Wednesday, April 1, 2020

"The Everlasting"

Katy Simpson Smith was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. She received a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She is the author of We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750-1835, and the novels The Story of Land and Sea and Free Men. Her writing has also appeared in The Oxford American, Granta, Literary Hub, Garden & Gun, Catapult, and Lenny. She lives in New Orleans, and currently serves as the Eudora Welty Chair for Southern Literature at Millsaps College.

Smith applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Everlasting, and reported the following:
The Everlasting tells four different Roman stories, across four centuries, and page 69 puts us in the year 1559, amidst one of Giulia de' Medici's dilemmas: whether to sleep with her new, not-beloved husband, or to be faithful to a former lover, who has left her pregnant. Someone nailed horns over the door to their house, a signal to the owner that he's being cuckolded, and Giulia's maid swears she hasn't told anyone her lady's secret.
Giulia reached for the bowl Paola now kept on the vanity. She held it in her lap until the wave calmed. “I hadn’t heard of the horns. It’s rather clever, as long as he’s the one shamed.”

Paola rolled a stocking up her lady’s leg, her eyes still wet with fear. “You’re half of a sort of daughter to me, you know that, and I don’t fight only for my own position when I tell you to go kindly with him. You Medici think it’s a farce, but I know of men, and not a hundred thousand ducats can declaw them. If you want to call it a lie and make me leave, I will, and it’ll go easier for you.”

Giulia pulled her feet back and leaned toward the kneeling nursemaid. “If Christ himself swanned down for the second coming, I’d still choose you. That’s my opinion of men.”
I laughed when I read this section! I could tell you all day long that the book has nothing to do with male behavior and my judgment thereon, but perhaps an underlying bias shines through here. This is a book about love -- spiritual and romantic, sacred and profane -- and built within love is the possibility of disappointment. One of the central narrators is the Devil, who's still reeling from having his heart broken by God; no one is immune. Each of these characters -- a child martyr, a monk, a princess, a biologist -- is searching for a more stable meaning to their lives, some foundation that can hold them up as they're buffeted by love's vicissitudes. Sometimes that's faith; in this scene, for the irreverent Giulia, it's friendship.
Visit Katy Simpson Smith's website.

Writers Read: Katy Simpson Smith.

My Book, The Movie: The Everlasting.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 30, 2020

"Pride of Eden"

Taylor Brown grew up on the Georgia coast. He has lived in Buenos Aires, San Francisco, and the mountains of western North Carolina. His books include the story collection In the Season of Blood and Gold and the novels Fallen Land and The River of Kings. All three books were finalists for the Southern Book Prize.

Brown applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Pride of Eden, and reported the following:
Page 69 includes a short, nice little scene between Anse Caulfield, the former racehorse jockey and soldier of fortune who owns Little Eden, the exotic animal sanctuary at the heart of the novel, and Anse's long-time partner, Tyler, the sanctuary's veterinarian. While trying to wrangle an escaped lioness, Henrietta, Anse was mauled -- though he and Tyler have differing attitudes about whether the lion, a long-time resident of the sanctuary, intended to hurt him.
Anse lay facedown on the bed that evening, shirtless. His scabs were finally beginning to peel away, leaving pink stripes of scar that itched. Tyler straddled him, squeezing the anti-itch ointment from a tube.

“All I’m saying is this. A lion—or any cat, for that matter—keeps her claws retracted until she’s ready to use them. Henrietta’s were out.”

Anse squeezed shut his eyes. He thought of Henri dead in the driveway of that empty house. Her heart exploded, oozing over the pavement. Her claws buried in his back. He turned his head, speaking from the side of his mouth.

“Automatic response when the bullet hit her,” he said. “Her claws coming out.”

Tyler shook her head. “Couldn’t be, Anse. Primary flaccidity—an animal’s muscles relax instantly at the moment of death.”

Anse turned his head, winding one eye up at her.

“They teach you that up at Cornell?”

Tyler leaned over him, her breasts brushing his back. Her lips grazed his ear.

“No,” she said. “You did.”

Anse mashed his forehead into the mattress, growled. Tyler bent closer.

“It’s better this way, don’t you see?” Her lips chased his ear.

“She died wild.”

At the word, a tingle ran up Anse’s spine. A drove of tiny beasts uncaged by her voice, loosed under his skin. His blood flew. Anse turned over beneath her. He buried his thumbs in the hollows of her thighs, smiling.

“Come here, you.”
If someone browsing in a bookstore or library opened the book to this page, I think this scene would give them a pretty good idea of the novel, exploring the mystery and moral entanglements of human-animal relationships, and giving them a taste of Anse's stubborn, slightly curmudeognly nature -- slightly akin, perhaps, to the Hayduke character in Edward Abbey's work. That said, most of the book takes place outside, and there's a good bit of action, which you don't see in this scene.
Visit Taylor Brown's website.

My Book, The Movie: The River of Kings.

The Page 69 Test: The River of Kings.

Writers Read: Taylor Brown.

My Book, The Movie: Pride of Eden.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 27, 2020

"Felicity Carrol and the Murderous Menace"

Patricia Marcantonio was born in Pueblo, Colorado. She has won awards for her journalism, short stories and screenplays. Her children's book Red Ridin’ in the Hood and Other Cuentos has earned an Anne Izard Storyteller’s Choice Award and was named an Americas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature Commended Title, and one of the Wilde Awards Best Collections to Share with recommendations from Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. She now lives in Idaho.

Marcantonio applied the Page 69 Test to Felicity Carrol and the Murderous Menace, her first Felicity Carrol mystery, and reported the following:
Felicity Carrol, my Victorian amateur detective of the Felicity Carrol series, is sometimes seen as almost too perfect. Sure she’s brilliant, wealthy and beautiful. But she is very human and flawed. She has major daddy issues. Her wealthy father neglected her so she turned to knowledge as a substitute to his love. While she can quote historical facts with her formidable memory, she is still young and learning as she goes about human nature, particularly its ability to turn evil. At times, she depends too much on science and not enough on intuition so she’ll stumble while charging ahead. Most telling is the reason she wants to solve murders and it’s not for her own fame or ego, which can sometimes flare up.

She wants justice. She has compassion for the dead.

Page 69 is a perfect example. Felicity visits the grave of a murder victim in a lonely pauper’s cemetery above the Montana mining town where the story is set. The graveyard is sad and forgotten with overgrown weeds and fallen wooden markers. The victim was a prostitute. Standing at the grave site, she can empathize with the dead’s poor life. Felicity had wanted to bring roses but couldn’t find a florist shop. Instead she brings a vow the find the killer because he’d taken everything away from the victim. And that’s very human.
Visit Patricia Marcantonio's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

"The Degenerates"

J. Albert Mann is the author of six novels for children. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Her recent work of historical fiction about the early life of Margaret Sanger is What Every Girl Should Know. Born in New Jersey, Mann now lives in Boston with her children, cat, and husband listed in order of affection.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Degenerates, and reported the following:
In 1928, the U.S. government, using the false science of eugenics was busy incarcerating Americans with disabilities for nothing more than having a disability. All were given life sentences.

On page 69 of The Degenerates, one of the main characters, fourteen-year-old London is being dragged back to the institution after an escape attempt. This time, the School for Idiotic and Feebleminded Youth (first established in South Boston) is not playing around, and they take her to what the inmates termed “the cages.”
Leaving the nurse at the door, the two women led London down a series of hallways. This building was darker and dirtier than the one she’d been in the night before with the girls. It also smelled worse. London had lived in enough tenements to be overly familiar with the stench. Piss and shit. The group passed rooms that looked uninhabitable, but from the coughs, moans, and shuffling sounds emanating from them, it was clear that they had occupants.
Always an interesting test, I’d say this page is not necessarily representative of the book, but a great representation of the institution this young woman (and thousands like her) endured.
Visit J. Albert Mann's website.

Writers Read: J. Albert Mann.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 23, 2020

"The Silence"

Daisy Pearce was born in Cornwall and grew up on a smallholding surrounded by hippies. She read Stephen King’s Cujo and The Hamlyn Book of Horror far too young and has been fascinated with the macabre ever since.

Pearce applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Silence, and reported the following:
Page 69 is the end of a chapter in which the protagonist Stella finds herself at home after a stay in hospital. She is on the phone to her aunt and it is mostly dialogue, an ebb and flow of conversation that introduces Stella to a doctor who her aunt thinks can help her. It is the first sense Stella has that she is losing her grip on reality, a matter not helped by the vodka she is slugging from the bottle found in the freezer. The final line: ‘Is this how it happens? Slowly, destroying everything, like the descent of lava’ reveals her helplessness in the face of what she believes to be her mind unravelling.

This is a pivotal moment in the text, representing one of the main themes of the story - fear of insanity - and revealing Stella's propensity to addiction. It also gives an insight into her current state of mind and her relationship to one of the only people willing to help her.
Follow Daisy Pearce on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 21, 2020

"The Between"

David Hofmeyr was born in South Africa and lives in London and Paris. In 2013 he graduated from Bath Spa University with an MA in Writing for Young People. The Between is Hofmeyr's second novel. His first book, Stone Rider, was published in 2015 and was shortlisted for the prestigious Branford Boase award for first-time novelists. He divides his time between writing and working as a strategist for Ogilvy & Mather.

Hofmeyr applied the Page 69 Test to The Between and reported the following:
Is page 69 representative of the book?

Yes, I think so.

It begins with the lead character, Ana, in a world that looks and feels like her own but is not. We’ve plunged into a mirror world, a parallel universe. Everything is familiar but different, charged with a primeval energy. Ana is afraid. And yet Malik, the mysterious boy pacing her room, is full of ease and swagger. And danger:
“Where are you from?” I demand, trying to look unimpressed, but my stomach is in knots and I feel a cold sweat coming on.

“Out there,” he says, waving a hand at the window, sauntering through the room, looking at my bookcase, tilting his head to examine the spines.

“Out there ... where?”

“Many places.”

He moves on, scanning my shelves. He lifts a tome. Philip Pullman. His Dark Materials. He knocks it back between the others with a smile. He’s calm, in control and cool, but not detached. Beneath it all, I sense a hum of raw energy. Here is someone who isn’t afraid. Who doesn’t know the meaning of fear.
I enjoyed going meta in this scene. This is a story about a multiverse. So, I like the idea of Malik finding His Dark Materials and smiling to himself. Yes, we imagine him thinking. There are worlds out there, beyond the known.

The page concludes with Ana threatening to go to the police and this marks a shift in attitude from Malik. He switches from aloof to forceful. The feeling of the scene tilts. This is not all fun and games. It’s serious.
“Look, I’m gonna call the police. If you don’t—”

“The police?” He laughs. “Gimme a break ... the police don’t matter, Ana. Not now. Not here. They can’t help.”
This quick turn of emotion is a hallmark of the story. The aim is to unsettle the reader. To throw them into limbo, to make them feel the range of emotions they, or anyone else, might feel waking up to a strange reality that is not their own.

The Between is about a girl who feels lost. She navigates her life between divorced parents, trying to find her place in the world. That’s the real story here. It charts the aftermath of divorce. The damage wrought. A loss of identity. The idea of crossing multiple universes is simply a metaphor for this feeling of limbo.

This is a story about friendship and finding courage and identity in a world that can seem utterly beyond our control. It’s about taking back control. It draws on all the sci-fi elements I love in films like Inception and The Matrix. And if you detect any undertones of Steven King in The Between, then we’re definitely on the same page...

Which, in this case, is page 69.
Visit David Hofmeyr's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Between.

Writers Read: David Hofmeyr.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 19, 2020

"Darling Rose Gold"

Stephanie Wrobel grew up in Chicago but has been living in the UK for the last three years with her husband and Cockapoo, Moose Barkwinkle. She has an MFA from Emerson College and has had short fiction published in Bellevue Literary Review. Before turning to fiction, she worked as a creative copywriter at various advertising agencies.

Wrobel applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Darling Rose Gold, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I like to think my time in prison was made easier not because of my size, but my charisma. The key—inside prison and out—is befriending the people in power. Once I had the guards and warden in my pocket, the inmates fell in line too. They began to see me as more than an obnoxiously jolly doppelganger of the Kool-Aid man. I became useful.
This passage from page 69 is representative of Darling Rose Gold as a whole because of its observations about power. In a sense, the entire book is one big power struggle between mother and daughter. Smaller struggles play out as well, between Patty and her neighbors, Patty and the justice system, Rose Gold and her friend Alex, Rose Gold and her neighbor Mrs. Stone. The list goes on and on. Patty starts at an advantage against her daughter because she knows how to play the game, how to manipulate people to get what she wants. When the reader first meets Rose Gold, she has no idea—but she’s a quick learner.
Visit Stephanie Wrobel's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

"A Reasonable Doubt"

Phillip Margolin has written over twenty novels, most of them New York Times bestsellers, including Gone But Not Forgotten, Lost Lake, and Violent Crimes. In addition to being a novelist, he was a long time criminal defense attorney with decades of trial experience, including a large number of capital cases.

Margolin applied the Page 69 Test to A Reasonable Doubt, his third novel in the series featuring Robin Lockwood, ex-MMA fighter and Yale law school graduate, and reported the following:
In A Reasonable Doubt, Robert Chesterfield, a magician, is murdered on stage before a packed house in 2020 and no one knows who killed him. I had a ball figuring out how to commit the murder and I also learned how to create The Chamber of Death, Chesterfield's greatest magic trick, with the help of lawyer/magicians Marshall Amiton and Robert Kabacy. Page 69 is set in 1997. Overzealous deputy district attorney Peter Ragland arrests Chesterfield for two murders and an attempted murder. This is part of the back story and is told by retired attorney Regina Barrister, who represented Chesterfield twenty years before he was murdered. The scene on pages 69-70 shows the battle of wits between the DA and the brilliant magician.

If you were browsing in a bookstore and read page 69 you would get some idea of Chesterfield's character and Peter Ragland's lack of competence, which is a central feature of the the lengthy 1997-98 flashback. The magician is a major character in the book so reading page 69 would make you want to know more about him.
Visit Phillip Margolin's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Third Victim.

The Page 69 Test: The Perfect Alibi.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 16, 2020

"The Small Crimes Of Tiffany Templeton"

Richard Fifield earned his MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in upstate New York. For the past twenty years he has worked as a social worker for adults with intellectual disabilities, while volunteering as a creative writing teacher in Missoula, Montana. His first novel, The Flood Girls, was published in 2016.

Fifield applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Small Crimes of Tiffany Templeton, and reported the following:
In The Small Crimes Of Tiffany Templeton, page 69 is actually part of the epistolary sections of the novel—letters that Tiffany writes to her probation officer explaining the nature of her crimes, and attempting to reconcile them with her past, especially her grief. The scene is a flashback to Tiffany in 7th grade, when her father is still alive, and her entire family is intact and having dinner together. Tiffany’s mother, imperious as always, has just declared that her gas station would not be inherited by her children, due to their incompetence. Tiffany’s father, the one reasonable and caring person in her life, remains silent. Ronnie, Tiffany’s older brother, does not: “You are a terrible person. Selfish and mean. I hope you die before you retire.” When he looks to Tiffany for back up, she stutters and stammers and tries to find words that are cutting and mean. Instead, she gets flustered: “I hope your stupid gas station blows up!” Tiffany takes pride in her strength and her wit, and is embarrassed by her lame response. When she leaves the dinner table, and flees into her bedroom, her father comes to offer solace, and together they sneak out of the house. He takes her to the pawn shop in the next town, where she buys her first leather jacket, and most importantly, her first typewriter. Her father is the only person who encourages her dreams of being a writer.

Yes, browsers who happened to turn to page 69 would find the very distillation of the plot of this book. It happens to be the scene in which we understand the power dynamic between Tiffany’s parents, as well as the scene that establishes her mother’s domineering and unreasonable child rearing. Most importantly, we discover where Tiffany found her metaphorical armor, and her weapon of choice: the typewriter.

I would hope readers get a great idea of the whole work—even though it’s a flashback, and in the print version, her letters are actually in typewriter font, the page is the first revelation into Tiffany’s past. Hopefully, the reader will see a young girl shaped by shame and a lack of self-worth, and in the last paragraph, how she found hope, and how her relationship with her father was the one thing in her life that was constant and healthy.
Visit Richard Fifield's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 14, 2020

"The Deep"

Alma Katsu is the author of The Hunger, a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party with a horror twist. The Hunger made NPR’s list of the 100 Best Horror Stories, was named one of the best novels of 2018 by the Observer, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books (and more), and was nominated for a Stoker and Locus Award for best horror novel.

The Taker, her debut novel, has been compared to the early works of Anne Rice and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander for combining historical, the supernatural, and fantasy into one story. The Taker was named a Top Ten Debut Novel of 2011 by Booklist, was nominated for a Goodreads Readers Choice award, and has been published in over 10 languages. It is the first in an award-winning trilogy that includes The Reckoning and The Descent.

Katsu applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Deep, and reported the following:
Abroad the RMS Titanic. Two of the main characters, married, are debating whether to attend a séance:
“Let it go, Mark,” she said with a sigh. “They all agreed to participate, anyway, after Madeleine Astor insisted. I’m sure she simply can’t think of any other form of postdinner entertainment. And you must admit you’re curious, aren’t you?”

There was more she could say, wasn’t there? The weight and power of Lillian everywhere in their thoughts. He had to wonder, as she did. She tried not to admit how often she felt that woman’s presence, looking over her shoulder. Would she follow them to the bitter end?

“It’s disrespectful. A sick indulgence. I beg you, Caroline: let the dead rest in peace.”

Caroline’s hands shook as she smoothed her dress, and she refused to look Mark in the eye. Let the dead rest in peace. And yet he still carried Lillian’s diary like some kind of dirty secret, kept in his breast pocket close to his heart. As if Caroline didn’t know. As if she didn’t know everything—the horrible, shaking breath and piercing cry of his nightmares, the same ones, she was sure, that wove stealthily into her own on the nights she slept at all.
This book was a delight to write, but also a challenge because it’s big and sprawling. Plots and sub-plots. Like The Hunger, it has an ensemble cast, and the married couple in this scene figures large in the novel. Mark and Caroline are newly married and yet the ghost of Mark’s previous love hangs over them. For this sub-plot, I tried to evoke Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, keeping the reader guessing as to which is the wronged woman: the dead Lillian, or the new wife Caroline?

The novel draws on two major issues of the times: class inequality (this was the era of ultra-rich dynastic families) and women’s rights. The Deep is quite Gothic, as is appropriate for the era, with its broad interest in the occult and spiritualism.

The story follows a young, poor Irish girl, Annie Hebbley, who gets a job as a stewardess on the Titanic. She’s obviously running away from something, but we’re not sure what. She finds herself drawn to one of the passengers, Mark Fletcher (he of Page 69!) and his infant daughter, though she can’t say why. Before long, Annie is at the center of a lot of strange goings-on aboard the Titanic and, just as things come to a head, the ship hits the iceberg.

Cut to four years later. Annie, her memory wiped clean, is released from an asylum in Scotland. Violet, who was also a stewardess on the Titanic, talks Annie into taking a job as a nurse on the Britannic, the Titanic’s sister ship. The Britannic has been converted into a hospital ship for the war effort and is in dire need of nurses. Annie agrees, but she’s just started to adjust to her new life when she thinks she sees Mark Fletcher among the wounded. But didn’t he die that night, on the Titanic? No sooner are the two reunited than the strange goings on start up again, forcing Annie to confront her past and her role in the tragedies.
Learn more about the book and author at Alma Katsu's website.

Writers Read: Alma Katsu.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 12, 2020

"The Survivor"

Bridget Tyler grew up in Berkeley, California. She went on to attend NYU, living in New York and London before completing her degree and moving to Los Angeles to work in the film and television industry as an executive and writer. She now lives in Oregon with her husband, who is a robotics professor at Oregon State University, and her daughter.

Tyler applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Survivor, a sequel to The Pioneer, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Survivor turns out to feature a rousing speech from from my hero's beloved grandfather, who's also taken over leadership of her new planet now that a tragedy has transformed their team from pioneers to refugees, survivors of a dead world.
"The task seems beyond the scope of human imagination. It is certainly beyond me. But thankfully, we don't depend on my wisdom alone." He sucks in a breath and sighs it out. "My beloved wife died when our daughter was still a child. But she taught me a lot before she was taken from us. She always said a big problem is just a lot of little problems swimming together, like a school of fish. So if you want to solve a big problem, you just have to catch one of the little ones and gut it. Then you do it again and again until you're done."

He chuckles, almost to himself. "She was a ferocious woman, my Cleo. Dauntless. I can only hope at piece of her is still with me. Because the task facing us is monumental. But I know that we can accomplish it, one little fish at a time."

He rests a hand on the memorial stone.

"But first, we much honor our loss. Grieve. Then, tomorrow, we will face all those little problems. Together."

"Humanity is not lost. We are found. This planet is a new beginning. A clean slate, untouched and waiting for us to shape a new world. A new future."
Wow, the page 69 is pretty illuminating in this case! It's not exactly representative of the book, because it's not focused on Joanna and her friends. But it does outline a major theme of the book, and a lesson Joanna has to learn in order to untangle the mess she and her team find themselves in. It also hints at a huge mystery in the Watson family backstory Joanna will have to unravel in order to save Tau. Gah, I want to say more but I can't because of all the spoilers!!! Guess you'll just have to read and see how this passage pays off.
Visit Bridget Tyler's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Survivor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

"The Lost Book of Adana Moreau"

Michael Zapata is a founding editor of the award-winning MAKE Literary Magazine. He is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Award for Fiction; the City of Chicago DCASE Individual Artist Program award; and a Pushcart Nomination. As an educator, he taught literature and writing in high schools servicing drop out students. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa and has lived in New Orleans, Italy, and Ecuador. He currently lives in Chicago with his family.

Zapata applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Lost Book of Adana Moreau, and reported the following:
From page 69:
One night, half-starving, he meets a jazz musician who tells the man with gray eyes he moonlights as a smuggler. I can use a man like you, the jazz musician tells him. A man like me? he asks. A man without an Earth, says the jazz musician.

Traveling through hidden stone portals on the outskirts of the city, the jazz musician and the man with gray eyes transport illicit arms, food, and technology in and out of countless other Earths. A few of the Earths are variations of his own before its ruin, but most are wildly different. One Earth is almost entirely covered in vast, warm seas, with people etching out a living among a dwindling number of archipelagos. On another, the ice age never ended. The men and women on this Earth ride wooly mammoths and build enormous machines resembling arachnids. On yet another, the Aztec Empire has persisted through the centuries and was the first civilization to develop and drop a nuclear bomb in 1897. On more than a few Earths, there are cities in the sky. The jazz musician explains to him that the cityships, as they are called, are filled with refugees from Earths that are no longer habitable or no longer exist. Even the city of New Orleans on this Earth is a cityship that landed long ago. Goddamn entire multiverse is full of refugees like you, he says and then he starts to laugh. It takes the man with gray eyes a moment to understand that he is laughing at the cityships, not at him. There are no traces of the Dominicana on any of the Earths to which they transport goods, nor on any of the refugee cityships the man with gray eyes searches by himself during lonely nights that show no signs of ever ending.
The Lost Book of Adana Moreau is the story of a Latin American science fiction writer and the lives her lost manuscript, A Model Earth, unites decades later in post-Katrina New Orleans. Quite by happy accident, the Page 69 Test takes us directly into a plot summary of the lost science fiction manuscript itself, which follows “a man with gray eyes” living in New Orleans as he searches parallel Earths for a lost love named the Dominicana. I was happily surprised to find that a good number of the predominant themes in The Lost Book of Adana Moreau – exile, refugees, multiplicity, parallel universes, home, and the end of history – are found on page 69, even if the page itself doesn’t contain the central narrative of the novel. The “man with gray eyes” is lost, like so many of the novel’s characters, in the story of the multiverse, which offers both dystopian pasts and hopeful futures. According to Leslie Hinson’s review on BookPage “much of the novel is a story-within-a story, a mise en abyme; it is a labyrinthine ode to storytellers,” and I think that’s a wonderfully accurate portrayal of the structure of the novel and Page 69.
Visit Michael Zapata's website.

Writers Read: Michael Zapata.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

"Mermaid Moon"

Susann Cokal is a moody historical novelist, a pop-culture essayist, book critic, magazine editor, and sometime professor of creative writing and modern literature. She lives in a creepy old farmhouse in Richmond, Virginia, with seven cats, a big dog, a spouse, and some peacocks that supposedly belong to a neighbor.

Cokal's first young adult novel, The Kingdom of Little Wounds, received several national awards, including a silver medal from the American Library Association's Michael L. Printz Award series. Her books for adults, Mirabilis and Breath and Bones, received some nice notice too.

Cokal applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Mermaid Moon, and reported the following:
From page 69, this is the opening of chapter 15, narrated by Sanna.
“Ever so lucky, to be marrying the young baron, I mean,” says the plump maid, Kett, whom the Baroness has assigned as my servant and my jailor. She’s bustling around the chamber I’ve been given, a place too small for us both to move around at once. “There’s ever so many girls in love with him. Not that he’d give any of us more than a buss and a tumble, and maybe a bit of a song. He’s very musical, you know …”

While she prattles and tidies, I curl onto the too-short, too-narrow bed with the rose thorns still in my flesh. The bed is nice and soft, crackling with landish grass that smells of the sun. It makes me realize how very tired I am. Magic is hard work.

“… I’m sure he’ll stop all that now that you’re betrothed. The singing, I mean. To other girls.” Kett positions a flame in a tiny wall niche nearby; it is burning in a dish of oil that smells like fish, which is soothing.
This chapter is a sort of quiet bridge between big set pieces. Sanna has had quite a day. First she made her tail into a pair of legs (using magic that Kett doesn’t know about yet), then she walked to Baroness Thyrla’s castle and stumbled into a rose vine growing along the walls. When the thorns pierced her flesh, the magic in her blood inadvertently turned the white roses red. As if that apparent miracle weren’t enough, she had to engage in a spellcasting duel with Thyrla herself. After conjuring creatures that weren’t there before, Sanna is “rewarded” with an engagement to Thyrla’s wastrel son, the young man who enjoys singing terrible songs to woo girls whom he kisses and tumbles and abandons.

So on to the test. Does page 69 pivot the themes of the book? It does allude to the battles of magic and will that Sanna will have to fight over and over, particularly against Thyrla, but I think it more significantly represents the rest of the world of the novel. Most of the opinions here are Kett’s, and Kett is an old-fashioned kind of girl—the kind who loves a fairytale courtship with lute playing and a threat of death if the young man isn’t pleased (Oh yes, Thyrla’s ultimate plan involves something much worse than marriage to a boy Sanna does not like).

Sanna’s mermaid flok is matriarchal and nomadic. The mer-maids have the beautiful voices and the power to wreck ships and plunder their riches, so they also have the power within the group. As far as Sanna has experienced life, mer-boys are weaklings who live on the periphery of the flok—occasionally love objects, mostly just not much noticed. Mermaids generally fall in love with other girls.

On land, people are living in the Middle Ages that we recognize. Men are generally dominant, most especially the Heavenly Father. Baroness Thyrla, however, has somehow managed to step around the patriarchy and wrench for herself what power there is in the Thirty-Seven Dark Islands, which isn’t much. But Thyrla has none of the sisterly feeling seen among most of the mermaids; if anything, she’s more eager to exploit other women than she is to use men. She wants to be the queen bee. Sanna has already started to pick up on all this.

Kett, who speaks here, is one of the characters I’ve loved as I’ve reread my manuscript. She’s a really nice person, I think, if somewhat deluded about Baron Peder’s talents as a musician and lover. To me, she represents the possibility that we’ll get a fairytale ending if we hope for it hard enough—but it won’t feel quite as we might expect. And aren’t that wish and that twist the heart of fiction?
Visit Susann Cokal's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 9, 2020

"This Terrible Beauty"

Katrin Schumann is the author of the Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestseller The Forgotten Hours. Born in Freiburg, Germany, she lives in Boston and Key West.

Schumann applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, This Terrible Beauty, and reported the following:
My book centers on the story of a young German woman from the island of Rugen who, after World War II, marries a man who ends up becoming an agent in East Germany's growing Secret Police force. To me, Werner is an intriguing character: a man stunted by polio, a bureaucrat with limited power who adores his wife and suspects she doesn't love him back. All he wants is a peaceful and happy life, and his own family. I was intrigued by what happens to good men who are corrupted by power, and so some of the book is told from Werner's point of view. I wanted readers to understand his motivations; I didn't want them to be able to write him off as single-note. On page 69, Werner is surprised in his office by a visit from his superior officer, Bieder.
On his way home, Werner replays this scene to himself again and again. It seems he is inching his way up the ladder. A man of significant influence has taken an interest in him. He has married a beautiful, healthy woman, and they are working on starting a family. His future is promising. So why is it he feels as if Franz Josef Bieder was trying to test him? And why is it Werner does not feel entirely comfortable with the answers he gave?
It's an awkward exchange in which Werner is trying to figure out where he stands. He is desperate for approval and this desperation shows. He's promised his wife Bettina that he'll ask about a friend who has disappeared, and we see him struggling to do this but in a half-hearted way. His intense discomfort humanizes him. The scene is supposed to make us cringe, and yet also feel for him and the awkwardness of his situation.
Visit Katrin Schumann's website.

Writers Read: Katrin Schumann.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 8, 2020

"Blackwood"

Michael Farris Smith is an award-winning writer whose novels have appeared on Best of the Year lists with Esquire, Southern Living, Book Riot, and numerous others, and have been named Indie Next List, Barnes & Noble Discover, and Amazon Best of the Month selections. He has been a finalist for the Southern Book Prize, the Gold Dagger Award in the UK, and the Grand Prix des Lectrices in France, and his essays have appeared with the New York Times, Bitter Southerner, Writer’s Bone, and more. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with his wife and daughters.

Desperation Road and The Fighter have been optioned for film, with Smith serving as screenwriter for both projects. The Fighter, going by the screen name Rumble Through The Dark, is being produced by Cassian Elwes and directed by Parker and Graham Phillips, whose debut film The Bygone released in November 2019.

Smith applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Blackwood, and reported the following:
I’m usually amazed by the Page 69 Test with my novels and this time is no different. Blackwood is about many things, but one of those things is the descent into madness, brought on by a lifetime of hardship, downward emotional spirals, and not least of all, a kudzu-covered landscape that covers and chokes out a valley and offers a deep green dark to hide in.

Two of the characters hiding below the vines are a derelict man and woman, living in their broken-down vehicle on the edge of the valley. The man has begun to spend his nights crawling and creeping below the vines, moving through across the valley, beginning to hear voices in his head, and during one of these nights he falls into a cave. Here, he discovers a tunnel, and the voices seem to emanate from the tunnel, and he goes deeper inside. When he discovers a bottomless pit, it is as if he has found some morbid answer.

Here, on page 69, we find the man having talked the woman into going into the tunnel, and as they creep deeper and deeper into the throat of the valley, she is begging him to turn around.
Learn more about the book and author at Michael Farris Smith's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 7, 2020

"Oona Out of Order"

After receiving a BFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College, Margarita Montimore worked for over a decade in publishing and social media before deciding to focus on the writing dream full-time. She's blogged for Marvel, Google, Quirk Books, and XOJane.com. When not writing, she freelances as a book coach and editor. Born in Soviet Ukraine and raised in Brooklyn, she currently lives in New Jersey with her husband and dog.

Montimore applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Oona Out of Order, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“... Like I said, social media is complicated.”

“And cluttered. There’s so much white noise and distraction. The girl next to me didn’t even watch the show—she spent the whole time texting. I get why people are so obsessed with their phones...” Turning hers over in her hands, it seemed inconceivable something so small offered endless information and convenience. “I just wonder if it’s making us a little lazy and rude. How much real life do people miss out on because they’re focused on a screen? How much have I missed out on?” She put her phone away.
The titular character of Oona Out of Order goes from being eighteen in 1982 to fifty-one in 2015, only to learn that every year she will “leap” to another age at random. She spends the rest of the novel coping with what she refers to as her “time sickness.”

On page 69, Oona is in the midst of her first leap, which is fraught with upheaval. She must contend with instantly aging three decades and losing the life she had at eighteen. On top of that, she is also adjusting to the modern world and technological advancements, catching up on the lost decades via the Internet. This exchange takes place after she attends a concert during which much of the audience has their phones out. Oona’s initial frustration here is aimed at the people who are glued to their screens, which distracts her from the show. But on the ride home, as she admonishes them, it dawns on her that she’s been hiding behind her computer screen as a means to cope with her situation. And while she’s still mourning everything she’s lost, Oona is also realizing that she needs to stop taking the positive aspects of her life for granted. This touches on the central story themes of living in the moment and learning to accept each phase of life, overcoming its obstacles while appreciating its advantages.
Visit Margarita Montimore's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 5, 2020

"City of Margins"

William Boyle is from Brooklyn, New York. His books include: Gravesend, which was nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in France and shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in the UK; The Lonely Witness, which was nominated for the Hammett Prize and is nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière; and A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.

Boyle applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, City of Margins, and reported the following:
On page 69 of City of Margins, college dropout Mikey Baldini—aimless, drunk, about to turn twenty-one—stumbles to the library in his South Brooklyn neighborhood after fighting with his mother. Mikey is a cross between John Fante’s Arturo Bandini and the Mikey that Peter Falk plays in Elaine May’s Mikey and Nicky; he’s raw-nerved, lost in the world, searching for some kind of connection. What he finds at the library is a box of donated books. He takes the box and—while flipping through the battered paperbacks—discovers what looks like a suicide note. Stuffed somewhere else in the box is a piece of paper with a phone number written on it. He calls the number and is led down a path he couldn’t possibly have anticipated. This page is pretty representative of the rest of the book in terms of exploring chance and coincidence, in setting up the mystery of how lives in the neighborhood are tangled together.
Visit William Boyle's website.

My Book, The Movie: Gravesend and The Lonely Witness.

The Page 69 Test: Gravesend and The Lonely Witness.

Writers Read: William Boyle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

"A Shadowed Fate"

Marty Ambrose has been a writer most of her life, consumed with the world of literature whether teaching English at Florida Southwestern State College, Southern New Hampshire University or creating her own fiction. Her writing career has spanned almost fifteen years, with eight published novels.

A few years ago, Ambrose had the opportunity to take a new creative direction that builds on her interest in the Romantic poets: historical fiction. Her first book in a trilogy, Claire’s Last Secret, combines memoir and mystery in a genre-bending narrative of the Byron/Shelley “haunted summer,” with Claire Clairmont, as the protagonist/sleuth. Ambrose’s second novel, A Shadowed Fate, begins where the first novel ends with Claire on an “odyssey” through Italy to find the fate of her daughter, Allegra, whom she now believes might have survived; her narrative plays out with Byron’s memoir from 1821, and Allegra’s own story.

Ambrose applied the Page 69 Test to A Shadowed Fate and reported the following:
In my novel, A Shadowed Fate, page 69 is a pivotal point in the plot: it begins Chapter Four as my characters start their travels across Italy in 1873. This historical mystery is the second book in a trilogy that is narrated by the “almost famous” member of the Byron/Shelley circle: Claire Clairmont. As the chapter opens, Claire is in a carriage with her companions on a quest to find her long-lost daughter, Allegra; she proposes they take a detour to Bagni di Lucca. Claire’s great-niece is ailing, so she decides “taking the waters” in the tiny town’s hot springs will cure the child: “Having lived in Italy for many years, I believed the hot springs, which they called terme, could cure almost any ailment.” But she also wants to visit the remote spot, at the foot of the Apennine Mountains, because it was the setting for a halcyon summer she spent nearby with British poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley—her stepsister. As Claire muses, “Bagni di Lucca was ... a place to heal body and soul”. She came there after she gave up her daughter to Lord Byron—and bathed in the terme to restore her spirits. This scene is the beginning of Claire’s physical journey across Italy but also her inward journey into the past—both odysseys intersect at Bagni di Lucca and change Claire’s life forever.

I was stunned at how much of the novel’s themes and plot hinge on page 69. This is the beginning of the suspenseful pilgrimage across Italy: at this stage in the novel, Claire—the protagonist—is eager to start her travels to find her long-lost daughter yet longs to settle the past which haunts her. These two themes begin to intertwine on page 69 when Claire thinks, “Bagni di Lucca held lyrical memories for me as an ancient resort town ... which I had visited in my youth.” The rest of the novel’s plot will hinge on how each journey intensifies and clarifies the other, causing Claire to grow and develop as a character. In the coming chapters, we see how the unexpected twists and turns on the road take Claire and her companions into dangers that are connected with the past but are necessary for them to discover the truth of the present: Does Allegra live?
Visit Marty Ambrose's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 2, 2020

"This Train Is Being Held"

Ismée Williams, the author of Water in May, is a pediatric cardiologist who trained and practiced for over a dozen years at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, the daughter of a Cuban immigrant partially raised by her abuelos, and the mother of three daughters. She also has a dog, Rowan, who is commonly mistaken for a muppet.

Williams applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, This Train Is Being Held, and reported the following:
This Train Is Being Held is told from the alternating points of view of two lovers from opposite sides of the tracks who meet and fall for each other on the subway. Alex is a Dominican-American baseball prodigy from Washington Heights who maybe wants to be a poet, though his papi wants him to go pro. Isa is an Upper East Side private-school girl who wants to be a professional ballerina, except her Havana-born mom thinks this an unacceptable career choice for a modern woman. Oh–and she doesn’t want her daughter dating Latinos either.

Page 69 falls in one of Alex’s chapters. It provides a glimpse of Alex’s life with his Papi in Brooklyn.

On page 69 of This Train Is Being Held, Alex trains with Papi in Sunset Park. It’s February, in New York City. It’s quite cold but as long as there’s no snow or ice, Papi will make Alex run drills. It’s all part of the plan to get Alex drafted into Major League Baseball. Alex’s younger brother, who idolizes Alex, tries to join in, but Papi won’t let him because Robi doesn’t have Alex’s promise and talent. Papi’s expectations of Alex along with Alex’s desire to please Papi as well as protect Robi from their father’s temper are clear. In this way, page 69 is representative of a main theme of the book: expectations and how these expectations shape one’s behavior and identity. We only see Alex and his family on page 69, however. Isa and her own family struggles, which make up the other significant portion of the story, are missing.
Visit Ismée Williams's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Ismée Amiel Williams & Rowan.

My Book, The Movie: This Train Is Being Held.

Writers Read: Ismée Williams.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 1, 2020

"In An Instant"

Suzanne Redfearn is the award-winning author of three novels: Hush Little Baby, No Ordinary Life, and In An Instant. Born and raised on the east coast, Redfearn moved to California when she was fifteen. She currently lives in Laguna Beach with her husband where they own two restaurants: Lumberyard and Slice Pizza & Beer. In addition to being an author, Redfearn is an architect specializing in residential and commercial design.

Redfearn applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, In An Instant, and reported the following:
From page 69:
My mom and Kyle realize quickly hiking straight up the way we fell is not an option. The icy sheet of granite offers little in terms of footholds and less in terms of shelter from the fierce wind that blasts against its face the moment you rise above the tree line and which could easily blow even the strongest climber to their death.

Instead, my mom and Kyle traverse at an angle, my mom being careful to keep the glow of the sun behind them to ensure they are heading north, the general direction of town. When possible, they travel upward, but often as not, they hit an impasse and are forced to back- track to lower ground.

At first my mom hikes in front, but soon it becomes clear that Kyle has better traction, and he takes over the lead. On the steeper parts, he digs in and uses my mom’s scarf to help her up.

They make slow, inconsistent progress, which I can see is leading them closer to the road, but they have no way to know this. My mom’s lips are blistered and her cheeks raw, but the exertion seems to have warmed her, and only her feet appear in pain from the cold.

Kyle seems unaffected, or perhaps he just isn’t the type to complain. Stoically he marches forward, forging a path and looking back often to check on my mom. And the more I watch him, the more my admiration grows and the more I find myself wondering about him, about who he is, his family, his girlfriend, how he ended up living in Big Bear, what he’s thinking about, whether he’s scared. It seems so strange that he is part of this and that we know so little about him.
This page is still near the beginning of the story, after an accident that tumbles the narrator, Finn, and ten others over the side of a mountain during a torrential snowstorm. Finn died in the accident and is now looking down on the survivors. This chapter leads to an extraordinary scene between Finn’s mom and Kyle, the boy she is hiking out with to get help. Kyle is a stranger, a young man they picked up on the side of the road because his car had broken down. The question Finn’s mom will face is how much is his life worth when weighed against those of loved ones she left at the scene of the accident. And then, how does she live with the consequences of the decision she makes after.
Visit Suzanne Redfearn's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Suzanne Redfearn and Cooper.

My Book, The Movie: In an Instant.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 28, 2020

"Death in Avignon"

Serena Kent has been a journalist, a banker, a music composer and a sheep-shearer - and is also the nom de plume of Deborah Lawrenson and her husband Robert Rees. They live in Kent in a house full of books, and own a ramshackle old farmhouse on the slopes of the Luberon hills in Provence which is also in desperate need of some more bookshelves.

The authors applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, Death in Avignon, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I want to see you struggle to even crawl out of here!”

“It takes a great deal to defeat us where food is concerned!” Valentine waggled an index finger.

Penelope laughed nervously. The crispy roast potatoes and caramelised parsnips could go into the oven again now for a final blast. The sponge and a second tin of golden syrup were consigned to the steamer at the back of the hob, which rattled and shook alarmingly, every so often disgorging a large puff of steam, like Robert Stephenson’s prototype Rocket engine.

As the clock’s hour hand reached one, there was another knock at the kitchen door. Penelope opened it to a smiling M. Louchard and his fiancée Mariette. How things had changed in the past three months. Her farmer neighbour, a former Foreign Legionnaire, had been a lovesick recluse when she arrived. But now the loneliness and shyness had disappeared from his demeanour. Penelope noted with approval the large bottle of his homemade plum brandy in his hand. It had magical properties, of that she was convinced.

She showed her guests through into the sitting room. They were all keen to see the changes she had already made and offered helpful advice. “It is your blank canvas, madame,” said M. Louchard, “waiting for you to make your mark on it.”

He was obviously in one of his philosophical moods. Now that Penelope had come to know him better, she appreciated Pierre Louchard’s idiosyncracies and the way he found simple pleasures and solace in nature. Whilst tending to his field of lavender and his herd of brébis, a goat-like breed of sheep, he would speculate on the world’s ineffable questions, and then expound his revelations to all and sundry. It had earned him the nickname “The Thinker,” after Rodin, in a not entirely respectful fashion. For unfortunately his delivery of the Great Truths while out in the fields never quite attained the heights of his internal musings.
Penelope Kite, middle class Englishwoman of a certain age, has already taken a big risk in moving to a tumbledown farmhouse in Provence alone after her divorce, and she is taking another on page 69. She is about to serve a traditional British Sunday lunch to her new friends and neighbours in the village of St Merlot in Provence - and these Provençal folk are a tough crowd to please when it comes to good food.

Actually, this incident is based on several true stories. Whenever we have tried to introduce French friends to English dishes, it has always caused some consternation! The French have long regarded British cooking with suspicion and disdain, and here they are about to get up close and personal with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Will Penelope win them round or invite ridicule?
The group’s main focus was on the dish of Yorkshire puddings. Like a team of botanists discovering an entirely new species of plant, they leaned forward on their chairs and peered over the rim of the bowl, incomprehension writ large on their faces.
Death in Avignon has a good, strong mystery at its heart, but the series is also an optimistic look at life for a single woman of fifty in a strange land. This scene is about establishing Penelope’s growing confidence in St Merlot and re-introducing some village characters, but food does play a crucial part in the story.

Controversial expat painter Roland Doncaster chokes on an almond-stuffed olive at an exhibition and dies. A tragic accident, or poisoning? As Penelope is drawn into the mystery, her knowledge of forensic science proves invaluable as it takes her deeper into the history of paint pigments and the murky world or art dealing.

As in the first in the series, Death in Provence, there are luminous landscapes, authentic descriptions of the Luberon valley’s hilltop villages, the return of Penelope’s larger-than-life best friend Frankie, further annoyance to Police Chief Reyssens, and lashings of self-deprecating British humour along the way.
Visit Serena Kent's website.

The Page 69 Test: Death in Provence.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

"Soot"

Dan Vyleta is the son of Czech refugees who emigrated to Germany in the late 1960s. He holds a Ph.D. in history from King’s College, Cambridge. His novels include Smoke, Pavel & I, The Quiet Twin, which was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and The Crooked Maid, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the J.I. Segal Award.

Vyleta applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Soot, and reported the following:
Page 69 finds us in an alternate New York, in the midst of a slightly re-configured Central Park that runs from river to river and literally separates Downtown from Uptown. This shift—along with many other slight re-configurations—is a result of Smoke, that mysterious and highly infectious substance that rises out of human bodies whenever their passions are enflamed. The year is 1909. A theatrical company that works with Smoke—that uses manifest emotion which can be communicated from body to body, like a fever, as part of its performance—has just finished a show. Eleanor, the troupe’s newest “talent”, and Etta May, who controls the spectating crowd by curbing its most unruly desires, are having a conversation. Eleanor has a secret: she is the niece and ward of the most powerful man in Britain, which has been engulfed in Civil War these past ten years. On page 69, she is disturbed: things happen during the performance, spectators come up to touch her, kiss her garments, bow. She approaches Etta May to talk it out.
[...]For the longest time they simply sit. Etta May does not push for con­versation, is patient, placid, waiting for rain; Eleanor awkward, precise, stockpiling words. At last Eleanor breaks the silence and describes it: the odd conviction that she has been accumulating followers at the end of each play; the shy obeisance paid to her by men and women twice her age.

Etta May absorbs it matter-of-factly; shifts her big rump in her chair.

“They come to you to be blessed, do they? Well, why not? Sometimes I feel like getting a blessing from you myself!” She pauses to retrieve a cigarette from her sleeve, lights it, then speaks through a wreath of smoke. “You take their pain away, girl, their anger. It curls out of them, all their nastiness, right into you and there it stays. What comes back out is lighter, kinder. The parts of themselves they like.”

“You’re a Soother, Em. Isn’t that what you do?”

Etta May snorts at the suggestion. “I am merely slow to rouse. Sluggish Smoke— it calms things down, dampens them. And the Shapers are differ­ent, too. They are actors, see; they step into an emotion and broadcast it, making sure it dominates. But you don’t act. It’s quite the opposite. I have never met anyone quite so still.”

When Eleanor does not respond, the big woman leans closer and touches Eleanor’s shoulder as though testing her solidity.

“Balthazar says your uncle kept you in some kind of machine. It pun­ished you when you smoked.”

“It didn’t. It taught me to punish myself.”

“And now he’s looking for you. What does he want?”

“Cruikshank said that I hurt his pride. That I was his vision for the future but I ran away instead.”

“And what do you say?”[...]
At the heart of all stories are characters, talking to one another. It’s the great lesson of the theatre: that talk is the real action. Nobody much remembers the sword-fight in Hamlet—it’s two men waving sticks; but the good Prince telling his poor mother that she is a whore (“Nay, but to live/In the rank sweat of an enseamèd bed/Stewed in corruption”)—now that is memorable. And this is what we find on Soot’s page 69: a bit of scene-setting followed by a conversation: two women who have but recently met, probing each other; each line imbued with its own emotional inflection.

Then is page 69 a good place to get a sense of Soot? Yes and no. There is a reason, after all, why we start books at the beginning: narrative builds; moods, plot hooks, characterisation are all carefully orchestrated to produce specific effects. Storytelling is a sequential art (like life itself). So to jump in, willy-nilly, at some random page will always hurt the author just a little. That being said, the page does provide a sense of the rhythms of the narrative (there will be many conversations, many confrontations; information will be bartered for; friendships will be founded and broken), as well as of the rhythms of its language (for a novel is like a score: it has its range of tempos and is just as much composed for rhythm as is poetry).
Visit Dan Vyleta's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 24, 2020

"Follow Me"

Kathleen Barber is a former attorney, incurable wanderer, and yoga enthusiast. Originally from Galesburg, Illinois, she is a graduate of the University of Illinois and Northwestern University School of Law. She now lives in Washington, DC, with her husband and son. Her first novel, Truth Be Told (2017, originally published as Are You Sleeping), has been adapted as a series for Apple TV+ by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine media company.

Barber applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Follow Me, and reported the following:
Follow Me is about a woman named Audrey who shares every aspect of her life with her more than one million followers on Instagram, and who unwittingly attracts the attention of someone more interested in following her offline than online. I applied the Page 69 Test and discovered that, while the main suspense element—the steps Audrey’s stalker takes to get close to her and the mystery of his identity—isn’t present on that page, the page passes the test because it reveals a couple of important aspects of Audrey’s character. The page opens with Audrey reflecting on strangers recognizing her from her Instagram presence and noting that “[b]eing recognized like some sort of celebrity was the best high I’d ever experienced.” Knowing this about Audrey helps explain why she’s compelled to share so much of herself online. The rest of the page shows Audrey in conversation with her best friend’s love interest, and, although Audrey intends to build inroads for her friend, she can’t help but flirt with him a little. Audrey’s impulsive, wanton flirting is an ingrained part of her personality and something that plays a role later in the book.
Visit Kathleen Barber's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 22, 2020

"The Illness Lesson"

Clare Beams is the author of the story collection We Show What We Have Learned, which won the Bard Prize and was a Kirkus Best Debut of 2016, as well as a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, and the Shirley Jackson Award. After teaching high school English for six years in Falmouth, Massachusetts, she moved to Pittsburgh, where she now lives with her husband and two daughters. She has taught creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University and St. Vincent College.

Beams applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Illness Lesson, and reported the following:
From page 69:
On a chill Wednesday afternoon, six of the girls, in cloaks and shawls, circled on the grass under the birch by the front step. The Darkening Glass lay open on each lap. Caroline spied them from her bedroom window, went down the stairs, out the back door, and around the house. She wasn’t creeping up on them—she was going for a walk. They would see her when they saw her.

In the meantime, she could hear Abigail’s voice, reading. “‘Night approached quickly, but not as quickly as the answering night within.’ Caroline drew nearer. Half of them looked down at their pages, dutiful as if this were a classroom. Livia fidgeted, Tabitha stared up into the leaves—Caroline had yet to see Tabitha attend to any reading, or really any sustained task, without several promptings—and Eliza reclined on one elbow, watching Abigail, whose face, tipped to the words, seemed to glow in the sunlight reflecting off the page. “‘A fear, nay, a terror for her grew in him.’” Eliza’s eyes on Caroline now.

“Hello,” Eliza said.

Abigail stopped, startled.

“Aren’t you all a picture of industry.”

Had Abigail volunteered, or had Eliza called on her?

“How are you finding your reading?”

“Wonderful,” Tabitha said.

“It’s the best book I’ve ever read,” Rebecca added. Rebecca who had now read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Pilgrim’s Progress, and the Bible.

Eliza smiled. “They’re so kind to me.”
I’m amazed at how much of the meat of The Illness Lesson is here on page 69. The novel is about a 19th-century school for girls, founded on idealistic, noble principles but with important blind spots (some inadvertent, some willed)—and about an episode of mass hysteria amongst the students. Caroline, the protagonist, is the daughter of the school’s founder, an aging philosopher, and she’s also a teacher at the school; at this point in the novel she’s beginning to feel unsettled by the power of one of the students, Eliza. The (invented) novel the students are reading here, The Darkening Glass, is a gothic, schlocky page-turner written by Eliza’s very famous, long-dead father. The girls’ impromptu circle-study in this scene seems to Caroline to be a mark of Eliza’s growing influence, and she worries that Eliza is starting to shape the other girls in ways that don’t always accord with the school’s own shaping. A lot of the novel’s drama will hinge on the questions that are raised in this scene: of who or what is doing the shaping, and what the costs are, and to whom. Here the girls have already begun to move past what the school has planned for them, and Caroline is faced with the dilemma of what she should do in response; this is a pattern that will persist and intensify in the coming pages.
Visit Clare Beams's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 20, 2020

"Mercy House"

Alena Dillon is the author of Mercy House, a LibraryReads and Amazon book of February 2020, and the humor collection I Thought We Agreed to Pee in the Ocean. Dillon’s work has appeared in publications including LitHub, River Teeth, Scary Mommy, Slice Magazine, The Rumpus, The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review, Bustle, and The Smart Set. She teaches creative writing at Endicott College and St. Joseph’s College and lives on the beautiful north shore of Boston with her husband, newborn son, and little black pup named Penny.

Dillon applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Mercy House, and reported the following:
The majority of the book is in third person limited, focused on Sister Evelyn, a, funnily enough, 69-year-old nun who runs a women’s shelter in Brooklyn and is investigated by the Vatican for breaking church doctrine in her operations. But page 69 is from the first person point of view of Lucia, the newest resident of the shelter. We hear from each of the residents in her own chapter, but the majority of the book is zeroed in on Evelyn. Still, the Page 69 test demonstrates how important the voices of the residents are to the novel. Inspired by the MeToo movement, I wanted my characters, survivors of abuse, to have the opportunity to own their stories, which included experiences they shared in common with the protagonist. Therefore, the book itself—Mercy House—acts as a home to these women. And the cover, the front door, invites you to open and enter.
Visit Alena Dillon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

"The Other Mrs."

Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Good Girl, Pretty Baby, Don't You Cry, Every Last Lie, and When the Lights Go Out.

A former high school history teacher, Kubica holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Other Mrs., and reported the following:
The Other Mrs. is the story of a Chicago family, Will and Sadie Foust, and their sons, Otto and Tate, who inherit a home on a remote island off the coast of Maine when a sister of Will’s dies. What they’re hoping for is a fresh start after a number of personal and professional setbacks in Chicago; what they find instead is their family entangled in a shocking murder mystery when a neighbor – one Sadie fears Will may have been having an affair with – is found stabbed to death in the middle of the night. Soon after, all eyes in this close-knit, unwelcoming community look to the Fousts as suspects, which begins on page 69 when the island’s police officer informs Sadie that a witness claims he saw her fighting with the deceased just days before she died. Sadie finds this accusation absurd; she never met the victim. Her career as one of only two physicians on the island keeps her too busy for any sort of social life. Sadie begins to wonder what reason this witness would have to lie, and why she is being scapegoated. From here, the tension escalates as Sadie realizes the only way to clear her own name is to solve this murder herself. The Page 69 Test is an accurate representation of this book; by picking up the book at that page, a reader is dropped directly into the unfolding mystery of who killed Morgan Baines.
Visit Mary Kubica's website.

The Page 69 Test: Every Last Lie.

The Page 69 Test: When the Lights Go Out.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 17, 2020

"The Dark Corners of the Night"

Meg Gardiner is the critically acclaimed author of the UNSUB series and China Lake, which won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original and was a finalist for NPR’s 100 Best Thrillers Ever. Stephen King has said of Meg Gardiner: “This woman is as good as Michael Connelly…her novels are, simply put, the finest crime-suspense series I’ve come across in the last twenty years.” Gardiner was also recently reelected President of the Mystery Writers of America for 2020.

The Dark Corners of the Night is the third novel in her Barry Award–winning UNSUB series, which received three starred reviews from the major trade publications and is soon to be a major television series.

Gardiner applied the Page 69 Test to the new novel and reported the following:
My thriller The Dark Corners of the Night is the newest novel in the UNSUB series, and throws FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix into her most challenging case yet. A killer who calls himself the Midnight Man is wreaking havoc in Los Angeles, slaying parents and leaving children alive as witnesses. As his attacks escalate, the city is gripped with fear. Caitlin and her FBI team must stop him before he turns his wrath on survivors who could identify him.

On page 69, Caitlin and FBI technical analyst Nicholas Keyes take a late night visit to a crime scene—a suburban home where only a toddler was left alive. There, they try to understand the killer’s methods and psychology.
Keyes turned toward the front of the house. “I think he parked on the street, under the broken light.”

He towered over her in the dark, always an uncommon phenomenon, because Caitlin was five-ten and even taller in her Doc Marten’s.

“I do too,” she said. “He gains a sense of power by standing outside a home’s front door—the face it presents to the world—while the family inside is oblivious to the danger they’re in. He wants to savor the sight, and the sensation that he’s Destruction itself, about to descend. And to bask in the thought that once he breaks in, all that will be left is death and fear.”

He said nothing for a cold moment. “Deep,” he finally murmured. He pointed at the corner of the house. “The gate.”

“There’s no lock on it. No mention of one in the police report. The toddler’s too little to have reached the latch. This is a safe neighborhood. They didn’t lock it.”

“Safe neighborhood,” he said.

She couldn’t read his face. But his voice had an undertow.

She walked back across the patio. “He came in from the street. No lights on. No barking when he opened the gate. He prowled around back and saw a little kid’s toys. No dog bowls. No curtains on the kitchen window. This was where he staged.”

Keyes gazed at the sky. The half-moon going down. “He attacked at this time of night, but six weeks ago. The moon was waxing crescent. It had already set.”

“He calls himself the Midnight Man for a reason,” she said.
This is the tenth time I’ve put one of my novels to the test. So I really shouldn’t be surprised that Page 69 captures the plot, tone, and main characters of the novel. Because it does! The novel delves into both psychology and procedure. Much of it takes place deep in the night. The killer has spread a pall of dread over Southern California, and the heroes are desperate to stop him. Page 69 brings all that out. It also hits on a point that becomes increasingly important as the story develops: The killer attacks “safe” neighborhoods. Why? What is he trying to accomplish? How can Caitlin unwrap this M.O. and use it to identify him?

The Dark Corners of the Night is a high-stakes rollercoaster ride, and I can’t wait for you to read it.
Learn more about the book and author at Meg Gardiner's website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: UNSUB.

The Page 69 Test: Into the Black Nowhere.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 14, 2020

"The Seventh Sun"

Lani Forbes is the daughter of a librarian and an ex-drug-smuggling surfer, which explains her passionate love of the ocean and books. A California native whose parents live in Mexico, she now resides in the Pacific Northwest, where she stubbornly wears flip-flops no matter how cold it gets. She teaches middle school math and science and proudly calls herself a nerd and a Gryffindor. She is also an award-winning member of the Romance Writers of America and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Forbes applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Seventh Sun, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“What supplies will you require for the ceremony?”

“Um.” She swallowed hard. “Some water?”

“How much, my lady? A bowl? A jar?”

Her palms started sweating again. Mayana wished more than anything she could run home and hide behind the waterfall gushing off the temple pyramid in Atl. It was one of her favorite places in the world, listening to the roaring water, watching the rainbows in the mist dancing on the stone wall. An idea hit her like a ball from a ceremonial game.

“I just need a bowl.”

The servant dipped her head and left the room.

“You look beautiful, Mayana.” Yemania appeared in the doorway. Her red skirt and top did not reveal as much skin as Mayana’s, but it flattered her figure. The designs painted in red on her cheeks distracted from her nose.

“You look beautiful too.” Mayana gave her a sad smile.

“Do you know what you are going to do to display your power?”

“I have an idea. But it’s a little risky,” Mayana said.

“I wanted to know if you’d help me with mine.” Yemania shuffled her feet and didn’t meet Mayana’s eyes. She needed to display her ability to heal ...

“That depends.” Mayana involuntarily leaned away from the princess of Pahtia. She could barely handle pricking her own finger to bring forth blood. A sudden image of Yemania driving a spear through her stomach and then healing her to great applause popped into her head.

“It won’t be much. If you go before me, just let me heal your hand. I’m not trying to impress anyone. I just need to show that I am a descendant of Ixtlilton.”

Mayana’s instinct to avoid pain warred with her instinct to help. Yemania’s eyes opened wide to implore her.

“As long as you promise to heal it as fast as you possibly can.” Mayana gave a great, exaggerated sigh.

Yemania beamed.
I am surprised by how well page 69 does in fact represent The Seventh Sun. This scene takes place before the princesses are to be presented to Prince Ahkin as possible brides. Each daughter is descended from a different god or goddess and must display that ability as part of the opening ceremony for the selection ritual. I love that this scene captures the idea of the overall plot, but that it also shows Mayana’s internal struggle. She very much despises the rituals that she’s told protect them from another apocalypse because her compassionate heart tells her they aren’t necessary. Ultimately, even though she hates spilling her own blood for the sake of rituals she doesn’t agree with, she is willing to do it to help her friend. I think it is an excellent foreshadow to the ultimate theme the novel wrestles with, which is how sacrifice is the ultimate form of love.
Visit Lani Fobes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue