The Mark Dewar novels featured on this site are a collaboration and I am often asked how my writing partner and I work together. In fact, I am asked that question more than any other. I am interested as to why writing a novel as a pair, rather than working alone, is the source of much intrigue and debate. Aside from perhaps poetry, writing is very much a collaborative process. Writing for film, television and stage is nearly always a collaboration. Why not then, novel writing? Individual novelists will work with editors, agents and publishers once the first draft is sufficiently well developed. Is it really that much of a stretch to grasp the notion of two people writing that draft together? I don’t think so and in this post, I’d like to explain why. I give you Exhibit A: Ellery Queen.
Ellery Queen is both a fictional character and a pseudonym. The character writes mystery stories and operates as an amateur detective, often helping his father, Inspector Richard Queen, solve murders. The pseudonym belonged to two cousins from New York, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee. Ellery Queen, both the character, and the pseudonym, was created in The Roman Hat Mystery which was published in 1929, after winning a writing competition, and ran until Lee’s death in 1971. In the intervening 42 years, Ellery Queen wrote, and starred in, over 30 novels and short stories. The names of these novels are worth a whole entry alone. They belong to an altogether different age and I find it impossible to see titles like The Greek Coffin Mystery (1932), The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935) and The Scarlet Letters (1953) and not want to start reading immediately. Ellery Queen also featured in countless radio plays, television programmes, comic and graphic novels, films and even board games. Dannay and Lee didn’t just create a character, they created an entire genre, one that lives on to this day in the form of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The magazine was launched in 1941 with Dannay as its editor. It is still in production and its strapline is
Publisher of the world’s leading crime and mystery fiction since 1941.
The collaboration was the source of endless debate about how the two men actually worked together. Did one focus on the plot whilst the other worked on dialogue and description, or did they each take a different chapter and then compare their efforts? Dannay and Lee remained tight lipped about the way they worked, and even though Dannay outlived Lee by ten years and continued to write on his own, he never wrote another Ellery Queen novel after Lee’s death. In a way, whilst I can understand the interest in how two people can work together so successfully on something that is, for the overwhelming majority, a solitary pursuit, I would much rather focus on what they produced.
The Ellery Queen stories are examples of classic detective fiction. The early novels feature intricate and complex plots which reveal a series of clues for the reader to process at the same time as the detective. Over time, as the series expanded the stories were heavier in terms of their focus on motive, reflecting the shift in the genre over time. In terms of following the traditional code of crime fiction, Ellery Queen is one of the very best examples I can think of. The original front covers of the books are a joy to behold. Similar in style to the covers of hardboiled detective books they offer a window into the world that Dannay and Lee created. There are so many Ellery Queen quotes I could use to capture the power of their collaboration, but I have settled on just one.
The two women exchanged the kind of glance women use when no knife is handy.
That is extraordinary. Ellery Queen, whoever you are, take a bow.