Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"Making Bombs for Hitler"

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch is the acclaimed author of over sixteen picture books and novels. Her earlier picture books include Enough, Silver Threads, Daughter of War, Aram's Choice and The Best Gifts. She won the Silver Birch Fiction Award for Making Bombs for Hitler and the Red Cedar Award for Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan's Rescue from War.

Skrypuch applied the Page 69 Test to Making Bombs for Hitler and reported the following:
In this novel, ten year old Lida has been captured by the Nazis and is sent to a brutal slave camp where she is subsists on sawdust bread and watery turnip soup. The inmates are forced to do various kinds of labor for the German war machine. Some of the captives are sent by train to work in private factories and munitions plants, but a few, including Lida, have jobs right in the camp. Lida is allowed to do mending in the officers' laundry after demonstrating her talent with a needle and thread. Her friend and fellow captive Juli also has a job in the compound. She does something at the hospital.

At lunch, Lida notices a smudge of blood on Juli's cuff.

Page 69 in Making Bombs for Hitler begins with:

I wanted to ask her about the blood on her cuff, but sensed this wasn't the time.

The train that brings the slave laborers back from the munitions plant is strangely late and so for a brief time, Juli and Lida are in the wash house all by themselves.

This is a culminating moment in the novel. Lida is just about to learn the terrible nature of Juli's job, and they're also about to find out why the train is so late. And – how that event makes staying alive much more complicated for Lida.
Visit Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch's website.

My Book, The Movie: Making Bombs for Hitler.

Writers Read: Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"Imperial Valley"

Johnny Shaw was born and raised on the Calexico/Mexicali border, the setting for his award-winning Jimmy Veeder Fiasco series, which includes the novels Dove Season and Plaster City. He is also the author of the Anthony Award–winning adventure novel Big Maria and the urban-crime novel Floodgate.

Shaw applied the Page 69 Test to the latest Jimmy Veeder Fiasco, Imperial Valley, and reported the following:
While this page mostly exists to do some table-setting for the scenes to come, it does introduce one element of Imperial Valley that is slightly different than the two previous books in the series.

Jimmy Veeder and Bobby Maves, the protagonists of my series of fiascoes, are the source of a slew of bad ideas. With good intentions but dubious solutions, they throw themselves at a problem with more passion than brains, often making things worse. Which has meant that their better halves, Angie and Griselda respectively, have always been too smart to participate. Important characters, but sensible ones as well.

In Imperial Valley, they don’t have a choice anymore, allowing Angie and Griselda to participate fully in the fiasco, showing that they have just as little common sense as Jimmy and Bobby, but easily as much grit and tenacity. From the threat of Mexican cartels deep in Sinaloa to kidnappers back at home in the California desert, they are fully tested when family is at stake.
The Numbnut Twins agreed to stop tailing us within the city of Mazatlán. It might have been in Sinaloa, but Mazatlán was one of the safest cities in Mexico. Old people retired there. However, they insisted on joining us on the trip to Coatepec. In their mind, the country was where bad shit could go down, and they wanted to be there if it did. Who knew what kind of nonsense went on out in the rural Sierra Madre?

I figured no harm having an extra couple people. Whether Mexico or the US, small towns held their own secrets. And their own screwy form of danger. Cue the banjo music.

“I don't like you, but we can't let nothing happen to you,” Luis said. “If Tomás Morales wasn't our boss, I'd mess up your buddy for that bottle shit.”

Bobby laughed. “Why is it guys that think they're tough always start sentences with ‘I'd fight you, but...'?”

“When this is over, homes,” Luis said, “and your women aren't around to protect you, we'll go.”

“That's going to be fun,” Bobby said.

Angie looked at Griselda. “Men are fucking morons.”

“Stupid fucking morons,” Griselda said.

Excerpted from Imperial Valley: A Jimmy Veeder Fiasco by Johnny Shaw with permission of the publisher, Thomas & Mercer. Copyright 2017 © Johnny Shaw. All rights reserved.
Visit Johnny Shaw's website.

The Page 69 Test: Plaster City.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 27, 2017

"Gather Her Round"

Alex Bledsoe grew up in west Tennessee an hour north of Graceland (home of Elvis) and twenty minutes from Nutbush (birthplace of Tina Turner). He has been a reporter, editor, photographer and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. He now lives in a Wisconsin town famous for trolls.

Bledsoe applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, the fifth book in his Tufa series, Gather Her Round, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Gather Her Round, protagonist Duncan Gowan has just been awakened by his mother, and his best friend Adam. With a raging hangover, he tries to recall just what he did the previous night. Duncan has no trouble, however, recalling his discovery that Adam had been sneaking around with Duncan’s girlfriend Kera, who’s been killed by wild hogs.

This page lets you into Duncan’s thoughts, and helps lay the character groundwork for what he’ll subsequently do. Duncan isn’t a bad guy, but he gives in to his worst tendencies, and digs himself deeper with each decision. His desire for revenge goes awry in unanticipated ways, and despite his efforts to move forward and do what’s right, sometimes you can’t escape the past. It’s the same inevitability that motivates characters in classic Appalachian murder ballads.
Learn more about the book and author at Alex Bledsoe's website.

The Page 69 Test: Wisp of a Thing (Tufa #2).

The Page 69 Test: Long Black Curl (Tufa #3).

My Book, The Movie: Gather Her Round (Tufa #5).

Writers Read: Alex Bledsoe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 26, 2017

"Wonderful Feels Like This"

Sara Lövestam, a writer as well as a huge jazz music fan, lives in Sweden.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Wonderful Feels Like This, newly released in English, and reported the following:
Wonderful Feels like This is about the bullied teenager Steffi, who finds comfort and happiness in old jazz music, and her friendship with the 89-year-old man Alvar, who was once a famous jazz musician. So let me check page 69 in the US version of this book...
She has a brilliant idea, but her Pappa doesn't get it. He's even pretty upset. Steffi hears it as his v's turn to b's and then sees his expression change. "What are you saying?" he exclaims, and his usual calm eyes have become fiery. "How did this man contact you?"

"He's my friend, even though he's really old."

"You may not talk to this man ever again! Do you hear me? Next time he tries to talk to you, just say no! Tell him your pappa refuses to let you meet him! Do you understand?"

Steffi is filled with rage and can feel irritating tears form. "Do YOU understand?" she asks, and is amazed at her loud voice.

"Going to Karlstad with a man is OUT OF THE QUESTION!"

It's impossible to have a discussion with Eduardo Herrera. Hard to believe he and she are even related, when she understands so much and he understands so little.
Hm, nope. This page is not representative for the book. Very rarely does Steffi fight with her father - actually, the fight on page 69 is the only fight they have. A representative page would probably feature any of the conversations between Steffi and Alvar, preferably accompanied by a 40's jazz tune on Alvar's old funnel gramophone. The only way this passage does represent the book, is that the fight Steffi has with her dad is about Alvar. Of course, at this point in the story her father doesn't know that the "older guy" is actually 89 years old and staying at the retirement home...
Visit Sara Lövestam's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 25, 2017

"Dare You"

Jennifer Brown is the author of the young adult novels Shade Me, Bitter End, Perfect Escape, Thousand Words, and Torn Away. Her debut young adult novel, Hate List, was chosen as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a VOYA Perfect Ten, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

Brown applied the Page 69 Test to Dare You, the second book in her Shade Me series, and reported the following:
Dare You begins with Nikki getting herself into trouble on graduation night. Getting into trouble seems to be Nikki’s specialty, but this time she’s gotten herself tossed into jail, where she finds out she’s a person of interest in Peyton Hollis’s murder. On page 69, Nikki has just been sprung by none other than Detective Martinez, the officer who helped her—whether she wanted him to or not—with the Hollis case. Just when Nikki had decided to trust the detective and let him into her life, he bugged out. Nikki hasn’t seen or heard from him since her showdown with Luna Fairchild, and she is pissed. Most of page 69 is her laying into Martinez as they leave the police station:
“How could you not know? You were there that night. You were the first officer on the scene, in fact. You followed me everywhere to solve it. I told you where Peyton’s car was. You were supposed to finish Luna. You said you were going to. And instead, you’re turning the case onto me? You’re deciding that some bullshit witness and a half-empty pack of cigarettes mean I was the one who murdered her? I let you in and you completely sold me out. And now you show up, months later, with coffee—” I crammed my cup into his console, a drop sloshing out of the lid and landing on the edge of his seat. “And get me out of jail that you’re trying to put me into? You make zero sense.”

“I’m not trying to put you in here. I have nothing to do with it,” he said, taking off his sunglasses and tossing them onto the dash. His dark eyes searched mine. “You’re your own worst enemy, Nikki.”
Truer words have never been spoken. Nikki is her own worst enemy, and her stubbornness in accepting the detective’s—or anyone’s—help threatens to undo her time and again. What the detective doesn’t realize, though, is Nikki’s rant is her way of saying she does want his help. Even if she doesn’t realize it herself, her anger over Martinez’s absence is an expression of how much she wants him in her life.

What I love most about page 69 is that it’s our first look at Nikki’s reunion with Detective Martinez. We get to see that they will be working together once again. And we get to see the fire behind their relationship.

It’s the beginning of a lot of heated banter…and possibly just a lot of heat.
Learn more about the book and author at Jennifer Brown's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jennifer Brown & Ursula and Aragorn.

My Book, The Movie: Life on Mars.

The Page 69 Test: Shade Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 24, 2017

"The Cutaway"

Prior to writing fiction, Christina Kovac worked in television news. Her career began with a college internship at Fox 5’s Ten O’Clock News in Washington, DC that turned into a field-producing job—making minimum wage while chasing news stories, gossiping with press officers, and cultivating sources—while somehow making rent on a closet-sized apartment on Capitol Hill. After a stint as weekend editor at WRC TV and senior editor at the ABC affiliate, she went on to work at the Washington Bureau of NBC Network News, as a desk editor and news producer in such stories as that of missing DC intern, Chandra Levy.

After being late to pick up her kids at daycare one too many times, Kovac left television to start a writing career. Now she writes psychological thrillers set in Washington, DC.

Kovac applied the Page 69 Test to The Cutaway, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The conference room was crowded. Ben was at the far end of the table, his head down with his ball cap flipped backward, scribbling dark lines across his reporter pad. Nelson slouched next to him, chin on palm, half asleep. In my chair was the blond beauty queen from the lobby the day before.

“We haven’t met,” I said.

She took my hand. “Heather Buchanan.”

“You’re new, so you probably don’t realize you’re in my chair.”

“There are others,” she said, looking through me.

She had TV starlet written all over her, and I was pretty sure, Mellay wrapped around her finger. Maybe I couldn’t help my meeting being stolen by Mellay, but I’d damn well keep my seat at the table.
This is the beginning of Chapter 10, a catch-up chapter. The reader has just come from a chapter with a lot of information about the case of a missing woman, and now, the main character sorts through it with her news team. What’s interesting is that while there’s no plot movement, but the attitudes and motivations that create the plot are apparent: The Cutaway takes place in Washington DC, a city that seethes with ambitious people constantly maneuvering for position, trying to take or hold onto their place at the table, and where it’s very easy to lose everything very quickly. There are a lot of nasty tricks. And it’s also a place where people in politics, law enforcement, and media are willing to use the disappearance of a missing woman to further their career goals. Of course, there’s still that person who cares about the truth and is willing to fight for it. That’s Virginia Knightly.
Visit Christina Kovac's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Cutaway.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 23, 2017

"One Good Mama Bone"

Bren McClain was born and raised in Anderson, South Carolina, on a beef cattle and grain farm. She has a degree in English from Furman University; is an experienced media relations, radio, and television news professional; and currently works as a communications confidence coach. She is a two-time winner of the South Carolina Fiction Project and the recipient of the 2005 Fiction Fellowship by the South Carolina Arts Commission. McClain won the 2016 William Faulkner–William Wisdom Novel-in-Progress for “Took” and was a finalist in the 2012 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Award for Novel-in-Progress for One Good Mama Bone, her first novel.

McClain applied the Page 69 Test to One Good Mama Bone and reported the following:
Actually, page 69 could not be more representative of the book. One Good Mama Bone, at its core, is about the relationship between a human mother, Sarah Creamer, and a mother cow named Mama Red, who becomes Sarah’s confidente and teaches Sarah what it means to be a mother. This is the page they meet, after the mother cow has broken through a barbed fence and come through the darkness four miles for her calf, who – because of Sarah -- was taken from her the day before. Sarah had been hearing the calf’s cries through the night, but when she wakes that morning, all is quiet, and that’s what draws Sarah outside to find a large cow standing beside the calf she had bought the day before. The calf is nursing the mother cow.
Chills spread over Sarah’s body. The mama cow had broken free and come for her calf.

Sarah had taken her child away. She took a step back. How could she have done that?

The mother cow held her eyes on Sarah, circles of soft brown that welcomed, not chided. The cow began to chew, her mouth moving in a rhythm, slow and steady. It was one Sarah recognized. It was the rhythm of her arm, stirring a pot of grits. It was the rhythm of love.

“How’d you know?” Sarah’s voice full of hush. “That’s a long way for you to come. And in the pitch black, too. How’d you know?”

The mother cow raised her chin and sent forth a sound, a short one, yet deep, even vibrating. The sounds the steer had made were deep like that, but his were long, intended for the long haul, for his mother, who heard and who came. Sarah knew now who he had been calling. His mother. Such acts had never occurred to her. Neither a child’s calling nor the mother’s coming.

She thought of Emerson Bridge and looked back towards the house, to his window, where six feet away, he lay. “I got a boy, too.”

The mother cow’s neck now was stretched to her far right, the bottom of her mouth and chin moving along the ridge of her calf’s back near his tail. She began to lick, making long runs with her tongue. Her breath, hot against the cold, hung in a mist. And then rose high in the growing light. Sarah stepped forward and leaned in, in the hopes that the mist would come find her, that it would trudge across however far it needed to come, even knock down a fence or two, to come find Clementine Florence Augusta Sarah Bolt Creamer.
Another wonderful thing about page 69 is it carries one of my favorite POVs, that of Mama Red, in a kind of omniscience. We’re privy to what she sees and hears. This is when she first sees Sarah, setting their relationship in motion and referring to Sarah as “the gentle wind.”
The mother cow heard a squeaking sound behind her and then a slap slap. Her calf ’s head was beneath her, nursing. She turned to face the sound. He lost his grip on her teat but caught it again.

The day’s light had begun to appear. Someone was moving towards them, someone the mother cow did not know. She positioned her body so that her calf was tucked in behind her, protected. He was not free to run like she was.

This someone wasn’t as tall as the farmer or his workingman. This one moved slowly the way a gentle wind blows grass. The mother cow was not afraid. She straightened her body, bringing her calf within view of the gentle wind that came to stand just out from them.
Visit Bren McClain's website.

My Book, The Movie: One Good Mama Bone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"Goodbye Days"

Jeff Zentner is the author of the William C. Morris Award winning book The Serpent King (2016) as well as Goodbye Days (2017). He lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He came to writing through music, starting his creative life as a guitarist and eventually becoming a songwriter. He’s released five albums and appeared on recordings with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Thurston Moore, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, and Lydia Lunch, among others.

Zentner applied the Page 69 Test to Goodbye Days and reported the following:
Page 69 of Goodbye Days couldn't be more representative of the book. What's occurring on that page is the tail end of a conversation between my protagonist, Carver, and the grandmother of one of his best friends, Blake, who has died in a car accident that Carver believes he may have caused by texting the driver. In this conversation, the grandmother, Nana Betsy, is trying to persuade Carver to spend a “goodbye day” with her where they do the things that she and Blake loved to do and memorialize his life. She believes that Carver, a talented writer, is carrying pieces of Blake’s story that she doesn't have: “Point is: if anyone can write Blake’s story again for one more day, it’s you.”

Carver, for his part, is torn: “I don’t want to say no. But I can’t bring myself to say yes.” He knows Nana Betsy doesn't hold him culpable for the accident. But he's not sure he agrees with her:

"'But. Are you sure you want me?' Because I wouldn’t want me."

The entire thrust of Goodbye Days is that idea that everyone is a living, breathing repository of stories, and that we live after death in the sharing of these stories. Page 69 contains one of the simplest, most straightforward sharings of this idea.
Visit Jeff Zentner's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Serpent King.

The Page 69 Test: The Serpent King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Dead Letters"

Caite Dolan-Leach is a writer and literary translator. She was born in the Finger Lakes and is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and the American University in Paris.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Dead Letters, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Dead Letters lands you in the middle of one of my favorite scenes of the book, and incidentally, one of the most gruesome. The scene is a flashback from Ava and Zelda’s childhood, and is a Gothic-infused memory that Ava recalls as she reflects on the twins’ approach to joint decision-making. In this scene, the sisters begin with the best of intentions — rescuing some orphaned rodents — but it is a task clearly beyond the scope of their childish abilities. They end up complicit in their tiny charges’ gory deaths. I love this scene for its dark imagery, but also because it demonstrates the accidental cruelty of children, and the way in which the proximity of death can be both traumatic and staggeringly matter-of-fact when you’re young and don’t yet have a solid grasp on mortality. In this scene, we get to see Ava and Zelda take distinct approaches to guilt and obligation, though both ultimately retreat from responsibility. The scene is a tidy microcosm of their future: how the sisters will handle caring for those who are unable to care for themselves.

Talking about this book to others, I always refer to it as “The Dead Baby Mice” scene. I have used it for a reading because it reads like a very short story — if it was a standalone micro-fiction, this scene would be the one that sums up Ava and Zelda and their snarled relationship.
Visit Caite Dolan-Leach's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Follow Me Down"

When not writing, Sherri Smith spends time with her family and two rescue dogs, and restores vintage furniture that would otherwise be destined for the dump. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada, where the long, cold winters nurture her dark side.

Smith applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Follow Me Down, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I sat down. “You found her body?”

Liam nodded, tucked his greasy chin-length hair behind his ears, picked up the joint, and inhaled deeply, then flicked it into the grass. “Yeah, I can’t get it out of my head. Seniors were let out early to join the search parties. A lot of people were just, like, happy to get out of school, but I really looked, y’know?” His bloodshot eyes flickered over me; he stroked the corner of a very wispy mustache with his thumb.

I pushed him to tell me more. It didn’t take much. It was obvious Liam liked telling it since he’d parked himself here looking for new people to tell it to. Never once did he ask me who I was.

“That morning it was already really hot, and after a couple of hours, the guy I was with said he was getting heatstroke and had to take a break. Total pussy. So I kept going, and I ended up by the river. And yeah, I was gonna take a piss. I drank, like, four bottles of water at this point.”

I nodded, tried to look impressed.

“I was close to the river, just behind the tree. I unzipped, and when I looked down, there was something next to the tree, tangled up in the leaves.
On page 69 of Follow Me Down, Mia is at the scene (a sprawling wooded park) where her twin brother, Lucas, allegedly murdered his student. She needs to do this because she is still locked up in that bubble of shock when everything feels unreal. On page 69, she is talking to a seedy teenager who discovered the murdered teen’s body and is clearly hanging around the park looking for new people to share the gory details with. I think page 69 is representative of the entire book, since it captures the did he or didn’t he question that Mia struggles with, the way the town is quick to believe that Lucas is a twisted killer, and brings Mia closer to confronting a past she wanted to forget.
Visit Sherri Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"A Shattered Circle"

Kevin Egan is the acclaimed author of Midnight, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013, as well as numerous other novels and short stories. He has spent his entire legal career working in the New York State court system, including lengthy stints as law clerk to two state Supreme Court justices. He graduated with a BA in English from Cornell University and teaches legal writing at Berkeley College in Manhattan.

Egan applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, A Shattered Circle, and reported the following:
Barbara Lonergan, wife and secretary to Judge William Lonergan, is extremely devoted to her husband. Prior to the start of A Shattered Circle, a fall from a ladder has left the judge with traumatic dementia. This condition would force many judges into retirement, but not Judge Lonergan; he has Barbara to support him, protect him, and run interference for him.

Page 69 of the novel is equally divided between the tail end of a flashback from Barbara’s past and her current condition. It is a quiet page, not representative of the rest of the book in which there are four murders and, very nearly, two more.

The flashback recounts Barbara’s girlhood on a broken down farm in upstate New York, her arrival in New York City, and her early years working in the courthouse steno pool. Barbara’s current condition is to lie awake beside her innocently sleeping husband and wargame the perils she expects to encounter the next day. One peril frightens her more than the rest. An embittered litigant has filed a grievance against her husband, and opposing the grievance can expose his mental state. Barbara’s insomnia is productive. She comes up with a strategy she believes can preserve the judge’s career and reputation.

On a symbolic level, page 69 recapitulates the Lonergans’ story. Barbara’s vigilance erects a protective circle around the slowly failing judge. But something in her past, hinted at in the flashback, contributes to shattering that circle.
Learn more about the book and author at Kevin Egan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Midnight.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 18, 2017


Jacob Stone is the byline chosen by award-winning author Dave Zeltserman for his new Morris Brick series of serial-killer thrillers. His crime, mystery and horror fiction has won top praise and has been translated into six languages. His novels Small Crimes and Pariah were both named by the Washington Post as best books of the year. Small Crimes topped National Public Radio's list of best crime and mystery novels of 2008 and is being made into a feature film.

Zeltserman applied the Page 69 Test to Deranged, the first Morris Black thriller, and reported the following:
Page 69 is only a paragraph, so instead I looked at page 68. This page has Morris meeting with the FBI profiler and going over aspects of past murders associated with the killer. Deranged is a fast moving thriller that’s either showing the current action or flashbacks to the past to explain how the killer got to where he is, so this page was what I call necessary glue to keep the plot moving.
Visit Dave Zeltserman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Deranged.

--Marshal Zeringue