Friday, February 28, 2014

"Don't Wear Polka-Dot Underwear with White Pants"

Allison Gutknecht grew up in Voorhees, New Jersey. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, she earned her Master’s degree in Children’s Media and Literature from NYU. Gutknecht lives in New York City with her rambunctious toy poodle, Gypsy, and her literate cat, Folly.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her first novel, Don't Wear Polka-Dot Underwear with White Pants (and Other Lessons I've Learned), and reported the following:
From page 69:
[I raise my hand but Mrs. Spangle does not] call on me, even though this is an emergency.

"Now that you all have your scripts in front of you," she begins, still ignoring my hand, "let's go over who is playing whom." I wave my hand back and forth in case she cannot see it.

"First, Mandy is going to be our narrator," Mrs. Spangle continues, motioning for me to lower my hand. "She is going to introduce all of our presidents to the audience."

I shoot my arm in the air again.

"Yes?" she calls on me.

"I am supposed to be George Washington," I explain, and I feel tears tickling the back of my eyes.

"The narrator is going to be a great part for you. You'll see," Mrs. Spangle says. "Now, who's next? Follow along in your scripts."

Natalie raises her hand.

"Right, Natalie, tell everyone your part."
By page 69, Mandy Berr has been waiting for days and days for Mrs. Spangle to confirm that she has been granted the role of George Washington in her second grade class's Presidential Pageant, a part Mandy knows she was born to play. After all, George Washington was the first president, and Mandy was born first in her family, so it only seems fair. Mandy is also quite certain that Mrs. Spangle is going to give the dullest role in the Pageant to her greatest nemesis, Natalie, who is boring, bossy, and no fun at all.

As it turns out, page 69 is one of the most traumatic episodes of the book for Mandy, as she discovers that Mrs. Spangle has assigned her the role of the Presidential Pageant's narrator. Besides great disappointment at this reveal, Mandy is now gearing up to hear the "worst news she has ever heard in her life" on the very first line of page 70. What is it? Well for once, Natalie has something to announce that is anything but boring!
Visit Allison Gutknecht's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"7 Grams of Lead"

Keith Thomson is the author of Once a Spy. He is a former semi-pro baseball player in France, a filmmaker with a short film shown at Sundance, a cartoon artist for the Newsday editorial section, and a screenwriter who currently lives in Alabama. He writes on intelligence and other matters for The Huffington Post.

Thomson applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, 7 Grams of Lead, and reported the following:
On page 69 of 7 Grams of Lead, a spy is at the office at night, eating bad delivery Pad Thai, listening to audio broadcast by a bug he implanted in a government scientist's head. He's been at this for weeks, waiting for her to discuss a secret weapon she invented. As it happens, the story turns on this spy's eavesdropping operation, in which he places subminiature electronic eavesdropping devices in targets' scalps, behind an ear, so that he can hear everything that they say and hear. It's based on my own true experience at the CIA.

I was there on December 13, 2008, interviewing then director General Michael Hayden for The Huffington Post. Hayden told me that, in his experience, journalists too often lacked discretion and were a liability. Of note, in his previous gig, director of the NSA, he ran the controversial warrantless surveillance program.

A few days later, I was walking out of a movie theater when it felt like lightning struck my left arm. Nearly floored me. In the fleshy gulley beneath the pisiform bone, the knob on the outside of the wrist, I discovered a small lump. I figured it was a sebaceous cyst, a pea-size accumulation of keratin beneath the skin; I’d had two or three before. They’re harmless. Go away in a couple of months. This one was unusually smooth, though. Oddly symmetrical too, like a Tic Tac.

I wondered: Could the lump be an eavesdropping device? For several years, I knew, CIA drones had been dropping undetectable “smart dust” particles that adhered to intelligence targets, enabling an officer halfway around the world to track them. Given ultra-miniaturization trends, was a particle that also transmitted audio all that far-fetched? And if you’re going to implant someone with such a particle—say, while he’s asleep in his hotel room following a cocktail reception at the CIA—the gulley beneath the pisiform bone would be a great place because people hardly ever have reason to poke around that area, much less look at it.

I knew an electrophysicist with experience in subminiature eavesdropping devices, but if I called him, Hayden’s people would have known I was onto their secret, and you know what that would have meant. I ended up going to an orthopedic surgeon. A few months earlier, I’d made the mistake of trying to push a squash court wall out of the way while running full speed after a ball and tore the cartilage in my left wrist. The lump in my left wrist now, the surgeon said, was an absorbable suture from the operation that hadn’t dissolved properly. Which fit the facts. Or the CIA had gotten to the surgeon.

The experience gave me the idea for a story: A national security reporter discovers that a subminiature electronic device is implanted in his head. He investigates, propelling him into a life-or-death struggle with the spy who’d bugged him. That idea became my new book, 7 Grams of Lead. I worked with my intelligence community sources and the electrophysicist to make everything as realistic as possible. Still 7 Grams of Lead is only fiction. I hope.
Learn more about the book and author at Keith Thomson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Once A Spy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"The Murmurings"

Carly Anne West is a freelance writer with an MFA in English and Creative Writing from Mills College.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Murmurings, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“So then you know where they found her,” I say, starting to get a little angry. If he knew, then what was he trying to accomplish by bringing me—?

Oh my God. It’s a joke. This is all just a joke to him. One of his football buddies put him up to it. He’s messing with me.
Suspicion and doubt.

This is how page 69 of The Murmurings starts, and while I wouldn't say it’s representative of the plot, I would say it’s fairly representative of the constant suspicion our protagonist, Sophie, faces throughout the entire novel. Because of the unexplained circumstances surrounding her sister Nell’s death, and because of the slow unraveling of her perceived sanity throughout the story, Sophie is constantly at odds with her own intuition. She is left wondering who she can trust, and that suspicion makes its way to her own mind at various stages throughout the story.

This growing distrust of her sanity haunts Sophie throughout the novel as she explores the depths of betrayal that ultimately led to her sister’s death. Saddled with her own guilt and grief at the loss of her sister, Sophie understands that she could just as easily fall victim to the same betrayal, and ultimately succumb to the same fate as Nell, if she doesn’t solve the mystery of just how fragile her sister’s own mental state was. What she learns as the story unravels is that her sister had much less to fear with respect to her own sanity and much more to fear from the people surrounding her, and the evils they unearthed.

At its core, The Murmurings is a story of loss, haunting, and the horrors that can emerge from the depths of betrayal.
Learn more about the book and author at Carly Anne West's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 24, 2014

"The Tyrant's Daughter"

J.C. Carleson is a former undercover CIA officer who has navigated war zones, jumped out of airplanes, and worked on the frontlines of international conflicts. She now lives and writes in Virginia with her husband and two young sons. Her publications include the novel Cloaks and Veils, and Work Like a Spy: Business Tips from a Former CIA Officer.

Carleson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Tyrant's Daughter, and reported the following:
From page 69:
"Laila." He calls me over. He's not bothering with the cigarette this time.

I consider ignoring him, but it seems pointless. I have a feeling that "Darren Gansler," true name unknown, will follow me with his bad luck wherever I go.

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised to see you here today."

He raises an eyebrow and studies me for a moment before speaking. "You strike me as an intelligent young woman, Laila. So I probably don't have to tell you just how important these meetings are for your family."

There's a question hiding behind his statement. He wants to find out how much I know. The answer, of course, is not much at all, but I don't want him to realize that.

His mouth pinches up on one side -- not quite a smile -- and he crosses his arms over his chest. He's guessed.

"It looks like I do have to tell you." He says it in a way that wounds like he wishes he didn't, and the smirk wilts into a frown. "Laila, I didn't bring your family here out of the goodness of my heart. You're here, or at least your mother is here, for a reason. Your mother made a deal the day you all got on the plane. We -- the United States government, that is -- went to considerable risk to get your family out of the country safely. I offered your mother a way out and guaranteed political refugee status here if she agreed to cooperate."

I know exactly what he is going to say next before it even comes out of his mouth.

"Her cooperation hasn't been exactly...perfect."

I have to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing out loud. That my mother would not do his bidding should surprise no one.
It's interesting that this, of all passages, falls on magic page number 69. Is it representative of the book as a whole? I'd have to say no, in the sense that it lacks much of the "voice" that drives the rest of the book. Laila is reacting here, listening to a character who only shows up occasionally.

However, this is definitely a pivotal moment in the book. This is the moment where the "intrigue" starts to compete for attention with the character development, and also the moment when the stakes begin to soar.
Learn more about the book and author at J.C. Carleson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 22, 2014


Donna Jo Napoli is the acclaimed and award-winning author of many novels, both fantasies and contemporary stories. She won the Golden Kite Award for Stones in Water in 1997. Her novel Zel was named an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, a Publishers Weekly Best Book, a Bulletin Blue Ribbon, and a School Library Journal Best Book, and a number of her novels have been selected as ALA Best Books. She is a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

Napoli applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Storm, and reported the following:
Sebah, the sixteen year old main character, is living an ordinary rural life in Canaan when rain comes. And comes and comes. The nearby stream turns into a rushing river and flashfloods. She makes it to a ledge cut in a cliff side in time, with her swamp kit, Screamer, clinging to the back of her neck. The rain keeps coming and Sebah is forced to climb higher until she reaches a mountain alm, from which she goes more gradually uphill now. Along the way she meets Aban, a boy around her age, who becomes her partner, living in a tall cedar tree, until the waters reach so high they must take to a raft on the endless sea.

Something hits their raft: it’s a rope that drags through the water behind an enormous ark. Sebah and Screamer manage to climb the rope, but Aban is lost in the deluge. When Sebah enters the porthole the rope hangs from, she finds herself in a cage with bonobos, aardvarks, and duikers. The bonobos seem to adopt her in a genial way, but the ark is filled with mystery and misery, its inhabitants locked away, uncomprehending, without the solace of familiarity and predictability. The man who feeds them is clearly taken to be dangerous by the animals, so Sebah hides from him for the present, nestled in a hay nest.

On page 69 it’s night and Sebah found that a burst of laughter from her led to a lion’s roar in return. Now she feels vibrations in the wood floor – and she knows whatever animal lives…

Page 69:
below was sending a warning to others to watch out for the lion.

How many animals are there on this ship? And what types? And where, where, where is Screamer?

What kind of poles hold in those lions? They have to be strong. The food-monger wouldn’t dare walk on this deck if the poles weren’t reliable. Unless he carries a weapon. Still, no weapon is secure against a lion. And no one could protect against two lions together. Why didn’t I see them before? Where exactly is their cage?

And where is Screamer?


Something slams against the side of the ship from the outside. I am tempted to go to the side hole and lean out to see. I know it’s raining. It’s always raining. But there’s a moon glow tonight too. It slides around the air near the side hole. I could see something if I looked. But if I move, the lion may rumble again.

He’s a bully. The air on this deck is husky with the noises of nocturnal creatures. But he doesn’t rumble at them. He rumbles at me. He knew my laugh made me different. He senses my fear.

Well, I won’t be bullied. I sit up quickly and crawl to the side hole.

The lion roars.

I freeze.

Something furry pushes against my thigh. I cry out and roll away. But it’s Screamer, just Screamer, wonderful Screamer.
Visit Donna Jo Napoli's website.

Writers Read: Donna Jo Napoli (June 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Feral Curse"

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author the Feral series, which includes Feral Nights and Feral Curse, as well as the Tantalize series, which includes Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed, and Diabolical.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Feral Curse and reported the following:
Here's a peek from pg. 69:
Then I spring to a hearty branch. Extending my claws, I race up until I'm just below the doorway, then fly inside. Peter lets out an "oomph!" as we careen together against the wall.

That's when my nose announces that I've made a huge mistake.

Before I can retreat, a pointed cowboy boot slams into my solar plexus.

Lucky shot. I suck in a breath and hit the floor hard, knocked to fully human form. It's darker in here, but my eyes adjust immediately.

As I start coughing, Aimee whispers, "Yoshi! I'm so sorry!" She's holding a Taser gun.

"Shh!" I scold, frantically texting Kayla: False alarm. "Do not tase me," I say to Aimee. "I hate when people tase me. What are you doing here?"

"You obviously need my help."
What do we have here? Action, conflict, a dash of humor, a brushstroke of back-story, a hint of the southwest setting, and an imperfect but fantastical hero.

In a case of mistaken identity, werecat Yoshi attacks and then is knocked down by his human best friend Aimee, who's traveled from Austin to assist him. Though she's been introduced by phone, this is the first time Aimee appears live (so to speak) on stage.

It's on this page that the reader's concept of "our heroes" begins to widen from a newly-formed couple-Kayla and Yoshi-to the team that will ultimately combat the haunted carousel that's transported Yoshi to small-town Pine Ridge.

Is it representative? There's not this level of physical action on every page. Suspense ebbs and flows, scene by scene, while building steadily in the whole. Character and mystery/mythology dynamics heavily inform and drive the plot. If I were making a movie trailer, I don't know that this is one of the scenes I'd highlight, but it does offer a sense of how, from a contemporary teen perspective, fantasy and reality collide. It also showcases the importance of friendship to the story.
Feral Curse is book 2 in the Feral trilogy (a spin-off of the Tantalize series), published by Candlewick Press. Each of the books can stand alone, though they're best appreciated in concert.

Learn more about the book and author at Cynthia Leitich Smith's website and blog.

Writers Read: Cynthia Leitich Smith (March 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Known Devil"

Justin Gustainis is a Professor of Communication at Plattsburgh State University, where he earned the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2002. His academic publications include the book American Rhetoric and the Vietnam War, published in 1993. The Hades Project, his first novel, was released to rave reviews in 2003. Other books include the Quincey Morris Supernatural Investigations novels.

Gustainis applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Known Devil, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“What do you figure he knows?”

“If he knows anything at all about what’s going on, that’s more than I do. And, besides, if I don’t rat him out to my fellow officers, that gives me even more leverage.”

She looked at me, frowning. “How come?”

“Because I can always go back and change my story. And if I tell the truth and give them Calabrese’s name, he will get arrested.”

“But if you did that – went to the other cops and said, ‘Look fellas, I’m real sorry, but I lied about that gunfight. Here’s what really happened,’ you’d be in serious shit with the Department. Wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah, but I’m betting that Calabrese won’t take the chance.”

She swirled the remaining liquid in her mug, and studied the little whirlpool that resulted. “This cop stuff gets pretty complicated sometimes, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, but it’s nothing that a master detective like your old man can’t handle.”

“I hope you’re right, Daddy. I really do.”


Even though dead tired, I came in to work half an hour early. I wanted to talk to Karl and McGuire – separately – before things got busy.

Karl’s usually early, too – and tonight was no exception. As quickly as I could without leaving anything out, I told him what had happened since he’d seen me last. When I was done, he sat there rubbing his chin.
I wish page 69 was more exciting – I really do. But it follows a pretty intense scene for Stan. On his way home from work, he hears nearby gunshots. Stan arrives at the scene to find Don Pietro Calabrese, vampire Godfather of Scranton’s vampire “family,” in a shootout with three vampires from an out-of-town gang, the Delatassos.

The Delatasso gang has gone to war against Calabrese because they want the ability to sell Slide – a new drug that only addicts supernatural creatures – on the streets of Scranton. Calabrese, fearing that the drug will eventually attract and addict his own people, wants Slide kept out.

Calabrese is outnumbered three to one, and his chances for survival don’t look good. Stan decides to intervene on Calabrese’s behalf, reasoning that having the “vampfather” in his debt will be a good way to get information about the gang war.

Firing silver bullets (which he always carries) Stan kills two of the Delatasso gang, and Calabrese gets the other one. Stan wants to talk to Calabrese, but dawn is fast approaching. Violating every rule in the book, he lets Calabrese escape, after first securing a promise that the vampfather will meet with him that night for some conversation.

Stan has just described what happened, and its aftermath, to his daughter Christine. That’s where page 69 picks it up.
Learn more the book and author at Justin Gustainis' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"You Disappear"

Christian Jungersen is a Danish writer who has been published in more than 20 countries. His novels are Undergrowth, The Exception, and You Disappear. All of them have won major literary prizes and become bestsellers.

Jungersen applied the Page 69 Test to You Disappear and reported the following:
On page 69 of You Disappear, Mia wakes up her teenage son, Niklas, to tell him that his father stands accused for embezzling millions of dollars. Her son refuses to believe his dad could ever do such a thing. Just like Mia refused to believe it; it’s completely alien to “who he is.”

And that’s a pivotal point for the novel: what is a person’s character? In what actions and relationships is he his “real self” – especially when his brain chemistry is changing dramatically? For Mia’s husband has been diagnosed with a slowly growing brain tumor that has gradually changed his personality over several years without anyone noticing.
“I don’t believe it!” he exclaims, with the same conviction I had. He lets himself fall back on the bed.

“I didn’t believe it either,” I say.

It takes but an instant for all the thoughts I have when I talk with him to run through my head: Niklas as an old man, gray-haired and distinguished, perhaps a headmaster, perhaps minister of education, in a suit; Niklas as a baby on the changing table, peeing up in the air with his tiny penis, so I have to dry him and table both; Niklas running around in the yard playing with a wheelbarrow; Niklas’s photos on exhibit in the gymnasium library and us so proud.

“But Dad’s confessed,” I continue. “And they think I’m involved too.”

“Confessed? You?” He sits up again.

They aren’t so much thoughts as glimpses, and not individual glimpses so much as a state of mind: he falls on his bike, scrapes his smooth little knees; he plays in the sand on the beach.

“Yes. So the police will probably question us tomorrow,” I say.

“Yeah but of course you guys haven’t … of course you haven’t— ”

I haven’t done anything. And Dad only did it because he was sick. The police will understand that, and so will Laust, when he’s no longer so angry.”

The air in here is warm and pungent—and the room’s a terrible mess, something I’ve stopped commenting on. In the darkness, I see something catch the light in his pile of dirty clothes; from here it looks like a bra. A white, almost luminous bra among the worn jeans and shirts. I can’t go any closer to be sure.

“You have to stop now, damn it!” he shouts. “Don’t you two ever think of me? You keep doing one crazy thing after the other!”

I must accept his anger, I tell myself. I have to give his emotions room.

“Of course I think of you. All the time. And I’ll do anything. You just have to—”

“You don’t think of me at all, and that’s the truth! Both of you have gone totally whack!”

Room for his anger. It’s a state of mind: he’s overnighting at a friend’s for the first time, but at midnight the parents call, they say he’s crying, and I drive over to get him. His first year of gymnasium, and two girls and a boy from his new homeroom wait for him out on the street, they’re going to the beach with mats and a cooler bag.
You Disappear is a story about how one person’s illness can turn the lives of everyone around him upside down. The challenges of living with someone who’s suffering from dementia, or a stroke, or a blow to the head would be ample material for a 350-page novel.

But I wanted You Disappear to be more than that. I wrote it as a psychological thriller, a page-turning exploration of who we are in the “age of neurology.” How does brain science change our perception of what it means to be human? Did Mia’s husband commit the crime, or did his diseased brain? And how can anybody be held responsible for anything we do if all of us – the sick and the healthy alike – are nothing more than brains and chemistry?
Learn more about the book and author at Christian Jungersen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 17, 2014

"Bread and Butter"

Michelle Wildgen is the author of the novels Bread and Butter, You’re Not You, and But Not For Long. The film adaptation of You’re Not You, a New York Times’ Editor’s Choice and one of People Magazine’s Top Ten Books of 2006, stars Hilary Swank and Emmy Rossum. Wildgen’s work includes fiction, essays, reviews, and food writing. She is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher, and an executive editor at the literary magazine Tin House. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Wildgen applied the Page 69 Test to Bread and Butter and reported the following:
Bread and Butter follows three brothers in the restaurant business: the older two own a place together, and the youngest comes back to town, hoping for a partnership when he opens his own. He doesn’t quite get the family business he’d hoped for, because where’s the story in that? Instead all three brothers find their lives, their relationships, and their businesses questioned and reconfigured. On page 69, the middle brother, Britt, and Harry, the youngest, are busy sniping at each beneath an apple tree—a location which, it must be acknowledged even by the characters, does not lend an air of gravitas to the proceedings.

