Thursday, October 28, 2021

"The Family Tree"

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 22, 2021

"The Wolf's Curse"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A with Jessica Vitalis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 18, 2021

"When Two Feathers Fell From the Sky"

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 15, 2021

"Trailer Park Trickster"

David R. Slayton grew up in Guthrie, Oklahoma, where finding fantasy novels was pretty challenging and finding fantasy novels with diverse characters was downright impossible. Now he lives in Denver, Colorado and writes the books he always wanted to read. His debut, White Trash Warlock, was published in October 2020 by Blackstone Publishing.

Slayton applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel,  Trailer Park Trickster, the sequel to White Trash Warlock, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Trailer Park Trickster is a tense moment. Adam has returned to Guthrie, Oklahoma for the funeral of his beloved Great Aunt only to learn that sinister things are afoot and her death is anything but natural. On this page he’s realizing that Vic, his almost boyfriend, who he left behind in a panic over Sue, was trying to reach the funeral. Adam calls Jesse, Vic’s brother and learns that Vic should be there. Adam’s anxiety over his own behavior mixes with his grief and the new worry that Vic is missing. The page ends with Adam trying to contact Vic through the magical connection Adam formed when he saved Vic’s life in White Trash Warlock. The page ends before we can see how that goes.

I think readers would pick up the book based on this moment because it shows the connection between Adam and Vic, which while strained in this moment, is genuine. It’s one of readers’ favorite parts of the series, their relationship and one of mine too. It also gives you some insight into the danger Adam is facing, as the forces arrayed against him are beyond his meager abilities.
Visit David R. Slayton's website.

My Book, The Movie: Trailer Park Trickster.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

"The Last Debutantes"

Georgie Blalock is a history and movie buff who loves combining her different passions through historical fiction, and a healthy dose of period piece films. When not writing, she can be found prowling the non-fiction history section of the library or the British film listings on Netflix or in the dojo training for her next karate black belt rank. Blalock also writes historical romance under the name Georgie Lee.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Last Debutantes, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Last Debutantes, Valerie de Vere Cole, niece of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, is leaving to enjoy tea with other debutantes. Valerie’s cousin, Dorothy, the Chamberlain’s daughter, insists that Valerie be accompanied by a chaperone, but Valerie doesn’t agree. Dorothy wins the argument and forces Miss Holmes, one of the secretaries at No. 10 Downing St. where Valerie lives, to leave her work and chaperone Valerie. There is tension between Valerie, Dorothy and Miss Holmes as different views of social rules, work, class, and a young lady’s behavior come into conflict. The page 69 test works well for this book because readers see the conflict between aristocratic women and working women and how Valerie is caught between the two. Also, Dorothy bluntly reminds Valerie that although she has the lineage to participate in society, her impoverished upbringing means that she is an outsider who doesn’t understand society’s rules and expectations.

This conflict between the different worlds that Valerie must navigate is a central point of the novel. I read about Valerie de Vere Cole, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s niece, when I began researching the 1939 debutante season. Although there are few details about Valerie and her season, I was fascinated by her place at the center of British social life and politics on the verge of World War II. Valerie, because of her lineage, should have enjoyed every advantage but thanks to her father, she hadn’t. After his death, she was thrust into the social whirl while living at No. 10 Downing St. and she saw firsthand the lead up to World War II. The contrast between her past and present and the pressure of encroaching war offered a great deal to work with. She was a unique debutante during a very distinctive season. I hope readers come away inspired to overcome whatever challenges they face in life and to see that there is always a chance to reinvent themselves or begin again, and that good friends can make all the difference. I also hope they are intrigued and want to further explore this small moment in history and the young women who were a part of it.
Visit Georgie Blalock's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Other Windsor Girl.

The Page 69 Test: The Other Windsor Girl.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Debutantes.

Q&A with Georgie Blalock.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 11, 2021

"Over the Falls"

Rebecca Hodge is an author of fiction, a veterinarian, and a clinical research scientist who lives and writes in North Carolina. Fiction writing is the space where her creative side comes out to play, and her writing centers on characters who discover that life is not a spectator sport. She has three grown sons, two crazy dogs, and one patient husband. When not busy writing, she loves hiking, travel, and (of course) curling up with a good book.

Hodge applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Over the Falls, and reported the following:
Page 69:
I hated seeing him so sad, lonely, and depressed. I wanted to wave a wand and fix everything for him. None of that was in my power.

I pulled on a lying smile, opened the door, and leaned in. “Hey. There’s a café down the street that’s supposed to have good burgers. Still hungry?”

He leaped to his feet, his chair rocking back so far it threatened to flip. “Yeah. Yes. Please.”

Hunger, I could fix. But his mom had left him, and the glimpses I was getting of her toxic life weren’t promising. Once we found Del and got her back, what sort of life would I be sending him home to?
To my surprise, this page 69 excerpt gives a very nice window into what Over the Falls is all about. The narrator here is Bryn Collins, and the fourteen-year-old boy she’s talking to in this passage is her nephew, Josh, who has come to Bryn seeking help finding his missing mother, Del.

Bryn has been estranged from her much-hated sister for years, and the last thing she wants to do is leave her isolated homestead to try and track Del down. Bryn has constructed a life without emotional entanglements—a life safe from betrayal—and agreeing to help her nephew carries risks.

But as she and Josh work together, traveling from Tennessee to the mountains of Colorado and facing threats from someone else who wants to find Del, Bryn finds herself increasingly connected to Josh and ultimately risks her life to save him. In this passage, Bryn believes she is powerless to help Josh. Over the Falls is the story of how she’s proven wrong.
Visit Rebecca Hodge's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Rebecca Hodge & Tess and Kalen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 9, 2021

"Deadly Summer Nights"

Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than forty books: clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy. She is currently writing four cozy mystery series: the Tea by the Sea mysteries for Kensington, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series for Crooked Lane Books, the Catskill Resort mysteries for Penguin Random House, and the Lighthouse Library series (as Eva Gates) for Crooked Lane.

Delany applied the Page 69 Test to her new Catskill Resort mystery, Deadly Summer Nights, and reported the following:
Deadly Summer Nights fails the Page 69 test.

Page 69 is the beginning of Chapter 7, so it’s only half a page. In this scene, Elizabeth Grady, manager of Haggerman’s Catskills Resort, is dealing with the fallout of the death of one of the resort guests. The police arrive and she hurries to greet them. It’s very late and she has been up all night, first supervising the hotel’s nightly entertainment, and then finding a body in the lake, and calling the police. So she’s dishevelled and tired and slightly grumpy.
Chapter 7

Bath and pajamas would have to wait. I was still mulling over that phone conversation when a light came on in the outer office and Eddie the security guard called, “Mrs. Grady! Cops are here.”

I stood up quickly, wincing as the rough inner soles of the tennis shoes scraped the sore places on the bottoms of my feet. I switched off the light and locked the office door behind me. I had no place to put my keys, so I stuffed them into my bra. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror one of the clerks kept on her desk. The keys were a big bunch, and I looked dangerously lopsided. Oh well, couldn’t be helped. My legs were bare, my shoelaces dragging behind me, my beautiful new dress drying into a mass of wrinkles, my neat poodle cut ruined, the curls sticking out in all directions, my lipstick smeared.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to remind Eddie who was in charge here. I couldn’t blame him for thinking it wasn’t me.
Deadly Summer Nights is set in a Catskills Resort in 1953, but page 69 doesn’t give a good sense of the place or the time period.

The only reference to the time setting is her ‘poodle cut’. That probably needs an explanation for the modern reader, and it is described earlier in the book. A poodle cut is an arrangement of tight curls, cut just above the shoulders at the back and piled on the top or sides of the head. Lucille Ball made the style famous and as my character, Elizabeth Grady, as the same red curls as Miss Ball, she copied the actress’s hair.

Nevertheless, although page 69 doesn’t give the reader any clues about the location or the time the book is set, it does, I think, reflect the tone of the book very well. Poor Elizabeth is harried. She’s new to managing this large hotel her mother unexpectedly inherited; she has enough problems on her plate without dealing with the death of a guest, and what turns out to be a murder investigation. To make matters worse, the police find a copy of The Communist Manifesto in the deceased’s cabin and immediately leap to the conclusion that he was a Russian spy. The last thing Elizabeth needs is word getting around that Haggerman’s is a hotbed of communist conspiracy.

To make things even more difficult, it is 1953 and many of her employees are reluctant to recognize the authority of a young woman. On page 69 she reflects that she had to remind Eddie (a security guard) that she’s the one in charge. Let’s hope that was enough to let the reader know this is not a contemporary-set book!
Visit Vicki Delany's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen.

The Page 69 Test: A Scandal in Scarlet.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in a Teacup.

Writers Read: Vicki Delany.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 7, 2021

"Striking Range"

Margaret Mizushima writes the award winning and internationally published Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. She serves as president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and was elected the 2019 Writer of the Year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She lives in Colorado on a small ranch with her veterinarian husband where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals.

Mizushima applied the Page 69 Test to her new mystery, Striking Range, and reported the following:
From page 69:
quickened, and without the shelter of the evergreen forest, it hit her square in the chest. She shivered, not only from the harsh wind but also from the memories of that cruel night.

How the wind had howled! She’d stumbled from that cave, still partially under the influence of a disabling drug, and disappeared into the trees. Equipped with night-vision goggles, John Cobb probably would have been able to find her if it hadn’t been for the forest catching on fire. A blessing in disguise for her; utter destruction for the backside of Redstone Ridge.

The clang from the horses’ shod feet rang out as the trail transitioned from forest floor to patches of granite slab. She remembered being transported up here the last time, slung over a saddle, moving in and out of consciousness, her senses reeling from the tranquilizer that John Cobb had delivered by shooting a large animal dart into her back.

Garrett turned to check on her again, and she pasted on her cop face as she met his gaze. She sensed that he knew how she felt, and he sent her an empathetic look before turning away. She didn’t want him to worry about her, and she vowed she’d keep her emotions under control.

“This is godforsaken land.” Hauck, breaking a silence he had maintained most of the way up, projected his voice from behind. “When did this fire happen again?”

Garrett turned in his seat to answer. “Last May. Not enough time to recover much.”

“There’s a little bit of green coming back,” Mattie said, pointing out the places where grasses and brush had taken hold during the past summer.

Robo trotted ahead as they covered the last bit of rocky ground that led to the area where John Cobb had set up camp. As Mattie approached, she could tell that the pit he’d intended for her was still apparent. Steely anger at the man’s brash stupidity—building a huge fire during a windstorm—filled her with strength.

“This is where the fire originated,” Garrett told Hauck as he rode past the pit a short distance and then reined to a stop. “When we could get back in here after the fire, the cave was searched thoroughly. But not with Robo.”
Page 69 represents the conflict in this story pretty well. John Cobb, a man who once tried to burn Mattie alive, died in prison right before she and cold case detective Jim Hauck had a chance to interview him. Cobb left one clue though. In his cell, they found a book of Colorado hiking trails with a page dog-eared on trails in Timber Creek County. Cobb had marked the trail with X’s sending Mattie and Hauck, along with Mattie’s friend Garrett as a guide, up into the high country to investigate why.

The past and the present collide, however, when their search is interrupted. Mattie is called back to the base of the trailhead to help investigate the discovery of the body of a young woman in a campground filled with elk and deer hunters. Soon Mattie recognizes the dead woman as a pregnant girl she’d met earlier at veterinarian Cole Walker’s clinic. She’s disturbed to realize the girl is no longer pregnant and wonders where her newborn could be.

As the sun sets, a deadly storm descends on the mountains, covering the landscape in a blanket of ice and snow while Mattie and Robo search for the dead girl’s infant. The body count rises as the investigation unfolds, making the investigative team of Timber Creek County Sheriff’s Department even more desperate to solve the case in hopes that the killer can lead them to the missing baby.

Striking Range is seventh in the Timber Creek K-9 series, but the mystery in this book stands alone. In a starred review, Library Journal had this to say about this episode: “The tension and drama of this series installment will satisfy fans of K-9 partners and solid police procedurals." I invite you to join Mattie, Robo, and Cole in this adventure set in the chilling mountains of Colorado.
Visit Margaret Mizushima's website, Twitter perch, and Facebook and Instagram pages.

Coffee with a Canine: Margaret Mizushima & Hannah, Bertie, Lily and Tess.

Coffee with a Canine: Margaret Mizushima & Hannah.

The Page 69 Test: Burning Ridge.

The Page 69 Test: Tracking Game.

The Page 69 Test: Hanging Falls.

Q&A with Margaret Mizushima.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

"Her Last Hope"

Louise Guy has enjoyed working in marketing, recruitment and film production, all which have helped steer her towards her current, and most loved, role – writer.

Her passion for writing women's fiction is a result of her love of reading, writing and exploring women's emotions and relationships. Women succeeding through hard work, overcoming adversity or just by owning their choices and decisions is something to celebrate, and Guy loves the challenge of incorporating their strengths in these situations into fiction.

Originally from Melbourne, a trip around Australia led Guy and her husband to Queensland's stunning Sunshine Coast where they now live with their two sons, gorgeous fluff ball of a cat and an abundance of visiting wildlife - the kangaroos and wallabies the most welcome, the snakes the least.

Guy applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Her Last Hope, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Her Last Hope shows Lucinda and her four-year-old meeting an elderly couple, William and Dot, for the first time. Lucinda and Max have fled Queensland and Lucinda’s abusive, criminal husband in an attempt to change identities and make a fresh start in Melbourne. The chance meeting with the elderly couple develops into more as the story continues, and William and Dot become instrumental to Lucinda and Max’s lives.

The page won’t give the reader any clue about the storyline! It will, however, provide a glimpse into the kind natures of William and Dot and an insight into why Lucinda gravitates to the older couple when they meet again a few weeks later.

Page 69 provides a heartfelt interaction between strangers that will leave the reader feeling warm and fuzzy—unfortunately, this feeling is unlikely to last as the story progresses!
Visit Louise Guy's website.

Q&A with Louise Guy (November 2020).

Writers Read: Louise Guy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 3, 2021

"An Empty Grave"

A son of the Finger Lakes in western New York State, Andrew Welsh-Huggins now calls himself a “proud native adopted Ohioan.” By day, he is a reporter for the Associated Press in Columbus. By earlier in the day, he is the author of seven books in the Andy Hayes private eye series, featuring a former Ohio State and Cleveland Browns quarterback turned investigator.

Welsh-Huggins applied the Page 69 Test to the latest novel in the series, An Empty Grave, and reported the following:
Page 69 is the beginning of a new chapter (13), and opens this way:
Instead of driving straight home, I headed back into the Franklinton neighborhood and the direction of Darlene’s apartment. Night was falling and the autumn air was cool. Women stood on almost every street corner as I drove down Sullivant, most of them alone, sometimes in pairs. They stared at me as I slowed for stop signs, making eye contact, sometimes swaying as they did, before turning away as I pulled into the next block.
What’s happening here is that my character, private eye Andy Hayes, is searching for a prostitute named Darlene Hunter whom he and two friends—a prostitute turned social worker named Theresa Sullivan and an Episcopal minister named Roy Roberts—are trying to rescue from the streets. At this moment, Andy’s search is a subplot in the larger story of him looking for a man who shot a police officer forty years earlier in a burglary.

On the one hand, this test works because much of the book is about Andy’s hunt for people who don’t want to be found, explorations that take him into some unsavory places. It also turns out that unbeknownst to Andy at this moment, Darlene Hunter holds clues to solving the larger mystery of the book. On the other hand, the test doesn’t work because it might give people the mistaken impression the book is solely about the search for Darlene Hunter, or more generally is a novel about the underground world of prostitutes in Columbus.

From a craft perspective, page 69 is the beginning of a bridge chapter. In the previous chapter, Andy and his companions encounter Darlene and a pimp named Javon Martinez, and in the process find a clue about Martinez that bears further investigation. That chapter ends with Andy’s failed attempt to enjoy a romantic evening with his on-again, off-again girlfriend, a local judge named Laura Porter, a tryst interrupted by a strange call from his client, the son of the police officer wounded by the burglar. The bridge chapter beginning on page 69 finds Andy worried about Darlene, then returning home and conducting some Internet research into the missing burglar—a man named John Ebersole—and an odd connection between Ebersole and a professor at a small local college. The chapter ends with Andy resolving to pursue that connection the following day, punctuated by receiving a tip that the clue about Martinez may reveal something important.
Visit Andrew Welsh-Huggins's website.

My Book, The Movie: An Empty Grave.

Q&A with Andrew Welsh-Huggins.

--Marshal Zeringue