Saturday, March 30, 2013

"Man in the Empty Suit"

Sean Ferrell's novels include Numb (2010) and the newly released Man in the Empty Suit.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Man in the Empty Suit and reported the following:
I think that page 69 is representative of the book because it is filled with denial, deceit and questions of culpability, even though it only features one person.

From page 69:
Video was waiting for me. I marveled at dark circles beneath his eyes. He gestured, urgent, waved a hand in the direction of the door as if saying, Go on, go ahead.

I turned to Yellow. "Did you watch this?"

"Are you crazy? This place reeks of paradoxes. I never saw it before, so I shouldn't have seen it now. Seventy didn't even remember seeing any of this shit."

"He didn't?"

"Did I fucking slur my words?"
The protagonist is plagued by other versions of himself--those he used to be and those he'll become. And though there ought to be trust, or at least understanding, there is only paranoia and deceit. In the quote above, Yellow, Seventy and Video are all versions of the narrator, and each of them has an agenda. At this point the dominoes
are already falling (the narrator has been tasked with preventing an older version of himself from being murdered) and the narrator, already unhappy to be surrounded by these other selves, is beginning to actively distrust them. The events of page 69, the narrator viewing a video he'll make of himself in the future, is very much in the spirit of the whole book.
Learn more about the book and author at Sean Ferrell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Blunt Impact"

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department. Her books have been translated into six languages. Evidence of Murder reached the New York Times mass market bestseller’s list.

Blunt Impact, Black's latest novel featuring forensic scientist Theresa MacLean, debuts on April 1st. The author applied the Page 69 Test to the new novel and reported the following:
Blunt Impact is the story of a series of murders at a skyscraper under construction, beginning as young, sexy concrete worker Samantha is thrown from the 23rd floor. The only witness is her 11-year old daughter Anna, nicknamed Ghost. Ghost is determined to find her mother’s killer, and forensic scientist Theresa MacLean is determined to keep Ghost safe.

However, page 69 doesn’t tell you about any of that. On page 69 none of my main characters appear, not Theresa, nor her first cousin, homicide detective Frank Patrick, nor the homely prosecutor Ian Bauer who develops more interest in Theresa than he does in the murder. No, page 69 belongs to low-level criminal Damon, who has, we believe, nothing to do with the murders of the construction workers. Damon has been assigned to the job site, along with his partner Boonie, for a much more practical reason: they are systematically stealing the expensive copper piping designed for use in the new building. On page 69 he is transporting another load to an abandoned motel pressed into service as a free you-store-it facility.

Damon and Boonie work, not for the construction foreman, but for the boss of their quadrant of the city of Cleveland, a portly, deceptively slow-talking man referred to simply as ‘the boss.’ In his very, very careful way Damon likes the man and hopes to learn from him. Also, though he knows better than to admit it to any of his friends or colleagues, he kind of likes the honest labor of construction work. After all his usual occupation, that of drug dealer, can be quite stressful.

But on page 69 they also touch on the controversy surrounding the new building—it is a jail with a radical new design. Believing that the biggest danger to prison inmates is other inmates, the designers have made each cell solitary, with a small outside area and built-in television and academic-themed computer system. The idea is that each inmate will have enough room for study and exercise without having to leave their cell and therefore encounter other, possibly hostile, inmates. Is this putting humans in a kennel? Or is it making them safe so that they can stop spending every minute guarding themselves and get on with the business of rehabilitation? The boss knows what he thinks. Damon isn’t so sure.

None of this, however, tell us who killed Sam—or who’s after Ghost.
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

Writers Read: Lisa Black.

My Book, The Movie: Blunt Impact.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Red Planet Blues"

Robert J. Sawyer is one of only eight writers in history — and the only Canadian — to win all three of the world's top Science Fiction awards for best novel of the year: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Red Planet Blues, and reported the following:
Page 69 in its entirety:
I wondered if a transfer’s time sense ever slows down, or if it is always perfectly quartz-crystal timed. Certainly, time seemed to attenuate for me then. I swear I could actually see the bullet as it followed its trajectory from my gun, covering the three meters between the barrel and—

And not, of course, Cassandra’s torso.

Nor her head.

She was right; I probably couldn’t harm her that way.

No, instead, I’d aimed past her, at the table on which Pickover was lying on his back. Specifically, I’d aimed at the place where the thick nylon band that crossed over his torso, pinning his arms, was anchored on the right-hand side—the point where it made a taut diagonal line between where it was attached to the side of the table and the top of Pickover’s arm.

The bullet sliced through the band, cutting it in two. The long portion, freed of tension, flew up and over his torso like a snake that had just had 40,000 volts pumped through it.

Cassandra’s eyes went wide in astonishment that I’d missed her, and her head swung around. The report of the bullet was still ringing in my ears, but I swear I could also hear the zzzzinnnng! of the restraining band snapping free. To be hypersensitive to pain, I figured you’d have to have decent reaction times, and I hoped that Pickover had been smart enough to note in advance my slight deviation of aim before I fired.

And, indeed, no sooner were his arms free than he sat bolt upright—his legs were still restrained—and grabbed one of Cassandra’s arms, pulling her toward him. I leapt in the meager Martian gravity. Most of Cassandra’s body was made of lightweight composites and synthetic materials, but I was still good old flesh and blood: I outmassed her by at least thirty kilos. My impact propelled her backward, and she slammed against the table’s side. Pickover shot out his other arm, grabbing Cassandra’s second arm, pinning her backside against the edge of the table. I struggled to regain a sure footing, then brought my gun up to her right temple.
My goodness, this page does a perfect job of capturing the flavor of Red Planet Blues. It’s a hardboiled noir detective novel ... that happens to be set on Mars. Of course, I’m known as a science-fiction writer, and there’s no doubt that Red Planet Blues is indeed a science-fiction novel: there are spaceships, robots, prissy computers, and fossils of ancient Martian life.

Much of my previous science fiction has crossed over into mystery, too. My first novel, 1990’s Golden Fleece, was a murder mystery set aboard a starship. And Ace recently reissued my Nebula Award-winning The Terminal Experiment, which is a high-tech whodunit, and my Seiun Award-winning Illegal Alien, which is a courtroom drama with an extraterrestrial defendant. But Red Planet Blues is the first novel in which I’ve made a professional detective the main character.

And having a science-fictional detective does make sense. It’s become increasingly hard to tell traditional detective stories set in the present day. Everyone knows about CSI-style forensics: it’s almost impossible for a killer not to leave behind fingerprints or DNA. And our public and private spaces are increasingly covered by surveillance cameras; there’s almost no room left—on Earth anyway—for the traditional whodunit.

But Red Planet Blues is set on a lawless frontier Mars—where the security cameras have been smashed—and it involves a technology that lets people transfer their consciousnesses into gorgeous android bodies, which don’t have fingerprints and don’t shed DNA. But who is actually inside any given body is anyone’s guess, letting me tell a good-old fashioned mystery ... out on the final frontier.
Learn more about the book and author at Robert J. Sawyer's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 25, 2013

"Oleander Girl"

Chitra Divakaruni is the author of One Amazing Thing and the newly released novel, Oleander Girl, the story of Korobi, a young woman who leaves a riot-torn India to come to post 9/11 America on a search that will change her life and face her with her toughest decision yet. Divakaruni is the winner of several awards, including an American Book Award, and teaches Creative Writing at the University of Houston. Her books have been translated into 29 languages.

Divakaruni applied the Page 69 Test to Oleander Girl and reported the following:
Page 69 of Oleander Girl falls in the middle of chapter 3. Here, our protagonist Korobi, who has been told that she lost both her parents at birth, and who has always longed to know more about them, is finally handed a photo of her mother by her grandmother Sarojini.

"I knew her right away--those serious, straight eyebrows were the ones I saw whenever I looked in the mirror. But she was her own person, too, with her generous, strong-willed, beautiful mouth. She smiled with such vivacity into the camera that I was sure my father had been the photographer. Indeed, when I turned it over, a bold script stated, To lovely Anu. My heart raced. Halfway across the world, before I'd even been imagined, my father had handed this piece of paper to my mother. I ran my fingers across the badk, over where their fingers had rested. It was as close to touching the two of them as I had ever been."

This is a life changing moment for Korobi. It's the moment when she decides that she must put off her wedding to her beloved fiance Rajat, leave the safe Kolkata mansion in which she has always lived, and travel to America to find out who her mother really was. Only then, she believes, will she herself know who she really is.

It is the moment when she steps away from innocence into experience; from certainty into questioning; from girlhood into her uncomfortable adult existence.
Listen to an excerpt from Oleander Girl, and learn more about the book and author at Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 23, 2013

"Escape Theory"

Margaux Froley grew up in Santa Barbara, California, and attended not one, but two boarding schools during her high school years in California and Oxford, England. She studied film at University of Southern California, and has worked for such television networks as: TLC, CMT, Travel, MTV, and the CW. She currently lives in Los Angeles and still loves Nutter Butters.

Froley applied the Page 69 Test to Escape Theory, her first novel, and reported the following:
The Page 69 test. Uh oh...I'm looking right now to see if I pass.

"I'm sure there are jails with more edible food." is the first line on the page. Well, if that doesn't depict boarding school life in a nutshell, I'm not sure what does.

Some other lines "Hutch was one of the good guys... It just sucks what happened." Not a bad line...pretty indicative of where the story is heading. Plus, page 69 is where we hang out with the character of Maya, who is somewhat elusive, but comes more into play later. Devon notices Maya's differences here "Maya was the queen of Grace and Proper.", but she'll get to know more of Maya as the story continues.

"Lipstick blotting and sashaying were not things that came either easily or gracefully to Devon." That's the last line on the page. It's a pretty good description of Devon. I'm not sure how much of the page lends itself to the larger mystery at hand, but I'm pretty sure I pass the page 69 test.
Learn more about the book and author at Margaux Froley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"Scratchgravel Road"

Tricia Fields lives in a log cabin on a small farm with her husband and two daughters. She was born in Hawaii but has spent most of her life in small town Indiana, where her husband is an investigator with the state police. A lifelong love of Mexico and the desert southwest lead to her first book, The Territory, which won the Tony Hillerman Award for Best Mystery. She is currently working on the fourth book in the series, Fire Break, featuring border town Chief of Police, Josie Gray.

Fields applied the Page 69 Test to Scratchgravel Road, the follow-up to The Territory, and reported the following:
It turns out, I could only offer a partial excerpt of Page 69 because the mystery hinges on evidence that rests within this scene. Chief of Police, Josie Gray, is visiting Mitchel Cowan, the Arroyo County coroner. The dusty border town of Artemis, Texas is fortunate to have Cowan, a coroner with not only the knowledge to examine a corpse, but the determination to solve a crime.

Josie found the corpse lying next to a local woman who had passed out in the desert on a day forecast to hit 104 degrees. The woman couldn’t explain why she was passed out by the corpse, other than to say she had simply wanted to take a walk. This scene touches on the primary concern for the police throughout the book: the corpse is covered with unidentifiable open wounds on the exposed portions of his body. Perhaps more troubling, the murder is eventually connected to an environmental clean-up that the police suspect is actually a cover-up.

Following is a short excerpt from Page 69, with the spoiler removed…
Cowan pulled away from the body and rested his hands on the gurney, giving his full attention to the question. “In case you haven’t noticed, people skills are not my forte. I did not have the bedside manner people wanted. So, I found a way to practice without having to chitchat.”

“Smart move.”

“I am the primary care physician for the dead,” he said, and bent back over his microscope. “It is gratifying work.”

Josie nodded in admiration. Outwardly Cowan did not appear to be a happy man, but Josie suspected he led a very content life as a loner.

“Have his personal effects been cleared? I want to take them back with me to the evidence locker.”

He looked up and frowned. “Not until I get toxicology back. You’re welcome to pull everything out.” He pointed to a row of six lockers at the end of the wall cabinets. “His effects are in the top locker. Everything is stored in a plastic bag. Just keep your mask and gloves on as a precaution.”

Josie pulled the plastic bag out and laid it on a steel examination table to the right of the table Cowan was using. She pulled out a….
Learn more about the book and author at Tricia Fields's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Territory.

Writers Read: Tricia Fields (November 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"The Crooked Branch"

Jeanine Cummins is the author of A Rip in Heaven: A Memoir of Murder and Its Aftermath, published in 2004 and a surprise bestseller. The Outside Boy, published in 2010, was her first novel.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Crooked Branch, and reported the following:
From page 69 of The Crooked Branch:
“How would you cook a fox? I wonder,” she said to herself out loud. She did a lot of talking to herself, with Ray gone. “A stew, I suppose.” She shuddered at the thought of eating fox meat, but she’d be glad of it all the same.

She crept forward and drew her breath in. She didn’t want to startle the beast, exactly. She wanted it to know she was coming. She didn’t want it flying at her face. They were fierce animals when they were cornered.

“I wish Ray was here,” she muttered.

She drew the hayfork back then, and up to her shoulder. Her hands were trembling, but she tightened her grip and took a deep breath. She could sense a presence there, in behind the oat bushels—maybe she could hear it breathing, or smell the alien musk of its pelt. She crept forward. She wanted to catch it, and she didn’t want to catch it. She lifted the hayfork with both hands, and yelled as she stormed forward, plunging the fork down through the air.

“Faith, don’t hurt me! Merciful God!”

She twisted the fork up just in time, and its tines clattered the wall. Her hand flew up to her heart, which was beating now like mad. She shook, from the legs up.

“Mary Reilly, I nearly had you for supper!” Ginny gasped.
I love this opportunity to share a specific little moment from my novel!

The Crooked Branch is half-set during the worst of the potato famine in Ireland, in 1847. This particular scene happens near the beginning of the book, when things for Ginny and her children are becoming difficult, but are not yet desperate. Ginny’s husband Ray has left for America, and Ginny and their children have stayed behind in the west of Ireland, with just enough provisions to last them until Ray lands work in New York, and begins sending money back. In this moment, we meet a neighbor of Ginny’s, Mary Reilly, whose family circumstances are more dire than Ginny’s. Mary has come to Ginny’s home to steal food, and this is the moment when Ginny discovers her.

In some ways, this passage is representative of the book – it certainly illustrates the growing despair of the hungry people in those waning months of 1847, as the full weight of catastrophe was just beginning to show itself to Ireland. But what this selection doesn’t represent is the other half of the novel.

The alternating chapters are set in contemporary Queens, in New York City, where we follow a modern-day descendent of Ginny’s – Majella, who has just become a mother for the first time. Majella has everything she wants in life – a fulfilling career, a nice home, a wonderful husband – all the ideal conditions for bringing a child into her life. But when that longed-for baby makes her appearance, Majella is thrown for a loop. With the new baby in tow, Majella struggles to regain the satisfied balance of her former life, and in the midst of those efforts, she finds the diary of her ancestor, Ginny Doyle.

So this story really becomes two parallel narratives about the universal difficulties and awesomeness of motherhood – in circumstances both conventional and calamitous. It’s a story about how a modern mama learns to accept herself by drawing strength from the ferocious tenderness of all the mamas who came before her.
Learn more about the book and author at Jeanine Cummins's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"The Grammarian"

Annapurna Potluri was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and moved to New York to attend New York University where she studied comparative literature and linguistics and went on to earn an MPhil in theoretical linguistics from Cambridge University. She has lived in Italy and India and is currently working at the South Asia Institute at Columbia University.

Potluri applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Grammarian, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
As it happened, and to Alexandre’s slight annoyance, it seemed he and Anjali shared a habit of waking up early. Every morning she would say, “Mary, bring some coffee,” and Anjali’s voice was cold, her eyes not even lifting to the servant woman’s. Despite her handicap, Anjali was able to convey a profound degree of an icy sense of superiority. Though the color of her eyes was a rich, dark brown, they were set with a look of glacial calm, a masculine hardness that Alexandre found unnerving in a girl. And every morning Mary would reply, “Yes, Miss Anjali,” and scuttle back from her mistress, her plump, pleasant bovine face lowered in submission.

Mornings in the Adivi household started early. By daylight he could hear the sounds of the servants gathering water and readying the day’s food preparations and feeding the dogs. Occasionally, he would find Adivi up reading the paper in his white nightshirt and dhoti, but the women of the house never left their rooms without having bathed and dressed first. He had never seen Lalita look so much as slightly disheveled. When she made her entrance, she would head straight for the kitchen and oversee making breakfast. Kanakadurga performed her morning puja after a bath each morning and Alexandre would sometimes hear her repeated Sanskrit mantras or hear her ringing a prayer bell as he made his way out to the garden.
Page 69 of The Grammarian is the first page of the sixth chapter and is a perfect sample of the book in toto. This scene, like most of the book, is told through Alexandre’s eyes—he is the outsider here, and he’s a very observant person, so I wanted to write the scene through the viewpoint of someone to whom all of this is new, so even the minutiae are noteworthy. This scene also illustrates some of tensions of status and caste that are expressed through small actions, such as taking a cup of coffee.

It also a good example of the performative aspect of Indian “public” life, which includes being in a position to receive people in your own home. One of the things that I think French and Indian culture have in common is that sharply drawn line between public and private. You won’t see Indian college students coming to class in their pajamas—once you leave your bedroom, you have to be ready to engage fully with society, and being groomed and well-dressed is a mark of respect not just about self-regard, but a sign of respect to the people around you. It’s about propriety, and it’s particularly important with regards to women. Like everywhere, women bear the burden of maintaining a sense of national, communal, familial honor. Nary a hair can be out of place.
Learn more about the book and author at Annapurna Potluri's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Grammarian.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 18, 2013

"Rage Against the Dying"

Becky Masterman is the acquisitions editor for a press specializing in medical textbooks for forensic examiners and law enforcement. She grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and received her MA in creative writing from Florida Atlantic University. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband.

Masterman applied the Page 69 Test to Rage Against the Dying, her first thriller, and reported the following:
Would you look at that, it's true! On page 69 of Rage Against the Dying, my heroine is watching TV with her husband and a news report comes on that shows the hideous crime scene she was at that day where they found the mummies hidden in an abandoned car. She tries to distract the husband with sherbet because she doesn't want him to know about the kind of awful world she has lived in. That's the whole story. Except for the rapist in the dry riverbed. And the guy who confesses to serial murders he didn't commit. And the ears...
Learn more about Rage Against the Dying at the publisher's website.

My Book, The Movie: Rage Against the Dying.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Mary Beth Keane is the author of The Walking People (2009) and the newly released novel, Fever, about the life of Typhoid Mary. She attended Barnard College and the University of Virginia, where she received an MFA in Fiction. In 2011, she was named one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35.

Keane applied the Page 69 Test to Fever and reported the following:
Page 69 of Fever is the opening of chapter 6, which has the main character, Mary Mallon – known to history as “Typhoid Mary” – entering a courtroom for her habeas corpus hearing. Put in quarantine on North Brother Island against her will in 1907 after being the first discovered typhoid fever carrier in America, the opening of Chapter 6 shows her in 1910, petitioning to be released:
Almost every chair was occupied when she walked down the narrow center aisle. She’d pictured benches, polished wood, the judge elevated above them on a kind of throne, but instead the cramped and musty room was filled with straight-backed chairs in uneven lines. Some reporters had turned their chairs to make a cluster with others they knew. Some people who had no involvement in the case but had been following it in the papers nudged their chairs out of line bit by bit with impatient shifting. She wanted to know if Alfred was there, but she kept her eyes fixed on the neat seams of Mr. O’Neill’s suit jacket. There was a momentary hush when those closest to the door spotted her, and a collective creak as several dozen spectators turned to see her for themselves.
This moment dramatizes one of the most important moments in Mary’s life, and is one of several places in the novel where I tried to keep some historical details intact – from the names of the judges, to the newspapers represented in the courtroom to the sweltering heat of the day. Mary’s case made medical history and her hearing was a place where doctors could weigh in with their thoughts on what should be done with her, while reporters observed her and turned her into the one-dimensional character she became in history books. The matter at stake at the hearing is also the central question of my novel: which is more important, an individual’s rights or the safety of the public as a whole? While it was likely true that Mary Mallon was indeed a carrier of typhoid fever, does having a disease make a person a criminal?

This section also mentions Alfred, Mary’s longtime partner, whom Mary has not seen since several weeks before her capture in 1907. Though I took many, many liberties with their relationship, Alfred was a real figure in Mary’s life, and though there is no real proof, I believe they was love between them. Mary’s life was so complicated and tragic that it felt inevitable that her love life also be those things.
Learn more about the book and author at Mary Beth Keane's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 15, 2013

"Blood, Ash, and Bone"

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.

Whittle applied the Page 69 Test to Blood, Ash, and Bone, the third novel in the Tai Randolph series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Chapter Twelve

The next morning dawned gray, with sodden dense clouds in a low sky. The weatherwoman said to blame the tropical storm hovering offshore east of the Gulf Stream, sending sunshine and thunderstorms in alternating bands of clear and foul weather.

I showed up at the driving range anyway, hopeful that the deluge would hold off long enough for at least nine holes. I gave my new driver a practice swing, then re-tucked the cell phone between my ear and shoulder.

John’s voice sounded frustrated. “Look, I didn’t have anything to do with Hope showing up at your hotel!”

“So you keep saying.”

“Because it’s the truth.”

“Then how . . . hang on a second.”

I fished a tee out of my pocket and stuck it in the ground. Trey watched from behind the line, sticking out like an Armani-clad sore thumb. He’d agreed to go on the course, but refused to wear golf clothes, insisting that he wasn’t golfing.

I jammed the phone back against my ear. “So you have no idea who might have been following me? Or how Hope found out where we were staying?”

“No idea at all.”

“You’d better be telling the truth, or I swear—”

“Whole truth, Tai. Why would I lie?”

“Good question. I gotta go. But keep your mouth zipped, you hear me?”
Q: Is this sample typical of the entire book?

A: It’s more like the calm before the storm, both literally and figuratively. So there’s simmering going on that comes to a full boil later.

Q: This woman seems familiar. What’s her name again?

A: Tai Randolph. She’s the narrator of Blood, Ash and Bone. You might remember her from The Dangerous Edge of Things (where she first honed her amateur sleuth chops) and Darker Than Any Shadow (where she encountered not only a vicious killer but a reticulated python).

Q: She runs a Confederate-themed gunshop in Atlanta, right? What’s she doing on a golf course with a tropical storm brewing?

A: She’s in Savannah, her hometown, for a Civil War Expo and Gun Show. She’s pursuing a Civil War artifact that could be worth six figures ... and which may or may not have a string of corpses attached.

Q: Who’s she arguing with on the phone?

A: That would be John, her ex. He hired her to track down this artifact, which he swears belongs to him. His ex-wife Hope has different ideas, and is stalking Tai and Trey at their hotel.

Q: About that Trey guy, the one in the Armani, the one definitely not golfing — he’s ex-SWAT, right? And he knows Krav Maga and usually carries a nine millimeter?

A: Yes. Trey has very definite ideas about personal space, and woe to those who violate his boundaries.

Q: Does he shoot anybody in this scene?

A: It’s a golf course — what do you think?

Q: I think he might.

A: Well, he doesn’t. That comes later, at the ... never mind. Read the book.
Learn more about the book and author at Tina Whittle's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Darker Than Any Shadow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"The Dark Hour"

Robin Burcell, an FBI-trained forensic artist, has worked in law enforcement for over two decades as a police officer, detective and hostage negotiator.  The latest books in her series featuring Special Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick are The Dark Hour and The Black List.

Burcell applied the Page 69 Test to The Dark Hour and reported the following:
Page 69 is the opening of a chapter in which FBI Special Agent Tony Carillo is starting his investigation into the man who was arrested for killing a U.S. senator. The case seems pretty clear cut and there are plenty of witnesses. The suspect is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who went off his meds—at least according to the preliminary reports. A little digging opens up a bigger question:
December 7

Washington, D.C.

The first thing FBI Special Agent Tony Carillo did was order up a copy of the blood panel from the shooter’s arrest, and with that in hand, walked it to the FBI’s own lab. Aside from the PCP, there was one drug listed that Carillo didn’t recognize.

The doctor at the FBI lab read over the report. “Nothing outstanding. This drug is used to treat hypothyroidism.”

“The guy was schizophrenic. Went off his meds. So this would be normal?”

“Depends. Went off his meds for how long?”

“I’m not sure anyone said. Why?”

“Might help to know why and when he went off. Because he didn’t like the way he felt on them? Or was it because his symptoms weren’t under control and that fed into his delusional fears?”

Carillo finished his coffee, then tossed the cup in the trash, saying, “Mind you I don’t know jack about psychiatry, but if he was paranoid and went off his meds because of a delusional fear, why would he still be taking his hypothyroid medicine?”
Learn more about the book and author at Robin Burcell's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Black List.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"All the Light There Was"

Nancy Kricorian is the author of the novels Zabelle and Dreams of Bread and Fire. She grew up in the Armenian community of Watertown, Massachusetts, and earned her undergraduate degree in Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College; she spent the following year studying at the University of Paris – Jussieu. After completing a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry at Columbia University, Kricorian taught at Yale, Rutgers, Barnard and Queens Colleges.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, All the Light There Was, and reported the following:
All the Light There Was is the story of Maral Pegorian, who is fourteen when the novel opens and German troops march through her Parisian neighborhood on the way to occupy the city. I was amazed, while researching the book, how the rituals of daily life flowed on even in the harshest of circumstances; indeed, how just trying to live normally could be itself a kind of resistance to the terrors unfolding around one. On page 69, Maral and her schoolmate Denise Rozenbaum are walking towards the Lycée Victor Hugo where they are students. It is two years into the Occupation, and Maral is now sixteen years old. Rather than talk about the recent imposition of the yellow star on the Jews of Paris, Maral and Denise discuss the boy Maral has a crush on and whether or not he likes her back. Their girl talk, however, cannot exist in a vacuum, as you can see in the excerpt:
The next morning when I met Denise on the corner of the rue de Belleville on the way to school, she was wearing a yellow fabric star sewn to her jacket. The law had gone into effect a few days before, and it was the first I had seen of this new insult.

Denise avoided my eyes. “Did you see Z.K. this weekend?”

I followed her lead, slipping into conversation without comment about the ignominious star. “We had Sunday dinner with his family yesterday.”

“Did you get to talk with him alone?”

“Nothing. Not even an elbow next to mine on the table.”

“At this rate, you could be eighteen before he says anything,” Denise said.

“Maybe he never will. Maybe he’s not interested in me.”

“You know that’s not true.”

Just then, a mother and a little blond boy of about five years old walked by. The boy pointed at the star on Denise’s jacket and said, “Mama, look, a Jew.” The mother leaned down and whispered something into his ear as she hurried him past.
Learn more about the book and author at Nancy Kricorian's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"The Good Cop"

Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Shamus Award and Nero Award for the same novel. That book, Faces of the Gone, introduced Carter Ross, the sometimes-dashing investigative reporter, who has gone on to star in Eyes of the Innocent and The Girl Next Door, which was named to the Kirkus Reviews' Best Fiction of 2012 list and nominated for a Lefty Award for best humorous mystery.

Parks applied the Page 69 Test to The Good Cop, the fourth book in the Carter Ross series, and reported the following:
My older brother, Greg, is a lawyer – a damn good one.

He’s pretty much always wanted to be a lawyer. Starting from the age of nine, he began lugging home books about the law that were so thick I couldn’t even lift them. (Mind you, I was six. But still).

Greg quickly figured out that part of being a lawyer is getting other people – namely, juries and judges – to believe your version of the truth. The only thing was, back then, he didn’t have juries and judges to practice on. He just had me.

So Greg often made it his goal to convince me of things, sometimes even things that bore no resemblance to reality. And while I went onto become the brother who wrote novels for a living, I can honestly say whatever skill I have at creating fiction is dwarfed by his.

At various points, Greg got me to believe: that we were related to baseball legend Ty Cobb; that I ought to eat an entire cheeseburger in one bite; that the cable coming down from the wall in our grandmother’s house was a snake; that buried in the dirt beneath a fallen tree trunk in our backyard there were dinosaur bones, a fact he verified using our mother’s ratchet set; and that when he was five, he owned a motorcycle.

(And, yes, I do seem to recall an entire day in the summer of 1982 when he had me convinced the word “gullible” wasn’t in the Dictionary).

He was able to accomplish this not with guile or cunning per se, but rather by speaking with the force of pure, ironclad certainty – the voice of total authority. I had no choice but to believe him.

All of which leads me to Page 69 of my latest Carter Ross thriller, The Good Cop, which reminds me of something my older brother would have done to me as a kid. By the end of the scene that starts here, Newark Eagle-Examiner investigative reporter Carter Ross has the paper’s new intern, Geoff “Ruthie” Ginsburg agreeing to administer pregnancy tests on random strangers’ toilet water (this being the only way to determine if their sewer lines are backing up).

In other words, classic Greg. And this is how it started:
(Page 68)

“Carter Ross.”

“Hey Carter, it’s Geoff Ginsburg.”

Geoff was another Syracuse intern. In the modern newsroom – which has more demand for work than money to pay for it – interns have two of the things editors prize most: enthusiasm and affordability. Like some invasive species, interns started in relatively small numbers but, with no natural prey – beyond their own in inability to survive on the near-poverty-level wages we pay them – they have been allowed to proliferate to the point where I think the interns now outnumber the full-time staff members.

Talent-wise, they were a mixed lot, though Geoff was better than most. He was a smart kid, an excellent writer, and a keen reporter. Because of his surname, some wiseacre on the copy desk had taken to calling him Ruth Bader. That turned rather quickly into Ruthie, the name that stuck. Mind you, unlike the Supreme Court justice, our Ruthie looked like he was about thirteen years old. He had an enthusiastic demeanor that made you wonder if he was getting his Journalism Merit Badge and a round, boyish face that I’m fairly certain didn’t require regular shaving.

That youthful appearance made his obvious crush on Tina Thompson all the more funny.

(Page 69)

It was unclear whether the crush was professional or personal. Ruthie struck me as the kind of kid who might go for an older chick, especially a hot one like Tina; but he also struck me as a total suck up, so it could go either way. All I knew is he spent an awful lot of time hanging around her office, following her on trips across the newsroom, yapping around her heels like the lap dog he wanted to be.

“Hey, uh, Geoff,” I said, barely resisting the urge to call him Ruthie. You never knew whether the interns were aware of the clever nicknames we had awarded them. “What’s up?”

I started my engine, just to get the heat going. It had been a mild day, for March, but it was starting to get chillier now that the sun was going down.

“Well, I remembered you were working on that project about public housing,” he said. “I happen to be really interested in public housing, so I was seeing if you wouldn’t mind me tagging along.”

I felt my eyebrow arching. It was highly unlikely he “remembered” anything. The only people who would know about that project were the editors who had access to the master Work In Progress spreadsheet that tracked all reporters’ activities. Plus, no one is really interested in public housing. Not even the people who live there.

Tina had obviously dispatched her little puppy dog to spy on me. The only question was whether he knew he was a spy or if he was just an unwitting pawn. One way to find out.

“Geoff, did Tina tell you to call me?”

“N… no,” he said, faltering slightly. “I’m just… really interest… interested in public housing and… the issues that go along with them.”

Okay. I could play that game. I felt a wicked smile spread

(Page 70)

across my face. Ruthie, I thought, meet my wild goose. Have fun chasing it.
Learn more about the book and author at the official Brad Parks website and Facebook presence.

The Page 69 Test: Faces of the Gone.

The Page 69 Test: Eyes of the Innocent.

Writers Read: Brad Parks.

My Book, The Movie: Eyes of the Innocent.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 11, 2013

"The Woman Who Wouldn't Die"

Colin Cotterill is a London-born teacher, crime writer and cartoonist.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Woman Who Wouldn't Die, the ninth book in the Dr. Siri Paiboun Series, and reported the following:
It’s lucky the test is on page 69 and not page 306 given that the latter was the page which arrived blank in bookshops across North America last month. Being the penultimate page, it did leave one or two unanswered questions about Auntie Bpoo’s journey to the afterlife. The segue is that page 69 sees Dr. Siri attempting to explain religion to his wife. His theory is that those who saw ghosts in the natural course of their lives (and there are many such people) needed to make sense of it all and so created elaborate sets to show off and upstage their inexplicable experiences. To make logic of the illogical. Thus were religions established. Each offered its own package to the beyond. Siri asks his wife…
“Why is it important?”

“Oh, you know. If something happens to me I’d like to be prepared.”

“You’re in your sixties. If you haven’t settled on a tour company yet you probably never will. You’ll be traveling solo. And besides, I won’t let anything happen to you.”
The page 306 experience again illustrates that there are greater forces at work here than a keyboard and monitor. There clearly are ghosts in the machine. If you have been a victim of this paranormal activity the missing page is available on my website.
Learn more about the book and author at Colin Cotterill's website.

The Page 69 Test: Anarchy and Old Dogs.

My Book, The Movie: Curse of the Pogo Stick.

The Page 69 Test: Killed at the Whim of a Hat.

My Book, The Movie: Killed at the Whim of a Hat.

The Page 69 Test: Slash and Burn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 9, 2013

"The End of the Point"

Elizabeth Graver's novels include Awake, The Honey Thief, and Unravelling. Her short story collection, Have You Seen Me?, won the 1991 Drue Heinz Literature Prize.

Graver applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The End of the Point, and reported the following:
Quote from Page 69:
“The demonstration’s over,” the soldier said, and let out a high-pitched, girlish giggle. Then he lowered his voice. “Sorry if it spooked you, ladies. I guess we did our smoke screen pretty well!”

“No,” said Agnes, pushing past Bea and getting up. “No, we’re fine. Excellent work, sir,” and she had Bea by the arm now, she had Janie too. “You’re fine,” she said to Bea, brushing her off, but Bea did not feel fine; her dress was dirty, her mind torn up.

“I thought...,” she said slowly to Agnes. “It seemed ... ” She looked down. There was Janie, not crying any longer, but rather staring at Bea as if she’d never seen her before.

“You hurt me, pulling me down like that,” the child said.

“I was protecting you,” Bea said instinctively.

“It was fake.” Janie plucked at the grass on her dress. “They did it on purpose.” She turned to Agnes, tears starting down her face again. “Right?”

“Of course, love.” Agnes pulled out a handkerchief for her. “Bea was just playing along. You’re supposed get down low. It’s what you do in a fire drill. Same thing here.”
Page 69 lands us in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1942. Eight-year-old Janie, her Scottish nanny Bea, and Bea’s friend, Agnes, have just finished watching a gas mask demonstration. During it, Bea—despite knowing that the occasion was a spectacle meant to entertain and impress the local citizens—grew panicked at the sight of smoke and masked soldiers and threw herself onto Agnes and Janie: “On the grass, Bea covered them, her best friend and her baby. She could not tell where her body left off and theirs began.”

On page 69, we find the three of them standing again, processing the scene. Janie, in a mix of clear-eyed wisdom and an inability to imagine true horror—views the bedlam as entirely staged. Bea, who has early memories of World War I, glimpses the thin membrane between peace and war. Janie hates to see her nanny lose control, but Bea can’t help it. Roles are reversed here. Something important between the two of them shifts, perhaps even cracks.

What are the effects on the home front of a war fought on distant soil? How does the real register and different angles of vision come to bear? The army has set up a base at the end of a rocky spit of land, Ashaunt Point, near New Bedford, where Janie’s family has a summer house. The peninsula sticks out into Buzzards Bay and makes an excellent spotting station to watch for planes and submarines. The mood that summer is high-pitched. Saboteurs have climbed ashore on Long Island. Anything could happen, anytime.

Meanwhile, nothing happens. The days stretch long for soldiers and civilians alike. The military training feels at once urgent and like playtime: sham battles; sham cottages hiding real barracks; a radar tower built to look like a water tower. The Civil Defense Exhibition in New Bedford is a cross between a carnival and a war. Later in the novel, in 1970, another central character, Charlie, retreats to Ashaunt and tries to understand the Vietnam War from watching the news, befriending a veteran, going to protests.

Peninsula means “almost island.” The “almost” fascinated me. How, I wondered, does one small, isolated, summer place sit both inside and outside of history? How are individuals attached to wider bodies, continents, movements? What happens when the boundaries—between war and peace, near and far, child and adult, hired help and mother—begin to blur?
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth Graver's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"Murder Below Montparnasse"

Cara Black is the author of the best-selling Aimée Leduc series. Her new novel, Murder below Montparnasse, is the 13th book in the series.

Black applied the Page 69 Test to Murder below Montparnasse and reported the following:
Page 69 in Murder Below Montparnasse was on approximately page 17 in my manuscript several drafts ago. To me the descriptions evoking the quartier's ambiance, the sense of place is integral to the story -- after all I've got below Montparnasse in the title and I feel this part of Paris is a character in the book. Reading the actual book now and feeling the flow -- I think the passages work better here because we are with Aimée the protagonist going into this new world, this new part of Paris with her and things will never be the same. So I'll give my editor top points for gently suggesting this. Here's a few paragraphs:
Aimée shifted into first gear and wove the Vespa into traffic, passing the Louvre. Fine mist hit her cheekbones. She shifted into third as she crossed Pont Neuf. A bateau-mouche glided underneath, fanning silver ripples on the Seine's surface. Swathes of indigo sky were framed by swollen rain clouds over Saint-Michel. The season of la giboulée, the golden showers heralding spring.Too bad she'd forgotten her rain boots.

Cars and busses stalled as she hit road closures on the Left Bank. Bright road construction lights illumined crews excavating the sewer lines. Street after narrow street.

Frustrated, she detoured uphill, winding throught the Latin Quarter, then zigzagging across to the south of Paris, former countryside squeezed between wall fortification now demolished; past the old Observatoire, two -story houses, remnants of prewar factories leaving an urban patchwork. Clouds scudded over the slanted rooftops, the chimney pots like pepper shakers over the grilled balconies. Avenues led to tree-lined lanes in this neighborhood, fronting hidden village-like pockets of what her grandfather called "the Parisians' Paris."
Learn more about the book and author at Cara Black's website.

The Page 69 Test: Murder at the Lanterne Rouge.

My Book, the Movie: Murder at the Lanterne Rouge.

Writers Read: Cara Black.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


David Abrams served in the U.S. Army for twenty years, and was deployed to Iraq in 2005 as part of a public affairs team. His stories have appeared in Esquire, Narrative, and other literary magazines.

His debut novel about the Iraq War, Fobbit, was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2012 and a Best Book of 2012 by Paste Magazine, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Barnes and Noble. It was also featured as part of B&N's Discover Great New Writers program.

Abrams applied the Page 69 Test to Fobbit and reported the following:
A man is hunched over his keyboard in an office cubicle. Sweat drips from his brow. He types like his life depended on it. His fingers peck furiously at the keys. Peckity-peck-peck, tappity-tap-tap. He is Liberace in his finest hour.

Meet Staff Sergeant Chance Gooding Jr., a public affairs soldier writing a press release in U.S. Army headquarters in Baghdad, circa 2005. He is trying to write the four-paragraph release about a soldier who’d been killed by a bomb while on patrol in a Baghdad neighborhood. Gooding must choose his words carefully, to the exacting standards of his boss, Lieutenant Colonel Harkleroad, who is nervously waiting to take the single sheet of paper upstairs to his boss, the Chief of Staff, for approval. Harkleroad is a perpetual worrier prone to nosebleeds. Gooding, as his name implies, is a do-gooder who only wants to please the Army brass, but he’s frustrated at every turn by red-tape bureaucracy. In this early scene, we watch as Gooding writes the release, Harkleroad edits it in order to better tell “the Army story,” then Gooding retypes it, Harkleroad re-edits it, changing a word here and there before giving it back to Gooding who retypes it, and on and on into the eighth circle of Hell.

Page 69 is about as action-packed as an office-drone thriller can get. There’s sweat! There’s flying fingers! There’s the imminent threat of blood dripping from Harkleroad’s nose!
Harkleroad read the gutted-and-thrashed release twice, thrice, then once more, holding a hand over one eye for a slightly different perspective. “Okay. Looks good. I’ll take it to the Chief.”

Staff Sergeant Gooding collapsed against the doorframe of the PAO’s office, his fingers throbbing, but sweet relief coursing his veins.

Lieutenant Colonel Stacie Harkleroad thanked him again then drew a deep breath and climbed the stairs to the second floor of division headquarters. They were as steep and long as a path up Everest. At the top, the Chief waited, a growing scowl on his face.
I’m glad this is the scene from Fobbit which landed on page 69 because it really does encapsulate a lot of the comedic frustration I was trying to convey in the novel. War sucks, but it’s even suckier when you’ve got nincompoops like Harkleroad telling you how to fight your war on words.
Learn more about the book and author at David Abrams's website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"Real Vampires Know Hips Happen"

Gerry Bartlett applied the Page 69 Test to Real Vampires Know Hips Happen, book 9 in the Real Vampires series.
Gloriana St. Clair has pursued her long-time lover, Jeremiah Campbell to his ancestral home in Scotland. But when she gets there, he is attacked and suffers from amnesia as a result. He doesn’t remember anything past 1590 and he certainly doesn’t remember his relationship with her. She is desperate to help him get his memory back and in this scene is offering him her blood, under doctor’s orders, in an effort to stir some of those memories. He has just admitted he knows better than to offer her money for the service.
I fought a smile. About time he got a clue. I didn’t say a word, just pulled his mouth to my neck and felt the pierce of his fangs. He drew deep, taking me. No, taking my blood. But it still brought me close to a shuddering orgasm. Silly me. To feel so much when this meant nothing to him. But I couldn’t help it. His smell surrounded me. I ran my hands over his strong shoulders and remembered all the times this had meant everything to him and to me. Jeremiah Campbell. My friend and lover. I closed my eyes and drifted.

He held my bottom firmly, stroking it almost idly as he drank. It was so familiar that I let myself hope... No, he’d hold any woman who allowed him to drink from her vein just this way. I sighed, my arms around him, my cheek against his, rough with an early evening beard. My love. If only this were real.

If only he would finish, look up and remember...
* * *
“It’s the damnedest thing.” Bart strode into the room, stopping quickly when he realized Jerry and I sat on opposite ends of the sofa, not speaking. “What happened?”

“Nothing. Or nothing much.” I nodded toward Jerry.

“Tell him.”

“I drank her blood. It gave me strength but no memories. She’s mad at me because I said some things I guess I shouldn’t have.” Jerry shrugged. “Finish what you were going to say. Caitie?” His sister had come into the room and stood next to Bart. “What did you two see in my blood?”

“Nothing. That is, it’s clear. Whatever poison entered your bloodstream is gone. We checked the knife and the substance that was on it has disappeared. Your blood is now just simple Campbell blood, similar to mine. I gave Bart a sample for comparison.” Cait sighed and sat beside Jerry. “There’s really no sign of a contaminant, poison or anything left in your blood to account for your memory loss, Jer. I’m so sorry.”

“What does this mean?” Jerry looked from Cait to Bart, then to me.
This scene represented a turning point in the book. Glory and Jerry find out that the “poison” they thought prevented him from remembering her and their relationship is gone. Instead, he has a mental block. This is hard for Jerry to take, frustrating. He’d rather have blamed some chemical than admit that he just can’t or won’t remember hundreds of years. It also makes Glory determined to go after the person who attacked Jerry. She is convinced that she can do something to help Jerry restore his memory.
Learn more about the book and author at Gerry Bartlett's website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Gerry Bartlett and Jet (2009).

The Page 69 Test: Real Vampires Have More to Love.

Writers Read: Gerry Bartlett (December 2010).

My Book, The Movie: Real Vampires Have More to Love.

Writers Read: Gerry Bartlett (August 2011).

Coffee with a Canine: Gerry Bartlett and Jet (September 2011).

The Page 69 Test: Real Vampires Hate Skinny Jeans.

Writers Read: Gerry Bartlett.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"The Mapmaker's War"

Ronlyn Domingue is the author of the newly released The Mapmaker’s War. Its sequel, The Chronicle of Secret Riven, is forthcoming in 2014. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, was published in ten languages. Her writing has appeared in The Beautiful Anthology (TNB Books), New England Review, The Independent (UK), and Shambhala Sun, as well as on and The Nervous Breakdown. Born and raised in the Deep South, she lives there still with her partner, Todd Bourque, and their cats.

Domingue applied the Page 69 Test to The Mapmaker’s War and reported the following:
Set in an ancient time in a faraway land, The Mapmaker’s War is the tale of an exiled mapmaker who must come to terms with the home and children she was forced to leave behind. It’s written in the spirit of old legends but different from them because the subject tells her own story of her life and deeds. This is Aoife’s (pronounced ee-fah) autobiography.

Page 69 is a perfect example of the book’s style, tone, and themes. Aoife uses a terse, declarative voice and an inquisitive second-person point of view to reveal her past. The tone is serious, which one would expect of an epic tale. Throughout the novel, there are explorations of good vs. evil, reality vs. perception, and Masculine vs. Feminine gender roles, and these themes are present, yet subtle, in this excerpt. Also, in her writing, Aoife occasionally prompts herself with the refrain “tell the truth.” Here, she does just that—an act of conscience made despite the consequences she’ll soon face.

From Page 69:
You felt dozens of questions tangle in your throat. Instead of speaking, you followed the Interpreter to a guest room in the building where you had the first visit. You smelled pine. There was a clay vase filled with evergreen sprigs and dried flowers on a low table. Next to it was a wide bed on the floor. No crib was in the room. A young man and a young woman arrived with food and drink. They also took the twins. The children had been fussy most of the day. Each sighed as they lay their tiny heads on the young people’s shoulders.

The Interpreter escorted you to the same place where you’d met the elders during your first visit. Inside were nine people. Five women, four men. Two were the ones you had met before. You told them all you could. The tale of the former cook, the quest, the hoard, the scale, what Raef wished to instigate. You believed the people of the settlement meant no harm. You wanted to warn them of the misunderstanding. The danger.

They asked questions. Why do you believe this may occur? What do you think they hope to gain? What if you are mistaken? What if you are not? What might do they possess?

You answered as truthfully as you were able. They thanked you for bringing the matter to their attention. They weren’t surprised that you had gone to find the truth about the dragon and its treasure. Such curiosity is reasonable, said an elder woman. They all nodded. One man winked, one eye, then the other. You hadn’t seen the creature, but you sensed it. The shadow of doubt was not quite so long.
Learn more about the book and author at Ronlyn Domingue's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"The Wisdom of Hair"

Kim Boykin was born in Augusta, Georgia, but raised in South Carolina in a home with two girly sisters and great parents. Today, she's an empty nester of two kids with a husband, three dogs, and 126 rose bushes. She write stories about strong southern women because that’s what she knows.

Boykin applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Wisdom of Hair, and reported the following:
Is page 69 representative of the rest of the book?

Not really: the page shows the camaraderie between beauty school students Zora and Sara Jane, but it’s the beginning of a chapter, so it’s only a half page.

Would a reader skimming that page be inclined to read on?

If the reader could finish the last sentence at the bottom of the page, they’d know that this is a story about best girlfriends. I sure hope they’d read on.
Learn more about the book and author at Kim Boykin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 1, 2013

"The Tin Horse"

Janice Steinberg is an award-winning arts journalist who has published more than four hundred articles in The San Diego Union-Tribune, Dance Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She is also the author of five mystery novels, including the Shamus Award–nominated Death in a City of Mystics. She has taught novel writing at the University of California, San Diego extension, and dance criticism at San Diego State University.

Steinberg applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Tin Horse, and reported the following:
This excerpt (beginning with the last line of p. 68) comes just before Elaine and Barbara Greenstein's first day of kindergarten in 1926, in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. The day means as much to their mother as it does to them. Barred from attending school in her native Romania, Mama is determined to make a good showing and has exercised a heretofore concealed skill at cards to earn money for their school outfits--Elaine's, Barbara's, and her own. She's so anxious to appear smart and modern that she's just had her hair bobbed. By the way, Zayde is Yiddish for Grandpa.
We didn’t need to worry about Papa. No matter how attractive he had found Mama’s long hair, his passion was for modernity. “No more old country,” he said.

It was Zayde who murmured, “Your pretty, pretty hair.” Still, Zayde—who was, after all, an older man, for whom Mama had her greatest appeal—liked everything she did. In fact, he wanted her to keep coming to his card games, but she’d promised Papa she would stop when she got the money for school outfits, and she declared herself finished with all that.

The minefield of the bob crossed, Mama threw us into a euphoria of anticipation. She lectured us constantly on how to behave in school: Always respect our teachers. Never hit or push other children. Never, never fight with each other the way we did at home. She patted her hair and tried her new lipstick, and at least once a day she went to the closet and ran her hands over the plum silk of her smart suit.

On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, three days before our new lives as students were to begin, a vicious Santa Ana wind from the desert invaded Los Angeles. The sun scorched everything it touched, and there was no escaping it on streets whose only trees were skinny palms. Five minutes outside, and my head felt like a warm melon ready to burst. Our wooden house groaned in the dryness, the white paint baked to flakes. Papa limped home from work that day after fitting shoes on an endless stream of kids whose parents were making last-minute school purchases, and he lay on the floor as he always did when his back ached—but he wore only his underwear! Audrey wailed so much that even patient Zayde flinched and said, “Can’t you give her a drop of whiskey, Charlotte, to calm her down?” Mama did it, too, because she had a terrible headache; every so often, she whimpered in pain.
It's fascinating to me how representative of The Tin Horse this is. It shows the crowded Greenstein household and some key family dynamics: Mama's over-identification with her daughters and the "we" with which Elaine, the narrator, refers to herself and her twin. There's a grand dream with which life will interfere--on the sweltering first day of school, Mama's new suit will stick to her body. And the book is very grounded in Los Angeles, with its Santa Ana winds and palm trees.

The excerpt also reflects the deep research I did, which included listening to oral histories of people who grew up in Boyle Heights in the 1920s and 30s. One woman spoke about being walked to her first day of school by her mother; her mother was semi-literate and was terrified that someone would find out.
Learn more about the book and author at Janice Steinberg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue