The First Two Pages: “A Bitter Thing” by Mark Stevens

In April 2015, B.K. Stevens debuted the blog series “The First Two Pages,” hosting craft essays by short story writers and novelists analyzing the openings of their own work. The series continued until just after her death in August 2017, and the full archive of those essays can be found at Bonnie’s website. In November 2017, the blog series relocated to my website, and the archive of this second stage of the series can be found here.

The May/June 2019 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine features an outstanding line-up, including some of my own favorite short story writers: David Dean, Brendan DuBois, Martin Edwards, Janice Law, William Burton McCormick, Josh Pachter, Mark Stevens, Marilyn Todd, and Dave Zeltserman, just to name the ones whose stories I’ve already read—and still plenty more ahead.

I invited Mark Stevens to write about his story, “A Bitter Thing,” for several reasons. The story’s first two pages focus more on building the two main characters and their relationship than on pushing the plot ahead (at least explicitly, as you’ll see if you read the whole thing), and in the process, the opening lays the groundwork for their partnership, for the investigation, and for some revelations about character even through the story’s last line.

In addition to short stories like this one, Mark is the author of the Allison Coil Mystery Series, including Antler Dust, Buried by the Roan, Trapline, Lake of Fire and The Melancholy Howl. And he was the 2016 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year. You can find out more about him and his work at his website.

I hope you enjoy the essay below and check out the full story in the new EQMM. If you want more of Wayne Furlong’s adventures, check out the story “Shaky Ground,” mentioned by Mark in his essay and linked here.

Please use the arrows and controls at the bottom of the embedded PDF to navigate through the essay. You can also download the essay to read off-line.