Monday, December 11, 2017

"The Breathless"

Tara Goedjen adores fairytales, mysteries, and ghost stories.

She wrote her first story at age eleven about children who disappeared at midnight, and she’s been writing ever since. Mostly raised in Alabama, she played college tennis in Iowa and then moved to Alaska and Australia before heading back to the continental US.

While completing grad school, Goedjen worked as a tennis coach, a yoga instructor, a university writing teacher, and as an editor for a publishing house. These days, when she’s not making up stories, she's probably going for a hike, staring at a to-do list, reading a novel, or eating all of California’s seasonal fruit.

Goedjen applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Breathless, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Breathless features bullet holes, strange heirlooms, and veiled threats. On this page, sixteen-year-old Mae Cole is dealing with the aftermath of a startling event: a boy suspected of being involved with her sister’s mysterious death has just shown up on her doorstep. On top of that, one of her sister’s friends—someone Mae has never gotten along with—has just come back to town.
Mae hurried to where she’d left her bag and picked it up, slinging it over her shoulder. The weight of the green book in the canvas rested against her hip, and the pocketknife her dad had given her for her birthday poked out from the top flap. […] Then she saw Lance, for the first time in nearly a year, and her heart skidded in her chest.
This page is representative of the rest of the book since it hints at two very different threats surrounding Mae: 1) the untrustworthy people who keep showing up at her family’s isolated house in the woods, and 2) the subtle magic contained within the “green book,” a family heirloom that’s as powerful as it is dangerous. Mae doesn’t realize it yet, but her home is a place where wickedness lurks in both human and supernatural forms. She’ll need her pocketknife for protection, as well as a brave heart.

The objects and characters on page 69 foreshadow some of the secrets that are revealed in The Breathless—secrets that deal with an heirloom that’s been passed down from generation to generation in Mae’s family, and secrets that deal with Mae’s older sister, who wasn’t as perfect as Mae once believed. It’s up to Mae to find out what really happened to her sister, before history repeats itself.
Visit Tara Goedjen's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Breathless.

Writers Read: Tara Goedjen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 9, 2017

"The Revolution of Marina M."

Janet Fitch is a writer and a teacher of fiction writing.

She is the author of the #1 national bestseller White Oleander, a novel translated into 24 languages, an Oprah Book Club book and the basis of a feature film, and Paint It Black, also widely translated and made into a 2017 film.

Fitch applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Revolution of Marina M., and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Revolution of Marina M. turns out to be deliciously representative of the novel. Would a person encountering this page be likely to read on? I’d say he or she would be more likely to want to back up—it’s the aftermath of my protagonist Marina’s first sexual encounter, with a seductive young man named Kolya Shurov. She’s had a passion for him since she was six and he was twelve. Now she’s sixteen and he’s a 22-year-old officer in the Tsarist army. It’s 1917, the midst of WWI, the moment before the start of the Russian Revolution.

“It looked like we’d fought a war on the white sheets, completely untucked from the striped mattress ticking, the puffy eiderdown crushed, everything soaked with our sweat.”

The Revolution of Marina M. has a wide erotic streak. My protagonist, Marina Makarova, is a passionate, daring girl who is discovering politics, herself and her powers as a poet and as a woman. Sex is a laboratory of self, then as now--a young woman testing, pushing the limits, a wild revolution in itself.

Each erotic encounter in the book is absolutely specific to the partner and the circumstances, because for me, sex is a type of dialogue—an aspect of relationship that is only known to the two participants.  Communication is not always clear, it can be murky and stemming from questionable motives, terrifying, pitiable, obsessive or transcendent.
Visit Janet Fitch's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 7, 2017

"Deadly Dance"

Hilary Bonner is the author of many crime novels and five non-fiction books. A past Chair of the Crime Writers' Association, she was previously the showbusiness editor of the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mirror.

Bonner applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Deadly Dance, and reported the following:
A teenaged schoolgirl, Melanie Cooke, has been found murdered in a city’s red-light district.

As usual family members are the principle suspects. The girl’s parents are divorced and both remarried. On page 69, Detective Sergeant John Willis visits the girl’s stepmother.
‘It’s just routine, Mrs Cooke,’ Willis told her. ‘I’m sure you know by now that Mr Cooke’s daughter has ben found dead?’

‘Yes of course, ‘replied Susan Cooke. ‘My Terry called almost as soon as he knew the worst. Terrible, Terrible, But I can’t help you.’
She goes on to explain that she hardly knew Melanie, in spite of being married to the dead girl's father.
‘He blames me for how we live. He certainly wouldn’t bring that girl to this place. Not his little princess.’

She paused, waving a hand wearily at the small, front garden, which was a brown desert growing only the odd stinging nettle, an old bedstead, a rusting bicycle, and a pile of bulging, black plastic rubbish bags. She touched a fading bruise on her left cheek.
This is the start of an interview which leads Willis to feel justified in reporting back to his superior officer, my regular series detective, geeky DI David Vogel, a compiler of crosswords and lover of backgammon, that Terry Cooke is the most likely perpetrator.

As far as Willis is concerned, the way the couple live, the obvious tension between them, and the fading bruise point to Cooke being a violent man.

When I first looked at page 69 I did not see it as being particularly significant in the development of the book. Them, when I thought about it, I realised it is actually highly significant.

Because, like almost everything in this novel, nothing is how it first seems.

What appears to be a tragic but all too familiar murder case scenario turns out to be anything but that.

There are actually three principal protagonists in Deadly Dance who each speak in the first person. But the reader does not know who they really are. At this stage Cooke may be one of them. Or he may not.

This ‘routine interview’ with the life of a principle suspect is not at all what it seems to be in any way.  And that makes the contents of page 69 a key component within Deadly Dance.
Visit Hilary Bonner's website.

Writers Read: Hilary Bonner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"The Genius Plague"

David Walton is a science fiction and fantasy author with a growing number of novels in publication. His first, Terminal Mind, won the 2008 Philip K. Dick award for best paperback original novel.

Walton applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Genius Plague, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Genius Plague is the first page of chapter 7, in which the main character (Neil Johns) finds himself in a bit of trouble at the NSA... again.  Neil is a brilliant guy and passionate about his job as a code cracker at the NSA, but he tends to let his enthusiasm get the better of his caution.  That and his general cluelessness about how others will react to him provides some of the humor in what could otherwise be a dark book.  He is, after all, tracking a fungal infection that subtly influences people's minds, leading them to make choices that benefit the spread of the fungus.  Assassinations, suicide bombings, and military coups are turning world politics upside-down... and his own brother is infected.  Neil's energy and creative initiative, however, allow him to cut through bureaucracy and get to the truth, though it does also land him in hot water more than once.  So yes, I would say that Page 69, though it's only a glimpse into a piece of the story and doesn't touch on the main plot, is representative of the story as a whole, because it gives us a picture of who the main character is, a person uniquely able to fight against this threat to humanity.
Learn more about the book and author at David Walton's website.

Writers Read: David Walton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 4, 2017

"Something Evil Comes"

A.J. Cross, like her heroine Kate Hanson, is a Forensic Psychologist with over twenty years' experience in the field. She lives in Birmingham with her jazz-musician husband.

Cross applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Something Evil Comes, and reported the following:
I’ve heard of this test and I’ve taken a look at page 69 of Something Evil Comes to see if it is representative of the whole book.  It goes without saying that I would like for any reader skimming the page to read on. On initial consideration of the page I didn’t see that representative element. That is, until I thought about it.

This particular page focuses on the three main characters who work in the Unsolved Crime Unit.  They are discussing an interview with one of a duo of night time, would-be thieves who break into the locked crypt of a church.  The sole feature inside it is a stone sarcophagus. Hoping for valuables, they move its heavy wooden lid aside and light candles they brought to the scene. They are confronted by the fairly well preserved body of a young man whose throat has been ripped out.  He has been identified as twenty-year-old Matthew Flynn, son of one of Birmingham’s leading business entrepreneurs who disappeared a year before. The thieves flee from the crypt but one of them is apprehended shortly afterwards. Bernard Watts, the senior officer in the Unsolved Crime Unit is now conducting the initial interview with him. When the thief’s legal representative requests time alone with her client, Watts joins forensic psychologist Kate Hanson who had been observing the interview from another room, and his other colleague Lieutenant Joseph Corrigan, on secondment from the US as an armed response trainer and third member of the Unsolved Crime Unit. They discuss the information the thief has volunteered thus far and in particular his failure so far to mention the body.

Watts now returns to the interview, ready to challenge the meagre account he has been given. Having had time alone with his lawyer, the thief has had time to reconsider and is now ready to make some very limited admissions to Watts:
‘Yes, I went into that place and yes, I was looking for stuff to nick but there was nothing there so I left.’

‘Is that a fact? Short visit was it?’

‘Yeah, in and out, ten seconds tops.’

Watts sat back, thick arms folded. ‘Let’s think about that, shall we?’

‘My client has given you an admission that he broke in-.’

‘Ten seconds to get inside, walk about a bit, light some candles, have a proper look around.’ He shook his head. ‘Sounds like a few good minutes to me.’

Chivers was flustered now. ‘No ... Yeah, well it might have been a minute or two but that’s all.’

‘What about the lid?’

Chivers’ eyes darted to his solicitor. ‘What lid? I don’t know anything about no lid.’
As a forensic psychologist I’m aware of the skills needed by police officers to obtain the maximum information possible from those who are equally determined to give as little as possible of a self-incriminating nature. An added pressure is that all of these to-and-fro exchanges are closely regulated and time-constrained in the interests of fairness and justice to all.

Page 69 of Something Evil Comes reflects these demand on officers following their initial tracking down of those they think may hold vital evidence. It is a major aspect of the work of the Unsolved Crime Unit throughout the book as it tracks down those who might be minor players - or far more involved in the murder of Matthew Flynn than they are prepared  to admit.
Learn more about Something Evil Comes.

My Book, The Movie: Something Evil Comes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 2, 2017

"Chord of Evil"

Sarah Rayne is the author of a number of acclaimed psychological thrillers and haunted house books.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Chord of Evil, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
As Phin stared at it, a dizzying kaleidoscope began to whirl through his brain – a maelstrom of things half read, of fragmented stories half heard and imperfectly remembered, and of almost-forgotten rumours. He knew some of the stories and he had only ever quarter-believed them. He thought most people had only ever quarter-believed them. And yet there it was, written in sad, faded ink—

Toby’s voice, asking what he had found, broke in, and it took a moment for Phin to realize where he was. He put the music carefully down on the table, and sat back, his eyes still on it.

‘Phin, for pity’s sake—’

‘The title,’ said Phin. ‘My God, that title—’

‘What about the title? Is it Giselle again, like the painting?’ Toby came round the table to see.

‘It’s not Giselle,’ said Phin. ‘It’s Siegreich.’

Siegreich. The word spiked deep into Phin’s mind.

Toby said, ‘What’s a siegreich? Whatever it is, it’s making you look bloody peculiar.’

Phin said, ‘Music with that title is believed to have been composed sometime during the early 1940s, in Germany.’


‘It’s a piece of music that’s almost a legend,’ said Phin. ‘One of those curious stories that sometimes emerge from wartime. The kind where you don’t know what’s true, and what’s embroidered truth, and what’s outright fiction. The story is that the Nazis got hold of a composer who was living in Germany and persuaded him to write a piece of music for them. And when the Nazis used persuasion—’

‘Point taken. For persuasion read force.’
Phineas Fox, music historian and researcher, for his second outing might have found himself imbroiled in any one of half a dozen plots, ancient or modern, classical or rock or jazz, any of which could be based on true stories.

But for Chord of Evil, I latched onto the infamous tritone – the ‘Devil’s Chord’.

The devil’s chord has been described as one of the most dissonant music intervals that exists – so much so, that it was banned in Renaissance church music.  Church music was supposed to be a paeon of praise to God, and the tritone was considered so ugly that it wasn’t thought suitable.  Medieval arrangements even used it to represent the devil, and Roman Catholic composers sometimes used it for referencing the act of the crucifixion.  Its dissonance can work to advantage in some cases, though.  It’s remarkably effective as background music in films, where it can serve as a warning to the audience that something bad’s about to happen.  That harsh discordance that tells you the killer’s outside the door with an axe.  Think shower curtains in Psycho.

It occurred to me that the devil’s chord might make a guest appearance in a composition that had become part of music legend.  But what could that legend be?

Well, as somebody once said, if you can’t find a genuine legend, create one of your own.

Music has often been composed to celebrate great events – coronations, births, victory in war.  But what about a legend in which a piece of music was written to celebrate not a happy, or a triumphant event, but something far darker?  Something so menacing its existence was kept secret?

It was at that point that I saw the whole plot.  I could see Phineas Fox peeling back the layers of a secret that had lain undisturbed for three quarters of a century – glimpsing edges and corners of it, and ending in delving into a very grisly fragment of musical history indeed.

And so, Chord of Evil was born.
Visit Sarah Rayne's website.

Writers Read: Sarah Rayne.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 30, 2017

"The Woman in the Camphor Trunk"

Jennifer Kincheloe is a public health research scientist turned writer of historical mysteries. She pens the Anna Blanc mystery series, set in 1900s Los Angeles, featuring a young socialite turned LAPD police matron with an insatiable need to solve crimes. Kincheloe recently entered the world of criminal justice herself when she took a job with the Denver Sheriff Department studying the jails.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new Anna Blanc novel, The Woman in the Camphor Trunk, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Joe scoffed, stuck both hands in her big skirt pockets and rummaged around, almost touching her thigh through three blessed layers of fabric.

Anna bit her lip. “Masher.”

He produced the framed picture. “That’s it. You’re out.” His finger shot toward the door. “This is my case, and I won’t have you disturbing the apartment before I’ve finished going over it.”

“I haven’t touched anything else.” She decided not to mention the tea.

He took Anna by the arm and steered her outside. “Stay away from my crime scene.”

“You’re just using that as an excuse to get me out of Chinatown. Well, I don’t want to go.” Anna turned and went back inside.

Joe followed. “Wolf didn’t authorize you to work this case.” He grabbed her by the waist and pulled her backward. Anna dragged her heels. Joe pulled harder. Anna sat down. She began to crawl back toward the crime scene where she belonged.

He stepped on her skirt. “I could arrest you.”

“But you won’t.”

“And why is that?”

“I’m a good sleuth and our chance of solving this crime is even better with two of us on the case. Admit it.”

“I knew once you got a taste of this case you wouldn’t leave it alone. You’re going back to Central Station where it’s safe.” He grabbed her under the arms, pulling her up and onto her backside.

She scooted along on her bottom, her skirt pushing up to reveal her stockinged shins, but Anna didn’t care. Why should she care? Propriety had gotten her nowhere. She simply closed her eyes tight so that she couldn’t see them.

Joe sighed and let go. When she opened her eyes, he was tugging down her hem. He extended a hand to help her up. She eyed him suspiciously.

He said, “We tracked mud on that floor. If you aren’t careful, you’ll stain your uniform.”

Anna looked at the muddy floorboards and considered. Joe knew more about laundry than she did, and she did need to wear this uniform tomorrow. She took his hand and allowed him to pull her to her feet.

“Sherlock, you make my life hell.”

“My pleasure.”
Page 69 finds Anna and her former sweetheart, Detective Joe Singer, in Chinatown where they’ve discovered the body of a missionary stuffed in a trunk in the apartment of her Chinese lover. It conveys the tone of the story and the tension between Anna and Joe. This is a mystery with humor and a strong romantic subplot. RT Book Reviews described Anna Blanc as “I Love Lucy meets Agatha Christie.” I think that’s perfect.
Visit Jennifer Kincheloe's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"Valiant Dust"

A former United States Navy officer and a well-known game designer, Richard Baker is the author of over a dozen novels, including the New York Times best seller Condemnation (2003) and the highly acclaimed The Last Mythal trilogy (2004–2006). He is a lifelong devotee of science fiction and fantasy, a history enthusiast (particularly military history), and an avid fan of games of all kinds.

Baker applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Valiant Dust, and reported the following:
This struck me as a really interesting challenge, just because I tend to do this when I’m deciding whether to buy a book in the store (although I don’t pick a specific page number to check). Anyway, I had no idea which scene I’d find myself in by flipping to page 69 of Valiant Dust until I looked.
Lara gave Randall a sharp look, but a moment later she smiled coolly and intertwined her arm with Sikander’s. “I am sorry if it was not clear before, Mr. Randall, but Sikander is my date for the evening. And I certainly wouldn’t refer to a culture so rich and artistically mature as Kashmir’s as disadvantaged in any way.”

“If you say so,” Randall replied. “I suppose primitive belief systems are quite fascinating. The fact that they have survived up to the modern day says quite a lot about human nature—although not much that is complimentary, I am afraid.”

“Oh, here it comes again,” Magdalena Juarez said. “Hiram, no one cares what you think about their beliefs. Leave it alone.”

“I don’t mean to offend,” Randall said. “I am sincerely trying to satisfy my own curiosity. What exactly is the nature of Ms. Dunstan’s interest in this arrangement? Political? Charitable? Anthropological, perhaps?”

“Ms. Dunstan’s interests are none of your business, Mr. Randall,” said Sikander in an icy tone.

“I don’t see that they ought to be yours, either.” Randall gave a small shrug and took a level sip from the highball glass in his hand.
Well, that’s an interesting spot to land on! It turns out that this is the scene where Sikander North, the protagonist of the story, stands up to his shipmate Hiram Randall when Randall does his level best to provoke Sikander into taking a swing at him. It’s a social occasion—the Governor’s Ball on the planet of New Perth—and Randall has made it clear more than once already that he doesn’t believe Sikander North, a Kashmiri, is qualified to serve in Aquila’s star navy. Hiram Randall is a mean drunk, and Sikander is just about ready to slug him when all of Hector’s officers are summoned back to the ship by an emergency recall.

The reason this scene is in the book is that it offers a glimpse of the social life of serving officers. Many military SF books show the characters only in the context of the military challenges they’re facing—they rarely seem to leave the bridge. But fleet life isn’t just about being on a ship 24-7; what you do on your off time is also important. I also meant to convey something about the refinement and genteel manners of high-ranking officers in the Aquilan Navy (although Hiram Randall is currently acting like an ass). Finally, the scene illustrates the smugness and elitism of Aquila’s atheistic monoculture; people like Randall are contemptuous of the culture and traditions of more isolated planets such as Sikander’s homeworld.

Is page 69 representative of Valiant Dust? I think my answer is sort of. The central conflict of the story revolves around Great Powers fighting for control of a valuable colony world. The Governor’s Ball of New Perth doesn’t directly figure into the unrest, chaos, politics, and military conflicts roiling the planet of Gadira. But it does help to establish who Sikander is and what sort of challenges he faces from his own side when he has to begin making choices between what’s good for Aquila—the Great Power in whose navy he serves—and what’s right for the people of Gadira, whose plight is very familiar to him.
Visit Richard Baker's website.

Writers Read: Richard Baker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"To Guard Against the Dark"

For twenty years, Canadian author/ former biologist Julie E. Czerneda has shared her curiosity about living things through her science fiction. She’s also written fantasy, the first installments of her Night’s Edge series A Turn of Light and A Play of Shadow, winning consecutive Aurora Awards (Canada’s Hugo) for Best English Novel. Czerneda has edited/co-edited sixteen anthologies of SF/F, two Aurora winners. Her latest is SFWA’s 2017 Nebula Award Showcase, and her next will be an anthology set in her Clan Chronicles series: Tales from Plexis. Her new SF novel, finale to that series, is To Guard Against the Dark.

Czerneda applied the Page 69 Test to To Guard Against the Dark and reported the following:
From page 69:
The driver dropped to the ground and ran away.

At first, the passengers seemed too stunned to move, their reactions comical, mouths flapping, arms waving--

Then one fragmented, components scurrying over the sides of the ramp and away—

—as the other two vanished from sight, without taking a single step.

Terk stared. Swallowed, hard. “Got to be a mistake. Problem with the vid.”

“My equipment’s prime--”

“No mistake,” Morgan said heavily. The Assembler? Given the source of the cargo, he’d have been surprised not to find one or more involved. As for the others?

“Don’t take this wrong, Morgan, but I thought the Clan were extinct,” Terk grumbled, as though this shift in his universe was a personal affront. “Thought the Assemblers made them extinct. We were sure.”

“We were wrong.”
When I took up the challenge of checking my own page 69—would it be representative of the whole book, would it entice a reader--I wasn’t sure what I’d find. I’m delighted by what I did.

The relationship between Jason Morgan, my protagonist, and Russell Terk began in the first book published in the Clan Chronicles series, and there are now nine. Both Human, one driven by a personal code, the other a Trade Pact Enforcer tasked with preventing interspecies strife—and frequently frustrated in his attempts. Both formidable in their way. I’m sure readers of the series appreciated my putting them together as erstwhile partners.

As well, this snip sets up the underlying conflict of the final volume in the series: the Clan shouldn’t be here and what about the Assemblers? (Among my favourite aliens.) To anyone familiar with the series, or only the previous book, The Gate to Futures Past, their appearance is the sound of an alarm.


I do believe I passed the test.
Visit Julie E. Czerneda's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 27, 2017

"Winter of Ice and Iron"

Rachel Neumeier started writing fiction to relax when she was a graduate student and needed a hobby unrelated to her research. Prior to selling her first fantasy novel, she had published only a few articles in venues such as The American Journal of Botany. However, finding that her interests did not lie in research, Rachel left academia and began to let her hobbies take over her life instead.

She now raises and shows dogs, gardens, cooks, and occasionally finds time to read. She works part-time for a tutoring program, though she tutors far more students in Math and Chemistry than in English Composition.

Neumeier applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Winter of Ice and Iron, and reported the following:
For most novels, page 69 should be past the introduction but well before events start rising toward the climax. In Winter, this page turns out to be mostly worldbuilding. I always avoid infodumping backstory right at the beginning of the book, but that means working in short bits of backstory and worldbuilding throughout the story, and p. 69 is one place where that happens.

On page 69, twelve percent of the way through the book, the story hits a quiet moment between disasters. At this point, Kehera Raëhema has left her own land, renouncing her claim to the throne of Harivir and her tie to her country’s strongest Immanent Power, in order to protect her people and the land itself. But she hasn’t yet arrived at her destination, met the Mad King of Emmer, shattered his plans, escaped, or found herself caught up in a sweeping tide of greater events than she can yet imagine. In this quiet moment, she has a chance to reflect and the reader has an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the world:
The Gods were mysterious and nameless, uncountable and unknowable. Folk prayed to the Fortunate Gods and hoped for their favor, but in ordinary days, no one expected them to take much notice of one person or another. But these did not seem like ordinary days to Kehera.

At least the Fortunate Gods wanted the world to prosper. They wanted the land to produce Immanent Powers that would someday rise to join them. The Unfortunate Gods wanted to shatter every land and force the apotheosis of every Immanent into their own company….Fortunate Gods quickened the warming earth in the spring and the seed in the fields and the baby in the womb; Unfortunate Gods brought the killing winds and the winter dragons. That was all an ordinary person needed to know. It was certainly all Kehera needed to know.

She made a silent oath: that she would do what she had to do to protect Harivir…. That she would do her best to teach nothing of bitterness or resentment to the Immanent of Raëh, so that in its time, far in the future, when it rose, it would become a Fortunate God.

In the predawn stillness, the unvoiced oath had the feel of truth. A light wind from the west ruffled the grass stems and picked up dust from the road to swirl into tiny whirlwinds. A vast sweep of cloud stretched across the line of the road and off to the east, dark slate against the pearl of the sky. It was going to be a beautiful morning, and almost against her will, Kehera felt her spirits lift.
In the next paragraph, Kehera arrives at the city of Suriytè, capital of the enemy nation of Emmer. Five pages later she meets the Mad King of Emmer. His plans go wrong immediately. Shortly thereafter, so do hers. The Gods, Fortunate and Unfortunate, exert their subtle influence, or occasionally not so subtle, and the world begins its plunge toward winter and the dark turn of the year, when the choices and actions of just a few women and men will decide whether the world turns back toward spring or is consumed by chaos.
Visit Rachel Neumeier's website.

My Book, The Movie: Winter of Ice and Iron.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 26, 2017

"The Resurrection of Joan Ashby"

Cherise Wolas is a writer, lawyer, and film producer. She received a BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and a JD from Loyola Law School.

Wolas applied the Page 69 Test to The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Joan Ashby, acclaimed writer, which she always intended to be, and new mother, which she never intended to be, has refused her husband’s suggestion of a nanny. She has fallen in love with her unexpected child, and is not keen on having their very small house overrun. Eight weeks after giving birth to Daniel, Joan finds her study a frozen preserve, her typewriter lifeless and cold, and realizes Martin is right—a nanny would free up some hours for her work. A week later, Joan opens the door to a young woman who has come for the position. Despite the thirty-degree snowy cold, Fancy is coatless, gloveless, and hatless, sporting a tropical-colored dress. This young Canadian, with hair the color of wet sand, is a talker, a tea-lover, and eager to put to use her lifetime of caring for younger siblings.

Page 69 completes this “interview” between Joan and Fancy. And yet it’s not really been an interview at all—Fancy has talked about her life, how she and her best friend Trudy decided on Rhome because of the street named Strada di Felicità, about the Queen of England sipping soup, the shade of yellow paint Joan and Martin chose for the nursery that Fancy likes because of its positive psychological aspects, and has demonstrated she can change the sheets in the crib without waking the baby. Joan never liked Mary Poppins—“She hated that movie as a child, all that officiousness, as if children could not know their own minds…” but watching Fancy, Joan’s perspective alters. Fancy seems magical and usually solitary Joan instantly brings her into their lives.

I certainly hope this page would encourage readers to keep reading! Page 69 is representational of the book, in terms of its close attention to details, the way Fancy’s personal history further highlights the smallness of Joan and Martin’s own families, and continues the division between Joan’s prior solitary writing life and her current new life as a mother. But the page is an anomaly too—because Fancy could be a character in one of Joan’s stories. She also marks a quiet truth about the serendipity of connectivity that runs through the book.
Visit Cherise Wolas's website.

Writers Read: Cherise Wolas.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 24, 2017

"Bucket's List"

Gary Blackwood is the award-winning author of more than thirty novels and non-fiction titles for children and young adults, including the bestselling Shakespeare series. Born and raised in western Pennsylvania, he now lives in Canada.

Blackwood applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Bucket's List, and reported the following:
When I taught a college-level playwriting course many years ago, I spent a lot of time (more than the students would have liked, I’m sure) stressing the importance of dramatic structure.  It worked so well for writing plays that I started applying it to my books as well.  For a time, I outlined novels in advance, making sure I knew just where the conflict would begin and where the turning point would be, and so on.  I like to think that, by now, hewing to those principles has become second nature.

Looking at page 69 of Bucket’s List, it seems that it has—more or less.   Though I didn’t consciously pay much attention to structure, it’s in there.  That page falls slightly more than a quarter of the way through the book, which (if you don’t get too anal about it) is roughly where the main conflict should get underway.  And as it happens, it’s the spot at which Inspector Field encounters his nemesis, the nefarious Neck, in person for the first time (in the course of this tale, at least)—and lets him get away.  Since the inspector spends the rest of the story trying to catch up with Neck, I think we can successfully argue that this is where the conflict really kicks in.

And is page 69 representative of the book as a whole?  Well, I think that any reader who dips a toe into the book, so to speak, at this point in order to test the waters will get a pretty good idea of what lurks beneath the surface.  First off, we’re thrust into the middle of an action scene, as Neck flees and Charley tries to stop him:
Though he’s no crack shot, the revolver is his best bet.  He has no qualms about plugging the man; whether he killed Rosa or not, he’s committed more than enough crimes to deserve shooting.  Charley rests the gun butt on the window sill, wraps his finger—the middle one, not the crooked index finger—around the trigger, takes careful aim, fires.

The bullet finds its target; Neck falls to his knees, clawing at his shattered shoulder blade.  Charley is sure he’s done for.  But that’s what the hangman thought, too.  It seems the damned villain is indestructible.  He’s down for only a moment before he staggers to his feet and stumbles forward.  When he reaches the far end of the roof, he swings himself over the edge and disappears.
Then we get to see Inspector Field doing what he does best: gathering and interpreting clues—or at least trying to:
The detective scans the pavement for drops of blood or footprints that might lead him in the right direction, but it’s hopeless; there’s too little light and too much slush.  Among the many valuable things Charley learned during his policing career is his vast vocabulary of curse words.  Normally he makes sparing use of them, but now he avails himself of all his favorites.

Returning to the alley, he surveys the side of the harness shop.  He’s always despised drainpipes; they provide much too convenient a ladder for lead-stealers and attic thieves.  Now he has even more reason to hate them; it’s obvious from the way the pipe is pulled away from the brick wall that, despite his grievous wound, Neck somehow managed to clamber down it.
There’s more to the story than just action and detection, of course, and more to Charley’s character as well, but those two elements crop up again and again--as they tend to do in mysteries.
Learn more about Bucket's List.

My Book, The Movie: Bucket's List.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 23, 2017

"The Temptation of Adam"

Dave Connis writes words you can sing and words you can read. He lives in Chattanooga, TN with his wife, Clara and a dog that barks at non-existent threats.

Connis applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Temptation of Adam, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He throws his hands in the air defensively. "Fine, so I still want to figure out how to get your mom back. There are so many men who just give up on love, though. Why can’t I be one willing to fight for it? Doesn’t the world need that?"

I let out two good, fake throw-up noises and point at my neck. "Sorry. Cluster of Cocoa Puffs stuck in my throat."

"Grow up, kid," he says, shoving my head to the side.

The annoyed smile on his face makes me laugh. I’ve got to admit, I’ve liked my dad a lot more since I got suspended from school, and I don’t say either part of that sentence that a lot.
This is a conversation between Adam and his dad once they, sort of, make amends. It's representative of the book because this is the beginning of Adam coming around to people again, from here, we see him realize that attempting to trust and love other people is a big part of his healing.
Visit Dave Connis's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Temptation of Adam.

Writers Read: Dave Connis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"Seriously Hexed"

Tina Connolly is the author of the Ironskin trilogy from Tor Books, and the Seriously Wicked series from Tor Teen. Her novels have been finalists for the Nebula and Norton awards.

Connolly applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Seriously Hexed, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The doorbell was large and prominent. So large and prominent that we simultaneously looked at each other and said, “Booby trap.”

It was the first moment we’d done anything in tandem. But I ruined it by saying, “Jinx! You owe me a Coke.” Poppy ignored this.

“Okay, no doorbell,” she said. She fiddled with her phone.

“Different spell?” I said.

“Megaphone app,” she said. Into the phone she said, “Valda, come out. I’m Lily’s daughter and this is Sarmine’s daughter.” The amplified sound boomed around the yard.

“She knows me,” I muttered.

“We just want to ask you a few questions,” continued Poppy. “Then you can go back to—”

“To dropping anvils on kittens or whatever it is you do,” I put in.
On this page of Seriously Hexed, reluctant teenage witch Cam and her sort of ally, super teen witch Poppy, are busy investigating a mystery that happens at the end of chapter one. (No, I won’t tell you what that mystery is!) The two girls are entirely different—Cam hates magic and Poppy is a type A, A+ student of it, for starters—but they have to learn to work together over the course of the book.

I like that this excerpt shows some of their awkwardness together—Poppy is focused and prepared, while Cam is making jokes and being a dork—but also one of the first times, as Cam notices, that they are on the same page about something. I really enjoyed writing the complicated path of two strangers eventually learning how to trust each other and become friends.
Visit Tina Connolly's website and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Seriously Wicked.

The Page 69 Test: Seriously Wicked.

The Page 69 Test: Seriously Shifted.

Writers Read: Tina Connolly.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

"A Season to Lie"

Emily Littlejohn was born and raised in southern California. She has called Colorado home since 2003.

Littlejohn applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Season to Lie, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
The sound of a car engine pulled my attention from the trash can. Finn met me at the front door. He looked tired. The shadows under his baby blues were dark and his normally immaculate clothes were rumpled.

"Sorry to drag you out on a Sunday," I said. "Late night?"

Finn yawned and shrugged at the same time. He ignored my question. "It's an active murder investigation. I don't want you to get all the glory. Did you go in yet?"

I shook my head. "Nope."
I read A Season to Lie's page 69 and it was great fun! At this page in the mystery, Detective Gemma Monroe has arrived at the rental property of Delaware Fuente, a famous author who has been brutally murdered at a private high school in her resort town of Cedar Valley, Colorado. The amount of snow on his car leads her to believe that the car hasn't been driven in a few days, which begs the question: how did he get to the school? Did he know his killer? As she pokes around the property, her partner Finn Nowlin arrives. The scene is a great snapshot of the ways in which the two detectives both complement each other and bring unique talents to the case.
Visit Emily Littlejohn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"The Last Mrs. Parrish"

Liv Constantine is the writing team of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine.

They applied the Page 69 Test to their new psychological thriller, The Last Mrs. Parrish, and reported the following:
Up to this point Amber’s plans have gone swimmingly, and her insinuation into Daphne’s life much easier than she expected. On Page 69 Amber meets Jackson for the first time and is unprepared and overwhelmed. She also sees that Jackson and Daphne’s pint sized daughter Bella might very well become a stumbling block for her. Daphne was easy. Now Amber needs to reign in her awe at Jackson and replace it with unemotional planning if she is to forge ahead with her plans. And somehow she needs to turn the spoiled and mistrustful Bella into her ally. She sees for the first time, that it’s going to take more than just scheming and raw sex appeal to make Jackson hers.

Page 69 is not representative of the book - it only hints at some of the truths to be revealed later.
Visit Liv Constantine's website and Valerie Constantine's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 17, 2017

"Dying to Live"

Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Their mysteries are set in Botswana, each against a backdrop of a current issue in southern Africa. Their protagonist is David “Kubu” Bengu, assistant superintendent in the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department (CID). The third novel in the series, Death of the Mantis, was short listed for an Edgar and an Anthony, and won the Barry Award for best paperback original mystery of 2011.

The authors applied the Page 69 Test to Dying to Live, the sixth Detective Kubu mystery, and reported the following:
Page 69—it’s the start of a chapter, so it’s short:
Festus Moeng pulled his truck into the parking bay outside Gaborone’s 4x4 4U Car Rental, climbed out, and slammed the door, not bothering to lock it. He walked into the office and was pleased to discover that it was empty except for a bored-looking clerk, who glanced up at Festus and then returned his attention to his computer screen.

Festus walked over, spread his large hands on the counter, and announced, “I need some assistance here.”

The man looked up. Festus was pleased to see his expression become more respectful as his eyes scanned up Festus’s six-foot-six height with breadth to match. Still, the man held the home ground. “How can I help?” he asked casually.

“I need some information about a vehicle rented by a Dr. Christopher Collins.” He shoved a printout of an email across the counter. “Here’s the reservation confirmation. We need to know where the vehicle is now.”

The receptionist picked up the email and glanced at it. “And you are?”
Is the piece representative of the book?

Not really, and yet there are some clues here. Festus is a bully and will get his way. He’s looking for someone in the Kalahari, someone who is missing. Why the Kalahari? It’s a semi-desert area that covers a huge tract of South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.  Easy to get lost in, easy to find previously undiscovered things in.

In fact, Dr. Collins is on the track of a plant, a plant purported to have remarkable properties—properties that can lead to healing and the extension of life.  One Bushman is thought to have the plant.  Such a thing would be valuable beyond belief to people who want it for themselves, people who want it for money, and even people who want it to save others.

The backstory is biopiracy—stealing the traditional knowledge of indigenous people for gain, but the theme of the book is greed and how it infects and challenges all the characters. There are the other Bushmen who suspect the plant’s existence but don’t have it, the witch doctor who claims to have it but does not, the anthropologist who is diverted to hunt for it, the drug company hunting for him, even our detective, Kubu, whose wife wants it to save her daughter.

Does the plant even exist? It doesn’t matter if people believe that it does.
Learn more about the book and authors at Michael Stanley's website.

The Page 69 Test: Deadly Harvest.

My Book, The Movie: Dying to Live.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"The Memory Trees"

Kali Wallace, for most of her life, was going to be a scientist when she grew up. She studied geology in college, partly because she could get course credit for hiking and camping, and eventually earned a PhD in geophysics researching earthquakes in India and the Himalayas. Only after she had her shiny new doctorate in hand did she admit that she loved inventing imaginary worlds as much as she liked exploring the real one.

Wallace applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Memory Trees, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Memory Trees starts with the main character, Sorrow, waking up after the first night she's spent in her childhood bedroom in eight years--and right away she finds that something is missing:
If she had been given a choice, she wouldn't have left them behind. But nobody had asked her. She didn't remember who had packed her things. Grandma, probably. Maybe Dad. Verity had already been hospitalized by then.

Sorrow pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes to chase away the sudden sting of tears. They were only things. Trinkets and toys. She hadn't even remembered them until just now.
It's a quiet moment, a girl alone in a bedroom that was once familiar to her, a beautiful summer day dawning outside, but even in this moment hints of tension creep in. What's missing from her bedroom is a collection of childhood treasures: found objects that were once incredibly important to her. A few paragraphs down the page she asks her grandmother where the objects have gone. Nobody knows, it turns out, and Sorrow is left wondering why something that had once been so cherished could have vanished not only from her otherwise untouched bedroom, but from her own memories.

Both the objects and the memories play a much bigger role as the story goes on, but page 69 is the first time they are linked together. In that respect it is absolutely representative of the book as a whole. It's a scene which builds the conflict between past and present, between what's remembered and what's forgotten, a conflict that is at the very heart of the The Memory Trees.
Visit Kali Wallace's website.

Writers Read: Kali Wallace.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"The Vineyard Victims"

Ellen Crosby is the author of the Virginia wine country mystery series, which began with The Merlot Murders. She has also written a mystery series featuring international photojournalist Sophie Medina, and Moscow Nights, a standalone. Previously she was a freelance reporter for The Washington Post, Moscow correspondent for ABC News Radio, and an economist at the U.S. Senate.

Crosby applied the Page 69 Test to The Vineyard Victims, the eighth Wine Country Mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Can you tell us what happened yesterday?”

“Did you see Jamie Vaughn’s car crash into your wall?”

“Was he speeding? Were you speeding?”

“Were two cars involved, yours and his? Did Jamie swerve to avoid your car, which was seen in a ditch by the side of the road?”

“Did you call 911?”

“Were you able to talk to him?”

“Did you try to save him?”

“Where were you when he crashed into the wall?”

“Lucie, can you describe your emotions as you watched Jamie Vaughn’s car go up in flames? Take us through it, please.”

Finally Quinn held up his hand as though he were negotiating for a truce. “That’s enough. Please, stop. You’re all talking over each other,” he repeated in a loud voice until everyone quieted down. “Lucie has a statement and that’s all she’s prepared to say.”

I found Pippa O’Hara in the crowd, which wasn’t hard given her blazing red hair and electric blue windbreaker, and tried to keep my face expressionless. “All of us at Montgomery Estate Vineyard would like to extend our deepest condolences to Jamie Vaughn’s family after the tragic accident yesterday that took his life. I have nothing more to say, other than like so many people, I am grieving the loss of a friend and a good man. Everything else you might want to know should be directed to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department and the Middleburg Fire and Rescue Department. Thank you.”

I turned to go inside when a voice drawled, “Lucie, Pippa O’Hara, News Channel 3. Why are you covering up what really happened to Jamie Vaughn?”

I spun around. “I beg your pardon?”
Years ago I heard Michael Connelly say that in every scene of every book he writes someone must want something that propels the story forward, even if it’s only a glass of water. I took that advice to heart because my fondest hope is to hear from a tired, grumpy fan who writes to tell me he or she stayed up all night reading my book because they couldn’t put it down.

On page 69 of The Vineyard Victims, Lucie Montgomery is finally forced to confront the press as the only witness to a fiery car crash that killed former presidential candidate Jamie Vaughn at the entrance to her vineyard. Lucie heard Jamie’s last words—
Tell Rick to forgive me
—and she begins to wonder if the crash might have been deliberate. Jamie’s family insists it was a tragic accident on a rain-slicked country road since Jamie had no reason to want to take his life. His wife and best friend explain that the mysterious “Rick” was a campaign donor who had a falling out with Jamie—so Jamie merely wanted to make amends.

In this scene Lucie doesn’t feel compelled to admit anything to Pippa O’Hara, the Channel 3 reporter.  But sooner rather than later she must wrestle with her own conscience: find out who Rick really is and risk destroying the reputation of a beloved and generous member of the community ... or do nothing.
Visit Ellen Crosby's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 13, 2017

"Greetings from Witness Protection!"

Jake Burt teaches the fifth grade in Connecticut.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Greetings from Witness Protection!, his fiction debut, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Greetings from Witness Protection! is actually one of the most pivotal pages in the entire book. Upon that page, the main character, Nicki Demere, meets the Sicurezza family for the first time. It's a momentous occasion for her, because she's been "adopted" by the US marshals to join this new family in order to better hide them from the criminals chasing them; as the title suggests, they're going into the witness protection program, or WITSEC.

In fact, the moment is so fraught for Nicki (who, as part of her acceptance into WITSEC has changed her name to Charlotte) that she spends the bulk of the page trying to stall for as long as possible; after all, the people she's about to meet will be her new family for all intents and purposes. I really like how Nicki/Charlotte's attempts to build up her courage add tension while allowing her to use her trademark sardonic humor to keep the reader engaged on her level. I also got to take a well-earned dig at one of life's most aggravating contrivances: the low-water-pressure drinking fountain. I'm convinced there's a level of Hell that's neverending desert, save for a single cruddy rest stop in the middle around which all the poor souls gather. There's table after table of garlic and olive tapenade, along with super-salty pita points. The damned can eat as much as they like. However, when they get thirsty, all they see is a lone drinking fountain, jutting from the tan-painted cinderblock wall. It works, but just barely, and the last billion or so people to use it all had plenty of that garlicy tapenade...

As for how Nicki gets along with her brand-new mother, father, and kid brother? Well, I will say it's not as dramatic as drinking fountain Hell...

...but it's not too far off, either...
Visit Jake Burt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 11, 2017

"Wolf Season"

Helen Benedict is a professor at Columbia University and the author of seven novels, including the just-published Wolf Season, and her previous novel, Sand Queen, a Publishers Weekly “Best Contemporary War Novel.” She writes frequently about justice, women, soldiers, and war.

Benedict applied the Page 69 Test to Wolf Season and reported the following:
From page 69:
Louis drove them to his favorite refuge; a nature preserve called Myosotis, just south of Huntsville. During those nights in Iraq when the sleep was driven from him by doubts or heat, aches or illness, the deeds of the day burning into him like a branding iron, he would try to escape by walking through this park in his memory, forcing himself to recall every twist of its trails, landmark oak or hemlock; every hawk or bald eagle he had seen sailing over its lake. Myosotis, he knew, was Greek for forget-me-not.

Parking on the edge of a tree-shaded road, he led them down a pebbled path, a stream on one side, a mossy bank on the other, a wash of golden-green light trickling through the dense woods around them. It was a torpid August day, but here the air was leaf-cool and fresh, and as he gestured for Naema and Tariq to move ahead of him, he saw her lift her face and inhale.
This scene is a flashback to when Louis, an Iraq War army veteran, first gets to know Naema and her little son, Tariq, refugees from that same war. In some ways, the page does a good job of representing the novel, for nature is important in this story, as is the way war reaches out to entangle people, even in a little American town like Huntsville, New York.

The novel is set in this town of Huntsville, and every character – three mothers, their three children, Louis, and an active duty marine named Todd – are all affected by war. True to the title, wolves are in this novel, too, but if readers want to find out why, they will have to read it!
Learn more about Helen Benedict and her work at her official website.

My Book, The Movie: Sand Queen.

The Page 69 Test: Sand Queen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 9, 2017

"Wonder Valley"

Ivy Pochoda is the author of the novels Visitation Street and The Art of Disappearing.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Wonder Valley, and reported the following:
So page 69 of Wonder Valley is one of my favorite scenes—and it's like nothing else in the entire book. The novel bounces back and forth between the streets of Skid Row and the hardscrabble Mojave Desert. But this page take place in an upper middle class house in the somewhat fancy Beverlywood section of Los Angeles. It's a nice respite from the heat and the elements in the other chapters. But also, it its own way, demonstrates that the same alienation and longing that afflicts the more conventionally desperate characters, plagues Tony, the semi-successful but professionally and emotionally stagnant lawyer whose house it is. This page has my favorite line in all of my novel—when Tony's jaded daughter sympathizes with him by saying, "I feel you Daddy.... It's a grind, right?" The oblivious wisdom of teenagers always tickles me.
Learn more about the book and author at Ivy Pochoda's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Art of Disappearing.

Writers Read: Ivy Pochoda.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

"Even If It Kills Her"

Kate White is the New York Times bestselling author of twelve novels of suspense: seven Bailey Weggins mysteries, including Even If It Kills Her, five psychological thrillers, including The Secrets You Keep.

White applied the Page 69 Test to Even If It Kills Her and reported the following:
Well, I did the “page 69” test for Even If It Kills Her, and I have to say it was not only fun but downright uncanny. In some way the page really is a microcosm of the whole book, and I like to think that if viewed alone, the page would entice a reader to devour the whole mystery right to the shocking, twisty end.

Even If It Kills Her opens with true-crime author Bailey Weggins being implored by her college friend Jillian Lowe to find out who murdered Jillian’s parents and two siblings sixteen years ago. The convicted killer, it turns out, didn’t do it. Jillian’s former home is now up for sale and on page 69, Bailey tours the house, posing as a prospective buyer. While she’s there, she takes photos of the room Jillian’s sister was found in, and later those pictures provide her with a critical clue that points toward the real murderer.

The action on page 69 also reflects just how industrious and relentless Bailey is and also how willing she is to step back and view situations from a different angle, which is sometimes the only way to finally see the truth.
Visit Kate White's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 5, 2017

"Jade City"

Fonda Lee is the award-winning author of the gangster fantasy saga Jade City and the young adult science fiction novels Zeroboxer and Exo. Lee is a recovering corporate strategist, a black belt martial artist, and an action movie aficionado. She loves a good Eggs Benedict. Born and raised in Canada, she now lives in Portland, Oregon.

Lee applied the Page 69 Test to Jade City and reported the following:
Jade City is the first book in an epic fantasy trilogy. While it has magic jade, gangsters, political intrigue, and martial arts battles, at its heart, it’s a story about a family—the Kauls. On page 69, we witness a conversation between two of the main characters, Hilo and his adopted younger cousin, Anden. Hilo is the Horn (chief enforcer and military leader) of the family clan. He thinks of Anden as his protégé and is grooming him to be a jade-wielding commander like himself.
“You have to pay attention this year and start thinking about which of your classmates you’ll want as your Fingers. Skill is important, but not everything. You want the ones who are loyal and disciplined. Who won’t start shit but won’t take any either.”

The combination of the adrenaline crash and Hilo’s words made Anden’s fingers shake. He took a drag on the cigarette. “Kaul-jen,” he started.

“Godsdamnit, Andy. Do I have to beat you up some more? Stop talking to me like that.” He threw his arm around Anden’s shoulders. Anden flinched, but Hilo pulled him in and gave him a fierce kiss on the cheek. “You’re as much my brother as Lan is. You know that.”
Anden is one of my favorite characters. 18 years old, mixed-race, and queer, he’s still a student but wants very much to fit into the clan of the powerful Kaul family. Despite his cousin’s assurances, he harbors doubts about his ability to do so.
Anden felt a rush of embarrassed warmth. He couldn’t help glancing around to see if anyone had witnessed Hilo’s outburst of affection.

Hilo noticed, and teased, “What, are you worried about them getting the wrong idea? ’Cause they know you like boys?” When Anden stared at him, stunned, Hilo laughed. “I’m not stupid, cousin. Some of the most powerful Green Bones in history were queers. You think it matters to me? Just don’t forget: Soon you’ll have to be careful about who you’re with, who might be eying you for your green.”

Anden sat down heavily on the stone retaining wall. […] “Hilo,” he said slowly, “what if I can’t handle jade after all? What if it’s not in me? I’m only half Kekonese.”
The overt and the subtle frictions between members of the Kaul family will have enormous influence on what happens throughout the story, and in this interaction, we get a sense that those relationships will be sorely tested. Hilo and Anden play a pivotal role together in the climax of the book roughly four hundred pages later, one that will forever change them both, so readers who’re intrigued by their conversation on page 69 won’t be disappointed.
Visit Fonda Lee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 3, 2017

"What We Reckon"

Eryk Pruitt is a screenwriter, author and filmmaker living in Durham, NC with his wife Lana and cat Busey. His short films have won several awards at film festivals across the US.

Pruitt applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, What We Reckon, and reported the following:
When we join our "hero" on page 69 of What We Reckon, Jack Jordan has joined Ben Matlin on a sojourn down South to Houston so they can score more Ecstasy to sell to college students. Jack has no idea how deep of shit he's in, as they make their purchase from the cross-dressing club owner, Beef Guidry.

In a fit of mish-mashed sexual tensions and misunderstandings, Jack is only pages away from realizing the true stakes of his bad planning.
Before Jack could speak, he was guided by the waist toward the framed photo of Ava Gardner. Two hefty lines of powder stretched across her lovely face. Beef waved his hands over the glass as if he were a model at a trade show.

"I'd better not," Jack mumbled. "I don't think cocaine will play well with the shit I done already took."

"Oh, this isn't cocaine," Beef tittered, "and it plays well with everyone."
Is it representative of the rest of the book? You bet your sweet buns it is. Hopefully there is enough tension and drug-fueled humor in the rest of the book that keeps pace with this scene in Houston, and the ramifications of what happens there will haunt our characters all the way until the final paragraph.
Visit Eryk Pruitt's website.

My Book, The Movie: What We Reckon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 2, 2017


Carrie Jones is the New York Times bestseller author of the Need series, Time Stoppers series, Flying series, Girl, Hero, Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend, and Love (and other uses for duct tape).

Jones applied the Page 69 Test to  her new book, Enhanced: Flying Series (Volume 2), and reported the following:
From page 69:

My food doesn’t come across as appetizing, all of a sudden.

“Don’t mind her. She just lost her boyfriend,” China explains, motioning for Wharff to sit down and then making a motion for the server to come back to the table.

“Did they take him?” Wharff asks, swallowing the chair with his bulk.

“Take him?” I ask.

“Abduct him,” Wharff explains, grabbing a napkin and daintily spreading it across his lap.

I almost choke on my shake. “No.”

“Dead?” His eyes meet mine. The pupils are a bit wobbly. They jump around.

“No! He just — He just — ah...”

“He dumped her,” China explains for me in his lovely tactful way. “Or maybe not. I’m not a hundred percent convinced it was actually him. Or that it was an actual breakup. Or that they were technically dating.”

I stare at my food, somehow losing my appetite even more. “It was him.”

Wharff sips his water. All his actions seem slow and deliberate. “He is a fool then.”

“I’ve always said that,” China agrees.

“I’m not cool with talking about him when he’s not here,” I say. "It’s mean.”

“He dumps her and she’s worried about being mean? When he can’t even hear it?” Wharff places his glass on the table again, delicately. “That’s a whole lot of kindness in one person.”

“Too much, if you ask me,” China grumps.
This test is somewhat terrifying, but thank you so much for having me face my writer fears. The excerpt shows Mana’s awkwardness and confusion about what is going on with her friends’ behavior and more general confusion about what’s happening in her now topsy-turvy world where she suddenly has to deal with the reality of extraterrestrials and their place on the earth. This mirrors the journey of youths into the world of adulthood, and that need to find place and purpose in an ever-changing reality that becomes more complex as we gain knowledge and experience. At the same time, we get a glimpse of the dynamics of Mana and China, and her place as a young woman in a violent world.
Visit Carrie Jones's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Carrie Jones & Tala.

Writers Read: Carrie Jones.

My Book, The Movie: Enhanced.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

"Cold Spectrum"

Craig Schaefer's books have taken readers to the seamy edge of a criminal underworld drenched in shadow (the Daniel Faust series), to a world torn by war, poison and witchcraft (the Revanche Cycle), and across a modern America mired in occult mysteries and a conspiracy of lies (the Harmony Black series).

Despite this, people say he's strangely normal. Suspiciously normal, in fact. He practices sleight of hand in his spare time, though he's not very good at it.

Schaefer applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Cold Spectrum, and reported the following:
Cold Spectrum marks a turning point in the Harmony Black series, and the climax of a plot thread that began back in the first novel. For the last three books, our heroines have battled our nation’s occult enemies while chasing a more metaphorical ghost: a shuttered black-ops program, codenamed Cold Spectrum, with links to domestic surveillance and the illegal assassination of American citizens. No one knows exactly what Cold Spectrum’s purpose was, or why the operation’s members were hunted and murdered one by one, but it’s a secret that forces deep inside the government are desperate to keep buried.

And for the last three books, Harmony has lived in a world of black and white. Clear right and wrong, good guys and bad guys. But as her investigation gets too close, the blowback turns her entire world upside down. She and her partner Jessie are accused of a massacre and branded as traitors, and the organization they trusted – the organization Harmony has called home for years, and gave her a mission and a purpose in life – has turned on them.

Nothing is black and white anymore, and Harmony is forced to confront the fact that nothing ever really was outside the blinders she’s willingly worn her entire life. These are desperate times, and for her and her team to survive, she’s going to have to cross some battle lines.
I stepped outside. A pickup rumbled past, kicking up a cloud of dust, the sun starting to droop low on the bayou. A wet heat hung in the air, sticking in my lungs and making the shoulders of my blouse cling to my skin.

“Ma cherie,” said the syrupy drawl on the other end of the line. “Seems you’ve been making quite a stir.”

“Hey, Fontaine. What are you hearing?”

“Tales of intrigue and strife.”
Fontaine, a body-jumping bounty hunter in service to the courts of Hell, has been a constant shadow on Harmony’s heels. The loyal opposition at best, or an enemy waiting to strike. This time, though, he’s the only person Harmony can turn to. On page 69, she swallows her pride and calls him – both to press him for information, and to ask for a favor.
I paused. “So tell me about Caitlin.”
Caitlin is the right hand of a demon prince, and an active agent in the slow infernal takeover of our world. Any other day, she’d be Harmony’s mortal enemy. But the enemy of one’s enemy is…maybe, just maybe, a temporary and dangerous ally. And the powers behind Cold Spectrum are a threat to Harmony and Caitlin alike. Can Harmony brush shoulders with the forces she’s dedicated her life to opposing, and walk away uncorrupted?

Well, page 69 starts to ask the question. The rest of the book is the answer. Not a clean and clear answer, but as Harmony is learning, real answers never are.
Visit Craig Schaefer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue