Thursday, March 30, 2023

"The Witch and the Vampire"

Francesca Flores is a writer, traveler and linguist. Raised in Pittsburgh, she read every fantasy book she could get her hands on and started writing her own stories at a young age. When she's not writing or reading, Flores enjoys traveling, dancing ballet and jazz, practicing trapeze and contortion, and visiting parks and trails around San Francisco, where she currently resides. She is the author of Diamond City and Shadow City.

Flores applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Witch and the Vampire, and reported the following:
On page 69 of my book, my fire witch character, Kaye, is about to cross the magical barrier separating her town from the dangerous forest where vampires reside. She examines the barrier and makes a plan to capture the vampire she’s tracking down; Ava, the other main character.

The Page 69 Test doesn’t work very well for my book, but it’s not a complete failure. There is plenty of good worldbuilding on this page, so if a reader loves getting immersed into a new fantasy world, they’d be very intrigued by it. On the other hand, there’s no dialogue or action on this particular page, so readers who want action might think the book is lacking in it, when in reality it’s just that this page happens to be more expository.

But this page also shows more insight into Kaye’s head, and readers who are intrigued by a very determined, intelligent protagonist who’s about to go on a dangerous adventure, then this page could invite them to read more. This is different from the other main character, Ava, who is quieter and shyer than Kaye, but has a simmering rage beneath the surface that will come out farther along in the book. I find it interesting that if my pages were shifted just a little bit, the Page 69 test might open to a chapter with Ava’s point of view instead, and give the reader a completely different impression.

They are both about to embark on an adventure around this part of the book, and I think this page is the start of the journey that readers would be looking forward to from the beginning of the novel.
Visit Francesca Flores's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

"A Door in the Dark"

Scott Reintgen is an author of science fiction and fantasy books.

He wrote the Nyxia trilogy, the Ashlords series, the Talespinners series, and The Problem with Prophecies.

Reintgen applied the Page 69 Test to his young adult fantasy thriller, A Door in the Dark, and reported the following:
To my delight, A Door in the Dark passes the test! This page finds Ren Monroe, our main character, reflecting on the events of a party the night before. A disastrous evening that was highlighted by Theo Brood—the pompous heir of one of the great magical houses--performing a party trick that could have gotten several people killed.

Instead of being punished, however, Theo's name isn’t even mentioned in the article about the incident. Ren reflects on this on page 69: "She was tempted to write 'Theo Brood is guilty' all along the stone walkways of the school." This unfairness sits at the very heart of the story. Ren is a scholarship student who, in spite of being a brilliant wizard, has been unable to find a position with any of the great houses. This moment acts as a turning point for all that comes after.

Ren heads to the portal room after this. She and five other students are preparing to go home for winter break. Normally, Theo Brood would never stoop to take the public portal that’s used by the scholarship students—but his father is punishing him for the mistake he made at the party. Which means that Theo is there when the spell malfunctions. He’s there when the magic goes awry.

The six students land in the middle of nowhere. Now, Ren is stuck trying to survive the journey home with someone she despises. It certainly doesn’t help that one of the students is dead on arrival.

A Door in the Dark passes the Page 69 Test. I hope it will also pass the test for readers who are looking for a fantasy thriller that moves at a quick pace and keeps them guessing.
Visit Scott Reintgen's website and follow him on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Nyxia.

The Page 69 Test: Ashlords.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 26, 2023

"A Death in Denmark"

Amulya Malladi is the bestselling author of eight novels, including The Copenhagen Affair, A House for Happy Mothers, and The Mango Season. Her books have been translated into several languages, including Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Danish, Romanian, Serbian, and Tamil. She won a screenwriting award for her work on Ø (Island), a Danish series that aired on Amazon Prime Global and Studio Canal+. Currently living in California, she is a Danish citizen who was born and raised in India.

Malladi applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Death in Denmark, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Why didn’t you tell the police or anyone else about it?” I asked.

Ulla shrugged. “I don’t know. I didn’t say anything because . . .well, I just didn’t. It never came up.”

“How much had she written?” I asked.

“She said she was done, just waiting for some last documents from Germany. She was worried, she told me that night when we had dinner at Munkebo Kro. This was a few weeks before she died. She said that she had been told to stop working on the book . . . by someone important.” Ulla took a long drag from her cigarette and then laughed as if remembering something. “She said der er ugler i mosen.”

It was an old quirky Danish idiom, “there are owls in the bog,” which meant that there was something suspicious afoot. Originally, the saying was “there are wolves in the bog,” but when wolves left Denmark, the wolves changed to owls.

“It seemed so farfetched,” Ulla continued. “She was behaving like she knew a secret and there are no secrets left about that time . . . so . . . I thought she was just blabbing, making herself feel important.”

“Did she tell you who was threatening her and why?”

Ulla took another deep puff of her cigarette, making me want to draw the nicotine in like the addict I was. “No.”

