Wednesday, August 31, 2022

"Where Are the Snows"

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches in the English Department at DePaul University, and her recent books include the national best-seller, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (2017) and the novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey (2020). Where Are the Snows, her latest poetry collection, was chosen by Kazim Ali as the winner of the X.J. Kennedy Prize and will be published by Texas Review Press in Fall 2022. Her latest novel, based on the life and work of the silent movie star Colleen Moore, will be published by in September of 2023.

Rooney applied the Page 69 Test to Where Are the Snows and reported the following:
Because Where Are the Snows is a collection of 39 poems, I consider myself fortunate that it even has a 69th page, enabling me to participate in this illuminating test. Lots of poetry collections might be over before they hit the necessary count. As it is, page 69 is the last page of poetry in the collection, right before the Acknowledgements. It’s the second page of a two-page poem called “With the Face to the Rear, in the Direction Behind,” the last five lines of which read:
Labor of love, labor of lunacy. In chaos might we find a new future?

The surgical removal of evil from the corpus of the world.

What do you think Malcolm X meant by “by any means necessary”?

All we need is drastic action coupled with strong will. And maybe a miraculous event, unforeseen.

We must do more than idly talk. We must become a flock of smaller birds attacking a hawk.
These five lines represent the culmination of what I hope that readers might get out of the book—a sense that yeah, things are grim globally, politically, ecologically, economically, and on and on, but it’s not too late to change our path. The atmosphere of life on planet Earth right now can make it tempting to give up or to decide that our actions individually or collectively cannot make an impact considering all that we’re up against, but they can. Ideally, the reader can realize along with me that hopelessness is a currency without any value and that when we rise up together, that’s when we’re most rich.
Learn more about the book and author at Kathleen Rooney's website.

The Page 69 Test: Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

Writers Read: Kathleen Rooney (July 2022).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 29, 2022

"Take My Husband"

Ellen Meister's newest novel, Take My Husband, is a darkly comic take on a modern suburban marriage, and received a starred review from Booklist. It follows her other critically acclaimed books, including The Rooftop Party, which was called "wickedly entertaining" by BookReporter and was selected by Long Island Woman Magazine as Summer Pick of the year, as well as Love Sold Separately, The Other Life, Dorothy Parker Drank Here, Farewell, Dorothy Parker and more. In addition to being a novelist, Meister is an editor, screenwriter, book coach, creative writing instructor, and ghostwriter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Take My Husband and reported the following:
Take My Husband is a quirky dark comedy that defies convention. So it’s no surprise that it refuses to cooperate with the Page 69 Test, which lands it smack on a chapter break.

Clearly, this book makes its own rules, and has decided the Page 99 Test is where it wants to be. This page gives us a scene that distills the premise to one tidy little package. Here’s the set-up, as outlined in my publisher’s promotion copy:
While working at Trader Joe’s to make ends meet, Laurel Applebaum continues doting on her needy, unemployed husband. When she learns he’s been in a car accident, Laurel imagines the worst and is overcome with grief. But on her way to the hospital, another emotion seizes her. Relief. Doug’s death will solve everything. At last, no more catering to his constant demands. No more struggles to find time for her own needs. And then there’s the life insurance money. Laurel’s dreams are close enough to touch.

But there’s one problem. Doug is very much alive. Now Laurel has to decide if she’s going to do something about it.
And she does! By page 99, Laurel has tried several ways to sabotage her husband’s precarious health, including omitting his blood pressure medication, and sending him out to mow the lawn when he’s most likely to have a stroke. Laurel also neglects to remind him about his doctor’s appointment. But her foil—annoying sister-in-law Abby—steps in to take him for his exam.
“Doug had such a good checkup today!” Abby interrupted, her voice bright.

“He did?”

“I’m down twelve pounds!” Doug said, grinning.

“Twelve pounds?”

Abby put down the sponge. “And his blood pressure was one-forty over eighty.”

“Lowest it’s been in years,” Doug added.

Laurel was so surprised she could barely speak. “Wow. I…uh…”

“Dr. Hayworth said it’s all the exercise I’ve been getting lately, taking care of the yard and everything.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize…”

“Me, neither,” Doug said. “I guess I never really believed it would make such a big difference.”

“I’m so proud of my baby brother,” Abby gushed.

“I’m… I’m proud of you, too,” Laurel said, reeling. Instead of Doug’s health declining, he was better than ever. At this rate, he could live to a hundred.
Poor Laurel! Now she’ll really have to step up her game…
Visit Ellen Meister's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dorothy Parker Drank Here.

The Page 69 Test: Love Sold Separately.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 25, 2022

"No Ordinary Thursday"

Anoop Judge is the author of The Rummy Club, which won the 2015 Beverly Hills Book Award, and is a 2019 Pushcart Prize nominee for The Awakening of Meena Rawat. A recovering litigator, former TV presenter, and blogger, she has had essays and short stories published in Green Hills Literary Lantern, Rigorous, and Scarlet Leaf Review, among others. Born and raised in New Delhi, Judge now resides in California. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Saint Mary’s College and is the recipient of the 2021–2023 Advisory Board Award and Alumni Scholarship. She is married with two nearly grown and fully admirable children.

Judge applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, No Ordinary Thursday, and reported the following:
From page 69:
His dad was the easiest to find, with his aviator shades and something in blonde and red sitting next to him. He grinned and held up a hand in acknowledgment to Sameer. Then Sameer found Maya and Veer, Maya looking anxious while Veer stared straight ahead. His successful sister and her trust-fund musician boyfriend. Fiancé now, Sameer had learned. He guessed the car accident had put a dent in their special night. Of course, if he had turned up to the restaurant like he was supposed to . . . Sameer pushed those thoughts down, along with a rising sense of nausea that they were bringing, yet he couldn’t pull his eyes away from the two of them. So perfect, even in the midst of the disappointment they were no doubt bringing their two families. Everyone always looked at Veer Kapoor—pretty little prick that he was! A part of him wanted to hate Veer so much for everything he had, a man who was always the center of attention. Well, everyone was noticing Sameer now, too. He was finally the center of attention.

His eyes slid across the audience—was that what they were, like they had turned up for the taping of an episode of Judge Judy?—and found Lena and Manuel last of all. His mother looked ill, and Sameer realized how all the different parts of his family were sitting apart from each other. Families, more than anything else, appeared to adhere to the laws of entropy. There was something terribly sad about that.
I had approached this exercise with some skepticism but surprisingly, the Page 69 Test works perfectly for No Ordinary Thursday because at its heart this novel is a story about a dysfunctional family broken by many bad decisions and traumas. The book is centered around three members of the Sharma family. Lena is the matriarch, caught between keeping up appearances in the Indian community and standing up for what's right. Maya is the eldest daughter and no stranger to scandal. Already divorced once, she’s on the verge of marrying the wealthy Veer who is a family friend and also happens to be 12 years younger than her. Finally, there is Sameer, the quintessential youngest child and most lost soul of the bunch. After a horrific accident with devastating consequences, Sameer is forced to face some hard truths. All three are struggling to keep it together, but can they do so long enough to support one another?

All readers, but especially first-generation American readers will relate to Maya and Sameer's struggle to balance their Indian identity with their American identity. As Indians, they are asked to follow traditional values that essentially prioritize stability. This runs counter to the American notion of individualism. First-Gen kids like Maya and Sameer will understand that feeling of nonstop, push-pull internal negotiation between their identities. At the same time, parents will relate to Leena’s desire to control her children, in an attempt to protect them. In families, and extended families there are rifts and fights and differences of opinion. There is resentment and friction. I hope that all readers root for the Sharma’s because their struggles with identity, acceptance, and forgiveness are universal, not just to Indian American families, but to all families.
Visit Anoop Judge's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

"Take No Names"

Daniel Nieh is a writer and translator.

He grew up in Oregon and has also lived in China, Japan, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and the Netherlands. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Nieh applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Take No Names, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Take No Names, Victor Li and Mark Knox are driving a rickety van through California in the middle of the night. Their destination is a mysterious address in Mexico City, where they hope to sell a rare gemstone. Victor Li is a fugitive wanted for a murder he didn't commit. Mark Knox is a small-time con artist who lost his ideals and part of his leg during his three tours in Iraq. They need to cross the border by daybreak in order to avoid the cops on their trail. They've been thrown together by circumstance, but now that they're on the road, bound by a valuable gem that they can't split in half, they're beginning to get to know each other. On this page, Victor's speculating about what will happen to them:
We make it to Mexico City. We sell the stone. We split the dough.

But then maybe we decide that it’s nice to know another soul when you’re all alone in a foreign land. So we start a new security firm together. Or we open a beach bar in a surf town on the coast. And once a year, midway through June, we sip tequila and reminisce about when we drove forty hours from one life into another.
So Victor starts opening to Mark about the dark events of his past--only to be interrupted by a high-pitched squeal from the van's rickety transmission. The van grinds to a halt, and that’s where the page and the chapter end.

In my opinion, the Page 69 Test works really well for Take No Names. Victor and Mark are traversing liminal space, with obstacles in their way and the law on their tail. At the same time, the characters are starting to grow, and their relationship is evolving. I love this part of the book. I wanted to write a page-turning global noir that explores societal disparities and shadowy international conflicts; at the same time, I tried to poke some holes in the traditional tough-guy stereotypes of crime fiction. The relationship between Victor and Mark, two ostensibly tough men with still-raw traumas in their pasts, is at the core of this story. In a cynical world in which the little guy never gets a fair shake, are they better off looking out for one another, or keeping their guards up and their weapons drawn? If they’re always watching their own backs, will they ever find a way forward together? I hope anyone who opened Take No Names to this page would be intrigued not only by the tense plotting of the story, but also the personal journeys of these troubled characters as they make their way through the night.
Visit Daniel Nieh's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 21, 2022

"Tune in Tomorrow"

Randee Dawn writes about entertainment glam by day and fantastical fiction worlds by night. A former Soap Opera Digest editor, she now scribbles about the wacky universe of showbiz for Variety, The Los Angeles Times and The co-author of The Law & Order: SVU Unofficial Companion, Dawn appeared on L&O once! In the courtroom! Her short fiction has been published in multiple anthologies, and in her spare time she’s a trivia writer for BigBrain Games. Based in Brooklyn, New York she lives with a brilliant spouse, a fluffy Westie, many books and never enough mangoes.

Dawn applied the Page 69 Test to Tune in Tomorrow: The Curious, Calamitous, Cockamamie Story Of Starr Weatherby And The Greatest Mythic Reality Show Ever, her first novel, and reported the following:
Tune in Tomorrow (the TV show) stars a diva named Fiona Ballantine, who has been with the show for decades – and has just met Starr Weatherby, the series' latest potential hire. Fiona is both threatened by Starr and finds her ridiculous. It's in her hands to say whether Starr can be hired or not, but she's been warned that she must allow Starr onto the show, which desperately needs a fresh face and approach. So Fiona is now battling with her alter ego and show character Valéncia about how best to include Starr – but undermine her so that she quits as quickly as possible.

Actually, the Page 69 Test absolutely works: page 69 plunges us directly into the key conflict in the book, which is between Starr and Fiona. Fiona believes there's an All About Eve situation developing here, while Starr is so thrilled to finally be in line for a great first job that she'll do anything and say anything to stay. Fiona's fear that Starr is just there to usurp her influences all of her decisions going forward and it's up to Starr to wise up and protect her position on the show if she wants to stay. This is a great test!

Curiously, the way my book is formatted has the first page of Chapter 1 starting on Page 9. So should a potential reader instead skip to Page 78? Heck, that works too: Starr, who has just been brought on board at this mythical soap, has until now been laboring under the assumption that she'll be working on a series with a lot of great visual and practical effects, run by people who love to cosplay (her executive producer Jason has horns and a tail). But after her shocking and hilarious first confrontation with Fiona, the penny drops and she gets it: Mythics are real. And they're now really her bosses. Her slapstick reaction is also a wake-up for readers: She really is in a mythical world, where TV shows are being made!
Visit Randee Dawn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 19, 2022

"The Orphans of Mersea House"

USA Today best-selling author Marty Wingate writes The First Edition Library series set in Bath, England, about the curator of a collection of books from the Golden Age of Mystery. Book one, The Bodies in the Library, concerns murder among an Agatha Christie fan-fiction writing group, and in book two, Murder Is a Must, an exhibition manager is found dead at the bottom of a spiral staircase. Wingate also writes historical fiction: Glamour Girls follows Spitfire pilot Rosalie Wright through both the physical and emotional dangers of the Second World War. Wingate writes two further mystery series: the Potting Shed books feature Pru Parke, a middle-aged American gardener transplanted from Texas to England, and the Birds of a Feather series follows Julia Lanchester, bird lover, who runs a tourist office in a Suffolk village.

Wingate prefers on-the-ground research whenever possible, and so she and her husband regularly travel to England and Scotland, where she can be found tracing the steps of her characters, stopping for tea and a slice of Victoria sponge in a café, or enjoying a swift half in a pub.

Wingate applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Orphans of Mersea House, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Orphans of Mersea House, we find Olive, housekeeper at the boardinghouse, and eleven-year-old Juniper, newcomer and ward of the owner of the house, in the bathroom. Juniper wears metal calipers on both legs from a bout of polio when she was quite young and needs assistance. Olive rings Margery, the owner, about adaptive equipment and Margery agrees.

The Page 69 Test works for Orphans, and that surprised me, because at first glance I thought, “Okay, it sort of works.” But the more I thought about it, the more I could see what it revealed. You’d think authors would know everything about what they wrote, but we can surprise even ourselves occasionally.

The book is set in 1957 Southwold, a small town on the coast of Suffolk in England. On page 69, we see the beginning of a change of power, of sorts. Margery, owner of the boardinghouse, is the boss, but when Olive tells her what they must do—bring someone in to adapt the toilet for Juniper’s use—she goes along with what Olive says without question. We see a bond forming between Juniper and Olive. We see the matter-of-fact way Juniper approaches the obstacles set in front of her by her physical limitations, and we get a glimpse of how self-reliant she has learned to be. We see her immediately begin to think of a solution to the problem at hand, and we learn that she is handy with a pencil and paper, too. We also catch a glimpse of Casper, odd jobs man in town who says he has already heard about Margery’s ward, even though she’d only arrived that morning. Small towns, you know.

On page 69, we get a feel for Juniper, Olive, and Margery, and we see elements of their characters that will propel the story forward.
Visit Marty Wingate's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Librarian Always Rings Twice.

The Page 69 Test: The Librarian Always Rings Twice.

Q&A with Marty Wingate.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

"When We Were Bright and Beautiful"

Jillian Medoff is the author of four acclaimed novels: This Could Hurt, I Couldn't Love You More, Good Girls Gone Bad, and Hunger Point. Hunger Point was made into an original cable movie starring Christina Hendricks and Barbara Hershey and directed by Joan Micklin Silver (Lifetime TV, 2003).

Medoff applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, When We Were Bright and Beautiful, and reported the following:
Turning to page 69 in When We Were Bright and Beautiful, you'll find the end of a conversation between Cassie Quinn and her brother, Billy. They're talking about Billy's feelings for Diana Holly, the young woman who's accused him of sexually assaulting her. Then there's a time shift and Cassie is alone in her car, driving away from her parent's NYC luxury home, into the night.
Turning to me, he just out his chin. "I love her. She loves me."

He means this, I realize. "Billy, this isn't love. What you're describing, what Diana is doing, is something else entirely. But there's no way it's love."


Hours later, I slip out of the apartment and into the car the Valmont staff has called up for me. It's cold out but the milky sky is full of stars, so I retract the convertible top. As I head east to the FDR Drive, I feel a rush of adrenaline. I step on the gas...I gather speed, hit forty, forty-five, fifty. Dodging and weaving, I race to the bend of the horizon. Soon, the car falls away. It's just me, flying through space, weightless and untethered. I can't hear. I can't see. I don't feel. Out here, it's as peaceful, as soundless, as sleep. Out here, it's a dream.
As it happens, this page offers a fair, if brief, portrait of Cassie Forrester Quinn, the novel's main character. Cassie is a difficult, damaged twenty-three year-old woman; upon learning that her beloved brother Billy, her Irish twin, has been accused of sexual assault, she races home from graduate school to help defend him. In this passage, she and Billy are talking about his love for his former girlfriend, the woman who accused him.

"That's not love," Cassie reminds her brother. But she's also reminding herself. Like Billy, she's in a problematic relationship, one that started when she was thirteen, and has kept secret for ten years. Cassie speaks in coded language; she offers clues to reel the reader in, and then pushes them away. As illustrated in the passage above, she's on the run--from her family, her secrets, and, ultimately, herself. As soon as a conversation becomes too difficult (like the one with her brother), she bolts. So the next paragraph, where she drives away and then accelerates faster, faster, faster, perfectly encapsulates who she is. Cassie Quinn is self-destructive, reckless and deeply sensitive, which she hides behind a brainy, tough-girl exterior. As WWWBAB progresses, the book's cumulative power and purpose is revealed, which is to understand Cassie's experience, word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page, as she tells her family's, and her own, heartbreaking but all-too-familiar life story.
Visit Jillian Medoff's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 15, 2022

"Mother of All Secrets"

Kathleen M. Willett grew up in New Jersey and London. She has a B.A. in English from Holy Cross and a M.A. in English Education from Columbia University. She taught English at the Beacon School in New York City for ten years. She lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her husband, two young daughters, and a cat named Mr. Sparkles. She loves running, reading, and watching Office reruns.

Willett applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Mother of All Secrets, and reported the following:
From page 69:
"Wait, one more question. Her husband-- you know, he didn't even know she was in a new moms' group." I realized it wasn't a question at all after the words had finished tumbling out.


"Don't you think that's kind of. . . inconsiderate? Neglectful? A red flag?"

Sherer stepped in. "With respect, I have no idea what my wife does all day, and I'm pretty sure she prefers it that way," he said, again sounding like this was a line he delivered often and that never failed to please him with its cleverness.
On page 69, Jenn is being questioned by the police about Isabel's disappearance, because they are under the impression that she may have been the last person to see Isabel. To be honest, it's kind of a plotty scene, so it's not all that revealing about any of the main characters. However, I think this page highlights Jenn's obsession with Isabel's disappearance starting to take shape-- even though she doesn't know Isabel all that well, she feels she knows her because their time together has been intense and meaningful to Jenn. She has a lot of empathy for Isabel, and, as hard as Jenn is finding it being a new mom herself, she knows that Isabel wouldn't have just left without her baby. Jenn knows she has a bad feeling about Isabel's husband, but she isn't really able to articulate why or what it means. But she knows it's something. Lastly, the comment the cop makes about his wife also gets at some of the spousal resentment for weaponized incompetence that's touched upon by the women in the moms' group. He's being condescending and dismissive and playing into Jenn's insecurity.
Visit Kathleen M. Willett's website.

Q&A with Kathleen M. Willett.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 12, 2022

"This Appearing House"

Ally Malinenko is a poet, novelist, and librarian living in Brooklyn, New York, where she pens her tales in a secret writing closet before dawn each day.

Malinenko applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, This Appearing House, and reported the following:
I love the idea of the Page 69 Test as a means to discover if you will like a book. If a reader turns to page 69 in This Appearing House they be at the last page of chapter 7 which is the moment Jac, followed by her best friend Hazel, and two neighborhood boys – John and Sam – enter the House for the first time. They also discover they can’t leave.

And that they are not alone in the House.

This is the excerpt:
They could only watch with horror as, from that darkness, long, thin, gray fingers appeared behind John’s head. They stretched out of the dark, wet hands on the ends of impossibly long arms. And as they watched, someone – something – grabbed John Johnson and dragged him into that dark room, the door slamming tight behind him.

They heard a scream for just a moment before it, too, was swallowed up, and then there was nothing.
I think this is a great example because it is the first introduction to the Mourner – a creature that lives in the House and because you get a sense – even in this small bit – of how the House works. Prior to page 69 Jac, our main character has been struggling. She’s had a fall from her bike, some dizziness and possibly some hallucinations all of which has prompted Jac’s mother to schedule an MRI to make sure that the childhood cancer she survived hasn’t returned. But when a House appears at the end of the dead end drive in her neighborhood, Jac is drawn to it. Now that they have entered the House, they find they cannot get out. The front door leads only to more doors. And the creature inside the House is hungry for Jac. If readers continued to page 70 they would begin the long mad descent into Jac's very own Haunted House.
Visit Ally Malinenko's website.

Q&A with Ally Malinenko.

The Page 69 Test: Ghost Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

"Human Blues"

Elisa Albert is the author of After Birth, The Book of Dahlia, How This Night Is Different, and editor of the anthology Freud’s Blind Spot. Her stories and essays have appeared in Time, The Guardian, The New York Times, n+1, Bennington Review, Tin House, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Literary Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere.

Albert applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Human Blues, and reported the following:
From page 69:
But isn’t it dangerous to reduce women to their menstrual cycles? the writers and critics and Twitt-heads demanded. Isn’t that what we’ve fought so hard against? Yes and no, Aviva had spent all these long, hard, pointless weeks repeating on stages and across tables and in hotel rooms and recording booths. No and Yes. Maybe! Sort of! Not at all! Absolutely! Whatever! I don’t know! But no matter: let it all drain out. This had been a bad one. A long and hard one. So be it. She had made it to the other side, and now she would bleed and bleed and bleed, and feel better and better and better, until it was all gone. Then it would begin again.
What a perfect entrée to a novel structured around the menstruating body – seemingly the first of its kind. Aviva’s story asks difficult questions about personal agency, freedom, “control”, fertility, technocracy, bodies, and the functions of creativity in a post-capitalist culture. Everyone is so eager for easy answers, but there are no easy answers to these questions. There is only getting more and more practiced with and habituated to the fascinating difficulties inherent in the questions themselves. If we can’t engage the questions at all, do we really want reproductive justice? Can justice ever exist in stasis? Politics are all well and good for purposes of banter and social alignment at dinner parties (aka social media), but bodies have their own ideas. Aviva is someone who would very much like to become pregnant, but cycle after cycle after cycle leaves her disappointed, frustrated, grief-stricken, and increasingly convinced that this commonplace, wild, sometimes brutal cycle itself has something important to teach her.

To my mind, the page 69 test works well not because of random coincidence, but because the novel as a whole was intentionally built in a fractal, cyclical way – the universe in a drop of water. If every page didn’t offer a representative slice of the book, then could I be said to have done my job? Anyway: it works!

The bleed is not the end of the cycle; it’s the beginning of a new cycle. So Aviva’s story continues spiraling outwards (and inwards). Thus ends chapter two and begins the next cycle, chapter three. Welcome to the flow.
Learn more about the author and her work at Elisa Albert's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Book of Dahlia.

The Page 69 Test: After Birth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 8, 2022

"A Dish to Die for"

New Jersey born clinical psychologist Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib is the author of 21 mysteries, including A Dish to Die for, the latest in the Key West series featuring food critic Hayley Snow. The Key Lime CrimeE, tenth in her Key West food critic mystery series, won the Florida Book Award's bronze medal for popular fiction. Burdette’s first thriller, Unsafe Haven, was published last year. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She's a past president of Sisters in Crime, and currently serving as president of the Friends of the Key West Library.

Burdette applied the Page 69 Test to A Dish to Die for and reported the following:
From page 69:
That reminded me that twice over the past few years, Miss Gloria’s houseboat had been ransacked. Nathan had been pleading with both of us to improve the security around our homes, but we hated feeling like we lived in a gated community—or a prison. Maybe it was time to take his advice—after all, Key West had grown a lot more crowded, busier than this little road could ever be. I pulled the big Buick over to the side of the road and turned to my friend. “I know there’s no point in asking you to stay in the car. But please let me ask the questions?” She winked.

The two dogs who’d been lazing in the dirt, scrambled to their paws and began to bark with excitement as soon as I opened my door. A blue-striped awning extended from the front of the mobile home, lending a bit of shade to the two men and one woman who sat smoking in aluminum chairs. To the right of the drive was a boat trailer holding two kayaks, one yellow, one orange. A Jolly Roger pirate flag was planted at the edge of the driveway, along with a No Trespassing sign. Not altogether welcoming. If one of the dogs lunged at us, we’d hightail it back to the car. Looking both ways, I approached the end of the driveway, stopping as the dark shepherd-looking dog let out a menacing growl. I grinned and called out to the people.

“Hello! I’m Hayley and this is my friend Gloria.” I put my arm around her shoulders. “Sorry to interrupt your happy hour. I was hoping to ask you a few questions. I was on the beach the other day when the body was found.”

Miss Gloria interrupted. “She was not only there, she actually found the poor man. We wondered if you’d heard anything about whodunnit?”
I never know what I might find looking back at page 69! In this snippet, food critic Hayley Snow returns to the area around the scene of a crime—a deserted beach north of Key West—with her neighbor on Houseboat Row, Miss Gloria. (Hayley and her husband’s dog were the ones who discovered the body a day earlier.) Both women know that Hayley’s detective husband would not approve of them interviewing suspects or otherwise putting themselves in danger. But they’ve gone up the Keys to meet someone who might have information about the murder, and the temptation to revisit the area around the beach and ask questions is too intense.

Eighty-something Miss Gloria is one of my favorite characters to write, and she gets more fan mail than any of the other characters as well. I was pleased to see some of the liveliness of her personality jump off the page. The next book in the series (still unnamed but coming in August 2023) will feature Miss Gloria and two older Scottish women in an even bigger way. I find it fascinating that while the publishing industry looks for young protagonists in their 20s and 30s, readers adore scrappy older characters with a sense of humor and a lot of wisdom.
Visit Lucy Burdette's website, Twitter perch, and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: An Appetite For Murder.

Writers Read: Lucy Burdette (January 2012).

The Page 69 Test: Death in Four Courses.

The Page 69 Test: A Scone of Contention.

My Book, The Movie: Unsafe Haven.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 6, 2022


Erin Flanagan’s most recent novel Blackout was a June 2022 Amazon First Reads pick. Her novel Deer Season won the 2022 Edgar for Best First Novel by an American Author and was a finalist for the Midwest Book Awards in Fiction (Literary/Contemporary/Historical). She is also the author of two short story collections–The Usual Mistakes and It’s Not Going to Kill You and Other Stories. She’s held fellowships to Yaddo, MacDowell, The Sewanee Writers’ Conference, The Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, UCross, and The Vermont Studio Center. She contributes regular book reviews to Publishers Weekly and other venues.

Flanagan lives in Dayton, Ohio with her husband, daughter, two cats and two dogs. She is an English professor at Wright State University and likes all of her colleagues except one.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Blackout and reported the following:
At the opening of Blackout, Maris Heilman is seven hard-won months into her sobriety when she begins having mysterious blackouts. Convinced her husband, Noel, and her daughter, Cody, will think she’s drinking again, she keeps the blackouts a secret.

In chapter nine, Maris is driving to Cody’s school to give a career-day presentation, blacks out, and wakes in an ambulance on the way to the ER. There, the ER doctor tells Maris her autonomic functions shut down—breathing, heart rate, blood pressure—so it wasn’t just a normal passing out, and this becomes the first clue linking her to a network of women suffering the same fate in her town.

Page 69 is the last page of chapter nine, when Noel, another ER doctor, reveals to Maris he checked her records from the accident to confirm the doctor ordered a tox report. It proves to Maris her worst fear: that he doesn’t believe her when she says she’s not drinking. She says to him, “I can’t believe you didn’t trust me,” and he’s exasperated in return because he’s noticed she’d been forgetful and distracted and secretive, which she knows is from the blackouts.

Noel tells her too how betrayed Cody felt that she didn’t show up at career day. “You were first in the lineup, and when the teacher asked Cody if you were there, she had to say no. She asked before each damn presenter: Is she here yet? Is she here? Until Cody couldn’t even answer but just shook her head to keep from crying.” By the time Cody finds out that her mother was in a car accident and that’s why she couldn’t make it, the doubt has been sown and the rift between them widens.

At the bottom of page 69, Noel tells Maris it will take a few weeks to get the tox results. She knows now that the real issue is that he doesn’t trust or believe her word without facts, so how could she possibly tell him about the blackouts? The chapter ends with the line, “If it took a tox test for him to believe her, they’d already failed.”

I think this is an excellent example of the backbone of the novel. While it’s about the mystery of the blackouts and what is behind them, at its core I think it’s about a woman who struggles with her drinking, her relationships, and her ability to lean on others. Throughout the book she needs to decide how honest she can be with her child and husband, and what kind of leniency she can allow herself to be a screwed-up human like the rest of us.
Visit Erin Flanagan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 4, 2022

"The Lost Kings"

Tyrell Johnson is a father, writer, and editor. His postapocalyptic novel The Wolves of Winter was an Indie Next pick and garnered praise from Entertainment Weekly, PopSugar, Vogue, and many others.

Johnson applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Lost Kings, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Running takes my mind off the world. That, and it helps me sweat the alcohol out of my body. I focus on my breathing. I take in the reds and yellows of the deciduous leaves and realize that I don't like the changing seasons. The transitory nature of fall and spring makes me feel untethered, like everything is tumbling. It makes me desperate for something more substantial. Give me extremes. Give me summer or give me cold. Give me the harshness of winter over the soft gestures of fall. Winter is an exclamation mark--obvious, almost violent in its finality--while fall is a comma, uncertain, asking the one question that vexes humanity more than anything else in the world: What happens next? What happens tomorrow? Next week? Next winter? When we die? How does this not drive more people insane? Perhaps it does, and we carry on quietly in our madness.
Okay, so I think this actually passes the Page 69 Test! While it doesn't necessarily get at the larger plot of the novel, it is an excellent snapshot of Jeanie King and her mental state, which is perhaps the most important driver of the story as a whole. Ironically, it also includes the line from which the cover of the novel was created: "I take in the reds and yellows of the deciduous leaves and realize that I don't like the changing seasons." This was a concept that I actually wrote about when I was getting my MFA in Creative Writing. I wrote a poem about the changing seasons as a time of instability and anxiety. I thought this worked perfectly for my character, so I included it in the novel--and, amazingly, it landed right on page 69.
Visit Tyrell Johnson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

"Peril at the Exposition"

Nev March is the first Indian-born writer to win Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America's Award for Best First Crime Fiction.

After a long career in business analysis, in 2015 March returned to her passion, writing fiction and now teaches creative writing at Rutgers University, Osher Institute. A Parsee Zoroastrian herself, she lives in New Jersey with her husband and sons. Murder in Old Bombay is her debut novel.

March applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Peril at the Exposition, and reported the following:
On page 69, my protagonist Diana is in the middle of a peculiar adventure on the Ferris Wheel at the 1893 World’s Fair. While this page does not capture the main thrust of the mystery, it does describe the Fair which is a character in itself, and Diana gets photographed in her petticoats!
The guard, the man comically covered in my skirt, and I, in petticoats and vest, were the last to disembark.

As we stepped out, people applauded. Astonished, I glanced behind me. The wheel had stopped. Glass cars swayed above, people peering out. My skirt was lifted off the poor man as he was led away, blushing crimson with apologies.

Where was Abigail? I glanced around at the raucous crowd.

What now? A tall young man with a short beard stood on a stool near me and made a speech. I heard him say, “A heroine…remarkable presence of mind…”

The young man presented my skirt as though handing me a queen’s cape. “What courage! To quell the madman! Remarkable!”

“No madman, sir. I believe he has acrophobia—a fear of heights,” I said, blushing. Jim and I had read of its recent discovery over Christmas.

“Your name, madam!” called a newspaperman. Others took up the clamor.

Just then, Abigail waved to catch my attention. “Lady Diana!”

The young man with a fine bushy mustache said, “May I present myself, Lady Diana? George Washington Ferris Jr. You’re English, yes?” He laughed.

“Goodness. No, I’m from India!” I replied, unsettled by the to-do. Several photographers’ flash pans went off a few feet away, making me flinch.
While it explains why the press later dub her an Indian Princess, I don’t believe this page gives us a good sense of the book—Diana’s looming worry over a missing detective husband, navigating complex gilded-age society and her fear of an impending disaster.

In Murder in Old Bombay, readers met Captain Jim Agnihotri who solved a knotty problem for young widower Adi Framji. Captain Jim also met his employer’s spunky sister Diana. As Peril at the Exposition opens, they are married and living in Boston. When young immigrant bride Diana obtains a worrisome clue about her missing husband’s whereabouts, she goes to Chicago to find him. There, Captain Jim has infiltrated a group of desperate workers and anarchists who seem to threaten the World’s Fair. Working the case from the opposite end propels Diana into ever more dangerous and questionable situations. Through this adventure, she travels the emotional journey of an immigrant to find what is good and precious in her strange new homeland.
Visit Nev March's website.

Q&A with Nev March.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in Old Bombay.

My Book, The Movie: Murder in Old Bombay.

--Marshal Zeringue