Sunday, May 31, 2020

"Birdie and Me"

J. M. M. Nuanez's debut middle grade novel, Birdie and Me, was published in February 2020 by Penguin Random House.

In her spare time, she likes to read, garden, and build miniature things. She's a committed fan of cats, pizza, and YouTube.

Nuanez applied the Page 69 Test to Birdie and Me and reported the following:
On page 69, we find our main characters, twelve-year-old Jack and her younger brother, Birdie, on the morning of their disastrous attempt to return home via an unsanctioned nine-hour Greyhound bus ride. Surprisingly, page 69 is a pretty good place to start in terms of getting a sense of the book. Both Jack and Birdie’s voices, along with their unique perspectives and desires are represented, and the constant problem of how these kids will find a place to call home is front and center.
“Half an hour?”

“Okay. We’ll eat Honey Bunny Buns when we get to the station, okay?”

He nods again and says, “How come you’re using that flashlight?”

“I’m worried Patrick will somehow see our room lights. Now remember, bring only what you can carry yourself. I’ll have my own stuff to deal with. I’m not sure if we’ll ever be back here.”

My heart skips a beat saying that out loud.

“I know. You told me last night.” Birdie switches on his own flashlight and gets out of bed. I go back to my room and finish my hair. When I’m done, I check my small duffel bag and backpack. I have to leave some clothes and books behind, but there’s nothing to do about that. We still have to walk to town, take two buses, and then once we’re in Portland, take the city bus to Mrs. Spater’s.

As I help Birdie along the side of the house, I already know Birdie is going to be too cold, but he insisted on wearing his zebra-print leggings and skirt, along with his purple jacket. He has his hair separated into two short pigtails and wears a silver and turquoise beanie, which I’ve never seen before.

“Rosie found it at the thrift shop,” he says. “Don’t worry, it’s washed.”

I put my finger to my lips as we pass in front of the house.
Although much of the story’s plot is incited by Birdie’s choice of clothes, the meat of the drama is really about Jack’s protectiveness over Birdie and her conflicted view of her recently passed mother. This all contributes to her struggle to let her new and unconventional family love her. I’m happy that her apprehension about leaving town is shown – she is determined, yes, but her skipping-heart reveals her nervousness about the decision to runaway back home. And the image of her assisting Birdie along the dark side of their estranged uncle’s house shows Jack’s sense of responsibility and desire to protect him.

All of this truly encapsulates what Jack is all about at this moment in her life.

I am also surprised to find that even Birdie’s sense of style is on display here! And even his insistence of fashion over physical comfort or practicality! While the book isn’t solely about a gender non-conforming kid, Birdie’s clothes play an important role in forcing his new unconventional family to come to grips with all the changes happening around them. Birdie continually receives a lot of (mostly unwanted) attention because of what he wears and I’m happy this important part of his personality is shining quite bright on page 69.

Overall, I think this excerpt does a great job of reflecting my desire to balance authentic, complicated and quirky characters with the sometimes inscrutable quest to find a place they can be their true and best selves. I call it a pass of the Page 69 Test!
Visit J. M. M. Nuanez's website.

Writers Read: J. M. M. Nuanez.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 29, 2020


Emily B. Martin splits her time between working as a park ranger and an author/illustrator, resulting in her characteristic eco-fantasy adventures. An avid hiker and explorer, her experiences as a ranger help inform the characters and worlds she creates on paper.

When not patrolling places like Yellowstone, the Great Smoky Mountains, or Philmont Scout Ranch, she lives in South Carolina with her husband, Will, and two daughters, Lucy and Amelia.

Martin applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Sunshield, and reported the following:
When I agreed to do the 69 test for Sunshield, I didn’t have a copy of the book with me, so I wasn’t able to see what was on the page before agreeing. When I picked up my copy and turned to the right page, I found… cattails. The protagonist is talking about cattails.

And guess what? This passage is an awesome way to get acquainted with this book.

Sunshield has three rotating narrators. On page 69, we’re hearing from Lark, the notorious Sunshield Bandit, who gives the novel its name. On this page, she’s riding through the desert from her hidden outlaw camp toward the nearest outpost to buy supplies. In the distance, a thunderstorm is brewing and she’s pondering the oncoming rain. What comes next is one of the best passages in the book to get to know Lark.
The anticipation of a good thing is always better than actually having the good thing, because good things never last. Soft blankets get gritty and threadbare. Fresh cornbread goes hard and stale if it’s not eaten quick enough. And the rain-washed desert dries up all too fast, the sudden blossoms and rushing gullies giving way back to tough plant flesh and cracked earth.

No, give me the expectation of a thunderstorm over its aftermath any day. At least when it ends, it ends in the actual event, rather than a memory.
She continues with a short summary of her ride so far, and how she took the long way to take advantage of the cattails along the river.
I’ve developed a healthy appreciation for cattails—Rose and I learned to collect the roots, shoots, and seed heads back with the rustlers. Cook used to send us into the streams to gather the heads for boiling and the roots for mashing into starch to bake into biscuits. It was one of the few chores I enjoyed, relishing the freedom to splash along the muddy banks and sit in the water to wash off the roots.

Unfortunately, we’re too late in the season for the heads to be green, and the shoots are now too tough to be tasty. But I gathered a pouch full of the fine yellow pollen that grows on the spikes of the plant—we’ll be able to mix it with the sack of cornmeal I plan to buy in Snaketown to make it stretch further.
The reason these passages are so good at introducing a reader to Sunshield is because this page, in a nutshell, illustrates Lark’s internal and external struggles. Rather than the rough-and-rowdy psyche of a classic desert bandit, here she shows she’s introspective, thrifty, and determined to care for her campmates as best as she can. She has so few good, comfortable things in her life that the promise of rain is something to be treasured, and her situation is so dire that a pouch full of cattail pollen is a hard-earned blessing.

On a grander scale, it also gives us a good look at how nature provides the underpinnings of the book—not just for Lark, but for the other two protagonists as well. The rhythms of the natural world create the heartbeat of the plot, the blueprint for the worldbuilding, and the catalyst for many of the major events. So for a solid peek into the struggles of Sunshield’s main character and the world she’s moving through, the Page 69 test absolutely checks out.
Visit Emily B. Martin's website and check out her six stunning eco-fantasies for nature lovers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 28, 2020

"Kazu Jones and the Comic Book Criminal"

Shauna M. Holyoak graduated with a master’s degree in English Literature with an emphasis in creative writing from Brigham Young University. She was a humor columnist for The Post Register from 2009 to 2017; before that her column Up in the Night ran in The River City Weekly. She lives in Idaho Falls with her husband, six of their children and two naughty dogs. Kazu Jones and the Denver Dognappers is her debut middle-grade novel.

Holyoak applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Kazu Jones and the Comic Book Criminal, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Kazu Jones and the Comic Book Criminal is the tail-end of a scene where Kazu and her friends have decided to go watch the new Blood Eagle movie together at the theater. This directly follows their first team conflict and foreshadows more discord to come which will continue to make it difficult for them to solve their case. Kazu is also struggling with a mystery at home that’s left her unsettled and distracted, and as a result, she’s accidentally worn her pajama top to school that day. Madeleine, the newest member of their team, recognizes her discomfort and offers Kazu her jacket.

