I won’t be offering a glowing intro today for my guest – because I simply don’t know who the hell he or she is. Sounds like a mystery plot, huh? There’s a killer somewhere, but who can it be? Well, all I can tell you is my guest today is ‘The Editor From Hell’. And guess what – he/she invited himself/herself. I mean, since I don’t know this personage – it stands to reason I sure as hell couldn’t invite same personage, right? Right.
So, what to do? Decline with diplomacy? Offer an excuse that an interview would be difficult since he/she isn’t known to me – therefore how can I pose dumb questions to a stranger? Not this kid. For all I know – he/she could be looking at my standalone at this very moment. A fool, I’m not. Well, mostly not. Okay-so what to ask? Hmm. I pondered. Mix it up, I thought. Maybe slip in a sneaky question that might provide a clue to his/her identity. Yeah, that might work. So help me out here, okay? Maybe one of you can figure it out. Let me know if you do, okay?
So – come meet The Editor From Hell.
EE: Let’s start out easy – maybe this question will help us to know a bit about you. What was your childhood ambition?
EFH: To have been able to spend a week with Ernest Hemingway, to hear his tales – the real tales – to drink him under the table and do some carousing. Sadly, he was dead before I could make that ambition a reality.
EE: You must have been some kid! I mean, that’s a rather mature goal. Would I be correct in assuming you are a man?
EFH: I was, and am a unique person. My ambitions are not mundane. As to my gender, I’ll just say that some women carouse as much as men. And some women drink rather well. I would expect Evil E to know that.
I have to admit – I can bend a few with the best of them, but that was in my younger days. So, okay-you get one brownie point.
EE: As an editor – what is your biggest challenge?
EFH: You can’t be serious. Okay, I’ll bite. I’d have to say it would be dealing with ego-driven whining writers and editors/publicists fresh out of college who think they know what the market desires, but are too young to have had enough life experiences to know what they’re talking about. They want to set the world afire with matches that don’t strike anywhere. It matters little that they work long hours – what matters is they fail to see the big picture and what it takes to get there. They don’t understand nurturing. Slash and burn is their motto.
Amen and Hallelujah! An editor of the old school lives!
EE: As an editor – what inspires you?
EFH: Besides brilliant writing that is marketable in this ‘dumb down’ society? Besides a unique voice? Simplicity (such as Hemingway) inspires me. Lean prose. Memorable characters who will linger after the last page is read. I line out twenty-dollar words and and metaphors that do little except to show the reader how clever one is. They are, in most hands, a trick conjured for literary pretense. James Lee Burke is an exception. Diane Setterfield, in her wonderful book, The Thirteen Tale, is another exception. Yes, I read Dorothly L too.
You read Dorothy L?? Aha – you’re one of those lurkers, huh?
EE: Which historical literary figure do you most enjoy reading?
EFH: For my personal pleasure I find I revisit many writers. Not all are ‘historical’. In particular – Charles Dickens, James T. Farrell, Raymond Chandler, Robertson Davies and James M. Cain – and last, but not least, Sidney Sheldon. These were master story tellers. We see few of this ilk today. Quantity pushes today’s market, not quality.
James T. Farrell and the Studs Lonigan trilogy! Wonderful! Hey, I’m getting to like you. You may be okay.
EE: What questions do you habitually ask your writers?
EFH: Why did you do this? What were you thinking when you wrote this? Why do you continue to ignore my suggestions? What makes you think this will work? Why didn’t you research this properly?
Oh. Sorry I asked.
EE: What do you most admire in a man and a woman?
EFH: It’s a good thing you didn’t ask what I deplore. You’d be treading on dangerous ground, Ms. Evil. And your readers might not like my answers. In men and women, I appreciate the same attributes: strength of character, honesty, compassion, a healthy sense of humor and a genuine lack of hubris. Too lofty, I fear. But one can hope.
So you think my readers won’t be able to take the truth, huh? Watch me.
EE: Let’s tread on that dangerous ground. What do you deplore in a men and women?
EFH: You just had to go there, didn’t you! You have earned your moniker. Then be warned. In men – in addition to the opposite of what I admire – I deplore swaggering and the constant insertion of a famous four-letter word in every utterance. It’s the mark of a stunted vocabulary (particularly for a writer) and an overt attempt to prove one’s masculinity. It’s not that I’m adverse to the word, I use it myself-but only when it fits a need. In the female species – I’m mostly dismayed by the trend to dress like a hooker – and then be aghast when ‘hit upon’. I find tattoos on women to be obnoxious and reminiscent of time when only low-class women were so adorned. Oh, yes – women seem to adore agendas which stem from little logic and are born of adolescent emotions. Should you now conclude that I am a male, let me say that many women share these sentiments.
Uh, you’re certainly not shy, are you! Note to readers: Don’t email me with your rants. If you want to vent – do it here and get it off your chest. 🙂
EE: I shudder to ask what your pet peeves are.
EFH: I have many. I think you’ve already discovered a few, but I can add two more. First, my impatience with writers who ignore editorial suggestions, who can’t seem to adhere to deadlines, who demand a paid tour, who fall apart when their book does not land on the best seller list, and who can’t handle negative reviews. Second, as a member of the mystery community, I find it discourteous of male writers attending awards banquets sans a tie – particularly at the Edgar’s, where I feel it denigrates the dignity and importance of the event. I view this as an immature act of insolence and less an impression of appearing to be ‘cool’. I also consider it a lack of breeding.
Who can argue with that?
EE: On a lighter note – what brought you to Murderati?
EFH: I see you’re looking for compliments. Murderati was recommended by another editor. And I read about it on Dorothy L.
EE: Of course I’m looking for compliments! What? You haven’t it in you to offer one?
EFH: I’m here. Isn’t that enough?
EE: Not really. I mean, you volunteered to be interviewed. Why then?
EFH: Let’s just say I find your interviews refreshing, light hearted and a nice break after a hectic week. I decided it would be fun to – as you often say – ‘play’.
Yeah? Well, you seem to have a funny idea of what ‘playing’ means.
EE: Okay, what book do you consider your greatest acquisition?
EFH: If I told you, then you’d know who I am.
So what’s the big mystery? We won’t tell. Honest.
EE: You know what? You’re no damn fun. Of course we want to know who you are! What is this? Another Ms. Snark trip?
EFH: Hardly. I’m the real thing.
Oh oh. I can see the flack coming. Everyone duck.
EE: How about this one? What book are you sorry you didn’t buy?
EE: Ha! Too late. You had your chance earlier. Come on now – get serious.
EFH: You just scolded me for not playing – I’m trying to be light hearted.
Yeah? Well, that was TOO light hearted, pal. I have feelings.
EE: You just lost your credibility with me – so now we’re back to regular questions. Who would be your ideal panel mates at a con?
EFH: You’re a hard woman to please. To your question then. J.K. Rowling, Val McDermid and John le Carre. Oh, James Sallis, of course.
Hard to please? Yes, I’ve been told that before. And you’re failing.
EE: You appear to lean towards U.K. writers. Why?
EFH: They are better educated and they have a finer grasp of the language.
Oh, great! I just lost my audience.
EE: Now that we’re alone here – you might as well let it all all. Earlier, you praised ‘simplicity’. While your choices are favorites of mine as well – I wouldn’t call Rowling’s writing ‘simple’.
EFH: Ah, but it is. For all her complexity and detail, she doesn’t waste words. None of my choices do. This is where having a greater grasp of the language shows.
Okay. I see your point. Maybe I should dig out my Harry Potter books and take another look.
EE: Which writer would you love to have all to yourself in a cozy corner of the bar at the next con? (If anyone dared sit with you, that is.)
EFH: You, of course. You fascinate me. That’s why I’m here. Your ability to ask inane questions is original and amusing. I enjoy the way you offer your readers a more human side of their favorite authors. I suspect your guests (aside from the exposure they experience here) welcome this opportunity to display their sense of humor and fun. What a rare joy it must be to let one’s hair down. Your On The Bubble reminds me of the ‘roasts’ comedians once had. Not quite the same format, but the same spirit. I must add – your alumni are impressive. And now, I have joined the ranks.
Oh. Well, uh…I am of course flattered. But it sure as hell took you long enough to say something nice. Too bad the readers are gone now. I’d love to have shown off. In any case, you’re forgiven. Thank you.
EE: Where do you see the world of mystery (and genres) going? It has been said in some quarters that it’s losing readers and on the way out.
EFH: Don’t be daft! Aside from too many mediocre books on the shelves from writers more interested in ‘being a writer’ instead of writing, mystery, etc – will never see a demise and will continue to flourish. What I see disappearing – is ‘chick-lit mystery’. The majority are poorly plotted, characterizations are thin and vaporous, and in my opinion, a waste of readers money. Those writers would do well to return to romance. I refuse to accept them from agents. I liken them to ‘See Spot Run’ books.
I hear a shuffling of chairs out there and a low roar. I thought for sure everyone was gone. Hold it, okay? I’m just asking the questions. Save the bricks for after I leave. I don’t run as fast as I once did.
EE: I’m almost afraid to ask the next question. Here goes. What are your thoughts about the onslaught of self-published book in the marketplace?
EFH: Generally writers who self-publish can’t make the grade. That’s not startling news. Happily, they are not a part of the ‘onslaught’ in the book stores. What IS crowding the shelves, is a new popular ploy to create a personal imprint by writers who are unable to attract a legitimate publisher. They come up with an indistinct name, take out a business license (usually a friend or relative will do this-so as to not leave a paper trail), create letterhead and business cards, and then have their tome published by a local printer. They offer generous discounts and a return policy to book store owners (mainly independents) and then – Voila! – they have a publisher. Said publisher will then place ads in industry publications, convention programs and sometimes place a small ad in a local market. The telling clue here is that said publisher rarely, if ever, publishes any other writer – and you can’t contact them to offer a submission. This is the ‘onslaught’ that is eroding the market. This is the reason the pie, so to speak, can no longer be cut in enough pieces to feed the legitimate family of writers in the mystery (etc) community. This is why writers are being dropped, why good solid series and standalones are no longer meeting their sell-throughs. Publishing is no different from any other business. We’re all slaves to the numbers game. There are simply too many writers competing for the same dollar.
Not great news, by any stretch – but I’m glad I asked.
EE: Okay, last question. I’ve figured out who you are. Otto Penzler, right?
EFH: Who? Sorry. The name doesn’t ring a bell. I’m kidding. But seriously, If I were, would I tell you?
Damn! Foiled again! Well, to those of you still with us – my thanks for sticking around. And, of course – my thanks to my guest – whoever he or she may be. I hope he/she will visit again. (?) I’m kidding too. It was a pleasure…