Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Mary Anna Evans is the author of the award-winning Faye Longchamp archaeological mysteries: Artifacts, Relics, Effigies, Findings, and Floodgates.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Strangers, the sixth novel in the series, and reported the following:
Ahhhh...the Page 69 Test. I was asked me to do this once before, and I defy any writer in my position to say that it isn't terrifying to open your book and turn to page 69. What if every word on the page is insipid and inane? What if you've devoted half the page to ruminating on your viewpoint character's bedtime snack?

Um...well...that's what I did. But I actually had a good reason for doing so. Let's look at Faye and that bedtime snack.
[Faye] was curled up in bed in front of the TV, her head on Joe's shoulder and a chunk of blueberry coffeecake on a plate in her lap. More accurately, the plate was sort of balanced on her belly, because she couldn't actually see her lap any more. Even more accurately, the blueberry coffeecake was crowned with a dollop of ice cream, thanks to Suzanne's amply stocked kitchen.

The coffeecake was so good that she wanted to grab it with both hands and shove it into her mouth all at once.
So why would I risk enticing my readers to put down the book and go get some blueberry coffeecake? (And if you're doing that right now, don't forget the ice cream.) Because Faye has had a harrowing day that included the kidnapping of a young woman named Glynis, who is in one of life's most vulnerable conditions--pregnancy.

Constant intensity doesn't work for me, plot-wise. It leaves me numb. It diminishes the drama of things that are to come, and this is only page 69. I felt that the story needed a quiet moment to punctuate the action. Before Faye finishes that coffeecake, she and her husband are going to argue over her willingness to work too hard and to put herself at risk while she herself is pregnant. By the time she's ready for another before-bed snack, she will have looked into the face of a man whose throat was slashed before he was dumped into the Matanzas River.

It is no accident that I showed you the way Faye balanced that plate on her big belly. Any woman who has ever been eight months pregnant will read that scene and remember how it feels to feel bloated and heavy and ravenous and exhausted. By the end of the book, even my male readers will know how it feels, too, if I've done my job right. And anyone with a heart will be deeply concerned for Faye and Glynis, as they struggle to protect themselves and their unborn children.

But the blueberry coffeecake incident only occupies the second half of page 69. What else did I do with that page? Well...an ancient and probably homeless old man named Victor gives Faye a dime. Why? Well, I had my reasons.
She glanced down at the coin on her palm. It was a dime, but the gleam of the sun on its worn surface was all wrong.

Looking more closely, she saw why the light reflected strangely from the dime. It was silver.

Minted in 1941, Faye's gift coin was a Mercury dime, adorned with the head of Liberty, wearing a winged cap. Looking over Joe's shoulder, she saw that he'd gotten a modern Roosevelt dime, while Levon held an older Roosevelt dime, also with the unmistakable sheen of silver.

"He does that...gives away dimes, I mean," Suzanne said. "The cook grew up here, and she says he's done that for as long as she remembers."
So what was I doing here? Well, Victor and his dimes serve the story in some important ways. Victor is old and mysterious and child-like, but his inappropriate outbursts carry important information. It's just too bad that the highly competent and far younger people who hear those outbursts don't understand what he's telling them.

There's a reason Victor gives away dimes, and there's a reason the dates on Victor's dimes span the twentieth century. There's a reason he hangs around the mansion where Faye is excavating, Dunkirk Manor, telling tales about the glittering people who lived there. Victor has seen a lot of things in his 90-plus years, and he's trying to find someone who will listen to a old and destitute man who's apparently unbalanced, When Faye finally figures out what Victor is saying, she'll learn a lot about the people who lived and died at Dunkirk Manor. Until then, she'll have to content herself with admiring the play of sunlight on her dime's burnished face, loving its worn beauty as only an archaeologist can.

I could tell you the things that Victor knows, but then I'd have to kill you. Far better for you to follow along with Faye as she unravels his hints and clues and ravings, looking for the truth about a haunted beauty and a murdered silent movie starlet and the man who loved them both.
Learn more about the author and her work at Mary Anna Evans' website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue