Thursday, July 31, 2014

"The Cracks in the Kingdom"

Jaclyn Moriarty grew up in Sydney, Australia, with 4 sisters, 1 brother, 2 dogs, and 12 chickens. She studied law at the University of Sydney, Yale, and Cambridge, and worked as an entertainment lawyer before she wrote the Ashbury High novels, including The Year of Secret Assignments, The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, and The Ghosts of Ashbury High.

Moriarty applied the Page 69 Test to The Cracks in the Kingdom, the second novel in The Colors of Madeleine series, and reported the following:
There are two key characters in The Cracks in the Kingdom: Elliot Baranski, who lives in the Kingdom of Cello, and Madeleine Tully, who lives in Cambridge, England, in our world.

On page 69 of the Australian edition, Elliot is attending a meeting of the Royal Youth Alliance, a group formed by a Princess of Cello to try to find her missing royal family. A security agent has just turned to Elliot:
‘As for you,’ she said. ‘We absolutely did not want you. You communicate with the World? You have a contact there? You know about a crack and you have not reported it? These are serious capital offences, and even the slightest hint that the Princess knew about this would be catastrophic for the Royals. So, Elliot Baranski, know this––’

She leaned forward––again with the dramatic pause. He thought about asking if he could go get a cup of coffee and come back when she was done with it.
But on page 69 of the American edition, Madeleine is lying on her couch in Cambridge. She’s thinking about the fact that, in the past, people thought that the Earth was flat, like a fried egg on a plate.
Madeleine had always had a sense that people used to be a daft. Whereas now, they were smart. Now we walk around going: Well, of course, the world’s not sitting there being an egg. It’s spinning and flying! It’s getting the shopping done and doing its homework and meeting up with its friends, it’s a kite of activity with its tail going mad, is what the world is, and aren’t I clever? For knowing that?

We’re not clever, though. We’re just stating the new obvious.

She sat up suddenly.

She was starving.

That’s why all the thoughts about eggs.
I think the book is partly about Elliot and partly about Madeleine; and it’s partly action-mystery and partly reflections on science. So, between them, page 69 of these two editions cover both, and I hope that taking from both wasn’t cheating.
Visit Jaclyn Moriarty's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Welcome to the Dark House"

Laurie Faria Stolarz grew up in Salem, MA, attended Merrimack College, and received an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College in Boston.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Welcome to the Dark House, and reported the following:
In Welcome to the Dark House, seven characters win a contest - enter your worst nightmare and get the chance to see acclaimed horror director Justin Blake’s confidential new project. These seven characters are flown from around the country to rural, MN, for the screening. They arrive at the Dark House, a haunted cabin based on Justin Blake’s Nightmare Elf movie series.

On Page 69, Parker is just arriving at the Dark House and meets the hostess for the weekend - a woman dressed up as Midge Sarko, the creepy chambermaid from Blake’s Hotel 9 movie series. Note: Parker’s chapters are in screenplay format because he wants to make his own movies and pictures things cinematically.

Here’s Page 69:
Welcome, you must be Parker.

And you’re obviously Midge. Anyone ever tell you that you look just like Tina Maitland, theactor who played Midge in the movie?
I move CLOSER on the POCKETS OF HER APRON. The curly handle of Midge’s signature paring knife sticks out—always ready to slice off a souvenir finger for her collection.
Tina’s just an actor. I’m the real McCoy.
I lower my camera to shake her hand.
Sorry about your flight delay.
Visit Laurie Stolarz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"The Secret of the Key"

Marianne Malone is the mother of three grown children, a former art teacher, cofounder of the Campus School Middle School for Girls in Urbana, Illinois and popular speaker in schools.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Secret of the Key, the fourth book in the Sixty-Eight Rooms series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“You know,” Ruthie began while Jack unlocked the building’s door, “I wasn’t really sure it was a good idea to bring things back from the past.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t really explain it. But somehow it seemed like we were sneaking around the rules of the magic.”

Jack shrugged as they got on the elevator. “So you don’t think rules are made to be broken?”

“All I know is that when I got stuck in the eighteenth century this morning, I didn’t like it. We shouldn’t assume that everything will turn out okay if we don’t respect the magic.”

“You’re probably right. Especially since we have no idea how we ended up in 1939 New York today!”

Ruthie felt her taut nerves turn like a rubber band of a toy plane. “You don’t think,” she began, an idea forming as she spoke, “that we were – I don’t know – meant to go back to the World’s Fair? You know, so you could save Billy?”

Jack looked at her. “Anything’s possible.” He slid the elevator gate to the side and opened the door. “Hello!” Jack hollered into the spacious loft.

“We’re back here,” his mom called from her studio.
Whew! I was relieved when I opened to page 69. I think it passes the “test” with flying colors. A reader would learn vital elements of the story here; that the book centers on two characters and that they go on a magical time-traveling adventure.

When you write middle grade fiction, you have to keep the pace going at a pretty fast clip; and even in a transition scene like this, the story must always be propelled forward. This moment synopsizes some of what has happened and drops clues to what is about to happen. The main characters, Ruthie and Jack, are the only two in the scene, (until his mom calls at the end of the page) and their personalities are clear: Ruthie, the more cautious worrier, and Jack, the confident rule-breaker. We learn of visits to the eighteenth century, 1939 New York and the World’s Fair. Time travel danger is mentioned, as well as saving someone named Billy. Tantalizing to a ten year old, I hope.

Here’s what you don’t learn on page 69:

The series is set in the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago, which are sixty-eight replicas of period rooms from the United States, Europe, and Asia, spanning the 16th to the 20th century, all done in one-twelve scale. Every detail is astoundingly perfect. They were created by a woman named Narcissa Thorne in the 1930s and 40s, and have been installed in the museum since the 1950s. They are the most visited work of art in the museum, and I have loved and been fascinated by them since I was a small child. My main characters - Ruthie and Jack - are sixth graders and best friends, who find a magic key that enables them to shrink, sneak into the rooms, and discover that the rooms are time portals to the past. This is the kind of book I wanted to read as a ten year old growing up in suburban Chicago.

Now I’m curious to check the first three books – The Sixty-Eight Rooms, Stealing Magic, and The Pirate’s Coin - and see if they pass the Page 69 Test!
Visit Marianne Malone's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 28, 2014

"Don't Talk to Strangers"

Amanda Kyle Williams burst on the thriller scene in 2010 with her first crime novel, The Stranger You Seek, which was hailed by Publishers Weekly as an “explosive, unpredictable and psychologically complex thriller that turns crime fiction clichés inside out.” Stranger In The Room (Bantam 2012) is the second book in the Keye Street series, and book 3 is Don’t Talk To Strangers (Bantam 2014), which has been called the strongest, most exciting book in a series that keeps getting better. Williams has been shortlisted for both the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, and the Townsend Prize for Fiction. She is currently at work on the 4th book in the series, A Complete Stranger.

Williams applied the Page 69 Test to Don’t Talk To Strangers and reported the following:
It’s that moment every investigator hopes for, that moment when he or she understands something vital about a scene and about an offender. A pivotal scene on page 69 in Don’t Talk To Strangers, the 3rd Keye Street novel, involves my detective and police consultant deep in the Georgia woods at a crime scene that has grown cold. Understanding what happened there, all the terrible, chaotic interaction between victim and offender, is like a road map into the killer’s brain; Keye Street would later tell the Sheriff she’s consulting on the disappearance and murder of two teenage girls. And so we find her in the woods where a killer used to murder and dispose of his victims, retracing his steps according to original evidence recovered, trying to figure out why he had veered away from the disposal site, and why evidence was recovered in a nearby creek.

