My first short story appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1968. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to sell over a hundred more to EQMM, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and many other periodicals and anthologies, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society awarded me its Golden Derringer for Lifetime Achievement in 2020.
Despite this long history of writing and selling short crime stories, though, it wasn’t until this month—fifty-five years after my debut—that Dutch Threat, my first full-length work of fiction, was published by Genius Book Publishing.
Why did it take me so long to write a novel?
That question will be harder for me to answer than it was to ask, and my response breaks down into five sub-answers:
Time. I’ve been teaching at the college level for almost as long as I’ve been writing professionally, and my career in education—combined with writing and translating short stories, editing almost two dozen anthologies, and my responsibilities as a husband and father—has kept me kinda busy. When I retired from full-time teaching last fall, I suddenly found myself with more free time than I’d grown accustomed to having.
Attention Span. It takes me anywhere from a day or two to a month or two to write a short story, where I saw that it would take me well over a year to write a novel … and, frankly, I’ve never felt confident that I could stay focused on a single project for that long.
Readership. When I sell a short story to EQMM, I know that it will be read by thousands of people, but the typical novel (and by “typical” I mean “not written by James Patterson or Michael Connelly”) will attract a significantly smaller number of readers.
Variety. Writing a novel means spending a year or more delving into the lives of a single cast of characters, a single basic setting, a single plot. In that same year, I can write a dozen short stories, which gives me the opportunity to explore a dozen casts of characters, a dozen settings, a dozen plots.
Marketing knowledge. I have over time developed a pretty good sense of the marketplace for short crime fiction, and I know even before I begin to write a short story where I’ll have the best shot at selling it. I know nothing, however, about selling a novel—and it’s always seemed counterproductive to me to devote a year to writing a single work that I have no idea how to sell.
How, then, did Dutch Threat happen? Well, I came up with an idea for a work of fiction about several murders in a closed community in the heart of Amsterdam, a city in which I lived for about six years in the 1980s, and the concept just seemed too complicated for a short story. I started writing—and, before I knew it, I found myself writing a novel, after all.
Then, completely coincidentally, Stephen and Leya Booth at Genius reached out to me—based on a recommendation from terrific short-story author David Dean—and asked if I might by any chance have a novel that was looking for a publisher … and, I’ll be darned, I did!
As things turned out, the process of writing and then finding a home for Dutch Threat wasn’t nearly as daunting as I expected it to be, and the early reviews and sales figures have been very encouraging.
So who knows, perhaps I’ll start writing a novel every fifty-five years!
JOSH PACHTER was the 2020 recipient of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Golden Derringer for Lifetime Achievement. His stories appear in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and elsewhere. He edits anthologies (including Anthony Award finalists The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell and Paranoia Blues: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Paul Simon) and translates fiction and nonfiction from multiple languages—mainly Dutch—into English.
All work and no play might well make Jack a dull boy. But when one of his professors offers to send American grad student Jack Farmer to Europe to do historical research in Amsterdam's Begijnhof—a peaceful closed community in the heart of the bustling Dutch capital—Jack looks forward to a summer of mostly play and not much work. Then he meets Jet Schilders, an attractive young nurse who takes care of the elderly woman next door, and realizes that his summer in The Netherlands might just turn out to be even more fun than he’d hoped.
When the woman next door is brutally murdered, though, and her nurse turns out to be the prime suspect, Jack and Jet join forces in an attempt to find the real killer and clear her name. But their investigation puts them in Dutch with the local police, and a second murder raises the stakes ... and paints a target on both of their backs.
Direct from the publisher: https://geniusbookpublishing.com/collections/light-fiction/products/dutch-threat
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1144044470?ean=9781958727140