Friday, December 30, 2022

"One of Those Faces"

Elle Grawl is a lawyer by day and writer by night. After obtaining her B.A. in English Literature, she took a detour into law before returning to her love of writing.

Her lifelong interest in true crime and experiences as an attorney have provided her with plenty of writing material. Grawl enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and their two dogs.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, One of Those Facesand reported the following:
From page 69:
I opened the door and peered out. “How can I help you?”

The man straightened up. “I’m Detective Wilder. We’re currently investigating a suspected homicide in the area,” he recited, his tone growing flatter with each syllable.

Suspected homicide? What else could it be?

“A few days ago the body of a young woman was discovered in the alley just across the street from you. I’ve been interviewing people in the neighborhood to see if anyone saw or heard anything. I stopped by your place before, but you were out, I guess.” He glanced over the top of my head into my apartment.

I narrowed the gap between my body and the door. “Homicide?” I asked. I didn’t know why I was acting coy. Half the neighborhood had huddled around when Holly’s body was recovered.

He stared at me for a second. “Yes, a body was found just a few days ago. Have you been out of town?”

“No, I’ve just been busy.”

He observed me for a long moment. “Do you have a minute to answer a few questions?”

I nodded, the alcohol from the night before burning the edge of my throat, threatening to come up. “Absolutely.”

He glanced behind me at the door half-open. “Is there a reason I can’t come in?”

I stepped out and let the door completely shut behind me. “I have a cat. He might get out,” I said.

He pulled out one of those tiny notepads as if we were on Law & Order and jotted something down. Something about my cat, I guessed.

He looked back up at me. “What’s your full name?”

I hesitated. Where would this information appear if I told him? If I told him about that night, would a reporter show up next and cite me as a witness?

You’re not a kid anymore. He can’t do anything to you.

Still, I couldn’t bear the thought that he might find me here. “Isabella Mallen,” I lied.
This excerpt is Harper’s, my protagonist’s, first interaction with the Detective investigating a murder in the neighborhood. The Page 69 Test worked pretty well. This section gives the reader a glimpse of Harper’s inner monologue during the tense discussion and provides a great introduction to this key player in the book.

In One of Those Faces, this murder investigation is the inciting incident and plays a major role in the rest of the story.
Visit Elle Grawl's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Elle Grawl & Olive and Truffle.

My Book, The Movie: One of Those Faces.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

"The Fireballer"

The son of two librarians, Mark Stevens was raised in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and has worked as a reporter, as a national television news producer, and in public relations. Antler Dust was a Denver Post bestseller in 2007 and 2009. Buried by the Roan, Trapline, and Lake of Fire were all finalists for the Colorado Book Award (2012, 2015, and 2016, respectively), and Trapline won. Trapline also won the Colorado Authors League award for best genre fiction. Stevens has had short stories published by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, by Mystery Tribune, and in Denver Noir (Akashic Books). In September 2016, Stevens was named Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year. Stevens hosts a regular podcast for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and has served as president of the Rocky Mountain chapter for Mystery Writers of America.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Fireballer, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Fireballer is a key moment. The test works (with one caveat below) perfectly.

The issue is how to take maximum advantage of rookie pitching phenom Frank Ryder. His pitches arrive so fast that batters have no time to swing. For Baltimore Orioles manager Art Stone, Ryder is providing a lift to the whole team. Ryder is a lock to win every game he starts.

On page 69 we are in Stone’s office with Ryder, general manager Alicia Ford, and pitching coach Jimmy Lackland.

Ford wants to see what Ryder thinks of starting more games but only pitching a few innings each time out. Ryder is wary. He “hates these manipulators with a passion. They are overthinking everything.” Ryder believes starting pitchers should pitch as long and as hard as they can each time out; nine innings if possible. He’s young, but old-school.

For the Orioles, Ryder is a gift. To the league as whole, Ryder might be the dirty baseball in the punch bowl. If the league doesn’t put an upper limit on the speed of a pitch or move the mound back or do something, who will come to watch a game when batters have no chance to hit?

On page 69, Ryder also thinks about how much he likes his current routine between starts. That routine includes being “on guard for a little stone-faced Black kid with a chip on his shoulder who nobody else can see.”

