Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Cliff Walk"

Bruce DeSilva is the author of the Liam Mulligan crime novels, Cliff Walk, which has just been released, and Rogue Island, winner of the Edgar and Macavity awards. He was a journalist for 40 years, most recently for the Associated Press, before retiring to write hardboiled crime novels full time. He and his wife, the poet Patricia Smith, live in New Jersey.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Cliff Walk and reported the following:
Cliff Walk opens in 2009, when prostitution was legal in Rhode Island (true story). Politicians have been making a lot of speeches about the shame of it, but they haven't done doing anything about it. Mulligan, a wise-cracking investigative reporter for a dying Providence newspaper, suspects that's because they are being paid off. As he investigates, he is promised free sex with hookers if he minds his own business -- and a savage beating if he doesn't. His investigation takes him through the underbelly of the state's sex trade, and what he discovers there will challenge his long-held believes about sexual morality and shatter his tenuous religious faith.

You don't get a whiff of that from page 69, which begins chapter 10. What you get instead is a bit of description as Mulligan heads to a small Rhode Island town to touch base with one of his buddies. When you read it, you need to know that Secretariat is Mulligan's pet name for his decrepit, ten-year-old Ford Bronco.

From page 69:
A half hour south of Providence, the little town of Warren clings like a barnacle to the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay. Here, the water is sometimes streaked with sewage, and quahogs angry with coliform bacteria pave the mucky bottom. Man Street, several hundred yards from and parallel to the shoreline, is a postcard from the Great Depression -- old corner drugstore, red-brick town hall with Palladian windows, and ramshackle wood-frame storefronts with vacant office space on the second and third floors.

I parked Secretariat at a meter in front of a narrow storefront office two doors north of the police station. The office had housed a three-reporter bureau until the Dispatch closed it down a couple of years ago to save money. Now, black lettering on the glass front door read "Bruce McCracken, Private Investigations." I entered and found him alone, sitting behind a computer on an oak desk that had seen better days. For the desk, like the town, those better days were ninety years ago. A bank of dented metal file cabinets and an old black safe the size of a minifridge had been shoved against the back wall. The only decent pieces of furniture in the place were the black leather swivel chair he was sitting in and two client chairs lined up in front of his desk.
Learn more about the book and author at Bruce DeSilva's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Rogue Island.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Bruce DeSilva and Brady.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"An Uncommon Education"

Elizabeth Percer is a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and has twice been honored by the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation. She received a BA in English from Wellesley and a PhD in arts education from Stanford University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship for the National Writing Project at UC Berkeley. She lives in California with her husband and three children. An Uncommon Education is her first novel.

Percer applied the Page 69 Test to An Uncommon Education, her first novel, and reported the following:
I think one way I perceive my job as a novelist is to portray how people evolve over time. In that vein, I think that no one page should be representative of the book as a whole. The novel, in my mind, is a piece of writing that is perhaps most notable in its ability to capture the slow, creeping significance of real change. So, no, I am happy to report that I don't think page 69 is representative of the book as a whole, though it does touch on one of its themes. Namely, the theme of extreme reactions (both positive and negative) to others' unhappiness. On page 69 of An Uncommon Education, the children react to Teddy's mother's poisonous disapproval by escaping into the woods for an afternoon of ecstatic play, while her husband sticks to her side, "defer(ing) to her misery." I think we tend to underestimate the motivating power of discontent, and I've tried to play with that idea in several ways throughout the novel.
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth Percer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"The Kissing List"

Stephanie Reents's fiction has been included in the O. Henry Prize Stories, noted in Best American Short Stories, and has appeared in numerous journals. She has been a Bread Loaf Conference Scholar, a Stegner Fellow, and a Rhodes Scholar. Reents is an assistant professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

She  applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, The Kissing List, and reported the following:
I was hoping, as I thumbed through my collection of interconnected stories, The Kissing List, that page 69 might feature one of my female characters falling in love and/or kickboxing, but then I remembered that most of my book deals with love’s disappointments, the heartbreaking loss of friends, and unsatisfying jobs.

We spend so much of our 20s figuring out who we are and what we want to do with our lives, and our choice of a career is a big part of that. I wanted some of my stories to deal with the mundane realities of the working world and the hard choices that young people face as they reluctantly let go of some of the idealism they nurtured in college. In “Temporary,” the protagonist, Vita, has found temporary refuge in temping because it allows her to imagine that she can still become anything, but by the final pages of the story, with the financial pressures of supporting herself increasing, she concludes that “[a] temp is just a worker with commitment issues.”

On Page 69, Vita is interviewing for a job at a trade publication that puts out newsletters like “The Secondary Loan Market” and “Derivatives Today.” As part of the interview, she has been asked to write a make-believe article about a rumored “M & A” deal, and because she’s still a little green, she has revealed the identity of one of her off-the-record sources to another source, which is a big no-no according to Leo, the man interviewing her.

Is page 69 representative of the rest of my book? Does it pass the test? Gosh, I don’t know. I think it does a pretty good job of finding humor in an awkward situation.

Page 69 of The Kissing List:
“I’m sorry,” [Vita] says. “I just assumed…I don’t know…that an anonymous source isn’t super reliable, and you can’t build a story around one? That was our policy at school.”

“This is the real world,” Leo continues, “and in the real world people’s asses are on the line all the time, but especially when they pass on information you shouldn’t have. Let me tell you…” He pauses, looking down at her resume. “…Vita, anyone who’s anyone around here has only gotten there by cultivating reliable inside sources. By being discreet. By being a good friend.”

“I’m sorry,” she says again. “Is he going to be OK?”


“My inside source?”

For a split second he stares at her. Then he laughs. It sounds like barking. “You’re funny.”

She smiles, as though she’s a person capable of telling jokes when in truth the story has sucked her into its vortex, its hold so tight she has momentarily forgotten that it’s fabricated. Plus: she can’t stand making mistakes, even fictional ones. Plus: this is a job interview. Crimeny.

“I’ll be in touch,” Leo says, standing and offering his hand.

“Thanks,” she says, thinking she needs to cultivate a firmer grip. “I know I made a mistake, but I think I’d make a great reporter.”
Learn more about the book and author at Stephanie Reents's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 25, 2012


Keith Brooke writes science fiction, fantasy and other strange things.

He also runs infinity plus ebooks, publishing the work of Eric Brown, Anna Tambour, John Grant, Kaitlin Queen, Paul di Filippo, Iain Rowan, Neil Williamson and others.

Brooke applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Harmony, and reported the following:
I'll have to work from the UK edition for this, as I don't have any copies of the US edition yet - the pagination may be a little different.

Page 69 is actually quite a slow page. Have I failed the test already?

My protagonist, Dodge, is walking through his home city, and I've used the journey to trigger a flashback to when he had roamed these streets in a gang of teenagers, dodging the occupying alien forces and coming up against other gangs.

The flashback ends and Dodge just wants to be home:

"I'd done my job, and I didn't need any more trouble. I just had to get home before seventh and curfew."

So he's been out on risky business, then. And the city's under curfew: maybe this quiet passage is working okay for building up a bit of tension after all.


"At this point I was still slow to understand what was happening, but my home city had turned dangerous since the four refugees had arrived from Angiere, even here in this chlick-pet human enclave of Satinbower."

Yes, definitely signs of something big - and dangerous - afoot. The city that he's been walking through, a strange mix of alien and human, is changing and what was once familiar and relatively safe has now become threatening.

And that's a fair snapshot of the book as a whole: the story of a bunch of humans who have grown up on an Earth that has always been occupied by aliens, coming to understand that there's a bigger picture - one that might have no place at all for humankind...
Learn more about the book and author at Keith Brooke's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Alyson Hagy was raised on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She is the author of three collections of short fiction and the novels Keeneland and Snow, Ashes. She lives and teaches in Laramie, Wyoming.

Hagy applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Boleto, and reported the following:
A new character steps into Boleto on page 69 – the eccentric veterinarian Art Slocum. Will’s filly has been hurt in a fracas with one of his father’s block-headed geldings, and Will is worried the injury is a bad one. He wants the best for the filly. But he doesn’t have a lot of money. After some discussion with his father and brother, he decides to contact Art. Art has a mixed reputation. Everyone believes he’s a great doctor. But not everyone likes his attitudes.

What does page 69 reveal about Boleto? I think it’s an example of how Will’s world is filled with craftsmen and itinerants, most of them generous with both animals and people. Art uses massage and a kind of “laying on of hands” to treat injured horses. He gets grief for his unusual habits. But he’s also earned respect because his methods work.

Will meets several older, blunt-talking characters like Art through the course of the novel. I wanted those characters to build a kind of community for the reader, something like the loosely-woven communities John Steinbeck builds among his flawed working men in novels like Tortilla Flats and Cannery Row. I also wanted Will to come into contact with men and women who’ve paid a price for living by their own rules. Will’s a quietly stubborn young fellow. He thinks he can make his own way. The novel tests that belief.

Finally, Art is a funny guy. He’s wry and willing to laugh at himself. Every book needs laughter, and plenty of it.
Learn more about Boleto at the Graywolf Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 21, 2012

"A Partial History of Lost Causes"

Jennifer duBois was born in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1983. She earned a B.A. in political science and philosophy from Tufts University and an M.F.A. in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She recently completed a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, where she is currently the Nancy Packer Lecturer in Continuing Studies. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Playboy, The Missouri Review, The Kenyon Review, The Florida Review, The Northwest Review, Narrative, ZYZZYVA, FiveChapters and elsewhere.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, and reported the following:
Page 69 is an important page in A Partial History of Lost Causes—it concerns the moment when Aleksandr Bezetov, recently expelled from his chess academy for being too obnoxiously good at chess, first becomes involved with the samizdat dissident journal run by his friends Ivan and Nikolai. This isn’t quite as heroic as it sounds; on p. 69, Aleksandr is still young and adrift and pathologically passive, and the dissident journal fills the void in his days that the academy has left. Chess and politics are at odds throughout Aleksandr’s life, and he goes on to make serious ethical compromises to continue his career; his work for the samizdat movement marks the beginning, not the end, of a long and circuitous moral journey. But Aleksandr learns and sees things during his time in the movement that he never forgets. Those memories inform his values when he finally returns to opposition politics in the Putin era; that time around, his entry into politics is actually intentional—and, arguably, rather heroic.
Learn more about the book and author at the official Jennifer DuBois website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Simon Mawer is the author of the New York Times best-selling novel The Glass Room, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. His previous novels include The Fall (winner of the Boardman Tasker Prize), The Gospel of Judas, and Mendel’s Dwarf (long-listed for the Man Booker Prize). English by birth, he has made Italy his home for more than thirty years.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Trapeze, and reported the following:
Problem: page 69 in the US edition is just the end of a letter followed by a whole lot of blank space. Now I could extemporise on blank space for hundreds of pages – it’s called writing a novel – but as I’ve got a word limit here, I’ll cheat and take page 69 of the UK edition. Incidentally, in its British manifestation the book has a different title: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky.

So what you get on page 69 of TGWFFTS is dialogue, and it’s clearly someone being interviewed or maybe, the realisation will dawn on the casual browser, interrogated. “Look, I want my clothes. I’m cold and I want my clothes. You can’t keep me like this—”

She’s naked?

Oh, no, not quite: “We can keep you how we please. We can strip you naked if we like. Now tell us their address.”

And then you realise it’s a fake interrogation… but she played the game, knowing that one day it might not be a game any longer and she wouldn’t have a Get Out of Jail card and the men behind the lights would be members of the Gestapo.

Following that, there’s an abrupt cut to a new section. Miss Atkins is talking with her in an office, turning over the pages of her file at the same time – “Tolerated arrest and interrogation,” she reads, “Kept to her cover story throughout and made no slips” – and then looking up and saying, “I’m putting you forward for immediate deployment in the field. You’ll go in the next moon period,” and you know what’s happening. It’s the moment when Marian Sutro, a mere nineteen years old, is being dispatched on the biggest and most frightening adventure of her life.

Yes, page 69 works quite well…
Learn more about the book and author at Simon Mawer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Lucky Bastard"

S.G. Browne worked in Hollywood for several years before moving to Santa Cruz to be a writer. He currently lives and writes in San Francisco. His novels include Breathers: A Zombie's Lament.

Browne applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Lucky Bastard, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
A few years later, when Mandy and Ted got married and I missed the wedding because I was poaching luck from a lottery winner in Iowa, Mandy called to ream me out.

“Where were you?”

No “Hey” or “How’s it going?” Just right into attack mode.

“Where was I when?”

“Last weekend, asshole.”

“I was in Iowa. Why? What are you so upset about?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’m upset because you missed my wedding!”

That’s one of those ohhh moments, when you realize no matter what you say it’s not going to make things better.

“Ohhh. I’m sorry. I totally forgot.”

But you can definitely make them worse.

“You forgot?”

“Yeah. I was poaching from a Powerball winner who won three hundred and eighteen million dollars in the lottery.”
Page 69 of Lucky Bastard is the middle of a brief three page flashback by the protagonist, Nick Monday, about his sister, Mandy. While Mandy plays a significant role in the story and in Nick’s character development, I wouldn’t say the page is representative of the rest of the novel.

First of all, there’s not much humor or banter here and Nick’s sarcastic wisecracks are in limited supply. So I’d say his narrative voice isn’t fully on display here.

Second, considering the novel starts out on the roof of a hotel with a naked woman holding Nick at knifepoint and then recounts over the course of a single day how he ended up on the hotel roof, the novel has more action than is indicated by this sampling.

Finally, while Page 69 touches on Nick’s ability to poach luck, it lacks his whimsical philosophizing about good luck and bad luck that permeates the rest of the novel.
Learn more about the book and author at S.G. Browne's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Breathers: A Zombie's Lament.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"The Cottage at Glass Beach"

Heather Barbieri is the author of the novels Snow in July and The Lace Makers of Glenmara.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her third novel, The Cottage at Glass Beach, and reported the following:
The Cottage at Glass Beach follows the story of Nora Cunningham, a political wife who retreats to a Burke’s Island, the remote community where she was born, seeking answers to her mother’s decades’-old disappearance, and to put distance between herself and the scandal surrounding her attorney general husband. But Nora finds more than she bargained for, as she struggles to confront the past and save her young children, who have embarked on a reckless journey of their own.

Is page 69 representative of the novel? It certainly provides a window into some of the central aspects of the novel, Nora’s memories of her mother, her relationship with her own children, and the enigmatic sea itself.

In this section, Nora is swimming in the cove near the cottage where she was born. Seals appear, leading her into deeper water, in both a literal and metaphorical sense, as she remembers her mother, Maeve, teaching her to swim, the seals ever-present and mysterious, then, as now.
She dove down, surfaced, stroking through the water with ease. It was as if the ocean itself were breathing, its swell the rise and fall of its chest, as if she breathed with it, inextricably connected. A seal appeared, then another, swimming alongside, leading her into deeper waters. She felt as if she could go on for hours, as if she might never stop.
. . . .

The seals had followed her and Maeve during the lessons.

“What do they want?” Nora asked.

“They’re curious. They wonder what sort of creatures we are.”

“What are we?”

“What do you want to be?”

“A sea creature.”

“Then that’s what you are.”
Nora is drifting away from her daughters, who wait closer to shore, pulled by the past and by the currents. Ella, the oldest, is unsettled by the sudden move to the island and her parents’ faltering marriage, worries most.
“Mom!” Ella cried.

Nora turned, treading water. She was outside the cove now. Ella stood on an outcrop, waving her arms and yelling. “Didn’t you hear me calling you? That’s too far!” She looked so small, standing there.
Page 69 definitely give a taste of the novel’s tone, complexity, characters, and evocative landscape, more of which awaits the reader on the other 301 pages.
Learn more about the book and author at Heather Barbieri’s website.

The Page 69 Test: The Lace Makers of Glenmara.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 13, 2012

"A Gift for My Sister"

Ann Pearlman is a writer of both fiction, and non-fiction books and has been passionate about writing since eighth grade. Getting Free: Women and Psychotherapy was written with two colleagues and used as both a consciousness-raising book in the woman’s movement as well as college textbook.  Keep the Home Fires Burning: How to Have an Affair With Your Spouse, garnered the attention of the Oprah Winfrey Show and many other TV talk shows. Her memoir, Infidelity, was nominated for National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and made into a Lifetime movie by Lionsgate. Inside the Crips, with a foreword by Ice T, took readers into the life of a Crip gang member and the California Prison system. The Christmas Cookie Club became an international bestseller, spawning cookie exchanges and donations to charity.

Pearlman applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Gift for My Sister, and reported the following:
A Gift for My Sister arrived by UPS today and, after admiring the spectacular job my publisher has done, (galleys and digital images can’t prepare for the beauty of suede matt cover juxtaposed with shiny foil print) I opened to page 69 with the held breath of excitement and trepidation wondering what I would find.

And it’s one of my favorite scenes in the book. Partly because it’s set in Venice Beach, partly because it is a vignette between a mother and young children, partly because it reveals the loving, responsible side of impetuous rap star, Tara, partly because it hints at the unpredictability and fragility of life, and partly because it sets the stage, through the children, for these two antagonistic sisters to finally come together.

The set up: Tara looks after her son, Levy, and her niece, Rachel while Rachel’s mom, Sky, is with her ill husband. Cautious and conservative Sky has always railed against her sister, who got pregnant in high school and ran away to be with Aaron, a black rapper with a juvenile record. Tara and Aaron, now on the brink of stardom, are in LA for a concert. Life is about to make a astonishing shift for both these sisters. The short beach scene has harbingers of the future for all of them and is told in Tara’s voice. Levy is walking in the sand for the first time when he notices Tara’s footprints:
“Look,” he says, “You’re leaving marks.”

“Yep, you are, too,” I point to his small imprints, his toes rounded like Aaron’s.

“How’s it do that?”

“You squash the sand down,” I tell him.

He presses a foot down and carefully lifts it. Rachel follows suit. Then he walks looking backward watching the pattern our steps make, evidence of the three of us, marching across the beach. He turns, “Look what’s in my foot, Mommy.” A stone is imbedded in the sand at the ball of his imprint. He reaches down, picks it up, and hands it to me.

“Oh, it’s shaped just like a heart and it’s deep red, too.”

He grins at me.

I hand it back to him.

“For you, Mommy. My foot found it for you.”

When we walk back the tide has washed our footprints away. “Where’d they go?” Levy asks.

Rachel points to the sea, “Gone there.”

“A wave made the sand new again,” I tell him.

Levy’s lips turn down and then he smiles, “I’m walking in water,” he laughs.

We keep making new footprints.
Learn more about the book and author at Ann Pearlman's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 11, 2012

"Fatal Induction"

Bernadette Pajer is the author of the Professor Bradshaw Mystery series. A graduate of the University of Washington, Pajer is a proud member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Northwest Science Writers, and the Research is Pajer’s favorite activity, and she happily delves into Seattle’s past and the early days of electrical invention as she plots Professor Bradshaw’s investigations.

Pajer applied the Page 69 Test to Fatal Induction, the second Professor Bradshaw Mystery, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Fatal Induction finds Professor Benjamin Bradshaw out of his element down in the seedy tenderloin district of Seattle in 1901 (later the area would infamously be called Skid Road), and yes, I'd say this page is representative of the investigation Bradshaw is compelled to undertake. While electrical invention plays a key role, Bradshaw's second book takes him outside his comfort zone, revealing much about him and his relationship with those closest to him—his eight-year-old son, his housekeeper, Henry Pratt, and Detective O'Brien of the Seattle Police.

Multiple concerns, at first seemingly unrelated, tug at Bradshaw as the story begins. Hovering menacingly in the background is the shooting of President McKinley in Buffalo, NY. In Seattle, as elsewhere across the country, crowds gather around newspaper offices, waiting to hear if the president will pull through. Bradshaw tries to focus on an electrical competition at the Seattle Grand Theater. The winner's telephonic system will bring sounds of the theater directly to subscribers' homes through their telephones. It's a service enjoyed in major cities around the world, and it would be the first ever in the western United States. But Bradshaw's distracted by an abandoned patent medicine wagon behind his house in which a father and child lived. The child is missing, and it appears she may have witnessed a murder. It's his search for the child that drives Bradshaw into this scene on page 69, down into the tenderloin, following the girl's trail.

There are details mentioned here that are intimately tied to the murder mystery, and there is a hidden clue here that is telling, but only if you've read the first 68 pages. Any guesses?

Excerpt page 69 Fatal Induction:
“Found it.”

“Just like that. Found it. Are you in the habit of taking whatever property you stumble across?”

“Abandoned property is fair game. Finders keepers.”

“Where’d you get this other?” Bradshaw skimmed the blue label in his hand. Dr. Drummer’s Proven Elixir. Medical science’s most powerful formula to restore the natural balance and ensure health, wealth, and happiness. This powerful tonic has been especially and scientifically created for Men and Women Suffering from Degradation and Despair. A thrice daily dose will dispel Aches, Pains, Vermin, Disease, Addiction, and Failure.

He looked up. The peddler had turned away and was waving the bottle at disinterested people across the street. Bradshaw stood silently, patiently. He’d been a teacher for enough years to recognize evasion. He also knew the power of waiting it out. Five minutes passed, and finally the exasperated peddler wheedled, “What you want from me? I got it from my usual source, and it’s all legit and above board and I got a license from the Pharmacy Board to sell and no you can’t see it, you ain’t no cop.”

“Who’s your usual source?”

“You want to get into the business, I ain’t helping you. Now beat it, this is my corner, bought and paid for, and you’re scaring away my customers.”

“How do you buy a street corner?”

“What are you, stupid? Nobody could be that green.”

The peddler meant, of course, he was paying the police or some other person of authority to keep competitors away from this spot. “Paying graft for privileges or protection? That’s illegal.”

“That’s business in this part of town, and you’d better learn the ropes if you don’t want to wash up on the tide flats.”

Bradshaw wasn’t frightened. Bluster and exaggeration were as common as mud around here. And yet…the soggy lot on Capitol Hill was far above the tide flats, but a body had washed up there.

“Show me where you found Ralph’s.” He produced another bill that was quickly snatched.
Learn more about the book and author at Bernadette Pajer's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Spark of Death.

Writers Read: Bernadette Pajer (July 2011).

My Book, The Movie: A Spark of Death.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Powers of Arrest"

Jon Talton's novels include the thriller, Deadline Man, several David Mapstone mysteries, and The Pain Nurse, the first of The Cincinnati Casebooks series.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Powers of Arrest, a new Cincinnati Casebook, and reported the following:
This page is one that I hope would snag the reader who opens the book here. Cheryl Beth has just returned home after the first set of grisly murders and she’s left alone with her thoughts and dread. But she’s the kind of person who won’t allow a vacuum to go unfilled, and she will soon take action. Here we get to know her better and see her prepare to propel the story forward. It’s also the start of a new chapter.
Learn more about the book and author at Jon Talton's website.

My Book, The Movie: Jon Talton's David Mapstone mysteries.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"The Water Children"

Anne Berry was born in London and moved to Hong Kong at the age of six, where she was educated. She founded a small drama school, writing and directing more than thirty plays in ten years, and now lives in Surrey with her husband and four children. Her first novel, The Hungry Ghosts, was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

Berry applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel The Water Children, and reported the following:
I held my breath as I flipped through The Water Children to page 69. Then a sigh of relief. It is one of the most poignant moments in the book. In the wake of his sister’s death by drowning, weighed down by the unbearable guilt Owen bears for his part in the accident, his family disintegrates. His mother has sought solace in the arms of another man. In a house where father and son have been deserted, Owen haunts his dead sister’s bedroom. Here he is tormented by the Merfolk, ghostly sea creatures who have invaded his young mind since the tragedy. In the early hours of the morning he hears his mother steal into the house. Creeping from his room he finds her seated on the stairs, her suitcase across her knees. Now he faces the ultimate rejection. His mother is leaving him. Does she go? You must turn the page to find out. Page 69 in my novel is a springboard. From this point on it is Owen who seeks to escape bereavement and loss. This is what propels him to London, not to seek his fortune but to seek oblivion from the watery demons that plague his every waking hour. And there he falls in with three other water children fleeing their own devils. All are vulnerable. But Naomi, the darkest water child of them all, oh she is deadly poison! From the moment of their union, paradoxically the fight for freedom from themselves transforms into a trap far more menacing than their scarred pasts.
There is no tea that night. Owen sits upstairs in Sarah’s room on the balding, apple-green coverlet, as the darkness digests the small house. He resists its advance, leaving on the bedside lamp. He will not give way to tiredness and close his eyes. And, as if he is plagued with vertigo crouching on the ledge of a skyscraper, he will not look down either. He does not have to peek to know that they are there, reptiles writhing about Sarah’s bed. Their shadows glide like blue-grey fish among the sweeping ferns of her flocked wallpaper. Sometime in the night, or perhaps it is the morning, he hears the Humber Super Snipe return, hears it revving outside the window. But still he does not move, just follows the Merfolk as they weave and slide along the aquarium walls of Sarah’s bedroom. Later, the click of the front door sounds very loud in the orphaned house, and the drone of the milk truck that follows it, almost deafening.

When he ventures out of Sarah’s room, he finds his mother sitting on the stairs, a suitcase propped on her lap. He has to clamber over her and it is a tricky operation in the greyness. On a lower step he swivels round and, feet apart, legs braced, faces her. For the longest time their eyes lock. He wonders if, like him, she is thinking of the day they made the snowman together.

“Where are you going, Mother?” he asks in a small voice. He hears a noise and glancing over his shoulder sees his father, face crinkled like a used tea bag, cheeks still stained with brown streaks, standing, hands in pockets in the lounge doorway. “Are you leaving, Mother?”
Learn more about the book and author at Anne Berry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 6, 2012

"Border Run"

Simon Lewis studied Art at Goldmiths College in London, then worked as a travel writer in Asia. He researched the Rough Guides to China, Beijing, and Shanghai as well as writing for newspapers and magazines.

His first novel Go (1999), a travel thriller about backpackers, was written in a village in the Himalayas. His second novel, Bad Traffic (2008), is a crime thriller about people smugglers, featuring Chinese policeman Inspector Jian.

Lewis applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel Border Run, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Border Run, a holiday adventure is just beginning to go seriously wrong. Two backpackers, Jake and Will, have been tempted into the remote forest on the border between Burma and China. Their guide, Howard, has promised them an untouched, secret waterfall and the possibility of dalliances with the local tribal women. Now they're on their way back and Howard's Jeep has been stopped by a customs official on a remote forest track.

Unsuspecting Jake asks, 'What's that? Is it a checkpoint?'

The other backpacker, Will, has already discovered the truth - that Howard is smuggling illicit goods from out of Burma, using the backpackers as cover. Both he and Howard are trying hard to conceal their nerves.

'It's not a checkpoint,' snapped Howard. He stopped the Jeep, looked round, and said 'It'll be fine.' The stillness after the engine cut out seemed ponderous. Howard's fingers tapped lightly on the underside of the steering wheel.

But it is the ignorant Jake who panics - he has a little amphetamine, and is terrified that the official will search them and discover it:
Jake groped in his bag. 'I've still got that wrap. I'd better ditch it. I can't remember where I put it.' He rummaged in one zipped compartment, gave up, and moved on to the next. That too, was no good... a pair of socks fell into the footwell. Jake withdrew his hand and shook it to loosen a tangle of headphone leads. 'It should be in here, I'm sure it was in here... must have slipped down the side.'

'Relax, said Howard. 'He doesn't care about us. We're civilians. Put the bag down.' Then speaking through gritted teeth, he hissed it, slower, like a threat. 'Put.. the... bag.. down.'
The forthcoming encounter with the customs official will prove fateful for all concerned. The two naive backpackers are about to discover how easy it is, when you're a long way from the world you know, to find yourself slipping over the line - into moral decay and murder. And there's nothing like a crisis for finding out who your real friends are.
Learn more about the book and author at Simon Lewis' website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Bad Traffic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 4, 2012

"Darker Than Any Shadow"

Tina Whittle is a mystery writer working in Statesboro, Georgia. Her short fiction has appeared in The Savannah Literary Journal, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and Gulf Stream, which selected her story “Lost Causes and Other Reasons to Live” as the 2004 winner of their Mystery Fiction contest. She is a columnist and feature writer for The 11th Hour, a local alternative newspaper, and also works as a professional tarot reader.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Darker Than Any Shadow, the second novel in the Tai Randolph series, and reported the following:
Q: So we’re looking at page 69 of Darker Than Any Shadow — any sex on this page?

A: No, the sex is on page 67. And 177. But nothing here, sorry.

Q: How about gunplay?

A: That’s later, when the python shows up.

Q: So who is this guy asking the question at the top of page 69: “Where should we start?”

A: That’s Trey Seaver, one of my protagonists. In this scene, he’s clean up a restaurant after a suspicious fire wrecked the place and a malicious poet met an untimely and brutal death.

Q: And this is where your other protagonist comes in?

A: Tai Randolph, yes. She’s helping too, but while Trey is altruistically shouldering a broom, Tai is sneaking past the police tape to investigate the crime scene.

Q: So why is this an important scene?

A: It’s a quick glimpse into the personalities of Trey and Tai — now lovers, but still at cross purposes most of the time. A former SWAT officer with the Atlanta police force, Trey is a corporate security agent — he’s usually Armani-clad, impeccably groomed, and utterly rule-driven. Tai is a slightly frazzled Low Country redneck, trying to reinvent her life through an unexpected inheritance — a Confederate-themed gun shop. She’s smart, sneaky, and too curious for her own good. They make a complementary if contentious pair, both in romance and crime-solving.

As Tai explains, watching Trey poke about the water-soaked restaurant, “I wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but I knew his process—start at the beginning. My process was different. I started by finding something with a lid on it. Then I pulled the lid off.”

Q: And the crime that she pulls the lid off?

A: Murder most foul. Take a bunch of cut-throat performance poets, add money and glory, toss in some blackmail...

Q: Poets?

A: Trust me, they’re not your stereotypical “daffodils and fluffy cloud” poets.

Q: I’m still not getting how a python fits into all this.

A: Just read the book.
Learn more about the book and author at Tina Whittle's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"Wicked Eddies"

Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series (A Real Basket Case, a Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, and To Hell in a Handbasket) and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner (Deadly Currents and Wicked Eddies).

She applied the Page 69 Test to Wicked Eddies and reported the following:
In Wicked Eddies, the Page 69 test puts the reader squarely in the typical life of my 27-year-old whitewater river ranger sleuth, Mandy Tanner. While doing laundry on her day off at her home in Salida, Colorado, accompanied by her dog Lucky, she gets a call at home from the ranger station dispatcher:
“Sorry to call you in on your day off, Mandy, but we’ve got a body search situation where we need all hands.”

Mandy stowed her laundry basket back in her closet and sat on the bed to scratch behind Lucky’s ears. “What’s going on?”

“A woman reported her husband missing last night. She said he told her he’d be camping and fishing at Ruby Mountain for a few days, but she noticed after he left that he’d forgotten his box of flies. When she drove to Ruby Mountain to deliver the box, his truck was parked there, but she saw no sign of him. He didn’t respond to her shouts either. She searched for him along the banks for a couple of hours before it got pitch black, then she called in the report.”

Damn, Mandy thought. Ruby Mountain was just upstream from Brown’s Canyon, a rushing series of Class III and IV rapids that was the most popular whitewater rafting run on the upper Arkansas River. If the man’s fishing waders filled up and he was washed into the canyon, his chances were slim to none. Worried it might be someone she knew, Mandy asked, “What’s the man’s name?”

“Arnold Crawford. You know him?”
Wicked Eddies starts off with a bang when Mandy discovers the dead body of a fly fisherman in a riverside campground days before a huge tournament. Fly fishing is dangerous? True, the Arkansas River can be a man-eater, but the rapids weren’t responsible for driving a hatchet into the neck of would-be competitor Howie Abbott―a secretive man who may have been cheating. While casting about for suspects, Mandy seeks clues from Abbott’s family members, including her best friend, bartender Cynthia Abbott.

This river search that Mandy gets called out on in page 69 will reveal a huge surprise that has a bearing on the case and will plunge Mandy even further into the swirling intrigue surrounding Howie’s murder. When her friend Cynthia becomes the prime suspect, Mandy realizes she’s wading into deeper, more hazardous waters than ever. As Kirkus Reviews says in their May 1 issue, “Once again, Groundwater, mixing mystery with outdoor adventure, comes up with an excursion that will please most comers.”
Learn more about the book and author at Beth Groundwater's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"All Woman and Springtime"

Brandon W. Jones lives off-grid in Hawaii, tucked in a small cottage in the jungle with his wife and their beloved cat, Ula. He writes every day, when he is not teaching himself to play the cello, sculpting, working on one of his countless crazy inventions or tending the land in his care.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, All Woman and Springtime, and reported the following:
When I first read the rules for the page 69 test, I was hoping that my page 69 would fall on the section break that reads only, “Part II.” That would have given me an opportunity to discuss the structure of my novel, which often gets overlooked to discuss more tangible elements such as plot, character and the bizarre setting of North Korea. It looks like I will have to leave that discussion for another time. As it turns out, page 69 is mostly blank, which, I hope, is not some cosmic page 69 litmus indicator of a novel lacking in substance. 69 is the last page of chapter 15, and may very well be the least representative page of the whole novel. On it is mostly dialogue, a device I used infrequently in the book, between two important, but secondary characters who are setting up an illicit transaction. The main characters who drive the story are not even indirectly mentioned. I suppose, however, that this would be a good place to discuss my use of secondary characters to tell the story of All Woman and Springtime.

Throughout the novel I included chapters from the perspectives of secondary characters because I felt that they provided a wider scope for the unusual situation in North Korea, as well as to give texture to the sex trade underworld. The story of my main characters is a direct result of the scheming and justifications of the secondary characters, and their fates are intertwined. Even though it is a novel with main characters who we hope to see triumph over hardship, it is not a novel about those characters. All Woman and Springtime is about crossing boundaries of all kinds, about universal humanity that transcends borders and cultures, about taking charge of one’s own destiny. One probably would not glean these things from page 69.
Learn more about the book and author at Brandon W. Jones's website.

--Marshal Zeringue