Wednesday, August 30, 2023

"Deep Roots"

Sung J. Woo’s short stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, PEN/Guernica, and Vox. He has written four novels, Deep Roots (2023), Skin Deep (2020), Love Love (2015), and Everything Asian (2009), which won the 2010 Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Literature Award. In 2022, his Modern Love essay from The New York Times was adapted by Amazon Studios for episodic television. A graduate of Cornell University with an MFA from New York University, he lives in Washington, New Jersey.

Woo applied the Page 69 Test to Deep Roots and reported the following:
There are eight characters on page 69 of my second Siobhan O'Brien mystery novel: Thomas and William (the footmen), Lady Mary (who hires Siobhan), Duke and Blink (the presumed heir and his friend/lover), Evie (the granddaughter) and her parents Lady Eve and Sir Nicholas. Wait, I forgot -- Siobhan herself is of course present, so that makes it nine characters total. Nine! That's got to be some kind of a record, right, for page 69?

As you can tell from the titles and the professions listed, Deep Roots takes place in the world of the one percent of the one percenters. As an unabashed fan of Downton Abbey, I relished at the prospect of creating my own embarrassingly opulent house and filling it with insufferably privileged inhabitants. Though this page features dinnertime conversation between the Ahn family, the key exchange is the one between Siobhan and Evie:
“So,” the young woman sitting to my left said, “you are the private investigator Grandpapa hired.”

Like the rest of the family, she, too, was on the tall side, and her face was so reminiscent of Phillip Ahn himself, especially her forehead, which was as wide as a billboard, that there was no mistaking her heredity. For someone her age—early twenties, I figured—she was dressed conservatively in a black gown that covered her neck and down to her wrists. If memory served, there was only one granddaughter in the family.

“And you must be Evie.”
This is the first time Siobhan meets Evie, but it certainly isn't the last, and her likeness to her grandfather plays a significant part in the novel. Furthermore, this page is an excellent showcasing of the ritualistic chore the Ahns go through on a daily basis for something as simple as lunch. As an outsider, Siobhan finds herself constantly pushed to her limit: the dress changes, the etiquettes, the mannered formalities. So once again, page 69 comes through.
Learn more about the book and author at Sung J. Woo's website.

The Page 69 Test: Everything Asian.

My Book, The Movie: Skin Deep.

Q&A with Sung J. Woo.

The Page 69 Test: Skin Deep.

My Book, The Movie: Deep Roots.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 28, 2023

"From Dust to Stardust"

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

Rooney applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, From Dust to Stardust, and reported the following:
From page 69:
But my charmed existence at Christie Studios didn’t last. One evening, after we’d wrapped my third feature, Al—without knocking—lumbered into my dressing room. I was sitting at my vanity, about to take off my makeup, wearing only a slip. He stood behind me in his tweed three-piece suit, staring at my body in the mirror, and put a warm arm around my bare shoulders.

“You know, my dear, you’re a very nice girl,” he began, scratchy fibers prickling.
“And you’re the nicest director I’ve ever worked with,” I replied, and stood to face him.
“I’ve been thinking that you and I—”

“You’ve been so good to me, Mr. Al,’ I said, hoping that a mister-ing would make my point and that he wouldn’t get forceful. ‘If you were my own father, I couldn’t like you more.”

His ardor deflated at that. The respect I’d had for him had done the same. As giving as he was, he still wanted to take.
Page 69 of my novel From Dust to Stardust offers an accurate sense of the book as a whole. At this point, my protagonist, Doreen O’Dare, has been in Hollywood for several years, working hard in the silent film industry. Although she’s been appearing steadily in film after film, she has not yet found the stability and recognition that she’s been seeking, nor has she become the leading lady that she knows she has the talent to be.

She’s been working with the director Al Christie to develop her skills as a comedienne and has begun to think that maybe she’s landed at last with a director who respects her and will let her explore her full potential, but he lets her down and she knows that soon she’ll have to move on.

This relentless work ethic and belief in her ability to achieve her dream of stardom drives Doreen’s character and career and continues through the rest of the book as she makes her way into the cinematic firmament—and then has to figure out what to do next, once she’s finally gotten there.
Learn more about the book and author at Kathleen Rooney's website.

The Page 99 Test: Live Nude Girl.

The Page 99 Test: For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs.

The Page 69 Test: Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

The Page 69 Test: Where Are the Snows.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 25, 2023

"The Killing Room"

Robert Swartwood is the USA Today bestselling author of The Serial Killer’s Wife, The Calling, Man of Wax, and several other novels. His work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Daily Beast, ChiZine, Space and Time, Postscripts, and PANK. He created the term “hint fiction” and is the editor of Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer. He lives with his wife in Pennsylvania.

