Monday, October 31, 2011

"The Kingdom of Childhood"

A New Yorker by birth, Rebecca Coleman grew up in the close suburbs of Washington, D.C., in an academic family. A year spent in Germany, at the age of eight, would later provide the basis for the protagonist's background in The Kingdom of Childhood. She first learned about the Waldorf School movement at age 14 and quickly developed a fascination with its culture and philosophies. After studying elementary education for several years at the University of Maryland, she graduated with a degree in English, awarded with honors.

Coleman applied the Page 69 Test to The Kingdom of Childhood and reported the following:
In the original (much longer) draft, I found that pivotal points-- four of them-- appeared with near-perfect precision at 100-page intervals. If that sounds like a sign that I should improve the pacing, well, my agent certainly thought so. Page 69 deserves a NSFW-language warning:
I reached into my canvas school bag for twine and scissors just as the screw gun let out a high-pitched whine that indicated it had slipped. I looked up in alarm to see Zach throw it out the window of the structure, then roll onto his back and clutch his face with both hands.

"Mother fucking fucker," he said, loudly but in a level voice.

I ventured toward the house. "Is everything all right?"

"No. I just spent an hour putting this shit on backwards." He slid out of the house and ripped off his headphones. They hung around his neck as he sat up, his knees against his chest, and rubbed his eyes. "And I got sawdust in my contacts."

"You didn't have your safety glasses on?"

"No," he snapped. "I was too occupied with messing shit up to remember them."

I sat cross-legged on the floor beside him. "What's the matter with you?"

"I'm just tired of this. I didn't get enough sleep, and then I overslept, and my mom came in like the wrath of Khan to get me up. I didn't have breakfast." He wrapped his arms around his knees and rested his forehead against them. I rubbed his back in a firm, comforting way, and he leaned his whole huddled form against me. His skin was drum-tight over those lanky bones of his, with not an ounce of fat for padding. "I'm starving," he repeated. "I'm never going to make it 'til one. My mom'll be picking up my corpse."
You see, Judy-- the 43-year-old narrator-- means well. She's the responsible adult, supervising 16-year-old Zach as he works on a playhouse for the school bazaar. As the teacher of the kindergarten class, she is accustomed to showing sympathy toward frustrated students and expressing concern for their safety. But at the end there-- well, something's just not quite right. And it will get worse. Much, much worse.

As it turns out, page 69 is a good representation of the novel as a whole: Judy hovers on the edge of making some very bad mistakes, while Zach reflects both mental immaturity and a prurient interest in Judy's attention. These two characters are stomping down the last fractured boundaries that stand in the way of disaster, and very soon-- before the chapter is over-- we'll be way past "not quite right."

And 25 pages earlier than in the original draft. Nice editing work there, Agent.
Learn more about the book and author at Rebecca Coleman's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Mink River"

Brian Doyle's books include Thirsty for the Joy: Australian and American Voices, Epiphanies and Elegies, The Wet Engine, and the new story collection Bin Laden's Bald Spot & Other Stories.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his novel Mink River, and reported the following:
I note with a grin, page 69 pretty much catches a lot of what’s happening in the book – some of a bear’s life in the spruce hills, some Gaelic, some stories of the Irish diaspora washing up on the wet wild Oregon coast, some hints of pain and grace, a dad telling stories to his son in the dark of a room where the boy is recovering from having his legs smashed in an accident in the woods – all in all, a shockingly representative page. The book’s about Oregonness, essentially, and uses Salish-speaking people (the tongue spoken here for thousands of years, before all its speakers died), the Irish arrival (especially as dairymen) after the Hunger, and the woods, and animals of every sort, and fish, and rain, and mud, and stories, and dreams, and a crow acting something like a stage manager, to try to stutter something real and piercing about Oregon character and flavor and grace under duress. Something like that. On the other hand, what do I know? I just committed the novel like an inky sin – it wanted to be told, I sometimes think, and I was chosen, as the nearest available fast typist.
Read more about Mink River at the publisher's website.

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

Writers Read: Brian Doyle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"The Sacred Band"

David Anthony Durham received the 2009 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer of Science Fiction for Acacia and The Other Lands (the first two volumes of the Acacia trilogy).

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Sacred Band, the concluding volume of the trilogy, and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test gives me trouble every time. This time may be the most problematic. As per usual my page doesn’t manage to touch on the big plot elements of the book that well. I don’t know what page would, since this is a series of biggish books with scores of different characters. That’s not the real problem, though.

What is a problem is that I can’t quote any lines from that page without giving away some major plot spoilers. The Sacred Band is the third and concluding volume of the series. A lot has happened by the point. Quite a few characters have lived and died at, and others have emerged into positions of power that may not have been expected at the start of the series. Since I always write about the books in the hopes that new readers will be drawn in, I figure I shouldn’t give away any of those plot details now.

So, I won’t quote from the page.

I won’t name any characters.

Instead, I’ll speak of them in more general terms. Let’s see if this works…

The scene on page 69 involves four people, and also is heavily influenced by a fifth, that’s not actually in the scene. There is a prince, a young boy that feels quite confident about his place in the world. There is a dead person that’s been brought back to life. There is a man cursed with stone eyes, through which he sees a grey, coarse version of the world. There is a royal secretary, the closest confidante to the queen - the prince’s mother.

It’s a scene of casual conversation on the palace grounds. It’s a scene important not for what is said, but for what’s not said. You see, the absent character - the queen - has cast spells of varying sorts over each of the four. In the case of the boy, the influence is mostly that of mother over son. She has schooled him to see the world and his future role in it in a certain way. As yet this hasn’t been challenged, but it will be soon. The queen had plucked the secretary from a life of exile and disgrace. Because of it she’s loyal to her completely, no matter the crimes the queen perpetrates to meet her goals.

The two men have been trapped with sorcery. The dead man has been raised as a symbol to the nation of the queen’s power. She claimed that she was also bringing him back to help her rule, but instead she’s effectively controlled his thoughts. He has moments of truly thinking on his own, but before he can express himself the words that leave his mouth morph into the words the queen would want him to say. It’s frustrating, but he’s only vaguely aware of it.

The man with the stone eyes is the point of view character for the scene. His stone eyes were punishment inflicted upon him by the queen for being a firebrand that preached rebellion. The true curse she inflicts on him, however, is to become her mouthpiece. He’s been forced to travel the empire, giving speeches in her behalf. He never does this intentionally. He tries to rail against her. He always thinks he’s doing so, but discovers afterwards that the words that he spoke were never the ones he thought he was speaking. He’s much more aware of this than the dead man, and he feels particularly tortured by it.

That’s the dynamic that’s at play during the quiet conversation on page 69 of The Sacred Band. The question at the heart of it - about the nature of absolute power - is a big part of what the book is all about. I was interested not in power in general, but in how power manifests itself when shaped by an individual’s life experiences, fears and worry and hopes. That’s what’s happened with the queen, and the story - at this point in the series - is starting to build toward seeing the ramifications of that explode in a variety of chaotic ways.
Learn more about the book and author at David Anthony Durham's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Acacia.

The Page 69 Test: The Other Lands.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Covenant"

Dean Crawford worked as a graphic designer before he left the industry to pursue his lifelong dream of writing full-time. An aviation and motorcycle enthusiast, he lives with his family in Surrey, England.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Covenant, and reported the following:
Page 69 ( in the UK paperback version ) is the opening to chapter 10, and follows two supporting major characters from the novel. Most of the attention focuses on Ethan Warner of course, but I created two detectives who are at work in Washington DC investigating the deaths of three men who appear to have suffered frostbite, despite DC sweltering under a heat wave. The two characters took on a life of their own as I wrote the first draft, and gave me a chance to create two people as full of life as the hero.
MEDICAL EXAMINER’S OFFICE, WASHINGTON DC

‘You know I hate this part.’

Lucas Tyrell grinned at Lopez as he drove the car into the parking lot and killed the engine.

‘You’ve gotta get used to it. Just don’t get too used to it, or I’ll have you sectioned.’ He turned to Bailey, who sat quietly in the rear seat. ‘Sit tight buddy, shouldn’t take too long.’ He tossed a handful of biscuits into the rear of the car and then clambered out, mopping his brow as he caught his breath.

Truth was, he felt the same about morgues as she did, and he had far more experience than her. Not for the first time he wondered what had kept her in the district.

Nicola Lopez had emigrated with her family to DC almost twenty years before as a gangly nine-year-old from Guanajuato, Mexico, a ramshackle town nestled in the Veeder Mountains. She had been raised a Catholic amidst the cobbled streets and quaint markets far from the hustle and bustle of America’s capital city. Dragged by a family searching for a better life away from the crippling silver mines of Las Ranas they had found instead only a better quality of misery, where endemic poverty and poor sanitation had been replaced with housing projects, fast food and Type-Two diabetes.
The reader learns more about the two characters as the novel develops, their close friendship becoming ever more strained as they struggle with the complexities of the case and their own conflicting interests. Even within the confines of a commercial thriller, it can still be fun to create realistic characters who have believable relationships, even if they ultimately are forced to turn against one another.
Learn more about the book and author at Dean Crawford's website and blog.

Writers Read: Dean Crawford.

My Book, The Movie: Covenant.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Where All the Dead Lie"

J.T. Ellison is the international award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Taylor Jackson novels, multiple short stories and has been published in over twenty countries.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Where All the Dead Lie, the latest Taylor Jackson book, and reported the following:
It really is amazing to see how consistently page 69 is a turning point in so many books.

When I opened Where All the Dead Lie to pg 69, I groaned. In the previous six novels, it was such an important page – obviously integral to the story. Now my books have changed format, and pg 69 hits in a different part of the narrative. On the surface, pg 69 of Dead Lie looks innocuous, and not at all related to the rest of the book – a dark gothic suspense set in Scotland. On this page, Taylor Jackson is still in Nashville, still struggling with the fact that she has no voice, and has just fielded an offer to travel to Scotland and continue her recovery at Memphis Highsmythe, the Viscount Dulsie, ancestral home in the Highlands. A woman has just been hit by a car, a hit and run, one small part of a subplot that runs through the book. But as I reread the page, and looked a bit deeper, I saw why it was so important. Taylor can’t work. She’s been on medical leave from her job. And her job is her identity. Though she actually witnesses the hit and run, her boss, Commander Huston, gives the case to one of her detectives.

It is in that moment that the decision is made for her. She must leave. Whether she wants to admit it or not, she’s now lost everything.
It took two full hours to get the scene under control. Taylor had remembered the license plate on the Jag, but a quick search revealed that the plates had been stolen off a truck that had been left out on Eastland Avenue overnight. East Nashville—half beautifully gentrified, half crime-ridden and dangerous. Taylor knew who’d win in the end. The stubborn landowners would force the drug dealers and prostitutes and ruffians out and be left with a quiet little oasis with excellent restaurants and cool shops. They were probably sixty percent there already.

The family of the woman, if that’s who they were, had clammed up. They wouldn’t say why they were coming to the courts, or who the woman was. Their faces were pinched, eyes darting, tawny skin white with fear, and Taylor knew without asking that they were probably all illegal. A search of the afternoon’s court docket revealed nothing that would explain the woman’s presence; no outstanding warrants matched her description, and no one had a Hispanic woman her age on their current case lists. She wasn’t on the rolls for jury duty. She was a mystery, and Taylor felt the stirrings of life at the idea of figuring out the story. But she wasn’t allowed. Without batting an eyelash, Huston gave the case to Marcus.

Dejected, Taylor let Sam drive her home.
Learn more about the book and author at J.T. Ellison's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Darkness All Around"

Doug Magee has been a photojournalist, screenplay writer, children's book author, death penalty activist, film producer and director, war protestor, college football player, amateur musician, and the basis of the Aidan Quinn character in Meryl Streep's Music of the Heart.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Darkness All Around, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Darkness All Around is the beginning of a chapter and is a somewhat pivotal moment in the book. Risa, who owns the town hangout restaurant, has heard rumors that her ex-husband Sean, whom she had declared legally dead, is back in town. On this page Risa gets a call from her cousin, who is opening the restaurant that day, and who tells her people coming in for breakfast are saying they saw Sean around the small Pennsylvania town they live in. This confirmation of the rumors is of course unsettling to Risa and sets her off on a mission to find him. And the page also is an introduction to the part the town itself will play in the unfolding of the mystery ahead.
Learn more about the book and author at Doug Magee's website and the Darkness All Around website.

Writers Read: Doug Magee (June 2010).

The Page 69 Test: Never Wave Goodbye.

My Book, The Movie: Never Wave Goodbye.

Writers Read: Doug Magee (October 2011).

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Troubled Bones"

Jeri Westerson is the author of three previous books featuring Crispin Guest – Veil of Lies, Serpent in the Thorns, and The Demon's Parchment.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the latest book in the series, Troubled Bones, and reported the following:
Reading this for myself, it took me a minute to remember what was going on. Not necessarily representative of the book, this is a peek at some of the mystery. Crispin Guest, our ex-knight turned detective, is sent to Canterbury to guard the bones of the saint and martyr Thomas a Becket, but what he finds instead is murder. He has come to the room of Dame Marguerite, a young nun and companion to the murdered Prioress, to show her the murder weapon and to ask if she can identify the mysterious, hooded assailant.

In this trip to Canterbury, I was able to combine my medieval detective with one of my favorite childhood books, The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. My novel enrolls some of the pilgrims from the story and Geoffrey Chaucer himself as an old friend, and perhaps foil, of Crispin’s. Below, Crispin begins the conversation with:
“But you speak Latin—”

“Only enough to understand the Divine Office. Nothing more. Yes. It must have been Latin.”

“Do you know what it was?”

“No,” she said vaguely. “Perhaps—” She screwed her face and stared at her rosary. “Fortis et Patiens?”

Crispin stored this information for later and unwrapped only the pommel of the sword. He gingerly presented it to Dame Marguerite. “Do you recognize these arms?”

The pommel with the red enamel and the bear head glinted in the candlelight. He expected that she might pull back in horror, but she barely glanced at the sword’s pommel and shook her head. “I never saw it before.”

“Do you know any reason why someone would wish to harm the prioress?” And not you, were his unspoken thoughts.

The door opened again and in bundled Alyson with a sleepy-eyed Gelfridus. Crispin threw the wrappings over the sword hilt again and rose. “Father Gelfridus is here. I will take my leave.”

She reached out a white hand toward Crispin. The thin fingers stretched wide apart like twigs, the skin spreading taut over her hand. He was too far for her to reach but the gesture stopped him nonetheless. “You must do your best, Master Guest.”

He stood stiffly a moment, merely staring at her outstretched hand. “I will.” He bowed.

The wooden floor creaked under his heavy steps. He took Alyson aside while the priest bent over the girl in the bed.

“So much sadness in so young a life,” she said, shaking her head again. Crispin warmed to her sincerity. “She told me of her life in the priory,” she said softly. “How her mother became with child and was forced into the life of a scullion.”
Learn more about the author and her work at Jeri Westerson's website, her "Getting Medieval" blog, and the Crispin Guest Medieval Noir blog.

The Page 69 Test: Veil of Lies.

The Page 69 Test: Serpent in the Thorns.

The Page 69 Test: The Demon's Parchment.

My Book, The Movie: The Demon's Parchment.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 17, 2011

"Murder Most Persuasive"

Tracy Kiely is a self-proclaimed Anglophile (a fact which distresses certain members of her Irish Catholic family). She grew up reading Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, and watching Hitchcock movies. She fell in love with Austen’s wit, Christie’s clever plots, and Hitchcock’s recurrent theme of “the average man caught in extraordinary circumstances.”

After spending years of trying to find a proper job that would enable her to use her skills garnered as an English major, she decided to write a book. It would, of course, have to be a mystery; it would have to be funny; and it would have to feature an average person caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

Kiely applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Murder Most Persuasive, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
to me and said, “Do you think I should put out cheese and crackers or anything?”

I thought about it. “I don’t think so. A – we want this over as quickly as possible; no need to encourage the police to linger, and B – we don’t want to appear like we’re not taking this seriously.”

“Agreed,” she said. “God, I could use a drink, but I doubt that’s a good idea. I should have my wits about me for this.”

“I’ll tell you what,” I said, giving her arm a friendly squeeze, “Once the police leave, I’ll take you out and buy you all the drinks you want.”

“Deal,” she said with a faint smile.

There was a brief knock on the door before it swung open. It was Reggie. There was nary a hint of distress on her perfectly made-up face. Looking calm and cool, she was wearing the same peach dress I saw her in earlier. The only difference was that she had pulled her hair back into a smooth, tight bun. She even made that look sexy.

After a perfunctory greeting to me and Ann, Reggie said, “So, I take it Bonnie went on her silly spa retreat anyway?”

“Yes,” said Ann, “I drove her to the airport this morning. She…she didn’t seem overly concerned about any of this.”

Reggie scoffed. “She wouldn’t be overly concerned if the house fell down around her, just so long as it didn’t interfere with her five o’clock martini. Is Frances here yet?”
You would think, having heard the old adage, “third time’s the charm,” as much as the next person (which, I believe, is roughly 857,209 times) that it might have made some kind of impact on me.

Think again.

This is the third time that I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to participate in The Page 69 Test. This is also the third time that the page in question isn’t even remotely indicative of my book.

My books are humorous updates of the English cozy, featuring amateur sleuth and Jane Austen aficionado, Elizabeth Parker. For each book, I pay homage to a specific Jane Austen novel. They aren’t retellings of her stories, merely they are meant to be a wink at the reader who loves Austen and happy retreat for lovers of the classic English cozy.

The third book in the series, Murder Most Persuasive, focuses on the themes and personalities found in Persuasion. In Murder Most Persuasive, Elizabeth's great-uncle has just died and the family’s house in the picturesque Maryland town of St. Michaels is sold. When the new owners dig up the pool, they find the body of the man thought to have run off eight years earlier after embezzling over a million dollars from the family business. This grisly discovery not only unearths old questions about what really happened to the stolen money, but it brings Detective Joe Muldoon back into the family’s lives. Eight years earlier, Elizabeth’s cousin Ann reluctantly broke off her relationship with Joe due to family pressure. Ann always regretted that decision and now fears that it is too late for her and Joe–especially after she becomes the main suspect.

As with the previous two books, I eagerly opened this one only to find a page that gave absolutely no indication of any of this. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Page 89? It’s all there! Page 95 – perfection! But page 69 remains bereft of any of it. Personally, I blame this on the “new math” I was forced to learn in school.

