Showing posts with label Ellery Queen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ellery Queen. Show all posts

01 January 2019

The Power of Tenacity


I planned to title this column the Power of Persistence and to write about writing goals. It seemed perfect for January 1st, when so many people make resolutions for the new year. And I do love alliteration. But then I thought, maybe "tenacity" would be a better word than "persistence." The Power of Tenacity might not have the same cadence as the Power of Persuasion, but is it more on point? I had always treated the words as synonyms, but maybe they aren't, I began to think. Maybe I should check. So I did, and it turns out there's an important difference between the two words.
Persistence means trying repeatedly to reach a goal through the same method, figuring eventually you'll succeed. Tenacity means trying to reach a goal through varying methods, learning from each failure and trying different approaches. For anyone with goals for 2019, tenacity seems the better approach.

How does this apply to writing? First, let's talk about getting writing done. Everyone has their own method. Some people write every morning before daybreak. Others write at night. Some people say they will write for a set number of hours each day. Others say they'll write as long as it takes to meet a daily quota. Some people plot out what they're going to write. Others write by the seat of their pants. It doesn't matter what your approach is, as long as it works for you. So with the new year here, perhaps this is a good time to take stock of your approach. Is your approach working for you? Are you getting enough writing done? Enough revision done? Are you making the best use of your time?

I have a friend (and editing client) who used to be a pantser. But she found that after finishing every draft, she had so many loose ends to address and problems to fix, it took her much longer to revise than she'd like. So she started forcing herself to plot before she began writing each book. Not detailed outlines, but she figures out who kills whom, how, and why, what her subplot will be (again, just the basics), and what her theme is. These changes in her approach have enabled her to be so much more productive. She writes faster now, and she needs less time for revision. That's tenacity in action.

Moving on to a finished product, how do you react to rejection? If you have a rejected short story, for instance, after you finish cursing the universe, do you find another venue and send that story out immediately? Or do you re-read it and look for ways to improve it? And if a story has been rejected several times (there's no shame here; we've all been there), do you keep sending it out anyway or put it in a drawer to let it cool off for a few months or years until perhaps the market has changed or your skills have improved?

If sending a story out a few times without revising after each rejection usually results in a sale for you, great. Then your persistence works, and it means you have more time for other projects. But if it doesn't, if you find yourself sending a story out a dozen times without success, then perhaps you should consider a new approach. After a story is rejected, say, three times, maybe you should give it a hard look and see how it can be changed. Maybe you should let it sit in a drawer for a while first, so when you review it, you'll have a fresh take.

And if you're getting a lot of rejections, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your markets or what you write. I know some writers who started their careers writing science fiction, but it turned out that they were much better suited to writing mysteries. Once they let their true selves out on the page, they started making sales. I know a writer who's been working on a novel for years, but she can't seem to finish it. Yet she's had a lot of success with short stories. If she were to decide to only write short stories and let the novel lie fallow, that wouldn't be a failure; it would be tenacity in action: finding what works for her.

I was about to write that the one thing you shouldn't do is give up, but there might be value in letting go. If your goal is to write a novel or short story, but you never seem to finish your project, and the mere thought of working on it feels like drudgery instead of joy, then maybe being a professional writer isn't for you. There's no shame in that. Not every person is suited to every task. When I was a kid I loved swimming, but I was never going to make a swim team. I wasn't fast enough. Maybe with a lot of practice and other changes I could have gotten there, but I didn't want to take those steps. And that's okay. I enjoyed swimming for the fun of it, and that was enough for me. Maybe writing for yourself, without the pressure of getting to write "The End," is what gives you joy. If so, more power to you. And maybe it turns out you don't want to finish that book or story you started writing. That's okay too, even if you did tell everyone that you were writing it. You're allowed to try things and stop if it turns out they aren't the right fit for you.

But if you believe writing is the right fit, yet your writing isn't as productive as you want it to be, or your sales aren't as good as you want them to be, then be tenacious. Evaluate your approaches to getting writing done, to editing your work, to seeking publication. Maybe you need to revise how you're doing things. Are you writing in the morning but are more alert in the evening? Change when you write. Is your work typically ready to be sent out into the world as soon as you finish? If you get a lot of rejections, maybe it's not. Maybe you need to force yourself to let your work sit for a while after you finish, so you can review it again with fresh eyes before you start submitting. Do you have a contract, but your books aren't selling as well as you'd like? Perhaps you should find someone you trust who can try to help you improve. No matter how successful you are, there's always something new to learn. The key is to figure out what works for you and keep doing it, and also figure out what isn't working for you and change it.

That, my fellow writers, is my advice for 2019. Be tenacious. Evaluate what you want, and evaluate your methods for getting there. If your methods aren't working, change them. And if in six months your new methods aren't working, change them again. Work hard. Work smart. And be sure to enjoy yourself along the way, because if you're not enjoying writing, why bother doing it?

***

And now for a little BSP: I usually have one or two of my short stories up on my website so folks can get a feel for my fiction writing style. I just changed those stories. Now you can read "Bug Appétit" (which was published in the November/December 2018 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine) and "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" (from the 2018 Bouchercon Anthology, Florida Happens). For "Bug Appétit"click here, and for "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" click here. Happy reading. And I hope you have a wonderful new year.

11 December 2018

Would You Eat THAT?


All my life I've been a picky eater. When I was very little, my mother tried to force me to eat foods I didn't like in order to encourage me, I'm sure, to not be so picky. But after I vomited beets all over the kitchen floor, she let me make my own choices.
Fast forward to adulthood. I'm still a picky eater--less so than in childhood but more so than many other adults. I know this from dining out with friends, though the point always hits home whenever one of those food quizzes comes up on social media. You know the ones: How many of these weird-sounding foods have you tried? I always surprise my friends (well, maybe not some who know me really well) because I score soooo low. Despite knowing I'm picky, the extent of it always seems to surprise people.

For instance, I once took a quiz about vegetables; how many had I tried? The grand total: 18 of the 110 vegetables listed, putting me in the lowest two percentile for the quiz. (Eighteen was actually a higher number than I'd expected.) I also took a quiz about Jewish food. I'd tried 38 out of 100 of  'em. Friends had thought I'd score higher on this quiz since I'm Jewish, but 38 was pretty darn high for me.

Oh, no! It's Mr. Bill! (You see it too, right?)
But those are specialized quizzes. What about overall pickiness? Here, Buzzfeed came in handy. They had a quiz to look at just how picky I am. All I had to do was check the foods I wouldn't touch, and there were a lot of them: hard cheese, soft cheese, blue cheese, goat cheese, cottage cheese. (You must be thinking I don't eat any cheese, but it's not true. Grilled cheese, good. Pizza, good!) And there were more foods on the quiz that I find it hard to believe anyone would eat, because I sure wouldn't. Bone marrow. Nuh uh. Tripe. No way. Sweet bread. Are you kidding? Blood sausage. Just the name makes me queasy. Bull testicles. Oh, come on! And last, but not least, the evil cilantro. No way, no how. Not gonna happen. At least soap doesn't pretend to be a food group.

Yet even as I write this, I know there are people out there who have probably tried all these foods and asked for seconds. I know this because I am friends with a particularly adventurous eater: author Catriona McPherson. She and I have a game we play. She tries to find normal foods I've actually tried or will eat again. I try to find a weird (at least to me) food she hasn't tried. A round might go like this:

Catriona: "Have you tried a pear?" She's probably thinking, I've got her here; everyone has tried pears.
Me: Buzz. As I do the Rocky dance, I proudly proclaim, "I have never had a pear. That's a point for me."
Now it's my turn.
Me: "Have you tried bull testicles?"
Catriona: "Sure have. Yum! That's a point for me, and the round is tied!"

Actually, I don't recall if I've ever asked Catriona about bull testicles. Catriona, get ready for the next round.

It's usually difficult for me to score any points off Catriona because she is so adventurous. That vegetable quiz, the one where I had tried 18 of 110 vegetables--Catriona had tried 103 of them! I once asked her about a whole bunch of Jewish foods, but she had once attended a seder, so she trounced me in that game. And she's Scottish, so she's eaten all these foods I'd never even heard of before I met her--foods I wouldn't go anywhere near now that I have heard of them. (Tripe. Really, Catriona?) Amazingly, I've found one food she's never tried but I have: candy canes! Not that I like candy canes. I don't think I'd ever eat another one. And I'm sure I only had a bite of the one I tried in the past. But I tried it!

The beauty of being a picky eater is I read a lot of article about food. Not to learn to make them, of course, since cooking is something else I don't do. But I'm fascinated by foods other people will eat that I won't go near with a giant fork. And learning about foods sometimes gives me story ideas. That is partly how I came up with the idea for my most-recent story, "Bug Appétit," which appears in the current (November/December) issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.  It involves what I would deem weird food, but not everyone agrees (based on my research), and that makes for an unusual plot (and unusual Thanksgiving dinner!).
Bug Appétit!

If you want to read "Bug Appétit," it's not too late. The current issue of EQMM should remain on sale until around Christmas. I've seen copies at Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. And you can order digital copies through Magzter. Or you can subscribe to the magazine, in print or electronically, here: http://www.elleryqueenmysterymagazine.com/.

As to the quizzes I mentioned above, here they are, in case you want to try them out. For the vegetable quiz, click here. For the Jewish food quiz, click here. And for the Buzzfeed overall pickiness quiz, click here. But I wouldn't put a lot of stock in the Buzzfeed quiz. After I answered all their questions, they told me, "You're not too picky." They clearly don't know me at all.

20 November 2018

Putting the Happy in Happy Thanksgiving


It's two days until Thanksgiving, and I bet some of you are stressed. Maybe it's because you're cooking and ... it's the first time you're hosting, and you want it to be perfect. Or your mother-in-law is coming, and your turkey never lives up to hers. Or the weatherman is predicting snow on Thanksgiving and you're afraid that your relatives won't show up ... or maybe that they will.
Or maybe your stress stems from being a guest. Are you an introvert, dreading a day of small talk with the extended family? A picky eater, going to the home of a gourmet who makes food way to fancy for your tastes? Or are you a dieter, going to the home of someone who likes to push food and you're likely to spend the day going, "no thanks, no rolls for me," "no thanks, no candied yams for me," "no thanks, no cookies for me," ... "dear lord, lady, what part of no thanks don't you get?"

No matter who you are, or what your situation, Thanksgiving can cause stress. The best way to deal with stress is laughter. And that's where I come in. So set down that baster and get ready to smile, because I've got some fictional characters who've had a worse Thanksgiving than you.

Paul and Jamie Buchman from Mad About You
 

They tried so hard to make the perfect dinner ... only to have their dog, Murray, eat the turkey.


Rachel Green from Friends


All she wanted was to cook a nice dessert for her friends ... only to learn too late that she wasn't supposed to put beef in the trifle. It did not taste good.


The Gang from Cheers 


Those poor Thanksgiving orphans. They waited hours for a turkey that just wouldn't cook ... only to then suffer the indignity of being involved in a food fight. (For anyone who's ever read my story "Biscuits, Carats, and Gravy," this Cheers episode was the inspiration.)


Debra Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond


She was determined to have a happy Thanksgiving despite her overly critical mother-in-law ... only to drop her uncooked turkey on the floor three times before flinging it into the oven. Yum.



Arthur Carlson from WKRP in Cincinnati




He wanted to create the greatest promotion ever, inviting the public to a shopping mall and providing free turkeys ... live ones ... only to learn too late that turkeys don't fly so when you toss them out of a helicopter from 2,000 feet in the air they hit the ground like sacks of wet cement.


Garner Duffy from "Bug Appétit"


All this con man wanted for Thanksgiving was to eat some good food at his mark's home before stealing her jewelry ... only to learn too late that her mother is an ... inventive cook. ("Bug Appétit" is my story in the current (November/December) issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. I'm so pleased to have heard from several readers who enjoyed it, including one who called it "hilarious.")

So, dear readers, I hope you're smiling and feeling less stressed. If you'd like to read my story, you could pick up a copy of the current EQMM, available in some Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million bookstores, as well as in an electronic version. You can find more information about getting the magazine here. The issue also has a story from SleuthSayer alum David Dean that I'm sure you'll enjoy.) As to the TV episodes mentioned above, I bet you can find them all online.

Until next time, please share your favorite funny turkey day story (fictional or real) in the comments. Happy Thanksgiving!

