Monday, May 31, 2021

"The Essence of Nathan Biddle"

Alabama native J. William Lewis is a former lawyer who lives in Shoal Creek, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama.

Born in Chickasaw, Alabama, Lewis grew up in Mobile. He graduated from Spring Hill College (A.B., magna cum laude, English and Philosophy) where he was a member of Alpha Sigma Nu and recipient of the Merihl Award. While in college, Lewis served as editor-in-chief of the literary magazine The Motley. Lewis received his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law and served on the Editorial Board of the Virginia Law Review.

After a clerkship for the Honorable Walter P. Gewin on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Lewis practiced law in Birmingham for over three and a half decades.

Presently, Lewis serves as executive officer of his family’s investment company, Seaman Capital, LLC, and related companies.

He has been married to Lorraine Seaman Lewis for more than half a century.

Lewis applied the Page 69 Test to The Essence of Nathan Biddle, his debut novel, and reported the following:
On page 69, the track coach has been berating and verbally assaulting Kit for his lack of focus and his disdain of discipline. Kit’s reaction to the lecture is to “zone out,“ as the coach puts it. The coach keeps talking while Kit is bent over trying to shut him out, but Kit totally dissociates by creating in his mind an image of a boy mindlessly rolling a stone around the track at school. The boy on the track is “sweating and straining” and “totally bewildered,” and Kit in his mind wants to tell him that the track is an oval and that it goes nowhere, but the boy just stares back in “anguish and bewilderment.” Then the coach’s voice intrudes into Kit’s reverie, shouting his denigrating nickname, “Straw!”: “Are you all right, son?” When he gets no answer from Kit, the coach says, “I’m wonderin’ where you go when you zone out like that, and I’m not the only one wonderin’. You’re unnervin’....”

The protagonist of The Essence of Nathan Biddle is Kit Biddle who is about to enter his last year of prep school. In the prior year, he has sloughed off his studies and his athletic commitments, primarily because he is emotionally off balance due to the murder of his cousin Nathan and the collapse of his obsessive relationship with Anna, who is an almost Pygmalion creation of his imagination. It may be that another page would capture Kit’s existential angst better than page 69 but probably not. Like the coach, a reader who opened the novel to page 69 would not know the experiences that have exacerbated Kit’s malaise or his obsessive need to understand the why of his existence. The coach knows nothing other than that Kit is underperforming obvious capabilities, so that his response is to berate, exhort and belittle. As page 69 reveals, the people around Kit know that he is off balance even if they don’t know why.

Upon reading page 69, an insightful reader will grasp that the boy Kit imagines on the track pushing the stone is Kit himself and that Kit is thus engaging in some narcissism in empathizing with the struggling boy. The task is hard enough but it is made harder because the boy clearly doesn’t know why he is doing what he is doing. The image of the boy rolling a stone mindlessly is clearly the superimposition of Camus’ symbol for existential commitment (even in the face of absurdity) into the context of Kit’s life: He is a runner; the track in context is his hill. Kit is searching for meaning and failing desperately. The coach thinks that he represents obvious meaning--a logical next step for Kit, i.e., an athletic scholarship--and therefore he is as bewildered and frustrated as Kit because neither appreciates the other’s grasp of reality. The Page 69 Test is almost too uncanny in this book.
Visit J. William Lewis's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 29, 2021

"The Art of Betrayal"

Connie Berry is the author of the Kate Hamilton Mysteries, set in the UK and featuring an American antiques dealer with a gift for solving crimes. Like her protagonist, Berry was raised by antiques dealers who instilled in her a passion for history, fine art, and travel. During college she studied at the University of Freiburg in Germany and St. Clare's College, Oxford, where she fell under the spell of the British Isles. In 2019 Berry won the IPPY Gold Medal for Mystery and was a finalist for the Agatha Award’s Best Debut. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and is on the board of Guppies and her local Sisters in Crime chapter. Besides reading and writing mysteries, Berry loves history, foreign travel, cute animals, and all things British. She lives in Ohio with her husband and adorable Shih Tzu, Emmie.

If a reader picks up a novel and turns to page 69, will that page give the reader a good sense of the whole book? Berry applied the Page 69 Test to the latest in her Kate Hamilton Mystery series—The Art of Betrayal—and reported the following:
From page 69:
Tom handed me a pair of latex gloves.

After putting them on, I unzipped the bag, took out the pendant, and pressed the release. Inside, under a rock-crystal window, was a coil of black hair and an inscription: M. Grenfel, born Mar 5, 1805, died Feb 4, 1853. “It’s a mourning locket—mid-nineteenth century—a floral design embedded with paste stones, not diamonds. The surface and edges are worn, so it hasn’t spent much time in a jewelry box.” I turned it over to examine the markings. “It’s engraved on the back with the initial E. For Evelyn, I suppose. This is the kind of thing a young girl might receive on her birthday. It’s twelve carat gold-filled—pretty but not especially valuable. Might sell for a hundred pounds on a good day.”

“How about this Grenfel person?”

“He—or she—was in their late forties when they died. A great-great-grandparent, perhaps. Or maybe someone found the locket in a thrift store and bought it because they thought it was pretty.”

“We’ll check the name, Grenfel,” Tom said. “Maybe Evelyn Villiers had relatives who would know where Lucy is living now.”

“What about the aunt in Essex?” I asked. “The one Lucy was sent to live with after her father’s death.”

“Someone’s on that now.”

DCI Eacles cleared his throat. “I don’t fancy our chances of recovering the stolen item—the hoonping.” He stretched out the vowel. “In the meantime, we need to know what’s what with that art collection—if there’d been any funny business going on. We need professional advice. There’d be a small stipend.”

I stared at him. “Are you asking for my help?”

“If Ivor can spare you,” Tom said. “Mrs. Villiers was an elderly woman, living alone with a fortune in art and antiques. An easy target for thieves.”

“The point is,” Eacles said unpleasantly, “oother items may be missing as well. You said the woman had records. We need an inventory, by someone who knows what they’re about.”

“Have you spoken with Mrs. Villiers’ solicitor?” I asked Tom. “There may have been a valuation done at the time of Wallace Villers’ death.”

“If there was, I’ll let you know.”

“We’d be grateful for your help,” Eacles said, flattening out the a sound in grateful. He smiled, revealing large yellow teeth. Never turn your back on him, girlie.
Since I don’t yet have a printed copy of The Art of Betrayal, I’ve used page 69 of my manuscript. The scene finds American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton in DI Tom Mallory’s office at the police station in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. Having just given evidence in the death of a local recluse, Evelyn Villiers, and the disappearance of a húnpíng, a distinctive type of stoneware jar found in the Han-dynasty tombs of early Imperial China, Kate is introduced to Detective Chief Inspector Dennis Eacles, a transplant from the North of England, who reminds Kate of the ill-tempered old boar on her grandmother’s farm. Eacles asks her to examine a necklace found on the dead woman.

Does page 69 give the reader a good idea of the whole book? Since it’s mostly dialogue, my first impression was no. Thinking deeper, though, I changed my mind. Page 69 focuses on the main plot, solving the murder of the reclusive widow and the theft of the ancient Chinese funereal jar. The scene also gives the reader a glimpse into Kate’s knowledge of antiques and her methods in solving crimes—noticing details and discerning patterns. The old locket with its mysterious inscription foreshadows the long roots into the past Kate will have to untangle. The reader also gets a sense of the conflict between Kate and DCI Eacles, and we’re introduced to Evelyn’s Villiers’ daughter, Lucy, whose disappearance years earlier turns out to be a key piece of the puzzle. What we don’t see on page 69 is Kate’s growing relationship with DI Tom Mallory, the English detective she met on a previous case in Scotland.

All in all, not bad.
Visit Connie Berry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 27, 2021

"Lily’s Promise"

Kathryn Erskine is the author of several acclaimed books for young adults and children, including the National Book Award–winning middle grade novel Mockingbird.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Lily's Promise, and reported the following:
From page 69:

Oh, that is just peachy1.

Now I’m going to worry about Skippy and someone feeding him something he’s not supposed to have. How could you name a dog Skippy and not expect people to want to feed him peanut butter? Excuse me while I research whether Skippy has xylitol….

It does not.

However, fat is not good for dogs and can give them pancreatitis. And the list goes on. And on. Oh, my aching spine! This had better not be one of those dead dog books. I have a soft spot for dogs. Like me, they have thoughts and feelings but no voice, or at least, they have difficulty in making themselves understood. I understand their frustration.

I will have to do some of my own editing-on-the-sly if the Imaginer dares kill off a dog. I am not having it. Not on my watch.
1Incidentally, peach pits are poisonous to dogs as well as humans. I found that out while doing my research. This is why reading is good. It can save your life. Literally.
You’re welcome.
There are two parts to this book: 1) Lily’s story and 2) Libro, the book itself, who breaks the fourth wall by commenting on the characters, the story, and the author (the “Imaginer”). The chapters alternate between Lily and Libro, and page 69 is an accurate reflection of Libro’s personality—snarky, sarcastic, but with real heart underneath. Libro cares very much about the characters, even (maybe especially!) the dog, Skippy.

It was great fun working with a metafiction character, and I had specific reasons for doing so: First, Libro’s humor lightens the story which is a little poignant at times, although there’s also Lily’s friend, Hobart, who can be quite funny.

Second, for reluctant readers, Libro’s sections are short, leading to a sense of accomplishment (“Hey, I just read an entire chapter!”), hopefully encouraging them to continue.

Third, Libro underlines the theme of the story which is that we all have control over our thoughts, our actions, our lives, even a kid. Libro bemoans the fate of being contained by the covers of a book and the thoughts of the Imaginer, and points out that the reader has freedom and choices and can rule their own life.

Fourth, Libro talks a little about elements of writing and crafting a story which, I hope, teachers might be able to use in a fun way to help students analyze a story.

Finally, readers often want to know how I come up with ideas, how I research, whether I have to revise (yes, lots!), even where I write, so Libro gave me an opportunity to give some “insider information” to kids.
Learn more about the book and author at Kathryn Erskine's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kathryn Erskine & Fletcher.

My Book, the Movie: Lily's Promise.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

"You Will Remember Me"

Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing. She now lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons.

McKinnon applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, You Will Remember Me, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Let’s go inside,” I said, pushing the thoughts away. There were more pressing things to worry about. Ash was home now, that was what mattered. “We’ll figure things out, okay?”

Ash followed me as I unlocked the front door and stepped inside the house. I expected a sudden rush of memories to hit him, like I’d seen happen in the movies, but instead, Ash wandered around in bewilderment. He picked up a driftwood bowl I’d made, seemingly without having any idea it was one of my first-ever projects, and one he’d once fished out of the garbage, insisting it was great and I should keep hon­ing my skills. Next, he glanced at the pictures on the walls, and still—nothing.

“Where did you get your clothes and shoes?” I said, pointing to his enormous sneakers and baggy jeans.

“I, uh, stole them from the trailer.”

“Did the trailer belong to a clown?” I said with a smirk and Ash half smiled.

“I feel like a ruddy clown. The last clown out of the clown car.”

“Ash,” I whispered, trying not to gasp. “Your dad used to say that all the time.”
This is my second time doing the Page 69 Test, however, I think it may have been more accurate for Sister Dear, my fourth novel which released in May 2020 and for which I did this exercise, too. In the text above, taken from my fifth book, psychological thriller You Will Remember Me, Maya has just been reunited with her estranged stepbrother, Ash. Ash is suffering from amnesia and doesn’t remember anything about himself or Maya, hence his bewildered state as he sets foot in the family home for the first time in two years.

While the Page 69 Test gives the reader a tiny glimpse into Ash and Maya’s relationship, it’s not indicative of the direction the story will take. This scene reveals little about what either of them is thinking or how they’re feeling. This isn’t a bad thing—after all You Will Remember Me is a suspense novel with twists, turns, and uncertainty. If readers could see everything coming by page 69, I fear I wouldn’t have done my job as a crime author properly.

Certainly, writing a character with amnesia was tricky. Having multiple point-of-view characters (there are three) is always more complex than having one protagonist as you have to develop the character more quickly and with fewer words. Having said that, I’d completely underestimated writing a point-of-view character with memory loss. You can’t give them any backstory they’re aware of or memories to recall, nor can you have scene after scene of somebody telling them about their history. It certainly stretched me as an author, and I hope readers will be intrigued by what happened to these three people in the past, what dark secrets they have between them, and the explosive conclusion when everything is exposed.
Visit Hannah Mary McKinnon's website.

Q&A with Hannah Mary McKinnon.

My Book, The Movie: You Will Remember Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 23, 2021

"All Sorrows Can Be Borne"

Loren Stephens is a widely published essayist and fiction and nonfiction storyteller. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, MacGuffin, The Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Forge, Crack the Spine, Amuse Bouche, The Writer’s Launch, the Summerset Review, the Montreal Literary Review, and Tablet Travel Magazine to name a few. She is a two-time nominee of the Pushcart Prize and the book Paris Nights: My Year at the Moulin Rouge, by Cliff Simon with Loren Stephens was named one of the best titles from an independent press by Kirkus. She is president and founder of the ghostwriting companies, Write Wisdom and Bright Star Memoirs. Prior to establishing her company Stephens was a documentary filmmaker.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, All Sorrows Can Be Borne, and reported the following:
Page 69 is a glimpse into my heroine, Noriko Ito’s character in a scene where she speaks with her sister, Setsuko, the owner of a tearoom where Noriko has been working. Noriko has just failed her audition for the Takarazuka Theater Academy, and she is devasted – this is all she ever wanted. And at almost eighteen, she will not be offered another chance to audition. She must pivot and decide what is to become of her life. Her sister admonishes her, “I suggest you stop thinking about the Takarazuka and figure out how you can make yourself useful here [at the tearoom]. If you do a good job, who knows where you might end up?” She had pictured herself on stage under the spotlight. Now she will carry coffee and croissant to her customers. She asks Setsuko, “Will you call Mother and tell her I didn’t get in – and ask her to tell Father. He is going to be crushed and I just can’t bear to hear the disappointment in his voice. To make things easier, please let her know that I plan to pay him back [for all her singing and dancing lessons].”

And then as the final coup de grace she expresses how jealous she is of her high school friend who is accepted into the Takarazuka. “Mizuki’s father will be bragging all over town. He’ll probably put an announcement in the Hiroshima newspaper.” So we learn that not only have her dreams been shattered, but she has also disappointed her father who shared her aspirations, and she is jealous of her friend. Page 69 reveals Noriko’s emotional state, but it doesn’t foreshadow what will follow: That she will find temporary happiness, falling in love with the mysterious and handsome tearoom manager, Ichiro Uchida. She replaces her career ambition for romance – but will that be a satisfying tradeoff?

Therefore, the Page 69 test doesn’t work for my novel because Noriko’s character is radically transformed from a petulant, slightly spoiled teenager, into a young woman who must summon all her courage and strength to face a series of unimaginable challenges, which are not even foreshadowed on page 69. All the reader knows on page 69 is that she has suffered a girlhood disappointment and has to redefine her goals for her life leaving aside her dreams.

In the remainder of the novel, which is told primarily in Noriko’s voice, Noriko learns what it means to be a wife and mother, two roles that she is ill-prepared to perform. There are scenes where Noriko is ready to give up but somehow finds the courage to forge ahead to try and save her husband who suffers a communicable disease, and hold on to the precious little boy she has given birth to. In her darkest moments she sometimes wishes that she could trade in these roles for the life of an actress. At one point, she meets a famous Japanese film director who offers her a walk on part in his next movie. She weighs this opportunity against her obligations to her husband and son and refuses him. But the reader wonders if her choice is an honest one.

As this is a historical novel, I have interwoven many events of World War Two and its aftermath – the bombing of Hiroshima, the rebuilding of Japan as a bulwark against communism, changes in the role of women – and most especially the rights of women guaranteed in a new constitution including the right to vote. I’ve also given cameo appearances to President John Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline, U.S. Ambassador Edwin Reischauer and President Jimmy Carter. I’ve tried to give a nuanced picture of U.S.-Japanese relations, most especially from the perspective of the Japanese.

I wrote Noriko’s character taking into consideration how many historical events directly impact her, most especially the bombing of Hiroshima. For example, throughout her pregnancy she is afraid she might give birth to a monster as a side effect of what the Japanese learned was radiation.

The novel ends on a positive note. Hopefully, she is a heroine that my readers will love wishing her future happiness as compensation for all the sorrows she has borne.
Visit Loren Stephens's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 20, 2021

"Seven Perfect Things"

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

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Seven Perfect Things, and reported the following:
This is most, but not all, of page 69:
Viv sat across the table and unfolded a paper napkin in her lap. She dug in, so Mary dug in, too, even though she was more interested in talking than eating.

