Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"The Sweetheart Deal"

Polly Dugan is the author of So Much a Part of You and The Sweetheart Deal. She applied the Page 69 Test to The Sweetheart Deal and reported the following:
From page 69:

It was enough to make you say, Fuck the helmet—if I’m going to die if I crash anyway, right? But we’d always had to wear them, on our bikes, scooters, and skateboards too. He taught us all to ski and we were all pretty good, although Brian was the best.

He made us do fire drills too, as soon as Andrew was good at walking. The smoke detector goes off and what do you do? Dad said. You get low and you stay low and you get out of the house. But if the bedroom door is closed, feel it, and if it’s hot, or you can see that the stairs are blocked and you can’t get out, close your door, get low, shelter in place and wait until the firefighters or mom and I come get you. We’ll get you out.

He tried to make the drills not like a game exactly—he wanted us to take them seriously—but he expected us to do the best we could, like when we learned anything new. Because of his work schedule, he’d told us he might not be home if a fire happened, or he might not be able to get to us, so we had to know what to do and be able to do it ourselves without panicking. Our neighbor’s porch was our meeting place. My dad would time us, and we did the drills until he was happy that our time was fast enough. I was six and Andrew was only two when we first did them, and Andrew would laugh through the whole thing, like it was the best game ever, which maybe it was to him, running as fast as he could on his short little legs to the Thompsons’ porch, but Brian, who was four, cried every time. I knew just talking about the drills worried Brian, even before we did the first one. The idea of a fire was terrifying. None of us wanted to think about it happening, but Brian was the most nervous of all of us. That’s just how he was.

So after we went to the Dougy Center for our one time and after everyone at school stopped acting so weird around me, all I could think about was Mrs. Maguire—Colleen Maguire—my friend Ben’s mom. But I couldn’t talk to anyone about that. Ben and I had always been okay friends, but when I’d started hanging out with him more, it wasn’t because of him.
I loved discovering all the connections to the rest of the novel on this page. The book is narrated in five different points of view, and this is a portion of a chapter told by Christopher, the fifteen-year old son of Leo McGeary, a firefighter who dies in a skiing accident. Twelve years earlier Leo had asked his best friend, Garrett, to promise to marry his wife, Audrey, in the event of his death.

In these four paragraphs Chris alludes to multiple threads that reference plot and subplot. To name a few: he ruminates about the tragically ironic details of his father’s death; that despite the fact that his father was wearing a helmet—a habit Leo has always insisted upon for the safety of his three sons—the helmet didn’t save his life. Chris’s recollection about the fire drills Leo had his sons do from a very young age hints at Leo’s personality trait of wanting plans and precautions firmly in place in the event of the unexpected and unforeseen. Finally, Christopher’s obsession with his friend’s mother and how he acts on that obsession is a subplot that provides the foundation for Audrey’s discovery of the promise Leo extracted from Garrett.

Since I’m one hundred percent partial, I hope the treasures of unassuming Page 69 will pique readers’ interests and make them hurry to get their hands on the book so they can find out the rest of the story.
Visit Polly Dugan's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Sweetheart Deal.

Coffee with a Canine: Polly Dugan & Tripp.

Writers Read: Polly Dugan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 28, 2015

"The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine"

Alex Brunkhorst is a novelist and a real estate agent specializing in multi-million dollar estates for Los Angeles’s wealthiest professionals. She is also the founder of the popular luxury lifestyle site

Brunkhorst applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The next morning the rain started.

It began with a few stray drops, gentle and unassuming. But by afternoon, as I sat down with the governor in the library of a private club in downtown Los Angeles, the clouds had opened. Water puddles had turned to flash floods and roads across the city were closed.

It rained for the next four days, and the young woman on the tennis court handcuffed my thoughts. When I think back on those days after our first meeting I only recall staring at the rain and thinking of her. Everyday tasks – work, errands and sleep – sparkled somehow, as if her enchanting spell hung over even the most mundane things. She was ubiquitous; no corner of the world could hide her. I thought of her bare shoulders, the way her long ponytail brushed against her dress when she ran for the ball, how her diamond tennis bracelet got caught in her hair each time she put her hand through its blond tendrils. All other food tasted dull compared with the pineapple she placed on my tongue, and no air tingled my skin like the cool air of that night on the tennis court, and no touch felt as electric as her fingers on my skin.
As a writer, I have always found my greatest inspiration in times of longing and unrequited love (or “crushes”, to quote my twenty-year-old cousin). Therefore, a theme in my writing is loving someone who has already gone or is not there. It’s only natural then that Thomas Cleary shares that same trait. The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine is told from Thomas’s perspective in a wistful flashback; I have always thought it reads more like a diary and less like a book. Thomas is a journalist by trade, albeit a highly emotional one. He is both objective and subjective – sometimes in the same sentence.

Page 69 is the beginning of Chapter Eight, and it feels like a transition. In the beginning of the novel, Thomas is longing for his past – for a job that went irreversibly awry, for his life in Manhattan, and for a wealthy socialite who broke his heart. But then, just before Chapter Eight, Thomas meets Matilda Duplaine on her vast estate in Bel-Air. She’s practicing serves on her hidden tennis court alone, dressed for a final at Wimbledon. Matilda’s an eccentric creature, and Thomas is immediately enchanted by her.

Page 69 marks the beginning of an overall atmospheric shift in the book and is very indicative of the themes that permeate the novel. The relentless, fertile rain replaces the barren and hot Santa Ana conditions and as Thomas himself admits, “…the young woman on the tennis court handcuff[s] my thoughts.” Thomas doesn’t even know Matilda’s name yet, but it’s that time in a nascent relationship when everything about the other person entrances you. They find their way into every one of your thoughts, every part of your life.

Page 69 is a short page, one of the shortest in the novel. But it happens to be one of my favorites. It sets the table for Thomas and Matilda’s relationship to come, and it allows the reader to join Thomas in falling in love with the enigmatic girl who is Matilda Duplaine.
Visit Alex Brunkhorst's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 26, 2015

"The Vanishing Island"

Barry Wolverton has been writing for children for 20 years, helping create books, documentary television, and online content for Discovery Networks, National Geographic, the Library of Congress, Scholastic, and Time-Life Books, among others.

His debut novel, Neversink, was named the Children’s Book of Choice by Literacy Mid-South for their Read Across America program in 2014.

Wolverton applied the Page 69 Test to The Vanishing Island, book one of The Chronicles of the Black Tulip, and reported the following:
From page 69:
On the table were . . . maps of the New World . . . including New Britannia. Others [Bren] wasn’t familiar with . . . and they didn’t have [Rand] McNally’s logo. They had to be Dutch.

And then Bren saw it . . . lying open across the long table against the wall. A very official-looking document, featuring two royal symbols side by side. One the left was Britannia, a female warrior carrying a shield and a trident, with a lion beside her. On the right, a badge of two gold lions rampant, supporting a blue shield with a gold crown. Inside the shield, another lion, with a sword in one paw and seven arrows in the other, representing the Seven Provinces of the Netherlands.

Beneath the seal of Britannia was printed the name of Queen Adeline, House of Pelican, and under the other, the name of King Maximilian, Prince of Orange and Steward of the Seven Provinces.
I admit, I’m surprised at how well page 69 represents The Vanishing Island. You have the protagonist, Bren, snooping around old maps in the office of Rand McNally, the shrewd mapmaker who has made his fortune trading on knowledge in this first great Information Age. You also have clues that this is an alternate Seafaring Age: Rand McNally (not a real person); New Britannia; Queen Adeline and King Maximilian. And you have Bren making a discovery, which is significant. This isn’t a straightforward adventure novel where a boy finds a treasure map and goes for it. There’s a healthy dose of detective story mixed in, with Bren continually having to decipher clues and figure out who he can trust.

“Snooping” is key here, because Bren is a good kid who happens to be insatiably curious and restless, which drives adults mad and forever lands him in trouble. No more so than when he tries to stow away at the beginning of the book and causes a near-catastrophe. As punishment he’s given perhaps the worst after-school job ever, which pays unexpected dividends when he meets a mysterious, dying sailor.

The only element not represented here is the fantasy. I’m very interested in the borderlands between fiction/nonfiction and science/magic. The Seafaring Age saw this great collision between superstition and science as people began to explore the unknown, and I liked the idea of subtly introducing magic and folklore into the story in a way that makes Bren question what he’s encountering — and you question what you’re reading. (In a good, intellectually stimulating way, I hope.)
Visit Barry Wolverton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 25, 2015

"The Poe Estate"

Polly Shulman’s latest novel is The Poe Estate. She is also the author of The Grimm Legacy (a Bank Street Best Book and Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Finalist), its companion The Wells Bequest, and Enthusiasm (a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice). She has worked as a magazine editor, a newspaper columnist, a library page, and a licensed private investigator. She has written for many newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Discover, Newsday, Salon, Slate, Scientific American, Archaeology, and The Village Voice. She majored in math at Yale and grew up in New York City, where she lives with her husband in a tall old building guarded by gargoyles.

Shulman applied the Page 69 Test to The Poe Estate and reported the following:
From Page 69:
A Bat and a Broomstick

That night, I was awoken again. I’m going to kill that ghost, whoever it is, I thought. So what if it’s already dead?

But it wasn’t a ghost this time. It was a bat.

In theory, I love bats, ever since I did a report on them in sixth grade. They eat mosquitoes. They pollinate banana trees. They’re mammals just like us, but they have a whole extra sense—echolocation—and they can fly! Imagine being able to fly!

Loving bats in theory is one thing; loving the one that woke me up at 3:09 a.m. with its frantic twittering is another.

How did it get into the room, anyway, with the windows shut? Did it fly down the chimney? I jumped out of bed, pulling the bed curtains shut behind me, and hauled a window open with a shriek of rusty iron. The bat was flying around the room in irregular, darting circles, occasionally smashing into the wall.

“The window’s that way,” I said, pointing helpfully.

The bat flew into one of the closed windows instead.
Sukie, the teenage narrator, has recently moved in with her elderly cousin Hepzibah in her ancestral family mansion. Sukie’s used to ghosts; her bossy dead sister, Kitty, has been haunting her for several years. (Well, Kitty thinks of it less as haunting and more as making sure her little sister doesn’t get into trouble.) Lately, though, some older, less familiar spirits have been appearing, asking Sukie for help. But how can she fix their problems, when she can barely help her living family?

Like the other books in the Grimm Legacy series—fantasy adventure novels for readers age 10 and up—The Poe Estate imagines a world in which powerful objects from fiction really exist. The first two books in the series borrow their powerful objects from fairy tales and science fiction; in The Poe Estate, it’s haunted mirrors, ships, clocks, mansions, and other items from classic American ghost stories and horror fiction. On page 69, Sukie is about to discover that the broom she’s been using to sweep her new room is really a witch’s flying broomstick (from a Hawthorne short story).

Page 69 is a good example of the book’s mix of humor and adventure. It’s the beginning of a chapter, so it’s short. Other pages take a deeper, more poignant look at Sukie’s madcap journey to break free of her past and its ghosts.
Visit Polly Shulman's website.

Writers Read: Polly Shulman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders"

Julianna Baggott has published more than twenty books over the last twelve years.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders, and reported the following:
Oddly, yes. Page sixty-nine is actually about the mysterious seventh book and, in Harriet's voice, she describes each of the three other main characters. Ruthie's beautifully suspicious gaze, Eleanor's willfulness, and the bond between Harriet and Tilton -- "we both know each other as constants, deeper than any details." I wouldn't suggest anyone start there, but it represents.
Learn more about the book and author at Julianna Baggott's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"The Suicide of Claire Bishop"

Carmiel Banasky is a writer and teacher from Portland, OR. Her work has appeared in Glimmer Train, American Short Fiction, Slice, Guernica, PEN America, The Rumpus, and NPR, among other places. She earned her MFA from Hunter College, where she taught Undergraduate Creative Writing. She is the recipient of awards and fellowships from Bread Loaf, Ucross, Ragdale, Artist Trust, I-Park, and others foundations.

Banasky applied the Page 69 Test to The Suicide of Claire Bishop, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
My cell vibrates—finally Nicolette. She apologizes, says she’s very busy. But the way she says it nearly gives me a heart attack. “_____, _____ busy.” The two blanks? Words that are seemingly normal. But they aren’t normal at all. They are lost words. How could she know them again?

I hate those words.

Dear Courteous Voices: Won’t you be less courteous and interrupt once in a while? I could use a little help. I’d like to know if you’re out (or in) there. I can only assume you are with me and listening, though I can’t hear you. Which I attribute to Zyprexa interference. Like duct tape over your mouths. Riding along in my brain like a person trapped in the trunk of the car.

I cannot repeat the words to you, but I will write them down as anagrams, to be safe, in two places: in my little notepad with the spiral on top and lines too faint to use, and on my left palm:
razor scryy
My skin is very moist and no one but I will ever be clever enough to read the blurry letters.

Another text: not safest idea 4 u or me. better this way.

Not safe how? Before I can reply she texts again: some other time.

And I text back: when?

Here is another truth: someone or something is always trying to block Nicolette and me from coming together. But this time, I won’t let them.

You see that girl shaded in the front seat of that parked car? I think she’s crying, her head bobbing that way. The shadows of a sidewalk tree dance on her little face in a hot breeze. No, a reflection that looks like a shadow. I’m afraid she’ll be swallowed by it. If Nicolette were to place landmines around New York, they would take the shape of shadows like that. Sinister, bloodless. Everything would be the inverse of itself. But not everything is a Nicolette installation—an easy thing to forget. All the overweight men stand in front of their shop fronts, hands on their bellies. They look worried and Tachi’s car is still missing down Bowery…
Page 69 is when West, a data miner with schizophrenia, lands upon one of his first delusions. Nicolette, his ex-girlfriend, has just failed to show up at one of her art installations (a house with a landmine field for a lawn) where they were supposed to meet. One of West’s long-held delusions involves two words, which he believes have been extracted from of the English language. Now he finds, in this text message, that his ex-girlfriend somehow has access to those words again. It throws him off, but instead of calling his delusion in question, it reinforces it. Clues (fabricated, but very real to him) start falling into place around him, shining out from every corner of the city. He starts to see his neighborhood (Chinatown in Manhattan), the street, the fortune cookie factory next door, the shop owners and strangers on the street—as connected and tied to his experiences, emotions, and search for Nicolette.

When I have West address the observers he feels are sitting in his mind, always watching him, waiting for him to mess up, he is addressing the reader as well. “Dear Courteous Voices” is a mantra he returns to. Because the voices are quiet now, and he believes (mistakenly) that they can help him figure out the mystery he gradually creates about Nicolette, he starts to get off his meds. From there, things take a strange turn.
Visit Carmiel Banasky's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"A Crucible of Souls"

When he was eleven, Mitchell Hogan was given The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy to read, and a love of fantasy novels was born. He spent the next ten years reading, rolling dice, and playing computer games, with some school and university thrown in. Along the way he accumulated numerous bookcases’ worth of fantasy and sci-fi novels, and he doesn’t look to stop anytime soon. For a decade he put off his dream of writing, then he quit his job and wrote A Crucible of Souls. He now writes full-time and is eternally grateful to the readers who took a chance on an unknown self-published author. He lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife, Angela, and daughter, Isabelle.

Hogan applied the Page 69 Test to A Crucible of Souls and reported the following:
Page 69 of A Crucible of Souls contains a bit of a spoiler! So read on at your own risk… There are a few different point of view characters, so I was glad to see page 69 was from the main character, Caldan’s, point of view. This scene is immediately after the inciting incident which changes Caldan’s life forever. It may read a little oddly on its own because of the two scene breaks over such a short period, but I wanted to show how confused and disoriented he was – along with a deep exhaustion after the strange events of the previous chapter. It does give a glimpse into what transpires in the book, as well as an insight into the mind of Caldan. His first thoughts are not of himself, but of others and how they would feel and are affected by his actions.

From page 69:
“What happened?” he tried to ask, but all that came out was a strangled croak.

“Shhh,” the girl said. “Don’t try to talk. They said you would be weak for a while and that you need to conserve your energy.”

She folded the damp rag and placed it on his forehead, where it offered cool relief to his throbbing brow. Caldan tried to clasp her hand to thank her, but his grip slipped off. His arm felt leaden, and try as he might, he couldn’t lift it again.

“I need to inform them you’re conscious,” she said, then left in a hurry.

Caldan heard a lock click and the thud of a bar dropping in place before he drifted off again.

When he woke, the pain in his head had subsided, and his body felt much lighter, as if whatever sickness had ailed him before had completely vanished. Gingerly, he levered himself to a sitting position and looked around. The room was the same, except the two previously empty bowls were now full. He reached for one and took a mouthful of cold broth.

Visions of Marlon and the blood rose unbidden. His sword embedded in Marlon’s chest. What had happened? He had never seen one of those swords break, and he hadn’t struck that hard, had he? He struggled to recall the fight, but the memory had split into pieces of a puzzle he couldn’t put back together.

By the ancestors, what had he done? Was Marlon alive? Would Jemma forgive him? What would his punishment be? Questions, doubt, and self-recrimination went around in his mind, but he had no answers. His head swam once more, and he lay back down and fell into a dreamless sleep.

Caldan woke again, and this time he sat up with no effort at all. The candle had burned to a nub. He breathed deeply of the stuffy, thick air.
Visit Mitchell Hogan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 18, 2015

"The Killing Kind"

Chris Holm is an award-winning short-story writer whose work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, and The Best American Mystery Stories 2011. His Collector trilogy, which blends fantasy with old-fashioned crime pulp, wound up on over forty Year’s Best lists. David Baldacci called Holm's latest, the hitman thriller The Killing Kind, "a story of rare, compelling brilliance." He lives in Portland, Maine.

Holm applied the Page 69 Test to The Killing Kind and reported the following:
The Killing Kind is the story of Michael Hendricks. Once a covert operative for a false-flag unit of the U.S. military, Hendricks was presumed dead after a mission in Afghanistan went sideways. He left behind his old life—and beloved fiancée—and set out on a path of redemption... or maybe of willful self-destruction.

Now Hendricks makes his living hitting hitmen. For ten times the price on your head, he’ll make sure whoever’s coming to kill you winds up in the ground instead. It’s not a bad way for a guy with his skill-set to make a living—but it’s a great way to make himself a target.

So, how did Hendricks fare on The Page 69 Test?
His line of business wasn’t the sort you advertised on Google or in the local Yellow Pages. Any point of contact, physical or electronic, was a potential liability—a chance for an interested party to track his movements and pinpoint his location. Which is why Hendricks insisted on initiating contact with potential clients, rather than the other way around. Half the time, the folks he approached had no idea they’d been marked for death until Hendricks told them. Some refused to believe him. Some believed him, but decided to go it alone. Some bought in right away. The ones who declined his services didn’t always come to a bad end, but their survival rate was less than stellar. Those who paid fared significantly better. In the three and a half years he’d been doing this, he’d yet to lose a single client.

The key was identifying them early enough to scout the job and make the proper approach. Early on in his career, Hendricks had simply tailed known hitters and identified their targets by hanging back and watching—but that made his margin for error razor-thin, and damn near got him killed a couple times. One particularly nasty job ended with his client safe, his target dead—but not before the bastard buried an ice pick three inches deep in Hendricks’s chest. After four days holed up in an abandoned warehouse, trying to keep the bleeding under control while he waited for the antibiotics he boosted from a veterinary clinic to take effect, Hendricks decided it was time for a new approach. That’s when he brought Lester in.
Not too bad, I suppose. I would’ve preferred a hooky action scene—a cliffhanger, maybe. Instead, page 69 finds Hendricks sitting down with his best friend and partner-in-crime, Lester, to identify a new client, a new job. It’s a quiet moment in an otherwise chaotic novel, and I used it to flesh out Hendricks’s peculiar business model. I don’t mind telling you that the client he and Lester ultimately identify proves a disastrous choice—one that damn near gets both of them killed.
Visit Chris Holm's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 17, 2015

"Eden's Wish"

M. Tara Crowl grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She studied Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, then received an MA in Creative Writing at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.

Crowl applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Eden's Wish, and reported the following:
Here’s page 69 of Eden’s Wish:
…admonitions, it was the sort of practical information Xavier had never covered.

She examined a white tank top with the word California scrawled in hot pink across the front. She fingered the lightweight cotton longingly, then found the price tag tucked inside: $14.99. Fourteen dollars and ninety-nine cents. She’d never used money, and she certainly didn’t own any. How did one go about getting it, anyway?

Feeling defeated, she weaved down the boardwalk again. Many of the people she saw were surfers. They were all different ages and types, but each carried a board like it was precious cargo, and kept his or her eyes fixed on the waves forming at the horizon. Watching them, she nearly ran into an athletic-looking, deeply tanned girl moving quickly across her path.

“You know I don’t eat this crap!” the girl snapped at a young man following closely behind her. She was holding a white paper bag as far as possible from her body between two fingertips, as if it were a rancid dead rat. Reaching a trash can, she flicked it inside and strutted away with the male mortal hot on her heels.

A scruffy man in a tattered T-shirt appeared and sprang into action. He approached the can, retrieved the bag, and ripped out its contents: a cheeseburger wrapped in grease-soaked yellow paper and a cardboard…
The protagonist of this book is Eden, a rebellious 12-year-old genie who wants to live on Earth. She’s fed up with the confines of her life, and angry at her masters (the parental figures who have raised her in the lamp). In the first part of the story, she discovers that the lamp’s spout is its portal to the world, and climbs out of it to escape.

She surfaces on a beach in San Diego. On page 69, she’s just arrived and is exploring the area. She’s also starting to grapple with things she’s never had to think about before. Specifically, on this page, she’s realizing that clothing and food aren’t going to be handed to her the way they always have been in the lamp. She’s learning that life on Earth requires money. For a girl who has always ridiculed wishers for lusting after money, this is a true reality check. It’s the first of many rude awakenings that Eden will experience on Earth.

However, page 69 doesn’t even hint at an entirely separate set of challenges that Eden will face. Turns out, there are dozens of genie alumni roaming Earth. In the coming pages, they’ll set their sights on Eden. Half of them want her to return to the lamp, while the other half are determined to acquire the lamp’s power for their own purposes. But all of them make it very difficult—or maybe impossible—for her to blend in on Earth.
Visit M. Tara Crowl's website.

Writers Read: M. Tara Crowl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"The Summer Experiment"

Cathie Pelletier's novels include The Funeral Makers (a NYTBR Notable Book), The Weight of Winter (winner of the New England Book Award) and Running the Bulls (winner of the Paterson Prize for Fiction).

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Summer Experiment, her first middle grade novel, and reported the following:
Roberta McKinnon, age 11, is a science nerd and big dreamer. She likes to add to this resume, "And guess what? I'm blonde!" She and her best friend, Marilee Evans, are trying to figure out how to beat the impossibly brilliant Henry Horton Harris Helmsby---the 4 Hs of the Apocalpyse---at the upcoming science fair. Allagash, Maine, their little hometown, is famous for something called "The Allagash Abductions," when four men from Vermont claimed to have been taken aboard a spaceship while on a trip down the Allagash River. Robbie McKinnon puts her brain to good work and comes up with a solution. "If aliens visited here before, they might again. What if we try to contact them, interview them, and win science fair in the process?" But standing in the way is her annoying big brother Johnny, and his best friend, Billy, on whom Robbie has her first crush. After a mean trick played on the girls (it all had to do with fake aliens appearing at Frog Pond) Robbie decides revenge is in the air. Page 69 begins a chapter following Robbie and Marilee doing a rehearsal of the plan, just so they are prepared. It'll serve Johnny and Billy right. But this means they have to drive their 4-wheelers up on Peterson's Mountain after sundown. Everyone knows the mountain is haunted by the ghost of Cally Peterson. It's while up on the mountain that two important things happen. First, Marilee confesses how hurt she is over her parents getting divorced. And then the girls see the strange lights in the sky that all the town have been spotting. "This time it isn't your crazy brother," says Marilee. Page 69 opens the next morning following all that excitement. A summer rainstorm is bearing down on the little town and Robbie wakes up thinking of those weird lights, and how perfect "Roberta's Revenge" will be once she sets the wheels in motion.
Visit Cathie Pelletier's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"The One Thing"

Marci Lyn Curtis writes teen stories about characters who set up camp in her head and refuse to leave.

Generally they are sarcastic.

Curtis applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The One Thing, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I nodded woodenly, and, eyes closed, tried to pull myself together. Beside me Mason was still as stone, but I’d swear I could feel his breath feathering against my cheek. I’d swear that he was facing me, that his eyes were on me. Was he staring at me?

I dipped my head, letting my hair curtain my face for a few seconds. Then I raised my chin. I still felt his eyes on me—scorching like the desert sun. I twisted my hands in my lap. Why was he staring?

Trying to take my mind off Mason, I peered across the nothingness to where Ben was getting ready for his race. He now sat on a wooden bench alongside the pool, so stuffed full of smiles that they just spilled out of him. He pulled on a pair of red swim goggles that warped his face a little, like those mirrors that distort your chin and make your head look fat in all the wrong places. Pumping one fist high in the air, he cheered for someone in the pool. There was something about the upward curve of his mouth that filled me with an overwhelming, protective affection. Some people have so many layers to them that you can hardly see who they are. But when I looked at Ben, I saw everything that made him him.

Why would anyone intentionally hurt someone like him?

When they announced the next race, Ben approached the water. There was a long pause while he climbed the podium. He moved slowly and deliberately, as though savoring the moment. When he finally made it to the top of the podium, he stood there for a long fragment of time. Supporting himself with the metal rails of the podium and peeling off his crutches, he scanned the crowd until he found us. And then he smiled.
Page 69 is a great representation of the struggle that takes place throughout the story. It shows the love-hate tension between Maggie (the protagonist) and Mason, the blossoming admiration Maggie has for ten-year-old Ben, and Maggie’s multitude of insecurities.
Visit Marci Lyn Curtis's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 14, 2015

"Dark Shimmer"

Donna Jo Napoli is a professor in the linguistics department at Swarthmore College and the author of Crazy Jack, The Magic Circle, Stones in Water, and many other books.

Napoli applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Dark Shimmer, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Chapter Ten: Serenissima

The gondola slips through the water, and I’m listening to Bianca talk of Aunt Agnola’s dog Ribolin when the bell sounds. It’s distant but deep as it echoes across the lagoon. Bianca goes silent. We hold hands and peer ahead through the fading light.

“Venezia,” says Marin in a hushed voice as we round an island. “This view never fails to steal my breath. She deserves her name as serenissima – the most serene.”

The city looms in silence now, set against a pure blue, cloudless sky. Early moonlight shimmers off the water and the walls, white and pink and amber. It feels like a promise – like magic. Serenity pervades.

But as we approach and forms become distinct, that sense of calm evaporates. There are so many buildings, so close together, so many towers, that my skin goes gooseflesh at the thought of the vast numbers of people those buildings harbor. By day, this city must swarm like an anthill or a beehive. Narrow alleys run between buildings. I imagine them crowded, bustling. I grip Bianca’s hand tighter.
Dolce is a freak. Gigantic, unloved by anyone other than her mother, and perhaps Tommaso, yes, that boy might be infatuated with her, but childish attachments don’t interest her. She doesn’t believe anyone will ever want her as a wife, as the mother of his children. So when Mamma dies, she plunges into the water and swims away. Her island home, so small and sparsely populated, has always been a kind of prison, so in a way, this is freedom. Maybe death… but death is a kind of freedom, isn’t it? She swims till she can no more, and manages to haul her body onto a deserted island.

Her stark solitude is interrupted the next morning by the sight of a child running on the beach. A gigantic child, as large as Dolce had been at her age, another freak, but a happy one – ridiculously happy. The island has more people… the father of the girl child, Bianca, plus a group of Franciscan brothers… and all of them are gigantic. Even more astonishing, Bianca latches on to her with the ferocious tenacity of a child in need of mothering. And Dolce herself looks at Marin, Bianca’s father, with a heartbeat that nearly shakes her apart. It’s all there already, right from the start, a recipe for pain and passion; Dolce is stirred in without even a chance to yelp.

Dolce and Bianca and Marin go in a boat to a larger island, where everyone everywhere Dolce looks, every last one, is gigantic. The world turns upside-down in an instant: Dolce is ordinary in this new world, and the world she’s left behind is now the freak world.

But more revelation lies ahead, for Marin and Bianca live in Venezia. That’s where they are taking Dolce next. The city Dolce was taught as a child to fear more than anything, the city of monsters. And all she can do is go along for the ride, as though every moment is predetermined, as though birth itself formed her destiny.
Visit Donna Jo Napoli's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 13, 2015

"The Secrets of Attraction"

Robin Constantine is a born and bred Jersey girl who moved down South so she could wear flip-flops year round. She spends her days dreaming up stories where love conquers all, well, eventually but not without a lot of peril, angst and the occasional kissing scene.

Her YA debut, The Promise of Amazing, was released on December 31, 2013. Her new novel, set in the same world as The Promise of Amazing, is The Secrets of Attraction.

Constantine applied the Page 69 Test to The Secrets of Attraction and reported the following:
To set the scene: Front man Jesse is not entirely sure he wants to find a new drummer, but at the insistence of his band mate Tanner they run auditions. Jesse’s not happy with the people they’ve been seeing and it shows in his attitude. They’ve about had it, when in walks Grayson.

From page 69:
The classroom door creaked open.

“Just give it a chance, okay?” Tanner whispered.

A tall dude wearing a T-shirt with Animal the Muppet and the word BEAST below the picture strolled over to us with his drumsticks in his hand. Whether he was trying to be ironic or just a douchebag was anyone’s guess. He may as well have been wearing a tee with the word Drummer across it. Poser. I had the urge to yell, “Next!” just for the hell of it. I slid my Ray-Bans over my eyes.

“Hey, this is the audition for Yellow Number Five?”

“Yeah, drum kit’s over there,” Tanner said.

Animal dude’s brows bunched together.

“I’m just…I thought – It’s just me?”

“Yes,” I said, resuming dick mode.

“Your flyer said to pick a song from either--”

I held up my hand. “Don’t tell us. Just play.”

His face was blank a moment, but then he stood up straight, shoulders back, corner of his mouth curling up. “Cool.”

After a moment of adjusting the drum kit to fit his height, he stretched his wrists, bending one back, then the other. Tanner looked over his shoulder at me and crossed his eyes. Animal dude dropped one of his sticks, and picked it up with a laugh. I braced myself for some overplaying. Closed my eyes.
Confession: I hate tests but was really intrigued by the idea of putting The Secrets of Attraction through the Page 69 Test. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Page 69 is a pivotal moment in the book that informs the rest of the novel. This is the point where the members of Yellow #5 audition to find a new drummer. That drummer turns out to be Grayson Barrett, who is instrumental in pulling all of the elements of the novel together.
Visit Robin Constantine's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Promise of Amazing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 11, 2015

"The Devil's Share"

Wallace Stroby is the author of seven novels, including the recently released The Devil's Share, the fourth in his series about professional thief Crissa Stone. He lives in New Jersey.

Stroby applied the Page 69 Test to The Devil's Share and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Devil's Share is a little bit of a character digression almost unrelated to the plot, which I don’t generally do, but it seemed fitting here. Crissa Stone, the professional thief and career criminal from three of my previous novels, is staying in a motel in the Nevada desert, where she’s casing a lonely stretch of highway as a likely site to hijack a truck carrying priceless Iraqi artifacts. She’s thinking over the possibilities while waiting for Hicks, one of her team, to arrive, and in the meantime is having a meal alone in the motel’s attached restaurant. There she’s approached by an older man who wants to buy her a drink, which she politely refuses. He won’t take no for an answer and eventually tries to sit down next to her, uninvited.
“Well, allow me to introduce myself at least,” he said. “My name is –” He started to draw out a chair. She hooked a foot around one of its legs, stopped him.

“Drift,” she said.

He met her eyes, saw something there he wasn’t used to. He straightened, looked down at her, his smile gone. He gave a slight bow, turned away, said “Dyke” under his breath, and went back down the hallway and through the saloon doors. She watched him go, wondering if he was staying at the motel, if he might be a problem later.
Part of that exchange is an homage to classic 1940s femme fatale Audrey Totter and a scene from one of her best films, 1949’s Tension. Totter died in December 2013 at age 95, while I was writing the novel, so I wanted to include a little tribute to her, from one tough fictional dame to another. The clip wasn’t on YouTube, so I uploaded it myself. You can find it as “Audrey Totter in Tension (1949).”
Learn more about the author and his novels at the official Wallace Stroby website and The Heartbreak Blog.

The Page 69 Test: Gone 'til November.

The Page 69 Test: Cold Shot to the Heart.

The Page 69 Test: Kings of Midnight.

Writers Read: Wallace Stroby.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"The Gilded Hour"

Rosina Lippi is a former academic and tenured university professor. Since 2000 she spends her time haunting the intersection where history and storytelling meet where she wallows in 19th century newspapers, magazines, street maps, and academic historical research. And she never gets bored with any of it.

Under the pen name Sara Donati she is the author of the Wilderness series, six historical novels that follow the fortunes of the Bonner family in the vast forests in upstate New York, from about 1792-1825. Her newest novel about the Bonner family is The Gilded Hour. The new series jumps ahead past the destruction of the Civil War to follow Nathaniel and Elizabeth’s granddaughters into the twentieth century.

Donati applied the Page 69 Test to The Gilded Hour and reported the following:
From page 69:
"You're shivering," Anna said, and handed Sophie a set of fur lined gloves from her Gladstone bag. Sophie had never acclimated to New York weather but still regularly overestimated her tolerance for cold. Anna, who knew her better than anyone, had packed extra gloves, a scarf and even a pair of the heavy wool socks Mrs. Lee knitted for each of them every winter. Sophie was a little embarrassed, but not so vain as to pretend she didn't need the things Anna handed her.
I like this paragraph because it captures something important about the relationship between the two main characters. Anna and Sophie Savard are distant cousins, both orphaned at a young age by the Civil War, who grew up together in their aunt Quinlan's household in Manhattan and shared everything from childhood joys to medical school. In this scene they are waiting for a hearing to start in the building called the Tombs -- the very apt nickname for the main courthouse. They are both anxious for good reason, but they handle anxiety about professional issues in very different ways: Anna focuses on caring for the people around her, turning outward, while Sophie turns inward to confront the problem. When the issue is a personal, emotional one, Anna turns inward, and Sophie outward.

One of the major themes of this novel, something that I had to really work to capture, was the way children who suffer terrible loss learn to cope -- or don't. The novel takes place not twenty years after the end of the Civil War, which was devastating in ways we can't really comprehend in the 21st century western world. Anna and Sophie survived and found their footing, in large part because they had each other.
Visit Sara Donati's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

"In the Language of Miracles"

Rajia Hassib was born and raised in Egypt and moved to the United States when she was twenty-three. She holds an MA in creative writing from Marshall University and her short fiction has appeared in Upstreet, Steam Ticket, and Border Crossing magazines. She lives in West Virginia with her husband and two children.

Hassib applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, In the Language of Miracles, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“They’re my initials. Ka is also the ancient Egyptian name for the soul. My parents are from Egypt, originally.” He glanced sideways to see her reaction. His eyes met hers, and she smiled.

“Cool,” she said.

They walked across the park and waited for the traffic light to turn red before crossing, heading east on Fourth Street among a flow of pedestrians. He had not truly answered her question, yet she did not press on—and because she did not, he added, “The K is for Khaled.”

“Khaled. That’s nice. I don’t think I’ve met a Khaled before.”

He looked straight at her, scrutinizing her smile, her half-curious, half-friendly gaze. No judgment, none of the caution the mention of his name might have evoked. He would not tell her his last name, even though he knew the absurdity of fearing that she, living in New York, would recognize his brother’s name in his. But he had told her his first name, and that was all that mattered. That was enough.
In the Language of Miracles is told from the points of view of three different characters, so I was happily surprised to see that page 69 happened to fall on a chapter told by Khaled, the 17-year old central narrator. One of the many struggles Khaled faces throughout the novel deals with identity: how to come to terms with his Egyptian heritage while staying true to his American self; how to find acceptance as a Muslim in a society that has become increasingly hostile to Muslims in general and, due to a crime his brother has committed, to his family in particular.

On page 69, those questions are addressed directly. This scene depicts the first meeting between Khaled and a girl he has had a crush on for some time and who, because they had met online, only knows him by his initials. When she finally asks what his initials stand for, Khaled debates whether or not he should make up a new, less foreign-sounding name for himself, fearing that the sound of his decidedly Arabic name would scare her away. Eventually, he chooses to stick to the truth, revealing his true name despite having planned to do otherwise. I find this particular exchange quite endearing: Khaled is terrified of alienating her, and his paranoia about being recognized and immediately ostracized is painfully apparent. The exchange also marks the first time Khaled finds acceptance separate from his family’s troubling history and yet without having to sacrifice his Egyptian heritage, and that, I think, makes page 69 a particularly interesting point in the novel.
Visit Rajia Hassib's website.

Writers Read: Rajia Hassib.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

"Idyll Threats"

Stephanie Gayle’s fascination with crime stories began when she first met a policeman at the age of 4 and outsmarted him. After flirting with the idea of becoming a defense attorney and then suffering through a few years as a paralegal, she decided writing crime fiction would be a lot more satisfying -- and fun. Gayle’s first novel, My Summer of Southern Discomfort, released in 2008 (William Morrow). By day, she's a financial assistant at MIT’s Media Lab.

Gayle applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Idyll Threats, and reported the following:
Page 69 is a little different from the rest of Idyll Threats. It includes the following scene:
I’d call later to explain I couldn’t make it home. I wouldn’t mention what had happened the last time I showed up for a last-minute dinner invitation.

The table setting should’ve tipped me off. My family didn’t use the china except for holidays and dinners with deans. My brother, John, and his wife, Marie, exchanged furtive looks over their glasses. Were they having another child? Bit late, for both of them. And should Marie be drinking wine? The doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it!” my mother said. A minute later, she brought in a man wearing a velvet jacket with a paisley pocket square. Slender and smiling. Chris Danforth. My mother knew him through her charity work with the New York Foundation for the Arts.
This is one of the few flashbacks in the novel, and the longest. In it, the reader learns a lot more about protagonist Thomas Lynch. We see that his family not only knows he’s gay, but that his mother has tried to set him up with a date and it doesn’t go well. Thomas doesn’t like being blindsided and he doesn’t like the prospective date, Chris Danforth. Chris is a loud-and-proudly-out actor. Thomas isn’t, and he doesn’t need any “how to be gay lessons” from Chris.

In creating police chief Thomas Lynch, it was important to me that he not be a token or stereotype, and that he would have strong feeling about what it means to be gay and to be a cop. Much of the book explores this tension, as Thomas is withholding evidence in a murder investigation because it threatens to out him. But page 69 and the ensuing scene is the only place the reader sees Thomas interact with his family directly. It shows that although they love him, they don’t understand him very well. And the reader begins to understand the depth of Thomas’s loneliness.
Visit Stephanie Gayle's website.

My Book, The Movie: Idyll Threats.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 6, 2015

"The White Ghost"

James R. Benn is the author of the Billy Boyle World War II series, historical mysteries set within the Allied High Command during the Second World War. The series began with Billy Boyle, which takes place in England and Norway in 1942.

Benn applied the Page 69 Test to The White Ghost, the tenth installment of the series, and reported the following:
The Page 69 test for The White Ghost neatly highlights one of the tricky things about making an historical character part of a fictional story. I’ve incorporated real figures from history quite often in the Billy Boyle books, but usually in brief cameo roles. In The White Ghost, Jack Kennedy is a central character—and a murder suspect to boot.

John F. Kennedy was a complex guy with a family background that can be best described as dysfunctional with a strong, corrupt, power-hungry patriarch at the helm. Jack possessed character traits that were often contradictory, as shown in this passage from page 69. Here, Billy and his Polish partner Kaz are speaking with Kennedy in a naval hospital as he’s recovering from the sinking of PT 109.
He winced as he moved to a chair and motioned for Kaz to join him. He walked gingerly on the heels of his feet, which obviously were not fully healed. He shifted a few times in his seat, getting his back as straight as he could. His back was always giving him fits, and being run over by a Jap destroyer couldn’t have helped much.

After a deep breath, Jack began asking Kaz questions about Poland and the Polish Government in Exile. What was their position regarding the Soviets? Post-war borders and the British government? It was like watching a sponge absorb water. Jack had a way of taking all the intelligence you had to offer and giving little in return except his undivided attention. It was charming and callous at the same time.
This scene gave me the opportunity to lay out two of those character traits; an allusion to his chronically bad back (and by inference his dogged determination not to let on he was in pain) along with his ability to focus totally on the person he was speaking with. Several biographers had mentioned this ability to take in everything while giving nothing back except undivided attention. This drew some people permanently into the Kennedy orbit; but it was always an orbit, with the Kennedys at the center.
Learn more about the Billy Boyle WWII Mystery Series at James R. Benn's website.

The Page 99 Test: The First Wave.

The Page 69 Test: Evil for Evil.

The Page 69 Test: Rag and Bone.

My Book, The Movie: Death's Door.

Writers Read: James R. Benn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 4, 2015

"Little Beasts"

Matthew McGevna was born and raised in Mastic Beach, Long Island. Born of Irish descent, he attended fiction and poetry workshops in Galway, Ireland, through the University of Arkansas Writing Program. He received his MFA in creative writing from Long Island University’s Southampton College in 2002. An award-winning poet, McGevna has also published numerous short stories in various publications, including Long Island Noir, Epiphany, and Confrontation. He currently lives in Center Moriches, New York, with his wife and two sons, Jackson and Dempsey.

McGevna applied the Page 69 Test to Little Beasts, his first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The thought made his lines bolder. The charcoal sticks in his hand would break and roll to the floor. David felt a kind of sadness that had no beginning and no end. He felt a pain in the back of his eyes. His chest was heavy, and he didn’t know exactly why. All the world was in order, as far as he knew…

…Despite these reassurances to himself that all was in order, there was still something deep down that scratched at his mind like a cat begging to be let in. The focus he had longed for was lost in this nagging mist of fear and sadness. He had taken his dinner out of the oven and brought it into his studio to eat. He had closed the door to keep the dog out. He had taken out the garbage, handed his mother her glasses, and told her to leave him alone for the rest of the night. All he wanted was to be left alone, and now he was. He could hear his ears ringing. He stood up, put the charcoal stick down, opened the garage door, and disappeared into the warm, wet Turnbull night.
Page 69 comes remarkably close to encapsulating the spirit and theme of Little Beasts. In this scene, 15-year-old David Westwood is stewing at his home over the fact that his girlfriend (his term for what they have together) has not called him. An aspiring artist, David plans to work on a painting, but is driven to madness wondering what Julia might be up to. David reflects on his fears and insecurities, brought on by slights both real and imagined from his classmates. Finally, he puts down his brush and heads out in the pouring rain to walk to Julia’s house.

The novel is about poverty, and how financial deprivation leads to deprivation of self worth, deprivation of opportunities, deprivation of any sense of safety and security. When David doesn’t get the reception he expects on this night (on pg. 69), it adds another level of rage and insecurity that eventually manifests itself in an awful, violent way.

When he heads out to Julia’s house, he views it as a sweeping, cinematic gesture. The reality falls much shorter than that, and what you’ll notice in Little Beasts is how often reality is misinterpreted by the characters. There’s a lot of misunderstanding in Little Beasts, and this scene really underscores that motif
Visit Matthew McGevna's website.

Writers Read: Matthew McGevna.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 3, 2015

"Purgatory Gardens"

Peter Lefcourt is a refugee from the trenches of Hollywood, where he has distinguished himself as a writer and producer of film and television.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Purgatory Gardens, and reported the following:
Page 69, in its entirety:
Chris and Edie had no doubt cruised them, interviewing them as possible additions to their swinging parties. Edie had approached Marcy one day at the pool and suggested that she show up with one of the new guys for a couple of mai tai’s and a little you-know-what. Marcy passed, explaining that she didn’t indulge publicly in you-know-what.

“You don’t what you’re missing.”

“I’m afraid I do.”

The night of the mold meeting the contestants were face to face. It was obvious to her, and probably to them, that they were in competition. Didier was cordial, jovial, diplomatic, but Sammy looked like he wanted to put his rival through a wall. Frankly, she wasn’t sure which of the two attitudes was more attractive. Primitive was, as Stanley said, primitive. But a touch of the Neanderthal wasn’t entirely unappealing. Though Marcy considered herself a feminist – what woman who supports herself isn’t? – she wasn’t above being titillated by the thought of a man throwing her over his shoulder and dragging her off into a cave. At this point of her life, however, the cave would preferably have running water and a microwave.

Sammy hadn’t wanted to vote for the mold removal until she and Didier had. Marcy wasn’t sure whether this meant that he was cheap or that he was smart. Even though she certainly didn’t need a special assessment in their monthly homeowners’ dues, she wound up voting for the mold busters in memory of Stanley, who had initiated a number of improvements to the property: the
It’s obviously difficult to take any 200 odd word fragment and evaluate it without context, but think the writing style of a writer is on every page. I don’t know about you, but I read for the author’s voice. And you should find it on page 69 of any book.
Visit Peter Lefcourt's website.

My Book, The Movie: Purgatory Gardens.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"After Birth"

Elisa Albert is the author of After Birth (2015), The Book of Dahlia (2008), How This Night is Different (2006), and the editor of the anthology Freud’s Blind Spot (2010).

She applied the Page 69 Test to After Birth and reported the following:
From page 69:
She just needs us to sit with her. Process. Not so terrifically much to ask. Not so big a thing.

We’re supposed to have mothers, I say. We’re supposed to have sisters. But what if you don’t have a mother? What if you don’t have a sister?

Or a crappy mother, Mina mutters, massaging a huge, tender tit. Or a crappy sister.
The specter of two women coming together in fellowship, honesty and good humor, connecting fully and whole-heartedly: it’s a radical act, and judging from the media it continues to be an utterly shocking and improbable one. Impossible, they cry! Unlikely, at the very least. How odd: A woman wrote something or filmed something or sang something not designed to make us all feel better about ourselves and the status quo. Ferocious, they say. Lunatic, they say. Outrageous, they say. (But would you fuck her?)

It’s hard to think for oneself. We are not usually given much training in it. “Rebellion rarely survives the aversion therapy that passes for being brought up female,” Andrea Dworkin wrote. Overturning systems of oppression is the primary directive of art, and no system is more oppressive than one that demands the oppressed oppress one another.

Yes, is what I’m saying: this page seems fairly representative of After Birth, which is about what can happen to women when we refuse to bullshit about our lives, refuse to isolate ourselves, refuse to buy into systems that want us quiet, invisible, and ashamed. It’s about refusal, I guess. And about what can happen when we call out systems that want us quiet, invisible, and ashamed, even if said systems happen to be comprised of, alas, other women, and even if said other women are our “friends” or our sisters or our very own mothers. And what can happen, spoiler alert, is that we might be happier, healthier, and maybe almost whole.

Here, two women sit together, keep company, and hold the space while each grapples with her own difficulty, heartbreak, struggle. That’s it. Not so big a thing. Not so much to ask.
Learn more about the author and her work at Elisa Albert's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Book of Dahlia.

--Marshal Zeringue