Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"The Fairest of Them All"

Cathy Maxwell spends hours in front of her computer pondering the question, "Why do people fall in love?" It remains for her the great mystery of life and the secret to happiness. She lives in beautiful Virginia with children, horses, dogs, and cats.

Maxwell applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Fairest of Them All, and reported the following:
The Fairest of Them All is about missed chances and making amends. As in every Romance novel, there are many types of love to be explored. Page 69 features the most poignant and the most complicated—familial love.

Over seventeen years ago, Lord Jack Whitridge disappeared from his bed at school. His family searched for him but could find no evidence to what had happened. They didn’t know if he’d runaway, had been kidnapped, or fallen to childish pranks or bad company.

Now Jack has returned home without any warning or obvious regrets about leaving, until he faces his mother. Marcella has mourned her son. He stands before her, whole and alive. What is a mother to do?

Siblings may hold grudges, outsiders may judge, but a mother has only one response:
“I had to see him again, to feel him. I needed to be certain I wasn’t dreaming.” She leaned close and Jack felt his arms go around her in the same manner that she had once hugged him when he was half his size.

His mother seemed impossibly small in his arms.

She drew a deep breath. “Yes, you are my Jack. You have the scent I always remembered about you.”

“What? Flowers and roses?” Gavin suggested.

“Dirty potatoes,” their mother answered, straightening and smiling up at Jack. “Welcome home, my son.”
Visit Cathy Maxwell's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Groom Says Yes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 29, 2016

"Beware That Girl"

Teresa Toten is the author of the acclaimed Blondes series, as well as The Game, The Onlyhouse, among other books. Toten has twice been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award. Born in Zagreb, Croatia, she arrived in Canada 13 days later, and now lives in Toronto.

Toten applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Beware That Girl, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Still, my next play had to be the files. I had to break into Kruger’s cabinet. I needed better intel on Olivia in order to bind her close and guarantee my sweet ride all the way to Yale.... That was the plan, but any good plan must allow for contingencies. A plan A needs a plan B, and a C, and in worst-case scenarios, a D.
That’s my character Kate who’s intending to break into school files to get information on the fabulous Olivia in order to bind Olivia to her. It’s indicative of Kate's street smarts and conniving. In alternating chapters, I have two lovely blonde girls, two friends, two protagonists and we have to beware of one of them—but which one? You think you know but then you don’t. It’s a dark, twisty story around the most complex relationship there is—female friendship and how far would you go to get what you want.
Visit Teresa Toten's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 27, 2016

"A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall"

Hannah Dennison is the author of The Vicky Hill Mysteries (Little, Brown) and the Honeychurch Hall Mysteries (Minotaur), both set in the wilds of the Devonshire countryside. Dennison originally moved to Los Angeles to pursue screenwriting. She has been an obituary reporter, antique dealer, private jet flight attendant and Hollywood story analyst. Now living in Portland, Oregon, she still continues to teach mystery writing workshops at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program in Los Angeles, California. Dennison has served on numerous judging committees for Mystery Writers of America and is serving on the MWA board for 2016-2018.

Although she spends most of her time in Oregon with her husband and two insane Vizsla dogs, Dennison’s heart remains in England. She is a passionate supporter of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the Historic Houses Association, and the National Trust. She enjoys all country pursuits, movies, theater and seriously good chocolate.

Dennison applied the Page 69 Test to her  new novel, A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It occurred to me that when I’d mentioned the name Bryan Laney, my mother had given no indication that she remembered him at all. If Mum had broken all the boys’ hearts across the countryside, maybe Bryan had just been one of her many suitors. Electra! I couldn’t wait to have that conversation with her.

“So you must have remembered the summer balls at the Hall?” I asked.

Bryan nodded, obviously still trying to take in the fact that my mother was close by.

“What about Pandora Haslam-Grimley,” I said. “She was American. Do you remember her?”

Bryan frowned. “I remember her alright,” he said darkly. “She was a friend of Lady Edith’s. Much older than us lads but she liked a bit of rough.”

“A what?” I exclaimed.

“Bit of rough.” Bryan winked at Eric. “You know, a bit of the other with the local lads. Course, I only had eyes for Iris and that drove Miss High-and-Mighty mad. She couldn’t stand Iris but then a lot of the girls here couldn’t stand Iris, either. They were a bit afraid of her.”

“Afraid of my mother?” I said with disbelief.

“Not only was she Electra, she was Madame Z—Madame Z’s Psychic Touch.” Bryan chuckled. “All the girls went to Iris to have their fortunes told.”

“Did Pandora?”

Bryan shrugged. “No idea. When Pandora wasn’t hanging about the stables she was messing around with the lads at the boxing emporium. I often wondered what happened to her, too.”

“She’s dead,” Eric said bluntly.

“That wouldn’t surprise me,” said Bryan. “She would have been pushing ninety by now.”

“Kat and I found her body in a priest hole,” said Eric.

Bryan’s jaw dropped. All the color drained out of his face, I thought he was going to pass out.
By luck this excerpt illustrates a crucial plot element and provides a vital clue to the murder. On page 69 we learn about the victim’s (Pandora) character, her taste in men and why she loathed Iris (Kat’s mother). We also wonder how involved Bryan Laney was in Pandora’s demise as well as discovering that he knew more about Iris’s past with the traveling fair and boxing emporium than Kat did.

One of the ongoing themes in the series is Kat realizing that her mother was not who she thought she was at all. Iris’s secret writing life as Krystalle Storm, the international bestselling author of racy romances, would appear to be just the tip of the iceberg.

The question is—was Iris capable of murder?

I’m afraid you’re going to have to read A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall to find out!
Visit Hannah Dennison's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Murder at Honeychurch Hall.

My Book, The Movie: Murder at Honeychurch Hall.

My Book, The Movie: Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall.

The Page 69 Test: Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall.

Writers Read: Hannah Dennison.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"Imagine Me Gone"

Adam Haslett is the author of the short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here, which was a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist, and the novel Union Atlantic, winner of the Lambda Literary Award and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize. His books have been translated into eighteen languages, and he has received the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin, the PEN/Malamud Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations.