She glanced around the kitchen and into the living room. It was the first time she’d seen Viv’s house. Viv kept it clean, but cluttered. It was obvious that young children lived here. There were crayon drawings secured to the fridge with magnets, and a plastic big-wheeled trike parked next to the coffee table.

“This is good,” Mary said.

“I like it in the summer. So go on with what you were saying. You’re worried about Abby.”

“Right. So that day, the day she said she’d be late because of swim practice, she was also late getting to school in the morning. By over an hour. The school called me, because they thought it was an absence. And I asked why there would be a swim practice so close to summer vacation. Nobody knew a darn thing about it, Viv.”

“Saw that one coming,” Viv said.

“So she didn’t get home till nearly dark. And I didn’t ask. I feel bad about that. Like I was being cowardly. Like one of those mothers who’re afraid to draw a hard line, like maybe their kid won’t like them anymore if they do. I’m not saying it’s impossible for me to fall into that. But I sure try not to. The main reason I didn’t ask is because it’s obvious that she’s willing to lie to me now, and so what’s the point of asking, really? She won’t tell me the truth. It’s hurtful to me though, because I thought we had a better relationship than that. I didn’t think she would lie to my face.”

“Any kid’ll lie if the truth is far enough from what her mother wants to hear. So what’s your guess?”

“I think she has a boyfriend.”
Mary’s daughter, Abby, is one of three viewpoint characters in Seven Perfect Things. She’s only 13. She does not have a boyfriend. She has something much more innocent—seven puppies that she rescued from drowning. They are a secret because she can’t bring them home.

I honestly think Elliot’s and Abby’s point-of-view narration are probably more dominant and more essential to driving the plot. In that respect, I think the Page 69 test is not absolutely ideal for this book. Then again, the bond between a mother and daughter in a very unhappy home is an important part of the story. Mary is determined to protect Abby, and she soon figures out that Abby is keeping the puppies. Her decision to do nothing—to let Abby have her own life experiences and learn from her own mistakes—speaks strongly of Mary as a character. It was the moment, while writing this book, that it dawned on me how much I liked her.

So it’s not a bad Page 69 Test, either.
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.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

"Mary Jane"

Jessica Anya Blau was born in Boston and raised in Southern California. Her novels have been featured on The Today Show, CNN and NPR, and in Cosmo, Vanity Fair, Bust, Time Out, Parade, Oprah Summer Reads and other national publications. Blau's short stories and essays have been published in numerous magazines, journals and anthologies. She co-wrote the script for Love on the Run starring Frances Fisher and Steve Howey. She has taught writing at Johns Hopkins University and The Fashion Institute of Technology. Currently, She lives in New York.

Blau applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Mary Jane, and reported the following:
Mary Jane takes place in Baltimore in the summer of 1975. Mary Jane is a summer nanny for a psychiatrist and his wife (Dr. and Mrs. Cone) who are housing a very famous rockstar and his movie star wife for the summer while the rockstar gets sober. In Mary Jane’s house there is order and cleanliness. A framed portrait of President Ford hangs in the dining room. No one touches each other or expresses emotion. In the Cone house there is confusion, chaos and clutter but also love and affection.

On page 69, everyone gathers in the Cone’s living room to watch the Apollo-Soyuz docking in space. Before I give you a section of the page, here are the characters:

Dr. Cone, the psychiatrist.

Mrs. Cone, his hippy wife.

Sheba, the movie star.

Jimmy, the rockstar who’s getting sober. (In the third paragraph, we see that he’s seated on the couch beside Dr. Cone with Sheba on the floor in front of him.)

Izzy, the five-year-old who is Mary Jane’s charge.

Mary Jane, the 14-year old summer nanny.

Here’s the fourth paragraph.
Sheba patted the shag rug beside herself. I walked in and sat down, my back perilously close to Dr. Cone’s calves. Izzy climbed off her father’s lap and nestled into mine: her weight pushed my back against Dr. Cone’s legs. I looked up and saw that Mrs. Cone had tucked herself under her husband’s arm. Sheba put her hand on my knee, and at that moment every single body in the room connected into a single fleshy, leggy, arm entwined unit. We stared silently at the TV as an American astronaut leaned out of his spaceship and shook the hand of a Russian astronaut who was leaning out of his.

“I still don’t understand what is going on,” Izzy said. “Are they on the moon?”

“No, they’re just connecting,” Sheba said. “The spaceships connected and now the people are connecting.”

“Like us,” I whispered in Izzy’s ear, and she nodded and pushed herself deeper into my lap.
This is a small scene in the book. I put it in originally just to have a slice of history--the space docking. But as I saw them watching the TV, I could see how they would assemble themselves. It created a nice moment for Mary Jane whose parents never show affection or tell her they love her. It showed how she was shifting into the nest (and chaos) of emotive and loving people at the Cone’s.
Learn more about the book and author at Jessica Anya Blau's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Jessica Anya Blau and Pippa.

The Page 69 Test: The Wonder Bread Summer.

The Page 69 Test: The Trouble with Lexie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 17, 2021

"Jungle Up"

Nick Pirog is the bestselling author of the Thomas Prescott series, the 3:00 a.m. series, and The Speed of Souls. A Colorado native, he now lives in South Lake Tahoe with his two pups, Potter and Penny.

Pirog applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Jungle Up, and reported the following:
From page 69:

There was a giant snake projected on the screen at the front of the room. It was several shades of brown and easily camouflaged among the dried leaves in the photo.

“The fer-de-lance,” Mark Holland said in an English accent.

Holland, as he liked to be called, was tall, easily six foot four, muscular, with a light-brown goatee and a shaved head. He wore a white paracord bracelet on one wrist and an enormous black watch on the other. He had spent the previous five minutes recounting his bio: forty-two years old, ex–British Special Forces, advanced trauma medic, skilled survivalist, and senior instructor in jungle warfare. After leaving the military, he started a company called TAFLS, Television and Film Logistics and Safety. He specialized in bringing television and film crews into the most dangerous and inhospitable environments. He’d worked with several TV shows— including Running Wild with Bear Grylls, Survivorman, Extreme World, and Naked and Afraid—and on numerous documentaries.

Holland and his partner—Ian Rixby, whom they would meet the following day—would be in charge of Andy and the other expedition team members’ safety while in the jungle.
When I first turned to Page 69, I found myself grinning. The page is, without a doubt, one of my favorites in the entire novel and I can visualize the scene in my head perfectly. That being said, after rereading the page several times, I would say my book fails this test.

While the passage may spark interest in readers intrigued by the prospect of a jungle adventure, there isn’t a window into the narrator, Andy Depree, whose personality is one of the driving forces of the novel. Andy is a breathing conundrum: he is the lead anthropologist on a documentary expedition headed into the Bolivian jungle in search of the lost city of the Incas, but he is also an anxiety-ridden hypochondriac who once locked himself in his room for three days when his dad saw a garter snake in their backyard.

The page also fails to mention the primary storyline (and protagonist), which is retired homicide detective Thomas Prescott journeying to the Bolivian Amazon to rescue Gina Brady, a World Health Organization doctor (and ex-girlfriend) who was abducted from her village. Thomas had caught a ride down to South America on the documentary expedition’s charter flight, but after landing, the two groups went their opposite ways. Thomas is destined to cross paths with the documentary expedition later in the novel, which is just one of several hold-onto-your-socks twists along the way.
Visit Nick Pirog's website.

My Book, The Movie: Jungle Up.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 15, 2021

"Cool for the Summer"

Dahlia Adler is an editor of mathematics by day, the overlord of LGBTQReads by night, and a Young Adult author at every spare moment in between. She is the editor of several anthologies and the author of seven novels, including Cool for the Summer. She lives in New York with her family and an obscene number of books.

Adler applied the Page 69 Test to Cool for the Summer and reported the following:
Page 69 takes place at a group outing that's also main character Lara's first date with Chase, the boy she's been crushing on for years. On it, the characters are talking about Jasmine, the main love interest of the book, and Lara's getting internally anxious and defensive about sharing Jasmine with other people, though she doesn't quite understand why.

I'd say it's very on theme and gives you a good idea of Lara's headspace, but her head isn't always a fun place to be so I wouldn't say your anticipation of enjoyment should rest on that!

What I like very much about this page is that Lara's so torn not just about her romantic relationships but the concern she could lose her best friend. The friendships in this book are a really important facet, and you definitely can't miss that if you read this page!
Visit Dahlia Adler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 14, 2021


Linda L. Richards is a journalist, photographer and the author of numerous books, including three series of novels featuring strong female protagonists. She is the former publisher of Self-Counsel Press and the founder and publisher of January Magazine.

Richards applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Endings, and reported the following:
Marshall McLuhan suggested it, so it must be true. And I love the challenge of it. Fitting the words into boxes. I bet he would have dug the concept.

And if we stay letter to the law, so to speak, for Endings, anyway, it comes out all right. McLuhan suggested that, if page 69 of a book spoke to you, you should read it. Page 69 of Endings gives away little of plot, but it does speak to spirit and intention. I’ll read you a bit right now:
“And what would I find if I were to Google you?”

“Nothing,” I say. “I am an enigma.”

One eyebrow shoots up, but he doesn’t say anything.

“A cipher,” I add. “It might be that I don’t exist at all.”

“A cipher. An enigma. Those are interesting ways to describe oneself. And, if that is the case, how is it that this cipheric—“

“I don’t think that’s a word.”

“—enigmatic woman should come into my life? What message does that bring?”

“That would be an arrogant way to frame things,” I say smiling brightly and hoping he doesn’t see how close to the mark he’s come.
There is more on page 69 of Endings, but it is not dissimilar to what I’ve shared here. It’s a moment. A snapshot of a whole. In fairness, also, it should be mentioned that, in this case, this snapshot from Endings was also part of “Terminal City" the award-winning short story included in Vancouver Noir. So on page 69 of Endings, we hit our narrating character with a bright light. We don’t learn much about the story, but we do get to see a piece of her spirit and her heart. By McLuhan’s reckoning, this might be enough to tell if you want to spend more time in her company. Or not.
Visit Linda L. Richards's website.

My Book, The Movie: Endings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

"Family Law"

Gin Phillips is the author of six novels, ranging from historical fiction to literary thriller to middle grade. Her work has been sold in 29 countries.

Phillips’s debut novel, The Well and the Mine, won the 2009 Barnes & Noble Discover Award. Her recent novel, Fierce Kingdom, was named one of the best books of 2017 by Publishers Weekly, NPR, Amazon, and Kirkus Reviews. Her novels have been named as selections for Indie Next, Book of the Month, and the Junior Library Guild.

Born in Montgomery, Al., Phillips graduated from Birmingham-Southern College with a degree in political journalism. She lives with her family in Birmingham, Al.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Family Law, and reported the following:
Page 69 happens—luckily—to be one of my favorite scenes in the book. We find Lucia, a young lawyer, visiting with her mother in the kitchen as they get Sunday dinner ready. “There was a reason that they talked in the kitchen—dumplings and Jell-O salads filled the empty spaces. The past could do that, too. It was as if the two of them were standing far apart, separated by a huge bedsheet, a wide flat expanse. One old story would fold up the distance, bring them close, corner against corner.”

Lucia focuses on peeling a tomato as they talk, and she takes in the details of her childhood home, where she both belongs and doesn’t belong. “Most of the time she could barely remember the girl who had lived in this house, but there were moments—lace fluttering, wind smelling of honeysuckle and bacon and Barbecue Lay’s—there were moments where she was right under Lucia’s skin.”

We get a feel for the divide between Lucia and her mother in this scene, as well as the love between them.

My verdict: I’m a big fan of the Page 69 test. If someone wonders whether they would like Family Law, I’ll steer them straight to this page. The book is set in 1970s and ’80s Montgomery, Alabama, and centers around Lucia—who’s chosen a path very different from the women around her—and Rachel, a teenager who chafes at the rigid notions her own family has of what it means to be a girl. (Don’t wear your shorts too short. Don’t make a fuss. Smile more.) In Lucia, Rachel sees a whole new way of life.

This is a story with courtroom scenes and bullets and men who lurk in the shadows, but fundamentally it’s about the ways women shape each other and the complicated ways we’re bound together. For both these women, there’s a gap between the world they were raised in and the world they imagine for themselves. I think most of us, in one way or the other, feel that gap between the person our family expected us to be and the person we actually became. For Lucia and Rachel, that divide is partially about growing up in a world with such firmly drawn lines—men and women, black and white, right and wrong—and wanting to erase those lines and open up the possibilities. This scene on page 69 gets to the heart of how Lucia and her mother see the world differently and how their bond is both imperfect and powerful. It’s a good entry point for the rest of the novel.
Visit Gin Phillips's website.

The Page 69 Test: Fierce Kingdom.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

"Leaving Coy's Hill"

Katherine A. Sherbrooke is the author of Fill the Sky, which was a finalist for the Mary Sarton Award for Contemporary Fiction and the Foreward Indies Book of the Year, and won a 2017 Independent Press Award. She is Chair of the GrubStreet Creative Writing Center in Boston and lives south of the city with her husband, two sons, and black lab.

Sherbrooke applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Leaving Coy's Hill, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my novel is the end of a chapter—so only half a page—which sets up a key turning point in the life of my protagonist, Lucy Stone. She is a rule breaker—speaking out for the controversial idea of abolition in 1848, at a time when women speaking in public was considered scandalous—but at this point in the story, she’s working hard to fit in with her newfound colleagues, former idols and giants of their time like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, and determined to live up to their expectations. While the previous eight pages are “in scene,” offering a visceral description of that experience, page 69 simply summarizes several subsequent encounters.

Accordingly, this test is not a good one for the overall flavor of this novel. What the page doesn’t do is give a strong sense of the place and time in which Lucy lived, and the inner turmoil she battled at every turn. What brings this story to life (any story really) is rich detail—the weary looks of the women on whose doors Lucy knocked to advertise her lectures, frigid water from a hose turned on her as she gave a speech, the weight of the coins collected for her work, the mesmerizing touch of a man’s gloveless hand. Page 69 doesn’t include that kind of immersive experience, and so, I’m afraid, doesn’t do a good job of standing in for the rest of the book.

That said, the last two lines of the page do speak to two themes that run throughout the book:

“The hard work toward a shared goal created a camaraderie among us that I cherished. Until my fourth trip to Boston. That’s when everything changed.”

Lucy devoted her life to abolition and women’s rights, and her greatest triumphs and setbacks involved the presence or absence (in sometimes jarring ways) of support from colleagues and friends. But she was also a woman who kept her own counsel and wasn’t afraid to take a hard left across uncharted territory when she sensed a better way. The change the last sentence refers to redefines her life, and hopefully a reader who is interested in what comes next might pick up the book!
Visit Katherine A. Sherbrooke's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 9, 2021

"A Deadly Twist"

Jeffrey Siger was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, practiced law at a major Wall Street law firm, and later established his own New York City law firm where he continued as one of its name partners until giving it all up to write full-time among the people, life, and politics of his beloved Mykonos. A Deadly Twist is the eleventh novel in his internationally best-selling and award nominated Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series.

Siger applied the Page 69 Test to A Deadly Twist and reported the following:
From page 69:

“Then you have the farmers and herders who live outside of town. They’re not only considered ignorant peasants by many who live in town, but they’re also often consumed by rivalries with neighboring villages.” She took a slug from the bottle. “On top of all that local bullshit, you’ve got the resentment Naxos as an island bears toward its neighbors, Paros and Syros, and vice versa.”

“What gripes does Naxos have with them?”

“Basic islander jealousy pretty well covers it. But with Syros it runs a bit deeper. In antiquity, Naxos was rich and important far beyond any of its Cycladic neighbors, other than the holy island of Delos. But all that changed once Naxos was conquered. Centuries later, after Greek independence, Syros emerged for a time as the cultural and economic center of the Cyclades, and the airs adopted by Syriots riled Naxian pride to an extent they’ve never forgiven.”

“You make them sound like rival football fans.”

“Not a bad analogy,” said Popi. “Which means I may not be of much help if whoever we’re meeting with sees you as rooting for the other team.”

“And the rival team for where we’re headed would be...?”

“Greeks have a penchant for paranoid conspiracy theories. No telling how what you have in mind fits into their frame of reference.”

Yianni shook his head. “So, what can you tell me about Siphones?”

“It’s in a lovely location that’s been abandoned for nearly seven decades for reasons no one seems clear about. Some suggest it was a lack of water, others say floods, a few claim villagers moved away after the emery mines closed and they lost their jobs, or because it lacked a school for the children.”

Yianni looked at her. “What do you think’s the reason?”
Bingo! The test works masterfully.

I’m amazed at how that single page both captures the essence of the book’s underlying theme and a technique I employ to assure that above all else my book provides consistent fast-paced mystery entertainment for the reader.

Page 69 of A Deadly Twist (my eleventh Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis mystery thriller) offers a slice of dialogue between two cops—a female local cop on the Greek Aegean island of Naxos, and a male detective from Athens Central Police Headquarters Special Crimes Unit ­ investigating the disappearance of a celebrated Athens crime journalist. The journalist vanished while on Naxos investigating a simmering conflict between a tourism industry hungry to capitalize on the natural beauty of this largest and greenest of the Cycladic islands, and passionate preservationists grappling to protect their island way of life with its history predating Minoan Crete and Mycenaean Greece.

Theme wise, Page 69 highlights the visceral competitive jealousies between neighbors, communities, islands, and nations capable of breeding generations of distrust and paranoia, often dooming mutually beneficial progress to failure amid us-against-them mindsets and fired up emotions that risk fomenting violence over reason. In this twisting tale of murder, corruption, and greed, time has spawned a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to keep dark secrets buried forever.

As for the technique aspect evidenced by Page 69, it’s a perfect example of how I maintain tension in my writing. Tension is the emotional roller-coaster-ride element so beloved by readers of our genre. Tension heightens interest by relying upon the same basic three-step process used by comedians in telling a joke: setup, buildup, payoff. It’s what keeps a reader turning the pages, which after all, is my goal. And considering the last line on this page, is there anyone who wouldn’t turn the page?
Learn more about the book and author at Jeffrey Siger's website.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in Mykonos.

The Page 69 Test: Prey on Patmos.

The Page 69 Test: Target Tinos.

The Page 69 Test: Mykonos After Midnight.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 7, 2021


An American author living on the Silver Coast of Portugal, Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history. She is the author of Revelations and seven previous critically acclaimed novels, including Daughters of the Witching Hill, the Nautilus Award–winning Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen, The Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse, and Ecstasy, about the life, loves, and music of Alma Mahler.

Sharratt applied the Page 69 Test to Revelations and reported the following:
From page 69:
Though still numb from Anna’s lukewarm reception, I set off the next morning in search of Dame Julian. The portress summoned a local boy to show me the way. I followed him while Nell trudged in my wake and muttered about her sore feet.

We entered the walls of Norwich through Ber Street Gate. A prosperous city, Norwich was the fifth biggest in the land, its cathedral even more magnificent than York Minster. Norwich boasted fifty parish churches and four large friaries. Its castle keep shone like a mighty cliff face in the morning sun. The market stalls glittered with silver cups and cloth of gold. Wealthy merchants’ houses faced the broad streets and squares while behind them lay warehouses and workshops full of weavers at their looms manufacturing the worsted wool that had made Norwich so rich.

We passed through a cobbled square with a great elm tree and a parish well. Through the open windows of one timber-framed house, I saw many women working together. Some were spinning at their distaffs while others dyed yarn in great vats. There was not a man nor any children in sight. Not a single cradle. But what made me stop in my tracks was that one woman stood at a lectern and read aloud for them all. In English, not Latin. The beauty of her words left me spellbound.
Of all that God has shown me
I can speak just the smallest word,
Not more than a honeybee takes on her foot
From an overspilling jar.
Over the house’s front door, I saw the painted image of Saint Martha, almost as though this was a religious order, yet none of the women wore nuns’ habits. This house with its wide-open windows was certainly not cloistered. “Who are these women?” I asked my young guide. “Beguines,” the boy said. I’d never before heard that word. But I’d no chance to question the boy further, for it was all I could do to keep up with him as he led me deep into a warren of alleys and passageways.
Does Page 69 give a browser a good idea of the rest of the book? I’d say yes. I hope the browser would feel plunged into medieval Norfolk, seeing the city through Margery Kempe’s eyes as she sets off in search of the famed anchoress Julian of Norwich. This particular scene finds Margery at a crossroads in her life. She has taken the radical step of walking away from a soul-destroying marriage and her brood of children (she gave birth to a total of 14 children!) and she wishes to set off on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. And this in an era when very few women travel, even in the company of their husbands. Margery has broken all the rules and is filled with self-doubt. For twenty years she has been haunted by searingly visceral images of the divine but she doesn’t know if she can trust them. She desperately needs spiritual counsel from another woman who understands her travails. So she comes to Norwich and sets off in search of Dame Julian.

The encounter between these two women mystics who changed history really took place. It is a pivotal scene in The Book of Margery Kempe, the first autobiography written in English, and it is also one of the key scenes in my novel Revelations. But already on Page 69, we are introduced to the beguines, a medieval women’s spirituality movement, that plays a key role in Revelations. They were groups of independent women who chose to live in all female communities and not under the auspices of a religious order. They weren’t nuns, didn’t take permanent vows, and could leave their community at any time. The exquisite poem quoted in this excerpt was written by the 13th century German beguine Mechthild of Magdeburg, one of the most evocative descriptions of mystical experience I’ve ever read.
Visit Mary Sharratt's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Vanishing Point.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

"The Godel Operation"

James Cambias has been nominated for the James Tiptree Jr. Award and the 2001 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Godel Operation, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Godel Operation comes just at the end of Chapter 5, in the middle of two conversations happening in parallel aboard a space station orbiting beyond Jupiter. In one dialog a young man named Zee is flirting with a young woman named Adya. While the two humans are talking they're being spied upon by Daslakh, the smart-alec robot narrator of the novel, and a killer whale cyborg spaceship named Pelagia. Daslakh is Zee's best friend, while Pelagia feels very protective of Adya. The two machines are analyzing the conversation of the humans and sniping at each other over a private channel. Meanwhile the vast artificial intellect called Summanus, which runs the station, is spying on them — or at least Daslakh assumes it is, and is paranoid about saying anything which might reveal secrets to Summanus.

A reader opening to Page 69 would see some aspects of The Godel Operation — there's intrigue, romantic comedy, and a complex setting full of different sorts of minds. The relationship between Adya and Zee is a major plot element, so the reader gets a good look at that.

However I do think Page 69 misses some of the novel's strengths. It doesn't really hint at the main plot of the story, which is the search for a mythical superweapon called the Godel Trigger. It doesn't give a good sense of the variety of weird settings the characters visit as they journey from Uranus to Jupiter and finally to Mars.

There's a lot of exciting action in The Godel Operation — falling out of spaceships, a heist, exploring an abandoned complex full of traps — and this section falls between those. A reader might conclude it's like a futuristic Jane Austen novel, whereas I was aiming for a mix of P.G. Wodehouse, Olaf Stapledon, and Iain M. Banks. The book also includes four flashbacks to older incidents involving the Godel Trigger, thousands of years earlier in the history of the Solar System. Each of those has a different tone, and of course this page doesn't show any of that.

Overall I think a reader opening to Page 69 of The Godel Operation would see that it's a fun, lighthearted book, but would miss all the parts I really sweated over. I hope that page would be enough to keep that reader going through the end of the chapter, and the start of Chapter 6 will really grab hold.
Visit James L. Cambias's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Godel Operation.

Q&A with James L. Cambias.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

"The Summer of Lost and Found"

Mary Alice Monroe is the New York Times bestselling author of 27 books, including her new novel, The Summer of Lost and Found.

More than 7.5 million copies of her books have been published worldwide, and she’s earned numerous accolades and awards, including induction into the South Carolina Academy of Authors’ Hall of Fame.

Monroe applied the Page 69 Test to The Summer of Lost and Found, and reported the following:
On page 69 the 6-year-old girl, Hope, discovers a paper airplane in a notch in a back yard tree. It was sent to her --along with a small tin box filled with candy. She is mesmerized by the mysterious man in the carriage house who is quarantined and cannot come out. Unfolding the airplane, she finds a poem by A.A. Milne and hands it to her aunt Linnea to read it to her.

I’m amazed; this is a scene that points to a major theme and symbol in the novel. Though it doesn’t give a sense of the major characters in the novel, I’d say the test works.

The novel takes place in the summer of 2020, a time when we all were sheltering in place. Through the ups and downs of the turbulent year of the pandemic, we discovered the amazing wonders in our own back yard. This scene reveals this as a child discovers the wonder of a surprise hidden in a tree, à la Boo Radley. The paper airplanes are also a major symbol in the novel pointing to serendipity and the whims of fate and are at the head of every chapter. The paper airplanes are also the way the two lovers first communicate during shutdown. I don’t know if the reader would have caught all that from one page, but definitely all the major pointers were on page 69! There was even a line at the top bringing up an older character’s struggle with Alzheimer's! That’s a lot of information on one single page!
Visit Mary Alice Monroe's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 2, 2021

"Girl, 11"

Amy Suiter Clarke is a writer and communications specialist. Originally from a small town in Minnesota, she completed an undergraduate in theater in the Twin Cities. She then moved to London and earned an MFA in Creative Writing with Publishing at Kingston University. She currently works for a university library in Melbourne, Australia.

Clarke applied the Page 69 Test to Girl, 11, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Girl, 11 is a story told through a mix of prose and podcast transcripts. Page 69 is partway through a podcast transcript where the main character, Elle, is interviewing the mother of a victim in the serial killer cold case she’s investigating. While it might be confusing to readers to get dropped in halfway through a transcript, I think it gives a great flavor of the novel and offers enough context that the reader could understand what the scene is about.

Here’s an excerpt:
All he did for weeks after was ask for his sister. For the first month or so, I couldn’t stop worrying about how upset he was, how devastated that she wasn’t coming home. Then, when he finally accepted it, I became terrified he would forget her entirely. Somehow, that broke my heart just as much. I had to make sure he remembered his sister, how much she loved him. So yes, we talked about her. We made sure he knew she didn’t leave him on purpose.


You took care of your son, even when no one could have blamed you for falling apart about your daughter.


Of course. We couldn’t stop being parents.


I can’t imagine the decision to speak to me was an easy one. I want you to know I’m really grateful for it. You’re the first parent who’s talked to me about their child, and even though I completely understand why no one else was able to, it’s invaluable to hear from you.
While I do love this part of the novel, and this interview in particular, I think page 69 probably isn’t the absolute best place for a browser to drop in. However, I also don’t think it’s half bad! From this, you get an idea of Elle and her interview style, you understand she’s investigating crimes against children, and you know that part of the book is told in transcript form.

One thing this page lacks is mention of the Countdown Killer, who’s the primary antagonist of the novel and the focus of Elle’s current investigation. Girl, 11 is about Elle’s obsessive chase after this notorious serial killer, whose victims were each a year younger than the last, before he abruptly stopped with an eleven-year-old victim. When she begins to publish episodes covering his case, a listener tries to tip her off about his identity, only to wind up dead before he can convey the message. Within days, a new girl is kidnapped, leading Elle to fear she has brought the killer out of hiding.

All in all, I think the page 69 test isn’t a perfect fit for my book, but it could inspire some readers to pick up their copy of Girl, 11.
Visit Amy Suiter Clarke's website.

--Marshal Zeringue