Guest Interview: Josh Pachter (video bonus, too)

Returning to our interview series, this week we have the talented Josh Pachter. Josh is a long-time short story writer who also translates short stories from several other languages into English.

Josh Pachter head shot

Meet Josh Pachter

CAM:    “Won’t You Come Out Tonight?” is, as you call it, a pervy story, inspired by 1962’s “Sherry” from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. What in that song speaks to you so directly?

Was it the lyrics, the beat, or . . . ? Tell us about it.

JP:    “Won’t You Come Out Tonight?” is one of the few reprints in Peace, Love, and Crime — possibly (I’m not sure) the only one. I wrote the story in 2003 on a dare from my daughter Rebecca. I hadn’t published a new story in a while, and one day she told me she thought it was a shame that I was no longer able to write marketable fiction. “It’s not that I can’t,” I said. “I just don’t want to.” She gave me a pitying look and said, “Sure, dad,” so what was I supposed to do? At the time, I had a good friend named Sheri, and I guess it was because of her that I had the Four Seasons’ “Sherry” in my head. The song sparked the story, I sent it to EQMM, editor Janet Hutchings bought it and published it in 2004, so there, Becca! When Sandy Murphy put out a call for stories inspired by the music of the Sixties, I asked her if she’d consider a reprint, she said sure, and you know the rest.

Actually, you don’t quite know all the rest. My friend Sheri and I fell out of contact around 2006, when I moved from Ohio to Maryland, and in recent years I’ve been wondering whatever happened to her. From time to time I’ve tried to track her down, without success — until about two months ago, when I Googled her name . . . and found her obituary. She was a lovely person and a dear friend, and the planet was a better place with her on it than it is without her. 

CAM:    That’s a shame, Josh. I’m sure she would have been tickled to have been part of your inspiration for such a good story. 

If you could meet Frankie Valli, what would you ask him?

JP:    I did meet him, backstage at an outdoor Four Seasons and Jay and the Americans concert in New York’s Central Park in the early Seventies. I don’t think I asked him anything, just told him I loved his voice. If I could meet him again now, I think I’d ask him if his Sherry was based on a real person, as mine was, and if so who?

CAM:    You’ve been involved with more than one music-themed anthology. Do you find it more difficult to come up with a compelling story to fit to someone else’s theme?

JP:    In addition to contributing to Peace, Love, and Crime, I’ve edited three of them (Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Buffett, and Billy Joel) and I’ve for a story for a forthcoming collection inspired by the songs of Warren Zevon). 

Although I’ve been publishing professionally for more than half a century, the first time I was ever asked to write to someone else’s theme was about two years ago, when Michael Bracken asked me to do a story about a private investigator for his The Eyes of Texas anthology. It was an interesting challenge to come up with a story that had to be about a PI and that had to be set in Texas. I was pleased with the result — a story I called “The Yellow Rose of Texas” — and Michael liked it enough to take it for his book. I wound up really connecting in a strange way with my protagonist, and I’ve since written four more stories about him and am working on another one. Since my experience with Michael, I’ve decided that I like working off someone else’s prompt, and I’ve enjoyed writing several additional stories for themed books.

Any success I have had in this field,
I owe to the encouragement I received . . . and many other wonderful writers, editors, and publishers I have encountered along the way.

Josh Pachter

CAM:    Wow. I have such a hard time writing to someone else’s theme, although I can knock out a flash story from a simple writing prompt.

Let’s switch to the writing itself. Tell us about your writing process. What works for you? What doesn’t? 

JP:   I don’t really have a “process.” I have writer friends who sit at a keyboard from X o’clock to Y o’clock every day, and others who won’t get up until they’ve reached their daily quota of Z words or pages. Not me. I spend many more days not-writing than I spend writing, and when I do write it’s because an idea pops into my head and demands that I shape it into a story. Sometimes I can write an entire story in a day, other times it takes a month . . . or longer. 

I think maybe the closest thing I have to a “process” is that I collect titles. I hear or read a phrase and think, “That’s a story title.” I note it down, and it just simmers until a story idea that matches it occurs to me, and that’s when I write a new story. 

CAM:    What is your greatest challenge as an author? 

JP:   I’m not sure that anyone’s ever asked me that before, Claire. Now that you have, I’m wrestling with the question, and I think the truth is that I don’t see writing as a challenge. It’s just one of the things I do sometimes. If I saw it as a challenge, I think I’d probably stop doing it. My life is challenging enough: teaching full-time at a community college, being a husband and a father, maintaining friendships around the globe, traveling in non-Covid summers with my wife and over non-Covid spring breaks with my daughter, getting enough exercise to keep my body from crumbling into dust or ballooning into obesity, editing, translating, promoting my anthologies and the work of the authors who contribute to them. Now you want writing to be a challenge, too? No, thanks! 

CAM:    OK. No challenge there. You also translate others’ stories. How did that start and what’s the greatest challenge of doing this? 

JP:   My first marriage was to a Dutch woman, and we lived in Amsterdam from 1976 to 1982. We were close friends with a guy who published underground comix in Dutch, and he decided that he wanted to put out Dutch editions of the work of R. Crumb and Gilbert Shelton. He asked us to translate them for him, and I found translation much more enjoyable than writing.

Later, another publisher friend asked me if I’d be interested in translating a couple of Dutch crime writer Janwillem van de Wetering’s short stories into English. I did, and EQMM bought them — and one of them became a finalist for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe Award. Before I could dive more deeply into translation work, though, my wife and I divorced and I wound up living in Germany. It wasn’t until 2003 that I got back into it.

EQMM editor Janet Hutchings decided to begin a regular feature called “Passport to Crime,” and she asked me to locate stories by Dutch authors and translate them for her. About 2010, she asked if I could handle any languages other than Dutch, and I thought, Well, Flemish is kind of close to Dutch, so I reached out to some Flemish writers. In 2017, EQMM shifted from publishing ten issues a year to six, cutting Janet’s need for translated stories by 40%. I realized that I was going to have to try bringing stories from still other languages into English if I wanted to continue to sell translations regularly to Queen’s, and with the help of online dictionaries I’ve now translated stories from Spanish, Italian, Romanian, Afrikaans, and Chinese! 

CAM:   It’s great to be multi-talented because that lets you adjust to change more readily. You mentioned being asked by Michael Bracken to contribute to one of his anthologies. How about others? Do you get asked to contribute to some markets—write to spec—or are all your works done by regular submission where you are in the slush pile with everyone else? 

JP:   Both. I sometimes am asked to contribute to a specific project. More often, though, I write the stories I feel like writing when I feel like writing and submit them over the transom, same as everyone else. By now, I’ve been fortunate enough that a lot of the editors know who I am, and I think that probably lifts me — not exactly out of the slush pile but perhaps into an of-more-reliable-quality slush pile. 

I still get rejected, but at this point I get more acceptances than rejections. The acceptances still feel good, and the rejections still sting . . . but I’ve learned not to take them personally. It’s my story that’s been rejected, not me — and when a story gets rejected I re-evaluate it and, if I’m still confident about its merit, I send it somewhere else until it eventually winds up in the hands of an editor who finds it appropriate for the publication she edits. 

CAM:   Are there any particular writers from your early years that still resonate with you or inspire today’s stories? What comes to mind when you think of or mention their name(s)? 

JP:   Fred Dannay, who was half of the “Ellery Queen” writing partnership, sent me a two-page handwritten letter when I was 15, suggesting that I try my hand at writing a short story . . . which I did, and which the following year he bought for EQMM. I immediately joined the Mystery Writers of America, and I used to take the Long Island Railroad in to Manhattan to attend the organization’s monthly cocktail parties at the Hotel Seville. I wasn’t old enough to drink the cocktails, but four couples took me under their wings and treated me, not like the snotty teenager I was, but like a colleague: Edward and Patricia Hoch, William and Ginny Brittain, Stanley and Marilyn Cohen, and John and Barbara Lutz. All four of the men are now gone — John just died a couple of months ago, may he, may the four of them, rest in peace — but I’m still in touch with Pat, Ginny, Marilyn, and Barbara. 

Any success I have had in this field, I owe to the encouragement I received from Fred, Ed & Pat, Bill & Ginny, Stan & Marilyn, John & Barbara, EQMM editors Eleanor Sullivan and Janet Hutchings, AHMM editors Ernie Hutter, Cathleen Jordan, and Linda Landrigan, and many other wonderful writers, editors, and publishers I have encountered along the way. They all still resonate with me, and their friendship and mentoring has inspired every story I’ve ever written.

CAM:   What’s your favorite short story that you’ve written? Tell us a little about that. 

JP:   This is a tough one, Claire, and I can’t narrow it down to one story without messing up my home life. Can I say that it’s a tie between “History on the Bedroom Wall,” which I wrote together with my daughter Rebecca Jones (EQMM in 2009) and “Coffee Date,” which I wrote with my wife Laurie Pachter (The Saturday Evening Post in 2015)? Please?

CAM:   Sure, Josh. You can have two favorites. I wouldn’t want to put you in a difficult position with your family. 

What other talents do you have up your sleeve? Feel free to let us in on your creative side a little more.

JP:   What, writing, editing, and translating isn’t enough creativity for you?

CAM:   What’s next for you? Are there other stories in the pipeline?

JP:  There are always other stories in the pipeline. The current (March/April) EQMM includes a story of mine that’s set in Paris on the day of the Notre Dame fire and my translation of a story by Romanian author Bogdan Hrib, and I have my fifth (and final) Puzzle Club pastiche and two translations of stories by Flemish authors in inventory. I bought stories from myself for my Jimmy Buffett and Billy Joel collections, and also for Monkey Business: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Films of the Marx Brothers, which I’m editing now for publication this fall. Also this year, look for stories of mine in Teresa Inge and Heather Weidner’s Murder by the Glass, Michael Bracken’s Mickey Finn 2, Art Taylor’s Warren Zevon book, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

Bio: JOSH PACHTER was the 2020 recipient of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Golden Derringer Award for Lifetime Achievement. Since 1968, his crime fiction has been appearing in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Mystery Tribune, and various MWA, PWA, Sisters in Crime, Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and year’s-best collections. He also edits anthologies (such as The Great Filling Station Holdup: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Jimmy Buffett and Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Billy Joel, both of which will be published this spring) and translates fiction and nonfiction from multiple languages, mainly Dutch. In his day job, he teaches interpersonal communication and film appreciation at Northern Virginia Community College.

You can find Josh on his website, www.joshpachter.com, or Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/josh.pachter.

Coming Next Week

More interviews are coming . . . please check back weekly. I also announce each new blog post on my Facebook author page.

If video does not display in your browser, view it on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/QvmRK4PpJ48

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Josh Pachter

    Thanks for an enjoyable interview, Claire, both the written part and the Zoom part!

    1. Claire

      You’re welcome, Josh. It was fun!

  2. Wendy Harrison

    This was a delightful interview. I was struck by the chutzpah of someone who took on the successful translation of mysteries in different languages than any he spoke by using Google Translate, and who pulled it off masterfully. Who knew that could be a thing? His description of his notable career as a talented mystery writer in his own language was a pleasure to read and then hear in his own distinctive New York accent. It made me homesick. Thanks so much, Claire, for sharing this.

  3. Josh Pachter

    What a nice comment, Wendy — thanks! (Man, I thought I’d shaken off my New York accent by now. No such luck, eh? Ah, well, fuhgeddabowdit….)

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