That kid is Deon. He’s a ghost. And that ghost forms the emotional side of The Fireballer. The larger question is how the emotional side of the novel will impact the baseball side of the novel. Or, for Ryder, are they all the same thing?

That caveat? The Page 69 test described here is for the trade paperback version.

The hardback (also being released January 1)?

Not so much.
Visit Mark Stevens's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 24, 2022

"Little Red House"

Liv Andersson is an author, lawyer, and former therapist whose background has inspired her thrillers and mysteries. She and her husband live in the beautiful Green Mountains of Vermont with their sons and three dogs.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Little Red House, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Jet regarded me as he made his way to the kitchen area. He opened the freezer and pulled out an icepack, which he tossed my way. “Put that on your head.”

I placed the pack against my skull. “Damn.” It hurt, and the ice only made it worse.

“What were you doing in the shed, anyway? Oliver said you were nosing around on the floor.”

“I was looking for cleaning supplies.”

“On the floor?” He stared at me, his expression unreadable.

Jet had the kind of masculinity I normally loathed in men. Strong, quiet—above the need to explain himself. Impatient with feelings and convinced that only his brand of logic mattered. Used to getting his way with most women because of a handsome face. Only I wasn’t most women. As much as I hated Eve, I’d learned a few things from her, and I viewed men—nearly all men—with the same wary pragmatism I reserved for large dogs and black bears. Unless they served a purpose, I admired them from a distance.

I wanted Jet gone from the property. He was a complicating factor I had neither bargained for nor agreed to. I said as much.

“Call your lawyer, then. Ask him. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. For now, at least.” He took the ice pack from my hand and repositioned it against my head. “I’ll ask again, Constance. What were you looking for in my workshop?”


“Oliver said you were nosing around.”

“I saw a trapdoor on the floor. I was curious about it.”

“It’s just a cabinet. I use it to store chemicals.”

My foggy mind flashed back to the lacy stains. “The wood flooring—is it old?”

“Old as the house, I guess.”

Another wave of nausea hit, and I put my head between my legs, riding it out. With my eyes closed, I pictured the shed floor, the reddish-brown stains interspersed across the wooden planks. Like fans. Like pinwheels.

“Constance, are you okay? You probably have a concussion. Constance?”

Not fans. Not pinwheels. Small red...
Page 69 of Little Red House offers a glimpse into a central conflict unfolding in one of the novel’s dual timelines, provides insight into Connie’s angst about the little red house and what it represents, and foreshadows events to come (without spoilers). In short, the Page 69 Test works for Little Red House.

In Little Red House, Connie inherited the rundown little red house in the New Mexico desert from her mother, Eve Foster. Eve was a cruel woman who played mind games throughout Connie’s childhood, and Connie never knew the house existed until she heard the terms of the will. Connie arrived in New Mexico to discover Jet Montgomery, the property’s surly caretaker, living in an outbuilding on the property. She’s unable to fire Jet based on the terms of Eve’s trust. Suspicious of Jet, and worried about Eve’s motivations for hiring him—is this just another of Eve’s sadistic games? —Connie snoops around Jet’s workshop while he’s away and is rewarded with a clock to the head by their neighbor, Oliver. Connie comes to in Jet’s shack.

In this scene, we experience the tension between Connie and Jet. We also come to understand a little about Connie’s personality and the paranoia she’s inherited from Eve. This paranoia about Jet and the reasons she was bequeathed the house permeates the book. It’s on page 69 that Connie first realizes that what she saw in the workshop may have a more ominous meaning, setting off her quest for answers.
Visit Liv Andersson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

"A Castle in Brooklyn"

Shirley Russak Wachtel is the author of the short story collection Three For A Dollar, the book of poetry, In The Mellow Light, and several books for children. Her short stories and poems have appeared in various literary journals. A daughter of Holocaust survivors, Wachtel was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She holds a doctor of letters degree from Drew University and for the past thirty years has taught English literature at Middlesex College in Edison, New Jersey. The mother of three grown sons and grandmother to two precocious granddaughters,she currently resides in East Brunswick, New Jersey, with her husband, Arthur.

Wachtel applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Castle in Brooklyn, and reported the following:
The following excerpt appears on page 69 of my book:
“What is it? What’s happened?” She leaned over, trying to make sense of the paper Jacob held in his trembling hand.

“It’s from your father,” he said, finally finding the words, “and it’s a deed for a parcel of land in Brooklyn.” The simple paper was beginning to feel like a fire in his hands.

She touched his arm lightly.

‘I don’t understand. What does it mean?” He looked at her face, her pale skin, her eyes a serene blue.

“It means a house, Esther, it means we can build our own house.”

Jacob eased back into the brown leather recliner, but he didn’t turn on the TV to watch his favorite show, instead the couple sat talking, planning their future, for hours into the night. When they finally settled into their queen-sized bed, their heads abuzz with their plans, their prospects, neither fell asleep until the soft edge of a sun could be seen rising over the city’s gray skyscrapers. So, it wasn’t until late the next morning that Esther found the unopened letter next to the recliner on the plush green carpet. Jacob recognized the writing immediately. When he finished reading, he looked at Esther, tears forming in his eyes.

“Another big piece of news. Zalman is coming home.”
This excerpt from my book does indeed prove Marshall McLuhan’s theory that book browsers can get a good idea of a book from page 69. The scene is a pivotal one in A Castle in Brooklyn as it reflects the heart of my novel. Jacob, having escaped near-death at the hands of the Nazis, comes to America determined to build the home he has always dreamed of. For him, the home would be a castle! This dream sustains him during the worst of times. In this excerpt, the newly married Jacob is in an apartment with his wife, Esther, when he receives news that his wealthy father-in-law has given them a piece of property to build a home. Shortly after, he discovers a letter from his best friend, Zalman. Zalman means the world to Jacob, for it was he who was at his side during their capture and escape in Europe. Though Zalman is now working on a farm in Minnesota, the letter reveals that he has plans to come to Brooklyn. Jacob hopes that together they can build the home of his dreams.

The scene on page 69 is pivotal to the novel as it sets the wheels in motion for the building of the home in Brooklyn, but also the trajectory of Jacob’s relationship with Zalman. As an architect, Zalman is key to helping make Jacob’s dream a reality. As such, once the house is built, Jacob urges him to stay with him and Esther in the home as their family grows. However, an unforeseen tragedy changes everything, testing the bonds of friendship and even Jacob’s marriage.

I marvel at how accurate McLuhan’s prediction was for A Castle in Brooklyn, which in essence, is about someone who stubbornly holds on to the dream of home and family, despite the odds. Once that dream is accomplished, he is tested time and time again, ultimately realizing his dream far into the future. While A Castle in Brooklyn is the story of a Holocaust survivor who builds a home in Brooklyn, I believe it is also about anyone who holds onto a dream, and anyone who values the importance of friendship, love, and family.
Visit Shirley Wachtel's website and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 17, 2022

"To Each This World"

Having written twenty-three novels (and counting) published by her beloved DAW Books and Hugo-winning editor Sheila E. Gilbert, as well as numerous short stories, and editing several anthologies over the past 25 years, Julie E. Czerneda was inducted in the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2022. Czerneda’s works combine her training and love of biology with a boundless curiosity and optimism. The recently released Imaginings is her first short story collection.

Czerneda applied the Page 69 Test to her new standalone science fiction novel To Each This World, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I know what I heard!”


A warm spot, a tiny step to a shared path; Henry knew better than make anything more of it. The pilot had coped with kmeth’s extreme behavior. Good. Wasn’t cowed by his office. Better. Her willingness to stay and help save lives when she’d every right to demand a deserved leave home reinforced Kisho’s recommendation. Best.

None of which mattered more than his initial assessment.

She didn’t hide her feelings, or chose not to—an honesty he found encouraging. Killian’s face scowled fiercely and smiled well: broad, with strong lines at jaw and cheek, and large, dark brown eyes, blood-shot but alert, shrouded by thick lashes. Her scalp was covered in a close cut black fuzz, a geometric pattern shaved into the sides. Nice work by the Spacer Repository. There were even holes in her epitome’s earlobes and in each wide nostril where she’d removed piercings from previous assignments. Prudent. Kmet tended to fixate on them. Muscle flexed along her bare arms and her posture, weary or not, suggested athleticism.

Killian was in her mid-forties, as was he, and the patches dotting her faded, loose-fitting coveralls hinted at a past full of stories—and an attitude. He liked both, to be honest. Not that she’d care.

He liked that as well.

The pilot cradled her coffee, studying him in return. She’d arrived with conceptions about who he was, based on what he was; most who met him did. Might be shifting.

She’d arrived with those bloodshot eyes, now clear and bright, and the hand holding the cup no longer trembled. Flip’s coffee, no doubt, the polymorph having read the exhausted pilot’s vitals when she arrived and inclined to fix things.

Maybe she wouldn’t notice.

“Let’s get started,” Henry announced. “I need your observations of Kmet-Here and kmeth’s reactions, Killian. To me and my oneirics at once, if you don’t mind.”

She touched her wristband. Reflex. Didn’t tap it. Decision. For whatever reason, the pilot didn’t want her oneiric present.
Happily, jumping to page 69 of my new SF novel, To Each This World, won’t spoil plot. It does a quick, useful introduction to two of my Human protagonists, Henry and Killian. Along with hints about Flip, who isn’t Human but has an abundance of freewill. Nice!

It’s the first time in the book where we see Killian. We’ve been in her head, experiencing the sort of problems that arise on your first day working with an alien—in crisis--but those passages are quick and intimate, without time to learn more about her. The entire book is that way. The points of view are tight, personal, and fully engaged with what’s happening—a choice some say is unusual in science fiction. That’s fine, so is this book. And Killian, Henry, and Flip.

This page is a good example. As Henry forms his opinion of Killian, you learn more about him than her. What he values in another person. What he trusts. What matters to him. He’s in charge, but his natural approach is collaboration, not command. As New Earth’s Arbiter, the one person who negotiates with the alien Kmet, this is a key part of his success thus far. As is compassion. Here it’s for Killian, through Flip’s help.

Readers will spot cues on this page of a far future setting with space travel but what are epitomes and oneirics? I’m pleased those terms appear without context or explanation. If you start from page 1, you’ll be up to speed, but it’s gratifying this peek doesn’t give too much away.

After all, there’s a mystery to solve. Thanks, page 69!
Visit Julie E. Czerneda's website.

The Page 69 Test: To Guard Against the Dark.

The Page 69 Test: The Gossamer Mage.

The Page 69 Test: Mirage.

Q&A with Julie E. Czerneda.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 13, 2022


Christiane M. Andrews grew up in rural New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine and still calls northern New England home. Her debut novel, Spindlefish and Stars, received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, and Booklist, and was named a Kirkus Best Book of 2020 and a Booklist Editors’ Choice for 2020. A longtime writing and literature instructor, Andrews lives with her husband and son and a small clutch of animals on an old New Hampshire hilltop farm.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Wolfish, and reported the following:
On page 69, the reader finds Rae, one of the four central child characters of Wolfish, entering her home. She is mud-stained, her hair tangled and “full of seeds and stray insect wings.” Her adoptive shepherd mother, Ness, is concerned Rae has been wandering too far into the hills and fields, saying, “You should not stray so far away from the house. What would you do if you saw a wolf or a herd of boar and you were all alone?” Though Rae is certain she would be saved by her parents—“I would call for you and Mop!”—the aged Ness better understands the danger: “‘Do you see me’—Nessa gestured to her soft body—‘chasing down a bear to rescue you from its claws? Or do you see Mop—ah, here he comes!—fighting a horde of snarling boar to save you from their tusks?’”

The Page 69 Test for Wolfish is mixed, I think. On the one hand, casual browsers could sense the foreshadowing here and guess that Rae does in fact encounter both wolf and boar in the text. They would also gain a window into her fierce attachment to the natural world: she explores everywhere alone and returns home stained with her adventures. (As the text ties each of the four central characters to a different element, Rae frequently appears, as she does here, speckled with “airy” things like insect wings and seeds.) The loving relationship Rae shares with her adoptive parents—who long to keep her safe—would similarly be clear to anyone opening to this page.

However, perhaps because the text alternates through four different perspectives—a king, an oracle-apprentice, Rae, and her twin—I don’t think browsers would gain a good sense of the central conflicts of the novel nor see why—beyond potential bodily harm—it’s significant that Rae might encounter a wolf. Those reading through to page 69 will know Rae, who was abandoned in the wilderness as an infant with her twin, has already been saved once from a wolf when Mop discovered her mountainside. Readers will also have just seen her twin, who was not rescued, mystically transformed into a wolf a few pages earlier and understand this is the creature she is fated to meet again. Casual browsers, I think, would have a hard time gaining an overall sense of the novel from just page 69, but skimming around that area might be enough.
Visit Christiane M. Andrews's website.

The Page 69 Test: Spindlefish and Stars.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 11, 2022

"Where it Rains in Color"

Before making the big leap into the world of sci-fi & fantasy, Denise Crittendon held a string of journalism jobs. In addition to being a staff writer for The Detroit News and The Kansas City Star, she was editor-in-chief of the NAACP’s national magazine, The Crisis. Later, she became founding editor of a Michigan-based lifestyle publication for black families. After self-publishing two manuals that empower youth, “Girl in the Mirror, A Teen’s Guide to Self-Awareness” and “Life is a Party That Comes with Exams,” she entered the new-age healing movement as a motivational speaker for teens. These days, she fulfills ghostwriting assignments for clients and writes speculative fiction on the side. Crittendon divides her time between Spring Valley, Nevada and her hometown, Detroit, Mich.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Where it Rains in Color, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“You probably know more about them too. More than you’re willing to admit.”

“No, just Tnomo.”

“Oh, the star man from nowhere.” She thought about their lunch with The Nobility. “There’s some pretty big secrets being hidden around here. One day, I’m going to figure out what they are.”
Page 69 of Where It Rains In Color is the end of a chapter and only contains seven sentences. However, those closing sentences offer a powerful foreshadowing of events to come. The passage also captures the novel’s essential mystery. As the main character, Lileala suggests her home world, Swazembi, is hiding a few mysteries. She doesn’t know it at the time but, true to her vow, she will eventually uncover the truth.
Visit Denise Crittendon's website.

Q&A with Denise Crittendon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 9, 2022

"Last Circle of Love"

Lorna Landvik's novels include the bestselling Patty Jane’s House of Curl, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, and Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes).

Also an actor and playwright, Landvik has performed on numerous stages. A recent DNA test determined she’s 95 percent Norwegian and 5 percent wild.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Last Circle of Love, and shared the following:
I’m very curious as to why Marshall McLuhan picked page 69 — I couldn’t find his reasoning on-line — why not 52 or 37 or 88? I shall explore further, hoping to discover the answer, but meanwhile, here’s what’s on the test page…

Godfrey, the agnostic, artistic custodian of All Souls Lutheran, has been in conversation with Pastor Pete. The funeral of Zac, an overdose victim has taken place that morning and they’re both in reflective moods. Godfrey has been putting the final touches on a mural he’s been tasked to paint, and page 69 begins with him talking as the young minister follows him down the Sunday school hallway.
"Man, the whole afternoon I’ve been so down ... and then I had this funny thought. I wondered what a kid like Zac, with his hilarious stories, might have contributed to that little book of yours.”

Pastor Pete stopped as if a turnstile suddenly blocked her path.

“Little book . . .” she sputtered. “What little book?”

Opening up the supply-room door, Godfrey gave her a wry smile.

“The little book you and the Naomis are working on.”
He informs her that his office — aka the utility closet — is right next to the kitchen where the Naomi Circle gathers and he can’t help occasionally overhearing their discussions.

In an attempt to fundraise needed money for their shabby little church, the women have decided to think not just out of the box, but way out of the box and compile not the usual recipes, but a book that will contain their musings on love and attraction, one they jokingly refer to as ‘The ABCs of Erotica.’

Embarrassed, Pastor Pete asks that he keep this nascent project to himself.

The end of the page brings us to a new scene in which circle member Bunny is visiting her husband whose dementia has brought him into a different world.

If a reader were to turn to this page, I’d hope their interest would be piqued enough to think, “What the . . .?” followed by, “I’d better get this book!”
Visit Lorna Landvik's website.

The Page 69 Test: Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes).

--Marshal Zeringue

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