Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Nancy Kress is the author of twenty-three books, including the critically acclaimed Beggars in Spain, Probability Moon, and more recent, Nothing Human, which addresses the outcome of climate change.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Dogs, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Dogs relates how Jess Langstrom, Animal Control Officer for the small town of Tyler, and Tessa Sanderson, a newly retired FBI agent, pick up a collie and her puppies for transport to a CDC holding facility. The reason they do this -- which is also the reason that the Centers for Disease Control is present in Tyler -- is that an outbreak of some kind has turned up there. Pet dogs are suddenly turning vicious and attacking people. Children have been torn apart. The CDC suspects a canine brain pathogen, and is searching for it desperately. FEMA has thrown a quarantine around the town. The press has gathered. The FBI has its own, so-far covert suspicions about the outbreak. Townspeople are either vocally for rounding up all dogs, even those that don't yet seem affected, or vocally for telling the government to leave their beloved pets alone.

Page 69 is thus both typical and not typical of Dogs. It's typical in that Jess and Tessa are the main characters, and in the first part of the book they spend time rounding up dogs. It's not typical in that this particular pet owner freely allows the pick-up (although her small great-grand-daughter protests). If everything went as smoothly for Jess and Tessa as in this scene, I would have had no story. But page 69 occurs between two scenes of much greater action and desperation, and one of the patterns of successful fiction is variation in scenic intensity. Too many quiet scenes in a row and the reader gets bored. Too many frenetic scenes in a row and the reader feels you're shouting at him all the time.

Now, if you had picked page 39, or 89...
Read excerpts from Dogs, and learn more about the author and her work at Nancy Kress' website and her blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue