Wednesday, December 7, 2022

"So Long, Chester Wheeler"

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

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, So Long, Chester Wheeler, and shared the following:
From page 69:
Chapter Seven: Scrape Them

The following morning I woke up and lay on my back staring at the ceiling for a time, thinking. Then I grabbed my phone off the bedside table and called Ellie.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” she said back.

We had grown surprisingly comfortable with each other.

“So, look,” I began. Then I stalled, and did not immediately tell her what it was we’d be looking at. “I’m not saying I’m actually going to do it. I’m not committing to any of this. So don’t hold me to it. I’m just asking. Let’s say, just for the sake of conversation, that I did agree to drive him to Arizona. What would we be driving? I hate to put that kind of miles on my car. Does he have a dependable car?”

“Oh,” she said, obviously surprised. “I didn’t realize you were even thinking about that. It’s kind of you to even consider it.”

“I can’t really justify why a road trip would be any worse than just sitting in that musty house with him, doing nothing.”

“I guess that’s true,” she said. “I would imagine you’d be taking his Winnebago.”

“Chester has a Winnebago? Where?”
This is a pretty quiet exchange. Not terribly exciting. I think the reader would get a better sense of what’s at stake in this story if the horrible Chester Wheeler appeared on page 69, being horrible, as is his habit.

But this conversation with Chester’s daughter—the one who roped Lewis, our hero, into providing end-of-life care for her father by being needy and likeable—does set up what’s to come. Chester wants Lewis to drive him to Arizona to see (well, ambush) his ex-wife in the interest of some kind of closure. It’s a dying wish, and Lewis has trouble saying no to that. Because he’s a decent person. And Chester has no qualms about using the simple fact of Lewis’s decency to his own ends.

Or, as Chester puts it, “Whatever gets me to Arizona.”

So it does give the reader a chance to see that a real life-changer of a trip is coming. But that really only carries its full weight if you know what a miserable old pain in the ass Chester really is.

Based on that criterium, I have to say that the Page 69 Test mostly fails in the case of So Long, Chester Wheeler.

And by the way, the chapter title on page 69, “Scrape Them,” refers to a couple of bumper stickers on the Winnebago that Lewis finds offensive. He can’t scrape them off without scratching up the bumper, so instead he pastes two other bumper stickers over them, but they end up being ones Chester will find offensive. Because Chester is in a wheelchair, Lewis is hoping Chester will never see them, and they become a recurrent source of some humor in this story. There is definitely humor in Chester Wheeler. More so than in most of my books.
Visit Catherine Ryan Hyde's website.

Q&A with Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Page 69 Test: Brave Girl, Quiet Girl.

The Page 69 Test: My Name is Anton.

The Page 69 Test: Seven Perfect Things.

The Page 69 Test: Boy Underground.

The Page 69 Test: Dreaming of Flight.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 5, 2022

"A History of Fear"

Luke Dumas was born and raised in San Diego, California, and received his master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Edinburgh. His work has appeared in Hobart, Last Exit, and the queer anthology The Whole Alphabet: The Light and the Dark, among others.

Dumas applied the Page 69 Test to A History of Fear, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 is an eerily good representation of A History of Fear. Not only does it convey the menacing tone and psychological bent of the novel, but it also contains one of my favorite passages in the book:
Satanophobia is not a clinical term. You won’t find it in any psychologist handbooks. No encyclopedia of mental ailments contains it. It is a term known primarily to those who bear the affliction. A word we use to classify and validate a pattern of fear that others, perhaps rightly, would call insanity.

Some disagree. They say we’re not sick at all.

They say, The one you fear is real—and he’s coming.
It’s a pivotal moment for the reader—the moment when my first-person narrator reveals the reason he’s so uncomfortable that his mysterious employer wants him to ghostwrite a book about the devil.

As an adolescent, Grayson struggled with satanophobia, a real but rare condition that causes sufferers to fear that the devil’s out to corrupt them. Raised in a fundamentalist Christian home by a minister father and an abusive mother, Grayson was taught from an early age to fear the influence of “the Adversary.” He’s now an adult and an apparent atheist, yet the condition still lingers at the periphery of his psyche, threatening to recur at any moment.

And it seems his worst fear is coming true. Grayson has barely started conducting research for the book, and already he has reason to believe the fiends—the winged demons that tormented him for years—are back.

Soon after page 69, Grayson will have to decide: will he move forward with the project that will fund his studies and help him redeem himself in his father’s eyes, or call an end to the project in order to stave off the affliction?

Meanwhile, the reader will be left with a question of their own to answer: Is all of this happening in Grayson’s head, or, after all these years, has the Adversary finally found him?
Visit Luke Dumas's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 3, 2022

"Manifest Destiny"

Zachary Daniel is Midwest native raised in Germantown, Wisconsin. Now residing in Salem, Oregon he enjoys sports, travel, boating, family, friends and drink.

He graduated University of Wisconsin La-Crosse with a degree in Nuclear Medicine. Not too long after, he transitioned to finance and started Digital Edge Wealth Management.

Daniel applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Manifest Destiny, and reported the following:
Page 69: "What I felt for Atina was beyond professional, it was personal." Page 69 takes the reader through a flashback, where the main character Nick intimately involves himself in a case. This page outlines the background for that flashback which is a linchpin for understanding Nick and his underlying family dynamic. A deep examination peels back the layers and shows that all may not be as it seems....

Page 69 is a decent idea of the whole book. A struggle of character, the past and morality. While it doesn't pertain strongly to the plot, the themes weaved in the book are present by this one page. I think the test worked decently.

I think opening the page to any area from page 50-200 is a decent test. 69 is just a fun one. You get a feel for the authors style and narrative ability outside of the beginning where they are purposefully trying to hook you. On almost any page there should be clues and hints to help you capture at least some elements of the story. If not, it might be a indication the book might not be for you. The book itself is a character driven thriller/mystery set in the 1990's on the east coast. Nick, the main character had his idol murdered curing his teen years and struggled greatly. He deals with the trauma in unhealthy ways as his friend a police officer tries to bring him closure by reopening the case. It all comes to a head when Nick has to confront his past, present and actions.
Visit Zachary Daniel's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

"Blue Like Me"

Aaron Philip Clark is a native of Los Angeles, CA. He is an ITW Thriller Award-nominated novelist and screenwriter. His novel Under Color of Law was inspired by his experiences in the LAPD.

Clark's new novel, Blue Like Me, is the second installment in the Detective Trevor "Finn" Finnegan series.

As a self-described "son of the city," Clark takes pleasure and finds inspiration in exploring the many facets of Los Angeles.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Blue Like Me and reported the following:
I can't say page 69 is a strong indicator of the plot or the novel, but it highlights one of its themes. The page explores the relationship between the protagonist, former LAPD detective Trevor Finnegan, and his ex-partner, Sally Munoz. Sally has just violently assaulted a drunk man and his friends at a bar, and while she can leverage her status as a sworn officer, Trevor can't. He fears the consequences despite not participating in the assault. I think the test does well to showcase the conflict between Trevor and Sally. He's beholden to her, and despite her erratic behavior brought on by grief, he doesn't want to abandon her. If a browser were to read page 69, they hopefully would glean this conflict, along with the additional layers of conflict within the book.

The first novel, Under Color of Law, explored trauma--specifically, generational trauma, while Blue Like Me centers on toxic relationships and how they can increasingly become poisonous. The series can be categorized as police procedurals or crime thrillers. Still, there is a strong human element at the heart of each story that will hook readers of crime and mystery and those seeking stories with emotional resonance.
Visit Aaron Philip Clark's website.

My Book, The Movie: Under Color of Law.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 27, 2022


Rae Meadows is the recipient of the 2019 Goldenberg Prize for Fiction, the 2018 Hackney Literary Award for the novel, and a finalist for the 2018 Manchester Fiction Prize. She grew up admiring the Soviet gymnasts of the 1970s, and in her forties decided to go back to the thing she loved as a child. She now practices regularly and can be found doing back handsprings. She lives with her family in Brooklyn.

Meadows applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Winterland, the second Homefront News mystery, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Winterland is a scene with Vera, who is a neighbor/tutor/caretaker of the main character Anya. Vera is in her late seventies, and as a younger woman spent ten years in a forced labor camp in the Arctic city of Norilsk, where the novel is set. You can’t write about the Soviet Union without writing about Stalin and the gulag, and Vera allowed me a way to bring in this history. On this page, Vera has ventured outside to go to the market now that spring has arrived, but as she returns home, she recalls her family’s arrest forty years before. There is an absurdist element to the charges against her husband, and, by extension, against her and her twelve-year-old son. They are caught in a web of punishment without reason. In this flashback, Vera is about to learn her family’s fate, and she is awash in the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness.

In Winterland, Vera plays a crucial role to both Anya, and in backstory, to Anya’s mother Katerina. It’s through Vera that Katerina learns the truth about the gulag camps, which begins her disillusionment with the Soviet Union, and thus sets the whole novel in motion. Vera’s stories are also important to understanding Anya’s experience in the state gymnastics program—the grueling physical demands, the cruelty, the belief in glory for the Motherland.

Vera remembers both life before the Revolution and the atrocities of Stalin’s rule. She is the holder of memories in a society that would rather forget. Although one doesn’t see into the whole novel on page 69, it gives a window into Soviet history through Vera’s experiences.
Learn more about the book and author at Rae Meadows's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mothers and Daughters.

The Page 69 Test: I Will Send Rain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 25, 2022

"Death on a Deadline"

Joyce St. Anthony was a police secretary for ten years and more than once envisioned the demise of certain co-workers, but settled on writing as a way to keep herself out of jail. She is the author of the award winning Brewing Trouble mysteries set in Pittsburgh. A native Pittsburgher, she now lives in the beautiful Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania with her husband.

St. Anthony applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Death on a Deadline, the second Homefront News mystery, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Death on a Deadline:
She obviously hadn’t seen the same movie I had.

I told them what I knew so far. It wasn’t much, which was why I needed to go to the police department.

“Who would want to do something like that?” Mom asked. “That poor man. I feel terrible for Ava’s sister.”

“Freddie wasn’t very well liked,” I said.

“But he was a movie star,” Betty said. “No one kills a movie star.”

“Apparently someone did,” Sylvia said.

“Will the fair still go on? And the bond rally?” Betty asked. “I hope so. I have a date, and I bought a new outfit for the occasion.”

“Probably,” I said. “Which means I’d better get moving so I can get my articles written and ready for tomorrow’s paper and get to the fair.”

Mom said she’d get Sylvia settled, so I retrieved my pocket­book and headed to see my future father-in-law.

* * *
Jimmy wasn’t at the front desk when I arrived at the police depart­ment. The door to the chief’s office was open, so I went around Jimmy’s desk and knocked on the doorframe. Dad looked up and motioned for me to come in.

“Are you all by yourself?” I asked.

He nodded. “Jimmy is helping Martha and that Davis fel­low with last-minute adjustments to the program since Harrison won’t be on the schedule now. Rally is out on patrol. How are you doing?”

I sat down and opened my notebook. “I’m fine. How did Angel take the news?”

“Not how I expected.”

“What did you expect?”
Page 69 gives a pretty good view into the book. It's split between two scenes--the end of one and the beginning of another. In the first part, my protagonist Irene is talking about the victim with her mother and two friends. The evening before, Irene found the body of B-movie actor, Freddie Harrison in the dunk tank at the county fair. Sylvia and Betty both work at the factory in town. Sylvia is savvy, with a bit of a background that helps Irene out later in the book. She's moving into one of the bedrooms in the house as a boarder to help Irene's mother with expenses while Irene's dad is overseas. Betty is a bit of a ditz and provides some comic relief through the series. It's a good glimpse into the characters.

In the second part, Irene goes to visit the police chief who is her future father-in-law. They work well together (most of the time!) sharing information about the investigation. The chief doesn't always like Irene getting involved and tries to protect her. Irene has a mind of her own, however, and he realizes this. This scene is just after he talks to the victim's wife, Angel, who is an actress and sister of Ava, who owns the beauty shop in town. If you read the book, you'll learn that Angel is a bit over-the-top dramatic.

This was fun, and I hope it entices readers to pick up the book!
Visit Joyce St. Anthony's website.

Q&A with Joyce St. Anthony.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

"Singer Distance"

Ethan Chatagnier is the author Singer Distance, a novel just out from Tin House Books, and of Warnings from the Future, a story collection from Acre Books in 2018. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of literary journals including the Kenyon Review Online, Georgia Review, New England Review, Story, Five Points, Michigan Quarterly Review, and the Cincinnati Review. His stories have won a Pushcart Prize and been listed as notable in the Best American Short Stories and the Million Writers Award.

Chatagnier is a graduate of Fresno State, where he won the Larry Levis Prize in Poetry, and of Emerson College, where he earned an MA in Publishing and Writing. He lives in Fresno, California with his family.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Singer Distance, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Singer Distance displays some tension between Rick and his friends about whether Crystal’s message to Mars will succeed. Here’s the relevant part of it:
While Priya was never prone to the same bouts of poesy as Crystal, she was the most socially adept person in the program—not the hardest crown to wear in a community of professional mathematicians, but still: she was easy to talk to. Except she had spent most of our trip looking like she had a stomachache. A certain amount of that could be written off as the travails of travel, the indignities of the road, too much time in the close-quarters company of smelly men, but something had clearly been bothering her.

“I know you’ve put a lot of planning into this. I hope you have a plan for if it doesn’t work,” she said.

“Why come all this way if you don’t think it’ll work?”

“I do think it’ll work. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t think it was going to work. But an outside observer would bet on our failure. No offense, but you’re a little lovestruck. You’re taking a lot on faith. We didn’t bring this to our professors because we know it might fail.”

“We didn’t tell our professors because we know it might succeed. No one else is going to get the credit for what she figured out.”
As an overall test, I don’t think this works well enough to be a thorough picture of Singer Distance. The question of whether Crystal has truly solved the Curious Language is important to Part 1 of the novel, but to paraphrase a character from the book, calling it representative of the novel would be like seeing one side of a pyramid and calling it the whole thing. The most important sides of the novel are the quest to measure up to Mars by solving their mathematics, the indefinable nature of physical and emotional distances, and the way love holds up, or doesn’t, over time.

