Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Water Hazard"

Don Dahler is a news anchor and reporter for WCBS-TV in New York City and author of A Tight Lie and the newly released Water Hazard (St. Martin’s Minotaur), mystery novels set in the world of professional golf featuring lawyer-turned-PGA Tour pro, Huck Doyle.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Water Hazard and reported the following:
Scanning through Water Hazard to page 69, at first I was disappointed with what I found there. It doesn’t feature any of the book’s action, or descriptions of idyllic Hawaii where the story is set, or Huck Doyle’s wisecracking observations, or even a telling moment in the plot. But then I realized the genius behind this random exercise; in a novel, there can be no waste. Especially a good mystery. Every page must have a purpose, no matter how subtle. And such it is with page 69 of my newest novel.

Huck Doyle, a professional golfer plunged into the role of detective after his corporate sponsor is shot dead right in front of him, is quizzing a family friend about the murder victim’s longsuffering wife. Huck’s as Southern Californian as they get, surfer and all, while Li-Hua is a first-generation Chinese immigrant. The cultural mine-fields are aplenty. But Huck is finding out that even as an island paradise and a pillar of the community can have dark sides, so too can the beautiful wife of a philandering philanthropist.

I think the importance of this particular section is it shows the real work of a detective; just chatting with people. Pulling out clues, no matter how minute they may seem at the time. In a phrase; paying attention.

Here goes:
The wake? I’m not sure. I think a few days. The family is very wealthy, so they can afford a long period of prayer before the funeral.

Uh huh. And Mrs. Wong. Have you known her long?

Yes, since I was little.

Newsflash: you’re still little.

I see. So, forgive me for asking, does she seem different to you now?

Different? She is widow now. That is different for her.

Yes, I know she’s been married pretty much her entire adult life. That’s just it. I saw a family photo where everyone seemed happy except her. And now, here she is, at her husband’s wake, and she seemed like she was almost, I don’t know, relieved.

Li-Hua grew visibly uncomfortable.

I’m sorry. I don’t understand your question.

I don’t mean any insult to Mrs. Wong. But I guess, does it seem like she’s happier now than when her husband was alive? You would know, I figure, since you’ve known her so long.

She was stone silent. Being the sensitive guy I am, I pushed just a little harder.

I mean, look, Rick himself told me his mother was handling this whole thing amazingly well. And just now, it looked to me like she was very relaxed and content despite, well, despite what all this signifies. Li-Hua, she just lost her husband. He was murdered. Yet there’s this sereneness about her.

I’m very sorry. I don’t know that word, sereneness, but Mrs. Wong is a good wife and is, ah, mourning her husband’s death in the traditional Chinese way. Her life has been, not easy. I think marriage is different, our culture than yours. It’s too difficult to explain now, and I must get back to my duties. You can find your way out?
Learn more about the book and author at Don Dahler's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


James Hynes is the author of The Lecturer’s Tale, Wild Colonial Boy, Publish & Perish (all New York Times Notable Books of the Year), and the novel Kings of Infinite Space. He lives in Austin, Texas.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Next, and reported the following:
My new novel, Next, is the story of one day in the life of Kevin Quinn, a fiftysomething editor from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who has traveled to Austin, Texas, for a job interview. Kevin is at a crossroads in his life, and the novel continually shifts back and forth between his experiences in the subtropical heat of Austin and his review of his life so far. Page 69, as it happens, turns out to be pretty representative of the book as a whole, catching Kevin in mid-flashback to the “sweaty, paneled, suburban basements of his youth,” where he and his “tube- or halter-topped partner” are dancing to the “thumpa-thumpa Watts and Wyman beat” of the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar.” In fact, it’s actually a flashback within a flashback, since at the moment he’s remembering this, it’s a couple of years before his trip to Austin, the day he met his current lover, Stella, flirting in line with her at a coffee shop in Ann Arbor as the two of them listen to “Brown Sugar” playing over the shop’s sound system. Stella has just mistaken the Stones for the Black Crowes.
“It’s not the Black Crowes,” he murmured, inclining his head toward hers. “It’s the Rolling Stones.” Then he added, “The Black Crowes of their day,” never sure how much a young person would know of the music of the Pleistocene. “Sort of.”

“I know that,” said the young woman, and she unlaced the long fingers of one hand from the grip of her briefcase, her nails a deep but not unprofessional shade of red, and playfully rapped his arm with her knuckles. “How old are you?”
At that moment, the novel segues back to Kevin’s present in Austin, as he sweatily plods up Sixth Street after a much-younger Asian American woman who he sat next to on the plane and is now following around Austin. It’s actually a rather significant nexus moment in the novel, but to explain why, I’d have to say what came before, and what comes after, but that would take us beyond the margins of page 69.
Read an excerpt from Next, and learn more about the book and author at James Hynes's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 29, 2010

"The 24th Letter"

Tom Lowe has written 7 screenplays and is an award winning documentary writer/director whose films have aired nationwide on PBS. The films include: The Sponge Divers of Tarpon Springs, River Into the New World, Feather Wars, The Last Cowboys and Zora’s Roots.

A False Dawn, his first novel published by St. Martin’s Press, introduced former homicide detective Sean O'Brien.

Lowe applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The 24th Letter, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The 24th Letter, Detective Dan Grant turns to Sean O'Brien and says, "I've tracked a lot of criminals, met a lot of degenerates along the way, but I've never had to hunt for the devil."

Page 69, I believe, reflects the texture of the story as O'Brien has less than 84 hours to uncover clues to a crime that sent an innocent man to death row. Appeals have expired and the man will be executed in 84 hours. O'Brien is haunted by the old case because in his gut he wasn't sure if he'd caught the real killer. Evidence may not lie, but evil does, and when the original killer comes out of his lair, O'Brien is in a race to save two lives - the man on death row and his own.

Page 69 also represents the collateral damage that greed can cause in some people. An abused wife, the wife of a prison guard, receives a chilling phone call from her husband who is about to make a late night deal. Here's how this chapter on page 69 concludes:
Anita moved to the tattered couch. She lay in the fetal position, knees pulled up to her breasts. A single tear rolled down her swollen cheek and was absorbed by the worn cloth on the couch, the tiny spot indistinguishable from the others before it.
In my novels, I like to weave topical issues into the stories. For A False Dawn, the backdrop was human trafficking. In The 24th Letter, it is the death penalty. Since 1989, more than 250 people have been exonerated from prison because DNA testing found them innocent. Seventeen of these people were on death row. If they were innocent, it meant the real killers were still out there. Imagine what they could have been doing...

I hope you enjoy the second novel in this series, The 24th Letter.
Watch the trailer for The 24th Letter, and learn more about the book and author at Tom Lowe's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Once A Spy"

Keith Thomson has been a semi-pro baseball player in France, editorial cartoonist for Newsday, filmmaker with a short at Sundance that won the Napor Award, and a screenwriter. Now a resident of Alabama, he writes about intelligence and other matters for The Huffington Post.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Once a Spy, and reported the following:
Once a Spy is about a retired spy who has Alzheimer’s disease and is seen as a risk to leak secrets to anyone, be it the hot dog vendor down the street from his Brooklyn home or an enemy spy disguised as a hot dog vendor. So his former colleagues decide it best to neutralize him—spy parlance for kill him.

The only person he can turn to for help is his estranged son, a horseplayer/ne’er-do-well who has always thought of Dad as a boring old appliance salesman. Father and son need to catch up fast, as assassins are about to catch up to them.

What follows is basically a 300-page chase scene.

Page 69 features Nick Fielding, who is representative of Once a Spy insofar as nothing is what it initially seems. At first, Fielding is seen as a bright-eyed, forty-something ex-surfer from San Diego who would be selling real estate or insurance if not for his string of finds, which range from a cache of centuries-old gold coins to the wreck of a legendary pirate ship. On page 69, he reveals that his treasure hunting is cover for an illegal arms trafficking operation. Later in the story, his illegal arms operation is revealed to be cover for the CIA covert operation about which the operators want the retired spy silenced. Of course, that, too, turns out to be other than what it initially seems.
Read an excerpt from Once a Spy, and learn more about the book and author at Keith Thomson's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 26, 2010

"The Serialist"

David Gordon was born in Queens and currently lives in New York City. He attended Sarah Lawrence College, holds an MA in English and Comparative Literature and an MFA in Writing, both from Columbia University, and has worked in film, fashion, publishing, and pornography.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Serialist, his first book, and reported the following:
I feel like I’m at a slight disadvantage: Page 69 in my book is the first page of a chapter, so it’s really half a page with a big 19 on top. It is, however, a turning point in the story: Harry, the narrator, is a struggling writer who cranks out pulp novels – vampires, sci-fi, hardboiled crime, even porn – under a host of fake names. He’s also a loner, living in Queens, far from the literary world inhabited by his ex-girlfriend and her husband, both hip, successful novelists. Then, out of nowhere, Darian Clay, a famous serial killer, sitting on deathrow, makes Harry an offer: fame and fortune as the co-author of his tell-all memoir in exchange for some very strange personal writing of his own. He is tempted, but after meeting the charismatic but disturbing Clay, Harry, scared and generally creeped out, decides to decline. That’s when Daniella calls. The sister of one of Clay’s victims, she pleads with Harry for a meeting. Chapter 19:
The following afternoon I met Dani Giancarlo at a coffeeshop in Soho. When she walked in, a chill went through me, and although she was beautiful and smiling at the world, I felt sad. She wore jeans tucked into high boots and a white cable-knit sweater and was hauling an enormous leather shoulder bag a long with her backpack and purse. Her hair was long and straight and blond. That was the only difference. Otherwise she was a dead ringer for her sister with the long brown hair. I stood.

“Ms. Giancarlo?”
The reason Harry is charmed, chilled and saddened is because he realizes Dani is in fact the murdered girl’s twin sister. This is the first sign that this beautiful and determined woman is haunted. The next shock is the fact that, unlike all the other family members, who want Clay dead and forgotten, Dani begs Harry to write the book and unravel the full truth. He also learns that she has a troubled past of her own, that she is a stripper with underworld connections, not to mention, a crack shot with a pistol. In other words, she is like a character from one of Harry’s own hard-boiled detective books. Shy, mild-mannered Harry, who spends his days in his bathrobe, making up stories about Mordechai Jones, the ghetto sheriff, has just met a femme fatale: she is like no one he has ever met in his life, and she just might get Harry killed.
Browse inside The Serialist, and learn more about the book and author at David Gordon's blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"The River Kings' Road"

As a so-called “Army brat,” Liane Merciel grew up in Germany, South Korea, and several different parts of the United States. She now lives in Philadelphia, where she practices law. She is an alumnus of Yale University and the College of William & Mary Law School.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The River Kings' Road, and reported the following:
As it turns out, Page 69 is a pretty good representation of the whole.

The River Kings' Road
is a high fantasy that begins with that most archetypal of opening scenarios: a village destroyed by faceless villains, a plucky lone survivor, a quest to... well, to run away and stay alive, actually. Oaths of vengeance are for people who don't have kids.

Anyway, the villains don't stay faceless for very long (nor are they as entirely villainous as that opening might suggest), and on this page we see the mastermind of the ambush get the news that not everyone died in the massacre -- an inconvenient little fact that drives much of the action:
For an instant he felt that the floor had dropped away under his feet. The ghostly taste of metal tingled on his tongue. He put out a hand to steady himself against his brother's coffin, and was reassured by its solidity. "Who?"

"Some of the villagers. A runaway horse crashed into the gate, and some fled through the gap it made. One rider. He might have been one of Gal-- one of the targeted men. Hard to say. I couldn't tell who all the dead were, not after she was done, so I can't say for a certainty who's missing. But I thought I knew the face as he went by." Albric paused. It was a tiny hesitation, hardly long enough to blink, but from him that heartbeat of silence spoke volumes. "And the child."
A little later down the page, we come to a snippet that largely sums up the characters' (and, equally, their author's) perspective on their situation: aware of the classic tropes, aware of those romantic happily-ever-afters... and aware that nothing in their own lives is likely to be so simple or so rosy.
The troubadours' songs were filled with orphaned princes who grew up in secret and returned to claim their birthrights from tyranny. The histories were littered with the bloody wreckage of those who had tried it in fact.
...and the rest of the book concerns the various characters' efforts to keep themselves from joining that bloody mess. Some succeed, some don't. Read it and find out who falls where.
Read an excerpt from The River Kings' Road, and learn more about the book and author at Liane Merciel's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"This Time Tomorrow"

Michael Jaime-Becerra grew up in El Monte, California, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles. He received his MFA from the University of California, Irvine, and currently teaches creative writing at University of California, Riverside. His short-story collection, Every Night Is Ladies’ Night, was named one of the best of the year by the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle. It was awarded a California book award, the Silver Medal for a First Work of Fiction.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, This Time Tomorrow, and reported the following:
On page sixty-nine of my novel, This Time Tomorrow, Gilbert Gaeta, a single father, is chasing some boys who have been harassing his thirteen-year-old daughter, Ana. According to her, the boys ride motor scooters, and so, after they've harassed her in a particularly vile fashion at home, he's gone after them, running down the block to a major intersection:
He ignored the traffic lights, letting the immediate cars pass, continuing into the intersection. He was honked at. Thumping music zoomed by. The signals changed and traffic began moving toward him, cars and heavy trucks, cars and a big yellow RTD bus, cars and more and more cars. On the traffic island he searched to the north, then to the south, but there was too much to survey all at once. The traffic's rushing sounds weakened his determination, and he drifted between the bushes on the long strip of concrete, feeling confused. The kids had probably been on scooters. If so they were long gone.
Gilbert then returns home, where his girlfriend, Joyce, is trying to comfort Ana. Unsure of what has just happened, and desperate for answers, Gilbert asks Ana what is going on:
"'Is it someone at school?'

'I don't know,' she said. She stood and blew her nose. 'Besides, it doesn't matter. If you were Mom, none of this would matter.'
Throughout the book I'm trying to capture the tension between obligation to family and the need for passion and love. This moment shows Gilbert's trouble with the family side of things. He's had trouble talking to Ana (and to Joyce too), partly because he's afraid of whatever truth such a conversation might uncover. Here he is finally pushed to a point of speaking directly to her and the response shocks him. Gilbert is afraid of losing his connection to Ana as she begins to emerge into adulthood, and the invoking of Ana's mother in this moment is especially disturbing to him. It taps into his most deep-seated fear, which would be losing her to his ex-wife, who has been estranged from them for years. That it happens in front of Joyce, whom he hopes to marry, makes the moment even more awful for him.

And while Joyce and Ana will not know it, Gilbert's responses to this conversation will reverberate in their lives throughout the rest of the book.
Read an excerpt from This Time Tomorrow, and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 22, 2010


Alice Lichtenstein graduated from Brown University and was named the Boston University Fellow in Creative Writing. She has received a New York Foundation of the Arts Grant in Fiction and has twice been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony. She has taught at Boston University, Wheaton College, Lesley College, and the Harvard University Summer School. Lichtenstein currently teaches creative writing at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.

Her first novel, The Genius of the World, a Booksense 76 selection in paperback fiction, was favorably reviewed in the New York Times Book Review and on National Public Radio.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Lost, and reported the following:
I was delighted to discover the "Page 69 Test" for two reasons. First, too much attention has been focused on the iconic first sentence—the do or die fishing barb required to reel in the reader. "The Page 69 Test" posits that a Real Reader comes to a book prepared for a good long hike. Second, as an obsessive line editor, I strive to groom every line to stylistic perfection—my goal is to convince the reader of any random page (why not pg. 69?) to start the book at the beginning, take a load off and read! (Please note that I am not under the delusion that I reach my stated goal—it simply takes me a long time to write a book.)

Here's a brief synopsis to orient you to the scene.

On a cold January morning, Susan, a professor of biology, leaves her husband alone for a few minutes and returns to find him gone. Suffering from dementia, Christopher has wandered alone into a frigid landscape with no sense of home or direction. Lost.

Page 69 of Lost:
"You're leaving me alone?" Suddenly, Susan was terrified.

"Back-up's coming. But it's going to be silent. Leave the front and back doors open. Don't want to scare him."

She nodded. She chose to stay by the telephone in the living room because the whole glass side of it faced the woods. She'd stood here so many times, watching Christopher and Peter swimming naked below; watching Christopher clearing the pond in winter. He shoveled for hours in the cold, under the glare of a single floodlight attached to a telephone pole. So methodical, so diligent. He worked like a machine, a rhythmic machine. Peter helped him sometimes, but even Peter eventually grew tired or bored and dropped his shovel on the bank to come inside for hot chocolate and a warm fire.

Christopher had a method. He started at the center and scooped in rays out to the pond's edge. Round and round he went, freeing the smooth surface beneath the crust of snow.

"How can you work so hard?" she asked him when he came back in. Christopher's face was deeply flushed and rivulets of sweat coursed down the sides of his temples. Still breathing hard, he pulled off the beggar's gloves he'd been wearing, the kind with the tips cut off, revealing his blunt white fingertips. "Ten frozen parsnips hanging in the weather," she thought.

Christopher shrugged and hung the damp gloves on the screen in front of the blazing fire. "I guess I just like to push."

Once the pond was cleared, the three of them skated for hours, each in his own orbit, yet connected, as orbits are.


Susan started. It was Peter, silent as a cat. "Oh my God, when did you get home?”

"I’ve been home." Peter stood barefoot at the bottom of the stairs, his lanky torso wound like a vine around the timber post that soared up from the banister. “What are the cops doing here?”
My page 69 is a bit deceptive. In it, you read only one of the three points of view through which the story is told. As a massive search for Christopher takes place, Susan's life intersects with those of two strangers: Jeff, a social worker and search-and-rescue expert shaken by his young wife's betrayal, and Corey, a twelve-year-old boy, rendered mute by a family tragedy, who has become one of Jeff's cases. While the temperature drops and teams scour the countryside, Susan, Jeff and Corey venture into the fraught territory of their pasts. From the unexpected convergence of these three lives emerges a portrait of the shifting terrain of marriage and the uneasy burden of love and regret.
Read an excerpt from Lost, and learn more about the book and author at Alice Lichtenstein's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"If You Follow Me"

After graduating from Barnard College, Malena Watrous eventually taught English in Japan. She was placed by the Jet Program in Shika-Machi, the nuclear power plant town in which she set her debut novel, the newly released If You Follow Me.

Watrous applied the Page 69 Test to If You Follow Me and reported the following:
It seems appropriate that page 69 begins with a description of Marina, the narrator, and her girlfriend Carolyn, “lying in her father’s bed, our fresh tattoos protected under thick pads of gauze.” For a novel that focuses upon a lesbian relationship, I’ve been told there’s disappointingly little sex—just foreplay, pillow talk, a deep kiss or two, and some masturbation. In keeping with the rest of the book, page 69 doesn’t go into any kind of graphic detail about what they do in bed. Sorry.

Most of the novel is set in the small, nuclear power plant town of Shika, Japan, but page 69 is part of a rare flashback to the US, so the setting is atypical.

Marina and her girlfriend, Carolyn, meet in a college bereavement group. Not long after they start sleeping together, a girl in their dorm overdoses. Marina’s father killed himself that fall, and she can’t stand to be in such close proximity to death again, so Carolyn spontaneously brings her home to New Jersey. It’s on this trip that she learns that Carolyn is planning to go teach in Japan—launching the novel’s present story.

On Page 69, Marina thinks about her fairly limited preconceptions of Japan:

“I thought of a picture I’d seen of a Tokyo subway platform so crowded that a man was using a long stick to prod commuters onto the train. People talked about going abroad to find yourself. Japan seemed like a place where you could get lost.”

I liked the idea of subverting the typical notion of a person, especially a young person, going abroad to “find herself.” My main character feels exposed and paralyzed in the wake of her father’s suicide, and she wants to slip through the cracks, but by going to Japan she essentially does the opposite, ending up under a microscope where everything she does is scrutinized.

In the last paragraph on Page 69, Marina has a nightmare that regularly plagues her:

“In it, I was up there with my father on the ledge of the bridge, gazing down at the city lights reflected in the dark gloss of the bay. Right before he jumped, he turned to me with his eyebrows raised, a wordless invitation to keep him company.”

The page cuts off there, so you don’t find out that in her dream she does follow him down off the bridge and into the water, but he never turns around or sees her following him, so she feels like the gesture was wasted. This is a novel about a young woman racked with guilt over not having been able to foresee or prevent her father from killing himself, who is trying to outrun her past by starting this new relationship and moving to the most foreign place she can think of. I feel like Page 69 is actually spookily representative of the novel as a whole, that it contains almost all of the thematic strands that eventually weave together.
Browse inside If You Follow Me, and learn more about the book and author at the official Malena Watrous website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Union Atlantic"

Adam Haslett is the author of You Are Not A Stranger Here, a short story collection, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, and won the PEN/Winship Award. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, Zoetrope, and Best American Short Stories as well as National Public Radio’s Selected Shorts.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Union Atlantic, and reported the following:
"One more piece of bad news and the invisible architecture of confidence might have buckled. About this Holland was right. Henry was paid to worry so the average citizen didn't have to."

As it happens, page 69 does offer a window into one of the main themes of Union Atlantic--the precariousness of our economic system and the fallible, human relationships that do (or don't) keep it afloat. Here Henry Graves, who is president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York--the job Tim Geithner had before be became Secretary of the Treasury--is remembering, as only he can, how close to collapse the financial system came immediately after 9/11. It's two-thirty in the morning and he's on the phone with Jeffery Holland, the CEO of Union Atlantic. Henry has just prodded Holland to make a concession to a rival bank in order to keep the credit markets functioning smoothly. Henry, then, is the government official "paid to worry so the average citizen didn't have to."

I first decided to set a character in the New York Fed ten years ago. The institution interested me as a symbol of the ubiquitous but anonymous bureaucratic power that effects so much of our daily life but which remains even now, after the financial crisis, obscure to most people. A quote of Norman Mailer's to the effect that post-war American fiction had taught us more about the little guy than about the minds of the powerful had always stuck with me and as a novelist I wanted to go into those minds and see what the world would look like to someone who was responsible for overseeing not just one company but the entire financial system. As it turned out, I finished the novel in September of 2008, the week that Lehman Brothers collapsed. While the book is not about an actual collapse, it is very much about the conditions--both financial and cultural--that led up to that moment. When I was done, it was uncanny to read in the news descriptions of meetings versions of which I had dramatized two, three, sometimes four years earlier.

To be sure, my book is about more than banking. It's about human solitude, the decay of American liberalism, the poison of anger, boyhood grief and confusion, and other things besides. But to the extent that page 69 gets at the hidden, secretive world of the interaction between government and financial elites, it certainly exemplifies one of the novel's central interests.
Read an excerpt from Union Atlantic, and learn more about the book and author at Adam Haslett's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Our Lady of Immaculate Deception"

Nancy Martin is the author of nearly 50 pop fiction novels including the Blackbird Sisters Mystery Series. She serves on the board of Sisters in Crime and received the 2009 Romantic Times magazine Lifetime Achievement award for mystery writing. Her new mystery series debuts with Our Lady of Immaculate Deception, which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. One blurb calls the book “a good time in a bad neighborhood.”

Martin applied the Page 69 Test to Our Lady of Immaculate Deception and reported the following:
How clever of you to choose Page 69. It comes after the set-up of every good story, doesn’t it? And starts the reader into a section of the book that’s less about plot, more about theme. Page 69 of Our Lady of Immaculate Deception is the first lull in the action of this mystery-thriller hybrid, as Roxy Abruzzo goes for a morning run with her old high school friend (and former track star) who’s now a physician, Adasha Washington, one of the few characters who knows what’s truly in Roxy’s heart. This passage isn’t particularly witty, but it shows my preference for using dialogue instead of long chunks of narrative to tell the story. It also demonstrates that Roxy isn’t everything the reader has seen before—the bad girl with a big mouth and a pitbull to back her up. I wanted Roxy to be a new kind of mystery protagonist. Page 69 shows a different layer to her character.

Page 69:
Roxy only hoped she could keep up for the first couple of miles. After that, there was no use trying. But Roxy met her old friend several times a week, and it wasn’t just the exercise that was good for them.

When they reached the river, running smoothly in the same rhythm, and started on the path upstream toward the old Heinz food plant, Adasha said, “I had a patient last night who could use your special brand of TLC.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“A girl whose live-in boyfriend beats her up. She needs a fresh start. A place to live for a while, maybe some help getting a new job.”

“Why didn’t you call Social Services? Sounds like a case right up their alley.”

“Her boyfriend’s another doc. He could snoop the records and find out her whereabouts. I think he’s liable to go after her again. The present situation is toxic, and normal channels just don’t cut it. So I thought maybe you could find her an apartment—a place she could hide until she gets her shit together.”

“How much time to I have?”

“Five days is my best guess. Plenty of time, right? She’ll be in ICU for two, on a step-down floor for three or four days after that. Maybe longer if we find previous injuries that require care.”

“Jesus. What did he beat her with?”

“A crockpot to the head, then a meat tenderizer to the bones of her face.”

Roxy quelled the emotion that roiled inside herself. It was the kind of story she should be used to by now. “He in jail?”

“Hell, no, he’s some kind of hero in orthopedics. Rescues professional athletes from career-ending injuries. We wouldn’t want a Superman like that to spoil his reputation now, would we? His girlfriend, on the other hand, is expendable as far as the bosses can see.”

“I think I know a place she could crash for a while. And one of the neighbors is a nurse. Meanwhile, somebody needs to end his career.”

“I’m working on it,” Adasha said, and she sprinted ahead to a foot bridge on the path.
Read an excerpt from Our Lady of Immaculate Deception, and visit Nancy Martin's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Walking to Gatlinburg"

Howard Frank Mosher is the author of ten novels and a travel memoir. His novel A Stranger in the Kingdom won the New England Book Award for Fiction and was made into a movie, as were his novels Disappearance and Where the Rivers Flow North. He is a recipient of the Literature Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Mosher applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Walking to Gatlinburg, and reported the following:
On page 69 of my new Civil War novel, Walking to Gatlinburg, 17-year-old Morgan Kinneson, who is doing just that – walking from northern Vermont to the Great Smokies, in search of his older brother who is missing in action in the war – arrives at the Erie Canal. Here he encounters his cousin, Dolton (Dolt) Kinneson:
Dolt caught Morgan up in a crushing bear hug. Then he explained that the Great Western Canal was as far south as he’d gotten on his quest to enlist. Some months ago he’d taken a job with a showboat, whose principal attraction was the gigantic head and jaws of a sperm whale, in which twenty ladies and gentlemen could sit as proud as Jonah and have their daguerreotype made. On the deck several black crewmen were watching the reunion between the cousins.
Yes, indeed, p. 69 of Walking to Gatlinburg is representative of the rest of the novel. Like my other nine novels, this book abounds with unusual characters and high-action events. Morgan himself happens to have acquired an elephant, which winds up pulling Dolton’s whale barge as it’s being chased by another barge commandeered by a psychopathic killer. In its absurdity and weirdness, p. 69 reflects the chaos and senselessness of the war and violence in general, one of the main themes of the book.
Read an excerpt from Walking to Gatlinburg.

Howard Frank Mosher is promoting Walking to Gatlinburg on a 100-city book tour titled “Transforming History into Fiction: the Story of a Born Liar.” Check the itinerary on his website and follow updates on his blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 14, 2010

"Xombies: Apocalypticon"

When not writing satirical horror novels, Walter Greatshell dabbles in freelance illustration (with an eye to creating dark children’s books, comics or graphic novels), humorous nonfiction (a throwback to his early days as a freelance journalist and arts critic), and stage acting (including in local productions of Oedipus Rex and Karel Capek’s R.U.R.). He has been a graveyard-shift nuclear-submarine technician and the general manager of a Providence landmark, the Avon Cinema.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Xombies: Apocalypticon, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my novel Xombies: Apocalypticon is quite a fortuitous page choice, as it's where the action really begins. It's the first page of Chapter Eight, "Field Trip," where two groups of teenage refugees are leaving the relative safety of the nuclear sub to scavenge for food and supplies ashore. Their leader is 17-year-old Sal DeLuca, a former BMX champ, who is despised by the other boys because of his collaboration with the hated Navy crewmen. We get Sal's flashback to the last meal he ever shared with his father: the submarine factory's final picnic for its soon-to-be shafted employees. So there's a lot happening on that page, and a lot about to happen, which I hope gives the reader a good incentive to keep reading. The Sal DeLuca story is a major part of the plot, so I would say this is fairly representative of the book as a whole ... though there is little hint of the insanity to come.
Learn more about the book and author at Walter Greatshell's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Xombies: Apocalypse Blues.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 12, 2010

"Drink the Tea"

Thomas Kaufman is an award-winning motion picture director and cameraman. He has twice won the Gordon Parks Award for Cinematography, and an Emmy for his documentary about deaf children, See What I'm Saying.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his first novel, Drink the Tea, a winner of the PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Competition, and reported the following:
Drink the Tea follows Washington, DC private eye Willis Gidney, as he searches for a woman who's been missing for twenty-five years. Not an easy job. And not having the woman's name or birthday makes the job that much harder.

The only reason Gidney agrees to take the case is that the missing girl's father is Gidney's best friend, jazz saxophonist Steps Jackson. He thinks that someone with Gidney's "particular background" would want to help.

Gidney grew up without parents or a home. He has few linear memories of his childhood. His own identity is a mystery. So Steps is right -- it does appeal to Gidney to reunite a father and daughter.

To help the reader understand Gidney, I write about his childhood. Throughout the book I switch scenes between the present, with the adult Gidney investigating, and the past, where a much younger Gidney learns to be a con man and a rip-off artist.

During a scam gone bad, Gidney is taken into custody by the DC police. Then he's swallowed by the juvenile justice system. Leading up to page 69, we find the young Gidney living at a place called Junior Village, a prison for children. The chief crook is a kid named Eddie Vermeer. Gidney's about to meet him.

Page 69 gives a snapshot of life in Junior Village. The young Gidney is profiting from dealing in contraband. It's night, and he's and is toddling back to his barracks with an armload of comics. From the darkness roars the Keg, an enormous kid who's targeted the younger, smaller Gidney. Keg drives a fist into his gut and him and sends him flat on his back:

"When the Keg rushed me I drove my foot into his crotch, grabbed his shirt, and flipped him over me into the wall of our barracks. His back made a pleasing thwack as he hit the wall and slid to the ground.

"Not a bad move, kid."

Now I panicked, thinking there were two of them. I scrambled to my feet, fists out, and the same voice laughed. "Take it easy, kid. I'm on your side."

I could taste blood on my mouth and wiped my hand across it. My jaw throbbed. It would hurt for a week. I looked at the Keg, who was lying on his side in the dirt. "You could have helped," I said to the newcomer.

"You didn't need it."

I turned to get a look at him. It was dark, but I could make out a good-looking kid with an easy-going smile. He put a hand on my shoulder. "Come on, I'll buy you a beer."


I've heard that a good con man either has an open, honest face that people just naturally trust, or be the kind of guy you'd want as your friend. Eddie Vermeer was that rare phenomenon, a person with both qualities. I was sitting in his private room on a bed that actually had clean sheets and a box spring under the mattress. He handed me a can of Bud.

"How old are you, kid?"

I shrugged, looking around his room. I couldn't keep the wonder out of my voice. "How'd you land the cool digs?"

He glanced around as if noticing for the first time the difference between his private room and the communal hell the rest of us lived in. "Clean living."

I'd been swigging beer and laughed and beer went up my nose. I thought that was funny too and fell over laughing.

I like this page. I work as a cinematographer and shoot a lot of TV shows, sometimes shows about cops. This helps my writing a lot. I try to write visually, seeing the scenes in my mind's eye.

So, looking at 69, I see two separate scenes -- a nice little action sequence, and a new character stepping into frame. And a bit of humor. I tried to make Tea an entertaining and fun read, though it does have its dark elements. It's the kind of book I like to read. Gidney is tough and resourceful, even as a kid. And this section gives the reader an understanding of what kind of man Gidney might grow up to be, except for --

Shadrack Davies, DC police captain, who takes in Gidney as a foster child. But I can't tell you about that – it happens after page 69.
View the trailer for Drink the Tea, and learn more about the book and author at Thomas Kaufman's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Werewolf Smackdown"

Mario Acevedo is the bestselling author of The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, X-Rated Bloodsuckers, The Undead Kama Sutra, and Jailbait Zombie.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Werewolf Smackdown, the fifth volume in his satirical supernatural series, and reported the following:
Vampire-detective Felix Gomez goes to Charleston, SC for an assignment that traps him between rival clans of werewolves. Like all vampires, Felix had stayed clear of lycanthropes, because clashes between them could inflame a war that would threaten the supernatural world. Felix learns that the ferocious, double-crossing werewolves of Charleston have done very well for themselves.

Page 69 excerpt:
The terrace was made of hexagonal slabs of terracotta flagstone bordered with concrete planters and benches. The terrace looked over a garden that sloped to a lawn the size of a football field. An S-76 helicopter, sleek as a torpedo, sat on a concrete pad in the center of the lawn. A man in a blue flight suit stood beside the open cargo door of the helicopter.

A path of square paving stones snaked from a porch on my left at the opposite side of the house. The stones led to the helicopter pad and continued through a line of magnolia and cypress trees that separated the lawn from a flat muddy beach. The path ended at a long, narrow pier extending from the beach into Charleston harbor. Speedboats and a yacht, a sixty-footer I guessed, were moored to the pier.

Something bothered me.

Everything seemed new. Not brand new but the mansion and grounds looked recent, unlike similar buildings in Charleston that dated back centuries.

Along the northern boundary, a wall of dense shrubs and trees masked the view of the neighbors and in turn, kept them from looking in. I got the impression that Calhoun and his patroness, the late Inga Latrall, despite her promise at keeping the Lowcountry pristine, didn’t hesitate at bulldozing the locals out of the way and carving out a place for this mansion.

What the werewolves wanted, they took.
Read an excerpt from Werewolf Smackdown, and learn more about the author and his work at Mario Acevedo's website and blog. Watch the video trailer for Werewolf Smackdown.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Gone 'til November"

Wallace Stroby is an award-winning journalist and a former editor at the Newark Star-Ledger. He is the author of the acclaimed novels The Heartbreak Lounge and the Barry Award-finalist The Barbed-Wire Kiss.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Gone 'til November, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Gone 'til November finds Sara Cross, a single mom and the only female deputy in a rural Florida sheriff’s department, having a troubling conversation with her boss, Sheriff Hammond, in his office. A few nights earlier, Sara had witnessed a shooting incident in which a fellow deputy killed a young black man during what should have been a routine motor vehicle stop. Complicating things is that the deputy, Billy Flynn, is also Sara’s ex-lover. As more details emerge about the shooting, Sara finds herself torn between love and duty, loyalty and the truth.

Hammond, a Vietnam vet, is cautioning her to steer clear of Flynn while the investigation proceeds. Some hard decisions may need to be made along the way, he warns, and he doesn’t want her getting caught up in whatever happens next. She – and her career – could both wind up as collateral damage.

He’s right, of course, more than he knows. But it’s also too late. Soon, an aging – but still deadly – enforcer for a New Jersey drug gang shows up with his own questions about the shooting – and the now-missing duffel bag of cash that was in the trunk.

But the heart of the conversation comes on page 70, when Hammond recalls his time with the “Rough Riders,” trucking supplies in to the besieged Marine base at Khe Sanh, along Vietnam’s treacherous Highway Nine. Through late 1967 and early 1968, Khe Sanh was under constant attack, while six thousand Marines successfully held off a vastly superior enemy force.

Hard choices were the order of the day then as well, Hammond says:
“They’d have one of us in a tanker truck, driving five thousand gallons of JP-4, sandbags on the floor, an M-16 and that’s it. One man. I made that run about a dozen times. Saying every prayer I knew along the way.”

“Maybe it helped.”

“Maybe it did. But what I didn’t find out until later was the philosophy behind it, the way it operated. Our guys were getting blown up all the time, mines, snipers, RPGs. There was no way to hold and control the jungle around the road. The logistics officers figured we were losing an average of three to five percent of everything that tried to get through. No matter what they did. Three to five percent of the supplies lost, three to five percent of the men killed.”

“That must have been tough.”

“You know what solution they came up with?”

She shook her head.

“Add five percent more men, supplies, trucks. Make your losses sustainable. Get more trucks, more men out on that road so you can lose five percent without impacting the efficiency of the base. And it made sense, unless you were one of those guys that didn’t get through, or their families.”

“Doesn’t seem fair.”

“Fair or not, it worked. And you know what that’s called?”


“Management. Take it easy out there, Sara. Be safe.”
Read an excerpt from Gone 'til November, and learn more about the author and his novels at the official Wallace Stroby website and The Heartbreak Blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 8, 2010

"The Adamantine Palace"

Stephen Deas is the author of the acclaimed short story “The Snow Fox.”

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Adamantine Palace (Volume I of The Memory of Flames Trilogy), his first novel, and reported the following:
The cool thing about having several editions around is that I get to pick and choose which page-69 I quote, right? Because the German translation has some really cool dragon action going on.

I don't get to choose? Aw. OK, then here's most of page 69 from the US edition:
‘Have a care, Your Highnesses. The edge is treacherous. It's a long way down, and many people have fallen over the years. The sea pulls them down, somehow.’ He stopped a couple of feet from the edge and offered Princess Lystra his hand. ‘The sea, Your Highness. The endless Sea of Storms.’

Lystra took his hand, and so he gave it a gentle squeeze and hoped that Queen Shezira wouldn’t notice.

‘It’s… breathtaking.’ The cliffs dropped a hundred feet to the roaring crashing waves. The sea went on forever, a churning maze of white-capped waves stretched as far as the eye could see, fading into the grey haze of the far horizon, a mighty monster that could sometimes make even a dragon seem small and tame. Jehal smiled at Lystra. Up here on the edge you could feel the spray and even taste the salt in the air. Lystra was staring, mouth agape. ‘It goes on and on and doesn’t stop! Like the Sea of Sand, except made of water!’

Jehal gave her an indulgent smile. ‘The Taiytakei say that if you sail far enough, and can navigate the storms, there are other lands across the waters, so distant that you would have to cross from one end of the realms to the other to even begin to understand how far away they are.’ Mentally he congratulated himself. There. That didn't sound patronising at all.

‘All that water…’ Lystra took a step closer to the edge. Jehal tightened his grip on her hand and she stopped. The cliffs plunged vertically down into the sea.

‘There is a path, from the back of Clifftop, that runs down to the sea,’ he said. ‘The steps are worn and slippery and the way is treacherous, but there is a cave there that can only be reached by those steps. To truly see the waves crash on the rocks and send their plumes of spray up into the air, there is no better place than that cave. I will take you there one day.’

Jaslyn suddenly walked right up to the edge and looked down. For a moment it seemed to Jehal that she swayed in the wind that whipped and swirled up the face of the cliff. If she did, though, she quickly caught herself, and the next thing he knew Lystra had slipped her hand out of his and was standing next to her elder sister, laughing.
The Adamantine Palace is a tale of a realm held together by rules and order and a terrible fear of what could be unleashed if those rules are broken. For the realms are also home to dragons. Huge, fire-breathing monsters, the sort that floss with velociraptors, and the only thing that stops them from eating the population wholesale are the drugs they are fed from birth that keep them docile. They have become toys and pets and flying status symbols to the kings and queens who ride them, but their fury has not been forgotten by those who tame them, nor by the dragons themselves, should they ever awaken.

Naturally, one of them does. And all hell breaks loose.

The Adamantine Palace is the first part of a trilogy, which concentrates on the efforts of one Prince Jehal to lie, murder, poison and betray his way to rulership of the Adamantine Palace itself. In this scene, he is meeting his bride-to-be and sorely missing the arrival of a promised wedding present, a perfect white dragon. Over the pages that follow, the white dragon will awake and Jehal will continue on his way. Still, the three characters here are three of the four around which the human story pivots. Jehal, who already has a lover he is propelling towards a throne, will find his bride Lystra to be something more than the mouse he expected, while the bond between her and her dragon-loving, people-hating sister Jaslyn will tip the balance of power one way or the other in books to come.

Of course, in this scene, Jehal knows none of this. For now, little Lystra is simply a mouse-queen to sit veiled behind screens, kept as a baby machine, and her mother and sister a merely complications to be removed in the not-so-distant future.
Read an excerpt from The Adamantine Palace and an essay by Stephen Deas on the "Memory of Flames" trilogy.

Visit the official Stephen Deas website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 6, 2010

"Hester: The Missing Years of The Scarlet Letter"

Paula Reed is an English teacher at Columbine High School of Littleton, Colorado.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Hester: The Missing Years of The Scarlet Letter, and reported the following:
Page 69:
Jane was a curious combination of the Brigadier General and her mother. She was naturally quiet and reserved, but she had a happy heart. Pearl would not have her dear friend go unnoticed. Of Jane's samplers, she would point out their finest traits, and she spoke enthusiastically of Jane's intelligence and patience. Where Pearl's creativity manifested itself, like mine, through her needle, Jane's blossomed in the kitchen, and because Jane's modesty was genuine, Pearl made it her mission to ensure that every woman present knew just how vital Jane's contributions had been to the extraordinary fare served at Wright House on that particular day. Pearl's loyalty added to her popularity, though more than once I overheard comments about how different the gregarious and agreeable child was from her reticent and disturbing mother.

One October afternoon, with victory in her eyes, Mary waved before me her latest invitation to a state banquet at Whitehall—with my name included upon the summons.

"Mary, I am no one. I am a woman living upon the generosity of you and your husband. I cannot possibly—"

"You are the mother of an heiress of whom several very important families have taken notice. You live in the home of a man who is very important to England and who knows a great many secrets of state. Sooner or later, you knew you must draw some interest. You were supposed to draw interest."

"I think I am going to be ill. All those people, all their fears and judgments…"

"Enough!" Mary scolded. "Where is my old friend? The one who so loved art and beauty? Wait until you see the ceiling of the banquet hall! You'll hardly notice anything else. Where is Hester Lathrop who smiled and laughed and danced with me in the garden of my old home?"

I smiled. "Somehow, I doubt there is dancing at Whitehall Palace these days."
Page 69 captures parallel relationships: one between Hester and her childhood friend Mary, the other between Hester’s ten-year-old Pearl and Mary’s daughter, Jane. It is also the first step in what will become the perilous path Hester must follow.

In Hester, the infamous Hester Prynne of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter has left New England for London in search of a secure future for her daughter. She reconnects with Mary Wright, whose husband is a close associate of Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan lord protector of the Commonwealth of England. Mary sets to work immediately to help Hester make the right social connections for Pearl, so she can make a good match when Pearl comes of age.

In the original novel, Hawthorne tells readers that one of the worst effects of wearing the scarlet letter is that it imparts to Hester the ability to see the sins and hypocrisy in others. Through Mary’s husband, Oliver Cromwell learns of Hester’s insight and realizes that he can exploit it to uncover traitors. Thus, Hester is dragged against her will into a web of political conflict and intrigue.

Pearl and Jane grow up in the midst of these tumultuous times, forever trying to reconcile their girlish dreams of romance with the realities of women’s lives in Cromwell’s England. From their mothers, they learn that often a woman’s most important connection is her dearest friend.
Read an excerpt from Hester, and learn more about the book and author at Paula Reed's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"The Gin Closet"

Leslie Jamison grew up in Los Angeles. Educated at Harvard College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has also worked as an innkeeper in California, a schoolteacher in Nicaragua, and an office temp in Manhattan. She is currently a PhD candidate at Yale University, where she is writing a dissertation on poverty and degradation in twentieth-century American writing. She is twenty-six years old.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Gin Closet, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 finds Tilly, one of the novel’s narrators, embarking on a career as a prostitute in Reno. During this section of the book she flits between seedy motel rooms, cycling through liaisons with failed entrepreneurs and Bible-toting dope smokers. In a sense, the page isn’t entirely representative, because it takes readers to a place and time outside the book’s central narrative. But many of its details evoke some of the novel’s deepest concerns: the way addiction breeds thwarted intimacies and self-sought isolation, and the way that the body is involved in all this unhappiness, marking our despair with foul breath and sudden hungers.

Sitting with her first client in the thick of post-coital disconnection, Tilly finds herself hoping for something, she doesn’t even know what, that might bring some meaning to their encounter:
His mouth tasted dry and sour when we fucked. Afterward he gave me some crumpled bills and pulled a Bible and a box of crackers from his nightstand drawer. I sat on the edge of his bed, legs crossed, and watched him eat. I thought maybe there was something he wanted to read aloud. But all he did was look at me, confused. “You’re done,” he said. “You can go now.”
A few things happen here that work as microcosms for the book as a whole: a traumatic situation (in this case, descending into prostitution via the arms of an addict) dissolves into a collection of sad, quiet details: the carefully-crossed legs, the box of crackers. A woman craves contact but finds rebuff instead, a man retreats into private consolations (drugs, silence, the Bible) in order to leave behind the person who sits right beside him.

Both Tilly and her niece Stella (the novel’s other narrator) find themselves seeking consolation and identity from men—huge, dysfunctional armies of men—and we see hints of that here: how one woman’s career as a prostitute might be echoed by another woman’s cosmopolitan coming-of-age. For both women, lovers function like food or drugs—yet another form of consumption, a desperate grasping at the world.

Page 69 ends with the image of an unhealed wound: It used to be just a regular cut, the man says, another client, but then the blood couldn’t flow there—and this open wound seems like a pretty apt metaphor for the whole book, which is full of psychic scars that won’t stay sutured, no matter how hard the characters try.
Browse inside The Gin Closet, and learn more about the book and author at Leslie Jamison's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"The Cold Room"

JT Ellison is the bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Taylor Jackson series, including All The Pretty Girls, 14, Judas Kiss and The Cold Room. Her novels have been published in 14 countries, and she was named "Best Mystery/Thriller Writer of 2008" by the Nashville Scene.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Cold Room and reported the following:
I’m always struck by how innocuous page 69 originally seems, and how relevant it actually is to the actual story. Strangely enough, page 69 of The Cold Room fits symbiotically into this pattern. We see Taylor Jackson, newly demoted from lieutenant to homicide detective, getting the shake down from her new boss. In no uncertain terms, she knows that things have dramatically changed for her. It’s her adaptation to these changes that drive the story forward.
He stuck a hand out across the desk.

“Morty Elm. I’m from New Orleans, I worked with the chief down there and was very happy to come onboard when this unfortunate situation warranted your, well, let’s just call it disciplining, shall we?”

Before she had a chance to speak, he continued.

“I’d like to establish a few ground rules. I like to be kept informed of everything my detectives are doing, so you’ll report in regularly. I prefer to read your updates, so if you’d be kind enough to turn in a detailed sheet every evening of your day’s accomplishments, that will make my life grand. I’d also like a full rundown of where you stand with each of your cases, and your plans for solving them.

“I run a tight ship, so I expect you to be at your desk by eight, and to adhere to the dress code. Jeans are not suitable for my detectives. You will sign in and sign out every time you leave the office. In addition, you will find a listing of what is appropriate and what is not on your desk. I spoke with Detective McKenzie this morning, he seems like a fine young man. You have considerably more experience than he, so I trust you’ll be comfortable mentoring the detective, teaching him the ropes.”

“Of course.”

“Then we understand each other. No more surprises at crime scenes, Detective. That’s all I have for you right now. I’ll expect that status report by five. You may go.”
If you know Taylor at all, you know that this doesn’t go over very well. On the next page she resolutely balls up the “appropriateness list” and tosses it in the trash. That’s my girl!
Learn more about the book and author at J.T. Ellison's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: the Taylor Jackson series.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"Print the Legend"

Craig McDonald is the Edgar and Anthony nominated novelist of Head Games, Toros & Torsos, and the newly released Print the Legend. His nonfiction titles include Art in the Blood, a collection of interviews with 20 major crime authors, and Rogue Males: Conversations and Confrontations About the Writing Life.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Print the Legend and reported the following:
My new novel, Print the Legend, explores the death of Ernest Hemingway in July 1961.

It also examines the issue of Hemingway’s posthumous books: Hem’s last wife, Mary, edited and re-titled such works as A Moveable Feast and Islands in the Stream, falsely claiming they were being presented in the form in which her late husband intended.

Print the Legend finds my continuing character, novelist Hector Lassiter, the oldest and best of Hem's friends — “the last man standing of the Lost Generation” — journeying to 1965 Idaho to keynote a Hemingway conference. Hector has heard intimations of some surviving Hemingway manuscripts, including a "lost" chapter of A Moveable Feast and a full-length manuscript written by a deluded Hemingway that Hector fears might compromise or harm his own reputation.

The novel touches frequently on the relation of the artist’s life to his work and the ways in which biography can inform fiction — a concept that Hector Lassiter, an author known as “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives,” is all too-familiar with.

Page 69 of Print the Legend actually concludes a document purporting to be that lost chapter of A Moveable Feast centered on Hector. In the “lost chapter,” Hector and Hem are dining together in a Paris café, circa Christmas, 1924.

In the context of Hemingway’s sketch, both men are young writers, still some ways from achieving notoriety for their fiction. Hemingway is married and the father of a young boy; Hector, an only-child, is single and ruing that fact. On page 69, the sketch ends, and Hector is left wondering about its authenticity — a theme that goes to the heart of the novel.

Excerpt of the “lost chapter”:
He pointed to the gift for our son. “I’ve got no brother or sisters, so I’ll never have nieces or nephews, either. I’m afraid Bumby fulfills that need for me. Christ, Hem, please let me have my Christmas. Without it, I’m left to decorating trees in the gardens with fallen women. What kind of Yule is that? You can’t appreciate family, truly, when you have one. When you don’t, it’s all you think about.”
Then, as Hector finishes reading Hem’s sketch, he begins to resent some of the alleged lost chapter’s content:
Hector sighed and bit his lip and sipped more wine. Hem’s sketch of that long-gone Christmas Eve was accurate, and it wasn’t. Much of the distortion—perhaps intended…probably intended—came in the omissions. It was tucked into the spaces between the lines.
As Hector concludes his reading of the sketch, he decides that while Hem probably composed much of the “lost chapter,” another hand or two may have left a mark on the document — a suspicion that continues to fire the novel’s central conflicts.
Read more about Print the Legend, and learn more about the author and his work at Craig McDonald's website, blog, and Crimespace page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 1, 2010


Claire Seeber is a feature writer for the Guardian, Independent on Sunday, and the Telegraph. She lives in London.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Lullaby, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Is page 69 representative of the rest of Lullaby? Hmmm…

Page 69 deals with the first morning after young mum Jess’s baby Louis and husband Mickey have vanished at the Tate Modern Museum in London. It is stifling, a boiling summer morning, and Jess is naturally frantic. It’s the first time she admits her feelings of tension towards DI Silver, the policeman in charge of the case. “Last night, I wondered, why didn’t I warm to you?” Their relationship is pivotal to the novel and the incremental ‘will they won’t they’ nature of it starts here…

Also at this point Jess feels Silver’s finger of suspicion might be pointing at her – “anything to get away from Silver’s polite but probing stare”: a recurring theme of Lullaby: no-one is trustworthy, not even your nearest and dearest…

Crucially we see that Jess is alone, a small boat flailing in the sea of activity around her, though never enough activity to convince her enough is being done to find her son. We also see Jess’s ambivalence towards her sister Leigh, most representative of the confusion Jess feels about her own family. “I was puzzled that my sister was flirting with this stranger in my kitchen”

At the end of page 69, Jess goes to fetch au pair Maxine for Silver to interview and finds passport photos of the baby hidden in the girl’s empty room…so the page ends on a cliff-hanger, quite typical of the book: lots of new hope and false dawns to keep the reader guessing up to the last minute…

Crucially, dear reader, I really hope that page 69 would want to make you read on!…
Learn more about the book and author at Claire Seeber's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue