Saturday, October 1, 2016

"Bertrand Court"

Michelle Brafman is the author of Washing the Dead. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Tablet, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Slate, Lilith Magazine, the minnesota review, and elsewhere. She teaches fiction writing at the Johns Hopkins University MA in Writing Program and lives in Maryland with her husband and two children.

Brafman applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Bertrand Court, and reported the following:
Excerpt from “What Hannah Never Knew,” Bertrand Court
Sylvia caressed the slender handle of the spoon in her pocket; its metal ridge moved up and down against her leg as she walked. Her sister was expecting a child on Thanksgiving Day, and Sylvia knew she should give her their grandmother’s baby soon. Soon Sylvia would turn thirty, too old for babies. Besides, Irving said no more trying; two accidents, that was enough. He sent his girl Katie Flanagan from the office to teach Sylvia about the rhythm method. The nerve. She knew he used to shtup Katie before he and Sylvia got serious. She swallowed her humiliation, felt it lodge in her stomach, where Dr. Klein told her that her ulcer was forming.
When I first flipped open my book to page 69, I was a little skeptical about this literary instrument. This page represents the only story that occurs outside the timeline of a collection of very tightly linked narratives. Then I realized that Sylvia’s deliberations over keeping the spoon from her sister not only set the emotional stage for subsequent stories but convey the larger themes of the book. Like every other one of the twenty-plus narrators, Sylvia behaves badly in response to life’s pressures, in her case her bitterness about her marriage, jealousy over her sister’s fecundity, and silent unaired grief over the babies she’s miscarried. This decision to keep the spoon will ultimately ruin her relationship with her sister, and the accompanying tension and fear that cleaves to this object will plague Hannah Solonsky, Sylvia’s great niece, who will steal the spoon back from her aunt (but that’s all I’ll say for now). This book is about our bad choices and how we seek and grant forgiveness for them. No other moment distills this idea to its very essence. What a magical test!
Visit Michelle Brafman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Bertrand Court.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 29, 2016


Margot Livesey's first book, a collection of stories called Learning By Heart, was published by Penguin Canada in 1986. Since then she has published the novels Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, Eva Moves the Furniture, Banishing Verona, The House on Fortune Street, and The Flight of Gemma Hardy.

Livesey applied the Page 69 Test to her eighth novel, Mercury, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Mercury, the beginning of chapter 11, shows Donald worrying about Christmas. "Thanksgiving had been hard," he tells us, "but it was only one day, an American day. Christmas had always been our family’s holiday. Every year had found us together, first in Scotland, then in the States, playing games, eating goose, hoping for peace on earth.” But now Donald’s beloved father has succumbed to Parkinson’s, his mother has fallen in love, and his wife Viv is devoting almost every waking moment to training a horse named Mercury. The description that follows shows Donald, a hard working optometrist, trying to distance himself from the pain of these changes.

I was surprised at the extent to which page 69 alluded to many of the main concerns of the novel. Although it is only when when readers reach part II, narrated from Viv’s point of view, that they can truly begin to understand the forces at work in Donald’s household.
Learn more about the book and author at Margot Livesey's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Flight of Gemma Hardy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"Forsaken Skies"

D. Nolan Clark is the pseudonym bestselling horror writer David Wellington uses for his science fiction books.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Forsaken Skies, and reported the following:
It happens every time.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve taken the Page 69 Test. I do know that each time I’ve reached for the book, excited to share some incredible action scene or maybe a tender moment between two characters I love. Every single time, it turns out page 69 is right in the middle of an exposition scene. Typically, it’s a page of pure dialogue, one character telling another one about what’s going on in the plot.

And yeah… here we are.

Forsaken Skies is the best book I’ve ever written. Working on it, it felt like the culmination of everything I’ve learned over the years about writing, all the little tricks I’ve picked up, all the sweat and tears I’ve put into improving my skills. There are scenes in this book I can’t believe I wrote, scenes so exciting and fun. There are characters here I can hear breathing when I read their dialogue, people I’d love to spend time with in real life (as long as I didn’t have to live in their dangerous world!).

On Page 69, one of those characters, Elder McRae, is talking about how her world was settled. About why her people came to the planet of Niraya, a planet now in terrible peril. She’s pleading with the main character, a starfighter pilot named Aleister Lanoe, to come to their aid. She isn’t begging. Elder McRae doesn’t beg anyone for anything. But she’s desperate, and she knows without Lanoe’s help, her world will die.

It’s an intense, fraught scene. It is not particularly typical of the book. This book is full of spaceships twisting through the void in fast-paced dogfights. It’s chock full of mysteries and their revelations, of people trying to connect with each other in the midst of mortal danger. Most scenes full of action and will keep you on the edge of your seat.

But on page 69, there’s an old woman trying very hard to convince a warrior just to listen to her. To give her a chance to tell her story.

I hope you’ll give me the same chance, and check out my book. And be ready for what happens on page 490, because it’s awesome.
Learn more about the book and author at David Wellington's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

"Gods of Nabban"

K. V. Johansen is the author of The Lady, The Leopard, and Blackdog and numerous works for children, teens, and adults.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Gods of Nabban, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Yeh-Lin angled the inscribed silver mirror to catch the moon. Something had been nagging on the edges of her dreams, prickling when she drifted on the edge of sleep, for some time now. She had found herself unusually reluctant to pursue it. That fact ... began to interest her.
Well, page 69 in Gods of Nabban turns out not to be one of those pages that encapsulates the flavour of the book. Gods of Nabban is very character-driven and heavy with both action and psychological drama, focused, more than the other books set in the world of the caravan road, on a single pair of characters, though the story does have threads that follow other people as well. Ghu, a runaway slave and the returning heir of the gods of Nabban, and Ahjvar, the severely troubled assassin whom he loves and who, though he wants only to die, is trying to live for Ghu’s sake, are the primary protagonists and they don’t get a look-in on that page. Neither does Ivah, a character who’s been around through assorted traumas and revelations since her villainous beginnings in Blackdog; she’s now on a spiritual quest that will bring her to cross paths with Ghu, as will the journey of Kaeo, a slave actor and most unwilling prophet of the dying gods, and his rescuer Rat, who is, shall we say, rather high up in the counsels of a conquered nation currently at war with Nabban.

However, on page 69 what you get is Yeh-Lin, who is one of the seven devils -- formerly-human wizards who exist as beings of conjoined or imperfectly merged souls, having bound themselves to seven devils who escaped from the hells in which they were imprisoned long ago. Yeh-Lin is also a former empress and tyrant of Nabban. She claims to be reformed and repentant, and is, at the moment we see her, a tutor in history and languages to Ahjvar’s great-something-granddaughter. The young apprentice bard Deyandara doesn’t really need her any more, though, and Yeh-Lin, here, has been scrying around -- probably trying to keep an eye on Ghu, who fascinates her -- and is seeing a vision of something in Nabban that troubles her -- a young man “so bruised and bloodied and bandaged, blood seeping through his bandages, too, that it was hard to guess at the bones underlying his swollen features...” and a very grand and elegant woman handling him, but there is “a third presence in the room, an attenuated thread” which hurls her out of the vision and leaves her briefly, though she denies that even to herself, afraid. She conquered a fair chunk of the world in her day. Gods sacrificed themselves trying to overcome her. She doesn’t do fear.

Yeh-Lin, if she were an animal, would be a cat. Something weird. Hmm. Maybe it’s scary. Maybe it’s fun. Maybe I’ll just poke it daintily with my paw a little, to see what happens ... So there’s something disturbing and dangerous brooding in the heart of Nabban, and Ghu -- probably the one being in the world Yeh-Lin would actually admit to standing in awe of -- is, with his dead king (as Yeh-Lin calls Ahjvar because it annoys him so much), heading for Nabban ... possibly to claim the empire as his own. Clearly the boys can’t be allowed to keep all the fun to themselves.
Visit K. V. Johansen's website.

Coffee with a Canine: K.V. Johansen & Ivan.

The Page 69 Test: The Leopard.

The Page 69 Test: The Lady.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 26, 2016

"Cruel Beautiful World"

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow, Pictures of You, Girls In Trouble, and other books.

Leavitt applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Cruel Beautiful World, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Iris saw how her mother suffered, how her sadness seeped through the walls, held there like a stain. “He’ll be back,” her mother said. Every week, she still went to the beauty parlor because she wanted to look her best for when he came back. She wore makeup and dresses and cooked elaborate roasts, because any night could be the night he was coming back, and wouldn’t he want something delicious to eat? Every day when Iris came home from school, her mother was at the kitchen table, looking at the society pages, and Iris never knew why until one day she came home and found her mother crying, and then saw the photo of the young, pretty bride in the white gown, and her father standing behind her. Iris saw how the bride was twenty-three. Ten years younger than Iris’ mother.
Page 69 of Cruel Beautiful World is about Iris, the elderly adoptive mom of sisters Charlotte and Lucy. Iris is telling us about how her mother couldn't let go of Iris’ father, even when he left both of them, quickly going into a new family with a younger wife. So it is and isn’t like the rest of the book. It isn’t in that Lucy’s running away to a back to the land paradise that turns into nightmare, and Charlotte’s trying to find her is the main story. But it is in the emotions. People loving and trusting the wrong persons. People trying to fix something that cannot be fixed, no matter what you do.
Learn more about the book and author at Caroline Leavitt's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Pictures of You.

My Book, the Movie: Pictures of You.

The Page 69 Test: Is This Tomorrow.

My Book, The Movie: Is This Tomorrow.

My Book, The Movie: Cruel Beautiful World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Casting Bones"

Don Bruns is an award-winning novelist, songwriter, musician and advertising executive who lives in South Florida. He is the author of five Mick Sever Caribbean mysteries, and seven Lesser and Moore mysteries.

Bruns applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Casting Bones, the first book in a new series, and reported the following:
I’ve written the page 69 challenge for several of my books. Reading page 69 of Casting Bones took me by surprise. The New Orleans based crime novel (complete with a voodoo queen who helps solve a murder) is based around corruption, graft, and greed plus a rush to judgement that could get the wrong man convicted.

The question the protagonist, Detective Quentin Archer, keeps asking is ‘why?’ Every time he answers a ‘why’ he’s that much closer to solving the murder. What surprised me was that all of those factors in the book come into play on page 69. The atmosphere of a steamy New Orleans and the oddball assortment of colorful characters is missing but the essence of the story is there. Tension, anger, a push for justice…it’s all on the page. Just don’t skip the rest of the book, okay. There’s a lot more intrigue and excitement in Casting Bones.
Learn more about the book and author at Don Bruns's website.

The Page 99 Test: Stuff to Die For.

My Book, The Movie: Stuff Dreams Are Made Of.

The Page 69 Test: Stuff to Spy For.

The Page 69 Test: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.

My Book, The Movie: Casting Bones.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 23, 2016


Marina Budhos is the author of award-winning fiction and nonfiction. Her novels for young adults are Tell Us We’re Home and Ask Me No Questions. Her nonfiction books include Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers and Sugar Changed the World, which she cowrote with her husband, Marc Aronson.

Budhos applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Watched, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Watched is the end of one scene and the beginning of another; both, however, are family scenes: Naeem and his half-brother, Zahir, and Naeem with his parents, dreading, waiting for them to come home as he must tell them he’s failing high school.

In the first scene, Zahir is dreamily talking about Spiderman, his favorite super hero, and saying that if he went to Forest Hills High, maybe he’d meet Peter Parker.
“There are special cells,” he explains. “They absorbed the radioactivity. They go through his bloodstream, even his heart, especially the aorta. That’s what’s so effective.” Zahir used to pore over an old illustrated book on the body I bought for a dollar on the street. Now I can see, he’s wobbling between believing in Spider-Man’s special powers and his own crazy, factual head.”
I guess I love this passage because it’s all about brothers—so central to the book—and about heroes and believing. The two brothers share and communicate through comic books, and Naeem himself is sorting out not just what he believes, but how to move out of his own dreamy boyhood, into the hard realities of growing up.

The next scene his parents arrive:
After Zahir goes to bed, I sit at the kitchen table, my stomach twisted raw, waiting for my parents to come home. I’m back to feeling bruised, shaky, as if someone has knocked me hard in the ribs. Taylor is right. Tell them.

The key scrapes in the lock and my parents shuffle in, looking worn, preoccupied. Amma sets down the crinkly glazed plastic bag she uses for groceries she gets half price, when the shops close. Before I can say a word, Abba drops down in the La-Z-Boy. He doesn’t even bother to go in the bedroom and change into his favorite lungi, as he always does, the fabric washed so many times I can see its pale white threads.
To me, this is the other central relationship: his parents, with whom he feels such chest-sucking guilt. He notices and knows everything about them—how exhausted, how thrifty they are to just get by—and yet he’s all smashed up, knowing he’s failed them.

Thus, p. 69 gets to the core of the book—Naeem’s deep attachment to his family, his guilt, his screwing up, which leads him into a central dilemma—getting in trouble with the law and ultimately agreeing to be an informant.
Visit Marina Budhos's website.

My Book, The Movie: Watched.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"Making Friends with Billy Wong"

Augusta Scattergood is a former librarian turned book reviewer turned middle-grade author. Her books include Glory Be and The Way to Stay in Destiny.

Scattergood applied the Page 69 Test to her latest book, Making Friends with Billy Wong, and reported the following:
I love this test. When I was a school librarian, it was one way I helped young readers decide if they'd like a book or not.

One of my favorite scenes to write begins at the bottom of page 68 and continues to page 69. So I fudged a little.
"That's my mama's favorite!" I hummed along about a blue moon and a dream in my heart. "The day I was born, Daddy called the radio station and requested that song for Mama and me."

My grandmother put down her iced-tea glass and settled her hands in her lap. "You don't say," she said very quietly.

"I know all the words. Since I was barely tall enough to put my arms around his waist, I've danced on my daddy's shoes." I was still a little mad at Mama, but remembering her and Daddy carrying on to music made me smile.

Grandma Clark turned to face the window, away from me. "Get me some more tea, Azalea. While you're up, cut off the radio."

“But I love 'Blue Moon.'"

"I asked you to turn it off. We've heard enough," she answered.
I think this passage very indicative of the book because it shows how Azalea and her grandmother struggled to get to know each other when Azalea first came to help Grandma Clark. Azalea misses her parents, her dad especially, and Grandma Clark loves to criticize.

Truthfully, I'm also fond of this scene because I remember dancing on my own daddy's shoes!
Learn more about the book and author at Augusta Scattergood's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Way to Stay in Destiny.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"Three Truths and a Lie"

Brent Hartinger is the award-winning author of a number of novels, mostly for and about teens, including Geography Club (2003) and five companion books, The Last Chance Texaco (2004); Grand & Humble (2006); Project Sweet Life (2008); and Shadow Walkers (2011).

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest book, Three Truths and a Lie, and reported the following:
Three Truths and a Lie is a young adult novel -- part horror novel, part twisty puzzle box thriller. It's the story of four teenagers who spend a weekend in a remote cabin in the rainforests of Washington State, and soon find themselves terrorized by some locals. Or is it the locals? It soon becomes clear that nothing in the rainforest is exactly what it appears, and none of the teens is telling the whole truth about anything.

Page 69 is right in the middle of the spot in the book when the characters play the party game Three Truths and a Lie, the night they first arrive at the cabin. The whole point of the game is for the players to see how good a liar they are, and also judge the lying abilities of the other players. I like this scene a lot, because there's a lot more going on than meets the eye -- not just between the players themselves, but also between me and the reader. Suffice to say that there is a hell of a lot of lying going on in this scene! But what exactly is going on won't be clear until you finish the novel.
Visit Brent Hartinger's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 19, 2016


Robert K. Tanenbaum is the author of thirty-one books—twenty-eight novels and three nonfiction books. He is one of the most successful prosecuting attorneys, having never lost a felony trial and convicting hundreds of violent criminals. He was a special prosecution consultant on the Hillside strangler case in Los Angeles and defended Amy Grossberg in her sensationalized baby death case. He was Assistant District Attorney in New York County in the office of legendary District Attorney Frank Hogan, where he ran the Homicide Bureau, served as Chief of the Criminal Courts, and was in charge of the DA’s legal staff training program. He served as Deputy Chief counsel for the Congressional Committee investigation into the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He also served two terms as mayor of Beverly Hills and taught Advanced Criminal Procedure for four years at Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California, Berkeley, and has conducted continuing legal education (CLE) seminars for practicing lawyers in California, New York, and Pennsylvania. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Tanenbaum attended the University of California at Berkeley on a basketball scholarship, where he earned a B.A. He received his law degree (J.D.) from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.

Tanenbaum applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Infamy: A Butch Karp-Marlene Ciampi thriller, and reported the following:
From page 69:
So he shut down her credit cards and knew she’d return if for no other reason than their son. When she came back, he beat her black and blue. “And if you ever leave me without permission, you’ll never see Tommy again,” he sneered into her tear-stained face.

Lately she’d seemed unusually happy. She didn’t give him any “looks,” or challenge him in any way. She even seemed to be drinking less. He wondered if it was because she was screwing Richie Bryers, the basketball coach at the exclusive prep school where Tommy was enrolled. He’d hired Bryers to coach Tommy in his spare time, also figuring that the “golden carrot” would assure his boy a place on the varsity squad in a couple of years.

As if on cue, Bryers appeared from the bathhouse where he’d apparently been changing into a swimsuit and white robe. He removed the robe to enter the pool. Constantine studied the man. An avid tennis player, he was no slouch himself, but he was impressed with the coach’s tanned, sculpted physique. He knew the man stayed active not just on the basketball court where he’d once been a highly recruited New York Public High School player and then all-American point guard at Harvard, but also was a skier, surfer, and mountain climber.

Bryers saw him looking and smiled and waved. Constantine smiled and waved back. He actually liked the man—at least, as much as he liked anyone—and that’s why he extended the use of the pool and guesthouse to him whenever they were spending time there. It didn’t hurt that he believed that between the money and the “perks,” Bryers was bought and paid for in regard to his son’s special tutoring and future on the team. After all, he chuckled to himself, everyone has a price.
Infamy is a murder mystery focusing on the murderous effects that result from weak character and unbridled ambition intertwined with shocking deception. In Infamy, those who lust for power evince a delusional belief system that rationalizes illegality as justified politically when “done for the greater good” and, therefore, can be engaged in with impunity.

At page 69, District Attorney Butch Karp is about to engage a killer in Manhattan’s Central Park. The killer holds the keys that can very well open Pandora’s Box into the self-anointed top echelon of politicos who are engaging in acts of treasonous infamy.
Visit Robert K. Tanenbaum's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 17, 2016


Robert Wilder is the author of a novel, Nickel, and two critically acclaimed essay collections, Tales From The Teachers’ Lounge and Daddy Needs A Drink, both optioned for television and film.

A teacher for twenty-five years, Wilder has earned numerous awards and fellowships, including the inaugural Innovations in Reading Prize by the National Book Foundation. He has published essays in Newsweek, Details, Salon, Parenting, Creative Nonfiction, plus numerous anthologies and has been a commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition.

Wilder applied the Page 69 Test to Nickel and reported the following:
The final line on page 69 in my novel Nickel is a question from Monroe, Coy’s sick best friend after she convinces him to ditch school in the middle of the day. Coy made a promise to his mother that he’d never do something like that—be the cliché boy who acts out because his dad is dead and his mother is in rehab. He’s the kind of kid who is worried about everything, getting in trouble being first item on a long list of worries. Monroe asks, “What kind of trouble will we get into that would be worse than what we’ve already been through?” This line stings Coy because it forces him to face the difficult landscape of his life—haunting past, tumultuous present, and seemingly daunting future. Just like many teenagers, Coy’s paralysis (and eventual action) is at the heart of the novel and representative of the work as a whole. I think most casual readers would want to turn the page to see how he deals with the aftermath of his decision to follow Monroe into dark places.
Visit Robert Wilder's website and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: Daddy Needs A Drink.

My Book, The Movie: Nickel.

Writers Read: Robert Wilder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 15, 2016

"Red Right Hand"

Chris Holm is the author of the Collector trilogy, which blends crime and fantasy, and the Michael Hendricks thrillers. His first Hendricks novel, The Killing Kind, was nominated for an Anthony, a Barry, a Lefty, and a Macavity Award and named a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a Boston Globe Best Book of 2015, and Strand Magazine’s #1 Book of 2015.

Holm applied the Page 69 Test to Red Right Hand, the second Hendricks novel, and reported the following:
Red Right Hand is the sequel to The Killing Kind, which introduced the world to Michael Hendricks. Once a covert operative for the US military, Hendricks makes his living hitting hitmen… or he did, until a criminal organization known as the Council caught wind and targeted the people he loves.

When viral video of a terrorist attack in San Francisco reveals that a Federal witness long thought dead is still alive, the organization he’d agreed to testify against—the Council—will stop at nothing to put him in the ground.

Special Agent Charlie Thompson is determined to protect him, but her hands are tied; the FBI’s sole priority is catching the terrorists before they strike again. So Charlie calls the only person on the planet who can keep her witness safe: Michael Hendricks.

Believing this witness could hold the key to taking the Council down, Hendricks agrees, even though it means wading into the center of a terror plot whose perpetrators are not what they seem.

Sounds exciting, right? Sure… but what’s on page sixty-nine? A bad man on his way to pick up a ringing telephone:
Sal’s office was a cliché of a gentleman’s study. Mahogany paneling. Built-in floor-to-ceiling shelves lined with books he’d never read. A hinged, hand-painted globe that doubled as a bar cart. Burnished-leather armchairs. Banker’s lamps. An antique Wooton desk on which sat a phone, a leather blotter, and a computer.

Sal walked by it without a glance. His office was for show. A rodeo clown, intended to distract. He never conducted any business of real import in it.

The ringing phone was in his second guest room, which was tucked behind the kitchen. The third floor of Sal’s house comprised a guest suite—bedroom, bathroom, and sitting room—and that was where visitors typically stayed. Consequently, this bedroom was rarely used, and everything about it appeared to be an afterthought: The simple, metal-framed twin bed. The cheap floral comforter. The empty dresser. The prefab particleboard nightstand, upon which sat a lamp, a box of tissues, and an old rotary phone.

The phone wasn’t registered in Sal’s name. In fact, the line used to be connected to his neighbor’s teenage daughter’s room. When their house was foreclosed on years ago during the recession, he had surreptitiously had it rerouted and set the bill to auto-deduct from an online checking account opened for just that purpose. The former was a simple matter of redirecting a single wire; the latter, snatching a bill from his neighbor’s mailbox and calling the phone company to update the payment method. Committing fraud to get money out of major corporations is a tricky business, but committing fraud to give them money is easy, because they never think to question getting paid.
Sure, a little whiz-bang would’ve been nice, but I rather like the mystery generated by this phone call. Don’t you want to know who’s on the other end? Aren’t you curious why Sal works so hard to make his business line seem unimportant? Buy a copy of Red Right Hand and the answers you seek are but seventy pages away.
Visit Chris Holm's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Killing Kind.

--Marshal Zeringue