The First Two Pages: “First You Dream, Then You Die” by Donna Moore

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.

This week brings another of this year’s Edgar Award finalists for Best Short Story: Donna Moore, author of “First You Dream, Then You Die” from the anthology Black Is the Night: Stories Inspired by Cornell Woolrich, edited by Maxim Jakubowski and available from Titan Books (and through Amazon and Forbidden Planet). In a nice twist, Donna’s nomination this year comes on the heels of Woolrich’s own nomination for an Edgar last year, for “The Dark Oblivion” in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Woolrich’s influence on the mystery genre is likely incalculable, both through his own writing and the many (many!) films adapted from his work, and I love Donna’s listing in the essay below of some of the classic Woolrichian tropes and motifs: “the avenging angels, the ticking clocks, the inescapable fates, the waking nightmares, the races through darkness, the savage forces, the disappearing women, the blackouts, the amnesia, the loneliness, the fear, and the impending doom…” While Donna’s story is being recognized as a stand-out, Black is the Night as a whole seems an instant-classic.

While Woolrich was likely never called a comic writer, Donna’s work does lean more heavily in those directions. Her first novel was a Private Eye spoof: Go To Helena Handbasket, which won the Lefty Award for most humorous crime fiction novel, and she earned a Lefty nomination for her second novel too, Old Dogs, also short-listed for the Last Laugh Awards. Her forthcoming third novel, The Unpicking, is a trilogy of novellas set in Victorian and Edwardian Scotland, spanning three generations of “hysterical women” who experience systemic corruption and injustice. Donna is also co-host of the annual CrimeFest crime fiction convention. Follow her on Twitter at @badsvillebroad.

Donna’s essay is part of a short series highlighting some of this year’s Edgar finalists. You can find William Burton McCormick’s essay on “Locked-In” here, and stay tuned for another finalist next week as well!

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.


3 thoughts on “The First Two Pages: “First You Dream, Then You Die” by Donna Moore

  1. Pingback: The First Two Pages: “Backstory” by Charles John Harper – Art Taylor

  2. Ewan McGhee

    Great stuff. I love this story and it was fascinating to learn more on the background to the story in the essay

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