Monday, February 28, 2022

"The Blood Covenant"

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

Nickson applied the Page 69 Test to The Blood Covenant, the latest Simon Westow mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
‘Sit down.’ Simon lit the oil lamp, trimming the wick until it gave a warm, wide light. A single room with a fireplace, table, two old wooden chairs. A cupboard for food and crockery. Stone sink. A stairway leading up to a bedroom. For a man on an overseer’s wage, he lived a very spare, modest life.

‘You know who I am?’

Dawson nodded, terrified.

Simon moved behind him and began to speak: ‘When I was a boy, I was in the workhouse and they sent me to work in a mill …’

He made the man listen to it all. The pain, the humiliation, the things he saw. When he finished, the room seemed to be filled with sorrow.

Eventually Dawson asked, ‘What do you want me to say?’

‘I want to know why you beat those children and all the others.’

‘You know why.’

‘Tell me anyway,’ Simon said. ‘Make me understand.’

He coughed, stammered. ‘So they learn and remember to do it properly the next time.’

‘No.’ Simon shook his head. ‘There’s more to it than that, isn’t there?’ He leaned close and whispered in the man’s ear. ‘You enjoy it, don’t you?’

He kept pushing the man. He wanted Dawson to admit the pleasure he took in his work.

‘Yes, I like to see them scared,’ he said finally. ‘I like their pain.’

Dawson was a bully. A man who loved to show his strength by exercising power over children. No note of regret or guilt in his voice. To him, everything he’d done was natural.

‘If I don’t do it, someone else will,’ he said. He shrugged, folded his arms and sat back.

‘Then it’s going to be someone else, Mr Dawson,’ Simon told him, ‘because you won’t be doing it again. You need to understand something: that part of your life has ended.
Simon Westow, the thief-taker, has followed home Dawson, one of the overseers from the factory where two boys died, overwork and beaten. He’s there for some revenge and satisfaction – he was a boy in a factory himself once and has the scars.

He knows Dawson can’t do anything about the past, but he can use fear to make sure the man never does this again. It’s a small victory that he hopes will lead to a larger one over the factory owner, a step on the way. And to do it, he’s used the bully’s weapon on the bully.

It’s grim, but the book itself is dark, a story of the poor and the rich who exploit them – and trying to vanquish that.

Page 69 offers a fair reflection of the book, the conflict within it, although on a very small scale and any violence is hinted at, not explicit.
Visit Chris Nickson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Constant Lovers.

The Page 69 Test: The Iron Water.

The Page 69 Test: The Hanging Psalm.

The Page 69 Test: The Molten City.

The Page 69 Test: Brass Lives.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 26, 2022

"Behind the Lie"

Emilya Naymark was born in a country that no longer exists, escaped with her parents, lived in Italy for a bit, and ended up in New York, which promptly became a love and a muse.

She studied art and was lucky enough to illustrate numerous publications before transitioning to the digital world.

She has a particular fascination with psychological thrillers, crime, and suspense. All the dark stuff. So that’s what she writes.

Naymark applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Behind the Lie, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Holly rarely felt tongue-tied, but a silence gripped her as she fell into step with the woman. When she was ten and Abigail fourteen, they’d walk this way to the ice cream shop, the conversation flowing in one direction toward the younger girl—instructions on makeup and hair removal (not that she needed it yet), gossip on who was a slut and who was a snob, and music, always music.

At the top of the hill, with the town stretching green and weekday-still below them, Holly reached and pressed Vera’s shoulder, wanting to touch the smallness of her bones. No denying it, this woman had something, more than something, of Abigail to her—the hair, the careless elegance, even the bags under her eyes, the unhealthy hollows under her cheeks. This moment, the touching, teetered on awkward, but Vera angled herself into Holly and tucked her arm around her waist as if they’d been friends for decades and not hours. It seemed to Holly that an odd and secret understanding vibrated between them.

With a great heave of self-control, Holly had successfully avoided dwelling on the circumstances of their meeting. But the woman’s closeness made this denial impossible.
I love this Page 69 Test. First, because for most books this will be nearing the 25% mark, which means it’s at the end of Act 1 and just about the beginning of Act 2. In genre novels, this is generally when a character is teetering at a decision point, and that decision is what will propel them toward Act 2.

The test works nicely for Behind the Lie because Holly, a suburban mom, wife, and secret romance writer, has gotten herself into an impossibly dire situation and is desperate for a solution that will save her family from foreclosure and bankruptcy. The solution is present on this page—although Holly doesn’t know it yet—and the seduction she will face has begun.

All kinds of lies are already evident in these paragraphs, not least the lies Holly tells herself. Lastly, I think the browsing reader opening the book to this page will get a good feel for setting (small town), and the unreliability of my character’s mindset. There’s a dreaminess here that I think reflects the tone for the first half of the novel, at least for Holly’s portion of it.

In conclusion—the test works!
Visit Emilya Naymark's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hide in Place.

My Book, The Movie: Hide in Place.

Q&A with Emilya Naymark.

Writers Read: Emilya Naymark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

"The Raven Spell"

Luanne G. Smith is the bestselling author of The Vine Witch, a witchy historical fantasy series set in Belle Époque era France, and The Raven Spell, the first book in A Conspiracy of Magic, 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 Spell, and reported the following:
Turning to page 69 of The Raven Spell we find Mary and Edwina Blackwood, sister witches living in a fantasy version of London in 1899, confronted by a shaggy elf-like creature who has just performed a form of tutelary magic on the unconscious man snoring away in their father’s bed:
“Well, I’m not sure I do,” Mary said, slipping the dull memory stone into her apron pocket as she hovered near the stairs. She looked like she wanted to get as far away from their visitor as she could.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship, if I’m right,” Edwina explained. “There’s a connection between the two. It’s as if they share the same experiences and memories. You must have been devoted to him from an early age.”

The elf beamed until his eyes teared and his ears poked up through his tangle of hair. “I’ve known my mister since he was a wee babe in swaddling cloth.”

The image tickled Edwina and she beamed as well, though she half suspected the happiness she felt flowed as much from the overspill of the elf’s magic as anything else. She was not a woman who readily experienced giddiness, but for whatever reason, she couldn’t stop smiling at the hairy little elf and the snoring man whose life he’d presumably just saved. After straightening the strip of tartan on Ian’s chest, she and the elf waited diligently for him to wake, while Mary studied the hard coal stone from her pocket, clearly regretting the loss of one of her precious orbs.
As far as excerpts go, this is fairly representative of the novel. The four main characters are all there and hints of the tensions and attractions between them are on display. The sisters are both witches, but it’s Mary who has the talent to steal corpse lights as they rise off the dead (and sometimes the nearly dead, which is what happened to Ian) so she can collect the person’s memories and convert them to shiny blue baubles that she stores as keepsakes in her jewelry box. Edwina is very devoted to her sister, enabling Mary’s odd magical appetites despite their somewhat ghoulish nature, but she longs for a life of love and happiness. And then this stranger from the north crashes into their lives, along with his hairy elf guardian, and the sisters will never be the same again.

For readers, it’s probably a good test. My storytelling is sometimes called “Harry Potter-esque” because I write about witches, fairies, and jinn all existing in an otherwise historically accurate world. I’m a fan of folklore and fairytales, so that influence naturally shows up in my work. If you’re not fond of whimsical elements in your stories, you’ll likely not enjoy the presence of the elf in an otherwise “low” fantasy historical novel.
Visit Luanne G. Smith's website.

Q&A with Luanne G. Smith.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 21, 2022

"The Paradox Hotel"

Rob Hart is the author of The Warehouse, which sold in more than 20 languages and was optioned for film by Ron Howard, and the Ash McKenna crime series, and he co-wrote Scott Free with James Patterson. He’s worked as a book publisher, a reporter, a political communications director, and a commissioner for the city of New York.

Hart applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Paradox Hotel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He tilts his head a little, reading my response, like he’s trying to decide whether he believes me.

“I know about the ghosts,” he says.

“People think the hotel is haunted.” I shrug. “So what? People think every hotel is haunted. It’s how hotels work. They’re creepy. Sound carries.”

“What do you believe?”

“I’m a nihilist. I don’t believe in anything.”

Kolten nods and smiles. “Let me tell you a story.”

“Oh god.”
... That's from the top of page 69, in which the house detective of the Paradox Hotel, January Cole, first meets Kolten Smith, the head of social media giant Axon, who is bidding on time travel technology, which the government is on the verge of auctioning off.

It's a fun little encapsulation of two things: January's attitude (she's a little prickly), and it hints toward one of the things I really tried to have fun with: the nature of the hotel. This is a hotel for time travelers—the super-rich, waiting for their tourism "flights" to the past to take off. Because of its proximity to the Einstein Intercentury Timeport, things can get a little... weird. People see things in the halls. The clocks sometimes don't work right. There's clearly something weird going on, but I wanted to really keep the reader on their toes, as to what exactly was going on. I loved playing in multiple genres on this, and I couldn't resist the idea of bringing a little haunted-house into it. Because hotels are creepy, but also, if I'm going to write time travel, I'm going to have some fun with it. Which means ghosts. And also, robots and dinosaurs.
Visit Rob Hart's website.

The Page 69 Test: Potter's Field.

The Page 69 Test: The Warehouse.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 19, 2022

"Goodnight, Vienna"

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

Gabriel applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Goodnight, Vienna, and reported the following:
Readers who turn to page 69 will find my two main characters, Gretchen and Katya, putting an escaped pet rabbit back in its cage. The moment has resonances -- both the unhappy child (Gretchen) and the frustrated governess (Katya) feel themselves to be imprisoned by circumstances, and thrown together against their will. The bunny episode starts them talking about their feelings, and will (hopefully) start to ease the animosity between them.

Although this isn't the most serious issue in the story, it's an important point, because life is about to get very dangerous for these two people, as the Nazis ruthlessly take over Austria. After the arrest of her father, young Gretchen is marked down by the SS for a horrible fate -- and Katya is her only hope of escape.

But saving Gretchen means taking serious risks for Katya herself. She will have to decide whether she cares enough about the child to take those risks.

As so often, page 69 indeed holds a key moment in the novel! I don't know how this works, but it does...
Follow Marius Gabriel on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: The Parisians.

The Page 69 Test: The Girls in the Attic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 17, 2022

"The Wrong Woman"

After a brief career in criminal law, Leanne Kale Sparks is returning to her first love—writing about murder and mayhem. Her new novel, The Wrong Woman, features an FBI agent hunting down her best friend’s murderer. The backdrop is the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the playground of her youth, and the place that will always be home. When not writing, she and her husband spend time reading, mountain biking, and spoiling their German Shepherd, Zoe. And drinking wine.

Sparks applied the Page 69 Test to The Wrong Woman and reported the following:
From page 69:
Kendall dropped her bags next to her desk, and slumped into her chair. She had slept like crap the night before. Tossing and turning, her brain refused to shut off and instead showed her every horrific potential Gwen was facing. Closing her eyes was a dangerous proposition most nights—she had seen some disgusting shit over her career with the FBI—when her best friend was missing, those visions made her physically ill.

And panicked.

Not a feeling she had often. Not since she was in college when she picked up a woman on the side of the road and was chased—hunted down—by the man who had kidnapped her. Weaving through the streets, Kendall had been desperate to get to the police department. She had gotten out of the car. Made a mad dash toward the police station. The bullet had pierced her back and she’d hit the icy asphalt.

She didn’t remember much about that night. Most of the memories were disjointed and she knew from talking to investigators they were often out of sequence with the actual events.

Kendall had never experienced pain like that in her entire life up to that point. But it was the overwhelming fear that ravaged her body. Paralyzed her. Fear that she would die. Fear that she had failed the young woman she had promised would be safe.

“Beck,” Brady bellowed from the doorway of his office.
This test works brilliantly for this passage. The browser will get a taste of what is going on in the story—the main character, Kendall Beck, is concerned about her best friend who is missing—but it also gives a bit of backstory. The browser will discover a little about Kendall’s past and how it shapes what she is feeling and the way she is dealing with her friend’s disappearance. The browser will get a sense of the close-knit relationship of the two friends and how the past is affecting the present.

This story has been one I started writing years ago, and even while I was busy with other things, it stuck with me. I finally cleared my plate and sat down to edit, polish, and submit to an agent, who then found the perfect publisher. And here I am, introducing my little crime novel to the world. I really worked hard to create a story with all the twists and turns one expects in a murder mystery/thriller. But I am most proud of the personalities of each character. I wanted a cast of characters readers would form their own bond with and want to return to them with each new book. I hope I have achieved that and the snippet above helps readers get to know Kendall.
Visit Leanne Kale Sparks's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Leanne Kale Sparks & Zoe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

"The Cage"

Bonnie Kistler is a former Philadelphia attorney and the author of House on Fire and The Cage. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College, magna cum laude, with Honors in English literature, and she received her law degree from the University of the Pennsylvania Law School, where she was a moot court champion and legal writing instructor.

She spent her law career in private practice with major law firms. Peer-rated as Distinguished for both legal ability and ethical standards, she successfully tried cases in federal and state courts across the country.

She and her husband now live in Florida and the mountains of western North Carolina.

Kistler applied the Page 69 Test to The Cage and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Cage contains a flashback to six weeks before the elevator incident. Shay has arrived for her job interview at the company and is waiting for someone to greet her:
I mustn’t let my hopes rise. I strode past the white leather banquettes to the windows and pretended to admire the view. The city was out that way, somewhere behind the wall of fog. Once it was the only place I considered working––Wall Street, the center of the legal universe––and I wouldn’t work for anything less than a mega-firm with branch offices throughout the country and a few international offices to boot. Now here I was, desperate for a job in the suburbs, for a position in a corporate law department I would have sneered at before.
I'm afraid this is an epic fail of the Page 69 Test! A browser who glances at this page alone would have no clue what the novel is about. But that’s a good thing, because the thrust of the book is set up in the opening pages. The Cage literally starts off with a bang.

Page 69 does give the reader some important insights into Shay’s character. Once a high-flyer at a big Wall Street law firm, she’s been essentially unemployed for the last five years. She’s desperate to land this job and bitter about the circumstances that have brought her here––a bad economy, bad luck, and her own bad choices.
Visit Bonnie Kistler's website.

Q&A with Bonnie Kistler.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 13, 2022


Gina Apostol is the author of the novels Insurrecto, Gun Dealers' Daughter, and The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata. She is the recipient of a PEN/Open Book Award and two Philippine National Book Awards. Her essays and stories have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Foreign Policy, Gettysburg Review, and Massachusetts Review. She lives in New York City and western Massachusetts and grew up in Tacloban, Leyte, in the Philippines.

Apostol applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Bibliolepsy, and reported the following:
Page 69 is toward the end of Part One of the novel, which has two parts. Smack in the middle of this page, chapter 13 (out of 16 chapters in Part One) begins. This chapter 13 is called "A bibliolept's admission." The main character Primi's parents, Prospero and Prima, have died, she is now an orphan along with her sister Anna, and she's left to the mercies of her negligent grandmother, the Abuelita, and the Abuelita's lawyer, Atorni Sugba (the word means roast in Waray), who sexually assaults Primi in a library. Primi defends herself with a book, but, she says, it's not the book you think:
“Do not imagine that the folio of plays in the glass case contained The Tempest, featuring Caliban and Miranda, who had a dying father named Prospero. The girl, I imagine, became a bookworm at the death of her father. After all, he had been wizard of books, which, you might say, became her own form of Ariel—Prospero-less on an island, she had to make do with the sprite of words, the airy immortality of texts.

“No, no, it was no such thing. The folio was a book of histories, those Henrys and Richards, now unaccounted for, traded for the karaoke.”
So this page has tons of things about books, allusions and analogies and cathexes, as I would expect, because this novel overwhelmingly is about books and the effect books have on the character, Primi.

From page 69 readers would get a good idea of the book’s center, its main topic—books and the overwhelming lust and love for books and words that are this novel’s theme and purpose. They would get the book’s voice and tone. So yes, they would get a good sense of the book, as they would with any page at all they’d open up to in the text. It’s a very cohesive novel that way, I think—it’s cohesive in its voice and its singular focus on that theme of book-love, or bibliolepsy, as the narrator Primi calls it.
Visit Gina Apostol's website.

Q&A with Gina Apostol.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 11, 2022


Catherine Egan grew up in Vancouver, Canada. Since then, she has lived on a volcanic island in Japan (which erupted while she was there and sent her hurtling straight into the arms of her now husband), in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Beijing, on an oil rig in the middle of Bohai Bay, in New Jersey, and now in New Haven, Connecticut.

She’s written several books for teens, including the Witch’s Child trilogy: Julia Vanishes, Julia Defiant, and Julia Unbound.