This page focuses less on the sensory joys of a book about the restaurant industry, which are abundant elsewhere in the novel, than on one of many moments in which the simmering conflicts between the siblings are directly addressed. The three of them spar a lot, sometimes playfully and sometimes quite seriously, and always butting up again and again against the family roles that tend to go so deep we don’t always realize we’re acting them out. The older two think Harry fails to realize the difficulty of the industry he’s chosen (and implicitly, the difficulty of what they have accomplished), and Harry feels continually misperceived and overlooked by two siblings who have a much tighter bond with one another than he does with either of them. On this page you see Britt confusing even the basic facts of Harry’s experience, and while Harry may be justified in his indignant response, he’s always a little grating and combative about it too. Nobody’s quite right or quite wrong, and what kept me interested in all three of them is that they tend to mask even their hurt feelings with big dose of humor, because in reading and in life, I forgive an awful lot of you’re funny, and I suspect that’s true of most of us.
Learn more about the author and her work at Michelle Wildgen's website.

The Page 99 Test: You’re Not You.

The Page 69 Test: But Not for Long.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 16, 2014

"Miss Dimple Picks a Peck of Trouble"

Mignon Franklin Ballard, an accomplished mystery writer, lives in Calhoun, Georgia.

She is the author of several acclaimed mysteries, including her series featuring revered first grade teacher, Miss Dimple Kilpatrick, set during the years of World War II.

Ballard applied the Page 69 Test to Miss Dimple Picks a Peck of Trouble, the latest novel in the series, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Miss Dimple Picks a Peck of Trouble, the 4th in my series set during WWII, finds Hattie McGee accepting a ride home from a funeral with fastidious Hardin Haynesworth. The summer day is blazing hot, and Hattie, in her usual multi-layers of antebellum style clothing, hasn’t has recent access to a bath. Believing that she is Scarlett O’Hara, that Nazi spies are pursuing her, and she knows where the Confederate gold is buried, Hattie is unaware of this unpleasantness. She does, however take advantage of the ride to bait Hardin with the following exchange that concerns a key element in the mystery.
The small woman behind the wheel glanced at her. “I suppose you’ve had a lot of commotion around your place. You must be glad it’s over.”

“Who says it’s over?”

Hardin frowned. “I beg your pardon?”

“They’ll come back when they know,” Hattie said.

“When they know what?” Hardin fluttered her hand kind of queenlike at somebody in a passing car…

“When they know what I found.” Hattie closed her eyes. She sure was tired and the seat was as comfortable as any rocking chair. She could stand to ride a little longer if asked.

But the driver wasn’t asking.
Learn more about the author and her work at Mignon Ballard's website.

My Book, The Movie: Miss Dimple Rallies to the Cause.

The Page 69 Test: Miss Dimple Rallies to the Cause.

The Page 69 Test: Miss Dimple Suspects.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"Half as Happy"

Gregory Spatz is the author of the novels Inukshuk, Fiddler’s Dream, and No One But Us, and the short fiction collections Wonderful Tricks and Half as Happy. He has also written for the Oxford American and Poets and Writers and his stories have appeared in many publications, including The New Yorker. He is the recipient of a Washington State Book Award, Spokane Arts Commission Individual Artist of the Year Award, and National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he teaches in the MFA program at the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University.

Spatz applied the Page 69 Test to Half as Happy and reported the following:
Since Half as Happy is a short story collection, it’s difficult to say which page, if any, might be most representative of the book as a whole. The stories are all different in tone, style and form, don’t share characters, plot points or setting.

That said, there are some recurring motifs and themes throughout the stories—love, loss, music, identity, fate…to name a few—and the scene that falls on page 69 happens to include one of the most revealing moments for the main character whose story also happens to be my personal favorite in the book: “No Kind of Music.”

In “No Kind of Music,” the main character, Patrick, an accountant, has recently lost his last living relative and his marriage has fallen apart (his wife left him for a one-legged marathon runner). With nothing much to live for, he finds himself in an oddly serene but lonely state, and drawn to the symphony on a regular basis for the pleasures and solace music can provide. He has no background in music, no arts education and nothing to guide him in his interests—only some dim recollections of afternoons with his maternal grandfather, an armchair conductor/audiophile, and his own curiosity which leads him to read books about the lives of the composers.

In the scene we get on page 69, Patrick’s wife has shown up unexpectedly a year after having moved out. Her new boyfriend, Dave, is out of town for a race. She and Patrick have spent the night walking, talking, drinking tea, reminiscing. Page 69 is the culmination of all that, the real end of the end for them, and the perfect embodiment of everything that Patrick has lost and is about to lose again. If I had to pick a representative paragraph for “No Kind of Music,” it would be this one, and if I had to pick a single story that I wish anyone who bought the book might read, it would be this story.

Test result: definitely positive.

The page:
The whole time, making love to her, he’d known it was their last. Surprisingly, his feeling about that wasn’t all sad. Sensations were heightened out of proportion, and perception. He was pretty sure he’d never apprehended another person as fully and clearly, never known as exactly how his own touch registered, and never been as generous with or at ease in his own body responding to her touch; knew, too, even as it was happening, that he would likely never remember a single night of lovemaking as vividly as this one. She kept her socks on through it and fell asleep as she always had, back to him, knees pulled to her chest, sheets drawn tightly around her chin. Once, sliding over top of her, fingers locked through hers and feeling the absence of any metal on her left ring finger, he had an inkling of the abyss ahead—how bad this was going to feel later, tomorrow and the day after—an inkling of what he was losing even as he was in the throes of having it. He kept waking up and drifting back off all night, amazed that the night should last this long, the street light falling through the uncovered window and across his new bed like a ladder of light between them—a bridge or barrier he couldn’t say, possibly both. Only after she’d gone and he’d showered and eaten something and sat down again at the table where they’d drank tea the night before, staring into the empty space where she’d sat, the empty day ahead against which he had nothing in store save tonight’s program at the symphony—Brahms Fourth and Gyorgy Ligeti—did it hit him. If she didn’t call or write he might not see or talk to her again until one of them filed for divorce. It would be months or years or never. He would not be the one to make contact. That had never been his role in the marriage and certainly wasn’t now, given all that had happened. Now he needed to wait. Until then, he wouldn’t see her.
Learn more about the book and author at Gregory Spatz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 14, 2014

"Year of Mistaken Discoveries"

Eileen Cook spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. She is the author of The Almost Truth, Unraveling Isobel, The Education of Hailey Kendrick, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood, and What Would Emma Do? as well as the Fourth Grade Fairy series. She lives in Vancouver with her husband and dogs.

Cook applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Year of Mistaken Discoveries, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I’m not thinking about killing myself.” I tried to ignore the fact that he was implying that my life was so pathetic that it might seem a reasonable to me to end it. “I’m fine. I told my parents I was going to be okay. I got upset at the funeral, but I’m doing better now.”
This scene takes place in the school counselor’s office. Avery’s childhood best friend, Nora, has died. Although they haven’t been close for years, everyone is very concerned with how she’s coping. I think the quote captures a bit of the tragic-comedy aspect of the book. There are a lot of serious issues, but there are also chances to laugh. (Including a few that I hope make you laugh out loud.)

I wanted to write Avery’s story because I’m interested in how we can be so close to some friends at one point in our life and then find ourselves in a different place a few years later where the only thing that connects us to those people is that we used to be friends. Avery was already struggling with her relationship with Nora. Nora was a part of her, she couldn’t imagine her life without her in it, but they almost nothing in common anymore. Now that Nora is gone, Avery is coping with feelings of guilt. She is also trying to figure out who she is in a world without Nora.

The more books I write, the more I realize that I am fascinated with the stage in our lives when she start figuring out who we really are separate from friends or family expectations. Who do we want to be? I hope this page leaves you wanting to know more about what Avery discovers!
Visit Eileen Cook's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"The Dismal Science"

Peter Mountford’s debut novel, A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, won the 2012 Washington State Book Award and was a finalist in the 2012 VCU Cabell First Novelist Prize. In its full-page review, The Seattle Times wrote: “Debut novels don't come much savvier, punchier, or more entertaining...the work of an extraordinary talent.”

Mountford applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Dismal Science, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Dismal Science is uncannily representative of the book itself. At that point in the story, Vincenzo D’Orsi, the protagonist, has called his friend Walter who’s a well-known reporter at the Washington Post, and he’s unloading the story—on the record, he insists—about this ostensibly private argument with a colleague at the World Bank. Walter is uneasy with this confession. It’s a good story, on one hand, but it’s also obviously very self-destructive of his friend to come to him with it in this way.

So much of the book is concerned with how we make decisions: the intersection of your sense of moral imperative and your itching self-interest. Throughout the book there’s a pervading sense that all best laid plans are outrageously futile. There’s no point it playing the game well because the outcome is arbitrary, anyway—and where do you measure outcome in life, anyway? Isn’t the outcome of life always the same (i.e. death)?

Still, Walter’s in this tricky place with Vincenzo, he’s trying to keep Vincenzo at bay, and he’s also trying to tease the story out. Finally, Walter just swings the door open at the top of 69:
At last, [Walter] said, “Fuck it. Okay. Go on.”

Much of the rest of the conversation was a blur [to Vincenzo], as are most of the truly important moments in life. Those great events always seemed to be formalized in interactions that, when recalled, appeared bright and blurry—like an iridescent watercolor left out in a rainstorm. The memory of his proposal to Cristina was like that, as was the conversation when she told him that she was pregnant. Leonora’s birth: the only remaining image was of the thick dark blood seeping slowly from the freshly cut umbilical cord—and later, in Italy, when Leonora lost her leg, he remembered only huddling with Cristina, her nails digging deep into his wrist, while the electric saw screamed in the next room. Of the conversation with the doctor who told him that Cristina was dead, he remembered nothing whatsoever, just a hand on his shoulder. And, of this latest incident, telling Walter about the conversation with William Hamilton, Vincenzo would remember mainly that Walter offered him several opportunities to back out, but he continued.

At one point, Walter even said. “God! Have you talked to Wolfowitz, because I bet he’ll take your side.”

“I actually did talk to him. And you’re right. He took my side.”

“So, what’s the point?” Walter shot back with unusually stark emotion in his voice. Like so many of the old guard in the DC press, Walter was a wan and debauched preppy—blond and fond of seersucker in the summer, tasseled loafers whenever; he was Buckley-esque. Still, his mind was a ferocious instrument dulled only around the periphery by years of monomania and heroic boozing.
Learn more about the book and author at Peter Mountford's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism.

My Book, The Movie: A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"Love Water Memory"

Jennie Shortridge is the author of five bestselling novels, including her latest, Love Water Memory, to which she applied the Page 69 Test. Here’s her report:
In this story about a missing amnesiac and the fiancé she is returned to, page 69 happens to be in the viewpoint of the fiancé, Grady (the POV alternates between him and Lucie, who suffers from a rare form of amnesia caused by emotional trauma). Rather than revealing anything about Lucie or where she’s been, Lucie is learning about Grady, all over again, which is very much at the center of the story! It’s a mystery wrapped in a love story, and here they begin that dance.
make light of it, but he dropped his head, covering the wound with his hand.

Stupid, she thought. She changed course. “Tell me about your family. Did you grow up here?” She couldn’t remember which tribe he’d said he was from; there were many in Western Washington. She knew this, she did. Salish, Duwamish, Suquamish. She knew these names, but not why she knew them. She was clearly white, whiter than white with her freckles and the bluish tinge beneath her eyes.

Slowly, he opened up. He told her about growing up in Tacoma. His dad had been a fisherman—the Puyallup had salmon rights in the Sound—but he’d died in an accident at sea long ago. His mom still lived in Tacoma and had never remarried. Grady had six older sisters, whose names he rattled off but Lucie didn’t quite catch.

“And you need to know something else,” he said, cheeks flushing, “I’ve been married before, but that was right out of high school, and it didn’t even last a year.”

“Okay.” Lucie shrugged. “Are you, we, still in touch with her?”

“No.” He glanced sideways, jaw tensing, then looked back at her. “I have a son, but I’ve never met him.”

“Oh, that must be so hard,” she said, but he looked away again and they fell silent.

Early that morning, when the doctor had discharged Lucie, he’d looked concerned. “Now, you’re going to have to go through treatment when you get home. Dr. Emma has written the contact name of the psychiatrist you’ll be seeing in Seattle on your discharge papers, and we should have
Learn more about the book and author at Jennie Shortridge's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


James K. Decker was born in New Hampshire in 1970, and has lived in the New England area since that time. He developed a love of reading and writing early on, participating in young author competitions as early as grade school, but the later discovery of works by Frank Herbert and Issac Asimov turned that love to an obsession.

He wrote continuously through high school, college and beyond, eventually breaking into the field under the name James Knapp, with the publication of the Revivors trilogy (State of Decay, The Silent Army, and Element Zero). State of Decay was a Philip K. Dick award nominee, and won the 2010 Compton Crook Award. The Burn Zone is his debut novel under the name James K. Decker.

Decker applied the Page 69 Test to Fallout, the sequel to The Burn Zone, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Fallout is a bit tricky, in that it involves the novel's secondary plot. Is it representative of the book? Yes and no - the secondary plot weaves into the main plot as the story moves forward and an important piece of that occurs on page 69; however if you were to read only page 69 it may leave you with the impression that the book is about something other than what it is. The gist of page 69 is that Sam (the main protagonist) has returned to her apartment to find a Reunification Church member (called 'gonzos' by the locals) waiting for her. Since the cult has recently indoctrinated her younger brother (as a means to get closer to her) she is not pleased to see the man, but when she confronts him he presents her with a letter from the cult's leader, Gohan Song. After initially refusing it, she is convinced to at least read what he has to say:
I turned the envelope over in my hands. The calligraphy characters displayed the meaning of my name.

Little Star.

I detected a faint, sweet smell, and sniffed the paper. It had been perfumed.

“That isn’t creepy,” I muttered, but in spite of all the shit I’d just given the gonzo I had to admit to being a little curious. I tore the gold sticker, and opened the envelope that contained a single square card with no fold. Gohan had written on it in columns of little, precise characters.
Xiao-Xing Shao,

I wish to invite you as my special guest to the new haan colony of Xinzhongzi in anticipation of its grand opening. There is an important matter I would like very much to discuss with you, and so I sincerely hope you will consider my invitation in spite of any issues I may have had with your family in the past. I look forward to your reply.

All the best,

Gohan Sòng
“Unreal,” I said. I used my phone to scan the coded seal he’d stamped in the corner, then texted the number that it pulled.

Eat me.
Gohan Song has, for reasons Sam doesn't understand yet, taken a keen interest in her. The letter represents his most forward attempt to make contact with her (and he doesn't take her rejection of it lightly).

His interest in her stems from her relationship with the novel's alien race the Haan, however, and it is her interactions with them that drives the main plot forward. In The Burn Zone, Sam trusted the haan completely. By its end, she learned things which have shaken that trust and so by the time we meet up with her again in Fallout she is playing a dangerous game in order to uncover the truth that garners the attention of the Haan, the government, and Gohan's people.
Visit the official James K. Decker website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 10, 2014

"Cruel Beauty"

Rosamund Hodge loves mythology, Hello Kitty, and T. S. Eliot. Her debut novel, Cruel Beauty—a YA fantasy where Greek mythology meets Beauty and the Beast—features references to only two of those things.

Hodge applied the Page 69 Test to Cruel Beauty and reported the following:
I was happily surprised to find that page 69 of my novel does, in fact, provide a good preview of the novel. My heroine, Nyx Triskelion, has known all her life that her father's foolish bargain doomed her to marry the Gentle Lord, the evil, immortal ruler of her country. And all her life, she has trained to die destroying him. Yet when she arrives at his castle, she finds that her new husband is not only more attractive than she expected; he is also not quite so cruel to her. On page 69, she is having her first dinner with him.
“Or will you next expect me to love you because you have not yet put me to torment?”

As I said the words, I realized they were true. I had been the bride of the Gentle Lord for half a day already, and there had been strikingly little torment. And I was not grateful; I was disturbed. What could he be planning?

“Well, I’m already hoping there could be a dinner where you don’t try to stab me with your fork,” he said.

“You might need to make your peace with disappointment.”
Learn more about the book and author at Rosamund Hodge's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 9, 2014

"Hang Wire"

Adam Christopher is a New Zealand-born writer, now living in the UK.

His new books are Hang Wire and, coming soon, The Burning Dark.

Christopher applied the Page 69 Test to Hang Wire and reported the following:
Page 69 of the US edition:
half asleep he couldn’t reconcile them. There was a TV, and the table next to him was low and long, red maple, scattered with magazines and remote controls.

He lifted himself up on the couch on one elbow. How had he gotten there? His phone continued to ring, its vibrate setting making it dance on the coffee table. He grabbed it, didn’t check who was calling, and collapsed back onto the couch, his eyes firmly shut.


“This is some sleeping in.” It was Alison. The line was clear and lacking in the usual muffled quality of her cell. There was noise on the other end, too. Someone else talking.

Ted thought about Alison’s statement, pondering it for a few seconds. She could have spoken in Chinese for all he knew.


Eyes open, heart pounding.

“Shit,” he said. He was awake now, lying on the couch. His head wasn’t sore but his body was, like he’d just finished a workout. Sleeping on the couch would do that.

Alison laughed in his ear. “Don’t worry. I told Mazzy about last night.”

“What did she say?”

“She asked me to ask you how you were. So?”

Ted frowned, rubbed his forehead. “Mm?”

Alison sighed. “How are you? You sleep OK?”

“Um,” said Ted. Then he paused. He concentrated, hard. “Yeah, I guess. I think I overslept though.” He scrambled for the TV remote and waved it at the set. The screen flickered and Ted’s eyes searched the screen, looking for the ever-present clock displayed against the breakfast news.

“I think you needed it,” said Alison.

On the TV, someone in blue spandex was trying to sell Ted an exercise bike in fifty-two easy payments. There was no clock on display. He was lost, deep in infomercial territory.
Page 69 of Hang Wire is actually a really great snapshot of the core plot – at his birthday party in a Chinatown restaurant, Ted’s fortune cookie (impossibly) explodes, showering the entire place with thousands of fortunes, all reading the same thing:


After this, Ted starts experiencing blackouts and lost time. He feels awful, like he’s not getting any sleep. He wakes up at odd times, his daily routine is destroyed, and he starts missing work. Everyone is worried – most of all Alison, his girlfriend and fellow news blogger.

As seen on page 69, Ted is awoken by Alison’s call – he’s late for work again (although at least Alison has the situation covered with the blog’s editor-in-chief, Mazzy, mentioned briefly on this page) and he feels totally disoriented, even thinking, offhand, that Alison may as well have been speaking Chinese. He’s lost time again and, as we discover a little later, he doesn’t even remember coming home.

Ted’s blackouts and nocturnal wanderings also coincide with the murders perpetrated by the Hang Wire Killer, a particularly nasty serial killer who has begun to stalk San Francisco. Could Ted and the killer have some kind of connection…?

(Spoiler-free answer: yes!)
Visit Adam Christopher's website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 8, 2014

"Elysian Fields"

Suzanne Johnson is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series from Tor Books. Royal Street, book one, came out in April 2012; River Road in November 2012; and book three, Elysian Fields, was released in August 2013.

Johnson applied the Page 69 Test to Elysian Fields and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Let’s get to it then,” Zrakovi said, setting his cup on the table. “We need to discuss the elves.”

I stifled a groan. Freaking elves. I hadn’t considered that being the subject of his visit.

“I haven’t been using the staff,” I said. Not much, anyway. Just a couple of small fires easily contained, and a little char on Alex’s mantel. “Do the elves still want to meet with me? Oh, and can you think of any reason an elf or faery might be living in the city and masking his species?”

I had enough elven DNA to be claimed by Mahout, the ancient staff of the Fire Elves that I’d found in Gerry’s attic after Hurricane Katrina. He hadn’t been able to use it, but it ramped up my ability to do physical magic until I was the equal of a Red Congress wizard—well, a Red Congress wizard with poor control over her powers.
It’s interesting that Page 69 fell at this point, at a meeting where Willem Zrakovi, the head of the wizarding Elders for the US and Canada, wants to discuss the elves with protagonist DJ. It’s a talky section in a book with a lot of action, but the conversation sets up key elements of the story arc for the whole series.

It is also indicative of the tone of this book, establishing it as urban fantasy and not paranormal romance. The first two books in the series drew a closer line between the two genres, but the UF storyline predominates in Elysian Fields.

When the border between our world and the preternatural world, the Beyond, fell during Hurricane Katrina’s assault on New Orleans, DJ was caught in the middle of a power struggle. At first, the voodoo god Samedi appeared to be trying to wrest control of the borders from the wizard gatekeepers, but he turned out to be a stalking horse for bigger powers as the Beyond’s major populations—the elves, vampires, and fae—tested the wizards’ mettle.

By book three, the elves are ready to make their first overt play for power against the wizards, using DJ as the pawn. This Page 69 meeting with Zrakovi establishes their desire to find out how much elven magic DJ can do and, thus, how big a threat she is to them as they consider ending their centuries-old truce with the wizards. DJ’s reference to an elf or faery masking his species also leads into a wizard-elf confrontation that accelerates the conflict.
Learn more about the book and author at Suzanne Johnson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 7, 2014

"Only the Good Die Young"

Chris Marie Green is the author of Only the Good Die Young, the first book in the Jensen Murphy, Ghost for Hire series from Penguin/Roc, which features a fun-loving spirit from the ’80s. She also wrote the urban fantasy Vampire Babylon series from Ace Books as well as The She Code, a “geek lit”/chick lit/new adult hybrid with comic book art work by Billy Martinez of Neko Press Comics.

Green applied the Page 69 Test to Only the Good Die Young and reported the following:
My page 69 focuses on an amateur detective doing some Internet investigation for a murder she’s trying to solve. The thing is, this detective, Jensen Murphy, happens to be a ghost from the 1980s. She was pulled out of a “time loop” by a psychic/medium in order to haunt a confession out of Gavin Edgett, a man who was suspected of murdering his fiancée, Elizabeth Dalton, three years ago.

And another thing? Jensen was murdered, too, and her death was such a shock that she went into that time loop, which numbed her to such a degree that she put up a mental wall, blocking the identity of her killer.

On page 69, Jensen is looking at newspaper articles and starting to become more and more fascinated with her human person of interest in the crime. But at the same time, she’s desperately trying to trigger a memory in her own case so she can solve her killing.

The murder case is the “framework” is this story, but a lot of the book also focuses on “Boo World”—the ghost dimension that Jensen is just getting used to. She’s a 1980s fish out of water in this new world as well as a spirit who is discovering ways to interact with the humans she misses. There are also many fun-loving ghosts populating Boo World, making the book’s tone something that I hope resembles vintage Supernatural.

From page 69:
There were pictures that I could barely look at: blond, tanned, beautiful Elizabeth on Gavin’s arm at society functions. He seemed rougher than she was in some way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, because there he was, wearing a tux and seeming polished.

It was his eyes, really. A tough man who held everything in except when he was looking at the woman he loved.

And in these photos, he was looking down at Elizabeth as if she were the most precious thing in creation and he would do anything for her.

Was there an air of possession there, too?

My chest area went tight. Was this the way a killer watched his future prey? Had my murderer been tracking me in the same way, hiding his bloodlust from anyone who might’ve been looking?

I didn’t want to think that, maybe, it’d been one of my party friends who’d found me alone in the woods that night.

God, no way.
Visit Chris Marie Green's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Writers Read: Chris Marie Green.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 6, 2014

"Murder Strikes a Pose"

Tracy Weber is a certified yoga teacher and the founder of Whole Life Yoga, an award-winning yoga studio in Seattle, where she currently lives with her husband, Marc, and German shepherd, Tasha. She loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any form possible. When she’s not writing, she spends her time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and the Dog Writer’s Association of America.

Weber applied the Page 69 Test to Murder Strikes a Pose, the first book in the Downward Dog Mysteries Series, and reported the following:
Page 69 is the first page of Chapter 8, so I only had a half-page of writing to work with. Yoga instructor Kate Davidson has just left a Seattle police station after speaking with John O’Connell—her deceased father’s ex-partner—about her friend George’s murder the night before. Kate is reluctantly fostering the murder victim’s German shepherd, Bella, until she can find a new home for her. Kate doesn’t know it yet, but Bella is suffering from a rare digestive disease.

The paragraphs on page 69 aren’t typical of the book, as there is no dialogue, and the reader doesn’t get to see interactions between any of the characters. But it does give a feel for the voice of the narrator and provides a glimpse into Kate’s mind.
I drove away from the precinct with more questions than answers, but for now, I was forced to wait and hope that John uncovered some useful information. In the meantime, I needed to clear my head. My mind felt sluggish from lack of sleep and the residue of last night’s trauma. Bella’s digestive system, on the other hand, wasn’t sluggish in the slightest. She needed to do some clearing of an entirely different nature.

Discovery Park would meet both of our needs perfectly. Full of wooded trails, open beaches, and scenic picnic areas, the park seemed like the perfect place to gather my thoughts and let Bella do her business. The sun peeked through the clouds and provided a welcome contrast to the chilly morning breeze. A damp, earthy smell permeated the air, left over from the prior week’s rain. The universe seemed to be offering me hope—reminding me that after every dismal storm, the sun eventually reappeared. I turned toward the warmth, closed my eyes, took a deep breath—and gagged.

In the name of all that was holy, what was that smell?
Visit Tracy Weber's website, blog, and Facebook page.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Tracy Weber and Tasha.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Lake of Tears"

Award-winning writer Mary Logue is the author of numerous adult mystery novels (including the Claire Watkins mystery series), four books of poetry, several nonfiction books, and many children's books.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Lake of Tears, the ninth Claire Watkins mystery, and reported the following:
I love the notion of this test. And I can see my mom doing exactly what is being tested. I can see her standing in the library and reading a bit from the beginning, and, yes, I hate to say it but reading a bit from the end, and then turning to page 69 to see how the story was moving along.

I have to say that I hope if she had read page 69 in Lake of Tears that she would have kept reading. There's the end of a fight between two men over Tammy Lee and then a mother's nonchalance about her missing daughter, again, Tammy Lee. What I hope this would raise in the mind of my careful reader is both mystery and promise. Maybe promise of mystery. Why are the men fighting? Why is the mother so unconcerned? And who is this Tammy Lee?

The line I love from this page is right toward the bottom. Tammy Lee's mother is talking about her daughter's upcoming wedding, "Tammy's been saving up money so she could have the kind of wedding she's always dreamed of—you know, the big white dress, the five bridesmaids, the whole nine yards."

So the final question--will this wedding take place? Or will the title, Lake of Tears, hint at a sad ending?
Visit Mary Logue's website.

The Page 69 Test: Point No Point.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"Iron Night"

M.L. Brennan's first novel, Generation V, was published in 2013 from ROC Books, and is a work of urban fantasy. Its sequel, Iron Night, was published January 7, 2014. The third book in the series is Tainted Blood and will be available in November 2014.

Brennan applied the Page 69 Test to Iron Night and reported the following:
I was a little nervous to apply the Page 69 test to Iron Night, but I was pleasantly surprised. My main characters, vampire Fortitude Scott and kitsune trickster Suzume Hollis are investigating the murder of Fort’s roommate, Gage. The trail has led them to a speed-dating operation based in a New Age store, and they encounter a new character, Lilah, who will be important later in the book.

From page 69:
…was sending out the e-mails this morning to the participants, and pretty much every woman asked to have her info sent to him.” Lilah considered for a moment, then asked tentatively, “I’m sure you’re really worried about him, but have you thought about whether he went home with someone? People aren’t supposed to do it at the dating events, but I know that sometimes they slip phone numbers to each other.” She shrugged, dropped her voice, then said almost apologetically, “It seemed like a really nice group, but sometimes when one person is so obviously popular a few of the daters try to . . . you know . . . make an impression. There have been a few incidents.”

Lilah’s expression suggested that those incidents were weird, probably sexual, and definitely good storytelling, and I was about to ask for details when Suzume walked up beside me, apparently done with whatever form of vandalism she’d come up with to occupy her attention. She opened her mouth to say something, then suddenly stopped, frowned slightly, and peered hard at Lilah. She leaned across the counter, well into Lilah’s personal space, and gave a very obvious sniff. A wide, slightly malevolent smile spread across her face, reminding me of the cartoon Grinch, and she said, “Well, if it isn’t one of Santa’s little helpers.”

Lilah went completely white at the statement, her freckles suddenly stark against the pallor of her skin, and her hands flew instinctively to her hair, patting frantically at the braid that circled her head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said thinly, even as the patting continued.

Suzume snorted. “Oh, give it a rest, halfsie.” She rolled her eyes at me, as I continued to attempt to puzzle out what exactly was happening. “If it wasn’t for the level of patchouli funk in this place I would’ve smelled it earlier.” At Lilah’s persistent hair groping, Suze gave a rather mean smile and said, “Don’t look so horrified. You didn’t flash an ear. Let’s get this thing rolling. I’m”—she pointed at her chest—“a kitsune, and he’s”—now the finger went in my direction—“a vampire.”

I choked. Apparently all secret identities were off.

It didn’t seem possible, but Lilah got even paler and…
The big question of course, is whether this one page is representative of the book. To a degree, yes. I’d say my writing style (particularly some of the humorous elements) is very much on display here, as is my style of dialogue. There’s a reveal going on that I like quite a bit, since Fort and Lilah are both characters who have very uneasy feelings about their supernatural natures and would much rather play at being human, while Suzume has no patience at all for this attitude. Suzume can be a very playful character, but in this scene she has much more of a nasty edge than usual, foreshadowing her extreme dislike of the elves. Fort doesn’t have as much experience with elves, though after some other scenes he’ll be much more in tune with his friend’s opinion.

This scene also shows a bit of the dynamic between Fort and Suze – he’s still figuring out how to investigate something, and being in charge and questioning something sits awkwardly with him. While Suze is letting him figure these things out, when she loses patience with the situation she’s likely to come in like a wrecking ball – more concerned with results than people’s feelings. And a true fox at her core, she’ll never pass up the opportunity to toy with a situation or exploit a vulnerability. In contrast you can see Fort’s discomfort with what she’s doing – a larger issue that spans the book and series as a whole.
Visit M.L. Brennan's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 3, 2014

"Under The Jewelled Sky"

Born in the Sixties to an Indian mother and an English jazz musician father, Alison McQueen grew up in London and worked in advertising for twenty-five years before retiring to write full time.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Under The Jeweled Sky, her 7th novel, and reported the following:
Under The Jewelled Sky is a tragic tale of love and loss set in the dying embers of the British Raj. The story unravels the fragile construct of a severely dysfunctional British family posted out to a Maharaja’s palace and watches its slow disintegration in the wake of World War II and the subsequent partition of India.

Page 69 gives away nothing of the Indian story, or of the tale to come. It is set in the second strand of the novel, in 1957 London, and our heroine, Sophie, is considering a marriage proposal from ambitious British diplomat, Lucien. Here, she is speaking to her friend Margie, in the days when nobody talked openly about sex.
“I’m assuming you’ve been to bed together?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“How Victorian. I wouldn’t dream of marrying a man without going to bed with him first, otherwise how could you know whether you’re compatible? If you wait until after the wedding, you might find out that he’s not up to it at all. Can you imagine how miserable that would be?”
And it turns out to be very miserable indeed. The bad marriage is merely the tip of the iceberg, leading to a series of events that takes Sophie from London to India to America and back again in the search for her inescapable destiny.
Learn more about the book and author at Alison McQueen's website.

My Book, The Movie: Under The Jewelled Sky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 1, 2014

"Worthy Brown’s Daughter"

Former trial attorney Phillip Margolin has been writing full-time since 1966. All of his many novels have been New York Times bestsellers.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Worthy Brown's Daughter, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Worthy Brown’s Daughter is in Chapter Ten. Caleb Barbour invites several powerful men to his home to meet the Reverend Dr. Arthur Fuller. Fuller is in Portland to lecture on the benefits of slavery at a rally in support of John C. Breckinridge, a pro-slavery Democrat who is running against Abraham Lincoln in the presidential race. Fifteen-year-old Roxanne, who Barbour is holding as a slave, is serving refreshments. The men ignore her as if she was a piece of furniture while they discuss the inferiority of the Negro race. On page 69 we find Roxanne in her room thinking about what she has heard. She asks herself, "Am I a Human Being?"
Mr. Barbour had given Roxanne a candle. Her room was pitch black when she extinguished it. The darkness did not cool the room but it was conducive to thought, and tonight she was thinking about what Mr. Barbour and his guests had said about her people and apes. Roxanne did not know what an ape was but she suspected it was some kind of animal that resembled a Negro. Animals were less than human and Mr. Goodfellow seemed to think that the way her face slanted indicated a closer relationship to the brute than the human. In her experience, most Negroes were treated more like an animal than a human, but her father had assured her that the only difference between Negroes and whites was the color of their skin. He had seen the skeletons of dead white men and dead Negroes and the insides of injured white men and Negroes and had told her that there was no difference between the bones and guts of the races that he could see.

Was it the thoughts of white people and Negroes that made them different, then? Did white people have bigger thoughts? Whites had written all of the books she’d read in secret and she knew of none that had been written by her own people. Was the capacity of blacks to think on things smaller? If so, how was she able to understand what she heard and read? It was all very confusing.
Roxanne begins the novel as a physically and sexually abused fifteen-year-old girl with low self-esteem. During the course of the story she grows into a strong young woman. On page 69, for the first time, she starts wondering whether she has any worth as a person.
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