Friday, August 26, 2016

"Still Here"

Lara Vapnyar emigrated from Russia to New York in 1994 and began publishing short stories in English in 2002. She lives on Staten Island and is pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature at CUNY Graduate Center.

Her new novel is Still Here.

Vapnyar applied the Page 69 Test to Still Here and reported the following:
I applied page 69 test to my novel, and this line jumped at me: “the horror of witnessing her mother being erased as a human being was indescribable.” I rushed to close the book.

So I decided to cheat and apply the page 99 test normally reserved for nonfiction. On this page, one of my main characters, Sergey is falling in love with a GPS in his car who has the perfect voice and the perfect attitude. “She sounded as if she were aware of Sergey’s limitations but didn’t mind them at all. He could miss a turn, miss a turn again, miss a turn-he wouldn’t be angry, annoyed, or disappointed. So what if he kept missing the turn? There was still plenty about him to admire.”

On page 99, there is graphic scene of Sergey’s jerking off to the word “recalculating” his GPS pronounces in Icelandic. It culminates in violent orgasm.

In a way, that’s the whole idea of my novel. All the crazy things we do in our technology-obsessed world to escape the fear of death.
Visit Lara Vapnyar's Facebook page.

Writers Read: Lara Vapnyar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Death at the Day Lily Café"

Degrees in criminology and social work, followed by years of clinical practice, helped Wendy Sand Eckel explore her fascination with how relationships impact motivation, desire, and inhibition. Combined with her passion for words and meaning, writing mystery is a dream realized. She lives in Maryland where she enjoys family and friends, pets, and living near the Chesapeake Bay.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Death at the Day Lily Café, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I watched as Lori and Doris sat down in the first row. A young man in the dress blues of a police officer was seated next to her. “That must be her son, Jamie,” I whispered to Glenn. “I want to meet him before he goes back to Dover.”

Glenn narrowed his eyes and nodded.

The casket was closed with a modest bouquet of flowers fastened on top. The preacher cleared his throat. He was an older gentleman who had already begun to perspire. He patted his forehead with a folded handkerchief as he began his eulogy. CJ must not have been a regular church goer because this man didn’t seem to know him. There were no personal stories or mention of his character. Instead he relied on the funeral boilerplate, stating that CJ was in a better place, that Jesus had already welcomed him to heaven, and his family would join him when their time came. Jamie shifted in his seat at that last remark.

Lori listened intently. Maybe hearing that CJ was already in heaven and no longer haunting her house was a welcomed relief. I scanned the crowd, wondering if the murderer was among the congregation. Pale light filtered through the stained glass windows, but it was still dark inside the small church. The pew was hard and creaked every time Glenn or I adjusted our position. I was relieved no one volunteered to speak when the minister offered the invitation. The service was over in exactly eleven minutes.

As we waited for Doris outside, Glenn said, “Well that was shorter than a Las Vegas wedding.”

“And about as sentimental,” I said.

“Look,” he said. “Here comes Doris.”

The air was thick with humidity as we watched her approach. She dabbed at her face with a handkerchief embroidered with pale blue initials. “Did you find a seat in that crowd?”

“It was certainly sparsely attended,” Glenn said. “How is Lori?”

“Haven’t you heard?”

“Heard what?” I said.

“They found the murder weapon.”

“And?” Glenn said.

“It’s the shotgun from Lori’s cabinet. It was in a dumpster on the college campus.”

“Any prints?” Glenn said.

“Yup. Somebody tried to wipe it clean but whoever it was did a lousy job. Sheriff said the perp was in a hurry.”

I noticed tears welling in her eyes. “Doris, are you all right?”

“No, I’m not.” She held the handkerchief to her nose. “I’m scared, Miss Rosalie.” A tear spilled down her cheek. She looked from me to Glenn and back to me. “I’m worried she might have done it.”

After further discussion with Doris, Rosalie and Glenn learn that CJ frequented the Cardigan Tavern and was known to have a temper.

“We’ll figure this out, Doris,” Glenn said. “The sooner the better.”

“That’s right.” I gave Doris a quick hug and she started back to the church. Once she was a out of earshot, I fanned myself with my program and faced Glenn. “Do you have plans this evening?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Want to get a cold one at the Cardigan Tavern?”
In Death at the Day Lily Café, the second in the Rosalie Hart mystery series, Rosalie has opened a café in a small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It is her dream realized. On the day of the grand opening, just as the first few customers are streaming in the sunny room with ochre-tinted walls and tables topped with bursting ivory hydrangeas, Doris Bird rushes in the room. She needs Rosalie’s help. It seems her younger sister, Lori, has been accused of shooting her husband, CJ Fiddler, and the local sheriff is hell bent on proving her guilt.

On page 69, Rosalie and her best friend, seventy-two-year-old Glenn Breckinridge, are attending CJ’s funeral in their search for clues. This is a terrific representation of the book as it contains the lively dialog found throughout the novel and moves the mystery forward.
Visit Wendy Sand Eckel's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Murder at Barclay Meadow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"The Stringer"

Jeff Somers is the author of the Avery Cates series, The Ustari Cycle, Lifers, and Chum (among many other books) and numerous short stories.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Stringer, the latest story in The Ustari Cycle, and reported the following:
Excepting a sentence fragment from page 68, here’s what’s on page 69 of The Stringer:
Outside, police and ambulances raced by every little while, filling the air with strident panic. I found myself waiting, trapped inside my own body, for the lights to flicker and fail. That would be the next step, the power going off.

An intelligence like Lugal wasn’t well versed in acting appropriately in social situations, so it had me sitting very still, staring straight ahead. The Brokers buzzed and whispered, both about me and about the disasters that were spilling out of the TV set. I was crushed into a tiny corner of my own consciousness, paralyzed and mute, and panic kept nipping at my heels.

I realized with a start that my body was taking deep breaths. I was hyperventilating.

In the mirror across from my body, I looked calm and steady. Creepily steady. I thought about the complexity of running a living human body like a puppet—a living body with a resident consciousness, namely me. The instruction set had to be huge. As opposed to Balazul and the corpse of Mr. Landry, which just required inhabiting an empty vessel, Lugal had to deal with a nervous system if it wanted to appear alive, if it wanted to pass all the smell tests. Lugal wasn’t sending me on a murder spree, like Balazul had Landry doing. It was trying to use me as a Trojan horse. Get some Bleeders, then pick my brain and force me to cast something ugly, contribute to the attack, undermine the world.
I think it’s actually a great random page to land on: Anyone reading this will understand pretty quickly that the narrator is being controlled, that it’s part of a larger plan, and even glean a hint as to the purpose of his possession. In just four short paragraphs, you get a sense of what the story deals with, which I think serves the story pretty well.

At the same time, there’s enough weirdness here that you won’t mistake it for a police thriller or some other kind of book. I’ve always thought The Ustari Cycle sits uneasily between a bunch of genres (which has made marketing difficult). It’s Urban Fantasy in a sense, but it’s also Horror, with a twist of Detective Fiction thrown in. The central relationship reflects Of Mice and Men, which complicates things further. The references to insane stuff on page 69 at least guarantees that no one will mistake The Stringer for some other kind of story.
Learn more about the book and author at Jeff Somers's website.

My Book, The Movie: Chum.

The Page 69 Test: Chum.

The Page 69 Test: We Are Not Good People.

My Book, The Movie: We Are Not Good People.

My Book, The Movie: The Stringer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Midair"

Kodi Scheer teaches writing at the University of Michigan, where she earned her MFA. She was awarded the Dzanc Prize for Excellence in Literary Fiction and Community Service. As a fellow of the Sozopol Fiction Seminars, she traveled to Bulgaria to engage with an international community of writers, translators, and readers. Her stories have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The Iowa Review, The Florida Review, Quarterly West, and Bellevue Literary Review.

Scheer applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Midair, and reported the following:
First of all, a couple of the characters in Midair would giggle at "69." The four girls are coming-of-age (no pun intended) in the late '90s, before porn was as widely available. There was no such thing as sexting, and at the time, Playboy seemed risque. So in some ways, the girls are more naive than teens today. By current standards, they seem a lot younger than 17 or 18.

To address the question of the "test," page 69 does highlight one of the major themes of the novel--expectation vs. reality--when Kat says, "There's no crying in Paris!" They're all disappointed by their first experiences in the city but they're hesitant to admit this. The page also introduces an important component of the plot: the truth portion of Truth or Dare. The game eventually proves harmful, and in the end, fatal.
Visit Kodi Scheer's website.

My Book, The Movie: Midair by Kodi Scheer.

Writers Read: Kodi Scheer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 21, 2016

"I Will Send Rain"

Rae Meadows is the author of Calling Out, which received the 2006 Utah Book Award for fiction, No One Tells Everything, a Poets & Writers Notable Novel, and the widely praised novel, Mercy Train (released in hardback as Mothers and Daughters).

Meadows applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, I Will Send Rain, and reported the following:
I love the magical Page 69 Test. In I Will Send Rain, page 69 lands us smack in the middle of a pivotal scene where Annie and Samuel Bell, a husband and wife who have been quietly unraveling, have it out, as much as these stoic characters have it out. It’s the only time they confront each other in the book. The Bells are struggling with a failing farm in the Oklahoma Panhandle during the Dust Bowl, and they have begun to turn away from one another. Samuel clings more desperately to his faith and believes he is hearing God. Annie, who years before had begun to shut the door on God, is tempted by the attentions of another man, and for the first time is questioning her whole life. Earlier in the scene, Annie thinks Samuel has discovered her secret, but instead he reveals one of his own:
Annie finished her drink and rubbed her face. Samuel waited for her to speak but she didn’t.

“Fred and I were talking,” he said.

“Fred?”

“He has an idea. About the rain. About how to protect us when it comes.”

“Fred is an imaginative little boy.”

“I think he’s right,” Samuel said.

She shook her head, trying to regain the clarity she had felt a moment before.

“We’re going to build a boat,” he said, feeling the idea solidify for the first time.

Annie hid her eyes with her palms and dug her fingertips in her forehead.

“I know how it sounds,” he said.

“Do you?”

“It’s not crazy, though.”

“Please, Samuel. You are a farmer in a drought.”

Her bitterness stung him.

“Psalms 46, verse 10. Be still, and know that I am God,” he said.

“Please don’t quote Scripture to me.” She dropped her glass in the sink with an angry clang.

Samuel sank into himself.

“Fred is right,” he said. “I know it. And I will do what I have to do to keep us safe.”

His once tentative question about the rain, over the past weeks, had with Fred’s help crystallized into belief. With time Annie would have to see the truth of it.

“Stop!” she shouted, covering her mouth quickly with her hands.
This could be a scene where they connect and come together in a meaningful way, but instead they are driven further apart, or perhaps it’s indicative of how far they have already drifted. Neither can get through to the other, and they will continue to bend away—Samuel will begin to build a boat in a veritable desert, and Annie will consider leaving all of it behind. I think page 69 is quite representative of the book, even though it’s part of the only scene of its kind. Annie and Samuel harden their positions, which will have reverberations throughout the novel.
Learn more about the book and author at Rae Meadows's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mothers and Daughters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 19, 2016

"Survivors Will Be Shot Again"

Bill Crider is the winner of two Anthony Awards and an Edgar Award finalist. An English college professor for many years, he’s published more than seventy-five crime, Western, and horror novels, as well as a number of children’s books.

Crider applied the Page 69 Test to Survivors Will Be Shot Again, the 23rd Dan Rhodes Mystery, and reported the following:
It happens every year.

Every. Single. Year.

What happens? Well you might ask. It’s the Page 69 Test, and each year when Marshal Zeringue asks me to participate, I eagerly open my new book, thinking, “This is it. This is the year when page 69 will have an explosion on it, or a car chase, or a slam­bang shoot­out, or a fight with Sheriff Dan Rhodes taking on a team of ninja assassins and giving them a good butt­kicking.

But alas, it seems never meant to be. Instead we get some small­town crime like a salad bar with no sneeze guard over it. Or somebody’s dog has dug up a neighbor’s flowerbed.

My books do have shoot­outs in them, though, and car chases. Even the occasional explosion. Not to mention alligators and feral hogs. Lots of feral hogs. It’s just that they’re never on page 69.

So what do we have this year? Again, no ninjas. Not even any feral hogs. We do have a scene that I hope will make readers a little curious about what’s going to happen later in the book, however. The scene is on the concluding page of the chapter. Sheriff Dan Rhodes is at the home of a murder suspect, picking up a revolver that the suspect, Billy Bacon, and his wife, Nadine, insist they own only for their protection against home invaders. Rhodes takes the revolver, anyway.

“‘What if the home invaders come tonight?’ Nadine asked.”

Billy takes his wife’s side and tells the sheriff that the revolver will be there whenever Rhodes wants to pick it up for testing.

“Rhodes passed the gun back to him. ‘All right, but keep it handy.’”

“‘We always do,’ Billy said.”

And that’s the end of page 69 and the chapter. I hope the readers want to know more about that revolver and whether the home invaders come. If you want to find out, you’ll have to read the book, though. I’m not telling.
Learn more about the book and author at Bill Crider's website and blog.

Read the Page 69 Test entries for Crider's A Mammoth Murder, Murder Among the OWLS, Of All Sad Words, Murder in Four Parts, Murder in the Air, The Wild Hog Murders, Murder of a Beauty Shop Queen, Compound Murder, Half in Love with Artful Death, and Between the Living and the Dead.

Learn about Crider's choice of actors to portray Dan Rhodes and Seepy Benton on the big screen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 18, 2016

"Addlands"

Tom Bullough grew up on a hill farm in Wales, where he still lives. He has worked as a sawmiller, a music promotor in Zimbabwe, a tractor driver, and a contributor to various titles in the Rough Guides series. At present he is a Visiting Fellow at the University of South Wales.

Bullough applied the Page 69 Test to Addlands, his fourth novel, and the first to be published in the United States, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Christ, you’re a dirty bugger, Griffin,” Oliver muttered as the two boys filed back down the aisle.

“Oh? Why’s that, then?”

“I seen what you drew.”

“Oh! Noah.” Griffin laughed, peering up at him sideways. He had ceased to grow some two years earlier, but remained as wiry and restless as ever. “Now, let’s face it, boy. He were on that boat for thirteen month. What the hell else were he going to get up to?”

They passed beneath the rickety gallery and wove among the people massing on the steps, spreading into the green-grey graveyard. The day was chill and threatening rain. The smoke of the men was pale against the muckery clouds. As the women gathered round Vera, Ruth and Siân, murmuring memories and commiserations, the two boys leant on the wall by the war memorial—their eyes on a nearby gaggle of girls, their hands in their pockets, since they were not allowed to smoke themselves.

“His boy binna here,” said Griffin. “Vivien, like.”

“He come to the funeral,” said Oliver.

“He shanna come back. You mark my words. What’s he gonna want with bloody Cwmpiban? Got himself the good life in Hereford, in’t he? Nice job. Nice car. Missus. Kids ... Christ, if I had a Ford Zephyr you wouldna see me for dust neither!”

“So. You getting soft on old Ruth, then, are you?”

“I’ll be soft on the beasts first.” Griffin grimaced.
Addlands begins in early January 1941 and ends in late December 2011 – it follows the years and the seasons together – so, on page 69, it is March 1957 and Oliver, who is born in the first chapter, is 16 years old: tall, golden-skinned, still channelling his urge to punch people through legitimate boxing, as yet merely eyeing up the girls.

Looking at it now I suppose that this passage belongs to a golden time for Oliver – or one he might come to look back on that way. It's a time when it seems that his life could go in any direction. Addlands is set in the Edw Valley in Radnorshire, a particularly obscure part of Wales (itself not unobscure, I know). As time goes on the English spoken by the characters becomes standardised by travel and incomers and radio and television, but in 1957 Oliver and Griffin are still using 'binna' for 'isn't', while the narrative still contains words like 'muckery', meaning 'damp and close'. This tight rural community abides, as does this Primitive Methodist Chapel and its various power structures, but the seeds of change are everywhere to be seen: in the 'ricketiness' of the chapel gallery, in the brazen disrespect of Griffin's illustrations, in Vivien's choice of a life in town. Even the clouds are heavy, threatening – although in Wales, to be honest, this is the usual state of affairs.
Visit Tom Bullough's website.

Writers Read: Tom Bullough.

My Book, The Movie: Addlands.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"The Gentleman"

Forrest Leo was born in a log cabin in 1990. He grew up in Alaska, and holds a BFA in drama from NYU/Tisch. While living in New York, he worked as a carpenter, a photographer, and in a cubicle. He now lives in LA, where he worked at Walgreens for one day. He writes plays and novels and things.

Leo applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Gentleman, and reported the following:
When I heard the idea behind the Page 69 Test — flip to page 69 in any given book and chances are it’s a fairly representative synecdoche — I was skeptical. I picked up several nearby books to satisfy myself that the notion was absurd. But when first The Scarlet Pimpernel, then Freddy and Fredericka, then Ender’s Game, and finally Middlemarch all bore out the notion, I had to confess there might be something to it. I opened to page 69 in The Gentleman and this is what I found:
A servant might have made eyes at a lady and been shot by a jealous husband. Or perhaps Babington became truly drunk and pinched a maid who squealed and jumped and upset a soup tureen which emptied its contents onto the lap of the Duke of Cumbria who fell backward and into the way of Mr Moncrieff who tripped over him and whose mask upon falling was pitched across the room and stabbed Lady Lazenby in the bosom causing her to drop her champagne flute which shattered on the carpet and a shard of which bounced and impaled Lord Earlsmere who dropped to his knees in pain and over whom Mrs Frazer, who was all this while preoccupied with jealousy for the pinched maid and was looking behind her at Babington instead do in front of her at the body of Earlsmere, pitched headlong, landing in a fireplace which immediately set her costume ablaze which in turn set the curtains alight which will by and by burn down the whole house.* I loathe parties.

“Did you meet me wife?” I say.

“Not yet. There are lots and lots of people, and everyone’s wearing a mask.”

“Isn’t it horrid?”

“Oh no!” she cries. “I’ve never had such a lovely evening. I feel as though I could dance until my feet bled. Everyone’s so beautiful and mysterious and romantic in their costumes. I’m upset with you, Nellie. I feel as though you’ve been holding out on me. Society parties are wonderful.”

*I was present at this party, and so I can say with authority that this is not what happened. However, I have heard that something very similar did occur once at a party given by the Count and Countess de Guiche in Paris. —HL.
If there’s a more representative page in the whole thing I’m not sure where it might be. This gives us our heroes — poet-protagonist Lionel Savage, his brilliant little sister Lizzie, his society wife Vivien, his aggrieved editor Hubert Lancaster — and our hero’s neuroses, which together make up the better part of the book.
Visit Forrest Leo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

"The Last Treasure"

Erika Marks has worked as an illustrator, an art director, a cake decorator, and a carpenter. She currently lives in North Carolina with her husband and their two daughters. The Last Treasure is her fifth novel, following It Comes in Waves, The Guest House, The Mermaid Collector, and Little Gale Gumbo.

Marks applied the Page 69 Test to The Last Treasure and reported the following:
The Last Treasure examines the unstable marriage of two treasure hunters, Whit and Liv, and what happens when Liv’s ex-lover Sam joins them on a salvage mission of a sunken blockade runner off the Carolina coast.

Page 69 brings us to the morning of the big dive which Whit has orchestrated to reestablish his reputation as a successful treasure hunter after years of failed missions, but the reader can already sense something is wrong, that Whit is keeping a secret about the mission from his team—which includes Liv, whose faith in him is waning dangerously, and Sam who Whit has had to bring on board at the last minute.
Whit rubs his face, his jaw. He just wants to get to the site, start bringing everything up so there can be no contention, no doubt. He just wants it to be six already. But no matter how many times he cuts his gaze to the sky, that one damn streak of pink seems frozen , determined to sit on dawn’s rise for as long as possible. The surf keeps curling over the shore and retreating, the ticktock of its rhythm. He turns back to watch Liv as the even sound of her breathing matches it.

And in the seconds of quiet between the rise and crash of every wave, Whit swears he can already hear the gentle crack of her heart breaking.
The reader soon learns why Whit is so anxious to get the day going, as well as the reasons he fears he’s broken Liv’s heart once again, but I loved building the tension in this scene, as well as teasing out the layers of Whit, who is a deeply flawed but ultimately deeply-committed husband, even as he fears Liv’s reunion with Sam will undoubtedly force unresolved passions to resurface, which, of course, they must—and they do. As Sam suggests further down the page:
A flock of terns plunges to the water, their capped heads descending in unison, purple in the muted dawn light. Sam watches them from his seat on the sand, admiring their order and grace. He’s always the first one up. He and the birds. His dreams were strange and chaotic, but what else would they be after seeing Liv and Whit again after so long? Liv with Whit. It doesn’t make sense. They don’t make sense. Not the way he and Liv had—that’s for sure.
Learn more about the book and author at Erika Marks's website.

My Book, The Movie: Little Gale Gumbo.

My Book, The Movie: It Comes In Waves.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 14, 2016

"Vicarious"

Paula Stokes writes stories about flawed characters with good hearts. She’s the author of several novels, most recently Vicarious and Girl Against the Universe. Her writing has been translated into eleven foreign languages. Stokes loves kayaking, hiking, reading, and seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. She also loves interacting with readers.

Stokes applied the Page 69 Test to Vicarious and reported the following:
From page 69:
My hands curl themselves into fists, my fingernails cutting crescent moon gashes into my palms. I am still trying to wake up from this nightmare.

“It’s not your fault,” Gideon repeats.

I look accusingly at him. “It is my fault, and yours. I should have been with her, but you—how could you let this happen? You let Rose freelance and it wasn’t safe and now she’s dead.” This is not how I’m supposed to speak to Gideon, but I can’t help it. The words spray out of my mouth like bullets.

“We don’t know if this is related to her freelancing.” Gideon lowers his head. “But you’re right. I should have taken better care of her. I should’ve protected her. I failed you both.” His voice cracks and he turns away from me. He walks to the far corner of the room. And then I hear the sobs, deep and racking.

I was expecting him to deflect responsibility, to tell me it wasn’t my fault or his, to pin the blame completely on a pair of nameless assailants, or perhaps to say my sister’s wild temperament is what killed her. This outpouring of pain and guilt surprises me.

Gideon sets the glass of water on the floor and sits next to me on the ViSE chair, his head buried in his hands. “Oh, Ha Neul. I keep thinking about what I could’ve done differently.”

He hasn’t called me by my real name in years, but we live artificial lives and spend our days creating artificial scenarios. I understand why he needs for something in this moment to feel real.
This is almost the entire text from page 69, and I included it because Vicarious is an intricate mystery, with complicated character relationships and several interweaving plot threads. Here we see main character Winter and her guardian/employer Gideon reacting to the news that Rose (Winter’s sister and Gideon’s ex-girlfriend) has been murdered.

I think this page is a good representation of the novel, because it deals with the aftermath of the murder, which is the main storyline. We get clues about what happened—Rose was freelancing and was apparently killed by two people. We can see the relationship between Winter and Gideon, how Winter has expectations for him and how he feels as if he has failed her. Both of these characters are obviously traumatized, and that pain with lead them down different paths for the rest of the story.

Winter, Gideon, and Rose are all Korean, and I think this page hints at their ethnicity and culture with things like Gideon calling Winter Ha Neul and Winter admitting that she is speaking inappropriately to an elder. Finally, the last couple of sentences refer to their jobs making Vicarious Sensory Experiences, or ViSEs. Winter and Rose engage in adventurous or provocative activities wearing special headsets that record their sensory neural impulses. Gideon then sells the ViSEs to clients who can’t or are afraid to engage in the activities themselves. The ViSE recordings are a huge part of the novel and integral to solving the mystery of who killed Rose.
Learn more about the book and author at Paula Stokes's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Art of Lainey.

The Page 69 Test: Girl Against the Universe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 12, 2016

"The Last One"

Alexandra Oliva was born and raised in upstate New York. She has a BA in history from Yale University and an MFA in creative writing from The New School. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband.

Oliva applied the Page 69 Test to The Last One, her first novel, and reported the following:
The Last One is about a woman who is on a reality TV show when disaster strikes and she thinks it’s all just part of the show. On page 69, she’s struggling: She’s recently survived a harrowing encounter; her glasses are broken and she’s missing a shoe. She’s hungry, in pain, and seeking certainty—and she can’t see. Despite all this, despite how horrible things are and how badly she wants the show to be over, she’s not willing to say the safety phrase that’s her only way off the show. The why of this—her unwillingness to quit—is the heart of the novel. So, yes, I’d say page 69 is quite representative of the book.
That night I dream of earthquakes and animatronic toddlers with fangs. In the morning I break down my camp and creep east along the smoky road. I may not be able to focus my vision, but my thoughts are sharp. I need supplies. A new pack, boots, and food—anything other than peanut butter. I’m nervous about my water again; it’s like I’ve gone back in time—how many days, three, four? It feels like weeks—to just after the blue cabin, after I was sick, when I was able to start moving again but before I found the market. I have no food, almost no water, and I’m moving east searching for a Clue part of me fears will never come. It’s exactly the same except now I can’t see and I’m missing a shoe.

I’m going so slowly, too slowly. But every time I try to move faster I trip or slip or step on something sharp. The sole of my left foot feels like a giant bruise covered in a giant blister.

The morning is chilly and endless. This is worse than the coyote-bot, nearly as bad as the doll, this blurry monotony. If they want to break me, this is what they ought to do, send me walking endlessly with nothing to see, no one to talk to. No Challenges to win or lose. The safety phrase is creeping into my consciousness, teasing. For the first time I wish I weren’t quite so stubborn. That I could be like Amy—just shrug and admit I’ve had enough. That this is too fucked up to be worth it.
This page is also representative of the novel’s structure and layering: There are references to events the reader hasn’t seen happen yet, but which they will (in an intertwined narrative that follows the reality show forward from its first day of taping). We also have a rare mention of another contestant’s first name. In the reality show narrative, each contestant is referred to in a manner—an often-derisive manner—meant to acknowledge and explore the reductive stereotyping that is so rampant not only across reality television but our wider culture as well. It is only through the main character’s perception of her fellow contestants (and the reddit-inspired internet forums sprinkled throughout the novel) that we learn their real names. So it’s quite fitting that page 69 happens to contain an example of this as well!

Will page 69 makes readers want to read more of The Last One? I don’t know. I hope so.
Visit Alexandra Oliva's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

"Dr. Knox"

Peter Spiegelman is the Shamus Award-winning author of five novels, including Dr. Knox, Thick As Thieves, and three books—Black Maps, Death’s Little Helpers, and Red Cat—that feature private investigator and Wall Street refugee John March.

Spiegelman applied the Page 69 Test to Dr. Knox and reported the following:
Dr. Adam Knox, the protagonist of my latest novel, Dr. Knox, runs a storefront clinic near Los Angeles’ Skid Row, where he cares for some of the city’s most unfortunate: “the luckless, the mad, the addicted, damaged, damned, and forgotten.” They pay what they can—often nothing—and to subsidize his operation, Dr. Knox runs another practice, one that is strictly off-the-books. With the help of his friend, former Special Forces operator Ben Sutter, Dr. Knox offers emergency medical care on a cash-only, no-records-kept, no-names-exchanged basis to patients either too famous or too criminal to call 911.

Like many people who come to L.A. in search of redemption, Knox comes with baggage. In his case that includes the disappointment of his patrician medical family, a failed marriage (to “Margot— blue-eyed, flaxen-haired avatar of Fairfield County privilege and entitlement…”), and service with an NGO that ended in disaster and disgrace. Page 69 is part of a longer section that finds Knox alone in his apartment above the clinic, drinking beer, smoking a joint, and thinking about his messy past—on this page, about the dissolution of his marriage.
We lived in Stratford, and I’d lost count of how many precious off-duty evenings I’d wasted watching boats on the Housatonic while her colleagues droned on about clients, bankers, real estate, golf handicaps, flying private, carried interest, private schools, and Republican fund-raisers. When I wasn’t bored, I pitied them. How they deluded themselves that all that crap meant something, that it was anything but comforting fiction, protective distraction from the realities of life: the nasty, brutish, and short parts, the horribly random parts, the parts where we’re powerless to protect our loved ones from anything. I mostly thought they were fools and cowards. In darker moments, I envied them.

I took another hit, then washed the rawness from my throat with beer. Margot was spoiled and her values were toxic, but she was never stupid. She saw the arc of things before I did— from the time I took my first gig with Doctors Transglobal. I was three years out of my residency when I began, and my initial assignments were just a week or two long. I was packing to leave on the second one, to Brazil, and she watched from the doorway.

“I’ve never seen your ER empty,” she said. “It’s SRO whenever I’ve visited. So I guess this isn’t about demand for health care suddenly collapsing in New Haven.”

She was cross-legged on the bed while I packed for my next assignment, a project in Guatemala. “Always somebody to help, huh? And always somewhere else. I thought a couple of trips would get those fantasies about saving the world out of your system. But they’re in there deep, aren’t they? Down in the bone.”

Before my first trip to Africa, she’d said: “The more you go away, the less of you returns. One of these days, you won’t come back at all.”

She was right about that. The trip after that was an open-ended one, to the C.A.R. I was there three months when the divorce papers came and I signed them the same day.

A burning ash fell to the table and left another scorch mark.

Little remained of my marriage. Margot got the place in Stratford and most everything else.
Page 69 of Dr. Knox is of a piece with the novel as a whole, I think, tonally and in other respects. It presents elements of Knox’s back-story, and also important aspects of his personality: his isolation, his ruefulness, his alienation from—even disdain for—the workaday world, and his skepticism regarding happiness. And it hints at the extent—and limitations—of Dr. Knox’s insights about himself.
Learn more about the book and author at Peter Spiegelman's website.

The Page 99 Test: Red Cat.

--Marshal Zeringue