Wednesday, October 30, 2019

"Steel Frame"

Andrew Skinner grew up in South Africa’s coal-mining heartland, amidst orange dust and giant machinery. He now works as an archaeologist and anthropologist, interested in folklore, rain-making arts, and resistance; but the machines aren’t done with him yet.

Skinner applied the Page 69 Test to Steel Frame, his first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I’m not special. I made lower-middle in boot-camp, and sure as hell didn’t set any records, but this is one thing I’ve always been good at. While the others had to dose to find connection, had to tug and fight and dig their spurs, I’ve never had trouble sharing the inside of my head.

It feels like coming home.

The Juno watches my systems unfold themselves across the net, open and vulnerable. It reaches for one connection; a little camera in the join between visor and helmet. The machine doesn’t touch anything else.

A small light flashes green in the corner of my eye. New connection established, says my visor. Streaming to remote device.

The Juno is very still.

The other fist unwinds. The shell touches its face, rolls fingers around the empty spaces where eyes should be. It feels the pits and scars on its hull, and finds the fresh weld in the middle of its chest. It’s just a little thicker than my thumb, and still silver, not even painted over yet.


I am broken.

I’ve never seen a shell do that. Damage assessments, yes, more times than I’d like to count, but they’re always clinical and robotic. Hardware abstractions testing to see where functionality begins and ends.

This is something else.

There is a hole. It touches the railgun-wound. Here.

“Let me fill it.”
I’m really lucky that this test calls for page 69, and not, say, one or two in either direction. In Steel Frame, page 69 is first contact – the first time the main character, Rook, really meets the machine (shell) she’ll be piloting during the story. A machine called Juno.

She’s looking over it, noticing the small wound where a high-velocity weapon killed the last operator (that the flight crew hasn’t even bothered to paint over yet), and all of the scrapes and dents and cuts from its decades of service.

Juno is damaged again, just before this part of the story, the lenses in its six eyes cracked or destroyed. Rook meets it thrashing around in its hangar, blind and out of control; lost, and still mourning the loss of the last operator.

As you’ll see in other parts of the book as well, Rook doesn’t hesitate to throw herself into the glare. She walks toward it, offering a connection to the camera mounted to her helmet, so that the machine can see what has become of itself.

This is their first connection, and sets the grounding for their relationship in the rest of the story; this is one lost and damaged thing meeting another. And seeing a part of themselves in the other.
Read more about Steel Frame; follow Andrew Skinner on Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: Steel Frame.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

"State of Lies"

Siri Mitchell is the author of over a dozen novels. She has also written two novels under the pseudonym of Iris Anthony. She graduated from the University of Washington with a business degree and has worked in various levels of government. As a military spouse, she lived all over the world, including Paris and Tokyo.

Mitchell applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, State of Lies, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It’s not like I had expected Sean’s autopsy to be the key to some secret code. But still, I’d been hoping for something more. For some hint as to what Sean had been doing.
– Georgie Brennan
Months after her husband, Sean, is killed by a hit-and-run driver, Georgie Brennan discovers he lied to her about what he was doing the night he died. This quote from page 69 provides the catalyst in Georgie’s search for the truth. It is here that she realizes if she wants to find out what really happened, she’s going to have to go beyond the police report and Sean’s autopsy; she’s going to have to disregard her assumptions about the man she married and start asking questions.

As a quantum physicist, Georgie is used to testing her theories. She’ll have to put to use all of her training as a scientist to solve the mysteries of her husband’s death.

One thing will quickly become apparent to Georgie: the more she digs for the truth, the fewer people she can trust. Not her friends. Not her parents.

Maybe not even herself.
Visit Siri Mitchell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 27, 2019

"The Remaking"

Clay McLeod Chapman is the creator of the storytelling session “The Pumpkin Pie Show” and the author of rest area, nothing untoward, and the Tribe trilogy.

He is co-author of the middle grade novel Wendell and Wild, with Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick.

In the world of comics, Chapman’s work includes Lazaretto, Iron Fist: Phantom Limb, and Edge of Spiderverse, among others.

He also writes for the screen, including The Boy (SXSW 2015), Henley (Sundance 2012), and Late Bloomer (Sundance 2005).

Chapman applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Remaking, and reported the following:
Page 69 isn’t so bad! I was pleasantly surprised to find out what part of the novel the page landed on… though I’d have to imagine it would make absolutely no sense to someone who read it cold. I imagine it would be like leaping onto a roller-coaster, just as its about to tip over that first massive peak, but without any of the buildup. But it’s very representative of the book.

I wrote the novel in such a way where I wanted it to read like an incantation. There’s a rhythmic, almost cyclical style to the writing. The sentences themselves break down, swirl and repeat, and stretch across the page. The repetition is the point—where, if you were to read it out loud, it would nearly sound like a song. This happens whenever there’s something intense happening to our main protagonist Amber and her mental state… Here she’s beginning to panic and the text emulates that. Or I wanted it to.

We’re in the midst of a movie being filmed and this is take… two? Three? Poor Amber has to hit her mark and say her lines, but something a little… oh, phantasmal, is given her a bit of a psychic line reading? No spoilers!
Visit Clay McLeod Chapman's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Remaking.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 25, 2019

"Everything You Are"

Kerry Anne King is the author of the international bestselling novels Closer Home, I Wish You Happy, and Whisper Me This.

King applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Everything You Are, and reported the following:
I was amazed and delighted to discover how perfectly the page 69 test holds up in Everything You Are.

Braden Healey, once a world-class cellist, spiraled into alcoholism and despair following an injury to his hands that left him unable to play. He lost his family and everything that mattered to him. Now, his ex-wife and son have been killed in a car crash and he’s trying to get sober and establish a relationship with his teenage daughter who hates him and is on a downward spiral of her own. Phee, the Luthier, will do everything in her power to save them both by bringing them back to the music.

The story is well represented in the following passage, in which Braden recalls his first encounter with Phee:
He remembers that last conversation vividly, one of few clear memories in the days and weeks after he’d lost his music. She’d stood with her foot in the door so he couldn’t slam it in her face.

“You have to play.”

“I can’t.”

“You don’t understand. Granddad said there’s a curse if you don’t.”

His laughter in response to those words had hurt more than the tears he’d been unable to shed.
“I’m already cursed. How much worse could it get?”

Plenty worse, as it turns out. Not that the cello or any mysterious curse is to blame. Braden is his own curse. Everything that has happened is his fault. All of it.
Visit Kerry Anne King's website.

Writers Read: Kerry Anne King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

"Best Kept Secrets"

Tracey S. Phillips is the debut author of Best Kept Secrets, a novel. Playing music and creating art were a way of life while growing up in Indiana. She entered college as a fashion model and musician. But somewhere along the road to fame and fortune, she married her best friend and became the mother of two children, now grown. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two dogs. Before publication, the manuscript for Best Kept Secrets won a Hugh Holton Award. Psychological Thriller is her love and female characters drive her stories.

Phillips applied the Page 69 Test to Best Kept Secrets and reported the following:
Page 69 falls in one of my favorite chapters from Best Kept Secrets. By this time in the book, we know that Detective Morgan Jewell has identified her main suspect Ekhard Klein in a very brutal murder case. Leading to this chapter, we have just begun getting to know Caryn Klein. Caryn prefers numbers to working with people. She has just discovered that a man named Nathaniel Johnson is not who he says he is. She is certain that Nathaniel is her estranged brother, Ekhard.
The blonde handed her the warm cup topped with a heap of whipped cream. Not pie, but it would have to do.

In the corner of the low-lit coffee shop, Caryn got comfortable. She took off her jacket, pulling the left sleeve over the bandage on her arm. With her right hand she scooped her laptop out of her briefcase and set it on the small table. After it booted up, she typed his name into the search bar.

Never in a million years had she expected to see him again. Yet here was Ekhard Marcus Klein within a tap-tap of her fingers. Eks, whom she had written off and given up for dead. Eks, who had changed his name to Nathaniel Johnson.

And so he wasn’t dead. Just dead to me. She hadn’t seen him since the day of her graduation from high school. Ekhard was her only sibling and only living relative.

Seventeen years, four months, and twelve days was how long. She knew the number of days. He had dropped her off at graduation at 9:04 in the morning on June fourth in 2001 and said, “See you in hell.” And she hadn’t seen him since.

He didn’t call. He didn’t stop by, not for holidays or birthdays. She remembered being very angry with him. It had taken eighteen years, four months, and seventeen days to say that without wanting to kill him.

Kill him.

There was an idea.

Ekhard/Nathaniel currently lived in Lafayette, north of Indianapolis. He worked for a small accounting firm with a ridiculous name, Baker and Baker. Everyone knows there’s no baking at a CPA office. Caryn thought it should be called Checks and Balances, or Numbers-Are-Us. Nevertheless, he was hired in 2014, replacing William Baker as the one in charge of small business bookkeeping. Before that, he had worked in eastern Indiana for another accountant, Gary Pritchard. That job came after getting the sack at Garrison Electric.

Research was a cinch for Caryn. Easy as pie, she thought—her mother’s saying. She breathed in the warm scent of her pumpkin spiced latte. Though pie wasn’t easy at all. Like her mother, Caryn couldn’t bake if her life depended on it.
Following this, we will see how the two women are both seeking the elusive Ekhard Klein for different reasons. Caryn wants to see—to speak to—her estranged brother. She hopes to reconnect with him.

Morgan is seeking resolution to a murder committed many years ago. She thinks Ekhard may be the key to finding the killer of her best friend Fay Ramsey. The thing is, she can’t remember days surrounding the event. Back then, she met with a psychiatrist who diagnosed her memory loss as Perpetration Induced Traumatic Shock, or PITS. The doctor told Morgan her memory would return someday and now, with this current murder case, her memories slowly begin to surface.
Visit Tracey S. Phillips's website.

My Book, The Movie: Best Kept Secrets.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 21, 2019

"Holding On To Nothing"

Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne grew up reading, writing, and shooting in East Tennessee. After graduating from Amherst College, she worked at The Atlantic Monthly. Her nonfiction work has been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Boston Globe, and Globalpost, among others and her short fiction has appeared in The Broad River Review and Barren Magazine. Her essay on how killing a deer made her a feminist was published in Click! When We Knew We Were Feminists, edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan. She is a graduate of Grub Street’s Novel Incubator. She lives outside Boston with her husband and four children.

