Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"To Catch a Killer"

Sheryl Scarborough is an award-winning writer for children’s television. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, lives in Washington state, and has always had an obsession with forensics. When she was twelve, her home was the target of a Peeping Tom. Scarborough diligently photographed his footprints and collected the candy wrappers he left behind. Unfortunately, he was never caught. But the desire to use evidence to solve a great mystery was sparked inside Scarborough all the same.

Scarborough applied the Page 69 Test to To Catch a Killer, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Her door is closed, no light shining from under the crack. I press my ear to the wood. At first it’s silent, like a tomb. And then I hear rustling and creaking floorboards. The hinge on her balcony door howls.

I fling her door open wide in time to catch a tall shadow lurking on her balcony.

I scream, and the shadow clatters down the stairs.
 Rachel leaps out of bed and grabs me.
“There’s a man on your balcony. Right there. Right there.”

I’m pointing frantically.
 Rachel barely glances outside. Instead she pulls me into the hall, even though I resist. “Rachel, you’re not listening to me.”

She takes me by the shoulders and steers me to the kitchen.

“Shhhh. Calm down.” She’s using her soothing voice. “There’s no one out there. It’s just a nightmare. Is that a knife? Give me that. Now sit down; I’ll make some hot chocolate.”

“It wasn’t a nightmare. I’m fully awake. Seriously, Rachel, call Sydney. Get the police out here. I saw someone. I know it.”

She empties a couple of chocolate packets into cups and waits for the water to boil. “Just breathe,” she says. “What you’ve been through would give anyone nightmares. Everything’s okay. I promise.”
Does it pass the test?

I wasn’t sure about this test until I went back to read page 69. In To Catch A Killer, Erin, the main character, is very secretive and somewhat of an unreliable narrator, we can’t always trust her view of things.

Just prior to this scene, Erin awakens to irrefutable evidence that someone had been in her bedroom while she was asleep. Since there’s already been one murder of someone she was close to, she suddenly fears her guardian could become a victim, too. Terrified, she slips down the stairs to her guardian’s bedroom to check on her. This scene on page 69 picks up with Erin right outside her guardian’s bedroom door. This scene opens a question about the guardian which, as the story progresses, will trigger Erin’s trust issues. So, I would say, yes. To Catch A Killer definitely passes the page 69 test.
Visit Sheryl Scarborough's website.

My Book, The Movie: To Catch a Killer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 19, 2017

"Die for You"

Amy Fellner Dominy is a former advertising copywriter, MFA playwright and hula-hoop champion. Her novels for teens and tweens include Die For You; A Matter of Heart; Audition & Subtraction; and OyMG, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book. Dominy’s first picture book, Cookiesaurus Rex, will be published by Disney, Fall 2017. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband, various pets and two children who occasionally stop by for free meals.

Dominy applied the Page 69 Test to Die For You, and reported the following:
An excerpt pieced together from sections of page 69:
I lift my tank. I’m wearing a new lacy push-up bra in Dillon’s favorite color, blue. I bought it yesterday with this moment in mind.

His breath hisses out with a groan. “Oh, hell.”

I smile. The bra is worth every penny I spent. He slides off his shorts and boxers and I slip off my shorts and then, more slowly, my underwear. A blush prickles over my chest and neck. I don’t know why I suddenly feel shy, though this is still pretty new for us. (…)

“Don’t,” he says.

I blink. “What?”

He slides one finger beneath a bra strap and pulls me close. “Don’t be shy with me.”

“I don’t mean to be.”

“It’s because we were apart.” His gaze is full of love but there’s also a hint of pain in the tired puffiness beneath his eyes.
After reading the excerpt of page 69, you probably expect a steamy romance for teens. In fact, this is a novel for teens about a loving relationship that begins to twist into something dark. Something dangerous.

Emma and Dillon are seniors in high school, very much in love, but Emma has just found out about an internship that will take her abroad for a year. In this scene, Dillon has been gone for a week’s vacation with his mom and he’s missed Emma so much that already he’s beginning to feel desperate. She can’t leave him—certainly not for a whole year. He would rather die than be without her.

This scene on page 69 is a moment of closeness and connection, but laced with the fear and obsession that will lead Dillon to prove to Emma that dying for her isn’t merely words.

The story shines a light on emotional abuse, which has become a silent epidemic among teens. It’s a reminder never to sacrifice who you are for anyone or anything.

(And, for those of you wondering if this book is appropriate for your teen, this section is as x-rated as it gets. The actual sex happens off the page.)
Visit Amy Fellner Dominy's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Amy Fellner Dominy & Riley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Buried in the Country"

Carola Dunn is the author of twenty Daisy Dalrymple mysteries, set in England in the 1920s, four Cornish mysteries, and over 30 Regencies.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Buried in the Country, the fourth Cornish mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
[Sir Edward] took the decanter back to the tray and stopped to talk to Tariro and Gina, who had parted the curtains to look out at the storm. Meanwhile, Norton popped in again to beg for a word with her ladyship. Payne started towards Eleanor and Nontando, but Eleanor gave him a look that he correctly interpreted as "Stay away."

"Have you met Tariro before, Miss Nontando?" she asked. "Something gave me that impression."

"Something like his walking away before we could be introduced?" Nontando said dryly. "Yes, we met in Oxford. We both did our A-levels at Oxford Tech, so we could hardly help getting to know each other."

"I imagine it was a relief, in a strange country, to know someone from home."

"It was. In fact, we...went out together."

Lived together? Eleanor wondered. "Then he stayed in Oxford and you went to London."

"He was offered places at both Oxford and LSE. He could have chosen London," Nontando said resentfully. "He wanted me to give up my education, marry him, and get a job. To support him. Typical Shona. Though, to be fair, Ndebele men are just as bad. If you know Zimbabwe, you know women count for nothing."

So much for Sir Edward's peace conference!
Eleanor's task is to keep the peace between the participants. As page 69 demonstrates, it's clearly going to be a job worthy of the talents of the retired global aid worker.

Meanwhile, her niece, DSI Megan Pencarrow, is providing security, watching out for spies. Page 69 gives no hint of this side of the story, nor of the two villainous men who may have followed her to the isolated hotel where the conference takes place. She's also looking for a local solicitor who's gone missing.

All these threads come together when a murder occurs. It leads to a wild car chase, in an attempt to prevent further deaths, followed by a full-scale manhunt on foggy Bodmin Moor at night. Eleanor, with her knowledge of the moors and her diplomatic skills, plus a few tricks she's picked up on her travels, emerges with the solution to the mystery.
Learn more about the book and author at Carola Dunn's website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Carola Dunn and Trillian.

The Page 69 Test: Manna from Hades (the 1st Cornish Mystery).

The Page 69 Test: A Colourful Death (the 2d Cornish Mystery).

The Page 69 Test: The Valley of the Shadow (the 3d Cornish Mystery).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 17, 2017

"DRONE"

Kim Garcia is the author of The Brighter House, winner of the 2015 White Pine Press Poetry Prize, DRONE, winner of the 2015 Backwaters Prize, and Madonna Magdalene, released by Turning Point Books in 2006. Her chapbook Tales of the Sisters won the 2015 Sow’s Ear Poetry Review Chapbook Contest. Her poems have appeared in such journals as Crab Orchard Review, Crazyhorse, Mississippi Review, Nimrod and Subtropics, and her work has been featured on The Writer’s Almanac. Recipient of the 2014 Lynda Hull Memorial Prize, an AWP Intro Writing Award, a Hambidge Fellowship and an Oregon Individual Artist Grant, Garcia teaches creative writing at Boston College.

She applied the Page 69 Test to DRONE and reported the following:
From page 69:
"Kindred"

The hand at work, heart’s drone,
map-dance in honeycomb. The path

of flower, clover song, sweet magnetic
north, nectar cooled in flight. River

rocks’ remembered wash, a karst of blue.
A sky mountainous with frowning cloud,

stars slipping the city’s hot gaze, fastening
their new eyes over fresh yearnings—home

drawn up along the lines of the old ache
like desert seed, fashioning green tongues.
At first look “Kindred” is very different from many of the poems in DRONE, a book that meditates on the terrifying repercussions and temptations of a weapon that changes military rules of engagement, what a war zone is, and even how we think of the sky. But this poem speaks to two thematic threads that weave DRONE together—the longing for peace, despite every challenge created by these slippery, powerful new weapons, and the state of belonging which we all share as a ground of our being. Warfare quickly devolves into total war, unending war, without keeping these two realities present, even under tremendous conflicting pressures. Drones have made possible a level of surveillance, and therefore responsibility, never before experienced. We need all our collective human wisdom to respond in policy, poetry, and procedure. We are in truth “Kindred.”
Visit Kim Garcia's website.

The Page 69 Test: Madonna Magdalene.

The Page 69 Test: The Brighter House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"I Liked My Life"

After graduating from The Taft School in 1998 and Babson College in 2002, Abby Fabiaschi climbed the corporate ladder in high technology. When her children turned three and four in what felt like one season, she resigned to pursue writing.

Fabiaschi applied the Page 69 Test to I Liked My Life, her debut upmarket women’s fiction novel, and reported the following:
I Liked My Life explores what happens to Brady, a workaholic father, and Eve, his rebellious teenage daughter, after Maddy, their seemingly devoted matriarch, commits suicide. Looking down at the family she left behind, Maddy tries to make things right.

As it turns out, page sixty-nine is quite telling. It’s Eve’s seventeenth birthday and Maddy fears Brady will screw it up, the way he has so many parenting moments since her death. “I’m nervous for them,” she says to an audience who can’t hear her. “I watch the scene play out as I imagine a writer finishes a chapter, hopeful the conclusion complements the rising action, but unsure it will.”

The reader also gets a glimpse into the emerging relationship between Brady and Rory, the woman Maddy hopes will become a liaison between her husband and daughter, as she once was.
Visit Abby Fabiaschi's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"The Skill of Our Hands"

Steven Brust is the bestselling author of Issola, Dragon, The Phoenix Guards, Five Hundred Years After, and many others. Skyler White is the author of And Falling, Fly and In Dreams Begin, along with co-authoring The Incrementalist series with Steven Brust.

White applied the Page 69 Test to The Skill of Our Hands, the second volume in The Incrementalist series, and reported the following:
I’m a believer.

After I agreed to write this post, before I checked for what was on The Skill of Our Hand’s 69th page, I set myself a little test: to prove the rule, the page would need to reference immigration, and it would need to include one of Oskar’s asides to the audience. It didn’t do either.

But in yet another instance where books know their authors better than we know ourselves (ask Steve about Teckla sometime) the rule proved itself right, and me wrong. In my mind, Skill is Oskar’s book. He is, in fact, on stage on page 69, but the scene is written from his point of view, and he doesn’t interrupt himself quite as often as he does his fellow Incrementalists, so no asides. And yes, the book is centrally about brutal race-based laws now and in the 1850’s, but it’s also about the militarization of the civilian police force, and which weapons — guns, sex, data mining, magic — are fair to use in those fights, and which backfire. The book is about those questions, but it’s about these people — the Incrementalists. The scene on page 69 (and onto 70, sorry) is between Oskar, Irina, another Incrementalist, and Jane, who isn’t one of the group:
"We know pretty much everything, about everyone. Or we can with a little work."

"That's--"

"Your cat's name was Satha because when you got her you couldn't pronounce Samantha. Your big brother has a small white scar over his left eye where you pushed him into the edge of the piano when he wouldn't stop poking you. Your favorite dessert is blueberries with sugar and half and half. You became a Wiccan in college because you like the people, the community, and the attitude, but you’re not sure you really believe it all. You kept your last name when you married because you had it legally changed from ‘Rossi’ to 'Astarte' two years before, and you didn’t want to look fickle.”

Jane was staring at Oskar, her eyes widening. When he stopped speaking, she stood up abruptly, and stepped back a little. "Okay," she said. "This is creepy."

"Yeah," he said. "I know. Sorry."

"Way to be reassuring, Oskar," said Irina.

"Go fuck yourself," Oskar appeased, and turned back to Jane. "We are kind of creepy," he admitted. "But our intentions are good."

"Who’s we?"

"That's a difficult question to answer. We're a small group of people who try to make things better."
Oskar is telling Jane about herself to show her who he is, and who they are. Which, in the best of worlds, is what this book, maybe all books, are really all about.

So yeah, I’m a believer. But I’m not obedient. I’m going to cheat a little again and sneak Oskar’s last aside in here at the end, because he ought to get a chance to talk right to you: “Get involved. Make things better. I’ve taken a big step here, and maybe it’s just jumping up and down plus waving. Maybe it covers all the distance from a gunshot to an invitation. And if you accept it, from Look to Be. Yours are the hands on those machines. Think for a minute about what that means.”
Visit Steven Brust's website and Skyler White's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"The Breakout"

Ryan David Jahn is the author of the novels Acts of Violence, which won the Crime Writers' Association John Creasey Dagger, Low Life, The Dispatcher, which was long-listed for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, The Last Tomorrow, and the newly released The Breakout.

Jahn applied the Page 69 Test to The Breakout and reported the following:
From page 69:
While the phone rang in his ear, he lit a Camel, took a deep drag, and spat a fleck of tobacco off the end of his tongue.

“George Rankin.”

“Gael.”

“What’s the news?”

“Got some paperwork for you at the dead drop.”

“What kind?”

“Bank transfers, phone records, that kind of thing.”
Above is the first twenty percent of the sixty-ninth page of The Breakout, and while it presents a higher ratio of dialogue to action than the book as a whole, I also think it’s fairly representative, especially if you understand that the two men talking, George Rankin and Gael Morales, are DEA agents, the latter working undercover. The Breakout is a thriller about a Marine who travels to Mexico to kill the man responsible for his sister’s death and ends up in prison on trumped-up drug charges; it’s a thriller about the men in his platoon attempting to break him out. But that only explains the premise. On a different level the book is about the morality of violence and lies, those we tell others and those we tell ourselves to justify our actions. Gael Morales, the undercover agent leaving paperwork at the dead drop above, is living a double life, working for the head of a drug cartel he’s also trying to bring down, and because of this double life, he must lie to himself (and others) constantly. He must live as two men, both criminal and cop, and shift from being one person to another at a moment’s notice. Like other characters in the book, he finds ways to justify his own violence as being necessary for the greater good. In the brief excerpt above he is simply a DEA agent doing his job, but very few of the characters in The Breakout are exactly what they present themselves to be.
Visit Ryan David Jahn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 13, 2017

"The Brighter House"

Kim Garcia is the author of The Brighter House, winner of the 2015 White Pine Press Poetry Prize, DRONE, winner of the 2015 Backwaters Prize, and Madonna Magdalene, released by Turning Point Books in 2006. Her chapbook Tales of the Sisters won the 2015 Sow’s Ear Poetry Review Chapbook Contest. Her poems have appeared in such journals as Crab Orchard Review, Crazyhorse, Mississippi Review, Nimrod and Subtropics, and her work has been featured on The Writer’s Almanac. Recipient of the 2014 Lynda Hull Memorial Prize, an AWP Intro Writing Award, a Hambidge Fellowship and an Oregon Individual Artist Grant, Garcia teaches creative writing at Boston College.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Brighter House and reported the following:
From page 69:
the mystic crucifixion by Tintoretto

has become a Nativity. A curator’s x-ray reveals the bishop below
the shepherd, hands folded over his heart. The woman
with her arms flung wide has not lost her son, but received
him—suffering at both ends of the frame, worn
canvas sewn together. A chicken scratches
in the dirt. Over the hill the Magi arrive, impossibly clean
like a cavalry of peace. They have left their arms
at the palace, hands clasped around enthusiasm already
brimming the small vessel that must contain it. His
swaddling is whiter than the lamb
that sniffs at its fold. To work this miracle the legs of Christ
are severed, painted over. An angel is chopped in half. Clouds
become rocks. Everything heavier as the glory settles
like sediment in a glass. A camel spits.
Crickets stitch in the straw. It is always the first day.
Sometimes at public readings, I lead with this poem since The Brighter House is a collection of just such attempts at spiritual reconstruction. I imagine the painter Tintoretto’s decision to take a crucifixion and remake it as nativity (something revealed in the last decade when curators x-rayed the canvas) as responding to a practical need—not wasting canvas and work—but rich with evocative suggestion. Each figure must play a new role, imagined beyond the grief in which they were originally conceived.

I wrote the poems in The Brighter House after my father’s death, and at first I wrote for my sisters, to give them words for experiences that hurt to speak. How to understand our dilemma when he lived and then when he died? How to reimagine life after the violence was well and truly over? I wanted to be, as the title suggests, a “brighter house,” but how to build this new architecture? I let the urgency of that question come into the poems themselves through myth and fairytale, beyond autobiographical details. I wanted the poems as a whole to speak to anyone who is trying to move from suffering—material, political, spiritual—to tenderness and trust.

Imagining ourselves into such a frame costs something. The work is hard and asks parts of ourselves to give up what they do naturally and reactively, to lay down our arms, to witness something new, to open our arms to life as a new birth. What I want to say, on page 69 or any page, to anyone doing such work is: It is always the first day.
Visit Kim Garcia's website.

The Page 69 Test: Madonna Magdalene.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 12, 2017

"Molly & Pim and the Millions of Stars"

Martine Murray studied law at Melbourne University, then pursued painting and joined a circus before starting a dance company called Bird on a Wire. After an injury, she began writing and illustrating books for children and young adults. Her novels, including The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley, have won several awards in Australia. Her books have been translated into seventeen languages. She lives in Castlemaine, Australia, with her daughter and dog.

Murray applied the Page 69 Test to latest novel, Molly & Pim and the Millions of Stars, and reported the following:
Weirdly I would say page 69 of Molly and Pim is a turning point moment when Molly first speaks to Pim, and the only time she tells anyone of her terrible secret. This is the moment that brings Pim into the adventure that has overtaken her life and so it is when they join forces so to speak; their friendship begins and Pim is inculcated into the magic of Molly’s world. Through his acceptance of it, she also begins to embrace what is particular and different about her and her life.
Visit Martine Murray's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 11, 2017

"The Chosen Maiden"

Eva Stachniak is the award-winning and internationally bestselling author of four novels. The Winter Palace was a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year and made The Washington Post’s most notable fiction list in 2012. She holds a PhD in literature from McGill University. Born and raised in Poland, she moved to Canada in 1981, and lives in Toronto.

Stachniak applied the Page 69 Test to her newly released fifth novel, The Chosen Maiden, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I visit Vaslav every free moment I have. I read to him from his favourite books: Krylov’s fables, Tales of The Thousand and One Nights, Pushkin’s Onegin and Tolstoy’s Childhood. We play games and I let him beat me in chess—which is not easy, for Vaslav makes many rash moves I do not anticipate. I repeat to him all the praises I’ve heard about his dancing, of his lightness, his force, his dedication to perfecting every move. “Who said that?” he asks. Fokine? Cecchetti? Soon he is allowed to sit up then walk, and the doctors confirm that—in a month or two—he will be allowed to dance.

“Tell me what really happened?” I ask him a few times, but Vaslav shrugs off my question and says he doesn’t remember. Or that it is not important. Or that I wouldn’t understand anyway. When once I repeat the rumours that Bourman and Rosai smeared the floor with soap and then raised the music stand too high the moment he wasn’t looking, Vaslav’s cheeks turn white with rage.

“That’s a vicious lie, Bronia,” he screams. “It’s only stupid people who say such things.”

“How can you be so sure?”

But Vaslav doesn’t want to listen. He fixes me with his eyes and says, “I forbid you to ever mention it again.”
I wrote The Chosen Maiden because, after two novels about Catherine the Great, I wanted to re-live the end of Catherine’s Russia. What better subject than the imperial ballet artists who dazzled Paris and St. Petersburg and changed the course of modern dance? Especially the Nijinsky siblings: Vaslav—the God of Dance—and his sister Bronislava (Bronia) who, to prove her talent, had to free herself from her brother’s extraordinary fame. Having survived the tumultuous upheavals of the early decades of the 20th century, she’ll become not just a renowned dancer and teacher but also a groundbreaking choreographer, whose visions will secure her a firm place in the history of modern dance.

The novel, carefully researched, is written in Bronia’s voice and takes a reader on an intimate and dramatic journey. Bronia will dance in Paris, London, Monte Carlo. She will live through WWI and Russian Revolution, escape from Bolshevik Kiev, and choreograph for famous Ballets Russes, before the onset of WWII will force her to leave Europe for good.

Page 69 catches my heroine at a dramatic moment of her life. Bronia is a student in the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg where her older brother, Vaslav, is universally hailed as a rising star of Russian ballet. A few days before, however, Vaslav had been a victim of a vicious student prank which almost killed him. As the future God of the Dance is recuperating, his “so called friends” complicit in the accident come to visit. Bronia—younger but in many ways more mature and realistic than her brother—realizes how vulnerable Vaslav is, how fragile.

Future events will prove how significant this realization is.
Learn more about the book and author at Eva Stachniak's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 9, 2017

"The Animators"

Kayla Rae Whitaker’s work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Split Lip Magazine, BODY, Bodega, Joyland, The Switchback, Five Quarterly, American Microreviews and Interviews, and others. She has a BA from the University of Kentucky and an MFA from New York University. After many years of living in Brooklyn, she returned to Kentucky, her home state, in 2016 with her husband and their geriatric tomcat, Breece D’J Pancake.

Whitaker applied the Page 69 Test to The Animators, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Mel slaps my knee. “It’s cool. I got my demons, too. When my mom got knocked up with me, she was real dandy to do a DIY abort job because she was too cheap to go to the clinic, right? And she heard somewhere that an excess of vitamin C could kill a baby in utero. So she took a metric butt-ton of C, like orange juice injections straight up the cooter. As an adult? I almost never get sick. True story. Almost made it into the movie, that bit. But it just ended up making sweet, sweet love to the cutting room floor.”

She’s throttling her microphone now, too. I can see it loosening off the dash, unknowingly making purchase when she talks.

“It’s true,” Mel says. “It’s near impossible to overdose on vitamin C. You just end up shitting it out.”

Glynnis nearly chokes.

“Try that with other vitamins. Vitamin D? You’ll end up with a giant purple eye. Vitamin A? Testicles like pumpkins. But C? Just sluices on through, babe. Like me.”

Mel leans over the table and the microphone rips from the dash. There’s a spark, that electrical spit of a device cutting out. The sound engineer jumps up, waving his arms.

Mel says, “Crap.”

Glynnis freezes. Looks at me. And for the first time in the interview, I laugh. I laugh, and I don’t know what it means or where it’s coming from. But for once, I’m not forcing it.”

“Oh ho,” Glynnis says. “You two. I think we’ll wrap it up here.”
*
I don’t talk on the elevator. The silence trails us out onto Sixth Avenue.

“I don’t know what your problem is,” Mel says. “She liked us. Aside from the broken mic. Why are you so moody all of a sudden?”

“My interpretation of a good interview is one where you don’t talk about how much tail I do or don’t get.”

“I was trying to guide her away from that stupid Salon article because I was sick of talking about it. It’s called a joke.”
Page 69 of The Animators represents one of the book’s central problems at its loudest, most destructive peak: it is, at its heart, about a relationship populated by two polar opposites. Balance is forever an issue for the Vaught and Kisses partnership. The behavior of Mel Vaught, the duo’s rowdier, more outgoing half, consistently upsets this balance. She’s a brilliant artist, but often acts out in the worst ways possible, fueled by booze, drugs, and a natural penchant for sparking upheaval. And on page 69 of the book, she may or may not be high on crystal meth while ruining a highly anticipated NPR interview. Her quieter, less flamboyant partner, Sharon, subtly snubbed earlier in the interview by prestigious NPR host Glynnis Havermeyer, is letting Mel run wild as a revenge tactic, but wishing the entire exercise would end.

I find the roots of Mel’s behavior interesting. She abhors sanctimony, and if she detects even a hint of it, she is tempted to push boundaries. She has a troubling habit of testing others to see whether or not they have the ability to see through her exhibitionism to the real substance underneath, and judges accordingly. This is largely because she doesn’t like being judged. Judgment hurts. When Sharon encounters judgment, she’d rather remove herself altogether, go home, and work. I think Sharon recognizes the hurt place in Mel that pushes her to act out, and because she keeps company with her friend’s pain so well, often excuses her behavior when she is tempted not to.

Her tenderness at judgment aside, I think that Mel is a pretty liberated character. This is an incredibly rare trait for a woman. She does and says what she wants and the displeasure of others means very little to her. She is less influenced by shame and shaming than most, which was fun to write – it was a pleasure to know, at least in some measure, what that feels like. And here, too, is another probable reason why Sharon lets Mel run wild: Sharon admires her, and wishes she could have a bit of that courage for herself.
Visit Kayla Rae Whitaker's website.

Writers Read: Kayla Rae Whitaker.

My Book, The Movie: The Animators.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

"The Runaway Midwife"

Patricia Harman, CNM, got her start as a lay midwife on rural communes and went on to become a nurse-midwife on the faculties of Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, and West Virginia University. She is the author of two acclaimed memoirs and the bestselling novel The Midwife of Hope River.

Harman applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Runaway Midwife, and reported the following:
When asked to take this test with my new book, The Runaway Midwife, I was surprised that page 69 perfectly represents the arc of the story.
For six days it rains and the waves crash up on the break-wall dragging the chunks of ice in and then out. On the fourth day, in the afternoon, the clouds, like battleships, pass over the horizon. Spring is coming. I can feel it, but there’s no joy in my heart.

I’ve been here almost four weeks and there’s a change in the light and the sky is bright blue, but I’ve slipped into the gray waters and I’m floating back and forth with the ice. Clara Perry is dead but Sara Livingston of Seagull Island has not quite been born.

Besides leaving my home, my job, my patients and my daughter, I think I know why I’m in the doldrums. I haven’t delivered a baby in over five weeks and I hadn’t realized how much being a midwife carried me on wings.
Clara Perry, nurse-midwife, is on the run, hiding on a remote island in Canada. She’s taken a new identity, but is afraid to move around because she’s there as an illegal immigrant, a thief and a fugitive wanted in the US for manslaughter following the death of a patient at a home birth. (This is a woman her ex-husband calls a Girl Scout because she’d never do anything against the law or even unseemly.)

I like the passage above because it shows the protagonist floating back and forth with the broken ice in the gray waves of Lake Erie, as depressed as she has ever been, and then things begin to change as spring comes and she realizes that’s it’s not her new life that’s getting her down, but the fact that she’s missing the most important part of her old one.
Birth is a miracle, not just for the patient and her family, but for me. When I was with a woman in labor, I wasn’t thinking about what to have for dinner or whom Richard was screwing. My full attention was on the patient and there was peace in that. It’s like meditation and there’s only one thing that matters, getting the mother and the baby safely through the passage with love and grace. I miss it.
I think if I were the reader, I would read on. By this point, I’ve followed the protagonist through a harrowing journey in a snowstorm from West Virginia to Ohio. We’ve crossed the thawing ice of Lake Erie on a snowmobile and stumbled through deep snow, in the middle of the night, to an isolated cottage. What will happen next? Will Clara, be forced to take more risks, just to survive?
Visit Patricia Harman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"Duplicity"

Ingrid Thoft was born in Boston and is a graduate of Wellesley College. Her interest in the PI life and her desire to create a believable PI character led her to the certificate program in private investigation at the University of Washington. She lives in Seattle with her husband.

Thoft intended to apply the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Duplicity, but that page presented some issues. So...
From page 59:
Tucking the gun into the back of her waistband, she moved into the kitchen. Dishes and glasses were smashed on the floor, and pots and pans littered the counters. She didn’t even know the proper home for the kitchen items, having spent so little time there. The thieves had been considerate enough to leave some of her items in the fridge, including a cold diet soda. The hiss of carbonation was a reassuring sound, and she took a long drink before returning to the couch.

Milloy answered on the second ring.

“I have a question for you,” Fina said.

“Shoot.”

“Do you happen to know where I keep the drainy thing, you know, the thing you put spaghetti in?”

There was a long pause.

“The colander?” he asked.

“Yes! That thing.”

“It’s in the lower cabinet to the left of the stove.”

“I knew you would have the answer.”

“You could have just looked, genius.”

“Which brings us to the problem: I couldn’t have just looked. Everything that was once in the cabinets is now out of the cabinets.”

“What happened?”

“Someone broke in and rearranged everything.”

“Do you want me to come over?”

“No, I’m good. I’ll just shove stuff back in.”

Milloy sighed. “I’m coming over.”

“You don’t have to. I’m good.”

“I’m not worried about you. I’m worried about how I’m going to find that drainy thing the next time I need it.”

“So selfish, Milloy. You only care about yourself.”

“I’ll be there in half an hour.”

Fina looked around Nanny’s living room and felt weary. Not because the place had been trashed, but because the suspect list was long: She had a knack for pissing off people. Fina was certain that the break-in was targeted and intended to send a specific message.

But it was hard to decode the message when there were so many possible senders.
For this visit to The Page 69 Test I have to break tradition. As luck would have it, page 69 of my new book Duplicity reveals too much! So, I’m taking the liberty of making this entry The Page 59 Test, which finds my protagonist, Fina Ludlow, sorting through her personal items in the aftermath of a break-in at her condo. Fina is a private investigator in Boston and works for her family’s firm of personal injury attorneys. She’s no stranger to the occasional dustup and doesn’t shy away from danger or confrontation, but the violation of her personal space is particularly galling. Was the perpetrator looking for something or just trying to send a message? Is the break-in related to her current investigation into an evangelical church that may be after its congregants’ money? Or maybe it was someone with whom Fina tangled in the past. Fina, in her typical fashion of pragmatism and good humor, sets about cleaning up the mess, but calls in reinforcements. Milloy—her best friend, personal masseuse, occasional operative and friend with benefits—knows that when it comes to putting her kitchen back together, Fina is in way over her head.
Visit Ingrid Thoft's website.

The Page 69 Test: Brutality.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 6, 2017

"A Fatal Twist"

Tracy Weber is the author of the award-winning Downward Dog Mysteries series. The first book in the series, Murder Strikes a Pose, won the Maxwell Award for Fiction and was nominated for the Agatha award for Best First Novel.

A certified yoga therapist, Weber is the owner of Whole Life Yoga, a Seattle yoga studio, as well as the creator and director of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program. She loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any way possible.

Weber and her husband Marc live in Seattle with their crazy new German shepherd pup, Ana. When she’s not writing, the author spends her time teaching yoga, trying to corral Ana, and sipping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house.

Weber applied the Page 69 Test to A Fatal Twist, the new Downward Dog mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Chapter 7

The uniformed officer escorted me from the interview room to one of the hospital’s waiting areas, where Sam and Rene were—appropriately enough—waiting for me. One glimpse of Rene’s concerned expression and I burst into tears.

“I’m sorry, you guys. I didn’t mean to stand you up.”

Rene wrapped me in the deepest hug her three-person body could accommodate. “Of course you didn’t, sweetie. We knew that.”

“I found another body.”

“They told us,” she replied. “It sucks, big time.” Accurate, if a bit of an understatement.

“Are you okay?” Sam asked.

“Not now, but I will be. Can we get out of here? I want to go home.”

Rene and Sam peppered me with questions all the way to the parking garage. After receiving a half-dozen monosyllabic replies, they took the hint and remained uncharacteristically quiet for the rest of the drive home. I felt bad for shutting them out, but I couldn’t focus well enough to make conversation. My brain had been shocked into traumatized, numb mush.

The three neurons still firing tortured me with a relentless litany of questions. If Rachel hadn’t killed her husband, obviously someone else had. The “how” was obvious. But who did it, and why? Would Rachel ever forgive me for talking to the police? What would happen to Nicole if Rachel was arrested? And the question that yelled at me the loudest: how could I put the brakes on this freight train before Rachel and Nicole both got dragged underneath it?
Page 69 is the beginning of Chapter 7, which takes place immediately after Kate has been interviewed by the police. A few hours earlier, Kate discovered the body of a murdered fertility doctor. Kate witnessed the slain doctor’s wife fleeing the scene, and she is concerned that her testimony will condemn Rachel—who she firmly believes is innocent—to a life behind bars, leaving Rachel’s teenaged daughter, Nicole, parentless.

This scene shows Kate’s internal dialogue and conflict, but it doesn’t exemplify her normally open, caring, and humorous relationship with Sam and Rene. It also doesn’t show her sharp wit or her self-deprecating humor. Then again, how many of us would feel like joking around after finding a man stabbed through the heart?
Visit Tracy Weber's website, blog, and Facebook page.

Coffee with a Canine: Tracy Weber and Tasha.

The Page 69 Test: Murder Strikes a Pose.

The Page 69 Test: A Killer Retreat.

The Page 69 Test: Karma's a Killer.

My Book, The Movie: Karma's a Killer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 4, 2017

"The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson"

Nancy Peacock’s novel The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson was self-published in 2013, and in 2015 won First Place in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book- Mainstream Fiction category. That same year the book was picked up by Atria Press, a division of Simon and Schuster. Peacock is the author of two earlier novels, Life Without Water (chosen as a New York Times Notable Book) and Home Across the Road, as well and the memoir and writing guide, A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning and Life.

Peacock applied the Page 69 Test to The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson and reported the following:
From Page 69:
Holmes counted out loud. I remember puffs of dust erupting in front of my mouth, as I blew air out with each lash. I remember grit settling in my nose, my eyes, my mouth. After a while I felt my flesh split open.

“Oh Lord,” someone said behind me. “Oh Lord.”

The slaves began to moan. Their voices rose and fell into crescendos and valleys as each blow fell across my back. I felt another strip of skin peel away. I felt air move across muscles and tendons. I felt hot rivulets of blood pour down my sides. I saw a piece of my flesh plop wetly into the dirt in front of me.

I do not know at what count of the lash I went unconscious. I do not know where my mind went or how it could have gone anywhere at all while my body endured such treatment. Time passed. Flesh peeled off my back. The slaves moaned. More lashes were delivered. The counting continued, but I could no longer hear it.

After it was over Holmes must have commanded that someone cut me loose. He must have coiled the whip, and handed it to a slave to be put away. He must have daubed his hands, wet with my blood, on his pants legs.

I came to as I was being loaded into the bed of a cart. I lay on my side as the cart bumped down the lane. Each squeak of the wheels tore into my brain. Each jolt of its hard wooden shelf ran through my body like bolts of lightning. “Is he dead,” someone asked.
The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson: In April of 1875, Drunken Bride, Texas, Persimmon Wilson, a freed slave, is about to hang for the murder of his former master, an act he does not deny. What he does dispute is the identity of a woman named Chloe, a former house-slave whom Persimmon was in love with, and whom the man Persimmon killed was obsessed with.

Persy, as he is known, is a strong, dignified man. He is defiant, intelligent, articulate, brutally honest, and insistent on defining himself rather than allowing others to define him. On page 69 Persy is about to be whipped after Master Wilson caught him with Chloe. As is historically accurate for punishment of slaves on cane plantations in Louisiana, he is staked to the ground. The field slaves Persy labors with are required to witness his punishment. An overseer name Holmes is the one to do the work of whipping. I think page 69 is very representative of Persy’s personality and literacy, if not his anger and lack of passivity. Throughout the narrative, and in this scene, a reader can feel that he is a survivor, doomed in life but never in spirit.
Visit Nancy Peacock's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 2, 2017

"Dark at the Crossing"

Elliot Ackerman is the critically acclaimed author of the novels Dark at the Crossing and Green on Blue. He is based out of Istanbul, where he has covered the Syrian Civil War since 2013. His writings have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Repub­lic and The New York Times Magazine, among other pub­lications, and his stories have been included in The Best American Short Stories. He is both a former White House Fellow and a Marine, and has served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart.

Ackerman applied the Page 69 Test to Dark at the Crossing and reported the following:
From page 69:
While the others ate, Latia continued: “Simi had a large litter, eleven kittens. She couldn’t nurse all of them. Each day I had to run five blocks to the store, dodging snipers so I might barter what little I had—some jewelry, silverware, a tea set—for fresh cream smuggled in from the few working farms in the countryside. The city had been nearly destroyed, but for those of us who stayed it was a strangely magical time. The rebels hung bedsheets across the major road intersections, screening their movements and ours. A beautiful tactic. The sun would pass through the sheets glowing red, blue, or yellow. If there was wind, it was like walking between the sails of an endless tall ship. My whole world was reduced to five city blocks, eleven kittens, and their daily ration of cream.”

Latia looked directly at Haris. “Does this sound horrible to you? To call it a magical time.”

Haris shook his head, no. What he wanted to say, he couldn’t—he admired her. She had reduced her world to a single thing worth fighting for. He drank down the rest of his raki, poured another glass, letting his head swim pleasantly with it.

“I would’ve sacrificed myself for Simi,” said Latia, “but her kittens eventually grew large enough to survive without me. They no longer needed cream. One morning they all left, moved on it seemed. So I’ve done the same, coming here.”
In this section Haris Abadi, the novel’s protagonist, has met Latia a Syrian refugee who has crossed the border into southern Turkey after fleeing her home in Aleppo. She is reflecting on her pet cats who for some months she had been reluctant to abandon but who, in the end, wound up abandoning her due to lack of food. This is a small, almost silly incident, and in the pages that follow Latia is teased for staying on in Aleppo for her cats. However, Dark at the Crossing is a novel about the grief associated with a lost cause, whether that cause is a revolution, a friendship, or a marriage. In this scene, we see Latia, a relatively minor character, grappling with the loss of her beloved pets, which painfully abandoned her. We have only met the main characters in the novel at this point, but in the pages that follow their stories of loss will be revealed and we will see the choices they are forced to make as they attempt to rebuild their lives. In this regard, Latia’s anecdote is indicative of much in the novel.
Visit Elliot Ackerman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Green on Blue.

My Book, The Movie: Green on Blue.

My Book, The Movie: Dark at the Crossing.

--Marshal Zeringue