Thursday, December 31, 2020

"Heather and Homicide"

Molly MacRae spent twenty years in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Upper East Tennessee, where she managed The Book Place, an independent bookstore; may it rest in peace. Before the lure of books hooked her, she was curator of the history museum in Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town.

MacRae lives with her family in Champaign, Illinois, where she connects children with books at the public library.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest Highland Bookshop Mystery, Heather and Homicide, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It had to be Rab, but she wouldn’t swear to it. Urgent? She checked for customers looking for help. Happy browsers only. She got her binoculars from the office and first tried looking through a front window toward the headland. But the angle wasn’t right and the panes of old glass with their minor distortions didn’t help. She went out onto the front pavement.

The towering rock wall of the headland rose from the sea on the northern edge of Inversgail. How high? A hundred feet? More. The library sat on top like a toy from this distance. Middle square, he’d said, far left. Janet scrutinized the area she thought Rab—or whoever—meant.

Sweeping left and right, she worked her way up the rock face. Just call it what it is. A cliff. A monstrous, freaking enormous edge. Left, right, left, slowly, slow . . . until she saw . . . what? Something. Someone? On a ledge. How far up that—wait. No. It bloody well can’t be.

The shop door opened behind Janet and she heard Tallie call, “Mom?”

“She’s there, Tallie, clinging to the headland. Halfway up. It’s Heather!”
That’s all there is to Page 69 in Heather and Homicide. It’s short because it comes at the end of a chapter. Does that make it harder to pass the browsing test? It might make it easier. Browsers are jumping in at a moment of urgency and suspense – the word “urgent” shows up right there in the first line. And they quickly discover the dangerous situation Heather, the titular character, is in. The chapter ending is a literal cliffhanger, one that I hope makes readers and page 69 browsers turn the page to see what happens next.

The book is a traditional or cozy mystery, though, so does that come through in this short page? The passage offers a clue with the phrase “freaking enormous.” Another kind of book might have used stronger language. And there are details like the library sitting on top of the headland “like a toy” and Tallie opening the shop door and calling “Mom?” So yes, depending on what browsers are looking for, page 69 might give them a glimpse of what to expect in the book. It’s only a glimpse, but jacket copy is just another kind of glimpse, and between the jacket and page 69 a browser might be convinced to take the book home from the library or bookstore.

Heather and Homicide gave me a chance to spend more time with people I enjoy – and a chance to confound them by introducing them to Heather. How do ordinary people rise to the challenge of discovering and exposing a murderer in their midst? The women who own Yon Bonnie Books use their strengths – their relationships with each other and their new relationships with people in Inversgail, and the skills developed in their previous careers and through their years of observing and caring about others. That might not come through in the snippet on page 69, but I hope readers find it in the rest of the pages.
Visit Molly MacRae's website.

My Book, The Movie: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Scones and Scoundrels.

My Book, The Movie: Scones and Scoundrels.

The Page 69 Test: Crewel and Unusual.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 28, 2020

"Give Way to Night"

Cass Morris works as an educator in central Virginia and as a bookseller on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She holds a Master of Letters from Mary Baldwin University and a BA in English with a minor in history from the College of William and Mary. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart.

Morris applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Give Way to Night, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Give Way to Night is the first page of Chapter Seven, bringing the reader to Gades in southern Iberia (modern-day Cádiz, Spain). Lucretius Rabirus is arriving in the province with his legion, and he’s not terribly pleased about it:
Lucretius Rabirus disliked travel.

He had never seen the point in it. Oh, going to his various country estates dotted around Truscum was one thing. None were more than a few days from the great city of Aven, and he had many comfortable options for staying the night along the way, whether with friends or at posting houses of excellent reputation. Once arrived, he could enjoy the same comforts as he did in his domus in Aven: furniture he had chosen himself, his own clothes, his own books, food prepared by his own cooks, the attendance of his own docile slaves. His wife and son, if he desired their company; solitude, if he did not, for they could easily be left in Aven or packed off to a different estate.

Familiarity, in his consideration, was a vastly underrated concept.
As his ship approaches the shore, Rabirus muses on his prior military service, spent in “a city of decent, civilized people” and shudders to contemplate what life will be like “practically at the end of the world.”

This test would give a reader quite a good idea of my antagonist, who is not a very pleasant character -- though I suppose I would have to hope the reader realized that’s who they were being introduced to! I would certainly be dismayed if anyone mistook Rabirus’s voice as representative of the book’s overall tone and outlook. I think, then, that the test yields a mixed result for Give Way to Night: excellent for one character, but possibly misleading for the book as a whole.

The page sets up Rabirus’s worldview in a nutshell: what is known is good; what is unknown is dangerous. He likes a world he can control, and this page certainly reflects that. This page also hints at the broader conflict between him and my protagonists as they struggle for the soul of their nation, although it mentions none of the protags by name. Rabirus is of the Optimate faction: isolationist, conventional, valuing tradition over innovation. His opponents, my protagonists, are expansionist and egalitarian, curious about the broader world, eager to incorporate new ideas and influences. Rabirus took this posting in Gades mostly to spite one of his political foes, and I think that bitterness comes across on page 69, too! He made a choice he felt was necessary, but he resents it.
Visit Cass Morris's website.

My Book, The Movie: Give Way to Night.

Q&A with Cass Morris.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 26, 2020

"Nights When Nothing Happened"

Simon Han was born in Tianjin, China, and raised in various cities in Texas. His stories and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The Texas Observer, Guernica, The Iowa Review, Electric Literature, and LitHub. The recipient of several fiction awards and arts fellowships, he lives in Carrollton, Texas.

Han applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Nights When Nothing Happened, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Patty watched the outline of the man. How heavy his chest looked, how hard it seemed for a big-bodied person to breathe. The first time they had had sex, months after their wedding and a whole year after she’d spent the night at his studio, she’d assured him that it was okay, stilled him when he vibrated with indecision. One year, she thought as her eyes adjusted to her husband. One year had felt long enough to fall not only in love but through it. And to come out on the other side with a child. How time warped her former self, turned her inexplicable.
The test works—sort of. On one hand, what the page is setting up is a departure from the rest of the book, which is largely about a family who chooses not to engage in acts of intimacy. Here, Patty and Liang, the parents at the center of the novel, are about to have sex. But it’s also the first time they’ve had sex in over a year. And in the hours leading up to this moment, Patty was doing everything she could to delay coming home from the office—driving into standstill Dallas traffic, then falling asleep in her car in a parking lot. True to the book’s interests, the moment she’s about to share with her husband will be complicated and messy, and readers will probably have different reactions to it due to its ambiguity. We might see love between the two, we might see desperate longing, we might see an unsettling negotiation of power and control, which may bring up questions of consent. With Nights When Nothing Happened, I wanted to pull the veil off the neat depictions of suburban Asian Americans that prevail in the popular imagination. Patty’s family isn’t a tight, monolithic unit—it’s full of contradictions. And on this page, Patty is also beginning to realize the contradictions that exist within herself.
Visit Simon Han's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 24, 2020

"The Sapphire Child"

Janet MacLeod Trotter is the author of numerous bestselling and acclaimed novels, including The Hungry Hills, which was nominated for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, The Tea Planter’s Daughter, which was nominated for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Novel of the Year Award, and In the Far Pashmina Mountains, which was shortlisted for the RNA Historical Romance of the Year Award. Much informed by her own experiences, MacLeod Trotter was raised in the north-east of England by Scottish parents and travelled in India as a young woman. She now divides her time between Northumberland and the Isle of Skye.

