Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"Mama Does Time"

Like the main character in her "Mace Bauer Mysteries," Deborah Sharp's family roots were set in Florida long before Walt Disney and Miami Vice came to define the state. She is a former, longtime reporter for USA Today.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Mama Does Time, and reported the following:
Mama Does Time is billed as the debut in my Florida-set "Mace Bauer Mystery'' series. My first novel, the publicity materials say.

Not true. It's my first published novel. Like a lot of reporters, I had a dusty, incomplete book in my desk forever. When I left USA Today, I finally finished it. And it reeked.

Point of view veered madly. The protagonist (a female reporter … how original!) was so prickly, even I hated her. And the manuscript was too short by 150 pages.

I tossed it, and started from scratch. I wound up with an offbeat mystery with a down-home edge: Think Agatha Christie meets TV's "My Name is Earl.''

With Mama, I took the time to develop the characters and their story, triumphing over the journalistic urge to reveal too much, too soon.

Mama's a much-married Southern gal with sherbet-colored pantsuits and a penchant for mischief. She gets in trouble for real when a body in her convertible ties her to murder. Unless daughter Mace can find the true culprit, Mama goes to prison—just like in a tacky country song.

Page 69 is not flat-out funny, like other parts of the book. But it's a good representation of character and story. With Mama in jail, the seemingly shady Sal has summoned Mace to a meeting. He's Mama's would-be husband No. 5. The page reveals the disdain the outdoorsy Mace feels for the posh developments spreading across her once-wild, native Florida. It also casts suspicion on the mysterious Sal, as Mace will face peril on a deserted road within two pages...

"... floodlights illuminated ornate pillars marking the entrance to the community. 'Himmarshee Haven,' they said in cursive script. 'Luxurious Country Living.' Talk about your oxymorons. Most of the country lives I know have very little luxury.

The Jeep bounced over a series of speed bumps as I made my way past Victorian-style homes with gingerbread trim and two-car garages. The driveways featured golf carts parked behind white picket fences. Not a double-wide trailer or swamp buggy in sight ...''

(Mace parks at the subdivision's nearly deserted golf course. Sal's showy car is nowhere to be seen, so she goes into the pro shop to wait. Inside, she kills time by buying pink, mint green, and baby blue golf socks for her pastel-crazy sister, Marty.)

"As I handed over my credit card, I asked the college-aged kid at the register whether he'd seen a gargantuan golfer with a heavy New York accent.

'Sure, Big Sal.' The kid sucked on a breath mint. I could smell cinnamon clear across the counter. 'He was in here about thirty, forty minutes ago. Then he got a call on his cell phone and high-tailed it outside. I heard the tires on his Cadillac squealing as he pulled out of the lot. Guess he was in a hurry to get somewhere.'

He pushed my receipt across the glass display case, which held dimpled golf balls and leather gloves. 'Sign that, would you? And I'll need to see some ID.'

I gave him my driver's license. He held it up and inspected it like he was a customs agent at the airport and I was smuggling (heroin) ..."
Listen to an excerpt from Mama Does Time, and learn more about the book and author at Deborah Sharp's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue