous exclamation “WTF.” (I suppose this is helpful -- if someone asks what it means now you can simply say “look it up!”) 

       The editors of the dictionary take all of this vocabulary evolution very seriously. Their goal, after all, is not one of creating new words but rather of acknowledging the new words that have already become accepted in conversation. To do this, according to Merriam-Webster, the publishers must seek out words that have been “used in a substantial number of citations that come from a wide range of publications over a considerable period of time,” Merriam-Webster’s publishers note that “the word must have enough citations to allow accurate judgments about its establishment, currency, and meaning.” 

     Even when a word makes the cut its meaning may not be set in stone (or the dictionary page). Common and accepted words over the course of time may find their meaning completely changed. According to the Oxford Dictionary the words "learn" and "let," for example, now mean the opposite of their former use. Other words (a good example is “sanction”) continue to have directly opposite meanings based strictly on how they are used in a sentence. Other words evolve to mean different things in different geographic settings. If an issue is “moot” in the United States it is not ripe for discussion, but in England the word implies that the issue is. Similarly an issue that is “tabled” is ready for discussion in England but decidedly not so in the United States. (Talk about separated by a common language!) 

       All of this, however, focuses on the addition of new words and their subsequent evolution. But an evolving language also involves subtraction. Over the years there are many words and phrases that simply fall by the wayside, unable to keep up with their comrades. These fallen soldiers predictably linger on in the dictionary for a while, usually branded with the word “archaic,” before giving up their own ghost and disappearing altogether. 

     Literature is the best museum for such words. It is amazing how rapidly writing can become dated simply because the words chosen by the author no longer seem right to a reader years down the line. The more years there are between writing and reading, the larger the problem.

       And what better example of this than Shakespeare? The shear brilliance of Shakespeare's works has ensured that 400 years later they are still a familiar part of our world.  But that is not to say that reading or listening to a performance of Shakespeare is an easy task.

       We are all taught that Shakespeare’s greatness was partially based on the fact that he wrote in the language of the people. And there, as Shakespeare might have said, is the rub. The irony of Shakespeare’s use of language common to his time is that his literature becomes, as a result, difficult to parse today because centuries later many of his words are no longer those of the people. And I am not just talking about just an occasional “thy” and “thou." How about this from King Henry the Fourth, Part I
As the honey of Hybla, my old lad of the castle -- and is not a buff jerkin in a most sweet robe of durance?
         What!!?

        As a public service there are several sites on the internet that have been established solely to help the vocabulary-challenged reader muddle his or her way through Shakespearean prose and poetry. Here are just a few examples of common words and phrases used by The Bard that now require further explanation: 
  • Anon -- in a little while 
  • Belike -- with considerable certainty  
  • Betimes -- in good time 
  • Betwixt -- in the interval 
  • Bourn -- a boundary 
  • Bruit -- tell or spread rumors 
  • Buckram -- a coarse cotton fabric stiffened with glue 
  • Cap-a-pie -- at all points from head to foot 
  • Cozen -- be dishonest with 
  • Fain -- having made preparations 
  • Fardel -- a burden, literally a bundle 
  • Haply -- by accident 
  • Hautboy -- a slender double-reed instrument   
  • Hugger mugger -- to act stealthily or secretively 
  • Incarnadine -- redden or make flesh-colored 
  • Meed -- a fitting reward 
  • Mote -- a tiny piece of anything 
  • Nonce -- the present occasion 
  • Orison -- reverent petition to a deity 
  • Palter -- being deliberately ambiguous or unclear in order to mislead 
  • Rood -- a crucifix 
  • Shrive -- a contemptuous term of address to an inferior man or boy 
  • Sooth -- truth or reality  
  • Swain -- a man who is the lover of a child or young woman 
  • Thou -- the cardinal number that is the product of 10 and 100 
  • Vouchsafe -- grant in a condescending manner 
  • Welkin -- the surface of an imaginary sphere on which celestial bodies appear 
  • Withal -- together with this 
  • Wonted -- commonly used or practiced; usual 
And note that as helpful as all of this might generally be, none of it is any help when it comes to deciphering that King Henry the Fourth, Part I quote! 

       Of course the problem lies not just in the works of Shakespeare. His writing is a good example of the problem simply because it has endured so long, a process that ensures the maximum number of dated words. Pick up any classic golden age mystery and the same problem, to a lesser degree, presents itself even where only 75 years separates the pen from the reader. 

       And as words depart from the realm of accepted usage dictionaries must take note of this as well. Just as words are constantly being added to dictionaries, so, too, others are quietly disappearing. You will no longer find “aerodrome” in the Collins Dictionary. And, as The Guardian noted a few years back, that word is in good company: 
Other words on the [deleted] list include "wittol"– a man who tolerates his wife's infidelity, which has not been much used since the 1940s. The terms "drysalter", a dealer in certain chemical products and foods, and "alienism", the study and treatment of mental illness, have also faded from use. Some of the vanished words are old-fashioned modes of transport such as the "cyclogiro", a type of aircraft propelled by rotating blades, and charabanc, a motor coach. 
     It is probably inevitable that this process cannot take place without some folks voicing objections. The same fervor that inspires us to form groups committed to saving almost anything poised on the brink of extinction has also provided a catalyst for various groups to champion the restoration of some of the more colorful words that have been deemed, as a result of diminished usage, obsolete. And, truth be told, you have to admire some of these proffered candidates. Take, for example, the following gathered from various “save the word” sites scattered throughout the Internet: 
  • Apricity -- feeling the warmth of the sun in winter 
  • Beef-witted -- An inactive brain resulting from eating too much beef 
  • Brabble -- Loudly arguing about something inconsequential 
  • California widow -- A married woman whose husband is away 
  • Cockalorum -- A small person with an inflated view of themselves (in this election year wouldn’t that one come in handy!) 
  • Crapulous -- feeling ill due to over-indulgence 
  • Curglaff -- The shock of stepping into cold bath water 
  • Curmuring -- the rumbling sound produced by bowels 
  • Fuzzle -- To get someone drunk 
  • Gorgonize -- Projecting a hypnotic effect 
  • Groak -- silently watching someone while they eat in the hope you will be invited to join in 
  • Grumpish -- How you feel when you are grumpy 
  • Jargogle -- to confuse or bamboozle 
  • Jirble -- Decanting with an unsteady hand 
  • Lethophobia -- the fear of oblivion
  • Ludibrious -- someone apt to be the butt of a joke 
  • Lunting -- smoking a pipe while walking 
  • Resistentialism -- the malevolent behavior displayed (all too often) by inanimate objects (hammers in proximity to thumb, for example) 
  • Snoutfair -- Displaying a pleasing countenance 
       Joining the bandwagons and re-introducing any of these words into your own writing can be tempting. But beware -- by doing so you may risk showing your age.  And, as Hamlet decried:
Age, with his stealing steps, hath clawed me in his clutch.

28 February 2016

Harper Lee and Alabama

by Dale C. Andrews
Sign in front of the Harper Lee Museum, Monroeville, Alabama 
(From FiveThirtyEight; attributed to Andrea Mabry, AP)
Fleetingly we will skirt Georgia before our southerly run continues down the State of Alabama, through Birmingham, and then just east of Monroeville, where Harper Lee still resides.
                         Me                                                                      SleuthSayers
                         January 31, 2016
You never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. 
Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.
                                                                 Harper Lee 
                                                                 To Kill a Mockingbird 

       One month ago I drove south through the State of Alabama, and as always I thought of Harper Lee when we passed just east of Monroeville, her Alabama refuge for most of her life and the model for the Alabama town of Maycomb, in which To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman take place. It was while I was in Alabama last year that it was announced that Go Set a Watchman, a book that took most of us completely by surprise, would be published. And now this year, during our annual month in Alabama, Harper Lee has passed.  Tomorrow we leave.  But again this year I have spent a lot of time here thinking about Harper Lee, her two books, and what they teach us about Alabama.

       Harper Lee rarely gave interviews. But in one of the few that she did give she had this to say back in 1964:
I would like . . . to do one thing, and I’ve never spoken much about it because it’s such a personal thing. I would like to leave some record of the kind of life that existed in a very small world.
All told Harper Lee left us only two novels -- To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. Publication of the latter volume was the catalyst for a lot of criticism. That criticism, both literary and ad hominem, is familiar to most readers and need not be regurgitated here. But I would argue (in fact, I have argued) that the two volumes, comprising virtually all of Harper Lee’s literary output, tell us a lot about Harper Lee’s Alabama, and much of what she tells us remains true today. 

       For most of my life I never set foot in Alabama. But in each of the last five years my wife and I have spent the month of February in the State, hunkered down in a rented condominium in Gulf Shores overlooking the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We first made this trip at the urging of my wife’s sisters, who had already discovered Gulf Shores, which is convenient to their Midwest homes. They were hardly alone in this discovery -- the stretch of South Alabama has become a flocking ground for so-called “snowbirds,” since it offers a very reasonable retreat from the weather extremes that roll across the nation several hundred miles to the north. This small strip of Alabama shoreline is not as warm as Florida, but is more reasonably priced, enticing us northerners to trade a few degrees of warmth for several dollars of savings. 

       So, what’s not to like?  Well, there is that little problem of history and its imprints.

       The United States has a large footprint, and its many regions have spawned many sub cultures, some of which tend to divide us. So I will admit that when my wife and I first considered re-locating here for the month of February I approached the possibility with a significant degree of historical trepidation. I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, which certainly is not the liberal bastion of my present home in Washington, D.C. But even in St. Louis, in the 1950s and 1960s of my childhood, Alabama was a place we looked at uncomprehendingly and, well, a bit aghast. From afar we watched the civil rights marches and riots on our television news.  We watched George Wallace’s defiant confrontation with Federal marshals as he attempted to block the doorway to the registrar’s office on the steps of the University of Alabama. 

       All of this had an effect. It was easy -- very easy -- to conclude that while we were far from perfect, these angry folks digging in their heels against racial equality were still uncomfortably different from us. We couldn't figure them out and, indeed, we really did not want to.  My father, I remember, vowed never to set foot in the state. Mississippi either. But today we are talking Alabama. 

      All of this was pretty deeply ingrained in me that first time, five years ago, that I drove south to Alabama. But just as life presents many faces, so, too, does Alabama. Driving south down Interstate 65 the occasional Confederate flag flying by the side of the highway was, in each case, both a confirmation of what I already expected and also off-putting. In contrast, the people we encountered were uniformly charming, gracious and inviting. Alabama’s stories, like all of ours, are complex.

       Here are two. 

       On our first trip to Gulf Shores I wandered into a liquor store on West Beach Boulevard to purchase some scotch. There were no large bottles of Dewars, my favorite brand, on display and I asked the manager if he had any in the back. Shaking his head he apologized, telling me that their stock was a bit low since February was still off season. Then, smiling, he told me to just pick up two smaller bottles and he would knock a few bucks off. Wow, I thought. Never had that happen before. When I brought the two bottles up to checkout the manager pulled a bottle of single malt scotch from under the counter. “This is my favorite,” he said. He then produced two glasses, poured a finger in each, and handed one to me. I picked up the proffered glass and, at 10:30 in the morning we sipped scotch together and talked about the weather and good places to purchase seafood. When I finally got back to the car my wife, waiting patiently inside, asked where I had been for such a long time. “Drinking scotch with my new best friend,” I replied. 

       But then there is this:  On that same trip one evening we went to dinner at DeSoto’s Seafood Kitchen, a Gulf Shores restaurant popular for its southern charm and local fare. As we ate our dinner we became aware of a woman seated at a nearby table.  Indeed, she couldn't be ignored.  In a voice loud enough to make clear that her words were intended to reach beyond her immediate dinner party we (and many others) heard the following harangue:  “Things have gotten so bad,” she hectored, for all to hear, “that in Washington they went and passed a secret Constitutional amendment making it legal for a black man from Kenya to be president.” 

       Each of these stories is Alabama. 

       For years now I have enjoyed the warmth of the sun and of the people here in Gulf Shores. Everyone is uniformly friendly. Smiles abound. But just as Sherlock Holmes famously observed in the context of the dog that did not bark in the night, we need to pay attention to what is present and also to what may be absent.  I never noticed this at first, but it eventually struck me that in all of the restaurants, supermarkets, pharmacies, fish markets, liquor stores and souvenir shops that I have visited in and around Gulf Shores over the years all of the employees that I recall encountering have been Caucasian. Just like in that Sherlock Holmes story, when you recognize the absence, well, it can tell you a lot.  And that is yet another Alabama story.

       As noted at the outset of this piece, Harper Lee was subjected to a good deal of criticism last year when Go Tell a Watchman was published. Many critics could not abide the contrasting portrayals of Atticus Finch that Lee’s two books offered up. How can we square the paragon of Mockingbird with the segregationist of Watchman? Like Alabama, the answer to that question is complex. 

     The two Harper Lee passages at the top of this piece illustrate the dual, and at times conflicting perspectives that the author brought to her life view and to her writing. She balanced the competing tasks of understanding those around her while at the same time judging those characters, and herself, by her own conscience. While some have been critical of Watchman, and its portrayal of Atticus, it seems to me that we need both books to understand Harper Lee and her complicated verdict on Alabama.

       It is Mockingbird that allows us to understand the conscience of Atticus, what Harper Lee identified as “the one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule.” But it is Watchman that reminds us that for all of this Atticus was still a son of Alabama. As Harper Lee explained, you cannot understand anyone, even Atticus, “until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Climbing into that skin is Watchman. Abiding by your own conscience is To Kill a Mockingbird. Both are Atticus and both are Alabama. Harper Lee could understand, and love without condoning.

       In the wake of Harper Lee's death the statistical website FiveThirtyEight posted an article this week summarizing the historical demographics of Harper Lee’s town, Monroeville.  The article concluded that little there has really changed over the years.  The 1930s, when Mockingbird was set, appears to be not all that different from the the 1960s, when the novel was published, and not all that different from today. I have never visited Monroeville.  But this sure sounds like Alabama. History leaves footprints, and they sometimes wash away very slowly. 

       Just after the prophet Isaiah uttered the words “go set a watchman” he continued with these: “Let him declare what he seeth.” That is what Harper Lee did when she wrote about Alabama.  And that is what she said she would do in that 1964 interview.

31 January 2016

Road Trips

by Dale C. Andrews
The spaciousness of it astounds me; this is the kind of country you dream of running away to when you are very young and innocently hungry, before you learn that all land is owned by somebody, that you can get arrested for swinging through trees in a loincloth, and that you were born either too late or too poor for everything you want to do.
                                                 Peter S. Beagle 
                                                 I See by my Outfit 
On July 7, 1919 a young army captain named Dwight David Eisenhower joined 294 other members of the army and departed from Washington D.C. in the military's first automobile caravan across the country. Due to poor roads and highways, the caravan averaged five miles per hour and took 62 days to reach Union Square in San Francisco.
                                                 Interstate Highways: The Largest Public Works Project                
                                                     in History 
                                                 U.S. Department of Transportation, Government Printing Office

Time to run away from home!
     Today, January 31, the lingering remains of the blizzard of 2016 will be in the rear view mirror. We are on the road, driving from Washington, D.C. -- where February (the longest month of the year) begins with tomorrow’s sunrise -- to Gulf Shores, Alabama. Any readers who have followed my posts with regularity over the last few years may well recognize a routine here. Every winter my wife and I retreat to the south for five weeks, leaving our adult son in charge of house and cats.

       Each year our drive takes us along Highway 81 through the Shenandoah Valley and then Roanoke.  Eventually we veer off on I-75 through Knoxville, and then on to Chattanooga, where we will spend the night.  The next day we will begin heading south again, past Lookout Mountain, site of the Civil War battle that bears its name. Fleetingly we will skirt Georgia before our southerly run continues down the State of Alabama, through Birmingham, and then just east of Monroeville, where Harper Lee still resides. Eventually we will cross the Intracoastal Waterway where we will likely stop for lunch at Lulu's (owned and run by Jimmy Buffett's sister).  And then we are there. All of this, except the last few miles, is on interstate highways that plot a rhumb line to the Gulf. 

       When you feel like getting away, well . . . there is nothing like a road trip. Driving the highways speaks to me, as it does to many, as resonantly in my 60’s as it did in the 60’s. The road beckons many of us, and that is reflected throughout our lives, and often our literature. 

      As a college student sometime back in the mid-1960’s I remember wandering into the West End Library in Washington, D.C. looking for some light reading. Something that was decidedly not a text book; escapism while falling asleep. In my search of the shelves I eventually stumbled onto a volume entitled I See by my Outfit authored by Peter S. Beagle. It turned out that Beagle was already moderately well known for his rather macabre first novel, A Fine and Private Place -- don’t confuse that one with the Ellery Queen mystery bearing the same title -- and was probably even better known for his second novel, The Last Unicorn, which, according to one science fiction poll was named the fifth all-time best sci/fi novel ever. But when I wandered into the library that day I had read neither of those books, nor had I heard of Peter Beagle. And my eye had been caught by a non-fiction work Beagle published between those two early novels. What the Hell. I checked it out. 

       I See by my Outfit is an account of a trip that is easy to describe but (as Beagle demonstrated) difficult in the execution. It recounts the adventures, encounters and reflections of Beagle and his close friend Phil Segunick as they purchase matching Vespa motorbikes and then proceed to ride them from New York City to San Francisco, all so that Beagle can reconnect with his girlfriend. The title? It derives from the ballad Streets of Laredo and, more specifically, from the Smothers Brothers’ parody of that song, which Peter Beagle and his companion sing out as they take off across America on their sputtering scooters:  I see by your outfit, that you are a cowboy . . . . Get yourself an outfit and be a cowboy too.

       So that is the premise. But what the book is about is two young hippy kids who forsake everyday obligations and take off in an ill-thought out adventure. And in doing so they discover America -- the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly.

    As a college student trying to figure out what I needed to do to make something of myself this turned out to be seminal escapism. I couldn’t put the book down, and though I do not own a copy I remember it well to this day. As a youngster still learning the tools needed to successfully join the rat-race of life what could be more tempting than this romance about folks my age who on a whim decided to hit the open road? The idea of just chucking it all. Not worrying about next year let alone the next decade. Forgetting about college. Forgetting about Nixon and Viet Nam. Just getting on a friendly little Vespa and cruising down those long open highways. 

       I See by my Outfit, never a best seller even in its time, is a now an obscure example of road trip literature. It's still out there, though.  Centro Books re-issued Beagle’s coming of age travelog in paperback in 2007, and finally, as of last November, it is also available as a Kindle e-book.

     There are, however, lots of other example of readily available road trip parables -- non-fiction as well as fiction. If you hanker to hear from other authors who took to the highways you might try the granddaddy of road trip tales, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, or John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie, or Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent. Bryson's road trip yarn focuses on smaller roads and towns, as does William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways, so if that's what you are looking for either might be just your thing. In the fiction realm you could try Cormack McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning post-apocalyptic novel The Road, or Stephen King’s The Stand, much of which occurs on the road. Tom Wolfe’s early success The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test sort of splits the difference between factual narration and fiction as it follows the drug-induced meanderings of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters crossing the country in their psychedelic school bus named “Further.” Or you might try Angels by Denis Johnson, a road trip featuring some really seedy bus stations.  In their own way each of these works, fiction or non-fiction, real or imagined, set in the past, present or imagined future, echoes Simon and Garfunkel -- they've all come to look for America.

       Looking for something more recent?  Perhaps a road trip tale that serves up a little crime and mystery along the way? My SleuthSayers colleague Art Taylor’s newly published On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories is at the top of my “to read” list. In fact, it's already loaded on my tablet, stowed safely in my overnight bag behind the front seat.  And all of Art's interconnected stories, as the title suggests, take place on the road.

       So all of this is on my mind as I drive southwest on I-81. Back in the 1960s as tempted as I was by I See by my Outfit I couldn’t make myself do it. There was college, then law school, then the career. And there was family, and there were kids.  But that freedom I lacked then I now have in retirement. You just have to be lucky enough to live long enough. Also on my mind, though, is the highway itself, and the network of other interstate highways that criss-cross America making all of our road trips, real or virtual, possible. 

       I think back to a story my father used to tell. He was born in 1916 -- yikes! 100 years ago.  This story probably dates from the early 1920s, when he was a small child. He grew up in St. Louis, but his family previously came there from Vandalia, Illinois, about 75 miles to the east. They had always visited Vandalia relatives by train, but there came a time when his father, my grandfather, decided that the trip could be done by automobile. They decided to give it a try.

       According to my father the family started out from St. Louis early in the morning, without a map, heading east across the Mississippi. After the vaguely familiar streets of East St. Louis, Illinois had been put behind them they were in the unknown.  Every few miles my grandfather would slow down, hail someone by the side of the road and ask how to get to Vandalia. The roadside sage would stroke his chin and opine on the road to follow, at least for the next few miles. When those directions had been followed (or discarded as ill-advised) my grandfather would hail the next person he saw road-side and repeat the question.

       According to my father the family eventually reached Vandalia -- again, 75 miles away -- just over 13 hours after they had departed St. Louis. It is, however, unfair to blame all of this directly on bad directions and the meandering roads of rural America in the 1920s. Some of the delay was more indirect -- resulting from the eight blown tires that my grandfather had to repair roadside along the way.
The Madonna of the Trail statue in
Vandalia, Illinois.  (In front of the first
Illinois capitol building)
       Such was the state of our roads 100 years ago, and that is what Captain Dwight Eisenhower, as recounted in the quote above, encountered when he was ordered in 1919 to see if it was actually possible as a practical matter to drive coast to coast from east to west. Most of the roads Eisenhower traversed were two lane pavement laid over the original trails connecting adjacent towns.

       Vandalia was actually pretty lucky as it happens -- it was situated at the end of the National Road, the first major highway constructed by the Federal Government that had some sense to it. The road followed the Old National Trail that began in Cumberland, Maryland and was the route traveled by settlers headed west. In towns spread out along the trail, you can still find “Madonna of the Trail” statues, one in each state, commemorating those pioneers. One stands, to this day, in Vandalia

       Construction of the National Road was begun in 1811, and ended in 1837 when the road had reached Vandalia. The plan was to continue the project until the National Road reached St. Louis -- which would have made things easier for my grandfather -- but the panic of 1837 and the resulting national financial collapse put an end to those ambitions. So there was some order and logic to the route when a traveler attempted to drive from the beginning of the road, in Cumberland Maryland, to Vandalia. But after Vandalia, on the roads my family drove in the 1920s, anarchy reigned.

       Aside from the National Road, and a few other similar national projects, roads in the United States were originally constructed mostly at the whim of localities -- black top and portland cement strips of two lanes, climbing every hill, dropping into every valley, skirting property lines and connecting nearby towns as best they were able. There were virtually no roadside signs, and there were few maps. And that was the transportation chaos that Eisenhower encountered in 1919 when he was charged with determining whether a coast to coast automobile road trip was feasible. 

The National Road
       Things did improve. The National Road, with Federal help, became U.S. 40, and it did finally reach St. Louis and beyond. Highways 50 and 66 managed to span the country. But those United States roadways in the 1940s and 1950s were still difficult, at best. Eisenhower noted all of this, and never forgot his 62 day transcontinental road trip. It’s a shame he didn’t record his journey. It would have been a great addition to our literature of the road. 

       In any event, when Eisenhower commanded the Allied forces in World War II he had the personal experience from which to compare the German autobahn network with our congeries of two lane asphalt. Eisenhower knew that we needed to profit from the European approach to road building, and some ten years later as President he was finally in a position to do something about it. Largely through his efforts Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 and, once signed into law, the United States embarked on the greatest public works project in history -- the design and construction of the national Interstate Highway System. Funded by a Federal gasoline tax, the Interstate Highway System now ecompasses some 46,000 miles of dual lane limited access highways, connecting us as a nation. 

The Interstate Highway System
       We live with and on the Interstate Highway System, and we have for 50-some years. Given this, it is difficult, sometimes, not to become complacent. We are tempted to act as though these highways were always here. But Eisenhower’s vision made a huge difference for America then and now. Here’s how the History Channel summarizes it
Today, there are more than 250 million cars and trucks in the United States, or almost one per person. At the end of the 19th century, by contrast, there was just one motorized vehicle on the road for every 18,000 Americans. At the same time, most of those roads were made not of asphalt or concrete but of packed dirt (on good days) or mud. Under these circumstances, driving a motorcar was not simply a way to get from one place to another: It was an adventure. Outside cities and towns, there were almost no gas stations or even street signs, and rest stops were unheard-of. “Automobiling,” said the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper in 1910, was “the last call of the wild.”
        There are ongoing debates today about whether, and how, we can continue to fund the marvelous infrastructure of highways connecting our towns and cities. The Federal Highway Trust Fund, the source for building and maintaining the Interstate Highway system, is supported by the gasoline tax, which sits now at 18.4 cents for each gallon of gasoline purchased.  That rate has not risen since the Clinton administration. In the intervening years inflation has taken its toll. And, ironically, as we continue to build more efficient cars fewer gallons of fuel are used, so fewer per gallon taxes are collected. All of this at a time when the highways, now often more than half a century old, are in need of infrastructure investments. Whether, and how, that problem can be solved is a debate for elsewhere, not here. But suffice it to say that maintaining the highway system we have built will only become more difficult. In 2008, for the first time, the Federal Highway Trust Fund, fueled by that gasoline tax, was in the red. And without additional funding that deficit will continue and will grow every year.

       Those concerns aside, it is still our luck now -- today -- to be able to freely roam these united States on our own, behind the wheel. Unshackled, we can live and write about the experience.     So, for the road trips we take, and the road trips we write about
-- here's to you, Ike! 

       I'm on I-75 now; I-81 is well astern.  Is that Chattanooga up ahead?  'Bout time to call it a day.

27 December 2015

The Long and the Short of it



by Dale C. Andrews
"Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop."
                                                    Lewis Carroll 
                                                    Alice in Wonderland 
EQMM uses stories of almost every length. 2,500-8,000 words is the preferred range, but we occasionally use stories of up to 12,000 words and we feature one or two short novels (up to 20,000 words) each year, although these spaces are usually reserved for established writers. Shorter stories are also considered, including minute mysteries of as little as 250 words.
                                                   Writers’ Guidelines 
                                                   Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine 

Charles Dickens
telling it short
        Back in the 1980s I taught legal writing to first year law students at American University. The course involved a series of written assignments, leading up to a legal brief at the end of the semester. Invariably the first question I would get in anticipation of the first written assignment was “how long does it need to be?” My answer was always the same -- as long as it takes to do it right. When the students’ responses were collective eye rolls I would offer this further advice: Think of the assignment as a scroll, not a book. The number of pages is irrelevant. Dickens' A Christmas Carol tells its story in about 90 pages.  Bleak House takes over 640.  

       But, of course, in life pages and words are not irrelevant. In the real world we invariably encounter limiting rules within which the game must be played. Some of these rules are explicit -- every court, for example, sets the maximum word limits for various genre of legal documents. Other rules are implicit, but that does not mean that they can be ignored. So the trick is to tell the story, beginning to end, but with an understanding of the rules of the field in which you are playing. 

       At first blush the extent of that “field” can be deceiving. Let’s say you are writing a short story with an eye toward publication in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. With that in mind, take a look at the Writers’ Guidelines from EQMM set forth above. 2,500 to 8,000 words, with the possibility of 12,000 words? Quite a range, right? But think again. EQMM publishes what averages out to about ten stories in each issue. (That used to be eleven or 12 -- until a few years back when Dell Publications shrunk the magazine from 140-some pages to around 110.) So, in any given year there are now about 120 slots in EQMM, and a like number of slots in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, for which all short story submissions are competing. And don’t forget that if your short story comes in on the longer end of the range you have probably lessened your chances before the story is even reviewed -- publishing a tale in a longer format necessarily means that those “extra pages” have gobbled up the pages that otherwise would be available for other stories. 

       The advent of e-books and e-publications has tempered this a bit, since they are not bound (pun intended) by the restrictions of paper. But even given this, by and large the hardest story to sell has historically been the novella. Clocking in at 8,000 to 40,000 words the novelette and novella are the stepchildren of fiction -- too long to fight for space as a short story, too short to sell as a separately bound volume.

     I know of what I speak here. The first story I ever submitted, "The Book Case," was originally 78 pages long, around 23,500 words. When I sent it in to EQMM I acknowledged in my cover letter to Janet Hutchings that I fully understood that the story was almost certainly un-publishable because of its awkward length, but I thought she might like to see it. I likely was miraculously spared the near certain fate of instant rejection solely by the fact that a story featuring Ellery Queen at the age of 102 solving one last case, landed in sympathetic hands. Janet held the story for a number of months, then sent suggested edits -- radical edits -- that eventually chopped the tale down to around 30 pages and something just under 15,000 words. And even that is too long.  Reportedly "The Book Case" is the longest story ever published by EQMM’s Department of First Stories. 

       Is the answer to all of this to simply write longer -- to aim not for a short story but a full length novel? Well, yes and no. It is certainly true that a novel affords much more space for character development and intricacy of narrative. But even then, there are practical limits that affect the commercial viability of all submissions. Novels run from 70,000 to 90,000 words, generally. (For some mysterious reason Science Fiction novels are “allowed” to run longer!) And while e-publications may be more accommodating to all genres, the standard rule is that most print publishers are wary of submissions that go much beyond these general limits because of the increased printing and distribution costs that are entailed in placing longer works. 

       There is a lot of evidence out there to suggest that many authors share the tendency to “write long.” Stephen King’s fourth novel, The Stand, was originally deemed too long to publish and King, under orders from his publisher, cut the book down by over 150,000 words to a still-long 823 pages when the first edition was published in 1978. These cuts, as King explains in the later full length version of the The Stand, were dictated not by art but by economics. The book was too long to sell for what it would cost to print it. As King explained it: 
The cuts were made at the behest of the accounting department. They toted up production costs, laid these next to the hardcover sales of my previous four book, and decided that a cover price of $12.95 [remember, this was 1978!] was about what the market would bear.
And $12.95 didn’t cover the printing costs of a book running over 1,000 pages. 

       Obviously the cuts grated on King, who subsequently re-issued the novel in 1990 at 1,153 pages. When the longer edition was published I read it with the original version along side, since I was curious as to what was new. Sometimes there were simply new descriptive paragraphs, but there were also entire aspects of the novel that were not present in the 1978 version -- Fran Goldsmith’s family in Maine, the trip through the Eisenhower Tunnel. Which version was better? Clearly the final one. But apparently not enough so to see it published before King had the literary clout to tell his publisher I don’t care what you think, we’re publishing the whole thing! 

       Although The Stand is one of the starkest examples of condensing a work for publication, there is other evidence of authors who were only able to lengthen their works when they had acquired the trump card of established success. J. K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter volume, The Philosopher’s Stone, contains 76,944 words -- well within the parameters of typical novels. But by the time she had established her financial clout those rules no longer applied. The final Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows, waddles in at a hefty 198,227 words. And a predecessor volume -- The Order of the Phoenix -- weighs in at 257,045 words. Another example? J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit contains 95,022 words. But when we get to volume 1 of The Lord of the Rings trilogy we are looking at 177,227. 

Worth the read -- all 944 pages!
       Some writers thumb their literary noses at the idea of standardized lengths even when they have not reached the literary (and financial) stature of King, Rowlings or Tolkien. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is 1,088 pages in paperback. Carl Sandburg in the 1940s wrote a multi-generational novel entitled Remembrance Rock (ever heard of or read that one?) that also was 1,088 pages. And science fiction writer Tad Williams rounded out his Sorrow and Thorn series with To Green Angel Tower -- 1083 pages.  The third volume of Justin Cronin's popular The Passage trilogy, The City of Mirrors, due out next year, reportedly will weigh in at around 1,000 pages. And just recently first-time novelist Garth Risk Hallberg published City on Fire -- a 944 page mystery set in New York City in the mid-1970s. (City on Fire was recently named one of the top 50 novels of 2015 by The Washington Post and I, for one, liked it so much that I was sad to reach that final 944th page.) 

       Most of us, though, lack the luxury of being able to ignore word and page constraints. For us the simplest route to success is to play by the rules. Let's end where we started, with short stories and, particularly, mystery short stories. With a great deal of help from Janet Hutchings I learned my lesson with "The Book Case." Unless you are really lucky, long will not sell. To compete for one of those few short story slots that are still out there, the author has to be ruthless with his or her prose. When I write a story I edit many times, trying to get the tale as spare as possible. And then, when I think that I am finally there, I do one more thing. I print out the story and read through it in its entirety looking at each and every word and asking myself whether that word can be eliminated. Surprising, even after heavy editing, lots of words are still candidates for omission. An amazing amount of tightening can be accomplished by doing this. 

       The irony of the process is that if you are eventually successful, and manage to place your story with EQMM or AHMM, your ultimate reward will be that your payment will be calculated -- by the word!

29 November 2015

Ellery Queen in the Village of Good and Evil

by Dale C. Andrews (with much help from Kurt Sercu)
Escaping the glare and grime of summer in Manhattan, Ellery Queen, the celebrated novelist and gentleman detective, arrives in the small New England town of Wrightsville looking for a quiet place to write a new book . . . . 
                                       Playbill from Calamity Town 
                                       A theatrical presentation by Joseph Goodrich 
                                       New Dramatists New York City read-through
                                       January 29, 2013 
[Ellery's] exploits [in] Wrightsville [are always] likely to be the signal for the commission of one or more murders. 
                                        Julian Symons, 
                                        Bloody Murder (From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: A History) 
                                        1972 
[The book] is a story of an actual murder . . . . The cast includes . . . the author himself, transplanted temporarily from the Upper West Side to Savannah's gossipy historic quarter.. . . [T]he murder happens in the middle of the book.
                                        John Berendt, 
                                        describing his best seller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil                                                       September 28, 1997 interview 

     I am writing this on board Amtrak’s Auto Train, heading home to Washington, D.C. And that seems only appropriate. Just over ten years ago I was excitedly preparing to leave by train for New York City to attend the Ellery Queen Centenary Symposium hosted by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Kurt Sercu, proprietor of the seminal Ellery Queen website, Ellery Queen: a Website on Deduction, had flown to Washington, D.C. from his native Belgium so that we could take the train up to New York together. So excitement was in the air -- I had known Kurt for some years on-line, but given the distances between the District of Columbia and Bruges, the Belgian city where Kurt and his wife Martine reside, we had (understandably) never met in person before that trip to the symposium.

Kurt Sercu and me -- a photo pastiche
       In anticipation of the trip I joined in on a discussion thread among those who intended to attend that was unfolding on the old Readers’ Forum that EQMM and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery magazines used to co-host. You know -- the online forum that, according to the EQMM website, has been “unavailable while we continue to address technical issues” for something like the last 7 years!

       Just before leaving for the train station I checked the thread one last time and found a question posed to Kurt and me by Doug Greene, well known to all of us as the brains (as well as brawn) behind Crippen & Landru, the preeminent publisher of all things mystery. Doug’s question was this: In the Ellery Queen novels we generally encounter Ellery feverishly working on his latest novel while he is also solving the mystery at hand. So, what were the books Ellery was writing? Were they other actual, i.e. published, Ellery Queen mysteries, or were these, perhaps, fictional references to works that do not, in fact, exist? 

Doug Greene, proprietor of Crippen & Landru
       At first blush I was surprised by the question. The issue had almost never occurred to me. To the extent that I had thought of it at all it seemed to me that Ellery must have been working on one of his actual novels, either previously or subsequently published, while he solved the mystery presented in the book I was then reading. This would pre-suppose that Ellery solved a mystery, wrote it up as a novel, and then moved on to solve the next mystery.

       But, as with all things Ellery Queen, the answer, on reflection, is not all that easy. Melodie Campbell's article yesterday focused on authors whose protagonist is modeled after themselves. Well, suffice it to say that things can get particularly complicated -- at times even surreal -- when the author’s name on the spine of the book and the detective solving the case between the covers are one and the same. In any event, I continued to ponder Doug’s question over the last ten years. 

       And as I pondered it became evident that no one answer is apparent. Ellery is often in the midst of writing a novel while he is solving a mystery, but rarely, if ever, are any clues given as to what novel our friend is in fact writing at the time. In fact, the Queen library contains very few references that even tie the various books together. There are, of course, shared characters -- Ellery, the Inspector, Sergeant Velie, Dr. Prouty, Djuna (early on), Nikki Porter (later) and Paula Paris (in Hollywood). Recurring characters are also and even more prevalent in the Wrightsville mysteries
-- Chief Dakin, and later Chief Anselm Newby, town gossip Emmeline DuPré, newspaper editor Frank Lloyd, to name a few. 

       While rarer, there are also instances where the Queen mysteries refer to earlier works -- The Finishing Stroke, for example, references The Roman Hat Mystery. And Last Woman in his Life begins precisely (same day, same locale) where the earlier Face to Face leaves off. Similarly, the Wrightsville books at times refer to previous mysteries solved by Ellery in that “calamitous” town. But these references, while tying books together, usually tell us nothing concerning the novels Ellery was working on while solving the depicted mystery. 

       In the 1975 NBC Ellery Queen series there are scattered references to Ellery Queen mysteries that do not in fact exist -- "The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party" episode, for example, references a non-existent Queen mystery entitled The Adventure of the Alabaster Apple, and "The Adventure of the Lover’s Leap" episode involves an equally non-existent Queen opus of the same name. But, again, all of these references, even those in the TV episodes drafted by others, are, in each instance, to already completed works, not to the works in progress, novels that Ellery is depicted as struggling to complete while he is also grappling with the mystery at hand. 

       Ellery Queen novels do, at times, refer to other cases solved by Ellery that have not appeared in print -- such as the reference in Ten Days Wonder to “the case of the spastic bryologist, in which Ellery made the definitive deduction -- from a dried mass of sphagnum no larger than his thumbnail
-- and reached into the surgery of one of New York’s most respectable hospitals to save a life and blast a reputation . . . .” Nowhere is that mystery set forth in published form. And Ten Days’ Wonder also contains a reference to “the case of Adelina Monquieux, [Ellery’s] remarkable solution of which cannot be revealed before 1972.” That mystery was never recorded in a Queen work, though it did provide the premise for Francis Nevin’s 1972 Ellery Queen pastiche “Open Letter to Survivors.” (In "Open Letter" Ellery is working on a novel that clearly is "Cat of Many Tails," but this does not progress our analysis here since the story was written by Mike Nevins, not by Dannay and Lee!)

       Similarly The French Powder Mystery and The Dutch Shoe Mystery mention, respectively, the Kingsley Arms Murder and The Murder of the Marionettes, and Dutch Shoe goes so far as to state that the latter mystery was recounted in a manuscript authored by Ellery. But none of these mysteries is in fact the basis of an Ellery Queen manuscript. Moreover, these references, again, are all to mysteries, or manuscripts, already completed, not to novels that are in the process of being drafted. 

       In an email exchange I had with Joe Goodrich, author of the theatrical version of Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town, Joe mentioned that from various clues in Ten Days’ Wonder one could conclude that the novel Ellery toiled on during the course of solving that mystery might well have been Cat of Many Tails, actually published two years later. But other than that one possible example, and it is premised on fairly obscure clues, there is nothing that directly answers Doug Greene’s question. 

       Nothing that directly answers. But what about indirectly? 

       After first despairing that there is no good answer to Doug’s question, I took another look at Calamity Town. And when I did so it struck me that this mystery’s structure is remarkably similar to John Berendt’s “true crime” bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The quote at the head of this article really says it all. 

        In Garden of Good and Evil the author, John Berendt, is a character in his own story. Berendt uproots himself from his hometown (New York City) to another locale (there, Savannah) for the sole purpose of secluding himself while writing a book about the characters that populate that locale. Berendt's tale purports to be written in real time, but the narration begins before the story itself has transpired.  Then, in mid-book, a murder takes place. And the murder -- seemingly unanticipated at the beginning of the book -- becomes the book’s backbone by mid-narrative. So, the surreal aspect of the book is that it’s narrative, based on actual events, begins before the crucial events of the story have even occurred. In other words, the book that John Berendt is “writing” during the narrative of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is in fact Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. And he is writing this as the story unfolds.
      
       With that in mind, and being careful, as always, to stear clear of “spoilers,” let's compare Calamity Town to Garden of Good and Evil.

       First, and most obvious, we are confronted with one of the stranger quirks of the Ellery Queen mysteries.  Ellery, like John Berendt, is both the author and the protagonist.  Each tale opens with the arrival of the author, in our case our friend Mr. Queen, in a town where the author intends to stay for a prolonged period. Thus, Calamity Town opens with Ellery disembarking from the train in Wrightsville. He immediately seeks rental accommodations and is asked: 
"[W]hat kind of work are you planning, . . ?” 
“A novel," said Ellery faintly. "A novel of particular sort, laid in a typical small city . . . ."
       Ellery then, like John Berendt, settles in, and waits for events to occur. And for Ellery that wait is not without a degree of impatience. When, at first, town life in Wrightsville proceeds without incident, that is, without murder, this coincides with grumblings on Ellery’s part that his novel is progressing slowly. Thus, a ways into the book we encounter the following: 
So Mr. Queen decided he had been an imaginative fool and that [any mystery in the town] was buried beyond resurrection. He began to make plans to invent a crime in his novel, since life was so uncooperative. And, because he liked all the characters, he was very glad.
       This, in itself, is an interesting (and doubtless tongue-in-cheek) aside by Ellery. There have been a lot of jokes over the years to the effect that if you value your life you shouldn’t hang around with Ellery Queen since someone in his immediate ambit always ends up murdered. And here we have it --  the proof: Ellery expects a murder in Wrightsville. And, while grumpy, he is also heartened since he likes the folks he has encountered in Wrightsville.   Important to our current analysis is the fact, then, that like John Berendt Ellery purports to be writing his book in anticipation of a murder happening. Also like Berendt he is not disappointed. 

Wrightsville as depicted in the front-piece of Calamity Town
       There are other similar references. Like this one, for example: 
"It’s a queer thing," grumbled Ellery, " . . . Something’s been annoying me for weeks. Flying around in my skull.  Can’t catch it… I thought it might be a fact—something trivial—that I’d overlooked. You know, I… well, I based my novel on you people—the facts, the events, the interrelationships. So everything’s in my notes that’s happened." He shook his head. "But I can’t put my finger on it.” 
       And finally, when the mystery of Calamity Town is ultimately solved, eo instante the novel Ellery has been drafting is also completed.  Listen to Ellery when he returns, to Wrightsville, in the final pages of Calamity Town
“But tell me! What brings you back to Wrightsville? It must be us—couldn’t be anyone else! How’s the novel!”
“Finished.”
"Oh, grand! Ellery, you never let me read a word of it. How does it end?” 
“That,” said Mr. Queen, “is one of my reasons for coming back to Wrightsville.” 
       So, if you are reading either Calamity Town or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and someone wanders over and poses that question Doug Greene asked Kurt and me ten years ago, specifically what is the book the author purports to be writing at the same time he is telling his story, the answer in each case is the same. Surreal as it may seem, the book each author was writing is the book that you are reading! 

 *     *     *    *     *     *     *     * 

        This winter is a great occasion to re-visit Calamity Town, Ellery Queen’s first Wrightsville tale and one of Ellery's greatest mysteries. As recounted earlier in the article and in previous posts, Joe Goodrich is the author of the new theatrical version of Calamity Town.

       The play had a public reading in New York in 2013, was first produced in 2014 in preview in Claremont, New Hampshire (a town that in all likelihood provided the model for Wrightsville) under the staging hand of Arthur Vidro.

       It will now have its official world premiere this coming January 23 through February 21 at the Vertigo Theatre in Calgary, Canada. If you are anywhere near Calgary, try to catch it. I only wish I could!