Saturday, May 21, 2022

"Mercury Rising"

R.W.W. Greene is based in New Hampshire, USA. He is a frequent panelist at the Boskone Science Fiction & Fantasy Convention in Boston, and his work has seen daylight in Stupefying Stories, Daily Science Fiction, New Myths, and Jersey Devil Press. Greene keeps bees, collects typewriters, and lives with his writer/artist spouse Brenda and two cats. He is a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association of America.

Greene applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Mercury Rising, and reported the following:
Sixty-six, sixty-seven, sixty-eight… Sixty-nine!

Huh.

Yeah, this test is not going to work on Mercury Rising. Page 69 is a section marker, a mostly blank page containing the twice-body-copy-sized words:

PART THREE

Squeeze Box

January 27, 1976

I suppose some meaning can be made of it. A reader would get the timeframe of the book. ‘Squeezebox’ as one word is slang for an accordion or a concertina. As two words, it's the title of a song by The Who. The lyrics are rife with sexual innuendo. There are no accordions in the book, but neither does Pete Townshend make an appearance.

There are aliens in the book, or at least the fear of them. There is a fair amount of paranoia in there, but it has nothing to do with the Cold War. In fact, there was no Cold War … because of the aliens. No Vietnam War, either, and the Kennedys didn’t die. Cleveland did, though. It might have been aliens, but it also might have been Nixon. Opinions are mixed. The protagonist of the book is pretty sure it was Nixon, mostly because Duke Carlotta, the crime boss he works for said so, and when he and a killer named Prick go to put the squeeze on-

Wait. Squeeze? Maybe this Page 69 thing works better than I thought!
Visit R.W.W. Greene's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 19, 2022

"Dreaming of Flight"

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 40 published and forthcoming books.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Dreaming of Flight, and shared the following:
From page 69:
He literally ran through his egg route after school the following day, jogging down the sidewalks. Jumping over the cracks.

When he had sold the last dozen, he sprinted to Marilyn’s house, where he stood on her landing, panting desperately.

He knocked, still panting.

He leaned his hands on his own knees and gasped, and gasped, and gasped.

When he looked up, she was looking down on him.

“Oh,” she said. “Well, this is odd.”

He wanted to answer, but he couldn’t speak yet.

She looked past him and down the concrete stairs, probably to the spot where his empty wagon sat. He didn’t bother to look around to be sure what she was seeing. He was too busy breathing.

“Well, I know you didn’t come to sell me eggs,” she said.

He shook his head, still not ready to speak.

“It hasn’t been a week, and besides, you’re all out.”

Stewie opened his mouth, but no words came through. Only noisy, raspy breathing.

“I’ll just wait here until you’re ready to explain yourself,” she said.

She leaned one shoulder against the frame of the open door. Then she reached into her skirt pocket and absentmindedly pulled out a peppermint candy. It was the kind with the swirls of red in an otherwise white disk. She unwrapped the cellophane and popped the candy into her mouth. Then, as though suddenly remembering something she had forgotten, she reached again into the same pocket and produced another candy, which she held in his direction.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said, and took it from her. His words, though breathy, sounded intelligible.

“Now how about you tell me to what I owe this visit?”

“Pardon, ma’am?”

“It means ‘What brings you here?’”

“Oh. That. I thought you might…”
I realize this page ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, and I didn’t mean to do that. What Stewie is trying to say is that he’s worried about her memory. She recently started a grease fire by leaving something on the stove, and he wants to be around to look after her. He tends to want to fix everything and everybody and make sure nothing ever goes wrong, so this is something he really can’t let go.

I do think it represents the novel fairly well in that both characters come through, considering it’s just one page. It shows off Stewie’s neediness and obsessive tendencies, and Marilyn’s prickliness and unwillingness to make things much easier for him.

There’s a bit more action and plot than comes through on this page, but this is characteristic of the relationship building that takes place. And really, if you’re not a fan of relationship building in fiction, this book is probably not for you. Most of what I write is character-driven and pretty quiet, though perhaps not as much as page 69 of Dreaming of Flight might lead you to believe.
Visit Catherine Ryan Hyde's website.

Q&A with Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Page 69 Test: Brave Girl, Quiet Girl.

The Page 69 Test: My Name is Anton.

The Page 69 Test: Seven Perfect Things.

The Page 69 Test: Boy Underground.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

"Summer Love"

Nancy Thayer's many novels include Summer House, The Hot Flash Club, Beachcombers, Island Girls, The Guest Cottage, The Island House, and Secrets in Summer.

Her books concern the mysteries and romance of families and relationships: marriage and friendships, divorce and love, custody and step parenting, family secrets and private self-affirmation, the quest for independence and the normal human hunger for personal connections.

Thayer applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Summer Love, and reported the following:
On Page 69 of Summer Love, four friends are at a beach party at night on Nantucket Island, drinking beer, dancing to loud music, having fun after a week of hard work. Sheila gets harassed by a drunken guy, and Nick, handsome and way out of Sheila’s league, comes to rescue her.

Sheila thinks: She never could understand why Nick rescued her. She knew he wasn’t romantically interested in her, but at least they were becoming friends, and she’d never really had a man friend before.

This test works almost perfectly. In Summer Love, four people in their twenties come to Nantucket to work for the summer. They live in the same basement dorm, get different jobs, and come from very different backgrounds. But over the summer, they become friends. Their lives change, sometimes dramatically, sometimes subtly. The test page could lead to a flashback in time, to the beginning of the book where the four first meet each other and awkwardly realize these are the people they’ll share the summer with.

This summer is a journey, and Sheila, Nick, Ariel, and Wyatt find their lives transformed in ways they couldn’t have imagined.
Learn more about the book and author at Nancy Thayer's website.

The Page 69 Test: Summer House.

The Page 69 Test: Beachcombers.

The Page 69 Test: The Guest Cottage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 15, 2022

"Mustique Island"

Sarah McCoy is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of the novels Mustique Island; Marilla of Green Gables; The Mapmaker’s Children; The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico; and Le souffle des feuilles et des promesses (Pride and Providence).

Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post, Read It Forward, Writer Unboxed, and other publications. She hosted the NPR WSNC Radio monthly program “Bookmarked with Sarah McCoy” and previously taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso.

She lives with her husband, an orthopedic sports surgeon, their dog Gilly, and cat Tutu in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

McCoy applied the Page 69 Test to Mustique Island and reported the following:
From page 69:
No judgment, condemnation, spite, or shame. Just a woman partaking of God’s creation. How could that be wrong?

She slipped the straps of her dress over her shoulders and held it over her breasts a beat, Harry’s words—wobbly bits—resurfacing. She closed her eyes and listened to the tumble and crash of the cresting waves until the sound drowned out all thoughts. She let the dress drop then and walked forward into the surf. Bubbles tickled up from her belly button. The wind swept her hair back and kissed her lips briny. She put her arms out to either side, bare-chested to the horizon. The sun spread over skin that had never seen its light and warmed her like a giant ember.

You are beautiful, she thought to the sea, the heavens, and higher.

So lost in the moment, she’d forgotten Patrick until his shouts drew her to the shore.

“. . . too far!”

The water’s roar and the thudding of her heart made it hard to understand what he was saying. She turned over her shoulder to hear better.

“That’s it.” He’d come in knee-deep, angling his camera. “Stay like that.”

The waves crested frothy over the coral, fizzing up like champagne. She reached forward to let the bubbles buoy her and liked knowing Patrick was behind. He wasn’t an anchor like Harry had been. Rather, he felt like the halyard on a sail. The sand beneath her feet gave, and she sank into the silkiness of the current’s push and pull.

“I got it!” he said.

But she remained facing the blue on blue, transfixed by a beauty that had nothing to do with her. This was something bigger. Beauty that could not be reproduced. Beauty that defied lineage and surpassed human comprehension. It overwhelmed her with its power and for the first time in her life, she honestly prayed.
This Page 69 Test is some kind of soothsayer mojo. It absolutely applies.

In this scene, my protagonist Willy May Michael walks off the beach of Mustique Island into the ocean so that her new ‘friend’ Patrick Lichfield (a famous photographer) can take her picture. It’s glamour and sex and beachy. But it’s so much more than that, too. It’s a woman feeling all the dichotomies faced in her era (1972) and the ones readers continue to face now (2022): the pride and shame in our bodies, the pleasure and sorrow in our emotions, the longing and loathing in our own desires, the push and pull of the world’s forces. Regardless of gender, what all of us really want is to be fully seen and accepted. That’s the vital marrow of life and the most beautiful part of existence. True freedom is being able to fully love and being fully loved.

Page 69 gives great insight into Willy May and the book as a whole. It’s about finding yourself while losing yourself. It isn’t all one or all the other either. Both are necessary. The shift of these forces is as much a part of the natural world as the tides.

Mustique Island is an escape that doesn’t just send the reader sailing into the frothy waves. It has a compass that I hope navigates readers to new heart territories.
Learn more about the book and author at Sarah McCoy’s website, Facebook page, Instagram page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Sarah McCoy and Gilbert.

The Page 69 Test: The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

The Page 69 Test: The Baker's Daughter.

The Page 69 Test: The Mapmaker's Children.

The Page 69 Test: Marilla of Green Gables.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 12, 2022

"Comeuppance Served Cold"

Marion Deeds was born in Santa Barbara, California and moved to northern California when she was five. She loves the redwoods, the ocean, dogs and crows.

She’s fascinated by the unexplained, and curious about power: who has it, who gets it, what is the best way to wield it. These questions inform her stories.

Deeds applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Comeuppance Served Cold, and reported the following:
In Comeuppance Served Cold, most of page 69 is a song, a hate-filled street-chant aimed at the local shape-shifters.

Comeuppance Served Cold is a fantasy noir novella set in 1929 Seattle. Dolly White, the protagonist, has been hired by a powerful, wealthy man to keep his daughter from drinking and taking drugs until her arranged marriage occurs. The family has enemies, and one person in particular is very interested in the behavior of the rebellious daughter. Dolly has goals of her own, but she’s keeping them to herself.

On page 69 she and her charge, Fiona, are on their way to prepare for the engagement party when they pass a street demonstration against shape-shifters.

The chauffeur obligingly sings a couple of verses from the chant, which contain, among other things, references to weapons. Dolly questions the chauffeur about why shape-shifters are targeted in Seattle, and gets answers that mix casual bigotry with flat-out untruths, although it’s clear the driver believes them. The weapons mentioned come back into the story later on.

While page 69 doesn’t show the reader too much about the plot, it illuminates one of my themes perfectly. In the story I look at racism and hatred, specifically the deliberate fomenting of hatred against a group solely for the political or material benefit of others. Throughout the book Dolly has heard slurs against shape-shifters, but page 69 is a set-piece of the manipulation. I hope that Dolly’s skepticism also shows through—she’s not buying the shape-shifters-are-evil line for one little minute.

This page also shows us a bit of Fiona’s life and the household she was raised in. The reader sees why this young woman might have turned to alcohol and street-drugs. It’s clear Dolly’s going to be a disruption, and a big one.
Follow Marion Deeds on Twitter.

Writers Read: Marion Deeds.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

"The Last Queen"

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning and bestselling author, poet, activist and teacher of writing. Her work has been published in over 50 magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, and her writing included in over 50 anthologies, including Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Stories, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology. Her books have been translated into 29 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Bengali, Russian and Japanese; many have been used for campus-wide and city-wide reads. Several of her works have been made into films and plays. She lives in Houston with her husband Murthy and has two sons, Anand and Abhay.

Divakaruni applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Last Queen, and reported the following:
On page 69 the heroine, the beautiful Jindan, finds out from her brother Jawahar that her father Manna has lost a large sum of money gambling. Here is what happens next:
Today Manna seems oddly cheerful. He tells me that he has invited a guest to dinner. I’m surprised. He’s never done this before. He brings me fresh mutton and greens. Ghee to melt over the rotis.

“Cook properly, beti. It’s important.” He rummages through my clothes and tells me to wear the maroon lehenga, my prettiest outfit.

The guest, a merchant from a nearby town, is a portly man almost as old as Manna.

He doesn’t speak much, except to compliment my cooking and ask for seconds. After dinner, when the men go to the yard to talk, Jawahar creeps out and eavesdrops. Later he tells me that Manna was negotiating my marriage.

I’m aghast. “With that man? I won’t marry him! I can’t.”
Page 69 gives readers a good sense of the drama of the heroine’s early life, especially one important day. It intensifies an important conflict in the novel—between Jindan and her father, Manna—and gives the reader a glimpse into her strong personality, and her refusal to meekly accept whatever life hands to her. This quality will shape her life in the coming years.

The heroine of the novel, the beautiful Jindan, is in love with the king, Maharajah Ranjit Singh, for whom her father Manna works as a dog-trainer. But at this point she is unsure of the king’s feelings for her though he had shown a great deal of interest in her a while back. Since then, he has been away on official business, and she has not heard from him.

Jindan’s father Manna (who does not believe the king is serious about his daughter) wants to marry her off to an old merchant for quick financial gain—the man has agreed to pay Manna’s debts.

Jindan refuses. This is a good indication of her character. Though young, she’s already strong-willed and unwilling to obey her father’s dictates. This quality will push her into many adventures as her life unfolds.
Learn more about the book and author at Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's website.

The Page 69 Test: Oleander Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 8, 2022

"An Imperfect Plan"

Addison McKnight is the pen name for Nicole Moleti and Krista Wells. After over a decade of writing nonfiction, their common interests in women’s emotions and the cultural obsession with perfection sparked an idea for their debut novel, An Imperfect Plan. With six jobs and six children between them, they wrote their first book on Saturday nights and on the sidelines of their children’s games. They reside in West Hartford, Connecticut with their families.

The authors applied the Page 69 Test to An Imperfect Plan and reported the following:
Unbelievably, page 69 of An Imperfect Plan perfectly surmises the theme of the book.

An Imperfect Plan revolves around a woman who uses donor eggs to conceive her twin boys and doesn’t tell her husband. Greta O’Brien, a wealthy hedge-fund manager is forced to confront the making of her family when tragedy strikes her teenage sons.

The first sentence on page 69 of An Imperfect Plan is very telling. Readers will get a very accurate idea of the whole work as Greta shares her secret with her closest friend.

“He doesn’t know about the donor, and I am never telling him,” Great said, instantly regretting that she’d shared such a big secret with her friend.

The rest of the page is dialogue between Greta and her friend, Audrey, who tries to convince Greta to tell her husband such an important fact.

“It isn’t right” Audrey persisted.

Greta ultimately ignores her friend’s advice which leads to the twists and turns of Greta’s story of motherhood and a family that she built on lies. Greta’s story goes back and forth with Colette’s. Colette is the woman who at age 40 went back to have her frozen eggs implanted only to find that they were gone…without her consent, unbeknownst to her, she believes her ex-husband sold her frozen eggs. As the story unfolds, the two women’s lives intertwine and the reader is taken on a rollercoaster ride of twists and turns, ultimately ending with the truth setting both women free.
Visit Addison McKnight's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 6, 2022

"The Wild Life"

David Gordon was born in New York City. His first novel, The Serialist, won the VCU/Cabell First Novel Award and was a finalist for an Edgar Award. It was also made into a major motion picture in Japan. His work has also appeared in The Paris Review, The New York Times, Purple, and Fence, among other publications.

Gordon applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Wild Life, and reported the following:
The problem with playing this game with a thriller is the risk of giving away an important plot twist – and I have had to refrain once or twice with past books. This time is different. Here is page 69 in its entirety:
“Nah,” Fusco grunted. “Just something the FBI asked me to keep an eye out for involving foreign girls. Nothing important.”

“Damn Feebs should do their own work, right?”

“You said it,” Fusco mumbled, thanked him, and hung up. Then, while he printed the file out, he switched to his burner phone and called Gio.
Hmmm. One is tempted to jump to page 169, or 269, but fair is fair and while it won’t make much sense to a random browser this is actually an important bit of story, which does tell us a lot about the world of the novel. As some of you may know, The Wild Life is the fourth in a series of books about a strip club bouncer and ex-Special Ops vet named Joe who sidelines as a fixer for the bosses of the New York underworld, handling problems for which normal folks would call the police: suspected terrorists, bomb scares, or in this case, a serial killer preying on high-end sex workers. In this scene, Fusco is a police detective and he is talking to Fry, a fellow cop. What we know, and they don’t, is that they are both crooked cops. Fusco is a gambler, indebted to Gio Caprisi who is Joe’s boss too, and Fry, a vice cop, is on the payroll of one of Joe’s suspects. In other words, they are both lying and trying to manipulate each other. This reflects the world that these characters live in, thoroughly corrupt, from the top down, and when those in power are the biggest villains, individuals are left to make their own way, live by their own codes, and help each other, or not.

That said, I do recommend page 169 and 269, which are both pretty action-packed!
Visit David Gordon's blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Serialist.

The Page 69 Test: Mystery Girl.

The Page 69 Test: White Tiger on Snow Mountain.

The Page 69 Test: The Hard Stuff.

Q&A with David Gordon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 5, 2022

"Child Zero"

Chris Holm is the author of the cross-genre Collector trilogy, the Michael Hendricks thrillers, and thirty-odd short stories in a variety of genres. His work has been selected for The Best American Mystery Stories, named a New York Times Editors' Choice, appeared on more than fifty year's best lists, and won a number of awards, including the 2016 Anthony Award for Best Novel. He lives in Portland, Maine.

Holm applied the Page 69 Test to his new standalone biological thriller, Child Zero, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Even in the dim light of the squat’s lobby, Lucas looked worse than Brian remembered, pallid and dope-skinny. Truth be told, he didn’t smell too good, either, his breath and sweat tinged with the pungent scent of methamphetamine. He wore a dingy pair of matchstick jeans and a sleeveless undershirt yellowed at the edges. His lank hair had been cut into a haphazard mohawk some time ago and left to grow out. His eyes were sunken and bloodshot, the flesh around them the color of a fading bruise.

“Sorry for the runaround,” he said, “but me and mine can never be too careful. We ain’t exactly paying rent on this place, and some of our business is . . . delicate.”

“Delicate?” Mat asked.

“He means illegal.”

“No, I mean delicate—but that don’t mean it ain’t both.” Lucas winked at Mat conspiratorially. “So, kid, you got a name?”

When Mat hesitated, Brian said, “Kid is fine for now.”

“Suit yourself,” Lucas replied. “You know he ain’t got no shoes on, right?”

“Gee, I hadn’t noticed. Thanks for calling it to my attention.”

“There’s no need to get snippy, dude. I thought maybe I could help, is all. What size shoe you take, kid?”

Mat looked to Brian, who nodded encouragingly. “Seven, I guess. Sometimes seven and a half.”

“But a grown-up seven, right? Not, like, kid-sized or whatever?”

“Yeah,” Mat replied. “I’m twelve,” he added, as if that clarified anything.

Lucas smiled. “Cool. I can work with that. Follow me.”
Okay, I had to cheat a little, because the opening paragraph of this excerpt straddles the page break between sixty-eight and sixty-nine, and features some table-setting that seems integral to the scene. I compensated by lopping off the last paragraph of page sixty-nine, because it likewise carries onto the next page.

That said, I’m pretty psyched with how Child Zero fares. I’ve made no bones about the fact that this book is a scientific thriller in the vein of Michael Crichton—but if you strip away the science, it’s essentially the story of a little kid with a big secret that some very dangerous people would do anything to learn.

Is that obvious from this excerpt? Probably not, but the scene provides some tantalizing hints. Who is this kid? Why is he barefoot? What the heck is he doing in some sketchy meth head’s squat?

If I have one reservation about this excerpt, it’s that it makes Child Zero sound more like a seedy noir than the mainstream thriller it actually is. Then again, I happen to like seedy noir, so I’ll take it.

Bottom line? If this passage was your cup of tea, or shot of whiskey, you’ll probably dig Child Zero… and if it wasn’t, you still might.

The kid’s name is Mateo, by the way, and he’s awesome—bright, scrappy, brave, and kind. If you wanna find out what happens to him next, you’re gonna hafta read the book.
Visit Chris Holm's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Killing Kind.

The Page 69 Test: Red Right Hand.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 2, 2022

"Vigil Harbor"

Julia Glass's books of fiction include the best-selling Three Junes, winner of the National Book Award, and I See You Everywhere, winner of the Binghamton University John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Other published works include the Kindle Single Chairs in the Rafters and essays in several anthologies. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Glass is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emerson College. She lives with her family in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Glass applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Vigil Harbor, and reported the following:
My novel Vigil Harbor takes place twelve years in the future and is narrated by eight characters, each with a distinct voice and perspective, so open up at random to various pages and you may feel like you're looking at a series of different stories (in a way, you are, though they are tightly interconnected). Page 69 lands you inside a key memory of a key character, Connie McKenna, a wife and mother in her thirties whose only sibling was killed on a combat tour in Afghanistan, mere weeks after his father died of cancer. Here she recalls the tail end of her brother's funeral, over a decade earlier:
...I half wondered if they would applaud after the deafening gun salute. Equally repugnant and surreal to me were the Vigil Harbor colonial reenactors, our self-appointed "regiment"—seven of them, uninvited—who, at the start of the ceremony, staged a salute of their own, their ridiculous muskets aimed at the clouds. The smell of gunpowder, intensified by August heat, made me retch.

Afterward, as people walked to their cars, Reverend Chalmers stopped me and put a hand on my shoulder. He said, "Caleb gave his life for our country, and he rests now in the strong arms of a loving God."

I shrugged off the unwelcome hand and said, "He did not give his life. His life was taken." I saw my mother being helped into someone else's car by two friends who, like her, had been recently widowed.

I skipped the reception at the VFW. I drove to the big, bland sports bar in Knowles, where I knew that the afternoon regulars, intent on the Sox, would give me a wide berth. On the way out of town, only by happenstance, I drove most of the route Caleb and I walked together for the two years we overlapped at the High. The route takes you right past Memorial Park, a shady green lawn where slabs of marble and granite bear the names of boys cut down by the endless scythings of war. I never fully understood why Caleb enlisted (never mind re-enlisted), and as I drove past the park, I wondered if the statues and plinths and their conspiratorial message of manhood and duty and sacrifice had wormed its way into my brother's heart as he passed by twice a day going to and from school, a place he had longed to escape.

From the bar, I called my best friend from college. While I had frittered away the two years after graduation by working for a gig agency in Boston (trying to figure out what to do with my art-psych major) and cutting hair—a self-taught skill with which I'd earned pocket money since high school—Harold had found a bonafide job as the production manager of a newspaper in Traverse City, Michigan. When he moved there, it was nothing more to him than a thumbtack on a map, but he was willing to take his chances. And he loved it....
The town of Vigil Harbor, both its colorful colonial history and its rugged coastal topography, exerts a strong influence on those who live there. This is by no means a war novel, yet looking at page 69 in isolation reminded me that the legacy of America's many wars, along with the illusion of patriotic pride in a righteous might, is a theme woven throughout the book. Connie, her husband, and their eight-year-old son, though they live in what appears to be a secure, privileged community (so far mostly immune to the perils of the larger world) will be caught, by story's end, in the midst of an explosive crisis caused by wider political violence.
Follow Julia Glass on Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 30, 2022

"Disappeared"

Bonnar Spring writes eclectic and stylish mystery-suspense novels with an international flavor. A nomad at heart, she hitchhiked across Europe at sixteen and joined the Peace Corps after college. Bonnar taught ESL—English as a Second Language—at a community college for many years. She currently divides her time between tiny houses on a New Hampshire salt marsh and by the Sea of Abaco.

Spring applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Disappeared, and reported the following:
From page 69:
defuse the situation, do whatever he thinks needs to be done. I’m working blindfolded here.”

“How can Mr. Ohana contact you?”

I leave my number, but considering my difficulties in getting a signal, I add, “If Gil can’t reach me, I’ll call back tonight.” Then I suggest that, if he wants to act quickly, he could contact Sam Monatti at the American Consulate in Casablanca. “Gil might have to light a fire underneath him to get him moving, but I’ll bet he’s better equipped to do that than I am.”

She gives me Gil’s cell phone number. “I’ll alert Mr. Ohana, but please call as soon as you find his wife.” The secretary finishes on a hiccup, and we both know she’s not saying— “or if you don’t find her.”

I walk down to the car again and start it with relief. Not all I hoped for, but it was easier not to have confronted Gil directly. Better to get his efficient secretary to relay the story minus my emotional baggage— like, what the hell have you gotten my sister mixed up in?
Page 69 in Disappeared is the half-page conclusion to Chapter 11. It’s the end of a phone call between Julie, the main character, and her brother-in-law’s secretary. Julie’s sister Fay had disappeared from their hotel room in Marrakech three days earlier.

Snooping through Fay’s belongings and questioning the hotel staff has provided Julie with clues to her sister’s whereabouts—but no idea why she went there. When Julie narrowly eludes a knife-wielding attacker, she realizes she is in danger if she passively waits for her sister in town. She flees to Fay’s remote destination, only remembering in the last town she’ll pass to contact Fay’s husband, whom she blames for the trouble her sister is in. Her parting thought is what the hell have you gotten my sister mixed up in?

When Julie hangs up the phone, starts her car, and drives away, that’s the last communication she’ll have with the rest of the world. She’s on her own, heading into the Sahara Desert. While short on words, the action on page 69 of Disappeared is a watershed moment, marking the end of Julie’s quest for her sister in the modern world of telephones, restaurants, internet, and rental cars. And the beginning of the ordeal at the heart of Disappeared.

An intriguing instance of the Page 69 Test!
Visit Bonnar Spring's website.

Q&A with Bonnar Spring.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 28, 2022

"Our Little World"

Karen Winn received her MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. She also holds a doctoral degree in nursing. Born and raised in New Jersey, she now lives in Boston with her husband and two children.

Winn applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Our Little World, and reported the following:
On page 69 in my debut novel, Our Little World, my twelve-year-old protagonist, Bee, and her sister, Audrina, are in lockdown after the disappearance of a neighborhood girl, Sally. It’s 1985, pre-World Wide Web, and the only way any neighborhood kids are getting information about what happened is through old-school phone gossip. Because Bee was there at the lake when Sally went missing, and because she is friends with Sally’s older brother, Max, Bee finds herself, unexpectedly, the center of attention. She relishes this position of power and slowly reveals bits and pieces of information to her friends: what it was like at the lake that day, the last thing Sally said to her, even the current situation at Sally’s house when she visits Max.

This Page 69 Test works to a certain extent: Readers will understand that a child has gone missing; that it’s an unusual event in this otherwise safe and small, tightknit community; that Bee, my protagonist, was there at the lake when Sally disappeared; that it’s likely the 80s (since Bee’s family just got call waiting on their home phone); that it’s likely New Jersey (since one of the neighborhood fathers works for New Jersey Bell Atlantic); that Sally’s family is incredibly distraught (the dirty dishes are piling up); and that Bee is relishing the new attention she receives. Where this Page 69 Test falls severely short, however, is the lack of attention to the complex relationship Bee has with her sister, Audrina—which is the central focus of the novel.
Visit Karen Winn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

"Wingwalkers"

Taylor Brown grew up on the Georgia coast. He has lived in Buenos Aires, San Francisco, and the mountains of western North Carolina. His books include In the Season of Blood and Gold (2014), Fallen Land (2016), The River of Kings (2017), Gods of Howl Mountain (2018), Pride of Eden (2020), and Wingwalkers (2022). You can find his work in The New York Times, The Rumpus, Garden & Gun, the North Carolina Literary Review, and many other publications. He is a recipient of the Montana Prize in Fiction and the founder of BikeBound.com. He lives in Savannah, GA.

Brown applied the Page 69 Test to Wingwalkers and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Now, let us make sure you meet the King’s requirements.”

Bill balked. These hated scales, his bane.

“Are you aware, sir, that the average height of a medieval knight, based on surviving suits of armour”—here he added the British u in his mind—“was but sixty-five inches from sole to crown?”

“Well, you had better be sixty-six to join the Royal Air Force. A man must reach the rudder pedals, after all. On the scale, please, and remove your shoes.”

Faulkner chewed the inside of his mouth, looking from the man to the scale. He had tried everything to grow taller. Milk and spinach and bunches of bananas, even ginseng powder purchased behind the glazed and dangling ducks of Chinatown. Now he snorted in disgust and pulled off his shoes, a sharp-toed pair of Johnston & Murphy derbies he’d bought in Memphis for twelve dollars and a half, and stepped onto the device with first one foot, then the other, testing the surface like pond ice. The needle wound lazily toward the 120-pound mark but lost momentum, hovering at 113 pounds. The one-legged lieutenant drew a ruler from his tunic and held it atop Faulkner’s head, tracing it toward the hash marks stamped into the measuring bar.

“You are standing on your toes, sir.”

“I can’t help it,” said Bill. “I have very tight tendons.” “Stand flat-footed, Mr. Faulkner, and now.”

His heels clapped down hard, jumping the needle, and the officer waited for the device to quit shaking before he took his measurement.

“Sixty-five and one-half inches,” he said. “Half an inch short. I’m sorry, Mr. Faulkner, but I’m afraid you don’t meet the minimum requirements of the Royal Air Force.”

Faulkner leapt off the scale. “You must be mistaken, sir.”

“All cadets must be at least five and one-half feet tall, or sixty-six inches.”

“So round up.”

“The RAF does not round.”

“So fudge it. Surely you fudge.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Faulkner, but we cannot use you.”
Does the Page 69 Test work in this case?

Absolutely! Crazily enough, this is not only one of my favorite scenes in Wingwalkers, it's one of the very best pages to introduce the reader to the book as a whole. In fact, it's one of the pages I plan to read in my live events to give folks a taste of the novel.

The scene takes place in New York City, 1918. Based on biographical and anecdotal information, it's a reimagining of the day that 20-year-old William "Bill" Faulkner traveled to the Fifth Avenue office of Wing Commander Lord George Wellesley of the Royal Air Force to enlist as a fighter pilot in the Great War. He was afraid that he needed to be a British citizen to serve in the RAF, so he affected an accent, forged a recommendation letter from a "Reverend Mr. Edward Twimberly-Thorndyke," and added the "u" to his surname -- he was actually born William Falkner!

Wingwalkers follows much of Faulkner's life from an aviation perspective -- a huge, largely unknown inspiration for him -- from his boyhood building model airplanes, to his time in the RAF, to his early aviation-influenced work, to the Flying Faulkners -- a barnstorming troupe he helped to create with his youngest brother, Dean Swift. Faulkner's story alternates with that of a husband-wife barnstorming duo, wingwalker Della the Daring and former WWI ace Zeno Marigold, as they attempt to coax their ailing biplane across the country during the Great Depression. As Faulkner is coming up in the world, Della and Zeno are heading west, and their lives will intersect at some point -- based on a true tidbit from Faulkner's biography.

Overall, I'd have a hard time choosing a better page than this one to introduce someone to the book!
Visit Taylor Brown's website.

Q&A with Taylor Brown.

My Book, The Movie: Wingwalkers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 25, 2022

"The Fervor"

Alma Katsu is the award-winning author of seven novels. Her latest is The Fervor, a reimagining of the Japanese internment that Booklist called “a stunning triumph” (starred) and Library Journal called “a must read for all, not just genre fans” (starred). Red Widow, her first espionage novel, is a nominee for the Thriller Writers Award for best novel, was a New York Times Editors Choice, and is in pre-production for a TV series.

Katsu applied the Page 69 Test to The Fervor and reported the following:
From page 69:
She went around the room looking for more. She found it in some places, not in others. Not like dust that floated freely on the air. It was in the bed, under the covers. In the tea towel where the eating utensils rested. Sprinkled in their neatly folded clothing.

She remembered the feeling of the grit forced into her mouth.

And then she saw it: a tiny translucent spider running up her sleeve. Then a ripple of movement on the folded towels as a line of spiders ran, looking to hide in another stack of cloths.

They looked familiar, these spiders. Where had she seen them before?

She had just turned to run and find the nearest neighbor, to warn the others, when everything suddenly spun out of control. Down was up and up was down. She felt like she was being flipped like a giant omelet and now she was lying on the floor and the room was still spinning violently, in a way she’d never felt before. In a way that felt like it would never stop.

Save my daughter. She must not spend the night in this room.

But there was no one there to tell. To warn.
Page 69 is the end of a chapter, and so not a full page. It gives a sense of the threat—strange little spiders where they’re not supposed to be, and because they’re unusual you’re not sure if they’re real or not.

I don’t think it’s a good representation of what the book is about, only because the book is told from four points of view (POV), the four main characters plus journal entries from a fifth character. If you only read the chapters of from one character’s POV, you’d only one side of the story.

This piece is from Meiko’s POV. Meiko is a Japanese woman sent to America by her family to marry a Japanese man starting a business in Seattle (at that time, there were 30 Japanese men for every Japanese woman on the West Coast). Meiko falls in love with and marries her betrothed’s white friend, Jamie. Jamie, a pilot, enlists after Pearl Harbor, and Meiko and her daughter are sent to one of the internment camps. It’s here in Minidoka where Meiko encounters the almost invisible spiders and an outbreak of a mysterious disease called the Fervor.

It is a good representation of Meiko. She’s unsentimental. Practical. She can’t leave the camp, though she’d like to. She worries about her daughter, who seems to be getting more eccentric by the day, resembling Meiko’s own father, a scientist. Her first duty is always to her daughter, not herself, as we see here as she loses consciousness after being exposed to the spiders. She realizes the residents of Minidoka are being used in some kind of horrible experiment and that it’s up to her to save them.
Visit Alma Katsu's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Taker.

The Page 69 Test: The Hunger.

The Page 69 Test: The Deep.

The Page 69 Test: Red Widow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 23, 2022

"Last Dance on the Starlight Pier"

Sarah Bird is the author of eleven novels. Her latest, Last Dance on the Starlight Pier, is out this month from St. Martin’s Press. Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on one woman—and a nation—struggling to be reborn from the ashes.

Bird applied the Page 69 Test to Last Dance on the Starlight Pier and reported the following:
Oh, this is fun! Except that, oop, Page 69 has exactly one word on it: “Houston.” Let me cheat and move on to page 71 where we find actual text and discover that this is a fabulous place to slice into the story since it covers a major pivot point.

My protagonist, Evie Grace Devlin, arrives at the Houston train depot “still in shock” after the short trip train she was forced to take from Galveston. She has just been expelled from her nursing school in Galveston right before she attained her dream of becoming a nurse.

This return to Houston is a huge defeat for Evie since the city represents everything she’d hoped to leave behind: a voracious, narcissistic, stage mother and the grim life and even grimmer future she would have in her slummy Houston neighborhood, Vinegar Hill.

I love that on this page, we also get a sense of the times when Evie scans a few headlines. “13 Million Out Of Work: Hoover Orders Wages/House Cut for Employed.” “Funeral Planned for Lindbergh Baby.” “German Nazis Assault Journalists.”

Obviously, I think the Page 69 Test works superbly for my novel. It catches my protagonist at just the moment when her world has crumbled and she must either accept her defeat or keep struggling for a better life free of her suffocating mother.

Page 69 is where Evie Grace begins her journey through the astonishing world of the dance marathons. It is in Houston that she connects with a marathon promoter, is hired as a nurse, and meets the world of vivid characters who will, eventually help her find what she thinks she needs: her nursing degree. Along the way, they will also give her what she truly needs most in life: her family of choice.
Visit Sarah Bird's website.

Q&A with Sarah Bird.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 21, 2022

"Saint Death's Daughter"

C.S.E. Cooney lives and writes in Queens. She is author of the World Fantasy Award-winning Bone Swans: Stories (2015), an audiobook narrator, and the singer/songwriter Brimstone Rhine.

Her new novel is Saint Death’s Daughter.

Cooney applied the Page 69 Test to Saint Death’s Daughter and reported the following:
From page 69:
Straightway, the mouse skeleton leapt off her hand and ran at Sari Scratch, cheeping and squeaking. Or not squeaking, exactly: the noises it made were much deeper than they should have been—as if they were sounding out from the bottom of an oil jar.

To her credit, Sari did not scream, but stared down at her undead admonisher, first in incredulity and then—to Lanie’s surprise—growing delight. She slid off her ivory throne, careless of the fancily flocked skirts of her suit, which had, upon closer inspection, a pattern of purple velvet birds applied to the purple taffeta: violet-backed starlings perhaps, or purple honeycreepers. Like the suit, the material itself was high Rookish fashion—aristocratic fashion—right out of Rookery Court. Bold, to sport such fashions in Liriat.

Lanie watched with narrowed eyes as Sari sank to hands and knees, stretching out a hand on the ground, palm-up, and crooning to the mouse skeleton in a surprisingly gentle voice, “Come here, pretty one. Come, uncannyling! Come to Mordda Sari!”

But the mouse, far from obeying, shied away from her, scampering back a few feet till it stood at a safe distance, whereupon it rose onto its hind legs and began scolding her again. Sari laughed, looking up at Lanie from the floor and shaking her head.

“I’ve never seen its like, Miss Lanie. And I’ve seen wonders.”

Ever susceptible to compliments, and today even more so, Lanie beamed. She was about to thank her most graciously for the compliment, and to explain all about embroidering with yellow fire, and how delicate and perfect was this particular act of panthauma, when Nita’s boot came down on the mouse.

Lanie gasped. She jerked away from the window and crossed half the room in a bound. She knew the mouse couldn’t feel any pain. But still! The indignity!

Nita flung up a hand, halting her. Lanie strained, as if fighting an invisible barrier. But there was no barrier, only a small part of her that was still practical, that could still fear, holding her back.

Sari, who had not yet risen from her genuflection, craned her neck back to stare at Nita. “Now, Mistress Stones, was that really—”

She stopped. Nita was glaring down.

One.

Two.

Three.

Lanie shielded her eyes as her sister seemed to ignite, from her wizardmarks outward, until she stood at the center of her own conflagration.
If browsers open your book to page 69, would they get a good (or an inaccurate) idea of the whole work?

Okay, so--ha!--the answer to this question is both yes and no. I think readers would get a pretty good taste for the flavors, nuances, characters, and plot threads of Part One: On Death and the Stoneses.

In this selection, we have Lanie Stones working one of her greatest acts of necromancy to this point in the book: raising an entire family of mouse skeletons on one of her "surge days." (Surges happen four days a year, when magic floods the world, and wizards find it much easier to work their miracles). As a necromancer, Lanie feels towards her undead what most people feel when they watch baby animal memes: an instant, total tenderness and willingness to fight for their survival and well-being.

In the room with Lanie are Sari Scratch and her three sons, to whom the Stones family is deeply in debt, and who will take their house and lands if they don't work out some kind of a deal. We also have Nita, Lanie's older sister--a trained assassin, loose cannon, and minor magician in her own right--who is a danger to everyone around her even when she's in a good mood. (She's not, generally, in a good mood.) Nita doesn't think much of Lanie's powers; she considers her own superior: the ability to "fascinate" someone, after three heartbeats, into doing her will for a time.

There's a lot more to the book, the plot, and the characters--and not everyone in this scene will be alive by the end of the book. Not even the ones who are already undead. But I shall say no more, spoiling nothing.
Visit C.S.E. Cooney's website.

Q&A with C.S.E. Cooney.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

"Two Storm Wood"

Philip Gray studied modern history at Cambridge University, and went on to work as a journalist in Madrid, Rome and Lisbon. He has tutored in crime writing at City University in London and serves as a director at an award-winning documentary film company, specialising in science and history.

Gray's grandfather was a captain in the Lancashire Fusiliers and fought through the First World War from start to finish, losing his closest friends along the way. Years after his death, Gray came across a cache of trench maps and military documents that his grandfather had kept, and in which he had recorded the events that befell his unit. Gray was inspired to write his thriller Two Storm Wood when the pull of his grandfather's legacy felt too strong to ignore.

The author applied the Page 69 Test to Two Storm Wood and reported the following:
Page 69 of Two Storm Wood is the last page of chapter 9, and consequently only 13 lines long. In it the main protagonist, Amy Vanneck, emerges from an abandoned dugout, where she has been sheltering from the rain with her companion, Kitty. The dugout turned out to be teeming with ravenous rats, and in fighting her way out with the aid of an entrenching tool, Amy has lost her hat and been covered with mud, filth and blood. She finds herself being stared at by a member of the Chinese Labour Corps, one of the thousands who worked on the battlefields of the Western Front both during and after the war.

These lines show something of the grim and gritty setting for Two Storm Wood, which itself forms a crucial element of the story. It also shows one of the main characters in action. However, the passage is not really long enough to give any hint as to why Amy is there, or what the story is about.

That said, this short passage does show us the beginnings of something important: namely, the main character’s nascent understanding of the world which she has chosen, against all advice, to explore. Amy is determined to learn the fate of her fiancé, who was missing in action during the last summer of the war. The horrors she uncovers bring her to an understanding of the psychological and emotional toll the war inflicted on the men who fought. This journey begins, as here, with an appreciation of the physical hardships and squalor of the front.
Visit Philip Gray's website.

Q&A with Philip Gray.

My Book, The Movie: Two Storm Wood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 17, 2022

"The Fact of Memory"

Aaron Angello is a poet, playwright, and essayist from the Rocky Mountains who lives and feels remarkably out of place in the charming, but very Eastern, town of Frederick, Maryland. He received his MFA and PhD from the University of Colorado Boulder, and he currently teaches writing and theater at Hood College.

Angello applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, The Fact of Memory: 114 Ruminations and Fabrications, and reported the following:
This is page 69:
Almost I moved into an apartment at 345 E 12th Street, in the East Village of Manhattan, in 1994, when I was twenty-one. Seven years later, I was living in Los Angeles, but I was in Colorado recording an album. During downtime in the studio, I read a book called Dream Brother, a biography of both Tim and Jeff Buckley. I had come to Jeff Buckley’s music late, only a few years before, sometime around the time he jumped, fully clothed, into the Mississippi and sang songs as the current pulled him toward his watery death. How I used to romanticize such things. I sat in the control room and read that Jeff Buckley, my musical god, had lived at 233 E 12th Street, a block from my old apartment. He moved there three or four years before I did, and his album Grace was released in 1994, so it’s likely he was no longer in that apartment. But he could have been. He could have been living a block away from me. He could have walked into Sin-é, sat down and had a beer while Nicole and I sat two tables away making snide comments about the grungy singer-songwriter who was performing that night. We could have passed each other on the street, Jeff Buckley and I, eaten at the same café, sat smoking cigarettes on the same bench in Tompkins Square. I had entered his world right as he was leaving it, becoming the Jeff Buckley that I would come to know a few years later via a secondhand CD. I remember reading that biography in the recording studio in Colorado, reading that he once lived a block from me, and being devastated by the prospect of nearness, by how frequently we’re on the wrong sidewalk.
The Fact of Memory: 114 Ruminations and Fabrications is a collection of very brief lyric essays and prose poems that, on the surface, aren’t directly related to each other. Each of the 114 pieces is a reflection on a word from Shakespeare’s 29th sonnet. However, when taken together, the individual pieces form a kind of fragmented memoir, a complex, cubist self-portrait. I don’t know if McLuhan was imagining a book like this when he suggested the test, but we’re going to try it out and see how it goes. The entry/essay on page 69 is titled “Almost.” It is from the line in the sonnet that begins the third quatrain, and is thus the volta, or turn, in the poem: “Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising/happily I think on thee.” It’s this moment, in the sonnet, that the speaker in the poem shifts their perspective from one of disgust with the self to adoration of the beloved, and it’s interesting that this test lands on a word at this point of the poem. This mini-essay also records a moment of turn, of transition, from a kind of blissful lack of awareness to the sadness of recognition, from presence to longing, from looking forward to looking back.

Though I can’t really say this essay is representative of the book stylistically, it does explore a lot of themes that recur throughout it. The sense of place here and the easy movement between locations – remembering the East Village from a recording studio in Colorado while living in LA (all of this being remembered in Boulder, several years later) – is very much a mode in the book. The places that formed me are prominent throughout, and the slippage between them is consistent, as it is in my memory.

Nicole shows up quite a bit as a character in the book; sometimes she’s named, more often she’s not. She was my partner for much of my twenties. We moved to New York together and became artists together. She appears briefly here, but she is always there, a consistent part of these Manhattan memories.

And then there’s the music. Music plays a prominent role in the book and in my life, not only because I was a musician, but also because I, like all of us, have quirky and very specific soundtracks to my memories. Songs work as catalysts of emotional memory for us more powerful than any madeleine. As one can read in the essay, Jeff Buckley’s music became incredibly important to me during the years I lived in Los Angeles, after I’d moved away from New York. He was what I aspired to be as a musician, though I was never even close to as good as he.
Visit Aaron Angello's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 15, 2022

"Full"

Julia Spiro is a writer living on Martha’s Vineyard. Her debut novel, Someone Else's Secret, was published July 1, 2020 by Lake Union and is a #1 bestseller on Amazon.

Spiro applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Full, and reported the following:
“It’s about nine o’clock. Life back at the retreat is over until dawn, but life here in Oak Bluffs is just beginning.” Page 69 is where Chapter 8 begins. Ava has recently checked into a wellness retreat where she will stay for six weeks, in an attempt to work through and overcome her eating disorder, as well as some personal demons she’s been battling. It’s only her first night and she feels so stifled by the retreat that she calls a taxi that evening and sneaks off to a busier part of the island, to a town called Oak Bluffs.

This test works well for my book. This page (and it’s a half page!) shows many of the book’s central themes and Ava’s core struggles.

The push-pull Ava feels between wanting to get better and wanting to say “screw it” is acutely illustrated here. The whole reason she’s come to the island is to heal, and yet she immediately rebels against this. It’s an example of how she’s often her own worst enemy, leading herself down paths that she knows won’t be good for her. More specifically, this page shows Ava’s actual vices. As she approaches Oak Bluffs, she’s excited by the “promise of anonymity and greasy food.” This really hits the nail on the head in many ways. Ava’s entire identity revolves around her public platform, and the pressure she feels to be a public figure, sharing all aspects of her life on social media. But what she really needs is privacy, peace, and a chance to redefine who she really is. And of course, this page demonstrates her addiction to food and how she uses food as a source of comfort.
Visit Julia Spiro's website.

The Page 69 Test: Someone Else's Secret.

Q&A with Julia Spiro (July 2020).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

"The Wise Women"

After two decades of working as an actor, Gina Sorell returned to her first love—writing. A graduate with distinction of UCLA Extension Writers' Program, she is the author of Mothers and Other Strangers. Originally from Johannesburg, she has lived in New York and Los Angeles, and now lives in Toronto with her husband and son.

Sorell applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Wise Women, and reported the following:
From page 69:
"Clementine's great with people," he said, his face lighting up. "I'm sure she'll kill it."

"Look, I don't want it to affect your decision, I just know that you've always thought highly of her."

"I do. But I'm a businessman. I said I wanted something fresh, and this is fresh. A new face, a new voice, it might be just what Rishi needs. We should at least give it a try."

We.

"Okay, but if it doesn't work, we move on. Try someone else. I appreciate you giving Rishi another chance, but you don't owe me anything."

Not anymore, she thought, now that I owe you for helping me bail out my sister and my friend, again.

"Of course." He looked at her and waited, his hand on the check.

"And… I'll figure something out, about my fee," she said. "See if I can't cut back somewhere."

"Terrific, that's all I'm asking," Dominic said, pulling out his black American Express while Barb finished her drink, hoping it would wash away the bitter taste of compromise.
The Page 69 Test would give a good indication of what Barb, one of the three Wise women, is going through. Barb has always looked out for her younger sister Clementine, and just when she is about to ask Clementine to pay her back for a loan, she discovers that her sister's husband has funneled all of their money into his flailing start-up. Instead of taking a step back to take care of her own issues, Barb feels like she has to help Clementine out by getting her more work. The only way to do that is to get Dominic to continue working with her friend Rishi's marketing company, which employs Clementine. She uses the fact that Dominic has always had a crush on her sister to seal the deal and hates herself for it—but she's desperate. What nobody knows is that Barb, at the height of her career, is having money troubles of her own. She's overextended and worn out from taking care of everyone else.

In the novel, all three Wise women are facing a crisis of their own, reckoning with mistakes of their past that are affecting their present, and facing a future that looks much different than what they expected.
Visit Gina Sorell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

"The Sacred Bridge"

Anne Hillerman is the bestselling author of the Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito series. The Sacred Bridge is her seventh novel in the series, which was created by her father, Tony Hillerman. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she is at work on her next novel.

Hillerman applied the Page 69 Test to The Sacred Bridge and reported the following:
This excerpt [below left, inset] from The Sacred Bridge catches my two main characters, Sgt. Jim Chee and Officer Bernadette Manuelito, in one of the frequent telephone conversations they have in the novel. They are on the phone more than usual because I have separated them geographically, each solving complex crimes many miles apart. Chee is at Lake Powell, where he hiked to Rainbow Bridge-- a sacred place for many Southwestern tribes. His spiritual batteries re-charged, he stays on because he discovers a body floating face down in the icy water. Meanwhile, Bernie goes undercover to investigate what looks like an illegal cannabis operation. The excerpt also illustrates Bernie’s ongoing source of worry, her beloved and difficult Mama.

I expect that browsers who opened the book here should be curious enough to read on. Before and after this moment of calm, they’ll find gunshots, fires, kidnappings, and the other suspicious and sinister behavior expected in a mystery.

One thing I enjoyed about writing The Sacred Bridge was the challenge of balancing the parallel stories, weaving in vivid descriptions of this breath-taking, real-life scenery, and finding spots in the mystery for humor along with the necessary tension to keep the readers’ interest. The book also deals with some real-life issues including the tragic problem of missing and murdered indigenous women. The potential of cannabidiol products to help those with rare diseases, and the seemingly unavoidable conflict between holding a job and spending time with people we love all add to the mix.

This is the twenty-fifth book in the Leaphorn/Chee/Manuelito series, and I believe my Dad would be proud to see the characters he loved still at work!
Learn more about the book and author at Anne Hillerman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Spider Woman's Daughter.

The Page 69 Test: Spider Woman's Daughter.

The Page 69 Test: Song of the Lion.

The Page 69 Test: The Tale Teller.

Q&A with Anne Hillerman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 10, 2022

"Bitter Roots"

Ellen Crosby is a former reporter for The Washington Post, foreign correspondent for ABC News Radio and economist at the U.S. Senate. She has spent many years overseas in Europe, but now lives in Virginia with her husband. She is the author of the Wine Country mysteries and the Sophie Medina mysteries.

Crosby applied the Page 69 Test to Bitter Roots, the latest title in the Wine Country mystery series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Quinn and I managed to park the Jeep in one of the last remaining spots on the large field behind the Red Fox Inn, which was where everyone parked for all of our big events until it filled up and you were forced to retreat to other fields outside of town and take a shuttle bus. We followed a happy, chattering crowd of families, couples, and friends heading toward South Madison Street, which had been blocked off from traffic and was now lined with small white tents where local artists displayed paintings, photos, jewelry, and sculpture for sale. The weather was glorious, one of God’s best days when you feel lucky to be alive, and for the millionth time I prayed for weather exactly like this next Saturday.
On page 69 of Bitter Roots, Lucie Montgomery and her fiancé winemaker Quinn Santori are taking a break from vineyard business to attend an arts festival in the nearby village of Middleburg, Virginia after a morning of heartache and bad news. A huge swath of grapevines is dead and must be ripped out and replanted, a loss of nearly $200,000 and three years of hard work. Lucie is angry at Jackson Landau, the nursery owner who provided the vines; she and a number of other vineyard owners are certain Landau was aware they might be diseased when he sold them. On page 70, she and Quinn run into Landau whose wife is one of the festival organizers and there is an ugly altercation. Landau refuses to claim responsibility for the vines after three years in Lucie and Quinn’s care; he also blames climate change for the withered vines.

Lucie suspects Quinn is not entirely on board with her and believes her fiancé has taken the side of Eve Kerr, a stunning blonde—and a Californian like Quinn—who also works with Jackson Landau. Eve seems to have persuaded Quinn that Landau’s, a family business with relationships that span generations, would never deliberately betray their clients. What troubles Lucie—and worries Quinn—is that Eve, who arranged to secretly meet Quinn the previous evening, has now disappeared. With their wedding only a week away, Lucie tries to stifle jealous feelings. But when Eve turns up dead and Quinn becomes a suspect, she wonders what her fiancé is hiding from her—and why.

I find the Page 69 Test to be an intriguing experiment—thank you, Marshall McLuhan!—but I am also a firm believer in hooking a reader from the first sentence (or possibly the first paragraph), which has to be a riveting attention-grabber. Here’s the opening of Bitter Roots:

"Julia Child once said that every woman should have a blow­torch in the kitchen. To that I would add: and a chain saw in the garden. Or the vineyard, should you own one. Blowtorches and chain saws say you’re a woman who means business. They say don’t mess with me."
Visit Ellen Crosby's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Vineyard Victims.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 8, 2022

"Girl in Ice"

Erica Ferencik is the award-winning author of the acclaimed thrillers The River at Night, Into the Jungle, and Girl in Ice, which The New York Times Book Review declared “hauntingly beautiful.”

Ferencik applied the Page 69 Test to Girl in Ice and reported the following:
Page 69 of Girl in Ice drops the reader into linguist Val Chesterfield’s early moments at the remote climate research station off the coast of Greenland, where a young girl has thawed from a glacier speaking a language no one understands.

Skipping to page 69 of Girl in Ice would be an eerily informative experience. You’d get the feels about Val’s sense of isolation in this desolate landscape. The other researchers, a pair of married marine scientists, are off on the ice cap, and Val is left alone with Sigrid – the thawed girl – and Jeanne, the mechanic, all day, for days on end. Val’s only job is to try to communicate with Sigrid, and she’s been failing miserably at it, since the girl is – for whatever reason – rejecting Val at every turn.

We learn that Val’s anxiety is ratcheting up; she’s begun to ration her pills.

But on this page – a breakthrough – Sigrid takes the lead by wrapping herself in warm clothes and – by her actions – she begs Val to let her go outside. She also says a word in her own language.

In an eerie comment, Jeanne remarks that (Sigrid) “just wants to go home…” What does Jeanne know about Sigrid that we don’t? Jeanne also uses the last pint of cream “before powder only” adding to the sense of isolation.
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--Marshal Zeringue