While I think this snippet does encapsulate the core of the story’s two-pronged conflict, I wonder if the lack of context would make it difficult for a browser to understand and appreciate the significance of what’s happening on this page. Without seeing the team’s previous disagreement, readers can’t appreciate that their excitement about the movie date is merely a distraction from the team’s growing friction. Madeleine was somewhat of an antagonist in the first book, so her recognition of Kazu’s embarrassment and attempt to help her feel less self-conscious, is a big moment in the book. It also magnifies Kazu’s sense of powerlessness, in a way, which makes her question her ability to solve her own problems. But again, without context, I’m not sure these moments have much impact. It’s an interesting test, though, and now I want to check page 69 of my other books!

Regardless of how page 69 works to draw readers into this book, I hope that most find they’re captivated by page one as they learn of my mystery squad’s plight in trying to track down a vandal before their beloved comic book store, The Super Pickle, is targeted. This story is dedicated to all my geeky readers who love role-playing games, comic books, superhero movies, comicons and cosplay! In addition to the book’s mystery and adventure, Kazu’s story has a more tender side as she tries to uncover the sickness that has left her mother bedridden and brought her Ba-chan from Japan to help. Confused and afraid, Kazu decides to take on a second case and unravel this mystery since everyone in her family has kept her out of the loop Also, watching kids deal with conflict and disagreements in a realistic way will appeal to young readers struggling in evolving relationships themselves.
Visit Shauna Holyoak's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

"The Silence"

Susan Allott is from the UK but spent part of her twenties in Australia, desperately homesick but trying to make Sydney her home. She completed the Faber Academy course in 2017, during which she started writing The Silence. She now lives in south London with her two children and her very Australian husband.

Allott applied the Page 69 Test to The Silence and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Silence is the opening of a new chapter, formatted with the heading ‘Sydney 1967’ pushing the text almost halfway down the page. What follows, in around 200 words, is a relatively quiet moment in which Steve returns home from work and Mandy hastily stubs out her cigarette, opening the back door to release the smoke. She reflects: ‘Cigarettes were all she could think about since she’d told Steve she was going to pack them in … Another thing to lie about was all it was.’ She observes that he is singing to himself as he enters the house, and considers this a good sign. ‘He’d pulled himself together. She knew where she was with this version of her husband: upbeat, noisy, tone deaf. Long may it last.’ It’s not a dramatic encounter. Steve walks into the kitchen, puts his lunchbox on the table and asks Mandy what’s for dinner. But Mandy’s internal monologue suggests all is not as it seems. She is lying to Steve about more than the cigarettes. And he is not always the upbeat man who has walked through the door; there are different versions of him.

My first thought on applying the page 69 test to The Silence was that it might not hook a reader who knew nothing about the premise of the book. The scene is only potent when we know that Mandy’s disappearance is imminent, and that it will take 30 years for this disappearance to be investigated. Assuming the reader has not read the blurb, what they might take from page 69 is a taste of Mandy’s voice, her dry humour, her restlessness. The scene also provides a telling snapshot of this marriage: Mandy has cooked a stew; she is stationed in the kitchen for Steve’s return. But we sense he is grating on her with his tuneless singing, his disapproval of her smoking. Her fondness has a whisper of contempt.

Page 69 does provide an insight into the era Mandy inhabits, the stifling experience of the Australian 1960s housewife, although the deep misogyny of that time is perhaps not apparent without reading on. It’s a lot to ask of these short paragraphs, but I like to think the reader might be convinced by these characters, their relationship and their world. And as an introduction to a book about secrets hidden in plain sight (like the smell of a recently extinguished cigarette perhaps) this interaction between Steve and Mandy is subtly on point.

On reflection, I’m persuaded by the page 69 test. It’s not flawless, especially as the format of a book and the size of font will vary the entry point. Page 69 falls almost 25% in to the US hardback edition of The Silence, and perhaps that percentage offers a better guide. The opening paragraphs of a novel are much agonised-over, but by one quarter of the way in the prose should be less self-conscious, the characters established; the world they inhabit should feel concrete, grounded in place and time. I think The Silence passed the test, but I also think I know far too much about my own book to be a fair judge. I’d love to know what a reader with fresh eyes might make of it.
Visit Susan Allott's website.

Q&A with Susan Allott.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 25, 2020


Lev Rosen writes books for people of all ages, most recently Depth, Jack of Hearts (and other parts), and the newly released Camp. He lives in NYC with his husband and a very small cat.

Rosen applied the Page 69 Test to Camp and reported the following:
From page 69 of Camp:
"I guess your makeover really made the right impression if he pulled that story out of nowhere," George says. "Who knew little boy butch was such a closet drama diva? I mean, could you imagine what he could bring to the stage with those improv skills and that level of commitment?"

"I don't know how he thinks we won't tell you," Ashleigh says.

"After your giggling fit I wouldn't be surprised if he think you're too amused by it," George says. "Or he doesn't think we know enough about his love life to comment."

"Are you really going to go through with this?" Ashleigh asks, her voice a little hoarse from laughing. "I mean, you playing Del, him playing Hudson-not-Hal? Neither of you will get to know each other."

"I already know him," I say. "And he'll know me. Just me in different clothes."

"With different mannerisms and interests," Ashleigh says.

"Plus a very slightly lower pitch to your voice and a slower way of speaking - Oscar worthy."
Yes, I think the page 69 test works pretty well for Camp. Here we have the characters discussing the plan which is the whole plot of the book - Randy remaking himself as 'butcher' Del to win the heart of masc4masc Hudson. At this point, Hudson is also trying to present himself as someone not quite who Randy already knows he is. It's a love story of hidden identities of the 60s screwball variety, and I think this conversation sums up a lot of what's going on - will this plan work? Will it not? Doubts are here, the plan is here, plus the idea of Randy playing a part - he's a theater kid - is here. I also think the page shows the fun and funny (to some at least) dialogue - it brings the reader into who these campers are immediately, with the theater references and turns of phrase. This is a good page because you get a sense of who these kids are. The only thing not here is the queer summer camp setting, but hopefully a browser would figure that out from the title - Camp. The title refers to not just the summer camp setting, but the camped up masculinity that Randy puts on as Del. Of course, as the story goes on, Randy realizes that maybe his plan of being butch Del to win Hudson, and then easing back into himself, isn't going to go quite how he planned. But here we get Randy's confidence it'll work, and also the big problems with it laid out. So yeah, it passes the test very well.
Visit L. C. Rosen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 24, 2020

"Things You Would Know If You Grew Up Around Here"

Nancy Wayson Dinan is a native Texan who currently lives in San Jose, Costa Rica and teaches at Texas Tech University. Her work has appeared in Arts & Letters, Crab Orchard Review, the Cincinnati Review, and others. She earned her MFA from the Ohio State University in 2013 and is a PhD student in fiction at Texas Tech.

Dinan applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Things You Would Know if You Grew Up Around Here, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Things You Would Know If You Grew Up Around Here, a long-awaited storm finally arrives. The book begins with the Texas Hill Country in the grip of an historic drought, and from the beginning, the reader knows that the storms are coming, and those who lived through those times– the Memorial Day floods of 2015 – know that those storms were particularly devastating. Every river in Texas broke, whole houses floated away, and people went missing who, even now, have never been found. On page 69, the drought breaks, and the storms arrive.

But the characters in Things You Would Know don’t yet have an idea of the scope of the damage. They have just attended a wedding which, though briefly affected by the weather, went off without a hitch. On page 69, the reader learns about the scope of the damage, but this information is not yet for the characters, and they have no idea of the world in which they’re about to find themselves.

I think this page is indeed largely representative of the overall book. Thematically, it shows how the people who inhabit this region think of themselves as individuals, but how really they are part of a larger ecosystem. On this page, too, we see people struggling with nature, and this is a theme throughout the book – some of the characters are more successful in this battle than are others. This page hints, too, at the scale of the destruction – on this page there is the line: “For some people, this storm was pretty much the end of the world.” Some of the characters present at the wedding will share this fate, but they don’t yet know that. In this scene, the new reality has arrived, but nobody is yet aware.
Visit Nancy Wayson Dinan's website.

My Book, The Movie: Things You Would Know if You Grew Up Around Here.

Q&A with Nancy Wayson Dinan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 22, 2020

"Brave Girl, Quiet Girl"

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

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Brave Girl, Quiet Girl, and reported the following:
From page 69:
So I was trying to decide, but I was getting all frozen up in the deciding, because the whole thing was just too stressful for me.

Finally I figured the guy was getting away, and nothing was more important than that phone call to the police, so I unwrapped myself from her real carefully, hoping she wouldn’t wake up.

And I got extra lucky, too, because she didn’t.

I ran down the hill to the street, and ran after the guy in the work shirt, and yelled real loud to try to stop him. But the thing is, I didn’t start yelling “Hey!” until I got down onto the sidewalk, because I didn’t want my yelling to wake the baby. Because if she woke up all alone in that hole and I wasn’t even there to comfort her, holy cow would she ever be scared. I figured she would scream bloody murder if that happened.

So I was yelling to this guy but he was already at the end of the block, and I felt this really desperate thing, this desperate feeling pulling me toward him, because he could make a phone call.

But then there was this other desperate thing pulling me back toward the hole, toward our hiding place, because I shouldn’t have left the little girl alone, not even for one second. And, let me tell you, it made me feel like I was being ripped apart right down the middle of me.

I got panicky then because he wasn’t hearing me, so I put all my panic into one great big shout.


He stopped and turned around, but right away I wanted to run back up the hill in case I had woke the little girl and she was up there all alone. But I didn’t. I stuck it out for a second because we needed that phone call. We just desperately needed that phone call.

It was a lot of stress for me and I don’t think I’m built for that much stress. Or maybe nobody is, I don’t know.
I think there are a couple of different tones and aspects to this novel, and I think the page 69 test is a good indicator of one of them.

The book starts out with a lot of drama and suspense—more so than most of my titles. We have a single mother who has lost her only child—a helpless 2-year-old—in a carjacking, and a scared, desperate street teen who has found the little girl and is trying to protect her until she can get somebody to call the police. There’s a lot at stake in these early chapters. And I do think page 69 captures that feeling.

But I also want potential readers to know that the book has other levels and tones to it. It’s also about unusual friendships, and getting past our assumptions about other people. It’s about LGBT teens who end up on the street when they try to come out to their parents, and the difficulty of trusting new people when the old ones have let you down so badly.

And, like all of my novels, it’s an exploration of our responsibility toward each other.

You probably didn’t get all that from page 69, so that’s why I’m telling you.
Visit Catherine Ryan Hyde's website.

Q&A with Catherine Ryan Hyde.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 21, 2020

"What Lies Between Us"

John Marrs is an author and former journalist based in London and Northamptonshire. After spending his career interviewing celebrities from the worlds of television, film and music for numerous national newspapers and magazines, he is now a full-time author.

Marrs applied the Page 69 Test to What Lies Between Us, his seventh book, and reported the following:
Page 69 of What Lies Between Us is set twenty-five years ago in Northamptonshire, England, back when the relationship between my two protagonists Nina and Maggie was a positive one.

They are mother and daughter and while Nina’s teenage years have been rebellious and unsettling, it was once her mother who she turned to when things went wrong.

Told from Maggie’s perspective, this page follows her response to discovering Nina has suffered a miscarriage and it reveals how tender their relationship once was.
An hour passes before we move into her bedroom. And as I lay her down, her body folds in on itself like a fragile sheet of origami. I pull the duvet over her and up to her chin, then remove two painkillers from a packet, offering them to her with a glass of Lucozade. ‘Thank you,’ she mutters. It feels like so long since she last showed me gratitude for anything, so I cling to it. For the first time since her father disappeared from her life, I feel a bond between us. I love her more than anything I have ever loved or will ever love again. And nothing she does will ever change that.
However, over time and throughout my novel, Maggie gradually learns how was wrong she was when she is pushed to the brink by Nina. Today, they are a cohabiting in house with Nina living on the ground floor and Maggie on the second floor. But mother and daughter’s bond has dissolved into violence and mistrust. It’s obvious from early in the book that there is animosity between them yet every second night, they meet to share dinner on the middle floor. And within the first five chapters, we learn that for two years, Maggie has been chained up in the attic of her home by her Nina, who controls every aspect of her life.

Does this test work for my book? No, I don’t think so. Obviously I think this page works in the context of the story as a whole, and shows how there was once light even in a dark time for Nina. But as a standalone section, it doesn’t give much away about what to expect in terms of the whole story.
Visit John Marrs's website, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

"The Good Stranger"

Dete Meserve is the award-winning, bestselling author of three novels in the Kate Bradley Mystery Series: Good Sam, Perfectly Good Crime, and The Good Stranger, and a fourth standalone mystery/suspense novel The Space Between. Her first non-fiction book, Random Acts of Kindness, co-authored with journalist Rachel Greco was published in March 2019.

Meserve applied the Page 69 Test to The Good Stranger and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Good Stranger, reporter Kate Bradley, who’s just moved from Los Angeles to Manhattan to take a position at a national news network, gets a call from a clerk at Purple Payday Loans saying that a woman is there paying off strangers’ payday loans. Up until now, thousands of mysterious good things are happening throughout Manhattan but no one has any solid clues about who could be behind it. This is the first time that Kate—if she moves fast enough—could catch the person in action. And the first time she has a description of the suspected good Samaritan. The clerk tells her: “She’s got big white sunglasses. Look expensive. Her hair is covered by a red scarf. You know, like Jackie O. or some kind of old-time movie star.”

But Kate has only been in Manhattan a few weeks. How can she navigate her way across town before the woman leaves? She leans on Scott Jameson, the host of Wonders of the World, an action-filled natural wonders series, who knows “a fast way.” This is one of many ways Scott shows he’s not only a useful partner—he knows shortcuts through the city—but that he’s also willing to drop everything to join her in her quest to find the anonymous people behind these escalating gifts.

Also, page 69 is an example of the fast-paced nature of the book. When you set out to write a mystery which focuses on goodness, readers can wrongly assume that the story and writing might be treacly, slow-paced and not entertaining. Page 69 proves that you can use the familiar tricks of a “procedural”—a ticking clock, a race-across town, a first-person but obscured sighting of the suspect—and apply them to a story where we aren’t tracking a killer or robber, but someone leaving thousands of mysterious and anonymous gifts throughout Manhattan.

Page 69 also allows me to give readers a subtle hint about the person behind the mystery. By elevating her description, “…you know, like Jackie O. or some kind of old-time movie star,” I’m hoping readers find her mysterious and admirable. And finding out who she is, whether she’s working alone or with a group, and why she’s doing this will hopefully keep readers turning pages until the very end.
Visit Dete Meserve's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

"By the Book"

Debut author Amanda Sellet had a previous career in journalism, during which she wrote book reviews for The Washington Post, personal essays for NPR, and music and movie coverage for VH1. She has an M.A. in Cinema Studies from NYU and spent a year in England as au pair to an actress who has played in her share of period dramas. These days she lives in Kansas with her archaeologist husband and their daughter.

Sellet applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, By the Book: a Novel of Prose and Cons, and reported the following:
The sixty-ninth page of By the Book finds our heroine, Mary Porter-Malcolm, at a party with new friends Arden, Lydia, and Terry. It’s Mary’s first proper social outing since transferring to public high school and falling in with a more rarefied crowd, and she’s anxious to make a good impression. And yet she can’t help being herself: a person who introduces Theodore Dreiser novels into casual conversation.
I didn’t need to hear any more. “It’s like An American Tragedy.”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Lydia said. “Yes, it’s a total dick move—”

“That’s the name of a book,” I explained.

Arden pulled out her phone, swiping several times before looking up at me. “I’m ready.”

Lydia frowned at her. “What are you doing?”

“Taking notes. Go ahead, Mary.”

“It’s about this guy named Clyde, who’s really into this rich girl but figures she’s out of his league because he’s working class, so he gets together with someone from the factory where he works. Only then the rich girl does notice him, but when Clyde tries to dump his girlfriend, she tells him she’s pregnant.”

“Dang,” Arden whispered, pausing in her typing.

“That’s not all. Horrible, wishy-washy Clyde takes the poor pregnant girl sailing, and she ends up drowning.”

“He murdered her, didn’t he?” Terry asked.

“That part is sort of ambiguous. In his mind it was an accident, but Clyde isn’t the most self-aware guy on the planet. He spent the first part of the day thinking how great it would be if she wasn’t around anymore, and the second part not trying very hard to save her when she fell overboard.”

Lydia narrowed her eyes at Preston, the Perfumed Philanderer, who was demonstrating his virility by hoisting his non-girlfriend in the air. “Tell me he didn’t get away with it.”

I drew a finger across my neck.
This snippet offers a telling snapshot of the four major characters and their group dynamic. Mary backs up her snap judgments with classic lit; Arden is constantly on the lookout for inspiring life lessons; Lydia combines skepticism with a thirst for justice; and Terry sees the world as a crime scene waiting to happen. Although By the Book is generally classified as a rom-com, friendship carries equal weight in the plot, so I’d chalk this up as a win for the predictive power of the Page 69 Test.

Also present in this selection is one of my favorite running gags: Mary offering highly subjective plot summaries of classic novels, like a one-woman SparkNotes. These were cathartic to write, especially for books I personally found crazy-making, such as Wuthering Heights or Tess of the D’Urbervilles, plus the above-mentioned Dreiser, memorably assigned as summer reading my sophomore year of high school, alongside Moby Dick and The Grapes of Wrath. Definitely not the most light-hearted week of my vacation!
Visit Amanda Sellet's website.

Q&A with Amanda Sellet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 18, 2020

"The Resolutions"

Brady Hammes lives in Los Angeles by way of Colorado and Iowa. His short stories have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Guernica, The Rattling Wall, and Harper Perennial’s Forty Stories Anthology. His debut novel The Resolutions is now out from Ballantine/Random House.

He’s also an Emmy-Award winning documentary film editor whose most recent project, Tom vs. Time - about NFL quarterback Tom Brady - won a 2018 Sports Emmy. Before that, he edited the feature film Social Animals, which had its world premiere at the 2018 SXSW film festival.

Hammes applied the Page 69 Test to The Resolutions and reported the following:
From page 69:
The winter production of Long Day’s Journey was a first for the theater, considerably darker than most of their previous work, feel-good puff like Annie or The Sunshine Boys. Mariana was worried it might be a struggle to draw the kind of crowds needed to square the bank account, which was why his involvement was so crucial. At least she’d have a name to hang on the marquee, though Gavin doubted many of the town’s residents would recognize a part-time player from a recently canceled show on a second-tier cable network. He’d done some research online, and for a community theater it seemed reputable enough; lots of poorly photographed headshots of the principal actors, a calendar of events with links to future productions. There was even a write-up in the Albuquerque Tribune, the theater critic calling a recent production of Our Town delightfully unexpected, praising Mariana’s empathetic direction. And if it were terrible, he’d find some excuse for why he couldn’t return after the holidays, though his conversation with Mariana gave him hope that it might be pretty good, certainly more satisfying than his previous role as an executive assistant with dreams of becoming a folk singer.

He passed into central Arizona, the sun setting behind him, a collection of clouds building up ahead. He was a hundred miles from Flagstaff, where he planned to treat himself to a beer and a nice dinner. Before the trip, he imagined stopping at roadside diners, chatting with locals and documenting his journey through photographs, but thus far his only meal was at the Jack in the Box in Needles, California, where he ate a hamburger while watching a Styrofoam cup blow across an empty parking lot.
Gavin, a fledgling actor in Los Angeles, is driving from LA to New Mexico to take part in a community theater production after his television show is cancelled. He’s at a crossroads in his life, and he’s desperate for some kind of creative fulfillment. I’m not sure this page is a great representation of the novel because one might assume this theater production is somehow central to the story, whereas it’s just a passing moment in his life. He ends up leaving the production after a falling out with the director, then makes his way back to Chicago, where he reunites with his siblings. However, the second paragraph does give a glimpse into his emotional state, which is one of disillusionment and loneliness, and those ideas are central to his story. So I'd say that narratively this probably isn’t terribly accurate, though it does hint at the character’s emotional state.
Visit Brady Hammes's website.

Q&A with Brady Hammes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 16, 2020

"Dear Universe"

Florence Gonsalves is the author of two books of young adult fiction, Love and Other Carnivorous Plants and Dear Universe. In 2015 she graduated from Dartmouth College where she majored in Philosophy, while taking as many poetry classes as she could. Her work experience ranges from publishing in NYC, to farming in Maine, to one really bad holiday shift at UPS. She currently lives in Portland, Maine.

Gonsalves applied the Page 69 Test to Dear Universe and reported the following:
Not to brag, but it’s like my book was made to ace the Browser’s test. If readers open to page 69 of Dear Universe they’ll get a perfectly accurate idea of what the book is about. The scene opens with the “weird” guy from Cham’s school visiting her house to see her dad because this schoolmate is a hospital volunteer. This is both Cham’s worst nightmare and the root of her dilemma: how to keep her two worlds from merging.
I close the door behind Brendan. My chest is full of horses. They’re trampling me in their race to keep these people and places separate. Brendan comes from the world of things happening, and this is the world of things I can’t believe are happening. And yet here he is, holding out his hot drinks, and it’s their steam that’s crossing over first, from that world into this.

Dear Universe,

Wanted: A giant claw to come down and pluck Brendan from my house because he is an intruder from my other world and home is my other other world, which is only safe for me, my family and carpenter ants, which are like family given that they eat all our food.
On page 69 we see Cham getting smooshed as her worlds collide. Brendan ends up being a beautiful bridge between her home life and her school life, helping her to open up in ways she couldn’t imagine and wouldn’t want to imagine. Still, it takes a lot for Cham to let him in, both into her house during this scene and also emotionally. That Brendan does get in despite Cham’s resistance– think angry-outbursts, fights with friends, and some good old-fashioned crying – is one of my favorite parts of the story.
Visit Florence Gonsalves's website.

Q&A with Florence Gonsalves.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 15, 2020

"Little Voices"

Vanessa Lillie has fifteen years of marketing and communications experience and enjoys organizing book events and literary happenings in the Providence, Rhode Island area. Originally from Oklahoma, Lillie calls Providence, Rhode Island home with her husband and sloth obsessed son.

Her debut thriller, Little Voices, was an Amazon bestseller and number one psychological thriller for all of September 2019. Little Voices received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal as well as must-read lists in Real Simple, Refinery29, Cosmopolitan UK, and Bookish. It was also named one of the best debut thrillers of 2019 by Bolo Books.

Lillie applied the Page 69 Test to Little Voices and reported the following:
From page 69:
Ten minutes later, I return to him in the kitchen. Ester is slumped in the crook of his arm as he sips coffee with the other hand.

“Careful,” I snap, letting my nerves out on this silly situation. “You could burn her.”

“I’ve got it,” he says, defensive as I quickly take her back into my arms.

I nuzzle her as anxiety punches my gut until it finally deflates into embarrassment. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m nervous.”

He raises his eyebrows.

“No, I’ll drive myself.”

He bows his head to the side as if he knew I’d say that. “Call me when you’re back. Tell Dr. Lauren hello.”

I kiss him on his smoothly shaven cheek before he can notice my eyes filling with tears.

I really do hate lying to him.
This passage makes me smile because that moment between a husband and wife and the coffee came from my own postpartum experience. I walked into the kitchen and my husband was holding our baby and sipping his coffee, and I made myself not snatch the baby out of his hands.

However, that’s where the similarities end. In this scene, the main character, Devon, is lying to her husband. She promised to go to therapy, but is pretending that's why she's leaving her house for the first time since she returned from the hospital after giving birth. Instead, she's going to investigate the murder of her friend. This is a journey of not only finding justice, but also rediscovering the person Devon was before the baby.

It feels right that a small part of this scene is rooted in my real, post-baby life. I wrote Little Voices as a new mom who wanted to see motherhood at the heart of a thriller. Taking my own struggles and emotions as a scared new parent, I amplified and fictionalized them on the page.
Visit Vanessa Lillie's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 14, 2020


Jen Calonita is the author of the Secrets of My Hollywood Life series and other books like Sleepaway Girls and I'm with the Band. Fairy Tale Reform School and Royal Academy Rebels are her first two middle-grade series.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Cursed, and reported the following:
I've failed my test.

I hate failing tests!

But here I am, failing this one because while Page 69 of Cursed gives away an important kernel of information about the final book in the Fairy Tale Reform School series, it does not tell the whole plot. If a reader turned to page 69, they'd find a chapter titled "Pearls of Wisdom," and this information written by our former thief heroine, Gilly:
My grandmother seems to want to talk to anyone but me. She even made me leave the magic mirror that links us to FTRS on her porch. ("I won't have people eavesdropping on me!")
An interesting line indeed! Gilly has a grandma who hates snoops! And here's why: Gilly's grandma is a reclusive fairy that Gilly, Jax, Jocelyn, Maxine, Ollie, Kayla, Allison Grace and the crew must hunt down because she may have information about Rumplestiltskin and Alva (aka the wicked fairy from Sleeping Beauty) that could help them stop a curse that would rewind time in Enchantasia and make villains the leaders. Did I mention that Gilly's impressionable younger sister Anna is with Rumplestiltskin at this moment and seems to be evil? Or that the kids are still being forced to do homework while on the run from dangerous gargoyles?

Cursed is my wrap up to this series that I adore and there was so much I wanted to pack into pages like page 69 giving the reader glimpse of the future beyond the book while staying true to characters that I've grown to love and admire over the past few years. I hope this glimpse at page 69 has you wanting to read more. Happy reading!
Visit Jen Calonita's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jen Calonita and Captain Jack Sparrow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

"Dark Tomorrow"

Reece Hirsch is the author of six thrillers that draw upon his background as a privacy attorney. Black Nowhere and Dark Tomorrow feature FBI Special Agent Lisa Tanchik, who investigates cybercrime. His first book, The Insider, was a finalist for the 2011 International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel. His next three books, The Adversary, Intrusion, and Surveillance, all feature former Department of Justice cybercrimes prosecutor Chris Bruen. Hirsch is a partner in the San Francisco office of an international law firm and cochair of its privacy and cybersecurity practice.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Dark Tomorrow and reported the following:
From page 69:
Natalya had hoped to gain leverage over Phil in order to either use him to extract sensitive DOD data or infect his software to destroy US government systems. In an ideal scenario, her bosses might be able to plant a defect in a US cyberweapon developed by Claremont that would render it useless precisely when the Americans needed it the most. But playing the long game with Phil had ceased to be a priority now that the full-on attack was underway.

Unfortunately for Phil.

“And if the blackout weren’t enough, three of my top developers delivered a letter to me today objecting to the use of our technologies for military purposes,” Phil was saying, brandishing a fork. “I mean, they knew what they were signing up for. Making cyberweapons is what we do.”

“They should be grateful to have a good job at a growing company like yours,” said Natalya, nodding sympathetically.


“You’re defending America.”

“Well, we’re actually more on the offensive side of things. But yeah. In some ways it’s the same thing. A good offense is the best defense.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to try to explain the big picture to them. I shouldn’t have to, but I will. I mean, it’s not like we’re making napalm. You heard the president’s speech, right?” He didn’t wait for her response. “If we can’t attack whoever did this, then how will we deter anyone from doing it again?”

“It’s a new arms race, isn’t it?”

“You’re damn straight it is. And you can’t see another country’s cyberwarfare capabilities the way you used to be able to spot missile silos with satellites...”

Natalya stayed silent, hoping that he would just keep talking. Even on this, their final night together, there was still the possibility that she might gather one last piece of valuable intelligence.
For once, the Page 69 test doesn’t quite work for my thriller Dark Tomorrow. I wouldn’t say that page 69 entirely misrepresents the overall tone of my book, but it’s not the most representative sample because it does not include my protagonist and there are no obvious thrills. Dark Tomorrow is the second book in my series featuring FBI Special Agent Lisa Tanchik, who investigates cybercrime.

In Dark Tomorrow, Lisa’s pursuit of a hacker leads to her involvement in US Cyber Command’s response to a massive cyberattack targeting the East Coast. The excerpt above focuses on NatalyaX, a Russian sleeper agent who has developed a relationship with Phil Memmott, the young CEO of Claremont Systems, a government contractor that develops cyberweapons. Natalya is having dinner with Phil just before she ends her relationship with Phil – and ends Phil.

On closer inspection, however, the excerpt does, like a lot of my work, draw upon real issues from the technology industry. One significant flaw in our nation’s cyber defense is the fact that it relies upon government contractors to develop its sophisticated weapons, and the security of those contractors is not as strong as that of the Pentagon itself. That weakness was evidenced when Edward Snowden, then a contractor with Booz Allen, revealed NSA secrets. In this excerpt, Phil complains that his young tech workers have moral qualms about developing offensive cyberweapons for the US government. That is a very real tension that is playing out at some of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies.

So, while this snippet is not particularly suspenseful (although Phil isn’t long for this world), it does reflect my attempt to provide readers with a painless and jargon-free introduction to some cutting-edge cybersecurity issues while they’re turning the pages of a fast-paced thriller.
Visit Reece Hirsch's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Insider.

The Page 69 Test: Surveillance.

The Page 69 Test: Black Nowhere.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 11, 2020

"The Secrets of Bones"

Kylie Logan is the national bestselling author of the Jazz Ramsey Mysteries, The League of Literary Ladies Mysteries, the Button Box Mysteries, the Chili Cook-Off Mysteries, and the Ethnic Eats Mysteries.

Logan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Secrets of Bones, the second Jazz Ramsey Mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“So what...” Juliette was so afraid of the answer, she could barely get out the words of her question. “What are you doing to do?”

“Me?” Jazz left Titus right where he was and picked up the other cat. “I’m going to take this cat back to Juliette’s where he belongs. Then I’m going to come back here to school, and when I get here I better find the three of you talking to Sister Eileen and Ms. Quinn, explaining what you did and why you did it.”


Jazz cut off Cammie with a glare. “And you know what else you’re going to do? After the last bell rings today, you three are going to meet me right here. I’ll have Frank get some gloves and some shovels. You three are going to bury Titus.”
Here’s what’s going on…Jazz Ramsey (the heroine) has found out that three of the girls at the school where she works are pulling a prank on a teacher they don’t like. They have done a switcheroo, taking a sick cat the teacher has been tending and replacing it with a look-alike well cat in order to make the teacher (who is very religious) believe her prayers have been answered. When Jazz discovers what’s going on and the sick cat dies, Jazz metes out a unique punishment.

By reading this page would readers get a good idea of what The Secrets of Bones is about? I’m going to have to say, probably not. Because what’s going on is a flashback intended to convey not only the personality of the teacher who’s being pranked, but the way her students treated her. This is a teacher who’s been missing for three years and finding out what she was really like is vital to the story, but again, it’s a flashback, so not actually happening in “real” story time. The page does, though, help the reader to get to know Jazz better. She senses the girls are up to something, follows her instincts, and uncovers the truth. She’s an animal lover and she’s appalled at what the girls did. She’s also sensitive to the fact that what they did is going to hurt Ms. Quinn, the teacher they pranked, and so, it makes her more determined to figure out what happened to Bernadette Quinn and that is the heart of the story.
Visit Kylie Logan's website.

Q&A with Kylie Logan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 10, 2020

"A Mother's Lie"

Sarah Zettel is an award-winning author. She has written more than thirty novels and multiple short stories over the past twenty-five years, in addition to hiking, cooking, stitching all the things, marrying a rocket scientist, and raising a rapidly growing son.

Zettel applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, A Mother's Lie, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Then there was the sitting there with her jeans and panties around her ankles and staring at the stupid stick while the stupid little plus sign formed in the stupid little window.

Beth remembered getting dressed, and looking at the stick again. Yes, it was still a plus sign. She flushed, and went out into her bedroom. She sat on the edge of her bed.

The sun had broken through San Fransisco’s semi-permanent cloud cover, and a beam fell on the ends of her toes. They were a mess of cracked red enamel. Doug, for reasons known only to himself, had decided he wanted to try painting her toenails, and she hadn’t been able to hold still because he’d kept tickling her.

She looked around her apartment. She looked at her messed up toes and at the sky outside her window. She exhaled.

“Okay,” she said to the empty bedroom and the new clump of cells busily dividing inside her. “Okay, I guess we’re doing this.”

Why that choice and that time? She didn’t know. There had been a couple of other times when she’d made different decisions. She’d even looked into getting her tubes tied. She did spend a couple of nights bawling through the kind of panic attack she’d thought she’d put behind her, but she never seriously tried to change her mind.

She called Doug, and she told him, and he listened and said it was a lot to process and could he call back tomorrow? She told him yes, because she figured that would be the most pain-free option.

She was right.

Three days later, she still hadn’t heard back, so she called again. She got his voice mail. She checked her…
Is this page a good example of what’s in the book? Not really. The book is domestic suspense, with an emphasis on the action, and the interaction between members of Beth’s family. What this page does, however, is vital to establishing Beth’s character, and how she came to motherhood. It is also vital to helping cement the reader’s understanding of the character of the father of her child, who does play an important role in upcoming events.

For Beth, although she does not fully realize it at the time, the decision to go forward with having a baby is a decision to more fully trust herself. She has built a life for herself. That life is sound enough and stable enough that she can bring a new person into to it. Here, Beth not only accepts that this new person, and her life, will grow and change together, in ways she cannot currently predict, she embraces it. Doug, the father, cannot accept that reality, and so he runs from it.
Visit Sarah Zettel's website.

Q&A with Sarah Zettel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 9, 2020

"Last Girls"

Demetra Brodsky is an award-winning art director and designer turned writer. She has a B.F.A. from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and lives in Southern California with her family of four and two lovable rescue dogs. Dive Smack, her debut YA thriller, is dedicated to the Monarch butterfly she once saved from the brink of death.

Brodsky applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Last Girls, and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test worked beautifully for me. Due to Covid-19 there is a delay in shipping so I'm using the ARC (Advance Reader's Copy), but on page 69 of Last Girls, my sophomore novel, we get to see Dieter Ackerman, the villain in the story more clearly. He is of course introduced early on, but here we experience the tension that he puts on the members that reside on the secret prepper compound where he is the leader. There is a group meeting being held because one of the members (Daniel) failed on a mission and brought unwanted attention to their coalition, and Dieter is chastising everyone involved with the mission he assigned for their lack of good judgement. Any attention focused on the group could expose their location and operations. The main character Honey shows her fear for her sister Birdie's safety during this scene because it is Birdie and Daniel who are at the focal point for speculation.

Here is a quote from the page:
"Earlier today," Dieter starts, "it was brought to my attention that certain coalition members sent on a level on civilian interaction training mission were not as discreet as instructed. The OPTEMPO was too fast. Too rash. And unsanctioned distraction methods were used. Because of that, we're going to change the way we do a few things until the scent clinging to our location and operation dies down. Most everyone involved extricated themselves from the situation. Except Daniel, who was left holding the bag. Metaphorically speaking."

Holding Birdie's bag. Holding Birdie's bag. Holding Birdie's bag.
That's all I can give your readers without spoilers. I hope you love reading about the Juniper sisters as much I loved writing their story.
Learn more about Last Girls at Demetra Brodsky's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Demetra Brodsky & L.B. and Ponyboy Curtis.

Q&A with Demetra Brodsky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 8, 2020

"Have You Seen Me?"

Kate White is the New York Times bestselling author of fourteen novels of suspense: six standalone psychological thrillers, including Have You Seen Me? and eight Bailey Weggins mysteries.

For fourteen years she served as the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, and though she loved the job (and all the freebies to be found in the Cosmo beauty closet!), she decided to leave eight years ago to concentrate full time on being a suspense author.

White applied the Page 69 Test to Have You Seen Me? and reported the following:
Page 69, excerpt:
As the Uber driver zigzags west and north toward the Central Park–Seventy-Ninth Street transverse, I realize I feel even more wired than I did before the session. Jittery, unable to stop gnawing on my thumb. Or keep a zillion questions from ricocheting in my head.

My agitation, I realize, is due in part to my returning home empty-handed. On some level I’d allowed myself to believe that the session today would be a magic bullet, kick-starting my memory. But as Erling stressed, it might take time for memories to be recovered. Did she mean days? I wonder. Or weeks? I can’t stand the thought of being in the dark for so long.

There’s something else eating at me, too. The memory of Jaycee Long refuses to loosen its grip on me.

It’s not as if I didn’t obtain all the help I needed at the time. I had six months’ worth of weekly sessions with a child psychologist, an intent listener who for some reason always wore a shawl pinned around the shoulders of her blazer.

And it wasn’t as if the bad thing had really happened to me. I was simply a bystander, a nine-year-old who took a shortcut….
I have to say that page 69 of Have You Seen Me? would definitely give a casual browser a good sense of what my thriller is all about and hopefully make them want to read it.

The book opens on a cold, rainy morning with Ally Linden arriving at her office soaked to the bone, only to realize she’s forgotten her key card and needs someone to let her in. When her boss shows up a short time later, he’s shocked to see her because, he explains, she hasn’t worked at the company in five years. Ally has no idea why she’s there.

During a trip to the psychiatric ER, Ally learns she’s been in a “dissociative” fugue state, and though some of her memory soon returns, she's still missing two whole days. As she tries frantically to figure out where she’s been, it becomes more and more clear that something terrible happened in those forty-eight hours--and someone will stop at nothing to make sure she doesn’t learn the truth.

Page 69 of my book lets the browser see how desperate Ally is to regain her memory of those missing days, and how frustrated she feels that even the appointment she just had with a therapist yielded no clues.

It also introduces a detail that’s only been hinted at until now. That Ally is still haunted by an experience she had when she was nine: finding the body of a murdered two-year old girl named Jaycee Long.

As the book progresses from this point, and as Ally searches for the truth, both Ally and the reader will begin to wonder if what happened to her during the missing two days is connected in some unknown way to her shocking experience as a child.
Visit Kate White's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

"The Last Summer of Ada Bloom"

Martine Murray is an award-winning novelist and illustrator. She was born in Melbourne and now lives in Castlemaine, Victoria.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Last Summer of Ada Bloom, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Last Summer of Ada Bloom is the end of a conversation between Martha and her daughter Tilly, in which Martha, having returned to a house in which a fateful night has, unbeknownst to all, changed the lives of each family member in different ways, wakes and chastises Tilly, for sleeping in. What is apparent to the reader, but not to Martha, is that her anger is inflated by the fact of Tilly’s youth, both for the freedom and beauty conferred and her seeming insouciance, in the face of Martha’s lack of freedom and fading beauty. There is a feeling of weariness in Tilly’s responses, which suggests this sort of treatment is commonplace. This “plunges Martha into a sudden tumult of yearning for her own youth and the familiar tang of regret that she had lost it. Tilly had drained it out of her and taken it all for herself.”

Given the book is a lot about the potential claustrophobia of the family unit, especially a dysfunctional one, I imagine this scene may touch on the tone of the novel, without really hitting any key narrative movements or revelations. And given there are lurking secrets, betrayals, desires etc, there would be pages that could be way more revelatory or spicy or leading. If you like the psychological twists and turns in relationships, no matter how intricate, you could get a sense from this page, that this novel will bear witness to those. Perhaps a sort of interiority is characteristic. Or a bringing forward of the unconscious processes that make us who we are, or of those unconscious bargains unwittingly struck and perpetrated by parents to children, by spouse to spouse, sibling to sibling and by community to outsider. This page perhaps shows that the female characters, in this family, are each poised on the brink of a life change they are ill equipped for. I do love an ill equipped character, and when they are mutually ill equipped the problems escalate. The odd coincidence about the possibility of this page being revelatory of the whole novel is that it lands on the mother and daughter, whose relationship was the initial starting point for exploring this as a story. It quickly became bigger than that, but this page has at least landed at the core of that burgeoning.
Visit Martine Murray's website.

The Page 69 Test: Molly & Pim and the Millions of Stars.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

"The Last Blue"

Isla Morley grew up in South Africa during apartheid. She is the author of Come Sunday, which won the Janet Heidinger Prize for Fiction and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize. Her novel Above was an IndieNext pick, and Best Buzz Book, and a Publishers Weekly Best New Book. She lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband, daughter, three cats, and five tortoises.

Morley applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Last Blue, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I know what some in town say about you, we hold none of those opinions. In fact, I think you are remarkable.” He goes on calling her this and that, making out like she is snow in July.

“I’m just blue, mister. That’s all.”

“Yes, blue,” he says, as though he has just now put his finger on it.
Imagine you have hiked into a remote, inhospitable wilderness where few have ever explored, and by chance come across a young woman with shocking blue skin, someone who seems to be from a bygone era. How would you react? You’d been warned to avoid the area, but you didn’t believe the rumors that deep in the forest lived the remnant of a diseased and dangerous colony, a peculiar breed of people who preyed on outsiders. Before you now, though, is proof of something almost otherworldly. Nobody back in your office in Cincinnati, Ohio, will believe you if you return with a story of blue people. But your partner has a camera, and lucky for you it’s 1937, which means color film has just been invented.

How dangerous is she? Is her malady infectious? Apart from blue skin, she appears to be healthy. Her brother, also blue as a bruised plum, has a shotgun and looks like he’d welcome the chance to use it, especially if a camera was pointed his way.

This is the predicament of Ulys Massey and Clay Havens, documentarians for the U.S. government. Instead of sticking to their assignment to document the plight of the coalminers of eastern Kentucky, they now see in these blue-skinned people a subject fitting for a cover story of National Geographic, their ticket to publishing success. First, they must avoid getting themselves shot. Next, they have to win their trust. As targets of prejudice and superstition their whole lives, Jubilee and Levi Buford know that they have only survived this long by avoiding all contact with outsiders. Welcome to page 69, where this first tense exchange takes place.

The Last Blue is inspired by the real-life case of “The Blue People of Kentucky.”
Learn more about the book and author at Isla Morley's website.

Writers Read: Isla Morley.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Blue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 3, 2020

"Tornado Brain"

Cat Patrick and her family live near Seattle but spend as much time as possible four hours west setting marshmallows on fire and tangling kites in the curious town of Long Beach. There, Tornado Brain was born.

Patrick is the author of several books for young adults including Summer 2011 Kids Indie Next List pick Forgotten, which sold in 23 countries; ALA 2013 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers selection Revived; and others. Tornado Brain is her middle grade debut.

Patrick applied the Page 69 Test to Tornado Brain and reported the following:
Page 69 of Tornado Brain is part of an important scene just after the main character, Frankie, a neurodivergent middle schooler, visits the police station in her town of Long Beach, Washington. Frankie’s former best friend Colette has gone missing. Police are trying to uncover clues about what happened to Colette by speaking to several of her classmates, including Frankie.

I didn’t know what to expect when I agreed to this test! That said, I’m pleased to have discovered that opening Tornado Brain to page 69 does give readers a good sense of the book overall. The page helps readers learn about Frankie’s personality—and lack of filter—as well as about Frankie’s delicate relationships with her mom and sister. In addition, it features a quirky piece of art that’s signature Long Beach. Finally, it could be considered the tip of the iceberg in terms of the book’s mystery.

The mystery is what came first with Tornado Brain. I wrote a different young adult book more than seven years ago that had a similar premise: a former best friend gone missing. I didn’t love that book, but I did love the mystery. I held it tight until later, after I’d encountered Long Beach, and later still, when I met Frankie in my mind. Tornado Brain is the result of years of inspiration coming together, and I sincerely hope readers enjoy meeting Frankie and exploring her hometown.
Visit Cat Patrick's website.

Q&A with Cat Patrick.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 2, 2020

"Roar Back"

John Farrow is the pen name of Trevor Ferguson, who has written numerous novels and plays, all to extraordinary acclaim. His Émile Cinq-Mars crime series has been published around the world and cited by Booklist as "one the best series in crime fiction today," while Die Zeit in Germany suggested that it might be the best series ever.

Farrow applied the Page 69 Test to Roar Back, the newest novel in the Émile Cinq-Mars series, and reported the following:
A fun test, especially as Page 69 of Roar Back provides a glimpse into the novel at an intriguing moment. In a complex tale that moves from petty crime into major gang machinations that demand the involvement of multiple police forces, the page offers a simple cop-and-suspect exchange. My detective is questioning a teenager following a rash of burglaries which, when investigated, yielded a murder. One young man says he slept through it all. Cinq-Mars is not convinced that he did.
‘Did you see anybody marking doors with yellow chalk?’


‘Anybody hanging around lately who looked suspicious?’

‘Everybody looks suspicious.’

‘Try not to be a smart-ass, OK? You’ve been good until now. Don’t start.’

‘OK. No. I haven’t seen anybody look more suspicious than usual. Why ask me?’

‘Because half a squad of cops went through your apartment. You could barely open an eyelid. Makes it look as though you knew what was going on. That you didn’t need to ask.’
On the page, Cinq-Mars will assess him and try to penetrate the young person’s attitudes and culture to see what that might reveal.
‘Anyone come around trying to recruit kids like you?’

‘Kids like me?’

‘Kids in general.’

He shrugged. ‘The usual. If that’s what you mean.’

‘What’s the usual?’

‘Pedophiles. Pushers. The usual.’
Cinq-Mars finds it interesting that he uses the word pedophiles rather than a slur. He then asks if he’ll help him out if anyone attempts to recruit young thieves, and he tries to create a positive connection by discussing the boy’s habit of using a tree limb for chin-ups.
‘How many chin-ups can you do?’

The boy looked across at the maple. ‘Thirty. The bark cuts into my hands or I’d do more.’

‘Then I won’t challenge you. I could blame the bark, but you’re doing too many for me.’
This is the first of a number of talks between the two of them as Cinq-Mars figures out the youth’s place in the midst of everything. He will try out various conjectures and ultimately be surprised at how the matter shakes down with the boy and his dad. At this moment in the novel Cinq-Mars is at an early stage and determining if his relationship with this youth and others will be adversarial or cooperative. The writer, at least, enjoyed their talks.
Visit John Farrow's website and Trevor Ferguson's Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 1, 2020

"Vera Violet"

Melissa Anne Peterson grew up in a rainy working-class logging town in Washington State. She received a BA and BS in writing and biology from The Evergreen State College and an MS from the University of Montana. She has worked in endangered species recovery in Washington and Montana for twelve years. Her writing has been published by Camas, Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment, Oregon Quarterly, and Seal Press.

Peterson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Vera Violet, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Vera Violet is at the beginning of a chapter, so it’s short. The novel’s protagonist, Vera, reminisces about the rugged landscape she grew up in, “I thought about swimming in bright blue Lake Cushman. I imagined fishing for steelhead in the Wynoochee River. I knew the water in the Chehalis ran vivid and green. In my mind, I walked and walked and never stopped dreaming.”

Later on the page, she analyzes her relationship with her brother, “Colin and I walked everywhere. We walked uptown and down. We sat in the All Night Diner for too long. We ordered one cup of coffee between us—paid for it with nickels and quarters.”

I think the page 69 test works perfectly for the book in three ways. First it shows Vera’s constant longing for home combined with the twisted complexity of her relationship with it. Next it shows that Vera is a dreamer processing trauma, and lastly it highlights the importance of her relationship with her troubled brother.

All of these things are central themes in the book.

When Vera recalls fond memories of Pacific Northwest fish and rivers it contrasts sharply with post logging environmental degradation. Watching the ecosystem fracture as fish die changes Vera. It makes her angry at the unregulated capitalism that caused such damage. Observing her parents lose social and economic power after logging became unprofitable, also makes her feel that everything she loves is vulnerable.

Vera is also a romantic reeling from a brutal reality check. The book delves into the psychology of poverty and Vera’s desperate and nervous attempt to escape from it. She keeps her own unspoken, endangered dreams of economic and social utopia. She can only imagine this paradise after violent and irrevocable change.

Change she doesn’t know how to make.

The last thing the page 69 test does is explore her connection to her brother, Colin. After her mother leaves and her father succumbs to despair, Vera becomes very close to her brother. Together, they navigate drug-riddled poverty and watch as one by one, friends and family fall to violence, prison, or addiction.

In a larger context, the page is set in the uncertain present looking back at worrisome memories. Page 69 captures the beauty, confusion, isolation, and love that recur throughout the story.
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--Marshal Zeringue