Monday, November 12, 2018

"A Scandal in Scarlet"

Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than thirty books: clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy.

Delany applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Scandal in Scarlet, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“It’s settled then.” I was already looking forward to an entire day off. In the summer too. I normally went to the beach on Sunday morning for a swim, but I never had time to linger. We’d do that tomorrow. Then we’d have lunch someplace charming and quiet and expensive. I’d heard good things about a new restaurant in Chatham. Maybe a drive up the coast in the afternoon. The roof of the Miata down, the salty wind in our hair. I’d like to get a new summer dress, and then we could stop at the Harbor Inn on the way back for drinks on the veranda. Unlikely that Ryan would be free to join Jayne and me at the Blue Water Café for dinner, but it was possible this case would be cleared up quickly and easily.

“I feel giddy at the very idea,” Jayne said.

“Good. Why don’t you go home? I can finish up here by myself. It’s almost nine.”

She glanced toward the sliding door. “I’ll stay a bit longer. I hate leaving the place when people are in it.”

The store began to empty out. “Do you have any ideas, Gemma?” Jayne asked when the last customer had left. Who, I am pleased to report, staggered under the weight of her purchases.

“Ideas about what?”

“About who killed Kathy?”

I shook my head. “I can’t say I haven’t been thinking about it, but nothing stands out in my mind. Although the relationship between her and her ex-husband is interesting.”

“In what way?”

“I think he regrets leaving her. I think his new wife knows it, and she’s angry about it. But I didn’t observe either of them doing anything untoward.”

I counted the day’s receipts and began to tidy up.
At first glance page 69 doesn’t seem terribly important. The murder has happened, the police have been to the scene, and now everyone has left and characters are planning the following day. They are talking about what might have happened, but only as observers. They have no intention of getting involved in the investigation.

But, this is the last page of the first act, if you consider the classic three act structure. The characters are relaxed, the initial drama around the murder has happened. Life is about to go on.

Turn the page, and everything changes. The characters are plunged into an investigation of the murder. All their plans are turned on their head.

At the end of the first act the character has committed to a course of action. She will investigate the murder.

The game is indeed afoot.
Visit Vicki Delany's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 10, 2018

"Go to My Grave"

Catriona McPherson was born in Scotland and lived there until 2010, before immigrating to California.  A former academic linguist, she is now a full-time fiction writer, the multi- award-winning and best-selling author of the Dandy Gilver detective stories, set in Scotland in the 1920s.  She also writes a strand of award-winning contemporary standalone novels including Edgar-finalist The Day She Died and Mary Higgins Clark finalists The Child Garden and Quiet Neighbors.

McPherson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Go to My Grave, and reported the following:
Page 69 is the end of a chapter so a very short page:
‘More burgundy, Vicar?’ came Buck’s voice – I think it was Buck’s voice – through the monitor.

‘You don’t do séances as well as the crystals and other claptrap, do you Kim?’ said Paul.

‘What?’ Kim’s voice was strained.

‘Ouija board, maybe? Knock once for yes? We could go straight to the source.’

‘Stop it,’ said Rosalie. ‘How can you?’

‘And I thought this was going to be dull,’ Buck said. ‘You Mowbrays should sell tickets. You’re the same as you ever were.’

‘Shut up, Bu-’ I clicked the switch and silenced them.
Hmmmmm, page 69 is quite representative of the 2018 chapters of the book. (There are 1991 chapters too.) Go To My Grave takes place during a weekend celebration for Kim and Shasha Mowbray's 10th wedding anniversary. Siblings Buck and Peach join Sasha's sister Rosalie, her husband Paul and a few others for what's supposed to be a luxurious short break. Needless to say, it goes sharply downhill, even before the bodies start piling up.

Here someone's listening in on a private conversation and what she hears is Buck mocking his cousins, Peach trying to get him to behave, Paul being dismissive of Kim's new-agey beliefs and making jokes about ghosts, much to his wife's distress. They are a pretty dysfunctional family really.

Also on this page, is something that Go To My Grave has quite a bit of: British sayings. "More tea, Vicar?" is a tongue-in-cheek thing we say if someone drops a clanger at a social gathering. I'm not sure if it was ever said for real to an actual vicar at a tea-party to cover an awkward moment, and it's more usually given a twist into something else now: "More vodka, Vicar?" or "Another line of coke, Vicar?" Far from covering awkwardness, it now draws attention. Typical Buck!
Visit Catriona McPherson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 8, 2018

"Girls on the Line"

Jennie Liu is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Having been brought up with an ear to two cultures, she has been fascinated by the attitudes, social policies, and changes in China each time she visits. She lives in Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons.

Liu applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Girls on the Line, and reported the following:
I was so excited to see that page 69 of Girls on the Line really gets at the tension and suspense I was trying to build in the story.

The novel focuses on two best friends who have aged out of a Chinese orphanage. By this time, Yun, the more impulsive of the two girls, has gotten fired from her factory job, lost her housing, found out she was pregnant, and fled from the more reserved Luli who told her that her boyfriend is suspected of trafficking women. Yun has just been visited by a detective looking for her boyfriend, and on page 69, Yun tentatively confronts her boyfriend.
“He didn’t want me to tell you he was here. And, Yong, he thinks you’re a kidnapper. He said you make women think you’re their boyfriend—”

“I hope you didn’t listen to any of that! Did you tell them that I’m a driver for someone else? If he’s looking for someone, he should be looking for my boss. He’s the one who runs the business.”

Business? Bride delivery ... or trafficking? I shut it out of my mind. “I didn’t say anything. Just that he was wrong. That you’re with me.”

A tight smile comes to his face. “You really said the right thing. He pats the pocket of his jacket until he finds his keys. “You’re with me.” He holds up the keys, clacks them in his hand. “I’ll go with you to get your things.
Despite a flicker of doubt, Yun has to trust her boyfriend, because she’s gotten herself in a hard place with no one else to help her. This scene underlines one of the main themes that hummed in my brain as I was writing Girls on the Line. As a truly disadvantaged person—by gender, economics, education, social policies, the lack of nurture—Yun doesn’t have the basic resources, not even internal ones, to make good choices. For people who have so much stacked against them, in real life, it’s just not easy to break the cycle.
Visit Jennie Liu's website.

My Book, The Movie: Girls on the Line.

Writers Read: Jennie Liu.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

"The Kinship of Secrets"

Eugenia Kim's debut novel, The Calligrapher's Daughter, won the 2009 Borders Original Voices Award, was shortlisted for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and was Best Historical Novel and Critic's Pick by The Washington Post. Her stories have appeared in Asia Literary Review, Washington City Paper, and elsewhere.

Kim applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Kinship of Secrets, and reported the following:
The Kinship of Secrets is told from the alternating viewpoints of two sisters who are close in age and are separated as a result of the Korean War. Inja is raised with relatives in Seoul, South Korea, while Miran grows up with their parents in a suburb outside of Washington, DC. Page 69 is in Inja’s perspective at age eight, soon after the armistice. She and her relatives were refugees in the southern city of Busan, and at this moment are staying at an inn outside of war-torn Seoul, on their journey home. Mentioned on this page is a boy who is Inja’s age, who will later become her boyfriend. Because this is a significant transitional moment, how Inja’s two grandparents, her uncle and aunt have aged during the three years of war is summarized. Uncle returns from checking on their home in the city. He reports it’s still standing, “but someone was living there. There are bullet holes in the walls and dirt is everywhere—broken crockery. Nothing of ours remains, though I can’t recall what we left—some chests and tables.” But they had also left behind their cook and her daughter, and there is no sign of them. “Inja understood they had been lost in the war, like so many others she’d heard about in church and school, and they would never know what happened to them. …There was so much to feel bad about in the war. A few words of prayer helped shift those feelings into the recesses of a busy mind.”
Visit Eugenia Kim's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

"Machine City"

Scott J. Holliday was born and raised in Detroit. In addition to a lifelong love of books and reading, he has pursued a range of curiosities and interests, including glassblowing, boxing, and much more. He is the author of Punishment, the first book in his series featuring Detective John Barnes; Stonefly; and Normal, which earned him recognition in INKUBATE.com’s Literary Blockbuster Challenge.

Holliday applied the Page 69 Test to Machine City, his second novel featuring Detective Barnes, and reported the following:
Page 69:
“There’s a machine in there,” the man said. His jaw shook as he spoke. Raindrops glistened on his bald head and dripped from his chin. “Right?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s it like?”

“It’s not worth it,” Barnes said.

“Who were you?”

Barnes sighed. “Does it matter?”

The man took a beat and then quickly uttered, “I don’t like my life.”

As Barnes rolled up the window, he said, “Join the Brittanians.” He pulled out of the alley and turned toward home. His cell phone rang as he accelerated down the street. He snatched it up and answered. “You bastard.”

“Is that. Any way to talk. To a friend?”

It wasn’t Franklin. Barnes pulled the phone away from his head and checked the caller ID. unknown. He put the phone back to his ear. “Who is this?”

“Oh, John,” the caller said. “My feelings. Are hurt.”

“Gee, I’m sorry. Now who the fuck is this?”

“I know. What you must. Think.” The voice was weak and whispery. The caller struggled to speak. He took sharp intakes of breath between his stunted phrases. “You think Franklin. Is toying with you. You think he wrote. The letter from Cohen.”

“Say what?”

“You think he’s. Trying to pull you. Into an. Investigation. Using Ricky as bait.”

“Look, jerk-off,” Barnes said. “I don’t know who you—”

“Using the fact. That you failed. Your kid brother.”
I'd say page 69 represents the novel rather well. At this stage Barnes has just returned to the machine like an addict back to his drug of choice. He runs into a machine protestor and speaks with him for a moment before continuing on. He gets a call from the man who's tormenting him both via the phone and from within Barnes's mind, making him wonder if it's all in his head. It's spot on with what the book is about.
Visit Scott J. Holliday's website.

My Book, The Movie: Machine City.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 4, 2018

"Mutiny at Vesta"

R. E. Stearns is the author of Barbary Station and the newly released Mutiny at Vesta. She wrote her first story on an Apple IIe computer and still kind of misses green text on a black screen. She went on to annoy all of her teachers by reading books while they lectured. Eventually she read and wrote enough to earn a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Central Florida. She is hoping for an honorary doctorate.

When not writing or working, Stearns reads, plays PC games, and references internet memes in meatspace. She recently moved to Denver, Colorado, USA with her husband/computer engineer and a cat.

Stearns applied the Page 69 Test to Mutiny at Vesta and reported the following:
Mutiny at Vesta is about heists, hubris, and lesbian space piracy in our solar system. I am pleased to report that page 69 of Mutiny at Vesta is representative of the book as a whole!

In Barbary Station our heroines, Adda and Iridian, were trapped on an isolated shipbreaking station in deep space. In the sequel, they’re seeing the rest of the solar system from a pirate crew’s perspective. Page 69 begins with our heroines’ crew captain playing the asteroid belt’s most powerful factions against each other. The Interplanetary Transit Authority (ITA) are ostensibly the good guys in this universe, and they’re the only ones willing to take on Captain Sloane’s pirate crew in a space battle. And yes, Captain Sloane always talks like this.
“We haven’t always enjoyed such a high profile,” Sloane admitted, without confirming or correcting Iridian’s estimate of Sloane’s troop strength. “Which meant we drew less ITA attention. Their presence can be advantageous, when they focus on rescuing ships in distress and clearing debris from the reliable routes. We simply purchase exclusive focus on those objectives. When we can’t, it’s often possible to redirect high-minded ITA agents toward the Ceres syndicate.”
The Ceres syndicate is the largest criminal organization in the asteroid belt, and as Captain Sloane’s lieutenant points out at the end of this conversation, “they’re killers. We’re not.”

After a scene break, we jump into Iridian’s point of view as the warship Apparition approaches the Ann Sabina, a longhauler that Captain Sloane’s crew is about to raid.
Two days later, Iridian put a hand on the cool metal bulkhead to steady herself before snapping her suit gloves onto the rest of her armor. Grav was barely over one g, but the Apparition’s speed would keep climbing as it arched through the last banked turn to line up with the target. They’d have to keep increasing speed to match the Sabina, which’d been accelerating since its launch and wasn’t stopping anytime soon.
In Mutiny at Vesta, Iridian and Adda face off with enemies of pirate crews generally and Sloane’s crew in particular. Is Sloane hiring hundreds of mercenary soldiers to defend crew territory against the ITA and the Ceres syndicate, or is the captain planning for something bigger? And how does artificial intelligence fit in? Find out in the second installment of Adda and Iridian’s adventure.
Visit R. E. Stearns's website and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Barbary Station.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 3, 2018

"The Holdouts"

James Tucker is the author of the acclaimed Buddy Lock thrillers Next of Kin and The Holdouts. He holds a law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School and has worked as an attorney at an international law firm.

Currently he manages real estate strategy at a Fortune 50 company, where his work includes frequent travel throughout the United States. Fascinated by crimes of those in power, he draws on these cases for his novels.

One of four fiction writers awarded a position at a past Mentor Series at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Tucker has attended the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley and the Tin House Writers’ Workshop in Portland, where he was mentored by author Walter Kirn. He lives near Minneapolis with his wife, the painter Megan Rye, and their family.

Tucker applied the Page 69 Test to The Holdouts and reported the following:
While The Holdouts is a police thriller, family is a hugely important part of the story. Buddy, his fiancée, the ten year old boy they’re trying to adopt, and Buddy’s half-brother play essential roles. On page 69, Buddy’s half-brother confesses to the way Buddy kept him alive during a dark time—a time when Ward repeatedly considered suicide. The brothers, who haven’t always gotten along, shake hands. They realize that they’re “competitors and rivals, but brothers, too.”
Visit James Tucker's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Holdouts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 1, 2018

"The Quantum Magician"

Derek Künsken writes science fiction and fantasy in Gatineau, Québec and tweets from @derekkunsken. In previous incarnations, he did molecular biology experiments, worked with street kids in Honduras and Colombia, and served in the Canadian Foreign Service. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog and BCS, as well as in several year’s best anthologies, and earned him the Asimov's Award. The Quantum Magician is his first novel and is published by Solaris Books in English, by SFWorld in Mandarin, and by Albin-Michel in French (early 2020).

The Quantum Magician has been described as "Ocean's Eleven in space" and is about a genetically-engineered con man who is able to perceive the quantum world. He takes a job to move a dozen advanced warships through the wormhole of an enemy nation, a virtually impossible task, even with the right crew.

Künsken applied the Page 69 Test to The Quantum Magician and reported the following:
I opened the book to page 69, and found the client and the con man arguing, which is pretty representative of the novel. The job, a heist to move some warships across a wormhole, is phenomenally dangerous, and even if Belisarius succeeds for his employer, he'll start a war.
“He looks young enough to be my grandson,” Rudo said to Babedi.

