Friday, April 28, 2017

"The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence"

Alyssa Palombo is a graduate of Canisius College with degrees in English and creative writing, as well as a trained classical musician. The Violinist of Venice, her debut novel, was released in late 2015.

Palombo applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence: A Story of Botticelli, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“In any case,” my mother said as, much to my surprise, she began to move toward the door, “I shall leave you young women to your talk. So very lovely to meet you, Donna Medici.”

“Likewise,” Clarice murmured, and my mother left the sitting room.

I had thought for certain that my mother would wish to stay, to listen in on our gossip, and to cultivate a connection of her own to the Medici family. Yet perhaps she wished for me to become accustomed to receiving and entertaining my own callers, as I would soon need to do as Marco’s wife.
On page 69 of The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence Clarice de’ Medici – wife of the famous Lorenzo – comes to call on the main character and narrator, Simonetta. They had just been introduced at a dinner given by the Medici family, and Clarice is eager to continue their acquaintance. In this scene Simonetta is excited and flattered by the visit, and also aware of the fact – as her mother is – that as a woman about to be married she will soon be receiving her own visitors as the lady of a house. It is another step in becoming an adult in this time and place.

I think this page represents well some of the changes in Simonetta’s life as she comes to Florence for her marriage, as well as establishing relationships between herself and her mother, and herself and Clarice. I would certainly think (or hope!) that someone reading this page would be inclined to read more of the book to learn more about the relationships between these characters, and about Simonetta’s relationship to her new home city.
Visit Alyssa Palombo's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Violinist of Venice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 27, 2017

"Donut Go Breaking My Heart"

Suzanne Nelson has written several children's books, including Cake Pop Crush, You're Bacon Me Crazy!, Macarons at Midnight, Dead in the Water, The Sound of Munich, and Heart and Salsa.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Donut Go Breaking My Heart, and reported the following:
I was happily surprised when I opened Donut Go Breaking My Heart to page 69, because--yes!--it happens to be one of the scenes I enjoyed writing the most in this book. In this scene my main character, Sheyda, attempts acting for the first time. She's a shy girl who prefers staying safely out of the spotlight, and here she's facing the daunting task of filming a movie with cute celebrity Cabe Sadler. Stage fright sets in, Sheyda flubs her lines and Cabe's name, and a series of mishaps ensue. What I love about this scene is how clearly it shows Sheyda's reluctance when it comes to acting. This is a predicament she never imagined finding herself in, and she's struggling. The scene takes place in Doughlicious, the donut shop where Sheyda's usually baking instead of acting. In fact, donut-making plays a big role in this scene! Reading on from page 69, readers will see Sheyda attempting to teach Cabe how to mix donut batter, and the catastrophes grow from there! In the midst of baking messes and camera bloopers, Sheyda and Cabe have their first chance at a real conversation, and readers have a first look at their budding friendship. Will the friendship blossom into romance? I donut want to give away the surprise (ha ha)! Turn the pages and read on to find out!
Visit Suzanne Nelson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"Six Impossible Things"

Elizabeth Boyle has always loved romance and now lives it each and every day by writing adventurous and passionate stories that readers from all around the world have described as “page-turners.” Since her first book was published, she’s seen her romances become New York Times and USA Today bestsellers and has won the RWA RITA® and the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Awards.

Boyle applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Six Impossible Things, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Oh, wouldn’t Lady Essex find that a delicious on dit? Not that Roselie could divulge how she came upon such a tidbit. She would have to suffice with sharing it with Mariah.

Around the table were any number of society’s glittering jewels all watching the single woman at the table playing for such high stakes. But it was the man across from the mysterious lady who had Roselie drawing back a bit.

Lord Ilford.

So he was here. She’d half-hoped Abigail’s hurried note had been penned in one of her less lucid moments. But to their benefit, the usually sharp-eyed marquess had his attention fixed entirely on the woman opposite him.

Roselie’s brow furrowed, for she couldn’t place the beauty.

Like nearly all of the women at St. John’s, she wore a mask to conceal her identity—most likely to keep her paramour from finding out about her misadventures. Or she might be a lonely wife seeking a bit of solace outside her marriage.

In any case, Roselie shrugged, for she hardly cared who this Cyprian might be, for thankfully the creature was keeping Ilford entirely engaged.

If anything, this was her first bit of luck in a long time.

She smiled at the darkly clad woman, silently thanking her for her unwitting help, and then paused as she realized something else. That gown...

A deep midnight blue velvet with brilliants sewn about it like stars in the night.

Good heavens, Roselie knew that gown.
I like this page because it is the first time the reader sees Roselie in her full Asteria persona, a spy for England and at that same moment exhibiting why she is so darn good at her work: she has an eye for detail and sharp mind for deduction.

Miss Roselie Stratton was great fun to create and write about—as I firmly believe that women contributed to covert operations throughout history—even if their work was never acknowledged. Rather than writing the typical Regency miss, I prefer to write about women who owned their lives. After all, the great joy of writing fiction is creating a story, an adventure, and taking the reader along with you on a grand game of “what if--?”.
Visit Elizabeth Boyle's website.

Writers Read: Elizabeth Boyle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"Kinship of Clover"

Ellen Meeropol is the author of three novels - House Arrest (2011), On Hurricane Island (2015), and Kinship of Clover (2017).

She applied the Page 69 Test to Kinship of Clover and reported the following:
Looking at page 69 of Kinship of Clover made me realize, once again, how many subplots are woven into this novel. I do this on purpose, because I’m easily bored as a reader and a writer, and I like having different narratives to keep me interested. Page 69 in this novel is representative of one of the major strands: Flo has Alzheimer’s and she is not facing it gracefully. In conversation with the physician at an Assisted Living facility, her son Sam is trying to understand the treatment of his mother’s behavior with medication. Medication with potentially dangerous side effects. The reader of just this page can see Sam’s concern for his mom, and a bit of her feisty nature. This page doesn’t, however, let the reader into the other major thread - college Botany major Jeremy’s obsession with plant species loss, and the way extinct plants have started growing into his body. Or does he just think they are? On page 69, we’re in Sam’s point of view, so the omniscient perspective isn’t observable either.
Visit Ellen Meeropol's website.

See Meeropol's list of five political novels to change the world.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 23, 2017


Hannah Lillith Assadi received her MFA in fiction from the Columbia University School of the Arts. She also attended Columbia University for her bachelor's where she received the Philolexian Prize for her poetry and fiction and graduated summa cum laude. She was raised in Arizona and now lives in Brooklyn.

Assadi applied the Page 69 Test to Sonora, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
…sheets and rise up as the night gave way to the dawn. I first understood why Christians prayed for a savior in the form of a beautiful man. He had absolved me of the blue-streaked blond.

It was all so foolish then, as it is now, as it is forever. To be in love with beauty. To try to hold on to it.

Soon after we finished, I said, “I feel so at home.”

He never answered me. He was already asleep.

Eli did not call the next day. Eli was not at school the day after that. I yearned to tell Laura what had happened, to scream it to the entire school, but Laura did not appear at the bleachers after third period, at the library, or at the window at lunch. I waited for Eli in the lot where he usually parked his jeep. I sat there until nightfall when a janitor told me it was time to go. On Tuesday, there was a crackle from the intercom right after we recited the Pledge of Allegiance. We could hear the principal coughing, the muffled sound of a suppressed sob. Everyone shuffled their papers. The teacher excused herself to the bathroom. Moments later, we heard the principal’s voice again, restrained, but clear. “Yesterday morning, students…” he began.

An early morning April storm caused a flash flood that cascaded down from the mountains, filling the washes with rain. Eli lost his footing. He was caught, bones shattered, in the arms of saguaro cactus thirty feet below. He was in a coma.
It’s hard to believe that page 69 of my novel Sonora which narrates a lonely sex scene culminating in a death might have a humorous anecdote attached to it but it does! At my book launch in my hometown in Arizona, my high school sweetheart showed up unannounced and afterward when we were talking asked me if there was any character in the book that resembled him. I told him that there was the faintest glimmer of him in one of the characters named Eli. He asked me what page he should turn to to find the juiciest scenes with said character, and when I looked, to my horror, the bulk of his action happened to fall on pages 68-69. He laughed at this, asking if the characters have sex on page 69, which they do. He didn’t realize at the time that the character Eli also falls into a coma which will lead to his death on page 69. Only later did he call and say: “I can’t believe you killed me off!”

Since a lot of this book resolves around loss I would say that this page passes the test. But for me it will forever be associated with my high school sweetheart’s face cracking up that the page he happened to appear on was none else than page 69.
Visit Hannah Lillith Assadi's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 21, 2017


Lee Irby teaches history at Eckerd College and lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. He is the author of the historical mysteries 7,000 Clams and The Up and Up.

Irby applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Unreliable, and reported the following:
How serendipitous a question, in that page 69 lands us squarely in the middle of the one of the more bizarre scenes in the entire book, wherein Edwin and his old school flame, Leigh Rose, have repaired to her mansion to drink and presumably rekindle their long-ended romance. One problem: Edwin has performance issues, and Leigh Rose is chomping at the bit, since she is a widow ready for action. Edwin hopes that somehow his flaccidity will vanish and he can claim his rightful place by Leigh Rose’s side. He isn’t ready for what comes next:
She crawls onto my lap, sits on her haunches, and then leans forward to press her chest against my face, though there is something robotic and perfunctory in this gesture, and just as suddenly as she arrives, she tumbles off of me as if she’d been knocked over by gale-force blast of wind. The horrible thought occurs to me that she’s suffering a heart attack, but then she curls into a ball on the sofa and covers her face with her hands as sobs erupt from her. Her crying makes my throat constrict—and I blame myself for this lamentable outcome. My lack of ardor has hurt her feelings and I curse myself for being such a lying scumbag, because Leigh Rose has done nothing to deserve my lame attempt at romance. Except that I actually do want her. At least I’m pretty sure I do. It’s hard to tell anymore.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, petting her shoulder as softly as I can.

“I’m so sorry,” she sniffles, her face now blotchy and tear-stained, a picture of exquisite agony. “I’m just a total mess and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. It’s not fair to you.”

“What isn’t?”

“You make me feel free, Eddie. But I’ll never be free. I’ll never be the person I was before. That’s impossible.” She sits up and hurriedly begins to pull her clothes back on, now ashamed to be undressed in front of me. Far from being insulted, I feel a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. “I know you think I’m crazy, and it’s not you. It really isn’t. Seeing you today, it sent shock waves through my body. I felt alive for the first time in a long time. But here’s the thing. I’m just going to tell you because I know you won’t judge me and I trust you. The whole idea of sex, it makes me sick. Like physically ill. I want to puke right now.”

“Let me get you some water.”
The big sex scene in the novel involves an impotent man and a frigid woman. So, yes, page 69 is very representative of the book because in Unreliable I tried to subvert convention at every turn, and in some ways Edwin’s relationship with Leigh Rose dominates the entire plot. She could have saved him in innumerable ways, if indeed Edwin even needs saving. This scene also shows that Edwin does have a softer side, that he isn’t a monster, and that Leigh Rose is dealing with residual pain.
Learn more about Unreliable.

My Book, The Movie: Unreliable.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"The End of the Wild"

Nicole Helget is the multigenre author of The Summer of Ordinary Ways, The Turtle Catcher, Horse Camp, Stillwater, Wonder at the Edge of the World and The End of the Wild.

Helget applied the Page 69 Test to The End of the Wild and reported the following:
From page 69:
Margot puffs up with importance. “Well,” she says, “my mom says that Mark-Richard sat his cat on the couch and put a candle flame to a wood tick on its ear. But Mark-Richard didn’t know that his mom had doused the couch with kerosene to kill bedbugs. The cat leapt off the couch, knocked the candle out of Mark-Richard’s hands, and up went the flames. Mark-Richard got Gary and the cat out, and they all got picked up by the county lady.
The process of writing isn’t always jokes and roses, so I sometimes indulge myself with literary thefts for amusement. On page 69 of The End of the Wild, a middle-grade book, you’ll find a tip of the hat to the writer, Mark Richard, who wrote one of my favorite short stories ever, “Strays,” from the story collection The Ice at the Bottom of the World. “Strays” is about a pair of brothers whose mother runs away and who spend their days surviving the antics of their caretaker Uncle Trash and thinking about a wild pack of dogs. In the story, there’s an accident with one of the dogs that sets their house on fire. I pulled that idea, massaged it, and plopped it into my own book. I even named my character Mark-Richard. No kid on the planet is ever going to catch the homage. But, maybe, a mom or dad or teacher out there will. Some other writers' characters live very, very full lives in my own head long after the last page of their books. I took Father Mapple from Moby Dick and put him in my last book, Wonder at the Edge of the World. I took Joe Christmas from Faulkner’s Light in August and put him in my Stillwater. I took Captain Patterson from The Man-eaters of Tsavo and put him in my own The Turtle Catcher.
Learn more about the book and author at Nicole Helget's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Turtle Catcher.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"What To Do About The Solomons"

Bethany Ball was born in Detroit and has lived in Santa Fe, New Jersey, Miami, and Israel. She now lives in New York with her family.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, What To Do About The Solomons, and reported the following:
Carolyn Solomon is the American wife of kibbutznik commando Marc Solomon. On page 69 of What To Do About The Solomons, she is flirting with her boss, an ad director, in their agency in Los Angeles. She’s showing him her art and she’s telling him she feels too old to come out as a debut artist. She’s hoping he will tell her that she’s not in fact too old and she’s also hoping he will make a pass at her. I think for me this belies my own anxiety about having this dream since very young—of publishing a novel—and of wondering when or if that will ever happen. All of us with artistic aspirations really hope we will be prodigies.

“Carolyn thought then about her coworkers, young kids newly minted from CalArts and UCLA. They lived night and day in the office and had time for their own art ambitions too. She thought about their Silver Lake houses, their rooms with no furniture and keg parties. Their downtown LA art gallery opening curated by kids born the years she graduated from high school. I’m too old for this, Carolyn said.” A moment later she tells the art director: “Well, I’m much too old for a debut, then, don’t you think? Too old to be an ingénue.”

The page does not quite represent the book as a whole because it features the only character who is not Israeli. But it does sum up at least the author’s anxieties about aging debuts and cultural obsolescence.
Visit Bethany Ball's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 16, 2017

"The Widow of Wall Street"

Randy Susan Meyers is the bestselling author of Accidents of Marriage, The Comfort of Lies, and The Murderer’s Daughters. Her books have twice been finalists for the Mass Book Award and named “Must Read Books” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book.

Meyers applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Widow of Wall Street, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Jake planned on being a millionaire before he hit thirty. When the baby came, they’d live in a house, not some crummy apartment, where just by sniffing the air you knew how much garlic Mrs. Lynchowski threw in her soup and whether she served sweet or sour pickles.

Anyplace where your neighbors didn’t hear every time you farted.

Jake read real estate ads the way that some men read girly magazines. He’d already shoved plenty into his secret bank account, earmarked for their house, which he didn’t touch even when he borrowed the money from Red. His father-in-law could afford it.

Jake’s path led straight up, and nothing would stop him.
The Widow of Wall Street is a ripped-from-the-headlines saga of the rise and fall of an American dynasty due to a man’s hunger for wealth, and his willingness to go to any lengths for success, and his wife’s struggle to redefine her life after learning it was nothing but a glittering chimera––one she never wanted to define her in the first place. From penthouse to prison, the story examines greed, love, loyalty and a betrayal that shocks a nation and rips apart a family.

Page 69 above is an accurate presentation of the husband outlook at this moment in time, when he is just beginning his foray into the seamier side of finance. I wrote the novel from two points of view—the husband and the wife—which afforded me a double look at a marriage where neither partner reveals all, but where the husband is building secret illegal life that places their future in constant jeopardy.

In this scene, the husband is already using other people’s money to build the family’s future—a habit that grows to epic criminal proportions.
Learn more about the book and author at Randy Susan Meyers' website.

The Page 69 Test: The Murderer's Daughters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 14, 2017

"Song of the Lion"

Anne Hillerman is an award-winning reporter, the author of several nonfiction books and the New York Times bestselling novels Spider Woman's Daughter and Rock with Wings, and the daughter of New York Times bestselling author Tony Hillerman.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Song of the Lion (Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito Series #3), and reported the following:
From page 69:
Bernie took it out of her pocket. Sandra looked at it. “See, from this angle it looks like shush.” Sandra was right. It could be a bear, the spirit of courage. But Bernie saw náshdóítsoh more clearly.

Gloria Chino, the potential witness, lived only ten miles from the Shiprock substation, but the road was exceptionally awful. Bernie’s unit, an SUV, had good clearance, but she took the road slowly negotiating the ruts, glad there was still a bit of daylight.

She pulled up in front of a manufactured home with a hogan next to it. A committee of three large dogs, each one brown with black on their ears, legs, tails, or muzzles, came up to the vehicle, growling. Bernie waited, and then a squat woman in a sweater the color of crisp bacon, her black hair in a ponytail, came to the door and called the animals. The dogs grew quiet, but Bernie could feel their eyes on her as she walked toward the front door.

“I’m Officer Bernadette Manuelito. I’m investigating the bombing last night.” She summarized her conversation with Bruce Chino at the substation.

The woman nodded and introduced herself with her clans. Bernie did the same. On this part of the reservation she frequently encountered clan sisters, but Gloria wasn’t related. Bernie followed the woman inside. The dogs stayed out but on the alert.

The house was neat. A well-worn Two Grey Hills blanket covered the couch. A glass case in the corner held shiny brown Navajo ware and painted Pueblo bowls. Bernie saw a well-made wedding basket, sports trophies, and family photos.

“Bruce told me he was going to stop at the police station in case someone was interested in what I saw. Thanks for coming all the way out here.” Gloria gave her the hint of a smile. “I remember you from the game, giving orders. I thought you were taller.”
The page opens with the last few sentences of a conversation that goes to the heart of Song of the Lion’s story. Officer Bernadette Manuelito and the Navajo Nation’s Shiprock substation dispatcher-officer manager Sandra are talking about a rock. But not just any rock. It’s a natural fetish rock Sandra found on Mount Taylor, or Tsoodzil, the Navajos’ sacred mountain of the south. She thinks it is shaped like a bear, an animal traditional Navajos hold sacred. Bernie sees another shape in it, the protective spirit of the mountain lion.

The story on this page continues with Bernie doing her job as crime solver, interviewing a possible witness to a fatal incident at Shiprock High School. The Two Grey Hills blanket on the couch is a reference to weaving---one of the on-going subthemes---and especially to the style of weaving that Bernie’s mother does.

Is this page representative of the book? Yes, although the novel also has action---a car exploding, several attempted murders, an animal attack, a helicopter rescue, angry protestors, feisty old ladies and family conflict, some of which leads to disaster.

On a personal note, I fell in love with fetishes, small depictions of animals, on one of my first trips to Zuni Pueblo, a village famous for its fetish carvers. I also have a few wonderful rocks in which I see the shape of animals, rocks I came across while hiking. My favorites are a smooth black rock and a piece of rose quartz. The black stone reminds me of a raven from one angle and a bat from another. The quartz resembles a hawk. And, although I am not a weaver myself, beautiful Navajo rugs and blankets have long been part of my life beginning when I was in college and my parents gave me a rug with the Navajo Yei figures as a graduation gift. The rugs show up in my writing like old friends.
Learn more about the book and author at Anne Hillerman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Spider Woman's Daughter.

The Page 69 Test: Spider Woman's Daughter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"Star’s End"

Cassandra Rose Clarke's novels have been finalists for the Philip K. Dick Award, the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award, and YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. Her short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons and Daily Science Fiction.

Clarke applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Star's End, and reported the following:
Star’s End is a family drama crossed with a space opera. The main character, Esme, has to come to terms with the truth about her father’s intergalactic weapons company while attempting to salvage her relationship with her sisters. And I have to say, page 69 actually sets up a lot of that really well. Here are some of the key details that show up:
  • A space station
  • The titular Star’s End, which is the name of the mansion where Esme grew up with her family
  • Esme’s sister Isabel, mentioned here first as “the new baby,” who will go on to play a crucial role in the story
  • A deadly and mysterious virus that will be the first key in helping Esme unravel the mystery of her father’s company
In a lot of ways, this is a great early turning point page. Star’s End is structured as a frame narrative, with Esme of the present considering the life that led her to that point. Page 69 is part of past Esme’s narrative, and it shows the aftermath of one of the most traumatic experience of her life up to that point. So much of what happens later in the book is sowed in or around page 69. I’m not sure I could have asked for a better representative page!
Visit Cassandra Rose Clarke's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Mad Scientist's Daughter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 10, 2017

"Alien Nation"

Gini Koch writes the fast, fresh and funny Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt series for DAW Books, the Necropolis Enforcement Files, and the Martian Alliance Chronicles.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Alien Nation, book 14 in the series and winner of the Preditors and Editors Reader’s Choice award as the best SF/F novel of 2016, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Jeff, Chuck, Buchanan, and your mother want me going along, Kitty,” Kevin Lewis said, flashing me a grin. He was a former pro football player who my mother had recruited into the P.T.C.U. early on in his career. He was tall, with dark black skin, twinkling dark brown eyes, fantastic teeth, and literally bags and bags of charisma. “I’m the most expendable right now in terms of what’s coming. No offense meant toward you,” he added to Len.

Kevin was married to Denise, who, besides being blonde and fair skinned, matched him in everything. They both had the best smiles and charisma to spare. Their children, Raymond and Rachel, were beautiful blends of their parents. Basically the Lewises were representing in the Humans Can Be As Hot As A-Cs department.

Kevin was also Mom’s right hand in the P.T.C.U., so if Mom wanted him along on this trip, then along Kevin would be.

“I never argue when I’m forced to travel with extra hot guys, Kevin.”

“Frankly, I’m flattered that Mister Buchanan sent you instead of coming himself,” Len said.

“I’m flattered, Kitty. And Len, I’ll try not to take that as an insult.”

Len laughed. “Never, sir.”

“Oh, stop the sir stuff with me. Like Kitty, I prefer informality, and you know it.”

“Let’s get this goat rodeo rolling, though. The faster we go over, the faster we get back.” That was me, Ms. Expedient. Len put his arm around me then stepped us through. I squeezed my eyes shut. It didn’t help.

As always, the feeling of the world rushing past me, visible out of the corners of my eyes if I was trying to be macho, and felt even with my eyes closed when I wasn’t, played havoc with my stomach. Happily, the journey was incredibly brief, and Len holding me helped considerably.

Opened my eyes to find out that, sure enough, we were in a bathroom. Nice of the police to keep to the A-Cs’ theme. Len moved us out of the way as Kevin stepped out behind us, Manfred bringing up our rear. No one looked surprised at our location. Yeah, we’d all been with Centaurion long enough—most gates were in the bathrooms of every airport, train station and, these days, bus station or any other potential transport hub we could think of.
This page of the book is actually a scene shift – moving Kitty & Company from one set of action that’s finished to the next one about to begin. We’re also still early in the book, so Kitty’s explaining things and introducing/re-introducing characters as they make their first appearance in the book. Considering Alien Nation deals with what amounts to a multi-alien invasion and all the political and religious trauma that event creates – with help from the bad guys, of course – right now, the characters are pretty calm. So I wouldn’t say it’s indicative – in a few pages things are going to start blowing up. Again. And again.
Learn more about the book and author at Gini Koch's website.

The Page 69 Test: Touched by an Alien.

The Page 69 Test: Alien in Chief.

My Book, The Movie: Alien in Chief.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 9, 2017

"A Twist of the Knife"

Becky Masterman grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and received her MA in creative writing from Florida Atlantic University.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Twist of the Knife, and reported the following:
From page 69: "...three children disappear from their house over night and their bodies are never found."

That and every other page in the book tells the story: heroes and villains, they all got family.
Visit Becky Masterman's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Twist of the Knife.

Writers Read: Becky Masterman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 7, 2017

"Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded"

Sage Blackwood lives at the edge of a large forest, with thousands of books and a very old dog, and enjoys carpentry, cooking, and walking in the woods of New York State.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded, and reported the following:
Okay, I just went and looked at page 69 of Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded. Yikes!

With each of my books, there's been a point in the editorial process where I've been asked to dial a scene back a little because it's too scary.

Nobody flagged the scene that starts on page 69 as scary.

It turns out that scene is very scary if (and only if) you're averse to snakes. Which it turns out some people are.

Snakes! Why did it have to be snakes?

Well, I thought, snakes are a metaphor for knowledge, right, and for the dangers some perceive as inherent to knowledge, and…

But snakes are also snakes.

So if you're an ophiophobe, the book stops being fun on page 69 and things might not improve until around page 191. Because although most of what happens in those 122 pages is about other things, unfortunately frequent snakiness does occur.

Well, just one snake. And it's a nice snake, really. And it turns into… but I get ahead of myself.

Yes, page 69 is representative of the book as a whole.
Visit Sage Blackwood's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 6, 2017

"Rabbit Cake"

Annie Hartnett is a 2013 graduate of the MFA program at the University of Alabama, and was the 2013-2014 Writer-in-Residence for the Associates of the Boston Public Library. She currently teaches classes on the novel and the short story at Grub Street, an independent writing center in Boston.

Hartnett applied the Page 69 Test to Rabbit Cake, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Is page 69 representative of the entirety of Rabbit Cake? Well, there’s a lot of sex on this page, but I guess there’s sex through the book – the main character, Elvis, is only ten years old, but she’s investigating some missing pieces about her late mother’s life, and one of those is the affair her mother had. And I do like the humor on this page, and I think the humor here is representative of the book as a whole – it’s a sad book because it’s about grief, but you should laugh much more than you cry. Here’s the first section of page 69:
Late that night, I realized there was someone who could tell me if Mom had been having too much sex, or too little. I took Mom’s cellphone from its charger and went up to my room. I found him listed in her contacts under The Tongue Doctor, which she had called him when he’d been my speech therapist.

“Tell me from the start,” I demanded, after Mr. Oakes picked up. I tried to enunciate every word I said.
In the next section of page 69 (it jumps to another event) I am pleased to see that there is a sleepwalking event, which is a huge theme in the book. The mother dies on page 1 while swimming in her sleep, and the older sister is a sleepwalker as well. That’s what’s happening in the second half of this page, the older sister has just had a bad sleepwalking episode:
I didn’t mean to fall asleep after I hung up the phone, but I woke up to yelling from the kitchen. I went running downstairs to find Dad holding Lizzie by the waist.

She had oven-mitts on both of her hands, and she appeared to be trying to climb into the oven.

“Turn the stove on ,” Dad yelled. All four gas burners were on full-blaze. The oven was set to 450 degrees. There was so much in the kitchen Lizzie could hurt herself with: knives, household cleaners, the oven.

I saw then that the rabbit cake pan was out on the counter, and Lizzie had cracked a half a dozen eggs inside. She had also set the table with the good china, and somehow she hadn’t broken one plate.

“Leave it,” Dad said, when I started cleaning up. “She should see it tomorrow.”
Another thing I like on page 69 is the father’s attempts to parent at this stage: he is completely overwhelmed after he loses his wife, but by page 69 he is a little less clueless. As the book goes on, he learns how to be a better parent without the leadership of his wife.

So overall – I’d say that the page 69 test works pretty darn well for Rabbit Cake.
Visit Annie Hartnett's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

"The River of Kings"

Taylor Brown grew up on the Georgia coast. He has lived in Buenos Aires, San Francisco, and the mountains of western North Carolina. His books include the story collection In the Season of Blood and Gold and the novel Fallen Land.

Brown applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The River of Kings, and reported the following:
Here is the whole of page 69 from The River of Kings:
Chapter 14

Darien, Georgia 1982

Annabelle waits on her porch, the moon hidden from sight, the night dark and starless as an enormous cave. She’s waiting for him to slink again from the water like the very first man, the way he always does on such nights. Shirtless, as he was the first time, and sweat-slick like she likes him, his body badged with ink, his mission secret as a commando’s. He will come. They will do it wherever they can. In the boatshed or against the side of the house. On the creek bank or bald-bodied in the yard, her husband dead to the world with drink.

Her blood is up, her toes splayed flat against the porch planks, kneading them. Here he is. The bow of her husband’s old johnboat, painted camouflage now, slides through the reeds at the edge of the creek. She stands and straightens the dress she wears, belted tight around her narrow waist, and slips on her white heels. Then she sits and lights a cigarette, letting one shoe dangle idly from her big toe. She looks away, opposite his direction, as if there is something more important in the pines and oaks.


He’s at the door. Slowly, she looks his way.

“I thought you weren’t coming.”

He looks her up, down.

“The fuck you did.”
The River of Kings takes place over three primary time lines:
  • Present Day: Hunter and Lawton Loggins, brothers who are kayaking the Altamaha River—Georgia’s “Little Amazon,” bearing their father’s ashes to the sea.
  • 1970s-1990s: The adult life of Hiram Loggins, the brothers’ father.
  • 1560s: The story of Jacques Le Moyne, the first European artist in the New World, who lived at a fort believed to built at the mouth of the Altamaha River.
The chapters rotate between these time lines. Page 69 is also the first page of Chapter 14, which gives us a window into the lifelong affair between the brothers’ father, Hiram Loggins, and Annabelle Mackintosh, a former debutante who ha fallen on hard times. This is the most minor of the time lines, so I would not call this page representative of the novel as a whole, but it is certainly representative of the relationship between Hiram and Annabelle. Hiram—a shrimper and drug smuggler—is a hard man to love. However, we see here the almost chemical reaction that Annabelle feels toward him, in spite of herself, perhaps. There is a parallel here with Hiram’s own sons—the protagonists of the novel—as they battle over the legacy of this man who was so had and abusive at times, and yet who taught them so much, shaping them into the men they have become. In that way, I think page 69 gives us insight into the novel as a whole.
Visit Taylor Brown's website.

My Book, The Movie: The River of Kings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

"Speed of Life"

Carol Weston has been the "Dear Carol" advice columnist at Girls' Life since 1994. Her many books include Ava and Pip, Ava and Taco Cat, Ava XOX, The Diary of Melanie Martin, and Girltalk, which came out in a dozen languages.

Weston applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Speed of Life, and reported the following:
It’s funny, Page 69 is a little bit of a spoiler, so stop reading right here if you don’t want to know about my novel's first big twist!

Speed of Life begins on January 1, almost eight months after Sofia’s mother’s sudden death. Sofia’s friends have been 100% there for her — but now it’s a new year and they’re ready for Sofia to cheer up and be a regular eighth grader again. Unfortunately, Sofia's still grieving and can’t just recharge like a cellphone. What she does start doing, however, is confide in Dear Kate, an advice columnist who visits her all-girls’ school. Dear Kate is open and kind and helpful, so Sofia feels comfortable spilling all (all!) the ins and outs of her private life.

Pretty soon, Sofia notices that her widowed father isn’t quite as sad as he had been. Is he moving on? Is he dating? And if so, who? Sofia tells Dear Kate that she’s worried that her dad has a Mystery Woman in his life.

On page 68, Dad reveals that his new girlfriend is in fact an advice columnist — it’s Dear Kate!

Sofia did not see this coming. (And I hope readers won’t have either.)
Visit Carol Weston's website.

The Page 69 Test: Ava and Pip.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 2, 2017

"A Bridge Across the Ocean"

Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include A Bridge Across the Ocean and Secrets of a Charmed Life, a Goodreads Best Historical Fiction finalist for 2015. She is also RITA finalist and Christy Award winner. Meissner is also a writing workshop volunteer for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth foster a love for reading and writing.

Meissner applied the Page 69 Test to A Bridge Across the Ocean and reported the following:
From page 69:
Brette refilled her wineglass. It was a few minutes after seven. Her parents were probably just sitting down to eat in the little breakfast room off the B and B’s kitchen. She’d wait a bit. Maybe she’d ask if her mother wanted to get together for dinner later in the week so that she could ask her questions in person rather than over the phone. She was sure now that her mother had to have weighed the risks and opted to take her chances. But had she brooded over it first, like Brette was doing now? Did she have to be talked into trying to have a baby? Was her dad the one who’d said, “Are we really going to let fear dictate our decision here?” Or had it been Nadine who asked that question and then answered it with a decisive,” No, we’re not.” And then of course her maternal grandmother had the Sight as well. Had she wrestled with whether to have children? Did her mom ever ask?

Brette sat down at her laptop and opened a web browser. While she waited to call her mom, she’d trawl the Internet to search for a paranormal professional. Keith had said maybe she needed to speak to a psychologist, but Brette didn’t think that was the place to start. She needed an educated professional, but it had to be someone who had the practical expertise to advise her. Someone who didn’t think she was nuts.
A Bridge Across the Ocean is a story about two European war brides who meet aboard the RMS Queen Mary in 1946, but it’s also a story about a woman named Brette Caslake in the current day, who just wants to live a normal, uncomplicated life. The family gift of being able to see ghosts is making that impossible, however.

Page sixty-nine is fairly clear picture of what bothers Brette the most about the odd gifting that appears randomly in the women in her family. Her husband Keith wants to start a family. He’s not afraid they might have a girl and that Brette might pass on to that daughter the ability to see ghosts. Brette now wishes she hadn’t hid so much from Keith about what it’s like to live with the Sight. In this scene, Keith has just asked her to do two things while he’s away on a business trip: Ask her mother if she worried she’d pass on the gift and how did she get past that worry and decide to have a child? And two, find an expert who understands Brette’s ability and can help her navigate it so that she’s the one in control, not the gifting. This excerpt is a couple days’ into Keith’s trip. Brette hasn’t done either of the two things she said she’d do and she can feel the clock ticking until his return.
Visit Susan Meissner's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Susan Meissner & Bella.

My Book, The Movie: Stars Over Sunset Boulevard.

My Book, The Movie: A Bridge Across the Ocean.

Writers Read: Susan Meissner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 31, 2017

"Game of Shadows"

Erika Lewis graduated from Vanderbilt University and went on to earn an Advanced Certificate in Creative Writing from Stony Brook University. She has had a successful career in television production.

Lewis applied the Page 69 Test to Game of Shadows, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Sun cascaded through three small windows as they stepped inside the biggest bedroom Ethan had ever seen. His whole apartment could have fit inside, twice. On one side stood a four-poster bed that could sleep a family of five, easily. Directly across was a wall lined with cabinet doors. There was also a sitting area with a couch, two chairs, and a small table in front of a fireplace.

“This whole room is just for me?”

“Of course. Were you expecting someone to sleep with you?” Christian teased. “Do you get scared at night?”

“Sometimes,” Ethan admitted. “You would too if you saw...” The word “ghosts” stuck in Ethan’s throat, his mother’s warning never to talk about his gift echoing in his ears.

Christian’s smug grin fell into a grimace. Ethan hadn’t realized what he’d said until that moment.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean that the way it came out.” Christian leaned over him. “Look, if you want the gift it’s all yours. Seriously, you be king. I just want my mom back.”

“Do you now?” Christian fisted his shirt and leaned over him.

What the hell? Ethan’s entire life had been turned upside down. His mother was missing. Their apartment had been trashed. He’d been knocked out and kidnapped from the only place he’d ever lived. After practically drowning on the trip here, he had been thrown off a horse and threatened with disembowelment. And now his cousin was going to pommel him for what? A slip of the tongue? He had been tortured enough for one day.

He shoved Christian, hard. “Get out of my face. I said I was sorry.”

Instead of pounding him, Christian smiled, causing Ethan to wonder what kind of psychosis his cousin suffered from. “Well done. You didn’t cower or run.” He swatted Ethan’s back. “Those instincts will serve you well.”

Ethan slid around him and walked toward the window, keeping Christian at a safe distance.”
Page 69 of the novel is Ethan Makkai’s first time in Weymiss Castle, his mother’s childhood home. His cousin, Christian Makkai, someone he’s just met, leads him to his “new” room. The page is a very good indication of Ethan’s character. Full of grit and shear determination, Ethan’s never one to back down from a fight—which isn’t always the smartest thing to do. This natural instinct gets him in trouble over and over again. Also, on this page, his older cousin Christian, the son of the dead king, would be king if it not for the law in Landover that only the one who possesses the sacred gift of seeing spirits, radharc, can rule. That was bestowed upon Ethan, not Christian. Ethan clearly has no interest in being king of anything. Christian’s reaction is unexpected, and that’s a clue into his nature as well. He’s always keeping Ethan guessing. The dynamic between these two as well as the premise for the book is spelled out on this page. Can Ethan accept his destiny? Will he ever stop being so hot headed and listen to what someone else tells him? Can Christian turn him in to the King Landover needs him to be? Only reading more will tell…
Visit Erika Lewis's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 30, 2017

"The Painted Gun"

Bradley Spinelli is the author of the novel Killing Williamsburg, and the writer/director of the film #AnnieHall, which the Village Voice called “fascinating.” He contributes regularly to Bedford + Bowery and lives in Brooklyn.

Spinelli applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Painted Gun, and reported the following:
“…when this whole thing started that sooner or later I’d be sitting in a police station lying my ass off.”

Page 69 of The Painted Gun is representative of the whole, right off the tip of that cold-open line. We immediately know that the speaker has a problem with authority, is mixed up in something he can’t quite explain, and has a bad attitude. That last bit may be the key: we’ve already got a sense of the narrator’s voice, and that proves to be the timbre of the book.

The narrator is David “Itchy” Crane, hired to find a missing girl and quickly caught up in a series of murders. On page 69, we find him being interrogated by two San Francisco police inspectors, who allude to not one but two murders, telling us the bodies are piling up—you’re in a noir. The cutting, merciless descriptions of the cops lend that theory credence.

Itchy goes on: “The lying took up most of the afternoon. I wish they’d give cops secretaries; I’ve never seen a slower one-finger typist. Willits paced and fidgeted with a coffee cup like an ex-smoker; Berrera hunted, pecked, and gave me Cro-Magnon stares.”

It tells us something about the cops, but even more about Itchy: the attitude is firmly in place, like gum under the desk.

Predating Marshall McLuhan’s “page 69” book-browsing suggestion is the obvious “69” schoolyard slang. The usage dates back to 1888—from the French, naturally—old enough to wonder if McLuhan was just messing with us. Regardless, it’s fitting that page 69 of The Painted Gun contains a blatant sexual reference, an explicit query from the cops that prompts Itchy to think: “Perverts. I never met a cop who wasn’t.”

Finishing the page, one of the inspectors suggests that two different murders might be connected, and asks, “What do you think about that?”

Itchy responds: “Was that a question, inspector?”

Like gum under a desk.
Visit Bradley Spinelli's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

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