Sunday, January 17, 2021

"A Splendid Ruin"

Megan Chance is the bestselling, critically acclaimed author of several novels. Her books have been picks for Amazon Book of the Month, IndieNext, and the Historical Novel Society Editors’ Choice. Booklist calls her writing “provocative and haunting.”

Chance lives in the Pacific Northwest.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Splendid Ruin, and reported the following: 
From page 69:
It seemed that nearly everyone in San Francisco had the idea to go to the Cliff House that Sunday—or to the enormous, Grecian-styled Sutro Baths nearby. The oceanside highway had been lively with horses and carriages, other bicyclists, and automobiles, and now they crowded the entrance. Men in their driving and bicycling caps dallied on the huge porch, women with colorful parasols and scarves and tams and, yes, one or two in bloomers.

“We need a table at the west windows,” Goldie said as we went inside. “I want May to see the view.”

The hall was long, the woodwork gleaming, the decor elegant, beautiful, and soothing. Places like this accentuated how truly the Sullivan house unsettled, that a resort should feel more like home.

Pillars punctuated the dining room, which was tastefully ornamented with palms and ferns and hanging lamps. It was indeed crowded, but we were seated promptly at a white-clothed table next to a window overlooking a veranda and the Pacific Ocean. Talk, silver clinking against plate, and the wonderful smells of food and smoke and that underlying, ever-present scent of the sea only added to the stunning view.

“Don’t you love it, May?” Goldie asked. “Aren’t you glad you’re here instead of gloomy old Brooklyn?”

“You know I am. How many times must I say it?”
Page 69 of A Splendid Ruin shows the protagonist, May Kimble, her rich cousin Goldie Sullivan, and two friends at the famous Cliff House in San Francisco, a famous society restaurant on the cliffs overlooking the ocean.

The scene sets a normal Society Sunday—a world to which May has only recently been introduced, and so this is all very new to her. While the McLuhan test gives you an idea of the book’s atmosphere, it really gives you no sense of the foreboding or impending doom and disaster which permeates the book. The novel feels fairly light and inconsequential here, with not much indication of the story’s darkness or its themes of betrayal and revenge.

I think it gives you a good idea of the writing itself, however. This is also the page that sets up the reader for the introduction of two important plot points: on page 70 we are introduced to Ellis Farge, a mysterious architect who shows May dreams she hasn’t even realized she’s had, and to Steven Oelrichs, who is a clue to the strange goings-on at the Sullivan House. So while page 69 reveals little more than atmosphere, it does serve as a crucial framing, and gives a sense of the fairy-tale world in which May finds herself, which soon (this is not a spoiler) becomes something much more terrifying.
Visit Megan Chance's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Splendid Ruin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 15, 2021

"Corporate Gunslinger"

Doug Engstrom has been a farmer's son, a US Air Force officer, a technical writer, a computer support specialist, and a business analyst, as well as being a writer of speculative fiction. He lives near Des Moines, Iowa with his wife, Catherine Engstrom.

Engstrom applied the Page 69 Test to his 2020 novel, Corporate Gunslinger, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Chloe exited Simulator Thirty-Seven, her face stoic. For the hundredth and final match of her qualification series, her mech managed a 62-point shot to her lower chest, while she’d administered only a 27-point shoulder graze in return. The loss hurt in the battle for class rank, but Chloe’s sixtieth Qualification Week victory on Thursday had already assured her future as a TKC gunfighter.

Kira greeted her at the edge of the simulator field. “Hey, you’re done!”

Chloe rubbed a spot on her lower ribcage. For the qualification, the shock suits administered little more than a hard tickle, but the irritation could persist. “I thought I had it until it turned.” She looked back to the field, where the mech had already assumed the start position, and the next trainee verified his holster settings with an instructor. “Damn, those things are fast. The turn block is loose, though. It overshot when it brought the gun around and couldn’t zero in fast enough. That’s what saved my butt.”

“Thanks, that’s good to know.”
Is page 69 a good representation of Corporate Gunslinger? No.

Partially because it is a chapter start page, and therefore short, the test misleads by making the book sound far more technical than it is, and overstating Chloe’s role relative to Kira, who is the main character. However, I like the way it highlights Chloe’s role and her relationship with Kira.

Corporate Gunslinger is the story of Kira Clark, a young woman in the near-future United States who has mortgaged her freedom to finance her education. Facing foreclosure, which would allow her creditors to control every aspect of her life, Kira takes a large signing bonus to enroll in gunfighter training, where she learns to represent TKC Insurance in the duels that have become the final, fatal stop in the American judicial system. The chapter takes place at the very end of training, as Chloe and Kira are trying to pass their final simulator duels against training robots and earn a high class ranking.

Technology is incidental to the story, serving mainly to remind the reader that, “we’re in the future, and they do things differently here.” Though it tackles themes of violence and corporate power, the story is anchored by the friendships between its main characters—KIra, her best friend and roommate Chloe Rossi, and their trainer, Diana Reynolds. Though Kira is the most important character, Chloe isn’t just a sidekick who exists to serve Kira’s needs. Chloe has her own aspirations, concerns, and adventures, and she and Kira have a warm, mutually supportive relationship. I’m pleased that you can see a little bit of Chloe’s story on page 69.
Visit Doug Engstrom's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

"Threader Origins"

Gerald Brandt is an international bestselling author of science fiction and fantasy, and the author of the cyberpunk San Angeles sci-fi trilogy: The Courier, The Operative, and The Rebel. The first of the trilogy was a finalist for the Aurora Award for Best Novel. His short story “Storm” appeared in the 2013 Prix Aurora Award-winning anthology Blood & Water. By day, he’s an IT professional and coding guru. In his limited spare time, he enjoys riding his motorcycle, rock climbing, camping, and spending time with his family. He lives in Winnipeg with his wife Marnie, and their two sons Jared and Ryan.

Brandt applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Threader Origins - Book One of The Quantum Empirica, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Threader Origins shows the very first lesson Darwin (the main character) gets in using the Threads (quantum strings generated by a machine).
The harder he looked at them, the clearer they became. “Yes.”

“Good. I’m making the Threads stronger so you can See them. Watch the Threads. In which direction do they seem thicker? Is the thickest Thread pulling or pushing the stick in a particular direction?”

He watched the Threads as they wove around the stick. They all looked the same, thin and translucent, ethereal, like gauze pulled through liquid. He concentrated harder. The Threads partly disappeared as images flashed in their place. They were almost carbon copies of each other as the images of the stick split, and split again. Suddenly, in one, the stick fell to the right, while in another it fell to the left and in a third the stick remained upright. He raised his hand to his head, expecting the pain he’d felt earlier with his Coke can. Only a faint buzzing came through.

The images disappeared, and with it the faint background buzz.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah . . . yeah. Last time that happened it felt like my head was going to explode, and I passed out.”

“And this time?”

“Nothing, just a small buzzing in my head.”

“Good! That’s the inhibitor doing its job. Even the noise will disappear as you get stronger. Let’s do it again. Concentrate on the Threads.”

It was easier this time. The Threads appeared as insubstantial as before, and then disappeared, replaced by the images. The image of the stick tipping left seemed stronger, brighter, more real than the one falling right and definitely more substantial than the balancing stick.

“It will go left.”

Bill let go of the stick and it fell to the left. “Excellent. Let’s do it again.”
I'd have to say this is almost a perfect page for a potential reader to land on. The only thing it could do better is name the speaking characters. It shows Darwin's interpretation and viewing of the Threads, and the first time he actually uses them on purpose. From this point on, Darwin's world changes in so many ways.

Darwin has no idea what's going to happen, and the book covers his journey in learning how to use the Threads, regaining something he has lost long ago and then losing it again, and realizing that no one can work in isolation. Friends and family, whether of blood or not, can make you stronger than you ever thought you could be.
Visit Gerald Brandt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 10, 2021

"Fatal Divisions"

Formerly a crime reporter for daily newspapers such as the Miami Herald and Philadelphia Inquirer, Claire Booth is the author of the Sheriff Hank Worth Mysteries: The Branson Beauty, Another Man's Ground, A Deadly Turn, and the newly released Fatal Divisions.

Booth applied the Page 69 Test to Fatal Divisions and reported the following:
From page 69:
Sam hadn’t realized his former classmate worked here. If he had, he would have started his canvass somewhere else.

“Hey, Jermina. How long you been working here?” He wasn’t going to ask how she was doing. That would lead to a long and painfully detailed update about people he’d been deliberately avoiding since they all graduated from high school. And slinky, rumor-starting, innuendo-slinging Jermina was at the top of that list.

“Oh, just a month or two. I was up at Calico Cabins before that. But it wasn’t, uh, the right fit for me, so I moved on.”

Which meant she’d been fired.

“You know me,” she said, leaning over the counter and winking at him. “I’m always looking for better opportunities.”

Sam suppressed a shudder. He explained that he needed to know if Branson residents were allowed to use the resort’s bocce courts.

“What’s those?”

Dear Lord.

“One of the amenities. For guests. Is there anybody else I could talk to? Where’s your manager?”

Jermina snapped out of her come-hither lean in a huff. “He ain’t here. All you get is me.”

“What about a maintenance worker?”

She considered that. “There’s some old guy who wanders around. With, like, garbage bags and stuff.”

He decided to take that as permission to go look for the man. He hustled out, pretending not to hear her ask for his cell number. He wandered around for ten minutes before he found the “old guy,” who was actually only about Sheila’s age—she sure would have had something to say about that if she was here.

The man started chuckling the second Sam said “bocce.”
Page 69 has one of my main characters, sheriff’s deputy Sam Karnes, talking with the desk clerk at a tourist resort in Branson, Missouri. It’s a great page to read, for two reasons. First, it tells you something important about Sam, a guy in his mid-twenties who is really starting to grow professionally. He isn’t stuck in the rut that a lot of other young people in Branson have dug for themselves.

This page also mentions something that’s a key element throughout the entire book—bocce ball. During his investigation of a murder, Sam discovers that the victim and a group of friends are sneaking onto private property in the middle of the night and covertly using the bocce ball courts.

While Sam doesn’t think that the trespassing is a motive for the murder, he does want to identify the other members of the group. They could potentially tell him more about the victim, who is an enigma at this point in the book. Or one of them could even be the murderer.
Visit Claire Booth's website.

My Book, The Movie: Fatal Divisions.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 8, 2021

"The Heiress"

Molly Greeley was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where her addiction to books was spurred by her parents' floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. A graduate of Michigan State University, she began as an Education major, but switched to English and Creative Writing after deciding that gainful employment was not as important to her as being able to spend several years reading books and writing stories and calling it work.

She lives in northern Michigan with her husband and three children, and can often be found with her laptop at local coffee shops.

Greeley applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Heiress, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The wind was a warm breath on my cheek, and I could hear the swish of tree branches from the woods down the hill. I had been frightened of those woods all my life; they seemed a fearsome place, shadowed and gloomy. I could never understand the impulse that drew people to seek out such untamed places, my mind skipping back to those old stories from my nurse, to wolves and bears and unnamed beasts with teeth and claws that pierced maidens' delicate flesh. It was always the maidens being pierced, in the stories.
If someone were to open to this page randomly when paging through the book, I'd say it would give them a definite sense of the interiority of the story, particularly in part one, when Anne is so physically confined and so exists largely inside her own head. However, there is a passage just before the paragraph quoted above, in which Anne is talking to her governess about the laudanum she takes each day; I didn't quote this because it really begins a page or two earlier. But it does give a definite sense of what the story is about - of what Anne is going to have to overcome - if the reader happened to start at page 69 and then, curious, read further back a page or two!
Visit Molly Greeley's website.

Q&A with Molly Greeley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

"Monsters Among Us"

Monica Rodden lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Greg, and a dog who loves to chase everything. When not preventing Hamlet from terrorizing the local squirrel population, she writes murder mysteries for young adults...with a classic twist!

Rodden applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Monsters Among Us, and reported the following:
Page 69 brings us to right before the murder, which is told from the victim's perspective. It was one of my favorite scenes to write--not because I'm a psychopath (I think) but because it's both haunting and important. I wanted to do justice to the looming terror of it and focus on the victim the entire time.
Amy checked the clock, did the math. The clifftop was a ten-minute walk...She told herself if it was raining hard, she wouldn't go--she wasn't totally reckless--but thankfully the night was almost clear, with just a faint drizzle falling. She zipped up her coat to her chin, shoved the note into her pocket, and took a full thirty seconds to close the front door with white-mittened hands. It was freezing outside, so she walked fast, her stomach rising up her throat. She swallowed. Nerves. Relax. At least you won't get bug bites. Rain dotted her hat, caught on her eyelashes. She blinked to clear them, and they fell onto her cheek, like tears.
Here, a character is walking to her doom, arguably by her own free will, which is a theme I explore in Monsters Among Us: victims--primarily women--making a "bad" choice and being "punished" for it, in the eyes of the world. But really it's just a girl making a decision to go somewhere. And sure, maybe that was a mistake. Maybe she should have stayed inside. But she is a human making a human choice and that cannot and should not take away her humanity.

I was dubious about this test, but page 69 is actually a solid representation of my book. If you like page 69, chances are you'll enjoy the other pages of Monsters Among Us.
Visit Monica Rodden's website.

Q&A with Monica Rodden.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 4, 2021

"Better Luck Next Time"

Julia Claiborne Johnson is the author of the bestselling Be Frank with Me, a finalist for the American Bookseller’s Association Best Debut Novel Award. She grew up on a farm in Tennessee before moving to New York City, where she worked at Mademoiselle and Glamour magazines. She now lives in Los Angeles with her comedy-writer husband and their two children.

Johnson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Better Luck Next Time, and reported the following:
From page 69:
"Oh?" Nina asked. "How was it?"

"Not bad. considering most of the students are there to study mining," I said. "The costumes were the best part, I thought. Showed real imagination. Bottom's in particular."

Nina said, "Let's drive around some before we go back to the ranch. Show me where this college is, Ward. I never went to college. Maybe I should enroll there since I'm about to become a citizen of Nevada again. Maybe if I had a university degree people would treat me with the respect I probably don't deserve."
Though it is only a few short paragraphs, page 69 is important to the novel. Bottom’s costume, which at this point is in the collection of a college theater department, is not only a jumping-off place for all the hijinks that will follow but the source of my favorite joke in the whole novel (see page 201). The costume’s head starts as a sight gag, turns into an integral plot device and finally becomes a heartbreaking metaphor.

The whole idea of that costume’s role in my book was born of the fact that my son played Bottom in his high school production of A Midsummer Nights Dream. I couldn’t stop thinking about the papier mâché donkey head he wore when he played it. Then it struck me that were was something very Midsummers Night about a novel set on a Reno divorce ranch, a place where rich ladies—like our Nina, in this passage— once went in droves for an idyllic (or as idyllic-as-possible, under the circumstances) time away from their real, unhappy lives. When my novel is set, in the summer of 1938, six weeks of living in Nevada, and voilà! You were a legal resident of the state. Next stop, one of Reno’s famous “quickie” divorces. Free as a bird. Ready to try your luck again, if you so desired. Many did.

So it made perfect sense to me that, during the lean years of the Depression, a canny businessman would roll into Reno, snap up a failed cattle ranch, have a Hollywood set designer make it over into a movie-magazine version of the Old West and staff the place with handsome young ranch hands like cowboys straight out of Central Casting to lure the rich and often-married set. Hence the ranch in my novel, the Flying Leap. And my narrator, Ward? He's one of the cowboys, a young and handsome formerly-rich college boy from Tennessee, now fallen on hard times and surrounded by rich women with broken hearts. A novel inspired, in fact, by my own father, who had a job like this during the Depression. But that’s another story.
Follow Julia Claiborne Johnson on Facebook and Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 3, 2021

"Confessions of a Curious Bookseller"

Elizabeth Green graduated from the University of the Arts with a BFA in theater arts. They have contributed to McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Hobart, Wigleaf, Necessary Fiction, fwriction : review, and others. Their hobbies include native gardening and aikido. Hailing from Upstate New York—Greenwich, to be specific—Green now lives outside Philadelphia with their husband and two cats.

They applied the Page 69 Test to their new book, Confessions of a Curious Bookseller, and reported the following:
If you open to page 69 of my book, you'll find our narrator, Fawn Birchill, lamenting in an email to her staff about her high energy bills due to a window being left open in the back of her bookstore. She attempts to shut the jammed window by hitting the top of it with a hammer, to no avail. The page ends with the opening of another email, gushing to a local catering company about their food.

The book is entirely epistolary, so what we get throughout are communications from our rather unreliable narrator, to her often baffled and beleaguered recipients. Because of this, I think the test works in the sense that we get an idea of how Fawn solves problems: haphazardly and without much consideration. It's not unlike how she lives her life – at least until she does some soul-searching – so in that sense, I think the test works.

Her email to the catering company might seem like a friendly one on its face, but as we read on, we learn that she is embarking on a campaign to get a big discount for her store's holiday party. I think if one reads between the lines of this book, there is nuance to be discovered. She is a curmudgeon for sure, but her tactics, though misguided and cringeworthy, are justified to her. She loves her store, and will do anything to make it successful, even if it sometimes accidentally leads to self-sabotage.
Visit Elizabeth Green's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 31, 2020

"Heather and Homicide"

Molly MacRae spent twenty years in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Upper East Tennessee, where she managed The Book Place, an independent bookstore; may it rest in peace. Before the lure of books hooked her, she was curator of the history museum in Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town.

MacRae lives with her family in Champaign, Illinois, where she connects children with books at the public library.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest Highland Bookshop Mystery, Heather and Homicide, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It had to be Rab, but she wouldn’t swear to it. Urgent? She checked for customers looking for help. Happy browsers only. She got her binoculars from the office and first tried looking through a front window toward the headland. But the angle wasn’t right and the panes of old glass with their minor distortions didn’t help. She went out onto the front pavement.

The towering rock wall of the headland rose from the sea on the northern edge of Inversgail. How high? A hundred feet? More. The library sat on top like a toy from this distance. Middle square, he’d said, far left. Janet scrutinized the area she thought Rab—or whoever—meant.

Sweeping left and right, she worked her way up the rock face. Just call it what it is. A cliff. A monstrous, freaking enormous edge. Left, right, left, slowly, slow . . . until she saw . . . what? Something. Someone? On a ledge. How far up that—wait. No. It bloody well can’t be.

The shop door opened behind Janet and she heard Tallie call, “Mom?”

“She’s there, Tallie, clinging to the headland. Halfway up. It’s Heather!”
That’s all there is to Page 69 in Heather and Homicide. It’s short because it comes at the end of a chapter. Does that make it harder to pass the browsing test? It might make it easier. Browsers are jumping in at a moment of urgency and suspense – the word “urgent” shows up right there in the first line. And they quickly discover the dangerous situation Heather, the titular character, is in. The chapter ending is a literal cliffhanger, one that I hope makes readers and page 69 browsers turn the page to see what happens next.

The book is a traditional or cozy mystery, though, so does that come through in this short page? The passage offers a clue with the phrase “freaking enormous.” Another kind of book might have used stronger language. And there are details like the library sitting on top of the headland “like a toy” and Tallie opening the shop door and calling “Mom?” So yes, depending on what browsers are looking for, page 69 might give them a glimpse of what to expect in the book. It’s only a glimpse, but jacket copy is just another kind of glimpse, and between the jacket and page 69 a browser might be convinced to take the book home from the library or bookstore.

Heather and Homicide gave me a chance to spend more time with people I enjoy – and a chance to confound them by introducing them to Heather. How do ordinary people rise to the challenge of discovering and exposing a murderer in their midst? The women who own Yon Bonnie Books use their strengths – their relationships with each other and their new relationships with people in Inversgail, and the skills developed in their previous careers and through their years of observing and caring about others. That might not come through in the snippet on page 69, but I hope readers find it in the rest of the pages.
Visit Molly MacRae's website.

My Book, The Movie: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Scones and Scoundrels.

My Book, The Movie: Scones and Scoundrels.

The Page 69 Test: Crewel and Unusual.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 28, 2020

"Give Way to Night"

Cass Morris works as an educator in central Virginia and as a bookseller on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She holds a Master of Letters from Mary Baldwin University and a BA in English with a minor in history from the College of William and Mary. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart.

Morris applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Give Way to Night, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Give Way to Night is the first page of Chapter Seven, bringing the reader to Gades in southern Iberia (modern-day Cádiz, Spain). Lucretius Rabirus is arriving in the province with his legion, and he’s not terribly pleased about it:
Lucretius Rabirus disliked travel.

He had never seen the point in it. Oh, going to his various country estates dotted around Truscum was one thing. None were more than a few days from the great city of Aven, and he had many comfortable options for staying the night along the way, whether with friends or at posting houses of excellent reputation. Once arrived, he could enjoy the same comforts as he did in his domus in Aven: furniture he had chosen himself, his own clothes, his own books, food prepared by his own cooks, the attendance of his own docile slaves. His wife and son, if he desired their company; solitude, if he did not, for they could easily be left in Aven or packed off to a different estate.

Familiarity, in his consideration, was a vastly underrated concept.
As his ship approaches the shore, Rabirus muses on his prior military service, spent in “a city of decent, civilized people” and shudders to contemplate what life will be like “practically at the end of the world.”

This test would give a reader quite a good idea of my antagonist, who is not a very pleasant character -- though I suppose I would have to hope the reader realized that’s who they were being introduced to! I would certainly be dismayed if anyone mistook Rabirus’s voice as representative of the book’s overall tone and outlook. I think, then, that the test yields a mixed result for Give Way to Night: excellent for one character, but possibly misleading for the book as a whole.

The page sets up Rabirus’s worldview in a nutshell: what is known is good; what is unknown is dangerous. He likes a world he can control, and this page certainly reflects that. This page also hints at the broader conflict between him and my protagonists as they struggle for the soul of their nation, although it mentions none of the protags by name. Rabirus is of the Optimate faction: isolationist, conventional, valuing tradition over innovation. His opponents, my protagonists, are expansionist and egalitarian, curious about the broader world, eager to incorporate new ideas and influences. Rabirus took this posting in Gades mostly to spite one of his political foes, and I think that bitterness comes across on page 69, too! He made a choice he felt was necessary, but he resents it.
Visit Cass Morris's website.

My Book, The Movie: Give Way to Night.

Q&A with Cass Morris.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 26, 2020

"Nights When Nothing Happened"

Simon Han was born in Tianjin, China, and raised in various cities in Texas. His stories and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The Texas Observer, Guernica, The Iowa Review, Electric Literature, and LitHub. The recipient of several fiction awards and arts fellowships, he lives in Carrollton, Texas.

Han applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Nights When Nothing Happened, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Patty watched the outline of the man. How heavy his chest looked, how hard it seemed for a big-bodied person to breathe. The first time they had had sex, months after their wedding and a whole year after she’d spent the night at his studio, she’d assured him that it was okay, stilled him when he vibrated with indecision. One year, she thought as her eyes adjusted to her husband. One year had felt long enough to fall not only in love but through it. And to come out on the other side with a child. How time warped her former self, turned her inexplicable.
The test works—sort of. On one hand, what the page is setting up is a departure from the rest of the book, which is largely about a family who chooses not to engage in acts of intimacy. Here, Patty and Liang, the parents at the center of the novel, are about to have sex. But it’s also the first time they’ve had sex in over a year. And in the hours leading up to this moment, Patty was doing everything she could to delay coming home from the office—driving into standstill Dallas traffic, then falling asleep in her car in a parking lot. True to the book’s interests, the moment she’s about to share with her husband will be complicated and messy, and readers will probably have different reactions to it due to its ambiguity. We might see love between the two, we might see desperate longing, we might see an unsettling negotiation of power and control, which may bring up questions of consent. With Nights When Nothing Happened, I wanted to pull the veil off the neat depictions of suburban Asian Americans that prevail in the popular imagination. Patty’s family isn’t a tight, monolithic unit—it’s full of contradictions. And on this page, Patty is also beginning to realize the contradictions that exist within herself.
Visit Simon Han's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 24, 2020

"The Sapphire Child"

Janet MacLeod Trotter is the author of numerous bestselling and acclaimed novels, including The Hungry Hills, which was nominated for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, The Tea Planter’s Daughter, which was nominated for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Novel of the Year Award, and In the Far Pashmina Mountains, which was shortlisted for the RNA Historical Romance of the Year Award. Much informed by her own experiences, MacLeod Trotter was raised in the north-east of England by Scottish parents and travelled in India as a young woman. She now divides her time between Northumberland and the Isle of Skye.

MacLeod Trotter applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Sapphire Child, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He wondered what had happened to break up their friendship. Was it just Esmie being loyal to his father or was there another reason? George’s poisonous words about Esmie resurfaced. ‘Your father never married her. She’s just his whore ... they’re like a couple of sewer rats copulating!’

How could anyone speak about his beloved Meemee like that? To stop himself dwelling on it, he thought of Stella again. She must come with him and not go off with the Irishman, however amiable he was.

The next time Andrew was talking to Moira he asked, ‘What do you think of Mr Keating?’

‘He’s very charming – a bit of a ladies’ man, I’d say.’ She smiled. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘He likes you too,’ said Andrew. ‘He told me.’

Moira looked surprised. ‘Really? Did he say so? I got the distinct impression he’s keen on Stella.’

‘Well, he’s nice to Stella but I think he prefers someone a bit – er – more mature.’

‘Goodness, you must have some very grown-up conversations for your age in the Keating cabin,’ Moira said in amusement.

Andrew reddened. He wasn’t lying when he said that Hugh liked Moira, but he was pretty sure if Stella gave him any romantic encouragement, Hugh would press his suit with her rather than the failed governess. It worried Andrew that Stella might already have done things with Hugh, such as kissing, for they’d started calling each other by their first names and he’d witnessed them touching hands under the table and sharing secret smiles.

Moira tweaked his nose playfully. ‘Will you be my little cupid and tell Mr Keating I’ll meet him on the upper deck at cocktail hour?’

‘Of course,’ said Andrew.
As the novel is over 500 pages, I was astonished by how relevant page 69 was to the overall story! It’s told from the hero, Andrew’s, point of view (while still a teenager) and mentions some of the main characters – most importantly Stella who is my central heroine. Although we can’t tell what Andrew’s relationship is to Stella, we learn that he cares a lot for her and is jealous of her growing interest in Hugh Keating, the Irishman with whom he is sharing a cabin. It is apparent that they are on board a ship and that Andrew is apprehensive at what lies ahead. There is also a hint of the trouble he is escaping (to do with his father and step-mother, Meemee) that is preoccupying him. Andrew doesn’t know it yet, but the voyage is more than just a trip from India to Scotland but a life-changing event – one that he inadvertently sets in motion by his actions on page 69. In his conversation with the flirtatious Moira, he seals the fate of both Stella and Hugh, that will have long-term and devastating consequences.

Having said that, there is so much more that cannot even be guessed at by reading page 69! The novel is largely about warm-hearted Stella, the Anglo-Indian daughter of the hotel manager at The Raj Hotel in Rawalpindi, and her dreams of fulfilment beyond her close-knit community which are shattered by betrayal and the upheaval of world war.
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--Marshal Zeringue