Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Henna House"

Nomi Eve is the author of Henna House and The Family Orchard, which was a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection and was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award.

She has an MFA in fiction writing from Brown University and has worked as a freelance book reviewer for The Village Voice and New York Newsday.

Her stories have appeared in Glimmer Train Stories, The Voice Literary Supplement, Conjunctions, and The International Quarterly.

Eve applied the Page 69 Test to Henna House and reported the following:
From page 69:
More than two years passed. I would be lying if I said that I spent those years doing anything other than praying for Asaf to come back. No one knew, of course. I kept my single-minded devotions to myself. The only ones to rebuke me were my little idols, my only true confidants, who grew tired of my doleful lamentations and urged me to stop pining for a boy who would never come back. At least that is what I imagined they said, as I offered them grain and sage and bowed my head to their altar.

Nothing remarkable happened in those years. But when I was eleven everything changed. One day my father stumbled on his way into our house, almost falling, catching himself with a surprised grunt. It was the winter of 1930. He had news to share. A letter in his hand. My mother worked at the table, stretching out jachnun dough. He explained that his youngest brother, Barhun, Barhun’s wife, Rahel, and their youngest daughter would be leaving their home in Aden and coming to live with us. My mother relinquished her tender hold on the dough and swore that Rahel Damari wouldn’t cross her threshold, let alone come to live in her house.

“He is my brother. “ My father’s voice rose and wavered at the same time; he was incredulous, angry.

“If they come, they won’t leave,” my mother yelled. “And if she comes here, I will leave you.”

My mother had threatened many things in their twenty-four years of marriage, but never this.

“And where will you go?”

“Back to Taiz.”

“You’ll go nowhere, Sulamit!” My father coughed, a great heaving rattle, then grabbed my mother by the wrist and pulled her arm toward….
How lucky I am! Page 69 was actually the first page I ever wrote of Henna House. It is perhaps the most important page of the book. My main character, Hani Damari is in the kitchen with her mother when her father bursts in with important news. Hani’s mother is kneading dough when her father waves a letter. He reads to them the news that his brother, sister-in-law and niece from the far away city of Aden are coming to live with them. Hani has never met her uncle, aunt and cousin. Her father shares the news excitedly, but her mother is furious. Hani watches in horror as her mother spits in the dough, and actually threatens to leave the family if the “other Damaris” come. Hani wonders why her mother hates the aunt so much. She wonders what the aunt could have done to deserve such wrath. She also wonders about her cousin -- who she is? what she is like? Hani is desperate for answers to these questions and is also desperate for a companion. In the days that follow, Hani longs for her sophisticated cousin from Aden to blaze into her life and sweep away her loneliness.

I began this book with the notion that Adela’s life had to change and that it would change through the arrival of her vivacious cousin, Hani. By the end of this passage, one of the central crises of the book is firmly in place. The mysterious visitors will come, bringing with them the blessings and curses that will change Hani’s life, for the better and for the worse.
Visit Nomi Eve's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Henna House.

Writers Read: Nomi Eve.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Three Story House"

Courtney Miller Santo teaches creative writing at the University of Memphis, where she earned her MFA. She is the author of the novels The Roots of the Olive Tree and the newly released Three Story House.

Santo applied the Page 69 Test to Three Story House and reported the following:
Three Story House is not only the story of the spite house the three cousins are working to save, it is also the three individual stories of the cousins. On page 69, the reader gets a taste of the dual aspect of the novel as the women explore the cupola, which perches on top of the home.
They made Elyse go first since she put up a fuss about climbing the backless stairs. Isobel followed, carrying a broom. Lizzie had tried to warn them how small the space was, but when she finally made it up the stairs, she found Elyse marveling that by stretching her arms, she could touch all sides of the cupola. Behind them a second room expanded the area beyond the telephone booth-like space that the stairs opened into. The larger room had a barn door on rollers and window seats. There were a few cast-off items littering the floor, including a smaller replica of Spite House that, if she remembered correctly had once been a mailbox. The prisms that were so much a part of Lizzie’s childhood remained in place. Isobel pushed through both rooms, spilling out onto the roof with the relief of someone who didn’t like small spaces.
You have each of the cousins reacting to the space—Elyse with marvel, Lizzie with nostalgia and Isobel once again determined not to be confined. And there is the clutter of the house’s history complete with a replica of itself. I hope that what reader’s get from this page is a picture of how intertwined these women are with each other and with the house. I want them to root for them to succeed and hate it when they fail.
Learn more about the book and author at Courtney Miller Santo's website.

My Book, The Movie: Three Story House.

Writers Read: Courtney Miller Santo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Tabula Rasa"

Ruth Downie is the author of a series of mysteries featuring Roman Army medic and reluctant sleuth, Gaius Petreius Ruso: Medicus, Terra Incognita, Persona Non Grata, Caveat Emptor, Semper Fidelis, and the newly released Tabula Rasa.

Downie applied the Page 69 Test to Tabula Rasa and reported the following:
From page 69:
“This is too important for writing down!” Tilla insisted. “I am shamed! Why are you sending soldiers to Senecio’s house?”

“I haven’t….” Even as he denied it, light dawned.

Tilla said, “They are looking for your clerk and taking names and burning people’s farms down!”

“They’re what?”

“They are burning houses!” insisted Virana. “Did you not see the smoke in the sky?”

“They searched the houses and the cow-barn,” said Tilla. “They knocked over the loom and the fire-irons and licked the honey-spoon and drank the beer and broke some eggs. They said they might set fire to everything. If I had not told them I was your wife who knows what they would have done? And then they told everybody that you had ordered them to do it!”
I was surprised, and relieved, to find that page 69 embodies the central conflict of the book: the strained relationship between occupiers and occupied in Roman Britain. I’m not sure why this fascinates me, but it’s the tension that drives me to write the series.

A little context: the story is set in AD122. The Britons are still smarting from the failure of a serious rebellion that took place a couple of years ago, and the building of Hadrian’s Wall across native farmland is raising hackles once more amongst the local tribes.

Legionary medic Ruso is currently stationed on the border, charged with tending the soldiers as they build. His wife Tilla, a British woman, has introduced him to a local family, but the tentative friendship is shortlived. Ruso is dragged into an incident between soldier and native elsewhere and Page 69 captures the moment when she tells him that he’s caused serious offence.
As the story progresses, what started as a minor spat between individuals threatens to spiral out of control, leaving Ruso and Tilla marooned on opposite sides of some serious violence. Part of the problem is the willingness of each side to believe the worst about the other – a form of behaviour that’s easy to condemn from the outside, but alarmingly easy to slip into once one is involved.

To be honest we don’t really know how the local tribes saw the building of Hadrian’s Wall: all we have is a scathing remark from one of the garrisons stationed in the area, referring to them as “wretched little Brits”.

That was enough.
Learn more about the book and author at Ruth Downie's website.

The Page 69 Test: Caveat Emptor.

Writers Read: Ruth Downie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 25, 2014

"A Song for Issy Bradley"

Carys Bray completed an M.A. in creative writing at Edge Hill University in 2010. That same year she won the M.A. category of the Edge Hill Prize for the Short Story, and her stories have since been published in a variety of literary magazines. She was awarded the Scott Prize for her debut collection, Sweet Home. She lives in Southport, England, with her husband and four children.

Bray applied the Page 69 Test to A Song for Issy Bradley, her first novel, and reported the following:
Is page 69 representative of the rest of the book?

Page 69 is the saddest part of the novel. Issy Bradley is desperately ill and her parents Claire and Ian are at her bedside. Claire is beginning to come to terms with the fact that Issy is unlikely to get better, but Ian is determinedly optimistic.

While it’s an important scene, I wouldn’t say it’s representative of the novel as a whole. Despite the fact that A Song for Issy Bradley is about what happens following the death of a child, it’s also a funny book - life doesn’t stop after Issy dies. Older sister Zipporah falls in love for the first time, brother Alma gets himself in a terrible mess when he ‘borrows’ a roll of bank notes and little Jacob Bradley hatches an impossible to plan to fix his family.

Would a reader skimming that page be inclined to read on?

I hope so. Nick Hornby wrote a very generous review in The Believer. He noted the novel’s initial sadness but went on to say, ‘I loved A Song for Issy Bradley. It’s wry, smart, human, and, rather miraculously, avoids mawkishness.’

I’d advise a prospective reader to also browse page 169. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the resurrection of a goldfish (the one depicted on the cover) and contrasts nicely with the sadness of page 69.
‘I think it’s best to give her more time.’ Ian looks to Claire for support. ‘Give her a chance to turn the corner.’

‘Mr Bradley, the septicaemia is progressing and –’

‘You see children on television who’ve had their fingers and toes amputated - whole legs, hands, even arms - don’t you?’

‘Yes, you do.’ Dr Sabzwari says it so kindly and regretfully that Claire knows she is going to follow up with something awful. ‘But you almost never see children at this stage of the disease make a recovery. Isabel’s blood pressure is low which means there’s poor blood flow to her major organs and poor blood flow to the brain causes brain damage. I think we’re approaching the stage where we need to talk about what happens next.’

Claire looks from Doctor Sabzwari to Ian. ‘Do you think...do you think we could talk about this in the morning?’ she asks. ‘Our other children, we need to talk to them, they should be here...’

Ian grabs her hand and squeezes hard and she realises he thinks she’s prevaricating, holding out for a miracle, too.
Visit Carys Bray's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Song for Issy Bradley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Sisters' Fate"

Jessica Spotswood lives in Washington, D.C., with her playwright husband and a cuddly cat named Monkey.

Spotswood applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Sisters' Fate, and reported the following:
Warning: this entry contains major spoilers for book 2 in the Cahill Witch Chronicles, Star Cursed!

From page 69:
"I'm fine." I'm not fine. What's O'Shea cooking up now? Hundreds of Brothers will be at the bazaar. Any of us could make a misstep and be arrested. Things seem so on edge. And beyond that--

"Are you worried Finn will be there?" Rilla cuts right to the heart of it.

My breath catches in my throat, and I feel such a coward. Am I that obvious, that pitiful, that everyone can see the truth written on my face?

"I don't know," I whisper, burying my head in my hands. "I miss him. So much. I want to see him but - he won't know me. Not really."

Rilla plants her hands on her sturdy hips and gives a fierce little scowl. "I could slap that sister of yours."
That's only half of page 69, but I think it's very representative of the main conflicts of the book. My protagonist, Cate, is struggling to forgive her sister for an unforgivable betrayal. Her sister hasn't shown an ounce of apology or remorse, but there's a prophecy that one Cahill sister will murder another. If Cate can't somehow find it in her heart to forgive Maura, does she risk being the one to make that prophecy come true? As if that's not difficult enough, Cate and her sisters (and friends like Rilla, who's one of my favorite side characters) are all witches in a society that has outlawed magic. A war is brewing between the oppressed witches and the priests of the Brotherhood. Brother O'Shea, the head of the Brotherhood, is indeed cooking something up - and will announce it, much to Cate's horror, at the bazaar that night. She'll also have to see her ex, Finn, for the first time since their rather complicated breakup. Which he doesn't remember. He doesn't remember any of what they once were to one another. You see, Maura erased all his memories of Cate...which is an awful lot to forgive, no?
Learn more about the book and author at Jessica Spotswood's website.

My Book, The Movie: Star Cursed.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 23, 2014

"Random"

Tom Leveen is the author of Sick, Party, Zero, and manicpixiedreamgirl. Zero was named to YALSA’s list of Best Fiction for Young Adults.

His latest novel is Random.

Leveen applied the Page 69 Test to Random and reported the following:
Hmm. Actually, my 69 falls on the start of a chapter. Reading it over, I think it would be enough to at least turn the page to 70; there is a relationship evident between the two characters who are speaking, and it’s obvious one of them is hiding something. And there’s just enough humor to keep things rolling. I think page 69 isn’t a bad … random page to read.

Ha! Come on, that was great.

…I’ll go now.
Learn more about the book and author at Tom Leveen's website.

Leveen is also the author of Sick, Party, Zero, and manicpixiedreamgirl. Zero was named to YALSA’s list of Best Fiction for Young Adults.

My Book, The Movie: Zero.

My Book, The Movie: Sick.

The Page 69 Test: Sick.

Writers Read: Tom Leveen.

My Book, The Movie: Random.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 22, 2014

"The Spark and the Drive"

Before working as a corrections officer in Rutland, Vermont, Wayne Harrison was an auto mechanic for six years in Waterbury, Connecticut. A first-generation college student, he began in his mid twenties as a criminal justice major before getting turned on to creative writing by mentor and friend Jeffrey Greene. He later received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

His fiction has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. His short stories appear in Best American Short Stories 2010, The Atlantic, Narrative Magazine, McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, Crazyhorse, The Sun, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, FiveChapters, New Letters and other magazines. His fiction has earned a Maytag fellowship, an Oregon Literary fellowship and a Fishtrap Writing Fellowship. He teaches writing at Oregon State University.

Harrison applied the Page 69 Test to The Spark and the Drive, his debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“When my little sister was a baby,” I said, “she got a fever like a hundred and five. We had to take her to Emergency. She was laying in my lap. She needed a drink, but we didn’t have her bottle, we forgot it. She lost her voice she was so thirsty. Her eyes were all pink. Her fingers were burning up. I thought she was going to die, like I was seeing it happen. I mean she was just holding on to my finger.”

We were both sitting on milk crates at this point with the engine between us, and I could only see his legs under the exhaust ports. The legs were still.

“We get to the hospital, and my mom runs in with her. I’m just sort of wandering around between cars. I remember being in this Chinese restaurant all of a sudden, and the hostess was talking to me. Your brain just shuts off. All I could think was, she’s not coming home again. She never even said a word yet. She never walked. She never did anything wrong. If she didn’t make it, man, I don’t know what I would have done.”

I had to get up. I went over and leaned against the bay door, where I stared at the ground and smoked half a cigarette. When I came back to the engine Nick was frowning at the bearing cap, turning his coarse-toothed Snap-On ratchet so slowly you could count the clicks.

“That’s what I mean,” I said. “Just talking.”

He lit a cigarette.

“Your turn,” I said.

“What do you say we quit playing Sigmund Freud and get back to work.”
In this passage, Justin, the 18-year-old narrator, is rebuilding an exotic muscle car engine with his mentor, Nick Campbell, the greatest muscle car mechanic in New England. The engine was actually more than exotic -- it was, at the time, the most powerful American production engine, a '69 ZL1 427, one of only two built. There's a lot riding on Nick's rebuilding it correctly. In the past year, he lost his baby son to SIDS, and since then his work has been coming back for amateur mistakes he's made as a result of his grief. Justin knows that if Nick keeps screwing up, he's going to lose the shop. Justin's plan is to get Nick to open up and exorcise his inner demons so that he can be great again. But in the coming pages, Justin will find exactly out how precarious his meddling in Nick's personal business will become.
Visit Wayne Harrison's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"The Stepsister's Tale"

Tracy Barrett is the author of twenty works of fiction and nonfiction for young readers, most recently The Stepsister’s Tale (Harlequin Teen), Dark of the Moon (Harcourt), and The Sherlock Files series (Henry Holt). Barrett was the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Regional Advisor for the Midsouth from 1999 to 2009 and is currently SCBWI’s US Regional Advisor Coordinator. She was awarded the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant in 2005. She holds an A.B. in Classical Archaeology from Brown University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval Italian Literature from UC Berkeley. She lives in Nashville, TN, where until recently she taught Italian at Vanderbilt University.

Barrett applied the Page 69 Test to The Stepsister’s Tale and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Stepsister’s Tale is the end of a chapter, so it isn’t a full page:
was scowling and dragging his feet. The man picked up his cup again, and the boy stopped short. The man pushed him forward with an impatient, “Go on.”

The boy raised his eyes but didn’t look Jane directly in the face. “Thank you for offering—” His father nudged him in the back, and he hastily added, “Miss. But I don’t care for any.” He looked at his father as though to say, “Satisfied?”

Jane knew that the boy was feeling terribly uncomfortable, and she tried to keep “Serves you right” out of her voice as she answered, “I don’t either. My sister usually makes the tea, but I did it this time and I don’t really know how. I’m afraid it isn’t very good.”

As though surprised at her friendly tone, the boy finally looked at her, and he broke into a reluctant grin, showing white teeth. He instantly quenched the smile, but for that moment he had appeared friendly, and Jane could see humor in his dark eyes. The man gulped down his tea. The two of them returned to work, and Jane returned to the house, thinking she would never understand the people of the woods.
This is actually a pretty important part of the book, where Jane (the older of Cinderella’s two stepsisters) meets the boy who—well, never mind what he will do or be to Jane; I’ll let you find that out for yourself!

Jane and her sister, Maude, are high-born but impoverished sisters whose father drank and gambled away most of their money before dying. Their widowed mother, who refuses to accept that they no longer live a life of ease and luxury, marries a man with a spoiled daughter (Isabella) who whines when asked to do her share of the work necessary to keep things afloat. Will (the scowling boy) is the son of a woodcutter who resents the people who live in the big house. All of them—including Isabella—will learn that not everything is at it seems.

You can learn a lot about their characters here. Will is resentful but can’t help showing his friendlier side, much as he’d like to hide it, and Jane is awkward around strangers, as her mother keeps them away from people she considers their inferiors—which includes just about everybody.
Visit Tracy Barrett's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Tracy Barrett & Pericles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Sweetness #9"

Stephan Eirik Clark was born in West Germany and raised between England and the United States. He is the author of the short story collection Vladimir's Mustache. A former Fulbright Fellow to Ukraine, he teaches English at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

Clark applied the Page 69 Test to his newly released debut novel, Sweetness #9, and reported the following:
Sweetness #9 tells the story of a flavor chemist who fails to blow the whistle on a new artificial sweetener, then later comes to regret this decision when the side-effects he first observed in laboratory rats and monkeys begin to appear in his wife and children. More than this, though, it is a novel that looks at the many ways we interact with food to show how what we eat reveals what we think about our bodies, our minds, our spirits, and our relationships.

With that in mind, page 69 is highly representative of the novel as a whole. On it, my protagonist, David Leveraux, is struggling with what he's seen in animal testing and his inability to share his thoughts and fears with his wife. At such a point, many people would turn to religion for support. David is no different, though his religion is one of his own creation: believing this will make him live a long and healthy life, he adopts the diet of The Oldest Man in America -- in this case, a former missionary who picked up a taste for cassavas and coconut milk while serving as a missionary in The Kingdom of Kongo and then Siam.

"You do know what a cassava is, don't you?" David asks his wife, after insisting that she go shopping for him (he's too on edge to do it himself). "Not a sweet potato, not a yam -- a cassava," he continues. "Here, let me draw you a picture. Okay? Yes? Now once you've picked up those -- and get two dozen, if you can -- find some coconut milk. It's absolutely imperative that you find some coconut milk. Should I write that down?"
Visit Stephan Eirik Clark's website.

My Book, The Movie: Sweetness #9.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"Of Metal and Wishes"

Sarah Fine is a child psychologist and the author of several books for teens, including Of Metal and Wishes (McElderry/Simon & Schuster) and its sequel (coming in August 2015), and the Guards of the Shadowlands YA urban fantasy series (Skyscape/Amazon Children’s Publishing). She's also the co-author (with Walter Jury) of two YA sci-fi thrillers published by Putnam/Penguin: Scan and its sequel Burn (which will be published in 2015). Her first adult urban fantasy romance novel, Marked, will be published in January 2015 by 47North/Amazon Publishing.

Fine applied the Page 69 Test to Of Metal and Wishes and reported the following:
From page 69:
Melik’s jaw tightens. “Tercan should not be left alone. We’re . . .” His broad shoulders slump. “We’re afraid they might come and take him, that they might expel him from the compound or just put him on a train out of town.”

They might. Right now Tercan is taking up space an able-bodied worker could occupy. He is eating food meant for people who can make money for the company.

I pull the still-warm buns out of my pocket. “I brought these for you. And for Tercan,” I add quickly.

Melik inhales the scent and his stomach growls. He puts a hand over his belly. I offer him a bun. “You haven’t eaten all day, have you?”

He shakes his head. “You don’t have to do any of this, Wen. Why are you?” He raises his eyes to mine, and I almost tell him. But if I did, he would hate me. He would know how bad I am, and I like the way he’s looking at me right now.

“Because you’re far from home and you deserve some kindness.” As it slips out of my mouth, I realize I believe it.
Choosing a random page in a book and asking if it’s representative of the rest could be a gamble, and I was somewhat surprised to find that this page is actually a very nice depiction of one of the major conflicts in Of Metal and Wishes, which is most easily described as a cross between The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux and The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

Melik and Tercan are members of the reviled Noor ethnic group, many of whom have been hired as cheap labor at the slaughterhouse where Wen lives with her father, the factory’s on-site physician. Like everyone else in her Itanyai ethnic group, Wen has been taught to fear and despise the Noor, and early on, it seems like she has good reason: Tercan humiliates her in the factory’s cafeteria. But after Wen makes an impulsive wish for revenge to the factory’s resident ghost and he grants it in a particularly brutal manner, she’s left feeling responsible for the outcome.

Here, on page 69, she’s trying to make up for it in any way she can. She’s starting to realize that the Noor are just young men who want to work and send money home to their families, and now they’re caught in the relentless grip of the slaughterhouse and its malevolent bosses. And as that realization grows, it drives her actions and her growth throughout the rest of the book.
Visit Sarah Fine's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 18, 2014

"Small Blessings"

Martha Woodroof was born in the South, went to boarding school and college in New England, ran away to Texas for a while, then fetched up in Virginia. She has written for NPR, npr.org, Marketplace and Weekend America, and for the Virginia Foundation for Humanities Radio Feature Bureau. Her print essays have appeared in such newspapers as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Woodroof applied the Page 69 Test to Small Blessings, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
... like thin velvet between his fingers. The truth was that his mother-in-law often said things he was too timid even to think, things such as Marjory is better off dead. When he actually considered it, though, that statement seemed pretty likely to be true. Twenty-three years of marriage, and the woman he’d been married to was better off dead. Tom tried to picture Rose Callahan’s oddly peaceful face, but it eluded him. He knew Agnes was waiting for him to say something. “I wish,” he said, “that Marjory could have figured out a way to be more relaxed about things. I really do. But she didn’t seem to have much capacity for relaxation.”

Agnes snorted. “The master of understatement speaks again!”

Tom put the petal carefully back where it had fallen on the table. “I guess you’ve got that right.” It was a great relief to find that he and Agnes could still talk; that the two of them were joined in a way that had, initially anyway, survived Marjory’s death. He would at least have a comfortable beginning to this long tumultuous day. Small blessings. There was his mother again. Louise Putnam was in a New Jersey nursing home, smoothing her apron and planning to bake brownies for him and her dead husband, blissfully convinced it was 1967. Growing up, Tom had thought she was mostly hopeless, only able to grasp the occasional big picture, such as civil rights. But now he knew she’d been wise, taking sustenance from the simple pleasures of everyday things. When you got down to actual survival, that was the big picture.

Agnes ground out her Camel. “So let’s have it,” she said around a final blast of smoke. “I think I’ve put off knowing long enough.”

It didn’t occur to Tom to be disingenuous, to ask, “Have what?” or to stall for time by talking about what he was about to talk about. He took a deep breath and addressed the jar of roses. “I have a ten-year-old son named Henry who’s arriving in Charlottesville on the Monday morning train. I had no idea he existed until that letter arrived.”

“Hmmm.” Agnes lit another Camel. Tom heard her sucking and blowing, but other than that, nothing. The silence was unbearable, so he rattled on. “I had a short affair with a visiting poet the year before you came to live with us. It only lasted three weeks, but I guess that was long enough to produce Henry. I’m so, so sorry.”

“Why?” Agnes asked.
My goodness, page 69 of Small Blessings contains the line from which I drew the title -- rather a small blessing in its own right...

I think this page -- which holds a conversation between Tom Putnam, English professor and our hero, and his redoubtable mother-in-law, Agnes Tattle -- shows both these characters and their relationship. Tom and Agnes are two somewhat ordinary people who find themselves beset with extraordinary events. To me, over the course of the novel they strengthen each other, challenge each other, respect each other, love each other, and enjoy each other -- all of which is kind of there on this one page.

Plus, it takes place at the kitchen table, which is as central to this piece of fiction as it is to my own life.
Visit Martha Woodroof's website.

My Book, The Movie: Small Blessings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Fleabrain Loves Franny"

Joanne Rocklin's books include One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street, which won the California Book Award, and The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook, which won the Golden Kite Award and was named to Florida’s Sunshine State Young Readers Award master list.

Rocklin applied the Page 69 Test to her latest middle grade novel, Fleabrain Loves Franny, and reported the following:
My novel takes place in the 1950’s in Pittsburgh, during the worst polio epidemics of that era. Franny, the main character contracts the disease and can no longer walk. During her hospital stay she is introduced to the recently published Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and falls in love with the book, and, especially, the spider, Charlotte. She longs for a Charlotte of her own. Her wish is granted in the form of the brilliant and hilarious Fleabrain, her dog’s flea. Fleabrain mentions that he's read Kafka's Metamorphosis, a book on her parents' bookshelf. Franny seeks out the book, discovering that other readers have loved the story, writing comments such as "Kafka has the answers" in its margins. On page 69 [inset left; click to enlarge] she asks Professor Gutman, a scientist working in Jonas Salk's lab, to help her translate it.

To many, Kafka's stories reflect the meaningless and unpredictability of life, and certainly Franny's life has taken a Kafkaesque turn. But sometimes literature, and life itself, offer hidden beauties. The professor eventually arrives at an understanding of the story, inspired by Franny's self-acceptance and endurance.

I hope that my story about Fleabrain and Franny illuminates humor and courage in the face of life's bittersweetness, as well as the solace of the imagination.
Visit Joanne Rocklin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue