by Robert Lopresti
Back in December I promised that
when my Black Orchid Novella Award winning story was published, I would
tell you a little bit about how it came to be written. I am delighted
to report that the July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine has arrived, featuring "The Red Envelope," so here goes.
years ago our old friend James Lincoln Warren told me he was writing an
entry for the BONA competition, and asked if I would be one of his
early readers. I was happy to comply and voila, he won.
the cheap joke is that I concluded "if James can do it, it must be
easy," or words to that effect. I had no such illusion. But as a
great fan of Rex Stout and AHMM I thought I had a chance. I
spent most of a sunny day on my PlotCycle, pedaling around town and
trying to think of a setting that would carry a 15- to 20,000 word piece
of fiction. In short, what did I know enough about to discuss, even in
fictional terms, for that long?
Didn't want to go there. Archaeology? A passion, but I'm no expert.
Folk music? Already wrote a novel about that.
say... That aforementioned novel was set in Greenwich Village, 1963.
What if I jumped back a few years to the peak of the Beat movement? My
detective could be a beat poet. And the inevitable
gather-all-the-suspects-and reveal-the-killer scene could be done as
improvised beat poetry!
As the old saying goes,
it's so crazy it just might work. And since the rules for the contest
say "There needs to be some wit," crazy might be a real advantage.
To find out how I named the novella's characters you will have to look at the article I wrote for the Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine website, Trace Evidence.
I want to tell you about two things that I pulled from my memory to add
to the plot. One was an anecdote I read in one of those "Humor in
Real Life" columns from Reader's Digest back in the 1960s, about a
young woman introducing her date to her father. The other was
something I learned while working on a non-fiction book about the
Pacific Northwest. How do they fit into a story about 1958 New York? I
can't tell you without spoiling the plot.
Which I sincerely hope you read. Otherwise, what was all this for?