Goodreads Giveaway: Weighing the Truth, a legal thriller

Goodreads is giving away 12 free autographed copies of Weighing the Truth, my legal suspense novel, promotion ending this Sunday 6/25. A story about a female death penalty attorney facing increasing threats to her sanity and well-being who must come to terms with her own fears and wavering idealism. Go to to enter contest!

Weighing the Truth, a new legal thriller

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My 9 Favorite Literary Mysteries

Having just published my new literary mystery/legal thriller, Weighing the Truth, author G. Elizabeth Kretchmer asked me to write a guest blog on her literary blog, and I chose the subject of literary or character-driven mysteries. All crime fiction, and most fiction in fact, contains a mystery or two. So here are my favorite literary mysteries, with an introduction by G. Elizabeth Kretchmer.


I would never have predicted I’d build a friendship with someone based on criticism, but that’s exactly how Christine Z. Mason and I became friends.

Several years ago, I joined an online writing critique group to which I’d submit my work for constructive feedback. Other members did the same thing. Christine was one of those members, and although at times she must have found my feedback annoying (although she denies this), we grew to respect one another not only as authors but also as human beings. I now consider Christine one of my closest friends.

A former attorney, Christine has just published a legal thriller, Weighing the Truth, so I was delighted that she offered this guest blog with eight of her favorite literary mysteries. Interestingly, these authors come from all around the world: Australia, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Scotland, and the United States.

THE COLD SONG – Linn Ullmann

On a rainy night in July, the lives of family members spending their summer on the Norwegian coast are disrupted by the murder of the hired nanny. The ensuing investigation threatens to reveal painful secrets and to tear apart the fragile marriage of writer Jon and his wife Siri, a restaurateur.

What Tom Perotta, author of The Leftovers says: “The Cold Song is a fluid, shape-shifting novel, a family saga that turns into an erotically charged drama and then takes a darker turn into the terrain of a murder mystery. Linn Ullmann is an unusually talented and sympathetic writer, able to inhabit a wide range of characters and bring them all vividly to life.”

What Christine says: Whether it’s cast as a mystery or a domestic drama, this is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time. The writing is beautiful (translated from Norwegian by Barbara J. Haveland), and the story mesmerizes. This novel can be read more than once, first to find out what happens and then to immerse oneself more deeply into the world of these characters.

A quote from the book: “After all the dreary summer cottages and houses lining the long road up from the little town, Mailund appeared like an oasis from another age, the age of white lace dresses, the age of straw hats, of handlebar mustaches, Rhenish wine, and croquet. Never mind that on moonlit autumn nights the place seemed to shine with an almost uncanny glow and in misty weather could look somehow forbidding, as if it were hovering a few feet above the ground.

CHRISTINE FALLS – Benjamin Black

This character-driven detective novel is told mainly from the perspective of pathologist Quirke, who wants to know why a doctor has tampered with records involving a young woman’s murder. Set in 1950s Dublin, the plot implicates the Catholic Church and possibly members of Quirke’s own family. This is the first in a series of detective novels written by literary master John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black.

What The New York Times says: “Swirling, elegant noir . . . Crossover fiction of a very high order . . . Rolls forward with haunting, sultry exoticism.”

What Christine says: Although classified as a mystery, Christine Falls is as well written as John Banville’s literary (non-crime) novels, including one of my favorites, The Sea. His prose is poetic, and he engages his readers by going intimately into the characters’ minds and lives. The Quirke series is brilliant. Wish there were more to read!

A quote from the book: “. . . [T]he big car screeched and spun on the snow and the shiny steel rails and stopped, and the engine stopped, and everything stopped, except the train that was rushing toward them, its single eye glaring, and which at the last moment seemed to raise itself up as if it would take to the black air, shrieking and flaming, and fly, and fly.

CASE HISTORIES – Kate Atkinson

Scottish private detective Jackson Brodie becomes embroiled in three murder cases and must try to unravel their complex connections.

