Thursday, December 12, 2019

"When the Stars Lead to You"

Ronni Davis grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where she tried her best to fit in—and failed miserably. After graduating from The Ohio State University with a BA in Psychology, she worked in insurance, taught yoga, and became a cat mom.

Now she lives in Chicago with her husband Adam and her son Aidan. By day she copy edits everything from TV commercials to billboards, and by night she writes contemporary teen novels about brown girls falling in love. When she’s not writing, you can catch her playing the Sims, eating too much candy, or planning her next trip to Disney World.

Davis applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, When the Stars Lead to You, and reported the following:
Is page 69 representative of the rest of the book?

On page 69, Devon has her second run in with Ashton after he’s come back into her life after ghosting on her two summers ago. Naturally, she’s in kind of a tailspin, and every time she seems him, the whirl of emotions grow more intense.
Longing and
anger and
desire and—
She’s so angry at him, while also consumed by her memories of their summer together. She’s fighting her desire for him, despite remembering how much hurt her before.
His voice had deepened slightly since that summer. I hated that it still gave me chills.
Devon struggles with her feelings for Ashton throughout the book. She loves him so much, but she’s fights with determining if he is good for her or not. Based on that, I believe page 69 is absolutely representative of the book.
Visit Ronni Davis's website.

My Book, The Movie: When the Stars Lead to You.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

"Down the Darkest Road"

Kylie Brant is the author of more than forty novels, including Cold Dark Places in the Cady Maddix series, the Circle of Evil Trilogy, and the stand-alone novels Pretty Girls Dancing and Deep as the Dead. A three-time RITA Award nominee, five-time RT Award finalist, and two-time Daphne du Maurier Award winner, Brant is a member of the Romance Writers of America, including its Kiss of Death mystery and suspense chapter; Novelists, Inc.; and the International Thriller Writers. Her books have been published in thirty-four countries and have been translated into eighteen languages.

Brant applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Down the Darkest Road, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“A man named Bruce Forrester was also locked up at that time.” Cady took a picture of Forrester from her pocket and slid it across the table to Gosch. “Do you remember him?”

He tapped the photo once. “Yeah. Yeah, I do. Mostly ’cuz I heard ‘bout what he done later. Killing that kid and all. Knew at the time there was something wrong with him. Did he molest that boy before he killed him?”

Cady blinked. “Why would you ask that?”

Gosch leaned forward, lowering his voice. “There was this other guy in here at the time. Byrd. He was kept isolated. I figured he done something big, but then one of the guys said he was one of them pedos.”

“A pedophile?”

“Yeah. There were just a few of us in there until late the next night when a whole shit ton of people got hauled in. Jailers shifted us around some, but Forrester, he asks to cell with him.” Gosch sat back, gave her a knowing look. “Forrester is one of them guys you give a wide berth. The rest of us waited, expecting a bloodbath. Ain’t no one got time for a pervert like Byrd, and we figured Forrester would half kill him before the jailers could separate them.”

That was the impression Cady had formed of the fugitive as well. “But he didn’t?”

Gosch shook his head slowly. “Nope. Whole time they was in there, they had their heads together whispering. Just talking real low, like the best of buds. Only thing I could figure was Forrester might have the same interest in little kids that Byrd did.”
Page 69 has US Deputy Marshal Cady Maddix tracking down fugitive Bruce Forrester on a recent kidnapping warrant. In this passage, she’s interviewing a county inmate who was jailed at the same time as the fugitive years earlier. Gosch’s conclusion about Forrester doesn’t pan out, but his revelation does connect to how Forrester has been making a living all these years. And it’s critical to Cady’s growing suspicion that the key to finding the man is buried in his dark past.

Five years ago, ten-year-old Dylan Castle and his friend went into the woods one night and stumbled onto Forrester in the middle of a crime scene. Dylan survived; his friend did not. Dylan and his family have moved from place to place to stay one step ahead of Forrester. Cady is afraid that the boy is the reason the fugitive has remained the area. But to find him, she’s first going to have to figure out what happened in the woods that night. The closer she draws to the truth, the more danger she’s in. Cady has to find Forrester before he discovers where Dylan is hiding. And she has to stay alive long enough to save them both.
Visit Kylie Brant's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

"The Revisionaries"

A. R. Moxon is a writer who runs the popular twitter handle @JuliusGoat. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Moxon applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Revisionaries, and reported the following:
From page 69:
To him, Bailey was his relation. He didn’t realize that Yale had been her boyfriend. He had no idea his two managers even knew each other before they became colleagues—a misapprehension those two encouraged. No, I doubt Ralph gave Yale a passing thought when he made the hires.

But Donk and Bailey sure gave Yale a passing thought. For them, their new jobs were less a hire than an infiltration. I suppose you could say seeing brother and lover murdered affected them a bit, as regarded their feelings toward Ralph Mayor.


It’s nearly dark, and thus far the expected trouble hasn’t arrived. Donk’s closed down the store early, which is a tricky bit of business. You have to come up with a cover story the gangs will believe; Donk decided to claim an internal audit, requiring the manger’s presence. Now they’re by the checkout lanes, pretending to count cash and confabulating. Even so, Bailey frets; there’s always the worry that news of an unauthorized closing will get back to Ralph. They also have to worry about whoever might be on the way.

Donk, being Donk, sees opportunity where Boyd sees only danger. In fact, Donk seems to be ready to shoot some crazy angle, seems to detect some hope that they’ve finally come near the end of their long vengeful road.

The problem with getting Ralph is all the bodyguards. You can’t fight your way into Ralph’s retirement villa. Survival of the fittest? Ralph’s bodyguards are the fittest who survived. Even if you could sneak a weapon past their jealous eyes, you still have Ralph, old, but tough and mean. The odds of prevailing with a shiv against Ralph are not strong, and even then, there would be a bad death afterward. No way to fight past that shrewdness of apes; their paunches hide impenetrable mounds of muscle, they possess a frequently indulged taste for cruel deeds. They know their way around ordnance and cutting edges and brass knuckles, they knew where nerves cluster, they knew where to snip to make your ligaments give way like cables, unroll your muscles inside your skin.

What we need, Daniel is fond of repeating, is an army to go get the bastard. He has the unified gangs, sure, but his tenuous authority over them comes to him from Ralph. No good. He needs another army.
The difficulty in saying whether or not page 69 is representative of the whole is that the whole is comprised of 4 distinct parts, each of which become more fragmentary as the book progresses into revelations I'd rather not mention. However, as page 69, which occurs in Part 1, deals with three of our characters navigating the impact of new intrigues upon long-standing intrigues, it is at least representative of that part.

There is one way at least, however, that page 69 is representative of the whole, and that is that it features a change in mode. We switch from a character named Tennessee, speaking in first person (to an as-yet unrevealed party) about the events that are happening in present-tense Part 1, before swapping over to the events Tennessee is recalling, and a third person omniscient voice. As the book progresses, this shifts will (one hopes) take on greater and greater depths of meaning for the attentive reader. And hey, even if they don’t, they sure will be in there, so I’d say that page 69 is a very … oh let’s say nice … representation of the novel as a whole.
Visit A. R. Moxon's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Revisionaries.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 8, 2019

"The Penmaker's Wife"

Steve Robinson is a London-based crime writer. He was sixteen when his first magazine article was published and he’s been writing ever since. A love for genealogy inspired his first bestselling series, the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mysteries, and he is now expanding his writing to historical crime, another area he is passionate about.

