Sunday, October 30, 2022

"The Wolves Are Watching"

Natalie Lund is the author of the young adult novels, The Wolves Are Watching, The Sky Above Us, and We Speak in Storms. She is a former middle and high school teacher and a graduate of Purdue University’s MFA program.

Lund applied the Page 69 Test to The Wolves Are Watching and reported the following:
I was excited to apply the Page 69 Test to The Wolves Are Watching because it is a delightfully brief page:
“Hurry, Fanya,” Teodora says when our song is finished. “You must go before light.”

I grab the New Form by its head-fur. It is heavy, but I am strong in haunch, foot, and jaw.

I run.
I think the test works. From this short snippet, browsers get a surprisingly good sense of several aspects of the book. The Wolves Are Watching is an adaptation of Slavic folklore about Vila, fairy creatures that transform into animals and trap wanderers with their songs. And while the casual browser applying the Page 69 Test may not glean what these creatures are from this passage, they will probably pick up on the fact that we are dealing with non-human characters (“strong in haunch, foot, and jaw”) who speak differently (“New Form” and “head-fur.”) A particularly observant browser may also note that the names are eastern european.

There is, of course, a large swath of information that readers are missing from just glancing at page 69–primarily the fact that the novel rotates perspectives and that the dominant perspective is a teen girl named Luce. Her voice and conflict–a cousin that goes missing in the middle of the night–are central to the story.

That said, plenty is communicated about the type of book The Wolves Are Watching is. Even on this short page, there’s a pressing timeline–something that Fanya must rush to do before first light that requires strength and speed. There’s an element of mystery as well. What is a New Form? Even readers who have read the prior 68 pages have not discovered the answer to that question yet. Hopefully, browsers applying the Page 69 test will intuit that this novel not only includes folkloric creatures, but also elements of a mystery and thriller–plenty to keep them turning the pages.
Visit Natalie Lund's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 28, 2022

"My Dirty California"

Jason Mosberg lives in Los Angeles where he works as a novelist, screenwriter, and TV creator.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, My Dirty California, and reported the following:
Page 69 of My Dirty California features a character named Tiph who's at an activist rally in Downtown Los Angeles. Her husband, who's stoned at the time, is not pleased to be there. But he pops out of his stupor and comes to her defense when Tiph gets in a fight with a group of men.

Reading this page alone is a nice tease into Tiph's storyline in the novel. However, Tiph's storyline is just one of four storylines that interweave across the whole book. And Tiph's is the fourth to be introduced. There's nothing on page 69 that indicates Tiph's storyline is not the main one. Each of the four storylines has a different protagonist, hook, engine, and even tone.

If readers bought this book based on page 69, I think some would find it thrilling to dive into the other three storylines, and I think others would find it jarring. One part features a thirtysomething woman who's looking for proof we're living in a simulation. One features a man who traveled to Los Angeles from Pennsylvania to solve the murder of his brother. And the other storyline features a young Mexican immigrant who is trapped in a house with no idea how she got there. The stories are linked through a video log by one character called My Dirty California.
Visit Jason Mosberg's website.

My Book, The Movie: My Dirty California.

Q&A with Jason Mosberg.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

"The Year the Maps Changed"

Danielle Binks is an author and literary agent from Melbourne, Australia. The Year the Maps Changed was her debut novel and has been shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award and was a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book. She has since written her first young adult novel, The Monster of Her Age, and has edited and contributed to Begin, End, Begin, an anthology of new Australian young adult writing, which won an Australian Book Industry Award.

Binks applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Year the Maps Changed, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Mr. Khouri lifted a hand to rub between his eyes. “We do not condone bullying or intimidation of any kind at this school—you both understand that, don’t you?”
I’m not convinced the Page 69 Test quite works for my book – only because mine has a few story layers (kind of like the contour lines on a topographic map, if you will) and this is just one of those lines, showing a bit of friction between Fred and Sam, her new ‘kind of’ adopted brother – the son of her father’s new partner. But this test doesn’t show the background also happening, which is the Kosovo War conflict heightening and the Australian Government preparing Fred’s hometown to be a ‘safe haven’ location.

I do like that it’s a scene with Mr. Khouri – Sam and Fred’s teacher – who is the font of a lot of wisdom. In fact, I think Mr. Khouri says something (before page 69!) that hints at why this limited view of a story doesn’t quite work. It’s something that Fred decides of her worldview, shaped by a Mr. Khouri teaching; I have decided that memories are a little like mountains. You need to hike to the top and get some height—what Mr. Khouri calls perspective—so you can look down at how far you’ve come, and see all the people and choices that make up the map of your life.
Visit Danielle Binks's website.

Q&A with Danielle Binks.

My Book, The Movie: The Year the Maps Changed.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 24, 2022

"The Rabbit's Gift"

Jessica Vitalis is the author of The Wolf’s Curse. She is a full-time writer with a previous career in business and an MBA from Columbia Business School. An American expat, she now lives in Canada with her husband and two daughters.

Vitalis applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Rabbit's Gift, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Things are out of balance now, but nature always rights itself,” Maman said.

She sounded certain, but I wasn’t so sure. The Grande Maman in the Moon had honored our family with the responsibility of running the country—we even had a small chunk of moon rock on display at home to prove it. But that was back at the beginning of time. To my knowledge, none of us had heard from her since.

I couldn’t believe she’d really punish us for doing everything we could––including using science––to help her people. (For all we knew, maybe the drought was punishment for not doing science.) Then again, the last time Madame Pauline had tried to convince Maman to allow scientists into the country, she’d taken ill with a fever for more than a week.
This passage provides an excellent glimpse into the themes in The Rabbit’s Gift.

The story, a French twist on stork mythology, takes place in a country where human babies are grown in cabbage-like plants and delivered by rabbits. Told in dual points of view, one side features a scrawny rabbit determined to prove himself to his starving warren. The other point of view (featured above) is a girl by the name of Fleurine; she longs to study botany in order to unlock the elusive secrets growing in the rabbits’ warren, but she is the daughter of the most powerful woman in the country and expected to follow in her mother’s political footsteps. Even worse, science is frowned upon in Montepeyroux for fear that it might upset the natural order and offend the Grande Maman in the Moon. Fleurine is certain that the scientific advancements she’s heard of in other countries could help decrease their dependence on rabbits, and maybe even decrease the impact of the recent drought that has driven people to the cities in search of food. When Fleurine discovers Quincy Rabbit stealing her gardening supplies, she follows him back to the top-secret warren, setting off a string of events that could prove catastrophic for rabbits and humans alike.
Visit Jessica Vitalis's website.

Q&A with Jessica Vitalis.

The Page 69 Test: The Wolf's Curse.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 22, 2022

"Improbably Yours"

Kerry Anne King is a Washington Post and Amazon charts bestselling author of compelling and transformational stories about family and personal growth with elements of mystery, humor, and an undercurrent of romance. She was voted the 2020 Writer of the Year by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Her novel, Everything You Are, was a finalist in the Nancy Pearl Book Awards hosted by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and A Borrowed Life was a finalist in the 2020 Authors on the Air Book of the Year Awards. In addition to writing, Kerry Schafer supports other writers through motivational coaching and speaking.

King applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Improbably Yours, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Improbably Yours we find the main character, Blythe, having breakfast with her sister, Kristen:
“How can you eat that?” I gesture with my fork at the pallid, rubbery thing on her plate.

“You’ll die of cholesterol before you’re forty,” she retorts.

“As it turns out, a certain amount of fat is good for you,” I point out. “You should eat the whole egg. Yolks are full of antioxidants, vitamins, omega-threes...”

She shudders. “And calories. Back to Alan—”

“I am not discussing Alan.”

“Fine then, what are you going to do about Nomi’s ashes?”

“I’m taking them to the island and burying them. As she asked.”

“To the fictional island you created when you were a child.”

“As it turns out, there’s a real island at those coordinate points. In the San Juans, not far from Orcas Island. I saw the attorney yesterday. There’s even money set aside for me to go, so why not?”

“Three reasons,” she says, ticking them off on her fingers. “Alan. Your new job. And just because there’s a land mass at those coordinates, it doesn’t mean it’s a real island. I mean, okay. Yes. It’s real but not the island. Not the one you drew in that stupid map.”

“How do you know that?” I ask. I was about to tell her that Mr. Wilcox has money in trust for her, too, but now she has annoyed me and I figure she can find that out for herself.

She stares at me as if I’ve completely lost my mind. I smile at her in the way I know pisses her off and say, “Right island or not, I’m going as soon as I can figure out a place to stay.”
As it turns out, the Page 69 Test works well for Improbably Yours. This one conversation sums up the major question asked in the book. Blythe has been presented with an improbable quest: using a treasure map that she drew as a child during a game of ‘let’s pretend’ to find the spot where her beloved deceased grandmother wants her ashes to be buried. Leaving to follow the quest means turning her back on a life that offers security, even if not exactly what she wants – the ambitious and handsome young man who wants to marry her, a job offer her sister would nearly die for, and the version of reality Blythe has always believed in. If she accepts this wild goose chase of a quest will she find the life and love she dreams of, or lose everything she has and come to regret her decision?
Visit Kerry Anne King's website.

The Page 69 Test: Everything You Are.

The Page 69 Test: A Borrowed Life.

The Page 69 Test: Other People's Things.

Writers Read: Kerry Anne King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 20, 2022

"The Raven Song"

Luanne G. Smith is the Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestselling author of The Vine Witch, The Glamourist, and The Conjurer, a witchy historical fantasy series set in Belle Époque France, and The Raven Spell and The Raven Song, a gothic witch series set in a fantasy version of Victorian London. She’s lucky enough to live in Colorado at the base of the beautiful Rocky Mountains, where she enjoys reading, gardening, hiking, a glass of wine at the end of the day, and finding the magic in everyday life.

Smith applied the Page 69 Test to The Raven Song and reported the following:
A large part of page 69 of The Raven Song is an exchange between Sir Henry Elvanfoot, a renowned wizard in the north (Edinburgh), and Edwina Blackwood, a shapeshifting witch who has recently traveled north (from London) to escape a man who has been stalking her.

Besides showing a brief conversation between the wizard and a pair of bees, there’s also this observation from Elvanfoot about Edwina when he sees her clutch her shawl around her: “It’s almost like a swaddling motion, is it not? The way you keep your shawl held snug around you whenever you’re a bit flustered?”

Edwina answers:
“I’m not flustered. Not exactly.” She loosened her grip on the shawl and settled herself. “But when Mary and I were younger, it often helped with the transformation, as you suggest. My mother is a textile witch. She can sew, weave, knit. She made the shawls when we were younger, enchanting them with malleable threads that conformed to our bodies. You see, it does take a measure of self-control to keep the mind and body housed together when things get stressful.”
I wouldn’t say the page is remarkably representative of the overall book, but the scene is an important one because it reveals information about Edwina and Mary and the relevance of their flowing shawls that hadn’t been covered in depth in the first book. Without saying more to avoid spoilers, the information on the page is part of the set up for the villain’s ultimate motive to do what he does.

The Raven Song is the second book in The Conspiracy of Magic duology. There were a lot of unanswered questions in the first book, The Raven Spell. Some of that was done deliberately, of course, with new questions raised at the end to entice readers to return for the sequel. I think this second book will answer most of those nagging reader questions. They’ll find it also explores more of the Celtic folklore as the characters travel north, hopefully providing one complete story arc by the end of book two.
Visit Luanne G. Smith's website.

Q&A with Luanne G. Smith.

The Page 69 Test: The Raven Spell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

"River Woman, River Demon"

Jennifer Givhan, a National Endowment for the Arts and PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellow, is a Chicana and Indigenous novelist, poet, and transformational coach. She is the author of Jubilee, which received an honorable mention for the 2021 Rudolfo Anaya Best Latino-Focused Fiction Book Award, and Trinity Sight, winner of the 2020 Southwest Book Award. She has also published five full-length poetry collections and her honors include the Frost Place Latinx Scholarship and the Joy Harjo Poetry Prize.

Givhan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, River Woman, River Demon, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It was like that each midnight for seven more nights. Each time we returned to the fork in the road—the place no one owned, the place that belonged to the spirits—some animal or other came to greet us. One night, a black fat-tailed scorpion scuttled across the sand, and Jericho said it represented adaptation and strength—even the small guy’s got to protect himself. Later, I looked up the scorpion’s origins: native to Africa. There’s no way it should’ve been in San Diego. Had he conjured it?

“The spirits will come,” he said. “You have to believe they’re coming. That they’re already here.”

The final night Jericho said if the spirits had accepted, then the Black man would come.

I grinned ruefully up at him, thinking he was teasing. He’d been there all along, right? Jericho was the devil?

He rolled his eyes at me. “Not a brown-skinned man, Eva love. Not that kind of Black man. And not the Judeo-Christian devil either. Lil ole funny boy. He of many names and iterations. If he shows himself to you, you gotta be brave, Eva woman, you hear me? Show no fear. He’ll ask to borrow your glass, and he’ll show you how to transform it into a piece not only proficient for a student, not a utilitarian ashtray or wine glass, but artwork that seems to flow and move of its own accord. Artwork so lifelike it feels magic.” He said the last part with the flair of the showman he was.

I asked, “How are you so sure the devil’s a man? Couldn’t she be a woman?”

“You know, I just do believe your devil might be a woman.” He laughed, the edges of his eyes crinkling. “Well, come to think of it, Pomba Gira is a femme deity in Umbanda. You’d love her. They call her the Mistress of Witchcraft. She’s Èsú’s wife, Queen of the Crossroads.”

We lit a candle in the crossroad sand, placed four pennies around it, and waited.

Part of me doubted. I wasn’t an overnight convert. Maybe that’s why Jericho was so drawn to me. I wasn’t an easy sell. I took coaxing. But perhaps my willingness to sit with my doubt, to wait despite my doubt, perhaps that was as powerful as if I’d believed entirely.
As if by magick, page 69 of River Woman, River Demon absolutely does encapsulate the larger themes of the novel in such a compelling and succinct way. I never cease feeling amazed by the synchronicities of the Universe, and this case is no exception. In this scene, the protagonist Eva, who is a bruja by birth who is disconnected from her magickal roots and searching for a link to her innate belief, power, and strength, which she'd believed she'd found, at least in part, through her relationship with her hoodoo practicing professor of a husband, Jericho; he's taken her to the crossroads to perform a ritual to find her mojo, which in this case and traditional hoodoo means the essence of her creative spirit and a belief in herself and the magick within that will empower her and lead her to her creative destiny.

In typical Eva fashion, she's skeptical but enamored of the idea and Jericho, thus open to possibility. In her internal dialogue, she muses, “Part of me doubted. I wasn’t an overnight convert. Maybe that's why Jericho was so drawn to me. I wasn't an easy sell. I took coaxing. But perhaps my willingness to sit with my doubt, to wait despite my doubt, perhaps that was as powerful as if I'd believed entirely.”

What's cool about this passage in relation to the entire book is that this summarizes the lesson that she must learn through the entire novel; she doesn't believe it here, doesn't believe in herself, and, when her husband is accused of murdering their best friend who is found dead in his arms in the river beside their house, Eva will struggle to believe him.

This page sets up the endearing dynamic between them shrouded by uncertainty built into the ritual of their magick as well as their own natures, his enigmatic and hers self-protective. As this murder mystery + ghost story unfolds, the reader must puzzle together who to believe and whether the magick they discuss here was a blessing or curse, whether it will protect or destroy them.
Visit Jennifer Givhan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 16, 2022

"Beasts of the Earth"

James Wade lives and writes in the Texas Hill Country with his wife and daughter. He is the author of River, Sing Out and All Things Left Wild, a winner of the prestigious MPIBA Reading the West Award for Debut Fiction, and a recipient of the Spur Award for Best Historical Novel from the Western Writers of America.

Wade applied the Page 69 Test to his third novel, Beasts of the Earth, and reported the following:
Beasts of the Earth occurs in two timelines-- one in Texas in the 1980s, and the other in Louisiana in the 1960s. Page 69 falls in the Louisiana timeline and describes the first moment that young Michael Fischer's father, Munday, arrives home from his stint in the state prison. There is little action-- or even description-- on the page, and yet Munday's arrival is something that irrevocably upends Michael's life. It is one of the defining moments in the novel's chain.

On first glance, it would appear the test "failed," as the page is void of much of the novel's stylized prose or plot-based content. However, there are repetitive thematic elements that cycle through the text and a few of them pop up on this page. The first is Michael waking from a dream. Both Michael and Harlen (the lead character in the Texas timeline) oscillate between dreams and reality, often finding the latter a much darker place to dwell. Additionally, Munday's reappearance in Michael's life is part of the continual rotation of evil that haunts him, despite his own attempts to walk a righteous path.

It is my non-expert and unsolicited opinion that any page of any work ought to contain some element of the novel's soul-- the tone, the theme, the essence, etc. While page 69 of Beasts of the Earth would certainly not be the page I would choose to promote, it does offer enough of a glimpse at the novel's heartbeat that it passes my own test of relevance.
Visit James Wade's website.

Q&A with James Wade.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 13, 2022

"The Vicious Circle"

Katherine St. John is a native of Mississippi and a graduate of the University of Southern California who spent over a decade in the film industry as an actress, screenwriter, and director before turning to penning novels. When she's not writing, she can be found hiking or on the beach with a good book. St. John currently lives in Atlanta with her husband and two daughters.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Vicious Circle, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“What?” Lucas asks. As he leans past me to see what I’m looking at, I catch the scent of something faintly woodsy and masculine.

“No doors,” I say, quickly stepping away from him.

Lucas rolls his eyes. “Communes. Everybody’s gotta overshare.” Responding to my quizzical look, he continues, “I lived in one when I was a teenager.”

“You did?” I ask, surprised. I’m sure he’d never mentioned that when we first met. “With your parents?”

“My mom.” I notice that the corner of his mouth turns down slightly at the mention of her. He ambles into the spacious marble and gold bath- room, which fortunately does have a door, and washes his hands in the sink, looking at me through the mirror as I do the same at the matching sink. “She and my dad got divorced when I was twelve, and she took me and my sister to live with a bunch of hippies in the foothills of the Sierras.”


“Good question,” he answers dryly. “I don’t know. She was always more religious than my dad, but after they divorced, she kinda went off the deep end with it, wanted to devote her life to God, live more ‘naturally.’ She sold candles she made at the farmers market outside of Oakland and met the leader of the group there—before I knew it I was living in a bunk room with fifty other kids.”

“Where was your dad?” I ask.

“In Argentina taking care of his dying mother. Had a hell of a time finding us when he got back.”

“Wow.” I dry my hands and lean against the counter facing the jacuzzi and gold-rimmed shower as Lucas splashes his face with water. I’m annoyed he’s here, but in two days’ time I’ll never see him again, and never having met anyone that grew up in an actual commune, I am curious. “What was that like, living in a commune?”

“I mean, I was a kid, so at first I thought it was awesome.”
The Vicious Circle deals with the very human need to belong and how it can be abused by leaders with bad intentions. We follow Sveta as she travels to Mexico to pay her respects to her long-lost uncle Paul, who has just died and unexpectedly left her his entire estate, including his retreat center, Xanadu, which stands at the edge of a river deep in the Mexican jungle. The longer Sveta is at Xanadu, the more she begins to believe that the group living at the retreat center is not simply a commune, but a cult devoted to Kali, her uncle’s common-law wife, who has been running Xanadu in the two years since Paul fell ill.

This passage takes place just after Sveta has arrived at Xanadu with Lucas, the executor of her uncle’s will, who Sveta had a brief but memorable fling with a dozen years ago, and hasn’t spoken to since. There’s a lingering attraction between them that Sveta doesn’t want to acknowledge because she’s engaged––and also because Lucas ghosted her all those years ago.

With the discovery that the bedrooms of the villa have no doors, Sveta begins to realize that there may be more to Xanadu than meets the eye. In this scene, she learns Lucas spent time in a commune when he was younger, and he doesn’t have a favorable opinion of the lifestyle. This is something that will come up again later in the book, as Sveta and Lucas’s relationship evolves.

Even though our villain, cult leader Kali, isn’t mentioned here, I feel like the Page 69 Test really works here because this is the first time we get the sense something may be off with Xanadu, and learn that Lucas has experience with a live-in spiritual group. We also see a hint of the attraction between Lucas and Sveta that will develop over the course of the book.
Visit Katherine St. John's website.

Q&A with Katherine St. John.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 11, 2022


Stephanie Feldman is the author of the novels Saturnalia and The Angel of Losses, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, winner of the Crawford Fantasy Award, and finalist for the Mythopoeic Award. She is co-editor of the multi-genre anthology Who Will Speak for America? and her stories and essays have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Catapult Magazine, Electric Literature, Flash Fiction Online, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Rumpus, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and more. She lives outside Philadelphia with her family.

Feldman applied the Page 69 Test to Saturnalia and reported the following:
From page 69:
You think you will know the end when it arrives. How could you miss an epic plague, a meteorite plunging into the sea, a zombie invasion? How could you miss a tidal wave or a government coup, nuclear annihilation or environmental collapse?

We reassured ourselves by imagining ever more fantastic catastrophes while the real disasters unfolded. We saw the bees disappearing, and the seas warming, and the anonymous oligarchs funding political campaigns. Sometimes, it seemed it was all we talked about, but our complaints were mundane. The weather, for instance: no snow on Christmas. Flood insurance premiums increased, but only on the coast, and don’t they have enough money there? Those people with their beach houses? I can’t afford a beach house; I can’t afford any house; I can’t afford my education, but no one told me that until after I graduated. I’m just glad there’s a basement, muddy though it is. My phone trills tornado alarms in the middle of the night. More and more tornadoes, spinning off from more and more hurricanes.

It’s just the weather. Hasn’t the weather always been bad? Haven’t we always had Lyme disease? Haven’t we always longed for spring to come early? Can’t I just focus on those little gifts, those simple pleasures, a flower blooming in December? Can’t I have anything to sweeten the mounting grit of daily life, here, in the end of days?

Because now, as we all know, it’s too late. A tipping point. The floodwaters and mosquitos and tornadoes are killing us here in Pennsylvania, but we’re lucky—lucky we’re not in another region of this fraying country, running from fires, rationing water, or sinking into the rising tide. Or in another part of the world, which has tipped, which spills nations across borders, which puts people in a jar and shakes them until they fight like scorpions.
Page 69 is the one passage that directly captures the mood and setting of Saturnalia, which is all about our changing world and how we will face it. Our anxiety, our rationalizations, our compartmentalization and mental juggling. Our struggle to manage our own lives and comprehend the enormity of what’s confronting humanity.

In this way, the Page 69 Test is eerily spot on! Which I love—Saturnalia is also about synchronicity, and that tug between reason and our desire for the numinous.

At the same time, I wouldn’t use this page to introduce Saturnalia to readers. It’s an urgent, present-tense narrative that unfolds over one night and from one point of view, as the protagonist, Nina careens from disaster to opportunity and back again—and as her relationships shift between friendship and antagonism. Page 69 is contemplative (if still sort of chaotic) while the rest of Saturnalia is rooted in action.