What The Guardian says: “Atkinson is very good indeed . . . . Case Histories is essentially a balancing act, with evil and ignorance stacked opposite truth and healing. In this aspect the book is more satisfying than many detective novels—not just because it is so well written, but in its defiant refusal to let the dark side win . . . . Everyone who picks it up will feel compelled to follow it through to the last page.”

What Christine says: Kate Atkinson juggles several plots, resulting in a novel that is not only psychologically complex and fascinating, but also replete with the author’s dry humor and gorgeous prose—a superbly satisfying read. It’s also available in a great series on DVD.

A quote from the book: “She was still blond and sported the deep leathery tan of someone who thought skin cancer happened to other people, although, judging by her smoker’s cough, it was going to be a race with lung cancer. As befitted a Mafia mistress, she was wearing enough gold to furnish an Indian wedding. . . . Jackson warmed to her immediately.


Detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy and his partner investigate the murders of family members in a half-abandoned housing development in Ireland. As the detectives delve into the circumstances of the killings, bizarre facts are uncovered that, after much investigation, lead to the shocking resolution.

What Maureen Corrigan says (from NPR’s Fresh Air): “French’s psychologically rich novels are so much more satisfying than your standard issue police procedural . . . . and, like all superior detective fiction, French’s novels are as much social criticism as they are whodunit.”

What Christine says: Read this if you like to know your characters inside and out—their background, relationships, motivations, foibles and strengths—while being completely immersed in the story. There’s also an excellent audio book, which I listened to a year after I read the print version, and which I enjoyed even more, due to French’s superb writing and the excellent reading.

A quote from the book: “The stars vanished and the dark street leaped into ghostly half life, creepers hanging pale on tall blocks of gray wall, wild plants crisscrossing white and lacy where the pavements should have been. In a couple of the gardens, small glowing shapes crouched in corners or scurried through the weeds, and three phantom wood doves slept high in a tree, heads tucked under their wings; no warm things better than that, anywhere in sight.


Veterinarian Jo Becker revisits her past when a former housemate appears, needing her services for his dog. One of their other housemates in the Sixties’ commune in Cambridge, Massachusetts had been murdered, the crime never solved. Becker jeopardizes both her own safety and her marriage as she is drawn back into that world.

What Publisher’s Weekly says: “The shadowy and inexorable nemesis of past secrets to a reclaimed life, and the inability even of those who are intimates to really know one another, are poignant themes in Miller’s resonant fifth novel. . . . [H]er narrative is a beautifully textured picture of the psychological tug of war between finding integrity as an individual and satisfying the demands of spouse, children and community.”

What Christine says: This is one of Miller’s best novels. The psychological tension becomes almost unbearable as the story proceeds toward its devastating conclusion.

A quote from the book: “I think, too, that by then, by the time I was getting ready to leave, I understood how shallow, how inconsequential, Ted’s and my attachment to each other was. We had married through innocent stupidity, through a pure lack of imagination. We had gone to college together and had furtive sex for a year.

THE RIDERS – Tim Winton

A man waits at the airport gate for his wife and daughter Billie, due to arrive from Australia, the three of them about to start a new life together in Ireland. When his wife does not appear, without explanation, his life begins to fall apart.

What New Leader says: “. . . one of those clean, elegant metaphysical thrillers we most often associate with Brian Moore, Graham Greene or Robert Stone . . . an immensely entertaining book.”

What Christine says: One of the most compelling character-driven mysteries I’ve read. Could enjoy it again and again.

A quote from the book: “Right there with the sheet between her teeth and the blanket like a fuggy tent above her head, Billie prayed for an angel, for a whirlwind, a fire, a giant crack in the world that might save them from tomorrow, from the other side of the world.

THE PILOT’S WIFE – Anita Shreve  

After learning of her pilot husband’s death in a plane crash, Kathryn Lyon searches for the reason he is being blamed for the tragedy. As she gets closer to learning the circumstances of the plane crash, she also must confront the parameters of her 16-year marriage to a man she finds she didn’t really know, and the mystery leads her further into inconceivable truths.

What Joanne Wilkinson of Booklist Review says: Shreve “knows just what she’s doing–weaving a compelling plot through which she explores deeper issues, such as intimacy and grief.

What Christine says: A gripping, well-written novel—you may find you have to read it all in one go.

A quote from the book: “She felt herself to be inside of a private weather system, one in which she was continuously tossed and buffeted by bits of news and information. . . . It was a weather system with no logic, she had decided, no pattern, no progression, no form.


A college student falls in love with a classmate, who then disappears from a Greek island. Part love story and part detective story.

What Publisher’s Weekly says: “Though the story is almost stark in its simplicity, more like Murakami’s romantic Norwegian Wood than his surreal Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, the careful intimacy of the protagonists’ conversation and their tightly controlled passion for each other make this slim book worthwhile.”

What Christine says: I love the way each of Murakami’s novels is different and original, and the way each contains an unusual take on a mystery that may or not be solved. Sputnik Sweetheart is a fascinating study of the characters and their passions and also a meditation on alienation.

A quote from the book: “An intense love, a veritable tornado sweeping across the plains—flattening everything in its path, tossing things up in the air, ripping them to shreds, crushing them to bits. The tornado’s intensity doesn’t abate for a second as it blasts across the ocean, laying waste to Angkor Wat, incinerating an Indian jungle, tigers and all, transforming itself into a Persian desert sandstorm, burying an exotic fortress city under a sea of sand.


Smilla Jaspersen, who is part Inuit and living in Copenhagen, befriends her six-year-old Inuit neighbor, Isaiah. When Isaiah is killed in a fall from a roof, Smilla discovers clues indicating to her that this was a criminal act, but the police immediately pronounce it an accident and don’t want her to become involved. Nevertheless, she pursues the unsettling mystery of Isaiah’s death from the streets of Copenhagen to the Arctic until she uncovers the truth.

What mystery writer Aaron Elkins says: “This is an extraordinarily good novel, elliptical yet direct, violent yet dreamy; hard to put down and impossible to get out of one’s mind. And Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen is surely the toughest, smartest, strangest, most intriguing protagonist to come along in years.”

What Christine says: I agree completely with this critic. Smilla’s Sense of Snow is a brilliant literary crime novel by highly acclaimed novelist Peter Hoeg. And, by the way, the movie is also a work of art, with Julia Ormond, Gabriel Byrne, and Richard Harris.

A quote from the book: “The Inuit Aisivak told Knud Rasmussen that in the beginning the world was inhabited only by two men, who were both great sorcerers. Since they wanted to multiply, one of them transformed his body in such a way that he could give birth; and then the two of them created many children.

* * *

Christine Z. Mason majored in English at UCLA and studied creative writing and literature at UCLA English Graduate School, then attended UC Davis School of Law. As a lawyer, she handled felony and death penalty cases on appeal, jury trials, and child abandonment and neglect cases. She is currently a full-time fiction writer.

She has published a middle-grade children’s book, The Mystery of Nan Madol, an adventure story set on an island in Micronesia. She has also published a mainstream novel, Boundaries: A Love Story, set in the 1980’s, introducing Kaia Matheson, a young woman aspiring to be a children’s rights lawyer who falls in love with her cousin. Kaia reappears, now in middle age, as a minor character in Christine’s just-published novel, Weighing the Truth, a legal thriller, alongside 32-year-old protagonist Natalya Drummond, a death penalty lawyer. Christine is now working on a new novel in which both of these characters surface once again. Visit Christine at


***If you’re a writer and would like to contribute to my “8 Favorite Reads” guest blog series, please send me a note. Happy reading!***



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Press Banner Talks About Author Christine Z. Mason and new novel Weighing the Truth

Press Banner reviews novels by Christine Z. Mason


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Booksage Review of Weighing the Truth

Here’s another great review of Weighing the Truth!

“. . . First of all, the thing that stood out right away for me is that Nat could easily have her own series of books (or even a TV show).  I have no idea if Christine is considering that.  But I would certainly enjoy “seeing” more of Natalya Drummond.
There was a lot I liked about this book:
1.  There were quite a few storylines running through the book.  I liked the variety and the need to pay attention.
2.  I liked seeing the difference between an attorney in her professional role and an attorney as a victim.
3.  I liked getting the clear explanation, without being lectured to, of the rules surrounding a witness in a jury trial.
4.  I liked the twists and turns and the fact that it was not predictable.
5.  I liked that I could relate to a number of different parts of the book. . . . There are obviously so many things that we just don’t know about unless we experience them.
Weighing the Truth is an entertaining book about a very relatable character.  Maybe we’ll see more of her.”—Lloyd Russell, The Booksage

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Review of Weighing the Truth, my new character-driven legal suspense novel


Release of Weighing the Truth coming soon

Just released in print and electronic formats

My new character-driven legal suspense novel, Weighing the Truth, has just been released in print and electronic formats. Here is a review by Midwest Book Review.

“Weighing the Truth‘s legal suspense story opens with Natalya Drummond and her colleague’s visit to their client in San Quentin Prison, as they work on his death-row appeal case.

“But even in the beginning, all is not as it seems: Nat’s determination to do a good job as a defense lawyer for some of the most dangerous people in prison is offset by her recognition that her job holds conundrums and special challenges other kinds of lawyers don’t face every day: “Nat was trying to figure out how they could get through the visit efficiently and spend the least possible time in the company of the pugnacious rapist-murderer they were supposed to get off of death row. None of the inmates she’d represented in the past were as vicious as Hegner, even though they’d all committed serious crimes. And this was her first visit to a death row inmate—and one who was threatening them besides. Despite Hegner’s hostility, though, Nat wanted to do a good job on his case; she didn’t do things half-assed. A man’s life was at stake, after all.”

“It’s this determination to not just perform a duty but do it well that lands Nat in trouble as events spiral out of control to challenge all her values and intentions. From little annoyances to big issues, Nat finds her carefully honed façade of control and efficiency being attacked on different levels (“She took several deep breaths, reminding herself she had to act composed, unruffled. That was the way women attorneys were supposed to act, despite any stray emotion—at least from her observation of the older female lawyers she knew; they never seemed to flinch at anything that was sprung on them, however humiliating or outrageous.”), to the point that her professionalism and goals begin to erode.

“From how appellate lawyers handle issues of guilt and innocence and develop a “natural sense of justice” to Nat’s suddenly questionable drive to be conscientious against all odds, Weighing the Truth is more than a legal thriller. It’s a close inspection of morals, ethics, and values in the face of threats, gang involvement, attorney interactions, and a level of professional involvement that suddenly turns all too personal, unexpectedly placing Nat on the other side of the witness stand.

“As Nat’s situation leads to a series of nightmares and a brutal attack, she finds herself moving away from everything familiar and set in her life.

“Fans of legal thrillers are in for a treat: where competing books are driven by legal cat-and-mouse courtroom encounters,Weighing the Truth instead provides a riveting focus on the motivations, psychology, and sometimes-conflicting special interests of the criminal defense lawyer, surveying how this can spill into personal lives and choices.

“Far more character-driven than most legal thrillers, Christine Z. Mason’s approach will delight readers who look for more personal touches and protagonist development in their legal fiction.” —D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

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The Mystery of Nan Madol to be featured in Santa Cruz Children’s Book Fair


The Mystery of Nan Madol, an adventure tale set in the Pacific island of Pohnpei

The Mystery of Nan Madol, an adventure tale set in the Pacific island of Pohnpei

Children’s Book Fair

The Santa Cruz Public Library will host a Children’s Book Fair Sunday, November 13, 2016, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. for children, teens, parents, and educators. I’ll be reading from and discussing my middle-grade novel, The Mystery of Nan Madol, an adventure story set on the island of Pohnpei in Micronesia. Breta Holgers will talk about the accompanying Reader’s Guide to The Mystery of Nan Madol for student and teacher use. Several other authors will be presenting their fiction and non-fiction books for children and young adults.


Should be an exciting event for the Santa Cruz community. There will be refreshments, a raffle, and books for sale.


