The First Two Pages

Every Tuesday, a mystery writer explains how he or she faced the challenges of those brutally difficult–and vitally important–first two pages.

First Two Pages of “Death Will Finish Your Marathon” in Where Crime Never Sleeps: Murder New York Style 4

Elizabeth Zelvin

In September and October, The First Two Pages features posts by some of the authors who contributed stories to Where Crime Never Sleeps: Murder New York Style 4 (Level Best Books, September 2017), the fourth anthology of crime and mystery short stories by members of the New York/ Tri-State Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

In addition to contributing “Death Will Finish Your Marathon,” I served as editor of the anthology, so the the New York theme—“ the infinite variety of New Yorkers and the uniqueness of New Yorkishness,” as I put it in the volume’s introduction—was as important to me as my protagonist and his sidekicks or the crime itself. Part of my agenda for the first two pages was to make New York City live and breathe.

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The First Two Pages of “Make Me Beautiful”

by Karen Pullen

I work on my stories for a long time. This 3500-word story, “Make Me Beautiful”, was no exception. I wrote the first draft in 2006, for a contest that required a story around this prompt: She slapped him hard. I tried to think of an original reason for a woman to slap a man and came up with: a really bad haircut. That’s the pivotal event in this story: Duman, a hair stylist, butchers Payton’s hair.  

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The First Two Pages: A Golden Eclipse

Debra H. Goldstein

Normally, I begin short stories with a clever line of dialogue or a dead body.  My goal is to engage readers immediately.  In Day of the Dark: Stories of Eclipse, the opening of my A Golden Eclipse short story is contrary to my normal style. It builds slowly in a manner parallel to the con revealed in the story.

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“Baby Killer” in Day of the Dark

Margaret S. Hamilton

I love eclipses and meteor showers. A few years ago, we watched the Transit of Venus through a telescope at the Cincinnati Observatory.

Excited to write my eclipse story, I struggled to generate a plot. I find solar eclipses wondrous, but ominous. Twain uses a solar eclipse to great effect in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, but an actual solar eclipse event is so short. What dastardly crime could happen during those crucial two minutes?

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Two Men Named Charles

KB Inglee

If you are writing a short story, your first two pages are a significant percentage of the whole. There is a lot of introduction to be done right off the bat. I try to get all the significant characters and a feel for the setting on those two pages. In the case of this story, I set a difficult task for myself. I combined a fictional and a real character and ended up with two men named Charles.

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Unmasking the Monster: The First Two Pages of “The Devil’s Standtable”

Melissa H. Blaine

(The First Two Pages is devoting August to celebrating the release of Day of the Dark, a mystery anthology edited by Kaye George, published by Wildside Press, and inspired by the coming total solar eclipse. I hope you enjoy getting a look at the opening pages of some of the twenty-four stories in this anthology!)

Writing urban fantasy can sometimes be a bit like creating a Scooby-Doo episode in reverse. In the iconic cartoon, Scooby and the gang travel somewhere and encounter a ghost or monster or other supernatural creature. They spend the rest of the episode getting chased by the creature, gathering clues, and eating Scooby snacks. At the end, Scooby and the rest unmask the creature as human and explain the mystery.

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Going Against the Grain

Nupur Tustin

As a writer, I take very seriously Horace’s advice to begin a story in media res. If this is important advice for a novelist, it’s even more important for a short story writer. So the first version of my young Haydn story, “The Baker’s Boy,” naturally began with the inciting event. Haydn, a young man, is getting dressed at dawn in his attic in Vienna when a commotion draws him to the window:

Heedless of his own safety, the young man leaned far out the small window. What calamity could have befallen the world today? The solar eclipse, plunging Vienna into a brief period of darkness, had come and gone without event.

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The First Two Pages of Ruined Stones

Eric Reed

Ruined Stones (Poisoned Pen Press, July 2017) is our second Grace Baxter mystery. While this novel is set during December 1941 in Newcastle on Tyne, England, Grace was introduced last year in The Guardian Stones. At the time she still lived in her home village of Noddweir in Shropshire but now she is a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Police Force and has relocated to the city to work in a small police station headquartered in a former shop on the corner of a terraced street.

We write in a lean fashion, so the opening chapter of Ruined Stones occupies less than two pages. Even so it introduces two characters. The thoughts of the first reveal something of her history and hopes as Christmas nears. We also provide indications of social attitudes and physical conditions in the city, concluding with the cliff-hanging arrival of the second character.

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Unintended Consequences

Michele Drier

When I’m looking for a book to read, especially from a new-to-me author, I read the blurb, the back matter if it’s a paperback, and the first few pages. This smidgeon will usually tell me if I’ll like the author’s voice, the writing, the beginnings of the plot, the characters. I was raised to eat all my dinner, so not finishing a book is anathema to me. This cursory read is enough to make a decision—yes or no—although sometimes I’m surprised at the way the story unfolds.

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Viking Gold, First Pages: My Conundrum and A Bit More

L.A. Sartor

Viking Gold is Book Two in the Carswell Adventure Series and is the story of Abby, twin sister of Tori, whom we meet in book one of the series, Stone of Heaven.

A little history behind the series. Stone of Heaven started out as a screenplay. It did amazingly well in contests, finaling in the top 100 (out of thousands entries) of the Scriptapalooza contest and earning various reads, but one in particular held huge promise. Rhodes Rader of Heavy Duty Entertainment (does a lot of work with Ben Stiller) and his female assistant loved it because it had such strong roles for women, and their support made me believe it would go somewhere. It hasn’t … yet, but I loved the story so much I turned it into a novel. I believed in it that much.

Okay, back to Viking Gold which starts at Tori’s wedding and immediately delves into the differences between the girls, focusing on Abby as this is her story.

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The First Two Pages of The Color of Fear

Judy Alter

I wrote my first novella, The Color of Fear, for two reasons: it had been over a year before I brought Kelly O’Connell to her followers. I’d been out of the market (and I sometimes think the world) because of a complicated and painfully disintegrated hip, and I made a major downsizing move. Both worked out well, and I knew it was time to get on with my writing. Second, I had an invitation to contribute a novella to a digital anthology. The first Kelly O’Connell title, Skeleton in a Dead Space, was included in the anthology, Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries, which will be followed this fall by Sleuthing Women II: Ten Mystery Novellas. The Color of Fear is the seventh title in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series.

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THE FIRST TWO PAGES: The Fallen

Laurel S. Peterson

First, thank you B.K. Stevens for having me back on your fascinating blog. I’m so pleased to be here. I’m going to talk about the first two pages of my second book, which I’m going to finish (yes, I am!) this summer. The Fallen is the second in my Clara Montague series, so the first two pages of the new book must do a lot of work in terms of introducing the reader to the previously established characters, as well as creating tension to draw someone into the new story.

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First Two Pages—Too Many Women in the Room

Joanne Guidoccio

While deciding whether or not to start with a prologue, I recalled advice I had received from a workshop facilitator: “Use only if the prologue adds an interesting and integral layer to the narrative.”

Interesting and integral…Definitely a challenge and one I decided to tackle in my new release, Too Many Women in the Room.  Having written the rest of the novel in the first-person POV, I wanted the reader to be privy to the thoughts and feelings of the victim in his final hour.

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The First Two Pages of River City Dead

Nancy G. West

Aggie Mundeen, with her wry take on life, sees humor in most situations. She’s an advice columnist and amateur sleuth in love with a commitment-averse San Antonio detective who doesn’t appreciate her inserting herself in his investigations. So their relationship is frequently contentious, often humorous and always dicey.  

By book four, River City Dead, the new book in the Aggie Mundeen mystery series, these two have survived crime, calamity and confusion, but they realize they love each other and should attempt to reset their relationship in some idyllic place away from crime. They choose to rendezvous at a San Antonio River Walk hotel during Fiesta week. With Aggie involved, nothing goes as planned.

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The First Two Pages by J. Marshall Gordon, author of “Katelyn’s Killer”

J. Marshall Gordon

If you’ve ever written a story, you know how easily the first few paragraphs kind of write themselves. You wake up one morning, toss down your juice, slug a mug of coffee, and cannot wait to commit your fully formed story to the page. Perhaps you crack your knuckles as the computer comes to life, take a deep breath, and find your story rippling through your fingers onto the keys.

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