“Boredom, and Other Cures for the Modern World” (by Antony Mann)

Antony Mann is an Australian writer who grew up in and currently lives near Sydney. His work first appeared in EQMM in 2002. After a long absence he will be returning to our pages in the May 2015 issue with the story “The Greater Good.” That tale, like much of his work, reflects an offbeat and very distinctive way of seeing the world. In this post, Antony talks about creativity, and it’s appropriate, for he’s one of the most original writers currently working in the mystery short story field. His stories (one of which won the U.K. Crime Writers’ Association’s Short Story Dagger) have appeared in many different periodicals, and his short-story collection, Milo & I, published in the U.K. by Elastic Press, recently found a new audience when it was reprinted in Japan.—Janet Hutchings

I grew up in a house of books, in a city of libraries. It was my father who was the insatiable reader. Every Saturday morning the whole family would drive the two or three miles to the nearest shopping centre, buy our groceries at the supermarket, then head for the municipal library next door.

These were the days pre-computer, so you didn’t have much choice when you ventured into a library—you could come home with a book, or you could come home with nothing. I would gather up my Moomintroll stories, or novels about giant exploding fungus pods threatening to obliterate all life as we know it (I think I read that one four times), and Dad would grab his stack of WWII histories and his Rex Stouts and Agatha Christies.

It’s a cliche to say it, but back then, in the 1960s and 1970s, life was simpler. In the times before the advent of the personal computer, there were fewer distractions. I was by no means a bookish child, and I would always have rather been out playing football or riding my bike or exploring the bush with my friends, but life was also made up of a lot of empty spaces. There were no such things as play dates. Either your neighbourhood friends were around, or they weren’t. If you were left to your own devices when the day was sunny, you’d be out in the back yard, pretending to be that year’s football hero or practicing throwing darts at trees. If it was raining and you were stuck indoors, you could watch TV until your mum or dad kicked you out of the room, and then you had to fend for yourself. You could play a board game until your bickering with your siblings drove your parents mad, or you could find somewhere quiet and read a book.

It was in these quiet times that I read my Moomintrolls and my exploding fungus epics. Then, as I grew older, I began to take a passing interest in the books that my father was bringing home. I’ll tell you for free, I have a good working understanding of the causes and the course of the Second World War. But it was in these years of growing up that I also found Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. There was Ellery Queen himself, of course, and Lew Archer and Sam Spade.

There is no doubt that these heroes of mine have in some way informed my own crime writing, giving me a solid platform on which to at least try to build. But I wonder also about the other quiet spaces of my childhood, the ones in which nothing was happening. We had the time for nothing back then, you see. We could afford to be bored—or perhaps it was that our parents could afford to let us be bored. There was no expectation that every hour of every day would be filled with . . . something.

Nowadays, it feels sometimes as though we’re missing those empty times and spaces from our lives. There is always some new thing to occupy the hours, be it obsessively checking our e-mail or surfing the net, responding to texts, or playing those addictive little brain-sucking games on our tablets or smartphones. Our children must be entertained with the latest blockbuster film or DVD, or pacified by the newest electronic toy, or educated and enthralled by endless after-school activities lest their very brains atrophy through disuse. Our culture loathes the idea of a vacuum, and we are the creators of our culture. Which is a little frightening, because it was during those empty times and spaces that people used to learn how to create.

In 1958, Professor E. Paul Torrance began testing American children for creativity, in the same way that intelligence quotients had been measured for decades previous. Though assessing creativity remains an inexact science, the results are measurable. A high score on the Torrance test is an accurate predictor of growing up into an industry where innovation and creativity are crucial, be that entrepreneur, doctor, software developer, or writer.

In 1990, while IQ scores continued their inexorable rise due to enriched learning environments, for the first time Creativity Quotient scores began to trend down. They’ve been decreasing year on year ever since. Blame has been laid at the foot of overstuffed school curricula which leave no room for creative thinking, and the insidious intrusion of all-consuming technology into the lives of ourselves and our children.

Findings such as these correlate with other recent studies which reveal that being bored is actually a spur to creativity. It is these empty spaces where we have nothing to do which give rise to the ideas which, for we writers at least, are so important to our daily work.

Sadly, in today’s world there is no longer any need to be bored. We can always find diversion if we want it, and want it we do. We crave novelty, moving without pause for reflection from one bright thing to the next, never satisfied by the sparkly baubles of modern life. I feel it myself, the pull of this easy distraction, eating into my time. It almost seems these days that we must find a way to impose a kind of artificial boredom on ourselves, a way to provide the space in which ideas might percolate into our consciousness. The demands of modern life decree that we mark out and defend a quiet realm for our writing, but also for our reading and, indeed, for unadorned thinking. If we don’t, then like the children of the Torrance tests, our creative life will surely be diminished.

Those of us born before the computer age have an advantage over our children. We’re fortunate in that we learned back then what we need to remember today—how to make our lives simpler, how to be less the slaves to the frantic pace of the modern era, which threatens constantly to distract us from the things which matter. We have lived this simplicity —this boredom—before, and so we can find it again if we make the effort. It takes discipline, but it can be done.

Our children, though, the writers and readers of the future, are born into this new and frantic world. They have never had the experience of living in another time. It’s up to us to help them, provide them with an environment in which their creativity will blossom. And in doing so, we’ll be sustaining and nurturing our own creative impulses as well.

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“A Day in the Life of the Creative Writer” (by David Dean)

David Dean debuted in EQMM’s Department of First Stories nearly twenty-five years ago. In the ensuing years, while also pursuing a full-time career on a New Jersey police force, he produced dozens more stories. He is a winner of the EQMM Readers Award, and a nominee for the Edgar, Shamus, Barry, and Derringer awards—all for his short fiction. Although he has concentrated primarily on short stories throughout his literary career, in recent years, he’s turned his attention to longer fiction, producing the 2012 novel The Thirteenth Child and 2014’s The Purple Robe. His latest EQMM story, “Her Terrible Beauty,” appears in our upcoming March/April double issue. Here he is describing a typical day in his life as a creative writer. (He wrote this for us back in December, in what is, after all, a season of distractions!)—Janet Hutchings

December 18, 2014 (last year)

It occurred to me recently that many of you, as you struggle through your work day, probably stop and ask yourselves, “Gosh, I wonder what David Dean’s day is like?  I’m sure I can’t imagine, but I bet it must be exciting as all get-out being a writer! How does he stay so darn creative?”  Then sigh, add another packet of sweetener to your coffee, and stumble back to your desk.  Well, that’s all over now—not your working, I’m afraid, but your ignorance of how I get my mojo going!  Pull your socks up, and tie your sneakers, ’cause we’re off to the races!

Most days, after a dreamless, restful slumber, I stretch, yawn contentedly, and rise at about seven in the A.M.  Unlike many, I don’t have to, as I’m a retired person.  But having been a cog in the great American work force for forty-two years, I now find it difficult to sleep beyond seven, which is not fair.  Still, I rise uncomplainingly, and make my way downstairs.  Today, I find my wife of thirty-six years, Robin, cheerfully doing her exercises and preparing for another day of herding kindergarteners.  “Good morning,” I call out, and then, with a puzzled expression on my face, no doubt, ask, “Isn’t the coffee made yet?”  To which she replies, “Oh, did I forget to tell you that the maid quit yesterday . . . and that it’s the butler’s day off—silly, forgetful me!”  She has a wry sense of humor for so early a riser.  So . . . I make the coffee, as well as my morning bowl of porridge.  Next to a good night’s sleep, a good breakfast is paramount to a creative day! Here’s an interesting tidbit for you—during the course of my life, I’ve probably consumed a thousand times my weight in oatmeal.  My creative side asks, “How big an oatmeal statue of me might that make?” And my other creative side answers, “Big enough to make even Kim Jong-un envious!”

Fortunately for me, Robin likes to read the newspaper before she departs for school each day, so it has already been fetched in before I wake.  This is really great during the cold winter months, and when it’s raining, as I catch a chill easily.  Though I will confess, I sometimes find the pages a little wrinkled, and the sections out of order.  But, I don’t complain, just smooth them out once again and carefully realign the disordered sections, because being informed of current events is paramount for a writer to stay . . . well . . . um . . . current.

So now, having breakfasted and read the paper, I wash the dishes, make the bed, and dress myself.  As my uniform wearing days are over (I retired from the police three years ago), the clothes selection can be a bit overwhelming and anxiety producing.  In the beginning, I would sometimes find myself frozen in the closet doorway, paralyzed by the sight of so many shirts and trousers from which to choose.  “Why can’t we just have civilian uniforms?” I have been heard to cry, though to no avail.  Little by little I have adjusted, and can now, on most days, make a selection and dress without needing any medication or a nap.

Then I set out for a walk.  Exercise is another key element in being a creative person. I used to be something of a runner, but then my back became a problem and gradually reduced me to walking.  Which I now do twice a day; usually at two mile increments—how the mighty have fallen.  That being said, it’s a great way to start the day: fresh air, a change of scenery, a little exercise, and the beauty of nature and the seasons . . . how can you go wrong?  There are ways, actually, but I’ll save that for another time maybe.

So, having avoided the guy who’s clearly off his meds again, a vaporous wino called Captain Stinky, and a rotund fellow who steadfastly avoids eye contact whom I have christened, “Furtive Dude,” I arrive safely back home.  Robin has long ago departed for her classroom, so now I have the house all to myself. Solitude is essential to the effort at hand.  So let the writing begin!

But first, time to heat up another cup of coffee before heading up to the bedroom.  No, I’m not going back to bed.  The bedroom is where the creativity occurs.  Creative writing . . . I’m talking about writing.  Pulling out my trusty ergonomic office chair that Robin bought me (remember my back?), I settle down in front of the computer screen, take a sip of java to warm my hands and imagination, bring up the story I’ve been working on . . . then . . . then minimize the screen and check my e-mail.

Checking e-mail is one of the most important things any writer can do during his day, and is not a distraction.  I do it often.  You just never know what might come your way: contracts, fan letters; law-suit notifications—the possibilities are endless.  But today, all that’s waiting is just an update on the MLB trades happening in the off-season.  I take a peek, but don’t get wrapped up in it as I’ve got a lot of writing to do.  Besides, I’m already distressed that the Phillies have traded Jimmy Rollins—makes me sick, if you want to know the truth.

Right after the e-mail I check my Facebook page.  This may be even more important than e-mail in keeping the writer current and informed.  The knowledge to be gained through FB is possibly the best justification yet for the World Wide Web, which insiders call the Internet.  Today, I’ve been treated to a video of some youth in a distant game arcade delivering a roundhouse kick to a punching bag gizmo.  Zowie!  How the heck did he get such extension and air?  That’s one to puzzle over.  I might be able to work that maneuver into my latest story! Also—has Kim Kardashian gone a just a little too far with her latest dress?  Whoa! I say, no . . . No ma’am!

Okay, time to maximize the WIP screen (Yeah, I wondered about that, too, but found out it stands for Work In Progress).  Look at that—I’ve got some thousand words written already, which seems like a lot.  Is the screen always this bright?  I don’t remember that.  My glasses might need cleaning.  No . . . No . . . They do not need cleaning.  I just need to re-read what I’ve written so far, and just pick it up from there.  Get in the groove.  Okay . . . not bad . . . pretty good, so far . . . pretty good . . . oh . . . darn . . . really?  How many tenses can one use in a single run-on paragraph—a bunch, apparently.  Okey-dokey . . . gonna have to do a little rewriting before I forge ahead with the creative stuff.  Holy Smokes!  Is it lunch time already . . . ? Well, a writer must have nourishment to encourage the little grey cells—to the kitchen for a brief respite.

Back!  And it’s only a little after one in the P.M.; time to buckle down and get serious, discipline is the writer’s friend . . . just as soon as I open this e-mail Christmas card that has been customized for me and thirty other close friends.  It takes a few minutes to download apparently.  Wow, this digital stuff is great!  How do they do it?

Okay, maximize the old WIP.  There’re those words again . . . just waiting for their brothers.  Let me look at that outline I went to all the trouble to put together—just a little refresher on where I want to go from here.  Oh . . . hmmm . . . that’s a little different from what I’ve written . . . or vice a versa.  No matter, I’ll just rely on the old creative juices to get flowing once I’ve started writing.

No way that’s the mail lady already!  Christmas cards!  Be right back.

Why do people you haven’t heard from in years, and have long been struck off your Christmas list, always decide to send cards just days before the big event?  It never fails.  We’re out of cards, needless to say, because we hadn’t heard from these folks since the turn of the freakin’ century and didn’t count them in!  Easy . . . easy now . . . remember stress is our enemy, interferes with the creative forces.  Breathe . . . breathe . . . better. . . . Is that smoke?

My neighbor’s chimney is on fire again (yes, it’s possible; has something to do with creosote build-up, I’m told)—it happens at least once a year around this festive time.  With its usual fanfare the fire department dutifully responds in three trucks.  Even they can’t seem to muster much enthusiasm, however, and almost saunter up to the house.  The yard is wreathed in smoke.  The firefighters have to use a ladder truck to deal with it, but no harm results to house or human, thank goodness.  Half an hour later they back over my mailbox, thus completing the final act of the yule-time fire call.  Apparently awaiting this moment, some of the neighborhood kids let out a big cheer.  Every neighborhood has its traditions, I guess. I return to my ergonomic chair.  I’ll deal with it after I’ve gotten some writing done. Distractions are the enemy of the writer.

Now what? Is that a car in the driveway? Oh my God . . . Robin’s home already and I haven’t even begun supper! Where did the time go? Prioritizing is another really big element in the writer’s life, and I have to do a little of that just now and perhaps some creative speaking, as well. So, until next time, my best wishes in all your writing endeavors, and just a quick, final reminder—creativity requires discipline! Never lose sight of that!

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“Murder Most Advanced” by William Dylan Powell

William Dylan Powell’s Department of First Stories debut, “Evening Gold” (EQMM November 2006),  won the Robert L. Fish Award for best short story by a new American author. The Texas writer is an ad man who managed to make time for his own writing and continues to produce both fiction and nonfiction. He has recently completed a private-eye novel featuring the protagonist of his upcoming EQMM story “The Seagull and the Skull” (don’t miss it in the July 2015 issue) and is currently at work on a book of Texas history. In this post, he explains how he became a rule-breaker in his writing—and achieved success.—Janet Hutchings

The joy of stories that get deadly straight away—and yet still manage to keep the suspense going strong, all story long.

More than a decade ago, I took a creative writing class at a local university. The instructor was a well-read but snobbish academic who proselytized the joys of beat poetry, read Proust in its original French, and rolled his eyes at the James Lee Burke novel I was lugging around at the time. (I still think James Lee Burke’s The Man; living in Houston, I really enjoyed his latest, Wayfaring Stranger.)

On the first day of class, he gave us a list of ten things never to do in a work of fiction. They were given as quite concrete rules. Which was ironic, given his love of beat poetry. But when a person is first starting to write fiction, he or she takes “rules” very seriously. Years later, I don’t remember what they all were. But I do remember the number-one rule he had: “And, lastly,” he said with a dramatic flourish and chuckling a bit, “whatever you do, dear God, don’t just start out the story with a murder. Nobody cares yet!”

His point was that readers need to feel invested in the characters before they care about the murder of anyone. Fair point. Readers need to buy into the main character, and the story, for some reason. But on the other hand, murder is a shocking and scary phenomenon. When we hear a stranger has been murdered, most healthy people are interested to know why, and if the perpetrator was caught. I’d hate to think we live in SUCH a cynical world that the prospect of a stranger’s murder is less interesting than, say, reality television. I mean, I’m a pacifist and I’m pretty sure I’d rather watch an actual murder taking place than an episode of Storage Wars.

So my first night in that class I decided to write a short story that would literally break each of the man’s ten rules, just to see how it would turn out. With a dead body literally falling from the sky straight away, the result of the experiment was “Evening Gold,” my very first published piece of fiction and a proud resident of EQMM’s Department of First Stories in 2006.

Since then, I’ve really come to appreciate stories that start with a murderous bang—and yet still manage to keep readers turning the page. So I’ve thrown together what I feel are a few noteworthy examples of deadly novels that waste no time in filling up the literary body bag. I’m not talking about foreshadowing or a hint from the narrator, but blood-on-the-carpet-holy-cow-obviously-foul-play-call-the-police-chalk-outline-notify-next-of-kin murder. All right up front in Chapter 1, and all with zero apologies.

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
Hammett’s first novel, Red Harvest, opens up with the murder of a detective agency’s client, Donald Wilsson. The man hires the agency, but is then murdered before our hero gets a chance to meet with him face-to-face. The agency in question, Continental Detective Agency of San Francisco, is based on the famous Pinkerton National Detective Agency where Hammett actually worked for some time. Hammett’s hero, known as The Continental Op, spends the book finding out what really happened to Wilsson—and making sure that somebody pays. Red Harvest is a great example of classic American pulp, and was originally released as a serial in the magazine Black Mask during 1927-1928.

The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark
In yet another stellar example of Clark’s masterfully suspenseful storytelling, The Lost Years, which was published in 2013, sports the murder of a biblical scholar right off the bat. The man had recently stumbled across a letter that may have been written by Jesus Christ himself. Stolen from the Vatican in the 1500s, the letter was said to have been lost forever. But now it’s resurfaced—and scholar Jonathan Lyons is found shot to death at his desk. AND, to make matters murkier, his wife (who suffers from Alzheimer’s) is found incoherent and in the closet gripping the gun that killed him. The book opens up with the couple’s daughter reflecting on her father’s funeral and spins delightfully out of control quickly from there.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
It’s possible that there are some far-flung uncontacted tribespeople in isolated parts of rural South America who haven’t read Alice Sebold’s amazing novel The Lovely Bones. Other than that, I’m pretty sure everyone else in the Americas has read it at least once. But in case you’re not part of the Sirionó peoples, the first few pages lay out the murder of teenager Susie Salmon as the victim herself narrates; readers are driven for the finish line trying to find closure for her loving family. And the whole thing works so well because of the picture Sebold paints of the hurt, confusion, and resolve that results when reasonable folks struggle with the unreasonable evils of the world.

The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes
Set in Victorian London, this strange and playful novel not only starts with “Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever . . .” but it also starts with the murder of not-very-likeable victim Cyril Honeyman. While some pedants point out this or that inconsistency or loose end within the story, when it comes to a fantastic Victorian eccentricity-laden, steampunk-bizarro detective mystery, who cares? The Somnambulist is a rich, flavorful, super-fun read that sports a man being pushed out of a window to his death in the first chapter, and follows the investigation of this crime and others by past-his-sell-by-date magician Edward Moon and a giant mute sidekick who really likes milk. What’s not to like?

The Green Rust by Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace
Next consider this work by one-time British super-pulp author Edgar Wallace. Wallace was a writer’s writer at his peak between WWI and WWII. It was once said that at one time, twenty-five percent of all popular novels read in England were his (he wrote 173 altogether). In The Green Rust, millionaire shipbuilder John Millinborn is murdered in Chapter 1—stabbed to death with an ivory-handled knife. The plot that unfolds reveals a madman’s plan to take over the world that’s equal to any Bondian tale of international intrigue. BONUS: You can pick up an electronic version of this free on Amazon. Wallace later moved to Hollywood to be a screenwriter and passed away working on the script for King Kong.

My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
Set in the exotic world of sixteenth-century Istanbul, My Name Is Red opens with the murder of a miniaturist (this is a type of artists who paints a distinct style of traditional Islamic manuscripts and illustrations) in the Ottoman artistic period. The story centers around a Sultan who commissions artists to document all of the achievements he’s accomplished during his time of rule—and to do so in a European style. But since religious traditionalists of the time felt that figurative art could be an affront to Islam, the project was kept secret. Until one of the artists goes missing. The book is thick as a ripe fig with art, sex, power, religion, culture, and folklore—and it all starts with a chapter called: “I am a corpse.”

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HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM EQMM

Cover of EQMM, January 2008

Cover of EQMM, January 2006

Cover of EQMM, January 2011

Cover of EQMM, January 2010

 

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM EQMM

Cover of EQMM, January 1997

Cover of EQMM, Mid-December 1993

Cover of EQMM, January 1998

Cover of EQMM, January 1999

Cover of EQMM, January 1999

 

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2014—OUR YEAR IN REVIEW

2014 is winding up at EQMM with a flurry of activity. The Bouchercon World Mystery Convention was more than a month later than usual this year, taking the mystery crowd to Long Beach, California at the end of the second week in November and leaving at least this editor breathless going into a holiday season that, in addition to the usual bustle of going over budgets and getting out holiday cards, has involved our packing for an office move that will take place at the very beginning of 2015.

However, before we turn the page on 2014, I want to mention various news items that we could not devote an entire column to as they occurred during the year.

The first major mystery events of 2014—spring’s Edgar Allan Poe Awards and the Malice Domestic Convention—were covered here, with photos, in my post of May 14. But there were a couple of other awards ceremonies that we at EQMM were unable to attend at which EQMM authors were recognized. The Crime Writers of Canada held their annual Arthur Ellis Awards banquet in Toronto on June 5, and Twist Phelan won in the short-story category for her July 2013 EQMM story “Footprints in Water.” A little over a month later, when the International Thriller Writers gathered in New York City for their annual convention, Twist joined two other EQMM authors, Kevin Mims and Stephen Vessels, on the list of short-story nominees and again claimed the award for “Footprints in Water.” The story had previously received the Colorado Authors’ League Award for best short fiction of the year.

Our summer ended (too soon) in September with a company picnic in Connecticut, where New York staff were able to connect with the people in our Connecticut offices who provide our magazines’ art, typesetting, marketing, production, subsidiary rights and Web services, and all the rest of the support that keeps us running. We’re including photos of some of those hard-working people here as I suspect the authors among you may like to see who works on your stories’ art and layout, makes sure your work gets to the printer without dropped pages, and handles distribution to bookstores and digital devices. (All photos taken by Ché Ryback.)

Lisa Begley, Marketing Assistant; Carol Demont, Subsidiary Rights and Licensing Manager

Kevin Doris, Senior Typesetting Coordinator

Joy Brienza, Digital Publishing Assistant

Bruce

Bruce Sherbow, Senior VP of Sales, Marketing, and I.T.

Abigail Browning, Director of Marketing, Brand Licensing, and E-Commerce 

Monique St. Paul, Direct Marketing Associate

Monique St. Paul, Direct Marketing Associate

It wasn’t long after the picnic before we began preparing for Bouchercon. For those who are not familiar with this yearly event, it’s named for Anthony Boucher, the foremost mystery critic in America from 1951 until his death in 1968. The host city for the convention named in his honor changes each year, with volunteers from the area organizing the many panels, talks, crime film showings, and other events that highlight the long weekend. I can’t tell you much about the panels this year; I was too busy meeting with those of our authors and other contributors whom I don’t get a chance to see the rest of the year. But the post-convention buzz seems to be that Long Beach turned out to be one of the best conventions ever.

At the opening reception on Thursday night (November 13), Art Taylor took home the Macavity Award for best short story for “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants,” from EQMM’s March/April 2013 issue. Pictured below celebrating with him that evening, after the ceremony, are Brendan DuBois, Melodie Johnson Howe, Sandy Balzo, and Steve Steinbock—all EQMM authors, and all, except Melodie, writers who got their start in our Department of First Stories.

Friday night at Bouchercon 2014, Long Beach

Thursday night at Bouchercon 2014, Long Beach. From L to R: Art Taylor, Janet Hutchings, Brendan DuBois, Melodie Johnson Howe, Steve Steinbock, and Sandy Balzo

Bouchercon Friday began, for me, with a breakfast meeting with EQMM indexer Marv Lachman, at which we discussed the possibility of creating and making available for sale a comprehensive index of the magazine’s nearly 75 years of stories and other content. Since it would be very helpful to know, at this juncture, whether there’s enough interest in such a book to make the project worthwhile, thumbs-up (or down) e-mails on this are welcome at [elleryqueenmm@dellmagazines.com].

Other highlights of the convention for me were my lunch with International Guest of Honor Edward Marston (a.k.a. Keith Miles) and his wife, author Judith Cutler—both regular contributors to EQMM; the Shamus Awards banquet, at which four of the five nominated short stories were from EQMM (Jack Fredrickson’s “The Ace I,” Mick Herron’s “What We Do,” Michael Z. Lewin’s “Extra Fries,” and Hayford Peirce’s “The Leethal Leeteg”);  meals with writers and old friends Terrie Moran, Bob and Sandra Levinson, Dave and Judy Zeltserman, and James Lincoln Warren; and a chance to meet some writers newer to EQMM, including Paul Marks, Michael Wiley, and Iceland’s Ragnar Jónasson.

Bob and Sandra Levinson

Bob and Sandra Levinson

2014 wasn’t all good news and good company, however. It brought its share of sad news for EQMM and the wider mystery community. A number of writers and others connected to the magazines died this year, including William Bankier, award-winning Canadian writer of short stories (most of which appeared in EQMM); James H. Cobb, one of the best contemporary writers of the classical whodunit at short-story length; Jeremiah Healy, legendary private-eye writer and longtime contributor to both EQMM and AHMM; Dorothy Salisbury Davis, longtime EQMM contributor and friend of EQMM’s founding editor Frederic Dannay; mystery novelists and short-story writers Seymour Shubin and Martin Meyers—both of whom occasionally contributed to EQMM; Britain’s “Queen of Crime,” P.D. James, a handful of whose stories were reprinted in EQMM in the ’eighties and ’nineties; Judy Crider, wife of mystery writer and EQMM columnist Bill Crider and co-author of the 2002 Anthony Award-winning story “Chocolate Moose”; and Rose Dannay, widow of Frederic Dannay (a.k.a. Ellery Queen).

As I post this final column for 2014, we are also just about ready to release EQMM’s May issue to our typesetters for final formatting for the printer. June 2015 is currently being proofread. That takes us, already, nearly halfway through the production of our 2015 issues—and there’s a lot that we think you’ll enjoy in our pages in the coming year.

As for the remainder of 2014, there will be no more formal posts on this site (we return January 7th) but we’ve got some seasonal features instead.

Wishing you happy holidays and all the best for 2015!—Janet Hutchings

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“How to Become a Part-time Part-Time Mystery Writer in 25 Easy Steps” (by Dennis McFadden)

Dennis McFadden’s short stories have been included twice in Houghton Mifflin’s Best American Mystery Stories series (2011 and 2013). But his work isn’t confined to the mystery field: He’s been published in a number of literary journals, such as The Missouri Review, The Massachusetts Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Fiction, Crazyhorse, and PRISM International. As he suggests in this post, the hallmark of his work is realism, but it’s a realism from which he draws a lot of dark humor. Nowhere is that more apparent than in his two stories for EQMM, both Christmas tales: January 2014’s “The Purloined Pigs” and January 2015’s “God Is Good.” (The latter issue is just out!)—Janet Hutchings

If only I had a nickel for every time a fan has walked up to me and asked, “Dennis, how did you become a part-time part-time mystery writer?” . . . well, let’s just say I wouldn’t know what to do with all that nickel. (For those of you on the outside looking in, noses pressed up against that window of envy, and who might not be familiar with all the argot and jargon associated with the part-time part-time mystery writing racket, a part-time part-time mystery writer is a part-time writer who writes part-time mysteries.)

So, anyhow, here’s what I tell them:

  1. Get yourself raised poor. Be a son or daughter of the Depression, which is not to say that you should have experienced the Depression firsthand yourself, elsewise you’re probably deceased, but it is to say that your immediate predecessors should have. And were poor. Extra points if you remember accompanying your mother to collect surplus food (indeterminate cheese and mysterious canned meat that didn’t make bad hash) at the Y, and if you had something of a feckless father who wasn’t always there, and who, when he was, seldom read bedtime stories, though he might have told a few bad jokes when he was drunk.
  2. Discover the Hardy Boys. Read same.
  3. Have a high school English teacher who, to your surprise and delight, thinks you’re the best writer since Shakespeare, and, therefore, start to think that you can write. Get the idea of writing in your head. Preferably that high school English teacher’s name is Macbeth. Bruce Macbeth, maybe, but Macbeth nevertheless. This helps a lot.
  4. Be the first person in your family to go to college. A rich, liberal arts college is best, where you’re among the poorest kids there, known for bumming cigarettes and hiding them behind your ears because your hair is uncommonly long enough to do so.
  5. Major in English. Natch. Write some, study a little, party a lot. Publish a couple of stories in the old lit mag. Play the poor artist card when you’re trying to get laid.
  6. Upon graduation, don’t even think about going into writing or the publishing field. Don’t even let that idea enter your mind. You’re poor, remember? Get a real job. Know exactly where your next meal is coming from.
  7. As a matter of fact, take a decade or so off from writing altogether to drink a lot and earn that paycheck. Get married. Find a good civil service job in which to wallow. Have a kid.
  8. At some point think, hey, I’m not getting any younger, maybe I ought to give that writing thing another shot.
  9. Write a novel or two while still earning a regular paycheck. Now you have the part-time writer part down. (The part-time mystery part will come later. Be patient.)
  10. Get serious about it. Write a good third novel. Latch onto a real, honest-to-God New York City literary agent to represent you. Put the champagne on ice. Get ready to celebrate. Wait patiently.
  11. When all she can manage is a higher class of rejection slips than you’d been getting on your own, and she jettisons you after a year, get depressed. Decide the hell with it. Decide to quit writing. Decide who needs this shit.
  12. Get caught on the rebound by Irish activism. Work hard to get England out of Ireland. Write propaganda. Do not, I repeat do not, write novels or short stories. In fact, avoid writing fiction altogether for at least another decade or two. Get out of Irish activism when peace breaks out. Think, I’ve got an awful lot of time on my hands now.
  13. See step 8. Repeat.
  14. Write some short stories. Look into getting them published. Think, jeez, look at this crap they’re publishing. Think, my stories are better than that. Think, this should be a piece of cake. Find out how to go about submitting your stories to journals and magazines. Start submitting them.
  15. Be shocked at how hard it is to get your stories published.
  16. Think, who are these fools rejecting my very good stories?
  17. Keep at it. You’ll show them. Write more and more. Read more and more. Write better. Keep reading and keep writing.
  18. Write about what you know (you read that somewhere). Inasmuch as what you know is everyday life, for example, being raised poor, write realistic stories. Eschew modernism, postmodernism, magic realism, this ism or that ism, eschew anything but realism. See how many of your stories involve mystery, because the realistic life you’re writing realistically about is full of mystery, which is because, hey, you can never know a fraction of what’s really going on in the lives of other people, or, for that matter, in your own life. Motives are a mystery. Everybody’s. Even your own. Why did I say that? I should have said that instead. Why did I do that? I can’t believe I did that. Why? Life is a mystery.
  19. Now you have the part-time mystery part down.
  20. Start getting your stories published in journals and magazines.
  21. Start getting your stories published in better journals and magazines. Be in the right place at the right time and maybe get a collection published.
  22. Keep your day job. Maybe you’re not poor now, but why take a chance? Besides, there’s an added bonus: when someone wonders why you aren’t more of a success in your day job, you can always say, hey, look, my real love was writing; I devoted so much time to writing, I never had a chance to focus on my career. And when someone wonders why you weren’t more of a success at writing, you can say, hey, I was poor, I had to work for a living, I didn’t have enough time to focus on my writing.
  23. Live happily ever after.
  24. Except for the times when you’re wondering how far you might have gotten in your day job if you hadn’t spent so much time writing. And wondering how good a writer you might have become if you hadn’t had that goddam day job. This last one is probably the one you wonder about the most, particularly when you’re writing about writing. Wonder and wonder.
  25. Think, it’s a mystery to me. Write that down.

Questions?

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“What’s a Dead Poet Got to Do With It?” by Nancy Pickard

Nancy Pickard is a winner of multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards; a Shamus and Barry award recipient; a four-time Edgar nominee, and an author whose work has made many best-of-the-year and notable-books lists. EQMM is proud to be able to say that her stellar career began in our pages. Her first published fiction, “A Man Around the House,” appeared in December 1981, in our Department of First Stories. Nancy is a writer many other writers could (and no doubt do) learn from—and that’s not just EQMM’s opinion; the New York Times says she “has the storytelling gift,” and The Boston Globe says “Pickard writes richly textured fiction about families and relationships, about hatred and lust and love, about loyalty and betrayal, and most of all about the corrosive power of secrets.” But in this post the Kansas author’s focus is on what she has learned, and is continuing to learn, from other writers. It’s eye-opening.—Janet Hutchings

The other day I was talking via email to that exemplary mystery writer and human being Ed Gorman, and I told him that I was tired of killing people. This, as you may imagine, was not a happy revelation for a woman who has made her living doing just that for nearly thirty-five years. But it turns out that even a hit woman, a.k.a. mystery writer, can get her fill of homicide.

That didn’t mean that I wanted to stop writing about murder altogether, perish the thought and pardon the pun.

What it meant was . . .

I didn’t know what it meant.

That’s why I contacted Sir Edward the Wise.

“I still want to write mysteries,” I e’ed him, “but I find myself more interested in investigating forgiveness than punishment. I want to write deep-feeling, generous-hearted books that might be, for lack of a better way to say it, a positive companion to their readers.”

I told him that when I’m entering new writing territory I like to study how other writers do it, so that I won’t reinvent a wheel and so that I can learn from my betters. I whined to Ed that I was having a hard time finding stories that dwell on life and death and yet resolve themselves with something closer to wisdom and mercy than to punishment and revenge.

“You might want to read some Ray Bradbury,” he wrote back. “If ever there was somebody who wrote big-hearted books, he was the guy.”

So I went to the library and picked up some Bradbury because Ed said so, and of course he was right. In writing and life, Bradbury was a force of positive nature. His stories are, indeed, loving, big-hearted, and boon companions. From the first page of this reading assignment I began to feel happier and more hopeful that new kinds of stories wait for me to write them.

When Ed sent me off to science fiction for inspiration, I started wondering if other mystery authors learn how to write, in part, by wandering outside the aisles of our genre to pluck books from other shelves. I thought, well, of course they must, but I suddenly wanted to know exactly what they have learned and from whom.

So I asked a few crime writers if they’ve ever been kicked in the head—otherwise known as having an epiphany—by authors who will never show up at Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, or Edgar Week, but would more likely attend a science-fiction convention, or fantasy, or romance, or Western, or a literary conclave.

First, I asked a couple of Edgar Award winners, “Have writers in other genres taught you how to be a better mystery writer? And if so, how?”

Margaret Maron (Bootlegger’s Daughter) said that the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay taught her the value of the specific over the generic.

“With Millay,” Margaret said, “it’s not just a ‘blue flower.’ It’s an iris, a forget-me-not. It’s not a vague herb garden. With her, you smell the tansy, the rosemary, and the lavender. If my writing has a sense of place, I learned it from her.”

Anyone who has read Margaret’s short stories and novels knows that Maron learned well from Millay.

Margaret also told me that it was a science-fiction writer—Robert Heinlein, she thinks—who taught her to appeal to the senses on every page.

“Every page?” I asked her, in a tone close to flabbergasted horror. “Good God, Margaret. I think I’m doing well if I can get all five of them at least once into every scene!”

“Yep. EVERY page,” she affirmed, but emphasized that she didn’t mean a writer should try to cram all five senses on every page. (Whew.) “I try to evoke at least one of the other four senses (other than sight) on each page. It’s easy to show what the character’s seeing, but what is he hearing, smelling, tasting, touching? I don’t always succeed but I do always try.”

Which made me think I could test if that might improve my pages, too.

Next, I asked T.J. MacGregor (Out of Sight), who told me that she also learned from a poet. “The poet Anne Sexton taught me that even taboos work when they are emotionally charged.”

“What do you mean?” I asked her, my ears all a’perk.

“I mean that Sexton wrote about abortion, incest, adultery, masturbation, menstruation, drug addiction,” Trish said. “These days, it’s the stuff of TV talk shows, but back then people didn’t talk about this stuff in polite conversation. Sexton showed that if you write from an authentic emotional place, readers will flock.”

Trish also said that it was from reading Stephen King that she began to understand that “regardless of genre, all terror is first conjured in your head, your heart, and in your body’s reactions to what you imagine you hear, see, feel, taste, smell.”

Of course, I asked Ed Gorman, too. (His latest mystery novel, Riders on the Storm, is getting wonderful reviews.) In addition to writing mysteries, Ed also writes out-of-genre—Westerns and horror, among others—so I’m guessing his own books cross-pollinate each other. But he said his most valuable lesson came from F. Scott Fitzgerald over in the literary aisle: “What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.”

Gillian Roberts, (Anthony Award winner for her Amanda Pepper mystery series) also took inspiration from a master.

“I was most influenced—or would love to think I was—by Charles Dickens, in his enjoyment of his characters, his love of them no matter how strange or even despicable they are. He was in love with and sympathetic to the human condition. I so hope some of that rubbed off on me.”

There was a time, though, when Gillian wrote general fiction (Mendocino) under her real name, Judith Greber. And where did she find out-of-genre inspiration then? In the Mystery aisle! “Susan Isaac’s first book hit me over the head like a mallet with the idea that you were allowed to be funny (or try to be) in a book, even in a mystery.”

By now maybe you have a mental image like the one I’m getting of writers of all literary persuasions roaming bookstore aisles and magazine racks to learn from any writer who has something to teach them.

It’s a process of feeding, seeding, and cross-pollination.

Did I get cross-pollinated, so to speak, by reading Ray Bradbury’s classic novel The Martian Chronicles for the first time? Well, I guess I did, since I now am nearly finished with the first science-fiction story I’ve ever written! I got so much pleasure out of doing it. No character got murdered, either, no crime was investigated, and nobody went to jail.

Oh, I’ll go back to mowing people down. In fact, I’ve already killed a couple of characters since writing that story. But the ending of this new story is not the same as it would have been before I read Bradbury.

Can reading authors out of my own specialty really make me a better mystery writer? I think it just did.

So, thank you, Ed Gorman, Sage of Iowa.

My spaceship, traveling through mysterious time, feels steadier now.

 

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“Crime Writing in Iceland? Really?” (by Ragnar Jonasson)

Unlike most of our Passport to Crime authors, who find their way to EQMM through their translators, Icelander Ragnar Jonasson submitted his own work to us. He had translated the first story he sent us (January 2014’s “Death of a Sunflower”) himself, and he wrote the second one (“A Letter to Santa”—just out in our January 2015 issue) in English. Ragnar is also the author of the Dark Iceland series of crime novels, set in and around the northernmost town in Iceland, Siglufjordur, which he tells us is “only accessible via mountain tunnels.” Rights to two books from that series, Snowblind and Nightblind, were recently sold to the UK publisher Orenda Books. Snowblind is due to be released in English translation in 2015 and Nightblind in 2016. The series is also published in Iceland and Germany. In addition to writing, Ragnar works as a lawyer in Iceland and teaches copyright law at Reykjavik University. —Janet Hutchings

Global peace index 2014. Guess what country ranked number one? Yes, Iceland. It also ranked as the number one most peaceful country in the world in 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008. . . . You get the picture. So this begs the question: Is it really possible to write crime stories set in Iceland?

Let’s also bear in mind that we currently have a population of 328,000 in Iceland. So the pool of suspects in any crime story is fairly limited!

Yet, people keep writing crime stories in Iceland—but this hasn’t always been the case.

The first Icelandic crime novel appeared in 1926, but in the following decades Iceland only saw a handful of books in the genre published—a total of seven novels between 1926 and 1950. Then, following quite a long period during which no crime thrillers were published, Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson (House of Evidence, The Flatey Enigma) started something of a trend in Icelandic crime writing. But it wasn’t until 1997 that crime fiction really took off. That was the year that trailblazer Arnaldur Indridason (Jar City, Silence of the Grave) published his first book. Until then, crime fiction had struggled to find readers, particularly because the general view was that Iceland could not be a believable setting for crime stories. Indridason really convinced us otherwise and, following 1997, there has really been no turning back, with an increasing number of titles published each year—and Icelandic crime more often than not topping bestseller lists.

Indridason very successfully entered foreign markets, including the English/US market, as have many of his colleagues, including Yrsa Sigurdardottir (My Soul to Take, I Remember You). In fact, Iceland has become such a popular place to set crime fiction that two English authors have set series there: Quentin Bates (Frozen Assets, Cold Comfort) and Michael Ridpath (Where the Shadows Lie, 66°North).

So, how can peaceful Iceland work as a setting for crime?

Firstly, there is one common belief about Iceland that isn’t necessarily true: “Iceland has no weapons.” Well, yes, we don’t have any military. And the police don’t usually carry guns (although there is some ongoing debate about whether to change that). But there are certainly weapons in Iceland. Historically a nation of hunters, people keep quite a lot of hunting weapons, including shotguns and rifles. According to some figures, there are approximately 60,000 weapons in Iceland—a lot when you bear in mind the fact that the population is 328,000. A few years ago, Iceland was ranked fifteenth in the world for the number of firearms per capita.

Secondly, crime writers have used some of the extremes of Iceland to their advantage to create an atmosphere of darkness and mystery. Darkness being the key word—Iceland gets very dark in winter and in some cases, in the northern part of the country, doesn’t see any sunlight for long periods throughout the winter months. The other extreme can also be useful for stories—the fact that summer has very, very long days, with midnight sun and bright nights. We also have weather to suit many types of crime stories: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Yes, indeed! In Iceland, you can get sunshine, rain, heavy storm, sleet, and snow—all in the same day! And let’s not forget the northern lights—murder under the northern lights is certainly an interesting premise.

Thirdly, writers in Iceland have been able to emphasize the setting, focusing, for example, on Icelandic nature, isolated small towns, or the area around the capital, Reykjavik. In terms of nature, the high mountains can provide a backdrop for murder, as can the large glaciers and volcanoes—many of which are still very active. The Icelandic highlands also offer an interesting setting, a vast area in the middle of the country in which it is very easy to get lost! Iceland is very sparsely populated; people mainly live in either the Reykjavik area or in smaller towns along the coastline, picturesque fjords surrounded by mountains. Some examples: Arnaldur Indridason’s recent Strange Shores is set in Iceland’s eastern fjords; Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s I Remember You is set in an isolated western fjord and her My Soul to Take in the area nearby a famous glacier, Snaefellsjokull; and Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson sets his Flatey Enigma on the small, picturesque island of Flatey.

Iceland is actually a place of extremes in more sense than one. We tend to collectively share some unusual hobbies. Every year, on a Saturday evening in May, the streets of Iceland are empty and everyone is glued to the TV, when the European song contest Eurovision is being broadcast live. We always proudly send a competitor from Iceland, certain that this is the year we will win. We haven’t won yet, though. The streets are empty when the Icelandic national handball team competes in major tournaments, and we are, once again, always sure that we will win the world championship title. We haven’t won yet. And right before Christmas, Icelanders buy lots and lots of books—the biggest titles probably selling between 20,000 and 30,000 copies (again, quite a lot per capita). We call it the Christmas Book Flood, and most new fiction is released in October or November, in time for Christmas.

Fortunately, Icelandic readers have become very supportive of homegrown crime fiction, enabling more local writers to focus on Icelandic crime, and the genre has found readers all around the world. We even have our own crime festival, Iceland Noir, in Reykjavik, held for the second time in November of this year.

Crime writing in Iceland? Really? The answer is yes. And hopefully we can continue to keep the momentum going, finding fresh and exciting new ways to create stunning crime fiction in this small and peaceful country.

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“The Beautiful Unfaithfuls” (by Olive-Ann Tynan)

Olive-Ann Tynan debuted in EQMM’s Department of First Stories in 2013 with the story “A Case of Harassment.” Her second story, “Accessory to Murder,” appears in our upcoming February issue.  Both stories are set in the author’s native Ireland, though she has not lived there for many years. She and her Italian husband live outside Rome and have two grown-up children. There she has worked as an editor for an English-language fortnightly paper and an Italian-language golf magazine. She is also a translator from Italian to English and she shares with us her thoughts on that art.—Janet Hutchings

Years ago, in my final year of convent school, the nuns brought us girls to Rome to see the Pope. We duly visited the Vatican, but were more interested in the Italian boys who swarmed around our bus as we went sightseeing. When we had the chance, we replied to their tentative English in Gaelic, our dying native language an obligatory subject on school curricula. The boys’ consternation was satisfying because they didn’t understand a word we said, but also off-putting because they believed Gaelic was English spoken with a funny accent. When, after our Roman week, we disembarked from the boat at Dun Laoghaire—back then airline deregulation still hadn’t happened and low-cost Ryanair still hadn’t overtaken European skies—my aunt who came to meet us told me a nun kissed the ground in thanksgiving we were all back safely on Irish soil. But that could have been a tall story, my aunt was good at those.

The point of this longwinded introduction is to explain that, being bilingual, translation becomes an automatic process. A similar switch occurred when I moved to Rome—a good many years after we nearly gave that poor nun a heart attack—and the inner translation chip switched to English/Italian. (By then the Irish language had become a lost one to me because I wasn’t speaking it anymore.) Learning Italian was like scaling Vesuvius: a tough trek with plenty of hard rocks to stumble on while climbing. A great big boulder was the Italian for “beyond,” would you believe actually three separate words with a crazy back translation meaning “at the of there.” When I’d achieved some level of competence—and al di là didn’t seem quite so crazy any more—I was ready to read two favourite authors translated into Italian. What better way to get to the top?

L’avessi mai fatto! (“It if I had never done!”) Hercule Poirot’s pate was still egg-shaped but it was a different kind of egg, his conversations with Hastings didn’t seem half as amusing and, worst of all, he failed to straighten the objects on his desk with the same finicky precision. Reading translations of the second author’s tales was an even greater disappointment, not a shiver did I feel. The House of Usher seemed deprived of its silent decayed menace, the fine subtlety of luring Fortunato to the Amontillado was absent, and the horror of the swarming rats and swinging pendulum didn’t penetrate through to my bones. I persevered, but couldn’t get rid of the feeling I was being cheated, robbed of an important part of my late childhood and teens. In the end, I decided I wasn’t having any more of this until I had a better knowledge of Italian and went back to the real thing. In the opening lines of “Berenice” I found consolation. “Misery is manifold. The wretchedness of earth is multiform.” What had been stolen was returned to me.

But there was also a downside, because that pesky chip in my head had me picking up pencil and paper. Dare I? I dared. Translating the first sentence into Italian, I wrote La miseria é molteplice.  It didn’t look too bad. But on second thoughts, miseria wasn’t quite the right word, referring as it does to material poverty rather than to woe and despair. Also, the phrase Porca miseria remains a pretty strong expletive, so to avoid the association, I needed a substitute word to maintain the sense of inert despondency. I came up with ‘anguish’, perhaps closer to the author’s intentions, and quite liked the sentence that then read L’angoscia é molteplice. But it lacked the dirge-like music of the original, maybe because the lovely alliteration was lost. To restore the figure of speech, I tried L’angoscia è abbondante, but it looked so grammatically awkward, I was sorry I’d written it. Twisting it around to Abbondante é la mia angoscia provided a more poetic tilt, but one that drifted away from the author’s intentions. I left the problem aside to simmer and passed on to the second sentence.  It seemed easy enough; L’abiezione della terra é multiforme. But was abiezione, ‘abjection’ quite the right word? I didn’t think it was, so it was clearly time to scrunch up the paper and throw it away and that’s what I did.

It’s easy to see that translators have a tough time of it, not least of which is getting over the lost in translation obstacle; a painful one because, more often than not, it just can’t be done. This came to mind recently while working on an Italian to English translation of a documentary, which included reference to a 1949 film, a classic of Italian neorealism. The film, Riso amaro (in Italian following capitals are dropped) starred Silvana Mangano as a worker in the rice fields of Northern Italy. In English, the title became Bitter Rice, a literal translation and a good one—except for the lost pun. Riso also means laughter and Bitter Rice, Bitter Laughter, although appropriate to the scenario, wouldn’t have sounded half as good.

But the greatest difficulty is the decision translators are faced with at the start; whether to opt for fidelity to the original text or discard fidelity in favour of style and current tendencies. In France in the 17th century, the phrase Les belles infedèles, literally ‘the beautiful unfaithfuls’, was coined to express the concept. Vincenzo Monti (1754-1828), Italian scholar, poet and translator, was criticized for his faithless Italian translation of Homer’s Iliad. Monti’s reply to the scorcher was “Preferirei una bella infedele ad una brutta fedele.” In French and Italian the adjectives ‘belle’ and ‘bella’ are also nouns meaning ‘beautiful woman’, and Monti’s preference for a ‘beautiful unfaithful’ over an ‘ugly faithful’ for many translators is the only way to go. It was true that Monti’s knowledge of ancient Greek was imperfect so that instead of working from Homer’s original text, he referred to later Latin translations. Nonetheless, his interpretations imbued Homer’s Trojan War epic with a new poetic unity so that even today, Monti’s Iliade is the one that wins all the kudos.

I often wonder how writers like Conrad and Nabokov were able to write so many works of fiction in a language not their own, but I suppose that’s genius. Conrad preferred to write in English rather than in his native Polish, while Nabokov wrote in Russian (that confusing Cyrillic script) and later took to writing in English. Swiss tennis player Roger Federer switches from German, to French, to English and back to German again quicker than it takes him to serve an ace, and he never seems never to stumble. Maybe the agony starts when getting to write down the words and stringing the sentences together. From my schooldays, I remember a teacher complaining that with all the English and Irish, we’d end up unable to write and spell properly in either language. And she was right. The trickiest words to get around are those insidious little prepositions: to, from, at, etcetera. In other words, the al di là conundrum. As for my spelling, not to mention the hybrid Italian-English words that keep popping up all the time, I can only exclaim Che figura! (and sometimes Porca miseria) while engaging in heated battles with my computer’s automatic corrector I’m very grateful to lose.

I always read with great interest the “Passport to Crime” stories on EQMM and wonder how each story was in the original language. If I know it, I sometimes try to see if I can pick up some clue from the phrasing and get back to the original sentence. One of my favourite “Passport” stories, published in the November 2013 issue, was written by Raphael Montes and translated by Clifford E. Landers from the Portuguese. It’s a language I don’t know, which luckily deactivates that wretched chip. Statement No. 060.710-67 is the perfect short story and, I’m willing to bet, a beautiful faithful.

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