Friday, June 16, 2017

The Digest Enthusiast, Espionage, and Me

The sixth issue of The Digest Enthusiast arrived in yesterday's mail, and I'm looking forward to diving into it soon. I've read almost every word in the first five issues and am expecting to do the same again.

One of the things that has me devouring each issue is the realization that my writing career is entwined with the digests. My first professional short story sale in the late 1970s was to a digest-sized children's magazine (Young World), my third professional mystery sale was to a digest (Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine), and my stories have since appeared in several current and now-defunct digests (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Espionage, and more). I even have a story coming out next year in Weirdbook, a publication I first sold to in 1990 when it was a full-size publication, but which has been resurrected as a digest.

One category of digests not yet covered by The Digest Enthusiast is the sex digests, which I wrote for early in my career, and which provided me with an opportunity to contribute to Espionage.

The sex digests had titles such as Chic Letters, Hustler Fantasies, Letters, Turn-On Letters, Uncensored Letters, and so on. The primary content of these publications were "true" letters from "readers" describing their sexual encounters. Some of these digests were low-budget affairs containing little else but letters and others were more like their full-sized men's magazine counterparts, with photographs and actual short stories and articles. I wrote for both kinds.

Which is how writing for the sex digests gave me an "in" with the editor of Espionage. Jackie Lewis, the editor/publisher of Espionage, and her twin sister Jeri Winston, the associate publisher, are Bob Guccione's sisters. (You should recognize him as the publisher of Penthouse.) Prior to starting Espionage, Jackie and Jeri published a great many sex digests, and Espionage may have been their attempt to go legit.

At that point I had already placed a few mystery short stories in other publications (Mike Shayne, for one), and I was a regular contributor to the sex digests Jackie Lewis edited. Even though I was an unknown--compared to many of Espionage's other contributors--Jackie purchased my stories and splashed my name on the covers as if it meant something.

Well, it did to me.

Learn a little more about Jackie, Jeri, the digests they published, and the start of Espionage


Josh Pachter said...

Thanks for bringing back some very fond memories, Michael! I was in ESPIONAGE pretty regularly during its too-short lifespan — that's my name right above yours on the cover which illustrates your post — and Jackie Lewis became a good friend. Do you know if she's still living? We lost touch about 20-some years ago, and I'd love to say hi and see how she's doing....

Michael Bracken said...

I am continually amazed at how many of us have intertwined writing careers, sharing space in publications early in our careers and then stumbling across one another years later, so it's wonderful to "meet" you after all this time, Josh.

Alas, I lost contact with Jackie shortly after the demise of Espionage when I cut back on writing letters for the sex digests and concentrated on writing longer genre stories. If Jackie's still out there somewhere, she might be a great interview subject for The Digest Enthusiast.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Michael, I believe in writing diversity as well. Congrats on your many published works.

Josh Pachter said...

Yes, I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Michael — although we sorta kinda met a year ago, when we both commented about ESPIONAGE in response to one of John Floyd's Sleuthsayers posts.

If my math is right, I was in seven of the ten issues Jackie and Jeri published. At one point, Jackie wanted to run two of my stories in the same issue but said we had to put a pseudonym on one of them. I rearranged the letters of my name and came up with "Chas. J. Thorpe," and she and I were the only two people who knew that that was me. The next issue contained a letter to the editor from a reader named Joseph Chart, singling out the previous issue's Pachter and Thorpe stories for praise ... and I don't think even Jackie realized that "Joseph Chart" was also an anagram of Josh Pachter.

I only met Jeri once, but Jackie and I visited each other's homes and knew each other's daughters. If she's still living, she's in her mid-80s now. I really hope she's around and healthy, and I hope to find a way to track her down.

Meanwhile, thanks for all the enjoyment your work has given me over the years!

Michael Bracken said...

I only placed two stories in the magazine, and had a third accepted but never published.

Josh, if you find Jackie--and even if you don't--you might be in a good position to write an article about Espionage for Mystery Scene or The Digest Enthusiast or a similar publication. As a frequent contributor and as someone who knew Jackie personally, you are in a position to record a bit of publishing history that no one else has covered in any depth. Try as I might, I've never come across an article about the magazine, and few people (other than those of us who wrote for it) seem to remember it even existed.

One interesting thing I did find, however, is this, from the acknowledgements page of Ernest Volkman's book Secret Intelligence: "THERE ARE A NUMBER of people to whom I owe a large debt of gratitude in the evolution of this book, but two of them merit special attention. The first dim spark of the central theme of this book was fostered by Jeri Winston and Jackie Lewis, publisher and editor respectively of the magazine Espionage, The magazine, for which I had the honor to serve briefly as executive editor, enjoyed an all-too-short life, but these two delightful women had often encouraged me in the idea of examining the role of secret intelligence in the American democratic system."

Michael Bracken said...

Jacqueline, diversity is what has allowed me to continue publishing even when the markets have shifted.