Our guest today is Maine writer and MCW favorite Katherine Hall Page, describing a great new treat for her mystery fans, a short story collection.
Katherine: Small Plates is my first collection of short fiction. It includes several stories that I have written over the years, which I was happy to have the chance to rework. And I found the new ones very freeing, as some of them are much darker than the kind of fiction I usually write—although there is nothing funny about a corpse. Well, perhaps in a Carl Hiaasen or Dorothy Cannell. I describe the new stories as Shirley Jackson meets Agatha Christie for a stiff drink. My series character, Faith Fairchild does not appear in all of them and only has a cameo in one.
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 essential!
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 and Saki did it best.
Maine is the locale for two of the stories. I’m very fond of “A Perfect Maine Day”, in which the old man in the corner—in this case an old fisherman unwillingly retired because of a fool doctor—is the acute observer. There’s a lot to see just sitting on a rocky beach as the tide comes in and goes out. He’s the narrator as well and I’m fond of the story because he reminds me of the fishermen I know in Deer Isle, young and old. In “The Two Marys”, a spinster who raises goats on an island in Penobscot Bay discovers a newborn babe, and a wad of cash beneath the blanket, in her barn on Christmas Eve. It’s the start of a long journey, yes, following a star.
The settings for these stories range from coast to coast in the United States and across “The Pond”. Although I have set books in other countries, most of my short stories seem loath to travel, except in terms of time. One of them takes the reader to a century still bathed in gaslight.
The individuals who people these stories are an assorted lot. A man who longs for widowhood, dreams of the attention from the casserole brigade—good women lining up at his door with hopefully unburnt offerings and perhaps themselves an offering as well. A newlywed discovers her husband’s ingenious hiding places for objects like spare keys. One spinster turns to friends for help with the supernatural. Faith and husband Tom encounter an ideal couple on vacation in Cape Cod and she takes an immediate dislike to them. Why? In another tale, Faith and her sister team up to safeguard a bride in peril. And her own culinary prowess is tested as Faith tries to avoid being “Sliced” in a cut-throat mock reality cooking show.
The title of the collection, Small Plates, refers to the length of these servings, but also to the pleasure ordering tapas, or two appetizers instead of an entrée, often provides. It is my hope that the tastes here will linger long on the palate.
Katherine Hall Page is the author of twenty-one adult mysteries in the Faith Fairchild series and five for younger readers. She received the Agatha for Best First (The Body in the Belfry), Best Novel (The Body in the Snowdrift), and Best Short Story (The Would-Be Widower). She has been nominated for the Edgar, the Mary Higgins Clark Award, the Macavity, and the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She has also published a series cookbook, Have Faith in Your Kitchen, which was nominated for an Agatha. A native of New Jersey, she lives in Massachusetts and Maine with her husband.