Tuesday, December 28, 2021

"The Savage Kind"

John Copenhaver’s historical crime novel, Dodging and Burning, won the 2019 Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel and garnered Anthony, Strand Critics, Barry, and Lambda Literary Award nominations. Copenhaver writes a crime fiction review column for Lambda Literary called “Blacklight,” cohosts on the House of Mystery Radio Show, and is the six-time recipient of Artist Fellowships from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. He has taught high school English for nearly twenty years. He grew up in the mountains of southwestern Virginia and currently lives in Richmond, VA, with his husband, artist Jeffery Paul (Herrity).

Copenhaver applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Savage Kind, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Philippa, October 21, 1948

Judy and I agreed to meet up after school. We needed to make a plan to investigate what happened to Miss Martins. So, there I was, scanning Horsfield’s malt shop for her, peering in through the O in the red-enameled script that swept across its wide plate glass window. I felt jittery, nervous that I’d witnessed too much at Miss Martins’s apartment and said too much to Judy about it. This afternoon—and still now—my loyalties are strained, even divided, not that I’m somehow beholden to Miss Martins and not that Judy doesn’t deserve to know. In truth, I’m not sure what I actually saw, but it felt intimate, and I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve done something to add to Miss Martins’s pain.
Frankly, I’m amazed at how well the page 69 test works for this novel.

After shifting away from Judy’s point of view, Philippa, one of my two main characters, reflects on a disturbing scene that she witnessed involving her beloved English teacher, Miss Martins. Her teacher loaned her a pulp mystery and asked that she return it to her home. They live in the same neighborhood. When she arrives at Miss Martins’s apartment, the door is ajar. Being curious and not wanting to disappoint her teacher, who she has a crush on, she enters, only to discover her poised and self-possessed teacher being assaulted by a mysterious man in the shadows. Shocked, she falters, drops the book, and flees.

As she reflects on the event with her best friend, the world-weary and cynical Judy, she’s not sure what she’s seen. Her sexual naivety and latent feelings of same-sex attraction to her teacher muddy her perceptual waters. Has she witnessed a horrible sexual assault or rough consensual sex or something else entirely? Soon after, a classmate, Cleveland Closs, is murdered, his body washes up on the shore of the Anacostia River, and the girls begin to believe that there’s a connection between the events. The question of what she witnessed in Miss Martins’s apartment hovers over the novel, as does the theme of the slipperiness of interpretation.

This page 69 passage also suggests the close and complicated bond between Philippa and Judy. They’re beginning their journey as an amateur crime-solving team, but Philippa already doubts whether she should trust Judy. Had she “said too much” to her about what she’d witnessed? If readers were to dip into the novel at this point, they would get a sense of the relationship dynamic and, of course, a central question of the mystery. So, indeed, this test works well for The Savage Kind.
Visit John Copenhaver's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 20, 2021

"My Darling Husband"

Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of seven novels, including the newly released My Darling Husband and The Marriage Lie, a Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for Best Mystery & Thriller. Her books have been published in more than in a dozen languages and have been optioned for film and television. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

She applied the Page 69 Test to My Darling Husband and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Come on, Baxter.” I toss the cell to the marble and gesture with my gun—a warning, a promise. He’s sucking hard on a thumb, his smooth cheeks puffing and pulling. I smile to calm his nerves. “Get on over here, son. I need you to do something for me.”

Jade’s gaze sticks to the gun like superglue. “At least let me come with him.”

“Sorry, but that’s a hard no.”

“But Baxter’s only six.”

“Exactly. Plenty old enough to help me out.”

She shakes her head hard enough that her hair whacks her in the face. “But he’s terrified. I’m terrified.” Her voice cracks, and she’s trying really hard not to cry.

“What do you think’s going to happen? What are you so scared of?”

She gives me an incredulous look, searching for words she can say out loud. Without turning her head, she darts a side-long glance at her daughter, her expression sparkling with meaning. Little pitchers have big ears—and Beatrix’s are practically flapping off her head. This is a kid who knows when to listen.

“I just...” Jade’s voice is a soft squeak. She takes a big breath, swallows. “I don’t want anything to happen to him.”
Pretty sure this is the first time the Page 69 test has worked so perfectly to capture the essence of the story in one of my novels. In My Darling Husband, Jade’s world is tipped upside down when she and her two small children are confronted by a masked and armed home invader who forces his way inside. This scene takes place in the kitchen—before the man ties Jade to a chair upstairs, before he ties up the children in a separate room across the hall, before he forces Jade to call her husband and demand a strangely specific ransom: $734,296.

Through scenes like this one on page 69, Jade learns that the invader is smart, and he’s sneaky, and above all he’s manipulative, not above using her children to fluster and frighten Jade. But why has this man targeted their home? How does he know so much about Jade and her family, and what’s up with that ransom sum? From here on in, Jade slowly comes to the realization that this kidnapping was anything but random.

Because this scene so perfectly captures the fear and helplessness Jade feels throughout the entire story, I’d say yes—My Darling Husband passes the page 69 test brilliantly.
Visit Kimberly Belle's website.

Q&A with Kimberly Belle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

"Boy Underground"

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

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Boy Underground, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The mountains looked spooky to me, like a place I would never dare go. I remembered having camped up there. I just couldn’t remember how I’d gotten so brave.

I sprinted until the little outbuilding came into view, the heavy load bouncing uncomfortably against my hip. Then I sprinted until I got to its door.

I stopped. Panted. Placed my hand on the knob and threw the door open, stepping inside.

The trap door into the root cellar was standing open.

“Nick?” I asked quietly, squatting above the stairs and waiting for my eyes to adjust to the light. “Nick?” I asked it a little louder this time.


I climbed down the steep ladder steps, leaving the heavy load up above.

I could see Nick’s sleeping bag and pad spread out on the dirt, but empty. I felt around a little in the dark.

“Nick?” I asked again.

But Nick wasn’t there.

My heart began to hammer in my chest, wondering what had happened to him. I tried to convince myself that he had just stepped away from the cellar to relieve himself, but my mind filled with horrible thoughts. What if he had been discovered? Arrested? What if he had run away for real?

I climbed up the stairs and stepped outside. Looked around as much as I could in the moonlight. All I could see was flat, dusty land.

Then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I let loose a shriek. I couldn’t help it. It was like having something jump out at you in a haunted house. I was primed to be startled.

Good thing we were a long way from the house.

“Shhh,” a voice said. I could hear that it was Nick.

I breathed for what felt like the first time in a long time.
I like page 69 of Boy Underground reasonably well for this test. The fact that Steven is hiding Nick, whom he is also falling in love with, is pretty key to the story. It hints at the fact that Nick is evading arrest. Though it doesn’t say so straight out on this page, if Nick is arrested, Steven will be arrested for hiding him. So you can feel the stakes of the thing pretty well. And the snapshot of Steven, terrified by what he’s doing but doing it anyway, runs pretty true to form.

So if a reader is going to open to one page, I would say page 69 is a reasonably good one.

But, of course, the book is about much more. It’s about the fact that the Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor, and one of the four friends is 17 and about to enlist. And Steven’s brother is about to turn 18, and will be inducted. And another of the four best friends is a Japanese boy who will soon be interned at Manzanar with his family. It’s a very bad time to be Japanese, and not a great time to be gay, especially in a small California farming town. On top of all of that, Steven is the son of a relatively wealthy land owner, and his friends are sons of field workers. And his mother has told him more than once to choose his friends carefully. And even at age 14, Steven has a pretty good idea what that means.

Oh, and before it’s all over we get to check in on how the friends are doing at age 94.

So hopefully that gives you a brief idea of what I do with some of the non-69 pages.
Visit Catherine Ryan Hyde's website.

Q&A with Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Page 69 Test: Brave Girl, Quiet Girl.

The Page 69 Test: My Name is Anton.

The Page 69 Test: Seven Perfect Things.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 13, 2021

"The Bone Cay"

Raised in the Detroit suburbs, Eliza Nellums now lives with her cat in Washington DC.

Her debut novel is All That's Bright and Gone.

Nellums applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Bone Cay, and reported the following:
Opening The Bone Cay to page 69 gives us the scene where the hurricane really starts to come on land. This book is set in Key West. Our heroine has decided she's not going to evacuate (somewhere in the prior 68 pages) and is planning to ride it out in the historic estate she had spent her career restoring. She is sitting there listening to the weather outside:
The rain picked up suddenly, from zero to one hundred ... after that it came in waves, slowly building in intensity the way she'd imagined labor must do. Once it reached a new level of strength, it never went backwards, but continued to climb, like someone slowly turning up the dial.
I think the page 69 test works for this book. It does give us a good idea of what the story is about - a woman and a storm. The reader will probably get a sense that the main character is out of her depth and not quite prepared for what's to come in the next 200 pages. Her love for the old house and its history is battling against the physical reality of a disaster like this.

I have to admit, I do use a similar test when I'm picking books in the book store, although I usually open it to the middle. I think testing a book in the beginning doesn't work as well, because the writer is on their best behavior at that point. Flip a little further ahead to where the action is and see if it still works for you - or, if there is no action, that could be a sign too.
Visit Eliza Nellums's website.

The Page 69 Test: All That's Bright and Gone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 10, 2021

"The Hawthorne School"

Sylvie Perry is the pseudonym of a Chicagoland-based psychotherapist. One of her professional focuses is in counseling survivors of narcissistic manipulation. She has a Masters in English. She previously wrote in another genre under a different pseudonym.

Perry applied the Page 69 Test to The Hawthorne School, her first psychological suspense novel, and reported the following:
“We had a sermonomy!” shouted Henry as Claudia came into his classroom…. Henry repeated, “A sermonomy. In the woods, we had it.”

These are the first words on page 69 of The Hawthorne School.

A reader, browsing and falling upon this page, would get an inkling of what is going on here. Claudia, the young mother who is so relieved to get little Henry into a school where he can be accepted, is not paying full attention to what should be words of warning, and instead is focused on pleasing the director of the school and Henry’s teacher. On the next page, Claudia looks to the teacher for an explanation for the woodland ceremony--which she is only too happy to accept. She needs to believe that The Hawthorne School will give her and Henry the support they need.

The astute reader will very likely sense that there is a problem here, and may be concerned for this young mother and son as Claudia misses red flags. As in real life, we can see trouble ahead of another; we can see a friend or loved one blindly proceeding on a path that can only lead to a bad end. We can even look back and see that we, ourselves, have at some time missed signs we should have seen—signs that others may even have warned us about.

What is behind that inability to see that one is taking the wrong path? Inexperience? Wishful thinking? Denial? Perhaps all of these, and more besides. People should know better than to fall for scams, believe fake sales pitches, and get ensnared by cults.

Intelligent people are fooled every day.
Visit Sylvie Perry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

"Never Tell A Lie"

Gail Schimmel is an admitted attorney in South Africa, with four degrees to her name. She is currently the CEO of the Advertising Regulatory Board―the South African self-regulatory body for the content of advertising. She has published five novels in South Africa, with The Aftermath as her international debut. She lives in Johannesburg with her husband, two children, an ancient cat and two very naughty dogs.

Schimmel applied the Page 69 Test to her newest novel, Never Tell A Lie, and reported the following:
I had never heard of this test before so I was totally intrigued to see how it would work for Never Tell A lie – a book about friendship and lies and the secrets we keep.

On page 69 [inset left; click to enlarge], we learn a few important things about my main character, Mary. We learn that she has a son who worries her – and the Page 69er would probably believe that this is a bigger part of the story than it is. We meet her friend Stacey, and realise that sometimes Mary doesn’t feel that Stacey is listening to her, even though she is a good friend. We learn that Mary is embarking on a new relationship with Joshua, but on page 69 it is still early days. Finally, we learn that Mary has a new friend called April – probably the most important piece of information on the page. It is this friendship that will lead Mary into a world of lies, wondering who to believe and leaving the reader guessing till the very end.

I don’t think page 69 is the best page to entice a new reader – it is neither gripping nor hilarious, the two things that I hope to be! However, it introduces most of the cast, and hints at some of the themes. I would give it a 7 out of ten as a test for my book! I can’t wait to see how it works for other books of mine.
Visit Gail Schimmel's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Q&A with Gail Schimmel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 6, 2021

"The Deadliest Sin"

Jeri Westerson was born and raised in Los Angeles. As well as the Crispin Guest medieval mysteries, she is the author of a paranormal urban fantasy series and several historical novels. Her books have been nominated for the Shamus, the Macavity and the Agatha awards.

Westerson applied the Page 69 Test to The Deadliest Sin, the latest -- and final -- Crispin Guest mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It didn’t seem necessary. Though it stung a bit that Geoffrey hadn’t mentioned seeing him. He was beginning to feel invisible again, as he had in the beginning. ‘Nevertheless, I am glad you were so situated. And doing well, I hope.’

‘I am one of the king’s household knights. And I should have been with the king’s army in Ireland but his majesty preferred I stayed in London.’ He raised his eyes to Crispin when he asked quietly, ‘Have you heard that the upstart Hereford has returned illegally to the realm?’

Crispin bristled. Edward seemed to have hardened himself against Lancaster after the scandal. Perhaps it had been for the best. Being the squire to a traitor surely did not open doors for him as it otherwise might have had Crispin never gotten involved in the scandal. Edward had poured his hopes into the king, and how could Crispin blame him? ‘I…had heard something of the kind.’

‘Forgive me. I know how close you had been to Lancaster and his ilk.’

‘I helped to raise his ilk, as you call it. Henry Lancaster has been fair to me.’ The sword hanging from his hip told him so. Henry had given it to Crispin, incised it with the words ‘he has the right.’

‘I…I mean no disrespect Sir…M-Master Crispin. You must know that.’

He wiped the frown from his face and offered a gentle smile instead. ‘I do, Edward.’ He ticked his head. ‘I can’t quite get over the sight of you. You look like a man.’

He chuckled. ‘I am a man, sir. Have been for some years.’

‘Of course you have been. I sometimes feel suspended in amber whilst the world changes around me.’

‘And I have a wife and children.’

‘Do you now? That is good news.’

‘And you, sir? Are you…married to some gentlewoman?’

It was just then that Phillipa, dressed as a nun, but looking disturbingly fetching, crossed his path in the distance, speaking to Christopher in a covert manner. The sight of her, as it always seemed to do, froze him to the spot. As she turned, she caught sight of him and a smile passed over her face and her sleepy eyes took him in as she made a slight bow with her head, and went onward on the path to whatever business she intended.

‘Master Crispin?’
There’s much in this excerpt that gives a hint as to what is to come and what has passed before. The “Edward” that Crispin is talking to is his former squire that readers have never met before through the fourteen previous books. Because Crispin was banished from court some twenty years ago, a few of his past acquaintances have shown up in the books. Edward is the boy he had trained, the boy he had trusted is now a man, and formed by Crispin’s treason and dispossession. Luckily, he was taken in by another lord—Geoffrey Chaucer, as it happens, one of Crispin’s old friends—trained, and became a knight himself.

And then, by the last paragraph, we see that Philippa, his longtime love—dressed as a nun!—and his bastard son Christopher, are also somehow in the story of murder and intrigue.

Edward serves to breach the line between Crispin’s past and his present, someone who was an important part of his past and comes into play again as the tides turn for King Richard. So it is a good excerpt to represent the book, but only if you get to the whole book.
Follow Jeri Westerson on Twitter and Facebook, and visit her website.

The Page 69 Test: Veil of Lies.

The Page 69 Test: Serpent in the Thorns.

The Page 69 Test: The Demon's Parchment.

The Page 69 Test: Troubled Bones.

The Page 69 Test: Blood Lance.

The Page 69 Test: Shadow of the Alchemist.

The Page 69 Test: Cup of Blood.

The Page 69 Test: The Silence of Stones.

The Page 69 Test: A Maiden Weeping.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 5, 2021

"Hiding Place"

Meghan Holloway found her first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at the age of eight and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. She flew an airplane before she learned how to drive a car, did her undergrad work in Creative Writing in the sweltering south, and finished a Masters of Library and Information Science in the blustery north. She spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, traveled the world for a few years, and did a stint fighting crime in the records section of a police department.

Holloway applied the Page 69 Test to her latest thriller, Hiding Place, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Looking back, I could not imagine being that painfully young and unaware of the world ever again. But at the time, it was our own Bacchanalia, and the laughter and highs—drug induced or not—we shared in those years were something I could still smile about, though now it was bittersweet. I had more fun with Mary in those years than I ever had.

Until the night I looked across the club. There was a gap in the writhing bodies glistening in the strobe lights. The pulse of the music was heavy and driving, and with the aid of the coke still singing in my system, it felt exciting and primal. I knew who he was. The highest level of society was a small set. He did not look away when I met his gaze, and I was caught in his stare as he placed his drink on the bar and cut through the crowd toward where Mary and I sat.

Someone bumped into him, but he never wavered from his path. When a girl danced in front of him, he grasped her shoulders and moved her aside. The entire time, I was snared by his eyes. At the time, I thought the heat of his gaze was the sexiest thing I had ever seen. Now, if someone stared at me with that amount of intensity, I would recognize him for what he was: a predator.

As he walked through the club, my breath caught in my throat. I did not have a sense of self-preservation at that point, but I remembered that moment with startling clarity. I stared at him and thought, This is it. This man changes everything.

And he did.
When I started writing Hunting Ground, I wondered who was this mysterious innkeeper who showed up on the page. She obviously had secrets. Her son was clearly traumatized. She has a small arsenal and a safe room tucked away in her home. Both my curiosity and Evelyn’s were piqued.

I was so excited to delve into Faye’s story in Hiding Place. Her tale is deeply introspective and filled with tension and twists. This scene from page 69 gives readers a flavor of her past and her struggles. She was far more damaged than I expected and far more ferocious. She surprised me, and I hope she will do the same to you.
Visit Meghan Holloway's website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Page 69 Test: Once More Unto the Breach.

The Page 69 Test: Hunting Ground.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 2, 2021

"A Counterfeit Suitor"

Darcie Wilde is the award-winning author of stylishly adventurous historical mysteries and romances, including the Rosalind Thorne Mysteries, a Regency-set series inspired by the novels of Jane Austen, as well as the Regency Makeover Trilogy. She has also written, under the name Sarah Zettel, Locus and Philip K. Dick Award-winning novels, including Fool's War, a New York Times Notable Books of the Year selection.

Wilde applied the Page 69 Test to her new Rosalind Thorne Mystery, A Counterfeit Suitor, and reported the following:
From page 69:
…Russell Fullerton also breached the crowd. His long legs carried him forward far faster than Rosalind, encumbered by her evening gown, could manage. He strode directly up to Sir Reginald, but he addressed himself to Alexi. Rosalind was too far away to hear, but she could easily interpret what he said. He was apologizing for his friend’s behavior. He would take charge of him now. The countess would not be inconvenienced again.

Alexi hesitated, clearly caught between his mistress’s instructions and the reassurances of this gentleman. Sir Reginald straightened himself up as much as he was able and assumed a swaggering air.

In the end, Alexi took the path of least resistance. He stepped back from Sir Reginald, bowed, and headed away toward the salon and, presumably, to Countess Lieven’s private box.

With every fiber of her being, Rosalind wanted to turn and run, to hide away and pretend this choice was never hers. She felt how alone she was. She felt all the fear, anger, and loss of the girl she had been.

But she could not run. She straightened herself. She set her features into an expression of gentle concern that was the furthest thing from what she actually felt. Free of the crowd, she was able to move smoothly forward. There would be no more scenes.

Of course the two men saw her. She had nowhere left to hide. Fullerton turned first. Then her father. “Ah! She returns!” Sir Reginald tugged at his jacket lapels. “The youngest of my poisonous brood!”

Rosalind bit the inside of her cheek, hard. She reached deep into her mind and her heart for a fund of old memories she had believed she would never need again.

She remembered when she loved this man without reservation and believed that he loved her.
Page 69 of the latest Rosalind Thorne, A Counterfeit Suitor, gets straight to the emotional heart of the book. Readers of the series will know that Rosalind’s deadbeat, drunken, father — Sir Reginald Thorne — abandoned her and her mother when Rosalind was still a teenager. Since then, he’s been cared for by Rosalind’s older sister.

On page 69, Sir Reginald has escaped, and vowed to revenge himself on Rosalind. Unfortunately, he also has help from Rosalind’s enemy, Russell Fullerton. On this page, the softness of the action belies the intensity of the conflict, both internal and external. What we see most strongly is Rosalind’s long buried anger and emotional conflict as she is forced to confront her father, and try to get him away from Fullerton. The ongoing dilemma between the wish to acknowledge private feeling, the need for immediate action, and the unyielding requirement to maintain public appearances is also on display.
Visit Darcie Wilde's website.

Q&A with Darcie Wilde.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

"Flight Risk"

Joy Castro is the award-winning author of the post-Katrina New Orleans literary thrillers Hell or High Water, which received the Nebraska Book Award, and Nearer Home, and the story collection How Winter Began, as well as the memoir The Truth Book and the essay collection Island of Bones, which received the International Latino Book Award. She is also editor of the anthology Family Trouble and served as the guest judge of CRAFT‘s first Creative Nonfiction Award. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Senses of Cinema, Salon, Ploughshares, Gulf Coast, Brevity, Afro-Hispanic Review, and elsewhere. A former Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University, she is currently the Willa Cather Professor of English and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Castro applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Flight Risk, and reported the following:
From page 69:
When we returned two weeks later [from our honeymoon in Paris]—plumped up by French food and wine and too many trips to Ladurée, thinned down again by long walks through the city and long nights in our suite above the Seine—[my mother-in-law] Helene’s fury had diminished to a simmer, but she was still tight-lipped when we met. I’d robbed her of the showpiece wedding of her only son.

“Give her time,” Jon said. “Let her stew. She’ll get over it.”

But she didn’t. Jon, she rapidly forgave. But I remained a pariah, a thief, and her suspicions of me grew.

Her manners were so impeccable that I, coming from a brusquer world, often failed to sense her hostility. At the society functions she threw, I sometimes felt like a character in a Henry James novel, the naïve and bumbling young American amidst the worldly old-money Europeans with titles and references I couldn’t descry—though I wasn’t hunting a husband, and no one was actually European. I hated those awkward evenings. But Helene was perfectly polite. Strategic, too. To Jon, she said only innocuous things about me or complimented some bland achievement, easy to praise—my career, some art piece, a casserole I’d labored over—so that when I came to him, worried about this or that slight, a double-edged comment, he could say, quite honestly and innocently, “She really likes you, Isabel. She really liked that wine you gave her. Really, sweetheart. You need to relax. It’s all in your head.”

I stopped asking Jon about it, and Helene and I drifted along in an uneasy truce. She’s Jon’s family, I told myself sternly. My family now. And sacrifices are what you make for family. So I brought casseroles. I sat at the Turner family table with Audrey and Sophia and their families at holidays, and I laughed lightly to deflect questions about when we were going to have children of our own. At Christmas and Mother’s Day and her birthday, I brought Helene exquisite and tasteful little gifts. But I began to make excuses not to see her...
To an extent, the page 69 test works very well on Flight Risk, because it captures the class-based family tensions between Isabel, the protagonist, and her mother-in-law Helene, a wealthy, old-money Chicago socialite who doesn't think Isabel's good enough for her son. The novel also chronicles Isabel's spiral into paranoia due to the marital tensions, and we begin to see that here, when Jon defends his mother's actions, making Isabel doubt her own interpretations. (For me, anytime a man tells his wife, "It's all in your head" in fiction or film, a serious gaslight alarm starts flashing.)

This page also raises the question of children, which connects to the book's larger themes, because it explores the issue of making fertility choices in an era of climate crisis. This selection also shows us how Isabel, though she's Latina from a background of poverty, thinks through the lens of literature she's read, as when she mentions Henry James. Flight Risk is, in a way, akin to James's The Portrait of a Lady, but updated for the 21st century, with a quite different set of moral challenges. Her ways of seeing have been sculpted by her education, and this has distorted her ability to get at the truth of her own feelings and experience.

Ways in which this page 69 is less representative include the fact that it's very interior and ruminative; there's little action. It largely tells rather than shows. Yet much of Flight Risk is very active, taking place outdoors or in conversation (or conflict) with other people. In Chicago, Isabel and Jon converse at dinner parties and galas, and Isabel talks on the phone to the prison warden, who informs her that her mother has died while incarcerated, and to her bitter Aunt Della, who tries to discourage her from returning home. But Isabel then flies back to West Virginia alone, drives deep into the mountains, and reencounters multiple people from her past. She treks alone through a forest, breaks into a locked house, and more. So in that sense, this page is unusually contemplative and reflective. For most of the book, by contrast, Isabel really is in flight. She really is at risk.
Visit Joy Castro’s website and Twitter perch.

Q&A with Joy Castro.

My Book, The Movie: Flight Risk.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 28, 2021

"The Night of Many Endings"

Melissa Payne is the bestselling, award-winning author of The Secrets of Lost Stones and Memories in the Drift. For as long as she can remember, Payne has been telling stories in one form or another—from high school newspaper articles to a graduate thesis to blogging about marriage and motherhood. But she first learned the real importance of storytelling when she worked for a residential and day treatment center for abused and neglected children. There she wrote speeches and letters to raise funds for the children. The truth in those stories was piercing and painful and written to invoke a call to action in the reader: to give, to help, to make a difference. Payne’s love of writing and sharing stories in all forms has endured. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with her husband and three children, a friendly mutt, a very loud cat, and the occasional bear.

Payne applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Night of Many Endings, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I think this man has overdosed.” Her teeth chattered while she spoke, making her words come out in fits and starts. “We need to lay him all the way onto his back.”

Vlado did just that and Nora was grateful to not be alone anymore, even if it was with someone who knew less than she did about how to save someone from an overdose. The class had been helpful, but it had also been calm and relaxed, nothing like reality. In reality, it was the hard grass biting into her knees, the stink of a trash bag split open by her side, the screeching cries of her aunt, and the splashes of ambulance lights across her brother’s zombie face.

She fumbled with the package, the tiny edge of plastic slipping from between her wet fingers until she cried out with frustration. “Damn it!”

Vlado took the box, opened it, pulled out the device, and without a word, handed it back to her.

She fit it into her hand, thumb on the plunger, two fingers on either side of the nozzle that wobbled in the air with a shaking that skittered through her muscles. She didn’t want this man to die. Not when she could do something to save him. Why was he here, near death and alone? Did he have a wife who cried for him? A son? Did they scour the streets like she did, feel the futility of searching for one person in the widening hole inside their chests? She would not let him die, but she was terrified that she was too late.

She slid one hand under his neck to tilt his head up, inserted the nozzle into his left nostril until her fingers touched his nose; then she pushed the plunger.
When I flipped to page 69 of The Night of Many Endings, it was interesting to discover what was unfolding in that particular moment. Would it be a pivotal scene between Nora, the kind librarian and Marlene, the elderly woman who sees the worst in most people? Or would it be about Lewis, the homeless addict who has come back to Silver Ridge to see his granddaughter one more time before he dies? Or would we meet Jasmine, the teenage girl with a secret? Or Vlado, the security guard who’s more interested in books and who loves Nora from afar?

In some ways, the scene on page 69 encapsulates the heart of this story. In this scene, Nora has discovered Lewis overdosed outside the library during an epic winter storm and administers a nasal spray that can reverse an overdose. Despite the fact that he is homeless and an addict, Nora sees Lewis as human first. She wonders about the people who love him, his wife, his kids, if they’ve searched for him the way she’s searched for her own drug-addicted brother. Nora wants to know Lewis’s story.

And that is the central theme to The Night of Many Endings; the only way we can truly understand or know someone is to learn their story first. During the night stranded together, each of these five characters learn about each other and in turn, find themselves changed because of it.
Visit Melissa Payne's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Melissa Payne & Max.

My Book, The Movie: The Secrets of Lost Stones.

The Page 69 Test: The Secrets of Lost Stones.

Q&A with Melissa Payne.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 22, 2021

"You Sexy Thing"

Cat Rambo (they/them) is an American fantasy and science fiction writer whose work has appeared in, among others, Asimov's, Weird Tales, Chiaroscuro, Talebones, and Strange Horizons. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, where they studied with John Barth and Steve Dixon, they also attended the Clarion West Writers' Workshop. Their most recent works include And The Last Trump Shall Sound (co-written with James Morrow and Harry Turtledove), the fantasy novel Exiles of Tabat, and the space opera You Sexy Thing. They live, write, and teach somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. “Cat Rambo” is their real name.

Rambo applied the Page 69 Test to You Sexy Thing and reported the following:
From page 69:
Niko knew immediately what had happened.

“That son of a three-sided crystal gave us the wrong password!” she said. “Look, Ship, we do want to get you back to your owner. But we need to get to a place where we can track him down and arrange the exchange. He owes me a great deal of money.”

“Is the transaction witnessed?” the ship asked.

“Witnessed back on TwiceFar,” she said.

There was a pause. “TwiceFar systems are currently offline,” the ship finally said Niko could swear she heard suspicion in its voce.

“That is because the whole place was blown up by an Arranti, for who knows what reason!”

“That seems most unlikely,” the ship said.

“You saw the Arranti yourself!”

“I witnessed an Arranti in the vicinity, but was unable to discern what was causing damage to the station itself.”

“That’s what Arranti do!”

Sane species avoided the Arranti, one of the oldest, most powerful races, who were obsessed with the same that their species played They would not divulge the rules to outsiders -- although it was apparently specified that you had to be an Arranti to play -- and over the centuries, while many scholar had devoted themselves to trying to figure it out, only guesswork and wild theories served so far. The game -- and its participants -- were wholly unpredictable, and while the station had been destroyed as a move, apparently it could just as easily have been transformed, or
This page is the beginning of Chapter 8, so it at least starts in a coherent way, even if it does drop off mid-sentence at the end. Does it give a reader a good sense of the book? I think so -- this passage features two of the book’s main characters, captain Nicolette Larsen and the ship that gives the book its title, You Sexy Thing. These two must work together for the common good, but neither finds it easy at times.

It also showcases something that is one of the book’s strengths, as well as the most fun to write, the dialogue back and forth between characters. The ship is a character that let me be funny and I really enjoyed writing the humorous moments that come throughout. The action is serious, the peril is deadly and real for the protagonists, but those moments of humor give the reader a space to breath and enjoy, and to get to know the cast of characters.

What else does it do well? It provides a glimpse of the world of the book, a place full of space stations and mysterious alien races playing their own unguessable games. Space opera requires a vast backdrop, full of glitter and stars, and while this passage may not show the glitter, it does show some of the scope of things in both distance and time.

What doesn’t it do well? It doesn’t show the rest of the characters -- and since the book is about an ensemble, that’s a lack. I guess readers curious about that will have to pick it up!
Visit Cat Rambo's website.

Q&A with Cat Rambo.

My Book, The Movie: You Sexy Thing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

"Lonely Hearts"

Lisa Gray is an Amazon #1, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. She previously worked as the Chief Scottish Football Writer at the Press Association and books columnist at the Daily Record Saturday Magazine. Her novels include: Thin Air, a Washington Post and Wall Street Journal bestseller and Amazon.com’s third-bestselling Kindle eBook of 2019; Bad Memory, a Wall Street Journal bestseller and longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize; and Dark Highway.

Gray applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Lonely Hearts, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Lonely Hearts is the first page of chapter eight so there’s less text than on a regular page. It opens in Larchmont Village, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, which is described as “a strange mix of charming and hip.” It’s clear from this page that my main character, Jessica Shaw, is looking for someone or, rather, she’s searching for a car that will lead her to that person. “There was a kind of intimate feel about the neighborhood and the search for a single car no longer seemed quite so daunting.” By the end of the page, Jessica is pretty sure she’s found the old vintage vehicle in question.

I wasn’t convinced the Page 69 Test would work but I think in the case of Lonely Hearts it does. Setting is a big part of the book and I like to write in quite a descriptive, cinematic style so that the reader can really picture where the action is taking place. I believe this particular page captures that element quite well. Even though this scene isn’t the most dramatic or suspenseful, it also shows exactly what my private eye, Jessica, does best—find people.

The owner of the car, a woman by the name of Glo Goldson, was a friend and neighbor of the missing person that Jessica has been hired to track down. The information that Glo provides turns out to be key to Jessica’s search so Page 69 is the beginning of a chapter that turns out to be crucial to the whole storyline.
Visit Lisa Gray's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 15, 2021

"The Left-Handed Twin"

Thomas Perry is the bestselling author of over twenty-nine novels, including the critically acclaimed Jane Whitefield series, Forty Thieves, and The Butcher’s Boy, which won the Edgar Award. He lives in Southern California.

Perry applied the Page 69 Test to his new Jane Whitefield novel, The Left-Handed Twin, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Left-Handed Twin is about 2/3 of the length of an average page because it's the opening page of Chapter 7, but there are complexities, both seen and unseen, in that space. In it Jane wakes up before dawn in an old house in a small town in Central New York belonging to Stewart, a forger who is Jane's favorite supplier of false identification for Jane's "runners," people who have good reason to believe they're about to be murdered, who come or are sent to Jane for help in disappearing.

She's just had a dream in which Harry Kemple, a gambler who came to Jane for help years ago and was murdered because Jane made the mistake of trusting a man who claimed to be Harry's friend, comes to talk. In the dream Jane and Harry try to puzzle out whether Jane's latest runner, Sara Doughton, is genuine or an imposter sent to entrap Jane. She said she'd been sent to Jane by her L.A. lawyer Elizabeth Howarth, an old college friend of Jane's who knows about her secret profession. At the moment when Jane wakes, she thinks "Why didn't she [Elizabeth] call first?"

It seems odd. Jane hasn't been out of Sara's presence since the first day, and Jane is now only carrying throw-away phones, so Elizabeth can't call her if she wants to. Jane decides to call Karen Alvarez, another L.A. lawyer and mutual friend and ask her to try to verify Sara's story or disprove it. On page 69 we're reminded that Karen Alvarez is someone who has asked Jane to save an innocent client, and later helped Jane make a convict disappear from a criminal court where he was testifying.

I think page 69 is fairly typical of The Left-Handed Twin. The situation is new, but old readers will know Jane's move is characteristic. Dream is a common way for Senecas to bring back what they've already observed and interpret it. Harry has visited Jane's dreams before, and serves as a reminder that if Jane makes a mistake, it has consequences. Jane's attempt on this page to clear up a detail in Sara's story that doesn't feel right is the way she operates. Jane generally believes Sara, and her eye for relevant detail is what keeps Sara alive. But Jane can never forget that each time she leaves home to give another person a new life, she's trying to rob murderers of their victim. There's very little that's more dangerous than that.
Learn more about the book and author at Thomas Perry's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Silence.

The Page 99 Test: Nightlife.

The Page 69/99 Test: Fidelity.

The Page 69/99 Test: Runner.

The Page 69 Test: Strip.

The Page 69 Test: The Informant.

The Page 69 Test: The Boyfriend.

The Page 69 Test: A String of Beads.

The Page 69 Test: Forty Thieves.

The Page 69 Test: The Old Man.

The Page 69 Test: The Bomb Maker.

The Page 69 Test: The Burglar.

The Page 69 Test: A Small Town.

Q&A with Thomas Perry.

The Page 69 Test: Eddie's Boy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 13, 2021

"The Dare"

Lesley Kara was born and grew up in Chelmsford, Essex.

On moving to London, she worked as a secretary before completing an English degree and PGCE at Greenwich University.

She then became a lecturer and manager in Further Education.

She is an alumna of the Faber Academy ‘Writing a Novel’ course and now lives on the north Essex coast where she writes full-time.

Kara applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Dare, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I tiptoe downstairs and rummage in the bottom of my bag. I need to get this pregnancy test done and find out one way or the other.

The light’s been left on in the study, so I go in and sit on the leather swivel chair to read the instructions, trying my best to ignore the faint but lingering scent of coconut. Ross’s Mac whirs into life. I must have accidentally leaned on the keyboard as I spread the leaflet out.

I stare at the screen, my eyes stuck fast to the headline of an all-too-familiar news article. So this is why he was so long coming to bed. He’s been googling the accident.

The distraught parents of 13-year-old Alice Dawson, killed by a train on an open crossing that traverses the Garleywood Public Footpath in Garleywood Tippet, have told of their heartbreak at losing their precious daughter.

“Alice’s death has devastated our family,’ says Mick Dawson….”
It’s an interesting exercise to look at just one page of a novel to see what it might reveal about the book as a whole. Reading page 69 of The Dare again, it strikes me that while it might introduce a casual browser to the main character Lizzie, it doesn’t reference anywhere that she suffers from epilepsy, an important fact that permeates the entire novel.

It’s clear from this page that Lizzie thinks she may be pregnant and that she’s about to do a test to find out one way or the other, but then she is distracted by what she sees on her fiancé Ross’s screen - a news article about the tragic death of a thirteen-year-old girl called Alice Dawson. Someone turning to this page without knowing what preceded it, or without having read the novel’s blurb, would not be aware that Alice was Lizzie’s childhood friend, and that Lizzie was there at the time of her death. Nor would they be aware that Lizzie cannot remember the details of what happened because she suffered a major seizure which affected her memory, and that sometimes she wonders whether she might have been responsible for her friend’s death.

What is obvious from this passage, is that Ross wants to know more about what happened. He’s interested enough to search online for old news articles rather than asking Lizzie direct. Prior to this scene, Lizzie has just told Ross what happened for the very first time and she’s only done this because of a visitor who came to their housewarming party. (It is this visitor whose coconut scent still lingers in the study). Maybe this is why Ross is so curious. Or maybe he doesn’t believe that Lizzie is entirely innocent!

The novel is told through two separate timelines: one, as in the case of page 69, is Lizzie as an adult woman, confronted with the trauma of her past, and the other is Lizzie as a thirteen-year-old girl, both before and immediately after Alice’s death. So in some ways, this page gives a snapshot of the two narratives and as such, could be said to do a reasonable job of capturing the essence of the novel.
Visit Lesley Kara's website.

Q&A with Lesley Kara.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

"The Collective"

USA Today and international bestselling author Alison Gaylin has won the Edgar and Shamus awards. Her work has been published in the US, UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, Germany, Romania and Denmark, and she has been nominated for numerous awards, including the Macavity, Anthony, ITW Thriller and Strand Book Award.

Gaylin applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Collective, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Collective finds the main character, Camille, teetering on a precipice of sorts. After hearing that Gerard Krakowski – a neighborhood vigilante who fatally shot an unarmed young man and was cleared of the crime – has died in what appears to be a shooting accident, she’s private messaged the young man’s mother, Rachel Ruley, telling her that she sees it as justice. Camille and Rachel belong to Niobe, a private Facebook group for grieving mothers let down by the legal system. And, though she doesn’t personally know Rachel, Camille is hoping she’ll hear back so that she can get a sense of how she feels. While Camille sees that Rachel has read her letter, she doesn’t hear back. “She has nothing to say to me, and that’s fine,” she says, midway through the page. At the bottom of the page, though, Camille goes to her professional website and checks her email: “The second email is from what looks like a meaningless series of numbers. Spam, I think. But then I notice the subject line: Justice.”

Though not the most dramatic or violent scene in the book, page 69 captures the moment that truly sets the plot in motion. The “justice” email contains the link that ultimately leads Camille to the dark web – and to the shadowy group of grieving and angry mothers known as the collective.

From here on in, Camille becomes tangled up in this group, which at first seems like a safe space in which these women can voice their revenge fantasies – but soon appears to be something far more powerful, and dangerous. If I reveal too much more, there will be spoilers, but I will say that in the case of The Collective, the page 69 test definitely works!
Learn more about the book and author at Alison Gaylin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Into the Dark.

The Page 69 Test: What Remains of Me.

The Page 69 Test: If I Die Tonight.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 8, 2021

"The Mother Next Door"

Tara Laskowski’s debut suspense novel One Night Gone won the Agatha Award, Macavity Award, and the Anthony Award and was a finalist for the Lefty, the Simon and Schuster Mary Higgins Clark, the Strand Critics, and the Library of VA Literary awards.

Laskowski applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Mother Next Door, and reported the following:
From page 69:
"I tried to Google her online, and I couldn't find her," Bettina said.

"Good," I said.

Karma was a bitch.

I stood, paced the room. Outside, a car pulled onto the cul-de-sac, but it drove by Bettina's house and then ours, headed toward the pipe stem. When it passed, its headlights illuminated the dogwood.

That swaying branch wasn't a branch. There was something in the tree.

I put on my flats and stepped outside, into the front yard.

"Don't you think it's weird?" Bettina asked. "She's not on Facebook or anything either. I can't find any trace of her."

"Did you really think she'd become a big star?" I asked. Whatever was in the tree was thin and white, whipping around, bashing into the truck. I walked over, reached up to grab it, but it flew just out of reach.

"Jackie's been gone all these years," I said, balancing the phone between my ear and shoulder as I stretched up again. "There's been no trouble. Why now? It doesn't make any--"

My phone fell into the grass. I'd finally gotten a grip on the thing in the tree.

The white was lace. A dress. A doll.

"Kendra?" Bettina's voice, tinny and high, sputtered from the phone on the lawn. "What's wrong?"

I turned it around. And that's when I saw the face.

I bit my cheek and felt a salty warmth in my mouth.

I was a little nervous to look at page 69, because I was pretty sure the test wouldn't work, but I'm actually surprised that it has a lot of relevance to the overall themes and plot of the book. The Mother Next Door is a story about a group of mothers with a secret, and they spend a lot of the time trying to figure out who knows about their secret and is trying to expose them. In this excerpt, we see a little of that paranoia brewing between two of them. But you also get a sense of self-righteousness and entitlement here, too (that "Good" is very telling), which definitely colors a lot of the decisions this group of women makes. They are worried, but they don't want to show it.

The past is coming back to haunt them ("Why now?"..."Jackie's been gone all these years..."), and I like that this particular page shows the beginnings of their "investigations" to root out the problem and stop it before it gets out of hand.

Here you also get some description of the cul-de-sac where nearly entirely all of the book is set. Hints of creepiness, because it's Halloween season and everything is dying. And the doll hanging from the tree provides a sense of menace as well--is it a Halloween prank? Or something more?

So yes, overall, I am pleased to say that I think The Mother Next Door passes the Page 69 Test!
Visit Tara Laskowski's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 5, 2021

"Other People’s Things"

Kerry Anne King is the Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestselling author of Closer Home, I Wish You Happy, Whisper Me ThisEverything You Are, and A Borrowed Life. Licensed as both an RN and a mental-health counselor, she draws on her experience working in the medical and mental-health fields to explore themes of loss, grief, and transformation—but always with a dose of hope and humor. King lives in a little house in the big woods of the Inland Northwest. She also writes fantasy and mystery novels as Kerry Schafer.

King applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Other People's Things, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Ash sniffed. “Sounds like a total asswipe to me.”

“You’re just jealous.”

“You’d better believe I’m jealous. I’ve been supplanted!”

“What do you expect? You aren’t buying me diamonds.”

“Just fix it, Nickle. I guess I need to meet him.”

Later, when I told Kent that I needed him to meet my best friend, he’d teased, “Am I not enough for you?” Then he kissed me until I forgot all about Ash and everything and everybody else. An hour later, snuggled up to him in bed, I brought the topic up again.

“Seriously, Kent. Ash is important to me. We’ve been through a lot together. Maybe we could just meet for coffee? Or lunch, even, if you’ve got time.”

“No,” he said, running a hand up my arm, onto my shoulder, then down to stroke my breast. “If she’s that important to you, we’ll take her out for a nice dinner.”

His hand made it hard to focus, and I shoved it away, laughing and sitting up to evade his caresses. “Nice dinners aren’t exactly Ash’s and my thing. She might be more comfortable—”

“But nice dinners are our thing,” he’d said, drawing me back down beside him and trailing his fingers down the center of my belly. “Trust me. There is not a woman on the planet who doesn’t want to be wined and dined.”
This scene highlights one of the relationship dynamics in Other People’s Things—the smoothly controlling behavior of Nickle’s soon-to-be-former-husband, and the way he has always tended to gaslight her—but the page 69 test is only about 50% accurate for the book. This scene doesn’t bring up the central problem—the compulsion that drives Nickle to move other people’s things from one place to another, and the question of whether her Object Relocation Program is a gift or a curse. Still, it does hint at Kent’s personality and the way he tends to drive a wedge between her and her family and friends. The page gives a taste of relationships dynamics, but doesn’t reveal the mystery and touch of magic that infuses most of the book.
Visit Kerry Anne King's website.

The Page 69 Test: Everything You Are.

The Page 69 Test: A Borrowed Life.

Writers Read: Kerry Anne King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

"Shoot the Moonlight Out"

William Boyle is from Brooklyn, New York. He’s the author of five novels: Gravesend, which was nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in France and shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in the UK; The Lonely Witness, which was nominated for the Hammett Prize and the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière; A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself, an Amazon Best Book in 2019 and winner of the Prix Transfuge du meilleur polar étranger in France; City of Margins, a Washington Post Best Thriller and Mystery Book of 2020; and, most recently, Shoot the Moonlight Out. All are available from Pegasus Crime. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.

Boyle applied the Page 69 Test to Shoot the Moonlight Out and reported the following:
Page 69 of my new novel, Shoot the Moonlight Out, is the end of a chapter where Lily Murphy—recently returned to southern Brooklyn from college in Pennsylvania—has retreated to her room in her mother's new apartment. She's just back from teaching a writing class in the basement of her childhood church and has received an ominous, threatening message from her ex-boyfriend. It is June 2001. Lily is adrift. In her room, she puts on a CD—Nina Nastasia's Dogs—that she bought because it was on her favorite employee’s recommendation shelf at the record store in her college town. An excerpt: "She's been listening to it [Dogs] a lot lately. It fits her mood. She opens her window, sits on the bed, and the noise from the street competes with the music. Horns, voices, sirens." Though it's a short page at the end of a chapter, I think this scene gives readers a pretty good idea of the whole work. Melancholy and worry. City noises. Music. A character searching for something and running from something. A feeling of dread. Some hope, too. Lily and her perceptions of the world are central to the story. If readers opened to this page and read just a few lines, they'd have, I think, a glimpse into the heart of the book.
Visit William Boyle's website.

The Page 69 Test: Gravesend and The Lonely Witness.

The Page 69 Test: City of Margins.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 1, 2021

"The Reckless Kind"

Carly Heath earned her BA from San Francisco State University and her MFA from Chapman University. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Heath teaches design, art, theater, and writing for various colleges and universities. She currently lives on the West Coast and tends a menagerie of rescued farm animals.

Heath applied the Page 69 Test to The Reckless Kind, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Reckless Kind features one of my favorite scenes in the book. It takes place in the doctor’s house after Erlend’s boyfriend, Gunnar Fuglestad, has been attacked by the cowardly little miscreant, Nils. Erlend’s father arrives and demands that Erlend go to Nils’ family and apologize for the vengeance Erlend had unleashed on Nils’ face (Erlend beat him up really badly, breaking Nils’ jaw and nose). Erlend, of course, refuses. Near the end of the page, Erlend says:“I’m not leaving Fuglestad.” And that, really, is Erlend’s thesis statement in the whole book—whatever happens, he’s committed to Gunnar through everything.

What’s interesting about the page 69 test in regards to The Reckless Kind is that the book is dual POV and though Asta is more of the main character and has more page time throughout the book, page 69 lands on a scene where Asta is watching the other POV character—Erlend. She’s observing him do something she’s been yearning to do for so long—explicitly defy parental authority. This scene does a very good job of conveying what the book is about—knowing what’s right, sticking to your convictions even when the forces of authority are pressuring you to submit. It also happens to be a scene where all three characters are featured together and the main conflict that will emerge between them is hinted at: Gunnar’s guilt over being the cause of a rift between Erlend and his parents.

This is the scene that will inspire Asta to (in a few pages) resist the parental authority figure in her life. Indeed, the themes seeded and the choices made on page 69 develop throughout the rest of the book, so—yes—page 69 is an apt microcosm of the whole work. Certainly the “energy” of the work is there—that feeling of standing up and saying “no” which is a crucial vibe of the book.
Visit Carly Heath's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 28, 2021

"The Family Tree"

Steph Mullin is a creative director and Nicole Mabry works in the photography department for a television network. They met as co-workers in New York City in 2012, discovering a shared passion for writing and true crime. After Mullin relocated to Charlotte, NC in 2018, they continued to collaborate. Separated by five states, they spend hours scheming via FaceTime and editing in real time on Google Docs. The Family Tree is the duo’s first crime novel.

The authors applied the Page 69 Test to the new novel and reported the following:
On page 69 in The Family Tree, our main character Liz Catalano and her cousin Andie are meeting Liz’s biological Great Uncle and Aunt for the first time. Liz had recently found out she was adopted after completing a 23andMe kit, and Cris and Rosie are the first relatives she’s been able to track down. This page shows them all sitting around a dinner table, eating and getting to know each other.

This test does not work well for our book, which has a lot of suspense and layers that are not fully represented by this page in the story. While the page is important because it builds backstory to the relationships that shape the frightening journey Liz embarks on and is important to her development and later choices she makes, it does not depict fully what she’s going through – or give insight into the dark and twisty “Victims Chapters” that really propel our story forward.

The Family Tree is more than just a serial killer story – while it does have many chapters and details that are perfect for lovers of true crime, it also has a lot of heart and personal introspection. Liz’s journey is one of self-discovery and determination to connect with her culture and where she comes from. That, woven with chapters that highlight our serial killer’s victims as real women going through an emotionally frightening ordeal, give it a little something for everyone.
Visit Steph Mullin & Nicole Mabry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 22, 2021

"The Wolf's Curse"

Jessica Vitalis is a full-time writer with a previous career in business and an MBA from Columbia Business School. An American expat, she now lives in Canada with her husband and two daughters.

Vitalis applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Wolf's Curse, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Wolf’s Curse features a scene in which my twelve-year-old main character, Gauge, has been rescued from a literal death sentence by another twelve-year-old character, Roux. On the page, Roux presents Gauge to her ailing father, Woolsey the Blacksmith. Gauge introduces himself as “Gauge the Apprentice, grandson of Bastien the Carpenter,” and then he corrects himself: “The late Carpenter.” The Blacksmith responds by saying, “May his soul sail in peace.”

Roux goes on to explain that Gauge is in something of a bind and that it would be best if Gauge weren’t on the streets at the moment. She asks her father if they can keep the boy “for a spell.” The Blacksmith, without knowing anything more, responds, “I insist.”

For the most part, the page 69 test gives readers an excellent idea what they can expect from The Wolf’s Curse.

With the use of vocations instead of last names, the selection makes it obvious that the book is set in a medieval time period. In addition, it’s obvious not only that Gauge is in trouble, but also that he’s lost his grandpapá. Furthermore, it introduces the kind-hearted Roux and her father, both of whom will go on to have significant roles in the story. The Blacksmith’s response to learning that Gauge has lost his grandpapá also has great significance in terms of the world building that is at the heart of the story; “May his soul sail in peace” references the villagers’ belief that departed souls travel to the Sea in the Sky, where they light lanterns and sail into eternity. The page gives other hints to the story as well: during the introduction, Roux tugs at her hair, which showcases her underlying anxiety. In addition, we see the Blacksmith cough, which hints at his poor health.

The only element missing from this page that would give readers a more complete picture of the story is the Wolf’s voice. The story is a twist on Grim Reaper mythology and narrated by an invisible Great White Wolf, who is searching for someone to take her job. The Wolf tells her story in first person and often addresses the reader directly with snarky asides. That said, she often dips into close third person like the selection we see on page 69, and Gauge is the main character in the story, so if that page piques the readers’ interest, then they’ll likely enjoy the rest of the book.
Visit Jessica Vitalis's website.

Q&A with Jessica Vitalis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 18, 2021

"When Two Feathers Fell From the Sky"

Margaret Verble is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a member of a large Cherokee family that has, through generations, made many contributions to the tribe’s history and survival. Although many of her family have remained in Oklahoma to this day, and some still own and farm the land on which her books are set, Verble was raised in Nashville, Tennessee, and currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

Verble's first novel, Maud's Line, was a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2016. Her second novel, Cherokee America, was listed by the New York Times as one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year for 2019 and won the Spur Award for Best Western. It is set in 1875 in the Arkansas River bottoms of the old Cherokee Nation West and is a prequel to Maud's Line. The books are linked both by their setting and by four characters who are young in Cherokee America and elders in Maud's Line.

Verble's new book, When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky, is set in 1926 in the old Nashville Glendale Park Zoo.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the new novel and reported the following:
There’s a scene break six lines in on page 69 of When Two Feathers Fell From the Sky. Those first six lines are at the end of a scene where my heroine, Two Feathers, discovers that the remains of a buffalo trace she’d been told about in a letter is, indeed, visible on the ground. She goes to tell her friend, Crawford, about it, and the rest of the page is devoted to her eavesdropping on a conversation between Crawford and a woman Two’s never seen before. Crawford is African-American and the woman is white, and clearly upper-crust. Yet, they are having a warm, friendly conversation about their families.

I think the content on page 69 does inform the reader of two major themes in the novel. The first one, represented by the buffalo trace, is about the layers of history that can be found in any one place, and the need to attend to them. The second theme has to do with race relations. Crawford and the woman he is speaking with have been acquainted since childhood. They know and like each other’s families. Yet this is in the segregated South in 1926.

One of the things I’m interested in doing in my writing is exploring how we can all get along with each other in ways that transcend racial divides. I was raised in a family that, along a continuum, had fullblood Indians at one end, completely white people at the other. The rest of us were scattered in between. We had disagreements like all families do, but they were never about race. So I was raised thinking that getting along with people beyond the boundaries of race is the normal thing to do. I think that’s a better model for living than a lot of what we see these days both in literature and in real life.
Visit Margaret Verble's website.

--Marshal Zeringue