Wednesday, June 30, 2021

"Walking Through Needles"

Heather Levy is a born and bred Oklahoman and graduate of Oklahoma City University's Red Earth MFA program for creative writing. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including NAILED Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, and Dragon Poet Review. She authored a nonfiction series on human sexuality, including “Welcome to the Dungeon: BDSM in the Bible Belt,” for Literati Press.

Levy applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Walking Through Needles, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Walking Through Needles, Eric Walker, one of my protagonists, is thinking about a recent road trip he took with my other protagonist, Eric’s stepsister Sam Mayfair, to try to track down his missing abusive father through his father’s old friend:
Four days since the drive to Sapulpa and seeing Les, and Eric still couldn’t shake the knee-drop sensation he’d experienced when Les said Vickie’s name. His mom would’ve called the sinking sensation “a knowing,” something she swore his grandmother had too.

His mom was always having knowings when he was young. There was the time she dreamed a giant crow plucked Eric from the playground and tore him in half. The next day, he fell from the monkey bars at school and split his ulna in two. The doctor said it was the cleanest break he’d ever seen. His mom had other knowings, ones that kept Eric awake at night, like her vision of her swallowing a black storm cloud. No matter how much she coughed and coughed, nothing came out until a tornado of blood ripped from her lungs and swept her away.
I can’t say that this test works to give readers a good idea of the whole work, but it’s certainly pivotal to the larger story and it gives readers a taste of the unease I wanted to create throughout the mystery part of the novel.

This page is also a good example of the subtle southern gothic elements I wanted to incorporate in the story. I was born and raised in Oklahoma, and my mom grew up believing in many superstitions. Like Eric’s mother, my mom had prophetic dreams, some of which scared the hell out of me when they came true, such as when she predicted the San Francisco earthquake of 1989.

The rest of the page not listed above shows Eric’s kindness to an older woman whose house he’s working on. The woman reminds him of Sam’s Grandma Haylin, who watched out for Eric when he was a teen.
Follow Heather Levy on Facebook and Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: Walking Through Needles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 28, 2021

"In Royal Service to the Queen"

Tessa Arlen is the author of the critically acclaimed Lady Montfort mystery series—Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman was a finalist for the 2016 Agatha Award Best First Novel. She is also the author of Poppy Redfern: A Woman of World War II mystery series. And the author of the historical fiction: In Royal Service to the Queen.

Arlen lives in the Southwest with her family and two corgis where she gardens in summer and writes in winter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to In Royal Service to the Queen and reported the following:
From page 69:
June 1945

Buckingham Palace, London

“It’s cruelly unfair, Crawfie. I hate being alone, I really do.” Mar­garet, back rigid, jaw jutting in mutiny, slammed her fountain pen down on the desk. “Papa keeps dragging Lilibet off to do this and read that. He even let her have lunch with him and Mr. Churchill.” She was vibrating with hurt feelings as she hurled her homework into the basket for me to mark.

“It is important that Lilibet spend as much time with His Maj­esty as she can,” I explained to tossing curls and folded arms. “The king is teaching her the ropes because he remembers how difficult it was for him to come to the throne untrained. In a few more years, you will be involved too. As the queen often reminds me: the Wind­sors are a working family, and there will be plenty for you to do when you are old enough. Now, I think it would be a good idea if—”

“Crawfie, don’t you ever get tired of coming up with good ideas?” I recognized the edge in her tone that signaled a storm.

My voice was level as I looked her directly in the eye. “It is my job to have them, Margaret, but if you know what you would like to do this evening, then let’s hear it!”

I saw the flash and could almost smell the gunpowder.
WWII is over and the princesses Margaret and Elizabeth (Lilibet), have returned with their governess, Crawfie, to the royal court of Buckingham Palace from the isolation of Windsor Castle. After the comparative simplicity of their lives at Windsor, Crawfie is beginning to realize that the complex decorum required at Buckingham Palace is going to take all her patience and tact, as her charges adapt to Royal life.

Elizabeth has just announced that she is in love with a man her parents consider thoroughly unsuitable as a consort for the future Queen of England, and after the excitement of VE Day celebrations it is beginning to dawn on Margaret that her role in public life will be significantly less than her eighteen year old sister’s. Margaret’s frustration and resentment are palpable, but as yet palace protocol and the iron rule of courtiers have not yet done their damage to this bright, vital fourteen year old, the darling of the Windsor family with her quick wit, her flashes of perception and her precocious need to get out and enjoy life.

Crawfie, after twelve years as the Windsor governess, loves both of the girls as if they are her own, but she was hoping that now the war is over she might retire, at age thirty-six, and marry the man she loves. If palace life has challenges for Margaret, Crawfie is emotionally torn between supporting Elizabeth in her desire to marry Philip and seeing Margaret through what will become an ongoing rough-patch in the second princess’s tempestuous life.

Inevitably this young, loyal and deeply sympathetic Scotswoman will choose to stay on with the Windsors, putting her personal happiness to one side and nearly losing the man who wants to share a full life with her. But she does not yet see that her desire to do her duty will have dire consequences with Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

The Page 69 Test: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman.

The Page 69 Test: Death Sits Down to Dinner.

The Page 69 Test: A Death by Any Other Name.

The Page 69 Test: Death of an Unsung Hero.

The Page 69 Test: Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders.

The Page 69 Test: Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 26, 2021

"The Privilege"

D.W. Buffa was born in San Francisco and raised in the Bay Area. After graduation from Michigan State University, he studied under Leo Strauss, Joseph Cropsey and Hans J. Morgenthau at the University of Chicago where he earned both an M.A. and a Ph.D. in political science. He received his J.D. degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Buffa was a criminal defense attorney for 10 years and his Joseph Antonelli novels reflect that experience.

The New York Times called The Defense "an accomplished first novel" which "leaves you wanting to go back to the beginning and read it over again." The Judgment was nominated for the Edgar Award for best novel of the year. The latest Joseph Antonelli novel is The Privilege.

Buffa applied the Page 69 Test to The Privilege and reported the following:
In one of the marvelous short stories of Jorge Borges he tells of the Aleph, “the microcosm of the alchemists,” a “small iridescent sphere of almost unbelievable brilliance,” a sphere with a diameter of “probably little more than an inch;” a sphere in which could be seen, and seen simultaneously, everything that had ever existed. Which brings us to Page 69 and the dubious suggestion that opening a book, any book, to this particular page will tell you whether it is a book worth reading. I did this, opened The Privilege, the latest of my late night scribblings, to page 69, and discovered to my astonishment that, like the Aleph, everything was there, on that one page. James Michael Redfield, the genius, perhaps the evil genius, in the story, is there, and so is Tangerine, the woman that Joseph Antonelli, and everyone else who has ever seen her, is in love with.

Antonelli, who tells the story, tells us that he “carried with me a lifetime of other people’s secrets, my memory a catalogue of violence - murders, rapes, and thefts - crimes that had gone unpunished, crimes that had never been solved, all of them things I had learned from the men and women I had represented in the past; confessions made with full knowledge that they could never be repeated, that whatever they told me, however bestial, however shameful, was protected by a privilege that was more sacrosanct than anything they ever had with their priest.”

The title, The Privilege, refers to that, the attorney-client privilege. It was all that James Michael Redfield wanted to talk about the first time he came to Antonelli’s office. “He wanted to make sure I could never reveal to anyone anything that passed between us.” More than that, “He wanted to make sure that I would become the silent accomplice in whatever he chose to tell me about anything that had happened in the past.”

Page 69 of The Privilege comes after a trial Antonelli would have lost if Redfield, after making sure that the privilege meant that what he told Antonelli would always stay secret, gives him the evidence that makes certain an innocent man is not convicted. Page 69, the end of one trial and the beginning of others, is the pivot on which the action of the novel turns. Redfield, Antonelli notes on this same page, is different, “not just from any client I had had before, but from anyone I had met.”

If Redfield threatens to control Antonelli’s life, Tangerine, the woman he lives with, saves his sanity. “Her voice, as magical as the moonlight on the bay outside, made me forget everything but her.”

Is page 69 unique in what it tells about the story? Is it like the Aleph in that fable by Borges, or is it not something almost normal, something that could be found reading some other, random, page? Years ago, in a book few have heard of and fewer still have read, Ernest Hemingway revealed what every writer, every serious writer, should know, that if you can tell the story so that the reader “can get to see it clear and as a whole. Then any part you make will represent the whole if it is truly made.” The story, the whole story, is told on every page.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Q&A with D.W. Buffa.

My Book, The Movie: The Privilege.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 24, 2021

"A Distant Grave"

Sarah Stewart Taylor is the author of the Sweeney St. George series and the Maggie D'arcy series. She grew up on Long Island, and was educated at Middlebury College in Vermont and Trinity College, Dublin, where she studied Irish Literature. She has worked as a journalist and writing teacher and now lives with her family on a farm in Vermont where they raise sheep and grow blueberries.

Taylor applied the Page 69 Test to A Distant Grave, the second Maggie D'arcy mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Saturday at headquarters usually feels skeleton, but when we have a big case — which this is, on account of the nice neighborhood, the mystery about what exactly we're looking at – it’s as busy as a weekday. Dave and I update everyone once we get back from the scene and make sure they know what they’re working on. Then I go to talk to Marty. But when I poke my head into his office, he’s not alone.

Cooney and Pat Messenger are there, Cooney sitting in a chair too small for him and looking much too elegant for Marty’s plain office and Pat leaning awkwardly against the heating unit in the back of the room. He’s pale, his eyes sunken; Pat is 6’3”built like a quarterback but now his blue jacket is hanging off his shoulders, his belt cinched tight in the loops of his too-loose pants.

“Detective D’arcy,” Cooney says, nodding at me from across the room.

I stand up a little bit straighter, straighten my blazer over my hips. I nod to Pat.
Page 69 is the first page of a new chapter and though it's not a perfect encapsulation of the themes of the novel, I am delighted to see that it does introduce one of the novel's central conflicts. At the beginning of A Distant Grave, my main character, Long Island homicide detective Maggie D'arcy, is still recovering from the events of her deeply personal last case when the body of an Irish man named Gabriel Treacy is found in a marina near a wealthy Long Island beach community. As Maggie starts to work the case, both on Long Island and then in Ireland, she comes up against the characters with whom she's interacting in this scene: the district attorney John "Jay" Cooney, the police commissioner, Pat Messenger, and Maggie's boss, the commander of the homicide squad, Martin Cascic. She and Cooney have an antagonistic relationship and when he decides that the victim was killed by MS13 gang members, Maggie finds it hard to get him (or anyone else) to consider a different solution. Marty, on the other hand, is a good friend and mentor and he sticks his neck out for Maggie throughout the novel. These relationships will be very, very important to the progression of Maggie's investigation and to the future of her career.
Visit Sarah Stewart Taylor's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Mountains Wild.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

"Dream Girl"

Laura Lippman is the New York Times bestselling author of acclaimed stand-alones and the award-winning Tess Monaghan series.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Dream Girl, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Dream Girl, Gerry Andersen has just received his second late-night call from a woman claiming to be the titular character of his most successful book, which also happens to be called Dream Girl. The thing is, Aubrey had no real-life counterpart. And the other thing is, Gerry can't prove that she's been writing him and calling him. Her letter has disappeared, her late-night calls don't show up on his Caller ID. Hopeful of proving that this is not a figment of his imagination, Gerry bellows for his night nurse -- he's confined to a hospital bed after a freak accident -- only to lose power in a snowstorm before she can reach the phone.

As the writer, I don't get to claim that Dream Girl is the funniest novel I've ever written, but it's definitely the one I had the most fun writing. Yes, it was eerie that I started a book about someone living in isolation in early 2019. Stranger still, finishing it was probably what helped me cope during the early months of the pandemic. Gerry's a terrible person, although he doesn't realize it, and he's probably the most temperamentally autobiographical character I've ever written. Make of that what you will.
Visit Laura Lippman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 20, 2021

"The Portrait of a Mirror"

A. Natasha Joukovsky holds a BA in English from the University of Virginia and an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. She spent five years in the art world, working at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York before pivoting into management consulting. The Portrait of a Mirror is her debut novel. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Joukovsky applied the Page 69 Test to The Portrait of a Mirror and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Portrait of a Mirror marks the opening of Chapter VIII. It is a roundly complete one: two paragraphs, no jagged, mid-sentence cutoff between pages; a self-contained little slice of the novel to evaluate. It begins:
In retrospect Vivien would develop a clear explanation for herself as to why it happened, how many (many) years of resisting what she wanted to do in favor of what she wanted to have done had, far from building up a tolerance, reached some kind of maximum capacity in her, some outer-bound limit to human restraint. It wasn’t a departure from her character, she came to believe, but rather an inevitability precisely because of her character: her over saturation in the present perfect tense had left her perversely, cruelly vulnerable in the face of a perfect present. And Julian hadn’t helped.
At this point in the novel, the reader does not yet know the “it” that has “happened” to Vivien, and the first paragraph provides a remarkably fitting introduction. Its psychological focus, complex sentence structure, and narrative tone are all representative of the lion share of the book, as is the self-referential joke about grammar. The “many (many)” construct specifically is even an echo from the novel’s actual introduction—from its very first page. This parallel continues into the second paragraph:
Sill Mill gossip notwithstanding, Vivien had never really pictured Wesley Range as a tech CEO. Her impression of him was built on the kind of emotional truth impervious to fact, and she could only conceive of his adulthood as the creative class ideal: an endless extension of ultra-privileged adolescence, of ambiguous job but definitive lifestyle. He’d be perpetually at the epicenter of the universe, conspicuously at leisure whatever the season. Summers in Nantucket that rounded into a Telluride September. Autumnal New England culminating in a traditional Connecticut Christmas before skiing in Adelboden or Chamonix. A ‘real’ vacation in January or February—St. Barths or Nevis, something remote and lush and invariably involving a yacht. There’d be at least one extended, more exotic self-discovery sort of sojourn each year: Rajasthan, Machu Picchu, Marakech ... By Vivien’s intuitive calendrical expectations, Wes should have been in Cannes this week.
This too is reminiscent of the novel’s actual beginning, which likewise introduces Wes, but from the narrator’s direct perspective as opposed to indirectly, as it is here, through Vivien’s. The Portrait of a Mirror is all about indirect social inference and evaluation, about rumor and perspective, and if anything Vivien’s illusory impression of Wes’s existence provides a better snapshot of the novel than his actual circumstances. In this sense, I’d say the page 69 test largely succeeds. If you enjoy the mode of observation presented in these two paragraphs, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy the novel as a whole.

What the page 69 test fails to fully capture is the novel’s humor, which surfaces most acutely in dialogue, and the extent of its referentiality—there’s one allusion here to Thorstein Veblen’s concept of “conspicuous leisure,” but the page is otherwise original. The test’s biggest miss, however, is of the book’s intermittent alternative format chapters. These range from emails and text messages to Wikipedia entries and Instagram, and infuse some levity and literal negative space into the novel, a counterweight to the density of its narrative prose.
Visit A. Natasha Joukovsky's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 18, 2021

"Murder in Old Bombay"

Nev March is the recent winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America Award for Best First Crime Fiction.

After a long career in business analysis, in 2015 she returned to her passion, writing fiction and now teaches creative writing at Rutgers-Osher Institute. A Parsee Zoroastrian herself, she lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons. Murder in Old Bombay is her debut novel.

March applied the Page 69 Test to Murder in Old Bombay and reported the following:
Astonishing! The Page-69 test absolutely does work for my book. As a chapter titled “Damned Personal Questions” opens, here’s Captain Jim waking at the Framji home after being assaulted by unknown assailants:
“Captain, please stay. At least until you recover,” Adi’s father said, somewhere above me. Clad in a brocade dressing gown, Burjor’s girth moved by my bed. How long had he stood there? “Rest now,” his low voice rumbled.

“I’ll stay with him,” said Diana’s voice.

He consented and the scent of sandalwood, laundered linen and soap departed. I winced. Just my luck. Graced with Diana’s presence, and I was barely capable of coherent thought.

I recalled the doctor’s words and felt weighed down with forebodings. I’d suspected that Lady Bacha’s death might revolve around some error of her youth, or Miss Pilloo’s. But this was no dusty riddle from the past. Her secret still menaced her husband and I was loath to be the instrument of Adi’s disgrace.

The attack had taken me by surprise. My inquiries had disturbed, no, threatened someone. I felt a spurt of satisfaction, a sense of having achieved something; the murderer was uneasy. I smiled and my mouth stung, bringing forth an oath.

“Do you need anything?” Diana moved into sight.
Here Captain Jim voices suspicions that Lady Bacha and Miss Pilloo might have had a dangerous secret that led to their deaths, and fears that it still threatens Adi, his client. It showcases his dare-devil personality, wanting to draw those hidden enemies into the open, as well as his sensitivity and reluctance to damage his client’s social standing with unpleasant revelations.

These brief lines also contain the themes that echo through the novel—Captain Jim’s affection for his client’s family (he’s a mixed-race orphan, a social pariah in those times) and the romantic subplot of his increasing involvement with Diana, his client’s sister.

So yes, if a reader opened to this page, they would certainly get a glimpse of the perils to come!

Murder in Old Bombay is a voyage through Colonial India, where Captain Jim, a recovering officer navigates a maze of danger and deception. He explores society ballrooms, princedoms, dockyards and mountain villages in search of clues to uncover the real culprits behind the unexplained deaths of two young women. In the process he discovers a vast conspiracy hidden in plain sight, and finds what he’s been seeking all along, a sense of belonging.

This compact page, though early in this story, still showcases the nuances of language and social constraints of the time, and makes promises about the action to come.
Visit Nev March's website.

Q&A with Nev March.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

"The Shadows of London"

Nick Jones was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, and now lives in the Cotswolds, England. In a previous life, he ran his own media company and was a 2nd Dan black belt in Karate. These days he can be found in his writing room, working on his latest mind-bending ideas, surrounded by notes and scribbling on a large white board. He loves movies, kindness, gin, and vinyl.

Jones applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, The Shadows of London, and reported the following:
Joseph Bridgeman is back in the present, believing his time traveling days are over. However, on page 69 of The Shadows of London, we discover that WP Brown – a mysterious time traveler from the future – has other ideas. Brown appears to have control over time itself and takes him back to a pivotal night in Joe’s past where he blackmails him into completing another mission, one that will send him hurtling back to 1960’s London.

In the first book in the series, Joe changed the entire course of his family history. Page 69 of the sequel is a critical moment of choice in the story. Joe’s life in the present is used as leverage, a kind of debt that he must repay. He must complete this new mission or risk losing everything he fought so hard to attain. As an author, I enjoy finding situations that force difficult decisions. So often in life we find ourselves making the ‘best bad choice’, caught between a rock and a hard place. Page 69 is Joe’s.

The blackmail scene on page 69 ignites the story and creates a doorway of no return for Joe. With the help of his vinyl-loving sidekick Vinny, he faces-off against a ruthless gangster in 1963. As the story progresses, Joe realizes that he actually wants to help an innocent woman and her son escape their fate. What starts out as blackmail becomes a passionate journey of discovery for newbie traveler, Joseph Bridgeman. As the book reaches its climax, Joe learns that when it comes to time travel, things are rarely as they seem, and the future of many people he cares about is in his hands.
Visit Nick Jones's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 14, 2021

"The Bone Field"

Debra Bokur is the author of The Fire Thief and The Bone Field (Dark Paradise Mysteries, Kensington). She’s traveled the world as a writer, journalist and staff editor for various national media outlets, with more than 2,000 print pieces carrying her byline to date. Her work has garnered multiple awards, including a 2015 Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Journalism. For more than a decade, she served as the poetry editor at a national literary journal, and her poetry and short fiction have been widely published. Among her favorite writing credits are a series of original literary essays commissioned by the Celestial Seasonings tea company that appeared on the artfully illustrated boxes of ten separate tea flavors. She continues to travel in her capacity as the Global Researcher and Writer for the Association for Safe International Road Travel, and as a monthly columnist for Global Traveler Magazine.

Bokur applied the Page 69 Test to The Bone Field and reported the following:
From page 69:
Kali laughed. “For crying out loud, Chad, how many times does someone need to explain to you that having a blog or a podcast or whatever the hell…”

“Blogcast,” said Chad, his voice smug.

“… does not make you a journalist?” she finished. “Let’s see some credentials. I’ll let you slide if you show me a diploma with a journalism degree, or a press pass from an accredited news association—not something you generated online and printed out in a fancy font.”

