Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Hush Hush"

Since the publication of her first novel in 1997, Laura Lippman has won virtually every major award given to U.S. crime writings, including the Edgar Award, Anthony Award, Agatha Award, Nero Wolfe Award, Shamus Award, and the Quill Award. She is a New York Times bestseller.

Lippman applied the Page 69 Test to Hush Hush, her twelfth Tess Monaghan novel, and reported the following:
Hush, Hush begins with a transcript from a documentary-in-progress, one of several included in the book, and it turns out that a crucial one is on Page 69. I think long and hard about everything I do and it was important to me that these transcripts transcend gimmick. I think they do, but I can’t explain how without a major spoiler, so you’ll have to trust me: These are not quick and dirty attempts at exposition.

But what interests me about the transcript on page 69 is that it features a character inspired by a real-life woman who, in turn, inspired this book. Most people remember Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who drowned her five children and was, eventually, found not guilty by reason of insanity. Fewer people know that she had a roommate in the facility where she ended up, another woman who had killed her child in a similar postpartum psychosis. Only Yates’s roommate was released, while Yates remains. I don’t use the woman’s name because what struck me about her story was how quickly her new life was taken from her. She got a job at a Wal-Mart, a television news station broadcast this fact. Her notoriety — not her crime, but the gawkers who came to see her — made it impossible for her to keep that job.

With writing students and my husband, who is also a writer, I often talk about the idea of “flipping it.” I stumbled on this idea while writing The Most Dangerous Thing, a novel that was published in 2011. A little boy has been sexually abused. It is 1980 and his family decides that the best recourse is not to speak of it, ever. On the 4th of July, he shows up to march in the neighborhood parade. In my first draft, he wore a horribly inappropriate costume, his father slapped him. On the next draft, I flipped the scene: the boy shows up in a silly, but hopeful costume. He is dressed as the goalie from the so-called “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic team. He plans to walk the parade route in skates. (Skates with rubber covers on the blades, but skates.) His father and his brothers walk alongside him as he makes his painstaking way, ultimately take turns carrying him. It is a great triumph. But a few weeks later, the father is forced to admit that it has changed nothing. His son is sad, damaged, and they still can’t talk about it. There will never be enough small victories to heal his son.

Flip it. Nice psychiatrists, non-pedophile priests, good girls who turn out to be bad girls, bad girls who turn out to be good girls — I’ve included all those characters in my work after finding the default of my own imagination, then turning the idea on its head. Instead of writing about a woman who wants to disappear, achieve anonymity, I wrote about a woman who wants the world to know what she did and why. So she makes a documentary about her life and seeks out her roommate. In that way, my story traveled full circle.

I had hoped against hope that page 69 would open to a scene in which Tess Monaghan’s daughter has a tantrum in a crowded grocery store. That scene is the touchstone of the book, the one cited by most readers so far, the one that I plan to read at appearances. This scene, by contrast is one of the book’s darkest. The woman being interviewed, Poppy, can be irritating, greedy even, but her breakdown over being asked to describe what she did is very real. “You might think it gets easier to say that.” she tells the interviewer. “But it gets harder. Every time. It gets fucking harder, okay?”
Visit Laura Lippman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"The Iron Ring"

On the day Auston Habershaw was born, Skylab fell from the heavens. This foretold two possible fates: supervillain or scifi/fantasy author. Fortunately he chose the latter, and spends his time imagining the could-be and the never-was rather than disintegrating the moon with his volcano laser. He lives and works in Boston, MA.

Habershaw applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Iron Ring: Part I of the Saga of the Redeemed, and reported the following:
Page 69 in The Iron Ring (or as close as I can figure it for an e-book) finds the reader in an interstitial scene showing the Mage Defender, Myreon Alafarr, pressing her case to pursue the archvillain, Tyvian Reldamar. At this point, our characters have just survived one major confrontation and are now setting up to hurtle towards another. Here’s we’ve got a little bit of world-building as Myreon stares up at a statue of Finn Cadogan in the courtyard of the Thostering Academy—a training school for professional mercenaries:
Myreon looked up at one of the four great heroes of the age… She knew that Master Defender Tarlyth as well as some of the older Sergeant Defenders in Galaspin Tower had served alongside Cadogan’s ‘Iron Men’ in Illin. When they spoke of him, it was only to say he was a soldier of integrity and steadfast courage.

“I know what you’re thinking.” Tarlyth said, grinning up at the statue. “That it was all a myth. That we old men have cooked up stories about Cadogan and Varner and Marik the Holy and Perwynnon and the rest.”

Myreon sighed, but didn’t say anything.
The world is full of myths, many of which we buy into every day without thinking about it. We idolize the past, we glorify the future, we lie about ourselves to ourselves. What page 69 hints at is how pervasive these myths are and how they are both constructive and destructive. Lying, after all, has it’s good points.

Would a person read past this page? I would hope so—we’re on our way somewhere right now, and I’m just about to introduce a pretty seedy bounty hunter. This is a moment of introspection strung between moments of excitement and adventure. This is an effect I work very hard to create in The Iron Ring, because I think explorations of morality and truth are only made better when spliced in with swordfights, derring-do, and man-eating monsters.
Visit Auston Habershaw's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Dorothy Parker Drank Here"

Ellen Meister is the author of Dorothy Parker Drank Here (2015), Farewell, Dorothy Parker (2013), The Other Life (2011), The Smart One (2008) and Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA (2006), as well as numerous essays and short stories. She teaches creative writing at Hofstra University Continuing Education, mentors emerging authors, lectures on Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, and does public speaking about her books and other writing-related topics. Meister is the voice of Dorothy Parker on her hugely popular Facebook page.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Dorothy Parker Drank Here and reported the following:
In Dorothy Parker Drank Here, the ghost of the great wit loiters in the Algonquin Hotel bar, desperately lonely and looking for company. She could very well head into the white light as all the others before her have done, but Dorothy Parker rejects eternal peace, and hopes to find someone else who feels the same way.

On page 69, the book flashes back to the day Tallulah Bankhead dies and passes through the Algonquin. The brash, outspoken star has strong opinions of her own, and provides an illustrative example of Dorothy's loneliness, as well as the outsized personalities of both women. Here's a snippet, taken from the scene on page 69, as Dorothy Parker and a young bartender behold Tallulah's appearance...
As they watched, the form became more real. And then there she was—a lithe and glamorous star, draped in liquidy satin.

"Well," said Tallulah Bankhead, "that was quite a ride. And how perfect that it ends here, where it all began."

"Welcome to hell," said Dorothy Parker.

Tallulah approached and kissed her on the cheek. "Darling," she said in her famously throaty voice, "if this were hell, Louis B. Mayer would be tending bar. Give me a cigarette, and tell me who this divine creature is."

"Johnny," Dorothy Parker said, "say hello to Tallulah Bankhead."

"Charmed," said Tallulah.

"Miss Bankhead."

"Johnny sticks around after closing to make me drinks," Dorothy Parker explained. "And he only fainted the first four times I appeared. Now we're old friends, aren't we dear?"

"Yes, Mrs. Parker."

"Fainter or not, I think he's perfectly lovely."

"Save your breath, Tallulah. He's not our type."

She paused for a moment as it sunk in. "I see. Pity."

"He's already made you a drink. Bourbon, right?"

"You are divine, Dot. And Johnny darling, don't put away that bottle. I plan to be tight as a tick before I make my final exit." She sat down with a dramatic sweep of silk.

"Exit?" said Dorothy Parker. "Please don't tell me you plan a hasty retreat."

"Daddy's been waiting a long time."

"Let him wait a little longer."
Visit Ellen Meister's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 23, 2015

"Across a Green Ocean"

Wendy Lee is the author of the novels Across a Green Ocean (Kensington) and Happy Family (Black Cat/Grove Atlantic). Happy Family was named one of the top ten debut novels of 2008 by Booklist and awarded an honorable mention from the Association of Asian American Studies.

Lee applied the Page 69 Test to Across a Green Ocean and reported the following:
Across a Green Ocean is the story of a Chinese American family dealing with grief. A year after her husband’s death, Ling Tang is considering embarking on a new relationship. Her daughter, Emily, an immigration lawyer in New York City, is dealing with a difficult case and an even more difficult marriage. Finally, her son, Michael, who is gay but never came out to his family, decides to take a trip to China to find out more about his father’s past.

Page 69 is entirely about Emily. It starts with a scene between her and another lawyer at her firm:
“Friends,” she said, clunking plastic glasses with him. But she knew the person who wasn’t chosen as partner would have to leave the firm. There would be no way that you could stay at a place that had effectively snubbed you. And after that happened, she and Rick could probably never be friends again.

So in a way she treasured what she thought of as her and Rick’s last summer together. She grew to appreciate their late nights, that they were able to share the same frustrations and minor breakthroughs. She was reminded of all the hours they had spent together over the past six years, knowing he was toiling away in the office down the hall, eating the same terrible takeout, turning off the lights long after the janitors had cleaned the floors.
Sounds like a typical workplace drama, right? What you don’t know is that prior to this, Emily has just found out that her client, an illegal immigrant on the verge of deportation, has died in detention. Because she was so close to the client’s family, that tragedy throws her into a tailspin. It also reminds her of her father’s death, which she hasn’t properly processed, the year before. At 32, Emily considers leaving her job, her husband, and her entire life behind, but she doesn’t know what for. In her family, Emily is the responsible sibling, the one who always does the right thing, but now she’s starting to question what’s right for her.

I think page 69 is a decent representation of Emily’s character and her conflict in the book. However, there isn’t anything about Ling and Michael, who are both undergoing their own relationship and personal dilemmas, and whose stories are equally vital to the plot.
Visit Wendy Lee's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Across a Green Ocean.

Writers Read: Wendy Lee.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"Green on Blue"

Elliot Ackerman is a writer based out of Istanbul. His fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and Ecotone among others. He is also a contributor to The Daily Beast, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as a White House Fellow in the Obama Administration. Prior to this, he spent eight years in the military as both an infantry and special operations officer.

Ackerman is a decorated veteran, having earned a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his role leading a Rifle Platoon in the November 2004 Battle of Fallujah and a Bronze Star for Valor while leading a Marine Corps Special Operations Team in Afghanistan in 2008.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, Green on Blue, and reported the following:
About half way down page 69, Mumtaz, one of the elders from Gomal, an embattled village along the Afghan-Pakistan border, objects when Commander Sabir, the leader of a local militia, wishes to build an outpost near his home: “You say you wish to build this outpost to protect us, but Gazan only attacks this village when you are here. You bring the war with you, and if you build an outpost it will never leave.” These objections come at a shura, a sort of town council, held by Commander Sabir to gain the elders’ consent to his plans. The paradox of protection is a central theme in the novel, one represented by the construction of this outpost. Do wars eventually perpetuate themselves, causing us to fight enemies of our own creation? Or is a strong defense necessary? On page 69, Mumtaz’s objection to the outpost: “You bring the war with you, and if you build an outpost it will never leave” is one half of that argument. The other half plays out in the bloody pages which follow.
Visit Elliot Ackerman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 20, 2015

"The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell"

William Klaber is a part-time journalist. He lives in upstate New York on a hill overlooking Basket Creek, a short way upstream from where Lucy Lobdell lived 160 years ago.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell, and reported the following:
It is 1855. Lucy Lobdell has cut her hair and run off to live as a man. She goes to Honesdale Pa, a busy canal town awash in new anthracite money and pre-civil war politics. Taking the name Joseph Lobdell, and calling herself the Professor of Dance, Lucy opens a dance school (all true). It goes well. No one suspects. But one student, Lydia Watson, rebellious daughter of a prominent family, takes a liking to this new guy who kinda knows what a girl likes. Lydia arranges for violin lessons after the twice weekly dance classes. In their private time together Lucy (as Joseph) and Lydia discover a friendship. Lydia is ahead of her time. She thinks church is stupid and is outraged by the lot given to women. Drawn to Lydia but afraid to tell the truth, Lucy continues posing as a man. Things progress. When others are not there Lydia addresses Lucy as Joseph and not Professor Lobdell. She is smart and provocative. On page 69 the violin lesson is interrupted by a sudden thunder storm and they both go to the window. Lydia seems entranced.
“When I was little,” she said, “Mother would let us run in the rain behind our house wearing hardly a thing.” She paused in the remembering. “If we were in a meadow out of sight, Joseph, I would do it now. Would you join me?”

“You would not,” I said, all the while imagining her in the rain, shift clinging to her flanks. “And no I wouldn’t join you. I’d like to keep my reputation and remain in town a little longer.”

Lydia laughed. “Well, aren’t you the modest one. You’d have to promise to cover your eyes and never tell a soul.”

Cover my eyes? Never tell a soul? I knew what she was doing and this time I wasn’t going to play the prude. “I think, dear Lydia,” I said, now meeting her eye, “the most I could promise is that I would not tell.”

I saw her start to color….
Visit William Klaber's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"The Chosen Prince"

Diane Stanley is the author and illustrator of more than fifty books for children, noted especially for her series of award-winning picture book biographies. Her novels for older readers include Saving Sky, Bella at Midnight, The Mysterious Matter of I. M. Fine, and the Silver Bowl Trilogy, The Silver Bowl, The Cup and the Crown, and The Princess of Cortova.

Stanley applied the Page 69 Test to The Chosen Prince, her latest book for young readers, and reported the following:
I turned to page 69 of The Chosen Prince and found myself at the beginning of an important scene—which was just getting up to speed but definitely hadn’t gotten there yet. It’s mostly dialogue between two people you wouldn’t know about a situation you wouldn’t understand out of context. So I cheated by flipping back to the previous scene:
Alexos watches his father with something akin to awe. How does the king maintain such incredible control? He sets the laurel crown on the oily, sweaty brow of a peasant lad who has just defeated a host of young aristocrats—and does not look amazed. His son and heir, the future savior of Arcos, has publicly shamed and disappointed him—and he shows no anger or despair. Teo is weeping and making a scene. Ektor ignores him. He goes through the ceremony of praise to the goddess in a calm and dignified manner. He acknowledges the cheering crowd of commoners, delirious with pride that one of their own has won the laurel crown, and guides young Peles of Attaros to his proper place for the procession back to the palace.
Never once does he show any feeling at all.
Never once does he look at his son.
This scene is definitely representative of the book. It even highlights one of the major themes, the striving son who can never live up to his father’s expectations. Reading that snippet would definitely make me curious and willing to take a second look. So at least it passes the Page 67 test.
Learn more about the book and author at Diane Stanley's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Princess of Cortova.

My Book, The Movie: The Chosen Prince.

Writers Read: Diane Stanley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"A Woman Unknown"

Frances Brody lives in the North of England, where she was born and grew up. Brody started her writing life in radio, with many plays and short stories broadcast by the BBC. She has also written for television and theatre. A Woman Unknown is the fourth book in her 1920s series featuring Kate Shackleton, First World War widow turned sleuth, published by Minotaur Books. Murder in the Afternoon, third in the series, was named a Library Journal Best Mystery 2014.

Brody applied the Page 69 Test to A Woman Unknown, and reported the following:
On page 69 of A Woman Unknown, Kate Shackleton arrives at Kirkley Hall to visit Philippa, the American heiress widow of Everett Runcie, banker and member of the British aristocracy. Kate last saw Everett and Philippa at York races. There, Everett blatantly paid more attention to his mistress than to his wife. He was later found dead in a hotel room, after spending the night with “a woman unknown” in order to give his wife grounds for divorce.

Through Kate’s eyes, we see the ancestral home where the Runcies lived when not in London. The house and grounds reflect not just Everett Runcie’s decline and fall but the changes that have taken place across the years. The house was built at the height of Empire when Britain was a pre-eminent trading, and looting, nation. During the 1914-18 war, the building was used as a hospital. Thanks to Philippa and her deep coffers, it has been beautifully restored. Kate waits in the drawing room, uncertain whether Philippa will see her.
It is a Georgian building, on land that once belonged to the monks of Kirkstall Abbey. The Runcie family acquired the property a century ago, and made extensive alterations when they were in the money. Little by little, with the ebb and flow of fortunes, they sold off the adjacent farmland. Even so, extensive grounds still surrounded the house. It was said that the magnificent beech trees had been planted to represent the layout of troops at the Battle of Waterloo. Wellington himself held pride of place, in the shape of an oak tree. Over a hundred years on from planting, the beech tree troops, officers and men, threatened to dwarf the old oak leader, Wellington.

Emerging from the cover of the trees, I approached the house. Pillars framed the entrance, and on either side of the pillars stood plinths that held two magnificent Chinese lanterns, looted at the time of the Boxer Rebellion.

I lifted and dropped the heavy knocker. After a moment, the butler appeared. He remembered me from this summer’s garden party, and ushered me into the panelled drawing room, all gold leaf and brocade-covered furniture. I stood by the bay window, looking out onto the garden, waiting to receive a message thanking me for my call and saying that Mrs Runcie was indisposed.
Learn more about the book and author at Frances Brody's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dying in the Wool.

Writers Read: Frances Brody.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Utopia, Iowa"

Brian Yansky is the author of Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences and its sequel, Homicidal Aliens and Other Disappointments, as well as Wonders of the World and My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World. His new novel is Utopia, Iowa.

Yansky applied the Page 69 Test to Utopia, Iowa and reported the following:
Page 69 of Utopia, Iowa, reflects the novel in some ways but not in others. Page 69 is comic and there are lots of comic moments in the novel. Page 69 is in a classroom at school; there are also several pages in the novel set in school—so it is representative of that. My character is, in some ways, the average teen on page 69—at school, joking with friends. But what this page doesn’t show is that he’s many other things. He’s also a boy who sees ghosts, more specifically two dead girls who want him to help them find their murderers, and who is himself being pursued by a dark force creeping into town. Page 69 reflects the strand of the novel that is ordinary and the style of the novel, but not the fantastical elements and the strangeness of Utopia, Iowa. Hey, it’s just one page. I do my best to weave several stories together in this novel, some realistic and some fantastical.
Visit Brian Yansky's website.

Writers Read: Brian Yansky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 16, 2015

"Butterfly Kills"

Brenda Chapman began her writing career in children’s fiction. Her YA novel Hiding in Hawk's Creek was shortlisted for the CLA Book of the Year for Children. Her first adult mystery, In Winter's Grip, was published in 2010. She lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Chapman applied the Page 69 Test to Butterfly Kills, the latest novel in her Stonechild and Rouleau mystery series, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Butterfly Kills, Kala Stonechild is reminiscing with a woman named Marjory about a recent disappointment by a family member that haunts Stonechild still. Marjory is not a close friend, but she knows Kala from her childhood living on Birdtail Reservation and has an idea of how tough life has been for her in the intervening years. Kala is reluctant to speak about herself in this scene or to share any feelings about that period of her life when she was in foster care and moved from one family to another. The passage further reveals that Stonechild is restless and unattached, unsure about staying in Kingston for longer than a few months. Page 69 gives a taste of the continuing storyline about Kala Stonechild—my conflicted, solitary main cop—and her demons, which are slowly revealed throughout the series.

This sliver of the novel also shows that I am as interested in writing about the lives of my continuing main police characters as I am in the cases they are solving. This reflects my own penchant for reading police procedurals that delve into the background stories of the detectives and develop their characters and relationships along with the unfolding murder investigations.
Visit Brenda Chapman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 14, 2015

"A Killer Retreat"

Tracy Weber is the author of the award-winning Downward Dog Mysteries series featuring yoga teacher Kate and her feisty German shepherd, Bella. Weber loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any form possible. The second book in her series, A Killer Retreat, was released January, 2015 by Midnight Ink.

Weber and her husband live in Seattle with their challenging yet amazing German shepherd Tasha. When she’s not writing, the author spends her time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house.

Weber applied the Page 69 Test to A Killer Retreat and reported the following:
From page 69:
We found Rene in the center’s main office, seated strategically close to an empty wastebasket. Bruce held Rene’s forearm, pressed his fingers against her wrist, and looked at his watch. Emmy hovered beside them, looking concerned. Sam rushed up to Rene and kneeled down beside her.

“Honey, what’s going on? The hostess said you collapsed!”

“I’m fine, Sam, really. I didn’t collapse. I threw up in the bathroom, and when I stood up, I got a little dizzy, that’s all. Honestly, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. It’s just this stupid stomach bug.” She sagged back in her chair. “I haven’t eaten since that pie after lunch. I probably have low blood sugar.” She swallowed hard. “But the thought of eating …” She shuddered. “Please, everyone. Let’s call it a night. I’d like to go back to the cabin and lie down.”

“In a minute,” Emmy replied. “Let Dad take a look at you first.”

Rene made eye contact with me, pointed at Sam under the table, then gestured with her eyes to the door.

Message received.

“Come on guys,” I said. “Let’s wait outside and give them some space.” Sam didn’t move. “You too, Sam,” I added.

He placed his hand protectively on Rene’s back. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Rene sat up straighter and smiled at him encouragingly. “Please Sam, I’m feeling a little claustrophobic. Give me a few minutes.” She gently nudged him toward the door. “I’m OK. I promise.”
A Killer Retreat is a lighthearted cozy mystery, but beyond that it explores relationships. What happens when normally good people face challenges in the relationships they hold most important? Do they face those challenges head on? Do they hide from them? To what lengths will they go in order to keep their secrets? And what, ultimately, can be learned from the truth? In that vein, this scene explores one of the important themes of the work, even though it has nothing to do with the murder investigation.

Rene is hiding something from both her husband, Sam, and her friend Kate, the protagonist in my series. They’re all enjoying a dinner together at a vegan restaurant when Rene disappears, only to be found passed out in the restaurant’s restroom. The scene is typical of first part of the book in that the relationships are stilted—not quite right—and we as readers don’t know why.

Bella—a hundred-pound German shepherd who is one of the primary characters in the story—isn’t in this scene, and Bella pretty much steals every scene she’s in. So from that standpoint, this scene is atypical. Still, it shows that Rene is hiding something from her husband and sets the stage for a future conflict.
Visit Tracy Weber's website, blog, and Facebook page.

Coffee with a Canine: Tracy Weber and Tasha.

The Page 69 Test: Murder Strikes a Pose.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 13, 2015

"The Marauders"

Tom Cooper’s work has recently appeared in Oxford American, Boulevard, Gulf Coast, Mid-American Review, Willow Springs, and dozens of other magazines and journals. He lives in New Orleans, where he writes and teaches.

Cooper's newly released first novel is The Marauders.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Marauders and reported the following:
I’ll spare you the passage, since it’s meaningless without context. But someone is getting peppersprayed on page 69. The phrase “What in blue fuck?” is invoked.

I’ll be honest, I think the novel builds slowly. It’s character driven. Around page 69 readers might wonder, “What the hell do these different characters have to do with one another?” A little investment is required from audiences used to the breakneck pace of typical crime and mystery. It’s a slow burn, but once the cauldron starts bubbling, yadda-yadda. Or so readers have told me.
Visit Tom Cooper's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Marauders.

Writers Read: Tom Cooper.

--Marshal Zeringue