Saturday, June 24, 2017

"Death of a Bachelorette"

Laura Levine is a former sitcom writer whose credits include The Bob Newhart Show, Laverne & Shirley, The Jeffersons, The Love Boat, Three’s Company, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. As an advertising copywriter, she created Count Chocula and Frankenberry cereals for General Mills. Her work has been published in The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

In her latest (and favorite) incarnation as a mystery novelist, she has been an IMBA paperback bestseller and winner of the RT Book Reviews award for Most Humorous Mystery.

Levine applied the Page 69 Test to Death of a Bachelorette, her newest Jaine Austen Mystery, and reported the following:
First, full disclosure; I cheated. This is page 70 of Death of a Bachelorette, not page 69. It just seemed a lot livelier.

Now for the set up: My heroine, Jaine Austen, has taken a gig writing for a cheesy Bachelor show rip off being shot on a South Pacific island. The show, called Some Day My Prince Will Come, features a bevvy of bloodthirsty bachelorettes vying for the hand of a dimwitted British nobleman. Jaine has been hired to write dialogue for the dimwitted Brit. But she’s having trouble concentrating. It turns out she’s met a royal bachelor of her own she wants to pursue: a hunky native honey—and an island prince—named Tai.

Also, making cameo appearances on the page are Manny Kaminsky, the show’s cheapskate producer, and Justin, a newbie director just out of film school.

From page 70:
And I have to confess I was having a hard time concentrating. Instead my mind kept wandering back to my hunkalicious suitor, Prince Tai. Or, as I had come to think of him, “My Tai.”

What if the two of us hit it off and fell in love under the tropical stars? What if I wounded up an actual princess, like Grace Kelly or Queen Noor?

True, Paratito Island wasn’t exactly the cosmopolitan center of the universe, but who cared? I was sick of big city living, anyway. All the traffic in LA was enough to give the Dalai Lama ulcers.

How lovely it would be to live in a charming cottage by the sea, with a wraparound verandah, and banana trees in the yard. At last I’d get to dine on fresh fish and island fruits and drop twenty pounds in no time.

Before long I’d be frolicking along the beach in my string bikini, holding hands with My Tai, taking time out to toss off a novel or two while my bronzed god of a hubby did whatever Paratitan princes did. (Hopefully, topless.)

I was just settling into a particularly yummy fantasy of me and Tai lying side by side on the sand, the sea lapping at our feet, the sun warming our bodies, caressed by cool ocean breezes. Tai was running his finger along my washboard flat tummy and up to my chin, turning my face to his for a whopper of a kiss, when suddenly I was yanked back to reality.

Oh, crud. It was Mount Manny, erupting again.

“Are you crazy?” I heard him shout. “No way are you leaving this show.”

He and Justin had joined us poolside, Manny in a terry robe and flipflops, his face flushed with anger.

“I give you your first big break in show biz, hire you on the basis of that crummy little student film—”

“Crummy?” Justin cried, indignant. “Casserole of Broken Dreams just happened to win first prize at the West Covina Film Festival!”
Visit Laura Levine's website.

The Page 69 Test: Killing Cupid.

My Book, The Movie: Death by Tiara.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"Seek and Destroy"

New York Times bestselling author William C. Dietz has published more than fifty novels some of which have been translated into German, French, Russian, Korean and Japanese. He also wrote the script for the Legion of the Damned game (i-Phone, i-Touch, & i-Pad) based on his book of the same name--and co-wrote SONY's Resistance: Burning Skies game for the PS Vita.

Dietz applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Seek and Destroy, and reported the following:
From page 69:
There was no warmth in Howard’s smile. “You read my file? Good on you. Well there were a shit load of rear echelon mother fuckers who went to Afghanistan and never fired a shot. How ‘bout you, missy? Did you kill anyone up close and personal? Or were you staring at a screen?”

Victoria didn’t like the way the conversation was going. Was there some sort of purpose behind the grilling? Or was Howard mind fucking her for the fun of it? “My activities in Afghanistan are classified,” Victoria told him. “As are many of yours.”

Howard reached inside his jacket and dragged a shiny revolver out into the light. Victoria felt a stab of fear. He was going to shoot her! And there was nothing she could do about it. “Maybe you worked for the dark side, and maybe you’re full of shit,” Howard said. “Let’s find out. Guards! Grab that girl!”

Howard’s left index finger was pointed at a girl with mousy brown hair. She had glasses and was dressed in one of the sack-style dresses that all of the female servants were required to wear. She uttered a shriek of fear and tried to run. Two men grabbed the teen and held her arms. She was sobbing by then--and a puddle of urine appeared between her feet.

Howard’s eyes were on Victoria. “If you’re the woman you say you are, then you know this is a Colt Python, and that it holds six rounds.”

As if to illustrate that fact Howard flipped the cylinder open—and dumped six shiny .357 cartridges onto the table next to him. He chose one of the bullets and held it up to the light as if inspecting it for flaws. Then he inserted the cartridge into an empty chamber, flipped the cylinder closed, and ran it along the outside surface of his left arm. Victoria heard a series of clicks.

“Here,” Howard said, as he offered the weapon butt first. “If you want an alliance with the horde, then aim the pistol at the girl and squeeze the trigger. Maybe the bullet will rotate in under the hammer, and maybe it won’t. But either way I will take you seriously from that point forward. Or you can run back to daddy. You chose.”

Victoria wanted to laugh. Howard thought he was talking to Robin! Or someone like Robin… And that was a mistake.

A dog growled as she unhooked the velvet rope, stepped forward, and accepted the Colt. She could have killed the Warlord of Warlords then, and his bodyguards knew it. At least six weapons were pointed at her.

Victoria smiled, pointed the barrel of the handgun up at the ceiling, and turned to the teenager. The men who stood to each side of her looked worried. What if the woman with the Colt missed? But orders were orders, and they had no choice. “Pull her arms straight out,” Victoria instructed.

The girl struggled but the men were too strong for her. Victoria held the revolver in a two-handed grip, took aim, and waited for Howard to stop her. He didn’t. She pulled the hammer back to full cock and squeezed the trigger. The hammer fell and the Colt bucked in her hands. The big slug hit the teen with such force that it passed through her chest and hit the wall beyond. The guards let go of the body and it slumped to the floor.

“Well, well,” Howard said, as Victoria handed the pistol to Jebe. “You are for real. Let’s have lunch… There’s a great deal to talk about.”
Seek And Destroy is the second novel in the America Rising trilogy, and begins where Into The Guns left off.

When meteors strike all around the planet, Washington D.C. takes a hit and the federal government is decimated. That leaves surviving elements of the armed forces to try and restore order as American society disintegrates. Meanwhile a group of oligarchs seize control of the south and create a government that they call “The New Confederacy.” The oligarchs plan to run it like a corporation, with themselves in control, and citizens as workers.

But bad as things are people like President Samuel T. Sloan, and army officer Robin Macintyre, are fighting to put the rightful government back together--and retake the south.

Meanwhile Robin’s sister Victoria is fighting for the New Confederacy, and is on a mission to form an alliance with a ruthless warlord named Robert Howard. But Howard doesn’t trust Victoria. Or anyone else for that matter, and subjects her to a test.
Visit William C. Dietz's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Into the Guns.

My Book, The Movie: Into the Guns.

My Book, The Movie: Seek and Destroy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

"The Asylum of Dr. Caligari"

James Morrow is the author of the World Fantasy Award–winning Towing Jehovah, the New York Times Notable Book Blameless in Abaddon, and the Theodore Sturgeon Award–winning Shambling Towards Hiroshima. His more recent novels include The Madonna and the Starship, The Last Witchfinder, hailed by the Washington Post as “literary magic,” and The Philosopher’s Apprentice, which received a rave review from Entertainment Weekly.

Morrow applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Asylum of Dr. Caligari, and reported the following:
As a writer, I have always been as excited by the medium of theater as by prose fiction. Over the years I’ve composed quite a few one-act comedies, and I would perhaps call myself a playwright manqué. When I ponder my favorite non-Morrow novels, I’m content simply to revel in their existence, but when it comes to “the theater of ideas,” I find myself wishing I’d written Red Noses (Barnes), Angels in America (Kushner), Becket (Anouilh), The Royal Hunt of the Sun (Shaffer), and Marat/Sade (Weiss).

Because theater is for me a road not taken, it’s not surprising that page 69 of my new novella is a dialogue exchange. The speakers are Francis Wyndham, an art therapist working at a mental institution during World War One, and his gifted student, Ilona Wessels, who invents abstract expressionism a generation before it actually comes on the scene—though she wants Francis to help her give the movement a theoretical foundation. Francis speaks the first line, the subject being his own effort to create a painting that is only about itself (the title alludes to Blake’s “The Tyger”).
“I’m reasonably happy with it.”

“Our theory, or your painting?”

“Both. I call it Fearful Symmetry.”

“Is it finished?”

“I don’t know.”

“This is not quite what I had in mind, young Francis, but you are stumbling in the right direction. It invites the spectator to engage with the painting’s Existenz by way of the tiger’s Nichtexistenz.”

I took a long swallow of Riesling. “Ilona, this is perhaps a crude and tasteless question—”

“I understand.”

“You do?”

“The doctors around here are always asking me crude and tasteless questions. Why should my art therapist be any different?”

“Did Herr Slevoght become your lover, too?”

“No.”

“I’m relieved.”

“He likes only men.”

“I see.”

“Evidently he and Conrad were the best of friends. But that isn’t why Caligari sent Herr Slevoght away. Dr. Verguin told me it was about philotopical differences—”

“Philosophical.”

“I suppose I loved Herr Slevoght, though not in the way I love you, and not in the way I hated my father.”
Ilona’s aesthetic experiments and her hatred of her father are both subplot elements. The main narrative line concerns an enchanted painting by the asylum’s director, Dr. Caligari—a work so hypnotic it compels entire regiments to rush headlong into battle. Military leaders on all sides pay the sorcerer to parade new recruits past the painting, making him the ultimate war profiteer.

That said, page 69 remains dear to my heart. In the course of workshopping the novella among three colleagues—my writer-friend Daryl Gregory, my editor Jill Roberts, and my in-house manuscript doctor, Kathryn Morrow—it became obvious that my treatment of Ilona was woefully inadequate.

Not only did she function essentially as a mere creature of the plot (like Caligari, Ilona has supernatural abilities, which means she can counter his masterpiece with a Guernica-like rejoinder), but her relationship with Francis defined primarily by sex. In subsequent drafts, I added a Freudian mystery element (concerning Ilona’s parricidal impulses), and the bond between my hero and heroine acquired dimensions of artistic collaboration and intellectual exploration. “How marvelous that we have both of them in our lives,” says Ilona on page 55. “Both of what?” asks Francis. “Theory and fucking. Reason and Eros.”
Visit James Morrow's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Philosopher’s Apprentice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 19, 2017

"Noumenon"

Nicky Drayden is the author of The Prey of Gods.

She applied the Page 69 Test to fellow novelist Marina J. Lostetter's forthcoming novel, Noumenon, and reported the following:
I got my hands on an ARC of Noumenon recently after working on an article about Artificial Intelligence with her. I had no idea I was in for such an expansive and mesmerizing adventure. Noumenon features a super-intelligent, sentient AI charged with overseeing the many needs of an interstellar convoy travelling to an anomalous star that appears to deny the laws of physics.

On page 69, we catch a glimpse of a crew member’s training prior to the ship’s departure as she learns about Earth-to-Convoy communications from a rather aloof mentor:
I was baffled, at first. And also a little insulted. Here was a man whose expertise in communications had landed him one of the most important tutoring positions in the world—he was training ambassadors to space (myself along with seven others—three on different convoys), and would be his students’ main connection to Earth once they left the ground—yet he couldn’t hold a normal conversation.

If anyone other than Mother or Father had brought Saul into my life I would have thought it a colossal joke.

But, like a good little soldier, I held in my doubts and accepted the training. As it turned out Saul was a capable teacher. He taught mostly through illustration and hyperbole rather than pontification, which I appreciated. And when it came to his work he was quick and accurate, but it wasn’t until I advanced to decoding on my own that I realized why he had the job.

While the man couldn’t’ smoothly string five words together in person, he was a whiz when it came to communicating long-distance. Without all of the physical cues to get in the way, with the words stripped bare, he was the most articulate man I’d ever met.
Page 69 is spot on in terms of representing the book, since communication is a critical element for the mission’s success. When the convoy sets out, communication with Earth is vital as this fledgling society learns to deal with the volatility of life in space. Generations will pass on the ships, and their only tether to Earth comes in the form of tiny comm packets sent through subspace. Due to time dilations from space travel, nearly a year passes for each month aboard the ship, so distance between Earth and the convoy becomes more than just the empty space that separates them. We get a sense of the speed of disconnect when Saul’s life speeds before our eyes. He gets engaged, gets married, has a kid who’s then off to college before his spacebound pupil can even find someone to settle down with. Then Saul is retiring only few years into ship time. Soon after that, the convoy is communicating with complete strangers, and after that...the messages from Earth mysteriously stop.

The convoy’s mission is to voyage to the anomalous star, and then return to Earth with their findings, but if they’re five years into a centuries-long mission, and everyone they know and love on Earth is already gone, you have to wonder what exactly they’ll return to, and what role communications will play so far into the future.
Visit Marina J. Lostetter's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 17, 2017

"Grief Cottage"

Gail Godwin is a three-time National Book Award finalist and the bestselling author of twelve critically acclaimed novels, including Violet Clay, Father Melancholy's Daughter, Evensong, The Good Husband and Evenings at Five. She is also the author of The Making of a Writer, her journal in two volumes (ed. Rob Neufeld). She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts grants for both fiction and libretto writing, and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Godwin applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Grief Cottage, and reported the following:
Peculiarly fortuitous in the case of Grief Cottage. Because midway down this page the balance of who's taking care of whom shifts. Aunt Charlotte has fallen down drunk and broken her wrist and the Rescue Squad is carrying her out the door on a stretcher. Marcus thinks, "She was dying to go somewhere without me--even if it was only to the hospital in an ambulance." Then he goes out on the oceanside porch and considers the ghost he had seen earlier today. ("I wished he could be here with me, but probably he could only stay where he was. A further idea arose: if a dead person could make himself known to a living person, then why wouldn't the reverse apply?") Marcus decides to try to send an emanation of himself north to Grief Cottage to keep company with the ghost.
Visit Gail Godwin's website.

My Book, The Movie: Grief Cottage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Trumpet of Death"

Cynthia Riggs is the author of the Martha’s Vineyard mystery series and the guidebook Victoria Trumbull’s Martha’s Vineyard. She started writing the series while earning her MFA at Vermont College at age 68. Prior to becoming an author, she qualified for the 1948 Olympic fencing team, was the seventh woman to set foot on the South Pole, and crossed the Atlantic twice in a thirty-two-foot sailboat.

Riggs applied the Page 69 Test to Trumpet of Death, the 13th volume in the Martha’s Vineyard mystery series, and reported the following:
I turned to page 69 of Trumpet of Death and found my would be murderer, Zack, is trying to get off the Island in a hurry. However, the last ferry is about to leave and has no room for his car. The ticket agent says, “You can get over as a passenger, but you better hurry.” He looks out the window. “Nope. They’ve closed the doors. Too late.” Zack is convinced he has killed a half dozen people he hadn’t intended to kill, the intended victim is still alive, and the cops are after him.

By calling him “would be murderer,” I need to explain that Victoria Trumbull, my 92-year-old protagonist, has introduced Zack, a city boy from South Boston, to the highly prized, gourmet mushroom called black trumpet of death, warning him not to pick them because they are rare.

Zack, who wants to rid himself of his tiresome girlfriend, decides the mushrooms must be deadly. He gives the black trumpets to the girlfriend, who gives them to Daddy, who serves them at a dinner party and invites Zack, who flees when he sees what’s on the menu.

So that’s where we are on page 69. Is the page representative of the rest of the book? One word: yes.
Visit Cynthia Riggs's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

"The Whole Way Home"

Sarah Creech is the author of two novels, Season of the Dragonflies and The Whole Way Home.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Whole Way Home and reported the following:
From page 69:
J.D. wondered if Nick knew that story, wondered what she’d chosen to share with him about Gatesville. Jo had it hard back there, harder than anybody ever deserved. His red-winged blackbird. Best skeet shooter he knew and best whiskey drinker too. No singer could harmonize with him the way she could, and he doubted any singer ever would.
I wasn’t quite sure what I’d find on page 69, but as soon as I opened it up, I said, “Oh yeah, that’s the book.” So on this page J.D. Gunn Google-stalks Jo Lover after he watches her perform at her Grand Ole Opry induction. He’s torturing himself by looking at all the photos of Jo and Nick after their recent engagement announcement. He thinks she looks happy (interpreted, of course, through this barrier of technology), but he can’t shake his conviction that Nick doesn’t know anything about Jo’s past. J.D. is certain the bond that started between them as children hasn’t yet died, despite all hurt they put each other through over the years. He wants her to be happy, but he also knows he loves her still. He thinks it’s possible she loves him still too. One of the major themes of this novel is the connection to childhood and home, and each of my main characters represents home to the other, especially in their high profile careers in Nashville.
Visit Sarah Creech's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Whole Way Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 11, 2017

"Shadow Man"

Alan Drew’s critically acclaimed debut novel, Gardens of Water, has been translated into ten languages and published in nearly two-dozen countries. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was awarded a Teaching/Writing Fellowship. An Associate Professor of English at Villanova University where he directs the creative writing program, he lives near Philadelphia with his wife and two children.

Drew applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Shadow Man, and reported the following:
From page 69:
But the itch inside grew, like animal nails clawing the cavity of his chest, like teeth gnawing the ridges of his skull; it grew until he felt raw inside, until he stabbed a pencil into his eye to get the itch out and they sent him to another place with deadbolts on the doors. Not like the basement, but with beds and painted walls and time in a courtyard with cooing doves in the trees. Here he learned to act like them, learned the right answers to the right questions, learned to smile and say things like, “It’s nice to see you” and “I feel fine” and “Please don’t do that”, and on the outside he seemed like them but he wasn’t. You are me, but I’m not you. He said this in his mind when talking to them. You are me, but I’m not you. There’s a black hole in me; he could feel it, gravity turned inside out, an ever-expanding implosion.
On page 69, the book reveals the horrific abuse the serial killer, Ricardo Martinez, suffered as a child. He was locked in a basement for four years by his father and made to do terrible things. This section chronicles his time in various homes and foster care placements after he was finally discovered in the basement and saved. The killer believes that some people in the neighborhood knew that his father was abusing him, yet they never said anything. This belief, in part, fuels his anger and his killing spree. Later in the novel, detective Ben Wade discovers that this is true; the woman who lived next door suspected something but never said a word. The killer likes to attack suburban neighborhoods similar to the one where he was abused, places where people feel safe, where they leave their doors unlocked and their windows open. Part of what I wanted to explore thematically in this book is the way a whole community of people can be complicit in, or at least live in denial of, the ugly things happening in their own neighborhoods. In places like Rancho Santa Elena, a master-planned community whose main commodity is safety and security, people need to believe the darker elements of human nature do not apply to their town, as though you can master plan away human ugliness. Ben has a dark secret of his own, one he’s cultivated a life to protect; yet some people in the town know his secret, have known his secret for years, and yet no one has done anything about it. Ben, as he continues to hunt down the killer, begins to feel a discomforting sympathy for Ricardo Martinez—at least the child that he was—and this feeling plus the death of a Mexican teenager, throws Ben into a crisis of his own.
Visit Alan Drew's website.

My Book, The Movie: Shadow Man.

Writers Read: Alan Drew.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 10, 2017

"What the Dead Leave Behind"

David Housewright is the Edgar Award and three-time Minnesota Book Award-winning author of the Rushmore McKenzie and Holland Taylor novels as well as other tales of murder and mayhem in the Midwest.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, What the Dead Leave Behind, and reported the following:
Page 69, as coincidence will have it, is very pivotal in my novel What the Dead Leave Behind. It is on that page that the protagonist Rushmore McKenzie meets Mrs. Jonathan Szereto, the Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the Szereto Corporation. Szereto is just one of the many female characters in the books. The St. Paul Pioneer Press said “The plot is so interesting because almost everyone McKenzie interacts with is a woman and they are tough.”

This, however, is most decidedly not a coincidence. I deliberately set out to write about crime from a female perspective. How successful I was will be decided by the readers, of course. But from the reviews I’ve been getting it looks like I did a decent job.
Learn more about the book and author at David Housewright's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Kind Word.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Kind Word.

The Page 69 Test: Stealing the Countess.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 8, 2017

"The Alice Network"

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with The Alice Network. All have been translated into multiple languages.

Quinn and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Alice Network and reported the following:
From Page 69:
I don't know how long the Channel crossing took. Time stretched on forever when you spent it vomiting.

"Don't shut your eyes." Finn Kilgore's Scottish burr sounded behind me as I clung grimly to the railing. "Makes your stomach worse if you can't see which direction the swells are coming from."

I screwed my eyes shut tighter. "Please don't say that word."

"What word?"

"Swells."
Would a reader skipping to page 69 be tempted to read on? Maybe, if they get a chuckle out of the dialogue above. And actually, it's pretty representative of The Alice Network, which is about striking out from the familiar and the safe into the unknown and the dangerous...even if the thought makes you queasy! My heroine here is sailing into uncharted waters; she has no idea what dangers lie ahead or if she'll be ready to face them. But she's still there, grimly clinging to the railing and refusing to back down!
Learn more about the book and author at Kate Quinn's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kate Quinn and Caesar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

"Not A Sound"

Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Not A Sound, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Now, just like I do every night before I go to sleep, I make sure my flashlight is in my bedside table drawer where it should be and make sure my cell phone is fully charged and within hand’s reach. My little ritual. Only now, with lights blazing and Stitch nearby am I able to close my eyes and rest.
There are only a few lines on Page 69 of Not a Sound and it shows a rare peek into Amelia’s more vulnerable side. She has had everything that is dear to her stripped away (mostly by her own doing): her family, her career, her hearing. It is so important for her to show the outside world how strong and independent, how brave she is, that the only time she lets down her guard is when she and Stitch are home alone at night.
Visit Heather Gudenkauf's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Heather Gudenkauf and Maxine.

Coffee with a Canine: Heather Gudenkauf & Lolo.

My Book, The Movie: Not A Sound.

Writers Read: Heather Gudenkauf.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"Touch"

Courtney Maum is the author of the acclaimed novel I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, the new novel Touch, and the chapbook Notes from Mexico. Her short fiction, book reviews, and essays on the writing life have been widely published in outlets such as The New York Times, O Magazine, Tin House, Electric Literature, and Buzzfeed, and she has co-written films that have debuted at Sundance and won awards at Cannes. At various points in her life, she has been a trend forecaster, a fashion publicist, and a party promoter for Corona Extra.

Maum applied the Page 69 Test to Touch and reported the following:
It’s serendipitous that page 69 falls on one of my favorite scenes in Touch. The famous trend forecaster Sloane Jacobsen is in her mother’s house in Stamford, CT on a very early morning—she lives in Paris and is somewhat estranged from her family. It’s her first time seeing her mom in several years. This scene really exemplifies the quest for connection versus the temptation to avoid connection that runs throughout the book. On this page, we see Sloane actively desiring a more intimate exchange with her mother. She has things she wants to confess to her—among other failings in her personal life, her relationship with her life partner isn’t going well—but she can’t find the courage to have this conversation. She chooses not to have the home-cooked breakfast her mom is so desperately keen on. Chooses not to be vulnerable. She chooses avoidance.

In this novel, Sloane is tasked with predicting the next big things in tech for a giant company named Mammoth, and because she deals with technology, she’s always thinking and talking about connections, but because we’re talking about digital technology, the paradox is that the result of all this technology is actually more disconnection in people’s personal lives. It’s something Sloane is seeing more and more in the work she does, and it’s a failing that she’s seeing in her own life, too. Her own partner would rather have sex with her virtually than physically, and she’s become incapable of honest conversation with her family. She doesn’t have any real friends. In fact, in the book, her closest companion is her driverless car, an entity who doesn’t actually exist.

In my own life, I try to have the courage to have the tough conversations and the confrontations. I don’t like sweeping things under rugs. It gets very dirty, very fast there. Mostly, I want to avoid the terrific sense of guilt and disappointment that I imagine Sloane is feeling at the end of this scene, knowing she had the opportunity to improve things with her mother, and she chose the other road. I’ve been there before. And for me, disappointment is harder to live with then the momentary awkwardness of a tricky conversation.
Visit Courtney Maum's website.

The Page 69 Test: I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You.

Writers Read: Courtney Maum.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 5, 2017

"The End of Temperance Dare"

Wendy Webb's novels include The Vanishing, The Fate of Mercy Alban, and The Tale of Halcyon Crane.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The End of Temperance Dare, and reported the following:
On page 69 in The End of Temperance Dare, our main character, Norrie, the new director of Cliffside Manor, is sitting on the veranda in the wee hours of the morning looking at the night sky and chatting with Nate Davidson, a doctor who lives on the property. This is their first meeting, and it starts out a little spooky and suspenseful for Norrie — who is this strange man wandering around the property at night, and why haven’t I met him before? Am I in danger here? — and then turns tentatively friendly and even a little flirty. That describes the book beautifully. It’s the scariest and most suspenseful book I’ve ever written, but there are sweet and flirty elements to it, too, many of them involving Nate and Norrie.
Learn more about the book and author at Wendy Webb's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Tale of Halcyon Crane.

My Book, The Movie: The End of Temperance Dare.

Writers Read: Wendy Webb.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 3, 2017

"The Stranger Inside"

USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Jaynes has always had a passion for writing, even if it took her a while to turn her passion into a career. After graduating from Old Dominion University with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences and a minor in management, she made her living as a content manager, webmaster, news publisher, editor, and copywriter. Then everything changed in 2014 when her first novel, Never Smile at Strangers, topped bestseller lists at USA Today, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. At that point, there was no going back.

Since her debut, Jaynes has added two more novels to the Strangers Series.

Jaynes applied the Page 69 Test to her new stand-alone thriller, The Stranger Inside, and reported the following:
Page 69 in The Stranger Inside drops us into a scene where our killer is stalking one of his young (future) murder victims while she walks from a supermarket to her apartment building. The sun is going down, and she’s on a deserted bike path and has just noticed that he’s behind her.

Yes, I do feel that this page is representative of the rest of the book. Also, that it would do a good job at inclining a reader to read on. This killer’s motive is to gain power over a certain type of woman. To strike fear into them to relieve (at least for the short term) some of the rage that torments him … and he’s doing just that on this page.
Visit Jennifer Jaynes's website.

Writers Read: Jennifer Jaynes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 1, 2017

"Bow Wow"

Spencer Quinn is the pen name for Peter Abrahams, Quinn handling all the dog-narrated material, including the Chet and Bernie mysteries. He won an Edgar Allen Poe award for Reality Check, best young adult mystery, 2010, and an Agatha for Down the Rabbit Hole, best young adult mystery, 2006.

Quinn applied the Page 69 Test to Bow Wow, the second Bowser and Birdie novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Bow Wow is not the page I would have picked to show what the story is about, but it’s a special page in some ways. On page 68, Birdie and her friends Nola and Junior are swimming in the bayou when Bowser (the canine narrator of the Bowser and Birdie series – but not a talking dog!) starts to herd Junior back to shore. Nola explains that Bowser always herds the weakest swimmer. This gets Junior’s competitive juices flowing and they have a race to shore. “Nola won with me next, sort of on top of Birdie for some reason, and Junior last by plenty.” Junior tells Nola that her winning is a surprise.

First line of page 69 is Nola’s:
“Why is that?”

Junior shrugged. “Because, like swimming. You know what they say.”

It got very quiet down there by the swimming hole. “No, Junior, I don’t,” Nola said. “What do ‘they’ say?”

Junior tried to meet her gaze, but could not. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean that.”

“Then why did you say it?” Birdie said. Hey! She sounded real angry. That hardly ever happened with Birdie. Had Junior done something bad? I sidled over in his direction, just in case he had a mind to … I didn’t know what.”
What’s this about? It’s been implied earlier in the series that Nola is at least partly African-American. There’s a lot of identity politics in children’s literature these days, the kind of thing I stay away from. I stay away from all things didactic: nothing bothered me more when I was a kid reader. But this scene felt like a natural spot to bring up that old canard about black people not being good swimmers. Totally false, as I learned long ago during my spearfishing days in the Bahamas (where I learned – at close hand – about bull sharks, one of whom, Mr. Nice Guy, plays an important role in Bow Wow).

Junior apologizes abjectly, and in that apology we learn unsettling things about his home life.
Finally, Nola held up her hand. “Okay, okay,” she said.

Junior wiped his face with his sleeve, turned back into his usual self quite speedily. “Friends?” he said.

“Don’t push it,” Nola said.
Then comes a strange and enormous splash from out in the bayou. End of page 69.
Visit Chet the Dog's blog and Facebook page, and Spencer Quinn's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Peter Abrahams and Audrey (September 2011).

Coffee with a Canine: Peter Abrahams and Pearl (August 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"The Guns Above"

Robyn Bennis is a scientist living in Mountain View, California, where she works in biotech but dreams of airships. She has done research and development involving human gene expression, neural connectomics, cancer diagnostics, rapid flu testing, gene synthesis, genome sequencing, being so preoccupied with whether she could that she never stopped to think if she should, and systems integration.

Her apartment is within sight of Hangar One at Moffett Airfield, which was once the West Coast home to one of America's largest airships, the USS Macon.

Bennis applied the Page 69 Test to The Guns Above, her debut novel. and reported the following:
From page 69:
The little ensign nodded. “If you’re sleepy, Sergeant Jutes will see you home, my lord.”

Bernat had never said he was sleepy. “Oh, that isn’t necessary.”

“It’s no trouble at all,” Kember said.

It seemed to Bernat that the ensign could not possibly know how much or how little trouble it would be to Sergeant Jutes, but Jutes dutifully accompanied Bernat without complaint or apparent displeasure. When they were out of the hanger, Bernat said to him, “She’s awfully bossy toward you for a little girl, isn’t she?”

Jutes showed no sign of agreement. “She’s a commissioned officer and I ain’t,” he said. “If she ain’t being bossy, she’s doing it wrong.”

“It seems odd though, doesn’t it, that she’s ordering you around, when you’ve been in the army longer than she’s been alive?”

“That’s the way of the world, my lord.”
Although this moment doesn't feature the humor or action for which The Guns Above has become known, it's a surprisingly good encapsulation of one of the book's running themes: absurd but unquestioned power dynamics. Ensign Kember, despite being a spotty-faced teenager with no combat experience, gives commands to Sergeant Jutes without a second thought, and he obeys without a second thought, because that's how their world works.

Bernat, being the son of a Marquis, is the oblivious epitome of these strange power arrangements. Jutes and Kember both defer to him, though he's done nothing in his entire life that could possibly merit their respect and servility.

Josette, unseen here but recently appointed captain of the Mistral, is the polar opposite of Bernat. She had to earn her rank a dozen times over before finally receiving it. Whereas Bernat has never given a thought to his own authority over people, Josette has to consider it constantly, not only because she's had to climb and claw her way to where she is, but because so many of her comrades still don't believe she deserves to be there.
Visit Robyn Bennis's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Radiate"

C. A. Higgins is the author of Lightless, Supernova, and the newly released Radiate. She was a runner-up in the 2013 Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing and has a B.A. in physics from Cornell University.

Higgins applied the Page 69 Test to Radiate and reported the following:
From page 69:
A strange ship, all alone. Maybe System. Maybe not. Ivan said, “Let me and Mattie see it.”

“What? The ship?”

What else? But he reined his temper in. “We might be able to help.”

The Macha had been a long way off from the strange ship when the alarm had been raised. By the time they were near enough to get detailed scans, the Badh was zipping around overhead. Ivan leaned on the railing separating the upper level of the Macha’s control room from the lower, staring toward the distant ship, half expecting to see a graceful seashell spiral emerge out of the black.

“Life support is on, but the engines don’t seem to be working,” one of the Macha’s crewmen reported.

Mattie was all nervous energy next to Ivan, jittering his leg when he leaned against the railing. Ivan said to the crewman, “How large is the ship?”

“Civilian class. Smaller than the Nemain and unarmed.”

“Centripetal gravitation,” Mattie said under his breath to Ivan, pointedly.
On page 69 of Radiate, while flying as the guests of some revolutionaries, Mattie and Ivan encounter a mysterious downed spaceship. To anyone but the two of them, there would be no clear significance in the encounter—the broken-down spaceship is ominous, but could have easily been caused by the violence of the civil war shaking the solar system. But Mattie and Ivan recognize the force that has destroyed this ship: for the first time since they escaped the Ananke, they have encountered a sign of her presence.

In the beginning of the novel the Ananke mostly passes beneath the characters’ notice: they have more immediate concerns. But she is a threat outside of and greater than the civil war shredding the solar system, and page 69 hints at the influence she has and the danger that is still to come.
Visit C. A. Higgins's website.

The Page 69 Test: Lightless.

Writers Read: C.A. Higgins.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 28, 2017

"The Only Child"

Andrew Pyper is the author of eight novels, including The Only Child and The Demonologist, which won the International Thriller Writers award for Best Hardcover Novel and was selected for the Globe and Mail’s Best 100 Books of 2013 and Amazon’s 20 Best Books of 2013. Among his previous books, Lost Girls won the Arthur Ellis Award and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and The Killing Circle was a New York Times Best Crime Novel of the Year. Three of Pyper’s novels, including The Demonologist and The Damned, are in active development for feature film.

Pyper applied the Page 69 Test to The Only Child and reported the following:
The Only Child tells the story of Dr. Lily Dominick, a forensic psychiatrist who is confronted by a particularly disturbing client. Not disturbing only for the terrible crime he's been accused of committing (they've all been accused of terrible crimes) but two impossible claims he makes: first, that he's over two hundred years old and personally inspired the three gothic novels that define the idea of the monster in the Western imagination, and second, he's her father.

Not that she believes any of this. It's the possibility that he knows something about her mother - a woman who died violently and mysteriously when she was only six - that compels her to go in search of this client after he escapes from the hospital.

On page 69, we find Lily breaking with her structured, rational, disciplined life and boarding a plane to Hungary, the "birthplace" of the "monster." Her reading material for the flight? Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, one of the three novels the client says he was the inspiration for. It marks an important step not only on Lily's physical journey into the Old World (and the realm of the uncanny) but, by reading this universally influential fiction, her psychological submergence into the gothic mindscape.
Visit Andrew Pyper's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Only Child.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 27, 2017

"Mr. Iyer Goes to War"

Ryan Lobo is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker based in Bangalore.

His work has appeared in National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Boston Review, The Caravan, and Bidoun Magazine.

Lobo applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Mr. Iyer Goes to War, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Lurching to the bow, and with great effort, Bencho uses the punting pole to steer the boat away from slick, jagged boulders as Iyer holds onto the mast of the hurtling boat. It is several minutes of pure terror but then the river slows, widening into a plain.

The rain reduces to a steady downpour. Grateful for their safe passage they travel for some hours, finishing the cooked food, which Bencho scrapes from the dish with a teaspoon.

'We shall rest the night at a town,' Bencho says, hoping, poling the boat with renewed vigor at the thought of hot food and a dry bed, as Iyer sits at the bow, wrapped in a tarpaulin that chatters in the rain.

The boat passes under an old crumbling stone bridge some thirty feet high, a hole where the brass plaque naming its builder was once held. A flock of fruit bats hang underneath it, protected from the rain, clicking away.

Hearing a woman’s scream, Iyer’s head springs from within the tarpaulin. Bencho rolls his eyes.

'Sir, just because people scream doesn’t mean…' begins Bencho, already dreading where this might go.

Accompanying the scream is the sound of music.

Chillaaoo aur chillaaoo ...yahan se tumhari awaaz kiseeko bhi sunayi nahin degi ... ab tumhe bhagwan bhi bachaa nahin sakta.

'A scream, Bencho”

'It’s a movie, sir.'

'No Bencho, a scream is a scream, no matter where it comes from.'

'No sir, it’s a scream from a movie. That’s why there is music playing.'

'Bencho, I hear a celestial choir,” Iyer says, his face relaxing, reaching for his staff. 'They call me to action.'

'Sir, there is no celestial choir.' Bencho pulls at the engine’s choke.

'Only a true brahmachari can hear music like that,' Iyer says, throwing off the tarpaulin, and leaping to his feet.
He refuses to be a dying old man and instead aspires to be a hero.

Dispatched to a home for the dying in the sacred city of Varanasi, Lalgudi Iyer spends his days immersed in scripture. When an accident leaves him with concussion, he receives a vision of his past incarnation - he was the mythological warrior Bhima, known for his strength and integrity. Convinced of his need to continue Bhima's mission and believing himself to be a brahmachari or 'seeker of the truth' he embarks on an epic adventure down the sacred Ganges with the help of his trusted companion Bencho, an ambitious undertaker. Mr. Lalgudi Iyer lives his ideals regardless of outcome, charging the monsters of his time both imaginary and real, and though crushed repeatedly, rises from the ashes. He was inspired in part by Don Quixote. On page 69 Iyer hears a scream from a television mounted in a car. He imagines that a damsel is in distress contrary to what his down to earth companion thinks.
Visit Ryan Lobo's website.

My Book, The Movie: Mr. Iyer Goes to War.

Writers Read: Ryan Lobo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 25, 2017

"Perish the Day"

John Farrow is the pen name of Trevor Ferguson, who has written numerous novels and plays, all to extraordinary acclaim. His Émile Cinq-Mars crime series has been published around the world and cited by Booklist as "one the best series in crime fiction today", while Die Zeit in Germany suggested that it might be the best series ever.

Farrow applied the Page 69 Test to Perish the Day, the newest novel in the Émile Cinq-Mars series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
She makes a gesture with her lips that’s difficult to decipher. He gathers that she doesn’t have small talk on her mind.

“You’re a detective, Uncle Émile,” she points out to him.

“A more accurate statement when delivered in the past tense.”

“Not what I heard.”

True. He has kept a hand in, even postretirement.

She wants to know, “Are you going to be involved in this case?” The question sounds like a challenge.

“That won’t be possible, Caro.”

“Why not?”

“There’s no way I can be.”

“Why not?”

He separates his hands, as though to emphasize that there’s nothing he can do. “Policeman guard their jurisdictions as avidly as a jealous lover guards a sweetheart. Imagine a guy going to another guy, the jealous type, asking if he’d mind lending out his girlfriend.”

“Gross.”

“Bad illustration maybe.”

“More than maybe. Has that stopped you before?”

“A bad illustration?”

“Police jurisdiction.”
Now that my detective Émile Cinq-Mars is in his retirement from the police force, his entry onto new cases that involve murder and mayhem is more complicated. He’s no longer assigned. Rather, he must insinuate himself where he’s not wanted. The advantage to having him in this situation is that he’s no longer bound by police protocol, so in one sense he has the freedom of the amateur sleuth while still retaining his police contacts and experience. No more badge, though, and he no longer carries a weapon. It’s part of the fun (for me) in his new career, generally, and particularly in this novel to see how he manages to worm his way onto an investigation when the cops who are involved don’t want him. In this scene, his niece makes an appeal for him to investigate the death of a friend and co-ed, even though he’s in another country—the U.S.A.—and not his native Canada. Naturally, the local police, both municipal cops and State Troopers, aren’t going to appreciate his meddling. He knows it, and in this scene he presages that conflict for his niece, although she will urge him to overcome the obstacles anyway. This is a critical motif in the novel: how police departments, as well as an outsider cop, are suspicious and antagonistic toward one another, and how the difficulty of building trust and confidence plays out between agencies and individuals in law enforcement. Cinq-Mars will have to overcome considerable disdain pitching in as a Canadian, French-speaking, retired cop on an active and murderous case in New Hampshire.
Visit Trevor Ferguson's Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Seven Days Dead.

My Book, The Movie: Seven Days Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Grace and the Fever"

Zan Romanoff writes essays and fiction, mostly focused on food, feminism, television and books. She graduated from Yale in 2009 with a B.A. in Literature, and now lives and works in Los Angeles.

Romanoff applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Grace and the Fever, and reported the following:
On the 69th page of my book, a girl tries to decide whether she’s going to go to a party with a boy. They’ve only met once, but she knows almost everything there is to know about him, because he’s in a world-famous boy band, and she is a massive, massive fan.

Grace and the Fever is about the stories celebrities tell about themselves, and what it means to believe them; it’s about how you can know almost everything there is to know about someone, and not know them, actually, at all. Grace has met Jes once before, by accident; in this scene, he’s just asked to meet her again, on purpose. It’s the moment when the book’s plot really kicks into gear, as Grace moves from passively loving his band, Fever Dream, to feeling like she can actively be a part of their lives and their story.

She’s discussing the decision, and the media speculation that will inevitably follow Jes being seen with a girl who’s not his girlfriend, with Fever Dream’s assistant, Raj. Raj says:
“There might be some speculation. I guess really what we’re asking you is selfish: Risk some backlash. Help the band.”

Grace doesn’t know she’s already made her decision until she feels Raj’s words turn something in her, the last click of a key in a lock. She owes Fever Dream the last four years. Some days, she feels like she owes them everything. They’re the fantasy she’s been living on through the long, boring days of high school, the idea that her life could be taken, suddenly, and turned into something sparkling. That what’s burning inside of her matters. She isn’t ready to give up that up yet. When he puts it that way, there’s just no chance she’ll say no.

“Okay,” she tells him. “I’m in.”
She’s in, but she as she’s about to find out: she doesn’t know what she’s in for at all.
Visit Zan Romanoff's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"Eagle and Empire"

Alan Smale writes science fiction and fantasy, currently focusing on alternate history and historical fantasy. His novella of a Roman invasion of ancient America, "A Clash of Eagles," won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate History. Clash of Eagles and Eagle in Exile are the first books in a trilogy set in the same universe.

Smale applied the Page 69 Test to Eagle and Empire, book three of The Clash of Eagles Trilogy, and reported the following:
It’s the thirteenth century in a timeline where the Roman Empire has survived in its classical form, and is expanding into Nova Hesperia – our North America. After many desperate battles and even more desperate diplomacy, journeys along the Mississippi in Viking longships, derring-do and general trauma, Roman general Gaius Marcellinus finds himself the central figure in a fragile truce between an invading force of three crack Roman legions – commanded by Emperor Hadrianus III himself – and a Hesperian League of Native American tribes, hastily pulled together to resist them.

And as if things weren’t dodgy enough already, by page 69 of Eagle and Empire it has become widely known that the Mongol Horde – tens of thousands of horse archers – has landed on the western coast and is making its way across the Rockies. Pushed back by Rome in Asia, Genghis Khan seeks to master the resources of Nova Hesperia instead. Familiar with the Asian steppes, the Hesperian Great Plains will be a landscape they understand, a terrain where they have the edge.

So there’s a fair amount of action to come, but page 69 is a quieter moment between Gaius Marcellinus and his adopted Cahokian daughter, Kimimela, fourteen years old. Cahokia is the great city of the Mississippian Culture, boasting 20,000 inhabitants and 120 great earthen mounds, and Marcellinus has developed a number of strong relationships there. Under the circumstances it’s not surprising that some of these are a little tense, and his kinship with Kimimela has always been rocky. Now, approaching page 69, Marcellinus attempts to reconcile before he heads off on another extended trip:
“Kimi, you once told me that I must tell you in person if I planned to leave Cahokia. Well, I am leaving now. Within the week.”

That halted her. She looked up at him, the hurt in her eyes warring with her habitual disdain. “So soon? For how long?”

“Hadrianus is sending me to seek an alliance with the People of the Hand.”
These are the Ancestral Puebloan people who occupied the area we know as Chaco Canyon (sometimes referred to as the Anasazi, although that name is considered insulting and no longer acceptable). Kimimela is naturally concerned, since Marcellinus is a key player in preserving the peace, but also:
Her expression was sour. “And so you will lead Romans again.”

“The [Roman cavalry] come with their own commander. Sextus Bassus.”

“But you will command Bassus, of course.” She looked at him with deep pain. “You are one person to Roma and another to Cahokia. And you always have been.”

“I have never lied to you, Kimimela.”

“Except when it suited you.” She looked away, but at least she did not run from him.

He began to feel irritated. “I could not always tell you all I knew. But neither could you. You knew of Tahtay’s plan to bring the Army of Ten Thousand to the Roman fortresses last year. Did you tell me?[…]Did any of you tell me about that? No, of course not.”

That was different,” she said. “We served Cahokia. You always do what’s best for you.”

His exasperation grew. “Easiest for me would be to serve Roma hook, line, and sinker. Am I doing that?”

She looked at him coolly. “Aren’t you?”

“I’m trying to do what’s best for everyone. Somehow. And ... Holy Juno, Kimi... If I die on this trip, I don’t want harsh words like these to be the last we speak to each other. Not after all this. All right?”

Kimimela grimaced.

Marcellinus might never have the chance to say this again. “Kimimela, I love you. The day I became your father was the proudest...” He swallowed and began again. “You and Sintikala are the most important people in my life. I will do everything I can to keep you safe. Everything. I would die for you. And that is the truth.”

Kimimela closed her eyes. When she opened them again, they were damp and glittering, her face forlorn. Marcellinus’s heart almost broke in that moment. He reached out to her, but she held up her hand. “But what? Always with the Wanageeska there is a ‘but.’ A something-else.”

The silence expanded between them. Kimimela stared into his eyes.

“Very well. But still I have to try to serve both Roma and Cahokia. Keep as many other people alive as possible—both Roman and Cahokian. And prepare to face the Mongol Khan. And so I must go to the southwest. The Imperator believes that he is coercing me to go, but in fact he is right, Kimi. I am the only man for the job. I should go.”
Page 69 ends here. There’s much more to this scene, and an emotional resolution, but that would take us too far.

I'm happy that this is the scene in the book pinpointed by the Page 69 Test, because it highlights Marcellinus’s greatest conflicts in the Clash books: his new friendships and allegiances, his growing understanding of family and community, while still attempting the impossible task of remaining loyal to Rome. It’s a tricky path Marcellinus is trying to walk in his new world of Nova Hesperia, and his Page 69 conversation with Kimimela illustrates that well.
Visit Alan Smale's website.

The Page 69 Test: Clash of Eagles.

The Page 69 Test: Eagle in Exile.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 22, 2017

"The Shadow Sister"

Lucinda Riley is the New York Times bestselling author of The Orchid House, The Girl on the Cliff, The Lavender Garden, The Midnight Rose, and The Seven Sisters. Her books have sold more than five million copies in thirty languages She lives in London and the English countryside with her husband and four children.

Riley applied the Page 69 Test to her newest book to appear in the US, The Shadow Sister, the third installment in The Seven Sisters series, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
I could live here, I thought as Marguerite returned, having changed into a rather creased honey-colored silk blouse and a purple scarf that complemented her eyes.

“Oh my God, Star, you miracle worker! I haven’t seen the kitchen look like this for years! Thank you. Do you want a job?”

“I already have one with Orlando.”

“I know, and I’m so happy you’re there for him. Maybe you could dissuade him from spending large amounts of money to fund what is becoming his own personal library.”

“He does actually sell quite a lot of books online,” I replied, defending him as Marguerite poured herself another measure of gin.

“I know,” she said fondly. “Right, Rory’s having a fine old time opening all his presents in the sitting room and Orlando’s gone down to the cellar to get more wine for the guests, so I can sit down for five minutes.” She checked her watch before letting out a sigh. “Mouse is late again, but we shan’t postpone lunch. I presume you gathered this morning that Rory’s deaf?”

“Yes, I did,” I replied, thinking that, just like her cousin, Marguerite’s brain flitted from one subject to the next like a butterfly.

“And has been since birth. He has a little hearing in his left ear, but his hearing aids only go so far. I just…” She paused, meeting my gaze. “I never want him to feel as if he can’t do something, as if he’s lesser than anyone else. The things that people say sometimes…” She shook her head and sighed.

“He’s the most wonderful, smart little boy there is.”

“He and Orlando seem very close,” I ventured.

“Orlando was the one who taught him to read when he was five, having mastered British Sign Language so he could speak to Rory and teach him. We’ve mainstreamed him—that is, placed him in the local primary school—and he’s even teaching the other children to sign. He’s got a fantastic speech therapist working with him every week to encourage him to talk and lip-read and he’s doing brilliantly. Children at his age learn so quickly. Now, I should be taking you through to meet the guests rather than keeping you locked away in the kitchen like Cinderella.”
On page 69, Star has just begun working in a quaint and chaotic antique bookshop in London, and her employer Orlando has taken her to meet his family who live in a beautiful but ailing country house called High Weald in Kent. Star is yet to discover the extent to which her life will become entwined with that of this eccentric family and their mysterious house.

Star was at first a difficult character for me to write as she is the most quiet and pensive of all her sisters, and constantly dominated by her younger sister CeCe, with whom she has an unusually close relationship (hence the title, The Shadow Sister). This page shows the beginning of her slowly coming out of the shadows, forging new friendships, and discovering new parts of herself. Her ability to listen is one of her greatest strengths – which is what made scenes between her and Rory a pleasure to write – they understand each other on a fundamental level that doesn’t require spoken words.
Visit Lucinda Riley's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Shadow Sister.

Writers Read: Lucinda Riley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 20, 2017

"The Last Neanderthal"

Claire Cameron's first novel, The Line Painter, was nominated for an Arthur Ellis Award for best crime first novel and won the Northern Lit Award from the Ontario Library Service. Her second novel, The Bear, became a #1 national bestseller in Canada and was long-listed for the 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.

Cameron applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Last Neanderthal, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Last Neanderthal describes a family of Neanderthals just after they have successfully killed a bison. The action sequence before, the hunt that almost goes wrong, is an exciting passage, but page 69 shows the true tension in the family. Though they are not fighting over the meat, the passage is full of politics. They are measuring each other up. Him, the older brother, gets caught staring at his sister inappropriately, "all the reverence and respect for skill an strength mixed with the swill of his spit." His mother catches the look and throws a well aimed rock at his head.

Runt, the slightly stunted looking boy the family has taken in, is unsure of his place and feels nervous. But just at the end of the page, he gets a piece, "he ripped and pulled with a snarl until a manageable bite came loose."

I'd say this passage is hilariously representative of the book. That said, the modern story, about a pregnant archaeologist named Rose who discovers ancient remains, is not represented. Otherwise the page 69 shows lots of sideways looks, lust, and meat -- that says it all!
Visit Claire Cameron's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Line Painter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"Invisible Dead"

Sam Wiebe's novel Last of the Independents won the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize and an Arthur Ellis Award, and was nominated for a Shamus award. His second novel, Invisible Dead, was published by Random House Canada and Quercus USA. His short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Spinetingler, and subTerrain, and he was the 2016 Vancouver Public Library Writer in Residence. He lives in Vancouver.

Wiebe applied the Page 69 Test to Invisible Dead and reported the following:
From page 69:
I waited for him to swing at me. The punch didn’t come. Instead a kick swept out and clipped the side of my knee, too fast to deflect. I was off balance, rocked by the pain. I swung anyway. He batted my fist away, seized my shoulder and propelled me backward into the kitchen, back until my spine hit the countertop.

“Stick you hand in the drain,” he said.

I didn’t. His grip on my shoulder tightened. I tried to shrug him off but his forearm came up into my throat and he bent me back over the sink so the back of my head pressed against the drape over the window and shook it down.

“Stick your hand into the sink.”

I did.

“Fingers into the drain. All the way. Until your hand’s stuck.”

I complied.

There was a switch over the drain. He flipped it…
Invisible Dead is a novel about systemic violence, the kind we often don’t notice or don’t think about. The main character, Dave Wakeland, sets out to find a missing sex trade worker, and must eventually confront his own complicity in being part of a city where troubled young women go missing all too often.

In some ways Wakeland is a classic detective, in the vein of Lew Archer. This makes him capable in some ways, and woefully unequipped in others.

In this scene, Dave comes up against an unnamed enforcer for a gangster who’s somehow connected to his missing person. Dave is capable and familiar with violence, but as this scene shows, he’s physically outmatched by someone more ruthless than he is. If he survives this encounter, he’ll be left to wonder: if the underling of this gangster is able to manhandle him, how will he deal with the gangster himself?
Visit Sam Wiebe's website.

Writers Read: Sam Wiebe.

My Book, The Movie: Invisible Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

"Sycamore"

Bryn Chancellor’s debut novel, Sycamore, is now out from Harper. Her story collection When Are You Coming Home? won the 2014 Prairie Schooner Book Prize, and her short fiction has appeared in Gulf Coast, Blackbird, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Phoebe, and elsewhere. Other honors include the Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award in fiction, and literary fellowships from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. She earned her M.F.A. in fiction from Vanderbilt University and is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. A native of California raised in Arizona, she is married to artist Timothy Winkler.

Chancellor applied the Page 69 Test to Sycamore and reported the following:
What a great test! Sycamore interweaves two timelines—1991 and 2009—and my Page 69 is from the 1991 timeline, told from the perspective of Jess Winters, the teenager who goes missing in Sycamore in that same year. The page finds her at a heightened moment: on her seventeenth birthday, when she and her mother have been in town about a month after her parents’ recent divorce; her one friend in town has cut ties, and she has just taunted a group of popular girls who take revenge by scrawling slurs on her locker. On this page, Jess finds brief solace in her English classroom by staring at a poster of James Baldwin as her teacher recites Edna St. Vincent Millay. Jess has been scribbling her own poems privately in her notebooks (to which the reader is privy), and this moment reflects her obsession with language, which continues throughout the book. The second half of the page also includes her and her mother celebrating her birthday—the first celebration with just the two of them—and a mention of her absent father. So, happily, this page does pull in many of the threads from the whole book, at least from Jess’s point of view.
Visit Bryn Chancellor's website.

Writers Read: Bryn Chancellor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"Beach Lawyer"

Avery Duff was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he attended Baylor School and graduated summa cum laude. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he earned a JD from Georgetown University Law Center. He then joined a prestigious Tennessee law firm, becoming a partner in five years, before moving to Los Angeles. His screenwriting credits include the 2010 heist drama Takers, starring Matt Dillon, Idris Elba, Paul Walker, and Hayden Christensen. Duff lives at the beach in Los Angeles and spends his time writing fiction.

Duff applied the Page 69 Test to Beach Lawyer, his first published novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Later, sitting in his interview, he was recounting to them how the Palmer closing blew up back at the firm and his solution, letting them know he was a problem solver when one of them raised a hand, midsentence.

“We have no doubt you are well qualified. No doubt at all.”

“None,” said the woman, checking her file. “You had an excellent recommendation from a Philip Fanelli.”

“Great,” he said, but something was wrong. Had they picked up on his thinly masked desperation? Had he laid it on too thick about what a mack-daddy go-getter he was?

The woman said, “Having said that, we would consider starting you first of the month if we can come to terms.”

“Where there’s a will,” he said, smiling and wishing he hadn’t.

“But we don’t need a deal maker or a closer. We thought we were clear about that in the ad.”

“The ad?”

“In California Lawyer. The ad.”

“Right,” he said, clueless. “Of course.”

“So, even though we are aware of your qualifications, we see you more as a...”

The shorter of the two short men slid a black binder across the table. “We see you sinking your teeth into these new pension regulations. Our clients are overwhelmed right now with all the new rules coming out of Washington.”

Robert couldn’t bring himself to touch the book: Pension Protection Act of 1996. Best guess, it ran a thousand pages with page headings like Reg.1009.4 (g)(i)-(ix) et. seq.

“Pretty intricate material, we know, but we’re prepared to pay competitively.”
Robert decided to be polite, to see if he could get out of here with an offer. Maybe he could still beat traffic home on the I-10.

“I’m right here,” he said.
It’s remarkable that page 69 winds up being so pivotal in Beach Lawyer.

Robert finally trekked from the beach to downtown Los Angeles looking for a job—any job—only to be tag-team insulted in a high-rise conference room by a three-lawyer hiring committee. Slated for the most boring legal task he can imagine—pension regulations—and re-starting his career, Robert is approaching critical mass about wanting to work inside the legal community.

His internal process works here, too, I think. He’s still clueless about what’s really going on in his doomed career and persists in trying to make a good impression on people neither he, nor the reader, would ever respect. He holds his temper in check—his push-back nature we’ve already seen—a good-faith attempt to be a team player on a team of losers.

It dawns on me only now—hate to admit it—that had the hiring committee offered Robert a salary verging on reasonable, his story would’ve ended here with a soul-crushing job in that firm’s pensions department. By trying to screw him, the committee actually did him a favor.

If you’ve ever asked yourself the professional question, “How much more of this garbage can I take and still respect myself?” page 69 is where that question, still inchoate, begins to crystallize for Robert. He gives his answer to their lowball offer shortly after this—he’d rather jump out of their high-rise window and count his blessings on the way down than work for these losers.
Learn more about Beach Lawyer.

My Book, The Movie: Beach Lawyer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 15, 2017

"The Wonder of Us"

Kim Culbertson is the award-winning author of the YA novels Songs for a Teenage Nomad, Instructions for a Broken Heart, Catch a Falling Star, The Possibility of Now, and The Wonder of Us.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Wonder of Us and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Been meaning to ask you, why the Seven Ancient Wonders?”

Like Will is used to being asked how tall he is, this is one of the questions I get asked the most. Maybe it’s a strange sort of hobby, loving the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, if you’re not a seventy-year-old archaeologist or something. Of course, people always forget that the seventy-year-old archaeologist first fell in love with the ancient world at some point in her life…
Northern California girls Abby and Riya have been friends since preschool, but when Riya moves to Berlin for her junior year of high school, their friendship starts to fall apart. In an attempt to save it, Riya sends Abby an invitation to explore Europe with her, to create some new Wonders, other than those ancient ones Abby spends all her time studying. In The Wonder of Us, my third novel with Scholastic, I wanted to explore the sometimes challenging nature of evolving friendships. So often, our first loves outside our families are with friends and this felt like an interesting and important topic to me. I taught high school for 18 years and watched how complex childhood friendships could be when they hit the teen years. And I love to travel, especially because travel reframes things for me in my own life. So, I thought setting this story of these two girls against the backdrop of their hometown and then six European cities would allow the best sort of road trip exploration to happen.
Visit Kim Culbertson's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kim Culbertson and Maya.

--Marshal Zeringue