However, I have finally learned my lesson. I am just now finishing up the fourth book in the series, and you can be sure that for this book, page 69 is going to be a brilliant example of a humorous Austenesque mystery – even if I have to renumber all the pages to make it happen.
Learn more about the book and author at Tracy Kiely's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Murder at Longbourn.

The Page 69 Test: Murder on the Bride's Side.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"The Taker"

Alma Katsu is the author of The Taker, a gothic tale of desire, obsession and the need within us all for redemption.

The Taker has been described as "an epic supernatural love story" and compared to The Historian," Interview with the Vampire, and Twilight even though it doesn't have one vampire in it.

Katsu applied the Page 69 Test to The Taker and reported the following:
This test intrigued me, because I had been told in grad school by one professor that the pivotal incident in a novel—the point where everything changes and there’s no going back—tends to happen around page 100. Since I often write out of sequence, I don’t know where page 100 is until I put all the chapters together, but I’ve been surprised to find that this is true nearly 100 percent of the time.

P. 69 of The Taker:
I decided to visit Sophia the next day and speak to her in private. I waited until I had shut our chickens in the coop for the night, so my absence wouldn’t be noticed, before setting out for the Jacobses’ farm. Their property was much quieter than ours, mainly because they owned fewer livestock and there were no children to help tend to all the chores. I crept into the barn, hoping I would not run into Jeremiah, and found Sophia penning their three raggedy sheep in a stall for the evening…. She gave me an icy look, undoubtedly worried about why I’d come. I must have seemed a child to her for being not yet wed and still living under my parents’ roof although I was only a few years younger.

“Forgive me for coming to see you unannounced, but I had to speak to you alone,” I said, looking over my shoulder to be sure her husband wasn’t close by. “I will speak plainly, as there is no time for niceties. I think you know what I have come to discuss with you. Jonathan shared with me—”

She crossed her arms and gave me a steely look. “He told you, did he? He had to boast to someone that he has made me with child?”

“Nothing of the sort! If you think he is pleased that you are going to have a baby—”

His baby,” she insisted. “And I know he’s not pleased.”
Not the prettiest passage, I admit. More like the literary equivalent of brick-laying. But the scene is important and, I think, passes the Page 69 test.

Lanore is the main character in The Taker. She was born in 1797 in a very small town in the northern Maine wilderness and has the misfortune to fall in love at an early age with Jonathan, the eldest son of the family that owns the town. She and Jonathan have always been friends, but despite Lanore’s devotion, it is not in Jonathan’s nature to give Lanore the kind of relationship that she wants from him.

Lanore is a good girl, clever but with limited prospects in life. The only thing she wants is Jonathan, and Jonathan—aloof and elusive, accustomed to having all the attention he wants (too much attention, sometimes)—is used to depending on her. He has impregnated Sophia—his latest lover, newly wedded to an oafish husband—and in a weak moment, he asks Lanore if she will convince Sophia to have an abortion. This scene on page 69 is where Lanore confronts Sophia and tries to scare her into getting rid of her baby.

Though The Taker is the story of Lanny’s misguided love for Jonathan, in a broader sense it’s about how people can be selfish and insensitive and think they will not be held accountable for their sins. And the truth is that most people act in their own self-interest, whether in small or large ways, and rarely are held to rights. What makes the scene on page 69 significant to the book is that it’s the first time Lanore does something that might be considered ‘evil’. She is willing to threaten and bully someone to get what she wants. She is crossing a threshold that puts her on course to come to the attention of the villain of the book—he’s an avenging angel, in a way, though he hardly behaves like any kind of angel you’ve heard of. And he’s definitely more villainous than righteous. But he’s drawn to evil like flies to rotting flesh, and here you see our protagonist’s first steps on the path that will put them on a collision course.
Learn more about the book and author at Alma Katsu's website and blog.

Writers Read: Alma Katsu.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 14, 2011

"The Dubious Salvation of Jack V."

Jacques Strauss is a South African freelance digital producer and consultant.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Dubious Salvation of Jack V., his debut novel, and reported the following:
I trust you will give me a little leeway on this. For one, I always thought it was the page 99 test, but having Googled the whole thing I notice that both are in common use. Then I thought , hey maybe people do the page 79 test or the page 89 test? You can save yourself the bother – turns out 69 and 99 are the real deal. My book fails both tests miserably. Page 69 is about a minor character that doesn’t really have much to do with the story. Page 99 is about a minor character that doesn’t really have much to do with the story. I did both these tests on the same day that I got another review bitching about the plot. There’s been a lot of that – bitching about the plot. (But in case you’re thinking Jeez – why would I ever consider buying this book – even the damn writer is putting me off - I would say there have been very nice reviews – very kind, insightful, astute reviews that don’t bitch about the plot). The point of all this is how the page 69 test is completely different for the author than it is for the reader (which is why I like the idea of this blog) and it got me thinking about how I must in some way have failed, if all these people are bitching about the plot.

The book is set during the apartheid years and centres around the eleven-year old protagonist’s very minor betrayal of his black housekeeper. I wouldn’t say it was inadvertent, but it’s as close to being inadvertent as something can be without it actually being inadvertent. And it’s this you see – that has annoyed people. People want big betrayals and high stakes, but big betrayals and high stakes could never capture the complexity of the South African situation. The complexity lies in the question: what does it mean when you are born complicit? And whatever guilt Jack may feel about the specific betrayal, it is emblematic of a much broader guilt for a situation in which small acts of betrayal are magnified (sometimes horribly) by a system of which he is both part and beneficiary of. You can write a novel about the torture camps (Vlakplaas) or the secret police. You can write a novel about white people murdering and torturing black people. I could have written a novel in which Jack hacked off Susie’s head with a machete completing his metamorphosis to beastly right-wing lunatic – but I’m not sure what it would really tell us about Apartheid.

To get back to the point. As a writer, the page 69 test and the page 99 test, remind me that the book isn’t very heavily plotted. But both pages talk about characters who, in very different ways, are complicit in what is going on (as is almost everyone in the book). What is interesting is that even very warm reviews comment on Jack’s charming naivety or innocence about the political situation. The truth is I think Jack isn’t sufficiently na├»ve or even sufficiently stupid. I’ve not met many eleven-year olds that acutely aware of moral complexity. And that’s the thing about Jack. He knows. Jack knows and it’s the knowing that makes it terrible.
Learn more about the book and author at Jacques Strauss's website.

Writers Read: Jacques Strauss.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Motor City Shakedown"

D.E. Johnson, a graduate of Central Michigan University, is a history buff who has been writing fiction since childhood. He comes by his interest in automotive history through his grandfather, who was the vice president of Checker Motors. Johnson lives with his family near Kalamazoo, Michigan.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Motor City Shakedown, and reported the following:
Page 69 excerpt:
It was the auburn- haired woman from the trial.

She wore a low- cut red silk dress that stopped above her ankles, with white button-top boots and a white, wide-brimmed hat. She kissed Sam on the cheek and took his arm. It was like watching a butterfly light on a piece of shit.

“Who’s that?” I said to Tony, gesturing toward the woman.

Tony glanced behind him. “Sammy’s girl. Why do you care?”

“Just curious.”

He turned to the driver and rattled off some quick Italian. The other man eyed me.

“What was that about?” I asked.

“I was just tellin’ him what to do wit’ you,” Tony said.

I stared at him.

He laughed. “Don’ worry.” He held my eyes. “At least not yet.”
I'd say this section of page 69 is pretty representative of Motor City Shakedown. The story is about a rich young man named Will Anderson getting inserted into the first mob war in Detroit, which took place in 1912-1913.

I've mostly held to the historical record about the Adamo-Gianolla war (other than the inclusion of a few fictional characters like Will), which was a bloody shotgun feud on the streets of Detroit's Little Italy. Dozens of men were shot and nine were killed, including a cop. The Detroit newspapers reported the war's progress virtually every day until November 1913, when the war was won with the shotgun murders of one of the gangs’ leaders. (I won't say which, since it's a big part of the book's climax.)

At this time, the Bernstein brothers, who in the not-too-distant future ran the Purple Gang, were just another teenage street gang, working with the Sicilians as it suited each side, mostly running errands. At the same time they were delving into the violence that would eventually mark them as the most dangerous gang in Detroit’s history (which is saying something), credited with as many as 500 murders. In Motor City Shakedown, Will brings them in to help him, little knowing he was going to get more than he bargained for.

It was particularly fun to stumble on new facts about the gang members while digging through the archives of the Detroit newspapers. That’s one of the beautiful things about writing historical fiction. The real people provide me with so much color it feels almost like reporting.

Detroit has been a fascinating city for well over a hundred years. (In fact, believe it or not, in the late 1800’s it was known as the “Paris of the West.”) In the early 20th Century, business was growing exponentially, and immigrants were flooding into the city to fill the jobs that were popping up everywhere. At the same time, poverty and crime were rampant, and the clash of the haves and the have-nots makes a rich backdrop for a story, particularly a gritty story like Motor City Shakedown.
Learn more about the book and author at D.E. Johnson's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Defensive Wounds"

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department. Her books have been published in Germany, the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Spain and Japan. Evidence of Murder reached the New York Times mass market bestseller’s list.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Defensive Wounds, and reported the following:
Page 69 is the last page of chapter 7. Forensic scientist Theresa has spent all day investigating what will become the first of a series of bizarre murders of defense lawyers, attending a convention at the local Ritz-Carlton. Her daughter, Rachael, is home from college and working a summer job at the Ritz’s front desk. Theresa is understandably nervous about her daughter’s proximity to a homicide but knows that to be an emotional reaction and not a sensible one. The dead lawyer had a long list of enemies—Theresa among them—so there is no reason to believe the murderer would be interested in killing again.

Theresa turns her mind to lighter fare, gently asking after the girl’s latest crush on a handsome co-worker. But even this topic does not distract Theresa from the murder as she is curious about this new co-worker; when she introduced the boy to a lawyer friend of hers, the friend became very reticent. Almost as if she recognized the kid as a—client?

The style and dialogue are typical of the rest of the book, though the subject matter isn’t—most of the book is spent with Theresa’s work at the crime scenes and at her lab in the medical examiner’s office, or with her cousin, homicide detective Frank Patrick, interviewing suspects and drawing them both ever closer to the killer.
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

My Book, The Movie: Defensive Wounds.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"Half-Past Dawn"

Richard Doetsch is the bestselling author of thrillers, including The Thieves of Heaven, which is currently being developed for film by Twentieth Century Fox, and The 13th Hour, which will be adapted by New Line Cinema. He lives in New York with his family.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Half-Past Dawn, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Half-Past Dawn is actually the first page of Chapter 12 and if someone were to pick-up from that point it would pique their interest while giving a glimpse of the story and characters. It paints a bit of a picture of Jack Keeler and his wife and how they were regarded by friends and colleagues as they mourn their assumed death from atop a bridge; it touches on a deception that Jack and his close friend Jack Archer must perpetrate in order that they can save Jack’s wife and hints at the storm from the night before. Though page 69 provides no specific insight to the greater puzzle that entails a lost Asian culture, an assassin seeking to avenge his death sentence, nor a diary that may foretell the future, it gives a hint of the novel’s flavor like an aroma before Thanksgiving of the feast to come.

The best thing about flipping to page 69 is it would make you curious, it would make you read on, it would make you flip back to see what is going on; a quality which is the essence of the story: a large mystery that is in constant flux that goes in directions no one sees coming.

Page 69:
Frank hustled down the long embankment that led to the river’s edge. The churning waters were still near flood stage after the previous night’s rains, inhibiting the recovery effort that was already well underway. He had parked his jeep a quarter mile up the road behind a string of emergency vehicles, flashing his old police badge to gain access to the site. Frank looked up at the crowd that stood upon Rider Bridge in silent, rapt attention. They were not the usual rubberneckers, the morbid curious hoping to see a body. They were a mix of law enforcement, friends of Jack and Mia from the FBI, DA’s office, and both local and city police. Even from his fifty yard distance, he could see the grief in their faces, in their body language.

And as Frank continued to look, he felt an uneasy shame, a horrible feeling of deception for allowing so many to think the couple dead. He knew the pain he felt at hearing of his friends’ death and knew it was a communal feeling shared by all of their colleagues. Though he wanted to shout out Jack’s survival, he knew it would only further endanger Mia wherever she may be.
Learn more about the book and author at Richard Doetsch's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"The Sandburg Connection"

A native of North Carolina, Mark de Castrique writes mysteries primarily set in the Appalachian mountains. He is an award-winning film and video producer whose work has been broadcast on PBS, HBO, and network-affiliate stations as well as the author of the Sam Blackman mystery series, the Buryin’ Barry series, and two mysteries for young adults. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Sandburg Connection, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Sandburg Connection provides the first clear evidence that poet Carl Sandburg possessed something worth committing murder. My detective duo, Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robertson, suspect the fall of history professor Janice Wainwright might not have been an accident. When they escort Wainwright’s daughter Wendy back to her mother’s farmhouse where a U.S. Park Ranger has been severely beaten, the scene they witness tells them their case is only beginning.

Page 69 –
The county deputies migrated to their patrol cars and Corn asked his rangers to wait outside and give us room to move around. Wendy grabbed Nakayla’s hand and pulled her through the door.

Less than two yards inside, she froze. “Oh, my God.”

I stepped behind her. Over her shoulder, I saw a room filled with contrasts. Pine paneling ran in horizontal boards along the walls. Oval braided rugs dotted the wide plank floor. The construction mirrored the style of the better built farmhouses and cabins across the valley. But other than the handmade rugs, the furnishings could have been in a beach house. An assortment of wicker chairs with aqua-pastel cushions, a bamboo-framed futon, chrome and glass bookshelves, and a coffee table with its glass top on a driftwood base looked more appropriate to southern Florida than southern Appalachia. I thought of Wendy’s aunt and father being in Florida and realized her mother hadn’t purchased new furniture since she moved.

That wasn’t the contrast that caused Wendy’s gasp. Books were strewn across the floor. At first I thought the attack on the ranger caused the disarray, but knickknacks and curios were neatly in place on the shelves. A television and an iPod hadn’t been touched, the items most burglars would grab first. Someone had either been looking for a book or for something hidden within its pages.

Ranger Corn edged around us and walked closer to the mess. “After Ranger Compton was knocked unconscious, her attacker pressed on with his search.”

“How do you know?” Nakayla asked.

“A few of the books were on top of her. She fell through the doorway from the dining room and landed in front of the hearth.” He eyed Wendy. “There were books on the mantel, right?”

“Yes.”

I noticed a bare spot amid the scattered volumes where the ranger must have lain.
Although Janice Wainwright owned several books of Sandburg’s prose and poetry, none of them can be found. The disappearance of the Sandburg volumes coupled with Janice Wainwright’s dying words, “It’s the Sandburg verses,” set Sam and Nakayla on the trail of a killer and the search for the elusive Sandburg connection.
Learn more about the book and author at Mark de Castrique's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"The Ninth Day"

Jamie Freveletti is a trial attorney, martial artist, and runner. She has crewed for an elite ultra-marathon runner at 50 mile, 100 mile, and twenty-four hour races across the country, and holds a black belt in aikido, a Japanese martial art. Her debut thriller, Running from the Devil, was chosen as a “Notable Book” by the Independent Booksellers of America, awarded "Best First Novel" by the International Thriller Writers, awarded a Barry Award for "Best First Novel" by Deadly Pleasures Magazine, and nominated for a Macavity Award for "Best First Mystery" by the Mystery Readers International and "Favorite First Novel of 2009" by Crimespree Magazine.

Her second novel, Running Dark, hit both the Chicagoland and South Florida bestseller lists and won a Lovey award for Best Novel 2010. In January 2011, she was tapped by the Estate of Robert Ludlum to write the next book in the Covert One series.

Freveletti applied the Page 69 Test to her third novel, The Ninth Day, and reported the following:
Is anything fated? Can fate be changed?

The Page 69 test, when applied to The Ninth Day, lands on a portion of the book where a medicine man and my protagonist, Emma Caldridge, are discussing the meaning of fate. The medicine man has administered a hallucinogen to a group of migrant workers in an attempt to cure them of a terrible sickness that’s killing them. According to the medicine man, what is said by a person while under the influence of this drug is the absolute truth. Emma is appalled to learn that one man claims that they will all die at three o’clock that morning.

The medicine man accepts this prophecy and prepares to die, but Emma adamantly refuses to believe that what the man speaks is fated. She begins her frantic quest to solve the puzzle of the deadly disease before it kills them all.

I hope you enjoy The Ninth Day. It raises some issues of life, the value of life and how we each act in the face of death.
Learn more about the book and author at Jamie Freveletti's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Ghost On Black Mountain"

Ann Hite has published more than sixty stories in publications such as: Literary House Review Anthology, Espresso Fiction, Skyline Magazine, Plum Biscuit, Moonwort Review, Foliate Oak, and Spillway Review.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Ghost On Black Mountain, and reported the following:
Page 69:
I’d like to say I woke up on New Year’s Day, looked in the mirror, and understood what being married to Hobbs was doing to me, but that would be a fairytale of the worst kind. Instead each time Hobbs hurt me, I saw him clearer. The problem was, what would he have to do to make me understand the whole truth?

New Year’s Day was cold but sunny. I walked over to Shelly’s little house.

Mrs. Parker opened the door with a frown on her face. “What you need, Mrs. Pritchard?”

“I need Shelly’s help. It’d only be for today.” I knew Shelly was there. I could feel her listening.

“Your husband made it clear…”

“My husband isn’t here and no telling when he’ll come back, if he does this time.” I looked her dead in the eye. “I want to work in the attic and I don’t want to go alone.” This was true. “I’ll pay her, not Hobbs. He’ll never know.”

Mrs. Parker studied me for a minute. “You need to go home.”
In the first paragraph of page 69, the tone of the book is reinforced. Ghost On Black Mountain is narrated by five women of varying ages and ethnic backgrounds. The book is about choices made and how they ripple throughout these women’s lives, along with those connected to them. But it is here on page 69 that Nellie Pritchard speaks a universal truth. So often we expect change, whether it is physical or emotional, to magically appear. But Nellie recognizes—as it is with many people—when given the opportunity to break out of our script, we turn from the hard road of reality to a more comfortable safe place. It’s only when we can no longer ignore what sits in front of us that we embrace the decision to facilitate a new life direction. And so it is with the characters in Ghost On Black Mountain.
Learn more about the book and author at Ann Hite's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue