Friday, September 30, 2022

"The Flock"

J. Todd Scott was born in rural Kentucky and attended college and law school in Virginia, where he set aside an early ambition to write to pursue a career as a federal agent. His assignments have taken him all over the U.S and the world, but a gun and a badge never replaced his passion for stories and writing.

His previous books include The Far Empty, High White Sun, and This Side of Night in the Chris Cherry/Big Bend Series, as well as the Appalachian crime novel, Lost River.

Scott applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Flock, and reported the following:
When you open The Flock to page 69, you’re thrown right into a fictional movie “script:” supposed script pages from Fires at Dawn, a premium cable series made about the Ark of Lazarus cult. I think any casual reader would find that bewildering, but that’s part of the point, and I think an accurate reflection of the test and the book itself.

The script pages show a tense scene between Billie Laure, the book’s protagonist, and her now long-dead sister, Becca Laure.

The Flock is a collage, a traditional crime/mystery supplemented with a bevy of background epistolary material, including script pages, magazine articles, newspaper headlines, FBI reports, even a birth certificate (and a coroner’s report as well). I wanted the “history” of my fictional cult to be just as complicated and varied and nuanced and opaque as the cult itself, a puzzle rife with clues for the reader to sift through. Since Billie Laure’s story is about belief and faith, about mysteries and conspiracies, I thought turning the book’s narrative structure itself into a mystery was a unique way of weaving those ideas in thematically and organically. What is real? What can we prove? What do we believe? I knew going into it the complicated structure might prove polarizing and challenging, but for those readers willing to engage in the “hunt,” they would be rewarded with experiencing The Flock on a whole new level. As a writer, I was challenged too, trying to write in all these distinctive styles and voices, and I think The Flock “leveled up” my craft as well.

Is the Fires at Dawn script the “real” story of what happened at the Ark of Lazarus compound in March of 2015? Or is it just one more version, one more possibility, one more plausible story? What is real anyway, after the long passage of time…and the shading and changing of memories when you’re dealing with grief and trauma? These are central questions in The Flock, and I expect the answers are as varied as its readers…
Visit J. Todd Scott's website.

The Page 69 Test: High White Sun.

The Page 69 Test: This Side of Night.

The Page 69 Test: Lost River.

Q&A with J. Todd Scott.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 27, 2022


Kathleen George lives in Pittsburgh where she teaches theatre and writing at the University of Pittsburgh. Her new novel, Mirth, is her 15th book. It’s the third of her 20th century histories in which she tries to capture a whole lifetime.

Mirth should appeal to a general audience but will be of special interest to writers, constant readers, and those who are widowed.

George is also the author of the acclaimed novels Taken, Fallen, Afterimage, The Odds (nominated for an Edgar® award for best novel by the Mystery Writers of America), Hideout, Simple, and A Measure of Blood. All seven of these titles are part of her procedural thrillers set in Pittsburgh.

George applied the Page 69 Test to Mirth and reported the following:
Here is what happens on page 69 of Mirth. There are a few small paragraphs in Harrison Mirth's POV as he talks to Maggie, who shows up at a theatre performance he needs to review. She is clearly interested in him and he is intrigued by her forcefulness and her spikiness. He is also glum about his marriage to Amanda who gives him very little attention. But he resists Maggie, taking the high road.

We switch to Amanda's POV. (I actually laughed at my own work). She is in a mood. She hates everything. She hates her hair, she hates people in general, she hates the work she is doing, she hates the apartment she lives in with Harrison. It's because she is unhappily in love with another man. So she goes a little crazy, dyes her hair red and signs a lease for a different apartment, pretty much shocking Harrison who struggles to hold on to any good feelings for her. The first thing he says to her when he sees her red hair is that she doesn't look like herself. Without knowing it, she has made herself look a bit like Maggie.

The Page 69 Test works for me because the novel is about Harrison and the women in his life. They all merge and recombine in strange ways. This is the point at which he doesn't want to see reality--he was too young, the marriage was hasty, he might have made Amanda up to suit his image of a new romantic life for himself. The fact that he had a great apartment in mind for them and she signed a lease on another one (with bad views) without consulting him is a blow. Characteristically of Harrison, he tries to adapt.