“Who else would know? Someone must have helped her research the book?” I prompted.

“My first guess was Palle,” Ulla replied. “He’s a history professor. But when I asked him about it, he said he didn’t know.”

“Was she working on it on her computer?”

“Where else? But . . . I don’t know,” Ulla said uncertainly. “She went through a stack of printed pages on the train when we were coming back to Copenhagen. She told me that was the book.
I was nervous as I looked up page 69 to see what it would tell about my book—and it tells a great deal. It gives an idea of who my protagonist, private investigator Gabriel Præst is and what is interview style is. It also delves into the mystery and identifies the MacGuffin, a missing manuscript, written by the murder victim.
Visit Amulya Malladi's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Death in Denmark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 24, 2023

"A Country You Can Leave"

Asale Angel-Ajani is a writer and professor at The City College of New York. She's the author of the nonfiction books Strange Trade: The Story of Two Women Who Risked Everything in the International Drug Trade and Intimate: Essays on Racial Terror. She has held residencies at Millay, Djerassi, and Playa, and is an alum of VONA and Tin House.

Angel-Ajani applied the Page 69 Test to A Country You Can Leave, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“What about you?” I repeat as the swoosh of the intake window slides open and the nurse calls out a name.

Crystal loosens her grip on her backpack, pushing herself up. “A checkup.” It’s the way she says it, quick and exacting, like she’s slamming a door, locking it. I don’t believe her.

Then, she draws a sharp breath. “What’s that guy doing?” Putting her hand to her mouth, she’s stares out into the waiting room. She’s upset, trembling, as if she’s about to cry.

“Where? Who? What are you talking about?” I shift around in my seat, trying to follow her line of vision. I expect blood. Death. Something major.

She grips my arm and hisses, “There. The guy two seats in front of us, the one with the headphones.”

I spot him. He has his back to us. On his lap is a portable DVD player. The screen is a dark shadow from where I’m sitting so I squeeze over, moving Crystal with my shoulder.

For a few seconds I watch a head bob over an erect penis and lean back in my seat. “Yeah. So what.”

“But its gross. We’re in public.” Crystal looks like she’s going to vomit, but she’s riveted. And I wonder if this is what Yevgenia sees whenever I get all high and mighty about sex.

“Well. You don’t have to watch.”

“I’m not.” She says but her eyes wander back to the guy. “You are.”

“It’s like a car crash.” Crystal smiles for the first time.

“Apparently.” With my head I gesture to an old man who is so captivated by the porn that he’s nearly falling out of his seat.

We giggle, stupidly, uncomfortable and maybe a bit excited. “Have you ever done something like that?” Crystal asks.

“That?” I shake my head no. And then there’s the odd feeling of superiority, I’m not proud of it, but it’s there.
The scene on page 69 might lead readers to think that the book is 1) a YA novel or 2) filled with sex. Let me explain. On page 69, the main character, Lara, is visiting a community health clinic because a few pages before, she realizes her mother has never had her vaccinated against “anything”. While at the clinic, Lara sees a girl from the Oasis Mobile Estates (an off-the-gird community where they live), and eventually, the two end up sitting next to each other in the waiting room where they spy an older man watching porn on his laptop. It’s a darkly funny scene, which I would say is somewhat representative of the overall book, but this page doesn’t really give you a sense of what the main story is really about, mostly, because Lara’s mother, Yevgenia is not reflected on the page. But for a book that is set in the desert, in a community of fugitives and ne’er-do-wells, it shows the kind of day-to-day absurdities that can occur in life that are strange and sort of funny, even when life presents its challenges.
Visit Asale Angel-Ajani's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Country You Can Leave.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

"Antimatter Blues"

Edward Ashton is the author of the novels Mickey7 (now a motion picture directed by Bong Joon-ho and starring Robert Pattinson), Three Days in April, and The End of Ordinary. His short fiction has appeared in venues ranging from the newsletter of an Italian sausage company to Escape Pod, Analog, and Fireside Fiction. He lives in upstate New York in a cabin in the woods (not that Cabin in the Woods) with his wife, a variable number of daughters, and an adorably mopey dog named Max, where he writes—mostly fiction, occasionally fact—under the watchful eyes of a giant woodpecker and a rotating cast of barred owls. In his free time, he enjoys cancer research, teaching quantum physics to sullen graduate students, and whittling.

Ashton applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Antimatter Blues, and reported the following:
From page 69:
With a mental shrug, I shove the red lead into the top slot, and the green lead into the other. What’s the worst that could happen?

I could fry my brain. That’s the worst, I guess.

I take a seat.

“Okay,” I say. “Strap me in.”

Her face has taken on a look of concern, bordering on alarm.

“You sure about this, babe? This is starting to look an awful lot like an execution.”

I force a grin. “I’m sure. This is all routine, Nasha. Let’s do it.”

So, she does. First ankles, then wrists, then forehead, closing the buckle around the front of the helmet.

“You good?”

I give the straps a tug.

“Yeah,” I say. “I’m good.”

She leans down to kiss me.

“Love you,” she whispers.

“Yeah,” I say. “I know.”

She straightens then, and pulls the thumb from her pocket.

“Ready to see if this thing works?”

I close my eyes.

“Hit me.”
I’m honestly not sure what a reader would make of this book if this page were all they had to go by. I guess you’ve got a narrator doing something stupid, bordering on suicidal. Yeah, that tracks. You’ve got his girlfriend reluctantly helping him do it. That’s pretty on-brand for this book too. For some reason, she’s got somebody’s thumb in her pocket? Okay, that’s where you maybe start to lose me without a bit more context. Is this some kind of serial killer love story? A tale of extreme BDSM? Or is it just set in a future where thumbs are abundant and available to everyone? Who knows? This might be a good time to check the dust jacket and see what, exactly, you’re getting yourself into.

Antimatter Blues is the sequel to Mickey7. It follows directly on from the earlier book, and it carries through a lot of the same elements that made that book what it is. It’s an adventure, first and foremost, but it’s a thinky sort of adventure, the kind where you learn fun science facts or bits of philosophy in the middle of desperate pitched battles. It has a light tone that belies some of its heavier themes, and it has a through-line of two people who would each do literally anything for the other. Do you get that from page 69? Yeah, maybe a hint, at least. If I were picking one page to sell the book to a reader, I’m not sure this would be it, exactly. As far as passages involving stolen thumbs go, though, I suppose you could probably do worse.
Visit Edward Ashton's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mickey7.

Q&A with Edward Ashton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 20, 2023


Elizabeth Wein is the holder of a private pilot’s license and the owner of about a thousand maps. She is best known for her historical fiction about young women flying in World War II, including the New York Times bestselling Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. Wein is also the author of Cobalt Squadron, a middle grade novel set in the Star Wars universe and connected to the 2017 release The Last Jedi. She lives in Scotland and holds both British and American citizenship.

Wein applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Stateless, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Done much racing?” he asked me.

His mild, curious tone caught me off guard. He didn’t sound friendly, exactly, but he had a nice voice—a husky baritone, with a sort of boyish eagerness about the way he talked that made him seem younger than he was. The American drawl had something in it of freedom and wide-open spaces that was wildly alien to my lifetime of tidy English fields and cluttered city gardens.

It was a straightforward question and, wary of getting into an argument with him, I gave him an honest answer.

“This is my first long-distance race. I did a closed course race last spring—the ‘Junior King’s Cup.’ You had to be under eighteen to take part.”

“How’d you do?”

I bit my lip, remembering. My plane in that race, not the Cadet I was flying now, had been hopelessly outclassed, and I had been far too cautious about the steep turns. Oh, well—it wasn’t a secret. “I came eighteenth out of twenty-one. And two of the planes I beat had engine trouble and didn’t finish. So really I came second to last.”

“How’d you qualify for this race, then?”

“Sent in an application, as it said to do in the papers,” I answered defensively. “I got a recommendation from my instructor, and put down the number of hours I’ve flown and the three languages I speak, and drummed up sponsorship, and wrote an essay: Why this would be a good experience for me. Why I want to succeed in a personal achievement that will also be a British achievement. Why peace and cooperation in Europe matter to me.”

I didn’t mention my passport.
If browsers open your book to page 69, would they get a good (or an inaccurate) idea of the whole work?

I want to say: no idea at all – and also – pefect.

Basically, it depends on whether you’re looking for plot or character.

Page 69 tells you very little about the plot of Stateless except that air racing is involved, and – in that teaser of a final sentence – that the narrator’s passport may be an issue. But the excerpt doesn’t tell you the names of anyone in the race, or where it’s taking place, or what the point of it is. It doesn’t even tell you the speakers’ names. It certainly doesn’t tell you that two hours earlier one of them witnessed a murder, and the other was the target of a second murder attempt.

But the two nameless speakers on this page are the two main characters in the book, and their distrust of each other, turning to mutual admiration, is key to the story; and also, I think that this vignette gives you a really lovely little taste of what these two characters are like, in a quiet moment, just as they’re getting to know each other.

I often say: plot is character, character is plot. In the perfection of the way these characters are captured on page 69 of Stateless, the seeds of the plot are sown. So although this page doesn’t tell you anything about the action or adventure of the novel, it does a good job of giving you a taste of the book’s flavor.
Visit Elizabeth Wein's website.

The Page 69 Test: Black Dove, White Raven.

The Page 69 Test: The Pearl Thief.

My Book, The Movie: Stateless.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 18, 2023

"The Mimicking of Known Successes"

Malka Older is a writer, aid worker, and sociologist. Her science-fiction political thriller Infomocracy was named one of the best books of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews, Book Riot, and The Washington Post. She is the creator of the serial Ninth Step Station, currently running on Realm, and her short story collection And Other Disasters came out in November 2019. She is a Faculty Associate at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society and teaches in the genre fiction MFA at Western Colorado University.

Older applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Mimicking of Known Successes, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Mimicking of Known Successes is the beginning of a chapter and so only about half a page of text. Almost all of these words are dedicated to describing a restaurant situated on a platform orbiting Jupter. In a place where gas is the primary and extremely abundant source of fuel, this restaurant depends on a tiny cultivated wood, and meals are cooked over a wood-fire hearth. Its offerings include by-products of the wood, including "morels, or mosses, or wild ginger", as well as "cedar-infused fermented sorrel liquor" and "rich, herbed soup."

This selection barely mentions the main (or any) characters and doesn't touch at all on the murder-mystery plot, so it can't really be considered representative of the book; but it does convey an important component of The Mimicking of Known Successes, which is the importance of the setting. Because the story takes place on (or, more accurately, around) Jupiter, and in a society where people venerate the “classical” days before Earth was rendered unlivable, a lot of thinking went into both the technology to make this settlement possible and the culture that would develop there over time. The restaurant described on this page shows the aspirations for something Earth-like; that the society has developed to the point of differentiation and a kind of luxury; and that it is still constrained in ways very different from the ways we are constrained.

Also, this page includes a bit of wordplay typical of the book’s sense of humor: the name of the restaurant, where our ex-lover heroes meet for a long-awaited dinner, is The Slow Burn.
Follow Malka Older on Twitter and visit her website.

The Page 69 Test: Infomocracy.

The Page 69 Test: State Tectonics.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 16, 2023

"Bert and Mamie Take a Cruise"

John Keyse-Walker practiced law for 30 years, representing business and individual clients, educational institutions and government entities. He is an avid salt- and freshwater angler, a tennis player, kayaker and an accomplished cook. He lives in Ohio and Florida with his wife.

Keyse-Walker applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Bert and Mamie Take a Cruise, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Heissemeyer spoke to the crowd in a general way. ‘The captain, bring Captain Dane here this minute.’ No one moved except Davey Jones, who placed a firm hand on the major’s arm just above the elbow. Jones’s companion on the other side did the same. In one swift movement Major Heissemeyer was lifted off his feet and carried forward to be deposited before Neptune as if he had flown there on the wings of a school of flying fish.

‘Ach, I thought this was a polliwog,’ said Neptune. ‘But it turns out it is a shrimp.’ The gathering, both polliwogs and shellbacks, roared with laughter.

The joke by the chief fireman, maybe intended as rough humor or, more likely, as a taunt by the old navy man against the tin-pot soldier, didn’t help the situation.

‘In the name of the SS, I order you to unhand me and stop this nonsense.’ Heissemeyer’s face turned an ugly shade of purple as he said this.

No one moved to the major’s aid, not even his own aide- de-camp who was, I noticed, watching impassively from the back of the crowd.

‘Neptune takes orders from no man, not shellback, nor polliwog, nor shrimp. Nor the SS,’ Neptune thundered. ‘If you will not bow before me, you shall at least acknowledge the rightful heir to my watery throne. You, shrimp, shall kiss my beautiful baby’s belly.’

The beer-gutted baby Triton wobbled forward from beside Neptune’s throne and protruded his white hairy belly in the major’s direction. Davey Jones placed a hand on Major Heissemeyer’s neck and shoved forward. The major went pale white and, with an adrenaline-fueled burst of strength, twisted away from his captors and sprinted from the deck and down the stairs.

Both crew and passengers again burst out laughing, willing to enjoy themselves at the expense of the threatening prig, I suspect, because of the way we had all seen him treat others since the beginning of the voyage.
The Page 69 Test works well for Bert and Mamie Take a Cruise. Of course, it doesn’t capture the entire book in a single page but it does give a snapshot of elements of the book which follow throughout. There is mild humor as the crew of veteran German merchant sailors have some sport tweaking the sanctimonious SS Major Heissemeyer, who is attempting to disrupt the enjoyment of the ship’s passengers and crew during a light-hearted equator-crossing ceremony. There is the flavor of what it was like to go on a sixty-three day voyage to the continent of Africa during the golden age of pre-World War II passenger ship travel. And there is a taste of the tension between the universally-disliked Major Heissemeyer and the rest of the passengers and ship’s crew, which ultimately results in a murder taking place aboard ship. Taken as a whole, page 69 is a good sample of the book and delivers to the reader exactly what I was hoping for as a writer - a fun read taking place in an exotic and romantic location during a time most of us are too young to have experienced, with a spicy murder tossed into the mix.

Alas, though, one part of the fun of both writing and reading Bert and Mamie is completely missing from page 69. You’ll note that neither one of the protagonist couple are mentioned. Flipping through the other pages of the book reminded me that this is a rarity; almost every other page contains the viewpoint of one or the other, or action involving them, or, my favorite, a bit of witty repartee between them. I guess the only way for the reader to enjoy this component of the book is to get a copy and read the rest of the pages!
Visit John Keyse-Walker's website.

The Page 69 Test: Palms, Paradise, Poison.

Q&A with John Keyse-Walker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

"Red London"

Alma Katsu is the award-winning author of eight novels, most recently Red London, Red Widow, The Deep, and The Hunger. Prior to the publication of her first novel, she had a thirty-five-year career as a senior intelligence analyst for several U.S. agencies, including the CIA and NSA, as well as RAND, the global policy think tank. Katsu is a graduate of the masters writing program at the Johns Hopkins University and received her bachelors degree from Brandeis University. She lives outside of Washington, DC, with her husband, where she is a consultant to government and private industry on future trends and analytic methods.

Katsu applied the Page 69 Test to Red London and reported the following:
From page 69:
There she is, that awful Russian mogul's wife. Didn't they just have some sort of home invasion on their vulgar property on Billionaires Row? Serves them right.
Page 69 of Red London finds Emily Rotenberg waiting to give a speech at a charity fundraiser, replacing her husband Russian oligarch Mikhail at the last minute. While she's thinking how little she wants to be there, she's run into by a woman, an American who doesn't realize she's the guest of honor. The two begin talking and Emily is quickly reeled in by the charming stranger whom Emily has no idea is a spy sent to try to recruit her into flipping on her husband.

This page is a good look into one facet of the story, which is Emily's perspective. Emily comes from a minor and somewhat impoverished aristocratic family. While beautiful, she never was able to find her place in the world until she was courted by Mikhail. Now she's trapped in a world that she doesn't completely understand, her family and her countrymen have turned their backs on her, and after Russia invaded Ukraine, her life is getting more dangerous by the day.

Emily is key to whether a reader will or won't like this book. The protagonist, CIA officer Lyndsey Duncan, is her usual smart, competent, determined self. Emily is the emotional heart of the book. I deliberately chose a plot that is part domestic suspense, which is popular now, in the hope that fans of that genre will give Red London a try.
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.

Q&A with Alma Katsu.

The Page 69 Test: The Fervor.

My Book, The Movie: Red London.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 13, 2023

"The Lost Americans"

Christopher Bollen is the author of the critically acclaimed novels A Beautiful Crime, The Destroyers, Orient, and Lightning People. He is a frequent contributor to a number of publications, including Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and Interview. He lives in New York City.

Bollen applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Lost Americans, and reported the following:
I had no idea where in the novel we’d be on page 69—not yet in Egypt, but somewhere between the Berkshires and New York City? As it happens, we find Cate back home in Western Massachusetts to attend her brother’s funeral. Eric has died mysteriously in Cairo, and Cate is convinced that it wasn’t suicide. Page 69 contains one of the most important tangible clues in the novel, one that will eventually compel Cate to book a plane ticket to Cairo to hunt down exactly what happened to her brother. She’s doing the dishes in her mother’s house when a FedEx truck pulls into the driveway. A package arrives which turns out to be Eric’s personal effects, shipped home to the next of kin. Cate wastes no time going through the items, and amid the folded clothes and toiletries she discovers a neck chain with a pendant on it that she couldn’t recall her brother wearing. It’s a little silver medallion of St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things. Her brother didn’t wear jewelry and he wasn’t religious, and Cate can’t figure out how it got mixed in with his stuff. A family member has such limited window when a loved one dies overseas—everything happened across an ocean, misted in unfamiliarity and bureaucracy. Cate’s only recourse is to read deeply into whatever scraps of clues she is given. Is she fooling herself and it was a suicide? Or did someone murder her brother and larger forces covered it up? Well, that gets answered after page 69.
Visit Christopher Bollen's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Beautiful Crime.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 12, 2023

"I Will Find You Again"

Sarah Lyu grew up outside of Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She loves a good hike and can often be found with a paintbrush in one hand and a cup of milky tea in the other. Lyu is the author of The Best Lies and I Will Find You Again.

She applied the Page 69 Test to I Will Find You Again and reported the following:
Page 69 opens on the beginning of chapter 17 of I Will Find You Again, in a scene where the main character, Chase, meets up with Hunter after school. Both girls used to be rivals for the affections of Lia, Chase’s ex and Hunter’s current girlfriend. Only, Lia disappeared a few days ago and was recently found dead. Chase resents Hunter but is also drawn to her because she’s the only one who has a full picture of the last few months of Lia’s life. Chase and Lia were best friends for a decade before they fell in love, and Chase is on a quest to find out what happened to the person she loved most in the world.

On this page, the anger Chase feels for Hunter is palpable—“My hands curl into fists at my side but I know all my rage won’t get me anywhere, so I force them open.” Chase can’t believe Lia would choose someone like Hunter, a spoiled heiress who has never had to lift a finger for the very things Chase strives for: a future of financial security, a life of power and influence.

Though this page is on the shorter side because it’s a chapter opener, it still gives a good glimpse of what the novel holds. The tension between Chase and Hunter is unmistakable and sets up one of the central conflicts of the book. The page also ends on a moment of reflection for Chase as the two of them walk around campus. On the previous page, she was at cross country practice and as has happened a few times on her runs, she feels the pull of traffic, a temptation toward self-annihilation. At the end of this page, she feels some relief when the suicidal thoughts that have been haunting her don’t reappear.

Depression and suicidal ideation are subjects I wanted to write about because they’ve taken a lot of space in my life. Chase’s struggles with self-harm and destruction were a way for me to process my own struggles with mental health over the years. And while we only see a glimpse of it on this page, it’s connected with Chase’s mission to understand what happened to Lia and what happened between them, and it’s part of her larger journey of discovering who she is and the key to her ability to forge a future for herself.
Visit Sarah Lyu's website.

Q&A with Sarah Lyu.

My Book, The Movie: I Will Find You Again.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 10, 2023

"Tell the Rest"

Lucy Jane Bledsoe is the author of several works of fiction, including A Thin Bright Line, which was a Lambda Literary Award and Ferro-Grumley Award finalist. She is the winner of an American Library Association Stonewall Award, a Yaddo Fellowship, a California Arts Council Fellowship in Literature, two National Science Foundation Artists & Writers Fellowships, and a finalist for the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Fiction Award.

Bledsoe applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Tell the Rest, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Tell the Rest, one of the book’s two protagonists, a poet, sits at his kitchen table trying to write the poem that has eluded him for years, the one about his escape from a Christian conversion therapy camp for teens. He procrastinates by reading Claudia Rankin and writing other scraps of poetry. Ernest is teaching for a semester in Portland, Oregon, close to the site of the camp, and his boyfriend, who remains in NYC, has been hounding him to go find Celebration Camp. On page 69, his boyfriend sends him a text saying that he has found the location of the camp. “Rent a car,” Dennis writes. “It’s only an hour drive from Portland.”

The test works! Readers will get a good idea who Ernest is — poet, procrastinator, queer, survivor — as well as his central conflict, how to process and write about that traumatic teen experience. The last sentences on page 69, in which his boyfriend tells him to go find the camp, hopefully entice readers to keep reading in order to find out if Ernest does go and, if he does, what he finds at the camp. Ernest’s goal is so close! And yet terrifying.

Is there a failure in the test? Not really. But its limitation, for my novel, is that it doesn’t let the reader know about the other protagonist, Delia, who was at Celebration Camp with Ernest. They escaped together and separated immediately, losing touch completely. Over the years, both are intrigued about what has happened to the other and in the novel, their lives come closer and closer together, as they’ve both been drawn back to Oregon, where they met. Page 69 also might not let readers know that the book is about the power of friendship to override trauma, that community and love and survival are the true stories in Tell the Rest. As an author, I have distaste for “trauma porn,” and so I like to emphasize that Tell the Rest is about how my characters find their voices and strength, their joy and healthy relationships, in the years that follow their time at Celebration Camp.
Visit Lucy Jane Bledsoe's website.

Q&A with Lucy Jane Bledsoe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

"Standing Dead"

Margaret Mizushima writes the award winning and internationally published Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. She serves as past president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and was elected 2019 Writer of the Year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She and her husband recently moved from Colorado, where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals, to a home in the Pacific Northwest.

Mizushima applied the Page 69 Test to her new mystery, Standing Dead, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“You can use the satellite phone,” McCoy said, handing it over to her from the front seat before opening his door to leave.

“I’ll stay with Mattie,” Stella said.

As she retrieved Julia’s cell phone number from her list of contacts, Mattie realized that having a bodyguard with her at all times had begun. She plugged the number into the sat phone and listened to the sounds as it made a connection. The fear in Mattie’s chest circled and tightened as the call forwarded to Julia’s voice mail, forcing her to leave a message asking her sister to return her call as soon as possible.


Though the sun remained hidden behind the jagged horizon, dim light and an orange glow from the east offered the promise of sunrise. Sheriff McCoy had gathered the campers, telling them he had an update for them, while Mattie and Robo stood at the edge of the lot, downwind from the group. Mist from her breath wafted on the breeze.

A little over a year ago, during their first investigation as partners, Mattie had realized that Robo had cataloged the scent of the bad guy at the crime scene, though she didn’t come to this conclusion until much later. If she’d been more diligent and read his signals better, she would have had a feel for the killer much sooner than she had.

She wished she could have Robo sniff everyone in the campground, but that type of search would be illegal. She would have to settle for watching his body language to see if he reacted to anyone with intense interest. Observations of a dog’s body language would never stand up in court, but it gave a K-9 officer information that could be valuable in putting together a case and finding evidence that would be admissible.

Glenna Dalton was standing with Sheriff McCoy in front of an audience of about twenty- five people, all dressed in outdoor gear, many with arms crossed over their chests, gloved hands tucked under their armpits. Glenna had brought her dog Moose with her, a Rhodesian ridgeback that partnered with her just like Robo with Mattie. The ridge of hair along Moose’s spine grew forward instead of back, standing out against the deep red color of his coat.
Page 69 of Standing Dead represents Mattie’s relationship with her K-9 partner Robo and her growing fear about her sister’s safety pretty well. What it doesn’t show is how this case has become personal since the victim of the homicide they are investigating is her stepfather, and a killer is holding her mother captive. Mattie’s sister also becomes a hostage, so page 69 also foreshadows the action that comes a bit later in the book.

Standing Dead is eighth in the Timber Creek K-9 series, but the mystery in this book stands alone. New York Times bestselling author Deborah Crombie has this to say about this episode: "Standing Dead is a roller coaster of tension from the first page--I literally couldn't put it down. Mizushima gives us wonderfully drawn characters along with a cracking good plot and realistic law enforcement details. A highlight for me is the protagonist's relationship with Robo, her K-9 partner. Highly recommended."

I invite you to join Mattie, Robo, and Cole in this adventure set in the winter-chilled mountains of Colorado.
Visit Margaret Mizushima's websiteTwitter perch, and Facebook and Instagram pages.

The Page 69 Test: Burning Ridge.

The Page 69 Test: Tracking Game.

The Page 69 Test: Hanging Falls.

The Page 69 Test: Striking Range.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

"Shadow State"

Frank Sennett has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Montana and a journalism degree from Northwestern University. He has taught creative writing at UCLA Extension and has published nine books. He has served as a senior leader at multiple media outlets, including Time Out Chicago and He also spent one lucky season in the Wrigley Field press box covering the Chicago Cubs.

Sennett applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Shadow State, and reported the following:
Thank you for the opportunity to apply the test to Shadow State. I had not heard this McLuhan observation before. Like most people who have a passing familiarity with him, I do know he coined the phrase "The medium is the message," which became a truism of media studies. It's a slightly hyperbolic way of noting that the medium used to express content--from old-fashioned books to TikTok and beyond--has a significant impact on how we perceive and understand that content.

I bring this up because a sentence of nearly identical construction served as a key inspiration for my thriller and its protagonist. That sentence, which starts the second section of Shadow State: Pain is information.

What kind of character would think something like that in a moment of extreme duress? I asked myself. It would have to be someone both mentally and physically tough, probably someone with elite military training and live combat experience, quite possibly someone who had endured more than his share of physical and emotional trauma. Rafe Hendrix began to take shape.

I'm sorry to report that McLuhan's Page 69 Test is a bit of a bust when applied to Shadow State. Hendrix is a former U.S. Army Ranger and Secret Service agent who has left his old life behind in the wake of a tragic event he triggered that cost his daughter and several other children their lives. On page 69, he is experiencing an interlude of calm and normalcy before he is engulfed by the next storm that will endanger his life and the lives of the people he loves. On page 69, Hendrix is enjoying Sunday brunch with the mother and sisters of his new girlfriend. He has just met the family and they have attended church together. It feels to Hendrix in that moment that perhaps his life may be worth rebuilding after all. But the respite proves cruelly brief. Reading only this page, you'd never know what Hendrix had survived up until this moment and what challenges he is about to face. In context, however, it sets up the emotional stakes that drive the plot to its explosive finish.
Follow Frank Sennett on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 5, 2023

"Night Flight to Paris"

Cara Black is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 20 books in the Private Investigator Aimée Leduc series, and two World War II-set novels featuring American markswoman Kate Rees. Black has received multiple nominations for the Anthony and Macavity Awards, a Washington Post Book World Book of the Year citation, the Médaille de la Ville de Paris—the Paris City Medal, which is awarded in recognition of contribution to international culture—and invitations to be the Guest of Honor at conferences such as the Paris Polar Crime Festival and Left Coast Crime.

Black applied the Page 69 Test to Night Flight to Paris, the new Kate Rees novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 is a new chapter in the story beginning with Dieter von Holz, a German military intelligence officer - the Abwehr - in his office at the Hotel Lutetia which the Germans have requisitioned. Giving it a notorious reputation after the war.

From the book:
The only message on Dieter's belle époque desk read Call home. Never a good sign.

Dieter, on alert, scanned the bustling activity in the ornate Hotel Lutetia suite, sage-hued rooms trimmed with gild-edged wood boiserie. Each Abwehr officer was assigned to one of the elegant hotel's 233 guest rooms.
I think you would get a good idea of the story and pick up on the complications this page reveals - Does Dieter have a problem homelife? But this section sets up what later shows in this chapter that Dieter is a complex character and serves two masters.

In researching the history of the Hotel Lutetia I discovered amazing facts about the hotel. In the pre-war era, de Gaulle spent his honeymoon there. After the Germans requisitioned it, the Abwehr jumped in to claim this jewel as its HQ and this revealed a lot about the infighting of the Nazi services all currying for Hitler's favors. Backstabbing to get ahead was in the climate during the Occupation especially in the Abwehr. Post war, de Gaulle insisted that the French deportees and camp survivors who returned be put up at this hotel so relatives via the Red Cross could find them. Many stories of sadness, loss and joy come from this time when people found or didn't find their missing relatives at the Hotel Lutetia post war. It touched me so much when I heard my friend tell me about her own mother who'd come here every day to find her sister. Her sister never returned. I used this in my first book, Murder in the Marais and find that now, many books later, I could explore the other side of the war in this place - Dieter, this conflicted German - who would work there and it feels like a full circle to me.
Visit Cara Black's website and follow her on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Murder at the Lanterne Rouge.

The Page 69 Test: Murder below Montparnasse.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in Pigalle.

The Page 69 Test: Three Hours in Paris.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 3, 2023

"The Dead Will Rise"

Chris Nickson is the author of ten Tom Harper mysteries, eight highly acclaimed novels in the Richard Nottingham series, and four previous Simon Westow mysteries. He is also a well-known music journalist. He lives in his beloved Leeds.

Nickson applied the Page 69 Test to The Dead Will Rise, the new Simon Westow mystery, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Dead Will Rise shows a transition, movement, as thief-taker Simon Westow and his assistant Jane are on the track of a gang of bodysnatchers. A browser opening there would struggle to understand what was happening.

Yet it gives a sense of foreboding, moving towards the next confrontation with the gang, even as they begin to watch what might be their hideout. So, to some degree, it works, and it hints at who Simon and Jane are as the hunters, as well as a sketch of Leeds in 1824.

Obviously, a single page in a novel can rarely give the whole context of the book. At best it can capture the mood and action. Here, it builds the tension:
He gazed around, alert for any sounds or footsteps. Any sense that someone might be following him. Nothing at all. At the entrance to Goulden’s Yard, he drew his knife, comforted by the weight in his hand.

One minute, two. Not a hint of movement anywhere. Somewhere in the far distance a dog barked. Silently, he crossed the cobbles, staying close to the walls, in the shadows. A hurried moment to pick the lock and he was inside, closing the door, barely daring to breathe.
Something is about to happen, and hopefully enough to make the reader turn the page and discover what it is. But there’s plenty more ahead.

While page 69 won’t reveal all the secrets of The Dead Will Rise, it might offer some temptation to a reader.
Visit Chris Nickson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Constant Lovers.

The Page 69 Test: The Iron Water.

The Page 69 Test: The Hanging Psalm.

Q&A with Chris Nickson.

The Page 69 Test: The Molten City.

The Page 69 Test: Brass Lives.

The Page 69 Test: The Blood Covenant.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

"I'll Take Everything You Have"

James Klise’s new YA novel, I’ll Take Everything You Have, is a queer coming-of-age crime story set in 1934 Chicago. In a starred review, Kirkus promises "passionate, cinematic scenes" and "a thrillingly queer adventure." Publishers Weekly calls the book "an arresting narrative... and a mesmerizing snapshot of 1930s Chicago." Klise's previous novels for teens include the Edgar Award-winning The Art of Secrets and the ALA Stonewall Honor-winning Love Drugged. He lives with his husband in Chicago, where for the past two decades, he has overseen a very busy high school library.

Klise applied the Page 69 Test to I'll Take Everything You Have and reported the following:
Page 69 is the first page of a new chapter, so it’s shorter than most pages. However, the brief scene includes multiple vital threads of this story about crookedness and queerness in Chicago during the notoriously hot summer of 1934. Plus, the excerpt ends with a laugh (for me, at least, but, well, I work in a high school). Here we find 16-year-old Joe, the novel’s narrator, along with his older cousin Bernie, and Del, the middle-aged woman who sublets space to them in her apartment. It’s the Fourth of July. As they sit at the breakfast table, the trio discuss plans for the holiday.
Bernie looked at me. “Some pals and I are heading to the beach to watch the fireworks. Wanna tag along?”

“Thanks, I’m meeting a friend later to practice French.”

“Who? Kenrick?”

When I nodded, he only said, “Do what you have to.”

Del turned from the sink. “On Independence Day? Oh, nuts to that, Joe. I’d rather you be out playing games. Sack races or egg-tossing contests. A ballgame in the park even. It’s always been that a boy can find other boys for horseplay if he looks hard enough.”
The cousin understands Joe’s plan to be part of a criminal scheme they both are involved in, but the reader knows Joe is most excited about – secretly – the potential of being alone with Raymond Kenrick, and maybe even kissing him again. Meanwhile, their hostess Del, who hasn’t got wind of either of these motives, simply doesn’t like the idea of Joe practicing French on the national holiday.

With that bit of context, and because no one likes to fail a test, I submit that I’ll Take Everything You Have passes the Page 69 Test - hooray!
Learn more about the book and author at James Klise's website and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Art of Secrets.

--Marshal Zeringue