Tuesday, January 10, 2023

First Two Pages blog series—Art Taylor

Art Taylor

B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens was one of my favorite short story writers—a terrific storyteller, whether offering up a detective story (check out her Iphigenia Woodhouse mysteries) or weaving one of her delightfully twisty noir stories: “Thea’s First Husband” and “The Last Blue Glass” among my favorites in that latter category.


But in addition to her fine storytelling, Bonnie was also sharp and thoughtful as a craftsperson in specific directions beyond engaging characters and plots. She was exacting about prose choices at the level of the line and the phrase, and she carefully engineered the structures of her stories on a larger level, artful at thinking about how a story might hold together. In panels and in personal conversations, Bonnie and I bonded over craft points, including our shared admiration for Poe’s idea on the single effect in the short story, for example, and our confidence—despite conventional wisdom!—in the power of a slow beginning.


“Conflict, we know, lies at the heart of fiction,” Bonnie wrote. “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.”

Featured on the 
First Two Pages blog


That paragraph above is excerpted from “Dropping Hints, Building Conflict,” an essay Bonnie wrote about her story “The Last Blue Glass”—part of The First Two Pages blog series she founded in April 2015 and which I’ve been honored to continue curating since Bonnie’s untimely death in August 2017.


Over the past nearly eight years, the First Two Pages has hosted hundreds of writers reflecting on their craft choices in the first two manuscript pages of published short stories and occasionally novels too. How do the opening lines and paragraphs seek to draw the reader into a story? How are characters introduced, conflicts established, settings described? How do all those parts lay the foundation for wherever the story is headed next—or even its ultimate destination?

A collection of award-
winning short stories by Art Taylor


My expectation is that the blog series appeals to two specific but potentially overlapping groups: writers seeking tips to improve their own craft and readers interested in some of the behind-the-scenes of a writer’s process and approach (the overlap in two directions: we writers are all readers, of course, and I often hear from readers who want to try their own hand at writing too).


Contributors to the First Two Pages have ranged from veteran authors to first-time writers (fresh perspectives!), and over the last couple of years, each new slate of Edgar Award finalists has agreed to share thoughts on their nominated stories. I’ve personally learned a ton myself from the essays I’ve

Art contributes to many short
story publications & anthologies

hosted since Bonnie’s husband and daughter asked me to take over the series, and several specific posts stand out now: Martin Edwards on his novel Mortmain Hall and the tradition of starting with an epilogue; Juliet Grames on how her debut story “The Very Last Time” honors the traditions of both crime fiction and speculative fiction; Nick Kolakowski on his story “A Nice Pair of Guns” and the decision to scrap his first in media res opening; both Naomi Hirahara and James W. Ziskin on the challenges of writing Sherlock Holmes pastiches; and…


Well, now I’m browsing through the archives and revisiting far too many favorites to list. If you’re interested in browsing yourself, you can find the full archive of the essays that Bonnie hosted at her website and the archive of the second stage of the series at my own site.


To be released on Feb. 14 by 
Crippen & Landru, Publishers

As 2022 ended, I hosted several contributors to the latest Chesapeake Crime anthology Magic Is Murder, including WWK’s own KM Rockwood on her story “Pyewackett”—and thanks to Kathleen for hosting me here today! And the start of 2023 has brought two powerhouse short story writers: Doug Allyn and Brendan DuBois as the start of a series featuring contributors to Edgar and Shamus Go Golden: Twelve Tales of Murder, Mystery, and Master Detection from the Golden Age of Mystery and Beyond.


Do stop by to hear from these and other writers—and I hope everyone’s first two pages will have you seeking the next pages beyond as well.


Art Taylor is the author of two short story collections—The Adventure of the Castle Thief and Other Expeditions and Indiscretions and The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense—and of the novel in stories On the Road with Del & Louise, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He won the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Short Story, and he has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, four Macavity Awards, and four Derringer Awards for his short fiction. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University. www.arttaylorwriter.com 




Jim Jackson said...

Hey Art,

I remember well when Bonnie first had the idea for her first-two pages blogs and was pleased when she asked me to contribute my own take in June 2015. Gosh that's a long time ago.

So glad you've taken this over and continued to expand its power to inform.

Susan said...

Love your first two pages posts. I did one for my novella. It’s a great brain-pushing activity.

Molly MacRae said...

Nice to have you here, Art. I'm so glad you're continuing Bonnie's "First Two Pages" series. She will always be one of my favorite short story writers (and you're not too shabby, either).

Kait said...

Hi Art, welcome to the blog, it is wonderful to have you. Thank you also for continuing The First Two Pages. The best writing course one could imagine.

KM Rockwood said...

Thank you for coming to Writers Who Kill and sharing some insights with us. Bonnie was always very kind and helpful to us new writers, and she is missed. I'm so glad you're continuing her First Two Pages project.

Art Taylor said...

Thanks, everyone, for the kind words--and thanks to Kathleen for hosting me! I've been tied up nearly all day, but wanted to check in belatedly and say how much I appreciate the opportunity to spread the word about the First Two Pages blog series. A real joy to have continued this great project. :-)

Arthur Vidro said...

Very informative (as usual for you), Art. I was especially heartened by your reference to Martin Edwards' contribution to this blog, on his Mortmain Hall. Since I have read (and enjoyed) that book, I just now went ahead and read what Martin posted about it. Seeing the author's mind in gear adds another layer of pleasure to the book.

-- Arthur Vidro