In a recent interview for the blog SleuthSayers, I was asked, “What does a typical work day for you look like?” I replied that there is no typical day. And there really isn’t anymore. There are reading days and issue-release days, days devoted to special projects, days when social media (such as this blog) soaks up a lot of time, letter-writing days and editing days, days spent crafting an issue—deciding what should be included and how it should all be put together—and days spent at conventions, writers conferences, and so forth.

The question got me thinking about how fluid my days have become. If I’d been asked this question a couple of decades ago, before we had fully converted to desktop publishing and the other technological innovations that have given us control over the production process, my answer would have been different.

Up till the mid 1990s, magazine production was a process with rigid deadlines and little margin for error. All of our text was set in type by a typesetter in another state. Edited manuscripts had to be delivered strictly to schedule, by parcel service. I can recall many evenings bent over the desk in my office with one eye on the clock, rushing to make the last pickup. When proofs were returned to us, we had only two opportunities to make corrections (with the second round of corrections frequently drawing acerbic complaints from the typesetter). The next stage was what were known as “mechanicals.” The typesetter would return all of the text to us on shiny, high-contrast paper, pasted onto what were known as “boards,” with everything positioned according to our instructions. At this point, we proofed most of the issue again, not only for the positioning of each page’s content but also for any typographical errors we might have missed earlier. But any mistakes we found at this juncture could be corrected only by a junior member of the art department equipped with an X-Acto knife. He would meticulously cut out each wrong (eleven-point!) letter, then cut the correct letter from a stack of old boards and paste it in the gap, trying to align it perfectly with the rest of the word. It was an excruciatingly slow process and since there was only one person to do it and four magazines going to the printer on the same day, we had to be very economical in the changes we made. (Not to mention getting in line for the X-Acto knife wielder before the other magazines, if we could!)

We had our final look at the issue, and our last chance to make corrections, when the printer sent us “bluelines”—prepress photographic proofs made from the mechanicals. Any changes made at this stage not due to a printer’s error were charged for at a high rate, and usually required justification to management.

How different this is from today, when all type is set in-house and we frequently make several dozen corrections immediately before the magazine goes to the printer in what is called “camera-ready” form, meaning in files that are ready to go to press without the printer’s intervention. Even in the days of mechanicals and bluelines, EQMM’s release days were never like the image old Hollywood movies used to give of deadline pandemonium at press time, but then, as a monthly magazine composed almost entirely of short fiction, we have never had many time-sensitive features that require last-minute preparation and placement. Still, prior to desktop publishing there was always an element of tension in the knowledge that we had to get things right the first time, and that we had to be ready to spot any printer’s errors—of which there were many in those days, since so much of the work was done by hand. The two worst missed printer’s errors that I can recall were an upside down spine and a switching of the final pages of two different stories. The latter still haunts me, since one of the tales was a first story and the author’s relatives had ordered around a hundred copies.

Desktop publishing and other technological innovations have brought their own problems, of course, and eat up chunks of our work time in other ways. For one thing, the number of errors in manuscripts submitted to us has grown exponentially. This may seem strange, given that everyone is equipped with programs such as spell checkers, but we are now in the era of endless revision and it has become extremely common for people not to proof their revisions—and therefore to leave parts of revised sentences in when they meant to delete them or accidentally delete what was intended to stay. We can usually figure out what was intended, but I find I’m more often having to write to authors to clarify such things nowadays than before. It used to be (at least at our magazine) that when a manuscript was submitted to a publisher, it was considered by the author to be finished, except for any changes the editor might require. Now I find that a large percentage of our writers continue to work on stories they’ve submitted to us while they wait for our decision. This can create all sorts of problems for us. First of all, the revised story must be reread to make sure it’s still acceptable to us; secondly, we may already have decided on a space for the story at the time of acceptance, based on its word count. If the count alters significantly, our planned use may no longer work. There’s also a much greater chance that errors will occur in the final version of the magazine if revisions not specifically asked for by us have to be incorporated. Occasionally, I will edit a manuscript immediately upon acceptance. If a revision is submitted subsequent to that, the changes have to be pieced in, increasing the possibility of mistakes slipping through. For all of these reasons, I’d like to take this opportunity to make a plea to writers: Submit to us only what you consider a finished story. And if you must make changes, let us know immediately.

Personal computers and desktop publishing have, indisputably, been a good thing for the publishing industry—though I clearly recall the fierce resistance in our own company when management insisted on the transition. There is a drawback from our side (as publishers), however, in that it has made us more complacent. Knowing we can always make a correction at a later stage has made us less careful, our eyes less sharp. From the authorial side, it seems to me the technology’s chief disadvantage may be never allowing a writer to consider a work finished.

What do you think?—Janet Hutchings

Posted in Editing, History, Magazine, Publishing, Writers | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“I Use Sherlock Holmes’s Methods—and Triumph” (by Terence Faherty)

Terence Faherty has contributed more than two dozen stories to EQMM over the past twenty years. They range from entries in his popular Owen Keane series (whose 1990 debut novel, Deadstick, was nominated for an Edgar) to new cases for his post-WWII private security op Scott Elliott (whose most recent novel, Play a Cold Hand, is currently nominated for a Shamus Award) to his Star Republic stories (the most recent for EQMM currently nominated for the Macavity Award) to a yearly Sherlock Holmes parody for our annual Sherlockian Issue (January/February). It’s Sherlock Holmes who was irresistibly brought to the author’s mind by the (true) incidents described in this post.—Janet Hutchings

On a recent Sunday morning, my wife and I went to our local Cracker Barrel restaurant for breakfast. I carried along our Sunday paper, still in its red plastic delivery sleeve. Unfortunately, we were seated at a two-top table, rather than a more spacious table for four, which is much better suited to reading a Sunday paper. Determined to make the best of this difficult situation, I emptied the sleeve, sorted out all the ads and circulars, and stuffed those back into the red plastic, which I placed at my feet.

Shortly afterward, my reading was interrupted by the arrival of the waitress. My wife, who had been perusing her menu, placed her order. I ordered from memory, after observing, mildly, that I hadn’t been given a menu. The waitress apologized and left.

Some little time afterward, my wife said, “Are you sure you weren’t given a menu?”

I’ve long been a student of Sherlock Holmes’s methods of deductive reasoning. This appeared to me to be an opportunity to put those methods to use. I devoted myself to a few minutes of quiet ratiocination, at the end of which, I reached down and produced the red sleeve. Sorting through its contents, I soon produced the missing menu. My wife was astonished—perhaps even dumbfounded.

There was no time then to explain my complex chain of reasoning, for at that moment our breakfasts arrived. After placing the plates before us, the waitress asked if we needed anything else. I replied, mildly, that I hadn’t been given any silverware. The waitress apologized and left, returning a moment later with a knife, fork, and spoon wrapped, in the Cracker Barrel fashion, in a paper napkin secured by a paper tab.

We enjoyed an excellent breakfast, though I noticed, when I happened to look up from the newspaper, that my wife appeared to be slightly distracted. Sure enough, after we’d finished and paid and were leaving the restaurant—along with our newspaper, now reunited with the circulars in the red plastic bag—she said, “Are you sure you weren’t given any silverware?”

It would have been easy to have despaired of solving this new problem on the short walk to our car. Luckily, I had also worked hard to emulate Holmes’s famous powers of observation. They enabled me to perceive a suspicious bulge in the side of the newspaper sleeve. It was the work of a moment for me to produce the missing silverware, still wrapped in its protective napkin.

Leaving my wife standing speechless in the parking lot, I reentered the restaurant, where I presented my trophy to the hostess with a flourish. She was astonished—perhaps even dumbfounded.

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May, June, July 1958

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“Things that Drive Crime Writers CRAZY” (by Melodie Campbell)

Last week, all three of Dell Magazines’ mystery fiction editors—Linda Landrigan, editor-in-chief of AHMM, Jackie Sherbow, associate editor of EQMM and AHMM, and I—were interviewed on SleuthSayers, a blog by and for “professional crime writers and crime fighters.” In exchange for our interviews, a call went out to regular SleuthSayers contributors to blog for our sites. EQMM was delighted to receive this post from Melodie Campbell (known on SleuthSayers as Bad Girl). Called the “Queen of Comedy” by the Toronto Sun, the Canadian author has won nearly a dozen crime-fiction awards, including the Derringer and the Arthur Ellis. She is the past Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada and the author of a number of highly regarded crime novels. Her short fiction has appeared in AHMM and other publications; EQMM readers will have seen stellar reviews of her Goddaughter series in The Jury Box.—Janet Hutchings

I’m a crime writer.  Hell, I’ll put on my other hat (the one with the pointy top) and say it.  I got my start writing comedy. Standup and newspaper columns, with the odd (very odd) greeting card thrown in.

I have a certain amount of legitimacy, in that The Toronto Sun called me “Canada’s Queen of Comedy.” Apparently, someone on staff there likes “wild and loopy.” Which may call into question their sanity as much as mine, but I digress.

I now write comic capers (the Goddaughter series). This is because I made the biggest mistake ever made by a person not legally insane.

Way back when we all had pet dinosaurs, one of my plays was performed in Toronto (Burglar for Coffee.) It may have been a bit zany. A television producer happened to be in the audience. After the show, he came up to me and said, “You are completely nuts. How would you like to write pilots for me? You’ll need to move to California.”

I had two toddlers at the time. And I’m Canadian. No way could I see how I could move to California. So I said no. Besides. It was 1993. Who had ever heard of HBO?

As I said, the biggest mistake ever made by someone not legally insane.

So I turned to a life of crime. Okay, writing crime capers. I come by that legitimately, but that’s another blog post. (How to Write Mob Comedies Without Getting Taken Out by The Family. And you thought I was kidding. . . .)

Which brings me to the point of this blog: suspension of disbelief.  I’m willing to admit that as an audience, we might agree to “suspend belief” for a little while. As a writer, I do it regularly. As a reader and viewer, I delight when someone takes me into another world.

But enough is enough. Crime fiction and television, you go too far. CSI Hoboken, or wherever you are, take note. Here are some things that drive otherwise fairly normal crime writers (oxymoron alert) crazy:

  1. Crime scene people in high heels and raw cleavage.

Of all the things that television distorts, this is the one that bugs us the most.  Ever been on a crime scene?  Ever been in a lab?

For six years, I was Director of Marketing for the Canadian Society of Medical Laboratory Science.  I’ve been in a freaking lab or two.  Take it from me: it ain’t a place for date-night shoes and long, loose hair.  You want my DNA messing with your crime results?

Network producers, stop treating us like ignorant adolescents who need to be sexually charged every single moment. Stop. Just stop. It’s insulting.

  1.   Gunshot victims who give their last speech and then die, kerplunk.

Full disclosure: I was also a hospital director. (Strange, I know. Comedy and healthcare. But believe me, the ability to laugh under pressure is what keeps us going in hospitals.)

People who get hit with a bullet to the heart die, kerplunk.  They aren’t hanging around to give their last words. People who get hit in the gut may take many hours to die. It’s not a pretty sight. Take it from me. They usually aren’t thinking sentimental thoughts.

  1. Where’s the blood spatter?

If you stab someone while they are still living and breathing, there is going to be blood spatter.  Usually, that spatter will go all over the stabber.  So sorry, creators: Your bad guy is not going to walk away immaculate from a crime scene in which he just offed somebody with a stiletto.  You won’t need Lassie to find him in a crowd, believe me.

  1. Villains who do their “Fat Lady Sings” pontification.

Why does every villain delay killing the good guy so he can tell the poor schmuck his life story?  I mean, the schmuck is going to be offed in two minutes, right?  You’re going to plug him.  So why is it important that he know why you hate your mother and the universe in general?

