Friday, December 14, 2012

Interview with Publisher Kate Stine of Mystery Scene Magazine

Interview by Hank Phillippi Ryan

First Mystery Scene Cover
HPR:  Welcome Kate! And happy 27th anniversary to Mystery Scene! It was founded in 1985, right? That was the same year New Coke was introduced! And the cost of a postage stamp skyrocketed to a shocking 22 cents. How has the magazine survived so brilliantly? What’s the philosophy that keeps you going so successfully?

KS:  I think Mystery Scene has survived for so long simply because it's always been run by fans—whether they were writers like the magazine's founders Ed Gorman and Robert Randisi, publishing types like me, or serious readers like Brian.

In 1985, a lot of the content was focused on markets, trends, and the publishing scene. But Ed and Bob and their vast array of friends always ended up talking about mystery novels, films, and TV shows that they loved. I think this clear love and appreciation of the mystery was very appealing to early subscribers, many of whom weren't writers at all.

Brian Skupin and Kate Stine
When Brian and I took over in 2002, we shifted the editorial focus even further to align with our interests as mystery readers. Our audience is like us: interested in a wide range of story types, TV shows, films, etc. They like to get a "behind the curtain" look at the creative life, but ultimately they're most interested in the writers and their work than in the media industry. 

HPR:  Let me just say—Mystery Scene is gorgeous. It’s smart, it’s current, and it’s ahead of the curve. Obviously you guys know your stuff. How do you and Brian share—or divvy up—the responsibilities?

KS:  Well, thanks! I work full-time on the magazine and edit the features and columns, handle print ad sales, and handle various publisher type tasks.

Brian handles the "What's Happening With…" series, oversees the MS website, and also acts as a sounding board on editorial decisions. But he is also the director of consulting at a very busy IT firm in Manhattan, so his contributions, while essential, are made on a part-time basis.

We've been extremely fortunate to have Senior Editor Teri Duerr working with us for the past six years. She assigns and edits the Mystery Scene Reviews section, creates the monthly e-newsletter, oversees the website content, and handles digital advertising sales.

Stine and Skupin's first issue, 2002
Our art director, Annika Larsson, has been with us since 2002 and is responsible for Mystery Scene's spiffy appearance. She recently relocated to Sweden, so now we're working together over the internet; that and the time difference, makes us surprisingly efficient.

HPR:  You have to recognize trends, understand your readers—and also introduce readers to emerging authors and changes in the industry. Is that—intimidating? Fun? Exciting? And how do you do that?

KS:  Having a group of knowledgeable contributors is key because no one person is going to be able to stay on top of such a wide-ranging genre.

Mystery Scene's review columnists are each quite expert in their field, so they help keep us up to date on trends and emerging authors. Betty Webb covers current small press titles, Jon L. Breen covers nonfiction and reference works, Bill Crider covers short stories, Dick Lochte covers audiobooks, and Lynne Maxwell and Hank Wagner cover mass-market paperback originals. Teri Duerr and I both go through the hardcover novels from large publishers that arrive for review.

Our happy band of feature contributors—Kevin Burton Smith, Oline Cogdill, Michael Mallory, Martin Edwards, Cheryl Solimini, and Ed Gorman, among others—often suggest profiles and articles.

And our readers write us all the time with suggestions and comments. A lot of our readers are librarians, teachers, or booksellers—they're knowledgeable and enthusiastic which is great for us. 

HPR: What would surprise us about how you work?

KS:  What might be surprising is how hands-on it is—this isn't corporate publishing. In a small company, you end up doing a bit of everything—negotiating deals, writing ad copy, doing photo research, designing brochures, lugging books back and forth, etc.

The workload can be overwhelming but for interest and variety, it can't be beat. I really enjoy it. 

HPR:  Were you (and Brian) always mystery fans? Do you remember the first mystery you fell in love with?  Do you have the same taste in books?  Do you still have time to read?

KS: I don't have as much time to read as I'd like, but who does?

Both Brian and I were mystery readers from an early age. My first "grown up" book was Agatha Christie's Murder in the Vicarage given to me by my grandmother. Brian's first magazine subscription was to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. We actually met at a mystery convention, Magna cum Murder, in 1996.

I've always said that most of my incidental knowledge of the world has come from reading mysteries. An author that had a profound effect on my life was Elizabeth Peters / Barbara Michaels. I started reading her novels in my early teens and they very much influenced the woman I grew up to be.

Brian loves intricate, tricky plotting, particularly of the locked room or impossible crime variety. He's quite well-read in the Golden Age area but he also likes contemporary thrillers. We recommend books to each other a lot.

HPR:  I love hearing about conference romances. What happened?

KS: I was on a panel about book reviewing at Magna Cum Murder and Brian was in the audience. Afterward, I walked up and asked if he had seen the conference organizer, Kathryn Kennison. There was no reason to think that he had, but as a single woman my policy was to direct all questions to the tall, good-looking stranger in the crowd first.

HPR: Very wise. And then?

After the convention, he sent me a lovely note and we started an old-fashioned correspondence. (Which was necessary since he had been sent to London for work and I was in New York.) We had our first date at Malice Domestic that spring.

One of my all-time favorite Mystery Scene articles was Twist Phelan’s “Romancing the Con,” an interview with four couples (including me and Brian) who found true love at mystery conventions. Here’s a link: 

Co-Publishers Stine and Skupin celebrate Mystery Scene's 2004 Anthony for best magazine.

HPR: So—what’s up for next year? I hear you have big news!

KS:  We just signed a deal with Barnes & Noble to create an e-reader edition of Mystery Scene which will be available at’s NOOK Digital Newsstand. We hope that will start in February with our Winter Issue #128.

We’re also redesigning our website with more bells and whistles, games, etc. This will launch probably in February or March.

In 2013, I want to concentrate on increasing Mystery Scene’s readership. The more the merrier!

HPR: Thanks, Kate!

Mystery Scene has a special offer for members of Sisters in Crime.  Read about it at

Hank also asked Kate how it felt to take over the reins, er, presses, at Mystery Scene.  Kate replied, "I will always be grateful to Ed for the opportunity he gave us. He's one of the most beloved people in the mystery community for good reason." And then she sent us this wonderfully nostalgic piece she wrote about the very moment it happened.

Kate Stine is the editor-in-chief and co-publisher of Mystery Scene. After years as a book editor, Kate consulted for clients such as The Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine, The Mystery Writers of America, MysteryNet, and Agatha Christie, Ltd. Kate was also editor-in-chief of The Armchair Detective Magazine from 1992-1997.

Mystery Scene Magazine

331 W. 57th Street, Suite 148
New York, NY 10019-3101
t: 212-765-7124 f: 212-202-3540

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Hank Phillippi Ryan is the on-the-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate, winning 28 Emmys for her work. Her first mystery, the best-selling PRIME TIME, won the Agatha for Best First Novel. FACE TIME was a BookSense Notable Book, and AIR TIME and DRIVE TIME were nominated for the AGATHA and ANTHONY Awards. Hank’s short story “On the House” won the AGATHA, ANTHONY and MACAVITY.

Her newest thriller is the best-selling THE OTHER WOMAN. Hank is president of Sisters in Crime and on the national board of Mystery Writers of America. Her website is