“My Father and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine” (by Richard Chizmar)

Richard Chizmar is the coauthor (with Stephen King) of the bestselling novella Gwendy’s Button Box and the founder/publisher of Cemetery Dance magazine and the Cemetery Dance Publications book imprint. He has edited more than thirty anthologies and has won two World Fantasy awards and four International Horror Guild awards, among other honors. His fiction has appeared in dozens of publications and has been translated and collected in book form; his latest collection, A Long December, was recently published by Subterranean Press. Rich’s EQMM debut was in our March 1997 issue, but until we received this post we had no idea his connection to EQMM goes back much further than that! Don’t miss the new Chizmar story coming up in our November/December 2017 issue.—Janet Hutchings

I grew up in a family of readers. Three older sisters and an older brother, their choice of reading material ranging from the classics and poetry to Stephen King and Sidney Sheldon. Mom loved her Agatha Christies and Reader’s Digest condensed novels. My father was the most voracious reader in the house, and it was his eclectic tastes that most influenced the reader—and writer—I would one day become.

My father enjoyed a wide variety of material. Thick volumes of military history checked out from the local library. Nonfiction books about golf and airplanes and home or car repair. Glossy, oversized travel guides covering an array of exotic destinations, many of which he had visited during his years in the Air Force and many more he one day hoped to visit.

And then there were his favorites: mysteries by the masters, Lawrence Block and Dick Francis and Robert B. Parker. Spy novels by Robert Ludlum and John le Carré and Frederick Forsyth. Stacks of pulp paperbacks by folks like John D. MacDonald, Charles Williams, David Goodis, and Day Keene (almost all of these novels short and sporting nifty titles and even niftier cover art, so they quickly became my favorites as well), these tattered paperbacks usually acquired from the Swap Shelf located by the front entrance of the library.

But my father saved his deepest affection for his magazines. National Geographic. Popular Mechanics. Life. Newsweek. I remember many summer evenings when he would sit out back on our screened-in porch and snip out his favorite articles and collate them into various binders for further readings. I don’t know why, but it seemed like a magical process to me, and I was fascinated by the idea.

And then there was the granddaddy of them all: Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. I don’t ever remember my father cutting out pages from Ellery Queen’s. For him, I think it would have been like snipping out sections of the Bible. Instead, each new issue was quickly read and then neatly collected on a bookshelf in the corner of the den, not far from his favorite reading chair. He never subscribed to Ellery Queen’s (I never asked, but I suspect it because he didn’t want the mailing label to foul up the front cover). He bought each issue at a local book and magazine shop called Maxine’s, and I accompanied him on most of these trips. It was during those car rides that my father first taught me about the history of the magazine and many of its authors. He also told me about his favorite stories and encouraged me to try my hand at my own mystery tales (by then I was writing my own shorts, mostly monster and war adventures, and trying to sell them to my friends). I remember feeling happy and proud that he thought enough of my opinion to share those stories with me and talk to me like a grown-up. I remember feeling the early stirrings of an unbreakable bond that would last us a lifetime.

Years ago, I wrote a Story Note in an early collection of mine that described an idyllic childhood of fishing and hiking and playing baseball with my friends, my father inevitably parked in his car somewhere in the background or perched on the first-base bleachers, the lower half of his face obscured by a worn paperback or the new issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, his eyes peering over the front cover, watching over me. It was a scene I knew well from my childhood days, and a memory I still hold close to my heart today.

***

When I was a teenager, I had two favorite bookstores in the town I grew up in. The first was Carol’s Used Books, which was housed in a couple of trailers, sandwiched between a Dunkin Donuts and a pawn shop. I spent hours in that place, and I can still remember the exact layout (mystery and horror straight ahead and to the right), the sagging, carpeted floors, and the comforting smell of old books. Carol’s closed a long time ago. A used car lot stands in its place now. But I still have dozens of paperbacks on my bookshelves with the Carol Used Books stamp on the inside front cover, and that’s good enough for me.

The second store was called Maxine’s Books and Cards, and as luck would have it, Maxine’s was located right next door to Frank’s Pizza, just about the best pizza shop in the entire world. Maxine’s is where I first fell in love with comic books and later discovered Dean Koontz’s backlist and books by authors such as Bill Pronzini and Ed Gorman and Joe Lansdale. It’s where I bought my first Stephen King paperback and my first copies of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. It’s also where my father and I used to drive together once a month to pick up the brand new issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. For me, Maxine’s was sacred ground.

I never told anyone this—not even my father; some things you just have to keep to yourself—but I always dreamed of seeing one of my own short stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. It always felt like the Holy Grail of magazines to me—and not just because it was my dad’s favorite. It’s where the best genre writers contributed their very best work; you never got the feeling the magazine published trunk or throwaway stories. Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine was where the big boys and girls came to play.

Many years later, thanks to Janet Hutchings and Ed Gorman, my dream came true when my story “Like Father, Like Son” appeared in the March 1997 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

I remember being so excited on publication day that I couldn’t wait for my contributor copies to arrive in the mail. Sadly, Maxine’s was long closed by then, so I drove to the next town over and picked up a couple copies from a magazine shop. I stopped at my parents’ house on the way home and gave a copy to my father. I sat in the den and watched him read my story, a hint of tears in his eyes. That was a good night.

***

My father is gone now. Cancer. During his final days, I often sat at his bedside and read to him. On his night table sat books by Ed Gorman and Stephen King, a copy of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and a stack of other periodicals. When we weren’t reading, we talked about life and the people we loved and good books we had read. I told him how my oldest son was devouring books and comics and starting to write stories of his own. We smiled and laughed and cried a lot. We remembered a lot. Those long weeks were the hardest days of my life, but I wouldn’t have traded them for anything in the world.

***

All these years later, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine is still here. A time capsule of fine words and memories. For that, I’m grateful.

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4 Responses to “My Father and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine” (by Richard Chizmar)

  1. What a wonderful story and memory. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Lou manfredo says:

    Richard,
    Thanks for this. I’ve spent the last two hours fondly reflecting on my own dad and his incredible contributions to my life, including what successes I’ve had as a writer. I owe that to your essay. Again, thanks.

  3. Josh Pachter says:

    Wow, what a lovely reminiscence — and what a tribute both to EQMM and to your dad. Thank you for sharing, Richard!

  4. Very nice piece. I can imagine it must have been awesome to get a story published in EQMM. Looking forward to the new novella with Stephen King!

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