Someday, I am going to write a book/script where one guy gets cornered and before he can say a word, this happens:

<INT.  A dark warehouse or some other cliché. >


The smoking gun fell to my side as Snidely dropped to the floor.

“Dudley!” gasped Nell.  “You didn’t give him a chance to explain!”

I yawned.  “Bor-ing.  All these villains go to the same school.  You heard one, you’ve heard them all.”

“Isn’t that against the law?” said Nell, stomping her little foot. “Don’t you have to let the bad guy have his final scene?”


The smoking gun fell to my side as Nell dropped to the floor.

Posted in Characters, Fiction, Guest, Police Procedurals, Pop Culture, Readers, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

“Damaged Goods, Great Detective” (by Louisa Luna)

A San Francisco native who now lives in Brooklyn, Louisa Luna is the author of four novels. The most recent, Two Girls Down (Doubleday), was released to rave reviews in January of this year.  In this post the author discusses a type of heroine we commonly see in current crime fiction—a type of figure that it seems to me we find in her first story for EQMM, which appears in our July/August issue (on sale now).—Janet Hutchings

My mother-in-law, who reads far more thrillers than I, frequently tells me that she can’t stand a flawed female lead. “I hate it when they can’t get their shit together,” she says. And I always say something like, “But that’s what makes them real!” The last one we spoke about was The Girl on The Train, which drove her right up the wall. “Ugh, she was such a mess,” she said, referring to Rachel. Indeed she was, but, I argued, a mess in whose reflection a reader could see herself. A bad-decision-making, hard-drinking, drunk-dialing mess who triumphs in the end and solves the mystery. “I guess,” my mother-in law conceded, remaining unmoved.

Granted, she and I ultimately read for different reasons: she (as she freely admits), to be entertained, and I, to feel stuff. But there is a level on which I agree with her: Need the women of my favorite thrillers and suspense novels be so damaged, have had such terrible childhoods and lug around one or more weighty secrets? Was there an unacknowledged checklist for authors when creating their women detectives? As the author of a thriller with an imperfect but Wüsthof-sharp female PI, I decided to take a look at two of my favorites and see if I could find a through-line.

Flea Marley appears alongside Jack Caffery in five books of Mo Hayder’s series. The first time we meet her, in Ritual, she’s under water. Now I don’t have an MFA or anything but that sounds like a metaphor to me. As it turns out, she is a Sergeant for Bristol’s Underwater Search Unit, and in those opening pages she finds a severed hand which revs the engine of Hayder’s main plot. She also begins speaking to her dead mother, cries, and then stops “until the tears had gone somewhere safe, and she knew she wouldn’t . . . make a fool of herself when she surfaced.” Hayder, pro that she is, hooks us with her b-plot, Flea’s story, in a one-two punch, fourth page.

Flea’s background slowly emerges. We learn she comes from a family of divers, that her parents drowned not long before in a diving accident in which her brother was the sole survivor and then a little later, she confesses to purposely grinding her feet in broken glass to get out of joining the dive because she was afraid to do it. After her parents don’t make it back, their bodies never recovered, Flea, needless to say, feels just a smidge guilty.

Regret and guilt taint every cut of her life going forward, manifesting most notably in her ongoing flirtation with death. As she admits to Caffery, “The only way you could make amends would be to die yourself—to die more horribly and in more pain and fear . . . you would die their death a million times over rather than feel one more second of that guilt.” So there it is, the full bulk of what Flea feels every day. And on top of it she worries compulsively about her fragile troubled brother, and later she also dabbles in ibogaine, a potent, naturally occurring psychedelic drug so she can communicate with the ghosts of her parents. You know, regular girl stuff.

But she is a knock-out at work. She’s so good, in fact, that even in the midst of all her personal shit, she can’t turn her brain off from analyzing the case, even when she’s not supposed to. Her job is just to dig out the body parts, even though she claims “one thing she never did was think about the cases. No curiosity, no theorizing. It was a rule she had,” she swiftly breaks her own rule and provides clues which lead her and Caffery to solve the crime.

As she and Caffery close in on their man, it is precisely Flea’s guilt which propels her forward. Faced with the option of following Caffery into an ominous corridor carved into the walls of an apartment building or waiting for back-up, Flea remembers her brother and parents and knows what she has to do: “. . . she pictured Bushman’s Hole, remembered letting Thom go down. She thought about the dark water . . . and a sensation like air rushed through her, like something rising up from inside her and cracking. She . . . caught up with Caffery in the corridor.” The sensation, that thing that is cracking, is the physical manifestation of her regret. She won’t let herself be in the position to regret acting this time.

Tana French’s books are mosaics of fantastic characters and Russian-nesting-doll plots. The most recent, The Trespasser, is no exception and the protagonist is a piece of work, a female detective carrying multiple chips on her shoulder, Antoinette Conway. The trespasser of the title is ostensibly the murderer of the young single woman in the case Antoinette is investigating, but it’s also her, herself, the sole woman in the Murder Squad, and a woman of color to boot. Antoinette first faces hazing from her male colleagues which quickly leads to consistent harassment, sustaining lesson after lesson that her kind isn’t welcome. But Antoinette toughs it out and learns to survive: “If I learned one thing in school it’s this: you never let them get you on the bottom of the pile. If you do, you might never get up again.”

As we read, we learn that Antoinette’s father abandoned her and her mother when Antoinette was a child, though at this point, Antoinette doesn’t seem to give too much of a shit about it. The event appears to have been smelted into the armor she wears on a daily basis, as her anger simmers just beneath the surface at all times, for example when she considers sticking it to the brass: “For a second I can feel it right through my body: the weight of the room lifting off me, the rush of strength hitting every cell like oxygen: Let’s see you try and push me around now motherfuckers.”

As she attempts to solve her case, she clashes with her partner, Steve, a genuinely nice guy and one of the only people she trusts. He lays out how her take-no-prisoners attitude could backfire: “You’re so set on going down in flames, you’d make it happen even if the entire force loved you to bits. You’ll light your own bloody self on fire if you have to.” Perhaps, as Steve suggests, being a super-ballbuster isn’t the most productive way to do police work, or operate in the world. Such an M.O. might lend itself to self-sabotage.

Warning: Spoilers follow, but you should probably just keep reading.

Antoinette finally meets her father after she discovers him spying on her (another trespasser!), and he offers to tell her everything she wants to know – about him, why he left, her history. She considers it but then thinks again: “If I let him give me the answers, he’ll own me. Everything in my life, past and future, will be his: what he decides to make it into.” She decides it’s ultimately better not to know anything about that side of her. She gives into her anger and kicks him out, refusing to let him define her.

And it’s the same thing that leads her to find and accuse the murderer, a senior detective in her squad. She catches a glimpse of her life at work easing up if she plays ball: “If I keep my mouth shut, then they’ve put their hands on me and knotted me into someone else, living a whole different life . . . [they] will be running me and my every day after all . . . I owe this case.”

She owes the case and she owns the case, her contrariness, her stubbornness, her bottomless anger driving her to fight. She’s just as angry at the conclusion as she was at the beginning, but now it has a purpose, it is the means by which she will uncover the truth.

Both Flea and Antoinette keep their baggage; they use it a bit differently, but it drives both of them in their work.

We would perhaps not want our female detectives to be so damaged. We would perhaps want them to be, or at least appear, stronger. Especially at this moment when men just seem to be taking their penises out all over the place, we like to fantasize about how our difficult women would handle such a situation (preferably with tasers or say, a bench vise). But it’s these same wounds which make them strong, and I don’t mean in a “Whatever doesn’t kill you” way; I mean that the damage itself is the strength. The brains and the pain, the hysteria and the hunches, the instinct and the rage—both things together, neither one causal, both side by side, resulting in stories and characters that simultaneously entertain a couple of broads like my mother-in-law and I, and make us feel stuff, too.

Posted in Books, Characters, Fiction, Guest, Pop Culture, Readers, Thrillers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Talent for Historical Accuracy” (by Thomas K. Carpenter)

Thomas K. Carpenter’s first paid print publication was in EQMM’s Department of First Stories in February of 2015. The story featured an ancient Roman sleuth,  Magistrate Ovid, working in Alexandria. The Magistrate Ovid series now includes a story for AHMM, as well as several novels. Its latest entry appears in EQMM’s July/August issue, on sale next week. In this post, the author, who works in a variety of genres, discusses some of the challenges of historical fiction—a form that EQMM’s founder, Frederic Dannay, once called the most difficult of all for a writer.—Janet Hutchings

Historical fiction can be tricky business, especially when it involves a mystery. The tiniest incorrect detail can undermine the plot, derailing the story off a literary cliff. These pitfalls are even harder to find when the history in question is a few thousand year ago.

Before I delve into my foibles, let me give you some background. The July/August 2018 issue of EQMM will contain the newest Magistrate Ovid story, “The Lightness of Man.” This story and the others published in EQMM and AHMM are about a Roman magistrate in ancient Alexandria. Ovid, after surviving his time as an officer in the Roman Legion, is given charge of the Rhakotis district, the poorest district of the city, a place with no political sway, which leaves him at the mercy of his Machiavellian superior—a man who has no love for him from their time in the Legion.

The location of the stories, ancient Alexandria, provide a wealth of interesting backdrops with the Great Library, the Lighthouse at Pharos, or the Tomb of Alexander, and famous personages in Euclid, Heron, Caesar, Cleopatra, or Hypathia. It’s a region with a clash of cultures between Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, and dozens of other peoples others drawn by the city’s significance.

Yet for all these happenings there is still so much we don’t understand about the time. When exactly did the fire in the Great Library happen, or was it more than one event? Was Alexander’s body stolen from his tomb, and by whom? What did the interior of the Lighthouse look like?

Then there are the minor things, the bits of culture accruement, the detritus of daily life, that escape the historical writer, not due to a lack of research but to a lack of translation in understanding. In one of the early stories involving Magistrate Ovid, a story that never saw the light of day due to one of these mistakes, the crux of the mystery depended on a unit of coinage—the talent.

All forms of currency are essentially a unit of economic measure. In our modern times, we have the dollar, or peso, or for the technological risk-takers: the bitcoin. As I constructed the mystery, I imagined the talent as a gold coin like any other—after all, it was the unit of currency that described the early constructions of Alexandria. The Lighthouse of Alexandria cost 800 talents (which is about $3,000,000 in our time) to build.

What I failed to understand was that a talent was not a single coin. It was, in fact, the amount of gold coins that could be contained within a clay jar. Rather than a piece of currency that could be hidden in a pouch, or in the folds of a stola, the talent required two hands to carry, and let’s not even consider if multiple talents were integral to the plot (hint: they were).

Thus the carefully constructed mystery fell apart. Much as a clay jar full of gold coins would if you dropped it.

Thankfully, good readers, I did not encounter any such troubles in the latest Magistrate Ovid story, “The Lightness of Man.” While the details about the interior of the Lighthouse at Pharos were difficult to find, there were enough writings that an adequately representative picture could be surmised, and nothing that I uncovered that would derail the plot. Anyway, people tend to drive the conflicts contained within a story, and while the clothes and coinage has changed over the last two thousand years, ambition and greed have not. So please, pick up a copy of the July/August 2018 issue of EQMM (or better yet, a subscription!), and enjoy another thrilling and insightful adventure with Magistrate Ovid.

Posted in Guest, Historicals, History, Setting, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I’m a Hardy Boy” (by Timothy O’Leary)

Timothy O’Leary is the author of the 2017 short-story collection Dick Cheney Shot Me in the Face: And Other Tales of Men in Pain and the nonfiction book Warriors, Workers, Whiners, and Weasels (based on his business career). His stories and essays have appeared in many periodicals. He has been a finalist for the Mark Twain Award for Humor Writing, won the 2015 Aestas Award, and is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee.  His story “Made Men,” his first for EQMM, is coming up in our July/August issue, on sale June 19. It was childhood reading that set this author on the road to his literary career, and in this post he talks about a series of books that surely played a role in the making of many a contemporary mystery writer.—Janet Hutchings

I began my literary adventure as a Hardy Boy. My parents weren’t big readers, but believed their children should be, and sought out the easiest point of entry into world of books. My mother—probably responding to an ad in Ladies Home Journal—signed me up for a “Hardy Boys Book of the Month Club.”

It was thrilling to receive that package every few weeks. In the late 1960s, Hardy Boys books were hardback, and always featured Frank and Joe on the cover: teenage voyeurs, often crouching behind a tree, at the mouth of a cave, or outside a window. Often the boys wore identical crewneck sweaters, one in red and one in blue. On one of my favorite covers, The Secret of Skull Mountain, the boys are joined by a third character in a white sweater, delivering the full red/white/blue Americana—except for the fact that Frank (or perhaps Joe—I could never tell them apart), is holding a skull. With their Aryan features, clear skin, and all-American haircuts, they could have been young singers on one of the most popular and mind-numbing television programs of the 1960’s, The Lawrence Welk Show.

The spine and detailing of the books were a distinctive robin’s egg blue. To this day, when a Hardy fan spies my old collection on a shelf from twenty feet away, they will first notice that color. “Are those . . . ?” they gravitate towards the blue, then pick one up to discover the boys and exclaim, “It is. I love The Hardy Boys.”

In fact, The Hardy Boys were my gateway not only into the world of mysteries, but also into a lifelong obsession with literature and writing. I’m convinced that if you want to inspire a young person to read (and perhaps write), you need to entice them with “sticky literature”; books that excite and continue to draw you back. Reading needs to become habit, and it takes practice. There is no genre that accomplishes that better than a good mystery series. If I hadn’t started reading The Hardy Boys at age seven or eight, I might not have started reading Hemingway, Hunter Thompson, and Toni Morrison a decade later.

As I grew a too old for the brothers, I gravitated to Alfred Hitchcock’s and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and Robert Louis Stevenson, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and all the other building blocks of the format—delivered courtesy of the great innovation of my generation, the Bookmobile.

By the time I reached high school, a young new writer named Stephen King became an obsession, and I’d graduated to literary characters that possessed the suave intelligence, sensuality, and confidence with violence that every teenage boy craved, spending many late nights with James Bond, and the wonderful characters created by Trevanian, Jack Higgens, and Frederick Forsyth. I was particularly enthralled with funny, well-turned dialogue, with Elmore Leonard topping the list. And The Hardy Boys remained a pillar in the mystery world, as the series endeavored to stay relevant for over eighty years.

The boys were birthed by Edward Stratemeyer in 1927. Stratemeyer, one of the most prolific authors and publishers in history, released over 1,300 books that sold in excess of 500 million copies, while creating many best-selling characters aimed at the juvenile demographic, including Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, and The Bobbsey Twins.

Multiple authors created the series under the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon, writing to a strict outline provided by the publisher. In 1959—in an example of the now very familiar politically-correct adjustment—several books were revised to address what many considered racist passages. In 1987 a new series, The Hardy Boys Casefiles, was introduced that featured more complex plots and violence. That series was replaced in 2005 by Undercover Brothers, (not to be confused with the 2002 Eddie Griffin / Chris Kattan film, or the Ugandan music duo) which in turn was replaced by The Hardy Boys Adventures in 2013.

The boys also had a long run as television characters, with five different adaptations, beginning in the late 1950s, when Walt Disney introduced the characters during The Mickey Mouse Show. In 1967, NBC introduced their version of the Hardy Boys, with Tim Matheson (yes—the guy that played Otter in Animal House) playing Frank Hardy. ABC followed that with a Saturday-morning cartoon in 1969. People my age probably remember the 1977-79 version, with Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy playing freshly coiffed brothers—the “Hardy Boys as teen idols” attempt to refresh the series.

There have been Hardy Boys video games, coloring and comic books, lunch boxes, charm bracelets, albums, wristwatches, jeans, and even guitars. South Park did a special Hardy Boys Episode, “Mystery of the Urinal Deuce,” in which the boys investigate a 9/11 conspiracy theory.

So it’s probably not surprising that a significant percentage of the population were Hardy Boys. Virtually every American man I know over the age of thirty has fond memories of reading the books, a literary rite of passage that ranks as high Catcher in the Rye for generations of men.

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“Agatha Christie: Queen of Many Crimes” (by François Bloemhof)

South African thriller writer François Bloemhof’s prolific career, spanning more than twenty-five years, includes novels for adults, teenagers, and children, his most recent adult “noir” novels being 2016’s Double Echo and 2017’s Feeding Time. He has received numerous awards and is credited with several “firsts”: He wrote the first novel to be published with an original CD soundtrack composed by the author, the first book with its own computer game, and the first e-book in Afrikaans. His first short story for EQMM, “Proof,” appears in our July/August issue, on sale June 19. The tale was translated from Afrikaans by Josh Pachter, but François also writes in English, and as you’ll see from this post, he cut his teeth on British crime fiction, and particularly on the work of Agatha Christie. —Janet Hutchings

At an early age it became clear that I was bound to turn my talents to crime one day. While still at school, I shied away from our prescribed books to devour instead the Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines as well as the novels of Agatha Christie.

I felt an instant connection with that author, and not only because we were born on the same day (though, I hasten to add, not in the same year). What I appreciated most about her approach to “puzzle writing” was a strong sense of logic combined with a playfulness, a craftiness, a darned delight in deception that was gratifying to recognize even when you had to admit she’d pulled the wool over your eyes once again. You may have been angry at yourself for being duped, but at the same time couldn’t help but applaud the sleight of hand by which it had been accomplished. But next time, with the next book, you’d swear, things would be different.

Granted, a few of the patterns she tended to fall back on grew familiar over time and she could on occasion be second-guessed. As I read more of the books that mostly starred her eccentric and egocentric mustached Belgian detective and that deceptively fragile, knitting spinster from St. Mary’s Mead, signs and signals accumulated that might lead to the correct conclusion before the detective arrived at it.

In any event, having received the best tuition possible for developing a criminal mindset, I decided to write crime rather than to practice it. However, the problem we crime writers are faced with time and again is that as soon as you think you’ve come up with a great twist  . . . it’s been done. Dame Agatha has been there decades ago and the most you can do is to modernize some of her examples. The wheel has been invented, and then she re-invented it a few times for good measure. Now you should just roll with it.

The answer to her puzzles often lay in the past; the more seemingly innocent the mention of something that happened a long time ago, the more bearing it had on the present. Those little references to events of yesteryear couldn’t possibly have something to do with the present investigation, could they? Of course they could, and they would.

Due to her knowledge of medicine, which she acquired while serving in a hospital during the First World War and working as a pharmacist’s assistant later on, Dame Agatha also loved administering various poisons to her fictional victims.

Apart from her “regular mysteries” in which the guilty party was unmasked after all the suspects had been interviewed twice and then grouped together in a drawing room like errant sheep, there were a few novels so audacious in their approach and ultimate solution that they would influence other detective stories for decades to come. She may not have invented all of these twists, but having perfected them and being the author they are associated with, she might as well have.

Major spoilers on the way. . . .

The narrator did it. If you’ve watched a few films recently, you will almost certainly have encountered this “surprise” element: The person you’re supposed to trust most is in fact the guilty party. Or (yawn) the victim and the perpetrator will actually be the same person. But when The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd was published in 1926, having the first-person narrator—our point of entry into the mystery—turn out to be the murderer was a spectacular conceit. Some critics complained about Christie having cheated by having the misdeeds take place “offstage” and Dr. James Sheppard simply not accounting for his whereabouts at the time, nor reflecting on his murderous actions. However, they were probably angrier at themselves for being caught out and not having thought of it themselves. In 2013 this book was voted the best crime novel ever by 600 fellow writers of the Crime Writers’ Association.

They all did it. Pertinent clues are provided in a very sporting way in Murder On The Orient Express. There are a certain number of stab wounds. There are a certain number of suspects, all behaving suspiciously enough that one character is led to exclaim after each of them has been interviewed: “He did it!” or “She did it!” Of course. Exactly. That will prove to be the case. He did it. And she did it. Along with all the others.

A dead person did it. Or, all right, the murderer wasn’t really dead, or at least wasn’t at the time he was assumed to be. And he had help. And the person who assisted him in his subterfuge was next to get the chop. And Then There Were None proved, just in case there was any doubt, that Dame Agatha could put aside those sly patterns she’d perfected for a while and think outside of the box. Way out of it; she ventured into territory beyond the realms of detective fiction. It was an audacious coup that would make this novel her best seller ever, having by now shipped 100 million copies and counting. It has been filmed a number of times, which had the side effect of Christie inventing and laying the ground rules for what would come to be known as the slasher movie—without the buckets of gore we nowadays expect from such films, and with characters that were rotten to the core. What she also created here was a detective story without a detective. And more yet: a crime story without a hero or heroine.

The supposed victim did it. In order to commit a crime, someone didn’t have to go so far as to fake his or her own death as in the above example—a presumed attack would do the trick, as when Magdala “Nick” Buckley is (we believe) almost shot dead at the start of Peril at End House. If someone indeed wanted to kill Nick, who would be the least suspicious candidate? The poor shot-at girl herself. That bullet hole in Nick’s sun hat is guaranteed to divert the reader’s suspicions and when she isn’t the one to die soon after, naturally we seek those guilty of that crime elsewhere.

Someone did it in foreign climes. The author travelled extensively with her archeologist second husband, Sir Max Mallowan. While he set about his kind of digging, she kept herself busy by unearthing plots brimming with malice and genteel mayhem. The countries in question, mostly in the Middle East, provided backdrops for dastardly doings that maybe at that point would have started to feel slightly run-of-the-mill in yet another English countryside setting. In an exotic milieu, they were fresh and new. Everywhere she travelled, Christie found Evil Under The Sun. In any country, she knew, the stage was already set for an Appointment With Death. A few other cases in point are Murder in Mesopotamia, They Came To Baghdad and Death On The Nile.

Someone did it centuries ago. Set in Thebes in 2000 BC, one can only imagine how much research must have gone into Death Comes as the End. Despite all the convincing details of daily household life in Egypt 4000 years ago, it never turns into a dry, informative read, rather veering towards a brutal entertainment, featuring so many deaths that it rivals And Then There Were None in that regard. Contributors to the market in historical thrillers may not even realize what a debt they owe Agatha Christie.

The Queen of Crime ruled more than OK, and still does. Not only will her clever puzzles continue to delight new generations of readers, but future mystery writers will also keep on paying homage—knowingly or unknowingly, whether they intend to or not.

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“The Changing Face of Mystery Fiction” (by Marvin Kaye)

Marvin Kaye’s long and distinguished career as a writer and editor encompasses the fields of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and mystery. He has served as editor-in-chief of three magazines: H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and Weird Tales. He has also authored more than a dozen novels and compiled dozens of anthologies, and as you’ll see from this post, he has taught creative writing. His new story for EQMM is a Nero Wolfe pastiche, one of a series he is currently writing. It will appear in our July/August issue (to be released on June 19).  The advice he gives here to writers of the classical whodunit should be helpful, coming from a writer who has tackled the challenges himself.—Janet Hutchings

For over twenty years I served as Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing at New York University, where I lectured on the construction of murder mysteries and other genres. I had an average of one student a year who sold a novel begun in our workshop, also one screenplay that was made into a well-done film starring Jodie Foster and Dennis Hopper.