“Mister Arjona broke into the vault of one of the big Plutocracy Banks and stole an experimental AI when he was still a teenager,” Babedi said.

“That wasn’t proven,” Belisarius said. “I wasn’t even charged.”

“He’s also wanted for questioning by the Congregate on suspicion of espionage,” Babedi said. “Congregate defense secrets were compromised.”

“The charges were withdrawn,” Belisarius said. “There was no evidence linking me to anything. I’m free to move through Congregate space.”

“So Mister Arjona has a habit of getting into trouble,” Rudo said.

“He has a habit of getting out of it, which is what we need, ma’am,” Babedi said.

“Just so,” she agreed.

“What will you do on the other side, Major-General?” Belisarius asked quietly. “The Congregate will want what you’ve got. Just like the Puppets.”

“They can try to take it,” she replied. The hum of conversation lowered as officers strained to hear their commanding officer. “A hundred and twenty-five years ago, the Venusian state signed an accord with the Sub-Saharan Union. In the last century, in service and in blood, the Union has paid out its debt.”

“The Congregate owns a lot of real estate in the Epsilon Indi system,” Belisarius said. “Two fortified Axis Mundi wormholes. Battleships bigger and more numerous than your cruisers. And I think they’ve got a dreadnought in system.”

“They do,” Babedi said.

They were going to die. They were all going to die if they faced the Congregate navy, and they needed him to get to a place where they could die.
So this is a weirdly hyper-representative portion of the novel, one that cements the stakes of everything that's come before and establishes what will happen from here on out. I may use this for a reading at a book store in two weeks!
Visit Derek Künsken's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"Roar of Sky"

Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the new Blood of Earth Trilogy from Harper Voyager. Roar of Sky, the finale of the trilogy, is now available. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cats.

Cato applied the Page 69 Test to Roar of Sky and reported the following:
From page 69:
The Kilauea caldera stretched miles in circumference, the edges fringed by the dark silhouettes of trees. Off to the right, a long stretch of the steep cliff released billows of steam, but as if by gravity, her gaze was pulled into the abyss below. It was impossible to judge the drop in the scant light, but it had to be several hundred feet. The land below consisted of absolute blackness, Perhaps a mile in the distance, color returned in a splashing cauldron of red, orange, and yellow.

"That down there is the lava lake of Halema'uma'u," said their guide, his pronunciation of the place like lilting poetry. "That's the home of the goddess Pele. That is our goal."
This is actually the perfect excerpt from Roar of Sky! My characters Ingrid and Cy are posing like regular tourists as they journey into the Kilauea caldera in my alternate history 1906 setting. Ingrid is a geomancer, and her sensitivity to flows of earth energy make this an especially perilous place to be.

Tours like this were a regular nightly event over a century ago when safety standards were far more lax. You can even read Mark Twain's recounting of the journey. Tourists ventured on horseback along steep switchbacks to reach the dry lava plateau below, where they would walk on foot in the dark to the lava lake. There, they could stand on the very shore and cook hot dogs over the lava or pluck in coins to watch them melt. Of course, this was all sacrilegious to Native Hawaiians--Kilauea itself is part of Madame Pele's body--but well, tourists haven't changed much in a century. The journey into Kilauea has, though. When I took my research trip there in January 2017, my hike stopped at the bottom of the cliff. Toxic fumes were too dangerous from that point on. This summer's eruptions and earthquakes caused boulders to block the Halema'uma'u Trail. I'm not sure when it will open again.
Visit Beth Cato's website.

The Page 69 Test: Breath of Earth.

The Page 69 Test: Call of Fire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 28, 2018

"Bring Them Home"

Born in Kent, D. S. Butler grew up as an avid reader with a love for crime fiction and mysteries. She has worked as a scientific officer in a hospital pathology laboratory and as a research scientist.

After obtaining a PhD in biochemistry, she worked at the University of Oxford for four years before moving to the Middle East.

Butler applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Bring Them Home, and reported the following:
From page 69:
‘The superintendent thought otherwise, Sophie.’ Karen’s tone was clipped, and she tried to hide her irritation. She was annoyed at her own unprofessionalism. It was very unlike her and didn’t set a good example. She’d been wrong to show her frustration at being told not to question Jasper. She believed in the line of command and challenging the superintendent’s authority was out of order. ‘The superintendent didn’t make the decision out of malice, Sophie. She decided on the best course of action, and we have to go along with that.’

Sophie’s eyes widened, and she folded her arms over her chest. ‘Well, if it were me, I’d be spitting feathers. This finding could crack the case wide open. I mean, you hear about criminals taking trophies from the scene of the crime. Maybe Jasper Palmer took the glove as some kind of keepsake.’

‘If he did, it’s more likely he’d have kept it to himself, don’t you think?’

Sophie thought for a moment. ‘True, but maybe this is his way of getting involved in the case. I read about that too. Criminal deviants integrate themselves into the search or aftermath of a crime. They get a sick kick out of being involved in the investigation.’

‘You’ve certainly spent a lot of time reading,’ Karen said.

Sophie’s face fell. ‘Is that a bad thing?’

‘Of course not. But DI Morgan did make a good point. Nigel Palmer was our number one suspect after Amy Fisher disappeared, but if he’s abducted two ten-year-olds, it would mean his MO has changed dramatically, which is unlikely.’

‘MO: his modus operandi,’ Sophie stated, looking pleased with herself.

‘Yes. Now, are you ready?’

Sophie did a double take. ‘Ready? For what?’

‘I thought you might like to come with me and talk to the Gibsons. It would be a good learning experience. It won’t be easy, but I’m sure you’re up to it.’

Sophie nodded eagerly. ‘Absolutely. I’ll just grab my jacket.’
I think this page is representative of the book. Page 69 is part of a scene where DS Karen Hart is training Sophie, a younger, less experienced officer. They are detectives working on a case involving two missing schoolgirls, and Karen can’t stop obsessing over similarities with a previous investigation. She has a suspect in mind, but without the backing of her boss or solid evidence, her hands are tied.

At this point in the book, Karen’s frustration at their lack of progress is starting to build. She knows the likelihood of finding the girls alive get smaller as each hour passes.
Visit D.S. Butler's website.

My Book, The Movie: Bring Them Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 26, 2018

"When You Find Me"

P. J. Vernon was born in South Carolina. He holds a PhD in immunology and published science before turning his hand to publishing fiction.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, When You Find Me, and reported the following:
Page 69, in its entirety:
sorry for the late call. You don’t know me. My name’s Annie. I’m calling—” The woman—Annie—paused. “I need to talk to you about Paul. I’ll be back in touch so keep your phone close.”

I held my breath.

“Something else—” A second, longer hesitation. “There’s something going on here you don’t know.”
When You Find Me nails the Page 69 Test.

It’s brief, suspenseful, and as far as representative page 69’s go—sticks the landing.

In this moment, one of two protagonists, Gray Godfrey, first connects with a mysterious woman calling herself Annie. Gray’s husband, Paul, has been missing for nearly twenty-four hours, and the police—led by Detective Nina Palmer—have just informed the family that his rental car was found abandoned on a desolate stretch of highway. Passenger door opened marsh-side.

As more time passes since Paul’s been seen in the flesh, Gray unravels. She’s nearly reached a breaking point when her phone finally lights up, shattering what’s been an excruciating silence thus far. But the voice on the other end of the line isn’t her missing husband. Or, in fact, anyone she recognizes. Gray was at a loss for answers before the voicemail, but the handful of words from Annie are merely the opening volley in a zero-sum game. One Gray will discover has been unfolding for decades.

Secrets are patient things. And on When You Find Me’s page 69, patience runs out.
Visit P. J. Vernon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

"Time's Children"

D.B. Jackson is the pen name of fantasy author David B. Coe. He is the award-winning author of twenty novels and as many short stories. His newest novel, Time’s Children, is the first volume in a time travel/epic fantasy series called The Islevale Cycle. The book has just been released by Angry Robot Books. The second volume, Time’s Demon, will be released in May 2019.

As D.B. Jackson, he also writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy set in pre-Revolutionary Boston. As David B. Coe, he is the author of the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, which he has recently reissued, as well as the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands quintet and Blood of the Southlands trilogy. He wrote the novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood, and, most recently, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy.

He is also currently working on a tie-in project with the History Channel. Coe has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Stanford University. His books have been translated into a dozen languages.

He and his family live on the Cumberland Plateau. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

Jackson applied the Page 69 Test to Time’s Children and reported the following:
When I first tried the page 69 test on Time’s Children I was a little disappointed. I hoped the page would have some cool action sequence, or a moment of magic or time travel (which plays a huge role in the book and series). Instead, I found a page that really isn’t representative of the rest of the book. It consists largely of dialogue between my antagonist, and the Autarch for whom he works.

But as I thought about it more, I realized that one exchange between them feeds into a central subplot of the book, and an important element of what I like to do with all my villains. Something you need to know: Time travel in my world exacts a heavy cost. For every day or month or year my Walkers go back in time, they age that much. And then they age that much again returning to their own time. So if I am twenty and I go back a year, I arrive in the body of a twenty-one-year-old, and when I return to my rightful time, I am twenty-two. Here, the autarch speaks of sending one of his other assassins back fourteen years to pursue my protagonist. This assassin happens to be the wife of my point of view character for the scene.

Here’s the exchange:
[The autarch says] “Make your arrangements. But I want plans in place in case this doesn’t work. The woman is prepared to follow this lad back in time?”

The woman. “You mean my wife?” Orzili said, none too wisely.

Pemin stared, his expression icy. “I mean my Walker.”
Orzili may be my assassin, my “bad guy,” but I go out of my way to humanize him, to make his emotions and fears and needs (and those of Lenna, the Walker to whom he is wed) as powerful and relatable as those of my hero. Here, we see him daring to challenge perhaps the most powerful person in my world, who is also his employer. He knows he shouldn’t, but he dreads seeing his love’s life spent for the sake of Pemin’s bloodlust. If she is sent back after “the lad” and then returns to their shared time, she will have aged twenty-eight years. Their life together will never be the same.

I want my readers rooting for my heroes. I want them hoping that Orzili and Lenna will fail. But I also want the failure of my anti-heroes to carry an emotional cost. None of this should be easy. None of it should be drawn in black and white. Shades of gray. That’s what I’m after. And in this case, on page 69, I am beginning to set up the core emotional struggle of a key character. That he is my villain makes it no less crucial to my narrative.
Learn more about the book and author at D. B. Jackson's website and blog.

D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of a dozen fantasy novels.

The Page 69 Test: Thieftaker.

Writers Read: D.B. Jackson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 22, 2018

"Marilla of Green Gables"

Sarah McCoy is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of Marilla of Green Gables; The Mapmaker’s Children; The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post, Read It Forward, Writer Unboxed, and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She lives with her husband, an orthopedic sports surgeon, and their dog, Gilbert, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

McCoy applied the Page 69 Test to Marilla of Green Gables and reported the following:
From page 69:
Matthew threw up his hands. “Aw, I ain’t no good at this!”

“That’s why we’re practicing,” Izzy said consolingly. “There aren’t any rules to it. Don’t think of it as something to be good or bad at. Courting isn’t anything ore than getting to know a person. So every time you step out with them, you’re discovering something new.”

“Like a newspaper story—telling what’s the news with each edition, right?” offered Marilla.

“Exactly,” said Izzy. “Like you’re curious to read the happenings, be curious about the person you’re courting.”

It made sense to Marilla, but Matthew still seemed perplexed.

“I dunno,” he said again.

“That’s the marvel of it, Matthew. You don’t have to know from the start. You can’t help falling in love any more than you can help breathing. It’ll come naturally enough.” Izzy smiled.

Marilla wondered if Izzy had courted with William Blair and, if so, what had made her change her mind about loving him. Or maybe falling in love and falling out worked instinctively the same. It didn’t seem a thing to ask, however.

“Even old Skunk has a sweetheart,” said Izzy. “Found himself a Molly in the barn. She’s a wild thing, though. Doubt she’ll stay through summer—too many chases to be had out in the world.”

Marilla scooped up Skunk and nestled him in the crook of her neck, ignoring his mews of protest. “Maybe if we give your girl some warm milk and sardines, she’ll stick around.”

“See now, that’s courting, Marilla!”

“Dunno if milk and sardines will work on Johanna,” said Matthew.

They laughed so hard together that Clara awoke upstairs in her bed and smiled.
This excerpt is from Chapter VII titled, “Aunt Izzy Gives A Lesson.” It’s a sweet scene wherein the worldly Aunt Izzy tries to help her adolescent niece and nephew, Matthew and Marilla, understand the ways of romance during the Victorian era. The two have been sheltered by their parent’s reserve and their own limited experiences in a small farming town (Avonlea) on a small island (Prince Edward Island).

The responsibility of family, nurturing the one you are born into and creating a new one with a spouse, is a major theme here and throughout the book. We all know how Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert’s story ends: neither marries but together they adopt the extraordinary orphan Anne Shirley. So this scene has a bittersweet echo toward that future. It provides readers with layered insight into these two characters’ hopes and dreams. And moreover, how different those end up being.

Overall, that’s one of the resounding messages of this novel—that life doesn’t always end up the way we thought it would. We’re only human, after all. We can’t plan or fashion fate into what we wish. Similarly, if one read Marilla of Green Gables looking for a different ending, he/she would only suffer heartache. For me, this book is a microcosm for our larger, real lives. It helped me to understand that it’s not the terminal destination that matters. It’s the journey we make as people, our development, the love we share, and the fingerprints we leave on history.
Learn more about the book and author at Sarah McCoy’s website, Facebook page, Instagram page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Sarah McCoy and Gilbert.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 20, 2018

"The Winters"

Lisa Gabriele is the author of Tempting Faith DiNapoli and The Almost Archer Sisters, and The Winters, and is an award-winning TV producer, writer and director. Her writing has appeared in Vice, Nerve, New York Magazine, Washington Post, New York Times Magazine, Globe and Mail, National Post, Elle and Glamour. Her essays have appeared in several anthologies, including The Best American Non-Required Reading. She’s also the author of the international best-selling S.E.C.R.E.T. trilogy, under the pseudonym L. Marie Adeline, a series that’s been published in more than 30 countries.

Gabriele applied the Page 69 Test to The Winters and reported the following:
From page 69:
…I could sense the icy road just beneath the veneer of snow and the effort the tires were making to grab and hold the curves.
It’s not a stretch to say that this line from page 69 of my new novel, The Winters, encapsulates my protagonist’s dilemma in its entirety. Right from the get-go she intuits that there is something happening below the surface of things, but she can’t quite name it, she can only feel it, like the tires navigating a snow-covered road. On this page of the book she’s finally headed to the ancestral home of Senator Max Winter, her new fiancé, located off the coast of Long Island. For now the house is still a fantasy, and she muses at the top of the page that it’s hard to believe she’ll soon be wandering its halls.
I still couldn’t anticipate getting beyond the gate—its walls and paintings, its furniture and carpets remained indistinct, blurring in my peripheral vision.
It hasn’t hit our young betrothed narrator yet all the ways in which her life is about to change. All she knows is the drive through the snowstorm is harrowing, the road treacherous, the route growing narrower and narrower.
I kept anticipating the exits, this is the turnoff, no this must be it, but Max drove on and on, oblivious to my mounting anxiety.
When she pulls her coat tighter under her chin, finally Max notices her unease. He asks her if she wants the heat up. Of course she does, but she says no, she’s fine, a harbinger for the secrets and lies that await them at the remote mansion, on an even more remote island, where the ghosts of the past have been waiting for their arrival. This page documents the drive as the hours suspended between the past and the future. Once she arrives at Asherley there is no turning back. But for now, en route, her future is vague. She senses darkness awaits her, but she has no idea how dark they’ll get before it’s over. Good thing. If she knew, she’d have thrown herself out of that moving car somewhere near Quogue.
Visit Lisa Gabriele's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 19, 2018

"In the House in the Dark of the Woods"

Laird Hunt's novels include Neverhome, a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice selection, an IndieNext selection, winner of the Grand Prix de Litterature Americaine and The Bridge prize, and a finalist for the Prix Femina Etranger.

Hunt applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, In the House in the Dark of the Woods, and reported the following:
Maternal rage, paternal ineffectiveness, torn cloth and distracted prayer all take the stage on page 69 of In the House in the Dark of the Woods. Which is to say that this page speaks loudly to and of the whole novel. The book explores all of these elements and what happens when, in their stern 17th century Puritan context, the resultant fissuring spreads out and across whole lives.

“A tale is a funny thing, and even when it’s your own and you have a quill in your hand you must be careful where you touch it,” my protagonist, known only as Goody, who has been handed a writing quill, thinks at the bottom of the page, so one of the book’s other central themes also gets evoked: to tell or not to tell the stories that we have been afflicted with… Considering the treacherous path Goody is walking, one would be forgiven for thinking it might be better not to poke such stories at all, better to leave them to bloom or fester in the shadows.
Visit Laird Hunt's Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: In the House in the Dark of the Woods.

Writers Read: Laird Hunt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

"What Have You Done"

Matthew Farrell lives just outside of New York City in the Hudson Valley with his wife and two daughters.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new thriller, What Have You Done, and reported the following:
Oooh, yes. I just read page 69 and is it representative of the book. In fact, page 69 represents Liam's first lie that he's caught in, which then begins to snowball into other lies along the way. It's the jumping-off point of when the reader begins to question more than one character, which was my goal when writing. I want to keep the reader guessing.

One of the interesting themes in What Have You Done is the illusion of truth versus reality. Is Liam telling lies to cover up a crime or because he doesn't want his brother to know about things he's ashamed of? Is Sean telling lies because he's guilty of murder or because he's trying to protect his brother from knowing too much about a life he's trying to hide? Sometimes family can be as devious and disingenuous as a stranger or an enemy. But it's the love of family, that bond, that creates a loyalty that could ultimately put you on a path to self-destruction.
Visit Matthew Farrell's website.

My Book, The Movie: What Have You Done.

Writers Read: Matthew Farrell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

"The Night Crossing"

Robert Masello is a former journalist, TV writer, and the bestselling author of many novels and nonfiction books, many of them supernatural thrillers with a strong historical foundation. They include The Einstein Prophecy, The Jekyll Revelation, The Romanov Cross, The Medusa Amulet, and his most recent work, The Night Crossing.

Masello applied the Page 69 Test to The Night Crossing and reported the following:
From page 69:
[By way of introduction, allow me to explain that the scene is set at the Beefsteak Club in London, in 1895. Bram Stoker, a theater manager and struggling writer still looking for that one great idea to make his name as an author, is listening to a foreign diplomat named Arminius Vambery-- a real-life figure whom Stoker would transform into Professor Van Helsing in Dracula, published two years later -- talk about transferring the production of a play to Europe. The play is based on some popular folklore, and Vambery is saying...]

"Its story is already well- known throughout Poland and Ukraine, Romania and Transylvania."

Stoker's ears pricked up at the mention of those lands. It was a romantic region, which, although he had never actually explored it, strongly appealed to his imagination. He had long thought of setting one of his Gothic tales there."

"If you have not already been there," Vambery said, "let me say you have missed some of the most dramatic scenery in the world. The towering cliffs capped by the ruined castles of the Romanian voivodes, the deep forests -- Transylvania, I need hardly explain to you, means 'through the forests'-- the cathedrals of Krakow, the blue of the Moldau, and the Bucegi Sphinx that has brooded on its mountaintop forever."

"A sphinx?" Stoker asked.

"Yes," Vambery said. "Distinctly Egyptian in its cast. Venerated by the Gypsies, feared by all."

It was all Stoker could do not to write down every word Vambery was saying ... For now, he just made mental notes.
The Night Crossing purports to be the true story behind arguably the most famous occult tale ever told, Dracula. In it, we watch as Bram Stoker stumbles upon, and gathers up, many of the elements that he will eventually incorporate and transform into that terrifying masterpiece. Page 69 couldn't have been a better choice, as it's here that Transylvania first takes firm hold of his imagination ... and to this day, our own.
Learn more about the book and author at Robert Masello's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 14, 2018

"State Tectonics"

Malka Older is a writer, humanitarian worker, and PhD candidate at the Centre de Sociologie des Organisations studying governance and disasters. She has extensive experience in humanitarian aid and development, and has responded to complex emergencies and natural disasters in Uganda, Darfur, Indonesia, Japan, and Mali.

Older applied the Page 69 Test to State Tectonics, the third volume in The Centenal Cycle, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Amazing thing, isn’t it?”

Roz looks up, mouth full of her fourth and fifth crackers. The centenal rep—his public Information shows he’s from a EuropeanUnion centenal not far from Budapest— nods at the model. “This kind of transportation speed and efficiency—and practically energy-neutral!”

Roz swallows the crackers. “The construction process is not energy-neutral.” She’s surprised by this guy’s enthusiasm; it’s not like the tunnel will have a stop near Budapest so he can get on.

He waves his hands. “That will be quickly offset in the energy savings as people forgo other types of transportation.”

“Energy use isn’t the only measure of environmental damage,” Roz adds, searching the cracker selection for something more exciting. They have some pâtés and vegetable spreads, but she doesn’t dare touch any of them without her scanner.

“You heard the woman—their tests have found no indication of substantial environmental degradation.”

Roz wished she didn’t care enough to educate this guy, but out of both personal inclination and professional training, she can’t let that half-truth slide. “The environmental engineer said ‘so far.’ The testing up to this point is extremely limited compared to the impact of the full tunnel.”
This selection is fairly typical of one aspect of State Tectonics, in that it describes a thorny policy problem and touches on deep (in this case, literally as well as figuratively) issues of risk and the unknown. In a way, it's a decent microcosm for the book in the sense of unseen dangers and complications to a major project that appears beneficial. On the other hand, quite a lot of the book involves more action and fewer crackers.
Follow Malka Older on Twitter and visit her website.

The Page 69 Test: Infomocracy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 12, 2018

"Book of the Just"

Dana Chamblee Carpenter is the author of Book of the Just, the third novel in The Bohemian Trilogy. The first book in the series, Bohemian Gospel, won the 2014 Killer Nashville Claymore Award. Publishers Weekly called it “a deliciously creepy debut.”

Her second book, The Devil’s Bible, won the 2017 Silver Falchion Award for Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Horror Thriller and Best Novel Overall. Publishers Weekly said: “Mouse is both strong and vulnerable, constantly struggling with the dark legacy of her father, her own powers, and her efforts to be a good person. This exciting, poignant novel continues the strong opening in Bohemian Gospel and leaves room for more in Mouse’s fascinating world.”

Carpenter applied the Page 69 Test to Book of the Just and reported the following:
From page 69:
Though this seems like a relatively innocent moment of discovery, it’s actually the beginning of a pivotal moment, and one that will have serious repercussions for Mouse, the fierce protagonist of the book. Jack Gray has been sent to search the ruins of Podlazice Monastery for anything he might find in connection with the Devil’s Bible. His boss, the Reverend, doesn’t like to be told no, but the situation is dangerous and a little too messy for Jack’s taste, until he gets a whiff of something interesting—a power in the air which he’s encountered once before. Now Jack’s hungry for what he might find among the rubble and salivating over how he might use it against Mouse.
Visit Dana Chamblee Carpenter's website.

My Book, The Movie: Book of the Just.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

"Rule"

Ellen Goodlett writes science fiction because otherwise she would spend her days plotting to take over the world. She figures that the former would benefit humanity ever so slightly more than the latter (which would be disastrous and involve a lot of cats in government positions). She lives in New York City with two demons masquerading as felines. She is a proud graduate of Bryn Mawr College and a Pittsburgh expat.

Goodlett applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Rule, and reported the following:
From page 69:
She sympathized, even though she hadn’t been there to witness firsthand.

She sympathized, too, when Danton cast a dark eye on the frippery at court. The king’s lavish wedding to a daughter of said Genalese invaders. The turn-of-the-month festivals, which used to be quiet religious affairs and had exploded into monthly revels. Kolonya spent more money on celebrations this year than ever before, in the name of “lifting spirits” after the war.

Never mind that the Easterners were struggling to put food on their tables. Never mind that all the feasts took place in Kolonya City, for Kolonyans, not the Easterners who died to protect them from Genal.

So yes, Ren sympathized.

Danton preyed on that.
This paragraph follows one of my three narrators, Ren, as she flashes back to the deep dark secret she’s carrying. This secret is the reason she’s being blackmailed at court, and it’s a doozy. It’s the kind of sin that could get her executed for treason, if it’s ever publicly revealed.

What I wanted to convey in this scene is why she did it. Because Ren isn’t a bad person—at least not in my opinion (others might disagree). She made a bad decision, in the midst of a stressful situation, and she did it for love.

The thing is, whatever her intentions, that decision went sour. It led to people getting hurt, badly. That’s something Ren is going to have to live with now, she’s realizing. And each of my other two narrators, her sisters, made similar decisions, with similarly bad impacts. Now they all need to deal with the consequences. Rule is about what happens when their pasts catch up with them.
Visit Ellen Goodlett's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 8, 2018

"Words We Don't Say"

K. J. Reilly graduated from Boston University with a B.A. in psychology, then headed to New York City to work in the marketing research departments of several of the largest advertising agencies in the world. She loves reading, writing, dogs, sailboats, children of all shapes and sizes, and growing her own food.

Reilly applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Words We Don't Say, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Text from Joel to Andy 3:17 a.m.

I have a few new diseases to go along with the insomnia, parasite, phlebitis, pulmonary embolism, and everything else I have. I won’t get into the details, but just so you know.

Text from Joel to Principal Redman 3:32 a.m.

That gun I told you about? I still have it.
And the guy who gave it to me?
There’s something wrong with him and someone should try to help him.
I mean, someone besides me.
In Words We Don't Say, 16-year-old Joel Higgins is struggling to come to terms with his own life issues—family, friends, school, romance, loss, religion, and definition of self—as he simultaneously tries to understand some of the more global issues in the world around him—homelessness, food insecurity, veterans, PTSD, and freedom of speech. The book is written in a combination of traditional prose and stand-alone text messages that Joel writes as a form of therapy for himself—but has no intention of ever sending. And because Joel never intends to be send these messages, they provide stark, unfiltered insight into his inner thoughts.

The only content on page 69 is two text messages and they are very emblematic of the book as a whole. They reveal a lot about Joel’s voice and character, as well as the novel’s plot. In the first text on page 69, (addressed to Andy, Joel’s best friend and time stamped at 3:17 a.m.), in only two sentences Joel reveals how pervasive his fear of death and illness is while providing readers with a hint of what may have happened to Andy. In the second text, addressed to the principal at his high school—in only four sentences—Joel establishes three critical plot points; he’s decided to keep the gun he had hidden in his garage, he’s come to understand that, on his own, he doesn't have the resources to help the homeless vet he met at the soup kitchen, and he’s up at all hours thinking about these things.

Using text messages like these as a structural element and a significant way to convey information was an interesting device to me as a writer, not only because texting is such an integral part of contemporary life, but also because the texts are a powerful form of literary reductionism; Joel’s messages reveal a lot in just a few words. Contrasting the brevity of the texts, there are lengthy, rambling inner monologues. There’s Morse code, lists, and pictograms along with discussions about banned books, the violence of words, and safe spaces. There’s a mute veteran, flawed teacher/student, friend/friend and parent/teen communication. In the broadest sense, Words We Don’t Say is an exploration of communication and how honest, open communication in all of its forms is at the heart of navigating and bettering the world.
Visit K.J. Reilly's website.

Writers Read: K. J. Reilly.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 6, 2018

"The Heart of War"

Kathleen J. McInnis is a U.S. national security policy geek by trade, who happens to be moonlighting as a novelist. Or maybe it's the other way around?

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Heart of War: Misadventures in the Pentagon, and reported the following:
There’s actually an easily-overlooked but critically important plot point on page 69 of The Heart of War. The two main characters, Dr. Heather Reilly and Colonel Tom Voight are discussing the bureaucratic state of play inside the national security community when it comes to advancing their boss-from-hell’s Ariane Fletcher’s Moldova initiative. Not only do they discuss how they’re planning on outmaneuvering the National Security Council, Voight lets it slip that he made a deal with Fletcher: he’ll take a trip to Europe (which sounds great in theory, but in reality would be a nightmare) as long as he and Heather are allowed to be teammates. And, for a variety of reasons, the stakes for Voight in taking the trip are pretty high. Not only is it where Heather and Voight begin their transition from colleagues to dear friends, page 69 shows the craziness of the DOD bureaucracy and the need to make human connections within it to survive.
Visit Kathleen J. McInnis's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Heart of War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 4, 2018

"Hole in the Middle"

Kendra Fortmeyer grew up in the lush woods of North Carolina, surrounded by piles of books. She got the idea for her magical realist YA debut novel, Hole in the Middle, after a mediocre date, and also after her left lung unexpectedly collapsed. On a related note, she would like you to know that your body is spectacular and if anyone tells you otherwise, you may kick them in the teeth.

Fortmeyer applied the Page 69 Test to Hole in the Middle and reported the following:
From page 69:
I perk up when Caro drops in the door that evening, looking frazzled in her Walgreens uniform and aquamarine eyeshadow. “Hi,” I say from the living room floor, where I’m crouching like Gollum in front of the easel. “Hi, hi, hi.”

“Hi, Castaway,” she says. She holds out an azure bottle. “This came from your mom. It’s supposed to be lotus and white tea, but I think it smells like feet, kind of?”

I glance at the label—ALANNA STONE VENUS RISING SPA FRAGRANCE. PRE-MARKET. NOT FOR RESALE – and set it to the side. Caro takes in my rainbow-smeared arms, the variously terrible paintings leaning up against the baseboards of the room, drying. “So,” she says, carefully. “How’s solitary confinement?”

I fling myself backwards onto the warped hardwood. “So boring. But now you’re home! Let’s hang out! Let’s watch vintage horror movies and make every flavor of popcorn!”

She collapses into the ratty rose-printed wingback chair we got at a yard sale. “I’m going to a show with Todd tonight at the Cat’s Cradle.”

“Noooooooo,” I moan.

“You’re welcome to come.”

“Noooooooo.”

She studies my painting. “Are those doughnuts?”

I sit up protectively, Secret Service-blocking the canvas with my body. “Maybe,” I say. “The gallery lady told me to make art from experience. This is me. Arting from experience.” I add, dramatically, “Arting from trauma.”

“Morgs, I don’t want to diminish your trauma—”

“Thank you. Kindly do not.”

Caro sighs. “Are you coming back to school on Monday?”
Does it pass the test?

Oh yes. In spades.

Hole in the Middle is a magical realist YA novel about a teen named Morgan who’s born with a hole through the middle of her body. The book is as much about body image as it is about the persistent feeling so many of us experience: that we’re missing an important piece of something in ourselves. A something that makes us different, often lesser, sometimes undeserving of love.

Page 69 of this book captures a key element of Morgan’s personality, which is precisely the element that made me feel different from my classmates as a teen: beneath her goofy, overly dramatic demeanor, she’s deeply, consumingly introverted.

As an introvert, it’s easy to feel like you’re consistently out of place in the world. Ours is a culture that unquestioningly privileges extroversion. Want to succeed professionally? Network, take up space in the room, be heard in meetings. Want to strengthen your college applications? Brush up your extracurriculars. Children with many friends are well adjusted; a child sitting alone at lunch is a sign that something’s wrong. Group projects. College roommates. Conferences. And so on.

Yes, literature has its fill of reluctant heroes – shy, smart, reclusive types who rise to save the day. But too often those heroes find themselves at the head of an army or a ragtag band of heroes, or at home with newfound friends. A neat narrative arc from lonely to found a place to fit in. The wish fulfilment fantasy of an extroverted world, trying to solve the perceived unhappiness of all us heckin’ introverts.

So it’s a pleasure, especially in a literary landscape that increasingly celebrates diverse characters and backgrounds, to write a character who’s a pure introvert: who likes and trusts a select few others (especially her best friend Caroline, seen above), and struggles with the pull between loneliness and feeling like she’s her truest self alone, painting and dreaming. And whose arc has nothing to do with conforming to the world’s standards, and everything to do with embracing her own powerful, singular truth.
Visit Kendra Fortmeyer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

"Charlesgate Confidential"

Scott Von Doviak is the author of three books on film and pop culture: Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema, If You Like The Terminator, and Stephen King Films FAQ.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Charlesgate Confidential, his debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“So about eight or ten people decided to take you up on your offer. It was as if I had brought home an exotic animal specimen and everyone wanted to get a look before the zookeeper showed up to take you home. Any of this ringing a bell?”

“Um…did I flip somebody off?”

“Oh, you flipped everybody off.”
In some ways, page 69 is representative of Charlesgate Confidential. It’s largely comprised of dialogue, and this is a dialogue-intensive novel. We’re being told a story through a conversation between two characters, a time-honored technique of the Boston crime genre dating back to The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins. In this case, the two characters are college students who had taken their new fake IDs for a test run at a local bar the night before. Tommy Donnelly, a journalism student investigating the mysterious history of the Charlesgate building, overindulged a bit and is now paying the price.

The page is only partially representative, however, as the story of Charlesgate Confidential unfolds in three distinct time periods. Tommy is the protagonist of the 1986 storyline, set during a time when the Charlesgate building is a college dormitory, but the story also takes us to 1946, when the former hotel has been taken over by the Mob, and to 2014, when a murder is under investigation at the Charlesgate luxury condos. A random page from one of those other chapters might have been more violent or pulpy, or featured dialogue more suited to either the ‘40s or the present day. One of the fun things about writing (and, I hope, reading) the novel is the way it bounces around these different eras, weaving a crime story about an unsolved art heist out of various strands of the building’s history.
Visit Scott Von Doviak's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 1, 2018

"A Borrowing of Bones"

Paula Munier is the author of the bestselling Plot Perfect, The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings, Writing with Quiet Hands, and Fixing Freddie: A True Story of a Boy, a Mom, and a Very, Very Bad Beagle. She was inspired to write A Borrowing of Bones by the hero working dogs she met through Mission K9 Rescue, her own Newfoundland retriever mix rescue Bear, and a lifelong passion for crime fiction.

Munier applied the Page 69 Test to A Borrowing of Bones and reported the following:
From page 69:
Troy knew his extraordinary good looks were a sore subject for his superior officer, which made him the object of much teasing by fellow law enforcement—but only the dimmest dared to call him Pretty Boy Floyd to his face.

Troy was not dim. All he said when he and Susie Bear greeted the captain at the office was, "Monique says hello," and handed Thrasher his coffee.

The captain grunted an unintelligible response. When his beloved wife, Carol, died a year ago of cancer, the ladies of southern Vermont had gathered around him in folds of sympathy, delivering condolences and casseroles in equal measure. He ignored them all and shared the casseroles with Troy, whose own wife had also departed—for Orlando with the orthopedist—in a show of solidarity and support. They continued to eat meals together, even as many of the women (Monique aside) grew discouraged, and the free food dwindled.

That often meant take-out, like today's breakfast. Thrasher waited while he parceled out the sausage and hash and cornbread among the three of them: boss, junior officer, and dog. Dog got the lion's share.
This is an excerpt from page 69, one of the quieter moments in the story when Vermont game warden Troy Warner and his search-and-rescue dog Susie Bear meet with his superior officer, the handsome and tough-as-nails Captain Thrasher. Troy has picked up breakfast-to-go at a local diner, where the waitress who brings him the food has a crush on the captain. Now Troy and Susie Bear are sharing that breakfast with Thrasher, preparing to talk about the case and the medical examiner’s report. I like this scene because it shows the good working relationship between Thrasher and Warner, a relationship that will in fact be tested by Mercy Carr’s involvement in the case. She may be a former Army MP, but she’s still a civilian in Thrasher's eyes.
Visit Paula Munier's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Paula Munier & Bear.

My Book, The Movie: A Borrowing of Bones.

Writers Read: Paula Munier.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 29, 2018

"What She Gave Away"

Catharine Riggs is a former banker, educator and nonprofit executive. What She Gave Away, her first work of psychological suspense, features an outsider with a dark past and a bitter grudge who moves to a wealthy beachside community only to find herself enmeshed in the secrets of her boss and his hapless wife.

Riggs applied the Page 69 Test to What She Gave Away and reported the following:
What She Gave Away is a novel of psychological suspense told from the alternating perspectives of two first person narrators, Crystal and Kathi, the hunter and the hunted. Page 69 is representative of the book in that it lands at a crucial first meeting between the gullible housewife, Kathi Wright, and the suave conman Arthur Van Meter. Kathi’s life has devolved since the mysterious death of her husband, a former bank President now accused of elder abuse and fraud. Her primary coping mechanism is denial, so she has dealt with the tragedy by spending money she doesn’t have and drowning in goblets of chardonnay. On page 69, she’s attempting to purchase a few household staples at the posh neighborhood grocery store.
I pick up a dozen items, including a few cans of cat food, and wait in a rather long line. The checker looks trendy and cool, her black-and-purple hair shaved to stubble on one side. I smile and swipe my debit card, and the checker rolls her heavy-lidded eyes.

“Declined,” she says in a dull voice. “Try again.”

“But I just got a new one.”

“Did you call it in?”

“Yes, but...” I don’t need to run my card a second time to know what has happened. How could I have drained my account so quickly? I could swear I didn’t spend more than $5,000 on my recent visit to Saks.

“Do you have another card?”

I rifle through my wallet, but all I find are frozen credit cards and a five-dollar bill.

“I’m sorry,” I say, humiliated, as the line behind me grows. “I’ll put the groceries away and come back later.”

“Right,” the girl mutters under her breath.

“No need for that,” a man’s voice booms from behind. “I’ll take care of this.” I look up to find Eileen’s handsome husband standing beside me waving his card. He swipes before I can blink.

“Why, thank you,” I stammer. “But there’s no need...”

He taps in his PIN and then turns to me with a grin. “Now let me help you with your bags.”
Unfortunately, Crystal’s voice is not represented in the passage and she is vastly different from her prey. She grew up in a broken family in central California and spent a few years in juvenile hall before moving to Santa Barbara to take a job as a loan analyst in a community bank. I’ve included a short passage so a reader can get a feel for her voice and perspective.
A girl dances past me in a tiny black dress that barely covers her crotch. She bumps against Tyler and laughs. Then she bumps against him again. She’s pretty but slutty in a way I don’t like. I pick up my beer and finish it off and begin a round of my favorite game. What’s the worst thing that could happen to that girl? What would destroy her life?
Visit Catharine Riggs's website.

My Book, The Movie: What She Gave Away.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 27, 2018

"Sunrise Highway"

Peter Blauner's novels include Slow Motion Riot, winner of an Edgar Allan Poe award for best first novel from Mystery Writers of America, and The Intruder, a New York Times bestseller. He began his career as a journalist for New York magazine in the 1980s and segued into writing fiction in the 1990s. His short fiction has been anthologized in Best American Mystery Stories and on Selected Shorts from Symphony Space. He has written for several television shows, including Law & Order: SVU and the CBS series, Blue Bloods.

Blauner applied the Page 69 Test to newest novel, Sunrise Highway, and reported the following:
You turn to page 69 in the hope you'll find some of your best writing, and a prayer that you won't find some of your worst. Instead, what's there is a decent random DNA sample that offers clues about the rest of the book. Two police officers, male and female, are at a roadside crime scene in September, 1982, looking at an abandoned Ford Escort The female driver has been found dead some distance away. But the twist here is that we already know that the male officer, one Joseph Tolliver, pulled the woman over earlier in the evening and is actively concealing from the female officer, one Amy "Half-Nelson," his intimate knowledge of what happened. Here's an excerpt from the page that begins Joey T assessing the threat "Half-Nelson" represents to him:
She aimed her pointy nose at him and cocked her narrow little pasty face at an angle. Man, you rarely saw a girl with ears that big. Most would have enough sense to grow their hair longer. It was almost like she was intentionally confronting you with the size of those flaps.

“Just a figure of speech,” he said. “I’m sure it didn’t happen in the middle of rush hour. Someone would have noticed.”

She held his gaze for a beat longer than she should have. Then looked back inside the car, the corners of her thin-lipped mouth turning down.

“Where were you patrolling last night anyway?” she asked.

“Down by West Babylon. Quiet night.”

He didn’t appreciate how she kept looking just to see the side of his face, like she was trying to see something behind him.

“And you didn’t see this car go by with a female driver?” Half-Nelson raised her eyebrows.

“If you’re not breaking the law, I’m not interested in you.” He shrugged.

Billy the Kid had come staggering over. Even more hungover than usual, and wearing his tinted aviators. The man was getting to be an embarrassment, but Joey wasn’t sure how much he might have seen. There was just enough detective left in him to sometimes know when to hang back and observe.

“What do we got, officers?” He patted his pockets for a notebook.

“Just maintaining the integrity of the scene for the big boys.” Joey nodded. “I hear CSU’s busy up the road.”

“Yeah, it’s ugly,” said Rattigan. “Poor woman taken from her car, beaten, raped, and strangled. Her clothes are torn off and her neck is practically broken. It looks like wolves attacked her.”

Joey cricked his neck, aware of how Half-Nelson was restlessly hitching up her belt and scratching a spot halfway down her throat. Like she had something she wanted to say in private. Joey put on his sunglasses to glare at her: I can see out, but you can’t see in.
If you've read the book up to that point, you know that it goes back and forth to converging periods of time. In its 2017 chapters, Joey T has become someone to be reckoned with both in society at large and in the immediate purview of the book's other main character, Detective Lourdes Robles - who would have been less than a year old in this Reagan-era scene. In a sense, this page 69 excerpt is both a crucial bridge to that bigger story and a harbinger of the ultimate confrontation between these two.
Visit Peter Blauner's website.

Writers Read: Peter Blauner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"Husk"

Dave Zeltserman's many novels include Monster: A novel of Frankenstein. His short mystery fiction has won the Shamus, Derringer and Ellery Queen's Readers Choice awards. His crime thrillers, Small Crimes and Pariah, both made the Washington Post's best books of the year list in 2008 and 2009, respectively, and Small Crimes was selected by NPR as one of the 5 best crime and mystery novels of 2008.

His horror novel, The Caretaker of Lorne Field, was shortlisted by the American Library Association for best horror novel of 2010 and was also a Black Quill nominee for best dark genre book of the year.

Zeltserman applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Husk, and reported the following:
In my new horror novel Husk, Charlie Husk is from a cannibal clan hidden deep in the backwoods of New Hampshire. When the novel starts, he has traveled to our world to collect stragglers to bring back to the clan. He picks out his first victim for this trip—a woman who has been abandoned by her jerk boyfriend at a Massachusetts Turnpike rest stop. When he offers to rescue her, instead of dumping her in a canvas sack and throwing her into the back of his van, he finds himself driving her back to her apartment in NY. He can’t help it. He has feelings for her—the first time he has ever felt anything for any of them. And he can tell the feelings are being reciprocated.

By page 69, Charlie has abandoned the clan and has decided to live as one of us in our world as long as he has a chance of being with Jill, and on the opening paragraph of that page he describes going out to dinner with Jill and being packed in among what had previously been his prey:
The restaurant Jill took me to was much smaller than the one we’d eaten at the other night. I counted only eight tables and there was little space separating them, leaving me and Jill crowded among them. Both tables next to ours were occupied, so I had other eaters sitting on both sides of me, leaving less than a foot between us, even though they were both thinner than many of them I’d seen. (Thin enough that I might not have stopped to pick them up if I was still collecting them for the clan.) While their scent was ever-present and I could feel a moist heat from them, having them so close no longer caused me any undue anxiousness. I was getting used to having so many of them around me. Jill was also well aware of the other eaters’ close proximity, and it caused her voice to be more guarded as she thought of additional questions to ask me. Her first one was whether I’d really been building houses as I had told her.
Husk passes the Page 69 Test as the page is highly representative of the creepiness that permeates the book as Charlie desperately tries to ignore his true nature so he can live with Jill, while also ignoring how difficult it can be to abandon the clan.
Learn more about the book and author at Dave Zeltserman's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue