Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Mean Business on North Ganson Street"

S. Craig Zahler's s debut western novel, A Congregation of Jackals was nominated for both the Peacemaker and the Spur awards, and his western screenplay, The Brigands of Rattleborge, garnered him a three-picture deal at Warner Brothers, topped the prestigious Black List and is now moving forward with Park Chan Wook (Old Boy) attached to direct, while Michael Mann (Heat & Collateral) develops his nasty crime script, The Big Stone Grid at Sony Pictures. In 2011, a horror movie that he wrote in college called Asylum Blackout (aka The Incident) was made and picked up by IFC Films after a couple of people fainted at its Toronto premiere. In 2013, his brutal western novel, Wraiths of the Broken Land was published by Raw Dog Screaming Press. Currently, Zahler navigates preproduction on his directorial debut, Bone Tomahawk.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Mean Business on North Ganson Street, and reported the following:
Page 69 is a good sample for somebody to read if that somebody wants to get a sense of the lighter side of the book. This page features a discussion of criminal acts, a prowling car, and some inert pigeons. All three of these elements help build the collapsed and frostbitten world of Victory, Missouri, which is where the major part of this book takes place. The prose in this excerpt is a bit more playful than it is in the far darker latter half of the book.
Bettinger circumvented an open manhole and returned to the sidewalk, stepping over a dead pigeon that was wedged against the curb. Rigid talons extruded from its feathers like the legs of a cancan dancer.
Ruminations on this page are also not necessarily related to the plot. Digressions are more common in this part of the narrative (before the plot starts to churn the central elements), as seen in this except regarding the mysterious proliferation of dead pigeons in Victory, Missouri:
“Birds can go anyplace they want, right?” Dominic gestured at the sky. “Flap their wings, and these niggas is in Hawaii, enjoyin’ the sun, or maybe over in Paris, shittin’ on ridiculous hats. So it figures that the ones who stay in Victory are damaged.”


“I’m thinkin’ somethin’ with their radar or whatever. Either way, it’s been like this for years. Niggas just droppin’.”
Read out of context, this lone page will give the reader a rough sketch of the bleak environment and a sense of the kind of characters that people the world.
Visit S. Craig Zahler's website.

Writers Read: S. Craig Zahler.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"The Haunting Ballad"

Michael Nethercott's work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year, Gods and Monsters, and Crimestalkers Casebook. He is a past winner of The Black Orchid Novella Award, The Vermont Playwrights Award, and The Nor’easter Play Writing Contest.

Nethercott applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Haunting Ballad, and reported the following:
The Haunting Ballad is the second whodunit in my traditional mystery series. It features the sleuthing odd couple from The Séance Society: reluctant young private eye Lee Plunkett and scholarly Irishman Mr. O’Nelligan. It's the spring of 1957 as the detectives enter the burgeoning music scene of New York City's Greenwich Village. A controversial folk song collector has plunged from her apartment roof and foul play is suspected.

This novel’s page 69 is actually a half page, the start of Chapter Seven. It’s an interesting roll of the dice (as, I gather, 69th pages tend to be.) We have here one single paragraph dedicated to a description of the Village street life. Our sleuths are on their way to the Café Mercutio, a coffee house where many of the suspects—folk musicians and Beat poets—perform and socialize. Lee narrates:
After parking, we still had a couple of blocks to walk to the Mercutio. Now firmly in the heart of Bohemia, we navigated through a stream of locals, many young and casually dressed. There seemed to be a disproportionate number of them in black, and several were sporting sunglasses—despite the fact that the sun had gone down. We passed bookstores, record shops, magazine stands, restaurants, and cafés. Leaning against one stretch of brick wall, a dozen paintings, framed and unframed, formed a sort of impromptu art gallery. Most of these works were vivid, chaotic explosions of color, all with price tags affixed. A little ways beyond, standing outside a storefront labeled FOLKLORE SOCIETY, one young man was playing a harmonica while another juggled a trio of alarm clocks. Yes, alarm clocks.
My intent here was to show, with a nice bite-sized sketch, the colorful, lively, quirky world of Greenwich Village in those years. This was the period where the nonconformist Beat scene and the folk music movement were overlapping, and the Village was at the hub of it all.

My stories are very much influenced by the Golden Age writers—Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, and their ilk—and I take the “whodunit” piece to heart. I like a lot of interesting suspects with mysterious backgrounds and cagey motives, and in The Haunting Ballad I’ve attempted to deliver that. The death of the “songcatcher” leads Plunkett and O’Nelligan to a diverse group of suspects including the Mercutio’s eccentric owner, a family of Irish balladeers (who may be IRA), a bluesy ex-con, a hundred-and-five-year-old Civil War drummer boy, and a self-proclaimed “ghost chanter” who sings songs that she receives from the dead. And just to complicate things, one suspect is a handsome, smooth-talking young folk singer who Lee's fiancée Audrey is captivated by.

Along the way, our deductive duo encounters a good amount of puzzling leads, desperate situations, and twists and turns. And, of course, they must answer that core question of all mystery novels: Who done it?
Visit Michael Nethercott's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Séance Society.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 29, 2014

"Blood of My Blood"

Barry Lyga is, in the words of Kirkus, a “YA-rebel author.” He lives in New York City, where he is pretty sure he’s being stalked by a serial killer. Either that, or the guy just likes shopping at the same bodega.

Lyga applied the Page 69 Test to Blood of My Blood, the concluding volume in the I Hunt Killers trilogy, and reported the following:
So, I applied the Page 69 Test to Blood of My Blood. And I crapped out.

Spoilers follow. Beware.

Because page 69 is in no way representative of the book as a whole, unless you count “creepy sense of ickiness” as representative. Which I suppose it is, but only in the most superficial way. Sure, the book is creepy and icky, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

Page 69 is the first page of Chapter 9. And Chapter 9, as luck would have it, is the only chapter in the damn book written from the POV of the Hat Killer.

That’s right: The page I was asked to look to for “representation” is the start of a complete fluke of a chapter, a unique moment in the book, as we look into the head of a character we will never, ever see again, Duncan Hershey, the Hat Killer.

Now, granted, it’s not like it’s a bad chapter. And, yeah, it starts off pretty well: “Duncan Hershey did not anticipate taking any pleasure in killing his wife and children. It was just something he would have to do.”

Some would argue that this is precisely representative of the book: the flat, affectless decision of mayhem, the matter-of-fact-ness of it all.

But the page continues in Hershey’s head and it’s really a sort of checklist almost of what is to come for him. And since (spoiler!) he’ll be killed before the chapter’s over it’s all sort of moot, isn’t it?

Let me try to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse. Even though Blood of My Blood fails the Page 69 Test, I think we can learn something from this failure. Chapter 9 may not be representative of the book itself, but it’s still important to the story. So even if something does not directly reflect the themes of the larger tale, it can still resonate and have an impact on the narrative.

Something to remember the next time the book you’re reading — or writing! — seems to diverge for a moment. Or a chapter.
Visit Barry Lyga's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Space Case"

Stuart Gibbs is the author of Belly Up, Poached, Spy School, Spy Camp, Evil Spy School, and Space Case. He has also written the screenplays for movies like See Spot Run and Repli-Kate, worked on a whole bunch of animated films, developed TV shows for Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, ABC, and Fox, and researched capybaras (the world’s largest rodents).

Gibbs applied the Page 69 Test to Space Case and reported the following:
My completely biased, non-objective opinion is that page 69 of Space Case isn’t really that representative of the book. It’s part of a scene in which Nina Stack, the commander of Moon Base Alpha, is warning 12-year-old Dashiell Gibson, our hero, to back off from pressing her to investigate what he believes is the murder of Ronald Holtz, the recently-deceased base doctor. (Nina, for the record, believes that the death was an accident.)

It’s a necessary scene, as it’s the point where Dash realizes that, if he wants to know what happened to Dr. Holtz, he’s going to have to investigate himself -- but it doesn’t have the humor of, say, page 51, the action of page 119, or the intriguing futuristic science of page 13. (That’d be the science of space toilets, in case you were wondering.) Even pages 68 & 70 on either side of 69 have a bit more zest to them: emotional dialogue, a bit of humor, some fascinating facts about what showers are like on the moon. But that’s the way the type is set, I suppose.

Toward the bottom of page 69, things get jazzed up a bit with a reference to an incoming rocket, which reminds us that this book is actually science-fiction, as it takes place in the relatively near future on the moon, but other than that, 69 is mostly just about moving the story ahead. Which is just how things go in the writing business. No matter how much you try to make every line sing, sometimes in a sci-fi mystery adventure, you just have to tell the tale.
Visit Stuart Gibbs's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Cry Father"

Benjamin Whitmer was born and raised on back-to-the-land communes and counterculture enclaves ranging from Southern Ohio to Upstate New York. One of his earliest and happiest memories is of standing by the side of a country road with his mother, hitchhiking to parts unknown. Since then, he’s been a factory grunt, a vacuum salesman, a convalescent, a high-school dropout, a graduate student, a semi-truck loader, an activist, a kitchen-table gunsmith, a squatter, a college professor, a dishwasher, a technical writer and a petty thief.

His first novel, Pike, was published in America in 2010 by PM Press, and in France in 2012 by Éditions Gallmeister. Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers, a memoir co-written with Charlie Louvin, was released by Igniter Books in 2012.

Whitmer applied the Page 69 Test to his second novel, Cry Father, and reported the following:
I was actually a little nervous about applying the page 69 test to Cry Father. As Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.” Cry Father contains its fair share of all four, and I was scared I’d put off readers before they even had a chance to pick it up.

Luckily, this is what I got when I flipped to page 69:
Patterson drives the long way back from the Walmart in Alamosa, his truck bed full of supplies. After salting the stump, he hadn’t been able to think of anything left to avoid town with this morning. He drives past side roads flicking away to bleak little clusters of trailers. Over a cattle guard into ranchland, through ranging beef cows as alien in the greasewood and sagebrush as water buffalo. Smoking cigarettes and watching a bank of clouds form in the gray sky, long streaks of rain striking down on the western rim of the valley. Watching those clouds darken from gray to black.

It’s about two miles outside of San Luis that he runs across the Wild Mustang Mesa four-wheeler, abandoned by the side of the road, smoke pouring out of it. Patterson parks the truck and is walking back to take a look when Emma pulls up in the Wild Mesa Mustang truck behind him. “Is he here?” she asks, running to him.

“Not as far as I can tell,” Patterson says.
No drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity. Not even a hint. Instead, a quiet description of the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado where the novel is set. Which is perfect. The San Luis Valley is the bleeding center of the book. It’s the kind of open, spare Western landscape that’ll break your heart.

Of course, there are also hints of what’s to come. When Patterson and Emma find the man they’re looking for, that’s when Patterson’s carefully sewn-up life starts truly unraveling.

But that’s still a little ways off, only threatening.
Visit Benjamin Whitmer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"In the Red"

Elena Mauli Shapiro was born in Paris, France, and moved to the United States at the age of 13. She has amassed several degrees in literature and writing around the San Francisco Bay Area (Stanford University, Mills College, UC Davis), where she still lives with one scientist husband and two elderly half-Siamese cats who spend all day following sunbeams around the house. Her novel, 13 rue Thérèse, was released by Little, Brown in February 2011.

Shapiro applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, In the Red, and reported the following:
Page 69 of In the Red:
Amy unbundles some hundreds and places them in the little top tray. She pushes a button; there is a leafy whir. They watch the machine pass the bundle and display the expected “100.”

“So,” Amy asks, “have you ever been in love?”


Irina looks her coworker in the face, unsure of what is happening.

“Have you ever been in love?” she repeats.

Is Amy joking? Of all the words to say in a goddamn vault, “love” must be one of the most misplaced. Irina sees nothing but earnestness in Amy’s face, which is in itself a trifle unusual. So she answers, simply, “Yes.”

Irina sighs. She thinks she’s given enough of an answer, but Amy isn’t moving, isn’t taking the cash back out of the counter to rebundle it. She plainly expects more clarification, and asks for it. “How was it?”