12 October 2018

Maintaining EQuilibrium


Josh Pachter
Josh Pachter
Introducing mystery guest Josh Pachter

    Josh Pachter has contributed crime fiction to EQMM, AHMM, and many other publications since 1968. He regularly translates Dutch and Belgian authors for EQMM’s “Passport to Crime” department and is the editor of The Man Who Read Mysteries: The Short Fiction of William Brittain (Crippen & Landru, 2018) and the co-editor of The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (Wildside Press, 2018) and Amsterdam Noir (Akashic Books, 2019).
    Besides writing and editing, Josh enjoys other arts including film, theater, music, and photography, as seen in his official web bio. He is a popular professor with the endearing and justifiable habit of endlessly bragging about his wife, Laurie, and daughter, Becca.
— Velma

Maintaining EQuilibrium
by Josh Pachter

When it comes to Ellery Queen, I suppose I have a fair amount of street cred.

I’ve been publishing in the magazine for half a century. Fred Dannay — who, with his cousin Manny Lee, was Ellery Queen — was the closest thing to a grandfather I’ve ever had. I’ve been on EQ-related panels at Bouchercon and other crime-fiction conferences, and was a panelist at the symposium celebrating EQMM’s seventy-fifth anniversary at Columbia University in 2016. I co-edited (with Dale C. Andrews, a former SleuthSayer) The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (Wildside, 2018), a collection of pastiches, parodies, and other fiction inspired by Dannay and Lee’s famous detective. And I am one of only eight honorary members of the West 87th Street Irregulars, “a band of established EQ experts and fans who collectively have committed themselves to the preservation and revival of Ellery Queen.”

This year, I embarked on another connection with Ellery’s world. Leigh Lundin has invited me to share with you about it here.

When Dale and I began work on Misadventures, I decided I ought to brush up on the available nonfiction material regarding EQ’s collaborative authors and their creation. So I read Mike Nevins’ monumental The Art of Detection (currently available in paperback on Amazon for a mere $899.99!), and Joe Goodrich’s fascinating Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, 1947-1950 (which you can find for as little as $6, and which is absolutely worth six times that amount or more!), Dannay’s second wife Rose’s My Life With Ellery Queen: A Love Story (a steal at $112.99 on Amazon, although I was able to dig up a Kindle edition cheap), and, ultimately, an unusual volume titled The Tragedy of Errors (Crippen & Landru, 1999), which consists of three very different sections.

The book opens with Fred Dannay’s detailed forty-page outline for what was to have been a new Ellery Queen novel, a novel that was never written (and thus, of course, never published), and closes with over a hundred pages of “essays, tributes, and reminiscences” about Queen the author, Queen the character, and Queen the editor, two dozen of them, contributed by such luminaries as Peter Lovesey, Michael Gilbert, H.R.F. Keating, EQMM editor Janet Hutchings, and many others.

It is the middle section of The Tragedy of Errors that I’ve been leading up to: six short stories which had never before been anthologized, five by Dannay and Lee, one (“The Reindeer Clue”) by Edward D. Hoch but published as by Ellery Queen (in The National Enquirer, of all places!) … and three cases for something Ellery Queen called the Puzzle Club.

There were five Puzzle Club stories in all. The three collected in Tragedy of Errors were first published in 1971, “The Three Students” and “The Odd Man” in Playboy and “The Honest Swindler” in The Saturday Evening Post. (The other two were older, first published in 1965 — “The Little Spy” in Cavalier and “The President Regrets” in Diners’ Club Magazine — and reprinted in 1968 in Q.E.D.: Queen’s Experiments in Detection.)

As I read the three included in the Crippen & Landru volume, steeped as I was at the time in all things Queenian, I found myself itching to write a new Puzzle Club story of my own.

So I did.

The central concept of the five-story EQ miniseries — which Isaac Asimov later co-opted for his much longer run of Black Widowers stories — was that six friends gathered at irregular intervals for a gourmet dinner, but before sitting down to eat one member of the group was ensconced in what was called “the Puzzle Chair,” and the other five presented an invented mystery for the evening’s designated solver to tackle. The group consisted of Syres (a wealthy oilman, whose Park Avenue penthouse was the setting for the club’s meetings), Darnell (a criminal attorney, known as “the rich man’s Clarence Darrow”), Dr. Vreeland (a noted psychiatrist), Emmy Wandermere (the Pulitzer Prize winning poet), Dr. Arkavy (the Nobel-winning biochemist) … and, of course, Ellery Queen (the famous novelist and sleuth). The five stories share several common elements: Dr. Arkavy is always absent (off lecturing at an assortment of international conferences and symposia), it’s always Ellery’s turn to sit in the Puzzle Chair, and each story is interrupted by the classic Queen “Challenge to the Reader,” in which we mere mortals are given the opportunity to match our wits with Ellery’s.

My first thought was to pick up where Dannay and Lee left off and set my own Puzzle Club story in 1972. But at the same time I was working on this story, I was also writing one to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the appearance of my own first contribution to EQMM, in which the protagonist of my first story is now fifty years older and challenged by the memory of a murder he failed to solve fifty years previously.

With that in mind, I decided to set my Puzzle Club story in the present day, too, making the regular characters fifty years older than they were when last we saw them. And I also decided that it was about time Dr. Arkavy put in an appearance.

I’d had an idea for a brief puzzle story rattling around in my head for some time — in fact, I’d recently asked my friend John Floyd for advice about crafting a short-short for Woman’s World, to which he has made umpty-eleven sales over the last decade or so. That idea seemed well suited for the Puzzle Club, so I wrote it up, titled it “A Study in Scarlett!” and submitted it to EQMM. Janet Hutchings liked it, but, because it featured the Ellery Queen character, she had to run it by the Dannay and Lee heirs for their approval. They agreed, and Janet bought the story, which should be appearing in the magazine in 2019.

I had so much fun writing “A Study in Scarlett!” that I found myself thinking I ought to write four more Puzzle Club pastiches, with the idea that they could appear in EQMM first and then, after they’d all been published there, perhaps the original five and my new five could be collected in a single volume: The Puzzle Club, by Ellery Queen and Josh Pachter. Janet liked the idea in principle, and Richard Dannay, who represents the heirs, was enthusiastic, so I set right to work on number two.

Over the years, I have more often than not begun my stories with a title — a phrase catches my eye, and I think, “Aha, that’s a story title!” So, before I began writing or even plotting a second Puzzle Club story, I began thinking about what to call it.

There’s no connection whatsoever between the titles of the five original stories, other than the (what I consider to be coincidental) fact that all five of them begin with the word “The” and follow it with another two words. Nowadays, though, it seems that a series will usually feature titles that relate to each other in some very obvious way, such as Sue Grafton’s alphabet novels and John Sanford’s “Prey” books.

Since my first Puzzle Club story’s title is a Sherlock Holmes pun (on, for the uninitiated, A Study in Scarlet), I thought it might be fun to use Holmesian puns for the subsequent stories in the series — and, since the first one puns on a Holmes title that involves a color, I thought it might be extra fun to continue in that vein.

So my second Puzzle Club story, which Janet has already purchased for EQMM, is called “The Adventure of the Red Circles” (punning on “The Adventure of the Red Circle”), and the third, which I’m working on now, will be called “The Adventure of the Black-and-Blue Carbuncle” (from “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”).

I’m not sure what I’ll call the fourth one, although I’m thinking about other Sherlockian color titles, such as “The Five Orange Pips,” “The Adventure of the Yellow Face,” and “The Adventure of Black Peter.” (“The Five Orange Pipsqueaks”? “The Adventure of the Yellow Facebook”? “The Adventure of Black Paul and Black Mary”? Okay, maybe not any of those…)

For my fifth and final pastiche, I want to make it impossible for anyone ever to write another one. No, I’m not going to kill Ellery — I wouldn’t want to have his death on my conscience, and the heirs and Janet would never let me do it, even if I did want to. But something’s going to happen that will bring the series to a logical and inevitable conclusion.

And, for that last story, I’m going to use one more Sherlock Holmes pun, but this time without a color. In 1917, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a Holmes story called “His Last Bow,” and I plan to call my fifth Puzzle Club story “Their Last Bow.”

As mentioned earlier, “A Study in Scarlett!” should be appearing sometime next year, and I’m hopeful that Janet will schedule “The Adventure of the Red Circles” for the January/February 2020 issue — which would, as far as I can tell, make me the first person ever to publish new fiction in EQMM in seven consecutive decades.

I’m having fun bringing Ellery Queen’s Puzzle Club back to life after its forty-seven-year absence, and I very much hope you’ll have fun reading their new adventures!

25 August 2018

It Gets Harder (Praise and Imposter Syndrome)


by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl...in which we admit that praise comes with a nasty side dish)

"the Canadian literary heir to Donald Westlake" EQMM, Sept-Oct 2018 issue
How the HELL will I ever live up to this?



A while back, I was on a panel where the moderator asked the question,
"Does it get harder or easier, with each successive book?"

"Easier," said one cozy writer, a woman I respect and know well.  "Because I know what I'm doing now."

I stared at her in surprise.

"Harder.  Definitely harder," said my pal Linwood Barclay, sitting beside me.

I sat back with relief.  The why was easy.  I answered that.

"Harder for two reasons," I said.  "First, you've already used up a lot of good ideas.  I've written 40 short stories and 18 novels.  That's nearly 60 plot ideas.  It gets harder to be original."

Linwood nodded along with me.

"Second, you've already established a reputation with your previous books.  If they were funny, people expect the next one to be even funnier.  It gets harder and harder to meet people's expectations."

"The bar is higher with each book," said Linwood.

This conversation came back to me this week, when I got a very nice surprise (thanks, Barb Goffman, for pointing me to it!)  Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine reviewed my latest book, and called me "the Canadian literary heir to Donald Westlake."

At first, I was ecstatic, and so very very grateful.  Donald Westlake was a huge influence on me.  I still think his book where everyone on the heist team spoke a different language to be one of the zaniest plots of all time.  To be considered in his class is a wonderful thing.

And then, the doubts started.  I'm now looking at my work in progress with different eyes.  Is this plot fresh?  Is it as clever as I thought it was?  Am I still writing funny?

Would Donald Westlake fans like it?

Or am I the world's worst imposter?

So many authors on Sleuthsayers are award-winning.  All of you will, I'm sure, relate to this a little bit.  Was that award win a one-off?  Okay, so you have more than one award.  Were those stories exceptions?  You haven't won an award in two years.  Have you lost it?

Will I ever write anything as good as that last book?

I'm dealing hugely with imposter syndrome right now.  It's a blasted roller coaster.  I know I should be spreading that EQMM quote far and wide, on Facebook, Twitter, blog posts, etc.  Possibly, I should be buying ads.  And at the same time, I'm stalling in my WIP, with the feeling of 'never good enough.'

Luckily, the publisher deadline will keep me honest.  I work pretty well under pressure.  Next week, for sure, I'll get back to the book.

This week, I'll smile in public and suffer a little in silence.

What about you, authors?  Do you find imposter syndrome creeps into your life at times when you should be celebrating?  Tell us below. 



The book causing all this grief:  on Amazon

29 July 2018

The Modular Story


by R.T. Lawton

So far, all of my 100+ published short stories have been what is known as straight line stories, those told in chronological order. But then in the May/June 2018 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, I read "Suspect Zero" by Benjamin Percy. His story is called a modular story, one which is told out of sequence, but the modules are related by thematic meaning. It's not that the author can just rearrange the segments in the telling of the story and call it good. If the author has done his job correctly, then the reader can find the connection from one story module to the other.

And yes, I did have to read the story twice to pick up some of the elements, however, I will chalk that up to the slowing of my brain function due to advancing age rather than upon Percy's abilities. Frankly, I found his story to be very well written. Intrigued by the concept, I researched what goes into the making of a modular story. Then, I dissected "Suspect Zero" to see the details of how this particular story worked. Below are my short notes. Of course, you as a different reader may find other items of interest in your own reading and dissection of this story.

The story modules in my dissection are presented here in the same consecutive order that the story reads from the first module to the last one. The numbers in bold (#4, #2, etc.) are the way that the story segments would read if they were put in chronological order if it had been written as a straight line story. Thus, the note labeled #4 5:32 am is the first module in the story, but would be the 4th set of events in chronological order.The times, dates and locations in bold are the same ones the author used as headings for each module. The subsequent notes are my condensing of the action or events happening in that module.

#4  5:32 am 11/20 Chip County, WI
     Train moving through the early morning, stops, conductor checks cars and finds a foot sticking out (from a dead man) in a coal car.         Conductor's POV

#2  1:00 am 11/20 Steele County, MN
     Man watches train go by, remembers laying pennies on the track as a kid, remembers hints of him getting in trouble when a girl disappeared, no proof against him, but his mother knew and threw him out of the house. Train passes, he parks the truck out in the country. He's dressed as a shadow, gloves, sneaks up on a house, tries the windows, then breaks out sliding glass back door as train noise covers his sounds. Reader feels he's going to kill/rape someone.
        Man's POV (reader sees as potential killer)

#1  3:01 pm 11/19 Steele County, MN
     Laura in house thinks she's far enough out in country that no one would bother her, but she has four visitors come to door: deliveryman, Girl Scout, Mormon boys, and meat truck driver/seller with Pete's Meat Truck. Truck driver/seller comes in house w/o permission, asks questions about her living way out here. As she pushes him out, train goes by like a banshee cry.
         Laura's POV (NOTE: she ends up being the criminal protag)

#5  10:30 am 11/20 New Auburn, WI
     Funeral director Mildred is also the coroner of a dying town. Sheriff asks her to look at dead man found on top of RR car. She says dead about 12 hours. Corpse has no teeth and no hands. Mildred says that was because the killer was looking for time to get away without being discovered.   
         Mildred's POV (NOTE: sex of corpse is not disclosed)

#6  4:16 pm 11/24 Steele County, MN
     Templetons return home from Europe to find that someone has been in their house. Call deputies. Talk about what has been disturbed. Deputies ask if they have dogs or cats. Why? They found blood by back door, but no bodies.             Homeowner's POV

#3  2:00 am 11/20 St. Paul, MN
     Jimmy, a fence with a room below his pawn shop, meets with a female maybe named Laura. He shows a pistol in his belt. They dicker on price for stolen merchandise, then go to the truck (Pete's Meat Truck) to show Jimmy the stolen goods. She gives him the truck keys. He wants sex with her before he pays, tries to force her. She pulls a knife, stabs his wrist to the table and takes his gun. She also takes the security footage and all his money. "Already, Jimmy understood that she was in fact the blade and not the meat to be butchered."                   Jimmy's POV

It is only in the final module that the readers, if they have followed the clues, realize that the body on the train was the man/truck driver/seller in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th modules of the story and that the house in the 2nd, 3rd and 5th modules is the same house. The final module also reveals that Laura is the real killer and not some innocent housewife as the reader is led to believe she is based on information in the 3rd module (chronological segment #1).

So now, assuming you've read this far, you have probably figured out why I had to read the story twice. In any case, I enjoyed the story so much that I laid out a plan to write my own modular story, "The Band Played On." It is now almost ready to submit. Unfortunately, we won't know for about eleven months whether or not my modular story gets accepted for publication. Regardless of the outcome, I had fun with the modular story structure and fleshing out the details.

As long as we're talking about different story structures, did you know there is also the Rashomon method for telling stories?

24 July 2018

Just Like Starting Over


Beginning August 2003 and ending May 2018 I had one or more short stories published each and every month. That’s 14 years and 10 months (178 consecutive months), and I know of no living short story writer who has come close to accomplishing a similar feat. (Edward D. Hoch accomplished something similar—and far more impressive—with a story in every issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine beginning May 1973 and continuing through March/April 2009.)

The streak began with the August 2003 Hustler Fantasies, which contained “Married vs. Single” and “Slice of Heaven,” and ended with the May 2018 publication of the anthology A Wink and a Smile (Smoking Pen Press), which contained my story “Too Close to School.”

During this run, my stories were published in nearly every genre; in anthologies, magazines, and newsletters; electronically, in print, and in audiobooks; in several countries and in at least three languages. They appeared under my own byline, under a variety of pseudonyms, and, in the case of confessions, without any byline at all.

Excluding self-published work and those months when I had collections released, my best months were April 2008 and June 2012 (nine stories each); July 2006, December 2010, and November 2012 (eight stories each); and April 2011, May 2011, September 2011, November 2011, January 2012, and August 2014 (seven stories each).

During this multi-year streak, 132 stories appeared in True Story and 125 in True Confessions. My longest single-magazine run was 29 consecutive issues of True Story, which is only slightly longer than a previous run of 26 consecutive issues of the same magazine.

Thirteen times I had three stories published in a single issue. This happened most often with True Confessions (May 2012, July 2012, March 2017, and April 2017). I had three stories in three issues of Ruthie’s Club (June 19, 2006; July 17, 2006; and April 28, 2008); three stories in two issues of True Love (April 2011 and May 2011); and three stories in single issues of True Romance (March 2005), Black Confessions (August 2006), True Story (January 2012), and The Mammoth Book of Uniform Erotica (Running Press, 2015).

My wife can attest that I grew nervous as month-ends approached without anything published, and at least twice I had single-story months in which that month’s lone story was published only a few days before the month ended.

HOW I DID IT

If I can trust my personal blog, I first noticed this streak at the three-year mark in May 2006, and I began to pay attention to what was happening.

Because editors determine which stories to accept and which issues to put them in, this is a publication streak over which I had little control. Even so, there are a few things I did that helped maintain the streak once it began:

Maintained high productivity. The more stories I wrote and submitted, the greater the odds that I would publish regularly.

Targeted multiple genres. There aren’t enough paying markets in most genres to support a highly productive short story writer. So, I wrote in multiple genres.

Targeted multiple publications. Even within genres, I spread my work among multiple publications.

Wrote themed and seasonal stories. I wrote several stories tied to themes or seasons, thus producing stories most suitable for specific magazine issues. For example, I had good luck with New Year’s Eve stories (published in January), Valentine’s Day stories (February), St. Patrick’s Day stories (March), Halloween stories (October), Thanksgiving stories (November), and Christmas stories (December).

NOW WHAT?

As the streak lengthened, I began to believe I had control over it. I believed the sheer momentum of my achievement would propel it forward, and writing to the streak (themes and seasons!) would ensure its continuation.

It didn’t.

Editors changed. Markets disappeared. Anthologies tanked or missed scheduled publication dates. My productivity faltered. I can identify any number of reasons why the streak ended, but rather than assign blame for its end, I prefer to be amazed that it happened at all.

And now that the streak has ended, the pressure’s off. I no longer feel driven to write to the streak, and I wonder how that will impact my writing going forward.

The count starts over. With the July publication of “Good Girls Don’t” in Pulp Modern (volume 2, issue 3), the publication of “Decision” in the Summer 2018 Flash Bang Mysteries, and the release of “Fissile Material” as a stand-alone audio release, I have now had one or more short stories published for one consecutive month.

20 June 2018

The Mysterious Women of Dell Magazines: Jackie Sherbow



Jackie Sherbow
photo by Ché Ryback

Leigh Lundin had the wonderful idea of inviting some of our favorite editors to sit for interviews. As the guiding hands at the mystery side of Dell Magazines (EQMM and AHMM) they have a huge influence on our field by bringing new readers and writers into it. Tomorrow we will feature Janet Hutchings, and Friday will star Linda Landrigan. But today we have the delightful Jackie Sherbow.
— Robert Lopresti

Jackie Sherbow is the Associate Editor of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. She is also the editor of Newtown Literary Journal and her poetry has appeared in places like Day One, Moonchild Magazine, and Luna Luna Magazine. She lives in Queens, New York.



What is one thing you wish everyone would know about your publications?

First and foremost, that they (still) exist. This of course seems like child’s play to anyone reading SleuthSayers, but you don’t know how many people come up to us at events and say the words “I didn’t know you were still around,” or otherwise think we’re publishing reprints of older issues. It’s wonderful to speak with readers who have a long-time, nostalgic connection to the magazines (and/or have unearthed their parents’ or grandparents’ collections, which they remember from childhood), but I think there’s no reason why short mystery fiction shouldn’t have a wide and growing audience—especially since so many different modes of contemporary and traditional fiction fall under that umbrella and can be found in the magazines.


What are you reading right now?

I’m reading the short-story collection Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti, and Eye Level, poems by Jenny Xie. I am usually reading two or three books concurrently, and trying to catch up on magazine or journal subscriptions too—I try to balance my reading between short stories, novels, poetry, and nonfiction at all times. Looks like I need to pick up some nonfiction.


What other hobbies or jobs do you have?

I’m the editor of a community-based literary journal in Queens called Newtown Literary, and I’m involved with the nonprofit organization that publishes it. I am also a writer (of poetry) and a runner (albeit a very slow one).


Dottie
Do you have any pets?

I’ve somewhat recently adopted a small asthmatic cat named Dottie (after Miss Fisher’s companion in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries). And now I’m the kind of person who has attached a photo of the cat to this e-mail.


What great short story or collection have you read recently?

I loved Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, which came out last year from Graywolf Press and has received a handful of awards and nominations since then. A story that really unnerved me recently was “The Midnight Zone” by Lauren Groff, originally published in the New Yorker and reprinted in The Best American Short Stories of 2017. I had to put it down and give it a break before finishing it. I read a lot of short horror as well as—naturally—crime and thriller, but I can’t remember the last time I had such a visceral reaction to a story. Very uncomfortable, but very memorable.


What do you love about short stories?

As a poet, I’m always impressed by fiction in general: what an author can pull off in terms of plot while also concentrating on theme and form—and as we know this is accentuated in a short story, where there’s less wordly “real estate.” As an editor and reader of short fiction, I particularly find intriguing the plot and character arcs in a short story (especially when there’s a mystery—which there almost always is!). I find that in a short story, imaginative leaps, experimental form, and other playful or innovative methods can be pulled off more successfully. And I really love how reading a short story on its own and then among others (whether in a single-author collection or a periodical or anthology) can bring out something new in the work. In terms of practicality, I’m a fairly slow reader, so short stories tend to strike me more in this way than a series of novels do.


Who is your favorite author?

Gabriel García Marquéz.


If you knew you’d be deserted on an island, what book would you bring?

One Hundred Years of Solitude.


What is your personal editorial philosophy?

In general I edit for clarity, consistency, and then refinement in service of the author’s voice and the entirety of the piece. I think that everything in a piece of writing matters, down to the smallest element of punctuation, but that it’s important as an editor to examine the power structures underlying the use of different types of language. I think it’s irresponsible not to do this. In everyday life, I think it can be pernicious to promote unsolicited, moralized adherence to traditional correctness without thinking about it. Language is a gift and powerful tool, and I think the words, style, and usages we choose to employ (or choose not to) have a cumulative effect on our communities.


Aside from short mystery fiction, what other parts of the genre do you enjoy?

I am a fan of mystery novels, television shows, and movies, and I am fascinated by true crime, but I would have to say the community of writers, readers, and fans. I think mysteries bring people together. Speaking of which, thank you, SleuthSayers, for inviting me, Janet, and Linda to participate.

Thank you, Jackie. Tomorrow, Janet Hutchings.

19 June 2018

Yesterday and Today


Yesterday was Paul McCartney’s birthday and I was going to do a post related to the Beatles, writing and me. But when I found out that the next three days will be posts from the three editors at Dell Magazines,  Janet Hutchings, Linda Landrigan and Jackie Sherbow (in alphabetical order) I thought I’d do a little lead into that. I’ve met all three on various occasions and broken bread with them and they’re all terrific. So, I hope no one minds that I revisit our trip to NYC in April, 2017 where we got to hang with them.
Amy and I got to meet Janet and Linda at Bouchercons in Raleigh and Long Beach. And when we went to NYC last year we got to meet up with them again and also meet Jackie Sherbow in person. So, in honor of these editors’ posts coming up, I hope you don’t mind if I rerun my post from a little over a year ago. Hey, the TV networks do it. So here’s a revisit to that wonderful trip.

From L to R around the table: Janet Hutchings, me, Eve Allyn, Doug Allyn, Jackie Sherbow, Linda Landrigan

***

New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town. The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down. Or is it the other way around? Amy (the wife) and I recently spent a week in New York City and I’m still not sure.  (Well, I am, but it plays better the other way.) And now the legally required disclaimer: I wrote about this trip for another blog a few weeks ago as my last slot for SleuthSayers was the family blog post that Amy did. So I didn’t have a chance to talk about our trip here. But it was writing-related and so great and so much fun I wanted to share a slightly revised version with SleuthSayers too.

Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building
The trip came up very unexpectedly when I got an e-mail from Janet Hutchings, editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, telling me that my story Ghosts of Bunker Hill had won the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll and inviting us to come to the Ellery Queen cocktail party and awards ceremony, as well as to be their guests at the Edgar Awards. I think I was in disbelief for several days, so we made no plans to head to New York…until the wonderful reality actually sunk in and we headed off to The Big Apple from The Big Sour, I mean, Big Orange.

We booked out on Jet Blue because we heard about their great on-time record. We got lucky—they were late both coming and going. I guess someone has to be the exception to the rule.

The week was a whirlwind of adventures and some sightseeing, much of it filled up with literary events. We arrived Monday night and since the hotel is next door to Grand Central Terminal we decided to check it out and have dinner at the famous Oyster Bar. Talk about a cool place. Then we walked around the neighborhood near the hotel late into the night.

On Tuesday we went to the Ellery Queen offices for tea with Janet and Linda Landrigan, editor of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and Jackie Sherbow, senior assistant editor for both EQMM and AHMM. Also there were Doug Allyn and his wife, Eve. Doug’s stories came in #2 and 3 in this year’s poll. But he’s been #1 11 times. I think it will be a long time before anyone can top that!

From L to R: Jackie Sherbow, Doug Allyn, Linda Landrigan,
Janet Hutchings, me

Everyone was very gracious. And it was good to talk with Janet again and Linda, who I’d met briefly before. And to meet Jackie for the first time in person, but who I’ve had a lot of correspondence with.
Me and Jackie Sherbow
After the afternoon tea, Jackie very graciously offered to be our guide on the subway, something I really wanted to do. So we subwayed to Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop for a gathering of Edgar nominees, authors, publishers and more (I think we fell into the “more” category, though now that I think about it I guess I’m an author too). It was crowded, it was fun. It was great to see the famous bookstore. And to meet Otto Penzler himself. And to see some people I know, including Edgar nominee Jim Ziskin and many others. And Doug Allyn was kind enough to introduce me to several people.


In the subway: L to R me, Eve Allyn,
Doug Allyn and Amy

After the party at the Mysterious Bookshop, Jackie was once again our subway guide, taking us to a real New York pizza place that she likes. So she, Doug and Eve, and Amy and I, braved the rain to get to the subway and then the pizza place. And in a scene that could have been out of a Woody Allen movie, we stepped just inside a local market to get out of the rain for a few minutes. I was waiting for the “nasty” New Yorkers to kick us out, but nobody was nasty and nobody kicked us out. Eve grabbed some plastic bags from the produce section to cover our heads and we ventured back out into the rain. We still got soaked by the time we made it to the pizza place. But the pizza was good and it was all worth it. After dinner, Jackie headed home. Doug and Eve, Amy and I took a cab back to the hotel. And this was the one loquacious cabby we had the whole time we were in New York and he was a riot. When we were just about at the hotel he nudged through a crosswalk and some guy in the walk started yelling at him, challenging him to a fight. Now we felt like we were in New York.

Jackie guiding us through the subway.
Wednesday we had a free day, so we played tourists (which we were). Lots of other tourists all around us. We did a tour of Grand Central Terminal, which was right next to the Grand Hyatt Hotel where we were staying and where the Edgars would be held the following evening. (On the other side of the hotel was the Chrysler Building, which we had a view of from our window. Now that’s pretty cool to be sandwiched between the Chrysler Building and Grand Central. During our tour we had another “New York” experience when some jerk called the tour guide a “dirty scumbag” and neither she nor any of us on the tour could figure out why or what she’d done. But despite that, most everyone was really friendly and nice and we had no problems with anyone.


Grand Central Terminal
After our tour of Grand Central we followed Clint Eastwood’s “Speed Zoo” example from the movie True Crime, where he jams his kid through the zoo at the speed of sound, and did “Speed New York.” We bought tickets for the hop on-hop off buses—buses where you can get on at one location and off at the next, hang out, then get back on and go to the next location. This way we saw a lot of the city in one day. Everything from the Empire State Building to the Flat Iron and various neighborhoods. We also hopped onto the Staten Island Ferry. From there we could see the Statue of Liberty. We ended the day in Rockefeller Center and then Times Square and dinner in a pretty good Italian restaurant off Times Square. Our meal was served family style—and being only 2 people we ended up with enough left over to feed everyone in Times Square.

The next day was the Ellery Queen cocktail party and awards, held at a specialized library not too far from the hotel. And it was a truly terrific experience. But the best part (besides picking up the award of course 😉) was being able to meet people in person that I know online but hadn’t met for one reason or another. Fellow SleuthSayer David Dean. Tom Savage. Dave Zeltserman, who published some of my stories early on in his HardLuck Stories magazine, and whose Small Crimes was just made into a movie on Netflix that released recently, so check it out. Besides hanging with Janet, Linda and Jackie, we also got to hang with Doug and Eve Allyn again, both of whom were great to hang with.
Me and Doug Allyn at the Ellery Queen cocktail party.

And, of course, it was more than a thrill to win the award!

Me receiving the Award.
And then it was off to the Edgars that evening. Very exciting. And all was going well, I even liked the food (and who likes the food at these things?), until the Master of Ceremonies, Jeffrey Deaver, stumbled and then fainted on the stage while doing some introductions. That was scary. Luckily he was okay, though whisked off to the hospital to make sure it was nothing serious. I believe tests showed that it wasn’t—hope so.

That’s the litany, now for the real deal: While we loved New York and all of the events, the best part of anything like this, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, etc., is the people. The community of mystery writers is a very warm, very supportive group. And, as I’ve mentioned, it was great to see old friends and also meet new people. We saw Jim Ziskin and Catriona McPherson, and had a nice chat with both of them. Met Otto Penzler. And it was good to meet Sam Reaves, Dave Zeltserman and too many others to name here. And great to spend time with Janet, Linda and Jackie.

Amy and Jackie at the Edgars.
New York has a bad rep in some ways and people who know me thought I’d hate it (as I haven’t been there in years…decades). I loved it. I loved the crowds. I loved the energy. I loved the writing community. I loved this whole unexpected trip. And I’m more than appreciative to Janet Hutchings for publishing Ghosts of Bunker Hill and taking a chance on my first story for Ellery Queen, Howling at the Moon (which, by the way, made it to #7 in the Ellery Queen Readers Poll). And to Linda Landrigan for publishing my story Twelve Angry Days in the current (May/June 2017) issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. And to Jackie for everything she does to keep the wheels turning. And last but certainly not least to the people who voted for Ghosts of Bunker Hill and made it #1.