For a while the working title of the book was A Romantic Man. It could easily stand as a subtitle. As Harrison explains to his third wife, his whole personality was formed by the movies of the 30s and 40s. Like Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and their like, the whole purpose of life was winning the girl and living out a happy story of romantic love.
Learn more about the book and author at Kathleen George's website.

Writers Read: Kathleen George (September 2022).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 24, 2022

"Other People's Secrets"

Meredith Hambrock is a Canadian fiction and television writer who lives in Vancouver, BC. Her short fiction has appeared in several magazines including Maisonneuve and Descant. She’s been a finalist for the CBC Short Story Prize and most recently wrote for the sitcom Corner Gas Animated.

Hambrock applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Other People's Secrets, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Everyone stays in their seats, the shock spreading through the room. A new concept, new uniforms, new jobs. Baby looks over at DJ Overalls and knows she can’t do it—she won’t. DJ Overalls wears the overalls, everyone knows why, everyone understands. DJ avoids Baby’s eyes. It’s like abuse, almost; it feels like abuse, Amelia, dancing around DJ, unknowing of the history, the past, the people, real people, individuals standing in front of her, Amelia with her sustainable cotton, her white sustainable cotton and the gray logo, crowing about studies.

“It’s just a uniform,” Amelia says, her voice strong and dismissive of all that they’re going through right now. “Here.” She starts pulling them out and putting them into people’s hands, and they take them and stand up.
Other People’s Secrets is about change. It’s about a group of employees who care deeply about their workplace, somewhere they’ve lived and worked their whole lives – a crumbling, moulding, resort at the edge of a beautiful lake. But when the resort gets purchased by a new owner who is intent on turning it into a hipster nightmare and the drug dealer they help put in prison is suddenly out, their summer is thrown into chaos.

They eventually decide to fight the new owner, to struggle against her vision for a new resort while searching for a rumoured sunken treasure they hope will change their fate.

I’m so fascinated by the Page 69 Test because for my book, it absolutely worked. My book is about a group of employees who care for one another fiercely and on page 69 we get to see this in action. Led by Baby, the hero, we see them discussing the new uniforms that their new owner/manager is forcing them to try, while they reel from other changes she’s announced that will alter their resort forever.

There’s an emotional connection to the uniforms – not only do they demonstrate their new manager's ignorance of the work they do (the uniforms are white which, when you’re a bartender/housekeeper/landscaper you know is just so entirely impractical) but an erasure of their own identities, echoing a feeling that they no longer deserve to exist, here, at the edge of this lake. That this lake now wholly belongs to the rich cottagers who arrive every summer.

Page 69 marks a real turning point in this book, Baby has struggled to get her friends onboard to fight against this new owner, and the introduction of uniforms and all that symbolizes, manages to galvanize their support. Baby’s going to find the sunken treasure, they’re going to make things difficult for this owner, and they’re going to fight for their town and all it represents.

A larger focus of this novel is the question of who gets to live where and why. What happens when you fight for a place and a group of people you love? I hope if anyone checked out page 69 they could see how deeply these people care about one another and hopefully become invested in their fight to save their home.
Visit Meredith Hambrock's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

"Never Go Home"

Christopher Swann is a novelist and high school English teacher. A graduate of Woodberry Forest School in Virginia, he earned his Ph.D. in creative writing from Georgia State University. He has been a Townsend Prize finalist, longlisted for the Southern Book Prize, and a winner of the Georgia Author of the Year award. He lives with his wife and two sons in Atlanta, where he is the English department chair at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School.

Swann applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Never Go Home, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Never Go Home—the start of Chapter Seven—my protagonist Suzie Faulkner is waking up on her brother Ethan’s couch. She has had hard, fragmented dreams, and the clearest remaining image from her dreams is of her kneeling in a garden, pulling dead flowers out of the dirt. The dream leaves her oddly comforted; gardening is one of the few things she did with her father when she was a little girl, before her father and mother were killed in a home invasion. Suzie’s brother’s house is the closest thing to home that she knows, and page 69 is a relatively quiet moment for her in a book where a lot of dangerous things happen. While most of the book is not like this page, the scene on page 69 tells you a lot about Suzie and how she views her family.

Suzie is haunted by her parents’ deaths, and when she was a teenager she swore to find the man who killed them. Her Uncle Gavin, her sole surviving relative and an Atlanta underworld figure, raises her and helps her learn the skills she will need to find the killer. Suzie does eventually find that man. Now, in Never Go Home, with that matter resolved, Suzie has been trying to figure out what to do next, how to put her particular skill set to use, and she has decided to help find missing people, particularly children. But no matter where she travels or who she has to deal with—private contractors running child detention facilities, gangbangers, kidnappers—she always imagines the safe haven of her brother’s house, with his mini dachshund Wilson and his couch.
Visit Christopher Swann's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 18, 2022

"The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream"

Jeannie Zusy has written many full-length plays, some screenplays and several stories. The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream is her first novel. She has two young-adult daughters and lives with her husband and creatures in New York’s Hudson River Valley.

Zusy applied the Page 69 Test to The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream and reported the following:
Yes, I believe that page 69 of The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream is a true representation of the rest of the book.

Here, two major themes are playing out. The first half of the page addresses our protagonist Maggie’s disappointment and frustration about her oldest sister’s emotional and physical distance. Maggie has been on the front lines on the east coast managing the care of their middle sister Ginny, who has intellectual disabilities and Type 2 diabetes. Bets, a former surfing star, presumably “living the dream” in California, does not approve of how Maggie is handling the situation. Nor is she offering to help. So at this point in the story, Maggie is lamenting this, while also truly missing her oldest, coolest sister. She gets up the nerve to call her and leaves a “stupidly friendly message.”

The second half of page 69 addresses Ginny’s introduction to the internet. Maggie's trying to make Ginny happy while also navigating her safety and autonomy. Here, Ginny has been introduced to the internet. Maggie has just gifted her with an iPad on which she can watch movies, and Ginny has figured out how to do other things, including how to Google herself. She believes she has been identified as a child predator, which of course she isn’t. Ginny isn’t a child predator, nor does the internet say that she is. It’s just a scam in which a person can pay money to get a police record. There’s also the question as to whether Ginny really believes this. She is sometimes surprisingly savvy, and she has a dry sense of humor. On page 70, Maggie learns that Ginny has become a movie reviewer for Amazon.
Visit Jeannie Zusy's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 16, 2022

"Roundtree Days"

Gerald Elias leads a double life as a critically acclaimed author and world-class musician. His award-winning Daniel Jacobus mystery series takes place in the dark corners of the classical music world. In 2020 he penned The Beethoven Sequence, a chilling political thriller. Elias's prize-winning essay, "War & Peace. And Music," excerpted from his insightful musical memoir, Symphonies & Scorpions, was the subject of his 2019 TED presentation.

Elias applied the Page 69 Test to Roundtree Days, his first full-length Western mystery, and reported the following:
Page 69 is devoted almost entirely to a dialogue between the book’s law enforcement cowboy hero, Jefferson Dance, interviewing one of the murder suspects, Alfie Moran, a glib British director of the immensely popular TV Western, Roundtree Days. Dance is trying to nail down Moran’s whereabouts at the moment that one of the co-stars of the show came to an untimely end.
“All right, so we had a minor disagreement.” [Moran]

“About what?” [Dance]

“About her contract for next year. She wants her role in the show to expand geometrically and her salary to expand exponentially. I corrected her math, and reminded her that as her role was secondary to the star, there was no way she was going to be paid more than an orbiting planet should be paid. And after her father kills her lover-boy tree-hugger in episode six next year, between you and me I don’t know where we’re going with her character.”

“How did she respond?”

“The usual way. She started throwing things.”

“And what did you do?”

“I’ve got to deal with these prima donnas on a daily basis, mind you. So I did the only wise thing. I ducked and left, discretion being the better part of valor.”

“What time was that?” I asked.

“A little after nine. I had what you might refer to as a downhome pancake-and-sausage breakfast with the Rotary at nine-thirty. Part of my civic duty. My heartburn will attest to my attendance.”

“Where was the breakfast?”

“As God is my witness, we’re standing on the very spot as we speak.”

“Are you staying here at the hotel?”

“You can’t be serious! Who’d want to stay in this creaking dump? I’ve been provided a manse out in Beauville. Pool, hot tub. All the amenities.”

“Beauville? Haven’t heard of that town.”

“It’s not a town. It’s a mirage. A gated community in the middle of the desert for the chronically affluent. Still under construction. The new West. They used to corral horses. Now they corral people.”

“Thank you for your time,” I said. “And good luck on your presentation.”
Page 69 gives the reader a general sense of the book’s tone and of the personalities of three main characters: the hero Jefferson Dance, patient and polite but a no-fooling-around straight shooter; the successful TV director Alfie Moran, witty but evasive; and, in absentia, the actress Madison Hadcock, self-absorbed and thoroughly materialistic.

Even more important are Moran’s comments about Beauville, the new upscale housing development in the desert on the outskirts of Loomis City, Utah. “It’s not a town. It’s a mirage…They used to corral horses. Now they corral people.” In a broader sense, that statement represents the bone of contention afflicting Loomis City that forms the driving force of the plot of Roundtree Days. It’s the conflict between the “old West’s” small town traditional values of individual responsibility and rallying together to survive under the adversity of a harsh environment versus the “new West,” with its inundation of tourism, a retail and service economy, and wildly speculative land development.

The inspiration for Roundtree Days occurred during a cross-country drive on I-90. As a devoted fan of the Longmire television series I decided to stop in Buffalo, Wyoming, where it was filmed, in order to have breakfast at the famous Busy Bee CafĂ©. Little did I know that I had accidentally stumbled upon the annual Longmire weekend. The town was jampacked with fans from all over to take part in the weekend’s myriad cowboy activities and to gorge on Longmire swag that filled every Main Street storefront. It got me thinking about a story in which the barrier between fiction and reality became so clouded that people in the town looked toward the TV sheriff, rather than real law enforcement, to solve a series of perplexing crimes. Hence, my novel format for Roundtree Days: Each chapter is divided in half, representing two points of view: one, of the real lawman Jefferson Dance, who knows what he’s doing, and the other of the clueless actor, Conrad Michener, who plays the role of Vernon Roundtree in the TV series. In the end, Dance prevails, but not before they step uncomfortably, and sometimes hilariously, on each other’s toes.
Learn more about the book and author at Gerald Elias's website.

Q&A with Gerald Elias.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

"Where Secrets Live"

Susan Richards is the author of the Jessica Kallan mystery series and stand-alone novels of suspense. She strives in each story to create characters who are confronted by circumstances that push them to their limits, test their strength, and challenge their beliefs and integrity—people who would do almost anything to protect the people they love.

Richards’s new novel, Where Secrets Live, was a finalist in the Mystery/Suspense category of the 2018 Daphne du Maurier contest.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, she has lived throughout the Midwest and currently resides in Northern Minnesota. She also spent several years in the Pacific Northwest, moving back to Minnesota to be closer to her family. Every winter she wonders what the hell she was thinking.

Richards applied the Page 69 Test to Where Secrets Live and reported the following:
From page 69:
here yesterday. That young man, Tom, who used to go with Meredith, talked to all of us. He’s a cop now, you know.”

“I know.” “Anyway, I don’t think we were much help.”

“I went to see Lee Atwater this morning.”

She shook her head, and then the name must have registered. “That girl from college who hated Meredith for stealing her boyfriend?” She slapped the table as the memory took hold. “She was dating Tom when he left her for Meredith. What did you see her for?”

I guess we all remembered the story.

A rough hand squeezed my shoulder from behind, and I looked up to see John standing there. He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down next to his wife.

“I went to Meredith’s office this morning,” I said. “Lee’s name was in her appointment book. She’s a very successful psychologist now. Meredith had been seeing her as a client for the past few months.”

“Why?” John asked.

“She was upset about something. She needed someone to talk to.”

“She could have talked to her family,” Ruth said from the doorway.

Her voice took me by surprise. Ruth rarely ventured into Martha’s domain. In my whole life, I could probably count the number of times I’d seen Ruth in the kitchen.

She took a seat at the end of the table. “Go on with your talk. What about your sister?”

“All I said was that she was seeing someone.”

Martha and John exchanged glances.

“And the someone she was seeing was Lee Atwater?” Ruth asked.


“How do you know this?”
In Where Secrets Live, page 69 shows the interaction between four of the main characters, with reference to two others. It’s after the murder of Elizabeth McCallister’s sister, Meredith.

This scene/page is important to the story, more for the interactions of the characters than the information it displays—although, there is definitely pertinent information on the page.

Readers would see the conversation between the protagonist, Liz, and John and Martha who worked for her family since before she was born, and who were more like parents to her when she was growing up than the revolving door of parental figures who moved through her life. John and Martha were always there—constant, solid, and stable.

If you just opened the book to this page, you wouldn’t have that background of information, but I think seeing how the players converse would give some indication as to their connections.

And I like that the mere presence of Liz’s stepmother, Ruth, stops everyone in their tracks.

Ruth is definitely a matriarchal personality and I think this comes through with the reactions of the others in this scene when she walks into the room.

The last line on the page, Ruth challenges Liz as to how she knows that her sister was seeing a therapist. I hope that would entice readers to want to keep going and find out how Liz defends herself.

* * *

I love the Page 69 Test. It was an interesting way to look at my book.

Page 69 gives a solid, albeit brief, look at the patterns of interactions between these main characters and a substantial nod to the premise of the book, which pictures a highly dysfunctional family, with Ruth at the helm.

If the test is to tempt readers to want to know more, and to read the book, I think I passed. We’ll see...
Visit S.C. Richards's website.

My Book, The Movie: Where Secrets Live.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 12, 2022

"The Secrets of Ashmore Castle"

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles is the author of the hugely popular Morland Dynasty novels, which have captivated and enthralled readers for decades. She is also the author of the contemporary Bill Slider mystery series, as well as her recent series, War at Home, which is an epic family drama set against the backdrop of World War I.

Harrod-Eagles applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Secrets of Ashmore Castle, and reported the following:
On page 69, Kitty and Nina, who have been best friends for three years, reflect on the fact that today is their last day at Miss Thornton’s School for Young Ladies in Kensington. It is the end of childhood, the end of the comfort of being together. Kitty’s family is wealthy and titled, so she will be “brought out” as a debutante, and expected to make a brilliant marriage. But she's so desperately shy she dreads meeting strangers, let alone having to talk to members of the opposite sex. Nina, who is clever and confident, is an orphan and has no money or expectations. No important marriage for her: she’ll end up either as a governess or a schoolteacher, and she doesn’t look forward to either.

The book is 500 pages long, so page 69 is rather early on and still in the scene-setting phase, but it does contain the seeds of the plot. Because of Kitty’s shyness, her mother agrees to bring Nina out with her, to give her confidence, and in the course of the coming-out junketings they both meet the men they will marry. And for different reasons, both marriages are problematical.

There’s a lot more to the book, of course. It is a family saga, after all, and the extended family of the Earl of Stainton, his household, and the Castle itself and its environs, all carry the story along. And this is only the first volume in a series, so there is love, conflict, comedy, murder and mayhem to come further down the line. This is not fast-food reading: I hope you will become invested in the people and the place and want to keep visiting with them.

I wouldn’t say you should buy or not buy the book on the basis of page 69, but at the heart of it all are Kitty and Nina and their very different characters, and oddly, that’s what page 69 is about.
Visit Cynthia Harrod-Eagles's website.

My Book, The Movie: Headlong.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 10, 2022

"The Means"

Amy Fusselman is the author of four nonfiction books: Idiophone; Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die; 8; and The Pharmacist’s Mate. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Atlantic, McSweeney’s, and many other outlets. She lives with her family in New York City where she teaches creative writing at New York University.

Fusselman applied the Page 69 Test to The Means, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Means is the second page of a two-page chapter. I think of this chapter as a quiet chapter. The narrator, Shelly Means, is remembering a scene from her childhood. Her mother takes her searching for agates in a local creek. After they find some, her mother buys a rock polisher so she can polish them.
The rock polisher lived in the laundry room in the basement, across the hall from my bedroom. It made a noise like the washing machine on steroids. I couldn’t believe how long it took to polish a rock: three solid days.
After the rocks are polished, Shelly is surprised that they look smaller and silkier than before they were polished. She thought they would emerge larger and more glittery. She keeps them in a special box she has lined with a scrap of velvet. Page 69 ends with the lines, “I didn’t show them to anyone. I admired them when I was alone.”

I had never heard of the Page 69 Test before and I have to say that I am not sure my page 69 would be the best introduction to my book although it does contain some images (searching for things of value, rocks) that recur. But as I write this I realize that maybe I am thinking that page 69 should function like a movie trailer, that it should have all the funniest jokes in it, and the most dramatic moments, and perhaps that’s not the right idea. A browser might just want to know what the writer’s voice sounds like. That’s usually what I want to know when I open a random book.

In that case, my page 69 works pretty well. It may be a quiet page, but it does have the voice in it.
Visit Amy Fusselman's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Means.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 8, 2022

"Deadly Spirits"

Mary Miley grew up in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Virginia, and worked her way through the College of William and Mary in Virginia as a costumed tour guide at Colonial Williamsburg. As Mary Miley Theobald, she has published numerous nonfiction books and articles on history, travel and business topics. As Mary Miley, she is the author of the award-winning Roaring Twenties mystery series.

Miley applied the Page 69 Test to Deadly Spirits, her third Mystic's Accomplice mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“What would you say, Mrs. Wilcox, if I told you we have several witnesses who overheard you and your sister in a rather passionate quarrel on the veranda?”

“I would say they were exaggerating. My sister and I had a brief disagreement. Nothing unusual in that. We seldom see eye to eye.”

“And what was the disagreement this time?”

She paused to fill her lungs with smoke and puff it back out in one long breath, cleverly giving herself time to think of her reply. “That is none of your concern.”

“Begging your pardon, Mrs. Wilcox, but everything related to your father’s death is my concern. And there are witnesses who have described the argument to me, so this is your chance to give your version.”

“My version?” she replied scornfully. “I do not have a version; I have the truth. Gladys had been spreading malicious lies about my art teacher’s supposed estimation of my paintings at the Art Institute school. As Gladys has the artistic talent of a chimpanzee, she envies the abilities of others.”

“And your father’s role in this?”

“His role? He had nothing to do with it.”

“I have witnesses who say your father went out on the veranda and joined the argument.”

She bristled. “That’s ridiculous. He came to call us inside, that’s all. And it wasn’t an argument.”

“What happened after this squabble occurred?”

“I left.”

“Immediately thereafter?”

“Not quite immediately. I finished my cocktail, complimented the pianist who was taking a break, and observed my sister’s husband thrust his way to the bar to resume his journey toward complete intoxication. Then he turned on my sister. Watching him insult her was enough to keep me entertained for a few minutes. After that, I went to the hall to get my wrap.”

“And what was their argument about?”

“I’ve no idea what set Warren off. It happens frequently. He is easily prodded into rage over the most insignificant things, especially when drunk. Which is his usual state.”
Does this page 69 pass "the test?" Is it a good example of the rest of the book? I say Yes.

Deadly Spirits is the third Mystic’s Accomplice mystery, a series set in Roaring Twenties Chicago during the height of Prohibition when Capone’s gangsters terrorized the town.

During these years, seances, Ouija boards, fortunetellers, palm readers, and mystics flourished alongside bootleggers, speakeasies, and jazz singers. The series focuses on young widow Maddie Pastore who works for Madame Carlotta, a fraudulent spiritual medium—if “work" you could call it—investigating Carlotta’s clients and acting as a shill during her seances. Her investigations occasionally bring her face-to-face with a spirit whose death was neither natural nor accidental, and she finds herself involved in solving a murder.

In this story, on page 69, Maddie is with Chicago’s only female detective Alice Clement (a real life, Clement was Chicago’s first female detective) as they question Mrs. Wilcox, the daughter of the deceased. This page is typical of my writing style, which leans toward dialogue to move the plot along, and it illustrates a significant historical point. Some readers might find this surprising, but alcohol was readily available and down-right common at parties, never mind that it was illegal. But large cities like Chicago were awash in booze during the 1920s as citizens flouted Prohibition laws, allowing organized crime to become the scourge it remains today.
Learn more about the book and author at Mary Miley's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Impersonator.

The Page 69 Test: Silent Murders.

The Page 69 Test: Renting Silence.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in Disguise.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

"The Enigma Affair"

Charlie Lovett is the New York Times bestselling author of several novels, including The Bookman’s Tale and Escaping Dreamland. His academic writings include Lewis Carroll: Formed by Faith and for children he has written The Book of the Seven Spells and twenty plays that have been seen in over five thousand productions worldwide. A former antiquarian bookseller and avid book collector, he and his wife, Janice, live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and (when the pandemic allows) in the village of Kingham in England.

Lovett applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Enigma Affair, and reported the following:
The Enigma Affair is a thriller that follows a small-town librarian and a professional assassin as they try to solve a 75-year-old Nazi mystery and defeat a white supremacist villain. In an action-packed story, page 69 is one of the quieter moments. The first action sequences have passed, and our heroes are sitting on an airplane headed to Europe where they will spend the rest of the novel on the run. But, on this page we spend time with each of the two heroes and with the historical villain (Henrich Himmler) all in one page.

We begin with the end of a passage giving some background about Nemo, the mysterious assassin who showed up in Patton Harcourt’s kitchen moments after she came under sniper fire while baking profiteroles. Learning about Nemo and his childhood ticks a box for “this page gives a great peek into the novel.”

The bottom of the page begins a scene in which Himmler speaks to Heinz Kurschildgen, a man who tried to convince Himmler he had mastered the art of alchemy. Himmler’s attempts to use alchemy for the benefit of the Third Reich are at the center of the mystery that our contemporary heroes are trying to solve, so, again, this scene lands a big part of the novel squarely on page 69.

Between these two passages—one about our assassin cum hero, who occupies a moral gray area and one about Himmler, whose morals are anything but gray—is a short paragraph from the point of view of our primary hero, the librarian Patton Harcourt. It so precisely captures what has happened in the novel so far and where the novel is going, that I can’t resist quoting it in full:
Patton stared at the paper in front of her and did her best to ignore the man beside her. She had just wanted to make some nice pastries to take to Jasper and now here she was sitting in a first-class airline seat next to a cold-blooded killer trying to decrypt an Enigma message. She couldn’t believe her life had come to this. And she certainly couldn’t believe that the Nazis ever mastered alchemy.
There is a lot to unpack in that little paragraph, and the rest of the novel unpacks it. Reading over those lines again, I’m happy that they landed on page 69!
Learn more about the book and author at Charlie Lovett's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Bookman's Tale.

The Page 69 Test: First Impressions.

The Page 69 Test: The Lost Book of the Grail.

The Page 69 Test: Escaping Dreamland.

Q&A with Charlie Lovett.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 4, 2022

"Small Angels"

Lauren Owen is the author of The Quick and Small Angels. She studied at St. Hilda’s College Oxford, and holds an MA in Victorian literature from Leeds University and an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia, where she was awarded the Curtis Brown Prize.

Owen applied the Page 69 Test to Small Angels and reported the following:
Page 69 opens in the middle of a ghost story. Selena, matriarch of the Gonne family, is telling her troublesome granddaughter Lucia about the childhood of their ancestor, Harry Child.

A poor and neglected child, Harry grows up on the outskirts of society, in the shadow of the mysterious and magical Mockbeggar woods. The trees of the wood watch him get older and grow to love him.

Unfortunately, Harry comes to the attention of local farmer Mr Hart – who happens to be his father. Mr Hart’s decision to take his illegitimate son to live with him and his family will have unforeseen and tragic consequences.

I was pleased with how well the test worked on Small Angels! The novel is about storytelling – and I think you definitely get a sense of that from this page. I’m interested in the power which narratives hold over our lives (past, present and future), and the role that storytelling plays in our relationships with others (and with ourselves).

I’m also happy that page 69 shows us a dialogue between Lucia and Selena. These characters are central to Small Angels, and their relationship is very complex. Selena sees a resemblance between herself and Lucia. She cares deeply for her but also treats her with great harshness. Long after Selena’s death, Lucia is tormented by her influence.

It’s also nice that the woods make an appearance here, as they’re absolutely integral to the novel. Mockbeggar is an enchanting place, where strange things become possible. The trees are – in their own, un-human way – conscious and capable of feeling joy, love, and resentment. This can make them a wonderful place to visit, but also makes them very dangerous.
Visit Lauren Owen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 2, 2022

"A Woman in Time"

Bobi Conn is the author of the memoir In the Shadow of the Valley. Born in Morehead, Kentucky, and raised in a nearby holler, Conn developed a deep connection with the land and her Appalachian roots. She obtained her bachelor’s degree at Berea College, the first school in the American South to integrate racially and to teach men and women in the same classrooms. She attended graduate school, where she earned a master’s degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing. In addition to writing, Conn loves playing pool, telling jokes, cooking, being in the woods, attempting to grow a garden, and spending time with her incredible children.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Woman in Time, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Chapter 10

Autumn, 1930

Samuel was up at dawn and Rosalee with him. “I want to see my daddy,” she told him as he pulled a shirt over his head. “And my brother,” she added for good measure. But as she said it, she saw the spring and the patch of coneflowers in the forest, and she wondered if Samuel would be able to tell there was more to her desire to go back home.

He paused to look at her. “What about the baby?”

“I was thinking if we go slow and you’re with me, we can take the trail and it’ll be fine,” she said with a hopeful air.

Samuel’s face flashed with confidence, and in a paternal voice, he told her, “I know how to take care of my woman. We’ll go see that daddy of yours. I need to talk to him anyhow.”

“I can ride Bonnie in front so you can keep an eye on me, make sure I’m safe.” She beamed with a sweetness he couldn’t see past, and he grunted an agreement as he finished getting dressed.

As they started on the trail to her father’s house, Rosalee let herself imagine visiting her mama and aunt, and she could taste the sweet spring water, but then she wondered how she would get away from Samuel and everyone else, to be alone. She would wait until he was…
The Page 69 Test works well for my book, and I’m happy with the page that we land on. This is the first page of one of the chapters where the year is shown, so readers know this part of the story takes place in 1930. We see an interaction between Rosalee, the protagonist, and her husband, and this scene reveals a lot about their relationship. In particular, Rosalee doesn’t feel like she can express her true desires, so she finds other ways to get what she wants that she thinks her husband will find more agreeable. Samuel’s personality is at the forefront, too, showing readers that he is confident (perhaps overly so) and there’s an implication that he’s controlling. The reader also learns that Rosalee is pregnant and that they live near her family, and her ulterior motivation is to get away from the family once she gets there, so she can visit her mother and aunt. There are also references to the landscape – flowers and the spring – that represent the natural element in this story well.

This page brings up questions that might inspire curiosity about the story, so a reader who opens to this page may ask why Rosalee feels she has to deceive her husband by claiming to want to see her father when she truly wants to visit other family members. Even for readers who started at the beginning of the book, this page would make them wonder what Samuel wants to talk to Rosalee’s father about. Overall, this page is a great preview of some of the tension and themes throughout the story.
Visit Bobi Conn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue