The First Two Pages: “Marley’s Mistress” by John C. Boland

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 July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine includes John C. Boland‘s story “Marley’s Mistress”—the eighth of the Marley stories published by the magazine. An earlier story in the series, “Marley’s Revolution,” was a finalist for the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Short Story—a category which I helped to judge that year, and I’ve been a fan of John and his work ever since.

Reading John’s essay on the new story, I’m struck by a couple of things—some of them personally related. As you’ll see, John talks here about having written the opening of the story well before he figured out where it was going to go—putting it aside for a long (long!) stretch before coming back to the story, something I’ve done myself. And it’s perhaps because of the long period of composition that he revisits the opening with such fresh eyes—seeing things he could’ve, maybe should’ve, done differently (something I’m all too familiar with myself).

I’m hopeful that John’s slightly self-deprecating tone at the end of the essay is at least partially tongue-in-cheek. Whatever the process, he’s a master storyteller—maneuvering complex, multi-layered plots with grace and subtlety. Read the essay here, read the whole story, and you’ll see what I mean. And do check out John’s website for more information about him and his work.

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.