Saturday, October 31, 2009

"The Long Division"

Derek Nikitas teaches creative writing at Eastern Kentucky University. Pyres, his first novel, was an Edgar nominee.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Long Division, and reported the following:
The Long Division is an ensemble piece with five protagonists. Their stories converge, as the climax approaches, in increasingly more gut-wrenching ways. There's the Atlanta housecleaner who hits the road with stolen cash (an homage to Psycho's Marion Crane). The mentally tortured college student trying to escape his own accidental crime. The sheriff's deputy desperate to redeem himself and save his reputation. And then there's the sheriff's inhibited, introspective daughter, Erika. It's her viewpoint we get on page 69.

Her father is driving her home in his cruiser. There's some ironic conversation about how safe their town of Weymouth, NY is supposed to be. She doesn’t know there's been a double murder, but dad does, and he's not telling. There's discussion of a planned, bittersweet family trip to Costa Rica, an escape from the wintery darkness that is Western New York in February. The trip is also to be a last hurrah for Erika's mother. She's dying of cancer.

Page 69 is an introspective respite in the midst of all the craziness. It reinforces the doomed, noir-tinged, tone of the book--especially considering the fortuitous mention of the title. The Long Division is a reference to one character's obsession with what mathematics can say about our existence. It's a throwback to the old Chandler euphemism-for-death titles, like The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. It describes the families in the book, who have long been broken apart and are now hurtling back together. And, as on Page 69, it describes cancer as a metaphor for the malignancy of fate:

The malignant tumor was in the core of her mother's brain, spanning both hemispheres. It was butterfly shaped and when the wings spread themselves wide enough, like emerging from a chrysalis, Mom would die. The radiation held the wingspread back only temporarily. Invisible waves like raygun blasts through the cancer-cell helixes, but that cellular split was relentless long division. Just after Christmas, Mom's doctors had explained that she would die before her August wedding anniversary, probably months sooner. They advised her to quit her paralegal job, reconnect with her family, go on dream vacations--and all of it quickly.
Read an excerpt from The Long Division, and learn more about the book and author at the official Derek Nikitas website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Finding Grace"

Donna VanLiere is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Christmas Hope series and Angels of Morgan Hill.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Finding Grace: A True Story About Losing Your Way In Life...And Finding It Again, and reported the following:
Page 69 is the beginning of chapter five in Finding Grace so the words don’t even begin until more than halfway down, leaving only one-and-a-half paragraphs! There is a quote from Simone Weil, a French philosopher and activist, which actually is a good representation of the book. It says, “Each thing that takes place, whether it be fortunate, unfortunate, or unimportant from our particular point of view, is a caress of God’s.” I go on to write, “That caress is grace at the end of our rope.”

I wrote Finding Grace after many years of speaking in front of conferences, organizations etc. I began sharing an experience from my childhood where I was molested by a neighbor before I even entered kindergarten. Men and women would approach me afterward with tears on their faces because it was a pain they had never been able to share. Many people encouraged me to write my story but if I wrote a book about my experience I wanted it to be relatable to the reader. I never wanted the reader to put the book down and say, “That book was about molestation,” or “That book was about adoption.” I wanted them to say, “That book was my life but only with different names!” Thankfully, men and women are saying just that!

Finding Grace has a double meaning: how I discovered the transforming power of grace as an adult and adopting our first daughter Grace from China in 2002. It was a long journey to get to that point in my life (to a state of grace and halfway around the world in China) but one that is relatable to so many lives—maybe even yours!

I am honored that so many book clubs have chosen Finding Grace as their club’s selection and continue to be humbled by their response. I hope you’ll enjoy it and pass it on to others.
Read an excerpt from Finding Grace, and learn more about the book and author at Donna VanLiere's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Hell's Kitchen Homicide"

Writer/producer Charles Kipps has won an Emmy, a Peabody, and an Edgar Award.

Kipps’ television credits include Exiled: A Law & Order Movie (NBC), Little Bill (Nickelodeon), Fatherhood (Nickelodeon), The Cosby Mysteries (NBC), Columbo (ABC), and Law & Order: Criminal Intent (NBC). His film credits include Fat Albert, a feature film for Twentieth Century Fox co-written with Bill Cosby.

He is the author of two non-fiction books, Out of Focus and Cop Without A Badge.

Kipps applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Hell’s Kitchen Homicide, and reported the following:
In Hell’s Kitchen Homicide, NYPD Detective Conor Bard investigates the murder of a Mafia lawyer. Along the way Conor meets an exotic, young Albanian woman named Monica. On Page 69, Conor learns about Monica’s life in Albania.

A waiter arrived with menus. Monica scanned the page for a moment.

“Zuppa di porri,” Monica said. “Leek soup.”

“You like leeks?” Conor wanted to know.

“I like to eat them,” Monica replied. “But I didn’t like them so much when my mother baked them and then squeezed the liquid into my ear.”

Conor frowned. “Your ear?”

“That was the treatment for an earache in Albania. Squeezed leeks.”

“Did it work?” Conor asked.


“Great. I’ll keep that in mind if I ever have an earache and can’t find a drugstore.”

Monica laughed. Conor was beginning to like the sound.

Page 69 represents a turning point in Hell’s Kitchen Homicide as Conor finds himself drawn in by the lovely Monica, who ultimately becomes a major character in the book.
Read an excerpt from Hell’s Kitchen Homicide, and learn more about the book and author at Charles Kipps's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"The Christmas Secret"

Donna VanLiere is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Finding Grace, The Christmas Hope series, and Angels of Morgan Hill.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Christmas Secret, her latest novel, and reported the following:
The Christmas Secret has just been released and it’s the fifth novel in The Christmas Hope series. I write each of the novels to be stand-alone books so there’s no pressure for the reader to read the first four books in order to understand the fifth! The Christmas Secret is about a young, single mother named Christine who works hard as a waitress to provide for her two children, Zach and Haley. When she helps an elderly woman in distress, Christine gets to work late (again) and is promptly fired. Marshall Wilson, the owner of Wilson’s Department Store is determined to find the young woman who saved the life of Judy, his most trusted employee and sets Jason, his out-of-work grandson out on that mission. It’s the last thing Jason wants but maybe just what he needs.

Two scenes play out on page 69. The top part of the page begins with Marshall Wilson, who is setting Jason out to help find the mysterious woman who saved Judy’s life. The bottom of the page features Christine and her two children who need to get to the bank to deposit Christine’s check before she starts bouncing checks. This page is indicative of her life and the cycle of survival she finds herself in time and again and offers a great glimpse into the plot of The Christmas Secret. Christine selflessly helped an older woman who needed someone and because of that act there are people who want to find her and thank her. There are enormous roadblocks in Christine’s path but it’s right there under that boulder in the road that Christine discovers one of life’s greatest gifts. I hope you enjoy her journey!
Read more about the book and author at Donna VanLiere's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Breaking the Bank"

Yona Zeldis McDonough is the author of the novels The Four Temperaments, In Dahlia's Wake, and Breaking the Bank.

She is also the editor of the essay collections The Barbie Chronicles: A Living Doll Turns Forty and All the Available Light: A Marilyn Monroe Reader. Her short fiction, articles, and essays have been published in anthologies as well as in numerous national magazines, and newspapers.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Breaking the Bank and reported the following:
Page 69 of Breaking the Bank is not necessarily the first page I would suggest to readers, but it is not a bad place to begin either. Mia Saul, the book’s protagonist, has gone out to a bar where her best friend is working. Her ex-husband has come into town and taken their daughter out for the evening; she is feeling lonely and bereft. She drinks a bit too much, and ends up sobbing in the ladies’ room while her friend tries to comfort her. This scene shows the reader a lot about who Mia is, and does a good job of articulating the grief she feels over her husband’s abandonment, her fierce attachment to her daughter, and her tendency to act impulsively and even rashly, especially when upset. All of these traits are important and are further developed as the book unfolds. And all of them have a big impact on what actually happens to Mia in the course of this novel. “Character determines,” plot is an old adage frequently trotted out in fiction writing classes, but I believe it to be true. If the character is fully conceived and well written, her actions will, in a sense determine themselves; she’ll take on a life of her own. That is what I tried to do with Mia, and I hope I have succeeded.
Read an excerpt from Breaking the Bank, and learn more about the author and her work at Yona Zeldis McDonough's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Ciao Bella"

Gina Buonaguro was born in New Jersey and now resides in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Janice Kirk was born and lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. The authors of The Sidewalk Artist, they are now working on their third novel together.

They applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, Ciao Bella, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Ciao Bella is actually quite representative of the novel as a whole. For Graziella, the daughter of a Canadian botanist, the quiet, cultured life she lived in Venice with her musician husband, Ugo, was everything she could’ve desired. But when Italy allied with Nazi Germany in 1940, her world changed forever. Ugo, trading his violin for a gun, joined the Resistance, while Graziella, now an “enemy alien,” was forced to seek refuge at his family’s farm in the nearby Euganean Hills. Having inherited her father’s gift for plants, she became both midwife and nursemaid to Ugo’s family. Her time in the Hills was not a happy one, not only because of the fear of bombing raids and Nazi reprisals but also because Ugo’s father and sisters were openly hostile to his choice of a foreigner as a wife. “Just until the war is over,” Ugo had promised, but it has been months since the Germans retreated, and no one has seen him since.

Just as she despairs she will be trapped forever with Ugo’s ungrateful family, along comes Frank, an American soldier waiting for the ship that will take him back home. As the summer unfolds, Frank begins to fill the void Ugo has left behind and Graziella slowly starts to embraces this unexpected chance at being happy again.

Booklist says this about the novel: “A compelling combination of romance, adventure, and serious thought, this slim novel is sure to appeal to many audiences.” And page 69 itself is exactly all that. It shows the developing attraction between Graziella and Frank but also Graziella’s conflict: How can she be attracted to Frank when she so longs for her husband’s return? It also shows Frank’s own complicated feelings as he decides just what and how much to tell Graziella about his time during the war – a struggle that intensifies as the novel progresses. As Frank relates his horrific story, the reader learns these are experiences not easily forgotten but that will continue to haunt both Graziella and Frank and influence everything they do from now on. For overall, Ciao Bella explores the possibilities of love and redemption in the wake of war, showing that some of the hardest decisions come only after the fighting has stopped.

Here is page 69:

“I’m sorry. You don’t have to tell me. It’s none of my business.”

“No, it’s okay,” he said, his eyes following her retreating hand as if he already missed it there on his own. She thought about putting it back, maybe even holding it, but he began again, and she felt the opportunity had passed. “We were up in the mountains near Cassino not long before the Allies broke through the line and marched to Rome.” He spoke softly, and she had to strain to hear his voice over the pounding rain. “All that lay between my regiment and the Germans was this little river. We’d spent a couple of days firing back and forth whenever we saw anything moving. It was spring, but it was still damned cold. Sorry, really cold. Anyway, we weren’t accomplishing much as we waited for this brigade of Brits to catch up with us. Then the real push was to happen. Cross the river and drive the Germans back. Keep pushing them north.”

More thunder rattled the house, and they listened for sounds from Giovanni’s room, but only his snoring was audible.

Frank took a sip of wine before resuming, the herbs in front of him forgotten. “Nobody was looking forward to this. In the hills, we were pretty safe, but once we were in that river, we were just sitting ducks. That’s why we did it at night. They had this plan. Send forty or so guys to sneak across the river and take the Germans out in their sleeping bags. It sounded like a stupid idea even then. They should have sent in planes.

“I wasn’t long in that river before I knew I was right. My feet sunk in the mud, and the water came up to my chest. I could barely move. By the time we reached the middle, the water was up around our necks. It felt like ice. Somewhere close to me a soldier began to cry, saying he couldn’t swim. Everyone was going shhh! shhh! and it all sounded louder than bombs dropping….”
Learn more about the book and authors on their website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"New World Monkeys"

Nancy Mauro is a writer and has worked as a creative director at a Manhattan advertising agency. She has lived and worked in Toronto and in Vancouver where she was a fellow and graduate of the University of British Columbia's MFA program in creative writing. She is the recipient of several Ontario Art Council grants as well as Canadian Council grants for emerging writers. Her work has been nominated for the prestigious McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize, received gold at the Western Magazine Awards, and placed in the international Toronto Star Fiction Contest. Mauro's short stories and nonfiction have appeared in various magazines, anthologies and newspapers.

She applied the Page 69 Test to New World Monkeys, her debut novel, and reported the following:
The Pervert on the Page

There’s a pervert on Page 69. He’s there on page 68 and continues through to page 70. In fact, open a copy of New World Monkeys to any chapter and you’ll find him: Lloyd, the intellectual, pear-shaped Peeping Tom and resident library pervert with a penchant for school girls in hiked-up kilts.

Page 69 reveals Lloyd deep in a getting-to-know you conversation with Lily, the female protagonist. Lily has just witnessed his botched lechery attempt on a teenage girl in the Osterhagen Lending Library stacks. But instead of repulsion—rather than report him to the librarian—she agrees to have a smoke with him in the courtyard. Now, this scene may signal to the squeamish reader that it’s time to put the book down. After all, what would possess Lily to do such a thing? Well, the truth is Lily’s a tightly wound young academic whose Ph.D. dissertation and marriage are both floundering. She’s sequestered herself in a small, upstate library in order to turn one (or both) around, but finds herself languishing and distracted.

“And you were impressed with my technique in the stacks? Unimpressed?” Lloyd gestures to the building.


“Which is it? A critical analysis, please.”

“The heart was there,” Lily says and pinches the cigarette to death against the lip of fountain. “But your approach could use some work. You know, I saw you the other day. Coming out of the women’s bathroom.” She remembers his thumbs-up—as though she had been sitting there to field prospects for him or to keep watch.

“An old trick.” He nods. “This might surprise you Lily, but I’ve been a deviant my entire life.” Lloyd stands up, paces a bit. “I change locations, for sure. Same way a man of the earth approaches his hundred acres. You leave the ground idle one season and it’ll turn up lush wheat the next. Haven’t come around the Osterhagen library since the late nineties. And, Christ, the place is crawling!” He looks through the gate toward to the main building, licking his lips as though they were trimmed with honey. “Bad school girls in uniform. Just like MTV.”

The scene is, perhaps, resonant with the novel’s theme of ambition. Each character wants nothing more than to be really good at something, to become A Man of Importance. Lloyd, like Lily and her ad man husband Duncan, feel their young ambition running up against the realities of a world where someone is always better, quicker, smarter and pervier than you are. Lloyd is a Peeping Tom by trade who dreams of making the leap to Frotteurism (which is non-consensual touching). Lily perceives this, applies it to her own desires and makes one egregious mistake in the process: she rationalizes away the fact that Lloyd’s ambitions are deviant, immoral and against the law.

But a girl so tightly-wound must come undone. And in New World Monkeys that unspooling comes through Lily’s apprenticeship to Lloyd. Together they take to the alleyways and rooftops of Osterhagen with cathartic gusto. From the introductory exchange on Page 69 to Lloyd’s role as Svengali of Instinct, it is Lily the disciple who will soon be chin-upping herself to a second story window sash.
Read an excerpt from New World Monkeys and learn more about the book and author at Nancy Mauro's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"The Wrong Mother"

Sophie Hannah is a bestselling crime fiction writer and poet. Her psychological thrillers include Little Face and Hurting Distance.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Wrong Mother (UK title: The Point of Rescue), and reported the following:
It's amazing how representative of the novel p. 69 is! Here's the blurb of the book:

Sally is watching the news with her husband when she hears a name she ought not to recognise: Mark Bretherick. Last year, a work trip Sally had planned was cancelled at the last minute. Desperate for a break from her busy life juggling work and a young family, Sally didnt tell her husband that the trip had fallen through. Instead, she booked a week off work and treated herself to a secret holiday. All she wanted was a bit of peace some time to herself but it didnt work out that way. Because Sally met a man: Mark Bretherick.

Now, to Sally's shock, Bretherick is on the news. All the details are the same: where he lives, his job, his wife Geraldine and daughter Lucy. Except that the photograph on the TV screen is of a man Sally has never seen before. And Geraldine and Lucy Bretherick are both dead...

On page 69 of the novel, Sally is telling the reader about her fling with Mark (or rather the man who called himself Mark) at the hotel. All the main themes of the book are present on that page: infidelity, trust, betrayal, perfect and not-so-perfect mothers, men's attitudes to their wives. This page really does give a flavour of the novel as a whole. And there's also a very important plot clue contained here too. I think, on the basis of this evidence, the page 69 test really works!

Page 69:

…coincidence. I told him about my work, which he seemed to find interesting - he asked me lots of questions about it. He mentioned his wife Geraldine all the time and seemed to be very much in love with her. He didn’t say this, but it was clear she was very important to him. In fact, I smiled to myself because, although he was obviously highly intelligent, he was also one of those men who cannot utter a sentence without it containing his wife’s name. If I asked him what he thought about something (as I did many times, not that evening but later, during the course of our week together), he would tell me, and then immediately afterwards he would tell me what Geraldine thought.

I asked if she worked. He told me that for years she ran the IT helpdesk at the Garcia Lorca Institute in Rawndesley, but that she’d always wanted to stop working when she had a child, and so when Lucy was born she did. ‘Lucky her,’ I said. Although I would hate not to work, I felt a pang of envy when it occurred to me how easy and calm Geraldine’s life must be.

On that first night at the bar, Mark Bretherick said one odd thing that stuck in my mind. When I asked him if he thought I was immoral for lying to my husband about where I was, he said, ‘From where I’m sitting, you seem pretty close to perfect.’

I laughed in his face.

‘I’m serious,’ he said. ‘You’re imperfect, and that’s what’s perfect about you. Geraldine’s a perfect wife and mother in the traditional sense, and it sometimes makes me…’ He stopped then and turned the conversation back to me. ‘You’re selfish.’ He said this as if he found it admirable. ‘Practically all you’ve told me tonight is what you need, what you want, how you feel.’

I told him to sod off.

Far from being put off, he said, ‘Listen. Spend the week with me.’ I stared at him, speechless. The week? I’d been…
Learn more about the book and author at Sophie Hannah's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hurting Distance.

The Page 69 Test: Little Face.

My Book, The Movie: Little Face and Hurting Distance.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Flesh and Fire"

Laura Anne Gilman is the author of the bestselling Retrievers novels as well as The Vineart War trilogy. Her short fiction has appeared in major anthologies and magazines, running the spectrum from mainstream to science fiction to horror.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Flesh and Fire, the first of The Vineart War books, and reported the following:
The world of Flesh and Fire is an alternate 14th century, where the religion and culture of the ‘civilized nations’ are based around the use of spellwines, crafted by an elite – and isolated – group of magicians known as Vinearts. Vinearts maintain magic, the Lords hold political and military power, and the Washers maintain the balance between them, and keep the common people safe from both sides. It’s a system that has worked for almost two thousand years.

Into this society comes Jerzy, a young slave only recently discovering his own magic. In a normal time, his life would be simple, if rewarding, and he would always know his place within the world. But it’s not a normal time…

Page 69 of Flesh and Fire shows Jerzy thrown into a situation both new to him and new to his world, as Vinearts did not learn fighting skills, traditionally. Is this indicative of the entire book? It certainly sets much of the tone, since how he reacts to is telling, and indicates how he will react to all that will come his way in the near future….

His first test does not go too well.

Master Malech chuckled, as though Cai had said something amusing, and left them to it. Jerzy stared at Cai, half fascinated but slightly uncertain.

“Master Vineart was right: you stand like a slave, not a man, and certainly not like a magician! We’ll begin at once, and soon your body will have the right of it. Ready yourself, boy!”

Jerzy had no time to ask what he was to ready himself for before Cai had him in the air and landing hard on the morning-cool flagstones.

“Up. Again. Be ready this time.”

The book isn’t just about growing up, although it’s certainly a coming-of-age novel in many ways. Fantasy, at its heart, is about discovery: both of yourself, and the deeper magics of the world around you. In Flesh and Fire, the world itself is changing under stresses both external and internal, and all the characters – not only Jerzy – must learn to rethink themselves both in light of who they were, and who they wish to be – and what legacy they want to leave to their world.
Read an excerpt from Flesh and Fire, and learn more about the book and author at Laura Anne Gilman's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Gone to the Dogs"

We Are All Fine Here, Mary Guterson's first novel, was published in 2005. Her recently-released second novel, Gone to the Dogs, features a dog-napping heroine named Rena. "This book is not autobiographical," Guterson insists ... "except maybe a little bit."

She applied the Page 69 Test to Gone to the Dogs and reported the following:
Page 69 of my book is one of my least favorite pages. In fact, I almost cut it from the book, but decided to leave it in to amuse my father. Of course, he didn't recognize himself despite the fact that the ENTIRE PAGE describes EXACTLY his parenting skills. I mean, he is FAMOUS for the holler, the stare-down and the stomp. They are his most inspired legacy. Oh, well. I've found that the people I draw from never see themselves in my characters, and the people I don't draw from at all are positive they are in my books. Kind of weird, really.
Learn more about the book and author at Mary Guterson's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Mary Guterson & Sparky.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Loot the Moon"

Mark Arsenault is a Shamus-nominated mystery writer, a journalist, a runner, hiker, political junkie and eBay fanatic who collects memorabilia from the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

His Billy Povich series began with Gravewriter, a noir thriller praised for a fusion of suspense, humor and human tenderness.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Loot the Moon, the second book in the series, and reported the following:
Page 69 from Loot the Moon is a scene told from the viewpoint of a secondary character, Martin Smothers, a public defender who hurls himself relentlessly against the advancing bulldozer of evidence gathered by the prosecution, and with great frequency, loses in court. It’s not that Martin is a bad lawyer, it’s that his clients are usually guilty.

I’ve covered many criminal trials in my other life as a journalist. And I’m always enthralled by the stagecraft of a good piece of lawyering. Some of the most passionate lawyers I’ve watched were public defenders who represented some of the most violent and vile people among us. The lawyers assume that their clients are probably guilty, but that’s not the point. Their passion is for the Constitution. These people inspired the character of Martin Smothers.

On page 69, Martin is suffering through a sentencing hearing with a client named Stokely, who sits convicted of motor vehicle homicide. The last two paragraphs on the page are my blatant tribute to the public defenders I have quietly admired:

At trial, the prosecutor had pounded the facts. Martin could only pound the table. The Constitution provides that no matter how cold your heart and how terrible your crime, you deserve a competent and robust defense. If Martin could have won the case on some arcane technicality, he would have gone for the prosecutor’s throat. He gave Stokely a tenacious fight, and lost.

Sometimes, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, justice prevails.

Martin sees the world in black-and-white, though he’s cursed to be stuck in a novel full of grays. Throughout the story, I use him as a moral measuring stick for comparison to the other characters, even though Martin’s clarity makes him much more an exception than the rule.
Read an excerpt from Loot the Moon, and learn more about the author and his work at Mark Arsenault's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Death Will Help You Leave Him"

Elizabeth Zelvin is a New York city psychotherapist and author of a mystery series featuring recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler. Her debut mystery, Death Will Get You Sober, was nominated for a David award for Best Mystery Novel of 2008 and for an Anthony award for cover design.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Death Will Help You Leave Him, the second Bruce Kohler mystery, and reported the following:
In Death Will Help You Leave Him, recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler and his friends Barbara and Jimmy have to find a killer when a friend becomes the prime suspect in her abusive boyfriend’s murder. Bruce must juggle the investigation, his sobriety, a crush on the bereaved girlfriend, and the lure of his compelling but destructive ex-wife, who’s on a collision course of her own.

Readers of the first in the series, Death Will Get You Sober, were drawn into the quirky relationship between Bruce and his friends. Barbara especially aroused strong reactions, which ranged from admiration of a strong woman to finding her “a hoot” to inquiring whether anyone had told the author they’d “like to smack her.” She’s a world-class codependent who can’t resist helping and minding other people’s business. These traits serve her well as an amateur sleuth but get her into a lot of trouble.

At the bottom of page 68, Barbara wants to pursue a contact with a drug dealer who might know something about the murder.

“Barbara,” Jimmy said, “these are dangerous people.”

“But if we’re careful—I mean really careful, Jimmy—it’s just talking.”

He shook his head and spoke to me.

“She doesn’t get it.”

That’s Barbara. One minute it’s drug dealers, the next, it’s the Sopranos. On page 69, Jimmy spots a website for an Italian bakery run by the victim’s family.

“Iacone’s Bakery. Making Brooklyn lick its lips since 1946. Nice Web site.”

“That doesn’t sound much like organized crime, does it?”

“Not connected, just cannoli,” I said.

“It doesn’t prove anything,” Jimmy said. “Crime families nowadays go in for legitimate businesses. They could be laundering money as they make the biscotti. Hey, these look good. Il pasticciotto, il bocconotto, la sfogliatella.” He rolled the words out sonorously. “Nice pictures.”

“Show me,” Barbara said.

“What about work?”

“It’s okay if I’m late. ...Hey, these look good,” she said. “That settles it, this is my assignment.”

Page 69 is and isn’t representative of the book as a whole. Between the banter and the cannoli, you might think it was a cozy. It’s not. The grim realities of alcoholism, drug dealing, addictive relationships, and domestic violence are central to the story. But the overall theme of the series is not addiction itself, but recovery. And the essence of recovery is hope. The grit and the fun are inextricably mixed, just as they are in the church basements of AA.
Learn more about the author and her work at Elizabeth Zelvin's website, her MySpace page, and the group blog, Poe's Deadly Daughters.

The Page 99 Test: Death Will Get You Sober.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Conquering Venus"

Collin Kelley is the author of the debut novel, Conquering Venus (2009, Vanilla Heart Publishing), and three poetry collections, After the Poison, Slow To Burn and Better To Travel.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Conquering Venus and reported the following:
In the summer of 1995, Parisian widow Irène Laureux is 67 years old and has been unable to leave her apartment on rue Rampon for almost 30 years due to crippling agoraphobia. When American writer Martin Paige, acting as chaperone for a group of high school students on their senior trip, checks into the hotel across the street, Irène discovers that she and the young man have logic-defying connections, including similar tattoos and unresolved mysteries about the deaths of their partners. Irène's husband, Jean-Louis, was mysteriously killed during the chaotic 1968 student/worker riots and Martin harbors a dark secret about the suicide of his lover, Peter. On Page 69, Irène explains to Martin the roots of her agoraphobia, when she watched as the Nazis murdered her mother, a member of the French Resistance.

“We were near Boulevard Saint-Germain when the Nazi patrol swung on to the street. Mother ducked into an alley, but they saw her in the streetlight. They shouted at her to stop and jumped off the jeep and chased her into the alley. I ran to save her. When I reached the alley, they had caught her. She saw me and screamed for me to run home and lock the door and never come back out. That’s what she said, although I doubt she meant forever.”

Irène believes Martin, who she begins sharing surreal dreams and visions with as their lives become more entwined, will help cure her agoraphobia and solve the mystery of Jean-Louis' death. As the story unfolds, Martin's attraction to one of the students on the trip and a devastating terrorist attack at Notre-Dame become part of a synchronous chain of events that will release the characters, literally and figuratively, from self-imposed prisons. Conquering Venus is the first book in a trilogy that explores the intersecting lives of the characters over a decade.
Learn more about the book and author at Collin Kelley's website/blog and at the Conquering Venus blog and Facebook page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Vengeance Road"

Rick Mofina is a former crime reporter and the award-winning author of several acclaimed thrillers. He's interviewed murderers face-to-face on death row and patrolled with the LAPD and the RCMP. His true-crime articles have appeared in the New York Times, Marie Claire, Reader's Digest and Penthouse. He's reported from the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, Africa, Qatar and Kuwait's border with Iraq.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Vengeance Road, and reported the following:
Vengeance Road is my tenth novel. It introduces a new series featuring Jack Gannon, a crime reporter at the Buffalo Sentinel. The Sentinel is a dying newspaper in a troubled industry and Gannon, who, years ago, was a Pulitzer finalist, aches to leave Buffalo for a job with a global wire service in New York City. When we meet Gannon he is pursuing the murder of a nursing student and the disappearance of a struggling single mother. Haunted by the disappearance of his own sister years ago, Gannon risks everything to root out a dark secret held by a decorated detective and the victims, whose fate is somehow tied to this beloved "hero" cop.

On Page 69, the Gannon has been suspended from his newspaper for refusing to give his shady editor the name of his source who tipped him to Detective Karl Styebeck being a murder suspect. Gannon’s story was retracted. Gannon was disgraced. We find him confronted by detectives after he had boldly argued with them at a news conference on the case. This point of the book illustrates Gannon’s grit and the challenge before him.

Vengeance Road - Page 69:

“Well look who we have here, Mr. Jack Gannon, the legend who almost won a Pulitzer. At last we meet, in the flesh.”

Michael Brent and Roxanne Esko were now standing next to him. He glanced around. No one else was in sight. Esko had car keys and a file folder in her hand.

“Quite an interesting story in your paper today,” Brent said. “Unnamed sources say the darndest things. Well, we heard something, too.”

Gannon let Brent fill the silence.

“We heard you got fired or something for writing fiction. Care to comment?”

“I stand by my story. I trust my source. It’s that simple.”

“No, it’s not,” Brent said. “Because you and your ‘source’, whoever they are, don’t have a clue about what’s going on. You don’t know jack shit, Jack.”

Gannon flipped to a clear page, poised his pen.

“Why don’t you enlighten me, Investigator?”

Brent stared at Gannon’s notebook, then at Gannon.

“Enlighten you? I think you have a hearing problem. Seems when you called me, I told you to hold off with your little tale there, said you’d save yourself a lot of grief.”

Gannon shrugged.

“So, how’s that grief working out for you today, Slick?”

Gannon didn’t answer.

Brent’s jawline tensed then relaxed as he stepped into Gannon’s personal space.

“You’d better get ready for more grief,” Brent said.
Read an excerpt from Vengeance Road, and learn more about the book and author at Rick Mofina's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"Led Zeppelin"

Charles R. Cross is the author of seven books, including Led Zeppelin: Heaven and Hell and the New York Times bestseller Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain, which won the ASCAP Timothy White Award for outstanding biography. A veteran rock critic, Cross's writing has appeared in hundreds of publications, including Rolling Stone, Esquire, Q, and Spin.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Led Zeppelin: Shadows Taller Than Our Souls, and reported the following:
Led Zeppelin: Shadows Taller Than Our Souls is a non-fiction book that focuses tells the story of one of the rock’s most influential bands through the behind-the-scene tales of how they crafted their music. Page 69 falls at a seminal, and critical point in their career, right as the wheels were starting to fall off. Zeppelin had been the single biggest band of the seventies, but as the eighties approached they were threatened by the rise of punk rock, and the widely held theory — at least by rock critics — that they were dinosaurs. By 1978, the year discussed on Page 69, the band itself was also falling apart, with John Bonham and Jimmy Page caught up in drug addiction, and Robert Plant and John Paul Jones both threatening to leave.

Page 69 tells the story of the making of In Through The Out Door, Zeppelin’s final studio album. They recorded it, ironically, in a studio built by Sweden pop band ABBA, but the fancy surroundings did little to solidify the band. Plant and Jones would record their takes during the day; Page and Bonham would come in later to add their contributions when their bandmates were long gone. Nonetheless, the album still had many memorable moments, particularly “In the Evening,” in which the band found a fresh approach that modernized their sound without being too jolting.

My Page 69 also includes a rare photo of Robert Plant. In the few years before 1978, his five-year-old son Karac had died of a rare infection, and Plant himself had come near death after a horrible car accident. In this photo of Plant leaning against a tree, he looks mortal for one of the first times, his youthful Adonis looks now marred by tragedy that seems apparent in his mournful expression. Plant would never be the same again, and Led Zeppelin would end just two years after the photo, with the death of John Bonham.
Learn more about the book at the publisher's website; visit Charles R. Cross' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 9, 2009


Joshua Gaylord lives in New York with his wife, the Edgar-award-winning novelist Megan Abbott (The Song Is You, Queenpin, Bury Me Deep). For the past nine years, he has taught high school English at an Upper East Side prep school (a modern orthodox co-educational Yeshiva). Since 2002, he has also taught literature and cultural studies courses as an adjunct professor at the New School. He graduated from Berkeley with a degree in English and a minor in creative writing; in 2000, he received his Master’s and Ph.D. in English at New York University, specializing in twentieth-century American and British literature.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Hummingbirds, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Hummingbirds is a story about the intimately interwoven and tempestuous relationships between the faculty and students at a Manhattan all-girls prep school. I’m always intrigued to hear whether readers see it as a book about adults set against the backdrop of girls, or a book about girls set against the backdrop of adults. Apparently page 69 favors the adult perspective, as it happens to feature the affair between our protagonist’s wife, Sarah, and a charming man who shares the famous name of Sylvia Plath’s husband: Ted Hughes. Here it is:

And, in fact, Ted Hughes was there. The conference room was half full with unsmiling academics waiting for the panel discussion with the weary acknowledgment that they would most likely be disappointed. She said hello to the other members of her panel, keeping her eyes on the door. He came in late, after the session had already started, and sat at the back—his eyes alternating between looking at her and looking at nothing.

After the session he was waiting for her in the hall.

“My husband is meeting me,” she said.

“We just can’t—” she said.

“I’m not someone who—” she said.

“There’s no way this can—” she said.

She had worked out in advance a hundred different logical arguments about why they couldn’t see each other any more. But he didn’t fight her. When she was done talking, he simply asked for her phone number in New York and she gave it to him without thinking.

And he reached out to her with one of those hands, but she was already turning away, and she kept on turning.

At the end of the hall she saw [her husband] walking toward her.

“Who was that?” he asked.


“That guy you were talking to.”

“He was just someone who liked my paper.”

“The way he was looking at you, I think he liked more than your paper.” He smiled. He liked it when other men found her attractive. It was one of their regular jokes. “Good looking too. Did he ask for your number?”

“Uh-huh,” she said, looking up at him. He was such a good man.

“And did you give it to him?”

“Of course.”

This page does reflect a certain hesitancy with regard to the adult relationships in the book. Sarah’s fragmented and de rigueur attempts to back out of the affair point to a problem that most of the characters have: they know that they should be behaving in one way, but they find themselves, almost instinctively, behaving another. The arguments for proper behavior just aren’t convincing enough. And the scene ends with her confessing to her husband: yes, Ted Hughes did ask for her number, and, yes, she did give it to him. But she plays it as a joke to hide her true guilt. So she has confessed the truth and masked it at the same time, which, if human relationships were a mode of art, could be considered one of the great techniques of the masters.

Also, there is a line here (“she was already turning away, and she kept on turning”) which I swear I ripped off from someone else, but I can’t for the life of me remember whom. If anyone recognizes it, I would be thankful for the information. It has been making me just a little bit crazy.
Read an excerpt from Hummingbirds, and learn more about the book and author at Joshua Gaylord's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Serpent in the Thorns"

Jeri Westerson is a journalist, author of Veil of Lies, and noted blogger on things mysterious and medieval.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Serpent in the Thorns, her second medieval mystery featuring Crispin Guest, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Serpent in the Thorns:

Crispin pulled the last strands of yellow straw over the box and stepped back to look at the pile. The straw conjured images of the bed he slept on in one of Newgate’s cells, little better than this pile of straw, and the cell had been much colder than this room. All had been silent and mostly dark, until they allowed him a candle. Alone had been best, for he knew that when the cell door opened, the questioning and the torture would begin anew. He came to dread the sound of whining hinges and rattling keys. Each time the door yawned he hoped the guards would take him to the executioner. But such relief was not to be. Only the last time. The last time at court.

He thought of Miles. How comfortable life must have been for him the last seven years. All Crispin’s comrades executed, and all too brave to name Miles Aleyn. Even Crispin had said nothing. But now Crispin would say. Nothing would stop his tongue. But he must be careful. He must do so with enough evidence. There was still one more unknown conspirator. Someone powerful enough to hire Miles and want either Lancaster or Richard dead. Who at court would dare such a feat? He’d wait to bring the Crown of Thorns so that he could pillory Miles and this other man at the same time. That would be a prize.

He looked at Jack. “Not yet,” Crispin said. The sneer did not leave his lips. “I have more work to do before I can.”

“I would be rid of such a thing. What do you know of it? I mean—” Jack stared at the pile of straw that hid the box. He crushed his arms over his chest. “Is it truly the Crown of Thorns placed on our Lord’s head?”

“That is what they say. But for all the answers, I do know someone better to ask. Get your cloak.”

Crispin, my ex-knight turned detective, is ruminating on his trials of seven years earlier when he was arrested for treason. The box he is hiding encases a relic—the Crown of Thorns—brought from the French court by couriers, one of whom was found murdered. And Miles, the man he is discussing with his young servant Jack Tucker, was one of the conspirators of seven years ago in the treasonous plot that laid Crispin low. The deceptive Miles doesn’t seem to have been touched by the grave matters of days gone by and is now, in fact, the Captain of the King’s Archers.

This one page is actually a good slice of what’s begun in the book and a dark foreshadowing of what’s to follow.
Read an excerpt from Serpent in the Thorns, and learn more about the book and author at Jeri Westerson's website, her "Getting Medieval" blog, and the Crispin Guest Medieval Noir blog.

Westerson wrote about Crispin Guest's place among fictional detectives for The Rap Sheet.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Libby Fischer Hellmann's crime fiction thrillers include An Eye For Murder, A Picture Of Guilt, An Image Of Death, A Shot To Die For, and Easy Innocence.

She applied the Page 69 Test and the Page 99 Test to her latest novel, Doubleback, and reported the following:
OK. I confess.

I’m cheating. I’m using both Page 69 and Page 99 for this exercise. But I have a good excuse. You see, my new crime fiction novel, Doubleback, has two protagonists, and the story shifts from Georgia Davis’s point of view to Ellie Foreman’s. Luckily, Page 69 is in Georgia’s voice, and page 99 is Ellie’s, so you’ll get a taste of both of them.

Both pages are also the end of chapters, another coincidence that happens to illustrate a solid technique of building suspense. Suspense is a key ingredient in my writing. In fact, I teach workshops on it.

One way to ratchet up suspense is to incorporate a cliff-hanger at end of a chapter… some plot or character development that makes it impossible for the reader to put the book down. Page 69 is a good example. Georgia and her neighbor, Pete, are talking about her case.

“A hunch is just wishful thinking unless the evidence is there.”

She twirled her swizzle stick. Enough about Christine Messenger.

“Hey, you ever hear of a dating service called More-than-Friends?”

Pete shook his head.

She was about to tell him when the news on the TV above the bar came on. When she heard the top story, she gasped.

A word of caution: it’s not smart to use a cliff-hanger too often -- it can become redundant and trite. Some chapters should end quietly, thoughtfully, perhaps giving readers more insight into a character. That’s what I tried on Page 99. Ellie has been flirting with a man half her age in order to extract information from him. She’s successful, but then the man takes her up on her come-on. Ellie has to extricate herself gracefully.

I stammered, flustered. “Um … uh … Cody, that’s really flattering, … but I’m old enough to be your mother.”

His expression said the idea had already occurred to him and he was okay with it.

I felt heat on my cheeks. “But I’ll tell you what. You just made my day.”

He shot me a look that was both longing and reproachful. I didn’t know if his distress was because he couldn’t use his coupons, or if he was truly saddened by my answer. In any case, I melted.

“Tell you what. Give me your card. You just never know.”

That was the truth, too.

Two pages, two voices, two chapter endings. Very different, and yet – hopefully -- mindful of suspenseful techniques.
Read an excerpt from Doubleback and watch the video trailer.

Visit Libby Fischer Hellmann's website and group blog, The Outfit.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 5, 2009

"After the Fire, a Still Small Voice"

Evie Wyld grew up in Australia and London, where she currently lives. She received an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, and was featured as one of Granta’s New Voices in May 2008.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, and reported the following:
Amy Blackwell did come again and this time she brought plums. He had been making the curd for a lemon tart, grating in the rind of a green lemon stroke by stroke and tasting in between. When the bell rang he barely broke his rhythm. ‘Beauty,’ he said, as he took the box of plums from her.

‘How’s it goin’?’ she asked.

‘Good,’ he said, this time really looking at the plums, knocking one of them on to its back, feeling it give. They were the dark purple type and he thought of upside-down caramel plum tarts.

He got her some water and, with one hand leaning on the counter, she drained the glass and put it down heavily on the side, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand.

‘How’s school going?’ he asked, as she put down the glass.

‘It’s dumb and nuts,’ she answered, smiling, chewing her spearmint. ‘They reckon they want us to learn how to iron.’

He moved back to the bowl. ‘You’ve come in the nick of time,’ he said. The room was rousing itself into a glow, he felt it at the back of his head, the lightness, the clearing. It made him stand straight, breathe deeply. He picked up a twist of pastry to dip it into the curd and absently wiped a finger round the outside edge of the bowl, collecting a stray thread of yellow that had trailed over the side. He offered her the pastry and the glow off her was sun off water. She leant forward but passed the pastry twist and took the other hand, holding it in both of hers. She put his lemon-covered finger in her mouth, standing on tiptoe over the counter.

The way the landscape and surroundings reflects mood is something that I think happens throughout the book, though usually something a bit more sinister is happening. It’s not so much a book about love as being a book about people loving difficult people. Half of the book takes place with a different character, in more or less present day, out in a remote costal community. This part is from the other strand, in suburban Sydney in the 1950s. I’m pleased to have it as my Page 69, as it shows something a bit nice happening to the character, and it’s quite a pivotal moment for both Leon and Amy.

This page shows the blossoming relationship between two fifteen year olds in 1950s Australia. Amy Blackwell is unusual for her generation, being sexually forward and with a tendency towards boyishness. Leon has just started to see satisfaction in baking well, has just managed to harness some of the craft his father was keen to teach him before he went to fight in Korea. In his father’s absence, Leon is starting to take over at the cake shop he lives in with his family, taking on responsibility, not only of the business but of his mother who is becoming stranger as his father is away longer and longer. From here on in things get much darker.
Read an excerpt from After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, and learn more about the book and author at Evie Wyld's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"The Test"

Patricia Gussin is a physician who grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and practiced in Philadelphia. She is also the author of Shadow of Death, Thriller Award nominee for “Best First Novel,” and Twisted Justice.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new thriller, The Test, and reported the following:
The Test is about moral values and greed and good and evil.

Here’s what happens. The late Paul Parnell, a billionaire philanthropist, stipulates in his Will that his children – we thought there were five, but a sixth emerges on the scene – must pass a family values test to inherit a share of his huge estate. They are given one year to change their lives for the better. Among the six children are a U.S. senator, a tree grower, a mother of eight, a celebrity vocalist, a medical student, and a drug addict former model.

Which one of these is featured on Page 69? Tada! It the tree grower, Dan Parnell, the oldest of the six siblings.

Dan’s life is empty. He has not basked in the Parnell money. He’s avoided the family and lives in modest obscurity in Lantana, Florida, the hard working owner of a palm tree farm.

Dan dutifully attends his father’s funeral, but after the unorthodox will is read, he has no intention of adjusting his life in any way as he has no interest in the money. But Dan’s life is about to take a dramatic turn for the better when he is reunited with his former wife.

Dan’s siblings are not so lucky. Some will not live through the year of The Test when a psychopath inserts himself into the fabric of the family. Publishers Weekly compares The Test to TV’s Dynasty and to Sidney Sheldon novels and concludes with, “The plot takes a number of terrifying turns before Gussin reveals the answer”… to The Test.

Here’s The Test content on Page 69:

As Dan drove across Alligator Alley on Easter morning, he could still see it in his mind’s eye, their tiny two room apartment in Miami. How he and Gina had to rearrange the cheap living room furniture to allow for the two cribs. How the walls were so thin, and how worried they were that the babies would keep their neighbors awake. How it had all come to an end. The air conditioner in his Tundra was blasting, but Dan started to sweat. Would Gina give him a second chance? He reached up to loosen his tie. Maybe he shouldn’t have worn one, but he wanted to look respectful. He cranked the air conditioning up even more. He calculated carefully when to take his last smoke, so that Gina wouldn’t smell stale tobacco on him.

Dan had returned to Lantana in January after his father’s funeral, mortified by the scene he’d made. For days, he’d simply roamed his property, talking to no one. His foreman stepped in and took over all the decisions about the trees. His only company was Lucy, his yellow lab, and Lucky, his black one. In the end, he decided to write to Gina. In that first letter, he groped to find the right words to express all the pent-up guilt, all the years of loneliness. He apologized for his embarrassing tears in Pennsylvania. He wrote of his pride, totally undeserved, in the children. About what a magnificent job she had done. He’d never been much of a writer, but the words which he’d never been able to speak poured out.

He had not expected a reply, but within a week, a thank-you note arrived. That opened the door. He wrote to Gina again, and she wrote back. And now he was on his way to her house for Easter dinner.
Learn more about the book and author at Patricia Gussin's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 2, 2009

"Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter"

Lisa Patton is a Memphis, Tennessee native who spent four years as a Vermont innkeeper--until three sub-zero winters forced her back to the South. She has over 20 years’ experience working in the music and entertainment business, and is a graduate of the University of Alabama, Kappa Delta sorority and the Memphis Junior League. Patton is currently a special events director for Historic Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter, and reported the following:
Page 69 in my debut novel, Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter, actually contains a defining scene in the book. When the novel opens my heroine, Leelee Satterfield, has been sweet-talked by her husband Baker into uprooting their family to follow his dream of becoming an innkeeper. It means leaving her beloved hometown of Memphis, Tennessee and traveling 1473 miles, due North, to start over.

On page 69 she's just moved in to their new home - a dankly, Teutonic old inn in a small village in southern Vermont. Helga Schloygin, a six-foot-tall spinster and the former inn owner, is coaching her on the accounting principles of inn and restaurant ownership and is not at all amused by Leelee's naivety on the subject.

"I'm actually not much on bookwork," Leelee tells her.

Here's what happens next.....

After peering at me over the top of her reading glasses for what seemed like a full minute, Helga remarked, "Not much on bookvork? Then how are you planning on running zis business?"

"Well, I ... it's just that ... bookwork's never been my responsibility - in Memphis, I mean."

She kept her stern gaze.

"But I suppose I could learn to do it here."

Her voice climbed. "Your husband vill not have time to operate this business all by himself. You must carry your own veight!"

"Oh, I plan on it. Helga. It's just that I have two daughters who need my full attention. In fact I should go -"

When our girl tries to defend her most important job, Helga makes it clear that Leelee's stay-at-home-mom days are over.

"You are a vorking mozer now!" she declares loudly, and bangs the table with her fist. "Let's get down to business."

Over the next several months, Helga's stern admonishments turn into venomous spews but Leelee won't be run out of town so easily. She's discovering a Southern grit she never knew she had. Page 69 sets the tone for the calamity to come. With the help of new-found Yankee friends as well as her three best friends from home, Leelee learns to stand up for herself in sandals and snow-boots against the odds.

Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter is a story about what happens when a Southern belle tries her hand at running a quaint Vermont inn. It is my hope that you might have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.
Read an excerpt from Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter, and learn more about the book and author at Lisa Patton's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Scary Stuff"

Sharon Fiffer collects buttons, Bakelite, pottery, vintage potholders, keys, locks, and other killer stuff. She is coeditor of the anthologies Home: American Writers Remember Rooms of Their Own; Body; and Family: American Writers Remember Their Own, and the author of five previous Jane Wheel mysteries as well as the nonfiction book, Imagining America.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Scary Stuff, the latest Jane Wheel mystery, and reported the following:
Jane Wheel, who leads the chase through the “Stuff” novels is easily distracted. It’s the stuff—the vintage photos, the bakelite, the pottery—shards of another time that catch her eye and engage her imagination. Jane is never unhappy to be haunted by the past as long as it is represented by inanimate objects.

In Scary Stuff, Jane tracks down a con man who looks enough like her brother, Michael, to cause confusion, embarrassment and near fist fights when Michael is mistaken for him— an internet scammer known as “Honest Joe.” The search leads her back to Kankakee, Illinois where Jane grew up and on page 69, she is in the EZ Way Inn, her parent’s tavern where she spots a table of older women.

“Don’t you know those girls?” asked Nellie. “That’s Christine and Zarita and Joyce. That there’s Swanette and I don’t know the other two names, but they all used to come in every day. They loved my vegetable soup.”

“Those girls are about eighty years old,” whispered Jane. They’ve been retired for decades. Are they ghosts?”

“You remember the girls, don’t you Janie?” asked her dad.

Jane did remember the office girls, as they had always been called. When she was around Q’s age, she had begun working summers at the tavern, helping cook and serve and wash dishes in the heyday of serving the Roper boys, as they had always been called. The office girls left her a tip. Jane rushed to serve them and clear their dishes, and under the coffee cups and saucers she found dimes and quarters. Since no one ever tipped at the E Z Way Inn, this was an event, and Jane offered the money first to Nellie who would shake her head and refuse it.

When Jane re-introduces herself to the girls, her father brags about her exploits as a detective and her mother, Nellie, bluntly tells them she is a scavenger, a junk collector who works estate sales. Turns out, Swanette, one of the office girls, can use her help organizing a farm sale. Since helping her will give Jane an additional reason to visit the small town of Herscher where she hopes to face down her brother’s doppelganger, she agrees.

All that set in motion on page 69? To my surprise, yes. But more intriguing to me is the one line I don’t remember writing.

“Are they ghosts?”

I often make the case that all writers write mysteries—all try to right wrongs, discover cause, shape experience and make sense of a chaotic world. I think I could make an equally compelling case that all writers write ghost stories—exploring the past, mining the unknown for answers. But Scary Stuff? This is the first book I have written where I ask my protagonist to openly confront obvious ghosts. It is, however, the not-so obvious ghosts in Jane’s past and in her family’s past that interest me more, and I am surprised that so early in the narrative, Jane, with or without me, when she is surprised by seeing people from her past, people who are fixed at a certain time, a certain place in her own memory, is already asking the right question.

“Are they ghosts?”
Read an excerpt from Scary Stuff, and learn more about the book and author at Sharon Fiffer's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue