Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Managing Death"

Trent Jamieson lives in Brisbane, Australia. A multiple Aurealis Award winner for short fiction, he has taught short story writing at the Queensland University of Technology, and Clarion South Writer's Workshop. Death Most Definite, Book One of the Death Works Series, was published by Orbit Books in September 2010. Book Two, Managing Death, was released in January 2011, and Book Three, The Business of Death, is due for publication in September 2011. He has just sold a two book series of Steampunkish novels to Angry Robot Books, the first of which, Roil, is due for publication in September 2011.

Jamieson applied the Page 69 Test to Managing Death and reported the following:
Page 69:
He fires again. The window shatters this time, glass going everywhere. The bullet thwacks against the wall behind me. Alarms sound throughout the building and the One Tree's creaking intensifies to a dull roar now there's no glass to block it out. Hell has entered the building.

My arm tingles then burns. Wal extrudes from my flesh. He pulls the most impressive double-take I have ever seen, his wings fluttering madly.

"What the hell?"

'Gun!' I shout. "Assassination attempt!"

"Right, then. Shouldn't you be running the other way?"

"Shut up and help!" I yell.

I charge towards the gunman, the chair gripped in my hands as though it's some sort of medieval weapon. Here's a guy with a pistol, and me with something that I bought from IKEA. My boots crunch over glass, a big chunk of which slides through the side of my shoe and into my foot. It should hurt more, and it will, I'm sure, but right now all it does is make me angry.

I'm so pleased this is my page 69, though it pretty much represents the pace of the book, and, hopefully, my sense of humour.

You get to see a bit of the magic of the world. Wal is a tattoo of a cherub that becomes real the moment Steve enters the Underworld. But, with the reference to IKEA there's a grounding in the real world, too. That reference to medieval weapons comes into play much later in the book, and while it's more than likely to be missed, amused me at the time.
This scene is the first major attempt on my protagonist Steven de Selby's life in the book. But the action comes thick and fast after this.

Steve's the sort of person more likely to run at danger (when he isn't tripping over it) and yet, he also tends to put off anything that might be difficult until the last moment (something I do, myself, far too often). It's a tendency that he's going to rue by the end of the book.

I wrote this scene fairly early in the book, and it's always been a favourite. Gun shots, IKEA furniture and a sardonic cherub, it still makes me smile. My Death Works books are dark romantic thrillers about Death, but they're supposed to be funny as well. After all you don't want your reaping to be too grim.
Learn more about the book and author at Trent Jamieson's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Merit Badges"

Kevin Fenton lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota and works as an advertising writer and creative director. His fiction has appeared in the Northwest Review, the Laurel Review, and the Emprise Review. His writing on graphic design has been anthologized in Looking Closer 2 and Emigre No. 70: The Look Back Issue. He holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Merit Badges, and reported the following:
Page 69 is both typical of the rest of Merit Badges and not. The book is told in four voices, only one is speaking at one time so three out out of four narrators are always absent or secondary. Friends have told me that a part of the momentum of the book lies in wondering about the characters who are off screen.

The page starts a chapter narrated by Quint, the most rebellious and questing of the characters. This particular adventure starts off with a vague adolescent restlessness. Bothered by the “Pine Sol scent” of his mom’s cleaning, he decides he needs “a little fresh air and a lot of not here” so he heads out on what he thinks might just be a walk but which becomes something else as he visits a “smudged bar” and encounters the dangerous Scott Tulep.

Because it’s the first page of a chapter, page 69 also features the book’s distinctive merit badge trope, where each chapter is named after a boy scout merit badge and cites one merit badge requirement. In this case, the badge is Communications and the requirement is “Attend a town meeting where two or points of view are given.” It’s clear by the end of the page that this will not happen literally—the drugs they’ve ingested have caused reality to start “hissing and flickering and smearing.” So the question is raised: in what metaphorical or ironic way will the requirement be satisfied?
Learn more about the book and author at the Merit Badges website and Kevin Fenton's blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"World's Greatest Sleuth!"

Steve Hockensmith is the New York Times best-selling author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls. His “Holmes on the Range” historical mysteries have been nominated for the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero and Dilys awards.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the latest entry in the series, World's Greatest Sleuth!, and reported the following:
1893. Chicago. The World’s Columbian Exposition. The most famous detectives in the world have gathered in the fabled “White City” for a sleuthing contest. Our humble heroes -- Sherlock Holmes-worshipping cowboy-turned-deducifier Gustav “Old Red” Amlingmeyer and his brother/biographer/Watson Otto -- are two of the contestants. The competition’s going badly...and nearly derails when one of the organizers is found smothered in the Mammoth Cheese from Canada.

Not a bad set-up, eh? The Devil in the White City with fewer bodies and a lot more laughs.

So does page 69 of World’s Greatest Sleuth! find our heroes battling a bad guy atop that towering new-fangled monstrosity “the Ferris Wheel”? It does not. Does it offer up a stunning twist involving Nikola Tesla, Frank Lloyd Wright, L. Frank Baum and Aunt Jemima (all of whom were at the Exposition)? Nope. Is it actually, you know, dramatic in any way whatsoever? Not really. It just shows a bunch of people sitting around gabbing at a dinner party.

But wait -- don’t reach for that red pen! It’s not time for an F yet! I didn’t say World’s Greatest Sleuth! flunked the test.

Page 69, it turns out, isn’t a bad spot to plop yourself into the book if you want to learn who and what it’s about. Because those people sitting around gabbing? They’re the detectives. And what they’re gabbing about is the art of detection. Check it out.
“It’s life and death, and all that matters is getting the job done and done right. Only amateurs and fools take it lightly.”

He might have been rebuffing Valmont, yet by the time he finished he was glaring at me and Gustav.

Other than the toast to Holmes, my brother hadn’t made a sound since we’d sat down. Now, though, he wheezed out something whispery and incomprehensible.

He coughed and tugged at his collar and tried again.

“I couldn’t agree with you more, sir,” he said. “I may still be an amateur, as you figure it, but I take detectivin’ as serious as anyone at this table. I been makin’ a study on it for some time now -- and been through one calamity after another for my trouble. This much I’ve learned, though: You can’t boil sleuthin’ down to a simple set of rules and homilies and expect that to get you to the truth or justice or whatever you wanna call it.”

“I’m surprised to hear that from you, Old Red,” Curtis said. “Don’t tell me you’ve lost your faith in Mr. Holmes.”

“Not in The Man, exactly. But I’ve come to have my doubts about followin’ in his footsteps. I ain’t so sure anymore another feller could do what he done. Outside of a magazine, anyhow.”

Curtis aimed one of his big, sickle-blade grins at King Brady and Frank Tousey. “On that much, at least, we’re entirely in agreement.”

“I, on the other hand, beg to differ,” someone said from across the table, and when I glanced that way I was surprised to see it was one of the waiters.

He was an olive-skinned fellow with a thick black beard -- a Greek or Turk by the look of him -- and after sliding a mixture of greens, cheese, and what seemed like sagebrush in front of Pinkerton, he shocked us all by sliding himself into the empty seat to the man’s right.
Hey, wait -- what gives with the talkative waiter? Well, that is a you’d have to turn the page to see played out. But this isn’t the Page 70 Test, so we have to stick with what we’ve got. And what we’ve got is Old Red laying out his state of mind -- and what’s at stake in the book.

I’ll admit it: I was pretty rough on Old Red and Big Red in the first four “Holmes on the Range” novels. The brothers set out to follow in Sherlock Holmes’s footsteps, but that led them, more often than not, to disaster. So much so that even Old Red’s begun to question his devotion to Holmes.

Will he regain his lost faith and solve the mystery? Will he get his detectiving groove back in time to win the contest? Will he cross paths with Aunt Jemima and, if so, will he try her pancakes?

Page 70 -- and beyond -- awaits....
Learn more about the book and author at Steve Hockensmith's website.

The Page 69 Test: On the Wrong Track.

My Book, The Movie: Holmes on the Range.

The Page 99 Test: The Black Dove.

The Page 69 Test: The Crack in the Lens.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Nights of the Red Moon"

Milton T. Burton is the author of Nights of the Red Moon and two previous crime novels. He has been variously a cattleman, a political consultant, and a college history teacher. Burton lives in Jacksonville, Texas.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Nights of the Red Moon and reported the following:
Page 69 is all dialogue. This is representative:
Everybody called them Gog and Magog. Those weren't their real names, of course. Their birth certificates said Lon and Don Flanagan. The Flanagan boys were identical twins, now forty years old, six feet eight inches tall, and pushing three hundred pounds apiece, most of which was bone and gristle. They were pulpwood cutters, part of an extensive clan that had eked out a precarious existence for generations by feeding the paper mills of central East Texas.

Gog and Magog lived simple lives that consisted of work, hunting, sex with their rawboned wives, and what they called "frolic," by which they meant the periodic near-destruction of the Roundup Club, a large country & western dance hall that sat just past the city limit out on Route 9 South. These annual events constituted a sort of demented fall harvest festival for the pair, and usually began near the end of a week-long drinking binge. Or as Magog explained to me when I talked to him in the jail after the last such affair, "All we wanted to do was have a few more beers and listen to the music."

Nelda Parson's father was the one responsible for their unorthodox nicknames. One night a decade and a half earlier, he chanced to be driving past the Roundup just as that year's frolic burst out through the front doors and rolled onto the parking lot. Teeth, hair, and eyeballs were flying every which way, along with unlucky patrons and assorted lawmen, including a pair of rookie city cops who'd been foolish enough to answer the frantic call for assistance that had gone out over the police radio. Sweet and gentle man that he was, Reverend Parsons was so shocked by this unrestrained orgy of redneck violence that he later said that for a few horrifying moments he thought the Tribulation had come to town, and that Armageddon was at hand.

This statement got wide currency and inspired some other Bible scholar to reach far back into the maelstrom of Old Testament prophecy and extract from the Book of Ezekiel the names Gog and Magog, those two evil nations destined to plague the righteous in the earth's Latter Days. The twins were flattered and let it be known that they considered the nicknames the highest complements ever paid them.
Read chapter one of Nights of the Red Moon, and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

Visit Milton T. Burton's blog.

My Book, The Movie: Nights of the Red Moon.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Thelma Adams has been Us Weekly’s film critic since 2000, after six years reviewing at the New York Post. She has written for Marie Claire, the New York Times, Cosmopolitan and Self.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Playdate, and reported the following:
chapter 5

All the Zen euphoria Lance had felt with Wren had evaporated with the scent of the lavender candles. He stepped out of the shower, toweled off, shaved, and padded from the bathroom to the bedroom. Glancing around, Lance considered the Danish modern furniture as if entering a hotel room. It was nice enough, but he hadn’t chosen it. Darlene had. At that moment, he was entirely detached from it. He felt numb to his surroundings, as if he could exit naked and leave almost nothing of himself behind. He imagined exiting the front door into the glare off the white stucco, through the tended garden, past the birds-of-paradise and the ADP Security sign. He could stroll down the scrubbed sidewalk past new houses with Mediterranean Revival facades— and could keep walking, north or south, along the coast and start fresh. But he wondered if he…
This chapter originally began with a title, instead of Chapter 5. It was called “Free-Range Children,” (now the name of a blog by the wonderful journalist Lenore Skenazy). In it, stay-at-home-dad Lance and his yogi neighbor Wren have just had Tantric Sex in his bedroom, while his wife Darlene was at work and the kids at school.

The chapter that finds itself on Page 69 originally launched in a way that my editor, Katie Gilligan of Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s, suggested I change. A number of chapters ended strongly, she observed respectfully, but began in a more matter-of-fact, movie script way. This one originally started “Meanwhile, back on Pacific Breeze, Lance had toweled off, shaved and padded into the bedroom.” Katie resisted those “meanwhile” openings. When I revised, the first paragraphs always became stronger, deeper, more arresting. I also changed “good feeling” to “euphoria,” such a better, more beautiful word.

In earlier drafts, the narrative had then shifted into a memory. Now, that memory is elsewhere and the chapter opening stays on point: Lance’s disconnect from his surroundings. That sense of dislocation leads to a theme of the book, and of my life. If you walk out of one gnarly situation to start anew, sooner or later you will find yourself tied in another knot. You have to do internal work first, and that can be the hardest to achieve.

I’ve always been curious about fathers who walked out of the front door to get a pack of cigarettes and never returned; I have the sneaking suspicion they recreate the same messes in the new lives they create. And then need another pack of cigarettes. In this book, Lance stays and actively revises his situation, while never perfecting it. Hmm. Like novel-writing, no?
Learn more about the book and author at Thelma Adams' website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"Pictures of You"

Caroline Leavitt's novels include: Girls In Trouble, Coming Back To Me, Living Other Lives, Into Thin Air, Family, Jealousies, Lifelines and Meeting Rozzy Halfway. Various titles were optioned for film, translated into different languages, and condensed in magazines.

Her essays, stories and articles have appeared in Salon, Psychology Today, Cookie, New York Magazine, Parenting, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chicago Tribune, Parents, Redbook, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and New Woman, as well in numerous anthologies.

Leavitt applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Pictures of You, and reported the following:
Okay, let’s see. Page 69. On page 69 of Pictures of You, April, the mysterious wife and mother killed in the car accident, is fighting with Charlie, over the way they each treat their asthmatic son Sam. Arguments are always interesting because it’s conflict, but for me what was so interesting here is the whole idea of how do you care for a chronically ill child and not make him feel different? Also, I think you can see the beginning of the fissures in their relationship. Who’s at fault here? I think you have to read on to find out. Or, at least I hope you do.
Learn more about the book and author at Caroline Leavitt's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Up From the Blue"

Susan Henderson is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon’s Creative Writing program and the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Her debut novel, Up From the Blue (HarperCollins, 2010), has been selected as a Great Group Reads pick (by the Women’s National Book Association), an outstanding softcover release (by NPR), a Best Bets Pick (by BookReporter), Editor’s Pick (by BookMovement), Editor’s Choice (by BookBrowse), a Prime Reads pick (by HarperCollins New Zealand), and a Top 10 of 2010 (by Robert Gray of Shelf Awareness). It is currently being translated into Dutch and Norwegian. Henderson is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets award, and her work has — twice — been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She blogs at, and The Nervous Breakdown. Her husband is a costume designer, filmmaker, and tenured drama professor. They live in NY with their two boys.

Henderson applied the Page 69 Test to Up From the Blue and reported the following:
This is a terribly interesting (and kind of unnerving) project—just opening the book at a random spot and seeing what’s there. I think, as writers, we get attached to reading the passages that really show off our strengths, the ones we know will grab the reader and pull them into the story. But turning to a random page and seeing a piece of writing out of context is extremely helpful. You discover whether you have an identifiable style or cadence. And you discover whether, in every scene, you’re giving the full flavor of your characters and driving the plot forward.

So let me set the scene. First of all, the overall book takes a look at depression through the eyes of an eight-year-old whose mother mysteriously disappears; and despite the narrator’s age, the book is fairly dark and it is not a children’s book.

When I turned to page 69, I found a scene between my eight-year-old narrator and a doctor who’s not pleased with the reason he’s been called to the house. The doctor is probably the smallest character in the book, which makes it an interesting choice of scenes to highlight. However, this section of the book is important because it tests a belief that a number of the characters hold, and that is that this young girl will be better off in a stable, predictable, and protective environment. And what you find out is this calm environment makes her crazy with boredom, and what she longs for is a return to her mentally ill mother.

I think what comes through in this particular scene, where Tillie learns she’s about to reunite with her mother (or so she thinks), is her feistiness and my tendency to make dialogue into something of a sword fight—one jabs and the other responds:
He dragged on his cigarette, then tapped it against his boot so the ash hit the rock. “You know what I like about you, Tillie? There’s still hope for you. You could march back to the house and tell your host you’ve been a selfish and unappreciative guest.” He handed me his cigarette.

I slid my hands under my legs. “I’m not allowed.”

“Next time, maybe.” His hand massaged the toe of his boot and then moved to his ankle, where he tucked his fingertips under the cuff of his jeans. I breathed in the smoke, thinking I might like the taste. “So sometime between now and tomorrow when you’re on that plane home,” he said, taking another drag, “I want you to think long and hard about how to be less of a brat.”

“I’m going home tomorrow?”

“Is that the only thing you heard?”

“The only thing that matters.”

“I’m not sure why I said there was hope for you.”

“I’m really going home?”

“You’re a terrible, rotten listener, Tillie.”

I beamed at him, suddenly wishing I’d taken the cigarette.
Learn more about the book and author at Susan Henderson's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Secrets of the Sands"

Leona Wisoker's short stories have appeared in Futures: Fire to Fly Magazine,,, and more. She is a regular reviewer for Green Man Review and its spinoff, The Sleeping Hedgehog.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her novel Secrets of the Sands, and reported the following:
From Page 69 of Secrets of the Sands:
Servants placed delicately-arranged helpings of white beans and feathery greens, thin slices of roast pheasant and puff-bread, small globes of creamed rice balls, and long strips of steamed black mushrooms on the silver plates. Alyea applied herself to her food silently, keeping a pleasant expression on her face. After the long day of riding, she wanted thick food, not this fluffy stuff. Hopefully Chac could get her some dark bread and cheese from the kitchens later.

“Beautiful, aren't they?” a thin voice to her left said.

Alyea turned her head, relieved that she wouldn't have to sit silent all through dinner, and smiled at the woman sitting a bit more than arm's length away. “It's all lovely.”

“The mushrooms, I mean,” the woman said. She was short and well-fed, with greying brown hair framing a contentedly round face. “I've never seen them quite so large.”

Black mushrooms from the Horn were often the size of a dinner plate and, although a delicacy, weren't all that uncommon in Bright Bay. Alyea took a closer look at the woman, noted the northern roundness to her face, the simple cut of her dress, and the lack of jewelry, and tried not to wince.

“Everything's so much larger here,” the woman went on. “It's lovely. I imagine you grow your gardens all year round, here, don't you? I wish I could. You can keep basil going all year, I imagine—am I right?” Her smile was open and innocent as she waited for an answer.

Alyea stared, taken aback. Did this woman think nobles gardened? “I ... I wouldn't know.”

The woman seemed to take in Alyea's dress for the first time.

“Oh, dear,” she said, her round face flushing. She glanced around the room, seeming uncertain and flustered. “I'm sorry. Have I sat at the wrong table?”

“No,” Alyea said after a moment, ashamed of her initial, snobbish reaction. Everyone could be important, Chac had warned her; Alyea decided, a bit impishly, that those words should apply to an ignorant northern as well as anyone else in the room. Let him rebuke her for overfriendliness; she'd throw his own words back in his face.
This page 69 passage does hit something of a pivotal, revealing moment. It comes during a transitional journey from Alyea's comfortable existence as a pampered young noblewoman to the harsher, more dangerous conditions of the southern deserts. She's already emotionally staggering from the cultural changes she's encountering in the Horn, just a short distance from her home city of Bright Bay. This scene shows her regaining her balance and starting to retake control of events.

What's even more interesting to me, looking at this scene, is how it intersects all three major cultural zones at once: the southern desert, the coastal southlands, and the northlands. The coastal southlands, where Bright Bay is located, is geographically the center zone, blocked in by an ominous, nearly impassable wild forest (the Hackerwood) to the north and an equally dangerous strip of mountain-heavy peninsula (the Horn) to the south. But each cultural zone sees themselves as the center of the world and the others as side groups, and Alyea, in the beginning, is no different. She sees the woman (Halla) as a northern commoner, a social inferior she would not normally even speak to. But in the middle of the Horn, Alyea's own status is drastically altered; her rank means almost nothing, and the northern woman beside her is essentially a social equal.

Halla herself, being from north of the Hackerwood and without an advisor of her own, has no idea that southern desert custom dictates that a social superior must begin a conversation with an inferior, never the other way around. She breaks the ice with no idea what she's doing, and Alyea has no idea of how to correct her without causing them both horrible embarrassment. Alyea gives up and treats Halla as an equal for the moment.

Adjusting her behavior so rapidly is a promising sign that Alyea will survive the upheaval of everything she grew up "knowing to be true". Three different cultures are put into brief but revealing conflict. Additionally, this overturning of insular notions of status and propriety in the face of real-world, multi-cultural practicalities is a theme, albeit a minor one, that does run throughout Secrets of the Sands.
Read an excerpt from Secrets of the Sands, and learn more about the book and author at Leona Wisoker's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"Fade to White"

In addition to writing novels, Wendy Clinch founded and runs, the Internet’s leading destination for women who ski.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Fade to White, her new Ski Diva mystery, and reported the following:
We first met Stacey Curtis, Boston-grad-student-turned-ski-bum, in my debut Ski Diva mystery, Double Black. In Fade to White, Stacey’s back and up to her ski boots in yet another murder. The victim this time: Harper Stone, a washed up movie actor who’s come to Stacey’s Vermont ski town to film a mouthwash commercial. When Stacey and her ski patroller boyfriend, Chip Walsh, find Stone’s body during a late night ski date, Stacey turns sleuth to find out who killed him and why. It’s Hollywood meets the Green Mountain State, and the result is hilarious culture clash, as well a plenty of intrigue and excitement.

In this section, we see Guy Ramsey, local sheriff and Stacey’s landlord, attempting to make sense of recent activities. Stacey’s just come in from her job tending bar at the Broken Binding.
Guy sat in his recliner, wearing striped flannel pajamas underneath his white terrycloth bathrobe, an empty milk glass in one hand and the remote in the other. He wasn’t using either one of them, though. He was looking hard at the television, sighting across the room between his stocking feet as if along the barrel of a gun. The television was showing some educational travelogue of what looked like Italy or Greece, but Stacey could see right off that he wasn’t watching it. He had the sound turned all the way down and he was chewing on his lower lip and the muscles in his jaw were working in the reflected multicolored light of some Mediterranean holiday scene.

He’d hardly heard her come in, but she said his name and he shook off his concentration and turned toward her.

“Hey, Stacey.”

“You’re up late.”

“I guess I am.” He lifted his left hand to look at his watch and discovered that he wasn’t wearing it. He’d left it on the nightstand up in the bedroom, where Megan had gone to sleep a long while past. “What time is it, anyhow?”


“Wow. I had no idea.” He squeezed his eyelids shut and gave his head a little shake as if to clear it.

“Something on your mind?”

“That guy who disappeared. I assume it was the talk of the Broken Binding.”

“Yes and no.”

“Him being a movie star and all.”

Stacey sat down on the couch opposite him. “A movie star?” she said. “Maybe you’d better define your terms.”

He poked at the remote without looking at it, and instead of going dark the television switched over to a movie. He’d have known it anywhere, inside of two seconds. Shane, with that Alan Ladd. Stacey probably didn’t consider Alan Ladd a movie star either. Then again he’d been dead since what, sometime in the sixties. That would be before she was born. At least Harper Stone’s career was a little more recent than that, however little there might be left of it these days. “I mean,” he said, “the guy did make some movies. A couple of pretty good ones, to tell the truth.”

“I’d hope so. Given his attitude.”

“You met him?”

“I guess you could put it that way.”

“What do you mean?”

“He was kind of detached, is all.”

“Detached.” He studied the film of milk in his glass.

“It was probably just the whole movie star thing. Ego.”

“Maybe.” He tilted his glass and watched a single drop of milk slide around the bottom of it circling and thinning itself out. “Still,” he said, “tell me more.”
Learn more about the book and author at Wendy Clinch's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Double Black.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"The Sky Is Falling"

Caroline Adderson is the author of two internationally published novels (A History of Forgetting, Sitting Practice) and two collections of short stories (Bad Imaginings, Pleased To Meet You). Her work has received numerous prize nominations including the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Rogers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. A two-time Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and three-time CBC Literary Award winner, Caroline was also the recipient of the 2006 Marian Engel Award for mid-career achievement. Her latest novel, The Sky is Falling, was selected as a Quill and Quire Best Book and a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book of 2010.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Sky is Falling and reported the following:
The pertinent passage from page 69:
On the crest of the hill, at the four-way stop just before the descent to Arbutus Street, there’s a bit of a view northward toward the mountains, over other cotton-candied streets. Two varieties of flowering trees were in bloom, one a darker and one a lighter shade of pink. I drove through the frothy tunnel of 33rd Avenue, past the bright armies of daffodils amassing in the mansion gardens of Shaughnessy. All these carnival colours. All this spring cheer. It’s a bit much, I thought.

The radio brought the story up again while I was driving. I could have switched it off but was better prepared now after an hour of consciously avoiding thinking about it. It was over in a few sentences anyway. Sonia Parker, one of the “masterminds” of a 1984 bomb plot gone awry, had been released yesterday. Peter English would be released in 2009. The next item, in keeping with the terrorist theme, was about the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

When I reached the parking lot, I sat in the car for a few minutes until I was breathing normally again.
The Sky Is Falling tells the story of Jane Z., mother of a teenage son, who every spring looks back on the time when, as a 19 year-old university student, she became involved with a supposedly non-violent group of anti-nuclear activists. Things went drastically wrong and she has paid the price for twenty years by living in continual dread that her son will find out about her past, that something terrible will happen to him too, and that the world is just generally doomed. Until page 69, which is in a present time section of the book -- Jane fleeing the house to avoid reading the newspaper article about her former friends that landed on her doorstep that morning -- the reader doesn't know what actually happened back in 1984, so there is a big revelation here. The interest shifts from what to how could it happen? The motif of the flowering cherry trees, which are so emblematic of the city the novel is set in -- Vancouver, Canada -- is reintroduced here. By page 69 the reader will hopefully also recognize them as reference to Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, Jane being a student of Russian and Russian literature. They will bloom again later, at the climax of the novel, as the petals fall, literally and figuratively, from the sky.
Learn more about the book and author at Caroline Adderson's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"The Metropolis Case"

Matthew Gallaway is a writer originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He now lives in New York City.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, The Metropolis Case, and reported the following:
On Page 69 of the book, one of the main characters (Martin) is a teenager who's torn between pleasing his mother (who's more interested in "high art" such as opera and ballet) and his father, who's more interested in Martin's development as a hockey player. Although Martin ends up siding with his father on this particular day (he's playing with his team at a tournament in Buffalo and because the team is doing better than expected, Martin has to miss going to a performance his mother wants to take him to), he feels badly about disappointing his mother. A quote: "While it pained Martin to picture his mother on the other end of the line, he also didn't want to leave, and he appreciated his father's ability to deal with a thorny situation." I think this kind of conflict between our ideals and the practical difficulties in achieving them is very representative of the book as a whole, along with the idea that the inevitable disappointments and turmoil in our lives can help us to empathize with others. So yes, my hope is that someone for whom these themes resonate would be interested in finding out more about the particular fate of Martin and the other characters in the book.
Read an excerpt from The Metropolis Case, and learn more about the book and author at Matthew Gallaway's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Boiling Point"

Karen Dionne is the internationally published author of Freezing Point, a science thriller nominated by RT Book Reviews as Best First Mystery of 2008.

Dionne is cofounder of the online writers community Backspace, and organizes the Backspace Writers Conferences held in New York City every year. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the International Thriller Writers, where she currently serves on the board of directors as Vice President, Technology. She is also Managing Editor of the International Thriller Writers' newsletter and webzine, The Big Thrill.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her second environmental thriller, Boiling Point, about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming, and reported the following:
Chapter 12

Philippe checked his watch as the jet’s engine pitch dropped and the landing gear doors ground open. He tapped his fingers against the armrest, fidgeted in his seat, leaned forward and punched the keys on his laptop to check the Chaitén data again. Not that he expected to see a change since he had looked two minutes ago, but he had to do something. If there was one thing about his life that he could forever and irrevocably change, it would be the hours he’d wasted waiting. People thought the reason he didn’t travel was because he was reclusive, that he didn’t like people, that he preferred his company to theirs. Their assessments were patently true. He had no tolerance for small talk, didn’t suffer fools. Social gatherings were a particularly tedious torture when you were consistently the smartest person in the room (a conclusion his first wife had once attempted to refute, but the determination was self-evident: how could you not know you were the smartest person present when you were?).
Interestingly, page 69 features Boiling Point’s villain, Philippe (Dr. Philippe Honoré Dumas ), a Nobel-winning scientist who’s taken it upon himself to solve the problem of global warming through geoengineering – specifically, by seeding the atmosphere with sulfur dioxide particles under the guise of an erupting volcano, thus blocking the amount of sunlight reaching the earth and cooling the planet.

Philippe is not your typical thriller villain. He cares deeply for the Earth. He loves his step-daughter, Sheila Kennedy, another of the book’s main characters, and while he doesn’t yet realize it at this point in the story, his relationship with his long-time assistant, Stéphanie, is also about to change.

Philippe’s one great flaw, however, is exhibited in his thinking on page 69 above: his elevated opinion of himself – his hubris, really – which leads him to believe that he and he alone can save the planet.

While page 69 doesn’t include any action, Boiling Point is definitely a thriller (the book has a 40-page climax that takes place IN the caldera of an erupting volcano). The novel also explores the deep divisions in the political, environmental, and scientific communities regarding what should be done about global warming, highlighting the scope of the problem while raising the question: Can anyone know what’s best for the earth?
Learn more about the book and author at Karen Dionne's website and blog.

Writers Read: Karen Dionne.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 7, 2011

"South Phoenix Rules"

Jon Talton's books include the David Mapstone Mysteries, The Pain Nurse, the first of the Cincinnati Casebooks, and the thriller Deadline Man.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, South Phoenix Rules, and reported the following:
Page 69 is definitely representative of South Phoenix Rules, where David finds himself in “the equivalent of a big-box gun shop,” a place tied to weapons smuggling between Phoenix and Mexico. It gives a loving, for gun lovers, or unsettling description of the place, and we meet the owner, a funny and ominous character who will figure prominently in the rest of the book. If a reader won’t get hooked on this page, this isn’t his or her book.
Learn more about the book and author at Jon Talton's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Queen Hereafter"

Susan Fraser King is a multi-published, bestselling, award-winning author and a former art history lecturer. She holds a B.A. in art and an M.A. and most of a Ph.D. in art history, with postgraduate work in medieval studies. Her books are widely praised for historical detail and a lyrical writing style, and she has won multiple honors and awards for her novels.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Queen Hereafter, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Queen Hereafter:
“Did Malcolm bring back with him the Saxon knights he captured in England?” Margaret asked.

“This is a victor’s return, to be celebrated,” Lady Gudrun replied. “The king brought slaves and prisoners out of England, true, but it is part of war. He will earn good income for Scotland’s treasury by ransoming those men.”

“He will wait years to be paid,” Margaret said bitterly. “The poor Saxons have nothing left.”

“Hush,” Margaret’s mother whispered, leaning toward her. “We are guests here, dependent on Malcolm’s good will. And you, of all of us, must take care.”

“Why?” Margaret felt dread turn in her stomach. She waited for her mother to mention marriage negotiations, confirming the fear Margaret had entertained ever since leaving the convent last November. But Lady Agatha did not answer, merely turned away to examine Lady Juliana’s stitchery, correcting the girl’s technique.

Silent, Margaret knotted the last threads while the other women chatted about King Malcolm. As she used her little silver scissors, she realized that news of the king’s deeds left her with resentment, even defiance, which daily prayer could not ease. She held up the stitchery piece to examine it, hearing murmurs of admiration around her.

“Excellent work.” Her mother peered closely. “But those few stitches are crooked.”

Without answer or expression, Margaret began to tear out the flawed threads.
This page is part of a conversation between Margaret, a Saxon princess newly arrived in Scotland, having escaped the Norman invasion of England with her family, who were shipwrecked on the Scottish coast and given sanctuary by the king of Scots, Malcolm Canmore. Here we also see Margaret’s strict and demanding mother, Lady Agatha, and other women as they sit at their sewing. Margaret is aware that her brother, Edgar of England, is probably negotiating a marriage for her with the warrior-king Malcolm in return for assistance in fighting the Normans. Yet Margaret has no desire to remain in Scotland, which seems a backward place to her, nor is she interested in marrying Scotland’s coarse warlord king, who nonetheless has shown interest in her. She has always planned to be a nun, and she wants nothing more than to go home and find peace; but she has no idea, at this point, what the future holds for her.

It’s an interesting place to dip into the book, as it shows some of Margaret’s tension and conflict as she dreads what is about to be arranged without her consent. We also see her intelligence, her compassion for the downtrodden Saxon people, and the curious way that this strong-willed young woman responds to her mother and to obligation: she essentially bites her tongue and rips out the offending embroidery stitches rather than speak up for herself, which would go against her upbringing. Let me assure you that Margaret finds her own strengths later in her story!
Learn more about the book and author at Susan Fraser King's website.

Writers Read: Susan Fraser King.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 3, 2011

"Set the Night on Fire"

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

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Set the Night on Fire, and reported the following:
Page 69:
curb. The snow was still white, unsullied by exhaust fumes, and a bright sun made it glint and sparkle. Why did the morning after a storm always seem so perfect? As if Nature were apologizing for its wrath the night before?

She turned back to the room. Over the past few weeks she’d learned grief was in the little things: scanning her father’s files, making her brother’s bed, catching a whiff of his aftershave. But so, too, was joy. Looking outside at a perfect winter day, some of her darkness fell away, and she felt a kernel of hope.

* * *
Early that evening, she drove Danny’s Jeep down to Chicago’s Gold Coast, an affluent neighborhood of million-dollar condos and even more expensive brownstones. She parked in a lot on State Street and walked around the corner to Astor Place. Purple twilight was dismantling the day, but faint streaks of light in the western sky signaled the onset of later sunsets. Still, it was January cold, and people scurried past, thinking, no doubt, about hot meals and cozy evenings at home.

She’d called the Alumni Club back that afternoon, and, through a combination of persuasion and desperation, wangled the name of a Michigan alumnus who graduated in 1971. With a little work on the Internet, she found his address and phone number. She considered calling, then decided just to show up. It was riskier—he might not be home, and if he was, he might slam the door in her face. Still, it would be harder to turn her down in person.

She stopped in front of a three-story brownstone and checked the address. A large bay window extended from the second floor, and light blazed through the drapes. A good sign. A wrought-iron fence surrounded a tiny front lawn, but the gate was unlocked. Another good sign.

As Lila stepped through, a ferocious barking erupted inside. She waited. The racket stopped. She went to the front door and tentatively
My first reaction was that Page 69 wasn’t very representative of the ideas and story of Set the Night on Fire. Then I decided I was being hasty. In fact, I see two themes on this page.

The first is the character of my main protagonist, Lila Hilliard. Lila is a reserved, 30-something financial manager who comes home from New York for the holidays. While she’s out doing errands, her home goes up in flames, and her father and brother die. We’ve already learned that her mother died when she was a baby, so by page 69 her only living relative is her Aunt Valerie, a self-involved, unreliable character. Virtually alone in the world, Lila decides to track down her late mother’s family, as she’s doing on Page 69. But this page also marks the beginning of Lila’s transition from a passive, reticent woman to a more assertive person. She proves to be more resourceful than she’d imagined, using her skills to persuade someone to share information with her. As the story progresses and her search for answers becomes more vital, she becomes even more inventive.

The other theme on Page 69 deals with time. The middle section of the SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE takes place in Chicago in 1968-70, but the rest of the book is set, like Page 69, in the present. There’s only a fleeting reference to the past here. That’s indicative of the balance I tried to strike between past and present, and how they are interconnected. That connection, the repercussions of the past on the present, is a critical element of the story. Even though we’re in the present, Lila is seeking information about the past, with the hope that it will shed light on her current circumstances.

I guess you’ll have to read the story to find out if she succeeds.
Watch the video trailer for Set the Night on Fire, and visit Libby Fischer Hellmann's website and group blog, The Outfit.

My Book, The Movie: Set the Night on Fire.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 1, 2011

"Prey on Patmos"

Jeffrey Siger was a New York lawyer -- litigating high-stakes society scandals and other delicate public and private matters of domestic and international consequence -- until giving it all up to write full-time among the people, life, and politics of his beloved Mykonos, and spearfish in its Aegean waters.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Prey on Patmos, and reported the following:
Page 69:
Andreas drifted off into that state just before sleep when the senses recede and thoughts become meditative. He pictured the cross in the monk’s hand. The cross of his grandfather, the cross with which he might well have shared virtually every day of his life. Andreas’ eyes popped open. He felt as if a silent bomb had gone off in the room.

His cross,” Andreas cried out and jumped out of the bed, almost sending Lila tumbling off onto the floor. “It wasn’t his cross he was holding when he died. His cross, the one he treasured from his grandfather, was left dangling openly around his neck, free for anyone to take. The one he chose to grip, to guard when he knew he was dying, was a cheap, ten euro piece of junk he’d bought only hours before! How could it possibly have meant so much to him that his last act on earth was to protect it?”

Andreas paced back and forth in front of the window. Lila said nothing, just watched him.

“He didn’t die accepting the end of his life. He died sending a message. But what message?” He turned to Lila, “I’ve got to get back to Patmos, right away.”

“‘Right away’?”

He didn’t miss the disappointment in her voice. Andreas drew in and let out a breath. “‘Right away,’ as in ‘first thing tomorrow morning.’” He sat next to her on the bed, took her hand, and kissed it. “Tonight I’m spending with my baby.” He patted her belly. “Both my babies.”

Tears started forming in Lila’s eyes. She dabbed at them with her fingertips. “Sorry, pregnant women get this way at times.”

“No need to say more.” A knock at the door signaled it was time for dinner with his family. “I belong here.” He doubted any soul would disagree, certainly none like Vassilis.

Patmos was a place of rich beauty, deep conviction, and pious tradition. It also was an island, and island people were different from mainland folk. Separated from the rest of the world, they grew up facing dangers without expecting help from the outside.
I promise you I did not write page 69 with an eye toward the “The Page 69 Test,” but that page in Prey on Patmos, An Aegean Prophecy, captures the essence of my latest Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis mystery-thriller. The novel begins at the start of Easter Week with the murder of a revered old monk on the Holy Island of Patmos. Patmos is where John wrote the Book of Revelation, and the murdered monk had lived much of his life within that Greek island’s massive 1000 year-old Monastery of Saint John the Divine.

Page 69 is a pivotal moment in Andreas’ search for who killed the monk and why. It also gives a sense of place, something so important to my writing. Andreas’ revelation ultimately will lead him hundreds of miles from Patmos to the pristine Greek Aegean peninsula of Mount Athos. There, isolated from the rest of humanity, twenty monasteries sit protecting the secrets of Byzantium amid a way of life virtually unchanged for more than 1500 years in the world’s oldest surviving monastic community. Andreas’ impolitic investigation brings him face-to-face with modern international intrigues harbored within Mount Athos’ sacred refuge that threaten to destroy the very heart of the Eastern Orthodox Church in a matter of days.
Learn more about the book and author at Jeffrey Siger's website.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in Mykonos.

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

--Marshal Zeringue