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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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?

EFH:  Yours.

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…


  1. Naomi

    Thanks for making it a pleasure to wake up early on a Saturday morning! Good job, Evil E. And Editor from Hell, love your answers– except what’s wrong with a girl with a tattoo?

    –Tatooless in L.A.

    p.s. I think you two should team up again on OTB throughout the year.

  2. Deni Dietz

    Editor From Hell, I like how you think! You can edit my books anytime. And I promise I shall follow your editorial instructions without one murmur of protest.

    I don’t know why EE thought anyone would leave the Bubble in the middle. I found the interview totally fascinating.

    Hugs,Deni, who has read every Hemmingway novel and loves His short stories. I’d add Poe to the “sparse, make-every-word-count” list. How about a panel with Hemmingway, Poe, and – for diversity – Steinbeck? Wow.

  3. JT Ellison

    I agree with Naomi — Evil and Hell, a regular Saturday feature. Can you imagine how much we’d all learn?Thrilled to have the Editor from Hell grace our blog, and a great interview, EE.Editor, may I ask for your most important piece of advice for new writers?Best,JT

  4. pari noskin taichert

    The lack of B.S. in EFH’s responses has become his/her trademark. It’s refreshing and I’m glad EE inspired you to play here at Murderati.

    The point you made about the personal imprints is incredibly distressing — though true. I have acquaintances who’ve opted for this route. Only one had good reason for the decision.

    It’s horrid when I walk into a new bookstore to introduce myself as an author and to see the buyer’s eyes glaze over. Because of this, I have to go into my rap about the national nominations etc. etc. etc. and that feels too much like a commercial rather than a real interaction.


    Oh, well.

    Thanks so much to Elaine for her superb OTBs and to EFH for taking the time for this great conversation.

  5. Louise Ure

    Wow. You got more than you bargained for here, EE. Terrific interview. And you managed to raise six of his/her seven veils, but I still don’t know EFH’s identity!

  6. Elaine

    Evil & Hell? Together? Hmm. The two do seem to go together, but…but…I’m not sure. I might get my fingers burned.

    Seriously – thank you all for finding EFH’s comments interesting and not too damning. ๐Ÿ™‚ I must say – he/she was a challenge and a lot of fun to spar with.

    I invited EFH to join in…but I’m not sure if EFH will…you know what it’s like with editors…they have a habit of putting you on hold.

  7. Linda L. Richards

    Anonymity is boring. Iโ€™ve enjoyed so many of your Bubble interviews, Elaine, but this one left me cold. Since neither you nor your readers know the identity of this subject, the responses end up being somewhat meaningless. This could, after all, be an author in disguise. It could be a reviewer. Hell, it could be a bricklayer or a baker. Your Bubble interviews are enjoyable in part because there is an element of risk involved. Even when your subjects jest and joust, whatโ€™s fun is the fact that we know who they are and weโ€™re seeing a different layer of a mind we know slightly. With an unknown subject the fun and the risk are absent. Elaine, you did a good job with a prickly subject but, if I got a vote, Iโ€™d say that, in future, you should stick to interview subjects with the courage to identify themselves.

  8. Elaine

    Linda brings up a good point – could this Editor From Hell be a writer putting us on? Egad! Wouldn’t that be something to laugh about? And a reviewer, bricklayer or baker? We may never know, but while it was fun to play with EFH – Linda’s right in that knowing our guest does add a bit more zing.

    Hell’s bells – what if it’s Ms.Snark in another incarntation? Hello? Calling Ms. Snark, are you out there? Wanna drop by and clear the air?

    I’ll betcha she doesn’t…

  9. M.J

    EE – you did do a good job but I’m with Linda. There’s nothing in there that required the editor to be anon. We’re all willing to bare a little soul or breast here on your bubble – why not him/her?

    And men in ties? There’s a lot deplorable out there, that’s an odd pick.

  10. Naomi

    I don’t have a problem with EFH’s anonymity. On the other hand, during my newspaper editing days, we would keep quoted anonymous sources to a minimum (of course, we would know the identity of the source in the newsroom). But in Internet sphere, other rules seem to prevail. Miss Snark, POD-DY mouth, etc. all blog anonymously and they all seem to have loyal followings. Of course, without knowing an agent’s or editor’s true identity, you have to evaluate what they state accordingly.

    I do get Linda’s point–that there needs to something at stake, too, especially for entertainment value.

    So, Editor from Hell, why don’t you tell us? Why do you want to remain anonymous?

  11. Iden Ford

    The dance between and author and their editor, when going over a manuscript, should be one of both lead and follow. Fractious relations with one’s editorcan be completely de-motivating for the vulnerable author. I will tell you that my wife’s experience with Ruth Cavin, on her first four novels was wonderful for both, and they remain good friends today. Her current editor used to be a copy editor until she was promoted to Mystery editor. I will let you read between the lines and imagine what it is like for her when they review the manuscript line by line over an eight hour day!!!! I have to to help pick up the pieces. Challenging times for authors unless you are selling one million books everytime you get published.

  12. JLW

    As if Otto Penzler would object to women dressing like hookers. What were you thinking?

    Personally, my guess is the Editor from Hell is a woman, especially based on (traditional gender-neutral usage of the pronoun, here, my friends) his comments about chick lit mysteries, tattoos, and neckwear.

    Anonymity is his personal choice, and there might be very good reasons not apparent to us as to why he has chosen to invoke it, not the least of which may be workplace environment. Arguing over it is like debating who actually wrote Shakespeare: it doesn’t remotely matter who did it, as long as it got done.

  13. Elaine

    ‘haughty, self-serving, egotist, elitist’? That pretty much covers the field. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I was curious as well (about being female)- it was the ‘tie’ thing. But then, I can’t say that I disagree. Why can’t men wear a tie to the Edgars? If memory serves-JLW wore a tux a couple of years ago-and he was the best looking man in the damn room. And I’d say that even if he hadn’t posted. Honest.

    M.J.!! ‘There’s a lot deplorable out there’ – Ohhh…I’m dying to know! ๐Ÿ™‚ Damn, what have I been missing?

    And Iden is right about the editing thing. But as talented as Maureen is-I doubt she needs much direction.

  14. JLW

    Thanks, sweetie–smooches!

    I always wear black tie to the Edgars, but for the past several years I’ve been wearing a white dinner jacket, since it’s cooler and more comfortable–and, of course, it was my wife’s idea. I always try to dress according to the occasion. My point was that a man is unlikely to criticize another for not wearing a tie. Guys don’t talk about clothes very often, especially on each other.

    I thought it was interesting that EFH doesn’t like women with tattoos, but doesn’t seem to mind them on men. In my vast experience, most guys with tattoos don’t dislike women sporting them; au contraire, to them it’s like finding a woman who watches Monday Night Football. Eureka!

    Finally, not too many men will offer their opinions on “chick lit”, assuming they even have one. It would be like having an opinion on dressy shoes and handbags.

    But I freely acknowledge that the preceeding is hardly conclusive evidence. Aside from a any man with broad gender-indiscriminate interests and independent opinions, there’s the entire possibility of gay subculture, too, in which case all bets are off. (Not levelled as a criticism of gay subculture, gentle readers, merely as an acknowledgement of its distinctions from the mainstream.)

  15. Elaine

    Ah, yes – it was a white dinner jacket! And you WERE memorable! Just got the color wrong. A sign, perhaps – of advancing years?:)

    I find your observations, JLW, to be very, very intersting. Especially about guys not talking about clothes. And I loved your reference to Penzler not objecting to woman dressing like hookers!

    Hmm-I think you’re all onto something here -EFH could very well be a female. Obviously opinionated – but maybe a bit too strident about today’s cultures? Another ‘hmm’.

  16. PJ Parrish

    Re: declasse dress at the Edgars.

    I know I am an old fart, but I’ve about had it with hairy slobs in cutoffs on airplanes, girls in flipflops at the White House and Edgar attendees who show up looking like they just cleaned out the slushpile closet.

    As Edgar chairs, Kelly and I have started a campaign to bring back some of the banquet’s former elegance. Most the men get this and look fabulous (ditto the women like Tess Gerritsen last year) But we also had one dude show up last year in a t-shirt shirt and jeans.

    This year we will be strongly requesting black tie. My only fear is some wag will show up in just that and only that.

  17. Elaine

    You are hardly an ‘old fart’! And I’m with you on the way people dress in public these days. I’m so glad you and Kelly are creating a more elegant mood for the Edgars (I couldn’t falt EFH’s comment there). I know JLW agrees. Wish I was going so I could put on the nines as well. If the ass in the t-shirt and jeans show up again – send him home. Tell him he can come back when he grows up.:)

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