Showing posts with label pastiches. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pastiches. Show all posts

05 March 2018

Misadventures


by Dale C. Andrews                                                 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 (The collection was quickly withdrawn from the public following a copyright challenge from the Arthur Conan Doyle estate.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

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

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

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

        Also a guy named Josh Pachter.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


03 November 2013

Old Characters, New Novels


by Leigh Lundin

Criminal Brief readers might remember pastiches have to be damn good to win me over. That doesn't mean I dismiss or entirely dislike old heroes brought back to life by other than their original authors, but they must attain a high standard. One of our own, Dale Andrews with his thorough research, sets a high bar with his Ellery Queen stories.

Pastiche authors also have to capture the flavor of the original stories, the era, the settings, and especially the characters. More often than not, one of these will fall flat. Then the question becomes whether readers (and movie viewers) accept the character.

The Saint
The Saint
Saintly Motives

Often acceptance hinges upon what a reader or viewer is first exposed to. I recall an English friend complaining bitterly about the Roger Moore version of The Saint. At first blush, what wasn't to like? The cast and crew were British and whilst the series wasn't as good as anything the Patricks  appeared in (McGoohan and MacNee (not to mention Diana Rigg's Emma Peel)), it was a good diversion.

And then I started reading The Saint novels and became properly hooked. I understood ITC failed to capture the period and much of the ambiance of Leslie Charteris' characters.

Shelfish Motives

One other reason I'm slow to embrace pastiches is the abundance of fresh and perhaps unique stories that might never see the light of day (at least a bookstore day) thanks to being elbowed aside by better known heroes and authors. It's bad enough movie makers recycle characters and plots, but it seems a shame when book publishers do it.

Yes, I can understand hankering and hungering for more of characters one's grown to love. Perhaps for this reason and because it's not my chosen genre, I'm less critical of classic romance characters resurfacing than I am of mystery reprises. Recycle the Janes (Austen and Eyre) but don't touch Marple!

(Romance fans might be interested to learn new Jane Austen novels are in the pipeline including updates of Emma and Pride and Prejudice. And for the particular attention of our friend Travis Erwin, not all fans are pleased one of those authors is male, Alexander McCall Smith.)

If anything, romance fans are even more engaged and critical. You might remember the harsh criticism of Scarlett, the sequel to Gone with the Wind. The music field witnessed bitter, even vicious comments about Hayley Westenra covering Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights. While I rarely prefer remakes to the originals, I compliment Bush's creative genius but I find her little-girl performance a bit shrill for my ears, although I seem to be an exception.

Solar Powered

Okay, I confess a bit of tongue in cheek (cheeky lad, that!). There is another way: I very much like the Solar Pons stories. August Derleth was such an admirer of Sherlock Holmes, he wrote Conan Doyle for permission to pick up pen and continue the series. Doyle declined, but not to be entirely put off, Derleth invented the great detective, Solar Pons.

The character became so popular, that when an edition came out that edited some of the Americanisms and timelines, the fan base reacted harshly, and an omnibus correcting the corrections soon followed.

But here it gets curious: A few years after August Derleth died, British author Basil Copper began writing further Solar Pons stories. In other words, Copper wrote pastiches of Derleth's pastiches! (And to be perfectly clear, Basil Copper was the editor who'd corrected Derleth's occasional Americanisms.)

Bonding with Fans

Only recently, we learned Jeffrey Deaver was engaged by the Fleming estate to write an 'official' new James Bond novel. Deaver, an American as you know, received not unpleasant mixed reviews for his effort, some positive, some not so much but they were better received than his immediate predecessor, Sebastian Faulks (who rather sounds like a Bond bad guy). As some have pointed out, Deaver is a better writer than Ian Fleming was, but critics are tough when it comes to capturing the essence of a character.

Deaver wasn't the first American appointed to write official 007 tales– that was novelist Raymond Benson– but I was surprised to learn we're about to see another new pastiche, this one by British writer William Boyd.

Wait, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention Samantha Weinberg's chicklit trilogy, The Moneypenny Diaries. And I should mention internationalism works both ways: Irish author John Banville, writing under the name Benjamin Black, is channeling Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe.

James Bond is hardly the only character brought back to life. I do my best to ignore the Batman-like parody of Sherlock Holmes that Robert Downey, Jr came up with. But other works have either arrived or are on the way.

British children's novelist Anthony Horowitz was licensed to write a new 'official' Sherlock Holmes with an Edith Wharton sounding title, The House of Silk.

Bourne Again

Apparently Robert Ludlum's estate didn't feel the Bourne Trilogy satisfactorily wrapped up the series. They've authorized yet another retake called The Bourne Dominion by Eric Van Lustbader.

And finally, we return to Agatha Christie, not Jane Marple but Hercule Poirot. You may remember Christie hoped to prevent pastiches following on her novels, but her estate had other ideas. They've contracted with writer Sophie Hannah to produce a new novel featuring the egg-headed Belgian detective.

While I may criticize errant pastiches, one parting thought occurs to me: Wouldn't we authors like to reach that pinnacle, one where readers love our works so much, they can't get enough even after we're gone?

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.

28 August 2012

Ellery Queen's Backstory


by Dale C. Andrews


    Two weeks ago I received one of those emails that everyone at SleuthSayers hopes for when their computer goes “Bing!”  The email was from Janet Hutchings accepting my latest story, Literally Dead, for publication in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

    The time period between a story’s acceptance and its publication – measured in months, usually measured in many, many, months – always reminds me of what it felt like as a child waiting for Christmas.  You know it’s coming and there is great joy in the anticipation.  Part of that also is because at that stage you know you have made it.  You came up with an idea, tinkered with it until you were pretty sure it would work, fleshed out the characters in your mind, drafted, edited, re-edited, circulated it to those around you and finally took a deep breath and sent it off.  And Lo:  It wasn’t rejected.

    When my younger son Colin (one of my tougher critics) read Literally Dead his first observation was that he was surprised at the detail I went into concerning the New England town that is the setting for the story.  Why, he asked, did I explain that the town square was in fact round?   Why did I mention the nearby Mahogany mountain range, or the fact that the next town down the road was Shinn Corners?  And why was it necessary to mention that the statute in the middle of the square (err, the round square) was the town’s founder, Jezreel Wright?  Colin knew that most of my short stories are, in fact, Ellery Queen pastiches.  But Colin (alas, like many of his generation) had not in fact read Queen.  So he did not know about Wrightsville.
Wrightsville -- As depicted on the inside coverplate of Double, Double

   If you have read Ellery Queen you will be very familiar with Wrightsville, the small upstate New York town that was created by Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee back in the 1940s to get Ellery out of the city on occasion.  The Wrightsville mysteries begin with Calamity Town, published in 1942, and thereafter the little town with its recurring characters is the focal backdrop for a host of Queen mysteries, all the way through the penultimate Queen novel The Last Woman in his Life, published in 1970. 

    During the almost 30 years that we see the town through Ellery’s eyes we watch it change.  Characters come and go; Police Chief Akins retires, only to be replaced by the flinty Anselm Newby, with whom Ellery will spar in “Literally Dead.”  In the Queen retrospective portion of Tragedy of Errors Richard and Stephen Dannay, sons of Frederic, have noted that the town itself was inspired by the poetry of Edgar Lee Masters in Spoon River Anthology.   One episode of the NBC Ellery Queen series was situated in Wrightsville, and Ed Hoch also chose the New England village for his final Ellery Queen pastiche, The Wrightsville Carnival (EQMM September/October 2005).  So I was not the first interloper to return to the town in search of the further adventures of Ellery.

    One of the more difficult tasks in writing an Ellery Queen story is dealing with the backstory that defines Ellery.  In all of the Ellery Queen stories there are virtually no descriptions of Ellery himself.  But boy, there sure is a lot of other background for a writer of pastiches to grapple with.  Some of the Queen backstory is easy – Wrightsville either stays the same or grows along predictable lines.  But Not so Mr. Queen himself.

    The Ellery Queen we first meet in The Roman Hat Mystery, published in 1929, is young, foppish, and at times rather insufferable.  He wears pince-nez glasses, carries a cane, tools around in a Dusenberg, and spouts erudite but hopelessly obscure references from the classics.  We are told by the mysterious “J.J. McC”, who provided the introductions to the early Queen novels, that Ellery eventually retired with his wife and son in Italy.  (By the way, anyone paying careful attention when reading Queen’s Face to Face, published decades later in 1967, can stumble upon the true identity of Mr. J.J. McC!) 

    In any event, all of this early Queen backstory changes abruptly and radically half way through the Queen library.  From the appropriately-named Halfway House, published in 1936, on Ellery, morphs into a young middle age man, and takes on a more vulnerable and likeable character.  He ditches the pince-nez and cane and discovers self-doubt.  The spouse, the son and the idyllic life in Northern Italy disappear like fingerprint dustings in the wind.  So unlike the previous Ellery is this incantation that the late Julian Symons, in his omnibus The Great Detectives, speculates that the Ellery of the second half of the series was in fact the son of the Ellery of the first half, a theory that Frederic Dannay scoffed at when he met with Symons at Dannay’s home in Larchmont, New York.

    In any event, having brought about this phoenix-like change, Ellery proceeds to stay basically exactly the same for the next thirty-five years.  This is true of Ellery’s father, Inspector Richard Queen, as well, who is almost always nearing retirement, but never getting there.  I had to say “almost” and “basically” because there are still rents in the Queen backstory fabric.  Thus, the Inspector does retire in Inspector Queen’s Own Case, published in 1956, the same volume in which he becomes engaged to Jessie Sherwood.  Further confusion ensues, however.  By The Player on the Other Side, published in 1963, the Inspector is not retired, and Jessie is nowhere to be seen.  And then in The House of Brass, published in 1968, Jessie is back, and Richard Queen is (again) retired.  Thereafter in the final books of the series – The Last Woman in his Life, (1970), and A Fine and Private Place, (1971) Richard Queen is back at work and, again, Jessie has disappeared like that pair of pince-nez.

    Which brings us back to Ellery,  As noted, from around 1936 on he is portrayed uniformly, and in fact appears almost not to age at all.  But with one notable exception:  The Finishing Stroke.  That mystery, (probably my favorite Queen novel) was published in 1958, and was reportedly planned as the final Ellery Queen mystery.  The story opens in 1905, jumps to 1929, where we find a slightly re-invented version of the early Ellery, and ends in then present-day 1958, where Ellery is portrayed as a man in his early 50s.  In fact we are explicitly told in The Finishing Stroke that Ellery was born in 1905 (the same year that both Dannay and Lee were born).  But after the careful construction of this backstory in The Finishing Stroke, the rug is again pulled out from under us:  With the exception of And on the Eighth Day, a 1964 throwback novel featuring a young Ellery, complete with his Dusenberg, set in 1942, all of the remaining Ellery Queen novels feature Ellery as a young man, in the year the novels were published. 

    My philosophy in writing pastiches, as I have mentioned before, is the same as the physician’s charge:  “first, do no harm.”  I think that if you are going to attempt to bring back the creation of others you must be as loyal as possible to the original.  But still, with Ellery, as we have seen, there are choices.  An author  attempting to recapture Ellery in a new story has some varying paths that can be followed.  Many Ellery Queen pastiches basically follow the majority of the works of Dannay and Lee and portray Ellery as a young man in a present-day world. This is how Ed Hoch and Jon Breen, for example, chose to portray Ellery in pastiches that they wrote.

The Mad Hatter's Riddle as illustrated in EQMM Sept./Oct. 2009
    Perhaps because The Finishing Stroke is a personal favorite, I have always followed the strictures of its time-line and have therefore set a course different from that of the majority of the Queen mysteries.  Thus, in my Ellery Queen pastiches Ellery has always been born in 1905, and is portrayed in any given time at the correct age.  Ellery therefore was 102 when he solved the mystery of the double murder in The Book Case, and he was 70 when the NBC Ellery Queen series was being filmed and the The Mad Hatter’s Riddle took place.  Ellery’s age is a little more difficult to discern in the upcoming Literally Dead, but those paying close attention should be able to approximate it from at least one clue in the story.

    But, in any event, when you set yourself the task of writing a Queen story this is the type of baggage that comes along with the project.  Some years back Leigh Lundin commented to me that the great thing for about writing new Ellery Queen stories was the fact that the detective came with a pre-packaged backstory.  Perhaps you will understand why my response was laughter.

   

20 September 2011

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be . . . An Introduction


by Dale C. Andrews
 
            Introductions, awkward always, remind me of the opening lines of Emily Dickinson’s poem:  I’m nobody, who are you?  Are you nobody too?  While I am in august company on SleuthSayers, I am still pretty new to this game.

            I came to fiction writing later in life, near the end of my stint as a Deputy Assistant General Counsel for Litigation at the U.S. Department of Transportation.  There I wrote and (even more) edited the writings of others for over twenty years.  But those writings were not narratives, worse still, they were legal briefs!  I left all of that behind when I retired in 2009.  Since then I list my occupation as “recovering attorney.”

            Although I have some stories “making the rounds,” and others solidifying in outline form on the hard drive of my lap top, my published mystery fiction (as of this writing) numbers two stories.  “The Book Case,” EQMM May, 2007, was written with the assistance of Kurt Sercu, proprietor of “Ellery Queen, a Website of Deduction.”  (More on Kurt and his great website another week.) The story won second place in the 2007 EQMM Readers’ Award competition (missing first place by one vote) and was nominated for the 2007 Barry Award for best short story.  “The Mad Hatter’s Riddle,” a prequel of sorts, was published in the September/October 2009 issue of EQMM.  Both stories are pastiches, tributes if you will, to a character with whom I literally (pun intended) grew up – Ellery Queen. 

