Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"A Cure for Night"

Justin Peacock received an MFA from Columbia University and a law degree from Yale. Prior to attending law school, he worked as an online producer at the New York Times. His legal experience ranges from death-penalty defense to First Amendment cases.

He applied the Page 69 Test to A Cure for Night, his debut novel, and reported the following:
A Cure for Night primarily revolves around a murder trial. On page 69, the two public defenders who are the novel's main characters, Joel Deveraux and Myra Goldstein, are in the middle of interviewing one of the witnesses against their client. The witness, Latrice Wallace, is the sister of a drug dealer who their client, Lorenzo Tate, is accused of shooting. Latrice has told the police that Lorenzo had come looking for her brother on the night he was shot. It's not until page 70 that this interview bears fruit, as Latrice casually mentions something which the lawyers think may help their defense.

Any novel is made up more of building block passages than it is tour de force passages, and page 69 of my novel definitely falls into the former category. A Cure for Night is a legal procedural (among other things), and page 69 is certainly emblematic of that aspect of the book. The novel is intended as a realistic look at how criminal defense lawyers build a case: conducting witness interviews, running down leads, testing out theories. The defense attorneys methodically double-check the police's work, looking for cracks in the prosecution's case, which is what they are doing on page 69. The book also addresses the disconnect between truth-telling and storytelling in constructing a legal defense, and the scene does exemplify that to some degree as well.
Read an excerpt from A Cure for Night, and learn more about the book and author at Justin Peacock's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"The Life You've Imagined"

Kristina Riggle is the author of the novels Real Life & Liars (2009) and The Life You've Imagined, released this month from Avon/HarperCollins.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Life You've Imagined and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Life You've Imagined begins chapter 13, from the perspective of Amy, the formerly fat girl, now a bride getting ready to marry the man of her dreams, who doesn't understand why everything isn't perfect. This is the whole page (it's short, as it begins a chapter and starts partway down the page).
My mom looks around for a chair to sit on.

We're in Agatha's Boutique, and for most people a chair is nothing, almost nonexistent, like the spoon in your hand or the mirror on the wall, serving only as a means to an end.

Only when you're fat, none of this is nothing.

"Here, Mom," and I take her elbow and point her toward a low bench, upholstered in crushed velvet. It's wide enough for two, or wide enough for her. I remember sitting there myself when looking for a prom dress. I gave up in disgust and stayed home.

She nods her relief at finding a place to land. She crosses her legs at the ankles because she can't cross them at her knees.

I still remember the joy the first time I realized I could cross one knee over the other.

She's still breathing a little hard. We had to park far away.

"Well," she says with a little puff of air, fanning herself with a tissue. "Let's see this vision of a dress."
Amy, more than any other character in The Life You've Imagined, embodies the title of the book in all its irony. As a fat girl in high school she dreamt of a perfect wedding, perfect groom, perfect body, but never dared believe it would happen to her... until she got a dog and in taking him for walks her weight started to drop, just a bit. Thus inspired, she runs herself into the ground and eats like a rabbit until she achieves a thin body, and eventually, a rich, promising young businessman as a fiance. She'd assumed this would bring her happiness. After all, she was living the life she always imagined, right? After all, as she wrote on a piece of paper and taped to her mirror, "Every thin day is a good day!"

This passage above demonstrates the dramatic physical change that's taken place, but how she cannot truly leave behind what she used to be. This is something all the characters wrestle with, how the past literally and figuratively will not leave them alone.
Browse inside The Life You've Imagined, and learn more about the book and author at Kristina Riggle's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 27, 2010

"The Atlas of Love"

Laurie Frankel lives in Seattle and teaches in the English Department at the University of Puget Sound.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Atlas of Love, her first novel, and reported the following:
This is seriously amazing (and a little weird)! If you asked me to point to the one section of the book that most fully encapsulates its theme and central question, I’d point you to a passage on page...wait for it...69! Pretty unbelievable. Check it out:
People are always really gushy about nothing being more important than family and about real friends being like family. She’s like a sister to me, we say of close friends, like family’s not about blood or laws anymore but only love. Real family is much less sentimental than that though. Family is who you’re stuck with.
It goes on, on page 70 (and throughout the rest of the book), to clarify the point. Yes, good friends are family. Yes, there are many, many ways to be a family. Yes, those ways often have little to do with blood or legalities. Yes, alternative families are also beautiful and wonderful. But also, just because your family is the non-traditional kind doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and roses. All families, even the ones who aren’t technically related, are complicated, challenging, and often fraught. That’s the other thing that family means besides love. Love but also complication. Friends you can get rid of when they become annoying. Friends who are family? Well, them you’re stuck with, for better and for worse. That’s what The Atlas of Love is about.

Page 69 also includes this passage:
The card read, “For my baby (and her puppy) -- Sorry we forgot about you in all the excitement. You’re still my favorite baby of all. Love you. Guess who?” My grandmother signed everything, “Guess who?” which made it pretty easy to guess.
And this theme and Janey’s grandma’s “Guess who?” run throughout and come back centrally and movingly towards the end of the book.

So the page 69 test proves very successful for The Atlas of Love! This was fun (and revelatory).
Read an excerpt from The Atlas of Love, and learn more about the book and author at Laurie Frankel's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"The Good Thief’s Guide to Vegas"

Chris Ewan is an entertainment lawyer on the Isle of Man, but spent his honeymoon trying his luck in Vegas.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Good Thief's Guide to Vegas, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Good Thief’s Guide to Vegas falls at the opening of Chapter 9, just as the trouble my lead character, Charlie Howard, has got himself in is about to crank up another notch. In the past, Charlie’s encountered trouble in Amsterdam and Paris, but this time the stakes are higher (well, it is Vegas).
I guess I’ve been lucky in life. There haven’t been too many occasions when I’ve been backed into a corner. Sure, as a burglar, I’ve had some close calls. Times when I’ve had to hide and wait for a danger to pass, or scram to avoid getting caught. But usually I’ve had some control over the situation I’ve found myself in, and more often than not, it’s worked out just fine. This time, I was struggling to see a way out of my dilemma.
The dilemma Charlie’s found himself in is the result of bad decisions and bad luck, and now he’s in the process of being interrogated in the backroom of a Strip casino, accused of perpetrating an elaborate gambling con, aided and abetted by his literary agent, Victoria.

At the end of the previous chapter, Charlie was shown surveillance footage by a detective called Ricks – a man with an expertise in gambling cons – that appeared to show him being palmed casino chips from a roulette table. Of course, Charlie wouldn’t do anything so devious – he was merely stealing a wallet. But the footage is convincing. And, well, Charlie does have a stash of high-denomination chips in his pocket…

Now, Charlie is the type of guy who tends to view life as a game. This is apparent from his exchange with Ricks, after he’s been asked to turn out his pockets.
“I’d rather not empty my pockets, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh, we mind.”

“I’m an intensely private person.”

“Believe me,” Ricks said. “Nobody outside of this room will ever hear what happens inside of it.”
The other people inside the room are Victoria and a pair of identical twins who own and operate the casino. We don’t get much sense of Victoria from page 69 – she’s just beginning to speak when the book trips over to page 70, which is a shame, because a lot of the humour comes from her quick-fire exchanges with Charlie. But we do gain an impression of the threat the twins represent.
The twins had their arms folded over their chests and they weren’t saying a word. They hung back like a two-man jury, waiting to pass judgement, and I was beginning to find their silence menacing. Perhaps if there’d been just one of them, the effect would have been less powerful. Doubled up, it was making me sweat.
Overall, there’s enough on page 69 to give a flavour of what the novel is about – a tricky predicament, humour in the face of danger from our intrepid hero, and a hint of the peril he’s in. But there are other things I wish the page had contained, some description of Vegas, for instance, or a glimpse of Charlie doing what he’s best at – applying his questionable skills to break in someplace that’s difficult to access. But, hey, those things and more can be found on the other pages of the book – all 338 of them.
Learn more about Chris Ewan and his work at his website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Good Thief's Guide to Paris.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 23, 2010

"Discord's Apple"

Carrie Vaughn is the New York Times bestselling author of the Kitty Norville books.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Discord's Apple, and reported the following:
Discord's Apple is the story of a young woman who returns home to be with her dying father, discovers that her father's basement is a storeroom for legendary treasures and mythological artifacts, and that her family has been caretakers of the storeroom for thousands of years. It's also the story of Sinon, a Greek soldier in the Trojan War, what happened to him after, and how he meets Evie.

Also, Hera still wants that apple that Aphrodite cheated her out of.

It turns out that Page 69 of Discord's Apple is great microcosm of the conflict that follows through the book all the way to the climax. It's the first confrontation between Alex and Robin (i.e. Robin Goodfellow) and presages the fight to the death they have toward the end. It's also an additional clue that main character Evie gets that the world isn't what she thought it was. The fourth character on page 69 is the Queen -- Hera -- who is driving the events and inciting conflicts.

I don't have much more to say about page 69 than that. Here it is, in its entirety:
He wasn't speaking to her mind; he was speaking to another place, deep in her gut, making her want to melt.

"That doesn't make sense," she said, trying to clear away the dizziness that seemed to overtake her.

"Evie! I've been looking everywhere for you!"

She looked, and there stood Alex. He took her elbow and pulled her arm out of the stranger's reach. In spite of herself, she leaned into his touch. He was solid, and didn't send shocks along her nerves.

"Hold this," Alex said, and tossed something at the stranger. It looked like a sprig of leaves, like part of a boutonnière.

Startled, the man caught it out of reflex. For a moment, he held it with both hands. Then he shouted, an indecipherable curse, and dropped it, scuttling away from it.

Alex shoved her to the car and climbed into the front seat, pulling her in with him.

"Hurry up and drive, please," he said.

Numb and bewildered, she did. The tires squealed as she jerked forward, circled around the parking lot, and lurched into the street.

The stranger glared after her, rubbing his hands together like he was brushing dirt off them.


The Queen paced back and forth along the narrow aisle between the bed and dresser, arms crossed. Robin sat at the edge of the bed, melting an ice cube over each palm in turn.

He scowled, all his humor gone. "I thought it would be easy getting to the house through the girl. I usually do so well with them. But I didn't know about him. Who did you say he is?"

"He was a slave. A Greek, one of Apollo's. Detritus of history, lost in time somehow. He certainly doesn't have any power. He's nothing."
Read an excerpt from Discord's Apple, and learn more about the author and her work at Carrie Vaughn's website, blog, MySpace page, and Facebook page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Unexpectedly, Milo"

Matthew Dicks is the author of the novels Something Missing and Unexpectedly, Milo. An elementary school teacher, he was named West Hartford’s Teacher of the Year in 2005 and was a finalist for Connecticut’s Teacher of the Year.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Unexpectedly, Milo and reported the following:
Page 69 turns out to be surprisingly quite representative of Milo, the protagonist in Unexpectedly, Milo, and it’s actually part of the chapter that I have been reading on my most recent book tour. Milo is a man who is plagued by a variety of compulsions (he refers to them as demands) which impugn on his ability to think and act until these demands are satisfied. He has kept these compulsions a secret from his wife (and everyone else in his life), which is probably one of the reasons his marriage is falling apart.

Page 69 touches upon two of these compulsions:
1. The need to watch a film over and over again in the hope (and expectation) that the disappointing ending will one day change. In this case, Milo, who is also a nerd of sorts (page 69 also references Milo’s Dungeons and Dragons hobby), is watching Episode 1 of the Star Wars prequels.

“Had Windu killed Palpatine or had Obi Wan tossed his apprentice into the river of lava like he should have, Milo imagined that the feeling of fulfillment would be indescribable. And if it actually happened someday, part of him wouldn’t be surprised one bit.”

2. The second compulsion discussed on page 69 is Milo’s need to release the pressurized safety seals on jars of Smucker’s grape jelly (one of his most common compulsions). This hiss of the seal being broken is as satisfying as almost anything else in Milo’s life, and therefore he is often forced to purchase dozens of jars at a time.

“Milo opened three more jars of jelly before the demand was satisfied and he was able to return home.”
Lastly, the page also makes references to a poem that Milo has clipped from a Highlights magazine earlier in the day. Though he is not sure why the poem, which was written by a child, appeals to him so much, he finds himself becoming drawn to its words more and more as the story continues.

“But before pulling out of his parking spot, he removed the page from the Highlights magazine that he had acquired earlier that day and read through the poem once again. He hadn’t thought much of it at first, but he found that it was growing on him.”

Overall, page 69 offers a surprisingly broad view of the story, even though it ends a chapter and the words only fill about half of the page!
Visit Matthew Dicks' website and Facebook page.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Matthew Dicks & Kaleigh.

Writers Read: Matthew Dicks.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Vivian Rising"

Daniella Brodsky is the author of The Velvet Rope Diaries, Princess of Park Avenue, and Diary of a Working Girl, which has been made into a movie on the ABC Family network starring Hilary Duff. Brodsky is also the creator and author of the Girl's Guide to New York Nightlife series.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Vivian Rising, and reported the following:
Vivian Rising is a novel of self-discovery and healing, in which a young woman mourning the grandmother who raised her hunts down her lost faith to find a way out of grief…and stumbles upon it in a most unlikely spot. As the prickly, perceptive astrologer Kavia leads Viv to process her grief and rebalance her life, Viv’s faced with what amounts to the same question she’s been avoiding her whole life: should she continue along the safe path destiny’s led her to, or finally trust herself to step out and write her own story?

Page 69 opens with an epigraph that certainly illuminates one of the book’s core themes: change of any kind—painful as it may be—often casts the world in a whole new light, not only for us, but for others around us, too. You never know what event is going to shake up your world, but you can be certain of one thing: our individual histories make us who we are. It’s up to us what we do with that experience. The scene that unfolds on 69 is a light break from some heavy stuff that comes before. Still, its style and painting of the unique Brooklyn setting are consistent with the balance of the book. A careful reader could certainly pick up what’s going on here by some key words in the scene, but you probably wouldn’t get the sense that there’s an intriguing guy named Len next door with whom Viv just might partake in some (ahem) uncharacteristic, escapist behavior! It’s certainly one way to answer the question that all of us ask when we lose someone we love: "now what?"
Learn more about Vivian Rising at Daniella Brodsky's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Rich Boy"

Sharon Pomerantz is a graduate of the University of Michigan's M.F.A. program. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous journals, including The Missouri Review and Ploughshares. Her story "Ghost Knife" was included in The Best American Short Stories 2003, and "Shoes" was nationally broadcast on NPR's Selected Shorts. She currently teaches writing at the University of Michigan.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Rich Boy, her first novel, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Rich Boy, the main character, Robert Vishniak, is a scholarship student in his freshman year at Tufts University. Tufts was technically considered co-ed back then, but the Jackson College girls, who lived on campus, were "guarded by housemothers who took their jobs seriously. Boys visited officially on Sunday afternoons; they sat in the living room and talked to their dates, drinking nonalcoholic punch and eating cookies while a chaperone looked on. The girls had to sign in and out at night--and at the end of Saturday night, the boys were permitted only up to the dorm entrance, known as the fishbowl, where they said good-bye amid a flurry of public scrutiny."

Before coming to Tufts, Robert grew up in the row houses of Northeast Philadelphia, where he had access to many neighborhood girls and was sexually precocious, so these restrictions frustrate him—especially as he spent the early chapters of the novel dreaming of getting away from his family to the “freedom” of college.

Rich Boy is very much about Robert's relationships with women—he is a man who needs women, and living without them almost drives him crazy. Of course, he is also a striver, and his childhood and good looks have given him a certain self-confidence that, ironically, many of his wealthier, more privileged classmates lack. So he sets about trying to correct the problem. This page most definitely addresses themes of sexuality, societal change and the contrasts that class create--all of which play out in Rich Boy.
Read an excerpt from Rich Boy, and learn more about the book and author at Sharon Pomerantz's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"The Price of Liberty"

Keir Graff is the author of the novels Cold Lessons (under the pseudonym Michael McCulloch), My Fellow Americans, and One Nation, Under God.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Price of Liberty, and reported the following:
Wow! Page 69 of The Price of Liberty seems as though it could be a polarizing experience for potential readers. If they're the kind of people who like action and aren't averse to violence (in fiction), they might really want to know how this scene turns out. If, however, they tend to avert their eyes at the sight of (described) blood, they might decide the book is going to be too gory and give it a miss.

The scene here involves a bad guy's misguided attempt to get information from a couple of camping college-newspaper reporters -- and, yes, it does get worse. I'd be hesitant for any reader to use this page as a representative sample of the whole book because they'd be making the decision to read or not to read based on bad data. There are definitely scenes of action, and violence -- even gore -- in this book, but I use them sparingly, like punctuation marks.

This is an ensemble piece, and the emphasis is on the characters and their relationships; while those relationships sometimes intersect violently, there are humorous interactions, too. And you'll get to know the characters, from the aggrieved son of a Wyoming construction boss to a foul-mouthed, elderly librarian -- pretty well before any blood is shed. By then, hopefully, even the faint of heart won't be able to stop reading.

The Price of Liberty is politically similar to my previous books but very different in execution. I made this one faster and funnier, and have been gratified by reviewers' comparisons to Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, Donald Westlake, and Lawrence Block.

The full text of page 69 is reprinted below, but readers can read the first 76 pages of the book for free at my website.
The light dropped. A big spot floated in front of his eyes. He couldn't see. He heard them running. He turned on his own flashlight and ran forward, snapping branches, hammering his shoulder on a tree trunk.

He came out into a clearing. The campsite. He waved his flashlight. He saw white legs scissoring into the darkness.

'Stop!' he shouted. 'Or I'll shoot!'

The legs stopped. He trained the light and the gun on the guy and closed the distance between them.

'I've got your friend,' he called into the night. 'Come back or I'll shoot him!'

He heard sounds of wood and rocks, and then nothing.

The kid was standing by the picnic table. He was wearing long underwear, which was why his legs were so white. There were empty beer cans on the table, and a mess that showed they'd been camped for a while. Everything looked ghostly in the light from the flashlight. It was like things only existed when Shane shined the light on them.

'Stay there,' he said.

The kid was shaking. It would be a miracle if he stayed standing. Shane unzipped his duffel bag and, after rooting around for a minute, found a zip-tie. He made the kid cross his hands behind his back and then cinched them together with the plastic strip. He told the kid to kneel, guiding him down with a hand on his shoulder.

'Please,' said the kid. 'You don't know me. I don't know you. You can just walk . . . walk . . . walk . . .'

It was like his brain got stuck. Shane smelled something sour and realized that the kid had pissed himself. He must have thought he was about to be executed. That was good. If he was afraid, he was more likely to talk. As long as he could stop saying 'walk.'

'. . . walk . . . walk away. You can just walk away.'

Shane prodded the kid in the back with the gun to keep the fear in him. He realized that his own hand was shaking. He was nervous, too. He pulled the gun back, so the kid wouldn't know exactly where he was.

'What's your name?' asked Shane.

Learn more about the book and author at Keir Graff's website.

The Page 69 Test: One Nation, Under God.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 13, 2010

"A Brush with Death"

Elizabeth J. Duncan's first novel, The Cold Light of Mourning, won the 2008 Malice Domestic/St. Martin's award and was nominated for an Agatha Award (USA) and Arthur Ellis Award (Canada) for best first novel. Her new novel, A Brush with Death, is the second in the Penny Brannigan mystery series and is a traditional mystery set in North Wales.

She applied the Page 69 Test to A Brush with Death and reported the following:
Unfortunately, page 69 is not terribly exciting. It's what we might call a set up scene. Penny has learned of the hit and run death of an artist 30 years ago, and wants to know more. Was it an accident? Murder? Who did it? Her police inspector friend, Gareth Davies, has agreed that she should have access to case files because he knows that amateur sleuths, with the right resources and intentions, often solve cold cases that a busy police department just doesn't have time for.

So on page 69, Sgt. Bethan Morgan arrives at Penny's home to have dinner with Penny and Victoria before she gives the little team Penny has assembled a briefing on the death of Alys Jones.
Bethan smiled as she looked around the room. Much of the clutter was gone and Penny had rearranged the furniture to open up the space. Penny pointed to a blank wall where two large easels had been set up.

“I thought you couid put your whiteboard on them, if they’re sturdy enough,” she said. “What do you think?”

“Hmm. I think that arrangement will work for tonight,” Bethan said, “but if you want to keep the board up and we really start working with it, we might need to make it more secure so we can write on it and tape things to it.”

Penny nodded eagerly and then turned as Victoria emerged from the kitchen, wearing a large white apron with a tea towel draped over her shoulder.

“Hi, Bethan, love,” she said warmly. “It’s so nice to see you again. Has Penny offered you a drink yet?”

“No, not yet,” replied Bethan, “but I’m sure she was just about to. I’ll just have a tonic water or a ginger ale, please.”

“Right you are,” said Penny. “Are you on duty?”

“We couldn’t really decide that. I don’t think so, but it feels like it. Anyway, I have to drive back to Llandudno tonight, so from that point of view, have to give the wine a miss. This time.”

Penny nodded and headed off to the kitchen to fetch Bethan’s drink.
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth J. Duncan's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Cold Light of Mourning.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"A Thousand Cuts"

Simon Lelic has worked as a journalist in the UK and currently runs his own business in Brighton, England, where he lives with his wife and two sons.

He applied the Page 69 Test to A Thousand Cuts [Rupture, in the UK], his debut novel, and reported the following:
The page 69 test. My mother-in-law, who runs a bookshop, swears by it. Unfortunately, as on so many counts probably, I am afraid I will have disappointed her. Flicking through the novel, I am struggling to identify a page that is any less representative of the rest of the book.

Page 69 of A Thousand Cuts is an anomaly. It drops you into the middle of a telephone conversation and leaves you as disoriented and uniformed as eavesdropping any strangers' conversation would. It is a crossed-line of a page. It doesn't even reveal the names of who is speaking.

As for the conversation itself, this again is thematically incongruous. The novel is about bullying. It centres on a young, female police detective struggling to make sense of a school shooting: not what happened but why. A central, recurring theme is that truth is dependent on point of view, which is partly why the novel is narrated, every second chapter, by a different witness to the original crime. On page 69, however, the conversation is about (failed) relationships. It offers bald facts and cod philosophising. We learn that one woman feels she gets treated like ironmongery: she considers herself her ex-husband's stepladder. And men, she maintains, are like poinsettias. They need attention. They need to feel wanted. It is a generalisation and a lazy one but the statement is not up for debate.

The second woman, the first woman's daughter, is less forthcoming, less forthright. She, as it happens, is Lucia May, the lead character in the book. Again page 69 stands out because it is a rare insight within the novel into the relationships that have defined Lucia. In other scenes, she refuses, mostly, to reveal these. She is afraid, bullied herself, but the last thing she intends to do is admit this. Talking to her mother, it is harder for her to maintain the facade. Which is perhaps why Lucia brings the conversation to an end at the top of page 70.
Read an excerpt from A Thousand Cuts, and learn more about the book and author at Simon Lelic's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"The Killer"

Tom Hinshelwood is a freelance video editor and scriptwriter. He was born in Staffordshire, England and now lives in London.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Killer, his first novel, and reported the following:
The Killer is about a professional assassin who finds himself running for his life after completing a seemingly open-and-shut assignment. By page 69 Victor has survived an attack by a seven-strong hit team and has fled to his isolated Swiss chalet. Gazing out of his bedroom window at the picturesque mountain valley, Victor muses about what to do with the memory stick he retrieved from his original target and which is the reason for the subsequent ambush.

He doesn’t have much time to think, however, as he’s shot in the chest by a bullet from a high-velocity rifle. Such a wound should be lethal, but Victor has only survived this long in the world’s most cutthroat trade by preparing for the worst at every turn. As such all the windows of his chalet are protected by bullet-resistant glass, which saves his life but leaves him incapacitated on the floor, slipping from consciousness.

It would be unfair to reveal what subsequently takes place, but page 69 is perfectly representative of the of the novel as a whole, which focuses on Victor’s mission identify his unknown enemies while simultaneously staying out of their crosshairs. If a reader was intrigued to find out how Victor gets out of his predicament on page 69 he or she would most certainly enjoy reading the rest of The Killer.
Learn more about The Killer and its author at Tom Hinshelwood's website.

Writers Read: Tom Hinshelwood.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 8, 2010

"Buddha’s Orphans"

Samrat Upadhyay is the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Indiana University--Bloomington. His books include the short story collection Arresting God in Kathmandu (2001), the novel The Guru of Love (2003), and the story collection, The Royal Ghosts (2006).

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Buddha's Orphans, and reported the following:
It is indeed strange that p. 69 would land me squarely into the most pivotal moment in the first third of my novel Buddha’s Orphans, a moment that changes the lives of its major players.

Buddha’s Orphans begins as the story of a boy, Raja, who is discovered by a corn-selling woman, Kaki after he’s abandoned as an infant in the city park. In order to educate him, Kaki finds employment as a live-in servant in the house of a bureaucrat, Ganga Da, who sees the boy as someone whose presence would act as a palliative for his mentally ill wife. But Kaki can’t stand the attachment that begins to form between Raja and Ganga Da’s wife, and one day she quits her job and takes the boy. Ganga Da begins to think:
An idea pushed itself into the forefront of Ganga Da’s mind. Throughout the night, as he drifted in and out of sleep, he pondered it, and by dawn he knew what he needed to do. He quietly changed his clothes, opened his small steel safe inside the almirah, extracted eight hundred rupees, and left the house. His destination was only a short distance away, a house near the incline that opened to the Thamel market.

He spotted the house owner, Bhimnidhi, in his garden, taking a bath with a lungi wrapped around his waist. Bhimnidhi worked as a mid-level administrator in Prasuti Griha, the maternity hospital in Thapathali. “Ganga Da, what an honor,” he shouted as he splashed water on his chest. Ganga Da waited until he was done bathing, then they both went inside.

Bhimnidhi’s wife brought them tea. Ganga Da shut the door behind her, and told Bhimnidhi what he wanted.

“But that’s impossible,” Bhimnidhi said. “This early in the morning, you come to talk about such a difficult matter. It’ll be a paap to do such a thing.”

“The boy will have a better life with us. You’ll be performing a dharma, not a sin.”

“I’m a Brahmin’s son, Ganga Da. Even contemplating such a thing is a sin for me.”

Ganga Da reached for his wallet, took out five hundred rupee notes, placed them on the mat in front of him one by one and smoothed them. “Everyone will benefit. My wife will get a son, I’ll have peace of mind at home, and you …” He extended his lower lip toward the notes. Just a few weeks ago, Ganga Da had heard Bhimnidhi complain about his two teenage sons, whose extravagant tastes he couldn’t fulfill with his modest salary. Five hundred rupees was close to Bhimnidhi’s monthly salary, Ganga Da knew.

Bhimnidhi warily observed the bills in front of him. After a moment he cleared his throat and said, “You put me in a bind.”
Ganga Da’s act on p. 69 changes the dynamics of the novel, provides a charge to the love story that ensues, and begins the suffering of one of the most endearing characters from all of my books, Kaki.
Read an excerpt from Buddha's Orphans, and learn more about the book at the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website.

Writers Read: Samrat Upadhyay.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 6, 2010

"Wherever You Go"

Joan Leegant, author of An Hour in Paradise, won the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for the best book of Jewish-American fiction and the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Wherever You Go, and reported the following:
Wherever You Go is about three Americans in Israel caught in the vortex of religious and political extremism. There’s an act of catastrophic violence at the heart of the novel; all three characters are irreparably changed by its fallout.

The book is structured in alternating chapters among the three main characters – Yona Stern, Mark Greenglass, and Aaron Blinder. They don’t know each other when the book opens, but their paths eventually collide. Page 69 occurs at the beginning of a chapter about Mark Greenglass, which introduces his father, Lenny Greenglass. Mark is a former drug user and dealer who, twelve years earlier, embraced Orthodox Judaism as a way of rehabilitating himself. The relationship between father and son has long been fraught. Lenny is a wealthy New York businessman who doesn’t understand his son and has no patience for religion; Mark for his part gave his father some unsavory pieces of his mind during his drug years and contributed his fair share to the relationship’s tension. On page 69, Mark, in from Jerusalem to teach for two weeks at a Manhattan yeshiva, plays with the cap of his father’s soda bottle while Lenny fastidiously eats his dinner and attempts to make conversation:
“So what’s the job this time,” Lenny said, efficiently cutting his steak, not lifting the sentence into an interrogative because he didn’t expect much of an answer. None of Greenglass’s jobs ever satisfied his father because none of Greenglass’s jobs made any money, and money was all that counted for Lenny. Unlike his and Felicia’s acquaintances, Lenny, the son of a dry cleaner who’d grown up in a four-room apartment above the store, didn’t pretend that academic status was just as worthy, or that artistry or bookishness or any of the other effete or intellectual things others occasionally gave lip service to merited applauding – the friend’s nephew who overnight became a success because he finallly sold a play, the cousin’s son who at thirty-two got tenure at Yale. So what? Lenny would shrug, consistent to the core, a trait his son found oddly admirable: at least he wasn’t a hypocrite. What do they get up there in New Haven? Forty thou? Fifty? Dreck.
Though Lenny isn’t the most sensitive father on the planet, I have sympathy for a man like him who is, after all, a product of his time and circumstances. His son’s choices are baffling to him – and worse: they represent a regression, an embrace of religious strictures Lenny’s immigrant grandparents couldn’t wait to escape. In fact, failed connections between fathers and sons run all through this novel, and though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the various disappointed or disappointing sons who populate its pages seek out religion or ideology as a way of replacing what they didn’t get from their fathers, I might say the two elements are related. There are lots of reasons we attach ourselves to a cause or a discipline, and principles are one part of it. There’s a lot of psychology at play, too.
Preview Wherever You Go, and learn more about the book and author at Joan Leegant's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"The Reapers Are the Angels"

Alden Bell is a pseudonym for Joshua Gaylord, whose first novel, Hummingbirds, was released in Fall 2009.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Reapers Are the Angels, and reported the following:
The Reapers Are the Angels takes place in a post-apocalyptic landscape where most of civilization has holed itself up in bastions guarded against hordes of the undead. Daily life has become a very different proposition than what we are used to. On page 69, our heroine Temple encounters one household that seems to be in complete denial of the blight everywhere else in the world. Here it is:
Inside, the house looks like something she’s seen in movies—metalwork frilly like lace, the whole place kingly and oblivious. The front entrance opens onto a long hall that extends all the way through to the back around a central staircase that winds in a circle up to the second floor. Descending from the ceiling like a shower of ice is a chandelier that seems to hold the light locked selfish in its crystals rather than giving it out. The floor of the entry is marble in black and white diamonds and along the walls are grandfather clocks and half-circle tables with model ships and mahogany sideboards with sprays of flowers or ancient yellow dolls under glass bells.

The place seems untouched by the mass walking death everywhere else in the world. She looks for the stand of guns by the door, but instead she finds a rack for coats and umbrellas, a closet for muddy boots. There are no boards nailed across the windows—instead there are layers of lace and muslin tied open with thick burgundy ropes that have large toy-like tassels on the ends. There is no blood crusted brown on the walls and the floors. No lookout stations. No gunner nests. It is as though she has entered a different era entirely.

The first thing she hears when she comes through the door is a song being played on a piano. She assumes, of course, that it’s a recording—until the song stops abruptly and starts again, and she realizes someone is practicing on a real piano.

The song is a peaceful one, but also full of chords that make her ache. It’s a sad peacefulness.

Who’s playin the piano? she asks Johns.
I’ve always been fascinated by people who simply ignore the state of the world around them in favor of their own pretty fantasy lives. Sure, it would be easy to call such an act willful ignorance or sticking your head in the sand—but there’s also a kind of creative beauty about the process. In essence, these people are the artists of their own lives. They are creating fictions that they then inhabit with gusto. They keep their spirits uncorrupted by reality—and true to the ideals that they have set for themselves. This section of the novel was inspired by Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” in which an aging Southern belle refuses to submit to the changes of the modern world. Faulkner, too, is torn between scorn for her obstinacy and admiration for her sheer will.

Temple, the heroine of the book, never knew the world before the zombie apocalypse, so she has no such nostalgia. For her, it’s a unique curiosity to see a house unstained by dried blood. She likes it, but she also doesn’t understand it. In a world of such constant violence, this gentility is cute but rather foolish. It’s not surprising that for such a no-nonsense warrior girl like Temple, it will be difficult for her to stay in this frilly environment for long.
Learn more about Alden Bell's work Joshua Gaylord's website.

Writers Read: Alden Bell.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Memory Wall"

Anthony Doerr is the author of a collection of short stories, The Shell Collector, the novel About Grace, and a memoir titled Four Seasons in Rome.

His books have been a New York Times Notable Book, an American Library Association Book of the Year, a "Book of the Year" in the Washington Post, and he has won the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize, the Rome Prize, the Hodder Fellowship from Princeton, and shared the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award.

Doerr applied the Page 69 Test to his new story collection, Memory Wall, and reported the following:
On Luvo’s fourth morning, wandering below the pass, perhaps a half mile from the road, he turns over a rock the size of his hand and finds pressed into its underside the clear white outline of what looks like a clam shell. The shell is lighter than the stone around it and scalloped at the edges. The name of the fossil rises from some corner of his brain: Brachiopod. He sits in the sun and runs the tips of his fingers over the dozens of grooves in the stone. An animal that lived and died eons ago, when this mountainside was a seabed, and galaxies of clams flapped their shells at the sun.
The top of page 69 is, somewhat astonishingly, very representative of the book. Memory Wall is about memory and its erasure: through disease, through war, through governmental policies. Here on page 69 a young South African boy finds a fossil out in the Great Karoo (a huge arid area some people call the Big Empty). It's the first fossil he's ever found. The passage is about time, and about plucking one indelible thing out of the ground, one record of one life, which is in a sense, what all six stories in the book are about: the very human hope that we can each leave something behind which will outlast us.
Read an excerpt from Memory Wall.

Visit Anthony Doerr's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 1, 2010

"Hailey’s War"

Jodi Compton is the author of the acclaimed novel The 37th Hour, which features Detective Sarah Pribek.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Hailey’s War, and reported the following:
Let me give you the simple and direct summary first. Hailey Cain was dismissed from West Point for a reason she won’t talk about. She’s making her living as a bike messenger on the crazy streets of San Francisco, when she gets a call from an old friend in Los Angeles, Serena Delgadillo. The police know Serena as ‘Warchild’, head of the Trece Sucias, an East L.A. gang. Serena needs a favor: she needs someone to drive a Mexican-born girl, Nidia Hernandez, home to the Sierra Madre to care for a sick grandmother. Hailey takes on the job, but she and her charge are ambushed by armed men in a narrow mountain tunnel, and Hailey is nearly killed. Once she’s back on her feet and back in the States, finding Nidia -- and answers, and justice -- become her mission.

I think of this book -- the main storyline, at least -- as a combination of two classic plots: the ‘failed bodyguard’ story (hero has to redeem himself/herself after trying but failing to protect an innocent) and ‘loner defies a powerful mobster’ (that probably needs no explanation). But on top of that simple frame, I layered a number of things which preoccupied me back in 2006: gang life and culture; the Latin language, the short but fascinating Biblical book of Jonah, and the colorful, inarticulate, endearing young people of California.

On page 69, you’re at an El Paso motel with Hailey and Nidia. They’ll cross the border the next day, but Hailey is getting a sense of oddness off Nidia and her need to go back to rural Mexico, and calls Serena to talk about it. It’s here that you’re getting a sense that all is not what it seems with the ‘simple job’ of Hailey driving Nidia across the border.

Page 69:
... it seemed to me that Nidia’s family was abandoning her to indefinite life in Mexico. Was that so bad? Maybe I was being an American chauvinist. Except there was a reason so many Mexicans, including Nidia’s parents, had come to El Norte. I wondered why Nidia’s mother hadn’t taken it on herself to go back and take care of her ailing mother, instead of sacrificing the hopes and dreams of a daughter just on the cusp of adulthood.

“Nidia,” I said, picking up my cell phone, “I’ll be back in a minute, okay?”

I went out to the pool area -- it was deserted now, though the water glowed an inviting turquoise -- and made a call.

Serena picked up on the third ring. “Hailey, what’s up?” she said. “Where are you? Mexico?”

“We’re still in Texas,” I said. “Listen, I’m getting a funny feeling about this.”

“What’s wrong?”

“What do you really know about this family?” I said. “Did you know any of them except Teaser?”

“Why? What’s wrong?” she repeated.

I sat down on a chaise, still looking at the calm water of the pool. “Well, Nidia’s only nineteen,” I said. “Once she crosses the border, who knows if she’ll ever get back? Most Mexican parents who bring their families across do so at great risk, so their kids can have better lives. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense that they’re forcing her to go back.”

“Maybe it makes sense because their grandma is sick and needs help,” she said. “Mexicans are very family-oriented, and --”

“No. No way,” I said. “Don’t even start with that you’re-white-you-wouldn’t-understand rap....”
Read the opening pages of Hailey’s War, a Q & A with the author, and more on Jodi Compton's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue