Sunday, July 5, 2020

"Lost River"

J. Todd Scott was born in rural Kentucky and attended college and law school in Virginia, where he set aside an early ambition to write to pursue a career as a federal agent. His assignments have taken him all over the U.S and the world, but a badge and gun never replaced his passion for books and writing. He now resides in the American Southwest, and when he’s not hunting down very bad men, he’s hard at work on his next book.

Scott is the author of the Texas/Big Bend trilogy: The Far Empty, High White Sun, and This Side of Night.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Lost River, a stand-alone, and reported the following:
In Lost River, page 69 is the first time we meet Casey Alexander, one of the novel’s viewpoint characters. In fact, she’s probably the main viewpoint; she takes up most of the book’s “real estate,” and we probably get to know her best. Casey’s a young, but already accomplished DEA agent, who’s returned home after a deadly confrontation in Arizona. She finds herself immediately thrust into a long-running investigation of the Glassers, a prominent crime family in Eastern Kentucky, particularly the town of Angel, KY. Lost River tracks a single night in Angel, as a number of overdoses culminate in a brutal, execution-style slaying of most of the adult Glassers, except for Little Paris Glasser. As Casey attempts to solve the slayings (believed to be drug-related) and find Little Paris, she’s drawn deeper and deeper into Angel’s darkest secrets. As we meet Casey, she’s just discovered another survivor of the massacre: a baby girl still covered in blood from her dead mama. It’s an indelible image, and sets the tone for Casey’s frustrating, and ultimately bloody, search for Little Paris.
Visit J. Todd Scott's website.

Q&A with J. Todd Scott.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 3, 2020

"The Moon Always Rising"

After undergraduate studies in creative writing, Alice Early pursued a career spanning academia, commercial real estate, international executive recruiting, and career-transition coaching. She’s come full circle to her first love, writing fiction, and her home by the sea. The Moon Always Rising is her award-winning debut novel.

Early applied the Page 69 Test to The Moon Always Rising and reported the following:
The Moon Always Rising is divided into six parts, the first four of which alternate between the Caribbean island of Nevis in 1999 - 2000 and the Scottish Highlands in 1996 - 1999. A reader opening to page 69 arrives in 1998 Scotland in Part Two. At the top of the page, the protagonist Els Gordon is completing a grueling day with the family attorney and her father, Harald, whose mental acuity is failing, shifting responsibility for managing their ancient estate onto her own shoulders. Little does she suspect the disaster her father’s investment decisions have created.

The rest of Page 69 contains sparring dialogue between Els and Hannah “Burtie” Burton, the widow who moved in 30 years previously with her three-year-old son Malcolm as housekeeper and nanny to two-year-old Els. Raised together, Els and Malcolm become soul mates, his companionship partially stanching Els’s wound from her mother’s unexplained departure to her native Italy. Burtie, long known by all to be Harald’s paramour, is now dying from breast cancer. She’s aware that her son and Els have re-connected after years of separation in school, career and station, and that their childhood friendship has recently erupted into adult passion. I was disappointed to see that Page 69 is a quiet page that doesn’t reflect big issues or central themes. It does provide a taste of my tight dialogue, which is often loaded with innuendo and unexpressed emotion. Importantly, it introduces some of the book’s most explosive scenes. If enticed to flip to the next page, the reader would learn of Els and Malcolm’s plans and see the passion of their relationship on full display. That love and the loss of it triggers most of Els’s behavior throughout the rest of the novel. So maybe our test is just off by one page.
Visit Alice C. Early's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 2, 2020

"Thin Girls"

Diana Clarke is a writer and teacher from New Zealand. She received her MFA in fiction from Purdue University and is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Utah.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Thin Girls, and reported the following:
Oh, yikes. Page 69 of Thin Girls just so happens to be a scene in which, in flashback, the book’s protagonist, Rose, is school age and sitting at the popular table for the first time, learning to give a blow job to a banana. This page was not intentionally numbered as 69, I don’t think, but what a happy coincidence. At this point in the novel, Rose is in an anorexia recovery facility, but she spends a lot of her time in the past, remembering, reminiscing, and, in some ways, researching her descent into starvation. Her therapist has asked her to diarise her past in an attempt to uncover triggers and even a root to her illness, and while the flashbacks are not explicitly diary entries, they grow from the request that Rose attempt to confront her past.

This flashback is surprisingly telling of one of the book’s larger themes – the idea of fitting in. Rose is ever concerned with being accepted and belonging. She wants to be wanted and she wants to be loved, a yearning maybe instilled in her by the ways in which her twin sister, Lily, has always been the “better” twin, favoured by their parents, teachers, and classmates. Rose doesn’t seem to fit into the world, and perhaps this is part of the reason she begins to diet. Smaller things fit in more places and smaller women fit the idealised feminine image. Women are told to be thin, and the image of femininity we are told to conform to is lean and shaped like an hourglass, and, although very few women fit this stencil naturally, we find ways to make ourselves fit the proper shape, to fit in with other women and with the dominant, problematic, image of beauty.

The page also deals with sexuality and coming of age, two concepts Thin Girls explores throughout its pages. Rose desperately wants to be normal. She dreams of being the heteronormative, idealised woman, and she tries to be. Sitting at the cafeteria table, she takes the banana into her mouth, and she doesn’t stop even when it wounds her.

Something that surprised me upon turning to this page was the (now very obvious) parallel between this flashback scene and the novel’s first scene, in which Rose is at the facility in a program called Intellectual Eating. The program aims to have patients develop relationships with their food without having to actually consume anything. In the book’s first scene, the thin girls are sitting around a table, pre-eating, that is, they are holding imaginary sandwiches and pretending to take bites, chew, swallow. I can’t believe I never noticed how closely the flashback scene, with the huddle of schoolgirls performing faux-fellatio on bananas mimics the pre-eating scene. People are always telling me things about this book that weren’t at all intentional. It’s one of my favourite parts of publishing so far.
Visit Diana Clarke's website.

My Book, The Movie: Thin Girls.

Q&A with Diana Clarke.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

"Someone Else’s Secret"

Julia Spiro lives year-round on Martha’s Vineyard, where she enjoys fishing, clamming, scalloping, and anything on the beach. She also teaches spin classes in Edgartown and considers spinning her second passion. She previously worked in the film industry and lived in Los Angeles. She graduated from Harvard College.

Spiro applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Someone Else’s Secret, and reported the following:
“If the teenager doesn’t like you, you’re fucked,” Rose warned Lindsey on the phone… “what about the parents? Are they creeps, or do they seem normal?”

Lindsey, one of the two main characters, is on the phone with her best friend, Rose. Lindsey has just moved in with the Decker family on Martha’s Vineyard to be their nanny for the summer. The Deckers have two kids: a five-year-old boy and a fourteen-year-old girl, Georgie, the other main character. Lindsey, having just graduated from college, takes the nanny job in the hopes that Mr. Decker will help secure her an elusive position in the art world at the end of the summer. Here, Rose is reminding her how important it is to win over Georgie, or else Lindsey’s entire summer could be worth nothing. Lindsey also tells Rose a little bit about the family dynamics she’s observed so far.

The Page 69 Test works fantastically well for my book. It pinpoints many of the complicated relationships and perspectives in the story, and it encapsulates the power structures through which Lindsey must navigate. Even though Georgie is a child, she is in a more powerful and privileged position than Lindsey is. Lindsey has to take care of Georgie but also charm her. Throughout the story, it’s clear that both Lindsey and Georgie are envious of one another, but they also need one another. This imperfect, often arduous link between them is the heart of the book.

Lindsey also touches on the bad “vibe” she gets from both the Decker parents here. She assumes that Mrs. Decker doesn’t like her, and she instinctively blames herself and her body, a theme that comes into play again. This page also reveals a moment of fear, as Lindsey hesitates in explaining her discomfort around Mr. Decker. This unease and hesitation speak to a larger, critical idea of the book: the pressure that we often feel to accept things the way they are, to stay silent, and to convince ourselves that everything is fine when we know that it’s really not. The reader might wonder, after finishing the book, how Lindsey’s entire life might have turned out had she had a different conversation with Rose in that moment, one in which she felt like she was able to walk away from a person more powerful than her.
Visit Julia Spiro's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

"Home Before Dark"

Riley Sager is the pseudonym of a former journalist, editor and graphic designer.

Now a full-time writer, Sager is the author of Final Girls, an international bestseller that's been published in 25 languages, and the New York Times bestsellers The Last Time I Lied and Lock Every Door.

Sager applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Home Before Dark, and reported the following:
In Home Before Dark, a woman named Maggie Holt returns to the allegedly haunted house her family lived in for twenty days when she was a child. Her father later wrote a bestselling memoir about their time there—a book that ultimately tore the family apart. On page 69, adult Maggie is exploring the house for the first time in twenty-five years. She finds a photograph of her family taken before they moved into the house and thinks about how much they’ve changed since then.
In the photo, my father has an arm snaked around my mother’s waist, pulling her close. She’s looking at him instead of the camera, flashing the kind of smile I haven’t seen from her in years.

One not-so-big, happy family.

Until we weren’t.

In the photo, I stand in front of my parents, sporting pigtails and a missing front tooth that mars my wide grin. I look so young and so carefree that I hardly recognize myself.
While Home Before Dark doesn’t pass the test in terms of plot—there’s not a mention of ghosts, and the book is full of them—page 69 does hammer home the book’s theme of trying to understand the past and how it affects the present.

Maggie knows nothing about the veracity of the book her father wrote. All she knows is that she’s pretty sure her parents were lying about what happened in that house, it destroyed their marriage and hurt her in so many ways. Maggie has spent most of her life living in the shadow of that book, in which she played a starring role. Her return to the house is an attempt to rewrite her story.
I don’t like looking at this younger, happier version of myself. It reminds me of who I once was—and who I might be now if the Book hadn’t happened.
In that sense, page 69 is a perfect encapsulation of Maggie’s struggle. She knows she’s changed. She knows her family changed. What she doesn’t understand—and won’t until she learns the truth behind her father’s book—is why they changed.
Visit Riley Sager's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 29, 2020

"Barcelona Days"

Daniel Riley is a novelist and a correspondent at GQ. He grew up in Manhattan Beach, California, graduated from Duke University, and lives in New York City.

Riley applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Barcelona Days, and reported the following:
Barcelona Days is about an American couple that gets stuck in Barcelona--trapped by the ashcloud of an Icelandic volcano--at a critical flashpoint in their fragile relationship. Early in their purgatory, the two--Will and Whitney--become four, after meeting another two Americans at a party. That quartet will pair and re-pair throughout the rest of the book and challenge that central relationship--Will and Whitney's--for the duration of the novel. Page 69 happens to center on the precise moment when Will and Whitney meet the first of the other Americans at the party, and, consequently, when the engine of the book shifts into a new gear.

Page 69 is a pretty representative core sample of the novel. You have our two principal characters slightly out of their depth, firmly together in the moment but destabilized by their environment (this city they shouldn't be in, this party they shouldn't be at) and the revelations they've recently made to one another (before getting stuck, Will and Whitney spent their final planned evening of their vacation confessing to one another the details of the three free passes they'd granted one another before getting engaged; that dinner is the opening set piece of the novel). On page 69, we meet one of the two secondary characters in the novel--Jack--and get him at his most characteristically guileless. On page 69, we have a good party. We have some biting dialogue. We have characters circling each other with attraction and suspicion. In many ways, what's said and what's un-said on page 69 are exactly the sorts of things that are said and un-said among these four characters throughout the book. That potent threatening attraction at play. That shifting of alliances. That playfulness and sexiness and deep-seated suspicion that's present throughout much of the novel. It's all there on 69.

I imagine the Page 69 Test works well for this book because the book tries to infuse every page with those dynamics. You have this central relationship, and then this secondary couple that affects that central relationship from the moment the two expand to four. As one of the four points shifts, so to do the other three. The way those four points/characters, and the lines between those four points/characters, shift and re-shift is the "subject," I hope, of every page in the book. That is, until a revelation near the end of the novel introduces a wholly separate fifth point that had been concealed beneath the surface all along.
Visit Daniel Riley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 28, 2020

"Nothing Can Hurt You"

Nicola Maye Goldberg is the author of Other Women and The Doll Factory. She lives in New York City.

Goldberg applied the Page 69 Test to her new literary thriller, Nothing Can Hurt You, and reported the following:
Page 69 is in the chapter dedicated to Sam, whose college best friend, Blake, committed the murder that is at the center of the novel. On this page, Sam recalls visiting Blake shortly after he was released from a psychiatric hospital.

You’d get a pretty good idea about the book from page 69. The book is mostly about the ways in which Blake’s murder of his girlfriend, Sara, haunt the people who knew them, and Sam is one of those people. His perspective on Blake is distinct from say, Blake’s sister, or his wife, who are also characters in the book, and this is the chapter that most explores who Blake was immediately before the murder.

The effect of the book is intended to be kaleidoscopic, so really any page would work. Each chapter is about someone who is changed in some way by Sara’s murder, whether directly, like her half-sister, or indirectly, like the woman who finds her corpse. It’s inspired by a murder that took place where I went to college, but also by the many similar murders around the world. I think of the story as a shattered crystal figurine. Each chapter is one of the broken pieces.
Visit Nicola Maye Goldberg's website.

Q&A with Nicola Maye Goldberg.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 26, 2020

"These Women"

Ivy Pochoda is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Wonder Valley, Visitation Street and These Women. Wonder Valley won the 2018 Strand Critics Award for Best Novel and was a finalist Los Angeles Times Book Prize and Le Grand Prix de Litterature Americaine, as well as being chosen as an NPR and Los Angeles Times Book of the Year. Visitation Street won the Prix Page America in France and was chosen as an Amazon Best Book of the Month, Amazon Best Book of 2013, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. Her books have been translated into five languages.

Pochoda applied the Page 69 Test to These Women and reported the following:
On page 69 of my novel, Dorian who is in late middle age and white, visits the grave of her daughter Lecia who died fifteen years ago just shy of her eighteenth birthday. At Rosedale Cemetery she encounters a black woman whose daughter has recently been murdered and who cannot afford to bury her and who has co-opted one of the existing graves, transforming it into a shrine to her daughter.

If you opened to page 69 of These Women you would be immersed in the primary theme of the book: grief, loss, and whose children are deemed worthy of mourning, whose killers are deemed worthy of finding. This page is, oddly, a great encapsulation of the novel as a whole. It touches on the landscape of Los Angeles, unfolding in one of the unseen pockets of grace that hides in the middle of a sprawling city, in this case the hill in Rosedale where Lecia is buried. It nods to the threat of wild weather—wind is whipping through the cemetery—that looms large over the book. It also highlights racial injustice. It showcases the neverending grief of mothers mourning their children, mothers who have to advocate on behalf of their disregarded children. And it touches on a hierarchy within those grieving—those whose grief is somewhat more acceptable and those who aren't allowed to grieve at all. This is an odd moment in the book—one of a few that exists outside the grit of the streets and the violence of the narrative. It's a moment where I hope Los Angeles will surprise the reader and that I will surprise the reader with a different vantage over the city. The two grieving mothers acknowledge this space—this haven in the city—which also raises a prominent question in These Women: to whom does the city belong. The moment on page 69 is where nature seeps in, giving the story breathing room while also underscoring that there is violence all around and that grief has become part of the fabric of the every day.
Learn more about the book and author at Ivy Pochoda's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 25, 2020

"Sisters and Secrets"

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Ryan lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three children. When she isn’t writing a book, she’s reading one. Her obsession with both is often revealed in the state of her home, and how late dinner is to the table. When she finally leaves those fictional worlds, you’ll find her in the garden, playing in the dirt and daydreaming about people who live only in her head, until she puts them on paper.

Ryan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Sisters and Secrets, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“You were close with your mom and dad. I sometimes felt like a ping-pong ball between mine. They both tried to make everything seem normal and perfect, but when you aren’t with one parent all the time, it feels like they don’t really know you.”

“I try to make my clients see that equal time with their kids is important. Some of them though…They don’t want to give up custody out of spite, not because it’s what’s best for their kids.”

“Divorce sucks.”

“Yep.” He held up his stack of mail. “But it pays the bills.”

Probably quite well based on what she’d heard about him being in high demand.

“So, Sierra, what are you going to do now that you’re back?”

“I need to find a job. I can’t afford not to get back to work right away.”

“I imagine settling your affairs for the house in Napa is going to take a while.”

“I’m probably going to be the loser in the whole thing, too.”

He nodded, a half frown tilting his lips. “California. It costs more to rebuild than insurance covers a lot of the time.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Are you still interested in property management, or do you plan to do something else?”

She tried not to show her surprise that he remembered what she did for a living. “Beggars can’t be choosers, but I’d love to get a job doing what I know. I really enjoyed working with clients and renters.”

“I might know someone who’s looking for help. I could make a call.”

The offer touched her deeply. “Oh, well, that’s so nice, but I don’t want to put you out.”
Since the book is about the Silva sisters, the test doesn’t really work. Page 69 doesn’t give the reader a great overview of the conflicts, connections, or secrets between Sierra, Amy, and Heather.

But the excerpt does give the reader a glimpse into Sierra’s feelings about being the daughter of divorced parents and how she doesn’t feel like her parents really know her. She thinks she has to do everything on her own and feels like though her parents love her, they aren’t always there for her. It’s a glimpse into Sierra’s core personality.

Which is a challenge for her while she deals with the aftermath of losing everything in a wildfire and raising her two sons on her own. Starting over isn’t easy, and Sierra finds it difficult to ask for help, even when she really needs it.

She also wants her family to believe that she’s got it all together, but after all that’s happened to her, and facing an uncertain future with no job or money, the cracks are showing – and her secrets are being revealed.

The reader also gets a glimpse on page 69 of the second chance romance between Sierra and Mason. His offer to help her comes as a surprise. She’s so used to doing everything on her own, she appreciates the genuine offer. He’s not just saying something to e nice, he actually wants to make a call on her behalf and recommend her for a job, something she genuinely needs to support her kids, which makes it even more meaningful to her.
Visit Jennifer Ryan's website.

Q&A with Jennifer Ryan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

"You Can't Catch Me"

Catherine McKenzie was born and raised in Montreal, where she now practices law. Her bestselling novels include Spin, Arranged, Forgotten, Hidden, Smoke, The Good Liar and I'll Never Tell.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, You Can't Catch Me, and reported the following:
On page 69 of my new book, You Can't Catch Me, the protagonist, Jessica, is meeting with her friend Liam and a woman named Jessie in order to find out whether Jessie was defrauded by the same woman who defrauded Jessica.

This is a good test for what my book is about since it is the story of a woman who pursues the woman who defrauded her and finds a series of identically named victims. Jessie - full name also Jessica - is one of those victims. It also sets up some of the dynamics between Jessica and Liam that we'll see through the rest of the book; Jessica relies on Liam, a private investigator, to an extent, but never fully lets him in on her plans. And finally, it's also a good first glimpse into Jessie--a complicated woman who has her own secrets.

Verdict: I passed the page 69 test! (At least, I think I did.)
Visit Catherine McKenzie's website.

My Book, The Movie: You Can't Catch Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

"Hunting Ground"

Meghan Holloway found her first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at the age of eight and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. She flew an airplane before she learned how to drive a car, did her undergrad work in Creative Writing in the sweltering south, and finished a Masters of Library and Information Science in the blustery north. She spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, traveled the world for a few years, and did a stint fighting crime in the records section of a police department.

She now lives in the foothills of the Appalachians with her standard poodle and spends her days as a scientist with the requisite glasses but minus the lab coat.

Holloway applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Hunting Ground, and reported the following:
From page 69:
When I reached the threshold and heard a scrape of sound behind me, I whirled, panning the light across the great room.

“Hello? Is someone there?” My voice sounded high and tight in my own ears.

The cabin was as empty as it had been when I first entered, but a prickling awareness of another presence raised the hair on the back of my neck. I turned back quickly to the second room, expecting to see a hulking shadow in the doorway, but it remained dark and empty. I stepped cautiously across the threshold and panned my light across the room.

I froze. My phone and the coat fell from my fingers. A scream tried to crawl its way up my throat, but I was too shocked for it to escape, my vocal cords as frozen as my limbs. All that slipped from me was a muffled whimper.

The paralysis of shock released its hold, and I backed away, clamping a hand so tightly across my mouth I tasted blood. I did not stop until my shoulders hit the fireplace with a jarring thump.

My phone had fallen with the flashlight pointed toward the ceiling, the light illuminating the room in an eerie white glow. The woman’s shadow was elongated on the far wall as her weight spun slowly at the end of the rope stretched from her throat to a beam above.
Hunting Ground is my first crime thriller, and when I first set out writing this story, I knew it would not be a classic whodunit. I’ve always been drawn to stories that are darker and grittier. Humanity is rarely humane, and as a writer, I always seek the thorny tales in which the darkness of human nature is drawn into the light and laid bare on the page.

People can rarely be lumped into neat categories, and I have never felt like it is authentic to portray a character in such strict terms as “hero.” I love characters that skate the line of the constraints of being a classic “good guy.”

Evelyn is a character who will, I hope, surprise readers. Her progression through the story is filled with chilling turning points, like the scene above on page 69 of Hunting Ground.
Visit Meghan Holloway's website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Q&A with Meghan Holloway.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 22, 2020

"The Lightness"

Emily Temple holds a BA from Middlebury College and an MFA in fiction from the University of Virginia, where she was a Henry Hoyns fellow and the recipient of a Henfield Prize.

Temple applied the Page 69 Test to The Lightness, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Nothing, of course, for Shakespeare = nothing, as in nothing, also as in noting, as in gossip, and noting as in overhearing, and noting as in overhearing gossip, and no thing, as in what a woman has between her legs. My mother believed in all of these nothings. Nothing was sacred. Noting was sacred. No thing was sacred.

Well, opposites attract. We are told this. Paula Abdul has seared this into our brains. My parents were attracted, that much is clear. But they were repelled too, and just as forcefully. I don’t know what that means. Magnetization was not the only force at work, I suppose.

After breakfast the next morning, we found Serena waiting for us on one of the Center’s whitewashed boulders, immersed in her copy of the Dhammapada, a verse collection of the Buddha’s essential teachings, a picnic basket on the ground beneath her feet. It was the first truly hot day since we’d arrived, and everything was oversaturated and filmy. I could already feel the sweat beading on my lower back, dampening my t-shirt. Even Janet looked a little deflated, but Serena radiated perfect nonchalance, stretching one leg and then the other as she read. Now I see what a firm grip she had, how rigidly she composed every scene, the life of tableaux vivants she built up around herself. Now I imagine the way she must have propped herself up just so, waiting for us. But that day, she seemed to have sprung from the ground, as much a part of the landscape as the rock beneath her thighs, as unconcerned and constant as the punishing heat itself.
Well, what do you know—it works. I wouldn’t say you get the full picture, of course (how could you), but many of the novel’s driving elements do indeed appear on page 69—especially if we cheat a little and include the paragraphs that end and begin on the page. (Though, even if we don’t, fragmentation is no small part of the book—it’s filled with short asides, digressions, loops and breaks in logic—so maybe we should just consider this another functional layer in the game.)

So: on page 69, we have our narrator, Olivia, 1) playing with and obsessing over language, 2) turning over her parents’ relationship in the context of received pop cultural and scientific knowledge, and 3) situating herself painfully and clearly as the outsider at the meditation center to which she has run away, carefully observing the perfectly composed, ever-alluring Serena and her friends—amongst whom Olivia is accepted, if not exactly needed.

Ultimately, this is a book about language, about desire, and about belief, all of which poke their noses out here. But I think the thing readers will understand most intensely if they open to this page is the atmosphere of the novel: the hothouse, the isolation, the sweat and want and obsession of it. Whether they want to spend their time inside such madness will be up to them.
Visit Emily Temple's website.


--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 21, 2020

"The Mountains Wild"

Sarah Stewart Taylor is the author of the Sweeney St. George series and the Maggie D'arcy series. She grew up on Long Island, and was educated at Middlebury College in Vermont and Trinity College, Dublin, where she studied Irish Literature. She has worked as a journalist and writing teacher and now lives with her family on a farm in Vermont where they raise sheep and grow blueberries.

Taylor applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Mountains Wild, and reported the following:
Readers opening The Mountains Wild to page 69 will find a description of the first meeting between my main character, Maggie D'arcy, and an Irish Garda detective named Roly Byrne who will help Maggie try to track down her cousin Erin, who has gone missing after a last-minute trip to the Wicklow Mountains. Erin, an American like Maggie, has been living in Dublin and disappeared more than a week before this scene takes place.
The door slammed open and a young guy, only a few years older than me, with a thatch of blond hair and a sharp, hawky face, burst through it as though he'd been at a full run on the other side. He was wearing a dark suit that fit him well and he stopped in front of me. There was so much energy behind him that when he stopped, he swayed a bit on his black leather wingtips.
This scene is actually a great window into the novel, since the relationship -- a working partnership and eventually a close friendship -- between Maggie and Roly will be one of the most important of the book, and of what I hope will be a long series. The Mountains Wild is told in two time periods. The above excerpt is from 1993, when Maggie first goes to Ireland to try to find Erin. Her efforts bear no fruit, but twenty three years later, in 2016, Roly and his team find new evidence in Erin's case while looking for a newly missing woman, and Maggie, now a homicide detective, returns to see if she can find out once and for all what happened to Erin. Her friendship with Roly, who is now head of a Garda cold case squad, will both offer her unusual access to the investigation and also cause problems for them both.

When I was writing this scene, I knew that I needed to pin down Roly's energy in this first meeting. He is restless, sometimes, abrupt, cheerful, a bit vain. I wanted all of these things to come across to Maggie. She is assessing him here as the professional who will either find or not find her beloved cousin, but even though she's not a detective yet, she has a detective's mind and she's trying to learn all she can about him at this first impression.

So, as it turns out, page 69 is an excellent window into my book, and in particular, this essential personal and professional twosome.
Visit Sarah Stewart Taylor's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 20, 2020

"Eliza Starts a Rumor"

Jane L. Rosen is an author, screenwriter, and Huffington Post contributor. She lives in New York City and Fire Island with her husband and three daughters.

Rosen applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Eliza Starts a Rumor, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Amanda was often the butt of Carson’s sexually explicit jokes; his favorites were always the ones that came at her expense.

“We are going home to bed. Anyone want to join us?” he would ask a group of young actresses at a party. Or “Look how well-trained my wife is!” to a group of men in response to her bringing him a drink. He was too full of himself to notice how uncomfortable it made others feel, let alone Amanda, who became instantly mortified. When she spoke out, he would cut her down further, insisting that it was her insecurity talking. He would never accept the blame for her feelings of inadequacy.

As far as other women were concerned, Amanda knew that Carson could get grabby, especially after a couple of drinks, but had no idea of the extent of it. She often witnessed his hand grazing a woman’s buttocks in a way that could only be deemed accidental the first time it happened, not the second or the third or the twentieth. Once, at her birthday dinner with a table of her friends, Carson became so handsy with their young waitress that it decimated the night. When she approached the table to inquire about dessert she stood as far from him as possible. He got up to go to the men’s room, pausing at her side to listen to the choices. As he stepped behind the poor girl and began massaging her shoulders all appetites were lost. It was painful to watch, heartbreaking really, yet no one stopped him. The entire table, Amanda included, just sat silently as the young waitress rattled off the list of deserts like she was calling out casualties of war. By the time she got to the tiramisu, a lone tear formed in her eye and rolled down her cheek
If a reader was to open Eliza Starts a Rumor to page 69, as the page 69 test suggests, would they get a poor or good idea of the whole work? The answer here is both yes and no. Page 69 of my book details the struggles faced by one of my characters, Amanda Cole, in dealing with her awful Hollywood husband, Carson Cole. While it is an important page for her storyline, it gives you no clue as to what her four co-stars, Eliza, Alison, Olivia and Jackie, go through in the fictitious town of Hudson Valley. It does, however, give an excellent picture of what Amanda is running from and the theme of her personal #metoo centered story. If I were to randomly choose to read this book based on the paragraph above I would find it enticing and want to read more.
Follow Jane L. Rosen on Facebook and Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 19, 2020

"Sister Dear"

Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing. She now lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons, and is delighted by her twenty-second commute.

McKinnon applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Sister Dear, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“No, and that’s exactly it. I wasn’t supposed to find out. I overheard him and my mother talking and I confronted them, got angry and…and then he collapsed.” My lips wobbled, stretching across my bottom teeth and I struggled to keep control. “My mother told me to leave and, coward that I am, I did. Then I got mugged, and Dad died and I feel like such a shit because I have all these unanswered questions I don’t know what to do with, and—”

Lewis squeezed my hand. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“I know,” I whispered. “But I hurt him. How can I ever forgive myself for that? And he died with all these secrets and I don’t know how to deal with them. It’s such a mess.”

I paused again, wondered how much more I should say. I noticed the way Lewis leaned forward, giving me his undivided attention. He was there out of some kind of savior’s guilt, perhaps, yet I felt I could trust him, and he’d listen. With everything that had happened in such a short amount of time, the protective bubble of self-preservation I’d wrapped myself in wasn’t enough tonight. I needed a friend.

“One of the last things my dad did was give the nurse a name,” I said. “I—I think it’s my biological father’s.”

Lewis raised his eyebrows. “Do you know him?”

“No.”

“Could you ask your mother?”

“Definitely not. Like I said, things between her and me are—”

“Complicated. I remember. Has it always been that way? Difficult, I mean?”

I almost laughed. “That question will take eons to answer.”

“I’m not in a hurry,” he said gently. “You said your parents divorced?”
What a fascinating test! On Page 69 of my fourth novel, psychological suspense Sister Dear, the protagonist, Eleanor is at home. She’s confiding in her neighbor Lewis, who helped her after she was mugged. Eleanor’s father died from pancreatic cancer the night before, when Eleanor was in hospital being treated, and thus unaware her father had passed. She’s since learned he left her a name…more than likely the identity of her biological dad. Until the evening before Eleanor had no idea her father wasn’t her “real” dad.

The Page 69 Test certainly gives the reader a glimpse into Eleanor’s complicated life and how she blames herself for her father passing earlier than expected. Now she’s been given a chance to seek out her biological father. Will she take it? What will she find, and how will she react? This page is indicative more things are about to change in Eleanor’s life, but it doesn’t reveal any details as to the direction in which they’ll go. Being a suspense novel, that’s a good thing because you don’t want to give everything away this early.

However, this book is far less about Eleanor’s relationship with her biological father. Sister Dear, as the title suggests, is about sisters – half-sisters, to be exact – who don’t know the other exists…until Eleanor finds out. Her glamorous half-sibling Victoria has, and is, everything Eleanor could only ever dream of, and so Eleanor decides to infiltrate Victoria’s life without telling her they’re related. As is to be expected in psychological suspense, delicious fictional mayhem ensues.
Visit Hannah Mary McKinnon's website.

Q&A with Hannah Mary McKinnon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

"The Talking Drum"

Lisa Braxton is an essayist, short story writer, and novelist. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University, her Master of Science in Journalism Broadcasting from Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Arts in Mass Media from Hampton University.

Braxton applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Talking Drum, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Talking Drum is the first page of Chapter 7 in which we learn that protagonist Sydney is at an appointment with newspaper executive Maxwell Turner.
Maxwell Turner’s photo was deceptive. He appeared to be a tall man in the photo that ran with his weekly column in Inner City Voice. However, Sydney had to look down at the newspaper executive to meet eyes with him as they stood in the doorway of his office in Downtown Bellport.”
The browser learns that Maxwell Turner has been a force in the urban community, has won awards for his work in journalism, and has rubbed elbows with luminaries, such as actress Cicely Tyson. Sydney finds all of this a bit intimidating as she sits down to talk to him about why she wants a freelance writing position at his newspaper.

This test does not work for my book, but this page is critical to the remainder of the story. Sydney’s meeting with Maxwell Turner is the foundation for a thread in The Talking Drum that will become larger and more textured as the story continues. Without the action on this page, a major portion of the plot would not be developed or resolved. Page 69 sets the stage for dramatic moments throughout the rest of the book. The browser may read page 69 and think that it is an innocuous scene, full of description, and not much tension, but may be curious as to where the story is going based on reading this page.

Page 69 is interesting because it takes the reader inside the offices of an urban weekly newspaper covering the black community. These types of newspapers are rarely depicted in literature. We see that Maxwell Turner is a lone wolf of sorts, running the newspaper, writing his column, meeting with community members, which is often required for publishers and editors of community-involved weeklies. Turner is an executive, but because of a small staff and likely a small budget he has to do a little of just about everything to keep his newspaper relevant. The reader also gets a sense of the protagonist’s innocence about the newspaper industry. Page 69 contrasts Maxwell Turner’s hard-nosed news demeanor with Sydney’s shy and formal manner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

"The Kinder Poison"

Natalie Mae is an ex-programmer, dark chocolate enthusiast, and author of young adult novels. She has also been a freelance editor and a Pitch Wars mentor, and she feels it notable to mention she once held a job where she had to feed spiders. When not writing, she can be found wandering the Colorado wilderness with her family.

Mae applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Kinder Poison, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Don’t cross this line.” Jet’s eyes plead with Kasta as Elin pulls him forward. “This isn’t you. Think about what you’re doing. Think about her.”

“Shut him up,” Kasta says. He blocks my view of Jet now, but Elin must have marked Jet with silence, because the scuff of their feet down the stairs is the last I hear of him.

And then I am alone with Kasta. A boy who said it was within his right to harm me.

In none of the travelers’ tales has the rescuer ever failed.

Kasta exhales, arms behind his back as he strolls the perimeter of the bedroom. He’s changed since the party, his tunic traded for a white tergus belted in leather, the deep olive of his chest painted with gods’ symbols in real liquid gold. A tattooed scorpion raises its deadly tail up the back of his neck: the symbol for Oka, the god of judgment.

I have a feeling admitting who I am is not going to go as well as I’d hoped.

“You can relax,” Kasta says. “My threats were for him, not you. Sometimes the promise of something is more powerful than the act.”

He turns, the torches casting shadows across his muscled torso, and I can’t help but feel his reassurance is its own kind of threat. It’s too generous of him to pardon me for what Jet and I tried to do. For what it looked like we were doing.
I think the page 69 test works great for the book! This particular scene involves two of the major secondary characters, and alludes not only to their relationship with each other and with the main character, but to the tension the reader can expect between them as the book unfolds. It also gives some great insight into Kasta's character, and provides a few details about the world of Orkena as well, with a touch of magic from Elin and the description of how Kasta dresses. Not to mention there's this overhanging threat throughout the scene, which I think accurately describes the overall tone of the book.

My favorite part about showing just this clip is that it doesn't entirely let you know who the good or bad guys are, either. Kasta has clearly made a threat before this - "A boy who said it was within his right to harm me" - but Zahru (the main character) can't really claim innocence, as she admits toward the end of the page that she and Jet were plotting something before Kasta came in. Which honestly, sets the exact right tone for the entire series. I hope you enjoyed this teaser, and that it gets readers excited to see more!
Visit Natalie Mae's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 14, 2020

"The Sight of You"

Holly Miller works as a copywriter and lives in Norfolk, England.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Sight of You, her American debut, and reported the following:
On page 69 of the US version of The Sight Of You, it’s Halloween, and my protagonist Joel is talking to Melissa, a girl he’s been seeing on and off. They are heading to the corner shop together to buy sweets for trick-or-treaters, and Melissa is teasing Joel about being uptight because she’s dressed up for the occasion, and Joel is not.

Once at the corner shop, Melissa heads off to locate the confectionery, and Joel takes the opportunity to stock up on some essentials, whereupon he bumps into Callie, the girl he’s met recently and can’t stop thinking about.

I think this test works very well for The Sight Of You! All his life till now, Joel has kept love at arm’s length, which I think could be gleaned from his interaction with Melissa on this page. The reader gets a decent snapshot of Joel via their conversation here – he is reserved and slightly aloof (albeit with a dry sense of humour). Contrast this with his reaction when he sees Callie further down the page – “a voice, gentle as a breeze” and “a smile that still hasn’t left my head” – and the reader can begin to detect how much he likes Callie, that this relationship is wholly different to the one he has with Melissa.

There is also a useful insight into how well Joel looks after himself at the start of the novel from the contents of his hand basket – “cans and things in packets suit me fine”, an issue which becomes more significant as the book progresses.

I definitely think this test would give a reader an overall flavour of the tone and style of The Sight Of You, and is a pretty good example of what they can expect from the rest of the novel. I wanted to weave in touches of humour throughout, so the heavier sections don’t overshadow the story. (There are definitely some sad, more heart-breaking passages in this book, but I think page 69 is a fair reflection of the lighter segments.) Ultimately, The Sight Of You is a story about true love, and the bravery it sometimes takes to love another person, and though this page isn’t one of the defining scenes of the story, I think it does give a good impression of the way Callie turns Joel’s head – and of the person he is before he meets her. Without giving too much away, Joel changes as a person by the end of the book, and this page is an excellent reflection of who he was ‘before’.
Visit Holly Miller's website.

Q&A with Holly Miller.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 12, 2020

"Agnes at the End of the World"

Kelly McWilliams is a mixed-race writer who has always gravitated towards stories about crossing boundaries and forging new identities. For this and so many other reasons, young adult literature will always be close to her heart. Her novel, Agnes at the End of the World, benefited from a We Need Diverse Books Mentorship.

McWilliams has loved crafting stories all her life, and her very first novel, Doormat, was published when she was just fifteen-years old. She has also worked as a staff writer for Romper, covering issues important to women and families. She lives in Colorado with her partner and young daughter.

McWilliams applied the Page 69 Test to Agnes at the End of the World and reported the following:
From page 69:
Chapter 10

Beth

Cherish this holy community, for it is your only bastion against the heat of hell.
–Prophet Jacob Rollins

At the Kings’ after-church gathering, Beth leaned against the wall of the dairy barn, struggling to imagine her life after Agnes’s wedding in two weeks’ time.

No matter how she sliced it, that life looked miserable.

In the pasture below, her siblings—all except Ezekiel, who’d gone home with Agnes—played the Apocalypse Game with the ten little King children. Beth, caught in the sticky web of her thoughts, twined her braid around her knuckles and silently fumed.

Did anyone care how much harder her life was about to become? How much responsibility she’d be forced to shoulder, just to keep the kids dressed, fed, alive?

She wasn’t sure she could manage it, and Lord knew she’d have no help from anyone.

Then the Jamesons arrived—Cory with his lesser brothers and Magda—and Beth smiled. Smoothing the waist of her prairie dress, she pushed away from the wall, knowing whose eyes would find her.
I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that the page 69 test plunges readers not into Agnes’s perspective—which comprises the majority of the book—but into her sister Beth’s point of view.

On page 69, you can feel Beth’s simmering dissatisfaction with Red Creek and its ways. Agnes is about to be married to a much older patriarch. Beth is terrified of losing her older sister, who is essentially the head of their household. (And she’s deeply annoyed that her life is about to get harder—one fewer girl in the household means more work for Beth, in this toxic, patriarchal society.) But Beth is also easily distracted by the handsome Cory Jameson. You can tell, I think, that she is not a hero at heart. At fifteen, Beth thinks much the same way I myself did as a girl. Beth’s sister Agnes, on the other hand, will soon transform from an oppressed member of a cult society into a leader in her own right—practically a superhero.

I love the page 69 test for this book. It provides a crystal-clear snapshot of what Agnes is rebelling against—and it does so from the perspective of her still-brainwashed, conflicted younger sister. I would keep reading, if I do say so myself! But then, fifteen-year old Beth, so human and so flawed, is nothing if not charming. Her perspective was always a joy to write!

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

"My Summer of Love and Misfortune"

Lindsay Wong is the author of the bestselling, award-winning memoir The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug-Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family. She has a BFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and MFA in literary nonfiction from Columbia University, and she is now based in Vancouver, Canada.

Wong applied the Page 69 Test to My Summer of Love and Misfortune, her first YA novel, and reported the following:
On page 69 on My Summer Of Love And Misfortune, Iris Wang has arrived at Beijing International Airport, and she’s feeling lost, exhausted, and scared. She’s seventeen-years old, and doesn’t speak the language and feels incredibly overwhelmed after being sent away by her parents (it’s the first time that she’s travelling without them). She has also just damaged her iPhone by dropping it into the toilet, and she suddenly realizes that her father didn’t tell her who her uncle was--her family is really exceptional at keeping secrets and not talking about subjects that make them uncomfortable.

This is a momentous moment in the novel when Iris realizes that all her disastrous decisions (i.e. not studying for the SATS, half-assing her college admissions essays) have landed her in this predicament. She’s alone, without family, friends, and can’t communicate in Mandarin.

Shockingly, this test works incredibly well for my book because the theme of My Summer Of Love And Misfortune is stated explicitly on page 69. “I can’t help but take being sent to China personally,” Iris Wang declares.

Iris is certainly ashamed of her list of mistakes, but she is also horrified that her parents’ deal with the problem by sending her away without discussing the issue. It’s only in Beijing where she begins a summer of self-discovery and the chaos of the airport as well as her own invisibility became a metaphor for landing in a strange new land.

Life becomes messier and more foreign for Iris as she is chauffeured out of the airport and continues stampeding through Beijing where she learns about her family and their murky secrets, and she slowly makes sense of what it’s like being torn between two cultures and begins to reconcile them. Is she American-Chinese or is she Chinese-American? It becomes something of an internal struggle for her and she has to learn to make sense of them in her own way.

Growing up between two cultures, I have always been interested in exploring what it means to grow up in one culture but inextricably have ties to another country that I have never been to, until recently, as a grown-up, I was given a chance to visit Hong Kong. I grew up in the suburbs of Vancouver, never learned to speak Mandarin, yet I also grew up with eastern values of family piety. I didn’t feel either North-American or Chinese enough, however.

I wanted the novel to reflect what it’s like being of dual identities while also exploring eastern notions of family duty vs. western ideas of the self as an individual. In Chinese culture, there is an emphasis for children to please their parents, but North American culture prizes independence and individualism. When Iris is sent to Beijing, she gets severe culture shock as she witnesses how her straight A, rule-abiding, uppity cousin Ruby was brought up, while she has essentially been allowed to do whatever she has wanted in New Jersey.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

"Summer and July"

Paul Mosier began writing novels in 2011 but has written in some fashion his entire life. He is married and the father to two daughters, one of whom has passed to the next dimension. He lives near his place of birth in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. He loves listening to baseball on the radio, eating vegetarian food, drinking coffee, and talking nonstop. He has written three critically acclaimed books for middle grade readers: Train I Ride, Echo’s Sister, and Summer and July.

Mosier applied the Page 69 Test to Summer and July and reported the following:
Page 69 is a half-page with spot art on the upper half, as it’s the first page of a chapter, so I’m cheating and going to page 70. On this page, Summer and Juillet have arrived at the 3rd Street promenade in Santa Monica on their way to visit the pier. Both things terrify Juillet, because she has an irrational fear of the number 3, and she is afraid of amusement park rides and the ocean. Juillet is wearing her gothic makeup and a tee shirt that says DEATH. “In this case it’s not the name of one of my favorite bands, or any band that I’m aware of. It’s just what happens to all of us eventually.” Summer is wearing a light blue hoodie that says UM OKAY. “People we pass look from me to Summer, from Summer to me, and smile like we’re telling some kind of joke. Like Happy is taking Sad for a walk.”

The page does a good job of demonstrating the baseline that the characters entered the story with, and contains the beginning of a hint of what will amount to a role reversal. It doesn’t happen on the beach, and there are no waves on this page, but it’s a pretty demonstrative page. I’ve described the story as “a crush between a gothic girl and a surfer girl who help each other through a difficult time in each other’s lives.”

Monday, June 8, 2020

"Sara and the Search for Normal"

Wesley King is the author of the Edgar Award–winning OCDaniel, which Booklist praised as “complex and satisfying” in a starred review. It was also named a Bank Street Best Book of the Year and received Canada’s Silver Birch Award. King’s first middle grade novel, The Incredible Space Raiders from Space!, was called “a well-drafted coming-of-age story” by Publishers Weekly. He is also the author of The Vindico and its sequel, The Feros, which were both Junior Library Guild selections, and Kobe Bryant’s New York Times bestselling Wizenard series.

King applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Sara and the Search for Normal, and reported the following:
This is an interesting concept... and in this case, quite indicative! Page 69 of Sara and the Search for Normal details a conversation between Sara and her best friend, Erin, the core external relationship in the book, and even hints at the central conflict between them. It starts with this revealing exchange:
"I never had any friends."

She looked at me. "Ever."

I shook my head. I could feel my cheeks getting warm.

"Well, you got one now," she said. "And you're stuck with her."
From here, it hints at the book's mysterious core (the bruises covering Erin) and the trouble that come of it.

The test works quite well here...I would say it isn't the ideal page, but certainly a well placed-one to hint at one of the central plot arcs. This is fascinating because it has me thinking about each page as an introduction or 'elevator pitch' of the novel, as opposed to simply the first one where authors notoriously expel a lot of energy. This book is very much about relationships, and specifically the one with ourselves versus the ones with others, how they interact and shape each other, and how we prioritize them. On page 69, we see the forming of an external relationship and the possible reason for its dissolution, so I think that's a pretty telling excerpt.
Visit Wesley King's website.

Q&A with Wesley King.

My Book, The Movie: Sara and the Search for Normal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 7, 2020

"The Brightest Place in the World"

David Philip Mullins is the author of The Brightest Place in the World, a novel, and Greetings from Below, a story collection that won both the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and the International Walter Scott Prize for Short Stories.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Brightest Place in the World and reported the following:
From page 69:
He still hasn’t returned to work, so he has the time and energy for this. Now that the pickup has been restored to working order—now that he’s finished dealing with the claims adjuster and the body shop—a range of open hours lies before him each day. He’s stopped reading Bud Stone’s emails. Oh the joy and release of hitting “delete” when they appear in his inbox! Simon has stopped opening company correspondence altogether. What he knows about the condition of WEPCO he’s gotten from the news. Lawsuits have been filed, dozens of them. Three more bodies have been found at the site; Andrew Huntley’s is still missing. Not much else has been reported. The investigation into the cause of the explosions continues. Simon can’t get himself to care. He hasn’t quit, not officially. He’s merely gone silent—off-grid. (Can he call it that?) He and Rebecca have enough socked away for when he’s inevitably let go. For now, Simon still receives his bimonthly paycheck. Maybe when it ceases to arrive he’ll look for a new, low-tension job, a job of another sort entirely. Driving a school bus. Shelving books at a library. Some line of work that provides just enough income, if they’re frugal, to offset the dwindling of their savings. Work that carries little risk, little danger of something blowing up.

Juliet travels farther into the city, ending up on Las Vegas Boulevard, passing the Monte Carlo, Bellagio, Bally’s, the Flamingo and Caesars Palace and Harrah’s. He stays several car-lengths behind, the Strip glowing like a Lite-Brite. It always reminds him of that old toy from the sixties, the casinos and their multistory signs showering a hazy incandescence onto everything below, calling out to the endless passersby, Look at me! Look at me! Through his open window, the ruckus of automobiles—revving engines, honking horns, the low-frequency output of high-priced sound systems. He changes lanes whenever Juliet does. As far back as he is, he feels connected to her by some invisible string stretched tight, as though the Jeep and his pickup are opposite ends of a tin-can telephone, as though he might say something, sending his eager vibrations her way, and Juliet will hear him and respond.
Page 69 of The Brightest Place in the World does a fairly good job of conveying the overarching conflict of the novel—namely, the various changes (emotional, psychological, physical) the four principal characters undergo as a result of the chemical-pant explosion that opens the narrative. At the same time, page 69 only focuses on one of those four characters: Simon.

The way page 69 focuses on Simon (the exposition, the dramatic action) reveals, I think, some of the major concerns (themes?) of the novel: apathy and/or transfiguration in the wake of disaster; obsession; grief; infidelity; deceit; the desire to connect with another human being, in ways that might be contrary to one’s own welfare. Page 69 illuminates, too, the situation at the core of the narrative: Andrew Huntley’s death, and his missing body. Which is in fact an anti-situation, in that Huntley is never seen in the novel’s front-story (only a couple of times, briefly, in flashback), and yet the four narrative strands of The Brightest Place in the World connect directly to him. This was intentional, early in the writing process. I wanted to see if I could pull that off—structuring an entire novel based on a character the reader never really sees or knows. Whether or not I did pull it off is up to the reader, of course.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 6, 2020

"The Delightful Life of a Suicide Pilot"

Colin Cotterill, author of the Dr. Siri Paiboun series, lives in Chumphon, Thailand, with his wife. His books have been Book Sense Picks, and he won the Dilys Award for Thirty-Three Teeth as well as a Crime Writers’ Association Library Dagger.

Cotterill applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Delightful Life of a Suicide Pilot, and reported the following:
Page 69:
…better than for them to be lined up and shot by the wicked commies. Good anti-regime propaganda. Guilt by the bucketload for those who fled successfully. Massive donations to the cause. Nice homes in the Midwest for retired royalist generals. So, Mr. Roper takes photos and videos of the happy reunions, teary-eyed relatives, thankful, not-assassinated returnees, and he announces that he or other UN officials will come by every three months to monitor the situation. He makes sure the local cadre hears that, takes his photo too just to confirm he gets the idea, and there’s the safety package, living proof that repatriation works. Word gets around in the refugee camps and every-one decides to go home.” His voice was croaking from all that shouting so they gave up and enjoyed the scenery. There’d be plenty of time to talk when they landed. Daeng smiled at the girls, who looked away, embarrassed or afraid. Daeng could not imagine what they’d been through. While they were all together, she was determined to make friends with them and learn something about them.

1/11/1944

The river has become my companion. In the rainy season, once a body of water had built up on its way from China, it was a ferocious ally, thundering past impatiently, too busy to stop and chat. But in the dry season it is a trickle that seems not to be moving at all. Now it’s a lake of smoked glass with sand mounds here and there spelling out some kind of Morse code. I was at the boat port one day to receive a shipment of toys and sweets I’d ordered for children’s day.
Unlike its predecessors, my last participation in the 69 test doesn’t give a lot away as far as the main plot is concerned. It does give a hint as to the UN’s role in the region and it introduces the diary style of the title character. But what I most liked about this excerpt is that it pays homage to one unsung heroine of the series. The Mekong River has played center-stage in all of the dramas just as it dominates the landscape along the border of Laos. I should have dedicated at least one of the books to the omnipresent matriarch who has given so much of herself to make this series the success it has been. Kop Jai Deu (With thanks.)
Learn more about the book and author at Colin Cotterill's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 4, 2020

"Black Sun Rising"

Matthew Carr is a novelist, journalist, blogger, and lifelong Hispanophile. He has written for various publications including the New York Times, the Observer, and the Guardian. His nonfiction is published by The New Press: Fortress Europe; Soldiers, Civilians, and the American Way of War; and The Savage Frontier.

Carr's first novel, the acclaimed The Devils of Cardona (Riverhead), was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.

Carr applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Black Sun Rising, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Black Sun Rising we find the main protagonist of the novel, private investigator Harry Lawton, in a Barcelona mortuary. Lawton is about to examine the corpse of a bomb victim who might be Randolph Foulkes, the man he has come to Barcelona to identify. He is watched by the Catalan pathologist Ferran Quintana and his orderlies, who are curious to observe the methods used by a Scotland Yard detective.

Quintana doesn’t know that Lawton suffers from epilepsy, which has forced him to abandon his career in the police. He is surprised to find that Lawton is unaware of the new blood typologies discovered by Dr Karl Landsteiner at the beginning of the century, and that he has no interest in their usefulness for identification purposes. Like most British detectives in 1909, Lawton is passingly familiar with the nineteenth century French criminologist Alexandre Lacassagne’s work in distinguishing human from animal blood cells, but unlike Quintana, he has not come across Landsteiner’s more recent categorisations of different types of human blood.

Lawton is old school, and relies primarily on fingerprinting and ‘Bertillonage’ measurements and photographs, as he proceeds to examine the horrifically mangled corpse that reminds him of casualties from the Boer War.

Readers who opens the novel at this page will glean some hints into Lawton’s history and character. They will discover that he is a combat veteran and an experienced detective who has seen a lot of corpses. They will not know that this is the first time he has examined a body in years, and they may be puzzled by his self-consciousness and awkwardness at having to perform a routine identification in front of strangers. They will be keen to turn the page and find out what Lawton's examination reveals.

Like Lawton himself, they will encounter the first references to the emerging science of blood categorisations, to which Lawton will later return as he continues his investigation into the last movements of the man on the autopsy table, who might or might not be Randolph William Foulkes.
Visit Matthew Carr's website.

Q&A with Matthew Carr.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

"This Is How I Lied"

Heather Gudenkauf is the Edgar Award nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence, These Things Hidden and Not A Sound.

Gudenkauf applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, This Is How I Lied, and reported the following:
From page 69:
She stood and followed the labyrinth of rubbish through the living room, passing a bucket filled with acorns, a dressmaking mannequin and tangles of extension cords up the steps to the second floor. Nola paused at her sister’s bedroom and turned the knob.

The room was dim, the plastic shade drawn, light seeping through only at the corners and edges. Eve’s bed, a narrow twin, was made up with a pieced quilt stitched together with scraps of fabric in shades of pink, orange, green, yellow and blue. One of the Eve’s thrift shop finds. Nola remembered their mother being irritated when Eve brought it home. Why did you bring that dirty thing home, Eve? God knows who’s slept under that thing. Funny, considering the state of the house now.

If Eve could see their house now she would be mortified. she was the one who always kept it clean. After she died their mother gave up on day-to-day activities like cooking and cleaning and taking the garbage out. Nola had other things on her mind. She didn’t have time for housework.

Over the years, Eve’s bedroom stayed the same. No newspapers or garbage bags filled with junk encroached the sacred space. Nola and her mother never spoke about it. Eve’s same grunge-band posters still hung on the walls along with a mosaic of photos of Eve with her friends pinned to a large bulletin board. Since her mother had difficulty getting up and down the steps, a thick layer of dust covered every surface. Nola didn’t like coming in here, but she had run out of space in her own room and had resorted to storing some of her collection in Eve’s room.
The Page 69 Test gives readers an accurate sneak peek into This is How I Lied and the lives of Eve and Nola Knox and their mother. From this snippet we learn how that Eve died years ago and how different Eve was from her sister and mother. She was neat and organized and had a love for music and thrift shop buys.

We also learn a bit about how Nola and her mother’s lives have been impacted by the death of Eve. Twenty five years later, the house is in shambles and Nola still lives at home. We also come to know that Nola is a collector – of what, we don’t quite know yet, but as we get to know her, we understand that it is sure to be unusual.

As the story progresses, we get a more in depth look into Nola’s world, prompting the reader to wonder if Eve had lived, how would Nola’s life had been different – would she be less twisted and cruel? One thing is for certain, Nola cannot be trusted. When new evidence in Eve’s death is found and law enforcement begins to dig more deeply into the murder, the more erratic and unpredictable Nola becomes.
Visit Heather Gudenkauf's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Heather Gudenkauf and Maxine.

Coffee with a Canine: Heather Gudenkauf & Lolo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

"The Truth According to Blue"

After training as an opera singer, Eve Yohalem moved into the literary world first as an editorial assistant, then as the publisher of a website, then as an author of two books for young readers. She lives in New York with her husband, their two children, and pets.

Yohalem applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Truth According to Blue, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Truth According to Blue opens in the middle of a fight:
“I’m looking for the Golden Lion payroll. But you can’t help me.”

“Why not?”

“You don’t know anything about sailing or looking for wrecks.” Which was my nice way of saying You’ll get in my way and take all the credit.

“I learn fast.”

I could tell Jules wasn’t going to give in, but I held back from telling her about Pop Pop and the real reason I didn’t want her with me. It felt too private. “Why do you even want to come, anyway? It’s just lying on a rubber doughnut with your face in a bucket in the same patch of water, day after day after day.”

Jules crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Well, I’m obviously not here because of your thrilling company. Do I have to spell it out? You’re the only person I know, and even being with you is better than being with her.”

Which, when you think about it, could have been a gigantic compliment—being with me was better than being with Anna Bowdin, a famous movie star. Except that since Jules hated Anna with the molten blaze of a thousand volcanoes, it was actually a gigantic insult.”

“No,” I said. “You can’t come with me.”

Jules raised her eyebrows. “You really want me to tell my dad you refuse to hang out with me anymore?”
It turns out the test works! Page 69 gives readers a pretty good idea of what the book is about: Thirteen-year-old Blue Broen is hunting for sunken treasure as a tribute to her late grandfather. And Jules Buttersby, the spoiled daughter of a vacationing movie star, insists on tagging along. A few important details are missing, though. Like Blue’s beloved diabetic alert dog, Otis, who’s specially trained to smell changes in Blue’s blood sugar and who goes everywhere Blue goes. And the fact that the treasure hunt is a secret, even from Blue’s parents, and that a billionaire documentarian is hunting for the treasure too. Readers also don’t learn much about Jules here. Yes, she’s spoiled and manipulative and she hates her father’s girlfriend. But she’s also smart, loyal, and hardworking, and growing up in her father’s shadow isn’t easy. Eventually Blue and Jules realize they’re both looking for the same thing: a sense of self that’s separate from Blue’s disease and Jules’s famous parent. But that comes much later in the story. For now, they’re stuck with each other and not happy about it.
Visit Eve Yohalem's website.

Q&A with Eve Yohalem.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 1, 2020

"The Fire Thief"

Debra Bokur is an author, journalist, editor, screenwriter, and illustrator. Her work has appeared in a variety of domestic and international media outlets, including National Geographic Traveler, Islands, Spa Magazine, Experience Life Magazine, Natural Home, Yoga Journal, Global Traveler, and Women’s Adventure. She is a recipient of the 2015 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award.

Bokur applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Fire Thief, and reported the following: .
On page 69 of The Fire Thief, Maui-based Detective Kali Māhoe has arrived on Hawaii Island, where she’s trying to distract herself from a murder investigation by tracking down clues to a rash of solar panel thefts that have been linked to eerie sightings of a faceless, malevolent spirit. As page 69 opens, she’s driving up the western Kohala coast, where the roadside scenery ranges from barren, lunar-like terrain on one side of the highway to a verdant wash of rolling land on the other that’s presided over by an ancient, sleeping volcano.

Excerpt from page 69:
She followed the highway north, past a collection of five-star resorts positioned along the coast, spread out to such a degree that each one seemed to be its own oasis amid the arid lava-rock landscape. For miles on either side of the road, tourists and locals had spelled out private messages with pieces of white coral, which stood out in sharp relief against the ancient black lava stone. The messages were a mix of declaration and longing—Marci loves Jonathan 4-Ever, We Miss You Papa, Will You Marry Me, Brett?

She made her way at a leisurely pace, relishing the views to the east of the lush Kohala Mountains and the long-dormant volcanic hump of Mauna Loa. North of the mountain range was the rich Waipi’o Valley.
This page is actually a pretty good example of the sense of place I was striving to convey, but definitely is not an accurate test of revealing that the book is a murder mystery.

Though The Fire Thief is a fictional story, it was important to me when writing it to be respectful of Hawaiian culture and tradition, and of the powerful setting itself. Over the decades, my own journeys to Hawaii have revealed the multiple faces of this remote island archipelago, where the weather ranges from balmy sunshine to violent storms, and where drugs and crime are facts of life. The tranquility so often associated with Hawaii is, in fact, deceptive and frequently misleading—which makes it ideal as the setting for a mystery. I became fascinated with the yin-yang nature of this location years ago while filming a documentary about Hawaiian healing traditions and spiritual practices. Though the documentary never saw the light of day, a seed was nevertheless firmly planted for the book series.
Visit Debra Bokur's website.

Q&A with Debra Bokur.

--Marshal Zeringue