***



Look for Past is Prologue and Fade Out on Bunker Hill (a Howard Hamm story) in upcoming issues of AHMM and EQMM, respectively.

***

And now for the usual BSP:

And some good news: My story “Windward,” from Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea (edited by Andrew McAleer & me) is nominated for a Macavity Award for Best Short Story. Our own Art Taylor’s story, “A Necessary Ingredient,” and Matt Coyle’s story, “The #2 Pencil,” also from Coast to Coast are also nominated. Congratulations Art and Matt! And I’m truly thrilled at how much recognition our little anthology is receiving. It’s very rewarding. And thanks to all who contributed and everyone who voted for these stories!




Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com

20 March 2018

Dubious Writing Advice


My story “Montezuma’s Revenge” appears in Passport to Murder (Down & Out Books), the Bouchercon 2017 anthology edited by John McFetridge, and I participated in the convention’s group signing. As author of the second story in the anthology, I sat at a long table sandwiched between Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine editor Janet Hutchings (author of the first story) and Hilary Davidson (author of the third). Hilary was quite the draw, and adoring fans wanting to spend extra time with her caused the line to back up in front of Janet and me. At some point one of the autograph seekers, whether truly interested or just trying to kill time before talking to Hilary, asked about writing short stories. I said I always start with apostrophes.

Knowing whether you want to use many apostrophes or only a few has a significant impact on your writing. If you choose to use many apostrophes, your work will be filled with contractions, an informal style best suited to first-person narration. If you desire few apostrophes, you will write in a formal style best suited to third person.

That’s one of the many tips, tricks, and techniques I’ve stumbled across during my long literary adventure. Much of my formal education came erratically—a class here, a semester there—and I did not graduate college until I was 48. Though my B.A. is in professional writing, I was writing professionally long before graduation, and most of what I know are things I taught myself along the way.

GOT IT?

I agreed to join SleuthSayers shortly before the Toronto Bouchercon, and during the convention, Robert Lopresti suggested I use this forum to discuss my loathing for a particular overused word, a tirade he’s witnessed and written about in Criminal Brief (January 9, 2008):
“Michael hates got with a passion and while I don’t feel that strongly about it, I agree it needs to be considered carefully.”
Got is a lazy word used by lazy writers, and it can almost always be replaced by a better, more descriptive word or phrase. Without context, it has so many possible meanings that it has no meaning at all.

For example: “Bob got to his feet” could mean “Bob stood” or it could mean “Bob rolled out of bed and dragged himself across the floor to where he’d left his prosthetic limbs the night before.”

How about “Bob got his new T-shirt dirty,” which could mean “Bob received his new T-shirt dirty” or “he dirtied his new T-shirt while dragging himself across the floor.”

Or, “Bob got his revolver,” which could mean “Bob comprehended the philosophical and moral implications of his reliance on weaponry to mask his underlying fear of diminished masculinity following prostate surgery” or “Bob retrieved his revolver from the nightstand.”

IT WAS, WAS IT?

It was may be the worst two words with which to begin a sentence, and is an even less desirable way to begin a story. Sure, Charles Dickens did it, but few of us are Charles Dickens. It was adds nothing to a sentence, delays getting to the meat of the matter, and is the literary equivalent of a math problem, where “It was a dark and stormy night” translated into a simple math problem becomes:

It = a dark and stormy night.
Solve for It.

Almost every sentence that begins with It was can be revised into a more active, more powerful sentence. Thus, “It was a dark and stormy night when Bob shot the neighbor” could easily become “On a dark and stormy night, Bob shot the neighbor” or “Bob shot the neighbor on a dark and stormy night.”

“It was blood” could become “Blood oozed from the gunshot wound” or “Blood stained his neighbor’s shirt.”

THAT THEN?

Two t words continue to vex me: that and then.

That is sentence filler, often unnecessary for comprehension.

Remove that and “Bob knew that his neighbor was dead” becomes “Bob knew his neighbor was dead,” an ever-so-slightly better sentence.

Then is more a personal bugaboo than something I see other writers use and abuse. My characters tend to do something and then do something else. Thus: “Bob dropped the gun and then hobbled from the house on his prosthetic feet,” which is better written as “Bob dropped the gun and hobbled from the house on his prosthetic feet.”

HAD ENOUGH?

I picked up my newest trick from Marvin Kaye, fiction editor of Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, who writes about had in the magazine’s submission guidelines:
“I have a special problem with the word ‘had,’” he writes. “Boiled down, here is what’s wrong with some (not all) compound past tenses—except for fiction written in present tense, our convention is to put things in the simple past. The reader, of course, translates the action into it ‘just happening.’ But as soon as a compound verb is introduced, such as ‘she had already bought the book,’ the action is shoved a little into the past [...]. Thus, in this magazine, unnecessary ‘hads’ are deleted, so that the above would be rendered as ‘she already bought the book,’ which now seems to be ‘just happening.’”
Remove had and “Bob had shot his neighbor and had fled the scene” becomes “Bob shot his neighbor and fled the scene.”

THEN IT WAS THAT WHAT HE HAD GOT

Don’t be Bob. Don’t shoot the neighbor on a dark and storm night, especially if your prosthetics will slow your escape.

Eliminate six simple words from your literary vocabulary (or significantly reduce their use)—got, it was, had, that, and then—and you’ll see a significant improvement in your writing. Your stories will be cleaner and your pacing faster.

Oh, and count your apostrophes to determine if your writing is formal or informal.

For more dubious writing advice, join me and several hundred other writers and fans at Malice Domestic, April 27-29. I’ll be moderating “Make It Snappy: Our Agatha Best Short Story Nominees,” where I’ll be trying to ferret out how and why Gretchen Archer, Barb Goffman, Debra H. Goldstein, Gigi Pandian, and Art Taylor wrote their Agatha-nominated short stories. I will also be a panelist for “Precise Prose: Short Crime Fiction” and will be signing copies of the Malice anthology, Mystery Most Geographical, which contains my story “Arroyo.”

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?