Friday, November 17, 2006

Pg. 69: "Slay Ride"

Chris Grabenstein's pre-novelist biography is so interesting that you should click here right now, check it out, then come back to read about the books.

Chris won the Anthony Award for "Best First Mystery" (given at Bouchercon 2006) for his debut novel Tilt A Whirl—the first in a series of John Ceepak stories to be set "Down The Shore" in a New Jersey tourist town called Sea Haven. The second book, Mad Mouse, arrived in June 2006. Carroll & Graf will publish the third, Whack A Mole, in June 2007. The fourth, Hell Hole (Chris says "it's a ride like the Gravitron"), is scheduled for the summer of 2008.

Chris's second series of fast-paced page-turners—the Christopher Miller Holiday Thrillers—starts with Slay Ride to be followed by Turkey Shoot in 2007.

I asked Chris to apply the "page 69 test" to Slay Ride.

Here is what he reported:

I was surprised by Marshal’s choice of the 69th page because, as you may know, there is a rumor among writers that out in Hollywood, the moguls and muckety-mucks only read pages 30, 60 and 90 of a standard 120-page script, because those are the pages where, according to the time-honored Syd Field Screenwriting Paradigm, the major turning points will take place. It’s true. Next time you’re watching a movie, check your watch at 29, 59, and 89 minutes into the film. Something big is just about to happen.

But, I digress. Took me that much time to flip through 68 pages of Slay Ride, my new holiday thriller. (I like what said about Slay Ride: “Chris Grabenstein does for limo drivers and Santa Claus what Stephen King did for clowns.”)

To get to page 69, obviously, you have to pass through page 67, which, in Slay Ride, is filled with three words centered on the page like a movie subtitle:


Yes, at this point in the book I flash forward from one holiday season to the next.

In the first drafts, I didn’t do that. I wrote several chapters detailing the decline and fall of Nicolai Kyznetsoff, the psycho limo driver, after a customer, advertising exec Scott Wilkinson, calls in the complaint that causes Kyznetsoff to lose his job.

When I cut out those scenes, the book became crisper and creepier. I let the reader imagine the worst. What happened during that “off-screen” time?


Kyznetsoff spent nearly a year plotting his revenge on the ad man who ruined his life.

On page 69, the story shifts into the plot line that will eventually bring Kyznetsoff up against Christopher Miller, an FBI agent who is a specialist in kidnapping cases and a legend in the bureau.

We meet a bitter old Russian woman named Elena Bizanko sunning and gossiping with the other “babushkas” in park in Brighton Beach, a section of Brooklyn often called Little Odessa.

What I enjoy about this scene is remembering my research trip out to Brooklyn. I saw this angry-looking woman sitting in the bright November sun in Tilyou Park and tried to capture her with words on a computer screen like a painter might do with oil on canvas:

Elena Bizanko was dressed in a leopard-print sweater-jacket, which she wore layered on top of three other sweaters, all in differing patterns of plaid and animal print. On her head, she wore a light brown ski cap trimmed with snowflakes. The knit cap was pulled down snugly over her ears and hid every strand of her hair. Her hands, buried inside plaid mittens, rested on top of her ample belly. She sat like a czarina.

“If I was home,” she said, “I would be in clover. I would be in my villa and the maids would lay a fire in the marble fireplace.”

The other old ladies groaned. They had heard it all before. They listened to Elena Bizanko say the same things almost every day.

She curled out her lower lip. She had a pudgy face with eyebrows perpetually slanting down into her frown. She looked like an angry, heavyset man -- a disgruntled steelworker who knows the bosses are cheating him.

Okay, some of that is on page 70, but she really did look like an angry factory worker.

This is the first time we meet Mrs. Bizanko. It won’t be the last.

From page 69 on, the action is pretty unrelenting. People have said this is a thriller that’ll keep you up all night.

So, drink some coffee when you hit that ELEVEN MONTHS LATER on page 67.

Once the ride starts on 69, you may not want to get off until you hit the end, 310 pages later!

Thanks to Chris for the input.

Click here to read the first three chapters of Slay Ride.

Elaine Flinn--read her page 69 experience here--interviewed Chris at Murderati.

There is another recent interview with Chris here at Mystery Morgue.

More info about Slay Ride, including some pretty enthusiastic endorsements, is available here.

Click here for many more links to interviews (some of them audio) and other items of related interest.

Do you have a terrible taxi tale to tell? What was your worst ride? Click here to tell Chris about it and get your chance to win a complete, autographed set of hardcover first editions for all three fast-paced books: Tilt A Whirl, Mad Mouse, and Slay Ride.

Previous "page 69 tests":
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue