Saturday, December 05, 2009

Sunday Guest Blogger: Linda Landrigan, editor, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine

Linda Landrigan is editor-in-chief of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. I had the good fortune to meet her in 2004, when her husband, editor extraordinaire, John, bought the second novel in my Jack Austin mystery series for the University Press of New England. There are few couples who know more about the mystery genre. To her credit, Linda has also edited the commemorative anthology Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine Presents Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense, published in 2006 by Pegasus Books. She graduated from New College in Sarasota, Florida and received her master's degree from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. I know you will enjoy her essay below.


Many thanks to John Corrigan for inviting me to visit this terrific blog. I thought I’d type a bit about short stories, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and the opportunities of technology.

I know that the travails of the publishing industry have been an occasional topic here, but despite these challenges, the mystery genre remains one of the most popular segments of the industry. Given the popularity of the form, I’m surprised sometimes by the number of avid mystery readers who don’t know about Hitchcock or about our sister publication, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. I think this is partly to do with the evolution of the magazine industry and partly to do with reading fashions, but I believe that change is in the wind: I believe that AHMM and EQMM are well- positioned to thrive in the new landscape of reading technology.

Though many people are aware that there was a period in the middle of the twentieth century when readers looked to magazines for fiction of all kinds, the industry as whole has been moving away from fiction for decades, and so consumers have naturally lost the habit of looking for it in that quarter. While Hitchcock, Queen, and some science fiction magazines have kept the faith, the reading public has learned to turn almost exclusively to books when it wants fiction. Except possibly for the New Yorker, magazines no longer generate an automatic association with fiction in the mind of the consumer.

If you aren’t familiar with AHMM, we are a digest-sized magazine that publishes original mystery and crime short fiction. We publish monthly (or rather, ten times a year, with two double issues). Each issue contains eight to thirteen original short stories that vary in length, tone, and subgenre. Four times a year we publish “Mystery Classics,” selected and introduced by our regular contributors. And we include a fairly challenging mystery-themed puzzle in every issue, as well as our “Booked & Printed” column of book reviews and a very popular “Mysterious Photograph” short-short writing contest.

We don’t publish on glossy paper, or run photos of hot young movie stars, or prattle endlessly on Whosit’s latest peccadillo, or bury our content under pages and pages of advertising. And yet, even without the glitz of the glossies, we still have a loyal and steady base of subscribers who far outnumber the buyers of small literary journals or even of the themed anthologies that seem to be proliferating. Our readers tend to be well educated and relatively well off. A portion of them subscribe to the magazine because they are avid short story readers but not necessarily mystery lovers.

I think of our readers, of course, when I start to pull together an issue from the stories in our inventory. Our readers like a little of everything, so I strive to create an issue with a lot of variety. I like stories that are tightly plotted, with clear, well-written prose, and a fresh perspective. (A good story is sometimes hard to define, except in the negative: I don’t like plot strands that go nowhere, obvious red herrings, a back story that isn’t particularly pertinent to the story at hand, vague or generalized language . . . ) It’s a thrill for us to introduce new writers to our readers. It’s a thrill to offer a new story from a literary luminary. But who we publish is less important that what we publish, and what we have to offer is some of the best fiction on the market, or so I believe.

Before we publish anything I have to like it. I have to get drawn into a story that takes a different turn than the hundreds of other stories I’ve read recently. I have to fall in love with the dialogue that is teasing and has the cadence of poetry and yet sounds natural at the same time. I have to sense the locale, have my imagination pricked by the historical details, my understanding of the world altered (if even just a little bit) by the unfolding of the premise of the story.

But back to the business of publishing—there is no denying that the newsstand is struggling today. Years ago, when fiction digests and pulp magazines were more numerous, you could find AHMM and its sister magazines at a number of locations—the grocery store, the local (and independent bookstore), the tobacco shop. Nowadays, the magazine rack is shoved to an inaccessible corner in my local grocery store. Independent bookstores aren’t being serviced by the national magazine distributors, and the small news shops are disappearing rapidly.

To reach out to new audiences we’ve had to stretch our wings a bit. We’re available for all the electronic readers produced by Amazon, Sony, and Barnes & Noble, and for other hand-held devices. We have an active forum Forum page on our Web site (http://www.TheMysteryPlace.com) where I and my counterpart at EQ, Janet Hutchings, post regularly and engage as much as we can in a conversation with our readers.

And most exciting—to me—is our newest venture, podcasting stories from our archives and making them available for free in order to develop more short fiction aficionados. You can link to the podcasts from our Web site, or go to http://ahmm.podomatic.com/.

Podcasting is new—so new the annoying spellchecker on my email system doesn’t recognize it as a word—and yet it recalls something very old at the same time. It highlights the performative aspect of storytelling. The sound of the story, the need to pace the story for dramatic effect, to provide transition cues for the reader, for precision in syntax—these are all things you become aware of as you listen or even as you prepare your story to be read aloud.

Podcasting recalls a time when we spent more time entertaining or engaging one another swapping tales. It reminds us that storytelling is communal; for every writer there is a reader, or a listener, and an exchange of ideas. Writing may be solitary, but story telling—and publishing—is not. Storytelling is a dialogue with the world, and at AHMM we’re proud to be a facilitator of that dialogue.

I invite everyone to check out our Web site and post on our Forum page, download our stories, and of course, submit a few of your own. You’ll find our writers’ guidelines right on our Web site.

Happy holidays!

5 comments:

Chris Well said...

Great post! I've been a fan of AHMM and EQMM going back to my childhood - but somehow missed the news about the new podcast series. I'll have to check that out!

Shirley said...

I just found this post today. I love AHMM and EQ. I've been a subscriber for years.

The podcast series sounds interesting. I'll go check it out.

sanjeet said...

somehow missed the news about the new podcast series.

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