Egan applied the Page 69 Test to Sneaks, her middle-grade debut, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Sneaks, Ben is looking through the Book of Keys – the mysterious book that an old lady entrusted to him and his friends, asking them to hide it, before she wound up in a coma. Although he has seen one Sneak already – an interdimensional mischief-maker, in the form of his teacher’s watch crawling across the floor – he doesn’t yet know what they are or what they are planning, and he doesn’t know why the Book of Keys is full of strange instructions about getting from one room to another. He is piecing together clues but is still a long way from understanding the puzzle within the book – or the threat to the universe!
He flipped another page and paused. This one was different from the others. There were no instructions. “A room with four pillars and a deep well, within which lies the seal over the gap.” There was nothing else. The letter had mentioned a seal too, hadn’t it? He snatched up the letter and looked at it. “May the seal remain ever closed and all the Sneaks on the other side of it.” Whatever that meant. The creepy poem about chaos unfolding at the beginning of the book had started out mentioning the seal too – “The Mouth of the Seal / Is Molded to Hold / The Blood of the Young / The Flesh of the Old.” So what was the seal?”
This page also hints toward some of the problems Ben’s younger brother Leo is having. Leo interrupts Ben while he is looking at the book, and Ben is a little impatient with him. Leo needs Ben’s help and support, but Ben is too caught up in the mystery of the book to notice what’s going on with his brother.
Leo watched him quietly for a minute longer and then said, “Can I have Morpheus in my room tonight?”

Ben looked up, surprised. Leo was leaning on the doorframe, chewing a fingernail.


“I have bad dreams sometimes.”

For a moment, Ben wanted to say no way. Morpheus was his dog. He was the one who took care of him.
The book is a sci fi mystery / puzzle, but also very much about family and friendship. Ben tries and fails and tries again to be a good friend and a good brother. Page 69, it turns out, is a nice representative of the book as a whole – it offers both the puzzle aspect of the book and the family aspect, in both cases hinting at further drama to come.
Visit Catherine Egan's website.

Q&A with Catherine Egan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

"Family Business"

S.J. Rozan has won multiple awards for her fiction, including the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity, the Japanese Maltese Falcon, and the Private Eye Writers of America Lifetime Achievement Award.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mystery, Family Business, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Family Business PI Lydia Chin is hiring her young cousin, computer security firm owner Linus Wong, to do a deeper dive than she can into the backgrounds of some of the people connected to the case, including her clients.
"Your clients?" said Linus. "Isn't that, I don't know, disloyal or something?"

"You don't run checks on your clients?"

"Sure we do, but we're sort of in the double-cross business. We never want to find out we've been hired to hide stuff from people who have a legit right to see it."

"For a guy who's disappointed when I say don't do anything illegal, you have an interesting moral code."
Is this page representative of the rest of the book? Completely.

The book's about family, both blood and chosen. Here, Lydia is counting on a member of her family to do what she needs done and follow her rules on how to do it. They kid each other, but their respect for one another governs their actions.

Additionally, the clients Lydia wants investigated are two sisters, who've come to Lydia separately for help. The younger sister, Nat, knows the elder, Mel, has hired Lydia, but Mel is in the dark about Nat's troubles -- which involve Nat's own children, husband, and in-laws: another family.

The family at the center of the book is a chosen one, a Chinese tong, a crime family to which members swear loyalty. Once you're in, the other members are your brothers -- or, very occasionally, your sisters -- and you're expected to treat them as such. But of course, siblings don't always get along...

And of course there's Lydia's own family, her mother and brothers, one of whom plays a major role and one a minor role, in Family Business.

Yes, page 69 is a representative sample of Family Business.
Visit S.J. Rozan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Paper Son.

The Page 69 Test: The Art of Violence.

Q&A with S. J. Rozan.

Writers Read: S.J. Rozan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

"Catch Her When She Falls"

Allison Buccola is an attorney with a JD from the University of Chicago. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and their two young children.

Buccola applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Catch Her When She Falls, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It’s her, I wanted to shout. I’m telling you, it’s her. I tried to stay calm.

“I got this text this morning, and then Julia shows up outside my door ranting and raving about how I’m responsible for getting her Alex into trouble.” It seemed so obvious. “She’s unhinged. And she hates me.”

Ryan’s forehead creased with concern. He rubbed the side of his face. “Micah, that’s disturbing,” he said. “Whoever sent that—”

Julia sent it. I don’t know why you’re defending her.” I stood up from the table, intending to walk away, but then thought better of it.

“I mean, I get it,” I said. “She had a hard time in high school. Is that it?”

Ryan clenched his jaw and didn’t respond.

“That doesn’t make her nice. Not everyone who had a hard time is nice. She might just be pathetic.”

Dark patches of red grew on Ryan’s cheeks.

“She’s obsessive and vindictive. She’s trying to hurt me.”

“You don’t know where this came from.” Ryan enunciated each word carefully, eyes rising up again to meet mine. “There’s no number on it. And this seems out of character for Julia.”

“Because you’re such a good judge of character.”

“No worse than you.” Ryan held my gaze for a second longer, then looked down and resumed eating, his cheeks still burning red.

“How’s Alex?” I couldn’t hold it back any longer.

“Jesus, Micah.”

“What? That’s where you were.”

He put down his fork and stood up without looking me in the eye. The half-eaten leftovers hit the bottom of the trash can with a thud. He disappeared into the office, closing the door behind him. He didn’t slam it, like I would have, but shut it gently, the latch of the door clicking softly into place.
I’d say the Page 69 Test works well for my book, although, since we’re dropped into the end of a fight, a little additional context might help! This is an argument between Micah and her boyfriend, Ryan. Micah has received a threatening anonymous message and believes she knows who sent it. Ryan questions her judgment, and it’s unclear whether he’s being reasonable or gaslighting. Micah, frustrated by his disagreement, strikes back. (The comment about having a tough time in high school is a jab at Ryan, who also struggled, and the snipe about being a bad judge of character relates to Ryan’s continued contact with Alex, who is in prison for the murder of their high school friend.)

Page 69 captures a dynamic that occurs throughout the book: Micah is threatened or pushed into reexamining the past, she’s troubled by what she finds, and then she’s not taken seriously when she tries to share her concerns (both with Ryan and others). As a result, she grows increasingly isolated and unsure who she can trust. The page is also an accurate depiction of Micah. She’s no doormat, and she lashes out when cornered. If you like books where no one can be trusted, and if you’re comfortable with a protagonist who, like Micah, doesn’t always do the right thing, then I think you’ll like Catch Her When She Falls!
Visit Allison Buccola's website.

Q&A with Allison Buccola.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 6, 2022

"Mercury Boys"

Chandra Prasad is the author of the critically acclaimed novels On Borrowed Wings, Death of a Circus, Breathe the Sky, and Damselfly, a female-driven young adult text used in classrooms in parallel with Lord of the Flies. She is also the editor of—and a contributor to—Mixed, the first-ever anthology of short stories on the multiracial experience.

Prasad applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Mercury Boys, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Who knows? They’re tormented. Star-crossed. Like Romeo and Juliet without the suicide.”

“God, I’m so embarrassed.”


“You know why.”

“Hey, what’s done is done. And it’s not like Paige ever has to know.”

Saskia smiled ruefully. Just knowing Lila understood made her feel a little better.

As they finished up their food, her phone beeped. Another harried text from her father, probably, or maybe her mother checking in. Then again, why would her mother think about her in the middle of the night? She was probably cuddling in bed with Ralph. Saskia tossed the cell into the back seat.

“Listen,” Lila said, “from now on if we’re at a party or whatever, we tell each other what’s going on. Everything. No secrets. Deal?”

She stuck out her hand to shake on it.

Saskia thought, This must be what growing up is all about: discovering that people aren’t always what they seem. Realizing that someone you’ve loved your whole life doesn’t love you back, and that the bond you have with a new friend is a hundred times stronger than the frayed and unraveling one you left behind.

She took Lila’s hand in her own and held it fast. She felt almost shy meeting Lila’s eyes. “Deal,” she replied.
This page of Mercury Boys does indeed pass the Page 69 Test. (Incidentally, I suspect there is some magic, voodoo, or witchcraft associated with the Page 69 Test because I tried it on my other books and it works unnervingly well). In this excerpt, we briefly meet the novel’s main character, Saskia Brown, who has just moved to a New England town, and her new friend, Lila. The girls are talking about how Saskia hooked up with a high school classmate, Josh, and about how, unbeknownst to Saskia, he has an on-and-off relationship with another one of their friends, Paige. Upon finding out that she has broken “girl code,” Saskia is wracked with guilt.

This situation would normally qualify as typical high school drama. But in Mercury Boys Saskia’s tryst has far-reaching and very dark implications. From cruel initiations to mind games, drug use to strange encounters with people in old photographs, many of the novel’s more disturbing elements are at least tangentially related to Saskia’s error in judgment.

In addition, Saskia’s realization about growing up (in italics) is significant. Throughout the novel she will need to decide which family members and close friends to trust and which to winnow from her life. Her thinking on this page foreshadows these complicated decisions and her inevitable coming-of-age.

Finally, I always liked Lila’s pithy description of Paige and Josh: “They’re tormented. Star-crossed. Like Romeo and Juliet without the suicide.” So I was happy to see that it happened to land on page 69. Coincidence…or magic?
Visit Chandra Prasad's website.

The Page 69 Test: On Borrowed Wings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 4, 2022

"The Matchmaker"

Paul Vidich is the acclaimed author of The Mercenary, The Coldest Warrior, An Honorable Man, and The Good Assassin, and his fiction and nonfiction have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, LitHub, CrimeReads, Fugue, The Nation, Narrative Magazine, Wordriot, and others.

Vidich applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Matchmaker: A Spy in Berlin, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Matchmaker is one medium-long paragraph on the last page of chapter seven. It starts, “She opened her gloved hand to reread Dr. Knappe’s note, but a sudden gust of wind lifted it and carried it away, turning it round and round, and then sent it skirting across the street into oncoming traffic.” The next four sentences describe the character running into traffic to recover the note.

The Page 69 Test does not reveal any meaningful action of the book nor does it identify any characters. However, the page does hint at things that might pique a reader’s interest. A note that needs to be reread suddenly is lifted in a wind gust and the character is compelled to run into traffic to recover the note. This mysterious action might draw the reader into the book and provoke an interest.

Additionally, the language on the page is simple but seductive. Without calling attention to itself, the first sentence draws a picture of an intriguing moment. The ‘sudden gust of wind’ took the note and ‘turned it round and round’ before sending it ‘skirting’ it into ‘oncoming traffic.’ The woman rushes into traffic, risking her life, to recover the note. The reader will be curious what is written on the note.

While page 69 reveals nothing of the plot, story, or character, it does present a mystery (what is on the note?) and an urgency (why does she risk her life to recover the note?), which may be enough to entice the reader to read the novel. The Page 69 Test does a poor job of presenting an idea of the entire book, but it does a good job of provoking a reader’s curiosity.
Visit Paul Vidich's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Mercenary.

Writers Read: Paul Vidich.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

"Deep Dive"

Ron Walters is a former journalist, college registrar, and stay-at-home dad who writes science fiction and fantasy for all ages. A native of Savannah, GA, he currently lives in Germany with his wife, two daughters, and two rescue dogs. When he's not writing he works as a substitute high school teacher, plays video games, and does his best to ignore the judgmental looks his dogs give him for not walking them more often.

Walters applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Deep Dive, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Deep Dive takes place in a psychologist’s office. Peter Banuk, the main character, has agreed to a therapy session at his wife’s behest because she’s deeply worried that he’s suffered a nervous breakdown. The first line of dialogue belongs to Dr. Blake, the psychologist, the second to Peter, and so on.
“When did you first begin to believe you have children?”

You mean outside of the last ten years? “Yesterday, I guess.”

“And what happened yesterday?”

I steel myself. Here we go. I start with the crepes and work my way up to using Bradley’s headset.

Dr. Blake interrupts me. “But Bradley died. So you couldn’t have used the headset.”

“And yet here we are.” It comes out more snappishly than I intended. “Sorry. It’s been a long day of rationalizing the irrational.”

“There’s absolutely no need to apologize,” Dr. Blake says. “I understand you’re feeling agitated and a little bit attacked. I’m only clarifying things in order to get a clear idea of your situation. I am in no way judging you.”

I’m not entirely convinced that’s true—therapists are people, and people love to judge—but I pretend like I believe him. “OK.”

“For the sake of narrative cohesion, however, what happened after you used the headset?”

“I honestly don’t know. I was about to take it off when it malfunctioned. One second I was sitting in Bradley’s lab, the next I was inside my truck with no memory of how I got there.”

“At which point you drove home and discovered that the daughters you thought you had did not in fact exist.”
No joke, I’m stunned by how much this exchange perfectly encapsulates what Deep Dive is about. It alludes to every important plot point in the book, from the VR headset that sets the story in motion to Peter’s refusal to believe that his daughters are nothing more than figments of his imagination despite all the evidence to the contrary. From a structural standpoint it serves as the lull before the storm, a moment where I could reassert the book’s themes in a relaxed but active manner (in this case, a conversation rather than, say, an internal flashback) before the shit really hits the fan. From a character standpoint, a psychologist’s office was the best place to do this, primarily because so much of Deep Dive involves the mental war Peter wages with himself. Does he accept reality at face value, or does he do everything in his power, no matter how unhinged it makes him seem, to prove that his memories aren’t the byproduct of a dissociative episode born of grief and burnout?

I’d love to say that I consciously planned this scene to land where it does, because in terms of pacing, page 69 really is the perfect spot for it to occur, but I’m going to have to let my creative subconscious take the credit for this one. That's not surprising, though. For all that I loosely plot my books and always have an ending in mind before I start writing them, a lot of my process involves letting events flow organically from one another. That's likely an offshoot of the fact that I write chronologically rather than out of order. There are plenty of times when I wind up adhering to my outline, but I'm not so beholden to it that I'm not willing to toss it aside if the story goes in an unexpected direction. In the case of Deep Dive I always knew I wanted Peter to visit a psychologist. What I didn’t know was when that event needed to take place. Thankfully it seems to have worked out fairly well!
Visit Ron Walters's website.

Writers Read: Ron Walters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

"Parting the Veil"

Originally from the Ozarks, Paulette Kennedy now lives with her family and their menagerie of pets in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her tending her garden and trying to catch up with the looming stack of unread books next to her bed.

Kennedy applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Parting the Veil, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I’ve been well—but I was even better upon receiving your note, Lord Havenwood,” Eliza said, dropping a quick curtsy as her lips tilted into a flirtatious smile. “Your talent is superb, and your rendering of my countenance too kind.”

“Yes, well. Only something I dabble in when I’m feeling inspired.” Malcolm offered his arm and they walked on for a bit, following the curve of the river. Townspeople craned their necks to watch as he led them to a gazebo overlooking the water.

“People are certainly paying attention, if that’s what you wanted,” Eliza said. “We’re quite the sideshow.”

“I don’t often make public appearances. It’s much easier for me that way.” Malcolm motioned to the wrought iron benches in the middle of the gazebo. “Please sit. The barmaids from the Rose come around with ale and cider, if you’d fancy a pint.”

They sat, Malcolm facing Eliza as Lydia sank down at her side. Below, children were splashing in the shallows of the river, screaming and laughing in their play. An unbidden memory flashed through Eliza’s mind and she closed her eyes briefly against it. She took a breath to center herself, focusing on Malcolm and the way his dark hair curled so becomingly around his face.
I find the page 69 test interesting, when applied to Parting the Veil, because if a reader were to judge the book on the basis of what is on this page, they might be confused about the premise and find this excerpt a little dry. It’s funny, because in my pre-publication drafts, page 69 was much more dramatic. The transition from manuscript to published novel can significantly alter pagination—it all depends on how the publisher formats things. However, even though this scene begins quietly, it is the catalyst for the first act climax. This scene also reveals Eliza’s primary wound—and hints at her suitor’s calculating side.

As a reader myself, I find it difficult to judge a book solely on an excerpt taken from the middle. I tend to be more easily hooked (or not) by whatever is on the first page. A reader browsing for their next read and using page 69 as a litmus test might not decide to read my book. Those readers who have questions about the significance of this scene, might! It’s all subjective and comes back to the reader and their preferences.

One of the most interesting bits of feedback I’ve received is how many readers return to the beginning to reread Parting the Veil and discover the “trail of breadcrumbs” I scattered throughout the first and second acts. While some of these moments may seem insignificant, they lead to the multiple twists within the novel—some more easily guessed than others. Page 69 has a smattering of clues for readerly sleuths to add to their notebooks. And who doesn’t love solving a mystery?
Visit Paulette Kennedy's website.

--Marshal Zeringue