Friday, January 31, 2020

"The Gravity of Us"

Phil Stamper grew up in a rural village near Dayton, Ohio. He has a B.A. in Music and an M.A. in Publishing with Creative Writing. And, unsurprisingly, a lot of student debt. He works for a major book publisher in New York City and lives in Brooklyn with his husband and their dog.

Stamper applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, The Gravity of Us, and reported the following:
The Gravity of Us has a lot of themes within it—space exploration, politics, mental health, first love, traditional and social media, family dynamics, etc.—so it would be hard to find one page that fully encapsulates all of these themes. But page 69 actually does a good job of this!

Page 69 is shortly after Cal moves to Houston. Cal has just met the cute boy (and fellow Astrokid) he’s heard so much about, Leon, who takes him on a path behind their houses to escape the press that’s gathered outside Cal's new house. They sit on the swings in a neighborhood park and get to chat for the first time, but they're both a bit hesitant.
“I pause, because even though I’m having a good time, I want to ask him if he really does buy into all this.”
Cal’s not sure who to trust in his new life, and he’s already pretty uncomfortable with how the media’s been treating this mission and his family. He doesn’t know whether Leon buys in, but through this conversation, he realizes he might have found his first ally in Houston…
Visit Phil Stamper's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

"A Beautiful Crime"

Christopher Bollen is the author of The Destroyers, Orient, which was an NPR Best Book of the Year, and the critically acclaimed Lightning People. He is the editor at large of Interview magazine. His work has appeared in GQ, the New York Times, New York magazine, and Artforum, among other publications. He lives in New York City.

Bollen applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, A Beautiful Crime, and reported the following:
All of my novels suffer from a case of split personality—a literary character study pulling delicately at one end of the rope and a suspense thriller tugging aggressively at the other (or is it the literary part that is pulling aggressively and suspense more delicately?—I’m never sure). I can remember clearly writing the section that appears on page 69 because I have my two amateur con artists, Clay and Nick, who also happen to be boyfriends, on the ground in Venice after a time apart, and I’ve just been describing the beauties of spring in the city. Right at page 69 I’m thinking, okay, you have to stop with the travelogue and get the plot rolling. So, here we have Clay reaching into his pocket which holds a photograph of the man they’re targeting. Nick’s going to need to be able to identity the man later so he can strike up an “accidental” conversation with him. This scene gives the reader the first tangible clue of the plan that’s already in motion. But Clay also wants Nick to love Venice, so he doesn’t pull the photo out. He lets his boyfriend be a tourist for a little bit longer as he walks him to his lodgings. So page 69 really touches the heart of the novel: if they were smooth, professional con men, they’d get down to the business of identifying their dupe right away. But they aren’t. They’re bad con men with good hearts.
Visit Christopher Bollen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 27, 2020

"The Empty Bed"

A New York City native, Nina R. Sadowsky is an entertainment lawyer (in recovery) who has worked as a film and television producer and writer for most of her career.

Her debut thriller, Just Fall, was published by Ballantine in March 2016. Her second novel, The Burial Society, was published in 2018, and is the first of The Burial Society Series. Sadowsky's new novel, The Empty Bed, is the second book in the series.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Empty Bed and reported the following:
From page 69:
Her palm is slick with blood. She sets her belongings down and winds her scarf around her hand, applying pressure to stop the flow.

Shit. Now what?

Twenty minutes later, Eva’s sipping a steaming cup of green tea and nibbling on a custard bun in a dimly lit tea shop. What was he after?

Propelled by instinct, she scrolls backward through the photographs stored on the digital card of her Leica. The shot she took of the view from their hotel room. A couple of snaps in the Hong Kong airport. That bitch with the Pomeranian at the Sly Fox.

And, fuck. There he is. In the background of the shot of the woman and her dog is the man Eva just left bleeding in Hong Kong Park.

Heart pounding, Eva zooms in on him and his companion, both in gray suits, rep ties. The camera has captured their shared look of outraged surprise, as if her taking the pictures was a personal affront to them as well as to the angry blonde and her dandelion of a dog.

Maybe it was an affront. Maybe these are two men who shouldn’t be seen together. Is that why he tried to grab her camera? Frowning, Eva zooms in closer on the second guy’s face. It’s vaguely familiar to her; not like someone she knows, but like someone she ought to know. His identification dances tantalizingly on the edges of her consciousness. Still, she can’t quite place him.

But the other man in the picture has been following her; of that much she’s certain. She adds up the pieces: He trailed her to her home after she inadvertently took his photograph at the Sly Fox. Possibly tried to break into their house later that night. Followed her to Hong Kong. Attacked her with a knife. Why?

And is Pete involved? Why did he deny knowing her attacker, especially since she saw them interact twice? Is this why he was so condescending and dismissive?
This page is perfect for this exercise because the revelations that strike my character, Eva Lombard, during the course of the page are at the heart of one of the novel's intertwining story threads. Eva is swept away from London to Hong Kong by her husband Peter for a surprise anniversary trip, but just before their departure, Eva becomes convinced someone is following her and there is an attempted break-in at their home. When she confesses her fears to her husband, Peter belittles her, driving a further wedge between the couple who are already on shaky ground. In this scene, Eva has been the victim of an attempted mugging, her ever-present Leica camera the apparent target, and while she is determined to solve the mystery presented, she's becoming increasingly alarmed that Peter himself might be involved. When Eva disappears, Peter becomes a prime suspect. What really happened? Can this young couple overcome distrust and come together again? You'll have to read the book to find out!
Visit Nina Sadowsky's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Burial Society.

My Book, The Movie: The Burial Society.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 25, 2020

"Scorched Grounds"

Debbie Herbert is an Amazon Charts, Washington Post, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestselling author who’s always been fascinated by magic, romance, and Gothic stories. Married and living in Alabama, she roots for the Crimson Tide football team.

Herbert applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Scorched Grounds, and reported the following:
As it happens, on this very page, we first see the serial killer, known only as the Corrector, applying his own test to a carefully selected victim. In his mind, he is helping weak people face their biggest fears. His chosen must confront their worst phobia and learn to overcome his 'test.' Here, he is in the middle of a lake on his boat, waterboarding Melanie who is deathly afraid of deep water.
This is no picnic for me, either," I assured her. "Do you think I enjoy hurting you? No ma'am. But it's my duty."

"Please," she cried, coughing up lake water.

I waited until she finished coughing and I had her full attention. "Tell me, Melanie. Are you scared?"

"Yes," she wailed. "Please let me go."

I did. The board plopped back down as I rose to my feet, and I barely managed to avoid getting splashed again. I watched the bubbles and thrashing while counting. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three...
The Corrector was interesting to write. I believe that we all have a motive and justification for our actions. In his case, he felt perfectly justified in 'helping' people the way he was 'helped' while growing up.

This was so much fun to examine this one, random page! Any author would enjoy the challenge of examining page 69 to see how it fits in with the novel as a whole.
Visit Debbie Herbert's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 23, 2020

"The Wrong Girl"

The Wrong Girl is the introduction to a fresh new series starring Bianca LaBelle, star of the silent screen action serial, The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse. In addition to this coming-of-age tale of a girl in the glamorous 1920s, Donis Casey is also the author of the Alafair Tucker Mysteries, an award-winning series featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, set in Oklahoma during the booming 1910s. Her first mystery, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, was named an Oklahoma Centennial Book. Casey is a former teacher, academic librarian, and entrepreneur.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Wrong Girl and reported the following:
From page 69:
At home, Blanche had hated cotton harvest time, when her mother and aunts had put all the females in the family to work, either cooking for or serving bushels of food to the gangs of itinerant workers. But her situation was desperate and the offer of unglamorous but honest work on the very day she was abandoned in the wilderness was too perfectly timed to refuse. Besides, how could she pass up the possibility of reaching her destination safely while under the protection of someone who did not mean to pimp her out at the nearest mining camp?

“Miz Gilbert,” she said, “I’ve already peeled enough potatoes to feed the entire state of Arizona. I reckon I’m an expert at it. I’d be obliged for the opportunity. Anything to make some money, as long as it’s honest.”

Mrs. Gilbert’s gave a satisfied nod. “Good. I think you won’t be peeling potatoes long. Miss Bolding is soft on lost puppies and mistreated little girls.”

“Miss Bolding?” Blanche said. Blanche only knew of one person named Bolding—Alma Bolding, star of the silver screen. But Alma Bolding lived in Hollywood in a lavish mansion, not in a cabin in the woods in Arizona.

“Yes, darling, Alma Bolding, the moving picture actress...” Mrs. Gilbert hesitated at the expression of gobsmacked awe on Blanche’s face. “...and tomorrow we are going to go out to the location of her next picture to ready the tent where she will put on her costumes and makeup and rest between takes. I will talk to the head cook and ask if he will hire you to assist him in the kitchen. Now, Miss Bolding arrives on the train tomorrow afternoon, and while you are working, I will go to meet her in Prescott and bring her to the set. I will introduce you after you finish work. Miss Bolding is, let us say, larger than life, but don’t make a fool of yourself when you meet her. She enjoys meeting her fans, but she hasn’t much patience with children.”

Blanche was so astounded that her prospective benefactor was actually screen star Alma Bolding that she forgot to be insulted that Mrs. Gilbert had just called her a child.
I was delighted to see that page 69 of The Wrong Girl illustrates an important turning point in the life of our heroine, 15 year old Blanche Tucker, eighth of ten children in a farming family from Muskogee County, Oklahoma. The year is 1920, the world is changing after the horrors of World War I and the great flu pandemic. Blanche is bored, bored, bored with her proper, protected life and eager for the excitement and glamor she reads about in movie magazines. So when a dashing young man in a fancy auto comes to town and tells her he can put her in the movies if she'll run away with him, Blanche doesn't think twice. But Graham Peyton has unsavory plans for her that don't involve the motion pictures. To avoid a grim fate, Blanche has to make a daring escape in northern Arizona, where she comes upon a house in the woods and meets a kind woman named Mrs. Gilbert, who offers her a job peeling potatoes and completely changes Blanche's destiny.
Visit Donis Casey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

"Devil Darling Spy"

Matt Killeen was born in Birmingham, in the UK, back in the war-mad seventies–a hometown largely demolished and rebuilt in his lengthy absence. People tend to dismiss what comes more easily to them as unworthy, so it took him far too long to realize he was a writer. He worked as an advertising copywriter and largely ignored music and sports journalist in the noughties, before fulfilling a childhood dream to join the LEGO® Group in 2010. He left after eight years, and an unconscionable amount of money spent in the staff store, to become a full-time author. A lover of costume parties, he is an avid gamer, soccer fan, toddler wrangler, and warrior for truth and social justice. Although a devout urbanite, he has somehow ended up surrounded by fields in a house full of LEGO® bricks and musical instruments, with his two diversely aged children, Nuyorican soul mate, and neurotic, fluffy dog. Orphan Monster Spy was his debut novel, and he has still not learned to touch-type.

Killeen applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Devil Darling Spy, and reported the following:
When I did the Page 69 test for Orphan Monster Spy, Sarah’s first battle with the Nazis, I was sceptical, but pretty amazed at the result. That page contained the moment where the Captain is confirmed as a spy as a result of Sarah’s investigation. She is given a new “Aryan” life – Ursula Haller. She ceases to be the orphan from that point, marking the end of the “origin story”, with her mission about to be offered for the first time.

Alas, Devil Darling Spy does not provide anything so neat and clear cut. Sarah meets someone from her past and we are given a flashback to her troubled childhood, at a point where she is once more in dire peril. She is more emotionally isolated than ever before in this sequel, yet here finds not just a friendly face, but a significant one.
Sarah clung on to Atsuko for a long minute, the mission, the danger, all forgotten.

“How are you here?” Sarah asked finally, blinking back the tears. As ever, angry at their ungovernable wantonness. “Of all the people, in all the world—”

“Wait a minute, that was my question.” Atsuko laughed, letting go of her. “Your mother has you working for the Nazis?”

“My mother died,” Sarah said flatly.

“I’m sorry. She was a ... good woman,” Atsuko managed.

“You don’t have to say that.”

“No? Well, she tried, but she drank like a ... brush maker? Is that what Germans say?”

“Yes, that’s the phrase.” Sarah felt she was being disloyal, felt she should not be saying anything negative, even to someone who knew the truth.

The truth.
Sarah’s world is consumed with secrecy and layers of obfuscation. Yet here she meets an old carer in the present who knows Sarah’s real identity, knows her past, and understands some of her damage. It has been a year since Sarah has met anyone as herself. This woman also knows of her Jewishness. That is not yet a death sentence in Nazi Germany but being discovered pretending to be Aryan could well be. Sarah is at her most vulnerable, yet feels home, somewhere safe in this woman’s arms. She wants to be able to trust someone.

Is that a strength? A weakness? Time will tell.
Follow Matt Killeen on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Orphan Monster Spy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 20, 2020

"Kidnapped on Safari"

Peter Riva is the author of Kidnapped on Safari. He has spent many months over thirty years traveling throughout Africa and Europe. Much of this time was spent with the legendary guides for East African hunters and adventurers. He created a TV series in 1995 called Wild Things for Paramount. Passing on the fables, true tales, and insider knowledge of these last reserves of true wildlife is his passion. Nonetheless, his job for over forty years has been working as a literary agent. In his spare time, Riva writes science fiction and African adventure books, including the previous two titles in the Mbuno and Pero Adventures series, Murder on Safari and The Berlin Package. He lives in Gila, New Mexico.

Riva applied the Page 69 Test to Kidnapped on Safari and reported the following:
This is an interesting question, Page 69... and here’s an excerpt:
....Mbuno always seemed to know what to say. “When tracking dangerous animals, it is always best to observe, be patient, then find their weakness. We may have a long wait.”

The ex-Marine slipped into battlefield mode and added, “Then we wait. Shifts?”

Mbuno said, “Food first.” He told Bob he should sleep first after the meal, then Pero, then Mbuno. The radio needed to be left on receiving, with someone always there. Pero and Bob nodded.

Bob asked, “Four on, eight off, that suit?”

Mbuno smiled and explained that in the bush, the sky and the place you are in tells the time, not a watch. Mbuno pointed up at the sun behind a cloud and asked, “How long will the sun need to change? You watch, it tells you when it is time.”

Bob had clearly had experience dealing with people other than Americans in remote places. “Okay, like the Tigris people I spent time with. They never used a watch and did things at different times of the day depending on the season.”

Mbuno did not know the people of Tigris, but he understood the concept. In the winter season, you rose later, worked harder, and prepared for an earlier sunset. It was cooler because the sun was not overhead like it was that day in equatorial Kenya. However, at this time of year in East Africa in the middle of the day, you planned your day differently. “Mr. Bob, here in Africa it is the same. You watch the animals, they tell you when it is time to move and when it is time to rest.
Mbuno, here, has already decided that the people they are up against are dangerous—not just wild—animals. As an experienced animal watcher, he is using those skills to evaluate and set about conquering the human enemy they were facing. But at the same time, Mbuno knows that doing “nothing” is often a good time to prepare, eat, rest and be ready for when action was necessary. Bob, an ex-Marine, is clearly deferring to Mbuno because he has recognized Mbuno’s leadership and bush skills. Meantime, Mbuno is tuned to the land, the animals are his guide. He relies on that connection to win the day.

The whole passage is a perfect microcosm explanation of who Mbuno is and why he and Pero survive and hope to win the day.
Visit Peter Riva's website.

Writers Read: Peter Riva.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 19, 2020

"The Blaze"

Chad Dundas’ debut novel Champion of the World was a 2016 Boston Globe Best Book of the Year as well as a finalist for the David J. Langum Sr. Prize for Historical Fiction and Reading the West Book Awards. His short fiction has appeared in the Beloit Fiction Journal, Sycamore Review, Sou’Wester and Thuglit.

Since 2001, he’s worked as a sportswriter for outlets such as ESPN, NBC Sports, The Sporting News, Bleacher Report, and the Associated Press, among others.

Dundas applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Blaze, and reported the following:
I wasn’t sure what to expect from “The Page 69 Test” for The Blaze and stunned to find that page actually is pretty representative of the rest of the book. First off, much of the passage that appears on page 69 of the final version was actually among the first things I wrote while getting the initial manuscript draft underway years ago. It finds the two main characters, Matthew Rose and Georgie Porter, setting out together after an evening spent at a neighborhood bar. They stop at a truck stop and grab a 12-pack of beer to begin drinking as they trudge through the snow back to Georgie’s house – a quintessential Missoula activity if there ever was one.

Georgie is telling Matthew about one of the novel’s inciting incidents: a house fire that claims the life of a local college student. Matthew, meanwhile, is preoccupied with a mental breakthrough he made earlier that day – a fractured recollection sparked while visiting the home of his recently-deceased father that he hopes can lead to him reclaiming his lost memory. He wants to tell Georgie about it, but isn’t sure if their newly rekindled relationship has progressed to the point he can get into it.

It’s not the most action-packed page, but if you want a short primer on what the book is about – page 69 is a pretty good one.
Visit Chad Dundas's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Blaze.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 18, 2020

"The Hand on the Wall"

Maureen Johnson is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of several YA novels, including 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Suite Scarlett, The Name of the Star, and Truly Devious. She has also done collaborative works, such as Let It Snow (with John Green and Lauren Myracle), and The Bane Chronicles (with Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan).

Johnson's new book, The Hand on the Wall, is the third title in Truly Devious Series, which is set at Ellingham Academy, a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. In pursuit of the mystery behind Elligham's ghastly crimes: student and true-crime aficionado, Stevie Bell.

Johnson  applied the Page 69 Test to The Hand on the Wall and reported the following:
Page 69 is actually an important page in the book! It contains a fairly important clue. I can’t say what it is, obviously. It also leads directly into one of the major turns in the course of the story. One of the problems with writing a mystery is that I can’t tell you a lot about what happens or what you are supposed to look for. I can only gesture in the direction of page 69 and say look closely -- there may be something there.
Visit Maureen Johnson's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Hand on the Wall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 16, 2020


Scott Reintgen is a former public school teacher from North Carolina. He survives mostly on cookie dough, which he is told is the most important food group. When he’s not writing, he uses his imagination to entertain his wife, Katie, and their sons. Reintgen is the author of the middle-grade novel Saving Fable, as well as the Nyxia Triad and Ashlords for young adults.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Ashlords and reported the following:
To my great delight, Ashlords does pass the page 69 test. This page brings us to the point in the story when Imelda finds out she's been invited to participate in the Races. She's at the front door, her mother's arm draped around her protectively, as officials from the Empire Racing Board offer an invitation that might change her life forever. Imelda is shocked. Her father's back in the kitchen, eavesdropping, not even realizing he's spilled coffee all over the table in his shock. People from Imelda's background don't get to ride in the Races. That's just how it is. A viral video, however, has launched her into the spotlight. The only question now: what will she do with her one shot? The rest of the story from that point on is about collision. The crash of cultures participating in the race. The clash of dreams, because winning this race would mean very different things for all the riders involved.

This scene also properly shows off one of the bigger themes in the story: transformation. The riders compete by racing on the backs of phoenix horses, a unique breed that lives and dies all in one day. Good alchemy is as important as good riding, because riders can mix powders into their phoenix's ashes at night to breathe life into a horse with different abilities for the next leg of the race. It's only right that I'd also focus on how the riders themselves are transformed through the competition. What are they learning? How are they growing stronger? What will they do when push comes to shove?

Finally, it's appropriate that this page highlights one of my favorite steps in the traditional hero's journey. It's called crossing the threshold. It's the point in the novel where the main character takes their first, tremulous step into the unknown. Harry's first steps into Diagon Alley. Rand al'Thor fleeing his home in Two Rivers with Moraine. I love those moments, because it's where we find out what the hero is truly made of. Imelda's journey from this point is not all smooth. She will be tested again and again and again. She will never be the same, and I think she leads readers on the journey of a lifetime, straight into the heart of the most intense competitions in the Empire.

I hope you're ready for the Races. Godspeed.
Follow Scott Reintgen on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Nyxia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 13, 2020

"Daughter of Chaos"

Sarah Rees Brennan is the author of The Demon’s Lexicon and Lynburn Legacy series; Tell the Wind and Fire and In Other Lands; and several collaborations with writers Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson, and Kelly Link.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Daughter of Chaos, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Does everyone do that?” Harvey demanded. “Did you stay pure for Satan?”

A strange expression crossed Nick’s face. Harvey realized, with a burst of delight at this unexpected justice from the universe, that Nick Scratch was scandalized.

“Of course I did! What kind of boy do you take me for?”

Harvey couldn’t answer because he was laughing too hard. Even when Nick huffed and glared, he couldn’t stop.

“Yes, well, anyway—stop laughing, farm boy—that means I’m aware that you can’t have much experience,” said Nick. “What has it been? Like fifty people in your entire life?”

Nick glanced at Harvey inquiringly. Though it had seemed impossible to stop laughing a moment ago, Harvey wasn’t laugh­ing now.

“Was that too few people?” asked Nick. “Was that insulting? Obviously, I know mortals don’t have to save themselves for Satan.”

“I don’t want to talk about this!” Harvey said loudly.

“Actually, the Dark Lord doesn’t specify men must stay pure, but I figured it was only fair.”

“Satan shouldn’t tell women what to do,” Harvey snapped, then worried he might be disrespecting Nick’s culture.
This book is a tie-in with the Netflix series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the tale of a girl who is half witch and half mortal, raised by her witch family, but part of mortal society... until her 16th birthday, when she has to join the witches, who live an alternate lifestyle and worship Satan. Something Sabrina's not sure she wants to be part of, yet she decides she must be a witch and can't be with her mortal boyfriend Harvey.

Daughter of Chaos is set after she makes that decision, and is told from several perspectives, including that of her mortal boyfriend, who has recently and traumatically found out about the world of witches. To add more trauma, a boy from Sabrina's coven is taking an interest in Sabrina, and wants to learn about mortal love. So Nicholas Scratch applies to Harvey for help, and as we can see above, both are horrified to learn how the other half lives...

To quote Caitlyn Siehl, 'when is a monster not a monster? Oh, when you love it.' Daughter of Chaos is told from two witches' and two mortals' perspectives, and has a lot of fish-out-of-water hijinx in which both sides are appalled and confused by their differences. But at the same time, both sides are trying. Like in this passage where Nick and Harvey, both in their own way, want justice for the women in their lives. It's a story about magic, mischief, and a chance at connection, and I hope the page reflects that!
Visit Sarah Rees Brennan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 12, 2020

"The Hollows"

Jess Montgomery is the Literary Life columnist for the Dayton Daily News and former Executive Director of the renowned Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Based on early chapters of her novel The Widows, she was awarded an Ohio Arts Council individual artist’s grant for literary arts and the John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence at Thurber House in Columbus.

Montgomery applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Hollows, and reported the following:
From page 69:
A faint smile wavers on Mama’s lips as she pats Hildy’s hand. “Roger would want you to be happy. I don’t want you to mourn him forever. I want you to be happy, too.”

Oh God. Mama thinks she’s delaying a wedding date with Merle because of Roger.


She’d been so happy with Roger. His face—young, unmarred, handsome—rises before her. Something in his expression now seems to suggest that he’d never been meant long for the rough-and-tumble and furor and fury of this world.

As his face fades, the one replacing it is not stolid, older, steady Merle, but craggy, thin-faced, hard-etched Tom Whitcomb.

Hildy’s heart races, her palms sweating. She looks down, away from Mama, only to meet the eyes of the woman in her sketch and sees an approving glint in the eyes she’s imagined, the eyes she’s drawn, eyes that say, Yes, Tom.

“I can take care of the jailhouse and the children,” Mama is saying. “You get on over to the newspaper, then to the grocery.”

Hildy looks from the sketch back to Mama. Usually, Mama carries herself with resoluteness, but this morning, a thin gray strand of hair pulled loose from her dark bun makes her seem fragile. What would Mama think—if she knew about Tom? Suddenly her opinion matters to Hildy more than Merle’s or Mother’s. Or Lily’s.

Yet she must choose. She can’t remain with both Merle and Tom.

Roger would want you to be happy.
What strikes me at first from this passage from page 69 of The Hollows is that Lily Ross, the main protagonist of this novel and of the Kinship Mystery Series, is only mentioned once. In the novel, Lily is the sheriff of her county in 1926 Appalachian Ohio; her character is inspired by Ohio’s true first female sheriff in 1925.

It just so happens that this page is from the point of Hildy Cooper, Lily’s best childhood friend. Hildy was a secondary character in the series’ debut title, The Widows, offering sympathy and support for Lily. The Hollows has dual narrators, Lily and Hildy. (The first novel was narrated by Lily and another female character, Marvena.)

The second thought that strikes me from this passage is that though Lily is only mentioned once by name, she is woven throughout the page’s subtext. Mama is Lily’s mother; Roger was Lily’s older brother, killed in The Great War. He was also Hildy’s fiancé.

Hildy has remained not only friends with Lily, but embedded in her fiancé’s family, and how they see her matters to her, greatly and deeply.

The third thought is that on the surface, Hildy’s passage here reads as though she’s simply torn between two possible paramours—the socially acceptable Merle and the less socially acceptable Tom. But Hildy’s distress runs deeper than that. She is torn between continuing in the way she always has—acting as expected—and finally coming into her own identity, in touch with her own wishes and desires. Her quest is one of self-discovery and acceptance, even if it goes against the grain of kinship with friends and family as well as against the expectations of the society in Kinship, the county seat.

So, the tension between individual identity and community expectations, which is a theme of the novel and the series, plays out as well on this page.
Visit Jess Montgomery's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Widows.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 10, 2020

"Purgatory Bay"

Bryan Gruley is the Amazon Charts bestselling author of Bleak Harbor and the award-winning Starvation Lake trilogy of novels. He is also a lifelong journalist who is proud to have shared in the Pulitzer Prize awarded to the staff of the Wall Street Journal for their coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Gruley applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Purgatory Bay, which is set in the same fictional Michigan town as Bleak Harbor, and reported the following:
Purgatory Bay is about a young woman named Jubilee Rathman who lives as a virtual recluse on a private bay near the town of Bleak Harbor, Michigan. She’s executing a diabolical plan to punish people she blames for ruining her life.

Page 69 recounts how and why Jubilee wound up in her bayside fortress with the help of her dead family’s attorney, E. Jonathan Phillips, or Phillie, as she calls him. The page is useful in several ways. We learn how a 29-year-old woman could afford such a property. We see how Phillie has become the one person outside her fortress playing a role in her life. The latter will become much more important later in the story.

The page reinforces Jubilee’s self-imposed isolation: “She had nothing against the townspeople of Bleak Harbor that she didn’t have against almost any other human being. She just didn’t belong with others anymore.” And the heartbreaking recollection of how she dispensed with her glorious soccer past underscores the depth of her disaffection and, chillingly, of her commitment to her terrible mission.
Learn more about the book and author at Bryan Gruley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

"Good Girls Lie"

In J. T. Ellison's new thriller, Good Girls Lie, Ash Carlisle leaves the U.K. after the death of her parents to attend the Goode School, a prep school for young women located in a small Virginia town that is a stepping stone to the Ivy League. Initially unprepared for the mean girls and the hazing, things get worse when students start dying...and suspicion falls on Ash.

Ellison applied the Page 69 Test to Good Girls Lie and reported the following:
I’ll admit, I’ve done several of these “tests” and always find them fascinating. The moment my finished books arrive, I flip immediately to Page 69 so I can see what’s happening in the story. Sometimes it’s something incredibly important and impactful. Sometimes it’s just a regular paragraph.

But for Good Girls Lie, it is a seminal moment, though the character, Ash Carlisle, an Oxford, England transplant to the elite all girls boarding school–THE GOODE SCHOOL–doesn’t realize it. Term has just started, and Ash is seriously questioning her choice to attend. Tired, jet lagged, and completely uncomfortable in her new surroundings, she falls into a fitful sleep, only to be awoken by singing. She had no idea that what she’s hearing is soon going to define her life in so many ways; will mark her, physically and emotionally, for the rest of her days.
I’m not ready to answer questions. The energy it is going to take to keep people at a distance is massive. And what if I can’t hack it? Not to mention the school aspect of all this? What if the classes are too hard?

I finally fall into a fretful sleep at midnight, restless and rumpled, and wake to the strange sense that something is amiss.

Singing. I can hear singing. Am I dreaming?

I sit up, rub my eyes. Stretch. No. Not dreaming.

But where is it coming from? Not my earbuds, though I’ve fallen asleep with them in. I pull them from my neck and toss them onto the night table. My laptop slips off the side of the bed, and I make a grab for it before it hits the floor.

Outside. The singing is coming from outside.

I go to the window. The night is black as pitch, deep as velvet. A glance at my watch shows it’s 1:30 a.m. The singing is growing louder, coming closer. The hair rises on the back of my neck. This isn’t a gentle, melodic song. This is coarse, meaningless; words shouted to a Sousa march beat.

Oh. This must be what the girls called a stomp.

Vanessa, when she could wedge a word in edgewise, explained the details over dinner. The secret societies are something like sororities at many Southern colleges, though you can’t pledge or ask to join one. The sisters have to come to you, a process known as being tapped.

I already knew the secret societies at Goode are a very big deal; I’d read about them when I was investigating the school but hadn’t paid much attention. I’m not much of a joiner, and seriously doubt I am the kind of person a secret society would want anyway. At dinner, Vanessa made them out to be almost mythical, as important to a Goode girl’s résumé as a 4.0 GPA and an admission letter to Harvard. “The societies carry over into college, you know. It’s the ultimate networking tool. Anyone can pledge a sorority. To be chosen, that’s the true test.”

The societies are secret for a reason.
--Excerpt ©J.T. Ellison, Good Girls Lie, MIRA Books, 2019
So an impactful page 69, this go around.
Visit J.T. Ellison's website and follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

My Book, The Movie: Good Girls Lie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 6, 2020

"Frozen Orbit"

Patrick Chiles has been fascinated by airplanes, rockets, and spaceflight ever since he was a little kid growing up in South Carolina. How he ended up as an English major in college is still a mystery, though he managed to overcome this self-inflicted handicap to pursue a career in aviation.

He is a graduate of The Citadel and a Marine Corps veteran, a licensed pilot, and an aviation safety manager. In addition to his novels Farside and Perigee, he has written for magazines such as Smithsonian’s Air & Space. He currently resides in Ohio as an expatriate Southerner with his wife and sons, two lethargic dachshunds, and a bovine cat.

Chiles applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Frozen Orbit, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“It means be quiet. People are sleeping.” Had no one thought to put a simple volume knob on the intercom?

UNDERSTOOD, it said, matching his volume and logging a new subroutine to do the same in the future. DO YOU STILL WISH TO KNOW OUR DISTANCE FROM EARTH?

“Now that’s interesting,” Jack said. “I never answered your first question about frame of reference.”


“You guessed right. And whole numbers are fine.” He’d have to ponder over what process led it to a “reasonable guess” later. This could be an interesting side project if they ended up going the full distance to Pluto.


“Thanks. Back to sleep now.” A status light by the speaker blinked from green to amber.

Overnight they’d sped out to over three times the distance to the Moon. In just a few weeks they’d cross Mars’ orbit, though the planet itself would be a million kilometers distant during their passage. A few weeks after that, they’d have a first-person look at Jupiter while using its gravity to add more velocity. Even after all that, it would be another six months to Pluto. It had taken New Horizons nine years to make the same journey. Swift as they would be, the distance was still intimidating. Space was just too big.

“Save any for me?”

Traci’s voice startled him. Jack looked up to find her hopping off the ladder and into the galley. “What?”

She laughed. “Coffee. Java. Breakfast of champions.” She pointed to his mug, still sitting in the machine. “Is that for me, or do I hope for too much?”

“It’s mine,” he said, and removed it from the dispenser. “But you’re welcome to it. I haven’t contaminated it with sugar yet.” A quivering glob of black liquid spilled out in the low gravity, which he managed to sweep the cup underneath to catch before it had a chance to splatter in slow motion onto the deck.
It’s an early taste of the character interplay that develops through the rest of the story. Jack Templeton’s life aboard the Magellan is largely going to be defined by his relationships with two crewmates—Traci Keene, his shift partner, and “Daisy,” the artificial intelligence which helps run the ship. When he’s not busy deciphering forty-year-old transcripts from the derelict Russian spacecraft they’re heading out to meet at Pluto, he’s learning how to navigate through his feelings about both his human and digital partners. He’ll be in very close quarters with Traci for at least a year—and is trying to squelch his attraction to her for the sake of the mission—while Daisy appears to be on the brink of achieving sentience. He’s not sure how to handle either one of them.
Visit Patrick Chiles's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 4, 2020

"Three Things I Know Are True"

Betty Culley lives in central Maine, where the rivers run through the small towns. She tends a young crabapple orchard and waits all year for the spring blooms! She’s an RN who worked as an obstetrics nurse and as a pediatric home hospice nurse.

Culley applied the Page 69 Test to Three Things I Know Are True, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I suppose if I had the
sheet music, I could.

My brother Jonah
always liked to listen
to the fiddlers
at the fair.

See, I learned something else
at the soup kitchen.
makes a bad situation
All the poems in this verse novel have titles and page 69 is the end of a section called Fiddle Music. Liv, 15, the main character and narrator, is working at a soup kitchen, (as a punishment for ‘playing with food’ at school!) and for the first time since her brother Jonah accidentally shot and severely injured himself, she does something ‘silly’—picks up a clean ladle, pretends it’s a fiddle, and sings the folk song ‘Old Joe Clark’. The reaction of the people at the soup kitchen is smiles and applause and she takes a little bow. Here on page 69, Liv is asking a boy who also works there and plays violin, if he could play his fiddle at her brother Jonah’s upcoming eighteenth birthday party. This section is representative of how even in a situation that is inherently tragic, Liv manages to find lightness and solace and connect with those around her.
Visit Betty Culley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 2, 2020

"Lost Hills"

Lee Goldberg is a two-time Edgar Award and two-time Shamus Award nominee and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels, including the Ian Ludlow thrillers Killer Thriller and True Fiction, King City, The Walk, fifteen Monk mysteries, and the internationally bestselling Fox & O’Hare books (The Heist, The Chase, The Job, The Scam, and The Pursuit) cowritten with Janet Evanovich. He has also written and/or produced many TV shows, including Diagnosis Murder, SeaQuest, and Monk, and is the co-creator of the Hallmark movie series Mystery 101. As an international television consultant, he has advised networks and studios in Canada, France, Germany, Spain, China, Sweden, and the Netherlands on the creation, writing, and production of episodic television series.

Goldberg applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Lost Hills, and reported the following:
Is page 69 representative of the rest of the book?

Yes, actually, it is. My heroine, Eve Ronin, the youngest female homicide detective on the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, makes a four-hour drive in the wee hours of the morning to talk to someone related to the homicide case, someone that she could have simply called on the phone. She basically gives up a night of sleep, in middle of an intense investigation, to make that long drive. It shows how hard she's pushing herself, perhaps to unnecessary extremes, to get to the truth. It also reveals her need to make a human connection, face-to-face, with the people involved...even it if means literally going the extra mile.
Visit Lee Goldberg's website.

My Book, The Movie: Lost Hills.

Writers Read: Lee Goldberg.

--Marshal Zeringue