Wednesday, June 04, 2014


Small Plates: Short Fiction


“A tasty introduction to Agatha Award–winner Page’s popular mystery
(Publishers Weekly)

“A variety of tasty short morsels that will whet [Page’s] fans’
appetites...Well paced and will leave the reader satisfied, as a good short story
should...[A] delectable treat.” (Library Journal)

1.Tell us about your current novel/collection.

Small Plates, a collection of short fiction, went on sale May 27th. I
have always found writing short stories much more difficult than
writing a full-length work of fiction. In the introduction I quote
Henry David Thoreau: “ Not that the story need be long, but it will
take a long while to make it short and Edgar Allan Poe’s  “A short
story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards
it.” Taken together, these are a fine summation of the challenge posed
by short story writing: that paring-down process, the examination of
each word essential for a satisfactory result. I’d also add a reminder
based on Strunk & White—nowhere is omitting needless words more

The brevity of a short story gives mystery writers a change to pack a
wallop. In the traditional mystery novel, the pace is more leisurely,
albeit suspenseful. The denouement comes at the end and the hope is
that readers will be stunned. Yet, the end of each chapter has a
tantalizing hook baited to keep those pages turning. In the short
story, all this must be compressed. Poe, Saki, and Robert Barnard did
it best.

My series character, Faith Fairchild appears in some of the stories,
but not all. Having said how hard I find it, I also need to say how
much I enjoyed writing these—and also found it freeing. I think readers
will be surprised, and I hope delighted, by the tone of some of the
stories. Dark—I like to think of them as Agatha Christie and Shirley
Jackson sitting down together for a stiff drink.

2.Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

I’m finishing up one of the series books, The Body in the Birches,
which will be out in late May next year from Morrow. It takes place on
a fictitious island in Penobscot Bay, Maine. I’ve set some of the
series there before and although there is a bridge to the mainland, the
setting provides a locked room feel. In this case, real estate is
murder. More particularly, what happens in families when it comes time
for the older generation to designate who will inherit the much loved
summer place. Simplest solution is to only have one child. I will also
be working on a stand alone (or as the British say “One Off”, like that
term better) starting in the fall. Set in the 1960s, it involves a
woman who runs away from home.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Oh gosh, at the risk of sounding like a total prat, I would have to say
the act of writing itself. Madeleine L’Engle described the process as
“taking dictation from one’s imagination”. This is the best description
of how I feel when I am immersed in putting one word after
another—alive in the moments. I also quite like it that people read my
books and tell me they do, write nice notes in mostly cyberspace now,
but snail mail earlier.

4.What is the greatest DISpleasure?

I’m tempted to write the same thing—the act of writing, because as Mary
Roberts Rinehart so aptly put it in her slender volume, Writing is
Work. It’s hard work. Writing to contract, having a deadline—in
essence, always having a paper due—goes along with this.

 Another displeasure is more difficult to describe. I always say I, and
the other writers who started publishing in the late 1980s and earlier,
had the best of it. So many wonderful Indies and their owners, but even
more the mystery community itself was a tightly knit one—authors,
editors, agents, the sales reps. And we talked about books, most
especially not ours. It wasn’t all about “me”.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is

Don’t spend so much on promoting the big names, who don’t need that
full-page ad in the Times etc. Use the money to increase advances
across the board. Support the mid-list, and dare I say even those
selling below that? Over the years I have watched terrific writers cut
because of less than stellar sales figures who had so much to say and
with proper promotion the word would have eventually got around! This
hurts readers most of all. (One of my favorite fiction writers was told
he would continue to be published if he adopted a nom de plume. He
refused. Did not think his particular rose would smell as sweet…)

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see
in print again?

The name that immediately springs to mind like Athena from the foot of
Zeus is James Corbett, brought to our attention by my dear, much-missed
friend, Bill Deeck. This link will provides enlightenment:
I would also direct readers to Bill’s book, The Complete Deeck on
  I believe someone is reprinting John Stephen Strange (Dorothy
Stockbridge Tillet), but do not see my favorite one, The Bell in the
Fog. I am also sorry that most of Jane Langton’s Homer Kellys are now

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget.

I was in New Jersey for a family event and gave my parents’ number to
my agent, Faith Hamlin (I wrote The Body in the Belfry with sleuth
Faith Fairchild before signing with this other Faith, who is happily
still my agent) since I planned to be there for some time. I dearly
love the convenience of my iPhone, but nothing with ever replace that
black, dial, wall mounted phone in my family’s kitchen for memorable
conversations. The cord was long enough so that as a teen, I could
create some privacy by ducking into the pantry. My mother answered the
phone and said it was for me. Expecting my husband, who had had to stay
in Massachusetts to work; instead it was Faith. I had yet to meet her
in person. Three publishers were interested! I actually felt faint. She
repeated the news. I found my voice and tried to express what it felt
like to have all the holidays, one’s birthday, even the moment not that
long ago when I’d said “I Do” all rolled into one. We went with SMP and
Ruth Cavin. Could there have been a better choice? Another much missed
friend. My sister went out and got a bottle of champagne. 21 books in
the series later and it still feels the same each and every time.

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