Saturday, March 31, 2007

"Monster Nation"

David Wellington is a writer living in New York City. His books include the trilogy that starts with Monster Island and is followed by its prequel, Monster Nation. Monster Planet is the third novel in the series.

He applied the "page 69 test" to Monster Nation and reported the following:
Monster Nation is a road story, a travelogue through an apocalyptic wasteland, and in this regard page 69 is strangely representative. The heroine and her associates come across a town already touched by the zombie epidemic where paranoia has taken over. Nilla, who is undead but doesn’t always look it, feels the weight of staring eyes on her and wishes she could turn invisible.

There’s a lot more to the book — and page 69 fails to capture the fast-paced action segments which are the bread and butter of the story. You don’t get to see the National Guard fighting a rear guard action to protect evacuees being rushed out of Denver as the dead come swarming out of every alley. You don’t get the creepy, dreadful horror bits, like the deadly chess game between Nilla and a mindless, armless zombie over who will eat a screaming victim first, or the despair that sets in as the authorities begin to realize they can’t stop or even slow down the spread of the disaster. You don’t get Bannerman Clark, the good soldier who finds himself in over his head, a pawn in political games even as he tries to find a way to stop the on-rushing Armageddon. It doesn’t contain any of the mystical or occult elements, it doesn’t contain Mael Mag Och the two thousand year old mummified Druid who has proclaimed himself the major domo of the end of the world, nor does it address what caused the epidemic. In fact Page 69 doesn’t contain a single (traditional) zombie.

Still I think it does the book a certain brand of justice. It’s got the fear and the desperation, the need to move and escape that informs the book’s tone. It introduces Nilla well without giving away any of her secrets.
Visit David Wellington's website to learn about the trilogy and his other books.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 30, 2007

"The Keeper"

Sarah Langan received her MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University. She studied with Michael Cunningham, Nicholas Christopher, Helen Schulman, and Maureen Howard, among others, all of whom have been instrumental to her work. She is currently pursuing a Master's in Environmental Health Science/Toxicology at New York University and lives in Brooklyn.

The Keeper is her first novel. She applied the "page 69 test" to it and reported the following, starting with the text from page 69:
A few years ago when she had been driving, just to drive, to get away from the colicky baby whose fretting never ceased, she had discovered the tree graveyard. She’d pulled over to the side of the road and touched the massive stumps. Her fingers had traced their ridges: countless years recorded by slim bands of wood. She listened for the screaming. She never heard it.

At her exit, Georgia turned off the highway. By the time she traversed the Messalonski River, she had managed to forget the trials of the day. She concentrated on the comfortable way the town made her feel. With the heat blasting through the vents and the rain falling hard outside, she felt like she was wrapped inside a warm cocoon.

At six PM that Thursday evening she pulled into the driveway of her childhood home, a half-mile south of Main Street on a cul de sac that led to the parking lot of the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Sorrow.

“You home?” she heard her father call when she got into the house.

“Coming.” She found him playing a hand of solitaire and smoking a cherry cigar behind the desk in his study.

Ed O’Brian was one of the few men she knew who was larger than herself. Even now, as his bones shrank with age, when he stood next to her, she never wondered whose shadow was bigger. "Everything hunkey dorey?" he asked very slowly and calmly. It was the only way he ever spoke.

Georgia sighed. "Fine. He's fine. Nine stitches, but he'll live."

Thematically, page 69 is pretty representative of my novel. A burdened woman is trying her best to soldier on in a town where those around her are drowning. Georgia is The Keeper’s optimist, and I like her for that. She’s the breath of life that the density of such a dark story needs, and I think her strength is an inspiration to the other characters. Without her, they wouldn’t grasp for stars nearly so high.

The Keeper is about a small paper mill town in Maine, and the people who remain there after the mill has closed. They lack the impetus to leave, but have no reason to stay. The central characters are the town pariah Susan Marley, her younger sister Liz, her mother Mary, her former lover Paul, and her former babysitter Georgia. The people of the town are haunted by nightmares of Susan. After she dies, their dreams start to come true.

As far as plot goes, this section is a pause in action, so it probably doesn’t give a very good indication of overall style. Susan is about to fall down a flight of stairs, Paul’s wife is about to leave him, and all hell is about to break loose. The nice part is, this page is G-rated, so I’ve got a lot less ‘splaining to do, as Ricky Ricardo used to say.
Visit Sarah Langan's website and read an excerpt from The Keeper.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 29, 2007

"The End As I Know It"

Kevin Shay was the website editor of McSweeney’s in 2000 and 2001, and he co-edited Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans, an anthology of humor from the McSweeney’s site. His short humor pieces have appeared in print and online in McSweeney’s, eCompany Now, Salon, Modern Humorist, and the anthology 101 Damnations. Two of his one-act plays were performed in San Francisco in 2003 and 2004 as part of the Bruno’s Island New Plays Festival.

He applied the "page 69 test" to his first novel, The End as I Know It: A Novel of Millennial Anxiety, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The End as I Know It finds narrator Randall Knight in Denver, at the home of his uncle Frank and aunt Lela. It's October, 1998, and Randall has arrived to warn his relatives, as he's attempting to warn all his friends and family, about the impending worldwide catastrophe that the Y2K computer bug will soon cause.

To his dismay, however, he's discovered that cousin Derek and his wife have become fanatical multi-level marketers, and they've roped a reluctant Frank and Lela into selling Amway along with them.

"...I have to admit, Uncle Frank, this ... business is not something I'd expect to find you involved in."

"I know. I know it. What can I say? Lee thought it was important to support the kids."

"Well, I hope it works out for you."

Frank smiles. "If it does, you'll be the first one invited to the mansion."

This is a recurring element throughout the novel: many of the people on whom Randall descends to spread the Y2K gospel turn out to be too wrapped up in their own cultlike obsessions to listen to his cultlike obsession. Of course, he doesn't perceive the similarity.

The page also touches on the extent to which Randall has been dismantling his personal relationships. His father, a historian, is under investigation for alleged plagiarism. Randall hasn't been speaking to Dad, and doesn't want his uncle to reveal his whereabouts:

"Hey, your secret's safe with me. But Randall, listen. You know, I can't blame you for being upset. I mean, Lela and I were very surprised to hear about the whole situation. But look, even if he did do it, which, hey, wait until all the facts are in, right?"

Like Nicole, he's jumped to the conclusion that Dad and I are fighting about the damn plagiarism. What kind of self-righteous prig do they take me for?

In fact, Randall doesn't much care about his father's academic transgressions; their estrangement was a consequence of his scoffing dismissal of the Y2K crisis. And this is far from the only bridge Randall's burned, or is about to.

We all know Y2K didn't have calamitous consequences, so for the reader of The End as I Know It, there's not much dramatic tension surrounding what will actually happen with computers. Instead, it's the question of what will happen to Randall that drives the book. How far will this guy go in alienating himself from everyone he cares about? And will he be able to pull himself back from this paranoid brink?
Visit Kevin Shay's website and read an excerpt from The End As I Know It.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Ann Cummins is the author of Red Ant House, a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller and Best Book of the Year. She has had her stories published in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Quarterly West, and the Sonora Review, among other publications, as well as The Best American Short Stories 2002.

Her new novel is Yellowcake, to which she applied the "page 69 test" and discovered the following:
Page 69 may be the single page in Yellowcake that most aptly represents the book’s underbelly — the nightmare. The dreamer struggling to wake is Ryland Mahoney. Once a foreman at a uranium mill on the Navajo reservation, he’s now sick. While awake he doesn’t blame radiation poisoning for his ill health, but when his guard is down, fear and guilt creep in. Other characters in the novel have their own dark nights. Twenty-five year old Becky Atcitty, a Navajo woman who lost her father to the mill, struggles with rage at his murderers; her cousin, Delmar, a man of appetites, struggles with his own libido; Delmar’s father, Sam, struggles with his obsession for Delmar’s mother, while Lily, Sam’s former wife, can’t get over her philandering ex-husband.

Set in the high desert of northern New Mexico and the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, the land has a subterranean pulse that radiates through its inhabitants, channeling the phantom past, connecting them all in an atomic present.

But in small ways, all of the characters change the chemistry, finding stability on dangerous ground. During his dark night, twenty-five year old Delmar is running on empty down a desert road. He starts playing chicken with another car and finds a winning defense against hidden cops up ahead.

“Delmar watches his speedometer climb to seventy-five. Eighty. He closes in, breathing down the Mazda’s neck, a one-car length. ‘Go, baby go.’ And the yellow gas light stops blinking, starts shining. Ninety. Fast little Mazda. Rocketing along the straight and narrow.

“‘Call you Zoom,’ he says, taking his foot off the pedal, shifting to neutral, and dropping back just before they enter Bloomfield’s speed-trap zone, while the Mazda jets ahead, a decoy should anybody be out there watching. Delmar knows this country. He’s been busted here. This country he knows well.
Read a brief description of Yellowcake and an excerpt.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Penni Russon was born in Tasmania in 1974 and now lives in Melbourne, Australia. Her "Undine trilogy," published by Random House in Australian and Greenwillow in the US, is a series of magical books set in Hobart’s streets and the surrounding bush and seascapes.

She applied the "page 69 test" to Breathe, the second book in the trilogy, and reported the following:
Oh what a fascinating and illuminating idea. I think all writers should have to sum up their themes from page 69, I'm sure it would make us better writers! In the hardcover edition of Breathe (Greenwillow, 2007) page 69 definitely illustrates many of the themes and tensions of the novel.

Page 69 finds Undine and her mother, Lou, having a conversation about ostensibly sex (the not having of it), though Undine suspects it's also a veiled way for Lou to talk about Undine's magic, the dangerous and chaotic force that Lou has already persuaded Undine to suppress.

"And then," Lou went on, "once you went so far, it felt like there was no going back, no putting it way for later. Do you know what I mean?" Suddenly Undine wondered if Lou was just talking about sex or whether this was just a roundabout way of talking about the magic.

This tells us a lot about Undine's slightly dysfunctional but still close relationship with her mum and it shows us that to Lou the magic is even more taboo than sex.

But also this section shows that the magic is sited in the corporeal, related to the body's impulses and to Undine's emerging identity as she transforms from child to adult. The link between sex and magic is actually all about power – who has it? Who doesn't? In particular I was interested, when writing Undine, in the fact that sixteen year old girls are actually extremely powerful, even if they're not sure how to use their power (I think we often forget because we're so busy thinking of the ways in which they're disempowered). Also that if you don't have a religious upbringing (and many people don't these days) there's no roadmap for a lot of these issues, the values and morals around them are ambiguous, just like the magic. Undine lives in a postmodern world, represented by the chaotic and unruly force of the postmodern magic. Understanding her power and negotiating boundaries of self is Undine's journey, and sex is definitely a part of that.
Visit Penni Russon's website and read an excerpt from Breathe.

Russon's blog is called Eglantine's Cake.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 26, 2007

"The Big Blind"

Ray Banks applied the "page 69 test" to his debut novel, The Big Blind, and reported the following:
This Page 69 test is possibly a little more uncomfortable for me than some of the others, because I haven't actually looked at The Big Blind for a good couple of years. It has all the puppy fat and gawkiness of a debut, and yet....

Page 69 is a pretty decent microcosm of the entire book (all 170 pages of it). We find our narrator, double-glazing salesman Alan Slater, at an illegal poker game run by one of the croupiers at a local casino. Slater's ostensibly there as moral support to his drunken, bigoted and violent best friend, Les Beale, but his girlfriend's asleep back at his flat and he's in no state to do anything but sit and talk rubbish with a stoner known as The Waste. Needless to say, Slater becomes worried about his girlfriend's well-being once the paranoia hits.

I mean, I'm thinking I left at a stupid hour of the morning and I'm concerned about her getting home in one piece. My area's pretty safe, but I'm not sure about her neighbourhood. I know there's a lot of students knocking about there, but that's why the scallies hang around too.

Great, now I'm worried sick.

"Call it," says Beale, "and raise fifty."

"Nah," says Phil. "No way. String bet."

"We're not in the fuckin' card room," says Beale.

"Card room rules, Les," says Stevie.

I'm wondering if I left any money out that she could've used for a cab. I'm praying she didn't try to walk it – it's miles from my place to hers.

"Y'alright?" says The Waste.

"I dunno," I say, gulping back the beer.

"You want to watch that mixture, mate. Drink's a demon. I tell you that?"

I shift my weight in the chair. My heart's starting to pound and my vision's going tunnel.

"Fine," says Beale. "I'll take the fuckin' thing back."

There are a couple of things I had to stop myself from changing as I copied that out. But bizarrely enough, the page is indicative of the book – a lot of worrying, poker, alcohol and copious swearing. Unfortunately, one of my favourite exchanges happens on the next page. But this isn't the Page 70 Test.
Visit Ray Banks' website, "The Saturday Boy."

Banks' forthcoming novels are Saturday's Child and Donkey Punch.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 24, 2007

"Catching Genius"

Kristy Kiernan applied the "page 69 test" to her debut novel, Catching Genius, and reported the following:
After my initial disappointment at the lack of heart-pounding prose on page 69 of Catching Genius, I realized that it does, in fact, capture a major chunk of plot as well as most of the characters.

Connie Sykes -- wronged wife, frustrated mother, musician, sister, and daughter -- is talking to her mother at the beginning of the scene. Their relationship, slightly contentious but loving, comes through in the dialogue, which centers on the mother trying to get her two estranged daughters, Connie and Estella (the math genius of the title) together.

Once the phone call ends, we see how Connie's home life revolves around discovering her husband's secrets, hiding secrets of her own, and how difficult her marriage has become while trying to raise two very different boys, two very different ways.

What's missing on page 69 is Connie and her sister Estella's relationship, which is the main thread of the book. It's hinted at in the beginning, but there is no sense of Estella in this section, nor is there a sense of Connie beyond that of "family woman." This particular domestic scene is one of few in the book that showcases Connie as a typical suburban mother and wife, and I don't believe that captures who Connie really is, it's merely her mask. And yet, shedding that daily mask that we all wear is a large part of what the book is about, so perhaps it's more indicative of the rest of the book than I initially thought.

Also missing is a strong sense of place, in this case the West Coast of Florida, which is an important part of the book.

The real challenge of the page 69 test is, does it make a reader want to read more? I hope it raises enough questions in the reader's mind that they'd want to read more, at least to find out if Connie and Estella's mother can get them together, and what sparks fly if she succeeds.

Catching Genius, page 69:

"She's looking forward to seeing you," she said.

"She said that?" I didn't believe her. She was just trying to soften us up before we saw each other. She'd probably told Estella the exact same thing.

"Yes, she did. And this is a perfect time for the two of you--"

"I get it, Mother," I interrupted. "I'll talk to Luke."

When I hung up I gathered Gib's keyboard and cell phone and stashed them in my closet just as I heard the garage door rumble up. I met Luke in the kitchen and held the test results out to him as he walked in the door. He put his briefcase on the counter as he read it and then looked at the report card again.

"So he takes summer school," he finally said, shrugging.

"But don't you see that this is a bigger problem than just taking summer school?"

He sighed. "No, I don't. What's the problem?"

"He's hiding things, Luke. Even from you."

He looked startled. "All kids hide things from their parents when they become teenagers," he said, but he sounded less certain. "I'll talk to him."

"He's in his room. I took his phone and keyboard and told him no television."

"Damn, Connie," Luke protested. "You should have waited until I got home so we could decide what to do about this together."

"I'm his mother. I did what I felt I had to do, and you weren't here, were you?"

Where were you, Luke?

I remembered Bob's advice, remembered the paperwork I'd been gathering, the trips I'd made to a new bank, the jewelry I'd hidden there. We both had our secrets, and my question went unasked.

He shook his head at me and walked out of the kitchen. Carson came in, wrapped in a big towel, and I made him a snack while Luke talked to Gib. When Luke came back downstairs his face was sober.

"Hey, buddy," he said absently to Carson. "Want to give me and your mom a few minutes alone?"
Visit Kristy Kiernan's website and read an excerpt from Catching Genius.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 23, 2007

"The Reluctant Fundamentalist"

Mohsin Hamid was born and grew up in Lahore, Pakistan. He attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School, worked for several years as a management consultant in New York and as a freelance journalist in Lahore, and now lives mainly in London.

His first novel, Moth Smoke, was published in 2000; his second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, will be released in the U.S. in early April 2007.

Hamid applied the "page 69 test" to The Reluctant Fundamentalist and reported the following:
I allowed myself the inner smile of a gambler who knows he has been dealt a good hand. The page 69 test. The page 69 challenge. Where the rubber meets the road. One page, and one page only, to convey the essence of a book. More macho than the Pulitzer. More sexy than the Booker. This was it.

Seven years, seven drafts, fifteen hundred manuscript pages, and now all that was about to pay off. Not for me the panic of the novelist with 800 pages of tangentially connected plot lines, distantly related characters, centuries of narrative. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a flyweight: 184 pages of lean sinew, four hard-hitting characters, one quick jab of a story. So the odds were on my side. 184 to 1, not bad in this business.

And page 69 had it all. All four characters were there. Changez, the spoken “I” of the narrator, a Pakistani man who went to Princeton and fell in love with America, but then grew a beard and left for home. His audience, the nameless “you”, a suspicious American who, perhaps not coincidentally, meets Changez in a bazaar in Lahore and is now listening to his story. Erica, the beautiful woman from New York who tragically failed to forget her past and so turned Changez away. And Jim, Changez’s former boss at a high-powered financial firm, who once took Changez under his wing and taught him to value companies by their economic fundamentals.

Indeed, reading over page 69, I wondered why I had bothered publishing pages 1 to 68. Or pages 70 to 184, for that matter. Surely, this was all I needed to say. Perhaps, with another seven years of work, another seven drafts, page 69 is all I would have written. But I had been lazy, and it was now too late to go back. It follows here in full: page 69, what the entire novel might have been.

behind. Anyway when I got back everyone kept asking where I’d been and I realized I’d spent the entire afternoon there. It was kind of surreal. Made me think of you. – E.”

Such messages were enough to lift my spirits for several days. Perhaps this strikes you as an exaggeration. But you must understand that in Lahore, at least when I was in secondary school – youngsters here, like everywhere else, are probably more liberated now – relationships were often conducted over fleeting phone calls, messages through friends, and promises of encounters that never happened. Many parents were strict, and sometimes weeks would pass without us being able to meet those we thought of as our girlfriends. So we learnt to savor the denial of gratification – that most un-American of pleasures! – and I for one could subsist quite happily on a diet of emails such as that which I have just described.

But I was of course eager to see Erica again and was therefore in high spirits as our project approached its end. Jim had flown in to satisfy himself with our final conclusions; he sat me down for a drink. “So, Changez,” he said, taking in our exquisite hotel, the Makati Shangri-La, with a sweep of his hand, “getting used to all this?” “I am indeed, sir,” I replied. “Everyone’s saying great things about you,” he said, pausing to see how I responded;
Read an excerpt from The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and visit Mohsin Hamid's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"No Dominion"

"I write pulp. I write noir. Open one of my books," read the opening lines at Charlie Huston's website, "and you'll see I'm not lying. I write about people killing each other and suffering or not suffering the consequences. I write about the halt and the lame and the addicted."

Joe Pitt, the protagonist of Already Dead and No Dominion is addicted -- to blood.

Huston applied the "page 69 test" to No Dominion and reported the following:
McLuhan, huh? Page 69, huh? Man, I’m still trying to figure out hot and cold media. Well, academia may be years behind me, but a bit of textual analysis never hurt anyone. It just hurts the books. Prying between all the words like that, brushing commas and hyphens to the side to see what they’re obscuring, you can never get the book back the way it was after that.


Anyway, I write pulp. Some of the pulp I write involves vampires. So, cracking the most recent of those, No Dominion, I flipped to page 69 to find the following (69 is, by the way, a page I frequently take note of. Not because it allows me to peer into a book’s soul, but because the inner eleven year old in me still likes to giggle from the back row of class when he sees that suggestive number in any context).

-Yeah. Except me. Guess I must just be the lucky one.

The door opens and the Count comes back in. Pigtails bounces off the couch and runs to him.

-Score! Score! Score!

Figure a score for me, too. Figure I get to see first hand what the shit is and then I can go fill Terry in and that will make this about the easiest job I ever had.

The Count returns to the couch, Pigtails riding on his back. He shrugs her off and she plops onto the cushions. He’s carrying a large, padded manila envelope. He opens it with a little flourish and produces a pint IV bag of blood.

Shit. No score. Just a late snack.

He sits. Poncho takes an IV needle and hose from beneath one of the napkins on the coffee tray and hands them to him. He carefully inserts the needle into the valve. A drop wells up and leaks out at the opening. And I smell it. Even in this loft, stinking of the three of them, I smell it.

-Don’t drink that.

The Count looks up.


-Don’t drink it. It’ll kill you. It’s infected. Can’t you smell it?

So what do we have here?

Almost entirely dialogue, which is fairly representative, as my work is dialogue heavy. Deals with blood, also representative in a vampire book. And alludes to the use of infected blood as a drug; a major plot point of the book.

Looking at this page, I’d say it could give the reader a pretty damn clear idea of what the book is about, the style in which it’s written, and whether they might want to read more.

Then again, page one could do pretty much that same thing.

Or page two. Or three. Or eighty-seven.

Fact is, any book of any internal consistency, should wear its heart on any given page. Whether that makes judging the appeal of that book on the basis of a single page valid in any way is another question.

I generally check out the first sentence of a book. If I like it, I read the one that comes next. If that one lives up to the standard set by the first, I’ll peruse the third. And so on. Until I determine by some subtle alchemy that I am looking at a book I either don’t want to put down, or can happily return to the shelf.

Truth to tell, skipping to the middle of a book to get a taste of it always seems like a bad plan. What if that’s the page on which the protagonist finds out about the affair his father had with his…? Or whatever. An utterly innocuous detail on a random page can, once you start from the beginning, ruin the entire experience of reading all that precedes it.

No, the page 69 test is not for me. Neither as practice, or as valid theory.

Plodder that I am, I’ll take my books one word at a time, in the order set down. Reserving the right, always, to close the book should the words cease to add up.
Visit Charlie Huston's website and read an excerpt from No Dominion.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"Made to Stick"

Brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath are the co-authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

Chip Heath is a Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. Dan Heath is a Consultant at Duke Corporate Education, the world’s #1 provider of custom executive education.

They applied the "page 69 test" to Made to Stick and reported the following:
Made to Stick started with an observation: The world of ideas is unfair. Teachers spend hours upon hours thinking about their lesson plans. Public health officials spend millions of dollars trying to pound home very simple messages like “Don’t smoke.” Meanwhile, seemingly stupid ideas, like urban legends, propagate with no advertising budgets and no authority figures supporting them.

So we started doing research, and what we found — after studying urban legends, and great scientific theories, and ideas that transform industries or society — is that all sticky ideas have some principles in common. And our hope was that if we understand those principles, we would have a head start in making our own ideas stick.

The book discusses six principles of sticky ideas, one of which is that they are unexpected. Page 69 in our book comes at the beginning of the chapter on unexpected ideas. This page of the book is unusual because it focuses on an advertisement. Our desire was to write a book that would help teachers get across ideas to their students, or workers to their coworkers, or parents to their kids. But if we’re looking for some bad ways to use unexpectedness, we don’t have to look any further than advertisers:

p. 69: Researchers who study conspiracy theories, for instance, have noted that many of them arise when people are grappling with unexpected events, such as when the young and attractive die suddenly. We have conspiracy theories about the sudden deaths of JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and Kurt Cobain. There tends to be less conspiratorial interest in the sudden deaths of 90 year-olds.

Surprise makes us want to find an answer — to resolve the question of why we were surprised — and big surprises call for big answers. If we want to motivate people to pay attention, we should seize the power of big surprises.

Avoiding gimmickry

Going for big surprise, though, can cause a big problem. It’s easy to step over the line into gimmickry.

The late 1990’s was the heyday of the dot-com bubble. Venture-backed startups poured millions of dollars into advertising to establish their brands. With increasing amounts of money chasing a finite amount of consumer attention, ads had to work harder and harder to provoke surprise and interest.

During the Super Bowl of 2000, an ad ran that opened with a college marching band practicing on a football field. We’re shown close-ups of the band members as they execute their precision movements. Then, we cut to the stadium tunnel, which leads out onto the field — and, suddenly, a dozen ravenous wolves rush onto the field. Band members scatter in terror as the wolves hunt them down and attack.

What was this advertisement for? We have no idea. There’s no question this ad was surprising and memorable — to this day, we remember the tastelessly comic image of the wolves chasing around the terrified band members. But because the surprise was utterly non-germane to the message that needed to be communicated, it was worthless. If the product being advertised had been “mauling-proof band uniforms,” on the other hand, it could have been an award-winner.

This is a truly awful advertisement. But we sometimes get presentation advice that might lead us down a similar path. We’re advised: “Start your presentation with a joke or a story.” But if our joke or story doesn’t fit the message we really want to get across, we may end up with our own version of the ravenous wolves. People may remember our joke or story, but nothing else.

We’re better off using unexpectedness to highlight what is surprising about our core message. One of our favorite stories in the book is about a group of nutritionists who found that a typical medium movie-sized popcorn had 37 grams of saturated fat. They were experts and they knew that was a ludicrous amount. But they had to come up with a way to convey the ludicrousness to the rest of us. Here’s what they said: “A medium sized popcorn contains more fat than a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings — combined!” That message is a perfect example of at least three of the principles in the book — it’s very unexpected, but it’s also emotional (how disgusting is that?) and concrete (we can picture all that food in a way we can’t picture 37 grams). And their message worked: Moviegoers stopped eating popcorn until movie theaters stopped popping in coconut oil which was the source of most of the saturated fat.

If the right message can get Americans to listen to a nutritionist, then there’s hope for all of us with our coworkers, neighbors, and kids.
Visit the official Made to Stick website and the authors' blog. Read an excerpt from the book.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"Disturbing the Dead"

Sandra Parshall is the author of The Heat of the Moon and the just-released Disturbing the Dead.

She applied the "page 69 test" to Disturbing the Dead and reported the following:
Because I know the story, and know what comes before page 69, I can see all the information conveyed in these paragraphs – but I’m not sure how much a browser will pick up from a quick glance. I’m happy to see that the conflict between the characters is obvious, even if the whole meaning of the exchange isn’t.

Tom Bridger is a deputy sheriff and detective. Shackleford is a suspect in the 10-year-old murder of Pauline McClure, whose bones have turned up at last on a mountaintop.

We learn that Tom comes from a family of cops:

“Look at the three of you. Father and sons, no mistakin’ it.” Shackleford tapped a picture of Tom in his Richmond PD uniform and his brother, Chris, and their father in deputies’ uniforms.

Tom’s mother had taken that picture seven years before, when he’d been a cop for a few months. He remembered the warm April day, the fallen blossoms of dogwoods and cherries dotting his parents’ lawn. It seemed a lifetime ago.

We learn that Tom lost his family in auto accident – and that he was driving:

Without looking around, Shackleford added, “I was real sorry to hear about your tragedy.”

Yeah, I’ll bet. Probably thought you were home free when Dad died. Tom said nothing. The sound of rain pelting the windows filled the silence.

Shackleford threw a glance over his shoulder. “Must be hard to live with, you comin’ through okay and that little boy losin’ his mama and daddy both. Especially since you happened to be behind the wheel.”

Tom seethes inwardly but is strong enough not to let Shackleford’s jabs deter him:

Cheap shot, and an obvious attempt to get under Tom’s skin. He was beginning to think he would come up against a lot of that in this investigation. His voice cool, Tom said, “My father always thought you had some reason to want Mrs. McClure dead.”

Shackleford sauntered to his chair, avoiding Billy Bob. Instead of sitting, he gripped the back of the chair. “I was a suspect because I was around her. And your father couldn’t find any evidence against nobody else. But I didn’t have no reason to hurt her. Hell, after she went missin’, I lost work. I had to relocate to make a livin’.”

Tom looked down at the legal pad and darkened the dot on each i in Miami. “I’ll need to talk to you again. Probably more than once. So stick around.”

Shackleford throws out a bit of new information – a surprise to Tom – at the end:

“Sure. I’m stayin’ at my mother’s house.” Shackleford paused, then added, “Say, can I ask you a favor? You won’t drag my daughter into all this, will you? She was just a little kid when it happened, no point gettin’ her upset.”

“Your daughter?” Tom said.

I hope that a casual reader of page 69 will form an image of Tom as strong, determined and professional, but troubled and possibly feeling some guilt over the accident that killed his family.
Visit Sandra Parshall's official website and read an excerpt from Disturbing the Dead.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 19, 2007


Jon Clinch applied the "page 69 test" to Finn, his highly-acclaimed debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Finn marks the start of one of two places where my novel and Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn directly cross paths.

The boy is asleep in the cabin one night when his father arrives and labors for much longer than usual at the business of opening the lock. His efforts are so futile and frantic that the boy, roused only halfway from his sleep, takes him for a raccoon until the cursing begins.

"Pap!" from a spot directly behind the door. Considering his father's condition he knows that he would be better advised to play possum as he has done so many times before, but he has been alone for the better part of three days now and this sudden commotion at the door has about it some of the qualities of the resurrection.


"You got a light out there?"

"Come on give your old pap a hand."

"I can't. You got a light?"

"Bestir yourself." Hammering on the door, the lock jumping in counterpoint to his blows.

"You locked me in."

"Don't blame me."

The scene that follows shows Finn nearly at his worst: Drunk and furious and absolutely out of control, venting his pent-up rage upon his son in a way that Twain dared not show. (Remember, after all, that late in his life Twain would write that if he were to tell the entire brutal truth about mankind he would require "a pen warmed-up in Hell.")

Not that you need to have read Huckleberry Finn to appreciate my novel -- it's by no means a requirement -- but in Finn, this attack upon Huck takes on new and far more complex shades of meaning than it had in Twain's. For Pap Finn's rage in the original was directed largely at blacks; and in my novel, his own son is bi-racial -- the offspring of a forbidden relationship that fairly drives him mad with guilt.

One secret of my novel lies in my effort humanize the monstrous Finn himself, to find a heart somewhere within his black and tainted soul. And, as is so often the case in real life, the answer lies in giving him someone to love.

Huck's mother.

Unknown and unseen in Twain's novel, and the very heart of mine.
Visit the official Finn website and read Jon Clinch's blog.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 18, 2007

"On the Wrong Track"

Steve Hockensmith applied the "page 69 test" to his new novel, On the Wrong Track, and reported the following:
Page 69 of On the Wrong Track is the first page of the tenth chapter, which I think gives me a nice little edge on your test. You see, I name all my chapters, and the name of chapter 10 -- “Black Curtains” -- hopefully has an intriguingly sinister ring to it.

The first two paragraphs aren’t exactly action packed: They describe porters on a passenger train turning down beds for the night. But the scene is set, and in paragraphs three and four you get to the meat of the book. Literally, in a (sick) way.

Word quickly spread that porters had deposited the baggageman’s body [in the baggage car] ... stuffed in a stewpot from the dining-car kitchen.

Oh, that’s bunk, I almost replied upon hearing this from Horner, who relayed it with the eyebrow-waggling leer men usually reserve for off-color jokes. The body was banged up, sure, but you couldn’t squeeze it into no pot. You’d need at least a washtub.

So by the time you’re (I hope) sucked along to page 70, you’ve learned that (A) the book takes place on a passenger train, (B) a member of the crew is murdered in a pretty messy manner and (C) the narrator’s a folksy guy with a (sometimes twisted) sense of humor.

Is that enough to convince someone to whip out their wallet? I sure hope so. If not, I’d tell them to check out page 166 -- that one really rocks!
Visit Steve Hockensmith's official website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 17, 2007

"Dead Head"

Neurosurgeon-turned-novelist Allen Wyler applied the "page 69 test" to his new book, Dead Head, and reported the following:
Okay, here’s the setup for my blitzkrieg thriller: The leader of a terrorist cell suffers a horrendous crush injury to his lower body and lies dying in Georgetown Medical Center. Russell Lawton is a neurosurgeon specializing in brain/computer interfaces – converting brain activity (thoughts) into signals that computers can use to operate robotic arms. The terrorists kidnap Russell’s daughter as a way of forcing Russell to help them. But what they want him to do is way over the top: detach their leader’s head and implant it with an interface to allow him to speak. Russell quickly realizes they are planning a Twin Towers magnitude attack on the United States. To save his daughter and his own life and thwart the attack he must play along while finding a way to stop them. Most of the story takes place in the basement of Building 10 on the NIH campus.

Page 69 is not really one of the most gripping in the story, so I’ll leave interested readers to check it out for themselves.

This past weekend I was amused to walk into a bookstore and see Dead Head filed under Science Fiction. Although admittedly far out, the science is already here. Use the Google Patent Search site to call up patent 4,666,425 and you’ll see that on May 19, 1987 the US government awarded inventor Chet Fleming (from The Dis Corporation) a patent for, “A device for maintaining metabolic activity in a mammalian head which has been severed from its body at its neck…”. Fleming coined the term, discorporation, for the process of keeping alive a living head detached from it’s body.

Then, as long as you’re jacked in to the internet, check out Cyberkinetics Neurotechology systems. They have FDA approval to implant the brains of quadriplegics with technology similar to what is described in Dead Head so that they may manipulate robotic arms. Also, check out Neural Signals, a company devoted to translating brain activity into speech for patients who can no longer talk.

What was once science fiction is now reality.
Read an excerpt from Dead Head and visit Allen Wyler's official website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 16, 2007

"Famine in North Korea"

Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland applied the "page 69 test" to their new book, Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform, and reported the following:
Page 69 of our book consists of a table about the distribution of food in North Korea in 1997-98. No sex, no intrigue. As it turns out, however, that table makes a point that is central to our explanation of North Korea's horrific famine, which killed up to a million people in the mid-1990s.

Famine is commonly thought of as occurring when there is not enough food to go around, and shortages do play a role. But Amartya Sen made an important observation for which he received the Nobel Prize: distribution matters. The poor can starve even if food is in relatively ample supply if they don't have enough money to buy it. Something similar happened in North Korea, though the root cause was politics, not economics.

The official explanation for the famine is that North Korea experienced devastating floods in the mid-1990s. The famine was, in effect, a natural disaster.

However, food supplies had begun dwindling and mortality rates creeping up before the floods, as a result of misguided economic policies and the collapse of Soviet support. Yet the rigidly authoritarian regime made little effort to offset declining harvests either by purchasing grain in the world market or appealing for humanitarian assistance.

Contrary to socialist principles, misery was not shared equally; the table on p. 69 shows this starkly. Life would have been tough under any circumstances. But in reality the privileged residents of Pyongyang — including the party cadres, government officials and top military personnel — were treated far better than others. Some provinces were cut off from grain supplies from the state-run public distribution system altogether, and were later denied aid when it began to flow in.

Our book is not just about the famine. We analyze the difficulties the humanitarian community has encountered in closed country, the diversion of aid, and the surprising effects of the famine on the process of economic reform. Out of the struggles of families and enterprises to secure food, markets began to develop, transforming the economy from below.

We also discuss the difficult ethical issues that engagement with the North Korean regime poses. But the findings reported on p. 69 in fact underline a core point of the book: this tyrannical regime failed to provide food to its people and distributed the food that it did have in unequal ways that protected the elite at the expense of the masses with disastrous consequences.
Read an excerpt from Famine in North Korea.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 15, 2007

"Baby Shark"

Baby Shark is the first volume in Robert Fate’s Baby Shark crime series that takes place in Texas in the 1950s.

Fate applied the "page 69 test" to Baby Shark and reported the following:
The conclusion to an important turning point in Kristin Van Dijk’s life occurs on Page 69 and is best related by starting on the page before. After months of searching, Otis Millett has finally located one of the gang that assaulted Kristin and murdered her father and Henry’s son. Otis asks Kristin to accompany him to a roadhouse to secretly confirm the man’s identity.

There were a dozen men and five or six women in the room, talking, smoking, drinking; the bartender was leaning across the bar acting foolish to amuse a hard-featured redhead.

I glanced at the seated customers. Didn’t recognize anybody. The ones standing were laughing, talking, moving in and out of the light. It wasn’t easy to sort them out.

My heart skipped a beat before it began pounding harder than I would’ve expected. I had a hard time catching my breath. Otis put his hand on my lower back like he thought I might collapse. My knees felt shaky, so maybe he was doing the right thing.

“He’s in there?” Otis asked in a whisper.

My mouth was dry.

“I think so.”

There were others in leather. But this fella had on a sleeveless Lost Demons jacket.

He was tall, gangly. He turned and I saw his spotted face. He was exactly as I remembered him. Exactly. Except this time he wasn’t rolling on the floor holding his crotch.

Otis spoke with his mouth near my ear.

“The asshole with the wild hair, right?”


“The guy with all the freckles. Next to the blonde?”


I felt strange, conscious of my breathing.

There was Scarecrow acting as if everything was perfectly all right. He hadn’t been involved in murder and rape. Not him. Not Scarecrow. He was standing there swilling beer and laughing as the sounds of that other night filled my head. The vicious laughter. The gunfire.

“That’s it then,” Otis said and guided me with firm hands back up the hall and out of the roadhouse.

I spoke to Henry when I got into the car and have no memory of what I said. I’d lost my focus. My ears were humming. As Otis drove us back to our truck, I opened my window and put my face in the night air. When I got it together and rolled up the window, Otis was talking, of course.

He was saying, “This was good. I know who I’m watching now. This guy Rusty’s the biker you call Scarecrow. That description helped me find him.”

“What you do now?” Henry asked.

“I follow him, Hank. One cucaracha means more cucarachas.”

“More cucarachas,” Henry said.

“Or maybe it don’t. This guy? Scarecrow? It’s like working cattle, ain’t it, Hank? You just cut one outta the herd while the others ain’t looking.”

I smiled when Otis laughed and wondered if it was time to make jokes.

“As far as having a sit down with him goes, that’ll happen when it’s supposed to. My guess is a few days. So get your plans together. Be ready when I call.”

“Fish or cut bait,” Henry said, his face as serious as I’d ever seen it.
Read an excerpt from Baby Shark and visit Robert Fate's official website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"The Bridal Wave"

Erin Torneo and Valerie Cabrera Krause are the authors of The Bridal Wave: A Survival Guide to the Everyone-I-Know-is-Getting-Married Years.

They applied the "page 69 test" to their book and reported the following:
“Ka-Ching! The Wedding May Be Over, But the Spending Ain’t!”

That’s the section heading on page 69 of our book. It’s actually pretty representative of what we’re going for with the book overall – a friendly and useful guide for women who are currently in the midst of a Bridal Wave: that time in your life when everyone around you is getting married, except you.

Note the “Ka-Ching!” We tend to use sound effects to drive home our points. This one being part of a chapter entitled “Navigating Wedding Season: From Deciphering the Invite to Dancing the Macarena – How to Enjoy the Fetes Without Racking Up Debts.” As we lead our readers through tips on how to deal with wedding mania, we make a pit stop at the money suck. On page 69 we note that the National Association of Wedding Ministers says that Americans spend approximately $19 billion annually on gifts through wedding registries.

Let’s write that again, just to let it sink in (and because we could only write it once in the actual book).

$19 billion.

Damn. So, the next few pages give some advice about how to dodge the debt that naturally comes with wedding season: creative ideas for gifts, suggestions for saving money, and thoughts on generally keeping your pocketbook – and your sanity – in check during the wedding blitz. We offer a lot of personal stories, too, like how people at weddings can be bawling for all the wrong reasons. (Like when your boyfriend chooses the moment your best friend and her betrothed announce their love to the world to tell you that he doesn’t think long term monogamy “makes sense”.)

Page 69, and the name of the chapter both employ language that aims to say: “Hey, I’m just like one of your friends, and hopefully a pretty funny one, so you should listen to my advice, even though it’s written down on a page instead of spoken out loud from a real live person.” Here are some more examples of that chatty style in other chapter and heading sections that we like:

“I’ve Got Big News – Even My College Roommate with Tourette’s has a Ring! What to do when someone else’s big news means a meltdown for you.”

“Lobrizemized! – When Your Friend Becomes a Bridal Drone: Why it happens and how your friendship can survive her engagement.”

“The League of Concerned Citizens – Everyone from Your Gyno to Your Mom has an Opinion about Your Non-Married Self: Here’s how to shut them up.”

You get our drift. And we think page 69 does too!
Visit the official site of The Bridal Wave.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Still Life"

Louise Penny was an award-winning journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. After years covering disasters and politics, she quit to write crime fiction.

Her debut novel, Still Life, won the New Blood Dagger in Britain, the Arthur Ellis Award in Canada for best first crime novel, and the Dilys award for the book the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association most enjoyed selling in 2006. It was also named one of the Kirkus Review's Top Ten mysteries of 2006.

Penny applied the "page 69 test" to Still Life and reported the following:
At first read (re-read actually) page 69 didn’t seem all that representative. But as I considered it more, and thought about it, and no doubt tried to make a case for it being representative, well, the miracle happened. It became an absolute template for the rest of the book.

And, to be honest, it really is. On this page we get to see clearly the relationship between the main character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec, and his second-in-command, Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir. The familiarity, the comfort, the easy banter. And layered on top of that, their growing affection for the tiny Quebec village of Three Pines.

Gamache said his goodbyes and the three of them walked across the now familiar village green. Instinctively they kicked their feet slightly as they walked through the fallen leaves, sending up a slight flutter and a musky autumn scent.

Gamache is headed to the Bed and Breakfast across the green, owned and run by Olivier and his partner Gabri. He needs to make arrangements to stay there.

‘For how long?’ Beauvoir asked.

‘Until this is solved or we’re taken off the case.’

‘That must have been one hell of a good baguette.’

‘I’ll tell you, Jean Guy, had he put mushrooms on it I would have bought the damned bistro and moved right in.’

The purpose of the visit to the B and B is also to arrange for a public meeting where Gamache can speak to the entire village at once, as he tells one of the suspects, Peter Morrow.

‘…We need to get the word out.’

‘That’s easy. Tell Olivier. They’ll have the whole province there and the cast of Cats. And his partner Gabri’s the choir director.’

‘I don’t think we’ll need music,’ says Gamache.

‘Neither do I, but you do need to get in. He has a set of keys.’

‘The archery club is open, but the church is locked?’

‘The minister’s from Montreal,’ explained Peter.

So we also get on page 69 a flavor of rural, village life, versus a more guarded city life. If you read only this one page (which would really be a bit of a shame) you’ll at least get a genuine idea of the tone and purpose of the book. To examine a terrible crime, wrapped within a gentle, even kindly cast of characters. But not everyone is who they seem, even on this one page.
Read an excerpt from Still Life and visit Louise Penny's official website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 12, 2007

"Lost Echoes"

Joe R. Lansdale has written more than forty novels in the suspense, horror, and Western genres. He has also edited several anthologies. He has received the British Fantasy Award, the American Mystery Award, and six Bram Stoker Awards from the Horror Writers of America.

His latest novel is Lost Echoes.

Lansdale applied the "page 69 test" to his novel and reported the following:
Page 69 of Lost Echoes captures the style and the mood of the rest of the book, and certainly shows the main character, Harry's burden. Alcohol. And alcohol is a symptom of something worse. Audiochronology. The ability to hear terror and horror in sounds. If any bad thing, violent thing has happened, such as someone being shoved against a door, the door absorbs the sounds, like a manitou, as some American Indians called it; the spirit of the event remains ghost like in the sound, and not everyone has the ability to hear it. But, Harry, due to an earache he had as a child, has somehow tapped into this ability. Every bad thing every done, intentional or accidental, is trapped in sounds. A car hits a tree, someone is hurt, suffers, a year later, years later, someone whacks that tree with a stick, the sound activates the images, and Harry experiences them, feels the terror that has gone before, as well as the pain. Alcohol numbs it all. Not all of this is explained on page 69, but it does give one a bit of that, and it gives a feel for the way the bulk of the story is told. Hopefully, snappy, with a sense of humor and tension.
Read an excerpt from Lost Echoes and check out Joe R. Lansdale's official website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 11, 2007

"Shotgun Opera"

Victor Gischler is the author of four novels. Gun Monkeys was nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best first novel. He followed up with two satirical crime novels The Pistol Poets and Suicide Squeeze.

His latest novel is Shotgun Opera, to which applied the "page 69 test" and then reported the following:
The infamous page 69 test. What do you do if there isn’t quite so much to work with? Here’s the total of what you’ll find on page 69 of my novel Shotgun Opera:

Part Two
Obligations of Flesh and Blood

That’s the whole page. As luck would have it, page 69 happens to strike at the beginning of a new section. I try to be sensitive to the ebbs and flows of the story I’m telling, so I find it natural to break my novels into sections. I’ve done this with three out of four of my published novels, and I’ve also done it with my forthcoming novel. It’s just how the story breaks up in my head, I guess.

So here I am, with the opportunity to submit my work to the page 69 test, and the fated page is a blasted section heading. Huh.

This doesn’t tell us too much does it? You can’t get a handle on the characters really. Page 69 tells us little of the former hired gun who’s been hiding from his old life in the Oklahoma wilderness for forty years. We don’t get a sneak peek at the deadly trio of sisters who bring such a savage, quirky element to the story. Nothing about the hapless college kid who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But maybe we do get a little hint of the theme, at least one of the themes so prevalent throughout the novel. Obligation. Seldom are we allowed to choose our own obligations, but often we are tied to them by blood. Shotgun Opera is very much a story of obligation.

And blood.
Read an excerpt from Shotgun Opera.

Check out Victor Gischler's Blogpocalypse to learn more about Shotgun Opera and his other books and stories.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 10, 2007

"Rhythms of the Brain"

György Buzsáki is Board of Governors Professor at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University. He has a M.D. in medicine and a Ph.D. in neuroscience.

His recent book is Rhythms of the Brain, which Nature called "a 'must read' for anyone interested in understanding the functioning of large and complex brain circuits."

He applied the "page 69 test" to Rhythms of the Brain and reported the following:
P. 69 is among the few technical, jargon-filled sections of the book. It details the important idea that without the balancing act of inhibitory interneurons no useful brain activity can be sustained. Two fundamental cortical network operations, pattern completion and pattern segregation, are made possible by the inhibitory interneuron system, and these processes introduce non-linearities in principal cell computation. Coordinated inhibition secures that excitatory trajectories are properly routed and the competing cell assemblies are functionally segregated. As a result, in response to the same input, a given network can produce different output patterns at different times, depending on the state of inhibition. The opposing actions of excitation and inhibition also support oscillations, and interneuron networks are the backbone of oscillation-based synchronizing mechanisms. As such, this section leads to the main thrust of the book, i.e., the rhythms of the brain. Rhythms in cortical neuronal networks come in a variety of forms that cover five orders of magnitude time scale, and their consortium allows for the multiple temporal and spatial organization of brain functions. In the ‘small world network’-like organized cerebral cortex the multiple oscillators are responsible for the self-organized, ever changing electrical patterns that allow for transient, yet dramatic increases of local excitability in short time windows, a requirement for processing and sending messages. Importantly, such self-sustained activity is the likely source of our cognitive abilities. Activity in neuronal systems (eg., cerebellum) that lack local-global organization and ‘spontaneous’ activity is not associated with conscious experience.

We have known for long that rhythms control some basic physiological functions. But only in recent years we have begun to suspect that the brain's constantly active rhythms are essential to its deepest and most general functions. Understanding these complex mechanisms has required insights from physics, engineering, and cognitive psychology with contributions from cellular, systems, cognitive, and theoretical neuroscience. The book highlights and integrates the main discoveries of these cross-roads.
Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 9, 2007

"The Birthday Party"

Stanley N. Alpert is an attorney and the author of The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival, which William Grimes of the New York Times called "one of the most exhilarating, improbable New York stories ever told."

He applied the "page 69 test" to The Birthday Party and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival, chronicles a brief calm in the storm for the protagonist -- me -- who has been kidnapped at gunpoint off a New York City street by a vicious gang of robbers. I walked along East 10th Street in Greenwich Village when they came up behind me with automatic weapons, forced me into a car, and took me to a crash pad in Brooklyn while the robbers plotted as to how best to get at the money in my bank account. When I first arrived it was all bedlam and threats to kill me and my father. But hours later, they slept, and the thoughts underneath my blindfold turned to how this could have happened and what I would do if I did happen to make it out of there alive:

Of course, I couldn't tell if everyone was asleep, and I was pretty sure that if Ren and Sen were sleeping, it was with one eye open, like a couple of mean cowpokes in a dime Western who had just rustled up some cattle and were guarding them as the embers on the campfire still glowed a faint orange. . . . As I lay awake, I decided that if I made it out of there alive, I was getting the hell out of New York. This had gone too far. How could a normal person live here? (p. 69).

On the face of it, the page 69 test misses with my book. Part I, entitled Mouse, where I was kidnapped, contains the lurid details of violent threats against me, teen prostitute sex going on in the room around me, and a psychological duel between me and my jailers; details that Joseph Wambaugh says are "too wild to be fiction." Part II, entitled Cat, shows how the clues I gathered gave fodder to a major FBI and NYPD investigation, leading to the roundup of the bad guys within 48 hours of my release. Both Parts of the book are action packed, frightening and funny. Page 69 is tame by comparison. But the page 69 test for my book captures the philosophical essence of the book: what lessons does a person draw from a near-death experience? For that, the reader should also turn to the last chapter, entitled Get What You Want, showing how a near death experience can teach all of us to grab life to the fullest while we have it, as it is too precious to squander.
Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 8, 2007

"The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance"

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of: the novels Funerals for Horses, Pay it Forward, Electric God, Walter’s Purple Heart, and Love in the Present Tense; a collection of short fiction, Earthquake Weather; and the Young Adult novels, Becoming Chloe and The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance.

She applied the "page 69 test" to The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance -- which is due out this month -- and reported the following:

I received this “page 69 challenge” while traveling. For days I had to live with my curiosity. What is page 69 of my new Young Adult novel The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance?

I got home, read it quickly. Thought, “Oh, no. That’s not enough.” It’s the last page of a chapter. Really only half the page. Just 11 clipped lines of dialogue and one narrative sentence.

Then I read it again, slowly, and decided it contained more than I saw at first glance.

Our young hero, 13-year-old Cynnie, has left home in the middle of the night. She’s on the road in an old, newly-resurrected Datsun with Morris “Snake” Rooney, who hopes to be her boyfriend. They’ve stopped at Cynnie’s grandparents’ house and kidnapped Cynnie’s 3-year-old Down’s Syndrome brother, Bill, the only person in the world Cynnie loves. And Cynnie has already had a few nips from the bottle of scotch she stole from Grampop.

Page 69 of the advance reader’s copy of The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance:

“Oh, I’m being a jerk. Right. It’s always my fault.”

“Look,” I said. “Forget the Grand Canyon. You need to get some sleep and we need to get where we’re going."

“Where are we going?”

“I don’t know. Somewhere. Farther away than this. I’ll drive all night. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

“You? You can’t drive.”

“Why can’t I?”

“It takes practice.”

“Get real. You put it in drive, and you steer so you stay in the same lane. It’s freeway all the way through.”

“What if we get pulled over?”

“Then we’re dead one way or another. Neither one of us has a license.”

We argued around about it until Bill started to cry, and then Snake gave up.

“Fine,’ he said. “Only be careful.”

Part of what I like about this as a sample: it starts so in media res (just what I thought I didn’t like about it on a fast first reading). We pick up right in the middle of what I hope is a realistic-sounding fight between teens. The other thing I like about this bit of text is the foreshadowing. So I never drove before. How hard could it be? What could possibly go wrong?

Of course, Cynnie is about to launch into a major disaster. But, as is so often the case, what seems to be the worst possible outcome proves to be the best. She is court-ordered to attend AA meetings, and things are about to gradually but genuinely change.

I think that snip of dialogue on page 69 would be enough to keep me reading. I hope it does the same for other readers, particularly teens familiar with addiction in its many forms.
Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue