Friday, April 30, 2010

"The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors"

Michele Young-Stone earned her MFA in fiction writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. Once, many years ago, she was struck by lightning in her driveway. She survived.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, and reported the following:
Surprisingly enough, I think page 69 thematically captures much of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors. Even though neither of the main characters is mentioned on this page, one of the main character’s mother, Abigail, is discussed:
In the last year, Abigail had lost one hundred and twenty pounds. One year married, she was miserable. She wore long-sleeved shirts and long pants despite the Arkansas heat to hide her sagging skin, and she was determined more than ever to save enough money to leave John Whitehouse and her mother, Winter Pitank, behind. She was going to take Buckley and move away from Mont Blanc, Arkansas. She wanted to see the ocean.
The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors is about starting over, never giving up—being a survivor.
The past, like the slop she inspected, sped by, can after can and memory after memory, making her wonder if forgetfulness wasn’t a blessing.
Lightning strike victims often suffer memory loss, and another theme relevant to the novel is: Letting go of the past so we can move forward and live our lives fully, free of blame and regret. The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors is about maintaining and/or finding hope in the bleakest of circumstances.
Read an excerpt from The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, and learn more about the book and author at Michele Young-Stone's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Fortuna"

Michael Stevens is a Silicon Valley insider and a contributor to several high-profile web sites in the technology field.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his first novel, Fortuna, and reported the following:
I think I got at least an B minus. Fortuna is about a computer science grad student at Stanford who gets hooked on an online role-playing game called Fortuna. The game becomes the center of his life to the detriment of everything else: his friends, his grades, his bank account, and ultimately, his chances of staying alive.

On page 69, the hero actually says, “I’m a grad student at Stanford University” (10 points for character definition). He’s shown declining a dinner invitation with dear friends so he can get back online (15 pts for showcasing one of the novel’s central themes). He catalogs the tasks he’s ignored (15 pts for substantiation). He alludes to the “princess” he’s chasing (5 pts for a somewhat vague references to a second major theme, the setting of the game in Renaissance Florence with its parallels to today’s Silicon Valley). He even hears his friend urge him to pay more attention to his rl (“real life”) girlfriend (10 pts).

Missing are any references to the gravity of his situation (organized crime is involved), his obsession with penetrating the cloak of anonymity that protects players, or his complex relationship with his father, whose sudden death nine years earlier is a mystery he’s never been able to resolve….

Hmmm. I think 60 points (out of a possible 69?) isn’t so bad.
Read an excerpt from Fortuna, and learn more about the book and author at Michael Stevens’ website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Snow Angels"

James Thompson, eastern Kentucky–born and –raised, has lived in Finland well over a decade and currently makes his home in Helsinki with his wife. Before becoming a full-time writer, he studied Swedish and Finnish and worked as a bartender, bouncer, construction worker, photographer, rare coin dealer, and soldier.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Snow Angels, his debut novel, and reported the following:
If I had to choose a page representative of Snow Angels, 69 wouldn’t be it. It contains characterization elements that go to the core of the personalities of the protagonist, but a reader judging the book as a whole based on page 69 would miss out on the book's key themes. Depression, alcoholism, racism, violence. The environment. I think the easiest way to illustrate the book as a whole is to include an excerpt more representative of it here, from pages 31-32:
Dad nurses a water glass half full of vodka in silence. I remember that my sister died thirty-two years ago today, that’s why he’s being such a prick.

The cold came late that year, but when it did, it hit hard. I was nine and Suvi was eight. Mom was a regular brood mare, five children in seven years. Dad wanted to go ice fishing. Suvi and I asked if we could come along and skate. Mom warned Dad that the ice was still too thin, but he hushed her up. “Kari will look after Suvi,” he said.

A lot of snow had fallen, but it was dry powder. The wind had blown it off the lake, and the ice was as slick and clean as glass. The afternoon was starry, and out on the ice we could see almost as if we had daylight. Dad drilled a hole in the ice and sat on a crate, fishing and warming himself with a bottle of Three Lions whiskey.

I tried to take care of Suvi. We were skating fast, toward the middle of the lake, but I was holding her hand. I heard a sharp crack, felt a jerk on my arm, and she was gone. It took me a second to understand what had happened, and then I was scared the ice would break under me too. I crawled to where Suvi fell through, but she was already slipping away. The last I saw of Suvi alive was her little fists thrashing, beating at the ice.

I was too scared to go in after her, and Dad was too drunk, so we did nothing. He sat there crying, and I ran for help. They drilled holes in the ice and dredged under it with fishing nets. It didn’t take long, she hadn’t drifted far. When they pulled her out, she had a look of surprise more than pain frozen on her face.
Read an excerpt from Snow Angels, and learn more about the book and author at James Thompson's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 26, 2010

"Feathered Serpent 2012"

Junius Podrug is an accomplished writer of both fiction and nonfiction. He lives on Cape Cod.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Feathered Serpent 2012, and reported the following:
My books are suspense thrillers rather than hardcore science fiction, and I love “stranger than true” scenarios. Along that line, I’m fascinated with alien abduction stories—there are so many of them, often from credible people, that it’s hard for me just to reject them all as nonsense.

The instructions NASA has sent out with space probes to allow aliens to find us also interests me. The messages began in 1972 when a golden plaque about the size of a license plate describing who we are and where to find us was placed in the Pioneer 10 space probe. NASA says the messages are like a “ms. in a bottle,” thrown into the galactic sea, hoping it will be found by someone faraway.

Naturally, that led my twisted mind to the notion of a person who claimed to have been abducted by aliens has possession of the Pioneer plaque.

I dealt with that and other themes in Feathered Serpent 2012, in which the lead character, an astrobiologist, believes that the best place to find signs of other life in the universe is right here on earth from visitations in the past—and present.

Caden Montez, the astrobiologist, has an “alien abduction” experience in the tomb of the ancient Feathered Serpent god ancient Mesoamericans identified with the planet Venus. She later gets abducted by government agents to keep her quiet about the incident and is rescued by a secret group of people who called themselves “Frogs” because they claim to have been abducted and even dissected by aliens. The following conversation takes place between Caden and the leader of the group when he shows her the Pioneer 10 plaque.
“Are you going to tell me it’s real?” Caden asked.

“I don’t know what’s real anymore. Was Joan a prisoner in an alien brothel ... or her own imagination? Is Neo’s memory of abduction a security blanket against the terrible truth that he caused his wife’s death? Did you experience an alien creature in Teotihuacán ... or have a bad acid trip after an hallucinatory drug was blown into your face?”
When the character says he doesn’t know what’s real anymore, it rings true to me: There are so many changes in this world, happening so fast, that I don’t know what’s real anymore—and what’s science fiction.
Read an excerpt from Feathered Serpent 2012, and learn more about the book and author at Junius Podrug's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"A Thread of Sky"

Deanna Fei was born in Flushing, New York, and has lived in Beijing and Shanghai, China. A graduate of Amherst College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has received a Fulbright Grant, a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, and a Chinese Cultural Scholarship, among other awards. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she teaches in public schools.

She applied the Page 69 Test to A Thread of Sky, her debut novel, and reported the following:
I’d never heard of the “Page 69 Test” until I encountered this blog, but it’s my belief that any page of any novel should express, in some way, the essence of the whole.

In A Thread of Sky, a family of six fiercely independent women reunite to tour mainland China, seeking to reconnect with their ancestral home and with one another. In this chapter, the reader meets Kay, a 25-year-old activist who moved to Beijing in the wake of her father’s sudden death. When her mother calls to announce the tour, Kay is thrown. To her, a two-week package tour seems an utterly inauthentic way to explore China, nearly a mockery of how she has struggled all year to “trace her heritage in a place where history was being razed, paved over, replaced with steel, glass, and neon.”

On page 69, Kay has come with a classmate to explore Tiantan Park soon after dawn, and she is finally experiencing how one must-see still lives up to its name: Temple of Heaven. They have just marveled at the Round Altar, listened to their whispers traveling along Echo Wall, and watched elderly locals performing mysterious morning exercises in the woods.
And then they ambled through a gate into a vast courtyard and nearly collided with two wizened men absorbed in a kind of dance, flowing and meticulous. One was painting classical characters from right to left, while the other painted the mirror image of each character underneath, both pausing every few steps to dip coarse brushes into plastic pails. The two lines of calligraphy were divided by a long chink in the pavement, a horizon separating each object from its reflection.
A tourist might be content to leave with a photo of this scene, one imbued with an exotic, mystical aura yet as familiar and convenient as a postcard. But Kay is searching for something more profound and more elusive.
She began copying the first line into her notebook. The characters were immensely complicated, composed of traditional radicals whose meanings should have been obvious from their images—and surely were, to the other old-timers idly looking on, but not to her. At last she moved to the next line, and saw it was fading fast. She looked back to the first. It was gone.

The men were painting on the pavement with water. Dawn had given way to another day. After another minute, the men dumped out their pails and trundled off.
Like any tourist, Kay longs for those moments of wonder, of being transported, of getting outside of herself. At the same time, she has come to China to find herself, to reclaim her ancestral ties, which seem to be fading faster than she can discover them.

She seeks to divine a deeper meaning from those words on the ground, even as she understands that there is nothing mysterious about them to the locals around her. She wants to preserve them, even as she knows that the very notion of cultural preservation is not one that concerns many Chinese citizens; after all, in a country of one-billion-plus, there doesn’t seem to be much danger of losing their heritage.

Still, Kay’s longing remains. Ultimately, this moment becomes, to quote the last lines of the chapter, “another element of this country that took hold of her, even as it eluded her grasp.”
Read an excerpt from A Thread of Sky, and learn more about the book and author at Deanna Fei's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"WWW: Watch"

Robert J. Sawyer has been called “the dean of Canadian science fiction” by The Ottawa Citizen.

He is one of only seven writers in history—and the only Canadian—to win all three of the world’s top awards for best science-fiction novel of the year: the Hugo (which he won in 2003 for Hominids), the Nebula (which he won in 1995 for The Terminal Experiment), and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (which he won in 2005 for Mindscan). In 2008, Sawyer received his tenth Hugo Award nomination for his novel Rollback.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, WWW: Watch, and reported the following:
Page 69 of WWW: Watch:
“How are you doing?” Caitlin asked, concerned.

“Exhausted,” her mother replied. “Couldn’t sleep.”

Ah, right! Dark circles under the eyes—but they weren’t circles; they were semicircles. Something else she’d misconstrued all these years.

Her mother shrugged, went on: “Nervous about what we’re doing, about what it—what he’s—doing.”

“He’s learning to see,” said Caitlin. “Trust me: a mostly harmless activity.”

“I have to go out,” her father said abruptly.

Caitlin was pissed. What could possibly be more important than this? Besides, it was her birthday, and they had a date to watch a movie later today.

“Ah, yes,” her mom said. “The Hawk.”

Caitlin sat up straight. “The Hawk” was her mother’s name for Stephen Hawking, who since 2009 had been a Distinguished Research Chair at the Perimeter Institute, making one or two visits each year. It came back to her: Professor Hawking had done a media day in Toronto yesterday—Caitlin was glad that her little press conference hadn’t had to compete with that!—and was being driven to Waterloo this morning in a van that safely accommodated his wheelchair. This was the Hawk’s first visit since her father had joined PI, and he was supposed to be on hand for his arrival.

Ordinarily, she might have asked her dad if she could come along—but this was not an ordinary day! She wondered which of them was going to spend it with the bigger genius.
Watch is the second book in my WWW trilogy; the first, Wake, came out last year and has just been nominated for the Hugo Award, science fiction’s top honor, for the year’s best novel.

Like Wake, Watch focuses on Caitlin Decter, a blind-since-birth teenage math genius in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. In volume one, Caitlin gained sight for the first time—and here, in volume two, she’s helping the entity she’s discovered to learn to see (and read!) as well.

And what is that entity? Nothing short than the World Wide Web come to life: out of the vast complex network of interconnections that is the Web a consciousness has emerged. It exists in a state of sensory deprivation, just as Helen Keller did at first. Caitlin has taken the role of Annie Sullivan—the miracle-worker teacher—to help the nascent Webmind engage with the real world, for although it exists surrounded by all the data humanity has ever produced, it has no way to access or interpret it.

Watch explores what it means to see, to feel, and to think; it’s a celebration of the mind, and the senses, and I think this page hints at that quite well.
Read an excerpt from WWW: Watch, and learn more about the book and author at Robert J. Sawyer's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: WWW: Wake.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Rat"

Fernanda Eberstadt is the author of five novels and one book of non-fiction.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her most recent novel, Rat, just published by Alfred A. Knopf, and reported the following:
I read a massive amount of contemporary fiction, and yet I am one of those indecisive cheapskates who loiters in bookstores, skimming through the Recent Release shelves, trying to figure out whether or not I want to take the plunge and buy the book. Now, thanks to Marshal Zeringue, I may just have found a system.

My own book, Rat, comes out pretty decently on the p. 69 test.

The novel is set in a honky-tonk beach resort in a gorgeous but godforsaken stretch of French Mediterranean coastline where I myself lived for six years with my husband and our two kids.

It tells the story of a French girl nicknamed Rat who is being brought up by her charmingly feckless single mother Vanessa. Rat is the product of a one-night stand. She has never met her father, an Englishman who picked up Vanessa one night in a seaside disco. Rat and Vanessa live in a kind of hand-to-mouth, waif-and-strays’ paradise, along with Morgan, an orphan whom Vanessa adopts. But when Vanessa’s new boyfriend begins taking an unhealthy interest in Morgan, Rat realizes that it’s time to take him away in search of the father she’s never laid eyes on.

Page 69 takes place in the bedroom which fourteen-year-old Rat and eight-year-old Morgan share. It’s the middle of the night. Rat is lying awake in her loft-bed, listening to the sound of her mother Vanessa and Vanessa’s boyfriend Thierry’s drunken brawling from the bedroom next door. She is terrified that Thierry, a big burly guy, is going to hurt her mother, who is tiny. She is trying to find someplace safe in her own head. She is already beginning to dream about going off to London to find her biological father, but she is scared to leave Vanessa with her abusive boyfriend.

Here is how it goes:
When Rat was younger, she believed in gods—the water nymphs whom the ancient Celts used to worship at the hot springs above Brix, or Artemis, who had the man who saw her naked turned into a stag and ripped apart by his own hounds. Even Jesus—not Meme Catherine’s blue-eyed babe, but Max’s Jesus, who taught you not to judge and not to set too much store by worldly things. Now all she believes in is finding somewhere quiet in your own head.

Below, she can hear the soft rumble of Morgan’s sleeping breath. It’s the only safe sound to hang on to, like a match flicker you need to keep alight.

Normally at this hour of the night you might hear the owls hooting from their nest in the hollow plane tree. Or farmyard dogs barking, first one and then all the others. Or distant trucks rattling back and forth to Spain. Night sounds, lonely but not unpleasant.

Tonight all she can hear is the shouts from her mother’s bedroom, voices ugly with anger, recrimination. Rat tries to plug her ear holes with spitball Kleenex, but it doesn’t keep the sounds out.

Occasionally she can make out a word or phrase: Money. Lies. Money again. Most of what Vanessa and Thierry fight about is money.

The shouting is louder and angrier than usual. It seems as if it will never stop. Suddenly, Thierry’s voice, right outside her bedroom door: ‘Is that what you want, bitch, is that what you want? If that’s what you want, watch out, because you might just get it.’ And Vanessa, mocking, shrill, ‘No, it’s what you want.’

There’s a loud slam, a kind of thud, a crash like a chair being knocked over, a little scream from her mother. And silence.
I hope this extract will tempt readers to read my book.
Learn more about the book and author at Fernanda Eberstadt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Beautiful Assassin"

Michael White's novels include the New York Times Notable Book A Brother’s Blood and two Connecticut Book of the Year finalists, The Garden of Martyrs and Soul Catcher. He is the director of Fairfield University’s MFA program in creative writing.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Beautiful Assassin, and reported the following:
Page 69 from Beautiful Assassin:
Sometimes even, during quiet moments like these after a long, hard day of battle, I’d try convince myself that what I felt for Kolia was, indeed, love, at least a form of love, that the war had somehow distorted everything, twisted my feelings all about, drained me of my ability to feel anything. Or sometimes, I wondered, what was love anyway. Hadn’t my mother warned me about my silly romantic notions, that love didn’t put a roof over your head or comfort you in old age? What would its absence really matter after such a terrible thing as this war? Kolia and I had been good friends, we would be good friends again. We would comfort each other. I would read my poetry to him, and we would listen to the music student Kovalesky’s cello strains floating upwards into our apartment (though, of course, all that was gone, our apartment building, all of Kiev). We would take long walks along the river, both of us secretly imagining Masha holding our hands, our love for her and our shared pain over her absence binding us together as love never had. At night, I pictured Kolia and I clutching each other like a pair of frightened children, until we fell asleep. For each, the presence of the other would soften loss, would help us to forget all the death that we’d seen, all the death we’d caused. I’d promised myself that I would remain loyal to him and his soothing love would sustain us both. Perhaps, I told myself, I hadn’t really known how to love before the war. Perhaps whatever I’d thought was missing from our life together then would somehow seem inconsequential after all of this. And perhaps, as Zoya said, some night we would come together in our terrible loneliness and need, and begin another life.
The above excerpt from my novel Beautiful Assassin captures the essence of the novel, a story about war and one woman’s struggle to survive it not only physically by emotionally and psychically. The novel is about the life of a famous Soviet female sniper in WWII, Tat’yana Levchenko, a heroic woman who has lost her child to the Germans and now contemplates what her world, and her own life, might be like after the war. The passage talks about what the war has done to her, how it has distorted her feelings, perhaps even those of love for her husband. Tat’yana feels that perhaps with a new-found love for each other, she and her husband will be able to comfort each other over the loss of her child, and perhaps might even be able to start over, both in their love for each other and by having more children. The excerpt also raises the question of loyalty, both the loyalty that Tat’yana has for her husband and as well as the question of loyalty to one’s country. Later in the novel, when Tat’yana is invited to come to the US, both of those loyalties will be supremely tested.
Browse inside Beautiful Assassin, and learn more about the book and author at Michael C. White's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"The Queen's Lover"

Vanora Bennett is the author of two works of nonfiction, Crying Wolf: The Return of War to Chechnya and The Taste of Dreams: An Obsession with Russia and Caviar, and the novels Portrait of an Unknown Woman and Figures in Silk.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Queen's Lover, and reported the following:
On page 69 of my novel, The Queen’s Lover, my male lead, the young Welshman Owain Tudor, is asked by his hostess, the Parisian woman writer and court figure Christine de Pizan, if he would accompany her on a trip out of Paris. Christine wants to make her annual visit to the monastery at Poissy where her daughter, Marie, is a nun, but – given the dangers of the developing civil war in France - would rather have an escort for the road. When Owain agrees, the bond of friendship develops between the young messenger from the English court and his gifted, if slightly scary, literary hostess strengthens.

Because this encounter doesn’t feature the book’s central character, Catherine de Valois, I guess it is untypical. But what it does is to introduce one of the central themes of the book – refuge from violence.

Catherine, like Christine de Pizan, lives in a land ruled by a schizophrenic King and fought over by royal brothers and uncles. Catherine is the neglected youngest daughter of the king, and Christine her teacher. Both women are so frightened of the ever-worsening anarchy they live in that the act of planning possible escape routes for themselves becomes a major part of their motivation in life.

As the book develops, it’s not just the king’s madness, the civil war and the total breakdown of law and order that disrupts French lives, but also the invasion of France by the English. Because she is a princess with few choices of action beyond marriage, Catherine’s escape route involves sleeping with the enemy - a marriage of state with the canny, victorious English King, Henry V, and a move to the hostile territory of England where - even if the people are foreigners, and their wealth is built on the destruction of France, and she’s never quite known how to explain away the troublesome feelings she’s always had for Owain Tudor - Catherine can know relief from fear.

Christine’s resources are very different, as the choice of refuge she makes. Christine, brought up at the French court where her Venetian father was the King’s astrologer, has been left almost destitute after her young husband died in debt, but through sheer strength of purpose, talent, intelligence and good PR with the nobility, has climbed back to become the first women to be paid to write poetry for the court. She’s spent years making a living writing the chivalrous troubadour verse of the day, as well as everything from military treatises to histories of past kings to lectures on how princes should behave to accounts of her own grief at being widowed, all beautifully illustrated in her women-only atelier in the gloriously sophisticated art world of medieval Paris.

Christine’s longed-for place of escape is, therefore, the peaceful monastery at Poissy, where she dreams of being reunited with her daughter, for 365 days of the year instead of just the one a year she’s permitted while she’s still at court. She sees Poissy as a place of almost miraculous freedom from the wants and needs of this world. All that keeps Christine from running there for good is the knowledge, once she goes behind the walls, that she’ll never see her equally beloved son, Jean, and his two small children.

There’s a third important female character in the book, Joan of Arc, whose attitude to war contrasts sharply with both Catherine’s and Christine’s. Fear doesn’t cripple Joan. When war breaks over her life, this simple peasant girl doesn’t seek a place of safety. Instead, she hears voices telling her to go and join the French army, and, after several stories of miracles, emerged at the head of it bearing a sword often said to have been given her in a miracle. Joan believes God wants to use her as an instrument to save the French.

Joan only comes into this story when she’s already a prisoner in the hands of the English, heading for the flames of her subsequent burning. By this time she’s half mad with fear, and mistakes Catherine, when the princess sneaks into her cell, for a visitation from a holy Saint Catherine. But Joan is still brave enough to keep to her principles.

Learning about Joan’s courage, and the way she’s being cheated by the English not only out of a fair trial but out of her very life, is what finally jolts Catherine out of a lifetime of passive acceptance of her lot and into more positive action to reorganize her surroundings so she can live it to the full, and be with the man she loves.

That, and the unexpected help of her whimsical, selfish old mother … the queen whose monstrous cynicism is said to have set the French civil war going in the first place…
Browse inside The Queen’s Lover, and learn more about the author and her work at Vanora Bennett's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 16, 2010

"Claude & Camille"

Stephanie Cowell is the author of Nicholas Cooke: Actor, Soldier, Physician, Priest, The Physician of London (American Book Award), The Players: A Novel of the Young Shakespeare, and Marrying Mozart.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Claude & Camille, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Claude & Camille: a novel of Claude Monet is actually an interesting page. The 25-year-old Claude, a struggling artist, has managed to get the lovely upper-class Camille to come to his studio alone to model for him. He’s trying to show her that all he wants to do is paint her (not quite true) and the first thing she sees on the wall is a female nude by his friend Renoir! Her parents don’t know she’s there; his roommate is away. There’s the early beginning of a great deal of sexual tension. Some short scenes later they will end up in his bed and she will live with him and enter into a life of great passion and great difficulties.

The book covers such a large span of time (from Claude’s first attempt at landscapes at age 17 to his rising against tremendous tragedies by the end of his 30s) that it is hard to say if this one page is typical. The novel begins when he is nearly sixty-nine in Giverny and on the cusp of his first great exhibition of his water lily paintings. He is also trying to make peace with his past and has written to Camille’s sister who holds him responsible for Camille’s early death. There is a great deal about Claude’s penniless painter friends (such as Renoir and Cézanne) who will, by the novel’s end, be known as Impressionists. The novel asks a question: is poverty and suffering and struggle for the artist and those who love him worth the art? Without it, would Monet have created his masterpieces?

So page 69 is one of the pages where you see how they are drawn together. The painting he begins on that page, The Woman in the Green Dress, will bring Claude his first great success. He cannot touch her because he has to stand aside to paint her as his ideal woman. She romanticizes loving an artist and he is very handsome; he is her ideal and she is his. It leads into the rest of the novel.
Read an excerpt from Claude & Camille, and learn more about the book and author at Stephanie Cowell's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Snakes Can't Run"

Ed Lin is the author of the novels Waylaid and This Is a Bust, both winners of Asian American Literary Awards. He lives in New York.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Snakes Can't Run, and reported the following:
Shucks, page 69 of Snakes Can't Run is representative of a major theme in my new book -- coming clean about your past.

It's set in the hot summer of 1976 in New York's Chinatown. Robert Chow, a 25-year-old Asian American and Vietnam vet, is taking on his first detective-track assignment after a few years of walking a bullshit beat.

This particular page shows a confrontation between Robert and Andy Ng, a guy about the same age who has taken the reins of the family business -- a multinational conglomerate of illicit operations.

Like a lot of modern Chinese criminal enterprises, Ng's company has its roots in ethnic Chinese resisters to the Qing Dynasty, which was when Manchus ruled the country. Thing is, when the Qing collapsed, the Chinese decided it was more profitable to remain underground.

This sets up an early Michael Corleone-esque declaration from Andy.
We walked west toward Chinatown.

"You don't have anything on me. You know why?"

"You're good at getting other people to do your dirty work."

"No. That's something my father's good at."

I turned to him. He was looking straight ahead.

"This is not going to be a surprise to you, Robert, but Beautiful Hong Kong isn't a completely legitimate business."

"You don't say."

"But under me, it will be. I'm transitioning the company from a legacy of triad businesses to a socially responsible and modern corporation. I've already created a space for our youth. They can learn to be proud of our culture, of who they are. An awful lot of our kids are at risk for delinquency now in Chinatown, but I don't have to tell you that."

"Yeah."

"I know you were born here, Robert. Are you proud to be an American?"

"Well, pride is a sin, so I'll just say that I'm very pleased."

"But you know what, brother, you're not really an American. You know what Malcolm X said? 'Sitting at the table doesn't make you a
Bonus points if you can finish the quote without Googling it.
View the Snakes Can't Run trailer, and learn more about the book and author at Ed Lin's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"The Informer"

Craig Nova is the author of twelve novels and has received an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is also the recipient of NEA and Guggenheim fellowships. His writing has appeared in Esquire, Paris Review, New York Times Magazine, and other publications.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Informer, and reported the following:
I looked at page 69 of The Informer and I have to say that this page seems to operate as a sort of fractal, that is a pattern that is the smaller part of the larger pattern of the entire book. The book, after all, is about a woman who is trying to be clear about what is going on in a city where motives are obscure, acts are violent, and people are exceedingly devious. This scene, on page 69, shows a woman, Armina Treffen, a detective in the serious crimes section of the Berlin Police department, trying to make sense out of the appalling murders of young women. Armina, by the way, is coming into a part of the work force that was previously forbidden to women. Anyway, here is a sentence from this page and one that I think presents one of the central issues of the book, that is the attempt to make sense of a constant horror and the obscurity of the motives that are responsible for it:
The city had a fascination with the sexual murders of young women, and cabarets had reenactments of some of the most notorious crimes, not to mention that some paintings were done of these assaults. Why, she wondered, were there so many more of them than before? Was there some impalpable quality in the air, some fascination with doing these things, as though the horrible violence of them served as a substitute for some otherwise lacking clarity?
Read an excerpt from The Informer, and learn more about the book and author at Craig Nova's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"The Alchemy of Murder"

Carol McCleary was born in Seoul, Korea and lived in Hong Kong, Japan, and the Philippines. She now lives on Cape Cod in an antique house that is haunted by ghosts.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Alchemy of a Murder, her first novel, and reported the following:
In 1889, Nellie Bly, the world’s first investigative reporter, Jules Verne, the “inventor” of science fiction, Louis Pasteur, the great microbe hunter, and Oscar Wilde, the café wit who shocked the Victorians with his scandalous sex life, were all in Paris – along with a dazzling world’s fair, a pandemic that would kill over a million people as it swept across Europe, and anarchists, political terrorists who cast their “votes” with bombs and assassinations.

Whew! What an incredible era – what amazing people these Victorians were! With so much history, mystery, and science in place, all the cast of characters needed was a good murder mystery to get the pot – or plot – boiling.

That came when I read Nellie’s own account about how she couldn’t get a job as a New York reporter because Joseph Pulitzer and all the other publishers felt it was “no job for a lady.” To prove that she could do the job, she got herself committed to the notorious women’s madhouse on Blackwell’s Island, convincing police, three psychiatrists and a judge she was hopelessly insane. She spent ten days in the madhouse and wrote an exposé that shocked New York– and got her the job. She wrote a book about her time in the asylum, but failed to mention the murder mystery she got entangled in that sent her off to London and Paris to solve the crime of the century.

Page 69 is part of a scene with Dr. Pasteur and Brouardel, a medical doctor, who lock horns over the cause of “Black Fever,” a mysterious malady killing people. The paragraph I’ve drawn from shows not only the friction between Pasteur, who finally proved that “germs” caused many diseases, and medical doctors, who Pasteur accused of spreading germs by not washing their hands, but also the state of Victorian science and technology. It was an exciting era in which new discoveries were being made almost every day.
The fact that Pasteur had not acquiesced to the causation Brouardel opined to the city’s newspapers infuriated the director even more than his customary intolerance toward Pasteur. But it wasn’t just Brouardel who held ill will toward Pasteur – medical practitioners resented the fact that people believed Pasteur was a medical doctor. In fact, he was a chemist. They were also infuriated at Pasteur’s accusation that doctors spread infection from one patient to another by their failure to sanitize their hands and instruments.
Having Pasteur help Nellie solve the mystery that began in the madhouse was especially meaningful to me. While I should be grateful for the “pasteurization” that makes milk and other drinks safe, I am more thankful for his rabies cure because I was bitten by a rabid dog as a child.
View the video trailer for The Alchemy of Murder, and learn more about the book and author, at Carol McCleary's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Changeless"

Gail Carriger began writing in order to cope with being raised in obscurity by an expatriate Brit and an incurable curmudgeon, according to her official biography. She escaped small town life and inadvertently acquired several degrees in Higher Learning. Ms. Carriger then traveled the historic cities of Europe, subsisting entirely on biscuits secreted in her handbag. She now resides in the Colonies, surrounded by a harem of Armenian lovers, where she insists on tea imported directly from London and cats that pee into toilets. She is fond of teeny tiny hats and tropical fruit.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Changeless, and reported the following:
This page is one of the moments of conversation designed to build the mystery that drives the story. Readers get a peek at Alexia's personality and her relationship with the rest of the wolf pack. They also learn that her husband has vanished and that there is more than one problem for the intrepid Lady Maccon to handle. I do usually use dialogue for these kinds of scenes, so that is typical of both this book and my writing style. That said, I do believe that the rest of the book is a bit more action packed than page 69.
"And he did not take Tunstell with him." Professor Lyall stated the obvious in clear annoyance, pointing to the redhead who was looking ever more guilty and ever more eager to continue chewing rather than participate in the conversation.

Lady Maccon worried at that information. Why should Conall take Tunstell? "Is he in danger? Shouldn't you have gone with him, then?"

Lyall snorted. "Yes. Picture the state of his cravat without a valet to tie him in." The Beta, always the height of understated elegance, winced in imagined horror.

Alexia privately agreed with this.

"Could not take me," muttered the Tunstell in question. "Had to go in wolf form. Trains are down, what with the engineer's strike. Not that I should mind going; my play's finished its run, and I've never seen Scotland." There was a note of petulance in his tone.

Hemming, one of the resident pack members, slapped Tunstell hard on the shoulder. "Respect," he growled without looking up from his meal.

"Where, precisely, has my husband taken himself off to in Scotland?" Lady Maccon pressed for details.

"The southern part of the Highlands, as I understand it," replied the Beta.

Alexia recovered her poise. What little she had. Which admittedly wasn't generally considered much. The southern Highland area was the vicinity of Conall's previous abode. She thought she understood at last. "I take it he found out about his former pack's Alpha being killed?"

Now it was Major Channing's turn to be surprised. The blond man practically spat out his mouthful of fritter. "How did you know that?"
Read an excerpt from Changeless, and learn more about the book and author at Gail Carriger's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Soulless by Gail Carriger.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"212"

Alafair Burke's acclaimed series featuring NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher includes Dead Connection and Angel’s Tip.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, 212, and reported the following:
If I’d been sufficiently prescient to foresee my participation in the Page 69 Test, I would have figured out a way to paginate 212 differently. As it stands, Page 69 of 212 contains only five lines that end Chapter 12. To quote even that small excerpt, I have to cheat, reaching over to page 68 for the beginning of a sentence:
Ellie was about to log onto her computer when she caught sight of Max Donovan through the open slates of the blinds that covered Lieutenant Robin Tucker’s office. Tucker stood, walked to her office door, and poked her head into the squad room.

“Good timing, you two. A quick word?”

Rogan shot Ellie a look that made her wish she’d checked Max’s message in the car. “This can’t be good.”
Not much happening there, but the exchange does capture the work-a-day precinct atmosphere that serves as the backdrop for 212 as NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher and her partner, JJ Rogan, investigate the murder of an NYU college student who was being stalked on the internet and the seemingly unrelated murder of a real estate agent who was living a dangerous double life.

Before I became a criminal law professor, I was a prosecutor, where I worked directly out of a precinct for two years. I like to think that law enforcement culture is a living, breathing character in my books. One aspect of that culture is the contentiousness of relationships between line investigators like Hatcher and Rogan and supervisors like Lt. Robin Tucker and prosecutors like Max Donovan.

The challenge of fictionalizing those relationships is to avoid the gruff-toned barks of bad-TV lieutenants and the unctuousness of TV prosecutors. In 212, Hatcher and Tucker are at odds not because of the usual cop/supervisor conflicts, but because they’re both women used to being the smartest person in the room. And part of the reason Tucker’s amused by ADA Max Donovan’s precinct pop-in is her suspicion that Ellie has Donovan have a little something on the side.

What’s less than representative about page 69 is that it shows only law enforcement characters. Although precinct culture serves as the backdrop for 212, it does so by providing the canvas upon which more colorful scenes play out. In 212, Hatcher gets a glimpse into the lives of New York City’s uberwealthy and is pulled into a sex industry that has been mainstreamed by technology. To soak in those components of 212, the reader would need to turn the page to 70.
Watch the 212 video trailer, and learn more about the book and author at Alafair Burke's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Connection.

The Page 69 Test: Angel’s Tip.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"He Walked Among Us"

Norman Spinrad is a science fiction icon and the author of more than twenty novels which have been translated into over a dozen languages. His 1969 novel, Bug Jack Barron, was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards and his short fiction collection, The Star-Spangled Future, was a National Book Award finalist. He has also written screenplays for American television series, including the original Star Trek.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, He Walked Among Us, and reported the following:
Page 69 is not representative of He Walked Among Us . No single page or even chapter would be, since the novel is written from four diverse points of view. A science fiction writer. A sleazy talent agent for sleazy comedians. A New Age lecturer and sometime actress. And Foxy Loxy, a far gone crack addict street girl and hooker. The prose of each of these viewpoint characters reflects their diverse consciousnesses, and that of Foxy Loxy is the most extreme and extremely divergent. Like most of my novels, the style or styles is that of the viewpoint characters themselves, and in something like He Walked Among Us, with four viewpoint characters and four different styles, four different subjective realities, nothing is representative of anything else. As Amanda's mantra puts it, "What is, is real."
Learn more about the book and author at Norman Spinrad's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 9, 2010

"InterstellarNet: Origins"

For thirty years, Edward M. Lerner toiled in the vineyards of high tech. Then, suitably intoxicated, he began writing science fiction full-time. He writes both near-future, Earth-based techno-thrillers (like Fools’ Experiments and Small Miracles) and -- as with his latest novel, InterstellarNet: Origins -- more traditional spacefaring adventures.

He applied the Page 69 Test to InterstellarNet: Origins and reported the following:
We are not alone. Now what?

InterstellarNet: Origins begins with a signal from -- someone -- a few light-years from Earth, and humanity is plunged into turmoil. What do the aliens want? Do we dare to respond? Do we dare not to? Who gets any say in the matter? And if species share technology, how much more chaotically will we all careen into the future?

The issue can’t be faced once and forgotten, because every interaction with the aliens -- and, we soon find out, more than one nearby star harbors intelligent life -- changes everyone. And many of the crises are existential.

Charise Ganes, diplomat from impoverished Belize, leads the countries that resist responding to the original alien message. On page 69 we find Charise confronting Bridget Satterswaithe and Dean Matthews -- ringleaders among those advocating a response -- at the ceremony to mark transmission of Earth’s first interstellar message in reply.
“I didn’t expect to see you today.” Satterswaithe said.

I failed to prevent us from answering. That makes me responsible, too. “Where else would I be today?” Charise paused to glare at the man who had bumped her elbow while squeezing past. “What we do this day is important. We agree on that. And surely, as you expect, in the coming years we will learn many wondrous things. ET will, too. I hope that is all that happens.”

“What else could happen?” Matthews asked.

“I don’t know,” Charise candidly admitted. “Or rather, we don’t know. We can’t know. And yet, like ET before us, we would presume to gamble with the destinies of worlds.”

“Driving a car is a gamble,” Matthews retorted. “Everything we do, every day, is a gamble. ‘I don’t know’ is no reason to stand in the way of progress. What can you possibly be worried about?”

“Not all gambles have the same stakes,” Satterswaithe reminded, softly.

A flicker of doubt? Charise wondered. If so, it came too late to matter.

Hoping she was wrong and certain she was not, Charise said, “What do I worry about? That galactization will prove to be globalization on steroids, and Earth the exploited hinterlands.”
Themes of trust, risk, and unintended consequences resound -- with the stakes higher each time -- for the remainder of the book.
Learn more about the author and his work at his website, Edward M. Lerner, perpetrator of science fiction and techno-thrillers, and blog SF and Nonsense.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Dark's Tale"

Deborah Grabien is a musician and the author of many adult novels. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, a fellow musician.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Dark's Tale, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Dark's Tale, my first YA novel, drops the reader in the middle of a clash between the San Francisco police and the Cores, the homeless kids living in Golden Gate Park. More on that in a moment:
That got my attention. I jerked my head toward the flashing lights and felt a tremor as the ground seemed to move under me. There were some heavy things running around down the street, people thudding their feet, more people joining in, more voices, some of them loud and weird, some of them obviously cops.

"Crazy-bad." Rattail shook his head. "They took something, you bet--stuff that makes them do things. Silly Cores. I wonder why they set their own stuff on fire, and rolled it away? I wouldn't do that if I was a Core, or had stuff. Let's go see."

Even in the few weeks I'd been in the park, I'd already become amazed at the way people don't seem to see the world around them. That night was a good example. By the time Rattail and I made it down to the edge of the trees by Marx Meadow, there were already about twenty of us there. At least five cars went by, slowing down to stare at the cops and the Cores. Not one of them seemed to notice the rest of us.

What really got me, though, was the rabbit.

He was the first rabbit I'd seen in the park, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out how he hadn't been eaten yet, or what he was even doing here. He didn't look like anyone's cute fluffy thing with soft ears. The garden next door to the house where the People had lived, there had been a rabbit hutch in their garden, with little pet rabbits. They'd look like stuffed toys, or blankets with feet. And they'd smelled like food.
I should probably point out here, that that last sentence makes more sense if you realise that Dark, the narrator, is an abandoned housecat. The Rattail she's watching with, her friend, is a raccoon.

Dark's Tale was written after ten years of working with the homeless cats in Golden Gate Park, every night, as part of the SPCA's TNR Program. Over the years, my husband and I have become essentially as invisible as the night-prowling animals themselves: neither the park police nor the homeless population pay us any mind. We feed the cats - and sometimes raccoons, mice, and skunks - under a blanket of darkness that's more than simply the night. Most people, driving through the park at night on their way home, are oblivious to the animal world around them.

The story is about trust, and survival: when, after being stripped of your reason to trust, can you believe what your instincts tell you? How, if you seem invisible, do you come to believe that you're real, that you matter, once again?

Hard questions, but I think Dark's Tale - based on a real cat we fed - takes a reasonable shot at showing the possibilities. Give it a read. Besides, don't you want to know more about that rabbit...?
Learn more about the book and author at Deborah Grabien's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Master of None"

Sonya Bateman lives in upstate New York, where there are two seasons: winter, and construction. Her home is shared with a husband, a son, three very strange cats, and a gerbil with half a tail. She enjoys reading and swimming, and wishes there were some feasible way to combine the two.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Master of None, and reported the following:
“Tension on every page” – that’s what I learned at Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel seminar many years ago, and it’s stuck with me ever since. When I’m writing, I try to keep things moving constantly. I don’t believe in breaks. I love reading a story that keeps me breathless until the end, so that’s the type of story I try to tell.

I was pleased to see that the Page 69 Test bears out my intentions. Things are definitely moving.

By page 69, my protagonist, an unlucky thief named Gavyn Donatti, has already discovered the existence of the djinn, been shot at, threatened with guns (twice), learned he has a two-year-old son he’s never met, gotten pulled over by a dirty cop, betrayed by his ex-girlfriend, and watched a friend die. At this point, he’s been brought to the basement-slash-torture-dungeon of Trevor, the man he was supposed to steal a certain item for, that he has since inexplicably lost.

It only gets worse from here:
I was so dead.

Trevor stopped in front of me. “Mr. Donatti.”

“Present.”

He jammed the Taser against my thigh and pulled the trigger.

I went limp. Fortunately, the rope held me up. He kept the jolt short, and when he pulled back, I gasped, “Jesus Christ. Aren’t you supposed to ask me a question first?”

Trevor shook his head as if he was disappointed. This time, the damned thing juiced the side of my neck.

The charge exploded in my head, blinding me. My mouth opened. No sound emerged. I figured smoke would start billowing out, but saliva foamed over my lip and dribbled down my chin instead.

This was Trevor’s subtle way of telling me to shut up. It worked. Couldn’t speak if I wanted to.

“If you had my item, Mr. Donatti, you would have given it to me by now.” His voice wavered and splintered against my pounding eardrums. “Eventually, you will explain what happened. I’m not ready to question you yet. At this point, your job is to listen.”

“Listenin’,” I slurred, slopping more drool onto the floor.

Trevor zapped me again. I screamed.

“You believe if you don’t cooperate, I’ll kill you. I won’t. You believe if I leave you alone long enough, you’ll find a way out. You can’t. You believe torture is the worst thing that can happen to you, and death is preferable.” He moved in and brought his face inches from mine. “It isn’t.”

I believed that.
Read Chapter One of Master of None, and learn more about the book and author at Sonya Bateman's website.

Watch the Master of None teaser trailer.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"The Long Man"

Steve Englehart is best known for writing for such series as The Avengers, Captain America, and The Fantastic Four (for Marvel) and Batman and The Justice League of America (for DC), and for his novel The Point Man, the first Max August novel.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Long Man, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Long Man is actually pretty representative of what I'm trying to do with this series (which began with The Point Man, also from Tor) - in that I posit a world that is our world, with the one small addition that a few people have mastered the skills of magick - and those skills are actual skills which most anyone COULD learn. So when the subject of zombis arises on page 69, Max August can explain how zombis are made, in plain English (and a little French).
They don't need science; they have art. And lots of uninterrupted time for trying things out. Puffer fish venom's just the main ingredient in a zombi potion. They also use the leaves of the consigné tree and the tcha-tcha bean, both of which slow the rate of the body's functions. That's mixed with leaves from the bresillet tree and bwa pine, maman guepes and mashasha, pois gratter and pomme cajou and calmador, all of which cause severe itching and irritation. That last part's sort of to taste; it's where the artistry comes in. But the zombi master gets some of this potion on his victim, the victim starts scratching, and soon he's opened up a dozen sores. The poisons enter the bloodstream, his energy sinks from brain to body, et voila, as they say in Haiti.
Jason Bourne has arcane skills and knowledge that amaze us, and so does Max; it's just that the skills and the knowledge are in different areas. The thing is, Max has those skills and Bourne's, too, making The Long Man a 21st-century thriller.
Learn more about the book and author at Steve Englehart's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Shadow Princess"

Indu Sundaresan is the author of The Twentieth Wife (2002); The Feast of Roses (2003); The Splendor of Silence (2006); and In the Convent of Little Flowers (2008).

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Shadow Princess, and reported the following:
Shadow Princess is the third novel of my Taj Mahal trilogy—set in 17th Century India. The first two, The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses are based on the life of Mehrunnisa, Empress Nur Jahan, who was the daughter of an impoverished Persian immigrant, and who consequently, upon her marriage to Emperor Jahangir, became the most powerful woman in the Mughal dynasty.

In 1612, a year after Mehrunnisa enters the Mughal harem, she facilitates the marriage of her niece, Mumtaz Mahal, to Jahangir’s son, Khurram who becomes Emperor Shah Jahan. This is where the story begins in Shadow Princess. In June of 1631, Mumtaz dies in childbirth. By her side are her oldest daughter Jahanara and her husband. Shah Jahan has been emperor for only three years, coming to the throne after a bloody war of succession when he kills one of his brothers and a few cousins.

Inconsolable at his wife’s death, Emperor Shah Jahan considers giving up his empire. He mourns for a whole week, neglecting his duties, and finally, on Page 69, appears at the jharoka balcony in front of the nobles. (Mughal emperors gave audience thrice at these balconies every day—morning, noon, and night. These were casual appearances; they also held court twice a day.)
…his face was aged, the hair on his head more white than they had imagined.

“Padshah Salamat!” they shouted, their voices petering into nothing.

This was not Emperor Shah Jahan…They glanced at one another. They bumped shoulders. They gazed at the man on the balcony, their master, with a steadiness unbecoming to servants of the Empire.
Later on Page 69:
Her heart thumping, Jahanara leaned against the opening of the jharoka, out of sight of the men below…Bapa would speak very little during the jharoka…this much he, and previous Emperors, had decided would be the practice at these appearances. So how...to convince them that the man who stood before them was their king?

Even as she thought this, Jahanara felt a warm flush cover her face, for she had in her own mind created a doubt, or rather picked up on it from the outside.

“What is happening?” said Dara in a low voice.

“I don’t know.”

“They think…” But he did not finish his sentence; he could not either.
It is Jahanara who rights this situation, by sending her four brothers out onto the balcony to flank their father in support. She cannot go herself; she’s a woman, living behind a veil and the walls of her father’s harem.

Shah Jahan continues to rule the empire for another twenty-five years and during that time builds a tomb for his wife Mumtaz, the Taj Mahal. And just as she had in this early scene, seventeen year old Princess Jahanara will become the quietly influential woman upon whom the emperor leans for the rest of his life. Jahanara attempts to put Dara on the throne after their father, falls in love with a noble at court, and engages in a rivalry with her sister Roshanara. In the end, all these events—and that Luminous Tomb her father builds for her mother—cast their long shadow upon Jahanara’s life.
Browse inside Shadow Princess, and learn more about the book and author at Indu Sundaresan's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"The Fallen"

Mark Terry is the author of three Derek Stillwater novels, The Devil's Pitchfork, The Serpent's Kiss, and The Fallen, as well as two standalone novels, Dirty Deeds and Dancing in the Dark. In addition, he is the author of Catfish Guru, a collection of mystery novellas, numerous short stories and literally hundreds of magazine and trade journal articles.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Fallen and reported the following:
So, the urban legend says, flip the book open and read page 69, and if it’s good, read the book. In my novel The Fallen, this places us outside the Colorado Springs resort where the G8 Summit is about to start and told from the point of view of a secondary character, Russian FSB Agent Irina Khournikova. She and a fellow Russian agent are watching as the various world leaders are flying into the resort on helicopters, and she is thinking about a terrorist group, The Fallen Angels, that she is concerned will somehow attack the summit.
….She had become an expert—as big an expert as anybody on the planet, she supposed—on The Fallen Angels, the name of Andarbek’s group of operators. They headquartered in the Georgian mountains, bought or stole weapons, sold them to whoever needed or wanted them.

Over time they evolved into something else, a weird cultlike group of apocalyptic terrorists.

The first of the helicopters—Marine One—that carried the president of the United States and his staff, settled onto the expanse of lawn in front of the Cheyenne Center. A marine honor guard stood at attention, and a small military band played ‘Hail to the Chief’ as President Langston deplaned, waving to a small contingent of the press.

Irina glanced upward at the roofs of the buildings, mentally checking off the Secret Service sharpshooters she saw at different points of the compass. She shifted her gaze to the Secret Service guards who walked alongside the president in their dark suits, eyes covered with sunglasses, bodies stiff with the focus of their attention.

President Langston stood listening to ‘Hail to the Chief,’ and when it was finally finished, he saluted and led the U.S. contingent through the entrance of the Cheyenne Center.

Another helicopter landed, then another, and another.
So, is this representative of The Fallen? I would say yes and no. The Fallen is very much an action-filled novel. The main character, Derek Stillwater, is undercover at the resort where the Summit is being held when the terrorist group, The Fallen Angels, takes it over, holds 20 world leaders hostage and threatens to kill one per hour if their demands aren’t met. Derek spends the time in the crawlspaces, corridors, heating and cooling vents, and elevator shafts, fighting his own guerilla war against the terrorists. From a high concept perspective, The Fallen is “’Die Hard’ at the G8 Summit.”

This selection on page 69 is scene setting. It gives us a sense of who Irina is—she’s an important character—and an overall sense of the drama and complexity and scale of the G8 Summit. It also allows me to provide some background on The Fallen Angels from Irina’s point of view, which is slightly different from Derek’s point of view. Still, it’s a piece of the whole, and I hope you enjoyed it.
Read chapters 1-6 of The Fallen, and learn more about the book and author at Mark Terry's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 2, 2010

"The Tale of Halcyon Crane"

Wendy Webb is editor in chief of Duluth-Superior magazine. A journalist with two decades of experience, she lives in Minnesota.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Tale of Halcyon Crane, her first novel, and reported the following:
I love this concept! When readers get to page 69 of my novel, The Tale of Halcyon Crane, they've already been through the first phase of the plot's setup: Our heroine discovers that everything she has been told about her life — who she was, who her parents were — was a lie. She learns that the mother she thought was dead for 30 years was actually alive until very recently, and her father, upon whom she doted, had abducted her all those years ago. She travels to her mother's home for answers, and on page 69, she is just beginning to find them.

On page 69, Hallie takes her first steps into the home where she lived as a child, a home that now belongs to her. She is greeted at the door by her mother's two dogs, giant Alaskan malamutes, Tundra and Tika. People who know me are touched when they read this, because I happen to have a real-life malamute named Tundra, who joined our family after our beloved dog Tika passed away suddenly. One great thing about being a novelist is having the ability to put these two wonderful dogs together in a story, even though they never were in life.

The page ends with the line, "So, these were my mother's dogs." She has found the first real connection with the mother she never knew — the house, the dogs. In the rest of the book, the stories of her mother and her ancestors unfold, leading Hallie to the answers she seeks. What she finds is at turns delightful, menacing and even terrifying.

Page 69 of The Tale of Halcyon Crane:
Will produced a set of keys from his pocket, unlocked the front door and held it open as I walked through it into my home.

I found myself standing in a large square foyer, the living room on one side, the dining room on the other, and a grand wooden staircase ascending in the middle.

"Where's the welcoming committee?" Will looked left, right and up the stairs. "Girls! Tundra! Tika!"

I heard a clatter of toenails on the wood floor, and two enormous dogs burst through the swinging door separating the dining room from what I assumed was the kitchen. They looked like huskies but were much bigger, their thick white and gray fur, bushy tails, long legs and dark masks around steely golden eyes all hinted at ancient timberwolf ancestors. One was carrying a twisted rope bone in her mouth; the other had a stuffed rabbit. The dogs wiggled and curled around our legs, their great tails wagging, ears pinned back in greeting. Will was scratching and petting them in return, murmuring: "Good girls! Such good, good girls!"

One of them, the bigger of the two, jumped up on me, putting one saucerlike paw on my shoulder and the other on top of my head. I was afraid to move. "They're friendly, right?"

"Down, Tundra!" Will commanded and the dog dropped to the floor and sat in front of me. "She loves visitors. They're the highlight of her day. And yes, they're both friendly, but protective, too."

I reached down gingerly to scratch this beast behind the ears. "So, these were my mother's dogs."
Read an excerpt from The Tale of Halcyon Crane, and learn more about the book and author at Wendy Webb's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"In the Company of Angels"

Thomas E. Kennedy was born in New York. He has lived in Copenhagen for over two decades, and has worked, among other things, as a translator for Copenhagen's Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims. He is the author of over 20 books including novels, as well as several collections of short stories and essays, and has won numerous awards including the Eric Hoffer Award, the Pushcart Prize, the O. Henry Prize and the National Magazine Award.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his novel In the Company of Angels and reported the following:
Marshall McLuhan chose page 69 as his test sample page of any book someone is considering reading. I’ve never tried the page 69 test myself; while there is something to be said for the occasional refreshment of arbitrariness, in excess it can be capricious and unreasonable. I prefer my father’s ten-page test; when we didn’t want to sit still for him to read a book to us, his rule was that we listen for ten pages and then, if we wanted, we were free to go; invariably, however, by page ten, we were hooked.

How does the page 69 test fare with my own recent novel, In the Company of Angels (Bloomsbury, 2010)? In fact, that page shows one of the least central characters in the novel, a young lawyer named Voss Andersen, at an official dinner in the process of getting drunk; by itself the page shows little of the significance of the scene unfolding for the narrative flow of the book.

Of the six characters portrayed within In the Company of Angels, the two most central are Bernardo “Nardo” Greene, a Chilean torture survivor being treated in Copenhagen’s torture rehabilitation center, and Michela Ibsen, herself the survivor of a violent marriage. And the central question, I suppose, is how to open to love in a world tainted by evil and violence? Neither of these central characters appear on page 69 of the novel – well, Michela is glimpsed for one sentence – and that central question is beyond formulation in Voss Andersen’s callow consciousness; it will take him most of the book to even scratch the surface of an awareness of love. Each of the six characters in the novel approaches the question at his or her own pace in accordance with his or her own state of development and his or her capacities.

It takes all 288 pages of the book for the drama to unfold in fullness. Page 69 – or any other arbitrarily chosen page – will not suffice. But the first ten pages would be a good place to start.
Learn more about the book and author at Thomas E. Kennedy's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue