Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Passing Love"

Jacqueline E. Luckett worked in sales for Xerox for twenty years. During that time she married, raised a family, and took creative writing classes where she reignited her love of writing.

In 2004, she formed the Finish Party (featured in O Magazine, October 2007) along with seven other women writers-of-color. She calls these outstanding women her mentors and advisors, her friends and the toughest (and most loving) readers around.

Luckett applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Passing Love, and reported the following:
In Passing Love two women believe that going to Paris will change their lives. The story moves back and forth between the present day and the jazz-fueled Paris of the 1950s.

A quick scan of page 69 doesn’t give the reader a sense of Passing Love’s story nor does it suggest the other important character from the past, Ruby. The scene introduces Nicole’s sadness over her father’s illness. Her father’s conversation with his neurologist is one key to her frustration; it’s only part of the story.
“What’s the day and the year, Mr. Handy?”

Squire screwed up his face and peered straight at the neurologist.

“Let’s see. The Giants won the pennant in 2002. Beat Atlanta in the playoffs, then they beat the Cardinals.”

Nicole pushed her hands against her chair’s thin armrests until they creaked—March 2008—and silently commanded her father: read my mind, Daddy.
Near the end of the page, Nicole tries to explain a photo she found in a small antique store in Paris. Her father’s inability to respond to her questions is as disturbing as his inability to answer the doctor’s questions.
“…I found a picture of you in a book…and you wrote on the back of it…remember?”

From the other side of the street a blue-eyed cat scurried toward Nicole. The cat meowed and settled near her feet.

“I hear a cat,” Squire announced. “Never lock eyes with a blue-eyed cat.”
Her father’s inability to answer her question is part of a secret. Whether the cat is prophetic, or not, requires turning the page. It’s the photo that presents itself as a mystery that I’m hoping will engage the reader and cause her/him to buy the novel.
Learn more about the book and author at Jacqueline E. Luckett's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 27, 2012

"Anatomy of Murder"

Imogen Robertson is a writer based in London. Her first book Instruments of Darkness was published in the U.K. in May 2009.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her second novel, Anatomy of Murder, now available in the US, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“...confess it likely that if Mr Palmer had not called, had the note arrived from Mr Pither without introduction, I should probably have found myself in that outhouse and driving with you to His Majesty’s this morning in any case.”

“I see, Madam. You feel you are become the monstrous and unfeminine ghoul some have already made you out to be, and you feel Miss Trench does not approve?”

“My sister made it perfectly plain to the whole house that she does not approve, yet I feel neither monstrous nor less a woman than I was two years ago.” She turned towards him and folded her arms. “I will do what seems right to me, but I have to allow that Rachel has a better sense of the social niceties than I do, just as her sense of music is superior to mine. I make myself appear foolish at times, and that reflects on my family.”

“Miss Trench wishes you to have something other to think of than your husband’s illness, madam.”

Harriet smiled a little unhappily. “Yes, Crowther, but I think she would rather I was diverted by her plans for redecorating the salon at Caveley than by whatever corpses we find strewn in our way.”

“She must accept the sister she has, Mrs Westerman. I can only hope she does not raise your temper by suggesting you should behave in any other fashion. I have noticed you are at your most sharp when you suspect you are in the wrong.”
In a book of over 300 pages, you are probably never going to find one that does a perfect job of representing the whole. Anatomy of Murder is set in London in 1781 and ranges from the glories of the Opera House to the seething misery in the slums; from naval espionage to celebrity worship, and its major characters include a castrato and a fortune teller, but here we have a short, quite bare scene. It does however feature the two principals of the series, Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther, and shows something of their developing friendship. Harriet and Crowther have been asked by an intelligence officer at the Admiralty, Mr Palmer, to investigate the drowning of Nathaniel Fitzraven, an employee of the Opera House, and a man suspected of espionage. The outhouse Harriet mentions is where they examined his body. They have also been asked to conceal the government’s interest. Unfortunately this means Harriet’s sister believes she is making enquiries out of an unhealthy curiosity, careless of the family’s reputation. Harriet’s admission here, that she might have got involved in the case even without Mr Palmer’s intervention is typical of her honesty. She can be impulsive and stubborn, but she tries to be clear-eyed about herself. I think it because of this she has a talent to see into the motivations of others. Crowther, the reclusive anatomist protected from social niceties by his wealth, can be a great deal colder and sharper than he is here but he is becoming fond of Harriet and her family. I think one can also see here that she has learnt to value his habit of plain speaking.
Learn more about the book and author at Imogen Robertson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Instruments of Darkness.

Writers Read: Imogen Robertson.

My Book, The Movie: Instruments of Darkness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"The Baker's Daughter"

Sarah McCoy is the author of the novels The Baker's Daughter (Crown) and The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico (Random House). The Baker's Daughter released on January 24, 2012 and was praised as a “beautiful heart-breaking gem of a novel” by Tatiana de Rosnay and a “thoughtful reading experience indeed” by Chris Bohjalian. The Baker’s Daughter is a Doubleday/Literary Guild Book Club selection. McCoy has taught writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. The daughter of an army officer, her family was stationed in Germany during her childhood. She currently lives with her husband and dog, Gilbert, in El Paso, Texas, where she is working on her next novel.

McCoy applied the Page 69 Test to The Baker’s Daughter and reported the following:
The Baker’s Daughter is the story of Elsie Schmidt, a German baker, and Reba Adams, a young American reporter. Two women separated by generations, cultures, and wars. Their lives overlap when Reba interviews Elsie for the local El Paso magazine. Both women harbor deep, turbulent secrets. For Elsie, Reba's inquiries are a stinging reminder of darker times: her life in Germany during that last bleak year of WWII. In turn, Elsie questions Reba's inability to commit to her fiancé, Rikki Chavez, a U.S. Border Patrol officer who is battling his own doubts about his occupation's purpose. Page 69 is the last page of Chapter Eleven. Riki has just taken into custody a young Mexican mother and her two children—illegal immigrants hiding in a car. Nearby, on the bank of the Rio Grande border, is a trailer home where a young boy, about the same age as one of his captors, rides his tricycle. It’s a stark scene that captures one of the predominant themes of the novel: the internal struggle between what we’re told is right and what we know in our hearts to be...
The Mexican woman instructed her children to gather their things. The older boy shoved a worn shirt and a pair of jeans into a duffel bag. The girl climbed between the driver and passenger seats and over her mother’s lap. She sat by the front tire, clasping her doll to her chest and sucking her thumb. Beautiful black eyes watched Riki, never blinking. He wondered if this is what his daughter would look like, only with Reba’s strong nose and fair skin.

The boy on his tricycle turned to them. “Bye!” he called and waved. “Bye-bye!”

His mother stuck her head out of her open trailer doorway. “¡Vete aquí! Lunch.”

Smiling wide, the boy threw his tricycle to the side and obeyed. The woman glowered at Riki before closing the door. All the while, the little girl at his feet hugged her knees and continued to stare up at him. The outline of his CBP baseball cap reflected in her dark gaze.
Learn more about the book and author at Sarah McCoy’s website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Sarah McCoy's The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Contents May Have Shifted"

Pam Houston divides her time between her ranch in Colorado and the University of California at Davis, where she is director of the Creative Writing Program. She has been a frequent contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine, and her writing appears regularly in More and other publications. She in the author of the best-selling Cowboys Are My Weakness.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Contents May Have Shifted, and reported the following:
The first full sentence on page 69 is this:

“Any one of those bears could have eaten two of us in the time it took the third one to dig the gun out.”

The “out” here refers to out of the boat box, in a sixteen foot inflatable, on the Tatshenshini River in Alaska, where the gun is buried under ten pounds of rice, seven zip locks of instant mashed potatoes, six types of tea, five rolls of toilet paper and any number of wilderness first aid supplies.

I like this sentence for the rough and tumble nature of it. The way it proves that even though I am addressing some fairly heady questions in this book, like what it is to look for faith in a faithless age, and what is the definition of a satisfying life, and what it means to have lived on the planet half a century, and even though this book travels to places as unlike the North American wilderness as Luang Prabang, Laos, and Istanbul, Turkey, I am still really at heart a girl who wants to write about guns, rivers, Alaska and grizzly bears.
Learn more about the book and author at Pam Houston's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Pam Houston and Fenton Johnson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Until the Next Time"

Kevin Fox is a producer and writer for the Fox TV series Lie to Me, and his professional screenwriter credits include the film The Negotiator. He splits his time between coasts, living in both Los Angeles and New Jersey.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Until the Next Time, his debut novel, and reported the following:
When I opened Until the Next Time to page 69, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was the beginning of the chapter in which Sean, the naïve protagonist, arrives in Ireland. Sean has traveled abroad in order to try and solve the mystery surrounding his uncle’s death twenty-six years before and to clear his uncle’s name for the murder he had allegedly committed back in the States. It is the beginning of a scene that introduces one of my favorite characters, the foul-mouthed romantic, Anne, who will be Sean’s guide in Ireland, and in life, for the rest of the novel. As a representative page it is probably not as humorous nor as dramatic as other pages, but it does set up a key relationship in the book.
I felt like I was at a bus station somewhere in Ohio, surrounded by overweight Americans and the industrial-strength smell that is common to all transit hubs, whether it’s an international airport or a bus terminal in Cleveland. But I wasn’t in Ohio, even if it could have passed for it. I was waiting for my luggage in Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland and was severely disappointed. As I watched the people around me, complaining about the airline food, the usual travel delays, and the rude passengers they’d traveled with, I started to wonder if there were actually any native Irish in the place.

As I grabbed my luggage, I finally noticed a few natives, easy to spot. They didn’t push, just waited patiently and watched for whatever relative’s luggage they needed, sliding back out with a deft “Excuse me” and “Thank you” once they’d retrieved it. I took my cue from them and waited patiently. My flight had gotten in a little early and I’d cleared customs two minutes before I was originally due to land.

I had no idea who I was meeting or what they might look like. My father’s only comment was that it would be “one of yer uncle Patsy’s kids. How the feck should I know what they look like? Like a cousin of yours, I’d bet.” He was always so helpful. As I waited, I overheard a bit of conversation that I couldn’t ignore.

“Jaysus, ’ave ya ever seen such a brilliant mass a amadans in one bloody place?” It was a woman’s voice, sweet, almost lilting. If I didn’t understand her words, I would’ve thought she were reciting poetry.

“Yeah. Yer da’s place at holiday time.” That voice was male and typical Irish. He mumbled. I turned to look and spotted a young woman no more than twenty years old, with a face that definitely did not match her words. She had fine, almost elfin features with a smattering of freckles and reddish-blond hair. You might have called her delicate until you saw her eyes, which had the sharp look of a fifty-year-old con artist—the kind you see at the baccarat tables in Atlantic City. She was sipping a Guinness, even though it was only a little after noon local time, and as she turned I noticed a streak of blue in her hair. She seemed to be trying hard to overcome her natural beauty.

The man with her was the opposite: clean shaven, sharply dressed, and handsomely dark. He looked like he’d stepped out of a GQ ad. I never would have looked at either of them twice if I hadn’t heard what the foul-mouthed little elf said next.

“I don’t know why the feckin’ eejit picked me to meet this Yank gobshite of a cousin, do you?”
Sean’s introduction to Anne belies the fact that she is actually one of the more sensitive characters in the novel, hiding her vulnerability beneath a crass exterior. In spite of her original resentment toward Sean, she will protect him as he inadvertently prods ex-IRA terrorists with his questions that threaten to expose their past with his uncle, during the ‘Troubles’ in 1972. Anne also functions as a welcoming committee Sean can comprehend and feel familiar with, given his family background, and although he’s never been to Ireland before, he feels as I did the first time I arrived in Shannon – as if it was a sort of homecoming.
Learn more about the book and author at Kevin Fox's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Friends Like Us"

Lauren Fox is the author of Still Life with Husband. She earned her MFA from the University of Minnesota in 1998, and her work has appeared in the New York Times, Marie Claire, Seventeen, Glamour, and Salon.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Friends Like Us, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Friends Like Us turns out to be a surprisingly good representation of many of the themes and stories weaving through the novel. Willa, the 26-year-old protagonist, and her best friend Jane are having dinner with Jane’s parents, in the house where she grew up. Willa can’t help but notice, with a bit of longing, how nice and normal Jane’s parents are, especially compared to her own fractured, fractious family. She’s struck by the ways a happy, functioning family builds a person up, as opposed to creating the layers of awkwardness, neediness, and insecurity that she feels are the legacy of her upbringing. If, in the novel, Jane is something of a mirror for Willa – they are so alike in many ways, but the choices they make, ultimately, are completely opposed – it’s here, in this scene, that we see the roots of both their similarities and their differences:
Mrs. Weston upends a slab of casserole onto her plate and looks at me carefully. “You and Janey really do resemble each other,” she says. “Even I can see it.”

My thoughts careen past each other like eleven-year-old boys on ice skates, skidding, flailing. Family outings that turned into screaming matches between my parents. Days when they would only talk to each other through Seth and me. The time Fran sat down at the table in front of the lasagna she’d made, clearly pleased with herself, and Stan looked at the dinner, rolled his eyes at me and Seth, then turned to my mother with a grin on his face and said, “Oh, my favorite! Cold, congealed, salty lasagna! How did you know?” He was an expert at taking her down, a master of the surprise attack.

I look down and notice suddenly that I’ve been picking the cornflakes off the surface of my tuna casserole. Quickly, I shuffle them back to their home. “We could eat the leftovers for breakfast tomorrow!” For one fleeting, hopeful breath I believe that maybe I’ve just thought this and not said it out loud. But then Mrs. Weston, Mr. Weston, and Jane all stop eating at the same time and look at me. The refrigerator motor hums. Mrs. Weston’s geese lift off from the plates, flutter their wings, and circle around my head. So long, everyone! Thanks for the Jell-O!

After a few seconds, Jane laughs, a snort of sisterly derision, reaches across the table and pats my hand. “Sure we could, sweetie.”
Learn more about the book and author at Lauren Fox's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Critically acclaimed, bestselling author Julianna Baggott also writes under the pen names Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode. She has published seventeen books over the last ten years.

