Sunday, August 30, 2020

"Chasing Starlight"

Teri Bailey Black grew up near the beach in Southern California in a large, quirky family with no television or junk food, but an abundance of books and art supplies. She’s happiest when she’s creating things, whether it’s with words, fabric, or digging in the garden. She makes an amazing chocolate cherry cake—frequently. She and her husband have four children and live in Orange County, California.

Black applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Chasing Starlight, and reported the following:
Wow, this is uncanny. I opened to page 69, not expecting much, and found a pivotal point in my character’s story, when she decides to stay in Hollywood.
Kate wondered if she’d been too hasty, turning down the opportunity. Most people would give anything to be in a Hollywood movie.
This page also shows her make-it-happen Nancy Drew personality, as she figures out a way to get movie roles for the aspiring actors boarding in her grandfather’s old mansion.
And suddenly, Kate’s three years of debate team training kicked into gear, and she saw her leverage. “Mrs. Fairchild, you want me to do this movie so I’ll watch over Bonnie, and Clive Falcon wants me because my name will sell tickets. Well, what I want is for Ollie’s boarders to get roles, so I don’t have to go home to their envy every night, knowing they deserve it more than I do. That’s my condition.”

Mrs. Fairchild gave a startled laugh. “I don’t have that sort of power.”

“Then I won’t do it.” But as soon as Kate said the words, she knew they were an empty threat, because all at once she wanted to be in a Hollywood movie more than anything.
This test was a lot of fun. Next time I’m in a bookstore, I’ll be opening to a lot of page 69s.
Visit Teri Bailey Black's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 29, 2020

"Love and Theft"

Stan Parish is the former editor-in-chief of The Future of Everything at The Wall Street Journal and the author of the novel Down the Shore. His writing has appeared in GQ, Esquire, Surface, The New York Times, and The New York Times Magazine, among other publications. He holds a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and lives in Los Angeles.

Parish applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Love and Theft, and reported the following:
Page 69 is part of a flashback in which we understand how Alex Cassidy—the novel’s protagonist and leader of a world-class armed robbery crew—went from burglary to much bigger things. A nineteen-year-old Alex and his best friend, Clay, have just broken into a penthouse hotel suite in Atlantic City, but the couple they came to rob is being held hostage—not part of the plan. After jumping the hostage-takers, Clay and Alex are questioned by the wife, who remarks on Alex’s uncanny calm. Here’s the top of the page:
Alex shrugged again. He hadn’t felt calm, even if he’d looked it. His father, the reason Alex and his mother fled Miami, was a tall Italian restaurateur with a deep sadistic streak and a love of white linen suits and cocaine. He beat his girlfriend and son, but was especially cruel to Alex, whose fear he could sense. When Alex acted scared, he got hit, and the more afraid he seemed, the worse the beatings got. Alex learned to fake calm when his heart was racing, and eventually to exude calm in the face of violence.

Roberto emerged from the bathroom and shut the door gently behind him.

“Are you looking for work?” Maricel asked.

“What?” Clay said through a laugh.

“We’re about to begin operating through a small airport not far from here. We’ll need some hands there in the coming weeks. If you’re interested, of course. Our thanks come with no strings attached, no expectations.”

“You’re offering us jobs?”

“I need drivers who can handle themselves but not attract attention. Handsome young gringos would be ideal.”

“Drivers?” Alex asked. “What happens at the airport?”
What happens at the airport is large-scale international drug trafficking; Clay and Alex just saved the power couple behind a powerful cartel. Spoiler alert: The boys take the job.

In his offer to participate in this cool experiment, the author of this blog asks for a response to the Page 69 Test ranging from "Does not work at all" to "Uncannily, of the hundreds of pages in my book, page 69 is the very best single page to introduce a browser to what the book is about." I’m close to the latter camp. The page explains one of Alex Cassidy’s defining characteristics—he’s uncommonly cool under fire—and the dialogue that follows details the job offer that redirects and reshapes his life. It’s a weird, intimate moment in the aftermath of violence, which the book is full of. As a representative sample, you could do worse.

Love and Theft is a love story and a crime story. It’s also about the illusion of control and how our best-laid plans and intentions are null and void in the face of whatever fate, karma, the universe, etc. has in store. Alex Cassidy is good at his job because he’s a control freak who’s learned to suppress his adrenaline response, planning every job down to the smallest detail and executing without error. Eventually, like all of us, he’s forced to confront the limit of his powers, which is foreshadowed on page 69.
Visit Stan Parish's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 27, 2020

"The Heatwave"

Kate Riordan is a British writer and journalist who worked for the Guardian and Time Out London.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Heatwave, and reported the following:
From page 69:

For the last few weeks, Elodie has refused to eat anything I prepare for her. She is only two and a half but her willpower is astonishing, pushing away food even as her stomach grumbles with hunger.

‘So she’s a fussy eater,’ says Camille. I can almost hear her shrug down the line. ‘You were too, when you were little. God, the fuss about the grease at the top of Maman’s cassoulet.’

I smile briefly at the memory. ‘I know it’s common. I know children dig in their heels at this age. It’s just…’


‘She doesn’t do it with Greg. Only me. And I worry about her because when he’s away on one of his buying trips she doesn’t really eat at all. I’d have to force her and I can’t hurt her like that.’

‘She’ll get over it,’ says Camille, and I can tell from the slight pause before speaking that her attention has wandered. I wonder what she’s going to do with her afternoon, all of Paris waiting beyond her apartment door.
In one sense, it’s lucky that my page 69 happens to be the beginning of a chapter, which gives the browsing reader a coherent entry point. It’s also a flashback chapter and The Heatwave is punctuated by these: passages that spool backwards into the past from a present day in 1993. Fortuitously for the test, each of these sections offers readers a clue to the central mystery of the novel, which is what happened ten years earlier to narrator Sylvie’s troubled and troublesome eldest daughter, Élodie.

Here in 1971, Élodie is just a toddler but is already causing her mother anxiety - something which will only increase as the novel goes on. The reader should also get a sense of the claustrophobia Sylvie feels as a mother to a young child - someone who loves her daughter but who nevertheless feels a pang of envy at the idea of (her sister) Camille enjoying the freedom of an unencumbered afternoon in the city. It’s also pretty clear that (husband) Greg is often away, further establishing Sylvie as someone who is isolated and unhappy. Altogether this is a pretty neat introduction to the main theme of the book - maternal anxiety - though being so early on in proceedings (the flashbacks are presented chronologically) there isn’t much evidence of the darkness that will permeate later chapters.

So far so good, but what a potential reader is definitely missing by not seeing a section from the present day is Sylvie’s acute dread in having returned to France a decade after fleeing. Without this knowledge, you might easily miss the sense of impending doom which propels the narrative along.
Visit Kate Riordan's website.

Q&A with Kate Riordan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 25, 2020


When C.M. McGuire was a child, she drove her family crazy with her nonstop stories. Lucky for them, she eventually learned to write and gave their ears a rest. This love of stories led her to college where she pursued history (semi-nonfictional storytelling), anthropology (where stories come from) and theater (attention-seeking storytelling). When she isn't writing, she's painting, crocheting, gardening, baking, and teaching the next generation to love stories as much as she does.

McGuire applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Ironspark, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Ironspark, we see Bryn in poor health with one of her peers in a mild panic over how to help her. I can’t say much more because it does spoil some of the scenes immediately before it.

I wouldn’t say this gives a full idea of the whole book, but I do think it nicely introduces some of the themes of connection. Bryn struggles to accept help and can even be blasé about needing it at all. The people around her tend to have a more realistic understanding of what is and isn’t okay to put yourself through. Much of her struggle in the book is going to be learning to let people in, as well as how far she’s willing to go to protect her family (for better or worse.) So, I suppose the test would get a B for Ironspark.

I think, if I had to choose a better section to represent the book, it would be a section where Bryn is struggling more with herself than with someone else, since the whole story is about Bryn coming to terms about how she relates to herself and others, as well as the pressures and responsibilities she puts on herself. I think, inevitably, every teenager has to come to terms with this sort of thing. Luckily, the typical American teenager doesn't have to fight fairies in addition to their personal growth.
Follow C.M. McGuire on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 23, 2020

"The Queen of Tuesday"

Darin Strauss is the bestselling author of several books. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction writing and numerous other awards, Strauss has seen his work translated into fourteen languages and published in more than twenty countries.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, The Queen of Tuesday, and reported the following:
The Queen of Tuesday is a star-crossed lovers' story, about my grandfather Isidore and Lucille Ball. And, in a twist of luck for this test, it shows their second meeting. They'd kissed at a party, and she thought she'd never see him again. And yet, here he is.

What you need to know for this? She'd called him "Hold-on" at their first meeting. (Long story. 309 pages, to be precise.) This is when my grandfather surprises her at the door to a comedy revue in which she's starring. He's standing in an alleyway, waiting for her, and then.....
Lucille seemed at first not to know him. She blinked at the man with her lusterless blue stare until memory showed in her eyes: a school of bright fish darting straight for the surface.

Good god.

It was the man from the Coney Island party, taking off his hat. “Lucille,” he said.

He looked calmly unsurprised and suddenly very close and in front of her. Hello.

Lucille found herself in a brief fantasy, and in this fantasy Desi storms off and divorces her, and she doesn’t necessarily accept Isidore's courtship, not fully or at first, but she does, in spite of herself, begin to allow the man to take her out on the town, and yes she’s unmarried and disgraced publicly, but somehow she holds up all right, and the guy’s a good snuggler. All this in a millisecond.

She said, “Hold-on, is it?”

“I’m hoping it still is.”
I think this shows the tone of the book, the riskiness of their romance -- both of their spouses were nearby -- and the time period. (He's wearing a hat! And takes it off when addressing a lady!) I also hope the dialogue catches some of the spirit of that time, swing and cocktails and big eyes filmed in elegant black-and-white.
Follow Darin Strauss on Twitter.

Q&A with Darin Strauss.

My Book, The Movie: The Queen of Tuesday.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 21, 2020

"You're Next"

Kylie Schachte is a graduate from Sarah Lawrence College and an active member of the Pitch Wars online community as both an alum & mentor. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, cat, and giant dog.

Schachte applied the Page 69 Test to You're Next, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Kids in school thought I was weird. Scary. I’d never had a ton of friends, but there had been the usual crowd I ate lunch with and sat next to in class. Suddenly they didn’t want to talk to me, didn’t want to hear me go over my obsessive conspiracy theories yet again. But some people started bringing me cases to solve. They heard what I did for Lucy, and even though Matt Caine never got arrested, never paid for what he did, they all knew that I was right. I threw myself into the work, glad to tackle cheating boyfriends and stolen laptops if it meant I could ignore the dumpster fire of my life.
So, does the Page 69 Test work for You’re Next? I’m going to give a very author-y sort of answer which is...sort of.

Page 69 gives us a peek into the main character Flora Calhoun’s back story, as you can see in the quote above. Flora is a sixteen-year-old detective--a notion that probably leaves a lot of potential readers with some questions. What exactly is a teen detective? She doesn’t actually work for the police, right? How did this happen, and why are her parents okay with it?

A number of those questions are actually answered on page 69--we learn a bit about Flora’s troubled past, and how that led her to her obsession with justice. The quote above is a pretty good distillation of who Flora is and what she’s all about. You’re Next is very much driven by Flora and her worldview, so in that sense...yeah, if you’re down with what you see of her on page 69, you’ll probably enjoy the book.

A counterargument would be that You’re Next is a very fast-paced book, full of underground fight clubs, shadowed alleyways, and car chase scenes. Page 69 has caught the story in one of the rarer quiet moments, so you might not realize just how much of a rush the rest of the book is if you judge it by this page alone.

But lots of classic mysteries are solely focused on the pacing & solving the puzzle of the central mystery. In many Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler novels, for instance, we know very little of the protagonist and their interior life. It was really important to me that You’re Next not just be about the murder, but about the girl who decided to fight back. So maybe page 69 isn’t such a bad place to begin, after all.
Visit Kylie Schachte's website.

My Book, The Movie: You're Next.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 20, 2020

"The Wright Sister"

Patty Dann's novels include Mermaids, Starfish and Sweet & Crazy. The books have been translated into French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. Mermaids was made into a movie starring Cher, Winona Ryder, and Christina Ricci. Dann is also the author of The Butterfly Hours: Transforming Memories into Memoir, The Goldfish Went on Vacation: A Memoir of Loss, and The Baby Boat: A Memoir of Adoption. Dann's articles have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, O, The Oprah Magazine, and numerous other publications. She teaches writing workshops at the West Side YMCA in New York. Dann is married to journalist Michael Hill and has one son and two stepsons.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Wright Sister, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Wright Sister is a diary entry of Katharine Wright (an imagined diary entry - all this is fiction).

Katharine would be delighted by this challenge!
September 23, 1927.

September Storms

It is two am., and a raging thunderstorm is clapping down on us with jagged lightning zigzagging the sky like Orv's socks, but Harry is sleeping through it.

I think thunderstorms are one of the few times I actually pray for people who are in the air.
Here Katharine has been married less than a year, to journalist Harry Haskell. She often has trouble sleeping, so she sits in the bathtub, sometimes naked and writes in her diary. She has moved to Kansas City to live with her husband. This page definitely captures the spirit of Katharine - she is often at once thinking of her husband and her brother, Orville. Even though she and Orville live 600 miles away, she still sends him zig-zag socks she knits for him. Katharine, which she will tell you is spelled with an "A," is keenly aware of weather at all times, as if her brothers are about to set forth in one of their flying machines.
Visit Patty Dann's website.

Q&A with Patty Dann.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"The Monsters We Make"

Kali White VanBaale is the author of the novels The Monsters We Make, The Good Divide, and The Space Between.

She's the recipient of an American Book Award, an Independent Publisher’s silver medal for general fiction, the Fred Bonnie Memorial First Novel Award, the Eric Hoffer Book Award for General Fiction, an Iowa Arts Council major artist grant, and the Great River Writer’s Retreat. She's also writes and publishes short stories, essays, and articles, and serves as the managing editor of the micro-essay journal The Past Ten.

Kali holds an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She's a core faculty member in the Lindenwood University MFA in Writing Program and regularly teaches writing workshops at various conferences and festivals. In addition to writing and teaching, Kali is an advocate and state lobbyist for mental healthcare reform.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Monsters We Make and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Monsters We Make finds us, of all places, at the Iowa State Fair in August of 1984, just days after a local paperboy has mysteriously vanished one morning on his route. The story is told through three different points of view—Sammy Cox, a twelve-year-old boy who also delivers morning newspapers and is hiding a terrible secret, his eighteen-year-old sister, Crystal, and Dale Goodkind, a local cop assigned to the missing paperboy case. Page 69 falls in one of Sammy’s early point of view chapters and a scene where he’s spending the day at the fair with his mother and sister, and they’ve bumped into the cop who previously interviewed him about his paper route. Near the end of the page, while Sammy’s mother is deep in conversation with Goodkind, Sammy goes into a nearby bathroom where he’s accosted by a mysterious male—another boy or man, it’s unknown at this point—who has clearly been following him.
The bathroom door squealed open, followed by slow, heavy footsteps. The hairs on the back of Sammy’s neck prickled. His legs turned watery and his stomach cramped. He quickly zipped his shorts, dribbling pee on the front of the dark fabric.

He didn’t want to turn and look, he told himself not to look, but he did it anyway.

How had he known Sammy would be here?

Are you having fun?

The voice echoed in his ears, far away like in a dream.
I was highly curious to try this test on my own work, and was pleased to find that page 69 is, indeed, a strong representation of the story itself. The engine of The Monsters We Make explores the idea of one crime inadvertently exposing another, and Sammy’s character is central to the hidden crime that eventually becomes exposed with a devastating outcome. The scene on page 69 touches on both the mystery of the missing paperboy, but also continues to build the mystery of Sammy’s secret.
Visit Kali White's website.

Q&A with Kali White.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 16, 2020


Since 1997, award-winning Canadian author/ former biologist Julie E. Czerneda has shared her curiosity about living things through her SF and fantasy novels, published by DAW Books. Her latest fantasy is the standalone The Gossamer Mage (2019), out in paperback fall 2020. Currently, Czerneda’s returned to her beloved character, Esen, in her Web Shifter’s Library series, featuring all the weird biology one could ask, with Mirage out August 2020 and Spectrum, spring 2021.

Czerneda applied the Page 69 Test to Mirage and reported the following:
From page 69:
“May we have the room for a few minutes, Ally?” Paul asked.

“Sure. I’ll see if Henri needs a break.” She shrugged off her smock, hanging it on a hook next to the lab coat I should be wearing. “Wind’s picking up.” Ally nodded to the horizontal slit of window near the ceiling. I felt she’d understated the situation. Snow was going sideways in a white moving wall.

“That it is,” Paul acknowledged. “Thanks.” He closed, then locked the door behind her. “Lionel, if you’d order food for our guests?”

The other Human nodded, going to the com.

Lambo would resist, loudly and with colorful profanity, any sugges­tion he put together food trays for strangers, defined as anyone who hadn’t had the dubious pleasure of begging for food in person from the Carasian. I angled my ears to get the full benefit.

I’d underestimated the guile of our administrator. “Lambo, I may be going to the Sacriss System shortly and wish to reacquaint myself with their palate and preferences. Please prepare me a sample of food items suitable for Sacrissee and have them delivered to Paul’s office immedi­ately. If you can do it.”

“At last, a worthy challenge,” came the answering joyful bellow. “You neglected beverages. I will include those too.”

When Lionel turned off the com, Paul said what I was thinking. “Nicely done.” Then a sharp, “What’s wrong?”

For Lionel was staring at the panel. “There’s an alert. A request to the collection from your office. How—”

They looked at me.

Conceivably my fault. “Evan might have seen me enter my code,” I confessed, tail sliding between my legs. “In the Chow last summer.” If so, he’d an excellent memory for his kind.

Paul— who’d an exceptional one, particularly for my missteps and their consequences— merely chuckled as he stepped up to tap the in­terface controls. “I’ve authorized the request. Shunting it and the re­sponse here.”

We listened to the collection’s recording of the Sacrissee’s request.
I always find this an fascinating exercise, to sample an entire book via a specific page—that isn’t the first or last. Will it work? In the case of Mirage, page 69 offers a splendid peek at what this book is about, including several main players.

You meet Esen (the point of view character) in her Lanivarian form (google Portuguese Podenco for a sense of her shape, but add an almost Collie tail). There’s a reminder of two important staff members of the All Species’ Library of Linguistics and Culture (Ally and Henri), and even if you haven’t yet encountered the giant Carasian (think lobster-esque) operator of the food dispenser? From this you’ve a good sense of why grabbing snacks can be complicated. You see how well Lionel has settled in as administrator—and that the earnest young diplomat from earlier books, Evan Gooseberry, continues to play a big role. I adore writing Evan.

You also witness the dynamic between Esen and Paul, her best and first friend. Esen, with the best of intentions, is prone to impulse. Paul is there both as teacher and supporter.

All as you glimpse the Library in action, for the Sacrissee have arrived in crisis. If they can’t find their answers here, they may be doomed…

All on page 69. Who knew?
Visit Julie E. Czerneda's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 15, 2020

"The Boy in the Field"

Margot Livesey grew up in a boys’ private school in the Scottish Highlands where her father taught, and her mother, Eva, was the school nurse. After taking a B.A. in English and philosophy at the University of York in England she spent most of her twenties working in shops and restaurants and learning to write. Her first book, a collection of stories called Learning By Heart, was published by Penguin Canada in 1986. Since then Livesey has published the novels Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, Eva Moves the Furniture, Banishing Verona, The House on Fortune Street, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, and Mercury.

Livesey applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, her ninth, The Boy in the Field, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Boy in The Field is the opening of section 12, from the point of view of seventeen-year-old Matthew. It shows him at a fencing lesson with a new opponent, Leon. At first he thinks Leon is a very clumsy opponent whom it will be easy to defeat but he soon discovers "that it was Leon’s very lack of grace, his awkward footwork, his faltering lunges that made it hard to anticipate his next move.”

I think page 69 gives a good sense of Matthew, of his intelligence and his powers of observation, but you learn nothing about his siblings - Duncan and Zoe - with whom he shares the novel. And you learn nothing about his quest to find the man who attacked the boy in the field.

One of my ambitions for the novel was to show how differently the three teenage siblings experience the same event. In that way page 69 does give a good idea of the novel although it suggests, misleadingly, that Matthew is the hero.

When I applied this test to Willa Cather’s Lucy Gayheart and Megha Majumdar’s The Burning, I was relieved to discover it worked in the same way, giving me a good sense of the author’s voice and of some of her characters, but not giving me access to the whole arc of the novel.
Visit Margot Livesey's website and Facebook page.

Q&A with Margot Livesey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 13, 2020

"Every Kind of Wicked"

Lisa Black is the New York Times bestselling author of 14 suspense novels, including works that have been translated into six languages, optioned for film, and shortlisted for the inaugural Sue Grafton Memorial Award. She is also a certified Crime Scene Analyst and certified Latent Print Examiner, beginning her forensics career at the Coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and then the police department in Cape Coral, Florida. She has spoken to readers and writers at numerous conferences and is one of two Guests of Honor at 2020 Killer Nashville.

Black applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Every Kind of Wicked, and reported the following:
On page 69 (at least of the ARC) forensic scientist Maggie Gardiner is at her office, the police forensics lab. It’s just before Christmas and, as in most offices, there is extra food and treats around so she can chow down and warm up after a trip in the county vehicle with its faulty heater. She has just been to the county medical examiner’s office to follow up on a case from that morning. A young man was found in downtown’s ancient cemetery, sprawled in the snow with what looked to be a single gunshot wound. He had no wallet, no identification save an employee’s ID tag that read “Evan” and a blank magnetic card with the local university’s logo on it.

But solving this murder already feels like more than a mere job to Maggie. The cemetery represents the first case that brought her into detective Jack Renner’s orbit, where a young, trafficked girl had been found. Jack and his extracurricular activities had taken care of the trafficker, but Maggie got caught in the process, and now she has been keeping his secret in order to keep her own. But it’s a tenuous truce at best, always ready to crumble under the weight of Maggie’s conscience or her ex-husband’s suspicion. Her ex is also a homicide detective and has made it his goal to detect where Jack came from and who he is.

While page 69 won’t tell you anything about Jack, it does tell you a lot about Maggie’s life as, aside from a snack, Maggie grabs the opportunity to decompress with her co-worker and BFF Carol. In a few sentences we see the variety of work the crime lab takes on; no matter how big or bizarre Maggie’s case may be, there are always other crimes to be dealt with at the same time. We get a hint of the equipment around her and how the lab is constantly humming—literally, as the machines work—with activity. After 25 years in forensics, I am proud to represent that steady, behind-the-scenes action on paper. At the bottom of the page Maggie tells Carol the really interesting thing about their dead guy: no ID, money, tattoos, or even jewelry—but a tiny key, taped to his ankle. Carol’s attention perks up at this discordant note and I hope it snags the readers as well.
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

Writers Read: Lisa Black (July 2020).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

"The Doctor of Aleppo"

Dan Mayland is an author and professional geopolitical forecaster, helping nonprofit, private, and government organizations navigate a changing world. His Mark Sava spy series was informed by his experiences in the Caspian region and Middle East. Raised in New Jersey, Mayland now lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and two children, in an old stone farmhouse he and his wife have restored.

Mayland applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Doctor of Aleppo, and reported the following:
Page 69 marks the beginning of a new chapter.

The year is 2012 and war in the Syrian city of Aleppo has just broken out. Rebel forces swarm neighborhoods, regime tanks roll through the streets, and fighter jets roar across the sky. But there are no front lines; it’s all chaos. Panic, jubilation, and gunfire abounds.

Against this backdrop, Hannah Johnson—a Syrian American woman—is trying to flee the city, but she’s stopped at a government checkpoint:
It was undeniably true, Hannah admitted to the army officer who questioned her, that she had been in the streets of Aleppo, in the middle of the night, on the very same night the rebels had launched their attack on the city. It was also true, she conceded, that she was one of only a handful of Americans who were still in Aleppo.

She didn’t deny it. Just as she didn’t deny that the Americans were probably using the CIA to secretly funnel arms to the rebels. But she very much did deny that she, personally, was doing any of the funneling, which is what they were accusing her of doing.
Does this page-69 excerpt give readers a decent sense of the whole work? I suppose, in the sense that the novel does focus intensely on both the history of the war for Aleppo and Hannah, who, along with the titular doctor, is a critical character throughout the book.

But I fear the passage could lead readers a bit astray in that, while I’ve written spy novels in the past—and this book does include a mystery element involving a Syrian intelligence officer—the CIA doesn’t play any real role in The Doctor of Aleppo. In fact, Booklist described the novel as, “A heroic and heartbreaking novel that concentrates on concepts of homeland, family, loss, and, above all, survival.”

I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether the “heroic and heartbreaking” description is apt, but as for the “homeland, family, loss, and, above all, survival” part? Yeah, that’s exactly what the book is about. The CIA, not so much.
Visit Dan Mayland's website.

Q&A with Dan Mayland.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

"Last Call on Decatur Street"

Iris Martin Cohen grew up in the French Quarter of New Orleans. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and studied Creative Nonfiction at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is the author of The Little Clan (2018).

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Last Call on Decatur Street, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It was spring, and we were on our way to jog the paved running track of Audubon Park. City Park was closer to both our houses but in our recent attempt at taming the growing lumps and curves of our teenage bodies, the track felt more official. The Uptown ladies speed-walking in pearls and sweating out last nights’ white wine, the rich Tulane kids in drum circles on the ground, the neat landscaping and broad two-mile path broken up with funny 80’s pull-up bars and exercise stations, it just made us feel both fancy and athletic, two feelings we both found hard to come by, and considered worth the drive.
I think this passage is representative of the book in that it describes a taxonomy of New Orleans of society, the way it uses the physical specifics of a place to draw out larger questions of class and race and exclusion. This particular section does have a teenage narrator which most of the book does not, although the novel does make different stops along the course of my main character’s growing up. Most of the book that is not in flashback takes place over a single night when she is a young adult so maybe those pages tell you more about the book. It’s hard to say.

A large part of this novel is Rosemary revisiting memories of her friendship with Gaby and trying to piece together, or failing to realize, what went wrong in their relationship and the ways that race and white supremacy and her own complicity in unjust systems have taken their toll. Page 69, a scene of the two of them jogging together as teenagers gives you a sense of the love these two girls share but also hints at the larger problems in the society they live in. I wanted to give a kaleidoscopic view of my city, from spring afternoons in the fancy parts of town, to midnight in a dive bar, to lazy summer days in the girls’ working class neighborhoods, a fancy French quarter Mardi Gras ball and more, and I think this page shows one of these snapshots.
Visit Iris Martin Cohen's website.

Q&A with Iris Martin Cohen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 10, 2020

"Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey"

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches in the English Department at DePaul University, and her most recent books include the national best-seller, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (2017) and The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte (2018). Her new novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, is based on a true story of the Great War.

Rooney applied the Page 69 Test to Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey and reported the following:
From page 69:
On February 4, 1918, Colonel Averill led the 308th Infantry in parade up Eighth Avenue and down Fifth. A West Point instructor well-liked by the soldiers, he was determined to reassure the Manhattanites gathered on the sidewalks that the hordes plucked from their midst by the draft had been ennobled. The men seemed determined to prove it, too.

The crowd was huge and ready to be dazzled, despite a driving snowstorm and a bitter wind. Face upon cheering face appraised us as we filed by, snowflakes on our olive drab, slush under our boots. Marguerite and Bayard watched us pass, as did men from the Williams and Harvard Clubs, and men whom I had met on the street and taken home and then never met again. On the march, though, I had no impression of individual identities, either among the spectators or in our uniformed column. We seemed to become two huge organisms, one watched and the other watching, creatures at once new to the world and utterly ancient, enacting a ritual older than history itself.

Dazzle we did, and with such effectiveness that enlistments soared throughout the city during the next week, and the Army issued orders for infantry units all over the country to do the same in their cities.

I should have been proud. Instead all I felt was ineffable sadness, which—I did not understand at the time, but realize now, aboard the Toloa—was due to the fact that we were about to take these men whom we had improved so much physically and mentally to Europe and erase all traces not just of that improvement but of their entire existence.

Here at sea, I put on my dress uniform and hang my regular clothes in the tiny wardrobe. I might as well look the part of war hero tonight at the captain’s table, as it will be expected of me. The very last expectation that I’ll be required to meet.
I’m always up for an arbitrary challenge, so I’ve long been enamored of McLuhan’s book-browser’s shortcut. As fate would have it, this trick works magically on page 69 of Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey in that it offers a surprisingly comprehensive sense of the book as a whole, or at least the half of the book told in the first person from the Army officer Charles Whittlesey’s perspective.

Page 69 happens to be the very last page of Chapter 4 and as such it lets the reader see how the book is structured around Whit’s flashing back to his military experiences of the past from the deck of a Havana-bound cruise ship called the Toloa. The memories and emotions Whit reflects upon here—his love of the men he trained, his double life as a gay man in New York City in 1910s Manhattan, and his regret and sorrow over what he and his men went through on the battlefield in France—are the ones which drive his portion of the plot.

What’s not on page 69, though, is a mention of the book’s other equally important protagonist, the homing pigeon Cher Ami, who was deployed with Whit and his men, and who delivered a crucial message during the battle of the Meuse-Argonne. The chapters of the book alternate back and forth between Whit and Cher Ami, each of them taking turns to revisit their recent history as they recall it. So when the reader turns from page 69 to page 70, they enter into Chapter 5 and get to hear once again from Cher Ami about her take on events.
Visit Kathleen Rooney's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 8, 2020

"Shadows in Time"

Julie McElwain is a national award-winning journalist. Born and raised in North Dakota, she graduated from North Dakota State University, and moved to Los Angeles, where she worked for a fashion trade newspaper.

Her first novel, A Murder In Time, was one of the top 10 picks by the National Librarian Association for its April 2016 book list. The novel was also a finalist for the 2016 Goodreads’ readers choice awards in the Sci-fi category, and made Bustle’s list of 9 Most Addictive Mystery series for 2017.

The series continues Kendra Donovan’s adventures in Regency England with A Twist in Time, Caught in Time, Betrayal in Time, and Shadows in Time.

McElwain applied the Page 69 Test to Shadows in Time and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Educated guess. She would have stood out if she went to Aldridge Village, asking questions. A beautiful young woman without a chaperone?” She glanced automatically over her shoulder at Molly. “Someone would remember her. That’s also vital to a good con. When you’re doing research, you want to be low-key.”

“She may have disguised herself as a servant or someone from the lower classes, where she wouldn’t need a chaperone. Like someone else I know,” he said dryly, a not-so-oblique reference to the times when Kendra had made use of a maid’s uniform to go about London incognito.

Kendra dismissed that with a wave. “London is different than Aldridge Village. And she still would have been noticed, unless she disguised her looks. Possible, I suppose, but—” She stopped when Alec up a hand on her arm and looked at him “What?”

But now she saw what had caught his attention. They’d reached the crest of the hill. Below them was a charming glen, thick with woods, and a stream cutting through the fields. The land rose again in the distance, rolled green against the milky sky and dotted with bits of white.

“Sheep,” Kendra said.

“Not that.” Alec turned her slightly and pointed.

It wasn’t easy to see through the copse’s foliage. But there was enough space between the branches and leaves to identify something else: gray stone jutting upward.

A chimney stack.
In Shadows in Time, my main protagonist, Kendra Donovan, is confronting two mysteries simultaneously. She’s been asked to track down the missing manager of a brewing company, and she’s found her own world rocked when Carlotta, a woman claiming to be the Duke’s dead daughter, Charlotte, arrives. (In many ways, the former 21st century FBI agent has begun to regard the Duke as a father figure. And, as someone whose own parents abandoned her when she was a teenager, this development shakes Kendra up more than she cares to admit.)

While vague, Page 69 touches on both of these mysteries. Earlier, Kendra realizes that the missing manager, Jeremy Pascoe, was using another place to explore his interest in writing poetry, and she and her love interest, Alec, begin scouring the nearby countryside to find an area that matches the description Pascoe had shared with his mother regarding his writer’s retreat. While walking, their conversation veers to her suspicion of Carlotta, and they consider possible theories on how she could know intimate details of the Duke’s daughter. During their conversation, Alec even makes reference to Kendra’s unorthodox behavior of disguising herself occasionally to conduct investigations, which again reminds readers that Kendra is a modern woman stuck in the 19th century. She is trying to adapt, but she will never truly fit in, especially during an investigation. Their conversation is cut short when they see the chimney stack, indicating a cottage in the woods—in other words, a remote writing retreat. Page 69 is the end of the chapter, and it indicates both a sense of discovery and a slightly ominous note.
Visit Julie McElwain's website.

The Page 69 Test: Caught in Time.

My Book, The Movie: Betrayal in Time.

The Page 69 Test: Betrayal in Time.

Q&A with Julie McElwain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 6, 2020

"Convince Me"

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

Her debut thriller, Just Fall, was published by Ballantine in March 2016. Her second novel, The Burial Society, was published in 2018, and is the first of The Burial Society Series; the second novel in the series, The Empty Bed, came out earlier this year.

Sadowsky applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Convince Me, and reported the following:
Page 69 is the opening of Chapter 13 of Convince Me. Over the course of the page newly-widowed Annie reminiscences about her courtship with her husband, Justin. The novel begins at Justin's funeral with a broken-hearted Annie remembering their first meeting, and in this later chapter Annie recounts being "dazed and dizzy" with love as their relationship progressed. The chapter culminates with Justin's overtly dramatic marriage proposal.

The page passes the browser test. And yet it doesn't. The novel is told from three perspectives: Justin's widow Annie's, and also that of Justin's mother, Carol, and his best friend, Will. Each character must come to terms with the fact that the charming, charismatic and generous man they knew in life is revealed to be a pathological liar upon his death, one who left behind a trail of embezzlement, false accustation, suicide and murder. The page pases the browser test in that it reveals Annie completely under the sway of Justin, but fails to pass the browser test in that it doesn't reveal anything about the flip side. Not only does Annie have to come to terms with who her beloved husband really was, she has to summon the strength to learn exactly how and why he died. The page also fails the test in that it doesn't reveal anything from Will or Carol's perspective.

I wrote this book faster than I've ever worked. It poured out of me, fueled by rage at the havoc pathological liars are wreaking on our society. I felt the entire plot, including the device of writing from the three perspectives of people who thought they knew a dead man best, explode into my head like an arrow, which I then pulled inch by inch onto the page. Despite my rage, or maybe because of it, it was the most fun I've ever had writing. I hope readers have every bit as much fun.
Visit Nina Sadowsky's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

"Really Truly"

Heather Vogel Frederick is the award-winning author of the Mother-Daughter Book Club series, the Pumpkin Falls Mystery series, the Patience Goodspeed books, the Spy Mice series, and Once Upon a Toad.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Really Truly, the newest Pumpkin Falls mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Gotta make hay while the sun shines,” Aunt True had said.

Good call, I thought, eyeing the throng of customers. Belinda had volunteered to man the fort so that my father and aunt could spend the afternoon at the lake, and she’d corralled Augustus into helping. He was holding court over at Cup and Chaucer, dispensing beverages along with recommendations for books — most notably his own.

“I see you like Earl Grey tea,” I overheard him tell an older lady who was hanging on his every word. Augustus had a lot of fangirls. “You may enjoy my own Earl of Hearts.”

I smothered a grin. I’d have to tell Hatcher about that one later.

“It’s too crowded to meet here,” said Calhoun, glancing around.

I agreed. “The library is open. How about we go there?”

The library was usually closed on Sundays, but Mr. Henry and the staff had decided to keep it open for race day, so that visitors could use the restrooms. No unsightly porta-potties for Pumpkin Falls, no sirree. We headed back down Main Street toward the village green. Our town’s lone police car was parked outside the library. Inside, we found Officer Tanglewood at the front desk, chatting with Mr. Henry.

Officer Tanglewood smirked at us. “Well, if it isn’t Nancy Drew and – what is it you call yourselves? The Pumpkin Falls Private Eyes?”
I have to admit, my expectations for this page 69 exercise were pretty low. Surprise! I was gobsmacked to find that taking a slice right out of the middle really does give a flavor of the whole book. Here, the reader meets, directly or tangentially, a total of eight characters – from the narrator and main character, Truly, to the oh-so-quirky Augustus (Wilde, local celebrity author). The book has a large cast, and this page reflects it. We also sample not one but two different settings – Lovejoy’s Books, the family-run shop where much of the story’s action takes place, and the local library, another favorite hangout for Truly and her friends. And we glimpse the wider setting that embraces both of those spots, the town of Pumpkin Falls. Given the mention of the lone police car, astute readers will surmise that it’s probably a small town, and they’d be right. Finally, the mention of “Nancy Drew” and the “Pumpkin Falls Private Eyes” hints that there may be a mystery afoot. (Spoiler: There is.) On balance, I’d give this exercise high marks.

What readers won’t glean from this page is an unexpected twist that’s just around the corner for Truly, when she ventures away from Pumpkin Falls for the first time in the series. Good thing she does, though, because it’s while she’s on Cape Cod at Sirena’s Sea Siren Academy – better known as mermaid camp – that she first learns that one of her ancestors may have been a pirate....
Visit Heather Vogel Frederick's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

"Lies Lies Lies"

Adele Parks was born in Teesside, North East England. She has written twenty novels in twenty years; all hit the bestseller lists. She's been an ambassador for The Reading Agency and a judge for the Costa Book Awards, and is a keen supporter of The National Literary Trust. Parks lived in Italy, Botswana and London and is now settled in Guildford, Surrey, with her husband, son and cat.

Parks applied the Page 69 Test to her latest book to hit the US, Lies, Lies, Lies, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Lies Lies Lies we see married couple Daisy and Simon visit Simon’s mother in a care home; she has dementia. I so wanted this test to be one hundred per cent accurate but sadly, I don’t think this page is especially representative of the novel because Simon’s mother doesn’t feature beyond this scene. A browser might think they were getting a novel about caring for an aging parent, or the sandwich generation – they are not. Lies Lies Lies is a domestic noir with themes such as addiction, jealousy and secrecy raging throughout. This page does however demonstrate Simon and Daisy’s differing viewpoints’ on family responsibility.
Simon hated visiting his mother. He thought it was a waste of time. She often didn’t know who he was and, even if he did seem to temporarily recognize him, she forgets that they’ve seen one another within an hour of his visit. But Daisy was adamant…she said it was their duty. The right thing to do.
Daisy and Simon have been together for nearly twenty years; many of those years were dominated by their yearning to start a family. We meet them when they have their longed-for daughter, and everything should be perfect now they are a happy family of three. However, Simon is pushing for a second child and Daisy is strangely resistant to even trying again. They are clearly struggling with being honest with each other. I hope that this page does shimmer with that tension because I like to think I don’t waste a word. Thwarted, Simon is drinking more than usual, he steals booze from the pensioners in the home in this scene, even stooping so low as to pinch liqueur chocolates. Ultimately his drinking spirals out of control with horrific consequences. This little family can never be the same again. In this book I look at the power of addiction and the redemptive force of friendship but mostly it is about the danger of secrets and lies. This couple are incapable or unwilling to be honest with each other, despite their twenty years history.
Visit Adele Parks's website.

Q&A with Adele Parks.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 3, 2020

"He Started It"

Samantha Downing is the author of My Lovely Wife, her first novel.

She currently lives in New Orleans, where she is furiously typing away on her next thrilling standalone.

Downing applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, He Started It, and reported the following:
Page 69 of He Started It is an interesting peek into the book. While most of the story focuses on the sibling relationships in the Morgan family, page 69 is about the relationship between the narrator, Beth, and her husband, Felix.

The book takes place over the course of a 2-week road trip. Just before the trip began, Beth and Felix weren’t getting along. Felix wants to have children, Beth doesn’t know if she wants to or not. This page includes a flashback to a dinner a few weeks before the trip, where Felix insinuates that they’ll be trying to have children soon. Beth doesn’t like that, and she continues to think about it.

While their marriage isn’t the central story to the road trip, it’s an important part of who Beth is and where she is in life. How much she tells her husband—or doesn’t—is crucial.

There are a lot of secrets between all the characters in He Started It. Beth and Felix’s relationship, which they don’t talk about in front of the siblings, is one of them. It’s a great example of just how much everyone is hiding—or at least not sharing.
Visit Samantha Downing's website.

The Page 69 Test: My Lovely Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 1, 2020


Alex Landragin is a writer whose fiction explores place, migration and literature's formal potential. He has also worked as a copywriter, travel writer, journalist, librarian, indigenous community worker, wine merchant and musician.

Landragin was born in France and migrated to Australia as a child. He has previously resided in Marseille, Alice Springs, Paris, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Washington DC. He currently lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Landragin applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, Crossings, and reported the following:
Crossings consists of three stories. Page 69 finds us near the beginning of the second of the three stories, a kind of literary detective noir set in Paris in 1940 on the eve of the German occupation called ‘City of Ghosts’. In the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris during a German bombing raid, the narrator, an exiled Jewish-German writer, meets and begins falling in love with a mysterious woman called Madeleine. They spend a night together and return to the cemetery the next day to find a pistol the woman lost the previous day at the time of the raid. They pass a poster issued by the Ministry of the Interior declaring: ‘Expatriate Germans living in France – You must report immediately to the nearest police station.’ Madeleine tells the narrator that he should leave Paris, but he replies, “I’m like you. I have nowhere to go.” Because of a missing piece of paperwork, he’s stuck in a legal limbo.

The Page 69 test works well for Crossings as this page is a good introduction to the novel, and to the romance at its core. It begins at the point where the two characters have kissed for the first time and when they pass the poster they are walking hand in hand for the first time. Without giving too much away, the two characters have met several times before. At this point of the story, Madeleine is aware of this but he is not. In fact, Madeleine has spent a good part of her existence looking for him, and now, on the eve of catastrophe, they have found each other by accident. The page is also an introduction to the themes of migration and displacement that are woven throughout the novel, especially in this section of the novel. The narrator will continue to flee the Germans until he is finally backed into a corner and can run no more.

I should also add that, because Crossings is a novel that can be read in two different sequences, page 69 has a slightly different significance depending which sequence you’re reading. If you read the novel in the alternative sequence, ‘City of Ghosts’ is the story that frames the entire novel, and you will read page 69 slightly earlier than if you had read it the other way. So the story, and this page, have more importance read in this way than if you read the book conventionally.
Visit Alex Landragin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue