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.

Update On “The First Two Pages”

In 2015, my mom started a blog called “The First Two Pages.” As an author, my mom often thought about what makes a story or novel successful and invited other authors to talk about what worked for them — as well as lessons learned. This blog was something my mom and I did together. She was the brains behind the operation and I was on the technical side of things. We were quite the team and we posted over 130 essays.

When my mom passed away a few months ago, I knew the blog needed to keep going. It’s an important part of her legacy and also a place where writers turn to for guidance. I kept the blog going until the end of October but knew that a blog written for writers and by writers should really be in the hands of a writer. Good friend Art Taylor has graciously taken over “The First Two Pages” on his website. You can find it here: http://www.arttaylorwriter.com/…/the-first-two-pages-eve-f…/

I hope that everyone will continue following the blog posts. Feel free to reach out to me or Art if you would like to contribute as well. I’m glad to see this part of my mom’s legacy continue and it couldn’t be in better hands. Just as “The First Two Pages” suggests in its name, it’s only the beginning and there’s much more left to be said.

Thanks for reading and making it possible to continue this blog.

-Rachel Stevens and the Stevens Family

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First Two Pages of “I Gotta Be Me” in Where Crime Never Sleeps: Murder New York Style 4

Lindsay A. Curcio

This month, The First Two Pages continues to feature 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.

The New York/Tri-State Chapter of Sisters in Crime initially discussed an anthology theme of New York City landmarks. I immediately thought of the main US post office in New York City, the James A. Farley Post Office on Eighth Avenue. It’s a big Beaux Arts style building, covering the area from 31st to 33rd Streets. I like the building for several reasons. Its staff lovingly processes letters to Santa. (Think of Miracle on 34th Street—Macy’s is just a block away.) It’s open 24 hours a day. (As an immigration lawyer, I have made many trips to this post office over the years, at all hours, to meet deadlines.) And it serves as a base where the homeless can claim their mail.

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First Two Pages of “Love, Secrets, and Lies” in Where Crime Never Sleeps: Murder New York Style 4

Catherine Maiorisi

This month, The First Two Pages continues to feature 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.

Let me start by saying that I’m a “pantser,” i.e., a writer who doesn’t do a lot of planning. So presented with the prompt to write a crime story that involves an iconic event or public place in New York City, my thoughts immediately went to a protagonist. And, no surprise, I’m sure, I thought of NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli, the main character of my mystery, A Matter of Blood, which will be published in January 2018.

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First Two Pages of “Prey of New York” in Where Crime Never Sleeps: Murder New York Style 4

Rona Bell

This month, The First Two Pages continues to feature 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.

The first three words of my short story, “Prey of New York,” are: “We are hawks.”

These hawks have been following me around as a writer for a long time.  

What the professional writer knows that the student writer does not is that there is nothing better than an assignment. When I learned that Murder New York Style 4 would involve New York City landmarks, it was a great challenge and also a relief.

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First Two Pages of “Every Picture Tells A Story” in Where Crime Never Sleeps: Murder New York Style 4

Cathi Stoler

This month, The First Two Pages continues to feature 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.

As a lifelong New Yorker, I’m keenly aware of how people view the city. Many see the New York of today without knowing its backstory. Whether they admire one of its great buildings or a piece of art in one of its museums, they don’t always know how it came to be, or how its creation may have shaped someone’s life. This look into how the past impacts the future of my protagonist Chloe is what I wanted to come through.

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First Two Pages of “Levitas” in Where Crime Never Sleeps: Murder New York Style 4

Roslyn Siegel

This month, The First Two Pages continues to feature 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.

A whiff of sex and scandal;  a glimpse of the artsy, Bohemian life of a bygone era; an example of the mysterious powers of the mind.  All this I hoped to provide in the first two pages of my short story.

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First Two Pages of “Legends of Brooklyn” in Where Crime Never Sleeps: Murder New York Style 4

Triss Stein

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.

With the original theme of this new anthology the inclusion of an iconic New York place or event, I had the perfect subject just a few miles from where I am writing this. That famous bridge has been saying Brooklyn all over the world for more than a century.  Further, the next book in my series will take place in Brooklyn Heights, the neighborhood where the bridge begins. I had already learned more odd and interesting facts than I would ever be able to use in one book.

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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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