Friday, September 20, 2019

"The Imaginary Corpse"

Tyler Hayes is a science fiction and fantasy writer from Northern California. He writes stories he hopes will show people that not only are they not alone, but we might just make things better.

Hayes applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, The Imaginary Corpse, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Imaginary Corpse is a recap-heavy scene, but in some roundabout ways it provides a nice encapsulation of what the book is about.
I slump into Mr Float’s Rootbeerium with my head hung low, belly up to one of the cake-stools, and order two double-scoop floats, heavy on the whipped cream.
This opening paragraph is a good summation of the surface imagery of the book: surreal and childlike.
The Legion is swapping quips and war stories like usual, but it doesn’t take my detective stuff to hear the tension in their voices, or to see them taking turns watching the room over their shoulders. The news hasn’t hit them hard enough to make them abandon their favorite watering hole, but the idea isn’t out of the question yet.
Here you get to see Tippy's 'detective stuff,' his magical sixth sense that helps him interpret clues and provide details his normal consciousness might not pick up. You also see the more complex emotions backing up the phantasmagorical exterior of the book, and a hint about the effects the denizens of the Stillreal have on each other, both positive and negative – a theme that will come back again and again. Most important here is that Tippy is concerned by their upset, which says a lot about who he is.
Mr Float swings by, his bar towel now flecked with root beer and cream, and drops off a glass that might qualify as a vase. It's comfort food – a foaming, towering, foot-plus-tall heap of comfort food. I bend the extra-long straw to my lips, take a sip of carbonated brain food, and review the clues.
This paragraph shows off a touch of the narrative voice. It also anchors the 'childish' elements in the more complicated narrative by showing them as both everyday and a source of comfort.

There are other pages I'd pick as the ideal summary of the book, but page 69 shows off a lot of the heart, and that makes it a reasonable success.
Visit Tyler Hayes's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Imaginary Corpse.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 19, 2019

"The Sweetest Fruits"

Born in Saigon, South Vietnam, Monique Truong came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1975. Her novels include The Book of Salt and Bitter in the Mouth.

Truong applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Sweetest Fruits, and reported the following:
I didn’t write one word on page 69 of The Sweetest Fruits. Thank goodness because there are glaring historical inaccuracies. I’m a writer of fiction, but my third novel is a work of historical fiction, and facts are its flying buttresses, star anchors, and tie rods (mixing disparate architectural eras here). Instead, the writer was Elizabeth Bisland, the first biographer of Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), a Greek-Irish author of over twenty books, who circumnavigated the world and who connected Elizabeth to the three women—Rosa, Alethea, and Setsu—whose first-person voices I did write. When Hearn passed away in Tokyo in 1904, he was well-respected and well-known as a Western expert on Japanese folklore, ghost stories, and cultural miscellany. Excerpts from Elizabeth’s biography of Hearn, published in the U.S. only two years after his passing, provide the official history of Hearn, while the voices of his mother and his two wives, the former born into slavery in Kentucky and the latter the daughter of a former samurai family in Matsue, Japan, calls that history into question. It’s this interplay between what is documented and what may have been lost or suppressed that is at the heart of The Sweetest Fruits.
--Monique Truong © 2019
Visit Monique Truong's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

"The Sisters of Summit Avenue"

Lynn Cullen is the bestselling author of historical novels The Sisters of Summit Avenue, Twain’s End, Mrs. Poe, Reign of Madness, and I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Sisters of Summit Avenue and reported the following:
From page 69:
After eight years, Ruth knew to wait to see if this was one of the days that he could talk. And to not expect that it would be. So often when she sat with him, he couldn’t even open his eyes. They would quiver under his lids while his mouth and fingers twitched, like a long-dead monster coming back to life. No wonder the kids were afraid of him.

She took a deep breath and entered.

His eyes were open.

She cocked her head with surprise. “Hello.”
The “long-dead monster coming back to life” is John, a once-vital young man suffering from what was commonly called “sleeping sickness.” Millions of patients fell ill with encephalitis lethargica during a worldwide epidemic from 1915 to 1926. Many died, including the wife of the richest man in America, J.P. Morgan. Others, like John, and like my own grandfather, survived, only to be mostly confined to bed, sometimes lingering for decades. There was nothing wrong with the sufferers’ bodies. The victims retained all of their senses and were capable of moving—they simply could not stay awake long enough to interact. They could hear their families and see them, just not often join them.

This epidemic that affected so many lives is now relatively unknown. How did it drop from public consciousness? Because it ran its course at the same time as the Spanish Influenza epidemic? Because World War I and then rebuilding after the war commanded everyone’s attention? Or was it because of the mores of the time, families were embarrassed to have invalids at home, and so they kept it quiet? There were no public services to help patients and their families even if they did report an illness, so perhaps many long-term cases simply dropped from sight.

In The Sisters of Summit Avenue, set in 1934 in the middle of the Great Depression, one sister, June, is always golden. She marries well; she’s wealthy; she’s beautiful; she’s such a perfect hostess that she works developing recipes for that beloved food goddess, Betty Crocker. The other sister, Ruth, is the black sheep. She’s losing her husband’s family farm; she’s a little plain and way too blunt; her husband is bedbound with sleeping sickness. Yet each sister desperately wants something the other has. Page 69 hints at what that might be.
Learn more about the book and author at Lynn Cullen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

"The Nanny"

Gilly Macmillan is the Edgar nominated and New York Times bestselling author of What She Knew, The Perfect Girl, Odd Child Out, I Know You Know, and The Nanny. She grew up in Swindon, Wiltshire and lived in Northern California in her late teens. She worked at The Burlington Magazine and the Hayward Gallery before starting a family. Since then she's worked as a part-time lecturer in photography, and now writes full-time. She resides in Bristol, England.

Macmillan applied the Page 69 Test to The Nanny and reported the following:
Page 69 is the start of a chapter about the detective investigating the human remains found at Lake Hall. Detective Andy Wilton, who is working class and no lover of the English upper classes, arrives at Lake Hall to interview Lady Virginia Holt. It’s not his first glimpse of the property but it is the first time he’s been inside, and he drinks it in, half-impressed, half-revolted that some people can own so much. It’s a great window into the tension between social classes that runs through the book and also the extremely privileged world that Virginia Holt and her family occupy. It hints at the fact that the Holts think themselves above the law. Andy also glimpses Ruby, Virginia’s eleven-year-old granddaughter, who is standing on the staircase, all dressed up in her grandmother’s clothes and luridly made up in her make up. Andy thinks of a David Lynch movie, emphasising how alien he finds the environment he has stepped into, and how surreal. The strangeness of the scene and the combative responses of Lady Virginia introduce a hint of menace.
Visit Gilly Macmillan's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Nanny.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 16, 2019

"Swipe Right For Murder"

Derek Milman has worked as a playwright, screenwriter, film school teacher, DJ, and underground humor magazine publisher. A classically trained actor, he has performed on stages across the country and appeared in numerous TV shows, commercials, and films. Milman currently resides in Brooklyn, New York, where he writes full time.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Swipe Right for Murder, his second novel for young adults, and reported the following:
I think page 69 is representative of the novel. Aidan, our hero, has hooked up with an older man at a ritzy hotel (via app) and the man has wound up dead. Getting embroiled in a gay terror group called The Swans, and being hunted by them and the Feds, Aidan has gone on the run, and he pretty much stays on the run for most of the story. The book has a lot of movement, Aidan always in flight. On page 69 Aidan has traveled from upper Manhattan to a warehouse party late at night in glowing, kaleidoscopic Brooklyn, where he's trying to convince his slightly drunk, slightly stoned best friend Jackson that he's in serious trouble. Jackson, in turn, is trying to get Aidan to examine some of his reckless behavior which led to all this drama to begin with. They're both blurry and off-kilter, in their own ways, not quite seeing the other person in front of them. Anyway, Aidan nabbed a flash drive from that hotel room, which curiously contains loads of photos of himself, even ones going back to him at school, and he needs to find out why, and soon. It's life or death.
Visit Derek Milman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Scream All Night.

Writers Read: Derek Milman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 15, 2019

"The Man with No Borders"

Richard C. Morais's books include the New York Times and international bestseller The Hundred-Foot Journey, a novel about an Indian chef who conquers the rarified world of French haute cuisine. The book sold in 35 territories around the world and in 2014 Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey released The Hundred-Foot Journey as a popular film starring Helen Mirren and Om Puri.

Morais applied the Page 69 Test to his newest novel, The Man with No Borders, and reported the following:
By chance, page 69 ends with the happiest day in the narrator José Maria Alvarez de Oviedo’s long life. It is the day, as a teenager, José catches a record 28 salmon on the Sella River in northern Spain, while helping his much-loved younger brother Juan catch his first salmon on the fly. At the end of the day, the boys joyously gather with their father and uncle in front of the fishing lodge, as the river guides lay out on the grass banks behind them all the fish the Alvarez family have caught that day. The family, drunk on fish and scotch, poses for a photograph before their salmon slaughter, just as the sun is setting “and the air around the fish is, for a glorious moment, imbued with a pink-and-blue rainbow shimmer.”

But Jose’s final observation is only about his brother: “Juan never looked more radiant and alive and full of hope for the future. One hand was lightly and possessively touching the flank of the first salmon he ever caught on the fly, but his other, it must be said, was wrapped tightly around my shoulder, pulling me close toward him.”

In many ways the entire novel is contained in those two final lines of the chapter – José is drawn in close by his brother, both Juan and the very air they breathe redolent with love and life and hope, but below the surface of this scene there is a faint sense of tragedy and foreboding and a longing to hold on to this special moment forever. But that is life – such moments slip through our fingers forever and remain, in the end, only as wispy visions in our fading memory.
Visit Richard C. Morais's website; watch a video of the author explaining why he wrote the novel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 13, 2019

"The Secrets of Lost Stones"

For as long as she can remember, Melissa Payne has been telling stories in one form or another—from high school newspaper articles to a graduate thesis to blogging about marriage and motherhood. But she first learned the real importance of storytelling when she worked for a residential and day treatment center for abused and neglected children. There she wrote speeches and letters to raise funds for the children. The truth in those stories was piercing and painful and written to invoke in the reader a call to action: to give, to help, to make a difference. Payne’s love of writing and sharing stories in all forms has endured.

She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with her husband and three children, a friendly mutt, a very loud cat, and the occasional bear.

Payne applied the Page 69 Test to The Secrets of Lost Stones, her first novel, and reported the following:
The Secrets of Lost Stones is a book about loss, love, grief and survival and the redemption that comes with facing the past and letting it go. It is about Jess, a mother who endured the loss of her young son, and Star, a lonely teenage girl who believes her best option is to sleep under a city bench, and Lucy, a woman with a gift to tie them all together. I was surprised at how well page 69 highlighted one important aspect of this story. Star’s reluctance to trust anyone and her subsequent suspicion of Lucy’s intentions.
Star shook her head. “I-I…” Her bottom lip trembled, and she felt her eyes get wet. No, no, no. She would not cry. She pressed her lips together, waited for the moment to pass, then stood straight and crossed her arms. “You know about the accident?"

Lucy shook her head.

“Then how do you—” Star’s voice faltered, and she cleared her throat. “What do you want?”

Lucy sat back in her chair, resting her hands on the padded armrests. “Those are excellent questions, Star.”

She waited for her to continue, but Lucy tilted her head and gazed intently over Star’s shoulder. Her scalp tingled the way it might when someone stood just behind her. “Then why aren’t you answering me?”

Lucy smiled, piling the loose skin of her cheeks into soft folds around her mouth. “Give me time, girl. I don’t always understand what they want at first.”

Cool air brushed across her neck. She shivered. “What who wants?”

Lucy waved a hand in the air. “Never mind that for now. But you can trust me, Star.”

She snorted. “You want me to trust you? Then tell me why you want me to stay here. And how you know all those things about me. Tell me something.”

Lucy nodded. “I can’t tell you much yet, but I do know that the pieces are finally coming together, and I can promise you that it will all make sense in time.” Without another word, she rose from the couch and swept from the room, her black skirts swinging, leaving Star to ponder her cryptic words.

She should have left right then. Grabbed a handful of jewelry and sprinted for the bus stop. But she didn’t. She sat as though glued to the chair, her stomach twisted into knots.
Star wants to believe that Lucy can help her, that Lucy has the answers that will make everything better. But up to this point in her life, her experience with adults has shown her otherwise. Yet Lucy’s mysterious way of knowing things, her interest in Star’s well-being and the very fact that she wants to help Star, touches on Star’s deepest desires. To be loved and part of a family again. And this moment on page 69 is the jumping off point for Star because she could leave and return to the life she thinks she deserves, yet she doesn’t. In fact, this is the first moment in a long time when Star decides to take a leap of faith and put her trust in an adult. And who better than Lucy, the witch of Pine Lake.
Visit Melissa Payne's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Melissa Payne & Max.

My Book, The Movie: The Secrets of Lost Stones.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 12, 2019

"The Vexations"

Caitlin Horrocks's story collection This Is Not Your City was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice and a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. Another story collection, Life Among the Terranauts, is forthcoming from Little, Brown in 2021. Her stories and essays appear in The New Yorker, The Best American Short Stories, The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, The Pushcart Prize, The Paris Review, Tin House, and One Story, as well as other journals and anthologies. Her awards include the Plimpton Prize and fellowships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the MacDowell Colony.

Horrocks applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Vexations, and reported the following:
There are five main characters in The Vexations: the book circles around Erik Satie, the French composer (1866-1925), but also contains chapters told from the points of view of his brother Conrad, his sister Louise, his friend and collaborator Philippe, and a romantic interest, the painter Suzanne Valadon. All of the characters are based on historical counterparts. Page 69 falls during the first Philippe section, when he’s newly arrived in Montmartre, the arty Paris neighborhood that he’s been building up in his head throughout his childhood in Tarragona, Spain. Philippe is desperate to be part of a community of artists, and will soon be equally desperate for money. He’s met a young Erik Satie at the Chat Noir, and Erik has proposed setting some of Philippe’s poems to music:
Not sure which poems Erik might want, Philippe swept into his bag the whole row of notebooks on the single shelf in the room he’d rented at an address Erik had suggested, near the top of the Montmartre Butte, the highest point in the city. The pricier, flatter part of the neighborhood lay at the bottom of streets so steep that Philippe had to throw his weight backward from his hips as he walked, wary of his slick, worn shoes on the cobblestones. Happily, he’d had no heavy luggage to bring up the hill, where horse-drawn cabs refused to go. Like all the other men and women who filled the streets around the Place du Tertre, he lived lightly, with what he could carry on his back.
I think page 69 is representative of the novel in its effort to imagine and depict the realities of living in a place and time that by now has layers of clichés crusted over it. Belle Époque Montmartre didn’t actually look like a Toulouse-Latrec poster for the Moulin Rouge cabaret, so what did it look like? There’s a romance to our idea of the “starving artist” that I’m guessing the artist himself did not feel when he was literally starving. Art-making has always seen its share of hustle, exploitation, and hard decisions about where and how to make rent. Not every character shares these concerns, and I hope readers who wouldn’t normally gravitate towards a book with a lot of music or artists in it will still find plenty to enjoy in this novel. But I hope the book does justice to the realities of the time and place, in both the Philippe sections and elsewhere.
Visit Caitlin Horrocks's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


Madeline Stevens is a writer from Boring, Oregon currently based in Los Angeles.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Devotion, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Devotion is entirely made up of Lonnie’s journal entries, or, more accurately, Ella’s memory of them. It begins, “These men are both exactly the same and completely different,” ends on, “Something awful is going to happen,” and gets quite sexual in the middle! This, does, funny enough, feel very representative of the rest of the book to me. It's secret information, stolen from a hiding place. It also encapsulates the themes of doubling I’m playing with, not just with the men but with Lonnie and Ella, as well as the underlying darkness and dread that runs alongside that doubling. Finally, structurally, Ella’s rewriting of Lonnie’s journal says a lot about her simultaneous attempt to erase and recreate her.
Visit Madeline Stevens's website.

My Book, The Movie: Devotion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

"Remembering the Dead"

A two-time winner of the Bloody Words (Bony Blithe) Award for Canada’s best light mystery, Elizabeth J. Duncan is the author of two series of traditional mysteries: the Penny Brannigan series set in North Wales and Shakespeare in the Catskills featuring costume designer and amateur sleuth Charlotte Fairfax. A former journalist, public relations practioner, and college professor, Duncan is a faculty member of the Humber School for Writers. She divides her time between Toronto, Canada, and Llandudno, North Wales.

Duncan applied the Page 69 test to Remembering the Dead, the tenth title in the Penny Brannigan mystery series and reported the following:
From page 69:
She stepped onto the gravel path that ran alongside the house and moved through the velvety blackness toward the light. The rain that had been falling heavily earlier had slowed to a soft drizzle.

“Lane,” she called. “Are you out here? It’s Penny. Are you all right?” When there was no response, she tried again. “You’re not in any trouble, Lane. We just want to know you’re all right.” She paused, straining to hear something to let her know that Lane was nearby, but there was no movement, no response, only muffled and indistinct voices coming from the car park. And then came the chirping of car door openers, followed by the sound of doors being opened and closed and engines starting up. Oh, no, she thought. Emyr’s let the guests go home. Why would he do that?

Dressed only in a pair of black trousers and a white shirt, to fit into the background with the waitstaff, and shivering in the freezing night, Penny realised it would be faster to continue on toward the back door rather than retrace her steps to the scullery. Hugging her arms to her chest again for warmth, she darted forward in the darkness, but lost her balance…
Well! Poor Penny. The dinner party she organized to mark the hundredth anniversary of the end of World War 1 has gone completely pear shaped. A waiter disappeared between courses and the young fellow who was meant to set up the coffee and dessert service, whom she is searching for in this scene, is nowhere to be found. But worst of all, a priceless Welsh artefact, the Black Chair awarded to Welsh poet Hedd Wyn, was stolen sometime during the dinner, which is why she’s dismayed that the host allowed his dinner guests to depart.

And just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse, she’s one page away from discovering a fatally wounded young man.

You can bet this dinner party will be the talk of the town the next morning.

Remembering the Dead passes the Page 69 test with flying colours. It’s completely representative of the rest of the book -- in tone, setting, plot … every way that matters. But there’s more to the story … on other pages you’ll find stunning views of the Welsh countryside, delicious meals, and even a ferry ride across the Irish Sea to Dublin.
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth J. Duncan’s website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 9, 2019

"The Ten Thousand Doors of January"

Alix E. Harrow is a part-time historian with a full-time desk job, a lot of opinions, and excessive library fines. Her short fiction has appeared in Shimmer, Strange Horizons,, Apex, and other venues. She and her husband live in Kentucky under the cheerful tyranny of their kids and pets.

Harrow applied the Page 69 Test to The Ten Thousand Doors of January, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Page sixty-nine of The Ten Thousand Doors of January reads:
She crawled animal-like into the sagging center of her rope bed. She felt rubbed raw, as if the grasses in the field had been sharp-edged, cutting away at that childish part of her that believed in adventure and magic.

She had lingered beside the ruins of the cabin all day, knowing the ghost boy would not appear but waiting anyway.

Perhaps there had never been an elsewhere, and she was simply young and lonely and foolish, and had dreamed up a story about a ghost boy and another world to keep herself company. Perhaps there was nothing at all except the rule-bound world of her aunts and grandmother, real as corn bread and dirt and just as dull.
And—as much as any one page could represent the other three-hundred-eighty-three—it’s pretty damn representative. It features a girl who wishes for other worlds but can’t find her way through to them. Longing and heartbreak and hope. A wistful nostalgia for a world that maybe never was. Check.

It also tells you something important about this book, which is that, despite the title, there are not actually ten thousand doors in this story. It’s not an adventurous romp through a hundred dazzling worlds—it’s much more about this world, and how desperately we need to escape it, and how hard it can be to find our ways out.
Visit Alix E. Harrow's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 8, 2019

"The Last Train to London"

Meg Waite Clayton is a New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, most recently The Last Train to London. Her previous novels include the #1 Amazon fiction bestseller Beautiful Exiles; the Langum Prize-honored The Race for Paris; The Language of Light, a finalist for the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction (now the PEN/Bellwether); and The Wednesday Sisters, one of Entertainment Weekly’s 25 Essential Best Friend Novels of all time.

Clayton applied the Page 69 Test to The Last Train to London and reported the following:
The Last Train to London is based on the true story of the kindertransport effort to get thousands of at-risk children out of Germany and Austria in the years before World War II began, and one extraordinary woman who lead the Vienna transports. That woman— the largely forgotten Dutch hero, Truus Wijsmuller (“Tante Truus”)—literally faced down the young and ambitious Nazi then in charge of Vienna, Adolph Eichmann (who would go on to devise “the final solution”), to bring Austrian children to safety.

Truus was, in real life, incredibly clever, and quite willing to use her wiles when it suited her purpose. The novel opens in late 1936, in the last 15 months that Austria was an independent country and Vienna a progressive city, before Hitler invaded. Part I alternates between Truus’s early efforts to bring small groups of children to safety from Germany, and the comfortable lives of two Viennese teenagers—an aspiring playwright and a young math prodigy he is sweet on.

Page 69 begins a chapter in which Truus is in Germany with her attractive friend Klara, to spirit 30 children across the border from Germany into the Netherlands. Truus has rescued small numbers of children before, but Klara is new to the effort. The two talk in a German train station as they await the arrival of the children:
Truus said, “Now, here is what I would like you to do: The soldier who will be overseeing the boarding of our carriage? Show him your ticket, and ask him in Dutch if this is where you belong. Perhaps you can express confusion that you are not in first class? But not too much confusion. We don’t want him to move you to a better carriage and leave me to tend thirty children alone. If he doesn’t know Dutch, pretend a poor knowledge of German, but enough to make him feel attractive. Do you understand?”

Klara looked doubtful. “We don’t have papers for the children?”

“We do, but it would be better if fewer questions were asked.”

The Dutch entry visas were real, thanks to Mr. Tenkink. The German exit visas might or might not be. Truus preferred to believe they were.
It’s a nice peek at Truus: What she is doing here is quite dangerous, but she plunges forward undaunted, or at least not so daunted as to be stopped. And it is based on a moment from her life.

I was so inspired by Truus—truly a female Schindler, yet a Dutchwoman even my Dutch publisher had never heard of. I hope The Last Train to London does justice both to the children she rescued and to the extraordinary Truus Wijsmuller.
Learn more about the book and author at Meg Waite Clayton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue