Friday, March 12, 2010

"Drink the Tea"

Thomas Kaufman is an award-winning motion picture director and cameraman. He has twice won the Gordon Parks Award for Cinematography, and an Emmy for his documentary about deaf children, See What I'm Saying.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his first novel, Drink the Tea, a winner of the PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Competition, and reported the following:
Drink the Tea follows Washington, DC private eye Willis Gidney, as he searches for a woman who's been missing for twenty-five years. Not an easy job. And not having the woman's name or birthday makes the job that much harder.

The only reason Gidney agrees to take the case is that the missing girl's father is Gidney's best friend, jazz saxophonist Steps Jackson. He thinks that someone with Gidney's "particular background" would want to help.

Gidney grew up without parents or a home. He has few linear memories of his childhood. His own identity is a mystery. So Steps is right -- it does appeal to Gidney to reunite a father and daughter.

To help the reader understand Gidney, I write about his childhood. Throughout the book I switch scenes between the present, with the adult Gidney investigating, and the past, where a much younger Gidney learns to be a con man and a rip-off artist.

During a scam gone bad, Gidney is taken into custody by the DC police. Then he's swallowed by the juvenile justice system. Leading up to page 69, we find the young Gidney living at a place called Junior Village, a prison for children. The chief crook is a kid named Eddie Vermeer. Gidney's about to meet him.

Page 69 gives a snapshot of life in Junior Village. The young Gidney is profiting from dealing in contraband. It's night, and he's and is toddling back to his barracks with an armload of comics. From the darkness roars the Keg, an enormous kid who's targeted the younger, smaller Gidney. Keg drives a fist into his gut and him and sends him flat on his back:

"When the Keg rushed me I drove my foot into his crotch, grabbed his shirt, and flipped him over me into the wall of our barracks. His back made a pleasing thwack as he hit the wall and slid to the ground.

"Not a bad move, kid."

Now I panicked, thinking there were two of them. I scrambled to my feet, fists out, and the same voice laughed. "Take it easy, kid. I'm on your side."

I could taste blood on my mouth and wiped my hand across it. My jaw throbbed. It would hurt for a week. I looked at the Keg, who was lying on his side in the dirt. "You could have helped," I said to the newcomer.

"You didn't need it."

I turned to get a look at him. It was dark, but I could make out a good-looking kid with an easy-going smile. He put a hand on my shoulder. "Come on, I'll buy you a beer."


I've heard that a good con man either has an open, honest face that people just naturally trust, or be the kind of guy you'd want as your friend. Eddie Vermeer was that rare phenomenon, a person with both qualities. I was sitting in his private room on a bed that actually had clean sheets and a box spring under the mattress. He handed me a can of Bud.

"How old are you, kid?"

I shrugged, looking around his room. I couldn't keep the wonder out of my voice. "How'd you land the cool digs?"

He glanced around as if noticing for the first time the difference between his private room and the communal hell the rest of us lived in. "Clean living."

I'd been swigging beer and laughed and beer went up my nose. I thought that was funny too and fell over laughing.

I like this page. I work as a cinematographer and shoot a lot of TV shows, sometimes shows about cops. This helps my writing a lot. I try to write visually, seeing the scenes in my mind's eye.

So, looking at 69, I see two separate scenes -- a nice little action sequence, and a new character stepping into frame. And a bit of humor. I tried to make Tea an entertaining and fun read, though it does have its dark elements. It's the kind of book I like to read. Gidney is tough and resourceful, even as a kid. And this section gives the reader an understanding of what kind of man Gidney might grow up to be, except for --

Shadrack Davies, DC police captain, who takes in Gidney as a foster child. But I can't tell you about that – it happens after page 69.
View the trailer for Drink the Tea, and learn more about the book and author at Thomas Kaufman's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue