The First Two Pages: “A Tear in His Hand” by James D.F. Hannah

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.

We’re kicking off 2024 with a celebration of James D.F. Hannah‘s first story (surely first of many!) for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine: “A Tear in His Hand,” which appears in the “Black Mask” section of the magazine’s January/February 2024 issue. While this is his debut story in this magazine, James (who travels under many names, but I’m sticking with this one here) is an accomplished writer who’s won acclaim for both his short fiction elsewhere and his novels. He won the Shamus Award for his novel Behind the Wall of Sleep (from the Henry Malone series, which also includes Because the Night), and his story “No Man’s Land” was included in Best American Mystery and Suspense 2022, edited by Steph Cha and Jess Walter. His short stories have appeared in several standout anthologies, including Playing Games, edited by Lawrence Block, Under the Thumb: Stories of Police Oppression, edited by S.A. Cosby, and The Anthology of Appalachian Writers, and he contributed an earlier First Two Pages essay (a terrific one) on his story “Temptation is a Gun” for the anthology Trouble No More, edited by Mark Westmoreland. You can find out more about James and his work at and on social media @jamesdfhannah.

Next week, I’ll be hosting another author from this new issue of EQMM—so stay tuned! And in the meanwhile, enjoy the essay below—and look for the full issues, on newsstands now.

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.