Tuesday, January 31, 2023

"Dangerous Blues"

Stephen Policoff is the author of Beautiful Somewhere Else, which won the James Jones Award, and was published by Carroll & Graf. His second novel, Come Away, won the Dzanc Award, and was published by Dzanc Books in 2014. He was writer-in-residence at Medicine Show Theater Ensemble, with whom he wrote Shipping Out, The Mummer’s Play, Ubu Rides Again, and Bound to Rise, which received an Obie. He was also a freelance writer for Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal, New Age Journal, and many other publications. He helped create Center for Creative Youth, based at Wesleyan University, and has taught writing at CUNY, Wesleyan, and Yale. He is currently Clinical Professor of Writing in Global Liberal Studies at NYU, where he has taught since 1987.

Policoff applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Dangerous Blues, and reported the following:
If you flip to page 69 of Dangerous Blues, you might get a vague notion of what the book is about. On the previous page, the narrator Paul, who believes he may be seeing the ghost of his dead wife Nadia, confides this to Nadia’s dad, Dr. Maire, an expert in occult lore. On page 69, Paul’s daughter Spring and her new best friend Irina are trying to write a happy memory for a middle school assignment and Spring, who fiercely misses her recently dead mom, is angry and miserable, and says that she cannot remember any happy memories. Irina, whose mother escaped from a cult, counters with her own troubled memories of their family.

This is certainly an important element of Dangerous Blues. The looming presence of grief, the ways in which we try to go on living when we are draped in sorrow, these are threads throughout the novel. The friendship between Spring and Irina is also a push-pull throughout the book. Especially toward the end of the novel the Spring/Irina bond is one of the “engines” which brings the other main characters together.

But what page 69 does not really include is what I consider the greatest strength of the novel—the inevitable intermingling of tears and laughter, of loss and an abundant appreciation of life’s absurdity. These are the underlying elements of the novel, and they helped me not only write the novel but learn to emerge from the very dark period after my wife died, and to render what I hope is a resonant picture of the weirdness of life, and the ways in which we navigate that weirdness and keep on keeping on.
Visit Stephen Policoff's website.

The Page 69 Test: Come Away.

Writers Read: Stephen Policoff.

Q&A with Stephen Policoff.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 29, 2023

"Episode Thirteen"

Craig DiLouie is an author of popular thriller, apocalyptic/horror, and sci-fi/fantasy fiction.

In hundreds of reviews, DiLouie’s novels have been praised for their strong characters, action, and gritty realism. Each book promises an exciting experience with people you’ll care about in a world that feels real.

These works have been nominated for major literary awards such as the Bram Stoker Award and Audie Award, translated into multiple languages, and optioned for film. He is a member of the HWA, SFWA, International Thriller Writers, and IFWA.

DiLouie applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Episode Thirteen, and reported the following:
From page 69:
After a few seconds, she will let the device record all night, which will be played back the next day to look for electronic voice phenomena. The voice of spirits.

Jessica: Can you tell me what your name is?

She waits.

Jessica: Do you know what year it is?


Jessica: Do you dream?

A piece of plaster falls from the ceiling onto the floor. She looks around nervously.

Jessica: We’re friends. Are you friendly?

The wall rustles again. It sounds like chuckling.
When I took up the Page 69 challenge, I was very curious what I’d find. I have to say it’s a good representation of what readers will find in Episode Thirteen, for several reasons. In this horror novel from Hachette, a team of paranormal investigators who have their own reality TV show venture into a haunted house hoping to capture evidence of the supernatural. They get far more than they bargained for.

It’s an epistolary novel, meaning it’s presented as a collection of documents—in this case, video transcripts, journal entries, emails, and the like—that combine to tell a complete story about what happened to the team. On this page, we conclude a brief chapter that is a video transcript. In this scene, Jessica, one of the investigators, engages a dusty room using an audio recorder to get electronic voice phenomena, or EVP. This is where an investigator asks questions, waits a few seconds, and then plays it back later to see if any words show up on the recording that the human ear didn’t detect. Any entities in the house don’t answer, however, though Jessica begins to get nervous.

In my view, this little slice captures the epistolary flavor of the novel, the common use of gadgets in ghost hunting, and the psychology involved in believing you may be interacting with something powerful and creepy that you can’t see. It also foreshadows the ominous point that if spirits exist, they may not be interested in playing along with the living but instead playing their own game.
Visit Craig DiLouie's website.

The Page 69 Test: One of Us.

The Page 69 Test: Our War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 27, 2023


Martha Freeman worked as a reporter and teacher before becoming a full-time writer of books for young readers, including the Edgar Award–nominated Zap!, Born Curious, The Secret Cookie Club series, Who Stole Halloween?, and Effie Starr Zook Has One More Question, which School Library Journal called “accessible and exciting” in a starred review. She also collaborated with NASA astronaut Mark Kelly on the Astrotwins books.

