Sunday, August 31, 2014

"A Blind Spot for Boys"

Justina Chen is the acclaimed author of young adult novels including A Blind Spot for Boys, Return to Me, North of Beautiful, and Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies), which won the Asian Pacific American Award for Youth Literature. She is a co-founder of readergirlz, the online book community for teens, and lives in the Seattle area with her two children.

Chen applied the Page 69 Test to A Blind Spot for Boys and reported the following:
From page 69:
“You are standing in Huacaypata, the Square of War and Weeping.”

War and weeping. That, I understood. Just the idea of my final conversation with Dom was enough to make me want to war and weep against the memory of it.
Sometimes life packs a particularly hard punch. An unexpected betrayal. A loss of a soul mate. Unimaginable heartbreak that lands you in the Square of War and Weeping.

I’ve never really had the luxury of staying in the Square of War and Weeping—a place of self-pity and anger. Not when I grew up with parents who are of the when-life-hands-you-lemons-you-bake-lemon-bars variety of people. Making lemonade out of life’s lemons was nonsense. No, you create something more filling, something more sustaining.

My lemon bar parents immigrated to America for my father’s PhD, arrived with no money, lived on eggs since they were cheap, and to this day, never complained about their rough start. The life lesson: some how, some way you eke out something good from your hardships. And if that’s impossible, you keep trudging forward until you’re out of the Square of War and Weeping.

(This lemon bar attitude, however, is a particular challenge today when the new house I moved into just two months ago has sprung a leak from a malfunctioning sump pump. Carpets torn up! Sheetrock cut! I am telling myself through gritted teeth that this may open up a new story idea.)

So a few years back, I found myself startled to be in a relationship with a man who brined himself in resentment. At first, he had seemed like a lemon bar kind of guy: all grins and good-natured teasing. Fast forward a few months, and he started replaying all the wrongs other people had committed against him. Over and over, I’d hear about the same stolen ideas. The same unfair business practices. All true, all terrible, but at the same time, life was twinkling and opportunities spooling before him. And he was missing it all, refusing to move from his own personal Square of War and Weeping. That was more tragic than the previous tragedies of his life.

With A Blind Spot for Boys, I thought it would be interesting to contrast the lemon bar people with those who rage against their lemon juice life. The ones who are resilient versus the ones who are resentful. So meet Shana, the winner of the genetic lottery with her trifecta of naturally blonde hair, long legs, and willowy figure. After a devastating break-up, the man magnet puts herself on a Boy Moratorium. But when her dad finds out that he only has six months before he goes blind, her family packs up to see the world. And there, trekking to Machu Picchu, she sees the truth about herself, her parents, and her past. And only then is she able to see the path out of her Square of War and Weeping into the wild world of life.
Visit Justina Chen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 30, 2014

"The Haunted Library"

Dori Hillestad Butler is the author of more than 40 books for children. Her books often appear on children's choice state award lists, and her Buddy Files #1: Case of the Lost Boy won the 2011 Edgar Award for best children's mystery. She has a new children’s series launching this fall called The Haunted Library.

Butler applied the Page 69 Test to The Haunted Library (book 1) and The Haunted Library: The Ghost in the Attic (book 2) and reported the following:
I wasn’t sure about contributing to this blog. I’m a children’s author. Page 69 of a children’s book falls at a completely different place in the story arc than page 69 of an adult novel. In fact, it’s well past the halfway point in my Haunted Library books. But I was curious whether my children’s books would pass the test, so I took the challenge. Since there are two books out in my new series, I figured I’d just write about whichever book passed. Fortunately, they both pass the test.

We’re right in the middle of the action on page 69 in both The Haunted Library and The Haunted Library: The Ghost in the Attic, so I think readers would be inclined to read on. In both cases we are actively looking for someone and the stakes are high. Kaz, my main character, must make a decision about what to do next.

Excerpt from The Haunted Library:
There was still one room he and Claire hadn’t searched: the craft room.

But Cosmo wasn’t there, either. He didn’t seem to be anywhere in the library.

So where was he?

Kaz swallowed hard. If Cosmo wasn’t anywhere inside the library, then…he must be outside the library.
Excerpt from The Haunted Library: The Ghost in the Attic:
“Or…maybe he’s hiding from you. Like a game.”

Like hide-and-seek? Kaz thought. Finn loved hide-and-seek.

But this wasn’t a time for games.

Kaz and Finn’s haunt was gone. Mom, Pops, Grandmom, Grandpop, Little John and Cosmo were all gone.

If Finn was here, he and Kaz had to stick together.
The series features a ghost boy and a “solid” girl who solve a stand-alone ghostly mystery in each book (story arc) while trying to find the ghost boy’s missing family (series arc). What I find interesting about this page 69 test is that in both of these books, page 69 is doing more to advance the series arc than the story arc. That was absolutely not intentional.

I’ll be anxious to apply the page 69 test to book 3 when it comes out. Will page 69 in that book advance the story arc or the series arc?
Learn more about the books and author at Dori Hillestad Butler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 29, 2014

"The Big Crowd"

Kevin Baker is the author of five novels, including the “City of Fire” trilogy of historical novels set in New York City, Dreamland, Paradise Alley, and Strivers Row.

Baker applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Big Crowd, which is also set in New York, just before and after World War II, and reported the following:
The Big Crowd is based on a true story about a mayor of New York, who was forced to flee to Mexico, because he was accused of being involved in the greatest unsolved murder in mob history. The victim was the witness who sent the notorious “Murder, Inc.” gang of killers to the chair. It became part of the very first, nationally televised hearings on government corruption, and it was a huge sensation throughout the country at the time.

The whole sequence of events that leads to that killing gets started on p. 69, with a revolt of the longshoremen on the Brooklyn docks, who are rising up against the gangsters who had taken over their union:
No one could remember anyone challenging the Camardas on their own docks, with all their goons and their shlammers. The squat, swarthy enforcers, with dead eyes and new coats. Strutting the docks all day with their hands shoved deep in their pockets, their lengths of lead pipe wrapped in newspapers. Walking right through the men when they came down to the wharves, like wolves culling sheep.

Then Panto started holding his meetings all over Red Hook and the Heights. He looked too thin and too tall to be a longshoreman, but he was wiry and deceptively strong. Not yet thirty years old. A kindly smile under that silly little moustache and the silly little gigolo’s hat he wore, hook slung over his sleeveless undershirt. For the rallies, he took care to dress up in his one good suit and tie, the hat slung over his eyes at a rakish angle. In the movies, he would have been cast as the bad guy, the Mafioso, or the false lover. In person there was something touchingly genteel about him, something careful and dignified, the air of an impoverished provincial signore.
Peter Panto was a real person, still in his twenties, insanely courageous. He led this grassroots union revolt against these terrifying mob killers, and the mayor’s much younger brother, Tom O’Kane, who’s this very idealistic law student working with the union, is completely captivated by him. He worships his older brother, too, but Charlie O’Kane is part of the political machine that runs the city, he’s much more cautious and political. Charlie doesn’t see how things are changing now with the war, it’s no longer going to be possible to have these little groups of men in backrooms running a city as enormous and diverse as New York. But Panto understands this, he sees how everything is changing now:
They loved him in the musty local halls, where there hadn’t been a union meeting for ten years, twenty years, or maybe never. In the little parish churches built by congregations of long-vanished Protestants. The walls painted the color of the Mediterranean now, filled with statues of the Virgin, and the favorite saints of Sicily and Calabria, Castellammare and Altomonte. The men shouting his name from the moment he walked up to the front of the hall, or to the altar, standing on chairs and pews just to get a look at him. To hear him tell them the same thing, every time.

We are strong. We are many. All we have to do is stand up and fight.”
Learn more about the book and author at Kevin Baker's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Big Crowd.

Writers Read: Kevin Baker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Henna House"

Nomi Eve is the author of Henna House and The Family Orchard, which was a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection and was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award.

She has an MFA in fiction writing from Brown University and has worked as a freelance book reviewer for The Village Voice and New York Newsday.

Her stories have appeared in Glimmer Train Stories, The Voice Literary Supplement, Conjunctions, and The International Quarterly.

Eve applied the Page 69 Test to Henna House and reported the following:
From page 69:
More than two years passed. I would be lying if I said that I spent those years doing anything other than praying for Asaf to come back. No one knew, of course. I kept my single-minded devotions to myself. The only ones to rebuke me were my little idols, my only true confidants, who grew tired of my doleful lamentations and urged me to stop pining for a boy who would never come back. At least that is what I imagined they said, as I offered them grain and sage and bowed my head to their altar.

Nothing remarkable happened in those years. But when I was eleven everything changed. One day my father stumbled on his way into our house, almost falling, catching himself with a surprised grunt. It was the winter of 1930. He had news to share. A letter in his hand. My mother worked at the table, stretching out jachnun dough. He explained that his youngest brother, Barhun, Barhun’s wife, Rahel, and their youngest daughter would be leaving their home in Aden and coming to live with us. My mother relinquished her tender hold on the dough and swore that Rahel Damari wouldn’t cross her threshold, let alone come to live in her house.

“He is my brother. “ My father’s voice rose and wavered at the same time; he was incredulous, angry.

“If they come, they won’t leave,” my mother yelled. “And if she comes here, I will leave you.”

My mother had threatened many things in their twenty-four years of marriage, but never this.

“And where will you go?”

“Back to Taiz.”

“You’ll go nowhere, Sulamit!” My father coughed, a great heaving rattle, then grabbed my mother by the wrist and pulled her arm toward….
How lucky I am! Page 69 was actually the first page I ever wrote of Henna House. It is perhaps the most important page of the book. My main character, Hani Damari is in the kitchen with her mother when her father bursts in with important news. Hani’s mother is kneading dough when her father waves a letter. He reads to them the news that his brother, sister-in-law and niece from the far away city of Aden are coming to live with them. Hani has never met her uncle, aunt and cousin. Her father shares the news excitedly, but her mother is furious. Hani watches in horror as her mother spits in the dough, and actually threatens to leave the family if the “other Damaris” come. Hani wonders why her mother hates the aunt so much. She wonders what the aunt could have done to deserve such wrath. She also wonders about her cousin -- who she is? what she is like? Hani is desperate for answers to these questions and is also desperate for a companion. In the days that follow, Hani longs for her sophisticated cousin from Aden to blaze into her life and sweep away her loneliness.

I began this book with the notion that Adela’s life had to change and that it would change through the arrival of her vivacious cousin, Hani. By the end of this passage, one of the central crises of the book is firmly in place. The mysterious visitors will come, bringing with them the blessings and curses that will change Hani’s life, for the better and for the worse.
Visit Nomi Eve's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Henna House.

Writers Read: Nomi Eve.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Three Story House"

Courtney Miller Santo teaches creative writing at the University of Memphis, where she earned her MFA. She is the author of the novels The Roots of the Olive Tree and the newly released Three Story House.

Santo applied the Page 69 Test to Three Story House and reported the following:
Three Story House is not only the story of the spite house the three cousins are working to save, it is also the three individual stories of the cousins. On page 69, the reader gets a taste of the dual aspect of the novel as the women explore the cupola, which perches on top of the home.
They made Elyse go first since she put up a fuss about climbing the backless stairs. Isobel followed, carrying a broom. Lizzie had tried to warn them how small the space was, but when she finally made it up the stairs, she found Elyse marveling that by stretching her arms, she could touch all sides of the cupola. Behind them a second room expanded the area beyond the telephone booth-like space that the stairs opened into. The larger room had a barn door on rollers and window seats. There were a few cast-off items littering the floor, including a smaller replica of Spite House that, if she remembered correctly had once been a mailbox. The prisms that were so much a part of Lizzie’s childhood remained in place. Isobel pushed through both rooms, spilling out onto the roof with the relief of someone who didn’t like small spaces.
You have each of the cousins reacting to the space—Elyse with marvel, Lizzie with nostalgia and Isobel once again determined not to be confined. And there is the clutter of the house’s history complete with a replica of itself. I hope that what reader’s get from this page is a picture of how intertwined these women are with each other and with the house. I want them to root for them to succeed and hate it when they fail.
Learn more about the book and author at Courtney Miller Santo's website.

My Book, The Movie: Three Story House.

Writers Read: Courtney Miller Santo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Tabula Rasa"

Ruth Downie is the author of a series of mysteries featuring Roman Army medic and reluctant sleuth, Gaius Petreius Ruso: Medicus, Terra Incognita, Persona Non Grata, Caveat Emptor, Semper Fidelis, and the newly released Tabula Rasa.

Downie applied the Page 69 Test to Tabula Rasa and reported the following:
From page 69:
“This is too important for writing down!” Tilla insisted. “I am shamed! Why are you sending soldiers to Senecio’s house?”

“I haven’t….” Even as he denied it, light dawned.

Tilla said, “They are looking for your clerk and taking names and burning people’s farms down!”

“They’re what?”

“They are burning houses!” insisted Virana. “Did you not see the smoke in the sky?”

“They searched the houses and the cow-barn,” said Tilla. “They knocked over the loom and the fire-irons and licked the honey-spoon and drank the beer and broke some eggs. They said they might set fire to everything. If I had not told them I was your wife who knows what they would have done? And then they told everybody that you had ordered them to do it!”
I was surprised, and relieved, to find that page 69 embodies the central conflict of the book: the strained relationship between occupiers and occupied in Roman Britain. I’m not sure why this fascinates me, but it’s the tension that drives me to write the series.

A little context: the story is set in AD122. The Britons are still smarting from the failure of a serious rebellion that took place a couple of years ago, and the building of Hadrian’s Wall across native farmland is raising hackles once more amongst the local tribes.

Legionary medic Ruso is currently stationed on the border, charged with tending the soldiers as they build. His wife Tilla, a British woman, has introduced him to a local family, but the tentative friendship is shortlived. Ruso is dragged into an incident between soldier and native elsewhere and Page 69 captures the moment when she tells him that he’s caused serious offence.
As the story progresses, what started as a minor spat between individuals threatens to spiral out of control, leaving Ruso and Tilla marooned on opposite sides of some serious violence. Part of the problem is the willingness of each side to believe the worst about the other – a form of behaviour that’s easy to condemn from the outside, but alarmingly easy to slip into once one is involved.

To be honest we don’t really know how the local tribes saw the building of Hadrian’s Wall: all we have is a scathing remark from one of the garrisons stationed in the area, referring to them as “wretched little Brits”.

That was enough.
Learn more about the book and author at Ruth Downie's website.

The Page 69 Test: Caveat Emptor.

Writers Read: Ruth Downie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 25, 2014

"A Song for Issy Bradley"

Carys Bray completed an M.A. in creative writing at Edge Hill University in 2010. That same year she won the M.A. category of the Edge Hill Prize for the Short Story, and her stories have since been published in a variety of literary magazines. She was awarded the Scott Prize for her debut collection, Sweet Home. She lives in Southport, England, with her husband and four children.

Bray applied the Page 69 Test to A Song for Issy Bradley, her first novel, and reported the following:
Is page 69 representative of the rest of the book?

Page 69 is the saddest part of the novel. Issy Bradley is desperately ill and her parents Claire and Ian are at her bedside. Claire is beginning to come to terms with the fact that Issy is unlikely to get better, but Ian is determinedly optimistic.

While it’s an important scene, I wouldn’t say it’s representative of the novel as a whole. Despite the fact that A Song for Issy Bradley is about what happens following the death of a child, it’s also a funny book - life doesn’t stop after Issy dies. Older sister Zipporah falls in love for the first time, brother Alma gets himself in a terrible mess when he ‘borrows’ a roll of bank notes and little Jacob Bradley hatches an impossible to plan to fix his family.

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

I hope so. Nick Hornby wrote a very generous review in The Believer. He noted the novel’s initial sadness but went on to say, ‘I loved A Song for Issy Bradley. It’s wry, smart, human, and, rather miraculously, avoids mawkishness.’

I’d advise a prospective reader to also browse page 169. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the resurrection of a goldfish (the one depicted on the cover) and contrasts nicely with the sadness of page 69.
‘I think it’s best to give her more time.’ Ian looks to Claire for support. ‘Give her a chance to turn the corner.’

‘Mr Bradley, the septicaemia is progressing and –’

‘You see children on television who’ve had their fingers and toes amputated - whole legs, hands, even arms - don’t you?’

‘Yes, you do.’ Dr Sabzwari says it so kindly and regretfully that Claire knows she is going to follow up with something awful. ‘But you almost never see children at this stage of the disease make a recovery. Isabel’s blood pressure is low which means there’s poor blood flow to her major organs and poor blood flow to the brain causes brain damage. I think we’re approaching the stage where we need to talk about what happens next.’

Claire looks from Doctor Sabzwari to Ian. ‘Do you you think we could talk about this in the morning?’ she asks. ‘Our other children, we need to talk to them, they should be here...’

Ian grabs her hand and squeezes hard and she realises he thinks she’s prevaricating, holding out for a miracle, too.
Visit Carys Bray's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Song for Issy Bradley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Sisters' Fate"

Jessica Spotswood lives in Washington, D.C., with her playwright husband and a cuddly cat named Monkey.

Spotswood applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Sisters' Fate, and reported the following:
Warning: this entry contains major spoilers for book 2 in the Cahill Witch Chronicles, Star Cursed!

From page 69:
"I'm fine." I'm not fine. What's O'Shea cooking up now? Hundreds of Brothers will be at the bazaar. Any of us could make a misstep and be arrested. Things seem so on edge. And beyond that--

"Are you worried Finn will be there?" Rilla cuts right to the heart of it.

My breath catches in my throat, and I feel such a coward. Am I that obvious, that pitiful, that everyone can see the truth written on my face?

"I don't know," I whisper, burying my head in my hands. "I miss him. So much. I want to see him but - he won't know me. Not really."

Rilla plants her hands on her sturdy hips and gives a fierce little scowl. "I could slap that sister of yours."
That's only half of page 69, but I think it's very representative of the main conflicts of the book. My protagonist, Cate, is struggling to forgive her sister for an unforgivable betrayal. Her sister hasn't shown an ounce of apology or remorse, but there's a prophecy that one Cahill sister will murder another. If Cate can't somehow find it in her heart to forgive Maura, does she risk being the one to make that prophecy come true? As if that's not difficult enough, Cate and her sisters (and friends like Rilla, who's one of my favorite side characters) are all witches in a society that has outlawed magic. A war is brewing between the oppressed witches and the priests of the Brotherhood. Brother O'Shea, the head of the Brotherhood, is indeed cooking something up - and will announce it, much to Cate's horror, at the bazaar that night. She'll also have to see her ex, Finn, for the first time since their rather complicated breakup. Which he doesn't remember. He doesn't remember any of what they once were to one another. You see, Maura erased all his memories of Cate...which is an awful lot to forgive, no?
Learn more about the book and author at Jessica Spotswood's website.

My Book, The Movie: Star Cursed.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Tom Leveen is the author of Sick, Party, Zero, and manicpixiedreamgirl. Zero was named to YALSA’s list of Best Fiction for Young Adults.

His latest novel is Random.

Leveen applied the Page 69 Test to Random and reported the following:
Hmm. Actually, my 69 falls on the start of a chapter. Reading it over, I think it would be enough to at least turn the page to 70; there is a relationship evident between the two characters who are speaking, and it’s obvious one of them is hiding something. And there’s just enough humor to keep things rolling. I think page 69 isn’t a bad … random page to read.

Ha! Come on, that was great.

…I’ll go now.
Learn more about the book and author at Tom Leveen's website.

Leveen is also the author of Sick, Party, Zero, and manicpixiedreamgirl. Zero was named to YALSA’s list of Best Fiction for Young Adults.

My Book, The Movie: Zero.

My Book, The Movie: Sick.

The Page 69 Test: Sick.

Writers Read: Tom Leveen.

My Book, The Movie: Random.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 22, 2014

"The Spark and the Drive"

Before working as a corrections officer in Rutland, Vermont, Wayne Harrison was an auto mechanic for six years in Waterbury, Connecticut. A first-generation college student, he began in his mid twenties as a criminal justice major before getting turned on to creative writing by mentor and friend Jeffrey Greene. He later received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

His fiction has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. His short stories appear in Best American Short Stories 2010, The Atlantic, Narrative Magazine, McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, Crazyhorse, The Sun, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, FiveChapters, New Letters and other magazines. His fiction has earned a Maytag fellowship, an Oregon Literary fellowship and a Fishtrap Writing Fellowship. He teaches writing at Oregon State University.

Harrison applied the Page 69 Test to The Spark and the Drive, his debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“When my little sister was a baby,” I said, “she got a fever like a hundred and five. We had to take her to Emergency. She was laying in my lap. She needed a drink, but we didn’t have her bottle, we forgot it. She lost her voice she was so thirsty. Her eyes were all pink. Her fingers were burning up. I thought she was going to die, like I was seeing it happen. I mean she was just holding on to my finger.”

We were both sitting on milk crates at this point with the engine between us, and I could only see his legs under the exhaust ports. The legs were still.

“We get to the hospital, and my mom runs in with her. I’m just sort of wandering around between cars. I remember being in this Chinese restaurant all of a sudden, and the hostess was talking to me. Your brain just shuts off. All I could think was, she’s not coming home again. She never even said a word yet. She never walked. She never did anything wrong. If she didn’t make it, man, I don’t know what I would have done.”

I had to get up. I went over and leaned against the bay door, where I stared at the ground and smoked half a cigarette. When I came back to the engine Nick was frowning at the bearing cap, turning his coarse-toothed Snap-On ratchet so slowly you could count the clicks.

“That’s what I mean,” I said. “Just talking.”

He lit a cigarette.

“Your turn,” I said.

“What do you say we quit playing Sigmund Freud and get back to work.”
In this passage, Justin, the 18-year-old narrator, is rebuilding an exotic muscle car engine with his mentor, Nick Campbell, the greatest muscle car mechanic in New England. The engine was actually more than exotic -- it was, at the time, the most powerful American production engine, a '69 ZL1 427, one of only two built. There's a lot riding on Nick's rebuilding it correctly. In the past year, he lost his baby son to SIDS, and since then his work has been coming back for amateur mistakes he's made as a result of his grief. Justin knows that if Nick keeps screwing up, he's going to lose the shop. Justin's plan is to get Nick to open up and exorcise his inner demons so that he can be great again. But in the coming pages, Justin will find exactly out how precarious his meddling in Nick's personal business will become.
Visit Wayne Harrison's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"The Stepsister's Tale"

Tracy Barrett is the author of twenty works of fiction and nonfiction for young readers, most recently The Stepsister’s Tale (Harlequin Teen), Dark of the Moon (Harcourt), and The Sherlock Files series (Henry Holt). Barrett was the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Regional Advisor for the Midsouth from 1999 to 2009 and is currently SCBWI’s US Regional Advisor Coordinator. She was awarded the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant in 2005. She holds an A.B. in Classical Archaeology from Brown University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval Italian Literature from UC Berkeley. She lives in Nashville, TN, where until recently she taught Italian at Vanderbilt University.

Barrett applied the Page 69 Test to The Stepsister’s Tale and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Stepsister’s Tale is the end of a chapter, so it isn’t a full page:
was scowling and dragging his feet. The man picked up his cup again, and the boy stopped short. The man pushed him forward with an impatient, “Go on.”

The boy raised his eyes but didn’t look Jane directly in the face. “Thank you for offering—” His father nudged him in the back, and he hastily added, “Miss. But I don’t care for any.” He looked at his father as though to say, “Satisfied?”

Jane knew that the boy was feeling terribly uncomfortable, and she tried to keep “Serves you right” out of her voice as she answered, “I don’t either. My sister usually makes the tea, but I did it this time and I don’t really know how. I’m afraid it isn’t very good.”

As though surprised at her friendly tone, the boy finally looked at her, and he broke into a reluctant grin, showing white teeth. He instantly quenched the smile, but for that moment he had appeared friendly, and Jane could see humor in his dark eyes. The man gulped down his tea. The two of them returned to work, and Jane returned to the house, thinking she would never understand the people of the woods.
This is actually a pretty important part of the book, where Jane (the older of Cinderella’s two stepsisters) meets the boy who—well, never mind what he will do or be to Jane; I’ll let you find that out for yourself!

Jane and her sister, Maude, are high-born but impoverished sisters whose father drank and gambled away most of their money before dying. Their widowed mother, who refuses to accept that they no longer live a life of ease and luxury, marries a man with a spoiled daughter (Isabella) who whines when asked to do her share of the work necessary to keep things afloat. Will (the scowling boy) is the son of a woodcutter who resents the people who live in the big house. All of them—including Isabella—will learn that not everything is at it seems.

You can learn a lot about their characters here. Will is resentful but can’t help showing his friendlier side, much as he’d like to hide it, and Jane is awkward around strangers, as her mother keeps them away from people she considers their inferiors—which includes just about everybody.
Visit Tracy Barrett's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Tracy Barrett & Pericles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Sweetness #9"

Stephan Eirik Clark was born in West Germany and raised between England and the United States. He is the author of the short story collection Vladimir's Mustache. A former Fulbright Fellow to Ukraine, he teaches English at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

Clark applied the Page 69 Test to his newly released debut novel, Sweetness #9, and reported the following:
Sweetness #9 tells the story of a flavor chemist who fails to blow the whistle on a new artificial sweetener, then later comes to regret this decision when the side-effects he first observed in laboratory rats and monkeys begin to appear in his wife and children. More than this, though, it is a novel that looks at the many ways we interact with food to show how what we eat reveals what we think about our bodies, our minds, our spirits, and our relationships.

With that in mind, page 69 is highly representative of the novel as a whole. On it, my protagonist, David Leveraux, is struggling with what he's seen in animal testing and his inability to share his thoughts and fears with his wife. At such a point, many people would turn to religion for support. David is no different, though his religion is one of his own creation: believing this will make him live a long and healthy life, he adopts the diet of The Oldest Man in America -- in this case, a former missionary who picked up a taste for cassavas and coconut milk while serving as a missionary in The Kingdom of Kongo and then Siam.

"You do know what a cassava is, don't you?" David asks his wife, after insisting that she go shopping for him (he's too on edge to do it himself). "Not a sweet potato, not a yam -- a cassava," he continues. "Here, let me draw you a picture. Okay? Yes? Now once you've picked up those -- and get two dozen, if you can -- find some coconut milk. It's absolutely imperative that you find some coconut milk. Should I write that down?"
Visit Stephan Eirik Clark's website.

My Book, The Movie: Sweetness #9.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"Of Metal and Wishes"

Sarah Fine is a child psychologist and the author of several books for teens, including Of Metal and Wishes (McElderry/Simon & Schuster) and its sequel (coming in August 2015), and the Guards of the Shadowlands YA urban fantasy series (Skyscape/Amazon Children’s Publishing). She's also the co-author (with Walter Jury) of two YA sci-fi thrillers published by Putnam/Penguin: Scan and its sequel Burn (which will be published in 2015). Her first adult urban fantasy romance novel, Marked, will be published in January 2015 by 47North/Amazon Publishing.

Fine applied the Page 69 Test to Of Metal and Wishes and reported the following:
From page 69:
Melik’s jaw tightens. “Tercan should not be left alone. We’re . . .” His broad shoulders slump. “We’re afraid they might come and take him, that they might expel him from the compound or just put him on a train out of town.”

They might. Right now Tercan is taking up space an able-bodied worker could occupy. He is eating food meant for people who can make money for the company.

I pull the still-warm buns out of my pocket. “I brought these for you. And for Tercan,” I add quickly.

Melik inhales the scent and his stomach growls. He puts a hand over his belly. I offer him a bun. “You haven’t eaten all day, have you?”

He shakes his head. “You don’t have to do any of this, Wen. Why are you?” He raises his eyes to mine, and I almost tell him. But if I did, he would hate me. He would know how bad I am, and I like the way he’s looking at me right now.

“Because you’re far from home and you deserve some kindness.” As it slips out of my mouth, I realize I believe it.
Choosing a random page in a book and asking if it’s representative of the rest could be a gamble, and I was somewhat surprised to find that this page is actually a very nice depiction of one of the major conflicts in Of Metal and Wishes, which is most easily described as a cross between The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux and The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

Melik and Tercan are members of the reviled Noor ethnic group, many of whom have been hired as cheap labor at the slaughterhouse where Wen lives with her father, the factory’s on-site physician. Like everyone else in her Itanyai ethnic group, Wen has been taught to fear and despise the Noor, and early on, it seems like she has good reason: Tercan humiliates her in the factory’s cafeteria. But after Wen makes an impulsive wish for revenge to the factory’s resident ghost and he grants it in a particularly brutal manner, she’s left feeling responsible for the outcome.

Here, on page 69, she’s trying to make up for it in any way she can. She’s starting to realize that the Noor are just young men who want to work and send money home to their families, and now they’re caught in the relentless grip of the slaughterhouse and its malevolent bosses. And as that realization grows, it drives her actions and her growth throughout the rest of the book.
Visit Sarah Fine's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 18, 2014

"Small Blessings"

Martha Woodroof was born in the South, went to boarding school and college in New England, ran away to Texas for a while, then fetched up in Virginia. She has written for NPR,, Marketplace and Weekend America, and for the Virginia Foundation for Humanities Radio Feature Bureau. Her print essays have appeared in such newspapers as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Woodroof applied the Page 69 Test to Small Blessings, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
... like thin velvet between his fingers. The truth was that his mother-in-law often said things he was too timid even to think, things such as Marjory is better off dead. When he actually considered it, though, that statement seemed pretty likely to be true. Twenty-three years of marriage, and the woman he’d been married to was better off dead. Tom tried to picture Rose Callahan’s oddly peaceful face, but it eluded him. He knew Agnes was waiting for him to say something. “I wish,” he said, “that Marjory could have figured out a way to be more relaxed about things. I really do. But she didn’t seem to have much capacity for relaxation.”

Agnes snorted. “The master of understatement speaks again!”

Tom put the petal carefully back where it had fallen on the table. “I guess you’ve got that right.” It was a great relief to find that he and Agnes could still talk; that the two of them were joined in a way that had, initially anyway, survived Marjory’s death. He would at least have a comfortable beginning to this long tumultuous day. Small blessings. There was his mother again. Louise Putnam was in a New Jersey nursing home, smoothing her apron and planning to bake brownies for him and her dead husband, blissfully convinced it was 1967. Growing up, Tom had thought she was mostly hopeless, only able to grasp the occasional big picture, such as civil rights. But now he knew she’d been wise, taking sustenance from the simple pleasures of everyday things. When you got down to actual survival, that was the big picture.

Agnes ground out her Camel. “So let’s have it,” she said around a final blast of smoke. “I think I’ve put off knowing long enough.”

It didn’t occur to Tom to be disingenuous, to ask, “Have what?” or to stall for time by talking about what he was about to talk about. He took a deep breath and addressed the jar of roses. “I have a ten-year-old son named Henry who’s arriving in Charlottesville on the Monday morning train. I had no idea he existed until that letter arrived.”

“Hmmm.” Agnes lit another Camel. Tom heard her sucking and blowing, but other than that, nothing. The silence was unbearable, so he rattled on. “I had a short affair with a visiting poet the year before you came to live with us. It only lasted three weeks, but I guess that was long enough to produce Henry. I’m so, so sorry.”

“Why?” Agnes asked.
My goodness, page 69 of Small Blessings contains the line from which I drew the title -- rather a small blessing in its own right...

I think this page -- which holds a conversation between Tom Putnam, English professor and our hero, and his redoubtable mother-in-law, Agnes Tattle -- shows both these characters and their relationship. Tom and Agnes are two somewhat ordinary people who find themselves beset with extraordinary events. To me, over the course of the novel they strengthen each other, challenge each other, respect each other, love each other, and enjoy each other -- all of which is kind of there on this one page.

Plus, it takes place at the kitchen table, which is as central to this piece of fiction as it is to my own life.
Visit Martha Woodroof's website.

My Book, The Movie: Small Blessings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Fleabrain Loves Franny"

Joanne Rocklin's books include One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street, which won the California Book Award, and The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook, which won the Golden Kite Award and was named to Florida’s Sunshine State Young Readers Award master list.

Rocklin applied the Page 69 Test to her latest middle grade novel, Fleabrain Loves Franny, and reported the following:
My novel takes place in the 1950’s in Pittsburgh, during the worst polio epidemics of that era. Franny, the main character contracts the disease and can no longer walk. During her hospital stay she is introduced to the recently published Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and falls in love with the book, and, especially, the spider, Charlotte. She longs for a Charlotte of her own. Her wish is granted in the form of the brilliant and hilarious Fleabrain, her dog’s flea. Fleabrain mentions that he's read Kafka's Metamorphosis, a book on her parents' bookshelf. Franny seeks out the book, discovering that other readers have loved the story, writing comments such as "Kafka has the answers" in its margins. On page 69 [inset left; click to enlarge] she asks Professor Gutman, a scientist working in Jonas Salk's lab, to help her translate it.

To many, Kafka's stories reflect the meaningless and unpredictability of life, and certainly Franny's life has taken a Kafkaesque turn. But sometimes literature, and life itself, offer hidden beauties. The professor eventually arrives at an understanding of the story, inspired by Franny's self-acceptance and endurance.

I hope that my story about Fleabrain and Franny illuminates humor and courage in the face of life's bittersweetness, as well as the solace of the imagination.
Visit Joanne Rocklin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Between the Spark and the Burn"

April Genevieve Tucholke digs classic movies, red-headed villains, big kitchens, and discussing murder at the dinner table. She and her husband Nate Pedersen live in Oregon at the edge of a forest.

Tucholke applied the Page 69 Test to Between the Spark and the Burn, the sequel to Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, and reported the following:
I think pg 69 does a pretty good job of representing the rest of my book, actually. There's a mysterious girl with blood on her dress, talking about a devil-boy who steals dreams. The main character, Violet, has followed a rumor to a small village in the Virginian mountains. Everyone in the village is hostile and odd, in the classic manner of H.P. Lovecraft--Lovecraft and his eerie, secluded towns served as an inspiration for this sequel.

From page 69:
looked toward her house, quick, and then looked back at us again. “Some people are saying he’s the devil and has hooves for feet and fire coming out of his fingertips, but it’s wrong. It’s all wrong. He . . . he just looks like a boy, just a boy like either of you.” She stopped and stared at Neely, and then at Luke. “I saw him when he came to me, in my bedroom. He sat on my stomach, light as air, and tried to steal my dreams, only I woke up. The other girls, they didn’t wake up in time, they didn’t see his face in the dark, but I struck a match. I saw.”

Neely flinched when the girl said a boy, just a boy like either of you.

The girl started blinking fast, and her eyes were pleading and wistful and kind of lonely. That look was familiar to me, in some deep, almost forgotten way.

“I didn’t tell anyone,” she said. “The other girls told, but I didn’t.”

I wanted to ask her more, and so did Neely, behind me. His mouth was parted and I could almost see his questions, sitting on the edge of his tongue...

But I felt so bad for her suddenly, with her red-rimmed eyes and her skinny shoulders all hunched up and the blood on her dress. I didn’t care about anything, right then. Not the devil-boy, not the dead birds, not Brodie. There was just this girl.
Learn more about the book and author at April Genevieve Tucholke's website.

My Book, The Movie: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 15, 2014

"Half in Love with Artful Death"

Bill Crider is the winner of two Anthony Awards and an Edgar Award finalist. An English college professor for many years, he’s published more than seventy-five crime, Western, and horror novels, as well as a number of children’s books.

Crider applied the Page 69 Test to Half in Love with Artful Death, the 21st Dan Rhodes Mystery, and reported the following:
I’ve done this a few times now, and every time I do it, I promise myself that I’m going to put a really great explosion or shoot-out on page 69 of my next book. And then I don’t do it. What we have this time is part of a conversation between Sheriff Dan Rhodes and two other county employees, Hack and Lawton, who are discussing what they believe is Rhodes’s grouchy mood. Their conclusion? Low T.
“Low T. Happens when a man gets to be a certain age. He gets the low T.”

“One thing that it does to a man is make him touchy,” Lawton said.

“Another thing is that a man gets thin spots in his hair,” Hack said. “Low T can be a serious condition.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rhodes said.
Of course Hack and Lawton, who are always bedeviling Rhodes, are happy to explain to him what his problem is, and they do go on to discuss the real subject of the conversation, a recent robbery. Would this make anyone want to read the rest of the book? I hope so, but it’s not like it’s an explosion, which I’m including next time, for sure.
Learn more about the book and author at Bill Crider's website and blog.

Read the Page 69 Test entries for Crider's A Mammoth Murder, Murder Among the OWLS, Of All Sad Words, Murder in Four Parts, Murder in the Air, The Wild Hog Murders, Murder of a Beauty Shop Queen, and Compound Murder.

Learn about Crider's choice of actors to portray Dan Rhodes et al on the big screen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"In Deep"

Terra Elan McVoy has been reading and writing avidly since she first learned how, and has had many jobs that center around those two activities, from managing an independent children's bookstore, to teaching writing classes, and even answering fan mail for Captain Underpants. McVoy lives and works in the same Atlanta neighborhood where her novels After the Kiss, Being Friends with Boys, and Pure are set. She is also the author of The Summer of Firsts and Lasts, and Criminal--a 2014 Edgar Award Finalist.

McVoy applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, In Deep, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Right now? Two-eleven-six.”

He whistles. I shrug. It isn’t a horrible time. But it is ten seconds behind the world record for long course. Still, I watch Grier see Gavin being impressed with me. I lean back farther on my hands and open my knees a little.

“So, the scouts are on you already, huh?” he asks, eyes glinting like they were the other night when we went to get burritos.

Everybody else is bored though, talking about something else. I’m bored too—that dirty flirt talk game’s already been done.

“I’ve heard not till summer.”

He shakes his head. “This is when they should start looking at you. Olympic trials will be here before you know it.”

“Not for me.” I shake my head, enjoying the floppy feel of it.

“You serious?”

“Sure I’m serious. You’re not serious about them, are you?”

He laughs. From what I’ve been able to tell, Gavin’s a decent swimmer. Good enough to get into Auburn and stay there, anyway. But I know he’s not serious because of the internship. You don’t take summer jobs if you’re gunning for the gold. You don’t have time to. Sometimes you don’t even go to college.

“Well,” he finally says, in that dismissive-dad-sounding way. “I just mean—”

“You ever swim against Kenyon, Wake, or Brown?”

This part I want to know.
The page 69 test for my newest novel, In Deep, is funny. Taken out of context like this conversation between the main character, Brynn, and the college guy who’s training with her swim club over the summer, Gavin, while they’re sitting around a hot tub with a bunch of other people at a party makes virtually no sense. What you can’t tell from this page is that they’d been flirting pretty hard-core earlier in the book. Brynn caught Gavin’s attention, and now he’s trying to get to know her better. The problem is, he’s already sort of dating her best friend, Grier. And Brynn isn’t excited about it, for more than one reason.

Still, this is a great microview of what In Deep is all about. Brynn’s an exceptional swimmer, and she’s interested in seeing how far her talent may take her. (This is why she’s interested in Kenyon, Brown, and Wake Forest at the end of the section, and knows a lot about the Olympics. She too, is a contender.) Brynn’s looking to escape, and she knows her swimming is the main thing that will allow her to. She’s interested in Gavin, in part, because of what he can teach her about where she might be able to go.

But Brynn’s not only interested in excelling at swimming. Her competitive drive is so deeply entrenched, that early on she sees Gavin as competition (for her best friend Grier’s attention), and decides she can’t let him beat her. She also isn’t crazy about the idea of suddenly playing second fiddle to her best friend’s new boyfriend, especially when she knows Gavin’s attracted to her, too. The entire novel is a constant cat-and-mouse one-upmanship between these three, and while it’s subtle in this scene, it’s all right there.
Learn more about the book and author at Terra Elan McVoy's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Summer of Firsts and Lasts.

My Book, The Movie: Being Friends with Boys.

Writers Read: Terra Elan McVoy (May 2013).

The Page 69 Test: Criminal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"Of Sea and Cloud"

Jon Keller is the author of the novel Of Sea and Cloud. He holds an MFA from Boise State University. After graduate school, he moved to a remote stretch of the Maine coast and spent several years working aboard a lobster boat and writing for a commercial fishing newspaper. Now a clam digger, he divides his time between Maine and Montana.

Keller applied the Page 69 Test to Of Sea and Cloud and reported the following:
Osmond Randolph: ex-Calvanist minister, lobsterman, murderer. Page 69 finds him aboard his boat Sanctity, miles offshore, his twin granddaughters and his grandson with him. This is the first chapter that features Osmond at center stage. He’s killed his only friend, and he’s back on the water, but he’s struggling to keep guilt and fear at bay as he tries to rationalize—via his remaining Calvinist beliefs—what he’s done.

Then he discovers that a string of traps (20 lobster traps) that he’d set was missing, a pivotal event in the arc of the book.

So page 69 is not only indicative of Of Sea and Cloud as a novel, but it’s a particularly poignant page. It’s both a rare glimpse into the fragile side of a monstrous character and a milestone in the novel’s trajectory.

From page 69:
Osmond grinned and held a gloved hand in the air as if to silence the wind while he said, That is our secret. Lobsters like it here, and I cannot tell you why. That is something only the Lord knows.

Julius picked the traps and baited them and set them at the stern. Osmond watched his depth finder as he maneuvered over the narrow underwater canyon and he nodded to Julius and Julius pushed the first trap overboard as Osmond followed the canyon and one by one all ten traps pulled each other into the sea.

They hauled nineteen more trawls then steamed north and the coast rose like a black nebula disconnected from anything below. They ran for an hour before Osmond spotted the red and black metal buoys marking the Leviathan. This had been Nicolas’s territory but Nicolas was gone now and here came fear riding the thought of Nicolas like a parasite and what had he done? What had he done? Osmond looked at his hands as if they alone had betrayed him but he knew they had not. He told himself that the death of Nicolas Graves did not belong to him any more than the life of Nicolas Graves had.

He focused on the Leviathan Ground. His eyes scanned the water for buoys he could not find. Slowly the fact that they were gone penetrated his thoughts. He slowed his boat to a stop.

What the fuck is this? Julius said. Where the fuck are our traps?

Osmond did not hear the boy. He stared at the empty water.

Dolly and Rhonda watched from their perches.

They cut our traps? Those sonsofbitches cut our traps? Julius said. The voice to Osmond held sound but no meaning and Osmond stared and his fists pumped and flexed then released and again and again until his arms and shoulders and entire torso pumped and flexed.

Julius saw this flexing and stepped backward.
Visit Jon Keller's website.

Writers Read: Jon Keller.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"A Distance to Death"

Holly Menino grew up in a small Ohio college town, where her passionate interest in animals showed itself by age three, about ten years before she heard the call to be a writer. A graduate of Smith College, she has worked in both scholarly and popular publishing and is the author of Murder, She Rode.

Menino applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, A Distance to Death, and reported the following:
If you start to skim A Distance to Death on page 69, you'll find Charlie Reidermann explaining that "we couldn't get a quorum." But Charlie should take a look around page 69 because it brings together at a guest ranch in the Sierra Nevada a quorum of the story's major characters.

You may have met Tink Elledge, Charlie, and stepson Stephen in Murder, She Rode, the first Tink mystery. Tink is a former world-class rider—headstrong, intuitive, and confronting the erosion of her athletic ability. Charlie, her third husband and a successful investor, has a much cooler head and a big business deal at risk. Stephen, Tink's much-doted-on stepson now under Charlie's tutelage, has an equal stake in the deal. Also present—in one way or another—are a dead guy, the woman he has left behind in an uneasy legal status, and Tink's first husband.

The dead guy hasn't been dead very long. He was a geneticist made quite wealthy by his pharmaceutical innovations. He was old. Died in his sleep, no reason to question that. Tink doesn't, so I hope you won't either. At least not right now.

But you'll see right away that Tink has sympathy for the unmarried woman the dead guy left behind—and that she is withholding some important information from Charlie. Tink is just one of the people who are guarding information. The dead guy, for starters, has been quietly devoting his later years to discovering a balance between evolution, as proposed by Darwin, and the life of the spirit, as proposed by Christianity. But then....[time to stop skimming]

When I set A Distance to Death in the midst of a debate about evolution versus religion, I assumed that debate was nearly dead and thought it would be fun for Tink to stir it back to life again. But in the past month the evolution-creation issue has popped back up into the public eye. As reported by New York Times commentator Charles M. Blow, a new Gallup poll reveals a contradictory mix of beliefs about evolution and the work of God. A movie due out later this summer will probably make a broader impression. I, Origins dramatizes the evolution-religion conflict that apparently exists in the minds of many people—and Tink rides right into the thick of that.
Visit Holly Menino's website.

Writers Read: Holly Menino.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 11, 2014


Mandy Hager is an award-winning writer and educator based on the Kapiti Coast, New Zealand. She has a drive to tell stories that "matter" -- direct, powerful stories with something to say. She won the 2010 NZ Post Children’s Book Award for Young Adult Fiction for The Crossing, the first book in the Blood of the Lamb trilogy.

Into the Wilderness is the second book in the trilogy, and Resurrection is the third.

Hager applied the Page 69 Test to Resurrection and reported the following:
From page 69:
It was well after dark before she and Aanjay were released. When at last Charlie ushered them out of the gloomy cell block Maryam was surprised to find a large contingent of women still waiting outside. They clapped and cheered as Aanjay emerged from the building, rushing in to bury her in welcome.

Back in their hut, Maryam settled down with Ruth to tell her of the decision to seek deportation. Her heart thumped with excitement. At last she could make real her promise to return Ruth safely home.

“I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before,” she said, as Ruth stared at her open-mouthed. “I think I was too scared to trust them, imagining it might be better to do it on my own.”

Ruth’s hands flew to the small mound of her belly, and she spread her fingers over the bump as if to protect it. Her eyes grew glassy as she gnawed at her bottom lip, and Maryam couldn’t read what was going on inside her head.

“Aanjay says they’ll put us on a big boat like the one that brought us here and take us all the way back home.” Maryam tried to sustain enthusiasm against Ruth’s odd response. “Think of it: we won’t have to worry about a thing.”

“Except what they might have in store for our people there,” Ruth muttered.

“What?” She didn’t understand Ruth’s reaction. Isn’t this what she’d prayed for from the start? “They’ll drop us off and leave. The last thing the Territorials want is to make a fuss and let the people of Onewēre know they’re there.”
This comes from the start of Chapter Five and, in many ways, is a pivotal part of this climactic book in my dystopian Blood of the Lamb trilogy. Maryam, along with her friend Ruth, is imprisoned by The Territorials in a detention camp on a small prison island off the coast of what was once Australia. She has finally realised how she can escape – and how to take Ruth with her. Until now her desire to return to her home island of Onewēre has been theoretical, as she had no idea how to achieve this, but now she must face the fact that her return will bring her face to face with the very people who she fled from to escape certain death. But, despite Ruth’s reluctance, Maryam knows she must return: she has the means to cure the disease that has kept her people under the control of the deadly Apostles of the Lamb – and she means to free them even if it costs her life.
Learn more about the book and author at Mandy Hager's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Into the Wilderness.

The Page 69 Test: Into the Wilderness.

Writers Read: Mandy Hager.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 10, 2014

"Beneath the Neon Egg"

Thomas E. Kennedy’s many books include novels, story and essay collections, literary criticism, translations, and anthologies. Beneath the Neon Egg is the final book in his Copenhagen Quartet, following In the Company of Angels, Falling Sideways, and Kerrigan in Copenhagen.

Kennedy applied the Page 69 Test to Beneath the Neon Egg and reported the following:
From Page 69:
“You take a year off, you may never get back to it,” [Bluett says to his son, Timothy]. “Then you'll be stuck. I know what I'm talking about. I took a leave of absence at the beginning of my university studies, and it took me three years to get back to it. I couldn’t finish until I got here [to Copenhagen], and it ruined my chances for an academic career.”

“Who wants an academic career?” [Timothy asks.]

“You might. You can't know yet for sure. Don't cut yourself off. Don't shut the door on yourself.” Bluett hears what he is saying, hears cliché after cliché, knows that he is saying what he wishes his own father had said to him all those years before instead of giving him permission to do as he pleased, make his own mistakes, his father who was too lost in his. Yet at the same time he senses that nothing can be accomplished with this conversation. Perhaps it is enough just to register his resistance…

“If you need money, Tim – or anything at all, you only have to ask. If I can help you, I’ll be glad to.” Will you reach that far to me? But the boy is staring out the window, lips pursed.
These are the words of divorced 43-year-old Patrick Bluett to his college-age son, and I believe these were some of the lines the Kansas City Star had in mind when calling the novel – in an earlier incarnation from an Irish publisher – one of the noteworthy books of the year, adding, “No one writes about the loves and lives of men better than Kennedy, including their relationships with their own children.”
Learn more about the book and author at Thomas E. Kennedy's website.

The Page 69 Test: In the Company of Angels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 9, 2014

"The Good Know Nothing"

Ken Kuhlken’s stories have appeared in Esquire and dozens of other magazines and anthologies, been honorably mentioned in Best American Short Stories, and earned National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellowship. His novels have been chosen as an Ernest Hemingway Best First Fiction Book, a Private Eye Writers of America Best First Novel, and a Shamus Awards Best Novel. The novels are Midheaven and the Tom Hickey California Crime series.

Kuhlken applied the Page 69 Test to the new Tom Hickey novel, The Good Know Nothing, and reported the following:
The scene features L.A. police detective Tom Hickey, a film producer named Hopper, and a man who calls himself Hal Croves, whom Tom suspects is actually Ret Marut, the author who goes by the pseudonym B. Traven, and who Tom believes stole and published his missing father's novel manuscript and perhaps killed his father to get it. The three are in a bar, the Pitcairn, on Santa Catalina Island where Hopper, at Tom's behest, has lured the author by offering the possibility of a film adaptation of The Death Ship, the novel in question.
The men [Tom and Marut] sat crouched like bare knuckle boxers consigned to their respective corners. So he [Hopper] returned, seated himself, and rested a hand on Marut’s shoulder. “Mind I call you Hal?”

“If you prefer.”

The producer made a fist as if to reach across and give Tom’s arm a good-natured tap, which he then chose not to deliver. “Hal rode the train the whole godawful way [from Mexico City]. How about that? What, a couple thousand miles, mostly desert.”

“Twenty five hundred kilometers.”

“Pullman car?”


“Hot as hell?”

“I have known worse.” Marut spoke English with a slight Germanic gruffness and diction.
The waiter arrived, costumed in an eye patch and his head wrapped with a bandana. “What’ll it be, blokes?” he rasped.

Hopper called for a bottle of Irish whiskey and three tumblers.

Tom had already convicted the man across from him. Back on the dock, on account of Marut’s reaction to his appearance and to his mention of Charlie Hickey, he had shed all doubt.
Still, he would need to convince Florence, Madeline, and perhaps a judge and jury. So he continued to collect and memorize evidence, such as the book thief’s every expression and move appearing either nervous or sly.

The bottle arrived. The producer poured, two fingers in each tumbler. A long and a short swallow helped Tom speak in level tones. “Let’s take it from the top. Charlie Hickey goes to sea, comes back home and writes about his travels.” He shoved the bottle at the man. “Take it from there. Where’d you bump into him, Mister Traven?”

The man poured a second dose and sipped. “Traven, I am not.”

“Then you’re going to take me to Traven. Correct? And he’s going to take me to Charlie Hickey. Correct?”

“This is not possible,” the man said in a voice that hinted of apology.

Tom reached for the bottle. He sensed, or detected from the man’s face, what was coming. He closed his eyes.
The page offers a glimpse of the quest that drives the whole story, and it shows Tom's dark and restless state of mind and his determination to get at the truth, no matter how painful it might be.

So it passes the page 69 test, right?
Visit Ken Kuhlken's website.

Writers Read: Ken Kuhlken.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 8, 2014

"Palmetto Moon"

Kim Boykin is the author of The Wisdom of Hair from Berkley, Steal Me, Cowboy and Sweet Home Carolina from Tule, and the newly released Palmetto Moon, also from Berkley.

Boykin applied the Page 69 Test to Palmetto Moon and reported the following:
The last time I was graciously invited to this blog, I was a little disappointed my book didn't pass the Page 69 Test. I'm delighted to report Palmetto Moon passes with flying colors. The story picks up on Frank and Vada's first date. They've just been in a dance hall full of writing couples, some of whom were tossed out for public displays of affection that didn't jive with the dancehall rules that were on a 4X6' plywood sign. Frank and Vada have stepped out back to an area where lovers, no doubt many of whom were just tossed from the dance. It's a fragile moment for Frank, and of course Vada. Here's the scene through Frank's eyes.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” She stretches out her long legs and smiles at him, teasing before she scoops up a handful of water and flicks it on him. Frank laughs, and she laughs, too, shutting out all the lovers’ sounds and the night sounds, too. He sits beside her and pulls her close so that her feet aren’t dangling over the edge anymore. “See that?” He points out into the lily pads that are lovingly choking the pond to death. She peers out onto the moonlit lake until she sees the massive gator impersonating a log, and then she draws her knees up to her chest like a little girl.

“Vada?” She nuzzles closer to him. “Can I kiss you?”

She turns her face up to his, and her smile dissolves into yearning as they move toward each other. His lips graze against hers, nuzzling them so that when she runs her tongue across her lips it touches his. He can’t help but be tentative, like she’s breakable, like what they have is breakable, but the kiss deepens. Her breathing quickens, and Frank is sure he can feel her heart beating against his.

Floodlights come on, blinding them, and the old woman who took their ticket hollers that the dance is over and everybody has to clear out. Frank’s forehead is still pressed against Vada’s. He’s afraid to move, afraid the spell will be broken. He helps her up, and she looks up at him and smiles. “Frank?” There’s something monstrous and wrong about this night ending, about taking her back to the boardinghouse. Frank wants to take her away from here, but he doesn’t think she’s ready for happily ever after with him, at least not yet. She puts her hands on his face and runs her thumbs across his stubble. “Thank you. This was the most perfect evening ever.”
Learn more about the book and author at Kim Boykin's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Wisdom of Hair.

My Book, The Movie: The Wisdom of Hair.

Coffee with a Canine: Kim Boykin & Wylie, Molly and Toby.

Writers Read: Kim Boykin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 7, 2014

"City of Ghosts"

Kelli Stanley is a critically-acclaimed, multiple award-winning author of crime fiction (novels and short stories). She makes her home in Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco, a city she loves to write about.

Stanley is best known for the Miranda Corbie series of historical noir novels and short stories set in 1940 San Francisco. The first novel of the series, City of Dragons, introduced Miranda, the unforgettable protagonist Library Journal calls "one of crime’s most arresting heroines.”

City of Dragons won the Macavity Award for Best Historical Novel, and was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Shamus Award, a Bruce Alexander Award and an RT Book Reviews Award, was a Mystery Guild selection of the month, and placed on many “best of the year” lists.

City of Secrets, the sequel to City of Dragons, was released by Thomas Dunne/Minotaur to great critical acclaim, was nominated for a number of awards and won the Golden Nugget for best mystery set in California.

Stanley applied the Page 69 Test to the latest novel in the series, City of Ghosts, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Miranda blinked, brown- green eyes focused on the blurred outline of Angel Island and Alcatraz.

No time to think about Spain, about Phyllis Winters. It was a little over four months since Eddie Takahashi’s murder, four months since she’d killed Martini, and only a few weeks since she’d run in the Napa woods, dogs baying, breath coming out in stabs, waiting for the men in white suits.

Waiting to kill herself.

She arched her neck, rubbing it with her right hand, and sat up against the seat, straightening her hat.

Twenty-five hundred dollars lay crisp and cool in her rusty Wells Fargo safe, payment for chasing a Nazi spy. Mrs. Hart lay colder on a slab in the morgue, dead client, dead victim, the priceless jade, funereal green, missing once again and presumably the motive.

And somewhere in England, last bulwark against the Dark Ages, was Catherine Corbie ... or at least a woman who knew enough about her to send a message.

Miranda carefully took the photo postcard of Westminster Abbey out of her purse and read it again:

Would like to meet you. Your loving mother.
City of Ghosts is about a lot of things … art and what it means to a culture, espionage in an America bracing for the war, solving a vicious murder, and whom or what (a nation, an authority figure, a news story) we can trust. Beyond these plots, themes and metaphors, however, City of Ghosts is a story about a woman trying to build her identity.

Miranda doesn’t define herself by the traditional roles of wife, mother, sister, daughter. That alone makes her a transgressive figure, especially in 1940. Relationships have only caused her pain; her father was an abusive alcoholic incapable of nurture and she lost the one great love of her life in the Spanish Civil War.

As a very young child, Miranda never had a chance to really know her mother—who, she believes, abandoned her. Abandonment manifests its own agony of rejection, but the adult Miranda took her mother’s name, not her father’s … a clue to how she has tried to reconstruct her own identity and just how crucial it is for her to find the woman who claims to be Catherine Corbie.

Finding her mother is finding herself … a life-long hero’s journey for Miranda Corbie, and her motivation for risking her life in a city of ghosts.
Learn more about the novel and author at Kelli Stanley's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kelli Stanley & Bertie.

The Page 69 Test: City of Dragons.

My Book, The Movie: City of Dragons.

My Book, the Movie: City of Secrets.

The Page 69 Test: City of Secrets.

--Marshal Zeringue