“I have an Emmy nomination for my role as an investigative journalist.”

From a television show!” Kali nearly shouted. She took a deep breath, trying to control her mounting annoyance. “And I don’t believe you actually won the award, did you?”

“Oversight and politics,” he said, completely unruffled.

Tomas intervened. “Okay, that’s enough. All of you, stay on that side of the tape. That includes you, Mr. Caesar. No pictures. No recording. As I’ve already said, an official police statement will be issued later today. Understood?”

“Freedom of information, officer!” yelled the man standing next to Chad. “You can’t stop the people from learning the truth! It’s your job to protect us!”

There was more agreement from the others, this time louder. The women in the blue skirts laid their signs on the ground and joined hands with one another, raising them above their heads. One of them bowed her head and began to pray aloud.
I’m going to take my chances here and say I think the Page 69 test works pretty well. It reveals the thread of chaos running through the cold cast murder investigation, and gives a brief flash of the female members of an old cult that features prominently in my detective’s quest for answers.

In this scene, local celebrity Chad Caesar, a television actor turned podcast host, has managed to find his way to the crime scene—an abandoned pineapple field on Lānaʻi Island. He’s attracted a crowd that’s begun to disrupt the investigation. The police team working at the crime scene has just discovered a new and particularly disturbing gravesite. Detective Kali Māhoe and Officer Tomas Alva are doing their best to rein in the bedlam that’s recently been created by Chad’s on-air sensationalism of the case. They know the killings involve a symbol and possible ritual. They know there are ties to an ancient Hawaiian legend about man-eating demons. They’re certain an old religious cult plays some part. But how it all ties together remains a mystery, and the distraction generated by Chad Caesar isn’t helping.

The character of Chad Caesar was a sort of afterthought, but he’s become one of my favorites to write. Because the series plays constantly on the contrast between the beauty and surface tranquility of the Hawaiian landscape and the pervasive existence of darkness and evil, I wanted to find a way to occasionally build in lighter moments. Not exactly comic relief, but a character who—though actually a really nice, clueless kind of guy—manages to add unwittingly to the challenges faced by Kali. Unlike most of the people who know Chad (or at least his public persona), she’s immune to his movie-star good looks and trademark charm. He doesn’t understand how this can possibly be, so all of their encounters contain a different, less intense sort of tension that shifts the focus briefly away from the grimness of whatever case she’s working on.
Visit Debra Bokur's website.

Q&A with Debra Bokur.

The Page 69 Test: The Fire Thief.

My Book, The Movie: The Fire Thief.

Writers Read: Debra Bokur.

My Book, The Movie: The Bone Field.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 12, 2021

"One Two Three"

Laurie Frankel is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of four novels. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, People Magazine, Lit Hub, The Sydney Morning Herald, and other publications. She is the recipient of the Washington State Book Award and the Endeavor Award. Her novels have been translated into more than twenty-five languages and been optioned for film and TV. A former college professor, she now writes full-time in Seattle, Washington where she lives with her family and makes good soup.

Frankel applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, One Two Three, and reported the following:
Marshall McLuhan is obviously a genius. It never ceases to amaze me how uncannily good this test is, how well it works. One Two Three is a book with three different narrators, lots of complicated plot threads, and a lot going on, but you could argue, for sure, that they’re all pretty well encapsulated — at least previewed — by the conversation between the three sisters on page 69 about who’s moving into the empty town library and why it’s so important but also so impossible to tell their mother about it. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that what they’re talking about on page 69 is indeed the kickoff of the rest of the book’s plot and the catalyst which changes all of these characters’ lives forever. When Macmillan Audio auditioned narrators for the audiobook, page 69 was smack in the middle of the passage the actors had to read because it’s so pivotal. Something’s happened at school which the sisters don’t understand yet. All they can tell their mother is that tutoring has been canceled. Their mother’s response? “Like when someone dies.”
Learn more about the book and author at Laurie Frankel's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Laurie Frankel and Calli.

The Page 69 Test: The Atlas of Love.

The Page 69 Test: Goodbye for Now.

The Page 69 Test: This Is How It Always Is.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 10, 2021

"The Girls in the Attic"

Marius Gabriel was accused by Cosmopolitan magazine of ‘keeping you reading while your dinner burns’. He served his author apprenticeship as a student at Newcastle University, Britain, where, to finance his postgraduate research, he wrote thirty-three steamy romances under a pseudonym. Gabriel is the author of many historical novels, including the bestsellers The Designer, The Ocean Liner, and The Parisians. Born in South Africa, he has travelled and worked in many countries, and now lives in Lincolnshire.

Gabriel applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Girls in the Attic, and reported the following:
This is one of those cases where opening to page 69 would indeed cut to the heart of my novel. About halfway down the page the reader will find this passage:
Without knowing quite why, Max got to his knees beside her and locked his fingers together, closing his eyes. He tried to remember the words of prayers, so he could ask for some consolation for Lola and Heidi. It had been so long, and only disjointed fragments swam into his mind. He couldn't piece them together in any coherent way, so he groped for words of his own, words of apology, of regret, expiation. He could find none. Between his father's arrest and this spring of 1944 there lay a violent wasteland that should have been his youth, that should have been his life. How could any words take that away? How could any prayer restore to him the lost years, the lost innocence? Who would forgive him for the things he had done?

He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder, and opened his eyes. Lola was leaning forward, looking into his face with a strange expression. 'What are you doing?' she asked quietly.

'I don't know,' he said. 'Trying to pray, I think.'

She touched his face. Her fingers came away wet. 'You're crying.'
It describes one of the two central characters, a young German tank officer named Max Wolff, beginning to come to terms with what Nazism has done to him—and what he has done in its name.

We are in the last, terrible year of World War II. Germany is being invaded by the Americans and the British in the west, and by the Russians in the east. Bombers are smashing German cities to ruins every night. And through his love for a hunted Jewish girl, Lola Rosenstein, Max is beginning to realize that Hitler and the war itself are part of a madness that has gripped the German people.

In this passage, Max is on his knees, commemorating the deaths of Lola's parents at the hands of the SS. He desperately wants redemption for his participation in the war, but doesn't know how to obtain it. The only salvation he can find for the time being is Lola's light touch on his shoulder.

And there is a long way to go yet…
Follow Marius Gabriel on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 9, 2021


Patrick Chiles has been fascinated by aircraft, rockets, and spaceflight ever since he was a child transfixed by the Apollo missions. How he ended up as an English major in college is still a mystery, though he managed to overcome this self-inflicted handicap to pursue a career in aviation operations and safety management.

He is a graduate of The Citadel, a Marine Corps veteran and a private pilot. In addition to his novels, he has written for magazines such as Smithsonian’s Air & Space. He currently resides in Tennessee with his wife and two lethargic dachshunds.

Chiles applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Frontier, and reported the following:
Page 69 is a terrific window into the central conflict of Frontier:
He opened up an encrypted message app and began typing.


With that, he sent a compressed file that held each satellite’s encryption codes as planted by Billy. It took longer using the frequency-hopping algorithm built into his message program, but someone would have to know what they were looking for to find it.

The reply came much sooner than he’d expected, thankfully. He didn’t want to risk having this hack laid out in the open for the others to wake up and see.


“Cleanup.” A typically anodyne euphemism for some very nasty work. Nick quietly disconnected his laptop and replaced the antenna cables. When he switched his headset back to the company frequency, the alert tone startled him. They were demanding he acknowledge something impossibly urgent. When he read the message in the comms window, he understood. His initial fright soon gave way to a sense of focused calm—he knew the contingency plan for a CME. It wouldn’t be pleasant, but the experience would be survivable.

There were many opportunities for tragic accidents in space, some more believable than others. He checked the time and began moving supplies into the tunnel while the others slept.
What’s happening here is Nick Lesko, a natural tech wizard who uses his talents as an organized crime fixer, has been sent on the ultimate “fix it” job. He’s recruited a small team of former astronauts and hackers to hijack satellites in Geosynchronous orbit. He has no real interest in why, he’s just there to do a job and if certain people get in the way of that, they get whacked. This scene illustrates what a nasty piece of work he is—a complete sociopath.

The “CME” he’s just been warned about it is a Coronal Mass Ejection, a massive solar flare. This will become one of the story’s critical turning points for many reasons, but for him it presents a convenient opportunity to eliminate the people he’s brought up into orbit now that their work is done. He’s using them for their expertise, and once he’s finished with them he’s finished with them. None of them suspect they’re disposable. Ironically, Nick has no idea who he’s really working for or that he’s only slightly less disposable.

Nick’s little crew of misfits are part of an important subplot. To him it’s just another job but their mischief in orbit is part of a much larger plan. They’re enabling an unseen state actor to control other countries’ satellites and lunar mining shipments, and that solar storm just gave the bad guys an enormous window of opportunity. Earth orbit is falling into chaos and the lone military spacecraft that could do anything about the hijackings, the U.S.S. Borman, is hurriedly sent into deep space to search for a missing asteroid exploration team. The Borman is about to end up in deep doo-doo as well, and that’s when it becomes clear that all of these events are connected. The question is what to do about it?
Visit Patrick Chiles's website.

The Page 69 Test: Frozen Orbit.

Coffee with a Canine: Patrick Chiles & Frankie and Beanie.

My Book, The Movie: Frontier.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

"The Metal Heart"

Caroline Lea was born and raised in Jersey in the United Kingdom. She lives in Warwick, England.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Metal Heart, and reported the following:
The Metal Heart is set in Orkney in World War Two. Inspired by real events, it tells the story of twin sisters Dorothy and Constance, who are outcasts from Orkney society and choose to isolate themselves from the community. When a ship is torpedoed in Orkney’s waters, five hundred Italian prisoners are sent to fortify the remote, windswept islands. Many of these men are traumatised by the war: Dorothy and Constance find themselves swept up by the plans of one prisoner, Cesare, to create a beautiful chapel on the island. Built from salvaged war scrap, the chapel will be a monument to peace and hope. But as the girls spend more time with the prisoners, and romance blossoms, tensions on the island begin to rise…

On page 69, Cesare has just been introduced to some of the harsh realities of the camp in Orkney and, in attempting to quell trouble, is accused by one of the other prisoners, of being a traitor. This moment encapsulates one of the themes within the novel: what does it mean to belong to a country and to be loyal to it?

It also contains a description of Cesare’s memories of fighting in North Africa.

From page 69:
Cesare nods, remembering the months in the North African camp. The fat black flies that rose in clouds from the bodies of the men who’d protested, or drawn too much attention. The best way to survive is to be invisible – to imagine your body as part of a machine that does whatever is expected, without protest or hesitation.

‘We must line up now.’ Antonio claps him on the arm – his hand, for a moment, on that scrap of red fabric that would tell the guards where best to put a bullet – and then they follow the rest of the men out into the grinding cold and line up, ready to walk down to the quarry.
However, page 69 doesn’t touch upon the twin beating hearts of the novel: the sweeping romance between Cesare and Dorothy and the gorgeous chapel that the Italian prisoners built – I’d encourage you to look up pictures of this breathtaking piece of art, which I found so inspiring while writing The Metal Heart.

I wanted to shape a wartime love story which encapsulated some of the fear and horror of that time, while offering hope and redemption – a motivation that feels very apt in the midst of a global pandemic. I hope that readers find some solace in a book which, although it contains dark moments, ultimately offers optimism for the future.
Follow Caroline Lea on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: The Glass Woman.

My Book, The Movie: The Glass Woman.

My Book, The Movie: The Metal Heart.

Q&A with Caroline Lea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 6, 2021

"Olympus, Texas"

Stacey Swann holds an M.F.A. from Texas State University and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Her fiction has appeared in Epoch, Memorious, Versal, and other journals, and she is a contributing editor of American Short Fiction. She is a native Texan.

Swann applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Olympus, Texas, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Olympus, Texas is the last page of a chapter that gives us our first look at Hap and Vera Briscoe together. The reader has known from the opening pages of the book that Hap’s brother March left town after an affair with Hap’s wife Vera two years ago, and March has only now returned to Olympus. The novel has also already shown March and Hap’s first meeting as well as March and Vera’s first meeting, and both of those scenes were fairly dramatic. This scene, however, is much quieter. Vera seems to want to tell Hap something but Hap defers it: “Though he is the one that started this conversation, he has no desire to listen to Vera turn over and examine every flaw in their relationship.” And he even admits to Vera that though he isn’t happy March is back, he suspects being with family again is the best thing for March. He says, “After the Army, I’m pretty sure March decided he didn’t do well alone. Didn’t do well when people expected more from him than he could give. I don’t want him back, but this is probably the best place for him. A violent version of the village idiot, one we can all take care of.”

In some ways, this page doesn’t accurately portray the overall tone of the book. It’s a quiet scene, one of the few where Vera—a very outspoken character—doesn’t say what’s on her mind or try to provoke anyone. A more emblematic scene from the book would likely contain higher emotions and more combative dialogue. On the other hand, their conversation about March is an excellent stand-in for how both Hap and Vera feel about their relationship. Both are often unhappy to be in the marriage, but both can’t shake the idea that their marriage feels like the best of two bad options for them. Throughout the book, we see how the entire Briscoe family can bring out both the best and the worst in each other.

The scene closes with Hap asking Vera if she is going to wear her brooch to dinner. The final line is: “He is so relieved when she nods, when she lets him pin it to her dress.” The reader will not understand why Hap is relieved until completing the next chapter, one of the book’s origin stories. The present-day arc of the book takes place over the course of a week, but there are also scattered chapters labeled “The Origin of” some aspect of the novel. On the next page, we get “The Origin of Hap and Vera.” Because we know early on that Vera has slept with her brother’s husband, an outrageous act, the reader will likely be curious how these two people came to get married, especially because we know Vera is extremely beautiful and Hap is not. My hope is that the next scene complicates what readers are feeling about Vera and the marriage and makes them invest more emotionally in whether the relationship survives.
Visit Stacey Swann's website.

Q&A with Stacey Swann.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 4, 2021

"Lizzie and Dante"

Mary Bly is a New York Times bestselling author under the name Eloisa James, and chair of the English department at Fordham University. She lives with her family in New York City, but can sometimes be found in Paris or Italy. She is the mother of two and, in a particularly delicious irony for a romance writer, is married to a genuine Italian knight.

Bly applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Lizzie and Dante, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I’m going to the movies with Lucia tonight. Her mom is taking us to Portoferraio. I’ll sleep over.”

Babbo groaned.

Etta grinned at him. “I put the speaker on the windowsill over here. The playlist is on your cell, named ‘Lizzie.’ Don’t forget to turn it on.”

She managed to avoid his swat and ran away laughing.
Page 69 is the tail-end of a chapter written in 12-year-old Etta’s voice. Brief as it is, it speaks to an important thread in Lizzie and Dante: Etta’s guarded but fierce desire for a mother. On finding out that her father (“babbo” in Florentine dialect) has asked Lizzie for dinner, Etta sets the stage for a private dinner, ala Parent Trap.

One of the questions the novel asks is whether a person with limited time should become a mother. Is it better to have no mother, or one for a few months, or perhaps years? Is love—whether for a partner or child—worth fighting for, if limited?

The Hallmark card answer would suggest it is, but the truth is more complicated. Etta has cued up Leonard Cohen on that playlist, so I’ll end with Leonard’s question: “Will you consent to be wrecked, a thousand kisses deep?”
Visit Mary Bly/Eloisa James's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

"The Secrets We Left Behind"

Soraya M. Lane graduated with a law degree before realizing that law wasn't the career for her and that her future was in writing. She is the author of historical and contemporary women's fiction, and her novel Wives of War was an Amazon Charts bestseller.

Lane lives on a small farm in her native New Zealand with her husband, their two young sons and a collection of four legged friends. When she's not writing, she loves to be outside playing make-believe with her children or snuggled up inside reading.

Lane applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Secrets We Left Behind, and reported the following:
From page 69:
An hour later, Elise sat beside Harry on the floor. He was propped up against a chair, and she was sitting cross-legged as she carefully wiped at his wound. Addy was sat quietly beside her; Peter was still asleep, albeit lying on the floor now, where they’d managed to put him after securing his leg. It was only a temporary fix and she had no idea what she was actually going to do with him long-term, but for now she’d done her best. Incredibly, although he’d managed to sustain a shocking injury, perhaps from men falling on him, he hadn’t been shot at all.

Hary was another story, though.

“I’m going to have to get the bullet out,” Elise said confidently, as if it were something she’d done before. “If I don’t, I suspect an infection will eventually set in.”

Harry’s breath seemed to whistle through his teeth. “Just get it over and done with.”

“Should I get you a stick to bite on or something?” she asked.

“Just more whisky,” he said. “I’ll be fine.”

She had tweezers that Addy had found for her, and although they’d already been cleaned in boiling water, she tipped a little alcohol on them for good measure. And as Addy passed Harry the bottle of whisky, Elise shuffled even closer to him, one hand pressed to his chest, the other ready to dig into his shoulder.

“Ready?” she asked.

He took a quick sip. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

She carefully inserted her tweezers, being as gentle as could be.
I love this test! It’s funny because I often naturally flick to roughly this part of a book when I’m standing in a bookstore trying to decide whether to purchase a novel!

This test is brilliant for my story - it absolutely represents the book. The Secrets We Left Behind is a very emotional read, in terms of what happens individually to my main characters, and the WWII setting at large as well. On page 69, you have three of the central characters on the page, it’s just after sisters Elise and Adelaide have taken in British soldier Harry - the rest of his regiment were massacred by the Nazi's when they were trying to surrender. He’s injured and they’re trying to get a bullet out of him! I think this is a great representation of the bravery they show throughout the novel, and really sets the scene for the entire story.

My book is based on real historical events around the evacuation of Dunkirk - told from the female perspective. If you’ve watched the film Dunkirk, you might have noticed there were no women on screen?! I loved the film, but being the writer I am, I wanted to know whether there were women there, and what their stories were. My story begins when the evacuation of Dunkirk is underway, asking the question of what it was like to be left behind…
Visit Soraya Lane's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Spitfire Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Sally Cabot Gunning's "Painting the Light"

A lifelong resident of New England, Sally Cabot Gunning has immersed herself in its history from a young age. She is the author of six critically acclaimed historically themed novels: The Widow’s War, Bound, The Rebellion of Jane Clarke, Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard, Monticello: A Daughter and Her Father, and her latest novel, Painting the Light. Elected fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society and president of The Brewster Historical Society, she has created numerous historical tours of her village.

Gunning's work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, and an assortment of short story anthologies.

She lives with her husband in Brewster, Massachusetts.

Gunning applied the Page 69 Test to Painting the Light and reported the following:
Page 69 of Painting the Light opens with Ida Pease sitting in a pew listening to her husband Ezra’s eulogy, thinking how poorly it describes the man she thought she knew. Ida has suffered other losses in her life and knows something of grief – in fact she has leapt impulsively into her marriage as a result of those losses -- and sitting in that church she struggles with a painful truth she’s recently unearthed and unwisely shared with her husband’s partner’s brother: that she didn’t like her own husband much. Now Ida must struggle to make peace with that knowledge, and to learn how one grieves in the face of that knowledge.
Ida had always thought of grief as love cast adrift, something that haunted the living heart once it lost its object; she was therefore unsurprised when she could feel none of it sitting in that church. She did feel a hollowness that might be called sadness, but it was a sadness over what she’d let slip away of herself in her years of grief, in her years with Ezra, and she didn't know what to do with that.

Ida was brought out of her reverie as the service closed, as all island services closed, with a reading of Tennyson -- may there be no moaning of the bar when I put out to sea -- which could not by any stretch be said to apply to a man whose last breath had been choked out of him by the frigid November seawater.
This page is a good indicator of one of the larger themes in Painting the Light, although it isn’t the only theme. How do we grieve for someone who has caused us endless pain? How do we stop grieving for someone who hasn’t? How do we find the “light” and learn how to paint it, or in other words, how do we rediscover joy and learn to live it?

On page 69 Ida listens to many descriptions of her husband Ezra that don’t ring true to her, and this hints at another strong theme in the book: how do we sort what is true from what isn’t, what matters from what doesn’t? Ida is an artist; as she strives to understand these things in her art, she strives to understand them in her life. What to keep in her painting? What components, what colors, what textures, are necessary to the whole? How are they best rendered? And what to keep in her life? What – and who – really matters?
Learn more about the author and her work at Sally Cabot Gunning's website.

Q&A with Sally Cabot Gunning.

--Marshal Zeringue