Saturday, February 27, 2021

"The Quake Cities"

Born in Texas, Mark Wheaton worked in a computer factory before getting his start as a writer for such movie magazines as Total Film, Fangoria, Shivers, SFX and several others. After leaving journalism, Wheaton worked as a writer for video games, comic books, and movies, including writing scripts for New Line, Sony, Universal, Miramax, HBO, A&E, Syfy, Legende, Disney Channel, and others while working with filmmakers such as Sam Raimi, Michael Bay, Steven Soderbergh, George Tillman, Gavin O'Connor, Janusz Kaminski, and Clark Johnson.

Wheaton applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Quake Cities, and reported the following:
From page 69:
‘No, no,’ Chernov’s voice called from above. ‘Y’all come up, too.’


Este knew they’d run into somebody on the way to the railhead, but she’d hoped it wouldn’t be a random Garrison squad. If it was the National Guard, they’d at least get inside the wire before they’d have to answer to somebody, possibly with a bribe or calling in a favor.

But Garrison? They were corrupt from start to finish. If somebody was coming into the QZ, they’d get tariffed. Coming out? Also tariffed. Smuggling supplies in or out? Also tariffed. This especially included anything coming off the trains. Worse, they had a piece of the LAQZ drug trade, which made it almost a monopoly. If you bought from them, you paid their markup. Sold to them, you did so at cost. Did either with another crew? They just might shoot you.

‘What do you want to do?’ Wilfredo asked quietly.

‘Like we have a choice,’ Este said, tugging Casey’s leash and leading him up the steps.

‘Hands where we can see ’em!’ Chernov demanded more urgently.

Este twisted Casey’s leash around her wrist and raised her palms. ‘Right here, Keith.’

She remembered his voice. He’d been on the escort team of some corporate outfit, looking to reopen some LA City oil fields and had introduced himself as being from Georgia. He’d hit on her. She’d blown him off.

‘Estefania Quiñones!’ Chernov exclaimed. ‘It’s like I had a hunch ... no, a premonition you’d be involved with this. On your knees, guys. ’Sup, Fredo?’

‘What’s up, yourself?’ Wilfredo asked, kneeling beside Alice and Este. ‘Mind lowering the guns?’

Chernov responded by aiming his gun at Casey. ‘Casey, right? Bet you’d love to take a chomp out of my butt about now, huh?’

Este shot a look at the Alsatian. To her surprise, he seemed to barely notice the Garrison patrol. His focus was on whatever was coming up the tunnel behind them.

‘OK, you caught us,’ Este said. ‘How much to let us go? We’re burning daylight.’

‘No can do,’ Chernov said. ‘There was some incident outside D-Town last night. Big gun battle between AKR and Albert what’s-his-name’s outfit...’

Husti, Este thought.
Surprisingly, I think maybe yes that Page 69 of The Quake Cities gives a great window in to the book? The heroes of the story – Alice, Este, Wilfredo, and Este’s dog, Casey – have just escaped from the Los Angeles Quake Zone following deadly encounters with multiple teams of mercenaries all trying to collect the bounty on the mysterious Alice. To escape, they’ve used abandoned Metro Rail tunnels and have detected a new pursuer, which will turn out to be a pair of mountain lions genetically modified to scent down and hunt a single prey: Alice. When they emerge, they encounter a military patrol. Rather than help them, however, it turns out the military – which ostensibly keeps people from entering the Quake Zones but really just takes a hefty cut from the LA QZ’s burgeoning black market – interrogates them about a gun battle that happened inside the wire the night before, not realizing Alice was at the center of it. As they talk, the lions draw near and the action is about to ramp up again…
Visit Mark Wheaton's website.

The Page 69 Test: Emily Eternal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 25, 2021

"The Upstairs House"

Julia Fine is the author of What Should Be Wild, which was shortlisted for the Bram Stoker Superior First Novel Award and the Chicago Review of Books Award. She teaches writing in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and children.

Fine applied the Page 69 Test to The Upstairs House, her second novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I finally called my mother, and when she arrived, I felt saner, mostly because it was hard not to feel like the most logical one in the room next to my mother, in her deep-V cashmere sweater, mascara tracked under her eyes. She had on a gold Magen David necklace, and the lowest point of the star pierced her right in the sun-freckled fold of her cleavage.

The first thing that she said: “You look a mess.”

“It’s harder than I thought, not having Ben here,” I said, and immediately she gave me the look I should have anticipated, the look of Try raising two girls without a father, try dating with two daughters at home, and by the way has Dad been by to see the baby? I chose not to respond; Annie’s therapist had told her that the only way to stem my mother’s passive aggression was to force her to express herself overtly. We weren’t going to give her crumbs.

It was nice that Annie had a therapist. It was like having one of my own, only for free and without having to schedule appointments.
Although this page is missing some of the key elements of The Upstairs House (the new baby, the dissertation on children’s literature, Margaret Wise Brown and her lover appearing as ghosts to haunt the narrator), thematically it cuts right to the core of the novel. It’s a book about motherhood and daughterhood—the way we carry our own childhoods into our choices as parents, and the anxieties we have about our fitness to care for our children. The Upstairs House is also a book about mental health. Megan, the protagonist, is either seeing ghosts, or experiencing a postpartum mood disorder. She’s just had her first baby, and she can’t tell how much of what she’s feeling and experiencing is normal. Does every baby wake up to eat every hour all night long? Does nursing hurt for everyone? Does every new parent see the ghost of a dead children’s author in the stairwell? Megan’s family history of psychiatric hospitalizations should prompt her to seek help, but the stigma associated with visiting a therapist and the dissociation she feels from her former life simply by having become a mother keep her from letting anyone in. If she were willing to talk to a professional, perhaps the climax of the book could be avoided all together. As is, Megan leans on her sister, Annie, without being totally honest. She does mental gymnastics to justify what she’s feeling and seeing and doing and spends much of the book convincing herself that she’s fine, even as she sinks further into psychosis and depression.
Visit Julia Fine's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Upstairs House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

"Dragonfly Girl"

Marti Leimbach is known for her bestsellers, Dying Young, made into a film starring Julia Roberts, and Daniel Isn’t Talking. She is interested in neurodiversity and has shared the stage with young inventors at the Human Genome Project (Toronto), the National Autistic Society, and the University of Oxford. Her interest in science influenced her YA thriller, Dragonfly Girl.

She teaches on the Masters Programme in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. Dragonfly Girl is her eighth novel, but her first for young adults.

Leimbach applied the Page 69 Test to Dragonfly Girl and reported the following:
The page 69 test works in an intriguing way for Dragonfly Girl, getting right at the central difference between my heroine, Kira, and most other people. “My brain isn’t normal,” Kira declares on page one, line one of the novel, before lamenting the weirdness and deficiencies of her intellect. By contrast, on page 69, someone talks about her mind in a different manner, one that not only helps her understand where her unusual intelligence comes from, but makes it clear that this is a gift, not a curse.

The scene takes place in the early hours in a hotel’s small library. Over cups of tea, Kira meets for the first time a man who will change her future: Dr. Gregory Munn. In his senior years, Munn’s understanding of scientific genius has the benefit of many decades. From him, Kira learns something remarkable about her own history as Munn tells her that he knew her father, which shocks her. She also learns that the way she thinks is very much like her father's way of thinking.
My father’s name is so unexpected, and for a moment it’s as though his ghost has entered the room.

“He was an extraordinary young man. When I was reading your paper it was like déjà vu. It could have been his work.”

I never knew my father. He had a drinking problem and made stupid decisions when drunk. One was to try to interrupt an armed robbery not far from our house. I was only a baby when he died.

“You are very like him,” Munn says.

I can’t just sit here mute. He’ll think I’m even more ridiculous than I am. “How did you…how did you know him?” I say.

Munn clears his throat and smiles. “I was a fan, really. I take an interest in people who are, one might say, preternaturally gifted. He didn’t have the benefit of higher education, yet there he was. Something bordering on the miraculous. I used to visit him in that garage where he worked."

I nod. The garage was an outbuilding on a poultry farm. More like a shed. And the reason he was there instead of at a proper engineering lab was, again, because of the alcohol.

“It was as though he could pluck things from the future and bring them back to the present day.”
Spoken so casually, the reader will not necessarily pick up on the importance of Munn’s declaration that he has an interest in those who are “preternaturally gifted”. However, it’s exactly this interest that causes Munn to offer Kira an after-school job in his laboratories, leading to both her extraordinary discovery. And it turns out that Munn isn't the only one interested in people like Kira. She will become the prize over which Munn and an as-yet unknown rival in the book wrestle. Kira has no idea of the huge rivalry between these powerful men, nor the role that she will play in a drama she cannot, at this point, imagine. And yet, there it is on page 69. The library scene is one of those which the reader will reflect on later after learning much more about Kira’s perilous situation. Therefore, I declare the test a success!
Visit Marti Leimbach's website.

My Book, The Movie: Dragonfly Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 21, 2021

"The Missing Passenger"

Jack Heath is the author of several books, including the Danger series, the Fero Files, the Ashley Arthur series, the Agent Six of Hearts series, the Liars series, and The Mysterious World of Cosentino series. He lives in Darwin, Australia.

Heath applied the Page 69 Test to The Missing Passenger, the newly released sequel to The Truth App, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Missing Passenger (the Australian edition of it, anyhow) - the teenage Jarli Durras is trying to work out how to help Doug, a school bully and also the victim of a lie-detector app Jarli created. Doug was in witness protection, until the app exposed him. Now his family may have been assassinated by the crime lord known as Viper. "You remember that Doug's a jerk, right?" says Jarli's friend Bess. "It's not your job to help him." Jarli thinks, It's not about who he is, it's about who I am.

I think people opening the book to this page may get a sense of the book's plot, but not its tone. The Missing Passenger (sequel to The Truth App) is an action thriller, through and through. It's unusual to find a page where the heroes aren't running for their lives. Still, it's a neat summary of who Jarli is. He's honest - too honest, sometimes - and he does the right thing, regardless of the consequences. You could argue that a moral act isn't a moral act if it's sure to have negative consequences, but Jarli wouldn't believe you.
Visit Jack Heath's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Truth App.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 19, 2021

"Sorrow and Bliss"

Meg Mason began her career at the Financial Times and The Times of London. Her work has since appeared in The Sunday Times, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sunday Telegraph. She has written humour for The New Yorker and Sunday STYLE, monthly columns for GQ and has been a regular contributor to Vogue, ELLE and marie claire, before becoming an author full time. Her first book Say It Again in a Nice Voice, a memoir of early motherhood, was published in 2012. Her novel You Be Mother followed in 2017. The newly released Sorrow and Bliss is her third novel. She lives in Sydney, with her husband and two daughters.

Mason applied the Page 69 Test to Sorrow and Bliss and reported the following:
Sorrow and Bliss is a love story about the end of a marriage. The novel opens two days before Patrick leaves Martha, a woman he has loved from the time they met as teenagers.

What follows is Martha’s telling of all the time between then and now, her recollection and examination of each phase of her life, her effort to work out what happened and what she is supposed to do next.

On page 69, she is twenty-five and dating a man called Jonathan.

It has been, at this point, eight years since – in Martha’s words – ‘a little bomb when off in my brain’, leaving her with a mental illness which, still, no doctor has been able to properly diagnose. Lacking a right explanation for the way she is, Martha has invented one - deciding she is just a ‘difficult, too-sensitive person’ who ‘finds it harder to be alive than most people.’ All she wants is to be better, or normal, or different.

She and Jonathan have only known each other for six weeks and he has just – a page before - proposed to her at a dinner party he put on for that purpose, inviting Martha’s entire family.
He hadn’t met them before that night [she explains then,] or known me long enough to know that I would feel the same about such an intimate thing occurring in public as I had felt at fourteen when I got my first period at an ice rink. I wanted it, but not in those circumstances. Later, I understood it was because Jonathan needed an audience.
Page 69 is Martha, about to answer the proposal.
In the slowed-down moment of getting up, I looked at my weakly smiling father, whose desire to help me had always exceeded his ability, at Ingrid [her sister] who was still in the stage of sitting on [her husband] Hamish’s lap, presently with her arms draped around his neck. I looked at my uncle and aunt and cousins in intimate conversation at the other end of the table, past Patrick who was only a place along but seemed on his own, to my mother who was splashing champagne into and nearly into her glass with her eyes fixed too adoringly on Jonathan who was, by then, standing with his arms out like he was about to take possession of a large object. I wanted to become someone else. I wanted to belong to anyone else. I wanted everything to be different. Before he actually asked me and so he wouldn’t get down on one knee in front of my family, I said yes.
Lacking a diagnosis, an explanation for why she is the way she is, lacking a cure, Martha at 25 will cast herself towards anything or anyone who might be able to ‘fix her’.

Jonathan can’t of course. The marriage is a disaster. Martha’s search starts again, again.

This is the repeating pattern of all the years to come. It will define her marriage to Patrick - her illness, the absence of knowing, everything she will do and try to fix herself. And so all of the novel is here, on this one page. Her finally finding out is what has brought them to the end, when the novel starts. But it isn’t where their story is going to end.
Visit Meg Mason's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

"The Velocity of Revolution"

Marshall Ryan Maresca is a fantasy and science-fiction writer, author of the Maradaine Saga: Four braided series set amid the bustling streets and crime-ridden districts of the exotic city called Maradaine, which includes The Thorn of Dentonhill, A Murder of Mages, The Holver Alley Crew and The Way of the Shield, and a newly released dieselpunk fantasy, The Velocity of Revolution. He is also the co-host of the podcast Worldbuilding for Masochists, and has been a playwright, an actor, a delivery driver and an amateur chef. He lives in Austin, Texas with his family.

Maresca applied the Page 69 Test to The Velocity of Revolution and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Velocity of Revolution— my dieselpunk fantasy of colonialism, motorcycles, magic psychic mushrooms, a nation divided by a harsh caste system, and an undercover patrol office with a rebel’s voice in his head— we actually have a lynchpin of a scene. Wenthi Tungét, a loyal patrol officer who has been assigned to go undercover with the undercastes to root out the rebellion, is told that not only must he use the myco— the mushroom-based magic that every authority figure has told him before is incredibly dangerous— but that it’s specifically going to be mixed and applied by the believed-dead war criminal from the last war.
“And as troubling as it is—I do understand your misgivings, Wenthi, about the doctor, about using the myco—we need to match them weapon for weapon. These rebels aren’t just nuisances stealing a bit of fuel to run their cycles and trucks. They are insurgents, looking to undo everything people like us have been building here since the end of the war. Your mother’s good work getting this country on its feet. Our part in the war effort.”

“Yes, of course.”

“You’re scared,” Canwei said. “I don’t blame you. It’s a big risk, I won’t pretend it’s not. We wouldn’t ask this of you if it wasn’t about the very security of the Alliance and the war effort.”

Wenthi let that sink in. He had still been thinking this was a normal patrol infiltration assignment, busting up a cycle crew of petrol thieves. The real scope of it was settling in his belly. “Are you sure I’m your man for this?”

“I am,” Canwei said. “I am sorry this is all a rush, but Doctor Shebiruht says we must act while the myco is active in the girl. But the rest of this will be handled clean and tight down the line, all right?”

“All right,” Wenthi said, swallowing his fear. He was needed. Everyone— Canwei, Sengejú, Mother—was saying how important this was for the nation. How important it was that he did it. That only he could do it. He had to believe them. He had to try. “Let’s do this.”

The lieutenant snapped her fingers, and the nurses wheeled his gurney out of the room, then down the hall to another room with a series of complicated locks.
So, this scene is a great sample to gauge the rest of the book, I think, because it’s a microcosm of the coming challenges Wenthi will face. It shows you who he is, and who the people he’s working for are, and carries a lot of water for the worldbuilding and the plot in just this little bit. So, while I don’t know if the Page 69 test would work well for many of my other books, in this case? It’s an excellent test.
Visit Marshall Ryan Maresca's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 15, 2021

"Hide in Place"

Emilya Naymark was born in a country that no longer exists, escaped with her parents, lived in Italy for a bit, and ended up in New York, which promptly became a love and a muse.

She studied art and was lucky enough to illustrate numerous publications before transitioning to the digital world.

She has a particular fascination with psychological thrillers, crime, and suspense. All the dark stuff. So that’s what she writes.

In her other life, she is a web developer and designer, an illustrator, and an artist.

Naymark applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Hide in Place, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Hide in Place says (get ready… it’s a lot): Part Two

Whether this works or not as a test for the book is an interesting question because if I were playing, it would of course induce me to turn the page. A potential reader turning the page is already a win for an author! I particularly like the beginning of Part Two, so a reader turning the page and ending up on the next chapter is highly appealing.

Additionally, this works because it implies a certain pace and brevity to the content, which was wholly intentional. I kept my chapters short, a chapter per scene, and followed a traditional three act structure. By the time a reader gets to Part Two on page 69, decisions have been made and lots have been cast.

The first chapter of Part Two is also when I introduce the POV of my young oddball of a protagonist. Teenage Alfie was tremendously fun to write because he tries so hard to make sense of the world, and every decision he makes comes from a place of wanting to be loved and wanting to belong. Of course, his decisions backfire. Every single time.

So, in the true sense of the test, it fails for Hide in Place because it falls on a page without content. But I’d still be very curious to see the results of a practical application of the test. Would readers turn the page? I hope so!
Visit Emilya Naymark's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 13, 2021

"We Are the Fire"

Sam Taylor grew up in Arizona's desert and now lives among Connecticut's trees. She writes fantasy novels for teenagers, and magic is always at the heart of her stories. (What world isn't better with a bit of magic?)

For her writing, Taylor has won the Tassy Walden Award for New Voices in Children's Literature and twice received the Young Adult Romance Writers of America Rosemary Award. She's worked as a proofreader, copywriter, and instructor of university writing courses before deciding to write her own books.

Taylor applied the Page 69 Test to We Are the Fire, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I need to see there’s a real chance we can win. I won’t risk everything for nothing, like the Scarlet Embers.”

“The Embers weren’t organized,” Pran said. “They didn’t have the strength or skills to win. But we don’t have to fail like them. There are plenty of Tuliis among us capable of this fight, if they’ll only commit to the cause.”

“I know what you’re trying to say—” Yalku began.

“Do you? Because an effort like this needs fighters like you. That’s what will make the difference between freedom and the half-life in this fort.”

Yalku crumpled a card in his fist. “All we’ll have is a half life, no matter where we stand. We’re half human, half monster, pulling fire from a crackle of light. No one can change that.”

“No, we can’t.” Pran didn’t know if the strange weight settling in his chest was resignation or relief. “But if we’re stuck with these powers ... wouldn’t you rather use them to protect your own people? We can lead these troops to fight for our own homes, rather than die for an emperor who only sees us as tools. You’d do anything for your people. Won’t you help me free them from Vesimaa’s rule? You can help me make a difference for all.”
This comes from the scene where Pran is trying to convince his closest friends to rise up in rebellion against their Commanders and the Emperor, and free themselves from the fiery army they’ve been forced into. The Scarlet Embers mentioned are a new troop of soldiers who appeared to launch a rebellion of their own in the first chapter… one that failed miserably and ended with all of those soldiers obliterated by the Commanders.

While this page doesn’t have Pran in conversation with Oksana—his girlfriend and the book’s other point-of-view character—it still presents some of Pran’s key struggles and goals for the whole book. Up to this point he’d been searching for a way to free them from the army, and has finally landed on a plan that he believes will work.

But convincing others to support his cause is a constant struggle for Pran when the young soldiers are pitted against powerful and relentless Commanders, as well as their own compromised humanity: transformed by the army’s alchemist into demon-like beings who can breathe sparks into flames. Even some of the most important people in Pran’s life—like his best friend Yalku, as seen here—constantly question Pran’s plans and his ability to succeed. But Pran knows what he wants and keeps after it, always spinning his words to persuade the people he needs to his side.
Visit Sam Taylor's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 11, 2021

"Best Laid Plans"

Gwen Florio grew up in a farmhouse filled with books and a ban on television. After studying English at the University of Delaware, she began a thirty-plus year career in journalism that has taken her around the country and to more than a dozen countries, including several conflict zones.

Her first novel in the Lola Wick mystery series, Montana won the Pinckley Prize for Crime Fiction and the High Plains Book Award, and was a finalist for the Shamus Award, an International Thriller Award and a Silver Falchion Award. She has since released four other books in the Lola Wick series and one standalone novel.

Florio applied the Page 69 Test to Best Laid Plans, the first installment of a new mystery series, and reported the following:
Nora, the book’s protagonist, is helping campground host Miranda after Miranda’s husband presumably has been dragged off by a grizzly bear, leaving only bloody patches on the ground and shreds of his shirt in the woods. Miranda is too grief-stricken to carry out her usual campground responsibilities, so Nora is staffing the entry booth, checking in new campers. But there’s little to do, as the campground is a ghost town after news of the attack, and certainly no one new wants to camp there.
Gone were the vague impressions from her first, foggy night in the campground – the clotheslines strung between trees, hung with towels and sweaty hiking clothes hoping to pick up a pleasant overlay of pine; gone, the folding canvas chairs circling the fire rings; gone the childhood-recalling whiffs of woodsmoke.
Then Nora hears a vehicle. A sedan comes into view – doubly strange in this region where pickups and brawny SUVs predominate. The one person in the world she’d least like to see emerges.

Page 69 heightens the sense of dread that permeates a place after an incident as horrifying as a grizzly attack. The only people who stick around are the ones who absolutely have to be there, so the arrival of someone new is strange and vaguely ominous, even more so when Nora realizes who it is – the identity is revealed in the last word on the page.

This single page references not one but two of the book’s galvanizing events and presages the fact that nothing good is going to come of this new arrival. At this point, I’d like to think a reader has to turn the page.
Visit Gwen Florio's website.

My Book, The Movie: Best Laid Plans.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

"A Tip for the Hangman"

Allison Epstein earned her M.F.A. in fiction from Northwestern University and a B.A. in creative writing and Renaissance literature from the University of Michigan. A Michigan native, she now lives in Chicago, where she works as a copywriter. When not writing, she enjoys good theater, bad puns, and fancy jackets.

Epstein applied the Page 69 Test to A Tip for the Hangman, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of A Tip for the Hangman finds Kit, our protagonist and brand-new spy, passing his first report to his supervisor. Kit has just gotten wind that two people with no great love for Queen Elizabeth—Mary Stuart and King Philip of Spain—may be plotting together to unseat her. However, Kit accidentally reveals that his cover might not be as strong as he hoped, which doesn’t exactly thrill his supervisor.

I’d say this page is a pretty accurate representation of the novel! It’s a lovely coincidence that page 69 contains Kit’s summation of his findings to this point. The conspiracy between Mary and Philip is the driving threat through the first half of the book, so a skimmer would definitely know what they were in for.

It’s also a good illustration of how much growth Kit has to do as a character and a spy. He’s been in the profession just weeks at this stage, and while he’s proud of the information he has to report, he’s much more at risk than he knows. Throughout the book, the reader will see Kit evolve from the brash, overconfident young man we see here to a more experienced spy, one who knows what even the smallest mistake can cost.

Finally this page is representative of another aspect of the book that I love dearly: Kit’s utter inability to keep his mouth shut. Kit’s report is equal parts useful information and petty sniping, and even in this critical interaction with his superiors he chooses to pick a fight. This hotheadedness is, of course, a terrible quality in a spy, but Kit wouldn’t be Kit without it.
Visit Allison Epstein's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Tip for the Hangman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 8, 2021

"No Heaven for Good Boys"

Keisha Bush was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. She received her MFA in creative writing from The New School, where she was a Riggio Honors Teaching Fellow and recipient of an NSPE Dean’s Scholarship. After a career in corporate finance and international development that brought her to live in Dakar, Senegal, she decided to focus full-time on her writing. She lives in East Harlem.

Bush applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, No Heaven For Good Boys, and reported the following:
From page 69:
…floor in an attempt to crawl away, but he’s dragged back by his leg. Again, and again the cane comes down on him. Then cane whines under the pressure, threatening to crack with the force of each swing, but he can no longer feel the blows. If he stops crying out, it will probably make Marabout angrier than he already is, so every time the wood slams into his body, Ibrahimah cries out on cue. His voice becomes hoarser with every blow.
In No Heaven For Good Boys, page 69 is the very end of chapter 7, which is a pretty tumultuous chapter. In this chapter, we are with the protagonist, a 6-year-old street boy, who has to collect a minimum amount of money, the equivalent of about .75 USD a day, and return it to his religious teacher at the end of the day.

Because page 69 entails roughly eighty-one words of text, the reader wouldn’t get the full scope of the book from this short excerpt, but they would get a good idea of the perils the protagonist and other children in the book experience when they do not return back to their religious teacher with the proper amount of money.

This last scene was a very hard scene to write. The violence in the book is not gratuitous but instead necessary to portray the lives that these very real children in West Africa have to endure.

The good news is that the book is so much more than the abuses the boys experience at the hands of their teacher. The power of faith, love, and hope are what eventually give both the protagonist and his mother the courage to overcome the injustice of parent and child forced apart. And even in a life of difficulty, there are moments of humor, love, and empathy, and those are portrayed in the book as well.
Visit Keisha Bush's website.

My Book, The Movie: No Heaven for Good Boys.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 6, 2021


Anna North is a journalist and a novelist. Her journalistic work currently focuses on reproductive health and the politics thereof. She is the author of three novels, the newly released Outlawed, America Pacifica, and The Life and Death of Sophie Stark.

North applied the Page 69 Test to Outlawed and reported the following:
From page 69:
I had forgotten the calm of it, another person’s voice guiding me. The Kid sounded nothing like Mama—Mama’s voice was soft, with a roughness in it that she said came from childhood whooping cough, and the Kid’s was clear and loud, like the voices of the twelfth-form boys who got picked to read aloud from the almanac at the beginning of every school day. But unlike those boys, both the Kid and Mama could make me feel hypnotized, as though their words moved my very limbs, as though my hands were their hands.
Page 69 of Outlawed finds the Kid — the leader of the Hole in the Wall Gang — giving Ada, a newcomer and our narrator, a shooting lesson. In the process, the Kid also asks Ada, a former apprentice midwife with some medical training, for advice in treating chronic insomnia.

This page is pivotal in Outlawed for a couple of reasons. First, it establishes some parallels between the Kid and Mama, Ada’s mother. The extent of those parallels will become clearer later, but for now we learn that both are people who provide a level of guidance to Ada that’s so effective it’s almost like magic.

It’s also a turning point because we start to peek behind the Kid’s facade a little bit. The Kid has a very powerful, even fearless, persona, but here we learn that the character definitely has worries — the reader will learn more about what’s troubling the Kid later on, but the discussion of insomnia on page 69 is the first hint.

Finally, this is where Ada learns to shoot. It’s not a skill that’s always going to serve her well, but it’s an important one nonetheless, and helps to mark her transition from apprentice midwife to outlaw.

Overall, I think page 69 gives the reader an accurate idea of what they’re in for with this book — it gets at the big themes of the book and some of the core relationships too. One thing to note, however, is that it’s not a high point of action in the book. While it probably gives readers a decent idea of what to expect, I would say there are probably pages that are a bit more fun.
Learn more about the book and author at Anna North's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 4, 2021

"The Mercenary"

Paul Vidich’s fourth novel, The Mercenary, is now out from Pegasus Books. His debut novel, An Honorable Man, was selected by Publishers Weekly as a Top 10 Mystery and Thriller in 2016. It was followed the next year by The Good Assassin. His third novel, The Coldest Warrior, was widely praised in England and America, earning strong reviews from The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times.

Vidich applied the Page 69 Test to The Mercenary and reported the following:
Page 69 introduces Helen Walsh, an American counselor officer in Moscow’s US embassy, who also happens to work for the KGB. Helen hosts a regular Friday evening salon in her apartment for Moscow’s diplomatic corps. Walsh confronts the novel’s protagonist, Alek Garin, an undercover CIA officer, and she probes him about his activities in Moscow while offering him a vodka martini.

Garin’s suspicion is raised. The page ends: “Her comment was so casual, so out of nowhere, and so notable for its provocative oddity, that it stuck with him. He didn’t think it was a random shot, and like her earlier comment and others that had come to his attention, he had begun to think that his cover wasn’t as good as he had hoped. Rumors had begun to attach themselves likes burrs.”

Does page 69 pass the Page 69 test? The novel’s Moscow setting is implied, although not stated. Helen Walsh’s meddling character, and Alex Garin’s concern that he's not bringing attention to himself, are presented. England’s spy service, MI6, is mentioned so the reader might conclude the book involves spies. Most importantly, Garin’s interiority – his concern that ‘rumors had begun to attach themselves to him like burrs,” takes the reader into his mind.

On the other hand, page 69 does not reveal any of the book’s plot, nor does it reveal the book’s other key characters. On balance, a browser to page 69 would not have a good idea about the whole work, but she would have an insight into what type of book it is, and what is on the protagonist’s mind.

The Mercenary tries to create a sense of claustrophobia and danger for an American spy in Moscow during the final years of the Cold War. Spies lived in a shadow world, always aware of who they were talking to, what they were being told, and how much they should lie. They breathed suspicion, danger, and caution. Those sentiments do appear in the subtext on page 69.
Visit Paul Vidich's website.

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My Book, The Movie: The Mercenary.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

"Hadley & Grace"

Suzanne Redfearn is the bestselling author of four novels: Hush Little Baby, No Ordinary Life, In An Instant, and Hadley & Grace.

Born and raised on the east coast, Redfearn moved to California when she was fifteen. She currently lives in Laguna Beach with her husband where they own two restaurants: Lumberyard and Slice Pizza & Beer.

In addition to being an author, Redfearn is an architect specializing in residential and commercial design. When not writing, she enjoys doing anything and everything with her family—skiing, golf, tennis, pickleball, hiking, board games, and reality TV. She is an avid baseball fan. Her team is the Angels.

Redfearn applied the Page 69 Test to Hadley & Grace and reported the following:
From page 69:
The case isn’t complicated and should have been wrapped up months ago, but they hit a snafu when the marked money they’d put in circulation never showed up in Torelli’s accounts. Not a big deal: it simply meant Torelli was stashing the money somewhere other than the bank.

Mark set up surveillance cameras outside Torelli’s office and his garages, and now they were just waiting on a search warrant. As soon as they have it, a team will go in, find the money, and Torelli, his brother, and his cousin will be sent away for a nice long stay at their local federal penitentiary, compliments of the US government.

Mark rubs the bridge of his nose as Fitz says, “It’s the tapes from last night.” He hesitates, mutters an “uh,” then an “um,” then stops again.

Fitz is a good kid, smart and hardworking, and Mark genuinely likes him. But his dream is to someday be a field agent, and Mark has his doubts. While the kid has a great criminal mind and good instincts, being on the ground means making life-and-death decisions and, more importantly, being able to live with the consequences of those choices after they’re made. There can’t be any second-guessing, and with Fitz, everything the kid says seems to come out a question.

“Fitz?” Mark says, trying to conceal his irritation. A hazy hangover has formed behind the front of his skull, the thrum of his pulse in his brain, and he presses his fingers against it, regretting the beer binge he indulged in last night after the recital.

“Maybe you should take a look for yourself?” Fitz says.

Mark grunts and hangs up, then for a long minute sits where he is, staring at the fan as it pulses back and forth beside the window. Even at seven in the morning, the heat that’s descended on the capital this week is suffocating, and again, he is reminded of how much he misses Boston.
This page gives a snapshot of the setup for the story. The problem is it is told from the least important of the three narrators. The book is primarily about “Hadley” and “Grace,” and this particular chapter is from the POV of the detective who is investigating them. But I would definitely say the “page 69” test worked remarkably well in the sense that I don’t know if any other single page explains why this two women end up accidental fugitives from the law.

The idea for Hadley & Grace came from my enduring love for the movie Thelma & Louise. I wanted to write the same sort of exciting, road-trip adventure that also had an underlying theme of self-discovery and empowerment. As it turned out, I couldn’t actually tell the story as it was originally conceived by the talented Callie Khouri. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way from gawking truck drivers, bar-thug rapists, and patronizing do-gooder cops as typical male stereotypes. So, while the plot is similar—two women on the run who become accidental outlaws—the story turned out very different, a modern retelling that, while still thrilling and unexpected, is much more about family, finding inner strength, and redefining yourself.
Visit Suzanne Redfearn's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Suzanne Redfearn and Cooper.

Q&A with Suzanne Redfearn.

My Book, The Movie: Hadley and Grace.

--Marshal Zeringue