The First Two Pages: “The Home Front” by Charles Ardai

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.

Stephen King has called Charles Ardai “a true renaissance man”—a quote I’m glad I found, since I started to use the same phrase myself in writing this introduction. Writer, editor, publisher, businessman, marketer… and email correspondent too? That last may seem anticlimactic, but it’s another testament to Charles’s efficiency and effectiveness that nearly every time I’ve emailed him over many years now, he’s responded amazingly quickly and always with generosity, thoughtfulness, and comprehensive depth. I say nearly because when I wrote him several months ago and asked him about sharing a First Two Pages essay to celebrate his new short story collection Death Comes Too Late, he didn’t immediately email—such an uncharacteristic delay that I wondered, did my message not get through? Turns out he didn’t respond to say he’d contribute an essay because he was writing the essay itself—which was pitch perfect and which I’m very pleased to finally publish today, on the pub day for the new collection.

Death Comes Too Late gathers twenty of Charles Ardai’s short stories, including his Edgar Award-winning “The Home Front” (the subject of his essay here), the Shamus Award-nominated “Nobody Wins,” and others which it’s a thrill to see gathered in one place. One story you won’t find here, however, is his debut story for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, for reasons Charles explains in the essay below.

Beyond his extraordinary short fiction, Charles Ardai is a terrific novelist (his Songs of Innocence is simply brilliant) and the founder of Hard Case Crime, which re-publishes classic fiction (Erle Stanley Gardner, James M. Cain, and Ray Bradbury, among many others) and introduces fresh voices too (see, for example, Scott Von Doviak’s First Two Pages essay on Lowdown Road from last year)—books stepped in the hard-boiled and noir traditions and always featuring covers in best pulp-art style. (The cover of Death Comes Too Late is by Paul Mann.) Charles also created the best-selling crime comics Gun Honey and Heat Seeker and wrote for the TV series Haven, inspired by Stephen King’s Hard Case Crime novel The Colorado Kid.

It’s a privilege and an honor to have Charles Ardai at the First Two Pages today—with a tribute to the woman who helped shape him as a writer and an editor both. I was fortunate to get an advance ebook of Death Comes Too Late, and I’ve got the final bound copy on pre-order—can’t wait to get it in hand, and know you’ll enjoy the collection too.

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.

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