Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Geoff Herbach is the author of the award winning Stupid Fast YA series as well as Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders. His books have been given the 2011 Cybils Award for best YA novel, the Minnesota Book Award, selected for the Junior Library Guild, listed among the year’s best by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association and many state library associations. In the past, he wrote the literary novel, The Miracle Letters of T. Rimberg, produced radio comedy shows and toured rock clubs telling weird stories. Herbach teaches creative writing at Minnesota State, Mankato. He lives in a log cabin with a tall wife.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Hooper, and reported the following:
From page 69:
But to me he says, "That's amazing work. Just so good, son. My gosh, you're a natural, aren't you?"

"I can't shoot, but my feet can move."

"We can improve that shot. You release at your peak. Carli used to shoot that way, too, and now look at her."

I nod, because she shoots like feathers on a breeze. But then we are done.
Adam, the protagonist, is wickedly athletic. He's had an amazing sophomore season of basketball, because he can essentially jump over anyone he plays against. He has only been playing for a couple of years, though. In this scene, he is working with the small-college coach in the town where he lives. He's beginning to see how much he doesn't know and how much work he'll have to do. This is a classic sports story trope. The protagonist is committing to do the work necessary. In order for the rest of the book to work, this kind of thing needs to be set up. I want the reader to feel like they're heading exactly into that story. The underdog will fight over hurdles and what doesn’t kill him makes him stronger, all leading to an epic battle, challenging the will, and, of course, ending in victory. But in the second half of the book, the context shifts, and Adam has to prove that he’s learned a lot more than basketball from having been well-loved by his adoptive mother, and cared for by his best friends Barry and Carli, and, then, by being supported by members of the killer AAU team he’s been recruited to play for. The book is in love with basketball (because I’m in love with basketball), but it’s about being a decent human being.
Visit Geoff Herbach's website.

Writers Read: Geoff Herbach.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 25, 2018


Jane Lindskold is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning, internationally published author of over twenty-five novels, seventy-some works of short fiction, and a variety of non-fiction.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Asphodel, and reported the following:
Since Asphodel is a relatively short novel (174 pages in the trade paperback), page 69 falls solidly in the middle of the story.

Happily, though, page 69 provides a fairly good idea of what’s going on – and how very odd those goings on can be. In the first full paragraph, our nameless protagonist gathers up her companions, Muriel and Puck, and heads “for the appropriate window.”
…when we look down we see the world that somehow touches the tower’s base. The shining sands are there as before, but there is no sign of the moon rabbits. Rather than going off blindly, I settle myself in to wait, for if there is anything I have, it is time.

However, as I stare out at the blank white landscape, I let my desire quest out from me, holding all the questions that had filled me as I had laid my plans. Who is the lady? Is she the only person on the Moon? Does she have a house or maybe a palace? What does she do other than stroll about with the rabbits? Are there other creatures on the Moon?

Slowly, as if my questions have created the need for an answer, the perspective shifts so that we are no longer looking down upon the silvery sands, but are looking across the moonscape, as one does a picture – or a TV screen. And there, as if inviting us forth, is a path through the shining silvery white landscape….
Certainly, if I was reading this, I’d keep reading, if only to find out where that path takes them. I might also be wondering how it is that these windows change perspective. I might be teased by the reference to the “appropriate window.” Are there then other windows? Where do they go?

Therefore, rather than reading ahead, I might turn to the beginning, walking with the characters into the puzzle that lies at the heart of Asphodel.
Visit Jane Lindskold's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 24, 2018


Lisa Black has spent over twenty years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into six languages, one reached the New York Times bestsellers list and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.

Black applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Perish, and reported the following:
Chapter Eight opens on page 69. On this page, my main characters, forensic scientist Maggie Gardiner and homicide detective Jack Renner, along with Jack’s partner Riley, are in the sunny conference room of a small but very profitable mortgage origination firm. As a single page it’s not going to tell you a great deal about them, as most of the words deal with a possible suspect, Pierce Bowman. He is a typical Wall Street type in every way: white, male, older and supercilious. He also cannot tell them much about the woman found brutally murdered on page 1, Joanna Moorehouse, since he is only visiting from New York City to conduct some due diligence before his large firm buys the smaller one. Jack is, as usual, silently observing the proceedings and isn’t even mentioned on this page. Of Maggie we learn only that she is surprised that the snobby Bowman gives up his fingerprints and a DNA swab without complaint. We also get an idea of her keen perception, because she figures out that he only did so because he wants to put the other bigwigs present on the defensive.

Riley doesn’t comment on Bowman but is looking out the window at a group of people on the sidewalk below. They are picketing the firm over its predatory lending practices, a possible reason for the owner’s murder.

My hopes would be, if you read only this page, that you might be curious about how a business firm came to produce a bloody murder so perplexing that these three smart people are at a loss to explain it. Much more investigation is required….
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

My Book, The Movie: Perish.

Writers Read: Lisa Black.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 22, 2018

"Into the Black Nowhere"

Edgar-winning novelist Meg Gardiner writes thrillers. Fast-paced and full of twists, her books have been called “Hitchcockian” (USA Today) and “nailbiting and moving” (Guardian). They have been bestsellers in the U.S. and internationally and have been translated into more than 20 languages.

Into the Black Nowhere, her newest book, is the second novel in the UNSUB series, featuring rookie FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix.

Gardiner applied the Page 69 Test to Into the Black Nowhere and reported the following:
Into the Black Nowhere is a psychological thriller. Women in Texas are disappearing on Saturday nights, and rookie FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix and the Bureau’s Behavioral Analysis Unit fear that a serial killer is stalking the dark roads outside Austin. They profile the perpetrator as a confident, meticulous man who’s able to gain his targets’ confidence and grab them in plain sight. As the clock ticks down to the next Saturday night, the case turns into a cat-and-mouse pursuit of a cunning and devious killer.

On page 69, Caitlin and her colleagues examine some of the meager evidence in the case: CCTV footage from a parking garage. The video shows a victim speaking to the killer moments before she’s abducted. Frustratingly—and deliberately—the killer stays offscreen, out of sight of the camera.
Caitlin focused on the screen. This time as she watched, she tried to read the missing woman’s body language.

Teri went toward the unseen speaker willingly. Why did she nod and agree to the UNSUB’s request? What ruse did the killer use to lure her away?

By the time Teri walked out of frame, her posture indicated complete disarmament. When she’d first walked on-screen, it was different. She had her car keys out and raised—ready to hit the alarm if anything seemed sketchy. She was prepared to respond to sudden threats—like any self-aware big-city woman.

She still had the keys raised, and between her fingers, like claws, when she first turned. Then she lowered them. She showed ... concern. And ... emotional discomfort?

Caitlin watched again. Between the time Teri was first startled and the time she lowered the keys, her shoulders dropped. Her head tilted to one side, in an attitude people frequently adopted when speaking to small children or whimpering animals. It was more than mere concern. It was ... pity?

“The ruse he used convinced her he was more than just harmless. It convinced her he was damaged,” Caitlin said.
The scene gives a good sense of the book: the tension and fear the case evokes; the way Caitlin and the BAU must analyze a victim’s behavior to develop a picture of the killer and hunt him down. If a reader opened the novel to page 69, I hope they’d keep reading.
Learn more about the book and author at Meg Gardiner's website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: UNSUB.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

"Self-Portrait with Boy"

Rachel Lyon is the author of the novel Self-Portrait with Boy. She teaches for the Sackett Street Writers Workshop, Catapult, Slice, and elsewhere, and offers private writing coaching. Most weeks she sends out a free writing/thinking prompts newsletter. She is a cofounder of the monthly reading series Ditmas Lit.

Lyon applied the Page 69 Test to Self-Portrait with Boy and reported the following:
Page 69-70 shows Lu's relationship to art in the context of her daily life:
On a day off from Summerland I left home early for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Outside the heat rose up from the sidewalk and the day stretched out before me long and promising. I took a hot slow uptown train scrawled with graffiti to Lexington Avenue, where ladies carried dogs in handbags instead of walking them. The glorious Met. . . . On a weekday there is little sound beyond the echoed footsteps of a few dedicated visitors. It is as if we want to emulate the stillness of the art.

A Breughel happened to be visiting from Belgium: Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. I spent half an hour looking into its painted world. The with in the painting's title tells you something about it. It is more landscape than Icarus. His white legs that kick as he drowns in the lower right quadrant of the painting are almost insignificant, and that's the point. In the foreground is a plowman with a horse. Delicate sailboats populate the bay. A fisherman with what looks very much like a cup of coffee throws his line into the water. A flock of sheep turn away from the drowning boy—except for one, which watches passively. A man with a knapsack frowns up at the sky, arms folded. He has noticed some disturbance up above, but the tragedy's behind him....

Emerging from the cool museum into the humid afternoon was like stepping into a warm puddle. So as not to spend the extra $1.25 on subway fare I walked downtown. The sidewalks glared up, mica sparkling. Square-shouldered businessmen talked loudly on phones the size of shoe boxes. Damp women in hideous power suits pushed past each other at crosswalks. Cyclists careened through traffic and sprayed up the oily water that pooled at the curbs. Taxi drivers shouted in Arabic and Urdu. Buses lumbered up and down the avenues, belching when they stopped. There is a William Carlos Williams poem about the very Breughel I'd spend time with at the Met. Something about the whole pageantry of the year… awake tingling… concerned with itself… sweating in the sun… And then, unsignificantly off the coast… a splash quite unnoticed. These strangers knew nothing of Max, my art, or me. Tragedy is insignificant, banal. A falling boy goes largely unnoticed.
This section shows my protagonist Lu Rile in a more academic frame of mind than she appears elsewhere in the book. I added it late in the writing process. A friend who'd read a late draft mentioned he couldn't tell whether Lu actually liked art or not. So I wrote a new passage showing how she sees and thinks about and responds to work that's not her own.
Visit Rachel Lyon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 19, 2018


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.

Lippman applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Sunburn, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Sunburn is a fight scene, a brief one. A woman's estranged husband approaches her as she walks home from work in a small town. He has a gun, but the man with the woman, a co-worker, knocks down the husband and stomps on his hand until he breaks a bone.

The woman finds this very exciting. By page 71, she and her defender will be having sex.

Sunburn is an homage to several works by James M. Cain. Although the scene on page 69 wasn't intended to reference any particular scene in Cain's work, I realize now that it tracks, a little, with what is known as the "Rip me" scene in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Secret lovers Frank and Cora are trying, for the second time, to kill Cora's husband. They stage a car accident. They become so excited that they end up having sex. It's a pretty memorable scene, to risk understatement.

The not-yet-lovers in my novel are not planning to hurt anyone. Adam is an honorable man, for the most part. Polly has a much darker past, yet to be revealed at this point in the story. They have been fighting their attraction to one another for almost every one of the 69 pages. Polly is excited not by the violence, but the gallantry. No man has ever stuck up for her before.

But the last line on page 69 has nothing to do with sex. Her estranged husband asks: "What about the money, Polly?" Polly, as has been established, likes money. Sunburn is the story of how far she'll go to get it.
Visit Laura Lippman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 17, 2018

"The Queen’s Rising"

Rebecca Ross was born and raised in Georgia, where she continues to reside with her husband, her lively Australian Shepherd, and her endless piles of books. She loves coffee, the night sky, chalk art, maps, the mountains, and growing wildflowers in her yard. And a good story, of course.

Ross applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Queen's Rising, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I stopped walking. My hand gently removed the vellum, letting it drift to the floor as I stared at the book. The Book of Hours, its title read with embossed gold. I hadn’t even noticed the title on the cover when Cartier had given it to me, so worn and tattered was the book; it had seemed more like a smudge of stardust before. But now, it was strikingly clear.

What would I tell him when I returned it? That this crafty little Maevan book of lore had turned back time?

No sooner did I think such than did my curiosity sprout as a weed. I flipped open the cover. There was the Maevan publishing emblem, and there was the first year of its print. 1430.

And my fingers on the page—the hands holding this book—were no longer mine.
On page 69 of The Queen’s Rising, Brienna begins to experience one of her ancestor’s memories for the first time. This is the driving force that eventually gets Brienna involved with the secret revolution to return a queen to the throne, so it’s a very pivotal moment.

The first memory is stirred when Brienna finds herself reading a very old book of lore…the same book her ancestor once owned and read two centuries before her. The action forges a path between them, one that defies time and place, and Brienna suddenly finds herself in her ancestor’s perceptions.
Visit Rebecca Ross's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 15, 2018

"The Precious Dreadful"

Steven Parlato is an award-winning author and poet. Upon the release of his YA debut, The Namesake, Publishers Weekly called him “a name to watch.” A college English professor (with a giraffe-filled office), illustrator, and actor, Parlato has played roles including the Scarecrow, Macbeth, and the Munchie Mania Guy in a Friendly’s training film. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, two teens, and a Binks-like cockapoo.

Parlato applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Precious Dreadful, and reported the following:
On first putting my page 69 to the test, I thought, Hmmm. I'm not sure this represents the whole book. I also wondered: Would this engage a curious reader? There's no big romantic gesture, no menacing ghost-girl, no recollected trauma--all elements central to The Precious Dreadful. Nope. Page 69 features an aftermath.

The scene follows one in which my protagonist, Teddi Alder, and her single mom, Brenda, engage in a pretty epic battle—verbal-verging-on-violent—over Teddi's potential boyfriend, Aidan. On this page, as Brenda attempts to make nice, we see a surprise element—tenderness—within a relationship I generally describe as toxic.

When Brenda suggests Teddi introduce her to Aidan, the conversation goes like this:
"Oh shit...that's just..." I make this medicine-taste face. "Ack."

"Not the response a mother dreams of."

"Aidan and I aren't even officially going out yet. It would be epically bizarre to introduce him to my family. Such as it is."


"You know what I meant."

"I suppose I do."
That exchange features what Teddi would likely call “Typical Alder Woman Bluntness”. It nicely represents the dynamic between these two, their bond that swings between us-against-the-world and us-against-each-other throughout the book. That connection with her terribly-flawed mother shapes Teddi profoundly. The bond with Brenda has forged in Teddi the strength of an alder tree—while leaving her deeply scarred as well.

In the end, for its revealing glimpse of one of the novel's core relationships, I guess this passage from The Precious Dreadful passes the page 69 test after all.
Visit Steven Parlato's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"The Which Way Tree"

Elizabeth Crook novels include The Night Journal, which received the Spur Award from Western Writers of America, and Monday, Monday, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2014 and winner of the Jesse H. Jones Award from the Texas Institute of Letters.

Crook applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Which Way Tree, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Which Way Tree drops us right into the middle of the action. The murderous, legendary panther known as El Demonio de Dos Dedos—The Two-Toed Demon—has returned for a second time to the Shreve homestead after mauling Samantha Shreve and killing her mother on its first visit. Now Benjamin, fourteen years old, and Samantha, twelve, are orphaned and living alone in a shoddy cabin at the edge of the wilderness in the hill country of Texas during the chaotic years of the Civil War.

Samantha, having longed for the panther to return so she could exact justice, has awakened in the night to the sound of the panther slaughtering goats in the goat pen, grabbed a pistol that is loaded with cheap and possibly useless gunpowder made from bat guano, and defied Benjamin by charging outside to shoot the panther. Benjamin has run after her. He finds her in the goat pen, facing the panther, which has dropped the kid it has killed and locked its eyes on her. Samantha is frozen in fear, and Benjamin, afraid she will fire the gun and the lousy powder will fail, makes his way into the pen to help her, hoping that by leaving the gate open the panther will run out.

It does not run out. Instead, as Benjamin tells us in his plainspoken voice: “The panther then turned its face to me. Its yellow eyes in the light of my lantern was like two holes showing a fire burning inside the creature’s skull.”

In Benjamin’s words:
Sideways was how I made my way over to Sam whilst keeping a eye on the panther and holding the lantern high. I got so scared I almost thought it would be a relief if I laid down and give myself up. I thought I should maybe do that, and allow Samantha to live. Then I thought maybe not. If I was to die she might as well pass on with me, as she was bound to be in a heap of trouble throughout her whole life without me.

The wind was again blowing hard. It tossed the light about and I though it might put it out. It was a long, long journey across that small pen, I will tell you what. I recall the feel of the goat shat under my bare feet, the wind blowing dust in my eyes, the fickle light of the lantern, and the way the panther kept up a ominous growl.

When I got close to Samantha she had the shakes all over, but she was still aiming the pistol. I figured if she was to pull the trigger the ball would drop like a stream of piss. I thought, If you bet your whole life on bat shat I ain’t going to hardly cry for you. I feared talking, except under the wind. I said, Come with me.

She said, I can kill it.

I said, If you try and the powder’s bad, it’ll pick the puniest of us.
In every possible way, page 69 is indicative of the other 272 pages of The Which Way Tree, revealing the tone set by Benjamin’s honest storytelling, the rapid pace of the tale, and the driving force behind it: Samantha and her unquenchable need for revenge.
Visit Elizabeth Crook's website.

The Page 69 Test: Monday, Monday.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"American Panda"

Gloria Chao is an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer. She currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for cooperative board games, Dance Dance Revolution, or soup dumplings. She was also once a black belt in kung-fu and a competitive dancer, but that side of her was drilled and suctioned out.

Chao applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, American Panda, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Sorry, I’ve got to go,” I blurted out, checking my wrist for the time even though there was no watch there.

I wasn’t ready to tell him. Talking about my secret dreams brought them closer to reality, which could never be. And that included him. No Japanese boys, I heard in my head, my mother’s words like nails on a chalkboard.

“Where’re you headed? I’ll walk with you,” he offered.

“Sorry. I’m in a hurry.” I was already one foot out the door.

“When will I see you again?”

“When there’s another student in distress, needing saving,” I joked, because it was easier.

“Then I’ll be sure to start telling the MIT sex joke constantly. Maybe incite some fights over whether the Logs or the Chorallaries are better—or maybe just commit all-out blasphemy by saying a capella sucks.”

I faux gasped, and we shared one of those conspiratorial looks that happens when you find that rare person who shares your sense of humor.

I punched him on the arm lightly (because I’m awkward) and left promptly (because I’m a coward). It was even harder for me to do than return to my chlamydia-infested room.
This passage shows my main character’s sense of humor, her awkwardness, her playful banter with her crush, and the parental pressures she’s struggling with. The interaction also shows how even though the main character, Mei, has feelings for Darren, she’s actively trying to keep a distance because of her parents’ disapproval.

The passage also has a hint of her squeamishness with germs, which plays into her story because her parents want her to be a doctor. The MIT setting is also featured here, with a glimpse into campus life, which is also a big part of the book (hence the MIT Great Dome pictured on the cover).

The only two pieces of the book missing in this passage are examples of Chinese traditions and Mei’s relationship with her mother, which are both integral parts of the book.
Visit Gloria Chao's website and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 12, 2018

"As Bright As Heaven"

Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include A Bridge Across the Ocean; Secrets of Charmed Life, a Goodreads finalist for Best Historical Fiction 2015; and A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction titles for 2014. A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University. Meissner is a pastor’s wife and a mother of four young adults.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, As Bright as Heaven, and reported the following:
As Bright As Heaven is a novel with the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 as its primary backdrop. The story is told in the alternating viewpoints of a mother, Pauline, and her three daughters who are 15,13 and seven. Page 69 happens to be one of Pauline’s chapters, just before the flu descends. She is sharing with the reader how she feels about being the wife of an undertaker, which is new for her – her husband had been a tobacco farmer but has just been named partner and heir to his uncle’s Philadelphia mortuary business.

Pauline, still grieving the loss of an infant son the year before, has an unexplainable desire to help get the dead ready for burial in the embalming room of the family business. This desire perplexes her after what happened to her baby boy. Likewise, she senses that Death is still swirling about her, but not like a specter, not like a Grim Reaper, but more like a companion who knows well her loss.

In this particular scene, Pauline had been looking a book on ancient Egyptology and reading about what the Egyptians did to preserve their dead. She muses on the notion that our mortal bodies are given more reverence after death than even before it, and she compares the human body to a candle, and the soul its flame. When the flame is snuffed out all that is left to prove that there had been a flame is the candle, and that even that we only get to keep for a little while.

Pauline says on page 69, speaking of the book on Egyptology, “Then the body would be laid in its beautiful coffin, all wrapped up in spices like myrrh and cinnamon, and the jars would be tucked right alongside it. The body would last a long time. A very long time. But the book said that mummies that have been opened and unwrapped look very little like the people they had been several millennia before. Eventually, the candle disappears, too. It just does.”

Throughout the book, Pauline’s character wrestles with the notion that it is our mortality that gives life its meaning: if our days were not numbered, we would not care how we spent them. Death actually gives life its value. And life is precious not just because it’s finite, but because we spend our lives loving people and being loved. It is love that makes saying goodbye so hard, and the road to recovery after loss even harder, and yet love is also what makes recovery possible. When those we love die, we get to keep all the love we have for them. That part stays. It hurts as we heal, but we do heal. And it’s love that is the balm.
Visit Susan Meissner's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Susan Meissner & Bella.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 10, 2018

"Where the Wild Cherries Grow"

After a childhood spent acting professionally and training at a theatre school, Laura Madeleine changed her mind and went to study English Literature at Newnham College, Cambridge. The author of The Confectioner's Tale, she now writes fiction, as well as recipes, and was formerly the resident cake baker for Domestic Sluttery. She lives in Bristol, but can often be found visiting her family in Devon, eating cheese, and getting up to mischief with her sister, fantasy author Lucy Hounsom.

Madeleine applied the Page 69 Test to her latest book to reach the US, Where the Wild Cherries Grow: A Novel of the South of France, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The dress is too loose now. It made me look like a child, masquerading in adult clothes, which would not do.

I have not been into Mother’s room since the day they took her away. I couldn’t help lingering at her dressing table, where she used to brush my hair. I took a string of pearls from her drawer, a pair of matching drops for my ears. I suppose we shall have to sell her jewellery to pay our debts. But not tonight.

Timothy made a face when I called at his room to say goodnight just now. He is not used to seeing me dressed like this. He clung to my neck when I kissed his forehead.

‘You smell like Mama,’ he whispered, and I held him all the tighter. Her perfume still lingers on these pearls, the scent released as they warm against my skin.
While this page isn’t representative of the rest of the book, it is representative of the some of the book. In this section, we see Emeline approaching one of her darkest moments, when, unable to cope with devastating loss, she does something that will change the course of her life forever…

The first quarter of Where the Wild Cherries Grow is written in fragments of Emeline’s diary from this time, alternating between chapters featuring a young solicitor, Bill Perch, in London during the summer of 1969.

In the above extract, it is February 1919, on the cold marshes of the Norfork coast. Emeline’s whole world feels both empty and grey and as violent as the North Sea storms. I wanted her section of the book to crack open halfway through the telling, for light and warmth and life to come filtering, then flooding through. But for those sections you’ll have to read on.
Visit Laura Madeleine's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 8, 2018

"As Good as True"

Cheryl Reid grew up in Decatur, Alabama. She studied art and writing at Agnes Scott College and earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University. She lives with her husband, three children, and a rescue dog called Django in Decatur, Georgia.

Reid applied the Page 69 Test to As Good as True, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Papa hung his head. He looked pale and weak and old.

“I’m not going anywhere.” I held the bag and felt the ridges of money beneath the canvas. There was the house, the store, bank accounts, and money squirreled away. All of it was profit from my toil as well as Elias’s. I would stay and I would have my share. I would have my daughter to myself.

Papa coughed. When he caught his breath, he cast his eyes upward at the light coming through the window, like he was praying in church. With a closed fist, he rapped the desk with his knuckles—a nervous tic he had when a customer had gone on too long and Papa did not know how to end the conversation. “I’ve bought you three days from Ivie. Get yourself in order. The Nassads want you gone.”

“What have I done so bad as this, Papa?”

“I don’t know what to believe. That’s between you and God.” His eyes were cold and golden-brown like the river shallows in winter. Looking into them made me feel like a stone sinking.

I listened for a trace of love in his voice and looked for a sign of gentleness across his face. My father had never said he loved me. I’d taken it for granted in the past, but he was telling me to go and I was not certain.

“What harm is there in a man delivering mail?” My knuckles grew white from my grip on the canvas bag.

“He is Thea’s son.”

Papa had watched them, Gus and Orlando, playing by the river, shooting marbles and swimming, throwing rocks at geese. Papa drove to Nashville in the middle of the night to retrieve the boys from the train station after their failed attempt to stow away to the World’s Fair.

At some point, Aunt Elsa had told my father, “Anna needs to play with white girls,” and then I was no longer allowed to join my brother and Orlando. But no white girls invited me to play at their homes, and no white girl would come to Mounds to play with the motherless daughter of immigrants. No Riverton mother would think of allowing it.

“Are you going to take their side over mine?” I asked.
On page 69, Anna asks, “What harm is there in a man delivering mail?” A question that we can easily answer from our present day perspective, but one that is the catalyst for the terrible chain of events in As Good as True.

Indeed, Anna’s stand to help Orlando is a noble one, but the bigotry and violence that she has tolerated has also consumed her, and she becomes part of the problem. This passage shows a major conflict within Anna—how does she sort out the truth and reconcile her misdeeds?

This page also illustrates the loneliness that Anna has endured since childhood. Having lost her mother at a young age, Anna wants nothing more than to be loved, and yet she has lived in isolation—in her family, in her marriage, in her town. As an an Arab immigrant’s child, she’s lived on the cusp of the white and the black communities, never truly belonging to either. This vulnerability set her up for abuse, and in this scene with her father, where love and protection are conflated, we see Anna’s terrible option, one that many women have faced: pretend things are fine or suffer the consequences.
Anna’s denials have no purchase with Papa, and he forces her to face reality. In some ways, Papa is glad that Elias is dead. He was a brutal husband to Anna. Papa feels anger and frustration because Elias’s violence has stained his daughter. Now, Papa wants Anna to be practical and get out of harm’s way. Even if he can’t say it, his love is palpable, making the scene all the more fraught.

Defiant to the end, Anna remains caught up in her own head. She wants desperately to stay for her daughter and go on as if nothing has occurred. In this scene, it becomes clear that tough choices await Anna in the coming days: she can run away, or stay and fight for what she loves, come what may.
Learn more about As Good as True by Cheryl Reid.

Coffee with a Canine: Cheryl Reid & Django.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

"A Well-Timed Murder"

Tracee de Hahn writes the Agnes Lüthi mystery series set in Switzerland. The new book in the series: A Well-Timed Murder.

Prior to writing fiction she began her career in the practice of architecture, using the need to see great buildings as an excuse to travel. After several years in Switzerland, and receiving an advanced degree in European history, she turned her hand to the non-profit world, eventually running alumni relations for a west coast university.

Having left the ‘real’ world to purse a writing career, de Hahn now lives with her husband and Jack Russell Terriers and Flemish Giant rabbit in southwest Virginia in a Victorian house with the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in the far distance. There they have a marvelous deep porch where limitless cups of Lady Grey tea can be enjoyed while the next book is plotted. She loves reading and travel and cooking and is an occasional amateur painter.

De Hahn applied the Page 69 Test to A Well-Timed Murder and reported the following:
In A Well-Timed Murder Agnes Lüthi investigates the untimely death of prominent Swiss watchmaker, Guy Chavanon. On page 69 she visits his family’s factory in the company of his daughter.
Christine looked around the large room as if seeing it through a visitor’s eyes. “At the height of production fifty or seventy-five years ago, there would have been a hundred people working here every day.”

Several of the tall desks were modern, with white tops and high-powered lamps attached to the upper corners. Two had powerful illuminated magnifying glasses affixed to one side. The fronts of the desks were padded so employees could brace their arms to steady them. Neat boxes of tools say on flat surfaces and on adjacent rolling storage units. Freestanding cabinets with drawers, cubbyholes, and shelves dotted the area. Agnes peered into a drawer.
Place is important in my writing, and hopefully this snippet of description provides specific information about the scene without slowing the story. It is important to understand that the watch industry is shrinking and changing with advancing technology and consumer preferences. The next segment is:
“Component parts.” Christine pulled a long flat box from a shelf. It held hundreds of tiny orange watch faces. She frowned, making her plain face decidedly unattractive. “This is Marie’s doing. They’re not marked with our logo They’ll be distributed under the name of the retailer who buys them.” She slammed the boxes down, then seemed to think better of it and adjusted them carefully on the shelves. “I’m being unfair it’s what everyone does now. They have to, to survive.”

Which meant rivals, no matter what Christine said, thought Agnes, reminded of Antoine Mercier. He’d felt Guy Chavanon was innovative. He’s also mentioned Copernicus. A revolutionary.
Agnes ends the page increasingly unsure about Antoine Mercier’s comments in a previous scene (he is president of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry). Page 69 also sets up the next pages where Agnes meets Guy Chavanon’s neighbor and then Chavanon’s widow. It would be impossible to understand their perspectives, and suspect their lies, without seeing first-hand the business Chavanon left behind.

If you read only this page? Page 69 is an information and transition scene. Hopefully it brings forward a lingering question Agnes had after her conversation with Mercier and provides knowledge necessary to understand what comes next in her investigation of Chavanon’s death.
Visit Tracee de Hahn's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Tracee de Hahn & Alvaro and Laika.

The Page 69 Test: Swiss Vendetta.

My Book, The Movie: A Well-Timed Murder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

"The Burial Society"

Ballantine published filmmaker Nina Sadowsky’s debut thriller, Just Fall, in March 2016. She is developing a TV series based on the book. Sadowsky has written numerous screenplays and produced many films including perennial favorite The Wedding Planner. She also teaches script development and producing at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.

Sadowsky applied the Page 69 Test to her second novel, The Burial Society, and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test doesn't work so well for The Burial Society. I'm proud of the writing but it's not the page I'd pick if I could give readers only one page to introduce the novel as it introduces aspects of my protagonist’s character that need to be revealed within the context of the story.

But page 99? Well, that page speaks to the very essence of my thriller.

The page begins with this line: “If my manipulations make you squeamish, remember my goals are worthy.” The voice is that of Catherine, the founder of The Burial Society, a darknet-based organization dedicated to rescuing abused women, whistleblowers and others whose desperate, dangerous lives have made turning to her their last resort. Catherine has overcome a horrific childhood only to cast herself in the role of a savior, but while she has a firm moral code of her own, she doesn’t always operate within the law.

That first line of Page 99 perfectly encapsulates one of the major themes of the novel, which explores this arena of moral ambiguity. The page continues:

“I shake off my misgivings. Natalie had shared useful information, which was also unexpected. Brian Burrows was afraid before he died. This presents me with a trail of sorts, a start. I need to talk to Brian’s co-workers right away.”

The chapter ends there. This is also emblematic of the novel as Catherine’s quest to solve Brian’s murder and help his teen daughter Natalie is the beating heart of the story. Catherine failed to protect Natalie’s mother years before and this has haunted her ever since. Drawn back into the family’s orbit when Brian is murdered as well, the tale is one of redemption, and another major theme of the novel, the need for courage in order to face reinvention.
Visit Nina Sadowsky's website.

Writers Read: Nina Sadowsky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 5, 2018

"The Glass Forest"

Cynthia Swanson is the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookseller: A Novel, which is soon to be a movie starring Julia Roberts. Her second novel, a literary thriller titled The Glass Forest, releases this week. Swanson lives in Denver, CO with her family.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Glass Forest and reported the following:
The Glass Forest, my second novel (follow-up to The Bookseller) is told through the viewpoint of three women. In 1960, twenty-one-year-old Angie is newly married to the older, charming Paul Glass. Seventeen-year-old Ruby, Paul’s niece, telephones Angie and Paul one day to report that her father (Paul’s brother Henry) is dead of an apparent suicide and her mother, Silja, has disappeared. The mysteriously missing Silja provides the backstory.

On page 69 of The Glass Forest, it’s 1944 and Henry has just returned from World War II. He had shipped out in 1942, after his and Silja’s whirlwind courtship and wedding. After being gravely injured, he returns to live with Silja, her mother, and their toddler, Ruby. Silja expects the romance of their earlier time together to pick up right where it left off—but Henry explains why that’s not to be.
That night in bed, Silja tried to get him to talk. “Tell me what happened,” she whispered. She sat with her nightgown wrapped around her knees as he lay on his back staring at the ceiling. “Tell me exactly where you were and what you were doing when you got hurt.”

In the half-light from the window, he turned toward her.

“Silja.” His voice was even and firm. “I’m going to say this once. I won’t say it again.” He sat up, facing her. “I don’t want to talk about what happened over there.” He looked out the window. “Don’t ever ask me again.”

Silja put her hand on his hip. “All right,” she said. “We don’t have to talk.” She reached forward, her hand crawling toward the buttons on his pajama bottoms’ fly—the new satin pajamas she’d splurged on for his homecoming night. “There are other things we can do.”

He pushed her hand away and shook his head angrily. “We can’t,” he said. “We never will again.”

“Never ... will again?” Silja shook her head. “What do you mean?”

Henry grimaced. “You know where ... on my body ... my injuries occurred.” His mouth was a thin, irritated line. “I was told that you’d be informed about what to expect. And you were informed, weren’t you?”

Silja frowned. She’d had a rather awkward telephone conversation with a stateside army nurse who’d explained what Silja might anticipate. “He should be fine by the time he gets home,” the nurse had assured her. “Or if not right away, then certainly with time, recuperating at home . . . everything will be okay.”

“I understand.” Silja had held the receiver close to her ear and watched Ruby, who was calmly stacking alphabet blocks on the living room rug.

“You just be patient with him, dear,” the nurse’s motherly voice went on. Silja could almost imagine the woman patting her hand through the telephone line. “Give him your devotion and love. That’s all it takes for these fellas to get back to their old selves.”

Now, sitting in bed next to Henry, Silja said, “They told me it would be okay.”

But that wasn’t what they told her, was it? She’d discounted the nurse’s warning about time and recuperation. She’d been certain everything would be wonderful the moment he was back in her arms.

“I’m sorry I rushed you, Henry,” she told him. “I shouldn’t have done that.” She looked at him hopefully. “But maybe ... another night ... soon?”

Henry lay back against the pillow. “Silja, I’m beat,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Good night.”

He turned away from her.
It’s a pivotal scene because until then, Silja had been optimistic and excited about the life Henry promised her. “Marry me now,” he’d said in 1942. “Marry me, Silja, and after this war is over, I’ll come back and we’ll make a life together. A life beyond your wildest dreams.”

But on the night of his return, Silja begins to realize the truth about what her future with Henry might truly hold.
Visit Cynthia Swanson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Bookseller.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 3, 2018

"Not Perfect"

Elizabeth LaBan lives in Philadelphia with her restaurant critic husband and two children. She is the author of The Restaurant Critic’s Wife, the young adult novel The Tragedy Paper, which has been translated into eleven foreign languages, and The Grandparents Handbook, which has been translated into seven foreign languages, and Pretty Little World, which she co-authored with Melissa DePino.

LaBan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Not Perfect, and reported the following:
Page 69 begins with Levi, Tabitha’s son, leaning over her and shaking her awake. “Get up, it’s so late,” he says. He is frustrated that all the systems in their home have broken down since his father Stuart disappeared, though the kids think, or are at least told, that he is simply on an extended business trip. It is a good glimpse into the book, as they are all in a bad spot – Tabitha is disoriented when she is woken up, and then realizes that Fern, her daughter, is in her bed because her leg has been causing her pain. Levi wants everyone and everything to be normal. And Fern is pretending her leg – which hurts a lot – isn’t as bad as it is since she knows something is up and doesn’t want to make things harder for her mother. It all prompts Tabitha to yet again try to finagle the rules in an effort to not spend money since their cash flow stopped when Stuart left (she worries about the co-pay at the pediatrician’s office), and asks if the school nurse will take a look at Fern even though it is completely against school policy. Two pages later Tabitha sends her first 911 text to Stuart – one that goes unanswered, and the reader understands that Stuart is unreachable and Tabitha really is on her own.
Visit Elizabeth LaBan's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Restaurant Critic's Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 2, 2018

"Blood and Sand"

C. V. Wyk was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. She has lived in five states in the continental US (and hopes to add a few international locales to that list). Prone to wanderlust and getting lost, Wyk likes to explore local hiking trails, mountain ranges, dark caves where nefarious mythical creatures undoubtedly reside, and libraries. She currently lives in Maryland with a precocious mini poodle and a demanding guinea pig.

Wyk's applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Blood and Sand, and reported the following:
Blood and Sand is a story about rebellion, identity, loyalty, and redemption. Funny enough, page 69 of the book actually touches on all of those things. It’s the end of a chapter and a pivotal scene for one of the main characters—a moment when her rage and fury narrow and focus, when her mission as the scion of Thrace crystalizes in her mind. Ironically, it also emphasizes the conflict between the efficiency she’s learned through her training and the recklessness inherent to her youth, a conflict that she doesn’t even truly realize is there. For all her abilities, she is still very young, and her emotional responses to certain events—even when they are hidden behind a mask of calculating ruthlessness—are clearly those of a teenager, albeit one who is highly trained and highly skilled. The page shows just how much growth she has left to achieve before she can truly accomplish the world-changing mission she’s set for herself, even though—in her mind—she has finally found her path forward.
Visit C. V. Wyk's website.

Writers Read: C. V. Wyk.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 1, 2018

"Blood Sisters"

Jane Corry is a writer and journalist and has spent time as the writer in residence of a high-security prison for men–an experience that helped inspire My Husband’s Wife, her suspense debut.

Corry applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Blood Sisters, and reported the following:
Page 69 comes after a really tense scene when Alison has witnessed a violent attack in prison. I tried to impart the sense of unreality when the rest of the world goes on around you, even though you are in shock. ‘All I really wanted to do was drive home and hide under the covers’. I’ve wanted to do that at times and I’m sure you have too.

This page also shows the effect on the other prisoners. (A few years ago, I was writer in residence of a high-security male jail which gave me first-hand experience.) Prisoners play a big role in Blood Sisters. I wanted to show that they aren’t always what they seem……

Criminals are also (usually) fiercely loyal to their nearest and dearest. as this page shows. ‘Family outside assumes huge significance for prisoners - usually more than when they were free.'

The funny thing is that the page numbering differs in the UK paperback version so I thought I’d take a look at that too. There, page 69 of Blood Sisters shows a rather tender scene between Kitty and the man/boy she falls in love with. It shows her manipulative side as well as the vulnerable aspect. It’s funny. Yet it’s also painful. So in a way, it’s representative of the tone throughout the book.

Page 69 also gets right into the heart of Kitty’s head and also describes the care home where she lives. ‘Kitty’s heart began to float. Right up to the ceiling with its brown cloud stains.’

Kitty doesn’t know why she’s in the home because she’s lost her memory (she thinks someone might have left it in the back of a wardrobe) but page 69 describes how love has made everything all right again. She can’t talk or walk but she has learned to hum with happiness as the following line shows. 'Never before had she felt so happy. Hmmm! Hmmm!’

It also shows the way that Kitty sees other characters. She doesn’t always give them names but describes them in the way she sees them. On Page 69 we meet Smiley Carer.

The Page 69 Test is such a clever idea! I’m just about to start writing my next book and I’m going to pay particular attention to the text on that page!
Follow Jane Corry on Twitter and Facebook.

Writers Read: Jane Corry.

--Marshal Zeringue