Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Steal the North"

Heather Brittain Bergstrom has won fiction awards from The Atlantic Monthly, The Chicago Tribune, Narrative Magazine, and others, and a story was named a distinguished and notable story for The Best American Short Stories in 2010. Her short fiction has been published in several literary journals and anthologies. She holds an MFA in creative writing.

Bergstrom applied the Page 69 Test to Steal the North, her debut novel and first published book, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Steal the North happens to be a crucial scene for Kate, the mother of my teenage protagonist. The chapter is narrated in Kate’s voice. She is having an argument here with her boyfriend of four years, Spencer. He loves her deeply, but she has always kept her distance. She is a woman of many secrets, and one of the most shocking is revealed (to Spencer and to readers) on page 69. First, a little background. Kate grew up in eastern Washington in a fundamentalist Baptist church. Her mother died when she and her little sister, Beth, were young girls. Their father was too harsh. When Kate got pregnant as a teenager, she was not only condemned from the pulpit, but shunned by her father, and the farm boy who got her pregnant abandoned her. She and her sister moved out of their father’s house and tried to survive. After the baby—my protagonist, Emmy—was born, Kate got a job waitressing at a truck stop. But eventually Kate realized she had to leave eastern Washington before it destroyed her completely. She boarded a bus bound for California, with baby Emmy on her hip, and never looked back. Beginning a new life in Sacramento, she kept her painful past hidden from everyone, including her daughter and Spencer, the first man to truly love her.

Here are the first sentences from page 69, narrated by Kate:
I try to move away from Spencer. “I don’t need you,” I say. I’ve been struggling to convince myself of that since the day we met.

He grabs my arm. “You need me, Kate. Feminist or not.” Now it’s his turn to laugh. “That’s what scares you. It’s always scared you.”
They argue. She begs him to leave her apartment.
“As soon as you tell me one thing about your childhood. One day. One moment. Let me in, Kate.” I don’t respond. I’m tired and afraid what I might confess. “One detail about Emmy’s dad then,” he says. “At least his name, so I can despise all men with that dickhead’s name.”

“Fine,” I say. “I’ll let you in a bit. But remember you asked for it.” I hesitate because I am about to tell him everything, not just one thing, and it will probably be the end of us. I should shut the windows for privacy, but the cool breeze from the delta will help me not pass out. I press on my jaw once more to stall and to call forth my courage. I begin. “After Emmy’s dad—name of Jamie Kagen—took my virginity, then knocked me up, he dumped me. I was shunned, condemned as a whore from the church pulpit and by my father at home.” Spencer reaches for me. “Wait.” I put up my hand. I’m sweating despite the breeze on the back of my knees. “After I gave birth to Emmy, I waitressed at a truck stop cafĂ©, where I also slept around for money.” His face flinches. “With nasty old men in their stinky truck cabs.” I’ve never told anyone other than Beth my secret. “It turns out I was a whore after all.” He closes his eyes. When he opens them, I continue.
Spencer has finally, after four years, cracked Kate. Can she survive the sudden exposure and vulnerability? Can Spencer, who has had a rather cushy life, live with the weight of what he just heard?
Visit Heather Brittain Bergstrom's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 19, 2014

“Zero-Degree Murder”

A former search and rescue worker for over a decade, M.L. Rowland lives at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in south-central Colorado.

Rowland applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Zero-Degree Murder:
Page 69 in Zero-Degree Murder starts Chapter 18 and is only half a page.
Gracie and Cashman followed the tracks along a narrow portion of the trail where the canyon walls jutted steeply upward on the right and fell away into darkness on the left. According to the altimeter on Gracie’s watch, they had climbed to over ninety-five hundred feet in elevation. Snow fields above and below the trail had grown larger and more frequent. Any snow on the trail itself had been trampled into a muddy slush.
This first paragraph gives us the setting: smack dab in the middle of the rugged mountains of southern California, tells us that it’s nighttime and gives us an idea of the season—close enough to winter that there’s snow on the ground. It contains two of the main characters: Search and Rescue volunteer, Gracie Kinkaid, and her teammate, Steve Cashman, and what they’re doing: following tracks along a wilderness trail, indicative of the action which continues throughout the entire book.
By then Gracie had been able to positively identify additional print patterns mixed in with the Reeboks. One had a smooth sole with a distinctive pointed toe that could very well be from Rob Christian’s city shoes. Another, a honey-combed pattern, was small enough to belong to a woman. Others were a lug sole typical of a hiking boot.
This paragraph tells us that Gracie is a skilled tracker. The fact that she identifies a pair of shoes as “city” gives us a little insight into her personality. It also tells us a little about the missing hikers: one is wearing Reebok’s. Another is probably a woman. One, most likely Rob Christian, is hiking in those ‘city shoes.’ The fourth is wearing appropriate footwear--hiking boots.
“What the—?” Gracie stopped abruptly and squatted at the side of the trail. “Cashman, hold up a sec,” she yelled up to her teammate who was hiking out of sight ahead of her.

“What?” came Steve’s voice out of the darkness ahead.
What Gracie finds on the trail is the first hint that something has gone terribly wrong for the missing hikers (other than the fact that they’re missing in the first place). From there, everything goes downhill—literally and figuratively.

Hopefully this half-page alone contains plenty to entice readers to read further!
Visit M.L. Rowland's website.

My Book, The Movie: Zero-Degree Murder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 18, 2014

"The Eighth Day"

Dianne K. Salerni lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania with her husband Bob and two daughters, Gabrielle and Gina. She graduated from St. Mark's High School in Wilmington, Delaware and received her Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Delaware. She subsequently earned a Master's in Language Arts Education at the University of Pennsylvania before taking a job teaching in the Avon Grove School District. She has now been teaching fourth and fifth grade at Avon Grove for over 20 years.

Salerni applied the Page 69 Test to The Eighth Day, her new novel, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Eighth Day, readers will find 13 year-old Jax Aubrey helping a cute and popular girl clean up broken bits of pottery in the hallway of their middle school:
Jax picked up shards with one hand and piled them into the other. “Do you want to save the big pieces and glue them back together?”

“What’s the point?” Giana gingerly picked up pieces of pottery and cast a sideways glance at Jax’s arm. “I can’t believe you got a tattoo. Isn’t that illegal?”

“Not if your guardian says okay.” She was eyeing him like she couldn’t decide whether the tattoo made him cool or creepy, so he said, “My dad had a tattoo like this. It’s a way to honor him.”

“Oh.” Giana stood up. Jax could’ve kicked himself. Nobody wanted to hear about his orphanhood.
Jax Aubrey is an ordinary seventh grader – if you don’t count the fact that shortly after his father’s death an 18 year-old stranger claiming to be his legal guardian whisked him away from his only remaining family. This new guardian won’t answer any of Jax’s questions about who he really is or how he knew Jax’s dad.

But he does force Jax to get the same tattoo his father had: a family coat of arms on his left wrist.

Here, Jax is doing his best to make lemonade out of lemons. He can’t stand his guardian, and he doesn’t know what this family “mark” is all about – but hey, if the tattoo makes him look cool in the eyes of a cute girl, he’s got no problem showing it off! What follows is Jax’s painfully awkward attempt to impress the girl, during which he accidentally blunders into the secret reason for his tattoo.

Does page 69 pass the test by accurately representing my book? I think it does. This scene is a tipping point for Jax. He already knows about the secret eighth day of the week by now, but not his connection to legendary figures out of folklore and fantasy.

Jax is about to fall flat on his face in his attempt to win over the popular Giana, but everything changes for him starting on page 69.
Visit Dianne K. Salerni's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"The Art of Secrets"

James Klise is the author of The Art of Secrets, newly released from Algonquin Books for Young Readers. His debut novel, Love Drugged, was a Stonewall Honor book, an ALA Rainbow List selection, and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. In addition, his essays, reviews, and short fiction have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Readerville Journal, StoryQuarterly, New Orleans Review, Southern Humanities Review, Ascent, Sou’wester, and elsewhere.

Klise applied the Page 69 Test to The Art of Secrets and reported the following:
The Art of Secrets is a contemporary crime story told in multiple forms of narrative: monologues, emails, journal entries, interviews, newspaper accounts, texts, etc.

On page 69, we near the end of an interview with Kendra Spoon, a Chicago high school sophomore. Kendra and her brother Kevin are helping to organize an auction to benefit a classmate who has lost her home in a fire. In this scene, Kendra faces questioning by her principal, school attorney and a newspaper reporter. Kendra’s not in any trouble, but certain facts must be established, given that one of the auction items that she and her brother donated has turned out to have substantial value. The reader doesn’t know what this item is yet; the subsequent scene reveals that information. All Kendra can report is that they found “it” in a box of old books that were left in a Lincoln Park alleyway:
And Kevin was like, ‘C’mon, some of these could be valuable.’ He wanted to look through them. I’m telling you, my brother sticks with things until they’re done perfectly. He’s thorough and super patient, just like my mom. It’s a good quality in most people, I guess, but not when you’re starving and ready to eat your shoe or something. So we picked up this dirty, smelly box and put it in the trunk. It weighed a ton, I remember that.
Before the item can be auctioned, there is the question of ownership, so the interrogation has covered the basics: Where exactly did the Spoons find this box of old books? Which alley? Which day was it? Did they knock on the door of the residence before removing the box? On page 69, Kendra makes a solid argument for her true ownership of the treasure and establishes her authority to use it as she sees fit. Kendra’s tone has been breezy through most of the interview, but finally we hear some teenage feistiness creeping into her voice:
That box was in an alley, with the garbage, and that made it fair game. The previous owners had abandoned everything inside that box, and it was ours for the taking. That’s the way the world works, right? That’s, like, the Law of the Alley. I mean, someone threw away that box of awesome snow globes, too, but nobody’s asking about those.
I am happy to see that page 69 represents The Art of Secrets as well as it does. It conveys the conversational tone of the book, and also touches on the notion of opportunities: the ones we find versus the kind we make for ourselves. Kendra and her brother have made it clear they intend to do something powerful and altruistic with this opportunity that’s been given to them. The funny part is, what happens after this discovery is something that Kendra herself never could have predicted.
Learn more about the book and author at James Klise's website and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"The Axe Factor"

Born in London, Colin Cotterill has worked as teacher in Israel, Australia, the U.S. and Japan before he started training teachers in Thailand. Cotterill and his wife live in a small fishing village on the Gulf of Siam in Southern Thailand. He’s won the Dilys and a CWA Dagger, and has been a finalist for several other awards.

Cotterill applied the Page 69 Test to The Axe Factor, the third novel in the Jimm Juree series, and reported the following:
As always, my page 69 gives away most of the plot and leaves the reader with a question. The Axe Factor has a number of parallel threads one of which sees our Jimm hunting for a missing doctor who was last seen at a conference at the deserted Novotel. It highlights one of Jimm’s favourite methods of extracting information; the out-and-out lie - as she claims to be the doctor’s daughter. We also get a hint of how Jimm imagines herself to look, ever envious of those sweet, slim Thai beauties around her.

The Axe Factor is perhaps the grittiest Jimm Juree mystery and it boasts one very suspicious character who writes novels set in Laos, keeps dogs, lives on the beach, has a recently disappeared wife and a fine six-pack of abs. (That last part was added to divert the readers’ attention from his true identity.)

From page 69:
I’d passed the Novotel before on my way to the Ko Tao ferry. It was a vast place with its own nine-hole golf course, behind an ugly fence. Noisy road between it and the sea. No public transport into town. I’d always wondered why anyone would stay there. I parked in the car park and sought out administration. There was one person at the front desk, who told me the manager was away. It was mid-week. There were no guests. The words ‘money laundering’ passed through my mind. But the receptionist, Doy, was perfectly sweet. She was pretty and delicate as a hibiscus – the way I’d always appeared in my own dreams. When she found out I was enquiring about conference facilities, she wai’d me respectfully and asked how she could help. I suppose I could have told her I was an unemployed journalist looking for an old doctor I wasn’t particularly interested to find, but that wouldn’t have got me anywhere, would it now? So I leaned across the marble counter, took hold of her arm, and said,

‘Doy, I’m at my wit’s end. You’re my last hope.’

‘Me? Why?’ she said. ‘I mean, what can I do to help?’

‘My mother,’ I said. ‘She suffers from dementia. We can’t find her.’

‘Oh, my word.’

‘The last time anyone saw her was here at your hotel at a conference.’

‘Oh!’

‘It’s just … it would be really bad publicity for the hotel if she’s lying dead in a flower bed somewhere.’

‘Well, yes. Certainly. Do you know what conference it was?’

‘Child care.’

‘That was just this weekend.’

‘Yes.’

‘I … I should tell somebody.’

‘Thank you. And perhaps they’ll suggest you find the hotel reservations for a Dr Somluk Shinabut and the list of conference attendees.’

‘Yes. Yes. Good idea.’

She started to rifle through a drawer.

‘And perhaps you could put me in touch with someone from the hotel who attended the conference.’

She looked up.

‘We … we don’t.’

‘Don’t what?’
Learn more about the book and author at Colin Cotterill's website.

The Page 69 Test: Killed at the Whim of a Hat.

My Book, The Movie: Killed at the Whim of a Hat.

Writers Read: Colin Cotterill (August 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"There Will Come a Time"

Carrie Arcos is the author of There Will Come a Time and Out of Reach, which was a National Book Award Finalist. She lives with her family in Los Angeles, California.

Arcos applied the Page 69 Test to There Will Come a Time and reported the following:
There Will Come a Time is a story about how one deals with grief. It follows seventeen-year-old Mark as he navigates his heart and his relationships while fighting survivor’s guilt and understanding how to live without the twin he lost to a car accident. Are you still even a twin when your twin dies?

On page 69, you find Mark sitting down for a Saturday morning breakfast with his parents and younger sister. It begins with some tension—a text unanswered and an empty chair…
I wait a few minutes. Nothing. I think about sending another text, but I smell bacon. It’s enough to get me to throw on some clothes and go downstairs. Everyone’s sitting at the table in the kitchen nook. I don’t look at the empty chair in the corner, but I know it’s there.
The empty chair at the end of the first paragraph is significant. Readers will want to know whose chair was it? Why does Mark avoid it? This plays throughout the rest of the scene because it is about a family who is trying to move forward after a terrible loss—the death of a sister and a daughter. The chair is Grace’s chair, his twin’s.

What page 69 shows is that Mark is part of a family. He is not alone, though he has felt very alone in his grief over the death of Grace, especially since he was the one driving the car in the accident that killed her. One of the changes his character must make over the course of the novel is to realize that he is not the only one who is grieving. This page is a good set up in revealing the relationships that he has tried to keep at bay and the push and pull of his family wanting to engage and Mark not knowing how.
Visit Carrie Arcos's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Under a Silent Moon"

Elizabeth Haynes is a police intelligence analyst, a civilian role that involves determining patterns in offending and criminal behavior. Her novels include: Human Remains, Dark Tide, and Into the Darkest Corner, which was selected as Amazon UK's Best Book of 2011. She lives in a village near Maidstone, Kent, with her husband and son.

Haynes applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Under a Silent Moon, and reported the following:
Initially I was quite surprised to find a sex scene on page 69 of Under a Silent Moon, but in retrospect this shouldn’t have felt strange. Brace yourselves, readers, there’s a lot of sex in this book. At its heart is a tangled mess of relationships, liaisons, betrayals, indulgences and fetishes, the net result of a community of people with too much money and not enough morality, selfish people who indulge their whims without considering the consequences. And yet there are victims of all this grotty behaviour, and on page 69 we get a glimpse of some of the fallout: Flora, artist daughter of Nigel Maitland, an organised criminal who maintains an outwardly respectable career as a farmer, is mourning in private the loss of her former lover, Polly Leuchars, whose battered remains were discovered at the start of the book:
Flora wasn’t in her studio. She was sitting in the car outside, looking up at the big windows, thinking of the canvas in there and wondering if she’d ever be able to look at it again. Crying again, of course. How long would it take before she could think of Polly and not cry? It wasn’t even as if they’d been together when it happened. It had finished months ago. But that didn’t stop the hurt, didn’t make it any less, didn’t make any bloody difference.

The canvas was huge, swirls of green and gold, flashes of navy, dots of bright red. It was an abstract, and it was based on the memories of what had happened in the top field at Hermitage Farm. The field where, on that hot spring day when the world had seemed so suddenly full of promise, Polly had kissed Flora for the first time. And then, when Flora had looked at her in amazement and kissed her back, Polly had pushed her gently into the shade of the trees, the buttons being undone one by one while Polly met her gaze and smiled at her surprise.
Polly’s murder is the focus of the police enquiry at the heart of the story, led by DCI Louisa Smith, newly-promoted and with a lot to prove. What might have featured on page 69 is one of the many police documents included in the text: witness statements, intelligence, emails and reports, allowing the reader to get involved in the investigation. And Louisa’s team needs all the help they can get: a second body is found, with links to Polly’s death, and the pressure mounts for Louisa to get a result. But Lou is driven by more than a desire to secure a conviction – she genuinely cares about those left behind, the families and friends of the victims, the ones like Flora who are left heartbroken and grieving.
Visit the official Elizabeth Haynes website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Elizabeth Haynes & Bea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"The Shadow Queen"

Sandra Gulland is the author of the Josephine B. Trilogy, internationally best-selling novels about Josephine Bonaparte which have been published in over seventeen countries. Her fourth novel, Mistress of the Sun (also published internationally) and her new novel, The Shadow Queen, are set in the 17th-century French Court of Louis XIV, the Sun King.

Gulland applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, The Shadow Queen, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Shadow Queen comes at a pivotal and dramatic moment in the narrative. Claudette, although young (21), is the true care-taker of her witless mother and special-needs younger brother. Their life has been one of hard-scrabble impoverishment, and Claudette has miraculously won a chance for her mother at theatrical employment. This is the opportunity she has been praying for, but her mother is resistant...
Mother had frights in the morning, of course. I made her a calming lemon balm to take with her morning gruel. “I’m putting your little Virgin in my bag,” I assured her, refreshing Gaston on proper etiquette: stand tall, at least try to lock eyes (he was so shy), dip with a sweep of his hat.
(Although Claudette's brother Gaston is 14, he is childlike mentally and emotionally. He is also—I must add—one of my very favorite characters.)
“Monsieur Corneille looks like a clerk, but he’s the greatest man in the land,” I said. “Treat him as if he were king.”

“Oh Mary!” Mother sighed, fanning herself with her chicken-feather fan (in spite of the bitter cold). The very mention of the Great Corneille stirred up her humors, put her in a state of profound disarray.
(Before Claudette was born, her mother and father had played in the first performance of The Cid by Corneille. Her mother had been a talented player, but her husband's death had "unhinged" her. Claudette is hoping that a return to the theater world will help cure her—as well as put food on the table.)
OUTSIDE, THE WORLD was frozen but bright. The sun was high, and everything seemed unearthly. Mother began dragging as we approached the theater, turning in a trance of memory. “I remember that shop. But oh, that’s new. Look how this tree has grown.”

I took advantage of her reverie to glide her through the theater doors, which had been propped open with a paving stone.

“This isn’t it,” she said, coming to a stop in the entry, her hands on her hips. “This isn’t the theater of the Marais.”

Now what? “Maman, this is the Marais.”

“It’s completely different, except for—” Mother gazed down at a star design set into the stone floor. “Except for this,” she said, running the toe of her boot over the points of the star. “This, I remember. Gaston, Claudette, look! Your father, he proposed to me ... right here. My beloved Nicolas stood on this very spot.” She blinked to keep back tears.

“It’s all that is left of the old theater.”

We turned, startled by a man’s voice. The Great Corneille was plainly dressed, still looking like a weary accountant whose sums didn’t add up.

I gestured to Gaston to wipe his chin as I sank into a curtsy.
And thus begins one of the enduring relationships of the novel.

I dedicated the novel in this way:
In memory of my father, Robert Zentner
(1917 — 2013)
whose lovable eccentricities are reflected
in several of the characters in this novel.
And those characters are Claudette's mother and the dear and oh-so-great Pierre Corneille. I love them dearly.
Visit Sandra Gulland's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 11, 2014

"Silver People"

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American winner of the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino. Her award winning young adult novels in verse include The Surrender Tree, The Poet Slave of Cuba, Tropical Secrets, and The Firefly Letters.

Engle’s recent books include The Lightning Dreamer and When You Wander, and her middle grade chapter book, Mountain Dog, was published in August 2013.

Engle applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Silver People, Voices From the Panama Canal, and reported the following:
From page 69:
If only I could find some way
to take a steamship home
and start my life over.

I’ve never had a chance
to go to school. If I send enough
silver home, will my little brothers
and sisters be able to study?
Maybe one of them will even
grow up to be
a teacher
or a nurse.

That would make all my Serpent Cut
suffering
worthwhile.
This excerpt of Silver People, found on page 69, is the end of a poem in the voice of a young Jamaican laborer named Henry. The poem is called Sleepless. It begins with rain and the jungle noises he hears as he lies awake, “troubled by wishes.” In some ways, this page is quite typical of the entire verse novel, since it focuses on the emotional aspects of an overwhelmingly difficult task. The reason Henry signed up as a Panama Canal digger is revealed: to help his family. The suffering of the “Serpent Cut” (Culebra Cut) laborers is mentioned. Both dismay and hope is expressed. Even more important, the first line of page 69 refers to a grim fact: once they had arrived in Panama, laborers from the Caribbean islands had no way to change their minds and go home, partly because they had signed contracts, and partly because they couldn’t afford steamship passage.

In other ways, page 69 is not typical, because it doesn’t include the mysterious power and beauty of nature, which is a theme throughout the novel. If a reader skips ahead a few pages, there will be poems in the voices of howler monkeys, giant hissing cockroaches, crocodiles, a jaguar, and trees. By alternating between human and rain forest points of view, I hoped to convey the immensity of history’s most ambitious engineering project, as well as the desperate need to protect the last remnants of tropical rain forests, exactly one hundred years later.
Visit Margarita Engle's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Margarita Engle & Maggi and Chance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Moth and Spark"

Elisabeth Anne Leonard has degrees from St. John’s College, the University of Pittsburgh, Kent State University, and the University of California—Hastings College of Law.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Moth and Spark, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Early on in Moth and Spark, one of the main characters, Tam, is described as an “accomplished young woman” with a range of talents, education, and experiences. Applying this metaphor to the novel itself, Moth and Spark might appear to be a lady of accomplishment in one area and not much else if one looks only at page 69.

Page 69 consists of a conversation between two characters that perfectly encapsulates the political situation in the novel:
“What about Tyrekh?” he asked. “Is the Emperor going to leave us on our own?”

“I don’t know. It’s an ugly thing to do. If he does he’ll lose the trust of many of his troops. And his vassals. And he can’t afford that. But his sons are a real threat.”

Corin did not bother to ask why Hadon had not executed or imprisoned them. That would only make the fractures greater.

He said, “Has he communicated with Tyrekh at all? Sent any dragons?”

“None. He’s not selling you out, he’s just pretending Tyrekh doesn’t exist.”

“Why is he watching the north?” he asked. “It is him, isn’t it?”

“Aye. No one else controls the riders, I can assure you of that. I don’t know why he’s sent them there. It’s not a desirable assignment, more a punishment duty, but with no reasons given and no man knowing what will put him in the next rotation....”
This shows the triangle of war that sets the events of the novel in motion: an invasion by a foreign army on one hand and an overlord both turning his back and behaving unpredictably on the other. Corin’s country, Caithen, is caught in the middle. There’s just a hint of dragons.

What page 69 doesn’t show is two of the other major aspects of the novel: magic (!) and a love story (!!). Page 69 is early in the novel (Chapter Four) and Corin has not yet been hit with two big emotional hammers: learning that the dragons have chosen him to break their magical bondage to Hadon and the Empire, and falling in love. All three components – magic, politics, and love – become twisted together later on, when Hadon starts the war to keep Corin from releasing the dragons, and Corin’s lover, Tam, guides him with her visions.

Page 69 is also, alas, one of the more expository, less exciting pages, and a visit with her alone would not incline you to spend more time in her practical company. On page 69, our lady novel is doing her finger exercises on the piano. Other pages in the book have visions, swordfights, dragons, love scenes, fear, sadness, conviction, or wit. Moth and Spark shows herself fluent in several styles of writing, can converse equally about violence and ardor, wears the common fashions of fantasy with her own distinctive touches, and has spent quite a lot of time practicing her worldbuilding needlework. But those would be pages 155, or 222, or 44, or 354, or 201 or....

And did I say that there are dragons?
Visit Anne Leonard's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"Death Spiral"

Janie Chodosh is a scientist wannabe and a naturalist. She has spent the last decade teaching high school English and middle school science. When not writing or obsessing about writing, Chodosh can be found with her family in various outdoor pursuits including bird watching, rock climbing, or trying to grow a garden in the arid southwest. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her daughter, stepson, and husband.

Chodosh applied the Page 69 Test to Death Spiral, her first novel, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
A few hours later, I’m crossing the school parking lot, ditching the rest of my classes so I can catch a train and make my appointment when I hear someone calling my name. I turn and there’s Anj bounding toward me. In her pink fluffy sweater and matching pink hat, she looks like she’s been wrapped in cotton candy.

“What’re you doing? It’s freezing out here. Don’t you have class?” she asks when she reaches my side.

“Skipping. What about you?”

“P.E, but that not’s a class. I told Mr. G it was that time of the month and I had cramps and he excused me. Works every time.” Anj smiles. It’s the smile more than anything that lets her pull this kind of crap. Big, bright, radiant, and oh so earnest. “So what’s your plan?”

“I’m going to the city,” I say, tapping my foot. I have an eleven o’clock train, and I’m late as it is. Laz cornered me after third period and wanted to know when I was planning on handing in my Hemingway term paper, due sometime last week. I promised I’d get it to him tomorrow and took off before he could protest.

“The city?” Anj bubbles. “Sounds fun. There’s something I have to tell you. Mind if I tag along?”

“Well, actually—”

“Great, because Mondays are a total drag. I have three electives in a row. Spanish, German, and French.”

I lean against the hood of a red car with a license plate that says GRLTOY and stare at Anj.

“Since when are you taking German?”

Her cheeks turn the same color as her sweater, and she looks up at me with a sheepish grin. “I started two weeks ago. What can I say? Romance languages look good on applications.”

“But German isn’t a romance language.”
Prior to page 69 the reader has learned that sixteen-year-old Faith Flores has been living with her aunt in the Philadelphia suburbs since her mom’s death from a supposed heroin overdose. Faith doesn’t believe her mom OD’d and is determined to find out the truth behind her death.

Faith, having grown up without a father and with an addict for a mother, has never known stability and doesn’t trust anyone. When she meets New Boy, Jesse Schneider, Faith is attracted to his in-your-face honesty and sense of humor. But Faith is afraid of getting close and of getting hurt so she keeps him at an emotional distance even though she allows him to come with her when she visits Melinda, her mom’s former junkie friend, who’s sent Faith a mysterious letter.

Melinda tells Faith that both she and Faith’s mom had participated in an experimental clinical trial to treat heroin addiction. Faith isn’t sure if she believes Melinda who has a bad track record with honesty and who despite claiming to be clean still appears strung out. Faith is is determined to find out everything she can about her mother’s death, so she decides to go to the city and visit the doctor who’s running the clinical trial. At the start of page 69, Faith is skipping school in order to catch a train to get to the downtown clinic, and she bumps into Anj, who is also skipping class.

The dialogue between the two girls shows more of Anj’s bubbly voice than Faith’s broody intensity, so I wouldn’t say the passage necessarily represents Faith. The passage does, however, capture the type of energetic, teenage dialogue that occurs frequently throughout the book. Additionally, there is a strong genetics component to this mystery, which is woven into the book. Page 69 does not deal with the scientific aspect of the mystery.
Visit Janie Chodosh's website.

Writers Read: Janie Chodosh.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"I Pity the Poor Immigrant"

Zachary Lazar, author of Sway, is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University. He lives in New Orleans, where he is on the creative writing faculty at Tulane University.

Lazar applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, I Pity the Poor Immigrant, and reported the following:
I had an interesting experience with p. 69 of a previous novel of mine, Sway, which among other things is about the demonic undercurrents of the late 60’s counterculture. That book uses real-life figures to tell its story, one of whom eventually threatened to sue me. In a scathing letter, he made it clear that while he hadn’t bothered to read much of the book, he had turned randomly to a page that described a version of him—it was page 69—and that I had “one fucking nerve” to depict him in such a way.

Page 69 of  I Pity the Poor Immigrant is less incendiary. In fact, it is outright tame in juxtaposition with the verso page that faces it, p. 68, which consists of two photographs, one of the Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky in Jerusalem and one of his murdered friend Bugsy Siegel in Los Angeles. These photos illustrate a chain of violence in the book that connects the American and Israeli Mafias, the state of Israel itself, the violence of the European twentieth century, and, yes, even the biblical King David. It’s complicated. And p. 69 is one of those passages in the novel where I try to elucidate some of those complications. “A woman goes on a journey—Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Tel Aviv, then back to New York,” my protagonist Hannah Groff, a journalist, writes. She has no idea yet what is in store for her. What she finds on this journey isn’t pretty, and as the author who created her I am fully responsible for that, but as a figment of my imagination, Hannah Groff is at least in no position to sue.
Learn more about I Pity the Poor Immigrant at the Little, Brown and Company website.

The Page 69 Test: Sway.

Writers Read: Zachary Lazar.

--Marshal Zeringue