Monday, June 17, 2024

"The Memo"

Rachel Dodes is a freelance culture writer. She’s a regular contributor to Vanity Fair, and her work has also appeared in Town & Country, Elle, Esquire, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Buzzfeed among other publications. She was a staff writer at the Wall Street Journal where she covered fashion and film. She lives in New York with her husband, son, and dog.

Lauren Mechling is a senior editor at the Guardian US and has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Slate, The New Yorker online, and Vogue, where she wrote a regular book column. She's worked as a crime reporter and metro columnist for the New York Sun and as features editor at the Wall Street Journal. She is also a young adult novelist. A graduate of Harvard College, she lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and two children.

Dodes and Mechling applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, The Memo, and reported the following:
If book browsers open to page 69 of The Memo, they will find our protagonist Jenny Green at a kickoff party for her 15th college reunion where she is struggling to put the best spin on her lackluster life. A classmate who remembers Jenny as the cool, carefree rebel she used to be, asks her whether she is married (no) or has kids (no). Jenny tells him she has a boyfriend (who is cheating on her, though she doesn't mention that part) and that she works at a feminist nonprofit (a dead-end hellscape overseen by a raving narcissist, but she leaves that out too). She thinks she might be rescued from the awkwardness when class president Allie Dourous, who now goes by Alessandra D'Ouros, elbows her way in and starts babbling about a gala that she is chairing at the Museum of Modern Art. A gala to which everyone–except Jenny–seems to be invited.

We had never heard of McLuhan's observation about page 69, but when it comes to our book, the test did not disappoint! Page 69 of The Memo is a set piece that is filled with uncomfortable conversations that encapsulate Jenny's powers of observation and emotional state: she definitely missed the memo. However, to understand the Sliding Doors elements of the book–time travel and wormholes and second chances–you'll have to make it to the next chapter, when Jenny actually gets the memo, and the chance to undo her biggest mistakes. On the whole, though, we are on Team Page 69. The Memo's (comedic) tone and (bittersweet, awkward) flavor definitely come through here. It's a nice amuse bouche before the meal that is The Memo.

Because The Memo is essentially a romantic comedy wrapped in a time-travel novel, the plot unfolds in two parallel timelines: One shows Jenny stuck in her real, regret-filled life, while the other reveals what her days and years would have been like had she received a magical Memo. Because of the compare-and-contrast aspect of the book, the Page 69 Test is, of course, limited in its ability to offer the full magic carpet ride of the book, but we feel it does a good job setting the tone and enabling readers to understand Jenny's central conflict. But we urge readers to stick around and skip through a portal or two.
Visit Lauren Mechling's website and Rachel Dodes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 14, 2024

"Same Difference"

E.J. Copperman is the nom de plume for Jeff Cohen, writer of intentionally funny murder mysteries. As Copperman, he is the author of the Haunted Guest house series, the Agent to the Paws series and the Jersey Girl Legal mysteries, as well as the brand-new Fran and Ken Stein mysteries. As Cohen, he is the author of the Double Feature and Aaron Tucker series; and he collaborates with himself on the Samuel Hoenig Asperger's mysteries.

A New Jersey native, Copperman worked as a newspaper reporter, teacher, magazine editor and screenwriter, before his first book was published to critical acclaim in 2002. In his spare time, Cohen is an extremely amateur guitar player, a fan of Major League Baseball, a couch potato and a crossword addict.

Copperman applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Same Difference, and reported the following:
When I spent a college summer working in the deli department of a local supermarket, there was a guy working there who delighted in watching the ticket numbers (you took a ticket and were served when your number came up) until he could call out, “Sixty-nine! America’s favorite number!”

That doesn’t really have anything at all to do with my new book, Same Difference, the second Fran and Ken Stein (yes you read that right) mystery. On page 69 in this novel, Fran has been hired by a man to find his missing 19-year-old trans daughter and she’s coming up short. That’s not typical for Fran because she’s very tall, and there’s a reason for that, but you have to read the book to find that out. I’m just talking about page 69.

She’s gone to Eliza’s (the woman she’s looking for) apartment with her dad and lying on the bed in her room, trying to get into Eliza’s mindset because she thinks this is an example of a person who wasn’t so much taken as who wanted to be somewhere else, and not answer her phone. And Fran’s not coming up with much:
This search was turning out to be a bust. But I needed to know more about Eliza’s friend Rainbow.

Having searched the room one and a third times, I knew where to find the one indispensable source of information for a recent high school graduate: Eliza’s yearbook. I pulled it off the shelf over her desk and started to scan through it thoroughly but as quickly as I could. It’s not that easy to pull off but I’m good at what I do.

A fairly painstaking scan of the class found no student named Rainbow, but Brian had suggested that person might be someone Eliza had met at New Amsterdam. I still had Laura Rapinoe’s phone number and I used it, trying not to picture the wince on her face when she saw who was calling.

Give Laura credit: She answered. “I don’t know where Eliza is,” she said. “Did you find Damien?”

Dammit. She didn’t know.
I don’t know if this page is indicative of the whole book. It’s pretty static and there’s a lot of action in this novel. It does show you something about Fran’s attitude and her tenacity but her humor isn’t wildly on display and that’s a big part of her character.

I’d recommend reading the other 215 pages to get a better feel for it.
Visit E. J. Copperman's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Thrill of the Haunt.

The Page 69 Test: The Thrill of the Haunt.

My Book, The Movie: Ukulele of Death.

The Page 69 Test: Ukulele of Death.

Q&A with E. J. Copperman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

"Burn It All"

Maggie Auffarth is a lifelong book obsessive and crime fiction enthusiast. She holds a degree in creative writing from Wheaton College and she was a finalist for the Helen Sheehan Book Prize in 2018. When she isn't plotting fictional crimes, she enjoys baking, running, and binge-watching Lifetime movies. She lives in Atlanta.

Auffarth applied the Page 69 Test to Burn It All, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I nod, doing my best imitation of sympathy. People like Scott – handsome, talented guys, even the ones hovering toward the bottom rung of middle-class – they can’t fathom a life where those things have always mattered. Where the first chance might be the only one you get. And, for a second, I wonder what it must be like to live a life assuming the world will undress and lay itself bare before you, splayed and ready.

“I need another drink,” I tell him, my voice rough. “You want anything?”

Scott pops the whole s’more into his mouth and talks around it. “I think I saw a cooler underneath the deck,” he says, and then he’s charging forward and I’m following.

Sure enough, there’s a spare cooler tucked up underneath the deck and Scott digs two ciders out from the ice, popping the top off one and handing it to me. I take a swig, cringing at the sweetness of it on my tongue and down my throat, like pure, fizzing sugar.

Scott leans his shoulder against one of the wooden support beams and looks at me. It’s dark here, the only light falling from between the small gaps in the deck, but I can still make out the path of his eyes as they sweep up and down the length of my body.

“You’re a cool girl, Thea,” he says – whispers, really, and I can feel my mouth falling open in shock, which makes him laugh. He reaches out and tucks a loose curl behind my ear and the smoothness of the gesture surprises me, like he’s done it before – like he’s been waiting to do it for a long time. “I always had kind of a crush on you.”

“Shut up,” I say reflexively, and he laughs, unfazed.

He takes a step toward me, and it feels like all the air around me is sucked up by the vacuum of his presence. “Okay,” he says and then, suddenly, he kisses me. I go stiff, my back pressed into the wooden beam. Paralyzed by the shock of it, even though this is exactly what I wanted to happen.

I swallow hard and force my lips to move. Force my tongue to engage with his. He tastes like chocolate.

I’d like to say that I’ve always had a thing for Scott – that this kiss is a real fairy tale, full-circle moment for me. But that would be a lie. The truth is a lot simpler, and a lot harsher.
Hmmm, this is a tough one, but I’d say that Burn It All doesn’t quite pass the Page 69 Test. While the scene above does give us some key insights into Thea – her disdain for people who seem to go through life effortlessly, and her lack of self-confidence – it’s ultimately not indicative of her character. In fact, this high school flashback is the only scene in the book where Thea does something purely to win the approval of others. Though she knows she isn’t interested in Scott, she also knows that associating with him is the quickest way to raise her social standing. Normally, this isn’t something Thea cares about, but she can feel her best friend, Marley, drifting away from her and falling in with the popular crowd, and Thea’s desperate to win her back.

I do think this scene is a good example of the mind games Thea and Marley are constantly playing with each other. Though Marley isn’t mentioned on page 69, she’s the motivation behind Thea’s actions here, and the two are perpetually locked in a battle of wills, each trying by turns to one-up and impress the other.

This scene also introduces us to the character of Scott, who goes on to play a critical role in both Thea and Marley’s adult lives. Lastly, it serves as the catalyst for one of the book’s darkest plot points, which I won’t spoil, but which sets the stage for the present-day story’s main action.
Visit Maggie Auffarth's website.

My Book, The Movie: Burn It All.

Q&A with Maggie Auffarth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 10, 2024

"Just Like February"

Deborah Batterman is the author of Just Like February, a finalist in the 2019 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, 2018 Best Book Awards, International Fiction Awards, and American Fiction Awards. A story from her collection, Shoes Hair Nails, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In 2012 she published Because My Name Is Mother, a chapbook of essays linked by the reminder that every mother is a daughter, too.

Batterman applied the Page 69 Test to Just Like February and reported the following:
Just Like February is the story of a girl’s love for her charismatic gay uncle and her coming of age in the ‘80s. As the idea for the novel formed, I asked myself how did we get from the sex/drugs/rock ’n’ roll ’60s to the sex as death ’80s? Rachel, the young narrator, emerged as the voice of a time of profound innocence lost.

A reader who lands on page 69 would find Rachel reflecting on a telling conversation with her best friend. It’s July 4th, 1976, which happens to be her birthday. She’s at a Bicentennial celebration with her parents on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Being the only child among adults gets her thinking about her best friend, Laura, who had begged her to come to her family’s barbecue. There would be other children, “stupid little cousins and the Brat,” in the words of Laura.
She never called her one-year-old sister, Ricki, by her name, just complained a lot about how much better life was before the Brat. She hated the baby drool and the baby talk, made fun of the way her parents clucked at the Brat all the time when she was an infant. “You don’t want a baby in your house, Rachel, believe me. They turn your parents into chickens, clicking their tongues, making strange noises all the time. And when they’re not clicking or clucking, they’re oohing and aahing at every stupid little thing she does.” She pinched her nose. “The Brat can stink up a room like nobody else, then smile, like she’s proud of what she’s doing. If you had a younger brother or sister—and believe me, you don’t know how lucky you are not to—you would understand.” I told her I did have a “brother,” but he died. Of pneumonia.

When she asked me his name, all I could think was, Baby Baby Baby. “Bobby,” I blurted out. “His name was Bobby.”

“So you know what I mean.” The conversation between two seven-year-olds doesn’t go much further except for Laura to repeat, “You don’t know how lucky your are, Rachel. No babies, no brats.” A perfect segue for Rachel to take in the adults around her, especially her grumpy father.
There’s no page 69 without page 68, and a quick peek reveals that Rachel’s mother recently had a miscarriage. As the discord in her parents’ relationship grows, her affection for an uncle who opens up worlds to her takes center stage in her life.
Learn more about the book and author at Deborah Batterman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 8, 2024

"The Paris Widow"

Kimberly Belle's new novel, The Paris Widow, “continues the author’s winning streak” according to Publishers Weekly. Her previous novels include The Marriage Lie, a Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for Best Mystery & Thriller, and the co-authored #1 Audible Original, Young Rich Widows. Belle’s novels have been optioned for film and television and selected by LibraryReads and Amazon & Apple Books Editors as Best Books of the Month, and the International Thriller Writers as nominee for best book of the year. She divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

Belle applied the Page 69 Test to The Paris Widow and reported the following:
Page 69 is smack in the middle of a pivotal scene, when Stella is being questioned by a lieutenant colonel of the Paris Police Force. Two days ago, her husband Adam disappeared after a bombing in a Parisian square, and now, the lieutenant colonel has come to deliver some troubling news about Adam and his business.
“…While Architectural Elements might be a legitimate business, it is only a very small part of how your husband makes his money. Monsieur Knox’s real business, the one that brings in a great deal of income, is dealing in looted and stolen artifacts.”

The accusation is so out of left field, so absurd, that I laugh. The sound is sharp in the tiny room, and loud in my own ears. But the lieutenant colonels’ expression doesn’t change. He stares back at me across the table.

I sit back abruptly. “No. that’s not true. Adam sells decorative wall panels and, and…antique mirrors. Cast-iron balcony railings like the ones here in Paris. He doesn’t steal these things. He buys them.”
While she fights it at first, this is the moment the realization really sinks that her husband hasn’t been entirely truthful, and it is very much at the core of what the story is about: secrets that can destroy a marriage, the sale and trade of blood antiquities, a highly lucrative—and highly illegal—enterprise. It’s a pivotal moment for both Stella and the novel, as it sends her on a mission for the truth despite the danger swirling all around her.
Visit Kimberly Belle's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dear Wife.

Q&A with Kimberly Belle.

The Page 69 Test: My Darling Husband.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 6, 2024

"Flyboy"

Kasey LeBlanc (he / him) is a queer, trans, Jewish and neurodivergent author who writes stories for young people. His debut young adult novel Flyboy tells the story of a closeted trans boy, his
Catholic high school, and the magical dream circus where he can finally be seen for his true self.

LeBlanc applied the Page 69 Test to Flyboy and reported the following:
By day, 17-year-old Asher Sullivan is a closeted trans boy just trying to survive senior year at his new Catholic school; by night, he soars through the air as a flying trapeze artist in the magical dream circus where he is seen for his true self.

…Or at least he will once he figures out how to free himself from his assigned role as a clown.

If a reader were to pick up Flyboy for the first time and flip to page 69, they would find Asher at the circus, having just finished another unsuccessful attempt at training to be a clown. As he sits outside the main tent, a memory comes to mind of the black-and-green bike he asked his grandparents for for his seventh birthday.

Towards the end of the page 69 into the top of page 70, Asher recalls the moment at his birthday party (having until that moment pretty much only received stereotypical “girl” gifts) when he waits for his grandparents’ gift.
When the big moment came, my grandparents made me close my eyes as they wheeled out my gift and set up the video camera to record the big moment. It’s one of my grandparents’ favorite videos of me, and one of my least. There’s a moment as I’m pulling off the wrapping paper and thanking my grandparents profusely, that I always think they’ll notice, but they never do, so blinded are they by their own perceptions of that day. It’s just a small moment, as I spot the first flash of color on the bike–bright pink and sparkly, rather than lime green and black–when my face falls, before I recover and plaster on a new smile, fake this time.

Being a clown at a magical circus is a lot like that pink bike. Almost perfect, yet completely wrong.
Even though it’s technically on page 70, I love that final line because I think it captures so much of Asher’s journey in Flyboy. In a world that wants to put him in a box and see him in a certain way, his story is one of finding the strength to break free and the confidence to live life on his own terms.
Visit Kasey LeBlanc's website.

Q&A with Kasey LeBlanc.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

"The Stranger in the Library"

Eva Gates, also known as Vicki Delany, is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than forty-five books: clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy. She is currently writing four cozy mystery series: the Catskill Summer Resort mysteries for Penguin Random House, the Tea by the Sea mysteries for Kensington, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series for Crooked Lane Books, and the Lighthouse Library series (as Eva Gates) for Crooked Lane.

Delany is a past president of the Crime Writers of Canada and co-founder and organizer of the Women Killing It Crime Writing Festival. Her work has been nominated for the Derringer, the Bony Blithe, the Ontario Library Association Golden Oak, and the Arthur Ellis Awards. Delany is the recipient of the 2019 Derrick Murdoch Award for contributions to Canadian crime writing. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

The latest Lighthouse Library mystery is The Stranger in the Library, the eleventh title in the series.

Delany applied the Page 69 Test to The Stranger in the Library and reported the following:
From page 69:
“He likes the work,” I said. “And he believes deeply in the importance of democracy and having properly elected officials making the important decisions, particularly at the local level. But he doesn’t care for the campaigning and the dark side of that, plus he genuinely misses full-time practice.” Connor was a dentist; he kept an office in Nags Head at which he worked on a part-time and pro-bono basis during his terms as mayor.

Josie dried her hands on a tea towel and then headed for the door at the back of the kitchen. “Have you been here before?” she asked me.

“Here? You mean in this building? Never.”

“I’ve catered events here quite a few times. It’s nothing special inside, but the gardens are really nice, so people have anniversary parties and small simple weddings and the like here. This property’s the only place in all of the Outer Banks high enough and rocky enough to have cliffs.”

We walked slowly through the gardens. Flagstone paths were laid between neat rows of boxwood and beautifully maintained flowerbeds. The scent of the flowers had been released by the rain, and fresh drops still clung to leaves and petals, glowing in the soft light from the fairy lights strung between the trees. In the distance we could hear the sound of the surf crashing against the shore as the tide came in. The storm clouds had moved on, and high above us the sky was a blanket of stars.

It truly was a beautiful night.

“Let’s go see the fish,” Josie said. “Then I need to get back.”

“Fish?”

“A small koi pond.”

“Do fish sleep?” I asked. “You know, I’ve never thought about that before. Louise Jane, do fish sleep?”

“Why are you asking me?”

“Because you’re normally a font of knowledge.”
I fear the page failed the test. Page 69 is rather mundane. The characters are attending a party marking the opening of an art exhibition, and at the end of the evening have gathered in the kitchen. It’s a beautiful night and they decide to go for a walk to see the fish pond. By this time, it’s been established that one of the organizers of the art show has failed to show up.

No prizes for guessing what will be found in the fish pond. The only thing of significance that happens here is the mention that “This property’s the only place in all of the Outer Banks high enough and rocky enough to have cliffs.” That cliffside location is extremely important when it comes to the climax of the book.

However, as this is a cozy mystery page 69 does reflect some of the mood of the book. A nice evening, good friends, the seaside setting. Even a little joke that says something about the relationship between the main characters in the series.

Otherwise, page 69 has little to offer in the way of insights into the book. In each of the Lighthouse Library books, the novel the Bodie Island Classic Novel Reading Club is reading is reflected (very loosely) in my book. In The Stranger in the Library, that book is Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith. I have attempted to recreate Tom Ripley as a cozy character. That he doesn’t appear at all, or is even mentioned, in page 69 means that to me the book fails the test.
Follow Eva Gates on Twitter and Facebook, and visit Vicki Delany's website.

The Page 69 Test: Death By Beach Read.

Writers Read: Eva Gates (June 2022).

The Page 69 Test: Death Knells and Wedding Bells.

Writers Read: Eva Gates (June 2023).

Writers Read: Eva Gates.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 2, 2024

"Deep Beneath Us"

Catriona McPherson was born in Scotland and lived there until 2010, then immigrated to California where she lives on Patwin ancestral land. A former academic linguist, she now writes full-time. Her multi-award-winning and national best-selling work includes: the Dandy Gilver historical detective stories, the Last Ditch mysteries, set in California, and a strand of contemporary standalone novels including Edgar-finalist The Day She Died and Mary Higgins Clark finalist Strangers at the Gate. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, The Crimewriters’ Association, The Society of Authors and Sisters in Crime, of which she is a former national president.

McPherson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Deep Beneath Us, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Chapter 10

Gordo

She seemed like she was going to walk right into Davey’s house but now she’s bottled it on the doorstep.

‘What?’ he asks her, peering over her shoulder. ‘Aw, naw!’

He’s never been in this way before. Davey always used the back door and so Barrett and him did too whenever they came in for a feed after a long day on the hills, whenever they made a night of it with the cribbage board. The door to this wee pantry or scullery or whatever it is has always been closed. But now it’s obvious Davey was sleeping in here. Just as obvious that he died in here. No wonder she can’t make her feet step over the threshold. Gordo’s legs aren’t feeling too steady either.

The single bed is pushed against the far wall, but the room’s so small the glass from that copper breaking in has left spangles on the grubby sheet. Jesus Christ, that sheet. It’s royal blue, to match the duvet cover and the case on the single pillow, but it’s black with grime in the middle where he’s been lying and there’s a smaller patch of greasy black in the pillow dent. There’s no wee table by the bed or even a chair. Just a paperback and some screwed up tissues on the floor, a lip salve with no lid and marks from coffee cups all over the beige vinyl like Olympic rings. That’s not the worst. The worst is syringes and ampoules and ripped blister packs of something or other that the paramedics must have left behind. And it’s not the weirdest. The weirdest is a Bible there by the bed. Gordo remembers everything Davey ever said about ‘corporate superstition’ and ‘state-sanctioned magic’ and yet right there on the floor is a well-thumbed leather-bound Bible with a bookmark about halfway through.
Well, look at that! Deep Beneath Us passes the Page 69 Test with flying colours. This page is ideal. We find out who the POV character is – Gordo. Other chapters are in the first person voice of Tabitha (the “she” here) and the close third-person voice of Barrett who is being protected from the pitiful sight of the room where Davey’s life has just ended. See? All the characters. Even the dead one. And we find out that Gordo, Barrett and the late Davey spend time together out on the hills around their home, and that their idea of “making a night of it” involves cribbage. I think we get a good sense of this trio of gentle misfits.

Also, plot! Page 69 tells us that Davey died suddenly, that police came, that paramedics came. It really is an efficient page. I can’t quite believe I didn’t cheat to get such a good one.

Besides that, I think page 69 lets readers who would be annoyed by informal Scottish English style save themselves the bother of ordering the book from the library and then giving up on it. There are two “wee”s on the page. I have to do a wee-ectomy on every book to get the count down from realistic to bearable. It’s a wee bit extra work, but it’s worth it.

As if that wasn’t enough, right at the end of the page there’s a clue! A bona fide clue that’s one of about seven that will bamboozle Tabitha, Gordo and Barrett right to the end of the book. Why would a man like Davey have a Bible by his bed? You’d need to read the book to find out.
Visit Catriona McPherson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Go to My Grave.

My Book, The Movie: The Turning Tide.

The Page 69 Test: The Turning Tide.

My Book, The Movie: A Gingerbread House.

The Page 69 Test: Hop Scot.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

"The Seminarian"

Hart Hanson is a novelist and TV writer, best known for creating the Fox Television Networks longest-lived scripted hourlong program Bones. He also created The Finder and Backstrom, neither of which lasted as long as Bones to Hanson’s shame and chagrin.

Before moving to Los Angeles from his native Canada, Hanson created the multiple award-winning Global Television Network program Traders. Before Traders he wrote and produced, amongst others, several Canadian TV series, including Beachcombers, The Road to Avonlea, and North of 60.

After making the move to Los Angeles, Hanson started his American TV career writing and producing TV series Cupid, Snoops, Judging Amy, and Joan of Arcadia before creating Bones.

Hanson’s first book The Driver — a crime novel set in Los Angeles — was lauded as one of The New York Times’ Best Crime novels of 2017.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Seminarian, and reported the following:
Marshall McLuhan (and the Page 69 Test) might be onto something!

Page 69 of The Seminarian features my legal investigator, Xavier Priestly, trying to get some info out of his frenemy, Cody Fiso, a literal giant who owns the most successful Security and Private Investigation Agency in Los Angeles.

Priest is doing something he hates and resents: asking Fiso for a favor. Priest tries to brush past that as quickly as possible hoping that Fiso won’t notice.

“I don’t want to waste your time here, Fiso,” Priest said, because Fiso was wasting his time.

Priest thinks that Fiso is wasting his time because Fiso has beat Priest to the punch by asking for a favor of his own. Priest is even more irritated that Fiso doesn’t seem to mind asking for favors.

Page 69 also calls into questions Priest’s ability to evaluate the deeper motivations of human beings in general.

Is Priest as difficult a person as Fiso suggests? Or is Fiso just trying to get under Priest’s skin?

Is Fiso – as Priest suggests – tight-assed and withholding? Or is Priest projecting his own motivations onto Fiso?

If Priest hates Fiso so much (the reader can insert “humanity” in place of “Fiso” in that phrase) then why does Priest feel a burst of pride when Fiso assumes that Priest behaved valorously when he was attacked by a contract killer?

Could these two, underneath it all, actually be friends?

(Again, what applies to Fiso could apply to all of Humanity.)

The Page 69 Test is good! If the reader enjoys the transactional back-and-forth between these two characters then that reader may very well enjoy the book.

Yes, page 69 combines, plot, character, tone, and some of the most important underlying themes of The Seminarian.

Well done, Marshall McLuhan.
Visit Hart Hanson's website.

Q&A with Hart Hanson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 26, 2024

"Through a Clouded Mirror"

Miya T. Beck is a native Californian who always had a deep interest in the Japanese side of her heritage. Though she tried and failed to become fluent in Japanese, her studies did introduce her to the myths and fairy tales that inspired this novel. A former daily newspaper reporter and magazine writer, she lives in Brooklyn with her family.

Beck applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Through a Clouded Mirror, and reported the following:
In Through a Clouded Mirror, 12-year-old Yuki Snow escapes the difficulties of being the new kid in town by passing through a magic mirror to meet Sei Shonagon, the celebrated Japanese writer who served as an imperial attendant a thousand years ago. Page 69 lands in the middle of a tense scene at the imperial court. Yuki has just come to the defense of a page boy who has been sentenced to a harsh punishment for a minor infraction by the petulant emperor (the text in brackets is from the page before):
[“Might she also be the stranger in the most recent prophecy?”]

Yuki turned to see a man in a boxy black tunic with a leaf pattern sweep into the hall, trailed by a group of aides. He had the craggy good looks of an aging movie star.

“Which prophecy are you referring to, Regent Fujiwara?” the emperor asked sullenly.

“When the master of divination looked for auspicious days for the Chinese delegation to visit, he foresaw a stranger who would offer wise counsel,” the regent said.

“Yes, that’s right!” the empress exclaimed. “And Yuki is correct. You can change the rules.”
Having the regent and the empress agree with her is a pivotal moment. Yuki has spent the past few months at her new middle school feeling either invisible or misunderstood. But now, during her first audience with the power players at court, her opinion carries weight. One paragraph later, on page 70, Yuki experiences the validation that she’s been seeking:
As the guards released Nobu, he shot Yuki a dazed smile. She couldn’t believe it. They had listened to her. Back home, nobody ever listened to her. Not her mother. Not Julio. Certainly not her English teacher. She felt her shoulders relax as she stood a little straighter. She liked this feeling of being an influencer. Already Shonagon’s world was way better than Santa Dolores.
Unfortunately, page 69 does not include Shonagon, a colorful, witty character who plays a critical role in Yuki’s journey. She appears on page 68. Though I hate to take a hard line like the emperor and fault the Page 69 Test based on a few paragraphs in either direction, those are the rules that I have been given. If I had to grade the Page 69 Test, I would give it a B for this novel.
Visit Miya T. Beck's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 23, 2024

"Real Life and Other Fictions"

Susan Coll is the author of seven novels, most recently Real Life & Other Fictions, which Kirkus calls “A kooky treasure.” Her other novels include Bookish People, The Stager, Acceptance, Rockville Pike, and Karlmarx.com.

Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, NPR.org, theatlantic.com, The Millions, and a variety of other publications including The Asian Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune. Her novel, Acceptance, was made into a television movie starring the hilarious Joan Cusack.

Coll is the recipient of three recent grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. She works at Politics and Prose Bookstore, and was the president of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation for five years. She teaches occasional workshops at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Coll applied the Page 69 Test to Real Life and Other Fictions and reported the following:
Page 69 of my novel involves a flashback to when the protagonist, Cassie, first meets her husband, Richard, more than 20 years before the novel is set. They are both in India for their respective journalism jobs, and they are seated next to one another at dinner at the home of a mutual acquaintance in New Delhi. Cassie describes their instantaneous attraction. She tries to keep Richard engaged in a sort of mindless banter about reflections on travel.

This is not a great page to land on to get a sense of the book, unfortunately. The largely whimsical tone of the book is not reflected on this page, which is more reflective and somber. But it does provide information critical to the rest of the story.

Richard is an unqualified jerk of a husband. He is a self-absorbed, and very handsome meteorologist whose career implodes so spectacularly that he becomes an internet meme. Readers might wonder what it was about Richard that Cassie had once found attractive, apart from his good looks. This flashback is meant to capture the chemistry of this first meeting.

But to get the true tone of the book, please begin with chapter 1, which is set on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and involves a comical scene that has Cassie running along the bridge, chasing her dog who has escaped from the car. The novel is about a (real) bridge collapse in West Virginia in 1967, and the legend of The Mothman. It is also about family secrets, and what it means to be a survivor.
Visit Susan Coll's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Susan Coll & Zoe.

The Page 69 Test: Acceptance.

The Page 69 Test: Beach Week.

The Page 69 Test: The Stager.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

"Twice the Trouble"

Ash Clifton grew up in Gainesville, Florida, home of the University of Florida, where his father was a deputy sheriff and, later, the chief of police. He graduated from UF with a degree in English, then got an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona. He lives in Gainesville, with his wife and son. He writes mystery, thriller, and science fiction novels.

Clifton applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Twice the Trouble, and reported the following:
Twice the Trouble is a mystery thriller, which simply means that in addition to the whodunnit aspect, there are some action scenes. Page 69 happens to fall on the end of such a scene, in which the protagonist, a private investigator named Noland Twice, is almost killed by a man he has come to interrogate. It’s basically a fight scene set in the cabin of a small sailboat, which is a tight, cramped space and therefore perfect for this kind of sequence. (Elevators are another great place to set a fight scene.)

I am fairly proud of this scene. I think it’s exciting (it was, at least, exciting for me to write, even though I had to work on it for a long time), and it has all the elements of a good action sequence—surprise, shock, and fear. The reason so many action scenes in both books and movies fail is that the reader/viewer never feels the danger intimately, mainly because the hero never really feels it. Never really gets hurt. Never loses control. Never gets desperate. Why? Because they’re too powerful. Too slick.

In reality, the very nature of violence is that it’s uncontrollable. Also, it’s often sudden, unplanned, and devastating. That’s what I was trying to communicate on page 69, and in other, similar scenes throughout my book. On page 69, Noland has just engaged in a fight to the death (almost; his suspect gets away at the last moment), and he is scared, hurt, enraged, and in shock. He’s also a bit crazy, in that moment. So crazy, in fact, that he takes out his pistol with the full intention of shooting the bad guy in the back as he runs away. The lines I am most proud of come at this critical point.
Noland steadied himself against the boom and pulled out the Ruger. Swaying slightly, he aimed at Valkenburg, the gun as heavy as a cinderblock. Before he could pull the trigger, though, another trickle of blood ran into his eye, and as he wiped at it with his free hand, he came to his senses. He jumped down to the pier and ran.
I like these lines because they describe how it feels to almost get killed in a fight, and it makes us wonder what we might do in the aftermath of such a struggle. This is the question that the best books seek to answer: How does it feel? Whatever the POV character is doing or thinking in any given moment, the reader—more than anything—wants to know how it feels.

This is the reason I believe my page 69 is really, truly representative of my book as a whole. Twice the Trouble is not one long, unbroken action scene. But, on every page in every paragraph, I am trying to give the reader a sense of another life. Even in the mundane moments, I am trying to relate how it feels to be this guy. I’m not great at it—that is, I’m no Joyce Carol Oates, or John Updike, or Alison Lurie, or Kaui Hart Hemmings—but I’m trying. Hopefully, I get it right, sometimes.
Visit Ash Clifton's website.

My Book, The Movie: Twice the Trouble.

--Marshal Zeringue