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Janet Hutchings

Janet HutchingsWe always intended the irregulars to be comprised of ardent advocates for the recognition of EQ and his work. With the Ellery Queen novels now out of print in the United States, the fact that the name 'Ellery Queen' is recognized at all in the States today is largely due to the continued survival of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. To this day EQMM provides the ultimate forum for aspiring mystery writers and lovers of good detective fiction. Stephen King has correctly observed that EQMM is "the best mystery magazine in the world, bar none."

Throughout the magazine’s 70-some years of publication it has only had three editors – Ellery himself (in the person of Frederic Dannay), Eleanor Sullivan, and then for the past 20 years Janet Hutchings, the newest inductee into the Irregulars. I had the pleasure in meeting Janet at the Ellery Queen Centenary in 2005 and I can personally attest to her zealous advocacy for mystery short stories, her tireless encouragement of new and established writers and her continued championing of our good friend, Mr. Queen, who lives on through the magazine Janet builds anew each month.

Janet has graciously allowed us to re-publish the following essay that she wrote for inclusion in The Tragedy of Errors reflecting on the history of EQMM. Welcome, Janet, to the West 87th Street Irregulars! It is hard to imagine a more worthy addition.

Kurt Sercu


The editorial legacy of Ellery Queen surrounds the staff of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in the most tangible, physical way. One wall of the current editor’s office is covered with the nearly six hundred issues of EQMM Queen himself edited, and next to them a floor-to-ceiling bookcase houses the dozens of anthologies that bear his name, in hardcover, paperback and special newsstand paperback editions. Shelved on another wall are the single-author short story collections “presented” by Queen. On most work days, letters from one or more of the distinguished authors Queen introduced to the magazine arrive in the office’s in-box or computer e-mail. Or a visitor will appear in reception: someone who knew editor Queen personally.

As every reader knows, Frederic Dannay was the man behind the signature “Queen” or “Ellery Queen” when it appeared in EQMM as the cognomen of the magazine’s editor; Ellery Queen the writer, on the other hand, was the partnership of Dannay and his cousin, Manfred B. Lee. Seventeen years after the death of Frederic Dannay, there are still more objects one can point to in EQMM’s editorial office that were Queen’s own work than there are magazines or books or papers by the magazine’s subsequent editors.

Let’s try to imagine this office seventeen years hence. By then the number of issues and anthologies created by editors other than Queen will almost equal those he edited himself, and the number of authors who can claim to have shaken hands with him will have dwindled to a very few. Queen will no longer have the sheer physical presence he has at the magazine today, but the person who sits behind the editor’s desk in the year 2016 will still be surrounded by his legacy, for the legacy of a truly great editor—and Queen was one of the very best—goes beyond the authors he discovers and the individual books and magazines he edits. A great editor changes the way people think and establishes standards of taste that carry beyond his own time. No one in the mystery field has ever done this more completely or with more enduring effect than Frederic Dannay.

When Dannay launched his first mystery periodical, Mystery League, in 1933, a wealth of fine crime writing was being published in the better pulp magazines, but because of the pulps’ lurid packaging, readership generally didn’t extend to those who considered themselves connoisseurs of “literature.” Dannay set out to change that; he wanted the American reading public to think of his beloved genre as “a genuine literary form,” and with that end he determined that Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, the second periodical he put on the market, would take the respectable shape of a book, with book quality paper and printing.

EQMM’s design was only the first step up the slope Queen scaled seemingly effortlessly in the years to follow. It wasn’t very long before EQMM was being hailed as not only the finest periodical in the genre, but a favorite of literati such as Dorothy Parker. Dannay had succeeded in raising mystery fiction and particularly, as he put it, he “raised the sights of mystery writers generally”—in other words, he changed the way writers themselves thought about their craft.

Frederic Dannay accomplished his transformation of the mystery genre not from EQMM’s official offices, but from his home in Larchmont, New York. Long before telecommuting became fashionable, Queen employed the telephone lines to maintain thoroughgoing control of the magazine he founded and the story anthologies that bore his name. A lesser editor might have thought it enough to have set the publication’s goals and tone, and have left the nitty-gritty to other members of the staff. Not Queen.

On hearing that Crippen & Landru were preparing a volume celebrating Queen’s accomplishments, several EQMM authors offered to share with us their experiences with Fred Dannay in his capacity as editor. Dorothy Salisbury Davis, an MWA Grand Master whose work for EQMM dates from EQMM’s Seventh Annual Worldwide Short Story contest of 1952, had much to say about Queen’s hands-on control of his magazine. She told us of Dannay’s dictation by telephone of sometimes extensive letters to authors. A secretary at the New York office, she relates, would take down what Dannay had to say, type it, affix the Queen “signature” with a rubber stamp, and send his correspondence out to the many places across the globe in which he had discovered talented writers. Those letters might explain anything from a title change to extensive revision of a manuscript.

Said Bill Pronzini, an author whose work Queen admired:

He [Queen] was an editorial tinkerer—often changed story titles, and substituted words and phrases and rewrote sentences in the text—and I’m not really comfortable with that sort of thing without being consulted. But I never once disagreed with an editorial change Fred made in any of my manuscripts; and only once did I dispute a title change, and then mildly. His revisions were always carefully considered from the writer’s point of view and invariably made a thought or plot point more clear, sharpened characterization, improved dialogue or narrative flow.

Many of Queen’s editorial “tinkerings” survive today in the several long-running series of EQMM’s most prolific and cherished short story writer, Edward D. Hoch, who writes:

Fred suggested occasional ideas for stories, things for Nick Velvet to steal, new characters I might try. On at least two occasions, with Rand and Dr. Sam Hawthorne, he immediately recognized the potential for a lengthy series in just the first story. And in both cases he suggested important changes in my protagonist’s name. Rand was shortened from my original “Randolph,” perhaps to suggest James Bond. And my “Dr. Sam” acquired the New Englandish family name of Hawthorne.

Editors’ changes are not always so kindly interpreted as “suggestions,” as they are in Ed Hoch’s letter. But we know that Queen’s changes usually met with acceptance even when authors disagreed with him. Multiple EQMM Readers Award winner Clark Howard recalls that Dannay couldn’t always explain why he wanted a certain revision, but says, “I respected him enough that he didn’t have to.”

The reverence writers felt for Frederic Dannay had its roots, in part, in the enormous status Ellery Queen enjoyed as a writer. With one hundred fifty million copies of his books in print worldwide, he was known to nearly everyone who ever picked up a work of popular fiction. Added to this was Dannay’s extensive, scholarly knowledge of the literature of crime and detection. Whatever sort of mystery fiction they wrote—be it hardboiled, cozy, pure detection or suspense—writers knew they were in the hands of an editor who understood what they were trying to achieve.

For readers, Queen’s vast knowledge of crime fiction and the use he made of it in his publications was revolutionary. Dannay believed that the intelligent reader of literate Golden Age whodunits would enjoy well-written private eye and espionage and pure suspense stories, too, if the best writers of these tales were presented to them in a single book—alongside their favorite Golden Age authors. It was something that had never been tried before, and it worked like a charm. During EQMM’s first decade, as Dannay reprinted stories he’d gathered for his own personal library of crime fiction (the most complete collection in the world), slowly adding previously unpublished stories by both famous and unknown authors, EQMM’s circulation soared. To both writers and readers he had become the editor.

The esteem, and sometimes awe, in which writers, especially newcomers to the magazine, held Queen made it easy for him to inspire and draw from writers ever better work. By the sixties, EQMM was receiving stories from new writers who had grown up with the magazine and were among its most loyal readers. One of those readers-turned-writers, William Bankier, still thinks of Fred Dannay with affection. A simple complimentary remark from Dannay as he introduced on of Bankier’s stories was enough to encourage the young writer to develop his unique talent. Clark Howard, who began selling stories to EQMM in 1980, describes his brief conversations with Dannay as “memorable moments. Talking to a living legend is always a fine experience.”

By the sixties and early seventies, Queen had become a living legend as an editor, but fame never caused him to become unapproachable. Friends such as Dorothy Salisbury Davis recall that he loved nothing better than to put his feet up on a chair and talk about the craft of the mystery, both the short story and the novel. He was warmly welcoming, and for that reason, writers remember him with fondness as well as respect.

As for the editors of EQMM (present and to come), we cannot but think appreciatively of Frederic Dannay, for we work within the structure he created. So sound were the principles and ideals on which Dannay founded his magazine that EQMM remains today essentially Queen’s house. Entertainment combined with insight into the human condition, that is how Frederic Dannay once described the best mystery fiction—and that is what he dedicated EQMM to providing. Over the years, EQMM’s subsequent editors have made a few minor renovations: an out-of-style paper removed from a wall; a room or two added to accommodate new developments in the field. But never an alteration to the fundamental design, which was meant to be encompassing and grand—including, as Queen said, the best the genre had to offer, both old and new—always of the highest literary quality.

Janet Hutchings

© Original text 1999, Used by permission

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Other articles by this West 87nd Street Irregular
(1) On Editing  at Something is going to Happen (Aug 8, 2012)
Holiday Shorts  at Something is going to Happen (Dec 19, 2012)
(3) Interview with Janet Hutchings  by Art Taylor (Dec 1, 2015)
(4) The Mysterious Women of Dell Magazines: Janet Hutchings by Robert Lopresti
     at SleuthSayers (June 21, 2018)

Page first published on Jul 1. 2011 
Last updated Nov 4, 2018

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