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, Margaret 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

Thursday, September 30, 2021

"Pure"

Jo Perry earned a Ph.D. in English, taught college literature and writing, produced and wrote episodic television, and has published articles, book reviews, and poetry.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, novelist Thomas Perry.

They have two adult children. Their three cats and two dogs are rescues.

Perry applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Pure, and reported the following:
From page 69:
…Or maybe it’s me and I have pre-summer-onset SADs––seasonal affective disorder plus sorrow. Freddie aligns his ass to true north to take a dump and I am grief-frozen. I’ve slithered from “DOING GOOD” to “LOST” on the Snakes and Ladders board and am sliding to BEREFT.

I am character–, skills– and imagination-deficient. I have a knack for failure and for lies.

I’d written “freelance writer” instead of “forger” in the “About Me: Occupation” section of the Valley Haverim Chevra Kadisha intake form. I omitted mentioning that I was a plagiarism-enabler. An unencumbered-with-ethics problem-solver who’d write your job application essay, compose the poem or short story your English teacher had assigned, pen your college admissions essay or your freshman paper––often a slightly altered previous forgery––and for a bigger fee, I’d take a whole online course plus exams in your name.

I’d included my one legit job, though it had ended when my employer, editor in chief and publisher of Mission City Lifestyle Digest, deemed that I was not “essential” during the pandemic. My “work” consisted of lifting biographies almost verbatim from the websites of the realtors, interior decorators, yoga instructors, coffee roasters, chefs, landscape designers, plastic surgeons, gynecologists specializing in vaginal rejuvenation and orthodontists that were published as “profiles” among full color ads for “The Tri-Counties’ Best”––who happened to be the same realtors, decorators, yoga studio operators, coffee roasters, restauranteurs, landscape designers plastic surgeons, vaginal rejuvenation gynecologists and orthodontists––that made up ninety percent of the “magazine” which was delivered for free to medical and dental offices and upscale salons and businesses throughout Santa Barbara, Montecito and Ventura counties.

Except for the humiliation, leaving Mission City Lifestyle Digest had felt good and meant that I could stop pretending––except to my aunt––that I was a working “journalist.” But instead using my newly freed-up time to drive to L.A. and check up on my aunt, I retreated into my room in the Goleta house…
Page 69 of Pure introduces the reader to my first-person narrator––young or young-ish, opinionated, self-deprecating and full of grief––and lets the reader know that there’s a dog in the story named Freddie. The narrator has filled out an intake form from Valley Haverim Chevra Kadisha where she applied for a position of some kind. If the reader of page 69 is curious or scrupulous, he might look up “Valley Haverim Chevra Kadisha,” realize that “Valley Haverim” is fictional and find out that a chevra kadisha is a Jewish burial society.

The reader also learns that the narrator used to write college papers, essays, and attend classes for money and that she has an aunt she regrets not visiting. So, page 69 delivers the vibe and tone of the novel and a sense of who the person at its center is and some information about her past.

But page 69 doesn’t tell the reader why the narrator wants to work in a Jewish burial society, why she is “bereft,” or why she seeks a way of “doing good.” And all this is really important, crucial stuff, so I’d have to give my page 69 a test score of D, Poor.
Visit Jo Perry's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jo Perry & Lola and Lucy.

My Book, The Movie: Pure.

Q&A with Jo Perry.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

"One Year Gone"

Avery Bishop is the pseudonym for a USA Today bestselling author of over a dozen novels including the newly released One Year Gone.

Bishop applied the Page 69 Test to the new novel and reported the following:
One Year Gone is about a mother, Jessica Moore, whose daughter, Wyn, goes missing the year before. Jessica hasn't given up looking for Wyn, and everyone else has decided she's left town and will never come back, until late one night Jessica receives a series of text messages from Wyn saying that she's in danger. The book contains various timelines, mostly present day and the day that Wyn goes missing, and on page 69 it's one of the flashback chapters focusing on Wyn. Specifically, page 69 is about how Wyn used to volunteer at the local animal shelter, and how she had made it her mission to get one unlucky dog adopted:
There was one dog in particular, a mutt named Uno, who had been at the rescue for almost two years. He was maybe three, four years old. He’d been clearly abused as a puppy. He needed to be in a home where there were no other dogs to compete with and no children.

He’d been adopted previously but the couple had brought him back after a week, saying they didn’t think he was a right fit. It was explained to them that sometimes it takes a while for a dog to adjust, but the couple didn’t want to bother.

Uno had looked so confused. He didn’t understand what was happening. He’d gone back into his kennel, his ears down, and curled up in the corner, looking so hopeless.

Wyn had wanted nothing more than to adopt him herself. She’d even talked to her mom about it, and it was clear her mom had considered it before pointing out Uno would be alone most of the time, what with her mom working practically ten hours a day and Wyn going to school and then work, and then what would happen once Wyn graduated and went to college? (At that time, Wyn had been on board with the idea of college.)

Now that wouldn’t be fair to the dog, her mom had said, would it?

Part of Wyn hadn’t cared; she just wanted to bring Uno home, show him that there was life outside the rescue. But she knew her mom was right. And so Wyn had made it her goal to get Uno adopted.

In the end, it had taken almost three months. Wyn had started a social media campaign, taking pictures of Uno in super-adorable poses that she would upload to the rescue’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. One of them had him sitting at a table, a cake in front of him, a bib tied around his neck. Uno’s eyes were big at the knowledge this was a treat for him. Wyn had added the caption: Uno loves cake, but he’d love having a home even more!
If a reader opened to page 69 in One Year Gone, would they get a good idea of the whole work? I would say no. They would at least get some good background on Wyn, which hopefully would make her an appealing character to root for, but based on that page alone, they would not even know that the chapter is a flashback chapter.
Visit Avery Bishop's website.

The Page 69 Test: Girl Gone Mad.

Q&A with Avery Bishop.

Writers Read: Avery Bishop.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 26, 2021

"Brass Lives"

Chris Nickson is the author of Brass Lives and eight previous Tom Harper mysteries, seven highly acclaimed novels in the Richard Nottingham series, and two Simon Westow mysteries. He is also a well-known music journalist. He lives in his beloved Leeds.

Nickson applied the Page 69 Test to Brass Lives and reported the following:
Page 69 of Brass Lives is the tail end of one scene at Millgarth police station in Leeds, with Deputy Chief Constable Tom Harper talking to some of the detectives there, and the start of another scene where he’s conferring with the chief constable.

At one point he makes a note and pins it on the wall, a summary of the questions on the case that still need answering:

Fess murder

Arson

Metropole shooting

Barracks robbery

Does the page give a good indication of the book? Honestly, no. It’s two short bits that doesn’t even tell much about the characters, let alone the plot. In many ways, the book is a fantasy: not genre (it’s historical crime), but about someone who went from Leeds to New York as a child and became a well-known gangster, a killer, and returned. Davey Mullen, as he’s known in the book, is based on Owen Madden, who was known, loved and feared in equal measure in New York. A gangster who survived so much and went in to live a long life, dying peacefully, an achievement in itself in that business. Unlike Davey, Owen never did come back to Leeds, but the idea of what if was very appealing…and set in 1913, with the Great War a year away yet largely unexpected makes it a time on the cusp of huge changes, while people, including Harper’s own daughter, are making plans for the future. Harper himself has risen higher than he’d ever expected, now in what’s mostly a desk job and missing being a real policeman, chafing under the bonds of high office. But not all the changes are for the good (no spoilers on that part).
Visit Chris Nickson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Constant Lovers.

The Page 69 Test: The Iron Water.

The Page 69 Test: The Hanging Psalm.

Q&A with Chris Nickson.

The Page 69 Test: The Molten City.

Writers Read: Chris Nickson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 23, 2021

"Summer Sons"

Lee Mandelo is a writer, critic, and occasional editor whose fields of interest include speculative and queer fiction, especially when the two coincide. They have been a past nominee for various awards including the Nebula, Lambda, and Hugo; their work can be found in magazines such as Tor.com, Clarkesworld, and Nightmare. Aside from a brief stint overseas learning to speak Scouse, Mandelo has spent their life ranging across Kentucky, currently living in Lexington and pursuing a PhD at the University of Kentucky.

They applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, Summer Sons, and reported the following:
Page sixty-nine of Summer Sons actually hits a real sweet spot for the novel overall! The browsing reader gets a glimpse of the mood—or, to be more accurate, the visceral spook-factor—as well as the escalating conflict between our protagonist Andrew, his gruesomely personal haunting, and the life his dead best friend left behind. Fresh off of arguments with both his inherited roommate and his ex-girlfriend about the nature of Eddie’s death, suicide or otherwise, Andrew is in the midst of polishing off a bottle of bourbon when he notices something off about the closet. And as he goes to check it out…
He braced his wrist on the doorjamb and sat on his heels, stone still with his face tucked against the crook of his elbow to hide. It isn’t him. It isn’t really him.

Floorboards creaked scant inches to his left, but he refused to lift his head and look. He wasn’t asleep; he wasn’t on the cusp of sleep; he was awake. Manifestations this physical were not supposed to happen while he was awake, gloaming light shining through the big bold windows in streaks of red-gold, but Eddie had always been an exception to the rules. Don’t, he thought, but he reacted instinctively to the first brush across the knobs of his spine with a yearning, flexing shudder.

An icy burning gripped the back of his neck in the rough outline of fingers, their shape more familiar than his face in the mirror. Against good judgement and survival instinct he leaned into the too-solid hold. It hurt, but he missed that touch so much, even this noxious remnant.

“Stop,” he whispered again.

The papers rustled along their edges. Crouching in the hidden hollow of the closet, scruffed by the revenant that dogged his heels, he felt terribly and paradoxically alive. Rank breath drifted past his ear and cheek. The punishing grip pushed until his head bowed forward, forcing him to stare unseeing at his shoes, but the haunt kept going. It pushed until his skin chafed and his vertebra cracked, until the boundaries between its false flesh and his skin gave out. The cold sank straight through the gagging constriction of his throat to the cavern of his chest, grasping at him from the inside out. Blood and dirt were all he tasted in his drooling mouth, choked on the phantom’s invasive presence. His first sleep on native soil dredged itself up behind his eyes: wrists cut to exposed muscle, a frantic retreat from the fact of death. He echoed the vision’s desperate call for survival: I am awake I am awake I am awake
That brief scene practically oozes with the fear and longing Andrew’s tangled up in as he begins to unravel the secrets of Eddie’s final weeks alive. Even though he knows the ghost is bad news, he can’t help but give it his attention—it’s all he’s got left of his friend. Miserable co-dependent southern boys, that’s the Summer Sons vibe. And while it doesn't necessarily offer much about the broader plot, there's one other significant thing about page sixty-nine: the fact that the haunting is no longer following ‘the rules’ Andrew is used to clues the reader in that things are about to get much, much worse.
Visit Lee Mandelo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

"Feral Creatures"

Kira Jane Buxton's writing has appeared in The New York Times, NewYorker.com, McSweeney’s, The RumpusHuffington Post, and more. Her debut novel Hollow Kingdom was an Indie Next pick, a finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor, the Audie Awards, and the Washington State Book Awards, and was named a best book of 2019 by Good Housekeeping, NPR, and Book Riot. She calls the tropical utopia of Seattle home and spends her time with three cats, a dog, two crows, a charm of hummingbirds, five Steller's jays, two dark-eyed juncos, two squirrels, and a husband.

Buxton applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Feral Creatures, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Feral Creatures, our crowtagonist, S.T. is chronicling his flights to the Nightmute library in Alaska. A flightless crow, he must travel on the back of his bald eagle ally, Migisi. The purpose of these trips is to find reading material to educate and buoy the spirits of his charge, Dee. Dee is the last child on earth and S.T. the crow vows to do everything corvidly possible to keep her alive.

I’d say the Page 69 Test works very well for Feral Creatures. It certainly showcases the waggish, witty banter of S.T., our intrepid and loquacious crow. It details where the book begins as S.T. is describing his flight over the Alaskan tundra. It chronicles the specific fauna and flora S.T. spots below him (“We soared over the fiery crimson takeover of dwarf birch, over moose (Meese? Moosees? Dammit, from here on let’s just call them gangly Canadian coatracks) and lemmings and black spruces"), which is certainly indicative of a novel that extols the virtues of nature. It hints at the dilapidation and ruin of buildings in this post-apocalyptic tale and the emptiness of a world without humans who succumbed to a mysterious virus. It even hints at climate change, which continues to be a threat through the pages of Feral Creatures despite the absence of the human race (“even through the worsening storms that plagued us, whose waves pounded us like the fists of impatient gods”). S.T.’s dedication to Dee and commitment to her education is evident across the page as well as being the very impetus for these flights to the Nightmute library. At the end of page 69, S.T. admits to working hard to evolve his own reading ability for Dee’s education as well as confessing to falling in love with poetry. Very specifically, he professes his love for the verses of Emily Dickinson and page 69 ends with a Dickinson poem that S.T. completely misinterprets to be about the apocalypse and how handsome crows are!
Visit Kira Jane Buxton's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kira Jane Buxton & Ewok.

My Book, The Movie: Hollow Kingdom.

The Page 69 Test: Hollow Kingdom.

My Book, The Movie: Feral Creatures.

Q&A with Kira Jane Buxton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 30, 2021

"Constance"

Matthew FitzSimmons is the author of the bestselling Gibson Vaughn series, which includes The Short Drop and Poisonfeather. Born in Illinois and raised in London, England, he now lives in Washington, DC, where he taught English literature and theater at a private high school for over a decade.

FitzSimmons applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Constance, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Con’s mind was reeling, and Kala’s outburst had forced her back down the porch stairs. It took her out of the shadows, and the sunshine lit up her face. Kala stared at her, mouth hanging open.

“What’s wrong with you?” Kala asked, all the fire gone from her voice.

Con didn’t know where to begin.

“Are you sick?” Kala said.

“No.”

“Then what…?” She trailed off, staring hard at Con’s bare left arm. Self-consciously, Con tried to cover it with her other arm as if she’d been caught in the nude. In a way, she’d never been more naked in her life. Kala glanced up at her face, then back to the missing tattoos.

“Are you a dupe?” It was Kala’s turn to take a step back, her hand reaching blindly for the door.

Dupe was far from the cruelest slang for clones, but it still landed hard. Especially from a friend.
This was a fascinating if not entirely comfortable experiment. As an author, I like to imagine that any page in any of my books could stand on its own and hopefully cause the reader to go back and start from the beginning. That’s surely not the case, and rereading page 69 reminded me of an interview with Mick Jagger who said he hated to hear a Rolling Stones song on the radio, because he could hear all the mistakes but couldn’t fix any of them. I feel his pain in that regard.

That said, I like what page 69 says about Constance. This scene is Con’s first encounter with someone who knew her from before. All prejudice is a betrayal of the human contract, but when that prejudice comes from someone you know and consider a friend, the betrayal is all the more traumatic. Kala’s repulsion is Con’s wake-up call to what her new reality as a clone has in store for her.

When I was worldbuilding, I thought long and hard about the social repercussions of new technologies. In 1978, when Louise Joy Brown gave birth to the first baby conceived using invitro fertilization, someone, who probably thought they were being terribly clever, dubbed it a “test-tube baby.” Such a nasty, petty way to describe a child. The procedure was also opposed by organizations such as the Catholic Church and by Jerry Falwell, the leader of the “Moral Majority.” Today there are millions of children who were conceived via IVF, but it took years for that stigma to fade away.

It seemed self-evident that the introduction of human cloning would provoke profound reactions across the political and ethical spectrum. I liked this scene between Kala and Con because it portrays that reaction in personal terms, and the book is, at its heart, character driven.
Visit Matthew FitzSimmons's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 28, 2021

"Death in Castle Dark"

Death in Castle Dark is Veronica Bond's first mystery in the Murder and a Mystery series; as Julia Buckley she writes several series for Berkley Prime Crime, including the best-selling Writer's Apprentice Series.

Bond applied the Page 69 Test to Death in Castle Dark and reported the following:
Death in Castle Dark is the first in a new mystery series which pays homage to its Gothic forebears, starting with the setting of a giant castle. The building is utterly ridiculous in that it is merely a copy of a historic European castle, and it appears in the unlikely location of a rural Illinois town. The novel revolves around Nora Blake, an actor who has just lost a coveted part at a Chicago theater and is talked into auditioning for a mystery theater troupe which works out of Castle Dark. Once Nora arrives at this strange place, she finds that it is both beautiful and frightening, comforting and terrifying. When a murder happens within its walls, she begins to fear she has made a mistake.

Readers of page 69 of my Gothic-inspired novel would certainly get a sense of the tone which I have dubbed cozy-gothic. The first evidence I would offer is that the page is full of the vocabulary associated with the Gothic tradition, including surreptitious, crept, stone, marble, castle, shadowy, edifice, gray, lock, hallway, and gallery. This diction serves to emphasize either some aspect of architecture or the suspense that drives the narrative, and many of the words have an antiquated feel.

In addition to the tone, one might also get a good sense of character. Without giving spoilers, when the page begins, Nora Blake, a very new occupant of Castle Dark, has done something very impulsive that she now feels compelled to keep secret. She is assessing her chances of maintaining this secrecy by studying the castle and its various entrances, wondering how she can best be an invisible presence in the dark halls. While the overall premise is lighthearted, the page will reveal the Gothic undertone.
Visit Julia Buckley's website and follow Veronica Bond on Facebook.

Q&A with Julia Buckley.

Writers Read: Veronica Bond.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 26, 2021

"She Wouldn't Change a Thing"

Sarah Adlakha is a native of Chicago who now resides on the gulf coast of Mississippi with her husband and three daughters. Writing is her second career but her first dream job. She retired from her psychiatry practice shortly before relocating with her husband and daughters to Mississippi, where she finally put pen to paper and began telling her stories.

Adlakha applied the Page 69 Test to She Wouldn't Change a Thing, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
She pressed her lips to Maria’s forehead and, like a ghost, rose from the bed, drifted across the floor, and had almost slipped from the room before Maria bolted upright.

“Mom, wait!”

Her mother slid the door shut and retraced her footsteps back to Maria’s bed before she sank down beside her again and smoothed her hair back. “What is going on, sweetie?”

“Please don’t go,” Maria begged. “Don’t you want to spend more time together? To talk about everything that’s happened since you left?”

“I haven’t gone anywhere.” Her mother fluffed the pillow one last time and with a firm insistence assured Maria that they’d spend the following day together, and the weekend, and every moment thereafter. “I promise,” she said, tucking the covers even more tightly around Maria’s body, as if she could secure her to the bed. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”

The clock read 4:52 A.M. when Maria forced her eyes shut, but the residue of adrenaline that trickled through her veins was potent, and sleep was elusive. It wasn’t what she expected it to be, this rendezvous with her mother, but Maria couldn’t wait to share her experience with Will, to apologize for the years of doubt. His face was all she could see as she slipped away into sleep, searching for him on the other side of her dream.
What. Just. Happened? I didn’t think it would work, but page sixty-nine sums up so perfectly the confusion that follows Maria, my main character, throughout the novel. I’d say it was a pretty accurate representation of what you’ll get if you read my book.

In the above scene, Maria has just woken up in her seventeen-year-old body but thinks she’s dreaming. She is visiting with her mother who died a couple of years earlier (in Maria’s adult life), and they are sitting in her childhood bedroom. Up until this point in the book, Maria is a bit of a skeptic about dreams and spirituality, in direct contrast to her husband, so she is excited to wake up in the morning to tell him about what she experienced. From this point on in the novel, the clock starts ticking as Maria slowly learns that she will not be waking up from this dream and that she has been sent back for a very specific purpose.
Visit Sarah Adlakha's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

"A Scone of Contention"

Lucy Burdette is the author of the popular Key West Food Critic mystery series. Her alter-ego, clinical psychologist Roberta Isleib, has also published eight mysteries including the golf lover’s mystery series and the advice column mysteries.

Her books and stories have been shortlisted for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards.

Burdette applied the Page 69 Test to A Scone of Contention, the new Key West Food Critic Mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“At least this time it’s not my job to sort it out. Isn’t this supposed to be a honeymoon?” He sighed. “Finally, the ambulance came and carried her off. I hate that my sister is a wreck over it. And so of course is her friend Ainsley because it was her house and her dinner party. And her chef and her food.”

He burrowed down beneath the comforter and pulled me closer. “And apparently Mr. Gavin has a direct line to the chief inspector who promised to send someone over instantly. At that point, Vera and I were dismissed. We may all be questioned again tomorrow if it turns out that they suspect foul play. Let’s not talk about it anymore tonight, okay? I can’t believe I’m playing in a golf tournament in the morning.” He groaned. “Whose idea was it to come to Scotland anyway?”

Within seconds, his breathing grew slow and easy as he dropped off to sleep. I lay awake for much longer, puzzling over the possible poisoning incident. Had I seen anything that was off-kilter in the kitchen? I had been so distracted by Gavin’s buffoonery that I’d noticed nothing out of order at Glenda’s end of the table. I also thought about Nathan’s sister. True, she seemed very much wound up about her project. I liked her very much, but I hadn’t spent enough time with her yet to get a sense of whether she was really anxious about something she interpreted as threatening, or whether the men around her simply couldn’t handle her being emotional and having strong opinions. Either was possible.
I stretched the rules a little and added a tiny bit of page 68 since page 69 began in the middle of a paragraph. Food critic Hayley Snow and her detective husband Nathan Bransford have traveled to Scotland for their so-called honeymoon. So-called because they've included their octogenarian neighbor Miss Gloria. Plus they are staying with Nathan's sister and brother-in-law and his intimidating mother has invited herself along, too. And to make matters worse, the brother-in-law has signed Nathan up for a multi-day golf tournament while the ladies accompany his sister Vera on a work trip to visit "thin" places in Scotland. This page was written after an apparent poisoning at a fancy dinner replete with golfers and Vera's squabbling co-workers. Nathan and Hayley are finally alone together after the terrifying incident at the dinner table.

I'm pretty pleased with this page as a taste test for the novel. The reader gets an idea about what the characters are doing in Scotland, how I the writer conspired to separate Hayley and her husband (necessary because he wouldn't want her investigating and putting herself in danger,) and what the first major disaster will be. I hope it also shows both some of Hayley's inquisitive and caring character, and her relationship with her new husband. I've often heard teachers tell writers that every scene should reveal character, advance the plot, or both. Hopefully this page does both!
Read more about Lucy Burdette's books on her website, Twitter perch, and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: An Appetite For Murder.

The Page 69 Test: Death in Four Courses.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 23, 2021

"Let's Get Back to the Party"

Zak Salih earned his BA in English and Journalism from James Madison University, and his MA in English from the University of Virginia. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Foglifter, Epiphany, Crazyhorse, The Florida Review, The Chattahoochee Review, The Millions, Apogee Journal, Kenyon Review Online, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and other publications. Let's Get Back to the Party is his debut novel. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Salih applied the Page 69 Test to Let's Get Back to the Party and reported the following:
My debut novel, Let’s Get Back to the Party, is strung between two wildly different narrators who speak in two wildly different voices. Page 69 belongs to Sebastian Mote, a high-school teacher in his mid-thirties. Befitting someone trapped in the past, bricking himself in with his memories and regrets, he speaks in uninterrupted chunks of text. Here is page 69 of the novel, from the first complete sentence to the last:
Arthur threw ideas out for social media pages, for a charter, for a bake sale. I watched him move effortlessly among the students, listened to him talk as if he’d been at this school his entire life. The uncanny confidence he took in his own body, his own identity, only heightened the awkwardness of the other kids in the room. It brought into relief my own high-school days, an adolescence spent hovering below the surface of the social waters, too quiet to be popular—or to be bullied. Of course, I didn’t need peers to bully me at that age. I had myself: a bully I couldn’t escape; a bully I slept with, showered with, ate meals with. A bully who was less a person and more a heavy wool blanket, thick and itchy, suppressing feelings I wanted to feel but also keeping them safe from daylight. Watching Arthur move about the room, watching the others gravitate toward him, I felt a profound sense of loss for my own boyhood. To have been out, to have been comfortable with myself as a teenager, to have talked freely about my identity. God, how that would have changed things! How much more powerful, how much less brooding, I could have been! How much more proud! Only after the meeting ended, as I watched Arthur at the head of the group leaving my trailer, did I realize no one said anything about Thomas Pitt.

A few weeks later, Dani joined me on one of my regular after-school walks around Lake Mortimer. At one point, she turned to me and, wind whipping her black hair in my face, asked if I was ready to start dating again. I asked her if she knew anything about Arthur Ayer. Had him for geometry for a week, she said. Then he transferred up to trig. He’s pretty astute. Scholarly. He’s going to go places. He’s been coming to our LGBT group meetings, I said. Pretty much taking it over from me.
It’s a happy coincidence that page 69 captures so well one of the many thematic through-lines I tried to bring to life in the novel: the incredible gaps of experience between gay men of particular generations. Sebastian came of age in the early 1990s, well before the increased social visibility and acceptance enjoyed by his student, Arthur (who “takes over” the LGBT social group Sebastian’s in charge of overseeing at his school). The result is the “profound sense of loss” for experiences Sebastian was unable to have; a sort of existential FOMO that drives so much of his journey (as well as that of his counterpart, the fiery and irate Oscar Burnham). The regret, the envy for what could have been instead of the acceptance of what is, will lead Sebastian to make stupid—but, I would argue, necessary—choices in an effort to come to terms with his own niche in the span of gay communal history.
Visit Zak Salih's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 21, 2021

"The Perfect Family"

Robyn Harding is the author of numerous books, including the international bestseller The Party, and The Swap, which was an instant #1 Globe and Mail (Toronto) and #1 Toronto Star bestseller. She has also written and executive produced an independent film. She lives in Vancouver, BC, with her family.

Harding applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Perfect Family, and reported the following:
From page 69:
My dad was in a good mood at dinner. He’d picked up pizza on his way home from wherever he’d been. I thought maybe it was a celebration for my new job, but apparently my mom just didn’t feel like cooking. The news was on TV as we ate. My parents kept up a running commentary on the stories of the day, moaning about politicians and policies while my sister and I chewed in silence. No one mentioned that tomorrow was my first shift at the Thirsty Raven. Not until the end of the meal when I excused myself.

“Will you be home for dinner tomorrow night?” Mom asked, stacking the plates.

“No. My training shift starts at four.”

“Here.” My dad handed me the pile of dirty plates. “Your first training shift.”

From anyone else, it might have been funny. From him, it was condescending and belittling. I stomped to the sink and dumped the dishes, then headed up to my room. Behind me I heard Dad say, “What? It was a joke.”
If a potential reader were to pick up The Perfect Family and turn to page 69, they would get an excellent snapshot of this novel. On page 69, the Adler family is sitting down to a family meal of takeout pizza. The parents are distracted by the news on the TV, and both kids eat in silence. Their son, Eli, stews about his new job – specifically, his parents lack of acknowledgement of it. He’s just been hired as a busboy at a nearby gastropub and his parents are less than impressed. They’d prefer Eli had an internship at a bank or a brokerage firm, something they could brag about to their friends. When the subject of the job finally comes up, Eli’s dad makes a joke of it, which feeds into the boy’s simmering resentment. As he storms up to his room, the reader can safely assume that Eli’s anger is just the beginning of problems to come.

I have tried the page 69 test with some of my other novels and it hasn’t been indicative of the overall theme, but in this case, it nails it! While this page focuses on the tensions between father and son, the overall picture is of a family keeping up appearances. They eat together, but don’t speak, don’t connect, and most of all, don’t share their secrets. And that secrecy is going to turn deadly.
Visit Robyn Harding's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Robyn Harding & Ozzie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 19, 2021

"Phantom Heart"

Kelly Creagh is the author of the Nevermore Trilogy, Nickolas Claus and other books filled with darkness and light. Her stories often explore themes of duality, the shadow self and heroes (and villains) who find themselves battling their own psyches. Creagh's major literary influences include Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Gaston Leroux, Susan Kay, J.K. Rowling, Robin McKinley, Stephen King, C.S. Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lewis Carroll, Libba Bray, Holly Black and too many more to name. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Theatre Arts and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Creagh applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Phantom Heart, and reported the following:
By page 69 of Phantom Heart, seventeen-year-old skeptic Stephanie Armand has experienced enough strangeness in her new house—a crumbling Victorian mansion named Moldavia—to begin to reexamine her disbelief in the paranormal and seek further information regarding the home’s history. This leads her to Lucas Cheney, the hot, vintage-wardrobe-wearing boy from school who seems to know something about the creepy house her father is hoping to flip. What Stephanie doesn’t bargain for when she joins Lucas at his cafeteria table is an impromptu meeting with the entire paranormal research team he happens to belong to. In this scene, Stephanie is not only pitched into the thick of a tight-knit group of ghost hunters who operate semi-professionally under the name SPOoKy (Scientific Paranormal Organization of Kentucky) but she also begins to learn more about the notorious masked entity supposedly stalking the halls of Moldavia. Though Stephanie is eager to garner as much information from Lucas and his friends as possible, she quickly finds herself caught between personalities, opinions, jokes, and banter. She might also be the target of a bit of jealousy. Also, her attraction for the strapping, suspenders-clad Lucas who claims only to be interested in her house is growing.

If readers flipped to page 69 of Phantom Heart, I think they would indeed get a good feel for the overarching story of the book, which centers around the strange presence in Stephanie’s home. Her sudden appearance at the SPOoKy lunch table sparks debate, argument, speculation, and fear surrounding this ominous figure known as “Zedok.” Stephanie’s questions also stir up information regarding the involvement of a famed celebrity medium, Rastin Shirazi, and the controversial episode of a TV show he filmed in her home with another paranormal investigator who died mysteriously after recording.

While the troubling and even outright terrifying information that Stephanie gathers from SPOoKy aligns with the unnerving experiences her six-year-old sister Charlie has been reporting, the revelations are slightly at odds with her own experience. In fact, the catalyst for Stephanie’s appearance at Lucas’s lunch table had been the previous night’s dream, in which a gorgeous young man resplendent in Victorian garb appeared to warn her about the dark entity haunting her home. The boy, who introduced himself as Erik, wants Stephanie to leave Moldavia as soon as possible. On page 69, Stephanie is granted evidence as to why Erik’s advice is sage. And yet, there’s something about the dashing British boy from her dream that suggests there’s more going on in Moldavia than just the dark influence of a malevolent spirit. Whatever this something is, it tugs at her innate sense of curiosity. All while something about Erik tugs at her deeper desires.

The reason page 69 does provide a great snapshot of the novel, is that it captures the story’s essence. Like this moment, Phantom Heart is imbued with a little bit of everything—horror, romance, humor, tragedy, and plenty of heart. Not only that, but as he does throughout the novel, my phantom lurks covertly on the page, a larger-than-life presence with secrets to spare. The truth about him is murky, hidden, and dark. Zedok insists on hiding. He is not present in this scene and yet, he is, hidden behind a mask that, in this instance, is more metaphorical, though he possesses plenty of literal ones as well. Who is this “ghost,” this “phantom” really? On page 69, that remains unclear. What does become clear, though, is Stephanie’s ironclad determination to find out.
Visit Kelly Creagh's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

"Gone for Good"

Joanna Schaffhausen wields a mean scalpel, skills she developed in her years studying neuroscience. She has a doctorate in psychology, which reflects her long-standing interest in the brain―how it develops and the many ways it can go wrong. Previously, she worked as a scientific editor in the field of drug development. Prior to that, she was an editorial producer for ABC News, writing for programs such as World News Tonight, Good Morning America, and 20/20. She lives in the Boston area with her husband, daughter, and an obstreperous basset hound named Winston.

Schaffhausen applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Gone for Good, and reported the following:
Page 69 does not do to a lot to advance the “A” plot, which involves the effort to track down a serial killer who went dormant twenty years earlier. The amateur sleuth, Grace Harper, was part of a group calling themselves “The Grave Diggers” because they pursued cold cases that the police failed to solve. Grace set her sights on The Lovelorn Killer, and she may have figured out how to find him because she ended up dead, strangled in the same ritual fashion as the original victims. Detective Annalisa Vega is now talking to other members of the group to see what Grace might have turned up in her search.

Page 69 instead leans into the “B” plot of Annalisa’s search for home and family.
Despite her rough personal history with it, Wicker Park remained one of Annalisa’s favorite areas of the city, thanks partly to its booming restaurant business. Whatever you were hungry for, whether it was fine dining with starched napkins or a grungy bar with greasy burgers, you could find it in Wicker Park. She loved the Middle Eastern food at Sultan’s Market, fresh sushi at Enso, carnitas tacos at Big Star, and a big steaming bowl of ramen at Furious Spoon. When she did venture out on a rare date, she often suggested drinks at the Robey hotel. The art deco–style Coyote Building gave sweeping views of the city that guaranteed that the evening would rate at least a 9/10, even if the guy turned out to be a total zero.

“Chris Colburn has a nicer place than we did,” Nick remarked as they rolled up in front of his building.

“Sewer rats have a nicer place than we did,” she replied.
Annalisa’s lived in Chicago all her life, rarely venturing beyond its borders, and it’s part of what says “home” to her—even as her first love, Colin, travels the world. Now she’s working the Lovelorn case alongside her ex-husband, Nick Carelli, a reminder that she’s still single after all these years apart. She loves her city and her large, close-knit family, and she’s impatient to put down roots of her own.
Visit Joanna Schaffhausen's website.

My Book, The Movie: Gone for Good.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 16, 2021

"The Family Plot"

Megan Collins is the author of The Winter Sister and Behind the Red Door. She received her B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and she holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Boston University, where she was a teaching fellow. She has taught creative writing at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and Central Connecticut State University, and she is Managing Editor of 3Elements Review. A Pushcart Prize and two-time Best of the Net nominee, her work has appeared in many print and online journals, including Compose, Linebreak, Off the Coast, Spillway, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Rattle. She lives in Connecticut.

Collins applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Family Plot, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Family Plot, thirty-six-year-old Charlie Lighthouse barges in to a room where a detective is interviewing Charlie’s sister—the book’s narrator, twenty-six-year-old Dahlia—after the discovery that her twin brother, Andy, was murdered. Dahlia and Elijah, the detective, are conducting their interview in “the victim room,” dubbed so by the Lighthouse family because it’s where they display their newspapers and books about true crime.
The door gives way, and Charlie barrels through. His hair is tousled, face red, and he has a streak of dirt on his sweater.

“Detective Good Boy!” he says. “Sorry, I didn’t know Dolls had company.”

“He’s not company,” I say.

Charlie smirks as he heads for the shelves. Running his hands over the newspaper folds, he plucks some out, letting them fall to his feet. Soon, the floor looks carpeted in black and white.

“What are you doing?” I ask, and I can’t help the shrillness in my voice. I see flashes of victim names—JonBenét Ramsey, Christopher Byers—as he plucks and drops, plucks and drops. This isn’t how Mom taught us to handle the papers; she always warned us to be careful with the pages, make sure our hands were clean and the corners never bent. Then again, Charlie often flouted Mom’s wishes when it came to respecting victims—goofing off during Honorings, wagging his candle in the air instead of holding it solemn and straight. Andy and I giggled at it then, but now, seeing those murdered people tossed so casually to the floor, my chest feels tight.

“I’m pulling out options for the LMM,” Charlie replies.

“The LMM?” Elijah inquires.

Charlie stops, head turned over his shoulder to strike me with a mock scowl. “You didn’t tell him, Dahlia?” He spins around, rubbing his hands together. “The Lighthouse Memorial Museum. In honor of our brother and father. Tate will debut a new diorama, we’ll be—”

“A diorama of what?” Elijah interrupts.

Impatience creases Charlie’s forehead. “Andy, of course.”

Elijah gives me a curious look before returning to his notes.
I’m actually a little creeped out by how perfectly the Page 69 Test works for this book! There is so much about the story and its characters that’s shown or alluded to here, from the Lighthouse family’s strange traditions (the newspapers in the victim room; the ceremonies in which they honored victims of murder on the anniversaries of their deaths), to the kinds of people Dahlia’s siblings grew up to be: Charlie with his smirks and swagger and dark humor; Tate with her crime scene dioramas, which she exhibits on Instagram to an impressive following. The passage also hints at how Dahlia feels about Charlie throughout much of the book: appalled and distrusting.

But most apparent on this page is an introduction to the Lighthouse Memorial Museum, an event that Charlie is curating to honor the dead in their family while showcasing “artifacts” of the Lighthouse siblings’ childhood. He claims it’s a way to show the people who have always misunderstood and gossiped about them—going so far as to refer to their house as “Murder Mansion”—that the Lighthouses are, in fact, human; that their lifestyle was unusual, yes, but ultimately harmless. But the fact that Charlie throws himself into this project, almost immediately upon learning of his brother’s murder, disturbs and unsettles Dahlia, prompting her to spend less time with her family and more time figuring out what happened to her twin.
Visit Megan Collins's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 14, 2021

"You Can Never Tell"

Sarah D. Warburton lives in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. For ten years she was the lead writer for the monthly magazine UpClose. She has studied writing with Pam Houston at the Taos Writers Workshop and with Justin Cronin in Houston. Her work has appeared in the Southern Arts Journal, Women on Writing, Embark Literary Magazine, and Oyster River Pages.

Warburton's first novel, Once Two Sisters, was a Publishers Weekly pick of the week, a Crimereads recommended debut, and a PopSugar featured title.

Warburton applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, You Can Never Tell, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The women all exchanged a little smile that made me feel stupid, and then Rebecca said, “These women—-and Alondra, especially Alondra—-are extremely talented at getting donations.”

“But it’s a good question.” Elizabeth’s tone was a little too sharp, and Rebecca’s eyes widened in surprise.

Mina jumped in. “But the better question — more fun at least — is the theme.”

Surely it wasn’t my imagination that Elizabeth seemed on edge around Rebecca? But Mina spoke rapidly, throwing out fantastical ideas from Carnivale to a Time Traveler’s Ball.

We all were laughing at the idea of a junior-prom theme, when another woman, tall with a round face and blunt-cut bob strode purposefully through the restaurant. She dropped into the chair beside me and held out her hand. “Hi. Alondra.”

Surprised, I put my own hand into hers for a brisk shake, as she looked around the table. “Thanks for meeting downtown, ladies. I know it’s a little out of your way. Catch me up.”

Alondra sipped her iced tea, made a face, and flagged a waiter. “I’d like a water without ice or lemon, and a Whitmeyer’s single barrel neat.” Then she glanced around the table and arched an eyebrow as if to ask am I drinking alone?
On page 69 Kacy is at lunch with Elizabeth, Rachael, and Inés. From the very first line Kacy feels like an outsider. She wants to keep her past a secret, she’s been burned by a previous friend, and this is her first real foray into social life. This page definitely hits the “suburban secrets” part of the novel. Kacy’s desperate to keep her past a secret. And we get a hint that poised and polished Elizabeth has a secret too in the way she’s on edge around Rachael. Alondra’s arrival is an important moment. Alondra’s confidence is a contrast to Kacy’s current state of mind, and her profession—criminal defense attorney—will be crucial for Kacy in the future. This page in isolation gives a very different version of the book that some other pages. There’s a stark contrast between this polished society where the biggest stakes are the agonizing flush of social humiliation and the life and death danger in which Kacy will find herself. On the previous page Rachel and Inés were gossiping about an abandoned car they’d seen. They’d just learned the drivers were found murdered in the swamps. And on the following page Kacy’s fears are worsened when Alondra interrogates her. Page 69 is a bridge between these two competing tensions. From the first page of the novel, we know Kacy’s living through a “true crime” experience, but at this point she still thinks the worst things that will happen are social embarrassment and isolation.
Visit Sarah Warburton's website.

Q&A with Sarah Warburton.

Writers Read: Sarah Warburton.

My Book, The Movie: You Can Never Tell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 13, 2021

"Déjà Doomed"

A physicist and computer scientist, Edward M. Lerner toiled in the vineyards of high tech for thirty years, as everything from engineer to senior vice president. Then he began writing full time.

His novels run the gamut from near-future technothrillers, like Small Miracles and Energized, to traditional SF, like the InterstellarNet series and Dark Secret. Collaborating with New York Times bestselling author Larry Niven, Lerner also wrote the Fleet of Worlds series of Ringworld companion novels. Much of Lerner's short fiction has been collected in Creative Destruction and Countdown to Armageddon / A Stranger in Paradise. His nonfiction articles on science and technology centerpiece Frontiers of Space, Time, and Thought: Essays and Stories on The Big Questions.

Lerner's 2015 novel, InterstellarNet: Enigma, won the inaugural Canopus Award for interstellar-themed fiction. His writing has also been nominated for Hugo, Locus, and Prometheus awards.

Lerner applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Déjà Doomedand reported the following:
This page concludes a chapter, so it’s better to offer context and summarize than merely to quote.

By this point in the novel, we’ve been introduced to Russian and American groups newly at work on the Moon. A small American team has been drafted to investigate—in total secrecy—suspected ancient alien relics. On page 69, an undercover FSB agent embedded in the Russian lunar contingent struggles to understand the Americans’ sudden—and implausibly explained—excursion far from their under-construction base. And that agent very cleverly deduces the CIA must be up to something it really doesn’t want anyone else to know….

Would this page give the reader a good idea of the work?

Good? I’d like to think so. Complete? No.

Page 69 shows the spy-vs.-spy aspect of the novel—without any hint of the alien elements soon to follow. Beyond a single-word mention of “Farside” (likely cryptic out of context), nothing on the page suggests that the scene is set on the Moon, much less any of several other settings, some exotic, of the novel.

You might suspect that nothing good can come of poking around ancient alien relics—even if the novel’s title weren’t Déjà Doomed. And you’d be right.

Okay, that teaser might suggest this is a horror novel. It’s not, although there’s the almost certain likelihood of a horrible outcome. It’s most definitely science fiction. The space-based parts of the novel draw extensively from the Apollo experience, recent NASA plans for a return to the Moon, and the evolving capabilities of such private aerospace companies as SpaceX. As for any clarification of the doom part of the title, readers will thank me for not being too specific today.
Learn more about the author and his work at his website.

My Book, The Movie: Déjà Doomed.

--Marshal Zeringue