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