Tuesday, July 31, 2018

"The Upper Hand"

Johnny Shaw is the author of the award-winning Jimmy Veeder Fiasco series, including the books Dove Season, Plaster City, and Imperial Valley, as well as the stand-alone novels Floodgate and Big Maria. He has won the Spotted Owl and Anthony Awards and was the Grand Marshal of the 69th Annual Carrot Festival Parade.

Shaw applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Upper Hand, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Your stuff is right here,” Stephanie said, setting it on the sink counter

“Thanks,” the coffee woman said.

“I should be thanking you, I had no interest in getting hit with a dick. Even if it probably wouldn’t have hurt, now that I think about it.”

The coffee woman looked at herself in the mirror. “I’m covered in coffee.” She took off her shirt and put it under the water in the sink Stephanie found herself staring at the woman’s nude torso. She was young, pretty, and in shape. She was also covered in ink. A dragon, some quotes there were too far away to read, a dollar sign, a dozen more.

When the woman turned and smiled, Stephanie looked down at the cover of the binder on the counter. The title read, “San Diego-Poway Highway Proposal, Routes, Maps, Proposed Land Buys.”

The woman wrung out her shirt, put it on, and looked in the mirror. “Great. A wet T-shirt contest.”

Stephanie took off her jacket. “Try this. It should work until you can get something else.”

“Thanks.” The woman smiled, took the jacket, and put it on. “Are you doing the symposium, too?”

“I am.”

“Perfect. That puts us on the same schedule. I have gym clothes in my car. I can return your jacket.” She buttoned the front of the jacket and reached for the binder and her stuff. “Thanks for grabbing my stuff. I’d be in hot water if I lost it. Top secret.” She smiled and winked.

Stephanie handed the woman the notebook that she definitely wanted to read. There had been talk about that highway expansion for years. That kind of inside information was potentially the $1 million find that could her out of her current $300,000 racket.

“I’m Patricia,” Stephanie said. “It’s really nice to meet you.”

“Gretchen. Nice to meet you, too.”
The Upper Hand is a story about an extended family of confidence tricksters and thieves That family includes Gretchen. In this scene, Gretchen is in the process of drawing Stephanie into a confidence game designed for her. Stephanie, herself, is a con woman (hence the fake name) that had dated Gretchen’s brother and conned him. It’s your basic sister getting payback for her brother by seducing ex-girlfriend type of scenario. I know that sounds convoluted, but it’s that kind of story. And this is just the beginning. It gets more bananas as it goes.

It’s funny to read how a scene plays out of context of the rest of the story, but I actually like how this holds together on its own. It is the introduction of an important character and the last page of the chapter, so there’s a sense of momentum to it, even if it’s mostly dialogue.

What I like about this moment is that it’s one of the few chapters that’s not in the point of view of one of the three main characters: siblings Axel, Kurt, and Gretchen. It’s an opportunity to see the con from the outside, from the mark’s point of view. In the chapters that follow we see the inner mechanism from the inside point of view.
Visit Johnny Shaw's website.

The Page 69 Test: Plaster City.

The Page 69 Test: Imperial Valley.

--Marshal Zeringue