Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"No. 4 Imperial Lane"

Jonathan Weisman is a Washington-based economic policy reporter for the New York Times.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, No. 4 Imperial Lane, and reported the following:
As many readers and some reviewers have noted, No. 4 Imperial Lane is two books in one: a coming-of-age story of an American student abroad, learning to examine -- and embrace -- his tragic past in the employ of a fallen aristocrat-turned-quadriplegic, and a sweeping war story encompassing the collapse of Portugal's empire in Africa. That story is seen through the eyes of the fictional protagonist, Elizabeth Bromwell, but the events are real and many of the characters historical.

Page 69 captures the sweep of that historical fiction. It introduces readers to one such historical figure, Antonio Sebastiao Ribeiro de Spinola, here the newly appointed governor and commander of Portuguese forces in what is now Guinea-Bissau. His own evolution from colonial true believer to coup leader mirrors the disintegration of the Portuguese empire as well as the collapse of Elizabeth's marriage. It is an example of how I try to have the tightly focused stories of my characters reflect and feed off the historical events of their time.
Spinola flew in by helicopter and found himself in the interior of the province, in a colonial outpost in the town of Bafata -- and in utter disgust. The forces of flamboyant rebel leader Amilcar Cabral, the PAIGC, the African Party for the Independence of Guine and Cabo Varde, controlled half the country -- malarial mangrove swamps to the west, razor-sharp elephant grass hiding guerrillas in the east, with scorching, soaking heat all over its 36,125 square kilometers, not much bigger than the state of Maryland. But Spinola wasn't worried; he'd seen worse. In 1938 he had commanded a Portuguese contingent fighting on the side of Franco in the Spanish Civil War. He spat on the Lincoln Brigade, the Commune de Paris Battalion, the Internationals, the communists, all those idealists who had flooded Spain to fight for the Republicans. They knew nothing of the chaos and corruption that lay in the hearts of Iberian men when they lacked proper supervision and authority. The defeat of those pompous pretenders was one of his life's greatest pleasures. In 1941 he had the good fortune to study German cavalry techniques as the Nazis rolled eastward, unstoppable. He was an observer on the Nazi side as German artillery reduced Leningrad to rubble.

But damn if the Soviets didn't survive that.

If the Russians could walk out of Leningrad, we Portuguese can stand tall in the ultramar, he thought, as Soviet-made rockets thudded down from the east. It did not occur to him that the Russians had been defending the motherland, a different proposition than a bedraggled imperial army subduing Africans in three different parts of their continent. Nor would it. He, like any good Portuguese officer, was convinced Guine, Mozambique, and Angola were inseparable from the metropole. As far as he was concerned, he was defending the motherland.
This is the unrepentant Spinola, the man of war convinced he can subdue any man or any force, given enough resources. One of those resources is Elizabeth's new husband, the young conscripted doctor, Joao Goncalves. Through war, capture, escape, disillusionment, and his personal descent into violence, Joao sees the folly of Spinola's certitude. Spinola sees it too. Midway through the book, we see him authoring the true-life book "Portugal and the Future," which will badly undermine the fascist regime in Lisbon. By the end, Spinola has led the Carnation Revolution, overthrown the regime, and led the dismantlement of the empire that on page 69, he is determined to preserve -- by any means possible.

As a launch point for that historical drama -- one that most readers will know nothing about, page 69 works very well.
Follow Jonathan Weisman on Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: No. 4 Imperial Lane.

Writers Read: Jonathan Weisman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 5, 2015

"Chance Harbor"

Novelist, journalist and celebrity ghost writer Holly Robinson is the author of several books, including The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter: A Memoir and the novels The Wishing Hill, Beach Plum Island and Haven Lake. Her new novel is Chance Harbor. Robinson's articles and essays appear frequently in publications such as Cognoscenti, The Huffington Post, More, Parents, Redbook and dozens of other newspapers and magazines. She and her husband have five children and a stubborn Pekingese. They divide their time between Massachusetts and Prince Edward Island, and are crazy enough to be fixing up old houses one shingle at a time in both places.

Robinson applied the Page 69 Test to Chance Harbor and reported the following:
Readers skimming page 69 of my new novel, Chance Harbor, would be dropped smack in the middle of an emotional storm. The novel is told from three points of view: Catherine, who has a loving husband, a steady job, and a daughter she adopted when her sister disappeared; Eve, her mother, who is dealing with devastating memories of her own as she prepares to sell the family’s beach house on Prince Edward Island; and Willow, the teenager Catherine adopted when she was only ten, who is still mourning the disappearance of her mom—nobody knows whether she's dead or alive—and has questions about her father.

On page 69, Eve has just discovered that her daughter Catherine's husband, Russell, has not only been having an affair with one of the students at his tony prep school, but has gotten her pregnant. Her reaction is immediate and visceral:
Eve's sudden fury propelled her across the kitchen floor so fast that it felt like she'd flown across it, her feet not even touching the floor. She grabbed Russell's shirt collar and hauled him to his feet. He raised his arms in protest, then dropped them when he saw her expression.

“Get out,” she said, not shouting, but issuing the words in a way that made Russell flinch.
What I love about this scene is that it conveys a woman's profound love for her child, even though her child is an adult woman now, and makes it clear that no man is a match for a woman's need to protect her child. This scene also causes us to wonder what will happen to the characters beyond this page because they're all in such deep conflict. I hope that the tension here keeps readers turning pages to find out.
Learn more about the book and author at Holly Robinson's website and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Wishing Hill.

The Page 69 Test: Beach Plum Island.

Coffee with a Canine: Holly Robinson & Leo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 3, 2015

"The Fall"

James Preller is the author of the popular Jigsaw Jones mystery books, which have sold more than 10 million copies since 1998. He is also the author of Bystander, named a 2009 Junior Library Guild Selection, Six Innings, an ALA Notable Book, and Mighty Casey, his own twist on the classic poem, “Casey at the Bat.” In addition to writing full-time, Preller plays in a men’s hardball league and coaches Little League. He compares coaching kids to “trying to hold the attention of a herd of earthworms.”

Preller applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Fall, and reported the following:
The conceit for The Fall is that a boy, Sam, is writing in his journal. He’s reflecting upon the events of the past year, piecing together the narrative entry by entry, writing about events which led to the tragic death of his secret friend, Morgan. I write “secret” because that’s one of the book’s themes, one of identity, and of owning one’s own actions. The things we did and didn’t do. The footprint we make in the snow.

My editor at Macmillan, Liz Szabla, made the decision not to have the book over-designed; to my pleasure, the book is straight-forward. We didn’t jump through hoops to make it look like someone’s faux-journal. There is on some pages a fair amount of white space, and that’s the case in this instance.

On page 69, Sam basically fails to write. The page is nearly blank. He does write, “I need ... I need ... I need ... something.” There’s a bit more, but that’s essentially it for page 69: It conveys, I hope, Sam’s struggle and failure to write. The idea is that he’s promised himself to try to write in that journal each day, focusing on Morgan, for at least fifteen minutes. Some days are better than others, and on this day nothing comes easily for Sam. This page, this emotion, directly follows upon the events and feelings of the previous pages, so my intention is for the reader to “get” why Sam can’t write that day. Will the reader be curious enough to keep reading? I sure hope so. Part of the book’s appeal is in the format, it’s loose and easy, and it zips along at a swift pace. Some pages include poems and snippets; others offer more traditional, expository narratives. He tells the story in a variety of ways. There’s no reason to stop reading. The craft is in the slow accumulation of detail, the sedimentary layering of thoughts and feelings, as readers slowly learn more about Sam’s role in Morgan’s life and death. The things he did and didn’t do. His footprint in the snow.
Visit James Preller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 2, 2015

"Into the Valley"

Ruth Galm’s writing has appeared in the Kenyon Review Online, Indiana Review, and on Joyland: a hub for short fiction. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and has been a resident of the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming. She was born and raised in San Jose, California, spent time in New York City and Boston, and now lives in San Francisco.

Galm applied the Page 69 Test to Into the Valley, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
She brought her focus back to the river. It was low, barely grazing the middle of the levees, still and brown as earth.

She followed the walnut trees along the road until she got too close to the capital, then veered away from the river and back out into the fields.
I think in a wild way page 69, in its entirety above, says everything about Into the Valley as a whole. There is an in medias res quality, a blankness, a focus on the sensory, on landscape, a subtle portent running underneath. The prose is spare and restrained in what it reveals. We have many questions: who is this woman; where is she going (and why is “she” never named); why can’t she get too near the capital; why does she avoid the river when logic might say to follow it; what in the fields draws her back.

But we want to follow this woman. Because (hopefully) the questions compel us to watch her, to try and understand her, to see why for her the river feels stagnant, the walnut trees named, the impulse to “veer” the reflex instead of changing direction more gradually. Where will her focus land and her compulsions drive her next? I think the elements on this page hint at the larger story of Into the Valley and its preoccupations—escape, malaise, mystery, suspense, landscape as psyche, an unnamed woman with a desire to get to a new place. And the subtle portent running underneath: whether society will give room enough for this or any woman to reach this new place.
Visit Ruth Galm's website.

Writers Read: Ruth Galm.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"The Sweetheart Deal"

Polly Dugan is the author of So Much a Part of You and The Sweetheart Deal. She applied the Page 69 Test to The Sweetheart Deal and reported the following:
From page 69:

It was enough to make you say, Fuck the helmet—if I’m going to die if I crash anyway, right? But we’d always had to wear them, on our bikes, scooters, and skateboards too. He taught us all to ski and we were all pretty good, although Brian was the best.

He made us do fire drills too, as soon as Andrew was good at walking. The smoke detector goes off and what do you do? Dad said. You get low and you stay low and you get out of the house. But if the bedroom door is closed, feel it, and if it’s hot, or you can see that the stairs are blocked and you can’t get out, close your door, get low, shelter in place and wait until the firefighters or mom and I come get you. We’ll get you out.

He tried to make the drills not like a game exactly—he wanted us to take them seriously—but he expected us to do the best we could, like when we learned anything new. Because of his work schedule, he’d told us he might not be home if a fire happened, or he might not be able to get to us, so we had to know what to do and be able to do it ourselves without panicking. Our neighbor’s porch was our meeting place. My dad would time us, and we did the drills until he was happy that our time was fast enough. I was six and Andrew was only two when we first did them, and Andrew would laugh through the whole thing, like it was the best game ever, which maybe it was to him, running as fast as he could on his short little legs to the Thompsons’ porch, but Brian, who was four, cried every time. I knew just talking about the drills worried Brian, even before we did the first one. The idea of a fire was terrifying. None of us wanted to think about it happening, but Brian was the most nervous of all of us. That’s just how he was.

So after we went to the Dougy Center for our one time and after everyone at school stopped acting so weird around me, all I could think about was Mrs. Maguire—Colleen Maguire—my friend Ben’s mom. But I couldn’t talk to anyone about that. Ben and I had always been okay friends, but when I’d started hanging out with him more, it wasn’t because of him.
I loved discovering all the connections to the rest of the novel on this page. The book is narrated in five different points of view, and this is a portion of a chapter told by Christopher, the fifteen-year old son of Leo McGeary, a firefighter who dies in a skiing accident. Twelve years earlier Leo had asked his best friend, Garrett, to promise to marry his wife, Audrey, in the event of his death.

In these four paragraphs Chris alludes to multiple threads that reference plot and subplot. To name a few: he ruminates about the tragically ironic details of his father’s death; that despite the fact that his father was wearing a helmet—a habit Leo has always insisted upon for the safety of his three sons—the helmet didn’t save his life. Chris’s recollection about the fire drills Leo had his sons do from a very young age hints at Leo’s personality trait of wanting plans and precautions firmly in place in the event of the unexpected and unforeseen. Finally, Christopher’s obsession with his friend’s mother and how he acts on that obsession is a subplot that provides the foundation for Audrey’s discovery of the promise Leo extracted from Garrett.

Since I’m one hundred percent partial, I hope the treasures of unassuming Page 69 will pique readers’ interests and make them hurry to get their hands on the book so they can find out the rest of the story.
Visit Polly Dugan's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Sweetheart Deal.

Coffee with a Canine: Polly Dugan & Tripp.

Writers Read: Polly Dugan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 28, 2015

"The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine"

Alex Brunkhorst is a novelist and a real estate agent specializing in multi-million dollar estates for Los Angeles’s wealthiest professionals. She is also the founder of the popular luxury lifestyle site Bungalux.com.

Brunkhorst applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The next morning the rain started.

It began with a few stray drops, gentle and unassuming. But by afternoon, as I sat down with the governor in the library of a private club in downtown Los Angeles, the clouds had opened. Water puddles had turned to flash floods and roads across the city were closed.

It rained for the next four days, and the young woman on the tennis court handcuffed my thoughts. When I think back on those days after our first meeting I only recall staring at the rain and thinking of her. Everyday tasks – work, errands and sleep – sparkled somehow, as if her enchanting spell hung over even the most mundane things. She was ubiquitous; no corner of the world could hide her. I thought of her bare shoulders, the way her long ponytail brushed against her dress when she ran for the ball, how her diamond tennis bracelet got caught in her hair each time she put her hand through its blond tendrils. All other food tasted dull compared with the pineapple she placed on my tongue, and no air tingled my skin like the cool air of that night on the tennis court, and no touch felt as electric as her fingers on my skin.
As a writer, I have always found my greatest inspiration in times of longing and unrequited love (or “crushes”, to quote my twenty-year-old cousin). Therefore, a theme in my writing is loving someone who has already gone or is not there. It’s only natural then that Thomas Cleary shares that same trait. The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine is told from Thomas’s perspective in a wistful flashback; I have always thought it reads more like a diary and less like a book. Thomas is a journalist by trade, albeit a highly emotional one. He is both objective and subjective – sometimes in the same sentence.

Page 69 is the beginning of Chapter Eight, and it feels like a transition. In the beginning of the novel, Thomas is longing for his past – for a job that went irreversibly awry, for his life in Manhattan, and for a wealthy socialite who broke his heart. But then, just before Chapter Eight, Thomas meets Matilda Duplaine on her vast estate in Bel-Air. She’s practicing serves on her hidden tennis court alone, dressed for a final at Wimbledon. Matilda’s an eccentric creature, and Thomas is immediately enchanted by her.

Page 69 marks the beginning of an overall atmospheric shift in the book and is very indicative of the themes that permeate the novel. The relentless, fertile rain replaces the barren and hot Santa Ana conditions and as Thomas himself admits, “…the young woman on the tennis court handcuff[s] my thoughts.” Thomas doesn’t even know Matilda’s name yet, but it’s that time in a nascent relationship when everything about the other person entrances you. They find their way into every one of your thoughts, every part of your life.

Page 69 is a short page, one of the shortest in the novel. But it happens to be one of my favorites. It sets the table for Thomas and Matilda’s relationship to come, and it allows the reader to join Thomas in falling in love with the enigmatic girl who is Matilda Duplaine.
Visit Alex Brunkhorst's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 26, 2015

"The Vanishing Island"

Barry Wolverton has been writing for children for 20 years, helping create books, documentary television, and online content for Discovery Networks, National Geographic, the Library of Congress, Scholastic, and Time-Life Books, among others.

His debut novel, Neversink, was named the Children’s Book of Choice by Literacy Mid-South for their Read Across America program in 2014.

Wolverton applied the Page 69 Test to The Vanishing Island, book one of The Chronicles of the Black Tulip, and reported the following:
From page 69:
On the table were . . . maps of the New World . . . including New Britannia. Others [Bren] wasn’t familiar with . . . and they didn’t have [Rand] McNally’s logo. They had to be Dutch.

And then Bren saw it . . . lying open across the long table against the wall. A very official-looking document, featuring two royal symbols side by side. One the left was Britannia, a female warrior carrying a shield and a trident, with a lion beside her. On the right, a badge of two gold lions rampant, supporting a blue shield with a gold crown. Inside the shield, another lion, with a sword in one paw and seven arrows in the other, representing the Seven Provinces of the Netherlands.

Beneath the seal of Britannia was printed the name of Queen Adeline, House of Pelican, and under the other, the name of King Maximilian, Prince of Orange and Steward of the Seven Provinces.
I admit, I’m surprised at how well page 69 represents The Vanishing Island. You have the protagonist, Bren, snooping around old maps in the office of Rand McNally, the shrewd mapmaker who has made his fortune trading on knowledge in this first great Information Age. You also have clues that this is an alternate Seafaring Age: Rand McNally (not a real person); New Britannia; Queen Adeline and King Maximilian. And you have Bren making a discovery, which is significant. This isn’t a straightforward adventure novel where a boy finds a treasure map and goes for it. There’s a healthy dose of detective story mixed in, with Bren continually having to decipher clues and figure out who he can trust.

“Snooping” is key here, because Bren is a good kid who happens to be insatiably curious and restless, which drives adults mad and forever lands him in trouble. No more so than when he tries to stow away at the beginning of the book and causes a near-catastrophe. As punishment he’s given perhaps the worst after-school job ever, which pays unexpected dividends when he meets a mysterious, dying sailor.

The only element not represented here is the fantasy. I’m very interested in the borderlands between fiction/nonfiction and science/magic. The Seafaring Age saw this great collision between superstition and science as people began to explore the unknown, and I liked the idea of subtly introducing magic and folklore into the story in a way that makes Bren question what he’s encountering — and you question what you’re reading. (In a good, intellectually stimulating way, I hope.)
Visit Barry Wolverton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 25, 2015

"The Poe Estate"

Polly Shulman’s latest novel is The Poe Estate. She is also the author of The Grimm Legacy (a Bank Street Best Book and Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Finalist), its companion The Wells Bequest, and Enthusiasm (a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice). She has worked as a magazine editor, a newspaper columnist, a library page, and a licensed private investigator. She has written for many newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Discover, Newsday, Salon, Slate, Scientific American, Archaeology, and The Village Voice. She majored in math at Yale and grew up in New York City, where she lives with her husband in a tall old building guarded by gargoyles.

Shulman applied the Page 69 Test to The Poe Estate and reported the following:
From Page 69:
A Bat and a Broomstick

That night, I was awoken again. I’m going to kill that ghost, whoever it is, I thought. So what if it’s already dead?

But it wasn’t a ghost this time. It was a bat.

In theory, I love bats, ever since I did a report on them in sixth grade. They eat mosquitoes. They pollinate banana trees. They’re mammals just like us, but they have a whole extra sense—echolocation—and they can fly! Imagine being able to fly!

Loving bats in theory is one thing; loving the one that woke me up at 3:09 a.m. with its frantic twittering is another.

How did it get into the room, anyway, with the windows shut? Did it fly down the chimney? I jumped out of bed, pulling the bed curtains shut behind me, and hauled a window open with a shriek of rusty iron. The bat was flying around the room in irregular, darting circles, occasionally smashing into the wall.

“The window’s that way,” I said, pointing helpfully.

The bat flew into one of the closed windows instead.
Sukie, the teenage narrator, has recently moved in with her elderly cousin Hepzibah in her ancestral family mansion. Sukie’s used to ghosts; her bossy dead sister, Kitty, has been haunting her for several years. (Well, Kitty thinks of it less as haunting and more as making sure her little sister doesn’t get into trouble.) Lately, though, some older, less familiar spirits have been appearing, asking Sukie for help. But how can she fix their problems, when she can barely help her living family?

Like the other books in the Grimm Legacy series—fantasy adventure novels for readers age 10 and up—The Poe Estate imagines a world in which powerful objects from fiction really exist. The first two books in the series borrow their powerful objects from fairy tales and science fiction; in The Poe Estate, it’s haunted mirrors, ships, clocks, mansions, and other items from classic American ghost stories and horror fiction. On page 69, Sukie is about to discover that the broom she’s been using to sweep her new room is really a witch’s flying broomstick (from a Hawthorne short story).

Page 69 is a good example of the book’s mix of humor and adventure. It’s the beginning of a chapter, so it’s short. Other pages take a deeper, more poignant look at Sukie’s madcap journey to break free of her past and its ghosts.
Visit Polly Shulman's website.

Writers Read: Polly Shulman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders"

Julianna Baggott has published more than twenty books over the last twelve years.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders, and reported the following:
Oddly, yes. Page sixty-nine is actually about the mysterious seventh book and, in Harriet's voice, she describes each of the three other main characters. Ruthie's beautifully suspicious gaze, Eleanor's willfulness, and the bond between Harriet and Tilton -- "we both know each other as constants, deeper than any details." I wouldn't suggest anyone start there, but it represents.
Learn more about the book and author at Julianna Baggott's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"The Suicide of Claire Bishop"

Carmiel Banasky is a writer and teacher from Portland, OR. Her work has appeared in Glimmer Train, American Short Fiction, Slice, Guernica, PEN America, The Rumpus, and NPR, among other places. She earned her MFA from Hunter College, where she taught Undergraduate Creative Writing. She is the recipient of awards and fellowships from Bread Loaf, Ucross, Ragdale, Artist Trust, I-Park, and others foundations.

Banasky applied the Page 69 Test to The Suicide of Claire Bishop, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
My cell vibrates—finally Nicolette. She apologizes, says she’s very busy. But the way she says it nearly gives me a heart attack. “_____, _____ busy.” The two blanks? Words that are seemingly normal. But they aren’t normal at all. They are lost words. How could she know them again?

I hate those words.

Dear Courteous Voices: Won’t you be less courteous and interrupt once in a while? I could use a little help. I’d like to know if you’re out (or in) there. I can only assume you are with me and listening, though I can’t hear you. Which I attribute to Zyprexa interference. Like duct tape over your mouths. Riding along in my brain like a person trapped in the trunk of the car.

I cannot repeat the words to you, but I will write them down as anagrams, to be safe, in two places: in my little notepad with the spiral on top and lines too faint to use, and on my left palm:
razor scryy
My skin is very moist and no one but I will ever be clever enough to read the blurry letters.

Another text: not safest idea 4 u or me. better this way.

Not safe how? Before I can reply she texts again: some other time.

And I text back: when?

Here is another truth: someone or something is always trying to block Nicolette and me from coming together. But this time, I won’t let them.

You see that girl shaded in the front seat of that parked car? I think she’s crying, her head bobbing that way. The shadows of a sidewalk tree dance on her little face in a hot breeze. No, a reflection that looks like a shadow. I’m afraid she’ll be swallowed by it. If Nicolette were to place landmines around New York, they would take the shape of shadows like that. Sinister, bloodless. Everything would be the inverse of itself. But not everything is a Nicolette installation—an easy thing to forget. All the overweight men stand in front of their shop fronts, hands on their bellies. They look worried and Tachi’s car is still missing down Bowery…
Page 69 is when West, a data miner with schizophrenia, lands upon one of his first delusions. Nicolette, his ex-girlfriend, has just failed to show up at one of her art installations (a house with a landmine field for a lawn) where they were supposed to meet. One of West’s long-held delusions involves two words, which he believes have been extracted from of the English language. Now he finds, in this text message, that his ex-girlfriend somehow has access to those words again. It throws him off, but instead of calling his delusion in question, it reinforces it. Clues (fabricated, but very real to him) start falling into place around him, shining out from every corner of the city. He starts to see his neighborhood (Chinatown in Manhattan), the street, the fortune cookie factory next door, the shop owners and strangers on the street—as connected and tied to his experiences, emotions, and search for Nicolette.

When I have West address the observers he feels are sitting in his mind, always watching him, waiting for him to mess up, he is addressing the reader as well. “Dear Courteous Voices” is a mantra he returns to. Because the voices are quiet now, and he believes (mistakenly) that they can help him figure out the mystery he gradually creates about Nicolette, he starts to get off his meds. From there, things take a strange turn.
Visit Carmiel Banasky's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"A Crucible of Souls"

When he was eleven, Mitchell Hogan was given The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy to read, and a love of fantasy novels was born. He spent the next ten years reading, rolling dice, and playing computer games, with some school and university thrown in. Along the way he accumulated numerous bookcases’ worth of fantasy and sci-fi novels, and he doesn’t look to stop anytime soon. For a decade he put off his dream of writing, then he quit his job and wrote A Crucible of Souls. He now writes full-time and is eternally grateful to the readers who took a chance on an unknown self-published author. He lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife, Angela, and daughter, Isabelle.

Hogan applied the Page 69 Test to A Crucible of Souls and reported the following:
Page 69 of A Crucible of Souls contains a bit of a spoiler! So read on at your own risk… There are a few different point of view characters, so I was glad to see page 69 was from the main character, Caldan’s, point of view. This scene is immediately after the inciting incident which changes Caldan’s life forever. It may read a little oddly on its own because of the two scene breaks over such a short period, but I wanted to show how confused and disoriented he was – along with a deep exhaustion after the strange events of the previous chapter. It does give a glimpse into what transpires in the book, as well as an insight into the mind of Caldan. His first thoughts are not of himself, but of others and how they would feel and are affected by his actions.

From page 69:
“What happened?” he tried to ask, but all that came out was a strangled croak.

“Shhh,” the girl said. “Don’t try to talk. They said you would be weak for a while and that you need to conserve your energy.”

She folded the damp rag and placed it on his forehead, where it offered cool relief to his throbbing brow. Caldan tried to clasp her hand to thank her, but his grip slipped off. His arm felt leaden, and try as he might, he couldn’t lift it again.

“I need to inform them you’re conscious,” she said, then left in a hurry.

Caldan heard a lock click and the thud of a bar dropping in place before he drifted off again.

When he woke, the pain in his head had subsided, and his body felt much lighter, as if whatever sickness had ailed him before had completely vanished. Gingerly, he levered himself to a sitting position and looked around. The room was the same, except the two previously empty bowls were now full. He reached for one and took a mouthful of cold broth.

Visions of Marlon and the blood rose unbidden. His sword embedded in Marlon’s chest. What had happened? He had never seen one of those swords break, and he hadn’t struck that hard, had he? He struggled to recall the fight, but the memory had split into pieces of a puzzle he couldn’t put back together.

By the ancestors, what had he done? Was Marlon alive? Would Jemma forgive him? What would his punishment be? Questions, doubt, and self-recrimination went around in his mind, but he had no answers. His head swam once more, and he lay back down and fell into a dreamless sleep.

Caldan woke again, and this time he sat up with no effort at all. The candle had burned to a nub. He breathed deeply of the stuffy, thick air.
Visit Mitchell Hogan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 18, 2015

"The Killing Kind"

Chris Holm is an award-winning short-story writer whose work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, and The Best American Mystery Stories 2011. His Collector trilogy, which blends fantasy with old-fashioned crime pulp, wound up on over forty Year’s Best lists. David Baldacci called Holm's latest, the hitman thriller The Killing Kind, "a story of rare, compelling brilliance." He lives in Portland, Maine.

Holm applied the Page 69 Test to The Killing Kind and reported the following:
The Killing Kind is the story of Michael Hendricks. Once a covert operative for a false-flag unit of the U.S. military, Hendricks was presumed dead after a mission in Afghanistan went sideways. He left behind his old life—and beloved fiancée—and set out on a path of redemption... or maybe of willful self-destruction.

Now Hendricks makes his living hitting hitmen. For ten times the price on your head, he’ll make sure whoever’s coming to kill you winds up in the ground instead. It’s not a bad way for a guy with his skill-set to make a living—but it’s a great way to make himself a target.

So, how did Hendricks fare on The Page 69 Test?
His line of business wasn’t the sort you advertised on Google or in the local Yellow Pages. Any point of contact, physical or electronic, was a potential liability—a chance for an interested party to track his movements and pinpoint his location. Which is why Hendricks insisted on initiating contact with potential clients, rather than the other way around. Half the time, the folks he approached had no idea they’d been marked for death until Hendricks told them. Some refused to believe him. Some believed him, but decided to go it alone. Some bought in right away. The ones who declined his services didn’t always come to a bad end, but their survival rate was less than stellar. Those who paid fared significantly better. In the three and a half years he’d been doing this, he’d yet to lose a single client.

The key was identifying them early enough to scout the job and make the proper approach. Early on in his career, Hendricks had simply tailed known hitters and identified their targets by hanging back and watching—but that made his margin for error razor-thin, and damn near got him killed a couple times. One particularly nasty job ended with his client safe, his target dead—but not before the bastard buried an ice pick three inches deep in Hendricks’s chest. After four days holed up in an abandoned warehouse, trying to keep the bleeding under control while he waited for the antibiotics he boosted from a veterinary clinic to take effect, Hendricks decided it was time for a new approach. That’s when he brought Lester in.
Not too bad, I suppose. I would’ve preferred a hooky action scene—a cliffhanger, maybe. Instead, page 69 finds Hendricks sitting down with his best friend and partner-in-crime, Lester, to identify a new client, a new job. It’s a quiet moment in an otherwise chaotic novel, and I used it to flesh out Hendricks’s peculiar business model. I don’t mind telling you that the client he and Lester ultimately identify proves a disastrous choice—one that damn near gets both of them killed.
Visit Chris Holm's website.

--Marshal Zeringue