Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Three Souls"

Janie Chang is a Canadian novelist who draws upon family history for her writing. She grew up listening to stories about ancestors who encountered dragons, ghosts, and immortals and about family life in a small Chinese town in the years before the Second World War. Born in Taiwan, Chang has lived in the Philippines, Iran, Thailand, and New Zealand. She now lives in beautiful Vancouver, Canada with her husband and Mischa, a rescue cat who thinks the staff could be doing a better job.

Chang applied the Page 69 Test to Three Souls, her first novel, and reported the following:
Three Souls is a historical novel set in 1930s civil war China, narrated by the ghost of a young woman named Song Leiyin. She is accompanied by her three souls – yin, yang, and hun, and together they review her life to learn why she is still trapped on this earth and what she must do to atone for her sins. As her memories unfold, Leiyin sees the idealistic girl she was, the act of rebellion that changed her life, the betrayals she experienced, and her own betrayal of the man she loved.

The story is inspired by the story of my paternal grandmother, who was highly intelligent and well-educated for a woman of that era. She wanted to train as a teacher, but her father refused her a career. Her attempt to run away from home failed and the punishment for this rebellion sealed her fate.

On page 69 is a conversation between the ghost and her souls. Leiyin has tried various ways to get the attention of Hanchin, a charismatic (but Communist) poet. They’ve just watched a memory where she finds that Hanchin has answered her letter to the left-wing magazine where he works.
“Our first question is from a young reader named Song who has concerns about proposals for simplifying our written language. Staff writer Yen Hanchin replies...”

It was a secret correspondence, carried out in plain sight. What else could it mean except that he cared for me? He understood my situation and had shown the utmost delicacy by acknowledging my letter through his magazine.
* * *
“In our family,” I tell my souls, “there is a tale of a many-times-great-grandfather who fell in love with his bride before he had even seen her.

“As required by tradition, he never met the bride chosen for him until their wedding day. But they exchanged letters, for that was encouraged. They wrote to each other, composing verses so exquisite that when they finally met, they were already deeply in love.”

“Correspondence is a time-honoured and entirely proper way for young people to get to know each other”, my yang soul declares. “It allows a contemplation of each other’s qualities far more meaningful than the distractions of dancing and films”.

“How wonderful”, my yin soul says. “To be in love with your husband before the wedding. And through poetry”. There is a sweet, musky scent in the winter air, amber and roses, and her face is rapt. “How happy they must have been”.

I shake my head. “Only for a while. The bride died in childbirth and her husband published their poems in a book dedicated to her memory. Father had a copy. I read them, but I was too young to truly understand”.

“But you were enthralled by the notion of falling in love through letters”, my hun soul suggests.
The scene illustrates how Leiyin’s youthful optimism and near-arrogant confidence regards every incident as evidence that life will follow her plans. It also highlights the constraints of traditional courtship, when bride and groom in arranged marriages never met before the wedding.

Leiyin, who is pursuing Hanchin in the modern fashion, still falls back on convention however, when she compares his reply via newspaper column to a correspondence between lovers. Social and personal behaviours in China were shifting, and Leyin’s emotions were a muddle of modern ideals tugging against her traditional upbringing.
Learn more about the book and author at Janie Chang's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Shroud of Evil"

Pauline Rowson is the author of the DI Andy Horton Series and of two stand-alone thrillers.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Shroud of Evil, the eleventh in the Horton series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
‘That’s the tricky one. Actual time of death is probably as I said some time late Friday afternoon, early Saturday morning, but it could be earlier than that. The rate of internal haemorrhaging can depend on the age of the person and if there were any pre-existing medical problems. Very young and very old people would be at greater risk of dying quickly and as your victim was at neither end of the age spectrum and he was in very good health, it would have taken him longer to die. He could have been shot up to eighteen or twenty hours before he actually died.’

And that put it back to late Thursday night or the early hours of Friday morning, matching more closely with the last sighting of Kenton by Eunice Swallows at the office.

They postponed talking shop as the taxi driver made for the Hovercraft terminal at Ryde. Horton let his mind roam across the facts of the case that he’d gathered so far but his thoughts kept getting hijacked by the proximity of the woman beside him and the way his body had reacted when she had come so close to him. He’d always found her attractive but not in a sexual way, or so he’d thought. The strength and method of his reaction had surprised him though. Perhaps it was his need for female company and not specifically Gaye Clayton that had made him respond so strongly. Had she been teasing him or had there really been something that had passed between them? If so she showed no signs of it as she sat beside him on the Hovercraft. He wondered what she was thinking.

They didn’t speak during the ten-minute crossing. The noise of the Hovercraft made it difficult for them to converse anyway and impossible to talk about the case as they’d have to raise their voices and the other passengers would hear them. Through the windows of the Hovercraft he caught the glimpse of the security lights of Fort Monckton as they sped past. His suspicion that Lord Eames was connected with MI5 made him again wonder if Jennifer had been meeting him there. Had she got too close to the truth about something he was connected with; something that was too dangerous to be revealed? And perhaps that was why Jasper Kenton was dead – because he, like Jennifer, had got too close to the truth about something highly damaging to His Lordship. But what? And why leave evidence on your own doorstep? No, if it was connected with Eames he’d have got rid of the body. There would have been no trail.
The first I heard of the page 69 test was when a member of the public approached me in a bookshop where I was doing a book signing and said she always applied it when deciding which crime novel to purchase. She didn’t buy one of my novels so I’d obviously failed to reach her exacting standards, whatever they were. I thrust it from my mind, only to be reminded of it recently when asked to contribute to this blog. So I browsed the Internet to find out who was responsible for this particular form of literary torture. The answer was the writer Marshall McLuhan championed more recently by John Sutherland in How to Read a Novel: A User’s Guide. Do we really need instructions on how to read a novel?

Anyway, as requested, I turned to Page 69 in the latest DI Andy Horton (no. 11), Shroud of Evil and duly applied the test. This is the scene between DI Andy Horton, my rugged and flawed detective, and the pathologist, the petite, auburn haired and feisty Dr Gaye Clayton when she is informing Horton that the victim was killed with a … no, hang on, that will spoil it for those who want to read the novel (if I’ve passed the test).

Horton is re-examining the time of death of Jasper Kenton, a private investigator, whose body has turned up on a beach belonging to Lord Richard Eames on the Isle of Wight wrapped in an old sail cloth, used as a shroud. Horton, estranged from his wife, is also examining his feelings for the pathologist, whom he’d never considered before as a possible lover. But he has more pressing concerns than that on his mind. He’s withheld vital information that could help crack the case because it is connected with the disappearance of his mother, Jennifer, just over thirty years ago, when he was ten. He fears that it is only a matter of time before his part in hindering a major investigation is exposed and that when it is it is certain to end his career.
For more information about Pauline Rowson and her books, visit her website, Twitter perch, and the DI Andy Horton Marine Mystery Facebook page.

Writers Read: Pauline Rowson.

My Book, The Movie: Shroud of Evil.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 28, 2014

"Monday, Monday"

Elizabeth Crook's novels include The Night Journal, winner of a Spur Award from Western Writers of America and a WILLA Literary Award from Women Writing the West. She has written for magazines and periodicals including Texas Monthly and the Southwestern Historical Quarterly. She lives in Austin with her family.

Crook applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Monday, Monday, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Monday, Monday the story is moving along at a clip. My character Shelly Maddox, who in the opening chapter was wounded by Charles Whitman in his 1966 shooting rampage from the Tower at the University of Texas, has fallen deeply in love with Wyatt Calvert, the graduate student who helped to rescue her from the searing heat of the south mall plaza as she lay bleeding to death that day. Wyatt is married, but the bond formed between the two of them while he held her and tried to stop the bleeding is extraordinary, and they have finally, against their judgment and better instincts, all these months later, given into a love affair.

By page 68, Shelly, home in Lockhart for the summer, has begun to fear she is pregnant with Wyatt’s child. Wearing a wedding ring she inherited from a great-aunt and pretending to be married, she drives to Austin to the Planned Parenthood on Sabine Street, where she is examined by the doctor. In the opening lines on page 69 she is speaking with the doctor:
“But do you think I’m pregnant?” She tried to sound happy about it.

He didn’t appear to be fooled. “Let’s wait and see,” he told her.
She walks back to the campus, unsure what to do next. She wants to go to the art building and see if Wyatt is there, but she can’t think of what she would tell him. She believes his life will be ruined if her fears are true.

Halfway down the page, there’s this:
Later, when she was back in Lockhart, the wait became terrible. She felt nauseated and feverish and tried to tell herself this was only due to her emotions. But every passing day confirmed her anxieties. She worked on the books at the hardware store and went home exhausted to fall on the sofa and watch TV with her parents, fearing that the ease and contentment of everyone around her was only based on their ignorance of a secret she wouldn’t be able to keep for long. Already she felt like a moral outcast.
By the end of the page, she has returned to see the doctor. The story continues like this:
He told her to take a seat and looked at her curiously. He was a balding man with a nice manner. “You don’t have to answer this, but I have a suspicion that you’re not married.”

“The test came back positive?” She knew by the look on his face.

“Yes, my dear. It did.”

He asked if she wanted to talk. She sat in the chair and looked at him and tried to manage her thoughts. But everything had gone sideways. She tried to stand up and the room became dim.

“Sit for a minute,” he told her. “Take some deep breaths.”

She stayed for nearly an hour, and cried, and admitted she wasn’t married, and that she didn’t know what to do…..
This is a turning point in the book. Shelly is twenty-two years old, physically disfigured from her wounds, deeply in love with a married man who already has a child, and confronted with the terrifying question of what to do now.
Visit Elizabeth Crook's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 27, 2014

"A Paris Apartment"

Michelle Gable graduated from The College of William & Mary. When not dreaming up fiction on the sly, she currently resides in Cardiff by the Sea, California, with her husband and two daughters.

Gable applied the Page 69 Test to The Paris Apartment, her first novel, and reported the following:
In the early pages of A Paris Apartment, Sotheby’s furniture expert April Vogt has decamped to Paris, ostensibly to sort through a treasure-stocked apartment previously locked for seventy years. But her job is merely an excuse. April is all-too-happy to escape New York and the personal problems she thinks she can leave stateside.

Page 69 is the start of a new chapter, literally and figuratively. April wakes up in a foreign city, groggy and spent but already enraptured by Paris and the gilded past she’s begun to uncover. She fell asleep reading the personal journals of Belle Epoque courtesan Marthe de Florian, these diaries the most priceless of the riches found in the apartment. The page is a perfect glimpse into April’s current state as well as the world she is starting to slip into:
When the sun exploded across her face, she sprang to sitting. She was disoriented, her head full of cancan dancers and elephants. She half-expected to see a fleshy, sweaty man snoring beside her. It took April several minutes to remember her name and what country she was in. She'd blame the jet lag, but it was really more the fault of a good French burgundy, plus a healthy dose of Marthe.
Having woken from dreams of elephants and cancan dancers, April looks in the mirror to see “haggard-beast hair, purple-tinged teeth, and crumpled clothes she first put on two days ago on some other continent.” Externally and internally she’s bedraggled, but she’s starting to see a glimmer of something special on the horizon.

Plus, April is in a city which previously provided her solace and, ultimately, love. She’s been away for many years but Paris feels like home.
“Home.” It was a curious word for a place she’d only entered a few hours ago. Still, it was more home to her than the apartment in Manhattan, the one with her name on the deed.
A reader picking up the book and turning to page 69 would instantly sense April sits on a border, a divide between two worlds. Her current problems are evident and it’s clear she will soon be swept away by Marthe’s story and the city of Paris itself.
Visit Michelle Gable's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 25, 2014

"Hidden"

Catherine McKenzie is an internationally bestselling author of four novels, most recently Hidden. She is a full-time attorney and regular contributor to The Huffington Post.

McKenzie applied the Page 69 Test to Hidden and reported the following:
From page 69:
Friday at eleven is three days from now. And then what? “If you’ll follow me into our display room, you can choose the casket you desire.”

I don’t have to scream this time for Beth to grab my hand and hold it tight. Karen bows her head, waiting patiently for me to collect myself.

She must be used to this. Has she become immune to grief? Does she slough it off like I do the petty slights of three- and four-year olds?

Several minutes pass before I come back to myself. I can hear the soft tinkle of the Bach, feel my fingers mechanically playing the chords against my knee, and Beth’s warm hand covering mine.

“We can do this another time,” Beth says. “Or I can —”

“No, I should do this. I should be the one.”

I rise unsteadily. We cross the wide hall to a set of large wooden doors with glass panels, which are covered by opaque curtains, hiding whatever lies beyond.

Karen opens one of the doors and stands aside. Beth’s clutching my hand so tightly she’s almost cutting off my circulation. I want to make a break for it and run, but that would mean having to come back here.

Karen flicks a switch and we walk into the showroom. I blink under the bright lights. The large, octagonal room has an assortment of caskets arranged a tasteful distance apart, each illuminated by a bright spot.

“I’ll leave you two alone,” Karen says. “Let me know when you’ve made your selection.” She closes the door behind her with a discreet click.

I walk toward a casket on the left, and Beth goes right. The large room is full of options. How am I supposed to make a choice? What criteria are even appropriate?

“Can you believe the price of these things?” Beth says after a few minutes, fingering a tag that hangs from the handle of a shiny casket made of rosewood.

“Shh! She’ll hear you.”

“She knows they’re overpriced. Why do you think she left the room?”

Excerpted from Hidden with permission of Lake Union/New Harvest. ©2013 by Catherine McKenzie. All rights reserved.
So, is page 69 of Hidden representative of the rest of the book? I’d have to say “yes” (I have to say that, right?). Page 69 is an excerpt from the scene where Claire - a recent widow - and Beth - her sister - go to pick out her husband’s casket. This is the last thing that Claire wants to be doing, but Beth is right to push her. This scene is emblematic of their relationship - Beth, the brash and confident one, taking care of Claire. There’s also some dark humour in the scene and we get some insights into Claire’s husband, Jeff, too. What would Jeff want for his funeral? Well, to find that out, you’ll have to read past page 69. Which is reason in and of itself to say that yes: this page would want to make the reader continue on. (But again, I feel like that for all of my pages…)
Visit Catherine McKenzie's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"Panthers Play for Keeps"

Clea Simon is the award-winning author of three feline-centric mystery series, the Theda Krakow mysteries, Dulcie Schwartz feline mysteries, and Pru Marlowe pet noirs, the last two of which are ongoing. (She is also the author of three nonfiction books, including The Feline Mystique: On the Mysteries Connection Between Women and Cats [St. Martin's]). Simon's latest books are Grey Howl, the eighth Dulcie mystery (for Severn House), and Panthers Play for Keeps, the fourth Pru Marlowe, which was just released by Poisoned Pen Press.

Simon applied the Page 69 Test to Panthers Play for Keeps and reported the following:
Page 69 in Panthers Play for Keeps opens a chapter with a rare contemplative moment for my heroine Pru Marlowe. She is just back from a walk in the woods with Spot, the guide dog she is training. In the forest, Spot has stopped Pru from walking into a wall of brush, a thicket that seems to be hiding a wild beast… possibly the panther of the title. But what Pru can’t understand are the thoughts that Spot has shared with her.

Shared with her? Yes, Pru is not only an animal behaviorist, she’s a bit of an animal psychic. And while most animals don’t exactly talk to her – although her cat, Wallis, has been known to give her attitude – she can pick up on what they are sensing. Spot, good dog, was intent on the predator in the bush. He was working to pick up on what was out there, and what it’s intentions were. But what Pru got from him – one word – is making her wonder:
Scared.” What had Spot meant by that? I thought back to the vision he had shared with me. The implication was that the beast – whatever it was – inside the bush had been afraid of us. Or, more likely, him. And in a way I could see that. Most wild animals really do prefer to avoid humans and domestic dogs. We’re just too much trouble, and they have enough good sense to know it.
Visit Clea Simon's website.

Writers Read: Clea Simon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Mothers of the Disappeared"

Russel D McLean is the author of several novels featuring Dundonian PI J McNee. Born in Fife, McLean studied Philosophy at the University of Dundee before falling into bad company and entering the booktrade. He has been a reviewer, a freelance reader, a roving chair, a bookseller and an ezine editor.

McLean applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Mothers of the Disappeared, and reported the following:
“Fuck you, Dr Freud.”

That’s a hell of a way to start page 69, but at least we start with the idea that this isn’t a cosy kind of novel.

The page finds our protagonist – PI J McNee – discovering that actions have consequences. He is potentially responsible for the suicide of a man serving a life sentence for the murder of a young boy, and this is the page where Detective Wemyss chews him out.

Much of the page takes place in a greasy spoon café in Kirkcaldy. There’s a lot of meeting in cafes in the books, and I think that’s just because I want to be eating bacon rolls along with the characters. It's interesting, I think, that “despite the bad news, Wemyss’ appetite was unaffected” while McNee can barely eat and finds his coffee “sour-tasting.” Coffee is McNee’s lifeblood, and I’m not sure that much has stopped him demolishing a cup before.

Is it representative of the book? Yes, it moves the plot on, includes a copious amount of banter between characters with two opposing points of view and serves to deepen McNee’s sense of responsibility. It’s a pretty good page.
Visit Russel McLean's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Good Son.

My Book, The Movie: The Lost Sister.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"Afterparty"

Daryl Gregory was the 2009 winner of IAFA William L. Crawford Fantasy Award for his first novel Pandemonium. His second novel, The Devil's Alphabet, was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award and was named one of the best books of 2009 by Publishers Weekly. His short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and The Year’s Best SF.

Gregory applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Afterparty, and reported the following:
Afterparty is either a crime novel with way too much neuroscience, or a near-future SF novel about an alarming number of criminals. The main character and principal outlaw is Lyda, an ex-neuroscientist and current addict, who is technically insane after she was overdosed with a designer drug she helped create years before. The drug, Numinous, left her with her own permanent hallucination of a deity—the angelic Dr. Gloria.

Dr. G, however, sometimes abandons Lyda when Lyda’s behaving badly—which is frequently. Lyda has skipped out of the neuroatypical ward of a Toronto hospital and gone on the hunt for whoever’s making Numinous again. She’s convinced Ollie, her friend and lover, to escape with her.

But Ollie has her own psychiatric problems. She’s a former intelligence analyst who became addicted to a smart drug called Clarity, which radically increased her powers of pattern recognition, but also made her extremely paranoid. (False positives are a bitch.) But when Ollie’s off the drug, she suffers from crippling agnosia, and can barely separate foreground objects from background. Lyda wants Ollie back on Clarity, because she needs that savant-like analyst to track down Numinous.

But first Ollie needs her tools of the trade, which she’s stashed in a Thai restaurant, and sends Lyda inside.

Excerpt from page 69:
I put up my hands. “Listen, I’m just here as a favor. She sent me to pick up her bag.”

“Oh, she wants her things.” The woman started shouting angrily in another language—I assumed Thai. A girl who could have been anywhere from sixteen to twenty-five came running out of the kitchen, and yelled, “Ma! Ma! Settle down!”

The mother kept shouting. The girl’s eyes darted from her mother’s face to mine, her expression shifting in quantum jumps from confused to concerned to pissed off. Now I had both women to deal with. I said, “If she owes you money—”

The daughter pointed at me. “Stay the fuck there.” No trace of an Asian accent—she sounded like an angry Edmonton Oilers fan. I upped her minimum age to eighteen. She shouted something at her mother in Thai and then marched across the dining room, heading toward the restrooms. The mother glared at me, lips pursed, nostrils flaring. Genuine, high-quality seething.

A minute passed, two. I looked back toward the glass door glazed with condensation, hoping that the blurry shape beyond was Bobby’s car, ready for my getaway. I felt naked without Dr. Gloria at my back.

The kitchen door bumped open, and a man in an electric wheelchair rolled out. The father, evidently, or maybe the grandfather. He slumped in the chair at an odd angle. His right arm was dead in his lap, but his left hand gripped the armrest controller. The chair coasted to a stop, and his eyes drifted up to mine.

Everything clicked then. The wheelchair, the angry mother, the angrier daughter. Maybe if Dr. G had been there I wouldn’t have been so slow to understand.
That’s when Lyda remembers that Ollie wasn’t checked into the hospital voluntarily—and that she may have done something horrible to the old man in her last paranoid rage.

The scene did two things for the book. First, it solved a small plot problem. Lyda and Ollie need that duffel bag, which contains a set of lockpicks and a gun (always good to have in a crime novel). I could have just had them stop by a storage locker, but that seemed boring.

More importantly, the scene fills in a piece of Ollie’s past, and shows the cost of her addiction to Clarity. Lyda wants Ollie back on the drug, but the reader needs to know that putting a gun in the hand of a paranoid intel operative may not be the smartest move.

But what are these two damaged women to do? Neither one of them is fit to outwit drug dealers, outrun a sociopathic cowboy, and solve the mystery of who is making Numinous. Yet they must. And if it was easy for them I wouldn’t have had much of a story to tell.
Visit Daryl Gregory's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Afterparty.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 21, 2014

"How I Got Skinny, Famous, and Fell Madly in Love"

Ken Baker is an E! Entertainment Television News Correspondent. He is the author of Fangirl, and his memoir, Man Made: A Memoir of My Body, is the inspiration for the upcoming film The Late Bloomer. He lives (and writes) in Hermosa Beach, California.

Baker applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, How I Got Skinny, Famous, and Fell Madly in Love, and reported the following:
I think my book passes the Page 69 Test! In fact, readers of How I Got Skinny, Famous and Fell Madly in Love learn quite a lot about the narrator Emery Jackson in just the opening paragraph:
To say that most mornings I am “grumpy” would be an All-Star caliber understatement that could qualify me to play competitively in the NUL [National Understatement League]. In fact, it’s an understatement that ranks right up there with the following understatements:

· Angel really is not very smart.

· Mom overuses Botox and thus has fewer forehead lines than a toddler.

· Dad barely looks at Mom anymore no matter how much she Botoxes.

· I would die without any food for more than three hours.

· Highland High School lunches need larger portions.

· Marvin Harris is an old perv.
By just reading that paragraph, one can see that Emery has quite the point of view on the world around her and doesn’t pull any punches. As the story progresses, she starts applying that critical eye to herself, with insightful results.
Visit Ken Baker's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Writers Read: Ken Baker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Steal the North"

Heather Brittain Bergstrom has won fiction awards from The Atlantic Monthly, The Chicago Tribune, Narrative Magazine, and others, and a story was named a distinguished and notable story for The Best American Short Stories in 2010. Her short fiction has been published in several literary journals and anthologies. She holds an MFA in creative writing.

Bergstrom applied the Page 69 Test to Steal the North, her debut novel and first published book, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Steal the North happens to be a crucial scene for Kate, the mother of my teenage protagonist. The chapter is narrated in Kate’s voice. She is having an argument here with her boyfriend of four years, Spencer. He loves her deeply, but she has always kept her distance. She is a woman of many secrets, and one of the most shocking is revealed (to Spencer and to readers) on page 69. First, a little background. Kate grew up in eastern Washington in a fundamentalist Baptist church. Her mother died when she and her little sister, Beth, were young girls. Their father was too harsh. When Kate got pregnant as a teenager, she was not only condemned from the pulpit, but shunned by her father, and the farm boy who got her pregnant abandoned her. She and her sister moved out of their father’s house and tried to survive. After the baby—my protagonist, Emmy—was born, Kate got a job waitressing at a truck stop. But eventually Kate realized she had to leave eastern Washington before it destroyed her completely. She boarded a bus bound for California, with baby Emmy on her hip, and never looked back. Beginning a new life in Sacramento, she kept her painful past hidden from everyone, including her daughter and Spencer, the first man to truly love her.

Here are the first sentences from page 69, narrated by Kate:
I try to move away from Spencer. “I don’t need you,” I say. I’ve been struggling to convince myself of that since the day we met.

He grabs my arm. “You need me, Kate. Feminist or not.” Now it’s his turn to laugh. “That’s what scares you. It’s always scared you.”
They argue. She begs him to leave her apartment.
“As soon as you tell me one thing about your childhood. One day. One moment. Let me in, Kate.” I don’t respond. I’m tired and afraid what I might confess. “One detail about Emmy’s dad then,” he says. “At least his name, so I can despise all men with that dickhead’s name.”

“Fine,” I say. “I’ll let you in a bit. But remember you asked for it.” I hesitate because I am about to tell him everything, not just one thing, and it will probably be the end of us. I should shut the windows for privacy, but the cool breeze from the delta will help me not pass out. I press on my jaw once more to stall and to call forth my courage. I begin. “After Emmy’s dad—name of Jamie Kagen—took my virginity, then knocked me up, he dumped me. I was shunned, condemned as a whore from the church pulpit and by my father at home.” Spencer reaches for me. “Wait.” I put up my hand. I’m sweating despite the breeze on the back of my knees. “After I gave birth to Emmy, I waitressed at a truck stop café, where I also slept around for money.” His face flinches. “With nasty old men in their stinky truck cabs.” I’ve never told anyone other than Beth my secret. “It turns out I was a whore after all.” He closes his eyes. When he opens them, I continue.
Spencer has finally, after four years, cracked Kate. Can she survive the sudden exposure and vulnerability? Can Spencer, who has had a rather cushy life, live with the weight of what he just heard?
Visit Heather Brittain Bergstrom's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 19, 2014

“Zero-Degree Murder”

A former search and rescue worker for over a decade, M.L. Rowland lives at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in south-central Colorado.

Rowland applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Zero-Degree Murder:
Page 69 in Zero-Degree Murder starts Chapter 18 and is only half a page.
Gracie and Cashman followed the tracks along a narrow portion of the trail where the canyon walls jutted steeply upward on the right and fell away into darkness on the left. According to the altimeter on Gracie’s watch, they had climbed to over ninety-five hundred feet in elevation. Snow fields above and below the trail had grown larger and more frequent. Any snow on the trail itself had been trampled into a muddy slush.
This first paragraph gives us the setting: smack dab in the middle of the rugged mountains of southern California, tells us that it’s nighttime and gives us an idea of the season—close enough to winter that there’s snow on the ground. It contains two of the main characters: Search and Rescue volunteer, Gracie Kinkaid, and her teammate, Steve Cashman, and what they’re doing: following tracks along a wilderness trail, indicative of the action which continues throughout the entire book.
By then Gracie had been able to positively identify additional print patterns mixed in with the Reeboks. One had a smooth sole with a distinctive pointed toe that could very well be from Rob Christian’s city shoes. Another, a honey-combed pattern, was small enough to belong to a woman. Others were a lug sole typical of a hiking boot.
This paragraph tells us that Gracie is a skilled tracker. The fact that she identifies a pair of shoes as “city” gives us a little insight into her personality. It also tells us a little about the missing hikers: one is wearing Reebok’s. Another is probably a woman. One, most likely Rob Christian, is hiking in those ‘city shoes.’ The fourth is wearing appropriate footwear--hiking boots.
“What the—?” Gracie stopped abruptly and squatted at the side of the trail. “Cashman, hold up a sec,” she yelled up to her teammate who was hiking out of sight ahead of her.

“What?” came Steve’s voice out of the darkness ahead.
What Gracie finds on the trail is the first hint that something has gone terribly wrong for the missing hikers (other than the fact that they’re missing in the first place). From there, everything goes downhill—literally and figuratively.

Hopefully this half-page alone contains plenty to entice readers to read further!
Visit M.L. Rowland's website.

My Book, The Movie: Zero-Degree Murder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 18, 2014

"The Eighth Day"

Dianne K. Salerni lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania with her husband Bob and two daughters, Gabrielle and Gina. She graduated from St. Mark's High School in Wilmington, Delaware and received her Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education from the University of Delaware. She subsequently earned a Master's in Language Arts Education at the University of Pennsylvania before taking a job teaching in the Avon Grove School District. She has now been teaching fourth and fifth grade at Avon Grove for over 20 years.

Salerni applied the Page 69 Test to The Eighth Day, her new novel, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Eighth Day, readers will find 13 year-old Jax Aubrey helping a cute and popular girl clean up broken bits of pottery in the hallway of their middle school:
Jax picked up shards with one hand and piled them into the other. “Do you want to save the big pieces and glue them back together?”

“What’s the point?” Giana gingerly picked up pieces of pottery and cast a sideways glance at Jax’s arm. “I can’t believe you got a tattoo. Isn’t that illegal?”

“Not if your guardian says okay.” She was eyeing him like she couldn’t decide whether the tattoo made him cool or creepy, so he said, “My dad had a tattoo like this. It’s a way to honor him.”

“Oh.” Giana stood up. Jax could’ve kicked himself. Nobody wanted to hear about his orphanhood.
Jax Aubrey is an ordinary seventh grader – if you don’t count the fact that shortly after his father’s death an 18 year-old stranger claiming to be his legal guardian whisked him away from his only remaining family. This new guardian won’t answer any of Jax’s questions about who he really is or how he knew Jax’s dad.

But he does force Jax to get the same tattoo his father had: a family coat of arms on his left wrist.

Here, Jax is doing his best to make lemonade out of lemons. He can’t stand his guardian, and he doesn’t know what this family “mark” is all about – but hey, if the tattoo makes him look cool in the eyes of a cute girl, he’s got no problem showing it off! What follows is Jax’s painfully awkward attempt to impress the girl, during which he accidentally blunders into the secret reason for his tattoo.

Does page 69 pass the test by accurately representing my book? I think it does. This scene is a tipping point for Jax. He already knows about the secret eighth day of the week by now, but not his connection to legendary figures out of folklore and fantasy.

Jax is about to fall flat on his face in his attempt to win over the popular Giana, but everything changes for him starting on page 69.
Visit Dianne K. Salerni's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"The Art of Secrets"

James Klise is the author of The Art of Secrets, newly released from Algonquin Books for Young Readers. His debut novel, Love Drugged, was a Stonewall Honor book, an ALA Rainbow List selection, and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. In addition, his essays, reviews, and short fiction have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Readerville Journal, StoryQuarterly, New Orleans Review, Southern Humanities Review, Ascent, Sou’wester, and elsewhere.

Klise applied the Page 69 Test to The Art of Secrets and reported the following:
The Art of Secrets is a contemporary crime story told in multiple forms of narrative: monologues, emails, journal entries, interviews, newspaper accounts, texts, etc.

On page 69, we near the end of an interview with Kendra Spoon, a Chicago high school sophomore. Kendra and her brother Kevin are helping to organize an auction to benefit a classmate who has lost her home in a fire. In this scene, Kendra faces questioning by her principal, school attorney and a newspaper reporter. Kendra’s not in any trouble, but certain facts must be established, given that one of the auction items that she and her brother donated has turned out to have substantial value. The reader doesn’t know what this item is yet; the subsequent scene reveals that information. All Kendra can report is that they found “it” in a box of old books that were left in a Lincoln Park alleyway:
And Kevin was like, ‘C’mon, some of these could be valuable.’ He wanted to look through them. I’m telling you, my brother sticks with things until they’re done perfectly. He’s thorough and super patient, just like my mom. It’s a good quality in most people, I guess, but not when you’re starving and ready to eat your shoe or something. So we picked up this dirty, smelly box and put it in the trunk. It weighed a ton, I remember that.
Before the item can be auctioned, there is the question of ownership, so the interrogation has covered the basics: Where exactly did the Spoons find this box of old books? Which alley? Which day was it? Did they knock on the door of the residence before removing the box? On page 69, Kendra makes a solid argument for her true ownership of the treasure and establishes her authority to use it as she sees fit. Kendra’s tone has been breezy through most of the interview, but finally we hear some teenage feistiness creeping into her voice:
That box was in an alley, with the garbage, and that made it fair game. The previous owners had abandoned everything inside that box, and it was ours for the taking. That’s the way the world works, right? That’s, like, the Law of the Alley. I mean, someone threw away that box of awesome snow globes, too, but nobody’s asking about those.
I am happy to see that page 69 represents The Art of Secrets as well as it does. It conveys the conversational tone of the book, and also touches on the notion of opportunities: the ones we find versus the kind we make for ourselves. Kendra and her brother have made it clear they intend to do something powerful and altruistic with this opportunity that’s been given to them. The funny part is, what happens after this discovery is something that Kendra herself never could have predicted.
Learn more about the book and author at James Klise's website and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"The Axe Factor"

Born in London, Colin Cotterill has worked as teacher in Israel, Australia, the U.S. and Japan before he started training teachers in Thailand. Cotterill and his wife live in a small fishing village on the Gulf of Siam in Southern Thailand. He’s won the Dilys and a CWA Dagger, and has been a finalist for several other awards.

Cotterill applied the Page 69 Test to The Axe Factor, the third novel in the Jimm Juree series, and reported the following:
As always, my page 69 gives away most of the plot and leaves the reader with a question. The Axe Factor has a number of parallel threads one of which sees our Jimm hunting for a missing doctor who was last seen at a conference at the deserted Novotel. It highlights one of Jimm’s favourite methods of extracting information; the out-and-out lie - as she claims to be the doctor’s daughter. We also get a hint of how Jimm imagines herself to look, ever envious of those sweet, slim Thai beauties around her.

The Axe Factor is perhaps the grittiest Jimm Juree mystery and it boasts one very suspicious character who writes novels set in Laos, keeps dogs, lives on the beach, has a recently disappeared wife and a fine six-pack of abs. (That last part was added to divert the readers’ attention from his true identity.)

From page 69:
I’d passed the Novotel before on my way to the Ko Tao ferry. It was a vast place with its own nine-hole golf course, behind an ugly fence. Noisy road between it and the sea. No public transport into town. I’d always wondered why anyone would stay there. I parked in the car park and sought out administration. There was one person at the front desk, who told me the manager was away. It was mid-week. There were no guests. The words ‘money laundering’ passed through my mind. But the receptionist, Doy, was perfectly sweet. She was pretty and delicate as a hibiscus – the way I’d always appeared in my own dreams. When she found out I was enquiring about conference facilities, she wai’d me respectfully and asked how she could help. I suppose I could have told her I was an unemployed journalist looking for an old doctor I wasn’t particularly interested to find, but that wouldn’t have got me anywhere, would it now? So I leaned across the marble counter, took hold of her arm, and said,

‘Doy, I’m at my wit’s end. You’re my last hope.’

‘Me? Why?’ she said. ‘I mean, what can I do to help?’

‘My mother,’ I said. ‘She suffers from dementia. We can’t find her.’

‘Oh, my word.’

‘The last time anyone saw her was here at your hotel at a conference.’

‘Oh!’

‘It’s just … it would be really bad publicity for the hotel if she’s lying dead in a flower bed somewhere.’

‘Well, yes. Certainly. Do you know what conference it was?’

‘Child care.’

‘That was just this weekend.’

‘Yes.’

‘I … I should tell somebody.’

‘Thank you. And perhaps they’ll suggest you find the hotel reservations for a Dr Somluk Shinabut and the list of conference attendees.’

‘Yes. Yes. Good idea.’

She started to rifle through a drawer.

‘And perhaps you could put me in touch with someone from the hotel who attended the conference.’

She looked up.

‘We … we don’t.’

‘Don’t what?’
Learn more about the book and author at Colin Cotterill's website.

The Page 69 Test: Killed at the Whim of a Hat.

My Book, The Movie: Killed at the Whim of a Hat.

Writers Read: Colin Cotterill (August 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"There Will Come a Time"

Carrie Arcos is the author of There Will Come a Time and Out of Reach, which was a National Book Award Finalist. She lives with her family in Los Angeles, California.

Arcos applied the Page 69 Test to There Will Come a Time and reported the following:
There Will Come a Time is a story about how one deals with grief. It follows seventeen-year-old Mark as he navigates his heart and his relationships while fighting survivor’s guilt and understanding how to live without the twin he lost to a car accident. Are you still even a twin when your twin dies?

On page 69, you find Mark sitting down for a Saturday morning breakfast with his parents and younger sister. It begins with some tension—a text unanswered and an empty chair…
I wait a few minutes. Nothing. I think about sending another text, but I smell bacon. It’s enough to get me to throw on some clothes and go downstairs. Everyone’s sitting at the table in the kitchen nook. I don’t look at the empty chair in the corner, but I know it’s there.
The empty chair at the end of the first paragraph is significant. Readers will want to know whose chair was it? Why does Mark avoid it? This plays throughout the rest of the scene because it is about a family who is trying to move forward after a terrible loss—the death of a sister and a daughter. The chair is Grace’s chair, his twin’s.

What page 69 shows is that Mark is part of a family. He is not alone, though he has felt very alone in his grief over the death of Grace, especially since he was the one driving the car in the accident that killed her. One of the changes his character must make over the course of the novel is to realize that he is not the only one who is grieving. This page is a good set up in revealing the relationships that he has tried to keep at bay and the push and pull of his family wanting to engage and Mark not knowing how.
Visit Carrie Arcos's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 14, 2014

"Under a Silent Moon"

Elizabeth Haynes is a police intelligence analyst, a civilian role that involves determining patterns in offending and criminal behavior. Her novels include: Human Remains, Dark Tide, and Into the Darkest Corner, which was selected as Amazon UK's Best Book of 2011. She lives in a village near Maidstone, Kent, with her husband and son.

Haynes applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Under a Silent Moon, and reported the following:
Initially I was quite surprised to find a sex scene on page 69 of Under a Silent Moon, but in retrospect this shouldn’t have felt strange. Brace yourselves, readers, there’s a lot of sex in this book. At its heart is a tangled mess of relationships, liaisons, betrayals, indulgences and fetishes, the net result of a community of people with too much money and not enough morality, selfish people who indulge their whims without considering the consequences. And yet there are victims of all this grotty behaviour, and on page 69 we get a glimpse of some of the fallout: Flora, artist daughter of Nigel Maitland, an organised criminal who maintains an outwardly respectable career as a farmer, is mourning in private the loss of her former lover, Polly Leuchars, whose battered remains were discovered at the start of the book:
Flora wasn’t in her studio. She was sitting in the car outside, looking up at the big windows, thinking of the canvas in there and wondering if she’d ever be able to look at it again. Crying again, of course. How long would it take before she could think of Polly and not cry? It wasn’t even as if they’d been together when it happened. It had finished months ago. But that didn’t stop the hurt, didn’t make it any less, didn’t make any bloody difference.

The canvas was huge, swirls of green and gold, flashes of navy, dots of bright red. It was an abstract, and it was based on the memories of what had happened in the top field at Hermitage Farm. The field where, on that hot spring day when the world had seemed so suddenly full of promise, Polly had kissed Flora for the first time. And then, when Flora had looked at her in amazement and kissed her back, Polly had pushed her gently into the shade of the trees, the buttons being undone one by one while Polly met her gaze and smiled at her surprise.
Polly’s murder is the focus of the police enquiry at the heart of the story, led by DCI Louisa Smith, newly-promoted and with a lot to prove. What might have featured on page 69 is one of the many police documents included in the text: witness statements, intelligence, emails and reports, allowing the reader to get involved in the investigation. And Louisa’s team needs all the help they can get: a second body is found, with links to Polly’s death, and the pressure mounts for Louisa to get a result. But Lou is driven by more than a desire to secure a conviction – she genuinely cares about those left behind, the families and friends of the victims, the ones like Flora who are left heartbroken and grieving.
Visit the official Elizabeth Haynes website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Elizabeth Haynes & Bea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"The Shadow Queen"

Sandra Gulland is the author of the Josephine B. Trilogy, internationally best-selling novels about Josephine Bonaparte which have been published in over seventeen countries. Her fourth novel, Mistress of the Sun (also published internationally) and her new novel, The Shadow Queen, are set in the 17th-century French Court of Louis XIV, the Sun King.

Gulland applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, The Shadow Queen, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Shadow Queen comes at a pivotal and dramatic moment in the narrative. Claudette, although young (21), is the true care-taker of her witless mother and special-needs younger brother. Their life has been one of hard-scrabble impoverishment, and Claudette has miraculously won a chance for her mother at theatrical employment. This is the opportunity she has been praying for, but her mother is resistant...
Mother had frights in the morning, of course. I made her a calming lemon balm to take with her morning gruel. “I’m putting your little Virgin in my bag,” I assured her, refreshing Gaston on proper etiquette: stand tall, at least try to lock eyes (he was so shy), dip with a sweep of his hat.
(Although Claudette's brother Gaston is 14, he is childlike mentally and emotionally. He is also—I must add—one of my very favorite characters.)
“Monsieur Corneille looks like a clerk, but he’s the greatest man in the land,” I said. “Treat him as if he were king.”

“Oh Mary!” Mother sighed, fanning herself with her chicken-feather fan (in spite of the bitter cold). The very mention of the Great Corneille stirred up her humors, put her in a state of profound disarray.
(Before Claudette was born, her mother and father had played in the first performance of The Cid by Corneille. Her mother had been a talented player, but her husband's death had "unhinged" her. Claudette is hoping that a return to the theater world will help cure her—as well as put food on the table.)
OUTSIDE, THE WORLD was frozen but bright. The sun was high, and everything seemed unearthly. Mother began dragging as we approached the theater, turning in a trance of memory. “I remember that shop. But oh, that’s new. Look how this tree has grown.”

I took advantage of her reverie to glide her through the theater doors, which had been propped open with a paving stone.

“This isn’t it,” she said, coming to a stop in the entry, her hands on her hips. “This isn’t the theater of the Marais.”

Now what? “Maman, this is the Marais.”

“It’s completely different, except for—” Mother gazed down at a star design set into the stone floor. “Except for this,” she said, running the toe of her boot over the points of the star. “This, I remember. Gaston, Claudette, look! Your father, he proposed to me ... right here. My beloved Nicolas stood on this very spot.” She blinked to keep back tears.

“It’s all that is left of the old theater.”

We turned, startled by a man’s voice. The Great Corneille was plainly dressed, still looking like a weary accountant whose sums didn’t add up.

I gestured to Gaston to wipe his chin as I sank into a curtsy.
And thus begins one of the enduring relationships of the novel.

I dedicated the novel in this way:
In memory of my father, Robert Zentner
(1917 — 2013)
whose lovable eccentricities are reflected
in several of the characters in this novel.
And those characters are Claudette's mother and the dear and oh-so-great Pierre Corneille. I love them dearly.
Visit Sandra Gulland's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 11, 2014

"Silver People"

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American winner of the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino. Her award winning young adult novels in verse include The Surrender Tree, The Poet Slave of Cuba, Tropical Secrets, and The Firefly Letters.

Engle’s recent books include The Lightning Dreamer and When You Wander, and her middle grade chapter book, Mountain Dog, was published in August 2013.

Engle applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Silver People, Voices From the Panama Canal, and reported the following:
From page 69:
If only I could find some way
to take a steamship home
and start my life over.

I’ve never had a chance
to go to school. If I send enough
silver home, will my little brothers
and sisters be able to study?
Maybe one of them will even
grow up to be
a teacher
or a nurse.

That would make all my Serpent Cut
suffering
worthwhile.
This excerpt of Silver People, found on page 69, is the end of a poem in the voice of a young Jamaican laborer named Henry. The poem is called Sleepless. It begins with rain and the jungle noises he hears as he lies awake, “troubled by wishes.” In some ways, this page is quite typical of the entire verse novel, since it focuses on the emotional aspects of an overwhelmingly difficult task. The reason Henry signed up as a Panama Canal digger is revealed: to help his family. The suffering of the “Serpent Cut” (Culebra Cut) laborers is mentioned. Both dismay and hope is expressed. Even more important, the first line of page 69 refers to a grim fact: once they had arrived in Panama, laborers from the Caribbean islands had no way to change their minds and go home, partly because they had signed contracts, and partly because they couldn’t afford steamship passage.

In other ways, page 69 is not typical, because it doesn’t include the mysterious power and beauty of nature, which is a theme throughout the novel. If a reader skips ahead a few pages, there will be poems in the voices of howler monkeys, giant hissing cockroaches, crocodiles, a jaguar, and trees. By alternating between human and rain forest points of view, I hoped to convey the immensity of history’s most ambitious engineering project, as well as the desperate need to protect the last remnants of tropical rain forests, exactly one hundred years later.
Visit Margarita Engle's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Margarita Engle & Maggi and Chance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Moth and Spark"

Elisabeth Anne Leonard has degrees from St. John’s College, the University of Pittsburgh, Kent State University, and the University of California—Hastings College of Law.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Moth and Spark, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Early on in Moth and Spark, one of the main characters, Tam, is described as an “accomplished young woman” with a range of talents, education, and experiences. Applying this metaphor to the novel itself, Moth and Spark might appear to be a lady of accomplishment in one area and not much else if one looks only at page 69.

Page 69 consists of a conversation between two characters that perfectly encapsulates the political situation in the novel:
“What about Tyrekh?” he asked. “Is the Emperor going to leave us on our own?”

“I don’t know. It’s an ugly thing to do. If he does he’ll lose the trust of many of his troops. And his vassals. And he can’t afford that. But his sons are a real threat.”

Corin did not bother to ask why Hadon had not executed or imprisoned them. That would only make the fractures greater.

He said, “Has he communicated with Tyrekh at all? Sent any dragons?”

“None. He’s not selling you out, he’s just pretending Tyrekh doesn’t exist.”

“Why is he watching the north?” he asked. “It is him, isn’t it?”

“Aye. No one else controls the riders, I can assure you of that. I don’t know why he’s sent them there. It’s not a desirable assignment, more a punishment duty, but with no reasons given and no man knowing what will put him in the next rotation....”
This shows the triangle of war that sets the events of the novel in motion: an invasion by a foreign army on one hand and an overlord both turning his back and behaving unpredictably on the other. Corin’s country, Caithen, is caught in the middle. There’s just a hint of dragons.

What page 69 doesn’t show is two of the other major aspects of the novel: magic (!) and a love story (!!). Page 69 is early in the novel (Chapter Four) and Corin has not yet been hit with two big emotional hammers: learning that the dragons have chosen him to break their magical bondage to Hadon and the Empire, and falling in love. All three components – magic, politics, and love – become twisted together later on, when Hadon starts the war to keep Corin from releasing the dragons, and Corin’s lover, Tam, guides him with her visions.

Page 69 is also, alas, one of the more expository, less exciting pages, and a visit with her alone would not incline you to spend more time in her practical company. On page 69, our lady novel is doing her finger exercises on the piano. Other pages in the book have visions, swordfights, dragons, love scenes, fear, sadness, conviction, or wit. Moth and Spark shows herself fluent in several styles of writing, can converse equally about violence and ardor, wears the common fashions of fantasy with her own distinctive touches, and has spent quite a lot of time practicing her worldbuilding needlework. But those would be pages 155, or 222, or 44, or 354, or 201 or....

And did I say that there are dragons?
Visit Anne Leonard's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"Death Spiral"

Janie Chodosh is a scientist wannabe and a naturalist. She has spent the last decade teaching high school English and middle school science. When not writing or obsessing about writing, Chodosh can be found with her family in various outdoor pursuits including bird watching, rock climbing, or trying to grow a garden in the arid southwest. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her daughter, stepson, and husband.

Chodosh applied the Page 69 Test to Death Spiral, her first novel, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
A few hours later, I’m crossing the school parking lot, ditching the rest of my classes so I can catch a train and make my appointment when I hear someone calling my name. I turn and there’s Anj bounding toward me. In her pink fluffy sweater and matching pink hat, she looks like she’s been wrapped in cotton candy.

“What’re you doing? It’s freezing out here. Don’t you have class?” she asks when she reaches my side.

“Skipping. What about you?”

“P.E, but that not’s a class. I told Mr. G it was that time of the month and I had cramps and he excused me. Works every time.” Anj smiles. It’s the smile more than anything that lets her pull this kind of crap. Big, bright, radiant, and oh so earnest. “So what’s your plan?”

“I’m going to the city,” I say, tapping my foot. I have an eleven o’clock train, and I’m late as it is. Laz cornered me after third period and wanted to know when I was planning on handing in my Hemingway term paper, due sometime last week. I promised I’d get it to him tomorrow and took off before he could protest.

“The city?” Anj bubbles. “Sounds fun. There’s something I have to tell you. Mind if I tag along?”

“Well, actually—”

“Great, because Mondays are a total drag. I have three electives in a row. Spanish, German, and French.”

I lean against the hood of a red car with a license plate that says GRLTOY and stare at Anj.

“Since when are you taking German?”

Her cheeks turn the same color as her sweater, and she looks up at me with a sheepish grin. “I started two weeks ago. What can I say? Romance languages look good on applications.”

“But German isn’t a romance language.”
Prior to page 69 the reader has learned that sixteen-year-old Faith Flores has been living with her aunt in the Philadelphia suburbs since her mom’s death from a supposed heroin overdose. Faith doesn’t believe her mom OD’d and is determined to find out the truth behind her death.

Faith, having grown up without a father and with an addict for a mother, has never known stability and doesn’t trust anyone. When she meets New Boy, Jesse Schneider, Faith is attracted to his in-your-face honesty and sense of humor. But Faith is afraid of getting close and of getting hurt so she keeps him at an emotional distance even though she allows him to come with her when she visits Melinda, her mom’s former junkie friend, who’s sent Faith a mysterious letter.

Melinda tells Faith that both she and Faith’s mom had participated in an experimental clinical trial to treat heroin addiction. Faith isn’t sure if she believes Melinda who has a bad track record with honesty and who despite claiming to be clean still appears strung out. Faith is is determined to find out everything she can about her mother’s death, so she decides to go to the city and visit the doctor who’s running the clinical trial. At the start of page 69, Faith is skipping school in order to catch a train to get to the downtown clinic, and she bumps into Anj, who is also skipping class.

The dialogue between the two girls shows more of Anj’s bubbly voice than Faith’s broody intensity, so I wouldn’t say the passage necessarily represents Faith. The passage does, however, capture the type of energetic, teenage dialogue that occurs frequently throughout the book. Additionally, there is a strong genetics component to this mystery, which is woven into the book. Page 69 does not deal with the scientific aspect of the mystery.
Visit Janie Chodosh's website.

Writers Read: Janie Chodosh.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"I Pity the Poor Immigrant"

Zachary Lazar, author of Sway, is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University. He lives in New Orleans, where he is on the creative writing faculty at Tulane University.

Lazar applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, I Pity the Poor Immigrant, and reported the following:
I had an interesting experience with p. 69 of a previous novel of mine, Sway, which among other things is about the demonic undercurrents of the late 60’s counterculture. That book uses real-life figures to tell its story, one of whom eventually threatened to sue me. In a scathing letter, he made it clear that while he hadn’t bothered to read much of the book, he had turned randomly to a page that described a version of him—it was page 69—and that I had “one fucking nerve” to depict him in such a way.

Page 69 of  I Pity the Poor Immigrant is less incendiary. In fact, it is outright tame in juxtaposition with the verso page that faces it, p. 68, which consists of two photographs, one of the Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky in Jerusalem and one of his murdered friend Bugsy Siegel in Los Angeles. These photos illustrate a chain of violence in the book that connects the American and Israeli Mafias, the state of Israel itself, the violence of the European twentieth century, and, yes, even the biblical King David. It’s complicated. And p. 69 is one of those passages in the novel where I try to elucidate some of those complications. “A woman goes on a journey—Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Tel Aviv, then back to New York,” my protagonist Hannah Groff, a journalist, writes. She has no idea yet what is in store for her. What she finds on this journey isn’t pretty, and as the author who created her I am fully responsible for that, but as a figment of my imagination, Hannah Groff is at least in no position to sue.
Learn more about I Pity the Poor Immigrant at the Little, Brown and Company website.

The Page 69 Test: Sway.

Writers Read: Zachary Lazar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"Off Course"

Michelle Huneven's first two books, Round Rock and Jamesland, were both New York Times notable books and also finalists for the LA Times Book Award. Her third novel, Blame, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and also a finalist for the LA Times Book Award.

Huneven applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Off Course,  and reported the following:
In Off Course, 28-year-old Cressida Hartley has moved up to her parents’ shabby A frame cabin in the Southern Sierras to finish her dissertation for a PhD in Economics. Instead of getting down to work, she makes friends among the locals, and has an intense, shortlived, affair with the owner of the lodge. By page 69, the affair is over and Cress is at a poker game at her friend DeeDee’s cabin.

DeeDee is a born-again Christian, but before she was “slain in the spirit and bathed in the light,” she’d been a dealer in a Tahoe card room. Divorced with three young sons, she’s barely scraping by; the poker night was her idea to make a little cash. “Surely God would forgive her if she dealt a few more hands to feed her boys.”

The women have cooked a dinner; the guests and poker players include a local contractor and his carpentry crew.

Cress sees that DeeDee’s “dealing was hypnotic, swift; her shuffle a pretty flutter. She was a pro. She didn’t cheat. But she knew the game.”

Two of the carpenters there are brothers, Caleb and Quinn Morrow, a pair of charming, backwoods storytellers. As they play, Quinn tends to lose--only to bet more recklessly. Caleb wins as much as DeeDee does.

“Let’s not invite Caleb next time,” DeeDee says afterwards, when she and Cress are cleaning up.

“He cuts in on my take.”

“Yeah, but Quinn sure bolsters it,” Cress points out, and the two discuss the tendency to double down on losing hands.

“He was on some kind of tilt,” DeeDee says.

“Economists call it loss aversion—when you compound losing like that.”

“Dumb is what I call it,” DeeDee says.

Quinn’s impulse to double down on loss turns out to be a prevailing character trait and a determining factor in the novel But at this point in the book, Cress is more drawn to Caleb—who leaves most of his earnings under his drink glass for DeeDee. “He is adorable,” Cress tells DeeDee. “Too bad he’s married.”

The poker game—the interplay of skill and chance—is a kind of set piece, a fractal of the whole novel: Cress cautiously betting small at the outset, Quinn losing ever more recklessly, Caleb’s greater skill. In a small way, this page demonstrates one of the novel’s main concerns: how economics is personal, and a person’s relationship to money and livelihood lies at the heart of their character.
Learn more about the author and her work at Michelle Huneven's website.

The Page 69 Test: Blame.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 4, 2014

"Hyde"

Daniel Levine studied English Literature and Creative Writing at Brown University and received his MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Florida. He has taught composition and creative writing at high schools and universities, including the University of Florida, Montclair State University, and Metropolitan State College of Denver. Originally from New Jersey, he now lives in Colorado.

Levine applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Hyde,  and reported the following:
Page 69 of Hyde is a quiet but crucial sliver of the whole. Jekyll has been visited by a woman he used to know, Georgiana, whom he courted as a young man but could not bring himself to pursue, so deep are his anxieties about sex and vulnerability. They have recently run into each other in a restaurant, where Georgiana asked if she could pay Jekyll a call. Now he has taken her up to his cabinet laboratory, the sanctum where he keeps his secret chemicals, the portal between Hyde’s world and Jekyll’s. Georgiana has come to seek his psychiatric counsel. She is in the midst of admitting that she is pregnant, and that she’s had eight miscarriages in the past.
In the second or third month, usually [Georgiana is saying]. One of them—one of them made it almost to the very end. Jekyll looked out the window, the courtyard growing darker still. It feels good just to say that, you know. I’ve never said it to anyone. That one—they just took him away; I didn’t get to see. They didn’t even want to tell me it was a he. Georgiana wiped her eyes, letting out a sobbing laugh. Oh, poor Henry. A nice hysterical woman to start off the day.

Outside the window, flakes of snow were beginning to straggle down like bits of ash. Georgiana took a breath. There’s something I’d like to ask you.
Jekyll is meanwhile fighting to retain his composure. Seeing Georgiana stirs up memories he has tried to repress—memories of his failure to be a normal man with healthy desires. She has reemerged, married, pregnant, with a heartbreaking medical history. Jekyll is obscurely jealous and furious at the idea of her husband, yet also proud that she has come to him for advice. He must suppress all this behind his cool bland professionalism. Georgiana goes on:
I’ve been trying to be scientific. To analyse my, my condition. One conclusion is that the problem is physical. That something is wrong, misshapen, inside me. Sometimes I think this must be the answer, that I’m deformed inside… But then, there’s a second possible conclusion. What if the problem isn’t physical, but mental? Psychological, I mean. What if there is something in my mind that is causing the—the miscarriages. Like a poison?
Deformed inside…something in my mind, like a poison. These thoughts uncomfortably echo Jekyll’s understanding of his own inner chaos. Georgiana and Jekyll have always shared an affinity of nature; they reflect one another. This is what brought them together in their youth.
You told me, all that time ago, [Georgiana continues] that emotions and thoughts are not merely mental, that they have a chemical aspect as well. You spoke of the body having its own chemistry. Which is why I thought you, of all people, might understand what I’m saying.
Jekyll understands only too well. His comprehension of what we call brain chemistry is very precocious for his time, and his study of psychoactive drugs has been at the core of his questionable research—his treatment of a French patient with multiple personality disorder, and his self-medication with the “potion” that allows Hyde to emerge. His next question is both a deflection and a telling indication of his own fear and fascination:
You’re asking me if it’s possible for a woman to psychologically sabotage her own pregnancy? Well, sabotage makes it sound deliberate, Georgiana replied. I suppose I’m asking if a woman could be doing it involuntarily. Why would it be involuntary? I don’t know, she said. The poets make it sound that feelings are these insuppressible forces storming through the body. That is how it feels to
Page 69 ends. Yet Jekyll’s choice of words—sabotage—lingers eerily throughout the novel. Self-sabotage: voluntary or involuntary, or somehow both? Such questions are very relevant to Hyde as his mind begins to destabilize, and a mysterious stalker becomes intent upon destroying his life.
Visit Daniel Levine's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 3, 2014

"Love and Treasure"

Ayelet Waldman is the author of Love and Treasure, Red Hook Road and the New York Times bestseller Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace. Her novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits was adapted into a film called The Other Woman starring Natalie Portman. Her personal essays and profiles of such public figures as Hillary Clinton have been published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Vogue, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Her radio commentaries have appeared on “All Things Considered” and “The California Report.”

Waldman applied the Page 69 Test to Love and Treasure and reported the following:
Remarkably (though perhaps not -- isn't that the very point of this exercise?) page 69 of Love and Treasure encapsulates pretty much everything this book is about.
Chapter 6

Months passed, the weather turned, and Jack continued to spend his evenings and rare days off with Ilona and his days as a glorified quartermaster’s clerk, processing requisition orders from U.S. generals throughout Land Salzburg, all of whom, it seemed, were in need of carpets and china, linens and tableware. He filled the orders and kept his records, periodically expressed his objections to his superior officer, and waited for someone to do something about it all. And then, finally, one day it seemed about to end. He was sitting at his makeshift desk, writing a letter of recommendation for Private Streeter, who was applying to pharmacy college in Albany in anticipation of his release, when the warehouse door creaked open, and Lieutenant Colonel Price strode through, a crowd of civilians in his wake. There were five in all, a small clutch of older men in brushed and mended suits and hats, and one younger man, taller than the others, elegantly attired, with watchful eyes. Bringing up the rear was Rabbi Bohnen.

“Lieutenant,” Price began, “I’m going to need you to—”

“If I might have a moment?” Rabbi Bohnen said. “I’d like to introduce Lieutenant Wiseman to our guests.”

Not used to being interrupted by an officer of lesser rank, but nonetheless respectful of the chaplain’s role, Price pressed his lips together and nodded.

“Lieutenant Wiseman, this is the delegation from Hungary, emissaries of the Jewish community of Budapest come to review the contents of the train.”

Finally! Jack thought. “Jó napot,” he said.

The Hungarians exclaimed and began speaking to him in a rush of Hungarian, but Jack had to hold up his hand. “That’s about all I know,” he said.

“It’s more than I do,” the rabbi said. “Jack, I also want to introduce you to Gideon Rafael, a member of the political department of the Jewish Agency, from Eretz Yisrael.”
This page introduces you to all the various competing claims to the contents of the Gold Train. There are the high-ranking American military officers who are pillaging the contents to furnish their Austrian residences. Many, if not most, of these officers will ultimately take those items home with them when they return to the states. The main character of this section of the novel, Jack, has been tormented by his part in what he views as akin to looting. Jack is relieved (even thrilled) because for the first time, delegates of the Hungarian Jewish Community (or rather its remnant) have finally been permitted to come to view the property. Jack believes that the property will be returned to those with the greatest claim to it and that he will finally stop being a party to what he feels is a crime.

And as if that wasn't enough, he meets for the first time a man, Gideon Rafael, who will eventually play a tragic role in the end of Jack's love affair with Ilona.
Learn more about the author and her work at Ayelet Waldman's website.

Writers Read: Ayelet Waldman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Beach Plum Island"

Holly Robinson is a journalist, a celebrity ghost writer, and the author of The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir (Crown 2010), the self-published novel Sleeping Tigers (2011), and two novels published by NAL Penguin, The Wishing Hill (2013) and Beach Plum Island (April 2014). She holds a B.A. in biology from Clark University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Robinson lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts with her husband and their five children, where they are fixing up a 1700's Colonial one shingle at a time.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Beach Plum Island and reported the following:
If I were a stranger picking up Beach Plum Island and flipping it open to page 69, I wouldn't be able to resist going to the bottom of page 68, since the first line on page 69 is a sentence fragment. Starting there, I would know this much about the plot: the death of a father has caused a rift between two half sisters, and the older sister, Elaine, is writing an apology note to Gigi, her teenaged half sister, for something awful Elaine did at their father's funeral because Elaine was so drunk.

Page 69 demonstrates some of the book's emotional tension, and certainly shows us that Elaine is a snide, imperfect character. However, this particular passage doesn't spell out the central conflict in Beach Plum Island, which is sparked by the mysterious deathbed confession of a father to his daughters about a brother they never knew they had. It also doesn't reveal that the book is plotted like a tightly-paced mystery, with the sisters frantically searching for clues about the whereabouts of that missing brother.

Here's how page 69 starts (cheating by adding the last line of p. 68):
Entitled brat or not, Gigi couldn't find it easy, losing her father at fifteen.

Their father.

Elaine sighed and started over on a fresh sheet of paper.
Dear Katy and Gigi,

I am sorry for your loss. Dad was a powerful presence in all our lives. I know he was a good husband and father to you, and that you were close to him in ways I never was. I guess maybe that's why it hit me so hard when he died: I never really got to know him, and I will regret that forever.

I want to apologize for acting the way I did at the service. I would like to blame my atrocious behavior on the wine. (Here, Elaine barely refrained from adding, “Which could have been better, by the way.”) But I hold myself fully accountable for my outburst. You were trying to honor my father with the memorial service and I greatly appreciate the effort you made. You were generous to include us, and I thank you.

I hope things will get easier for you over time. I promise to behave more like an adult if our paths ever chance to cross in the future.

Sincerely yours,
Elaine Barrett
Then, before she could change her mind or spend any more time fretting, Elaine neatly folded the paper in thirds, slid it into a matching envelope, and put a stamp on it.
Learn more about the book and author at Holly Robinson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Wishing Hill.

--Marshal Zeringue