The First Two Pages: “The Twenty-Five-Year Engagement” by James W. Ziskin

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.

Sherlock Holmes pastiches have been much on my mind lately, thanks to the Sherlock Holmes course I taught at George Mason University in the fall semester—especially since one of the final assignments for the course gave students the option of writing their own Sherlock Holmes stories, applying what they’d learned about how such stories work. Not only did the class read many of the original Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, but they also sampled adaptations, pastiches, and parodies, and I was grateful that Laurie R. King joined us virtually to discuss her own work, including the story “Mrs. Hudson’s Case,” which the students read, and to offer some quick advice to the class about composing their own stories. And coinciding with the last week of our class, Laurie King and Leslie Klinger released the latest in their anthology series of stories inspired by the Holmes, In League with Sherlock Holmes, with a terrific group of contributors.

So when it came time to plan the start of the new year for the First Two Pages blog series, I reached out to some of those authors about reflecting on their stories the anthology—and as a first reward of the new year, I got an even richer understanding of how a master craftsman approaches the art of pastiche, as you’ll see below in James W. Ziskin‘s reflections on his story “The Twenty-Five-Year Engagement.”

Jim and I have been friends for a long while (though only seeing one another at conferences, sad to say!) and also blogmates for many years at 7 Criminal Minds (where he continue to contribute), and I’ve long admired and respected him both as a writer and a person. He’s the author of the author of the Ellie Stone Mysteries, novels which have won both the Anthony and Macavity Awards and been named finalists for the Edgar, Barry, and Lefty awards. And he’s had a fascinating life beyond his writing career too, as you’ll see on the bio at the end of his essay—and do check out his website for more information on his work.

I hope you’ll enjoy Jim’s essay on his story—and on the art of pastiche. (So much to learn!) And stay tuned for more contributors to In League with Sherlock Holmes in the next two weeks, including Naomi Hirahara on her story “Infinite Loop” and David Corbett on his story “The Murderer’s Paradox.”

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.

Ziskin_25-Year-Engagement

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