Swartwood applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Killing Room, and reported the following:
It's difficult to go into too much detail about The Killing Room without giving away spoilers (as there's a major reveal about a third of the way in), but the setup is this: a businessman wakes up in a Las Vegas hotel room that isn't his to find a dead woman in the bathtub. Panicked, he runs. Before he can get far, two detectives catch him. They're convinced he's murdered the woman, no matter how much he tries to tell them otherwise. Finally, the businessman and detectives strike a deal: they have no substantial proof that he killed the woman so they'll let him leave Vegas, but only if he gives them all his money. Of course, the businessman can't just write them a check or withdraw cash from a bank. So that's where a young hacker who calls himself the Spider comes in. The Spider meets the businessman and detectives at a hotel near Fremont Street, where he's set up his gear so that the businessman can transfer all his money into cryptocurrency.

So on page 69, the businessman is inputting his password into a browser to access his email. But he's nervous. Keeps messing up as he's typing, which forces him to try again and again before he can get it right. And then he starts retching and tells the hacker and detective (because one of the detectives has since stepped out) that he thinks he's going to throw up. That's where the chapter ends, right there on page 69.

Now, if readers opened to page 69, would they get a good sense of the overall story? Not to be too cheeky, but I think the answer is yes and no. Why that is, I can't really get into it without giving away spoilers. But for those readers who have read the book, if they were to flip back to page 69 ... I imagine they'd get a kick out of it.
Visit Robert Swartwood's website.

Q&A with Robert Swartwood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

"In the Lobby of the Dream Hotel"

Genevieve Plunkett is the author of Prepare Her: Stories. A recipient of an O. Henry Award, her short fiction can also be found in journals such as New England Review, The Southern Review, CrazyhorseColorado Review, and The Best Small Fictions 2018. She lives in Vermont with her two children.

Plunkett applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, In the Lobby of the Dream Hotel, and reported the following:
Page 69 lands in the middle of a chapter about Theo, Portia’s love interest. It describes the circumstances that led to Theo joining a band as the band’s drummer, despite problems in his marriage.
He had been about to say no, that he did not play drums and that his life was falling apart. He and his wife had just started marriage counseling, where they discussed how often they touched each other affectionately or where in their day they might find time to practice compassion. They never spoke about the looks of pity and impatience that Theo’s wife gave him whenever he tried to talk about anything out of the ordinary, as if she knew already where he was going with it, as if she had figured him out long ago.

“I’m wondering about that sensation that you get. The sensation of falling when you’re trying to sleep,” he might say to her, and she would say, “What about it?” with her eyebrows raised.

“I’m wondering if it ever leads somewhere other than sleep. What if--” but she would cut him off.

“I’m sure it’s nothing more than what it is,” she would say. “You don’t have to make everything into something more interesting than it is.”
I think this passage does well at showing a glimpse of the novel’s central theme: characters reckoning with desires that might seem unrealistic, and the backlash they face from the people around them. A bookstore browser would get an accurate sense that this story is, at times, about sensitive people navigating relationships with less sensitive people. The only potentially misleading part of this is that it might suggest that Theo is the central character, when most chapters follow Portia’s perspective. Theo is my favorite character, so I am selfishly pleased that the test finds him here.
Visit Genevieve Plunkett's website.

Q&A with Genevieve Plunkett.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 21, 2023

"Strange Unearthly Things"

Kelly Creagh is the author of the Nevermore Trilogy, Phantom Heart, Strange Unearthly Things, and other works filled with darkness, light, and the kisses that happen in between. Her major literary influences include Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Gaston Leroux, Susan Kay, J.K. Rowling, Robin McKinley, Stephen King, C.S. Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lewis Carroll, Libba Bray, Holly Black, and too many more to name. Creagh holds a Bachelor of Science in Theatre Arts and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. In addition to writing, Creagh enjoys teaching and lecturing about subjects she loves, including creative writing and Edgar Allan Poe. She is also a silk artist, creating beautiful and colorful hand-dyed silk scarves for wear and veils for bellydancing.

Creagh applied the Page 69 Test to Strange Unearthly Things and reported the following:
A snapshot of page 69 of Strange Unearthly Things:

There’s been a fire. One started by a demon—or something akin to a demon.

Now, eighteen-year-old psychic artist Jane Reye is meeting with fellow psychic, Giovanni, who has also been summoned to Fairfax Hall, a haunted manor sequestered in the secluded countryside of Northern England. Jane and Giovanni, along with Ingrid (a now-missing third psychic), have been hired to clear the property of its oppressive forces. A meeting had been scheduled to discuss this task. But the previous night’s potentially lethal fire has now brought the dangers of the endeavor into stark relief.

At least it has for eighteen-year-old Elias Thornfield, the illusive, stoic, and enigmatic eye-patch-wearing owner of Fairfax Hall.

Instead of discussing next steps, he wants to call the whole ordeal off—a move that confirms Jane’s pervading hunch that Elias isn’t telling them everything.

Elias is adamant, though. They need to follow Ingrid’s lead and leave while they still can.

But then, Ingrid, the missing pink-haired tarot reader from London, shows up.

Her sudden reappearance shocks no one more than Elias, who until that moment was certain Ingrid was the one who had awakened him last night, alerting him to the fire.

Apparently, though…she wasn’t.

Does the Page 69 Test work for Strange Unearthly Things?

It does! Not only have the life-and-death stakes been established, but the greater mysteries of the novel officially make their appearance here as well.

Jane, our heroine, is being singled out by the dark force that, according to Elias, is supposed to be attached to the property. But if that was true, why was the entity stalking Jane before she even left the States?

It’s true Elias had warned them all repeatedly about the dangers that came with this assignment. In this scene, though, Jane begins to realize that, while Elias does seem to genuinely fear for their safety, he also seems to fear the whole truth of his dilemma coming to light.

He’s hiding something. When Ingrid’s sudden reappearance alerts everyone to the fact that there is at least one other uninvited guest—or entity—skulking about in Fairfax Hall, all players begin to grasp that there’s more at work here than ordinary ghosts.

The dark elements are too dark. Conversely, the light elements are too light.

There’s something indeed strange and unearthly afoot. There’s also far, far more on the line than mere death.

In this scene, we also get a taste of the novel’s humor, much of which is provided by the dashing and wisecracking eighteen-year-old Giovanni. His psychic gift? Reading energies through touch.

The cover lets you know there’s going to be kissing. And since the core cast is all on stage here, it’s fun, too, to wonder who in this scene will be locking lips later with whom.
Visit Kelly Creagh's website.

The Page 69 Test: Phantom Heart.

Q&A with Kelly Creagh.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 19, 2023

"Ravage & Son"

Jerome Charyn is the author of more than fifty works of fiction and nonfiction, including Ravage & Son; Sergeant Salinger; Cesare: A Novel of War-Torn Berlin; In the Shadow of King Saul: Essays on Silence and Song; Jerzy: A Novel; and A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century. Among other honors, his work has been longlisted for the Mark Twain American Voice in Literature Award and PEN Award for Biography, shortlisted for the Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss Award, and selected as a finalist for the Firecracker Award and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Charyn has also been named a Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture and received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in New York.

Charyn applied the Page 69 Test to Ravage & Son and reported the following:
Turning to the top of page 69, you get right into it:
“A madman on the prowl, and you intend to catch him, Herr Detective? What does he look like?”

Lionel was baiting him, but Ben didn’t care. He invented his own portrait of the ripper.

“Some say he’s dark. Others say he has straw hair – like you.”

The roof garden turned silent. Marcus began to twitch. He snarled at Ben.

“You can’t make such accusations. You must apologize to the esteemed president of our board.”

“Shut up,” Lionel said. “We’re all suspects. Would you care to question me, Herr Detective?”

Ben bowed to Lionel Ravage. “Not today, Herr President. I do not have the resources to mount an investigation.”
This page  page 69  deals with the essential dilemma of the book – a madman on the prowl, ripping up prostitutes with the silver wolf’s head of his cane. Our hero, Ben Ravage, searches for this Jewish ‘Jekyll and Hyde,’ and realizes that it is someone very close to him.

No one page can deal with the complexity of a book with any real interest. It can suggest, it can explore, but it cannot give you a genuine picture. The map is much too large. The page is much too small. But in this case, you come to the heart of the matter.

Lower Manhattan was a melting pot where Jews came from nowhere and became hardworking ghosts. They did not have a life for themselves. If I sound bleak, it was really much bleaker than anything I can say about it. Those who survived, survived with an open wound. The richer that they became, the more haunted they were.

The terrifying world we live in now, comes out of this dilemma. Violence that will never go away, violence that comes out of great suffering. Out of the fact that women had no real occupation in early 20th century New York, other than becoming seamstresses, housewives or prostitutes.

Ben understands this, knowing that he can’t really solve the problem, he still continues his search for this Jewish monster with a silver cane.

I had to write this book, because it is about my own heritage, and one of the remaining ghosts. I hope readers will see themselves and their history in the dark mirror I provide  that mirror, has its own magic.
Learn more about the book and author at Jerome Charyn's website.

The Page 69 Test: Under the Eye of God.

My Book, The Movie: Big Red.

