15 May 2013

Addressing the Red Envelope

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.

Two 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.

Now 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?

Hmm.  Libraries?  Didn't want to go there.  Archaeology?  A passion, but I'm no expert.  Folk music?  Already wrote a novel about that.

But, 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.  

But 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?


  1. Rob, I’m happy to say I bought a new AHMM subscription (after shamefully letting my old one run out) just in time to receive my first issue with “The Red Envelope” in it. No wonder you won! Your story was fantastic, and reminded me of one reason I particularly enjoy reading certain writers’ work: I find myself longing to spend time with the characters they’ve created on the page. What a crew, Buddy! Loved ‘em all – particularly the protagonist, and one I’ll call “ol’ nom-interchangeable”. And, your plot kicked #&*!

    Give us these guys, again – I’m beggin’ ya’, man!


  2. Rob, all I can add to Dixon's comment is, "Ditto." "The Red Envelope" is worthy of the prize as well as a re-read.

  3. Congratulations again, Rob!

    Funny, I was just trying to explain the Village Stompers' Washington Square to someone when I had a brain glitch– for the life of me I couldn't think of the phrase to describe the style of music– not Dixie, not honky-tonk– what the hell is it? My next thought was I should ask Rob– he'll know for sure!

  4. Thanks for the kind words, all. Leigh, they called themselves "folk Dixie," and I don't know another name. "Folk jazz" usually refers to groups like Pentangle, which had a completely different sound.

    By the way, in my story, I mentioned the term "moldy fig," which would also apply. It was a term used proudly by supporters of old-fashioned jazz, such as Dixie style. See Dave Van Ronk's excellent autobiography THE MAYOR OF MACDOUGALL STREET.

  5. You knocked this one out of the park, Rob!

  6. Congratulations. I haven't yet read it but I will.

  7. I had the privilege of reading "The Red Envelope" during its development stage. Darn good writing.

  8. Rob, I didn't realize I'd received the new AHMM until Dixon mentioned getting his. I've since read "The Red Envelope" and really enjoyed it (and all the period references). Congrats on it and the prize.

  9. Congrats again, Rob! I haven't read it yet, but surely will, and am looking forward to it.

  10. Sincere congratulations, Rob, to both you and (in the past) our friend JL Warren. Winning the BONA is a huge accomplishment.


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