Saturday, October 31, 2015

"A Line of Blood"

Ben McPherson is a television producer, director, and writer and for more than ten years worked for the BBC, among other outlets. He is currently a columnist for Aftenposten, Norway's leading quality daily, and lives in Oslo with his wife and two children.

McPherson applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, A Line of Blood, and reported the following:
An uneasy morning calm hangs over the dirty streets of the worst neighbourhood in North London. In cramped little house on a cramped little road a man wakes up alone and hung over. Yesterday the police removed a body from the identical house next door.

Alex Mercer is not a suspicious man. He’s a happily married father of one. The fact that his American wife Millicent is not in bed with him doesn’t trouble him — not yet, at least — because he doesn’t know how well Millicent knew the dead neighbour.

Millicent has sent Alex a text message:
Twice I tried to wake you, you beautiful lame-assed drunken fool. And yes, I know we have to speak, and yes, you should call me when you wake up.
Given what he’s about to unearth, given the destruction it’s about to wreak on his life, Alex begins page 69 with remarkably tender feelings towards his wife; he realises that she has taken care of him while he slept, drunk on top of the bed, that last night she must have undressed him and slid him gently into bed:
That’s love, I thought, in that one tiny action: my nakedness is proof of Millicent’s love. I wondered whether she had slept.
Alex was with his eleven-year-old son Max when together they discovered the corpse, naked in the bath of the house next door. But Max seems to be OK; he really does. He has even made coffee for his father (though of course the coffee is undrinkable because Max is eleven):
Max came back in with the sugar. I put four spoonfuls into the cup and stirred.

“Want me to open the blind?”


“No what, Dad?”

“No thanks, Max. And thank you for making coffee for me.”

“That’s OK. Mum said you might want some.”

“She out?”

This is a problem for Alex, whose tender feelings for his wife are being tested by the fact that once again she is “out, thinking”. It’s been happening too much lately, when she should be talking to him. How are they going to protect Max from what he saw? Who was the man next door? And what is Millicent up to?
“Say where she was going?”

“No. Do you like the coffee?”

“I love the fact that you made it for me.”

Max left the room.
Alex needs to ask his wife about her bracelet. The police found it in the house next door, under the neighbour’s bed. How did it get there? That question is going to drive the first act; and Alex’s suspicion that his wife is not the woman he thought is going to push the book towards its final conclusion.
I rang Millicent. She sounded lousy from lack of sleep.

“You get my text, Alex?”


“Meet me at the Swedish?”

The Swedish is their local coffee house. There’s a confrontation coming, and Alex will find it hard to reconcile his role as loving father and husband with the role of the jilted lover.
Max and I left the house at the same time and walked the first couple of blocks together. He hugged me when we parted, then set off toward school at a dogtrot.
And that’s it: a last moment of domestic calm before everything breaks apart. But don’t go thinking this is all about Millicent. Max has seen things that no eleven-year-old boy should see, and he knows things about his parents that no child should ever know.
Visit Ben McPherson's Facebook page and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Yard War"

Taylor Kitchings’ roots in Mississippi run many generations deep, though it took him a while to circle back to them. As a college freshman, he recorded the original album Clean Break, now considered a collector’s item. As a junior, he wrote music for mallet and giant Möbius strip, performed at Manhattan’s Café La MaMa. In the years between his BA from Rhodes College and MA from Ole Miss, he traveled from Memphis to New York to Europe, writing and performing songs on piano. He and his wife Beth have two children and live in Ridgeland, Mississippi, where he teaches English at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. His short story “Mr. Pinky Gone Fishing” was published in the collection Tight Lines from Yale University Press.

Kitchings applied the Page 69 Test to Yard War, his first novel, and reported the following:
Twelve-year-old Trip Westbrook has discovered that his housekeeper’s son Dee can throw a heck of a pass and has invited him to join a football game in the front yard. There’s just one problem: like all housekeeper’s sons in Jackson, Mississippi in 1964, Dee is African American. On page 69 [inset below left; click to enlarge], Trip’s mom and dad have come into his room after supper to tell him the neighbors have complained about his new friend and Dee’s participation in football games will have to stop.

Trip’s mother, Virginia, comes from a wealthy family in Jackson, steeped in Old South traditions and attitudes, but she gives the maid a bonus at Christmas, has taught her children never to say the “n-word” and does not consider herself a racist. Trip’s father, Sam, is a comparative “soft-hearted liberal,” having grown up playing street ball with African American kids in a poor section of New Orleans and having served with African American soldiers in the Korean War. He had planned to join Virginia in telling Trip to honor the neighbors’ demands, but as we see on page 69, he changes his mind.

Heretofore, Trip’s parents have always spoken to the children in a united “Mama-Daddy” voice, so here is a startling shift in the family dynamic and a hint of the turmoil to come as Trip refuses to give up his new friend, no matter what the neighbors think.
Follow Taylor Kitchings on Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"No True Echo"

Gareth P. Jones is a London-based author of over 25 books for children. Titles available in the US include his Victorian ghost story, Constable & Toop (Abrams Books), a series about ninja meerkats called Ninja Meerkats (Square Fish) and a picture book about some dinosaurs having a party called The Dinosaurs Are Having a Party (Andersen - illustrations by Garry Parsons).

Jones applied the Page 69 Test to his brand new YA book, No True Echo:
Page 69:
“It will make it easier if you don’t ask questions that I’m not going to answer,” stated Scarlett.

“How do I know if it’s a question you won’t answer?”

“Perhaps avoid all of them, just in case.”

“Maybe Mr. Cornish is some kind of magician,” I said, careful not to phrase it as a question.

“Maybe,” replied Scarlett.

“Is he?”

“No, and that’s still a question.”

“So, you understand what’s going on but you won’t tell me. Is that it?”

“I understand some of what is going on, and I will tell you this: burying books is pretty old hat where I’m from, and the fact that he thought your mother was alive is interesting. But what I really need to know is what he wrote in that book.”

When the kitchen light went off, Scarlett stood up and hurried across the marsh. She didn’t wait for me, but nor was she surprised when I followed her.

This was far too interesting to give up.
From this page 69 of No True Echo it should be clear that it is a confusing book. It is a first person narrative in which the narrator (Eddie) has no idea what is going on… which means that neither do you. Did I mention that No True Echo is a confusing book? Another interesting thing about this test is that there is a slightly different version of the book in the UK. That page 69 is written in the third person and involves a funny incident with a cat. So if I was writing this was blog for the British version of this website it would be completely different. Which is kind of the point of the book. Did I already say that No True Echo is a confusing book?
Visit Gareth P. Jones's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"Knot the Usual Suspects"

Molly MacRae spent twenty years in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Upper East Tennessee, where she managed The Book Place, an independent bookstore; may it rest in peace. Before the lure of books hooked her, she was curator of the history museum in Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town.

MacRae lives with her family in Champaign, Illinois, where she connects children with books at the public library.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Knot the Usual Suspects, her latest Haunted Yarn Shop Mystery, and reported the following:
Here’s page 69, in its entirety, from Knot the Usual Suspects. We enter the page in the middle of one sentence (a line of dialog) and exit in the middle of another sentence (the POV character’s internal thought).
bombing before today, but now that I have, I know it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

We all agreed. After telling us she’d report back, Thea left the meeting looking pleased.

A few days later, Ardis and I were closing up shop for the day when Thea stopped by, looking even more pleased. Geneva had been lying across the blades of the ceiling fan, listening to us and dangling her arm as though trailing it in water. When the camel bells at the door jingled, announcing Thea, she sat up. Thea came in, stopped near the door, and put her hands on her hips. Always a stylish dresser, she’d worn a mix of browns—from creamy to dark chocolate, including knife-creased trousers, a pair of killer heels, a creamy silk tunic, and what could only have been the stole she’d been knitting since spring.

“I am awesome,” Thea said.

“Hold your arms out and let’s see.” Ardis motioned for Thea to twirl.

Thea’s turn was more of a stately rotation than a twirl, but she spread her arms, showing off the lacy leaf pattern and her fine handiwork. She’d used fingering-weight wool in a rich chestnut brown several shades darker than her skin. “Welcome to the debut of my mocha mousse stole,” she said, advancing on the counter and stopping with a shallow bow.

Geneva clapped.

“You’re right,” I said. “It is awesome. Will you think about letting the mannequin wear it for a week or two?”

“Oh, please, please, please, please!” Geneva said. “I know I will look fetching sitting on its shoulder.”

Somehow I didn’t think “fetching” would have been
The first word, “bombing,” is sort of eye-catching, but will a reader who jumps into the book at this point have any idea what’s going on? Hard to say. “Bombing” doesn’t seem to upset the characters, though, because the next paragraphs find us in a shop admiring a piece of knitting. The yarn shop mentioned in the series title? That makes sense, and that might explain the character named Geneva lying across the blades of the ceiling fan, “dangling her arm as though trailing it in water.” That doesn’t sound like a corporeal being, but the shop is haunted, so maybe she’s a ghost. The general tone, here, is of a gentle read, and that makes sense, too. This is a cozy mystery, where life, work, and knitting go on for the characters in Blue Plum, Tennessee, despite their penchant for stumbling across dead bodies.
Visit Molly MacRae's website.

My Book, The Movie: Knot the Usual Suspects.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 25, 2015

"Faux Pas"

Sofie Kelly is the pseudonym of young adult writer and mixed-media artist, Darlene Ryan. Sofie/Darlene lives on the east coast with her husband and daughter. In her spare time she practices Wu style tai chi and likes to prowl around thrift stores.

Kelly applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Faux Pas, and reported the following:
A reader who opened Faux Paw at random to page 69 would get a decent sense of the story and the main characters. Faux Paw is the seventh Magical Cats mystery and clearly the cats—Owen and Hercules—are important. They’re the first two characters, along with the narrator, on the page. There’s also a hint here of a little on-going war between the two cats, a sub-plot which will tie into the main mystery.
“I have no idea how long this will take,” I said. Owen meowed and disappeared down the basement stairs. I made a mental note to figure out why he was spending so much time down there.

Hercules wound around my legs as I pulled on my favorite low leather boots.

I reached down to pet the top of his head. “I know it’s asking a lot,” I said in a low voice, “but please try to get along with your brother while I’m gone.”
Page 69 would give the reader a bit of a sense, indirectly, into the kind of person the narrator, Kathleen is. Kathleen describes her neighbor, Rebecca like this:
Rebecca was one of the kindest and gentlest people I’d ever met. She was tiny, with silver hair and blue eyes and a smile that lit up her entire face. She also had a will of iron.
Rebecca has hot chocolate and muffins waiting for Kathleen. It seems clear she’s fond of her younger neighbor, which implies that Kathleen is just as kind as the older woman.

This small sample of the book also lets the reader know who’s dead and hints at why.
Rebecca sat opposite me with her own cup. “The way Everett spoke...”

She hesitated. “What happened to Margo Walsh wasn’t an accident, was it?”

“I uh . . . I don’t think so,” I said slowly. I hated that Margo was probably dead because of a drawing.
And it wouldn’t be a Magical Cats mystery without food. That’s here too:
As promised, she made hot chocolate and topped each pottery mug with two fat marshmallows that smelled of vanilla before setting one cup in front of me.

“Would you like a rhubarb muffin?” she asked.
Cats, chocolate, and a mystery to solve: I hope that would be enough to entice a reader to pick up Faux Paw.
Visit Sofie Kelly's website.

My Book, The Movie: Curiosity Thrilled the Cat.

Writers Read: Sofie Kelly.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 24, 2015

"The Searcher"

Simon Toyne is the bestselling author of the Sanctus trilogy: Sanctus, The Key, and The Tower. A writer, director, and producer in British television for twenty years, he worked on several award-winning shows, one of which won a BAFTA. His books have been translated into twenty-seven languages and published in more than fifty countries. He lives with his wife and family in England and the south of France, where he is at work on his second Solomon Creed novel.

Toyne applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel The Searcher, the first book in the Solomon Creed series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Solomon stood inside the door of the church letting his eyes adjust to the gloom after the fierce sunlight outside. Huge stained-glass windows poured light into the dark interior, splashing color onto what appeared at first glance to be a collection of old junk.

To the left of the door a full-size covered wagon stood behind a model of a horse and a mannequin dressed in nineteenth-century clothes. A fully functioning Long Tom sluice box stood opposite with water trickling through it, making a sound like the roof was leaking. A collection of gold pans was arranged beneath a sign saying Tools of the Treasure Hunter’s Trade. There were pickaxes too and fake sticks of dynamite and ore crushers and softly lit cabinets containing examples of copper ore and gold flake and silver seams in quartz. Another cabinet contained personal effects—reading glasses, pens, gloves—all carefully labeled and arranged, and there was a scale model of the town on a table showing what Redemption had looked like a hundred years ago. And right in the center of the strange diorama a lectern stood, angled toward the door so that anyone entering the building was forced to gaze upon the battered Bible resting on it.
Page 69 of The Searcher is the start of a chapter where my main character enters a church at the heart of the town of Redemption, Arizona. It’ s a very important scene because it introduces key elements of the story, the church included, and so has to be both informative and intriguing. I must have rewritten this scene twenty or thirty times, adding things, taking things away, changing the things Solomon notices or the order in which he sees them. Describing places is always hard in a thriller because you need to do it to ground the action but you can’t dwell too long on it otherwise you risk derailing the pace, and that’s death to your story.

Anyway there it is, you can be the judge of whether I succeeded or not.
Learn more about the book and author at Simon Toyne's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Searcher.

Writers Read: Simon Toyne.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 22, 2015


C. A. Higgins is the author of Lightless, and writes novels and short stories. She was a runner-up in the 2013 Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing and has a B.A. in physics from Cornell University.

Higgins applied the Page 69 Test to Lightless and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Ida tried to imagine it, to let it play out in her head as Ivan spoke, to compare what he said with the way she imagined it would have happened. Ivan and Mattie, walking together, elbows bumping. This was eight years into knowing each other, and they would move in harmony.

She imagined them coming to the Annwn, the ship standing on her rim, and finding the door unlocked, letting in bits of dust and sand from the howling Martian wind. They looked at each other, and Mattie drew his gun first—or did Ivan?

“Mattie was glad to see her somehow,” Ivan said. “Even though she’d just broken into our ship.”

In Ida’s mind’s eye, Mattie holstered his gun immediately, pulling the door shut against the howling winds. Ivan was slower to lower his weapon, and he put it away only once Mattie had embraced the woman waiting.

In Ida’s imagination, Abigail was faceless, blank.

“She got right to the point,” said Ivan. “Abby doesn’t like to waste time. She told us that she had a job for us.”

In Ida’s mind, Ivan, standing opposite Abigail, was just as guarded and wary as he was when he was facing her.”
Page 69 of Lightless comes right as Leontios Ivanov—better known as Ivan—tells his interrogator, Ida, a story. Ivan has been arrested after illegally boarding a top-secret military spaceship, the Ananke, and Ida has been sent to interrogate him to find out if he has any connections to a notorious terrorist. Ivan insists that he doesn’t, but consents—under duress—to answering any questions she may have. Ida, convinced that he is lying, has to sort through the details of the stories he tells her in order to find the fine threads of truth that will unravel his lies. Since the passages are from Ida’s point of view, by the time the stories reach the reader they have passed through two unreliable narrators: Ivan, who must be lying about something, and Ida herself. On page 69, the reader sees a scene described by Ivan as Ida imagines it—and has to decide for him- or herself how much of it is true, and how much a fabrication of one character or another.

The story that Ivan tells on page 69 focuses on three characters: Ivan himself, his best friend Mattie, and the mysterious Abigail Hunter, whose secrets Ida becomes more and more intent on uncovering. The dynamic between those three characters is, in some ways, the core of Ivan’s stories—and in this scene, the reader gets a first glimpse of it.
Visit C. A. Higgins's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"Lost Canyon"

Nina Revoyr's novels include The Age of Dreaming, which was nominated for the LA Times Book Prize; Southland, a Los Angeles Times best seller and “Best Book” of 2003; and Wingshooters, which won an Indie Booksellers’ Choice Award and was selected by O, The Oprah Magazine as one of “10 Titles to Pick Up Now.”

Revoyr applied the Page 69 Test to her fifth novel, Lost Canyon, and reported the following:
From page 69:
…heading off to a place where income-to-loan ratios meant nothing, where no one cared about the best way to stage a house for a showing, where no one was even thinking about the steady drop in home values over the last five years, and where he wouldn’t see his empty, unfinished houses. In the mountains, he’d have no smartphone, no sharp clothes or fast cars to fall back on. He’d have to depend on his endurance and grit, and if he got into a scrape, it would be his own guts and thinking that would have to get him out of it. He could do this, he knew it; he was up for the challenge. Coach Eric from the gym could kiss his ass.

“So, Todd,” Oscar said now, “have you hiked or backpacked much?”

Todd looked startled that someone had spoken to him.

“More when I was younger,” he managed. “I used to camp with my dad. But not so much as an adult, to tell you the truth. I go for hikes with the kids sometimes out in the Palisades or Malibu.”
Of course, Oscar thought. The Westsiders go farther west. This guy was probably soft.

“Most of my workouts these days are with Tracy,” Todd continued. “I went to SportZone for physical therapy last year for a shoulder injury, and then they referred me to Tracy. She pushes me hard, but it’s all in the gym—I’ve really missed being outside.”

“You’re a lawyer?”

“Yeah, a litigator. I work for a great firm, but it’s pretty dry to tell you the truth.” He sounded self-conscious. “The thing I like most is the pro bono work. I do some volunteer work for a couple of youth organizations.”

Gwen turned around in her seat and looked at him. “Really? I work for a youth organization down in South L.A.”
Lost Canyon is the story of an adventure gone wrong, a mountain survival tale that’s also an exploration of race, class, and gender. Oscar, Todd, Tracy and Gwen come from vastly different backgrounds and life experiences. On pg. 69, they’re driving up to the Sierra Nevada from Los Angeles to start a 4-day backpacking trip. They’re basically strangers—Tracy’s the common link—and they’re trying to get a sense of each other.

This scene, while told in the 3rd person, is really from Oscar’s point of view; the chapters alternate between Oscar, Todd, and Gwen. He’s a Latino real estate agent and developer who’s both contributing to, and bothered by, the gentrification of his neighborhood in Northeast L.A. From this page, you get a sense of his frustrations about work—and his first, wrong assumptions about Todd.

Page 69 does show the initial fault lines between the characters, as well as their attempts to reach across them. It also gives a sense that they’re at a particular point in life—they’re all about forty—when they’re dealing with questions of career and family, the breakdown of the body. In the first paragraph, Oscar describes the appeal of the trip—the fact that, in the wilderness, there are no shortcuts; they have nothing but themselves to lean on. But page 69 isn’t representative of what’s maybe the most crucial element of the book, its sense of place. Before this page, I paint the disparate sections of L.A. that the characters come from—Highland Park, Watts, and Brentwood. After this page, I describe the grandeur, beauty, and danger of the mountains. While pg. 69 is a snapshot of the people, none of my love for either city or wilderness is evident. That comes earlier, and later. This page is part of the set up for all that follows.
Visit Nina Revoyr's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Nina Revoyr & Ariat and Russell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 19, 2015

"The Wilson Deception"

David O. Stewart is the author of several works of history, including Madison’s Gift: Five Partnerships That Built America, which have been awarded the Washington Writing Award and the Society of the Cincinnati History Prize.

He applied the Page 69 Test to latest new novel, The Wilson Deception, and reported the following:
Happily, page 69 is one of the pivot points in The Wilson Deception.

Major Jamie Fraser, a doctor in France tending to U.S. troops at the end of World War I, has just run into Speed Cook in a Paris hotel lobby. Cook and Fraser were partners in The Lincoln Deception but haven’t seen each other for nearly 19 years. Cook is desperate to find official help for his son Joshua, an Army sergeant facing trumped-up charges of desertion from the front lines. Fraser is able to introduce to Cook on page 69 to Allen Dulles, a 25-year-old former (and future) American spy who is emerging as a close aide of President Woodrow Wilson for the Paris Peace Conference.

Cook regales Dulles with tales of his escapades playing professional baseball in the 1880s – he was the last black man to play in the big leagues until Jackie Robinson – when the following conversation transpires:
After two more rounds of drinks, Dulles asked what brought Cook to France. At the mention of the Pan-African Congress, Dulles waved a dismissive hand. “Just a bunch of over-educated Bolsheviks,” he said, “jerking off in their sherry glasses.” He wagged a finger at Cook, then at Fraser, then at Cook. “Now, real Bolsheviks, you know, the Jewish kind, they’re a real danger. Here and in America.” He enunciated his words with care to give them greater emphasis.

“Is that,” Cook asked, “what the United States government thinks?”

“That’s what President Wilson thinks. The world is on fire. We’re in a race with Bolshevism.” Dulles wagged his finger again, a habit Cook already disliked. “Negroes need to be careful about getting too close to the Reds. That won’t turn out well.”

“Do tell.” Cook looked at Fraser, who was glassy-eyed, in no condition to plead Joshua’s case. “My family’s been in America a long time, maybe longer than most, even if they didn’t come voluntarily. My boy, he’s been here in France, a sergeant in the army. Won a medal for his service.”

Dulles smiled. “Why, you must be very proud.”

Cook breathed deeply, then plunged into Joshua’s story for the second time that night, maybe the fortieth time that week.

Dulles listened, sipping his drink, making sympathetic sounds. When Cook got to the end, the part about approaching the French government, Dulles traced a fingertip around the rim of his glass. “You want to appeal to the French government,” he said slowly, drawing out the moment. “Well, would Premier Clemenceau be high enough for you?”

Cook was instantly sober. “You can get to Clemenceau?”

“One can never be sure about these things, of course. But maybe. I’d say a definite maybe.”
Young Dulles – future director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1950s – proves an able but not altogether trustworthy co-venturer as Fraser and Cook fall deeper and deeper into the machinations of President Wilson and Premier Clemenceau, finding that the road to Joshua Cook’s freedom runs straight through the peace negotiators greatest crisis.
Learn more about the book and author at David O. Stewart's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: The Wilson Deception.

Writers Read: David O. Stewart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 17, 2015

"Carrying Albert Home"

Homer Hickam is the bestselling and award-winning author of many books, including the #1 New York Times memoir Rocket Boys, which was adapted into the popular film October Sky. A writer since grade school, he is also a Vietnam veteran, a former coal miner, a scuba instructor, an avid amateur paleontologist, and a retired engineer.

Hickam applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of A Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator, and reported the following:
Carrying Albert Home is a family legend about my parents, Homer (Sr.) and Elsie Hickam, and told by them over decades. When I first heard their various stories of Albert and how they carried him (along with a rooster) from West Virginia to Florida in the backseat of an old Buick during the Great Depression, I just thought I was hearing tales of youthful misadventure. That was true but it turns out the family legend of Albert is a bit more. When I put their stories together sequentially for the purposes of my novel, I discovered that my parents had actually sent me a message from their present location which I am fairly certain is heaven. Rather than being a story of an outlandish road trip, Carrying Albert Home was nothing less than their explanation of why they stayed together during sixty years of marriage while essentially not agreeing on much of anything. It was, of course, all because of love, that inadequate word that describes the most marvelous and least understood of human emotions.