Shelburne applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Holding On To Nothing, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Oh shit. you know,” Lucy said, after a full minute of silent, open-mouthed shock. Her brain would not process the sight of Jeptha in her doorway, a massive teddy bear and a box of diapers clutched in his arms.
The smile on Jeptha’s face faltered. “Uh, hi,” he said, hoisting the bear and the diapers a little higher, as if for her to see better.

“Hi.” Lucy squinted in astonishment at the sight in front of her. How did he know? And why was he here?

“Can I, uh, come in?” Jeptha asked.

She was so suddenly, violently sick to her stomach that it took her a minute to hear the question. Then she shook herself out of her stupor and nodded. “You’d better, I guess, before my neighbors see you.”

“I came to bring you this stuff,” he said. He shrugged and looked down at his feet. “To apologize.”

“Well, you better get to it. I’ll take that bear.” Lucy hugged the bear to her belly and eyed Jeptha as he stacked four sides of a white crib against the wall. It was pretty, she thought, nicer than the ones she’d been looking at.

“How’d you even find out? I haven’t told anyone but LouEllen,” she said.

“Deanna. She guessed you was pregnant,” Jeptha said. “Based on your reaction, I guess she was right.”

“Your sister ruins everything,” Lucy said, feeling her stomach rise all over again as she thought of Deanna’s knowing smirk the night before.

“That’s always been my experience,” Jeptha said. He wasn’t looking at her, but at a piece of carpet that had come loose years before. He nudged it with his toe. “She didn’t guess nothing about it being mine though.”

He paused and cleared his throat, looking up at Lucy. “Is it?”

A wave of anger swept over her. “Yes. You ass. It’s yours.” She suddenly felt like a woman, more than being pregnant or turning twenty-one had ever made her feel. It was the pure, unmitigated fury provoked by a man’s stupidity that had done it.
This is the opening of Chapter Six, when Jeptha realizes that Lucy is pregnant with his baby after a one-night stand. Unfortunately for Jeptha, he only finds out after he has drunkenly blown off a date with her. Feeling spiteful after being stood up, Lucy has resolved never to tell him about the baby, just as he is realizing that the baby is his. It is representative of the rest of the book because we see the crux of their characters and the dilemmas they face: Lucy is distrustful and angry, but also deeply forgiving, while Jeptha is the world’s most loveable fuck-up, but deeply loves Lucy. (And you begin to realize how awful Deanna, Jeptha’s sister, is!)

This chapter marks a turning point in the book. After tacitly forgiving him enough to let him in the door, as we see on this page, Jeptha assembles the crib with Lucy’s help, and she begins to see some of the good side of him. This moment of tenderness between Jeptha and Lucy makes her decide to give him a chance, thus setting the rest of the book in motion.
Visit Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 20, 2019

"The Speed of Falling Objects"

Nancy Richardson Fischer is a graduate of Cornell University, a published author with children’s, teen and adult titles to her credit, including Star Wars titles for Lucas Film and numerous autobiographies for athletes such as Julie Krone, Bela Karolyi and Monica Seles. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Fischer applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Speed of Falling Objects, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Heart hammering, I dump the unsent letters on the kitchen table. My mom takes a long time to look up. That’s when I drop the ceramic coin on her notes. It spins, then settles, making a soft whisper like the sound of a page being turned.

Commander Sam pulls out her earbuds. “I can explain.”

There’s a part of me that hopes she can. I want to believe that my mom wouldn’t do this to me, couldn’t. “Try.”

She squares her shoulders, like a fighter about to throw the first punch. “He left, Danielle.”

Disappointment tastes like acid. I swallow and it’s gravel going down my throat. “Don’t call me that. I wrote at least fifty letters. I thought Dad didn’t want me after what happened. He probably thought I blamed him, too—”

“You should have.”
There were two inspirations for The Speed of Falling Objects. The first is my obsession with survival stories. I don’t think anyone knows themselves or the people around them until they’re tested under extreme circumstances.

The second inspiration pertains to this passage which begins Danger Danielle “Danny” Warren's journey. Danny perceives herself as defective and inferior based on a childhood accident that left her with one eye, her mom’s bitterness, parents’ divorce, and her father’s abandonment. Discovering a huge lie her mother told propels Danny into the arms of the TV survivalist father she idolizes. She joins her dad for an episode of his show, Cougar, filmed in the Amazon rainforest and starring teen movie idol, Gus Price. But when their plane crashes, leaving some dead and others injured, Danny is forced to face everything that terrifies her, including a secret about the father she loves and the movie star she’s fallen for. To survive, Danny must discover her unique strengths and redefine herself or she will never save those she loves or find a way home.

We all create ourselves based on the past, stories told or recalled, misperceptions and even lies. My hope is that Danny’s journey will encourage readers to question their own perception of who they are, recognize what isn’t true, make changes if needed, and ultimately become of the hero of their own life’s story.
Visit Nancy Richardson Fischer's website.

Writers Read: Nancy Richardson Fischer.

My Book, The Movie: The Speed of Falling Objects.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 18, 2019

"The Quantum Garden"

Derek Künsken writes science fiction and fantasy in Gatineau, Québec and tweets from @derekkunsken. In previous incarnations, he did molecular biology experiments, worked with street kids in Honduras and Colombia, and served in the Canadian Foreign Service. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, Clarkesworld and BCS, as well as in several year’s best anthologies, and earned him the Asimov's Award. Künsken's first novel, The Quantum Magician, was also a finalist for the Aurora, Locus and Chinese Nebula Awards. His second novel is the newly released, The Quantum Garden.

The Quantum Garden is described as the ultimate chase.
Days ago, Belisarius pulled off the most audacious con job in history. He’s rich, he’s back with the love of his life, and he has the Time Gates, the most valuable things in existence. Nothing could spoil this… except the utter destruction of his people and their world. To save them, he has to make a new deal with the boss he just double-crossed, travel back in time and work his quantum magic once again. If he can avoid detection, dodge paradox and stay ahead of the eerie, relentless Scarecrow, he might just get back to his own time alive.
Künsken applied the Page 69 Test to The Quantum Garden and reported the following:
I opened the book to page 69, and the Congregate intelligence services rifling through the Garret, the home of the Homo quantus, which is cool, because this is the driver for the whole second novel. Belisarius's heist in book one had ripple effects that play out in book two, most notably, the Congregate and all of civilization have noticed that the Homo quantus are an effective military tool and everyone wants to possess their weird powers.
Intelligence officers and political officers descended from Les Rapides de Lachine, systematically dismantling the Garret. The Homo quantus had left a great deal of information, mostly useless reformulations of physical theories and genetic records, but they'd also left in such a hurry that they hadn't grabbed all the backups of how they'd inched forward in developing this new and dangerous sub-species of humanity.

"This will anger the Banks," Majeur Demers said.

"Let it," the Scarecrow said. "The Banks should have kept a tighter leash on their pet projects. We've no doubt already pre-empted their anger with a million-franc bounty on any Homo quantus brought to us alive. Politically, we can accuse the Banks of engineering terrorists."

"What do you make of the story, that Arjona had come from the future?" Demers asked.

The Scarecrow had been turning this over too.

"No technology we know of would enable time travel," the Scarecrow said. "But if the Homo quantus have figured out some way to do it, that might start to explain the Union break-out of the Puppet Axis. Our spies saw no Union ships entering the Axis at Port Stubbs. Somehow the Homo quantus engineered this. And if we have four thousand genetically-modified Anglo-Spanish weapons capable of seeing the future, then the capture of Arjona and the remaining Homo quantus has to be one of the highest priorities of the Presidium."
This passage certainly captures the stakes and motivation of the Congregate, although it doesn't hint at Belisarius' plan to hide his people, nor what those costs will be.
Visit Derek Künsken's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Quantum Magician.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 17, 2019

"How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse"

K. Eason is a lecturer at the University of California, Irvine, where she and her composition students tackle important topics such as the zombie apocalypse, the humanity of cyborgs, and whether or not Beowulf is a good guy. Her publications include the On the Bones of Gods fantasy duology with 47North, and she has had short fiction published in Cabinet-des-Fées, Jabberwocky 4, Crossed Genres, and Kaleidotrope. When she’s not teaching or writing, Eason picks up new life skills, ranging from martial arts (including a black belt in kung fu!), to Viking sword and shield work, to yoga and knitting.

Eason applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse: Book One of the Thorne Chronicles, and reported the following:
From page 69:
What they meant, of course, was you won’t understand anyway, dear and you’re a princess and what does a girl know about war? More galling: they invited Jacen, as Crown Prince, to attend Council sessions, though no one believed he would actually go. Jacen was eight, too impatient for chess and more interested in playing at war in Duty Calls than in doing much of anything else.

So Rory read, from the Vizier’s violated files, the field reports from the generals, the briefings from the new Minister of Espionage, and the ever-growing lists of the dead. She read, and taught herself to understand politics and tactics and strategy, supplemented by discussions with the Vizier (for broad generalities) and with Grytt (for specific details).

Her chess game, to the Vizier’s delight, improved. So did her Duty Calls high score, to her brother’s dismay.

Rory also taught herself to understand wartime economics. Included in the field reports were financial reports and projections, treaties and trade agreements, intricate deals and bargains for munitions, and raw materials, and exclusive trading options. She learned which of the vigorously declared neutral kingdoms, conglomerates, networks, and worlds were genuine in that declaration, and which were making secret deals. She learned that the Thorne Consortium had a long-reaching spy network, and a brave, clever military that won most of its battles. But she also learned that the Thorne Consortium did not have limitless resources and was, in fact, nearly bankrupt. The Free Worlds, with their vaster collection of colonies, were winning as slowly and inexorably as the days and weeks of her minority were falling away.
Page 69 gestures at the very core of How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse. The birth of Rory's little brother and the presence of an archaic law means she's demoted from heir to spare, but this is the first time she's realizing what that demotion means politically and personally. She's still the princess, but she's just the princess; the limits of her social and political worth comes from arbitrary conditions unrelated to her own competence. It's all seriously unfair, but it's also somewhat liberating. Rory discovers that being overlooked and underestimated is a kind of freedom. Stymied by the councilors and forbidden to attend meetings, Rory hacks her way into the Council files, and learns... oh, so many things about the business of war, about strategy, about politics. But page 69 also marks the end of Rory's childhood. It's where she learns about the ugly reality that her homeworld is losing the war. That home is vulnerable and maybe finite. And, most importantly (for Rory, for the plot) page 69 is where she learns that knowledge is real power, and how to seize that power for herself. It's the beginning of her political education, marking the first time she picks up the tools that she'll use to navigate the political fallout of her social status to small-p princess and (eventually) destroy the multiverse.
Visit K. Eason's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

"A Bitter Feast"

Deborah Crombie is a New York Times bestselling author and a native Texan who has lived in both England and Scotland. She now lives in McKinney, Texas, sharing a house that is more than one hundred years old with her husband, two cats, and two German shepherds.

Crombie applied the Page 69 Test to A Bitter Feast, her 18th Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James novel, and reported the following:
What a fun challenge this is! I loved what I found on my page 69. Here’s what leads up to it.

On the way to join his family for a weekend in a Cotswold country house, Metropolitan Police Superintendent Duncan Kincaid has been involved in a tragic accident. But there were things about the deaths of the occupants of the other car that didn’t quite add up to him. This is the next day, and his host has taken him to the local police headquarters to make an official report. Kincaid and his concerns have been passed along to Detective Inspector Colin Booth, who at the outset is not thrilled to have his Saturday interrupted by a meddlesome London cop. Here’s page 69 in its entirety.
“I know what you mean.” Kincaid cocked his head, replaying what he’d heard. “You’re from Manchester.”

“My northern vowels give me away?”

“I grew up in Cheshire, in Nantwich.”

“Ah. Close enough.” Booth looked at him with more interest. “Man U or City?”


“Bugger.” Booth shook his head. “That’s too bad. I thought we might be long lost brothers.” There was a hint of a smile on his dark face. “Except you’re all citified now. How long have you been in the Met?”
“More than twenty years. But I have a good friend in Cheshire, Ronnie Babcock.”

Booth’s eyebrows went up. “DCI Babcock? Bloke looks like he’s had his face smashed in once too often?”
Kincaid grinned. “That’s the one.” He thought mentioning that Ronnie Babcock was his sister’s boyfriend might be gilding the lily.

“He’s one of the good ones, Babcock.” Booth considered Kincaid a moment, then said, “In which case maybe you should just bugger the report and tell me what happened.”

“A nice middle-aged divorcee, who was not drinking, plowed straight through a T-junction and hit me broadside,” Kincaid said. “My car rolled. The front end of hers was crushed. She was trapped. I held her hand as she died.” Why he was prompted to tell Booth this, when he hadn’t yet told Gemma, Kincaid didn’t know. He cleared his throat and went on. “The thing is, there was an unidentified passenger, a man, also dead. But the medics think he died before the crash.”
The beginning of the page is our first glimpse of what will become a good working relationship between the two police officers.

The last paragraph contains—to my delight—the core of the plot. Why did the woman driver have a dead man—with whom she had no apparent connection—in her car, and why did she crash into Duncan? But perhaps even more importantly, this paragraph shows the emotional vulnerability Duncan hasn’t even revealed to his wife, and the strong connection he’s made to the victim. It’s this that drives him to find the truth behind what might have seemed a random accident, and that leads all the detectives into a complex and dangerous investigation.
Visit Deborah Crombie's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Bitter Feast.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Johanna Stoberock is the author of the novels Pigs and City of Ghosts. Her short stories and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Better: Culture & Lit, The Wilson Quarterly, Copper Nickel, Front Porch, and the 2014 Best of the Net Anthology.

Stoberock applied the Page 69 Test to Pigs and reported the following:
Page 69:
From the island, it was ships that seemed a single entity. What was discarded was unique. Who discarded it was not.
At first, when I looked at page 69, my stomach dropped: three sentences; no characters; no plot. How could such a tiny passage say anything about the book as a whole? Pigs had failed the page 69 test—or maybe the test had failed Pigs!

But then I started thinking—what, exactly, is Pigs about?

Garbage, for one thing. It takes place on a magical island that serves as the repository for all the world’s trash. So page 69 speaks directly to that central element. It acknowledges both the island and its function for the larger world.

And what else is Pigs about?

Children. The garbage-island is populated by a group of parentless children whose lot in life is to gather up the world’s trash and feed it to a herd of giant, insatiable pigs. Page 69 speaks to the tension between discards and discarder, and asks us to think about where we have to position ourselves to see the island’s children as fully human beings. By page 69, we know the vulnerabilities of these children well (one of them has already disappeared under violent circumstances), and when “discards” are mentioned, the book has already let readers know it’s including within that term much more than the trash that might accumulate beneath one’s kitchen sink.

And is there anything else that Pigs is about that’s mentioned on the page?

Yes! Perspective. Over and over, Pigs asks readers to think about the way we use perspective to direct what we’re willing to acknowledge about the world: what do we see when we look at the island from a distance? What do we see when we look at it from close up? How do those two views work together? This a theme that page 69 covers as well.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought that page 69 gets right to the heart of the novel's most important themes.

From my perspective, Pigs passes the page 69 test with its own brand of strange but flying colors.
Visit Johanna Stoberock's website.

My Book, The Movie: Pigs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 14, 2019


Sasha Dawn teaches writing at community colleges and offers pro bono writing workshops to local schools. She lives in her native northern Illinois, where she collects tap shoes, fabric swatches, and tales of survival, and she harbors a crush on Thomas Jefferson. Her debut novel, Oblivion, was an Illinois Reads selection and one of the New York Public Library's best books for teens.

Dawn applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Panic, and reported the following:
Page 69:
It’s good to venture out. Take myself out the comfort zone.

Good practice for the day Dylan Thomas might be meeting his friend at the Factory again, when maybe I’ll catch a glimpse of him in person. Maybe he’ll be as beautiful as the words he writes, and I can enjoy looking at him from a distance.

Not in a creepy way. Or in a romantic way. Because I don’t get mixed up in romantic hassles.

But if I wanted to…maybe Dylan would be the kind of guy I’d fall for.

I meander over to Lyrically and read his bio again: Observer. Music lover. Quiet lurker.

I learned that much during our hours-long exchange. I’ve never felt as comfortable so quickly talking to someone I’ve never met before, and I think that’s because I know he doesn’t want to meet for coffee and take things to the next level.

Even if we happen to bump into each other, there will be no pressure to sit down and make small talk over lattes. Dylan values his privacy just like I value mine.
Page 69 takes us through the moment our protagonist, Madelaine Joseph, ventures out of her social comfort zone, but at the same time, establishes her boundaries. While her overarching struggles are much more complex than the exchanges on page 69 convey, the message is there to be applied to many of her frustrations, fears, and aspirations. We also learn a lot about Lainey on page 69. That she knows she needs to grow is forefront to her wanting to have deeper relationships with genuine people. Page 69 definitely pinpoints the basis of Lainey’s conflict, goal, and motivation.
Visit Sasha Dawn's website.

My Book, The Movie: Panic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 12, 2019

"Tinfoil Butterfly"

Rachel Eve Moulton earned her BA at Antioch College and her MFA in fiction from Emerson College. Her work has appeared in The Beacon Street Review, Bellowing Ark, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Bryant Literary Review, among others.

Moulton applied the Page 69 Test to Tinfoil Butterfly, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 – A conversation between Emma Powers and the mysterious Earl:
“Can I get this straight for a second?”

He shrugs his Sure why not?

“Your father killed your mother. Her body is in the cellar, but you think her soul has entered a crow and will stay in that crow until she can find a way back into her body?”

“Yes,” he says. Succinct and pleased with himself.

“That all sounds highly unlikely.”

“It does,” he says, sounding even more pleased with himself. As if unique circumstances shape an opportunity for pride no matter what the nature of those circumstances are.
I let the silence rest between us for a while. What would be the harm in driving him out of here? I could leave him at a campground or a National Park office. Either would be better than here.

18-year-old Emma Powers and 8-year-old Earl are an unlikely pair. Emma is on the run from a miserable life she’s abandoned by in the Midwest. Many of her more recent horrors are, in part, self-generated. She has arrived in the Black Hills of South Dakota at the end of a journey cross country that has only made her more certain she is done with life. Earl, stranded in those same Black Hills, remains full of hope and mischief even as his life darkens with each passing day. His connection to the land and to the idea that love is still possible stands in stark contrast to the coming snowstorm and the violent man named George, Earl’s father, who may or may not have already killed Earl’s mother.

The dialogue between these two characters is central to the book as a whole. The way they work to understand each other in the midst of terrifying circumstances represents the hope that we search for even in the most dire circumstances. Page 69 is also a great example of how the world Emma has discovered blurs reality and fiction. Earl’s reliability is always in question, and this will, eventually, help Emma see that her own reality might be viewed through a brighter lens.
Follow Rachel Eve Moulton on Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: Tinfoil Butterfly.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 10, 2019

"Third Party"

Brandi Reeds is a critically acclaimed author whose novel of psychological suspense, Trespassing, was an Amazon Charts bestseller. She also writes young adult novels under the pseudonym Sasha Dawn, whose Blink garnered an Edgar nomination. Her debut psychological thriller, Oblivion, was chosen as one of the New York Public Library’s Best Books for Teens, recommended by the School Library Journal, endorsed by the American Library Association, and selected by the 2016 Illinois Reading Council as a featured book. Reeds earned her BA in history and English from Northern Illinois University, followed by an MA in writing from Seton Hill University. When not working on her next book, she works as a kitchen design consultant and cabinetry specialist. She’s also an avid traveler, reader, and dance enthusiast. A Chicago native, Reeds currently lives in the northern suburbs with her husband, daughters, and puppies.

Reeds applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Third Party, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He paid her initial membership fee, an exorbitant $1,000, and a guard—a tower of a man whose shirt was labeled PAGE—gave her a special card with scanner code and a gold bracelet with the same code stamped on the underside. “You’ll need both to enter,” the page said. “Guard them with your life.”

Then, Arlon paid the cover charge, an additional $200. Each.

And the moment she and Arlon set foot on the subterranean level of the Aquasphere Underground, Margaux’s nerves awakened.

She felt the music in her bones, and the beat settled deep down in places she wasn’t supposed to talk about. Instantly, her flesh was dewy with the heat of the room, and she swayed against her new acquaintance’s body.

The place smelled of something sweet, like cotton candy, and scantily clad waitresses roamed the floor with test tubes of a glowing purple liquid.

“Aphrodisiac,” Arlon told her when she asked what it was.

And the next she knew, she was throwing one back.
Third Party opens with the scene of Margaux’s apparent suicide. Interlaced with the first-person narrative of two women unconvinced she took her own life, are excerpts detailing Margaux’s life before her death. Page 69 conveys the eerie undertones of our victim’s existence. This page represents both her grip on her own decision-making ability, and the control she’s about to lose.

In many ways, or at least in an ethereal sense, page 69 represents what many of us encounter as we reach the brink of change—the line in the sand that indicates before and after in our lives—which is one of the dominant themes in the novel. That said, page 69 is laced with sexuality and sensuality, so maybe it’s an overly-specific representation of one particular before and after, but if we boil it down to the moment we’re faced with a decision and the split second we decide to make it, page 69 is indeed indicative of the underlying message: once you cross that line, you can’t rewind time.
Visit Brandi Reeds's website.

My Book, The Movie: Third Party.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

"The Long Ride"

Marina Budhos is an author of award-winning fiction and nonfiction. Her novels include Watched, a follow-up to Ask Me No Questions.

Budhos applied the Page 69 Test to her newest novel, The Long Ride, and reported the following:
Interestingly, page 69 is the first page of Part 2 i.e. the second act of the book. So in some sense it is representative, in that it’s the point at which all the elements have been set in motion—new school, boy, strain on friendships—and my main character is settling in, navigating seventh grade.

The chapter is called “Cowboy” – his actual name is John Wayne and Jamila’s brother Karim teases her every time “the cowboy calls.”

What follows:
John and I start talking on the phone almost every night.

It’s one month into seventh grade. Every morning me and Josie talk, but never about her and SP. It’s not like I’ve come up with any great ideas anyway. Josie has made friends with Angela, who’s in her homeroom, and I see them a lot, chatting in the halls or going over to the handball courts. Jill Siegel has made two new friends: Lonnie and Ronnie, twins who live in the neighborhood by the school. Jill tells me proudly, “They’re geniuses.” Ronnie wants to be a veterinarian and Lonnie an entomologist. I have to look that up—bugs. Lonnie wants to study bugs! Jill seems happy, though. She and the twins walk together in the hall and do study hall in the library, whispering excitedly about their math equations.
Jamila is trying to find her place in this new experimental school. She’s got her beau—though as the first line indicates, all they do is talk on the phone nearly every night. John lives in the neighborhood she’s been bussed to—a poorer neighborhood her parents don’t want her spending time in. And she’s also aware of how, in this supposedly integrated environment, in fact kids are tracked and separated according to their academic ‘abilities.’ Her best friend Josie, who is quiet and less assertive, has been placed in the ‘regular’ track, which makes Jamila burn. She’s determined to set things right. So these are the two important through lines—crossing the gulf between her world and John’s—he’s the slender thread of connection she has in this bewildering school. And fighting for Josie, her best friend, to be seen the way she is—smart, capable—in the eyes of the teachers and administrators.
Visit Marina Budhos's website.

Writers Read: Marina Budhos.

My Book, The Movie: The Long Ride.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 6, 2019

"A Song for a New Day"

Sarah Pinsker is the author of the novelette "Our Lady of the Open Road," winner of the Nebula Award in 2016. Her novelette "In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind," was the Sturgeon Award winner in 2014 and a Nebula finalist for 2013. Her short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, F&SF, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, as well as numerous other magazines, anthologies, year’s bests, podcasts, and translation markets.

Pinsker applied the Page 69 Test to A Song for a New Day, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
"You're here because you want to play," April whispered. "Don't let him ruin your night."

She was right he had already crept into my mood. An evening of like-minded musicians pushing back against ridiculous times would have been nice, but this wasn't going to be that, and that hadn't been my purpose in coming. I needed to play. I said a silent prayer to have even one person show up; playing for April and this dude wouldn't be the same.
Page 69 is pretty representative of A Song For A New Day. The book features two characters, and only one is present here. In this passage, the musician Luce Cannon is looking for places to play after a series of events have led most venues (and public spaces in general, from schools to museums to ballparks) to shut their doors. She's someone who feels most connected with other people when she's playing music, and she's overjoyed when she finds a dive bar that's willing to let her play illegally under a pseudonym in their back room. The fact that she's been paired with a jerk on that night's bill is disappointing, but won't stop her, which is part of what makes this page representative of her and the book as a whole. This is still early, and neither we nor she know the lengths she'll go to, but this passage and this gig are a good preview for the fact that when she needs to play, she won't let anyone stop her.

Her desire for "pushing back against ridiculous times" also makes this passage representative. This is still early, but she recognizes that things are not as they should be. She wants to make sure nobody forgets what used to be called normal as normality gets redefined. This is something Luce does continually throughout the book, as is surrounding herself with "like-minded musicians" who also share her desire for live-music-as-community, and looking for an audience, no matter how small, that she might win over.

So yeah, I guess this page captures a lot of what goes on in the rest of the book!
Visit Sarah Pinsker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 4, 2019

"The Resurrectionist of Caligo"

Wendy Trimboli has never met a dense 19th century novel she didn't love, is blithely attracted to broken characters with downtrodden histories, and enjoys voluntarily running up mountains.

Alicia Zaloga believes reverse harems are absolutely charming, is completely suckered by impossibly competent protagonists, and fondly feeds an addiction to Korean dramas.

And yet, somehow they write books together ... most recently, The Resurrectionist of Caligo.

Trimboli and Zaloga applied the Page 69 Test to The Resurrectionist of Caligo and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Tell you what. You take these winkles and get yourself a stargazy pie down at the Fox & Weasel. Know where that is?” She nodded and snatched the coin from his hand as quick as any pickpocket. “Once I’ve popped back to my room to lose this bleeding staff and fetch my… [pg 69 begins here] surgical instruments, I’ll find you at the pub, and you’ll show me to your ma. Is it a plan?”

“You better not be late again.” Ada pocketed the coins. “Or else I’ll boil your clothes into lye mush.”


Yes, our page 69 falls at the end of a chapter and is mostly blank space. How awkward! …or is it? We’ve added a bit of 68 for context, but even with a mere two paragraphs we’ve managed to write [checks notes] two paragraphs! What a random, crazy happenstance.

This short exchange on page 69 highlights a special relationship at the heart of our novel. Roger Weathersby, resurrectionist and “Man of Science”, has befriended a ferocious waif named Ada and reluctantly takes on a surrogate parental role. These two represent the lowest social strata within the fictional city of Caligo. Roger scrapes out a living selling fresh corpses to medical schools. Meanwhile Ada, a laundry worker by day, calls herself Ghostofmary and haunts the necropolis by night. Roger and Ada’s circumstances form a counterweight to the country’s luxurious, literally magical world of nobles and royals.

Their hesitant, even combative initial relationship also becomes a cornerstone of character growth for Roger. Until now he’s been altruistic on a theoretical level, set on his (unrealistic?) goal of becoming a surgeon. He’s used to managing cadavers, not nine-year-old girls. Ironically, Ada occasionally flips the parental role and cares for him, though he doesn’t realize it. It’s happening in the excerpt above, when Ada chastises Roger about being habitually late—seriously, the man has a problem. Roger’s fear of failing Ada grows over time, and sometimes drives him to act rashly on emotions instead of reason. As some wise man once said, “the power of love is a curious thing.” [checks notes] Plato, probably.
Visit Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Resurrectionist of Caligo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

"Call Your Daughter Home"

Deborah Spera is a two-time nominee and finalist for the Kirkwood literary prize as well as The Montana Prize in Fiction. She has been published in Garden and Gun, Sixfold, The Wascana Review, Pennsylvania English and L.A. Yoga Journal. She’s the co-author of a play produced by Actors Theater Of Louisville, and has held residency at Hedgebrook, a writer’s retreat for women.

Born and raised in Kentucky, she now resides in Los Angeles where she owns her own television company, One-Two Punch Productions. She has executive produced Criminal Minds, Army Wives and Reaper.

Spera applied the Page 69 Test to Call Your Daughter Home, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I know he likes that, so he’s lookin’ to give her everything she wants, including one of my girls to order around.

When Alvin’s daddy catches sight of me, he turns his head away and hollers over his shoulder, “Go fetch your good-for-nothing husband.”

He stands at the edge of the yard, his back to me, looking over the property like he’s a plantation owner surveying his slave’s house.

He jumps when I say, “He ain’t here.”

He didn’t expect me to talk back, but he still won’t turn to face me, and I realize this man ain’t never looked me in the face, ain’t never called me by my given name. Not once in all the time I’ve known him, like I was less than a dog in the yard. If he looked now, he’d know. If he stepped inside my screen door he’d see I’ve scrubbed his son from this place. Even so, I cannot hide what I done. My rage is such that I don’t want to anymore.

Alvin’s daddy turns toward the house and looks around like he can’t make sense of what I said. “Where is he at then?”

“Don’t reckon to know. Never came home from work on Friday.”

The quiet causes him to still. He cocks his head to one side like he’s just come to his senses and looks around like maybe somebody is playing a joke and will pop out from behind a tree. There ain’t no joke here.

“Where’s your brats?”

“With my brother. I took them on Friday. We got nothin’ to eat here, Otto. Nothin’.”

Otto is his name, but I never before called him by it. I was always too scared. He knew my daddy. Heard him tell a man down at the sawmill once about how he knew Mama was sick—that he and Alvin did the Christian thing and took me off my daddy’s hands. I’ve come to hope maybe Daddy was thinking he was the one doing Otto the favor by helping a wayward son with a daughter not afraid of hard work. Why else would Daddy
I love this test! Page 69 of Call Your Daughter Home speaks to the heart and soul of this book. Set in 1924, rural South Carolina a young mother must make the unconscionable decision to either save her daughters from starvation or die at the hands of an abusive husband. She makes the decision at her own peril.

On page 69, Gertrude realizes Otto, her father in law, in all the years she has known him, has never looked at her. She has never once been seen by this man, never once met his eye. That single revelation gives Gertrude power – it ignites her. What does it mean to be an unseen woman? Gertrude comes to learn what this means and from this revelation, finds her strength at every turn of this story. If she is unseen, what can she do for herself? What risks can she take? To be unseen can be a path to freedom as well as a great burden, but to be seen, to step into the woman you are meant to be, takes great courage. You must risk being seen and step into the power of your own worth and ability. This task is the very heart of this book for all three of our female protagonists, Gertrude, Retta and Annie.

Page 69! Who knew?!
Visit Deb Spera's website.

--Marshal Zeringue