The First Two Pages: “The Dunes of Saulkrasti” by William Burton McCormick

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.

Debuting today, the September/October issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine features another Who’s Who of fine crime writers, including David Dean, O’Neil De Noux, Josh Pachter, Bill Pronzini, James Sallis, Marilyn Todd, Peter Turnbull, Stacy Bella Woodson, Dave Zeltserman, and many more. One of my own favorite writers, William Burton McCormick, has a new story as well, “The Dunes of Saulkrasti,” and I’m pleased to welcome him to the First Two Pages to talk about it—especially since these first two pages may be among the most gripping I’ve hosted so far, most strategically plotted too!

Bill seems to be a super-prolific writer with stories regularly both in EQMM and in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine as well. (I’m envious to the core both of the speed of his output and the quality.) His work has also appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, The CWA Anthology of Short Stories: Mystery Tour, Black Mask, and Malice Domestic 13: Mystery Most Geographical, among other magazines and anthologies. His novel Lenin’s Harem, published in both English and Latvian, became the first work of fiction ever added to the Latvian War Museum’s permanent library in Rīga. For more information about his work, check out his Amazon page or connect with him on Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook.

As you’ll see in the essay below, “The Dunes of Saulkrasti” is set in Latvia, where Bill himself lived for four years—four of fifteen total living in Eastern Europe. I’ve often wished he was closer so we can meet in person. But consider this intro a toast across the Atlantic to a fine writer—with wishes we’ll cross paths in person one of these days.

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.


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4 thoughts on “The First Two Pages: “The Dunes of Saulkrasti” by William Burton McCormick

  1. Susan Kuchinskas

    I thought there was quite a lot of character development for the old man even in this brief passage. He’s strong (can dig a hole), competent (is prepared for unforeseen events: has a gun and will use it); and comfortable with himself (not concerned about his sins, and, an even more telling detail, enjoys them). An excellent example of using action to show character.

    1. William Burton McCormick

      Many thanks Susan. I loved your comment. You broke it down the old man’s character really well (better than I did!). Cheers!

  2. Elizabeth Zelvin

    Quite a twist in that last line, Bill—it takes the story to an entirely different dimension. And I enjoyed your analysis for the sense that you know exactly what you’re doing, the mark of an experienced writer in control of his material. Thanks. 🙂

    1. William Burton McCormick

      Many thanks Liz! Yes, hoped that last line would keep them reading. The narrative continues a different direction after this opening, so I’m hopeful it all hangs together.

      Many thanks for the comments! 🙂

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