Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America

Feb. 9, 2017

In the first line of William Faulkner’s short story, “A Rose for Emily,” every word tells a story and it seduces us into the mystery.

Here’s Faulkner’s first sentence:

When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant—a combination gardener and cook – had seen in at least ten years.

The first word, “When” casts us into another time.

“Miss” tell us she’s not married and we know she’s died.

“Our whole town,” reveals an omniscient point of view.

She’s a “fallen monument” is a theme about the South after the Civil War.

Suspense is introduced: “the women want to see the inside of her house.”

The “old man-servant” says Miss Emily was once genteel, but she’s fallen on hard times since he’s both gardener and cook.

No one has seen the inside “for at least ten years,” so she’s been a recluse.

Author John Rechy says in great fiction, “a writer uses narrative to ask a question more clearly than it has ever been asked before…To discover the precise shape of what the mystery is: That can be enough.”

And, that’s your Mystery Minute.

The key to writing a mystery is asking the perfect question, by John Rechy in the Feb. 7, 2017 issue of The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/02/the-key-to-writing-a-mystery-is-asking-the-perfect-question/515799/

Faulkner’s “A Rose for Miss Emily” was published April 30, 1930 in The Forum.