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Sneak Preview: Bad Guys in Fiction

Here’s a handout/sneak preview of the presentation at the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association July 2016 Conference that G. Elizabeth Kretchmer  and I will be giving on “How to Craft Anti-Heroes, Villains, and Scoundrels.” The outline covers lots of information on creating (and reading about) bad guys in fiction, followed by some good resources for reading more about this intriguing subject.

Pacific Northwest Writers Association

How to Craft Anti-Heroes, Villains, and Scoundrels

July 28, 2016

Presented by

G. Elizabeth Kretchmer and Christine Z. Mason


Overview of Bad guys AND GIRLS

 Definition of bad guys: can be a single opponent or multiple opponents, animal, nonhuman, environmental, societal (such as an unjust criminal justice system, or a dystopian societal system as in Hunger Games).


a)  The UNLIKEABLE PROTAGONIST – complicated and will reveal important themes or statements about the human psyche. Must be understandable, even though not likable.

b) The ANTI-HERO or DARK HERO – a mysterious, flawed protagonist who disturbs the reader with his or her weaknesses. He may be considered an outlaw or bad guy who can’t play by the rules, but he is sympathetically portrayed.

c) The ANTAGONIST or VILLAIN – motivated by an agenda that opposes the protagonist’s goals, providing obstacles and conflict.

d) The SHAPESHIFTER – changes appearance and mood and can be difficult for the protagonist to understand. He/she brings doubt and suspense into a story and is often a catalyst for change.

e) The MONSTER  –  a being so terrifying that it challenges the victim’s sanity and sense of reality. Encounters with monsters including the dead, the undead, other creatures, are the emotional high points of the story.

 Understanding how your bad guy fits into your story


a) What general themes are there in the story you’re working on now or one you are beginning to write?

b) Decide on the type of story or genre. The bad guy should be appropriate for the genre.

If it’s going to be a children’s or young adult novel, for instance, different considerations would apply.

c) Do a general plotline early in the writing process, although this can change as you go forward and revise.

d) At some point while writing your first draft, do a character study of the protagonist: background, motives, goal in the story. Sketch the general character arc.

e) Choose your bad guy character to fit the plotline, and someone who is appropriate as a foil for your protagonist.

f) As you outline or write your story, develop a character sketch and character arc for your bad guy, thinking about goals, motivations, strengths, weaknesses, desires and background, and employ these elements in your novel.

Understanding your bad guy’s specific function

The bad guy might:

  • Reveal the flawed world of your story, e.g., an unfair criminal justice system
  • Create the basic conflict for your protagonist;
  • Expose how your protagonist reacts to challenges
  • Teach the protagonist a lesson.
  • Force the protagonist to grow or change

Understanding your readers

Why readers are drawn to unlikeable characters

We love to be scared

  • They’re fun to read about
  • We see a little bit of ourselves in them
  • We have our own shadow selves that long for recognition and/or redemption
  • We empathize with them because of their unfortunate backstories
  • Bad guys make our good guys look better or personally grow
  • The bad guys teach us about our world

Understanding your bad guyS CHARACTER in depth

 Character traits and behaviors

Various personality trait models to refer to when crafting any character¾not just bad guys

  • Myers-Briggs
  • Five-factor model
  • Lists of personality traits
  • Enneagrams

Abnormal psychology and criminal considerations

  • Shadow syndromes
  • Narcissists
  • Antisocial behavioral characteristics
  • Psychopaths

Moral codes, passions, and root causes

  • Moral code – we all have a moral code
  • Passion – the energy that fuels us
  • Root cause
    • Biological
    • Neurological
    • Evil spirits and curses
    • Societal influences

OTHER ELEMENTS for crafting your bad guy

Things to consider in bringing your bad guy to life in your story and making him multi-dimensional:

  • His family history.
  • Where does he live and work? What kind of vehicle does he drive?
  • Describe the equipment, furnishing and decorations of the bad guy’s home or workplace or lair.
  • How do others view him?
  • Describe him in great detail, including mannerisms, clothing style, voice, dominant personality traits, etc.
  • What would his dialogue be like?
  • If you have him as a point-of-view character, what are his thoughts and emotional reactions to different situations?
  • Who are your bad guy’s associates?
  • What are some kind things he does?
  • What are his special skills? What is his modus operandi?

The final conflict: More relevant in high-action stories, thrillers, sci fi.

  • Where is it? Should be on the bad guy’s turf.
  • Protagonist should be at a disadvantage throughout the story, but in the final conflict the protagonist has gained some new skills and can overcome the bad guy.
  • What weapons, skills or tools does each of them employ?
  • Avoid clichés; make your bad guy as original as your protagonist.

Recommended Resources and Reading


Student Pulse Academic Journal

The Myers & Briggs Foundation

University of Oregon Personality and Social Dynamics Lab

The Synthetic Aperture Personality Assessment Project

Live Bold & Bloom

Out of the Fog

Articles and Books

“Writing Good Bad Guys”, Susan Vinocour, attorney and clinical psychologist, The Writer’s Chronicle March/April 2016

Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction, Jessica Morrell (Writer’s Digest Books, 2008) 

Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, edited by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams (TarcherPerigee; 1st edition, 1991)

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors (and Screenwriters!): STEALING HOLLYWOOD: Story structure secrets for writing your BEST book (Vol.3), Alexandra Sokoloff (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015)

Shadow Syndromes: The Mild Forms of Major Mental Disorders That Sabotage Us, John J. Ratey, M. D. (Bantam; Reprint edition, 1998)

 The Anatomy of Story, John Truby (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008) 

The Literary Enneagram: Characters from the Inside Out, Judith Searle (Metamorphous Press, 2001)

 The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Christopher Vogler (Michael Wiese Productions; 3rd edition, 2007)

Writer’s Guide to Character Traits, Dr. Linda Edelstein (Writer’s Digest Books; 2nd edition, 2006)





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More info re my Crafting Villains presentation with G. Elizabeth Kretchmer at PNWA Conference

Here’s more info about my Villains presentation at the PNWA Conference in July.
Topic: How to Craft Anti-Heroes, Villains, and Scoundrels
Panel: G. Elizabeth Kretchmer and Christine Z Mason
Description: Humbert Humbert, Professor Snape, Captain Ahab: What is it about unlikeable characters that make us love them so? As writers, we need to study and closely observe human nature if we want to craft dark and fascinating characters. In this interactive workshop, we’ll examine personality traits of disagreeable, even loathsome, characters ranging from irritating to psychopathic.
We’ll also consider the purpose of this type of character in relation to the overall story and explore the psychological reasons why readers are drawn to them. After looking at some well-known compelling bad guys (and girls), we’ll spend some time crafting character sketches of our own miscreants.

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Giving presentation on creating fictional villains at PNWA conference in July

Gail Kretchmer and I will present a workshop for writers on creating good fictional villains at the PNWA conference in Seattle, to be held July 28-31, 2016. Check out this excellent writers conference!

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Author Christine Z. Mason at Author’s Fair

CZMason on Women's Stories Panel San Jose Author Fair 11/15

Christine Z. Mason  on Women’s Stories Panel San Jose Author Fair 11/15

The Author Fair was an exciting event, sponsored by San Jose State University and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library and held in the beautiful public library in downtown San Jose on November 15, 2015. Many authors appeared on various panels, and many more readers came to hear the presentations and shop for new titles, both non-fiction and fiction. I presented Boundaries: A Love Story on the Women’s Stories panel and talked about the strong female characters in the novel, including protagonist Kaia Matheson and her artistic aunt, Elisa Karadonis, and discussed their roles in this family saga involving cousins-in-love. Other female characters include Kaia’s career-obsessed mother Jean Matheson, and a children’s rights attorney, Chandi Gupta, both of whom were influential in Kaia’s life in different ways.

Christine also previewed her new novel, Weighing the Truth, about a female death penalty lawyer, and spoke about the conflict between family and career for working parents.

Christine at Author's Fair in San Jose November 2015

Christine Z. Mason at Author’s Fair in San Jose November 2015

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