After receiving her M.F.A. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Baggott published her first novel, Girl Talk, which was a national bestseller and was quickly followed by Boston Globe bestseller The Miss America Family, and then Boston Herald Book Club selection, The Madam, an historical novel based on the life of her grandmother. She co-wrote Which Brings Me to You with Steve Almond, a Kirkus Best Book of 2006.

Baggott applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Pure, and reported the following:
If you read this page only, you won't really get a feel for the beaten ash-choked world of the book. Yes, there will be a cicada fluttering metal wings. You'll know there's a threat. "When survivors approach sixteen, alliances break down. Everyone knows that they have to fend for themselves." You'll know that Gorse and Fandra are two kids who've disappeared. Otherwise it's Pressia's sixteenth birthday and her grandfather shows her a gift that's shown up from someone named Bradwell -- someone her father stitched up. He has two scars running up one cheek. The gift makes Pressia furious.

All in all, there are worse places to enter the book. The world building looms and the reader will get to it soon enough from there.
Learn more about the book and author at Julianna Baggott's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 17, 2012

"The Order of the Scales"

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

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Order of the Scales (The Memory of Flames, Book III), and reported the following:
Page 69:
It wasn't a big room. A few crude beds, a simple table, pots to piss in, that sort of thing. Food on the table. Leftover biscuits and dried meat. Alchemical lamps, several of them. And more tunnels leading out of the back of the room. Too many to be looking into. Six men alive and two dead. You said there were eight. Are you sure?

I cannot be certain, Kemir.

‘Are there any more of you lurking back there?’ he snapped and watched their faces carefully. There was no guile in these men; perhaps they were too shocked by the casual way he'd executed two of them. They didn't start to glance at the tunnels, just stared at him in slack-jawed horror.

‘Well? Do I have to shoot a few more of you so the rest can find their tongues?’ He took a step towards them and they cringed. They could rush me if they wanted. I could only shoot one of them and the rest would be on top of me. With strength of numbers they would win, and yet they won't. They'll cower, too afraid, and then I'll herd them outside and they'll be slaughtered like cattle. All because every one of them would rather live for another few minutes more than win.

Your kind are indeed curious, observed Snow. What you are doing would not work on dragons.

Kemir gritted his teeth. He muttered under his breath, ‘And how would you know that, Snow? Dragons find themselves on the wrong end of these situations often, do they?’

We are very old, Kemir. We remember much that your kind have forgotten. Powers far greater than us. Powers that made us. Snow went silent and there it was, the catch in her thoughts. The something that passed for a pause for breath, a mouth that opened to speak, and then closed and chose to to be silent instead. One of those silver men moments. Even as he thought that, he sensed Snow bristle.

The alchemists, Kemir.

Yes. The alchemists. He'd given them far too much time to think about rushing him. They were exchanging glances and starting to fidget. Two bad signs. He switched his aim to the one who, in the dim glow of their lamps, looked the oldest. In Kemir's experience, the older men got, the keener they became on living.
At the start of the Memory of Flames series, dragons are enslaved to men through the use of alchemy, so it's pleasantly ironic that here we have a man, Kemir, serving a dragon the Snow. Desperate men, dragons issuing orders, the old order being torn down without thought of what it stood for and no mercy for any in sight; and yet, as we see here in Snow's words, We remember much that your kind have forgotten, there are deeper and darker currents running beneath the chaos. If you're familiar with the likes of Prince Jehal and Queen Zafir, perhaps it's no surprise that the dragons are more aware of their histories than men, very much to the cost of the so-called 'little ones.'

There may be far grander schemes at play in the Order of the Scales; battles that darken the skies with dragons and set the horizons alight in rivers of fire, but the changing relationship between Kemir and Snow plays out everything on a more intimate scale; while the fears and the paralysis of the old order (seen here as the alchemists) are all that either ruthless men or ruthless dragons will need to see out their ends.
The Order of the Scales, Deas reports, is "graced by yet another a piece of gorgeous dragon-art from the mighty Stephen Youll."

Read an essay by Stephen Deas on the "Memory of Flames" trilogy.

Visit the official Stephen Deas website.

The Page 69 Test: The Adamantine Palace.

The Page 69 Test: The King of the Crags.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Drifting House"

Krys Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, raised in California and Washington, and studied in the United States and England. She was a finalist for Best New American Voices, received a special mention in the 2012 Pushcart Prize XXXVI, and her work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Narrative magazine, Granta (New Voices), California Quarterly, Asia Weekly, the Guardian, the New Statesman, and Conde Nast Traveller, UK (forthcoming). Lee lives in Seoul with intervals in San Francisco.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Drifting House, and reported the following:
Page 69 comes from an intensely personal story for me. “The Pastor’s Son” is one of the few stories that touch on autobiography, as the rest of Drifting House is only informed thematically by my obsessions and my life. I grew up with a troubled pastor as a father. His contradictions, and eventually, his death, haunt my life and my writing. Though I am not a teenage boy, and the manner in which my father died differed from what happens on the page here, the spirit of my father, and our family, is very similar to what it was like growing up a Korean American in difficult family circumstances. It was as dramatic and tumultuous as what happens on this page, and is probably as autobiographical a story as I’ll ever write.

Also, there’s a lot less humor and fantasy in this story than in the rest of Drifting House. I think of my stories as like life: light and dark, beauty and terror, humor and horror. That’s why the Kansas Star’s recent review of my collection, which noted that Drifting House recalls “Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness, holding beauty and brutality in an elegant equipoise” was gratifying. It’s nice to know a reviewer has read a book carefully and got to the heart of Drifting House.

Page 69 of "The Pastor's Son"--
“This rage…” His voice slowed. “I can’t slow myself—”

“Enough, Abeoji.”

I walked away. When I held my hand out in front of me, they wee shaking. They were strangers to me, these large knuckles and thick fingers I would grow into. I turned.


I said nothing.

My father took off his shoes and laid them neatly on the cement as if he had just come home. He sat, legs folded over each other, then got up again, as if he wasn’t sure where he wanted to be. He walked over. His hands held my face, and he stared deep into my eyes. He kissed my cheeks.

“Adeul-ah, pray for me.” His voice dropped. “No matter what, tell them I drowned.”

And just as I moved toward him, my father turned his back on me and on God, and stepped casually off the riverside path and into the river.

I have not looked at photos of my father for years. His bloated river face and emptied-out eyes have faded for me, though I still hear his cadences, those broken incantations that rang through my childhood. Soon after my father’s passing, I stopped attending church. No matter how often New Mother reminded me that I was a pastor’s son, I could never go back.

During my college years I dutifully visited New Mother; sometimes I just made phone calls. Every year I poured rice wine that my father liked so much over his grave and pulled the weeds around the tombstone; I ordered flowers for my mother’s grave.
Learn more about the book and author at Krys Lee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 13, 2012

"The Detour"

Born in 1970 in Chicago, Andromeda Romano-Lax worked as a freelance journalist and travel writer before turning to fiction. Her first novel, The Spanish Bow, was translated into eleven languages and was chosen as a New York Times Editors’ Choice, BookSense pick, and one of Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Detour, and reported the following:
The top of page 69 happens to be a precis for the entire novel. It includes a reference to the Führer, who has visited Italy just a few months before our main character, Ernst Vogler, travels to Rome to collect the classical statue called the Discus Thrower, which Hitler has purchased against the objections of many Italians. Photos of the May 1938 trip show Hitler looking dreamy, dazzled by Italy’s antiquities. But Vogler can’t afford to be dazzled.

As the narrator reflects,
World leaders, busy as they were, could afford to look ahead and behind—but not the rest of us, who were merely living day to day, trying not to slip up, trying not to embrace the wrong historical lessons or even the wrong teachings from our own recent personal histories. All too often a quick glance over the shoulder could turn into a risky detour.
The rest of the novel is about that unadvised glance—the remembering, facilitated by the meditative quality of travel, which allows Ernst to consider what got him into the position he is in, working for the Nazis in the realm of art acquisition. It allows him to consider his troubled past, including both ruined athletic dreams and a trauma involving his father.

But The Detour is not all about memory. It’s also about moment-to-moment mishap. Enzo, an Italian policeman, starts the next twist in the misadventure on the bottom of the same page, when he starts pining aloud about a wedding feast that will be taking place that very night, off a winding Tuscan sideroad. Enzo wants to attend in order to spend some amorous time with the bride’s sister, Farfalla. But of course that can’t happen. They have a statue to deliver. They have a deadline. Things haven’t gone so well already. With Enzo and his twin brother at the wheel, things will only get worse.
Learn more about the book and author at Andromeda Romano-Lax's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Spanish Bow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"With Fate Conspire"

Marie Brennan is a former academic with a background in archaeology, anthropology, and folklore, which she now puts to rather cockeyed use in writing fantasy. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Brennan applied the Page 69 Test to With Fate Conspire, the latest novel in the Onyx Court series, and reported the following:
My page 69 quote spans the end of one scene, and the beginning of another:
"Please, Ada," Wrain entreated her. "I have seen the disaster that is Babbage's notes; I daresay you understand them better than he does himself. Or at least can explain them to others, which he patently cannot. We will not be able to do this without help."

It would have taken a harder soul than Ada Lovelace's to say no to that desperately hopeful expression. With a feeling of both doom and delight, she said, "Charles Babbage is too rude and too sane to ever help you in this matter. Poor though my own intellect may be, I will bend it to your cause."


Islington, London: March 14, 1884

Eliza had spent the days leading up to the meeting of the London Fairy Society imagining how things might go. The people might prove to be nothing more than a cluster of bored wives, reading collections of stories from the folk of rural England, clucking their tongues and sighing over the loss of a peasant society none of them had ever seen in person. They might be a group of scholars, documenting that loss and forming theories about what defect of education or brain made peasants believe such ridiculous things. They might be the kind of people Eliza had seen at Charing Cross last fall—working hand-in-glove with the faeries to sow chaos among decent folk.
The first scene is the end of a flashback to the years when Ada Lovelace was alive, and the second returns to the present, when one of the two protagonists is trying to find people who can help her against the faeries of London. Since the past is a crucial element in With Fate Conspire -- the pasts of the characters, and the Onyx Court, and the city itself -- I'd say this is moderately representative.

What it doesn't show is the struggles of the characters. Eliza is poor and Irish, which is a bad combination in Victorian London; the other protagonist, a faerie named Dead Rick, is under the thumb of a brutal crime boss. Neither of them has very much, and they're gambling what little they have in the hopes of regaining the precious things they lost, years ago: Eliza's childhood sweetheart, and Dead Rick's stolen memories. They need each other's help, but at this point in the story, they aren't yet working together -- there's a lot of difficulty still standing between them and that alliance.

I suspect a page from the middle of a scene would show those things much better -- page 79 is a nice one; I recommend that to the reader. But as far as samples go, this one does moderately well.
Learn more about the book and author at Marie Brennan's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: The Onyx Court series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 9, 2012

"Outside the Lines"

Amy Hatvany's books include Best Kept Secret.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel Outside the Lines, and reported the following:
Outside the Lines tracks a woman’s search for her homeless and mentally ill father, whom she’s been estranged from for twenty years. At its core, the story is meant to illustrate the sometimes complicated web of family relationships - how far one might go in the name of love. I opted to write from two vantage points: David West, an artist struggling with a deteriorating mind, and Eden West, the daughter he adores, but ends up deserting when she is ten years old.

Page 69 falls in the middle of one of Eden’s chapters. She is interacting with her half-brother, Bryce, her mother and her step-father, and the reader is introduced to this blended family’s dynamics. We see the true affection Eden and Bryce have for each other and the more complex relationship both Eden and Bryce have with his father. Though they love her, none of her family members understand or support Eden’s search for David, so there is the underlying tension of her decision to continue looking for him despite their not-always-so silent disapproval. But this page captures them at a lighter moment…

From Page 69:
“Ah, I love you, Ed. You never piss me off.” (Bryce speaking).

“That’s a lie. And don’t call me Ed.” Bryce couldn’t figure out how to say “Eden” when he was learning to talk so I became “Ed” by default. John made it worse by adding a “Mr.” before the nickname. I was thirteen and in the midst of a great deal of adolescent angst. Bryce was two and made a habit of toddling around, pointing at me and saying “Mr. Ed! Mr. Ed!” to anyone who’d listen. I was already struggling with gaining a sibling after ten years of only-child-hood; this did not further endear him to me.

“Okay, Ed,” Bryce teased.

I punched him again and the pain in my knuckles reminded me why I shouldn’t have. “Ow!”

He cracked up just as John walked over and grabbed Bryce in a bear hug, lifting him off the ground. “My son, the body builder!”

“Pops, knock it off!” Bryce struggled and managed to drop back down to the floor.

Our mother hugged Bryce. “You looked fantastic up there, sweetie. Very good job.”

Bryce scowled. I could tell he was not happy John had picked him up, and I didn’t blame him. For a man in his early fifties, John could be as exuberant as a Great Dane puppy.

“What’s with the tan-in-a-can?” I asked Bryce, trying to lighten his mood. “Did you lose a bet?”

“Ha ha,” Bryce said. “Very funny. I haven’t gotten the right formula yet. You have to do it in layers and all the other guys who compete say it’s a bitch to get it perfect. You want to help me put it on next time?”


“Yeah, you.”

“Tempting…” I pretended to ponder this, tapping my finger against the side of my mouth. “But no. Spray-tanning my naked brother just isn’t on my Bucket List.”
Learn more about the book and author at Amy Hatvany's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"Defending Jacob"

William Landay is the author of the novels Mission Flats and The Strangler. The first won the Dagger Award as best debut crime novel. The second was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award as best crime novel of the year.

Landay applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel Defending Jacob, and reported the following:
This is a difficult question to answer without giving away an important plot point, so I’ll have to be a little vague here. It is May 11, 1950, in Lowell, Massachusetts. A salesman named Rusty Barber has come to call on Birke’s clothing store to show the new line of Mighty Mac winter parkas. After the sales call, Rusty stops for lunch at a hot dog place he liked called Elliot’s. Then this:
As he left Elliot’s, there was an accident. A car swiped the front of Rusty’s Buick Special as he crept out of the parking lot. There was an argument. A shove. The other man produced a knife. When it was over, the other man lay on the street, and Rusty walked away as if nothing had happened. The man stood up with his hands pressed to his belly. Blood seeped through his fingers. He opened his shirt but held his hands over his stomach a moment, as if he had a bellyache. When the man finally pulled his hands away, a slick coiled snake of intestines drooped out of him. A vertical incision split his stomach from the pelvis to the bottom of the chestbone. With his own hands, the man lifted his intestines back into his own body, held them there, and walked inside to call the police.
Again, I can’t say much more about that incident for fear of giving away too much. Defending Jacob is woven pretty tightly. It's hard to pull out one page without unraveling a lot more of the plot.

But I will say that this scene grows out of my experience as an assistant D.A. My first assignment was in Lowell, a great community where Elliot’s and Birke’s were real places. (Elliot's is still going strong and I highly recommend it. Order a hot dog "all around." You won't be sorry.) And the stabbing described in this scene is based on an incident that occurred while I was there — a man gashed across the belly, forced to hold his intestines inside by holding his hand over his belly, pressing it closed, while he was driven to the emergency room. As for the salesman, well, it was my own grandfather who sold Mighty Mac parkas to old stores like Birke’s all over New England. As a writer you grab what you can from any source available, your own history or the lives of others, and you spin it into your story.
Learn more about the book and author at William Landay's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Strangler.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 5, 2012

"The Flight of Gemma Hardy"

Margot Livesey's first book, a collection of stories called Learning By Heart, was published by Penguin Canada in 1986. Since then she has published seven novels, including: Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, Eva Moves the Furniture, Banishing Verona, and The House on Fortune Street.

Livesey applied the Page 69 Test to The Flight of Gemma Hardy, her latest novel, and reported the following:
On p. 69 of Jane Eyre, Jane, who has become a teacher at Lowood School, advertises for a situation as a governess which of course leads to her going to Thornfield Hall and meeting Mr. Rochester.

On p. 69 of my novel, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, in which I write back to Jane Eyre, my heroine Gemma has just arrived at Claypoole School, my Scottish equivalent of Lowood, and is arguing with the minister about the interpretation of the parable of the talents. The scene shows Gemma in some characteristic ways - she has large feelings, she is not afraid to stand up for what she believes and she cannot bear mendacity. It also, I hope, captures some of the atmosphere of a small private school like the one I attended at Gemma's age. My school was set in a large country house and the grounds were surrounded by a high wall. For the most part no-one came or went without permission.

But my novel is a journey and the school is only one of the several worlds that Gemma inhabits. She grows up, much more quickly than I did, and is forced to earn her own living which leads to adventures good and bad.
Learn more about the book and author at Margot Livesey's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 3, 2012

"Danger in the Wind"

Jane Finnis's Aurelia Marcella novels tell of life and death in first-century Roman Britain, the turbulent province of Britannia, on the very edge of the Roman Empire. The series includes Get Out or Die, A Bitter Chill, and Buried Too Deep.

Finnis applied the Page 69 Test to Danger in the Wind, the fourth novel in the series, and reported the following:
Page 69 illustrates something important about this book. It doesn't contain any crime-solving, or even any crime - though we've already had several murders, achieved and attempted, and more violence will follow. But it's a prime example of the balancing act you perform when writing a novel that's part of a series.

You want to include familiar people from previous books; that's like renewing old friendships, for both writer and reader. Yet it's essential to introduce new characters too, to keep the stories fresh. On Page 69 two of the new ones are emerging, starting small, but they'll grow in importance as the story progresses.

The setting, as before, is the ancient Roman province of Britannia. The story's told by Aurelia Marcella, who runs a successful inn on the road to York. As the book opens, she receives a letter from a cousin living at a fort north of York, ostensibly inviting her to a birthday party but including a veiled, urgent plea for help. She relishes the idea of a holiday, even a slightly risky one, but before she's had time to write her acceptance, one of the inn's overnight guests is found murdered, and carrying a message indicating danger at the same place and time as Cousin Jovina's party. Aurelia's twin brother Lucius, an investigator for the provincial Governor and another familiar character, happens to be visiting Aurelia, but a rift is developing in their usually close relationship. He orders her to refuse the party invitation because of the potential danger. And he has brought home the girl he plans to marry: Vitellia, young, beautiful, and empty-headed. Aurelia tries her best, but thinks this is quite the wrong wife for her brother. When Lucius is called away on an urgent assignment he leaves Vitellia behind asking Aurelia to look after her, and assuming this makes it impossible for her to go to the party anyway. But Aurelia decides she'll ignore his orders and go whatever the risks, and she'll have to take Vitellia along too.

On Page 69 Vitellia is befriended by Baca, a young servant-girl at the inn. Both will have important roles to play later, but now, when Lucius has just ridden away, all Vitellia wants is a shoulder to cry on…as Aurelia accidentally overhears.
“I don't know what to do with myself. I can't think of anything but him. I feel so alone here. Everyone's trying to be kind, but you're all so busy, nobody has time for me really. I miss Sosia, my maid. Lucius said there was no need for me to bring her up here because he'd be with me all the time, she'd just be sitting about with nothing to do. And now he's gone away.”

“Perhaps I could be your maid,” Baca suggested, “just while you're here. I could look after you, do your hair and that. You've got lovely hair. And I could do your sewing. I noticed the blue tunic you had on yesterday has a little bit of a tear in the hem. I can fix that for you if you like.”

“Oh, thank you, Baca. But you've got your own work to do.”

“I'm in the kitchen mostly. I'd much rather be looking after you.” I heard her give a little giggle. “Believe me, sewing ladies' clothes is a lot nicer than chopping onions and pounding herbs. And maybe I could even come with you when you all go on your little holiday.”

“Holiday? I don't know anything about a holiday.”

Curse the girl, I thought, I was hoping to break that bit of news to Vitellia myself. Well, I suppose she had to find out sooner or later.

“Perhaps I've got it wrong then,” Baca was saying. “Maybe it's just the mistress who's going. So how about if I look after you while you're at the Oak Tree? Of course if it doesn't suit you…”

“Oh, but it does, Baca. Only…would Aurelia let you, do you think?”

“I'm sure she would. Ask her.”

“I don't like to. To tell the truth she frightens me. I don't think she likes me, and with Lucius not here to stand up for me…”

“Of course she does. And she likes that brother of hers too, she'd do anything for him. Don't you fret. She can be a bit sharp sometimes, but she's all right, is the Mistress. Her bark's much worse than her bite.”
And how did Aurelia react to that remark? Turn to Page 70…
Learn more about the book and author at the official Jane Finnis website.

The Page 69 Test: Buried Too Deep.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"The Little Russian"

Susan Sherman is a former Chair of the Art Department of Whittier College, a small liberal arts university once attended by President Richard Nixon. She is also the co-creator of one of the most successful television shows for children in the history of the Disney Network.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Little Russian, her first novel, and reported the following:
Although, sometimes I like to read a leisurely novel, I guess I’m not partial to writing one. By page 69 in The Little Russian, Berta Lorkis has been placed in her world, Russia at the turn of the last century. It is a world of unimaginable wealth and dismal poverty, of rich Moscow merchants and Jews living on the margins in the shtetls of Little Russia, modern day Ukraine. By page 69 we’ve seen Berta fall from the magnificence of a wealthy Moscow household to Mosny, a shtetl on the west bank of the Dneiper River; a collection of dilapidated buildings surrounding a hot dusty square. She has already met the mysterious wheat merchant, Haykel Gregorvich Alshonsky and taken a shine to him. She doesn’t know what he does when he’s not traveling the countryside buying wheat, but we do as we follow him to Kaminits and then to a small village near the Austrian border where a pogrom is imminent.

Here is an excerpt from Page 69. Peasants are arriving with potato sacks in their sledges in anticipation of the goods they plan to loot from the Jewish shops. Hershel has ordered several men up on the rooftops. He taught them how to hold a gun and calls them the naturals because they’re the best shots in town. They won’t hit anything, but at least they won’t shoot each other.
Hershel found a spot between two buildings that had a good view of the square and took in most of the roof line. He stood there among soggy newspapers, a rusted out skillet and rotting garbage and listened for the bells on the harnesses.

He soon heard them in the distance, ringing out in a variety of pitches, sounding all the more unnerving for their childish gaiety. Soon the square was filled with sledges, packed in so tightly that it was easy for a man to hand a bottle of vodka to his neighbor. Hershel looked up at the rooftops and willed the naturals to hurry.

A peasant stood up in a sledge and addressed the crowd in Surzhyk. He wore a filthy tulup, a long sheepskin coat and valenki, long winter felt boots. His head was bare and his hair was straight and thick. He was drunk, but that didn’t stop him from standing up and addressing the crowd.

“Friends,” he said, swaying slightly on his feet. “Everyday the zhyd cheats us and what do we do about it? Everyday he charges us more for sugar and tobacco. He takes our beet roots and pays us practically nothing. He says he doesn’t set the prices. Well, I would like to know who does. Do you? Does your neighbor? Maybe Baba Yaga sets the prices?” The crowded hooted at this and several men clapped.

Hershel kept scanning the rooftops. It was taking them too long.

“And now the zhyd wants our daughters,” continued the peasant. “He wants to use them as whores. To dishonor them and humiliate us.” His gestures were grander; his voice louder as he grew bolder on the approbation of the crowd. “He has taken an innocent and fouled her with his filth. Does anyone here doubt that she is as good as dead?”

Finally there was a figure on one of the rooftops. He had climbed up from the other side and was crawling over the icy shingles to the peak. There he rose cautiously to his feet, balancing in the bank of snow.
Learn more about the book and author at Susan Sherman's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue