Showing posts with label Josh Pachter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Josh Pachter. Show all posts

31 July 2020

Dying Message


Earlier this month, fellow SleuthSayer Joseph D'Agnese blogged about USA's founding father and Declaration of Independence signer George Wythe's famous last words, "I am murdered!" before he died from having been poisoned.

In my humble opinion, as far as last words go, Wythe won.

So, over mugs of coffee a few mornings ago, when my crime writer friend, Josh Pachter, first mentioned the use of "Dying Message" as a literary device, I wanted to know more.

Take it away, Josh...

KK: Can you explain the "dying message" trope for us?

Well, sure! But let me start by explaining why Kristin is asking me this question.

In mid-July, she drove down to my new home outside Richmond, Virginia, to pick up a piece of furniture my wife Laurie and I no longer needed for her daughter's first college apartment. I made a pot of coffee and, while Laurie teleworked, Kristin and I sat out on our new deck and talked. I don't remember exactly how it came up, but I asked Kristin if she was familiar with the old "dying message" trope, she said she wasn't, I explained it...and her eyes lit up. "Can I interview you about this for SleuthSayers?" she asked.

So here we are.

I suspect that many of the Sayers of the Sleuth are already familiar with the dying message, and some are probably far better versed in its history than I am, but, for what it's worth, here's what I have to say on the subject.

Ellery Queen may not have invented the concept of the "dying message" clue, but Fred Dannay and Manny Lee--the cousins who wrote as EQ--were certainly its most active proponents, and many of their novels and short stories rang changes on the concept.

Here's a basic description of how it works:

Person A murders Person B and leaves the scene. But--sacre bleu!--Person B is not dead yet, after all, and regains consciousness long enough to want to tell the police who killed him. Unfortunately, there's no working phone at hand, so Person B can't simply call the police and tell them who did the dirty deed.  There is, however, a piece of paper and a pen, so Person B leaves a cryptic note, identifying his killer.

"But," you say, "why a cryptic note? Why doesn't Person B simply write Person A's name?

Ah, well, because, despite the fact that he's dying, Person B has the presence of mind to realize that person A might return to the scene of the crime--and, if she does, she'll see the piece of paper with her name on it and destroy it.

And that's the "dying message" trope, resulting in a story the heart of which is the protagonist's mental struggle to figure out the meaning of the cryptic clue.

Far fetched? Certainly.

Realistic? Perhaps not.

But I'm reminded of something my buddy Les Roberts--the author of 20+ novels featuring Cleveland PI Milan Jacovich--once did.  In one of Les' books, Milan trails a suspect to a Monday-evening performance of the Cleveland Symphony. When the book came out, Les received hundreds of letters from irate Clevelanders, pointing out that the Cleveland Symphony  doesn't play on Mondays. Les printed up a form letter he sent back to every complainer: "The Cleveland Symphony might not play on Mondays, but my Cleveland Symphony plays whenever I damn well tell them to."

His point? This is fiction, folks, and in fiction an author can do whatever the hell he wants to do. He is the puppet master, and the puppet master gets to pull the strings.

So Ellery Queen wrote lots of dying-message stories, and the question of whether or not such a thing would ever happen in real life is frankly irrelevant.

To keep the device from going stale, the cousins eventually began to come up with variations on the theme, such as oral dying messages (in which only part of the victim's dying words are heard, or the victim's last words are misunderstood, or the victim mispronounces a key word or words) and the "accidental dying message."

I'll give you an example.

In "GI Story," which first appeared in EQMM in 1954, Clint Fosdick is murdered, and it's clear that he was killed by one of his three stepsons: Linc Smith, Woody Smith, or Wash Smith. Before Clint expires, he scrawls the letters "GI" on a piece of paper, but all three of the Smith Brothers--:::cough:::--are former soldiers, so the message could apply equally well to any of them.

Ellery, however, finally realizes that Clint had no intention of leaving a cryptic message. In fact, "Fancy verbal acrobatics are the pleasant preoccupation of detective fiction," Ellery says, poking fun at his own trademark trope. "In real life, they don't happen...Clint Fosdick, in writing those two letters...was trying to do just one thing: name his killer."

The three brothers, Ellery realizes, were named after American presidents--Abraham Lincoln Smith, Woodrow Wilson Smith, and George Washington Smith--and the dying man was beginning to write the word, "GEORGE" when death took him immediately after he completed the down stroke of the second letter of his murderer's name. Et voila! 


KK: Have you used the "dying message" trope yourself, Josh?

Why, yes, Kristin, as a matter of fact I have!

My second published story--"E.Q. Griffen's Second Case," which originally appeared in EQMM in 1970 and will be reprinted in The Further Misadventures of Ellery Queen, which I co-edited with former SleuthSayer Dale Andrews and which will be published by Wildside Press later this year--is a dying-message story, in which a guy is murdered outdoors and pulls loose a chunk of the tarry stuff that sort of grouts sidewalk panels together and writes a clue to the identity of his killer on the sidewalk.

After Dale and I co-edited our original Misadventures of Ellery Queen (Wildside, 2018), I started writing a series of pastiches of EQ's "Puzzle Club" stories, and the first three of them are all dying-message stories: "A Study in Scarlett!" (EQMM, May/June 2019), "The Adventure of the Red Circles" (EQMM, Jan/Feb 2020), and "The Adventure of the Black-and-Blue Carbuncle" (EQMM, forthcoming).

I also had two dying-message stories appear in print in 2018: "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Murder" (Mystery Most Geographical, Wildside) was a finalist for the Derringer Award, and "50" (EQMM, Nov/Dec 2018), in which my E.Q. Griffen character returns, finished second in the magazine's Reader Award balloting. You can download and read both of those stories for free at this link.

Dale, by the way, has published  four Ellery Queen pastiches in EQMM, and all four of them are dying-message stories. His latest, "Four Words," will appear in the Sep/Oct 2020 issue, on sale August 13.

And for those who'd like to read more about the "dying message" trope, there's an excellent discussion at the Ah Sweet Mystery blog, and another (filled with spoiler-protected examples) at Fandom website.


KK: Thank you for letting me put you in the hot seat, Josh.  Oh, and by the way, check out this little gem I found while preparing my post...a signed copy of our co-contributed Malice anthology.  C'est magnifique!


Josh Pachter is an author, editor, and translator. More than a hundred of his short stories have appeared in EQMM, AHMM, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, and many other periodicals and anthologies. He has edited and co-edited a dozen anthologies, including The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell (Untreed Reads, 2020), The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe (Mysterious Press, 2020) and The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffett (forthcoming from Down and Out Books in 2021).  His translations of stories by Dutch and Flemish authors appear regularly in EQMM. Earlier this year, he received the Short Mystery Fiction Society's Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer Award for Lifetime Achievement and became the first person to win both the Golden Derringer and a competitive Derringer in the same year.

PS ~ Let's be social:

15 April 2020

My Misadventure on West Thirty-Fifth Street


Yesterday the mysterious Press published The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe,  which Publishers Weekly described as, ahem, "superb."  And who am I to argue?

I have a story in the book and I am racking my brains to say anything about Rex Stout and his wonderful creation that I didn't say here or here or even here. 

So let's take a different approach.  Last year Josh Pachter told me he was going to be editing a book of  different authors' takes on the world's fattest master detective and asked if I had anything to contribute.

I had to regretfully decline.  I don't really write parodies and I am not such a fan of pastiches (which I define as writing another story in the style of an already existing body of work.)

But then I realized that there was a third possibility: a homage.  To me this means you muck around in another writer's universe but don't create another work of the type that writer has already produced.

It can be a subtle difference, I admit.   If I write another Sherlock Holmes story, attempting to keep as closely to Conan Doyle's style as possible, that's a pastiche.  But when Nicholas Meyer wrote The Seven Percent Solution, rewriting the history of Holmes and adding Sigmund Freud to the story, that was a homage.  Got it?

And it occurred to me that I could look at Wolfe and friends from a different viewpoint than Stout had done.  So I told Josh to give me a little time before he started the presses, so to speak.

An important fact about great literary characters: seen objectively a lot of them are annoying as hell.  Seriously, how long could you have tolerated the smug genius of Holmes before you strangled him?  How about Rumpole, Columbo, or House, M.D.?  Even Huckleberry Finn might have been pretty exasperating.  All of them are great to visit, but you sure  wouldn't want to live there.  As Ogden Nash wrote: "Philo Vance needs a kick in the pance."

Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wrote a number of books about the Howard Families. To oversimplify, these are people who are much longer-lifed than most folks.  The one member of the group who never seems to age at all uses the name Lazarus Long and he is virtually worshipped by his fellows.

But, boy, he seems truly irritating to me.

In Heinlein's book The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, we finally see Long through the eyes of a non-Howard character and guess what? He loathes the guy.  I felt vindicated.   

So I wrote a story that looked at the residents of that famous brownstone on West 35th Street from the viewpoint of their neighbors who had to put up with late night meetings, the occasional shooting or bombing... And Josh made "The Damned Doorbell Rang" the last story in the book.

I call that superb.

07 April 2020

The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell


I'm delighted to turn my column over today to author and editor Josh Pachter, who has something special to share. Take it away, Josh!

— Barb Goffman

The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell

by Josh Pachter

Today is pub day for The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell, which I edited, and which is being released in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats by the good folks at Untreed Reads.

I came up with the idea for this book about two years ago, and was blown away by how eager the authors I contacted were to contribute. I could go on and on about the project, but I’d rather turn the microphone over to the writers and let them tell you about their choices, their challenges, and their triumphs.

Given the opportunity to pick a song from one of Joni's seventeen studio albums, why did you pick the one you picked?

Marilyn Todd (“The Pirate of Penance,” from Song to a Seagull): The lyrics, pure and simple. “She dances for the sailors / In a smoky cabaret bar underground / Down in a cellar in a harbor town.” As soon as I heard those lines, the story wrote itself.

John Floyd (“Bad Dreams,” from Shine): This song is a look at the way we’ve managed to screw up our world, and it got me to thinking about the fact that even the worst dreams sometimes do turn out well. That kicked off the idea of having someone see a terrible vision that might not only come out okay but might even work to his advantage.

Alison McMahan (“Harlem in Havana,” from Taming the Tiger): Not many people know this, but this song is about a real revue, Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana. I was fascinated by everything I read about it. Also, I’ve been lucky enough to visit Cuba a couple of times; the first time, I took my husband on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday to fulfill a bucket list item: his great-uncle, who lived a fascinating life, is buried in Havana, and we were able to visit the grave and pay our respects. By picking this song, I had the opportunity to write about the actual revue and my husband’s great uncle.

Adam Meyer (“Shades of Scarlett Conquering,” from The Hissing of Summer Lawns): This song jumped out at me because it’s so character-driven. It paints a portrait of a beautiful Southern woman who is “dressed in stolen clothes,” feels “dark things” and has “blood-red fingernails,” is trained in Southern charm but also cruel, burns with passion but is ice cold at the same time. She was perfect for a crime story.

What was your biggest challenge in writing your story?

Edith Maxwell (“Blue Motel Room,” from Hejira): The story is set in Atlanta, where I have never been—but, hey, that’s what friends and the Internet are for. My writer pal Jim Jackson has lived around there, and he helped me out with a well-known jewelry store and a classy old-school restaurant. Online maps, photos, and my imagination got me through the rest.

Donna Andrews (“Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire,” from For the Roses): This has always been one of my favorite Joni songs, maybe the favorite. Once Josh told me that I could have it, I re-listened to it, loved it as much as ever, and realized—with a frisson of alarm—that any story that did justice to it would have to be light years away from the humor I usually write. I had to write from a place that was very different from my usual inspiration, someplace much darker. Not the first time I’ve done that, but one of the rare times lately that I’ve had something like this published.

Tara Laskowski (“Both Sides, Now,” from Clouds): My husband, Art Taylor, and I were excited to try to write a story together, as we’d never done anything like that before. We decided we’d write it as a series of letters back and forth between the main characters. However, we were surprised to find just how difficult it was to collaborate. Our methods of writing are very different. I tend to be a faster, get-it-on-the-page kind of writer, while Art—well, he’s very careful and good at what he does and it takes him a little longer. At first, we worried we weren’t going to be able to pull it off, but once we got into a rhythm, the story was actually quite fun to write.

Emily Hockaday and Jackie Sherbow (“Talk to Me,” from Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter): Emily says, “I am primarily a poet, so the actual plot was the biggest challenge for me! I’m used to extremely short pieces that aren’t driven by plot but rather image and metaphor, so keeping a plot tight and compelling was something new and different.” And Jackie adds, “The biggest challenge might have been the story’s biggest asset, too, which was working collaboratively. Emily and I work very well together, so it was fun and fruitful to work with her—but we did need to plan out the methods we’d use.”

What about your story makes you the happiest?

Sherry Harris (“Last Chance Lost,” from Turbulent Indigo): It was fun to write something so different than the cozy mysteries I usually write. Getting out of my own head and convincing myself I could write a short story worthy of being in an anthology with such amazing writers was a treat!

Mindy Quigley (“Taming the Tiger,” from Taming the Tiger): All the cats! My story features real cats, literary cats, decorative cats, metaphorical cats, cat-like people, and even Cats, the musical. Unfortunately, it’s set in a time when Cats, the movie, didn’t yet exist. I can’t recommend hate-watching that movie highly enough, by the way. Sit back, consume your favorite hallucinogenic drug, and prepare to marvel at utter debasement of some of the silver screen’s most talented entertainers.

Barb Goffman (“Man to Man,” from Wild Things Run Fast): I loved being in the head of an unlikeable person and still finding ways to make her fun. Word choices. The reactions she has. The way she says things. Writing the character of Cecelia was so enjoyable. I aimed to create someone readers will love to hate, and I hope I’ve succeeded.

Greg Herren (“The Silky Veils of Ardor,” from Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter): The goal of my story was to illustrate how our memories of an important time in our lives are different from the way other people remember the same event—sometimes so completely different that the memories seem to belong to different occasions—with reality lying somewhere in the middle. Memory fascinates me, and I was very happy with how playing with that idea turned out in the final story.

We were originally planning a big multi-author launch event for The Beat of Black Wings in Reston, Virginia, close to where many of the contributors and I live, but of course COVID-19 knocked that plan right off the calendar.

Instead, we’ll be doing a Zoom launch tonight, April 7, starting at 7 PM Eastern Time. If you’ve got the free Zoom software for your computer or tablet or the free app for your phone—and, if you don’t, did I mention that they’re free?—all you have to do is click on this link to join us. Please disable your webcam and microphone, so the focus stays on the authors, but you’ll be able to ask questions via chat. (In case the above Zoom link doesn't work, try this one: https://zoom.us/j/7953912062.)

If you haven’t already ordered the book and would like to have a copy, you can get the hardcover or paperback directly from the publisher (with a 15% discount!) at this link and the e-book from the ’Zon here; the authors and I have agreed to donate a third of our royalties to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation in Joni’s name, so you'll benefit a worthy cause at the same time you provide yourself with some awesome quarantine reading!

And if you’ve got an Apple Music subscription and would like to listen to the songs that inspired the book’s twenty-six stories, check out this playlist.

Thanks, Barb, both for your own contribution to the book (“Man to Man,” from Wild Things Run Fast), and for turning your SleuthSayers slot over to The Beat of Black Wings today!

24 March 2020

The Possibly Last Case of Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac


Over the course of two-plus years, I’ve written stories for three anthologies edited by Josh Pachter and, publishing being what it is, all three anthologies are scheduled for release this year, two of them in April, within seven days of each other.

“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac” will appear in The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell (Untreed Reads), scheduled for release April 7.

“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo” will appear in The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe: Parodies and Pastiches Featuring the Great Detective of West 35th Street (Mysterious Press), scheduled for release April 14.

JONI

When Josh first approached me about contributing to the Joni Mitchell anthology, I was intrigued. Though I listened more often to hard rock (Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Mott the Hoople, and the like) when I was younger, I was quite familiar with Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, and many other singer/songwriters from that end of the musical spectrum.

Several hours after receiving the invitation from Josh, I tried to claim “Woodstock.” By then I knew the protagonist and had roughed out a plot. Unfortunately, one of the conceits for the anthology was that every one of Joni’s albums would be represented by at least one song, and someone had already claimed a song from her album Ladies of the Canyon.

I put that idea aside and binge listened to Joni Mitchell for the rest of the day, finding and reading lyrics whenever a song caught my ear. Thirteen hours after receiving the invitation, I had locked down my claim to “Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac,” from the album Night Ride Home.

“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”—the story of a young woman, her boyfriend, and what happens in the back seat of his father’s Cadillac—caught my attention because I thought there was a story hidden between the lines of the lyrics and because I remembered my mother’s big-finned 1959 Cadillac Sedan de Ville.

The writing came easily, and six days later I turned the story in. After a few minor editorial adjustments and correction of a few typos, Josh accepted the story.

My take on “Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”: When Ray’s dad’s winning streak turns into a losing streak, his Cadillac is repo’d by his bookie, and Ray’s girlfriend takes it upon herself to get the car back.

NERO

Alas, writing “The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo,” my Nero Wolfe parody, did not go as smoothly. I seriously under-estimated my knowledge of the Nero Wolfe canon, and I found myself doing quite a bit of research, writing and abandoning several ideas, and not turning in the initial version of the story until nearly three months after accepting Josh’s invitation.

That’s when I learned I hadn’t done enough research, and during the following six months Josh guided me through two start-to-finish revisions of the manuscript. The story remains essentially the same as in the initial draft—at the insistence of his longtime assistant, an aging detective long past retirement and near the end of his life takes a new case—but I relied heavily on Josh’s suggestions and revision demands to shape the story into its final form.

“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo”: Convinced someone is stalking her, Baldy Badloss’s dance partner Ruth Entemann hires his boss Tiberious Dingo to learn who and why, and the investigation uncovers more family secrets than any of them expect.

LESSONS

If there are any lessons to learn from these diametrically opposed writing experiences, they may be:

1. Inspiration (“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”) and perspiration (“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo”) both produce publishable fiction.

2. A good editor knows when a light edit is appropriate (“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac”) and when to demand significant revisions (“The Possibly Last Case of Tiberious Dingo”).

3. A professional writer appreciates a good editor.

JONI, AGAIN

And the story inspired by Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” that Josh nixed when I proposed it? A year later I returned to the idea, wrote the story I had imagined at the time, and “Woodstock” (the story) will soon appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

17 March 2020

When Extroverts Must Stay Home


Sometimes current events coincide with stories you've already written. This is one of those times.

A friend asked me this morning how I was dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. I said that since I work from home, I don't go out much anyway. Consequently, self-quarantining so that I don't inadvertently catch this newest strain of the virus and pass it on to someone with a compromised immune system is not a big problem for me. As the joke goes, I'm an introvert, so I've been preparing for this moment my whole life.

I've seen increased focus in the media and social media over the past decade on us introverts. How we do better working solo than in groups, how we need alone time to recharge, how the world is often so oriented toward extroverts that we introverts sometimes are penalized for not excelling at activities geared toward extroverts. I'm grateful for this focus on introverts, which hopefully has helped open some people's eyes.

We don't usually see people worried about extroverts because much of society is geared toward them. Until now, that is, now that people are being asked to self-quarantine the best they can to slow the spread of the coronavirus. I've seen people post on social media that they don't want to self-quarantine because spending more than a day or two at home makes them anxious, that they need to go out and be among people. If not, they get depressed.

Depression is no little thing. It can affect your emotional and physical health. As someone who understands how the need to be alone can suddenly feel urgent and overwhelming, I get how being cooped up might affect someone who needs to regularly be among people, especially someone who doesn't have family or roommates to spend time with at home. It's something I was thinking about last year as I wrote a story called "Man to Man," whose main character is an extrovert who becomes socially isolated.

This story is coming out in a new anthology, The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell, which will be published on April 7th by Untreed Reads. The anthology, edited by Josh Pachter, has all of Joni Mitchell's albums represented. My "Man to Man" story is inspired by the song of the same title from her 1982 album, Wild Things Run Fast.

In my story, my main character, Cecelia, ends up effectively self-quarantined at home. She's not physically ill, and there's no virus at play, but Cecelia is cut off from her social network. So she starts staying home, which makes her depressed. Her lack of connection with others makes her depression grow, and her negative feelings spiral, especially regarding her husband, the only person she sees anymore. It doesn't help that Cecelia is spoiled and self-centered. Here she is, thinking about her situation:

"I had nothing happening in my life. No social groups. No events. No trips I was planning. I could barely pay attention to what was on television. No one ever called me, and I had no one to call.

"It felt like I was in solitary confinement. Sure, I was in an upscale high-rise, but the isolation was overwhelming. And things didn't get better when David came home at night. He made me so angry sometimes, I wanted to scream."

Before I wrote the story I'd been thinking that the world is largely geared to extroverts, so I could understand that if an introvert couldn't get alone time, it might make her feel edgy and unhappy and might result in her acting out. (Not excusing bad behavior, just understanding what might prompt it.) Then I started thinking about the other side of the coin. What if an extrovert lost all her outings and interactions, the things that energized her and made her who she is? How might she react? I thought this would be an interesting approach to a character. That's how Cecelia came to be.

I never imagined that my scenario might be playing out all over the world around the time the story was being published. I hope all the Cecelias out there can safely resume their regular lives soon. In the meanwhile, for all of you looking for something to do while stuck inside, you can pre-order The Beat of Black Wings. It will be coming out April 7th in e-book, trade paperback, and hardcover. Pre-ordering of the paper versions is only available from the publisher. You can do it by clicking here. Pre-order of the e-book version is available in the usual places. One-third of the royalties will be donated to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation in Joni Mitchell's name, which means you can get a fine book of short stories for you and help a good cause at the same time.

So are you under self-quarantine? If so, how are you spending your time? And to my fellow authors with stories in the book, please tell us about your stories.

11 February 2020

Life of Crime Leads to Writing Crime Fiction



Several fellow crime fiction writers, including a handful of SleuthSayers, became crime fiction writers while working in, or after retiring from, law enforcement occupations. I approached my crime fiction writing career from the other direction.

I stole cars.

I don’t remember exactly how many I boosted during my relatively short career, but I would venture to guess at least a dozen, all different models from the same manufacturer.

These weren’t well-planned thefts; they were crimes of opportunity. Though I was too young to legally drive, that didn’t stop me. I saw cars I wanted, waited until the owners were distracted, and took them.

Back at my place, where I had the tools necessary to alter the vehicles’ appearances, I repainted them, and I turned at least two hardtops into convertibles. Then I wheeled them around for a few weeks until another opportunity presented itself.

And another opportunity always presented itself because the boys in my neighborhood were careless, always leaving their Matchbox cars unattended.

FROM CARS TO MOTORCYCLES

I came by my criminality honestly. My stepfather was an “Honorary Hell’s Angel.” At least, that’s what the card in his wallet said.

I don’t know if that’s a real thing or if it was some sort of gag, but my stepfather co-owned a service station, back when service stations did more than sell over-priced snacks and make you pump your own gas, and he actually employed Hell’s Angels as mechanics. Every time I visited the station, usually in the company of my mother, the bikers were there, sometimes working, sometimes not, and their choppers were parked behind the building along with several cars awaiting repair or awaiting pickup after being repaired.

The rest of this story may or may not be true, but this is the way I heard it, and there’s no one left to confirm or deny any part of it.

A group of Hell’s Angels lived in a house across the street from my stepfather’s service station. One night, one of them looked out the window, realized the service station was being robbed, and saw that the guy working that night was in trouble.

So, he shot the robber.

I don’t know if that event was the impetus, but shortly after that, my stepfather sold his part-ownership of the service station and we moved to another state.

FROM MOTORCYCLES TO BICYCLES

My junior high school was probably not as rough as I remember, but I wasn’t the only student who carried a knife for protection, and I once had a revolver shoved in my face while waiting at the bus stop after a school dance by a kid who wanted my bus money.

I was, by that point, building badass bicycles from parts I found in a ravine below a bridge a few miles from my home. I don’t remember what all I discovered during my initial visit, but I returned to the same spot several times and, over the following months, collected frames, handlebars, seats, wheels, and more.

I was much older before I realized I had probably stumbled on the dumping ground of a bicycle thief and that I might have been in possession of stolen goods.

FROM BICYCLES TO STORIES

I was going to wrap this up by suggesting my life of crime led me to write crime fiction, and then I remembered the story of my first professional fiction sale, which I wrote about in my initial post as an official SleuthSayers member. “Smooth Criminal” began “I wrote my first professionally published story when I was 17, sold it when I was 18, and saw it published when I was 19. That’s the story I tell, and the story I’ll continue to tell, but it isn’t the truth. The truth is more complex and involves my committing one of the worst crimes a writer can commit short of plagiarism.”

So maybe my life of crime didn’t actually end when I began writing. Maybe it was just the beginning.

Coming April 14: The Misadventures of Nero Wolfe: Parodies and Pastiches Featuring the Great Detective of West 35th Street (Mysterious Press), edited by Josh Pachter and featuring “Rollicking new stories written especially for this collection by Michael Bracken and Robert Lopresti.”

16 July 2019

Community Standards


By Michael Bracken

This year’s Malice Domestic in North Bethesda, Maryland, provided ample opportunity to spend time with several writers I count among my friends and with many more who became friends during the convention, and I realized how different life is when a large group of like-minded writers live in close proximity.

With Josh Pachter and Art Taylor at Malice Domestic 2019.
At some point during the convention, Josh Pachter and I discussed how the mystery-writing community in and around Washington, D.C., contrasts with the mystery-writing community in and around Waco, Texas. Many of the writers attending Malice see each other several times a year—at readings, book signings, Noir at the Bar events, library presentations, and the like—and they see each other so often that they rarely have reason to email one another. The mystery-writing community in and around Waco consists of, well, me.

Several romance writers live in the area, as do a few literary writers and poets of one type or another, but the only mystery writer living near me isn’t producing much new work these days. Because I don’t comprehend poetry or poets, and because literary writers don’t tend to hang with us genre types, I feel as if I live in a writing desert.

So, I’ve little opportunity to spend time with genre writers (of any genre) other than at conventions, and only in the past few years have I had the financial resources to travel more than a few hours from home to attend Bouchercon and Malice Domestic. Prior to that I attended some regional science fiction conventions (ArmadilloCon and the now-defunct ApolloCon), Bouchercon when it came to Austin many years ago and Left Coast Crime when it came to Santa Fe several years ago.

A gaggle of wordsmiths at Malice Domestic 2019.
Yet, I always remembered what life was like when I lived in Southern Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri. I was a young, barely published writer, and several times my then-wife and I had dinner with John Lutz and/or Francis M. Nevins, Jr., and their wives. And at least twice I attended the Nevinses’ Christmas party, where I met, among others, Elaine Viets when she was still a newspaper columnist.

I wondered if such a thing were possible in Waco, in a state where writers may live hundreds of miles apart, and Temple and I had several conversations about how we might duplicate those Christmas parties. Rather than a holiday event, when everyone is juggling family and work obligations, and rather than an evening event, which would cause guests to drive home in the wee hours of the morning, we decided to try a Saturday afternoon event in the spring.

Texas writers crowd the Bracken/Walker living room
during the 2019 Spring Writer Gathering.
We hosted our first Spring Writer Gathering the Saturday after Mother’s Day 2016, and we’ve hosted it the same weekend each year since. Though the event is open to all writers and their significant others, and most genres are represented in one fashion or another, we tend to draw a significant number of mystery writers from all across Texas. A few of our guests have joined us every year, a few only once, and many have attended two or three times.

This isn’t a critique group, and there’s no agenda. It’s just writers hanging out, talking about whatever strikes their fancies. Sometimes it’s writing, but the conversation is just as likely to cover dozens of other subjects. Sometimes we sit in a large group in the living room; sometimes we break into smaller groups that drift into the kitchen or the dining room.

Some of our guests are writers I’ve known for at least two decades, while others are recent acquaintances, and some I’m meeting in person for the first time when they arrive at our doorstep.

In doing this, my writing community is growing. Though it may never reach the size of the writing community in and around Washington, D.C., and even though our gathering may never draw the number and diversity of attendees as the Nevinses’ Christmas parties, I am quite pleased with the event’s success.

So, if you’re a writer living within driving distance of Waco, Texas, or think you might be traveling through our area the Saturday after Mother’s Day, drop me a line. Temple and I would love to have you join us next year for our annual Spring Writer Gathering.

My story “Oystermen” appears in the July/August issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and “Three Brisket Tacos and a Sig Sauer,” the second story of season one of the Guns + Tacos serial novella anthology series, releases August 1. Subscribe to season one here and receive six novellas—one each month beginning with July—and receive a special bonus story at the end of the season.

21 December 2018

The Best of Brittain


by Josh Pachter

One spring day when I was in the ninth grade, my English teacher — Mary Ryan — handed me a copy of the June 1966 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and told me she thought I might find it interesting. She was right, and her thoughtful gift wound up changing my life.

That first EQMM basically dropped into my hands, like manna from Heaven. The next month, though — and every month thereafter until I graduated from high school and went off to college — I had to pedal my bike up Old Jerusalem Road in Levittown, New York, to the candy store a mile away to buy a copy of the new issue (along with the latest Mad, of course) from their magazine rack.

My second issue, dated July 1967, contained a delightful story called “The Woman Who Read Rex Stout,” by someone named William Brittain. It was the fourth entry in a series that had begun the previous year, with Brittain’s “The Man Who Read John Dickson Carr” and “The Man Who Read Ellery Queen” appearing back to back in the December ’65 issue.  (The third “Man Who Read” story, intriguingly titled “The Man Who Didn’t Read,” came out in May ’66, just before I became a regular reader.)

A fifth story, “The Boy Who Read Agatha Christie,” was published in December ’66, and the next year Brittain created a new series character, Leonard Strang, science teacher at Aldershot High School. Mr. Strang featured in three 1967 stories, and a fourth case for the science teacher and a sixth “Man Who Read” story came out in 1968.

Mr. Strang’s fourth adventure was in the December 1968 EQMM, and that was a very special issue for me, since it also included my own first-ever published piece of fiction, “E.Q. Griffen Earns His Name,” written when I was sixteen years old and published shortly after my seventeenth birthday, when I was a high-school senior.

Since I was now officially a “professional” author, I was eligible for membership in the Mystery Writers of America. I joined, and — though I was too young to drink the cocktails — began taking the Long Island Rail Road into Manhattan for the MWA’s monthly cocktail parties in its offices in the shabby old Hotel Seville. The membership — all at least a couple of decades older than me — treated me with amused tolerance, and I became friendly with an assortment of people who, over the previous couple of years, had become my heroes: Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Hilary Waugh, Lawrence Treat, Robert Bloch, Hans Holzer, Chris Steinbrenner (who tended the bar and could be counted on to slip me a couple of those cocktails I wasn’t old enough to drink), and others.

Four married couples — in each of which it was the husband who was the crime writer — took me under their wings and made me feel as if I was truly a member of a warm extended family: Ed and Pat Hoch, Stan and Marilyn Cohen, John and Barbara Lutz … and Bill and Ginny Brittain.

Bill wound up writing a total of eleven “Man Who Read” stories and thirty-two featuring Leonard Strang, all published in the pages of EQMM between 1965 and 1983. Between ’64 and ’77, he also penned twenty-nine standalones, eight (including a pair credited to “James Knox”) to Queen’s, twenty to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (which ran his first-ever story, ironically titled “Joshua,” in its October ’64 issue, fourteen months before Bill cracked EQMM), and a single tale, his last published short story, “The Ferret Man,” to Antares.


After that, Bill decided to try his hand at writing books for younger readers, beginning with All the Money in the World in 1979 and ending with The Wizards and the Monster in 1994; bookended between those two were an even dozen others, including the Newbury Honor winner The Wish Giver in 1983.

Meanwhile, I went to college and grad school, taught for a year and a half at what was then Slippery Rock State College (now Slippery Rock University) in — I’m not making this up — Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, and in 1976 I moved overseas, first to The Netherlands and eventually to Germany.

Bill and Ginny and I exchanged transatlantic snail mail for several years, but eventually lost touch.

And, to my regret, I never picked up the thread of our friendship after returning to the US in 1991. By then, Bill — himself a teacher, though he taught English at the junior-high level, not science to high-schoolers like Mr. Strang — had retired, and he and Ginny settled in Asheville, North Carolina, where they lived until his death on December 16, 2011, his eighty-first birthday. Not long after he passed on, Ginny returned to upstate New York to be close to their daughter, Sue Brittain Gawley.
 
Two years ago, in 2016, Dale Andrews and I decided to co-edit The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, a book I’d originally proposed to Frederic Dannay — who was half of the Ellery Queen writing team — in the early ‘70s. The book (which was published by Wildside Press earlier this year, and which you can order in hard cover, paperback, or for Kindle apps and readers here) consists of three sections: Pastiches (which are serious recreations of the Ellery Queen characters), Parodies (which poke fun at EQ, turning him into such bizarre incarnations of himself as Celery Keen and Elroy Quinn), and Potpourri (which includes stories inspired by Ellery the author, Ellery the editor, and Ellery the character).

One piece I knew had to be included in the Potpourri section was my old friend Bill Brittain’s “The Man Who Read Ellery Queen.” So I did some sleuthing of my own, and came up with a phone number for Ginny, who doesn’t use email. I called her, and we talked for an hour, our first conversation in decades. We had a wonderful talk, and she was happy to grant Dale and I permission to use Bill’s story in our book.

So happy, in fact, that I asked her how she’d feel about a possible collection of only Bill’s stories. That idea rocketed her straight up to Cloud Nine, and as soon as we got off the phone I emailed Doug Greene and Jeff Marks, the publishers at Crippen & Landru, to suggest a book I wanted to call The Man Who Read Mr. Strang: The Collected Short Fiction of William Brittain.

Within an hour, I had enthusiastic yesses from both of them, and I got to work.

A volume containing all eleven “Man Who Read” stories and all thirty-two of the Mr. Strangs would have been prohibitively expensive to produce, so we ultimately agreed to include all of the “Man Who Read” tales and seven of the Mr. Strangs (three from the ‘60s and two each from the ‘70s and early ‘80s).

Janet Hutchings, Jackie Sherbow, and Deanna McLafferty of EQMM graciously scanned and emailed me most of the stories, and Charles Ardai, Jon Breen, Mike Nevins, Bill Pronzini, and Arthur Vidro provided the rest of them. I typed them up and edited them lightly and wrote an introduction, Sue Gawley wrote a nostalgic afterword, and at Robert Lopresti’s suggestion I researched and compiled a comprehensive checklist of all of Bill’s publications for the back of the book.

In June of this year, I took my brand-new Kia Sportage out for its first road trip and drove from my home in Northern Virginia up to Rochester, New York, to have dinner with my old friend Patricia Hoch. The Hochs and the Brittains had been friends in Rochester before either Ed or Bill began to publish and had remained close for many years after both writing careers began, but they, too, had lost touch after the Brittains moved to North Carolina. So the next day I took Pat to Buffalo to have a splendiferous Italian lunch with Ginny and Sue., and this was the first time Pat and Ginny had seen each other in thirty years.

The original plan was for my book of Bill’s stories to come out in September, and I was eager to hand-deliver copies to Ginny and Sue. The book wound up delayed by a couple of months, though — due to no fault of the fabulous folks at Crippen & Landru! — and, by the time it finally came out last month, now titled The Man Who Read Mysteries: The Short Fiction of William Brittain, it was Thanksgiving weekend and I couldn’t get away. If you’d like a copy, you can order it directly from C&L here; I’ve arranged that whatever income I would normally receive for having edited the book will go directly to Ginny, so I hope you’ll buy lots of copies! It is now also available on Amazon.

I’ll go up to Buffalo and Rochester again in the spring, to share more time with Ginny and Sue and Pat and schmooze about the old days when I was a punk teenager just getting started in this crazy business and Ed and Pat and Bill and Ginny were much kinder to me than I could possibly have deserved. I’m looking forward to that.

Meanwhile, Dale and I are working on The Further Misadventures of Ellery Queen, and Doug and Jeff tell me that, if The Man Who Read Mysteries sells as well as they think it will — according to Doug, Bill is “one of the authors most requested by Crippen & Landru readers throughout its 25-year history” — they’d like me to do a second volume, including the rest of the Mr. Strangs.

I can’t wait!

16 October 2018

The Obstacle Ahead is a Mirror


Michael Bracken and Josh Pachter
celebrate September birthdays
while at Bouchercon.
I’ve been writing long enough to recognize many of the obstacles that interfere with productivity. I’ve experienced the death of a parent, the death of a spouse, two divorces, four marriages, multiple job changes and relocations, heart surgery, and any number of other consequential life events. Yet, I can’t recall ever facing the obstacle that blocked my writing path throughout the middle half of this year.

During 2016 and 2017 my writing took a great leap forward, and my work was recognized in unexpected ways—leading to a lifetime achievement award in 2016; having a story included in The Best American Mystery Stories in 2018; placing stories in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and several new publications; and having other mystery writing opportunities fall into my lap. Unfortunately, sometime this spring all that good news overwhelmed me.

For many years, my schtick was to tout my productivity. I was the back-of-the-magazine, middle-of-the-anthology guy, the writer editors relied on to fill pages because they knew I was likely to turn in something on time and on theme that required little or no editorial sweat to make publishable.

For years I pounded out stories because writing was fun, and my head was (and is) filled with more stories than I will ever put on paper.

And then I stopped being that guy.

PLAY BECOMES WORK

I don’t know exactly when things changed, but I began to view my writing through a different lens. Instead of asking myself, “Is this fun?” I began asking myself, “Is this important? Is this significant? Is this noteworthy?”

And the answer, too often, was “no.”

I didn’t stop writing, but I set stories aside because they weren’t important, significant, or noteworthy. Then stories I did think were important, significant, and noteworthy—stories I felt confident would sell the first time out because I knew my markets—bounced back from editors with form rejections.

My mojo was no mo’.

WORK BECOMES PLAY

I did not have writer’s block. I didn’t stop writing but writing became a job I didn’t want to go to and didn’t want to do when I got there because it had stopped being fun.

This is how I felt in early September when Temple and I left home for Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida. Unlike New Orleans, where Temple and I spent almost as much time wandering around the French Quarter as we spent at the convention, and Toronto, where I participated in numerous events, St. Petersburg was more about hanging out.

Like many attendees, too many interactions with fellow writers were little more than “how ya doin’?” as we crossed paths on our way from one place to another. I did manage some interesting conversations about writing with Barb Goffman and Art Taylor, had some long conversations with Josh Pachter about all manner of things, and spent time with Trey R. Barker, both alone and in the company of our wives.

Michael Bracken, Frank Zafiro, and
Trey R. Barker bond over a mutual love
of taco truck cuisine.
I also spent a great deal of time hanging out on the veranda with a revolving group of editors and writers affiliated with Down & Out Books. Over the course of the convention, a joke Trey and I shared expanded into a project that we pitched to D&O Publisher Eric Campbell on that veranda. As we did, Frank Zafiro and other writers made suggestions that expanded the scope of our idea into something Eric liked so much he asked for a formal proposal.

By the time Temple and I reached the airport to leave St. Petersburg on the last day of Bouchercon, Frank Zafiro had already written several thousand words for the project, and within a week of returning home Trey and I put the formal proposal in Eric’s hands and began work on our own contributions.

As I write this, we have not yet received the go-ahead from Eric, but it doesn’t matter. I’m about 9,000 words into a 15,000+ word novella that isn’t important, significant, or noteworthy.

And writing it is damned fun.

“Mr. Sugarman Visits the Bookmobile” appears in Shhhh…Murder! (Darkhouse Books, edited by Andrew MacRae), and it’s the fifth story of mine to be included in Robert Lopresti’s list of best stories he’s “read this week” at Little Big Crimes.

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!

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?