An Interview with Ira Matetsky, Werowance of the Wolfe Pack

In my quest to try to reach readers, I thought I’d find a really and truly dedicated mystery fan. My favorite dead mystery writer is Rex Stout, who wrote the Nero Wolfe novels among others.

My favorite current living writer is me. However, I don’t have a fan club, and Mr. Stout does. In lieu of going to the president of my fan club, I asked the Werowance of the Wolfe Pack, Mr. Ira Matetsky, a few questions about how he chooses to read novels and how we can reach him.

(Until I talked to Mr. Matetsky, I thought of myself as Stout's most loyal fan.
This is my dog, Archie Goodboy, named after Rex Stout's famous character.)

Question: Thank you so much for being a part of my blog. To begin, could you tell us a little bit about your job in the Wolfe Pack?

Answer: I’m the “Werowance” of the Wolfe Pack.  In this context, “Werowance” means the same thing as “President” or “Chairman.”  “Werowance” was reportedly a title used by the chiefs of some American Indian tribes, and it is a title or nickname by which Nero Wolfe’s assistant, Archie Goodwin, addresses Mr. Wolfe in one of the greatest of Rex Stout’s detective novels, TOO MANY COOKS (1938).  The Wolfe Pack is an international group of aficionados of the Nero Wolfe corpus, which comprises 33 novels and about 40 short stories, spanning the period from the 1930s to the 1970s.  We hold several events each year, primarily in New York City but also at other locations; publish a journal of Wolfean scholarship, The Gazette; and have a website that I believe contains far more information about our subject than any other.  Information about membership in the Wolfe Pack and our activities can be obtain on that website,

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(Too Many Cooks -- one of those novels
that made me want to write mysteries.)

Question: Great. I’m going to join. As the Werowance of the Wolfe Pack, you are probably the ultimate mystery novel fan, exactly the kind of person I and most small press writers would really like to reach with our novels. Can you tell us what it is in a novel that you're really looking for?

Answer: Well, I’m the ultimate fan of these novels, and of a few other mystery and detective fiction writers.  My other personal favorites include R. Austin Freeman, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Henry Cecil, Jacques Futrelle, Isaac Asimov, Cyril Hare, and John Mortimer, among others.  But I don’t really think of myself of being particularly knowledgeable about the whole world of detective fiction – as I was reminded when I attended a Bouchercon a couple of years ago, and didn’t recognize the names of a large percentage of the authors who were being discussed in the various forums.  As one can tell from that list of authors, it’s not always easy for me to tell in advance whether I’ll enjoy a particular author’s work or not until I start reading it, so it’s hard for me to define what it is that I’m looking for.  (I would cite here Potter Stewart’s comment that “I know it when I see it,” but for those who remember the context, that really would send the wrong message about what I’m looking to read.)

Question: Ha! That’s great. Aside from Rex Stout's novels, how do you generally find out about a novel that you're going to read?

Answer: Typically word of mouth; occasionally a review.

Question #4: What can writers do to help you find our novels?

Answer: I’m afraid I don’t have too many insights to offer about this.  The Wolfe Pack confers two annual literary awards – the Nero Award, for literary excellence in the English-language mystery genre, and the Black Orchid Novella Award, presented in accordance with Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, for an outstanding mystery novella.  The winners of these awards receive a publicity boost, both within and well beyond the 500-member Wolfe Pack, so authors whose works satisfy the criteria for these awards may wish to submit their work for consideration (again, further details are on our website). 

Question #5: Do you have a favorite living author, and if so, who is it and what do you love about him or her?

Answer: My favorite living author of fiction was probably John Mortimer, but we lost him a couple of years ago.  Today, perhaps Elizabeth Peters, for her Egyptian novels.   I also have a number of non-fiction authors whose works I look forward to avidly, but that is probably a completely different kettle of sea life.

Question #6: Do you have any advice for mystery writers, both those who are trying to break into the field and those who are established?

Answer: I’m afraid not.

Question #7: How do you feel about ebooks?

Answer: I think they are a great idea in theory, and also that my apartment and my office would be a lot less cluttered if I’d been buying e-books rather than book-books for the past few decades … but this far, I haven’t gotten started with e-reading, and have stuck with hard copies.  I am sure that will change sooner or later, and that when it does, I will wonder how I lived for so long without an iPad or a Nook, just as I wonder today how I lived for so long without a BlackBerry.

Question #8: Do you have a favorite Rex Stout novel

Answer: My favorites have varied over the years, so I am hesitant to pick a favorite novel.  A would-be reader of Stout’s works can start virtually anywhere; there are only two or three books that I think would not be a good introduction to the Wolfe corpus.

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(This is my favorite Wolfe novel.
Also Timothy Hutton did a great television adaptation of it.)

Thank you once again Mr. Matetsky. It has been kind of you to take time out of your schedule to answer these questions.

As a writer, I find Mr. Matetsky’s answers to be provocative.

His answers tell me a great deal about how readers find authors. The first thing they tell me is what readers don’t do.

As a rule, they don’t go out searching for new authors to take a chance on. Why would they? What readers want are satisfying experiences, and they know they can get that from the authors they love already. When I read the work of a great author, the experience will last me many hours after I’ve read the book. I’ve dreamed of Rex Stout’s novels for days. John Steinbeck's and Mark Twain’s books keep me company while I’m standing in line. Readers want the reliability of that experience.

They also don’t necessarily want anything modern. Mr. Matetsky is obviously not averse to the modern novel, but he seems satisfied reading 19th and 20th century novels as well. Why shouldn’t he be? So we’re not competing with each other as much as with the dead novelists whom we all love dearly.

What he seems to want is an experience that is satisfying without a lot of research on his part.

The way he finds out about a book is through word of mouth most of the time. What this means is that as authors, we need to identify who those hub personalities are, people who are going to spread the word for us. What I found particularly intriguing is that Mr. Matetsky finds more of his books through word of mouth than through reviews.

Of course, the reviews reach a lot of people, but reaching the correct people is key. As writers, we need to find who is going to read our books and recommend them to friends. When a lot of people are talking about our books in an excited way, we are going to get our work out there.

So we need to personalize our search for readers. What are your best tips for that personalization?