Sunday, January 31, 2021

"Leave No Trace"

Sara Driscoll is the pen name of Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan, authors of the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries and the FBI K-9s series.

They applied the Page 69 Test to their latest FBI K-9s novel, Leave No Trace, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Fine,” Meg conceded. “But I want you horizontal. What about the couch?”

“That’ll do.”

“Come on,” McCord coaxed, pulling Webb forward. “Let’s get you settled. I was about to grab a beer. Want one?”

“No,” Meg and Cara said in unison.

“Apparently not,” Webb said. “Which is a crying shame because I could really use one right now.” He turned imploring eyes on Cara. “If I can’t have beer, can I at least get some coffee?”

“Absolutely.” Cara waited until he smiled his thanks, and then said, “Decaf. No caffeine while you’re recovering. It can interfere with your sleep patterns.”

Webb’s smile fell away. “This is seriously no fun.”

“You’re not supposed to have fun.” Meg led the way into the living room, Hawk and Saki at her heels. “You’re on medical leave.”

As he went by, Cara poked McCord in the biceps. “And you can have coffee, too. It’s not fair for you to have a beer when Todd can’t.”

McCord and Webb exchanged dour glances. “You nailed it,” said McCord. “This is seriously no fun.”
As with the previous four FBI K-9 books, Meg Jennings and her search-and-rescue black Lab, Hawk, have a mystery to investigate—in this case, an unseen bowhunter who is picking off human victims in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia. But there is a strong subplot in the book that revolves around the themes of family, teamwork, and compromise. On page 69 of Leave No Trace, we see part of that subplot.

Meg and her sister Cara share a house in Arlington, and both women are involved in serious relationships. Meg’s partner Todd Webb, a firefighter, is trapped when a roof collapses while he and his team are fighting a house fire, and has to be rescued. He comes close to death, and is lucky to escape with only a concussion and a strained rotator cuff. When he’s released from the hospital, Meg brings him home only to be met at the door by Cara and Clay McCord, Cara’s partner and an investigative reporter at the Washington Post. It’s a moment of family unity—everyone rallies around the injured Webb, and while Meg and McCord want to discuss the case, they do so in a way that involves everyone. But this scene above also foreshadows a significant moment of team unity that will occur later in the book when once again a life is on the line.

The themes of family, teamwork, and the importance of compromise echo through the novel surrounding the main case. And the extreme level of danger in this case only brings home the importance of those connections. Because when a killer is hunting humans and then ghosting into the mountains, the next target may be the K-9 teams that are in turn hunting them…
Learn more about the FBI K-9 Novels.

Coffee with a Canine: M. Ann Vanderlaan & her dogs.

The Page 69 Test: Lone Wolf.

The Page 69 Test: Storm Rising.

The Page 69 Test: No Man's Land.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 29, 2021


Maxine Kaplan studied English and political science at Oberlin College and held a variety of positions in the publishing world before landing her current job as a private investigator and author. She lives and writes in Brooklyn, where she caters to the whims of her dim-witted but soulful cat.

Kaplan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Wench, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Wench find our intrepid tavern maid Tanya kidnapped by thieves and confronted with the true nature of what will be one of her closest companions on her journey, Jana. Tanya is momentarily defeated, but not discouraged, and forced to work at what she does best--cooking--to get to the next stage of her journey.

Page 69 of Wench is not the most exciting moment of the book, nor does it contain any of the book's significant world-building, but as a workaday example of the obstacles on Tanya's journey, it is actually a relatively successful example of the Page 69 test. It shows how Tanya reacts to setbacks in the moment and is revealing of parts of her character and her persona. For example, the master criminal easily identifies her as a tavern wench, because "tavern maids can never not criticize someone else's cooking," revealing how Tanya appears as the archetype of a tavern wench to the people around her, but also, through the tension of her attempt to deceive the master criminal about who she is, what is driving those parts of her personality--a survival instinct and almost pathological self-reliance. The page also represents a repeating motif of the book: Tanya is pursuing he own goals and confronts a variety of individuals who would use her skills for their own gain, and see her only as a servant--literally: they see her only as how she can serve them. This is also a perception Tanya has to fight about herself--she only sees herself in terms of how she can make herself useful to survive.
Visit Maxine Kaplan's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Accidental Bad Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

"A Thousand Ships"

Natalie Haynes is a writer and broadcaster. Her first novel, The Amber Fury [US title: The Furies], was published to great acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, as was The Ancient Guide to Modern Life, her previous book. Her second novel, The Children of Jocasta, was published in 2017.