            In a November 2010 column in Criminal Brief, James Lincoln Warren, during the course of commenting on his own efforts to write a Nero Wolfe tribute, said this of my stories:

But is it really a good idea to write these tributes, to put one’s own spin on someone else’s idea?
Well, in the case of Dale Andrews, the answer is a resounding yes, because if he didn’t write an Ellery story or two, he probably wouldn’t have published anything at all in terms of fiction, and the stories are very good. 

I love the reference, and not because it is one of the rare comments addressing my writing.  Rather, I love it because it is quintessential James.  It is a compliment surrounding a cold, hard truth.   For he is correct – at least at this stage my fiction is comprised solely of pastiches.

Ellery Queen --  Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay
            As I pointed out some years back in a guest column I wrote for Criminal Brief, if you Google “pastiche” looking for a definition, the first one you will find is this: “a work of art that intentionally imitates other works, often to ridicule or satire.” You might guess, if you have been following this, that the definition I will offer up instead is one penned originally by Frederic Dannay, writing as Ellery Queen. Dannay wrote that “a pastiche is a serious and sincere imitation in the exact manner of the original author.” The readily apparent difference between the two definitions is that the former includes the parody – since it invites “ridicule or satire.” The latter, I would argue, correctly excludes both.

            My belief is that you have to approach characters created by other authors with reverence and with care.  My own rule for writing pastiches is also the basic cardinal principle for the practice of medicine: “first, do no harm.” To me this means that the protagonist who enters at the beginning of the story, and the one who emerges at the end, should be recognizable as the protagonist that you, the reader, expected.  Liberties can be taken, and I have done so in my stories, but it seems to me the author must always ask whether each of those liberties should be taken.  Constrained by Dannay’s definition, the writing style, the characters, and the plotting should, to the extent possible, emulate the original. As such, a strict pastiche is an homage, or as James Lincoln Warren notes in his aforementioned article, a tribute.  The pastiche, or tribute, is therefore a brittle form that calls for a deferential approach.

By contrast, liberties are taken regularly with Sherlock Holmes (a favorite subject of imitation since the Conan Doyle stories are now in the public domain).  Some of these I cannot read, and certainly would not write.  I remember as a teenager trying to read a Sherlock Holmes story that ultimately cast Holmes as Jack the Ripper and ended with Watson killing him.  I hurled the book across the living room and only picked it up again to deposit it in the trash.  Harm had clearly been done.

Benedict Cumberbatch as BBC's Holmes?
Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson?
Other transformations of Holmes are more difficult, perhaps, to judge.  Should Holmes be relegated to the role of secondary character to his “wife” (who isn’t even Irene Adler!) as Laurie King envisions the character in her very popular Mary Russell mysteries?  And what about the new BBC series, which cuts and pastes Holmes into 21st century London, relying on blackberries and laptops?  Inevitably it is up to the writers of pastiches to determine how far the rubber band can be stretched, and then up to the reader (or viewer) to determine whether the rubber band has, in fact, been snapped.

Jennifer Garner as Miss Marple??
            A new battle is currently brewing concerning the further adventures, if you will, of Agatha Christie’s timeless sleuth Miss Marple.  Christie (famously) did not like the portrayal of her character as envisioned by Margaret Rutherford in the 1950s. She reportedly complained in one letter: “[w]hy don’t they just invent a new character? Then they can have their cheap fun and leave me and my creations alone.”  One can only suspect the reaction Dame Christy might have to recently announced plans by Disney to cast Jeniffer Garner as a re-invented young, hip and sexy Miss Marple.  Seems to me harm may well ensue!

With Holmes there is no one to object when things go too far (as in the case of Holmes as the Ripper) since copyright protections have long since expired.  Recognizable or not, Holmes and Watson are now afoot in the public domain; not yet the case for Christie or Queen. 
 
 Thus, with Ellery even if I did not follow to the best of my ability the constraint of “doing no harm,” that constraint could nevertheless be imposed externally since each pastiche featuring Ellery as a character – whether by me, by Jon Breen, or by the late and truly lamented Ed Hoch –  must be read and approved by the surviving children of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee before it is allowed to see print.  I did not include Francis Nevins, author of “Open Letter to Survivors,” surely one of the greatest Ellery pastiches of all time, in this list since Nevins never explicitly identifies his detective as Ellery.  I suspect, however, that that story also only saw print after Frederic Dannay, then still very much with us, gave it his seal of approval.

So much for this Tuesday.  What to expect in future weeks?  Well, I like Golden Age mysteries, whodunits that are "fair play" detective stories.  I also like to discuss how everyday events (and funny mistakes) can be re-cycled into ideas for stories and clues.  However, I am not certain exactly where Tuesdays are headed since I have yet to hear anything from my partner in crime (fiction) TBA who, I am sure, is “TB” to his or her friends.  I’d certainly like to hear from him or her by next week since I didn’t sign on to be the only “weekly victim” in this particular whodunit!