Thursday, April 30, 2020


Nicole C. Kear is the author of the memoir Now I See You, chosen as a Must-Read by People, Amazon, Martha Stewart Living, Parade, Redbook, and Marie Claire UK among others. Her books for children include the new middle grade novel Foreverland, the chapter series The Fix-It Friends, and the middle grade series The Startup Squad, co-written with Brian Weisfeld. Her essays appear in the New York Times, Good Housekeeping, New York, Psychology Today, Parents, as well as Salon, the Huffington Post and xoJane. She teaches non-fiction writing at Columbia University and the NYU School of Professional Studies.

A native of New York, Kear received a BA from Yale, a MA from Columbia, and a red nose from the San Francisco School of Circus Arts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, three children and two teddy bear hamsters.

Kear applied the Page 69 Test to Foreverland and reported the following:
On page 69:
Fun fact: Places that aren't scary get scary in a hurry when you are alone in the dark.

The cheesy, harmless Haunted House is now giving me goosebumps so intense that I may require medical attention. Here, under the bed, in the darkness, I even half believe that zombies and vampires and ghosts are real. The dark does that. It's like a key that unlocks the door to your worst imaginings.

As soon as I hear the door slam, I want to crawl out from under the bed and switch all the lights back on. I don't, of course. That's a rookie move. What if Flip Flop Girl forgot her phone or keys or wallet, or Tiny Braid Girl left her special comb that she uses to make such tiny braids? You don't have to watch too many scary movies to figure out Rule Number One of not getting murdered is: never assume the coast is clear.
Yes, I think this test works for Foreverland! It actually brings us to the first page of one of my favorite chapters, where 12-year-old Margaret spends the night in the amusement park's Haunted House, sleeping in the bed next to an animatronic Dracula. "Fun fact:" is a running thread in Margaret's narrative voice, and this excerpt touches on her fear of the dark, which is strikingly relevant since Margaret struggles with anxiety throughout the book. It's part of why running away from home is such an unexpected move for her. I also think the blend of interiority with the forward motion of the plot found here is really illustrative of the book as a whole.

The one element of the book that isn’t captured on page 69 (and it’s an important one!), is the friendship between Margaret and Jaime, since they haven’t yet become friends at this point. We see Margaret’s loneliness on this page, and that’s an important part of why she left home – she’s lost her best friend, feels invisible in middle school, and is even ignored by her sister, with whom she used to share a deep connection. But what we don’t get to see is the life-changing friendship she forges at the park with Jaime, a fellow runaway. Jaime is Margaret’s polar opposite – where she is shy, cautious, doubting, he is gregarious, reckless, over confident. The two help themselves to an all-access, after hours pass, complete with junk food overload, DIY makeovers, and an unlimited ticket to ride. Along the way, Jaime teaches Margaret bigger lessons too, about riding the roller coaster of life — how to let go and maybe even enjoy the wild ride. And, as in any good friendship, she teaches him something, too: how to hold on and stay connected, even when it feels too hard to bear. This is where so much of the heart of the book, and a lot of the fun resides, and we don’t get a glimpse of it on page 69. So, my advice is: start from page one and keep reading!
Visit Nicole C. Kear's website.

Q&A with Nicole C. Kear.

My Book, The Movie: Foreverland.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

"Empire City"

Matt Gallagher is the author of the novels Empire City and Youngblood, a finalist for the 2016 Dayton Literary Peace Prize. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Esquire, The Paris Review and Wired, among other places. He’s also the author of the Iraq war memoir Kaboom and coeditor of, and contributor to, the short fiction collection Fire & Forget: Short Stories from the Long War.

Gallagher applied the Page 69 Test to Empire City and reported the following:
Much of page 69 in Empire City consists of a formative wartime memory of Sebastian Rios, one of the novel's main characters:
Sebastian yawned and his right leg began twitching. He took off his sunglasses and chewed on one of the ends. Then he popped a blue Valium from his pocket and wiped beads of sweat from his forehead. It's all good, he thought. All good. Something about the noise, and the sweat, and the flashing lights, and all the talking with Flowers, made him think of the night he'd been rescued. The short guy with the asterisk scar had gone home, so the other militants had unbound him and let him join the dominoes game. The one with the crooked smile and construction-worker hands knew bits of English and was asking why America could put a man on the moon but not bring electricity to the lands it invaded. It was a fine question and Sebastian hadn't known the answer. Then the helicopters came on like a tempest, and the whole building began shaking. They'd bound and blindfolded him again and hid him in a pile of loose blankets and boxes and told him not to even think about making a sound and they all grabbed their AKs and ran upstairs and gunshots rang out in mad, dizzy minutes and then there was a pause like a long echo and he smelled ice of all things so he'd sat up and pushed off the blindfold against a box corner just in time to see the whole world turn to the brightest, darkest star and-
Though certainly a bit biased as the novel's author, I think the "Page 69 Test" works very well for Empire City. It grapples with ideas and themes prevalent to the novel as a whole, and gives readers a sense of the style and language they can find throughout the book. (Particularly in the chapters following Sebastian, as he is one of three protagonists in the story.)

One of Empire City's most prominent themes is how we all, at times, alter the past for the sake of the present, and this memory of a hostage raid gone awry links many characters in my story, whether military veterans or civilians, such as Sebastian. Indeed, finding the hidden truths of the raid's particulars will soon become Sebastian's raison d'être, though he's only just beginning that journey on this page. Of the three protagonists, he's the most introspective, so these moments in scene when he slips off by himself to escape and "think" (or daydream, in this case) fits the interiority of his character and allows me as the author to build out the wider backstory of Empire City.
Visit Matt Gallagher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

"Death of an American Beauty"

Mariah Fredericks was born and raised in New York City, where she still lives today with her family. She is a graduate of Vassar College with a BA in history.

Fredericks applied the Page 69 Test to Death of an American Beauty, the third Jane Prescott mystery, and reported the following:
I love the page 69 challenge. It’s always fascinating to open your own book and assess it from a single page. It forces you to confront: did I make the best use of this space in the narrative that I could?

The action of page 69 in Death of an American Beauty is chaotic. Jane Prescott, lady’s maid, has been dragged into rehearsals for a society pageant called “Stirring Scenes of the Emancipation,” a display meant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Lincoln’s proclamation. In one page, she corrals a gaggle of disgruntled ladies, starts mending their costumes, critiques Julia Ward Howe’s lyrics for the Battle Hymn of the Republic…and meets Leo Hirschfeld.

Leo Hirschfeld is a new character in the Jane Prescott series. When he’s not playing piano for the pageant, he has any number of jobs including singing waiter and pianist at the Union Square nickelodeon. He is brash, ambitious, and buoyantly optimistic, predicting that one day, “All Broadway will be one big Leo Hirschfeld production.”

On page 69, all we see Leo do is play the piano and react to the terrible singing around him. Jane notices that he is about her age and physically attractive—first things first. But she also notices how he absorbs the moods and rhythms around him. “…he seemed to let it run right through him—the tension, the comedy, the embarrassment…” On the next page, he starts turning the ladies’ arguments into music. Jane decides he is a “human commutator,” someone capable of taking various energies and channeling them into something harmonious and wonderful.

The vision of someone able to almost unconsciously conduct our emotional energy into music originally occurred to me when I listened to such extraordinary songwriters as Bob Dylan or Irving Berlin, musicians who create songs so elemental it seems strange to think of them as being written. Not being musical in the slightest, the creation of melodic sound is a miracle to me, and it was nice to find that image for the young composer. Whatever is happening around him, Leo responds: emotion, sound…and especially, women.
Visit Mariah Fredericks's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Girl in the Park.

The Page 69 Test: A Death of No Importance.

My Book, The Movie: Death of an American Beauty.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 27, 2020

"Pretty Things"

Janelle Brown is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Watch Me Disappear, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, This Is Where We Live, and Pretty Things.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Pretty Things and reported the following:
Page 69 of Pretty Things is interesting because it introduces one of the pivotal minor characters in the book - Benny Liebling, whose high school relationship with our protagonist Nina triggers a cascade of events that culminate in the main story of Pretty Things.

Adult Nina is a con artist, who uses social media to target rich kids on Instagram, with the intention of ripping them off. She needs to pull off one last audacious heist order to pay for her mother’s exorbitant cancer treatments. This leads her to Vanessa Liebling, the older sister of her childhood love Benny — a woman who happens to be the heiress to the Liebling family fortune.

The story of Benny and teenage Nina is the emotional heart of Pretty Things, a story of love and misunderstanding and class disparity that really underpins the actions of adult Nina. And on Page 69, we meet Benny for the first time:
Benjamin—Benny—Liebling was the only other kid at the school who didn’t clearly fit into the Academy’s outdoorsy vision of the world. He’d recently moved into town from San Francisco, I heard; his family was rich; they owned some fancy mansion on the West Shore. Kids whispered that he’d been kicked out of a much more exclusive prep school, and that’s why he’d ended up here. He stood out, with his flaming orange hair and his long, articulated limbs; a pale giraffe ducking awkwardly through the doors. Like me, he arrived on campus with a foreign aura clinging to him, although in his case it was wealth, not the urban stench of Las Vegas. His t-shirts were always pressed and spotless; his sunglasses had an unmistakable Gucci logo on the earpiece that he’d failed to disguise with duct tape. Every morning he unfolded himself from the passenger seat of his mother’s gold Land Rover and dashed to the front door of the school as if he thought his speed might make him invisible. Everyone noticed anyway, because how could you not notice a six-foot-two kid with hair the color of a jack-o’-lantern?
Page 69 is in Chapter 7, which takes the reader 13 years back to the past, where they watch the story of Benny and Nina’s relationship play out. Out of this chapter, the bulk of the action of the rest of the book will launch: Nina and her grifter boyfriend Lachlan are about to arrive at Stonehaven, the vast Liebling estate on the shores of Lake Tahoe, where an unwitting Vanessa is about to have her life turned upside down. And it all comes back to this awkward boy, and a lovesick teenage girl.
Learn more about the book and author at Janelle Brown's website.

The Page 69 Test: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.

The Page 69 Test: Watch Me Disappear.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 25, 2020

"The Lightness of Hands"

Jeff Garvin is an author, podcaster, and musician. His debut novel, Symptoms of Being Human, is an ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, and garnered starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly. His sophomore book, The Lightness of Hands, received a starred review from School Library Journal and praise from multiple New York Times bestselling authors. Garvin also produces and cohosts The Hero’s Journey podcast, examining books and films through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth paradigm.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Lightness of Hands and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Don’t disappear,” he said.

I didn’t know how to reply.

I climbed the steps of the RV, closed the door behind me, and looked around. I had lived in this box half my life, but suddenly it was too small. The box, my life, everything. I felt smothered. Claustrophobic. I had an impulse to rush back outside and tell Liam to stay. I could make coffee. We could sit at the picnic table and just talk. Stretch the night out a little longer.

I took a step toward the door, but then I heard the Mustang’s engine revving and saw the tail lights retreat as Liam drove away. I turned and started down the aisle.

Dad was waiting up for me, sitting at the table and pretending to read. He looked up and smiled as I approached, but his eyes were already inspecting me for signs of whatever dads feared they would find after a date.

“How did it go?” he asked.

“Good,” I said. “I’m really tired.”

Dad raised his eyebrows. “I promise not to interrogate you. But you’ve got to give me more than that.”

I sighed. “He’s really great, Dad. A total gentleman.” A total gentleman I would probably never see again.

“That’s wonderful.”

Dad’s smile was too bright somehow, like a flashlight in the eyes. I looked away, irritated.

“Did you see a movie?” he asked.

“Dad, I’m tired.” I wanted to be alone. I tried to walk past him, but he took my arm gently in his hand.

“Ellie, what’s the matter?”
The page sixty-nine test isn’t particularly effective for my book. The Lightness of Hands is the story or 16-year-old Ellie Dante, who must battle her bipolar II disorder in order to resurrect her sick father’s ruined magic career. While the narration and dialogue on page sixty-nine do serve to develop Ellie’s character and her relationship with her father, they don’t provide the kind of first impression I would want readers to have.

On page sixty-nine, we get only a hint that magic is involved in the story, and it’s through a bad joke that Ellie’ love interest, Liam, makes: “Don’t disappear.” We do, however, get a sense of Ellie’s living and family situation, and both are crucial to the story. Ellie lives with her aging father in a small RV; she has little space and no privacy, which puts a strain on their already difficult relationship. Because the two of them travel constantly, performing at bars and backyard parties to make ends meet, Ellie has difficulty forming relationships with people her own age, like Liam, a boy she went to high school with and has recently run into again. She longs to escape her cloistered life with Dad and get out into the world. It’s a microcosm of the teenager’s need to leave the nest, complicated here by the small space and Ellie’s isolation.

Also missing is any clear element of Ellie’s largest obstacle: bipolar II disorder. Of course, the psychology of bipolar II can be subtle, and its on-the-page effects invisible, but given the self-awareness with which Ellie is blessed (cursed?), page sixty-nine is not representative of how the depressed valleys and hypomanic peaks affect the extraordinary way Ellie sees the world, and therefore, how we see Ellie.
Visit Jeff Garvin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 23, 2020

"To Have and to Hoax"

Martha Waters was born and raised in sunny South Florida and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her lifelong love of England and romantic comedies inspired the writing of To Have and to Hoax, which is her first novel.

Waters applied the Page 69 Test to To Have and to Hoax and reported the following:
From page 69:
Violet’s plan was proving to be more complicated than she had anticipated.

“Of course it is,” Diana said impatiently the next day as she, Violet, and Emily reclined in Diana’s barouche outside Gunter’s. “I do believe my exact words to you were, ‘Have you lost your mind?’”

“And I assured you that I had done no such thing,” Violet said, pausing to take a bite of her ice.
On page 69 of To Have and to Hoax, my heroine, Violet, has just realized that the plan she’s come up with to get even with her estranged husband – faking a case of consumption – is rather more difficult to pull off than she anticipated, something her friends have already predicted. Honestly, I’m astonished at how well this test works for my book, because this short snippet of the book really sums up the entire plot – Violet and her husband, James, getting ensnared in an increasingly complicated battle of one-upsmanship, even as they fall back in love with each other – and their long-suffering friends along for the journey, telling them to just have a conversation with each other instead! At the bottom of page 69, Violet – realizing she’s going to need to really commit to her plan if she wants to fool her husband – asks:
“Do you think your physician would be willing to lie to the son of a duke?”
This gives the first indication for readers that things are about to get very complicated – and increasingly silly – for Violet and James, and I think it really functions well as a glimpse into what the rest of the book will offer.
Visit Martha Waters's website.

Writers Read: Martha Waters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

"Sin Eater"

Megan Campisi is a playwright, novelist, and teacher. Her plays have performed in China, France, and the United States. She has been a forest ranger, sous-chef in Paris, and a physical theater specialist around the world. She attended Yale University and the École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq. In 2019 she received a Fulbright Specialist award to travel to Turkey and give master classes at Tatbikat Theatre. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Campisi lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Sin Eater, and reported the following:
From page 69:
…The Queen herself sits not four paces from us. “The sin eater stopped. Is it a portent?” she asks the Willow Tree.

The Willow Tree talks louder than he should, but more like because he’s unaware, than that he means to be loud. “I saw no such signs. Perhaps she trembles at the gravity of the sin.”

The Queen signals her black-fingered secretary. He goes to the front of the Makerhall. The Willow Tree hastily follows after as if he doesn’t want to be left out. They talk a bit as if they’re arguing. The secretary’s hands move as he speaks, and his black fingertips look like charred tinder. I swallow away the giggle that comes into my throat.

Black Fingers addresses the hall. “The sin eater will proceed with the Eating of Corliss Ashton as is the sin eater’s duty, conferred by the Maker and his agent on earth, Her Majesty, Queen Bethany.”

The Sin Eater doesn’t move.

I know it’s the deer heart. She vowed to eat the sins Corliss recited. The deer heart is a lie. She won’t break her vow. I feel like a squirrel seeing the shadow of a hawk. I dread what’s coming for us.

Black Fingers waits one more breath and then speaks. “If the sin eater refuses to eat, she disobeys a direct order from the Maker as it is written in the Maker’s Book.” Every breath in every body stills. As if following my thoughts, he goes on. “To disobey a direct order from the Maker and his agent Queen Bethany”—his own voice quiets—“is treason.”

Treason is death. And under Queen Bethany that’s not by a noose and the gallows but by gutting or burning or worse. I wait for the Sin Eater to move. When she doesn’t, I do something plain foolish. I take my hand and place it on hers.
Page 69 of Sin Eater is right in the heart of the plot, a critical moment that changes the course of May's (the main character) life. It's a great introduction to the book because it's central to both the character's emotional journey and the story's mystery.

As a sin eater, 14-year-old May Owens becomes a pariah in her own community. But as the novel progresses, she turns this curse into an unexpected source of power. She uncovers a series of murders that reach all the way to the queen and sets out to solve them using her untouchable status. It’s a story about an isolated young woman finding her strength and also finding her people.

May’s journey is about finding home—with all its connotations of comfort, sanctuary and identity. But she doesn’t just do this out in the world, she also finds a home within herself. I wanted to chart an individual revolution in the way one woman views herself and her situation—a seemingly isolated act of rebellion in an unjust world. Change starts at home, with yourself, and grows from there. Even if we aren’t queens, we can still make profound change in how we live our lives.
Visit Megan Campisi's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 20, 2020

"The Easy Part of Impossible"

Sarah Tomp is the author of YA novels The Easy Part of Impossible and My Best Everything; and a picture book, Red, White, and Blue Good-bye.

Tomp has a MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches creative writing for University of California San Diego Extension.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Easy Part of Impossible and reported the following:
I think Page 69 of The Easy Part of Impossible gives a good peek into the essence of my main character, Ria's emotional struggle.
Once, when she'd been trying to finish her homework at the dry gym in between sets he'd (Benny) said to her, "There's more than one kind of intelligence, Victorious. Don't you worry that pen-and-paper stuff isn't yours. There's not going to be tests and science reports in real life."

It had made her feel better at the time. And for a long time afterward. But now here she was at the start of senior year, with nowhere to go. The void ahead, otherwise known as her future was too big, too exhausting, too much nothing to fill.

"She's going to call soon. You need to at least talk to her."

"I can't," Ria started, but then Mom's phone rang and they all jumped, startled. She stared at it, like it might explode. Dad shoved it in her hand.
For more than half her life, seventeen year old Ria has been under the control of her diving coach, Benny. He's her biggest supporter - the person who knows her best, and who cares as much about her diving as she does. But, he's also an abuser. Her parents don't realize he's hurt her physically. They only know he recently kicked her off the team and now they're suggesting she talk with a college coach. As someone who has always struggled in school, Ria has no interest in this plan of theirs. Her reaction to the phone here - that it might explode - is a subtle hint to the fact that she's suffering from PTSD.

So, yes, I think this page gives a good picture of the emotional story line. What's missing is the spelunking! This scene takes place after she's gone caving with her friend Cotton for the first time. There, in the dark she felt a different kind of thrill - and fear - than she's used to. That's also the start of a slow burn romance with an atypical love interest.
Visit Sarah Tomp's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 18, 2020

"The Prettiest"

Brigit Young, born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has published poetry and short fiction in numerous literary journals. She is a proud graduate of the City College of New York, and has taught creative writing to kids of all ages in settings ranging from workshops at Writopia Lab to bedsides at a pediatric hospital. Young is the author of the middle grade novels Worth a Thousand Words and The Prettiest. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughters.

Young applied the Page 69 Test to The Prettiest and reported the following:
The Page 69 test works perfectly for The Prettiest, the story of how an anonymously written list of “the prettiest” girls in the eighth grade affects three girls.

In this section of the text, Eve, a shy girl shocked and disturbed by her ranking as number one on the list, slips out of a parent/student meeting in which the grown-ups’ discussion devolves into arguing. As she runs off through the halls, looking for a spot to hide, she hears a boy calling out to her, but is “done hearing from boys right then.” Eve makes an escape into the choir room, but– unbeknownst to her – the popular and vindictive Sophie Kane has also hidden there after a day of bullying due to her unexpected ranking at number two. Sophie believes she should be number one and that Eve wrote the list herself.

“Who do you think you are?” Sophie calls out to Eve.

This moment embodies many of the emotional themes of the book. These girls are terrified, bewildered, and constantly questioning who they are as they navigate the expectations and summations of others. Further, they feel they must separate from the adults who purport to help them and the boys who gaze at them and figure out the answer to that question for themselves.
Visit Brigit Young's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 16, 2020

"The Last Bathing Beauty"

Amy Sue Nathan is the author of Left to Chance, The Glass Wives, and The Good Neighbor.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Last Bathing Beauty, and reported the following:
This experiment amazed me. The Last Bathing Beauty is written in two timelines crossing seventy years, so I thought perhaps that one page would illuminate one timeline or the other, but not both.

I was wrong.

Page 69 is the seedling of the love story that is the crux of the book in both timelines. This is when the main character spends time with her first love and you know it's a good thing going on. Page 69 is the relationship kick-off, per se, and would give a reader a good sense of where things headed in 1951 and then, it actually mirrors the emotions and backs up the intensity of the emotions in the present.

Learn more about the book and author at Amy Sue Nathan's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Amy Sue Nathan & Mitzi and Lizzie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

"St. Ivo"

Joanna Hershon is the author of five novels: St. Ivo, Swimming, The Outside of August, The German Bride and A Dual Inheritance.

She applied the Page 69 Test to St. Ivo and reported the following:
Page 69 of St. Ivo is a conversation between a married couple, Sarah and Matthew, who were mugged the previous evening, and their friend Kiki, who they're visiting for a weekend in the country, and with whom they haven’t been in touch for many years. Sarah is privately struggling not to fall apart due to circumstances unrelated to the mugging, but the mugging seems to have pushed her further toward an emotional free fall. Though she admits that he did the correct thing in handing over all of their possessions and not fighting the mugger, who was armed, Sarah resents how her husband didn’t put up a fight, how he relented so easily.

The Page 69 test for St. Ivo works fairly well. It sets up the tension between our main couple, Sarah and Matthew, while introducing their friend Kiki and the tone of their initial reunion, which is important to the story. It gives a flavor and a sense of the dialogue, which is key to the novel, but it doesn’t address the main focus of the story which is Sarah’s relationship with her missing daughter and how to learn to live while in a state of utter uncertainty. Also, page 69 doesn’t reflect how internal much of the novel is, in addition to being dialogue-heavy.

I have done the Page 69 test for several of my previous novels and I've always felt it is—interestingly-- a good reflection of the novel. I also think it might be worth mentioning something that Stephen Koch, who was my professor at Columbia University said, while I was in his workshop in the MFA program (where I now teach). He said, if you get to page 70 (or maybe in was 75) and you can feel the ending of your novel, you are writing a novel. If you can’t feel the end— not the literal plot but the feeling of the end, the sense of it— then you probably don’t have a novel yet. You are working towards something but it might not be a novel. I have found this to be true of all of my five novels. When I’ve arrived at page 70 (or so!) I ask myself if I can feel the ending and I always can, even if I haven’t outlined it or even considered the end quite yet. I think the Page 69 test works, perhaps for a similar reason. By page 69 we are approaching a place in the novel where things should be falling into place, whether thematically or plot-wise— or even simply language-wise, the particular cadence— and as readers we are being given a subconscious moment on which to hang our hats. It’s usually a moment that invites us to settle in for a while.
Learn more about the author and her work at Joanna Hershon's website.

The Page 69 Test: The German Bride.

The Page 69 Test: A Dual Inheritance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

"Titan’s Day"

Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes about fever dreams and half-glimpsed shapes in the shadows. His prize-winning fiction draws on his travels throughout Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim, as well as an employment history spanning everything from subpoena server to assistant well driller.

Stout applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Titan’s Day, and reported the following:
The page itself sets the scene for the chapter, then moves into dialogue between three of the book's major characters: Detective Carter, his partner Ajax, and Divination Officer Guyer. Here's an excerpt:
I figured I’d be better off saying something charming, to break the ice. “You putting in some serious hours? You look terrible.”

She gave me a befuddled smile. “Seriously?”

Jax slipped into one of open seats and propped his chin on his hands. “I think he means that you look like someone who’s so far gone past exhaustion that you’ve come back round the other side.”

Her smile grew more steady, and I decided to push my luck.

“You know,” I said, “we’ve got this Jane Doe case that could really use some of your expertise.”

“Ask me later.” Her eyes tracked the fall of my shoulders and she conceded slightly. “Look, I’ll review the murder book, but you know I can’t do any kind of divination without authorization.”
Page 69 of Titan's Day is a curious case. It's the start of Chapter Six, and focuses on a quiet moment in the wake of a particularly tense moment in Chapter Five. So page 69 doesn't have any of the noir sleuthing or fabulous 70s themed magic found in the rest of Titan's Day. That said, the book as a whole is about how the city of Titanshade is reacting to the events of the last book, and how those reactions echo an individual's path through the grieving process. So it's actually kind of fitting that this is a calm reaction beat.
Visit Dan Stout's website.

The Page 69 Test: Titanshade.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 13, 2020

"Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me"

Gae Polisner is the award-winning author of In Sight of Stars, The Memory of Things, The Summer of Letting Go, The Pull of Gravity, and Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me.

She lives on Long Island with her husband, two sons, and a suspiciously-fictional looking dog. When Polisner isn't writing, you can find her in a pool or the open waters off Long Island. She's still hoping that one day her wetsuit will turn her into a superhero.

Polisner applied the Page 69 Test to Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me and reported the following:
Here’s a brief moment from page 69:

As if it were a dream rather than a memory, I forget about it for a few days -- the fight, her words, the money, all of it. Or maybe I don’t forget so much as block it, once again, from my mind. After all, I may be a lot of crappy things lately, but I want to believe that thief isn’t one of them.

At least I hope not.

Then Max comes over again, and this time my mother sends me over the edge.
I actually think this moment represents the book well in a few ways. First, it’s the start of a time stamped section that carries the main story forward (these unfold from April - June of JL’s Tenth Grade) while other sections flit back in time to formative moments in JL’s life from the time she was a little girl. Second, JL is tired of being harshly and wrongly judged by her best friend Aubrey and Aubrey’s new friends, and this is a moment where she begins to decide that maybe she’d rather live up to the criticism than keep trying to prove the good person she is. Finally, it’s also the moment where she decides she might actually flee -- that she’d rather escape everything than try to face what’s unfolding.

What she learns in the end is that, sometimes, that’s impossible to do. The only way through it is through it.
Visit Gae Polisner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 12, 2020

"The Companions"

Katie M. Flynn is a writer, editor, and educator based in San Francisco. Her short fiction has appeared in Colorado Review, Indiana Review, The Masters Review, Ninth Letter, Tin House, Witness Magazine, and many other publications. Flynn has been awarded Colorado Review’s Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction, a fellowship from the Writers Grotto, and the Steinbeck Fellowship in Creative Writing. She holds an MFA from the University of San Francisco and an MA in Geography from UCLA.

Flynn applied the Page 69 Test to The Companions, her debut novel about love, revenge, and uploaded consciousness, and reported the following:
The Companions opens amid an outbreak, California under quarantine. People can’t go out, but the dead can come in, their consciousness uploaded to machines. Companions are intended to serve the living, and most importantly, to keep them company during this prolonged isolation. While the novel trails the journey of Lilac, a companion who was sixteen years old when she was murdered and uploaded, it is told from eight different points of view, some human, some companion.

On page 69, Jakob Sonne, a fledgling actor desperate to get his career back on track, finds himself in Siberia for a publicity stunt involving the largest population of polar bears on earth. The town he visits is an isolated place, left to die after the local nickel mine closed. It sits abandoned, bleeding poison into the soil, the groundwater. But in this setting, life is coming back, the animals taking over. On page 69, Jakob sees his first sign of life since arrival:
Out the window I scanned the snowfields for what felt like miles. It wasn’t until I saw an animal—a dog, or maybe a fox—darting through the snow that I realized how empty this place was. I’d seen no one, not a single living person, in the whole of the city.
In this world, direct, human-to-human contact is rare and charged, as if people have forgotten how to connect with one another. On this page in particular, Jakob has an uncomfortable exchange with his Russian driver, Bo, a documentarian who focuses on reindeer. When Jakob asks her about the film, she says, “It was tired,” but what she really means is it was boring.

In the novel, the characters grasp for lost things, past wrongs and misunderstandings, past loves; these journeys don’t always end well, of course, the past never being exactly as we remember it.
Visit Katie M. Flynn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 11, 2020

"The Girls with No Names"

Serena Burdick is the Toronto Star, Publishers Weekly and international bestselling author of The Girls with No Names, now out in the US, Canada and Australia. It is forthcoming in Portugal, Spain, Lithuania and Russia. She is the 2017 International Book Award Winner for Historical Fiction for her novel Girl in the Afternoon. Burdick studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence, holds a Bachelors of Arts from Brooklyn College in English literature and an Associates of Arts from The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in theater. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two sons.

Burdick applied the Page 69 Test to The Girls with No Names and reported the following:
Page 69 is the first chapter told from the perspective of Jeanne, Effie’s mother. The tone of the story changes here, specifically on this page when Jeanne is on a train headed home and meets a man who offers her a cigarette and sparks a desire she hasn’t felt in years. When she returns home that night she reaches for her husband’s hand and he jumps away as if her touch is offensive. The theme of the book is centered around Effie and her sister Luella, but everything that happens to these sisters is sparked by the behavior and relationship of the parents. The need of these young girls to break away from their parents old fashioned, hypocritical Victorian ways is what allows for everything that unravels in the story. In a way, this scene between husband and wife, the resignation Jeanne has toward her husband’s distaste for her, is central to the whole novel.
Visit Serena Burdick's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Girls with No Names.

Writers Read: Serena Burdick.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 9, 2020

"Three Hours in Paris"

Cara Black is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 18 books in the Private Investigator Aimée Leduc series, which is set in Paris.

Black applied the Page 69 Test to her new standalone spy thriller, Three Hours in Paris, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Idiots. Gunter motioned for his driver, took the camera out of his attaché case and handed it to Niels to photograph the scene. “I want every angle documented.”

“Caught the Bayern tail wind, eh? You’re such alarmists at RSD.” A man approached, wiping his bare arms with a towel. Gunter recognized Roschman from SD, Sicherheitsdienst, the intelligence service of the SS. Roschman was the man they called the Vet. Why hadn’t someone put a muzzle on him?

“We needed him alive,” said Gunter. “From now on we need every one of them alive. Do you understand?”

Roschman nodded. “The Anglander talked. They all do when they spend time with me.”

Gunter heard rhythmic strokes of a shovel outside, then a metallic ting as it hit stone. “Shisse,” someone swore in German.

“Give me a full report,” said Gunter. “Schnell. Too much time has been lost already.”

Roschman recounted his interrogation as Gunter examined the English radio set and its case.

“But where’s his cipher code?” All radio operators carried a code transmission template. A manual, or sometimes just a paper.

“What you see is what we found.” Roschman was pulling on his shirt.

Gunter chose his words carefully so as not to reveal the assassination attempt on the Fuhrer. “The report suggested this radio man might have been connected with a gunman. What do you know about that?”

“Gunman? No idea. We picked him up near his parachute drop.”
I think this section of page 69 is a good slice showing the hidden and not so hidden animosity between the two German characters. While on the same ‘side’ the Gestapo they have different agendas and this meeting sets it up nicely. In this meeting Gunter, in whom POW we are, meets the strong arm sadist who ventures on his being his nemesis in the story. Gunter’s job on the Führer’s orders is to find the assassin, while Roschman the ‘Vet’ is in the dark on the big picture but ambitious for his own advancement. All we’ll later discover to the ire of Gunter’s investigation. It’s a place for the character set up and climate of back stabbing Nazi officialdom.
Visit Cara Black's website and follow her on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Murder at the Lanterne Rouge.

The Page 69 Test: Murder below Montparnasse.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in Pigalle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

"The Astonishing Life of August March"

Aaron Jackson is a writer and comedian. With Josh Sharp, he optioned and adapted a screenplay of their stage musical Fucking Identical Twins which is currently in development with Chernin Entertainment. He was recently a cast member on Comedy Central's The Opposition with Jordan Klepper, and has also appeared on Broad City, The Detour, Crashing, The National Lampoon Radio Hour, and Funny or Die’s Jared and Ivanka, a series he also cowrote. He lives in New York City.

Jackson applied the Page 69 Test to The Astonishing Life of August March, his first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my book is a scene between the main character August and his surrogate father Sir Reginald Percyfoot. August, who was born and raised in the Scarsenguard theatre in a midcentury New York City, has recently experienced a major change in his life, and the pair are trying to decide what to do about August's tenuous living situation:
August surprised Percyfoot yet again by agreeing he should leave the Scarsenguard. "But where am I to go?" he asked.

Truthfully, Sir Reginald could think of no better place for the boy. To send him into the care of the government would be criminal. There was no doubt that August's upbringing had been unconventional, but it had been genteel and pampered in its way. Throw him into a state-owned orphanage with boys who'd been shuttled in and out of foster care for the entirety of their lives, and the poor lad would get eaten alive.

August mumbled something.

"What was that, child? Speak up. We didn't spend hours on your vocal exercises to have you stammering like a simpleton."

"I said, could I come live with you?"

Sir Reginald inhaled sharply. Here was a dilemma.
The Page 69 test is interesting because on one hand, the book's central theme is August's search for place and belonging. However, this is a quirky comic novel full of jokes and big characters. For example, just three pages later, August bursts from a sarcophagus (a prop leftover from a play called Lust in Luxor) pretending to be a ghost (which makes sense in context). Page 69 is a scene where the pace slows down and we sit with two of the main characters. Sir Reginald struggles with the balance of his career and the obligation he has to this child, while August deals with his listlessness and confusion. I would say, overall, page 69 is not an accurate read for the book as a whole while still giving reader's a glimpse into the central character's main inner conflict.
Follow Aaron Jackson on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

"The Love Story of Missy Carmichael"

Beth Morrey‘s work has been published in the Cambridge and Oxford May Anthologies and shortlisted for the Grazia Orange First Chapter competition. She lives in London with her family and dog.

Morrey applied the Page 69 Test to The Love Story of Missy Carmichael, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Off!” I said sternly, holding one finger in the air and experiencing a distinct lack of authority. Bob stared at me and scratched behind one ear with her back leg.
On page 69 of The Love Story of Missy Carmichael, Missy has just taken her foster dog, Bob, home for the first time, and they are becoming acquainted. Both of them are occupied with finding Bob a place to lie down. Bob favours the furniture, whereas Missy insists on the floor, but does find a blanket for the dog to lie on. They end up napping together, and there’s the sense Bob’s presence is a relaxing one, and that even as Missy falls asleep, something else has awoken in her.
It was a shame there was no fire in the grate. Maybe I’d make one up tomorrow.
It’s very strange, but I think the test really works for my book. It’s a simple, direct scene between Missy the central character, and Bob, who is the linchpin of the novel. It reflects Missy’s reluctance to foster a dog, and her lack of experience, but also gives a hint of how it’s going to work for her. I guess the only way in which it might put someone off is if it’s a reader who doesn’t like dogs. It isn’t really as ‘doggy’ a book as the page suggests. But I’d be comfortable with a browser picking that passage, as it has a nice sweet/sour mix which is reflective of the book as a whole.

Including page 70 would be an even neater insight into the book, in that it marks the end of Part One. The set-up is complete: Missy has the dog who will change her life, and next we’ll see how her world starts to open up. This section ends with a telling, brutal detail that reveals something of Missy’s history – her adoration of her grandfather, who was a hugely influential figure in her childhood:
…for the time time in my life, even since Fa-Fa told us that story about the ripper who sang nursery rhymes from the wardrobe before he cut up his victims, I hadn’t checked the cupboards before I went to sleep.

Cave canem. Beware the dog.
Missy gets Bob for protection, to make her feel safe in her home. She wants a guard dog, but what she gets is a friend – and many more friends as a result. Bob is a rescue dog, but in the end, it’s Missy who is rescued.
Visit Beth Morrey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 6, 2020

"Her Sister's Tattoo"

Ellen Meeropol is the author of the novels: Kinship of Clover (Women’s National Book Association Great Group Read, and literary fiction finalist for the Best Book Award), On Hurricane Island (semifinalist for the Massachusetts Book Award), and House Arrest. Recent essay publications include the Boston Globe, The Writer, and Guernica. Meeropol’s dramatic script telling the story of the Rosenberg Fund for Children was produced most recently in Manhattan featuring Eve Ensler, Angela Davis, and Cotter Smith. A founding member of Straw Dog Writers Guild, Meeropol leads their Social Justice Writing project. She lives in Northampton, MA.

Meeropol applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Her Sister's Tattoo, and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test works surprisingly well with Her Sister’s Tattoo, the story of two sisters caught up in the passion and choices of protesting the War in Vietnam. Rosa and Esther are arrested at a 1968 protest and charged with felonies. On page 69, Rosa is on trial. Esther, who has an infant daughter, is reluctantly testifying against her sister as part of her plea bargain to stay out of prison. This page explains the title of the book and helps develop the previously very close relationship of the sisters. Esther is on the witness stand looking at her sister, who refuses to meet her eyes.
Good thing, because Esther didn’t think she could hold her gaze if their eyes met. Rosa’s lawyer must have given her the same speech Joel recited about how dressing conventionally in court made a good impression on the jury. Rosa wore a white blouse under a loose blue cotton jumper. Her hair was gathered in a matching grosgrain ribbon and she had attached a gold circle pin to the rounded Peter Pan collar. …. Eather stifled a smile. If the jury had X-ray vision, if they could see beyond the gold-plated circle, through the blue jumper and cotton blouse, they would be shocked. Because tattooed on Rosa’s left breast was a small red star, a quarter-in in diameter. Esther knew that tattoo well; it was the twin of hers. … A tattoo is forever, she had thought. Like a sister.
Is a sister forever? What if beloved sisters react very differently to their arrest and charges? What if, when caught up in the criminal justice system, they must make impossible choices? Choices between loyalty to family, allegiance to the truth, and commitment to stopping an unacceptable war?

Rosa and Esther make choices that define their lives in very different but equally profound ways. The consequences become their daughters’ legacies as well, as the daughters try to heal the family political rift.
Visit Ellen Meeropol's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 4, 2020

"Blame the Dead"

Ed Ruggero is a West Point graduate and former Army officer who has studied, practiced, and taught leadership for more than twenty-five years. His client list includes the FBI, the New York City Police Department, CEO Conference Europe, the CIA, the Young Presidents Organization, Forbes, among many others. He has appeared on CNN, The History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and CNBC and has spoken to audiences around the world on leadership, leader development and ethics. He lives in Philadelphia.

Ruggero applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Blame the Dead, and reported the following:
This scene is from the point of view of Lieutenant Eddie Harkins, the protagonist of Blame the Dead, a former Philadelphia beat cop investigating a murder at a US Army Field Hospital in the wake of the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. By sheer coincidence he runs across a friend from the old neighborhood, Lieutenant Kathleen Donnelly, a nurse at the same hospital. Donnelly and her comrades contend with heat, dirt, chaos, the threat of imminent, violent death as well as the near-constant stream of shattered wounded coming back from the front.
“See this?” She pulled at the hair on the sides of her head. “Gray. I’m twenty-six years old.”

“The work doing that?” Harkins asked.

Donnelly raked her fingers through her hair, took a breath.

“Mostly the work. Also the lies.”

Harkins was quiet. Outside he could hear women’s voices, a vehicle going by, an inept driver grinding the clutch.

“Some of them ask ‘Am I going to die?’ And you know they are. Shot up bad or burned so that there’s nothing we can do except get some morphine into them, kill some of the pain. And when they ask me that question, I look them right in the eye and I lie to them.”

Donnelly wiped her nose with the back of her hand.

“Jesus,” she said.
This scene was inspired by two things: my experience interviewing World War Two vets, many of whom carried painful memories of their service for five decades and more; and an episode of the old TV series China Beach, which featured interviews with real-life nurses who served in Vietnam. It wasn’t always the memory of a bullet that zinged by that stuck with the riflemen, or the endless hours the women spent in surgery, blood-soaked to the elbows. Sometimes it was one simple, painful, human interaction that defined The War for them.

The rest of the book is seeded with images—sometimes a mere flash—that might become the stuff of nightmares or might be the nucleus of some happy memory.
Visit Ed Ruggero's website.

Writers Read: Ed Ruggero.

My Book, The Movie: Blame the Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 2, 2020

"The Missing Sister"

Originally from Sacramento, Elle Marr explored the urban wilderness of Southern California before spending three wine-and-cheese-filled years in France. There, she earned a master’s degree from the Sorbonne University in Paris, and discovered her love of writing novels.

Currently, she lives and writes outside Portland, Oregon, with her husband, son, and one very demanding feline; she is hard at work on her second thriller.

Marr applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Missing Sister, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The poetic sound distracts me as he pulls me to his lips. What starts out as a soft kiss deepens, becomes a passionate embrace; in the background, a street performer with an accordion plays a haunting song, and I lose myself for a moment. How long has it been since I’ve connected with someone? After my parents died, I collapsed, isolating myself in my childhood home, unable, until recently, to muster the enthusiasm to continue pursuing medical school, set adrift even from my own sister, who’d lashed out at me. I’ve been craving connection with someone even if my practical side has never acknowledged it.
This paragraph from page 69 is representative of The Missing Sister because of its snapshot of grief. Three years after the deaths of her parents, Shayna remains locked in mourning, unable to move forward. Similarly, she’s still grieving her relationship with her twin sister, a loss which occurred when Angela refused to come home from Paris for their parents’ funeral. When Shayna arrives in Paris, seeking resolution from her sister’s death, she’s hoping for the closure she never obtained. That desire for answers—for validation of choices that Shayna made and can never take back—is what drives the entire plot. Grief shows up long after we think that we’re done processing it, and often leads us to act in ways we don’t recognize of ourselves. To entertain notions of what if my loved one hadn’t died? and how would my world be different if they were still here? When the possibility arises, that Shayna might be able to answer those questions, she pursues them with a frenzy she didn’t know she possessed.
Visit Elle Marr's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

"The Everlasting"

Katy Simpson Smith was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. She received a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She is the author of We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750-1835, and the novels The Story of Land and Sea and Free Men. Her writing has also appeared in The Oxford American, Granta, Literary Hub, Garden & Gun, Catapult, and Lenny. She lives in New Orleans, and currently serves as the Eudora Welty Chair for Southern Literature at Millsaps College.

Smith applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Everlasting, and reported the following:
The Everlasting tells four different Roman stories, across four centuries, and page 69 puts us in the year 1559, amidst one of Giulia de' Medici's dilemmas: whether to sleep with her new, not-beloved husband, or to be faithful to a former lover, who has left her pregnant. Someone nailed horns over the door to their house, a signal to the owner that he's being cuckolded, and Giulia's maid swears she hasn't told anyone her lady's secret.
Giulia reached for the bowl Paola now kept on the vanity. She held it in her lap until the wave calmed. “I hadn’t heard of the horns. It’s rather clever, as long as he’s the one shamed.”

Paola rolled a stocking up her lady’s leg, her eyes still wet with fear. “You’re half of a sort of daughter to me, you know that, and I don’t fight only for my own position when I tell you to go kindly with him. You Medici think it’s a farce, but I know of men, and not a hundred thousand ducats can declaw them. If you want to call it a lie and make me leave, I will, and it’ll go easier for you.”

Giulia pulled her feet back and leaned toward the kneeling nursemaid. “If Christ himself swanned down for the second coming, I’d still choose you. That’s my opinion of men.”
I laughed when I read this section! I could tell you all day long that the book has nothing to do with male behavior and my judgment thereon, but perhaps an underlying bias shines through here. This is a book about love -- spiritual and romantic, sacred and profane -- and built within love is the possibility of disappointment. One of the central narrators is the Devil, who's still reeling from having his heart broken by God; no one is immune. Each of these characters -- a child martyr, a monk, a princess, a biologist -- is searching for a more stable meaning to their lives, some foundation that can hold them up as they're buffeted by love's vicissitudes. Sometimes that's faith; in this scene, for the irreverent Giulia, it's friendship.
Visit Katy Simpson Smith's website.

Writers Read: Katy Simpson Smith.

My Book, The Movie: The Everlasting.

--Marshal Zeringue