From The Editor
Welcome to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine!
AHMM specializes in publishing stories of mystery and suspense — everything from whodunits to howdunits, procedurals to puzzles, from cozy to noir. But for this magazine’s current editor, great stories of any genre are rooted in characters — well-drawn, individual, and credibly motivated. Interesting characters responding to the extraordinary pressures of crime — this is what I like to read and to publish, and I hope you like that too.
— Linda Landrigan
About the Editor
Linda Landrigan has had a longtime love affair with mystery. Earning her undergraduate degree from New College in Florida and her Master’s degree from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Linda held a variety of jobs before landing a position as associate editor of Hitchcock under the magazine’s previous editor, Cathleen Jordan, with whom she had the privilege of working for five years. Assuming the mantle of editor-in-chief in 2002, Linda has also edited the commemorative anthology Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Presents Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense (2006) and the digital anthology Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Presents Thirteen Tales of New American Gothic (2012), and has found time to be active on the board of the New York City Chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. In 2008, Linda and her “partner in crime,” Janet Hutchings – editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine – were presented with the Poirot Award from Malice Domestic for their contributions to the mystery genre.
The Editor Deposes
Twists and Turns by Linda Landrigan
At Bouchercon in Toronto in 2017, I participated in a panel about plot twists. I was the oddball on the panel, the only non-novelist, so I had a slightly different perspective. When I thought about plot twists in short stories, my first, pat response was “I generally don’t like ’em.” But on second, and third, thought, I realized that the plot twist isn’t so easily defined—and it’s a point that I am still mulling some weeks after the convention.
Here’s why my first response was negative. In many readers’ and writers’ minds, AHMM seems to be closely associated with the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series, where the scripts often had a clever, ironic twist at the end. Some sixty years later, we still receive submissions described by their authors as being “in the style of Alfred Hitchcock,” complete with a “surprise” twist at the end of the story that is generally predictable from page one.
That’s a misunderstanding of the types of stories we actually publish. Not that I don’t love it when I am surprised by a story’s ending, or by the unexpected turns of a good plot, but the format of the old television show is not the formula that we are looking for exclusively. Also, that kind of story is very difficult to do well.
As the discussion with my fellow panelists made clear, plot twists can function differently in novels, where they are necessary to sustain interest in the narrative over the long haul.
There are few rules that I believe apply universally to short stories, but I have two. A good short story has a singularity of focus, and with that singularity comes intensity. Imagine a klieg light that throws a single event into sharp relief. And just as important as that tight focus, a short story must have some sort of movement or trajectory.
For me that trajectory resides in character, in the character’s evolution by the story’s end. Conflict and disruption play a role in the short story as catalysts for setting events in motion and pushing them forward, but the heart of the story is how the characters respond, grow, and come out the other side.
The thing about a clever plot twist is that to work it has to be properly set up, the groundwork has to be laid in such a way that the story could take a number of turns, but the one it does take is fresh and unanticipated. But even when it’s done well, its purpose is to reveal characters, to focus attention on their development.
I’m still muddling or muddying the plot twist, and how to describe when they work or don’t. There really aren’t any hard and fast rules, even when we think there are. And great stories are full of shattered rules and dogma. One of my favorite writers, Eudora Welty, had a way of describing the ineffable magic of stories, and I’ll leave it with you:
Every good story has mystery . . . the mystery of allurement. As we understand the story better, it is likely that the mystery does not necessarily decrease, rather it simply grows more beautiful.
You can email Linda Landrigan at firstname.lastname@example.org.