We are pleased to offer this piece by the Dean of mystery short story writers, 2001 MWA Grand Master and 1968 Edgar Award for Short Story winner Edward D. Hoch, probably the most admired short crime fiction author alive–certainly by all of us!
by Edward D. Hoch
Happily, people don’t often ask any more why I write short stories instead of novels, but there was a time early in my career when it seemed to be the favorite question of interviewers. I did actually publish five quickly forgotten novels between 1969 and 1975, but it was clear to me even then that I was a short story writer. The ideas came quickly, as they still do, and I enjoyed the exhilaration of finishing a story in a couple of weeks rather than waiting several months before concluding a novel. As many others have observed over the decades, the short story was the first and perhaps most successful medium of the detective story. For Poe and Doyle and Chesterton it was the only medium, even when Doyle tried to stretch out a few of his stories to something approaching novel length.
Graham Greene, successful in both novels and short stories, once examined the pros and cons of each form. Although writing a long novel could be wearying, it often provided surprises for the author by taking an unexpected turn. This was less likely to happen in a short story, where the brief plot is pretty much laid out in the author’s mind before the writing gets under way. Still, the short story offers the advantage of being quickly conceived and written. A novel, Greene pointed out, takes a year or more to write, and the author is not the same person at the end as he was at the beginning. At least one modern author has solved that problem by revising the beginning of the novel after the end is reached, but a vision of endless rewriting might be the discouraging result.
Since I published my first story in 1955, I have relied more and more on series characters. A few critics prefer my stand-alone tales, especially the somewhat noirish stories I wrote early in my career. But writing regularly for publications like Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, I have tried to develop characters like Dr. Sam Hawthorne and tell their life story through decades of time. The Hawthornes are realistic stories, one hopes, with only the frequent intrusion of murder adding a touch of improbability. I find my series stories fun and easy to write. I hope the reader finds them as much fun to read. I have nearly 940 stories published to date, in magazines and anthologies. I guess it’s too late to switch to novels now.