Thursday, May 28, 2020

"Kazu Jones and the Comic Book Criminal"

Shauna M. Holyoak graduated with a master’s degree in English Literature with an emphasis in creative writing from Brigham Young University. She was a humor columnist for The Post Register from 2009 to 2017; before that her column Up in the Night ran in The River City Weekly. She lives in Idaho Falls with her husband, six of their children and two naughty dogs. Kazu Jones and the Denver Dognappers is her debut middle-grade novel.

Holyoak applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Kazu Jones and the Comic Book Criminal, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Kazu Jones and the Comic Book Criminal is the tail-end of a scene where Kazu and her friends have decided to go watch the new Blood Eagle movie together at the theater. This directly follows their first team conflict and foreshadows more discord to come which will continue to make it difficult for them to solve their case. Kazu is also struggling with a mystery at home that’s left her unsettled and distracted, and as a result, she’s accidentally worn her pajama top to school that day. Madeleine, the newest member of their team, recognizes her discomfort and offers Kazu her jacket.

While I think this snippet does encapsulate the core of the story’s two-pronged conflict, I wonder if the lack of context would make it difficult for a browser to understand and appreciate the significance of what’s happening on this page. Without seeing the team’s previous disagreement, readers can’t appreciate that their excitement about the movie date is merely a distraction from the team’s growing friction. Madeleine was somewhat of an antagonist in the first book, so her recognition of Kazu’s embarrassment and attempt to help her feel less self-conscious, is a big moment in the book. It also magnifies Kazu’s sense of powerlessness, in a way, which makes her question her ability to solve her own problems. But again, without context, I’m not sure these moments have much impact. It’s an interesting test, though, and now I want to check page 69 of my other books!

Regardless of how page 69 works to draw readers into this book, I hope that most find they’re captivated by page one as they learn of my mystery squad’s plight in trying to track down a vandal before their beloved comic book store, The Super Pickle, is targeted. This story is dedicated to all my geeky readers who love role-playing games, comic books, superhero movies, comicons and cosplay! In addition to the book’s mystery and adventure, Kazu’s story has a more tender side as she tries to uncover the sickness that has left her mother bedridden and brought her Ba-chan from Japan to help. Confused and afraid, Kazu decides to take on a second case and unravel this mystery since everyone in her family has kept her out of the loop Also, watching kids deal with conflict and disagreements in a realistic way will appeal to young readers struggling in evolving relationships themselves.
Visit Shauna Holyoak's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

"The Silence"

Susan Allott is from the UK but spent part of her twenties in Australia, desperately homesick but trying to make Sydney her home. She completed the Faber Academy course in 2017, during which she started writing The Silence. She now lives in south London with her two children and her very Australian husband.

Allott applied the Page 69 Test to The Silence and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Silence is the opening of a new chapter, formatted with the heading ‘Sydney 1967’ pushing the text almost halfway down the page. What follows, in around 200 words, is a relatively quiet moment in which Steve returns home from work and Mandy hastily stubs out her cigarette, opening the back door to release the smoke. She reflects: ‘Cigarettes were all she could think about since she’d told Steve she was going to pack them in … Another thing to lie about was all it was.’ She observes that he is singing to himself as he enters the house, and considers this a good sign. ‘He’d pulled himself together. She knew where she was with this version of her husband: upbeat, noisy, tone deaf. Long may it last.’ It’s not a dramatic encounter. Steve walks into the kitchen, puts his lunchbox on the table and asks Mandy what’s for dinner. But Mandy’s internal monologue suggests all is not as it seems. She is lying to Steve about more than the cigarettes. And he is not always the upbeat man who has walked through the door; there are different versions of him.

My first thought on applying the page 69 test to The Silence was that it might not hook a reader who knew nothing about the premise of the book. The scene is only potent when we know that Mandy’s disappearance is imminent, and that it will take 30 years for this disappearance to be investigated. Assuming the reader has not read the blurb, what they might take from page 69 is a taste of Mandy’s voice, her dry humour, her restlessness. The scene also provides a telling snapshot of this marriage: Mandy has cooked a stew; she is stationed in the kitchen for Steve’s return. But we sense he is grating on her with his tuneless singing, his disapproval of her smoking. Her fondness has a whisper of contempt.

Page 69 does provide an insight into the era Mandy inhabits, the stifling experience of the Australian 1960s housewife, although the deep misogyny of that time is perhaps not apparent without reading on. It’s a lot to ask of these short paragraphs, but I like to think the reader might be convinced by these characters, their relationship and their world. And as an introduction to a book about secrets hidden in plain sight (like the smell of a recently extinguished cigarette perhaps) this interaction between Steve and Mandy is subtly on point.

On reflection, I’m persuaded by the page 69 test. It’s not flawless, especially as the format of a book and the size of font will vary the entry point. Page 69 falls almost 25% in to the US hardback edition of The Silence, and perhaps that percentage offers a better guide. The opening paragraphs of a novel are much agonised-over, but by one quarter of the way in the prose should be less self-conscious, the characters established; the world they inhabit should feel concrete, grounded in place and time. I think The Silence passed the test, but I also think I know far too much about my own book to be a fair judge. I’d love to know what a reader with fresh eyes might make of it.
Visit Susan Allott's website.

Q&A with Susan Allott.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 25, 2020

"Camp"

Lev Rosen writes books for people of all ages, most recently Depth, Jack of Hearts (and other parts), and the newly released Camp. He lives in NYC with his husband and a very small cat.

Rosen applied the Page 69 Test to Camp and reported the following:
From page 69 of Camp:
"I guess your makeover really made the right impression if he pulled that story out of nowhere," George says. "Who knew little boy butch was such a closet drama diva? I mean, could you imagine what he could bring to the stage with those improv skills and that level of commitment?"

"I don't know how he thinks we won't tell you," Ashleigh says.

"After your giggling fit I wouldn't be surprised if he think you're too amused by it," George says. "Or he doesn't think we know enough about his love life to comment."

"Are you really going to go through with this?" Ashleigh asks, her voice a little hoarse from laughing. "I mean, you playing Del, him playing Hudson-not-Hal? Neither of you will get to know each other."

"I already know him," I say. "And he'll know me. Just me in different clothes."

"With different mannerisms and interests," Ashleigh says.

"Plus a very slightly lower pitch to your voice and a slower way of speaking - Oscar worthy."
Yes, I think the page 69 test works pretty well for Camp. Here we have the characters discussing the plan which is the whole plot of the book - Randy remaking himself as 'butcher' Del to win the heart of masc4masc Hudson. At this point, Hudson is also trying to present himself as someone not quite who Randy already knows he is. It's a love story of hidden identities of the 60s screwball variety, and I think this conversation sums up a lot of what's going on - will this plan work? Will it not? Doubts are here, the plan is here, plus the idea of Randy playing a part - he's a theater kid - is here. I also think the page shows the fun and funny (to some at least) dialogue - it brings the reader into who these campers are immediately, with the theater references and turns of phrase. This is a good page because you get a sense of who these kids are. The only thing not here is the queer summer camp setting, but hopefully a browser would figure that out from the title - Camp. The title refers to not just the summer camp setting, but the camped up masculinity that Randy puts on as Del. Of course, as the story goes on, Randy realizes that maybe his plan of being butch Del to win Hudson, and then easing back into himself, isn't going to go quite how he planned. But here we get Randy's confidence it'll work, and also the big problems with it laid out. So yeah, it passes the test very well.
Visit L. C. Rosen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 24, 2020

"Things You Would Know If You Grew Up Around Here"

Nancy Wayson Dinan is a native Texan who currently lives in San Jose, Costa Rica and teaches at Texas Tech University. Her work has appeared in Arts & Letters, Crab Orchard Review, the Cincinnati Review, and others. She earned her MFA from the Ohio State University in 2013 and is a PhD student in fiction at Texas Tech.

Dinan applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Things You Would Know if You Grew Up Around Here, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Things You Would Know If You Grew Up Around Here, a long-awaited storm finally arrives. The book begins with the Texas Hill Country in the grip of an historic drought, and from the beginning, the reader knows that the storms are coming, and those who lived through those times– the Memorial Day floods of 2015 – know that those storms were particularly devastating. Every river in Texas broke, whole houses floated away, and people went missing who, even now, have never been found. On page 69, the drought breaks, and the storms arrive.

But the characters in Things You Would Know don’t yet have an idea of the scope of the damage. They have just attended a wedding which, though briefly affected by the weather, went off without a hitch. On page 69, the reader learns about the scope of the damage, but this information is not yet for the characters, and they have no idea of the world in which they’re about to find themselves.

I think this page is indeed largely representative of the overall book. Thematically, it shows how the people who inhabit this region think of themselves as individuals, but how really they are part of a larger ecosystem. On this page, too, we see people struggling with nature, and this is a theme throughout the book – some of the characters are more successful in this battle than are others. This page hints, too, at the scale of the destruction – on this page there is the line: “For some people, this storm was pretty much the end of the world.” Some of the characters present at the wedding will share this fate, but they don’t yet know that. In this scene, the new reality has arrived, but nobody is yet aware.
Visit Nancy Wayson Dinan's website.

My Book, The Movie: Things You Would Know if You Grew Up Around Here.

Q&A with Nancy Wayson Dinan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 22, 2020

"Brave Girl, Quiet Girl"

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 40 published and forthcoming books.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Brave Girl, Quiet Girl, and reported the following:
From page 69:
So I was trying to decide, but I was getting all frozen up in the deciding, because the whole thing was just too stressful for me.

Finally I figured the guy was getting away, and nothing was more important than that phone call to the police, so I unwrapped myself from her real carefully, hoping she wouldn’t wake up.

And I got extra lucky, too, because she didn’t.

I ran down the hill to the street, and ran after the guy in the work shirt, and yelled real loud to try to stop him. But the thing is, I didn’t start yelling “Hey!” until I got down onto the sidewalk, because I didn’t want my yelling to wake the baby. Because if she woke up all alone in that hole and I wasn’t even there to comfort her, holy cow would she ever be scared. I figured she would scream bloody murder if that happened.

So I was yelling to this guy but he was already at the end of the block, and I felt this really desperate thing, this desperate feeling pulling me toward him, because he could make a phone call.

But then there was this other desperate thing pulling me back toward the hole, toward our hiding place, because I shouldn’t have left the little girl alone, not even for one second. And, let me tell you, it made me feel like I was being ripped apart right down the middle of me.

I got panicky then because he wasn’t hearing me, so I put all my panic into one great big shout.

“Hey!”

He stopped and turned around, but right away I wanted to run back up the hill in case I had woke the little girl and she was up there all alone. But I didn’t. I stuck it out for a second because we needed that phone call. We just desperately needed that phone call.

It was a lot of stress for me and I don’t think I’m built for that much stress. Or maybe nobody is, I don’t know.
I think there are a couple of different tones and aspects to this novel, and I think the page 69 test is a good indicator of one of them.

The book starts out with a lot of drama and suspense—more so than most of my titles. We have a single mother who has lost her only child—a helpless 2-year-old—in a carjacking, and a scared, desperate street teen who has found the little girl and is trying to protect her until she can get somebody to call the police. There’s a lot at stake in these early chapters. And I do think page 69 captures that feeling.

But I also want potential readers to know that the book has other levels and tones to it. It’s also about unusual friendships, and getting past our assumptions about other people. It’s about LGBT teens who end up on the street when they try to come out to their parents, and the difficulty of trusting new people when the old ones have let you down so badly.

And, like all of my novels, it’s an exploration of our responsibility toward each other.

You probably didn’t get all that from page 69, so that’s why I’m telling you.
Visit Catherine Ryan Hyde's website.

Q&A with Catherine Ryan Hyde.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 21, 2020

"What Lies Between Us"

John Marrs is an author and former journalist based in London and Northamptonshire. After spending his career interviewing celebrities from the worlds of television, film and music for numerous national newspapers and magazines, he is now a full-time author.

Marrs applied the Page 69 Test to What Lies Between Us, his seventh book, and reported the following:
Page 69 of What Lies Between Us is set twenty-five years ago in Northamptonshire, England, back when the relationship between my two protagonists Nina and Maggie was a positive one.

They are mother and daughter and while Nina’s teenage years have been rebellious and unsettling, it was once her mother who she turned to when things went wrong.

Told from Maggie’s perspective, this page follows her response to discovering Nina has suffered a miscarriage and it reveals how tender their relationship once was.
An hour passes before we move into her bedroom. And as I lay her down, her body folds in on itself like a fragile sheet of origami. I pull the duvet over her and up to her chin, then remove two painkillers from a packet, offering them to her with a glass of Lucozade. ‘Thank you,’ she mutters. It feels like so long since she last showed me gratitude for anything, so I cling to it. For the first time since her father disappeared from her life, I feel a bond between us. I love her more than anything I have ever loved or will ever love again. And nothing she does will ever change that.
However, over time and throughout my novel, Maggie gradually learns how was wrong she was when she is pushed to the brink by Nina. Today, they are a cohabiting in house with Nina living on the ground floor and Maggie on the second floor. But mother and daughter’s bond has dissolved into violence and mistrust. It’s obvious from early in the book that there is animosity between them yet every second night, they meet to share dinner on the middle floor. And within the first five chapters, we learn that for two years, Maggie has been chained up in the attic of her home by her Nina, who controls every aspect of her life.

Does this test work for my book? No, I don’t think so. Obviously I think this page works in the context of the story as a whole, and shows how there was once light even in a dark time for Nina. But as a standalone section, it doesn’t give much away about what to expect in terms of the whole story.
Visit John Marrs's website, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

"The Good Stranger"

Dete Meserve is the award-winning, bestselling author of three novels in the Kate Bradley Mystery Series: Good Sam, Perfectly Good Crime, and The Good Stranger, and a fourth standalone mystery/suspense novel The Space Between. Her first non-fiction book, Random Acts of Kindness, co-authored with journalist Rachel Greco was published in March 2019.

Meserve applied the Page 69 Test to The Good Stranger and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Good Stranger, reporter Kate Bradley, who’s just moved from Los Angeles to Manhattan to take a position at a national news network, gets a call from a clerk at Purple Payday Loans saying that a woman is there paying off strangers’ payday loans. Up until now, thousands of mysterious good things are happening throughout Manhattan but no one has any solid clues about who could be behind it. This is the first time that Kate—if she moves fast enough—could catch the person in action. And the first time she has a description of the suspected good Samaritan. The clerk tells her: “She’s got big white sunglasses. Look expensive. Her hair is covered by a red scarf. You know, like Jackie O. or some kind of old-time movie star.”

But Kate has only been in Manhattan a few weeks. How can she navigate her way across town before the woman leaves? She leans on Scott Jameson, the host of Wonders of the World, an action-filled natural wonders series, who knows “a fast way.” This is one of many ways Scott shows he’s not only a useful partner—he knows shortcuts through the city—but that he’s also willing to drop everything to join her in her quest to find the anonymous people behind these escalating gifts.

Also, page 69 is an example of the fast-paced nature of the book. When you set out to write a mystery which focuses on goodness, readers can wrongly assume that the story and writing might be treacly, slow-paced and not entertaining. Page 69 proves that you can use the familiar tricks of a “procedural”—a ticking clock, a race-across town, a first-person but obscured sighting of the suspect—and apply them to a story where we aren’t tracking a killer or robber, but someone leaving thousands of mysterious and anonymous gifts throughout Manhattan.

Page 69 also allows me to give readers a subtle hint about the person behind the mystery. By elevating her description, “…you know, like Jackie O. or some kind of old-time movie star,” I’m hoping readers find her mysterious and admirable. And finding out who she is, whether she’s working alone or with a group, and why she’s doing this will hopefully keep readers turning pages until the very end.
Visit Dete Meserve's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

"By the Book"

Debut author Amanda Sellet had a previous career in journalism, during which she wrote book reviews for The Washington Post, personal essays for NPR, and music and movie coverage for VH1. She has an M.A. in Cinema Studies from NYU and spent a year in England as au pair to an actress who has played in her share of period dramas. These days she lives in Kansas with her archaeologist husband and their daughter.

Sellet applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, By the Book: a Novel of Prose and Cons, and reported the following:
The sixty-ninth page of By the Book finds our heroine, Mary Porter-Malcolm, at a party with new friends Arden, Lydia, and Terry. It’s Mary’s first proper social outing since transferring to public high school and falling in with a more rarefied crowd, and she’s anxious to make a good impression. And yet she can’t help being herself: a person who introduces Theodore Dreiser novels into casual conversation.
I didn’t need to hear any more. “It’s like An American Tragedy.”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Lydia said. “Yes, it’s a total dick move—”

“That’s the name of a book,” I explained.

Arden pulled out her phone, swiping several times before looking up at me. “I’m ready.”

Lydia frowned at her. “What are you doing?”

“Taking notes. Go ahead, Mary.”

“It’s about this guy named Clyde, who’s really into this rich girl but figures she’s out of his league because he’s working class, so he gets together with someone from the factory where he works. Only then the rich girl does notice him, but when Clyde tries to dump his girlfriend, she tells him she’s pregnant.”

“Dang,” Arden whispered, pausing in her typing.

“That’s not all. Horrible, wishy-washy Clyde takes the poor pregnant girl sailing, and she ends up drowning.”

“He murdered her, didn’t he?” Terry asked.

“That part is sort of ambiguous. In his mind it was an accident, but Clyde isn’t the most self-aware guy on the planet. He spent the first part of the day thinking how great it would be if she wasn’t around anymore, and the second part not trying very hard to save her when she fell overboard.”

Lydia narrowed her eyes at Preston, the Perfumed Philanderer, who was demonstrating his virility by hoisting his non-girlfriend in the air. “Tell me he didn’t get away with it.”

I drew a finger across my neck.
This snippet offers a telling snapshot of the four major characters and their group dynamic. Mary backs up her snap judgments with classic lit; Arden is constantly on the lookout for inspiring life lessons; Lydia combines skepticism with a thirst for justice; and Terry sees the world as a crime scene waiting to happen. Although By the Book is generally classified as a rom-com, friendship carries equal weight in the plot, so I’d chalk this up as a win for the predictive power of the Page 69 Test.

Also present in this selection is one of my favorite running gags: Mary offering highly subjective plot summaries of classic novels, like a one-woman SparkNotes. These were cathartic to write, especially for books I personally found crazy-making, such as Wuthering Heights or Tess of the D’Urbervilles, plus the above-mentioned Dreiser, memorably assigned as summer reading my sophomore year of high school, alongside Moby Dick and The Grapes of Wrath. Definitely not the most light-hearted week of my vacation!
Visit Amanda Sellet's website.

Q&A with Amanda Sellet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 18, 2020

"The Resolutions"

Brady Hammes lives in Los Angeles by way of Colorado and Iowa. His short stories have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Guernica, The Rattling Wall, and Harper Perennial’s Forty Stories Anthology. His debut novel The Resolutions is now out from Ballantine/Random House.

He’s also an Emmy-Award winning documentary film editor whose most recent project, Tom vs. Time - about NFL quarterback Tom Brady - won a 2018 Sports Emmy. Before that, he edited the feature film Social Animals, which had its world premiere at the 2018 SXSW film festival.

Hammes applied the Page 69 Test to The Resolutions and reported the following:
From page 69:
The winter production of Long Day’s Journey was a first for the theater, considerably darker than most of their previous work, feel-good puff like Annie or The Sunshine Boys. Mariana was worried it might be a struggle to draw the kind of crowds needed to square the bank account, which was why his involvement was so crucial. At least she’d have a name to hang on the marquee, though Gavin doubted many of the town’s residents would recognize a part-time player from a recently canceled show on a second-tier cable network. He’d done some research online, and for a community theater it seemed reputable enough; lots of poorly photographed headshots of the principal actors, a calendar of events with links to future productions. There was even a write-up in the Albuquerque Tribune, the theater critic calling a recent production of Our Town delightfully unexpected, praising Mariana’s empathetic direction. And if it were terrible, he’d find some excuse for why he couldn’t return after the holidays, though his conversation with Mariana gave him hope that it might be pretty good, certainly more satisfying than his previous role as an executive assistant with dreams of becoming a folk singer.

He passed into central Arizona, the sun setting behind him, a collection of clouds building up ahead. He was a hundred miles from Flagstaff, where he planned to treat himself to a beer and a nice dinner. Before the trip, he imagined stopping at roadside diners, chatting with locals and documenting his journey through photographs, but thus far his only meal was at the Jack in the Box in Needles, California, where he ate a hamburger while watching a Styrofoam cup blow across an empty parking lot.
Gavin, a fledgling actor in Los Angeles, is driving from LA to New Mexico to take part in a community theater production after his television show is cancelled. He’s at a crossroads in his life, and he’s desperate for some kind of creative fulfillment. I’m not sure this page is a great representation of the novel because one might assume this theater production is somehow central to the story, whereas it’s just a passing moment in his life. He ends up leaving the production after a falling out with the director, then makes his way back to Chicago, where he reunites with his siblings. However, the second paragraph does give a glimpse into his emotional state, which is one of disillusionment and loneliness, and those ideas are central to his story. So I'd say that narratively this probably isn’t terribly accurate, though it does hint at the character’s emotional state.
Visit Brady Hammes's website.

Q&A with Brady Hammes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 16, 2020

"Dear Universe"

Florence Gonsalves is the author of two books of young adult fiction, Love and Other Carnivorous Plants and Dear Universe. In 2015 she graduated from Dartmouth College where she majored in Philosophy, while taking as many poetry classes as she could. Her work experience ranges from publishing in NYC, to farming in Maine, to one really bad holiday shift at UPS. She currently lives in Portland, Maine.

Gonsalves applied the Page 69 Test to Dear Universe and reported the following:
Not to brag, but it’s like my book was made to ace the Browser’s test. If readers open to page 69 of Dear Universe they’ll get a perfectly accurate idea of what the book is about. The scene opens with the “weird” guy from Cham’s school visiting her house to see her dad because this schoolmate is a hospital volunteer. This is both Cham’s worst nightmare and the root of her dilemma: how to keep her two worlds from merging.
I close the door behind Brendan. My chest is full of horses. They’re trampling me in their race to keep these people and places separate. Brendan comes from the world of things happening, and this is the world of things I can’t believe are happening. And yet here he is, holding out his hot drinks, and it’s their steam that’s crossing over first, from that world into this.

Dear Universe,

Wanted: A giant claw to come down and pluck Brendan from my house because he is an intruder from my other world and home is my other other world, which is only safe for me, my family and carpenter ants, which are like family given that they eat all our food.
On page 69 we see Cham getting smooshed as her worlds collide. Brendan ends up being a beautiful bridge between her home life and her school life, helping her to open up in ways she couldn’t imagine and wouldn’t want to imagine. Still, it takes a lot for Cham to let him in, both into her house during this scene and also emotionally. That Brendan does get in despite Cham’s resistance– think angry-outbursts, fights with friends, and some good old-fashioned crying – is one of my favorite parts of the story.
Visit Florence Gonsalves's website.

Q&A with Florence Gonsalves.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 15, 2020

"Little Voices"

Vanessa Lillie has fifteen years of marketing and communications experience and enjoys organizing book events and literary happenings in the Providence, Rhode Island area. Originally from Oklahoma, Lillie calls Providence, Rhode Island home with her husband and sloth obsessed son.

Her debut thriller, Little Voices, was an Amazon bestseller and number one psychological thriller for all of September 2019. Little Voices received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal as well as must-read lists in Real Simple, Refinery29, Cosmopolitan UK, and Bookish. It was also named one of the best debut thrillers of 2019 by Bolo Books.

Lillie applied the Page 69 Test to Little Voices and reported the following:
From page 69:
Ten minutes later, I return to him in the kitchen. Ester is slumped in the crook of his arm as he sips coffee with the other hand.

“Careful,” I snap, letting my nerves out on this silly situation. “You could burn her.”

“I’ve got it,” he says, defensive as I quickly take her back into my arms.

I nuzzle her as anxiety punches my gut until it finally deflates into embarrassment. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m nervous.”

He raises his eyebrows.

“No, I’ll drive myself.”

He bows his head to the side as if he knew I’d say that. “Call me when you’re back. Tell Dr. Lauren hello.”

I kiss him on his smoothly shaven cheek before he can notice my eyes filling with tears.

I really do hate lying to him.
This passage makes me smile because that moment between a husband and wife and the coffee came from my own postpartum experience. I walked into the kitchen and my husband was holding our baby and sipping his coffee, and I made myself not snatch the baby out of his hands.

However, that’s where the similarities end. In this scene, the main character, Devon, is lying to her husband. She promised to go to therapy, but is pretending that's why she's leaving her house for the first time since she returned from the hospital after giving birth. Instead, she's going to investigate the murder of her friend. This is a journey of not only finding justice, but also rediscovering the person Devon was before the baby.

It feels right that a small part of this scene is rooted in my real, post-baby life. I wrote Little Voices as a new mom who wanted to see motherhood at the heart of a thriller. Taking my own struggles and emotions as a scared new parent, I amplified and fictionalized them on the page.
Visit Vanessa Lillie's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 14, 2020

"Cursed"

Jen Calonita is the author of the Secrets of My Hollywood Life series and other books like Sleepaway Girls and I'm with the Band. Fairy Tale Reform School and Royal Academy Rebels are her first two middle-grade series.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Cursed, and reported the following:
I've failed my test.

I hate failing tests!

But here I am, failing this one because while Page 69 of Cursed gives away an important kernel of information about the final book in the Fairy Tale Reform School series, it does not tell the whole plot. If a reader turned to page 69, they'd find a chapter titled "Pearls of Wisdom," and this information written by our former thief heroine, Gilly:
My grandmother seems to want to talk to anyone but me. She even made me leave the magic mirror that links us to FTRS on her porch. ("I won't have people eavesdropping on me!")
An interesting line indeed! Gilly has a grandma who hates snoops! And here's why: Gilly's grandma is a reclusive fairy that Gilly, Jax, Jocelyn, Maxine, Ollie, Kayla, Allison Grace and the crew must hunt down because she may have information about Rumplestiltskin and Alva (aka the wicked fairy from Sleeping Beauty) that could help them stop a curse that would rewind time in Enchantasia and make villains the leaders. Did I mention that Gilly's impressionable younger sister Anna is with Rumplestiltskin at this moment and seems to be evil? Or that the kids are still being forced to do homework while on the run from dangerous gargoyles?

Cursed is my wrap up to this series that I adore and there was so much I wanted to pack into pages like page 69 giving the reader glimpse of the future beyond the book while staying true to characters that I've grown to love and admire over the past few years. I hope this glimpse at page 69 has you wanting to read more. Happy reading!
Visit Jen Calonita's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jen Calonita and Captain Jack Sparrow.

--Marshal Zeringue