Showing posts with label Jon L. Breen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jon L. Breen. Show all posts

27 September 2015

Queen's Quorum

by Dale C. Andrews
[T]he only rule . . . I know, [for writers] is that they write and they write some more and then they write still more and they keep on writing . . . . 
                                                          Frederic Dannay 
                                                          Carroll College, Waukesha, Wisconsin 
                                                          April 17, 1979 
                                                          Quoted in My Life with Ellery Queen 
                                                           by Rose Koppel Dannay 
 [A] pastiche is a serious and sincere imitation in the exact manner of the original author.
                                                          Frederic Dannay (writing as Ellery Queen) 
A picnic is more than eating a meal, it is a pleasurable sate of mind.
                                                          DeeDee Stovel
                                                          Picnic: 125 Recipes with 29 Seasonal Menus

Josh Pachter, Francis (Mike) Nevins
and Yours Truly (animation courtesy of Google+!)
      Last week, with the marriage of our younger son Colin just behind us, we waved good-by to family guests, turned on our heels, sorted out the guest room, and welcomed Francis (Mike) Nevins into our home for a three day visit. I first met Mike, an emeritus professor at St. Louis University Law School, author and scholar of all things Ellery Queen, back in 2005 at the Ellery Queen Centennial symposium hosted by EQMM. Since that time we have shared a few meals together, but never a prolonged visit. This time Mike was passing through Washington, D.C. enroute to Massachusetts to attend a memorial service for Rose Koppel Dannay, the third (and last) wife of Frederic Dannay, whom we all know as one-half of the Ellery Queen writing duo. 

       In his own blog First You Write, Mike has summed up the importance of Rose Dannay’s influence on Frederic Dannay succinctly: “It’s not going too far to say that Rose saved Fred’s life.” Dannay’s second wife had just died when he met Rose. Mike writes that at that meeting Rose found a broken man winding down his life, and Mike concludes that “[t]hat is what Rose saved him from.” Their marriage endured until his death, over the Labor Day weekend of 1982, at age 76.  

       In her later years Rose Dannay penned a memoir, originally privately published, entitled My Life with Ellery Queen chronicling her years with Dannay. The slim volume necessarily offers little insight into the early years of Ellery Queen, or into the life of Manfred B. Lee, the other half of the Queen duo, since Lee was gone by the time Rose entered Dannay’s life. But the book, which I read during Mike’s visit, is nonetheless a rich narrative of Dannay’s final years. And -- lucky us -- while the book has long been unavailable to the general public, within days all of that will change when it is re-issued together with a new (and lengthy) introduction written by Mike. 

       But enough of the past (well, sort of). One of the great things about the on-line age in which we live is the ease with which we can each reach out and connect with those whose interests we share. Those of us who are still Ellery Queen fans may be few in number, but among us the interest in Queen runs deep. And Mike’s short swing through Washington, D.C. afforded an opportunity for three of us to spend a great evening together in my backyard. 

       I knew of Josh Pachter before last week but we had never met, even though he lives in nearby Herndon, Virginia and teaches communications and human studies at equally nearby Northern Virginia Community College (where he is also an Assistant Dean). Josh is, however, an old friend of Mike’s and that proved the only catalyst needed in order to complete a "three musketeer" gathering. All three of us have not only read and studied the works of Ellery Queen, we have also each contributed our own works featuring, or inspired by Ellery. 

       Josh had his first short story published in EQMM at the tender age of 16, and has authored several Ellery Queen parodies, including "E.Q. Griffen Earns His Name" (EQMM December 1968), "E.Q. Griffen's Second Case" (EQMM May 1970) and "The German Cologne Mystery," co-written with Jon L. Breen and featuring Celery Green and his father, Inspector Wretched Green, (EQMM September/October 2005). Josh hints that he is working on yet another E.Q. Griffen story and hopes to share it with the reading world in 2018, the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of his first E.Q. Griffen escapade. His most recent work is the short-story collection The Tree of Life (Wildside Press, 2015), available in paperback and (as The Mahboob Chaudri Mystery Megapack) in e-book format

       Mike Nevins has authored four novels, many short stories, and a number of non-fiction works offering up his take on mysteries and mystery writers. He has edited countless mystery anthologies and has won two Edgar awards, one for Royal Bloodlines, his first biography of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, and the second for First You Dream, Then You Die, focusing on the literature of Cornell Woolrich. And Mike is also famous, among other things, for his seminal Ellery Queen pastiche, “Open Letter to Survivors,” (EQMM May, 1972), which spins its narrative riff from the following passage that appears in Ellery Queen’s Ten Days’ Wonder: “. . . there was the case of Adelina Monquieux, [Ellery’s] remarkable solution of which cannot be revealed before 1972 . . . .” In addition to his upcoming introduction included in the newly re-published Dannay biography referenced above, Mike’s next work, They Called the Shots, a retrospective on Hollywood directors he has known, will be published by Ramble House within the next few weeks. Among his most recent works is the 2013 retrospective Ellery Queen -- The Art of Detection, an updated and definitive companion piece to Royal Bloodlines. 

Kurt Sercu and me last year
(doing a pictorial "one-off" of the cover of
Mike Nevin's The Art of Detection)
       Completing the trio assembled in my backyard on that Tuesday evening was, well, me. Accomplishments? Well, not all that many. But the Ellery Queen pastiches that I have authored include “The Book Case” (EQMM May, 2007), written in collaboration with my good friend Kurt Sercu, proprietor of Ellery Queen, a Website on Deduction, and featuring an elderly Ellery pulled from retirement to solve one last case involving many characters from earlier Queen novels, including principally the 1967 mystery Face to Face, “The Mad Hatter’s Riddle” (EQMM September/October, 2009), where characters from the 1938 Queen novel The Four of Hearts, reunite for the filming of an episode of the 1975 NBC Ellery Queen television series, and “Literally Dead” (EQMM December 2013), featuring a return, once again, to Wrightsville. 

       So the dinner cast was set and the evening was predictably great.

       But let’s be greedy. Who else could have been added to make that back yard dinner even better? Well my list of wished-for attendees would include the following: 

       Kurt Sercu, my friend, erstwhile collaborator and the proprietor of the aforementioned Ellery Queen website where, incidentally, you can read about all of the actual attendees in Kurt’s section discussing Ellery Queen pastiches and parodies. Kurt, who I first met on the internet in 2002, has three times made the trip across the pond from his native Belgium and knows my backyard well. Had he been here this time he could have shared stories with Josh in Flemish -- among his other accomplishments, Josh is fluent and has frequently translated mysteries from Dutch to English. 

Joseph Goodrich
       Joe Goodrich, author of Blood Relations, the collection of the 1940s correspondence between Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, and also the author of the play Calamity Town, which had a sneak preview for two days in Claremont, New Hampshire in 2013 and will have its official world premier at the Vertigo Theatre, Calgary, Canada next year.  (It will play there from January 23 through February 21, 2016.)

Douglas Greene
       Doug Greene, professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ellery Queen scholar, proprietor of Crippin and  Landru publications, and publisher of both The Tragedy of Errors, collecting previously unpublished Queen stories and essays, and featuring the outline of what would have been the final Ellery Queen mystery, and The Adventure of the Murdered Moths and Other Radio Mysteries, a 2005 collection of previously-unpublished Ellery Queen radio plays. Doug just had a birthday, so we would have added a cake to the menu!

Jon L. Breen
       John L. Breen, emeritus book review editor for EQMM, who has twice been awarded the Edgar Allan Poe Award, first in 1982 for What About Murder?: A Guide to Books About Mystery and Detective Fiction, and then in 1985, for Novel Verdicts: A Guide to Courtroom Fiction. He has written several novels and over 100 short stories, including several Ellery Queen pastiches and parodies, one of which, “The Adventure of the Disoriented Detective,” is available on Kurt’s website and another of which, “The German Cologne Mystery,” (see above) was co-authored with Josh. 

Arthur Vidro
       Arthur Vidro, yet another Queen scholar, author and publisher of (Give Me That) Old-Time Detection (a wonderful periodical dependably offering up Ellery Queen nuggets).  Arthur was the director of the first presentation of Joe Goodrich’s theatrical version of Calamity Town, and appeared in the production in a supporting role.  He is also the literary detective who (to my mind) has definitively established that Ellery Queen’s Wrightsville is modeled after Arthur’s hometown -- Claremont, New Hampshire.  Arthur has his own short Queen pastiche on-line on the EQMM website.  It can be read here.

Jeffrey A. Marks
       Each of these folks I have had the honor to meet and get to know in person over the years. And to the list I would add at least one more Ellery Queen expert and aficionado -- mystery writer and biographer Jeffrey A. Marks, an author who, thus far, I have met only on the internet. In addition to his many works, including his mystery series featuring Ulysses S. Grant, Jeff has penned biographies of famous mystery writers including Earl Stanley Gardner and Anthony Boucher.  His latest project?  Well, in the next year -- or perhaps a bit more -- Jeff will be releasing his new, and I will bet definitive, biography of the lives of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.   (Working title -- The American Detective Story.)

       Now THAT would have been a party!

(Most of the links and some of the graphics, above, are courtesy of Kurt's website Ellery Queen -- A Website on Deduction.  Always worth a visit, folks!)

21 May 2013

On Holiday . . . And the Pastiche, Revisited

by Dale C. Andrews

SummerSalt, Smuggler's Cove, Tortola
      I am sort of taking a flyer this week.  Things have been pretty busy around here.  My younger son, Colin, graduated from law school on Sunday and, in celebration, on Monday morning the four of us in our family -- Pat, me, Devon and Colin -- took off for the Virgin Islands, accompanied by Colin’s significant other Kyle.  We met my brother Graham and his wife Nikki in St. Thomas, ferried over to Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, and on the day of this posting we are all ensconced in a rental villa, SummerSalt, situated just above Smuggler’s Cove.   Nice thing about traveling with 7 people -- renting a villa turns out cheaper than staying in a hotel!  Where are we?  well, if you have never been to Tortola, it is just across Drake’s Passage from St. John's, which was the setting for David Edgerley Gates’ last article, The Beachcomber.
        Anyway, rather than throwing something together for SleuthSayers this week I am “on holiday.” So, instead, I am posting the article I wrote last summer for Something Is Going to Happen, the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine blog.  The article reviews the history of Ellery Queen pastiches that have appeared in EQMM over the years, and as such, is a bit of an introduction to my next Queen pastiche, Literally Dead, which (Janet Hutchings advises) should be included in the December, January or February issue of EQMM.  You can rely on the fact that I shall keep you posted as to the exact issue!
The Misadventures of Ellery Queen
by Dale C. Andrews
        Last May 25 a new anthology of Ellery Queen stories was published.  Before stalwart Queen fans, especially those in the English speaking world, set their hopes too high, this volume, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, published by Ronso-Sya, has been released in Japan and contains stories that have been translated into Japanese.
It is worth a pause, here at the beginning, to reflect on how popular the works of Ellery Queen remain in Japan.  Iiki Yusan, the editor of the new anthology, is the president of the Ellery Queen fan club in Japan and has also authored book-length Japanese critiques of the works of Ellery Queen, including Ellery Queen, The Perfect Guide (2004) and Reviews of Ellery Queen (2010).  Unlike the United States, where it has been virtually impossible to find a newly published Ellery Queen novel or anthology, in Japan the entire Ellery Queen library is readily available in current editions.  
The Misadventures of Ellery Queen also contains no stories by the creators of Queen, Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.  Rather, it is comprised of Ellery Queen pastiches, that is, mysteries that have been written by other authors, myself included, who have attempted to emulate the Queen style and formula in new stories featuring Ellery.    
        It is not unusual to find popular detectives re-born in stories penned by authors other than the original creator of the character.  The classic example is Sherlock Holmes, who has lived on over the years under the supervision of a host of authors other than Arthur Conan Doyle.  Indeed, in 1944 The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by none other than Ellery Queen, collected in one volume various Holmes pastiches.  While we still do not have a definitive English language companion collection of Ellery Queen pastiches, it is fitting that notable  Queen pastiches have at least now been collected in Japan, where there is a devoted following.  

Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee
        Let’s pause again here to reflect on what a pastiche is, and what it is not.  If you Google “pastiche” looking for a definition, one of the first you will find is this: “a work of art that intentionally imitates other works, often to ridicule or satire.” As seems true of a lot of internet research, to my mind the definition comes close but ultimately misses the mark.  Not surprisingly the definition I prefer is one penned originally by Frederic Dannay, writing as Ellery Queen. According to Dannay “a pastiche is a serious and sincere imitation in the exact manner of the original author.”  The readily apparent distinction between these two definitions is that the former includes the parody – since it invites “ridicule or satire.”  In the latter, Dannay correctly excludes both.   Nothing against parodies – by all accounts Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee liked parodies as well, and many Ellery Queen send-ups have appeared in EQMM over the years.  But while the parody can easily bring forth a laugh, it is the pastiche that has the potential to tug at the heart by offering up new life to beloved literary characters who we feared were lost to us forever.  

        The pastiche, then, consistent with Frederic Dannay’s definition, requires a more structured approach than does the parody.  My own rule for constructing a pastiche is also the cardinal principle of the medical profession – “first, do no harm.”  If you are writing new stories carrying forth someone else’s character, that character should be recognizable and ring true throughout the story.

        Frederic Dannay was a huge fan of the pastiche and did much to popularize the genre.  It should therefore surprise no one that Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine has a long history of publishing pastiches, including salutes to Sherlock in EQMM’s annual Sherlock Holmes edition. Equally unsurprising is the fact that EQMM over the years has provided a continued life to Ellery himself in a variety of pastiches that offer new adventures featuring the magazine’s namesake. This has provided the opportunity for a number of noted mystery writers to step up to the plate.  

Francis M (Mike) Nevins
Jon L. Breen
        Francis M. Nevins, who knew Frederic Dannay well (and has, in fact, described him as the grandfather that he never had) contributed one of the earliest Ellery Queen pastiches, the classic Open Letter to Survivors (EQMM May, 1972).  In Nevins’ story the entire plot derives from the following obscure sentence that appears in the 1948 Ellery Queen novel Ten Days' Wonder:  “There was the case of Adelina Monquieux, [Ellery’s] remarkable solution of which cannot be revealed before 1972 by agreement with that curious lady's executors."  In Nevins’ pastiche, which plausibly spins out the story hinted at in Ten Days’ Wonder, the young detective is never identified by name.  But it is evident that Nevins’ hero is Ellery.   Jon L. Breen has authored both parodies of Ellery Queen – his The Lithuanian Eraser Mystery" (EQMM March, 1969), featuring E. Larry Cune is an example – but has also penned true Queen pastiches, such as the Gilbert and Sullivan Clue (EQMM September, 1999), where Ellery uses his intellect to outsmart a murderer while at sea.  That same issue of EQMM, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the publication of the first  Queen novel, The Roman Hat Mystery, also offers an Ellery Queen pastiche by Edward D. Hoch, The Circle of Ink, which features Ellery and the inspector confronted with a murder in a university setting.  In his final Ellery Queen pastiche Edward Hoch revisited one of Ellery’s favorite locales in The Wrightsville Carnival (EQMM September/October 2005), a story offered as part of the magazine’s celebration of the centenary of the births of Dannay and Lee.  
       
Ed Hoch
       In each of these stories Ellery rings true:  we encounter him as we would an old friend.  To the reader he is the same character created by Dannay and Lee.  
 It has been one of the great joys of my life that I have had the privilege to meet and visit with Mike Nevins, Jon Breen and the late Ed Hoch.  In knowing them I feel that I have known Ellery as well.  

        As to my own involvement in the quest to keep Ellery alive, The Book Case (EQMM May, 2007), written in collaboration with my good friend Kurt Sercu, proprietor of Ellery Queen, a Website on Deductionfeatures an elderly Ellery solving one last case involving many characters from earlier Queen novels, including principally the 1967 mystery Face to Face.  My other contribution to the Queen pastiche library, The Mad Hatter’s Riddle (EQMM September/October, 2009), finds characters from the 1938 Queen novel The Four of Hearts, reunited, along with Ellery for the filming of an episode of the 1975 NBC Ellery Queen television series.  [And my latest pastiche, the upcoming Literally Dead, is a Wrightsville mystery, with Ellery once again engaged in a duel of wits with Wrightsville Chief of Police Anselm Newby as they each struggle to solve a locked room murder.]  

        With the exception of The Mad Hatter’s Riddle (which is premised, in part, on a poem that would lose a lot in the translation) and the then-unpublished Literally Dead, all of the foregoing Ellery Queen adventures (and more) are now available together in hardcover, at least in the Japanese market.  The rest of us just have to continue to wait and hope!

        What do each of the stories have in common, and what separates them, as pastiches, from parodies or satires?   The answer has already been suggested.  Further hints can be gleaned by examining some of the synonyms commonly used to define the word “pastiche.”  James Lincoln Warren, who has also authored pastiches, in his now-retired Criminal Brief blog often referred to this genre of fiction as “tributes.”  Another commonly used synonym for “pastiche”  is “homage.” These words, I think, help to add the requisite heart to the matter.  We who have chosen to write Ellery Queen pastiches are not parodying the Queen formula.  Perish the thought!  In fact what we do is reverential -- we are striving to emulate Queen, and thereby keep Ellery and the inspector around for just a little while longer.  Those of us who labor trying to bring back Ellery, or Sherlock, or Nero for new adventures do so because we simply can’t stand a world without them.  

         We are, after all, still in love.

27 March 2012

Gone South III -- Play Ball!

by Dale C. Andrews

Space Coast Stadium, Viera Florida -- Spring Training home of the Washington Nationals

     Several weeks back I mentioned the geographic challenge of uploading timely articles every second Tuesday during the winter months.  Pat and I decided years ago that once we retired we were going to spend as much time as possible each winter away from our home in Washington, D.C.  This year that meant that for three weeks in January we were in the Caribbean – two weeks of which were on a sailboat with the spottiest internet imaginable.  We came back from that trip to spend two weeks at home, making certain that our adult sons had not completely trashed the house, and then took off again to Gulf Shores, Alabama for two and a half weeks in February.  We lucked out there with great internet available in the condo we rented.  Then after another two weeks of checking on the house we are off on the last of our winter trips – a week and a half in Florida devoted to watching the Washington Nationals’ Spring training.  I’ll have some internet access there, but to be on the safe side this article will be scheduled before we leave. 
"Smartie" getting off of the Autotrain.  Everyone laughed.

    While we drove to and from Gulf Shores, our Spring Training tradition sends us south on the Autotrain.  This allows us to leave our bigger "road trip" car in D.C. and travel instead with our convertible Smart car, which would never otherwise see Florida.  (I can’t imagine 900 miles of I-95 in Smartie).


    The train is always a blast. --  dining cars, where, as a couple, we invariably sit across from people we have never met, and lounge cars where strangers sip cocktails together while watching the scenery pass.  No wonder  trains  have always been fodder for mysteries.  I can’t ride an overnight train without thinking of The Lady Vanishes,  Hitchcock’s second-to-last British film.  The 1938 movie (based on the largely forgotten book The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White), together with Hitchcock’s 1959 American film North by Northwest and Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express all capture the microcosm that is train travel – a self-contained slice of life, detached from the rest of the world by movement.  No wonder that trains afford a perfect setting for classic golden age mysteries – how better to contain your story and all of your suspects?  While ocean liners are a close second, nothing beats the tightly cabined setting of a train.

    So to and from Spring Training I have little trouble conjuring up SleuthSayer thoughts.  But what about baseball itself? 

    For whatever reason the nation’s pastime hasn’t provided much of a setting for mystery stories.  Perhaps readers will offer up other examples, but the only ones that spring readily to my mind are the Ed Gorgon stories by the great Jon L. Breen.  Jon started the series way back in 1970 and has written that his original inspiration for Ed Gorgon, the baseball umpire who repeatedly is called upon to solve mysteries between calling balls and strikes, was that Frederic Dannay, then editor-in-chief at Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, liked nothing better than baseball and dying messages.  So Jon served up both in Diamond Dick, the first Ed Gorgon story..  That story, and the further installments in the series, spanning thirty years, are collected in Kill the Umpire: The Calls of Ed Gorgon published by Crippen and Landru in 2003. Jon's collection is a fun read and is available at Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, or direct from Crippen and Landru.   (Tell Doug Greene that Dale sent you!)

Shoeless Joe and Ty Cobb, 1913
    If one casts a wider net other non-mystery baseball stories can be reeled in.  Much of the literature that has derived from baseball seems to have its roots in the Black Sox scandal, in which various members of the Chicago White Sox were charged with conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series.  Even though they were acquitted by a Chicago jury, eight players were eventually suspended from baseball for life, including (famously) Shoeless Joe Jackson, who got his name from once running the bases without his shoes on, and who may have been the greatest baseball slugger of all time.  Ring Lardner was a young reporter covering the scandal, and his impressions of Shoeless Joe were said to be the inspiration for his baseball short stories that were later collected in You Know Me Al, a series of letters authored by a vernacularly-challenged ball player.  Lardner uniformly portrays the White Sox players in You Know Me Al as semi-literate and hopelessly avaricious. 

    A real life episode that has repeatedly found its way into baseball lore followed Shoeless Joe Jackson's appearance before a grand jury empaneled to investigate the conspiracy allegations.  On September 29, 1920, The Minneapolis Daily Star, during the course of reporting on the scandal, published the following account:
When Jackson left criminal court building in custody of a sheriff after telling his story to the grand jury, he found several hundred youngsters, aged from 6 to 16, awaiting for a glimpse of their idol. One urchin stepped up to the outfielder, and, grabbing his coat sleeve, said:

"It ain't true, is it, Joe?"

"Yes, kid, I'm afraid it is," Jackson replied. The boys opened a path for the ball player and stood in silence until he passed out of sight.

"Well, I'd never have thought it," sighed the lad
    The line, and the saga of Shoeless Joe, who may or may not have been guilty as charged, reverberated through baseball literature.  In Bernard Malamud’s The Natural the central character, Roy Hobbs, is offered a bribe to throw a game and is then confronted by a child who says “Say it isn’t true, Roy.”  (The line is only in the book, so don’t look for it in the 1984 Robert Redford film!)   The story of Shoeless Joe is also at the heart of the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams, based on Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella.  And, finally, anyone who has seen the movie or stage production of Damn Yankees (a story close to the heart of any Washington, D.C. baseball fan) will remember the refrain “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal Mo.”  (Hannibal Mo. had nothing to do with Shoeless Joe, but, hey, a song’s gotta rhyme, right?)

    Well I should stop here and start packing.  We are off on one last winter trip to the south.   Hopefully when we head back to Washington D.C. it will be spring, because if winter persists it will be me who you will hear lamenting “it ain’t true, is it, Joe?”