Thursday, July 30, 2020

"The Do-Over"

Jennifer Honeybourn is a fan of British accents, Broadway musicals, and epic, happily-ever-after love stories. If she could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, she’d have high tea with Walt Disney, JK Rowling, and her nana. She lives in Stratford, Ontario with her husband, daughter and cat in a house filled with books.

Honeybourn applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Do-Over, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I guess it’s better then hanging out by myself in my room,” Violet says.

“It’s definitely better than that.” He gives her a quick hug. “I’d better get back to stocking aisle three. Those boxes of floor polish aren’t going to unpack themselves.”

He walks away, whistling. But then he stops and turns back around, pushes his mop of dark hair out of his eyes. “Look, I know you think she was the one, but I don’t,” he says. “Now, I think you’re just remembering the good stuff. Next time you look back, I really think you should look again.”

“Huh?” Violet says.

“It’s from Five Hundred Days of Summer.” I smile. One of Alistair’s favorite movies.

Violet rolls her eyes. “Of course it is,” she says, but she’s smiling too.
I think the test worked! In this scene, Alistair is letting his heartbroken friend Violet know that he doesn’t think Avery, her ex-girlfriend, was the one for her, and that fits with the essence of the book. In The Do-Over, Emelia makes a choice between two potential love interests — Alistair, her friend, and Ben, the popular guy. She chooses Ben, but ultimately realizes he isn’t the one for her, so she finds a magical solution to go back in time and choose Alistair instead. The quote from Five Hundred Days of Summer — “I know you think she was the one, but I don’t” — reflects that choice Emelia made, especially because Alistair said almost the same thing to her when she chose Ben over him.
Visit Jennifer Honeybourn's website.

My Book, The Movie: Just My Luck.

The Page 69 Test: Just My Luck.

My Book, The Movie: The Do-Over.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

"Marah Chase and the Fountain of Youth"

Jay Stringer was born in 1980, and he’s not dead yet. He’s the author of crime fiction, action thrillers, and dark comedies. Stringer’s work has been shortlisted for two Anthonys, the McIlvanney Prize, and a Derringer award. He is dyslexic and learned the sound of storytelling long before he could read the words.

Stringer applied the Page 69 Test to his latest book, Marah Chase and the Fountain of Youth, and reported the following:
In Marah Chase and the Fountain of Youth, rogue archaeologist Marah Chase is in a race to find the mythical Fountain before a group of modern Nazis, who want the water to further their eugenics plan.

Page 69 takes up mid-conversation, between Marah Chase and soda billionaire Lauren Stanford, who has summoned Chase to a meeting to talk about the Fountain of Youth. On page 68 they discuss the myth that Ponce de León went in search of the fountain…
“Except he didn’t. Historians have found no genuine mention of the fountain, or the pool, in any of de León’s writings, or any other documents from the time. There’s nothing at all to suggest he’d even heard of it. The best we can figure, the next generation of politicians, wanting to consolidate their own power, created the story to make him look like a gullible fool who’d been tricked by natives. It’s just an old political smear job, passed into myth.”

Lauren nodded. She sipped her drink, looking like she was processing everything Chase had said. “That’s all good so far. But where did they get the myth from? These politicians, when they were looking to make Ponce de León look like an idiot, why did they choose the Fountain of Youth? How would it resonate as a fool’s errand if it wasn’t already a legend?”

Chase blinked. Once, twice. She’d underestimated Lauren.

“Good question,” she said. “The idea of some kind of magical well, or water, is a lot older than the settling of America. Lots of cultures have a version of it. Europe, Africa, Asia. It’s a pretty basic idea. One of the first things we learned as a species was to equate water with life. But by de León’s time, it was already known to be a myth. It would be like if one of our politicians now suddenly went all-out searching for Atlantis.”

Lauren’s I-don’t-believe-you smile returned. “Or the Ark of the Covenant?”

Caught off guard, Chase fumbled as she said, “Exactly.” How much did they know?
This is an interesting page to look at, very revealing of the book, while also not being representative. There’s no action here. No jokes. Chase’s attitude doesn’t come through. We don’t see Chase’s main rival, August Nash, and there’s no mention of her partner in the mission, Hass, who is trans, Muslim, and happy to kick Nazi butt.

At the same time, this is the “mission briefing” chapter. If this were a Bond film, it’s the point where Bond sits down to be given his new task by M. Any reader turning to page 69 would see the plot of the novel being set up, the overt goal being set in place, and some of the underlying tensions and mysteries that drive the story.

My book opens with a mini-mission. Chase and her rival, August Nash, compete to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant from its hiding place. Following that, Nash is recruited by a shadowy black market fixer for a new job, and Chase heads home to New York, where she is summoned to meet with soda billionaire Lauren Stanford. In this chapter, Lauren is hiring Chase to go after the Fountain of Youth, which Chase doesn’t believe is real. But beneath the surface of this conversation are other secrets, both characters are holding back, and we see what they are withholding as the story unfolds.
Visit Jay Stringer's website.

Q&A with Jay Stringer.

My Book, The Movie: Marah Chase and the Fountain of Youth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

"The Truth Hurts"

Rebecca Reid is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Perfect Liars.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Truth Hurts, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Truth Hurts, Poppy and Drew are newly married and utterly in love - despite only having known each other for a few weeks. Poppy is sunbathing by the pool at their villa, reflecting on the strange and magical turns that her life has taken since she met her new husband. She has suspended the voice in her head that tells her 'this is too good to be true'. We see how having money had suddenly made everything easier and better for her - at least temporarily.

Any reader who enjoys page 69 of The Truth Hurts would, I think, enjoy the rest of the book. There's certainly an element of escapism throughout the book (huge English country houses, handsome strangers, whirlwind romances) which is present on page 69. I also think (hope?) that even if page 69 was a little 'light' for your tastes, there would be other elements of the novel that you would be able to enjoy.

The Truth Hurts is not a fairytale. It does feature shopping, sex and sunshine, with a side order of interior design and gossipping friends, but at its core it's about the way that we choose to believe a person is perfect and ignore our worries about them, because we so badly want to be happy. It's also about the parts of ourselves that we hide in relationships. While Drew and Poppy are extreme examples, with some pretty twisted secrets, it's a macro version of what we all tend to do when we start dating someone.

The Truth Hurts was inspired by my experience of falling in love for the first time - though it's a far, far more extreme version (thank goodness). As a reader I find it really satisfying when an author takes an accessible, every day experience, and then blows it into dramatic proportions, so that's something that I try to include in every novel that I write.
Follow Rebecca Reid on Twitter.

Q&A with Rebecca Reid.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 26, 2020

"Fire on the Island"

Timothy Jay Smith has traveled the world collecting stories and characters for his novels and screenplays which have received high praise. Fire on the Island won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for the Novel. He won the Paris Prize for Fiction for his first book, A Vision of Angels. Kirkus Reviews called Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012. Smith was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize for his short fiction, "Stolen Memories." His screenplays have won numerous international competitions. Smith is the founder of the Smith Prize for Political Theater. He lives in France.

Smith applied the Page 69 Test to Fire on the Island and reported the following:
From page 69:
The humble church boasted a number of notable icons, which Father Alexis had already capitalized on, as he had in his other parishes. Each village had been more miserable than the last—one reeked of pigs, another of an abattoir, and now Vourvoulos with its sardines—but they had a wealth of icons that Father Alexis painstakingly reproduced. At the seminary he had been required to master art restoration, the notion being that every priest should know how to repair aging icons or restore them if damaged in the country’s many earthquakes. He discovered he had a knack for precisely matching colors and recreating textures, and taught himself how to brighten icons by dabbing away years of soot, while using ash from incense to smudge his copies—rendering both the same dull sheen. By the time he crossed the line between reproductions and forgeries, his images could have fooled the original artists themselves.

The priest moved a stand of votive oil lamps to the side and folded back the ancient cloth on the stone altar to not risk damaging it with paint. Before he started, he opened the church door for air circulation; he didn’t like the buildup of fumes from paint and turpentine. The priest didn’t worry if someone caught him at work making his copies. He had a reputation for painting the most authentic fake icons. It was how he managed to steal the original ones.

He unrolled the rags in which he kept his brushes and picked up his palette, and looked the Crowned Madonna in the eye. Turning back to his easel, his copy stared back at him, too. Though disconcerting to have two Madonnas giving him a disapproving look, at least he had succeeded in capturing their roving eyes.

Engrossed in his task, Father Alexis didn’t notice anyone enter the open church door, and jumped with fright when he heard, “She is awesomely perfect!”

He whirled around.

It was Athina. Like the Virgin he was copying, she had draped a teal blue cloth loosely over her shoulders; and though not cradling a suckling infant, her clinging T-shirt left no doubt where a baby would press its hungry lips. The young priest, confronted by those demanding nipples, stepped back and bumped into his easel, smearing paint on his hand.
Fire on the Island is a puzzle where the pieces are gradually put together revealing the real mystery to the reader. Its basic premise, which is made evident before page 69, is that an arsonist has threatened to burn down a Greek island village that is home to an important Coast Guard station in the rescue of refugees crossing a narrow channel from Turkey. Not wanting the station to be destroyed by a fire, the FBI agent posted to Athens arrives undercover to investigate. He finds himself in a village rife with conflicts, some dating back generations, and everybody harboring secrets.

While page 69 itself doesn’t reveal the overall story, it reveals the secret of a principal character, the village priest. He’s an art forger. He’s turned skills that he learned at the seminary to restore ancient icons into a criminal enterprise, even aging his reproductions with soot while gently cleaning the originals to give them the same dull sheen. In this particular scene, he’s working on a forgery of a Madonna wrapped in a teal blue robe and nursing baby Jesus.

The priest is also a womanizer, which isn’t surprising since he’s in his early thirties and very handsome; and Orthodox priests, for the most part, are allowed to marry. When Athina, a beautiful 18-year-old, enters the church with a teal blue cloth draped over her shoulders (imitating the Madonna for her own ulterior motive), his eyes naturally drift to her breasts, not hidden beneath a nursing baby but revealed by a tight T-shirt. It’s a set-up for a troubling encounter that will later transpire between them.

The novel is told from many POVs that reveal secrets and animosities, and cast a wide net of suspicion that the FBI agent needs to sort through to try to identify the arsonist. The page 69 encounter between Father Alexis and Athina sets into motion events that haunt the book to its unexpected ending. But you need to turn the page to find out what happens next!
Visit Timothy Jay Smith's website.

Q&A with Timothy Jay Smith.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 25, 2020

"Skin Deep"

Sung J. Woo’s short stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, PEN/Guernica, and Vox. He has written three novels, Skin Deep (2020), Love Love (2015) and Everything Asian (2009), which won the 2010 Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Literature Award (Youth category). In 2014, Everything Asian was chosen for Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township. A graduate of Cornell University with an MFA from New York University, he lives in Washington, New Jersey.

Woo applied the Page 69 Test to Skin Deep and reported the following:
Page 69 of my mystery novel Skin Deep features three characters: Siobhan, Faith, and Molly. Siobhan is the private eye, and Faith and Molly are student activists of Llewellyn College, and the two young women are trying to convince Siobhan that their college’s incoming freshwomen are way more attractive than in years past. Molly demonstrates this on an iPad.
Molly swiped and moved things on the iPad with such speed and confidence that only comes from being born in a world that had always had the internet. A few more deft strokes of her fingers later, she held up the screen and showed me the same two-photo output like before, except this one had the faces aligned and split into four quadrants by way of two perpendicular green lines.

“Symmetry is one of the keys to facial attractiveness,” Molly said. “There’s an app that’ll calculate your beauty quotient.”

“As if girls don’t have enough reasons to feel bad about themselves,” I said.
Does the Page 69 Test work on Skin Deep? Pretty damn well, I must say. Eerily well. Siobhan is carrying out her job, investigating and interviewing people related to her case. One of the main central themes of my novel is the pursuit of beauty and its inherent dangers, and that is in full display here. Faith is a character who appears throughout the book, so even the principles are included here on this magical page. And this scene is taking place on Llewellyn’s campus, one of the two central locales of my book.

Page 69, I’ll never doubt you again.
Learn more about the book and author at Sung J. Woo's website.

My Book, The Movie: Skin Deep.

Q&A with Sung J. Woo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 23, 2020

"The Vanishing Sky"

L. Annette Binder was born in Germany and immigrated to the U.S. as a small child. She holds degrees in classics and law from Harvard, an MA in comparative literature from the University of California at Berkeley, and an MFA from the Program in Writing at the University of California, Irvine. Her short fiction collection Rise received the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. She lives in New Hampshire.

Binder applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Vanishing Sky, and reported the following:
On page 69 of my novel, The Vanishing Sky, the younger son, Georg — who is in a Hitler Youth group shoring up Germany’s western fortifications — is caught in an Allied bombing raid and some of the boys in his group are killed:
The planes hovered in the air, and everything was still. Only the bombs were moving. They fell from the sky. Georg saw them fall, slowly, slowly, saw them glint for a moment and pick up speed. The thunderclap came next, a rumbling that seemed to start in his belly, the sound of rocks rolling down a hill. Boys jumped into ditches. They lay on their stomachs and covered their faces. Four trucks lifted from the road and their fuel canisters popped. The debris flew out in all directions and hit the boys who’d been walking closest. Their jackets fluttered like birds and fell to the ground. Things arced and pirouetted and shot flames .They moved with a strange grace.

Georg held his hands against his ears. He lay under the trees, and Graf was there beside him, but he didn’t know where Müller was. He hadn’t seen him since the early afternoon. When the sky was quiet again they ran to the road. They found Schneider first, and two younger boys beside him. They were black from the heat, and their eyes were flat and had no shine. Dull as fish the way they looked toward the branches, not even surprise in their faces. Georg touched Schneider’s wrist. He held it and set it back down.
The page 69 test works relatively well for The Vanishing Sky. It takes readers straight into a key scene early in the novel. This scene gives readers a good idea of the dangers Georg is facing, how scared he is, and why he might choose to run away from his post just a few chapters later. It also gives readers a sense of the setting, the prose rhythm and the “feel” of the novel.

The downside of the test is that it doesn’t show the dangers posed by the Nazi regime itself, which are much more insidious and terrifying than those from the incoming Allies. It also doesn’t introduce the readers to Etta, the mother of the Huber family, who is in many ways the heart of the novel. Since the story alternates between Georg’s and Etta’s chapters until they come together near the end, no matter which page readers pick, they’ll only get a partial view of the characters. Still, this moment in the story isn’t a bad place for a browsing reader to land.
Visit L. Annette Binder's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

"Opium and Absinthe"

Lydia Kang is an author of young adult fiction, poetry, and narrative non-fiction. She graduated from Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine, completing her residency and chief residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. She is a practicing physician who has gained a reputation for helping fellow writers achieve medical accuracy in fiction.

Kang applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Opium and Absinthe, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Water sleeps, and the enemy is sleepless.
-Count Dracula

That very afternoon, she met Mr. John O’Toole.

He arrived at the house on Madison looking as he ought. His clothes were neat and clean but not fine enough to be confused with those who lived there. He had a brown beard speckled with gray, neatly trimmed, nice brown eyes. His eyebrows were permanently in the angry position, squashing the expanse between them into a narrow crease. He appeared in an odd twilight of age, neither young nor old. He lacked that lithe elasticity seen in younger men, but his biceps stretched out his jacket as a fleshy warning to everyone that his punch could fracture a jaw. A pistol was at his hip, and his voice was low, serious. When he introduced himself to Tillie, he did not smile. He only bowed slightly and made no pleasantries about the weather or the trolley strike repercussions in the news that day.

As Ada was perpetually nearby, she was introduced next.

“Ada Clancy,” she said primly.

“Miss.” John nodded, and his eye twitched. It almost looked like a wink that he had reeled back in at the last moment.
This is the beginning of Chapter 7. We know by now this is a murder mystery, and that Tillie is limited in her ability to solve her beloved sister's murder by her status--being a confined, wealthy woman at the turn of last century.

We meet the new guard for Tillie's family, we see him through Tillie's eyes and as yet another barrier to her freedom. Though the snippet itself doesn't give you a sense of what the entire story is about, it's a great example of how the description of a character can be obscured just enough so that you can't tell if this guy is good, or bad. And so, we enter in yet another possible antagonist or protagonist into the story. Soon enough, readers will wonder if Mr. O'Toole is manipulative and responsible for the most reprehensible of human behaviors...but you have to finish the book to be sure.

I also love that the sexual tension between Ada and John is immediate. John is not made of steel and stone. He has human wants and needs, that tiny twitch of the eye is all we need to know that he's susceptible to manipulation himself.

There you go! Hope you enjoy the book and find out for yourself if John is to be trusted with their lives, or not!
Learn more about the book and author at Lydia Kang's website, blog, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 19, 2020

"Musical Chairs"

Amy Poeppel is the author of the novels Small Admissions and Limelight.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Musical Chairs, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Musical Chairs, the browser will find the two main characters Bridget and Will having dinner together at their favorite restaurant in Litchfield County, Connecticut. Bridget is there for the summer, and Will has just arrived for a visit from New York City. It’s pretty clear from the dialogue on this page that they are close and care about each other a good deal. Will even reflects that she looks beautiful. However, when he asks Bridget about the state of her heart, telling her that the man who broke it has “made a colossal mistake,” the browser will quickly determine that they are not romantically linked. There’s humor in their conversation in spite of the fact that Bridget is quite sad over a break-up. Will questions her decision to wear eye makeup given that “the chances of tears are a hundred percent.” There’s a level of comfort between them and a history as well. When she mentions that her sister threw her favorite, old sweatpants in the trash, he knows immediately what she’s talking about.

I love the idea of the Page 69 Test, and in the case of Musical Chairs, the test gives a really accurate sense of the heart and tone of the book. The novel centers on the friendship between Bridget and Will. They have known each other for about thirty years, not only as friends, but also as the founding members of a classical piano trio. And although they’ve never been together as a couple, everyone around them finds that hard to believe. After all, they get along better than most married couples. The humor on the page is also worth noting because while the book has touching moments, it is essentially a family comedy. Page 69 is a nice glimpse of the friendship and rapport between these two characters, which makes it a good representation of the book as a whole.

What the page doesn’t reveal is that Musical Chairs has a large cast of characters. Bridget mentions her sister and father, both of whom have important roles in the book. But there are many other characters who are relevant to the plot, such as Bridget’s children, Will’s brand-new girlfriend, several musicians, a handyman, a politician, and a housekeeper, to name a few. It’s a lively book, and perhaps page 69 is a little too quiet to be representative of the book’s busy tone. Nevertheless, I hope the browser finds it intriguing!
Visit Amy Poeppel's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 17, 2020

"The Nesting Dolls"

Alina Adams was born in Odessa, Ukraine, and emigrated from the USSR with her family in 1977. She lives in New York City with her husband and three children.

Adams applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Nesting Dolls, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Adam wasn’t looking at Edward. He was looking at Daria, both of them still breathing heavily from the exertion and the dizziness and… nothing else whatsoever.

“You want back to Odessa?” Adam growled.

Daria didn’t trust her voice. She nodded.

“I can arrange that.”

Daria gasped, covering her mouth with her hand. She turned to Edward, wondering if he’d heard, if he’d understood, if he realized what this meant?

“I can get him out,” Adam went on. “And the little girl. But you.” Adam was speaking to Daria now, no one else. “You stay. Here. With me.”
What a fun game! Page 69 of The Nesting Dolls is actually an excellent preview of what's to come in the story, not to mention what the story is about. It sets up the theme of the entire book, as well as the characters who put it into motion. Marshall McLuhan, godfather of the Page 69 Test, was right!

Page 69 introduces Daria, and the theme that it's not about just finding the right man. It's about finding the right man for the right time and the right situation. Daria's granddaughter, Natasha, faces similar choices, as does Natasha's granddaughter, Zoe. The times are different - the USSR of the 1930s, the USSR of the 1970s, and present day Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. The men are different, ranging from a concert pianist, to the brewer of illegal potato vodka, to a fighter for the rights of Soviet Jewish, to a sci-fi loving tech nerd, but the question of the right man - at the right time - persists.
Visit Alina Adams's website.

Q&A with Alina Adams.

My Book, The Movie: The Nesting Dolls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 16, 2020

"Danny Constantino's First (and Maybe Last?) Date"

Paul Acampora writes novels and short stories for teens, middle grade and elementary school readers. He was born and raised in Bristol, Connecticut and now lives in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley. He is a full-time development officer during the day and writes fiction early in the morning and late at night. Acampora is a former kindergarten teacher, a member of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature, and enjoys leading writing workshops with students of all ages. He is also a writing instructor for local colleges, high schools and middle schools.

Acampora applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Danny Constantino's First (and Maybe Last?) Date, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Danny Constantino’s First (and maybe last) Date, Danny is trying to prevent his very strong-willed mother, who is running for Mayor, from turning the upcoming date with Natalie Flores Griffin into a community-wide celebrity event.

In my opinion, all stories are about relationships. My own stories often have family relationships at their center. Additionally, middle grade stories – especially mine – are often about young characters encountering opportunities to have new relationships outside their at-home families. By these measures, the Page 69 Test works pretty well. That said, I think Danny’s failures and successes as he moves into the unknown world of new relationships is more interesting (and entertaining) than stresses and struggles involved with moving away from the familiar. Page 69 features what Danny is moving away from and not what he’s moving toward. For that reason, page 69 might feel like downer. Not good for a book that’s supposed to be a comedy!

One thing that page 69 reveals is my love of dialogue. Pretty much the whole page is dialogue, which is my absolute favorite thing to write. I’m really excited to hear the audiobook version which will be read by the actor Michael Crouch. I’m curious to hear if he will make things flow and sound like the voices in my head!
Visit Paul Acampora's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

"Scarlet Odyssey"

Debut author C. T. Rwizi was born in Zimbabwe, grew up in Swaziland, finished high school in Costa Rica, and got a BA in government at Dartmouth College in the United States. He currently lives in South Africa with his family, and enjoys playing video games, taking long runs, and spending way too much time lurking on Reddit. He is a self-professed lover of synthwave.

Rwizi applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Scarlet Odyssey, and reported the following: 
If you go to page 69 of Scarlet Odyssey, this is what you’ll find:
… most important member of the chief’s council of advisors. He is also quite intimidating, if only because he’s always frowning at something. The taller, darker man with him is Aba Akuri, his equally standoffish husband and lieutenant, and the third ranger is a young man Salo knows as Jaliso.

“An Umadi witch flew right past our defenses,” Aba D says. “Those creatures are her work.” He searches the surrounding forests with his coldly determined gaze. “We’ll handle her, though. You should get to shelter. Now.”

“Is she alone?” Salo asks. “Are there others?”

Aba D brushes past him without answering. “Get that child to safety, Salo. Don’t make me ask you again.”

“My name’s Monti,” Monti says a little petulantly. Aba D isn’t listening, though. He and his men are back to searching for something in the woods around them.

“She’s here somewhere,” he says. “I can feel it.”

Instead of running the rest of the way to the chief’s compound, Salo and Monti watch with morbid curiosity as the three rangers fan out into the woods, treading softly on their feet like skulking predators. They all stand rigid when the swarm of flies reappears above, moving through the air like no flies Salo has ever seen, like they’re of one mind. They hover in place for a wavering moment before they swirl into a funnel and swoop downward.

“Watch out!” Salo cries, but Jaliso doesn’t turn around in time to raise his shield. The swarm slams into his side with surprising force, knocking him back several yards. He hits the trunk of a tree with a crack so sickening Salo doubts he’ll ever get up again.

While Aba Akuri rushes to check on the fallen ranger, Aba D starts shouting at Salo and Monti to run, which they promptly do, but the swarm veers in their direction and drops right in front of them, reconstituting itself into a woman.
I think the test is moderately successful in giving readers a taste of the greater work. You won’t get a good sense of the entire plot or the themes addressed elsewhere, but the tone and writing style in this excerpt are representative of the rest of the book. We also get a glimpse into the nature of the magic that inhabits this world.

Interestingly, the page touches on one of the key conflicts the main character, Salo, must face in the book. It’s clear that some kind of attack on his settlement is underway, but he’s not being told to join in the defense, as would normally be expected for the chief’s first-born son, who by rights should be a ranger like the three other men we see on the page.

Instead, he’s being told to run to shelter with the child. This is an example of how he is often dismissed by his society—by his own uncle, in this case—for his failures to measure up to their expectations of what a young man in his position should be.

Being constantly subjected to such scorn means that Salo has internalized it to the point where he believes himself worthy of it, where his feelings of inadequacy have matured into a defeatist self-image he cannot escape. Unfortunately for him, things are about to get worse, a lot worse, and readers who go beyond this page will get to witness the fallout a little later in that same chapter.
Learn more about Scarlet Odyssey, and follow C. T. Rwizi on Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: Scarlet Odyssey.

Q&A with C. T. Rwizi.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 13, 2020

"Dark August"

Katie Tallo has been an award-winning screenwriter and director for more than two decades. In 2012, Tallo was inspired to begin writing novels. Dark August is her debut novel. Tallo has a daughter and lives with her husband in Ottawa, Ontario.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Dark August and reported the following:
Page 69 begins with a simple note written in red marker on the back of a Polaroid. The note says, Gracie Halladay, April 2002. This is the first time the lead character, Augusta (Gus) Monet, learns the name of the girl in a photo that has haunted her since childhood.
All these years, Gus never knew the girl’s name. It was on the back this whole time. She’d never dared touch the photo to flip it over. But the name was there. Shannon was hiding it.
The page goes on to describe how important the girl seemed to be to Gus's now dead mother, Shannon — the same mother who wrote that note in red marker, who protected that photo, never sharing it with her daughter or her fellow cops or friends, and in the end, who hid it along with all her other private documents. The discovery of the girl’s name is huge for Gus. She has only recently stumbled across a trunk full of cold case evidence, including the photo, hidden amongst her childhood treasures and ever since, she’s been pondering what it all means and why her mother hid the evidence for her to find. Gus doesn’t have answers yet, but seeing the name on the back of the photo infuriates her. She swears at Gracie, tears the Polaroid in half, and heads outside to walk her dog and shake off her feelings.

If someone were to open the novel, Dark August, at page 69, they too would have a lot of questions. They’d be plunged into this young woman’s world just as she’s about to begin her investigation. They’d be introduced to key characters; Gracie, Gus, Shannon, Uncle Rory, and Levi the dog. All central to the novel. And that Polaroid is probably the most significant piece of evidence found by Gus. Her fragile mental state oozes from the page, along with her deep connection to the past and her dead mother. It’s all there, and yet, not a lot is revealed on that one page. Just like the evidence itself, revelations come slowly in bits and pieces. This name is just one more piece of the puzzle she’s about to unravel. On a funny side note, although this novel isn’t filled with expletives, two F-bombs happen to splatter page 69.
Visit Katie Tallo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 11, 2020

"What You Don't See"

Tracy Clark is a native Chicagoan who writes mysteries set in her hometown while working as an editor in the newspaper industry. She is a graduate of Mundelein College, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she earned her MA.

Since reading her first Nancy Drew mystery, Clark has dreamed of crafting mysteries of her own, mysteries that feature strong, intelligent, independent female characters, and those who share their world. Cass Raines, ex-cop turned intrepid PI, is such a character.

Clark applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, What You Don’t See, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Allen barreled into reception ahead of us, but there were no cops waiting. She gave poor Pamela the evil eye, heat oozing from every well-moisturized pore. “Well?” She made zero attempt to hide the nastiness in her delivery.

The rattled receptionist shot up from her chair. “They’re waiting in your office with Ms. Chandler. Should I…”

But Allen was gone, already stomping back toward whatever awaited her, determined it seemed to shut it down.

Ben let out the mother of all sighs. “I say we hang out here while whatever’s going on back there stops going on.” But I was already on the move, following Allen back. “Or, second thought, go back and see what’s going on.”

We were halfway down the hall when Chandler came rushing out of Allen’s office and saw us. “Philip Hewitt’s dead. Shot. Early this morning.” She swept past us. “I need to get his personnel file.”

We watched her rush into her office, then Ben and I exchanged a look that had years of knowing each other in it. When we came to a stop in front of Allen’s door. I peered inside to find Allen talking to two plainclothes detectives. I didn’t know the sensibly dressed Asian woman with the police star clipped to her belt, but I sure knew her partner. Detective Marcus Jones, who I hadn’t seen or heard from in two years, since the night I walked out on him. I registered the surprise first, then nausea flipped my stomach. I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing Marcus Jones again and not regretted it, but here he was. I could practically feel Ben’s mood change.

“Of all the gin joints. … This day will just not let up, and it’s not even ten o’clock yet.”

Though I was thinking the exact same thing, I kept my mouth shut. I just stood there in the doorway with Ben watching the cops, Allen, wishing I were someplace they weren’t.
On page 69 of What You Don’t See, the first murder has just taken place and the police have shown up to look for suspects and find out who might have wanted the victim dead. The lead detective on the case comes face to face with our protagonist with whom he shares a difficult and adversarial past, setting up a central conflict that plays out throughout the story. Page 69 is where the story shifts from a stalker case to a murder case and a simple bodyguard detail morphs into a race to unmask a craven killer. Page 69 clearly broadcasts to the reader exactly what genre they’re reading and highlights the book’s central goal, so it appears the test works fairly well for What You Don’t See.

I’ll tell you a bit about the book. What You Don’t See is book three in the Cass Raines Chicago Mystery series. In this installment, Cass, a former homicide detective turned PI, has agreed to help her ex-partner, Detective Ben Mickerson, work personal security for a prima donna magazine publisher named Vonda Allen. Allen is a real pill, haughty, imperious, demanding, and someone out there is stalking her, sending anonymous flowers and threatening notes written in red ink. Allen is spooked, but she refuses to involve the police, and Cass begins to wonder what secrets the Great Lady might be hiding. When those around Allen begin to die violently and when Ben is injured and his life hangs in the balance, Cass goes it alone to stop a killer before someone else dies.
Visit Tracy Clark's website.

Q&A with Tracy Clark.

My Book, The Movie: What You Don’t See.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 9, 2020

"The Molten City"

Chris Nickson is the author of The Molten City and seven previous Tom Harper mysteries, seven highly acclaimed novels in the Richard Nottingham series, and two Simon Westow mysteries. He is also a well-known music journalist. He lives in his beloved Leeds.

Nickson applied the Page 69 Test to The Molten City and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Molten City focuses solely on one of the two big threads of the story – children who went missing years before when they were very young, possibly to become the offspring of a wealthy family.

Harper’s staff have been digging into the history of the rich man who might have been behind the disappearance, and we see the first fruit of their work. There’s also a little on a homeless man who might be able to tell them about a man who’s been murdered and might have been involved in taking one of the children from his family.

And families, both broken and whole, loving and hating, blood and otherwise, are a vital theme of the book. In that, the page only gives an insight into half the book, missing out the whole part about the Suffragettes and unemployed men intending to demonstrate when the Prime Minister visits Leeds. It’s really only partially successful as a view of the book.

I’m not sure that any single page can shed huge light on a book. A novel is a long form, so any single page would be a microscopic view. This does, perhaps, give a look at police procedure and investigation, and the fact that no detectives – in any period – have cases that regularly go directly from A-Z. Many are not too straightforward; there are multiple strands they have to balance.
Learn more about the book and author at Chris Nickson's website.

Q&A with Chris Nickson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

"Dress Coded"

Carrie Firestone is the author of the acclaimed young adult novels The Loose Ends List, which Kirkus Reviews called “a poignant and important story about compassion, love, and the decision to live life on your own terms” in a starred review, and The Unlikelies, which Bustle declared “the summer read that’ll remind you how much good there really is in the world.” A former New York City high school teacher, Firestone currently lives in Connecticut with her husband, their two daughters, and their pets.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Dress Coded, her debut middle-grade novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
"I understand all too clearly that Ashley is rich and I am not and I am going to need to find a dress for seventy-five dollars (one that goes with the shoes I've worn to every bar and bat mitzvah for the past two years).

We're walking toward the exit, and something bounces off my head and lands on the floor in front of me. I reach up and cover my face just as I'm hit again in the shoulder.

Ashley runs ahead and yells at the balcony above, "Nick, knock it off." She's sort of laughing. Nick is throwing pretzel bites at me, and Ashley thinks it's funny.

I feel myself turning red inside.

I dart into Pink and wait for Ashley to find me. I'm in no mood to deal with Nick and his friends. They probably wander around the mall every day staring at Snap Map until they find familiar faces to pelt with pretzel bites.

I look both ways and drag Ashley to Auntie Anne's, because now I want pretzels. I spend seven dollars on a pretzel with dipping sauce and a lemonade. That leaves sixty-eight dollars for my white dress. We sit on the edge of the fountain and eat while Ashley posts pictures of herself.

It's true that I"m pretty sweaty. But I don't feel like looking for dresses because lurking Nick and being not rich are deal breakers for me."
Whoa. "The Page 69 Test" is spot on for Dress Coded. It gives readers a good sense of protagonist Molly's voice and the setting of the novel, which is middle-school suburbia. This page is a turning point moment for Molly. While she's probably gone to the mall with her friend Ashley many times, she begins to notice that she and her friend are different in a number of ways. Ashley is able to blow money on whatever she wants, while Molly's family is struggling financially. Ashley indulges and even flirts with Nick, the alpha bully of the eighth grade, while Molly has no stomach for Nick's rude behavior or Ashley's tolerance of him. This moment of disgust and impatience is pivotal in helping Molly discover that as her voice grows louder, her relationships are beginning to change.

In my middle grade novel Dress Coded, Molly Frost witnesses her classmate Olivia being dress coded by their principal and a male teacher in the garden outside their school. The incident causes the principal to cancel the school camping trip, which had been promised if "nobody violates the dress code," prompting the eighth grade class to turn against Olivia. Outraged by the traumatic incident and determined to defend her friend, Molly begins a podcast aimed at shedding light on the unfair dress coding policy at Fisher Middle School. What follows are a series of student protests, led by Molly and her friends, that force their suburban community to take a hard look at how the school dress code reinforces sexist, racist, and classist power struggles in their district and beyond.
Visit Carrie Firestone's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 5, 2020

"Lost River"

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

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

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

Q&A with J. Todd Scott.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 3, 2020

"The Moon Always Rising"

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 2, 2020

"Thin Girls"

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

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

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

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

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

My Book, The Movie: Thin Girls.

Q&A with Diana Clarke.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

"Someone Else’s Secret"

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

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue