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12 Questions for Edward D.Hoch

Throughout the years I've been on the web I had several emailcontacts spanning the globe. I've always found these contacts to be generous and contradictory to the bad 'press'  the net receives. I have to admit that for most people in the U.S. it must seem odd a website on 'Ellery Queen' made by a Belgian fan. Maigret would have been a more likely choice or even Poirot. Mostly I understand the apprehension but it was most definitely not the case when I received a short email from Edward Hoch. It corrected his date of birth and stated he enjoyed the site. I gathered all my courage and dared to ask him if he'd agree answering a few questions I'd prepare. A prompt 'no problem' followed. Ed has written an impressive oeuvre which in itself is worth acclaim, attention, a website,... given the subject of this site I did focus on his collaboration with regards to the Queen partnership....

Crippen & Landru publish high quality mystery books. For the record I am not affiliated in any way with them so I'm recommending this freely. You have to stand in admiration of the quality of bookbinding, design and story selection they offer. So it comes as no surprise you'll find Edward Hoch's work amongst their current books in print - click here

Q: It is quiet striking to notice that many mystery writers often have more than a keen eye for the work their peers produce. Immediately Frederic Dannay comes to mind with both his large collection of Detective Fiction and subsequently massive knowledge on the subject. He wasn't the only writer who had more than a special interest in the stories others produced. Examples of this admiration can be found throughout the Queen-canon and attest to this fact. It has become common, to put this knowledge to good use: more than often we find writers becoming editors and/or anthologists. As is the case for actors who want to be director some editors have tried their hand at novels too. How important is it for a mystery writer to stay up-to-date with what fellow writers produce? Is this knowledge imperative? Is this always 'helpful' or just the opposite?

A:  I believe it is essential for writers in a particular genre to be aware of
     what has gone before. Sadly, I find that a surprising number of our
     newer mystery writers lack this knowledge.

Q:  Jon L.Breen has written a very good article in 'Tragedy of Errors' in which he states: "The multi-faceted Queen has been viewed as a brand name rather than an author" I found the phenomenal contribution they made is to keep the mystery story 'alive and well' in various fields of media without losing their own special distinctive trademark. But in the beginning I got hooked on Queen by means of their mystery novels which should count for something.
In your opinion did they ever consider leaving the 'franchise' to someone else? In such a way that someone could take over the writing  'per se' of Ellery Queen stories? Would this have been a good option?

A:  In the years following Manny Lee's death, Fred Dannay twice
     approached me about continuing the stories, and said he'd send
     me his outline of 'Tragedy of Errors,' but he never did. I think he
     couldn't quite bring himself to take on a new partner. After Fred's
     death his sons contacted a number of writers about completing the
     novel but no agreement was reached. That was why the outline
     was finally published as Fred wrote it.

Q: Several Great Detectives have stories in which they die. Sherlock
    Holmes,Poirot, Inspector Morse and (even) Barnaby Ross, ... Would
    there be a specific reason why Ellery Queen is missing such a book? Is
    there an ultimate pastiche left, a 'death by deduction' ?

A: Sherlock Holmes and Drury Lane died because their creators wanted
    to devote their time to other more rewarding (to them) writing
    projects. Doyle wanted to devote himself to historical novels and
    Queen to the better-selling EQ novels. Christie saved Poirot's death till
    the end, after she's stopped writing, and that may have been the case
    with Morse too. Most writers may "retire" a character (as Ed McBain
    has done with Matthew Hope) but they keep him/her alive just in case
    they're needed.
I don't think anyone would want a book in which EQ
    died. After all, the authors did it with Drury Lane.

Q:  Fred Dannay had somewhat of a legendary reputation as a strict editor, as described by Janet Hutchings 'Editors' changes are not always so kindly interpreted as 'suggestions'
You evidently had no trouble considering them as suggestions and took them to heart. It seemed to me that that it seemed well known whatever name one found for a story sent to EQMM Fred would find a better name for it. I often wondered what would happen if one didn't agree with the changes made. (Apart from the descriptions of the modus operandi Lee/Dannay had.) Several authors mentioned corrections being made to their works and refer to discussions they had (phone, letters, personal,...) with Fred. However they never told us how these decisions were made. Was it always one way traffic?

A:  Pretty much so. I would sometimes give my opinion, but if Fred insisted on a change I wouldn't argue too much. I doubt if other authors did, either. One of my most reprinted stories, "The Leopold Locked Room" was originally titled "The Vengeance Room." I still think that's a good title, but Fred had convincing reasons for changing it to tie in more closely with the Leopold series, and I finally agreed.

 

Q:  It still strikes me as odd to hear that both partners were haunted by self-doubt. Several incidents have been described in which both Dannay and Lee undervalued their importance as writers or anything else. Surely they must have been aware of what they accomplished?
E.g. Manfred's role in the equation has been downplayed a lot, surely his role in the 'franchise' is equally important? 

A:  I think the self-doubt was stronger on Manny Lee's part. He wanted to write more serious fiction. But he did contribute a great deal to the series, including (I believe) a final surprise for Fred. (Warning: Solution revealed.) In the last novel, "A Fine and Private Place," EQ topped "The French Powder Mystery" in which the killer's name is the final two words of the novel, by having the killer's name appear only twice in the entire book, as its opening words and closing words. The killer appears in several scenes, but is always referred to in other ways. Manny died a few weeks before the book was published, and when I mentioned to Fred how clever this was, he didn't seem to know what I meant. I believe this gimmick, unique in detective fiction, was Manny's final surprise for Fred. 

Q: I still found it strange there is so much controversy on the subject of
    the ghost ownership. Jack Vance, e.g., has been noted to say his
    prose was stolen. You took it upon yourself to write 'The Blue Movies
    Murders
.' By that time the farming out of the paperbacks was well
    known. Were there in your agreement with Lee/Dannay clauses with
    regard to signing the book, or even admitting you wrote it?

A: My agreement was not with Dannay/Lee but with Scott Meredith, their
    literary agent at the time. I was not to reveal that I had written it,
    but after a few years that information started appearing to print, in fan
    publications and in Hubin's "Crime Fiction", so I felt I was no longer
    under any obligation to remain silent. Fred never objected to the
    authors' identities being made known.

Fred Dannay, Japanse mystery writer Shizuko Natsuki and Edward D.Hoch at the 3rd Crime Writers International Congress in Stockholm, Sweden, in June 1981. Photo Courtesy Edward D.Hoch

Q:  Apparently Dannay/Lee wrote The Finishing Stroke when they had both begun to feel that with the advance of technology in the science of criminology the traditional sleuth was no longer a necessity. It would be more difficult now to come up with plots where Ellery's reasoning process would be needed. Do you feel there is any truth in this?  Why not, e.g., create a 'historical' sleuth who roamed the 40s and 50s?

A: There are many more historical mysteries being published today than in past decades, and I feel this may be part of the reason. Sue Grafton has frozen her Kinsey Millhone series in the mid-80s, and I feel that if EQ were to be revived today it would best be set in the 1930-70 period of the original novels.

Q:  Did Lee conquer his writers' block after The Player on the Other Side/Fourth Side of the Triangle/And on the Eighth Day books? 

A:  Apparently Lee returned to his part in the collaboration with "Face to Face," but again suffered problems and was unable to complete "The House of Brass," which was written by Avram Davidson from Fred's outline, as were "And on the Eighth Day" and "The Fourth Side of the Triangle." ('The Player on the Other Side" had been written by Theodore Sturgeon from Fred's outline.) Just prior to "Face to Face," Lee collaborated with Dannay on the framing sections of "A Study in Terror" added to Paul W. Fairman's novelization of the film. It's still not clear to me who wrote the EQ short stories produced during the early 1960s, but I suspect Fred Dannay might have written "Abraham Lincoln's Clue" alone, or with very little help from Lee.

Q: Fred was a truly brilliant plotter. He did sometimes hide some
    'Hitchock-like' appearances in his books in e.g. On the Eighth Day (his
    birthday). It seems to me something 'ghost writers' would do as sort
    of tongue-in-cheek reference to its 'true' origin. Did you never
    contemplate such techniques, e.g., in The Blue Movies Murders

A: I never did it in that book, but occasionally I've slipped something in at other times. I have two stories in a forthcoming anthology "Murder Most Catholic." The Hoch story is titled "The Arrow of Ice," and the other story, as by "Stephen Dentinger," is "Cemetery of the Innocents." In the latter I have a character remark that the victim may have been killed by an arrow of ice that then melted, a reference to the earlier Hoch story in the same book.

Q: Did they ever discuss the origin of their characters (Djuna, Paula Paris, Nikki Porter,...)?

A:  No. I think Nikki Porter originated with the EQ radio plays, simply because they wanted a female voice along with Ellery and his father. They tried to work her into the novels after that, with a variety of explanations. Paula Paris was meant as love interest in "The Four of Hearts" and the four sports mysteries. I suppose she was dropped in favor of the more likable Nikki Porter.

Q:  You wrote the last EQ story -- the short Christmas story in the Tragedy of Errors collection. Since Dannay was contracted to write it, and didn't, one wonders whether Dannay was simply as 'incapable' of writing narrative as Lee was of concocting plots. This is sort of hard to imagine because e.g. the outline of Tragedy of Errors is so complex that it would take 'little' to expand it. What are your thoughts on this?

A: It was Fred's agent, Scott Meredith, who contracted for the Christmas story, possibly without Fred's initial knowledge. (They often assigned ghost writers to do these things.) I felt honored that Fred wanted me to write it rather than one of Meredith's ghosts. If my suspicions are correct that Dannay wrote one or more of the later short stories alone, it might  be that by 1975, four years after Manny's death, he simply did not want to undertake the task himself. 

Q:  Many athletes reach a stage where they no longer feel 'up to it'. No longer getting the sense of fulfillment they once found in their sport they abandon it completely.
Is their such a thing for writers? Can you imagine a life without writing?

A:  No, and neither can most writers. Occasionally someone will announce their retirement from writing, but they usually change their mind before long.

(Interview via email Copyright © April 25.2002 -  Edward D.Hoch - Kurt Sercu)

 


January 2008

News has been published on the forum of EQMM that Ed Hoch has passed away.
Ed's willingness in 2002 to let me have an
"Enterview", to me, was one of the highpoints in the history of this site.
It was our privilege to have met him in person at the Centenary. One of the last collaborators with the original "Ellery Queen"! A great writer and a kind man to talk to. His track record (in both senses of the word) of continuous publications in EQMM will attest to this fact.

Edward Hoch at the 2005 Centenary in NY
Edward D. Hoch (1930-2008)

 

 

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