Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Very Bad Things"

Susan McBride is the USA Today bestselling author of Blue Blood and four other award-winning Debutante Dropout Mysteries from HarperCollins/Avon, including The Good Girl's Guide To Murder, The Lone Star Lonely Hearts Club, Night Of The Living Deb, and Too Pretty To Die. A sixth title, Say Yes to the Death, will be out in September 2015. McBride has another series with Avon that debuted in May 2014, the River Road Mysteries, starting with To Helen Back and followed by Mad as Helen (July 2014) and Not a Chance in Helen (September 2014).

McBride applied the Page 69 Test to her young adult thriller, Very Bad Things, and reported the following:
Page 69 from Very Bad Things is rather an interesting one. It’s kind of the sigh that comes after being startled. Katie Barton has just opened a smelly, leaky package sent to her via her dorm at Whitney Prep. The package contains a severed hand with a rose tattoo that once was attached to Rose Tatum, a girl who’s gone missing and was last seen with Katie’s boyfriend, Mark Summers, son of the headmaster.

In this scene, Katie’s desperate for a sense of normalcy to return to her life at Whitney but she’s not sure how to get it, despite the suggestions of her roommate and best friend, Tessa Lupinski. The point of view is Tessa’s.

Both characters realize at this point that their lives probably won’t ever be the same again. And they’re right.
“You think coffee will make me feel normal?” Katie frowned, hugging a ragged stuffed bear that she’d brought to boarding school with her. “What if the psycho’s there, watching me?”

“So you’re never going to leave the dorm?”

“I will when they catch him,” Katie said, looking at her like she was nuts.

Katie wouldn’t even go to the bathroom by herself, and she made Tessa stand guard when she took a shower that night. Even though Tessa didn’t let anyone near her, Katie emerged white-faced and scared. She claimed she’d seen shadows outside the frosted glass door, like someone had walked past it, though Tessa assured her that no one had been anywhere near.

At bedtime, Katie insisted they leave the closet light on or she couldn’t go to sleep. It had been such a long day and Tessa was pretty bleary-eyed, so she went along with it. She wasn’t sure when they’d finally drifted off. Katie hadn’t gotten off the phone with her Mom until midnight, and then she’d spent another hour texting Mark. It was still dark outside when Tessa heard Katie’s whimpers.

“Tessa,” her friend called, her voice quavering. “Tessa!”

“I’m right here,” she said, flying across the room and grabbing Katie’s trembling hands. “It’s okay. Everything’s all right.”

“No.” Katie shook her head, hair falling in her face. Her eyes welled with tears. “I smelled roses again. Someone was in the room.”
Learn more about the book and author at Susan McBride's website.

The Page 69 Test: Little Black Dress.

Writers Read: Susan McBride.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"The Caller"

Juliet Marillier worked as a musician and a public servant before escaping the day job to become a full-time writer. Her historical fantasy novels for adults and young adults are published internationally and have won many awards. The Caller, published on September 9 by Knopf, is her seventeenth novel, and completes the Shadowfell trilogy for young adult readers (the other two novels in the series are Shadowfell and Raven Flight.)

Marillier submitted The Caller to the Page 69 Test, and here is her analysis:
The Shadowfell books are set in a magical version of ancient Scotland, where a band of young rebels attempts to end the iron-strong rule of the tyrannical King Keldec. To achieve this, they need the aid of Alban’s uncanny folk, never known for their willingness to cooperate with humankind. The key is fifteen-year-old Neryn, who has a remarkable and perilous gift: she is a Caller, with the ability to unite human and fey in the struggle for freedom. In this series I explore the theme of rebellion. What does it take to stand up and be counted? And what is the personal cost of being a rebel, not only during the struggle, but afterwards?

I had two editions to choose from, the Australian and US versions, and I must admit I chose the one with the more appropriate page 69! Our narrator, Neryn, must master four kinds of elemental magic before she can use her gift effectively in the final confrontation with the tyrant’s forces. She has travelled to find one of Alban’s ancient Guardians, the White Lady, so she can learn the magic of air. It turns out the Lady is invisible; Neryn has encountered only a swarm of tiny insect-like beings that are in some way connected with this once-powerful entity. The Lady does have a voice – that of a tough, wry old Scotswoman. To hear it, Neryn must be inside a beehive-shaped stone hut; it is here that she does her learning. On page 69 Neryn practises her newfound skill in hearing, and the White Lady warns her that using her ability on a battlefield is going to be much harder. Neryn is accompanied on this journey by Whisper, an uncanny being who looks like a cross between a young man and a white owl. The story is full of strange creatures, some from Scottish folklore and some newly invented.

Here’s part of page 69:
Spending all day inside the cramped confines of the beehive hut was taking a toll on me, body and mind. But my learning progressed. Now I could hear the subtlest of differences in the vibrations of the drum, and in the movement of the small folk inside the hut and outside, in the broader area of the Beehives. I could detect the movement of one bird in the elder trees, out there beyond my vision. I could identify one insect crawling out from cover at a distance of twenty paces. Without needing to be out in the open, looking, I knew when Whisper came early to collect me; I heard the rustle of his wings up the hill, even when the howl of the wind must surely drown it.

‘This new awareness will help ye,’ the Lady said. ‘If ye can hear the voice o’ a wee crawlin’ creature even when a storm’s ragin’, mebbe ye can gather your wits in the clamour o’ battle and send a message tae the ears that must hear it. Do ye no’ think?’

I imagined the battle: my friends and allies falling, dying before my eyes; the noise of clashing metal, the crunch of bones breaking, the screams. I had only witnessed one such conflict. This one would be ten times bigger, twenty times. ‘I can only pray that I have learned enough to do it.’
That passage captures the central themes of the Shadowfell series. Page 69 also gives us a glimpse of the elusive Good Folk, the uncanny inhabitants of Alban, and the way in which they guide Neryn on her journey, sometimes with kindness but more often with brusque doses of realism. These are not fairy folk of the gossamer-winged, nectar-sipping variety, but a strong, ancient people who have good reason to be wary of humankind. That makes Neryn’s ability to coax them out and gain their trust a rare gift, and one that she must use wisely – Alban’s future depends on it.
Learn more about the book and author at Juliet Marillier's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Juliet Marillier & Pippa, Gretel, and Sara.

Writers Read: Juliet Marillier (November 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"Trust Me, I’m Lying"

Mary Elizabeth Summer contributes to the delinquency of minors by writing books about unruly teenagers with criminal leanings. She has a BA in creative writing from Wells College, and her philosophy on life is “you can never go wrong with sriracha sauce.” She lives in Portland Oregon with her wife, their daughter, and their evil overlor—er, cat.

Summer applied the Page 69 Test to Trust Me, I'm Lying, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I place my hand over Ralph's. "Thanks, Ralph. If you find my dad before I do, give him hell and then call me, okay?"

Ralph returns my weak smile and gives my hand a light squeeze.
Page 69 of Trust Me, I’m Lying is part of a revelatory respite scene sandwiched between two more tense action sequences. Julep Dupree, the protagonist, is talking to her father's bookie, looking for clues as to where he might have disappeared to. The bookie admits to knowing that her father was involved with some pretty unsavory people before his abduction. The scene between Ralph and Julep is indicative of Julep's overall approach to people--empathetic actions and feelings covered over with a sardonic, unflappable veneer. Control means a lot to Julep, and even though she's just discovered her dad is likely in some serious trouble, she takes it in stride, at least externally.
Visit Mary Elizabeth Summer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 24, 2014

"Beware the Wild"

Natalie C. Parker grew up in a navy family in which having adventures was as common as reading fairy tales. Though the roots of her family are buried deep in southern Mississippi, she currently lives in Kansas with her partner in a house of monsters. 

Parker applied the Page 69 Test to Beware the Wild, her first novel, and reported the following:
How could I pass up an opportunity called ‘The Page 69 Test’? I couldn’t. Neither could Beware the Wild, so here we go. Most of page 69 in which two girls have just climbed over a fence and brazenly entered the swamp they’re supposed to avoid.
The Wasting Shine glimmers at their approach. Pine branches bob in the breeze like a great gaping maw. A nightmare descends. They can’t really be in the swamp.

“Candy, c’mon,” I urge, “this isn’t funny. Please, come back.”

“Why?” She moves deeper into the woods. “This whole town thinks there’s something horrible hiding in here, but it’s just a swamp, Saucier. Louisiana is lousy with them. They smell like shit and they’re full of gators and ducks, but you know what they’re not full off? Demons and ghosts.”

She smacks her palm against the trunk of a skinny black gum tree and swings around it until she’s facing me again. Shine skitters away, avoiding her touch as if she were a negatively charged magnet.

“Hey!” She shouts. “Demons of this sweltering mud pit, if you exist, come forth, I summon thee!”
When nothing happens, Candy splays her hands as if that’s proof of anything.
If someone has asked me to find a passage of BTW that perfectly encapsulated the central thrust of the novel, I don’t think I could have done better than page 69. Here we have the protagonist Sterling being at once slightly irritated and slightly terrified. We have her best friend Candy being at once slightly irritating and slightly terrifying. And we have the swamp being highly swampy and strange.

I think this sample makes promises the rest of the novel can easily keep. The magic will be menacing, the town will be debilitated by superstition, and there will be smart girls at the center of it all.

Plus gatorboys. There will also be gatorboys.
Visit Natalie C. Parker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"The Falcon Throne"

Karen Miller writes speculative fiction. Mostly of the epic historical kind, but she’s also written Star Wars and Stargate novels and under the pen-name K.E. Mills writes the Rogue Agent series, about a wizard with special skills who works for his government under unusual circumstances.

Miller applied the Page 69 Test to The Falcon Throne, book 1 of The Tarnished Crown series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
'So,' said Harald, stirring. 'Cousin Roric.' The hall's warm light revealed a sheen of sweat, broke sudden upon his forehead. Buried deep within his steady voice, a tremor. But was it fear or rage? There was no way to tell. 'I should've expected this. A wise man knows that sooner or later a cur dog will bite the feeding hand. But love closed my eyes. And now here you are, betraying what little noble blood you possess that's not tainted rotten by the whore who whelped you.'

Humbert muttered a curse. 'Roric, don't -'

'Peace, my lord,' he said mildly, though his heart pounded. 'My mother is dead a score of years. Harald's slighting words can't hurt her. Or me.'

Harald laughed. 'No? Roric, I have more ways to hurt you than there are spines on a hedgehog and I'll enjoy showing you each and every one.'

'Be quiet, Harald,' said Vidar, stepping forward. 'We're not here for a taunting, but to -'

'To disrupt the gaiety of my court!' Harald said, his voice sharply risen. 'And I promise you, I am mightily displeased!'

'Ho, are you?' Humbert retorted, scowling. 'Well, so are we displeased, Harald, with far more grievous cause than you. Now, marry your teeth together a time and hear what's to be done with Berold's duchy, that you held in trust and have treated worse than a poxed drab.'

Still holding Argante's slender hand, drawing her with him, Harald retreated to an ornate chair placed nearby upon a dais. With Argante haughty beside him, her fingers fiercely clasping his, he sat.
Here, then, is the inciting incident in The Falcon Throne, book 1 of The Tarnished Crown series. Harald has been a terrible Duke of Clemen: abusive, greedy, indifferent to common decency, riding roughshod over the rights of his barons. To save the duchy, and themselves, those barons - led by Humbert - have made a pact to support the overthrow of their duke and in his place install his bastard cousin, Roric. It's a desperate move, born of desperation and rage - and it might have worked. Only Clemen's barons have made two serious mistakes. They've under-estimated the threat facing them from the neighbouring duchy of Harcia ... and they've over-estimated Roric's suitability as Harald's replacement.

The Tarnished Crown is an epic fantasy series and The Falcon Throne is its opening act. It tells the story of three duchies and the struggles of their rulers to maintain power in the face of opposition both human and supernatural. It's also the story of four families whose fates are more closely entwined than even they realise. Loyalties are forged, and tested, and broken. Good men and women find themselves acting without honour, while bad men and women are seemingly rewarded for their sins. There's courage and cowardice and desperation and cold-blooded calculation ... and not one of them knows they're being played like pawns on a chess board.
Learn more about the author and her work at Karen Miller's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Falcon Throne.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"An Irish Doctor in Peace and at War"

An Irish Doctor in Peace and At War is the new novel in Patrick Taylor’s beloved Irish Country series.

Taylor applied the Page 69 Test to the novel and reported the following:
From Page 69:
She (Kinky) pointed to some framed faded sepia photos. “Those ones are my family and that one is the County Cork camogie team. That’s me, the thin one on the left.” She shook her head. “Long, long ago now.” She smiled and said, “But those dried flowers in their circular frames, I did pick them fresh in the soft springs and warm summers here in Ballybucklebo and preserved them. I embroidered the samplers when the winter nights were bitter, and the gales howling through the village, but I was snug at my own hearth side here.”

“What’s that one,” Barry asked. “I don’t have the Gaelic.”

She smiled. “It’s called Pangur Bán. It’s a poem written by an Irish monk in the ninth century to his white cat. I did it when Doctor O’Reilly got Lady Macbeth.” She took it down and offered it to O’Reilly. “I’d like for you and Kitty and her ladyship to have this as a memory of me here in this house.”

O’Reilly glanced at Kitty who was smiling and nodding. “Thank you, Kinky,” he said. May I leave it on the wall right here where it’s been these past two years so there’ll always be a memento of Kinky Kincaid in what was her old home and Barry can see it too?”

“I’d like that very much,” Barry said.

“I do think,” she said, “that would be a very fitting thing, so.”

Kitty leant over and kissed Kinky’s cheek. “Thank you so much, Kinky. For everything.”

And for a moment no one spoke.
This segment of page 69 is indeed representative of one half of the new An Irish Doctor in Peace and at War novel describing as it does everyday social and medical events in the 1966 lives of four of the central characters who will be well known to regular readers who wish to follow the doings in Ballybucklebo. The recently married Kinky Kincaid, Doctor O’Reilly’s housekeeper of twenty plus years is moving out to her new home and Doctor Barry Laverty will be moving into her old quarters at Number One, Main Street, Ballybucklebo.

It is not representative of the other half of the book. That is set in 1939 and 1940 and is the story of young Doctor Fingal O’Reilly getting engaged to the woman, Deirdre Mawhinney, who will become his first wife in the sequel to be published in 2015. The onset of WWII in September 1939 results in O’Reilly being called up for service on the battleship HMS Warspite, interrupting his wedding plans and seeing him involved in Atlantic convoys, the battle of Narvik, and being stationed in Alexandria, Egypt whence Warspite does battle off Calabria, suffers air raids, and O’Reilly is seconded for a short time to a destroyer. His shore life in Alex, where the reader will smell the scents of the east, see the busting cosmopolitan city, taste the exotic cooking, puts him in the way of a brother officer’s seductive wife.

Both stories are intertwined and by book’s end the reader will have learned a great deal more about the early influences which shaped the redoubtable Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly.
Learn more about the book and author at Patrick Taylor's website.

My Book, The Movie: An Irish Doctor in Peace and at War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"First Impressions"

Charlie Lovett is a writer, teacher, and playwright, whose plays for children have been seen in more than 3,000 productions. He is a former antiquarian bookseller and an avid book collector. He and his wife split their time between Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Kingham, Oxfordshire, in England.

Lovett's novels include The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession and the newly released First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen.

He applied the Page 69 Test to First Impressions and reported the following:
Page 69 of First Impressions finds Sophie, the modern-day heroine of the book, in crisis. Unable to sleep, she phones her sister to talk about what she should do next. The conversation, which continues on the next page, is actually a critical turning point in the book—the place at which Sophie begins to be proactive and take her future into her own hands. It also illustrates the close bond between Sophie and her sister Victoria. This is not the only time that Sophie will turn to Victoria for help, and, as this passage implies, she knows she can always trust her sister, even when she is not sure she can trust anyone else. We also see here that Victoria is a woman of action; while Sophie feels at sea, her sister is ready to formulate a plan.

Page 69 is a very internal page for Sophie, so there is a lot that is important about First Impressions that is not on that page, most especially Jane Austen. But there are major elements of the book that are hinted at here. Sophie bemoans “the injustice of her Uncle Bertram’s books being sold.” Unpacking that phrase will lead the reader to understand the deep relationship between Sophie and both her Uncle Bertram and books. The heading of page 69, “London, Present Day” is another hint. Why would this heading be needed if the narrative didn’t move around in time and space? In fact, part of the narrative takes place in the 1796 world of Jane Austen.

More than anything, page 69 takes us straight to the confused, broken heart of our heroine Sophie Collingwood. If you have any interest in finding out how she heals, you’ll want to read on.

Page 69:
London, Present Day

Sophie could not sleep. She lay awake in the flat filled with grief, anger, fear, and confusion. Finally she called Victoria. In the sprawling Bayfield House, the sisters had occupied adjacent rooms, and on many nights during their childhood one of them, unable to sleep, had crept into the other’s room and slipped under the covers. Sometimes the visitor simply fell asleep; other times they talked until morning. Sophie missed that. She hated that Victoria lived so far away and that they could only talk on the phone, which could never convey the same warmth as Victoria’s presence.

“Can’t sleep?” said her sister.

“You don’t know the half of it,” said Sophie. She told Victoria everything—the injustice of Uncle Bertram’s books being sold, her confusion about her feelings toward Eric, and how directionless she still felt.

“I wish I could be there with you,” said Victoria.

“I just don’t know what to do,” said Sophie.

“About what?”

“About any of it.”

“Well, let’s take things one at a time,” said Victoria. “First of all, why didn’t you tell me about that letter from Eric? The last time I saw him you were escorting him out of the dining room after he was so rude to Father.”

“He was so arrogant.”
Learn more about the book and author at Charlie Lovett's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Bookman's Tale.

My Book, The Movie: The Bookman's Tale.

Writers Read: Charlie Lovett.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Blue Warrior"

Growing up in a working class family in central California, Mike Maden spent a fair share of his youth in slaughter houses, canneries and feed mills but a lifelong fascination with history and politics ultimately led to a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California (Davis) focusing on the areas of conflict, technology and international relations. After brief stints as a campus lecturer, political consultant and media commentator, Maden turned to studies in theology and a decade of work with a Dallas-based non-profit where he eventually discovered fiction writing. Drone was the result of a recent challenge by two published friends to try his hand at a novel. Written primarily in Texas, Blue Warrior was edited in the shadow of the gorgeous Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee where Maden and his wife Angela now happily reside.

Maden applied the Page 69 Test to Blue Warrior and reported the following:
Page 69 of Blue Warrior occurs in a Senate intelligence briefing. It’s a little wonky because it lays out what’s at stake for both the U.S. and China in the shifting sands of the distant Sahara desert. But the chapter also demonstrates the skill and insight of Senator Barbara Fiero, one of the novel’s primary antagonists. She’s the smartest person in the room—and also the most dangerous. Unfortunately, not a single drone takes flight nor do any bullets fly on this page but there’s plenty of that coming in the chapters that follow. I want my readers to know what’s at stake for all parties involved in my novels, especially the bad guys. Like some wag once said, every villain thinks she is the hero of the story. A great antagonist is never against the hero; she only pursues her own goals that happen to conflict with the hero’s goals. What Senator Fiero wants is actually much bigger than what they found in the desert, and she has both the power and the will to get what she wants, unless….
Visit Mike Maden's website, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: Drone.

The Page 69 Test: Drone.

My Book, The Movie: Blue Warrior.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Peter Watts is a former marine biologist and the Hugo-winning author of numerous short stories and novels such as Starfish, Maelstrom and Behemoth. He has been called "a hard science fiction writer through and through and one of the very best alive" by the Globe and Mail and whose work the New York Times called "seriously paranoid."

Watts applied the Page 69 Test to his novel Echopraxia, the follow-up to the Hugo-nominated novel Blindsight, and reported the following:
First off, let's dispense with the adolescent snickers and agree that we're probably not the first to notice the sexual connotations of this "69 Test"; let's spare a moment to wonder if this blog's editor actually chose "Page 69" for any other reason.

Now, let us never speak of it again.

If I had to choose a single page that capsulized Echopraxia's underlying themes, or highlighted an especially intriguing character, or even just infodumped some nifty-cool bit of science all over your shoes (this book has a lot of that), there are maybe 382 pages that I would choose over 69. Here's what happens on that page: our protagonist, Daniel Brüks, is awakened from a lucid dream in which he's been conversing with his Imaginary Wife. (His real wife has retreated into a virtual environment for superfluous humans called "Heaven"; we can assume from the adoring and ego-boosting nature of the current apparition that Brüks has probably— let's say, idealized — the dream wife over the real one.)

Anyway, the dream ends because sudden bodily discomfort is causing Brüks to wake up. The chapter ends when the dream does. We get a nice pithy epigram, courtesy of Samuel Butler, leading into the next chapter—

To himself everyone is immortal: he may know that he
is going to die, but he can never know that he is dead.

—and then Brüks wakes up, his fingers all pins and needles, and goes for a piss.

Exciting, huh?

If you'd opened the book a few pages back, you'd see that Brüks is at a monastery inhabited by hive-minded monks who used their tame tornado to fend off an attack by military zombies. If you just flipped just one page further on you'd learn that he's all tingly because of a gengineered neurotoxin that's in the process of turning all those monks into tortured twisted body-art exhibits. A few pages past that and you'd see Brüks In Spaaaaaaaaac as the Big Quest got underway.

But noooooo. You get to see our protagonist caricature his ex-wife in his dreams, and then wake up with tingly hands and a full bladder.

Doesn't that just make you want to race out and buy the book?
Learn more about the book and author at Peter Watts's website.

Blindsight is one of Charlie Jane Anders's ten great science fiction novels, published since 2000, that raise huge, important questions.

My Book, The Movie: Peter Watts's Rifters trilogy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"The Boy Who Killed Demons"

Dave Zeltserman's many novels include Monster: A novel of Frankenstein. His short mystery fiction has won the Shamus, Derringer and Ellery Queen's Readers Choice awards. His crime thrillers, Small Crimes and Pariah, both made the Washington Post's best books of the year list in 2008 and 2009, respectively, and Small Crimes was selected by NPR as one of the 5 best crime and mystery novels of 2008.

His horror novel, The Caretaker of Lorne Field, was shortlisted by the American Library Association for best horror novel of 2010 and was also a Black Quill nominee for best dark genre book of the year.

Zeltserman applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Boy Who Killed Demons, and reported the following:
The Boy Who Killed Demons is written as a journal by a fifteen year-old boy who sees demons living among him—creatures who are able to disguise themselves so that everyone else sees them as humans--and takes it upon himself to discover what the demons are up to, and ultimately to save the world from them. Since page 69 is the start of a new journal entry, and is about his parents messing up his plans for the day to look further into demon activity, it’s reasonably representative of the book, especially the flip tone that is used.

While The Boy Who Killed Demons is ostensibly a horror novel, it also deals with heroism from a very unlikely source, teen angst, and has a good amount of humor, and all of that is evident on this page (although you might have to squint a little to see it). The fifteen year-old hero of the novel, Henry Dudlow, not only has to battle demons, but he has to do this without anyone else knowing about it, especially his parents, who have their doubts about their son.
Learn more about the book and author at Dave Zeltserman's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Small Crimes.

The Page 69 Test: Pariah.

The Page 69 Test: Outsourced.

My Book, The Movie: Outsourced.

The Page 69 Test: A Killer's Essence.

My Book, The Movie: A Killer's Essence.

Writers Read: Dave Zeltserman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"We Are Not Good People"

Jeff Somers was born in Jersey City, New Jersey and regrets nothing. His books include the Avery Cates series of novels published by Orbit Books. He sold his first novel at age 16 to a tiny publisher in California which quickly went out of business and has spent the last two decades assuring potential publishers that this was a coincidence. Somers publishes a zine called The Inner Swine and has also published a few dozen short stories; his story “Ringing the Changes” was selected for Best American Mystery Stories 2006, edited by Scott Turow and his story “Sift, Almost Invisible, Through” appeared in the anthology Crimes by Moonlight, published by Berkley Hardcover and edited by Charlaine Harris.

Somers applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, We Are Not Good People, and reported the following:
As it happens, page 69 of We Are Not Good People is ideal, as it actually touches on several themes of the book, is the moment where the protagonist actually realizes just how much danger he’s in and is the first real interaction with the villain, and even includes a nice thumbnail of what the protagonist is: A Trickster.
She studied me for a moment with her bright, glowing green eyes. “Mr. Vonnegan, this is the price of your continued existence. Do you understand me? Refuse me, and I will take you as compensation.” She leaned back in her seat and placed one hand against her temple. “You cannot replace my property. You are not suitable. Suitable candidates are in limited supply and difficult to produce. Therefore, if you do not restore my property me, Mr. Vonnegan, you will suffer for it.”

The word suffer seemed to emerge from her in a cloud of poison, and I had trouble breathing.

I stared at her illusion of herself, and the illusion stared back, power beating against me like a hurricane. I frowned. “I am not a—”

“I know precisely what you are, boy,” she snapped, her voice drowning me. “Idimustari, Trickster. Grifter. A small man of small talents worming his way through life with childish gibberish. Cantrips and other mu, dust in the eyes of those who cannot see.”
The protagonist, Lem, is just starting to realize he is completely out of his depth, and that if he tries to protect the ‛property’ referred to here (a young woman named Claire) he’s going to be in for a world of hurt.

It’s also a good spot because it underlines another theme in the book, which is that no one is particularly good or heroic – hence the title of the book, which is very much an arc-phrase – but there are levels and gradations of badness. Our protagonist might not be a good person, but he is not as unabashedly evil as his interviewer here, who is seeking to set new records for bloodshed.

It’s also a rare page in the book without any profanity.
Learn more about the book and author at Jeff Somers's website.

My Book, The Movie: Chum.

The Page 69 Test: Chum.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"Juliet's Nurse"

Award-winning author Lois Leveen dwells in the spaces where literature and history meet. A confirmed book geek, Leveen earned degrees in history and literature from Harvard, the University of Southern California, and UCLA, and taught on the faculty of UCLA and of Reed College. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the LA Review of Books, the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic and on NPR, as well as in numerous literary and scholarly journals and in film and performing arts festivals.

Leveen applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Juliet's Nurse, and reported the following:
Juliet's Nurse imagines the 14 years leading up to the events in Romeo and Juliet, as told by Angelica, the hired wet-nurse (she has the largest number of lines in Shakespeare's play, after the title characters, so I figured she deserved her own novel). Page 69, the very end of a chapter, may be the shortest page in Juliet's Nurse:
I searched and searched, and found the pearl. And if it was any sin to take it, surely it is absolution to give it over to the Church.

“I prayed to the Holy Mother to help me find the pearl Juliet choked on, and she did,” I say. “Only one, so that must be what the Blessed Maria knows the Church should have.”

Friar Lorenzo looks at me. Looks, I swear, into my very soul. Then he pockets his precious gem and sends us back to Ca’ Cappelletti.
These 88 words offer a fascinating glimpse into Angelica as both a character and a narrator. She is constantly caught between institutions and events against which she is powerless, on the one hand, and her unwavering impulse to assert herself and do what she thinks is best for Juliet, on the other hand. Because the novel is first-person narration, we only hear Angelica's version of events, meaning readers have to decide to what extent they do or don't believe her, even as we see her trying to twist situations to her advantage.

This particular page reveals a woman in 14th-century Italy who has worked out her own relationship to Catholicism, which governs so much of life in this time and place. She considers the possibility that she's sinning but then absolves herself of it. That's especially telling given that she's off to see Friar Lorenzo (Romeo and Juliet fans will recognize him by Shakespeare's Anglicized version of his name, Friar Laurence), who is her confessor but to whom she is decidedly not confessing. In fact, she's in a bit of a power struggle with him, because she's supposed to bring him more than one pearl but doesn't. As a woman who breastfeeds for a living, she regularly identifies (or perhaps overidentifies) with the Virgin Mary, whom she invokes here to justify her actions and to give herself more religious authority in her exchange with Friar Lorenzo.

It's important to consider that Angelica believes every word that appears on this page. She doesn't perceive herself as manipulative or self-justifying or competing with Friar Lorenzo. This might seem to make her overbearing as a narrator and a character, yet throughout the novel Angelica's complete devotion to Juliet wins us over, at least most of the time. Ultimately, this mini-scene signals the beginning of a conflict between Angelica and the friar that grows more significant later in the book. But it also shows us both Angelica's strengths and her flaws, which is one of the serendipitous wonders of the page 69 test.
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--Marshal Zeringue