Monday, March 31, 2014


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. Her second novel, Scratchgravel Road, was followed up by her newest book, Wrecked, released this month. 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 Wrecked and reported the following:
As was the case with my other two books, page 69 is a pivotal scene, and introduces one of my favorite bad guys, Wally Follet. At this point in the story, Chief of Police Josie Gray has discovered that her longtime love interest, Dillon Gray, is not only missing, but his secretary was murdered in his office. When Dillon didn’t show up for a planned event, Josie let petty jealousies keep her from checking his house and office. She imagined him spending the night with his pretty secretary, Christina. When Josie discovers Christina’s body in Dillon’s office the next morning she realizes her insecurities could have cost the woman her life. To further complicate matters, she discovers that Dillon’s disappearance may be connected to her past involvement with a Mexican cartel.

In the excerpt below, Josie and her partner Otto have discovered a key player in the murder of Christina and the disappearance of Dillon. Wally Follet, who appears to be a sleazy salvage dealer, has connections to the Medrano’s, a Mexican cartel with a vendetta to serve against Josie. Wally Follet is connected to a con game that is worth millions and could cost Josie everything that matters in her life.

Excerpt from page 69:
The office was cool and the shattered glass had been swept away. Christina’s chair had been removed and taken to the police station as evidence. It didn’t change the horror of what had happened, but it was a relief not to look at the bloodstained chair.


After spending another fifteen minutes checking through desk drawers and searching closets, they were ready to go back to the department to begin sifting through documents. Before they left, Josie found the key to Dillon’s post office box in his desk drawer and took it with her. She occasionally picked up his mail and knew that his box was number 246.

Josie locked up the office and Otto drove to the post office, where she retrieved the mail with no issue. Seated in the car again, Josie flipped through the pile of bills and came across a letter addressed to Dillon from the United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas.

“This looks like a summons for federal court,” she said.

He glanced at the envelope. “Better open it.”

Josie quickly read through the letter and said, “Dillon received a summons for the district court in El Paso. The case is against a Walter Frank Follet.”

“Wally Follet,” Otto said. “That’s one of Dillon’s clients. I remember seeing the name in the database.”

“He runs the salvage yard. Wally’s Folly.”

Otto nodded and glanced at Josie. “I know who Wally is. I’ve never had a run-in with him, but I can’t imagine him ever winning businessman of the year.”

Josie turned in her seat and looked at him. “A federal indictment? Motive for a murder and kidnapping?”

“If a guy like Wally thought it would keep him out of jail? Absolutely.”
Learn more about the book and author at Tricia Fields's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Territory.

The Page 69 Test: Scratchgravel Road.

Writers Read: Tricia Fields.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 30, 2014

"Before My Eyes"

Caroline Bock has a master of fine art degree in fiction writing from The City College of New York. Prior to focusing on her writing career, she worked as a cable television executive, including as the senior vice president, marketing and public relations at IFC and BRAVO. Her debut young adult novel, Lie (St. Martin’s Press, 2011), inspired by a brutal hate crime, was critically acclaimed and her new young adult, Before My Eyes (St. Martin’s Press), just released in February, also takes inspiration from recent new events. Before My Eyes is about teens, mental illness and gun violence at the end of a long, hot summer. Bock currently lives in Maryland with her husband and two kids.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Before My Eyes and reported the following:
Much of the novel takes places at a fictional town beach on the south shore of Long Island, New York along the Atlantic Ocean. On this steaming-hot Friday at eleven in the morning—the days and time are listed at every chapter heading in this literary thriller—seventeen-year-old Claire has lied to her father and gone with her six-year-old sister, Izzy, to the beach. Claire has been taking care of her sister for months, ever since their mother had a stroke, and just wants a day of fun in the ocean and sand. But at this moment, on p. 69, Izzy has run ahead through the beach-going throngs, and Claire, in a panic, shouts, “Izzy” and sees this:
I catch my reflection in a pair of mirrored sunglasses. I look like I’m falling apart, hair out of my ponytail, beach bag over-flowing. He tilts his head, seeing me, watching me watch myself. In the reflection of his sunglasses, I’m all wide brown eyes. I’m distorted, elongated; but he doesn’t turn his head or take off the glasses, and I wonder if he’s looking for someone, too. He has a shaved head and a cold grin.

Claire can’t find Izzy in the crowd until—from behind this man, who we will learn much of in the novel, and who will change Claire’s life forever—Izzy appears.

“I’m right here,” she says. “Anyways I’m not afraid.”

“I’m not afraid either,” I say, though I am angry at the fear welling inside me.

The heavyset, bald guy trains his mirrored sunglasses on us. I look down toward Izzy. I’ve seen enough at my distorted image.

“Yes, you are, Claire,” says Izzy. “You’re always afraid something is going to happen to me.”

I exhale. We’re here. It’s going to be a blistering day. I am not afraid.
Visit Caroline Bock's website, blog, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Landry Park"

Bethany Hagen was born and raised in Kansas City. She grew up reading Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, and all things King Arthur, and went on to become a librarian.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Landry Park, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
Underneath the good looks and the glamour, there was a changeling; a boy by turns serious and bitter and playful. From outside the musty world of the maze, the ringing of the university bell disturbed the ivy-covered ghosts of war. “It’s four o’clock,” I said, looking away from him. “Tea will be over.”

“Yes,” David answered absently, still looking around the room. “Yes.”

We quietly wound our way back through the maze until we reached the door. I pulled it shut and turned to find David standing just behind me. Away from the freshly cut grass, the smell of him was overpowering. “I enjoyed this afternoon. Believe it or not, my days are usually tediously empty.”

We were barely a body’s width apart.

“Given what I have seen on the wall screens since your arrival, I thought you spent most of your time partying or kissing debutantes.”

David moved away with a quick laugh. “A bachelor must keep up appearances.”

We were on the lawn now, with the sun streaming down and the soothing hum of the gardeners trimming the grass. The university bell rung again, but I felt reluctant to move closer to the house. “Mother will be wondering where I am,” I said, stalling.

“Let’s not keep her waiting then.” To my surprise, David seized my hand and started running, pulling me along behind him. I could feel my curls pulling loose from the comb that kept them back.
Page 69 is very representative of Landry Park on the whole. Landry Park is the story of Madeline Landry, the heir to a massive estate and to a long legacy of hidden power and privilege. Her world is fueled by nuclear energy, and it is a disgraced caste that is shackled with the work of handling the nuclear waste that makes a comfortable life like Madeline's possible. One of the biggest impetuses for Madeline evaluating her worldview is the arrival of David Dana in her city. At first glance, he seems the prototypical wealthy playboy, but he knows more than he's letting on...

What I love about this page is that it plunges right into the push and pull of Madeline and David's romance. We have Madeline, who is reserved but proud, and David, who is charming but mercurial, and when they are together, the air between them is charged with challenge. They bring out both the best and the worst in each other, which is a catalyst for many of the events later on in the book. It also gives you a sense of the atmosphere: the wide lawn, the clanging bells, the maze...this page evokes the sort of restrained luxury that permeates the entire world of Landry Park.
Visit Bethany Hagen's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 28, 2014

"The Girl Who Came Home"

Hazel Gaynor is an author and freelance writer in Ireland and the U.K. and was the recipient of the Cecil Day Lewis Award for Emerging Writers in 2012. Originally from North Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Ireland with her husband, two young children, and an accident-prone cat.

Gaynor applied the Page 69 Test to The Girl Who Came Home, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Girl Who Came Home falls in the middle of one of my main character, Maggie’s, journal entries, where she is recording her thoughts and feelings about leaving Ireland, and her sweetheart, Séamus, to sail on Titanic to America. Maggie, and the thirteen others she is travelling with, are boarding the tenders at Queenstown. These smaller boats will take them out to Titanic, moored off-shore because she is too large for the small port.

I particularly enjoyed writing Maggie’s journal entries. She was a lovely character to write and I found that her voice developed very naturally on the page. I always felt that she was very real – sitting on my shoulder, making sure I got it right! She is a spirited, resilient young girl from a humble, Irish community where family was everything. As the novel is written in two different periods - 1912 and 1982 - we see Maggie as a seventeen-year-old girl and also as an elderly lady. By allowing her to grow into a mature woman, we are able to experience her full life story and learn what happened to her after Titanic. I hope that readers will enjoy immersing themselves in the Titanic era through Maggie’s eyes.
Although we were all still a bit jittery and anxious now to get going, there was a much happier mood about us. Dear God, nothing could be worse than that terrible maudlin feeling that had hung about us all a day earlier. Katie said that she feels so far away from home now that it’s almost impossible to be sad about it. I think I know what she means.

The two tenders, Ireland and America, were moored alongside the wharf. They were nice-looking boats themselves. We stood together, the fourteen of us, some talking, some thinking of home, and some, like me, watching the piles and piles of mailbags being loaded onto the boats, the red flags of the White Star Line and the colourful bunting fluttering in the breeze. It must have been quite a spectacle for the newspaper reporters and the crowds who had gathered to see people off.

It was a bit of a struggle to get us all and our luggage aboard the tender America, but once on board we huddled around the front of the boat, I think it’s called the bow. It felt a bit odd swaying from side to side as the boat rocked in the water. We had to wait a while as a late-running train from Cork had just arrived carrying more passengers. I thought how lucky they were not to have missed the tenders, or Titanic itself for that matter!
Visit Hazel Gaynor's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"And the Hills Opened Up"

David Oppegaard is the author of the Bram Stoker-nominated The Suicide Collectors, Wormwood, Nevada, The Ragged Mountains and And the Hills Opened Up. Oppegaard’s work is a blend of science fiction, literary fiction, horror, and fantasy. He lives in St. Paul, MN.

He applied the Page 69 Test to And the Hills Opened Up and reported the following:
Page 69 of And the Hills Opened Up:
“What happened?”

“Three men dead, sir.”

“Cave in?”

“No. I mean, yes, sir, some rock fell in, but that wasn’t what killed them.”

“Then what was it?”

The boy glanced up at the foreman. “Something…something got at their throats.”

Chambers pulled up. Sweat poured down in his brow in a mighty cascade of miserable salt water.

“Their throats?”

“Ripped’em clean out, sir. Blood all over.”

Chambers set his hands on his hips. He felt like keeling over right there in the scrub grass.

“Run back to my cabin, Randy, and tell Bonnie to give you my rifle. Go now and catch up with me.”
I couldn’t have picked a better page to represent this book, really. My new novel And the Hills Opened Up is a horror/western set in a Wyoming mining town in 1890. When the mining company blasts open a new section of the mine, a powerful and unsettling demon is unearthed.

In the above passage, the mine’s foreman Hank Chambers first learns something is terribly wrong down in the mine. Feeling sick with a summer fever, he decides to investigate the death of three men (the first of many deaths) on his own, taking only his rifle with him. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s about to confront something much worse and much stranger than three dead miners.

Yes, the Charred Man has been woken and is about to lay waste to the isolated town of Red Earth, Wyoming in a major way!
Visit David Oppegaard's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Suicide Collectors.

The Page 69 Test: Wormwood, Nevada.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Truth and Fear"

Peter Higgins read English at Oxford University and Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He was a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford and worked in the British Civil Service. His short stories have appeared in Fantasy: Best of the Year 2007, Best New Fantasy 2, Asimov's Science Fiction, Fantasy Magazine, Zahir and Revelation, and in Russian translation in the St Petersburg magazine Esli. He lives with his family in South Wales.

Higgins applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Truth and Fear, and reported the following:
The first thing that strikes you about page 69 of Truth and Fear is the white space. It’s only got seven lines of text. It’s the end of a chapter. This isn’t much of a surprise, Truth and Fear has short chapters: 93 in total, averaging four pages each. It’s SF/fantasy, but I wanted it to move with the pace and drive of an action thriller. I like short chapters: it speeds up the reading experience, keeps you immersed in the story and wanting to go on turning the pages.

Truth and Fear is the second in a trilogy that began with Wolfhound Century – three thrillers, which together build into a bigger picture, a larger story. I’ve used the action thriller because the world the book builds is a kind of mid-twentieth century Russia/Central Europe – the history and art and atmosphere of that time and place are reflected there, reshaped and re-imagined – and the thriller is a core genre for that. I want readers to feel they’re in that edgy, dangerous world, never far from violence and betrayal. But there are strange things abroad in this world. Alien presences. A sentient river. A sophisticated man who’s also a forest wolf.

Since page 69 is so short I’ll quote it in full:
… the dark wool. She had kissed him that morning at the sea gate lodge. On the cheek. The cool graze of her mouth against his skin.

‘You didn’t start it,’ she said. ‘You chose a side, that’s all. There are only two sides now. There’s nowhere else to stand.’

They walked a little way in silence.

'I didn't know you could fight like that,' said Maroussia.

'That wasn’t fighting,’ said Lom. ‘That was winning. Different thing altogether.'
It’s just a glimpse. Other passages would feel quite different, and this one’s too brief to give a full flavour of the richness of the world the book builds round you. But it’s got the two main protagonists, and it snapshots something essential about their relationship: tentative, exploratory, on the edge; almost-strangers thrown into intimacy, their lives ripped open, everything immediate and raw. They have to act, take sides, decide: and that reveals the truth of who they are. I hope this extract catches something of the atmosphere of the poem by Osip Mandelstam which gives the book its title:
The salt stars melt in the barrel –

The ice-water turns coal-black –

Death is getting purer, hard times saltier,

The planet edging closer to truth and to fear.
Visit Peter Higgins's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Cari Lynn is the author or co-author of four books of narrative nonfiction and a new work of historical fiction (with Kellie Martin), Madam: A Novel of New Orleans, which is based on the true story of New Orleans' experiment with legalized prostitution in the late 1800s.

Kellie Martin is probably still most fondly remembered for her work as Becca Thacher in the ABC series Life Goes On for which she received an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actress. From there, Martin played the title role in CBS’ drama Christy. She also played medical student Lucy Knight on NBC’s ER from 1998-2000. Her most recent series was the Hallmark Channel’s Mystery Woman from 2005-2007.

Lynn applied the Page 69 Test to Madam and reported the following:
It’s almost as if page 69 of Madam knew it would be put to the test! This last page of Chapter 4 manages to hit upon most of the major themes of the book. It’s 1897, New Orleans. We’re seeing the main character, Mary, a poor alley whore, returning from a visit to Miss Eulalie, the Voodoo queen, who’s known to have the best remedy for the “gleet” (a general term used on the street to describe the venereal hazards of Mary’s profession).

Mary’s pimp, Lobrano, is waiting at her house, wondering where she’s been. Mary provides for her brother and his wife, and they share a tiny, dirt-floor house where no one speaks about how Mary earns her way. We get a sense of Mary’s low life and her seemingly helpless situation under the thumb of her pimp. But we also see a spark of Mary’s gumption, signs of the spirit that will compel her to risk everything, to devise a plan to outwit her pimp, and to completely reinvent herself as Madam Josie Arlington. And it’s worth a note that the characters on this page are all based on real people of the same names.

Excerpt from page 69:
Mary gritted her teeth. “Ain’t feelin’ too good is all. Went to get a remedy.”

He studied her, a look of disgust creeping over his face. “You ain’t gone and got yourself in a bad way, have you?”

“No,” she said, insulted, “I always use the French preventative.”

“Good, ’cause you my little cash cow.” He moved toward her, his wandering hands trying to pick up where he’d left off the other night.

“Can’t, Lobrano,” she said forcibly and stepped into the house, only he wedged his foot so she couldn’t shut the door. He followed her inside, already having scoped the place to know that Charlotte and Peter weren’t home. Coming up from behind Mary, he rubbed himself against her like a feral cat. She could smell the drink on him, a constant smell these days. Her fingers traced the outline of the remedy bottle in her pocket, and she could hear Miss Eulalie’s voice warning of the gleet’s fleas.

“Ain’t a good idea, Lobrano.”

He grunted and pushed Mary onto the cot, onto the clean white blanket where pregnant Charlotte slept. She had tried to warn him, but since he wasn’t willing to listen, Mary stopped resisting and let her body uncoil. She planned how, not a moment after he left, she’d strip the bedclothes and boil them in a kettle of water. Leaning back, she tried to hide the little smile playing on her face—Lobrano deserved exactly what he was about to get.
Read more about Madam, and visit the websites of Cari Lynn and Kellie Martin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 24, 2014

"Roosevelt's Beast"

With his most recent novels, Roosevelt's Beast, The School of Night, The Black Tower, The Pale Blue Eye and Mr. Timothy, Louis Bayard, in the words of the Washington Post, has ascended to "the upper reaches of the historical-thriller league." A New York Times Notable author, he has been nominated for both the Edgar® and Dagger awards and has been named one of People magazine's top authors of the year.

Bayard applied the Page 69 Test to Roosevelt's Beast and reported the following:
Ah, the old Soixante-neuf Test! So fun.

By the 69th page of Roosevelt’s Beast, Kermit Roosevelt is in deep shit. He and his father have been captured by unnamed Indians and are being held for reasons still unknown. Kermit has woken up in a small enclosed dark space – a hut, perhaps – and is being gently interrogated by a young woman named Luz, who speaks Portuguese. He is disconcerted by her nudity, but the source of his arousal at the top of the page is not Luz but his fiancée. “In a flash, it was Belle standing in this dark enclosure. Belle’s naked shoulders, burning in the darkness. Belle’s breasts….” This suppressed eroticism – the hunger of a young man unable to be with his woman – will play through the rest of the book.

Kermit has recognized that Luz is an outlier herself, and for the rest of the page, he courts her as an ally in escaping. He promises to return her to her home—better still, America! “In America, everyone is free,” he says. But freedom and America mean nothing to Luz, and here is another theme writ small: the limits of the colonialist impulse.

At last Kermit despairs of his tactics. “All this time he had wasted on rhetoric, on persuasion. When what was truly needed—he could hear the Colonel barking it—was action.” Meet the other key character of the book: Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, who is lying somewhere in that dark enclosure and whose grand idea of exploring an uncharted Amazonian river is the reason they’re in this mess in the first place. And whose notions of right and wrong will be profoundly challenged by all that follows.

Not a bad harvest from a single page. Soixante-neuf, I salute you.
Learn more about the book and author at Louis Bayard's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Black Tower.

The Page 69 Test: The Pale Blue Eye.

The Page 69 Test: The School of Night.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"Pretty Sly"

Elisa Ludwig enjoys writing about teen outlaws, even though she herself has never been one. Pretty Sly is her second novel and the sequel to Pretty Crooked. She lives in Philadelphia, where she is hard at work on the third installment of Willa Fox's adventures.

Ludwig applied the Page 69 Test to Pretty Sly and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Mind telling me where we’re going?” I asked Tre from the passenger seat.

He’d been silent for the past five minutes as he drove us along. Surprises were cute and all, but I was pretty sure I’d had enough of them in the past few days to last me for the next fifteen years.

I scanned the scene outside the window for more information. We were heading south out of the Valley on Route 51, I could tell that much. His Audi picked up speed as we merged onto a huge multi-lane highway lined with sound barrier walls, and passed under a big green sign indicating that the airport was five miles ahead.

“Are we flying somewhere?”

Tre just shook his head. “Damn, you’re impatient. We’re finding you an alternative means of transport. If you’re going to skip town, you can’t go taking public transportation or using your credit cards.”
This excerpt is certainly ironic, given where the story goes. Willa has just said she's had enough surprises to last her for her next fifteen years but in terms of her journey in this book (and the next one, really), she's just getting started. There are many, many more surprises that lay ahead of her!

It also sets up the trip itself. She knows at this point that her mom is missing and she needs to go find her, but she hasn't figured out exactly the best way to go about it since leaving means skipping out on her probation. In this scene, Tre helps her find her mode of transportation but in the process she realizes she really can't take this trip alone. That's where her wingman (and mega crush) Aidan Murphy comes into play. By the end of this scene the trip has launched, she's hit the road and the adventure begins!
Visit Elisa Ludwig's website and view the trailer for Pretty Sly.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Queen Elizabeth's Daughter"

Anne Clinard Barnhill has been writing or dreaming of writing for most of her life. For the past twenty years, she has published articles, book and theater reviews, poetry, and short stories. Her first book, At Home in the Land of Oz, recalls what it was like growing up with an autistic sister. Her work has won various awards and grants. Barnhill holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Queen Elizabeth's Daughter, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“My lord Oxford. You have taken me by surprise. What brings you to the queen’s kitchens?” said Mary, removing her arm from his grasp.

“I was looking for you, Mistress. I went to the queen’s apartments in search of you and Mistress Eleanor said you were most likely checking on your cordials. I knew you to be a woman of many skills, but I did not know you dabbled in medicine,” said Oxford.

“Tis merely a hobby. I am by no means an expert. I have much to learn, but it is pleasant to sip my own concoctions. Why were you looking for me, milord?” said Mary, now walking toward her cordial-making room.

“I wanted to tell you something. Or rather ask…I am not sure which,” said Oxford. His manner was uneasy. Gone was his usual arrogance and in its place, uncertainty. Mary grew more uncomfortable.

“I shall do my best to answer, if you have a question,” said Mary. She watched as the earl shifted from one foot to the other and bit his lower lip. He did not look at her, but instead, gazed at the stone floor.

Mary waited, impatient to get to her fruit and spice mixture, to check on its progress.

“Mistress, I am of an age to take a wife. I have met, and I might add, bedded, many a likely prospect. However, none has touched my heart,” Oxford said, still staring at the floor.

Mary said nothing.

“But now….,” he said, reaching for her hand, “Now I have found one I would wish to be bound to ---you, dearest Mary.”

Mary stood still. She could not think of what to say. She could feel the blood pulsing in her neck and her chest pounded. She did not wish to marry this man—
This page is pivotal to the rest of the story. Mary is young, eligible, and, as the queen’s royal ward and second cousin, she is a desirable match. However, though Oxford would be a fine husband for her, raising her status and her finances, she does not care for him. As she rebuffs him, this action will lead to serious consequences for Mary later on.

Touching on one of the overarching themes of the book—love and its various forms—this scene sets the stage for further explorations about the nature of romantic love, maternal love and love of God. As Mary will learn, love can hurt. Here, it is Oxford who is hurt; later, the tables will turn.
Visit Anne Clinard Barnhill's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Fog of Dead Souls"

Jill Kelly is a writer, visual artist, creativity coach, and freelance editor. A long-time college professor of literature, she has been writing and publishing since 2002. Her memoir, Sober Truths: The Making of an Honest Woman, was a finalist for the prestigious Oregon Book Award.

Kelly applied the Page 69 Test to Fog of Dead Souls, her second novel and first thriller, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Saturday was hard. Ellie didn’t want to be alone with her feelings, so she and Sandy played Quiddler and Canasta, watched old movies, exercised to an old Jane Fonda tape—anything to not think and not talk. Sandy stayed while she napped, ran her a hot bath in the late afternoon. At seven, she took two more Valium and sent Sandy home and went to bed.

Sunday morning, she found she didn’t have the energy to get up. She fed the cats and went back to bed. The cats were happy to follow her into the bedroom. She dozed and dreamed and slept some more. She woke thirsty from the drugs but with little appetite. When Sandy showed up, she was asleep on the couch. Sandy made tomato soup but Ellie let the bowl grow cold on the coffee table.

She slept through the next five days. She slept through her doctor’s appointment but got the woman to agree to refill the Valium. Sandy, who worked at the college library, came by on her way home to fix supper. But most of the nights, Ellie lied and said she’d had a late lunch and not to bother fixing anything.

Late Friday afternoon, her cell phone rang. Only a few people had that number: Joel, Sandy, her sister, her best friend in Virginia. But it was none of those. It was Detective Hansen.

“Did I wake you?” His voice was already familiar and somehow comforting, and she found it odd that she felt that way.

“No, yes. I’ve done nothing but sleep all week. I think I must be depressed.” She heard a low chuckle from the other end.

“I would think you have a right to be,” he said. “How are you doing, other than sleeping?”

“I don’t know. I just get through the days. I’m looking forward to going back to work next week.”

“Isn’t that a little soon?” She heard the concern in his voice and it made her feel somehow safer though she knew that was silly. He was two hundred miles away.

“You sound like Sandy,” she said. “I need to work. I need to get back into my life. I can’t watch any more game shows or soap operas. I’m not cut out to be idle.”
It’s a curious thing to read a page out of one’s own book, a page at random, and see how it represents the story as a whole. I was tempted to use another page, not page 69 as asked, because this is a “glue” page, not a “plot” page. Glue pages are those pieces of writing that help fill in the gaps, hold the main events together, and deepen the reader’s knowledge of the characters.

Page 69 is a quarter of the way through Fog. It’s in a quiet chapter of aftermath, where the main character, Ellie, gets a chance to recover from the trauma of violence and death that culminated in the death of her boyfriend. Yet rather than recover, as it might first appear, Ellie is really beginning to relapse, for we already know that she is a recovering alcoholic and that sedatives like Valium are a threat to her sobriety. We also see that she’s sinking into depression and isolation.

At the same time, this page reveals that Hansen, the detective in charge of the case, is less objective than he should be, that some kind of relationship is brewing between these two that may prove both intriguing and problematic. In that sense, page 69 is a perfect distillation of this thriller. The characters hide much from each other in relationships that are intriguing and problematic and ultimately dangerous.
Visit Jill Kelly's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"Strange Sweet Song"

Adi Rule grew up among cats, ducks, and writers. She studied music as an undergrad, and has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Rule is a member of, and has been a soloist for, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra/Boston Pops. She lives in New Hampshire.

Rule applied the Page 69 Test to Strange Sweet Song, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
[Mrs. Bigelow presses "play" again, and more birdsong hisses through. It is the same song ... almost, Sing thinks. Something’s not right.

She realizes what the strange, many-lined staves are just before Mrs. Bigelow says, "Here are sonograms of the two different songs I just played you. Left to right represents Time, and low to high is Frequency. The smudgy lines that look like notes are the sounds the birds are making. As you can see, the second song – which is the juvenile – is just slightly different from the first. He hasn't quite learned it yet."

Pencils scribble things in notebooks. Sing wonders what everyone’s writing. She looks at her doodle. A shepherdess in a flouncy dress.

"We don't have any silver-eared laughingthrushes here," the teacher says. "But I brought a couple field guides to help you. You're each going to choose a common local bird -- nothing too hard to find, please, since you'll have to study it -- and learn its songs. Birdsongs can be quite lovely and inspiring; several famous composers, like Olivier Messiaen, have even tried to imitate them in their works. I'll give you until the end of class to choose your species."]
This was one of my favorite bits of research for this book. You can find sonograms of birdsong online, and they're absolutely fascinating. They look a little bit like written music.

Sing's (the main character) story is about her struggle to find an identity as a singer despite the long shadows of her celebrity parents. She knows her parents' influence has advanced her training and career -- she hobnobs with world-class musicians and attends a prestigious conservatory -- but she doubts her own worth as an artist. This excerpt, a description of a juvenile bird learning songs from its parents, encapsulates that struggle in a very obvious way, but also has undertones of judgment. The song is described as being "not right," and that the bird hasn't "learned it yet," as though the song the juvenile sings is less worthy.

Sing ends up choosing crows for this assignment, mostly as an act of rebellion, since crow song is harsh and grating. But as she studies them and learns to appreciate the ways in which they communicate, she starts to question what beauty is and what song is. Her connection to the crows becomes an important facet of the story, and a parallel storyline involving one crow in particular intersects in a major way with her own near the end.
Visit Adi Rule's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Visible City"

Tova Mirvis is the author of three novels, Visible City, The Outside World and The Ladies Auxiliary, which was a national bestseller. Her essays have appeared in various anthologies and newspapers including The New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, CommentaryGood Housekeeping, and Poets and Writers, and her fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio. She has been a Scholar in Residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University, and Visiting Scholar at The Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center. She lives in Newton, MA with her three children.

Mirvis applied the Page 69 Test to Visible City and reported the following:
From page 69:
Only before going to sleep did Nina remember to check on Hop, the pet Max had already started to lose interest in. Unable to recall the last time she’d fed him, Nina steeled herself to the possibility that she’d killed him.

Not only was Hop alive, he was thriving. In the absence of attention, Hop had taken the final leap. Finally more frog than tadpole, he had emerged from the water and stood on the rock, calmly taking in his surroundings. It was almost midnight, but Nina tiptoed into Max’s room.

Breaking the cardinal rule of their existence, Nina woke a sleeping child. Max opened his eyes, confused then thrilled. In the living room, they all looked into the bowl, Jeremy taking a rare break from his work, Max leaning in so close that his breathing fogged the glass.

“How did Hop know how to become a frog?” Max asked them.

“That’s just what they do,” Jeremy explained.

“It’s how their bodies work,” Nina said. In her son’s eyes, a look of pure wonder, the world on the cusp of breaking wide open.
On page 69, Nina, Jeremy and their four year old son Max are spending a quiet night at home in their Manhattan apartment. This evening is somewhat of an anomaly because Jeremy usually works late while Nina spends her nights alone, looking out the windows at her neighbors across the way. Nina is lonely and restless, and these neighbors become a way to escape her own life. At first Nina is content to watch and imagine, but her restlessness soon propels her to becomes entangled in her neighbors’ lives.

On this page, Nina realizes that she has been forgetting to feed Hop, the class tadpole that Max brought home from nursery school. She worries that she has killed it but instead, discovers that the tadpole has finally turned into a frog. Sometimes small changes happen when we stop looking so closely.

Hop returns in later chapters and this gave me a chance to think about the wonders of the natural world that exist inside the concrete grid of the city. Sometimes only children notice the marvels taking place around us. So much of the book is about what we see and don’t see, in the city around us and in the people we love, so this was a chance to play with this idea in a different way.

One of the themes too of the book is about over-parenting and kids who are scrutinized, all the time. For the current generation of mothers, so much is said about how you are supposed to be raising your kids. Here, Nina breaks the cardinal rule of their existence by waking a sleeping child, in order to show Max their newly transformed pet. The parents in my novel pay much attention to the edicts of parenting, but for one moment, the rules are broken in order to share a small moment of wonder.
Visit Tova Mirvis's website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Tova Mirvis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 17, 2014


Dean Crawford worked as a graphic designer before he left the industry to pursue his lifelong dream of writing full-time. An aviation and motorcycle enthusiast, he lives with his family in Surrey, England.

His novels include Covenant, Immortal, and Apocalypse.

Crawford applied the Page 69 Test to Apocalypse and reported the following:
From page 69:
“If the sun vanished from the center of our solar system right now, we wouldn’t know about it for eight minutes. In comparison, the light from the Andromeda galaxy takes about two million years to get here, so we see that galaxy as it was two million years ago.”

Jarvis nodded as he got the message. “The farther away you’re looking, the farther back in time you can see.”

“That’s right,” Ryker agreed. “And if someone in the Andromeda galaxy had a big enough telescope and they zoomed in to this very spot here, what do you think they would see?”

“Not this office,” Lopez guessed.

“They’d probably see saber-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths,” Ryker confirmed. “Whatever was living on this spot two million years ago.”

“Okay,” Ethan said, “I’ve got that much, but how does all of it translate into Charles Purcell being able to see into the future?”

Ryker stepped away from the blackboard.

“Well, the simplest way to put it is that time and space are effectively the same thing. You need space in order for light to be able to travel from one place to another, and how long it takes light to cross that space gives you the definition of time. Each needs the other in order to exist, and what affects one will affect the other. This relationship is known as the space-time continuum.”

Lopez nodded.

“I’ve heard of that before,” she said. “You reckon that Purcell has somehow worked out how to alter the continuum?”

Ryker shook his head.

“I’m not sure. What I do know for sure is that time does not always run at the same speed across the universe, or even here on earth.”
Apocalypse is a novel about time, and of mankind’s remarkable achievement in finding a way to see both forwards and backwards through time. Most science-fiction titles imagine time travel as the key to such an achievement: with Apocalypse, I focused on the fact that the nature of light allows you to see back in time, even by the simple act of looking at the moon. The light cast upon it from the sun takes 1.3 seconds to be reflected off the moon and then reach your eyes here on Earth, so you’re looking 1.3 seconds into the past. We live in a time-machine universe, the secrets of the past awaiting a sufficient piece of technology to unveil them…
Learn more about the book and author at Dean Crawford's website and blog.

Writers Read: Dean Crawford.

My Book, The Movie: Apocalypse.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Never Ending"

Martyn Bedford is the author of Flip, his award-winning debut novel for teens, as well as five books for adults which have been translated into twelve languages, and numerous short stories. A former journalist, he now teaches on the English and Writing program at Leeds Trinity University College and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia.

Bedford applied the Page 69 Test to Never Ending, his latest novel for teens, and reported the following:
From page 69:
She must’ve fallen asleep because the next thing she knew, Mum was tickling the sole of her foot and saying, ‘Wakey-wakey.’

She jerked her foot away. ‘Hm?’

‘We’re going for some lunch,’ Mum said.

‘I’m not really hungry.’

‘I’ll eat yours, then.’ This was Dad, his sun-hat too bright in the glare for her to look at him. He grinned, rubbed his belly. ‘I love it when you’re off your food.’

They sat at a table on the terrace of a taverna overlooking the spot where they’d spent the morning. Shiv saw that Dec had written his name in huge letters in the wet sand near the water’s edge.

The waiter took their order. When he’d gone, Mum asked Shiv if it might be a good idea to put a T-shirt on.

‘So the waiter can’t gawp at my boobs, you mean?’

‘Yes, exactly.’

‘Those are boobs?’ her brother said, helping himself to three chunks of bread. ‘Wow, they don’t look anything like the ones on the Internet.’

‘Declan, please.’

‘You’re the one talking about boobs, Mum.’

‘You think it’s my responsibility to cover up, then?’ Shiv said, addressing her mother. ‘A guy is perfectly entitled to stare at a girl if she’s wearing a bikini, yeah?’

‘You’re twelve,’ Mum said to Declan. ‘You shouldn’t be looking at porn.’

‘Yeah, right. And make sure to warn those bears about shitting in the woods.’

Mum turned to Dad. ‘I thought you’d set a filter on his PC?’
Never Ending switches back and forth between two narrative strands: the ‘before’ storyline of a family holiday in Greece that ends in tragedy, and the ‘after’ storyline in which the heroine, Shiv, has gone off the rails with guilt and grief and is sent away to a psychiatric clinic. On page 69, we are in the ‘before’ storyline.

In this part-scene, Shiv and her mother, father and younger brother, Declan, are at the beach on the fictional island of Kyritos. Shiv isn’t happy at this point. In the previous chapter from this strand of the novel, she met an attractive Greek guy, called Nikos, during a boat trip and told him where she was staying. Two days later, he hasn’t turned up and Shiv is moody and quarrelsome.

As you’ll have gathered from the brief summary of the two storylines, the novel has its darker moments. But there’s light relief, too, and much of that comes from Declan’s sarcasm and the verbal sparring which he and Shiv enjoy during the holiday. You get a flavour of Dec’s sense of humour in this scene and a good feel for the family dynamics.

I had enormous fun writing Declan’s dialogue on this page and, generally, throughout the ‘before’ strand of the novel. He says all the things I wish I’d had the nerve to say when I was 12 years old.

Further into this chapter, Shiv reluctantly goes off with her brother to explore the rocks at the end of the beach and – once they’ve finished trying to splash each other – we see their underlying fondness, rekindled by memories of past holidays at the seaside when they were little kids. But when they rejoin their parents at the sun loungers ... Nikos turns up. And the tragic events of the days that follow are set in motion.
Learn more about the book and author at Martyn Bedford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 15, 2014

"Happily Ever After"

Elizabeth Maxwell lived for a long time in the east until one particularly snowy February when she couldn’t take it anymore, packed up her angry cat and moved west. She’s been hanging out in the Northern California sunshine ever since. (Well, except for a decade in San Francisco where it was foggy all the time but the restaurants were really good so there was that.) Maxwell currently lives in Davis, CA with her husband, two kids and the same angry cat (who is now 97 cat years old.)

She applied the Page 69 Test to Happily Ever After, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 includes a scene where Sadie gets a call from the local hospital to say they have a patient suffering from amnesia who claims she’s his next of kin. Once she establishes the patient isn’t her ex husband Roger or her daughter Allison, the next logical step is to tell the hospital the man is mistaken. She has no relatives around here. But something stops her and she agrees to come in and take a look at the guy. She has a sneaking suspicion it’s the gorgeous man she found dazed and confused in Target that very morning. This is a turning point in the novel that will lead to Sadie’s involvement with the physical manifestations of her characters. Here’s an excerpt:
“Good morning,” a chipper voice says. “This is Billsford General Hospital emergency services calling.”

I stop breathing because when a hospital calls, it can only mean your child is dead.

“Is this Sadie Fuller?”

“Yes,” I squeak.

“We have a man here who claims you are next of kin?”

“A man?” The air rushes out of me. I’m covered in goose bumps. Allison is not a man. But I have no brothers or uncles or nephews that fit the bill either. The goose bumps return.

“Is his name Roger?” I ask. “How old does he look?”

“Young,” she says. “Probably twenty-five or so. And I don’t know if his name is Roger. That’s part of the problem.”

Roger is very attractive and very fit. He can stand on his head for days. But he looks at least forty. Although I regularly tell him he can still pass for thirty-two because I want him to be happy.

“So you don’t know his name?” I ask. “And he doesn’t either?”

“No,” she says. “He appears to be suffering from memory loss, but he remembered you well enough. Name, phone number, and address. He was brought in this morning. Really good looking.”

She sounds embarrassed by that last bit, but now I know it’s the Target guy.

“Can you tell us his name?” she asks. “Does he sound like someone you know? He even described what you look like.”

How sad for me. It’s hard to get away dressing like a slob in a place like Billsford. Someone is always around to bust you. I’m about to say I have no idea who the man is, that I stumbled upon him looking dazed and confused in Baby Products and did my civic duty and that was that. But something stops me, some sense that I should go and see him.

“I’m not sure who you’re talking about,” I say, “but why don’t I stop by there and see?”
Visit Elizabeth Maxwell's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 14, 2014

"The Mirk and Midnight Hour"

For many years Jane Nickerson and her family lived in a big old house in Aberdeen, Mississippi, where she was also the children’s librarian. She has always loved the South, “the olden days,” gothic tales, houses, kids, writing, and interesting villains. After five great years living in Ontario, Canada, Nickerson and her husband have returned to Aberdeen where they live in a lovely little old house that is a television star.

Nickerson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Mirk and Midnight Hour, and reported the following:
Ah, Page 69…
She groaned. “Surely you’ve noticed she’s never really with us. I’ve always felt a bit like an orphan.”

I tried to return to my book but ended up going over the same page three times without really seeing it. How often had I felt unnoticed around my invalid mother?
Here we find our heroine, Violet, gaining an insight on Sunny, her new stepsister, who Violet had always thought got everything she (or anyone else, for that matter) wanted. As Violet widens her tight circle to include newcomers, her character grows, but a reader seeing only this page would not know that this is a minor theme. Throughout the book, the domestic side of Violet’s life at her Mississippi farm is juxtaposed with the ethereal, eerie time she spends in the woods with a wounded Union soldier and with the mysterious VanZeldts and their ties to hoodoo. Violet’s situation in which she must deal with all these people—the newcomers on the farm, her best friend who she happens to “own”, the enemy soldier she falls in love with, and the VanZeldts—bring up questions of loyalty, human decency, and sacrifice.

None of this is even hinted at if you read only page 69.
Learn more about the book and author at Jane Nickerson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"The Man Who Walked Away"

Maud Casey is the author of the novels, The Shape of Things to Come, a New York Times Notable Book, and Genealogy; and a collection of stories, Drastic. She is the recipient of the Calvino Prize and has received fellowships from the Fundación Valparaiso, Hawthornden International Writers Retreat, Château de Lavigny, Dora Maar, and the Passa Porta residency at Villa Hellebosch. Casey teaches at the University of Maryland and lives in Washington, D.C.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Man Who Walked Away, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Lacrimal,” he says again. It is one of his favorite words: Lacrimal, lacrimal, lacrimal. The exquisite almond-shaped glands, an entire apparatus devoted to tears, keeping the eye moist and free of dust and also shedding the other sort of tears, the kind he was shocked to find himself shedding in the early morning hours. “Don’t be a stranger,” the bartender shouted as the Doctor climbed the stairs to his apartment when he returned from the docks, but he was a stranger, even to himself. There weren’t many tears; still, he didn’t understand them precisely. Lacrimal. Tears of a protective nature and the more mysterious kind passing through tiny openings in the corner of his eye, then into his lacrimal canaliculus, through a small sac and into his nasal cavity. Lacrimal, one of his favorite bones: Lacrimal, lacrimal, lacrimal. The most fragile bone in the body. The hyoid bone—the horseshoe-shaped bone at the base of his tongue, which he did not think of as he ran his tongue over the woman’s hip last night—was nearly as fragile, but the lacrimal bone was the most delicate. Lacrimal. An elegant word, really, and there, at its core, the mystery of the water that he found on his face in the early morning hours as he lay in his bed unable to sleep. Mother, I am frightened. The girl’s voice, still with him, the look on her face that resembled love but wasn’t love at all but a kind of decoy. A decoy that distracted from the question: What is the story of my invisible life?
A meditation on tears—their physiology and their mystery—a little sex, hysterics, and our invisible lives. I like this test! My novel is inspired by a French psychiatric case study from 1886, in which the patient wandered in a semi-trance state throughout much of Europe, sometimes seventy kilometers in a day, often without sleeping or eating. He would wake up in this public square or that one, countries away from home, not knowing how he got there. When he finally took himself to an asylum for treatment, his doctor created a diagnosis for him: fugueur. If diagnoses are a variety of story, and I think they are, then the doctor offered him, among other things, a narrative for his pain. Here, in this passage on page 69, my Doctor, is riding his bicycle early in the morning before he goes to work at the asylum. He is talking to himself, as he often does when he rides his bicycle. The night before, he returned from Paris where he’d gone to watch “the great doctor” (loosely based on Jean-Marie Charcot, the famous neurologist who resurrected hysteria) discuss the case of one of his hysterics as part of a public lecture series (Charcot had a public lecture series at the Salpêtrière Hospital, known as the Tuesday Lessons). After the long train ride home to Bordeaux, the Doctor went down to the docks to visit his favorite prostitute where he put his hyoid bone to good use. But despite the distracting sex, the haunting words of the young girl whose case he watched the great doctor discuss won’t leave him: Mother, I am frightened. Little does he know (poor unsuspecting character!), this is the end of Part I of the novel, and when the Doctor arrives at the asylum at the end of the chapter, he will meet Albert, the wandering man, for the first time and his life will be changed forever. As he tries to help Albert piece together the life he lost somewhere along the road, the Doctor will find himself wrangling with the invisible life beneath the surface narrative. Both Albert’s and his own.
Visit Maud Casey's website.

The Page 99 Test: Genealogy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"The Mapmaker's Daughter"

Laurel Corona's novels include Finding Emilie, Penelope's Daughter, The Four Seasons, and the newly released The Mapmaker's Daughter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Mapmaker's Daughter and reported the following:
From page 69:
We sleep that night on the other side of the Tagus. Lights from a fort blaze on the promontory above us, but the abandoned fishing hut we find is safer than risking human contact. The following morning the old man roasts fish over a driftwood fire. He looks at the dark clouds out to sea and decides he can’t risk taking us around the point because the west coast will get the worst of the coming weather.

He points toward steep hills so thick with trees they look more black than green. “Sintra is up there,” he says. “You can walk from here, but it would be better to take the coast path until you come to a village where the road goes up the other side of the mountains. It’s an easy climb from there.” With a loud hacking cough he brings up thick phlegm that he spits onto the sand. “You can stay there tonight, and get to Sintra tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” I say, casting a glance at my father. I’ve noticed how weak he is getting and I assumed we would be put ashore close to the palace.

“I’m just telling you what people who live around here would do.” He shrugs. “Go whatever way you want.” Without another word he readies his boat, and shoves off into the surf, leaving me looking around in astonished horror at how alone we are in an indifferent world.
So much has already happened in the first 68 pages, it’s hard to know where to start. The immediate context is that my main character, Amalia, barely a teenager, and her deaf father, the mapmaker of the book’s title, are trying to reach the Portuguese king’s palace, where her father will be employed. As they near Lisbon they learn that plague has broke out. They are forced to take a roundabout route to avoid it, leaving behind their horses and the rest of their party, and coming alone in a small fishing skiff across the Tagus River, at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean, to go the rest of the way to another, safer palace on foot.

The reader has already learned about Amalia’s precarious childhood in a family forcibly converted from Judaism to Christianity. He father accepted their fate, but Amalia and her mother continued secretly to observe Jewish laws and customs. In the section immediately preceding page 69, she and her father were at the court of Henry the Navigator, where he became disgusted with Henry’s newfound interest in slaving along the African coast. Her father will finish out his days as a mapmaker to the king, and leave a shaken and confused Amalia to confront the world on her own after his death.

That world will open up into a vibrant and rich place for Amalia, as she allies herself with a Jewish family, the Abravanels, and brings her Jewish identity into the open. It will include years as a tutor to the Caliph’s grandchildren in the court of Granada and to a young Princess Isabella of Castile, before returning to the Abravanel family and assuming her eventual role as its matriarch.

Along the way, the world darkens with the religious fervor of the Reconquista and the rise of the Inquisition, until finally Amalia sits alone in an empty room, waiting to be taken to the ship that will carry her away from her home forever. With 276 pages yet to go, this is only a taste of what I believe to be the most compelling story I have yet told.
Learn more about the book and author at Laurel Corona's website.

Writers Read: Laurel Corona.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"Providence Rag"

Bruce DeSilva grew up in a tiny Massachusetts mill town where the mill closed when he was ten. He had an austere childhood bereft of iPods, X-Boxes, and all the other cool stuff that hadn’t been invented yet. In this parochial little town, metaphors and alliteration were also in short supply. Nevertheless, his crime fiction has won the Edgar and Macavity Awards; has been listed as a finalist for the Shamus, Anthony, and Barry Awards; and has been published in ten foreign languages. His short stories have appeared in Akashic Press's award-winning noir anthologies. He has reviewed books for the New York Times Sunday Book Review and Publishers Weekly, and his reviews for The Associated Press have appeared in hundreds of other publications. Previously, he was a journalist for forty years, most recently as writing coach world-wide for The Associated Press, editing stories that won nearly every major journalism prize including the Pulitzer. He and his wife, the poet Patricia Smith, live in New Jersey with two enormous dogs named Brady and Rondo.

DeSilva applied the Page 69 Test to Providence Rag, the third novel in his crime series featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter at a dying Providence, R.I. newspaper, and reported the following:
Page 69 finds Mulligan sitting in police chief Andy Jennings’s office. The two of them are talking with an FBI profiler over a speaker phone. Mulligan is trying to persuade the two lawmen that the killer who has been terrorizing a Providence, R.I., suburb for two years just might be a fifteen-year-old boy. The lawmen can’t believe the person they are hunting could be that young.
“Something else about the kid is nagging at me,” Mulligan said. “The footprints in the Medeiros house were a size twelve, but the ones at the Stuart house were size thirteen. Unless we’re looking at two different guys, which you say we’re not, our killer is still growing.”

“I wouldn’t put any stock in that,” Schutter said. “Prints made by stocking feet can be deceptive.”

“In what way?”

“They vary in size depending on whether the socks are loose or pulled on tight. No way this kid’s your killer. Don’t waste your time on him.”

After they hung up, Mulligan pulled out a cigar and set fire to it.

“Not supposed to smoke in here,” Jennings said. Then he shrugged, slipped a pack of Marlboros from his shirt pocket, and got one going.

“I still think it’s worth looking into, Andy.”

“Tell you what. After we finish recanvassing for the third friggin’ time, I’ll talk to the kid, see what he has to say. And Mulligan?”


“Stay the hell away from him and leave the investigation to the professionals.”

“Whatever you say.”


As he drove to work the next morning, Mulligan couldn’t get Kwame Diggs out of his head, so he decided to talk things over with the city editor.

“Schutter is full of shit,” Lomax said.

“How so?”

“Ever heard of Tommy Knox?”

“Knox? Who’s he?”

“Back in the 1960s, he was the starting fullback for the Tolman High School football team in Pawtucket. He was also a psychopath. He raped and murdered two women and badly injured a third; and he was a prime suspect in two other killings.”

“How old was he?”

“He killed his first victim when he was 15 years old.”
Learn more about the book and author at Bruce DeSilva's website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Bruce DeSilva & Rondo and Brady.

Writers Read: Bruce DeSilva.

My Book, The Movie: Providence Rag.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 10, 2014

"The Ghost Apple"

Aaron Thier's writing has appeared in The Nation, The New Republic, and The Buenos Aires Review. He is a graduate of Yale University and of the MFA program at the University of Florida.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, The Ghost Apple, and reported the following:
From page 69:
David Herring, professor of physics, laughed cheerfully and moved that we “stage a demonstration.” Perhaps Depatrickson White could strike Mr. Pinkman III with a bullwhip! He could do it on the lawn in front of Pinkman Hall.

The President treated this motion as a joke, although Richard Carlyle, professor of English, had risen to second it. Mr. Pinkman III did not react at all. He sat with his soft hands clasped, his head inclined, his rounded belly rising and falling at regular intervals.

Broward Chamberlain, professor of religion, wanted to explain that there was extensive justification for such a punishment in biblical law…
The Ghost Apple is about a small college that sells itself to a snack food company called Big Anna. The company guts the administration, drugs many of the professors, and enslaves a group of study-abroad students on its sugar plantations in the Caribbean. The novel is told as a sequence of personal and institutional documents, and this page comes from the minutes of the faculty meeting at which the partnership is announced. Professors are not yet concerned about Big Anna. Instead, they’re discussing what to do with their colleague, Bish Pinkman III, whose great-great-great grandfather was a slaveholder who owned the great-great-great-grandfather of a member of Tripoli’s football team. The faculty will decide to imprison and whip poor Pinkman, who has done nothing wrong, although the rest of this page consists of Professor Chamberlain’s pedantic explanation of the phrase “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

Other sections of the novel are very different. There are emails, letters, travelogues, pamphlets, brochures, and advertisements. I wish Richard Carlyle appeared more often. He mixes Gatorade powder into his beer and does whatever he wants, though later he feels bad about what’s happened to Pinkman. At the same time, this page is perfectly representative: Bad things happen casually in this novel, as a result of comic discussion; slavery is a pressing issue even in the twenty-first century; no one is capable of setting aside a private grievance or a lunatic preoccupation.

None of the main characters are present here, but that’s good too. In the beginning I hoped I could get away with writing a book that had no main characters, and my favorite parts are still the casual irrelevant moments.
Learn more about the book and author at Aaron Thier's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 9, 2014

"The Accident"

Chris Pavone’s first novel, The Expats, was published in 2012, and was a New York Times and international bestseller, with nearly twenty foreign editions and a major film deal. The Expats was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a Macavity, and awards from the Strand Magazine Critics Circle, the Mystery Booksellers Association, and the International Thriller Writers, and received the 2013 Edgar Award and the 2013 Anthony Award for Best First Novel.

Pavone applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Accident, and reported the following:
Although page 69 is about a relatively minor character, it’s still a very good sample of The Accident—a back-story episode that (a) is an accurate recollection of this part of this character’s life, but (b) omits a crucial piece of information that the reader will learn much later, which will thoroughly redefine the meaning of this episode, and indeed of this character, and in fact of a large part of the book’s overall narrative. Every important character in The Accident is operating according to motivations, interests, and back stories that are not clear at the beginning of the book, and it’s these revelations that I hope are one of the more satisfying aspects of the novel.

And besides the story elements, page 69 also includes a paragraph that touches on the central theme of this book: ambition distorts our behavior, turns us into people we never imagined we’d become, and don’t necessarily like being. This may be a bit heavy (and I have to imagine that the Marxian phrase historical materialism doesn’t make frequent appearances in contemporary American thrillers), but it’s an important idea in The Accident, defining not only character but also propelling plot:
He attended the annual Thursday supper at his mother’s house in Brooklyn, the whole big hodgepodge of extended family and friends, now mostly people who could only be characterized as old, people who’d once held him as a baby, far-left-wing people who looked at that grown-up baby with the unmistakable disenchantment that accompanies shattered illusions, not just in a person, but in the unremitting disappointments of their historical materialism, embodied by him.
Learn more about the book and author at Chris Pavone's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Expats.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 8, 2014

"Faking Normal"

Courtney C. Stevens grew up in Kentucky and lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She is an adjunct professor and a former youth minister. Her other skills include playing hide-and-seek, climbing trees, and being an Olympic torch bearer.

Stevens applied the Page 69 Test to Faking Normal, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Faking Normal:
“What shade are you going with tomorrow?”

“Sugar-free grape.”

“You ever wear the lemonade?”

“Nah, too much like the natural,” he says. “That was for drinking.”

“Your mom bought them for you?”

This time there’s no nod, but there are tears in his eyes. “She was … the best.”

Now there are tears in my eyes. “I’ll make you a promise, Bodee. Long as you’re with my family, you won’t run out of Kool-Aid.”

He blinks up at me. “And I promise you, I’ll stop whoever’s hurting you.”

I stand there barely breathing, and he says something sounds like, “Even if it’s you,” but the words are mumbled, and I’m not sure I’ve heard them right.

If he were Heather or Liz, I’d deny this completely. But I can’t lie to him. Not after today and his kitchen and the Kool-Aid on the counter and his tent and the stack of tumbled-over-underwear on the bonus room floor. We’re already more than the sum of my lies. So I just breathe and look away, trying not to lie with my face, but to stand in the presence of the truth.

It hurts.

There’s complete silence until I say, “See you at dinner.”

When I first heard of the Page 69 test, I wondered what page that would be in Faking Normal. I tend to write sparsely, and I hoped that page wasn’t just “Okay” and “Alright” or something of the sort. I was pleased to find that page 69 is a very important early conversation between Alexi and Bodee, the main characters of Faking Normal.

This moment, this promise, between the two characters is a powerful turning point in the novel. It’s one of those moments where we realize Bodee’s agency and his staying power. He knows Alexi, understands that she is in pain, and he plans to act. (Regardless of the cost.)

And…decides not to hide from him. I’m so proud of her for this.

I’m proud that when she wants to lie, deny, etc., she doesn’t offer anything cheap to Bodee. She doesn’t, because she understands that they’ve been through something sacred together, and that he has enough pain to understand hers.

This is a pivot point from who they’ve been to who they can become.

Previously, she has done whatever she needs to do to keep her secret. Her two best friends, Liz and Heather, have been lied to. Not because she doesn’t trust them, but because she doesn’t want them to see the real her … the broken her. But truth shows up right here on page 69. She can and will let Bodee see her.

The pain of accepting our story, of owning it, rather than running from it is the beginning of healing. Alexi takes a huge leap toward healing in this moment. Page 69 is indeed a tiny sliver of truth from Faking Normal.
Visit Courtney C. Stevens's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 7, 2014


Isla Morley grew up in South Africa during apartheid, the child of a British father and fourth-generation South African mother. She now lives in Los Angeles with her husband (a minister) and daughter and an assortment of animals. Her debut novel, Come Sunday was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for Fiction in 2009 and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize. It has been translated into seven languages.

Morley applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Above, and reported the following:
Excerpt from page 69:
The jet-black wig Dobbs brought me months ago, which looks like it came from a Halloween store, is still in the brown paper sack under the sink. “Go on, try it out.”

“I’m not feeling very well.”

“Do you need some castor oil?” For Dobbs, there isn’t an ailment that castor oil won’t cure.

My throat starts to constrict. My lips start tingling.

“Here, it’ll make you feel better.” Before I can stop him, he puts the wig on my head. I feel like I’m wearing someone else’s scalp.

“Goodness! What’s going on with your face?”

I can feel it swelling. My lips about ready to burst. My tongue thickens. My gums start to itch. Then, everything starts to itch—the inside of my nose, my eyes, my skin. I start gasping.
“The nuts!” he yells, jumping up. He races over to the shelf with the cubbies, and pulls out the First Aid box. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dobbs like this. He tosses everything on the floor, and finally finds what he’s looking for.

The Epi-Pen. He jabs it in my thigh. “I’m so sorry! I should’ve believed you.”

The effect is immediate.

He watches me closely, repeating over and over again how sorry he is. As soon as I can, I say, “I’d like to be alone, if you don’t mind.”

“But.” He’s taken aback.

“I want to be alone.” I look over at my cot. It has never looked quite so inviting.

He scoots his chair closer, puts his hand on my knee. “I can’t leave you like this.”

I push his hand away. In all the time I’ve been here, Dobbs has been careful about where he puts his hands. When he takes me for a walk to the entrapment vestibule or to the utility tunnel, he might fold his palm into the small of my back. If he brings me a book, he might lay his hand casually on my shoulder when I sit down and open it. But never this, such a show of affection.
Page 69 is a perfect window into Above. Dobbs, the survivalist convinced the end of the world is imminent, is keeping captive young Blythe Hallowell in a dark and dilapidated World War II-era Atlas-F missile silo. Instead of housing the A-bomb, the cavernous complex is stocked for starting life over, with everything from tomato seeds to DNA samples, and now a young woman of sound womb. So sealed off and so deep in the earth are they that insects can’t reach them, and yet the crazed, meticulous prepper has included in his provisions an Epi-pen. In this scene, Blythe is not reacting adversely to bee stings but nuts, having been forced to eat almond cake on her eighteenth birthday.

Above is much more than an abduction story, or even a survival story. It is about the resiliency of the human spirit, about those surges in a person that pierce through the crust of adversity and peril. Blythe’s will has been chipped away from failed escape attempts in previous chapters, but getting her kidnapper to do something she wants—in this case, leave her alone—is the start of her expanded understanding of what makes for freedom.

From the last paragraph it is clear that the antagonist is not what we have come to expect in most abduction cases. Here is a man of supreme self-control which makes him an even more devilish foe. But here too is a woman who is catching a glimpse of how to subvert near-insurmountable forces. Subversion and redefining the game are the weapons she will have to employ when she fights to get her son Above.
Learn more about the book and author at Isla Morley's website.

The Page 69 Test: Come Sunday.

Writers Read: Isla Morley.

--Marshal Zeringue