The First Two Pages: “The Summer Uncle Cat Came To Stay” by Leslie Elman

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 first First Two Pages of 2021 was contributed by James W. Ziskin on his story “The Twenty-Five-Year Engagement”—part of a series of essays featuring contributors to the anthology In League with Sherlock Holmes. Then a few weeks later, Ziskin’s story was named as one of the finalists for this year’s Edgar Award for Best Short Story—hooray!—which prompted me to consider a new series of essays, featuring the other finalists for this year’s Edgar Award in this category: Leslie Elman, “The Summer Uncle Cat Came to Stay,” from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; Maaza Mengiste, “Dust, Ash, Flight,” from Addis Ababa Noir; and Joseph S. Walker, “Etta at the End of the World,” Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. (The full list of finalists in all categories is here.) I emailed the other three finalists; two responded that they’d love to participate; and that brings us to today.

In the essay below, Leslie Elman calls her story “The Summer Uncle Cat Came To Stay” the most ambitious story she’s ever written—and then lays out the ways in which she embeds the narrative in one point of view while encouraging the reader to contribute another layer of perception and understanding. It’s a level of crafting that speaks to why the story has been honored as one of this year’s finalists.

Elman’s short mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, and Vautrin magazine. She is the author of several trivia and quiz books, including Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. She also writes the syndicated newspaper column “Trivia Bits.” You can find out more about her work at her website here.

And stay tuned next week for Joseph S. Walker on “Etta at the End of the World”!

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.

Elman-Summer

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