Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"The Midnight Dance"

Nikki Katz is the Managing Editor for SocialMoms.com and ex-rocket scientist living in sunny San Diego with her husband and three children. With a BS in aerospace engineering, Katz first put her writing skills to use publishing four nonfiction books in the puzzle and game genre. She moved on to writing young adult fiction, her favorite activity. Other favorite pastimes include chauffeuring her kids around town, reading fantasy and sci-fi, baking yummy desserts, watching reality TV, and scrolling social media feeds.

Katz applied the Page 69 Test to The Midnight Dance, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
When it seemed like they must’ve gotten lost in the woods, that they’d been circling for far too long and Penny’s legs ached and her eyes had nearly closed with exhaustion, they suddenly burst out of the tree line onto the manicured estate grounds. Penny held her breath as she and Cricket made a mad dash across the drive to the door.

She hated that they were forced to return. Master held all the control and could change her mind on a whim. Perhaps he’d edit her memories of this very night. The thought stopped her in her tracks. Fear swept through her again, rooting her to the ground like one of the trees in the forest they’d just left. “Cricket.” Penny grabbed the edge of his sleeve to stop him.

“Yes?” He was all shadows and puffs of breath in the cool air, but his eyes still made her pulse stutter.

Her voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. “If Master reverts my memories again, makes me forget all that I learned today, will you please find a way to tell me? I—” She choked on the word. “I can’t bear to think of myself going forward, unknowing, letting him manipulate me. I have to know what’s going on, and we have to find a way out.”

Cricket nodded. “Of course. I promise.”
In reading through page 69 of The Midnight Dance I think it's a very valid representation of the book. In fact, it includes a pretty big spoiler for the beginning of the novel!

In this excerpt, we see Penny and get a sense of her despair at the things that are happening to and round her. We also see both other main characters (Master and Cricket) referenced. Cricket is the love interest and this scene is one of the first times Penny starts to acknowledge it.

We also get a glimpse of the setting and the estate grounds. The scenes just prior to this one involve Penny and Cricket traveling through the woods to the border where Penny tries to escape but is unable. She is forced to return to the school and is terrified that she will forget all that has happened.
Visit Nikki Katz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 15, 2017

"The Prague Sonata"

Bradford Morrow is the author of nine books of fiction, including the novels Trinity Fields, Giovanni’s Gift, The Forgers, and most recently, The Prague Sonata. The founding editor of Conjunctions, he teaches at Bard College and lives in New York City.

Morrow applied the Page 69 Test to The Prague Sonata and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test never worked better for any of my novels than it does for The Prague Sonata. On this page my protagonist, Meta Taverner, must make a decision that will dramatically affect the rest of her life. The year is 2000 and Meta has just turned thirty. As a birthday present—an admittedly unusual one—Meta’s best friend who works as a hospice nurse puts her in touch with Irena, a dying Czech who left war-ravaged Prague after World War II and resettled in Queens, New York. With her she brought one part of an anonymous eighteenth-century piano sonata in three movements, a manuscript her friend Otylie Bartošová had broken up in order to make it worthless to the Nazis who were confiscating—read: stealing—any cultural artifacts they could get their hands on. As Irena explained when Meta visited the old woman in Queens, Otylie kept one part for herself; gave another part to her husband, who disappeared into the underground resistance; and placed the remaining pages into Irena’s hands. Otylie’s assumption was that when the war was over they would all reunite and the sonata would be restored as well. But they never saw each other again.

After Irena passes the manuscript along to Meta, an aspiring musicologist who had to abandon her promising concert piano career due to an accident that injured her hand, the young woman must decide whether to leave behind her settled life with her lawyer boyfriend, Jonathan, and go to Prague in search of the missing movements. Page 69 is the portrait of her working through these questions toward a resolution:
The new, strange Meta went surreptitiously to the Cooper Station post office to renew her passport without a concrete travel date in mind. The normal, familiar Meta made sure that when Jonathan’s case was thrown out of court, she organized a private victory party for the younger attorneys in the firm at a local bar managed by a friend. Between giving piano lessons, she spent two days in her small kitchen preparing platters of hors d’oeuvres and elaborate finger foods for the celebration. After Jonathan left for work, the new Meta set about meticulously copying the sonata manuscript at her desk like some secular sofer writing out the Torah. And though she also had a friend make high-resolution scans of each page, which she then printed out on art paper that approximated the weight and color of the original, and even went to the unnecessary length of typing the composition into a Sibelius computer program, she knew that by writing it out in her own hand she would forge a more intimate connection with the heart and mind of its maker. Just as painters often honed their art by copying the masters, many composers copied out works of their mentors as a means of getting closer to the music, note by note, measure by measure. So why not she?
Further along on this page, the reader sees Meta devouring books on sonata theory and poring over unrecorded scores from the period, as neither she nor her mentor recognize the undeniably masterful and beautiful music set down in the manuscript. Simply put, she becomes obsessed with the task of trying to locate the other movements. The pivotal action that happens on page 69 shows our protagonist at the very beginning of a quest that will take her to Prague, Vienna, London, and eventually back to America’s midwest as she attempts to discover the rest of the Prague sonata, as well as her deeper self.
Learn more about the book and author at Bradford Morrow's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Diviner’s Tale.

The Page 69 Test: The Forgers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 13, 2017

"Gray Wolf Island"

Tracey Neithercott’s first book was written by hand and illustrated with some really fancy colored pencils. It was highly acclaimed by her mother. Now she spends her days as a magazine editor and her nights writing stories about friendship, love, murder, and magic. (None of which she illustrates—you’re welcome.) She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, who suggests improving her novels by adding lightsabers.

Neithercott applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Gray Wolf Island, and reported the following:
Gray Wolf Island’s about a treasure hunt, but it’s not about a treasure hunt. It’s about friendship and guilt and grief—and I’m so pleased to see all of that (plus a hint at the plot) is on page 69.

In this scene, main character Ruby is asking her parents for permission to go on a treasure hunt on nearby Gray Wolf Island. It starts with Ruby’s mom acknowledging Ruby’s grief over losing her twin sister:
“I know how much she wanted this for you. I want this for you.”
From there, the scene moves on to Ruby’s guilt over [insert spoilery thing]:
I can’t look at her with all that love just spilling over, everything I don’t deserve puddling in the space between us.
And then it tackles the friendship—and the fact that at first Ruby is resistant to it:
My mom leans forward, squeezes my hand. “I would have hated to see you miss out simply because you can’t go alone.”

“I can go alone,” I say.

“No, you can’t.” I open my mouth, but she cuts me off before I can respond. “That was an order, not a challenge.”
In the final line, the page touches on what the book is about:
“We’re not camping,” I say. “We’re going to find the Gray Wolf Island treasure.”
I hope anyone who randomly flips to that page gets a feel for some of the themes and is intrigued by the plot—and whether they’ll find a treasure at all.
Visit Tracey Neithercott's website.

My Book, The Movie: Gray Wolf Island.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"Death on Tap"

Ellie Alexander is a Pacific Northwest native who spends ample time testing pastry recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouses nearby. When she’s not coated in flour, you’ll find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of research. She is the author of the popular Bakeshop Mysteries.

Alexander applied the Page 69 Test to Death on Tap, her first Sloan Krause Mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Mac. Don’t do this.” I put my hands on my hips. “You know exactly who I’m talking about. I can’t believe you would bring her here—tonight. That’s low. Even for you.”

“Who, Hayley?” He pulled a silver lighter with his initials monogramed on the front from his back pocket and flicked it on and off.  “You look smoking hot tonight, Sloan.”

“Don’t use her name.” I folded my arms over my chest. “You’re smoking again?”

“No!” Mac flipped the lighter off and stuffed it back in his pocket. He moved closer, and lowered his voice. “I didn’t bring her. She followed me here. I made a mistake, but I promise I didn’t bring her. I’m trying to shake her.”

We both turned as Eddie’s voice became louder in the bar. “You’ve got some nerve showing your face here you little cheat.”

I brushed past Mac into the doorway to see what was going on.

Garrett and a staggering Bruin were holding Eddie. He reminded me of an overly carbonated bottle of beer about to blow its cap.

Hayley, the beer wench, chewed on an unlit cigarette. Eddie puffed out his chest like he was about to break free. She cowered and inched her way toward the door.

“That’s right, keep backing up. No one wants you here.” Eddie heckled her. His posture, like a boxer waiting to throw the first punch, baffled me. Why was he suddenly my protector? Or was there more to it? Could he have had a fling with her, too? There had to be something else between them.

As Hayley backed her way out of the pub, Bruin tried to pull Eddie away, but Eddie threw him off.  The motion made Bruin lose his footing. He swayed. The crowd gasped. Garrett caught him with his free hand. This was more drama than Leavenworth had seen in years. Everyone was completely captivated.
I have to admit that my palms were a bit sweaty as I turned to page 69. I love the concept of one page being able to capture the spirit of an entire book. But what if it didn’t? What if page 69 was a total dud, with sentence after sentence of rambling prose? What if there wasn’t a sliver of plot on page 69. Or worse, what if I hated it?

Side note—I’m not sure if this is true of all writers or just me, but sometimes reading my words months or years later tends to make me cringe. I fall down the rabbit hole of thoughts like, “Why did I say that?” or spiral through regrets on word choice and sentence structure.

Fortunately, as I timidly flipped to page 69 my fears were unfounded. Surprisingly I think this one small section gives the reader a solid sense of Sloan and her need to keep up her game face at opening night of her new pub, while internally seething that her soon-to-be ex-husband and the beer wench have crashed the party.

Cheers to that!
Visit Ellie Alexander's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 9, 2017

"Mr. Rochester"

Sarah Shoemaker is a former university librarian and currently lives in northern Michigan.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Mr. Rochester, and reported the following:
Page 69 is an interesting one in relation to Mr. Rochester, because it deals with Edward Rochester’s first attempt to return to his beloved Thornfield Hall after having been absent from there for several years, and, as well, after having been told by his father that the place would never again be his home. The pull of Thornfield Hall becomes a constant throughout the novel, and it is, finally, the test of what he would be willing to give up to win Jane Eyre.

This recurring theme underlies many of Rochester’s decisions. What makes this page particularly interesting is that up until this point, Edward (who is now close to seventeen years of age) has pretty much followed his father’s directing of his life, distant though it may be. It is his first step in becoming his own man. Henceforth he more and more often chooses his own way, though in general it is another five or six years before he fully turns his back on his father after a devastating discovery of how his father has misused him. It is as representative of the book as nearly any other page would be, because Mr. Rochester follows his coming-of-age and coming into his own as a full adult. By the time Jane Eyre meets him, he has become the product of this years-long development.
Visit Sarah Shoemaker's website.

My Book, The Movie: Mr. Rochester.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 7, 2017

"The Dark Lake"

Sarah Bailey lives in Melbourne, Australia and has two young sons. She has fifteen years experience in the advertising industry and is currently a director at creative projects company Mr Smith.

Bailey applied the Page 69 Test to The Dark Lake, her first novel, and reported the following:
By page 69 of The Dark Lake, DS Gemma Woodstock is completely entangled in Rosalind Ryan’s homicide investigation. She is in deep, both personally and professionally, and is trying desperately to manage the emotions that Rosalind’s murder has unearthed. The entire town of Smithson, located in regional Australia, is on edge in the wake of Rose’s murder.

Rose was Gemma’s high school classmate and always had a sense of mystery about her. At the time of her death, Rose was a popular teacher at the same school they attended a decade earlier. She was attacked after the opening night of the school play and there is a lot of pressure on the small regional homicide squad to solve the case. Who could possibly have wanted Rose dead?

Page 69 opens in the middle of one of the book’s flashback scenes and Gemma is reflecting on a three-year-old murder case that she solved. Being a young female in a male dominated work environment, this previous case saw Gemma’s professional challenges brought to the fore but ultimately enabled her to establish herself as a credible detective.

Gemma questioning her abilities is a constant theme in The Dark Lake and looking back on the old case is a good way for her to remember that she has a strong record and needs to back herself.
I don’t know whether Robbie would have killed her that night but I know the part of me that had been dormant for a long time came alive as I stood in that room with my arm out, heavy with the weight of the gun, my body burning with the ability to make the badness stop. It felt incredible.
Solving the Robbie murder case introduced Gemma to Candy Fyfe, the local journalist who becomes the bane of Gemma’s existence. Candy and Gemma are very different and Candy forces a lot of Gemma’s insecurities about her femininity to the surface.
When I was sitting across from Candy in her boss’s office, her perfect dark skin glowing, she was all sisterhood and girl power, and I know I came across as cold and prickly. She was not a good enemy to make but I felt sick and anxious, increasingly panicked about what the last few weeks of my Robbie obsession had allowed me to ignore.
The Robbie murder case coincided with Gemma being pregnant with her son Ben. Falling pregnant was a huge disruption to Gemma’s career and put a strain on her relationship with boyfriend Scott. It also caused a lot of her colleagues to question her ability to continue as a detective.

Over two years later, Gemma is a still a detective and also a mother to two-year-old Ben.
At page 69, the investigation into Rosalind Ryan’s murder is only just getting started, but already Gemma is struggling to manage her intense feelings for Felix, alongside guilt about her faltering relationship with Ben’s dad, all while keeping her reputation intact and her past in the past, as old high school secrets linked to the case begin to bubble to the surface.
Visit Sarah Bailey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 5, 2017

"A Hive of Homicides"

Meera Lester is the author of nearly two dozen nonfiction books and the proprietress of the real Henny Penny Farmette, located in the San Francisco Bay area. Raising chickens and honeybees, she draws on her life at her farmette as the basis of her Henny Penny Farmette mysteries.

Lester applied the Page 69 Test to her latest mystery, A Hive of Homicides, and reported the following:
On page 69 in A Hive of Homicides, the third novel in my Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries, two sisters of Paola Varela, who has recently been shot and whose husband was killed in the same shooting, ask for help from ex-cop and farmette owner Abigail Mackenzie. The police have questioned Emilio Varela, Paola’s brother who is being followed and is under a cloud of suspicion, but Emilio is taciturn. The sisters need Abby—Paola’s good friend--to help them convince Emilio to tell cops the whole truth.

Emilio Varela hates the way his brother-in-law Jake Winston (now deceased) has treated Paola. But Emilio is a keeper of secrets, and one of those secrets is keeping him from being forthright with the cops. His sisters believe he could extricate himself from the legal trouble but if he will just come clean about where he was at the time of the shooting.

It is on page 69 that the sisters first arrive at Abby’s farmhouse to beg for Abby’s help. The scene is both an emotional scene and an important juncture in the story since Abby’s response to the women results in drawing her deeper into the web of lies and deceptions that she must sort through to solve the mystery.

If a reader skips to page 69 to begin reading, I think he or she would continue reading to discover what Emilio is holding back and why he’s keeping a secret at great risk to himself. I believe the reader would also be curious about whether or not Abby is successful in drawing out the truth that either clears Emilio or makes him culpable in the death of his brother-in-law and the wounding of his sister.
Visit Meera Lester's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Murder of a Queen Bee.

The Page 69 Test: The Murder of a Queen Bee.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"A Beautiful Poison"

Lydia Kang is an author of young adult fiction, poetry, and narrative non-fiction. She graduated from Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine, completing her residency and chief residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. She is a practicing physician who has gained a reputation for helping fellow writers achieve medical accuracy in fiction.

Kang's novels include Control and Catalyst.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, A Beautiful Poison, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“But I already read those,” Jasper protested.

“When?” Gettler asked, incredulous.

“I’ve been working here for over two years. I read them during my ... erm ... breaks.”

“While you were in college? A bit early for someone your age, eh?”

Jasper shrugged. “I’m impatient.”

“I see. And you’re a terrible janitor, if you were spending all your time reading.”

“Yes sir, I was.”

Gettler laughed. “Well, I worked”—(woiked—Lord, that accent!)—“the night shift at the ferry while I finished my PhD. Who am I to talk?” He pushed the books aside and waggled his finger. “One other thing.”


“That dead girl.”

The grin on Jasper’s face melted away. “Yes?”

“Charles showed me the police file while you were dicing up that liver. Our office was not called for an autopsy. Dr. Norris can make a request to open the case, but it’s the police that have the final say.”

“Which means?”

“Which means our department can’t touch that body. And since you’re in our department now, you can’t either.”

Jasper wilted under his steady, icy gaze. What was the point of being here if he couldn’t find out what really happened to Florence? Or show the world that a kid from the Bowery could solve a Fifth Avenue crime?
The book is told in the POV of three characters—Jasper Jones, a poor man who was once rich; Allene Cutter, a debutante on the verge of an unhappy marriage, and Birdie Dreyer, gorgeous and slowly being poisoned to death by the radium she works with in her factory job. They each need each other for various reasons, and together, they are trying to solve murders even as people close to them begin to die unexpectedly.

I love this exchange between Alexander Gettler (a real historical figure—a toxicologist in the first Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York, which opened in 1918) and Jasper Jones, who is desperate to get his foot in the door and prove himself. Bringing Gettler and Charles Norris alive in the story was both humbling and quite exciting, and watching them interact with my fictional characters was delightful. Here, we get to see the parallels of Gettler’s life and Jasper’s, and the point at which they diverge in theirs goals and motives. Jasper is still ruminating about the cause of death of the first murder that appears on page one of the book.

It’s in the next page that we see Jasper’s choice—and you’ll have to read the book to see what it is!
Learn more about the book and author at Lydia Kang's website, blog, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Control.

The Page 69 Test: Catalyst.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 1, 2017

"Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore"

Matthew Sullivan received his B.A. from the University of San Francisco, his M.F.A. from the University of Idaho, and has been a resident writer at Yaddo, Centrum, and the Vermont Studio Center. His writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and other awards, and has won the Florida Review Editor's Prize and the Robert Olen Butler Fiction Prize. In addition to working for years at Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver and at Brookline Booksmith in Boston, he has taught writing and literature at colleges in Boston, Idaho, and Poland, and currently teaches writing, literature, and film at Big Bend Community College in the high desert of Washington State.

Sullivan applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, and reported the following:
I love that this scene from page 69 dives right into one of the main threads of the novel! In it, Lydia and David—the protagonist and her beau—are discussing the crate of books that Lydia inherited after one of her customers, a troubled young BookFrog named Joey, committed suicide in the bookstore where she works:
In her kitchen, Lydia nibbled the crust from her honey toast and waited impatiently for her overworked coffeemaker to finish gurgling. When she looked up, David was there in his towel, red from his shower, smelling of menthol shaving cream. He peered into Joey’s milk crate, which sat in the center of their breakfast table, where Lydia had left it the night before.

“More books?” he said, picking up Joey’s dusty Victorian story primer and turning it over in his hands.

“Can’t ever have too many,” she said lightly.

“Seriously. I like your whole book thing. Just having them around makes me feel smarter.”

“Now, if we could just get you to read them.”

“No need. It’s like free IQ points in every room. On every conceivable surface.”

“Glad to help.”

“Some would call you a hoarder,” he said. “But not me. I call you a collector.”

“That’s the spirit,” she said.

Lydia looked up the length of David’s arm and saw his clean, damp hair and the remnant glow of his shower, and felt the desire to rest her hand on his.
Lydia and David are meant to have a loving banter and a good chemistry as a couple. But as we see here, for all of his kindness, David doesn’t share or particularly understand Lydia’s bibliophilia.

Throughout much of this novel, I was attempting to raise a glass to books and book lovers, but also to use this particular passion as a glimpse into Lydia’s psyche. Beyond acting as her escape, books also act as reminders of her childhood, especially of the happiness she experienced with her librarian father in the years before The Hammerman murders derailed the trajectory of their life. Her early childhood acts as a perpetual Eden to which she is always trying to return. The Bright Ideas Bookstore is as close as she comes to finding that sanctuary again.

Spoiler alert: At the very end of the novel, Lydia ends up feeling more connected to her old friend Raj than to her boyfriend, David… something that has caused some discussion among readers (“Team David or Team Raj?”). The rationale here is that Raj was part of that bookish childhood bliss Lydia has spent her adult life trying to recapture, so he, inevitably, would be the guy who makes her happiest—and who she ends up with. In many ways, David may be a better fit for her, and Raj may be part of an unhealthy nostalgia, but to me there is an emotional truth in Lydia and Raj, in the end, arriving at some approximation of their peaceful life before The Hammerman.
Visit Matthew Sullivan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 29, 2017

"A Conspiracy of Ravens"

Terrence P. McCauley is an award-winning writer of crime fiction and thrillers.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the third novel in his University Series, A Conspiracy of Ravens, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“But I thought you said Scott would spell him if—”

“I’ve got other plans for Scott. And I need you here while I’m in the field.”

“Understood,” Jason said. “In the meantime, the Trustee contacted me a few minutes ago. She said she needs to speak to you. It’s urgent.”

Of course it is.

He groaned as he ran his hand over his face. The hand was rock-steady now.

Normally, he could picture his Carousel of Concern spinning at an orderly pace, each priority clearly presenting itself to be dealt with in an orderly fashion.

Now the goddamned thing had been blown to bits and he didn’t have the time to try to put it back together again. Now wasn’t the time for contemplation. It was the time for action.

But contemplation edged its way in anyway. He’d only been concerned about the attack. He hadn’t the time to think about why it happened until that very moment.

The facts began coming into focus on their own.

Roger had given him a lead on a Russian thug who called himself Boris.

OMNI showed Boris was tied to a mysterious thug named Wilhelm/Willus Tessmer.

Hicks had called Tayeb to start digging into Tessmer.

Tayeb’s facility went CROATOAN hours after that.

Then someone dropped a missile on his facility. A Russian squad had lased his building for it.

All of it was related. Only question was if the Vanguard or Russian contractors were working for Demerest.

Jason snapped him out of it. “Are you still there? The Trustee is waiting.”

“I’ll call her in a minute. In the meantime, find out what happened to Tayeb and his men. Look at media accounts, police channels, everything. I know OMNI’s reach is weak in that part of the world, but try it anyway. Call me if you get something definitive. Send me a report in an hour no matter what.”

“God,” Jason said. “You think all of this is related, don’t you?”

“I don’t know, and that’s what bothers me. And by the way, sorry for snapping at you just now. You saved my ass today.”

“No need to thank me. It’s my job.”
I think this test is a good representation of my novel, A Conspiracy of Ravens. It shows the constant turmoil Hicks faces as the University attempts to recover from a devastating surprise attack.
Visit Terrence McCauley's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Conspiracy of Ravens.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

"Lie to Me"

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of eighteen critically acclaimed novels, including the newly released Lie to Me.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Lie to Me and reported the following:
From page 69:
Sutton loved Dashiell. Carried him with her everywhere. He’d outgrown the withy basket she kept by her desk and spent his out-of-arms time in a car seat stationed within five feet of her at all times.

Ethan had finally won the battle to let the tyke sleep in his crib in his nursery instead of in their bed a month earlier. It had been hard for Sutton, even harder for him. It was impossible to sleep well knowing Sutton was getting up to check on the baby every hour.

He’d told her because he knew she’d gotten used to it. To being a mother. To having a child. To being a family.

He knew she loved Dashiell.

But when he admitted what he’d done, it was like something inside her snapped.
Page 69 of Lie to Me is the very end of a hugely pivotal chapter in the novel. The basic premise of the book is the perfect family loses their baby to SIDS and their world goes off the rails. They blame each other for his death – but remember, this is a mystery novel at heart. So, without any more clues…

This chapter is a flashback to the evening Ethan and Sutton find their son dead in his crib. It’s powerful and heartbreaking and inserts doubt as to the situation they find themselves in. But you can hear Ethan’s unspoken thoughts loud and clear – and also realize Ethan has done something to Sutton that makes him think she’s capable of killing their child.

And important chapter, and an important page. It establishes the basic question of this entire book: What is really going on here?
Visit J.T. Ellison's website, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 25, 2017


Jacob Stone is the byline chosen by award-winning author Dave Zeltserman for his new Morris Brick series of serial-killer thrillers. His crime, mystery and horror fiction has won top praise and has been translated into six languages.

His novels Small Crimes and Pariah were both named by the Washington Post as best books of the year. Small Crimes topped National Public Radio's list of best crime and mystery novels of 2008 and is being made into a feature film.

Stone applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel Crazed, the second Morris Black thriller, and reported the following:
Page 69 falls at the end of a chapter and only has 6 lines, so I'll make this a Page 68 test instead. Serial killer Griffin Bolling has traveled from Seattle to LA cutting a bloody path along the way. On page 68 he's alone with Sheila Proops, my wheelchair-bound serial killer from Deranged who escaped prosecution. Griffin has always killed in the shadows, and he has taken offense at the publicity Sheila has generated and he had traveled to LA to kill her. Now that he's alone with her, he's beginning to feel enough of an affinity to her that he plans to kill Sheila's caregiver when the woman returns before turning his attentions to Sheila so that Sheila can enjoy one final kill. But Sheila is able to convince Griffin that he had a very different reason for seeking her out. The twisted nature of this page, along with the hints of violence and suspense, make this highly representative of the rest of the book. I'd think a crime thriller reader would be hooked if they read this page.
Visit Dave Zeltserman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Deranged.

The Page 69 Test: Deranged.

My Book, The Movie: Crazed.

Writers Read: Jacob Stone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 23, 2017

"Magicians Impossible"

Brad Abraham is the author of Magicians Impossible, creator of the Mixtape comic book series, screenwriter of the films Fresh Meat and Stonehenge Apocalypse, writer on the television series The Canada Crew, Now You Know, I Love Mummy, and RoboCop Prime Directives, and a journalist whose work has appeared in Rue Morgue, Dreamwatch, Starburst, and Fangoria.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Magicians Impossible and reported the following:
Magicians Impossible is many things. It’s a fantasy, it’s a thriller, it’s a mystery. But at its heart it’s the story of someone who, for much of his life, felt he was unexceptional. Then he discovers he’s much more than that. Page 69 in the book is where Jason Bishop first finally gazes upon The Spire – the training facility for the Invisible Hand; a cabal of magic-wielding spies locked in a centuries-old conflict against forces of chaos and darkness. The Spire is is as much a physical representation of the difficult road that lies ahead for Jason Bishop, as it is an Escher-esque training facility.
Below them lay an immense arena, but calling it immense sold it short. On first glance he thought you could fit the old and new Yankee stadiums into it, and still have room for Storm King Mountain in the cheap seats. As Jason focused on one corner of the arena, the view seemed to get closer even though the room didn’t move; like everywhere he focused the viewing window magnified to see every last detail. To call the effect disorienting was as great a disservice as calling the arena immense.

On the ground, a large racing track surrounded a patch of green Astroturf that was covered with obstacles set up its length and around it. But the track seemed to undulate, looping in and around itself like the coils of a snake, and Jason felt dizzy just trying to figure out where it began and where it ended. Heavy-looking crates rested on the field and more floated in the air, stretching all the way up to the ceiling hundreds of feet above. There were people visible, too, all dressed in red-and-black training uniforms. He saw a girl leap gracefully onto the stack of crates and vanish in a puff of smoke. She reappeared midway up, balanced on one of the floating crates. She disappeared again, then reappeared again balanced on the edge of the highest one. She held there for a moment, peered over the edge, like a child contemplating the distance from the high board at the local pool. Then she stepped off, plummeting like a rock. Jason sucked air as she fell. Midway down, she disappeared in a thunderclap of smoke, and reappeared back on the ground, light as a feather.
What I like about this page and this sequence is how it gives Jason (and us) a sense of scale by comparison; a technique I return to throughout the book, especially when describing the fantastical world of the Invisible Hand. Describing it as something that would fit two baseball stadiums and a mountain and still have room left over gives the reader a sense of what he’s seeing. I wanted Magicians Impossible to move with a good amount of momentum, while still giving you a chance to envision everything in your head. This is especially important with The Spire, which comes into play in the climax in a big way.
Visit Brad Abraham's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Beyond Absolution"

Cora Harrison published twenty-six children's books before turning to adult novels with the "Mara" series of Celtic historical mysteries set in 16th century Ireland.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Beyond Absolution, the third book in the Reverend Mother Mystery Series, and reported the following:
By a piece of bad luck, page 69 in Beyond Absolution turns out to be the beginning of a chapter, chapter six, and so is a short page. And to add to its shortness, each chapter which deals with my main character, Reverend Mother Aquinas, opens with a quote in Latin from the works of her namesake Saint Thomas Aquinas – with English translation beneath it. The Reverend Mother is a great admirer of Thomas Aquinas and she finds support for many of her views on life and people from his pithy sayings, such as: ‘To bear with patience wrongs done to oneself is a mark of perfection; to bear with patience wrongs done to others is a mark of imperfection and even of sin’.

However, this page also brings in Dr Scher who is a favourite character of mine. An elderly man, descendent of a Jewish immigrant, he is humorous, compassionate, quick-thinking and attractive. On this page we hear him before we see him. He is joking with a new recruit to the novitiate. It would be a few minutes before he arrived at her room, she guessed. The girl was homesick and her tear-stained face would make him take trouble with her.

The Reverend Mother, also, turns her thought to this new recruit. She had promised to give the girl a month’s trial, but that was: Before she had heard that the girl had been seeing visions, just like Sister Bernadette at Lourdes and had imagined herself a nun in the making.

However the Reverend Mother hopes that soon the girl will see that that she is unhappy and will agree to go home for a few months and to think again about her vocation. She is worried about the child but tells herself that: ‘Judging by the giggles that greeted Dr Scher’s feeble jokes, she was tiring of the angelic and melancholic pose adopted when first admitted to the convent.’

So, the luck was against me with this page 69 as it is, if one counts the words, barely half a page. On the other hand, I am reasonably satisfied as I think two of the main people in the book, the Reverend Mother and Dr Scher, show their characters. Dr Scher his kindness, his liking for jokes, his interest in all whom he meets and the Reverend Mother, who also shows concern, displays her quick-witted, common-sense, her deep sense of responsibility for those in her convent and, perhaps above all, her wisdom.
Visit Cora Harrison's website.

My Book, The Movie: Cross of Vengeance.

My Book, The Movie: Beyond Absolution.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"The Devil's Cup"

Alys Clare lives in the English countryside, where her novels are set. She went to school in Tonbridge and later studied archaeology at the University of Kent.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Devil's Cup, and reported the following:
On page 69, Josse, his brother Yves and his son Geoffroi are on their way north from Kent to join King John and his army, reputed to be in East Anglia. Josse has been summoned by the King because they knew each other when they were young and Josse has always been faithful to the Crown, even when it’s on the head of someone as contrary, slippery and headstrong as John. Josse has been known to reflect that, despite John’s deep character flaws, he just can’t root out his affection for him. I’ve adopted Josse’s attitude, so that my version of King John presents a man who can be both ruthlessly cruel and totally unreasonable, yet also humorous, self-deprecating, wry and, to a very few, affectionate and loyal.

The page is representative of the book in that we have some of the main characters travelling through the land and intent on reaching their goal for a reason they consider very important; Josse has found an encampment where the standard flying is that of someone else loyal to the King, so it’s looking as if he’s going to be successful. As to whether a reader skimming through would read on, I can only say I hope so because there’s good stuff to come.
Learn more about The Devil's Cup at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 18, 2017


Scott Reintgen has spent his career as a teacher of English and creative writing in diverse urban communities in North Carolina. The hardest lesson he learned was that inspiration isn’t equally accessible for everyone. So he set out to write a novel for the front-row sleepers and back-row dreamers of his classrooms.

Reintgen applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Nyxia, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It’s only as we head back to our rooms at the end of the day that I realize the real significance of our win: it has me in first place. I remind myself there’s still a long way to go, but as I fall asleep that night, there’s a smile on my face. For the first time, I feel like I belong here, like I actually deserve to go to Eden. I know that when I wake up in the morning, I won’t just be content with the top eight.

I want to win.
To my great delight, Nyxia passes The Page 69 Test.

This brief section highlights what the entire story is about: Emmett’s entrance into an in-space competition that could change his life forever. One big question I wanted to ask in this book was, “What happens when you find your lottery ticket, but other people are reaching for it, too?” And more importantly, “How much of your humanity are you willing to let slip through your fingers in order to go home a king?” In this scene, Emmett’s clearly feeling positive about his chances of succeeding. But that feeling changes. He has highs and lows in the competition. Bones will break. Enemies will be made. And through all of it he will have the choice to fight hard or fight dirty.

There are two important pieces of the novel that are noticeably absent on this page, however: there’s no mention of nyxia, the substance Emmett’s being trained to use and the entire reason for their mission to the alien planet. Finally, we have no mention of the 9 other contestants that have boarded Genesis 11 alongside Emmett. These characters—and their varying friendships with Emmett—act as a strong centerpiece for the entire novel.

Still, I could read this excerpt and give someone the general idea of what’s happening in the story. So let’s call Nyxia a Page 69 Test success.
Visit Scott Reintgen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 16, 2017

"The Laird Takes a Bride"

Lisa Berne read her first Georgette Heyer book at fourteen, and was instantly captivated. Later, she was a graduate student, a teacher, and a grant writer — and is now an author of historical romance.

Berne applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Laird Takes a Bride, and reported the following:
My heroine, Fiona Douglass, has been forced to take part in a Bachelor-like situation, and is the only candidate who despises the very idea of it. At this particular interval in the story, she’s riding her horse away from an ancient monastery, to which she and a large party have traveled on a sightseeing jaunt. She’s mulling over the events of the day. At 27, she is, in 1811, very much in “old maid” territory, and wonders uneasily if jealousy motivated her, earlier, to engage in some sharp badinage with a much younger woman.

She’s also recalling some of the things said by a little girl she’s recently met, who has an unnerving tendency to utter opaque, sibylline remarks — The Laird Takes a Bride is set in Scotland, and this is a tiny, tiny tip of the hat to Macbeth’s Three Witches — and she’s puzzling over their significance.

We see Fiona, then, on a kind of temporal pivot: she’s thinking about what happened today, she’s musing about the past and questioning if her best years are behind her, and is also wondering, with some apprehension, what the future will bring.

So is page 69 representative of the book as a whole? To a large degree, yes, as it portrays my heroine as a thinking, feeling human being who’s struggling to make sense of her life. But it doesn’t happen to also reveal the story’s fluid point of view which offers insight into the psyche and circumstances of Fiona’s counterpart, Alasdair Penhallow. You’d have to back up to page 66 for that, or read on to page 72...
Visit Lisa Berne's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Laird Takes a Bride.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 15, 2017

"A Lie For A Lie"

Robin Merrow MacCready is the author of Buried, recipient of the Edgar Award for Best YA novel. She teaches reading and writing to middle school students, and lives in Maine with her family.

MacCready applied the Page 69 Test to her latest YA novel, A Lie for a Lie, and reported the following:
A Lie For A Lie takes place over the course a summer in the life of seventeen year old Kendra. The story begins when she sees her father with a woman who is not her mother. Rather that confront him; she spies on him. On page 69, she and her friend Bo have just found out that the relationship is more serious that they thought. “He was trying to insinuate himself into her life, like he wanted it to last.” This is a great disappointment. The relationship doesn’t seem to be a fling. This is also about the time the reader is realizing that Bo wants his friendship with Kendra to be more serious than it is, but Kendra is crazy about another guy. He gives her a gift that reminds her of their childhood games together—not his intention. When she arrives home from being with Bo, she sees her mother dressed up and ready to go out. To her this is a sign that her mom is doing better emotionally and maybe her father’s bad behavior, if it’s found out, won’t be as damaging to her as she thought.

But not everything is as it seems…
Visit Robin Merrow MacCready's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Lie for a Lie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"Spring Break"

A graduate of Yale, Gerald Elias has been a Boston Symphony violinist, Associate Concertmaster of the Utah Symphony since 1988, Adjunct Professor of Music at the University of Utah, first violinist of the Abramyan String Quartet, and Music Director of the Vivaldi Candlelight concert series.

His novels include Devil's Trill, Danse Macabre, Death and the Maiden, Playing With Fire, and the newly released Spring Break.

Elias applied the Page 69 Test to Spring Break and reported the following:
From Page 69:
‘What were they talking about?’ Jacobus asked Yumi.

‘The Feldsteins?’

‘No, the Cooney cluster.’

‘Mainly about how much Aaron Schlossberg would be missed. What a great man he was. How much he did for the conservatory. You know, things that would be appropriate for the occasion.’

‘You mean the customary bullshit,’ Jacobus said.

‘Yes, that’s accurate,’ Yumi replied.

‘I assume that’s after they noticed you. Did you hear what were they talking about before that?’

‘No. The sound is too live in that room. It’s all a wash. All I can say is that they seemed ...concerned about something.

‘The food poisoning incident,’ Lilburn said. ‘This Dr Pine is a doctor, after all. Maybe they’re worried about medical expenses, or legal action. Or, perish the thought, maybe even about people’s health!’

Jacobus heard Lilburn slap at a mosquito.

‘Possible. But that’s over and done with,’ Jacobus said. ‘The more recent incident is Aaron Schlossberg found dead slumped over a piano keyboard.’

It began to drizzle.

‘I think we’d better go.'
This Page 69 excerpt underscores multiple currents of conflict in Spring Break. The scene is a gathering to comfort the wife of Aaron Schlossberg, famed composer of the Kinderhoek Conservatory of Music who has just died. Jacobus recognizes the artificial grieving of other faculty members who had no love lost for Schlossberg and who are customarily at each others' throats. There is also the coterie of conservatory bigwigs, whose main concern is money and who view Schlossberg's death more as an impediment to their plans than as a loss to the music world. Finally, there is also the sense of unease of the unresolved manner of Schlossberg's death. Was it diabetes, food poisoning, or something else?
My Book, The Movie: Spring Break.

Writers Read: Gerald Elias.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"Alan Cole Is Not a Coward"

Eric Bell is an author of middle grade fiction.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, Alan Cole Is Not a Coward, and reported the following:
Alan Cole Is Not a Coward is the story of a twelve-year-old boy who is blackmailed over his secret crush on another boy in his class. Page 69, which opens chapter six, begins with Alan at the dinner table. Alan’s family is a major source of stress: his older brother is the blackmailer, his father is emotionally abusive, and his mother is a non-presence. The dinner environment is oppressive—even Mom’s tasty chicken stew doesn’t leave much of an impact—and so Alan retreats to a familiar setting: the art world. For Alan, art is like breathing; his attempts to change the world via a portrait of someone’s face permeate the novel. In the middle of this tense situation, he narrates:
I’m thinking about the principles of design Mrs. Colton went over today in art class, and how the scene in front of me would look if I painted it. Where would the emphasis be? On the clock? At the head of the table? On the carefully prepared food? Where would the movement flow? What patterns would be repeated?
This is Alan attempting to make sense of the illogical world before him. He doesn’t understand why his brother hates him so much, where his father’s anger stems from, why his mother has withdrawn from affection. His quirky new friends befuddle him and he struggles with the possibility that his crush might not reciprocate Alan’s hidden feelings. The world is overstimulating and messy and confusing. So when Alan turns to the vocabulary of his art, it’s with the goal of understanding his own world a little better. Throughout this chapter he sees things through an artist’s lens, noticing patterns and movement and other aspects of his toolkit.

Page 69 does not showcase any of the book’s humor—the family scenes are when the book is at its most serious—though Alan does mention the hot pepper flakes from the stew “practically leave scorch marks as they dribble down my throat,” which hints at the normal tone of his narration, full of exaggerated comparisons.
Visit Eric Bell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 11, 2017

"Lone Wolf"

Michael Gregorio is the pen name of Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio. Best known for their Hanno Stiffeniis series, featuring a Prussian magistrate in a country invaded by Napoleon and the French, they have more recently launched a contemporary series set in Italy, where they live. The Seb Cangio novels follow the exploits of a forest ranger as he combats Mafia infiltration of the unspoilt national park in Umbria where he works.

The authors applied the Page 69 Test to their latest novel, the third in the series, Lone Wolf, and reported the following:
It’s always intriguing to open your novel at a specific page and see what you’ve got.

In the case of Lone Wolf, page 69 finds all of the major characters – with one notable exception – on the same page. Marshall McLuhan, the inventor of the page 69 test, would be ninety-nine percent pleased!

The good guys – Seb Cangio, gorgeous Lucia Rossi of the Italian carabinieri, and Inspector Desmond Harris from New Scotland Yard – are cooped up inside a tiny surveillance booth. They’re watching a security video of passengers arriving on a flight from London as they go through customs control at the small provincial airport of Assisi in Italy.

The reader doesn’t know it yet, but two of the people in the video are already dead.

Dead men don’t talk, of course, but a video can tell you a lot about them. One man is nervous, the other is not. They ignore each other, yet both men were carrying false passports. Is it a coincidence, or is it a conspiracy? And one of them went back to London, while the other man did not. If they were together, what the heck were they doing in Italy?

That is what the investigators have to discover.

The solution will turn out to be far more disturbing than the reader might imagine.

Why bring a British brain surgeon to Italy? And why are so many Italian doctors dropping like flies? Above all, what does the fearsome ’Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia, have to do with it?

Only Seb Cangio can read the signs. He’s from Calabria, he knows how the ’Ndrangheta works.

But even Seb cannot guess exactly what is going on. Not until he finds himself laid out helpless on an operating table in a private clinic in idyllic Umbria…

The ‘one notable exception’ mentioned above is one of the most frightening men alive, as Seb Cangio is destined to discover. Our editor asked us to add an extra chapter featuring ’Ndrangheta boss, Don Michele Cucciarilli – “he’s so deliciously evil,” she said.
Visit Michael Gregorio's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Cry Wolf.

My Book, The Movie: Cry Wolf.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 9, 2017

"Murder Take Three"

Eric Brown began writing when he was fifteen and sold his first short story to Interzone in 1986. He has won the British Science Fiction Award twice for his short stories, and his novel Helix Wars was shortlisted for the 2012 Philip K. Dick award. He has published sixty books, and his latest include the crime novel Murder Take Three, and the short story collection Microcosms, with Tony Ballantyne. His novel Binary System is due out in Autumn. He has also written a dozen books for children and over a hundred and forty short stories. He writes a regular science fiction review column for the Guardian newspaper and lives in Cockburnspath, Scotland.

Brown applied the Page 69 Test to Murder Take Three and reported the following:
From Page 69:
The scriptwriter was silent for a time. “It’s just occurred to me. The film. With the leading lady dead... I’m sorry. You’ll think me crass.”

Langham shook his head. “Not at all. What will happen to the shoot?”

“There’s been a lot of money and time invested so far, and I don’t know whether insurance would cover any losses. My guess is that Dennison will find a stand-in. There are plenty of American actresses in London, or actresses who could fake an accent. And to be honest it isn’t that demanding a role.”

Langham hesitated, then asked, “What do you know about Dennison’s relationship with Suzie?”

“I must admit, I don’t know whether it was just a physical attraction, or if there was anything deeper. There was a twenty year age difference. It can’t have been that easy to relate to someone young enough to be your daughter.”

Ambler indicated a finger-post point to the village of Hambling. “Take the turning and it’s a couple of mile away. Haggerston House is a mile out of the village on the other side.”

Langham took the turning and wound down the window. He glanced at Ambler. “You said you were stationed there during the war.”

“For almost a year.”

“Did you have much to do with Desmond Haggerston?”

“No, not much at all. He was pretty much a recluse. He must have been in his early seventies then, and remote... depressive.” Ambler shrugged. “On the few occasions I did meet him, I got on rather well with him. You know what they say, Donald?”

“What’s that?”

“Misery likes company.”
In Murder Take Three, the fourth of my Langham and Dupré mysteries set in Britain in the 1950s, writer Donald Langham has just started work as a professional private investigator. His first client is American movie star Suzie Reynard, currently shooting a murder mystery film at Marling Hall, an Elizabethan manor house situated in the Norfolk countryside. The film’s director Doug Dennison– Suzie’s lover – has been receiving threats and Suzie is convinced his life is in danger.

On arriving at Marling Hall with his fiancée Maria, Langham finds the film set awash with clashing egos, petty jealousies, ill-advised love affairs and seething resentments. Matters come to a head when a body is discovered in the director’s trailer.

It would appear to be an open-and-shut case when someone confesses to the murder. Donald and Maria are not convinced – but why would someone confess to a crime they haven’t committed? If Langham is to uncover the truth, he must delve into the past and another murder that took place more than twenty years before.

Page 69, near the start of chapter twelve, has Donald Langham driving to Haggerston House with the film’s script-writer, his old friend Terrence Ambler. They’re trying to find one of the suspects, Desmond Haggerston, who seems to have given the police the slip. They suspect that the old man might have fled to Haggerston House, a few miles from where the murder was committed.

On the way, through leafy country lanes, they discuss the fate of the film, and Langham questions Ambler about the dead actor’s relationship with the film’s director, and probes the script-writer about Desmond Haggerston.

I think page 69 is pretty representative of the book as a whole, in that it’s largely dialogue-driven, and shows Langham as a concerned, friendly individual whose gentle questioning gets to the root of the mystery. The page also serves to characterise the people spoken about, as well as the people speaking. Untypically for the book, no one is drinking alcohol!
Visit Eric Brown's website.

My Book, The Movie: Murder Take Three.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 8, 2017

"Bad Girl Gone"

Temple Matthews is an American born author and screenwriter with several films to his credit, including Disney’s Return to Neverland.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Bad Girl Gone, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I was bombarded with fast, ugly images from his brain. He was a sick and twisted man, he crowded thoughts a whirlwind of repulsive memories. I saw Mick's face. Mowrer was remembering how he killed Mick by hitting him the head with a pipe wrench--it was so horrible, playing in slow motion in the sicko's brain...
Any reader would be compelled to read on if she looked at page 69. It fully encompasses the various elements and themes submerged in the book, and it's a ghostly moment when Echo is able to enter the body and mind of a killer.
Visit Temple Mathews's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 7, 2017

"Dark River Rising"

Roger Johns is a former corporate lawyer and retired college professor with law degrees from Louisiana State University and Boston University. During his nearly two decades as a professor, he served on the editorial staffs of several academic publications and he won numerous awards and recognitions for his teaching and his scholarly writing. Johns was born and raised in Louisiana. He and his wife Julie now live in Georgia.

Johns applied the Page 69 Test to Dark River Rising, his first novel, and reported the following:
Dark River Rising is a mystery set in present-day Baton Rouge. From page 1, paragraph 1, police detective Wallace Hartman knows she’s dealing with the most startling murder she’ll ever encounter: “Wallace Hartman had never seen a dead man move, but the guy in front of her was definitely dead, and definitely moving. He just wasn’t going anywhere. There was a crudely sutured incision just below his rib cage and his abdomen heaved with a sinuous reptilian rhythm. Wallace’s mind recoiled from what her eyes insisted was true––that a snake was slithering among his innards searching for a way out. The corpse looked like it was belly dancing its way into the hereafter.” Wallace certainly needs to find out who did this, but just as importantly, she needs to know why. By page 69, Wallace and a federal investigator with his own interest in the murder have been introduced and the nature of their relationship has been established. Two pivotal events occur on page 69 itself: Wallace and her federal colleague discover they’ve been seriously deceived by someone who should have been willing to help, and they find an unexpected ally who gives them a glimpse into just what kind of odds they’re going to be up against––a burned house that looks a lot like arson, a missing researcher, and a cover-up by the researcher’s higher-ups.
Visit Roger Johns's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

"The Plague Diaries"

Ronlyn Domingue is the internationally published author of The Mercy of Thin Air and the Keeper of Tales Trilogy—The Mapmaker’s War, The Chronicle of Secret Riven, and The Plague Diaries. Her essays and short stories have appeared in New England Review, Clackamas Literary Review, and Shambhala Sun as well as on mindful.org, The Nervous Breakdown, and Salon.com.

Domingue applied the Page 69 Test to The Plague Diaries and reported the following:
In The Plague Diaries, the last book of the Keeper of Tales Trilogy (which can be read in any order), Secret Riven’s fate is to release a plague to end an ancient pestilence. Her mythic call involves an arcane manuscript, a strange symbol, and a 1,000-year-old family legacy.

From page 69:
The hall with its round table and familiar rug had disappeared. Vines covered the walls and most of the doors. Tree trunks reached from floor to ceiling. Boughs of greenery made an impenetrable canopy. Crystal and metal lamps hung above and the lush green carpets below belied the initial illusion. A brown rabbit darted from a grouping of ferns.

Behind my mask, I watched the other guests. They, too, had taken efforts to adorn themselves beyond recognition. Some were so wildly attired I couldn’t tell whether they were men or women, although I determined that was the intent. Most, however, had chosen formal wear exaggerated in design and textiles.

A balding man with a bear muzzle mask wore a brilliant pink long-tailed velvet coat. He spoke with a woman whose bosom burgeoned far past bodily limits, giving shape to the two iridescent beetles that sat upon the striped orange and yellow mushroom that was her skirt. Her hair piled into a tidy nest on her head, out of which peeked a stuffed red squirrel, and the mask across her face was woven into the coiffed strands.

The music reached a crescendo then collapsed into silence. A squeal pierced through the applause. A woman burst from the northeast corner, chased by a laughing man whose cape dragged the floor. From the opposite corner, near the servants’ stair, twelve people carrying trays heaped with food stepped into the hall. They walked gingerly, their bodies below the waist like sheep, with white fleece legs and hoofed feet, which forced them to step on hidden tiptoes. On their heads were hats with sheeps’ ears. The men’s torsos were bare, and the women’s breasts were covered by triangles of fleece held in place by strings.

I followed behind them into the ballroom. The breeze through the open windows couldn’t dissipate the weighty scent I’d encountered in the tunnel. To my right, in the distance, musicians stood on a dais. Below me, braided blue mats padded the floor. Ahead, several tables were heaped with every possible delicacy—meats, cheeses, fish, dried and preserved fruits, breads, pastries, custards. Crystal decanters held the gem hues of liquors and wines. Guests formed a line to the tables, each taking a platter and a goblet to fill.

Everyone spilled into the hall and sat among the trees as if at a picnic. I retreated to the darkest shadow I could find, sipped my punch, and ate until I couldn’t swallow another bite.

In my hidden place, I listened to the music and observed the guests.
Page 69 reflects the book’s style and one of its most important themes.

Told in first person from Secret’s observant perspective, this novel focuses on details. When the attention is on physical ones, the story becomes highly visual, something a reader can picture with clarity. In this scene, Secret attends a masquerade ball hosted by Fewmany, the magnate, at his manor.

The theme of hiding—both physically and emotionally—is strong on this page. Decorations obscure the manor’s familiar surroundings. Guests are masked and costumed so that they cannot be identified. Secret, as usual, doesn’t engage with anyone, choosing instead to watch everything at a distance. Soon enough, especially during the plague, everyone’s true natures will be revealed.
Learn more about the book and author at Ronlyn Domingue's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Mapmaker's War.

My Book, The Movie: The Mapmaker's War.

The Page 69 Test: The Chronicle of Secret Riven.

My Book, The Movie: The Plague Diaries.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 4, 2017


Allan Woodrow is the author of Unschooled, Class Dismissed, The Pet War and numerous other books for middle grade readers, some under secret names.

Woodrow applied the Page 69 Test to his latest book, Unschooled, which is set in the same world as Class Dismissed, and reported the following:
Unschooled is narrated by two rotating characters, George and his best friend Lilly. They are excited to compete together during their school’s 5th grade Spirit Week competition, until they are named captains for the two opposing teams. The winner of the week, which features a series of contests, gets a mystery prize. Students try to figure out the prize, but their stabs grow more and more outlandish and ridiculous, and competition grows fiercer with every guess. Soon, cheating, sliming and sabotaging threaten to ruin the week, and George and Lilly’s long-time friendship is threatened.

Page 69 is the first page of chapter twelve, and is told from Lilly’s perspective. Lilly is the captain for Team Red.
When you’re the leader of a team you need to get everyone motivated. Last night I was going to make small clay frogs for all of Team Red. There’s an animal called the red poison dart frog that’s bright red and poisonous. I thought it could be our mascot, which would be awesomesauce.

But by the time I finished my research, it was sort of late and it would take a long time to make that many frogs and I only had so much clay, so I only made three of them, and I never got around to giving them legs or painting them red, so I left them at home. Maybe I’ll finish them tonight. I asked Mom to buy a lot more clay, just in case.

But we don’t really need motivation to win, anyway. Not today. Sarah had a great idea that should guarantee us another victory today.
In this section, we get a glimpse of Lilly embracing her new role as team captain and are reminded that her hobby is making clay sculptures (an activity that has already been established). More importantly, we learn she hasn’t finished what she set out to do: making a figurine for everyone on the team. Lilly doesn’t finish anything, from homework to pet projects— and her failure to finish things, and to plan ahead, is a problem that will play an important role in her failure to prepare her team properly for some of the Spirit Week events.

Also, Lilly has asked Mom to buy ‘a lot more clay.’ While it comes off as a throwaway line, it’s not. Her upcoming abundance of clay, which she will not use on figurines, will play a big role in getting her team out of trouble after performing an act of sabotage against George’s team.

Lastly, in the final paragraph shown here, we learn that Sarah had a “great idea that should guarantee us another victory.” This hints at the cheating that will soon ruin that day’s Spirit Week event, and which sets up the pattern of ever-spiraling mischief yet to come.
Visit Allan Woodrow's website.

The Page 69 Test: Class Dismissed.

My Book, The Movie: Unschooled.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 2, 2017

"Reincarnation Blues"

Michael Poore’s short fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, Southern Review, Agni, Fiction, and Asimov’s. His story “The Street of the House of the Sun” was selected for The Year’s Best Nonrequired Reading 2012. His first novel, Up Jumps the Devil, was hailed by The New York Review of Books as “an elegiac masterpiece.” Poore lives in Highland, Indiana, with his wife, poet and activist Janine Harrison, and their daughter, Jianna.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Reincarnation Blues, and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test worked beautifully for Reincarnation Blues, I thought. It spans the end of one mini-story and the beginning of another; between the two, you get a representative taste of the whole book.

This is the story of a soul who has lived almost 10,000 lives, and it contains a lot of lightning-strike vignettes which sketch many of those lives for the reader. Page 69 begins with a story in which Milo, a daring young musketeer, has an affair with a commander’s wife. When the affair is discovered, the enraged husband arranges for poor Milo to be captured by the enemy, and catapulted alive back over the walls of besieged Vienna. Milo dies, of course (again), but enjoys the experience capitally. If you had died a few thousand times, you’d be a good sport, too.

The second half of the page is a scene between Milo and his good friend, Death (aka Suzie). We know they eventually become lovers, but this hasn’t happened yet. It goes like this:
Sometimes, between his first hundred lives or so, Milo tried to spend his time with Suzie, though they weren’t yet lovers in those days. They both enjoyed swimming, and food. They enjoyed asking each other questions like ‘Would you rather lose an arm or an eyeball?’ And sometimes Milo thought he caught her looking at him a certain way.

He wondered what would happen if Death went to bed with a plain old mortal man.

“I don’t know,” she said. “It might destroy our friendship. It might even burn you up. Like, literally consume you with fire. I seriously don’t know.”

Milo was flustered. “Can you read my mind?” he asked.

“I thought you knew.”

“Well don’t. Jesus!”

After his hundredth life, he helped her open an exotic food store called The Chocolate Squid. The store was fully stocked with squid and chocolate-covered butterflies and flowers you were supposed to dip in cheese, and more. When the gods tried to do human-style things, Milo observed, they often missed the mark.
Here, we see Milo and Suzie addressing the key problem in their relationship: in the end, he’s just a human, and she’s something more like a god. Yeah, she can do things he can’t, like read his mind, but the real conflict is larger. They are not equals. So there’s the problem with humankind attempting, as it often does, to tread the pathways of the divine. As we know from centuries of literature and poetry, this rarely works out. Milo stands a good chance of actually getting destroyed if he ever dares to love her.

Conversely, we see that she risks failure in trying to do ordinary things. She wants to open a cute little shop. Wants to do that so badly, but it’s like a dragon pretending to be a chipmunk. Like trying to do needlepoint while wearing welding gloves. It’s not a fit. But these two obviously love each other, and that breeds hope. It’s the kind of hope that gets you torched from the inside out, but Hey. It’s just your soul.
Visit Michael Poore's website.

My Book, The Movie: Reincarnation Blues.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Strangers to Temptation"

Scott Gould’s work has appeared in Kenyon Review, Carolina Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, New Madrid Journal, New Stories from the South, and New Southern Harmonies, among others. He is a two-time winner of the Artist Fellowship in Prose from the South Carolina Arts Commission and a past winner of the Fiction Fellowship from the South Carolina Academy of Authors. Gould chairs the creative writing department at the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities in Greenville.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his story collection, Strangers to Temptation, and reported the following:
I have to be honest. I didn’t think this Page 69 thing would be very successful (or interesting) for a collection of stories. I mean, the stories in Strangers to Temptation are linked by several elements—setting, narrator, the early 1970s—but they are stand-alone pieces, so there’s no chance one page would illuminate the other 223?

I flipped to page 69. I was way wrong.

Strangers to Temptation has several themes running through it: race, coming of age, class divisions, sexuality. And all of them rear their heads on page 69. That page hits toward the end of a story called “May McIntosh Flies, John Wayne Runs,” in a the midst of a long scene where the narrator (a fourteen-year old white kid) and his new black friend sneak through the muddy swamp to watch a football game—specifically, to watch May McIntosh perform her cheerleading gyrations. (May cheers for the brand new, white-flight private high school. This is the early 70s, remember?) The two boys have stumbled onto a group of older country boys who share a bottle of whiskey and a similar goal: to hide in the woods and watch May McIntosh fly through the air.

At the top of the page, the narrator realizes that his black friend has safely ditched him because, “[Columbus] was already smart enough at that age to check before stepping out of the shadows.” He’s already learned to avoid the kind of white people who are passing the bottle around. He knows the dividing line between shadow and light. (Also, I thought it was ironic that the first word on the page is we, because in those post-segregation days, it wasn’t easy to figure out what we meant.)

The boys can’t keep their eyes of May McIntosh. She is nearly goddess-like the way she makes “a mockery of the laws of gravitation and physics.” The narrator has a special connection to May. Early in the story, she lays a big kiss on him that tastes like coconuts. He’s been fascinated with her since. Hence, his trip to spy on her.

The boys sharing the bottle are not townies. They are hard-edged, quick-to-anger country boys, which makes the final question on the page significant. A kid in a hunting coat asks the narrator, “Why you out here?” None of the boys are where they are supposed to be that night, hiding there in the dark, a long way from the light and the bleachers that are occupied by private school kids.

So it all seems to be on page 69: the racial tensions and confusions of the early 70s, burgeoning sexuality brought on by coming-of-age, class stratification and folks crossing boundary lines in the dark.

The Page 69 Test. How did it know?
Visit Scott Gould's website.

--Marshal Zeringue