Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"A Forthcoming Wizard"

Jody Lynn Nye is the author of many books and stories, including a series written with Anne McCaffrey and another with Robert Asprin.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new book, A Forthcoming Wizard, and reported the following:
Page 69 of A Forthcoming Wizard contains internal thoughts of the villain of the piece, Knemet. He is a very ancient wizard whose motivation is encapsulated in the paragraphs on this page. He muses upon the bitterness he feels over the loss of his beloved Compendium and the betrayal of his fellow wizards, the Shining Ones. He is ruthless in pursuit of his lost treasure. A reader will anticipate with horror the fate of the poor fisherman who had the bad luck to come into contact with Knemet's prize.

A Forthcoming Wizard is the tale of the brave people who are carrying the Compendium, otherwise known as the Great Book, from the lair of the thief who stole it back to its long-time place of concealment. Our heroine is Tildi Summerbee, whom we first met in An Unexpected Apprentice. She is a smallfolk girl, one of a halfling breed of human in the world of Alada. She fled from her home after the destruction of her family, and ended up taking her lost brother’s place as apprentice to the wizard Olen. In his household, she learned of the Great Book, and joined the quest to retrieve it. Her companions were two wizards, mother and daughter; a centaur princess; a dwarf woman trader; and two soldiers in the service of King Halcot of Rabantae. They are not the only ones who wish to possess the Compendium. First among others, there is the Scholardom, a religious order who are sworn to protect the Great Book – will they be too easily tempted by its power? The book can change reality, and can kill with a touch. It is up to Tildi and her friends to defend this treasure and bring it back to where it belongs without falling into its thrall.

I hope that the reader will be intrigued enough by page 69 to go back and read the story from the beginning (or to read An Unexpected Apprentice first, though A Forthcoming Wizard was written to be able to stand alone). A compelling and driven villain adds necessary conflict to the story, giving our heroine a reason to persevere and be creative, resourceful and brave. Knemet is clever and complex. Staying out of his clutches will not be easy.
Read an excerpt from A Forthcoming Wizard, and visit Jody Lynn Nye's homepage.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"The Unknown Knowns"

Jeffrey Rotter holds an MFA from Hunter College where he studied under Peter Carey, Colson Whitehead, Colum McCann, and Andrew Sean Greer and was awarded the Hertog fellowship to perform research for Jennifer Egan. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and young son.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to The Unknown Knowns, his first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my novel, The Unknown Knowns, contains the very first reference (beyond the epigraph) to the Donald Rumsfeld quote that inspired the title. Here we find Les Diaz, a low-level agent of Homeland Security, testifying before Congress about the nature of his work: “So essentially in a nutshell we’re in the consequence management business, the known knowns and the unknown knowns.”

The language of the war on terrorism, aside from and because of its deadly consequences, is poetry. I spent hours reading transcripts of DoD briefings so I could infuse the book with Rummy’s circular language. On page 69, Diaz says: “We’re dealing with enemies that can turn inside our decision circles, so keeping the public in the loop of those decision circles? Well, that would not be wise.”

Is this page representative of the novel as a whole? Not really. In fact, it’s kind of misleading. On one level, The Unknown Knowns is a political satire. But satire is a secondary trait. I wrote the novel as a personal story. Its protagonist is a man named Jim Rath whose disintegrating life has made him retreat to the comforts of a childish fantasy.

In complicated times we tell simple stories. When President Bush called his campaign against terrorism a “crusade,” he reduced a complex problem to a fairy-tale of East and West dating back to the 11th century. Likewise, Jim Rath blunts the complexities of his personal life with comic-book fantasies. Homebound in a blizzard, he imagines himself a survivor of Shackleton’s crew on Elephant Island. Imprisoned at a CIA black site, he pretends he’s Galactus, the Marvel-comics titan who eats planets.

Jim has long believed that an aquatic race of humanoids, the Nautikons, once settled the floor of the Mediterranean. After his wife leaves him, Jim encounters Les Diaz in a Colorado Springs hotel bar and imagines that Diaz is the lone survivor of this lost civilization. As with the war on terrorism, this fairy-tale does not have a fairy-tale ending.
Read an excerpt from the novel, and learn more about the book and Jeffrey Rotter at The Museum of the Aquatic Ape.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 27, 2009

"Dope Thief"

Dennis Tafoya was born in Philadelphia and attended Oberlin College. He dropped out and worked a series of jobs, including housepainter, hospital orderly and EMT before starting a career in industrial sales. He began writing poetry, publishing stories in journals, and then started work on Dope Thief, his first novel.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to Dope Thief and reported the following:
“Manny grabbed the key and twisted. Ray’s mind went completely blank and he just watched Manny cranking the engine over and over. There was a glow over the rise behind them and Ray began to see red light reflected on the tops of the wet trees.”

Page 69 of my novel, Dope Thief reads to me like a random page of a hardboiled crime novel, which I think is both an accurate description and a box I’m trying to break open. It’s a nearly wordless account of the escape of the two main characters from a burning meth lab. It’s about panic and fear, and the only line of dialogue is, “Oh, Jesus, get moving.”

I hope the book is just the right mix of spare, violent action balanced with glimpses of the interior life of Ray, the main character, as he tries to first fight, and then think and feel his way out of the life of crime to which he feels chained by blood and bad luck.

My favorite parts of the book are actually Ray’s recollections of moments with his high-school girlfriend, Marletta, lost when they were both still young. I won’t cheat and quote any of them here, but they’re places where I get to stretch the conventions a little, and they were fun to write.

But writing sequences like page 69 is about the core territory of the crime novel, and I hope readers will think I cover it well: Desperate characters, armed to the teeth, running from fire and violent death with heads full of dope and a bag filled with cash.
Learn more about the book and author at Dennis Tafoya's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 25, 2009

"Figures in Silk"

Vanora Bennett is the author of two works of nonfiction, Crying Wolf: The Return of War to Chechnya and The Taste of Dreams: An Obsession with Russia and Caviar. In the US, her novel Portrait of an Unknown Woman was selected as one of Book Sense's ten recommended Picks for April 2007 and was recognized by Barnes & Noble's Discover Great New Writers program.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her latest novel, Figures in Silk, and reported the following:
It's not the main thrust of the story that develops later, but page 69 of my novel, Figures in Silk, is representative of the rest of the book in that it shows my heroine Isabel tapping into her inner ambition for the first time, and making a hesitant career move.

Her young husband has just died. Her well-off if very conventional father wants her home in his house again - a counter back in the counting-house, ready for a profitable remarriage. But Isabel has just begun to realise that her prickly, hostile mother-in-law, Alice Claver, has knowledge that she wants to acquire too. As a rich widow, Alice Claver is one of the rare women in the medieval City of London with the financial independence and technical expertise to trade in the fifteenth century's greatest retail luxury - silk. And Isabel, like Alice, feels the pull of the silk. On page 69, she's breaking it to her father that she's struck a bargain with Alice Claver.The older woman will let her stay on in the Claver household as an apprentice silkwoman, and learn the business from scratch, dawn starts, rough hands and all.

"But I want to stay with her," Isabel said wearily. The conversation seemed to have gone on for hours.

"But you can't," her father said again. "Not as an apprentice."

She knew his style of argument. It was merchant style: repeating himself, without raising his voice, until the sheer boredom of the discussion wore whoever he was arguing with into reluctant agreement. He called it consensus. And what he'd been saying today was: You could marry anyone in the City with your dower. And: No daughter of mine need ever work; I've given you the best opportunities in life; what will people think? And: Just look at your hands, lady's hands; think what they're going to look like once your new (eyebrows raised, shoulders raised) mistress gets you throwing raw silk or dunking yarn into pots of dye.

There's more of the stubborn merchant in Isabel than she's realised until now. Like her anxious father, she won't give in. Still full of the pain of recent widowhood, she doesn't realise yet that love will all too soon come back into her life. What she does already know is that the choice she's making now will govern her future - and that she wants to become the kind of woman who is ruled, not by her heart, but by her head.
Browse inside Figures in Silk, and learn more about the author and her work at Vanora Bennett's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 24, 2009

"Hypersonic Thunder"

Walter Boyne’s ninth novel, Hypersonic Thunder is the concluding volume in his trilogy on the history of jet aviation. The first two volumes, Roaring Thunder and Supersonic Thunder, bring the reader up to this novel’s start point, 1973, and carries them to 2007.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to Hypersonic Thunder with this result:
It surprised and pleased me that the 69th Page test works for Hypersonic Thunder in an almost perfect way, for it combines the essential elements of my trilogy on jet aviation. I’d like to include the entire section concerning the 69th page here, with the actual 69th page in italics, and my commentary done in bold face caps.

March 24, 1977, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma

Half of the personnel of the gigantic Tinker Air Force Base were on hand waiting to receive the Boeing E-3 Sentry, the first of the AWACS to reach the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing.


Not by chance, Harry Shannon and Bob Rodriquez were on board. Harry had worked extensively with Boeing on the massive thirty-foot diameter rotating dome that sat atop a modified Boeing 707 airframe, and the Air Force asked him to be on this delivery flight.


Rodriquez helped in developing the fantastic radar system which could range out for more than 250 miles to detect, identify and track enemy aircraft in a 120,000 square-mile area. He’d also devised the massive liquid cooling equipment that the hot-running electronics required. And in the back of his mind, he knew that when GPS came along, it would enhance the AWACS’ capability immensely.

It was a magnificent weapon system, and they were already calling it a “force multiplier.” One AWACS could direct all the fighters in a battle, sending them where they were most needed, warning them of threats, lining them up with tankers. It was sort of like the English chain link radar system that helped win the Battle of Britain, but airborne, so it could be sent all over the world to any battle area.


But of course it was vastly advanced. The incredible thing was that it had been hotly opposed for all of its existence by people in Congress who had no idea of its capabilities, but called it the usual “billion dollar boondoggle” for political reasons. Harry and Bob knew that it would pay for itself the first day it went to war.

The usual first flight glitches had kept them occupied for most of the trip out from Seattle—the cooling system was difficult to regulate—but by the time they were inbound to Tinker, they had a chance to catch up.

“How did the board of director’s meeting go last October, Harry? Everything I’ve heard says it was very peaceful.”

“It was peaceful on the day of the board meeting, but a nightmare on the 13th, the day before. Tom kept Nancy out of the loop until then. She knew something was happening, but had no idea that we were going to call for her replacement. When Tom told her that I was going to takeover her position she burst into tears and had a fit of hysteria. He’d never seen her like that before, although some of us had a few times, when things didn’t go her way.”


“Tough on Tom, eh?”

“Yeah, it went on for about an hour, with her alternating between crying and making threats, or so he tells me. Then all of a sudden, she bursts into tears again, throws herself into his arms, and says she was glad it was over. She said she would voluntarily resign, and throw her votes, even all her proxies, which ever way Tom said.”

“Must have been a relief for everybody.”

“Yeah, except for the fact that I don’t really want the job. I hate the paperwork involved. But Tom refuses to take it, says he’s too hot-headed, and he’s right. But I wish you had stayed with the firm, and you could take over. You are a lot better at this modern stuff”—he waved his hand around the equipment packed fuselage of the AWACS—“than I am.”

“Tom would never have stood for that, Harry. Nancy was bad enough, I would have been intolerable to him.”

They talked for a while about the Shannons, then Harry asked

“How many of these big buckets do you think they’ll build??

“Not enough—too expensive. The Air Force is talking about buying sixty-four; if it winds up with half that it will be lucky. But we’ll sell a few to the NATO countries, and Japan, maybe. ”


“Well, I can see where your strategy for your company is better than ours. We get in on the initial production run, but you are there for the updates.”

Rodriquez nodded. “Exactly, it’s the same with the B-52, they’ll constantly be adding new equipment to the old air frames.”


Harry Shannon shook his head.

“Yeah, we’re doing better at that but we’ve got a long way to go. You know, thiis business about adding new equipment to old air frames,, Bob. Dad told us exactly that so many years ago. Somehow Tom and I never got the message. We’ve got to shift gears faster if we are going to make it.”

“That’s what worries, me, Harry. We’ve already seen how much better you are doing. You‘ve picked up a few contracts lately that we thought we had sewn up. The Vance Shannon name still means a lot. If you guys stick to your new business plan, you’ll do well, even though the market’s in a decline. And the better you do, the tougher it will be for AcTon. It is not easy as it is; we are locked into some
long-term development stuff that is all outlay and no income for years.”

Harry knew he was talking about the GPS system, but didn’t let on. There was no way Vance Shannon Incorporated was getting into something as far out as the GPS, not for awhile, anyway.

“Well, we blew it on the Space Shuttle. We haven’t had any contracts so far, but we’re working with Rockwell to help on some of the maintenance efforts down at Cape Canaveral. There should be some money in that.”


“Yeah, we’re looking at it too.”

They were quiet as the AWACS finally touched down, its tires squeaking on the long Tinker runway.

Then, embarrassed, Rodriquez asked,

“You hear anything from Mae?”

“Nancy and Anna do. I’m glad you brought that up. Mae’s been asking about working with us. How would you feel about that?”


Rodriquez bristled. “She doesn’t need to work for anybody, not with the settlement I made and the alimony I pay her. I can’t believe that she asked you about a job. It’s humiliating.”

“She didn’t ask me, Bob, or Tom, she’s too sensitive to do that. But she’s been friends with Jill and the other two girls for years. It’s sort of natural that she’d ask them for a job if she wanted to work. And she knew that Jill would go to Nancy for her. Maybe she’s bored.”

Shaking his head angrily, Rodriquez yelled

“No it’s not. She’s doing this deliberately to embarrass me. There are a million other places she could work.”

Shannon had never seen Rodriquez like this, not even when Tom used to ride him hard. Furious, hand shaking, spittle spraying from his lips, he pressed his face up close to Harry’s.


“I can’t stop you, but it would be a big mistake for you to hire her. How would it make me look? I can’t keep her as a wife, and she goes off to work to my old company so she can work for a competitor. It’s like you guys can get along with her and I can’t.”

Shannon didn’t speak for a while. Rodriquez was ready to fly off the handle right there on the flight line. After a bit, he said,

“I understand how you feel Bob. You were first rate with us about selling your stock. We’ll abide by your wishes on this. But I tell you, it won’t be easy, I’ll get pressured from Jill and Anna for sure, and maybe Nancy too.”

Rodriquez left without saying goodbye. It was totally unlike him. He was reacting more to Mae’s asking the Shannon’s for a job than he had to her divorcing him.

As Shannon walked toward Base Operations, carrying his battered B-4 bag and his parachute, he whistled softly to himself.

“Thank God this didn’t come up before he sold us the shares.”


What Page 69 didn’t cover were some of the flying action scenes in the book, nor the incredible series of technological advances that are detailed, including GPS, stealth, the Space Shuttle, and much more.
Readers can learn more about Walter Boyne and the “Thunder” series by going to

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Manna from Hades"

Carola Dunn's fifty novels include the long-running Daisy Dalrymple mystery series.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, Manna from Hades, which is the first in a new series, and reported the following:
From page 69:

"...Have the police been pestering you with questions about last night?"

"How do you expect me to answer that when it was your niece who pestered me?"

"I'm sure Megan was polite," said Jocelyn, taking the kettle from Eleanor on her way into the kitchen. "Unlike That Man."

"I haven't yet had the pleasure of That Man's acquaintance," said Nick with a grin, "but you have me shaking in my shoes, Mrs Stearns."

"Then you'd better sit down. I suppose you're posing as a starving artist?"

"Yes, of course. I were brought up proper, I were. I know it's your Christian duty to feed the hungry, so I'm sure it must be my duty to present the opportunity."

Jocelyn gave him a withering look as she turned on the gas under the kettle, but she reached down a cake tin.

Nick remained unwithered. "That looks promising," he said. "Ah, gingerbread. Excellent! I'm glad you didn't waste it on the rude inspector."

"Mr Scumble wasn't really rude," Eleanor protested. "It's his manner that's at fault, rather than his manners. For the most part. Did Megan ask you about what times we did what last night, Nick? I'm afraid I wasn't much help at all."

"Nor was I," he said cheerfully, "but they can easily check our movements. Don't worry about it. When will you be able to reopen the shop? Give me notice, won't you. I want first shot at those detective stories."

"We don't know yet. We were just talking about it." Eleanor frowned. "And I remembered... Nick, you can't imagine Major Cartwright slipping a collection of jewelry in to my car when he loaded the boxes of books, can you? After all, he's a widower. He might think that as his wife can no longer wear them—"

"Eleanor!" Jocelyn snapped, setting the teapot on the table with a bit of a thump. "You really mustn't tell anyone about that."

"Not anyone, dear, just Nick...."

Manna from Hades is my 50th book and the first in my new series of Cornish mysteries.

P69 includes practically all the major characters of Manna from Hades and displays their respective characters. Present are Eleanor Trewynn, kindhearted but occasionally vague, her irreverent neighbour Nick, and Jocelyn, the vicar's wife, efficient but bossy. They're discussing Eleanor's niece, Detective Sergeant Megan Pencarrow, her bad-tempered boss, DI Scumble, and the murder investigation, with its unexpected complication of the discovery of a collection of jewelry.

Tea and gingerbread suggest the English setting (though a Cornish cream tea would have placed it specifically in Cornwall).

Eleanor, a widow, spent her life travelling the world for an international charity. When she retired to Cornwall, she bought a cottage in a fishing village and turned the ground floor into a charity shop. Jocelyn runs the shop, as Eleanor has only to look at the cash register for it to malfunction. She drives about the countryside collecting donations...including the mysterious jewelry which turned up the day before she finds in the shop's stockroom the body of a scruffy, unknown youth, who looks somehow familiar...
Learn more about Manna from Hades at the publisher's website.

Visit Carola Dunn's website and Facebook page, and her group blog, The Lady Killers.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"In the Shadow of Gotham"

Stefanie Pintoff is the winner of the first Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America Best First Crime Novel Competition. A graduate of Columbia University Law School, she also has a Ph.D. in literature from New York University.

She applied “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, In the Shadow of Gotham, and reported the following:
It is New York, 1905. A young woman has been brutally murdered north of the city. And as Detective Simon Ziele investigates, the case immediately takes an unorthodox turn: he is approached by Alistair Sinclair, a noted criminologist who is convinced of the killer’s identity.

In the excerpt below from page 69 of In the Shadow of Gotham, Alistair explains why he believes the killer is the same young man who has been the subject of his experimental research into the criminal mind.

“. . . the crime scene in Dobson almost perfectly embodies one of Fromley’s recurring fantasies. That makes Fromley the most likely suspect in the detective’s case.”

Horace raised an eyebrow. “Does this mean you’ve given up on the idea of rehabilitating him, Professor?”

“One never gives up when something is important,” Alistair replied firmly, his tone admonishing, “but we have larger responsibilities now that will take precedence. It’s our duty to help find and apprehend Fromley. Because of our work these past three years, no one else knows as much about his habits and behavior as we do.”

. . . “It’s a worthwhile avenue to explore,” I said noncommittally. I wanted to learn more about Fromley and their work with him here at the research center before I made up my mind.

Is what we see on page 69 representative of the novel as a whole? Most definitely, yes.

It captures the beginning of the uneasy partnership between Ziele and Alistair, which is at the center of the book. They are different men with distinct personalities, methods, and goals: Ziele is a practical-minded investigator with Lower East Side roots and a remarkable affinity for each victim he encounters, while Alistair is a high-brow academic with a consuming passion for understanding criminal violence. But they need each other if they are to catch a killer even more dangerous than they first imagine.

Through Alistair’s comments about “duty” and “larger responsibilities,” this page also touches on the ethical and moral questions that pervade the novel -- many of which surround Alistair himself. And before the final chapter, major characters including Ziele must decide: to what lengths will they go when the stakes are at their highest?

Readers drawn to my book will be those who want to understand not only who committed the murder and how – but also why. Page 69 suggests the "why" is important, and I’d like to think they’d want to read on.
Read an excerpt from In the Shadow of Gotham, and learn more about the book and author at Stefanie Pintoff's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


J. Robert Lennon is the author of four novels including Mailman and The Light of Falling Stars. His stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, the Paris Review, Granta, Harper’s, and the New Yorker.

He applied “Page 69 Test” to his latest novel, Castle, and reported the following:
Unfortunately, page 69 of my new novel, Castle, is very possibly the most boring page in the entire book. It consists of a pedantic, unforthcoming man musing about how uncontemplative he is, and taken in isolation would likely give you the impression that the novel is a pretty tepid brew.

In fact, the narrator has a mysterious past, which begins to emerge when he buys some land and finds the ruins of a castle on it. This discovery leads to a reluctant exploration of his former misdeeds, and by extension the collective psychic burden of recent American military excursions abroad, by way of a Jack-Londonesque wilderness-survival narrative. Page 69 is a transitional moment, when the narrator, who has previously revealed almost nothing of himself, begins to let his defenses slip. The result is a slowly unfolding psychological mystery, or at least that was my intent.

I have to urge your readers to start at the beginning--there's more going on than meets the eye!
Learn more about the book and author at J. Robert Lennon's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Secret Son"

Laila Lalami was born and raised in Morocco. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Fulbright fellowship and was short-listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2006. Her debut collection of short stories, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, was published in the fall of 2005 and has since been translated into Spanish, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Italian, and Norwegian.

She applied “Page 69 Test” to Secret Son, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Secret Son contains...a sex scene. I know, how literal of me is that? In the scene, my character Youssef, a university student in Casablanca, has sex with his rich classmate Alia, on whom he's long had a crush. This is a pivotal scene, but I don't think it is quite representative of the content of the novel. In Secret Son, Youssef, who lives with his mother in a slum outside Casablanca, discovers that his entire existence has been a lie--his dead and respectably poor father turns out to be a wealthy businessman who is very much alive. This discovery sets him on a journey to find his father and the truth. An allegory of modern Morocco, Secret Son explores the struggle for identity, the need for love, and the myriad ways in which the political, the personal, and the religious bind us together.
Read an excerpt from Secret Son,and learn more about the novel and author at Laila Lalami's website and blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"A Knife Edge"

David Rollins is a former advertising creative director who lives in Sydney, Australia. He is the author of The Death Trust and A Knife Edge, both international bestsellers.

He applied “Page 69 Test” to A Knife Edge, his latest novel to hit North America, and reported the following:
So this top scientist working for the US Department of Defense on a secret programme (aren’t they all?) has been eaten by a great white shark after falling from the research vessel, and of course it’s an accident.

But then, on page 69, Special Agent Vin Cooper of the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations gets a call from a witness who informs him that it was murder. It seems the victim was pushed off the boat and into the monster’s jaws (and now all that’s left is the scientist’s head, which was discovered blocking the boat’s engine cooling system after the shark spat it out like a peach pit.)

A Knife Edge is the second action-packed book in the series written by me - international best selling author David Rollins - featuring the formerly washed up Special Agent Vin Cooper. Cooper still has attitude, of course, and as surely as 69 is his favorite number you can be sure he’ll sleep with the wrong woman. But that’s just one of the attributes that make this non-PC mobile train wreck so endearing (unless you’re the right woman, right?).

A Knife Edge begins with a particularly grisly opening and then builds into something that really should be zipped into a body bag. If you enjoy a political thriller dripping with black humor delivered by a protagonist who never calls a spade a manual front hoe, trust me (the author), you’ll like this.
Read an excerpt from A Knife Edge and learn more about the book and author at David Rollins' website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Breathers: A Zombie's Lament"

S.G. Browne worked in Hollywood for several years before moving to Santa Cruz to be a writer. He currently lives and writes in San Francisco.

He applied “Page 69 Test” to his new novel, Breathers: A Zombie's Lament, and reported the following:
Before she left, Rita came over to my cage and asked me if I was okay. I nodded and gave her a thumb up. Then she motioned me forward, leaned up to the bars, and kissed me on the lips.

“I’ll see you soon, Andy,” she said, and then sauntered away like a goddess.

When I smile at that memory, there’s no sense of the mischief my mother saw in my previous smile. But neither Mom nor Dad notice. They’re too busy talking about me in the third person.

I cheated a little bit, as the first half of the first sentence actually appears on Page 68. But I included it for the sake of continuity and context.

At first read, I wasn’t sure this page was representative of Breathers, especially since it’s just a third of a page. What a rip-off. But I think there are some unanswered questions here that add some intrigue:

Why was Andy in a cage?

Where is he now?

How does he know Rita?

Why did he only give her one thumb up instead of two?

Andy was in a cage because he and Rita, two members of the local chapter of Undead Anonymous, both took separate, un-chaperoned walks and ended up running into one another before getting carted off by Animal Control. Andy is in the car with his parents, recalling when Rita said goodbye to him before his mother and father came to pick him up at the SPCA, where all stray zombies are held for three days before they get donated to medical science. And although he still has both thumbs, Andy’s left arm was pulverized in the car accident that killed him, so he has no use of it. Plus his throat was damaged to the point that he’s unable to speak.

While my Page 69 lacks some of the humor and the zombie insights into the human condition which I think give the novel its dark, beating heart, there are certain elements here that are essential to the story – Andy’s burgeoning romance with Rita, his less-than-idyllic relationship with his parents, and the place of zombies in modern day society.

Hopefully that’s enough to compel someone to want to read the previous 68 pages and the rest that follow.
Read Chapter 1 from Breathers, and learn more about the book and author at the Undead Anonymous website and Scott Browne's LiveJournal and MySpace page.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 17, 2009

"If I Stay"

Gayle Forman is an award-winning author and journalist whose articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, The Nation, and the New York Times Magazine. Her first book is a travel memoir called You Can’t Get There From Here: A Year On the Fringes of a Shrinking World. Her first young-adult novel, Sisters in Sanity, is based on an article she wrote for Seventeen.

She applied “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, If I Stay, and reported the following:
If I Stay follows 17-year-old Mia in the 24-hour aftermath of a catastrophic car accident that leaves her parents dead, her little brother in unknown condition, and Mia herself in a disembodied state in which all she can do is observe as she is rushed to the hospital, operated on, and watched over by medical personnel and loved ones.

Page 69 finds Mia being visited in the ICU by her grandparents, who are unclear if their comatose granddaughter can hear anything they might say to her. On the previous page, a nurse—not one assigned to Mia, but one who has taken a personal interest in her nonetheless—approaches her grandparents and insists that Mia is aware of everything. At the top of page 69, she goes on to say:

You might think that the doctors or nurses or all this is running the show,” she says, gesturing to the wall of medical equipment. “Nuh-uh.
She’s running the show. Maybe she’s just biding her time. So you talk to her. You tell her to take all the time she needs, but to come on back. You’re waiting for her.

Right after this, the narrative jumps to a flashback about Mia’s parents, which is how the format of the novel works, alternating between Mia’s critical day in the hospital and memories of the life that has just been irrevocably changed. But this statement from the nurse is key. A short while later, Mia will come back to the nurse’s words and recognize their deeper meaning: Whether or not to live or to let go and join her parents is up to Mia.

If she stays…. Out of unspeakable loss comes this profound choice.
Read an excerpt from If I Stay, and learn more about the book and author at Gayle Forman's website and blog.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Sonata for Miriam"

Linda Olsson was born in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2003, she won the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition. She has lived in Kenya, Singapore, Britain, and Japan before settling in Auckland, New Zealand, where she lives today. Her debut novel Astrid & Veronika was published in 2007.

She applied “Page 69 Test” to her latest novel, Sonata for Miriam, and reported the following:
Not much of a page, perhaps, this page 69. Still, in a sense it is the pivotal chapter in the novel.

Firstly, the opening sentence: ‘The silence had been disturbed.’ My working title for this novel was The Consequence of Silence (it has been published under this title in some countries). Chapter 13 which begins on page 69 is the start of the attempts at breaking the stifling silence that has surrounded the main character, Adam Anker, all his life.

Two of the main characters are mentioned on page 69: Adam Anker, the narrator, and his daughter Miriam, Mimi. After a year of paralyzing grief after losing Mimi, Adam has just returned from a first social outing with friends on Waiheke Island in New Zealand, where he lives. Tired and a little drunk he ponders on a meeting with an elderly Holocaust survivor whom he has seen a few days earlier, Clara Fried.

He had intended to contact her after happening to spot a small display at the War Memorial Museum in Auckland. Here, the old woman had posted information about her lost brother, Adam Lipski. The note described how, after watching him leave the family home in Krakow in 1940, supposedly headed for safety in Lithuania, she had never seen him again.

Adam Anker was born Adam Lipski and the display triggered intense interest and strong feelings. He has grown up with little or no information about his Polish background and here came to stumble on what to him seemed like a possible lead into his past.

He headed home that day excited and intent on pursuing this lead. But an evening phone call put an end not just to his exploration, but to his life. He lost his daughter Miriam.

A year has passed and he is finally able to resume his research, and perhaps his life. He has again looked up the number to Clara Fried, arranged to meet her and he is finally ready to begin the journey into his past.

From Page 69:

The silence had been disturbed.

The following week I tried to focus on my work, spending most days in the studio. But I found myself interrupted by thoughts of my meeting with Clara Fried. On the Saturday I returned home in the late afternoon, my ears burning from exposure to the sun. The weekends were still harder than the weekdays. There was no logical reason for them to be, my life was not directed by the days of the week. But somehow it seemed easier to keep up pretences of a kind of normality during the week. Earlier that day I had been sitting at the table on the verandah with my morning coffee when the thought of another day alone in the house was unbearable. At the spur of the moment I called Antony and Vanessa. Friends since we became neighbours when I first arrived in the country, they were sensitive and kind, asked no questions, expected no answers. During the past year they had kept a thoughtful distance, but always making me feel that they were there for me, on my terms. They had no children – I had never known why - and Mimi had been theirs, too, Their grief had been double: sharing mine, while struggling with their own.

They had persisted with their invitations to lunches, dinners and other occasions. Although I seldom accepted, I was always asked. Earlier that week they had called to suggest lunch with friends visiting from Sweden. The wife worked in film, and they thought I might enjoy meeting them. In my

Read an excerpt from Sonata for Miriam, and learn more about the book and author at Linda Olsson's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"My Abandonment"

Peter Rock is the author of the novels The Bewildered, The Ambidextrist, This is the Place, and Carnival Wolves, and a story collection, The Unsettling. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and recipient of a 2000 NEA Fellowship, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, and teaches at Reed College.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, My Abandonment, and reported the following:
“It is so hard to be in the room with these girls. I sit at the round table with the pencil and scratch paper trying to write and then I get up and stand next to the window and I feel like breaking the glass in that room since it seems like it should be easier to breathe and I can’t get air.” (p. 69, My Abandonment, Peter Rock)

Much of the novel My Abandonment takes place in various wildernesses, so the description we find on p. 69 is not exactly representative. At the same time, it does catch our 13-year-old narrator, Caroline, expressing the claustrophobia and suffocation that buildings visit upon her. A page or two before or after this, she writes, “It’s important to always remember that at any time you think of it there are people being kept in buildings when they want to go outside.”

My novel was inspired by the true story of a father and his thirteen year old daughter found living in Portland’s Forest Park (at 5400 acres, the largest urban park in the nation); it chronicles the girl’s education, the ingenious ways the two survive in this wilderness, and their struggles to escape detection. The actual father and daughter had lived in this way for over four years; after being captured by authorities, they were relocated, and then suddenly disappeared. This book accounts for what is unknown: who they were, where they went, and why.

Page 69 covers a period of time after the capture, when the girl is being assessed and tested, apart from her father, before they are relocated. And this is perhaps what made me most curious about the true story: the flight, after having a “normal” life provided for them. We so often believe that those who aren’t living like we do would be happier if they did, and yet this equation doesn’t hold—for some, such trammeled lives are impossible.
Learn more about the author at Peter Rock's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Everything Asian"

Sung J. Woo's short stories and essays have appeared in the New York Times, McSweeney’s, and KoreAm Journal. His short film was an audience choice screening of the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival 2008.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Everything Asian, and reported the following:
The thing I was most afraid of was this: that my page 69 would be blank. Lucky for me, it’s page 70 that’s got nothing on it.

Page 69 is a short one, with just a single paragraph, but it serves a crucial purpose: a transition point to bring the reader back to the central characters of the novel, the Kims. With Everything Asian, I wanted to write a book that tells two stories: the struggles of a Korean family as they reunite in America for the first time in five years, and the story of Peddlers Town, the mall where the Kims run their store. The odd chapters are told in the first person by David, the son. The even chapters are in the third person, and in earlier versions, each one was devoted to different merchants in the mall and how they perceived and interacted with the Kims. However, in rewrites, it became clear that those earlier even chapters needed to stay closer to the family, so the second chapter is now from the point of view of David’s sister.

With the fourth chapter, I move away from the Kims for the first time, and the man who takes center stage is Mr. Hong, who owns a luggage store in Peddlers Town and also happens to be Mr. Kim’s compatriot. Since much of the plot concerns Mr. Hong, I had to make sure the focus returned to the Kims at the end of this chapter. As he walks around Peddlers Town, Mr. Hong notices a new store moving in. This is the last sentence on page 69:

“One guy was holding a big blue vase that looked identical to what Kim sold, and the other rolled in a clothing rack packed with red and blue Chinese satin dresses.”

The following chapter is titled “A Touch of Asia,” the name of this new shop. And as it turns out, this mall ain’t big enough for two oriental gift shops.
Read an excerpt from Everything Asian, and learn more about the book and author at Sung J. Woo's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 13, 2009

"A Visible Darkness"

Michael Gregorio is the pen name of Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio. They live in Spoleto, Italy, and were awarded the Umbria del Cuore prize in 2007.

They applied “Page 69 Test” to their new novel, A Visible Darkness, and reported the following:
The page 69 test is an eye-opener.

We wrote A Visible Darkness last year, and we are busily working on the fourth book of the Hanno Stiffeniis series, so we really had no idea what to expect. Our page 69 turned out to be refreshingly crisp. Better still, all the major themes of the tale are somehow present in that single page, which was a relief!

The investigation is set in the year 1808 on the Baltic coast, where the girls who collect amber along the shoreline are being murdered for reasons as yet undiscovered by an unidentified killer. Amber – also known as Baltic gold – was the source of Prussian wealth, and the French were quick to lay their hands on the trade after they invaded Prussia in 1806. Magistrate Stiffeniis goes to the village of Nordbarn to interrogate a witness on page 69. As he approaches the settlement, he hears what sounds like the droning of bees. This noise is produced by the machines that the workers use as they clean and polish the precious amber. There is a brief description of Nordbarn (a village lost in the sand dunes), a defensive cluster of primitive thatched huts built so close together that the inhabitants “can hear their neighbours rutting.”

Hanno has been whisked away from his home town, Lotingen, by the French authorities, and sent to catch the killer who is terrorising the “amber coast” and disrupting the lucrative trade. He knows that the local Prussians will resent the fact that he is working for the enemy, but the French leave him no choice. Unwashed, unshaven, “having slept all night in the rumpled, sweaty clothes” that he was wearing the day before, Hanno wonders whether he will look the part of a “Prussian magistrate who has the power to conduct such an important criminal investigation.”

His fears are answered when the droning stops, and “a shutter closed with a bang.”

In this page all the strengths and weaknesses of Hanno Stiffeniis emerge: his lack of confidence in his own investigative abilities (though he was once a student of the Prussian philosopher, Immanuel Kant), his resentment at being forced to work for the foreign power which has occupied his country, and the fact that his own countrymen see him as a threat, a man who cannot be trusted.

We got so drawn into the story that we read on to page 80, which is the end of the ninth chapter!
Read Chapter 1 of A Visible Darkness, and learn more about the authors and their work at Michael Gregorio's website and blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Liars Anonymous"

Louise Ure is the Shamus Award-winning author of Forcing Amaryllis and The Fault Tree.

She applied “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, Liars Anonymous, and reported the following:
I wondered how little Katie was doing. Her mother, Catherine, had been dead more than three years now, washed away in an unusual October rainstorm that swept her car into the flooded arroyo like it was a twig, and then turned it upside down in the riverbed silt. There was no question of culpability; there had been other people there as witnesses. The driver behind her who had managed to brake before plunging into the torrent had done everything he could to reach Catherine, but hadn’t made it in time.

If she hadn’t died before going to the cops … if she’d lived long enough to testify against her uncle Walter … if I hadn’t seen the danger for myself. Shit. All the ‘ifs’ in the world wouldn’t change anything. In the end, I’d had to do it alone. Accuser, witness, judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one.

Damn. The Page 69 Test worked again. In two simple paragraphs, it lays out my protagonist’s core character flaw and sets the stage for the novel’s darkest confrontation.

Liars Anonymous is the tale of Jessie Dancing, a roadside-assistance operator in Arizona who hears a murder occur during a late night call. She’s no Jessica Fletcher, blithely stepping in to solve a crime she stumbles across. Jessie is more complicated than that, as this excerpt from page 69 suggests. She’s a woman who has already taken a life once before and now – thrust back into a world of violence and danger – is forced to face that decision again.

The idea for Liars Anonymous came to me when I saw a TV commercial for the OnStar service. In the TV spot, the operator is connected to a driver whose airbag has gone off. “I wonder how many dead people they talk to,” I asked my husband, imagining that those airbag deployments were often the result of fatal accidents. And then I imagined that the operator actually heard a murder take place.

An interesting idea, sure. But the book didn’t come to life for me until I crawled into the persona of Jessie Dancing, a damaged and vulnerable young woman whose razor-thin hold on self-respect and sanity could snap at any moment.

A Kirkus review in January paid me a lovely compliment by saying “Ure provides a meaty, twisty puzzle. But the real prize here is Jessie, a tough, conflicted heroine you won’t soon forget.”

I hope that readers agree.
Read the first chapter from Liars Anonymous, and learn more about the author and her work at Louise Ure's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Fault Tree.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Red Mist"

Richard Taylor's debut novel, The Haunting of Cambria, was released in 2007.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Red Mist, and reported the following:
Below is the entirety of Page 69, which is the beginning of Chapter 17.

Strangely, Page 69 does represent what Red Mist is about. David Dengler, my hero, risks everything to save Monroe, and pays the price of becoming embroiled in a conspiracy that plays out sixteen months later, in Dealey Plaza. Dengler is very much a seeker, a person who knows little and whose lack of knowledge causes him to bumble through a conspiracy so viral he should die of it. Like Monroe, he is a naive outsider. Like Monroe, he is a person thrust into stardom. And also like Monroe, David Dengler is an exception, a person of extraordinary native talent and cunning, a man about whom his nemesis must admit, "You have the instincts of a piranha." Those instincts, that cunning, leads David Dengler to Dallas, Texas on a late November morning in 1963.


Saturday, August 4, 1962, Early A.M.

Dengler remained in the tree hours after Marilyn Monroe drifted off into a drug-induced oblivion, the telephone still in her hand, the bedroom light on. Dengler lingered partly because he enjoyed looking at her. Though she was a world-famous beauty whose nudity was his and his alone for this moment, his fascination with seeing her nude wasn’t overtly sexual. Rather, perched in this tree and gazing down on a naked and vulnerable person, he felt like a guardian angel.

The final reason he remained was to continue thinking about his situation. In the darkness and silence of Marilyn Monroe’s Brentwood yard, David Dengler could think about the forces arrayed against him.

He began to run possibilities through his mind.

Possibility One: He hadn’t been sent to surveil Marilyn Monroe by accident. He knew Hollywood stars were well represented on Fort Lee’s list of surveillance subjects, for a number of good reasons. For one thing, they were used to being followed by the press and wouldn't find it unusual having another body camped outside their door. Another reason Hollywood stars were good surveillance subjects was because they were relatively easy to find, and then equally easy to follow and document. Their lives were more than public — their professions were public, meaning their comings and goings were a matter of public record in gossip columns and the like. Dengler also knew certain celebrities were not on the Fort Lee list. At Lee he’d heard rumors about a surveillance of Rock Hudson the year before that had backfired, resulting in Hudson’s name being removed from the list forever. It was said Hudson was a homosexual, and it wasn’t Fort Lee’s intention to reveal private information that would damage the subject and draw attention to its own training practices. The subjects were supposed to be innocuous, damage-proof, and thoroughly ordinary. Marilyn Monroe was anything but ordinary, and when the elements of a President and his attorney general were stirred in... Dengler feared he might have been sent to witness something, what he wasn’t sure, and the ramifications frightened him.

Possibility Two: He was sent in blind, without anyone’s knowledge Monroe was having an affair with the Attorney General of the United States. This scenario frightened Dengler even more. If it were discovered he had knowledge of what was going to happen — and Dengler was sure something would occur that would prevent Marilyn Monroe from having her press conference Monday morning — then he would be in extreme jeopardy.
Read an excerpt from Red Mist, and learn more about the book and author at Richard Taylor's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"WWW: Wake"

Robert J. Sawyer has been called “the dean of Canadian science fiction” by The Ottawa Citizen. He is one of only seven writers in history to win all three of the world’s top awards for best science-fiction novel of the year: the Hugo (which he won in 2003 for Hominids), the Nebula (which he won in 1995 for The Terminal Experiment), and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (which he won in 2005 for Mindscan).

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, WWW: Wake, and reported the following:
Page 69 of WWW: Wake begins: "... there had been a breakdown of bicameralism, precipitated perhaps by catastrophic events requiring mass migrations and the resulting ramping up of societal complexity. Regardless of what caused it, though, the outcome was a realization that the voices being heard were from one's own self. That had given rise to modern consciousness, and a "soul dawn," to use Helen Keller's term, for the entire human race."

Ah, an infodump! Yay!

I start my science-fiction writing classes with the beginners going around the circle, critiquing a student manuscript. They always gleefully pounce on passages like the above and declare, "You must cut that!"

It's the blind leading the blind -- and I say that advisedly, given that Wake's hero is a blind 15-year-old girl. But at the end of each round of critiquing, I chime in, as Teacher, trying to lead them toward the light. And what I say is that the notion that discussing ideas is wrong in science fiction is silly; SF is the literature of ideas.

Yes, you have to have a captivating plot and characters people care about -- but so must any work of commercial fiction. But infodumps (or "expository lumps," or any of the other names given to them -- it's telling that the critical lexicon, foisted on us by the English-literature community that looks down on anything that actually sells, has no non-pejorative terms for this narrative device) are one of the things that makes good science fiction. Of course, they have to be done artfully -- but so does dialogue, and we don't automatically dismiss characters talking as being bad.

Which brings us to the infodump at hand. As it happens, this snippet goes to the heart of what Wake is about. Caitlin, a blind math wiz, is reading the real (and thought-provoking) book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes -- while the reader is noting the parallels to what's just happened in the novel. The Chinese government, trying to keep out foreign thoughts, has temporarily isolated their portion of the Internet, cleaving the Web in two -- and when the two parts are reunified, a consciousness emerges, not unlike what Jaynes says happened when the left and right hemispheres of our brain started communicating effectively with each other.

That leads us to the main story of the book: Caitlin, who is overcoming her blindness, thanks to an operation, takes on the role to this nascent consciousness that Annie Sullivan, the "Miracle Worker" Teacher, played for of Helen Keller, leading the sensorially deprived newborn mind out into the light. It is, I firmly believe, a deeply emotional, exciting, and uplifting journey, but, like all good SF, it's grounded in ideas ... just like the one here on page 69.
Read the opening chapters of WWW: Wake, and learn more about the book and author at Robert J. Sawyer's website and blog.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"The Local News"

Miriam Gershow graduated from the Program in Creative Writing at the University of Oregon and was a Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. Her stories have appeared in the Georgia Review, Black Warrior Review, and Quarterly West, among other literary journals. She lives in Eugene, Oregon, where she is a college instructor with the English Department at The University of Oregon.

She applied “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, The Local News, and reported the following:
The Local News is the story of bookish, awkward Lydia Pasternak, whose older, more charismatic brother, Danny, disappears before his senior year. At the time of his disappearance, Danny and Lydia are largely estranged.

It’s hard to write a book that includes something as headline-grabby as a missing teenager, without people thinking that’s what the book is about. But the disappearance is not the central focus. It permeates the book, but the central focus is Lydia’s coming of age, with Danny’s disappearance as backdrop. One reviewer wrote: “For Lydia, everything is about Danny, and nothing is about Danny,” (Eugene Weekly). This is true, and the same thing could be said about the book itself. Everything and nothing in it is about Danny.

So what’s about Page 69? Page 69 takes place two months after the disappearance. Lydia is taking part in one of the weekly sweep searches. Well, sort of. While volunteers march around looking for any clues to Danny’s whereabouts, by page 69, Lydia has left the search and veered into an off-limits abandoned factory with two characters she barely knows: Lola, a girl who used to have a crush on Danny, and Bayard, Lola’s French friend.

The page begins:

We moved past hulking, unidentifiable machines. In the dark, one looked like a loom, another a gross imitation of a grand piano.

“What’d they used to do in here?” I called, my voice loud and echo-y. Neither answered, but Lola let out an unusually high pitched squeal followed by a loud, skittering noise. When I turned around, she was down on all fours, splayed like an animal.

“I tripped!” she yelled, her tone as if she were accusing us of something. “I tripped!”

When I got to her, she was breathing heavily, examining her wrists for scrapes. I helped her up by the elbow. She had an expression I hadn’t seen before, far more intent and fiery than normal. She looked like she was working hard to bite back something. The sight of it made me like her more than usual. It made me give her more credit. I helped brush the dirt off her pants.

“I’m cut,” she said. She held her palm to my face. There was a thin trail of blood on the fleshy pad beneath her thumb. “I think there’s some glass in there.”

I felt around her hand impotently, imitating something my mother must have done a long time ago. I couldn’t feel anything.

When Bayard got to us, he proclaimed: “Come on. This will be fun.” The hood of his rain jacket was pulled back now; several curls had broken free of his gel and popped from his head like loose bedsprings. His ears were huge. I felt like laughing.

“Zis weel be fan,” I said to Lola. That made her smile a little.

So, is this representative? Yes.

Lydia is wandering through unfamiliar territory with virtual strangers. Through much of the book, Lydia is unmoored from the familiar, surrounded by new people and new experiences. Here, like on many other pages, she lets herself fall into sudden, if not completely secure, companionship with whoever is in close proximity.

More notably, Lydia spends much of her time on 69 as she does throughout the larger story–distracting herself from what’s really going on. Just outside the factory door, volunteers are slogging through the rain, looking for answers about her brother. But here’s Lydia, in contrast, fighting the urge to laugh at Bayard’s big ears and unruly hair.

Importantly, though, the end of 69 is equally representative, in that Lydia’s attempts at distraction are often impotent:

Bayard found a dark stairwell that smelled rancid, as if someone had long ago left meat to defrost here. Lola cupped both hands over her nose and mouth as Bayard bounded up the stairs ahead of us. The darkness was so dense, I held my arms out in front of me protectively. The smell was potent; it went right to my throat and I started coughing. For a quick moment, I thought: Danny. I felt, briefly a fleshy, sweaty sureness.

There he is, rearing his head–the boy who is everything and nothing in this novel. As much as Lydia tries to quash thoughts of Danny, he appears and reappears. There is no escaping him, as much as she may want to. This is what Lydia has to reckon with on page 69, and what she ultimately has to reckon with in the other 356 pages of the book.
Read an excerpt from The Local News, and learn more about the book and author at Miriam Gershow's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"The Warded Man"

Peter Brett has been writing fantasy stories for as long as he can remember. He received a bachelor of arts degree in English literature and art history from the University at Buffalo in 1995, then worked for a decade in pharmaceutical publishing before returning to his bliss.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Warded Man, his first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 (commentary to follow):

... stretching from the stream to the blaze, passing up full buckets and handing back empty ones. Gared was called back to the fire with the cart, his strong arms needed to throw water.

It wasn’t long before the cart returned, this time pulled by Tender Michel and laden with wounded. The sight brought mixed feelings. Seeing fellow villagers, friends all, burned and savaged cut her deeply, but a breach that left survivors was rare, and each one was a gift she thanked the Creator for.

The Holy Man and his acolyte, Child Jona, laid the injured out by the stream. Michel left the young man to comfort them while he brought the cart back for more.

Leesha turned from the sight, focusing on filling buckets. Her feet went numb in the cold water and her arms grew leaden, but she lost herself in the work until a whisper got her attention.

“Hag Bruna is coming,” someone said, and Leesha’s head snapped up. Sure enough, the ancient Herb Gatherer was coming down the path, led by her apprentice, Darsy.

No one knew for sure how old Bruna was. It was said she was old when the village elders were young. She had delivered most of them herself. She had outlived her husband, children, and grandchildren, and had no family left in the world.

Now, she was little more than a wrinkle of translucent skin stretched over sharp bone. Half-blind, she could walk only at a slow shuffle, but Bruna could still shout to be heard from the far end of the village, and she swung her gnarled walking stick with surprising strength and accuracy when her ire was roused.

Leesha, like most everyone in the village, was terrified of her.

Bruna’s apprentice was a homely woman of twenty summers, thick of limb and wide of face. After Bruna outlived her last apprentice, a number of young girls had been sent to her for training. After a constant stream of abuse from the old woman, all but Darsy had been driven off.

“She’s ugly as a bull and just as strong,” Elona once said of Darsy, cackling. “What does she have to fear from that sour hag? It’s not as if Bruna will drive the suitors from her door.”

Bruna knelt beside the injured, inspecting them with firm hands as Darsy unrolled a heavy cloth covered in pockets, each marked with symbols and holding a tool, vial, or pouch. Injured villagers moaned or cried out as she worked, but Bruna paid them no mind, pinching wounds and sniffing her fingers, working as much from touch and smell as sight. Without looking, Bruna’s hands darted to the pockets of the cloth, mixing herbs with a mortar and pestle.

The Page 69 Test: is page 69 representative of the rest of the book? would a reader skimming that page be inclined to read on?

When I first glanced at page 69 of The Warded Man, I was worried it would “fail” the Page 69 Test. The POV character in the scene, Leesha, is not the book’s primary protagonist, there are no demons on the page, no ward magic, no hard action, nothing fancy or flashy.

But then I thought about it a little more, and realized that none of those things mattered. The Warded Man is not a book about demons, magic, and kickass action, even though it does contain those things from time to time. It is a story about people who are faced with horror so frequently that it’s become commonplace, and their struggle to go on in spite of it. In this respect, I think the page actually captures the theme of the book pretty well.

In the scene, a group of villagers is banding together to fight fires and treat wounded stemming from a demon attack that happened in the night. Leesha is a young and innocent girl here, so beaten down by horror that she is partly thankful for the wounded, even as she looks upon friends who have been mutilated and crippled, because most demon attacks leave only dead.

But instead of falling to pieces at the sight, as most any other sane person might, this twelve year old girl puts her head down and gets back to work, even as Hag Bruna, the woman who will change her life forever, walks onstage.

As for the second part of the question, whether I think it will make a casual browser read on, I hope that it would. It’s a nice active page introducing a fairly broad ensemble of interesting characters that puts the reader squarely in the middle of an exciting situation. If that sort of thing doesn’t excite a browser, well, they’re probably not going to like the rest of the book, either.
Read a long excerpt from The Warded Man, and learn more about the author and his work at Peter V. Brett's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue