Mystery Magazine: At 70, Ellery Queen's publication still has a clue
The last couple of decades have been rough but editor Janet Hutchings says the Internet era is now boosting EQMM's profile and leading to a rebirth.
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Q: Female authors remain a major force in the mystery world, and the last few decades have cemented their place as writers of psychological thrillers and private eye novels instead of just classic whodunnits. Are women making inroads in short stories?
A: At least two thirds of our submissions are by men. I don't know why that would be. It seems to occur more with the short stories.
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Q: EQMM's sister magazine is Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, which is still around. How does it differ from your magazine?
They publish basically the same types of mysteries, although there's probably a little more emphasis on the supernatural –ghost stories – and they publish a humor issue.
We definitely publish more stories from other countries. Each month we run a story in translation, and for years about 20-30 percent of each issue has been from Britain.
Q: EQMM has a large stable of regular writers, but it also regularly publishes first-time authors. How many submissions do you get from newbies?
A: I'm getting about 250 a month, and we run about 10 first stories a year, so the odds are about 1 in 275. That's not bad compared to a lot of literary magazines, some of which get even more submissions.
Q: What advice do you have for wannabe EQMM writers?
A: In all these years and all the writers conferences I've gone to, I listen to the advice people get and think, for every rule they're told, someone will break it successfully. Like, "Have a great opening line or you won't grab an editor's attention."
The most popular theme, especially for new writers, is the spousal murder. I do get tired of seeing that unless it's done really cleverly. That's a scenario we could definitely see less of. And there are people who take things from news stories. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that, but you'll go through periods like when we were getting all sorts of stories about child abuse. It isn't a good subject for us.
Q: I was reading the current 70th anniversary issue and noticed modern touches like cell phones, email and even an assault weapon in a story about a bank robbery. Those, of course, weren't in stories when I read EQMM as a teenager. (Never mind when that was.) How has technology affected the stories themselves?
A: It's become a lot harder to plot stories, whether it's a book or a short story, unless you set a classical mystery in the past. With all the communication we have, it's harder to keep any kind of secret.
Q: How has technology affected the magazine itself?
A: The last 20 years were rough, or at least the last 15 of them. We lost American Family Publishers and Publishers Clearing House, the main agencies through which we sold the magazine. All magazines were affected.
Now, we have podcasts and e-editions, and I read submissions entirely on a Kindle. It's hard to think of anything that's being done that we're not into. It's changed everything. We've turned a corner, and I think this is actually a good time for the magazine.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.