Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"Last Things"

Jacqueline West is the author of the New York Times-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the YA novel Dreamers Often Lie, the middle grade fantasy The Collectors, and the new YA novel Last Things.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Last Things and reported the following:
From page 69:
I shift on the seat. “You’ve heard my stuff.”

“No. I mean, I don’t know how you write your songs. Where they come from. If you start with the melody, or with the words, or with the concept for the expensive music video you’ll make someday, or what.” She pauses again. I don’t speak. “So—this sounds totally corny, but where do you get your ideas?”

We’re heading past the park, along a road where the houses grow thinner and the trees grow thicker. Green walls surround us.

“I honestly don’t know.”

“Oh. So you are a mysterious musical genius.”

“No. I just—I can’t really explain it.” And then I tell her the truth. Partly. “I’m not controlling it. It just happens.”

“Hmm.” Frankie lifts that eyebrow at me again. “Maybe you have a muse.”

“What?”

“You know, how people used to think that art came from some goddess coming to you and inspiring you. They all had weird names, like Euterpe and Calliope....”

“Euterpe?”

“I don’t know why that one hasn’t caught on as a baby name.” Frankie shrugs with one shoulder. “So, maybe you have a muse. Maybe some force is coming in and giving you your songs.”

There’s a gust of wind around my unzipped heart.
Oh, Page 69 Test: You’ve clearly got some weird magic. I often describe my new YA thriller, Last Things, as a modern-day, metal, Minnesotan retelling of the legend of the musician who may have sold his soul to the devil—and that concept is spelled out in as-clear-as-it-gets dialogue on page 69.

A quick summary: Eighteen-year-old Anders Thorson has become famous in his small Minnesota town. His band, Last Things, is on the cusp of major musical success, and as the lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, Anders is flooded with attention and acclaim. The trouble is that Anders isn’t sure his success is earned. New songs come to him all at once, in overwhelming flashes, and his guitar skills are advancing faster than seems possible. Even though Anders doesn’t fully understand his gifts, he’s starting to fear that some dark force is coming to collect what it is owed.

In this scene, Anders has just accepted a ride from Frankie Lynde. Frankie is another high school senior in his small town. She’s the girl everyone wants to be with—Anders included—but he’s not sure he deserves her interest. (On top of feeling like a fraud, he’s kind of a shy, thoughtful, metal nerd—not the type of guy who pursues confident, beautiful girls.) Without intending to, Frankie starts a conversation that forces Anders to confront some of his worst fears.
Learn more about the book and author at Jacqueline West's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jacqueline West and Brom Bones (July 2011).

Coffee with a Canine: Jacqueline West and Brom Bones (July 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

"A Palm Beach Wife"

Susannah Marren is the author of Between the Tides and A Palm Beach Wife and a pseudonym for Susan Shapiro Barash, who has written more than a dozen nonfiction books including Tripping the Prom Queen and Toxic Friends.

She lives in New York City and teaches gender studies in the Writing Department at Marymount Manhattan College.

Barash applied the Page 69 Test to A Palm Beach Wife and reported the following:
Page 69 in my novel is representative of one aspect of the book - the tension between mothers and daughters, and the constant desire for mothers to protect their daughters. The book is about other story lines as well - the idea that wives hold the bar so high and that being a wife is tricky, almost a test of one's spirit and core values. For my heroine, Faith Harrison, in A Palm Beach Wife, there is proof of her hard work as a mother, wife and business woman in Palm Beach. But once her husband tanks - which happens by page 12 in the book, she has to reevaluate her entire life. She has to make a decision - does she try to save him and her family and at what cost to herself? Also this is a book about the secrets women keep - and how they lie for the cause. It is a story about female survival and how a place informs us - shapes us. What is the price of escape and what is the price of belonging.
Visit Susan Shapiro Barash's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Palm Beach Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 19, 2019

"Biloxi"

Mary Miller grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. She is the author of two collections of short stories, Big World, and Always Happy Hour, as well as the novels The Last Days of California and Biloxi. Her stories have appeared in The Paris Review, the Oxford American, New Stories from the South, Norton's Seagull Book of Stories, The Best of McSweeney’s Quarterly, American Short Fiction, Mississippi Review, and many others. She is a former James A. Michener Fellow in Fiction at the University of Texas and John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at Ole Miss. She lives in Oxford, Mississippi with her husband, Lucky, and her dog, Winter.

Miller applied the Page 69 Test to Biloxi and reported the following:
From page 69:
I got into bed and tried to get comfortable, flopped about. I’d placed Layla’s bed right next to mine so I could drape an arm over and pet her, though I worried I might step on her when I got up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. I imagined the sign and the balloons going up at the hands of Harry Davidson’s wife, the small pretty hands of his wife, who hadn’t been able to stand the gagging or the shedding—the hair had already gathered under every one of my tables, retreated into every corner of the house. I fell asleep recounting the details of her: sharp elbows and the lightning bolt on her leg, her pretty hands and PINK shirt, short shorts, dark bra, mousy ponytail. Walking her up and down her driveway, back and forth.
In the novel’s opening scene, Louis stops at a house advertising ‘free dogs’ alongside a couple of drowsy balloons and meets Harry Davidson. Davidson claims to have more than a dozen dogs, but offers only one: an overweight mixed-breed he calls Layla—a prolific shedder with a gagging problem. For reasons he can’t fathom, Louis feels compelled to take her.

While I figured page 69 would be representative of the book, it’s surprising to find it recalling the scene that kicks it off so explicitly. This passage also reflects what’s to come: Louis’s growing obsession with this stranger’s wife. Earlier in the day, he returned to the house to see if the balloons were still there and sees the woman for the first time. Transfixed by this unremarkable yet eccentric creature, he’s already plotting a way to meet her, which sets off the primary conflict of the book.

Though an understated passage—a man in bed—it’s also central to the book’s theme: Louis’s fondness for oddball and dejected characters, and his extraordinary ability to find trouble.
Visit Mary Miller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 17, 2019

"Strangers and Cousins"

Leah Hager Cohen was born in Manhattan and raised at the Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens and later in Nyack, New York. She attended Hampshire College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The author of five novels and five works of nonfiction, she is the Barrett Professor of Creative Writing at the College of the Holy Cross.

Cohen applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Strangers and Cousins, and reported the following:
Hm. I wonder what I’d even consider “representative” of Strangers and Cousins, which seems to me, more than my other books, an odd mix of voices. The point of view rolls around quite a bit – not even shifting in neat sections; it’s really very rolly. We slip in and out of various characters’ thoughts and memories. At times we even consider things from the perspective of a mouse, at times from the perspective of the moon.

On page 69 we are more or less inside Bennie’s head. Bennie, the mother, the de facto matriarch of the Blumenthal family, is sitting in the kitchen thinking about her somewhat wayward younger brother, Lloyd, whom she hasn’t seen in two years, and who is due to arrive that afternoon with his daughter Ellerby – just two of the many people descending upon the old family homestead in advance of her eldest child’s wedding at the end of the week.

Bennie finds Lloyd a bit maddening, a bit inscrutable. One part prodigal son, one part Eeyore. And her thoughts pinball from the disparaging to the forgiving to the fretting to the lovingly mocking. Deep down she’s hurt that he never accepts help from her, but it’s so deep down she’s not even quite aware of it:
That was the thing about Lloyd, the thing that made him at once irremediably lovable and irremediably infuriating: the graciousness of his demurrals, which made you always yearn to offer him more, or offer him something different, always in hopes that you’d come up at last with the elusive thing he might actually accept, so you’d keep striving for this, failing to acknowledge its certain futility.

Well – but he had accepted the invitation to Clem’s wedding. Managed to RSVP and everything. They’ll be here today, he and Ellerby – another thing to prepare for. Even if she does wind up roping them into lending a hand with the scullery work later this week, she does at the very least need to have beds made up for them when they get here. Not to mention have dinner to serve. And, asterisk to that: her brother’s ever-changing dietary preferences to cater to.

Fake butter, she adds to one of her lists. Soy/almond milk.
Then her thoughts are interrupted by one of her children coming into the room – that’s another thing about this novel: no one’s stream of consciousness goes on for long without interruption, because people are forever entering or exiting the stage (so to speak) in a jumble of slightly slapstick activity:
Speaking of brothers: “Where’s your brother?” she demands of Mantha, who’s wandered into the kitchen and is poking around the fruit bowl. “What are you looking for?”

“A plum that isn’t squishy.”

“Well stop that. Just take one. You’re making them all squishy. Where’s your brother?”

Mantha takes a plum and gives it a distrustful, millimeter-long lick.
If there’s a way in which page 69 is representative of the book, it may be in this very interruption, in the overlap, the swerve from large abstract thoughts about the very essence of a bewildering loved one to the staccato practicalities of shopping lists to the found poetry of a scrap of mother-daughter banter. All stitched into a mammoth, messy patchwork quilt.
Visit Leah Hager Cohen's website.

Writers Read: Leah Hager Cohen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 16, 2019

"Beware the Night"

Jessika Fleck is a writer, unapologetic coffee drinker, and knitter -- she sincerely hopes to one day discover a way to do all three at once. Until then, she continues collecting vintage typewriters and hourglasses, dreaming of an Ireland getaway, and convincing her husband they need more kittens.

Fleck has lived all over the U.S. from Hawaii to Vermont, but currently calls Illinois home. She resides there with her sociology professor husband and two daughters where she’s learning to appreciate the beauty in cornfields and terrifyingly large cicadas.

Fleck writes both young adult and middle grade fiction and her work verges on fantastical and dark with a touch of realism. She is also a regular contributor to the fantastic kidlit blog, Kidliterati.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Beware the Night, and reported the following:
I love the idea of taking a page out of a book and examining it out of context.

Page 69 of Beware the Night [left; click to enlarge] certainly isn’t representative of the book as a whole; however, it does give a great window into the complicated relationship between Veda and Nico. They are childhood friends and care about one another deeply but despite living on the same small island, the lives they lead are worlds apart. Relationships (especially complicated ones)—family, friends, romantic—are a theme that carries throughout the book and into book two. There’s a constant push and pull between these two characters which is both lovely and heartbreaking. But we soon find that everything surrounding Veda exists in juxtaposition to itself. So, push and pull… dark and light… sun and moon… it all ties together.
Visit Jessika Fleck's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

"Murder Knocks Twice"

Susanna Calkins holds a PhD in history and currently works at Northwestern University.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Murder Knocks Twice, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Gina watched her father take his last bite of toast, chewing slowly and carefully. She knew he’d had a bad night the night before, the medicine working on the shakes only some of the time. But she could no longer put off the questions that had been raging inside her since she’d first heard them. “Papa?”

“Yeah?”

“Why were you called Frankie the Cat?”

He pushed the plate aside, a spasm crossing his face. “Where’d you hear that ? I haven’t been called that in years.”

“Mike Castallazo. He owns the Third Door.”

“Castallazzzo!” He spat out the name. “That double-dealer! Didn’t know Big Mike owned that joint. I’d never have let you work there.”

Though startled by his outburst, Gina pressed on. “His wife, the Signora—she’s the one who hired me. He hadn’t realized who I was until we met.” She paused. “He said you were friends. That you ran together in the old days.”

“Yeah. The old days, sure. We were pals. Back when he was still Little Mike.” He said the last with a snort. “Big Mike came later, after I was already out.”
This interaction on page 69 between Gina Ricci and her dad offers an important glimpse into Gina’s backstory. First, it reveals why Gina needed to work at the Third Door in the first place—her father was ailing and was having trouble holding a job of his own. Perhaps more importantly it also reveals some troubling questions. When she started working at the Third Door, she hadn’t known most of the people who worked there. And yet, they all seemed to know her. Moreover, they also appeared to have known her father as a young man too—back when he was known as “Frankie the Cat,” a nickname she’d never before heard. All of this makes her wonder more about Dorrie, the cigarette seller who had died under mysterious circumstances, and whose position she had since filled. There’s definitely something odd going on, and Gina doesn’t know who to trust, especially since her father is not being forthcoming about what he knows about her questionable new employers.
Learn more about the book and author at Susanna Calkins's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Murder at Rosamund's Gate.

The Page 69 Test: The Masque of a Murderer.

The Page 69 Test: A Death Along the River Fleet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

"Once More Unto the Breach"

Meghan Holloway found her first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at the age of eight and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. She flew an airplane before she learned how to drive a car, did her undergrad work in Creative Writing in the sweltering south, and finished a Masters of Library and Information Science in the blustery north. She spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, traveled the world for a few years, and did a stint fighting crime in the records section of a police department.​​

She now lives in the foothills of the Appalachians with her standard poodle and spends her days as a scientist with the requisite glasses but minus the lab coat.

Holloway applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Once More Unto the Breach, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The apse was laden with hulking shadows, squared edges sharp under the canvas drapery protecting what lay beneath. I holstered the Luger and approached the curved recess, my footfall muffled by the carpet of moss. I grasped the edge of the canvas and pulled. The heavy protective fabric unfurled like a wave, eddies of dust drifting upwards to catch in the sunlight like a spray of sea foam. I stepped back, coughing into my elbow, and took in the storehouse that had been unveiled.

Dozens of crates were stacked shoulder to shoulder in the space. The sizes were varying—some taller than me, others no larger than a child’s height. All were tightly slatted and nailed shut. I could find no identifying markings on the crates, but I could hazard a guess at their contents.

I retreated from the chapel. “Bring the crowbar from the ambulance.”

“What did you find?”

“Bring it and see.”

I watched Charlotte’s face carefully as she took in the crates, noting the excitement that lit her eyes and the satisfied curve of her lips. I took the crowbar from her and slipped the edge into the seam of the crate, leaning down on the tool to pry the nails loose.

As soon as the top was ajar, Charlotte lifted it and carefully eased aside the fabric wrapped around the contents. Her breath caught as she unveiled the sculpture within the crate.

I set the crowbar aside and knelt beside her. “Is it from the Louvre?” I could not see much detail about the piece looking at it from such an angle. It was bronze, the figure of a man clasping a woman to him with his face tucked into the curve of her neck.

“No.” Charlotte’s voice was but a whisper. A sheen of moisture glinted in her eyes.
I have always loved the story of the Monuments Men, the Allied Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section. The MFAA was tasked with finding and saving pieces of art and other cultural items before the Nazis could confiscate or destroy them during the Second World War.

I have a deep love of France and an unfailing appreciation for Paris’s museums and galleries. I first visited the Louvre at the age of eleven. At that tender age, I recall standing at the base of the Daru staircase, head tilted back to take in the statue at its pinnacle. The goddess Nike is hewn out of marble, windswept and powerful and victorious. To this day, decades later, I would still swear to you that standing there in awe, captivated by the Winged Victory of Samothrace, I heard orchestral music swell through the Denon wing. And when my mother asked me why I was crying, I had no answer for her.

I knew of the overarching effort of the Monuments Men before I began my research for Once More Unto the Breach, but I did not know of the mission at the Louvre. Efforts began in 1938 as collections from the Louvre were moved to a number of the châteaux outside of Paris. The museum was practically empty by the time the Germans marched into the city. But soon the Near Eastern antiquities galleries were full, not with museum pieces but with the collections plundered from prominent Jewish families and dealers. The Louvre was used as storage for these stolen collections and as a showcase for the high-ranking officials to pick over. Resistance efforts, led by Rose Valland and Jacques Jaujard, secretly catalogued and tracked as many of the stolen pieces as possible.

These quiet, scholarly, dedicated heroes have largely gone unsung, but it was through their efforts that the heart of history and culture was not entirely destroyed by the tide of evil that swept across the continent. As soon as I began digging further into this movement, I knew art would play a pivotal role in Once More Unto the Breach. It is a story about love, family, home, and the regrets we carry with us. But it is also about beauty, sacrifice, and the enduring power of art.
Visit Meghan Holloway's website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Istagram.

My Book, The Movie: Once More Unto the Breach.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 13, 2019

"The Paris Diversion"

Chris Pavone is the New York Times–bestselling author of The Expats, winner of the Edgar and Anthony awards for best first novel, The Accident, The Travelers, and most recently The Paris Diversion. He was a book editor for nearly two decades, and lives in New York City with his family.

Pavone applied the Page 69 Test to The Paris Diversion and reported the following:
From page 69:
“You understand that you cannot allow yourself to be caught?” That’s what the man with the big beard asked, the man who has run this op. “Not under any circumstances.”

It was a beard that could look like many different things, depending on context. A rugged mountain man. Or a hipster. Or an orthodox Jew, maybe a rabbi. Or a devout Muslim. Or a jihadist planning to blow up Paris. A lot of competing types.

Wyatt accepted the familiar handgun.
Although these are minor characters, this scene is indeed completely representative of the plot, themes, and twists in this book. The thing that you as a reader think is going on? That’s not what’s really going on. And the second thing you think you’ve figured out? That’s not it either.
Visit Chris Pavone's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Chris Pavone & Charlie Brown.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 11, 2019

"The Fourth Courier"

When Timothy Jay Smith quit an intriguing international career to become a full-time writer, he had a host of real life characters, places and events to inspire his stories. His first novel, Cooper’s Promise, in some ways is still the most autobiographical of his novels, though he was never an American deserter adrift in Africa. But he was in The Mining Pan bar and he did meet Lulay and he did stowaway on a barge that landed him in an African jail.

Now, in his third novel, The Fourth Courier, set in Poland in 1992, Smith looks back at the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, as witnessed through the eyes of an FBI Special Agent on assignment to stop a nuclear smuggling operation out of Russia. Smith’s newest book continues his style of page-turning thrillers steeped with colorful characters.

Smith applied the Page 69 Test to The Fourth Courier and reported the following:
From page 69:
Of course he couldn’t exactly ignore her foot resting on his leg, nor entirely block from view her squirming toes. Her nails were painted cherry red, which he realized did make her feet attractive, certainly more attractive than the coarse lardy nails his wife hadn’t painted since their first anniversary. Oh, why not massage her foot? he decided. It might be fun, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d touched someone’s foot other than his own. Tentatively he wrapped his fingers around her arch and squeezed. “Is that where it hurts?” he asked.

“Oh yes… but harder…”

He gripped her foot tighter and massaged it with his thumbs. He found he rather enjoyed it; there was an unfamiliar sensuality to it, and as a plus, from his angle he could peek up her skirt to where her heavy legs disappeared in a dark shadow. Gradually his fingers migrated to her toes, which they worked vigorously, rooting down between them, and bending them to crack them. For the first time he understood why some people suck toes for sexual pleasure, and if his back had been more limber, he might have dared to bite hers.

Emma sighed. “I can tell you are professional. Yes... oh yes... ”

Suddenly the situation, and certainly his fantasies, seemed ludicrous to Sergej. He released her foot and said rather coldly, “I hope it feels better.”
By happy coincidence, page 69 falls right in the middle of one of my favorite chapters in The Fourth Courier. The set-up and many of its details are based on a train trip I took some forty years ago which made it fun to write. It’s also an important scene because it’s building on the reader’s understanding that Dr. Ustinov is so obsessed with sex, having been driven mad by what was required of him in a genetics engineering project, that he’s willing to take risks for sex—which he does for the first time only two pages later.

Two strangers—Dr. Sergej Ustinov, a genius Russian physicist, and Emma, a plump and lustful Russian-American on her way to visit relatives—by lucky chance have a first-class compartment to themselves in a train crossing Russia. While my real-life journey and the chapter in the book end differently, most elements are exactly the same: cans of soup fall out of Emma’s duffel; they share a greasy bag of dried fish; and complaining about her feet hurting, she drops a foot over Sergej’s thigh urging him to massage it. There’s a lot of humor in the chapter, and pathos, too. (Lina Wertmuller-ish for those who know her movies.)

I loved writing the character of Dr. Ustinov. While most characters in my books are based on people I’ve met, the mad Russian scientist is not. He’s definitely an important character and sympathetic. Readers will be rooting for him to get where he wants to go.

As he would say, “Ha!”
Visit Timothy Jay Smith's website.

Writers Read: Timothy Jay Smith.

My Book, The Movie: The Fourth Courier.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 9, 2019

"Octavia Gone"

Jack McDevitt is an American science fiction author. He has won multiple awards including the International UPC Science Fiction award for Ships in the Night, a Nebula for Seeker, a Campbell Award for Omega, and the Robert Heinlein Lifetime Achievement Award. He has over 20 novels available in print, ebook and audio. He resides in Georgia with his lovely wife, Maureen.

McDevitt applied the Page 69 Test to Octavia Gone, the latest Alex Benedict novel, and reported the following:
A space station doing research at a black hole vanishes with its four-person crew. It seemed obvious that it had been drawn into the black hole, but the people in charge of the project maintained that simply hadn’t been possible. Even had it happened, there was no explanation for their failure, when things were going wrong, to send out a plea for help.

Alex Benedict is a dealer in antiquities. Eleven years after the station has gone, he discovers that he’d had a chess set belonging to Charlotte Hill, a physicist who’d been one of the four people on the station. It was no big deal, but eventually it will draw Alex and Chase into the hunt for an explanation. Meantime, the chess set has also gone missing. Chase, the narrator, is speaking:
“I don’t recall our ever having access to it. Did we sell it, or something?” I asked. “The chess set?”

“No. It disappeared after her death. Charlotte’s mother, Olivia Hill, contacted me a year or so ago to find out if we might have any idea what happened to it, whether we might have seen it on the auction listings. She was hoping to get it back.”

“So you’ve been looking into it.”

“Yes,” He was smiling. “I got a response while I was on the road. From Paul Holton.” Holton was a long-time client. He put the message on-screen. “Alex, Kimberley Morris has it. She tells me she got it from one of Charlotte’s friends. She lives in Traymont. Link attached. She does not seem anxious about selling. Let me know if I can do anything more to help.”

Traymont was a time zone away.

Outside, a mollok was hanging from a tree limb gazing in at us. He was miling at something, and when Alex waved at him, he waved back. I couldn’t resist going into the kitchen for a banana. Alex was frowning when I returned with it. “You do that,” he said, “and it’ll be out there every morning.”

“Special credit at salvation.” I opened the window and tossed the banana.

The mollok caught it on the fly, chittered happily and began peeling and eating it.

Alex rolled his eyes. “Jacob,” he said, “connect us with Kimberley.”
Learn more about the book and author at Jack McDevitt's website.

My Book, The Movie: Octavia Gone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

"The Southern Side of Paradise"

Kristy Woodson Harvey is a born-and-bred North Carolina girl who loves all four seasons—especially fall in Chapel Hill, where she attended college, and summer in Beaufort, where she and her family spend every free moment. The author of The Secret of Southern Charm, Slightly South of Simple, Dear Carolina, and Lies and Other Acts of Love, Harvey is also the founder of the popular interior design blog Design Chic.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Southern Side of Paradise, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I shook my head, incredulous. “Do you see this?” I asked, holding up my left hand. “This means that you have to learn to compromise a little. This means that sometimes you do what I want to do.”

“Moving to LA is not ‘sometimes doing what you want to do.’ “ Mark said, making air quotes.
The Page 69 test prevails again! Because this argument that Emerson, the youngest of the Murphy sisters and the protagonist of The Southern Side of Paradise, is having with her fiancé Mark is the crux of the problem in their relationship. While they love each other, Mark isn’t willing to give up his company in Peachtree Bluff, Georgia, where the Peachtree Bluff Series is set, and Emerson isn’t willing to give up her career as an actress in LA. It’s a hurdle that they can overcome, one that has a number of solutions, but it is the main issue facing the couple, the one that makes Emerson question whether they are right together. Throughout this novel, Emerson is making some hard decisions about her relationship and her career—and will have to decide what she is willing to give up to create the life she has always dreamed of.

Meanwhile, the Murphy women are facing their biggest challenge yet, the unraveling of a secret that Emerson’s mother Ansley has kept for decades, one she never thought would come to light. When it does, Ansley finds herself in jeopardy of losing the thing she thought was unshakable, the thing that means the very most to her: her connection with her girls.

Even still, if the town of Peachtree Bluff and the Murphy women know how to do anything, it’s come together when it matters most. And The Southern Side of Paradise puts that fact to the test.
Visit Kristy Woodson Harvey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 6, 2019

"The Last Time I Saw You"

Liv Constantine is the pen name of bestselling authors Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine. Their debut thriller, The Last Mrs. Parrish, was a Reese Witherspoon book club selection, a People Magazine book of the week, a Target book club selection, and is in development for television.

The authors applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, The Last Time I Saw You, and reported the following:
Although Page 69 of The Last Time I Saw You is not filled with action, the murder victim and several of the suspects are named here. Lily is already dead by now, brutally murdered in her own home. Her daughter, Kate, appears on this page after an uneasy interaction with her husband, Simon, a prime suspect. He’s been secretive and aloof, and a little too friendly with a beautiful young colleague at his architectural firm. Blaire, Kate’s best friend and Simon’s nemesis, is asking questions here, seeing for the first time that Detective Anderson seems to be investigating much more than just Lily’s murder. Now Kate is being targeted and threatened along with her young daughter, Annabelle. What does Anderson know and how much information is he keeping from them? Hilda, Annabelle’s nanny, makes another entrance on this page. She too, will come to be one of the suspects in a long list of them. Her background is fuzzy, her only child and grandchild three thousand miles away, estranged from her only sister. Does she have a possible motive? And finally there is Selby, hated by Blaire, but the friend Kate has known the longest, the friend who, like Kate, comes from old money and privilege, the friend whose mother and Lily were best friends. Suspicion, mistrust and hatred simmer beneath the surface and soon will rise up as they come closer and closer to unmasking the murderer among them.
Visit Liv Constantine's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Valerie Constantine & Zorba.

Coffee with a Canine: Lynne Constantine & Greyson.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Mrs. Parrish.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 5, 2019

"Summer of ’69"

Todd Strasser is the internationally best-selling author of more than one hundred books for children and teens, including Fallout and The Beast of Cretacea, as well as the classics The Wave and Give a Boy a Gun, which are taught in classrooms around the world.

Strasser applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Summer of '69, and reported the following:
So, what to say about page 69 of the Summer of ’69? It’s July, 1, and Lucas’s girlfriend, Robin, has been away for only four days, but Lucas feels the need to write yet another letter to her (he’s already written several). He tries to keep the letters light and funny (she’s gone to Canada for the summer, but Lucas writes as if she’s stranded somewhere out on the frozen tundra above the Arctic Circle) but clearly he’s heartsick without her. Later, seeing his brother, Alan, in his usual spot on the den floor in front of the TV, Lucas reflects on their earlier years and the corporal punishment their father sometimes administered to discipline them. From there Lucas wanders into the kitchen where his mother has heated a couple of Swanson fried chicken TV dinners for him and Alan. While in the kitchen, his mom asks him why he never told her that he’d been rejected by Goddard, the only college he’d applied to. And now that he has been rejected, is he prepared to be drafted and sent to fight in the War in Vietnam? For Lucas, the future is looking bleak.
Visit Todd Strasser's website.

My Book, The Movie: Summer of '69.

Writers Read: Todd Strasser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 3, 2019

"A Lily in the Light"

Kristin Fields grew up in Queens, which she likes to think of as a small town next to a big city. Fields studied writing at Hofstra University, where she was awarded the Eugene Schneider Award for Short Fiction. After college, she found herself working on a historic farm, as a high school English teacher, designing museum education programs, and is currently leading an initiative to bring gardens to New York City public schools. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

Fields applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Lily in the Light, and reported the following:
A Lily in the Light follows eleven year old, Esme. Ballet is everything to Esme - until her four-year-old sister, Lily, vanishes without a trace and nothing is certain anymore. People Esme has known her whole life suddenly become suspects, each new one hitting closer to home than the last, including her brother, Nick, who Esme is speaking with on page 69 below...
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he whispered. Esme stared at the things in her brother’s room, things that belonged only to him: sweatshirts and baseball mitts, aluminum bats with missing paint chips, a bottle of Barbisol. She was jealous of the empty space on his walls.

“I thought I was helping.” Nick’s hand throbbed against hers like a beating heart.

“Where’d you go?”

“The depot,” he coughed. “And a few other places with pictures of Lily.”
Esme cringed at the thought of Lily in the depot. It was an old trolley barn. Sometimes Nick threw rocks at the windows. They all did. Only the highest ones were still in one piece and kids got as close as they could, picking through the chain link fence, stepping over old mattresses and torn trash bags. Homeless people lived inside with thrown-away things. The police found Denny there once after he’d been missing for a while. Esme was too afraid to ask what it was like inside.

No, Lily was with another family, like in storybooks where kids walked through cupboards and into other worlds. They fought wars against animal people, sailed imaginary ships across oceans full of paper monsters, met kings and queens, and came back unscathed but smarter. Lily would love that. It was make-believe, but even pretend stuff was based on real things. Even the possibility was comforting.
Accurate! Eerily accurate. Even on page 69, so much of Esme’s denial about her sister’s disappearance and coping through fantasy are already in full swing. The reality of the depot is too much. She can’t accept that her sister could be in a place like that instead of home, so she creates a storybook world for Lily instead.

Her inability to cope with Lily’s disappearance and the doubt it casts on everything closest to her, further entrenches Esme in ballet. Ballet becomes a similar storybook world for Esme, and it’s easier to accept that they’re both off on their own adventures. But it can’t stay that way forever, especially when a break in the case could shatter the imaginary world Esme’s created for herself and her sister. Page 69 captures the fragility of Esme’s relationship with herself, her family, and reality that plays out throughout the rest of the story.
Visit Kristin Fields's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 2, 2019

"The Luminous Dead"

Caitlin Starling is a writer and spreadsheet-wrangler who lives near Portland, Oregon. Equipped with an anthropology degree and an unhealthy interest in the dark and macabre, she writes horror-tinged speculative fiction of all flavors. Her first novel, The Luminous Dead, tells the story of a caver on a foreign planet who finds herself trapped, with only her wits and the unreliable voice on her radio to help her back to the surface.

Starling applied the Page 69 Test to The Luminous Dead and reported the following:
From page 69:
Gyre was just about to turn away from the shaft when she made out a faint, familiar bump in the rock.

That’s a bolt, she thought, quickly followed by, No, can’t be. The simulation her helmet provided didn’t allow for the glint of light on metal, so maybe it was just a small stone wedged in a crevice. She squinted and moved closer to that edge of the shaft, but it was so far above her that she couldn’t hope to reach it without an actual climb.

Still, if it was a bolt, then there were probably others farther up the shaft. Em probably already knew about the shaft, in that case. So why hadn’t she mentioned it? If it went up to the surface, or even close, it could cut this initial staging time in half.

Maybe it wasn’t that simple. Or maybe Em didn’t know about it at all.

Maybe this was why the cache was missing.
This back-and-forth, paranoid uncertainty is the heart of The Luminous Dead. Gyre is alone in a daunting, dangerous, unsettling cave system, with only Em to keep her company -- from a distance, over her comm line, and from a position of omniscience (supposedly) and power (definitely). But what Gyre sees isn’t always what Em claims to see, and sometimes, when Em isn’t around, Gyre’s mind spools out terrifying possibilities.

After all, if Em is lying about one thing, what else could she be lying about?

And if Em doesn’t know everything, what else could she be wrong about?

Gyre is the only person directly experiencing her environment, and she’s also the reader’s only way into the story. We have to rely on her experience (seen here in how thoroughly she goes through the alternatives - prepare for a lot of technical caving passages!) and her understanding of just what is going on around her. But even that is shaky ground, leaving the reader to question Gyre’s reality.

All that is certain -- for Gyre, for Em, and for the reader -- is that the path is long and dark… and something isn’t right.
Visit Caitlin Starling's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

"Soon the Light Will Be Perfect"

Dave Patterson is an award-winning writer, musician and high school English teacher. He received his MA in English from the Bread Loaf School of English and an M.F.A. from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program.

Patterson applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Soon the Light Will Be Perfect, and reported the following:
It’s wild how indicative of this entire novel page 69 really is. When I cracked open a copy of Soon the Light Will be Perfect and turned to the page in question, I found a scene where a group of true believers in the Catholic church have brought the mother, sickened with cancer, into a church chapel to be prayed over. This scene holds the crux of the entire book: the intersection of faith, tragedy, and the cruel realities of life for lower-middle class Americans.

In this scene, the mother has been placed in the center of the chapel with chairs arranged in a tight circle around her. The adults lean toward the mother, placing their hands on her body, ready to induce a miracle from God to rid her body of tumors. Here’s a sample paragraph from page 69:
In unison, they bow their heads and begin to whisper their own prayers. Their words melt into one another’s until there’s a steady hum of Jesus and cancer and Father and Savior and please. My hand rests on my mother’s wrist. I mumble my own prayer and watch the way the early evening sun comes in through the window and lights up my mother’s face. Her skin is pale. I imagine the black cancer inside her melting away from our prayer. And when that happens, she’ll open her eyes and laugh and we’ll all cheer and the four of us will get back in the car and head home and brag about the power of the Spirit. But she stays hunched over with her eyes closed.
This novel is about a family clinging to a faith that doesn’t seem capable of saving them from the misfortune of cancer and poverty. This scene embodies that theme. Throughout the book, some of the characters double down on faith as their prayers go unanswered, while others begin to loosen their desperate grip, slipping into the abyss. Page 69 roils with this tension as disparate prayers are whispered to a God who doesn’t seem to be listening.
Visit Dave Patterson's website.

My Book, The Movie: Soon the Light Will Be Perfect.

Writers Read: Dave Patterson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 29, 2019

"Black City Dragon"

Richard A. Knaak is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Legend of Huma, WoW: Wolfheart, and nearly fifty other novels and numerous short stories, including works in such series as Warcraft, Diablo, Dragonlance, Age of Conan, the Iron Kingdoms, and his own popular Dragonrealm. He has scripted comics and manga, such as the top-selling Sunwell trilogy, and has also written background material for games. His works have been published worldwide in many languages.

Knaak applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Black City Dragon, the second book in his new urban fantasy series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Spare me. I need your eyes, but I need much more from them. We need to look beyond just the surface on this, understand?

He chuckled. Who understands you better than Eye? Not even she, my noble saint. Not even she...

Before I could react to his comment, he gave me his vision. I heard a slight gasp, but not from Claryce.

“Demon spawn,” muttered Diocles.

I didn’t correct him, in great part because I wasn’t sure if he was wrong. I still had no idea as to the dragon’s true origins, and the dragon claimed ignorance as well. To hear him, he had simply come to be and then had been condemned to guard the Gate.

You wished to look ... so look...

I did ... and saw exactly what I’d hoped I wouldn’t.

From the way the coin appeared to keep shifting location on my person, I’d expected to find traces of magic in it. In fact, I’d pretty much come to the conclusion that Galerius had given it to me as more than a taunting memento showing his desire to claim the card.

In fact, the magic in it, while slight, proved something more disturbing.

I recognized it, and so did the dragon. His earlier amusement faded, replaced by distrust and more.

The same magic that made the card in Holy Name the threat it was also existed in the coin.

Fortunately, as I’d already noted, the coin only contained the barest shadow of the card’s power. Enough to use it for a few tricks Galerius no doubt had in mind. Still, I could also sense the age of the coin.

I dismissed the dragon’s gaze. “He had it,” I informed the others as calmly as I could. “At some point in the past, Galerius had possession of the card.”

It answered a lot. It certainly hinted at how he’d not only recovered from his awful illness but had survived so long.

“You once commented on the question of where Oberon got the card in the first place,” the ghost pointed out.
While Page 69 doesn't represent everything in the book, it certainly contains some key points in it. Some of the points are representative of the series as a whole. You can see the interplay between Nick (St. George) and the dragon (who calls himself 'Eye' for reasons you learn), a pair ever at odds and yet facing a danger they both know too well.There's also the reaction from the ghost of Diocles, late Roman emperor and the man who had Nick executed centuries ago. Long grudges and vengeance are a part of both Black City Dragon and the series as a whole. So is the sinister magic and force behind it that the characters are faced with in part by what seems a simple coin and, overall, by a monstrous artifact.

There's also discussion concerning the truth about the dragon, not merely a rampaging beast, but the guardian between our world and Feirie. The guardian that Nick had to replace once its power resurrected him after his execution --- and left the dragon part of him. There's more than even the two of them know about their pasts, something that will encompass Claryce --- and Diocles, even --- as well.

And we don't even get to talk about the thing lurking in Lake Michigan. Shame...
Visit Richard A. Knaak's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 27, 2019

"City of Flickering Light"

Juliette Fay received a bachelor's degree from Boston College and a master's degree from Harvard University. Her books include Shelter Me, Deep Down True, The Shortest Way Home, and The Tumbling Turner Sisters.

Fay applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, City of Flickering Light, and reported the following:
City of Flickering Light follows burlesque dancers Irene Van Beck and Millie Martin and comedian Henry Weiss as they jump from a moving training to escape the clutches of a brutal burlesque show owner. They make their way to Hollywood with dreams of working as extras in the burgeoning silent movie industry, but soon find it isn’t nearly as easy as they’d hoped. They arrive with very little money and varying ideas of just how committed they are to one another.

Page 69 finds Henry still wearing the same suit in which he’d jumped off the train and negotiating for a position as a tailor in a studio costume department, the first job any of them is able to secure. Albert Leroux, head costume designer, is appalled by Henry’s appearance, but he’s desperate for help. Henry has learned both his tailoring and negotiating skills from his shrewd grandfather, and keeps insisting that a lunch break be part of the package.
“Twenty-three dollars a week,” said Henry. “And I start right now, spend my first week’s salary on clothes … and I get a lunch break.”

“Oh for godsake, what’s the obsession with lunch!”

“I like lunch. And I like you, Albert. You seem like a smart guy and a good tailor, and I’d like to work for you. For twenty-three dollars a week. And a lunch break.”
He’s told Irene and Millie that he’ll meet them, and he needs the lunch break so that he can get there. It’s a pivotal moment for Henry, because he realizes that he’s willing to jeopardize this deal in order to keep a promise to two girls he really doesn’t know all that well. His commitment to them—and theirs to him—grows over the course of the story, and is at times the only thing can cling to as they face the gritty underbelly of 1920s Hollywood and struggle to get to glittering top.

Like many of the Hollywood hopefuls of the time, they face sexism, prejudice, abuse, and poverty. As much as it’s about a fascinating time in a fascinating place, ultimately it’s a story of friendship.
Visit Juliette Fay's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 25, 2019

"Before She Was Found"

Heather Gudenkauf is the Edgar Award nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence, These Things Hidden and Not A Sound.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Before She Was Found, and reported the following:
From page 69:
No matter how determined I was to leave work at a reasonable time, I got home well after nine o’clock that evening. As usual, the house was dark and quiet. I immediately peeled off my clothes to shower but couldn’t wash away the thoughts of Cora Landry and what happened to her in the train yard. The world was a dangerous place even for a little girl from small-town Iowa.
This section of the novel is written in the perspective of Dr. Madeline Gideon, a psychiatrist who has been charged with working with Cora Landry who was left to die in an abandoned train yard after a brutal attack. Dr. Gideon uses her expertise in order to help twelve-year-old Cora process and come to terms with what happened to her that night. As she gets to know Cora and the details surrounding the assault emerge, Dr. Gideon realizes that the events in the train yard are more disturbing anything she’s ever seen before.

Just like all of my novels, Before She Was Found was sparked by real-life events in the news including an urban legend. It also explores what happens when the power of peer pressure, the intense need for belonging and the dangers of online predatory behavior all collide. Along with Dr. Gideon’s voice, the novel is told through the eyes of a mother and a grandfather of two young girls, Cora’s journal entries, police reports, text messages and online forums. Each viewpoint is pieced together in order to reveal what happened before and after the tragic event in the train yard.
Visit Heather Gudenkauf's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Heather Gudenkauf and Maxine.

Coffee with a Canine: Heather Gudenkauf & Lolo.

Writers Read: Heather Gudenkauf.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

"All My Colors"

David Quantick is an author, television writer and radio broadcaster. As well as All My Colors, he wrote the surreal thriller The Mule (“the Da Vinci Code with better grammar” – The Independent) and the comic scifi novel Sparks (“excellent” – Neil Gaiman). He also wrote the critically-acclaimed TV drama Snodgrass, currently being developed into a feature film, and Dickens In Rome, a new play for Northern Stage.

Quantick has won several broadcast awards, including an Emmy as part of the writing team on Veep.

He applied the Page 69 Test to All My Colors and reported the following:
On page 69 of All My Colors, Billy Cairns – ageing alcoholic and the only person in the story who might once have been a really good writer – is in the middle of a nightmare set in a fantastical library that is also somehow a hardware store. Todd Milstead, the main character, is in it too, raging at a librarian who is also a clerk.

This scene was fun to write, because it’s hi-falutin’ (Borges references!) and horrible (blades!) and also a chance to show Todd, who’s an asshole, in full-on asshole mode. And it features Billy, one of the few characters in the book who’s really done nothing wrong but for whom everything goes wrong. Billy and Todd enjoy some moments together which are kind of tributes to the hee-hee-hee Tales of the Crypt gory humour that Stephen King does better than anyone else.

I wanted to write a book with a relentless story about a man who does a bad thing and the consequences of that thing, but along the way I ended up writing about writers and writing, and I also put it a lot more dark humour than I had intended. A lot of the scenes in this book – maybe even this one– are comic and vile at the same time.

Which is fine by me. Hee-hee-hee!
Visit David Quantick's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 22, 2019

"Emily Eternal"

Born in Texas, M.G. Wheaton worked in a computer factory before getting his start as a writer for such movie magazines as Total Film, Fangoria, Shivers, SFX and several others. After leaving journalism, Wheaton worked as a writer for video games, comic books, and movies, including writing scripts for New Line, Sony, Universal, Miramax, HBO, A&E, Syfy, Legende, Disney Channel, and others while working with filmmakers such as Sam Raimi, Michael Bay, Steven Soderbergh, George Tillman, Gavin O'Connor, Janusz Kaminski, and Clark Johnson.

Wheaton applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Emily Eternal, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The stairway is narrow. Several people use it at once, ascending on the right, descending to the left, which makes for a tricky pas de deux. I persevere, slowly making my way up the hundred or so steps. My heart is pounding by the midpoint and I am short of breath by the summit. But when I reach the small white lighthouse that sits atop it, the woman’s body relaxes, happy in her accomplishment and thrilled by what comes next.

The lighthouse is barely two stories tall, the catwalk around it not wide enough to accommodate more than a dozen people at a time. Even so, over forty pilgrims are packed around it, all gazing out to the sea beyond. There’s a plaque nearby and I try to read it, but my eyes remain fixed on the horizon line. Though I can’t turn my head, I’m able to determine where I am by eavesdropping on the others around me.

The vista is of the Cape of Good Hope also known as the Cape of Storms thanks to the number of ships decimated within it before and after Vasco da Gama navigated through it for the first time on his way to India. It is a spot revered by some, as it is a place where two oceans meet—the Indian and the South Atlantic—and may have been described by God as a place to which Abraham was meant to pilgrimage.

My host is overwhelmed. She raises her hand and wipes tears from our eyes. I feel awash in her emotion—awe, fear, adoration. It’s cold here. As others move aside, she moves to the edge to get a better look at the gray, cloudy sky over the water. Someone remarks Antarctica is only a couple thousand miles in that direction. I wonder if they think they can see that fa—

Everything changes in a blink. I’m in motion. Running fast—real fast. I’m no longer in South Africa. I’m in a large city. I’m on the sidewalk. It’s early morning. I catch sight of a few bits of signage as I pass. They’re in English and there are phone numbers with American area codes. Boston’s area code. Ah. I’m back home. I happen to see a street sign—Congress. I see another—Hanover. On one side of me is an ancient brick building calling itself the Union Oyster House, on the other, city hall.
So, the main character of Emily Eternal is an artificial consciousness named Emily being developed as a highly empathetic psychologist to help humans process trauma. Utilizing an experimental interface chip, she’s able to access and manipulate a patient’s senses to not only appear as a physical person but also to access their memories. When the Sun begins to die, however, the government ropes her in to a program to create a sort of “digital ark,” using her abilities to record the memories and experiences of the world’s population to leave behind after mankind goes extinct for any future civilization or alien race that happens along. In Emily’s page 69 scene, Emily has just begun her recording and is experiencing a memory of a woman ascending the steps of the Cape Point Lighthouse in South Africa overlooking the Cape of Good Hope.

It’s fairly indicative of the book, I think, as Emily is a close observer of human emotional response, something she dearly wishes to experience herself.
Visit Mark Wheaton's website.

Writers Read: M. G. Wheaton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 21, 2019

"If You're Out There"

Katy Loutzenhiser grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, dabbling in many art forms and watching age-inappropriate movies. After graduating from Bowdoin College, she found an unlikely home in the Chicago comedy scene and regularly sang improvised musicals in public. These days she writes YA books in Brooklyn, where she lives with her husband. She is probably eating a burrito right now.

Loutzenhiser applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, If You're Out There, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I cover my face with my throw pillow. After a moment, I peek out at him. “Am I crazy for not letting this go?”

“Does it matter?”

“I mean, a little. But hey, my mom’s a therapist. Hopefully she can fix whatever damage I’m doing here.”

Logan laughs lightly. “Do you want me to write back?”

I take the phone and push through the weepy feeling, scrolling until I find a picture of her face. It’s an enthusiastic selfie with a homemade BLT from a few months back. I remember I was right outside the frame when she took this, probably telling her she was ridiculous. Her bright smile takes up the bulk of her face, her skin a warm brown. Her big eyes shine back at me—happy and direct. I want her to hear me. What is up with you out there??

I feel a hand on my shoulder and flinch.

“Sorry,” says Logan, pulling back. “You looked ... sad.”

“Yeah.” I can’t quite meet his eyes. “I guess it was naive, but I really thought we would always be friends. Like pregnant-at-the-same-time kind of friends. Not that we were those girls. But we could have been. A version of them anyway.”

“Hey,” he says after a minute. “You wanna get out of here?”

I pause. “What’d you have in mind?”
So... I think the test worked? Page 69 captures quite a lot about If You're Out There. As you might be able to guess, the story follows a girl who's been ghosted by her best friend in the world--the kind of person she thought would be in her life forever. It's been months of radio silence since Priya moved to California, and even though everyone keeps telling Zan to move on, she's still fixated on the loss, clinging pathetically to her old friend's every Instagram post. Logan, the new kid at her school, has taken an interest in the whole weird situation. And he's the first person to make Zan feel like her instincts might be worth listening to. This just isn't normal. What if something is up with Priya out there?
Visit Katy Loutzenhiser's website.

My Book, The Movie: If You're Out There.

Writers Read: Katy Loutzenhiser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 19, 2019

"The Better Sister"

Alafair Burke is a New York Times bestselling author whose most recent novels include The Wife and The Ex, which was nominated for the Edgar Award for best novel. She also co-authors the bestselling Under Suspicion series with Mary Higgins Clark. A former prosecutor, she now teaches criminal law and lives in Manhattan and East Hampton.

Burke applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Better Sister, and reported the following:
The main character in The Better Sister is Chloe Taylor. She’s smart, successful, and focused like a laser. But page 69 is told from the point of view of Detective Jennifer Guidry, who is investigating the murder of Chloe’s husband, Adam. Guidry is the only character who gets her own POV chapters, which are interspersed among a story otherwise told from Chloe’s first person point of view.
DETECTIVE JENNIFER GUIDRY plucked another gelatinous piece of candy from the tear in the upholstery of the passenger seat of her department-issued Impala. If her count was right, it was the seventeenth one so far—not counting the one Chloe Taylor had found. She wondered how long Bowen had been stuffing them in there. If she had to guess, it probably started around the time she called him out for that weird thing he kept doing, rolling up little strips of Scotch tape and dropping them into a coffee cup. If only he were as obsessive and compulsive about police work.

She closed the car door and made her way back to the Dunham house across the street, which she had left only forty minutes earlier. Andrea Dunham was still in her robe when she answered the front door.

Andrea kept clutching at the collar to cover her chest, even though she was wearing some kind of tank top beneath it. Guidry thought about telling her to go upstairs and do whatever she needed to do to be less fidgety, but she was working on fumes and needed to get home to catch a few hours of shuteye.

Andrea gave a small laugh when Guidry asked whether she and Chloe Taylor were close. “Sorry,” Andrea said, “but you saw their house, right? And you see the one you’re sitting in now. No, we don’t exactly hang out….”
The scenes from Guidry’s perspective allow the reader to know more about the investigation than Chloe knows and to see Chloe and her family through a stranger’s eyes. I also like Guidry as a character in her own right. She’s smarter than her partner (Bowen, who has apparently been stuffing Mike and Ike candies in a tear in the car upholstery), but isn’t bitter about it.

She’s fair-minded and thorough as an investigator, and that’s why she’s back at Andrea Dunham’s house, asking about Chloe outside her presence. That short exchange at the bottom of the page hints at the class divisions that permeate The Better Sister. Chloe and Adam are city people in East Hampton, a part of the community but always apart from it. And class is just one of the many attributes that now separates Chloe from her older sister, Nicky, who returns to Chloe’s life after Adam is murdered, because did I mention that Adam used to be married to Nicky? And that Nicky is the mother of Chloe’s stepson, Ethan, who becomes a suspect in Adam’s murder? There’s a lot happening beyond the little details working their way through Guidry’s mind on page 69.
Visit Alafair Burke's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Ex.

The Page 69 Test: The Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

"The Tale Teller"

Anne Hillerman is an award-winning reporter and the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Spider Woman’s Daughter, Rock with Wings, Song of the Lion, and Cave of Bones, as well as several nonfiction books. She is the daughter of New York Times bestselling author Tony Hillerman and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Tale Teller, her fifth Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito novel, and reported the following:
Sometimes, a gal gets lucky and my page 69 exercise is one of those times. This section neatly captures several important details of The Tale Teller. I smiled as I read it again.

Here, the reader sees retired Navajo Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, the central detective in this book, in action. Leaphorn has been a crime solver for longer than some of my readers have been alive. Tony Hillerman introduced him in his first novel back in 1970. My continuation of the series hasn’t make life easy on the Legendary Lieutenant. But after a brain injury and a long rehab process, he’s back at work. Leaphorn has accepted a complicated case that seems to involve theft and perhaps even murder.

The opening lines come at the end of Leaphorn’s telephone conversation in the Navajo language (he still has trouble with English) with the manager of the Hubbell Trading Post. He’s asked the trader to facilitate a meeting with a well-respected Navajo silversmith and needs to ask the trader’s opinion of some photos. Leaphorn hopes the trip will help him understand why a young woman with a lot to live for died unexpectedly.

This excerpt also reflects a peaceful interlude in what turns out to be a rocky phase in Leaphorn’s relationship with his long-time friend and housemate, Louisa Bourbonette.

Finally, readers will find my affection for writing about real places in the Southwest. The universe has created more settings of beauty and mystery on the vast Navajo Nation than I could describe in a lifetime. I love adding real sites to my fiction.

The only things missing are references to this tale’s other story lines, mysteries that revolve around burglaries, unclaimed corpses, family jealousy, and the general mayhem the confronts my younger crime solvers, Jim Chee and Bernadette Manuelito.
Learn more about the book and author at Anne Hillerman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Spider Woman's Daughter.

The Page 69 Test: Spider Woman's Daughter.

The Page 69 Test: Song of the Lion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"Come and Get Me"

Originally from central Indiana, thriller and mystery author August Norman has called Los Angeles home for two decades, writing for and/or appearing in movies, television, stage productions, web series, and even, commercial advertising. A lover and champion of crime fiction, Norman is an active member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, and Sisters In Crime (National and LA), and regularly attends the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his first Caitlin Bergman thriller, Come and Get Me, and reported the following:
From page 69:
She studied Greenwood’s face, still unsure of his motivation. The man was likeable, good-looking, and obviously gave more of a damn about his job than most people she knew. But he’d been selling her something since the first time they’d met. Was it Nothing to see here, or Look closer? And if it was Look closer, why couldn’t he do it himself?
***
Caitlin and Mary found a spot on the back wall of the conference room. Despite the short notice, the press conference’s available seats had been filled by broadcast outlets from Indianapolis, print reporters from surrounding counties, and a single student-journalist: Lakshmi Anjale.

The sheriff’s department displayed a poster-sized image of Paige Lauffer taken at the bar where she worked. Sheriff Hopewell started strong in front of a wall of law enforcement—several deputies, Jerry Greenwood, two uniformed BPD officers, and two state troopers. The FBI duo stood near the far wall, removed from the company front of reassurance. Hopewell gave the essentials, and then a female deputy took over. When the standard questions from the pros fizzled, Caitlin sent Lakshmi a text: Now.

The girl’s hand shot up. “Deputy, do you believe Paige Lauffer’s disappearance is related to Angela Chapman’s in any way?”

No surprise from the deputy. “Not at this time.”

Lakshmi pushed. “I recognize two FBI agents in the room—Agent Mark Christiansen from the Bloomington resident agency—and Special Agent Antoine Foreman from Indianapolis. Can you comment on their involvement in this investigation?”

The crowd’s necks craned toward the agents. Caitlin caught the slightest smile on Jerry Greenwood’s lips.

The deputy at the podium paused for only a moment. “Of course, the FBI has extended all of their available tools to help bring Paige Lauffer back to us.”

“That’s wonderful,” Lakshmi said, “but it seems unusual that an agent who specializes in the profiling of serial killers would be enlisted to locate a missing person in Monroe County unless there was some evidence, or at least suspicion, of foul play. Could either of the agents comment on their involvement?”

Mary put her arm around Caitlin. “Where did you dig that up?”
In Come and Get Me, investigative journalist Caitlin Bergman returns to her college for an honorary degree after dropping out twenty years earlier, only weeks from graduation. What starts as a search for closure to a long untended trauma leads to a full-blown investigation into the two-year-old disappearance of a female student. To help the missing girl’s family find closure, Caitlin must partner with the same police department that once victim-shamed her out of town. From all appearances, the modern department has grown with the times, and her charming handler, Detective Jerry Greenwood, has included her in an active investigation, going so far as to take her along to local crime scenes.

At first, the usually fearless Caitlin struggles with PTSD symptoms awoken by her return to campus and reconnecting with her former roommate Mary, now head of the journalism department, but she’s bolstered by the youthful determination of Lakshmi Anjale, Mary’s best pupil and best friend of the missing student.

Up until Page 69, she’s gathered the scattered pieces politely, never challenging the police department’s official findings, but now she’s ready to go on the offensive. A second female student has disappeared and a press conference is called. When everyone else finishes with the standard who, what, when, and where, Caitlin has Lakshmi, now working as her shadow, challenge the authorities, calling out the involvement of an FBI serial profiler and alleging a connection between the two disappearances.

If Detective Greenwood thought he was manipulating a broken woman, page 69 is where he learns that Caitlin Bergman doesn’t slow down, broken or not. It also announces Caitlin’s presence to a much more dangerous adversary, one who will ultimately make the trauma of her past seem like a minor irritation.
Visit August Norman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 15, 2019

"The Eighth Sister"

Robert Dugoni is the critically acclaimed New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon best selling author of The Tracy Crosswhite series, My Sister’s Grave, Her Final Breath, In the Clearing, and The Trapped Girl.

Dugoni applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Eighth Sister, and reported the following:
Page 69 of the novel is one of the initial meetings between Charles Jenkins and Viktor Federov at Gorky Park in Moscow. The page sets up the idiosyncrasies of both characters and how they clash because the two men don’t trust one another. They meet because Jenkins has reached out to Federov, claiming he has information to sell. Federov is interested, but guarded. Neither man is telling the other the truth, only what he hopes the other wishes to hear. The entire book is a game of cat and mouse, with a chase, figuratively and literally.
Visit Robert Dugoni's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Eighth Sister.

Writers Read: Robert Dugoni.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 14, 2019

"Titanshade"

Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes about fever dreams and half-glimpsed shapes in the shadows. His prize-winning fiction draws on his travels throughout Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim, as well as an employment history spanning everything from subpoena server to assistant well driller.

Stout applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Titanshade, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Titanshade, Carter and his new partner talk about fashion, conspicuous wealth, the smells of a big city, and corrupt authority figures. So all in all, I’d say it’s a nice encapsulation of the book.

There’s one line in particular I’d like to look at:
“The city’s a strange place,” I said. “Lots of people, lots of secrets. Learn how it operates and it’ll open right up to you.”
This is not only a bit of advice from a grizzled veteran to a newcomer, it’s a statement about what it’s like to serve and protect a community when you view yourself as an outsider. Part of the reason that Carter can be objective during his investigations is that he isn’t quite part of the populace he’s trying to defend. For him, this distance is both burden and asset.
Visit Dan Stout's website.

My Book, The Movie: Titanshade.

Writers Read: Dan Stout.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 13, 2019

"Blood on the Chesapeake"

Randy Overbeck is a writer, educator, researcher and speaker in much demand. During his three plus decades of educational experience, he has performed many of the roles depicted in his writing with responsibilities ranging from coach and yearbook advisor to principal and superintendent. His new ghost story/mystery is Blood on the Chesapeake. As the title suggests, the novel is set on the famous Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, home to endless shorelines, incredible sunsets and some of the best sailing in the world. Blood is first in a new series of paranormal mysteries, The Haunted Shores Mysteries.

Overbeck applied the Page 69 Test to Blood on the Chesapeake and reported the following:
From page 69:
He stared out again and spied the two white and gold sails billowing in the breeze.

“Thank God,” he said and exhaled a long breath, his loud release of air sounding like the swish of the water.

The craft grew larger, moving silently across the water. Its front triangular sail, white with a broad gold stripe around the edge, ballooned with the wind, propelling the boat at a surprising clip. As the sailboat glided across the water, a lithe figure, clad in a white top and shorts with blazing red tresses flying behind her, stepped to the bow. She waved, and he felt his whole body respond. He watched as she lowered the sails and used the engine to ease the boat in.

“Ahoy, there,” Erin called out, “can you catch our lines?”
When readers see the reviews or blurbs on my new novel, they will often find “creepy” (“an absorbing and genuinely creepy debut tale”—Zoe Sharp, British thriller writer) or “mystery” (“a spooky, atmospheric mystery”—James Benn, historical mystery writer) or “ghost” (“a good deal of old-fashioned ghost whispering”—William Kent Krueger, Edgar Award winner). What prospective readers will find less often is romance. Blood on the Chesapeake is an eerie ghost story and murder mystery, but it is also a tale of love and romance.

Darrell Henshaw had his heart broken. On the eve of his wedding to his voluptuous fiancé, Carmen, a fellow teacher at their high school in Michigan, he learns that she has been fooling around with his boss, the head coach, right there in their shared office. So Darrell decides he needs to get as far away from her as possible.

His desperate search lands him in Oxford, Maryland, a quaint, charming town on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. With a job teaching American History and coaching football and basketball—even if both teams are terrible—he thinks he’s found the perfect new start. That is, until he discovers the town holds an ugly secret, a ghost haunts his office and the bodies start dropping.

One thing he is sure of is that, after Carmen, he’s sworn off women. He’s had enough heartache for a while. Then he meets Erin and she melts his resolve.
In a few seconds, [Sara] reappeared at the family room door with a stunning, tall, twenty-something redhead. Her hair was tied in ponytail and pulled back from a near perfect oval face. She had graceful features, a long, slim neck and sprinkling of reddish-brown freckles that, rather than distract from her beauty, accentuated it. And two of the most gorgeous green eyes he’d ever seen.
From that first encounter, he was hooked and, lucky for him, Erin felt the same way. Page 69 recounts the start of their second date, a romantic cruise on the bay, with Erin at the wheel. This page sets the tone for the love that Darrell finds in Erin, a strong, beautiful and tender woman and a partner who ends up saving both his heart and his life.
Follow Randy Overbeck on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and check out his webpage.

Writers Read: Randy Overbeck.

My Book, The Movie: Blood on the Chesapeake.

--Marshal Zeringue