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 Café. 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.

“Yes.”

“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

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

"Where Are the Snows"

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Page 69 Test: Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

Writers Read: Kathleen Rooney (July 2022).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 29, 2022

"Take My Husband"

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

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

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

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

“He did?”

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

“Twelve pounds?”

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

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

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

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

“Oh, I didn’t realize…”

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

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

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

The Page 69 Test: Dorothy Parker Drank Here.

The Page 69 Test: Love Sold Separately.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 25, 2022

"No Ordinary Thursday"

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

"Take No Names"

Daniel Nieh is a writer and translator.

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 21, 2022

"Tune in Tomorrow"

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

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

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 19, 2022

"The Orphans of Mersea House"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Page 69 Test: The Librarian Always Rings Twice.

Q&A with Marty Wingate.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

"When We Were Bright and Beautiful"

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

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

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

***

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 15, 2022

"Mother of All Secrets"

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

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

"And?"

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

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

Q&A with Kathleen M. Willett.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 12, 2022

"This Appearing House"

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

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

And that they are not alone in the House.

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

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

Q&A with Ally Malinenko.

The Page 69 Test: Ghost Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

"Human Blues"

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

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

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

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

The Page 69 Test: The Book of Dahlia.

The Page 69 Test: After Birth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 8, 2022

"A Dish to Die for"

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Page 69 Test: An Appetite For Murder.

Writers Read: Lucy Burdette (January 2012).

The Page 69 Test: Death in Four Courses.

The Page 69 Test: A Scone of Contention.

My Book, The Movie: Unsafe Haven.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 6, 2022

"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