MacLeod Trotter applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Sapphire Child, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He wondered what had happened to break up their friendship. Was it just Esmie being loyal to his father or was there another reason? George’s poisonous words about Esmie resurfaced. ‘Your father never married her. She’s just his whore ... they’re like a couple of sewer rats copulating!’

How could anyone speak about his beloved Meemee like that? To stop himself dwelling on it, he thought of Stella again. She must come with him and not go off with the Irishman, however amiable he was.

The next time Andrew was talking to Moira he asked, ‘What do you think of Mr Keating?’

‘He’s very charming – a bit of a ladies’ man, I’d say.’ She smiled. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘He likes you too,’ said Andrew. ‘He told me.’

Moira looked surprised. ‘Really? Did he say so? I got the distinct impression he’s keen on Stella.’

‘Well, he’s nice to Stella but I think he prefers someone a bit – er – more mature.’

‘Goodness, you must have some very grown-up conversations for your age in the Keating cabin,’ Moira said in amusement.

Andrew reddened. He wasn’t lying when he said that Hugh liked Moira, but he was pretty sure if Stella gave him any romantic encouragement, Hugh would press his suit with her rather than the failed governess. It worried Andrew that Stella might already have done things with Hugh, such as kissing, for they’d started calling each other by their first names and he’d witnessed them touching hands under the table and sharing secret smiles.

Moira tweaked his nose playfully. ‘Will you be my little cupid and tell Mr Keating I’ll meet him on the upper deck at cocktail hour?’

‘Of course,’ said Andrew.
As the novel is over 500 pages, I was astonished by how relevant page 69 was to the overall story! It’s told from the hero, Andrew’s, point of view (while still a teenager) and mentions some of the main characters – most importantly Stella who is my central heroine. Although we can’t tell what Andrew’s relationship is to Stella, we learn that he cares a lot for her and is jealous of her growing interest in Hugh Keating, the Irishman with whom he is sharing a cabin. It is apparent that they are on board a ship and that Andrew is apprehensive at what lies ahead. There is also a hint of the trouble he is escaping (to do with his father and step-mother, Meemee) that is preoccupying him. Andrew doesn’t know it yet, but the voyage is more than just a trip from India to Scotland but a life-changing event – one that he inadvertently sets in motion by his actions on page 69. In his conversation with the flirtatious Moira, he seals the fate of both Stella and Hugh, that will have long-term and devastating consequences.

Having said that, there is so much more that cannot even be guessed at by reading page 69! The novel is largely about warm-hearted Stella, the Anglo-Indian daughter of the hotel manager at The Raj Hotel in Rawalpindi, and her dreams of fulfilment beyond her close-knit community which are shattered by betrayal and the upheaval of world war.
Visit Janet MacLeod Trotter's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

"The Man in the Microwave Oven"

Susan Cox is a former journalist. She has also been marketing and public relations director for a safari park, a fundraiser for non-profit organizations, and the president of the Palm Beach County (Fla.) Attractions Association. She considers herself transcontinental and transatlantic, equally at home in San Francisco and Florida and with a large and boisterous extended family in England. She frequently wears a Starfleet communicator pin, just in case. Her first novel, The Man on the Washing Machine, won the 2014 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition.

Cox applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Man in the Microwave Oven, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Aromas had made it onto the tourist trail after the publicity of a few months ago, and Katrina’s murder only made a brief dip in the number of our customers. We were busy again at the end of the week. I asked Haruto to add a couple of extra half days to his work schedule, and Davie was still on for three afternoons a week, but I needed at least two more part-timers. I’d been reluctant to hire anyone in case the increased tourist business was temporary. Then I'd need to lay them off, which I wouldn’t have the heart to do, and I’d be worse off than before. My former partner had left the store in some debt. It wasn’t a huge amount, and I could have paid it off from my personal funds, but it had become a point of pride to get Aromas into the black and prosperous.

While I did some sums on the back of an envelope, I also wondered who—besides me—had a reason to kill Katrina. I scribbled over the numbers to make a list of potential killers. It could have been someone we knew nothing about, like one of the ex-CEO’s maybe. But, if it wasn’t random—and Nat’s idea about her briefcase seemed to bear that out—it had to be someone who knew where she lived, who knew she’d be parked on the street, and who knew she’s be leaving for work at five in the morning. Nat was right; it wasn’t business, it was personal.
The Page 69 Test doesn’t work completely because it makes the book seem gentler that it is. This page does explain some important aspects of the story--that Theo is a business owner with some money troubles, that she had a reason to be suspected of Katrina’s murder, and she’s starting to puzzle out who might have done it. Those elements of the novel are blown out of the water by later events, including some long-hidden family secrets she’s unaware of on page 69. One of the important parts of Theo’s story is that she is living undercover—she is hiding from the tabloid press and a disastrous family tragedy in England. The difficulty of keeping those secrets from her new friends is a constant undercurrent and tends to make the benign-seeming events of her day-to-day life deceptive.
Visit Susan Cox's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 20, 2020

"The Dead Season"

Tessa Wegert is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Adweek, and The Economist. She grew up in Quebec near the border of Vermont and now lives with her husband and children in a hundred- year-old house in Coastal Connecticut. Wegert writes mysteries set in Upstate New York while studying martial arts and dance, and is the author of the Shana Merchant series, beginning with Death in the Family.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Dead Season, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Music was playing, a nineties indie anthem I’d liked as a kid, back when my life was simple, and the menu was a mixed bag of limp iceberg salads and deep-fried everything else. I ordered two slices of Hawaiian, Suze got a veggie calzone as big as a loaf of bread, and as we dug into our lunch, we dove into the past.

Memory, I realized as we spoke, is a tenuous thing—the truth a filament thin as a spider’s web—but I didn’t like how much I’d forgotten.
I’d say this page is very representative of The Dead Season. Memory is a major theme in this book, which kicks off with Senior Investigator Shana Merchant reluctantly returning to her hometown upon learning of her estranged uncle’s murder. In her youth, Shana wasted no time leaving Swanton, Vermont and her dysfunctional extended family behind. Now, her homecoming requires her to acknowledge that her kin is more twisted and unpredictable than she could have imagined.

On page 69, Shana reconnects with her former best friend Suze, who’s eager to rehash the old days — days that feel nebulous to Shana. In Death in the Family, the first book in this series, readers learn that Shana survived being abducted by serial killer Blake Bram, with whom she shares a hometown. In The Dead Season, Shana reveals the nature of this relationship and the extent to which Bram’s psychological manipulation affected her. As the story unfolds, Shana discovers that Bram may be linked to additional crimes — both her uncle’s cold case in Vermont and the recent abduction of a child in the Thousand Islands of Upstate New York — and a cat and mouse game ensues. Shana’s memory becomes a critical tool in her effort to decode the clues Bram is planting just for her. The question is: how reliable are her memories now that Bram has probed her mind, and can she recall enough about their shared past to follow his breadcrumb trail and reach the child in time?
Visit Tessa Wegert's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Dead Season.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 18, 2020

"Shed No Tears"

Caz Frear grew up in Coventry, England, and spent her teenage years dreaming of moving to London and writing a novel. After fulfilling her first dream, it wasn’t until she moved back to Coventry thirteen years later that the second finally came true. She has a degree in History & Politics, and when she’s not agonizing over snappy dialogue or incisive prose, she can be found shouting at Arsenal football matches or holding court in the pub on topics she knows nothing about. Sweet Little Lies and Stone Cold Heart are her first two novels featuring DC Cat Kinsella.

Frear applied the Page 69 Test to the new book in the series, Shed No Tears, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Shed No Tears follows very soon after an early turning point (or story twist), and it finds the Murder Investigation Team slap bang in the middle of their first briefing regarding the murder of Holly Kemp. They have just received some surprising news about Kemp’s cause of death, which means it’s not quite the open-and-shut case they were hoping for. The years 2011 and 2012 are also mentioned on this page, so a browser would be instantly aware that they are dealing with a cold case.
Steele takes a slow, deep sigh, a preface to our second – dreaded – conclusion. “OK then, since you’ve brought up the unthinkable, let’s get it out in the open. Who’s going to say it?

Renee’s straight in there. “The witness was mistaken and someone else killed Holly Kemp.”
This is a pivotal couple of lines as they set the novel off down a very different path. What is largely missing from the page, though, is the main protagonist! The entire novel (and indeed the whole series) is told from Detective Constable Cat Kinsella’s first-person perspective, however she doesn’t feature very highly on page 69 and this is quite unusual. From page 69 alone, a browser could be forgiven for thinking the novel was more of ensemble piece.

While a page 69 browser may be a little confused to find themselves in the middle of a team meeting where theories are coming thick and fast from various different characters, I still think it’s a fair overall representation. Shed No Tears is a police procedural and page 69 certainly leaves you in no doubt about that. My stories also tend to be quite dialogue heavy, and the type of interplay between the characters shown here is repeated often throughout the story. Basically, if a browser enjoys the tone and pace of page 69, it’s likely they’ll enjoy the overall novel.
Follow Caz Frear on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Sweet Little Lies.

The Page 69 Test: Stone Cold Heart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

"The Three Mrs. Wrights"

Linda Keir is the pen name for the writing team of Linda Joffe Hull and Keir Graff, the authors of Drowning with Others and The Swing of Things.

They applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, The Three Mrs. Wrights, and reported the following:
On page 69 of our latest release, The Three Mrs. Wrights, you will find the following passage:
“How are we looking?” asked Holly, not wanting to turn around to read the room.

Without hesitation, Brian did just that, scanning faces, nodding at several people, and doing a quick head count. “Not bad. I emailed, texted, Facebooked, and tweeted this morning, trying to get the numbers up. I’m sure we’ll get a few more, even if they’re a little late.”

Holly glanced over at Theresa, who was watching them intently. Brian grinned and gave her a thumbs-up, which caused Theresa and Larry to go into a huddle with their lawyer.

“Who does this?” complained Holly pointlessly. “It’s like moving to Taos and telling everyone there are too many art galleries.”

“Either way, they’re outnumbered,” Brian reassured her…

As he scrolled on his phone to see if anyone had retweeted his call to action, the chairperson rapped his gavel, calling the meeting to order. Brian reached over and gave her arm a squeeze. Her head throbbed again, and suddenly Holly felt distracted and unprepared, unable to concentrate as the chairperson asked the board to approve the minutes of the last meeting before laying out the agenda of the meeting before them.
The Three Mrs. Wrights is the story of three intelligent, empowered women who discover they are all married or engaged to dynamic, handsome med-tech entrepreneur Jonathan Wright III AKA Jack Wright AKA Trip Mitchell. Told from alternating points of view, the book gradually reveals Jon’s various betrayals and the revenge exacted upon him by the three female protagonists.

On page 69, the reader is with Holly Wright, Jack’s pediatrician wife of nearly twenty years. An avid horsewoman, she is in the midst of a city council imbroglio with an unpleasant neighbor who is objecting to an extension to an otherwise popular bridle path in their horse-friendly community. At her side is Brian Frederickson, her right-hand man, whose interest goes beyond their joint projects. Holly is attracted to Brian but she is definitely not a cheater. The purpose of this scene is to lay the groundwork for the fact that she will soon discover that her husband has not only cheated on her but is a bigamist.

Does this accurately reflect the book as a whole? It introduces tensions in the marriage between Holly and Jack—seen and conveniently overlooked—and the frisson between Holly and Brian, but we’d be hard pressed to call a scene at a city council meeting much more riveting than actually attending in person. A far better page 69 test can be found in our first jointly written novel, The Swing of Things, which is a marital drama and cautionary tale about—ahem—swinging:
Eric helped Jayne from the back seat. Her eagerness had been joined by confusion, although she was determined to play along gamely. Something about seeing her out of her element made her look ten years younger. He gave her hand a quick squeeze and let it drop.

Theo and Mia smiled at them, saying nothing, heightening the suspense.
Here, you know exactly what you’re in for!
Visit the websites of Linda Joffe Hull and Keir Graff.

My Book, The Movie: The Three Mrs. Wrights.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 14, 2020

"This Virtual Night"

An acknowledged master of dark fantasy and science fiction alike, C.S. Friedman is a John W. Campbell award finalist, and the author of the highly acclaimed Coldfire trilogy, New York Times Notable Book of the Year This Alien Shore, In Conquest Born, The Madness Season, The Wilding, The Magister Trilogy, and the Dreamwalker series. Friedman worked for twenty years as a professional costume designer, but retired from that career in 1996 to focus on her writing.

Friedman applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, This Virtual Night, and reported the following:
Page 69 only had a couple of lines, so I backed up to 68.
The food court was silent once more. After a minute he vaulted back over the counter and headed toward the exit, but he kept looking back over his shoulder, just to make sure nothing was following him.

Nothing was.

The station grew darker as he hiked to the com center, and also grew dirtier. Whatever bots maintained the food court clearly had less interest in the housing section. There was actually dust in a few places--dust!—and some damage near the base of the walls. A few scratches, a few stains, nothing truly ominous, just….odd. He couldn’t think of what would leave marks like that.

Once he thought he heard the scratching sound again, but though he froze for several long minutes, looking in every direction, there was no hint where it was coming from.

At last he reached the promised land. Communications Center, the sign over the door said. A he approached it the panels split open, admitting him to—

Hell.

He stood in the doorway just looking at the place, so shocked that for a moment he was unable to process what he was seeing. Then details came into focus: Screens shattered. Consoles gutted. Wires tangled and knotted like intoxicated snakes.

All gone. Deliberately destroyed.

Slowly he walked into the room, picking his way carefully across fallen conduits, over fragments of console housing, past bits of stuffing that someone had ripped from a padded chair. He searched for some remnant of equipment that he could jury-rig, but there was nothing. Whoever had destroyed this place had known what he was doing. There was nothing left.

Coldness settled in his heart. The brief spark of hope was gone. And he heard the scratching again, this time from just outside the door. He rushed across the room, nearly tripping on a length of cord, but by the time he got to the door, whatever had been there was gone. The hall outside was darker than he remembered. Were the lights fading? What if the power on the station was limited?

He rested his hand by the side of the door and leaned on it for a moment, eyes shut. When he opened his eyes he realized there was something under his fingertips. Long scratch marks like he’d seen in the corridor, only several of them this time, in parallel. They were etched deeply into the wall, and as he ran his fingers down them he shivered.

Your average corporate flunky wouldn’t know what they were. The low level techs who had manned this com center wouldn’t recognize them. But he did. He’d designed too many fantasy games not to. And they were spread out as big as his hand, as high as his shoulder. Whatever had made them was as tall as he was, and probably larger.

Claw marks.
Micah Bello is a game designer specializing in virtual reality role-playing games. One of his games was recently implicated in a terrorist act, and he came to realize that the company he designed it for was planning to frame him for the crime. When he tried to flee their corporate station he was attacked, and barely escaped with his life. Now he is on a derelict station, seemingly abandoned, searching for the communications center that will allow him send out a call for help. The corridors are empty, silent, and….strange. There are clues as to what has happened, but he doesn’t know how to interpret them yet.

Micah is one of my favorite characters yet. His gaming background gives him a wide array of knowledge on diverse subjects, and a nature well-suited to dealing with puzzles, but no practical experience in dealing with real-world threats. He’ll soon team up with a woman who has that practical experience, but is addicted to the adrenalin rush of danger. The chemistry between them was great fun to write, and hopefully will be great fun to read.
Visit C.S. Friedman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 12, 2020

"A Lady Compromised"

Darcie Wilde is the award-winning author of the Rosalind Thorne Mysteries, a Regency-set historical mystery series inspired by the novels of Jane Austen.

Wilde applied the Page 69 Test to the new book in the series, A Lady Compromised, and reported the following:
This page is an interesting one for the book, and the series. It starts a new chapter, so the the casual browser is tossed right into a fresh section, and while it doesn’t necessarily illuminate the plot, it does give a solid insight as to the moral views of the main character.

My main character, Rosalind Thorne, is a problem solver and “detective” in Regency England. I use the quotes because our modern concept of the professional (or amateur) detective hadn’t really evolved yet in 1819, which is when the story’s set. But Rosalind has been asked to find out if a friend’s fiancé committed a murder. This is the first time in four books we are seeing her turn down such a request down.

Her reason is explicit and personal. Rosalind grew up in a household filled with secrets, and in her career as what might be considered a fixer for high society, she has seen the damage that they do. She will not help create more secrets between two people, especially two people planning on getting married. Even if the fiancé is innocent, the fact that the friend not only suspected him, but went behind his back to find answers is a secret will not be going away and might poison the whole relationship. Her friend is not ready to understand that, but Rosalind knows it all too well.
Visit Darcie Wilde's website.

The Page 69 Test: And Dangerous to Know.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 10, 2020

"My Name is Anton"

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 40 published and forthcoming books.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, My Name is Anton, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He stepped into her warm foyer and found himself at eye level with the hat. Somehow it looked more fine and valuable and perfect even than he had remembered. If he was wrong to think it could solve all of his problems, he was incapable of seeing the error in that moment. It was in perfect condition, too. A little softer and more broken-in than the ones he’d tried on in the hat shop, but not noticeably more worn looking.

“You miss your grandfather, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.”

“I see you staring at his old fedora. He loved that hat.”

“It looks nearly new.”

“It does, and he had it since… oh, I’m not sure now. Sometime in the 40s. Definitely before 1950. But he took such meticulous care of it. He had it cleaned and blocked every year like clockwork. It was something of a signature piece of apparel for him.”

He unbuttoned his jacket as she spoke, because he was too warm.

“Would it be all right if I tried it on?”

“Of course.”

He took it off its rack almost reverently, and settled it on his head. It didn’t fit perfectly. It was maybe a quarter of an inch too big. But it didn’t literally fall onto his eyebrows. It just felt a little insecure there. He wouldn’t dare wear it outside in a blustery wind.

He stepped over to the decorative mirror, and sucked in his breath when he saw himself. He looked like a new person. Like a fully grown man. Like an adult man named Anton. It was too perfect. He knew he couldn’t let it go now—not now that he’d seen who he was in it.

Grandma Marion sucked in her breath, too. Audibly.

“What?” he asked her, when he’d torn his eyes away from his own reflection. “Is something wrong?”

“You look so much like him when I first met him. It took my breath away for a second.”
The “Page 69 Test” seems to work unusually well for this book, at least in terms of the symbolic heart of the work.

I should begin by noting that the working title of this novel was Anton's Hat. As I got deeper into the book, I realized that it was not the right symbol for the work as a whole, but Part 1 of the book still bears the heading “Anton’s Fedora.”

In this scene he not only takes on the hat as his own, but at the end of the scene it strikes him, with the help of his Grandma Marion’s words, that he must never use a nickname again. He is growing up as the namesake of his Grandpa Anton. Growing up in the older man’s image. Hence his embrace of the name, and the ultimate title, My Name is Anton.

What you don’t see on this Page 69 Test is that Anton is in love. There is a woman in his life. She’s too old for him, and in an abusive marriage, and it certainly seems at that point to be a love with no space to exist. Before she asks him searching and difficult questions, she always says, “Hold on to your hat, Anton.” It’s become something of a private joke between them. Just prior to page 69, he has overstepped with her, and driven her further away. Somehow he is allowing himself to believe that showing her he has a hat to hold on to will smooth everything over.

The book takes place over a period of many decades, but I think the text on page 69 speaks well to the first and longest part of the book, which is set in the winter of 1965.
Visit Catherine Ryan Hyde's website.

Q&A with Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Page 69 Test: Brave Girl, Quiet Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

"The Butterfly Effect"

Rachel Mans McKenny is a writer and humorist from the Midwest, recently published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Electric Lit, The Rumpus, and The New York Times.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Butterfly Effect, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
If only she could still be collecting data in the cloud forest. Costa Rica and the resort could have been a sci-fi movie, or maybe her life now was. A parallel universe-- make one choice, and it all went a different way.

When Greta was a teen, there had been a surge of reinterest in the theory of the butterfly effect. Magazines covered it, and experts were interviewed on 60 Minutes. It was a dramatic time-- September 11 and natural disasters. As the theory stated, if a butterfly flaps its wings in Argentina, there's a monsoon in Singapore. She understood the attraction then, and she understood it now-- human beings like to think that everything they do matters.
I am shocked at how well this test works for my book, and honestly, it's funny that it does. This page is the first place that I mention "the butterfly effect" in the entire novel, and it was a part which was added during first round edits of the manuscript when we settled on the title as that name. While refining the novel with my editor, we talked about this sense of predestination or loss of control that Greta, the main character, feels. It's one of her major struggles in the novel to try to live with things as they are instead of wishing they had gone another way.

This struggle of hoping that our actions have an impact-- but not too much of one-- is a real human impulse that many of us identify with. We want to be remembered, but for the right things. We want to make a difference in someone's life, as long as it's a good one. But ultimately, we're not in control of how others see us-- and most of the characters in my novel (along with the readers of the novel) might think of Greta as "unlikeable" at first glance. Hopefully by the end of the book, readers (like the characters in the book), come to understand Greta's motives as she comes to understand herself better. She realizes the actions she can take to help, not hurt; to rebuild rather than tear down. The Butterfly Effect is an ultimately hopeful story that ultimately, I hope, will make a difference in people's lives.
Visit Rachel Mans McKenny's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 6, 2020

"Poetic Justice"

Andrea J. Johnson is a writer and editor whose expertise lies in traditional mysteries and romance. She holds an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and a copyediting certification from UC San Diego. Her craft essays have appeared on several websites such as DIY MFA, Submittable, and Funds for Writers. She also writes entertainment articles for the women’s lifestyle website Popsugar and is the author of the court reporter whodunit series the Victoria Justice Mysteries.

Johnson applied the Page 69 Test to the first book in the series, Poetic Justice, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Someone we love died within the walls of our workplace. I think that’s worth us enduring any inconveniences that might come our way. You don’t see me complaining.”

“Oh, hush up.” Maggie groaned. “I know you’re used to walking on water around here, but you’d be well advised to keep that self-righteous attitude to yourself.”

Her comely features formed the same flirtatious smile she’d given James earlier, but the pleasantness didn’t reach her eyes—those clouded over with something wrathful.

“Ain’t nobody saying they don’t feel bad about what happened,” she cooed. “I was just trying to make a point about how my integrity is being called into question, but here you come, as usual, trying to steal the spotlight by flashing around your relationship with the judge.”

“Really, Maggs? You’re quibbling over friendships?” My voice grew taut to cover my frustration. If anything, I’d always downplayed my relationship with Ms. Freddie to avoid reactions like hers. “Judge Wannamaker loved all of us and treated everyone here as her equal. We should be willing to do whatever it takes, regardless of the consequences, to help the police figure out what happened and why.”

I swiveled my chair away from her in an attempt to end the conversation and resume binding pages, but her words stopped me.

“Easy for you to say, Little Miss First on the Scene.” She didn’t raise her voice, but the timbre carried enough bravado that James gasped.

“What’s that supposed to mean? How did you know I found—” I gaped at Maggie and James, who was sitting in a desk chair between us. Surely, he could see the storm brewing and would jump in to back me up. But no. He poked out his lips like a nervous duck and rolled himself out of the line of fire.

“Darling, I’m just saying maybe you should take a good hard look at yourself because you’re not the innocent lamb you claim to be. I wouldn’t try to play that pity card if I were you.”
Our heroine, Victoria Justice, finds herself in a losing argument with one of the story’s main villains (and eventually key suspects), Margaret Swinson. Maggs, as she best known, is a busty blonde busybody with a big ‘ol bouffant and syrupy Southern drawl. She works in the clerk’s office at the courthouse and breaches the sanctity of Victoria’s office on a daily basis. Maggs visits the court reporter’s sanctum under the pretense of flirting with one of Victoria’s young male coworkers, James Brandenkamp, but it quickly becomes clear Maggs motives are more sinister.

Maggs presents herself as a Southern sweetheart, but Victoria recognizes her as a gossipy maneater spreading lies about the judge who was murdered in the courthouse just one day earlier. Even though Victoria, has not yet made the decision to usurp the police and investigate the crime, this page shows her fierce loyalty to the victim, The Honorable Frederica Scott Wannamaker aka “Ms. Freddie.”

As with any good cozy mystery, our protagonist has a direct connection to all of the major characters in the story, specifically the victim who is Victoria’s mentor and her mother’s best friend. Therefore, this scene helps solidify that connection so that when it comes time for our sleuth to get involved with the murder, her decision to do so makes both logical and emotional sense. That is to say, Victoria becomes involved in solving the crime because she owes it the friend she feels she failed to protect and to help dispel the suspicion mounting around herself. We also get a glimpse at how Victoria’s keen power of observation and utter stubbornness will help her overcome the deadly obstacles that will surely obscure the truth.
Visit Andrea J. Johnson's website.

My Book, The Movie: Poetic Justice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 5, 2020

"The Ballad of Ami Miles"

Kristy Dallas Alley is a high school librarian in Memphis, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, four kids, three cats, and an indeterminate number of fish. She studied creative writing at Rhodes College in another lifetime and holds a Master of Science in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership from the University of Memphis. In an ideal world, she would do nothing but sit on a beach and read every single day of her life, but in reality she's pretty happy reading on her front porch, neglecting the gardens she enthusiastically plants each spring, and cooking huge meals regardless of the number of people around to eat them.

Alley applied the Page 69 Test to The Ballad of Ami Miles, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I saw a couple of towels folded on a shelf above the toilet and thought I might be able to at least wrap a towel around myself before I looked, but they were too far to reach without stepping into the room. The mirror was old and cloudy around the edges, but I could still see better than I wanted to. Finally, curiosity got the best of me, and I locked eyes with my own self in the mirror. They were just about the only part of myself I was used to seeing in my little round pocket mirror, so that part was kind of comforting and familiar. I thought that maybe if I could just keep looking myself in the eye, I could find the courage to step out and look at the rest of me. And sure enough, I started to feel calmer. Keeping my eyes on their reflection, I slowly stepped into the bathroom.

When I was a few steps away from the mirror, I stopped. The towels were within reach now, but I was feeling braver. I let my eyes focus on my whole face and then outward just a little more to take in my hair. I had pulled it back into a thick braid at some point, but it was escaping in wisps and curls like it always did. Like it wanted to be free. So I pulled the long tail of the braid over my shoulder and untied the end, then worked my fingers through it until it was loose and wild around my shoulders and down my back. I pulled it all around me like a cape, and then I let my eyes drop so that I was looking, finally, at all of myself.

I saw a girl whose face and neck were freckled and brownish from the sun but whose body was pale and blank in comparison. Now, I know I didn’t need a mirror to look down at my undressed self, but I never really had. I was taught that vanity is a sin and the body is the devil’s trap. The only time I wasn’t covered from neck to ankle and wrist in a loose muslin dress was when I was bathing and changing clothes, and that was a quick, no-nonsense business. Even standing in that bathroom so far from Heavenly Shepherd, I felt like I was doing something shameful and wrong. I felt afraid. But another, newer feeling was also fighting its way out: I felt bold.
I had never heard of the Page 69 Test, but when I opened my book to page 69 I really had to laugh. As it turns out, this really is a fairly good test for my book, but also? It's about my protagonist seeing herself naked in a mirror for the first time ever!

Ami has been raised by her grandparents according to strict rules and a pretty harsh interpretation of religious values. In her world, pride is a sin, and for that reason mirrors are forbidden. Ami has secretly kept a small round mirror compact that she found as a child, so she has seen a tiny circle of her own face in the little mirror, and that's all. When she arrives at Lake Point in search of her mother, she's given a room in the repurposed guest lodge and gently encouraged to bathe after her long trek through the wilderness to get there. Her room has the kind of attached bath you would expect in the former guest lodge of a state park, and she's startled to find a large mirror above the sink. At first afraid, she decides to be bold and take a look at herself there in that strange place, far from home but also far from the overbearing adults who have always been right there watching,
Follow Kristy Dallas Alley on Facebook and Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: The Ballad of Ami Miles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 3, 2020

"The Art of Violence"

S. J. Rozan has won multiple awards for her fiction, including the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity, the Japanese Maltese Falcon, and the Private Eye Writers of America Lifetime Achievement Award. Rozan was born and raised in the Bronx and now lives in lower Manhattan.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Art of Violence, and reported the following:
Page 69 is largely dialogue, Bill Smith talking to two people who need to know what the case is about.

It's pretty spot on. Smith is clear on what he's doing; one of the other two is more confused than angry, the other more angry than confused, and they both find the situation -- that a client's hired Smith to prove he, the client, is a serial killer -- unbelievable.

Page 69 finds people arguing over the truth. Truth is at the heart of The Art of Violence. Everyone in the book has an agenda. If the truth will serve it, then the character's in favor of the truth. If it won't, the character chooses to deny the truth; or to shrug, ignore it, and move on. Not a lot of these characters are interested in the truth in the absolute sense: because it's true. That absolute truth is what Bill and Lydia have been hired to find.

The book's set in the art world. Keats said, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty." In the art world, though, that just kicks the can down the road. Beauty may be truth, but how do you know you've found beauty? Who defines it, who sanctifies it, what relation does it have to value, to money? Is art about beauty? About truth? Can they be at odds? If so, what triumphs?

These are the questions that animate The Art of Violence. They fascinate me. I hope readers find them absorbing, too.
Visit S.J. Rozan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Paper Son.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

"Eddie's Boy"

Thomas Perry is the bestselling author of over twenty-seven novels, including the critically acclaimed Jane Whitefield series, Forty Thieves, and The Butcher’s Boy, which won the Edgar Award. He lives in Southern California.

Perry applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Eddie's Boy, and reported the following:
Page 69 begins the scene with the words, "The men arrived around three in the morning, during the boy's turn to watch. A big sedan rolled into the lot with its lights off and stopped.The car doors all opened but the dome lights were turned off, so the car didn't emit light except for the faint glow of the dashboard dials. The driver stayed behind the wheel while four men got out and left the doors open so there would be no slamming sounds."

Michael Schaeffer is "the boy" in this scene, which happened many years ago when he was about fifteen. He's with his guardian and mentor, "Eddie the Butcher," who has been teaching him both of his two trades, butcher and occasional killer for hire. Eddie has agreed to do a killing in Chicago, but when he and the boy arrived, he was given a comped room in a particular south side motel. Eddie correctly realized that was suspicious, so he and the boy have secretly moved to a different room to await the killers who must be coming for them, and taken turns watching. The rest of the page is the ensuing battle, in which Eddie uses a shotgun to first kill the driver and then hide behind the car's engine block to shoot the men who have burst into the wrong room and become trapped. In the very last lines, the boy realizes that the man in the motel office must be part of the ambush, so the boy dashes toward the front desk with a pistol to kill him.

I think that page 69 is a fair taste of the book. The novel tells the story of a series of attacks on Michael Schaeffer in the present, when he is in his sixties and his guardian Eddie Mastrewski is long dead. These scenes from the past are Michael remembering the days half a century ago when he learned the lessons or acquired the skills that will keep him alive one more time today. Not all of the lessons are exclusively about killing. Some are about love, sacrifice,deception, responsibility, intelligence, competence--all the things we need to grow up.
Learn more about the book and author at Thomas Perry's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Silence.

The Page 99 Test: Nightlife.

The Page 69/99 Test: Fidelity.

The Page 69/99 Test: Runner.

The Page 69 Test: Strip.

The Page 69 Test: The Informant.

The Page 69 Test: The Boyfriend.

The Page 69 Test: A String of Beads.

The Page 69 Test: Forty Thieves.

The Page 69 Test: The Old Man.

The Page 69 Test: The Bomb Maker.

The Page 69 Test: The Burglar.

The Page 69 Test: A Small Town.

Q&A with Thomas Perry.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 30, 2020

"Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers"

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 her new novel, Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers, the second title of the A Woman of World War II series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It was a forlorn group of women who were gathered around the long trestle table by the mess windows looking out on the airfield.

“Morning, Poppy. Breakfast? We usually have a large one because it might be the only chance we have to eat today.” June’s face was very pale, her eyes were red-rimmed with fatigue, but she was lacing into a plate of eggs, mushrooms, and what looked like some sort of tinned corned beef. It was a deadly-looking array of overcooked and greasy food. I shuddered. Even before the war, when an English cooked breakfast was the envy of the world, I never understood how people managed to eat platefuls of protein first thing in the morning.

“I would love a couple of slices of toast and a cup of coffee,” I said as Bess planted herself underneath June’s chair and looked up at her with a particularly yearning expression. She was rewarded with a corner of toast with scrambled eggs that looked like pale yellow rubber.

“No coffee for me; I’ll take tea,” Annie told the mess steward. “I want this war over soon, so we can have a good strong cup of real coffee with lots of sugar. What do they make this stuff with?” She had pushed away her coffee cup. “Parched acorns?”

Grable, after lifting her head briefly to say good morning, had gone back to staring bleakly out the window as she sipped coffee, and Annie became absorbed with making a toast sandwich with what looked like fried Spam, but her heart wasn’t in it. The Spam slithered out from between the toast, and she pushed it aside with an impatient exclamation. None of them looked like they had slept well; their faces were wan, their eyes clouded with exhaustion. If there was someone sitting at this table who had caused Edwina’s accident, her conscience had given her a rough going-over last night.
The Page 69 test worked quite well: it certainly gives us a good idea of what it would be like to eat breakfast in England during WWII!

But there is something else going on here too! The paragraphs from this page sum up the reactions and shock of a group of women pilots whose comrade, Edwina, was killed in an accident flying a Spitfire for a propaganda about the glamorous Air Transport Auxiliary pilots: The Attagirls.

A bit of background on the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA): The women pilots of the ATA whose wartime job was to deliver planes from factories to military airfields were only glamorous Attagirls to the outsider. In reality their days were long, and often dangerous. Seasonal fog and ice storms contributed to the danger of flight particularly if you were delivering an open cockpit Tiger Moth to Scotland. The barrage balloons that protected the airway above military airfields were pulled down when friendly planes approached, but if there was an air raid warning were immediately released to provide a navigational nightmare. And not all air raid ground staff were adept at telling the difference between a German Heinkel or a British Hurricane from the ground and in their ignorance often opened fire on a British or American plane.

But it is the last sentence that gives us a clue that all is not well. “None of them looked like they had slept well; their faces were wan, their eyes clouded with exhaustion. If there was someone sitting at this table who had caused Edwina’s accident, her conscience had given her a rough going-over last night.”

This observation is made by the protagonist, Poppy Redfern, who is a script writer for the Crown Film Unit which made short films about civilians who do brave things in wartime. When Edwina appeared to crash her Spitfire Poppy was standing on the edge of the airfield as the film crew shot Edwina’s demonstration of skill at piloting a Spitfire. And to Poppy’s observant mind there was something about the dead pilot’s demeanor before she flew that day and her relationship with some of her ATA friends that caused her concern. It is these perceived signals that prompts Poppy to eat breakfast with this group of close friends before they leave to deliver planes, to see how they are faring after the accident. But little does she realize that her premonitions of danger are justified. Within hours of the Attagirls departure another of them falls to her death in what will also be termed as an “accident.”
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

See Tessa Arlen’s top five historical novels.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

The Page 69 Test: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman.

My Book, The Movie: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman.

The Page 69 Test: Death Sits Down to Dinner.

My Book, The Movie: Death Sits Down to Dinner.

The Page 69 Test: A Death by Any Other Name.

The Page 69 Test: Death of an Unsung Hero.

Writers Read: Tessa Arlen (November 2019).

The Page 69 Test: Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders.

Q&A with Tessa Arlen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 29, 2020

"Ruinsong"

Julia Ember is the author of The Seafarer’s Kiss duology and Ruinsong. Her work has been featured in USA Today, Bustle, Book Riot and Autostraddle, among many other prominent outlets. Ember has a lifelong appreciation for history and classic literature, and holds an MLitt in Medieval Literature from the University of St. Andrews. She currently lives in Seattle with her wife and two very fluffy cats.

Ember applied the Page 69 Test to Ruinsong and reported the following:
From page 69:
After so many years at the palace with Elene, I know her well. She might have forgiven the viscount for abandoning their love, but she could never have forgiven his betrayal of her ambition.

Elene likes to say that when she murdered the old queen, mounted the viscount's charred corpse on a pike in the city square, and took the throne, she'd been restoring control to where it rightfully belonged. After all, the divine quartet gave magic to us mages, not the noble folk.

And surely, if the goddesses had meant for the nobles to rule, Elene would purr, they would have given them more than the delusion of power.

I have faith in the divine quartet and know that we are all instruments of their will, but even I have a hard time believing that the goddesses wanted Bordea to become what it is.

I stumble through the overgrown courtyard to the hospital's door. The nuns are too busy with their patients to maintain the garden's former splendor, so weeds grow through the cobblestones, and the fountain is cracked, water pumping directly onto the walkway to create a muddy swamp. A film of algae grows over the front steps. I edge carefully through the garden on tiptoe, trying to keep my feet as dry as possible.
I think the test works in some ways and fails in others for my book! I think it gives us a great glimpse into the villain's psyche from the protagonist's perspective, but because most of the page describes the villain's backstory, I'm not sure it gives the reader the best understanding of the book's plot or the main character's motivations. It does, however, provide some insight into the political dynamics of the kingdom and the workings of the magic system!
Visit Julia Ember's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 27, 2020

"The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories"

Caroline Kim was born in South Korea. She has an MFA in Poetry from the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award and an MA in Fiction from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She was nominated by Jellyfish Review for a 2019 Best of the Net award. Kim lives in Walnut Creek, California with her husband and three children.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories, and reported the following:
Page 69 will find the reader close to the beginning of “Seoul,” the fifth story in the collection. The Korean War has just broken out, surprising a young boy and his family.

An excerpt:
Sung’s family was surprised to find that they were on the northern side of the line dividing Korea. They were happy the Japanese were gone but wary of the Communists. They just wanted to be left alone. What did it matter who controlled the government? Communism. Democracy. Really, who cared? What they wanted was so simple: to be able to eat and breathe freely, work their small li of land, have children and grandchildren, live and die facing the same sunset they had watched all their lives.

The changes came slowly over the next five years and were mostly seen in the larger town of Kumchon. Posters of Stalin and Kim Il-sung appeared pasted on municipal buildings; sometimes Russians passed through, tall and thickly bearded with eyes of startling bright colors. Sung’s family kept their heads low, gave monthly to the soldiers who came to collect their share of rice and vegetables, and hoped to escape notice. Life went on. Instead of giving to the provincial office, they now gave to the Communists.
Given that this is a collection of short stories, I was surprised at how well this test worked. The above excerpt shows how suddenly your life can change due to nothing you’ve done. It’s shocking at first, but then you get down to the business of figuring out how to survive in your new reality. This idea appears in many of my stories. Ultimately, how my characters deal with their new lives reveals who they are. I’m just fascinated by how anybody gets through life. In the story above, Sung and his family escape south, ending up in Seoul. Even though the capital is chaotic and terrifying at times, Sung still feels the excitement of a young boy discovering a big city. He suffers and experiences joy while trying to remain a decent human being. In the end, I think that’s all we can really hope for.
Visit Caroline Kim's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

"The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany"

Lori Nelson Spielman is a former speech pathologist, guidance counselor, and teacher of homebound students. She enjoys fitness running, traveling, and reading, though writing is her true passion. Her first novel, The Life List, has been published in thirty countries and optioned by Fox 2000. Her second novel, Sweet Forgiveness, was also an international bestseller. She lives in Michigan with her husband and their very spoiled puppy.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her third book, The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany, the entire Fontana Family is gathered in Nonna Rosa’s dining room for Sunday dinner. An anxious Emilia announces that she and her cousin Lucy are going to Italy.
Heads turn. Confused looks are exchanged. Slowly, my family find their voices.

“Why is she going to Italy?”

“Is it safe?”

“Not for a young woman.”

“Europe is teeming with crime these days.”

“Yes,” Aunt Carol agrees. “Terrorists.”

"And gypsies. They’d steal the blood from your veins if you let them.”
The situation is made worse when Lucy confesses that they’ll be traveling with Aunt Poppy, the black sheep of the family.
A silence takes over the room, so profound you could hear dust drop. I run a finger over my scar. Finally, Nonna’s chair scrapes against the wood floor.

Wordlessly, she rises. Gripping her espresso cup, she moves into the living room, as if she hasn’t heard a word I’ve said.
I’d say the Page 69 test works fairly well in the case of The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany. It’s a story about a 200-year-old curse on second-born Fontana women, dooming them to lives without true love. Two cousins, Emilia and Lucy, resign themselves to never finding lasting romance, that is, until their estranged great aunt invites them to Italy, vowing that the curse will be lifted on her 80th birthday, when she’ll meet her true love on the steps of the Ravello Cathedral and break the curse, once and for all.

Though page 69 fails to mention the second-daughter curse directly, we hear boisterous laughter when little Mimi asks if Emmie has a boyfriend. It also illustrates the conflict between the elder family members and the younger Emilia and Lucy. And when Poppy’s name is thrown into the mix, the tension escalates greatly. Overall, page 69 is a fairly good snapshot of the book. Thanks for letting me test Marshall McLuhan's theory!
Learn more about the book and author at Lori Nelson Spielman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

"The Turning Tide"

Catriona McPherson was born in Scotland and lived there until immigrating to the US in 2010. She writes the multi-award-winning Dandy Gilver series, set in the old country in the 1930s, as well as a strand of multi-award-winning psychological thrillers. Very different awards. After eight years in the new country, she kicked off the humorous Last Ditch Motel series, which takes a wry look at California life. These are not multi-award-winning, but the first two won the same award in consecutive years, which still isn’t too shabby.

McPherson is a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest Dandy Gilver mystery, The Turning Tide, and reported the following:
From page 69:
… certainly concerned with Vesper. Why? Who owns the island? And who owns her cottage? Who is the girl’s employer? Whoever it is, why doesn’t he just sack her and put her out? I know it’s brutal and I’m not recommending it, but it doesn’t make sense that a girl so clearly incapable of carrying out her job is managing to scupper all the plans to turn Cramond Island into Valhalla.’

‘True,’ Alec said.

‘And besides, it makes no sense that the local publican is so dearly concerned with a few holiday cottages cut off from her pub by a coastal causeway. Why does she care? Why does Miss Speir care if it comes to that? And then there’s this place.’ I laid my hands against the stones of the tower.

‘What about it?’

‘If Miss Speir needs money, or cares deeply about Cramond, or both, and has got this eyesore sitting in her garden, why is she merely selling off the stone?’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ Alec said. ‘There are so many new houses going up in Edinburgh these days, nasty little things to be sure, but they’d be improved no end with a few mediaeval stones here and there. And this is a bit close to her own house for her to be fixing the roof and getting tenants in.’

I shook my head. ‘What about these mythic tourists?’ I said. ‘Americans, even. If there was a castle in the offing.’

‘It would take a large investment to get a crumbling tower fit for Americans,’ Alec said. ‘But speaking of the tourists: I find it odd that an island earmarked for rich guests to lark about on has been turned over to potato trials. If we’re airing puzzles.’

‘We certainly need to speak to these lads who’re vouching for Vesper.’

‘Apart from anything else they can confirm whether or not Peter Haslett was drunk.’
Hmmmmmmmm. It’s not the easiest page to slip into as far as content goes, is it? What with two people – Dandy and Alec – talking about three others – Vesper, Miss Speir, and Peter Haslett – and flinging out all those questions and theories.

On the other hand, it gives a good impression of the tone of the book and sets it firmly in its historical context. Those “nasty little houses” going up all over Edinburgh in the 1930s were solid, stone-built bungalows set in large gardens, which now sell for millions. And the people who live in them are complaining about “nasty little townhouses” ruining the city. Plus ça change.

I was tickled to see American visitors get a mention on the page picked at random for this post. Luring tourists from the US was as dear a hope for Brits then as it is now, and I know from when I used to live in a county bristling with castles (Galloway) that moats, drawbridges and crenulations are a key part of the deal. As for “getting a crumbling tower fit for Americans”, I’ve been here ten years now, and all I can say is I could never go back to British plumbing, castle or no castle!
Visit Catriona McPherson's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Turning Tide.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 23, 2020

"This Is Not a Ghost Story"

Andrea Portes is a bestselling novelist. Her novels include: Hick, Bury This, Anatomy of a Misfit, The Fall of Butterflies, Liberty, Henry & Eva and the Castle on the Cliff, Henry & Eva and the Famous People Ghosts.

Portes applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, This is Not a Ghost Story, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Suddenly I am anxious at the idea of talking to her. Anxious at the idea of talking to anyone… The room seems smaller, shrinking somehow, and suddenly I am terrified of any interaction whatsoever.
This happens just after Daffodil has made an elaborate day-dream scenario of the waitress at the local diner. It’s a wonderful, cinematic, zombie-including day dream… full of life and love of character.

But then, almost immediately, Daffodil suddenly shuts down and has to leave, running out of the diner.

Page 69 isn’t representative of the book, really. It’s a moment of the book, a dalliance. It does, however, give the reader a tiny peek into the machinations of Daffodil, our protagonist. She is, in one moment, brimming with life, full of love and understanding and imagination and wonder. Then, almost immediately, all of that energy seems to turn in on itself… to cannibalize itself. Daffodil has this kind of psyche, restless and brilliant and scared of its own shadow.
Visit Andrea Portes's website.

My Book, The Movie: This Is Not a Ghost Story.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 22, 2020

"Infernal"

Mark de Jager isn’t sure if his love of writing led to his love of gaming or vice versa, but his earliest memories involve both. He now spends his time trying to find a balance between these and working a full time job in banking, a process made slightly easier by his coffee addiction. An ex-MP in the South African army, de Jager now lives in Kent with his wife Liz (herself a published author) and their lazy dog in a house that is equal parts library and home.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the US debut of his novel Infernal and reported the following:
From page 69:
‘I am Stratus...’ I tried to say the rest of it; I really wanted to, but I couldn’t. His magic was sly and cunning, but it wasn’t strong enough to reach a secret that was buried as deep within my mind as that was. ‘I am going towards the city.’

‘Which city, Stratus?’

‘I ... I don’t know. The closest one.’

‘Why, Stratus?’

‘I seek the counsel of your wise men.’ I had an inkling of what he would ask me next, and I really didn’t want him to ask it but had no way of stopping him. Every word that the spell coaxed from me strengthened its intent and power, like a chain being forged link by link.

‘What is the counsel that you seek, Stratus?’

‘I ...’ The strain of my mental struggle against the compulsion was spilling into the physical word, the chain that linked my wrists rattling as my body tensed. ‘I want to know .. who .. what I am.’ ‘Who do you think you are, Stratus?’
First thing to say is that the person questioning Stratus in the extract above is using a very formulaic way of speaking because it’s part of an ongoing spell!

That said, this is actually a very fitting exchange for this test. In this scene Stratus, who had been wandering through a war zone, has been captured and is being interrogated by a wizard. He’s confused, and as the wizard’s spell burrows deeper into his mind, trying to pry the truth from him, he’s afraid of what it will uncover and what it might mean for both of them.

The one certain truth is that he doesn’t actually know who, or what, he is at this point. Even as he’s trying to fight the wizard’s influence, he’s finding out more about himself, and that’s a key concept for his story.
Follow Mark de Jager on Facebook and Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 20, 2020

"Bright Shining World"

Josh Swiller is the author of Bright Shining World, a YA eco-thriller published by Knopf. He is the author of The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa. He lives with his family in the forest in Upstate New York.

Swiller applied the Page 69 Test to Bright Shining World and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s talk this through. A tennis ball is following you.”

“Yes.”

“One with T. rex arms.”

“Don’t mock me.”

“Four feet tall.” I held out a hand. “So, about this high? Or this?”

“Don’t.”

“With big feet or just big shoes?”

“Don’t! Don’t make fun of me!” Her lip curled. “You think I don’t know this is crazy? You think I’m not scared?”

“Have you asked her to go play with a wall?”

“Of course I tried that! Many times! She cries if I do. So loud I can’t even think. But I’ve got things to do, Wallace! I’ve got the SAT! I’ve got plans! I can’t take care of a freaking tennis ball!”

Sometimes you hear something so strange that you question the very act of hearing things. Like, maybe words didn’t mean what you thought they did. Their meanings changed overnight, and now the word love is actually another way of saying egg salad. Or maybe…
Yeahhh, this page captures a lot of the mood of Bright Shining World, a novel about how relentless planetary destruction is starting to really warp and deplete our inner lives – and what, goddamn it, we can do about that. Wallace Cole, the narrator, has just arrived to a strange, hysteria-stricken town and has a crush on Megan Rose, who is describing her encounter with, yes, a walking tennis ball. Megan Rose to this point has appeared to be the stereotypical high school superachiever and Wallace has been a loner for so long his best efforts at empathy are full of sarcasm. But she is not who she appears to be. And he does really care. This interaction captures how they’re dancing around each other while at the same time uncovering a mystery bigger than they can grasp.

I love characters who are fun and complicated and alive. They’re fun to read and easy to root for! I’m hopeful this page captures that.
Visit Josh Swiller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 19, 2020

"Northern Wrath"

Thilde Kold Holdt is a Viking, traveler and a polyglot fluent in Danish, French, English and Korean. As a writer, she is an avid researcher. This is how she first came to row for hours upon hours on a Viking warship. She loved the experience so much that she has sailed with the Viking longship the Sea Stallion ever since. Another research trip brought her to South Korea where she also learned the art of traditional Korean archery. Born in Denmark, Holdt has lived in many places and countries, taking a bit of each culture with her.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Northern Wrath, the first book in The Hanged God Trilogy, and reported the following:
Should an eager reader flip open Northern Wrath and land on page 69, they would find only a few lines to digest. They would land at the end of a chapter and this particular chapter is from the point of view of a minor character in Northern Wrath. One might therefore assume that it would not be representative of the novel as a whole, and yet… On this very page, the reader would discover the heart of the initial conflict of the novel:
‘If there really were southerners this far north in Jutland, someone would have seen them and told us,’ a woman finally dismissed.

‘Someone, just did.’ Siv’s answer killed the laughter.
While page 69 might not yield the most extensive representation of what the book and its characters are like, it gets to the heart of the matter and presents the conflict integral to the story. Southerners are attacking, how will the villagers of Ash-hill respond to this threat?

On this short page we also get a glimpse of the temperament of two of our protagonists: Siv and Hilda. They both appear strong and decisive in the snippet.
Pontius bit his nails. They might ruin this, he thought, as he watched Siv chase after Hilda down the road. In their womanly stubbornness, they would bring on the destruction of Ash-Hill.
Many readers have noted that the women in Northern Wrath carry the story in more ways than one, and so, it is notable that the strength of two of the female protagonists is precisely the focus of page 69 of Northern Wrath.
Visit Thilde Kold Holdt's website.

Q&A with Thilde Kold Holdt.

--Marshal Zeringue