Robinson applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Penmaker's Wife, and reported the following:
I think page sixty-nine of The Penmaker’s Wife (my eighth published book to date) is very representative of the rest of the story. I can’t share much of it with you, unfortunately, because it contains some pretty big spoilers. Angelica Chastain is the lead character, and here we see her dark side for the first time, which is something that builds throughout the remainder of the book. On page sixty-nine Angelica is telling her confidante what she did in London before she fled to Birmingham with her young son, William, and about some of the terrible things she’s done since as she set out to make a better life for him. While some dark deeds are revealed on page sixty-nine, however, I wanted the reader to feel some sympathy for Angelica, rather than condemning her for her actions, asking what he or she would have done in her situation, which was very dire indeed. Page sixty-nine is also part of a section that reveals a big twist, of which The Penmaker’s Wife has many.

Here’s how the page ends:

‘You see,’ Angelica said, ‘I’m a monster, and I’m sorry I lied to you before, but how could I have told you all this when we first met? You would not have wished to know me then.’
Visit Steve Robinson's website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Steve Robinson.

My Book, The Movie: The Penmaker's Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 6, 2019

"No Man's Land"

Sara Driscoll is the pen name of Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan, authors of the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries and the FBI K-9s series.

They applied the Page 69 Test to their latest FBI K-9s novel, No Man's Land, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“If we can match COD on both victims, I’ll be able to make it happen. This may be too soon, though. You know most tox results take four to six weeks to come in,” said Craig.

“Do you think it will be an impediment if we can’t tie together COD?” asked Meg.

“Maybe. Maybe not. There are enough similarities in the unique body dump sites with victims that I can make a case for the potential of a common killer. Let me make some calls.”
Page 69 of No Man's Land finds the FBI’s Human Scent Evidence Team just as they are beginning to realize the case they’re working on may involve serial deaths. It’s representative of the rest of the book in that it’s the gateway for the team taking control of the case.

After unexpectedly finding a body while out enjoying an afternoon of urban exploration—the exploration of abandoned or nearly inaccessible man-made structures, also known as urbex—in Maryland, FBI K-9 handler Meg Jennings and the rest of her team are suspicious of the death, recognizing they’ve found the elderly victim in a challenging location she could not have reached on her own. After looking into past disappearances of older persons, they wonder if they’ve found a victim connected to a much bigger case. But after a second victim goes missing in real time, Meg and her search-and-rescue black Lab, Hawk, and several other team members follow the clues in an attempt to save the victim before it’s too late. The search leads them to the shuttered Pennsylvania industrial facility of Bethlehem Steel, where, sadly, they find another deceased senior.

When Meg presents the situation to her superior, FBI Special Agent-in-charge Craig Beaumont, he takes it upon himself to find a way to not only link the deaths, but to claim jurisdiction of the case due to the murders occurring across state lines. More than that, he will ensure the case becomes his responsibility, allowing his teams to investigate all related disappearances.

It’s clear the victims are alive when they are abandoned in the condemned buildings. Now, if they can put the clues together fast enough, the team might just be able to find the victims in time to save their lives and end this murderer’s gruesome spree.
Learn more about the FBI K-9 Novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

"The Lammisters"

An author and arts journalist, Declan Burke has previously published crime novels, including Slaughter’s Hound and the award-winning Absolute Zero Cool. The Lammisters is a comic novel. Although set in Prohibition-era Hollywood, it is influenced by Irish comic novelists such as Laurence Sterne and Flann O’Brien.

Burke applied the Page 69 Test to The Lammisters and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Lammisters is fairly typical of the novel overall, in large part because it is ridiculous to a fault. The Bartley we meet is Bartley McGuffin, who is the personal secretary to one Sir Archibald l’Estrange-B’stard, an Anglo-Irish aristocrat who has journeyed to California in the hope of encountering chorus dolls and movie stars of questionable morals. As we meet him, Bartley has managed to insult Felicia Fortesque, the confidante of Vanessa Hopgood, Hollywood’s most shimmering star; in consequence, Felicia has whipped out her derringer, and is threatening to fatally dispatch Bartley should he utter so much as one single further syllable:
The mind, to paraphrase the immortal Milton, being of its own place, wherein can be devised a hell of heaven, and a heaven of hell, Bartley’s thoughts now wander from his current predicament in a phenomenon that will be familiar to those readers who have found themselves in immediate danger of going the way of a quasi-aristocratic bounder in a Chekhovian third act, i.e., his life flashed before his eyes.

Alas, your humble narrator is obliged to report that said mental two-reeler proved a considerable disappointment to Bartley McGuffin, consisting as it did of a series of sliced drives, duffed niblicks and two-foot putts sent trickling downhill past the hole on the right-hand side. Ironically, the image that jerked Bartley out of his maudlin reverie was that of a ball he had driven straight and true the best part of two hundred and seventy yards down the fairway but which had come to rest nestling in the shadowy recesses of a temporary drain the groundskeeper had neglected to mark GUR. The blend of rage and despair that had accompanied Bartley’s belated understanding that his was a pointless existence lived as a microscopic speck in what was at best a blindly indifferent and at worst mindlessly hostile universe returned now to enflame Bartley’s instinctive fight-or-flight response, and he raised his gaze from the derringer’s pitiless muzzle to meet the equally merciless stare of Felicia Fortesque. And it was now that Bartley McGuffin dug deep, mining a hitherto unsuspected seam of courage, fortitude and grace under pressure, and there found, just when he needed it most, the wherewithal to give vent to a provocatively defiant sniff.
Page 69 combines a number of elements which feature in The Lammisters: most of the characters are devoted to the noble Scottish art, i.e., golf; all of the characters find themselves adrift in a story which has been abandoned by a hapless aspiring author, and are thus living pointless existences in a blindly indifferent universe; and the language employed is exactly what you might expect when a verbose narrator attempts to cobble together a story abandoned by his author, and especially when that narrator seems to know everything that is worth knowing about Western civilisation’s canon of literature – except, that is, how to write a clear, concise sentence.
Learn more about the book and author at Burke's Crime Always Pays blog.

Writers Read: Declan Burke.

My Book, The Movie: The Lammisters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 2, 2019

"Mercy Road"

Ann Howard Creel writes historical novels about strong female characters facing seemingly impossible obstacles and having to make life-changing decisions. In her novel The River Widow, a former tarot-card reader turned widow and stepmother must escape the clutches of an evil family while also facing the crime she herself has committed. In The Whiskey Sea, a fierce young woman becomes one of the only female rumrunners on the Atlantic Coast during Prohibition. And in While You Were Mine, a New York City nurse must give up the child she has raised as her own during World War II.

Creel applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Mercy Road, and reported the following:
From page 69 (with a few paragraphs before and after included, so that it makes more sense):
The next day, Cass and I took a taxi to automobile supply houses and procured the necessities and tools for all three ambulances. The doctors had trusted us to stock the vehicles and equip them for anything we might encounter on the roads ahead. After we’d dragged back or arranged deliveries for everything we needed, we took a couple of hours to visit Notre-Dame, the gardens of the Tuileries, and Napoleon’s tomb.

Eve had apparently tired of Kitty and Lottie’s company, or maybe she wanted to see more of France’s sights instead of its shops, because she asked if she could join us. A diminutive blond whose freckles covered her face all the way to her hairline, she could’ve passed for a schoolgirl, although she was twenty-three, like me.

As we walked the boulevards and parks, Eve tended to fall a few steps behind us, and I couldn’t figure out if she liked to lag behind or if she lived for the most part in her own world. She had purchased a small Paris guidebook, and she read as she tagged along.

I could’ve remained on the Pont Neuf for hours looking down at the smooth flow of the river that calmed my nerves about the date coming up that night, but we had much still to see, and we also purchased postcards to send home.

We took a taxi to Montmartre, where Papa had told me the artists congregated, but a waiter informed us that the artists’ turf had moved to the cafés of Montparnasse. Therefore we splurged on another taxi and headed to Café de la Rotonde, which according to Eve, Pablo Picasso frequented. There, Eve finally joined the conversation. “Did you know that when the Tuileries gardens first opened to the public, they barred some people? No beggars, lackeys, and soldiers.”

“Heavens,” I said.

“What are lackeys?” asked Cass.

“I think it’s the service class, such as servants and footmen,” Eve answered.

“Footmen?” Cass asked, then chuckled. “Maybe yesterday’s footmen are today’s drivers.”

I laughed. “Yes, perhaps we wouldn’t have been allowed. But I don’t understand banning soldiers.”

Indeed, the American soldier in France commanded a lot of respect. Whereas the French and British soldiers often appeared war-weary, like haggard ghosts of themselves, the American soldier wore a clean uniform and polished boots and smoked prized American-made cigarettes. He knew he would encounter danger, but he kept everything light with jokes and laughter. Other soldiers looked up to him, girls flirted with him, and children followed him around.

That thought swept me away for a while, the American soldier Captain Brohammer on my mind. I had guessed his age to be about thirty-one or thirty-two; he seemed like a youngster to have already reached the rank of captain. His dashing appearance made me think of Swedish warriors, and I could imagine him in a former life slaying dragons and sea serpents with a shining sword. My hands started trembling, and I put them under the table in my lap. I hadn’t gone on a date since high school.

Cass’s groans brought me back to the moment. Eve pointed at her guidebook and told us that France had always been a war zone. She talked about Charlemagne, William the Conqueror, and Joan of Arc. “This part of the country has been the site of sieges, marches, battlegrounds, and the war camps of France’s enemies going back to the beginning of recorded time.”

Cass looked around the café. “Does anyone have some paper?” she asked the air. “I seem to have wandered into a class on French history, but I forgot paper, and I need to take some notes.”

I held my breath, but Eve, a good sport it turned out, only smiled and continued talking.

Cass held up her hands. “Wait a minute. Are you always like this?” she asked Eve.

“Most of the time,” Eve answered.

Turning to me, Cass said, “If we ever have to ride doubled up, she’s going with you.”

I laughed.

Eve wove her hands together on the tabletop and leaned in. To Cass she said, “If you and I ever have to ride doubled up, I’ll do the driving.”

I liked this girl.

Cass gave a little whoop. “Not on your life.”

“I’ll wager I’m better.”

“Behind the wheel?” Cass shook her head. “What foolish fancy.”

“Speaking of fancies, do you race?”

Cass paled, obviously astonished. “Are you challenging me to a race?”

“Now, girls,” I interrupted them, but the smile wouldn’t leave my face. I hadn’t shared a laugh with friends in a long time.
This scene is typical of the lighter tone of the book before these ambulance drivers reach the war zone, and later, the front lines. I hope you enjoy it.
Visit Ann Howard Creel's website.

The Page 69 Test: The River Widow.

My Book, The Movie: Mercy Road.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 1, 2019

"Don't Tell the Nazis"

Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch is the acclaimed author of over sixteen picture books and novels. In 2013 she won the Silver Birch Fiction Award for Making Bombs for Hitler and the Red Cedar Award for Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan's Rescue from War.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Don't Tell the Nazis, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I stepped from behind the bush and walked toward the voices.

The Germans who weren’t from Germany: Volksdeutsche refugees. A few were tossing loose soil from a mound onto what looked like a freshly turned garden. Other shovels were neatly piled to the side.

Most of the Germans were calmly sorting through mounds of clothing. Shirts here, jackets there, hats there. As a shirt was picked up and shaken out, then folded, I couldn’t see a bullet hole, and there was no blood. All of the clothing seemed undamaged. But where were the Jewish men?

And then I noticed a familiar face—Frau Schneider, but her daughter, Marga, wasn’t with her. Frau Schneider was picking through the clothing along with several men and one other woman. One of the soldiers who had been handing out shovels yesterday stood among them, giving orders. They all seemed so calm, just concentrating on sorting the clothing.

So these people had been sent out here first to dig what looked like a garden ready for planting, and then they were sorting clothing? Very odd. And what would they be planting in the middle of the woods?
This excerpt is a good representation of the growing realization of what the Nazis are really up to. Days before this, the townspeople of Viteretz had been relieved by the arrival of the Germans in June 1941 after living under brutal occupation of the Soviets since September 1939.

They think the war is over.

But this scene shows that is these Nazis are not not the civilized Germans the townspeople were expecting, and that the war is far from over: it has just taken an unimaginably horrific turn.
Visit Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 28, 2019

"Age of Legends"

James Lovegrove is the New York Times bestselling author of The Age of Odin. He was short-listed for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1998 and for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 2004, and also reviews fiction for the Financial Times. He is the author of Firefly: Big Damn Hero with Nancy Holder and Firefly: The Magnificent Nine. He lives in south-east England.

Lovegrove applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Age of Legends, and reported the following:
Ironically, page 69 of Age of Legends features a sex scene. I swear I did not plan it that way for the purposes of some metatextual “69” joke. In the original manuscript the scene crosses from page 57 to page 58. The pagination in the published novel is, obviously, different because the typesetting is different.

The sex scene is not gratuitous. Neither is it terribly sexy. It’s certainly not romantic.
The participants are the story’s antagonist Derek Drake, who is the extreme right-wing Prime Minister of a near-future United Kingdom, and a Russian TV journalist, Tatjana. She has just interviewed him for a Russian television news network, and they have then nipped upstairs at 10 Downing Street for some very athletic bedroom-related recreational activity.

Tatjana is, as it happens, a “gift” from her country’s president to Drake, a token of appreciation. Both Drake and President Vasiliev are political hard men and they share similar views on immigrants, gay people, and so forth. One might even suspect, if one was being particularly cynical, that Vasiliev helped Drake get elected.

Drake, it should be noted is married. For the sake of balance, it should also be noted that his wife Harriet isn’t much better when it comes to respecting their nuptial vows. She is conducting an ongoing affair with the head of Drake’s private security force, Major Wynne.

Do I have a very low opinion of politicians? You decide!
Visit James Lovegrove's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

"A Pure Heart"

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

Hassib novels are In the Language of Miracles and the recently released A Pure Heart.

She applied the Page 69 Test to A Pure Heart and reported the following:
From page 69:
The next morning, Gameela snuck out of the apartment before anyone woke up—an easy feat in a family that slept past ten on weekends. She needed to walk the Cairo streets at the time she loved them most: early on a Friday morning in October, when the summer’s heat had finally subsided, replaced by a crisp breeze just cool enough to sting her nose, when the sprawling city was mostly still sleeping. Stepping out of the apartment building and onto the street and, crossing it, reaching the promenade that bordered the Nile, Gameela felt refreshingly clean, as if she had just stepped out of the sea and under the shade of an umbrella, like she loved to do when they used to vacation in Mersa Matruh years ago. She walked slowly down Saraya El-Gezira Street, occasionally glancing at the Nile below. Watching a boat float down the river, Gameela took a deep breath in and waited for that familiar sensation to fill her, the one that she got whenever she, as a child, strolled by the Nile with her father—the feeling of blissful belonging, an anchored identification with all that surrounded her: not only the running water, but also the Cairo dust that rendered everything a dull shade of gray, the suffocating heat that often prevented her from pursuing this same walk, the chaos of the streets crowded with peddlers and taxicabs and donkey-drawn carts and Mercedeses all maneuvering around each other with skill that decades of coexistence bred.

She could not believe how easily Fayrouz was giving all of this up, how easily she was leaping into a marriage that would inevitably take her away from her country.

She could not believe how easily Fayrouz was giving her family up.
This page is certainly representative of one of A Pure Heart’s main themes: the theme of home, of how attached we get to the physical places we inhabit, and of how some people can transplant themselves through immigration while others can’t. The novel tells the story of two sisters who fall on opposite sides of that spectrum: Gameela, a young woman with a deep sense of national and religious belonging, and Rose, whose name was Fayrouz before she changed it, and who marries an American and immigrates to the United States, a move that damages her relationship with her sister in ways she spends the entire novel trying to unravel.

What this page specifically touches on, though, is how much place affects our sense of belonging. Gameela’s description of her surroundings shows an attachment to them that is so essential to her identity that she cannot understand her sister’s choices outside of the parameters of place: immigration is an uprooting, a tearing away from a physical home and from the family we leave behind there, and for Gameela, this is unthinkable and inexplicable. This section stands in dialogue with several other sections from Rose’s point of view, where we get to see how she builds her own relationship with the new places she calls home, and how she views the places she left behind when she immigrated. Together, these parts pose some of the novel’s central questions: How much of our identity is tied to our home and our country of birth? And what happens when immigration forces us to redefine home?
Visit Rajia Hassib's website.

The Page 69 Test: In the Language of Miracles.

Writers Read: Rajia Hassib.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 25, 2019

"Starship Alchemon"

Christopher Hinz is the author of seven novels. Liege-Killer won the Compton Crook award for best first novel and was nominated for the John W. Campbell award for best new writer. He has written screenplay adaptations, short stories and a graphic novel, as well as scripting comics for DC and Marvel. His latest publications are the novel Starship Alchemon and the co-written novelette Duchamp Versus Einstein.

Hinz applied the Page 69 Test to Starship Alchemon and reported the following:
Starship Alchemon presents ten intelligences – nine human and one AI – on a mission to investigate an “anomalous biosignature” on a distant planet. Included among the crew are a troubled psychic, a narcissistic researcher and an increasingly unhinged bridge officer.

What could go wrong?

Here is Page 69 in its entirety. The scene occurs between the psychic, LeaMarsa, and the mission’s tech trainee, Alexei, in the Alchemon’s versatile natatorium. Multiple story purposes are served. LeaMarsa’s emotional disconnectedness is spotlighted as are the repercussions of Alexei’s earlier, less-than-subtle sexual advances. The location also serves as our introduction to a locale that all too soon will play a pivotal role in the ship’s troubles.
The male voice emanated from the water and was followed by a loud splash. She ambled back to the rim, stared at the two figures swimming toward her.

Alexei Two Guns hopped from the pool and shook his head, sending a fine spray of water from reddish hair styled unfashionably long like her own. The tech trainee was a bit taller than LeaMarsa. Slim and deeply tanned, he was naked except for a yellow crotchpad.

“We need a third for waterball,” Alexei said, gesturing to Faye in the water. “Come in and get wet.”

“No thanks.”

“Don’t think about it, LeaMarsa. Just do it!”

Alexei was pleasant enough, but she didn’t understand how a person could be so relentlessly exuberant. And since yesterday he seemed to be hanging around her an awful lot, pushing her toward doing physical exercise with him.

Did he want more than that? Sex? She couldn’t be sure. His intentions remained unclear. Odder than that, they seemed to have come out of the blue, as if he was following some mandate rather than his feelings.

Yesterday, during a random encounter in the updeck corridor near her cabin, he’d complimented her for wearing a simple skirt and blouse. The apparel, outputted from a PYG receptacle, was a generic ensemble she’d selected from among the thousands of fashion templates stored in the primary genesis complex. It wasn’t even smart clothing. As usual, and against PYG’s recommendation, she’d chosen the nano-free option.

Alexei had seen her dressed in such attire since the outset of the voyage and had never before said a word, which made the praise all the more bizarre, as did his subsequent proposal...
Visit Christopher Hinz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 24, 2019

"The Other Windsor Girl"

Georgie Blalock is an amateur historian and movie buff who loves combining her different passions through historical fiction, and a healthy dose of period piece films. When not writing, she can be found prowling the non-fiction history section of the library or the British film listings on Netflix. Blalock writes historical romance under the name Georgie Lee.

Blalock applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Other Windsor Girl, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Vera didn’t have the resources to enjoy this life to the full, but to be a small part of it even for a short time, to perhaps meet someone who might help her achieve her dreams or forget her disappointments, proved irresistible. Nothing still might come of it, but for a while she could enjoy herself and finally prove to her mother—and to herself—that she was more than a disappointment, that she was someone worthy of notice. She could finally find some benefit in the freedom of being single. “I’d love to come.”

“Good, then it’s settled.”

Vera had no idea what was settled except that she was going to do something that might, with any luck, bomb her old life to smithereens like the Luftwaffe had done to great swaths of London. She’d craved change when she’d followed Rupert to the Dorchester. She might just have it.
Page 69 of The Other Windsor Girl is the end of chapter four when the heroine Vera decides to take a chance on becoming a member of the Princes Margaret’s Set, Princess Margaret’s group of young aristocrats and socialite friends. This decision changes her life. She will no longer be the overlooked Honorable Vera Strathmore but eventually become second lady in waiting to Princess Margaret and spend the next ten years living a life she never could have imagined possible. Through her association with the Princess, she will gain the respect and purpose that she’s been struggling to find since the end of World War II and that has eluded her, especially in her writing career. Everything will change for Vera after this chapter as she embarks on a friendship with Princess Margaret and becomes part of her world. Vera enjoys opportunities and experiences she could never have imagined and gets a good look at the less than glamorous side of royalty. This page is the heart of the novel and the beginning of Vera’s journey to discovering herself and what she really wants out of life.
Visit Georgie Blalock's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Other Windsor Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 21, 2019

"Upon the Flight of the Queen"

Howard Jones’s debut historical fantasy novel, The Desert of Souls (2011), was widely acclaimed by influential publications like Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly, made Kirkus’ New and Notable list for 2011, and was on both Locus’s Recommended Reading List and the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases list of 2011. Its sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, made the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Release of 2013 and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He is the author of four Pathfinder novels, an e-collection of short stories featuring the heroes from his historical fantasy novels, The Waters of Eternity, and the new novel from St. Martin’s, the second in a new fantasy series, Upon the Flight of the Queen, the followup to For the Killing of Kings, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Jones applied the Page 69 Test to Upon the Flight of the Queen and reported the following:
My trilogy is centered on a heroic order of champions who discover a terrible conspiracy in their midst at the same time an invasion is underway. Naturally I assumed a page 69 test would take me to some of my protagonists unravelling one of several mysteries, or engaged in some swashbuckling action, but what I discovered instead was the madness of their queen, Leonara. In the first book of the trilogy, the queen’s mostly off-stage, and apart from one scene, we only see the terrible results of her choices. Come book two she’s sometimes center stage, and on page 69 Leonara is letting it be known just what she intends to do with her newfound powers. I dare not reveal that, for fear I’ll spoil book one, but suffice to say that she has far too much faith in her own intellectual superiority, and has surrounded herself with yes-women and yes-men eager to curry favor. On page 69 one of them is starting to suspect the queen’s vision may well lead them to disaster and dares suggest a proposed course of action might be premature. The queen’s responses, and those of her closest subordinate, go a long way toward showing us just how dangerous Leonara’s going to be to our protagonists over the course of the book.
Learn more about the book and author at Howard Andrew Jones's website.

View the animated book trailer for Upon the Flight of the Queen.

Writers Read: Howard Andrew Jones.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 20, 2019


JP Gritton’s awards include a Cynthia Woods Mitchell fellowship, a DisQuiet fellowship and the Donald Barthelme prize in fiction. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Greensboro Review, New Ohio Review, Southwest Review, Tin House and elsewhere. His translations of the fiction of Brazilian writer Cidinha da Silva are forthcoming in InTranslation.

Gritton applied the Page 69 Test to Wyoming, his first novel, and reported the following:
The top of page 69 reads, “I think I must’ve half wanted it to go south.” Shelley Cooper, the construction-worker-by-day/drug-runner-by-night who narrates my novel Wyoming, has just invited a lady of the evening to join him in his hotel room. In some ways, this invitation is exactly what the book is about: the manner by which we subconsciously participate in the disasters of our lives.

Before this point, Shelley’s progress through the book has been a series of dumb ideas. He steals an air compressor (dumb idea). Later, to help his best friend pay for chemotherapy treatments, Shelley agrees to drive fifty pounds of Colorado high-grade down to Houston (dumb idea). He has some dumb ideas about the money he gets for his trouble, which comes padlocked in a stainless-steel briefcase.

There isn’t a lot of me in Shelley, but this much we have in common: sometimes I get the feeling that I am the casual viewer of a TV show about self-sabotage. Bad idea, I’ll think. Don’t do it! And then?

The next line reads, “I smiled to watch her blow inside—this time I hadn’t bothered fastening the chain—smiled even if there was a sweet sad voice in my head, ringing like a bell: You will regret this, it went, you will regret this, you will regret this.”
Visit JP Gritton's website.

My Book, The Movie: Wyoming.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 18, 2019

"Life and Limb"

Jennifer Roberson has a BS in journalism with extended majors in British history and anthropology. She spent her final semester in London on an American studies program as an adult student in 1982, and while there, two days after her 28th birthday, received a telegram (pre-email!) from her agent informing her DAW Books had bought what became Shapechangers, the first in her Chronicles of the Cheysuli fantasy series. Her collaboration with Melanie Rawn and Kate Elliott, The Golden Key, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. In addition to the new Blood & Bone series, she has published eight Cheysuli novels, the Sword-Dancer Saga (#8 to come) and three of four volumes in the Karavans universe. The second volume in Blood & Bone is Sinners and Saints, scheduled for publication in March of 2021. Hobbies include showing dogs, and creating mosaic artwork and jewelry. She lives in Arizona with a collection of cats and Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

Roberson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Life and Limb, and reported the following:
Life and Limb is the first volume in an ongoing urban fantasy series about the End of Days, and two perfectly ordinary young men who are strangers to one another have been conscripted to join the heavenly host in a battle against Lucifer’s spec ops troops: demons who now inhabit characters and creatures from fiction, history, myths, legends, and folklore. But the angels have agendas, and Gabe and Remi—an ex-con biker and Texas cowboy—must also come to grips with the unwelcome discovery that they themselves are not after all entirely human, even as they climb the steepest of learning curves in an attempt to save the world.
“It will come,” Grandaddy said. “It’s a process.”

I shook my head. “We have lives. Hell, I just got mine back. You can’t expect us to walk away from everything.”

Grandaddy’s voice took on an edge unlike anything I’d heard from him before. My skin itched, and I stared at him in shock. He was doing something again.

“That’s exactly what I expect, Gabriel. This is the End of Days I’m talking about, with the fate of the world at stake. Everyone born of heaven must answer this call, if we’re to succeed. Is it a sacrifice?—of course it is. But there is nothing in your lives that is of greater importance than this.” His eyes were steady. “You have never disappointed me. Don’t do so now.”

I looked for compassion. Found none. “What about our families?”

Grandaddy didn’t even attempt to hedge. “I said we could massage things. Well, I have massaged the minds of your parents and brother. They believe you are in prison finishing your sentence.”

“But that’s only six more months.”

“And your father’s reaction once you’re out? Would you be welcome in his house?”

After a long moment, I said no. Because I remembered what my father had said, even if he didn’t because of Grandaddy’s brain massage. That night on the porch, as I rolled my bike out of the garage, felt like a death-knell. My mother stayed inside, and kid brother Matty was probably out getting high.

“And what would you do, Gabriel?”

“Get on my bike and head out. Maybe for good.”

Grandaddy nodded. “Well, we will free you of that. They will remember no hostilities, only that you are on the road. And so you are free to do your duty without interference for however long it takes.“

I glanced at the cowboy, looked back at Grandaddy. “What about him?”

“Remi is traveling the world undertaking research for the book he plans on writing. And he may, from time to time, call home to reassure his parents. But the calls will show overseas locations, nothing in this country. You, on the other hand, may drop postcards to your mother. Your father’s a son of a bitch, but she is a worthy woman.”

And there it was, all tied up in a neat little bow. The present. Our futures. An explanation for it all.
Page 69 is representative of the book in that Grandaddy is laying out their futures, and their stakes in that future. It's the end of the world, which is the main plot-driver for the series. The introduction to their new lives is not well-received and sets up internal conflict as Gabe and Remi learn they must sink or swim.
Visit Jennifer Roberson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 17, 2019

"An Equal Justice"

Chad Zunker studied journalism at the University of Texas, where he was also on the football team. He’s worked for some of the most powerful law firms in the country and invented baby products that are now sold all over the world. He has wanted to write full time since he took his first practice hit as a skinny freshman walk-on from a 6’5, 240 pound senior All-American safety — which crushed both him and his feeble NFL dreams.

Zunker is the author of the David Adams legal thriller, An Equal Justice, as well as The Tracker, Shadow Shepherd, and Hunt the Lion in his Sam Callahan series. He lives in Austin with his wife, Katie, and their three daughters.

Zunker applied the Page 69 Test to An Equal Justice and reported the following:
Page 69 of An Equal Justice consists of a scene where David Adams, our hero, follows an old homeless man named Benny—who has just saved David’s life from a mugging—deep into the woods of East Austin. Benny is taking David to see his home for the first time. This scene is one of the most pivotal in the entire book. It’s David’s first exposure to a secret homeless community called The Camp, where David meets many others like Benny. Soon after this scene, David begins to feel caught in between two worlds—the wealthy and powerful, and the poor and outcast. This tension leads him toward a dramatic climax as David tries to unravel a dark and sinster conspiracy at his law firm.
Visit Chad Zunker's website.

Writers Read: Chad Zunker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 15, 2019

"One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow"

Through unexpected characters and vivid prose, Olivia Hawker explores the varied landscape of the human spirit. Hawker’s interest in genealogy often informs her writing. Her first two novels from Lake Union Publishing, The Ragged Edge of Night and One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow (2019), are based on true stories found within the author’s family tree.

She lives in the San Juan Islands of Washington State with her husband Paul and several naughty cats.

Hawker applied the Page 69 Test to One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow and reported the following:
From page 69:
I had never really known Substance in life, but I knew him now, in death… and a more stubborn man the world had never seen. No one who died stayed put together afterward quite so long as Substance—no one I’d ever encountered, anyway. But there he was, a presence hanging over his own grave, aware, knowing, furious in the face of his fate. The hens I killed for our soup pot fell apart the moment their wings stopped flapping—those quick, curious, darting little spirits bursting like sparks from a campfire, dispersing out into the world. My ma had cherished a pet cat some years ago, and when it had died suddenly, I sat beside its body and felt the cat’s awareness linger for half an hour or more. The cat had been amazed by its sudden weightlessness, pleasantly drawn to all the silver strands of light that reached for it, thirsty for its spirit—the threads of all the lives that continued on: mine and my family’s and the hens in the yard and the cattle in their pen, the squash vines and carrots in the garden, the insects trilling on the prairie—the prairie itself. Sheep seemed to consent to their dissolution even before their bodies had died—and most plants, too, as if the great unraveling was a sacredness for which they had always lived. But Substance Webber refused to do what other spirits did. He would not be dissolved. He would permit no other life to touch him, to take him, to use him. He didn’t yet know that we can’t remain whole forever, but he would learn the truth soon enough. No one escapes the great unraveling; no thread is unspooled and escapes the weaver’s hand. I knew the roots of the newly sprouted grasses surrounded Substance’s body. The bindweed thrived on his rich flesh. A few yards away, the cottonwoods were already reaching toward him, delving through the soil with ancient hands. Before much longer, the earth would take every last bit of Substance Webber, whether he consented to be taken or not.

But he wasn’t gone yet.
I think page 69 of One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow is a pretty solid representation of the book as a whole. On this page, Beulah recounts her attempts to convince the spirit of Substance Webber to stop hanging around his grave and “fall apart”—surrender to the fact of his death, relinquish his hold on his ego, and accept his place in the cycles of life. The rest of the novel deals with those same ideas, so this page is a pretty good indicator of what the reader will encounter throughout the book.
Visit Olivia Hawker's website.

My Book, The Movie: One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

"Beside Herself"

Elizabeth LaBan lives in Philadelphia with her restaurant critic husband and two children. She is the author of The Restaurant Critic’s Wife, Not Perfect, and Pretty Little World, which she co-authored with Melissa DePino. She also wrote the young adult novel The Tragedy Paper, published by Knopf, which has been translated into eleven foreign languages, and The Grandparents Handbook, published by Quirk Books, which has been translated into seven foreign languages.

LaBan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Beside Herself, and reported the following:
From page 69:
They found Joel sleeping peacefully on the couch under Ridley’s thin fleece, Despicable Me blanket. Perfect, thought Hannah.

“Shhhhh,” she said to the kids, putting her finger to her mouth. “Daddy still isn’t feeling well. That’s really why he slept down here. He didn’t want to bother me. So let’s let him sleep. Okay? Don’t wake him up.”

Hannah knew he had an important meeting this morning, at ten…she knew he wanted to impress the Minnesota office. She had the urge to yank the blanket away or, better yet, get a picture of him so the words Despicable Me were clear as day and send it out into the world on Facebook or Instagram. But she knew not doing anything, letting him sleep through the meeting, was the worst thing she could do, at least for now.
I am always amazed, when I take the Page 69 Test, how something truly telling about the book almost always lies right there on that page. This is a perfect excerpt to pull out of Beside Herself because it is really one of the lowest points between Hannah and Joel. I am not giving anything away when I tell you that Hannah has discovered that Joel had an affair and she is shocked, completely blindsided, she did not see it coming. This scene is the morning following the first night that Hannah tells Joel, reluctantly, that he should sleep downstairs on the couch. It also follows an early morning phone call from Hannah’s best friend Kim who has just recently gone through a devastating divorce. At the moment Kim’s kids are with her ex-husband in Orlando visiting Disneyworld for the first time. Kim calls Hannah in a panic because she just learned they visited Cinderella’s Castle without her. She tells Hannah that it is too late for her, but not for Hannah, and Hannah should do what she can to salvage her marriage and family. At that moment, Hannah is not at all sure she can or should. It is right after the phone call that she comes down to find Joel asleep under the Despicable Me blanket. That is fitting on many levels, not only because Joel behaved in a despicable manner, but also because when Kim describes the Cinderella Castle situation Hannah realizes they have long meant to go to Universal Orlando to see the Minion ride, based on characters in the Despicable Me movie, and in that way it is a symbol also of what Hannah has to lose, and really, what they all have to lose.
Visit Elizabeth LaBan's website.

Writers Read: Elizabeth LaBan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

"Tracking Game"

Margaret Mizushima is the author of the award-winning and internationally published Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. The latest title in the series is Tracking Game. Active within the writing community, Mizushima serves on the board for the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America and was elected the 2019-2020 Writer of the Year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She lives in Colorado on a small ranch with her veterinarian husband where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals.

Mizushima applied the Page 69 Test to her new mystery, Tracking Game, and this is what she reported:
From page 69:
“Thanks for your time, Flint,” Mattie said as she handed him back his gloves. Wanting to offer another line of communication, she gave him one of her own cards before saying goodbye.

While she drove away, she checked the rearview mirror, having to look over Robo as he stood staring out the back window. Sure enough, JD came out of the house to stand beside his son, indicating he’d been keeping tabs on what was going on outside his front door.

Stella pulled her seat belt across herself and fastened it. “Was everyone at that dance last night except me?”

“Just about.”

“Did you see Flint there?”

“I can’t say I did. But the place was packed, and we were dancing most of the time before the explosion. I wasn’t really looking for him.”

Stella shot her a sideways glance, eyebrows raised. “So the handsome Dr. Walker was taking up most of your attention, huh?”

Mattie felt her own face begin to flush, like Flint’s. “I was off duty, Detective.”

“Right.” Stella took out a small notebook she carried with her and started recording notes. “What did you think of Flint?”

“I’m not sure. I was about to give him the benefit of the doubt until he lit up when you asked him for an alibi. But that blush could’ve been embarrassment over hooking up with a girl he barely knew.”

“Possibly.” Stella paused her writing and looked out the window. “But we can’t eliminate him yet.”

Mattie thought they shouldn’t underestimate the influence this kid’s dad had on him. “I saw JD step outside to join him when we left. Let’s let him have some time with Flint. Maybe he can get him to come forward with more information before we need to give it another go.”
Page 69 of Tracking Game provides a fair representation of some of the investigative work that Deputy Mattie Cobb and Detective Stella LoSasso do in the book, but it doesn’t show the K-9 action that this episode in the series offers.

The book starts with a bang when an explosion near town interrupts the community dance that Mattie and veterinarian Cole Walker are at, their first public date as a couple in the small mountain town of Timber Creek, Colorado. When they arrive at the scene of a burning van, they find one man dead and another man, who is Cole’s best friend, badly injured. Cole also knows the dead man, an outfitter who has married into a local ranching family.

The character that Mattie and Stella interview on page 69 is the dead man’s employee, Flint Thornton, the son of another rancher who has actively tried to keep his rebellious son in line over the years despite Flint’s run-ins with local law enforcement. And when Robo finds a trace of cocaine behind the door panel of the burnt van, it becomes apparent that the victim’s outfitting business may have been a shell for illegal activity, so Flint is an important person of interest.

Besides investigative work, each episode in the Timber Creek K-9 series brings the reader a story packed with K-9 work, action, and adventure; and Tracking Game is no exception. Soon Mattie and Robo are called at dusk to search the foothills for another victim, and there they have an encounter with an apex predator. It’s too dark to see the big cat clearly, but its growl shakes Mattie to the core. She has heard a cougar before and knows there’s something different about this cat’s roar. Only after she, Cole, and others band together to track down the animal do they discover exactly what it is and why it’s been transported to the Colorado wilderness.

I invite you to join Mattie and Cole in their latest adventure and see why Library Journal has described Tracking Game as, "Compelling and twisty...Fans of Western mysteries as well as those featuring dogs will enjoy this latest entry in the series." Also, Library Reads has named Tracking Game one of their Top 10 Picks for November 2019. Hope to meet you on the page!
Visit Margaret Mizushima's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Margaret Mizushima & Hannah, Bertie, Lily and Tess.

My Book, The Movie: Burning Ridge.

The Page 69 Test: Burning Ridge.

Writers Read: Margaret Mizushima.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 10, 2019

"Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon"

James Lovegrove is the New York Times bestselling author of The Age of Odin. He was short-listed for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1998 and for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 2004, and also reviews fiction for the Financial Times. He is the author of Firefly: Big Damn Hero with Nancy Holder and Firefly: The Magnificent Nine. He lives in south-east England.

Lovegrove applied the Page 69 Test to his latest Sherlock Holmes novel, Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon consists predominantly of a conversation overheard by Holmes and Watson. Eve Allerthorpe, the young woman who has summoned the great detective and his companion to her family home, is talking to her brother, Erasmus, about the series of mysterious and possibly supernatural incidents that have left her terrified and fearing for her sanity. It is, I suppose, an expository passage but it serves to establish the relationship between the siblings, which is fairly crucial to the plot, and also their relationship with their recently widowed father:
“Papa was furious at him for not being more inquisitive.”

“Papa needs little excuse to be furious these days.”
Holmes, having eavesdropped for a minute or so, announces his presence by clearing his throat “decorously”, which I feel is a nice touch and completely in-character. Holmes is courteous, forever mindful of manners, and would not simply go barging into the situation. He has also, however, been able to gather some data, because Sherlock Holmes is always on the lookout for hints and clues. That’s something my editor on these Holmes adventures keeps drumming into me: our detective hero never achieves his deductions by luck or accident. Either he seeks out clues or he carefully analyses any information that comes his way by chance, mining it for detective gold.
Visit James Lovegrove's website.

My Book, The Movie: Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 8, 2019

"Echoes of the Fall"

Hank Early lives in central Alabama with his wife and two kids. He writes crime, watches too much basketball, and rarely sleeps. His new book, Echoes of the Fall, is his third Earl Marcus novel.

In a previous life, he published horror as John Mantooth.

Early applied the Page 69 Test to Echoes of the Fall and reported the following:
I like to think page 69 of my latest Earl Marcus mystery, Echoes of the Fall, does three things pretty well. First, it clarifies for the reader and Earl exactly why a dead man has ended up in his front yard. Well, maybe not exactly, but it offers a strong nudge in the right direction.
He’d clearly been coming to see me, most likely to hire me. But for what? Could he have wanted me to investigate the Harden School all along?
The Harden School is an all boys’ reform school nestled deep in the North Georgia mountains. Except there is much more to the school than meets the eye. Page 69 also has Earl making the connection between the secretive school and local politician and his arch nemesis, Jeb Walsh. Earl has just discovered Jeb’s son is a student at the school and his ex-wife has filed multiple complaints about the school’s teachers and administration.
This last piece might have been the most intriguing, suggesting a complex and vast picture that could actually mean something good for this whole county if I could assemble it and use it to somehow bring Walsh down.
Earl has just found his goal, the mission that will propel him and the reader through the rest of the novel.

The third thing page 69 does is pull in Earl’s chaotic sidekick, Ronnie Thrash. While Earl is busy assimilating these new tidbits of information, Ronnie has been trying to tell him about something he just witnessed when they were briefly separated on the campus of the Harden School:
“You ain’t been listening to a damn word I’ve been saying, have you?”

“Huh?” I realized we were almost to Ronnie’s place. The old church was in sight.

“I was telling you about the weird stuff I witnessed in front of the school.”

“What weird stuff?”

Ronnie blew out a long sigh. “Jesus H. Christ, Earl, you are as bad as child sometimes. You mean to tell me you ain’t heard none of what I was saying?”

“I heard… some of it,” I said.

“About the band?”

“Oh, I got that.”

“So where did you stop listening?"
The page ends right about there, but Ronnie goes on to describe a strange encounter with one of the students, during which the student babbles almost incoherently about “Indians and his sister.” The kid is visibly upset, and Ronnie senses that there is something sinister at work here, though it will take both he and Earl’s most diligent efforts to find out just what it is.

Overall, I was really pleased with the results of my Page 69 Test. It allows the reader to get just a glimpse of the powerful forces at work in the novel, while experiencing a side of Ronnie Thrash’s irrepressible personality, as well as a hint at the deeper, more esoteric secrets that haunt the Harden School.
Visit Hank Early's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

"Blind Search"

Paula Munier is the author of the bestselling Plot Perfect, The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings, Writing with Quiet Hands, and Fixing Freddie: A True Story of a Boy, a Mom, and a Very, Very Bad Beagle. She was inspired to write A Borrowing of Bones, the first Mercy and Elvis mystery, by the hero working dogs she met through MissionK9Rescue, her own Newfoundland retriever mix rescue Bear, and a lifelong passion for crime fiction.

Munier lives in New England with her family, Bear, and a torbie tabby named Ursula.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new Mercy and Elvis mystery, Blind Search, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Henry stirred in his father’s arms.

“He could be a material witness,” said Harrington. “And he’s waking up now.” The detective waved his hand, directing the group to fall back. “Jenkins, come with me and bring your boy.”

“He probably won’t tell you anything. He doesn’t talk much unless it’s about math or video games or Batman.”

Henry pulled away from his father and embraced the dogs.

“Come on, Henry.” Ethan rose to his feet, pulling the boy with him. “You need to stay with me. We’ve talked about this before.”

But Henry wriggled away from his father and slid down to the forest floor, tucking himself into a ball, just as he had under the gutting table in the bob-house. The dogs formed a shield around him, Susie Bear a big black shaggy boulder and Elvis an elegant fawn wall of fur.
In Blind Search, I started with a story I'd read in the newspaper about a boy with autism who'd wandered off into the Vermont woods and gotten lost. He was rescued safe and sound, but the writer in me thought: What if a boy with autism got lost in the woods and witnessed a murder? Mercy and Elvis would have to save him…and I was off and running.

Which led me to this scene on page 69. The scene in which Mercy and Elvis have tracked Henry through the woods and returned him to his father, who’s waiting at the crime scene. A young woman has been shot through the heart with an arrow—and everyone is beginning to realize that Henry may know who did it.

But he’s not talking.
Visit Paula Munier's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Paula Munier & Bear.

Writers Read: Paula Munier.

My Book, The Movie: Blind Search.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 4, 2019

"Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders"

Tessa Arlen is the author of the critically acclaimed Lady Montfort mystery series—Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman was a finalist for the 2016 Agatha Award Best First Novel. She is also the author of Poppy Redfern: A Woman of World War II mystery series. And the author of the historical fiction: In Royal Service to the Queen.

Arlen lives in the Southwest with her family and two corgis where she gardens in summer and writes in winter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders and reported the following:
From page 69:
I counted out coins and Mrs. Glossop’s hand came down to stop them spinning on the smooth wood of the counter with such finality that I knew she was far more annoyed about Grandad’s Sunday lunch-after-church-idea than I had first thought. But I didn’t want her to lead the village in a witch-hunt against the Americans either. “Sergeant Perrone has been detained on suspicion of murder, but he has not yet been tried and found guilty. None of us can be sure that he killed Doreen and Ivy. I hope he gets a fair trial,” I said in what I hoped was a conciliatory and reasonable tone. She didn’t care for it.

“He’s being court-martialed by them, not tried in an English court which he should be after killing two English girls.”

“Either way he is innocent until proved guilty...”

A sharp intake a breath from Mrs. G. and I looked up to find her watching me intently. “You don’t believe he did it, do you?” There was no point in denying it. “I don’t see how he can have done both murders. After Doreen’s death all the Americans were confined to the base. You have to hand it to them; their security is amazing. Have you seen their perimeter fence?” She stared at me, her face like stone, so I explained. “He would have had to climb a ten-foot woven wire fence crowned by four or five strands of barbed wire.”

Fierce little eyes bored into mine. “Who then? You are not going to suggest it was one of us?”

Why not? I wanted to say. Why were we so above reproach?

Her stare was so intimidating that my voice almost shook as I answered her. “I am not suggesting anything Mrs. Glossop. I am only supporting my grandparent’s decision to try and heal a rift by including the young men up at the base in our village community. That is of course if they want to be part of it. After all they have come to help us win this war, haven’t they?”

I heard the breath hiss out of her like an old bicycle tire with a puncture, and her face became thoughtful as she folded her arms underneath her non-existent bosom. “Alright then,” she said as she tucked her chin down onto her chest and pondered the alternatives. “So, if you’re so keen on finding a culprit off base …what about that Mr. Ponsonby? Him who has retired, so he says, from London. Lives on Water Lane between the doctor and Mrs. Ritchie.”
In this excerpt from Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders, Poppy, a young WWII Air Raid Warden, is investigating the murder of two young women who have been dating American airmen from the base that has been built on the edge of the village. She is in conversation with the Little Buffenden’s postmistress, Enid Glossop, who is a leading light in the village.

Little Buffenden is an out of the way place, a backwater, and like all remote English villages, even in the 1940s, its inhabitants are an insular and unworldly group. A new airfield just outside their village has been a difficult adjustment for the villagers to make in the first place, but naturally patriotism wins the day—or at least it does outwardly. But the Friendly Invasion, as the press call the arrival of Britain’s American allies in the fight against Nazi Germany, is another matter entirely. Why, many ask themselves, aren’t our boys stationed at the airfield? What’s wrong the Royal Air Force?

As the villagers come to terms with the generous informality of the young American airmen who enjoy a pint or two in the village pub, share their ‘candy’ bars with the local schoolkids and take pretty young girls out for a night of dancing in the nearest town, Little Buffenden settles down to its daily round if not in open approval, at least in acceptance of what they call the Yank invasion. Then two popular local girls are murdered, and the village closes ranks. Of course, they tell themselves, the killer has to be an outsider, nothing like this has ever happened in Little Buffenden before.

The underlying theme of Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders is how the unknown and the different are often treated with suspicion and distrust: you are either village or you aren’t, and in Little Buffenden’s case, strangely enough, it has nothing to do with class. Who qualifies as a trusted member of rural Little Buffenden’s close knit community where families have existed together for generations? Certainly not the retired solicitor from London, nor Little Buffenden’s eccentric, but tolerated, vicar. Even the publican of the Rose and Crown is a ‘townie’ from Wickham. Fingers point and whispered gossip is rife in the morning queue at the local butcher’s shop. But independent minded Poppy blithely continues on her night patrols determined to discover the identity of the killer who she is quite convinced does not come from the American Air Force base.
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

See Tessa Arlen’s top five historical novels.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

Writers Read: Tessa Arlen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 3, 2019

"The Worst Kind of Want"

Liska Jacobs holds an MFA from the University of California, Riverside. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in The Rumpus, Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and The Hairpin, among other publications.

Jacobs applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Worst Kind of Want, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I ask Hannah to get me water but Donato volunteers.

“Silvia,” he calls out. “Come downstairs with me.”

I feel every cell bristle. Of course, they are together, and why should that matter to me anyway?

Hannah puts her head on my shoulder. “Do you think Silvia is very pretty?”

Tiny lights strung across the terrace turn on and I can see her watery eyes. Below I hear Donato’s laugh.

“She’s a lot older than him,” I say.

“Only by five years.”

Her body starts to shake, tears fall on my shoulder. Hush, I tell her. Hush. Instinctively I look around to see if any of their friends are watching.

“Come on.” I pull her up from the settee. “Call us a ride, and I’ll get your backpack. We can pick up a pizza on the way home.”

I wipe the smeared mascara from under her eyes and point her toward the stairs. I say goodbye to her friends, making up an excuse that Paul wants us home. He’s made dinner. I can tell Donato doesn’t believe this, but he doesn’t say so. When he kisses my cheek, I cannot help it, I press him against me. He feels broader than I thought he would, and that liquid fire at the center of me rejoices.

In the cab Hannah gives in. She is bawling.

“I miss Mom,” she chokes out. “I miss her so much.”

Letting her drink was probably a bad idea, but isn’t she old enough to know her limit? Or at least learn what it is? I knew not to drink a third Bellini at fifteen, or if Guy offered to make me a screwdriver, to drink it slowly because he always made them very strong.
I’m so pleased this worked! Page 69 has all the emotional elements of the book. Cilla playing the role as mother and caretaker of her niece Hannah, her burgeoning desire for the seventeen-year-old Donato, the pushed aside grief surrounding the death of Hannah’s mother (Cilla’s sister), and Cilla’s resentment toward her youthful romance with an older man. How wonderful.
Visit Liska Jacobs's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Worst Kind of Want.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 1, 2019

"Run, Hide, Fight Back"

New York Times-bestselling author April Henry knows how to kill you in a two-dozen different ways. She makes up for a peaceful childhood in an intact home by killing off fictional characters. There was one detour on April's path to destruction: when she was 12 she sent a short story about a six-foot tall frog who loved peanut butter to noted children's author Roald Dahl. He liked it so much he showed it to his editor, who asked if she could publish it in an international children's magazine. By the time she was in her 30s, Henry had started writing about hit men, kidnappers, and drug dealers. She has published 24 mysteries and thrillers for teens and adults, with more to come. She is known for meticulously researching her novels to get the details right.

Henry applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Run, Hide, Fight Back, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I just want to find my sister. She’s seven and wearing a red coat.”

The other man shrugs one shoulder. His expressionless face gleams with sweat. “Haven’t seen her.” He gestures with his chin. “What’s going on out there?”

“We’re all trapped between the doors and that security gate they pulled across. One of them is inside the gate and two are outside. All of them have automatic rifles. They made some people press up against the doors, facing out. It’s supposed to make the police think twice about coming in.” Parker looks at the guy’s gleaming head and the jacket straining against his biceps. “Are you a cop?”

“No.” He doesn’t offer any other explanation.

“What’re you going to do? You have to stop them before they kill anyone else.”

The other man answers through gritted teeth. “Be realistic. If I go out there, I’ll just get mowed down. I might get one or maybe, if I’m really lucky, two, but there’s at least three of them.” He shakes his head. “I’m going to stay put. This way, I control the space, not them. And if anyone comes in, I’ll be the one who decides who lives or dies.” He nudges the back of Parker’s head with the side of the gun. “So go on, get out of here. And good luck finding your sister. If I were you, once you do, I would try and find your own space to hide. Out there, you’re just one of the herd. And they’re looking for animals to cull.”
What if the high-stakes drama of Die Hard met the varied cast of Breakfast Club? That idea and real-life events like the 2013 attack on Kenya’s Westgate Shopping Mall were the inspiration behind Run, Hide, Fight Back. In it, six teens end up trapped in a shopping mall after a mass shooting.

In real life, such shootings often end quickly. Since Columbine, police have been trained to confront shooters as soon as possible. But I needed time for my fictional teens—which include a jock, an addict, a Muslim, a cancer patient, an undocumented immigrant and a teen from a military family—to decide whether to run, hide or fight back. Spoiler alert: they do all three.

In this scene, Parker, a state champion wrestler, is desperately searching for his seven-year-old sister. The part about making hostages press up against the window is actually something that really happened in a robbery and hostage taking in 1991.

The book explores how much people will pull together and how they will pull apart under stress.
Learn more about the book and author at April Henry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue