Saturday, December 16, 2017

"The Incredible Magic of Being"

Kathryn Erskine is the acclaimed author of many distinguished novels for young readers, including Mockingbird, winner of the National Book Award; The Absolute Value of Mike, an Amazon Best Book and ALA Notable Book; and Quaking, an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, The Incredible Magic of Being, and reported the following:
From page 69:
FART!

Uni-Sensing

Pookie used to think it was cool that I was a uni-sensor, like knowing her bus broke down and making Mom pick her up even though Mom kept staring at me and asking me how I knew. Or checking out three books at the library which weren’t even on comets (they were on costumes through the ages) even though Mom looked at them funny, and I did, too, but it turns out Pookie needed them for a report that was due the next day. Or feeling that Pookie was having a really bad day and fixing two glasses of chocolate milk, pulling out her Matt Damon DVDs, and dragging the stuffed kiddie sofa in front of the TV and when she got home she said I was the best brother in the whole universe.

After that she left our universe, but I’m still uni-sensing her and everyone else.
Appropriately, page 69 has the beginning of one of astronomy-loving Julian’s frequent FARTs (Facts And Random Thoughts). These asides that share facts or thoughts, often about science, are either explanations or extensions of the story. It’s Julian’s idiosyncrasy, and they can be funny or poignant, but I also hope they serve as an example to readers that it’s OK to daydream and make connections, especially between science and daily life, because thinking and making analogies is useful and fascinating.

In this FART, Julian references his ability to sense when something is happening to someone he loves or to seemingly predict the future. I think we’ve all had experiences like this—and if you’re open to the possibility I think it happens even more. It also happens in reverse; for example, you really hope that, of all your neighbors, you won’t run into a particular one at the grocery store but, of course, that’s the exact person you bump into. This “uni-sensing,” or sensing the universe, is a critical element of the story. Julian tries to get the crotchety widower next door to connect with his recently deceased wife, whom Julian is sure must be up in the stars watching, but the connection between Julian and his neighbor is even more special. In this FART, he also reveals the close relationship he always had with his sister, Pookie, and their current distance. And that’s another of Julian’s goals in the book—to reconnect with his sister and bring his family together, which does happen in the end, but in a way that’s … incredibly magical.
Learn more about the book and author at Kathryn Erskine's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kathryn Erskine & Fletcher.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 14, 2017

"Woman Enters Left"

Jessica Brockmole is the author of At the Edge of Summer, the internationally bestselling Letters from Skye, which was named one of the best books of 2013 by Publishers Weekly, and Something Worth Landing For, a novella featured in Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War.

Brockmole applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Woman Enters Left, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Woman Enters Left comes at the very end of a chapter where Louise, a jaded actress in 1952, is parked on the side of a Nevada highway, trying to decide whether to obediently go to a shoot in Las Vegas or rebelliously head towards Route 66.
She wipes off her face again with the handkerchief, knowing she’ll have to pull over and reapply her makeup before arriving at the Flamingo. An actress never knows who might be watching. The publicity department would collectively faint at a LOUISE WILDE SWEATS headline.

Does she really want to go through with this? If she shows up on set tomorrow, shows up for that bikini and ukulele and insipid script, that’ll be it. There will be no negotiating a better contract. No fighting for better roles. She’ll be giving in.

But giving in is better than hiding. Better than ignoring her problems, hoping they’ll just go away. They won’t. Life requires patience and, these days, she doesn’t have much of that.

She slides behind the wheel and pulls on her gloves. Beneath them she can just barely see the line of her wedding band. She turns on the car and looks out onto the road.

But she doesn’t get too far, because she’s staring at that cactus-shaped sign again. It stands in front of another road, barely a track of dust between the sagebrush. It suddenly comes to her that she knows exactly what the sign says. Though she still can’t make out any of the letters, not with the paint peeling in the relentless sun, she suddenly knows she’s read it before. PRICKLY PEAR RANCH—AN OASIS IN THE DESERT.

Vegas would have to wait.

She turns down the road.
It’s an excellent peek at the whole book, with my heroine teetering on the brink of decision. Despite a ferocious streak, for years she’s been a loyal and uncomplaining subject of the Hollywood studio system. But she sees in this moment on the side of the highway her chance to break free, to run away from both a stagnant career and marriage. Instead, a sign on the side of the road stirs up memories and sends her on an adventure in search of a family secret. I think I have a lot packed into page 69!
Learn more about the book and author at Jessica Brockmole's website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Letters from Skye.

My Book, The Movie: Letters from Skye.

My Book, The Movie: Woman Enters Left.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"A Spoonful of Magic"

Irene Radford, author of the Dragon Nimbus (The Glass Dragon, The Perfect Princess, The Loneliest Magician, The Wizard's Treasure) and the Dragon Nimbus History (The Dragon's Touchstone, The Last Battlemage, The Renegade Dragon) series, often appears at conventions in the Oregon-California area. She is the author of the Stargods and Merlin's Descendants series as well, and is also one of the founders of the Book View Cafe.

Radford applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Spoonful of Magic, and reported the following:
From page 69:
And, frankly, that satisfied him nicely. He’d grown to love Daffy the way she was, not what she could be. The thought of his first wife’s power and the insanity that followed scared him to his bones, shaking every bit of ethics and morality his Nana had pounded into him. She and G-Pop had died too young, from wounds inflicted upon them by his insane wife. His parents had died in South Africa trying to rescue a tribal shaman from murderous state police when he was an adolescent. In a way he was thankful they didn’t have to experience D’Accore’s depravity.

But then, his dad had been savvy enough, he might have recognized the signs of an untrained talent eating away at her brain. She was a siren and had trapped him. She was also a fire wizard. Her wand was a zippo lighter.

Over a lifetime of use wands absorbed quite a bit of power that needed to be grounded and the wand destroyed to keep it out of the hands of rogues. Unfortunately mundane families didn’t know that and took a deceased magician’s belongings to antique malls or sold them at garage sales.

Something special called to Shara. Was it someone else’s discarded wand, or something unique to her and her budding talents? She’d spent approximately ten seconds sniffing right and left, then ran two aisles to the left and down all the way to the back wall of displays. She knew what she wanted and where to find it.

G followed her at a more relaxed pace, knowing that the further in to the mall they traveled, the cheaper the rent and therefore the price of the goods. He removed his hands from his pockets and flexed his fingers, letting the nerve endings on each digit sense anything untoward. He’d been trained for this when he was recruited as a deputy. When the Guild elevated him to Sheriff he’d undergone a long and grueling process to enhance every nuance of his multiple talents. Except for the judges on the Board, he was now one of the most powerful wizards on the planet.
This page introduces G (Gabrielle Sebastian Deschants) the ex-husband of heroine Daffy Deschants, and their youngest daughter, Shara, as magicians. Magic permeates the family and this is about the children exploring their powers and finding their wands under their father’s tutelage, his strongest role as a father.
Visit Irene Radford's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: A Spoonful of Magic.

Writers Read: Irene Radford.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 11, 2017

"The Breathless"

Tara Goedjen adores fairytales, mysteries, and ghost stories.

She wrote her first story at age eleven about children who disappeared at midnight, and she’s been writing ever since. Mostly raised in Alabama, she played college tennis in Iowa and then moved to Alaska and Australia before heading back to the continental US.

While completing grad school, Goedjen worked as a tennis coach, a yoga instructor, a university writing teacher, and as an editor for a publishing house. These days, when she’s not making up stories, she's probably going for a hike, staring at a to-do list, reading a novel, or eating all of California’s seasonal fruit.

Goedjen applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Breathless, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Breathless features bullet holes, strange heirlooms, and veiled threats. On this page, sixteen-year-old Mae Cole is dealing with the aftermath of a startling event: a boy suspected of being involved with her sister’s mysterious death has just shown up on her doorstep. On top of that, one of her sister’s friends—someone Mae has never gotten along with—has just come back to town.
Mae hurried to where she’d left her bag and picked it up, slinging it over her shoulder. The weight of the green book in the canvas rested against her hip, and the pocketknife her dad had given her for her birthday poked out from the top flap. […] Then she saw Lance, for the first time in nearly a year, and her heart skidded in her chest.
This page is representative of the rest of the book since it hints at two very different threats surrounding Mae: 1) the untrustworthy people who keep showing up at her family’s isolated house in the woods, and 2) the subtle magic contained within the “green book,” a family heirloom that’s as powerful as it is dangerous. Mae doesn’t realize it yet, but her home is a place where wickedness lurks in both human and supernatural forms. She’ll need her pocketknife for protection, as well as a brave heart.

The objects and characters on page 69 foreshadow some of the secrets that are revealed in The Breathless—secrets that deal with an heirloom that’s been passed down from generation to generation in Mae’s family, and secrets that deal with Mae’s older sister, who wasn’t as perfect as Mae once believed. It’s up to Mae to find out what really happened to her sister, before history repeats itself.
Visit Tara Goedjen's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Breathless.

Writers Read: Tara Goedjen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 9, 2017

"The Revolution of Marina M."

Janet Fitch is a writer and a teacher of fiction writing.

She is the author of the #1 national bestseller White Oleander, a novel translated into 24 languages, an Oprah Book Club book and the basis of a feature film, and Paint It Black, also widely translated and made into a 2017 film.

Fitch applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Revolution of Marina M., and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Revolution of Marina M. turns out to be deliciously representative of the novel. Would a person encountering this page be likely to read on? I’d say he or she would be more likely to want to back up—it’s the aftermath of my protagonist Marina’s first sexual encounter, with a seductive young man named Kolya Shurov. She’s had a passion for him since she was six and he was twelve. Now she’s sixteen and he’s a 22-year-old officer in the Tsarist army. It’s 1917, the midst of WWI, the moment before the start of the Russian Revolution.

“It looked like we’d fought a war on the white sheets, completely untucked from the striped mattress ticking, the puffy eiderdown crushed, everything soaked with our sweat.”

The Revolution of Marina M. has a wide erotic streak. My protagonist, Marina Makarova, is a passionate, daring girl who is discovering politics, herself and her powers as a poet and as a woman. Sex is a laboratory of self, then as now--a young woman testing, pushing the limits, a wild revolution in itself.

Each erotic encounter in the book is absolutely specific to the partner and the circumstances, because for me, sex is a type of dialogue—an aspect of relationship that is only known to the two participants.  Communication is not always clear, it can be murky and stemming from questionable motives, terrifying, pitiable, obsessive or transcendent.
Visit Janet Fitch's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 7, 2017

"Deadly Dance"

Hilary Bonner is the author of many crime novels and five non-fiction books. A past Chair of the Crime Writers' Association, she was previously the showbusiness editor of the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mirror.

Bonner applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Deadly Dance, and reported the following:
A teenaged schoolgirl, Melanie Cooke, has been found murdered in a city’s red-light district.

As usual family members are the principle suspects. The girl’s parents are divorced and both remarried. On page 69, Detective Sergeant John Willis visits the girl’s stepmother.
‘It’s just routine, Mrs Cooke,’ Willis told her. ‘I’m sure you know by now that Mr Cooke’s daughter has ben found dead?’

‘Yes of course, ‘replied Susan Cooke. ‘My Terry called almost as soon as he knew the worst. Terrible, Terrible, But I can’t help you.’
She goes on to explain that she hardly knew Melanie, in spite of being married to the dead girl's father.
‘He blames me for how we live. He certainly wouldn’t bring that girl to this place. Not his little princess.’

She paused, waving a hand wearily at the small, front garden, which was a brown desert growing only the odd stinging nettle, an old bedstead, a rusting bicycle, and a pile of bulging, black plastic rubbish bags. She touched a fading bruise on her left cheek.
This is the start of an interview which leads Willis to feel justified in reporting back to his superior officer, my regular series detective, geeky DI David Vogel, a compiler of crosswords and lover of backgammon, that Terry Cooke is the most likely perpetrator.

As far as Willis is concerned, the way the couple live, the obvious tension between them, and the fading bruise point to Cooke being a violent man.

When I first looked at page 69 I did not see it as being particularly significant in the development of the book. Them, when I thought about it, I realised it is actually highly significant.

Because, like almost everything in this novel, nothing is how it first seems.

What appears to be a tragic but all too familiar murder case scenario turns out to be anything but that.

There are actually three principal protagonists in Deadly Dance who each speak in the first person. But the reader does not know who they really are. At this stage Cooke may be one of them. Or he may not.

This ‘routine interview’ with the life of a principle suspect is not at all what it seems to be in any way.  And that makes the contents of page 69 a key component within Deadly Dance.
Visit Hilary Bonner's website.

Writers Read: Hilary Bonner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"The Genius Plague"

David Walton is a science fiction and fantasy author with a growing number of novels in publication. His first, Terminal Mind, won the 2008 Philip K. Dick award for best paperback original novel.

Walton applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Genius Plague, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Genius Plague is the first page of chapter 7, in which the main character (Neil Johns) finds himself in a bit of trouble at the NSA... again.  Neil is a brilliant guy and passionate about his job as a code cracker at the NSA, but he tends to let his enthusiasm get the better of his caution.  That and his general cluelessness about how others will react to him provides some of the humor in what could otherwise be a dark book.  He is, after all, tracking a fungal infection that subtly influences people's minds, leading them to make choices that benefit the spread of the fungus.  Assassinations, suicide bombings, and military coups are turning world politics upside-down... and his own brother is infected.  Neil's energy and creative initiative, however, allow him to cut through bureaucracy and get to the truth, though it does also land him in hot water more than once.  So yes, I would say that Page 69, though it's only a glimpse into a piece of the story and doesn't touch on the main plot, is representative of the story as a whole, because it gives us a picture of who the main character is, a person uniquely able to fight against this threat to humanity.
Learn more about the book and author at David Walton's website.

Writers Read: David Walton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 4, 2017

"Something Evil Comes"

A.J. Cross, like her heroine Kate Hanson, is a Forensic Psychologist with over twenty years' experience in the field. She lives in Birmingham with her jazz-musician husband.

Cross applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Something Evil Comes, and reported the following:
I’ve heard of this test and I’ve taken a look at page 69 of Something Evil Comes to see if it is representative of the whole book.  It goes without saying that I would like for any reader skimming the page to read on. On initial consideration of the page I didn’t see that representative element. That is, until I thought about it.

This particular page focuses on the three main characters who work in the Unsolved Crime Unit.  They are discussing an interview with one of a duo of night time, would-be thieves who break into the locked crypt of a church.  The sole feature inside it is a stone sarcophagus. Hoping for valuables, they move its heavy wooden lid aside and light candles they brought to the scene. They are confronted by the fairly well preserved body of a young man whose throat has been ripped out.  He has been identified as twenty-year-old Matthew Flynn, son of one of Birmingham’s leading business entrepreneurs who disappeared a year before. The thieves flee from the crypt but one of them is apprehended shortly afterwards. Bernard Watts, the senior officer in the Unsolved Crime Unit is now conducting the initial interview with him. When the thief’s legal representative requests time alone with her client, Watts joins forensic psychologist Kate Hanson who had been observing the interview from another room, and his other colleague Lieutenant Joseph Corrigan, on secondment from the US as an armed response trainer and third member of the Unsolved Crime Unit. They discuss the information the thief has volunteered thus far and in particular his failure so far to mention the body.

Watts now returns to the interview, ready to challenge the meagre account he has been given. Having had time alone with his lawyer, the thief has had time to reconsider and is now ready to make some very limited admissions to Watts:
‘Yes, I went into that place and yes, I was looking for stuff to nick but there was nothing there so I left.’

‘Is that a fact? Short visit was it?’

‘Yeah, in and out, ten seconds tops.’

Watts sat back, thick arms folded. ‘Let’s think about that, shall we?’

‘My client has given you an admission that he broke in-.’

‘Ten seconds to get inside, walk about a bit, light some candles, have a proper look around.’ He shook his head. ‘Sounds like a few good minutes to me.’

Chivers was flustered now. ‘No ... Yeah, well it might have been a minute or two but that’s all.’

‘What about the lid?’

Chivers’ eyes darted to his solicitor. ‘What lid? I don’t know anything about no lid.’
As a forensic psychologist I’m aware of the skills needed by police officers to obtain the maximum information possible from those who are equally determined to give as little as possible of a self-incriminating nature. An added pressure is that all of these to-and-fro exchanges are closely regulated and time-constrained in the interests of fairness and justice to all.

Page 69 of Something Evil Comes reflects these demand on officers following their initial tracking down of those they think may hold vital evidence. It is a major aspect of the work of the Unsolved Crime Unit throughout the book as it tracks down those who might be minor players - or far more involved in the murder of Matthew Flynn than they are prepared  to admit.
Learn more about Something Evil Comes.

My Book, The Movie: Something Evil Comes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 2, 2017

"Chord of Evil"

Sarah Rayne is the author of a number of acclaimed psychological thrillers and haunted house books.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Chord of Evil, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
As Phin stared at it, a dizzying kaleidoscope began to whirl through his brain – a maelstrom of things half read, of fragmented stories half heard and imperfectly remembered, and of almost-forgotten rumours. He knew some of the stories and he had only ever quarter-believed them. He thought most people had only ever quarter-believed them. And yet there it was, written in sad, faded ink—

Toby’s voice, asking what he had found, broke in, and it took a moment for Phin to realize where he was. He put the music carefully down on the table, and sat back, his eyes still on it.

‘Phin, for pity’s sake—’

‘The title,’ said Phin. ‘My God, that title—’

‘What about the title? Is it Giselle again, like the painting?’ Toby came round the table to see.

‘It’s not Giselle,’ said Phin. ‘It’s Siegreich.’

Siegreich. The word spiked deep into Phin’s mind.

Toby said, ‘What’s a siegreich? Whatever it is, it’s making you look bloody peculiar.’

Phin said, ‘Music with that title is believed to have been composed sometime during the early 1940s, in Germany.’

‘Yes?’

‘It’s a piece of music that’s almost a legend,’ said Phin. ‘One of those curious stories that sometimes emerge from wartime. The kind where you don’t know what’s true, and what’s embroidered truth, and what’s outright fiction. The story is that the Nazis got hold of a composer who was living in Germany and persuaded him to write a piece of music for them. And when the Nazis used persuasion—’

‘Point taken. For persuasion read force.’
Phineas Fox, music historian and researcher, for his second outing might have found himself imbroiled in any one of half a dozen plots, ancient or modern, classical or rock or jazz, any of which could be based on true stories.

But for Chord of Evil, I latched onto the infamous tritone – the ‘Devil’s Chord’.

The devil’s chord has been described as one of the most dissonant music intervals that exists – so much so, that it was banned in Renaissance church music.  Church music was supposed to be a paeon of praise to God, and the tritone was considered so ugly that it wasn’t thought suitable.  Medieval arrangements even used it to represent the devil, and Roman Catholic composers sometimes used it for referencing the act of the crucifixion.  Its dissonance can work to advantage in some cases, though.  It’s remarkably effective as background music in films, where it can serve as a warning to the audience that something bad’s about to happen.  That harsh discordance that tells you the killer’s outside the door with an axe.  Think shower curtains in Psycho.

It occurred to me that the devil’s chord might make a guest appearance in a composition that had become part of music legend.  But what could that legend be?

Well, as somebody once said, if you can’t find a genuine legend, create one of your own.

Music has often been composed to celebrate great events – coronations, births, victory in war.  But what about a legend in which a piece of music was written to celebrate not a happy, or a triumphant event, but something far darker?  Something so menacing its existence was kept secret?

It was at that point that I saw the whole plot.  I could see Phineas Fox peeling back the layers of a secret that had lain undisturbed for three quarters of a century – glimpsing edges and corners of it, and ending in delving into a very grisly fragment of musical history indeed.

And so, Chord of Evil was born.
Visit Sarah Rayne's website.

Writers Read: Sarah Rayne.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 30, 2017

"The Woman in the Camphor Trunk"

Jennifer Kincheloe is a public health research scientist turned writer of historical mysteries. She pens the Anna Blanc mystery series, set in 1900s Los Angeles, featuring a young socialite turned LAPD police matron with an insatiable need to solve crimes. Kincheloe recently entered the world of criminal justice herself when she took a job with the Denver Sheriff Department studying the jails.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new Anna Blanc novel, The Woman in the Camphor Trunk, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Joe scoffed, stuck both hands in her big skirt pockets and rummaged around, almost touching her thigh through three blessed layers of fabric.

Anna bit her lip. “Masher.”

He produced the framed picture. “That’s it. You’re out.” His finger shot toward the door. “This is my case, and I won’t have you disturbing the apartment before I’ve finished going over it.”

“I haven’t touched anything else.” She decided not to mention the tea.

He took Anna by the arm and steered her outside. “Stay away from my crime scene.”

“You’re just using that as an excuse to get me out of Chinatown. Well, I don’t want to go.” Anna turned and went back inside.

Joe followed. “Wolf didn’t authorize you to work this case.” He grabbed her by the waist and pulled her backward. Anna dragged her heels. Joe pulled harder. Anna sat down. She began to crawl back toward the crime scene where she belonged.

He stepped on her skirt. “I could arrest you.”

“But you won’t.”

“And why is that?”

“I’m a good sleuth and our chance of solving this crime is even better with two of us on the case. Admit it.”

“I knew once you got a taste of this case you wouldn’t leave it alone. You’re going back to Central Station where it’s safe.” He grabbed her under the arms, pulling her up and onto her backside.

She scooted along on her bottom, her skirt pushing up to reveal her stockinged shins, but Anna didn’t care. Why should she care? Propriety had gotten her nowhere. She simply closed her eyes tight so that she couldn’t see them.

Joe sighed and let go. When she opened her eyes, he was tugging down her hem. He extended a hand to help her up. She eyed him suspiciously.

He said, “We tracked mud on that floor. If you aren’t careful, you’ll stain your uniform.”

Anna looked at the muddy floorboards and considered. Joe knew more about laundry than she did, and she did need to wear this uniform tomorrow. She took his hand and allowed him to pull her to her feet.

“Sherlock, you make my life hell.”

“My pleasure.”
Page 69 finds Anna and her former sweetheart, Detective Joe Singer, in Chinatown where they’ve discovered the body of a missionary stuffed in a trunk in the apartment of her Chinese lover. It conveys the tone of the story and the tension between Anna and Joe. This is a mystery with humor and a strong romantic subplot. RT Book Reviews described Anna Blanc as “I Love Lucy meets Agatha Christie.” I think that’s perfect.
Visit Jennifer Kincheloe's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"Valiant Dust"

A former United States Navy officer and a well-known game designer, Richard Baker is the author of over a dozen novels, including the New York Times best seller Condemnation (2003) and the highly acclaimed The Last Mythal trilogy (2004–2006). He is a lifelong devotee of science fiction and fantasy, a history enthusiast (particularly military history), and an avid fan of games of all kinds.

Baker applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Valiant Dust, and reported the following:
This struck me as a really interesting challenge, just because I tend to do this when I’m deciding whether to buy a book in the store (although I don’t pick a specific page number to check). Anyway, I had no idea which scene I’d find myself in by flipping to page 69 of Valiant Dust until I looked.
Lara gave Randall a sharp look, but a moment later she smiled coolly and intertwined her arm with Sikander’s. “I am sorry if it was not clear before, Mr. Randall, but Sikander is my date for the evening. And I certainly wouldn’t refer to a culture so rich and artistically mature as Kashmir’s as disadvantaged in any way.”

“If you say so,” Randall replied. “I suppose primitive belief systems are quite fascinating. The fact that they have survived up to the modern day says quite a lot about human nature—although not much that is complimentary, I am afraid.”

“Oh, here it comes again,” Magdalena Juarez said. “Hiram, no one cares what you think about their beliefs. Leave it alone.”

“I don’t mean to offend,” Randall said. “I am sincerely trying to satisfy my own curiosity. What exactly is the nature of Ms. Dunstan’s interest in this arrangement? Political? Charitable? Anthropological, perhaps?”

“Ms. Dunstan’s interests are none of your business, Mr. Randall,” said Sikander in an icy tone.

“I don’t see that they ought to be yours, either.” Randall gave a small shrug and took a level sip from the highball glass in his hand.
Well, that’s an interesting spot to land on! It turns out that this is the scene where Sikander North, the protagonist of the story, stands up to his shipmate Hiram Randall when Randall does his level best to provoke Sikander into taking a swing at him. It’s a social occasion—the Governor’s Ball on the planet of New Perth—and Randall has made it clear more than once already that he doesn’t believe Sikander North, a Kashmiri, is qualified to serve in Aquila’s star navy. Hiram Randall is a mean drunk, and Sikander is just about ready to slug him when all of Hector’s officers are summoned back to the ship by an emergency recall.

The reason this scene is in the book is that it offers a glimpse of the social life of serving officers. Many military SF books show the characters only in the context of the military challenges they’re facing—they rarely seem to leave the bridge. But fleet life isn’t just about being on a ship 24-7; what you do on your off time is also important. I also meant to convey something about the refinement and genteel manners of high-ranking officers in the Aquilan Navy (although Hiram Randall is currently acting like an ass). Finally, the scene illustrates the smugness and elitism of Aquila’s atheistic monoculture; people like Randall are contemptuous of the culture and traditions of more isolated planets such as Sikander’s homeworld.

Is page 69 representative of Valiant Dust? I think my answer is sort of. The central conflict of the story revolves around Great Powers fighting for control of a valuable colony world. The Governor’s Ball of New Perth doesn’t directly figure into the unrest, chaos, politics, and military conflicts roiling the planet of Gadira. But it does help to establish who Sikander is and what sort of challenges he faces from his own side when he has to begin making choices between what’s good for Aquila—the Great Power in whose navy he serves—and what’s right for the people of Gadira, whose plight is very familiar to him.
Visit Richard Baker's website.

Writers Read: Richard Baker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"To Guard Against the Dark"

For twenty years, Canadian author/ former biologist Julie E. Czerneda has shared her curiosity about living things through her science fiction. She’s also written fantasy, the first installments of her Night’s Edge series A Turn of Light and A Play of Shadow, winning consecutive Aurora Awards (Canada’s Hugo) for Best English Novel. Czerneda has edited/co-edited sixteen anthologies of SF/F, two Aurora winners. Her latest is SFWA’s 2017 Nebula Award Showcase, and her next will be an anthology set in her Clan Chronicles series: Tales from Plexis. Her new SF novel, finale to that series, is To Guard Against the Dark.

Czerneda applied the Page 69 Test to To Guard Against the Dark and reported the following:
From page 69:
The driver dropped to the ground and ran away.

At first, the passengers seemed too stunned to move, their reactions comical, mouths flapping, arms waving--

Then one fragmented, components scurrying over the sides of the ramp and away—

—as the other two vanished from sight, without taking a single step.

Terk stared. Swallowed, hard. “Got to be a mistake. Problem with the vid.”

“My equipment’s prime--”

“No mistake,” Morgan said heavily. The Assembler? Given the source of the cargo, he’d have been surprised not to find one or more involved. As for the others?

“Don’t take this wrong, Morgan, but I thought the Clan were extinct,” Terk grumbled, as though this shift in his universe was a personal affront. “Thought the Assemblers made them extinct. We were sure.”

“We were wrong.”
When I took up the challenge of checking my own page 69—would it be representative of the whole book, would it entice a reader--I wasn’t sure what I’d find. I’m delighted by what I did.

The relationship between Jason Morgan, my protagonist, and Russell Terk began in the first book published in the Clan Chronicles series, and there are now nine. Both Human, one driven by a personal code, the other a Trade Pact Enforcer tasked with preventing interspecies strife—and frequently frustrated in his attempts. Both formidable in their way. I’m sure readers of the series appreciated my putting them together as erstwhile partners.

As well, this snip sets up the underlying conflict of the final volume in the series: the Clan shouldn’t be here and what about the Assemblers? (Among my favourite aliens.) To anyone familiar with the series, or only the previous book, The Gate to Futures Past, their appearance is the sound of an alarm.

Yummy!

I do believe I passed the test.
Visit Julie E. Czerneda's website.

--Marshal Zeringue