I like to think of Singer Distance as equal parts quest, love story, mystery, and meditation on emotional distance. Page 69 touches on an aspect of the quest—what will its result be?—but without delving into the why behind the quest, it doesn’t connect that aspect to the others. The verdict: as a test of the novel, I wouldn’t call it inaccurate, but I would call it incomplete.
Visit Ethan Chatagnier's website.

Q&A with Ethan Chatagnier.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 21, 2022

"The Lindbergh Nanny"

Mariah Fredericks was born, raised, and still lives in New York City. She graduated from Vassar College with a degree in history. She is the author of the Jane Prescott mystery series, which has twice been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, as well as several YA novels.

Fredericks applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Lindbergh Nanny, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I think of Rob Coutts, how I was so sure. And so wrong. And how being wrong wasn’t a small thing; I was shattered. You’d think something that dangerous, I’d have felt it. I didn’t.

People don’t, I find.
On page 69 of The Lindbergh Nanny, Betty Gow looks out the window of a palatial summer home and sees Ellerson, the chauffeur in the swimming pool with another man. It is 1931, so she is mildly shocked, but more by his audacity in using the family pool than the gender of his companion. She worries that the intimacy is risky. How can he trust this man not to betray him? At the same time, as a servant living in someone else’s house, having no identity beyond what her employer deems suitable, she envies that joyous sense of self that comes of connecting with another person. Afterwards, she reflects on a young man she recently broke up with, the pain she experienced when she discovered she had given herself to someone she shouldn’t have trusted.

Page 69 reflects one of the key themes of The Lindbergh Nanny, even though it’s a scene I took in and out of the book as I wrote it. I worked very hard to stick to the facts of the kidnapping and the histories of those involved. One of the two significant alterations in the book was to make Ellerson a gay man. I did so because this is a story where private decisions become suddenly controversial, even incriminating, in the wake of the kidnapping. An addiction to alcohol or gambling, a love life out of the mainstream—these were no longer the personal business of the Lindbergh and Morrow staff; they were seen as vulnerabilities that might be exploited by the kidnappers or character flaws that might indicate a criminal nature. I wanted one character to have a need for privacy that would be immediately sympathetic to the modern reader. In addition, Ellerson is the one person in whom Betty confides the secrets of her past. Often, it is he who gets her where she’s going, whether it’s driving her to the Lindbergh house on the tragic night or introducing her to her next boyfriend. I didn’t want their relationship to be romantic—but grounded in a common understanding of love: its wonders and also its perils.
Visit Mariah Fredericks's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Death of No Importance.

The Page 69 Test: Death of an American Beauty.

Q&A with Mariah Fredericks.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 19, 2022

"An Unforgiving Place"

Claire Kells is an author, a physician, and an avid open-water swimmer. She's rather obsessed with the great outdoors, even though she's scared to walk in the woods at night. Aside from wilderness adventures, her favorite things to write about are twisty plots, flawed characters, and romantic tension. She lives in Virginia with her family.

Kells applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, An Unforgiving Place, and reported the following:
From page 69:
His lips curled up in a smile as he handed me one of the spinach wraps. As soon as I took that first bite, I realized how hungry I was. It had been a grueling day, with more hard hours to come. Now that the rangers had left, I wondered if the wolves were feeling emboldened. I could still hear them howling in the distance, a lonely chatter that rolled through the valley.

When we’d finished our dinner, I looked back at the final resting place of Tim and Kelsey Greer. In some ways, it was a serene setting—the river, the white spruce, the vast Alaska wilderness. The sky was a dazzling blue.

But I’d been doing this job long enough to suspect that they hadn’t died peaceful deaths. The toxic berries. The wounds on their wrists. Their bodies prostrated on a riverbed of rock and silt.

Something sinister had happened here.

The question was, what?
I feel like I got exceptionally lucky with the Page 69 Test; it almost reads like my jacket copy! It nicely captures the “bones” of my novel: the setting, plot, and tone. First, it features the two main characters sharing a meal on some desolate backcountry trail, which they do often over the course of their investigation. I tend to have a spare writing style, which also comes across here. Setting plays a critical role in my mystery series, since all the books are set in National Parks, and I’m pleased that I managed to mention the “Alaska wilderness” on this page, too.

This page also sums up the “hook” of the story’s central murder mystery, which is important because my books tend to start with a missing person. In other words, I don’t tend to have a body on the first page. There are also some potential twists mentioned here that a reader can look forward to—the few clues that may or may not be important, the hint of something sinister.

Lastly, I like that this page shows my main character pondering the case in its early stages. This is something she does throughout the series since it’s from her perspective that the stories are told.

I do think that if a reader applied the Page 69 Test to this particular book, they would know exactly what they were getting!
Visit Claire Kells's website.

The Page 69 Test: Girl Underwater.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 17, 2022

"Never Name the Dead"

Like her protagonist Mud, D.M. Rowell (Koyh Mi O Boy Dah) comes from a long line of Kiowa Storytellers. After a thirty-two-year career spinning stories for Silicon Valley startups and corporations with a few escapes creating award-winning independent documentaries, Rowell started a new chapter writing mysteries that share information about her Plains Indian tribe, the Kiowas.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Never Name the Dead, and reported the following:
This was an interesting test. I’d heard of it in passing, but had never applied it to a book I was considering. I have to take a moment to enjoy the fact that I am applying the test to a novel I wrote—Surreal! Okay, back to page 69 and applying the test to my novel, Never Name the Dead.

A little background on the novel:

After ten years away and building a successful technology-driven marketing agency, my protagonist, Mud is called back to her childhood home in and around the former Kiowa, Comanche, Apache Reservation in Oklahoma by her Kiowa grandfather. He leaves a cryptic message that propels Mud into action. Expecting her grandfather at the airport, Mud is concerned when he cannot be contacted or found. Concern deepens when a tribe legislator and administrator shows up at the airport looking for her grandfather and hinting at something wrong. Taking an offered ride, Mud must later escape a tribe elder with evil intent before finally arriving at her grandfather’s house in the midst of a thunderstorm.

On page 69 Mud discovers a body in her grandfather’s work room. Browsers would read about Mud’s initial numb reaction to the discovery of the body, while also getting a hint of the Kiowa customs mixed within my mystery novel.

From the page:
Only then did I realize I was still holding what must be the murder weapon—Grandpa’s buffalo jawbone club. I threw it from me. It landed with a thump by the desk.

My hands shook.

Lightning flashed, drawing my gaze to the window’s rain-streaked pane. Without thought, I walked to the single-pane window, reached with still trembling hands to pull the lower sash upward, letting in the acrid sharp aroma of ozone while allowing the spirit of the dead man to escape. Rain splattered the window sill. I didn’t care.

Unseeing, I looked out the window, took a deep breath, mentally recited the Wind Walker prayer.
Reading just page 69, browsers would not get a sense of the story’s pace or depth. My novel is a brisk mystery. The story from beginning to end takes place in less than 24-hours. Once Mud arrives at Lawton, Oklahoma airport the adventure takes off at a rapid clip. Mud’s adventure is non-stop from her grandfather’s ominous phone call to the ending showdown at a Tribal Council meeting.

I believe that reading page 69 does give browsers a taste of the Native American mystery that awaits, just not a sampling of the pace of Mud’s adventure, or the twists and turns of the puzzle.
Visit D. M. Rowell's website.

My Book, The Movie: Never Name the Dead.

Q&A with D. M. Rowell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

"The Break"

Katie Sise is the Amazon Charts bestselling author of Open House and We Were Mothers. Her novels have been included on best-of lists by Good Morning America, the New York Post, E! Online, PureWow, POPSUGAR, and Parade magazine. She is also a jewelry designer and television host and has written several young adult novels, including The Academy, The Pretty App, and The Boyfriend App, as well as the career guide Creative Girl. She lives with her family outside New York City.

Sise applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Break, and reported the following:
“Diaper needs to come off, too,” the nurse says.

So starts page 69 of The Break, and what should be a mundane doctor’s visit encapsulates the entire mood and feeling of the novel. My main character, Rowan, is frozen with the feeling that she’s doing everything wrong, and that something is not quite right with her new family: her husband and her beautiful newborn Lila. Rowan starts page 69 by second-guessing what she’s even supposed to do with the clean diaper now that it’s no longer on her baby’s bottom. Should she throw it away? Is that what other mothers would do? Would it be strange to reuse a diaper, even if clean? She looks to her husband, who avoids her gaze.

When Rowan’s newborn Lila starts crying on the cold metal scale, Rowan is desperate to soothe her, and it feels like an eternity before she’s allowed to pick her back up again. Rowan’s maternal instinct and the intense feeling of wanting to protect her daughter infiltrates the novel, and you can feel it up close and personal on page 69 during the doctor’s visit.

When the nurse leaves, Rowan wonders what the woman thought of her and her husband. Rowan thinks to herself: Maybe she just saw new parents trying to get it right, or maybe she saw something worse.

The Break plays with the idea that the way others see us is sometimes very different than the way we imagine they do. Often, we suspect the worse. And Rowan’s paranoia over trying to get everything right has her second-guessing herself as a new mother. She often wonders where the strong, confident mystery writer version of herself has gone.

While they wait for the doctor to arrive, Rowan’s husband Gabe senses her anxiety and asks if she’s okay. Rowan tries to explain that’s feeling nervous, and when Gabe presses her, asking her why she’s feeling that way, Rowan responds, “I haven’t really stopped feeling nervous since Lila’s been born.”

“But Lila’s fine,” Gabe replies. “Are you nervous about something else?” Rowan confesses that she worries that Lila isn’t really fine, or that she’s going to do something wrong, but Gabe doesn’t understand. They argue, and Rowan accuses him of not being able to understand what it’s like for her as a new mom in charge of this tiny being whom she (and Gabe) love so desperately.

This ever-present feeling of something being not quite right is Rowan’s new reality. She can’t shake the feeling of dread. And she can’t parcel whether that’s because she’s a new mother with a tiny baby she loves and wants to protect, or if it’s something darker. At this point in the novel, Lila’s babysitter June has disappeared, and Rowan is terrified that something terrible has happened to her. Page 69 is a true representation of the dark thoughts, questions, and paranoia inside Rowan as she tries to navigate her new reality as a new mom, and as she wades through tension in her marriage and tries to get to the bottom of what really happened to her babysitter.
Visit Katie Sise's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 13, 2022

"The Verdigris Pawn"

Alysa Wishingrad spent many years working in theater, film, and TV before returning to her roots as a writer. When she’s not writing she’s probably out walking her dogs, taking a run, or seeing as much theater as she possibly can.

Wishingrad applied the Page 69 Test to The Verdigris Pawn, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I'd have thought they'd put a boy with skills like yours in the horse stable, not out here. That's just like them. Putting people down, never giving them a chance to show what they got. Why do they do that?"

"I honestly don't know," Beau replied.

"Me neither. But I'll tell you what it is--it's a waste." The boy picked something off the tip of his tongue, then flicked it away. "What do they call you, anyway? I'm Nate."

"Beau," Beau's mouth replied before his mind could stop him.

Where was a lie when he needed one?

Beau recoiled, ready for Nate to hit him.

But Nate simply shook his head in pity.

"Sorry to hear it. Lots of others over at Mastery House were named after him too.”

Nate turned and started walking toward the cow barn. "The heir be hung. You won't hear me saying that name, not til I've got him pinned to the ground begging for mercy. Beau stopped. "Mercy?"

"You don't think that goat-livered heir deserves any, do you? Wait, you're not one of those apprentices who thinks you're better than us lowly orphans, are you?"

"No," Beau vowed. "And you're absolutely right, the heir deserves no mercy."

"Exactly!" Nate flung a rock the size of his fist across the field, watching as it flew off into the tree line. "All that's done in his name, leaving us to starve while he stuffs his face!"
Page 69 of The Verdigris Pawn is a pivotal moment in Beau’s journey – he’s seeing himself through Nate’s eyes, and he’s really beginning to understand how the people of the Land see him. It’s also the moment right before he decides to throw his lot in with Nate, to run away, and dare to find his ace. It’s the jumping off point, and for Beau the real beginning of his transformation from pawn to player.

The Verdigris Pawn is in many ways a classic MG adventure, but it’s also an examination of power, what it means to hold it, lose it, and if it can ever be wielded responsibly. It’s about a boy who, even though he’s born into incomparable privilege, sees himself as powerless. It’s also about a girl who, even though she was born into nearly untenable circumstances, is willing to embrace the magical power that could endanger her very life. It’s about finding your voice, and the courage to use it for the greater good. And finally, it’s about how easily history can be distorted, and how important it is to examine our every preconceived notions about truth.
Visit Alysa Wishingrad's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Alysa Wishingrad & Cleo and Lucy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 11, 2022

"The Lava Witch"

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

Bokur applied the Page 69 Test to The Lava Witch, the third Dark Paradise mystery, and reported the following:
On page 69 Detective Kali Mahoe Kali has elicited her friend Elvar Ellinsson’s help in reexamining a crime scene in a remote section of forest. She feels that she or the crime scene investigators may have missed or overlooked some small detail that might help shed light on the violent death of a young woman whose body had been discovered in the area.
She smiled, enjoying the cadence of his voice, and the slight accent that betrayed his heritage.

“Hilo’s not exactly respectful of evidence,” she admitted. “I’ll be fired or transferred to a desert somewhere if my dog destroys a crime scene.”

Elvar grew serious. “What is it that we’re looking for?”

Kali frowned. “I’m not really sure,” she admitted. “There’s been a report of some odd activity taking place in a remote area of the forest, up toward the summit of a path where there are a couple of clearings.” She looked at him, gauging his reaction. “A girl was found there a few days ago. She’d been murdered. We don’t know if these recent reports of strange events might be connected.”

He scratched his head. “I heard something about that. What should I keep a lookout for?”

“I wish I knew,” she said. She grinned, reluctantly. “That would make everything a whole lot easier. But some things to watch for are places that might have been used very recently as a campfire, or anything—words, symbols—that might be carved into tree trunks or drawn on the surface of rocks. And stay on the lookout for small dolls or carvings of figures. They could be very small, maybe just an inch or two, and made from stone or wood, or even cloth.”

He looked at her, curious. “You mean like a voodoo doll?”

She nodded, glancing up from the road to look at him with registered surprise.

“Yes, that’s actually a pretty good description. Do you know very much about voodoo practices? Is there something like that in Iceland?”

He nodded. “Oh, yes,” he said. “In the small village of Hólmavík, we have an entire museum devoted to necromancy. Some of it is quite dark, though tourists seem to find it amusing. And our history has been no kinder to witches than has yours. In the 1600s, people accused of witchcraft…
In my estimation, Page 69 of The Lava Witch is an excellent dive into the third book of the series, and captures the theme of witchcraft and mysterious happenings in the mountains of Maui. At the same time, it’s a nice moment that reveals the burgeoning relationship between Detective Kali Mahoe and Elvar Ellinsson.
Visit Debra Bokur's website.

Q&A with Debra Bokur.

The Page 69 Test: The Fire Thief.

The Page 69 Test: The Bone Field.

My Book, The Movie: The Lava Witch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

"Murder at Black Oaks"

Phillip Margolin has written over twenty novels, most of them New York Times bestsellers, including Gone But Not Forgotten, Lost Lake, and Violent Crimes. In addition to being a novelist, he was a long time criminal defense attorney with decades of trial experience, including a large number of capital cases.

Margolin applied the Page 69 Test to Murder at Black Oaks, his sixth novel in the series featuring Robin Lockwood, ex-MMA fighter and Yale law school graduate, and reported the following:
If a reader opened Murder at Black Oaks to page 69 they would get a little idea about what half of the book is about. Murder at Black Oaks is a part legal thriller and part a salute to Agatha Christie and other giants of the golden age of mystery writing.

Robin Lockwood is hired by retired prosecutor Frank Melville who lives in Black Oaks, a replica of a cursed English mansion that sits on the top of Solitude Mountain. Melville wants Robin to free Jose Alverez, an innocent man who has been living on death row for thirty years. Page 69 shows a small part of Robin’s trial preparation. After Robin succeeds, she brings Jose to Black Oaks. When torrential rains cause mudslides, Robin is trapped in the mansion with a horribly scarred butler, a lunatic who has escaped from the hospital for the criminally insane, and other classic suspects that peopled the novels of Agatha Christie’s, Ellery Queen’s and John Dickson Carr’s classic mysteries. When Melville is murdered in a cage elevator that is stuck between the second and third floor of the mansion, Robin must solve an impossible murder, because only Melville is in the car, but the murder had to have been committed by someone inside the elevator.
Visit Phillip Margolin's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Woman with a Gun.

The Page 69 Test: Violent Crimes.

The Page 69 Test: The Third Victim.

The Page 69 Test: The Perfect Alibi.

The Page 69 Test: A Reasonable Doubt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 7, 2022

"Nightwatch over Windscar"

K. Eason lives with her husband and a trio of disreputable cats in Southern California, where she teaches first-year college students about zombies and food (not at the same time!). Her short fiction has appeared in Cabinet-des-Fées, Postcards from Hell: The First Thirteen, Jabberwocky 4, Crossed Genres, Kaleidotrope, Ink: Queer Sci Fi Anthology, and Shapers of Worlds: Volume III. She has written the On the Bones of Gods trilogy, The Thorne Chronicles, and The Weep duology, the second book of which, Nightwatch over Windscar, is now out from DAW Books.

When she's not writing or commenting on essays, she's probably playing D&D.

Eason applied the Page 69 Test to Nightwatch over Windscar and reported the following:
From page 69:
Gaer started for Notch with long strides. He shifted his perception sideways into the aether, into the layer where code lived, and fired a simple exploratory hex at Notch. The battle-rig—had it been healthy, whole, undamaged—should have snatched his code out of the aether, crumpled it up, and thrown it back at him as a warning. Instead his equation slid past the rig’s defenses.

At first glance, this passage appears a poor fit for the Page 69 Test. It’s deep in Gaer’s head, and he’s arithmancing, and a newcomer to the series might be lost. Arithmancy is somewhere between magic and coding, and Gaer’s found a break in the defenses of one of his allies. But Gaer is also a vakar--a species and a people not part of the Aedis--a quasi-religious organization devoted to defending the Confederation--to which his allies belong. Although he’s been seconded under treaty to assist the Aedis, he’s also a spy. And even if relations between his people and the Aedis are good now, well, they weren’t always, and war is an ever-present possibility.

But the passage--and the rest of the page, which follows Gaer thinking through the implications of his discovery--adhere pretty closely to larger themes in the book. Nightwatch Over Windscar is very much concerned with the liminal spaces where borders meet, clash, and rupture--not merely physical or political boundaries, but more personal ones: oaths and loyalties, what we believe about ourselves versus what is true. Gaer’s musings about his discovery in this passage echo forward through the pages, setting up what for him is a life-changing decision that also carries ramifications for the Confederation and the multiverse itself.
Visit K. Eason's website.

The Page 69 Test: How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse.

Q&A with K. Eason.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 5, 2022

"City Dark"

Roger A. Canaff is a former special victims prosecutor and author of crime thrillers including Bleed Through, second in the ADA Alex Greco series and the 2020 IBPA Benjamin Franklin silver award winner for Mystery and Thriller.

Canaff applied the Page 69 Test to his newest novel, City Dark, and reported the following:
Page 69 of City Dark puts us in the tense, unsettling moment when Joe (the protagonist) and his older brother Robbie realize their mother isn’t coming back. It’s the night of July 13, 1977, and the blackout has struck New York City. It’s been nearly an hour since their car ran out of gas, and their mother Lois went off in search, telling them to remain in the car and wait. Now the darkness and heat have unnerved them both and Lois is nowhere to be found. The two boys, 15 and 10, are considering their options. They leave the car, emerge into the heavy air and eerily penetrating blackness, and contemplate for the first time striking out on their own through New York City.

Serendipitously, this page is a very accurate marker for what kind of book City Dark is. Page 69 happens to fall during one of the several flashback scenes that take the reader briefly from 2017 (where Joe, now 50, deals with late-stage alcoholism and becomes a murder suspect) to the terrifying night of the blackout that shaped both Joe and Robbie’s lives. Page 69 is the beginning of the boys’ transformation from frightened, powerless kids to apprehensive but determined young men. Their trek through Manhattan will prove brutal and harrowing; neither boy will emerge unscathed.

City Dark is a crime and legal thriller on two simultaneous tracks. The first is prosecutor Joe DeSantos’ journey through the last stages of a crippling alcohol addiction, and that coincides with his becoming a murder suspect after two bodies are found. Both have close ties to Joe, but due to his alcoholism, he is unable to remember his whereabouts on either night. The story tightens as Joe faces criminal charges and even questions his own innocence. Reluctantly, he accepts counsel from a brilliant attorney and friend, and the two seek to unravel a mystery that reaches back to his past. The second track is the night of the 1977 NYC blackout itself, where Joe and his older brother navigate the city in search of their mother and, ultimately, an escape from the darkness.
Visit Roger A. Canaff's website.

My Book, The Movie: City Dark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 3, 2022

"Such a Pretty Girl"

T. Greenwood is the author of more than a dozen novels with more than a quarter-million copies sold. A two-time winner of the San Diego Book Award and LAMBDA Literary Award finalist, she has received grants from the Sherwood Anderson Foundation, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Maryland State Arts Council. Five of her novels have been Indie Next Picks and her twelfth novel, Rust & Stardust, was a LibraryReads selection. Her novels have been translated into five languages. She lives with her family in San Diego, California, where she teaches creative writing, studies photography, and continues to write.

Greenwood applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Such a Pretty Girl, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Liliana throws her arm around Sasha’s shoulder. Their heads lean in together as they walk toward the elevators, and my throat feels swollen.

Gilly and I trail behind. There were a few people milling about in the corridors, but no one I recognize. I feel suddenly, oddly, territorial. As if this is my home, and it has been invaded by strangers. I know it’s ridiculous. I abandoned Westbeth; it didn’t abandon me.

As the elevator ascends, I feel my stomach bottom out. I study the numbered buttons and resist the impulse to press 2 for Henri’s floor.

“Second floor!” Gilly used to call out in a deep, silly voice, pretending he was one of the fancy elevator operators in the luxury apartment buildings and hotels that we sometimes passed on the street. We used to pretend they were those guards with the fuzzy hats who guarded the Queen of England, and we’d always try to make them laugh. But now, Gilly just stands quietly as we keep rising. On the ninth floor, we get off, and I take a deep breath.

“It’s okay,” Gilly insists, as if he can simply manifest my wellbeing with his sheer will.
The Page 69 Test works with Such a Pretty Girl! In this scene, an adult Ryan has returned to the artists’ residence (Westbeth) in the West Village where she grew up, and where many of her most wonderful, and most painful, memories reside.

Much of the novel -- in both the past and present chapters -- takes place inside the walls of this labyrinthine former Bell Labs building. Westbeth is a real place, the first federally funded residence for artists, which opened in 1970. Ryan and her mother, an aspiring actress, move with friends into the building in 1977 when Fiona decides to pursue her dreams in NYC. In the 1970s, it was a bohemian mecca. As the city crumbled around them, this community was alive and vibrant. It is where the storied Village Halloween Parade began. It was (and is) the home to painters and sculptors, writers, and dancers, and musicians.

Henri is a photographer, a man who becomes like a father to Ryan, and she, his muse. In this scene, Henri is now gone, and the ache of his absence is acute.

Gilly is Ryan’s lifelong best friend, and the one person who can calm her when her crippling anxiety – something she has suffered from since childhood – kicks in.

This novel is, in many ways, about Ryan’s revisiting her childhood and examining it through a contemporary lens. But in this scene, like many in the novel, the past and present conflate.
Visit T. Greenwood's website.

The Page 69 Test: Rust and Stardust.

The Page 69 Test: Keeping Lucy.

Q&A with T. Greenwood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

"On Good Authority"

Briana Una McGuckin lives in a charmingly strange old house in Connecticut. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Western Connecticut State University and an MLS from Long Island University. Among other places, her work appears in the Bram Stoker Award–nominated horror anthology Not All Monsters, the modern Gothic horror anthology In Somnio, and The Lost Librarian’s Grave anthology. McGuckin has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, a perhaps concerningly large collection of perfume oils, and a fascination with all things Victorian.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, On Good Authority, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I wiped my eyes and recommenced the massage. “You’ve been alone.”

Mother sniffed. “So have you.”

And all at once I had a feeling that, because she was my mother, I had no secrets from her—and Mr. Bornholdt was between us. Mr. Bornholdt and his claustrophobic kiss.

“Saw your Valentine.”

I jerked to attention. “What?”

“Valentine,” she said, enunciating. “The lad. I saw him yesterday.”

I put my hand to my mouth, the corners of which dragged down. I forced myself to speak calmly. “That was many years ago, Mother. Valentine’s a man now; he’s not here anymore.”

“He is,” she said, raising her voice, startling me. “He came down from the attic. He asked after you to the matron.”


“He had flowers. Purple hyacinths, he had. Good enough to eat.” She reached out and clutched my hand, and her grip was shocking in its strength. “But you mustn’t, Marian. Don’t eat them. He was insistent upon that.”

I bit my lip. But I held her close to me, saying nothing. It didn’t matter if she was going mad. The important thing was that she was here, and so was I. We were together.

Mother put her chin over my shoulder. “Will you go off with him? Once I’m gone?”

“Don’t talk so, Mother.” I patted her back. “You’re not rushing off anywhere.”
I am stunned—stunned!—by how well the Page 69 Test worked for the book, thematically! There is so much here, in a roundabout way, that gets to the very heart of the story. There is, in fact, on this very page, the one and only little “Easter egg” I put in the book for anyone of curious mind to pursue (preferably when they’re finished, so they don’t spoil anything for themselves).

But I’m being frustratingly vague. More directly, I think we see all Marian’s problems here at once: her being alone in the world, the looming danger her master Mr. Bornholdt presents in his position of power over her, her guilt and worry over her mother, and a connection to young Valentine, whom she sees as only part of her past. The gang’s all here.

Can we tell that we’re in Victorian London, here? Maybe not. But I think we get a good sense of voice, and if we don’t know precisely where we are we do know how it feels: desperate and dreary.

But there’s a bit of hope to go on, too: the boy with the flowers.
Visit Briana Una McGuckin's website.

Q&A with Briana Una McGuckin.

My Book, The Movie: On Good Authority.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 30, 2022

"The Wolves Are Watching"

Natalie Lund is the author of the young adult novels, The Wolves Are Watching, The Sky Above Us, and We Speak in Storms. She is a former middle and high school teacher and a graduate of Purdue University’s MFA program.

Lund applied the Page 69 Test to The Wolves Are Watching and reported the following:
I was excited to apply the Page 69 Test to The Wolves Are Watching because it is a delightfully brief page:
“Hurry, Fanya,” Teodora says when our song is finished. “You must go before light.”

I grab the New Form by its head-fur. It is heavy, but I am strong in haunch, foot, and jaw.

I run.
I think the test works. From this short snippet, browsers get a surprisingly good sense of several aspects of the book. The Wolves Are Watching is an adaptation of Slavic folklore about Vila, fairy creatures that transform into animals and trap wanderers with their songs. And while the casual browser applying the Page 69 Test may not glean what these creatures are from this passage, they will probably pick up on the fact that we are dealing with non-human characters (“strong in haunch, foot, and jaw”) who speak differently (“New Form” and “head-fur.”) A particularly observant browser may also note that the names are eastern european.

There is, of course, a large swath of information that readers are missing from just glancing at page 69–primarily the fact that the novel rotates perspectives and that the dominant perspective is a teen girl named Luce. Her voice and conflict–a cousin that goes missing in the middle of the night–are central to the story.

That said, plenty is communicated about the type of book The Wolves Are Watching is. Even on this short page, there’s a pressing timeline–something that Fanya must rush to do before first light that requires strength and speed. There’s an element of mystery as well. What is a New Form? Even readers who have read the prior 68 pages have not discovered the answer to that question yet. Hopefully, browsers applying the Page 69 test will intuit that this novel not only includes folkloric creatures, but also elements of a mystery and thriller–plenty to keep them turning the pages.
Visit Natalie Lund's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 28, 2022

"My Dirty California"

Jason Mosberg lives in Los Angeles where he works as a novelist, screenwriter, and TV creator.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, My Dirty California, and reported the following:
Page 69 of My Dirty California features a character named Tiph who's at an activist rally in Downtown Los Angeles. Her husband, who's stoned at the time, is not pleased to be there. But he pops out of his stupor and comes to her defense when Tiph gets in a fight with a group of men.

Reading this page alone is a nice tease into Tiph's storyline in the novel. However, Tiph's storyline is just one of four storylines that interweave across the whole book. And Tiph's is the fourth to be introduced. There's nothing on page 69 that indicates Tiph's storyline is not the main one. Each of the four storylines has a different protagonist, hook, engine, and even tone.

If readers bought this book based on page 69, I think some would find it thrilling to dive into the other three storylines, and I think others would find it jarring. One part features a thirtysomething woman who's looking for proof we're living in a simulation. One features a man who traveled to Los Angeles from Pennsylvania to solve the murder of his brother. And the other storyline features a young Mexican immigrant who is trapped in a house with no idea how she got there. The stories are linked through a video log by one character called My Dirty California.
Visit Jason Mosberg's website.

My Book, The Movie: My Dirty California.

Q&A with Jason Mosberg.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

"The Year the Maps Changed"

Danielle Binks is an author and literary agent from Melbourne, Australia. The Year the Maps Changed was her debut novel and has been shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award and was a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book. She has since written her first young adult novel, The Monster of Her Age, and has edited and contributed to Begin, End, Begin, an anthology of new Australian young adult writing, which won an Australian Book Industry Award.

Binks applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Year the Maps Changed, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Mr. Khouri lifted a hand to rub between his eyes. “We do not condone bullying or intimidation of any kind at this school—you both understand that, don’t you?”
I’m not convinced the Page 69 Test quite works for my book – only because mine has a few story layers (kind of like the contour lines on a topographic map, if you will) and this is just one of those lines, showing a bit of friction between Fred and Sam, her new ‘kind of’ adopted brother – the son of her father’s new partner. But this test doesn’t show the background also happening, which is the Kosovo War conflict heightening and the Australian Government preparing Fred’s hometown to be a ‘safe haven’ location.

I do like that it’s a scene with Mr. Khouri – Sam and Fred’s teacher – who is the font of a lot of wisdom. In fact, I think Mr. Khouri says something (before page 69!) that hints at why this limited view of a story doesn’t quite work. It’s something that Fred decides of her worldview, shaped by a Mr. Khouri teaching; I have decided that memories are a little like mountains. You need to hike to the top and get some height—what Mr. Khouri calls perspective—so you can look down at how far you’ve come, and see all the people and choices that make up the map of your life.
Visit Danielle Binks's website.

Q&A with Danielle Binks.

My Book, The Movie: The Year the Maps Changed.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 24, 2022

"The Rabbit's Gift"

Jessica Vitalis is the author of The Wolf’s Curse. She 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 Rabbit's Gift, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Things are out of balance now, but nature always rights itself,” Maman said.

She sounded certain, but I wasn’t so sure. The Grande Maman in the Moon had honored our family with the responsibility of running the country—we even had a small chunk of moon rock on display at home to prove it. But that was back at the beginning of time. To my knowledge, none of us had heard from her since.

I couldn’t believe she’d really punish us for doing everything we could––including using science––to help her people. (For all we knew, maybe the drought was punishment for not doing science.) Then again, the last time Madame Pauline had tried to convince Maman to allow scientists into the country, she’d taken ill with a fever for more than a week.
This passage provides an excellent glimpse into the themes in The Rabbit’s Gift.

The story, a French twist on stork mythology, takes place in a country where human babies are grown in cabbage-like plants and delivered by rabbits. Told in dual points of view, one side features a scrawny rabbit determined to prove himself to his starving warren. The other point of view (featured above) is a girl by the name of Fleurine; she longs to study botany in order to unlock the elusive secrets growing in the rabbits’ warren, but she is the daughter of the most powerful woman in the country and expected to follow in her mother’s political footsteps. Even worse, science is frowned upon in Montepeyroux for fear that it might upset the natural order and offend the Grande Maman in the Moon. Fleurine is certain that the scientific advancements she’s heard of in other countries could help decrease their dependence on rabbits, and maybe even decrease the impact of the recent drought that has driven people to the cities in search of food. When Fleurine discovers Quincy Rabbit stealing her gardening supplies, she follows him back to the top-secret warren, setting off a string of events that could prove catastrophic for rabbits and humans alike.
Visit Jessica Vitalis's website.

Q&A with Jessica Vitalis.

The Page 69 Test: The Wolf's Curse.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 22, 2022

"Improbably Yours"

Kerry Anne King is a Washington Post and Amazon charts bestselling author of compelling and transformational stories about family and personal growth with elements of mystery, humor, and an undercurrent of romance. She was voted the 2020 Writer of the Year by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Her novel, Everything You Are, was a finalist in the Nancy Pearl Book Awards hosted by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and A Borrowed Life was a finalist in the 2020 Authors on the Air Book of the Year Awards. In addition to writing, Kerry Schafer supports other writers through motivational coaching and speaking.

King applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Improbably Yours, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Improbably Yours we find the main character, Blythe, having breakfast with her sister, Kristen:
“How can you eat that?” I gesture with my fork at the pallid, rubbery thing on her plate.

“You’ll die of cholesterol before you’re forty,” she retorts.

“As it turns out, a certain amount of fat is good for you,” I point out. “You should eat the whole egg. Yolks are full of antioxidants, vitamins, omega-threes...”

She shudders. “And calories. Back to Alan—”

“I am not discussing Alan.”

“Fine then, what are you going to do about Nomi’s ashes?”

“I’m taking them to the island and burying them. As she asked.”

“To the fictional island you created when you were a child.”

“As it turns out, there’s a real island at those coordinate points. In the San Juans, not far from Orcas Island. I saw the attorney yesterday. There’s even money set aside for me to go, so why not?”

“Three reasons,” she says, ticking them off on her fingers. “Alan. Your new job. And just because there’s a land mass at those coordinates, it doesn’t mean it’s a real island. I mean, okay. Yes. It’s real but not the island. Not the one you drew in that stupid map.”

“How do you know that?” I ask. I was about to tell her that Mr. Wilcox has money in trust for her, too, but now she has annoyed me and I figure she can find that out for herself.

She stares at me as if I’ve completely lost my mind. I smile at her in the way I know pisses her off and say, “Right island or not, I’m going as soon as I can figure out a place to stay.”
As it turns out, the Page 69 Test works well for Improbably Yours. This one conversation sums up the major question asked in the book. Blythe has been presented with an improbable quest: using a treasure map that she drew as a child during a game of ‘let’s pretend’ to find the spot where her beloved deceased grandmother wants her ashes to be buried. Leaving to follow the quest means turning her back on a life that offers security, even if not exactly what she wants – the ambitious and handsome young man who wants to marry her, a job offer her sister would nearly die for, and the version of reality Blythe has always believed in. If she accepts this wild goose chase of a quest will she find the life and love she dreams of, or lose everything she has and come to regret her decision?
Visit Kerry Anne King's website.

The Page 69 Test: Everything You Are.

The Page 69 Test: A Borrowed Life.

The Page 69 Test: Other People's Things.

Writers Read: Kerry Anne King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 20, 2022

"The Raven Song"

Luanne G. Smith is the Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestselling author of The Vine Witch, The Glamourist, and The Conjurer, a witchy historical fantasy series set in Belle Époque France, and The Raven Spell and The Raven Song, a gothic witch series set in a fantasy version of Victorian London. She’s lucky enough to live in Colorado at the base of the beautiful Rocky Mountains, where she enjoys reading, gardening, hiking, a glass of wine at the end of the day, and finding the magic in everyday life.

Smith applied the Page 69 Test to The Raven Song and reported the following:
A large part of page 69 of The Raven Song is an exchange between Sir Henry Elvanfoot, a renowned wizard in the north (Edinburgh), and Edwina Blackwood, a shapeshifting witch who has recently traveled north (from London) to escape a man who has been stalking her.

Besides showing a brief conversation between the wizard and a pair of bees, there’s also this observation from Elvanfoot about Edwina when he sees her clutch her shawl around her: “It’s almost like a swaddling motion, is it not? The way you keep your shawl held snug around you whenever you’re a bit flustered?”

Edwina answers:
“I’m not flustered. Not exactly.” She loosened her grip on the shawl and settled herself. “But when Mary and I were younger, it often helped with the transformation, as you suggest. My mother is a textile witch. She can sew, weave, knit. She made the shawls when we were younger, enchanting them with malleable threads that conformed to our bodies. You see, it does take a measure of self-control to keep the mind and body housed together when things get stressful.”
I wouldn’t say the page is remarkably representative of the overall book, but the scene is an important one because it reveals information about Edwina and Mary and the relevance of their flowing shawls that hadn’t been covered in depth in the first book. Without saying more to avoid spoilers, the information on the page is part of the set up for the villain’s ultimate motive to do what he does.

The Raven Song is the second book in The Conspiracy of Magic duology. There were a lot of unanswered questions in the first book, The Raven Spell. Some of that was done deliberately, of course, with new questions raised at the end to entice readers to return for the sequel. I think this second book will answer most of those nagging reader questions. They’ll find it also explores more of the Celtic folklore as the characters travel north, hopefully providing one complete story arc by the end of book two.
Visit Luanne G. Smith's website.

Q&A with Luanne G. Smith.

The Page 69 Test: The Raven Spell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

"River Woman, River Demon"

Jennifer Givhan, a National Endowment for the Arts and PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellow, is a Chicana and Indigenous novelist, poet, and transformational coach. She is the author of Jubilee, which received an honorable mention for the 2021 Rudolfo Anaya Best Latino-Focused Fiction Book Award, and Trinity Sight, winner of the 2020 Southwest Book Award. She has also published five full-length poetry collections and her honors include the Frost Place Latinx Scholarship and the Joy Harjo Poetry Prize.

Givhan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, River Woman, River Demon, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It was like that each midnight for seven more nights. Each time we returned to the fork in the road—the place no one owned, the place that belonged to the spirits—some animal or other came to greet us. One night, a black fat-tailed scorpion scuttled across the sand, and Jericho said it represented adaptation and strength—even the small guy’s got to protect himself. Later, I looked up the scorpion’s origins: native to Africa. There’s no way it should’ve been in San Diego. Had he conjured it?

“The spirits will come,” he said. “You have to believe they’re coming. That they’re already here.”

The final night Jericho said if the spirits had accepted, then the Black man would come.

I grinned ruefully up at him, thinking he was teasing. He’d been there all along, right? Jericho was the devil?

He rolled his eyes at me. “Not a brown-skinned man, Eva love. Not that kind of Black man. And not the Judeo-Christian devil either. Lil ole funny boy. He of many names and iterations. If he shows himself to you, you gotta be brave, Eva woman, you hear me? Show no fear. He’ll ask to borrow your glass, and he’ll show you how to transform it into a piece not only proficient for a student, not a utilitarian ashtray or wine glass, but artwork that seems to flow and move of its own accord. Artwork so lifelike it feels magic.” He said the last part with the flair of the showman he was.

I asked, “How are you so sure the devil’s a man? Couldn’t she be a woman?”

“You know, I just do believe your devil might be a woman.” He laughed, the edges of his eyes crinkling. “Well, come to think of it, Pomba Gira is a femme deity in Umbanda. You’d love her. They call her the Mistress of Witchcraft. She’s Èsú’s wife, Queen of the Crossroads.”

We lit a candle in the crossroad sand, placed four pennies around it, and waited.

Part of me doubted. I wasn’t an overnight convert. Maybe that’s why Jericho was so drawn to me. I wasn’t an easy sell. I took coaxing. But perhaps my willingness to sit with my doubt, to wait despite my doubt, perhaps that was as powerful as if I’d believed entirely.
As if by magick, page 69 of River Woman, River Demon absolutely does encapsulate the larger themes of the novel in such a compelling and succinct way. I never cease feeling amazed by the synchronicities of the Universe, and this case is no exception. In this scene, the protagonist Eva, who is a bruja by birth who is disconnected from her magickal roots and searching for a link to her innate belief, power, and strength, which she'd believed she'd found, at least in part, through her relationship with her hoodoo practicing professor of a husband, Jericho; he's taken her to the crossroads to perform a ritual to find her mojo, which in this case and traditional hoodoo means the essence of her creative spirit and a belief in herself and the magick within that will empower her and lead her to her creative destiny.

In typical Eva fashion, she's skeptical but enamored of the idea and Jericho, thus open to possibility. In her internal dialogue, she muses, “Part of me doubted. I wasn’t an overnight convert. Maybe that's why Jericho was so drawn to me. I wasn't an easy sell. I took coaxing. But perhaps my willingness to sit with my doubt, to wait despite my doubt, perhaps that was as powerful as if I'd believed entirely.”

What's cool about this passage in relation to the entire book is that this summarizes the lesson that she must learn through the entire novel; she doesn't believe it here, doesn't believe in herself, and, when her husband is accused of murdering their best friend who is found dead in his arms in the river beside their house, Eva will struggle to believe him.

This page sets up the endearing dynamic between them shrouded by uncertainty built into the ritual of their magick as well as their own natures, his enigmatic and hers self-protective. As this murder mystery + ghost story unfolds, the reader must puzzle together who to believe and whether the magick they discuss here was a blessing or curse, whether it will protect or destroy them.
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--Marshal Zeringue