Haynes applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Thousand Ships, a retelling of the Trojan War, and reported the following:
Page 69 of A Thousand Ships is the story of Chryseis, a young Trojan daughter of a priest, deciding whether it is worth trying to escape from her Greek captors (they have already killed the boy she was meeting). She is clever and resourceful, but her life has been shaped by the war which has raged outside the walls of her city for the past decade. Her options are also limited because she is afraid of her father and how he would respond to her rule-breaking (she shouldn’t be outside the city walls at all, let alone at night) if he were to find out about it.

It is quite a representative page, to be honest. This is a polyphonic novel, so it changes voice and perspective with each chapter, trying to create a narrative of the war from the point of view of the many women whose lives it impacts. I guess because of that, pretty much any individual page would have a good chance of being representative: the story of Chryseis is quite a long chapter, but it would be just as valid if it had been one of the very short (a page or two) ones, I think. The idea was always to hear a chorus of women’s voices.

This page really does offer a miniature version of the whole: it focuses on a young woman whose life is affected irrevocably by a war over which she has no control. It describes the bloodshed of an innocent, which obviously happens in any conflict. I wanted to write a novel which looked at how the violence of war isn’t limited to the battlefield, how the heroes of a conflict aren’t just the men who fight in it, and how its survivors are not always in a better position than the dead.

Although – spoiler – that will not be true for Chryseis, who finds herself with two unexpected allies. They change her fate entirely.

Good work, Page 69 test! You win this round.
Visit Natalie Haynes's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Furies.

My Book, The Movie: The Furies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 25, 2021

"The Jewel Thief"

Jeannie Mobley has spent much of her life daydreaming herself into other centuries. This tendency has led her to multiple degrees in history and anthropology, and a passion for writing fiction. She is the author of three historical middle grade novels: Katerina’s Wish (2012), Searching for Silverheels (2014,), and Bobby Lee Claremont and the Criminal Element (201), which have received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and Library Media Connection. Other honors include the Willa Award, Colorado Book Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, and inclusion on a number of notable lists, including the Amelia Bloomer List for Feminist Literature, Library of Congress 52 Great Reads List, the New York Public Library Notables, the Jefferson Cup List for Historical Fiction, as well as a variety of state lists. Her favorite stories are those of ordinary people who achieve the extraordinary. She is currently a professor of anthropology and department chair at a college in northern Colorado.

Mobley applied the Page 69 Test to her 2020 novel, The Jewel Thief, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Jewel Thief is an interesting entry into what the book is about. On this page, we see the main character, Juliette Pitau, forced to think fast and improvise in order to protect her father’s business interests. Juliette is the daughter of the crown jeweler of France, who has left Paris in a desperate attempt to find someone who can teach him a new technology in gem cutting so that he can cut the French Blue diamond for Louis XIV.

On page 69, we see Juliette, who is left alone in Paris, trying to appease a demand from the king’s envoy without giving away the secret that her father has not done any work on the commission. In the first line on the page, Juliette says, “Papa will not offer the king anything less than perfection, monsieur,” demonstrating her fierce loyalty to her father which drives many of her actions in the book.

The scene is an excellent window into other aspects of Juliette’s character as well: she is smart and quick thinking, and has her own ambitions for the diamond. It also shows the reader how these traits are both Juliette’s strength and her weakness. On page 69, when her efforts to send the envoy away empty-handed fail, she chooses to substitute her own drawings and plans in order to protect her father’s secrets, which only creates a bigger problem she is going to have to solve later on.

This is something that happens to Juliette throughout the book—her solution to one problem drives her on to a newer, bigger, more dangerous problem that she must work through if she is to save herself and her father. This is all neatly encapsulated in the scene on page 69. Smaller details in the scene, like use of the word monsieur in dialog indicate the setting in France, and Juliette’s worries about the unkempt nature of the home indicate that there is more she is hiding.

So all in all, much to my surprise, the Page 69 test does a nice job in The Jewel Thief, of giving the reader some hints to the overall nature of the story.
My Book, The Movie: The Jewel Thief.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 23, 2021

"The Forever Sea"

Joshua Phillip Johnson lives in a little green house on what used to be the prairie with his partner and their child. His work has appeared in Syntax & Salt, The Future Fire, and Metaphorosis Magazine, among others. He teaches at a small liberal arts university.

Johnson applied the Page 69 Test to The Forever Sea, his first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Forever Sea finds the protagonist Kindred still reeling from the news that her grandmother has leapt into the sea and disappeared. Kindred is trying and failing to find the captain of her ship in order to pass along some information about their water stores. Instead, she talks with Ragged Sarah, the crow-caller (navigator) of their ship, who gently sends Kindred to bed, seeing that she’s in no fit emotional state to be wandering the city in search of their captain.

After the scene break, Kindred wakes in her berth aboard the ship, finding in the darkness a kind of possibility. Her grandmother gone and her fortunes in disarray, Kindred makes a promise to herself about what her life will and won’t be.

The test works surprisingly well for The Forever Sea! This page is a great showcase of my tendency toward interior scenes (which can be slow and quiet—maybe too slow and quiet for some readers) and my focus on the unknown. Many of Kindred’s decisions in this novel come down to what she knows and what she doesn’t, and this is the first of many moments where she chooses the mystery and intrigue of the unknown over the control and comfort of the known. Readers turning to this page would find two scenes representative of the whole in many ways.
Visit Joshua Phillip Johnson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 21, 2021

"The Children's Blizzard"

Melanie Benjamin is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling historical novels The Swans of Fifth Avenue, about Truman Capote and his society swans, and The Aviator's Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Her 2019 novel, Mistress of the Ritz, is a taut tale of suspense wrapped up in a love story for the ages, the inspiring story of a woman and a man who discover the best in each other amid the turbulence of war. Previous historical novels include the national bestseller Alice I Have Been, about Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, the story of 32-inch-tall Lavinia Warren Stratton, a star during the Gilded Age.

Benjamin applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Children's Blizzard, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Children's Blizzard is in the middle of a gripping scene. The deadly blizzard has just hit, and a young schoolteacher, Raina Olsen, is in the middle of deciding what to do with her schoolchildren: Should they remain in the uninsulated schoolhouse hoping for rescue or should they try to get to a nearby homestead in the middle of this terrifying storm? As she’s been trying to keep the children calm, two of her pupils have left on their own. The brother of one of them is a fifteen-year-old named Tor; he’s only a year younger than Raina and she knows she needs him to help her keep the other children alive, no matter what she decides. In this scene, Tor is about to go after his brother, but Raina is pleading with him to stay with her and the other children. Tor grows up in a moment in this scene, when he has to make a gut-wrenching decision.

Does this page pass the page 69 test? Yes, it does. Many of the themes of the book can be found in this one page.

The blizzard itself is of course the main plot of my novel, and on this page we’re already seeing characters—ordinary people, young people, schoolteachers and their pupils—finding themselves in extraordinary conditions. The blizzard is literally pounding on the windows and shaking the walls of the schoolhouse while Raina and Tor, two children of immigrants, two children tied to the land because of the decisions of their parents, deal with the worst ramifications of those decisions. The land asked too much of the immigrants who came to homestead it (at the cost of those whose land it had been in the first place), but it particularly asked too much of their children who had no choice in the matter and who often paid the highest price. And the relationship between Raina and Tor, growing from student and pupil to equals, allied together to get these children to safety while each dealing with their own wrenching personal grief, is central to the novel, and begins on this page.
Learn more about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Alice I Have Been.

The Page 69 Test: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

The Page 69 Test: The Aviator's Wife.

The Page 69 Test: The Swans of Fifth Avenue.

The Page 69 Test: The Girls in the Picture.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

"Wider than the Sky"

Katherine Rothschild, PhD, is a Lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University, a former Arabic dance instructor, and an obsessive food truck follower. She's the recipient of a Vermont Studio Center artist's grant, and her personal essays have been published on KQED/NPR, in the San Francisco Chronicle, and in several other publications. She graduated from UC Irvine's creative writing program and earned an MFA in fiction writing at St. Mary's College of California.

Rothschild applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Wider than the Sky, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Wider Than the Sky, new friends Sabine and Emma are discussing a boy they both have a crush on, and Sabine is hiding her feelings about Kai from Emma. This page contains one of my favorite lines in the book—and I’m so glad my editor, Dan, didn’t make me cut it. Emma asks Sabine point-blank if she likes Kai, and this is how she responds:

“’Uh…’ My smile slipped into the neckline of my dress. The truth: I’m into him like he’s the best book in the world and I want to read his pages until they turn to dust in my hands. The partial truth: ‘He’s nice.’”

This moment is why, for Wider than the Sky, the Page 69 Test works well. The theme of the book is honesty—with yourself and others—and that’s addressed here. Sabine often uses the term “the partial truth” throughout the book. Two other topics on the page are fashion—which I love and there is a lot of in the book—and poetry, which Sabine bursts into when she’s nervous. So this page gives readers a small taste of what reading the whole book will be like.

One character the page leaves out is Sabine’s twin sister, Blythe, who is a big part of the conflict of the book. Some of the biggest fights I’ve had with a certain someone in my life came through in the moments when the sisters disagree, or see things differently. But even the theme of seeing things differently, shows up here despite the absence of our co-leading lady, Blythe.

When you break down this moment in the book, in just one page we can see the main story arc—why Sabine and Emma are talking: to solve the mystery of why the Braxton family owns a dilapidated mansion in Thornwood. Secondarily in the same scene we get the beginning of the B-story, or sub-plot, and that’s a love story between two poem and lyric-quoting teens who might or might not end up together…to find out you’ll all have to read the book!
Visit Katherine Rothschild's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

"What Could Be Saved"

Liese O'Halloran Schwarz grew up in Washington, DC after an early childhood overseas. She attended Harvard University, and then medical school at University of Virginia. While in medical school, she won the Henfield/Transatlantic Review Prize for her short fiction, and also published her first novel, Near Canaan.

She specialized in emergency medicine, eventually returned to writing, and published her second novel, The Possible World, in 2018.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her third novel, What Could Be Saved, and reported the following:
From page 69:
...and Philip felt a knell of alarm. There was something eerie about the way he walked, his body gliding forward without any up-and-down movement.

His mother knocked on the car window. Fred, come out please. She knocked on Philip’s window too and he cracked the door open, the heat punching in, and got out to stand beside his mother. He kept his head down while she explained in loud, precisely-enunciated English—the first time her voice had seemed unpleasant to Philip—how her son was to have judo lessons on Wednesday afternoons, starting in a week’s time, after the end of school. She spoke in bracketed clumps, a sentence or two and then a pause which the driver filled with Thai, then another sentence or two and pause.

Philip sneaked looks at the ranks of silent boys. They were staring at his mother, at how she towered over the judo master, in her wide-brimmed hat with black ovals of glass over her eyes. His mother kept talking; she didn’t seem to perceive the unfriendliness rolling from the boys, or notice how the creases beside the old man’s mouth deepened every time he flicked a glance down at Philip. Finally she stopped speaking and opened her purse.

A long pause, before the old man accepted the bills from her outstretched hand. He held up two fingers, growled out Tuk wan phut Bài sŏng mong. Two o’clock Wednesday, translated Fred.

“Why in the world would they practice outdoors in the heat of the day?” his mother said, as they got back into the car. “I’ll have Harriet boil two extra bottles of water and set them aside for you in the fridge. You’ll need to take them with you, and drink them both.”

“It’s only Thai boys in the class,” said Philip in a small voice.

His mother turned toward him, took her sunglasses off.

“Have you changed your mind?” she said. The hard blue of her eyes. “Tell me right now if you have. We’ll go back and cancel.”

Philip closed his eyes. Kicking in unison with Andrew. Fear and respect on Jeremy’s face. He shook his head. “No. I want to take judo.”

“All right,” his mother said, settling back against the seat, the sunglasses folding in her hand with a clack. “You wouldn’t know the boys in the other class either,” she added, in a kinder voice. “You’ll make friends.”
In my opinion, the page 69 test works pretty well for my book!

What Could Be Saved opens when Laura Preston, a middle-aged artist in Washington DC, is contacted by a man who claims to be her brother Philip — who vanished decades before at the age of eight, when the Preston family lived in Bangkok. Laura’s older sister Beatrice is convinced that it can’t possibly be Philip, but Laura isn’t sure. The book asks Is the stranger actually Philip? as well as What happened to Philip in 1972? and goes on to answer both questions by the end. The story is told in two timelines (Washington DC in 2019, and Bangkok in 1972), and page 69 is in one of the Bangkok sections. Page 69 gives a glimpse of some tone-deaf expatriate behavior (on the part of Philip’s mother) and also shows Philip’s essential character through his point of view (perceptive and deeply anxious). In that way, page 69 shows a couple of important characters in the story, and also gives an idea of some of the themes and overall flavor of my book.
Visit Liese O'Halloran Schwarz's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Possible World.

Writers Read: Liese O'Halloran Schwarz (August 2018).

The Page 69 Test: The Possible World.

--Marshal Zeringue

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