Thursday, June 29, 2023

"The Three Deaths of Willa Stannard"

Kate Robards holds a degree in journalism and works in communications at a nonprofit organization. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and children.

Robards applied the Page 69 Test to The Three Deaths of Willa Stannard, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Three Deaths of Willa Stannard offers a good, if not great, lens into the characters and plot of the novel.

On this page, the protagonist Sawyer locates a clue to how her sister Willa spent her final days. An investigative journalist, Willa was writing an explosive true crime story about a missing toddler in a small lakeside community before her death. As Sawyer searches Willa’s apartment, she finds an address and a map to the town where the child disappeared, leading her to wonder, “Why this story? Why the secrecy?”

These questions are the basis for the story that follows. Using the map, Sawyer retraces her sister’s steps, diving deep into the cold case. She aims to find out not only what happened to the missing toddler, but what Willa knew and what drew her to the case. And, of course, if it played a role in her death.

From page 69: “I look down at the map in my hand. Cheshire, Michigan. Like the mysterious, redirection-happy Cheshire cat, I realize I am Alice: frustrated and lost, chasing my dead sister down a rabbit hole.”

This page reveals a turning point for Sawyer when she resolves to visit the family of the missing girl that weekend. It offers a glimpse into the home life of Willa after a disgraceful series of career setbacks. It raises questions and tension when Sawyer sees a familiar vehicle idling outside the apartment.

Though this page doesn’t have dialogue, it’s fairly representative of the novel. It provides motivation for the story that follows and sets up the plot while hinting at moments of tension.
Visit Kate Robards's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Three Deaths of Willa Stannard.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

"In A Hard Wind"

David Housewright has won the Edgar Award and is the three-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award for his crime fiction. He is a past president of the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA). He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Housewright applied the Page 69 Test to In A Hard Wind, his 20th novel featuring Twin Cities P.I. Mac McKenzie, and reported the following:
From page 69:
the hall, but just outside,” Rebecca said. “The entire street was flooded. Then the hall flooded. And the caterer couldn’t work under those conditions.”

“When my turn came, we went very small,” Rachel said.

“There were a lot fewer moving parts. Jeanette—she helped to decorate the place and set up a sound system...”

“She was J. C. taking care of her girls,” Rebecca said. “The woman who threatened to gut Charles Sainsbury like a fish—I have no idea who that was.”

“I heard that other people said similar things,” Rachel told me.

“You heard?” I asked.

“I don’t actually live on the Circle anymore. I live a couple of miles away. I just orbit the Circle like a satellite now.”

“A circlelite,” Rebecca said. “Hey, I just invented another word.”

“You did not.”

Rachel pulled her cell phone off the kitchen table and began to access it.

“We grew up here,” Rebecca said. “Mostly grew up here. I was ten and Rachel was eight when Mom and Dad bought the house about twenty-five years ago. They decided to downsize after Dad retired and moved to an apartment; my husband and I bought the house from them. They gave us a great deal.”

“Which I expect to see reflected when we receive our inheritance,” Rachel said.

“Rach wasn’t on the Circle when Jeanette had her meltdown.”

“Who was?” I asked.

Rebecca recited a list of names that were already in my notebook.

“Derek Carlson said ‘I could fucking kill him,’ ” she added. “That’s a direct quote by the way.”
My page 69 is not necessarily a good advertisement for my novel In A Hard Wind. What we have is the protagonist McKenzie interviewing two sisters about “J.C.,” a woman who has been accused of murder; who had threatened the victim in front of witnesses. No action; no suspense. However, I think it does offer the reader a sense of the tone of the book. It is very much dialogue and action driven. Plus, there’s humor.
Learn more about the book and author at David Housewright's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Kind Word.

The Page 69 Test: Stealing the Countess.

The Page 69 Test: What the Dead Leave Behind.

The Page 69 Test: First, Kill the Lawyers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 25, 2023

"The Light on Farallon Island"

Jen Wheeler is a former managing editor of Chowhound and lives in Oregon.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Light on Farallon Island, and reported the following:
On page 69 of my novel, the main character has just gone up to see the inner workings of the lighthouse with Abigail Clifford, a lightkeeper’s wife, and Abigail’s daughter, Joy:
“The flame inside only rises about two inches tall,” Mrs. Clifford replied in a similarly hushed tone. “But the way the lens magnifies it, it shines out across the ocean for miles. It’s a miracle, isn’t it?”

The normally reticent Joy pointed out its other features at length. She was recounting how Mary carried the oil up for the lamp when the happy satisfaction faded from her face. “It’s made from whales,” she said. “The oil.”

“Not humpbacks, though,” said her mother. “Or blue whales.”

That clearly didn’t matter to her daughter.

“It’s for the greater good,” Mrs. Clifford added. “And remember Genesis.”

“God blessed them,” Joy dutifully recited, “and said unto them, ‘Have dominion over the fish of the sea.’”

Her mother cupped the back of Joy’s head and kissed her temple. “All according to His plan,” she said. “Now, shall we see the view He’s wrought?”
Despite this being a mere snippet that gives no suggestion of the actual plot and doesn’t even feature the main character speaking, I’m pleasantly surprised by how illuminating the test is for my book—with further context, at least. Without it, I hope that mentions of whale oil and lighthouse beams are intriguing enough to capture a casual browser’s interest…and that the Bible talk doesn’t make it seem like strictly a work of religious fiction.

Page 69 obviously makes direct reference to the main physical source of light evoked by the book’s title, and also hints at an awe of nature underpinning the story. But it taps into some less pleasant thematic veins as well, including the exploitation of seemingly inexhaustible natural resources, and the way that people often use faith to justify harmful behavior.

Another motif captured here is that of perfectly explicable phenomena that could easily be ascribed to supernatural causes by someone without scientific background knowledge (a fata morgana and electromagnetic aurora show up elsewhere in the book). This particular example—of a tiny candle flame being magnified into a mighty beacon—dovetails beautifully with my main character’s mental image of an internal guiding light that she strives to protect from multiple perils throughout the book, and that ends up shining out to others in need of safe harbor.
Visit Jen Wheeler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 22, 2023

"The Gulf"

Rachel Cochran was raised in Texas and received her PHD in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She currently teaches literature and creative writing at UNL and is also an assistant editor of Machete, an imprint of Ohio State University Press. Her short stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Rumpus, The Masters Review, and have won the Mari Sandoz/Prairie Schooner fiction award, and the New Ohio Review's nonfiction contest.

Cochran applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Gulf, and reported the following:
In The Gulf, page 69 opens chapter 9: Lou, the novel’s protagonist, has just had an argument with her partner, Heather, and is going to work off some steam by doing restoration work on the crumbling old mansion, Parson House. She’s hard at work when her closest friend Danny drops by unexpectedly, claiming all he wants to do is see how the work is coming along.

In some ways, the Page 69 Test works here. Lou’s flaws, vulnerabilities, and unhealthy coping strategies are on full display, as are the primary tensions in her life–divided loyalties toward Joanna (the old-friend-turned-first-love-turned-worst-enemy who’s hired her to work on Parson House) and Heather (her current love, who represents Lou’s home and family). The question of whether Lou will be able to leave the past–and especially Joanna and Parson House–behind in order to build a healthy future is what drives the book, and page 69 is a great example of all the ways Lou’s stubbornness and obsession make that question more complicated for herself.

But page 69 is just a setup for what’s coming around the corner: Danny’s real motives in coming to talk to Lou after her fight with Heather. The Gulf is set in a small town, among a cast that has mostly known one another for years. As anyone who grew up in a certain type of small town knows, there’s both warmth and stagnation in that kind of familiarity. Danny and Lou have been friends since childhood, and in some ways they know too much about each other. This book is all push-and-pull in its interpersonal dynamics, and Lou quickly starts to suspect that Danny is handling her, trying to influence her thinking. At the same time, he’s easily able to get under her skin, to say important truths that actually resonate, that linger with her long after this scene–even if they do send her lashing out defensively in the moment.

In many ways, The Gulf is about a tug-of-war between the past and the future, a struggle in which Lou is caught in the middle. As her questions about the past grow and grow–particularly about the recent death of Joanna’s mother Miss Kate, which Lou is slowly starting to suspect wasn’t an accident as the local police claim–Lou’s desperation for answers clashes with her fear about what she’ll discover about her hometown, her old friends, and even herself.
Visit Rachel Cochran's website.

Writers Read: Rachel Cochran.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 20, 2023


C. M. Alongi has published short stories and novellas in the sci-fi and fantasy genres and talks about sci-fi, fantasy, and horror through a feminist lens on her YouTube channel.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Citadel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Citadel is a letter that Olivia writes to her dead boyfriend:
Dear Elias,

They’re finally letting me back into the forest. They wouldn’t let me go on expeditions after you died out there. I overheard them whispering about me wanting to join you. And yes, I would love to see you again. If you and the rest of the town turn out to be correct about Purgatory and the Hundred-Faced God, that would be phenomenal. But I don’t believe in that. There’s no scientific evidence suggesting any of that is real. So getting myself killed by demons or a menziva or anything else would be pointless.

I wonder about it, though. You never wanted to go to the forest, and I hate that they made you. That they forced you anywhere near those monsters and got you killed. I wish I’d been there with you.


This is actually a pretty good insight into the rest of the book. One of the main conflicts is Olivia dealing with her grief over losing Elias to this centuries-long conflict between humanity and the “demons” of the Flooded Forest. There’s a religious component to this war: people are taught that they used to be angels until they rebelled against the Hundred-Faced God, lost, and were banished to the planet Edalide, losing their immortality and angelic attributes. In order to make their way back to God, they have to purge the entire forest of “demons.” Until then, any human who dies is stuck in Purgatory.

Olivia, being an atheist, has a few problems with this, but she can’t share them out loud. When her mother Sarai tried that, she was executed. But she can’t stay silent forever, as she figures out a few chapters later that the “demons” are not brainless animals from Hell but are actually sentient people.

Now, losing your boyfriend to a “demon” is one thing. That’s like losing them to a bear. But finding out that the creature who killed your lover is capable of intelligent thought and morality, that’s something else altogether. Which is why Olivia decides to go into the Flooded Forest alone to get answers, which she does around page 135.

She also mentions a “menziva.” That’s a type of predator. Think alligator but bigger. She ends up face-to-face with one of those later in the book, as well as several other dangerous creatures of the Flooded Forest.

This Page 69 Test is really fun! I’ll have to try it on some future reads.
Visit C. M. Alongi's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 19, 2023

"Sally Brady's Italian Adventure"

Christina Lynch’s picaresque journey includes chapters in Chicago and at Harvard, where she was an editor on the Harvard Lampoon. She was the Milan correspondent for W magazine and Women’s Wear Daily, and disappeared for four years in Tuscany. In L.A. she was on the writing staff of Unhappily Ever After; Encore, Encore; The Dead Zone, and Wildfire. She now lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. She is the co-author of two novels under the pen name Magnus Flyte. She teaches at College of the Sequoias. The Italian Party is her debut novel.

Lynch applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Sally Brady’s Italian Adventure plunges the reader directly into life under Fascism in 1930s Italy. We’re fireside in the bar of ultra-swanky Badrutt’s Palace Hotel in St. Moritz in winter 1938. Though Sally is the main character of the novel, the second main character is Lapo, an Italian writer who gets gradually pulled into Mussolini’s orbit against his will. Page 69 finds us in the middle of a conversation between Lapo and Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s son-in-law and foreign minister in his regime. Though Ciano is relaxed, tension is high for Lapo, who has come to Switzerland to illegally buy an apartment on behalf of a Jewish friend who is trying to leave Italy because of the new anti-Semitic laws. Lapo can’t reveal this to Ciano, of course, who is pressuring him into ghost writing an autobiography of Mussolini. Lapo’s excuse—he's too busy with the ancient estate he’s renovating into a modern farming operation—backfires when Ciano decides to arrange a photo op for Mussolini at Lapo’s farm: “We’ll arrange it with the local officials. Brilliant idea. Splash it all over the papers.”

