posted by Dana
I think I first met Katherine Hall Page through the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime, and like everyone who has the good fortune to meet her in person, I was immediately struck by Katherine's kindness, her generosity, and her encyclopedic knowledge of mysteries, mystery writers, and writing in general. That was even before I had the chance to get to know her wonderful Faith Fairchild books! This spring, I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early copy of her new book of short stories, Small Plates, and I can guarantee that you're in for a treat, which, with Katherine, means fine writing and mouth-watering recipes! Katherine, welcome to the Femmes Fatales Blog!
I have always loved to read short stories. I think the first that I recall grabbing me (Louisa May Alcott’s A Garland for Girls didn’t pack the same wallop) was Saki’s “The Open Window.” And definitely “The Last Leaf” by O.Henry was an early favorite. It still brings a lump to my throat. And then “The Pearl Necklace” by de Maupassant, required reading for the 1%. And so many more over the years: Melville, Dorothy Sayers, James Thurber Willa Cather, Oscar Wilde, Eudora Welty, Alice Munro, Carson McCullers. John Cheever, J.D. Salinger, James Joyce, Shirley Jackson, Agatha Christie, Flannery O’Connor, Ellen Gilchrist, Laurie Colwin, Wodehouse, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the master, Robert Barnard. Heresy, but am not and have never been a Hemingway fan.
So, I loved reading them—but not writing them. I have always found short stories much more difficult than a novel. In the introduction to Small Plates, 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!
Having said all this, it was hard, but I loved writing the stories in Small Plates. The form was very freeing and although my series character Faith Fairchild appears in some, there are many new faces. 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 drink.
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. Another unmarried lady, who raises goats on an island off the coast of Maine, finds a baby named Christopher in her barn on Christmas Eve. In another Maine story, an elderly lobsterman proves to be an extremely acute observer. 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.