EQMM: An October Anniversary

llery Queen Mystery Magazine May 1957

Not quite eighty yet, but damn close. Crime Reads’ 10.1.19 masthead notes that Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’s first issue debuted 78 years ago this week on October 1, 1941. Technically it was titled Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine then, losing the ”’s” in 1991, I think.

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine January 1966

The pseudonymous writing team of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee who’d been publishing under the pen name “Ellery Queen” since 1929 had already tried and failed with one magazine in 1933: Mystery League. Still determined to give the reigning crime fiction pulps some high-quality competition, they gave it another go in 1941, and this time things clicked. That first issue with seven short stories, including pieces by Dashiell Hammett and Cornell Woolrich, sold 90,000 copies. Helmed primarily by Dannay, who continued as editor till his death in 1982, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine started out as a quarterly, then bi-monthly, and went monthly in 1946.

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine 2

I recently took a chance on an Ebay mixed lot of EQMM back issues, the buy-now price not much more than the big box’s postage. I’ve been burned and burned bad a couple times on Ebay, and yes, a few went in the trash, too demolished or mildewed to hold onto. But I still ended up with an assortment of issues from the 1950’s through the 1990’s, and will probably try my luck again soon. And I usually buy the current issues, edited by Janet Hutchings for almost thirty years now. Sure, I like some issues better than others, but I’ve never had one that disappointed, and consider nearly 200 digest-sized pages with that wonderfully tactile and nostalgic newsprint paper for a mere $7.99 a genuine bargain.

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine December 1951

From that first issue that sold for two-bits 78 years ago with Hammett and Woolrich, consider some of the talent that’s appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine over the years: Jorge Luis Borges, Agatha Christie, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Patricia Highsmith, Stephen King, W. Somerset Maugham, David Morrell, Manly Wade Wellman, P.G. Wodehouse…oh, and Phyllis Diller (seriously). To say nothing of how many incredible emerging talents who got their first major credit in EQMM. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is now the longest running mystery fiction magazine, and has teamed up with Black Mask to include that publication’s material in each issue as well. I’ve never submitted, and doubt that I ever will, but you can call me a fan, ‘cuz I truly am. 78 years is quite a legacy.

Elery Queen Mystery Magazine

The New Pulpeteers

taya ferdinand shutter - pulpeteers

The July 2019 issue of The Writer magazine’s cover story was focused on literary agents – “Pulling Back The Curtain – What Does A Literary Agent Really Do?” by Kerrie Flanagan, followed by a nice interview with agent Donald Maas (a name that ought to be familiar to any querying writer, genre writers in particular), plus Ryan G. Van Cleave’s article on literary agent contracts. Savvy pro’s might groan and say they’ve read it all before. Newbies might lap it all up, and as for myself — somewhere in between — I always find some bit of new info in these articles, no matter how often I’ve retread the same ground in writers’ magazines or blogs. And seriously, how can you go wrong with an interview with a sage like Donald Maas?

But the article that really caught me by surprise in this issue was Heidi Ruby Miller’s “Introducing The New Pulp…Pulp Fiction Is Back, Baby”, a nice three page look at the resurgence of pulp fiction, distinguishing between the classic pulp era and contemporary writers and starting by acknowledging what was worrisome about mid-twentieth century pulpdom. Defining new pulp, Miller quotes Tommy Hancock of Pro Se productions: “Fiction writing with the same sensibilities, beats of storytelling, patterns of conflict, and creative use of words and phrases of original pulp, but crafted by modern writers, artists and publishers.”

Mystery Weekly Magazine

Most of Miller’s overview addresses adventure pulps like Doc Savage, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, Pellucidar and Barsoom novels, SF/Fantasy material from vintage Lovecraft, Bradbury and Campbell, etc., as opposed to the mystery/crime fiction pulps. And after all, one could argue that crime pulp never really went away, merely migrated online and into periodic anthologies. Even with the disolution of so many 1930’s – 1960’s pulp magazines, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine are still out there, pulpy paper and all. Maybe the writers appearing inside don’t want to be classified as ‘pulpeteers’, or who knows? Maybe they’d be proud to wear to wear the mantle. After all, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine has been emblazoned with a violator on the cover for a while now noting “With Black Mask”, and I can’t think of anything that evokes the classic crime/mystery pulp era better.

three modern pulps

Miller’s article concludes with a list highlighting new pulp resources: Sites, cons, podcasts and even print/online pulp publishers, though again, those are more adventure/fantasy pulps than crime. That’s OK. ‘Pulp’ ala Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective, Sally The Sleuth and The Domino Lady may have faded away, or only live in reprints and some questionable revivals, but the noir-ish and hard-boiled flavor of the classic pulp era is still alive in a lot of talented mystery/crime fiction writers’ novels. Still…it sure would be nice if some well-heeled entrepreneur like the fellows who launched the original Hard Case Crime paperback line got a bright idea to launch a for-real ink-on-paper mystery/crime pulp magazine…wouldn’t it?

(Taya Ferdinand illustration from The Writer magazine)

Can’t Go Wrong With EQMM

EQM519-Cover

I understand why publishers prefer readers to subscribe to their magazines, which can sidestep costly distribution and retailer discounting and enable better readership forecasting and print runs. But I happen to like buying my Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (still called the original title Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine on the perfect-bound spine) at the store. There’s something delightfully retro about those digest-sized books with their flimsy cover stock and pulpy interior paper. Paying a cashier (in cash) and walking out with a copy just feels right, somehow. Like I should be buying a pack of filterless Luckies and some Beechnut gum to go along with it.

EQMM March April 2019

EQMM has been at it for nearly eighty years now. That’s a heck of a lot of crime fiction, and almost too many writers to count when you think about it. I’ve heard some folks dismiss the publication as too soft, old fashioned, or even ‘cozy’, though my response to that is simply, “Hey, have you actually read it?”

The fun of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is that you get to read a little bit of everything, and can do so at a reasonable price. I don’t have the new May/June 2019 issue yet and actually just finished the March/April issue, with tales from Bill Pronzini, Joyce Carol Oates and Carolyn Hart. Harley Mazuk’s “The Road From Manzanar” was a sprawling and thought-provoking piece of literary fiction about a former volunteer in the Spanish Civil War now faced with combat again as the U.S. enters WWII, and Mazuk somehow managed to condense this amazing tale down to 18 perfect pages. R. J. Koreto’s “The Girl On The Roof”, a delightfully dark bit of adultery and murder with a good ‘gotcha’ ending, and Robert S. Levinson’s bittersweet Golden Age Hollywood tale “All About Eve” were particular favorites this issue.

In a way, EQMM and the companion digest, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine are the closest thing we still have to the old pulp magazines. Sure, I could get either for my phone or tablet. But what’s the fun of that? The print digests simply feel right in my hands. There’s that subtle but tangible scent of that newsprint paper stock. And I’m still hoping I’ll stumble across a downtown newsstand or Mom-n-Pop corner store where I can buy my next copy…maybe with a pack of filterless Luckies and some Beechnut gum.

Heck, I don’t even smoke filterless Luckies…

EQMM Dec 1953

 

 

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