Page 69 of Carrying Albert Home which naturally flows into page 70 is a tiny slice of one of my parents' stories about their great journey south. In this one, Homer and Elsie have been waylaid by radicals who are determined to blow up a sock mill in North Carolina. Homer is a victim of mistaken identity. The radicals think he's the Coal Miner, a radical bomb-maker. Elsie, Albert, and the Rooster are off-screen on page 69 along with their passenger, a young writer named John Steinbeck, but I think the page holds up. I think after reading it, a reader will be intrigued enough to go back to the beginning and enjoy the novel that now has 14 international publishers, will be a Reader's Digest condensed novel, and already the recipient of many literary awards.
Visit Homer Hickam's website.

My Book, The Movie: Carrying Albert Home.

Writers Read: Homer Hickam.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 15, 2015

"The Big Chili"

Julia Buckley is the author of the Undercover Dish Mysteries, the Teddy Thurber Mysteries, and the Madeline Mann Mysteries. She’s a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Romance Writers of America, as well as the Chicago Writers Association. Buckley has taught high school English for over twenty years.

Buckley applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Big Chili, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I gave him a crushing hug, waved again to Jenny, and left. Jenny and I, to my disappointment, had not solved my dilemma. At least it had distracted her from commenting on my love life or asking about my past with Angelo, and her idea of sending a personal e-mail to Jay Parker was oddly appealing.

As I drove home I saw flashing red and blue lights in my rearview mirror; heart beating rapidly, I began to pull over, but the car flew past me. I sat for a moment, recovering. The thought of meeting with the police, in that instant, had been terrifying. For a split second I had feared they suspected me and were coming to take me away.

I sighed and pulled back into traffic.
Page 69 of The Big Chili is just a half page, the end of a chapter, so it might seem to have no recognizable content. Lilah has just come from an evening with her best friend Jenny Braidwell and Jenny’s adorable nephew Henry (that’s who Lilah is hugging in the first sentence).

Lilah has told a lie to the police for what she considers a good and noble reason; still, she feels guilty, and she had hoped that she and Jenny could find a way to alleviate her guilt. She leaves Jenny’s feeling no better or wiser, and that’s why police lights frighten her so much. Lilah has a deeply-rooted fear of authority.

In looking back at the book, I already see some punctuation that I would do differently, and you might note that I am one of that last bastion of writers who still find meaning and dignity in the semi-colon.
Learn more about the book and author at Julia Buckley's website and her blog, Mysterious Musings.

My Book, The Movie: The Big Chili.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"Cleopatra’s Shadows"

Emily Holleman is a Brooklyn-based writer. After a two-year editing stint at where she had to worry a lot about politics, celebrities and memes, she returned to her true passion: fiction. She's currently working on a set of historical novels that reimagines the saga of Cleopatra from the perspective of her younger sister, Arsinoe. The first of these, Cleopatra's Shadows, is currently available from Little, Brown.

Holleman applied the Page 69 Test to Cleopatra's Shadows and reported the following:
Cleopatra’s Shadows shifts between two perspectives—Arsinoe, Cleopatra’s younger sister, abandoned in Alexandria when their father flees the city, and their elder half-sister, Berenice, whose coup prompt the king’s flight. So, whomever we land on with p. 69, one of our protagonists will lose out (which, given how frequently siblings in their dynasty killed one another, is a pretty fitting fate).
“No matter how I act, you call me a child. I speak to my sister, I plead with wit and wisdom for my life, and still I’m nothing but a child to you. And so what does it matter if I now rave in front of you and Alexander and all the city too? What punishment can you give me that will match what harm Berenice might inflict at any moment?” She spat her words, her venom. But it didn’t make her feel any better.

Ganymedes studied her for a long while. She refused to cower beneath his gaze. And then he spoke. “You wish that I would congratulate you, to pat your back and stroke your hair for not getting yourself killed… You wish to bask in rosy words, my dear, and pretend you live in some rosy world. I know that well.”

Arsinoe’s pride burned because the eunuch was right. She had wanted all that praised, and she wished she’d let Alexander run off that she might carry her shame alone. But when the boys squeezed his fingers around her wrist, she didn’t pry them away.
This excerpt captures a quieter moment in the novel. There’s no active rebellion, no imminent threat of death, no statues weeping tears of blood. Instead, we see nine-year-old Arsinoe fighting to establish new footing with her only confederates: her mentor and teacher Ganymedes and her friend Alexander. Arsinoe has found her voice—and convinced the new queen, her half-sister Berenice, to spare her life. She’s done so employing every rhetorical trick in the book; everything Ganymedes has taught her. On one level, Arsinoe realizes the stakes have changed: whatever authority her tutor has is now dwarfed by the power of her sister. But she can’t help herself; she still yearns for the comforts of her girlhood: the encouraging words of her teacher.

In many ways, Cleopatra’s Shadows is Arsinoe’s coming-of-age story, and so it’s appropriate that on page 69, we find her here: caught between Ganymedes castigating her for clinging to that rosy childhood world and Alexander tethering her to it with his fingers wrapped about her wrist.
Visit Emily Holleman's website.

Writers Read: Emily Holleman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"The Good Neighbor"

Amy Sue Nathan was born and raised in Philadelphia and is a graduate of Temple University with a Bachelor’s in Journalism (a degree she actually uses). She has called the Chicago area home since the late 1990s, and is the proud mom of two grown children (her favorite oxymoron). In addition to being a writer, editor, and blogger, she's a dog-lover, vegetarian, not-so-secret crafter, and lover of all things wine and chocolate.

Nathan's debut novel, The Glass Wives, was published by St. Martin’s Griffin in May 2013.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her second novel, The Good Neighbor, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Miss Mary Mack

My best ideas came when least expected—somewhat like colds and old boyfriends—so I postponed writing my next blog post. I logged onto Facebook instead, knowing that I’d lose myself in the grown-up faces of my childhood friends and the doppelgangers they showcased as their offspring. I answered a few quizzes that quantified my life. My accent was from Philadelphia. I most resembled the literary heroine Jane Eyre. I should live in Paris. I was 90% a foodie. I stopped before finding out who I’d been in a previous life. One life was enough for now, thank you very much.

I had nothing on my own Facebook page except a profile picture from an excellent hair day and a bevy of last year’s birthday wishes. The last comment on Rachel’s page had been entered three minutes before.

I tried not to notice the photo that flanked Rachel’s name at the top of her page. Head tilted, eyes looking up, hair full and pushed to one side. Like a Glamour Shot without the painted lips or feather boa. I cast down my gaze, embarrassed on Rachel’s behalf. Who was this Real Housewife of Rydal and what had she done with my herb-growing, ballet-loving cousin?
Page 69 marks the beginning of Chapter 8 in The Good Neighbor. Here we see the main character, Izzy Lane, as she discovers an online photo of her best friend Rachel and is surprised—no, alarmed. Knowing Izzy like I do, I’d say she had an inkling that no good was going to come of that photo.
Learn more about the book and author at Amy Sue Nathan's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Amy Sue Nathan & Mitzi and Lizzie.

My Book, The Movie: The Glass Wives.

The Page 69 Test: The Glass Wives.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 11, 2015

"Silver on the Road"

Laura Anne Gilman is the Nebula-nominated author of many pretty-damn-good-according-to-reviewers F/SF novels and short fiction. She also dips her pen into the mystery field, writing the Gin & Tonic series as L.A. Kornetsky.

Gilman applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Silver on the Road, and reported the following:
The setting: Isobel is a young woman who has been suddenly, unexpectedly, thrust into a position of authority - and then, in effect, kicked out to find her own way. In this scene, she’s just recently left the small, protected town that has been her home for most of her life, knowing that she has to represent her new position but aware she has neither the skills or knowledge required.
[The marshal was] judging, but not offensive; more like how Marie looked at someone who swore their silver was good, no need to test it, like you might be telling the truth but shouldn’t take her for such a fool to assume it. “Are you, now. And I’m presuming you have the papers to prove it?”

She bit the inside her of mouth and handed him the oilskin packet she had taken from her saddlebag. “I do.” What had she thought, that she would walk in and they would somehow know, would see it in her? She wasn’t the boss, so full of his own power, it spilled from him. She wasn’t even Marie, who’d soaked up enough of his easy ways that she could reflect it right back at you until you couldn’t imagine questioning her. She was ... green to the road, Gabriel had said.

Unproven. If this man had taken her at her word, he’d be a fool and unfit to carry the marshal’s badge and sigil.

He looked over the papers, careful, not just skimming the ink, then finally, after what seemed forever, held one up to the lamp to check the watermark. “New to the road, are you, then?”

“New to the road, but not the Territory,” she said, trying to pitch her voice like Marie’s, just sharp enough to deflect the teasing but not sound as though she were taking offense. He shuffled the papers back into the packet and stood. He was taller than she, and while his plain brown tab-collar shirt bore no insignia, she thought she would have known him for a marshal nonetheless.

“Welcome to the Junction, ma’am,” he said, handing her back the packet. “Any aid we can offer, please don’t you hesitate to request.”

He waited, and she nodded once, holding the packet under her arm, and turned and left the office.
This is a telling moment in Isobel’s personality, cluing the reader in, for the first time, what she is going to be facing, and showing us how she is going to handle it - ten percent bluster and confidence, and ninety percent shaking in her boots.

It also introduces us to one of the “competing” powers of the Territory, the marshals, and their ongoing uneasy (and yet collegial) relationship with the Devil’s Hand…

But what we don’t see here is Gabriel, the mentor who has been chosen for her, or the pervasive pressure of the magic around them - some of which she now carries within her, all unknowing. And that, in many ways, means that this page misses the true heart and thrust of the book.

Page 70, on the other hand…
Learn more about the book and author at Laura Anne Gilman's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Silver on the Road.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 9, 2015

"The Haunted Season"

G.M. Malliet is the author of the Max Tudor novels Wicked Autumn, A Fatal Winter, Pagan Spring, and A Demon Summer, all books shortlisted for the Agatha Award for best traditional mystery novel.

Mailliet applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Haunted Season, the fifth Max Tudor mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Duck race,” the lord said, ruminating as a catlike smile played at the corners of his mouth. “They’ve been doing that since I was a boy here at the Hall. The children enjoy it, and I suppose it does foster goodwill.” But he sighed deeply, as if the thought of all those happy children was more than he could be expected to bear.

Something in his manner added to Max’s impression of a man concerned with doing the right thing, but only if observed or certain to be lauded or rewarded for his selflessness. If unobserved, all bets would be off. Max was just following a mental thread to the surveillance cameras that had become ubiquitous in the UK—who could say how much they promoted good or better behavior in its citizens? It might make a fascinating addition to his current sermon—when Lord Baaden-Boomethistle interrupted his thoughts by saying, “I suppose we must not let the village children down.”

“It’s the village adults who would be more disappointed, I think you’d find,” said Max, “The villagers make small side bets on the ducks they’ve sponsored, have a drink or two—all in good fun. It generates goodwill and of course it’s a most effective means of fundraising. Does this mean you are willing to allow the use of your land, Lord Baaden-Boomethistle?”

There was a finely timed pause, the only sound in the room the ticking of a clock on the mantel and the distant roar of a lawn mower—Max could see out the window a man disappearing down a small knoll in the grounds, pushing the machine before him. Lord Baaden-Boomethistle said, “I simply don’t know.”
Page 69 (of the manuscript) has the Rev. Max Tudor dragooned into trying to soften up the local lord of the manor. The villagers want Lord Baaden-Boomethistle to allow access to his ancestral lands, helping to host the annual village duck race for charity. This is rather typical of the sort of situation in which Max finds himself--he is by nature and by inclination a peacemaker, he wants his villagers and the entire world to be happy. Why it so often leads to murder is something Max simply cannot fathom.
Visit G. M. Malliet's website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: A Fatal Winter.

Writers Read: G. M. Malliet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 8, 2015

"Booked for Trouble"

Eva Gates is the national bestselling author of the Lighthouse Library cozy series from Penguin Obsidian, set in a historic lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The first in the series is By Book or By Crook, and Booked for Trouble was released on Sept. 1st, 2015. Eva is the pen name of Vicki Delany, one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers.

The author applied the Page 69 Test to Booked for Trouble and reported the following:
From page 69:
Chapter 6

The cop guarding the entrance to the lighthouse lane flagged me down as I pulled off the highway. I had the top of the SLK down, and the officer recognized me. She greeted me with a low whistle. “Nice wheels.”


“How much do you make as a librarian, anyway?”

“Not enough to afford this car. It’s my mother’s. You know I live here, so can I go in?”

“Yeah.” She waved me through.

Police vehicles still filled the parking lot, but Karen’s Neon had been taken away. A woman clad head to foot in a white gown, booties, and cap climbed out of the back of a van as I drove up. I avoided glancing around the side of the lighthouse. I spared a thought for my jacket. Even if the police did return it, there was no way I would ever wear it again.

Bertie was at the circulation desk, working on the computer. She waved at me as I came in and pointed down the hallway. I could hear low voices and cabinet doors being opened. “What are they doing?” I asked.

This scene from Booked for Trouble gives a good indication of what type of book it is. Probably a mystery: all the police activity. Obviously, an amateur sleuth: the first person POV character is a librarian, and she avoids the police and their activities. She lives at the lighthouse and works in the library there. Something very significant has happened at the library, because the police are searching it, and forensic officers are coming and going. Someone’s car has been taken away. We are left wondering what happened to the character’s jacket and why she would never wear it again. It’s probably easy to guess!

So, from all the clues, you should be able to tell that this is a cozy mystery. Also, that it’s part of the Lighthouse Library series (which it is). Location is not mentioned, but if there is a lighthouse, we can assume it’s near water. Likely on the ocean, but could also be at one of the great lakes. (The series is set on the Outer Banks at the Bodie Island Lighthouse near Nags Head.)

The book has been written with a light touch, and this section gives a small glimpse of that as the cop admires the SLK. I hope a bit of the character’s humour comes through as she says she doesn’t earn enough to afford the car she’s driving. She is also pretty down-to-earth and practical. She makes no attempt to pretend the SLK is hers.

So, all in all, page 69 is a pretty good page for giving readers a taste of the book: the sub-genre, the personality of the main character, a hint at the location, and the overall tone.
Visit Eva Gates's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch. Visit Vicki Delany's website and look for the first in her Year Round Christmas series, Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen, from Berkley Prime Crime, on Nov. 3rd.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"No. 4 Imperial Lane"

Jonathan Weisman is a Washington-based economic policy reporter for the New York Times.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, No. 4 Imperial Lane, and reported the following:
As many readers and some reviewers have noted, No. 4 Imperial Lane is two books in one: a coming-of-age story of an American student abroad, learning to examine -- and embrace -- his tragic past in the employ of a fallen aristocrat-turned-quadriplegic, and a sweeping war story encompassing the collapse of Portugal's empire in Africa. That story is seen through the eyes of the fictional protagonist, Elizabeth Bromwell, but the events are real and many of the characters historical.

Page 69 captures the sweep of that historical fiction. It introduces readers to one such historical figure, Antonio Sebastiao Ribeiro de Spinola, here the newly appointed governor and commander of Portuguese forces in what is now Guinea-Bissau. His own evolution from colonial true believer to coup leader mirrors the disintegration of the Portuguese empire as well as the collapse of Elizabeth's marriage. It is an example of how I try to have the tightly focused stories of my characters reflect and feed off the historical events of their time.
Spinola flew in by helicopter and found himself in the interior of the province, in a colonial outpost in the town of Bafata -- and in utter disgust. The forces of flamboyant rebel leader Amilcar Cabral, the PAIGC, the African Party for the Independence of Guine and Cabo Varde, controlled half the country -- malarial mangrove swamps to the west, razor-sharp elephant grass hiding guerrillas in the east, with scorching, soaking heat all over its 36,125 square kilometers, not much bigger than the state of Maryland. But Spinola wasn't worried; he'd seen worse. In 1938 he had commanded a Portuguese contingent fighting on the side of Franco in the Spanish Civil War. He spat on the Lincoln Brigade, the Commune de Paris Battalion, the Internationals, the communists, all those idealists who had flooded Spain to fight for the Republicans. They knew nothing of the chaos and corruption that lay in the hearts of Iberian men when they lacked proper supervision and authority. The defeat of those pompous pretenders was one of his life's greatest pleasures. In 1941 he had the good fortune to study German cavalry techniques as the Nazis rolled eastward, unstoppable. He was an observer on the Nazi side as German artillery reduced Leningrad to rubble.

But damn if the Soviets didn't survive that.

If the Russians could walk out of Leningrad, we Portuguese can stand tall in the ultramar, he thought, as Soviet-made rockets thudded down from the east. It did not occur to him that the Russians had been defending the motherland, a different proposition than a bedraggled imperial army subduing Africans in three different parts of their continent. Nor would it. He, like any good Portuguese officer, was convinced Guine, Mozambique, and Angola were inseparable from the metropole. As far as he was concerned, he was defending the motherland.
This is the unrepentant Spinola, the man of war convinced he can subdue any man or any force, given enough resources. One of those resources is Elizabeth's new husband, the young conscripted doctor, Joao Goncalves. Through war, capture, escape, disillusionment, and his personal descent into violence, Joao sees the folly of Spinola's certitude. Spinola sees it too. Midway through the book, we see him authoring the true-life book "Portugal and the Future," which will badly undermine the fascist regime in Lisbon. By the end, Spinola has led the Carnation Revolution, overthrown the regime, and led the dismantlement of the empire that on page 69, he is determined to preserve -- by any means possible.

As a launch point for that historical drama -- one that most readers will know nothing about, page 69 works very well.
Follow Jonathan Weisman on Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: No. 4 Imperial Lane.

Writers Read: Jonathan Weisman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 5, 2015

"Chance Harbor"

Novelist, journalist and celebrity ghost writer Holly Robinson is the author of several books, including The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter: A Memoir and the novels The Wishing Hill, Beach Plum Island and Haven Lake. Her new novel is Chance Harbor. Robinson's articles and essays appear frequently in publications such as Cognoscenti, The Huffington Post, More, Parents, Redbook and dozens of other newspapers and magazines. She and her husband have five children and a stubborn Pekingese. They divide their time between Massachusetts and Prince Edward Island, and are crazy enough to be fixing up old houses one shingle at a time in both places.

Robinson applied the Page 69 Test to Chance Harbor and reported the following:
Readers skimming page 69 of my new novel, Chance Harbor, would be dropped smack in the middle of an emotional storm. The novel is told from three points of view: Catherine, who has a loving husband, a steady job, and a daughter she adopted when her sister disappeared; Eve, her mother, who is dealing with devastating memories of her own as she prepares to sell the family’s beach house on Prince Edward Island; and Willow, the teenager Catherine adopted when she was only ten, who is still mourning the disappearance of her mom—nobody knows whether she's dead or alive—and has questions about her father.

On page 69, Eve has just discovered that her daughter Catherine's husband, Russell, has not only been having an affair with one of the students at his tony prep school, but has gotten her pregnant. Her reaction is immediate and visceral:
Eve's sudden fury propelled her across the kitchen floor so fast that it felt like she'd flown across it, her feet not even touching the floor. She grabbed Russell's shirt collar and hauled him to his feet. He raised his arms in protest, then dropped them when he saw her expression.

“Get out,” she said, not shouting, but issuing the words in a way that made Russell flinch.
What I love about this scene is that it conveys a woman's profound love for her child, even though her child is an adult woman now, and makes it clear that no man is a match for a woman's need to protect her child. This scene also causes us to wonder what will happen to the characters beyond this page because they're all in such deep conflict. I hope that the tension here keeps readers turning pages to find out.
Learn more about the book and author at Holly Robinson's website and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Wishing Hill.

The Page 69 Test: Beach Plum Island.

Coffee with a Canine: Holly Robinson & Leo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 3, 2015

"The Fall"

James Preller is the author of the popular Jigsaw Jones mystery books, which have sold more than 10 million copies since 1998. He is also the author of Bystander, named a 2009 Junior Library Guild Selection, Six Innings, an ALA Notable Book, and Mighty Casey, his own twist on the classic poem, “Casey at the Bat.” In addition to writing full-time, Preller plays in a men’s hardball league and coaches Little League. He compares coaching kids to “trying to hold the attention of a herd of earthworms.”

Preller applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Fall, and reported the following:
The conceit for The Fall is that a boy, Sam, is writing in his journal. He’s reflecting upon the events of the past year, piecing together the narrative entry by entry, writing about events which led to the tragic death of his secret friend, Morgan. I write “secret” because that’s one of the book’s themes, one of identity, and of owning one’s own actions. The things we did and didn’t do. The footprint we make in the snow.

My editor at Macmillan, Liz Szabla, made the decision not to have the book over-designed; to my pleasure, the book is straight-forward. We didn’t jump through hoops to make it look like someone’s faux-journal. There is on some pages a fair amount of white space, and that’s the case in this instance.

On page 69, Sam basically fails to write. The page is nearly blank. He does write, “I need ... I need ... I need ... something.” There’s a bit more, but that’s essentially it for page 69: It conveys, I hope, Sam’s struggle and failure to write. The idea is that he’s promised himself to try to write in that journal each day, focusing on Morgan, for at least fifteen minutes. Some days are better than others, and on this day nothing comes easily for Sam. This page, this emotion, directly follows upon the events and feelings of the previous pages, so my intention is for the reader to “get” why Sam can’t write that day. Will the reader be curious enough to keep reading? I sure hope so. Part of the book’s appeal is in the format, it’s loose and easy, and it zips along at a swift pace. Some pages include poems and snippets; others offer more traditional, expository narratives. He tells the story in a variety of ways. There’s no reason to stop reading. The craft is in the slow accumulation of detail, the sedimentary layering of thoughts and feelings, as readers slowly learn more about Sam’s role in Morgan’s life and death. The things he did and didn’t do. His footprint in the snow.
Visit James Preller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 2, 2015

"Into the Valley"

Ruth Galm’s writing has appeared in the Kenyon Review Online, Indiana Review, and on Joyland: a hub for short fiction. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and has been a resident of the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming. She was born and raised in San Jose, California, spent time in New York City and Boston, and now lives in San Francisco.

Galm applied the Page 69 Test to Into the Valley, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
She brought her focus back to the river. It was low, barely grazing the middle of the levees, still and brown as earth.

She followed the walnut trees along the road until she got too close to the capital, then veered away from the river and back out into the fields.
I think in a wild way page 69, in its entirety above, says everything about Into the Valley as a whole. There is an in medias res quality, a blankness, a focus on the sensory, on landscape, a subtle portent running underneath. The prose is spare and restrained in what it reveals. We have many questions: who is this woman; where is she going (and why is “she” never named); why can’t she get too near the capital; why does she avoid the river when logic might say to follow it; what in the fields draws her back.

But we want to follow this woman. Because (hopefully) the questions compel us to watch her, to try and understand her, to see why for her the river feels stagnant, the walnut trees named, the impulse to “veer” the reflex instead of changing direction more gradually. Where will her focus land and her compulsions drive her next? I think the elements on this page hint at the larger story of Into the Valley and its preoccupations—escape, malaise, mystery, suspense, landscape as psyche, an unnamed woman with a desire to get to a new place. And the subtle portent running underneath: whether society will give room enough for this or any woman to reach this new place.
Visit Ruth Galm's website.

Writers Read: Ruth Galm.

--Marshal Zeringue