Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Mad Skills"

Walter Greatshell's books include Xombies: Apocalypticon and Xombies: Apocalypse Blues.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Mad Skills, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Mad Skills is the last page of Chapter Nine, which is titled Homecoming Queen. The chapter is an important one, because it’s about Maddy Grant’s experience returning home after being in a semi-vegetative state for over a year. But it is not quite the joyous homecoming she had hoped for—her computer-enhanced perceptions keep revealing uncomfortable truths. She is reminded of her parents’ painful divorce, and the death of her almost-stepbrother, Ben Blevin. All her family and friends seem idiotic to her…or weirdly suspicious, as is the case with her parochial school principal, Mr. Batrachian. After an awkward conversation about religion, Maddy senses he’s hiding something, and page 69 begins with her saying:
“Because right now you’re less afraid of Hell than you are of me.”

Turning pale, the Principal excused himself and fell into hearty
conversation with someone else.

The next time her mother came by to see how she was doing, Maddy asked, “Mom, why isn’t Mr. Blevin here?”

Taken aback, Beth Grant said, “Wouldn’t you rather talk about this later? When we can be alone?”

“I’d prefer to talk about it now, actually.”

“Well, honey, after what happened, Sam and I aren’t seeing each other any more. He moved away.”

Maddy was shocked. “When was this?”

“It’s been months now. I think it was too painful for him. Seeing you always reminded him too much of Ben.”

“But that’s why I wanted to talk to him.”

“I know, honey. But I think that would be very difficult for him. I’m sorry. That’s why I didn’t tell you sooner, because I thought you should be the one to bring it up.”

“So you’re back on the market, then.”

“No. Actually your dad’s moving in with us for the time being.”


“We’ve been discussing it, and he and I both feel it’s better for all of us to be together right now.”

Maddy smiled for the first time in a long, long time. “That’s great,” she said. “That’s really great.”
Read more about Mad Skills, and visit Walter Greatshell's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Who Occupies This House"

Kathleen Hill teaches in the M.F.A. program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her novel Still Waters in Niger was named a notable book by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and was nominated for the Dublin IMPAC Award. The French translation, Eaux Tranquilles, was short-listed for the Prix Femina Étranger. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize XXV, and The Pushcart Book of Short Stories.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Who Occupies This House, and reported the following:
From page 69:
... what she wasn’t sure of was whether she had remembered to tell Lillian what she knew she had told her so many times before . . . that the twins must be left at the top of the stairs until the carriage was at the bottom – there weren’t very many steps, it wouldn’t take a minute – but perhaps that had been the problem, Lillian had decided only a step or two, what can be the harm and on such a hot day and the park just on the other side of the street waiting for them all cool trees and lovely shaded walks, that’s what Lillian may have been thinking. But however that may have been she could in no way imagine how it was that she, the twin’s own mother, had perhaps forgotten to remind Lillian – she didn’t know if in fact she had done so – but even if she had reminded her once, then she should have reminded her a second time, should never have forgotten, not ever, when Lillian went with the twins down the elevator and out, should have spoken to her, instructed her to stay with the twins at the top of the steps and ask Michael at the door to lift the carriage onto the sidewalk.
Page 69 appears in the middle of a section that – according to a writer friend – “unlocks” the novel. The narrator has been circling the figure of her grandmother, Deirdre, who died when she was in her forties, died of grief, the narrator believes, never recovering from the death of one of her infant twins who’d fallen from a carriage onto the steps of the building where they lived in New York City. The narrator has been trying to summon the living figure of Deirdre through the journals she left behind, the empty spaces she vacated.

In this section the narrator crosses the line and plunges directly into the interior life of Deirdre. Begins telling the story from her point of view.

On page 69 Deirdre is circling obsessively round and round the events leading up to the accident, the moment just before it when Lillian, the twins’ nurse, takes the twins out in their carriage. Deirdre is trying to establish in her own mind if she is responsible for the fall, trying to remember if she in fact on that day specifically remembered to ask Lillian to remove the twins safely from the carriage before taking it down the steps. If Deirdre did forget, then her own inner court finds her guilty.

The fall is central to the story of Who Occupies This House, affecting the lives not only of Deirdre but of her remaining children. It is the fall that inspires the family to leave the scene of the accident and to move to the house in Pelham where the narrator will be born years later. A house where four generations of a family of Irish–Americans, originating in the lost children of the Famine, will work out their own histories of deprivation and self–blame and forgiveness.
Visit the official website of Kathleen Hill.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 26, 2010

"Caveat Emptor"

Ruth Downie is the author of the New York Times bestselling Medicus, Terra Incognita, and Persona Non Grata.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Caveat Emptor, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Caveat Emptor is the start of a chapter, so the reader only gets half a page here – but I’ll stick to the rules and see what’s to be found in 19 lines.

It’s dark outside. Ruso, a Roman medic compelled to investigate a murder, has just arrived home after interviewing a witness. He’s greeted by ‘the ominous strains of Tilla singing the sort of song she sang to relieve the boredom of cooking.’

He finds his wife, a native Briton, busy dismembering a chicken in a way that demonstrates her familiarity with very sharp knives. Tilla has spent the day caring for the widow of the murder victim and the now-fatherless baby, who is asleep under the kitchen table.

Having suffered a great deal of (and from) his wife’s cooking, Ruso points out that it’s late and, ‘We could get something brought in.’

Tilla brushes his offer aside with the promise to ‘boil it very fast’ – an approach that even Ruso must know won’t turn out well – and instead she asks him about the murder investigation.

Page 69 offers a snapshot of the relationship that underpins the series. The presence of the baby is a constant theme throughout this book: Tilla, identifying with the mother and desperate for a child of her own, will later ignore her husband’s warnings and take unacceptable risks to seek justice for the bereaved family.

Tonight, though, exactly as she hopes, Ruso is too preoccupied with murder and hunger to ask the pertinent question of where that chicken came from. And as usual, when Tilla tells him the truth, he will wish he didn’t know.
Learn more about the book and author at Ruth Downie's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 24, 2010

"Did Not Survive"

Ann Littlewood was a zoo keeper in Portland, Oregon for twelve years. She raised lions and cougars, an orangutan; and native mammals, as well as parrots, penguins, and a multitude of owls. The financial realities of raising primates (two boys of her own) led Littlewood to exchange a hose and rubber boots for a briefcase and pantsuit in the healthcare industry. She has maintained her membership in the American Association of Zookeepers and has kept in touch with the zoo world by visiting zoos and through friendships with zoo staffers.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Did Not Survive, her latest “zoo-dunnit,”and reported the following:
Page 69:
[We agreed it] was best to keep it [Wallace and Dr. Reynold’s relationship] undercover. I liked him, but I suspect he was more optimistic about us than I was. Who knows…”

“He was … cheerful the last few months. He seemed happy. And … it sounds like he didn’t suffer. At the end.”

“Yes. I think that is true.”

We sat in silence for a moment. I said, “I should have visited him in the hospital. I should have thanked him for not firing me when I was screwing up after Rick died. He was cranky and fussy, but he was fair. I think he was good at his job.”

She turned back to me and shook her head. “The hospital wouldn’t let anyone but family in.” She looked out the window again. “I don’t know a soul here except Kayla, and I’m coming off a bad divorce. As if there ever was a good one. He was fun to be with.” A wry smile.

She’d known a different Wallace than I had. “He had a few failed relationships of his own. Not entirely his fault.” Impulsively, I added, “I hope you stay.”

She smiled. “I’d like to. The salary here is dismal. I’d buy a house if I could.”

I understood that one. Rick’s life insurance was all that made my home ownership possible.

“Iris, I hope you and Kayla get along. She doesn’t know anyone here either. I seem to feel responsible since I recruited her to come work here. Of course, she’s very social.”

Another request? “She seems good at her job. And fun. People like her. I wouldn’t worry.”

The vet nodded and fell into silence, staring out the window again. After a moment, still looking away, “Kevin liked you. You were tough to manage, but a good zoo keeper. That’s what he said. He felt that your husband’s death was the worst thing that had happened in all his years at the zoo.”

I was blind-sided and unable to speak.

Dr. Reynolds turned her chair back to face me. The narrow, serious face was transformed, predatory. “A killer broke into our zoo. We don’t know who it is or whether it will happen again. Let’s figure this out. Let’s get whoever did this to Kevin.”
Page 69 finds the protagonist, Iris Oakley of Finley Memorial Zoo, in an emotional conversation with the zoo’s veterinarian, Dr. Jean Reynolds. The story is told in Iris’ first-person voice. She did her best a few days ago to rescue the zoo’s foreman, Kevin Wallace, from what she thought was an elephant attack. He died anyway, the day before this scene. Iris is commiserating with Dr. Reynolds. The vet talks about her relationship with Wallace. Iris, an animal keeper and much farther down the totem pole, describes her own complicated feelings about him.

The vet asks Iris to help her find out who was responsible for his death. Later, she’ll tell Iris to back off and stop investigating. Later, Iris will find out that the vet she admires so much is keeping secrets. Later, Iris will encounter the circumstances that led to Wallace’s death. Only Wallace was hale and hearty. Iris is six months pregnant.

This “zoo-dunnit” features a twisty plot, unusual characters both human and animal, and a unique behind-the-scenes perspective on modern zoos. Intertwined through the mystery are the real-world issues around managing elephants in captivity.
Read an excerpt from Did Not Survive and watch the video trailer.

Learn more about the book and author at Ann Littlewood's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"The Four Stages of Cruelty"

Keith Hollihan worked as a business analyst and ghostwriter before publishing his first novel. Born in Canada, he has traveled widely and lived in Japan and the Czech Republic. He now lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Four Stages of Cruelty, and reported the following:
On page 69, my narrator, a female corrections officer named Kali Williams, is alone in an abandoned cell beneath the maximum security prison, searching for a missing inmate.
My voice was deadened by the thickness of the stone. Before me was a pitch-black hallway. Shining my flashlight along the floor, I saw angled shapes like craggy rocks and realized that the entire hallway was cluttered with garbage.... My breath came rapidly, and I tried not to imagine larger shapes in the darkness flitting off whenever I moved my flashlight beam away. Some of the doors were shut; others were angled out of their rooms in disordered fashion like a series of unmade beds. I moved an inch forward and stopped. Anything could be down there. It would be better if I checked each cell in turn.
This is the book’s high-gothic moment, and it’s pretty evident that nothing good will come from the curiosity that drew Kali into the abandoned area. Overall, the book intersperses moments of action and drama with personal anxiety, doubt and suspicion; and on page 69 the reader is getting a strong dose of the former. In terms of the plot, this descent into darkness shakes Kali’s complacency and convinces her to confront the corruption and conspiracy she has been trying to ignore. It’s a key scene.
Read an excerpt from The Four Stages of Cruelty, and learn more about the book and author at Keith Hollihan's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Seer of Sevenwaters"

Juliet Marillier's novels include Daughter of the Forest, Son of the Shadows, Child of the Prophecy, and Heir to Sevenwaters.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Seer of Sevenwaters, and reported the following:
Seer of Sevenwaters blends history, folkloric magic, adventure and romance. It’s the fifth book in a series that began with Daughter of the Forest, but it is a stand-alone novel.

The setting is early medieval Ireland. Young druid-in-training Sibeal is spending a summer with her sisters on Inis Eala, a remote island that houses a school of warcraft, before making her final commitment to the spiritual life. When a Norse ship is wrecked off the coast, three unlikely survivors are washed ashore and the calm order of the island community is disturbed.

On page 69, Sibeal has been trying to get through to one of the shipwreck survivors, Svala, who is mute and disturbed. Sibeal approaches Svala on a beach and finds herself seized by the arm and drawn into the water. Note, Sibeal has a very strong ability to empathise with others, to the extent that their emotions sometimes flood into her, becoming hard to bear. She also has a powerful seer’s gift. Here’s a sample:
Now we were in the shallows. Svala released her hold and came to stand beside me with one hand on my shoulder. I stood still, though the sea was washing over my shoes and drenching the hem of my gown. An exercise in trust. She stretched her free arm out toward the horizon as if trying to catch hold of something, something longed-for, something precious. Too far. Too far to reach. The look on her face made my heart falter; the tumult of feelings that coursed through me almost stopped my breath. Loss, bereavement, fury, despair, yearning … I closed my eyes, near-overwhelmed. Images came then: huge seas crashing; rocks looming, their forms those of monsters crouched to spring; dark kelp swirling in a thick mat. And sounds: men shouting, and over their desperate voices the calling of something else, a deep bellow of pain that gripped at my vitals. My heart juddered in my breast. I trembled with horror.
Sibeal snaps out of her vision when Svala’s husband, Knut, approaches down the cliff path. The two women come out of the water. Note, Sibeal can’t understand Knut as he’s speaking in Norse:
Knut’s fair skin was flushed with embarrassment. Avoiding my eye, he came up to Svala, fished out a handkerchief and proceeded to wipe her mouth as if she were an infant that was still learning to feed itself. He spoke to her gently. I guessed he was telling her he’d been worried and was glad he had found her. His glance took in the pile of fish bones, his wife’s wet clothing, the garments she had abandoned on the rocks, her bare feet. It was plain that he wished I had not seen this.
Is page 69 typical of the book? Well, in Seer of Sevenwaters there are two first person narrators, Sibeal and a young man named Felix, who has lost his memory. This section is fairly typical of Sibeal’s voice. She is a composed, self-contained young woman, but her sensitivity to the feelings of others, along with the dramatic visions she’s been seeing since the shipwreck, are starting to disturb her.

Felix’s voice, not heard on this page, is in contrast to Sibeal’s. Because he has no memory his account is in present tense, and its style at this stage of the book reflects both his physical weakness and his mental confusion. The reader can also detect that he is a scholar with a poetic turn of phrase. No single page will give you both voices, and the way they complement each other is an integral part of the book.

This is a novel full of islands, storms and lonely wild places. The snatches of vision on page 69 hint at the dark drama of the story. I hope readers will want to continue.
Read an excerpt from Seer of Sevenwaters, and visit Juliet Marillier's website to learn more about her books and works in progress.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Juliet Marillier & Pippa, Gretel, and Sara.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Kidnap & Ransom"

Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, dog walker, bartender, freelance journalist, personal trainer, model, and Russian supper club performer.

Her novels The Tunnels, Boneyard, and The Gatekeeper.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Kidnap & Ransom, her latest novel, and reported the following:
Kelly started to say something, then abruptly shut her mouth. Jake considered interceding, but unfortunately Syd was right. With every K&R job they had done in Mexico, their main goal was to avoid the authorities as much as possible, paying the right ones to look the other way. Tyr probably functioned on the same model. The neighborhoods they were talking about were basically war zones. If a Mexican cop wanted to last more than a week on the job, he avoided them at all costs. The Zetas were an occupying army in those territories. And considering that, some C4 might actually come in handy.

He could see Kelly trying to reconcile that in her head, and felt for her. This was way past anything she had ever been involved with. With any luck she was already considering booking a flight home.

She surprised him by saying, “So we’re avoiding the Tyr team, too.”

“Naturally,” Syd said.

“Where do we start?” Maltz asked.

Syd pointed to a spot in the upper right section of the map. “Tyr is here now, and moving north. I say we start above them and move south. There’s a rumor that some Americans are being held in a building in the northeast quadrant. Zetas are known for moving captives around, but we might get lucky. We’ll ask around, see what stones we can overturn.”

“Where did you hear the rumor?” Kelly asked dubiously.

“Sorry, hon. That’s classified,” Syd said smugly.

“Syd has a lot of friends who owe her favors,” Jake explained. He didn’t add that he referred to them as her ‘shadow network.’ He’d long ago learned better than to doubt her information. In his experience, those rumors were always right on the money.

“Why do you think anyone will talk to us, if the Zetas control everything?” Kelly pressed.

Syd dug into one of the duffels and withdrew a handful of cash. “Because we’ll be paying them. And if cash doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.”

Kelly abruptly stood and went to the bathroom. Jake followed her. She stood in front of the mirror staring down at the floor. He could hear the rest of the team suiting up in the bedroom.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this particular passage fell on page 69, because I think it does an excellent job of portraying the moral quandaries faced by my main characters, while also illustrating the personality conflicts at the heart of the story. It also gives an overall sense of the plot, which involves kidnappings by Mexican drug cartels. In this scene, my Kidnap & Ransom hostage rescue team has just arrived in Mexico City. Their mission is to find the missing members of a competing company's unit (Tyr) who were ambushed at the outset of the book. This passage illustrates the area of Mexico they're grappling with, a modern day Wild West rife with corruption and violence.

You also get a sense of the characters and their differing roles. Syd Clement is in her comfort zone. She doesn't like Kelly much, and doesn't hesitate to show that dislike, particularly in a situation like this one where she has the upper hand. Kelly Jones is adrift at the beginning of the story, trying to come to terms with a massive life change, doubting her relationship with Jake, and trying to figure out her place in the world. Jake Riley, meanwhile, is torn between both camps. If Kelly and Syd mark opposing ends of a moral compass, he's the pin spinning between them.

During the remaining 342 pages, all three characters are forced to confront the best and worst parts of themselves, and to try to come to terms with each other. And along the way, they face off against some seriously heavily armed bad guys. My hope was that Kidnap & Ransom would be a thrill ride from start to finish. Hopefully page 69 lives up to that standard.
Read an excerpt from Kidnap & Ransom, and learn more about the book and author at Michelle Gagnon's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Tunnels.

The Page 69 Test: Boneyard.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Real Vampires Have More to Love"

Gerry Bartlett is the author of the best selling Real Vampires series. The sixth book in the series, Real Vampires Have More to Love, is out this month. Glory St. Clair was bloating the day she was turned vampire in 1604 London and has never been able to lose those extra pounds. These days she runs a vintage clothing shop on Austin’s trendy Sixth Street. She has a gang of interesting friends, including Scottish hunk, Jeremy Blade, her sire, and Rafael Valdez, a shape-shifter who spent five years as her bodyguard.

When Bartlett applied  the Page 69 Test to Real Vampires Have More to Love, she found Glory arguing with Jeremy Blade who is also her on-again, off-again lover.
Glory’s finally comfortable shape-shifting after years avoiding it. Unfortunately, her shape-shifting almost got her killed when she got over-confident and playful near someone who wanted her dead. Blade is rarely playful and wants her to let him pay for a bodyguard again. Being independent, Glory won’t have it, even though she realizes she’s in danger now. Instead, she tries to distract Jerry who is furious with her for risking her life.

Here’s part of the scene which is written in first person, Glory’s point of view:
Jerry pulled the Vampire Viagra from my hand. “You want to play? Forget the future and live for the night? Why not? Come home with me. I don’t have roommates to hear you scream with pleasure. If your life is going to be cut short, I guess we should make the most of the time we have left.”

“Jerry, I--” Tears clogged my throat, and I followed him dumbly to the door. Did I want to make love with him? Of course I did. Maybe I didn’t like what he said, but he was way better at facing reality than I was. A warrior. And I had a history of running away when things got hot instead of standing and fighting. I hated to do it, but maybe leaving was still my best move. So a night of his lovemaking? Bring it on.

He silently held the door open, and I walked ahead of him down the stairs. My damned sticky boots squeaked with every step. I’d worn tight jeans and a red sweater. I wished I could stop in my apartment to at least change shoes. Or it might help my cause to switch out my bra. What I had on could have carried rocks for David to use against Goliath. The image made my mouth quirk in a smile.

“What’s funny?” He slipped his arm around me at the bottom of the stairs.

“Me, us. Always ending up in bed together. It beats talking when we’ll only fight anyway.”
This scene hints at Glory’s changing attitude toward Blade and why she later decides to let another man become important to her. It also gives the reader a glimpse of the humor and sensuality Gerry uses throughout the book. The series will continue in August with Real Vampires Don’t Wear Size Six.
Read an excerpt from Real Vampires Have More to Love and visit Gerry Bartlet's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Bitter Legacy"

A board-certified trial lawyer, H. Terrell Griffin practiced law in Orlando for thirty-eight years. His books include Murder Key, Longboat Blues, Blood Island, and Wyatt’s Revenge.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Bitter Legacy, his new novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 is part of the plot in the sense that Matt and Logan become aware for the first time that somebody is serious about finding them in a place where Logan had been hidden by the Sarasota cops. They thought Logan was safe. The story builds from there as the characters try to stay alive and at the same time figure out who is trying to kill them. As the plot develops, the protagonist and his sidekicks find more and more evidence of a shadowy force that is trying to keep secret some 150-year-old documents that could destroy a financial empire based in Florida. Matt Royal and his friends Logan Hamilton and Jock Algren follow the clues, dodging a biker gang, an elusive computer hacker, an albino nurse, and an elderly man, all of whom are intent on killing them. They find help from a beautiful female detective who has recently joined the Longboat Key Police Department and who is not happy about their involvement in her investigation.

Page 69:
“Then why are they sitting out in the parking lot on a couple of Harleys?”

“I see what you mean. I’ll be there in half an hour. Did you call the sheriffs?”

“A deputy’s been outside my door since last night. Apparently Bill Lester called and told them about the guy that came after you yesterday. I’m supposed to stay put.”

“But you don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Not a chance. I’m a sitting duck here, deputy or no deputy.”

“I’m on my way.”

I threw on some clothes and left in a hurry. I was only vaguely aware that my living room had been put back together, the mess cleaned up. I’d have to buy a new TV. Maybe they’d get the rest of it done by the end of the day.

My best bet was south on Gulf of Mexico Drive, around St. Armands Circle, out Fruitville Road to Interstate 75, then south a couple of exits to Logan’s hotel. That took almost forty-five minutes.

I pulled into the parking lot. Two tough looking men were sitting on motorcycles, drinking from green beer bottles. A radio was blaring rock music. I continued on around the building. I didn’t want anybody to see my Explorer in case someone recognized it. I parked in a loading zone next to a door near the large Dumpster that overflowed with garbage. Today was probably the pick-up day. The door was locked. A sign said, “No Entrance. Deliveries only.”

I picked up the phone hanging on the wall next to the door. No dial. I put the receiver to my ear. A ring tone. Then an answer, “Front desk.”

“This is Hugo,” I said. “I’ve got sodas to deliver for the machines.”

“Where’s Buddy?”

“Out sick today. I’m covering his route.”

“Come on in.” There was a buzzing sound and I heard the lock click open.

I went through the door into a small vestibule. Steps led upward. A push bar was on the door below a sign that said, “Emergency Exit Only.”
Learn more about the book and author at H. Terrell Griffin's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"The Black Prism"

Brent Weeks was born and raised in Montana. After getting his diploma from Hillsdale College, Weeks had brief stints walking the earth like Caine from Kung Fu, tending bar, and corrupting the youth. (Not at the same time.) He started writing on bar napkins, then on lesson plans, then full time. Eventually, someone paid him for it.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Black Prism, the first book in the Lightbringer series, and reported the following:
A reader picking up The Black Prism and performing the page 69 test would be getting lucky - statistically speaking, anyway. Page 69 of The Black Prism has a flashback, which is a technique I use rarely.

That said, page 69 does deepen two of the main characters of this book and as such, is representative of my work. I tend to introduce back story at the very moment that it causes more tension.

On page 69, the main character and his love interest have to hold hands for a completely prosaic reason. She is squeezing out a tempo into his hand, and this reminds him of the first time that they danced together when they were little more than children. That dance was his first betrayal of her. This page also brings up one of the primary elements that I wanted to explore in The Lightbringer Trilogy, which is the idea of overlapping and competing loyalties. I drew inspiration from the politics of early Renaissance Italy, where one person might have loyalties to family, spouse’s family, church, God, state, and state by marriage, and self, all at the same time – and all of which might conflict.

In this scene, a father orders a younger son to seduce a girl, so that he can keep his older son to marry to somebody else. But both boys fall in love with her, precipitating a cataclysmic war. Page 69 shows a small glimpse of the very human emotions and mistakes that will precipitate events vast beyond the characters’ comprehension.
Read an excerpt from The Black Prism, and learn more about the book and author at Brent Weeks' website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Palace of Justice"

Susanne Alleyn was born in Munich and grew up in Western Massachusetts and New York City, earning a BFA in Theatre from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She has been fascinated with the French Revolution since childhood and has been exploring and writing about it since her teens.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Palace of Justice, her new novel, and reported the following:
Palace of Justice is the fourth novel in my Aristide Ravel historical mystery series, but the second chronologically (set seven years after The Cavalier of the Apocalypse). On page 69, while investigating a series of sinister murders committed in the midst of the French Revolution, police agent Ravel walks alone through Paris toward the cemetery where the latest victim has been found--with his head hacked off like the rest. Were these headless corpses victims of a madman, a passionate revolutionary, or a royalist plot to dishonor the young French Republic?
The ruins of the old church of La Madeleine, half-demolished in the decade before the Revolution and never rebuilt, stood at the head of Rue de la Révolution--once Rue Royale--with a clear view down to the Place de la Révolution. One could easily see the scaffold and guillotine that were now permanently erected near the plaster statue of the goddess Liberty in the center of the square.
It’s October 1793, four years into the Revolution, and the political Terror is becoming part of daily life in Paris. Both deposed royalty and former allies of the new republican regime are sent, in turn, to the Revolutionary Tribunal and often from there to the guillotine.

Earlier that day, Ravel managed to visit three close friends, once members of the discredited, moderate Brissotin party in the elected government, who are now prisoners of the Republic and the more radical party of the “Mountain.” No one knows when the Brissotins, too, may find themselves before the Tribunal, but Ravel has few illusions about revolutionary justice:
Aristide swiftly turned northward when he reached the Madeleine, avoiding the sight of the guillotine in the near distance. Liberty now gazed coldly down at the almost daily executions of a miserable counterfeiter here, a profiteer there, now and then a luckless general who had lost too many battles, or--more often--merely an unfortunate fishwife or layabout who had tipsily insisted on shouting “Long live the king!” in front of a fanatical patriot. The number of prisoners held under suspicion of “incivism,” which encompassed everything from active treason to expressing dissatisfaction with the Republic, had doubled since the Law of Suspects had been passed. Now, merely to have shown insufficient enthusiasm was enough, sometimes, to send you to prison until the end of the war (and it looked as if the war was going to stretch on with no end in sight), or until some fussy clerk decided that your case ought to be tried before the Revolutionary Tribunal.
Page 69 is subtext rather than plot. Although, in the course of the story, we follow every step of Aristide’s hunt for the elusive killer, we also see the extremes to which rigid ideology and troubled times can lead otherwise decent and well-meaning people, in the name of their ideals. Under the Terror, the fanatics, both monarchist and republican, will choose even murder--through a perverted, compliant judicial system or with their own hands--to bring about their chosen ends.

In such conditions, he thought bleakly, even a careless word, or foolish idealism and impractical politics like that of the Brissotin deputies, became crimes. And it seemed more and more likely that the Brissotins, surely guilty of such faults though the truest of patriots, were going to have a hard time of it at their impending trial. The Tribunal, though it had freed a respectable number of suspects over the past seven months, was not likely to let so many enemies of the Mountain out of its clutches.

Would Mathieu and his friends soon be traveling that same route to the Place de la Révolution?
Learn more about the book and author at Susanne Alleyn's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: The Cavalier of the Apocalypse.

The Page 69 Test: The Cavalier of the Apocalypse.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Midsummer Night"

Freda Warrington is the author of nineteen (and a half) novels including Elfland, A Blackbird in Silver Darkness, A Taste of Blood Wine and Dracula the Undead. Elfland won the Romantic Times Award for Best Fantasy Novel of 2009, and her second novel for Tor, Midsummer Night, has just been published with another stunning cover by KY Craft.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Midsummer Night and reported the following:
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of glamorous creatures who appear human but aren’t; angels, demons, elves, vampires, demi-gods, what you will. My Aetherials (or Aelyr) evolved as my interpretation of such a race.

Now that the second Aetherial Tale, Midsummer Night is out, I’ve been thinking about its origins. Oddly, it’s been in my head for over ten years – I actually began writing an early version of it long before Elfland. The final version has evolved a lot since then, but it always pivoted around the same central character: a grande dame, a renowned sculptor in her sixties called Juliana Flagg. Of course there are younger folk in the story too, but I loved the idea of writing about an older woman with the magnificence of a dowager duchess and some dark secrets to unravel.

Midsummer Night is stand-alone novel, so you don’t have to read the first book to enjoy it. However, it is set against the same background – a contemporary world where the Aetherial race lives quietly (sometimes!) among humans, occasionally crossing into the Otherworld, aka the Spiral. Some of the fun I’ve had with the book lay in introducing the occasional character from the first novel, or a strand of plot that explores what seemed, in Elfland, to be just a throwaway reference. I hope readers will enjoy picking up on these small connections too, and thinking, ahah

So, to the story. Decades ago, at the remote Cairndonan estate on a storm-lashed coastline where the veil between our world and the Aetherial realm is thin, Juliana’s uncle – a young man called Adam – vanished in mysterious circumstances. Now Juliana has inherited Cairndonan – did I mention I’m obsessed with huge, atmospheric old houses? – where she sculpts and runs a summer art school. However, all is not well, as she is plagued by ghosts, money troubles and her sinister ex-husband.

Then a young woman named Gill arrives to rent a cottage on the estate, in order to escape problems of her own. All Gill wants is solitude, but soon she’s entangled with the eccentric, flamboyant artist Peta, the creepy manservant Ned Badger and other residents of the great house – not least Juliana herself.

One day Gill accidentally wanders into a strange village called Boundry that appears on no map. There she meets the seductive Rufus and his equally gorgeous but silent, brooding companion, Leith. The encounter leaves her unsettled. Are these two young men as innocent as they seem – or are they poised to visit chaos, vengeance, death and heartbreak upon the human world?

Turning to page 69, it’s a quiet and intimate moment – hardly an all-out action scene – but a very telling point in the plot. Up until now, Gill has been a prickly hedgehog, refusing to reveal her secrets to the nosy Peta (artist and mask-maker). But Leith has turned up on the doorstep of Gill’s tiny cottage, out of his mind with fear. While he’s upstairs sleeping in her only bed, Gill and Peta are sharing the sofa bed downstairs. Finally Peta manages to tease Gill’s secrets out of her – a huge deal for Gill, because she feels so vulnerable. Actually I think I’ll just give you part of the lead up from page 68… then you can discover what she says on page 69 for yourself!
Gill lay down fully clothed on the thin mattress, pulled the duvet over herself and stared at the ceiling, all too conscious of the strange, terrified man in her bed upstairs. Presently, Peta reappeared, flicked off the light and slid in beside her, wearing just a camisole and briefs. Gill stirred uneasily at the unfamiliar weight and warmth… How had she let this happen, this invasion? Suddenly she felt Peta’s arm working its way beneath her shoulders. She stiffened. ‘What are you doing?’

‘What’s the matter, haven’t you ever been to bed with a girl before?’

Gill coughed, not knowing how to respond. She said stiffly, ‘Not since my schooldays.’

‘Shall we take turns, then?’

‘At what?’

‘At staying awake to make sure our guest is okay. What did you think I meant?’ Peta spoke with a smile in her voice. Her forefinger began to play gently in Gill’s hair. Gill moved her head to stop her although, it fact, it felt soothing.

‘Whatever, I won’t sleep anyway.’

She felt Peta’s breath warm on her cheek. ‘You know, your body language says that you feel about as attractive as a garden fork, but it’s not true. You’re lovely, Gill, or will be when you learn to like yourself.’

‘I’m not gay!’ Gill blurted, then felt foolish.

‘That’s a shame.’ A ripple of laughter shook Peta’s slim body. ‘Relax, I’m only teasing you. Goodness, you’re so touchy.’

‘I think I have a right, after the episode with your rotten mask.’

‘I noticed you still have it. You could have destroyed it or thrown it out, but you kept it.’ Peta was quiet, breathing gently in and out. She smelled deliciously of herbal shampoo, mixed with the comforting, earthy scents of paint and papier maché. Then she asked, ‘What are you afraid of, Gill? What did you see?’

Lying in the dark, feeling Peta’s arm around her but not having to meet her eyes, it was all too easy to talk. The mask had swept away a barrier inside her and it was a disturbing feeling. ‘When I put it on and looked in the mirror, it was like looking into a void. Only the void was me. The next thing I knew, all the bad stuff I’d tried to forget came flooding into my head and I couldn’t cope with it. That’s why I went into hysterics.’

‘You didn’t have hysterics. You just very emphatically told me to leave.’

‘Well, it felt like it, inside. Was that what the mask was intended to do?’

Peta’s voice was steady and serious. ‘No, not as such. It’s a sort of portrait that brings hidden attributes to the surface. But that carries a risk of stirring up stuff that needs to be released…’

‘Maybe it did, but who the hell asked you to do that for me?’

Peta gave a small shrug. ‘No one. It was an impulse I should have controlled. Truly, I didn’t mean to upset you. Sorry. I’m nosey and rude, with all the subtlety of a blundering bulldozer.’

‘You said it. In your gigantic hob-nailed boots.’

‘Anyway, now the poison’s out, won’t you tell me about it?’
Learn more about the book and author at Freda Warrington's website, blog, and Facebook page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 6, 2010

"The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia"

Mary Helen Stefaniak is the prize-winning author of The Turk and My Mother and Self Storage and Other Stories.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia, her new novel, and reported the following:
As it turns out, page 69 [below left, click to enlarge] covers some very important territory in The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia. Miss Spivey (the worldly new schoolteacher) and Miss Templeton (the teacher at the “colored school”) have been meeting weekly in Miss Spivey’s classroom at (white) Threestep School in order to tutor Theo Boykin and Etta George—two very talented black teenagers—in their high school subjects. The idea is to prepare Theo and Etta for college, using up-to-date school books provided by 17-year-old Force Cailiff, who is a student at the military academy in nearby Milledgeville and the brother of our narrator, eleven-year-old Gladys. When they are all “discovered” meeting in the early mornings at Threestep School and ordered by the county superintendent of schools to desist, young Gladys comes up with the idea of moving the integrated tutoring sessions to her sister May’s house in the town of McIntyre (which is in the next county). In a section that begins on the bottom of page 68, the whole group arrives for the first time at May’s house, where May is waiting on the porch to ask, “’Y’all mind if I join in?’” Gladys’s sister May is the 29-year-old mother of five, a woman who never finished high school, and while her husband Ed has his doubts not only about the value of education but about the appropriateness of inviting three black people into his house, he “’says it’s all right’” for May to join the tutoring sessions.

Page 69 not only gives us a glimpse of several important characters, it is our first real serious look at May and the beginning of her friendship with the new teacher who will change May’s outlook on herself and the world. Her husband Ed’s reaction to the arrival of the integrated group is a good example of the way individual relationships (in this case, Ed’s with May) sometimes manage to overcome rules and restrictions in the segregated society of Georgia in 1938. It also shows how Miss Spivey helps people see themselves in new ways. May will end up earning her high school diploma before the novel ends, and both Etta and Theo are destined for their own kind of greatness, although all of their successes will come only at great cost.
Learn more about the book and author at Mary Helen Stefaniak's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Every Bitter Thing"

Leighton Gage has been a copywriter, an advertising creative director, a magazine editor, and a writer/producer/director of documentary films and industrial videos.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Every Bitter Thing, latest novel in his Chief Inspector Mario Silva series, and reported the following:
My protagonists work for the Brazilian Federal Police. One of them, Haraldo Gonçalves, is in his mid-thirties, but looks to be ten years younger. This is a source of great amusement to his colleagues who, much to his chagrin, have taken to calling him “Babyface”.

Gonçalves has to put up with this disrespect from his boss, Delegado Hector Costa, and from his boss’s boss, Chief Inspector Mario Silva, but he draws the line at putting up with it from anyone else. We see that clearly on page 69, where chapter ten begins.
The Bar do Elias was a shabby establishment with a sign in the front window offering beer for two reais.

Haraldo Gonçalves wasn’t about to miss out on a deal like that. He bellied up to the bar and rapped his knuckles on the wood.

“A Cerpa,” he said.

“Beer’s only for folks old enough to drink.” The bartender grinned.

His attempt at humor failed miserably. “Take a good fucking look,” Gonçalves said, flourishing his warrant card in the bartender’s face.

“Brahma or Antarctica?” the bartender said.

“I told you. Cerpa.”

“No Cerpa. We only got Brahma and Antarctica.”

“Antarctica, then.”

The bartender reached into a cooler, pulled out a cold bottle, and poured half the contents into a glass. He set the glass and the bottle on the bar between them.

“You look too young to be a cop,” he said.

“No shit. Elias around?”

“Elias sold me this place back in 1997. I never got around to changing the name.”

“And yours is?”

“Renato Cymbalista, but nobody calls me that. They call me Gordo.” The word meant fatty, and it was appropriate.

“Gordo, huh?” Gonçalves said, eying Cymbalista’s vast midriff. “I can’t imagine why.”

He was still miffed about the fat man’s attempt at humor.
The exchange serves as an introduction to Gonçalves’ interview of three prostitutes, women who ply their trade in Gordo’s bar and might be in a position to help the cops in their pursuit of a serial killer.

It is representative of the book in this sense: I tend to employ little narration, preferring to reveal character, and plot, through dialogue.
Read more about Every Bitter Thing.

Visit Leighton Gage's website and the Murder is Everywhere blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"Dogfight, A Love Story"

Matt Burgess, a graduate of Dartmouth and the University of Minnesota’s MFA program, grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Dogfight, A Love Story, his debut novel, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Dogfight, A Love Story, two of my characters are stuck at an intersection, waiting on foot for the light to turn in their favor. What follows is a relatively brief digression on those street corner pushbutton thingies that never work. The paragraph has nothing at all do with the plot; it’s just one of the many mini-riffs that made this book so much fun for me to write. Dogfight, A Love Story is aggressively plotted—there are stickups and dead bodies and double crossings and botched heists—but the novel also takes time to investigate things that I hope others find interesting, like the Mets/Yankees rivalry, the pleasures of unwrapping a Starburst, the story behind those little pushbutton thingies:
They stop at the intersection so that traffic may pass. It is Friday night and there are plenty of cars, Camrys and Civics and Corollas, yellow cabs and gypsy cabs, drunks returning home from the bars and clubs in Manhattan, drivers escorting escorts to johns, janitors and doormen and security guards coming off their shifts—all of them stream by while the light says go. Impatient, eager to get moving again, Alfredo hits the green button on the corner. He knows it won’t do anything. These buttons—To Cross Street, Push Button, Wait for Walk Signal—were all disconnected years ago when the Department of Transportation switched to computer-controlled traffic signals. The only reason they remain scattered on street corners throughout the outer boroughs is because it’d be too expensive to remove them all. Mayor Bloomberg and Giuliani before him and Dinkins before him and Koch before him, they all figured, Fuck it. So we’ve got some buttons in Queens that don’t work. They’ll act as placebos, as decoration. At the very least, they’ll fool the tourists. But Alfredo isn’t fooled. This is his home. He knows this push button doesn’t work, and yet … he pushes it anyway.

The light changes from Don’t Walk to Walk.

Nothing to get all excited about.
Read an excerpt from Dogfight, A Love Story, and learn more about the book and author at Matt Burgess' website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue