Pens, Paws, and Claws would like to welcome Josh Pachter to the blog this week!
Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
Not long after my ninth-grade English teacher, Mary Ryan, gave me a copy of the June 1966 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, I decided to try my hand at writing a crime story myself. The result, “E.Q. Griffen Earns His Name,” appeared in EQMM’s “Department of First Stories” in December 1968, and in December 2018 I’ll be celebrating my fiftieth year as a published writer. Along the way, I’ve contributed almost a hundred short stories to various magazines and anthologies, written a zombie cop novel collaboratively with Belgian author Bavo Dhooge (Styx, Simon & Schuster, 2015), seen all ten of my Mahboob Chaudri stories collected as The Tree of Life (Wildside Press, also 2015), edited half a dozen anthologies, and translated dozens of short stories and novels from Dutch to English. In my day job, I’m the Assistant Dean for Communication Studies and Theater at Northern Virginia Community College’s Loudoun Campus. My wife Laurie is an editor for a government agency in DC, and our daughter Becca is a county prosecutor in Phoenix.
Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?
If you don’t count fish and a hermit crab, the only pet I’ve ever had is our dog Tessa, who is a loving and lovely collie/terrier mix. Laurie rescued her from the pound about sixteen years ago, when she (Tessa, not Laurie) was just a few months old. Laurie and I met ten years ago — we “met cute,” and you can read about that here — so Tessa’s been a part of my life for the last decade. I haven’t put her into my fiction yet, but that might well happen at some point in the future!
Tell us about any pets you have in your books/stories. Are any of them recurring characters? What are they and their names?
In case you didn’t click on the link above, I’ll tell you that I have been horribly allergic to fur and feathers and wool, my whole life long — making my ability to be around Tessa something of a miracle. Because I grew up unable to be around animals, I never developed an appreciation for them … and have never much written about them. In the 1980s, I collaborated with the wonderful Edward Wellen on a story about a migratory stork that smuggles uncut diamonds from the mines in South Africa to the jewelry industry in Amsterdam; it was published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and we called it (ahem) “Stork Trek.” But, until Tessa came into my life, that nameless stork was really the only animal character I ever created. Now, though, I’m a lot more open to writing about furry and feathery characters. In fact, I have a story called “The Supreme Art of War” in the upcoming Sisters in Crime Chesapeake Chapter anthology Fur, Feathers and Felonies that includes a female cat named Mister.
What are you reading now?
A couple of years ago, I was asked how much I would charge to translate one of the 300+ Belgian graphic novels about a pair of teenagers named Suske and Wiske into English. More kidding than serious, I said I’d do it for — instead of money — a complete set of the books. To my amazement, the publisher agreed. So I did the translation, a giant box of books flew across the Atlantic Ocean to my front door, and I’m now up to number 185. (In English, Suske and Wiske are called Luke and Lucy, and you can read Auntie Biotica, the adventure I translated, for free here.)
What writing projects are you currently working on?
As I answer these questions, I’m focused more on editing than writing. I’m working on three different collections, which will be published by three different publishers in 2018. Amsterdam Noir, which I’m co-editing with René Appel, is an anthology of dark stories set in the Dutch capital, and it’ll come out as a part of Akashic Books’ City Noir series. Dale Andrews and I are putting together The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, a collection of pastiches and parodies, for Wildside Press. And I’m editing The Man Who Read Mr. Strang: The Short Fiction of William Brittain on my own for Crippen & Landru. But I’ve just begun a new short story I’m calling “Killer Kyle,” which starts out pretty nicely, I think. I can’t wait to see how it ends!
Who is your favorite author and why?
Oh, gosh, that’s like asking me to name my favorite movie or song. I don’t have one favorite author. There are so many authors I’ve loved reading, and my “favorite” would depend on when you asked me and how I was feeling at the moment. I can tell you that, along the way, my favorite authors have included John Updike and Ray Bradbury (who showed me that prose can be poetry), Evelyn Waugh and P.G. Wodehouse (who made me laugh), Carlos Castaneda and Jane Roberts (who made me think outside the box), Ellery Queen, Ed McBain, and Lawrence Block (who taught me whatever small amount I know about crime writing), and a host of friends whose books I read because they were written by people I know and respect and admire (including but far from limited to Les Roberts, Loren D. Estleman, Bill Pronzini, and, in Dutch, Hilde Vandermeeren, Bavo Dhooge, René Appel).
What’s your real-life funniest pet story?
I’m not sure how funny this is, but can I go back to that hermit crab? When my daughter Becca was tiny and we were living in the upstairs half of what’s called a “Lakewood double” just outside Cleveland, Ohio, she really wanted a pet … but I had those allergies I’ve mentioned. So we bought Hermie the Hermit Crab, and we kept him in a little plastic terrarium and fed him and petted him and played with him. One day, though, Hermie mysteriously vanished from his terrarium. I never found out for sure how that happened, but I suppose Becca must have taken him out to play with him and forgotten to put him back, and he just wandered off. Days later, I came home from work to find a plastic bucket sitting outside our door and a note taped to the door: “We found this in our bedroom. Is it yours?” And, sure enough, Hermie was in the bucket. How he got down a flight of stairs and into the neighbor’s apartment, I’ll never understand. (Hermie, by the way, went to Hermit Heaven many years ago, but I still have his shell, which I keep on my desk and use as a paperweight.)
When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know?
I sometimes talk to middle-school groups about writing, and I always start by asking, “How many of you want to be a writer someday?” Generally, three-quarters of the hands go up, and that allows me to tell them that they already are writers, and have in fact been writers ever since they learned how to write. A writer isn’t something you should “want to be,” I tell them. A writer is something you already are. What you can want to be is a professional writer, a paid writer, a famous writer, even just a better writer. So, when did I know I was a writer? I guess when I learned how to write. But I think I had the idea of becoming a professional writer in my head from a pretty early age. In grade school, I wrote a “book” about Japan — a country which to this day I have never visited — and “published” a weekly handwritten newspaper for a couple of months. In junior high, I co-wrote a column for my school paper. And I sold my first short story to EQMM at the age of sixteen. When I went off to college at the University of Michigan, my intention was to study journalism. It turned out that the U of M’s undergraduate j program at that time was pretty sucky, but I really liked Ann Arbor, so I scouted around for an alternate major and finally settled on communication studies.
What’s the number one item on your bucket list and why?
Well, I know the whole “bucket list” thing is still pretty popular, but I don’t really have one. I taught overseas for fifteen years — in Holland, Germany, England, Spain, Greece, Italy, Bahrain, Kuwait — and still do a lot of international traveling. I have a happy marriage. I have raised a brilliant and talented daughter. I like my job and make a decent living. Although my writing, editing and translating haven’t made me rich and famous, neither of those things is particularly important to me. I suppose it would be nice to win some sort of an award. A story I translated was nominated for an Edgar in 1986 and another was nominated for a Derringer in 2016. The Tree of Life was nominated for a Silver Falchion at Killer Nashville. But it would be fun to actually win something. As I mentioned before, next year will be the fiftieth anniversary of my first publication and, since I started young, I’m “only” sixty-six years old. I figure if I can just keep on breathing for a while longer, sooner or later somebody’ll have to give me a lifetime achievement award!
What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have?
One pile contains another hundred or so Suske and Wiskes, and another pile has about twenty Dutch-language novels which have been given to me by various Dutch and Belgian authors I’ve translated. I’ve also got a bunch of English-language novels and short-story collections piled up on my iPhone; I recently joined Wildside Press’ Black Cat Mystery Magazine club, which gets me seven e-books a week for a year, so I’ve definitely got my e-reading cut out for me!
What are two things you know now that you wish you knew when you started writing?
Actually, most of what I know now I’m glad I didn’t know when I started, because it probably would have scared me off. Even with all the amazing new possibilities contemporary technology has given us — the Internet, POD publishing, Babelcube, the list goes on and on — it’s still the case that most of the people who’d love to be able to make a healthy living as a writer of fiction won’t. For me, though, writing has always been (and remains) a hobby … and, as a hobby, it’s given me an enormous amount of pleasure for the last half century, and I expect it’ll continue to do so for whatever amount of time I’ve got left!
On September 25, two days after I responded to Heather’s interview questions, our sweet Tessa Marie came to the end of her journey. My wife Laurie was out of state on a business trip, but I called her on my cell from the vet’s office, and she talked lovingly to Tessa until the vet came in with the needles. Then we hung up, and I held the old girl tightly, my head close beside hers, as she crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I stayed with her until she was gone, and for a long while after, and then went home to a very empty house.
Because of my allergies, we can’t risk another dog. A month after Tessa left us, we bought a 29-gallon aquarium to make the house less empty and have populated it with two dozen fish: danios, platies, cory cats, weather loaches, rasboras, a whole community. We’ve named them all, and we enjoy looking at them as they swim around and eat. But we can’t walk them or pet them, and they don’t answer when we talk to them, as Tessa did. We like them, but we don’t love them. Not yet, anyway. Maybe that’ll come. I doubt it. They’re nice, but they’re not Tessa.
JOSH PACHTER is a writer, editor and translator. Since his first appearance in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1968, almost a hundred of his short crime stories have appeared in EQMM, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, New Black Mask, Espionage, and many other periodicals, anthologies, and year’s-best collections. The Tree of Life (Wildside Press, 2015) collected all ten of his Mahboob Chaudri stories and he collaborated with Belgian author Bavo Dhooge on Styx (Simon & Schuster, 2015). In his day job, he is the Assistant Dean for Communication Studies and Theater at Northern Virginia Community College’s Loudoun Campus.
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