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


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.”


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