Ten Detective Aces

“The Variety Magazine of Detective Stories”

One of a series of articles analyzing the editorial requirements of good markets

By August Lenniger

From Writer’s Digest October 1934

“The most important thing that I am anxious to convey to WRITER’S DIGEST readers is that Ten Detective Aces is the most elastic detective story magazine on the market today”, Mr. A.A. Wyn, editor, told me as the waiter placed our luncheon before us. “We have no iron-bound policy or preference for any particular type of detective story; we are endeavoring to make our magazine the outstanding publication in its field through the wide variety of fiction we offer to our readers. There are only three types that we steer away from—the straight story of the bootlegger gang-mob, the story of the dope ring showing the effects of drugs on the characters or the white-slavery yarn, and the straight deductive story.

“The one feature on which we do insist is that all of our stories must be fast-moving and develop plenty of suspense. The menace-action type story is one of the best for us, but it has unlimited possibilities of variety, and variety is what we are seeking. For example, in Ten Detective Aces we use stories showing the human side of life; stories of the hard-boiled detective presenting life in stark reality; horror stories, stories from the murderer’s point of view, stories with or without romance or woman interest. Our detective stories are usually against an American background, but occasionally a good yarn featuring an American hero against a foreign setting will also fit into our scheme. And we use an occasional humorous detective yarn. In fact, our policy is so elastic that even a good action-detective story against an underworld background or in which underworld characters are featured, has a chance with us although we emphatically do not want the straight gang-mob yarn. The typical straight deductive story has no place in our lineup—but in a short-short, for example, if it has enough suspense and a really clever surprise twist, we might make an exception. Or in a story where deduction plays an important part but which is worked out through action.

“We prefer the third person presentation, but here again our policy is elastic, for a good first person story will not be turned down.”

The August issue of Ten Detective Aces which Mr. Wyn later handed to me to check in preparing this article, contains the wide variety of which he speaks. The lead novelette, “Brotherhood of Death” by Carl McK. Saunders features a series character, Captain Murdock, rounding up the perpetrators of a reign of horror in Central City that follows a wholesale jailbreak engineered by a crooked warden, a corrupt detective, a politically prominent attorney, a radio announcer and a notorious gangster. Desperate, case-hardened and diabolically clever, this quintet, and a tough case for Captain Murdock to crack because of the positions of trust and power these men hold. A fast-moving, exciting story, typical of the hard-boiled realistic type Mr. Wyn mentioned.

The secondary novelette of this issue entitled “Calling Car 13!” by Frederick C. Davis also features a series character—the moon man—a modern Robin Hood, son of the police chief and engaged to the daughter of Gil McEwen, ace sleuth of the plainclothes division. Steve Thatcher, who assumes the identity of The Moon Man when occasion demands, preys upon the unscrupulous rich, is always “on the spot.” In this story we have an example of the human, emotional detective through the personal relations of the leading characters.

A strong suspensive situation is developed in this story, where, in order to save an innocent man’s life, it becomes necessary for The Moon Man to torture his own Sweetheart, and the author brings out a strong human-interest angle through the sacrifice of personal interest and the girl’s loyalty.

In connection with stories featuring a “series” character like these two novelettes, Mr. Wyn remarked:

“Almost every author wants to do a series around one character. These come under two heads:

1. The character series which is in advance planned in detail, each story complete in itself, but depending to some extent on the action and relations of the characters built up in the individual stories as the series progresses. We have found this “Moon Man” series which is developed in this way, very popular with our readers.

2. A character series which just “happen”—the chief character resurrected in individual plots that do not depend in any way upon background developed in the preceding stories of the series. The Captain Murdock stories by Carl McK. Saunders fall into this class; among others we have used of this type recently are the short stories featuring the Russian detective character Renouf, by Norman A. Daniels.

“The best way for an author to break in with a series character is not to submit three or four stories of the series at the start, as so many do, but rather to allow the editor to discover the series—particularly if the writer is a new contributor. Frankly, in the majority of cases, series stories are purchased from writers who have demonstrated their ability to consistently please our readers by fairly frequent appearance in our magazines with individual stories first. But as you well know,” Mr. Wyn told me, “we have purchased series stories from absolutely new contributors to our magazines, and even from writers who had never previously sold fiction elsewhere. But the wisest way for a new contributor who hopes to sell a series to go about it, is to simply submit a single story in which he develops a strongly-characterized and likeable hero. If we buy that story, and see a chance of developing a series around the character, we will suggest to the author that we would be glad to consider other yarns featuring that character. Or, after we have used a first yarn, even if we haven’t suggested a series to the author, we might be intrigued by an outstanding second story concerning the same character, and before the author realizes it, he will have a series underway.

“About the same thing applies to our novelette lengths. We seldom buy these from new contributors to our pages—it is best to first sell us several shorts before offering us a ten or fifteen thousand word novelette. In the first place our needs for short stories is greater. Secondly we naturally prefer a writer who has proven himself to our readers in our featured novelette lengths. But this certainly is no iron-clad rule—if an outstanding novelette by a writer we’ve never heard of comes in the mail we’re only too glad to discover a worthy new contributor. And as you also know, we have published the first stories of many new writers in Ten Detective Aces as well as in our other magazines.”

Short stories of 2-5000 words in length are the greatest manuscript need at Ten Detective Aces and offer the best chances of crashing this market. To give you a better idea of the variety of types they use, let us look over several in the August issue:

“Murder on the Scorecard” by Bert Stanley has a big league baseball background. An underworld gambler attempts to bribe three players of the team to throw the World Series game. When they refuse, two of them are mysteriously killed while running to first base. This story is told from the viewpoint of Hack Crowley, the remaining ballplayer and Mr. Wyn suggested that I point out that Ten Detective Aces is particularly looking for some good, writing menace-action mystery yarns from viewpoint other than that of the conventional detective.

“Who Killed Cocky Robbins?” by Joe Archibald is a humorous detective yarn concerning two newspaper reporters who get themselves into plenty of trouble by interfering in a murder investigation, yet are instrumental in apprehending the vicious villain.

“Ghoul of Longwood Cemetery” by Laurence D. Smith is a horror-menace action detective story with a strong romance interest. I asked Mr. Wyn on this point of woman interest, and here is his reply:

“A woman angle is welcome in any of our stories, but women should not be dragged in if there is no place for them. By woman interest we of course mean clean romance, not sex. After-marriage complications that logically motivate the plot are all right, too—if the sex angle is not emphasized. In novelettes of 9-10,000 which length we most frequently need, woman interest is in fact preferred; also in our 15,000 word feature novels.”

“Can you point out some of the most frequent mistakes writers make that necessitate the rejection of their manuscripts?” I prompted Mr. Wyn. “Mentioning some of them in this article will undoubtedly help many writers to avoid these errors.”

“I could give you enough material to write a book on that subject!” Mr. Wyn smiled. “But I believe the most frequent mistakes new writers make is to murder their stories rather than their victims! They read in some trade journal or other that a certain Big Name turns out so many thousand words per day on his electric typewriter, or some other Big Name slams off so many hundred thousand words per month on his little dictaphone. And they get the big idea that the main thing in writing is production. Which assumption is true—but nevertheless before anyone can run, they must be able to walk. The new writer fails to take into consideration that these Big Names are writers who have had years and years of hard struggle behind them—that they didn’t start off with such quantity production.

“When a new writer gets this production idea they usually murder their stories by failing to make them clear or convincing; their characters are wooden sticks walking around and talking like books instead of like human beings. The new writers who take plenty of time to get their stories into professional shape at the start are likely to succeed much faster than the fellows who are too anxious to get a number of stories going the rounds of editorial offices. Many new writers have ruined their chances of selling in many editorial offices by the submission of too much mediocre material.”

To which statement of Mr. Wyn’s, the interviewer adds his own unqualified and fervent “Amen!”

“But what about the most frequent mistakes new writers make in technique?” I suggested.

“We are tired of seeing the detective hero hit over the head by the villain just as the detective is about to discover something—this has become an office taboo”, Mr. Wyn replied. “It is bad business, too, for the author to pin the crimes on a crazy person not mentally responsible for his acts—in such cases there is more pity developed in the reader for the villain than a desire to see him punished. On the other hand, it is all right in some cases to have a villain just a bit ‘cracked’ on one subject—provided he is sane enough to provide a worthy antagonist for the hero, and the action of the story is based upon a logical, sane motivation—greed, revenge, ambition, etc.

“Another mistake writers make far too frequently is to have the hero captured by the villain at the climax, and allow the villain who intends to do away with the hero, gloatingly confess the full details of his crimes. Or the variations of the same device--the hidden dictaphone or stenographer, or the villain very accommodatingly going into a long, detailed confession, supplying all the details the detective has been unable to discover, after the detective has cornered him. This is of course unsound human nature. And it is very annoying when the author throws suspicion upon the detective, and everyone knows very well that he is innocent.

“The most discouraging mistake that an editor has to contend with from writers, is when the editor has gone out of his way to explain to an author to steer away from certain kinds of stories, plots or situations—and the author insists on sending back the same material time and time again in slightly different forms. Editors are after all only human—and this procedure naturally results in the author putting himself in line for the printed rejection slip.”

Ten Detective Aces, 67 W. 44th St., New York is a wide-open market for all types of good action-detective stories particularly in the 2-5000 word lengths, and for outstanding novelettes 9-10,000 and 15,000.