Thursday, November 21, 2019

"Upon the Flight of the Queen"

Howard Jones’s debut historical fantasy novel, The Desert of Souls (2011), was widely acclaimed by influential publications like Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly, made Kirkus’ New and Notable list for 2011, and was on both Locus’s Recommended Reading List and the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases list of 2011. Its sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, made the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Release of 2013 and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He is the author of four Pathfinder novels, an e-collection of short stories featuring the heroes from his historical fantasy novels, The Waters of Eternity, and the new novel from St. Martin’s, the second in a new fantasy series, Upon the Flight of the Queen, the followup to For the Killing of Kings, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Jones applied the Page 69 Test to Upon the Flight of the Queen and reported the following:
My trilogy is centered on a heroic order of champions who discover a terrible conspiracy in their midst at the same time an invasion is underway. Naturally I assumed a page 69 test would take me to some of my protagonists unravelling one of several mysteries, or engaged in some swashbuckling action, but what I discovered instead was the madness of their queen, Leonara. In the first book of the trilogy, the queen’s mostly off-stage, and apart from one scene, we only see the terrible results of her choices. Come book two she’s sometimes center stage, and on page 69 Leonara is letting it be known just what she intends to do with her newfound powers. I dare not reveal that, for fear I’ll spoil book one, but suffice to say that she has far too much faith in her own intellectual superiority, and has surrounded herself with yes-women and yes-men eager to curry favor. On page 69 one of them is starting to suspect the queen’s vision may well lead them to disaster and dares suggest a proposed course of action might be premature. The queen’s responses, and those of her closest subordinate, go a long way toward showing us just how dangerous Leonara’s going to be to our protagonists over the course of the book.
Learn more about the book and author at Howard Andrew Jones's website.

View the animated book trailer for Upon the Flight of the Queen.

Writers Read: Howard Andrew Jones.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 20, 2019


JP Gritton’s awards include a Cynthia Woods Mitchell fellowship, a DisQuiet fellowship and the Donald Barthelme prize in fiction. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Greensboro Review, New Ohio Review, Southwest Review, Tin House and elsewhere. His translations of the fiction of Brazilian writer Cidinha da Silva are forthcoming in InTranslation.

Gritton applied the Page 69 Test to Wyoming, his first novel, and reported the following:
The top of page 69 reads, “I think I must’ve half wanted it to go south.” Shelley Cooper, the construction-worker-by-day/drug-runner-by-night who narrates my novel Wyoming, has just invited a lady of the evening to join him in his hotel room. In some ways, this invitation is exactly what the book is about: the manner by which we subconsciously participate in the disasters of our lives.

Before this point, Shelley’s progress through the book has been a series of dumb ideas. He steals an air compressor (dumb idea). Later, to help his best friend pay for chemotherapy treatments, Shelley agrees to drive fifty pounds of Colorado high-grade down to Houston (dumb idea). He has some dumb ideas about the money he gets for his trouble, which comes padlocked in a stainless-steel briefcase.

There isn’t a lot of me in Shelley, but this much we have in common: sometimes I get the feeling that I am the casual viewer of a TV show about self-sabotage. Bad idea, I’ll think. Don’t do it! And then?

The next line reads, “I smiled to watch her blow inside—this time I hadn’t bothered fastening the chain—smiled even if there was a sweet sad voice in my head, ringing like a bell: You will regret this, it went, you will regret this, you will regret this.”
Visit JP Gritton's website.

My Book, The Movie: Wyoming.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 18, 2019

"Life and Limb"

Jennifer Roberson has a BS in journalism with extended majors in British history and anthropology. She spent her final semester in London on an American studies program as an adult student in 1982, and while there, two days after her 28th birthday, received a telegram (pre-email!) from her agent informing her DAW Books had bought what became Shapechangers, the first in her Chronicles of the Cheysuli fantasy series. Her collaboration with Melanie Rawn and Kate Elliott, The Golden Key, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. In addition to the new Blood & Bone series, she has published eight Cheysuli novels, the Sword-Dancer Saga (#8 to come) and three of four volumes in the Karavans universe. The second volume in Blood & Bone is Sinners and Saints, scheduled for publication in March of 2021. Hobbies include showing dogs, and creating mosaic artwork and jewelry. She lives in Arizona with a collection of cats and Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

Roberson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Life and Limb, and reported the following:
Life and Limb is the first volume in an ongoing urban fantasy series about the End of Days, and two perfectly ordinary young men who are strangers to one another have been conscripted to join the heavenly host in a battle against Lucifer’s spec ops troops: demons who now inhabit characters and creatures from fiction, history, myths, legends, and folklore. But the angels have agendas, and Gabe and Remi—an ex-con biker and Texas cowboy—must also come to grips with the unwelcome discovery that they themselves are not after all entirely human, even as they climb the steepest of learning curves in an attempt to save the world.
“It will come,” Grandaddy said. “It’s a process.”

I shook my head. “We have lives. Hell, I just got mine back. You can’t expect us to walk away from everything.”

Grandaddy’s voice took on an edge unlike anything I’d heard from him before. My skin itched, and I stared at him in shock. He was doing something again.

“That’s exactly what I expect, Gabriel. This is the End of Days I’m talking about, with the fate of the world at stake. Everyone born of heaven must answer this call, if we’re to succeed. Is it a sacrifice?—of course it is. But there is nothing in your lives that is of greater importance than this.” His eyes were steady. “You have never disappointed me. Don’t do so now.”

I looked for compassion. Found none. “What about our families?”

Grandaddy didn’t even attempt to hedge. “I said we could massage things. Well, I have massaged the minds of your parents and brother. They believe you are in prison finishing your sentence.”

“But that’s only six more months.”

“And your father’s reaction once you’re out? Would you be welcome in his house?”

After a long moment, I said no. Because I remembered what my father had said, even if he didn’t because of Grandaddy’s brain massage. That night on the porch, as I rolled my bike out of the garage, felt like a death-knell. My mother stayed inside, and kid brother Matty was probably out getting high.

“And what would you do, Gabriel?”

“Get on my bike and head out. Maybe for good.”

Grandaddy nodded. “Well, we will free you of that. They will remember no hostilities, only that you are on the road. And so you are free to do your duty without interference for however long it takes.“

I glanced at the cowboy, looked back at Grandaddy. “What about him?”

“Remi is traveling the world undertaking research for the book he plans on writing. And he may, from time to time, call home to reassure his parents. But the calls will show overseas locations, nothing in this country. You, on the other hand, may drop postcards to your mother. Your father’s a son of a bitch, but she is a worthy woman.”

And there it was, all tied up in a neat little bow. The present. Our futures. An explanation for it all.
Page 69 is representative of the book in that Grandaddy is laying out their futures, and their stakes in that future. It's the end of the world, which is the main plot-driver for the series. The introduction to their new lives is not well-received and sets up internal conflict as Gabe and Remi learn they must sink or swim.
Visit Jennifer Roberson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 17, 2019

"An Equal Justice"

Chad Zunker studied journalism at the University of Texas, where he was also on the football team. He’s worked for some of the most powerful law firms in the country and invented baby products that are now sold all over the world. He has wanted to write full time since he took his first practice hit as a skinny freshman walk-on from a 6’5, 240 pound senior All-American safety — which crushed both him and his feeble NFL dreams.

Zunker is the author of the David Adams legal thriller, An Equal Justice, as well as The Tracker, Shadow Shepherd, and Hunt the Lion in his Sam Callahan series. He lives in Austin with his wife, Katie, and their three daughters.

Zunker applied the Page 69 Test to An Equal Justice and reported the following:
Page 69 of An Equal Justice consists of a scene where David Adams, our hero, follows an old homeless man named Benny—who has just saved David’s life from a mugging—deep into the woods of East Austin. Benny is taking David to see his home for the first time. This scene is one of the most pivotal in the entire book. It’s David’s first exposure to a secret homeless community called The Camp, where David meets many others like Benny. Soon after this scene, David begins to feel caught in between two worlds—the wealthy and powerful, and the poor and outcast. This tension leads him toward a dramatic climax as David tries to unravel a dark and sinster conspiracy at his law firm.
Visit Chad Zunker's website.

Writers Read: Chad Zunker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 15, 2019

"One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow"

Through unexpected characters and vivid prose, Olivia Hawker explores the varied landscape of the human spirit. Hawker’s interest in genealogy often informs her writing. Her first two novels from Lake Union Publishing, The Ragged Edge of Night and One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow (2019), are based on true stories found within the author’s family tree.

She lives in the San Juan Islands of Washington State with her husband Paul and several naughty cats.

Hawker applied the Page 69 Test to One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow and reported the following:
From page 69:
I had never really known Substance in life, but I knew him now, in death… and a more stubborn man the world had never seen. No one who died stayed put together afterward quite so long as Substance—no one I’d ever encountered, anyway. But there he was, a presence hanging over his own grave, aware, knowing, furious in the face of his fate. The hens I killed for our soup pot fell apart the moment their wings stopped flapping—those quick, curious, darting little spirits bursting like sparks from a campfire, dispersing out into the world. My ma had cherished a pet cat some years ago, and when it had died suddenly, I sat beside its body and felt the cat’s awareness linger for half an hour or more. The cat had been amazed by its sudden weightlessness, pleasantly drawn to all the silver strands of light that reached for it, thirsty for its spirit—the threads of all the lives that continued on: mine and my family’s and the hens in the yard and the cattle in their pen, the squash vines and carrots in the garden, the insects trilling on the prairie—the prairie itself. Sheep seemed to consent to their dissolution even before their bodies had died—and most plants, too, as if the great unraveling was a sacredness for which they had always lived. But Substance Webber refused to do what other spirits did. He would not be dissolved. He would permit no other life to touch him, to take him, to use him. He didn’t yet know that we can’t remain whole forever, but he would learn the truth soon enough. No one escapes the great unraveling; no thread is unspooled and escapes the weaver’s hand. I knew the roots of the newly sprouted grasses surrounded Substance’s body. The bindweed thrived on his rich flesh. A few yards away, the cottonwoods were already reaching toward him, delving through the soil with ancient hands. Before much longer, the earth would take every last bit of Substance Webber, whether he consented to be taken or not.

But he wasn’t gone yet.
I think page 69 of One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow is a pretty solid representation of the book as a whole. On this page, Beulah recounts her attempts to convince the spirit of Substance Webber to stop hanging around his grave and “fall apart”—surrender to the fact of his death, relinquish his hold on his ego, and accept his place in the cycles of life. The rest of the novel deals with those same ideas, so this page is a pretty good indicator of what the reader will encounter throughout the book.
Visit Olivia Hawker's website.

My Book, The Movie: One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

"Beside Herself"

Elizabeth LaBan lives in Philadelphia with her restaurant critic husband and two children. She is the author of The Restaurant Critic’s Wife, Not Perfect, and Pretty Little World, which she co-authored with Melissa DePino. She also wrote the young adult novel The Tragedy Paper, published by Knopf, which has been translated into eleven foreign languages, and The Grandparents Handbook, published by Quirk Books, which has been translated into seven foreign languages.

LaBan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Beside Herself, and reported the following:
From page 69:
They found Joel sleeping peacefully on the couch under Ridley’s thin fleece, Despicable Me blanket. Perfect, thought Hannah.

“Shhhhh,” she said to the kids, putting her finger to her mouth. “Daddy still isn’t feeling well. That’s really why he slept down here. He didn’t want to bother me. So let’s let him sleep. Okay? Don’t wake him up.”

Hannah knew he had an important meeting this morning, at ten…she knew he wanted to impress the Minnesota office. She had the urge to yank the blanket away or, better yet, get a picture of him so the words Despicable Me were clear as day and send it out into the world on Facebook or Instagram. But she knew not doing anything, letting him sleep through the meeting, was the worst thing she could do, at least for now.
I am always amazed, when I take the Page 69 Test, how something truly telling about the book almost always lies right there on that page. This is a perfect excerpt to pull out of Beside Herself because it is really one of the lowest points between Hannah and Joel. I am not giving anything away when I tell you that Hannah has discovered that Joel had an affair and she is shocked, completely blindsided, she did not see it coming. This scene is the morning following the first night that Hannah tells Joel, reluctantly, that he should sleep downstairs on the couch. It also follows an early morning phone call from Hannah’s best friend Kim who has just recently gone through a devastating divorce. At the moment Kim’s kids are with her ex-husband in Orlando visiting Disneyworld for the first time. Kim calls Hannah in a panic because she just learned they visited Cinderella’s Castle without her. She tells Hannah that it is too late for her, but not for Hannah, and Hannah should do what she can to salvage her marriage and family. At that moment, Hannah is not at all sure she can or should. It is right after the phone call that she comes down to find Joel asleep under the Despicable Me blanket. That is fitting on many levels, not only because Joel behaved in a despicable manner, but also because when Kim describes the Cinderella Castle situation Hannah realizes they have long meant to go to Universal Orlando to see the Minion ride, based on characters in the Despicable Me movie, and in that way it is a symbol also of what Hannah has to lose, and really, what they all have to lose.
Visit Elizabeth LaBan's website.

Writers Read: Elizabeth LaBan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

"Tracking Game"

Margaret Mizushima is the author of the award-winning and internationally published Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. The latest title in the series is Tracking Game. Active within the writing community, Mizushima serves on the board for the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America and was elected the 2019-2020 Writer of the Year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She lives in Colorado on a small ranch with her veterinarian husband where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals.

Mizushima applied the Page 69 Test to her new mystery, Tracking Game, and this is what she reported:
From page 69:
“Thanks for your time, Flint,” Mattie said as she handed him back his gloves. Wanting to offer another line of communication, she gave him one of her own cards before saying goodbye.

While she drove away, she checked the rearview mirror, having to look over Robo as he stood staring out the back window. Sure enough, JD came out of the house to stand beside his son, indicating he’d been keeping tabs on what was going on outside his front door.

Stella pulled her seat belt across herself and fastened it. “Was everyone at that dance last night except me?”

“Just about.”

“Did you see Flint there?”

“I can’t say I did. But the place was packed, and we were dancing most of the time before the explosion. I wasn’t really looking for him.”

Stella shot her a sideways glance, eyebrows raised. “So the handsome Dr. Walker was taking up most of your attention, huh?”

Mattie felt her own face begin to flush, like Flint’s. “I was off duty, Detective.”

“Right.” Stella took out a small notebook she carried with her and started recording notes. “What did you think of Flint?”

“I’m not sure. I was about to give him the benefit of the doubt until he lit up when you asked him for an alibi. But that blush could’ve been embarrassment over hooking up with a girl he barely knew.”

“Possibly.” Stella paused her writing and looked out the window. “But we can’t eliminate him yet.”

Mattie thought they shouldn’t underestimate the influence this kid’s dad had on him. “I saw JD step outside to join him when we left. Let’s let him have some time with Flint. Maybe he can get him to come forward with more information before we need to give it another go.”
Page 69 of Tracking Game provides a fair representation of some of the investigative work that Deputy Mattie Cobb and Detective Stella LoSasso do in the book, but it doesn’t show the K-9 action that this episode in the series offers.

The book starts with a bang when an explosion near town interrupts the community dance that Mattie and veterinarian Cole Walker are at, their first public date as a couple in the small mountain town of Timber Creek, Colorado. When they arrive at the scene of a burning van, they find one man dead and another man, who is Cole’s best friend, badly injured. Cole also knows the dead man, an outfitter who has married into a local ranching family.

The character that Mattie and Stella interview on page 69 is the dead man’s employee, Flint Thornton, the son of another rancher who has actively tried to keep his rebellious son in line over the years despite Flint’s run-ins with local law enforcement. And when Robo finds a trace of cocaine behind the door panel of the burnt van, it becomes apparent that the victim’s outfitting business may have been a shell for illegal activity, so Flint is an important person of interest.

Besides investigative work, each episode in the Timber Creek K-9 series brings the reader a story packed with K-9 work, action, and adventure; and Tracking Game is no exception. Soon Mattie and Robo are called at dusk to search the foothills for another victim, and there they have an encounter with an apex predator. It’s too dark to see the big cat clearly, but its growl shakes Mattie to the core. She has heard a cougar before and knows there’s something different about this cat’s roar. Only after she, Cole, and others band together to track down the animal do they discover exactly what it is and why it’s been transported to the Colorado wilderness.

I invite you to join Mattie and Cole in their latest adventure and see why Library Journal has described Tracking Game as, "Compelling and twisty...Fans of Western mysteries as well as those featuring dogs will enjoy this latest entry in the series." Also, Library Reads has named Tracking Game one of their Top 10 Picks for November 2019. Hope to meet you on the page!
Visit Margaret Mizushima's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Margaret Mizushima & Hannah, Bertie, Lily and Tess.

My Book, The Movie: Burning Ridge.

The Page 69 Test: Burning Ridge.

Writers Read: Margaret Mizushima.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 10, 2019

"Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon"

James Lovegrove is the New York Times bestselling author of The Age of Odin. He was short-listed for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1998 and for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 2004, and also reviews fiction for the Financial Times. He is the author of Firefly: Big Damn Hero with Nancy Holder and Firefly: The Magnificent Nine. He lives in south-east England.

Lovegrove applied the Page 69 Test to his latest Sherlock Holmes novel, Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon reported the following:
Page 69 of Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon consists predominantly of a conversation overheard by Holmes and Watson. Eve Allerthorpe, the young woman who has summoned the great detective and his companion to her family home, is talking to her brother, Erasmus, about the series of mysterious and possibly supernatural incidents that have left her terrified and fearing for her sanity. It is, I suppose, an expository passage but it serves to establish the relationship between the siblings, which is fairly crucial to the plot, and also their relationship with their recently widowed father:
“Papa was furious at him for not being more inquisitive.”

“Papa needs little excuse to be furious these days.”
Holmes, having eavesdropped for a minute or so, announces his presence by clearing his throat “decorously”, which I feel is a nice touch and completely in-character. Holmes is courteous, forever mindful of manners, and would not simply go barging into the situation. He has also, however, been able to gather some data, because Sherlock Holmes is always on the lookout for hints and clues. That’s something my editor on these Holmes adventures keeps drumming into me: our detective hero never achieves his deductions by luck or accident. Either he seeks out clues or he carefully analyses any information that comes his way by chance, mining it for detective gold.
Visit James Lovegrove's website.

My Book, The Movie: Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 8, 2019

"Echoes of the Fall"

Hank Early lives in central Alabama with his wife and two kids. He writes crime, watches too much basketball, and rarely sleeps. His new book, Echoes of the Fall, is his third Earl Marcus novel.

In a previous life, he published horror as John Mantooth.

Early applied the Page 69 Test to Echoes of the Fall and reported the following:
I like to think page 69 of my latest Earl Marcus mystery, Echoes of the Fall, does three things pretty well. First, it clarifies for the reader and Earl exactly why a dead man has ended up in his front yard. Well, maybe not exactly, but it offers a strong nudge in the right direction.
He’d clearly been coming to see me, most likely to hire me. But for what? Could he have wanted me to investigate the Harden School all along?
The Harden School is an all boys’ reform school nestled deep in the North Georgia mountains. Except there is much more to the school than meets the eye. Page 69 also has Earl making the connection between the secretive school and local politician and his arch nemesis, Jeb Walsh. Earl has just discovered Jeb’s son is a student at the school and his ex-wife has filed multiple complaints about the school’s teachers and administration.
This last piece might have been the most intriguing, suggesting a complex and vast picture that could actually mean something good for this whole county if I could assemble it and use it to somehow bring Walsh down.
Earl has just found his goal, the mission that will propel him and the reader through the rest of the novel.

The third thing page 69 does is pull in Earl’s chaotic sidekick, Ronnie Thrash. While Earl is busy assimilating these new tidbits of information, Ronnie has been trying to tell him about something he just witnessed when they were briefly separated on the campus of the Harden School:
“You ain’t been listening to a damn word I’ve been saying, have you?”

“Huh?” I realized we were almost to Ronnie’s place. The old church was in sight.

“I was telling you about the weird stuff I witnessed in front of the school.”

“What weird stuff?”

Ronnie blew out a long sigh. “Jesus H. Christ, Earl, you are as bad as child sometimes. You mean to tell me you ain’t heard none of what I was saying?”

“I heard… some of it,” I said.

“About the band?”

“Oh, I got that.”

“So where did you stop listening?"
The page ends right about there, but Ronnie goes on to describe a strange encounter with one of the students, during which the student babbles almost incoherently about “Indians and his sister.” The kid is visibly upset, and Ronnie senses that there is something sinister at work here, though it will take both he and Earl’s most diligent efforts to find out just what it is.

Overall, I was really pleased with the results of my Page 69 Test. It allows the reader to get just a glimpse of the powerful forces at work in the novel, while experiencing a side of Ronnie Thrash’s irrepressible personality, as well as a hint at the deeper, more esoteric secrets that haunt the Harden School.
Visit Hank Early's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

"Blind Search"

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, the first Mercy and Elvis mystery, by the hero working dogs she met through MissionK9Rescue, her own Newfoundland retriever mix rescue Bear, and a lifelong passion for crime fiction.

Munier lives in New England with her family, Bear, and a torbie tabby named Ursula.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new Mercy and Elvis mystery, Blind Search, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Henry stirred in his father’s arms.

“He could be a material witness,” said Harrington. “And he’s waking up now.” The detective waved his hand, directing the group to fall back. “Jenkins, come with me and bring your boy.”

“He probably won’t tell you anything. He doesn’t talk much unless it’s about math or video games or Batman.”

Henry pulled away from his father and embraced the dogs.

“Come on, Henry.” Ethan rose to his feet, pulling the boy with him. “You need to stay with me. We’ve talked about this before.”

But Henry wriggled away from his father and slid down to the forest floor, tucking himself into a ball, just as he had under the gutting table in the bob-house. The dogs formed a shield around him, Susie Bear a big black shaggy boulder and Elvis an elegant fawn wall of fur.
In Blind Search, I started with a story I'd read in the newspaper about a boy with autism who'd wandered off into the Vermont woods and gotten lost. He was rescued safe and sound, but the writer in me thought: What if a boy with autism got lost in the woods and witnessed a murder? Mercy and Elvis would have to save him…and I was off and running.

Which led me to this scene on page 69. The scene in which Mercy and Elvis have tracked Henry through the woods and returned him to his father, who’s waiting at the crime scene. A young woman has been shot through the heart with an arrow—and everyone is beginning to realize that Henry may know who did it.

But he’s not talking.
Visit Paula Munier's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Paula Munier & Bear.

Writers Read: Paula Munier.

My Book, The Movie: Blind Search.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 4, 2019

"Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders"

Tessa Arlen is the author of the critically acclaimed Lady Montfort mystery series—Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman was a finalist for the 2016 Agatha Award Best First Novel. She is also the author of Poppy Redfern: A Woman of World War II mystery series. And the author of the historical fiction: In Royal Service to the Queen.

Arlen lives in the Southwest with her family and two corgis where she gardens in summer and writes in winter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders and reported the following:
From page 69:
I counted out coins and Mrs. Glossop’s hand came down to stop them spinning on the smooth wood of the counter with such finality that I knew she was far more annoyed about Grandad’s Sunday lunch-after-church-idea than I had first thought. But I didn’t want her to lead the village in a witch-hunt against the Americans either. “Sergeant Perrone has been detained on suspicion of murder, but he has not yet been tried and found guilty. None of us can be sure that he killed Doreen and Ivy. I hope he gets a fair trial,” I said in what I hoped was a conciliatory and reasonable tone. She didn’t care for it.

“He’s being court-martialed by them, not tried in an English court which he should be after killing two English girls.”

“Either way he is innocent until proved guilty...”

A sharp intake a breath from Mrs. G. and I looked up to find her watching me intently. “You don’t believe he did it, do you?” There was no point in denying it. “I don’t see how he can have done both murders. After Doreen’s death all the Americans were confined to the base. You have to hand it to them; their security is amazing. Have you seen their perimeter fence?” She stared at me, her face like stone, so I explained. “He would have had to climb a ten-foot woven wire fence crowned by four or five strands of barbed wire.”

Fierce little eyes bored into mine. “Who then? You are not going to suggest it was one of us?”

Why not? I wanted to say. Why were we so above reproach?

Her stare was so intimidating that my voice almost shook as I answered her. “I am not suggesting anything Mrs. Glossop. I am only supporting my grandparent’s decision to try and heal a rift by including the young men up at the base in our village community. That is of course if they want to be part of it. After all they have come to help us win this war, haven’t they?”

I heard the breath hiss out of her like an old bicycle tire with a puncture, and her face became thoughtful as she folded her arms underneath her non-existent bosom. “Alright then,” she said as she tucked her chin down onto her chest and pondered the alternatives. “So, if you’re so keen on finding a culprit off base …what about that Mr. Ponsonby? Him who has retired, so he says, from London. Lives on Water Lane between the doctor and Mrs. Ritchie.”
In this excerpt from Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders, Poppy, a young WWII Air Raid Warden, is investigating the murder of two young women who have been dating American airmen from the base that has been built on the edge of the village. She is in conversation with the Little Buffenden’s postmistress, Enid Glossop, who is a leading light in the village.

Little Buffenden is an out of the way place, a backwater, and like all remote English villages, even in the 1940s, its inhabitants are an insular and unworldly group. A new airfield just outside their village has been a difficult adjustment for the villagers to make in the first place, but naturally patriotism wins the day—or at least it does outwardly. But the Friendly Invasion, as the press call the arrival of Britain’s American allies in the fight against Nazi Germany, is another matter entirely. Why, many ask themselves, aren’t our boys stationed at the airfield? What’s wrong the Royal Air Force?

As the villagers come to terms with the generous informality of the young American airmen who enjoy a pint or two in the village pub, share their ‘candy’ bars with the local schoolkids and take pretty young girls out for a night of dancing in the nearest town, Little Buffenden settles down to its daily round if not in open approval, at least in acceptance of what they call the Yank invasion. Then two popular local girls are murdered, and the village closes ranks. Of course, they tell themselves, the killer has to be an outsider, nothing like this has ever happened in Little Buffenden before.

The underlying theme of Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders is how the unknown and the different are often treated with suspicion and distrust: you are either village or you aren’t, and in Little Buffenden’s case, strangely enough, it has nothing to do with class. Who qualifies as a trusted member of rural Little Buffenden’s close knit community where families have existed together for generations? Certainly not the retired solicitor from London, nor Little Buffenden’s eccentric, but tolerated, vicar. Even the publican of the Rose and Crown is a ‘townie’ from Wickham. Fingers point and whispered gossip is rife in the morning queue at the local butcher’s shop. But independent minded Poppy blithely continues on her night patrols determined to discover the identity of the killer who she is quite convinced does not come from the American Air Force base.
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

See Tessa Arlen’s top five historical novels.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

Writers Read: Tessa Arlen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 3, 2019

"The Worst Kind of Want"

Liska Jacobs holds an MFA from the University of California, Riverside. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in The Rumpus, Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and The Hairpin, among other publications.

Jacobs applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Worst Kind of Want, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I ask Hannah to get me water but Donato volunteers.

“Silvia,” he calls out. “Come downstairs with me.”

I feel every cell bristle. Of course, they are together, and why should that matter to me anyway?

Hannah puts her head on my shoulder. “Do you think Silvia is very pretty?”

Tiny lights strung across the terrace turn on and I can see her watery eyes. Below I hear Donato’s laugh.

“She’s a lot older than him,” I say.

“Only by five years.”

Her body starts to shake, tears fall on my shoulder. Hush, I tell her. Hush. Instinctively I look around to see if any of their friends are watching.

“Come on.” I pull her up from the settee. “Call us a ride, and I’ll get your backpack. We can pick up a pizza on the way home.”

I wipe the smeared mascara from under her eyes and point her toward the stairs. I say goodbye to her friends, making up an excuse that Paul wants us home. He’s made dinner. I can tell Donato doesn’t believe this, but he doesn’t say so. When he kisses my cheek, I cannot help it, I press him against me. He feels broader than I thought he would, and that liquid fire at the center of me rejoices.

In the cab Hannah gives in. She is bawling.

“I miss Mom,” she chokes out. “I miss her so much.”

Letting her drink was probably a bad idea, but isn’t she old enough to know her limit? Or at least learn what it is? I knew not to drink a third Bellini at fifteen, or if Guy offered to make me a screwdriver, to drink it slowly because he always made them very strong.
I’m so pleased this worked! Page 69 has all the emotional elements of the book. Cilla playing the role as mother and caretaker of her niece Hannah, her burgeoning desire for the seventeen-year-old Donato, the pushed aside grief surrounding the death of Hannah’s mother (Cilla’s sister), and Cilla’s resentment toward her youthful romance with an older man. How wonderful.
Visit Liska Jacobs's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Worst Kind of Want.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 1, 2019

"Run, Hide, Fight Back"

New York Times-bestselling author April Henry knows how to kill you in a two-dozen different ways. She makes up for a peaceful childhood in an intact home by killing off fictional characters. There was one detour on April's path to destruction: when she was 12 she sent a short story about a six-foot tall frog who loved peanut butter to noted children's author Roald Dahl. He liked it so much he showed it to his editor, who asked if she could publish it in an international children's magazine. By the time she was in her 30s, Henry had started writing about hit men, kidnappers, and drug dealers. She has published 24 mysteries and thrillers for teens and adults, with more to come. She is known for meticulously researching her novels to get the details right.

Henry applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Run, Hide, Fight Back, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I just want to find my sister. She’s seven and wearing a red coat.”

The other man shrugs one shoulder. His expressionless face gleams with sweat. “Haven’t seen her.” He gestures with his chin. “What’s going on out there?”

“We’re all trapped between the doors and that security gate they pulled across. One of them is inside the gate and two are outside. All of them have automatic rifles. They made some people press up against the doors, facing out. It’s supposed to make the police think twice about coming in.” Parker looks at the guy’s gleaming head and the jacket straining against his biceps. “Are you a cop?”

“No.” He doesn’t offer any other explanation.

“What’re you going to do? You have to stop them before they kill anyone else.”

The other man answers through gritted teeth. “Be realistic. If I go out there, I’ll just get mowed down. I might get one or maybe, if I’m really lucky, two, but there’s at least three of them.” He shakes his head. “I’m going to stay put. This way, I control the space, not them. And if anyone comes in, I’ll be the one who decides who lives or dies.” He nudges the back of Parker’s head with the side of the gun. “So go on, get out of here. And good luck finding your sister. If I were you, once you do, I would try and find your own space to hide. Out there, you’re just one of the herd. And they’re looking for animals to cull.”
What if the high-stakes drama of Die Hard met the varied cast of Breakfast Club? That idea and real-life events like the 2013 attack on Kenya’s Westgate Shopping Mall were the inspiration behind Run, Hide, Fight Back. In it, six teens end up trapped in a shopping mall after a mass shooting.

In real life, such shootings often end quickly. Since Columbine, police have been trained to confront shooters as soon as possible. But I needed time for my fictional teens—which include a jock, an addict, a Muslim, a cancer patient, an undocumented immigrant and a teen from a military family—to decide whether to run, hide or fight back. Spoiler alert: they do all three.

In this scene, Parker, a state champion wrestler, is desperately searching for his seven-year-old sister. The part about making hostages press up against the window is actually something that really happened in a robbery and hostage taking in 1991.

The book explores how much people will pull together and how they will pull apart under stress.
Learn more about the book and author at April Henry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

"Steel Frame"

Andrew Skinner grew up in South Africa’s coal-mining heartland, amidst orange dust and giant machinery. He now works as an archaeologist and anthropologist, interested in folklore, rain-making arts, and resistance; but the machines aren’t done with him yet.

Skinner applied the Page 69 Test to Steel Frame, his first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I’m not special. I made lower-middle in boot-camp, and sure as hell didn’t set any records, but this is one thing I’ve always been good at. While the others had to dose to find connection, had to tug and fight and dig their spurs, I’ve never had trouble sharing the inside of my head.

It feels like coming home.

The Juno watches my systems unfold themselves across the net, open and vulnerable. It reaches for one connection; a little camera in the join between visor and helmet. The machine doesn’t touch anything else.

A small light flashes green in the corner of my eye. New connection established, says my visor. Streaming to remote device.

The Juno is very still.

The other fist unwinds. The shell touches its face, rolls fingers around the empty spaces where eyes should be. It feels the pits and scars on its hull, and finds the fresh weld in the middle of its chest. It’s just a little thicker than my thumb, and still silver, not even painted over yet.


I am broken.

I’ve never seen a shell do that. Damage assessments, yes, more times than I’d like to count, but they’re always clinical and robotic. Hardware abstractions testing to see where functionality begins and ends.

This is something else.

There is a hole. It touches the railgun-wound. Here.

“Let me fill it.”
I’m really lucky that this test calls for page 69, and not, say, one or two in either direction. In Steel Frame, page 69 is first contact – the first time the main character, Rook, really meets the machine (shell) she’ll be piloting during the story. A machine called Juno.

She’s looking over it, noticing the small wound where a high-velocity weapon killed the last operator (that the flight crew hasn’t even bothered to paint over yet), and all of the scrapes and dents and cuts from its decades of service.

Juno is damaged again, just before this part of the story, the lenses in its six eyes cracked or destroyed. Rook meets it thrashing around in its hangar, blind and out of control; lost, and still mourning the loss of the last operator.

As you’ll see in other parts of the book as well, Rook doesn’t hesitate to throw herself into the glare. She walks toward it, offering a connection to the camera mounted to her helmet, so that the machine can see what has become of itself.

This is their first connection, and sets the grounding for their relationship in the rest of the story; this is one lost and damaged thing meeting another. And seeing a part of themselves in the other.
Read more about Steel Frame; follow Andrew Skinner on Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: Steel Frame.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

"State of Lies"

Siri Mitchell is the author of over a dozen novels. She has also written two novels under the pseudonym of Iris Anthony. She graduated from the University of Washington with a business degree and has worked in various levels of government. As a military spouse, she lived all over the world, including Paris and Tokyo.

Mitchell applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, State of Lies, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It’s not like I had expected Sean’s autopsy to be the key to some secret code. But still, I’d been hoping for something more. For some hint as to what Sean had been doing.
– Georgie Brennan
Months after her husband, Sean, is killed by a hit-and-run driver, Georgie Brennan discovers he lied to her about what he was doing the night he died. This quote from page 69 provides the catalyst in Georgie’s search for the truth. It is here that she realizes if she wants to find out what really happened, she’s going to have to go beyond the police report and Sean’s autopsy; she’s going to have to disregard her assumptions about the man she married and start asking questions.

As a quantum physicist, Georgie is used to testing her theories. She’ll have to put to use all of her training as a scientist to solve the mysteries of her husband’s death.

One thing will quickly become apparent to Georgie: the more she digs for the truth, the fewer people she can trust. Not her friends. Not her parents.

Maybe not even herself.
Visit Siri Mitchell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 27, 2019

"The Remaking"

Clay McLeod Chapman is the creator of the storytelling session “The Pumpkin Pie Show” and the author of rest area, nothing untoward, and the Tribe trilogy.

He is co-author of the middle grade novel Wendell and Wild, with Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick.

In the world of comics, Chapman’s work includes Lazaretto, Iron Fist: Phantom Limb, and Edge of Spiderverse, among others.

He also writes for the screen, including The Boy (SXSW 2015), Henley (Sundance 2012), and Late Bloomer (Sundance 2005).

Chapman applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Remaking, and reported the following:
Page 69 isn’t so bad! I was pleasantly surprised to find out what part of the novel the page landed on… though I’d have to imagine it would make absolutely no sense to someone who read it cold. I imagine it would be like leaping onto a roller-coaster, just as its about to tip over that first massive peak, but without any of the buildup. But it’s very representative of the book.

I wrote the novel in such a way where I wanted it to read like an incantation. There’s a rhythmic, almost cyclical style to the writing. The sentences themselves break down, swirl and repeat, and stretch across the page. The repetition is the point—where, if you were to read it out loud, it would nearly sound like a song. This happens whenever there’s something intense happening to our main protagonist Amber and her mental state… Here she’s beginning to panic and the text emulates that. Or I wanted it to.

We’re in the midst of a movie being filmed and this is take… two? Three? Poor Amber has to hit her mark and say her lines, but something a little… oh, phantasmal, is given her a bit of a psychic line reading? No spoilers!
Visit Clay McLeod Chapman's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Remaking.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 25, 2019

"Everything You Are"

Kerry Anne King is the author of the international bestselling novels Closer Home, I Wish You Happy, and Whisper Me This.

King applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Everything You Are, and reported the following:
I was amazed and delighted to discover how perfectly the page 69 test holds up in Everything You Are.

Braden Healey, once a world-class cellist, spiraled into alcoholism and despair following an injury to his hands that left him unable to play. He lost his family and everything that mattered to him. Now, his ex-wife and son have been killed in a car crash and he’s trying to get sober and establish a relationship with his teenage daughter who hates him and is on a downward spiral of her own. Phee, the Luthier, will do everything in her power to save them both by bringing them back to the music.

The story is well represented in the following passage, in which Braden recalls his first encounter with Phee:
He remembers that last conversation vividly, one of few clear memories in the days and weeks after he’d lost his music. She’d stood with her foot in the door so he couldn’t slam it in her face.

“You have to play.”

“I can’t.”

“You don’t understand. Granddad said there’s a curse if you don’t.”

His laughter in response to those words had hurt more than the tears he’d been unable to shed.
“I’m already cursed. How much worse could it get?”

Plenty worse, as it turns out. Not that the cello or any mysterious curse is to blame. Braden is his own curse. Everything that has happened is his fault. All of it.
Visit Kerry Anne King's website.

Writers Read: Kerry Anne King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

"Best Kept Secrets"

Tracey S. Phillips is the debut author of Best Kept Secrets, a novel. Playing music and creating art were a way of life while growing up in Indiana. She entered college as a fashion model and musician. But somewhere along the road to fame and fortune, she married her best friend and became the mother of two children, now grown. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two dogs. Before publication, the manuscript for Best Kept Secrets won a Hugh Holton Award. Psychological Thriller is her love and female characters drive her stories.

Phillips applied the Page 69 Test to Best Kept Secrets and reported the following:
Page 69 falls in one of my favorite chapters from Best Kept Secrets. By this time in the book, we know that Detective Morgan Jewell has identified her main suspect Ekhard Klein in a very brutal murder case. Leading to this chapter, we have just begun getting to know Caryn Klein. Caryn prefers numbers to working with people. She has just discovered that a man named Nathaniel Johnson is not who he says he is. She is certain that Nathaniel is her estranged brother, Ekhard.
The blonde handed her the warm cup topped with a heap of whipped cream. Not pie, but it would have to do.

In the corner of the low-lit coffee shop, Caryn got comfortable. She took off her jacket, pulling the left sleeve over the bandage on her arm. With her right hand she scooped her laptop out of her briefcase and set it on the small table. After it booted up, she typed his name into the search bar.

Never in a million years had she expected to see him again. Yet here was Ekhard Marcus Klein within a tap-tap of her fingers. Eks, whom she had written off and given up for dead. Eks, who had changed his name to Nathaniel Johnson.

And so he wasn’t dead. Just dead to me. She hadn’t seen him since the day of her graduation from high school. Ekhard was her only sibling and only living relative.

Seventeen years, four months, and twelve days was how long. She knew the number of days. He had dropped her off at graduation at 9:04 in the morning on June fourth in 2001 and said, “See you in hell.” And she hadn’t seen him since.

He didn’t call. He didn’t stop by, not for holidays or birthdays. She remembered being very angry with him. It had taken eighteen years, four months, and seventeen days to say that without wanting to kill him.

Kill him.

There was an idea.

Ekhard/Nathaniel currently lived in Lafayette, north of Indianapolis. He worked for a small accounting firm with a ridiculous name, Baker and Baker. Everyone knows there’s no baking at a CPA office. Caryn thought it should be called Checks and Balances, or Numbers-Are-Us. Nevertheless, he was hired in 2014, replacing William Baker as the one in charge of small business bookkeeping. Before that, he had worked in eastern Indiana for another accountant, Gary Pritchard. That job came after getting the sack at Garrison Electric.

Research was a cinch for Caryn. Easy as pie, she thought—her mother’s saying. She breathed in the warm scent of her pumpkin spiced latte. Though pie wasn’t easy at all. Like her mother, Caryn couldn’t bake if her life depended on it.
Following this, we will see how the two women are both seeking the elusive Ekhard Klein for different reasons. Caryn wants to see—to speak to—her estranged brother. She hopes to reconnect with him.

Morgan is seeking resolution to a murder committed many years ago. She thinks Ekhard may be the key to finding the killer of her best friend Fay Ramsey. The thing is, she can’t remember days surrounding the event. Back then, she met with a psychiatrist who diagnosed her memory loss as Perpetration Induced Traumatic Shock, or PITS. The doctor told Morgan her memory would return someday and now, with this current murder case, her memories slowly begin to surface.
Visit Tracey S. Phillips's website.

My Book, The Movie: Best Kept Secrets.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 21, 2019

"Holding On To Nothing"

Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne grew up reading, writing, and shooting in East Tennessee. After graduating from Amherst College, she worked at The Atlantic Monthly. Her nonfiction work has been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Boston Globe, and Globalpost, among others and her short fiction has appeared in The Broad River Review and Barren Magazine. Her essay on how killing a deer made her a feminist was published in Click! When We Knew We Were Feminists, edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan. She is a graduate of Grub Street’s Novel Incubator. She lives outside Boston with her husband and four children.

Shelburne applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Holding On To Nothing, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Oh shit. you know,” Lucy said, after a full minute of silent, open-mouthed shock. Her brain would not process the sight of Jeptha in her doorway, a massive teddy bear and a box of diapers clutched in his arms.
The smile on Jeptha’s face faltered. “Uh, hi,” he said, hoisting the bear and the diapers a little higher, as if for her to see better.

“Hi.” Lucy squinted in astonishment at the sight in front of her. How did he know? And why was he here?

“Can I, uh, come in?” Jeptha asked.

She was so suddenly, violently sick to her stomach that it took her a minute to hear the question. Then she shook herself out of her stupor and nodded. “You’d better, I guess, before my neighbors see you.”

“I came to bring you this stuff,” he said. He shrugged and looked down at his feet. “To apologize.”

“Well, you better get to it. I’ll take that bear.” Lucy hugged the bear to her belly and eyed Jeptha as he stacked four sides of a white crib against the wall. It was pretty, she thought, nicer than the ones she’d been looking at.

“How’d you even find out? I haven’t told anyone but LouEllen,” she said.

“Deanna. She guessed you was pregnant,” Jeptha said. “Based on your reaction, I guess she was right.”

“Your sister ruins everything,” Lucy said, feeling her stomach rise all over again as she thought of Deanna’s knowing smirk the night before.

“That’s always been my experience,” Jeptha said. He wasn’t looking at her, but at a piece of carpet that had come loose years before. He nudged it with his toe. “She didn’t guess nothing about it being mine though.”

He paused and cleared his throat, looking up at Lucy. “Is it?”

A wave of anger swept over her. “Yes. You ass. It’s yours.” She suddenly felt like a woman, more than being pregnant or turning twenty-one had ever made her feel. It was the pure, unmitigated fury provoked by a man’s stupidity that had done it.
This is the opening of Chapter Six, when Jeptha realizes that Lucy is pregnant with his baby after a one-night stand. Unfortunately for Jeptha, he only finds out after he has drunkenly blown off a date with her. Feeling spiteful after being stood up, Lucy has resolved never to tell him about the baby, just as he is realizing that the baby is his. It is representative of the rest of the book because we see the crux of their characters and the dilemmas they face: Lucy is distrustful and angry, but also deeply forgiving, while Jeptha is the world’s most loveable fuck-up, but deeply loves Lucy. (And you begin to realize how awful Deanna, Jeptha’s sister, is!)

This chapter marks a turning point in the book. After tacitly forgiving him enough to let him in the door, as we see on this page, Jeptha assembles the crib with Lucy’s help, and she begins to see some of the good side of him. This moment of tenderness between Jeptha and Lucy makes her decide to give him a chance, thus setting the rest of the book in motion.
Visit Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 20, 2019

"The Speed of Falling Objects"

Nancy Richardson Fischer is a graduate of Cornell University, a published author with children’s, teen and adult titles to her credit, including Star Wars titles for Lucas Film and numerous autobiographies for athletes such as Julie Krone, Bela Karolyi and Monica Seles. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Fischer applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Speed of Falling Objects, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Heart hammering, I dump the unsent letters on the kitchen table. My mom takes a long time to look up. That’s when I drop the ceramic coin on her notes. It spins, then settles, making a soft whisper like the sound of a page being turned.

Commander Sam pulls out her earbuds. “I can explain.”

There’s a part of me that hopes she can. I want to believe that my mom wouldn’t do this to me, couldn’t. “Try.”

She squares her shoulders, like a fighter about to throw the first punch. “He left, Danielle.”

Disappointment tastes like acid. I swallow and it’s gravel going down my throat. “Don’t call me that. I wrote at least fifty letters. I thought Dad didn’t want me after what happened. He probably thought I blamed him, too—”

“You should have.”
There were two inspirations for The Speed of Falling Objects. The first is my obsession with survival stories. I don’t think anyone knows themselves or the people around them until they’re tested under extreme circumstances.

The second inspiration pertains to this passage which begins Danger Danielle “Danny” Warren's journey. Danny perceives herself as defective and inferior based on a childhood accident that left her with one eye, her mom’s bitterness, parents’ divorce, and her father’s abandonment. Discovering a huge lie her mother told propels Danny into the arms of the TV survivalist father she idolizes. She joins her dad for an episode of his show, Cougar, filmed in the Amazon rainforest and starring teen movie idol, Gus Price. But when their plane crashes, leaving some dead and others injured, Danny is forced to face everything that terrifies her, including a secret about the father she loves and the movie star she’s fallen for. To survive, Danny must discover her unique strengths and redefine herself or she will never save those she loves or find a way home.

We all create ourselves based on the past, stories told or recalled, misperceptions and even lies. My hope is that Danny’s journey will encourage readers to question their own perception of who they are, recognize what isn’t true, make changes if needed, and ultimately become of the hero of their own life’s story.
Visit Nancy Richardson Fischer's website.

Writers Read: Nancy Richardson Fischer.

My Book, The Movie: The Speed of Falling Objects.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 18, 2019

"The Quantum Garden"

Derek Künsken writes science fiction and fantasy in Gatineau, Québec and tweets from @derekkunsken. In previous incarnations, he did molecular biology experiments, worked with street kids in Honduras and Colombia, and served in the Canadian Foreign Service. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, Clarkesworld and BCS, as well as in several year’s best anthologies, and earned him the Asimov's Award. Künsken's first novel, The Quantum Magician, was also a finalist for the Aurora, Locus and Chinese Nebula Awards. His second novel is the newly released, The Quantum Garden.

The Quantum Garden is described as the ultimate chase.
Days ago, Belisarius pulled off the most audacious con job in history. He’s rich, he’s back with the love of his life, and he has the Time Gates, the most valuable things in existence. Nothing could spoil this… except the utter destruction of his people and their world. To save them, he has to make a new deal with the boss he just double-crossed, travel back in time and work his quantum magic once again. If he can avoid detection, dodge paradox and stay ahead of the eerie, relentless Scarecrow, he might just get back to his own time alive.
Künsken applied the Page 69 Test to The Quantum Garden and reported the following:
I opened the book to page 69, and the Congregate intelligence services rifling through the Garret, the home of the Homo quantus, which is cool, because this is the driver for the whole second novel. Belisarius's heist in book one had ripple effects that play out in book two, most notably, the Congregate and all of civilization have noticed that the Homo quantus are an effective military tool and everyone wants to possess their weird powers.
Intelligence officers and political officers descended from Les Rapides de Lachine, systematically dismantling the Garret. The Homo quantus had left a great deal of information, mostly useless reformulations of physical theories and genetic records, but they'd also left in such a hurry that they hadn't grabbed all the backups of how they'd inched forward in developing this new and dangerous sub-species of humanity.

"This will anger the Banks," Majeur Demers said.

"Let it," the Scarecrow said. "The Banks should have kept a tighter leash on their pet projects. We've no doubt already pre-empted their anger with a million-franc bounty on any Homo quantus brought to us alive. Politically, we can accuse the Banks of engineering terrorists."

"What do you make of the story, that Arjona had come from the future?" Demers asked.

The Scarecrow had been turning this over too.

"No technology we know of would enable time travel," the Scarecrow said. "But if the Homo quantus have figured out some way to do it, that might start to explain the Union break-out of the Puppet Axis. Our spies saw no Union ships entering the Axis at Port Stubbs. Somehow the Homo quantus engineered this. And if we have four thousand genetically-modified Anglo-Spanish weapons capable of seeing the future, then the capture of Arjona and the remaining Homo quantus has to be one of the highest priorities of the Presidium."
This passage certainly captures the stakes and motivation of the Congregate, although it doesn't hint at Belisarius' plan to hide his people, nor what those costs will be.
Visit Derek Künsken's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Quantum Magician.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 17, 2019

"How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse"

K. Eason is a lecturer at the University of California, Irvine, where she and her composition students tackle important topics such as the zombie apocalypse, the humanity of cyborgs, and whether or not Beowulf is a good guy. Her publications include the On the Bones of Gods fantasy duology with 47North, and she has had short fiction published in Cabinet-des-Fées, Jabberwocky 4, Crossed Genres, and Kaleidotrope. When she’s not teaching or writing, Eason picks up new life skills, ranging from martial arts (including a black belt in kung fu!), to Viking sword and shield work, to yoga and knitting.

Eason applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse: Book One of the Thorne Chronicles, and reported the following:
From page 69:
What they meant, of course, was you won’t understand anyway, dear and you’re a princess and what does a girl know about war? More galling: they invited Jacen, as Crown Prince, to attend Council sessions, though no one believed he would actually go. Jacen was eight, too impatient for chess and more interested in playing at war in Duty Calls than in doing much of anything else.

So Rory read, from the Vizier’s violated files, the field reports from the generals, the briefings from the new Minister of Espionage, and the ever-growing lists of the dead. She read, and taught herself to understand politics and tactics and strategy, supplemented by discussions with the Vizier (for broad generalities) and with Grytt (for specific details).

Her chess game, to the Vizier’s delight, improved. So did her Duty Calls high score, to her brother’s dismay.

Rory also taught herself to understand wartime economics. Included in the field reports were financial reports and projections, treaties and trade agreements, intricate deals and bargains for munitions, and raw materials, and exclusive trading options. She learned which of the vigorously declared neutral kingdoms, conglomerates, networks, and worlds were genuine in that declaration, and which were making secret deals. She learned that the Thorne Consortium had a long-reaching spy network, and a brave, clever military that won most of its battles. But she also learned that the Thorne Consortium did not have limitless resources and was, in fact, nearly bankrupt. The Free Worlds, with their vaster collection of colonies, were winning as slowly and inexorably as the days and weeks of her minority were falling away.
Page 69 gestures at the very core of How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse. The birth of Rory's little brother and the presence of an archaic law means she's demoted from heir to spare, but this is the first time she's realizing what that demotion means politically and personally. She's still the princess, but she's just the princess; the limits of her social and political worth comes from arbitrary conditions unrelated to her own competence. It's all seriously unfair, but it's also somewhat liberating. Rory discovers that being overlooked and underestimated is a kind of freedom. Stymied by the councilors and forbidden to attend meetings, Rory hacks her way into the Council files, and learns... oh, so many things about the business of war, about strategy, about politics. But page 69 also marks the end of Rory's childhood. It's where she learns about the ugly reality that her homeworld is losing the war. That home is vulnerable and maybe finite. And, most importantly (for Rory, for the plot) page 69 is where she learns that knowledge is real power, and how to seize that power for herself. It's the beginning of her political education, marking the first time she picks up the tools that she'll use to navigate the political fallout of her social status to small-p princess and (eventually) destroy the multiverse.
Visit K. Eason's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

"A Bitter Feast"

Deborah Crombie is a New York Times bestselling author and a native Texan who has lived in both England and Scotland. She now lives in McKinney, Texas, sharing a house that is more than one hundred years old with her husband, two cats, and two German shepherds.

Crombie applied the Page 69 Test to A Bitter Feast, her 18th Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James novel, and reported the following:
What a fun challenge this is! I loved what I found on my page 69. Here’s what leads up to it.

On the way to join his family for a weekend in a Cotswold country house, Metropolitan Police Superintendent Duncan Kincaid has been involved in a tragic accident. But there were things about the deaths of the occupants of the other car that didn’t quite add up to him. This is the next day, and his host has taken him to the local police headquarters to make an official report. Kincaid and his concerns have been passed along to Detective Inspector Colin Booth, who at the outset is not thrilled to have his Saturday interrupted by a meddlesome London cop. Here’s page 69 in its entirety.
“I know what you mean.” Kincaid cocked his head, replaying what he’d heard. “You’re from Manchester.”

“My northern vowels give me away?”

“I grew up in Cheshire, in Nantwich.”

“Ah. Close enough.” Booth looked at him with more interest. “Man U or City?”


“Bugger.” Booth shook his head. “That’s too bad. I thought we might be long lost brothers.” There was a hint of a smile on his dark face. “Except you’re all citified now. How long have you been in the Met?”
“More than twenty years. But I have a good friend in Cheshire, Ronnie Babcock.”

Booth’s eyebrows went up. “DCI Babcock? Bloke looks like he’s had his face smashed in once too often?”
Kincaid grinned. “That’s the one.” He thought mentioning that Ronnie Babcock was his sister’s boyfriend might be gilding the lily.

“He’s one of the good ones, Babcock.” Booth considered Kincaid a moment, then said, “In which case maybe you should just bugger the report and tell me what happened.”

“A nice middle-aged divorcee, who was not drinking, plowed straight through a T-junction and hit me broadside,” Kincaid said. “My car rolled. The front end of hers was crushed. She was trapped. I held her hand as she died.” Why he was prompted to tell Booth this, when he hadn’t yet told Gemma, Kincaid didn’t know. He cleared his throat and went on. “The thing is, there was an unidentified passenger, a man, also dead. But the medics think he died before the crash.”
The beginning of the page is our first glimpse of what will become a good working relationship between the two police officers.

The last paragraph contains—to my delight—the core of the plot. Why did the woman driver have a dead man—with whom she had no apparent connection—in her car, and why did she crash into Duncan? But perhaps even more importantly, this paragraph shows the emotional vulnerability Duncan hasn’t even revealed to his wife, and the strong connection he’s made to the victim. It’s this that drives him to find the truth behind what might have seemed a random accident, and that leads all the detectives into a complex and dangerous investigation.
Visit Deborah Crombie's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Bitter Feast.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Johanna Stoberock is the author of the novels Pigs and City of Ghosts. Her short stories and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Better: Culture & Lit, The Wilson Quarterly, Copper Nickel, Front Porch, and the 2014 Best of the Net Anthology.

Stoberock applied the Page 69 Test to Pigs and reported the following:
Page 69:
From the island, it was ships that seemed a single entity. What was discarded was unique. Who discarded it was not.
At first, when I looked at page 69, my stomach dropped: three sentences; no characters; no plot. How could such a tiny passage say anything about the book as a whole? Pigs had failed the page 69 test—or maybe the test had failed Pigs!

But then I started thinking—what, exactly, is Pigs about?

Garbage, for one thing. It takes place on a magical island that serves as the repository for all the world’s trash. So page 69 speaks directly to that central element. It acknowledges both the island and its function for the larger world.

And what else is Pigs about?

Children. The garbage-island is populated by a group of parentless children whose lot in life is to gather up the world’s trash and feed it to a herd of giant, insatiable pigs. Page 69 speaks to the tension between discards and discarder, and asks us to think about where we have to position ourselves to see the island’s children as fully human beings. By page 69, we know the vulnerabilities of these children well (one of them has already disappeared under violent circumstances), and when “discards” are mentioned, the book has already let readers know it’s including within that term much more than the trash that might accumulate beneath one’s kitchen sink.

And is there anything else that Pigs is about that’s mentioned on the page?

Yes! Perspective. Over and over, Pigs asks readers to think about the way we use perspective to direct what we’re willing to acknowledge about the world: what do we see when we look at the island from a distance? What do we see when we look at it from close up? How do those two views work together? This a theme that page 69 covers as well.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought that page 69 gets right to the heart of the novel's most important themes.

From my perspective, Pigs passes the page 69 test with its own brand of strange but flying colors.
Visit Johanna Stoberock's website.

My Book, The Movie: Pigs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 14, 2019


Sasha Dawn teaches writing at community colleges and offers pro bono writing workshops to local schools. She lives in her native northern Illinois, where she collects tap shoes, fabric swatches, and tales of survival, and she harbors a crush on Thomas Jefferson. Her debut novel, Oblivion, was an Illinois Reads selection and one of the New York Public Library's best books for teens.

Dawn applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Panic, and reported the following:
Page 69:
It’s good to venture out. Take myself out the comfort zone.

Good practice for the day Dylan Thomas might be meeting his friend at the Factory again, when maybe I’ll catch a glimpse of him in person. Maybe he’ll be as beautiful as the words he writes, and I can enjoy looking at him from a distance.

Not in a creepy way. Or in a romantic way. Because I don’t get mixed up in romantic hassles.

But if I wanted to…maybe Dylan would be the kind of guy I’d fall for.

I meander over to Lyrically and read his bio again: Observer. Music lover. Quiet lurker.

I learned that much during our hours-long exchange. I’ve never felt as comfortable so quickly talking to someone I’ve never met before, and I think that’s because I know he doesn’t want to meet for coffee and take things to the next level.

Even if we happen to bump into each other, there will be no pressure to sit down and make small talk over lattes. Dylan values his privacy just like I value mine.
Page 69 takes us through the moment our protagonist, Madelaine Joseph, ventures out of her social comfort zone, but at the same time, establishes her boundaries. While her overarching struggles are much more complex than the exchanges on page 69 convey, the message is there to be applied to many of her frustrations, fears, and aspirations. We also learn a lot about Lainey on page 69. That she knows she needs to grow is forefront to her wanting to have deeper relationships with genuine people. Page 69 definitely pinpoints the basis of Lainey’s conflict, goal, and motivation.
Visit Sasha Dawn's website.

My Book, The Movie: Panic.

--Marshal Zeringue