Haslett applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Imagine Me Gone, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He shut the bedroom door to give Donna her privacy and then told me this gig was like nothing they'd ever done before."Bullshit," he called it. He's been bribing an officer to send telegrams to everyone in LA he can think of to try to get them airlifted out of here, but he suspects the messages are never sent. Donna apparently has a heart condition which is acting up. She was supposed to be in the studio five days ago, and her voice is at the breaking point. We talked a bit about Munich in the mid-seventies, the dilemma about whether to sign with Geffen, and how Donna wanted to move toward more of a rock sound on her next album. I wanted to tell him that they couldn't control what they'd started, that the beats would only get faster and the synth more gorgeous, but this seemed presumptuous. I was worried the door might open and Donna might appear and I would be ugly and dumbstruck. So eventually I excused myself, and hustled back down to our cabins on 5.

To be honest, Aunt Penny, I'm not sure what will become of us now. We thought it was bad when Dad got shackled to Jim Pottes two days ago, making sleeping awkward for everyone, and then Dad woke up with Jim's corpse locked to his ankle and wrist, dead with the Marburg that Mom presumably gave him. We lost half the morning cleaning up all that blood and mucus (except that little fidget-creature, Alec, who said he had a headache). I'd planned to do so much reading on this trip, and have got to practically none of it. In any case, at the rate the crew's expiring I guess they'll need someone to sail this puppy north again, so maybe I'll have a chance to catch up then."
As it happens, page 69 of Imagine Me Gone encapsulates one of the main tensions and (I hope) pleasures of the book, which is the absurdist juxtaposition and intermingling of parody and suffering in the character of Michael, the elder brother of the family that the book centers on. It's Michael's mental troubles, and the legacy of his father's depression that the other characters must contend with over the course of three decades. In this particular moment, Michael is writing a "letter" to his Aunt Penny from a ship on a transatlantic crossing on which Donna Summer is the main stage entertainment--all of it an elaborate fantasy. Here he finally gets to speak to her producer Giorgio Moroder, one of the father's of disco, with which he is obsessed, and commiserate about the disaster of the (imagined) trip they are on, the disastrousness of which becomes clear in the second paragraph, which further details the slave ship conditions that Michael is terrifying his aunt (and himself) by describing. This is how he functions in the book. He speaks through parody and elaborate exaggeration, which is a form of relief from the unrelenting quality of his anxiety. In my own family, that kind of laughter was a reprieve, and my hope is that it serves a similar role in the novel.
Visit Adam Haslett's website.

The Page 69 Test: Union Atlantic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters"

Margaret Dilloway has been a writer ever since she learned how to write. In high school she was a California Arts Scholar in creative writing and she won a National Council of Teachers of English writing award. She practiced writing in a variety of forms, such as being a theater critic and a contributing editor for two weekly newspapers, doing technical writing, and writing plays, before publishing three critically acclaimed books for adults: How to Be an American Housewife, The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, and Sisters of Heart and Snow. Her research for Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters included a trip to Japan and a samurai sword-fighting class. Dilloway lives in southern California with her husband, three children, and a goldendoodle named Gatsby.

Dilloway applied the Page 69 Test to Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters and reported the following:
From page 69:
His tan face is covered in red blotches, the way it gets when Peyton's trying hard not to cry, like the time his cheekbone was cracked by a stray fastball. I'm glad, because if Peyton starts crying, I will too, and I can't do that. I might not be able to stop.

"I promise. It's all right." Obachan's tone will not be argued with. She's so sure of herself that Peyton visibly relaxes.
This is where the action is actually really taking off, but you don't know what's about to happen. Xander's grandmother is giving them some important talismans for their adventure, and both Peyton and Xander are very scared at this point.
Learn more about the book and author at Margaret Dilloway's website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Margaret Dilloway and Gatsby.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 23, 2016

"Contrary Motion"

Andy Mozina is a professor of English at Kalamazoo College and the author of the short story collections The Women Were Leaving the Men, which won the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, and Quality Snacks, which was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Prize.

Mozina applied the Page 69 Test to Contrary Motion, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Turns out page 69 is a pretty representative slice of my novel. Matt, my protagonist, is a divorced harpist preparing for a symphony audition, and in this scene he discovers a problem with his instrument while practicing:
Within ten measures I notice a buzz in the sixth-octave C string. I have to pull on it hard to get the volume I need, but the harder I pull, the worse the buzz. I tune that string again, but that’s not the problem. I give the instrument a once-over, and sure enough, there’s a hairline crack in the short hump of wood that connects the neck to the top of the soundboard. It wasn’t noticeable just after I dropped the harp, and earlier this week, when I sometimes heard the slight tremors that herald a buzz, I had put off a careful reexamination. But now I see the crack exists. For their whole lives the neck and the soundboard have wanted to kiss, two thousand pounds of pressure pulling them together, and now they are a speck closer, and the bass string knows it.

“Shit,” I say.
Among other things, the novel dramatizes the day-to-day grind of artistic ambition, including dealing with this type of mechanical breakdown. The novel also explores connections between the artist’s personal and professional lives. Why did Matt drop his harp in the first place? After a night of bungled sex with his girlfriend, our hero drinks himself to sleep on his living room couch and thus does not hear his alarm going off in his bedroom, calling him to rise and head off to his Sunday morning brunch gig. Late for brunch, he rushes loading his harp into his station wagon—and drops it! Thus his dubious sexual performance is slyly (or not so slyly) linked to his wounded instrument. This reinforces the notion that the harpist’s instrument is an extension of his mind and body, a somewhat true and also dangerous idea that messes with Matt’s head. But this scene also acknowledges that the harp is a thing, a separate object, something that the musician must exert absolute control over in performance, yet, maddeningly, has a vulnerable life of its own. What’s not in this scene is Matt’s relationship with his daughter, which is a counterpoint to his relationship with his harp and the women to whom he’s attracted (his ex-wife and his girlfriend). Matt’s fraught bond with his harp and these women is contrasted with his more natural, if difficult in its own way, bond with his daughter.
Visit Andy Mozina's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 22, 2016

"Girl Against the Universe"

Paula Stokes writes stories about flawed characters with good hearts who sometimes make bad decisions. She’s the author of several YA novels, most recently Girl Against the Universe and Liars, Inc. Her writing has been translated into eleven foreign languages. Stokes loves kayaking, hiking, reading, and seeking out new adventures in faraway lands.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Girl Against the Universe and reported the following:
From page 69:
I turn to the section of my notebook where I record all of the unlucky happenings and their outcomes and jot down a basic description.

Sept 9th. Tennis courts. While playing a practice point, I hit Jordy Wheeler with a tennis ball.

No need to be overly descriptive. It’s not like I’ll ever forget that moment.

“Hey,” a familiar voice says.

I look up to find Jordy standing over me. He’s wearing track pants and a T-shirt and his hair is damp like he just got out of the shower. Quickly, I shut the notebook.

“Luck notebook,” he reads from the cover.

I silently curse at my twelve-year-old self for being so literal. Did I really have to write that on the outside?

“Did I see my name in that?” His lips twitch.


He kicks at the toe of my flip-flop with one of his giant feet. He’s wearing the latest Nike court shoes. They probably cost more than my racquet. “I think I did.”

“Well, you think wrong. It’s a project for math class.” I slip the notebook back into my purse. “Question. Are random people laughing at you today?”
I think this excerpt from page 69 is a fairly good representation of Girl Against the Universe. GATU is the story of a girl named Maguire who has been in several bad accidents where everyone but her was injured or killed. Because of this, Maguire has developed survivor’s guilt to the degree where she now feels cursed, like she’s bad luck to people around her.

This belief has led her to develop obsessive coping mechanisms, one of which is writing down all of the bad things that happen to people around her in the notebook we see here. Jordy is the book’s other main character, an eighteen-year-old tennis prodigy who Maguire meets outside of her therapist’s office and then later at tennis practice, where he helps out with the girls’ team.

I like that her notation about hitting Jordy makes it seem like that moment isn’t as straightforward as what she writes in her notebook. (It’s not.) Despite the fact she’s a very truthful character, I like that she lies to him here because it sets up the romantic tension that’s just beginning to form between the two of them. This page also highlights their differences in social standing, and by mentioning Maguire’s twelve-year-old self, it shows readers just how long she has been struggling with her issues.
Learn more about the book and author at Paula Stokes's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Girl Against the Universe is one of Dahlia Adler's top fifteen contemporary YA books that make fabulous valentines.

The Page 69 Test: The Art of Lainey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 21, 2016

"This Is My Brain on Boys"

Sarah Strohmeyer is a bestselling and award-winning novelist whose books include The Secrets of Lily Graves, How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True, Smart Girls Get What They Want, The Cinderella Pact (which became the Lifetime Original Movie Lying to Be Perfect), The Sleeping Beauty Proposal, The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives, Sweet Love, and the Bubbles mystery series.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, This Is My Brain on Boys, and reported the following:
Geesh. I don’t know. I usually give every book a 50-page test, though I gave Goldfinch more than that by far and still didn’t finish it. This Is My Brain on Boys is about how, despite our best efforts, really we are controlled by the chemicals in our brain. Love, attraction, heartbreak. All chemicals. But I think the twist is that we can control the chemicals in our own brains and, more importantly sometimes, the brains in others. In other words, it is actually possible to make someone fall in love. Those love potions of old weren’t so far off after all! So, for those interested in learning how to do that, they might want to stick around until the end.
Visit Sarah Strohmeyer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 20, 2016

"Saving Abby"

Steena Holmes lives in Calgary, Alberta, with her husband, three daughters, and two dogs. Her novels, including Finding Emma and Emma’s Secret, have sold more than one million copies, have appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists, won the National Excellence in Indie Award for Fiction, and are now published in the international market.

Holmes applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Saving Abby, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Saving Abby … while I re-read this page, I couldn’t stop smiling. If you follow me on Facebook, Instagram or even check in on my travel blog, you’ll understand why.
She wasn’t sure if she could keep the excitement out of her voice so she sent her mother a text instead.

Josh set a plate of cut fruit down on the table, and then not so discretely pushed the pages he’d been working on towards her.

Claire smiled. She got the hint.

John’s gift was creating unforgettable characters in the simplest of situations and having readers beg for more stories. Her passion was bringing those characters and situations to life through her illustrations. Before their Jack’s Adventure series, she’d been a sought-after illustrator, but now she only took on a few select clients.

Her favorite project, hands down, was when she was working on Jack’s story.

“So where are we today?” She looked through the pages and smiled.

Paris. Jack was racing after what he thought was a lost puppy, tearing through the winding streets of Saint-Germain while his mother was on a walking tour of chocolate shops.

She remembered that day so clearly, how Josh came up with the idea when they’d spotted a puppy after their own walking tour – a tour that entailed two stops at their favorite chocolatier.

“Of all the cities we visited, Paris is the one I felt we didn’t have enough time in,” Claire said before hiding a yawn with her hand.

“We’ll have to go back. Do you need to lie down again or think you can manage to stay up until past dinner?” There was a teasing tone in Josh’s voice and Claire knew he was greatly relieved to finally know the reason for her exhaustion.
I love Paris. It’s a city I’m always yearning to return to, a stop that I’m always attempting to add to my itinerary when I’m headed back to Europe. A few years ago I took a chocolate walking tour and loved it… there was this one chocolate shop we found that I’ll never forget – it had the best drinking chocolate I’ve ever tasted (even better than Angelina’s in Paris).

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to add in my love of traveling into Saving Abby and I hope readers will enjoy these small glimpses into my life as well!
Visit Steena Holmes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 19, 2016

"City of the Lost"

Kelley Armstrong graduated with a degree in psychology and then studied computer programming. Now she is a full-time writer and parent, and she lives with her husband and three children in rural Ontario, Canada.

Armstrong applied the Page 69 Test to City of the Lost, the first volume of the new Casey Duncan mystery series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
my path, so close I nearly ram into him. When I back up, he advances, uncomfortably close.

“Eric ...,” Anders says, his voice low.

“Did I give you an order, Detective?”

“Yes, but—”

“No buts. Either I gave you an order or I didn’t, and I don’t know how it works down south, but out here, you disobey an order, and you’ll find yourself in the cell until morning.”

Anders steps between us. He shoulders Dalton back, keeping an eye on him, much the way one might ease off a snarling dog.

“He’s kidding,” Anders says. “He’d only keep you in there until dinner hour.” A wry smile, and I’d like to think he’s kidding, but I get the feeling he’s not.

“I know you’ll want to come along,” Anders continues, “but you just got here. What we have out there is death by misadventure. Not homicide. Normally, that’d still be your gig. But let’s just hold off . We’ll bring the body back, and you can take it from there. Reasonable?”

I nod.

He looks at Dalton. “See how that’s done?” Then a mock whisper for me. “Reasonable isn’t really in Eric’s vocabulary. You’ll get used to it.”

The grin he shoots Dalton holds a note of exasperated affection, as if for a sometimes- difficult younger brother. Dalton only snorts and points at the back of the ATV.

“I thought I’d drive today, boss,” Anders says. “You hop on back.”

Dalton gets on the ATV and revs the engine.

“That means get on or I’m walking,” the deputy says to me. “Eric drives. Always.”

I nod. It’s not a tip about transportation. Employee relationships might be a little casual here, but Eric Dalton is in charge, and I’d best not forget it. Which is fine. That’s one reason I like being a cop. My brain understands paramilitary relationships, often better than normal ones.

Anders gives me directions to the station and then says, “Go directly there. Park out back and head in the rear door. Anyone flags
Sometimes the page 69 test works out well, and it did with this book. City of the Lost is a mystery set in a hidden town in the Yukon, where people go to disappear. The narrator, Casey Duncan, goes there when her past catches up with her. and it turns out her timing is perfect. As a homicide detective, she has no problem being admitted…because the town seems as if it may be in need of someone with her particular skills.

On page 69, she’s flown in with the sheriff, Eric Dalton. She’s literally just arrived and they’re met by the deputy, Will Anders, who reports that their “runner”—a resident who fled into the forest—has been found. Dead. Casey insists on going. Dalton refuses, and we get a bit of character work, seeing the interplay between Anders and Dalton, which tells Casey what she can expect in her new town.

Page 69 also give Casey—and the reader—a sense that law enforcement in Rockton may work a little differently. A place like this isn’t run by the rules one would find “down south” and if the sheriff wants to throw you in a cell for the crime of pissing him off, he can do that. Which may suggest that while this is a contemporary mystery, there’s an air of the Wild West about Rockton.
Visit Kelley Armstrong's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

"See Also Deception"

Larry D. Sweazy's novels include A Thousand Falling Crows, Escape from Hangtown, See Also Murder: A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery, Vengeance at Sundown, The Gila Wars, The Coyote Tracker, The Devil's Bones, The Cougar's Prey, The Badger's Revenge, The Scorpion Trail, and The Rattlesnake Season. He won the WWA (Western Writers of America) Spur award for Best Short Fiction in 2005 and for Best Paperback Original in 2013. He also won the 2011 and 2012 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction for books the Josiah Wolfe series. He was nominated for a Derringer award in 2007 (for the short story "See Also Murder"), and was a finalist in the Best Books of Indiana literary competition in 2010. Sweazy was awarded the Best Books in Indiana in 2011 for The Scorpion Trail. And in 2013, he received the inaugural Elmer Kelton Fiction Book of the Year for The Coyote Tracker, presented by the AWA (Academy of Western Artists). Sweazy has published over sixty nonfiction articles and short stories, which have appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine; The Adventure of the Missing Detective: And 25 of the Year's Finest Crime and Mystery Stories!; Boys' Life; Hardboiled; Amazon Shorts, and several other publications and anthologies.

Sweazy applied the Page 69 Test to See Also Deception, his new Marjorie Trumaine Mystery, and reported the following:
On page 69, Marjorie finds the invasive plant, musk thistle, on her own land. She is on her way home from her first visit in town after learning that Calla Eltmore committed suicide. Musk thistle is the plant that sent her to phone the library to see if it was an perennial or biennial plant for the index she was writing. When no one answered, Marjorie knew something was wrong. While this incident isn’t deeply representative of the rest of the book, it does represent the essence of Marjorie’s character. She is curious to a fault. Her curiosity leads her to ask questions that may in the end be uncomfortable—or dangerous—for her. It is this trait that propels Marjorie forward to investigate Calla’s death on her own. Marjorie couldn’t believe that Calla was capable of killing herself, and she sought out the answers when no one in the position of authority would help her find the truth. The musk thistle, considered a weed, blended in with the rest of the thistles, hiding in plain sight, just like the answers—and the killer—that Marjorie was intent on seeking out.
Learn more about the book and author at Larry D. Sweazy's website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Larry D. Sweazy & Brodi and Sunny (April 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

"My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights"

Brooks Benjamin lives in Tennessee with his wife and their incredibly spoiled dog.

Benjamin applied the Page 69 Test to My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights, his first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
When the team met after school for the first practice of the season, everyone huddled in their usual groups. First string all together, talking and laughing. Second string doing the same thing.

And the blue team. My team. We just sort of stood around, looking at each other like we weren't really sure why we were even there.

"All right, men," Coach Bear said, waving us into one big group. He crossed his arms. They were so hairy it made his gut look like it had a unibrow. He dragged one hand down his mustache and sighed. "Thursday's our first game. Pine Ridge Middle."

Coach Donnelly nodded. "Gotta watch their backfield." He was basically a miniature version of Coach Bear.

"Yep. We're five and oh against 'em but that don't mean we ain't gonna go out there and play like we're oh and five, right?"

The team grunted out a round of cheers.

Coach Bear pulled his baseball cap down. I wasn't sure how he ever saw with it covering ninety percent of his eyes. "That's what I wanna hear! We're gonna go undefeated, boys. I ain't gonna accept a loss. Not with the offense we got this year."

More cheers. Grunts.

"You know my favorite saying. Second place is the first loser. We gonna come in second Thursday?"

After a loud round of NOs, we took off for our warm-up jog.
My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights is, at its core, a book about discovering what you're passionate about. For Dillon, it's dance. But he's currently getting nudged into football by his dad. So this scene dumps us right at the beginning of the team's first practice. We see the team, the coach, and the concept of football through Dillon's eyes for the very first time. I love how this scene follows one where Dillon and his dance crew, the Dizzee Freekz, practice a new routine because you get to see a clear difference in how he perceives the two activities. Another reason I enjoy this scene is because it's the first of many where Dillon's on the field. And the more we see Dillon dancing and practicing, the more we're able to see how each changes in his own mind. I won't say whether the changes are positive or negative ones, but they definitely don't stay the same.
Visit Brooks Benjamin's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Brooks Benjamin & LeeLoo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 16, 2016

"A Fierce and Subtle Poison"

Samantha Mabry was born four days before the death of John Lennon. She grew up in Dallas, playing bass guitar along to vinyl records in her bedroom after school, writing fan letters to rock stars, doodling song lyrics into notebooks, and reading big, big books.

Mabry applied the Page 69 Test to A Fierce and Subtle Poison, her debut novel, and reported the following:
The very last line on page 69 of A Fierce and Subtle Poison belongs to a teenage boy named Ruben. While a little tipsy, he brings up the well-known fact that his friend, the main character of the novel Lucas Knight, has no mother. This sets Lucas off (a bit of a tussle ensues), but at this point in the book readers don’t really know the specific circumstances of that absent mother or how her absence truly affects her son.

It’s later revealed that Lucas’s mom (who has no name) is in fact one of several girls and women in the story who, while having disappeared (in whatever way that happens), leave a mark. I am interested in this: the way in which absent women and girls shape the men and boys in their life. And conversely, I’m interested in the stories that get made up about those girls and women, how they function in imagination and memory, how they lose their physicality and become something else, for better or worse…usually worse. I am interested in how women and girls become inflated in the mind, and how they are demonized, mythologized, and are turned into heroes, villains, and saviors. As for the marks they leave, they can take many forms: from a there-and-gone whisper against an ear to a deep scratch the length of a spine that will lead to a wicked scar.
Visit Samantha Mabry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Stacey Berg is a medical researcher who writes speculative fiction. Her work as a physician-scientist provides the inspiration for many of her stories. She lives in Houston and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas. When she’s not writing, she practices kung fu and runs half marathons.

Berg applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel Dissension, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Up so close, the glow of the spire washed half the familiar stars away. If she were in the desert, she would see a long tail spiraling off that constellation there, and the dim red eye that blinked over the horizon at this time of year just there, but from here even her sensitive vision could make out almost none of those familiar patterns. It was enough, even so, to bring those desert camps to her in detail, from the taste of the smoke in her throat, pungent and resiny, to the small hissing creaks the rocks made as they cooled in the night, to the way, trapped once by a pack of canids, she had lain with a pebble pressed painfully into her thigh for long hours when she dared not move.

She wondered if the Saint had a thread of thought for her.

After a while she let her forehead drop on her drawn-up knees and closed her eyes.

Her attention snapped back to the yard when the lights abruptly came on.

It wasn’t unusual for young hunters to be out at this hour; they might have had an exercise or some practice they had come up with on their own, or maybe tonight they just couldn’t sleep either and had decided to get an early start on their day. What was unusual was to see a motionless figure on the ground, another kneeling beside it, and two more girls standing very, very still above them.
Dissension takes place in a world where the Church, with its cloned Saint, leads the remnants of humanity as they struggle for survival in the last inhabited city. Echo Hunter 367 is exactly what the Church created her to be: loyal, obedient, lethal; unable to care about anything but the duty the Church created her to fulfill. But by page 69, Echo is having a crisis of the conscience she’s not supposed to possess. This page gives us a sense of Echo’s isolation: the dimness of the familiar stars, the remembered pain and danger of the desert. The detailed physicality of her memories tells us something about her hunter nature. Although this passage does not emphasize the science fiction aspect of the story, we get hints from the comment about Echo’s particularly sensitive vision, the mention of canids, and the idea of a thinking Saint.

This page directly addresses one of the story’s most important themes, Echo’s loneliness and uncertainty as revealed in her thoughts about the Saint. And even though this is a quiet passage, it propels the story’s key events, as the ominous discovery of the still figure on the ground triggers murder, exile, and Echo’s search for the truth about herself and her world.
Visit Stacey Berg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 13, 2016

"Wilde Lake"

Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working full-time and published seven books about “accidental PI” Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001.

Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards.

She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity.

Lippman grew up in Baltimore and attended city schools through ninth grade. After graduating from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., she attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Lippman applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Wilde Lake, and reported the following:
The scene on page 69 of Wilde Lake is a little worker bee, something required to carry plot. The protagonist, Lu Brant, a state's prosecutor, is observing the first interrogation of a homeless man arrested for a murder. But a line at the bottom jumps out at me. Lu, noticing how the accused man whispers in the ear of his public defender, remembers how her twins "used to confide 'secrets' to her in tandem, a hot, damp mouth pressed to each ear, words tumbling out."

I've had the good fortune to work with one editor, Carrie Feron, my entire career. One of the things she requested in Wilde Lake was a little more information about Lu as a mom. Now I had very good reasons for not putting too much of Lu's family life into the novel, but when you've worked happily with someone almost 20 years, it's natural to respect that person's input. However -- tiny, subtle changes can get the job done. So instead of writing some big, seminal scene with Lu and her kids, I looked for opportunities to show how they were always on her mind.
Visit Laura Lippman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 12, 2016

"Rare Objects"

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Kathleen Tessaro attended the University of Pittsburgh before entering the drama program of Carnegie Mellon University. In the middle of her sophomore year, she went to study in London for three months and stayed for the next twenty-three years. She began writing at the suggestion of a friend and was an early member of the Wimpole Street Writer’s Workshop. Her debut novel, Elegance, became a bestseller in hardback and paperback. All of Tessaro's novels (Innocence, The Flirt, The Debutante, The Perfume Collector, and most recently, Rare Objects) have been translated into many languages and sold all over the world. She returned to Pittsburgh in 2009, where she now lives with her husband and son.

Tessaro applied the Page 69 Test to Rare Objects and reported the following:
Page 69 in Rare Objects is part of a conversation the main character, Maeve Fanning, is having with Mr. Kessler, who owns the exclusive antiquities shop where she's just been hired. Mr. Kessler is discussing why people collect things, whether it's out of nostalgia, a desire to prove their wealth and sophistication, because they genuinely value the craftsmanship of the object or even out of sheer obsession. Maeve thinks only the wealthy can afford to collect but Mr. Kessler points out that even she is a collector: as a child she hoarded shiny gold chocolate bar wrappers and used movie stubs in an old cigar box she hid under her bed - tokens of the life she one day wanted to be able to afford - a chocolate-eating-movie-going life, far removed from her own impoverished background. In the novel, all the characters are collectors of sorts; gathering the trappings of the people they want to be. It's a tale of life in Boston at the height of the Depression, the contrast between the struggling immigrant class and the impenetrable Boston Brahmins and a young woman trying to climb out of her circumstances towards a better life. It's also a slice of the American Dream and so naturally, most everyone is a fraud of sorts. And ultimately it's about discovering an identity that's true within that struggle, smack in the middle of all that falsehood.
Learn more about the book and author at Kathleen Tessaro's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Perfume Collector.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"The Incident on the Bridge"

Laura Rhoton McNeal holds an MA in fiction writing from Syracuse University and has worked as a freelance journalist, a crime writer, and a high school English teacher. She is the author of Dark Water, a finalist for the National Book Award. She and her husband, Tom, are the authors of Crooked, Zipped, Crushed, and The Decoding of Lana Morris.

McNeal applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Incident on the Bridge, and reported the following:
Page 69 is the last page of an expository scene in which Fen Harris, who has just moved to Coronado, takes a sailing lesson. Fen has no knowledge of sailing terms, but his uncle has signed him up for a private class with an Olympic-level coach and has implied that Fen has some experience with boats. I don’t think this would be the best place for a reader to pop into the narrative, but it does contain kernels of Fen’s predicament as a newcomer. I was keenly aware, as I was writing about Fen’s sailing lesson, of how hard it is both to learn a new skill—I’ve taken sailing lessons myself, to mortifying effect--and to keep your dignity when you’re bad at something. You can learn everything you need to know about the pain of growing up by watching an adolescent try a new sport in front of his or her peers.
Visit Laura McNeal's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


T.R. Ragan (Theresa Ragan) is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Her exciting Lizzy Gardner series (Abducted, Dead Weight, A Dark Mind, Obsessed, Almost Dead, and Evil Never Dies) has received tremendous praise. In August 2015 Evil Never Dies hit #7 on the Wall Street Journal bestselling list.

Ragan applied the Page 69 Test to Furious, the first book in her Faith McMann series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Miranda pulled her gaze from Adele and looked at Mother, who had taken some time to do her hair and makeup. Her faded brown strands had been swept to the back of her head, then rolled and pinned. Lots of stray flyaway hairs stuck out every which way, but no one dared point that out or look at her for too long. With her hair pulled back away from her face, it was plain to see that Mother might have been considered pretty in her younger days. Nobody knew how old she was. Jasper once guessed her age to be thirty-five, but there was no way—forty-five minimum, Miranda figured. She did have high cheekbones, and every once in a while, like now, there was a brightness to her light-colored eyes that made her look younger. She’d exchanged her tattered blue jeans and faded gray T-shirt for a flowery print dress and a blue sweater with sleeves that stopped just above her elbows. If she’d resisted applying the powder-blue eye shadow and false lashes, she might look less like the street hookers Miranda used to see hanging out on Watt Avenue and more like one of the school moms at the market.

“I’ve got a surprise,” Mother said, her gaze sweeping over each and every one of them. “We have a very important guest today. He’s driven a long way, so I need you all to be on your best behavior. Mr. Smith has only a few minutes to make a decision before he leaves for San Francisco. A week from now, the girl who is chosen will get to spend time with Mr. Smith at a luxury hotel in San Francisco. You will be treated like a princess. Pampered and served whatever your heart desires. But . . . if you misbehave, even so much as frown, there will be consequences. Severe consequences. Do you understand?”

Every girl nodded in unison.

Mother forced a grin as she pointed at both sides of her mouth. “See this smile on my face?”

Again they all nodded.
The “Mother” character on page 69 of Furious represents the evils of human trafficking, and the selling of a lie. Human trafficking is all about manipulation and money. That this woman forces young girls who have been taken against their will to call her Mother, is more than disturbing. Faith McMann, the protagonist, is a mother herself.

The Faith McMann trilogy takes readers on a wild journey as Faith, family, and friends traverse their way through the horrible and gritty world of trafficking. The people they’re up against are ruthless. But they’re about to learn that nothing is more dangerous than a mother fighting for her children—especially one who’s earned the nickname Furious.
Visit T.R. Ragan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 8, 2016

"The Queen's Poisoner"

Jeff Wheeler took an early retirement from his career at Intel in 2014 to become a full-time author. He is, most importantly, a husband and father, a devout member of his church, and is occasionally spotted roaming hills with oak trees and granite boulders in California or in any number of the state's majestic redwood groves. He is also one of the founders of Deep Magic: the E-zine of Clean Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Wheeler applied the Page 69 Test to The Queen's Poisoner, book one in The Kingfountain Series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Come here, boy,” the queen mother said to Owen, her voice soft but urgent.

Owen’s legs were shaking violently, but he managed to close the gap separating him from the queen mother as the burly man continued his approach. The cap was off Ratcliffe’s head, crushed in his fist, and his balding dome looked moist with sweat. He was livid but also flushed with relief to have found Owen.

“There—you—are—young—man!” he barked angrily in a clipped tone. He closed the distance with several long strides, attracting the gaze of everyone in the room, which made Owen cower against the queen mother’s gown. She put her hand on his shoulder and he saw the glittering jewel of the coronation ring on her hand.

“This is supposed to be a quiet sanctuary, Ratcliffe,” the queen mother chastised. “Please ... you will offend the Fountain. Lower your voice.”

His teeth gnashed in fury. “I should have known he would seek refuge here!”

“What are you raving about?” she answered patiently. “This boy? I have never seen him before in my life. Who is he?”

“Owen Kiskaddon,” Ratcliffe snarled. “The king’s hostage.”

The queen laughed lightly. “Ah, your anger makes sense now. I was beginning to think you had lost your wits. You think I summoned him here?”

“He is standing before you, isn’t he?” Ratcliffe said, raising his voice. “How did you manage it, Lizzy? I truly wish to know.”

Owen could tell that the name he used was meant as an insult by the way she bridled her reaction.

“Obviously the Fountain led the boy here, Ratcliffe. I heard he was in the palace, of course, but I did not bring him here. We had not even met until just a moment ago. But I will remind you, sir, that he has the protection of sanctuary and you cannot force him to leave. Severn wouldn’t dare violate it, not after all he has done!”
I had not heard about this "test" before, and I was curious to see how my new novel The Queen’s Poisoner would stand up. Thankfully, I think it stands up very well and shows in just a few short paragraphs the main tension of the story. Eight year-old Owen Kiskaddon is a hostage to King Severn and his life is forfeit if his parents act against the king again. Owen has been traumatized by the change of circumstances in his life and has tried to take matters into his own hands by fleeing the palace to the Sanctuary of Our Lady. Even a child can gain protection being there and cannot forced to leave. My master’s thesis in college was on medieval sanctuary practices, so the topic has been intrinsically interesting to me for years. This scene is important to the story because it’s the first time the reader gets a first-hand demonstration of the magic of this world, magic that is only possessed by those who are Fountain-blessed. Of course, it requires turning to page 70 to see that part, but I like how the tension of the story is represented by this sample when the king’s spymaster, Ratcliffe, confronts Owen at Our Lady just before King Severn arrives.
Visit Jeff Wheeler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 7, 2016

"A Front Page Affair"

Radha Vatsal is a writer based in New York City. She was born in Mumbai, India and has a Ph.D. from the English Department at Duke University.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, A Front Page Affair, and reported the following:
When I heard about this post I was quite eager to see what was on Page 69 of A Front Page Affair. I hadn’t received finished copies and I think I had every author’s worst nightmare that I opened the book to page 69 and found someone else’s words there. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Page 69 features a conversation between the novel’s protagonist, nineteen year-old Capability “Kitty” Weeks, and her father, Julian Weeks. They discuss the fate of the man who shot J.P. Morgan on July 3rd, 1915—a real historical incident that takes place right before the story begins.

