Wednesday, June 29, 2022

"The Drowning Sea"

Sarah Stewart Taylor is the author of the Sweeney St. George series and the Maggie D'arcy series. She grew up on Long Island, and was educated at Middlebury College in Vermont and Trinity College, Dublin, where she studied Irish Literature. She has worked as a journalist and writing teacher and now lives with her family on a farm in Vermont where they raise sheep and grow blueberries.

Taylor applied the Page 69 Test to her latest Maggie D'arcy mystery, The Drowning Sea, and reported the following:
On page 69, my main character, Maggie D'arcy, and her boyfriend, Conor Kearney, a history professor, are talking about the history of the remote Irish peninsula where they're spending the summer. They discuss the fact that a local real estate developer is buying the Anglo-Irish Big House on the peninsula, with plans to turn it into a luxury hotel:

"'Grace must have said,' he says. 'It makes sense, I suppose. Seems like he's buying up the whole village. It's a good bit of symmetry, isn't it? The cook's son taking over the Big House. Generations of colonialism undone with a flourish of the mortgage lender's pen?'"

This page is actually quite a good introduction to some of the themes of the novel, that history is embedded in physical structures, that it's never truly forgotten, and that violence and brutality live on in the community lives of places where they occurred. The history of the peninsula serves as a backdrop to the mystery at the center of The Drowning Sea, but it also lives right at the very core of the plot.
Visit Sarah Stewart Taylor's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Mountains Wild.

The Page 69 Test: A Distant Grave.

Q&A with Sarah Stewart Taylor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 26, 2022

"The Ballad of Perilous Graves"

Alex Jennings is a writer/editor/teacher/poet living in New Orleans. He was born in Wiesbaden (Germany) and raised in Gaborone (Botswana), Tunis (Tunisia), Paramaribo (Surinam) and the United States. He constantly devours pop culture and writes mostly jokes on Twitter. He loves music, film, comix, and even some TV. He has two of the best roommates on earth (one of whom is a beautiful beautiful dog named Karate Valentino).

Jennings applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, The Ballad of Perilous Graves, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Ballad of Perilous Graves, one of our deuteragonists, Casey Ravel, learns that his cousin Jaylon has been experimenting with impossible street art—something the two swore when they were younger that they would never do. Jayl shows Casey an attempt at a free-floating graffiti tag, and Casey is physically horrified by the art and what it implies.

I think the page does an excellent job of communicating what the book is and what it’s about—to an extent. The material with Casey is fascinating, but most of it takes place outside my fantastical version of New Orleans that is full of living songs, airborne trolleys, zombie cabbies, and talking animals. The bulk of the story takes place there, and I don’t think it’s possible from this page to predict how and why this world will interact with that one.

My favorite stories are always the ones that take events in a direction as unexpected as it is inevitable. On that score, a lot of craziness and happenstance comes across as just noise, expressing just some things that happened rather than a story, so as I wrote this book, and then revised, and revised again, it was important to me to draw readers along with that sort of snake-charmer effect and take them somewhere crazy, but to make sure that they understand how we’ve gone from point A to point π.
Visit Alex Jennings's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Alex Jennings & Karate Valentino.

My Book, The Movie: The Ballad of Perilous Graves.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 24, 2022

"The Lies I Tell"

Julie Clark is the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Flight. It has earned starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal, and the New York Times has called it “thoroughly absorbing.”. It’s been named an Indie Next Pick, a Library Reads Pick, and a Best Book of 2020 by Amazon Editors and Apple Books. Her debut, The Ones We Choose, was published in 2018 and has been optioned for television by Lionsgate.

Clark applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Lies I Tell, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I’d given myself a one-hundred-dollar budget for the weekly groceries, but I wasn’t going to spend it at Cory’s high-end designer market. Instead, I headed for the major retailer with plenty of coupons. This time when I unloaded groceries, they were items from my childhood. Campbell’s soup. Velveeta cheese. Cheap white bread and instant coffee. A large log of ground beef and a $7 bottle of wine. Nothing organic, everything generic.

I threw some ground beef into a pot, dumped a jar of sauce over it, and set it to simmer. Then I got another pot of water boiling for the pasta and waited for Cory to get home.

I met him at the door with a glass of wine. He took a sip and grimaced. “What’s this?” he asked.

“It was on sale,” I said, looking proud.

He took another exploratory sip and handed the glass back to me. “You’d have been better off tossing that money into the trash. I’ll have water.”

“Dinner in five,” I said. “Go get changed.”

I’d assembled two large bowls of spaghetti with meat sauce, and a plate of flimsy white bread buttered, salted, and broiled to a crispy brown. When he arrived at the table, he took in the twist-top wine bottle and the steaming bowls of pasta. Then he picked up his fork and took a tiny bite, chewing carefully.

I watched with an expression of anxious anticipation, until he said, “It’s different.”

“Different good?”

He took a large gulp of water and said, “I wouldn’t go that far.”

“I’ll get better,” I assured him. “I’ll look up recipes. Maybe watch a few of those cooking shows on TV.” I smiled at the idea, and dug into my meal, wondering how many weeks of generic groceries Cory could handle.
The Page 69 Test works well for The Lies I Tell! I admit I was skeptical at first, but here we are with my main character, con woman Meg, watching her make her first serious attempt at conning her boyfriend, Cory. She has offered to take over doing all the grocery shopping for the household, but she can’t afford the kind of food he prefers to eat – organic, free-range, and expensive. Meg is happy to make his diet go off the rails for as long as it takes for him to come up with the solution she wants him to have – that Meg will do the grocery run, but use Cory’s ATM card to fund it. This will give her access to his bank account, which for Meg is just the beginning.

The Lies I Tell is the story of a grifter, but it’s also the story of justice and revenge. Meg doesn’t just target anyone. She sets her sights on people who have abused their power in some way, who have taken advantage of others for their own gain. She returns to Los Angeles after ten years on the road perfecting her craft with one goal: to destroy Ron Ashton, the man who stole her childhood home and ruined her mother’s final years. But what Meg doesn’t know is that someone has been tracking her, waiting for her to return home. A woman with her own idea of justice, who plans on infiltrating Meg’s life and exposing her for who she really is.
Visit Julie Clark's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Julie Clark & Teddy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

"The Physicists' Daughter"

Mary Anna Evans is an award-winning author, a writing professor, and she holds degrees in physics and engineering, a background that, as it turns out, is ideal for writing her new book, The Physicists’ Daughter. Set in WWII-era New Orleans, the book introduces Justine Byrne, whom Evans describes as “a little bit Rosie-the-Riveter and a little bit Bletchley Park codebreaker.” When Justine, the daughter of two physicists who taught her things girls weren’t expected to know in 1944, realizes that her boss isn’t telling her the truth about the work she does in her factory job, she draws on the legacy of her unconventional upbringing to keep her division running and protect her coworkers, her country, and herself from a war that is suddenly very close to home.

Evans applied the Page 69 Test to The Physicists' Daughter and reported the following:
I’m happy to report that the Page 69 Test, in this case, works beautifully. Page 69 of The Physicists’ Daughter is a turning point in the reader’s understanding of the protagonist, Justine Byrne.

In the early chapters of the book, which is set during World War II in 1944, Justine has shown herself to be an intelligent, resourceful, loving young woman. Raised by parents who were both physicists, she has an education in the sciences that is rare for a woman of her time. She supports herself with a Rosie-the-Riveter-style job in a factory, where she mends broken parts using the welding skills her father taught her.

And there are a lot of broken parts! There are so many that Justine suspects sabotage, but she doesn’t know who can be trusted with her fears.

As page 69 approaches, Justine arranges to see her godmother Gloria Mazur, also a physicist, hoping she can give her some guidance with this problem. The reader knows that Justine and Gloria were very close, but they haven’t seen each other since Justine's parents died three years before. On page 69, we find out why she and Gloria have been estranged.

Justine sits down to breakfast with Gloria and it is as if she is a child again. Gloria has made her a glorious meal by wartime standards—eggs, toast, butter, coffee with sugar and cream—and for a moment it is as if no time has passed…until she remembers why it has been so long since she’s had such delicious food. She looks across the table and sees Gloria drinking black coffee and eating dry toast. In a world of rationing, Justine is eating a fantastical meal, and she shouldn't be.
Gloria couldn’t afford to give away her eggs. Her milk, Her bread. Her coffee. And, dear God, certainly not her precious sugar….Justine knew exactly how close to the edge her godmother’s budget was. If she’d let Gloria do what she’d wanted to do when her parents died—put a roof over Justine’s head and send her to college—the house where they sat would have been gone in months….So Justine had run. She’d run from Gloria’s need to take care of her, even at the expense of her own future.
On page 69, Justine divides the sumptuous meal with Gloria and, in so doing, renegotiates her oldest relationship. She establishes herself as an adult who will not let Gloria destroy herself for love. From this moment, they will move forward in love and mutual respect, but Justine will never be a child again.
Learn more about the author and her work at Mary Anna Evans' website.

The Page 69 Test: Floodgates.

The Page 69 Test: Strangers.

The Page 69 Test: Plunder.

The Page 69 Test: Rituals.

Q&A with Mary Anna Evans.

My Book, The Movie: The Physicists' Daughter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 20, 2022

"The Name She Gave Me"

Betty Culley’s debut novel in verse Three Things I Know Are True, was a Kids’ Indie Next List Top Ten Pick, an ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Nominee, and the 2021 Maine Literary Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature. Her first middle-grade novel Down to Earth is inspired by her fascination with meteorites, voyagers from another place and time. She’s an RN who worked as an obstetrics nurse and as a pediatric home hospice nurse. She lives in central Maine, where the rivers run through the small towns.

Culley applied the Page 69 Test to her new YA verse novel, The Name She Gave Me, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Why would anyone live that close
to a volcano,

someone in class
called out,
unless they had a death wish?

Good question,

Ms. Harris said.
Can you think why
that might be?

I didn’t raise my hand
but I could have answered.

I would have said,
People stay there
because the soil is fertile,
the black sand beaches
are beautiful,
and it’s the only home
they’ve ever known.
And because they hope
the last eruption was really
the last.
Or they think,
if it does erupt,
they’ll be fast enough
to outrun the ash.
The poems in my young adult verse novel The Name She Gave Me all have titles, and this one is called "Science and Math," partly because the main character Rynn, who’s sixteen, is in a science class when she connects the science of volcanoes and their eruptions to her own home life. The teacher shows photos of the Mayon volcano in the Philippines, with wisps of smoke coming from the top of it. You can also see houses and people tending their crops right below the volcano. The volcano metaphor helps her explain to herself what it’s like to live with the unpredictable anger and ‘eruptions’ of her adoptive mother. While this knowledge is stark, it’s also a way for Rynn to make sense of and put words to the experience.

If a reader opened to page 69, they would have a good idea of the whole work, because they’d hear Rynn’s voice describing a pivotal moment in her understanding of her own situation.
Visit Betty Culley's website.

The Page 69 Test: Three Things I Know Are True.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 18, 2022

"Jackie & Me"

In the words of the New York Times, Louis Bayard “reinvigorates historical fiction,” rendering the past “as if he’d witnessed it firsthand.”

His acclaimed novels include The Pale Blue Eye, soon to be a Netflix motion picture starring Christian Bale, the national bestseller Courting Mr. Lincoln, Roosevelt's Beast, The School of Night, The Black Tower, and Mr. Timothy, as well as the highly praised young-adult novel, Lucky Strikes.

A New York Times Notable author, he has been nominated for both the Edgar and Dagger awards, and his story, “Banana Triangle Six,” was chosen for The Best American Mystery Stories.

His reviews and articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Salon.

An instructor at George Washington University, he is the chair of the PEN/Faulkner Awards and was the author of the popular Downton Abbey recaps for the New York Times.

Bayard applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Jackie & Me, and reported the following:
If you were to flip to page 69 of Jackie & Me, you would find Jackie, during one of her “irregular late-afternoon conversations” with the handsome Congressman Kennedy, receiving a rather startling invitation. “Could you stand meeting family?” At first she thinks he means his parents, but he reassures her: “I like you too much to do that to you.” Instead, he suggests a St. Patrick’s Day weekend gathering at his brother Bobby’s. In preparation for the event, Jackie spends some time fretting over what to wear (something nice? something green?) and, more urgently, “how to be” with this strange new family.

Nothing overtly dramatic is happening, but I think the browser does a pretty good job of capturing the book’s emotional dynamic. In particular, we get the imbalance built into the central relationship: Jackie wondering every moment where she stands in Jack’s affections, and Jack in no great hurry to tell her. We also see her drawing a step closer to the Kennedy sanctum, which will be a pivotal and disorienting transition for this genteel product of Newport high society.

I like, too, how the page reveals some of the social pressures at work on a young woman of Jackie’s era. On one side is etiquette columnist Emily Post, cautioning that “men are frightened by presumption in women.” That suggests playing it cool and casual, and Jackie even invents a conflict on St. Patrick’s Day that she then lets fall away. On the other side is Jackie’s redoubtable mother, Janet Auchincloss, who has inveigled two very different men to the altar and who would approach this weekend, Jackie knows, as a win-or-lose proposition. In Mrs. Auchincloss’s world, the question isn’t “how to be” but “how to succeed.” These are the contrary winds of opinion that buffet our heroine as she tries to navigate her way to the Congressman’s heart.
Learn more about the book and author at Louis Bayard's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Black Tower.

The Page 69 Test: The Pale Blue Eye.

The Page 69 Test: The School of Night.

The Page 69 Test: Roosevelt's Beast.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 16, 2022

"Ashton Hall"

Lauren Belfer is the New York Times bestselling author of And After the Fire, winner of the National Jewish Book Award; A Fierce Radiance, a Washington Post and NPR Best Mystery of the Year; and City of Light, a New York Times Notable Book, a Library Journal best book, a Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, and an international bestseller. Belfer attended Swarthmore College and has an MFA from Columbia University. She lives in New York City.

Belfer applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Ashton Hall, and reported the following:
I’ve done this test for my previous novels, and the results are always fascinating.

Upon opening Ashton Hall to page 69, the reader is dropped into the midst of a crucial flash-back scene in which Hannah Larson, my main character, is walking across Central Park with her nine-year-old son, Nicky. Earlier in this scene, Hannah and Nicky were forced to leave a children’s birthday party after Nicky, who has trouble regulating his behavior, punched a classmate at a moment of frustration during a basketball game.

This particular page shows mother and son at a moment of calm. Nicky, who is generally a warm-hearted and sunny child, has befriended another boy, and the two toss a football back and forth. Hannah tentatively begins a conversation with the boy’s mother. As Hannah and Nicky continue their walk across the park, Hannah will soon make a staggering discovery about her husband and about her marriage, a discovery that will throw her life off-kilter.

But here, on page 69, the reader sees Hannah’s deep love for her son, and the reader also senses the balance she struggles to maintain, for herself and Nicky both, as she tries to help Nicky learn to control his angry outbursts.

The relationship between Hannah and Nicky is the most important in the novel, and I think of Nicky as the true hero of Ashton Hall. Page 69 is an opening into the complexity of their relationship.
Visit Lauren Belfer's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Fierce Radiance.

The Page 69 Test: And After the Fire.

Q&A with Lauren Belfer.

My Book, The Movie: Ashton Hall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

"The City Inside"

Samit Basu is an Indian novelist. He's published several novels in a range of speculative genres, all critically acclaimed and bestselling in India, beginning with The Simoqin Prophecies (2003). His novel The City Inside was short-listed (as Chosen Spirits) for the JCB Prize, India’s biggest literary award. He also works as a director-screenwriter, a comics writer, and a columnist. He lives in Delhi, Mumbai, and on the internet.

Basu applied the Page 69 Test to The City Inside and reported the following:
From page 69:
The digital-only displays are his mother’s design. The largest screen is hers, currently running an old clip-compilation of a trip they’d taken to Paris.

They’re in the Louvre, his father complaining about both the insults meted out to Indian tourists and the atrocious, nation-shaming behaviour of those same tourists, his mother taking pictures of herself in front of each painting, his brother sneaking videos of girls who knew exactly what he was doing. She’s used the videos he’d shot, but as he waves through the rest of the tribute, he notices he’s been cut out of all the others.

He’s overcome by a strange urge to find himself, and he tries the Roy family tribute, next to theirs, scrolling quickly through his father’s childhood photos, and there he is, he exists, he’s stuffing his face with ice cream, but just for a second, and then it’s Romola Aunty telling his father to stop photographing the food, Rajat laughing a little too loudly and turning his camera on her.

The biggest tribute screen is reserved for the one from their guru’s ashram. At least that monster is not here today. One of their biggest fights, definitely a top-ten contender, was when Rudra, still in his teens, had refused to prostrate himself before the godman and kiss his feet. His father had hit him then, kept hitting him until the guru graciously forgave him (he took his time). Rudra remembers the guru’s benevolent hug. His flesh had been cold and clammy, like a fish. It had turned out later that the guru might not have forgiven Rudra: when he’d been severely infected during the third pandemic wave, the godman had insisted that Rajat feed him some strange quack herb mixture instead of getting him actual treatment. Rajat, fortunately, had decided not to sacrifice his son.

The godman’s booth is special in another way: there’s an inbooth camera and a QR panel for donations. He considers making faces, but people are watching
I like this test! Page 69 gives us a decent idea of what The City Inside is like. It’s from the POV of Rudra, the second lead protagonist, who’s at his father’s funeral. One of the key inciting events of the book is around the corner – the main protagonist, Joey, is about to offer him an influencer-manager job that will help Rudra escape from his rich but very shady family, and in the process offend a minor tycoon and set off a chain of events that will transform his life and many others.

A lot of the core of The City Inside is an attempt to capture the confusing, multi-directionally chaotic, overwhelming atmosphere of the world that the main characters find themselves in. I wanted to write a near-future story set in my city (Delhi, India). I wanted to find some sort of clarity, for both myself and my characters, about dealing with the accelerated rate of physical and technological change, and the extreme political and social chaos that India has been dealing with over the last decade, and no doubt will be a decade into an imaginary future. I wanted to look at imaginary people at or above my own privilege level, who would probably be alive in the future, and physically safe if they looked away from the shadows in the world around them. They could have great careers and peaceful lives if they obeyed hard enough, while other people less privileged submitted or vanished or at best escaped.

I wanted to help the reader experience the emotions of people much younger than myself, the real-world children and teenagers of now shifted to a decade in the future, struggling to find their own purpose and focus, their path to action to save themselves and the people and the communities they cared about, their journeys towards first survival and then victory over the invisible power circles of a city of extreme inequality, conflict, polarisation, rising oligarchy, non-stop surveillance, terrifying pollution, heat and traffic, high on propaganda and low on water.

And I think page 69 gives the reader an acceptable sense of where this journey starts, for a character who’s a disengaged recluse, and about to start on his journey from passive to purposeful, distracted to clear-headed and detached to heroic.
Visit Samit Basu's website.

Q&A with Samit Basu.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 12, 2022

"The Bridesmaids Union"

Jonathan Vatner is the author of The Bridesmaids Union (2022) and Carnegie Hill (2019). His fiction has earned praise from People, Town & Country, The New York Post, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is the managing editor of Hue, the magazine of the Fashion Institute of Technology and teaches fiction writing at New York University and the Hudson Valley Writers Center.

Vatner applied the Page 69 Test to The Bridesmaids Union and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Bridesmaids Union, Iris, the protagonist, starts messaging with Kyle, an influencer who has joined the Bridesmaids Union—Iris’s Facebook support group for bridesmaids. Most of the page is a conversation in DMs. (Iris’s are right-justified, and Kyle’s are on the left.)
Thanks for joining the BMU!

That’s industry for Bridesmaids Union

Thanks 4 letting me in!

I love ur stories

Those brides b so cray!

His tone was more enthusiastic than she’d expected.

Thanks!!! You seem to be in a real predicament. So you’re going to confront Baxter?

She cringed at all the exclamation points, but without them, she’d seem stern, even psychotic. A period in a text message could be a mic drop.

LOL, this weekend.

Iris wasn’t sure how his situation called for a “laugh out loud,” but maybe he was trying to be a good sport.
The page is representative of the novel, in that much of the story is told through various online media: Facebook posts and comments, texts and DMs, the occasional email or tweet. This first conversation with Kyle reveals a bit of Iris’s self-deprecating wit, as well as Kyle’s online voice. It’s also representative of just how much time Iris spends online. The internet, and particularly social media, pervades almost every page of the book. She becomes best friends with Kyle without meeting in person.

Of course there’s a lot more to the book. Iris is maid of honor for her sister Jasmine’s wedding, and she’s posting about it in the Bridesmaids Union because she has no one else to complain to. The wedding is preceded by a battery of celebrations: bridesmaid proposal, engagement party, bridal shower, and bachelorette party, not to mention dress fittings and additional parties. Much of the book is about Iris trying to understand and accept her sister, who has changed dramatically since they were last in touch. And to be a good sister to Jasmine, despite the cruelties they’ve inflicted on each other.

But if you were going to pick one page to hook a reader, 69 isn’t bad!
Visit Jonathan Vatner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 10, 2022

"Death By Beach Read"

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

Delany is a past president of the Crime Writers of Canada and co-founder and organizer of the Women Killing It Crime Writing Festival. Her work has been nominated for the Derringer, the Bony Blithe, the Ontario Library Association Golden Oak, and the Arthur Ellis Awards. Delany is the recipient of the 2019 Derrick Murdoch Award for contributions to Canadian crime writing. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

Delany applied the Page 69 Test to Eva Gates's latest Lighthouse Library mystery, Death By Beach Read, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Chapter Six

“Secret passageways. Rumrunners. A lifetime of discarded objects, now useless junk. Someone creeping around in my house at night. Now a dead body. And all I wanted was a nice house to live in.”

“It’s still a nice house,” Ronald said. “All old houses have histories. You just found out more about yours than you wanted to.”

“You got that right,” I said.

“I’d love to have another look at it,” Louise Jane said. “I might be able to make contact with—”

“No,” I said. “There will be no making contact in my house. And that’s final.”

The morning following the discovery of Jimmy Harper and the secret entrance, my colleagues and I were gathered around the display table in the alcove. Connor and I’d spent the night at Ellen and Amos’s beach house, and in the morning we’d been allowed back into our house. The body of James Harper had been removed, I’d been glad to see, and most of the evidence of the police presence along with it. I’d need to buy a new leash for Charles.
The Page 69 Test works perfectly for Death by Beach Read, the 9th Lighthouse Library mystery. It’s the first page of chapter six and our protagonist, Lucy Richardson, is summing up the strange events that have been happening at her new house for her coworkers.

Not only does the initial short paragraph give the reader a brief introduction to the plot, they learn that Lucy has recently moved. In the first eight books of the series she’s lived in the “lighthouse aerie”, as she calls it, a small apartment above the library where she works. Many readers have told me they love Lucy’s apartment, and when time was ready for her to move, I wanted her to have an equally compelling house. What sort of a house, the reader might ask, has secret passageways and rooms full of junk, not to mention why would someone be ‘creeping around’ the house at night.

The book is a cozy mystery and page 69 gets the tone right. E.g. Lucy’s list of strange things (rumrunners?) She is at the library the day after the murder, and the library is the main setting of the books. Which is why it’s the Lighthouse Library series. A couple of her library colleagues are introduced, and the reader will know that fan favourite Charles, the library cat, is still around.

My only concern about page 69 is that it names the dead person. I sometimes like to keep that a secret until it actually happens so the reader can try to guess who that will be.

Page 69 is a perfect introduction to Death by Beach Read.
Follow Eva Gates on Twitter and visit Vicki Delany's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

"Death at Fort Devens"

Peter Colt was born in Boston, MA in 1973 and moved to Nantucket Island shortly thereafter. He is a 1996 graduate of the University of Rhode Island and a 24-year veteran of the Army Reserve with deployments to Kosovo and Iraq. He is a police officer in a New England City and the married father of two boys.

Colt applied the Page 69 Test to his new Andy Roark mystery, Death at Fort Devens, and reported the following:
If you were to flip to Page 69 of Death at Fort Devens one would find Andy Roark doing what he does best. Snooping. He has been asked by an old Army buddy who saved his life in Vietnam to find his runaway daughter. On page 69 Andy is going through the daughter’s diary after having just searched her room. Then he slips into the bathroom and goes through his friend’s medicine cabinet out of habit. Lastly, he sees his friend in his Army uniform and it serves to remind Andy of the life he walked away from and desperately misses.

Page 69 works for my book. It gives the reader a few insights into the character and the case. A girl is missing, and PI Andy Roark is going through her stuff, being nosey. It gives the reader an idea about the case and insight into Andy. He can’t help himself from snooping in his friend’s medicine cabinet. He is so focused on the case that he defaults to PI habits. Then he sees his friend in uniform and it forces Andy to contemplate a career that he left and what he might have left behind in doing so.

These are central themes in the book. Andy being forced to confront and acknowledge his own nature. Very few of us like to be faced with our flaws and Andy is no different. Andy left the Army after Vietnam and misses the Army. Being back at Fort Devens, being around Special Forces soldiers forces him to wonder what he gave up.
Visit Peter Colt's website.

My Book, The Movie: Back Bay Blues.

The Page 69 Test: Back Bay Blues.

Q&A with Peter Colt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 6, 2022

"Forever Past"

Marty Ambrose is the award-winning author of a historical mystery trilogy: Claire's Last Secret, A Shadowed Fate, and Forever Past, all set around the Byron/Shelley circle in nineteenth-century Italy. Her fiction has earned starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, as well as a gold medal for historical fiction in the Florida Writers Association's Literary Palm Awards.

Ambrose applied the Page 69 Test to Forever Past and reported the following:
When I flipped to page 69 of Forever Past, the final installment in the Claire Clairmont historical mystery trilogy, I gasped (yes, literally) because this page is very revealing of the major theme in my novel: personal perceptions are often built on shifting memories from the past. Truth and lies. At this point in the story, my protagonist, Claire, has a significant shift in her view of someone near and dear—her niece’s supposedly steadfast lover, Raphael—as she states, “... for the first time I found myself questioning the honesty of his heart...” Has he played them false?

It’s an emotional turning point for Claire, which defines the rest of the book.

As the stepsister of Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) and paramour of Romantic poet, Lord Byron, with whom she conceived a child, Claire has spent a lifetime trying to sort through her bitterness over her lost daughter, Allegra. Byron had been a fickle lover and deceived her about their daughter’s fate. And, when Claire is finally closing in on solving the mystery of Allegra’s supposed death in Forever Past, she becomes distressed to learn that Raphael is hesitant to marry her niece, much like Lord Byron was reluctant to wed her all those years ago. Feelings of shame and regret rise up inside of her as she becomes determined that her niece will not suffer her same disgrace.

Yet Claire has often been wrong in her judgments about the people in her life, and she must learn whether history truly repeats itself or is merely a shadow of the present.
Visit Marty Ambrose's website.

My Book, The Movie: Forever Past.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 4, 2022

"Poison Lilies"

Katie Tallo has been an award-winning screenwriter and director for more than two decades. In 2012, she was inspired to begin writing novels. Dark August is her debut novel. Tallo has a daughter and lives with her husband in Ottawa, Ontario.

Tallo applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Poison Lilies, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Poison Lilies is actually the end of a chapter so it only bears a few lines. They go like this:
“I’m so sorry, my dear,” she whispers. “I shouldn’t have pried. Everything’s going to be okay, love.”

Gus doesn’t believe her.

Then suddenly time flips upside down and everything comes at her like a freight train from a tunnel. That snowy November night three months ago barrels toward Gus. The mistake she made. The reason she moved.

She can’t look away.

She’s there.

And he’s there too.
Though short, this page is a perfect reflection of how the story mirrors the protagonist’s thoughts which flip from the present to the past in the blink of an eye throughout the novel, often triggered by an image or a conversation. On page 69, Gus is about to go back in time to a mistake she made—a life changing mistake that triggers the events that unfold in the novel.

In the sequel to Dark August, Poison Lilies continues the amateur sleuth adventures of Gus Monet and her trusty dog, Levi. Together, they help their elderly neighbor look into the mystery behind her long lost love’s disappearance decades earlier. The blind woman hasn’t left her apartment since the 1950s. Determined to solve the mystery, Gus becomes the old woman's eyes. With the help of a feisty twelve-year old and a nerdy journalist, Gus digs up secrets, uncovers lies, and stumbles upon a body in a basement. The story is told in a series of flashbacks as Gus forces herself to recall the events of her investigation. It’s how she escapes the present where she's trapped in a basement dungeon about to go into labour.
Visit Katie Tallo's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dark August.

Q&A with Katie Tallo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

"Walk the Vanished Earth"

Erin Swan was born in Manhattan and lived there for ten years until her family moved upstate, where she started writing stories and poems. She used her early adulthood to travel, write children’s books, and work for a literary agency before going to teach English in India and Thailand. Swan earned her MA from Teacher’s College at Columbia University and began teaching in New York’s public school system in 2008.

While teaching full-time, Swan attended the MFA program at the New School and graduated with a degree in fiction. Her work has been published in various journals, including Portland Review, Atticus Review, The South Carolina Review, and Inkwell Journal, and her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.

Swan applied the Page 69 Test to Walk the Vanished Earth, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Speaking is not easy, but Carson is patient. When she grows tired of talking, he has her draw. Today he takes two soft objects from a room with a door.

“Try these,” he says.

They have the fur and faces of animals, but their eyes are white with black dots in the center, like no creature she has seen. She spends time gazing into these eyes, but can see nothing.

“You can play with them,” he suggests. “Move them around. What would they do? What would they say to each other?”

She tilts her head to the side. Animals cannot speak in the way he means.

“Or you can just hold them.” He gets up and returns to the narrow room. She sees the two objects he brings back and she gets up. She does a quick turn from wall to wall, and then returns to her seat.

“No,” she says, as clearly as she can. She shakes her head. One object is a woman. The other is a man. The woman wears a dress and her eyes are buttons. The man wears something blue from shoulders to ankles. On his feet are two big boots. They are pointed at the tips, not square, but she knows them.

“No,” she repeats, and stands up.
I think the Page 69 Test absolutely works for my book.

This page reveals a pivotal moment for my character Bea, a pregnant 12-year-old who has attempted to walk north from New Mexico only to end up on the children’s ward of a mental institution in Kansas City. Having suffered significant trauma, Bea struggles with both speech and memory. She often interrupts her own attempts at speaking with the harsh bark of a deer and sometimes cannot form words at all. Although she has dim recollections of her former life, she cannot remember precisely what set her on the road north. In this scene, her psychiatrist Dr. Carson is using play therapy to trigger her memories. He hopes that if she can access them, he’ll be able to treat her more effectively. His first attempt is a failure. Bea doesn’t recognize the stuffed forms as real animals and so is unable to engage with them. The male and female dolls he hands her, however, strike a chord. In them, Bea recognizes two significant figures from her life. She isn’t ready yet to face these memories, and so she refuses, saying No clearly, as Dr. Carson has taught her.

Walk the Vanished Earth features several characters within the same family line, but I see Bea as the most central. The baby she is carrying will be Paul, who is destined to build a floating city in New Orleans when massive hurricanes decimate coastlines across the globe. Later, he will help design the Red Star Project, which will send his granddaughter Penelope to Mars. On page 69, Bea is poised to discover the truth of what was done to her and what she, in turn, did to others. This trauma will haunt her and will also haunt her descendants, both in literal dreams of a man walking through a desert and in the figurative dream of “making the world anew,” a dream that Bea’s father passed to her and which she will pass to Paul when they reunite years later.

In this scene on page 69, we see many threads that run throughout the book: family lineage, intergenerational trauma, resistance and the power of choice, the push and pull between the natural world and the human world. One might say that from this moment, all else unfurls.
Visit Erin Swan's website.

Q&A with Erin Swan.

--Marshal Zeringue