Tuesday, November 1, 2022

"On Good Authority"

Briana Una McGuckin lives in a charmingly strange old house in Connecticut. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Western Connecticut State University and an MLS from Long Island University. Among other places, her work appears in the Bram Stoker Award–nominated horror anthology Not All Monsters, the modern Gothic horror anthology In Somnio, and The Lost Librarian’s Grave anthology. McGuckin has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, a perhaps concerningly large collection of perfume oils, and a fascination with all things Victorian.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, On Good Authority, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I wiped my eyes and recommenced the massage. “You’ve been alone.”

Mother sniffed. “So have you.”

And all at once I had a feeling that, because she was my mother, I had no secrets from her—and Mr. Bornholdt was between us. Mr. Bornholdt and his claustrophobic kiss.

“Saw your Valentine.”

I jerked to attention. “What?”

“Valentine,” she said, enunciating. “The lad. I saw him yesterday.”

I put my hand to my mouth, the corners of which dragged down. I forced myself to speak calmly. “That was many years ago, Mother. Valentine’s a man now; he’s not here anymore.”

“He is,” she said, raising her voice, startling me. “He came down from the attic. He asked after you to the matron.”


“He had flowers. Purple hyacinths, he had. Good enough to eat.” She reached out and clutched my hand, and her grip was shocking in its strength. “But you mustn’t, Marian. Don’t eat them. He was insistent upon that.”

I bit my lip. But I held her close to me, saying nothing. It didn’t matter if she was going mad. The important thing was that she was here, and so was I. We were together.

Mother put her chin over my shoulder. “Will you go off with him? Once I’m gone?”

“Don’t talk so, Mother.” I patted her back. “You’re not rushing off anywhere.”
I am stunned—stunned!—by how well the Page 69 Test worked for the book, thematically! There is so much here, in a roundabout way, that gets to the very heart of the story. There is, in fact, on this very page, the one and only little “Easter egg” I put in the book for anyone of curious mind to pursue (preferably when they’re finished, so they don’t spoil anything for themselves).

But I’m being frustratingly vague. More directly, I think we see all Marian’s problems here at once: her being alone in the world, the looming danger her master Mr. Bornholdt presents in his position of power over her, her guilt and worry over her mother, and a connection to young Valentine, whom she sees as only part of her past. The gang’s all here.

Can we tell that we’re in Victorian London, here? Maybe not. But I think we get a good sense of voice, and if we don’t know precisely where we are we do know how it feels: desperate and dreary.

But there’s a bit of hope to go on, too: the boy with the flowers.
Visit Briana Una McGuckin's website.

Q&A with Briana Una McGuckin.

My Book, The Movie: On Good Authority.

--Marshal Zeringue