Thursday, May 25, 2017

"Perish the Day"

John Farrow is the pen name of Trevor Ferguson, who has written numerous novels and plays, all to extraordinary acclaim. His Émile Cinq-Mars crime series has been published around the world and cited by Booklist as "one the best series in crime fiction today", while Die Zeit in Germany suggested that it might be the best series ever.

Farrow applied the Page 69 Test to Perish the Day, the newest novel in the Émile Cinq-Mars series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
She makes a gesture with her lips that’s difficult to decipher. He gathers that she doesn’t have small talk on her mind.

“You’re a detective, Uncle Émile,” she points out to him.

“A more accurate statement when delivered in the past tense.”

“Not what I heard.”

True. He has kept a hand in, even postretirement.

She wants to know, “Are you going to be involved in this case?” The question sounds like a challenge.

“That won’t be possible, Caro.”

“Why not?”

“There’s no way I can be.”

“Why not?”

He separates his hands, as though to emphasize that there’s nothing he can do. “Policeman guard their jurisdictions as avidly as a jealous lover guards a sweetheart. Imagine a guy going to another guy, the jealous type, asking if he’d mind lending out his girlfriend.”

“Gross.”

“Bad illustration maybe.”

“More than maybe. Has that stopped you before?”

“A bad illustration?”

“Police jurisdiction.”
Now that my detective Émile Cinq-Mars is in his retirement from the police force, his entry onto new cases that involve murder and mayhem is more complicated. He’s no longer assigned. Rather, he must insinuate himself where he’s not wanted. The advantage to having him in this situation is that he’s no longer bound by police protocol, so in one sense he has the freedom of the amateur sleuth while still retaining his police contacts and experience. No more badge, though, and he no longer carries a weapon. It’s part of the fun (for me) in his new career, generally, and particularly in this novel to see how he manages to worm his way onto an investigation when the cops who are involved don’t want him. In this scene, his niece makes an appeal for him to investigate the death of a friend and co-ed, even though he’s in another country—the U.S.A.—and not his native Canada. Naturally, the local police, both municipal cops and State Troopers, aren’t going to appreciate his meddling. He knows it, and in this scene he presages that conflict for his niece, although she will urge him to overcome the obstacles anyway. This is a critical motif in the novel: how police departments, as well as an outsider cop, are suspicious and antagonistic toward one another, and how the difficulty of building trust and confidence plays out between agencies and individuals in law enforcement. Cinq-Mars will have to overcome considerable disdain pitching in as a Canadian, French-speaking, retired cop on an active and murderous case in New Hampshire.
Visit Trevor Ferguson's Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Seven Days Dead.

My Book, The Movie: Seven Days Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Grace and the Fever"

Zan Romanoff writes essays and fiction, mostly focused on food, feminism, television and books. She graduated from Yale in 2009 with a B.A. in Literature, and now lives and works in Los Angeles.

Romanoff applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Grace and the Fever, and reported the following:
On the 69th page of my book, a girl tries to decide whether she’s going to go to a party with a boy. They’ve only met once, but she knows almost everything there is to know about him, because he’s in a world-famous boy band, and she is a massive, massive fan.

Grace and the Fever is about the stories celebrities tell about themselves, and what it means to believe them; it’s about how you can know almost everything there is to know about someone, and not know them, actually, at all. Grace has met Jes once before, by accident; in this scene, he’s just asked to meet her again, on purpose. It’s the moment when the book’s plot really kicks into gear, as Grace moves from passively loving his band, Fever Dream, to feeling like she can actively be a part of their lives and their story.

She’s discussing the decision, and the media speculation that will inevitably follow Jes being seen with a girl who’s not his girlfriend, with Fever Dream’s assistant, Raj. Raj says:
“There might be some speculation. I guess really what we’re asking you is selfish: Risk some backlash. Help the band.”

Grace doesn’t know she’s already made her decision until she feels Raj’s words turn something in her, the last click of a key in a lock. She owes Fever Dream the last four years. Some days, she feels like she owes them everything. They’re the fantasy she’s been living on through the long, boring days of high school, the idea that her life could be taken, suddenly, and turned into something sparkling. That what’s burning inside of her matters. She isn’t ready to give up that up yet. When he puts it that way, there’s just no chance she’ll say no.

“Okay,” she tells him. “I’m in.”
She’s in, but she as she’s about to find out: she doesn’t know what she’s in for at all.
Visit Zan Romanoff's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"Eagle and Empire"

Alan Smale writes science fiction and fantasy, currently focusing on alternate history and historical fantasy. His novella of a Roman invasion of ancient America, "A Clash of Eagles," won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate History. Clash of Eagles and Eagle in Exile are the first books in a trilogy set in the same universe.

Smale applied the Page 69 Test to Eagle and Empire, book three of The Clash of Eagles Trilogy, and reported the following:
It’s the thirteenth century in a timeline where the Roman Empire has survived in its classical form, and is expanding into Nova Hesperia – our North America. After many desperate battles and even more desperate diplomacy, journeys along the Mississippi in Viking longships, derring-do and general trauma, Roman general Gaius Marcellinus finds himself the central figure in a fragile truce between an invading force of three crack Roman legions – commanded by Emperor Hadrianus III himself – and a Hesperian League of Native American tribes, hastily pulled together to resist them.

And as if things weren’t dodgy enough already, by page 69 of Eagle and Empire it has become widely known that the Mongol Horde – tens of thousands of horse archers – has landed on the western coast and is making its way across the Rockies. Pushed back by Rome in Asia, Genghis Khan seeks to master the resources of Nova Hesperia instead. Familiar with the Asian steppes, the Hesperian Great Plains will be a landscape they understand, a terrain where they have the edge.

So there’s a fair amount of action to come, but page 69 is a quieter moment between Gaius Marcellinus and his adopted Cahokian daughter, Kimimela, fourteen years old. Cahokia is the great city of the Mississippian Culture, boasting 20,000 inhabitants and 120 great earthen mounds, and Marcellinus has developed a number of strong relationships there. Under the circumstances it’s not surprising that some of these are a little tense, and his kinship with Kimimela has always been rocky. Now, approaching page 69, Marcellinus attempts to reconcile before he heads off on another extended trip:
“Kimi, you once told me that I must tell you in person if I planned to leave Cahokia. Well, I am leaving now. Within the week.”

That halted her. She looked up at him, the hurt in her eyes warring with her habitual disdain. “So soon? For how long?”

“Hadrianus is sending me to seek an alliance with the People of the Hand.”
These are the Ancestral Puebloan people who occupied the area we know as Chaco Canyon (sometimes referred to as the Anasazi, although that name is considered insulting and no longer acceptable). Kimimela is naturally concerned, since Marcellinus is a key player in preserving the peace, but also:
Her expression was sour. “And so you will lead Romans again.”

“The [Roman cavalry] come with their own commander. Sextus Bassus.”

“But you will command Bassus, of course.” She looked at him with deep pain. “You are one person to Roma and another to Cahokia. And you always have been.”

“I have never lied to you, Kimimela.”

“Except when it suited you.” She looked away, but at least she did not run from him.

He began to feel irritated. “I could not always tell you all I knew. But neither could you. You knew of Tahtay’s plan to bring the Army of Ten Thousand to the Roman fortresses last year. Did you tell me?[…]Did any of you tell me about that? No, of course not.”

That was different,” she said. “We served Cahokia. You always do what’s best for you.”

His exasperation grew. “Easiest for me would be to serve Roma hook, line, and sinker. Am I doing that?”

She looked at him coolly. “Aren’t you?”

“I’m trying to do what’s best for everyone. Somehow. And ... Holy Juno, Kimi... If I die on this trip, I don’t want harsh words like these to be the last we speak to each other. Not after all this. All right?”

Kimimela grimaced.