I don’t know if it’s a cop-out to say I would start on page one, of if this test proves I made the right choice. But on the very first page, Nina considers an invitation from Max, her last friend, to visit him on Saturnalia eve. Soon, the wild winter solstice carnival will begin, a festival that brings up only bad memories for Nina, and she’d rather hide out in her deteriorating house. But Max offers her work, and she’s broke. She’s also been isolating herself for years, and Max’s call beckons her back into the world—not just a world of disaster, but a world of pageantry, hedonism, and power. Nina insists she’s done with all that, but she can’t resist.
Visit Stephanie Feldman's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Angel of Losses.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 10, 2022

"Under a Veiled Moon"

Karen Odden earned her Ph.D. in English from New York University and subsequently taught literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has contributed essays to numerous books and journals, written introductions for Victorian novels in the Barnes & Noble classics series, and edited for the journal Victorian Literature and Culture. Her previous novels, also set in 1870s London, have won awards for historical fiction and mystery.

Odden applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Under a Veiled Moon, her second Inspector Corravan Mystery, and reported the following:
On page 69 Inspector Michael Corravan interviews Frederick Boncy, one of the few survivors of the collision between the pleasure steamer, the Princess Alice, and an enormous coal ship, the Bywell Castle, the previous night, resulting in the steamer sinking in the Thames and drowning most of its 630 passengers. (This historical event occurred in September 1878.) Corravan elicits Boncy’s impressions of how the accident happened, and, significantly, they’re not matching up with an account he just heard from the Bywell Castle’s captain.

This isn’t deeply thematic, for the emotional question at the core of this book is about regret and how we live with ourselves after we make terrible mistakes we can’t undo. However, this page is representative in that it points to one of my minor themes: in every event, witnesses almost never have the same impressions or tell the same story. We bring our own subjectivities—our own assumptions and interpretive paradigms—to every situation. (I like to learn what experiences cause those assumptions and paradigms; this is one of my favorite mysteries about people.) In this book, disparities in accounts become important because a group of newspapers coordinate to produce a single, misleading version of the collision.

Furthermore, page 69 does represent Corravan’s method: he gathers up stories and finds places they don’t match. An early Goodreads reviewer said of this book, “One of the things I’ve loved, about both the first book [Down a Dark River] and this one, is that Corravan solves mysteries through solid, good police work. He isn’t a Holmesian genius, he doesn’t stumble upon MacGuffins and dash into climactic battles; he puts boots on the ground and chases down leads, and asks for help from many different sources, until he has enough pieces of the puzzle to put together.” I was deeply gratified by these few sentences – because I appreciate mysteries that aren’t solved by lucky chances and sudden insights but by slow, steady work. Maybe it’s because I feel like my writing career has proceeded along those lines, putting my boots on the ground (as in, butt in the chair) and asking for help. People sometimes ask if I have anything in common with my Irish, 6-foot-tall former thief and bare-knuckles boxer from seedy 1870s Whitechapel, and I guess that’s it.
Visit Karen Odden's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Karen Odden and Rosy.

The Page 69 Test: A Lady in the Smoke.

The Page 69 Test: A Dangerous Duet.

Q&A with Karen Odden.

The Page 69 Test: Down a Dark River.

My Book, The Movie: Under a Veiled Moon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 8, 2022

"Sinister Graves"

Marcie Rendon is an enrolled member of the White Earth Nation, a Pinckley Prize-winning author, playwright, poet, freelance writer, and a community arts activist. Rendon was awarded the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award for 2020. She is a speaker on Native issues, leadership, and writing. Her second novel in her Cash Blackbear mystery series, Girl Gone Missing, was nominated for the Sue Grafton Memorial Award. Rendon was recognized as a 50 over 50 Change-maker by Minneapolis AARP and Pollen in 2018.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Sinister Graves, the third Cash Blackbear mystery, and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test will give you a peek into the heart and mind of Cash Blackbear. I have been told by feminist scholars and college professors that Cash is a case study for PTSD. On page 69 she has been invited into the home of Al, a new acquaintance who rowed her through the flood waters of the Red River Valley to meet with Sheriff Wheaton about a woman’s body that washed in with the flood. As Cash looks around his home she thinks to herself, ‘His house looked lived in. Like a home. In her place, her apartment-if you took away her clothes-you’d never know that someone actually lived there.’ Towards the end of the page she thinks, ‘It had never occurred to her that she might be able to own a home that no one could tell her to leave.’

Page 69 doesn’t tell you much about the murders that happen in the book but this page lets the reader know the inner workings of Cash that propel her to care about solving the crimes Sheriff Wheaton asks her get involved with. No one cared about her in foster care, she moved from place to place. On page 69 she gets a glimpse of other possibilities.

While the storyline of Sinister Graves explores murder and the stealing of Native American children, as always with Cash, there is an undercurrent of past hurt which she strives to overcome, and does, with incredible resiliency.
Visit Marcie R. Rendon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 6, 2022

"Secrets of the Nile"

Tasha Alexander is the author of the New York Times bestselling Lady Emily mystery series.

The daughter of two philosophy professors, she studied English Literature and Medieval History at the University of Notre Dame. She and her husband, novelist Andrew Grant, live on a ranch in southeastern Wyoming.

Alexander applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Secrets of the Nile, the 16th Lady Emily mystery, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Secrets of the Nile:
different for us than it is for other siblings. I feel his pain. I know when he is lonely. I hear his voice in my heart when we are not together. I hear thoughts he will not let himself hear.”

“Don’t tell Sanura any of that. She’ll be more convinced than ever that you’re dabbling in evil magic.”

“There’s no magic involved,” I said.

“You’ve always held on to things too tightly, Meryt. Now it’s time to let go. Bek will always be your brother. Your twin. But what that means as adults is different from what it meant when you were children.”

“If I had children of my own it would be easier.”

“If you had children of your own, nothing would be easier.” Tey had five, so she would know. “You’d be eternally exhausted, fat, and cranky. And your loving husband would morph into someone unrecognizable.”

“Surely it’s not that bad.”

“No, it’s not that bad. Not all the time, anyway. I’m told romance can return when the children are grown.”

“I see how Raneb looks at you. There’s plenty of romance still there.”

“You’re right about that. Otherwise the babies wouldn’t keep coming, would they?” We both laughed. The hurt of not having children had long since dulled for me, but it would never disappear altogether.

“I know I’m overreacting to Bek’s marriage. Sometimes it’s so hard to keep my emotions neatly boxed the way I want them to be.”

“Focus on your art, Meryt. That’s where all your outsized emotions will flourish. It will purge from you the pain of feeling them. They’ll leave your heart and become embedded in your work, which will give other people, who feel these things almost without knowing it, the gift of beginning to recognize their own sensations when they look at your sculptures.”

“That sounds an awful lot like evil magic.”
I’ve found that the Page 69 Test is frequently an excellent way to get a sense of a book, but, sadly, it doesn’t work so well for Secrets of the Nile. There are two timelines in the book: the primary one set in 1904 Luxor; the other in Deir el-Medina, a workers’ village outside the Valley of the Kings, during the reign of Ramses II. Page 69 takes place in the latter and is critical to the ancient storyline. It illustrates essential aspects of the narrator’s relationship with her twin brother, deals with the disappointment of not having children, addresses her struggles with her sister-in-law, hints at the significance of art in her life, and suggests the trouble suspicions of magic can bring. Page 69 absolutely gives an accurate sense of Meryt’s story. However, because it entirely excludes the 1904 storyline, which is the bulk of the novel, it can’t give the reader an accurate sense of the novel as a whole. Were page 69 set in 1904, the test might have worked, particularly if it had the 1904 characters discussing ancient history. That said, they are never entirely aware of how their present is tied to Meryt’s past. Maybe the structure of this book means that no matter what fell on page 69, the test wouldn’t work.
Visit Tasha Alexander's website.

Q&A with Tasha Alexander.

The Page 69 Test: The Dark Heart of Florence.

Writers Read: Tasha Alexander.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 4, 2022


Ted Fox is the author of the jokebook You Know Who’s Awesome? (Not You.) and once solved the New York Times crossword puzzle forty-six days in a row (not a joke). He lives in Indiana with his wife, their two kids, and two German short-haired pointers who are frankly baffled there aren’t more dogs in his books. The recipient of a prestigious “No. 1 Dad” keychain, Fox was widely recognized as having the best swaddling technique of anyone in the family when his kids were babies. And not just the immediate family―grandparents, aunts, uncles, everybody.

Fox applied the Page 69 Test to Schooled, his first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Schooled finds the protagonist, Jack Parker, dropping off his daughter, Lulu, for her first day of kindergarten. Jack is a stay-at-home dad, and this is his first child to go to school, so it’s incredibly emotional for both of them. Meanwhile, two-year-old little brother Klay is looking on from his car seat and adds, not altogether helpfully, “Lu really sad.” The page ends with Jack seeing Chad Henson, his nemesis and competition for president of the school’s Active Alpaca Parent Board, in his rearview mirror.

This all makes for a pretty good window into Schooled as a whole. You have Jack wanting to be there for his daughter even as he knows he has to start letting go of some of the things he was able to do for her as a baby and a toddler. This is a conflict that’s at the center of him figuring out who he is outside of being a parent, which in turn is a major theme of the book. You get some insight into how he interacts with his kids and the way I approached writing conversations between the three of them. And you get a dash of Chad, Jack’s high school rival, who re-appeared in Jack’s life earlier in the book seemingly out of nowhere, much like he seems to do here in his BMW SUV.

Reading this page might not give you a full sense of how much humor I’ve tried to weave throughout the book—although Klay trying to suck his foot in the backseat isn’t not funny—but I think I’d be okay with a reader judging Schooled based on these several hundred words. Fittingly, when acquiring the book, my editor pointed to the larger first-day-of-school drop-off scene of which page 69 is a part as one of the most emotionally resonant pieces of the story.
Visit Ted Fox's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 2, 2022

"The Real Mrs. Tobias"

Sally Koslow is the author of the novel The Real Mrs. Tobias, as well as the novels Another Side of Paradise; the international bestseller The Late, Lamented Molly Marx; The Widow Waltz; With Friends Like These; and Little Pink Slips. She is also the author of one work of nonfiction, Slouching Toward Adulthood: How to Let Go So Your Kids Can Grow Up. Her books have been published in a dozen countries.

Koslow applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Real Mrs. Tobias, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Birdie slipped into herself, focusing only on the lull of the truck’s warmth, as comfortable as an armful of clothes fresh from a dryer. The muffled whoosh of light traffic. The breathing of sleeping Alice. They headed south, past a showy cluster of high-rises, and soon turned into the familiar cobweb of lower Manhattan. Birdie’s eyes meet the Brooklyn Bridge, with its tinsel of cables and cords. A structural poem honoring the city.

She’d grown up hungry for history, for beauty. In her seven-stop-sign hometown, beyond its brick and fieldstone Carnegie library and a stalwart limestone post office, her world had been bland and sparsely landscaped, as if an artist had left his canvas unfinished before escaping. Yet despite Iowa’s openness, Birdie couldn’t find her place. This had drawn her all the more to New York, with its density, its layers, its promise. Grand monuments to forgotten heroes lit her imagination and sense of romance.

When she arrived, Birdie Peterson couldn’t wait to meet her future. It did not take her long to realize the Midwest was shadowing her as she tried to find her place. She saluted Mel, who though raised in the Twin Cities, seemed born for New York, where Birdie couldn’t keep pace…
The Real Mrs. Tobias explores the bonds and inner lives of three different women called “Mrs. Tobias:” Veronika, the family’s matriarch; Mel, Veronika’s daughter-in-law, and Birdie, Mel’s daughter-in-law. Page 69 offers insights into why the youngest wife, Birdie Peterson, born and raised on an Iowa farm near a small town, was eager to leave home for New York City. Once there, however, she becomes overwhelmed.

As a recent college graduate, Birdie wanted more than Iowa had to offer. She longed for a city steeped in romance that showcased exquisite architecture, diversity, history and more than anything else, would allow her dreams to come true. In Birdie’s case, her dream was to become a writer. Once in New York, however, she feels she can’t keep pace, “falling behind in a race she hadn’t realized she’d entered.” The city smothers her with options and crowds. Her mother-in-law, Mel, however—another Midwestern, albeit from a city—takes readily to New York. She leaves St. Paul, Minnesota, and never looks back, eventually practicing as a psychotherapist with a M.S.W. degree and relishing the city’s possibilities.

The third woman in the triangle, Veronika, doesn’t receive a cameo on Page 69. During the span of the novel, Veronika is 74, and the self-appointed keeper of the Tobias family nuclear codes. She’s a successful psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who maintains a haughty attitude toward her daughter-in-law Mel’s practice, given her less prestigious degree. Both Veronika and Mel believe that they show their love to their families by involving themselves in problem-solving, while those on the receiving end of this concern tend to interpret their behavior as meddling. The Real Mrs. Tobias kicks off when Mel’s son/Veronika’s grandson Micah—Birdie’s husband--is involved in a hit-and-run accident and leaves the scene of a possible crime. The family rallies at a command-performance dinner at the home of Veronika and her husband, David.

The novel takes place in Manhattan, where Veronika and Mel live; Brooklyn, Birdie and Micah’s home, and Iowa, where the reader meets Birdie’s family, who illustrate a less in-your-face manner of showing love. Among the Iowa characters is Joy-Ellen, Birdie’s forthright, loving grandmother, the kind of woman who keeps jumper cables in her pickup truck and wouldn’t think of buying a bakery dessert, since she prefers to bake her own and serve it with Cool Whip.

A family saga, The Real Mrs. Tobias delves into the tricky psychology of mother-in-law/daughter-in-law bonds as it also explores regional/ethnic differences in how we show family love. I’m happy to ad dthat “funny” and “witty” often come up often in the novel’s reviews.
Visit Sally Koslow's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Widow Waltz.

Coffee with a Canine: Sally Koslow and Percy.

--Marshal Zeringue