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 entrĂ©e 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

"Blackout"

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