Lapo’s navigating a tightrope here. His son Alessandro—the third main character of the novel—is openly anti-Fascist. Alessandro was now seventeen. He’d have to do his compulsory military service when he turned eighteen, but Lapo imagined with Ciano’s help he could arrange for his son to have something cushy and safe. Lapo asks Ciano about the rumors of war, and Ciano’s reply is true to his real life diary: “Italy is utterly unprepared for war. After Africa and Spain, we simply can’t afford it.” Lapo asks what Mussolini said to this, and Ciano’s response is gut wrenching because of all we know is coming: “He’s jealous of Hitler.”

The Page 69 Test definitely holds up here—even though it’s not a Sally page, it’s got all the elements I strove to include in the novel: glamour that’s fun but also a bit sickening because of the world war about to erupt, dark humor that ends up helping the protagonists weather the storms to come, echoes of our own era’s ego-driven power plays, and the incredible tension of trying to do the right thing and protect your loved ones in a society that is inching daily deeper into injustice and violence. The test works!
Visit Christina Lynch's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Italian Party.

My Book, The Movie: Sally Brady's Italian Adventure.

Writers Read: Christina Lynch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 17, 2023

"You Can’t Stay Here Forever"

Katherine Lin is an attorney and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area and a graduate of Northwestern University and Stanford Law School.

She applied the Page 69 Test to You Can’t Stay Here Forever, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of You Can’t Stay Here Forever finds my protagonist, Ellie Huang, at work at her San Francisco law firm not long after her husband has died, reeling from not just grief, but also the revelation that her colleague was her late husband’s longtime mistress. (I promise this isn’t a spoiler!) She’s sitting at her desk when she reads an email from Cat, the other woman, announcing to the entire litigation team that she will be begin working from home full-time.
She’d sent this email only a few hours after I’d told HR I was cutting my leave short and heading back to the firm. Our firm had never required much face time if you satisfied your billable-hours minimum, but it was still odd for someone to work fully from home. I imagined her lying to her case teams about why she couldn’t come into the office anymore. I thought of a few of the more aggressive partners pushing back, and Cat lying even more.
With her late husband’s brazen infidelity top of mind, a few days later, Ellie gets an email from the law firm at which her late husband, Ian, was a partner before his death:
It seemed that Ian had signed up for life insurance—something he’d mentioned to me in passing but that I hadn’t remembered until now—and that I was the sole beneficiary. The email was a few paragraphs long and explained how the firm calculated a new partner’s worth, the forecast they’d given to his future earnings. Attached to the email was a PDF that I had to fill out, sign, and then send back to them. After the paperwork is finalized, the money shall be transferred to the account by the insurance company in approximately four to six weeks, the email concluded.
These two emails on page 69–her co-worker’s years-long affair with her late husband coupled with his big life insurance payout–prime Ellie to run away to the South of France with her best friend just a few pages later. Ellie books a long stay at the obscenely luxurious Hotel Du Cap-Eden-Roc, a real life hotel that readers may recognize from the Cannes Film Festival, or more recently, Sofia Richie’s wedding.

I think the page 69 test gets the highest marks for You Can’t Stay Here Forever–it delivers a perfectly timed snapshot of Ellie’s state of mind in the first half of the novel, as well as sets up the trajectory for the second half. With her life blown up by tragedy, Ellie is at work, ready to make a break for it. I wish I could say that the problems she faces on page 69 are all that she’ll contend with in the book, but many more demons shall greet her abroad–in France, Ellie will realize that her husband’s death has caused a reckoning that sheds a blazing light in her life, forcing her to question everything she thought was true about herself.
Visit Katherine Lin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 15, 2023

"The Pain of Pleasure"

Amy Grace Loyd is an editor, teacher, and author of the novel The Affairs of Others, a BEA Buzz Book and Indie Next selection. She began her career at independent book publisher W.W. Norton & Company and The New Yorker, in the magazine’s fiction and literary department. She was the associate editor on the New York Review Books Classics series and the fiction and literary editor at Playboy magazine and later at Esquire. She’s also worked in digital publishing, as an executive editor at e-singles publisher Byliner and as an acquiring editor and content creator for Scribd Originals. She has been an adjunct professor at the Columbia University MFA writing program and a MacDowell and Yaddo fellow. She lives between New York and New Hampshire.

Loyd applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Pain of Pleasure, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Pain of Pleasure you’ll find one of the main characters, a neurologist, Dr. Louis Berger, is making a house call for one of his patients, Mrs. Adele Watson, a chronic migraine sufferer who’s having a bad episode. But she’s not just any patient, she’s his employer, the wealthy patron of the headache clinic he oversees, which is situated (for better and sometimes worse) in the basement of a church. Adele, a widow, also happens to be in love with the doctor and wants far more from him than medical attention, while the doctor does his very best to attend his professional duty to Adele and no more.

That page offers a really intimate look at so much that drives the novel — misaligned agendas and battles of will, how to cope with and solve physical and emotional pain and how very individualized and subjective this can be, the drama of unrequited love, and of course it captures how much human desire is at work in the story in all its aspects: unruly and irrepressible, ugly and beautiful.

On this page the doctor is intent on finding the right remedy for his patient’s pain — the mechanism of which, he knows, is unique to her — but his patient wants him to get into bed with her. “Lie with me,” Adele pleads with him. Who has the power? Adele? The doctor? Who or what is in charge? Is it Adele’s pain? Or her longing? Or is it the doctor’s duty and his resistance to Adele’s overtures? And can he resist her? Does he really want to?

He's made concessions to her that may have misled her, he admits here, by always coming when she calls, because he is enormously invested in solving the puzzle of her pain. When he injects her with an anti-nausea medicine, he lays a hand over the site to apply pressure. What kind of meaning does that take on when his patient has fallen for him, who even while incapacitated is reaching for him “as if moving through viscous water” and “grabb[ing] heavily for his wrist”?

It was important for me at a time when we’re reexamining gender and sexual dynamics to write a man who is trying, however imperfectly, to hold an ethical line —to do no harm per his physician’s oath, to be a good doctor and especially a good man. This scene previews what’s to come in the continued tugs of war not just between these two characters but also between Adele and Ruth, the nurse Adele enlists to spy on the doctor, between Adele and her son, and of course between the doctor and his missing patient, a young woman he wanted to love but his duty and its distortions got in the way. This page lays bare a human habit that seems terrifically hard for us to shake — our impulse to try to control one another, which invariably contributes to another habit, the habit of pain, creating it for ourselves over and over, as if we have no other choice.
Visit Amy Grace Loyd's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

"Mother Howl"

Craig Clevenger was born in Dallas, Texas and raised in Southern California, where he studied English at California State University, Long Beach. He has travelled extensively and lived in Dublin and London, but currently resides in California.

Clevenger applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Mother Howl, and reported the following:
From page 69:

“Icarus kept on but the stranger called out again, then blocked his path. A wiry man much shorter than Icarus himself, he moved as though caught in some invisible undertow, fighting against the phantom riptide to remain in place.”

Having recently slipped through the grip of a county psych hospital—thanks to recent shudder from California’s San Andreas fault—Icarus makes his way through a part of the city hardest hit by the damage, where the indigent living beneath freeway overpasses and bridge trestles scour the post-quake wreckage.

Since this particular page is a brief transition between major scenes, Page 69 test does not give a reader a hint of the whole story (I’m not sure any single page would). Mother Howl is two narratives woven together; Icarus is the secondary protagonist in the secondary narrative. And this particular page falls dead between two major events for him.

While page 69 may not serve as a proper DNA swab of the whole story, it does give us the world as seen through the eyes of Icarus. In his brief time on Earth (by his account), he’s been stuffed and cuffed following an alleged suicide attempt (which he denies), remanded to a psych ward, and nursed back to health following his escape by an underground street surgeon. Page 69 is the first, long look at the world for Icarus since his arrival, and it speaks to his regard for human beings and their own regard for one another.
Visit Craig Clevenger's website.

Q&A with Craig Clevenger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 11, 2023

"Love Betrayal Murder"

Adam Mitzner is the acclaimed Amazon Charts bestselling author of Dead Certain, Never Goodbye, and The Best Friend in the Broden Legal series as well as the stand-alone thrillers A Matter of Will, A Conflict of Interest, A Case of Redemption, Losing Faith, The Girl from Home, and The Perfect Marriage. A practicing attorney in a Manhattan law firm, he and his family live in New York City.

Mitzner applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Love Betrayal Murder, and reported the following:
I’m happy to report that page 69 is a good one in Love Betrayal Murder.

It comes at the tail-end of Vanessa Lyons’s testimony, and finds her coming to terms with her relationship with Matt Brooks, her one-time lover and one-time boss, but also with how to portray their love from the witness stand, under oath.

That captures the main theme of the book pretty nicely. What is truth? Is it ever a single thing? And even if you know what’s true, what obligation do you have to tell the truth? Do circumstances and intentions play any role in that calculus?
Learn more about the book and author at Adam Mitzner's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Conflict of Interest.

The Page 69 Test: A Case of Redemption.

The Page 69 Test: Losing Faith.

The Page 69 Test: A Matter of Will.

The Page 69 Test: The Perfect Marriage.

Q&A with Adam Mitzner.

My Book, The Movie: Love Betrayal Murder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 9, 2023

"Ride or Die"

Gail-Agnes Musikavanhu was born in South Africa and raised in a number of places including Boston, Massachusetts, where she currently resides. She is a graduate of the University of Cape Town, where she received a BA in English literature and film and media production, and she uses those skills to write stories, pitch media and watch movies.

Musikavanhu applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Ride or Die, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Ride or Die, the novel’s protagonist, Loli, is texting her best friends, Ryan and Cairo about the first ‘mission’ she's accomplished in the game of dares she’s started with a mysterious character whom she met anonymously at a party (also known as. “X”). She lets them know she’s retrieved her next letter from him but discloses that it’s not as revealing as they would like it to be. It’s made clear to the reader that Loli has decided to keep the contents of the letter to herself rather than share the intimate details of it with her friends, as it seems like the "right thing" for her to do.

While this is a fun test, flipping to page 69 of Ride or Die would not give you an accurate idea of the whole work. Most of the page is back and forth text dialogue, which is not representative of the book as a whole, and the actual amount of words on the page are few, limiting the amount that a browser would take away while perusing.

The page is not entirely useless though. Through the back and forth banter, you get a glimpse into the dynamic of Loli’s friend group and a little bit of insight into Loli’s character. “Good for him,” they say, when they find out that X’s letter wasn’t very revealing. “Clearly he knows [the mystery] is the only thing keeping you interested.”

Loli shrugs off their playful teasing but a browser would learn an important aspect of her character: she is self interested and self motivated – and she loves a good mystery.

A browser might glean a little more from the novel if they were to glance at the opposite page – page 68 – as it furthers one of the central plot points of the story: Loli’s best friend, Ryan Pope, is hiding something. She asks him an innocent, semi-rhetorical question about whether he can relate to having a crush and he replies with one word. “Sure”.
I frowned. Ryan rarely ever sent one-word answers. I watched the screen waiting for him to type something else but he didn’t. Instead, he sent a message to our Cake Tier group chat with Cairo.
While the above quote introduces the reader to a significant plot point in the novel, it is still not an accurate representation of the novel as a whole. Ride or Die is a zippy, fast paced, action filled story, which unfortunately can’t be conveyed through a glance at this text exchange in the beginning of the book.
Visit Gail-Agnes Musikavanhu's website.

Q&A with Gail-Agnes Musikavanhu.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

"The Last Songbird"

Daniel Weizmann is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Billboard, the Guardian, AP Newswire, and more. Under the nom de plume, Shredder, Weizmann also wrote for the long running Flipside fanzine, as well as LA Weekly, which once called him “an incomparable punk stylist.”

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Last Songbird, and reported the following:
On page 69, amateur detective and Lyft driver Adam Zantz has just met Eva Silber, Annie’s long-lost mentor and former lover. What’s important on this page is that it’s the first inkling of Adam realizing Annie was not exactly who he thought she was.
I took Highway 1 heading back to Los Angeles, shadowboxing Eva’s vision of Annie. I dug Eva, this brassy, ballsy broad with her gin and her straight talk—she didn’t seem capable of lying. But wasn’t Annie more than the ambitious, childish songbird of her memories? Annie was sun-kissed, free, barefoot, but she was also cool, discerning—there were two sides. At least. I hated to admit she was as selfish as Eva said, but maybe she was. And yet Annie was also crazy generous—for someone at her level to try and help me was way not Hollywood. Yes, she threw tantrums when she didn’t get her way—practically a daily thing—but they didn’t last long. She was unpredictable, got panicked over tiny surprises. A missing guitar pick could send her into shrieking hysteria. Then she’d find the stupid purple pick and get depressed, apologetic, selfmocking even. She was this and she was that, she was all of it—and through the gaps I fell.
I actually think page 69 is not a bad portal into the whole thing! This is a story about trying to understand who somebody really is, somebody you idolized and adored…and learning that the answer is not as simple as you thought. And…this growing realization catalyzes the fall down the rabbit hole. The troubles really begin one page later.

The Last Songbird is the story of failed songwriter and Lyft driver Adam Zantz who just happens to pick up one of his idols, former folk icon Annie Linden. They become close, she offers to help him with his music, and when she gets murdered, he takes it upon himself to find out who would want her dead. It’s a noir mystery that aims to deal with the special power of brilliant, magnetic female artists—not just their power in art but their effect on those around them. My page 69 is very much a turning point for Adam in two ways—first, because he is starting to grapple with the different, often unflattering ways that each of Annie’s people see her. Second, it’s the very last moment where his involvement could still be casual or innocent. One page later, he’s arrested as accomplice-after-the-fact.
Visit Daniel Weizmann's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 5, 2023

"The Traitor Beside Her"

Mary Anna Evans is an award-winning author, a writing professor, and she holds degrees in physics and engineering, a background that, as it turns out, is ideal for writing her new series, the Justine Byrne series. Set in WWII-era New Orleans, the first book, The Physicists’ Daughter, introduces Justine Byrne, whom Mary Anna describes as “a little bit Rosie-the-Riveter and a little bit Bletchley Park codebreaker.” When Justine, the daughter of two physicists who taught her things girls weren’t expected to know in 1944, realizes that her boss isn’t telling her the truth about the work she does in her factory job, she draws on the legacy of her unconventional upbringing to keep her division running and protect her coworkers, her country, and herself from a war that is suddenly very close to home.

Evans applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, The Traitor Beside Her, the second title in the Justine Byrne series, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Traitor Beside Her is about…well, it’s about coffee, mostly. It’s not necessarily a representative page of the book, which in general has more action and dialogue, but it does establish how important an everyday thing can be when a war makes everyday things hard to get.

I’m in good company in using coffee as a tool for putting my readers into my characters’ sensory experiences. As an example, consider Lady Jessica’s famous meditation on the brew in Frank Herbert’s Dune, which includes the observation that the lady “drained the cup, feeling the energy and lift of its contents—hot and delicious.”

It makes sense that coffee would be a treasure on Arrakis, because water is a rarity there. The Traitor Beside Her is set in WWII-era America, so the coffee beans itself is the treasure, because coffee was rationed. So were sugar and dairy products. Once the appropriate ration coupons were gone, the average person’s ability to buy coffee was essentially gone for the rest of the month. Thus, my protagonist Justine Byrne is blown away by the easy availability of coffee at the code breaking operation where she reports for her new undercover job.

On page 69, Justine is on the threshold of the room that will be the focus of her undercover job, Room 117. Somebody in that room is selling military secrets, so she’s standing there, a cup of coffee in each hand, hoping to make friends with her targets. Or, as I wrote on page 69, she’s looking for an opportunity to use her boss’s percolator “as a weapon for democracy.”

As it turns out, simply softening her suspects up with tasty cups of sweetened caffeine is not going to work. They’re very intelligent and very eccentric, just as you’d expect the world’s best code crackers to be. One of them, Sally Tompkins, greets her at the door. While preparing to introduce Justine around, Sally mentions that Justine’s boss has a habit of chewing up and spitting out his assistants. As Justine leaves page 69, she steps into Room 117, and everybody goes silent, turning their work face-down.

Face-to-face with people whose work requires utter secrecy, Justine realizes that mere coffee won’t be enough to get her the information she wants. She’s going to have to get creative.
Learn more about the author and her work at Mary Anna Evans's website.

The Page 69 Test: Floodgates.

The Page 69 Test: Strangers.

The Page 69 Test: Plunder.

The Page 69 Test: Rituals.

Q&A with Mary Anna Evans.

The Page 69 Test: The Physicists' Daughter.

Writers Read: Mary Anna Evans.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 3, 2023

"Death Knells and Wedding Bells"

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-five 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 Catskill Summer Resort mysteries for Penguin Random House, the Tea by the Sea mysteries for Kensington, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series for Crooked Lane Books, 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.

Delany applied the Page 69 Test to Eva Gates's latest Lighthouse Library mystery, Death Knells and Wedding Bells, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Bertie told me Lucy had a habit of getting herself involved in police business,” Denise said. “I didn’t realize that meant at your wedding too.”

“It didn’t disrupt my wedding at all, thank heavens. And unlike that last time, I didn’t discover a body in my own house, so there’s that. I’m only sorry the police had to disturb the Sunday of our guests.”

“Added a spark of interest to my day,” Denise said.

“What did you tell them?” I asked.

“I recognized the man from the picture the officer showed me, but I hadn’t spoken to him. He was with your aunt, and I thought there seemed to be some tension between them, but I couldn’t add anything more.” She sucked in a breath. “Your aunt. I hope they’re not thinking—”

“No, they’re not. He was alive and well when Aunt Joyce retired to her room.” No reason Aunt Joyce couldn’t have returned to the ballroom, of course, but I decided not to consider that. Not yet, anyway.

“Glad to hear it,” Denise said.

The next person to come in was our boss, Bertie James. She’s a part owner of and part-time instructor at a yoga studio in town. She leads classes on Monday mornings, so it wasn’t unusual for her to arrive at work after the library had opened. What was unusual was the drawn expression on her face and the darkness behind her eyes. I could immediately tell she hadn’t heard from Eddie. “Good morning, all,” she said.

“Morning,” we chorused. Charles roused himself and jumped onto the circulation desk. Bertie gave him an absent-minded pat, and he rubbed himself against her arm. Charles always seems to know when people need comforting.

“Is everything okay?” Denise asked. “You don’t look too well, Bertie.”
I always love this test. Even when the test ‘fails’, it provides a good guideline to other aspects of the book.

In the case of the 10th Lighthouse Library mystery, Death Knells and Wedding Bells, the test passes with flying colours!

The entire premise of the series is established in the first line of page 69:

“Bertie told me Lucy had a habit of getting herself involved in police business,” Denise said.

The next sentence is specific to this book:

“I didn’t realize that meant at your wedding too.”

In page 69 the people involved are talking about what happened at the wedding. Lucy (the protagonist) explains that the murder happened when the wedding was over, so it didn’t affect her enjoyment of her special day.

Some suspects are named: Aunt Joyce, Eddie.

The murder victim is not named. (In my books the murder usually happens after the ground has been laid, characters introduced, and the scene set, so I prefer reviews and blurbs not to say who is going to be murdered.)

As well as the murder, there’s another mystery in this book. A wedding guest, by the name of Eddie, left the reception saying he was ill, took his date home, went back to the hotel, and has not been seen since. Where is Eddie, and does his disappearance have anything to do with the murder? Eddie’s date was library director, Bertie James, an important character in the series. On page 69 Bertie arrives at work, clearly very worried about Eddie. As the author, obviously I hope the reader will be worried too!

The page works also as an illustration of the friendship and community of the characters, which binds them together in trying to solve both mysteries. Characters both human and feline as Charles the Cat also tries to help.

Page 69 is an excellent introduction to Death Knells and Wedding Bells.
Follow Eva Gates on Twitter and visit Vicki Delany's website.

The Page 69 Test: Death By Beach Read.

--Marshal Zeringue