It turns out that Morgan’s attacker committed suicide while in jail. The man had a history of mental problems, and Kitty tells her father that the papers reported that he had tried to kill himself earlier that week “by digging into his wrist with a jagged blade he made from the mental eraser holder of the pencil.” She goes on to say that the constable in charge walked away from the jail cell for a few minutes. And Julian Weeks asks, “Why did the constable walk away, Capability? That’s the real question.”

It’s a significant moment because it forces Kitty to think about the very real political forces at play in the country. When he was arrested, Morgan’s attacker had been found carrying a press clipping announcing the Morgan Bank’s recent flotation of a hundred-million-dollar war bond on behalf of the British government. In 1915, the US was neutral and wasn’t taking sides in the war between Germany and Britain. Thinking about Morgan’s attacker is Kitty’s first realization that things might not be as uncomplicated as they appear on the surface.
Visit Radha Vatsal's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 5, 2016

"And After the Fire"

Lauren Belfer's debut novel, City of Light, was a New York Times bestseller, as well as a number one Book Sense pick, a Barnes & Noble Discover Award nominee, a New York Times Notable Book, a Library Journal Best Book, and a Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. City of Light was a bestseller in Great Britain and has been translated into six languages. Her second novel, A Fierce Radiance, was named a Washington Post Best Novel of 2010 and an NPR Best Mystery of 2010.

Belfer applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, And After the Fire, and reported the following:
When I found this page in the finished edition of And After the Fire, I was surprised to realize how many of the book’s themes are presented here.

Page 69 marks the beginning of Chapter 8. Susanna Kessler, my lead character in the book’s present-day story, has recently inherited a mysterious musical manuscript that appears to be signed by Johann Sebastian Bach. She knows nothing about it, or about Bach’s music. She’s sought out the help of a scholar, Daniel Erhardt, a musicologist who specializes in the work of Bach. As Chapter 8 begins, she’s traveled by train to the college where he teaches, in the fictional Granville, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, to show him the manuscript. This will be her first in-depth talk with the man who will become a pivotal figure in her life. They are both recovering from devastating traumas, and they will circle each other as they attempt to regain their personal equilibrium.

While on the train, Susanna has been listening to a Bach’s Greatest Hits collection she downloaded. She experiences a “buoyant charge of energy” from the music. When she finishes listening, she “hears the music still playing in her mind, its patterns spinning onward.”

I listened to the music of Bach obsessively while I worked on And After the Fire, and Susanna’s experience of Bach’s music is (perhaps not surprisingly!) an excellent description of my own … the lift of energy, the patterns and complexities spinning onward in my mind long after the music itself has ceased.
Learn more about the book and author at Lauren Belfer's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Fierce Radiance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

"Broken Ground"

Karen Halvorsen Schreck is the author of the historical novel Sing For Me, which was praised in a Publishers Weekly starred review. She received her doctorate in English and Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and now teaches writing and literature.

Halvorsen Schreck applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Broken Ground, and reported the following:
This is the first time I’ve taken the Page 69 Test, and, lo and behold, it could be read as a distillation of my novel, Broken Ground. The book is divided into three parts. Page 69 reminds readers of the central conflict in Part I, launches us into Part Two, and alludes to the developments in Part III.
I head toward the platform, intent on locating what’s left of my previous life. I’m almost there when one of the officials spots me. He rushes over, blocks my way. “What do you think you’re doing, Miss?”

Mrs., I almost say. Or ma’am, if you prefer. But then I remember what I want and consider my best plan: to make him a certain ally. I smile at the man. Beneath the brim of his snappy hat, his features reveals themselves as those I’ve come to think of as particularly Californian, handsome yet, generic, like the Hollywood stars I’ve seen on cinema posters throughout the years. His face has the broad appeal of warm, buttered bread or vanilla ice cream, deliciously palatable, easily digested. Still smiling but suddenly aware of my disheveled state, I pass my hands over my hair, gone so lank from the long trip that the ends brush my shoulders.

“My suitcase might be on that train,” I say. “I need to find it.”

“Well.” The man flashes what I suppose is his winning smile. “See, there’s government work going on here. Can’t let you interrupt that . . . I’ll rustle up your suitcase for you if it’s there. But we got to get these people on board that train.”
In Part I of Broken Ground, the central character, Ruth Warren, is devastated by the loss of her husband in an oilrig accident. At the height of her grief, she leaves Texas and returns to Oklahoma to live with her parents. She is enmeshed again in the constraints of her childhood. But a forgotten opportunity arises: a scholarship to attend college in Pasadena, California. On page 69, Ruth has just arrived in Pasadena, only to find that her suitcase, which holds the little bit she has left of her married life, is lost. Is Ruth a grieving widow? A young college student? She’s both, but the two identities are by no means fitting neatly, hand in glove. In Part II of the novel, Ruth will struggle to define herself anew.

In this scene, Ruth also gets her first glimpse of events that will drive Part III of Broken Ground: the deportation without due process of between one and two million people of Mexican heritage, 60% of whom were U.S. citizens, and known as the Repatriation Program of the 1930s. On page 69, Ruth thinks only of herself. By the end of Part III, her perspective on suffering will be much more expansive.
Visit Karen Halvorsen Schreck's website.

My Book, The Movie: Broken Ground.

Writers Read: Karen Halvorsen Schreck.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

"That Darkness"

New York Times bestselling author Lisa Black is the author of seven novels in the Theresa MacLean mystery series and two novels written as Elizabeth Becka. As a forensic scientist at the Cuyahoga County Coroner's Office, she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she is a latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department in Florida, working mostly with fingerprints and crime scenes.

Black applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, That Darkness, and reported the following:
That Darkness is about a serial killer named Jack Renner and the forensic specialist who picks up his trail, Maggie Gardiner. Jack is a vigilante—he kills the worst of the worst, the criminals who have eluded conviction before and, he believes, will do so again. But he is not a Paul Kersey or a Dexter-type killer. He gets no pleasure from killing and works to make it as quick and painless as possible. He knows that criminals are usually a product of harsh circumstances. He doesn’t blame them any more than you would blame a rabid dog for having been bitten by an infected raccoon—knowing that all the same, the responsible thing to do is put it down.

Jack takes that responsibility seriously. He executes that responsibility with impartiality and, as much as he can manage, compassion. There is no reason to be cruel, to force the targets to die in dread and shame. He prefers instead to make them as comfortable as possible, ply them with any food or drink they desire, listen to their various takes on self-justification and then execute them without warning, without allowing time for fear. And this is what he is doing on page 69.

Jack is talking with Viktor, a cog in the international sex slave industry. The page gives insight into Viktor’s deprived and violent background as well as why, despite providing plotlines for countless B movies, wealthy college co-eds are not kidnapped by slavery rings. Why would thugs want to call attention to themselves when there are countries full of poor young girls who will voluntarily leap at any chance to escape their local cesspool? Viktor explains all this, as if his own depravity is only a natural outcome of the world’s circumstances, and Jack lets him talk until the man is as relaxed as he has probably ever been in his life. Viktor believes he has found a kindred spirit…but of course he has only sealed his own doom.

Maggie does not appear in this section, but she is there, waiting. She knows he exists, but even though she has the weight of the police department behind her Maggie has her own reasons for needing to tread lightly and carefully, keeping things to herself until she has an airtight structure, following fibers and footprints right up to Jack’s door. And what will happen then shatters the world of everyone in the book—especially Jack.
Visit Lisa Black's website.

Writers Read: Lisa Black.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 2, 2016

"The Art of Not Breathing"

Sarah Alexander lives in London with her husband, two chickens and an imaginary cat called H.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Art of Not Breathing, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
COLIN: What did one tide say to the other tide?

CELIA: I don’t know, what did one tide say to the other?

COLIN: Nothing, it just waved.
Page 69 of The Art of Not Breathing falls on one of the chapter breaks which give space to a series of ocean jokes. The jokes included at these breaks are from Eddie’s joke book and the pages feature other characters telling the jokes to each other. They are a way of keeping Eddie at the forefront of the story as well as pointing to each character’s own story. This particular joke perfectly captures the mood of the book because it’s about not communicating – the issue at the heart of the novel. Each character deals very privately with their loss, to the point of not ever talking about their pain, or much else. They have become bystanders in each other’s lives.

The joke also hints at the watery theme of the book – the ocean is what has torn the Main family apart – it represents fear, loss and the unknown – but it’s also what brings them back together. Elsie, the teenage protagonist in the book discovers the beauty of the undersea world and, through it, starts to live again. Throughout the story, Elsie remembers Eddie’s jokes and they are a part of him that she can hang on to.
Visit Sarah Alexander's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 1, 2016

"New Charity Blues"

Camille Griep lives just north of Seattle with her partner, Adam, and their dog Dutch(ess). Born in Billings, Montana, she moved to Southern California to attend Claremont McKenna College, graduating with a dual degree in Biology and Literature.

She has since sold short fiction and creative nonfiction to dozens of online and print magazines. She is the editor of Easy Street and is a senior editor at The Lascaux Review. Letters to Zell is her first novel.

Griep applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, New Charity Blues, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I choose my words carefully. “I want to understand the Blessing. But I want to understand, even before that, if the Spirit really ... I mean, why we didn’t get sick.”

Almost in unison the three of them shove their sleeves up. A faint blue dot pulses on the insides of their biceps. “This.”

“But I don’t have that,” I say.

Cas reaches for my arm. “May I?” I nod. She rolls up my sleeve and runs her thumb up the inside of my arm. It feels like normal pressure until she hits a spot that feels as if she’s gouging me with an icicle.

“Ouch!” I yank my arm out of her reach. But when I do, lo and behold, there is the same faint blue dot. “What did you do to me?”

“I didn’t do anything. You’ve always had it. It was the inoculation the Bishop gave when he first got here. Maybe you don’t remember. There was bird flu or something, and most of us took it.”

Nausea settles over me. “My mom didn’t.”

“I’m sorry,” Cas says. I wish she’d stop being sorry.

I heave my thoughts back to now. “How come it wasn’t glowing before?”

Len snorts. “Maybe you should’ve scrubbed a little harder in the shower this morning.”
New Charity Blues is a post-pandemic re-imagining of the Trojan War set in a contemporary American west. Cressyda (Syd) Turner has returned to her isolated hometown of New Charity under the guise of settling her late father’s affairs, but, quietly, she plots to open the town’s reservoir that will allow water to flow into the hydroelectric plant that powers Syd’s beloved City.

But even the best-laid revenge plots are rarely simple. On page 69, after an awkward dinner party, Syd convenes with her childhood best friends. The discomfort of the oddly formal evening follows them outdoors. Syd is at once beloved and outsider, friend and enemy. She carefully tries to explain that she is not only there to understand her father’s death, which has left her with only one living relative, but why her hometown has changed in so many ways.

When her friends point out the inoculation scars on their arms, glowing blue thanks to a large, magical ward of protection on the reservoir itself, Syd receives one of the first pieces of a puzzle that will reveal itself throughout the story. She’d barely noticed the scar in the City, but now that she’s near the ward, she too, sees and feels the influence of magic, of things being not what they seem.

This scene is a standoff of sorts, as well as a capitulation. Syd desperately wants and needs the help of her friends. They want to help, but need her to be careful, not just for her sake, but for theirs, as well. In this vignette we see trepidation, reticence, and caution, but we also see respect, love, and kindness between people whose friendship supersedes fear.

In this way, the scene is a perfect sample of New Charity Blues. It is a story of characters weighing all they have against all they’ve lost in the face of increasingly insurmountable odds, ever hopeful of a bright future together.
Visit Camille Griep's website.

The Page 69 Test: Letters to Zell.

Coffee with a Canine: Camille Griep and Dutchess Marie Siefker-Griep.

--Marshal Zeringue