The First Two Pages: “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” by Donna Andrews

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.

Today’s essay completes a short series featuring contributors to the anthology The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell. In previous weeks, four contributors have reflected on three stories from the collection: Greg Herren on “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” Abby Bardi on “Help Me,” and Emily Hockaday and Jackie Sherbow on their first-ever collaboration, “Talk to Me.” It’s a special privilege today to welcome a great writer and great friend to help wrap things up: Donna Andrews, writing on her story “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire.”

Not only is Donna a longtime friend, but she and I have also been part of a writing group for around 10 years now—hard to believe! In fact, our writing group read the first draft of “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” in workshop one evening, and Donna prefaced that reading with an explanation similar to the one she gives in the essay below: This is not your normal Donna Andrews story. Fans of Donna’s award-winning Meg Langslow novels who come to “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” expecting the warmth and humor of that series will quickly find themselves in new territory, but as our group affirmed in workshop, Donna navigates that darker terrain with great skill and her same sure-footed storytelling. And we weren’t alone in that assessment: Just after the release of the The Beat of Black Wings, Robert Lopreti at Little Big Crimes chose this “classy” tale as his story of the week.

In addition to the contributors featured at the First Two Pages, The Beat of Black Wings, edited by Josh Pachter, includes stories by Michael Bracken, Carol Anne Davis, David Dean, Brendan DuBois, John Floyd, Barb Goffman, Sherry Harris, Matthew Iden, Edith Maxwell, Alison McMahan, Adam Meyer, Kathryn O’Sullivan, Alan Orloff, Josh Pachter, Christine Poulson, Mindy Quigley, Amber Sparks, Ricki Thomas, Marilyn Todd, Elaine Viets, and Stacy Woodson—and my wife Tara Laskowski and I also contributed a collaborative story, our first together.

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.