Monday, September 25, 2017

"Crazed"

Jacob Stone is the byline chosen by award-winning author Dave Zeltserman for his new Morris Brick series of serial-killer thrillers. His crime, mystery and horror fiction has won top praise and has been translated into six languages.

His novels Small Crimes and Pariah were both named by the Washington Post as best books of the year. Small Crimes topped National Public Radio's list of best crime and mystery novels of 2008 and is being made into a feature film.

Stone applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel Crazed, the second Morris Black thriller, and reported the following:
Page 69 falls at the end of a chapter and only has 6 lines, so I'll make this a Page 68 test instead. Serial killer Griffin Bolling has traveled from Seattle to LA cutting a bloody path along the way. On page 68 he's alone with Sheila Proops, my wheelchair-bound serial killer from Deranged who escaped prosecution. Griffin has always killed in the shadows, and he has taken offense at the publicity Sheila has generated and he had traveled to LA to kill her. Now that he's alone with her, he's beginning to feel enough of an affinity to her that he plans to kill Sheila's caregiver when the woman returns before turning his attentions to Sheila so that Sheila can enjoy one final kill. But Sheila is able to convince Griffin that he had a very different reason for seeking her out. The twisted nature of this page, along with the hints of violence and suspense, make this highly representative of the rest of the book. I'd think a crime thriller reader would be hooked if they read this page.
Visit Dave Zeltserman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Deranged.

The Page 69 Test: Deranged.

My Book, The Movie: Crazed.

Writers Read: Jacob Stone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 23, 2017

"Magicians Impossible"

Brad Abraham is the author of Magicians Impossible, creator of the Mixtape comic book series, screenwriter of the films Fresh Meat and Stonehenge Apocalypse, writer on the television series The Canada Crew, Now You Know, I Love Mummy, and RoboCop Prime Directives, and a journalist whose work has appeared in Rue Morgue, Dreamwatch, Starburst, and Fangoria.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Magicians Impossible and reported the following:
Magicians Impossible is many things. It’s a fantasy, it’s a thriller, it’s a mystery. But at its heart it’s the story of someone who, for much of his life, felt he was unexceptional. Then he discovers he’s much more than that. Page 69 in the book is where Jason Bishop first finally gazes upon The Spire – the training facility for the Invisible Hand; a cabal of magic-wielding spies locked in a centuries-old conflict against forces of chaos and darkness. The Spire is is as much a physical representation of the difficult road that lies ahead for Jason Bishop, as it is an Escher-esque training facility.
Below them lay an immense arena, but calling it immense sold it short. On first glance he thought you could fit the old and new Yankee stadiums into it, and still have room for Storm King Mountain in the cheap seats. As Jason focused on one corner of the arena, the view seemed to get closer even though the room didn’t move; like everywhere he focused the viewing window magnified to see every last detail. To call the effect disorienting was as great a disservice as calling the arena immense.

On the ground, a large racing track surrounded a patch of green Astroturf that was covered with obstacles set up its length and around it. But the track seemed to undulate, looping in and around itself like the coils of a snake, and Jason felt dizzy just trying to figure out where it began and where it ended. Heavy-looking crates rested on the field and more floated in the air, stretching all the way up to the ceiling hundreds of feet above. There were people visible, too, all dressed in red-and-black training uniforms. He saw a girl leap gracefully onto the stack of crates and vanish in a puff of smoke. She reappeared midway up, balanced on one of the floating crates. She disappeared again, then reappeared again balanced on the edge of the highest one. She held there for a moment, peered over the edge, like a child contemplating the distance from the high board at the local pool. Then she stepped off, plummeting like a rock. Jason sucked air as she fell. Midway down, she disappeared in a thunderclap of smoke, and reappeared back on the ground, light as a feather.
What I like about this page and this sequence is how it gives Jason (and us) a sense of scale by comparison; a technique I return to throughout the book, especially when describing the fantastical world of the Invisible Hand. Describing it as something that would fit two baseball stadiums and a mountain and still have room left over gives the reader a sense of what he’s seeing. I wanted Magicians Impossible to move with a good amount of momentum, while still giving you a chance to envision everything in your head. This is especially important with The Spire, which comes into play in the climax in a big way.
Visit Brad Abraham's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Beyond Absolution"

Cora Harrison published twenty-six children's books before turning to adult novels with the "Mara" series of Celtic historical mysteries set in 16th century Ireland.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Beyond Absolution, the third book in the Reverend Mother Mystery Series, and reported the following:
By a piece of bad luck, page 69 in Beyond Absolution turns out to be the beginning of a chapter, chapter six, and so is a short page. And to add to its shortness, each chapter which deals with my main character, Reverend Mother Aquinas, opens with a quote in Latin from the works of her namesake Saint Thomas Aquinas – with English translation beneath it. The Reverend Mother is a great admirer of Thomas Aquinas and she finds support for many of her views on life and people from his pithy sayings, such as: ‘To bear with patience wrongs done to oneself is a mark of perfection; to bear with patience wrongs done to others is a mark of imperfection and even of sin’.

However, this page also brings in Dr Scher who is a favourite character of mine. An elderly man, descendent of a Jewish immigrant, he is humorous, compassionate, quick-thinking and attractive. On this page we hear him before we see him. He is joking with a new recruit to the novitiate. It would be a few minutes before he arrived at her room, she guessed. The girl was homesick and her tear-stained face would make him take trouble with her.

The Reverend Mother, also, turns her thought to this new recruit. She had promised to give the girl a month’s trial, but that was: Before she had heard that the girl had been seeing visions, just like Sister Bernadette at Lourdes and had imagined herself a nun in the making.

However the Reverend Mother hopes that soon the girl will see that that she is unhappy and will agree to go home for a few months and to think again about her vocation. She is worried about the child but tells herself that: ‘Judging by the giggles that greeted Dr Scher’s feeble jokes, she was tiring of the angelic and melancholic pose adopted when first admitted to the convent.’

So, the luck was against me with this page 69 as it is, if one counts the words, barely half a page. On the other hand, I am reasonably satisfied as I think two of the main people in the book, the Reverend Mother and Dr Scher, show their characters. Dr Scher his kindness, his liking for jokes, his interest in all whom he meets and the Reverend Mother, who also shows concern, displays her quick-witted, common-sense, her deep sense of responsibility for those in her convent and, perhaps above all, her wisdom.
Visit Cora Harrison's website.

My Book, The Movie: Cross of Vengeance.

My Book, The Movie: Beyond Absolution.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"The Devil's Cup"

Alys Clare lives in the English countryside, where her novels are set. She went to school in Tonbridge and later studied archaeology at the University of Kent.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Devil's Cup, and reported the following:
On page 69, Josse, his brother Yves and his son Geoffroi are on their way north from Kent to join King John and his army, reputed to be in East Anglia. Josse has been summoned by the King because they knew each other when they were young and Josse has always been faithful to the Crown, even when it’s on the head of someone as contrary, slippery and headstrong as John. Josse has been known to reflect that, despite John’s deep character flaws, he just can’t root out his affection for him. I’ve adopted Josse’s attitude, so that my version of King John presents a man who can be both ruthlessly cruel and totally unreasonable, yet also humorous, self-deprecating, wry and, to a very few, affectionate and loyal.

The page is representative of the book in that we have some of the main characters travelling through the land and intent on reaching their goal for a reason they consider very important; Josse has found an encampment where the standard flying is that of someone else loyal to the King, so it’s looking as if he’s going to be successful. As to whether a reader skimming through would read on, I can only say I hope so because there’s good stuff to come.
Learn more about The Devil's Cup at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 18, 2017

"Nyxia"

Scott Reintgen has spent his career as a teacher of English and creative writing in diverse urban communities in North Carolina. The hardest lesson he learned was that inspiration isn’t equally accessible for everyone. So he set out to write a novel for the front-row sleepers and back-row dreamers of his classrooms.

Reintgen applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Nyxia, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It’s only as we head back to our rooms at the end of the day that I realize the real significance of our win: it has me in first place. I remind myself there’s still a long way to go, but as I fall asleep that night, there’s a smile on my face. For the first time, I feel like I belong here, like I actually deserve to go to Eden. I know that when I wake up in the morning, I won’t just be content with the top eight.

I want to win.
To my great delight, Nyxia passes The Page 69 Test.

This brief section highlights what the entire story is about: Emmett’s entrance into an in-space competition that could change his life forever. One big question I wanted to ask in this book was, “What happens when you find your lottery ticket, but other people are reaching for it, too?” And more importantly, “How much of your humanity are you willing to let slip through your fingers in order to go home a king?” In this scene, Emmett’s clearly feeling positive about his chances of succeeding. But that feeling changes. He has highs and lows in the competition. Bones will break. Enemies will be made. And through all of it he will have the choice to fight hard or fight dirty.

There are two important pieces of the novel that are noticeably absent on this page, however: there’s no mention of nyxia, the substance Emmett’s being trained to use and the entire reason for their mission to the alien planet. Finally, we have no mention of the 9 other contestants that have boarded Genesis 11 alongside Emmett. These characters—and their varying friendships with Emmett—act as a strong centerpiece for the entire novel.

Still, I could read this excerpt and give someone the general idea of what’s happening in the story. So let’s call Nyxia a Page 69 Test success.
Visit Scott Reintgen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 16, 2017

"The Laird Takes a Bride"

Lisa Berne read her first Georgette Heyer book at fourteen, and was instantly captivated. Later, she was a graduate student, a teacher, and a grant writer — and is now an author of historical romance.

Berne applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Laird Takes a Bride, and reported the following:
My heroine, Fiona Douglass, has been forced to take part in a Bachelor-like situation, and is the only candidate who despises the very idea of it. At this particular interval in the story, she’s riding her horse away from an ancient monastery, to which she and a large party have traveled on a sightseeing jaunt. She’s mulling over the events of the day. At 27, she is, in 1811, very much in “old maid” territory, and wonders uneasily if jealousy motivated her, earlier, to engage in some sharp badinage with a much younger woman.

She’s also recalling some of the things said by a little girl she’s recently met, who has an unnerving tendency to utter opaque, sibylline remarks — The Laird Takes a Bride is set in Scotland, and this is a tiny, tiny tip of the hat to Macbeth’s Three Witches — and she’s puzzling over their significance.

We see Fiona, then, on a kind of temporal pivot: she’s thinking about what happened today, she’s musing about the past and questioning if her best years are behind her, and is also wondering, with some apprehension, what the future will bring.

So is page 69 representative of the book as a whole? To a large degree, yes, as it portrays my heroine as a thinking, feeling human being who’s struggling to make sense of her life. But it doesn’t happen to also reveal the story’s fluid point of view which offers insight into the psyche and circumstances of Fiona’s counterpart, Alasdair Penhallow. You’d have to back up to page 66 for that, or read on to page 72...
Visit Lisa Berne's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Laird Takes a Bride.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 15, 2017

"A Lie For A Lie"

Robin Merrow MacCready is the author of Buried, recipient of the Edgar Award for Best YA novel. She teaches reading and writing to middle school students, and lives in Maine with her family.

MacCready applied the Page 69 Test to her latest YA novel, A Lie for a Lie, and reported the following:
A Lie For A Lie takes place over the course a summer in the life of seventeen year old Kendra. The story begins when she sees her father with a woman who is not her mother. Rather that confront him; she spies on him. On page 69, she and her friend Bo have just found out that the relationship is more serious that they thought. “He was trying to insinuate himself into her life, like he wanted it to last.” This is a great disappointment. The relationship doesn’t seem to be a fling. This is also about the time the reader is realizing that Bo wants his friendship with Kendra to be more serious than it is, but Kendra is crazy about another guy. He gives her a gift that reminds her of their childhood games together—not his intention. When she arrives home from being with Bo, she sees her mother dressed up and ready to go out. To her this is a sign that her mom is doing better emotionally and maybe her father’s bad behavior, if it’s found out, won’t be as damaging to her as she thought.

But not everything is as it seems…
Visit Robin Merrow MacCready's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Lie for a Lie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"Spring Break"

A graduate of Yale, Gerald Elias has been a Boston Symphony violinist, Associate Concertmaster of the Utah Symphony since 1988, Adjunct Professor of Music at the University of Utah, first violinist of the Abramyan String Quartet, and Music Director of the Vivaldi Candlelight concert series.

His novels include Devil's Trill, Danse Macabre, Death and the Maiden, Playing With Fire, and the newly released Spring Break.

Elias applied the Page 69 Test to Spring Break and reported the following:
From Page 69:
‘What were they talking about?’ Jacobus asked Yumi.

‘The Feldsteins?’

‘No, the Cooney cluster.’

‘Mainly about how much Aaron Schlossberg would be missed. What a great man he was. How much he did for the conservatory. You know, things that would be appropriate for the occasion.’

‘You mean the customary bullshit,’ Jacobus said.

‘Yes, that’s accurate,’ Yumi replied.

‘I assume that’s after they noticed you. Did you hear what were they talking about before that?’

‘No. The sound is too live in that room. It’s all a wash. All I can say is that they seemed ...concerned about something.

‘The food poisoning incident,’ Lilburn said. ‘This Dr Pine is a doctor, after all. Maybe they’re worried about medical expenses, or legal action. Or, perish the thought, maybe even about people’s health!’

Jacobus heard Lilburn slap at a mosquito.

‘Possible. But that’s over and done with,’ Jacobus said. ‘The more recent incident is Aaron Schlossberg found dead slumped over a piano keyboard.’

It began to drizzle.

‘I think we’d better go.'
This Page 69 excerpt underscores multiple currents of conflict in Spring Break. The scene is a gathering to comfort the wife of Aaron Schlossberg, famed composer of the Kinderhoek Conservatory of Music who has just died. Jacobus recognizes the artificial grieving of other faculty members who had no love lost for Schlossberg and who are customarily at each others' throats. There is also the coterie of conservatory bigwigs, whose main concern is money and who view Schlossberg's death more as an impediment to their plans than as a loss to the music world. Finally, there is also the sense of unease of the unresolved manner of Schlossberg's death. Was it diabetes, food poisoning, or something else?
My Book, The Movie: Spring Break.

Writers Read: Gerald Elias.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"Alan Cole Is Not a Coward"

Eric Bell is an author of middle grade fiction.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, Alan Cole Is Not a Coward, and reported the following:
Alan Cole Is Not a Coward is the story of a twelve-year-old boy who is blackmailed over his secret crush on another boy in his class. Page 69, which opens chapter six, begins with Alan at the dinner table. Alan’s family is a major source of stress: his older brother is the blackmailer, his father is emotionally abusive, and his mother is a non-presence. The dinner environment is oppressive—even Mom’s tasty chicken stew doesn’t leave much of an impact—and so Alan retreats to a familiar setting: the art world. For Alan, art is like breathing; his attempts to change the world via a portrait of someone’s face permeate the novel. In the middle of this tense situation, he narrates:
I’m thinking about the principles of design Mrs. Colton went over today in art class, and how the scene in front of me would look if I painted it. Where would the emphasis be? On the clock? At the head of the table? On the carefully prepared food? Where would the movement flow? What patterns would be repeated?
This is Alan attempting to make sense of the illogical world before him. He doesn’t understand why his brother hates him so much, where his father’s anger stems from, why his mother has withdrawn from affection. His quirky new friends befuddle him and he struggles with the possibility that his crush might not reciprocate Alan’s hidden feelings. The world is overstimulating and messy and confusing. So when Alan turns to the vocabulary of his art, it’s with the goal of understanding his own world a little better. Throughout this chapter he sees things through an artist’s lens, noticing patterns and movement and other aspects of his toolkit.

Page 69 does not showcase any of the book’s humor—the family scenes are when the book is at its most serious—though Alan does mention the hot pepper flakes from the stew “practically leave scorch marks as they dribble down my throat,” which hints at the normal tone of his narration, full of exaggerated comparisons.
Visit Eric Bell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 11, 2017

"Lone Wolf"

Michael Gregorio is the pen name of Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio. Best known for their Hanno Stiffeniis series, featuring a Prussian magistrate in a country invaded by Napoleon and the French, they have more recently launched a contemporary series set in Italy, where they live. The Seb Cangio novels follow the exploits of a forest ranger as he combats Mafia infiltration of the unspoilt national park in Umbria where he works.

The authors applied the Page 69 Test to their latest novel, the third in the series, Lone Wolf, and reported the following:
It’s always intriguing to open your novel at a specific page and see what you’ve got.

In the case of Lone Wolf, page 69 finds all of the major characters – with one notable exception – on the same page. Marshall McLuhan, the inventor of the page 69 test, would be ninety-nine percent pleased!

The good guys – Seb Cangio, gorgeous Lucia Rossi of the Italian carabinieri, and Inspector Desmond Harris from New Scotland Yard – are cooped up inside a tiny surveillance booth. They’re watching a security video of passengers arriving on a flight from London as they go through customs control at the small provincial airport of Assisi in Italy.

The reader doesn’t know it yet, but two of the people in the video are already dead.

Dead men don’t talk, of course, but a video can tell you a lot about them. One man is nervous, the other is not. They ignore each other, yet both men were carrying false passports. Is it a coincidence, or is it a conspiracy? And one of them went back to London, while the other man did not. If they were together, what the heck were they doing in Italy?

That is what the investigators have to discover.

The solution will turn out to be far more disturbing than the reader might imagine.

Why bring a British brain surgeon to Italy? And why are so many Italian doctors dropping like flies? Above all, what does the fearsome ’Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia, have to do with it?

Only Seb Cangio can read the signs. He’s from Calabria, he knows how the ’Ndrangheta works.

But even Seb cannot guess exactly what is going on. Not until he finds himself laid out helpless on an operating table in a private clinic in idyllic Umbria…

The ‘one notable exception’ mentioned above is one of the most frightening men alive, as Seb Cangio is destined to discover. Our editor asked us to add an extra chapter featuring ’Ndrangheta boss, Don Michele Cucciarilli – “he’s so deliciously evil,” she said.
Visit Michael Gregorio's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Cry Wolf.

My Book, The Movie: Cry Wolf.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 9, 2017

"Murder Take Three"

Eric Brown began writing when he was fifteen and sold his first short story to Interzone in 1986. He has won the British Science Fiction Award twice for his short stories, and his novel Helix Wars was shortlisted for the 2012 Philip K. Dick award. He has published sixty books, and his latest include the crime novel Murder Take Three, and the short story collection Microcosms, with Tony Ballantyne. His novel Binary System is due out in Autumn. He has also written a dozen books for children and over a hundred and forty short stories. He writes a regular science fiction review column for the Guardian newspaper and lives in Cockburnspath, Scotland.

Brown applied the Page 69 Test to Murder Take Three and reported the following:
From Page 69:
The scriptwriter was silent for a time. “It’s just occurred to me. The film. With the leading lady dead... I’m sorry. You’ll think me crass.”

Langham shook his head. “Not at all. What will happen to the shoot?”

“There’s been a lot of money and time invested so far, and I don’t know whether insurance would cover any losses. My guess is that Dennison will find a stand-in. There are plenty of American actresses in London, or actresses who could fake an accent. And to be honest it isn’t that demanding a role.”

Langham hesitated, then asked, “What do you know about Dennison’s relationship with Suzie?”

“I must admit, I don’t know whether it was just a physical attraction, or if there was anything deeper. There was a twenty year age difference. It can’t have been that easy to relate to someone young enough to be your daughter.”

Ambler indicated a finger-post point to the village of Hambling. “Take the turning and it’s a couple of mile away. Haggerston House is a mile out of the village on the other side.”

Langham took the turning and wound down the window. He glanced at Ambler. “You said you were stationed there during the war.”

“For almost a year.”

“Did you have much to do with Desmond Haggerston?”

“No, not much at all. He was pretty much a recluse. He must have been in his early seventies then, and remote... depressive.” Ambler shrugged. “On the few occasions I did meet him, I got on rather well with him. You know what they say, Donald?”

“What’s that?”

“Misery likes company.”
In Murder Take Three, the fourth of my Langham and Dupré mysteries set in Britain in the 1950s, writer Donald Langham has just started work as a professional private investigator. His first client is American movie star Suzie Reynard, currently shooting a murder mystery film at Marling Hall, an Elizabethan manor house situated in the Norfolk countryside. The film’s director Doug Dennison– Suzie’s lover – has been receiving threats and Suzie is convinced his life is in danger.

On arriving at Marling Hall with his fiancée Maria, Langham finds the film set awash with clashing egos, petty jealousies, ill-advised love affairs and seething resentments. Matters come to a head when a body is discovered in the director’s trailer.

It would appear to be an open-and-shut case when someone confesses to the murder. Donald and Maria are not convinced – but why would someone confess to a crime they haven’t committed? If Langham is to uncover the truth, he must delve into the past and another murder that took place more than twenty years before.

Page 69, near the start of chapter twelve, has Donald Langham driving to Haggerston House with the film’s script-writer, his old friend Terrence Ambler. They’re trying to find one of the suspects, Desmond Haggerston, who seems to have given the police the slip. They suspect that the old man might have fled to Haggerston House, a few miles from where the murder was committed.

On the way, through leafy country lanes, they discuss the fate of the film, and Langham questions Ambler about the dead actor’s relationship with the film’s director, and probes the script-writer about Desmond Haggerston.

I think page 69 is pretty representative of the book as a whole, in that it’s largely dialogue-driven, and shows Langham as a concerned, friendly individual whose gentle questioning gets to the root of the mystery. The page also serves to characterise the people spoken about, as well as the people speaking. Untypically for the book, no one is drinking alcohol!
Visit Eric Brown's website.

My Book, The Movie: Murder Take Three.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 8, 2017

"Bad Girl Gone"

Temple Matthews is an American born author and screenwriter with several films to his credit, including Disney’s Return to Neverland.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Bad Girl Gone, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I was bombarded with fast, ugly images from his brain. He was a sick and twisted man, he crowded thoughts a whirlwind of repulsive memories. I saw Mick's face. Mowrer was remembering how he killed Mick by hitting him the head with a pipe wrench--it was so horrible, playing in slow motion in the sicko's brain...
Any reader would be compelled to read on if she looked at page 69. It fully encompasses the various elements and themes submerged in the book, and it's a ghostly moment when Echo is able to enter the body and mind of a killer.
Visit Temple Mathews's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 7, 2017

"Dark River Rising"

Roger Johns is a former corporate lawyer and retired college professor with law degrees from Louisiana State University and Boston University. During his nearly two decades as a professor, he served on the editorial staffs of several academic publications and he won numerous awards and recognitions for his teaching and his scholarly writing. Johns was born and raised in Louisiana. He and his wife Julie now live in Georgia.

Johns applied the Page 69 Test to Dark River Rising, his first novel, and reported the following:
Dark River Rising is a mystery set in present-day Baton Rouge. From page 1, paragraph 1, police detective Wallace Hartman knows she’s dealing with the most startling murder she’ll ever encounter: “Wallace Hartman had never seen a dead man move, but the guy in front of her was definitely dead, and definitely moving. He just wasn’t going anywhere. There was a crudely sutured incision just below his rib cage and his abdomen heaved with a sinuous reptilian rhythm. Wallace’s mind recoiled from what her eyes insisted was true––that a snake was slithering among his innards searching for a way out. The corpse looked like it was belly dancing its way into the hereafter.” Wallace certainly needs to find out who did this, but just as importantly, she needs to know why. By page 69, Wallace and a federal investigator with his own interest in the murder have been introduced and the nature of their relationship has been established. Two pivotal events occur on page 69 itself: Wallace and her federal colleague discover they’ve been seriously deceived by someone who should have been willing to help, and they find an unexpected ally who gives them a glimpse into just what kind of odds they’re going to be up against––a burned house that looks a lot like arson, a missing researcher, and a cover-up by the researcher’s higher-ups.
Visit Roger Johns's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

"The Plague Diaries"

Ronlyn Domingue is the internationally published author of The Mercy of Thin Air and the Keeper of Tales Trilogy—The Mapmaker’s War, The Chronicle of Secret Riven, and The Plague Diaries. Her essays and short stories have appeared in New England Review, Clackamas Literary Review, and Shambhala Sun as well as on mindful.org, The Nervous Breakdown, and Salon.com.

Domingue applied the Page 69 Test to The Plague Diaries and reported the following:
In The Plague Diaries, the last book of the Keeper of Tales Trilogy (which can be read in any order), Secret Riven’s fate is to release a plague to end an ancient pestilence. Her mythic call involves an arcane manuscript, a strange symbol, and a 1,000-year-old family legacy.

From page 69:
The hall with its round table and familiar rug had disappeared. Vines covered the walls and most of the doors. Tree trunks reached from floor to ceiling. Boughs of greenery made an impenetrable canopy. Crystal and metal lamps hung above and the lush green carpets below belied the initial illusion. A brown rabbit darted from a grouping of ferns.

Behind my mask, I watched the other guests. They, too, had taken efforts to adorn themselves beyond recognition. Some were so wildly attired I couldn’t tell whether they were men or women, although I determined that was the intent. Most, however, had chosen formal wear exaggerated in design and textiles.

A balding man with a bear muzzle mask wore a brilliant pink long-tailed velvet coat. He spoke with a woman whose bosom burgeoned far past bodily limits, giving shape to the two iridescent beetles that sat upon the striped orange and yellow mushroom that was her skirt. Her hair piled into a tidy nest on her head, out of which peeked a stuffed red squirrel, and the mask across her face was woven into the coiffed strands.

The music reached a crescendo then collapsed into silence. A squeal pierced through the applause. A woman burst from the northeast corner, chased by a laughing man whose cape dragged the floor. From the opposite corner, near the servants’ stair, twelve people carrying trays heaped with food stepped into the hall. They walked gingerly, their bodies below the waist like sheep, with white fleece legs and hoofed feet, which forced them to step on hidden tiptoes. On their heads were hats with sheeps’ ears. The men’s torsos were bare, and the women’s breasts were covered by triangles of fleece held in place by strings.

I followed behind them into the ballroom. The breeze through the open windows couldn’t dissipate the weighty scent I’d encountered in the tunnel. To my right, in the distance, musicians stood on a dais. Below me, braided blue mats padded the floor. Ahead, several tables were heaped with every possible delicacy—meats, cheeses, fish, dried and preserved fruits, breads, pastries, custards. Crystal decanters held the gem hues of liquors and wines. Guests formed a line to the tables, each taking a platter and a goblet to fill.

Everyone spilled into the hall and sat among the trees as if at a picnic. I retreated to the darkest shadow I could find, sipped my punch, and ate until I couldn’t swallow another bite.

In my hidden place, I listened to the music and observed the guests.
Page 69 reflects the book’s style and one of its most important themes.

Told in first person from Secret’s observant perspective, this novel focuses on details. When the attention is on physical ones, the story becomes highly visual, something a reader can picture with clarity. In this scene, Secret attends a masquerade ball hosted by Fewmany, the magnate, at his manor.

The theme of hiding—both physically and emotionally—is strong on this page. Decorations obscure the manor’s familiar surroundings. Guests are masked and costumed so that they cannot be identified. Secret, as usual, doesn’t engage with anyone, choosing instead to watch everything at a distance. Soon enough, especially during the plague, everyone’s true natures will be revealed.
Learn more about the book and author at Ronlyn Domingue's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Mapmaker's War.

My Book, The Movie: The Mapmaker's War.

The Page 69 Test: The Chronicle of Secret Riven.

My Book, The Movie: The Plague Diaries.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 4, 2017

"Unschooled"

Allan Woodrow is the author of Unschooled, Class Dismissed, The Pet War and numerous other books for middle grade readers, some under secret names.

Woodrow applied the Page 69 Test to his latest book, Unschooled, which is set in the same world as Class Dismissed, and reported the following:
Unschooled is narrated by two rotating characters, George and his best friend Lilly. They are excited to compete together during their school’s 5th grade Spirit Week competition, until they are named captains for the two opposing teams. The winner of the week, which features a series of contests, gets a mystery prize. Students try to figure out the prize, but their stabs grow more and more outlandish and ridiculous, and competition grows fiercer with every guess. Soon, cheating, sliming and sabotaging threaten to ruin the week, and George and Lilly’s long-time friendship is threatened.

Page 69 is the first page of chapter twelve, and is told from Lilly’s perspective. Lilly is the captain for Team Red.
When you’re the leader of a team you need to get everyone motivated. Last night I was going to make small clay frogs for all of Team Red. There’s an animal called the red poison dart frog that’s bright red and poisonous. I thought it could be our mascot, which would be awesomesauce.

But by the time I finished my research, it was sort of late and it would take a long time to make that many frogs and I only had so much clay, so I only made three of them, and I never got around to giving them legs or painting them red, so I left them at home. Maybe I’ll finish them tonight. I asked Mom to buy a lot more clay, just in case.

But we don’t really need motivation to win, anyway. Not today. Sarah had a great idea that should guarantee us another victory today.
In this section, we get a glimpse of Lilly embracing her new role as team captain and are reminded that her hobby is making clay sculptures (an activity that has already been established). More importantly, we learn she hasn’t finished what she set out to do: making a figurine for everyone on the team. Lilly doesn’t finish anything, from homework to pet projects— and her failure to finish things, and to plan ahead, is a problem that will play an important role in her failure to prepare her team properly for some of the Spirit Week events.

Also, Lilly has asked Mom to buy ‘a lot more clay.’ While it comes off as a throwaway line, it’s not. Her upcoming abundance of clay, which she will not use on figurines, will play a big role in getting her team out of trouble after performing an act of sabotage against George’s team.

Lastly, in the final paragraph shown here, we learn that Sarah had a “great idea that should guarantee us another victory.” This hints at the cheating that will soon ruin that day’s Spirit Week event, and which sets up the pattern of ever-spiraling mischief yet to come.
Visit Allan Woodrow's website.

The Page 69 Test: Class Dismissed.

My Book, The Movie: Unschooled.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 2, 2017

"Reincarnation Blues"

Michael Poore’s short fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, Southern Review, Agni, Fiction, and Asimov’s. His story “The Street of the House of the Sun” was selected for The Year’s Best Nonrequired Reading 2012. His first novel, Up Jumps the Devil, was hailed by The New York Review of Books as “an elegiac masterpiece.” Poore lives in Highland, Indiana, with his wife, poet and activist Janine Harrison, and their daughter, Jianna.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Reincarnation Blues, and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test worked beautifully for Reincarnation Blues, I thought. It spans the end of one mini-story and the beginning of another; between the two, you get a representative taste of the whole book.

This is the story of a soul who has lived almost 10,000 lives, and it contains a lot of lightning-strike vignettes which sketch many of those lives for the reader. Page 69 begins with a story in which Milo, a daring young musketeer, has an affair with a commander’s wife. When the affair is discovered, the enraged husband arranges for poor Milo to be captured by the enemy, and catapulted alive back over the walls of besieged Vienna. Milo dies, of course (again), but enjoys the experience capitally. If you had died a few thousand times, you’d be a good sport, too.

The second half of the page is a scene between Milo and his good friend, Death (aka Suzie). We know they eventually become lovers, but this hasn’t happened yet. It goes like this:
Sometimes, between his first hundred lives or so, Milo tried to spend his time with Suzie, though they weren’t yet lovers in those days. They both enjoyed swimming, and food. They enjoyed asking each other questions like ‘Would you rather lose an arm or an eyeball?’ And sometimes Milo thought he caught her looking at him a certain way.

He wondered what would happen if Death went to bed with a plain old mortal man.

“I don’t know,” she said. “It might destroy our friendship. It might even burn you up. Like, literally consume you with fire. I seriously don’t know.”

Milo was flustered. “Can you read my mind?” he asked.

“I thought you knew.”

“Well don’t. Jesus!”

After his hundredth life, he helped her open an exotic food store called The Chocolate Squid. The store was fully stocked with squid and chocolate-covered butterflies and flowers you were supposed to dip in cheese, and more. When the gods tried to do human-style things, Milo observed, they often missed the mark.
Here, we see Milo and Suzie addressing the key problem in their relationship: in the end, he’s just a human, and she’s something more like a god. Yeah, she can do things he can’t, like read his mind, but the real conflict is larger. They are not equals. So there’s the problem with humankind attempting, as it often does, to tread the pathways of the divine. As we know from centuries of literature and poetry, this rarely works out. Milo stands a good chance of actually getting destroyed if he ever dares to love her.

Conversely, we see that she risks failure in trying to do ordinary things. She wants to open a cute little shop. Wants to do that so badly, but it’s like a dragon pretending to be a chipmunk. Like trying to do needlepoint while wearing welding gloves. It’s not a fit. But these two obviously love each other, and that breeds hope. It’s the kind of hope that gets you torched from the inside out, but Hey. It’s just your soul.
Visit Michael Poore's website.

My Book, The Movie: Reincarnation Blues.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Strangers to Temptation"

Scott Gould’s work has appeared in Kenyon Review, Carolina Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, New Madrid Journal, New Stories from the South, and New Southern Harmonies, among others. He is a two-time winner of the Artist Fellowship in Prose from the South Carolina Arts Commission and a past winner of the Fiction Fellowship from the South Carolina Academy of Authors. Gould chairs the creative writing department at the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities in Greenville.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his story collection, Strangers to Temptation, and reported the following:
I have to be honest. I didn’t think this Page 69 thing would be very successful (or interesting) for a collection of stories. I mean, the stories in Strangers to Temptation are linked by several elements—setting, narrator, the early 1970s—but they are stand-alone pieces, so there’s no chance one page would illuminate the other 223?

I flipped to page 69. I was way wrong.

Strangers to Temptation has several themes running through it: race, coming of age, class divisions, sexuality. And all of them rear their heads on page 69. That page hits toward the end of a story called “May McIntosh Flies, John Wayne Runs,” in a the midst of a long scene where the narrator (a fourteen-year old white kid) and his new black friend sneak through the muddy swamp to watch a football game—specifically, to watch May McIntosh perform her cheerleading gyrations. (May cheers for the brand new, white-flight private high school. This is the early 70s, remember?) The two boys have stumbled onto a group of older country boys who share a bottle of whiskey and a similar goal: to hide in the woods and watch May McIntosh fly through the air.

At the top of the page, the narrator realizes that his black friend has safely ditched him because, “[Columbus] was already smart enough at that age to check before stepping out of the shadows.” He’s already learned to avoid the kind of white people who are passing the bottle around. He knows the dividing line between shadow and light. (Also, I thought it was ironic that the first word on the page is we, because in those post-segregation days, it wasn’t easy to figure out what we meant.)

The boys can’t keep their eyes of May McIntosh. She is nearly goddess-like the way she makes “a mockery of the laws of gravitation and physics.” The narrator has a special connection to May. Early in the story, she lays a big kiss on him that tastes like coconuts. He’s been fascinated with her since. Hence, his trip to spy on her.

The boys sharing the bottle are not townies. They are hard-edged, quick-to-anger country boys, which makes the final question on the page significant. A kid in a hunting coat asks the narrator, “Why you out here?” None of the boys are where they are supposed to be that night, hiding there in the dark, a long way from the light and the bleachers that are occupied by private school kids.

So it all seems to be on page 69: the racial tensions and confusions of the early 70s, burgeoning sexuality brought on by coming-of-age, class stratification and folks crossing boundary lines in the dark.

The Page 69 Test. How did it know?
Visit Scott Gould's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

"Rebellion"

Molly Patterson was born in St. Louis and lived in China for several years. Her work has appeared in several magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly and The Iowa Review. She was the 2012-2013 Writer-in-Residence at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., and is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize.

Patterson applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Rebellion, and reported the following:
Rebellion is split up into sections for each of its four main characters, and page 69 comes from the first section that features Juanlan, a young Chinese woman who has reluctantly come home to her provincial town after graduating college. In this scene, she awakens the first morning she’s home and her mother quizzes her about the book she’s reading, a Chinese translation of Pride and Prejudice:
Juanlan shrugs. “We read it in my British literature class last autumn; I wanted to try it again in Chinese. It’s a romance.”

“Oh, romance,” her mother says, pursing her lips in a kiss, and then laughs at herself as she leaves the room.

The picture on the cover of the book is of a woman and man, half turned away from each other. She barely understood anything when she read it in English, but the characters had struck her as exotic, their world as lovely and delicate as lace. Rereading in Chinese, it is all too familiar. The people are small; they live in a small place; they take, it seems, only the smallest of risks.
Juanlan’s disappointment in the book mirrors her disappointment at being back home. She’d had dreams of living in a big city and working for a foreign company, not of working for her parents running their second-rate hotel, and helping to care for her father.

In the same scene, she talks to her mother about Lulu, her sister-in-law. Juanlan’s mother is angry at Lulu for ignoring the dietary restrictions that all Chinese women follow when they’re pregnant:
“…Your brother’s wife, she’s careless about her health. I tell her she should eat only boiled chicken and plain vegetables, and she says she wants spicy pork. Yesterday at lunch, she asked where I was keeping the lajiao. She wanted to put it on her rice.”

“Did you give it to her?”

“Of course not!” Her mother watches as Juanlan spits into the sink. “You tell her, maybe she’ll listen. She’s going to hurt the baby, eating spicy food.”
Juanlan and Lulu have never gotten along very well, but in the pages that follow, they quickly strike up a friendship based on their mutual unhappiness. They both feel stifled by their family’s expectations; they both feel powerless in a rapidly changing society, and suspect that they’re among the group that will be left behind. More than anything, they’re bored—a feeling that has the potential to get them into trouble when a new source of interest arrives on the scene: an American man who’s eager to befriend them.
Visit Molly Patterson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

"The Rat Catchers' Olympics"

Born in London, Colin Cotterill has worked as teacher in Israel, Australia, the U.S. and Japan before he started training teachers in Thailand. Cotterill and his wife live in a small fishing village on the Gulf of Siam in Southern Thailand. He’s won the Dilys and a CWA Dagger, and has been a finalist for several other awards.

Cotterill applied the Page 69 Test to his latest Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery, The Rat Catchers' Olympics, and reported the following:
This page 69 thing is starting to make me wonder exactly what role the supernatural plays in the content that appears on that magic page every year. It begins with the line,

“The obvious target would be a high-ranking Chinese,” said Civilai. “At least that’s who I’d shoot.”

And right away we know that someone’s under threat and that Civilai isn’t that fond of Chinese. I wonder what he’d think of that same cunning China 37 years on watching its new economic policy steamroll through the region and far beyond. He predicted it as the seeds were being planted in the seventies.

The conjecture continues as Dr. Siri and his team work through other possible targets. We learn that they’re in Moscow for the Olympic Games and that someone on their team of athletes isn’t who he claims to be. But do they have enough evidence to make an accusation?

“What if Sompoo’s here at the invitation of the Soviets? His background means nothing. How many on the shooting team don’t have guerilla training? They’re all expert gunmen for a reason. Until we have something concrete to show them I think we’ll be making fools of ourselves to go to the Soviets with this.”

See? The stage is set in one foul swoop. All we’re missing on that page is some good old Siri and Civilai lightheartedness. But,wait! What’s Siri’s reaction when they wonder if he could be the target?

“I paid two visits to the bathroom at Wattay airport. He could have shot me there.”

“Me too,” said Civilai.
Learn more about the book and author at Colin Cotterill's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 27, 2017

"Murder in Disguise"

Mary Miley grew up in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and France, and worked her way through the College of William and Mary in Virginia as a costumed tour guide at Colonial Williamsburg. As Mary Miley Theobald, she has published numerous nonfiction books and articles on history, travel and business topics.

Miley applied the Page 69 Test to Murder in Disguise, her fourth Roaring Twenties mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
If I had been on trial for my own life, I do believe I would have felt more composed than I did on that day, Tuesday, November 3, as I climbed the steps and entered the courthouse at Main and Temple. After all, a lifetime spent in front of audiences that jeered as well as cheered should have equipped me with enough poise to soothe any amount of stage fright, and a jury is nothing more than an audience empowered to judge and to determine a performer’s fate. I knew my part to perfection. I’d chosen my costume carefully—an ivory tunic dress with its pleated skirt demurely hemmed below the knee—and applied my makeup—a light application of kohl rimming the eyes and subdued lipstick—to emphasize my wide-eyed, ingénue honesty.

So why was I shivering like a dead leaf in a gale? Because it wasn’t my life; it was David’s. And I owed him a life for what he did for me in Oregon last year.
Page 69 finds the reader at the start of Chapter 12 and the beginning of the courtroom scene where Jessie’s significant other, David, is being tried for murder and a host of Prohibition-related crimes. Jessie is one of the witnesses. David’s shady lawyer is confident of acquittal—why not? He’s bribed the jurors—but things don’t go as expected. Things never do. That’s what keeps the reader turning pages.

Is this page representative of the rest of the book? Well, yes. As a matter of fact, it’s representative of my entire Roaring Twenties series, because it furthers the saga of David and Jessie’s relationship, which began in the first book, The Impersonator, and continues through the second and third. One of my goals in creating this subplot story arc is to illustrate the absurdity of the Prohibition laws that corrupted our legal system in horrifying ways.

Readers tell me they enjoy being immersed in the 1920s, easily America’s most intriguing decade. This was an era that soared from the heights of silent movies to the depths of Prohibition, a time when vaudeville, gangsters, flappers, bootleggers, and jazz came right into the parlor courtesy of a new invention called radio. As the male establishment watched in horror, women declared their independence with the ballot, raised their hems, bobbed their hair, smoked cigarettes, slurped bathtub gin, and shimmied at speakeasies late into the night.
Learn more about the book and author at Mary Miley's website, blog, and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Murder in Disguise.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 25, 2017

"Ferocious"

Paula Stokes writes stories about flawed characters with good hearts. She’s the author of several novels, most recently Ferocious and This is How it Happened. 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 Ferocious and reported the following:
From page 69:
Tucking the bath towel around my body as best I can, I open the bathroom door a crack and look out. Light filters through the open window, but there’s no movement. I press my ear to the crack. No sounds. I open the door a little wider. That’s when I see the feet.

They’re connected to a body. Shit, shit, shit. A man with bright-blond hair.

I bend down and test for a pulse, even though I can tell right away that he’s dead. One of my throwing knives lies next to his stomach, the blade crusted over with dried blood. Stepping past the body, I check the deadbolt and the chain on the door—both secure. At least there’s no danger of a maid stumbling in here before I can figure out what to do. But then how did the men get in? I glance around the room and find the open window, one pane broken in order to undo the lock. Balmy air wraps around me as I pull the window shut. If anyone had heard the commotion, they would have been banging on the door by now. Still, there’s no way to fix it. I can’t stay here. I’m not safe.

My suitcase is empty, the contents strewn across the floor. I grab a clean set of clothes and get dressed, noticing that it’s after eight in the morning. I have no idea what happened since the men broke in, probably around one or two a.m.

I sit on the edge of the bed and try to calm myself. But it’s hard to be calm when a dead body lurks in your peripheral vision.
This scene takes place in a guesthouse in the Koreatown district of Los Angeles. Winter has traveled to L.A. to find the man who is responsible for her sister’s death. Readers learn in Vicarious (the first book in this two-book series) that Winter has gaps of missing time, and here she has awakened in the shower and she’s not sure how she got there. She finds the body of a blond man in her guesthouse room and doesn’t know how he died, but she’s pretty sure she’s responsible since one of her knives is covered with blood. Winter remembers two men breaking into her room, but she doesn’t remember what happened after that or what happened to the second man.

I think this page is a good representation of the novel because it captures the dark tone of the book along with highlighting Winter’s deteriorating mental state. One thing she really struggles with is how to live while not being completely in control of her actions. The story returns to this theme multiple times as Winter comes to grips with who she is and what that means for her future . . . or whether she should even have a future.
Learn more about the book and author at Paula Stokes's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Vicarious.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"The Weight of Ink"

Rachel Kadish is the award-winning author of the novels From a Sealed Room and Tolstoy Lied: a Love Story, as well as the novella I Was Here.

Kadish applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Weight of Ink, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Weight of Ink was a daunting moment in the writing process. The novel asks the reader to step into a foreign world: a world of seventeenth-century London, semi-hidden Portuguese Inquisition refugees, plague and fire, and danger around every corner for those who questioned the religious and political orders of the day.

Among the novel’s challenges was finding a way to introduce the reader to all of that gently enough that it didn’t feel daunting. I wanted the reader to be aware only of following a story and a set of characters, rather than studying up on unfamiliar history or syntax. So the question was to figure out how best to guide the reader into that world.

The novel alternates contemporary chapters (in which the historians discover the seventeenth-century documents left by Ester Velasquez and begin to realize how radical they are), with chapters set in the seventeenth century (in which we enter Ester Velasquez’s world).

Knowing how alien the seventeenth-century world might initially feel, I started off letting the reader get comfortable in the novel’s contemporary storyline. Chapter 1, which is set in contemporary London, is twenty pages long.

But for chapter 2--the reader’s first foray into the seventeenth century--I gave the reader only a three-page sampling of that world: a letter dated 1657, in which one seventeenth-century character expresses concern for another’s wellbeing.

A toe in the water of the seventeenth century—that was all.

Then back to safer ground: chapter 3--twenty pages set in contemporary London.

For the novel’s first 67 pages, the odd-numbered chapters—the contemporary ones--were “normal” length…but the even-numbered chapters—those set in the seventeenth century--were tiny: chapter 4 was another letter, two pages long; chapter 6 was a single solitary page, describing a woman on a ship heading to London.

And then it was time to take the plunge. By now, I hoped the reader was sufficiently oriented to understand the wants and loves and fears of my seventeenth-century characters in context.

Chapter 8, which starts on page 68, is the first full-length seventeenth-century chapter in the novel…so page 69 was part of a scene I wrote with great trepidation: would the reader be willing to follow my characters down the narrow lanes of London and of seventeenth century language? Would the tense encounter between Ester and her brother on the docks, and the fraught exchanges with the dock workers and the subsequent fight and Ester’s retreat to the rabbi’s study all make sense to the modern reader?

I’m still stunned when readers say chapter 8 was one of their favorites. I wrote it with such fear and trembling—but also with a sense of fatalism: Now I’m in and there’s no going back, and all I can do is hope the reader will take the leap with me.
Visit Rachel Kadish's official website.

My Book, The Movie: The Weight of Ink.

Writers Read: Rachel Kadish.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"Fox Hunter"

Zoë Sharp is the author of fourteen novels so far, either in the Charlie Fox crime thriller series, standalones or collaborations, as well as moonlighting as an international pet-sitter and yacht crew. When she’s not doing that, she dabbles in self-defence and house renovation. (If she visits don’t tell her to make herself at home or she’s liable to start knocking walls out.)

Sharp applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Fox Hunter, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Thirteen

The blow stunned me only for a moment. Just long enough for the senior officer to drag me bodily out of the back seat of the cruiser. The thump as I hit the concrete floor brought me out of it.

Fighting.

He had me by the back of my collar and was dragging me towards the men with the Cadillac. I grabbed his hand, dug thumb and forefinger viciously deep into pressure points I could find in my sleep.

He yowled, whirled with his nightstick raised. I swivelled on my backside as if break-dancing, hooked one leg behind his and scissored the heel of my boot into his kneecap as hard as I could manage.

He’d clearly received some kind of unarmed combat instruction as part of his training, but either that was a long time ago or he’d been a very poor student.
Page 69 of Fox Hunter is the start of chapter thirteen, so in reality it’s only half a page. Because I have a tendency to write in short chapters, and break in the middle of a scene, it hits the ground (quite literally in this case) with its legs still pumping from the end of chapter twelve. Yes, it’s fairly representative of the book, in that my narrator—bodyguard Charlie Fox—is a capable fighter, so when she has no other choice she fights without any quarter expected or given.

But in other ways this section doesn’t clue the reader in to the quieter, more reflective moments. The sorrow of an Iraqi woman attacked and left for dead, who tells her story to Charlie, via an interpreter, earlier in the story. Nor the later agony of a father forced to make an impossible choice concerning his son. So, I hope readers might take page 69 as an indication of a fast-paced story with a protagonist who can more than hold her own, and then be pleasantly surprised by other hidden depths in characters and situations described elsewhere.
Learn more about the author and her work at Zoë Sharp’s website, blog, and find her on Facebook or Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: Fox Hunter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 21, 2017

"Call of Fire"

Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the Blood of Earth Trilogy from Harper Voyager. Her newest novel is Call of Fire. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat.

Cato applied the Page 69 Test to Call of Fire and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Papa? Papa!” A girl’s voice screeched from above. By the time Ingrid glanced up, all she spied was a blur of movement. Feet pounded down the stairs. The girl leaped to a stop before them. She was young with creamy brown skin, a stick figure in calico and stained white stockings. A mismatched bow in kimono fabric was almost bigger than her head.

“Oh.” The girl stared at Ingrid. “You’re a woman. Up there, I saw the top of your head, and your skin, and I thought...”

Ingrid didn’t know what to think.

A nearby door squawked as it swung open. “Mirabelle, what fuss you causing?” The woman carried a damp rag and a scowl that could stop a galloping horse. She looked between Ingrid and the girl and stood even straighter. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. You. You’re Ingrid Carmichael.”
This latter half of page 69 is at the very end of a chapter, and in the few lines that follow, Ingrid is about to get quite a shock about the identities of these two strangers. My Blood of Earth trilogy features an alternate history of 1906, with the United States and Japan allied as a world power. Japanese influences, therefore, are quite evident in everyday America, from food to speech to clothes. Even in these few lines, there's mention of scrap kimono fabric being used as a bow. Worldbuilding often comes in small dribbles of details like this.
Visit Beth Cato's website.

The Page 69 Test: Breath of Earth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 19, 2017

"The Authentics"

Abdi Nazemian is a screenwriter, director, and author.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut YA novel, The Authentics, and reported the following:
This page of The Authentics ends with the lead character, Daria, stating that she has the illusion of being in control, while never feeling more out of control. That sentiment is in many ways representative of her journey. Daria is passionate, opinionated, and thinks she has figured out a way to make sense of the world and of her place in it. But circumstances challenge her, and much of her journey is one of learning to let go and be open to feeling out of control. It's a state of mind I can certainly relate to, and I hope many readers will as well, so hopefully they'll be intrigued enough to turn the page to see what page 70 has to offer.
Visit Abdi Nazemian's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 18, 2017

"Vector"

James Abel is the pseudonym for Bob Reiss, an accomplished author and journalist who has written extensively on the Arctic. He lives and works in New York City.

Abel applied the Page 69 Test to his newest novel, Vector, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Vector comes from the point of view of a bad guy...except...in a researched novel based on science...this particular bad guy is not human. It is something many people see every day, regarded as not usually dangerous, yet something responsible for millions of deaths around the world each year. It has no idea it is a bad guy, hijacked by others with mayhem in mind.
Visit James Abel's website.

My Book, The Movie: Vector.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 17, 2017

"Dead, to Begin With"

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

Crider applied the Page 69 Test to his newest novel, Dead, to Begin With, the 24th Dan Rhodes Mystery, and reported the following:
I’ve been doing this for years now, and every year I swear I’m going to have something really exciting happen on page 69 in my next book. But what we have in Dead, to Begin With is two men arguing over a brown paper bag at a garage sale:
Rhodes looked at the sack. It an ordinary brown paper bad, not a very big one, and Rhodes could see that someone had written “$1" on the side with a black marker.

“Are you armed, Ted?” Rhodes asked.

“I got a license.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

“Yeah, I’m carrying. It’s in a holster in the small of my back.”

Ted wore a brown nylon jacket that zipped up the front. It hung several inches below his waist and easily concealed the weapon.

“I’m going to come take the sack,” Rhodes said. “Don’t reach for the pistol.”
Okay, so it’s not an explosion or a knife fight, but it’s something that would make you curious, right? Will Ted try anything? What’s in the bag? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
Learn more about the book and author at Bill Crider's website and blog.

Read the Page 69 Test entries for Crider's A Mammoth Murder, Murder Among the OWLS, Of All Sad Words, Murder in Four Parts, Murder in the Air, The Wild Hog Murders, Murder of a Beauty Shop Queen, Compound Murder, Half in Love with Artful Death, Between the Living and the Dead, and Survivors Will Be Shot Again.

Learn about Crider's choice of actors to portray Dan Rhodes and Seepy Benton on the big screen.

Writers Read: Bill Crider.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

"Feast of Sorrow"

Historical fiction author Crystal King is a culinary enthusiast, teacher and social media professional. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language, and culture of Italy. She has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University, as well as at GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US. Her debut novel, Feast of Sorrow, has recently been long listed for the 2017 Center for Fiction First Novel prize.

King applied the Page 69 Test to Feast of Sorrow, and reported the following:
My novel is about the famous ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, a man whose name graces the oldest known cookbook. I tell the story from the point of view of his cook, a Greek slave named Thrasius. The page 69 test is a perfect representation of the many sides of Apicius—and how Thrasius has no choice but to weather his stormy nature.

It begins after Apicius has a confrontation in Rome with his biggest rival, the man who has the post he desires as gastronomic advisor to Caesar. Apicius is ticked and has decided not to return home, instead visiting one of his other ocean villas. When Thrasius tries to convince him to go back to his wife, the following moment occurs:
The look on his face told me everything I needed to know. I dared not move as he strode toward me and slammed his hand against the side of my face. His heavy rings smashed against my temple and I could see stars through the blackness. I fell to the ground clutching my head in pain.

“We go when I say we go. Next time think hard before you question me.” He turned back to the window and left Sotas to gather me up and escort me out.

I reeled with his words.

I stayed away from him after that, sharing only the barest of words when asked at meals. A month passed before his mood shifted and we returned to Baiae.
In the scene after this, Apicius is back to his old charismatic self and returns home to his sad and angry wife. Ignoring her dismay at his long absence, he begins having the slaves unload cartloads of furniture—enough to replace everything in their massive palace. It’s classic Apicius. Historically, he was a man who spent his money frivolously, dwindling his monstrous fortune over the course of his life. Thrasius watches, conveying to the reader underlying insight into both Apicius and his wife, Aelia.

Both scenes dig deep into Apicius’s mercurial nature and show Thrasius caught between each of his moods. Apicius rarely physically punishes Thrasius as he might other slaves—he is the favored slave in the household, the cook who has brought Apicius the fame he seeks. For this page to be one of the scenes where Thrasius has displeased him I find to be especially interesting. He is the current that runs through the book holding everything together, the foil to Apicius’s dramatic (and tragic) trajectory and page 69 is a perfect glimpse into those dynamics.
Visit Crystal King's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

"Godblind"

Anna Stephens is a UK-based author of gritty epic fantasy debut, Godblind, the first in a grimdark trilogy about a religious, political and ideological war, the people caught up in its midst, and just what, exactly, they are willing to do to win – is the cost ever too high when the fate of an entire people is at stake? She lives with her husband, Mark, an enormous book and movie and music collection, and – allegedly – too many toys.

Stephens applied the Page 69 Test to Godblind and reported the following:
Page 69 of Godblind drops us straight into a fight, with the evil Mireces having attacked the Wolf village to try and claim back their escaped slave, Rillirin. Corvus, the king of the Mireces, is engaged in battling an unnamed Wolf warrior who is guarding the house where Rillirin is hiding. The Mireces are overrunning the village and the Wolves are being killed in defence of this nameless, mute slave.

Does it represent the rest of the book? Yes and no. The Mireces are accurately summed up as vicious, and ruthless, who think nothing of owning slaves and treat them worse than animals. It also contains action, and there’s a fair amount of that throughout Godblind, with battles, skirmishes and single combat abounding. It also gives up an insight into the Wolves, the civilian warriors on the border of Mireces and Rilpor; the fact they’ve taken in Rillirin, despite the danger it means to them, show them as decent and caring people, and the fact they fight to protect her, rather than giving her up, is also indicative of their general temperament.

It doesn’t, though, give any indication of the other main faction in Godblind – the rest of Rilpor, the Ranks (army) or the royal family in the capital.

However, it’s action-packed and provides a strong indication of the Mireces way of life: “We just want what belongs to us,” as well as the general attitude of the Wolves.
Visit Anna Stephens's website.

My Book, The Movie: Godblind.

Writers Read: Anna Stephens.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 14, 2017

"The Half-Drowned King"

Linnea Hartsuyker can trace her ancestry back to Harald Fairhair (Harfagr), the first king of Norway. She grew up in the middle of the woods outside Ithaca, New York, and studied engineering at Cornell University. After a decade of working at Internet startups and writing, she attended New York University and received an MFA in creative writing.

Hartsuyker applied the Page 69 Test to her first novel, The Half-Drowned King, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Half-Drowned King shows a glimpse of the protagonist Ragnvald’s sense of humor, and his fragile relationship with his intended, Hilda. In this scene, Ragnvald and Hilda are at the ting, a gathering of families from district of Norway. At the ting, laws are announced, trials are held, and justice dispensed. Hilda’s brother Egil was a witness to an attempt on Ragnvald’s life that scarred his face. Ragnvald wants Egil to testify on his behalf, while Hilda’s father Hrolf wants his son to refuse. After Hrolf tries to end Hilda and Ragnvald’s betrothal, Hilda somewhat awkwardly offers to sleep with Ragnvald to force her father to allow their marriage. And here is page 69:
Ragnvald burst out laughing and then closed his mouth quickly. This was the last thing he expected of such a solemn girl. She yanked her hand from his grasp and pulled herself up to her full height, as tall as he.

“I apologize for shocking you,” she said stiffly. “Perhaps my father was right.”

He abruptly sobered. “Hilda,” he said, catching her hand again. “You caught me off guard. I did not mean to laugh at you. I was only surprised—that you would offer so much for me.”

“I do not like to break my promises,” she said, still stiff and formal.

“Neither do I,” he said. “I only meant I would come back for you—you need not spend your”—now he flushed as well, and the smile from before threatened to return—“coin with me. I would not trap you.”

“Would you like to be free of me, then?” she asked, and then added, acidly, “Was it only your pride that was injured?”

So she was not so young that she did not know how to wound a man with words. Still, he would not let Solvi’s enmity take her from him. “No,” Ragnvald said shortly. “I want to marry you. Ask of me what promises you will.”

“That is what I want too. Promise to return to me, no matter what happens,” she said, softening. She reached toward him, but stopped for a moment, before touching his cheek as she had earlier.

“I promise,” he said. “I will bring you the bride price you deserve, and a great household to manage.”

“I will wait,” she promised in return, giving him a wide smile that transformed her face. “Father will not marry me off against my will, not with all my sisters needing husbands.”

Ragnvald pulled her close and kissed her on the lips, a kiss she was too surprised, or inexperienced, to return. When he let her go, her smile had turned pleased and knowing. She touched her lips as she bid him good night.
Both Ragnvald and Hilda are proud and touchy, and reluctant to expose what they really feel and want. These types of characters are some of my favorite to write because they spend so much time getting in their own way. I think this scene is a good example of Ragnvald both at his best, trying to be kind, honest, and honorable with his betrothed, and while also showing his flaws.

What readers won’t know from reading this page is that Hilda has rivals for Ragnvald’s affection. The Half-Drowned King is full of battles and political machinations, but it also hinges on the relationships between people. Viking polygamy and arranged marriages have given me the opportunity to explore different kinds of love, from passionate love-at-first-sight, to the love that develops over long marriages when two people spend a lifetime working toward the same goals. I will leave it to my readers to discover what kind of relationship Ragnvald and Hilda have and how it develops over time.
Visit Linnea Hartsuyker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue