Sunday, January 12, 2014

"Words with Fiends"

Ali Brandon is the national bestselling author of the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. Writing under her real name, Diane A.S. Stuckart, she penned the popular Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series—also from Berkley—which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, as well as a Florida Book Award. Additionally, she is the author of five critically-reviewed historical romances which will soon be re-released as ebooks. A native Texan with a degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma, Diane a/k/a Ali now lives in South Florida. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and the Cat Writers Association.

Brandon applied the Page 69 Test to Words with Fiends, the third book in the Black Cat Bookshop Series, and reported the following:
I’d heard of the Page 69 test before but had never applied it to any work, let alone my own. But, given the opportunity to do just that, I flipped to the page in question in my latest Black Cat Bookshop Mystery and took a look.

I will pause for a minute to explain one recurring concern I’ve had with my series. The popular wisdom regarding mystery novels seems to be that the murder should occur within the first few pages. Sorry to confess, but when it comes to cozy mysteries, I don’t work that way.

While I understand the rationale behind this supposed rule, I object to killing off someone who is, to the reader, merely a name. It might be fiction, but we’re still talking murder, and that’s a pretty darned serious crime. I want my readers to have had the chance to care about—or at least be intrigued by—each book’s victim before that character bites the dust. And so, while I always begin my story at a point of change, we’re a few chapters into each novel before I pull the figurative trigger.

Back to my examination of Words with Fiends. Page 69 happens to be the point in the novel where our protagonist, Darla Pettistone, is dealing with finding the murder victim. She and her teenaged employee, Robert, have gone to the dojo where they take karate lessons, only to find that real life mayhem had occurred. Darla and Robert have done what they can for a supposed suicide victim and are breathlessly waiting as the paramedics take over. Here’s an excerpt:
The next few moments were a blur of action. Not only had the ambulance service responded, but the police and fire department, as well. The studio entry was overwhelmed now with large uniformed men hauling all manner of rescue gear, a gurney clattering as they rushed behind Darla through the maze-like path to the training area. While the responders gathered around the collapsed man, a shaken Darla pulled Robert a safe distance back to give them room.

The teen was manfully trying to hold it together, though Darla caught him rubbing his eyes with one sleeve. Roma whined, and Darla promptly handed the dog over to Robert.

“Here,” she said softly, managing a tremulous smile as the little dog burrowed into Robert’s arms. “She needs her friend right now.”

It seemed Robert needed the little dog even more, for he promptly settled cross-legged on the floor and buried his face in the velvet softness of her small body, his shoulders silently shaking.

And then the chaos before them was punctuated by one word that sent a frisson of hope through Darla.

Aha! It seems that I have, in a way, satisfied the supposed requirement of presenting the dead body right up front. The reader who applies the Page 69 principle will immediately know the “who” and the “where” and the (presumably) “how” of the murder. He or she can now go back to the start to find out what led up to the death, and learn why he or she should care about learning the killer’s identity.
Learn more about the book and author at the official Ali Brandon--AKA Diane A.S. Stuckart--website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Diane Stuckart & Ranger, Delta, Oliver and Paprika.

My Book, The Movie: Double Booked for Death.

--Marshal Zeringue