From page 69:
Spatter. That was it. He’d come to the creek to rinse off Melinda Cochran’s blood. He didn’t want to walk out of the woods and drive away with blood on his face and hands. And that’s when he’d dropped the blouse. Had he come in the night and worked his way up tangled paths with a flashlight and a weeping girl? Or was he comfortable enough to come in daylight? How bold was this killer? Did he know the area and the routines so well that he could walk out here just like I had? He’d made mistakes last time. He’d dropped the blouse and as a result a crime scene I didn’t think he ever wanted exposed was uncovered. Maybe we’d discover he’d made other mistakes too. But he wasn’t stupid. That much I knew.

I knelt down, cupped my hands in the clear, cool water, splashed it on my face, raked my hair back with wet fingers. I imagined his hands rinsing off Melinda’s blood in the creek, him splashing his own heated face, the evidence tinting the water and trickling downstream. I closed my eyes and breathed in the mossy banks, let myself feel it, feel the serenity of this place falling down around me like rain, feel him kneeling here as I was now, his knees pressing into the soft soil at water’s edge. My ticking pulse, the blast of adrenaline that shoots through me when I’m learning a killer, was as welcome and familiar to me as this place must be to him. It felt good. I don’t know how else to explain that moment when you know you’ve understood something about a scene, something intimate about the dark, veiled movements of a psychopath. All those tiny moments, all those little actions—they add up, one stacked on top of another, building a tower that would sooner or later come tumbling down.
Visit Amanda Kyle Williams's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 26, 2014

"The House of Small Shadows"

Adam Nevill was born in Birmingham, England, in 1969 and grew up in England and New Zealand. He is the author of the supernatural horror novels Banquet for the Damned, Apartment 16, The Ritual, Last Days, House of Small Shadows, and No One Gets Out Alive. In 2012 The Ritual was the winner of The August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel, and in 2013 Last Days won the same award.

Nevill applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The House of Small Shadows, and reported the following:
Page 69 in The House of Small Shadows is right in the middle of a scene in which the lead character, Catherine Howard, an antiques dealer, breaks up with her boyfriend; a man she considered a significant part of her future. A couple of pages later, she’s disoriented with shock and grief. It’s the only break-up scene I have ever written, but in no way is the novel a romantic story – it is a story about terror and enchantment. On this page, and in this scene, there are no preserved and uniformed rats arranged in dioramas depicting horrific battles in the Great War, no ghastly puppets with a long and disturbing history, no scented dolls, the eccentric Edith Mason does not appear, and nor does the magnificent Red House that protects Edith and her treasures. So, although the page 69 scene may not appear representative, it features one of several significant triggers that blur, then break down, the barriers between reality, sanity and nightmare for Catherine Howard. And as for the boyfriend, the old adage says that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but readers may come to believe there is a more terrible fury, and that’s the one enacted on a scorned woman’s behalf by something as cruel and yet innocent as a child.
Learn more about the book and author at Adam Nevill's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 25, 2014


M.D. Waters lives with her family in Maryland. She is the author of Archetype and its newly released sequel, Prototype.

Waters applied the Page 69 Test to both novels and reported the following:
Page 69 of Archetype really sets up the underlying issue within the pages. Dr. Travista explains to Emma that “Fertility is questionable with a majority of the female population, and because of your accident, we feared you would lose the ability to bear children.” And that’s just the top of the page.

He goes on to explain why, which were things I believe possible, and ultimately inspired the world I built. He blames it on Mother Nature trying to compensate for the overpopulation of our species. Add that to a time when families are already limiting the number of children, as well the use of science to make sure there were men to carry on the family name… Suddenly we have a shortage of women.

Page 69 of Prototype deals with an overall issue Emma faces throughout: her freedom. She’s just learned that a doctor who she should trust has run her genetic sequence even though she forbade it. Emma struggles throughout to regain her freedom, from physical to literally having a life in the world without fear. She wants the freedom to make her own choices, make her own way, and she’s prepared to fight for it.
Visit M. D. Waters's website.

Writers Read: M. D. Waters.

My Book, The Movie: Prototype.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"What Is Visible"

Kimberly Elkins was a finalist for the National Magazine Award and has published fiction and nonfiction in the Atlantic, Best New American Voices, Iowa Review, Chicago Tribune, Glamour, and Village Voice, among others.

Elkins applied the Page 69 Test to What Is Visible, her first novel, and reported the following:
Note that Sarah Wight is the teacher of real-life historical character Laura Bridgman, the first deaf-blind person to learn language 50 years before Helen Keller. Here, she is teaching Laura to dance. It is 1845, and Laura is 16.
... -she yanks with it some hair from my braid, and I cry out, I mouth her name, but she doesn't stop, she is tapping away, and I'm trying to stop the spin, all in one or two seconds that are sprinkled with bright lights in my head, and then I'm turned--taptetaptapTAP--she has turned me most the way around--taptap--and the shade pulls clean off my eyes--TAP--and Sarah Wight stops completely, stumbling back a little when she sees, I guess, what has happened, and taking my shade with her.

I have lost her arm's protection, and I go down at the end of my twirl, my dance, crouching on the floor with my hands over my face. Doctor has made it a rule that I am never to uncover my eyes for anyone but a physician in private, and he certainly brooks no argument from me on that point. It is as far from my desire as Boston is from the North Pole to offend my friends' sensibilities, to frighten or disgust them.

Stop touching me! Miss Wight is all about me, hands and arms, patting, poking.

"So sorry." Waiting. "We'll put it back."

No, I am comfortable making my ball here on the carpet, with its varied beveled tufts against my cheek. Jeannette told me this pattern is roses and angels in blues and golds. How beautiful to behold roses and angels together. Sarah Wight is practically lying on top of me, causing us both to sweat, in her what--grief? anguish? embarrassment? I am the one eyeless, revealed, naked in the face in the cruelest way of all nakedness--why should she be aggrieved? If the eyes are the windows to the soul as one of Doctor's poet friends recited, then what kind of soul do I have, Wightie? What did you see of my soul before I went down, cowering on the floor like the wild child, the beast, I used to be?
This passage in my fictional biography, What Is Visible, finds Laura at her most absolutely vulnerable; by this time at the age of 16, she is considered the second most famous woman in the world in the nineteenth century, save Queen Victoria, for her unprecedented ability to learn language, fifty years before Helen Keller. The scarlet fever that left Laura blind and deaf at age two also took her senses of taste and smell, leaving her bound to world by touch alone. Laura is practicing dancing with Sarah Wight, her new teacher, whom she is trying desperately to impress, feeling the beats of the music through her feet. But then her ribboned shade becomes tangled, and is pulled violently from her eyes, and she knows that Sarah has seen those empty caves of bone, the eyeballs suppurated by the scarlet fever, the only person to have seen them except for doctors and her mother. While the benighted, tragic tone is not representative of most of the novel, you do get a clear sense of Laura’s voice: her precocity, her stubbornness, her demanding intelligence. She is both fierce and frail, by turn, but always alive to all of life’s possibilities, endlessly curious and seeking connection at whatever cost. This moment will prove a great turning point in Laura’s relationship with Sarah, beginning the establishment of a deep and loving bond, made all the more poignant by the fact that the two are tragically parted just four years later.

So as a random pull from the text, this page proved lucky in providing a nuanced glimpse into not just Laura’s soul, but also in the way into which she interacts with others. Lucky 69!
Visit Kimberly Elkins's website.

My Book, The Movie: What Is Visible.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Cup of Blood"

Jeri Westerson's first six books featuring Crispin Guest are Veil of Lies, Serpent in the Thorns, The Demon's Parchment, Troubled Bones, Blood Lance, and Shadow of the Alchemist.

Westerson applied the Page 69 Test to Cup of Blood, a prequel to the series, and reported the following:
Here we are in the middle of the protagonist, Crispin Guest's, thoughts. He has just run into his former fiance seven years after his fall from grace and the end of that betrothal. Crispin has always been a man to wear his heart on his sleeve, and in this prequel to the acclaimed series, he is no different. Sour about life, about his situation (banished from court, and bereft of his title, lands, wealth--all that defined him) he goes on, finding a kind of penance in his new occupation of "Tracker," the medieval equivalent of a private detective. In Cup of Blood, Crispin finds a dead man in his favorite tavern who turns out to be a Knight Templar, guarding a most precious relic which has vanished. Hired by more Templar knights to find the object, he runs afoul of minions of the French anti-pope who also seek it. In the midst of his troubles, a good turn is done him by an unlikely source; an orphaned cutpurse by the name of Jack Tucker, who insists on being Crispin's servant.

From page 69:
She never even fought it. She never stood up to Stephen and came to me. I thought she might. But what woman would have done? Willingly become a pauper and the laughing stock of court, all for him? How could he blame her? Yet he did. A year earlier they had both signed the betrothal contracts and the families thought it a fine match. But something happened between the contracts and the courtship: Crispin fell in love.

How could I not? She was so beautiful. There were many days they would steal away, leaving her maidservants behind. They would kiss and touch and whisper those silly phrases only spoken in romances and love songs. And though he loved and desired her, often raining kisses along her throat, he would go no further. A proper courtier was he.

A proper fool!

Only a mere fortnight after his disgrace, another man conquered that virginity which should have been his. It was that pain that pierced him the most, that could not be undone.

He looked at Jack standing in the tinker’s doorway, waiting for orders. What was he to do with the boy? Jack was like a stray dog that would not leave, even when kicked. “Tucker, I appreciate your loyalty, but this has to end. Now. When I get back, I do not expect to find you here.”

“But Master…”

“I am not your master. You must leave.” He turned on his heel, uncertain where he was going. Did it matter? He needed to think, but it was difficult with a headache pounding between his temples.

He turned up the street to Gutter Lane—walking toward the Boar’s Tusk—when he saw it. A man in a long, dark robe, hood up over his head, standing under the eave of a shop across the way. He merely looked in Crispin’s direction, or at least his covered head and shadowed face was turned toward him.

A fleeting sense of recognition propelled Crispin toward the man, but the man abruptly turned and dashed up the lane.

Crispin paused before he leaped forward, sprinting after the man.
Learn more about the author and her work at Jeri Westerson's website and her "Getting Medieval" blog.

The Page 69 Test: Veil of Lies.

The Page 69 Test: Serpent in the Thorns.

The Page 69 Test: The Demon's Parchment.

My Book, The Movie: The Demon's Parchment.

The Page 69 Test: Troubled Bones.

The Page 69 Test: Blood Lance.

The Page 69 Test: Shadow of the Alchemist.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Blade of the Samurai"

Susan Spann is a transactional attorney focusing on publishing law and a former law school professor. She has a deep interest in Asian culture and has studied Mandarin and Japanese. Her hobbies include Asian cooking, fencing, knife and shuriken throwing, traditional archery, martial arts, rock climbing, and horseback riding.

Spann applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Blade of the Samurai, and reported the following:
Page 69 drops into a conversation between my ninja detective, Hiro Hattori, his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo, and a Portuguese weapons merchant (Luis Alvares) whose sales finance Father Mateo’s missionary work in Japan.

The racist, self-important Luis alternates between a useful discussion and his usual litany of complaints about his samurai customers— in this case, the shogun’s ally Matsunaga Hisahide.

Hisahide needs the weapons to defend Kyoto against the approaching forces of a rival daimyo, Oda Nobunaga, who intends to seize the capital from the shogun. Hiro also believes Lord Oda’s men are behind the murder of the shogun’s cousin two days before, and the evidence suggests Hiro’s friend and fellow ninja, Ito Kazu, is involved in the plot.

Unbeknownst to Luis, Ito Kazu is hiding in Hiro’s clothing chest, hoping Hiro will help him prove his innocence … or at least escape the city before the shogun tracks him down.

The page contains the tension, verbal sparring, and hidden clues (here, literally, in the form of Kazu) which characterize the novel and the series. The page and chapter end (as many do) with a cliffhanger, which I hope keeps readers engaged and turning pages.
Visit Susan Spann's website.

My Book, The Movie: Blade of the Samurai.

Writers Read: Susan Spann.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 21, 2014

"The Girls from Corona del Mar"

Rufi Thorpe received her MFA from the University of Virginia in 2009. A native of California, she currently lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and son.

Thorpe applied the Page 69 Test to The Girls From Corona del Mar, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Girls from Corona del Mar plunks the reader down in the midst of a very long, winding story about Lorrie Ann's mother being attacked in her home, bludgeoned over the head with a ceramic gnome, and then hospitalized with a traumatic brain injury. It is a swarm of characters, tiny details, "and then's" and would not be at all how I would introduce the reader to the book.
And so it came to be that Bobby never returned to the hospital that night, but instead had his buddy Seth pretend to be the sheriff's office and call Lorrie Ann, cryptically telling her to go to the hospital, where her mother was in critical condition.
It's a lot of names to keep track of, a lot of long sentences with too many dependent clauses. I would rather, of course, that they start with the first sentence of the book, "You're going to have to break one of my toes," I explained.

And yet, this feverish run-on quality is something my work is always teetering on the edge of, flirting with. It seems to be a space I find again and again, even when I try not to. In my experience, life is never simple, and things happen because of a cascade as opposed to a single trigger, and so I try to create this in my work, sometimes obsessively. There is also a comedic quality to The Girls from Corona del Mar, even though it is also a very dark book, that I think can be a little baffling. Ultimately, it is a book about growing up and trying to love your best friend even when you can't understand her at all. It is about your life turning out nothing like you could have ever expected it would. It's about trying to be a good person, even when you are positively sure you are a bad person. As far as I can tell, life is thrilling and beautiful and scary and funny, and so I tried to write a book that was like that too.
Visit Rufi Thorpe's website.

Writers Read: Rufi Thorpe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 20, 2014

"All I Love and Know"

Judith Frank is the author of Crybaby Butch, which was awarded a Lambda Literary Award in 2005. She received a BA from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and a PhD in English literature and an MFA in creative writing from Cornell. She was the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts and has held residencies at Yaddo and MacDowell. A professor of English at Amherst College, she lives in Massachusetts with her partner and two children.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, All I Love and Know, and reported the following:
How lucky! – page 69 of All I Love and Know is a pivotal moment of the novel! It’s the end of a chapter, for one, so ideally, it rings out. Partners Daniel Rosen and Matt Greene are in Jerusalem; Daniel’s twin brother Joel and his wife Ilana have been killed in a café bombing, and the couple has come for the burial. They are devastated, and they are the only ones who know that in their will, the deceased parents designated Daniel the guardian of their children. In this scene, the Israeli lawyer (Assaf) discusses the will with Daniel, Daniel’s parents (Lydia and Sam), and Ilana’s parents (Malka and Yaakov) and reveals that in Israel, the decree in the will doesn’t necessarily hold – that the Israeli courts will decide who gets custody based on “the good of the child.” Malka and Yaakov, Holocaust survivors who have lost their only daughter, are horrified that the children might be taken out of Israel, not to mention raised by gay men. Daniel’s mother Lydia is stricken because she doesn’t like Matt; she thinks he’s vain and shallow. Daniel feels desperately undermined: the possibility of an Israeli court ruling in favor of a gay man seems unlikely to him, and the prospect of raising the children has been the only thing keeping him going after the loss of his brother. Everybody in the room is exhausted, grief-stricken, and stressed out.
“Daniel,” his father said.

“What are my chances?” Daniel demanded in Hebrew, ignoring his father, fixing Assaf with a cold look. He remembered something. “They’re American citizens; doesn’t that count for something?”
“Not necessarily, Daniel,” Assaf said. “You’ll still need a court order to take them out of the country.” He reached forward and clasped Daniel’s shoulder. “But don’t assume anything, either good or bad. There are many factors.”

His father gripped his elbow. “Don’t worry, son,” he said softly. “We’ll fight this.”
Daniel shook his arm free. “I don’t understand this,” he said. “The parents decided what was for the good of the children.” He felt he was about to cry, and mortified, covered his face with his hands. “Poor Joel and Ilana,” he moaned. “It’s what they wanted.”

“This is crazy,” Lydia was saying, looking to Sam for corroboration.

The lawyer crouched and tried to take them all in with his gaze. “Everybody, please be calm,” he said, first in English, then in Hebrew. “Look. We are shocked by these terrible deaths. When we recover a little bit, I know that we’ll all do our best to make sure that Gal and Noam have lives that are as safe and normal as possible.”

Normal? Daniel burst into tears.

Malka was clutching at Yaakov and asking him how Ilana could do this to them, and he was urging her, with increasing impatience, to calm down, to try to understand that the court would surely be on their side.
Visit Judith Frank's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Alecia Whitaker is the author of The Queen of Kentucky and Wildflower.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Wildflower and reported the following:
I think this page in Wildflower gives the reader a great glimpse at the rising star of the main character, Bird Barrett. She has just been discovered by a talent scout and is on the verge of getting a deal. This may not bode so well for the rest of the members in her family band, since the scout is only interested in Bird as a solo artist, but it's exciting for readers to get a behind-the-scenes look at life on Music Row. I think the last sentence of the chapter, which just happens to end on page 69, says it all:

"...I have eight hours to turn the stories on the pages of my journal into songs worthy of a record deal."
Learn more about the book and author at Alecia Whitaker's website.

Writers Read: Alecia Whitaker (February 2014). 

Writers Read: Alecia Whitaker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 18, 2014

"A Possibility of Violence"

D. A. Mishani is a literary scholar specializing in the history of detective literature. His first novel, The Missing File, was the first book in his literary crime series introducing the police inspector Avraham Avraham.

Mishani applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel featuring the inspector, A Possibility of Violence, and reported the following:
Page 69 in A Possibility of Violence, the second installment in my detective series featuring police Inspector Avraham Avraham, finds my protagonist in his station in Holon, again, moments before another team meeting in which he would present the case he is working on now. This case opened with an explosive device placed near a daycare and gradually becomes even more violent and complicated.

I emphasize the again and the another because this page and this scene represents one of difficulties and one of the pleasures of writing, and reading, a detective series: repetition.

In the first novel in the series, The Missing File, Avraham already was in this same room and in similar team-meetings. And there he is again, and me too, writing a similar scene but with the distance of time, his time as police investigator, and my time as a writer.

The time that has passed from the previous case (and novel) is omnipresent in this scene, at least when I read it now: Avraham remembers the last time he was in that room, exactly as I remembered it while writing. And he wants this staff-meeting to be different, just as I wanted it to be a different scene. He wants it to be different because in the previous case he made some crucial mistakes and he's eager to prove (to himself and others) that he has learned his lesson; I wanted it to be different because a writer can't write the same scene twice. But on the other hand, doesn't the pleasure we have upon reading a detective series also lie in this repetitious return to the same characters, same locations, sometimes even same scenes?

I think that while reading my page 69 I discover a true protagonist of every detective series: the time that passes; the need to change with time - but also the desire to freeze it.

Avraham, I believe, passed the second investigation test – he knew how to change and so his second case ends quite differently than the first one. This time he leads the investigation to a successful resolution. But did I manage to pass the second-novel-in-the-series test? Did I write a new novel while not forgetting the (reader's and writer's) desire to return to the first? I'll let you decide.
Learn more about the book and author at D. A. Mishani's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Missing File.

The Page 69 Test: The Missing File.

Writers Read: D. A. Mishani.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 17, 2014

"The Stager"

Susan Coll is the author of the novels The Stager, Beach Week, Acceptance, Rockville Pike, and

Her work has appeared in the Washington Post,, and a variety of other publications including The Asian Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune. Acceptance was made into a television movie starring the hilarious Joan Cusack.

Coll applied the Page 69 Test to The Stager and reported the following:
I love the page 69 test, and have taken it several times now. It always seems to work---or maybe it’s simply the case that every page of every book contains critical book DNA.

Lars Jorgenson is a former tennis star who has become obese, depressed, and addicted to a cocktail of prescription drugs. In the scene on page 69 he is lying in bed in his London hotel room, but he is, at the same time, inside his wife’s head. He knows her thoughts and he can hear the conversation in the room even though he is not actually there. He is devastated to learn he has not been invited to the dinner party.

“Why, for the love of God, am I privy to all this private chatter?” he asks at the top of the page.

This is an important question, and one that speaks to a key plot point in the novel. In fact this entire page contains three critical strands of the novel:

1. Lars is beginning to figure out that he has developed an omniscient point of view, which a few pages later he will discover is the side effect of mixing too many medications containing the letters X and Z.

2. Lars gets out of bed and draws the curtains to block out the light, even though it is already dark outside. Lars’s obsession with the light is an important theme throughout the novel.

3. Lars has become obsessed with Jorek, the Polish handyman who is helping to install a skylight in the new London home that does not have enough light.

The only thing missing on this page is the rabbit, but he is arguably there in spirit.
Learn more about the book and author at Susan Coll's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Susan Coll & Zoe.

The Page 69 Test: Acceptance.

The Page 69 Test: Beach Week.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Susan Slater's books include the Ben Pecos Indian series and the Dan Mahoney mysteries.

Slater applied the Page 69 Test to Rollover, the second Dan Mahoney novel, and reported the following:
I love the page 69 “test”. I once took a workshop with editor/agent Donald Maass who said that there “must be tension on every page that you write—no matter what you write!” I assume that even meant cookbooks! Maybe something like “will the soufflé fall?” Well, maybe not cookbooks but it’s great advice and absolutely needs to be taken to heart by mystery writers!

When I read this assignment, I couldn’t wait to turn to the sixty-ninth page of Rollover—and (thank God) I wasn’t disappointed. It’s the last page of Chapter Seven and ties up one of the first of several loose ends. Actually, it gives the name of a possible culprit who might have set up Dan Mahoney to be killed and fingers another. One of those “the plot thickens” sorts of events.

Dan who barely escaped with his life after a rollover accident (that wasn’t an accident) is trying to find out just who knew which route he was taking from Hobbs, NM to Wagon Mound, NM. He’s just called the insurance office in Hobbs where he wrapped up a case of insurance fraud for a United Life and Casualty satellite office. (See the first Dan Mahoney mystery, Flash Flood) And the secretary tells him someone called:
“Do you remember what she asked?”

“Well, they were planning a little welcoming get-together for that afternoon and it would make a difference which way you were coming. That is, the back way would get you there quicker but up through Albuquerque would be an easier drive—more four-lane.”

Lie number three. “And you told her I was taking the scenic route?”

“Yes, up through Roy. I remember you saying that you’d never seen the lesser prairie. And I mentioned that you’d gotten away early . . . She was so sweet and the party sounded so thoughtful.
The caller’s name was Amber and was a possible direct tie-in to the bank and one Lawrence Woods, its president. This page is loaded with foreshadowing and solves one aspect of who had him followed, cut his car’s hoses stalling him on the side of the road and then tries to kill him. In all modestly I’d move forward after this page and read on. Page 69 of Rollover passed the test!
Learn more about Rollover at the publisher's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Susan Slater & Toby and Tess.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"The Madonna and the Starship"

James Morrow is the author of the World Fantasy Award-winning novel Towing Jehovah, the Nebula Award-winning novella Shambling Towards Hiroshima, and the New York Times Notable Book Blameless in Abaddon. His recent novels include The Last Witchfinder, hailed by the Washington Post as “literary magic,” and The Philosopher’s Apprentice, which received a rave review from Entertainment Weekly.

Morrow applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Madonna and the Starship, and reported the following:
So I cracked the spine, turned to page 69, overlooked the fellationic connotations, and found what amounts to a summary of the plot. This pleased me. The Madonna and the Starship is a pretty complex machine, with lots of moving parts, and I’m glad I decided to periodically recapitulate the basic situation (while trying to avoid schematic exposition). You want to make the reader’s job as easy as possible.

Our hero, TV actor-writer Kurt Jastrow, and his almost-girlfriend, religious playwright Connie Osborne, are bent on “foiling the Qualimosans.” The hyper-rationalist extraterrestrials in question have appeared at the NBC Studios circa 1953, subsequently bestowing an award on Kurt for his role as an eccentric scientist on the live children’s program, Uncle Wonder’s Attic. It’s the aliens’ way of thanking Kurt for keeping the light of reason burning throughout the Milky Way Galaxy.

The plot heats up when the Qualimosans notice a rehearsal for an installment of Not By Bread Alone called “Sitting Shivah for Jesus.” Horrified by the program’s endorsement of the supernatural, the aliens lay plans for turning a death-ray on the entire viewership when the show is broadcast on the imminent Sunday morning. Kurt and Connie resolve to convince the invaders that Not By Bread Alone is actually satiric in intent, which means our heroes have a mere forty hours to write, cast, and produce an irreverent version of Connie’s script. Of course, the Qualimosans must be put out of commission for that interval—a task Kurt turns over to his Greenwich Village roommates, Lenny and Eliot.

My favorite line here is Lenny’s naïve remark, “I never imagined they’d be so antagonistic to God.” But I’m chagrined to recall that I never got around to researching whether there was a Rexall drugstore anywhere near Rockefeller Center in 1953.

Connie and I agreed that, as a first step in foiling the Qualimosans, I should secretly contact my roommates and prepare them for two guests whose resemblance to immense blue bipedal lobsters was best accorded an extraterrestrial interpretation. A Rexall drugstore on 54th Street supplied the necessary pay telephone. Connie contributed the nickel. Lenny answered on the first ring. Probably owing to his bohemian sensibility, he greeted my narrative of alien invasion with minimal skepticism, and he seemed to accept the logic of my argument: only a last-minute Not By Bread Alone rewrite could save two million innocent television viewers from an X-13 death-ray.

“I always knew the flying-saucer people were out there, and sooner or later they’d land on Earth,” said Lenny. “But I never imagined they’d be so antagonistic to God.”

“They’re logical positivists, or so Connie tells me.”

“Eliot’s going to have a lot of trouble with this,” said Lenny, “especially their plan to throw all those Christians to the lions.”
Visit James Morrow's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Philosopher’s Apprentice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 14, 2014

"The Dog Year"

Ann Garvin is a professor of health and nutrition at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater; she also teaches creative writing in the Masters of Fine Arts program at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Garvin applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Dog Year, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Lucy dropped her head. "I love denial, I don’t know how I’d get through a day without it.” Lucy swallowed and said, “After my husband died." She stopped, held her hand up to signal Tig to wait. She tried again. "Richard had a penchant for reading obituaries. He cut out the more memorable deaths or photographs and tacked them to the fridge." She shrugged. "Sometimes it was a story he liked. Other times there was something about the face. It sounds morbid, I know. He saw it as a reminder to stay in the present." Lucy stared at the swirl in the carpet, heard her husband's voice, Life is what you do, Lucy my sweet. And you do it until you die.

"He liked to quote Zorba the Greek when he was being philosophical about life. The last obits he saved were photographs of two men, printed next to each other in the newspaper. Bob Grabben and Stanley Stolen died on the same day in August." She stopped, looked at Tig. "I remember wondering if Mr. Stolen or Mr. Grabben had ever shoplifted, self-fulfilling prophecy and all. I guess I started after that."

"You think your husband was giving you some kind of coping strategy?"

"A message from beyond? God no." Lucy paused and looked around the room. "That's all I got. I don't know. I had to do something."

"Are you going to keep taking stuff, Lucy? Do you think you can stop?”

Lucy's eyes drifted off and floated to a corner in the room. "Women like me. We aren't just given things. There's no one standing in line to help us hang a light fixture, change a tire."

"Women like you?"

"You wouldn't understand. You couldn't, not with your long neck and perfect eyebrows." Tig sat back. "Women like me," Lucy said, "We have to ask. Stand in line. Take."

"So, that's what you tell yourself? That’s your justification?"

Lucy scoffed. Closed her face like the door of a safe in an old western. Spun the lock shut. "I want to go back to work. When can I go back to work?"
It’s interesting that page 69 is very representative of the book. It is a conversation between Lucy after she has lost her husband and gotten herself in trouble. It’s so interesting that this pages touches on so many of the themes in the book. The only thing it doesn’t really show is the humor in this story writing. There is some imbedded here, the obituaries on the fridge the two men, who have funny names but that is all.

I’m actually mad about page 69 and I think I will use it in the future for reading.
Visit Ann Garvin's website.

Writers Read: Ann Garvin.

My Book, The Movie: The Dog Year.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"The Hundred-Year House"

Rebecca Makkai is a Chicago-based writer whose first novel, The Borrower, is a Booklist Top Ten Debut, an Indie Next pick, an O Magazine selection, and one of Chicago Magazine's choices for best fiction of 2011. Her short fiction has been chosen for The Best American Short Stories for four consecutive years (2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008), and appears regularly in journals like Harper's, Tin House, Ploughshares, and New England Review.

Makkai applied the Page 69 Test to her second novel, The Hundred-Year House, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Zee went back and forth on the spelling of effect, but figured the three imaginary girls would be imaginary English majors, and would get it right. She left two copies in the printer trays where they could be found by students, then stuck one copy in Shaumber’s mailbox and one in Blum’s.
At some point, early in every novel, a character needs to cross a line, to do something she wouldn’t have done on page one. (Think of Bilbo Baggins finally leaving his hobbit hole with those dwarves.) For Zee, this is that point: she has just sabotaged a colleague. She wants Sid Cole out of the college English Department for several reasons, one of which is that her husband would be a prime candidate for his job. And she believes him to be guilty of a lifetime of sexual harassment – she’s just manufacturing a situation here to prove it. What she’s done is download hundreds of pornographic images (this is 1999, so it takes her a while) onto his office computer; then she’s written a letter from three anonymous students who feel violated by the images they’ve seen when they visit Cole’s office.

As for whether this page is representative of the novel – yes and no. As a plot point, it’s a tangent. The novel is much more about the house where Zee lives, and its history as an arts colony in the 1920s. Although the book starts in 1999, the narrative soon takes us back to the 50’s and the 20’s and then to 1900. Obviously (and unfortunately), those sections don’t have much computer porn in them. But thematically, there is something central going on here: the book questions the idea of fate, and whether we’re drawn toward prewritten destinies, or if we can will the future into being. In fact, Zee does manage to create the exact controversy she wished for – but by the time it comes about, it’s the last thing she wants.

On another note, I do find it entirely apt that my 69th page is about porn.
Learn more about the author and her work at Rebecca Makkai's website, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

Writers Read: Rebecca Makkai (August 2009).

My Book, The Movie: The Borrower.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 12, 2014

"Dead Float"

Formerly a research scientist and international business executive, award-winning author Warren C. Easley lives in Oregon where he writes fiction and tutors GED students.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Dead Float, the second book in the Cal Claxton Oregon mystery series, and reported the following:
In Dead Float, one of the themes I explore is how my protagonist, Cal Claxton, reacts when thrown into an ever-deepening crisis that could cost him his freedom, if not his life. Cal’s a burned out ex-L.A. prosecutor who has retreated to rural Oregon in the aftermath of his wife’s suicide. For therapy and to please his daughter, Claire, he takes up fly fishing and winds up helping a good friend guide a party of high tech execs through the magnificent Deschutes River Canyon. Things turn ugly when one of the party member’s throat is slashed during the first night. Everyone in the party is a suspect, including Cal. He realizes the fishing knife he’d used to help prepare dinner the night before is now missing, but fails to mention it to the investigators. A gift from Claire, the knife had his initials on it.

On the page 69, we pick up the action when Cal is called back by the investigating officers for a second interview. “Needless to say, I wasn’t brimming with confidence when I presented myself at the front desk,” he tells us when he arrives. There’s another complication—one of the investigating detectives from rural Jefferson County, William “Bull” Dorn, had already taken an instant dislike to Cal in the first interview, an enmity Cal had reciprocated.

When Cal enters the interview room, Dorn speaks first: ‘“Well, well,” Dorn said as he looked up, stubbed out his cigarette, and showed a thin, reptilian smile. “If it isn’t the hotshot L.A. lawyer.”’

The second detective seems more reasonable. But, of course, Cal realizes this is probably a game of good-cop, bad-cop. When shown his knife, which had been recovered from a sandbar in the river, not far from the murder scene, the noose begins to tighten. In Cal’s words, “I realized now with sparkling clarity that I should have told them at the first interview that my knife might be missing. But it was too late now. The explanation I offered sounded lame, but at least it was the truth.”

The news isn’t good, but there’s something else that Cal left out of that first interview, something he needs to set straight—he had had an affair with the wife of the murder victim.

That piece of news was going to make Bull Dorn’s day!
Visit Warren C. Easley's Facebook page.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Warren C. Easley & Theo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 11, 2014

"Dark Lady of Hollywood"

Diane Haithman was an Arts Staff Writer for the Los Angeles Times until October, 2009 and is a major contributor to Deadline Hollywood industry website and its print publication, AwardsLine. She recently joined the adjunct faculty of University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism, teaching Feature Writing.

Haithman applied the Page 69 Test to her novel Dark Lady of Hollywood and reported the following:
Murder, sex, money. And an erection belonging to one Todd, a mid-level HBO executive you’ll never see again in this story. In some ways, Page 69 is not at all typical of this merry mashup of Shakespeare and the TV industry. In other ways, it tells the whole story.

Todd is today’s lunch date for lead character Ophelia (that’s right, Ophelia), a beautiful but breathtakingly bad biracial actress whom Fate has entangled with terminally ill TV sitcom executive Ken Harrison, undergoing an Elizabethan meltdown of sorts in his desperate search to find a Muse akin to Shakespeare’s Dark Lady of the Sonnets. In Hollywood.

Ophelia needs advice, but doesn’t want to blab Ken’s secret to anyone — so she tells Ken’s story in the guise of a movie pitch, hoping Todd’s notes on the “script” will answer her own questions on what to do about Ken. This is Todd’s well-meaning but disturbing advice about how to deal with death, Hollywood-style.
Todd perked up instantly. “Oh yeah, murder’s okay.” He nodded happily. “Murder’s good. People love murder. Yeah — put in a murder. That’s different than death. Nobody wants to go there.”


“Not why: who,” Todd nodded sagely. “I mean, you could do a why, but then it gets too complicated. You’ll lose people. It’ll be a lot easier if you do a who. Make the why something real easy. Sex, or money, or both. Then you can do a who committed the murder, not a why.”

Now it was my turn to wrinkle my nose, although I stopped almost immediately because it was giving Todd an erection. After awhile you can tell without looking. There’s a miniscule change in facial expression, a glazed look in the eye, a sudden fidgety and disproportionate concern for the placement of the napkin.

“That wasn’t what I meant. What I meant was, why do people love murder?” I demanded. “It’s still death, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but murder’s not about dying. It’s about killing. Killing works — not dying.”

“But why?”

For Todd’s inability to explain this I suppose can only blame my own nose, so thoughtlessly, carelessly wrinkled. “Just trust me — you’ll never sell your project if the dude dies,” he said, staring with studied interest into his own lap. “Have somebody kill him. Or have him kill somebody. Doesn’t matter. Bring in some CSI’s and let them solve the case. Do murder.”

Do murder. Let’s do lunch, let’s do murder. I felt weak and cold, hearing it. Todd continued to nod and fiddle with his napkin until his smart phone buzzed and slithered on the table. Just before he grabbed it, he licked his thin lips and whispered, “Oh yeah — and make that girl you mentioned, his friend, really, really hot.”
Learn more about the book and author at Diane Haithman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"We Are Called to Rise"

Laura McBride is a writer and community college teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada. She once thought of herself as an adventurer, having traveled far from home on little more than a whim and a grin, but now laughs at the conventional trappings of her ordinary suburban life.

She applied the Page 69 Test to We Are Called to Rise, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I am getting tired of writing, and I can see that my nene is getting a little sad, so I decide to ask just one more question. I can put something in the other spaces later, because I pretty much know the answers.

“Question seven: How is your origin country similar to the United States?”

“People in America always ask what religion I am. I don’t like to say Muslim, because Americans don’t like Muslims. But I don’t want to say I am not Muslim, because that is disrespectful to my baba. In America, people think that they are the only ones who have many religions together. But in Albania, half the people are Muslim and half the people are Christian. And nobody is worried about this. We don’t care if someone Christian marries someone Muslim. I think people in America worry about that more.”

I write down: Half the people in Albania are Christians. Albanians accept many religions, like Americans do.
We Are Called to Rise is set in contemporary Las Vegas, and weaves together the lives of an eight-year Albanian boy, a middle-aged woman trying to make sense of her life, and a young Hispanic soldier, who went straight to Iraq from high school. It’s a boomtown tale – about the sorts of things that can happen when millions of people pour into a small rural state, when that place is not ready for them, when they come from all over the world, from all sorts of backgrounds, for all sorts of reasons.

In this excerpt, the little boy asks his mother some questions about her home country, for a school assignment. The little boy both abbreviates and alters his mother’s answers, because he knows how those answers will sound in his American classroom, and because he wants to protect her. I think the page captures something of the little boy’s predicament, and of his sincerity and sweetness. It does not much hint at the explosive actions that will soon envelop him, his mother, the soldier, and the woman ... but they are coming.
Visit Laura McBride's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Laura Lane McNeal grew up in New Orleans, where she lives today with her husband and two sons. She graduated from Southern Methodist University. She also has an MBA from Tulane and ran her own marketing consulting firm in New Orleans.

McNeal applied the Page 69 Test to Dollbaby, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 is the start of Chapter Eleven in Dollbaby, and I find it to be quite representative of the book on several levels.

After having arrived at her grandmother’s house the previous day, Ibby comes down the next morning, still unsettled in her new environment, to find Dollbaby in the kitchen, staring out onto the back porch where a dozen women dressed in maids’ uniforms are milling around as Queenie waves her arms about like a referee. Ibby is puzzled.

Here is a an excerpt from that page:
“Who are all those people,” Ibby asked.

Doll twisted her mouth to one side. “You know that newspaper Miss Fannie was looking at this morning? Sometimes she spends all day with her nose stuck in that paper, figuring the odds, working the numbers. This afternoon she’ll be in her favorite chair in the front room, glued to the TV, just to make sure her team won.”

“I don’t understand.”

“See all those women out there shoving their way toward the picnic table?

Their employers wouldn’t be caught dead coming down here themselves. The women who live in these big old houses on Prytania Street send their maids down here a couple of times a week just to place their bets with Mr. Henry.” Doll pointed to the only man on the porch, who was busy scribbling on a notepad. “Mr. Henry works for Mr. Salvatore, who owns the little grocery over there on Garfield Street.

Besides delivering the groceries, Mr. Henry brings line sheets with him every day so all the women in the neighborhood can place their bets. He’s kind a like a bookie.”

“Is that bad,” Ibby asked.

“No, baby. That’s a good thing, especially where Miss Fannie is concerned.

You see, Miss Fannie, she’s got a good track record, she do her homework, knows what to bet on. She made a lot a money that way. People found out. Started coming around, asking Miss Fannie for advice.”

“What do they bet on?”

“Lawd, child, all sorts of things. Horses. Dogs. Football. Who’s gone win the next election. When the first hurricane’s gone hit. Right now, they betting on horses, baseball, Wimbledon, the Olympic trials, and a few golf tournaments. Your grandmother, she can recite the odds right off the top of her head. So almost every morning, the second Mr. Henry shows up on his red bicycle, it’s like a stampede to the back door. That’s why Miss Fannie jumped up and got so quick-like. She knew what was coming.”

Ibby pointed at the mob of women. “She’s out there?”

“Sure is. Smack dab in the middle, settin’ at the picnic table yelling out her picks to Mr. Henry. It’s a little game she like to play.”
I love this scene, where all the women are shoving their way toward the picnic table and Ibby discovers that Fannie, her grandmother, is out there in the middle of them. It’s Ibby’s first glimpse as to how different Fannie, Fannie’s household, and all of New Orleans are, a world apart from where she came from. And she begins to ponder, with a certain amount of trepidation, what may lie ahead. It’s a pivotal chapter that sets that stage for the rest of the novel.
Visit Laura Lane McNeal's website.

My Book, The Movie: Dollbaby.

Writers Read: Laura Lane McNeal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You"

Courtney Maum is the author of the novel, I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, out now from Touchstone Books. The humor columnist behind the “Celebrity Book Review” on Electric Literature and an advice columnist for Tin House, she splits her time between the Massachusetts Berkshires and New York City.

Maum applied the Page 69 Test to I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You and reported the following:
Page 69 (this is everything that’s on the page):
“They’re all about ex-lovers!” said Synneve, getting up to pour more wine. “They’re all about ... keys, right? Places you used to live?”

I avoided Anne’s eyes, but I could feel them on me, like a crocodile resting in the water, sizing up its prey. “Not exactly,” I said, handing off the cheese plate. “They’re places I used to have keys to, yeah, but they’re not all ex-girlfriends.”

“They’re mostly ex-girlfriends,” said Anne, carving off a wedge.

“Well,” said Synneve, “like I said, I’d be too jealous. A painting of another woman’s bed!”

“Oh, yeah, no,” said Thierry. “You’d go nuts.”

“They’re all women from the past,” I repeated.
 Synneve burst out laughing. “Well, obviously! I mean, you’re not going to go and . . .” She reddened.
 Anne drained her wineglass and filled it with water. She drained that, and filled it up again. No one else budged.

“Do you guys want to move into the living room?” Synneve attempted. “Have some fruit and cognac?”

Fruit and cognac are good for warming the throat and belly, but they can’t heal a hurt heart. On the drive home, I took the driver’s seat and Anne spent the entirety of the ride staring out the black windows of the car.

The only person I told about Lisa is Julien. I never talked about her to any of our friends, and while this was a good move for the integrity of our couplehood and Anne’s pride, it also meant exposing ourselves to the verbal faux pas of people who weren’t in the know about the leaky state of our union.
I think page 69 is a pretty good representative of the rest of my novel. Thanks, page 69! In this scene, our failed monogamist of a protagonist, Richard Haddon, has gone to a dinner party in the Paris suburbs with his French wife, Anne-Laure. It’s a rare mid-week outing for them—they have a young daughter at home and have both been busy with their respective careers (Richard is an artist, Anne-Laure is a lawyer). They’ve been able to step out of the muck of their marital problems for one blessed night, and everything was going swimmingly until Richard’s recent painting exhibit was brought up. I like this scene because it shows how delicate a relationship is while it’s healing. It’s funny how sexual relationships and bodily injuries are similar in this way—one wrong step, and you’re back in the hurt, back in the pain, back in distress.
Visit Courtney Maum's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 7, 2014

"The Great Glass Sea"

Josh Weil was awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his debut collection, The New Valley. A National Book Award "Five Under Thirty-Five" author, he has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, Columbia University, the MacDowell Colony, Bread Loaf, and Sewanee. His fiction has appeared in Granta, Esquire, One Story, and Agni.

Weil applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, The Great Glass Sea, and reported the following:
Well, first of all, I’m gonna cheat. Because, in a book that’s a chock-full 470 pages, page 69 happens to be mostly blank. It’s the end of a paragraph at the end of a chapter, so I’m gonna back up to a bit before that paragraph begins.

The moment we’re dropping into is just after one of the major shifts in the plot: the heart of the novel is about twin brothers who, having grown up extremely close, find their bond threatened by the pressures of adult life, and the expectations of a society that pushes the importance of work over all else. Here, one of the twin brothers, Yarik, has just been brought in a limousine to a mansion way out in the woods—the home of a billionaire oligarch, Boris Bazarov, who controls the city the two brothers live in. While there, he was given a promotion—but he’s smart enough to know that the meeting was less about the job than about the Oligarch sizing him up; he just doesn’t know why. Still, he’s seeing a path opening up before him that could lift his family and his life out of the blue collar drudgery he’s stuck in. What will it take to navigate that path? Does he have it in him? And will his brother, Dima, go with him, or hold him back? Those are the questions thrumming through this chapter, and they’re central to the scene here, too.

But where we cut in is in a memory: way back when Yarik and Dima were working together on the fishing boat that they had inherited when their father died, suddenly, the year they turned nine. Yarik is in the limousine, returning from the meeting with Bazarov, remembering the moment when, on the boat, he had told his brother Yarik’s wife was pregnant and, in order to earn enough, he wanted to sell the boat and sign up to work on the new industry in their city: an enormous greenhouse that a billionaire from Moscow (Bazarov) was building over the surrounding fields. There’s a lot woven through this novel that includes an alternative present where space mirrors strip away nighttime from the city; the history of the brothers’ life together living with their uncle, Dyadya Avya, on his collective farm after the loss of their father; the brothers’ desperate attempt to buy back some of their uncle’s land and live together farming on it again; and this scene taps into all of that—then leaps back out into the present, the limousine, and Yarik’s determination to move ahead on his new path.

Here’s the excerpt:
Dima shut his eyes. “What will we do with Papa’s boat?”

“Sell it,” Yarik said.

And then Dima’s hair was gone from his hand and his brother was lowering himself unsteadily to the deck. At Yarik’s feet, Dima lay down, his back on the boards. Yarik stood above, watching him. Then he crossed to the engine house. “I need to get an apartment,” he said, before ducking his head inside. From in there he shouted, “And you need to buy a baby gift.” He cut the motor, ducked back out. “A really big one.” He came back, crouched down in front of Dima, held his gaze. “A hundred hectares big.” Lying down beside his brother, he had lain it out: how much more quickly they could buy the land, live on it there together, with wives, children...

“A dog,” Dima had said. “Named Ivan.”

“The Second.”

“The Terrible.”

“No,” Dima had told him, smiling at last, “that will be your baby.”

Out there, in the becalmed boat in the middle of the lake, beneath the sky that would have long ago been night, they had lain quietly side by side, the boat rocking their bodies together and away, together and away.

“Yarik,” Dima had said, “do you remember?”

Yes, he thought in the stillness of the car’s smooth speed, he did. All these years later. That night, all those years ago. But this—this leather seat, this road unfurling beneath him—was now. And his brother was wrong. What had risen between them wasn’t anything more than simply time, the steady drip of years, the way life was. Lifting the gloves off his face, he went to shove them in his jacket pocket, felt the cellophane-wrapped cigarette pack, and drew the Troikas out. He could still see the steadiness of Bazarov’s hand, the pistol motionless, as if soldered to the side of the man’s head. Where, he wondered, had Dyadya Avya’s old gun gone? Had Dima taken it from the izba after the farmhouse was sold, buried it with all the other remnants in their uncle’s trunk? Yarik shook free a cigarette. Soon, he would go look. In their mother’s apartment, in the chest she kept in her room. And if he found the pistol he would bring it home, hide it somewhere safe. No one would know. He stuck the smoke between his lips. Until—he lit a match—the day he’d mount it on his desk.
Visit Josh Weil's website.

Writers Read: Josh Weil.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 6, 2014

"Vengeance is Mine"

Reavis Z. Wortham is the author of The Rock Hole, hailed by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Top 12 Mystery Novels of 2011. A finalist for the Benjamin Franklin Award, the second novel in this Red River Series, Burrows, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

The New York Times called The Right Side of Wrong, the third novel in the series, a "sleeper that deserves wider attention."

Wortham applied the Page 69 Test to Vengeance is Mine, the newly released fourth novel in the Red River Series, and reported the following:
The Page 69 test is always interesting, because for some reason, this brief glimpse gives a clear insight into this novel and its characters, even though only two players are engaged at this point in time.

In Vengeance is Mine, this time period (1967) was full of change as the country evolved from a primarily rural society to an urban environment. Though the U.S. race to the moon was well underway, a large part of the population still scratched a hard living from the ground. In the small northeast community of Center Springs simply want to live their lives and as quietly as possible.

In October of 1967, The Summer of Love is history, rock and roll is dark and revolutionary, and people in the small east Texas community of Center Springs simply want to live their lives as quietly as possible. But a handsome darkness in the form of Las Vegas gangster Anthony Agrioli has left the business to hide out in the tiny backwater settlement with his blond bombshell girlfriend.

Two years earlier, Agrioli met newlyweds Cody and Norma Faye Parker in a Vegas casino and heard their enthusiastic descriptions of the perfect place to settle down and raise a family. At least it was perfect, before their peaceful world found itself directly in the crosshairs of a coming confrontation.

Unfortunately, the local sheriff there is crooked as a dog’s hind leg and finds that he has connections to Agrioli, Vegas, counterfeit money, and the mob boss, Malachi Best. When Best sends a hit team to get Agrioli, the sheriff thinks they’re after him. It’s a Texas Shakespearean comedy with a bloody ending.

The following exchange between Isaac Reader and Constable Ned Parker comes at the end of a chapter, but the humor breaks up the horror experienced by Ike who has unfortunately found another dead body, which he seems to do in every Red River mystery. Ned feels his frustration, and wishes their little community could return to the nice, peaceful life they all worked for.
(Ike Reader) “Well, I mashed on his neck to see if I could feel his heart beating, but he was stone dead. Listen, I think I got a curse on me. I keep finding too many dead people. This here’s three times in the last three years.”



Ned sighed, removed his hat, and rubbed his bald head, a sure sign of exasperation. “One was Cody’s bird dog. That don’t count.”

“Well.” Isaac backed off. “It don’t make no difference now. I done found another one and Listen, I’m thinkin’ of moving to Chisum where things are a lot quieter. In fact, I believe I’m gonna move in my sister’s house on North Lamar.”

Ned stared off toward the river bottoms and thought about how peaceful it would be without Isaac always jabbering at him. “I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”
Learn more about the book and author at Reavis Z. Wortham's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Reavis Z. Wortham and Willie.

The Page 69 Test: The Rock Hole.

My Book, The Movie: The Rock Hole.

The Page 69 Test: Burrows.

The Page 69 Test: The Right Side of Wrong.

Writers Read: Reavis Z. Wortham.

--Marshal Zeringue