Marcellinus might never have the chance to say this again. “Kimimela, I love you. The day I became your father was the proudest...” He swallowed and began again. “You and Sintikala are the most important people in my life. I will do everything I can to keep you safe. Everything. I would die for you. And that is the truth.”

Kimimela closed her eyes. When she opened them again, they were damp and glittering, her face forlorn. Marcellinus’s heart almost broke in that moment. He reached out to her, but she held up her hand. “But what? Always with the Wanageeska there is a ‘but.’ A something-else.”

The silence expanded between them. Kimimela stared into his eyes.

“Very well. But still I have to try to serve both Roma and Cahokia. Keep as many other people alive as possible—both Roman and Cahokian. And prepare to face the Mongol Khan. And so I must go to the southwest. The Imperator believes that he is coercing me to go, but in fact he is right, Kimi. I am the only man for the job. I should go.”
Page 69 ends here. There’s much more to this scene, and an emotional resolution, but that would take us too far.

I'm happy that this is the scene in the book pinpointed by the Page 69 Test, because it highlights Marcellinus’s greatest conflicts in the Clash books: his new friendships and allegiances, his growing understanding of family and community, while still attempting the impossible task of remaining loyal to Rome. It’s a tricky path Marcellinus is trying to walk in his new world of Nova Hesperia, and his Page 69 conversation with Kimimela illustrates that well.
Visit Alan Smale's website.

The Page 69 Test: Clash of Eagles.

The Page 69 Test: Eagle in Exile.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 22, 2017

"The Shadow Sister"

Lucinda Riley is the New York Times bestselling author of The Orchid House, The Girl on the Cliff, The Lavender Garden, The Midnight Rose, and The Seven Sisters. Her books have sold more than five million copies in thirty languages She lives in London and the English countryside with her husband and four children.

Riley applied the Page 69 Test to her newest book to appear in the US, The Shadow Sister, the third installment in The Seven Sisters series, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
I could live here, I thought as Marguerite returned, having changed into a rather creased honey-colored silk blouse and a purple scarf that complemented her eyes.

“Oh my God, Star, you miracle worker! I haven’t seen the kitchen look like this for years! Thank you. Do you want a job?”

“I already have one with Orlando.”

“I know, and I’m so happy you’re there for him. Maybe you could dissuade him from spending large amounts of money to fund what is becoming his own personal library.”

“He does actually sell quite a lot of books online,” I replied, defending him as Marguerite poured herself another measure of gin.

“I know,” she said fondly. “Right, Rory’s having a fine old time opening all his presents in the sitting room and Orlando’s gone down to the cellar to get more wine for the guests, so I can sit down for five minutes.” She checked her watch before letting out a sigh. “Mouse is late again, but we shan’t postpone lunch. I presume you gathered this morning that Rory’s deaf?”

“Yes, I did,” I replied, thinking that, just like her cousin, Marguerite’s brain flitted from one subject to the next like a butterfly.

“And has been since birth. He has a little hearing in his left ear, but his hearing aids only go so far. I just…” She paused, meeting my gaze. “I never want him to feel as if he can’t do something, as if he’s lesser than anyone else. The things that people say sometimes…” She shook her head and sighed.

“He’s the most wonderful, smart little boy there is.”

“He and Orlando seem very close,” I ventured.

“Orlando was the one who taught him to read when he was five, having mastered British Sign Language so he could speak to Rory and teach him. We’ve mainstreamed him—that is, placed him in the local primary school—and he’s even teaching the other children to sign. He’s got a fantastic speech therapist working with him every week to encourage him to talk and lip-read and he’s doing brilliantly. Children at his age learn so quickly. Now, I should be taking you through to meet the guests rather than keeping you locked away in the kitchen like Cinderella.”
On page 69, Star has just begun working in a quaint and chaotic antique bookshop in London, and her employer Orlando has taken her to meet his family who live in a beautiful but ailing country house called High Weald in Kent. Star is yet to discover the extent to which her life will become entwined with that of this eccentric family and their mysterious house.

Star was at first a difficult character for me to write as she is the most quiet and pensive of all her sisters, and constantly dominated by her younger sister CeCe, with whom she has an unusually close relationship (hence the title, The Shadow Sister). This page shows the beginning of her slowly coming out of the shadows, forging new friendships, and discovering new parts of herself. Her ability to listen is one of her greatest strengths – which is what made scenes between her and Rory a pleasure to write – they understand each other on a fundamental level that doesn’t require spoken words.
Visit Lucinda Riley's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Shadow Sister.

Writers Read: Lucinda Riley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 20, 2017

"The Last Neanderthal"

Claire Cameron's first novel, The Line Painter, was nominated for an Arthur Ellis Award for best crime first novel and won the Northern Lit Award from the Ontario Library Service. Her second novel, The Bear, became a #1 national bestseller in Canada and was long-listed for the 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.

Cameron applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Last Neanderthal, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Last Neanderthal describes a family of Neanderthals just after they have successfully killed a bison. The action sequence before, the hunt that almost goes wrong, is an exciting passage, but page 69 shows the true tension in the family. Though they are not fighting over the meat, the passage is full of politics. They are measuring each other up. Him, the older brother, gets caught staring at his sister inappropriately, "all the reverence and respect for skill an strength mixed with the swill of his spit." His mother catches the look and throws a well aimed rock at his head.

Runt, the slightly stunted looking boy the family has taken in, is unsure of his place and feels nervous. But just at the end of the page, he gets a piece, "he ripped and pulled with a snarl until a manageable bite came loose."

I'd say this passage is hilariously representative of the book. That said, the modern story, about a pregnant archaeologist named Rose who discovers ancient remains, is not represented. Otherwise the page 69 shows lots of sideways looks, lust, and meat -- that says it all!
Visit Claire Cameron's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Line Painter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"Invisible Dead"

Sam Wiebe's novel Last of the Independents won the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize and an Arthur Ellis Award, and was nominated for a Shamus award. His second novel, Invisible Dead, was published by Random House Canada and Quercus USA. His short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Spinetingler, and subTerrain, and he was the 2016 Vancouver Public Library Writer in Residence. He lives in Vancouver.

Wiebe applied the Page 69 Test to Invisible Dead and reported the following:
From page 69:
I waited for him to swing at me. The punch didn’t come. Instead a kick swept out and clipped the side of my knee, too fast to deflect. I was off balance, rocked by the pain. I swung anyway. He batted my fist away, seized my shoulder and propelled me backward into the kitchen, back until my spine hit the countertop.

“Stick you hand in the drain,” he said.

I didn’t. His grip on my shoulder tightened. I tried to shrug him off but his forearm came up into my throat and he bent me back over the sink so the back of my head pressed against the drape over the window and shook it down.

“Stick your hand into the sink.”

I did.

“Fingers into the drain. All the way. Until your hand’s stuck.”

I complied.

There was a switch over the drain. He flipped it…
Invisible Dead is a novel about systemic violence, the kind we often don’t notice or don’t think about. The main character, Dave Wakeland, sets out to find a missing sex trade worker, and must eventually confront his own complicity in being part of a city where troubled young women go missing all too often.

In some ways Wakeland is a classic detective, in the vein of Lew Archer. This makes him capable in some ways, and woefully unequipped in others.

In this scene, Dave comes up against an unnamed enforcer for a gangster who’s somehow connected to his missing person. Dave is capable and familiar with violence, but as this scene shows, he’s physically outmatched by someone more ruthless than he is. If he survives this encounter, he’ll be left to wonder: if the underling of this gangster is able to manhandle him, how will he deal with the gangster himself?
Visit Sam Wiebe's website.

Writers Read: Sam Wiebe.

My Book, The Movie: Invisible Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

"Sycamore"

Bryn Chancellor’s debut novel, Sycamore, is now out from Harper. Her story collection When Are You Coming Home? won the 2014 Prairie Schooner Book Prize, and her short fiction has appeared in Gulf Coast, Blackbird, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Phoebe, and elsewhere. Other honors include the Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award in fiction, and literary fellowships from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. She earned her M.F.A. in fiction from Vanderbilt University and is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. A native of California raised in Arizona, she is married to artist Timothy Winkler.

Chancellor applied the Page 69 Test to Sycamore and reported the following:
What a great test! Sycamore interweaves two timelines—1991 and 2009—and my Page 69 is from the 1991 timeline, told from the perspective of Jess Winters, the teenager who goes missing in Sycamore in that same year. The page finds her at a heightened moment: on her seventeenth birthday, when she and her mother have been in town about a month after her parents’ recent divorce; her one friend in town has cut ties, and she has just taunted a group of popular girls who take revenge by scrawling slurs on her locker. On this page, Jess finds brief solace in her English classroom by staring at a poster of James Baldwin as her teacher recites Edna St. Vincent Millay. Jess has been scribbling her own poems privately in her notebooks (to which the reader is privy), and this moment reflects her obsession with language, which continues throughout the book. The second half of the page also includes her and her mother celebrating her birthday—the first celebration with just the two of them—and a mention of her absent father. So, happily, this page does pull in many of the threads from the whole book, at least from Jess’s point of view.
Visit Bryn Chancellor's website.

Writers Read: Bryn Chancellor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"Beach Lawyer"

Avery Duff was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he attended Baylor School and graduated summa cum laude. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he earned a JD from Georgetown University Law Center. He then joined a prestigious Tennessee law firm, becoming a partner in five years, before moving to Los Angeles. His screenwriting credits include the 2010 heist drama Takers, starring Matt Dillon, Idris Elba, Paul Walker, and Hayden Christensen. Duff lives at the beach in Los Angeles and spends his time writing fiction.

Duff applied the Page 69 Test to Beach Lawyer, his first published novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Later, sitting in his interview, he was recounting to them how the Palmer closing blew up back at the firm and his solution, letting them know he was a problem solver when one of them raised a hand, midsentence.

“We have no doubt you are well qualified. No doubt at all.”

“None,” said the woman, checking her file. “You had an excellent recommendation from a Philip Fanelli.”

“Great,” he said, but something was wrong. Had they picked up on his thinly masked desperation? Had he laid it on too thick about what a mack-daddy go-getter he was?

The woman said, “Having said that, we would consider starting you first of the month if we can come to terms.”

“Where there’s a will,” he said, smiling and wishing he hadn’t.

“But we don’t need a deal maker or a closer. We thought we were clear about that in the ad.”

“The ad?”

“In California Lawyer. The ad.”

“Right,” he said, clueless. “Of course.”

“So, even though we are aware of your qualifications, we see you more as a...”

The shorter of the two short men slid a black binder across the table. “We see you sinking your teeth into these new pension regulations. Our clients are overwhelmed right now with all the new rules coming out of Washington.”

Robert couldn’t bring himself to touch the book: Pension Protection Act of 1996. Best guess, it ran a thousand pages with page headings like Reg.1009.4 (g)(i)-(ix) et. seq.

“Pretty intricate material, we know, but we’re prepared to pay competitively.”
Robert decided to be polite, to see if he could get out of here with an offer. Maybe he could still beat traffic home on the I-10.

“I’m right here,” he said.
It’s remarkable that page 69 winds up being so pivotal in Beach Lawyer.

Robert finally trekked from the beach to downtown Los Angeles looking for a job—any job—only to be tag-team insulted in a high-rise conference room by a three-lawyer hiring committee. Slated for the most boring legal task he can imagine—pension regulations—and re-starting his career, Robert is approaching critical mass about wanting to work inside the legal community.

His internal process works here, too, I think. He’s still clueless about what’s really going on in his doomed career and persists in trying to make a good impression on people neither he, nor the reader, would ever respect. He holds his temper in check—his push-back nature we’ve already seen—a good-faith attempt to be a team player on a team of losers.

It dawns on me only now—hate to admit it—that had the hiring committee offered Robert a salary verging on reasonable, his story would’ve ended here with a soul-crushing job in that firm’s pensions department. By trying to screw him, the committee actually did him a favor.

If you’ve ever asked yourself the professional question, “How much more of this garbage can I take and still respect myself?” page 69 is where that question, still inchoate, begins to crystallize for Robert. He gives his answer to their lowball offer shortly after this—he’d rather jump out of their high-rise window and count his blessings on the way down than work for these losers.
Learn more about Beach Lawyer.

My Book, The Movie: Beach Lawyer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 15, 2017

"The Wonder of Us"

Kim Culbertson is the award-winning author of the YA novels Songs for a Teenage Nomad, Instructions for a Broken Heart, Catch a Falling Star, The Possibility of Now, and The Wonder of Us.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Wonder of Us and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Been meaning to ask you, why the Seven Ancient Wonders?”

Like Will is used to being asked how tall he is, this is one of the questions I get asked the most. Maybe it’s a strange sort of hobby, loving the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, if you’re not a seventy-year-old archaeologist or something. Of course, people always forget that the seventy-year-old archaeologist first fell in love with the ancient world at some point in her life…
Northern California girls Abby and Riya have been friends since preschool, but when Riya moves to Berlin for her junior year of high school, their friendship starts to fall apart. In an attempt to save it, Riya sends Abby an invitation to explore Europe with her, to create some new Wonders, other than those ancient ones Abby spends all her time studying. In The Wonder of Us, my third novel with Scholastic, I wanted to explore the sometimes challenging nature of evolving friendships. So often, our first loves outside our families are with friends and this felt like an interesting and important topic to me. I taught high school for 18 years and watched how complex childhood friendships could be when they hit the teen years. And I love to travel, especially because travel reframes things for me in my own life. So, I thought setting this story of these two girls against the backdrop of their hometown and then six European cities would allow the best sort of road trip exploration to happen.
Visit Kim Culbertson's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kim Culbertson and Maya.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 14, 2017

"Dreamfall"

Amy Plum is the author of Die For Me, a YA series set in Paris. The first three books—Die For Me, Until I Die, and If I Should Die—are international bestsellers, and have been translated into thirteen languages. The fourth and fifth books are digital novellas, entitled Die For Her and Die Once More, and they are followed by a sixth digital compendium Inside the World of Die For Me. Plum’s newest series is a duology: After the End and Until the Beginning.

Plum applied the Page 69 Test to the newly released first book of her YA horror duology, Dreamfall, and reported the following:
From page 69:
CHAPTER 10

JAIME

Trial subject two is named Fergus Willson. He’s eighteen. Freshman at a local community college. His file looks a lot more medical than Catalina’s, stuffed with charts and readouts and prescriptions dating back years. He’s diagnosed as having narcolepsy with cataplexy, hypnagogic hallucinations, sleep paralysis, excessive daytime sleepiness, and night terrors.

I’ve heard of narcolepsy, of course, but don’t know a couple of the other terms. I open up the search engine on the fancy computer and type in cataplexy. Three hundred eighty-four thousand results. Scanning a few, I see that it is a condition that about seventy percent of narcoleptics suffer where they experience sudden muscle weakness triggered by emotions. I’ve seen something about this before on a documentary—if they guy laughed, cried, or was frightened, he just collapsed wherever he was, sometimes injuring himself pretty badly.
For the Page 69 test, I dipped back into Dreamfall to find out what actually takes place in that section of the book. And, although it is somewhat representative of the set-up of the book, it’s not where the action takes place.

Page 69 is from Jaime’s point of view. Jaime is a medical student who is witnessing the experiment that is at the base of Dreamfall: a cutting-edge technique that is supposed to shock the brain of the seven teenage insomniac subjects into regular REM/NREM sleep cycles. Jaime is there when the experiment goes wrong, throwing the subjects into a coma. And this makes Jaime want to know more about the subjects…as people, not just as bodies lying in a laboratory. Interspersed between the nightmare actions scenes, Jaime helps us get to know the subjects one-by-one by reading their folders in the test file.
So although page 69 helps the reader know more about one of the test subjects, I wouldn’t say it’s representative of the book. (It won’t give you nightmares!) Enjoy!
Visit Amy Plum's website, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Coffee with a Canine: Amy Plum and Ella.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 12, 2017

"Before We Sleep"

Jeffrey Lent was born in Vermont and grew up there and in western New York State. He studied literature and psychology at Franconia College in New Hampshire and SUNY Purchase. His first novel, In the Fall, was a national bestseller. His other novels include Lost Nation, A Peculiar Grace, After You've Gone, and A Slant of Light, which was a finalist for the New England Book Award and a Washington Post Best Book of 2015.

Lent applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Before We Sleep, and reported the following:
Page 69:
her teeth and ate it down before the warmth of the day could smear her fingers. Then drank the cold Coke and felt ready all over again. Even, perhaps, more so than ever.

The day was still clear and growing hot but as she passed into Machias she felt herself grow cool, slightly remote, calculating. As if what lay ahead would be happening only to some unknown version of herself. She drove through the town, peering at street signs and doubled back and stopped at an ice cream stand and asked the girl directions to Cannon Street and made her repeat them and got back in the truck and turned back once again. She went two blocks and pulled a right and went two more blocks and turned left and glided along, the radio now on but the music low, a thrum in the background.

Cannon Street was only a few blocks long and dead-ended at a low fence beyond which stretched the ball fields of a school, the long low two-story pale brick building of the school out ahead in the heat-haze, a school recently built. She sat parked for a moment trying to take it all in. The houses just passed were mostly familiar to her, old two-over-four houses that had been expanded over the years, most white with green or black trim and shutters, a couple painted yellow with cream trim. But there stood a difference between these houses and those from home and it came to her: it was the expanse of sky, the lack of hills. She was upon a tableland, close to the ocean. She wiped sweat from her brow and reversed in a three-point tight turn and went back down the street. Now peering close, seeking numbers on doors, above doors, some houses lacking them altogether or hidden from her sight. Where she could spot them. Then saw 64 on the left-hand side and changed her focus to the other side and slid along a block easily and then slowed and nudged the truck almost against the curb, peering into the shade of the trees, the halos of sunlight. She passed a man out mowing his lawn in green workpants and a white T-shirt and behind him saw the oval plaque that read 47.
Before We Sleep alternates chapters, for the most part, between a mother and daughter, telling the story of a family in post-World War II America. The daughter's chapters all take place in June of 1967, as she's enroute to try and learn the identity of the man she believes may be her biological father. Katey Snow is seventeen and is coming out of rural Vermont into the suddenly charged and changing world around her, but which so far she's mostly glimpsed through television and magazine coverage of events distant for her. The most palpable thread of that change that's reached her so far is music, which again, largely enters her through radio. Like most teenagers at the time she only owned a handful of records, so radio is the medium of change for her, literally change coming through the air. I think that's an important image to hold here, to understand Katey and her background. It's challenging to write about the 1960's because that era now exists largely in a cliched collective conscience, so I worked very hard to have Katey be open but naive, thrilled and a bit frightened also, not only of what she discovers externally along the way but how she works through these processes internally.

At first glance page 69 seems to hold little of this larger theme. She's arrived in Machias, Maine, and is seeking the last known address she has for the man she's trying to track down. All she knows about him is that he was an old army buddy of her father, who came to visit the spring before she was born. At this point in the novel the reader also doesn't know the story of what took place during that visit. But there are a couple of key points on this page.

The first and most obvious is that she has the radio of the pickup on. It's turned low, described as a thrum. She could've just turned it off, but doesn't; the music is there, running through her. In the way of teenagers everywhere it helps keep her in place as it helps drive her forward. Now, a bit of an aside here. 1967 was an extraordinarily explosive year for music. The number of breakout and ambitious and different, even difficult number of bands and albums that appeared that year was indeed a pinnacle, a banner year that has yet to be repeated. It's intriguing to compare a list of the top 100 albums from 1966 and 1967. '66 was interesting, very much a mixed bag of rock and roll, jazz, soft pop, and folk music. 1967 was, to use a phrase from the times, balls-to-the-wall rock and roll. And this was the critical time and defining aura that Katey was moving through.

Beyond that, on page 69, Katey's in a strange place. She's in the neighborhood, tracking down the house. But she's also keenly aware of what also isn't there. She's in Maine, close to the ocean and the land is mostly flat and the sky is large and close. She comes from a place where hills and mountains define the landscape, the horizon. She's nervous about what may be a pending encounter with what she's seeking and this simple fact of geography adds to her nervousness. I hope this shows not only her youth and vulnerability but also her growing awareness of self, of who she is, partly because of where and how she grew up. We are all products not only of family and education but of environment, and a wholly new environment can be provoking and exhilarating- it can also be daunting.

But the single most important aspect of page 69 lies in the first two sentences of the first full paragraph: ...she felt herself grow cool, slightly remote, calculating. As if what lay ahead would be happening only to some unknown version of herself. Pretty much literally this is the first time in her life that she's entering a situation where almost everything is unknown to her, and one that holds potentially high stakes for her. She has no idea what to expect and yet also feels she can handle whatever comes her way- she even knows she can present herself as she chooses and this factor gives her advantage, even though it's unclear to her yet how or what that advantage will be. Katey is learning parts of her own strengths that she might've glimpsed before, but never felt as keenly as she does in this strange and important moment of her life.

Finally, because it is only page 69 there's a whole lot of story still untold, unknown not only to the readers but the characters themselves. As the writer, one of the things I love most about first draft is taking the nuggets of ideas for the story and then learning who these people are and what they actually get up to as the book moves through me and onto the page. I work from only a two or three page rough outline, more of a sketch of ideas, so first draft is an act of discovery. Everything after that is refining and clarifying. But by the time one gets to page 69 a pretty clear sense of the unfolding story is well in place.
Visit Jeffrey Lent's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 11, 2017

"Lightwood"

Steph Post is the author of A Tree Born Crooked (2014) and Lightwood (2017) as well as a short story writer, reader, teacher and dog lover (among many other things...).

She applied the Page 69 Test to Lightwood and reported the following:
I would have to say that page 69 is not indicative of Lightwood as a whole, but I’m glad for the chance to focus on this page, because it spotlights one of the characters of the novel who is much-loved by many, but often overlooked in reviews and promotions: Brother Felton.
When he was a child, he had kept the snakes and lizards in wooden crates inside his lean-to clubhouse made from squares of plywood and a plastic tarp. He didn’t have to worry about anyone messing with them because he was the only member of the club. He kept his turtles in a rusted bucket outside of the lean-to and they were his favorite. He named each one after an angel from the Bible.
Brother Felton, the hapless, pathetic nephew of Lightwood’s most insidious villain, Sister Tulah, is the focus of this chapter and in this scene we learn about Felton’s childhood as an orphan being raised by his malicious and megalomania aunt. Felton, unwittingly, is the catalyst for much of the drama in the novel and although he is intrinsically entangled with Sister Tulah’s criminal agenda, Felton is one of the few characters in Lightwood who often elicits pity in readers. Although he is a middle-aged adult, Brother Felton remains the gawky, unpopular loner, sitting by himself at the lunch table in the corner, desperately wishing he could hang out with the cool kids.

Fortunately, Brother Felton is far from being a static character and I believe readers will be very surprised to see his turn of fate and fortune as the Lightwood series continues.
Visit Steph Post's website.

Writers Read: Steph Post.

My Book, The Movie: Lightwood.

--Marshal Zeringue