“It was a fucking disaster,” Irina says.

Amy considers this answer and then shrugs. “Sounds about right,” she says as she reaches for more of the money.

Irina does not yet know that this is normal. Being hermetically sealed in the vault alone with another person can do that.Maybe it’s the confinement, all the sounds of the outside world totally blocked off by the layers of metal and concrete. Something about the vault will make a banker tell another banker about the abortion she’s never spoken of with anyone before; it will make a banker ask another banker—a near stranger—what fears keep him up at night.
What is on this page:

• Falling in love is a fucking disaster.

• Confinement and money do strange things to people’s minds.

I think this is actually a pretty good capsule of the book as a whole! The page 69 test totally works.
Visit Elena Mauli Shapiro's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"The Angel of Losses"

Stephanie Feldman studied writing at the University of Pennsylvania and Barnard College. NPR calls her first novel, The Angel of Losses, "a breathtakingly accomplished debut" and The Washington Post describes it as "a journey of fantastic tales, stormy family ties and a tragic discovery of redemption that will break your heart." Barnes & Noble has named the book a Discover Great New Writers selection for fall 2014. Feldman lives outside Philadelphia with her family and is at work on a new novel.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Angel of Losses and reported the following:
The Angel of Losses is a few different stories in one: mystery, fantasy, historical, and domestic realism. I'm afraid that last element sometimes gets lost in discussion about the book, so I'm glad that page 69, the first page of chapter three, is about the two sisters at the heart of the novel.

Marjorie, a young graduate student, narrates The Angel of Losses, and here she describes the beginning of her younger sister Holly's conversion to Orthodox Judaism, which ultimately leads to the sisters’ estrangement.
During Holly’s first semester at college, she fell into a whirlwind romance with a guy on her floor—he was tall, pre-med, from Connecticut, so good on paper that my mother began fantasizing and fretting about their life together. I hated listening to her excited speculation. I had never had a boyfriend serious enough for those kinds of conversations, and her claims of pride over my English Department awards sounded dry, forced. I was jealous.

My sister didn’t have a lot in common with her roommate, an Orthodox Jewish girl from Brooklyn who seemed to have arrived at school with a hundred of her closest friends. She was nice, but she ate at the kosher cafeteria with her girlfriends and disappeared all Friday and Saturday. Holly spent more and more time with her boyfriend. They slept in his room almost every night, studied side by side for Chemistry 101 and Introduction to Architecture, arrived at every party hand in hand.

My mother’s worries shifted from the future to the present. “I think he’s Holly’s only friend,” she said.
I like that we end here on that line, suggesting Holly's loneliness, something that Marjorie fails to recognize until it's far too late. The Angel of Losses is about a rebellious wizard, a sinister angel, a family curse (or gift)—but it's also about how two sisters get lost in their own grief, and ultimately, find their way out of it again.
Visit Stephanie Feldman's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Angel of Losses made Nicole Hill's list of five of the best new girl-powered sci-fi and fantasy novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Silent Murders"

Mary Miley is the winner of the 2012 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Novel Competition. She grew up in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and France, and worked her way through the College of William and Mary in Virginia as a costumed tour guide at Colonial Williamsburg. After completing her masters in history, she worked at the museum and taught American history at Virginia Commonwealth University. As Mary Miley Theobald, she has published numerous nonfiction books and articles on history, travel, and business topics.

In 2013 Miley introduced her Roaring Twenties series with The Impersonator. She applied the Page 69 Test to Silent Murders, the second book in the series, and reported the following:
Here’s page 69:
They shot rapid-fire questions at me, alternating between them so there was no pause for me to rest or reflect. I was certain they already knew the answers, but they argued with me on nearly all of them as if everything I said was a lie. I made sure to throw in that I worked for Douglas Fairbanks. The name didn’t flicker an eyelid.

After what seemed like hours of questions about Esther, they turned to Bruno Heilmann and worked their way through the time I had spent at the party, accusing me of sleeping with Heilmann and every other man at the party, demanding to know who I’d spoken to, what I’d seen, whether I’d been upstairs, and when I had arrived and departed. I soon learned not to pause to think, or one of them would snarl, “Just answer the question, sister, don’t think up lies.” When we reached the end of the questions, they started over. Same questions. And then a third time. I figured they were trying to fluster me into giving different answers that they could twist into some semblance of guilt, but someone accustomed to repeating the same act on stage three, four, or five times a day is not going to get rattled by repetition. I got slapped several times by the standing detective—not much harder than a stage slap—and finally he said, “Okay, sister, we’ll see how smart alecky you are after a night in jail.”

They led me out of the miserable little room and there, at the door that led to the cells, stood Carl Delaney. It felt wonderful to see a friendly face, even if it was a cop. “I’ll take her in,” he said. They handed me over with no comment and left.

We stood in the hall for a few minutes, saying nothing, waiting for I didn’t know what, until Carl opened the door to the main room and looked about. “They’re gone. Come on. Can’t let you go home, but you don’t have to spend the night in the pokey. Sit here.” He pointed to a beat-up leather chair in the corner by the main door.

“Who are those guys?” I asked him.

“Tuttle and Rios. Detectives assigned to the Heilmann case.”
Open to page 69 of Silent Murders and you’ll find fairly representative slice of my story. In this, the second Roaring Twenties mystery, it is 1926, and Jessie has recovered from the injuries she sustained in The Impersonator when she took on the role of a missing heiress in a scam to inherit the girl’s fortune. She has since moved to Hollywood and taken a lowly “Girl Friday” job in the silent film studio belonging to movie stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Running errands for Fairbanks gets her invited to a party where a famous director is murdered. In the scene on page 69, Jessie is being questioned by some rough detectives who suspect her of being involved in the crime. Which she is.

One of the underlying premises to my series is that growing up in vaudeville has led Jessie to develop skills that help her solve crimes. This passage illustrates that premise with a small example: she is not rattled by repetition at the police station because she is accustomed to performing the same routine several times a day. The scene also serves to introduce honest cop Carl Delaney (honesty being a rare trait among Prohibition-era policemen), who becomes an important character in Silent Murders and in future books of this series, two of which I’ve already completed. I have a horror of deadlines and so stay well ahead of them!
Learn more about the book and author at Mary Miley's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Impersonator.

Writers Read: Mary Miley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 22, 2014

"In a Handful of Dust"

Mindy McGinnis is an assistant YA librarian who lives in Ohio and cans her own food. She graduated from Otterbein University magna cum laude with a BA in English Literature and Religion. McGinnis has a pond in her back yard but has never shot anyone, as her morals tend to cloud her vision.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, In a Handful of Dust, and reported the following:
When I turned to page 69 of In a Handful of Dust, I realized I'd lucked out. It's definitely representative of the book as a whole, and also does a great job of offering some plot setup, including Lynn's reasoning about their chosen path. Walking to California - normally an unheard of thought - makes sense to her, and she explains why, which also gives a broader sense of the world outside of Ohio, something you didn't see in Not a Drop to Drink:
One, we don't know for sure of any places set up with these desalinization plants on the East Coast. Your uncle said before he died that people in Entargo had word that the West Coast had pockets of stability, real electricity even. No one's heard a peep about the east. Two, Stebbs says even before the Shortage the east was packed full of people, the west more sparsely populated. Even though it'll be easier to find water in the east, there's also more people wanting it.
Another thing that Page 69 illustrates about Dust is that there's going to be a slightly lighter tone than Drink along with the narrator shift. Dust takes place ten years after the events in Drink, with Lucy as the main character. Her outlook on life has always been laced with humor, and she enjoys needling stoic Lynn:
Lynn: "Desperate people do desperate things."

Lucy: "Like walk across the country?"
And lastly, Page 69 also gives the reader a sense of the danger that envelops the book as a whole. It doesn't need to be stated that two women walking across a lawless country will face threats, but there are smaller dangers that present their own types of problems:
Lucy reluctantly brought her foot out from under the blanket and put it on Lynn's knee for inspection. Lynn's mouth went back to a flat line when she got a good look at the blister.

"Lord, child, I wish you'd worn a better pair of shoes."
Overall I think readers will enjoy Dust, as it broadens the landscape that Lynn and Lucy must survive in, bringing new dangers and pushing them both out of their comfort zones as they continue to grow.
Learn more about the book and author at Mindy McGinnis's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Not a Drop to Drink.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"Wouldn’t It Be Deadly"

Two award-winning authors, Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta, have teamed up under the pseudonym D.E. Ireland. Their debut novel, Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, is Book 1 in the Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins mystery series. These longtime friends and Michigan residents have a number of publishing credits under their separate names, including novels and novellas in historical and contemporary romance, historical westerns, mystery and fantasy short stories, numerous articles, and even a one-act play produced off-Broadway. They’re both Anglophiles, history nuts, and big fans of Edwardian era dramas such as Mr. Selfridge, Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs.

D.E. Ireland applied the Page 69 Test to Wouldn’t It Be Deadly and reported the following:
Higgins is a renowned phonetician who has publicly exposed his professional rival Emil Nepommuck as a criminal. Although Higgins is arrogant and short-tempered, he is neither malicious nor unkind. Therefore he is upset to learn someone has murdered Nepommuck following the shocking revelations in the newspaper that morning. Page 69 indicates to the reader that Higgins is a decent man capable of feeling guilt for his actions, even though the murder victim is not deserving of anyone’s sympathy. This page also reveals that Higgins cares for Eliza’s good opinion and knows she will not approve of his rash – if understandable – reaction.

In fact, his decision to expose the Hungarian is fueled by resentment: Nepommuck hired Higgins’s former pupil Eliza as an instructor and then took credit for turning her from a Cockney flower girl into a lady. Both Eliza and Higgins know it’s a lie. What they don’t know yet is that Higgins is now the prime suspect in Nepommuck’s death. After all, he had motive and opportunity, especially since no one can verify his whereabouts during the time of the murder. And although Eliza suspects Higgins is not being entirely truthful with her about where he was that fateful morning, she knows he is not capable of such a violent act.

Indeed this is the calm before the storm.

From Page 69:
If ever a scoundrel deserved a comeuppance, it was that blasted Hungarian. And seeing as how he had lied about so much else in his background, Higgins was amazed Nepommuck had been honest about being Hungarian. Since the lying bloke was fluent in thirty-two languages, he could have passed himself off as a native of any number of countries. It certainly would have made sense for Nepommuck – or Bela Kardos as he was really called – to have taken on another nationality along with that fabricated royal lineage.

Higgins could only guess that the mountebank genuinely missed his homeland. The tiresome fellow loved to prattle about the glory of the Carpathian Mountains and the beauty of the Danube. He had even extolled the wonders of Hungarian cuisine, which as far as Higgins knew consisted largely of goulash.

Nepommuck wouldn’t be suffering homesickness any longer. Higgins was shocked at how quickly word of the murder had traveled from the police to the evening editions of the penny dailies. For the past hour, newsboys had been crying out, “Disgraced Hungarian Royal found murdered at Belgrave Square!” from every London corner. Of course, Higgins had felt compelled to buy a copy. And he was dismayed to read that a Miss Doolittle had found the dead body. Higgins knew that Eliza wouldn’t forgive him for this, not with her damnable moral code.

In fact, he could hear her now, “Look what you’ve done, you arrogant bully. Just look what you’ve done!”
Learn more about the book and author at D. E. Ireland's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 19, 2014

"When We Fall"

Emily Liebert is an award-​winning author, New York Times bestselling editor, and TV personality. Her books Facebook Fairytales and You Knew Me When are available across the globe. Liebert is a graduate of Smith College and lives in Connecticut with her husband and their two sons.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, When We Fall, and reported the following:
Wow! Fortunately, Page 69 of When We Fall is a pretty good one. Before checking it out, I was dubious, since it’s so close to the beginning and things typically tend to heat up toward the end of books…but, alas, there’s a lot on this page. Page 69 is at the end of Chapter 5. It’s a scene at Allison, the main character’s, home. She’s chatting with Charlie, her dead husband’s best friend from summer camp where they all met. She’s recently moved back to the town where she grew up, over a decade after losing her husband in a tragic bus accident. On the first day of her son’s school, Allison meets another mom named Charlotte who promptly introduces her to her husband…Charlie. Page 69 shows Allison and Charlie talking about Jack—Allison’s dead husband and reminiscing about their time at summer camp together. It gives you a glimpse into their rekindled friendship, which will cause problems later in the book. And it gives you a sense of who Allison is, where she’s come from, and the kind of guy Jack was. No big plot twists here, but I think (hope!) that a reader would be intrigued enough by who this Charlie character is and how he’s connected to Jack and Allison—beyond their time spent at summer camp—to want to read on!
Learn more about the book and author at Emily Liebert's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Night of the Jaguar"

Joe Gannon, writer and spoken word artist, was a freelance journalist in Nicaragua during the Sandinista Revolution, writing for The Christian Science Monitor, The Toronto Globe and Mail, and the San Francisco Examiner. He spent three years in the army, graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and did his MFA at Pine Manor College.

Gannon applied the Page 69 Test to Night of the Jaguar, his debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It had begun as envy, Malhora knew it. But it had transformed into something else that May Day party at the Cuban embassy (in Mexico) when he’d felt compelled to not only lie about knowing Montoya, but to regale one and all with tales of their friendship. And he had pursued a friendship with the ungrateful son-of-a-bitch – had teamed up with him in State Security in the early days of the Revo, only to discover the “great man” was a wild-eyed dreamer, the worst kind of romantic bourgeois. And then that night in Los Nubes when Malhora had killed for the first time. Montoya had come running out of the darkness and struck him! Not even a manly blow but a backhanded him like a servant who’d broken a family heirloom. Malhora’s feeling had hardened into cold hate, and he had filled a file with Montoya’s drunken fall since. And who was the great man now?
It is so amazing that on page 69 is single most important scene for what is really happening in the novel – in the deep back-story, but also in the deepest recesses of Ajax Montoya’s heart.

Vladimir Malhora is the villain in the novel – a bureaucrat who sat out most of the insurrection against the Ogre in Mexico doing vital clandestine work, but who was never a grunt on the ground in the mountains where the dying and killing was done. All of Ajax’s loyalties are based on those he shared the hardships with all those desperate years in the mountains, the men and women who made the Revo.

This p. 69 paragraph recalls the very moment when Ajax realized that the Revo he fought for was not the Revo he was living. It is the moment he drifted away from his old comrades, from his then wife, a star of the Revo, and slowly settled into isolation, drunkenness and despair.

Hemingway, in Spain in the 1930s, was supposed to have said that communists make the best rebels and the worst governments. Malhora is the guy – the kind of person – who flourishes during peace time when the quotidian choices to be made in governing, that is to say the compromises of politics, can turn the stark black and white of war into the wooly grey of peace.

Nicaragua in the 1980s was a football to be kicked about in the Cold War between the American and Soviet superpowers—the Marxist Sandinistas sided with the Soviets and America’s Ronald Reagan set out to punish them for their temerity. It was a hot proxy war in a dirt poor country. Malhora represents those who embraced that role, Ajax is of those who still pined for the earlier, simpler goals.

At one point he is called to task by his best friend and now ex-wife for putting his own agenda before the Revo’s.

Ajax replies, “I didn’t fight all those years to be a pawn, anyone’s pawn in some Cold War chess game.”

“Then what did you fight for?” his friend asks.

“Flu shots and flush toilets... Equality before the law.”

“Well, what you got was superpower Cold War chess games.”

How that switch occurred, and its cost in blood and souls, is all laid out on page 69.

On a side note, it is right on this page where my 11-year-old daughter, Valentina, gave me a great piece of advice -- the passage quoted had begun with "Malhora hated Ajax Montoya, he always had." She said she found that line "cliched", said "I've read that before, Daddy." So I cut that line and the paragraph now reads in the book as you see it here. It was an improvement and she is my first reader now!
Visit Joe Gannon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue