Eleanor Cawood Jones
The first thing I want to say is, it’s not my fault. Not my fault I really did get snowed into Green Bay, Wisconsin at a hotel hosting a clown convention. (One of the darker weeks of my life.) But I attract weird, which is fortuitous for a writer, or so I believe. Also not my fault: Some twenty years later the Malice Domestic mystery convention put out a call for anthology stories with the theme, Murder Most Conventional. It was—you guessed it—all about murder at a convention.
Well. Did I have an idea for that. But how to set it up to reflect that darkly hilarious moment in time, add fiction to reality and make it believable, and, as all mystery writers ask themselves on a fairly regular basis, who was to die?
I was crazy-happy (still am) when I learned the editors at Level Best Books accepted my supernatural mystery story “Most Evil” for their anthology of law enforcement tales, BUSTED! Arresting Stories from the Beat (released in April). It’s a pleasure to give a peek behind the curtain at The First Two Pages.
“I hate how Miss Marple solves murders and remains completely unaffected by them,” said my friend Jessica. “I like that Hope is real.”
Dr. Hope Sze is real to me, too.
The problem is that Hope has gotten a little too real in my latest book, Human Remains.
After the hostage-taking in Stockholm Syndrome, Hope has post-traumatic stress. Which means I have a few problems, as a writer.
- PTSD may not be compelling to read about. Hope is numb and antisocial and angry. Not the cute little pixie detective your average reader might want to get to know.
- Hope has a lot of backstory. For starters, I have to mention the hostage-taking and the fact that she has two boyfriends, without too many spoilers.
- Normal writer concerns: I try to set up character, setting, and a problem in the first paragraph, ideally in the first sentence. I also need to establish that she’s an Asian female physician and that the story is set in current-day Ottawa, Canada, just before Christmas.
I recently scanned through my story “Parallel Play,” looking for a short excerpt that would give readers a sense of the story and perhaps tease them into reading it in its entirety. (This was for a blog post at SleuthSayers, hosted by B.K. Stevens, who is also hosting this essay today—not just a tremendous short story writer herself but a true supporter of our whole community.) I knew the passage I was looking for: a short scene that kick-starts the central conflict, that sets all the drama into motion, really the beginning of main character Maggie’s long ordeal.
Conflict, we know, lies at the heart of fiction. That seems especially true of mystery fiction, where conflict usually leads to crime. But it’s not always possible or appropriate to open a mystery with a moment of intense conflict. Sometimes, I think, it’s more effective to begin with a quiet scene that drops hints about conflicts to come. And if our characters are so engaging that readers both expect and dread the conflict, that can be a good way to keep them turning pages.
Long before I started writing crime fiction, I wrote about real crimes—and county council meetings and interesting school events and more. I was a newspaper reporter. One of the most important things I learned in journalism school was to sweat the lede. (Yes, lede—not lead. Correct spelling was another thing they hammered home in grad school, and lede means the opening sentence or paragraph of a news article.)
TIGHTENING THE THREADS revolves around Australian Sarah Byrne who now lives on the coast of Maine. Why did she leave Australia? She’s kept it a secret until now, not even telling her best friend, Angie Curtis. But now she’s going to share her secret, setting off a cascade of other shared secrets … and two murders.
Susan Van Kirk
My first Endurance mystery, Three May Keep a Secret, came out in 2014 to great reviews and excellent sales. Then my publisher held my second mystery in the series, Marry in Haste, for a full two years. What could I do? I was worried about losing my readers since I was writing a series. I decided to write a novella in between, but I would self-publish it as an e-book and make some unique decisions. The title I chose was The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney.
“Just sneaky-weaky over here and hold this, Francis,” Armand said. Of course, he said it in French because he speaks no English except Hello, Francis, which is how he greets me when I arrive at the studio in the morning. And also if I have stayed over and gotten up early, which I always do, to make a pot of coffee first thing. Hello, Francis, he says, and pats me on the bum and giggles, because he’s a right old queen. But nice, I have to say nice, and as I’ve written more than once to Nan, an excellent teacher.”
Michael Paul Michaud
I want to thank B.K. Stevens for inviting me to take part in her innovative blog series “The First Two Pages.” My entry will actually examine the first 877 words of THE INTROVERT – the entire first chapter – allowing me to analyze not only the opening of the book, but also the close of the first act. Let’s get right to it…
“Sir, I’m afraid we require a second form of identification before we can proceed. If you’d like to come back another time, perhaps?”
She was still smiling, but now the smile was waning.
The Introvert begins with a seemingly innocent exchange between a woman and a man. Neither is named, which is a hint of what’s to come, not only in the opening chapter, but throughout the novella. I wanted the focus to be on the characters’ actions and personalities, and to not influence the readers’ perceptions by foisting a name on them. It is also consistent with the sparse nature of the cover, and with isolation/anonymity generally.