Letter from Dennis

Dear fellow readers and writers,

Welcome to my website. I hope you find it, my novels and stories, and maybe even me, interesting.

I’m probably new to many of you — I hope so, anyway — and websites, Internet, e-mail, and dot-com stuff are all new to me. I began writing novels and short stories long before this electronic age. My first real story, written in college, was published in 1954; my first novel in 1962; my first detective novel, written as Michael Collins and introducing his still very busy detective Dan Fortune, in 1967.

Sometime in the 1970s, Dennis autographed this photo, using one of his pseudonyms — William Arden.

Sometime in the 1970s, Dennis autographed this photo, using one of his pseudonyms — William Arden.

They were all composed on one of those machines we called typewriters back then. Only kidding, of course. I know there are many writers out there still pounding away on an old Royal or Olympia manual. (I can’t talk about electric typewriters — I skipped that stage, went straight from a manual Olympia to a CPM computer.)

What I, and most writers, are so often asked at Bouchercon, Left Coast, Mid-Atlantic, Malice Domestic conferences, and all the other conventions, is how we got started. In my case, I sort of came to it naturally — and backwards. My father and mother were both English actors who loved words, stories, drama. When I arrived, they happened to be playing in St. Louis, Missouri, for which I have always been grateful. Don’t misunderstand, I like England, have many relatives there, and have been back often, but here in America we pay better, and we’ve got a whole lot more varied and interesting crime.

Anyway, I saw a great many plays when I was young, and was awed by them. Since my mother had also been a history teacher back in England — her day job — she raised me on reading history books, historical novels, and, yes, mysteries. She loved crime novels herself, calling them buckets of blood.

After I was born on the banks of the Mississippi, my parents immediately returned to London, and for my first six years I grew up in and around that wonderful city and its great theater and literary traditions. Then we returned to America, where my parents both eventually became citizens. We stopped first in New York, and headed out to Hollywood, where I went to public school for a year. But Dad hated Hollywood — being a socialist and early member of the Labor Party, he despised most of the British colony of the time for being arrogant Tories. Unsurprisingly, work was not easy for him to get.

So we moved on to Denver where they did winter stock theater, and then again to New York. There Dad performed on Broadway with the likes of Helen Hayes, Judith Anderson, Ray Bolger and other star performers of the time, and worked in summer stock with the very young Henry Fonda and James Stewart.

That was how I ended up growing up in Brooklyn, complete with English accent and pronunciation admired by the teachers, but not fitting in too well with the largely Italian neighborhoods. Fortunately I was a big boy, athletic, and both friendly and gregarious. I learned a great lesson — few people hate or pick on a minority of one. If you’re pleasant and unthreatening, you become sort of a pet, although you remain an outsider. To the kids, you’re just a neighborhood boy who plays pretty good first base, but your parents are so different — How many British actors, who worked nights and slept days, were there way out in Brooklyn? — that the other kids don’t take you home, and your family and theirs don’t mix.

My whole childhood tended to isolate me with my artist parents, never having real roots beyond them, and Brooklyn added to the isolation. In was a stranger’s life in many ways, and it developed in me the ability to rely on my own resources. On my imagination, where I would create entire worlds of action and adventure — in essence inventing stories, writing dramas. Except for the neighborhood sports games on all those vacant lots that Brooklyn had then, whose friendships ended the moment we all went home, my world was largely built on theater, books, and imagination.

My parents did not encourage me to repeat their peripatetic, insecure life. For a time, I took a detour — into science. (Wow, big detour. Science and art are very much the same thing, after all.) I graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School — a city-wide school for which you had to win entrance by taking an examination — worked in the laboratory for Chas. Pfizer, and earned a B.A. in chemistry. And that was where I stopped.

Who was I kidding? I was good at math, but I had no passion for it, and if you want to be a true scientist you’d better love math. What excited me was still the theater, plays, books. As an adolescent, I had tried acting, but I was wooden, up-tight, and scared to death by the audience. While I loved painting and music, I couldn’t draw and couldn’t carry a tune.

So what was left? Writing. That, I could do. That, I wanted to do.

I switched fields and took an M.A. in journalism. I had to make a living, but still I could and did study English and write fiction on the side. Afterwards for about ten years, I wrote for, and edited, slick chemical magazines in New York while writing literary short stories, two novels, and a host of detective/mystery short stories at night and on weekends. Most were published.

In 1964, on the strength of the two novels, and the detective short stories, I quit my last full-time editorial job, moved to Santa Barbara, and began my first Michael Collins novel in 1967 about private detective Dan Fortune.

I’m still writing, and have just learned I’ve been nominated for an Edgar for the third time.

I hope you will all find, buy, read, and enjoy my more than 60 novels (no, I don’t know exactly how many) and hundreds (same problem) of short stories. I enjoy writing them, and plan to keep on doing just that.

— Dennis Lynds, Santa Barbara, California, February 2002