This week, the first issue of 2021—EQMM’s eightieth anniversary year!—will be released to the printer. It looks as if the beginning of 2021 will find the world still under the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s perilous conditions have parallels to the world into which EQMM was born—when many countries across the globe were already at war, with the US soon to enter the conflict.
I’ve been reflecting upon what EQMM editor Frederic Dannay must have felt after Pearl Harbor (in addition, of course, to sorrow over the appalling loss of life): whether he worried that his new publication would sink consequent to the attack, like the many ships lost that day, or whether he felt confident that there would be a demand for EQMM’s kind of entertainment even as people addressed pressing life-and-death concerns.
Such questions were unavoidable for us last spring when the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the country and shutdowns made it uncertain, at first, whether we would be able to get our magazines printed and distributed. We were incredibly fortunate on that score, suffering no significant disruptions to our production or distribution processes—thanks, in part, to the stalwartness of our warehouse staff, who persevered through the many difficulties of socially distanced split shifts. The question whether people would still want to read EQMM, however, was another matter. At the beginning of the pandemic, fiction sales in general were down, but since most of our sales come through subscriptions (which typically run for periods of a year of more), we did not expect to see a big impact right away, and we didn’t.
A couple of months into the pandemic, the situation began to change. In a July 26 article in the Observer, Paul Bogaards, executive vice president of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, was quoted as saying that “As we got deeper into the pandemic, people started coming back to fiction. . . . But they were coming back to fiction they were familiar with. . . . In terms of hardcover fiction, familiar brands like John Grisham, James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks and Steven King . . . proved popular.” The article goes on to say that “Readers also favored backlist books (those titles published 12 months ago and more) rather than opting for newer releases. “Backlist books accounted for a higher percentage of sales than previous years, while new releases (front list titles) sales were roughly 1 percent to 20 percent lower than backlist sales,” Priya Doraswamy, a literary agent at Lotus Lane Lit, tells the Observer.”
It’s too early to know for sure how EQMM and the other Dell Magazines fiction publications will come through the pandemic. We’ll have a better idea by the end of the year. But I will go so far as to speculate that if at this moment in our history readers are interested in names they can trust and in a familiar type of content for fiction (as the Observerarticle suggests), we have a good chance of making it to the other end of this crisis intact. For while EQMM seeks always to remain on the cutting edge of developments in our genre, we are also anchored firmly in the best of crime-fiction tradition. Each of our issues, as regular readers will be aware, is a melding of the established with the new.
The first issue of our eightieth year is the perfect example of this, containing half a dozen authors entirely new to our pages alongside some remarkable selections linked to crime-fiction history. The most extraordinary entry from the latter category is a never-before-published story by Cornell Woolrich, discovered just a few months ago in the Woolrich archive at Columbia University by Woolrich biographer Francis M. Nevins. Originally intended for the novel-in-stories Hotel Room, which was published in 1958, it somehow escaped notice after it got cut from that book. Mike (Francis) Nevins tells EQMM that one other eliminated story subsequently appeared in our magazine, but this one seems to have lain entirely forgotten amongst Woolrich’s papers until now. Neither story was cut for lack of quality but, rather, due to not fitting the book’s theme. (For more on this you’ll have to wait to read Mike Nevins’s afterword to the story in the January/February issue!)
This “new” Woolrich story—which we’ve given the title “The Dark Oblivion” (the title on the typescript read “The Fiancée Without a Future”)—is far from being of interest only as a lost work by one of the most important crime writers of the twentieth century. On the contrary, it is, for me, a haunting tale that adds something of real interest to the Woolrich oeuvre. Thank you, Mike Nevins, for bringing your discovery to EQMM!
Another “new” work—new at least in being a first translation into English—that should interest crime-fiction classicists is January/February’s Marcel Aymé story “The Touffard Affair.” Aymé’s character O’Dubois, who appears in this story, was, some say, the French Sherlock Holmes. Aymé died in 1968, and the fact that this story has never before appeared in English was the discovery of translator Anne Bru.
As our eightieth year progresses there will be other such discoveries (and rediscoveries). March/April, for instance, will see the first appearance ever of Mickey Spillane’s iconic character Mike Hammer in the pages of EQMM. Again, it’s a “new” work—turned by Max Allan Collins from a relatively obscure Mickey Spillane script for a film that never aired into a short story. As for the rest of the 2021 celebration, I’ll update you as we go along.
I don’t mean to jump the gun here, as we have two more issues for 2020 to go (our current issue, September/October 2020, and our holiday issue, November/December 2020). I’m very pleased with both—and think you will be too! But I wanted to give you a heads-up as well about what’s ahead in 2021, and to say that I hope you’ll stay with us for the journey. In its nearly eighty years of publication, our magazine has navigated many difficult straits. The pandemic is not the first, and with your help, it won’t be the last. —Janet Hutchings