Mary E. Stibal lives in Boston’s Seaport District, has published in Yankee Magazine, and this story marks her third appearance in a Level Best Crime Anthology. She grew up in Iowa and has five sisters, to whom this story is dedicated. She says that while they don’t necessarily dress in black, they are all firm believers in good, old-fashioned retribution.
You hint in your bio at the end of your story “Sisters in Black” what your inspiration might have been. How did you go from inspiration to story?
When starting this story, I had a snippet of a scene, an argument at, of all of terrible places and times, the funeral of one’s mother. In the beginning I had a priest and just two mourners at the service, the narrator (the daughter of the deceased), and her mother’s ex-husband. I knew there would be a confrontation between the two during the service, and I knew the narrator hated her mother’s former husband, but I didn’t know why until I got more into the story. I also realized it was unlikely there would be only two mourners and a priest at a funeral. And so I “gave” the narrator my own five, beloved sisters as her aunts. (And yes, my oldest sister is named Shay.) And then I added another 190 mourners as friends and neighbors. One’s mother’s funeral should be well attended after all.
I was more than three-quarters into the story before I knew how it would end.
And actually, I’m the only one of the six Stibal sisters to wear black. Basically all the time. My mother would always say, “You would look so pretty if you’d wear something besides black ALL THE TIME.” ( Her voice used to rise up at the end every time too). I told her I was afraid bright colors would burn out my retinas.
Your story contains two characters, the DEA Agent narrator and Mass State Police Detective Lieutenant Donia Amick, who seem like they might have more stories to tell. Any chance they may be continuing characters?
I will absolutely write another story with the DEA narrator and the State Cop Donia. Donia Amick is a real person, and a cop. She is my first cousin’s daughter, a sweet, young woman. Until you see her in uniform. Then you see the “take-no-prisoners” side. She makes a swagger look feminine and dangerous at the same time.
There may be a Level Best “first” in Dead Calm. You may the be first author who inspired a character in another author’s story. Would you like to say something about that?
I had to smile when I read Julie’s story “Her Wish.” Much in that story is true. And I am honored that she included me as a character. After “Elizabeth” died, Julie and I joked that we should break her husband out of prison as a tribute to our friend. And here Julie actually did it — in a literary sort of fashion. “Elizabeth” would be so proud!