Freeman applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Trashed!, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Trashed, main character Arthur, age 11, is on his way to wipe down shelves and organize stock in the toy section of the junk (or vintage) store his family owns. Enroute, he compares himself to his best friend, Veda, who helps out in the store sometimes:
If you had asked him what he admired about Veda, he would have told you he admired her for being a loyal friend and interesting to talk to. He would not have told you that he admired her for being brave and trying new things but he did.

In short, Veda was adventurous, and Arthur worried that he was not. If that was true, would there be only the familiar and the comfortable forever? Maybe he’d be working in the store forever.
I hope this is a succinct statement of Arthur’s predicament. It may sound like coming-of-age, but that’s not quite right. Instead, what Trashed depicts is more of a kid-style midlife crisis. Arthur has a stable homelife, friends, enjoyable work and even a supernatural sidekick. Yet he feels trapped, and he’s not sure he’s got what it takes to bust free.

At the end of the page, Arthur and a co-worker, Randolph, are discussing a third co-worker who is training for an ultramarathon.
“It’s cool what Jennifer Y’s doing, huh?” [Arthur] said. “I can’t imagine running that far.”

“I wouldn’t run that far,” Randolph said, “not unless I was being chased.”
Again, Arthur thinks he comes up short in comparison with someone hardier. Also, that last image – taking flight– aligns with his desire to bust out, escape, while the conversation as a whole reveals his anxiety that he isn’t up to it. Later pages reveal that in fact Arthur is being chased, not literally but by circumstances. How he responds is the rest of the story.

True confession: I sometimes pull one of my own books off the shelf and read a random page. Usually I do this when I am working on something new and seeking reassurance that, darn it, I’ve done this before and can do it again. Happily, I can report that I did not cringe on re-reading page 69 of Trashed. If this is a test, I passed! Since I am in the midst of another project and duly freaking out, I am grateful for this reassurance.
Visit Martha Freeman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Strudel's Forever Home.

The Page 69 Test: Zap.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 25, 2023


Mary Baader Kaley writes stories for children and adults with quirky characters whose huge hopes and dreams drive them into impossible situations. She loves the sound of spring crickets, the colors of the fall, and shady porches in between. She spends summers healing her soul over a small Midwestern lake upon a rickety pier, while smiling into the sun. On any given day, you’ll find her laughing with family and friends, binge-watching shows, reading while sneaking bites of chocolate, or warming her bones by a campfire.

Kaley applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Burrowed, and reported the following:
Page 69:
The room sways and my head aches. I find I can’t move an inch without falling. Jet, jet, jet. I slump over the bed.

“You’ve lost your senses.” Maven Ringol grabs my arm and guides me back into bed, covering my feet with the sheet. He averts his eyes as if he’s uncomfortable. “I’m sure it’s our medmaid being clumsy, but I’ll check on the sick girl. In the meantime, Undertech Jalaz promised to stay nearby. Might I send him in?”

I nod, and try to smooth my wispy hair.

But when Maven Ringol slides the door open, Maddelyn stands on the other side hugging something under her arm. Before he can react, she jumps up with a growl and clocks Ringol in his temple with the hard object. The clunk of it hitting his skull makes me flinch.

He collapses to the floor. A hat, had he worn one, might have buffered the blow.

“You’ve hurt him!” I shout, but then I stop. Maddelyn’s skirt runs crookedly across her waist and her blouse hangs untucked. She’s carrying a lidded, pint-sized jar filled with a dry powder. The bridge of her nose bends, swollen from when I tripped her earlier. “Stop this. It’s the mold, Maddelyn. You’re not yourself. We can treat you.”

“Now you’ve done it!” she says in a voice not quite her own, hoarse and low. “You’ve put it to Gelia that I’m crazy in the noggin.” Her head jerks twice and she pants as if she’s been running.

“I’ve not said anything to Gelia. Please Maddelyn…” I implore.

With her chin to her chest, she looks up through her lashes with empty, stony eyes.

“What?” She jerks her chin sideways. “Did you think a dull ba’rm could find me?” She never uses that term “dull.” She considers the slang term used by cruel Subters for Omnits too derogatory. At least, she used to.

Maven Ringol murmurs from the floor, and his hand goes to his temple. I breathe a quick sigh; at least he’s moving.
If a potential book-buyer were to take Burrowed and flip to page 69, I’m happy he or she would find this excerpt as a read-don’t-read test. Zuzan, our main character, is recovering from injuries inflicted by her best friend, Maddelyn. Maddelyn has turned delusional and attempts to harm the people she loves the most, and on page 69 she’s back to finish Zuzan off. While this isn’t the overall gist of the story, there are a few elements in this passage potential readers will discover. Firstly, it shows how fragile this underground community of people are: Maddelyn is susceptible to an exaggerated reaction following simple exposure to mold. She’s also holding a jar of another substance harmful to everyone living underground. Finally, several of the primary characters (Zuzan, Maddelyn, Maven Ringol, and a mention of Jalaz) appear in this scene, and the curious page-flipper would gain a small understanding of how they relate to one another.

While it would be challenging to discern the dystopian setting and the great divide caused by the genetic plague from this one page, I’m willing to wager that if they like the page, they’d flip to the back cover to find out a little more about the story. I know I would. For now, I’m off to my to-be-read pile to choose my next read, depending on what I find on page 69.
Visit Mary Baader Kaley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 23, 2023

"Don't Open the Door"

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Allison Brennan believes life is too short to be bored, so she had five children and writes three books a year. Reviewers have called her “a master of suspense” and RT Book Reviews said her books are “mesmerizing” and “complex.” She’s been nominated for multiple awards, including the Thriller, RWA’s Best Romantic Suspense (five times), and twice won the Daphne du Maurier award. She lives in Arizona with her family and assorted pets.

Brennan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Don't Open the Door, and reported the following:
From page 69:
In the kitchen, she put down the two bags and let out the breath she’d been holding. She then inhaled deeply, exhaled, getting her bearings. These last two days had been emotional. Regan had been even-tempered since she was a kid, and that had helped her learn to remain calm in stressful situations. Charlie was right; she was good in a crisis. But being calm and rational made these complex memories and emotions more difficult to deal with, because there was nothing rational about any of this. She’d much rather be in the middle of an active shooter situation where her training and muscle memory would kick in, than standing in Tommy’s kitchen with memories of him, of her son, of her ex-husband, of her previous life, all punching her skull, fighting for attention.

And Regan, standing there alone, unsure how to fix anything.

Regan unloaded the groceries. She noticed a New York strip steak that hadn’t expired. Tommy loved to grill. There were fresh vegetables. She would eat them, think about Tommy, about their friendship and what might have been had life dealt them a different hand.

She closed the refrigerator as if closing her emotions. She couldn’t find the truth if she allowed the past to creep in and drag her down.

Then she saw a picture of her, Tommy and Chase, taken a few years ago at a Marshals family picnic. She stared at it, trying to feel that past happiness that had been her life — content, satisfied, successful in her career. Her marriage wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t bad. She had many friends, a home, a son. Her family. Imperfect, but hers.

Now gone.
The Page 69 Test mostly works for Don’t Open the Door. While this is the middle of a “quiet” scene where Regan is both ruminating on the past and working through Tommy’s investigation through his personal notes, it gives us a snapshot of what the story is about: Regan Merritt is in the home of her dead friend, struggling with her emotions, remembering her past and all that she has lost in the last year. I also think it shows Regan’s personality and character well: that she is calm, logical, good in a crisis, deals better with action than emotion — and that she is now facing something she feels ill- prepared for.

More than anything, I think this page leads to questions: what happened a year ago that shattered Regan’s life? How did Tommy die and why is she alone now in his house? Will she be able to find the truth, and what is the truth? I would hope that if someone turned to this page, they would want to read on, to find these answers.
Visit Allison Brennan's website.

My Book, The Movie: Don't Open the Door.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 20, 2023

"City Under One Roof"

Born in Missouri, raised in Hawaii and having lived in Guam, California, and Japan, Iris Yamashita was able to experience a diversity of culture while growing up. She studied engineering at U.C. San Diego and U.C. Berkeley and also spent a year at the University of Tokyo studying virtual reality. Her first love, however, has always been fiction writing, which she pursued as a hobby on the side.

Yamashita submitted her first screenplay to a competition where she was discovered by an agent at the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) who offered to represent her. Her big break came when she was recruited to write the script Letters From Iwo Jima for Clint Eastwood. Letters was named “Best Picture” by both the National Board of Review and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. It received a Golden Globe award for “Best Foreign Language Film” of 2006 and was nominated for 4 Oscars including “Best Picture” and “Best Original Screenplay.”

Yamashita applied the Page 69 Test to City Under One Roof, her debut mystery novel, and reported the following:
On page 69, we’re in a flashback with the protagonist, Cara Kennedy, a detective investigating a brutal murder in a small, isolated town in Alaska. She’s remembering a trip to the wilderness with her husband, Aaron, and her six-year-old son, Dylan.
Cara finally felt content and at peace, away from the murder cases and the gray pall that she felt while in Anchorage. They spent the first day on breathtaking hikes, where every vista was postcard perfect. It was still early in September, not the optimal viewing time for the aurora, but still, thanks to a coronal hole, neon green lights floated across the night like Christmas ribbons gifting the star-filled sky. It was moments like these that reaffirmed Cara’s love for Alaska and all its cathartic beauty.

On the third morning, Dylan wanted to look for snowshoe hares, so Aaron traipsed out with him early, carrying his camera gear and tripod, while Cara opted to sleep in. She withheld her instinct to worry when they didn’t return for lunch. She had already tried to call Aaron’s cell but wasn’t surprised when it went straight to his mailbox. Dead spots in the wilderness area were to be expected. She left a message anyway and sent him a text for good measure. Then she began preparing grilled cheese sandwiches and hot tomato soup for them, expecting them to walk through the door at any moment.
This page happens to be in the middle of a flashback, so it doesn’t take place in the isolated and claustrophobic building where most of the book is set. However, it does give some back story to the protagonist, mentions “murder cases” in Alaska and hints of an impending mystery or disaster, so in that sense, I suppose it gives a reader a good idea of what to expect.

Cara’s voice is just one of three in the book, so I would still hope for readers to take a look at some other pages to get a sense of the other voices as well. Amy Lin, who is a teenaged resident of the isolated town and whose mother runs the local Chinese restaurant is the second voice. The third voice is from Lonnie Mercer, a resident with a mental disability who keeps a pet moose named Denny and wears a different colored beret every day.
Visit Iris Yamashita's website.

Q&A with Iris Yamashita.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

"Murder Book"

Thomas Perry is the bestselling author of thirty novels, including the critically acclaimed Jane Whitefield series, The Old Man, and The Butcher’s Boy, which won the Edgar Award. He lives in Southern California.

Perry applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Murder Book, and reported the following:
I think that a browser looking at page 69 of Murder Book would get a fair taste of the sort of book it is, although the most important and omnipresent character, Harry Duncan, isn't on the page. Duncan is a former cop and organized crime expert who has been hired as a consultant by the U.S. Attorney of the northern district of Illinois to perform a scouting mission to see why so many of Chicago's career criminals seem to be turning up in a rural region of Indiana. Is it the start of something big, or not?

By page 69 he's come to a small Indiana town along the Ash River and discovered what looks to him like the very early stages of an organized crime syndicate. He has been the target of an extortion attempt within an hour of his arrival, and later staved off an attempt by three brothers named Clark to sell protection to the female owner of the most popular local bar. His method has been to make the three look hopelessly stupid and incompetent, throw them out and get them arrested, so nobody will be afraid of them.

Page 69 occurs at the end of a scene. Russell, the organizer of the criminal group, has just talked with his second in command, Mullins. What Mullins has suggested is to call in a professional killer and have the three Clarks killed, and then replace them. Russell likes the idea, so he calls his mysterious backers in Chicago and takes credit for it, because, as he tells himself on page 69, "Talented underlings could grow into talented rivals."

Most of the page is about the first of the three Clark brothers getting released from jail. The eldest, Jerry, is the most annoying, so he'll be let go first. The second would be the youngest, Steve, because he's likely to be the peacemaker between Jerry and the middle brother Dennis, who is suspicious that his brothers are trying to turn on him. We see Jerry walking out of the jail in the middle of the night dressed in clothes from the police station's Lost and Found box. As he reaches the deserted street, about to begin a long walk home, he hears a car gliding up the street behind him. Then he hears the hum of a car window rolling down. "There was a musical voice, the voice of a woman who knew it would surprise him. 'Hey, Cutie." And the page ends. I think most readers will know right away what she must be up to.

I think it's a fair representation. The book is a prolonged contest between one very cunning detective and an array of people who are extremely violent and rapacious, and some of whom are adept at their schemes. Page 69 shows these people reacting to Harry Duncan's resounding defeat of the Clark brothers. The Clark brothers failed? Kill them and get somebody else. The book is fast-paced, a war between people who know that the fighter who strikes first is usually the one who gets to go home.
Learn more about the book and author at Thomas Perry's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Silence.

The Page 99 Test: Nightlife.

The Page 69/99 Test: Fidelity.

The Page 69/99 Test: Runner.

The Page 69 Test: Strip.

The Page 69 Test: The Informant.

The Page 69 Test: The Boyfriend.

The Page 69 Test: A String of Beads.

The Page 69 Test: Forty Thieves.

The Page 69 Test: The Old Man.

The Page 69 Test: The Bomb Maker.

The Page 69 Test: The Burglar.

The Page 69 Test: A Small Town.

Q&A with Thomas Perry.

The Page 69 Test: Eddie's Boy.

The Page 69 Test: The Left-Handed Twin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 15, 2023

"The Nightmare Man"

J. H. Markert is a producer, screenwriter, husband, and father of two from Louisville, Kentucky, where he was also a tennis pro for 25 years, before hanging up the racquets for good in 2020. He graduated with a degree in History from the University of Louisville in 1997 and has been writing ever since.

Markert applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Nightmare Man, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Still parked outside the Bookmans’ house, Blue leafed through the pages of The Scarecrow and found the next murder in the book before even starting the car.

“Here it is.” She jabbed her fingernail into the page like a dagger. “Read it.”
On page 69 of The Nightmare Man, detectives Mills and Blue (Father and Daughter) sit in a car having just left questioning the horror writer Ben Bookman on a recent murder that mirrors one he’d written about in his most recent novel. The next victim in the novel is eerily similar to the character of Detective Mills, a widower and older man, and his daughter Detective Blue wants to make sure he understands the danger he might be in.

For this book, the Page 69 Test absolutely works! The browser should get an instant idea, as far as suspense and horror, of what the book is about.

It also happens to be about the time of a nice plot twist.
Visit J.H. Markert's website.

Q&A with J. H. Markert.

My Book, The Movie: The Nightmare Man.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 13, 2023

"The Game is A Footnote"

Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than forty books: clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy. She is currently writing four cozy mystery series: the Tea by the Sea mysteries for Kensington, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series for Crooked Lane Books, the Catskill Resort mysteries for Penguin Random House, and the Lighthouse Library series (as Eva Gates) for Crooked Lane.

Delany is a past president of the Crime Writers of Canada and co-founder and organizer of the Women Killing It Crime Writing Festival. Her work has been nominated for the Derringer, the Bony Blithe, the Ontario Library Association Golden Oak, and the Arthur Ellis Awards. Delany is the recipient of the 2019 Derrick Murdoch Award for contributions to Canadian crime writing. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the newest novel in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series, The Game is a Footnote, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He looked like he might argue, but then he sighed, leaned back in his chair, and let it go. Not for the first time, I got the feeling that the board members of the Scarlet House Museum had learned to pick their battles with the strong-willed Robyn.

Ethan bent his head over his laptop and typed away.

“Dave gave me an overview of the events of last night on the phone, but I’d like to hear again what happened,” Robyn said. “Dave, you go first, and then Gemma, please.”

When we’d finished, both of us keeping it brief and including a minimal amount of drama, Craig said, “Scared the life out of me. One minute everything’s calm and peaceful, and the next it sounded like the end times had arrived.”

“Hardly calm and peaceful,” Jayne said. “There was a storm going on.”

“Yes, but that was outside. I mean in the barn. In the house.”

“Could the storm have been what upset the animals?” Robyn asked.

“I wouldn’t have thought so,” Dave said. “They’re used to coastal weather. But you never know. If one of them got a fright and scared another . . . it all builds from there. Since helping out here, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected when working with farm animals.” He turned to me. “Except for the time I volunteered in Africa, I spent my career as a dog and cat vet. Totally different kettle of fish, those.”

“Were you and Craig together when the animals woke up?” I asked him.

The men exchanged vacant glances and half shrugs. Dave spoke first. “It’s difficult to be sure. It was dark and late, the storm building, and I might have been snoozing on and off.
The eighth Sherlock Holmes bookshop mystery, The Game is A Footnote, fails the page 69 test rather spectacularly.

On this page the characters are having a meeting in which they are discussing a previous night’s incident that had animals in the barn upset.

Meetings are not exactly the stuff of high drama. Someone is even typing at his computer, presumably taking the minutes!

Unfortunately, the page doesn’t mention that at the same time as the barn animals were causing an uproar, a suspected ghostly presence was wreaking havoc (or did it?) in the historical re-enactment museum in which much of the drama in the book is set. The meeting has, in fact, been called to discuss exactly what happened in the old house at midnight as a thunderstorm raged outside.

But this page presents none of the drama, confusion, and terror of what happened previously. It is, in fact, rather blah, and appears to be an unnecessary summing up of previous action. (It even says the events are told with “minimal amount of drama.”)

Of course, in a good mystery novel, nothing is ever just a retelling. A very important clue, and the catalyst for all that flows from here on in the book, is presented in this page. But, again in true puzzle mystery fashion, it is sort of slipped in among the rest of the conversation. On its own, it appears to mean nothing particularly interesting.

The characters are not well presented on this page either. There is no mention of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop, or a hint that our protagonist, Gemma Doyle, is the “Sherlock Holmes” character in the series. Meaning, she is my interpretation of the Great Detective as a modern young woman. That does not come out from a simple reading of page 69.

In short, page 69 is a poor example of the rest of The Game is a Footnote.
Visit Vicki Delany's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen.

The Page 69 Test: A Scandal in Scarlet.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in a Teacup.

The Page 69 Test: Deadly Summer Nights.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

"The Secret of the Lost Pearls"

Darcie Wilde is the award-winning author of stylishly adventurous historical mysteries and romances, including the Rosalind Thorne Mysteries, a Regency-set series inspired by the novels of Jane Austen, as well as the Regency Makeover Trilogy. She has also written, under the name Sarah Zettel, Locus and Philip K. Dick Award-winning novels, including Fool's War, a New York Times Notable Books of the Year selection.

Wilde applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Secret of the Lost Pearls and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Secret of the Lost Pearls takes place during a tense dinner scene where Rosalind is getting her first real experience with the interactions between the fractious Hodgeson and Douglas families.

It also has Mariah, the overlooked middle Hodgeson daughter, making what will be the first of a series of plays to distract attention from her younger, notorious sister, Leonora (Nora). Nora eloped with a handsome rogue, and has only recently returned to her family, telling them all that her husband is dead. Unapologetic and defiant, Nora is also financially dependent on her family. This makes her the leading suspect as the thief of a missing pearl necklace.

Rosalind, however, is reluctant to suspect Nora for being rebellious, young and discontent. She is certain there is more going on beneath the surface, and that the answer lies in the sister’s shared history.

In a lot of ways, this scene is peak Rosalind. She is not only sitting back and observing the family’s open sniping and gossiping, but she is directing the conversation, looking for hints of hidden motivation and real feeling in the middle of the biting wit and distracting declarations.

Rosalind is a veteran of London’s drawing rooms. She understands that its during these small, everyday interactions at tables and over teacups where people reveal their true selves, often whether they want to or not. But it’s also where power is (politely) established and exercised. In Rosalind’s point of view, personal motivation is the most important thing to understand in any human problem. Once that’s understood, then the rest of the answers will soon follow.
Visit Darcie Wilde's website.

The Page 69 Test: And Dangerous to Know.

The Page 69 Test: A Lady Compromised.

The Page 69 Test: A Counterfeit Suitor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 9, 2023

"Waking Fire"

Jean Louise grew up with her mother and two sisters in an old Victorian house on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio. Although she always loved making up stories, the idea of becoming a YA fantasy author wasn’t anything she’d ever considered until she was in her twenties. Her first short story was a romance novel parody that ended up being a hit among her friends. After that success, she started writing seriously, which led to her earning an MFA in Writing for Children at The New School.

Currently, she lives in Long Island, New York, with her cat Martha. When she’s not working at her day job or writing her next novel, Louise can be found with her nose buried in a graphic novel or taking down bad guys in her favorite video games.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Waking Fire and reported the following:
From page 69:
Obba passes his staff to Omma and takes the sword in hand. He flexes his wrist a few times, the light dancing on the curve of the blade, before tucking it into his waistband.

“Isrof, are you sure this is a good idea?” Omma glances at Nez with concern in the crease of her brow. “Shouldn’t you both stay here where it’s safe?”

“If the Vra Gool Dambi break through the gates,” Obba says, “then nowhere is safe.”
I love the idea of this test (and I’ll try it out the next time I’m book shopping!), but unfortunately, I don’t think a browser would get a good idea if they’d be interested in reading more of my book based on that page alone. The passage is too short (it’s the last three paragraphs of Chapter 5) and the narrator does not speak in this section, so they wouldn’t have any idea of who she is and what she wants.

However, I think the test does reveal a really important theme in my book: To what lengths would you go to protect those you love? For the protagonist, everything she does is spurred by her need to protect her family, and in this passage, you can see her mother’s concern for Nez, Naira’s twin brother, and her father’s determination to fight to keep his family safe. In Naira’s desire to protect her family, she makes some questionable decisions which she struggles with, but the idea of not fighting for those she loves never crosses her mind.

The funny thing is I selected page 69 from the printed hardcover of the book since that’s what most browsers would be viewing, but in earlier drafts of the book, page 69 is a scene that takes place in the very next chapter, between Naira and her mother, that shows another way of protecting others besides fighting. Omma, Naira’s mother, is a healer and Naira realizes that even though her mother doesn’t use a sword, her method of protecting her family is just as powerful. I think if browsers read that page 69, they’d have a better idea of who Naira is and what her journey will be.
Visit Jean Louise's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 7, 2023


Tracy Clark is the author of the highly acclaimed Cass Raines Chicago Mystery series, featuring Cassandra Raines, a hard-driving African American PI who works the mean streets of the Windy City dodging cops, cons, and killers. Clark received Anthony Award and Lefty Award nominations for her series debut, Broken Places, which was shortlisted for the American Library Association’s RUSA Reading List and named a CrimeReads Best New PI Book of 2018, a Midwest Connections Pick, and a Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Broken Places has since been optioned by Sony Pictures Television. Clark’s short story “For Services Rendered” appears in the anthology Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African-American Authors. She is the winner of the 2020 and 2022 G.P. Putnam’s Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award, also receiving a 2022 nomination for the Edgar Award for best short story for “Lucky Thirteen,” which appears in the crime fiction anthology Midnight Hour.

Clark applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Hideand reported the following:
From page 69:
“Who was Peggy close to?” Foster asked, wanting to move things along. “Was there anybody she had a problem with, or they with her?”

“Enough to kill her? No way. Do you have any suspects? Did anybody see anything?”

“We can’t talk about that,” Foster said. “Let’s stick with the names.”

“Doesn’t seem right,” Rimmer said. “I mean, we hung out for several months. That should give me rights to some details.”

“You want details, buy a paper,” Lonergan said.

Rimmer rolled his eyes. “Exactly why I hate talking to cops.”

Lonergan scooted his chair closer to Rimmer’s, met him dead eye to glassy eye. “Maybe you want to have this little talk where we work … and maybe we bring out the drug-sniffing dogs and have them sniff your weedy pockets. How’s that?”

“I’m under the limit,” Rimmer said.

Lonergan grinned. “I’m bettin’ not everywhere, kid. We’ll check your locker, your car, wherever you flop. We’ll turn you inside out.”

Rimmer swallowed hard. “Stella Dean. Try her. She goes to Peg’s school. They hit it off apparently. That’s when I broke things off.”

Lonergan smirked. “She dumped you for a girl?”

“The breakup was mutual.”

“Only you didn’t see it comin’,” Lonergan asserted. “Had to make you mad.”

Rimmer glowered at Lonergan. “You’re trying to needle me. I don’t like it.”

“Tough,” Lonergan said.

Foster was so over Lonergan’s gruff macho posturing. He was a bull in a China shop, a dull blade where a surgical knife was needed. And he was costing them time and good favor with Rimmer, neither of which they could afford to squander.
If readers turned to page 69 of my new novel Hide, they’d get a pretty good feel for what the book’s about. They’d know instantly that they were 69 pages into a gritty police procedural. They’d catch on in a snap that they were tuning into a police partnership that wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders. There’s tension here. Conflict. Internal and external. I’ve paired my African American female protagonist, my hard-hitting investigator, with an old-school white cop who can’t spell finesse let alone stoop so low as to use it. Yet the two are on the trail of a killer and must work together. On page 69, they’ve found a person, Rimmer, who dated the first victim. But that tension between the partners, boy, that’s fiction gold.
Visit Tracy Clark's website.

Q&A with Tracy Clark.

The Page 69 Test: Runner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 5, 2023

"The Love Match"

Priyanka Taslim is a Bangladeshi American writer, teacher, and lifelong New Jersey resident. Having grown up in a bustling Bangladeshi diaspora community, surrounded by her mother’s entire clan and many aunties of no relation, her writing often features families, communities, and all the drama therein. Currently, Taslim teaches English by day and tells all kinds of stories about Bangladeshi characters by night. Her writing usually stars spunky Bangladeshi heroines finding their place in the world—and a little swoony romance, too.

Taslim applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Love Matchand reported the following:
Page 69 finds Zahra Khan, the heroine and narrator of The Love Match, in the home of the boy her mother is determined to set her up with: Harun Emon. Since her father’s death two years prior, the Khans have been struggling financially, to the point where Zahra has deferred an acceptance to her dream college to work full time at a neighborhood tea shop. The Emons, on the other hand, are very wealthy, running a successful restaurant and wedding banquet business, so Zahra’s mom thinks being with Harun is the solution to all of their woes.

Zahra’s first meeting with Harun at the Emons’ restaurant earlier in the book, however, did not go very well. He was recalcitrant and moody, giving her the impression that he thinks he’s superior to her, so she’s reluctant to visit the Emons for dinner. All of a sudden, as she’s taking off her strappy heels, lost in thought, Harun appears beside her and startles her, to the point where she starts to fall—except he manages to catch her and pulls her into his arms! Despite all of her frustrations with him, Zahra can’t help feeling a spark of attraction.

I think the Page 69 Test works well for The Love Match. Readers immediately get some insight into the matchmaking setup and can sense that Zahra is hesitant about it, but because of the presence of tropes common in romcoms, they’ll also start to wonder if there’s the potential for more between Zahra and Harun. In the chapter prior, Zahra has just met and instantly connected to Nayim, her other love interest and coworker at the tea shop, so ideally, reading page 69 would immerse readers in the story enough that they’d like to find out not just what happens next, but what came before. If they kept reading, they’d learn that Zahra and Harun begin a fake relationship to please their families even as they scheme to sabotage it from within, which is complicated by her growing feelings for Nayim.
Visit Priyanka Taslim's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Love Match.

Q&A with Priyanka Taslim.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

"Picture in the Sand"

Peter Blauner is an Edgar-winning, New York Times bestselling author of several other novels, including Slow Motion Riot, The Intruder, and Sunrise Highway. His books have been translated into twenty languages.

Blauner's new novel, Picture in the Sand, is the culmination of two decades of writing and research that took him from Brooklyn to Cairo a half-dozen times.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Picture in the Sand and reported the following:
Page 69 marks a time of transition for Picture in the Sand. The protagonist of this historical y, a young Egyptian movie fan named Ali Hassan, has landed what first seems to be his dream job: as driver for the legendary film director Cecil B. DeMille on his most famous film The Ten Commandments. But that dream quickly turns into something more closely resembling a nightmare when Ali and DeMille find their car surrounded by an angry mob on the streets of Cairo and in making their escape, Ali accidentally strikes and kills a cleric held in high regard by religious extremists.

On page 69, Ali is driving through the desert to the first filming location. His passengers include DeMille,Charlton Heston and the woman Ali is in love with. Ali's role in the cleric's death has not yet become public knowledge, but he fears its discovery. On page 69, Ali considers the consequences and punishment he could receive while his passengers prattle on about show business and a sandstorm rages around them.

If it was my choice, I'd rather readers start with Page 68, which opens with this paragraph, which is Ali relating the tale to his wayward grandson Alex many years later:
In our religion, Alex, there is a story that two recording angels will come to your graveside on the day of your death: Munkar and Nakir. Before you are laid to your rest, they ask you a series of questions to determine your final destination. One is “Who is your Lord?” Another is “What is your religion?” And the last is “Who is the one true messenger?” If you answer correctly, you will eventually pass into Paradise, aljana, with its green fields and waterfalls. If you don’t, you will be squeezed until your ribs interlock and your insides ooze out through the gaps, until the Final Day when you are cast into hell, where your body will burn for eternity.

I pictured the recording angels seated right behind me as we rumbled along.

In reality, it was Henry Wilcoxon and “Chuck” Heston squeezed between Mr. DeMille and Mona, the four of them somehow not throwing up as we swerved and skidded.
That more accurately captures the spirit and tone I was trying for in the book.
Visit Peter Blauner's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sunrise Highway.

Writers Read: Peter Blauner (December 2022).

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 1, 2023

"Ms. Demeanor"

Elinor Lipman is the award-winning author of sixteen books of fiction and nonfiction, including The Inn at Lake Devine, Isabel’s Bed, I Can’t Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays, On Turpentine Lane, and Rachel to the Rescue. Her first novel, Then She Found Me, became a 2008 feature film, directed by and starring Helen Hunt, with Bette Midler, Colin Firth, and Matthew Broderick. She was the 2011–12 Elizabeth Drew Professor of Creative Writing at Smith College and divides her time between Manhattan and the Hudson Valley.

Lipman applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Ms. Demeanor, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Ms. Demeanor is the second page of a chapter that begins with the question, “Had I embarked on something I’d soon regret?” That “something” is a catering gig, undertaken reluctantly. My narrator is Jane Morgan, disbarred lawyer, getting paid to provide dinner three nights a week for Perry Salisbury, who is, like her, under house arrest for not- very -felonious crimes. Though the arrangement is for drop-off meals and not dinner à deux, on this inaugural delivery, Perry opens a bottle of wine and invites her to stay. She asks herself, “Why was I being such a stickler, especially with the prospect of a no-doubt-excellent red?” She says, "Okay. One glass while you eat. You’ll give me feedback’” (on her Mexican meatloaf, mashed sweet potatoes and Cancun slaw.) I didn’t want it to be a comfortable situation, but an awkward one. At this point, all they have in common is their address and their home confinements.

It’s a pretty good sample of my voice and Jane’s. Some readers might see what will develop between these two, but on page 69, I didn’t know myself. As for its relevance to the whole work, the novel is food-heavy, and this is Catering Night No. 1 with many more meals to come.

I don’t outline, so I’m often surprised at where I let the keyboard take me.To counter that, I’m a stern self-editor; if I go down a dud path, I cut whole pages, sometimes whole chapters for the greater good. The notion of my narrator being under house arrest wasn’t preconceived. It popped into my head as I was ending the first chapter, and I thought, this could be interesting.
Visit Elinor Lipman's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Family Man.

The Page 99 Test: I Can't Complain.

The Page 69 Test: Good Riddance.

--Marshal Zeringue