Sunday, July 15, 2018

"Potter's Field"

Rob Hart is the author of the Ash McKenna series which wraps up this month with Potter’s Field. Other entries include: New Yorked, which was nominated for an Anthony Award for Best First Novel, as well as City of Rose, South Village, and The Woman from Prague. He also co-wrote Scott Free with James Patterson.

Hart applied the Page 69 Test to Potter’s Field and reported the following:
From page 69:
“The hardest kind of person to help is someone who doesn’t want help,” she says. “If there’s one thing I know without any doubt or question, it’s that. Unless someone wants to make a change, they won’t do it. They’ll dig in deeper. He has to want to be helped. So make sure when you find him you give him what he needs. It might not be to drag him here kicking and screaming.”
This is a social worker talking to the lead character, Ash McKenna, about a heroin addict he’s looking for.

But it’s about him, too.

It sums up a lot of Ash’s journey. In the first book, New Yorked, he’s a brash, angry kid with a skewed moral compass. The whole series is about him growing up. This is the first that he’s actually ready to do that, and he’s just realizing it.
Visit Rob Hart's website.

My Book, The Movie: Potter's Field by Rob Hart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 13, 2018

"A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe"

Alex White was born and raised in the American south. He takes photos, writes music, and spends hours on YouTube watching other people blacksmith. He values challenging and subversive writing, but he’ll settle for a good time.

White lives in the shadow of Huntsville, Alabama’s rockets with his wife, son, two dogs and a cat named Grim. Favored pastimes include Legos and racecars. He takes his whiskey neat and his espresso black.

White applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Ranger rested a heavy, sharp claw on Boots’s shoulder. Its hiss dripped with malice, like steam through a long steel pipe. Ahead of her, human death. Behind her, a walking blender.

“So, uh, how long have you been with the captain?”

“I’ve been on this ship since I was a little girl. Came aboard after you deserted the captain.”
Orna looked to be in her mid-twenties, so Boots did the math and ignored the jab. “Yeah, so I’m guessing that’s about fifteen years?”

“Yes. No more questions about me.”

Behind Orna’s back, Boots silently mocked the quartermaster’s gruff delivery.

Orna paused. “You know I can see everything Ranger sees.”

They wound through the ship’s foredecks until they came to the bridge. It was precisely as Boots had left it almost twenty years ago, with a fresh coat of paint over all the bits that made it an ADF ship. Unlike Cordell’s office, which had essentially been gutted and rebuilt, the bridge was a spotless, frozen set piece from the Famine War. Three terraces, each taller than a large man, housed stations and readouts. Overhead, starlight slipped through a tremendous bubble dome. Boots’s favorite shift on the bridge had always been the night cycle, when the lights were dimmed and she was alone with the vastness of space.

She immediately recognized the marksman from the bazaar sitting in the pilot’s chair three terraces down. The pilot stood up and ascended the stairs at their entry.

“Aisha,” said Orna. “This is Boots Elsworth. You’ve met.”

The pilot smiled and took Boots’s hand in both of hers. “Aisha Jan. It is my utmost pleasure. Sorry for shooting you.”

Up close, she was far prettier than Boots remembered in the bazaar, with smoky eyes and long brown hair that faded to pink at the tips like some bird of paradise.
First off, this is 100% representative of the rest of the book!

We've just been introduced to Ranger, a walking AI battle armor that follows Orna Sokol, the quartermaster, around like a pet. Orna and Ranger are a tough combo, and they steal almost every scene they're in from here on out.

Opposite them, we have one of our two main characters, Boots Elsworth. She’s smart-mouthed and salty as hell, and this scene is no exception. Boots is a con artist by trade, and she’s on the ship because she’s swindled them out of a considerable amount of cash. In retaliation, they’ve kidnapped her, and they plan to squeeze every last asset they can out of her.

The one way in which this scene differs from the rest of the book is its lack of mortal peril. A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe keeps time through spectacular setpiece action scenes, from high-octane races on a space station to pitched gun battles. So, if this scene had colorful characters, sass and action, I’d say it was more representative.

Fear not, dear readers, for within the next twenty pages, we’ll be blowing enemy ships out of the stars and getting a taste of just what they’re up against!
Visit Alex White's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

"The Collide"

Kimberly McCreight is the New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia, which was nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Alex Awards and was called Entertainment Weekly’s Favorite Book of the Year. Reconstructing Amelia has been optioned for film by HBO and Nicole Kidman’s Blossom Films. McCreight’s second adult novel, Where They Found Her, was a USA Today bestseller and a Kirkus Best Mystery of the Year.

The Outliers, the first book in her teen trilogy, also a New York Times bestseller, has been optioned for film by Lionsgate, Mandeville, and Reese Witherspoon’s Pacific Standard. The second book, The Scattering, was released in 2017.

McCreight  applied the Page 69 Test to the newly released third and final book, The Collide, and reported the following:
From page 69:
WYLIE

“The hospital sent your phone back,” Gideon says, when I finally get back downstairs from the longest shower I have ever taken. He puts the phone down in front of me on the coffee table. “I charged it for you. I mean, it probably has like nine kinds of tracing crap embedded on it. You should take a look at your missed messages or whatever. Then we should probably burn it in the backyard.”

Gideon thinking to charge my phone feels like the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. I stare down at it and try not to cry.

“Thanks,” I manage.

When I turn it on, one hundred and thirty-six texts flood in. Jasper accounts for 90 percent of the messages, all sent in the twenty-four hours between when he saw me grabbed on the bridge and when he finally snuck his way into the hospital...
This moment from The Collide is actually both typical and atypical of the book and The Outliers trilogy as a whole. The scene is atypical in that it’s a relatively quiet moment in a series full of a great deal of fast-paced action. After narrowly evading capture in The Outliers, and finally beginning coming to terms with who she is in The Scattering, Wylie now finds herself in The Collide falsely accused of murder. Luckily, with the help of her mother’s friend Rachel she’s been temporarily released on bail. In this scene shortly after her release, she and her brother Gideon attempt to come to an uneasy peace, but reconciliation isn’t simple after Gideon’s betrayal. Still, Wylie needs someone she can count on right now and that person is Gideon, whatever his shortcomings.

It is in this respect that the scene on Page 69 is emblematic of The Collide—and the series more broadly. The Outliers explores what it means to trust in yourself, while knowing that the greatest strength may lie in how we connect with others. What Wylie learns in The Collide is that no one can truly make a difference by going it alone. The trick is finding the right people to fight at your side.
Visit Kimberly McCreight's website.

The Page 69 Test: Reconstructing Amelia.

The Page 69 Test: The Scattering.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"The Girl from Blind River"

Gale Massey lives in St. Petersburg, FL. Her stories have appeared in the Tampa Bay Times, Walking the Edge, Sabal, Seven Hills Press, and other journals. She has been the recipient of scholarships and fellowships at The Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Writers in Paradise, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Massey applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Girl From Blind River, and reported the following:
“When Keating looked at Phoebe and raised his glass she knew it was time to wind things up with a big hand.”

This last sentence from page 69 represents the power dynamics that play out in the novel. Judge Keating runs a high-stakes poker game for regional and local officials and high-profile celebrities. It’s a game that he is notorious for fixing and winning. Most of the people he invites understand this and consider it a form of hazing they have to put up with to win the favor of Blind River’s most powerful judge. However, on this night a retired and beloved NFL player is in attendance and he’s got no intention of losing. Phoebe, an ex-con, has been hired by Judge Keating to deal the game in the basement of Keating’s house. Since he’s the one that sentenced her to prison she’s well aware of his authority in her life and his ability to corrupt the system to his own benefit. She’s understands that she’s been hired to make sure he not only wins the game but deals his competitors a vicious loss. But while the last thing Phoebe wants is to get tangled up with the law, the last hand of the night puts her dead center in a detective’s investigation when one of the players goes missing.
Visit Gale Massey's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Girl From Blind River.

Writers Read: Gale Massey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 9, 2018

"A Theory Of Love"

Margaret Bradham Thornton is the author of the novels A Theory Of Love and Charleston and the editor of Tennessee Williams’s Notebooks, for which she received the Bronze ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award in autobiography/memoir and the C. Hugh Holman Prize for the best volume of southern literary scholarship published in 2006, given by the Society for the Study of Southern Literature.

She applied the Page 69 Test to A Theory Of Love and reported the following:
Page 69. This is the moment when Christopher and Helen’s relationship shifts. Helen has dislodged him from his emotional reticence and his devotion to sprezzatura. My character Christopher emerged from research I was doing on Cuba. I came across a memoir of a man who had been orphaned as a two year-old and taken into a circus when he was seven. His memoir detailed all the places he had traveled in the US and Cuba during the 1800s, and his account was surprisingly flat and unemotional, and it made me wonder about what could be expected from someone who had never been loved or who had had love withheld. So even though my novel’s setting is contemporary, I thought this question could be explored through Christopher whose father died in a skiing accident when he was small and whose mother was emotionally distant. On page 69, Christopher surprises himself when he asks Helen to marry him. One of the questions going forward now and for the rest of the novel is whether or how Christopher shifts or changes once he and Helen are married.
Visit Margaret Bradham Thornton's website.

Writers Read: Margaret Bradham Thornton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 7, 2018

"Empire of Silence"

Christopher Ruocchio is a graduate of North Carolina State University, where a penchant for self-destructive decision-making caused him to pursue a bachelor’s in English Rhetoric with a minor in Classics. An avid student of history, philosophy, and religion, Ruocchio has been writing since he was eight years old and sold his first book —Empire of Silence— at twenty-two.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Empire of Silence and reported the following:
From page 69:
"...Order. Without that, civilization on a galactic scale is impossible. It breaks down.”

“The Eudorans get on just fine!” I objected, thinking of the nomad caravaners with their net of asteroid stations spread throughout human space. “And the Freeholders.”

“Please,” Lord Alistair sneered. “Those inbreds can’t hold a single planet together, much less a thousand.” And with an impatient hand wave he dismissed billions of human lives from our conversation as one shoos away a fly. “Do you know that some of those Freeholder worlds have countries? Nation-​­states like those from before the Exodus? Some of those little colonies can’t even build starships! They fight themselves as much as they fight anyone else.”

I shrugged. “And we don’t?”

“The rules of poine have their admirers in the Imperium, I’ll grant. But the Chantry regulates our actions, minimizes collateral damage.”

“They threaten dissident lords with biological weapons, you mean. What has any of this to do with circuses?”

The Archon of Meidua thrust his chin out. “We ­aren’t like those other nations, son. There’s no congress, no body politic here. When I make a decree, I make it. Personally. No proxies, no fallbacks. The old systems of democracy and parliament only allowed the cowards to hide. Our power depends not on the consent of the people but on their belief in us.”

“I know all this,” I said, shifting forward to the edge of my seat. My nostrils flared. I had not forgiven the man for abandoning me to my injuries. He was my father, in Earth’s name. My father. And I was being lectured because I had been brutalized. Still, he was right. I was not just a boy. I was his son, and there was a responsibility on me to carry the weight of my house. There was power in that responsibility and an accountability, too. It is for this reason that a lord was better than parliament. A lord had no excuse. If he abused his power, as I feared Crispin might, he would not rule for long. If he was cold in the application of his power, as I knew my father was, he would not rule easily.

“No, you don’t,” the lord snapped, smoothing a curling lock of hair back behind one ear. “We have to engage with the churls. We have to show that we are people, boy, not some abstract political concept. That is what they understand. That is why I sent you and Crispin to the Colosso while I treated with Elmira. I am patriarch to the people of Meidua, and you both were sent to represent me and our house. Personally. Crispin played his role admirably; the people love him now because they see him as part of their world. He fought in their Colosso, while you ... ​you turned your back.”
You’re trying to get me in trouble with this passage! Here Hadrian’s father is outlining a bit of his philosophy of governance, which is decidedly Machiavellian, if not completely untrue. Hadrian starts this novel out in quite a position of authority, which many people will be quick to point out is a kind of privilege. What those same people are very often blind to is the degree to which that same authority brings with it a degree of scrutiny and responsibility. Contrary to popular wisdom, tyrants almost always die horribly because the people simply won’t consent to be governed by such people. (I think the assassination rate among European monarchs was something like 16%, making it one of the most lethal occupations in history). It’s even true among chimpanzees, our closest relatives, where it turns out the troop leaders who are kind but firm rule better, more stably, and over periods of increased prosperity (which would imply a kind of objective morality and ethic of leadership, but that’s a big conversation). Hadrian’s father is a tyrant, and as we’ll see: his negative example points Hadrian towards the proper path.

I don’t actually think this page is very representative of Empire of Silence as a whole. While Hadrian certainly has very complex feelings about the Sollan Empire and his place in it (and about everything, really), he doesn’t discuss political theory very much. Nevertheless, it’s a very important scene and one which informs Hadrian’s character in ways I don’t think even he could readily admit.
Follow Christopher Ruocchio on Twitter.

Writers Read: Christopher Ruocchio.

My Book, The Movie: Empire of Silence.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 5, 2018

"The Moment Before Drowning"

James Brydon grew up in North Shropshire, England, and studied English at Oxford. For over a decade, he has worked as a cryptic crossword setter. Under the name Picaroon, he sets two puzzles a month in the Guardian, and he compiles for the Spectator, the Times (London), and the fiendish Listener puzzle, drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as the films of Akira Kurosawa and the six-fold symmetry of snowflakes. He is fluent in French and Serbian, is currently polishing his German, and can hold a conversation in passable Chinese. He lives in St. Albans, England, with his wife and daughter.

Brydon applied the Page 69 Test to The Moment Before Drowning, his debut novel, and reported the following:
The Moment Before Drowning is the haunting story of two murders: one the main protagonist is asked to investigate, and one he is accused of. In the background, it’s also an exploration of colonial history, and a book about memory and the shifting, elusive nature of truth.

On this page, Captain le Garrec is questioning the aristocratic Christian de la Hallière, a suspect who knew the murdered girl’s father during World War Two. De la Hallière, part of French troops that fought with the Wehrmacht, recounts how he killed a Russian peasant during the retreat on the Ostfront precisely because the act was unjustifiable, and therefore steeped in the pleasure of crime. De la Hallière gleefully highlights the paradox between the supposed moral progress of modernity and the barbarity of mass destruction and the Holocaust: “We may claim to abhor war, in this sanitized century we inhabit, but the conflicts we have fought have pushed brutality and depravity to hitherto unseen levels.” As le Garrec listens, he is uncertain how much of what de la Hallìere says is fact, and how much he is embellishing to play the role of the unrepentant fascist.

Since this is a mystery novel, I won’t say if this information turns out to be significant. However, the notions that memory is never objective, and that truth is difficult to ascertain, resonate later on. Le Garrec will be called to give an account of a horrific act which occurred while he was in the army in Algeria, forcing him to confront his own traumatic past, and to try to reconcile his sense of guilt with his need for exoneration.
Learn more about The Moment Before Drowning at the Akashic Books website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

"Alternative Remedies for Loss"

Joanna Cantor is the author of the novel Alternative Remedies for Loss. She holds an MFA from Brooklyn College and a BA from Colorado College, and is a recipient of the Vermont Studio Center Fellowship. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Cantor applied the Page 69 Test to Alternative Remedies for Loss and reported the following:
From page 69:
get a feel for what was out there. She showed Olivia pictures and they huddled over her phone, blurring the line between themselves and the young patrons at the next table.

OLIVIA AND MICHEL fell into a sort of routine. It wasn’t the kind where he took her to dinner. But she could rummage in his cabinets and find things to eat while he looked on with mild amusement. There was always champagne, and when they didn’t finish the bottle, he threw it away. Mornings, he drank French press coffee with almond milk, too fatless and bitter for her. While he showered, she stole the guest chocolate from above the kitchen sink. And then he’d come out of the bathroom with toothpaste breath and call her Lady Godiva and they’d fuck again—on the couch, on the floor, once with her hip pressed into the counter so hard she had a bruise for ten days. He loved the bruise. The next time he saw her, he couldn’t stop touching it. He pushed his thumb into it while he fucked her, even when she winced. He watched her face, waiting for her to tell him to stop, which she didn’t, and he came early, with the look of a child having an accident.

They saw each other a couple of times a week, always at his place. One evening in early November—the days so short that by the time Olivia left work it felt like it had been night for as long as it had been day—Michel said he had presents for her. He’d ordered a bunch of lingerie online, or not exactly lingerie: a couple of lacy thongs, a camisole because he didn’t know her bra size, and several pairs of metallic leggings. Apparently he had a thing for leggings.

Olivia modeled the thongs in the living room to instrumental jazz. Michel fiddled with the stereo, reaching out to stroke her hip. “Perfect ass,” he murmured appreciatively, as though he’d designed it himself. She stuck it out for him and then turned to face
My debut novel Alternative Remedies for Loss is the story of 22-year-old Olivia Harris in the year after her mother’s death. After a disastrous family trip to India, Olivia moves to New York City and gets a job at a media company. Months later, a discovery about her mom leads her back to India, this time to visit a yoga ashram.

Page 69 does not refer to the most central part of the novel—the loss of Olivia’s mother, which has left her reeling. But this page does capture one major strand of Alternative Remedies for Loss: the ill-advised but exciting romantic fling. Olivia’s relationship with Michel, an older man she meets through work, may not be the best idea, but there’s a lightness and playfulness to it at the beginning (as there often can be in the early stages of a relationship, even if the wiser part of us knows we’re making a mistake).

The mood of novelty and energy that show up on this page are not just about Michel; they’re also about Olivia’s first months in New York. It was important to me while writing this book that the themes of loss and grief not become too heavy because, while they are true to Olivia’s experience, she’s also young: it’s a time of many firsts, and she is capable of being distracted and getting swept up in her new city life.
Visit Joanna Cantor's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 1, 2018

"Caught in Time"

Julie McElwain is a national award-winning journalist. Born and raised in North Dakota, she graduated from North Dakota State University, and moved to Los Angeles, where she worked for a fashion trade newspaper. Currently, she is an editor for CBS Soaps In Depth, covering the No. 1 daytime drama, The Young & The Restless.

McElwain applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Caught in Time, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Then build me a picture. Don’t lie or soften it. What was Mr. Stone like?”

He was silent for a long moment, staring at his tense hands. “Mr. Stone was complicated,” he finally said. “He could be in a jovial mood...”

“But,” Kendra prodded.

Biddle took the bait. “But his jovial mood often came at the expense of the mill workers.”

“How so?”

Biddle unlaced his fingers and spread his hands on the desk. “He was the manager of Bancroft Mill. We employ nearly three hundred workers, Miss Donovan. It’s the largest mill in the area.”

“I see. In other words, he held a lot of power.”

“Yes, he did.”

“And how did he use his power?”

Biddle pursed his lips as he considered the question. “He ... he enjoyed threatening workers with dismissal—without references. His humor could be cruel.”

“Cruel to you?”

“No.” He met her eyes, and shrugged. “I served a purpose, Miss Donovan. I handle the day-to-day operation of the mill,something which Mr. Stone had no interest in doing. He would never have dismissed me.”

Kendra wondered if that was true. No one was indispensable. And if Stone turned on his assistant of nineteen years, what would Biddle have done?

She asked, “Did he threaten to fire workers, or did he actually fire them?”

“Both. We’ve had to dismiss workers with the addition of new frames.”

“That must have angered a lot of your employees.”

“Yes, but Lord Bancroft was the one who made the decision to order them, not Mr. Stone. It is essential for progress, you must understand.”
Caught in Time brings back my protagonist, Kendra Donovan, who is a twenty-first century FBI agent inexplicably thrust into Regency England. She and her guardian, the Duke, are traveling to one of his estates in the north of England when they get waylaid by fog and the murder of a mill manager. This was a dangerous time between factory/mill owners and workers; emotions were running high. When Luddites attack a local mill and the manager is found bludgeoned to death, many in the village are quick to connect the dots. For Kendra, those dots are leading away from the Luddites. Once again Kendra is challenged by the lack of forensics tools in this era as well as the submissive role women were forced to play. My page 69 illustrates the procedural aspects to a criminal investigation. Victimology is important — understanding who the victim was and how that might have contributed to his/her death. Here we begin to see that the victim was a megalomaniac, who had more than one enemy. It is also the beginning of a dark and twisty road that Kendra will be propelled down, with some shocking revelations to her own circumstance in 19th century England.
Visit Julie McElwain's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 29, 2018

"Those Other Women"

Nicola Moriarty is a Sydney-based novelist, copywriter and mum to two small (but remarkably strong-willed) daughters. In between various career changes, becoming a mum and completing her Bachelor of Arts, she began to write. Now she can’t seem to stop. Her previous works include the novel, The Fifth Letter, which was published in several countries and optioned by Universal Cable Productions for film and television.

Moriarty applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Those Other Women, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Later that night Poppy posted on NOP.

Anyone else have trouble convincing friends or family that you don’t ever want to have kids? My mother is driving me up the wall. It doesn’t seem to matter what I say or how many times I say it – she’s certain I’m lying or that I’m in denial or whatever. Any tips on how to make her understand once and for all would be greatly appreciated!

Within seconds Facebook notified Poppy that several people had already commented on her post.

Nicole – Have the same exact issue with my little sister. She has two of her own and every time I’m around her and the kids I catch her looking at me with these guilty puppy-dog eyes, like she feels terrible for beating me to it. As if procreation is a race that’s supposed to be won. Unfortunately, I still haven’t been able to make her understand that she has no reason to feel sorry for me cause I’m actually perfectly happy.

Marns – For me my family got it straightaway. They were like, oh yeah, you never were a kid person, even when you were a kid! So I can’t really help you but I get it must suck.
I always find it fascinating to read a page from one of my books completely out of context and see how it sounds in isolation. In this case, I think this small section from page 69 represents Those Other Women almost perfectly! Those Other Women tells the story of Poppy, a woman who is child-free by choice and decides to start up a Facebook group in order to connect with other like-minded women. That’s why this excerpt from page 69 is so perfect, it includes one of Poppy’s posts to this group and sums up one of the driving forces behind Poppy’s desire to have this group in the first place – she’s fed up with her family pressuring her to conform to the societal expectations that all woman must want children. Of course, at the same time there’s plenty more that happens in the book – there’s Annalise, Poppy’s new friend who’s keeping secrets about her past, Frankie, the mum at her work who has her own story to share and then there’s the imposter, the person within the new Facebook group who isn’t who she says she is!
Visit Nicola Moriarty's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

"The Length of a String"

Elissa Brent Weissman is the award-winning author of several middle grade novels, including the Nerd Camp series, and the editor of Our Story Begins, an anthology of writing and art by today’s kids’ book creators back when they were kids themselves. She is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and earned a Master’s degree in children’s literature at Roehampton University in London. Named one of CBS Baltimore’s Best Authors in Maryland, Weissman lives with her family in Baltimore, where she teaches creative writing to children, college students, and adults.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Length of a String, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I tried to commit to memory the street as we walked…so many shops and sights I’d seen every day and might never pass again. The bakery, where we’d treat ourselves to a pain au chocolat for breakfast before school. The button store, where I once spent 20 minutes searching the small baskets for a button to replace the one that had popped off my jacket, only to finally ask the shopkeeper and have him find an exact match right away. The narrow alleyway where Kurt and his friends used to play soccer, “no sisters allowed…”

At last we found the man with a long coat and brown hat. He nodded at Mama, and she stepped close to him and spoke quietly.
In The Length of a String, twelve-year-old Imani—a black, adopted, Jewish girl—discovers her great-grandmother Anna’s diary from 1941. Page 69 is from that diary, an early entry in which Anna recounts how she escaped from Nazi-occupied Luxembourg. This excerpt comes right before a big, shocking moment in Anna’s story. (Too bad this isn’t the page 70 test!)

While page 69 is a good representation of Anna’s voice and her personality, it’s not the most accurate representation of her part of the book, since it takes place in Luxembourg, and most of her diary—written as letters to the twin sister she left behind—chronicles her new life in Brooklyn, New York. She does continue to miss and yearn for her home and family in Europe, however, much the way she does here as she prepares to leave.

Since page 69 is from Anna’s diary, it doesn’t provide any introduction to our contemporary heroine, Imani, who is preparing for her bat mitzvah and working up the nerve to ask for a very controversial gift: to find her birth parents. Imani’s journey drives The Length of a String, while Anna’s story fuels Imani’s drive. It’s the string connecting these two young women across generations that makes this book whole.
Visit Elissa Brent Weissman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

"Storm Glass"

Jeff Wheeler's best-known fiction includes the Legends of Muirwood & Covenant of Muirwood trilogies, The Whispers from Mirrowen trilogy, and a graphic novel, The Lost Abbey.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Storm Glass, and reported the following:
I think I was lucky on this test, because Page 69 ended up being the start of a chapter! In Storm Glass, there are two main protagonists: Cettie who grew up in a terrible place called the Fells and Sera Fitzempress, a princess born to privilege. The book begins with Cettie’s point of view, but in the chapter before page 69, we meet Sera for the first time and get to know her spunk and mischievous nature. She’s very sassy to her governess. Because Sera lives in an estate that literally hovers over a huge city below, she likes to climb a certain tree in the garden to look over the wall and catch glimpses of the world far below. Nothing bad has ever happened before when she’s done this, so she thinks it’s perfectly safe. I know my own kids have done things like this before ending up getting stitches in the emergency room, or (more recently), getting a concussion playing inside an Amazon box! Right before this scene, the branch Sera is standing on abruptly breaks. What happens next? You’ll have to read…here on page 69:
CHAPTER EIGHT

Prince Regent

Sera’s heart stopped as the branch gave way. She was falling, scraping down the length of the trunk, and if not for her father’s quick reflexes, she would have broken her bones. At least. He was near enough that he caught her, but the impact had knocked them down. Sera heard screaming, both from her mother and Hugilde. The impact had only taken her breath away ... and yet...

If falling from a tree felt like this, what would falling off one of the floating manors do to someone? There were stories that some of the wealthy, those who had lost everything, opted to jump rather than face their creditors.

Sera’s father sat up, and she hugged him, filled with gratitude and remorse. He held her back, whispering soothing words, his anger replaced—for the moment—by intense relief.

“She’s all right, she’s all right,” he said to her mother and governess.

“I’m not hurt,” Sera said, squeezing him harder. “I’ve climbed that tree so many times. It’s never done that.”

“How many times must I tell you, Seraphin?” he said, pulling her face back and looking into her eyes worriedly. “Just because something doesn’t happen constantly doesn’t mean it won’t happen at all. Many of the consequences we face are delayed. This principle governs so much in this world.”

Yes, she had heard him preach this many times. A person can be dishonest once and get away with it. Twice even. Maybe a dozen times. But then the law finds out, and the punishment comes swift and fierce, paying in interest from the past. He had always taught her, from earliest childhood, that she could choose her actions, not the consequences of those actions.
Visit Jeff Wheeler's website.

My Book, The Movie: Storm Glass

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"A Blood Thing"

James Hankins writes thrillers, mysteries, and novels of suspense, including The Inside Dark, The Prettiest One, Shady Cross, Brothers and Bones, Drawn, and Jack of Spades. He lives north of Boston with his wife and sons.

Hankins applied the Page 69 Test to A Blood Thing, his seventh novel, and reported the following:
My latest suspense novel, A Blood Thing, is many things—political thriller, police procedural, crime novel, and family drama to name a few—but what sets the story into motion is a complex plot hatched and executed by a twisted, cunning blackmailer who has spent more than a year planning his scheme. His target is a powerful Vermont family of siblings. First, we meet Andrew Kane, the youngest governor in the state’s history, who at the beginning of the novel is shaking hands with citizens after a ceremonial ribbon cutting when a man slips him a cellphone and, before slipping away into the crowd, mysteriously instructs Andrew to hold onto the phone because he will need it “after the arrest,” leaving Andrew to wonder “whose arrest?” We find out shortly thereafter, however, when Andrew’s youngest brother, Tyler—a sweet twenty-nine-year-old man with a limited intellectual caused by a tragic fall two decades earlier—is arrested for murder. There is also their brother, Henry Kane, an internal affairs detective with the state police who will informally work the case. And, finally, there is Molly Kane, a decorated military veteran and Tyler’s twin sister.

The overarching theme of A Blood Thing is family and the lengths to which we will go to protect the ones we love, but this is a crime novel, one based on a complicated scheme of extortion and revenge. In fact, the blackmailer’s plot is so complex that he has dedicated an entire wall in a basement room to a graphic representation of it. Page 69 of the book is where the first description of that wall appears:
He closed the thick binder, leaned back in his chair, and allowed his eyes to drift up to the wall above his desk. His canvas. His art. His masterpiece.

Photographs taped to the wall. And news stories. And copies of pages from his binder. And a detailed timeline spanning several sheets of paper taped end to end, events written on it in black pen, some that had already occurred, others planned but yet to take place. Thin yarn of various colors—a veritable rainbow—attached to thumbtacks, stretching from one item to the next ... from a photograph to an event on the timeline, from a news story to a sketch he had made. Dozens of threads, dozens of connections, forming a web across a mosaic that covered an entire wall, the visual representation of a plan he had crafted over the course of more than a year. A plan he had finally put into motion the other day. A plan that was going very well so far.

In fact, it was going perfectly.
It’s fitting for purposes of this exercise that the blackmailer’s wall, so central to his plan and to the story itself, appears on page 69. It’s so important to A Blood Thing, in fact, that the cover of the book—on which appear words on paper, and photographs, and yarn, all held in place by thumbtacks—was designed to mimic the wall.
Visit James Hankins's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 22, 2018

"The King’s Justice"

E.M. Powell’s historical thriller Fifth Knight novels have been #1 Amazon and Bild bestsellers. Her new Stanton & Barling medieval murder mystery series starts with The King's Justice. She is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers The Big Thrill magazine, blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors and is the social media manager for the Historical Novel Society. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she now lives in northwest England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog.

Powell applied the Page 69 Test to The King's Justice and reported the following:
In my new medieval murder mystery, The King's Justice, Aelred Barling, esteemed clerk to the justices of King Henry II, is dispatched from the royal court with his young assistant, Hugo Stanton, to investigate the brutal murder of the local smith in a village outside York. A suspect is under lock and key in the prison, and the angry villagers are demanding swift justice. The case appears straightforward and Barling is certain that his investigation will be quickly concluded. But then young Stanton had to open his mouth and throw the whole thing into disarray. My Page 69 has the deeply irritated Barling revisiting what he knows of the crime so far and trying to figure out just what is going on. Problem is, Barling doesn’t yet know that this is the first murder of many—and things are about to get a whole lot worse…

From page 69:
No thanks to Stanton. ‘Sir Reginald, how tall was Geoffrey Smith?’ The messenger’s question asked not once but twice in the foul atmosphere of the forge.

Barling had wondered if his ears had deceived him as he’d stared at Stanton. His fingers tightened on his stylus in annoyance. He was in the middle – the middle – of examining the forge. That was the task in hand at that moment. To approach it with order. With method.

Murder took place in Smith’s own forge. No witnesses.

The examination of the forge. That should have been the one task at that moment, nothing else. But Stanton, taken hold of by a personal memory, had opened his mouth and immediately disrupted that order.

Death was by fracture of the skull. Branding iron caused fracture. Face also fractured with branding iron.

As so many others had done before. Barling had witnessed passions take over in matters of law on far too many occasions over many years, when facts and distance were needed. The law was based on consistent, sound judgement. That was how it worked. Emotion made for neither. And emotions indeed ran high here.

Body was discovered by daughter, Agnes Smith.

The emotions of Agnes Smith in particular. Not only had she suffered the grievous loss of her father, she had made the terrible discovery of his body. Her strident boldness was another matter, however. He had not encountered very many young women who would be happy to hang a man.

Body is buried in the churchyard – I have not viewed it.

In the confusion of the assembly outside the forge, he had wondered – feared, even – that Agnes would tear Lindley from Stanton’s grasp and do it there and then. It would not have been difficult. Stanton was not a natural guard. Barling shook his head.

Accused is Nicholas Lindley. An outlaw who had claimed to be a beggar.

Barling could also understand the villagers’ naked thirst for vengeance. Feelings always drove the ignorant and uneducated. They could not be expected to consider the proper administration of justice. It fell to Barling to make sure they did. A heavy burden, but one he was happy to shoulder for his King.

Lindley swears he is innocent.
Is this page representative of the rest of my novel? Well, it certainly is of Aelred Barling and his methodical approach to solving crime. Stanton’s scenes are a lot more action-packed. Together, they make quite a team!
Visit E.M. Powell's website, blog, Twitter perch and Facebook page.

Coffee with a Canine: E.M. Powell & Marshall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"The Lost For Words Bookshop"

Stephanie Butland lives with her family near the sea in the North East of England. She writes in a studio at the bottom of her garden, and when she's not writing, she trains people to think more creatively. For fun, she reads, knits, sews, bakes, and spins. She is an occasional performance poet.

Butland applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Lost for Words Bookshop, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He felt in his shirt pocket and brought out cigarettes and matches. He smoked Marlboro and I liked the red on the top of the packet. He put a cigarette between his teeth and then passed the matchbox to me. He knew I liked to strike them. Mum always told him off when she saw me lighting his cigarettes, so we did it when he wasn't looking.
Here the protagonist, spiky bookseller Loveday, is looking back to her childhood and her relationship with her father. In the writing of this book I spent a lot of time thinking about Loveday's early life, although we don't see a lot of it in the text, and I enjoyed writing her happy early days, with two parents who adored her and were determined that she would have everything she needed in life. Of course, things don't always work out the way we hope, or expect....

The opening sentence of the book reads, 'A book is the match in the smoking second between strike and flame', and here on page 69 we connect to this idea again. The idea of potential, contained in matches, in books, in people, in situations, is something that preoccupies this book. What makes life grow in one direction and not another? What makes what is latent spring to life, expand, burn?
Follow Stephanie Butland on Twitter and Facebook.

My Book, The Movie: The Lost for Words Bookshop.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 18, 2018

"The Body Counter"

Anne Frasier is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Her award-winning books span the genres of suspense, mystery, thriller, romantic suspense, paranormal, and memoir. The Body Reader received the 2017 Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original from International Thriller Writers. Other honors include a RITA for romantic suspense and a Daphne du Maurier Award for paranormal romance. Her thrillers have hit the USA Today list and have been featured in Mystery Guild, Literary Guild, and Book of the Month Club. Her memoir The Orchard was an O, The Oprah Magazine Fall Pick; a One Book, One Community read; a B+ review in Entertainment Weekly; and one of the Librarians' Best Books of 2011. She divides her time between the city of Saint Paul, Minnesota, and her writing studio in rural Wisconsin.

Frasier applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Body Counter, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The camping spot was located under a cluster of trees, in an area few people went. It was a strange reaction, but whenever Jude visited a crime scene that took place in a beautiful area, she felt a small bit of heaviness lift from her heart, almost like visiting a cemetery. She loved cemeteries. Loved the tranquil sense of peace they evoked. She felt that same sense of peace now as she and Uriah stood staring at the flowers and photos, the candles and words of love so many people had left at the scene. It was easy to see that two families and groups of friends were in mourning.

“It’s entirely possible the killer knew the victims and knew they were going camping.” Uriah stood with hands in his pockets, wind blowing his curly hair. His observation, especially considering the remoteness of the campsite, made sense. “The method of a knife to the throat isn’t rare or unusual. And, like the sheriff said, our killer could be a copycat. The coverage of the events here could have given him the idea. We see it all the time with mass shootings.”
This is a pretty good example of the book. The detectives visit a crime scene outside their jurisdiction because they suspect the same killer might be responsible for the strange public murders taking place in Minneapolis. The Body Counter is the follow-up to The Body Reader. I typically traumatize my characters by putting them in horrific situations. These two detectives were so traumatized in The Body Reader that I decided to drop into more of a crime-of-the-week, police procedural mode for the second book because there’s only so much characters and readers can take. The third and last book (The Body Keeper) returns to more of a character-driven plot.
Visit Anne Frasier's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 16, 2018

"The Speed of Sound"

Eric Bernt was born in Marion, Ohio, and raised in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, and Madison, Wisconsin. He attended Northwestern University, where he learned that journalism was not for him—but storytelling was. Upon graduation, he moved to Hollywood, where he wrote seven feature films including Virtuosity (starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe) and Surviving the Game (starring Rutger Hauer, Gary Busey, and F. Murray Abraham). He has also written for television (Z Nation). Bernt lives in Agoura Hills, California, with his wife and three children.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Speed of Sound, and reported the following:
Page 69 in The Speed of Sound is a scene in the Russell Senate Building in which a senator is introduced to the concept of 'acoustic archeology' and the intelligence possibilities it presents. This idea is at the very core of the book, so it most certainly represents the rest of it. I've been obsessed with this little known area of science since first reading about it two decades ago. Every now and then, I come across a new technology, approach, or advance that utterly captivates me. Acoustic archeology was one. This was a book I had to write.
Visit Eric Bernt's website.

Writers Read: Eric Bernt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Dive Smack"

Demetra Brodsky is an award-winning graphic designer & art director turned writer. She has a B.F.A. from The Massachusetts College of Art and Design and lives in Southern California with her family of four and two lovable rescue dogs where she is always trying to make more time for the beach. Her new novel Dive Smack is dedicated to Pumpkin, the monarch butterfly she once saved from the brink of death. Once you read the book, you'll understand why.

Brodsky applied the Page 69 Test to Dive Smack and reported the following:
From page 69:
Ten minutes later, we’re hanging ten over the edge of the pool in Chip’s backyard. When you drive up to Langford’s house it’s unremarkable, a split-level ranch like most our friends’ houses. But the backyard is a different story. Mr. Langford owns a pool company, and he uses their yard to showcase his work to clients. But he really went to town on the lap pool once Chip showed promise in swimming, adding special year-round heaters and extra lighting.

There’s a hot tub connected to a smaller pool on the far side of the yard, built into the landscape like a tropical oasis, which is straight up ridiculous and awesome. Mr. Langford calls it the Lover’s Grotto. I don’t think he realizes how on the nose that is, considering the number of girls Chip’s had over there.

The pool we’re using now is the same as this morning, four-lanes wide with two diving boards. The 3-meter board was put in for my birthday after Mom died. Mrs. Langford made Lasagna that night, too, come to think of it.

“Here’s the deal,” Chip says. “You win; I’ll help you with the project—no matter what.
Well, I think there’s a little set up here to the kind of life Theo’s best friend Chip lives at home and how Theo fits into that world. But the last line on this page is a doozy because it really does set the stage for what’s to come and how their friendship is a big part of that outcome. I can’t wade too much deeper because of spoilers, but a good friend—a real friend—will always be there for you in the end.
Visit Demetra Brodsky's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Demetra Brodsky & L.B. and Ponyboy Curtis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Revenant Gun"

A Korean-American sf/f writer who received a B.A. in math from Cornell University and an M.A. in math education from Stanford University, Yoon Ha Lee finds it a source of continual delight that math can be mined for story ideas.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Revenant Gun, and reported the following:
From page 69:
"I have no choice but to answer," Dhanneth said with a bitter edge.

Formation instinct. It would not do to belabor the realities of the situation, which Dhanneth surely understood better than he did. "All right," Jedao said. "What happened to the swarm's original general? The details, if you please."

Dhanneth's shoulders pulled back. "He resisted the hexarch. He's gone."

"Gone?"

"He's dead," Dhanneth said in a scoured-out voice.

"Was he important to you?"

Dhanneth smiled humorlessly. "Not anymore."

Formation instinct again, or something more personal? Jedao didn't know how hard to press. He didn't want to alienate the man further. "Tell me something else, then," Jedao said. "The hexarch talked about successor states and despots and protector-generals in what's left of the hexarchate. What are they like? Are any of them honorable?"

"No," Dhanneth said with chilling conviction. "It's the same all over. Anyone could tell you that."

A quiet cold ran through Jedao's bones. It was a bad situation, but he might be able to talk himself through it if he treated it like a game.
This is, I think, pretty typical of the rest of the book. "Formation instinct" is sci-fi brainwashing that forces soldiers to obey their superiors. Jedao is leaning on it to question Dhanneth, his hostile aide, so he can find out more about the situation. The thing is, Jedao is the reincarnation of a notorious 400-year-old mass murderer and tactician, and he's expected to reconquer a nation sundered by civil war (the hexarchate)--but he has amnesia. He has no idea who to trust, and his boss--the hexarch--may get rid of him at any time if he fails to produce results, or to fall in line, as he's just discovered. Even worse, he may have the best of intentions, but he keeps tripping over his own history, including an over-fondness for games in a situation where the stakes aren't just his own survival, but the fate of the hexarchate.
Visit Yoon Ha Lee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

"The Bookshop of Yesterdays"

Amy Meyerson is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the University of Southern California. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the Writing Program at the University of Southern California.

Meyerson applied the Page 69 Test to The Bookshop of Yesterdays, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 marks at a key shift for our protagonist, Miranda Brooks. Miranda has recently returned to her hometown, Los Angeles, where she discovers that her estranged and recently deceased Uncle Billy not only has left her his bookstore, Prospero Brooks, but a scavenger hunt within the novels on its shelves. Miranda hasn’t seen Billy in 16 years, not since he and her mother had a bitter fight, and the scavenger hunt provides Billy the opportunity to reveal the past to Miranda.

If you’re thinking, Miranda…Prospero…an estrangement between siblings…isn’t that a reference to The Tempest? you’re right! The novel is full of literary references. At its heart, however, it’s a book about family. From the description above, it probably sounds like it’s about Miranda’s relationship with Billy, but it’s really about her relationship with her mother, which starts to come into focus on page 69.

Miranda’s mother, Susan, has been cagey with Miranda about Billy, refusing to attend his funeral and frequently insisting that she isn’t mourning his death. On page 69 Miranda realizes that her mother’s evasiveness is fraught: “I didn’t know how it hadn’t occurred to me before. Mom was keeping a secret.” This secret has everything to do with why she and Billy stopped speaking and begins to threaten Miranda’s relationship with her mother.

From here, Miranda begins to question what she really knows about her mother. When she goes outside to tell her mom that dinner is almost ready, Miranda narrates,
“I found Mom outside, holding a pair of shears as she decided which flowers to cut for the table. Behind her, the sky was ignited in a rich orange lined in pink. I couldn’t see the setting sun, but it left its legacy across the sky.

“Tonight’s an amaranth night,” Mom said, watching the sky. “Amaranth’s not right.”

“It’s carmine. And cerise,” I said. Being raised by Mom, I could name more colors than most people knew existed. That was my skill as the daughter of a decorator, but I didn’t want to talk about shades of pink, the glorious hues of Southern California sunsets. “Dad says dinner’s close.” I snuck a final glance at her, trying to remember when she’d become that way, hesitating before she responded in conversation, when she’d fallen into the habit of covering her mouth as she laughed, when she’d replaced her red nail polish with nude, her crimson lipstick with vitamin E stick. She still listened to Jefferson Airplane and Fleetwood Mac, still meditated for ten minutes each morning, but at some point, everything she owned had faded to muted shades of pink.”
I cheated a little at the end here and continued to the top of page 70, but I wanted to include the full paragraph because this is a pivotal moment for Miranda. She’s beginning to understand that her mother had an entire life before her, one she can never understand. This gets at the essence of the novel: what we can and can’t know about the past; what we can and can’t know about our parents. I love that the page 69 test was able to highlight this central theme.
Visit Amy Meyerson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 11, 2018

"Free Chocolate"

Amber Royer teaches enrichment and continuing education creative writing classes for teens and adults. She spent five years as a youth librarian, where she organized teen writers’ groups and teen writing contests. In addition to two cookbooks co-authored with her husband, Royer has published a number of articles on gardening, crafting and cooking for print and on-line publications.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut science fiction novel, Free Chocolate, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“.....if your planet registers with the Galactic Court. You can set laws to regulate your borders, and entering illegally becomes itself a punishable crime, according to the laws you set on your soil. That process usually takes years, but I could expedite it for you, if I felt incentivized.” She rubs the tentacle ends together in pairs. Because the gesture for and-this-is-the-point-where-you-give-me-a-bribe really is universal.

“But I just told you, Earth money is worthless.”

All the tentacles shake no again. “There are already some parts of the galaxy where Snickers Bars are being used as currency. I’m not opposed to dealing in that medium.”

“Why?” The vlogger sounds incredulous. “Why would candy bars be worth more than cash?”

“Because, my dear, the Krom missed chocolate.”

The vlogger exits the Embassy, grumbling, making empty threats. Pero, she was still missing the point. That holo changed everything.

Threats. Frank hadn’t actually threatened Brill, but he may well have lived most of his life with that same underlying frustrangeration. And now he’s alone with a Krom. My Krom. And I can’t explain to Mamá why I’m so worried. So when she asks again, I lie and say, “De nada.”

When we’re ready to go across campus to the banquet hall, Chestla takes us personally down the elevator. When she’s gotten out and far enough away, I make my way from the elevator car. I blink, as my brain adjusts to what I’m seeing. Right in the middle of the lobby, there’s the Larkssian equivalent of a golf cart, which has been converted into a closed vehicle with the use of panels of lavender fabric that looks suspiciously like bed sheets.

Chestla pulls back one of the panels. “Get in.”

I look at Mamá. She shrugs, then steps forward. “Gracias, Chestla.”
This page actually does say a lot about the book and the worldbuilding. You get to see a key part of the conflict: Bo’s boyfriend is a Krom – who just happen to be the aliens who took samples of Earth commodities during Earth’s first First Contact, duplicated said commodities and sold them off over half the galaxy. For the most part, Earth’s still mad about that.

We’ve caught Bo mid-flashback, recounting the details of a holo she watched about the time just after that First Contact (which happened before she was born). The dialogue at the beginning actually starts on the previous page, with a human vlogger, who’s been more or less touring the galaxy now that alien life has been discovered, having just found out that, “Her planet’s been mugged,” by the Krom. She’s gone to the nearest Galactic Embassy to try to redress the situation.

By this point, Bo has reason to believe that her mother’s boyfriend, Frank, may not be who he says he is. Brill has reluctantly left with Frank . . . and the history between Krom and Earth plays into the reasons she’s afraid Brill might not be coming back. But the apartment she’s in is bugged (media and holos and electronic surveillance play a big part in this book), which has Bo freaked out further. She’s at odds with her home planet, and is just starting to figure out in these chapters how much.

This page also gives Chestla, Bo’s quirky RA, who wound up on the same backwater planet as Bo after she failed to become a proper guardian companion to royalty on her home planet (where her people are the alpha predators), a chance to show off her protective nature, which suits her role throughout the book.
Visit Amber Royer's website.

Writers Read: Amber Royer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 9, 2018

"Side by Side"

Jenni L. Walsh has spent the past decade enticing readers as an award-winning advertising copywriter. Her passion lies in transporting readers to another world, be it in historical or contemporary settings.

Walsh applied the Page 69 Test to Side by Side, book 2 in the Bonnie series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
My heart leaps, and in that moment, all questions ’bout Clyde’s character dissolve. If he’s willing to pull up a chair in the visitors’ room, he’s willing to risk it all for me.

The gals, not many of them receiving their own guests, shout their encouragement. But when I walk into the room, I stop dead in my tracks.

Betty Thornton,” Blanche says, standing behind a small table. “Stripes agree with you.”

My cheeks burn and I can’t seem to get my feet to move. She ain’t who I was expecting. She ain’t who I want to see me this way.

“It’s okay,” she says. “Remember how I once had intercourse,” she says plainly, then lowers her voice, “in a church? I ain’t one to judge.”

I shake off my disappointment. It only takes a few steps before my arms are ’round her. My eyes sting with tears. I hug Blanche harder.

“Enough of that,” she says. We both sit, and while Blanche’s eyes shine with excitement, like she’s stuck between right and wrong, her back is stiff, like it gives her the heebie-jeebies to actually step foot in a jail. She lowers her voice. “You okay? I’m surprised you ain’t panting with how hot it is in here.”

I nod. I am fine, physically, at least.
I was so happy when I began reading Page 69 and it was a conversation between Bonnie and Blanche, who is Bonnie’s best friend (and Clyde’s brother’s wife). While the storyline is very much about Bonnie and Clyde, it’s also about the evolution of various characters, including Blanche. She’s a large part of the novel. At the onset she’s a bearcat. Then, when she begins running with Bonnie and Clyde, something she didn’t want for herself but did so out of love for her husband, Buck, the reader begins to see her personality, choices, and decisions begin to shift. She doesn’t want a life on the lam for her and Buck. Above, in Blanche’s words and reactions, we get a glimpse into the start of her evolution, which ultimately affects her relationship with Bonnie, and later, Bonnie experiences a great amount of guilt when it comes to Blanche’s involvement in Bonnie and Clyde’s life of crime.
Visit Jenni L. Walsh's website.

The Page 69 Test: Becoming Bonnie.

My Book, The Movie: Becoming Bonnie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 7, 2018

"The Angel Makers"

The Angel Makers, the second novel in Tessa Harris’s Constance Piper Mystery series, is based on the true crimes of the Victorian baby farmer, Amelia Dyer, who was practising her deadly trade at the same time as Jack the Ripper was prowling the streets of London.

Harris applied the Page 69 Test to The Angel Makers and reported the following:
From page 69:
I look up at the sky. It’s gray, as usual, but it’s not cold enough for snow. I wish it would, snow that is. At least everything would look cleaner for a few minutes before the brilliant white of a heavy fall is covered in soot and grime again. Everything gets soiled in the end in Whitechapel, that’s just how it is.

Up ahead of us are the stalls where they found the baby the other day. The smell of roasting chestnuts covers the usual stench of horse dung, but I can taste fear on my tongue. My eyes swerve from left to right, scanning for sight of the woman who pointed the finger at me. lt don’t feel right walking along the rows of stalls, like everyone’ll be watching me, judging me. Instead, as we pass a haberdasher’s shop, I call to Flo.

“I’ll buy my ribbon here,” I say, pointing to the window decked out in red and green. There’s a sleigh in the center and it’s loaded with presents, all wrapped up in bright paper.

“What’s wrong with the market?” Flo protests, but the look I give her reminds her of what happened. She nods and agrees to wait outside as I pluck up the courage to go in. I’m not that used to shops, you see, especially not ones that sell fancy goods such as this.
Eagle-eyed readers will recognise the setting of this novel. Whitechapel is, of course, the district of East End London made infamous in 1888 by Jack the Ripper and it is here that Constance Piper ekes out her meagre living as a flower seller. Yet what sets her apart from all the other poverty-stricken souls living in Jack’s shadow is that she believes she has a special ‘gift.’ Constance can communicate with her dead teacher and mentor, Miss Emily Tindall. Together they make a great crime-fighting team, aided and abetted by the young, ambitious and committed Detective Sergeant Thaddeus Hawkins of the Metropolitan Police.

Here we join Constance two days after the discovery of a baby’s body at the market. A stallholder accused her of depositing the tiny corpse and she was arrested briefly. Quickly able to prove her innocence, she still remains wary. Infanticide was a familiar crime in the East End. Options were very limited for unmarried mothers. To avoid stigma, many entrusted their infants to “baby farmers”—women who agreed to care for the baby, or find an adoptive family, in exchange for a fee.

When one of Constance’s friends is murdered, she discovers her dead infant daughter was farmed out to a woman called Mother Delaney. I based this character and her evil exploits on the real-life case of Amelia Dyer – now believed to be one of the most prolific serial killers in history. Her tiny victims were all strangled. The Angel Makers interweaves her story with imagined events set against the dark underbelly of London society in the late nineteenth century. A young governess, made pregnant by her employer’s son, enlists Constance’s help to discover what has happened to her baby. With the aid of Miss Tindall and Detective Hawkins, Constance sets off to track down Mother Delaney and bring her and her murderous associates to justice.
Visit Tessa Harris's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Sixth Victim.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

"The Bird and the Blade"

Megan Bannen is a librarian and the author of The Bird and the Blade. In her spare time, she collects graduate degrees from Kansas colleges and universities. While most of her professional career has been spent in public libraries, she has also sold luggage, written grants, and taught English at home and abroad. She lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, their two sons, and a few too many pets with literary names.

Bannen applied the Page 69 Test to The Bird and the Blade and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Bird and the Blade finds us in the Caucasus mountains through which Prince Khalaf and Timur Khan of the recently overthrown Kipchak Khanate are fleeing for their lives. The story’s protagonist, Jinghua, a slave girl, is supposed to be hunting for food in the forest. Instead, she falls asleep and dreams of her dead brother.
I open my eyes to find myself frozen to the core and more uncomfortable than I can bear. The dream quickly disintegrates in my memory. I remember only Weiji telling me he wanted to go home, and it leaves me feeling hollow and depressed.
Weiji’s ghost haunts Jinghua throughout the story, a mirror of her own unattainable desires. At this stage of the plot the one and only thing Jinghua wants is to return home, a dream that is about to be destroyed in the following pages. As she heads back to camp, she hears fighting in the distance.
Maybe if I just stay here and wait, it will end, and I won’t have to deal with it.
Whew, that line is Jinghua in a nutshell. At this point in the novel, the reader is unaware of all the things that make Jinghua’s choices extremely complicated, but complicated they are, and poor Jinghua is frequently paralyzed with indecision as a result.

That indecision just might be her downfall.
Visit Megan Bannen's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Megan Bannen & Brontë.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 4, 2018

"Treeborne"

Caleb Johnson grew up in Arley, Alabama, studied journalism at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and earned an MFA from the University of Wyoming. He has worked as a small-town newspaper reporter, an early-morning janitor, and a whole-animal butcher, among other jobs.

Johnson applied the Page 69 Test to Treeborne, his debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
There sat Lyle Crews on a tumped-over barrel, coveralls now rolled down to his waist, singing, Love lifted me. Love lifted me. When nothing else could help, love lifted me… [Janie] admired how hard singing was for him. Truth, she knew, only hard things were worth doing. The Seven had to be preserved, her aunt kidnapped. Hard. Life ain’t easy Sister. She began to see a confederate in Lyle Crews as she watched him repeat those lines over and over.
This excerpt from page 69 of my debut novel, Treeborne, takes place during a pivotal moment for young Janie Treeborne. Most of her life before the summer in which this scene takes place, Janie thought she knew exactly who she was. Things suddenly changed. Janie did something bad. Now, watching Lyle Crews sing a hymn, she begins reckoning with herself and her decisions. This moment one of her many comings of age. Really, the scene is representative of what much of Janie’s portion of the novel is about—how she looks upon change and the past.
Visit Caleb Johnson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 2, 2018

"The Pearl Sister"

Lucinda Riley is the New York Times bestselling author of over a dozen novels, and her books have sold more than thirteen million copies in over thirty languages globally. She was born in Ireland and divides her time between England and West Cork with her husband and four children.

Riley applied the Page 69 Test to The Pearl Sister, the fourth installment in The Seven Sisters series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Poverty was only a heartbeat away in the tenement buildings near the docks. Father often said that no one could ever criticize him for living in a manner above his flock, but at least, thought Kitty as she walked into the drawing room to toast her hands by the fire, unlike others in the neighbourhood, the manse’s inhabitants were warm and dry.

“Good evening, Mother,” she greeted Adele, who was sitting in her chair by the fireside darning socks, resting them and the pincushion on her small bump.

“Good evening, Kitty. How was your day?” Adele’s soft accent was that of Scottish gentility, her father having been a laird in Dumfriesshire. Kitty and her sisters had loved traveling south each summer to see their grandparents, and she had especially delighted in being able to ride horses across the sweeping countryside. She had always been perplexed, however, that her father had never accompanied them on their summer sojourns. He cited the need to remain with his flock, but Kitty had begun to suspect that it was because her grandparents disapproved of him. The McBrides, although wealthy, had come from what Kitty had heard termed “trade,” whereas her mother’s parents were descendants of the noble Clan Douglas, and frequently voiced their concern that their daughter lived in such reduced circumstances as a minister’s wife.

“Mrs. McFarlane and her children send their best wishes, and Mr. Cuthbertson’s leg abscess seems to have healed. Although I have some sad news too, Mother. I’m afraid Mrs. Monkton died yesterday.”

“God rest her soul.’ Adele immediately crossed herself. “But perhaps it was a blessed relief, living like she did…”

“Her neighbour said they’d taken her body to the mortuary, but as there are no relatives and Mrs. Monkton hadn’t a farthing to her name, there’s nothing for a funeral or a decent burial plot. Unless…”

“I’ll speak to your father,” Adele comforted her daughter. “Although I know church funds are running low at the moment.”

“Please do, Mother. Whatever Father said about her descent into sin, she had definitely repented by the end.”

“And she was delightful company. Oh, I do so hate the onset of winter. The season of death … certainly around these parts.” Adele gave a small shudder and put a hand protectively across her belly. “Your father’s at a parish committee meeting this evening, then out to take supper with Mrs. McCrombie…”
This is an extract from a part of The Pearl Sister set in the past. The main character, CeCe, has hesitantly begun researching her past, and has come across the life of Kitty McBride, who lives in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1906. Kitty is not yet eighteen, an intelligent and inquisitive young woman, who looks up to her father, a Presbyterian clergyman. Page 69 captures her on the cusp of change; not only will she begin to lose her faith in God and in her father, but Mrs. McCrombie will take her to Australia…

I adored writing Kitty’s character because we get to see her develop from an obedient young woman into a headstrong and very capable pioneer, living in the isolated and wild town of Broome in Western Australia. Her character was inspired by the real lives of the many great pioneer women of the Outback, who were brought to Australia as wives and daughters, but who learned to work the land and survive in an unforgiving new world.
Visit Lucinda Riley's website.

Writers Read: Lucinda Riley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 31, 2018

"Medusa Uploaded"

Emily Devenport has written several novels under various pseudonyms including one which was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick award. She currently studies Geology and works as a volunteer at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

Devenport applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Medusa Uploaded, and reported the following:
Midway down page 69 in Medusa Uploaded I read:
Unhappy plans were beginning to manifest in the halls of my mind. They were bloody-handed creatures...
And that is, absolutely, representative of the rest of the book. In fact, it makes a pretty good summary. Oichi is a ruthless person, but she's got good reason. She was forged by harsh circumstances, and has spent the majority of her life pretending to obey. The consequences of being exposed as a dissident are brutal, but it's not just the loss of her life that frightens Oichi. She has a master plan. It's the core of her existence. And if she's discovered, that plan will fail. So she's willing to kill to prevent that from happening.

Yet Oichi has also been raised with an appreciation of beauty, of intelligence and integrity. On page 69, she is confronted with the need to kill someone she admires. He has seen through her disguise, and he could expose her. The fact that he has children to protect makes him more dangerous. She's going to have to decide what to do about him. And Oichi has the fortitude to do what needs to be done.

But things aren't going to go as expected, and how she improvises is what drives this story. If you haven't read my book yet, and this post leads you to check out page 69, I hope you'll want to flip back to the beginning, because Oichi's unhappy plans lead to some unexpected places.
Visit Emily Devenport's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue