Sunday, January 17, 2021

"A Splendid Ruin"

Megan Chance is the bestselling, critically acclaimed author of several novels. Her books have been picks for Amazon Book of the Month, IndieNext, and the Historical Novel Society Editors’ Choice. Booklist calls her writing “provocative and haunting.”

Chance lives in the Pacific Northwest.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Splendid Ruin, and reported the following: 
From page 69:
It seemed that nearly everyone in San Francisco had the idea to go to the Cliff House that Sunday—or to the enormous, Grecian-styled Sutro Baths nearby. The oceanside highway had been lively with horses and carriages, other bicyclists, and automobiles, and now they crowded the entrance. Men in their driving and bicycling caps dallied on the huge porch, women with colorful parasols and scarves and tams and, yes, one or two in bloomers.

“We need a table at the west windows,” Goldie said as we went inside. “I want May to see the view.”

The hall was long, the woodwork gleaming, the decor elegant, beautiful, and soothing. Places like this accentuated how truly the Sullivan house unsettled, that a resort should feel more like home.

Pillars punctuated the dining room, which was tastefully ornamented with palms and ferns and hanging lamps. It was indeed crowded, but we were seated promptly at a white-clothed table next to a window overlooking a veranda and the Pacific Ocean. Talk, silver clinking against plate, and the wonderful smells of food and smoke and that underlying, ever-present scent of the sea only added to the stunning view.

“Don’t you love it, May?” Goldie asked. “Aren’t you glad you’re here instead of gloomy old Brooklyn?”

“You know I am. How many times must I say it?”
Page 69 of A Splendid Ruin shows the protagonist, May Kimble, her rich cousin Goldie Sullivan, and two friends at the famous Cliff House in San Francisco, a famous society restaurant on the cliffs overlooking the ocean.

The scene sets a normal Society Sunday—a world to which May has only recently been introduced, and so this is all very new to her. While the McLuhan test gives you an idea of the book’s atmosphere, it really gives you no sense of the foreboding or impending doom and disaster which permeates the book. The novel feels fairly light and inconsequential here, with not much indication of the story’s darkness or its themes of betrayal and revenge.

I think it gives you a good idea of the writing itself, however. This is also the page that sets up the reader for the introduction of two important plot points: on page 70 we are introduced to Ellis Farge, a mysterious architect who shows May dreams she hasn’t even realized she’s had, and to Steven Oelrichs, who is a clue to the strange goings-on at the Sullivan House. So while page 69 reveals little more than atmosphere, it does serve as a crucial framing, and gives a sense of the fairy-tale world in which May finds herself, which soon (this is not a spoiler) becomes something much more terrifying.
Visit Megan Chance's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Splendid Ruin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 15, 2021

"Corporate Gunslinger"

Doug Engstrom has been a farmer's son, a US Air Force officer, a technical writer, a computer support specialist, and a business analyst, as well as being a writer of speculative fiction. He lives near Des Moines, Iowa with his wife, Catherine Engstrom.

Engstrom applied the Page 69 Test to his 2020 novel, Corporate Gunslinger, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Chloe exited Simulator Thirty-Seven, her face stoic. For the hundredth and final match of her qualification series, her mech managed a 62-point shot to her lower chest, while she’d administered only a 27-point shoulder graze in return. The loss hurt in the battle for class rank, but Chloe’s sixtieth Qualification Week victory on Thursday had already assured her future as a TKC gunfighter.

Kira greeted her at the edge of the simulator field. “Hey, you’re done!”

Chloe rubbed a spot on her lower ribcage. For the qualification, the shock suits administered little more than a hard tickle, but the irritation could persist. “I thought I had it until it turned.” She looked back to the field, where the mech had already assumed the start position, and the next trainee verified his holster settings with an instructor. “Damn, those things are fast. The turn block is loose, though. It overshot when it brought the gun around and couldn’t zero in fast enough. That’s what saved my butt.”

“Thanks, that’s good to know.”
Is page 69 a good representation of Corporate Gunslinger? No.

Partially because it is a chapter start page, and therefore short, the test misleads by making the book sound far more technical than it is, and overstating Chloe’s role relative to Kira, who is the main character. However, I like the way it highlights Chloe’s role and her relationship with Kira.

Corporate Gunslinger is the story of Kira Clark, a young woman in the near-future United States who has mortgaged her freedom to finance her education. Facing foreclosure, which would allow her creditors to control every aspect of her life, Kira takes a large signing bonus to enroll in gunfighter training, where she learns to represent TKC Insurance in the duels that have become the final, fatal stop in the American judicial system. The chapter takes place at the very end of training, as Chloe and Kira are trying to pass their final simulator duels against training robots and earn a high class ranking.

Technology is incidental to the story, serving mainly to remind the reader that, “we’re in the future, and they do things differently here.” Though it tackles themes of violence and corporate power, the story is anchored by the friendships between its main characters—KIra, her best friend and roommate Chloe Rossi, and their trainer, Diana Reynolds. Though Kira is the most important character, Chloe isn’t just a sidekick who exists to serve Kira’s needs. Chloe has her own aspirations, concerns, and adventures, and she and Kira have a warm, mutually supportive relationship. I’m pleased that you can see a little bit of Chloe’s story on page 69.
Visit Doug Engstrom's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

"Threader Origins"

Gerald Brandt is an international bestselling author of science fiction and fantasy, and the author of the cyberpunk San Angeles sci-fi trilogy: The Courier, The Operative, and The Rebel. The first of the trilogy was a finalist for the Aurora Award for Best Novel. His short story “Storm” appeared in the 2013 Prix Aurora Award-winning anthology Blood & Water. By day, he’s an IT professional and coding guru. In his limited spare time, he enjoys riding his motorcycle, rock climbing, camping, and spending time with his family. He lives in Winnipeg with his wife Marnie, and their two sons Jared and Ryan.

Brandt applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Threader Origins - Book One of The Quantum Empirica, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Threader Origins shows the very first lesson Darwin (the main character) gets in using the Threads (quantum strings generated by a machine).
The harder he looked at them, the clearer they became. “Yes.”

“Good. I’m making the Threads stronger so you can See them. Watch the Threads. In which direction do they seem thicker? Is the thickest Thread pulling or pushing the stick in a particular direction?”

He watched the Threads as they wove around the stick. They all looked the same, thin and translucent, ethereal, like gauze pulled through liquid. He concentrated harder. The Threads partly disappeared as images flashed in their place. They were almost carbon copies of each other as the images of the stick split, and split again. Suddenly, in one, the stick fell to the right, while in another it fell to the left and in a third the stick remained upright. He raised his hand to his head, expecting the pain he’d felt earlier with his Coke can. Only a faint buzzing came through.

The images disappeared, and with it the faint background buzz.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah . . . yeah. Last time that happened it felt like my head was going to explode, and I passed out.”

“And this time?”

“Nothing, just a small buzzing in my head.”

“Good! That’s the inhibitor doing its job. Even the noise will disappear as you get stronger. Let’s do it again. Concentrate on the Threads.”

It was easier this time. The Threads appeared as insubstantial as before, and then disappeared, replaced by the images. The image of the stick tipping left seemed stronger, brighter, more real than the one falling right and definitely more substantial than the balancing stick.

“It will go left.”

Bill let go of the stick and it fell to the left. “Excellent. Let’s do it again.”
I'd have to say this is almost a perfect page for a potential reader to land on. The only thing it could do better is name the speaking characters. It shows Darwin's interpretation and viewing of the Threads, and the first time he actually uses them on purpose. From this point on, Darwin's world changes in so many ways.

Darwin has no idea what's going to happen, and the book covers his journey in learning how to use the Threads, regaining something he has lost long ago and then losing it again, and realizing that no one can work in isolation. Friends and family, whether of blood or not, can make you stronger than you ever thought you could be.
Visit Gerald Brandt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 10, 2021

"Fatal Divisions"

Formerly a crime reporter for daily newspapers such as the Miami Herald and Philadelphia Inquirer, Claire Booth is the author of the Sheriff Hank Worth Mysteries: The Branson Beauty, Another Man's Ground, A Deadly Turn, and the newly released Fatal Divisions.

Booth applied the Page 69 Test to Fatal Divisions and reported the following:
From page 69:
Sam hadn’t realized his former classmate worked here. If he had, he would have started his canvass somewhere else.

“Hey, Jermina. How long you been working here?” He wasn’t going to ask how she was doing. That would lead to a long and painfully detailed update about people he’d been deliberately avoiding since they all graduated from high school. And slinky, rumor-starting, innuendo-slinging Jermina was at the top of that list.

“Oh, just a month or two. I was up at Calico Cabins before that. But it wasn’t, uh, the right fit for me, so I moved on.”

Which meant she’d been fired.

“You know me,” she said, leaning over the counter and winking at him. “I’m always looking for better opportunities.”

Sam suppressed a shudder. He explained that he needed to know if Branson residents were allowed to use the resort’s bocce courts.

“What’s those?”

Dear Lord.

“One of the amenities. For guests. Is there anybody else I could talk to? Where’s your manager?”

Jermina snapped out of her come-hither lean in a huff. “He ain’t here. All you get is me.”

“What about a maintenance worker?”

She considered that. “There’s some old guy who wanders around. With, like, garbage bags and stuff.”

He decided to take that as permission to go look for the man. He hustled out, pretending not to hear her ask for his cell number. He wandered around for ten minutes before he found the “old guy,” who was actually only about Sheila’s age—she sure would have had something to say about that if she was here.

The man started chuckling the second Sam said “bocce.”
Page 69 has one of my main characters, sheriff’s deputy Sam Karnes, talking with the desk clerk at a tourist resort in Branson, Missouri. It’s a great page to read, for two reasons. First, it tells you something important about Sam, a guy in his mid-twenties who is really starting to grow professionally. He isn’t stuck in the rut that a lot of other young people in Branson have dug for themselves.

This page also mentions something that’s a key element throughout the entire book—bocce ball. During his investigation of a murder, Sam discovers that the victim and a group of friends are sneaking onto private property in the middle of the night and covertly using the bocce ball courts.

While Sam doesn’t think that the trespassing is a motive for the murder, he does want to identify the other members of the group. They could potentially tell him more about the victim, who is an enigma at this point in the book. Or one of them could even be the murderer.
Visit Claire Booth's website.

My Book, The Movie: Fatal Divisions.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 8, 2021

"The Heiress"

Molly Greeley was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where her addiction to books was spurred by her parents' floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. A graduate of Michigan State University, she began as an Education major, but switched to English and Creative Writing after deciding that gainful employment was not as important to her as being able to spend several years reading books and writing stories and calling it work.

She lives in northern Michigan with her husband and three children, and can often be found with her laptop at local coffee shops.

Greeley applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Heiress, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The wind was a warm breath on my cheek, and I could hear the swish of tree branches from the woods down the hill. I had been frightened of those woods all my life; they seemed a fearsome place, shadowed and gloomy. I could never understand the impulse that drew people to seek out such untamed places, my mind skipping back to those old stories from my nurse, to wolves and bears and unnamed beasts with teeth and claws that pierced maidens' delicate flesh. It was always the maidens being pierced, in the stories.
If someone were to open to this page randomly when paging through the book, I'd say it would give them a definite sense of the interiority of the story, particularly in part one, when Anne is so physically confined and so exists largely inside her own head. However, there is a passage just before the paragraph quoted above, in which Anne is talking to her governess about the laudanum she takes each day; I didn't quote this because it really begins a page or two earlier. But it does give a definite sense of what the story is about - of what Anne is going to have to overcome - if the reader happened to start at page 69 and then, curious, read further back a page or two!
Visit Molly Greeley's website.

Q&A with Molly Greeley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

"Monsters Among Us"

Monica Rodden lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Greg, and a dog who loves to chase everything. When not preventing Hamlet from terrorizing the local squirrel population, she writes murder mysteries for young adults...with a classic twist!

Rodden applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Monsters Among Us, and reported the following:
Page 69 brings us to right before the murder, which is told from the victim's perspective. It was one of my favorite scenes to write--not because I'm a psychopath (I think) but because it's both haunting and important. I wanted to do justice to the looming terror of it and focus on the victim the entire time.
Amy checked the clock, did the math. The clifftop was a ten-minute walk...She told herself if it was raining hard, she wouldn't go--she wasn't totally reckless--but thankfully the night was almost clear, with just a faint drizzle falling. She zipped up her coat to her chin, shoved the note into her pocket, and took a full thirty seconds to close the front door with white-mittened hands. It was freezing outside, so she walked fast, her stomach rising up her throat. She swallowed. Nerves. Relax. At least you won't get bug bites. Rain dotted her hat, caught on her eyelashes. She blinked to clear them, and they fell onto her cheek, like tears.
Here, a character is walking to her doom, arguably by her own free will, which is a theme I explore in Monsters Among Us: victims--primarily women--making a "bad" choice and being "punished" for it, in the eyes of the world. But really it's just a girl making a decision to go somewhere. And sure, maybe that was a mistake. Maybe she should have stayed inside. But she is a human making a human choice and that cannot and should not take away her humanity.

I was dubious about this test, but page 69 is actually a solid representation of my book. If you like page 69, chances are you'll enjoy the other pages of Monsters Among Us.
Visit Monica Rodden's website.

Q&A with Monica Rodden.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 4, 2021

"Better Luck Next Time"

Julia Claiborne Johnson is the author of the bestselling Be Frank with Me, a finalist for the American Bookseller’s Association Best Debut Novel Award. She grew up on a farm in Tennessee before moving to New York City, where she worked at Mademoiselle and Glamour magazines. She now lives in Los Angeles with her comedy-writer husband and their two children.

Johnson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Better Luck Next Time, and reported the following:
From page 69:
"Oh?" Nina asked. "How was it?"

"Not bad. considering most of the students are there to study mining," I said. "The costumes were the best part, I thought. Showed real imagination. Bottom's in particular."

Nina said, "Let's drive around some before we go back to the ranch. Show me where this college is, Ward. I never went to college. Maybe I should enroll there since I'm about to become a citizen of Nevada again. Maybe if I had a university degree people would treat me with the respect I probably don't deserve."
Though it is only a few short paragraphs, page 69 is important to the novel. Bottom’s costume, which at this point is in the collection of a college theater department, is not only a jumping-off place for all the hijinks that will follow but the source of my favorite joke in the whole novel (see page 201). The costume’s head starts as a sight gag, turns into an integral plot device and finally becomes a heartbreaking metaphor.

The whole idea of that costume’s role in my book was born of the fact that my son played Bottom in his high school production of A Midsummer Nights Dream. I couldn’t stop thinking about the papier mâché donkey head he wore when he played it. Then it struck me that were was something very Midsummers Night about a novel set on a Reno divorce ranch, a place where rich ladies—like our Nina, in this passage— once went in droves for an idyllic (or as idyllic-as-possible, under the circumstances) time away from their real, unhappy lives. When my novel is set, in the summer of 1938, six weeks of living in Nevada, and voilà! You were a legal resident of the state. Next stop, one of Reno’s famous “quickie” divorces. Free as a bird. Ready to try your luck again, if you so desired. Many did.

So it made perfect sense to me that, during the lean years of the Depression, a canny businessman would roll into Reno, snap up a failed cattle ranch, have a Hollywood set designer make it over into a movie-magazine version of the Old West and staff the place with handsome young ranch hands like cowboys straight out of Central Casting to lure the rich and often-married set. Hence the ranch in my novel, the Flying Leap. And my narrator, Ward? He's one of the cowboys, a young and handsome formerly-rich college boy from Tennessee, now fallen on hard times and surrounded by rich women with broken hearts. A novel inspired, in fact, by my own father, who had a job like this during the Depression. But that’s another story.
Follow Julia Claiborne Johnson on Facebook and Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 3, 2021

"Confessions of a Curious Bookseller"

Elizabeth Green graduated from the University of the Arts with a BFA in theater arts. They have contributed to McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Hobart, Wigleaf, Necessary Fiction, fwriction : review, and others. Their hobbies include native gardening and aikido. Hailing from Upstate New York—Greenwich, to be specific—Green now lives outside Philadelphia with their husband and two cats.

They applied the Page 69 Test to their new book, Confessions of a Curious Bookseller, and reported the following:
If you open to page 69 of my book, you'll find our narrator, Fawn Birchill, lamenting in an email to her staff about her high energy bills due to a window being left open in the back of her bookstore. She attempts to shut the jammed window by hitting the top of it with a hammer, to no avail. The page ends with the opening of another email, gushing to a local catering company about their food.

The book is entirely epistolary, so what we get throughout are communications from our rather unreliable narrator, to her often baffled and beleaguered recipients. Because of this, I think the test works in the sense that we get an idea of how Fawn solves problems: haphazardly and without much consideration. It's not unlike how she lives her life – at least until she does some soul-searching – so in that sense, I think the test works.

Her email to the catering company might seem like a friendly one on its face, but as we read on, we learn that she is embarking on a campaign to get a big discount for her store's holiday party. I think if one reads between the lines of this book, there is nuance to be discovered. She is a curmudgeon for sure, but her tactics, though misguided and cringeworthy, are justified to her. She loves her store, and will do anything to make it successful, even if it sometimes accidentally leads to self-sabotage.
Visit Elizabeth Green's website.

--Marshal Zeringue