Goodrich's original play Panic received the 2008 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Play.
He is the author, most recently, of Unusual Suspects: Selected Non-Fiction from Perfect Crime. Among other projects, he edited People in a Magazine: The Selected Letters of S. N. Behrman and His Editors at “The New Yorker” and Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, 1947-1950, which was nominated for Anthony and Agatha Awards. His fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's, and two Mystery Writers of America anthologies. His non-fiction has appeared in EQMM, AHMM, Mystery Scene, and Crimespree.
Reviewing Goodrich's Blood Relations, Francis M. Nevins said, "What a treasure! . . . literally a blow-by-blow account of the creation of three of the strongest Queen novels." And William Link called it a "Superlative book . . . jaw-dropping revelations."
An alumnus of New Dramatists, an active member of MWA, and a former Calderwood Fellow at McDowell, Joseph Goodrich lives in New York City. Here's what he had to say in a recent interview:
Q.: You've written plays and short fiction as well as scholarly work. Which came first? And which gives you the most satisfaction…or difficulty?
A.: I started writing fiction around the age of 11 or 12 and peppered Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine with stories as badly written as they were typed. I covered a wall with rejection slips from both publications, so – many, many years later – it’s a real pleasure to see my work turn up in their pages. I was always writing, just as I was always performing. (It runs in the blood; I come from a family of rodeo performers. Seriously. I’m not making that up.) It was only in my mid-20s or thereabouts that I put the pieces together and realized that writing for the theatre combined both interests, though I kept acting for a long while and still occasionally perform.
I also reviewed records and films and plays for various school papers; the urge to share my enthusiasms remains strong. The arts provided a home, a lifeline for me, so the scholarly work is a tribute to the artists who meant and mean so much to me.
Each discipline has its own challenges and its own satisfactions. Non-fiction work requires synthesis, summary, and the ability to convince; all creative work requires is to make something where nothing was before! Both require something to say and a mastery of form.
Q.: How has playwriting influenced your other work?
A.: Playwriting forces one to focus on action, on what people do to get what they want. It’s a merciless craft; all the fine writing and swell dialogue will get you nowhere if it isn’t in service of action. It’s an art of concision and implication, whereas fiction is – to me, at any rate – one of amplitude. There’s much more breathing room in fiction. It’s more explicit, in the sense that you can address things directly. The playwright is only one part (albeit the most important) of the theatrical event. The fiction writer is the whole show: director, cast, set and lighting and costume designer. (And, alas, sometimes one of the few audience members.)
I like to think of the non-fiction pieces as “stories,” too. Some of them may have a more pronounced narrative, like “Dilys Winn: Magical Mystery Tour,” and some may not, but the structure of an article is very important. As is the quality of “voice.” One of the nicest responses I’ve had from a reader is that Unusual Suspects is akin to sitting down and talking with me. That pleased me greatly because we’ve all read – or tried to read – various academic works which are so dense, so difficult to understand that it’s painful. Such work fails to communicate, and that defeats the whole purpose of the thing.
Q.: Your play Panic received an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America. Tell us a bit about Panic.
A.: The play is a result of a life-long interest in Alfred Hitchcock, whose films I’ve been watching since my early teens. The director in the play is a fictionalized version of Hitchcock who, on a trip to Paris for the opening of a new film, is accused of raping a young woman, a bit-player in the film. I’d say more, but there’s an essay in Unusual Suspects that deals with this very question at great length.
Q: You've had a number of short stories published. How do you find the form? Is there a collection in the works?
A.: I love the form, both as a reader and as a writer. Ellery Queen’s stories, Stanley Ellin’s, Margaret Millar’s, Ruth Rendell’s, John Collier’s – these and others form a gold standard of accomplishment in the form. I aim for my own version of the very pure, very sharp effect stories like Ellin’s “The Moment of Decision” (one of, if not the greatest, story in the mystery genre) possess. I haven’t made it there yet, but it’s still a worthy goal. As for a collection, I’m still a couple of stories shy of such a thing.
Q.: You've adapted other people's fiction to the stage. What sort of problems do you encounter? Greatest satisfaction?
A.: The adaptations are in part, like the scholarly work, a tribute to authors I admire – Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, and Gordon McAlpine. (I’ve also adapted two of Euripides’ ancient Greek tragedies, The Bacchae called, in my version, Steak Knife Bacchae, and a more straightforward version of Medea.) I’ve dealt with any number of heirs and estates and the overwhelming majority of my experiences with them have been positive. Their trust has to be earned and the vetting process can be extensive. But I now count Rebecca Stout Bradbury, Richard Dannay, and David Behrman (son of the playwright S. N. Behrman) as friends. They appreciate the interest shown in the work of their fathers. After the curtain fell on the opening night of my adaptation of The Red Box, I said to Rebecca: “I probably shouldn’t ask you this, but what do you think your father would have said about tonight?” Rebecca thought for a moment. “He’d have said, ‘I’ll be Goddamned.’ He’d have loved it.” An answer like that justifies all the work one does, on page and on stage, to bring a play to life.
Q.: What's next in that department?
A.: My adaptation of McAlpine’s novel Holmes Entangled is ready for production and, if the pandemic hadn’t intervened, that might have already happened. I’ve been in discussion with two theatres – one in America and one in Canada – about a co-production of the play. I think this will still happen, though when that will happen is another matter. I love Gordon’s book and I’m really proud of how the play melds his sensibility and mine in a theatrically effective way. I hope audiences will soon have a chance to see if they agree with me.
Q.: Who among other writers (adapted, interviewed, studied) impressed (or distressed) you most?
A.: Borges’ “Death and the Compass” and Robert Graves’ “The Shout” are stories that knocked me for a loop when I first read them. John Fowles’ The Collector and The Magus are each in their own way so powerfully distressing I’ll probably never read them again. And, at the risk of sounding pretentious – if I haven’t already achieved that – I must point out my continuing fascination with Marcel Proust and Remembrance of Things Past. I’ve read it several times over the last twenty-three years and will probably read it again before I die. My story “The Paris Manuscript,” which is in the July/August 2021 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, is one of the ways that fascination has manifested itself.
Q.: Do you have any preference for the Golden Age mysteries over modern fiction (or vice versa)?
A.: I’ve observed a real rift in mystery readers between those who prize above all the clever clueing and baffling deductions of the Golden Age and those who are far less interested in such matters; the former usually dislike noir and what might be called “crime” fiction, i.e., more realistic depiction of criminals and the men and women who chase them. Having once been a bit of a hard-boiled snob, I now see value in all of what Julian Symons once referred to as “branches on the tree of sensational literature.” I prize Hammett and I prize, say, Nicholas Blake.
I’ve made the debate between those warring factions in the mystery camp the subject of a short story called “A Philosophical Difference,” which Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine has bought but not yet published. The question of the Dying Clue is of particular relevance to the story’s characters.
Q.: Is there a longer fiction project in the works?
A.: Yes! I’ve been working on a novel that’s gone through several versions over the years. I think I may finally have found the right form for it. And there’s a novella I’m currently working on. It’s set just before the end of the Second World War and involves . . . well, I’ll just leave it there for the moment.