"Fifty years ago this month, Josh Pachter appeared in EQMM's Department of First Stories, while still a teenager! In the intervening years he's authored more than sixty stories, many of them collaborations with other authors -- making him one of the most successful literary collaborators in our genre. He's also one of mystery's foremost translators. To express our congratulations, we've posted his 1968 first story on elleryqueenmysterymagazine.com!"
My first short story, "E.Q. Griffen Earns His Name," appeared in the December 1968 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Sometime around 2015, I realized I was coming up on the fiftieth anniversary of that story's publication and decided I ought to write something special to celebrate the occasion.
It seemed pretty obvious to me that the appropriate celebration would be to take the main character from my first story -- who, like me, was sixteen years old in 1968 -- age him half a century, and give him a new crime to solve. It didn't take me long to get from that to the idea of confronting the grownup E.Q. not with a new crime but with an old one -- with, in fact, a crime from fifty years in his past.
It had to be a dying-message murder, I decided, since the dying-message story is a standard Ellery Queen device, and after considering and rejecting several possibilities I finally had a Homer Simpson "doh!" moment and realized that the perfect dying message would be the numerals five and zero: 50.
I already knew where E.Q. would be as an adult, and what he would be doing, since my daughter Becca and I Easter egged a "Professor Griffen" into our collaborative story, "History on the Bedroom Wall," which appeared in the September 2009 EQMM. The professor taught English at Middlebury College in Vermont (Becca's alma mater, so another Easter egg in and of itself) and his first name was never mentioned, but Becca and I knew he was E.Q. Griffen, all growed up.
But what, I thought, would cause the adult Ellery to revisit a fifty-year-old crime? I wrestled with that one for a while, and finally came up with an answer I absolutely loved. In the original Ellery Queen novels and short stories by Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, "Ellery Queen" is both the author's pseudonym and the name of the main character, a detective-story writer whose father is a New York homicide cop and who helps dear dad solve "real-world" crimes. So what if "E.Q. Griffen Earns His Name" wasn't written by Josh Pachter in 1968, but by Ellery Queen Griffen (whose father was, after all, a policeman!), who grew up to become a teacher of literature? Then, as the golden anniversary of the publication of E.Q.'s first story approached, he could pull down a copy of the December 1968 EQMM from his bookshelves to have a look ... and find, bookmarking the first page of his story, a photocopy of the dying message from a case he and his father had failed to solve -- or, as I ultimately decided, had incorrectly solved, fifty years in the past!
I wrote the story, submitted it, and crossed my fingers. And not only did editor Janet Hutchings buy it, she agreed to run it in the November/December 2018 issue, exactly fifty years to the month after my debut appearance in EQMM.
On October 5, 2018, Jackie Sherbow (who is the magazine's associate editor) sent me the cover image for the November/December issue, and I was absolutely thrilled to see that -- for the first time since the the October 1973 issue -- I was listed on the cover!
In conjunction with the publication of "50," I read "E.Q. Griffen Earns His Name" for the magazine's November podcast, and, as editor Janet Hutchings mentioned in her introduction to the story, she posted the text on the magazine's website. Meanwhile, I wrote about the new story (and my fifty-year history with the magazine) at "Something is Going to Happen," the weekly EQMM blog, and also contributed "50"-related blog posts to "The First Two Pages" (which is Art Taylor's continuation of a worthy web feature begun by the late B.K. Stevens) and "How It Happened" (the International Thriller Writers' weekly blog).
"50" wound up taking second place in the 2018 EQMM Readers Award balloting, and, on April 25, 2019, a couple of hours before the Mystery Writers of America's annual Edgar Awards banquet, the magazine threw a lovely party to announce and celebrate the three winners. The photo shows (from left to right) third-place winner David Dean, EQMM editor Janet Hutchings, first-place winner Stacy Woodson, and me.
If you'd like to read the story, you can download it from the "Writing" page of this website.
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