In those days, the standard form of mysteries embraced reader-solvable puzzles, what John Dickson Carr called The Grandest Game. Soon after, when I became a member of the Steering Committee of The Wolfe Pack, the Nero Wolfe society, I was asked to head an annual judging committee for Nero Awards. The other judges were Barbara Stout, Rex’s daughter, who died recently, Robert Goldsborough, authorized writer of new Nero Wolfe novels, and a floating member from the Pack.

As I began reading the new output from various publishers, I was dismayed to discover that few of the books submitted were reader-solvable. Instead they were books about murder and other crimes, often with fascinating characters and interesting plots, but without the classic structure of clues and red herrings that led the Great Detective to an eleventh-hour showdown. As far as I can tell today, the situation remains that way.

What a loss! The market seems devoid of new Rex Stouts or Dorothy Sayers or Clayton Rawsons, et cetera. The only remedy I can see is to teach contemporary writers the nuts and bolts of well-crafted whodunits. I suspect, however, that many will not want to be bothered because, after all, writing a good reader-solvable mystery is a difficult affair.

One might be faithful to all the old rules and still fail. Analogically, it is possible for a musician to create a fugue for organ, say, that observes all the necessary requirements of that form so that the result is a well-crafted fugure that, however, makes for dreary listening.

Following are a few structural guidelines to think about en route to building a true ratiocinative challenge to the reader (a phrase often used by Ellery Queen).

1. The Detective. It should be obvious that your sleuth must have the intellectual capacity to process clues and winnow out the red herrings. He or she also should be interesting for his or her own sake.

2. The Franchise. There are, as I see it, three possible choices governing the detective’s ability to investigate crimes. If he is a policeman, it is his job, sanctioned by his local or state government. If he is a private detective, he is licensed to do the same, but usually within limitations that most private eyes bend or break from time to time, and that includes Sherlock Holmes. The third possibility is that the detective is an amateur who either likes criminal investigation or has an emotional interest in finding out the truth, often to vindicate some wrongly accused friend and/or relative. Her problem (it is often a woman, as, for instance, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple) is that she has no legal standing to butt into police business. Sometimes this sleuth has a friend on the force who helps smooth the way.

Each of the above choices is valid; each has its strengths and difficulties. It is up to the author to select whichever variety of character they are most comfortable writing about.

3. Viewpointing. There have been mysteries written first-person from the detective’s point of view. The question it raises, of course, is why doesn’t the sleuth share all internal thoughts and speculations with the reader? There are strengths and weaknesses involved, though excellent novels have been written first-person. I suppose the safest way to go is third person, though it potentially may flatten the emotional impact of the tale. Personally I prefer first person by the detective’s faithful companion, the Dr. Watson or Archie Goodwin. Not only is the emotional impact guaranteed, the author may send the narrator on some important mission which keeps him or her away from the sleuth as he or she unravels the chain of circumstances leading to a solution.

Again, any such choice is valid; it depends on the kind of book you’d enjoy writing the most.

4. The M-O-M Chart. This is a tool I developed that students found helpful in plotting their stories. On a piece of paper, draw four separate vertical columns labeled Character, M (for Motive), O (for Opportunity) and M (for Method). Then draw as many horizontal intersecting lines as needed for the main characters of your novel.

Under character, put the names of the dramatis personae with the murderer occupying the top space. Enter the means, opportunity, and method in the appropriate places. The first horizontal row contains the clues necessary to solve the crime. Note that if you leave a space blank for any of the suspects, that personage will be eliminated as the killer. Of course that makes for a comparatively simple tale, but the more complete rows of red herrings you lay in complicates the situation and provides the detective with fallow investigating ground. A common device that authors employ is to make only one suspect (not the perpetrator) have all three M-O-M data. This character is ripe to become the second murder victim.

5. The Master Chart. This tool enables the writer to structure and keep a record of all the plotting data involved. It may be as simple or elaborate as desired. On a large piece of paper, create a series of vertical columns crossed by horizontal dividers. Label the columns as needed; A simple arrangement would be: Chapter Number, Setting, Characters, Clues, Red Herrings. I also had a Plot Points column because my settings tended to be colorful and I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget various interesting items along the way.

By now you will have drawn up a list of the essential necessary clues. Enter these in the appropriate spaces, as well as the other indicated data. Then begin to write. This chart is not a bible; as you proceed, you will surely find it necessary to omit or add information. If and when you do, adjust the Master Chart accordingly. As this involves a lot of erasing, a pencil should be used, not a pen.

6. The Clue Log. As you write your story, have a separate paper handy on which you should enter the occurrence of clues and the manuscript pages on which they appear. Thus when you reach the solution chapter, you won’t have to go paging back through all those papers to discover when the detective learned this and that.

The final step in the process is to vary the way clues are introduced and disguised throughout. This is a subject sufficiently complicated to require extensive explanation in a separate article.

Goodbye and happy sleuthing!

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The highlight of each April in the mystery-fiction community is a week of festivities and awards that begins as writers, fans, and publishers assemble in New York City in the lead-up to the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe Awards banquet.

For Edgars-week Tuesday, EQMM and its sister publication, AHMM, traditionally invite the magazines’ Readers Award winners and Edgar nominees to a small gathering in our offices. This year we had the pleasure of hosting EQMM Edgar nominee (and MWA president) Jeffery Deaver; EQMM Readers Award winners Brendan DuBois and Doug Allyn, as well as Doug’s wife, Eve; AHMM Edgar nominee S.J. Rozan; and one of this year’s three MWA Grand Masters, Peter Lovesey. Most of us went directly from this small Dell-office tea party to the big annual cocktail party thrown by Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop—the perfect place to spot other authors newly arrived from out of town.

L to R: Jeffery Deaver, Doug Allyn, Eve Allyn at the Dell Magazines office. Photo by Jackie Sherbow.

L to R: S.J. Rozan, Janet Hutchings. Photo by Jackie Sherbow.

L to R: Peter Lovesey, Brendan DuBois, AHMM editor Linda Landrigan. Photo by Jackie Sherbow.

L to R: Eve Allyn, Peter Lovesey, Doug Allyn at the Mysterious Bookshop. Photo by Jackie Sherbow.

Wednesdays during Edgars week are usually marked by a day-long symposium with panels and interviews featuring the various Edgar Allan Poe Award nominees, the Grand Masters, and the Raven and Ellery Queen award winners. As in past years, associate editor Jackie Sherbow attended for the Dell Mystery Magazines.

Oline Cogdill with Peter Lovesey during his Grand Master interview at the MWA Edgar Awards Symposium.

Before we knew it, the big day—Thursday—had arrived. For thirty-three years, EQMM and AHMM have hosted a cocktail party prior to the Edgar Awards banquet. It’s here that the EQMM Readers Awards are presented annually. And it’s here that we have the best chance each year to catch up with some of our closest friends in the business, a number of whom are pictured below.

Richard Dannay. Photo by Ché Ryback.

L to R: Brendan DuBois, Otto Penzler. Photo by Ché Ryback.

L to R: Associate editor Jackie Sherbow, Hilary Davidson. Photo by Ché Ryback.

Nancy Novick. Photo by Ché Ryback.

Dave Zeltserman accepts his third-place EQMM Readers Award scroll, presented by Janet Hutchings (pictured) and Peter Kanter. Photo by Ché Ryback.

Doug Allyn accepts his second-place EQMM Readers Award scroll. Photo by Ché Ryback.

Brendan DuBois accepts the 2017 EQMM Readers Award. Photo by Ché Ryback.

L to R: Shelley Costa, Linda Landrigan, Angela Zeman, Barry Zeman. Photo by Ché Ryback.

L to R: Kevin EganAnalog and Asimov‘s associate editor Emily Hockaday. Photo by Ché Ryback.

Penny Publications/Dell Magazines publisher, Peter Kanter. Photo by Ché Ryback.

L to R: Kristopher Zgorski, Gregory Day, Lori Rader-Day. Photo by Ché Ryback.

L to R: Joseph Goodrich, Dale Andrews. Photo by Ché Ryback.

L to R: Michele Slung and Vicky Bijur. Photo by Ché Ryback.

L to R: Analog Science Fiction and Fact editor Trevor Quachri, Dell Magazines/Penny Publications vice president Christine Begley. Photo by Ché Ryback.

L to R: Jane Cleland, Hilary Davidson, Meredith Anthony. Photo by Ché Ryback.

L to R: James Lincoln Warren, Dale Andrews, Brian Skupin. Photo by Ché Ryback.

Dell Magazines editor Mark Lagasse. Photo by Ché Ryback.

L to R: Jim Weikart, Steve Steinbock. Photo by Ché Ryback.

L to R: Robin Dean, V.S. Kemanis, David Dean. Photo by Ché Ryback.

Kate Stine. Photo by Ché Ryback.

Dell Magazines systems/IT manager, photographer Ché Ryback. Photo by Jackie Sherbow.

EQMM was present at the very first Edgar Allan Poe Awards dinner, seventy-two years ago. Many of the banquets since then have had an extra dash of excitement for us as we awaited the results of the best short story award, for which we had nominees. This year was no exception. But what made the evening even more memorable was that two of the three writers named Grand Masters of the Mystery Writers of America had close connections to EQMM. William Link got his start in EQMM’s Department of First Stories in 1954, with a story cowritten with Richard Levinson. The pair went on to create several hugely popular crime TV shows, including Columbo and Murder, She Wrote. New Grand Master Peter Lovesey, who’s been writing regularly for EQMM since 1979, is a past winner of the EQMM Readers Award, among many other distinctions (including the Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement). I had the great honor of presenting him with the Grand Master Edgar!

Janet Hutchings and Peter Lovesey with his Edgar Award.

Peter Lovesey and William Link at the Edgar Awards banquet.

Before the glitter and glamour of the black-tie Edgars seemed to have fully dissipated, many of us were on our way to the week’s next stop: North Bethesda, Maryland, for the annual Malice Domestic Convention. A convocation of fans and writers of the traditional mystery, Malice is scheduled immediately following the Edgars so that those traveling from abroad or from distant points in the U.S. can attend both sets of events.

For me, Malice began on Friday evening, with a dinner in the Pike & Rose development in North Bethesda, with authors Dana Cameron, Frankie Y. Bailey, Christine Poulson, Dale Andrews, and Josh and Laurie Pachter. At subsequent meals (one also pictured below), I had the pleasure of reconnecting with a number of the talented people who contribute fiction, reviews, and nonfiction to our pages, including Doug Greene, the founder of Crippen & Landru, the genre’s leading publisher of single-author short-story collections, and Jeffrey Marks, who has recently taken over as Crippen & Landru’s publisher.

Clockwise from L: Josh Pachter, Janet Hutchings, Dale Andrews, Dana Cameron, Frankie Y. Bailey, Laurie Pachter, Christine Poulson.

L to R: Jackie Sherbow, Steve Steinbock, Josh Pachter, Alan Orloff.

For me, one of Malice’s great highlights this year was the interview of Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Nancy Pickard. A writer who got her start in EQMM’s Department of First Stories and has won or been nominated for every major award in the field, Nancy had some fascinating things to say about the writing process and her own growth as a writer. A Sunday-morning breakfast with Nancy, Margaret and Joe Maron, Dorothy and Julian Cannell, and G. M. Malliet and her husband Bob Steventon nearly finished off the convention for me and associate editor Jackie Sherbow. The end of a memorable week—topped off by a train ride home on which I finished the Audible edition of Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders. Highly recommended! —Janet Hutchings

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