“When Does the Past Become History?” (by Elizabeth Zelvin)

Elizabeth Zelvin is the author of the well-received Bruce Kohler mystery novels. She is also a short-story writer of note, having two nominations for the Derringer and three for the Agatha award. Her stories have appeared in both EQMM and AHMM, as well as in several anthologies, and readers will find a new Bruce Kohler story in EQMM in early 2017. Liz is also the author of several historical mysteries, at both novel and short story length. Her books Voyage of Strangers and Journey of Strangers, as well as her EQMM stories “The Green Cross” and “Navidad,” are set in the era of Columbus and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. In this post she considers how what we count as historical fiction is changing.—Janet Hutchings

I was born shortly before the end of World War II, just too early to be a true Baby Boomer. When I was growing up in the 1950s, it was very clear to me when “history” was: back before World War I, when people wore costumes rather than modern dress. As a young adult (in the chronological rather than the book-marketing sense), I knew perfectly well what a “historical novel” was. Whether it was set on Napoleonic battlefields or in ancient Rome, Victorian London or the American frontier, the characters still wore fancy dress, itself a marker for a distinct separation between “then” and “now.” It’s not that I thought that Nazi Germany was culturally contemporary with the Sixties. It’s just that to me, “historical” meant something else, something much further removed from our own times. Nowadays, novels set in the 1950s are considered historical novels by the publishing industry and, I suppose, by readers themselves.

I never expected to write historical fiction myself, and I never would have if a young Jewish sailor named Diego Mendoza had not come knocking on the inside of my head in the middle of the night, demanding that I tell the story of how he sailed with Admiral Columbus in 1492. That encounter became two stories that appeared in EQMM and, eventually, two novels that followed several threads of the Sephardic diaspora, following Diego and his family through Europe to the Ottoman Empire and beyond. Historical? Of course. I made the Mendozas up and meticulously researched the rest.

The concept of history became a problem with my contemporary series, the Bruce Kohler mysteries. Bruce is a recovering alcoholic with a New York attitude, a smart mouth, and an ill-concealed heart of gold. At the beginning of the first novel, Death Will Get You Sober, he wakes up in detox on the Bowery and realizes that he has to change his life. I finished the first draft in 2002, and the novel was published in 2008. It’s still in print as an e-book along with four other novels, and the seventh short story will appear in EQMM some time next year. In that fourteen-year span, it is staggering how much our culture has changed, how much New York has changed, and how much the author, yours truly, has changed through the sheer passage of time (okay, aged).

When I first visited the Bowery as a fledgling alcoholism counselor in 1983, how could I have known that by 2015, New York’s world-famous skid row, a haunt of “bums” (no, we didn’t call them that) who frequented its bars and flophouses and passed out in its gutters, would be history? How could I have known when I finally wrote my novel about my experiences there, that by 2008, homeless drunks smoking in their detox ward would be history? In 2015, a publisher who loved my work referred to Death Will Get You Sober as “a period piece.”

As the series continues, Bruce leaves alcohol behind and stumbles toward emotional maturity and into a variety of murders. His sidekicks are Barbara, a nice Jewish girl from Queens whose codependency issues make her a terrific sleuth: addicted to helping and minding everybody’s business; and Jimmy, whom I created as a “computer genius” to deal with any tech issues that emerged as I plotted my mysteries. In 2016, it takes a lot more than it did back then to be a computer genius. In Death Will Pay Your Debts, I had to rescue Jimmy from the collapse of his finances by giving him a day job and sending him to Debtors Anonymous. I also had to rescue him from the reputation I’d given him. He says, “The generation coming up now have had digital everything all their lives and been online since they were two years old. Nowadays any kid can do what I do. I’m not a computer genius any more. I’m just an aging geek who’s never tried to live within a budget.”

Because of the extended life e-publishing has given fiction, we authors now have a chance to update our work, both novels and short stories, for new editions. Besides correcting typos and undoing the damage done by past copy editors who didn’t get our jokes, we scramble to update the tech references. Jimmy brings an iPad, not a laptop, to the beach; Barbara no longer flips her cell phone open. But the changes go deeper than that, and new issues arise as our characters’ lives develop over time. I knew for years that I wanted Barbara to have a ticking biological clock. But I could never figure out when or how to work it in. She and Jimmy have been living together for twenty years, for most of which he’s been sober, in AA, and an exemplary partner. I knew he was wary of marriage and fatherhood, because his alcoholic father was a terrible dad. The moment came in Death Will Pay Your Debts, when Jimmy runs out of money just when Barbara is turning forty and thinking it’s now or never for marriage and a baby. The historical problem, with ramifications that affect hundreds of details in the development of my characters? The OMG moment when I realized that if Barbara is young enough to have a baby, she can’t possibly remember what I remember about the Sixties.

Posted in Adventure, Books, Characters, Fiction, Genre, Guest, Historicals, History, Private Eye, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“A Tribute to Lois Duncan” (by Hilary Davidson)

Hilary Davidson is the author of the Anthony Award-winning Lily Moore mystery series, as well as the hardboiled standalone Blood Always Tells. Her short fiction has won several awards, including a Derringer from the Short Mystery Fiction Society.  Her story “The Siege,” from the December 2015 EQMM, is currently nominated for a 2016 Anthony Award, winners to be announced at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in New Orleans in September. The full text of the story (copyrighted by the author) is available for reading on EQMM’s Web site until after the convention.—Janet Hutchings

In fifth grade, I read my first Lois Duncan novel, and it changed my life. The book was called I Know What You Did Last Summer, and it told the story of a group of teenagers who accidentally killed a boy on a winding country road and made a pact to keep it a secret; a year later, when the book begins, someone has uncovered the truth and is taunting them with it. The premise of the story hooked me, but what stayed with me long after I devoured the book (in a single night, partly with the aid of a flashlight) was the idea that no secret ever truly stays buried. Duncan’s work was instantly addictive, and I followed that book with many more, including Ransom, Daughters of Eve, Killing Mr. Griffin, and Stranger With My Face.

I never imagined that I would meet this childhood hero of mine in the flesh, but I did last year at the Edgar Awards ceremony. I had the honor of introducing Lois Duncan when she received her Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. That happened at the last minute: her longtime agent was supposed to introduce her to the crowd in the Grand Hyatt’s ballroom, but he passed away two weeks before the ceremony. I was asked to step in because I’d spoken so passionately about Lois Duncan’s books when MWA’s national board discussed making her a Grand Master.

Writing that speech was a labor of love for me. It had been many years since I’d picked up a book by Lois Duncan, and I’d never had to explain to anyone about why, exactly, her books resonated so deeply with me. I’d never actually analyzed her work, either; my reactions had been purely emotional. Her writing struck a chord in me, and I’d never stopped to think about why.

Several things surprised me when I started researching her work. For starters, Lois Duncan was all of thirteen herself when she sold her first story to a magazine, and a mere eighteen when she published her debut novel, Debutante Hill. Another was that Duncan was one of the trailblazers—along with Judy Blume and S.E. Hinton—who created a new category of young-adult literature in the 1960s and 70s. That’s not to say that there weren’t books targeted at teens before then, but they tended to be formulaic and filled with predictable lessons to be learned. With her flawed characters, realistic points of view, and dark consequences, Lois Duncan blazed a path few had the nerve to explore. By the time I was in school, there was no shortage of suspense novels targeted at young adults, but Duncan’s books stood out. There was something boldly subversive in them, whether it was Daughters of Eve’s view of sexism and violence, Killing Mr. Griffin’s obsession with revenge, or Stranger With My Face’s horror-infused vision of unbreakable family ties. Whatever the subject, she made it feel real by grounding it in the raw vulnerability of teenagers’ lives. She understood the keen competition, the fear of ostracism, and the pressures coming from all sides. Her books stand up so well today because those things haven’t changed.

Writing that speech also brought Duncan’s life into focus. She was a mother of five, but in July 1989, her youngest daughter, Kaitlyn, died in a drive-by shooting. The killers have never been brought to justice. Her two nonfiction books dealing with the crime and its aftermath—1992’s Who Killed My Daughter? and 2013’s One to the Wolves—are painful, powerful, deeply personal accounts about the loss, her own courageous investigation into the crime, the cover-ups and corruption, and the danger her family faced in pursuing the truth. For the first time, I understood why she had suddenly stopped writing fiction; there had been, at a certain point, too much real-life darkness to contend with.

I know that some people are disappointed when they meet their childhood heroes, but meeting Lois Duncan was a dream come true. At the Edgars that night, she hugged me when she walked up on stage, and after the ceremony we chatted for a while. She was gracious and charming and funny, and it was clear that she deeply appreciated the Grand Master Award. (While she authored some fifty books, most hadn’t won awards, perhaps because they were ahead of their time.) The next day, we became Facebook friends (something my fifth-grade self could never have imagined, but she would’ve turned cartwheels over).

In the last months of her life, Lois Duncan’s health failed, but her good nature, kindness, and wit never did. She passed away on June 15th this year. On behalf of the countless readers whose lives she changed, I can’t thank her enough. While I’m saddened that she’s no longer in the world, I’m grateful that her books live on.

Posted in Awards, Books, Guest, Memorial, Story, Thrillers, Writers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Passion of Lizzie B.” (by Edward D. Hoch)

It’s often been theorized that violent crime goes up in the summer due to higher temperatures. The murders of Andrew and Abby Borden are among the most notorious crimes committed on a hot summer day—on August 4, 1892.  Lizzie Borden, Andrew’s daughter and Abby’s stepdaughter, was arrested for the ax killings, tried, and acquitted. Despite her acquittal, many continued to believe her guilty of the brutal murders. Many writers have taken up the subject of the Borden murders, but few have turned a fictional eye to alternative courses Lizzie’s life might have taken after her release. Patricia Hoch, the widow of MWA Grand Master Edward D. Hoch, has kindly given us permission to post this story from Ed’s Ben Snow series, in which Lizzie’s story is imaginatively continued in a way other than it did in reality. The story first appeared in the September 1993 EQMM, and it is copyrighted by the estate of Edward D. Hoch.—Janet Hutchings


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Five years ago I posted on the topic of serialization on EQMM’s webpage forum. I continue to be asked, often, whether EQMM serializes novels or novelettes. My position has always been that any piece we publish must be sufficiently self-contained to leave readers who will never see the next installment with the sense that they’ve read a complete work of fiction. When a magazine is published monthly, rather than weekly, it’s important, I think, not to leave even those readers you know will be with you by the time of the next issue in too much suspense. A month is a long time to wait if you’re on the edge of your seat, and elements of a continuing story can easily be forgotten in a month’s time.

In the years since I gave that explanation, however, a lot has changed in the wider entertainment industry. Increasingly, television series are being presented not in episodes that can each stand alone but with continuing story lines. In a genre such as the family saga, this makes perfect sense. It’s not terribly hard to remember the circumstances necessary to follow the continuing storylines of such shows, and the long-term conflicts and entanglements of the characters are what the fun is all about. With a mystery the situation is different, for a mystery, almost by definition, must have a complex plot. That’s why I was so surprised to discover that a hallmark of the TV series Longmire is that the solutions to murder mysteries are left unresolved not only from episode to episode but from season to season. Though a solution to the murder of Walt Longmire’s wife was finally arrived at after a couple of seasons or more (I’ve forgotten now exactly when), the last season available on Netflix (Season 4) ends with yet another murder, this one at a construction site, still not fully resolved. Although I like the characters and the setting of this series a lot, I find that aspect of it less than satisfying. I’m certain I will not recall the circumstances of that murder by the time the next season becomes available (and I probably won’t care by then), and I would not want EQMM’s readers to become apathetic over so extended a cliffhanger in something we published. That said, I realize that when it comes to television series, many people now consume them in marathon viewings of several seasons together—in which case it may actually add to the excitement to have lots of carry-over between episodes and seasons.

There are many in the entertainment business who don’t at all share my objections to making readers or viewers wait long periods for the resolution of a story. Maybe that’s partly because, even looking way back at the history of fiction serialization, there’s evidence of people’s willingness to wait. The English magazine Cornhill began monthly publication in 1860 with an issue that sold a reputed 110,000 copies—a phenomenal amount if you consider the population at the time. Like the weeklies that began to appear around the same time—Household Words and All the Year Round, for instance—Cornhill’s fiction consisted mostly of serialized novels. I’m no expert on the history of magazine fiction, but it doesn’t surprise me that novels were the meat of these early fiction periodicals, since the modern novel predates the modern short story, which was only beginning to come into its own in the mid 1800s.

Readers of those early fiction magazines seem to have hung on the next installment of the novels serialized in them, often lining up to get copies. The top writers of the day—Thackeray, Wilkie Collins, Dickens—all filled editorial positions with the publications for which they wrote, and were well aware of what their readership wanted. When you read a Dickens novel you can see the mark magazine publication left on the work in the way so many of the chapters begin by reminding the reader of where the characters were last seen.

So, long-continuing story lines, stretched out in publication over time—the serialization of whole novels, for instance—can work. But it’s also true that some of those early magazines that were so successful in serializing novels eventually shifted over to the emerging short story form. Ladies’ Companion, which published Poe’s short story “The Mystery of Marie Roget” (albeit in three installments), and Graham’s Magazine, with which Poe was even more closely associated, are examples of publications that serialized novels but also relied increasingly on the work of short-story writers.

I think the short story works a lot better in magazine format than the novel, and I suspect that most current editors would agree with me—since most contemporary fiction magazines rely almost exclusively on short stories rather than long fiction. The short story seems to me the ideal sort of reading for a publication that can be slipped into a pocket or handbag. Portability and the short story go together. It’s no accident that magazines such as the original Strand, which published so many of the first great short stories in our genre in the 1890s, flourished along with the newly booming commuter traffic by railroad.

But of course, the extraordinary revolution in publishing over the past couple of decades is changing the landscape yet again. Electronic reading devices have already somewhat softened my resistance to serialization in a monthly magazine such as ours, because now that readers have the ability to archive lots of back issues of a magazine on a tiny device, they can easily refer back to previous installments.

I have a final objection to serialization that can’t be eliminated so easily, however, and that is that there are few enough places for the short story to find a home as it is, without precious magazine space being given over to the novel—which already dominates the literary scene. I also believe that our readers come to us precisely because they love the short story, and the unique experience of reading something that can be comprehended in a single sitting. Poe thought one of the most important characteristics of a short story was the singular impression it can make on the mind—and that its ability to do so was tied to its being read without a break.

What do you think—as readers, writers, or editors—of novel serialization in magazines?—Janet Hutchings

Posted in Books, Editing, Fiction, Genre, History, Magazine, Publishing, Readers, Suspense, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Mysterious Secret Lost Reason For This Title (Buried Inside The Following Post!) (by Kristine Kathryn Rusch)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a winner not only of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazines Readers Award but of the comparable award given by our sister publication Asimov’s Science Fiction. Mystery and science fiction are not the only genres in which she excels, however. She also writes fantasy and romance and, as she says, whatever else catches her fancy. Her next science-fiction novel, The Falls, to be released in October, could also be classified as a mystery, and she has a new mystery novel, A Gym of Her Own, due out in March of 2017, just a couple of months after her next EQMM story is scheduled to appear. Kris’s versatility is evident in the editorial realm as well. She is a past editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and she recently coedited Kobo Presents the Best Mystery and Crime Fiction of 2016. In this post she shares her thoughts about the classification of fiction according to genres. We can’t think of anyone better placed to consider that topic than she.—Janet Hutchings

Let me tell you a secret:

I have never understood genre. In fact, I had no idea what a genre was until my friend, science-fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson, explained genre to me when we were in college.

Even after that, I didn’t entirely understand genre. As a human being, I’m rather anti-classification. When I go to a bookstore, I go to a book store, not a genre store. Sometimes I go to a genre store, such The Mysterious Bookshop in New York or Mysterious Galaxy in California. But mostly, I go to a store. If it happens to have books, I look at the books.

All of the books. Every last one of them.

I’m more interested in the story, not the trappings that make it easily identifiable to someone who wants to classify that story to, say, put it on a bookshelf so that customers can find it.

Which, I suppose, explains my entire writing career. My mind militantly refuses to stay in one genre. In February, I turned to my Diving Universe series—a science-fiction series that the fans like, and which has won numerous readers awards from EQMM’s sister magazine, Asimov’s. I needed some world-building questions answered, so I decided to write a novella to explain things to myself. (Yes, my process is that weird.) When I finished it, I figured, I would send it to Sheila Williams at Asimov’s and see what she thought.

So . . . I started the story with the image that came to mind. (I do that a lot.) I could see two pairs of shoes getting wet on a high overlook above a roaring waterfall, and a dead body in the pool of water below.

Mystery opening, not an sf opening.

In fact, for weeks, I fought that opening hard, looking for the robot or the spaceship or the computer that would make the story science fiction. My brain kept telling me I was writing science fiction, but my training—my genre training—told me I was writing a mystery.

Finally, a month in, I gave up and started a second novella, on an alien planet, with a character in a base deep underground. And my rebellious mind relaxed. There it is, Fool, my brain said to me. See? I told you that this project was science fiction.

I hadn’t known until that moment that Novella 1, at the waterfall, was related to Novella 2, taking place deep underground.

What my brain hadn’t told me was that it had decided to write an unrelated novel in the Diving universe—unrelated to all the series characters, and focused on a mystery, with a coroner and detectives and security officers and murder most foul.

I called that book The Falls, but the cover image for the October release has a waterfall and a spaceship.

Yes, I have an unruly mind. And worse, my mind loves puzzles. Which means that half my writing time is spent in quandaries like the one above. I plan something, my brain throws me a curveball, and I have learned over the years to go with the curveball, not the project I planned.

I write like I read—with no rhyme or reason to it. I look at libraries and bookstores like gigantic smorgasbords, and I become the glutton who must put everything on her plate in case I might want to taste it later on. Sure, I go to the familiar stuff first, the bread, pizza, and cakes of my reading experience, but I do try the other stuff, and sometimes I love it.

Sometimes I hate it, but I never blame the genre. I blame me. I figure the book wasn’t to my taste or I was too critical when I read it or I wasn’t in the mood . . .

You get the idea.

Writers write what they read, and if you look for a thread in all the diverse genres I write, you’ll find (more often than not) a mystery or a secret at the center of it. If you really pressed me, I’d have to say that mystery is my favorite genre.

But by that I mean mystery, not crime fiction (which I also love). Mystery as in something mysterious, unknown, strange and secretive. Put the word “secret” or “hidden” or “lost” in the title, and my hand is reaching for the book before I even realize I’ve seen the cover.

Hmmm. Come to think of it that explains why I ended up with the book I’m reading today—The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett by Nathan Ward. I read a lot about the early writers of mystery, but I’ve been wanting to read The Lost Detective ever since I bought it (mumble mumble) months ago. When I was searching for my next nonfiction read, I grabbed the one with the word “lost” on the cover.

Oh, so predictable.

And yet unpredictable.

When I was a young writer, someone told me or I read somewhere that mystery and science fiction were the hardest genres to write. Only Isaac Asimov was a good enough writer to successfully combine them. Egotist that I am (and that most writers are. Don’t let us tell you otherwise), I decided to prove that statement wrong. I could combine mystery and sf too.

Little did I know that writers from the dawn of time (the dawn of genre?) combined both mystery and science fiction with great success. My determination to prove an incorrect statement wrong showed the depth of my ignorance of the history of genre and both fields, but it ended up being serendipity for me. The first short story I ever sold, “Skin Deep,” started with what looked like a dead body . . . in a pool of water . . . and the story ended up as science fiction.

Hmmm. I see a pattern here.

For those of you new to my work, I don’t just write science-fiction mysteries, or you wouldn’t see my byline in EQMM (although I’ve managed to sneak an sf story or two past Janet—or rather, she decided the mystery element outweighed the sf element). I write historical mysteries and contemporary mysteries too.

I used to rebel at the idea that my Smokey Dalton series, written under the name Kris Nelscott, was a historical mystery series. I started the first book in 1995, and 1968 seemed not that far away. Think about it: The majority of us still used pay phones, not cell phones, and only weird geeky people like me binge-watched TV shows thanks to this weird device called a VCR. Most of us still watched TV live, and didn’t have internet accounts, and drove to the store to get things rather than having things delivered to our doorstep.

Now, 1968 does feel like the very distant past, so distant that when I write a Smokey Dalton novel or a short story about one of the side characters, I sometimes find myself wondering how we handled emergency situations when 9-1-1 didn’t exist. Heck, in 1968, as my research told me, there were no such things as paramedics, so when an ambulance arrived at the scene of a shooting, the drivers pretty much did what Hemingway and his ambulance company did in World War I—they would load the wounded onto makeshift beds and drive like bats out of hell.

I see historical mystery and science-fiction mystery as similar genres, if not the same genre. (See? Told you I have genre issues.) As the writer of both kinds of stories, I have to make you understand the world before you can understand what has gone wrong inside of it. Modern novels set in cultures other than America or Great Britain have the same mandate: We have to understand before we can see the problems. (Even if the problem is a homicide.)

I love that challenge. I also like world-building and getting the details right. I love figuring out how something as small as two wet pairs of shoes (The Falls) or as large as a teenage girl getting raped in a community afraid to call the police (the most recent Smokey Dalton novel, Street Justice) fit into the entire storytelling package.

The best part about writing stories like that isn’t the idea or the research or even those moments of revelation when I figure out who dun what. The best part is writing myself into a corner that wouldn’t exist without the world building in that book, figuring out what went wrong and how my merry little band of characters can believably fix it.

That’s one reason I love writing short stories as well. Short stories always surprise me. First, that I can squeeze an entire crime and its solution into just a few pages, and second, that something that small can be satisfying.

I find short mystery fiction to be more satisfying than many mystery novels. I recently coedited Kobo Presents The Year’s Best Mystery and Crime Stories 2016 alongside John Helfers. My biggest fear, editing a book like that, was that I would soon tire of the short-mystery form—especially considering we hadn’t finalized our contract until the summer, so we had to cram a year’s worth of reading into three months.

My fear was unnecessary. The breadth and strength of the short-mystery market was amazing. I went to my reading chair with anticipation, not dread. The stories were so varied that I didn’t even feel like I had been trapped in a narrowly defined genre—because mystery isn’t narrow.

That’s why I can write romance novels with mystery overtones or mystery novels with romance overtones. Why I can have a classic murder mystery in a far-future sf novel or why I can have hints of an sf solution to my classic murder mystery short story.

I love playing with genre.

And I suppose I lied just a little. (That’s what we writers do: We lie as we search for the truth.) I do understand genre. I understand it well enough to see the lines, and then color inside, outside, and around them.

Just like I see the signs in a bookstore that show me where the mystery section is or the science-fiction section or the romance section. I look at the signs, and then I ignore them.

Reading—and writing—are a lot more fun that way.

I guess it’s really not a secret, if you look at my work.

But I hooked you, didn’t I, when I promised to tell you a secret? I gave this piece just an air of mystery. And I lied.

All great starts to a mystery.

Which is why mysteries are so fun.

Posted in Books, Business, Editing, Fiction, Genre, Guest, Historicals, Novels, Publishing, Readers, Setting, Story, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Writing a New Series” (by Dave Zeltserman)

Dave Zeltserman is the author of the Julius Katz mystery series, which began in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and has won the Shamus and multiple EQMM Readers Awards. Its next entry, “Archie on Loan,” will appear in EQMM’s 75th-anniversary issue (September/October 2016). The Boston-based author also writes in the hardboiled, horror, and thriller genres, and his 2008 crime novel Small Crimes, which was selected by NPR as one of the best crime novels of its year, is currently being filmed, with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the starring role. Another Zeltserman novel, The Caretaker of Lorne Field, which was shortlisted by the ALA for best horror novel of 2010, is also in film development. In this post Dave talks about the planning that goes into series creation. He will have a new series out soon. Its first book is entitled Deranged, and will be released by Kensington in March 2017.—Janet Hutchings

Late last year I was talking with Michaela Hamilton at Kensington Books about writing a serial killer thriller series for them. I’d had eleven crime and horror novels traditionally published, but they’d mostly been standalones. I say mostly because Bad Thoughts and Bad Karma, which were both published by Five Star, featured the same protagonist. But even still, these were very different books, and could just as well have been considered standalones. Bad Thoughts is a grim mix of horror and crime that takes place during several winter months in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while Bad Karma is a hardboiled PI novel with a new-age twist that takes place during the summer in Boulder, Colorado. A funny thing happened, though, while I was writing these novels—I accidentally wrote a mystery series.

These were the eleven Julius Katz stories/novellas I wrote for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (additionally, also a full-length novel Julius Katz and Archie, and an original long novella “Julius Katz and the Case of a Sliced Ham” for The Julius Katz Collection). When I wrote the first story, “Julius Katz,” I had no plans to write any others, but after it won the Shamus and Derringer awards, I figured I should follow it up with another. When the second story “Archie’s Been Framed” won Ellery Queen’s Readers Award, I likewise felt the need to continue it. The same when the fourth story “Archie Solves the Case” also won the Readers Award. As I kept writing these stories, I discovered that not only could I write a series, but that I enjoyed doing so. It was fun revisiting and spending time with these characters, especially Archie. Which brings me back to why I was now interested in writing a thriller series.

When I wrote my standalone novels, the characters and the settings came about organically from the story I wanted to write. Now that I was planning a series, before starting the first book I needed to come up with characters that I’d want to spend years with, as well as a setting, and other decisions, such as the tone and style of the writing. Names of the characters are also something that I consider highly important—after all, would Sherlock Holmes be the same with a different name? Nero Wolfe? Or what if Hammett’s nameless and inimitable continental op had actually been given a name.

The first decision I made was the setting. Having lived most of my life either in Boston or within ten miles of the city, Boston might’ve seemed like a natural setting for these novels, but the city just isn’t big enough to support all the serial killers required for a long series. I needed a larger canvas. New York would be perfect but John Lutz’s terrific Frank Quinn series had already claimed that city. I decided to move the series across the country, and set the books in the greater Los Angeles area. Not only would Los Angeles be more than big enough to support the parade of twisted serial killers who were going to be passing through my books, but I also liked the idea of having a connection of sorts to Hollywood, films, and an insatiable desire for fame and notoriety.

Next came the series characters. As I’d mentioned before I wanted to have characters I liked and would want to spend time with, just as I have with Archie and Julius. The first thing I had to decide was whether to make my serial killer hunter a lone wolf or part of a team, and I went with the latter. By making him part of a team, I could have the team act as part of an extended family with the usual family squabbles, goodhearted jibes, etc. This was important—the serial killers featured were going to be an exceptionally nasty and twisted bunch, so I wanted these books to have plenty of comic relief and areas where the readers could take a breather and spend a few pages with characters they liked.

The name I came up for the head of this team is Morris Brick, whose first name I borrowed from an uncle who was a beloved doctor for many years in Berlin, New Hampshire, and whom my dad used to tell me in his younger days was an ornery and fierce amateur boxer. I came up with Brick because I wanted a name to relay hard and solid, and also Morris was going to be on the shorter side. I also gave Morris a bull terrier, who I named Parker after Richard Stark’s resourceful, very capable, and tough-as-nails antihero. The bull terrier, though, wasn’t going to be in the series as simply window dressing, and as it turns out, he’ll be saving Morris’s life in the first book, being put to good use in the second, and saving hundreds of lives in the third. But there was another reason for adding Parker—having the dog would help define Morris’s character, and owners can physically take after their dogs, right? Physically Morris will have the following characteristics: big ears, thick, long nose, spindly legs and short, compact body. Not good-looking by any stretch. Maybe even a little comical looking. But smart, solid, tough, tenacious. Someone you’d want in your corner. I further filled Morris’s backstory out by making him a former LAPD homicide detective who became a minor celebrity by stopping several serial killers, and recently starting Morris Brick Investigations (MBI). I also have Morris happily married to Natalie, a therapist with her own practice, and who, like the screen legend I named her after, Natalie Wood, is a beautiful woman. They have a twenty-four year-old daughter, Rachel, who is a second year law student at UCLA with aspirations to be a prosecutor. After that, I came up with the other investigators employed by MBI, each with their own backstories, personal connections with each other, and petty squabbles.

Finally, I made decisions on tone, style, whether profanity would be used, and whether I’d have explicit sex or violence. I’m always torn about using profanity. If Dashiell Hammett could find ways around it, every crime writer should be able to, right? On the other hand, if I were to put restraints on how my South Boston mobsters talked in Pariah, it would sound fake. Over the years I’ve written some books that are laced heavily with profanity so that my characters could act and sound naturally, while I’ve written my Julius Katz stories and other novels where I’ve avoided using profanity. For this series I decided to follow Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’s general guidelines: Keep the language mostly clean, and keep the sex and violence offscreen. My serial killers are twisted psychopaths who are going to do very nasty things, and it would be too much for most readers to see their acts up close and personal. The reader will see glimpses of it after the fact, but in most cases, I’ll be cutting away before the killings happen, or describe the events in only the broadest possible terms. Also, while Morris and Natalie will be a loving couple, I’m never going to write about them having sex. Any sex in the books will take place off camera. Finally, as twisted as some of the action will be, there will also be a good amount of humor as a counterbalance. I want these books to be scary, full of surprises, and fun.

It was only after I made all these decisions and written all the characters’ backstories that I started working on the outline for the first book. After completing this book and coming up with ideas for the next two, I arranged with Kensington Books to publish the first three books in this new Morris Brick series using the pseudonym Jacob Stone (when to use a pseudonym is a whole other discussion!). Without the extensive planning that I did, I still would’ve been able to write the first book, but most likely would’ve had trouble afterwards turning it into a cohesive series!

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“Jane Austen and Me” (by Judith Cutler)

Judith Cutler is the author of seven long-running and highly acclaimed series of mystery novels and stories, several of which have historical settings. Her most recent books available in the U.S. are Drawing the Line, starring Lina Townend, apprenticed antiques dealer, and Cheating the Hangman, featuring Parson Tobias Campion. Both novels (published by Allison & Busby) are from series that include short stories for EQMM. We have two new Cutler stories scheduled for upcoming issues. Here, the U.K. author shares some thoughts about writing through a look at the life of a literary genius.—Janet Hutchings

To my shame, although I read all the Jane Austen novels when I was still in my teens, it’s taken me till I’m seventy to make my first pilgrimage to Chawton.

What moved me the most in the famous cottage in a tiny Hampshire village?

The tiny table she used as a desk?

Her father’s bookcase, still holding some of the books she would have read as a young person?

The topaz cross her brother gave her, reminding us of the amber cross William gave his beloved Fanny?

All of these made the heart constrict. But the things that I lingered by longest, in a mixture of admiration, amusement, and fury, were examples of her handiwork. What was one of the greatest English novelists doing, wasting her time making stoles or lace collars or a patchwork quilt?

Jane Austen was being a conventional woman of her period, that’s what. For good and for bad. In many, many ways, for bad.

Take her childhood. Unlike many girls, she actually went to school, but her education ceased at the time when a young mind is at its most receptive. Her family wouldn’t have stopped a son’s schooling at the age of ten. At least Jane Austen’s education didn’t stop then—though Love and Freindship suggests she didn’t master the i before e except after c spelling rule—because she read her way through her father’s apparently uncensored extensive library, the remains of which are still housed in his bookshelf. So although she might not have learned of the ways of the world first hand, there is little in Clarissa left to the imagination. History; religion; philosophy: they must all have been there, because we can see their influence in her own writing. There was her own History of England—not exactly Simon Schama, but more fun. She wrote elegant but clearly heartfelt prayers. And her own characters were advised to undertake “improving reading” to console them and sustain them in times of difficulty, like Captain Benwick’s in Persuasion. But then, to fund her family’s sudden exodus from her beloved Steventon Rectory to lodgings in Bath, most of the books disappeared, sold to strangers.

Bath, you’ll recall, was the elegant spa town beloved of hypochondriacs to which Jane Austen was taken, willy-nilly, when her father chose to retire. There was no family discussion—you can imagine the arguments would have been lively. Just a parental decision, prompting Jane to faint with shock. Had Mr. Austen survived, the move might have been beneficial, in the world’s eyes at least. The Austen sisters might have moved in society, made friends and even found rich husbands—the ultimate goal for a woman of that period. But he died very soon after the move. He left his family impoverished and without a man to give them respectability they could go nowhere, taste none of the delights—theatre, balls, assemblies—that were dancing tantalisingly just out of reach.

Money and respectability: You could not live without them.

Not if you were a woman. Because there was no respectable occupation, apart from being a governess, that a woman could undertake. At Steventon, as a girl, like Catherine Morland, Jane Austen probably played baseball and cricket; as a young woman, she walked for miles about the neighbourhood, probably, like Lizzie Bennett, causing scandal by being unchaperoned. As a spinster in her thirties—as one of four women living in the Chawton cottage—she would have been unwilling to risk gossip, so when she was not writing, she had to occupy herself with traditionally feminine skills. The women weren’t exactly cooped up together—the building is more spacious than today’s notion of a cottage. But they couldn’t afford to live in anything approaching the style of her brother Edward, who allowed them the cottage rent free. Yes, we walked up to his pad, Chawton House, now The Centre for the Study of Early Women’s Writing. Despite its rather plain exterior, inside it’s just the sort of place any family would love to live in, with elegance where the cottage has respectability, and space where the cottage has cosy corners.

I wonder if Jane ever felt understandably bitter. There’s plenty of evidence in her novels after all that she really did not like people with a bob on themselves—people who think that having money and land makes them superior, even if they don’t have the brains, manners or morals to match.

Meanwhile, of course, she was beginning to be a professional writer, publishing novels as a Lady. She wrote not at an executive desk but at a tiny, tiny twelve-sided table, ready to cover her work when a creaking door warned her that visitors were approaching. Her treasured writing slope isn’t on show, but you can find that at the British Library. No ergonomic office chair for her, but a rush-seated one meant for the dining table.

So if writing wasn’t the sort of thing the neighbours could know about, how could she officially pass the time? Music was a vital accomplishment for a young woman, preferably played on the harp, and failing that, the piano. We know Jane Austen was an accomplished pianist, practising before breakfast each day, and there in the corner of the dining room is a Clementi square piano—not her own, sadly, but at least one of the same period. We know that while Cassandra was skilled in watercolours, another necessary skill, there seems to be no record of her sister attempting them. However, she was an amazing needlewoman—not just respectable white work to be distributed to the local deserving poor, but exquisite lace. Some of her lace joins two pieces of muslin to form an enviable evening stole; the best piece is a detachable lace collar. Did she spend hours and valuable eyesight on work like this for pleasure? Or because she couldn’t afford to buy it? Perhaps a mixture of the two. And remember every stitch set after dark would be done in dim candlelight, not in bright light with a magnifying glass or spotlight to help.

And then there’s the patchwork quilt. Technically speaking, since while the piece is backed, it has no wadding, it’s not a quilt, but a coverlet. Mrs. Austen, Jane, and Cassandra all worked on it. Together? How did they divide the tasks? Did one cut, another sew, and the third read aloud while they worked? We know that at one point Cassandra was asked to collect ‘peices [sic—that i before e problem!] for the Patchwork.’ Altogether they used 64 different fabrics, cut into dozens of diamonds and rhomboids of various sizes. There’s a big central panel showing a basket of flowers, and landscapes and flowers in more diamonds round the edges. Quilters will be able to give an expert assessment; all I can do is marvel at the hours Jane Austen spent on it: by hand, remember—sewing machines were inventions of the future. Was she plotting the next novel as she worked? Working out a piece of dialogue? Wondering if the names she’d chosen fitted a character—Mrs. Elton, for instance? Did she worry about the financial deal her brother was making for Sense and Sensibility? Did she break off from time to time to jot down an idea, cursing when she got ink on her fingers?

Suddenly, as I looked at it, I realised that we had something in common, the great genius of the written word and me, a journeywoman mid-lister. I too have to do mundane, prosaic things: preparing supper, mowing the lawn, giving my teddy bear a new fur coat. Actually, I need to. Nonthinking activities give my head down-time, so the creative part of my brain can get to work without any interference. The Austen quilt was probably a vital part of her brain’s re-creation—the hyphen is deliberate! But while my teddy looks very fine, even he will admit that he is not, like the quilt, a work of art, any more than any of my novels would hold a candle to one of hers.

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Back in December of last year (how long ago the busy months intervening have already made that seem!), my post for this site gave a preview of the special issues and events coming up in celebration of EQMM’s 75th anniversary. We’re now more than halfway through release of the year’s special issues, and all of the remaining issues are in some stage of production. July 2016, composed entirely of stories by authors who got their start in EQMM’s Department of First Stories, is on sale now, and on the nineteenth of this month, our August issue, a tribute to EQMM’s former editors, brings back from our archives Eleanor Sullivan’s Edgar-nominated story “Ted Bundy’s Father” and a new story by Edgar-winning playwright Joseph Goodrich in which Frederic Dannay and Dashiell Hammett take center stage.

Our designated anniversary issue, September/October, will bring together new stories by four Grand Masters of the MWA, six EQMM Readers Award winners, several Edgar Award winners, and a number of authors whose books regularly appear on the New York Times best-seller list. Authors include Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffery Deaver, Linda Barnes, Peter Lovesey, Bill Pronzini, Marcia Muller, Charlaine Harris, Peter Robinson, Margaret Maron, Jon L. Breen, David Dean, Tim L. Williams, Doug Allyn, and Dave Zeltserman. Also featured in the fiction lineup are one of the most famous mystery short stories of all time, Stanley Ellin’s “The Specialty of the House” (from our archives) and, of course, a new entry for our Department of First Stories. Special nonfiction articles describe both the literary world and the wider world into which EQMM was born and reveal hitherto unknown details of the original publisher-editor negotiations concerning the magazine. All of this rich content, plus our monthly review columns, is packed behind a stunning cover designed by one of America’s most influential graphic designers, Milton Glaser—who got his start, back in 1954, with a cover for EQMM.

Also not to be missed is November 2016, which celebrates the magazine’s long critical tradition with articles by award-winning reviewer Jon L. Breen and mystery scholar Martin Edwards, and fiction from our archives by one of EQMM’s early reviewers, Anthony Boucher. In December 2016, we’ll tie it all together with a final classic reprint from our archives and a look to the future, as I present a few of my own thoughts about what a magazine such as EQMM has to contribute to the literary scene going forward.

We hope you have enjoyed all of the special issues already in print, and will look forward to those to come. But special issues are only a part of this year’s celebration. As previously announced, Columbia University will be presenting a two-month EQMM exhibition and an afternoon symposium in honor of the EQMM anniversary. Details of those events are on the two-page flier we are attaching below. Please come and join us for what promises to be a lively, colorful afternoon at the symposium and an exhibition that will include founding editor Frederic Dannay’s correspondence with some of the most important mystery writers of the twentieth century, as well as some of the manuscripts he edited and original drawings for EQMM’s early covers.

Looking forward to seeing many of you on September 30!—Janet Hutchings


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“The Story Is the Thing” (by Rand B. Lee)

Rand B. Lee is a freelance writer living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His short stories can be found in many science-fiction anthologies, in periodicals such as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and in the 2013 collection The Green Man and Other Short Stories (Curiosity Quills Press). He is the youngest surviving child of Manfred B. Lee, coauthor of the Ellery Queen detective novels and short stories. Occasionally, Rand’s stories too venture into the realm of detective fiction. And he has helped us celebrate EQMM’s 75th anniversary by contributing an article about his father to our August 2016 issue (on sale July 19).—Janet Hutchings

Every couple of months or so I receive in the mail a box from JABberwocky, the New York literary agency that represents so ably before the world the Ellery Queen literary properties. While the contents of the boxes JABberwocky sends me vary, they usually include recently printed foreign-language editions of Ellery Queen works. Many of these editions are in Japanese; others are in Chinese, Danish, Italian, French, Spanish, or Polish (to name just a few); recently, I received a batch of Queen novels in Korean.

Being linguistically challenged—my repertoire of foreign-language phrases pretty much boils down to “My fat dog” in Spanish, “That’s all” in Danish, and “A dog who knows his duty” in German—my spine tingles when I leaf through these books. They feel magical to me, and what a compliment (I think) that people in other countries want to read my father and cousin’s stories! And since, in my other life, I am a science-fiction writer, I naturally wonder what Calamity Town would sound like in an entirely alien extraterrestrial language, like Vulcan, or Klingon, or Mánafu/túrru.

Mánafu/túrru is the language of the Damánakíppith/fü, a nongendered alien race that appears in some of my stories. I’ve spent endless hours putting together a glossary of this language (writers are always coming up with tangential projects in an effort to avoid the horror of actually sitting down and working!).

In Mánafu/túrru, Ellery Queen is “Élri Kwínik”, literally, “Ellery of the Queen.” Inspector Queen becomes Kréghporrlyeyéstu Kwínik, literally, the “Wary One of the Queen.”

Calamity Town becomes Máha Te’Shíssakik, literally, The Pseudowomb of Troubles. The Finishing Stroke becomes Te’Bvísten Márrushénik, literally, The Strike of the Act of Finishing.

And Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine becomes Te’Vévrelljójodstan Kupréssahá’ik Kwínik—The Written Record of the Hidden Things of the Queen.

This nonsense may be more germane to EQ than you might at first suppose, for my father was a rabid science-fiction fan from way back. In fact, he was one of the circle that dreamed up the idea for the periodical now known as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Anthony Boucher, F&SF‘s first editor-in-chief, was a family friend of ours, and godfather of my oldest brother, Tony, who was named after him. I don’t know how much of an SF (I refuse to use the neologism “sci fi”) fan Fred Dannay was, but I know my father felt about science fiction as he and Cousin Fred felt about mysteries: that genre fiction deserves to be taken as seriously as mainstream fiction is.

In a 1968 address thanking a distinguished writers’ conference for awarding Queen a prize, my father wrote:

What makes your award so memorable to us is that this sort of recognition . . . transcends the personal and becomes a sort of symbolic victory in the battle we have been waging for forty years, to pull the detective story out of its second-class citizenship. I wish I could say that we’ve won the war. We haven’t. Detective stories are still reviewed in gross lots, as if they were so many potatoes. A great many are never reviewed at all. With the exception of a few old war horses . . . the books of most of us get little or no advertising or promotion. Yet the shoddiest of so-called ‘straight’ novels, the most pretentious put-ons, the wettest-lipped wallowings in sex, the dreariest non-fiction, get columns of learned attention and full pages of puff-advertising.

We have never asked for blanket endorsement. There are many very bad detective stories. But we submit that there are also . . . many very bad “serious” books which are regularly asked into the parlor and treated, if not always as welcome guests, at least as ladies and gentlemen. We don’t see why we must always use the tradesmen’s entrance.

My father may have been sensitive to mysteries’ second-class citizenship in part because, as a first-generation child of Russian Jewish immigrants, he had firsthand experience of marginalization. In the 1920s, when Dad applied to New York University as Emanuel Benjamin Lepofsky, he discovered that Jewish students were among the ethnic groups barred from attending the main NYU campus. Later, when he was about to graduate from the Greenwich Village campus of NYU with a summa cum laude degree in English, Dad told a faculty friend of his dream of becoming a college English professor at his alma mater. The “friend” replied, “Oh, Manny, no Jew will ever get tenure in the NYU system—you are all so much smarter than we Gentiles, it wouldn’t be fair to the rest of us.” This prompted my father to abandon his professorship dreams, and change his name from Emanuel Lepofsky to Manfred Lee. (Eventually, Dad’s father and sisters adopted “Lee” as their surnames; and Dad’s cousin and future writing partner changed his name from Daniel Nathan to Frederic Dannay.)

The cousins never gave up their commitment to seeing the mystery genre taken seriously. In the aforementioned talk, my father said: “. . . There are astonishing numbers of detective, mystery, suspense, spy—and the other kinds of stories lumped loosely in our field—that are of high quality: in the imaginative scope of their plots, in their writing, even in what some of us try to convey above and beyond story-telling. But the story is the thing [italics mine], and we are naive enough to believe that the story-teller will always find an honored place at the fireside.”

And thanks in great part to the editors, staff, and readers of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine both here and abroad, well-written mysteries are increasingly granted just such pride of place.

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For a number of EQMM’s contributors, writing for our magazine has become a family business, so to speak, stretching as far, in at least one case, as three generations. We’ve had husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, even a father-daughter-granddaughter in a single family all providing us with top-notch stories over the years. Lovesey is a name we always think of in this regard, for Peter Lovesey is a winner of the EQMM Readers Award and his son Phil began his career as a published writer in our Department of First Stories, giving them each a special place in the EQMM family of writers.

Peter Lovesey is, of course, one of the most celebrated of contemporary crime writers. His novels and stories have won innumerable awards, including Gold and Silver Daggers from the U.K. Crime Writers’ Association, and he is a recipient of the Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement. Phil Lovesey is the author of seven novels, four of them crime fiction, and many short stories, one of which, first published in EQMM, won the U.K. Crime Writers’ Association’s best-short-story Dagger.

It has been one of our goals in this year marking EQMM’s 75th anniversary to pay tribute to the many fine writers whose work has enriched our pages. We never expected two of those writers to celebrate EQMM in the extraordinarily original way the Loveseys have. Apparently, when the family sits down to dinner in Phil Lovesey’s house these days, it is at a table whose surface is a laminated collage of pages from EQMM. I was speechless when I saw this, and I cannot think of anything that better encapsulates the spirit we’re trying to convey in this anniversary year. EQMM has survived and thrived because of the love and loyalty of its readers and writers. In that sense, we truly are a family, and from our hearts we thank the Lovesey family for sharing with us this photo of their table (tipped up so that the camera could better capture its surface).—Janet Hutchings

Phil and Peter Lovesey (L to R)

Phil and Peter Lovesey (L to R)

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