Q&A with Jerome Charyn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 17, 2023

"The Wonder State"

Sara Flannery Murphy is the author of the novels The Possessions and Girl One. She grew up in Arkansas, studied library science in British Columbia, and received her MFA in creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis. She lives in Utah with her husband and their two sons.

Murphy applied the Page 69 Test to her newest novel, The Wonder State, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Wonder State, we see Iggy, the last piece of the puzzle, joining the friend group that forms the heart of the novel. Hilma and Max (the glamorous out-of-towners), Charlie (smart, ambitious), and Jay and Brandi (best friends but misfits) have already formed a group to search for mysterious houses in their Ozarks town. They’ve run into Iggy, the school quarterback, inside one of the houses they’re hunting. Jay worries that inviting Iggy into their quest will break the fragile bond the five of them created, but he’s more open to the concept of magic than the others expect.

It’s a page that shows a lot of character interactions – playful, arrogant Max making up a Latin term, and Charlie rolling his eyes; Hilma taking the lead in inviting Iggy into their group. The final sentence of this page even references the title, as Jay watches Iggy (her crush) learn the truth about the houses:
She saw the way he smiled, his pupils dilating, as if the wonder he felt were a physical change in the light.
The Wonder State is a dual timeline novel, and page 69 happens to fall in the 2000 timeline, when the characters are high school seniors. I love both timelines, but the earlier timeline has a lot of joy, irreverence, and adventure, so I’m happy to see it represented here. I also like that this page shows the circle closing, in a way. The final member of the six-person group has joined the mix, and this six-person configuration will influence both timelines in a huge way. This feels like a good depiction of what this novel is about – the bittersweet pull of nostalgia, complicated friendships, weird houses.
Visit Sara Flannery Murphy's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Possessions.

The Page 69 Test: The Possessions.

Q&A with Sara Flannery Murphy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

"Bright and Deadly Things"

Lexie Elliott was born in 1976 and grew up in Scotland, at the foot of the Highlands. Her first attempt at a book came in primary school, and featured a horse; sadly, that manuscript has been lost. She attended a local state high school, Dunblane High School, and spent much of her teenaged years reading and swimming. In 1994 she began a Physics degree at University College, Oxford, where she obtained a first; she subsequently obtained a doctorate in Theoretical Physics, also from Oxford University. A keen sportwoman, she represented Oxford University every one of her seven years there in either Swimming or Waterpolo, and usually both. However, she never lost her longheld desire to become a writer and always had a drawer full of private scribblings.

After university, Elliott succumbed to the need to climb out of debt and find a job and began work for an investment bank in London, where she remained for 8 years. During that time she also took up triathlon, met her husband (in a swimming pool at 5.30am, but that is another story...), got married and had two gorgeous boys, swam the English Channel solo, ran a few marathons and ultramarathons and tried in vain to carve out enough time to write. After losing her banking job during the Global Financial Crisis, she began work part-time in fund management in the City of London, and writing part-time. Her debut novel, The French Girl, was published in February 2018. This was followed by The Missing Years in 2020 and How To Kill Your Best Friend (a Richard & Judy Book Club summer pick) in 2021.

Elliott applied the Page 69 Test to her fourth novel, Bright and Deadly Things, and reported the following:
Is page 69 of Bright and Deadly Things a fair reflection of the entire novel? I’ve undertaken this exercise with two of my previous novels (The French Girl and The Missing Years) and in both cases, I was surprised to find that the answer was a resounding yes. For this book, however, I can’t say the same.

Page 69 finds our protagonist Emily, a recently-widowed Oxford fellow, on a group walk in the French Alps; she has joined a chalet party at the remote Chalet des Anglais, a rustic academic retreat. The group contains all strata of university life, from undergraduates through to senior professors, though on this page, we don’t see her anything of the broader group dynamics that are a vital theme of the book—How should a group behaved when taken out of its natural environment? Do the usual hierarchies apply? If not, what are the new rules?—as she is in conversation only with Peter, a long-time collaborator of her late husband. Grief, however, is another important theme, and we do see that on display here:
I thread my way to Peter’s side as we set off. The path is narrower here— no more than two abreast is possible— and the ground is un­even and strewn with occasional large rocks; I have to keep my eyes on my footing. “You know, Peter, I’ve never asked. Has Nick’s death left any ongoing projects in the lurch?” I’m pleased to hear that I barely stumble on death, though it’s not said without cost: on its exit from my mouth, the word trails little hooks behind it that catch and drag at my insides. “With whom was he working mainly?”
By this stage in the novel, Emily has already experienced a break in at her Oxford home and also realised that someone within the chalet party has tried to gain access to her laptop, but there is nothing of her growing unease on this particular page. Nor do we see anything of the chalet itself, whose unique atmosphere, particularly at night, appears to be having an impact on the group. We do gain a small insight into the world of academia and we also get a glimpse of Emily’s character: she is logical and thoughtful, but not passive—a natural problem-solver. Having identified Nick’s death as a potential obstacle in her relationship with Peter, she sets about devising strategies to deal with that:
“Oh.” Once again, he’s a little awkward, as if worried about upsetting me by saying the wrong thing. I will have to brazen it out, I decide. Exposure therapy. I like Peter: I like the way his mind leaps and races, the way he owns to his own flaws such that they become, as Jana put it, almost endearing. We can’t have the topic of Nick sitting as an unmentionable black hole between us; it would bleed our friendship dry. “Well, you know what Nick was like. He always had fingers in lots of different pies. You must know that— he said you proofread everything he did.” He glances at me with raised eyebrows as if it’s a question.

“Well, yes, and vice versa. God, the number of times we disagreed about punctuation . . . Nick was largely against.” My wry words pull a laugh from Peter.
Not only does this page fail to address many of the novel’s major plot elements and themes, other than grief, but it also fails to capture the ratcheting tension and growing paranoia that develops as the isolated chalet party faces danger that can only come from within. As such, Bright and Deadly Things fails the Page 69 Test—but I strongly recommend you pick up a copy and decide for yourself!
Visit Lexie Elliott's website.

The Page 69 Test: The French Girl.

My Book, The Movie: The French Girl.

The Page 69 Test: The Missing Years.

Q&A with Lexie Elliott.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 13, 2023

"The Road Towards Home"

Corinne Demas is the author of 38 books including two collections of short stories, six novels, a memoir, a collection of poetry, two plays, and numerous books for children. She is a professor emeritus of English at Mount Holyoke College and a fiction editor of the Massachusetts Review.

She grew up in New York City, in Stuyvesant Town, the subject of her memoir, Eleven Stories High, Growing Up in Stuyvesant Town, 1948-1968. She attended Hunter College High School, graduated from Tufts University, and completed a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She lived in Pittsburgh for a number of years, teaching at the University of Pittsburgh and at Chatham College.

Demas applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Road Towards Home, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I gather they’ll be busing people to this other facility, Brookfield Village, to use the pool there.”

“In that case I will take a hiatus from exercise,” said Noah. “I will not be bused anywhere.”

“I believe it’s a van, not a bus—”

“I will not be bused or van-ed.”

“I, at least, have an exercise plan that is unaffected by renovations,” said Cassandra. The exercise plan, suddenly fearing he was going to be cheated out of his walk, started tugging on his leash, and Cassandra said, “We better get moving.”

The path along the river widened and narrowed for no apparent reason, so sometimes they walked side by side and sometimes one in front of the other. When Melville looked as if it was likely he was going to be doing something unattractive, Noah dropped farther behind or hurried ahead.

“Would you like to have the experience of walking him yourself?” asked Cassandra, offering Noah the leash.

“I will forego the pleasure for now, thank you, and, I might add, forever.”

“Others have had your response initially,” said Cassandra, “but in time enjoyed the opportunity.”

“Those were others,” said Noah. “Not I.”

When they returned to Cassandra’s apartment and Melville was safely stretched out on the floor by the faux fireplace, Noah sat in the chair where he’d sat before.

“I found some wine,” said Cassandra. “I was looking for a field guide on fungi, and there they were. I’d thought the box was books, but I was wrong.”

She handed the opener to Noah. “I’ll get the glasses.” In the kitchen she looked around for something to serve with the wine. The only cheese was a dismal scrap of cheddar, and the only crackers she could find were probably stale.

“Would you like some chocolate?”
The Page 69 Test works perfectly for The Road Towards Home. Page 69 includes an important plot element, gives readers a feel for the tone of the novel, and, most important, introduces the two main characters, Noah and Cassandra, and offers a taste of their witty banter.

When Cassandra and Noah meet at Clarion Court, a senior living community, they discover that they knew each other in college, fifty years ago, and their friendship is reignited in spite of their striking differences. Cassandra is an entomologist, and Noah is uneasy with insects; Noah, a retired English professor plays the cello, and Cassandra admits to not liking music. They are two fiercely independent septuagenarians who are attracted to each other but carry baggage of their past marriages and their complex relationships with their children and their siblings. Both of them are critical of life at Clarion Court, and when renovations include closure of the pool—a favorite amenity--they are inspired to decamp and set off together to Noah’s cottage on Cape Cod.

The scene on page 69 takes place in Cassandra’s Clarion Court apartment, and her character is revealed through details like her uncovering the wine bottles when she was “looking for a field guide on fungi,” and the food she offers Noah: “The only cheese was a dismal scrap of cheddar, and the only crackers she could find were probably stale.”

The Road Towards Home relies on dialogue, and page 69 showcases the distinct voices of this unlikely pair, and how they play off each other. When Noah says he will not be “bused” anywhere, Cassandra points out that “it’s a van, not a bus.” When Noah responds, “I will not be bused or van-ed” Cassandra ignores his clever neologism and says “I, at least, have an exercise plan that is unaffected by renovations.” Her Newfoundland Melville, the “exercise plan” on a leash, is a source of humorous conflict between them throughout the novel.
Visit Corinne Demas's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 11, 2023

"Dead and Gone"

Joanna Schaffhausen wields a mean scalpel, skills she developed in her years studying neuroscience. She has a doctorate in psychology, which reflects her long-standing interest in the brain―how it develops and the many ways it can go wrong. Previously, she worked as a scientific editor in the field of drug development. Prior to that, she was an editorial producer for ABC News, writing for programs such as World News Tonight, Good Morning America, and 20/20. She lives in the Boston area with her husband, daughter, and an obstreperous basset hound named Winston.

Schaffhausen applied the Page 69 Test to her newest novel, Dead and Gone, and reported the following:
There is so much going on in Dead and Gone that it would be amazing if any single page gave a decent picture of the whole. Page 69 offers a glimpse of the main plot, which involves a stalker on a college campus. Quinn Vega, our heroine’s niece, is a first-year student and she’s brushed off concerns about the possible stalker until now. But when she hears a fellow student was attacked on a dark path while wearing Quinn’s jacket, Quinn fears she may have been the intended target all along. She sets out to find this other girl.
“Oh my God, it’s true.” Quinn’s jaw fell open when she saw the girl’s full face. She didn’t mean to stare, but Zach’s description hadn’t done Sienna’s injuries justice. Her left eye was ringed with purple and there was an ugly brown-green bruise down the side of her face. A cut around her temple had scabbed over, and she had a scrape across her right hand.

“I heard you were attacked.” Quinn licked her dry lips.

Sienna gave a slow blink. “Where’d you hear that?”


“I don’t know who said I was attacked.” Sienna shrugged one shoulder. “I got drunk and fell on my ass. Ask the campus cops.”

“Did you?” Quinn stepped closer to her, still clutching the jacket. “Is that what happened?”

Sienna folded her arms and fixed Quinn with a hard look. “You don’t even know me. Why do you care?”

“Because you were wearing my jacket.”

Surprised flickered over Sienna’s face and she dropped her defensive posture. “Wait…you think someone jumped me, thinking it was you?”

“I don’t know. Someone is watching me. My roommate got followed the other night.”
Quinn becomes determined to get to the bottom of the campus stalker situation, which leaves her Aunt Annalisa free to pursue some of the other mysteries in the story. Annalisa is facing a tough case: Sam Tran, an ex-cop turned PI was found hanged in a local cemetery, but his personal life is squeaky clean. Annalisa believes his death must be work-related. She thinks Sam uncovered a deadly secret in his private investigations, so she starts poking around in his open case files. The campus stalker is one of Sam’s last cases. Another case concerns a double homicide at a seedy motel, where the murdered couple was having an affair. The third is a missing mom who went to a New Year’s Eve party in 1989 and never came home.

Annalisa believes one of these three cases got Sam Tran killed. But which one? She has to figure it out quickly before she meets the same fate—and, it seems, keep her niece Quinn out of trouble along the way.
Visit Joanna Schaffhausen's website.

The Page 69 Test: All the Best Lies.

Q&A with Joanna Schaffhausen.

The Page 69 Test: Gone for Good.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 9, 2023


James Byrne is the pseudonym for an author who has worked for more than twenty years as a journalist and in politics. A native of the Pacific Northwest, he lives in Portland, Oregon.

Byrne applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Deadlock, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Deadlock is sort of perfect for this test. Desmond Aloysius Limerick, known as Dez, is a guy who comes to the aid of his friends. And he’s a former “gatekeeper” — that is, a breach-expert in a foreign military. He’s capable of opening any door, keeping it open for as long as necessary, and controlling who does, and doesn’t, go through.

And on page 69, he’s helping Laleh Swann, sister of his mate, Raziah Swann. He’s picking a lock and breaking into the apartment of a man in Portland, Oregon, who’s been murdered. He’s seeking answers.

Page 69: Loyalty and lockpicks. Perfect!

So if browsers opening my book to page 69, would they get a good idea of the whole work? I think the answer is yes. They’d get a sense of Dez’s humor, and how reticent he is to talk about his past. Laleh asks him how he has the skills, and he replies. “I had an interesting sort o’ job, for a time. Developed certain skill sets. All I can tell you is this: I wouldn’t use what I know to hurt your sister, and that means I wouldn’t use it to hurt you, either. You’ve my word for that.”

And that’s all she’s gonna get out of him on that topic!

One of the fun things about this book, for me, is that I get to introduce readers to Portland, a city I call home and love. Dez comes here to help the Swann sisters, but ends up running into an international conspiracy at a high-tech powerhouse company. I intersperse descriptions of Portland, of Oregon, of the Pacific Northwest, as I lay out my plot.

The city has gotten a bit bruised, what with the pandemic, and Black Lives Matter protests, and wildfire smoke, and an economic downturn, and homelessness, and the fentanyl crisis. But I’d advise people not to count Portland out. The people, the history, the laid-back vibe, the work ethic, the can-do political sense. Portland has a way of surprising you.

Just like Dez.
Visit James Byrne's website.

Q&A with James Byrne.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 7, 2023

"Dark Corners"

Megan Goldin, author of The Escape Room and The Night Swim, worked as a correspondent for Reuters and other media outlets where she covered war, peace, international terrorism and financial meltdowns in the Middle East and Asia. She is now based in Melbourne, Australia where she raises three sons and is a foster mum to Labrador puppies learning to be guide dogs.

Goldin applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Dark Corners, the second novel with fearless true crime podcaster Rachel Krall, and reported the following:
The story picks up from where The Night Swim left off. This time, after returning home from covering the controversial rape trial in Neapolis as told in The Night Swim, true crime podcaster Rachel Krall is asked to help the FBI locate a social media influencer who has disappeared from her camper van at a Florida camp site. The influencer, Maddison Logan, visited an inmate at a maximum security prison shortly before she disappeared. The prisoner's name is Terence Bailey and he is suspected of carrying out a series of abductions of young women. It's an uncanny coincidence that Maddison went missing right after meeting Bailey.

Page 69 covers part of Rachel Krall's meeting with Terence Bailey in the Florida prison. Bailey is a big fan of Rachel Krall's true crime podcasts. The FBI is hoping that he might knowingly or unwittingly divulge to Rachel what he knows about Maddison's disappearance. Any information will help because the FBI and the local police havething to go on. They are keenly aware that the longer it takes for them to find Maddison, the lower the likelihood that they'll find her alive.
He changed the subject abruptly. “Did you know that you’re my second proper visitor I’ve been here almost six years. Never had visitors excepting for my cheating lawyer. And he charged by the hour. All these years and just as I’m leaving, two pretty ladies turn up. Suddenly I’m Mr. Popularity.” He licked his chapped lips. “The good Lord does work in mysterious ways,” he said sarcastically. His unblinking gaze made his attempts at humor chilling rather than cute.

Rachel presumed the other female visitor was Maddison. She decided not to ask. Yet.

“Every man here will be jealous as hell that you’ve come to see me. The famous Rachel Krall.”

“I’m hardly a celebrity.”

“You’re better than a celebrity.” He nodded to reinforce the truth of his statement. “When the wives and girlfriends stop writing and visiting, the men turn to writing to Jesus, and to you, Rachel.”

“Why me?”

“Most of the men locked up here are lifers. The only chance they have left is if you cover their case for your podcast and get them a new trial. Like what you did for that coach.” He shifted on the metal stool.

“He went free because he was innocent,” said Rachel. “I’m betting you can’t say that about most of the men here.”

“Probably not,” he admitted.

“What about you? Have you ever written to me?” Rachel asked.

“Once. I ripped it up. Never sent it.”

“Why not?”

“Wasn’t sure I could trust you.” His eyes bored into Rachel.

He leaned forward intimidatingly. The prison guard pacing around the metal tables swung around in their direction when he heard Bailey’s manacles rattle from the sudden movement.

“Can I trust you, Rachel?” Bailey’s voice was as soft as a ghost in the night.
Page 69 introduces the reader to Terence Bailey in all his contrasts. He is a tough, tattooed prisoner who may have committed multiple murders, although that's not the reason why he is in prison. At the same time, he strikes Rachel as both tortured and sinister. She's not entirely sure whether to fear him or feel sorry for him. Perhaps the scariest part of Rachel's meeting with Bailey is that he's about to get out of jail having served his prison sentence. It's scary for Rachel because he seems to have fixated on her. That does not bode well for Rachel because if the cops are to be believed then Bailey is an incredibly dangerous man.
Visit Megan Goldin's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Escape Room.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 5, 2023

"The Madwomen of Paris"

Jennifer Cody Epstein is the author of four novels that have been published in a total of twenty-one countries around the world: The Madwomen of Paris (2023), Wunderland (2019), The Gods of Heavenly Punishment (2012), and The Painter from Shanghai (2007).

She is the recipient of the 2014 Asia Pacific American Librarians Association Honor Award for fiction, and was longlisted for the 2020 Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Literary Prize.

Epstein applied the Page 69 Test to The Madwomen of Paris and reported the following:
The Madwomen of Paris is a Gothic novel with true-to-life horror overtones. Set in the Salpêtrière women’s asylum in 19th-century Paris, it draws from a surreal chapter in medical history, one in which Jean-Martin Charcot—the founder of modern neurology—routinely hypnotized women he’d diagnosed with hysteria before performing bizarre experiments on them, often in front of huge audiences, aided by other legendary men of medicine like Sigmund Freud and Georges Gilles de la Tourette. But the novel actually centers around Laure Bissonnet, a lonely asylum attendant, and Josephine, the alluring amnesiac Laure takes under her wing after Josephine is dragged into the asylum covered in blood. Josephine’s beauty, sensitivity to hypnosis and spectacular hysterical symptoms (think hair-raising hallucinations, dual personalities and even something like telepathy) quickly make her a favorite of both the doctors and the Parisian public. Soon, though, all that hypnotizing jars loose a memory of something so dangerous it might actually kill her—that is, if her overzealous doctors don’t first.

On page 69, though, Josephine is still languishing, memory-less, in a padded cell, while Laure goes about her daily life as a ward worker. In this way the excerpt isn’t representative of one of the book’s central plot points, the close-but-precarious bond between the two women. What the page does do is tee up the real-life horrors of the asylum, since it describes two of Laure’s asylum duties: delivering the body of a dead hysteric to Charcot so he can dissect its brain, and tightening the screws on a (live) patient’s “compressor”—a medieval-looking device Charcot invented after concluding that hysterical fits could be interrupted by putting sharp pressure on a hysteric’s ovaries.

These grim assignments both help establish the asylum’s dark ethos and explain Laure’s desperate desire to escape the place. More subtly, though, page 69 also marks the moment when Laure decides to visit her late father’s notary to ask for help in that escape. Compared to corpse deliveries and ovary squishings, this might seem like a non-event. But it sets into motion a chain reaction that will put both Laure and Josephine in dire danger—and lead Laure to make one of the most catastrophic decisions of her life. So in that way, the page is actually pretty essential to what makes the novel tick.
Learn more about the novel and author at Jennifer Cody Epstein's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Painter from Shanghai.

The Page 69 Test: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment.

Writers Read: Jennifer Cody Epstein (May 2019).

The Page 69 Test: Wunderland.

Q&A with Jennifer Cody Epstein.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 3, 2023

"The Good Ones"

Polly Stewart grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, where she still lives. She graduated from Hollins University and has an MFA in fiction and a PhD in British literature from Washington University in St. Louis. Her short fiction has appeared in literary collections and journals, including Best New American Voices, The Best American Mystery Stories, Epoch, and the Alaska Quarterly Review. Her nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times, Crime Reads, and Poets & Writers, among other publications.

Stewart applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Good Ones, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Good Ones occurs in the middle of a scene where Nicola, the narrator and a substitute high school teacher, is having lunch with one of her students, Mabry Ballard. Mabry’s father Warren has asked Nicola to help Mabry with her college application essays, but this conversation is a minefield for Nicola for several reasons: 1) Mabry is also the daughter of Nicola’s childhood friend Lauren, who disappeared fifteen years earlier; 2) Nicola and Warren just started sleeping together; and 3) Mabry really couldn’t care less about her college application essays.

Even though she’s relatively tangential to the plot, Mabry was one of my favorite characters to write. I love writing in the voice of teenage girls, and this scene was particularly fun because Nicola, despite having taught for many years, doesn’t really understand or relate to teenagers all that well. On this page, Mabry reveals that she knows about Nicola’s relationship with her father and later reveals a couple of secrets of her own. She’s always one step ahead, and by the end of this scene, she’s convinced Nicola to help her break into the house where her mother disappeared—a spectacularly bad decision.

At its heart, The Good Ones is about troubled relationships between women, and even though Nicola and Mabry aren’t one of the major dynamics, I like the fact that this scene takes on that theme from a different angle. It was one of my favorites to write, and whenever people ask me if I could write a sequel to The Good Ones, I always say it would have to be from Mabry’s point of view.
Visit Polly Stewart's website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

"The Militia House"

John Milas is the author of the new novel The Militia House. He enlisted in the US Marine Corps at age nineteen and subsequently deployed to the Helmand Province of Afghanistan in support of OEF 10.1. He was honorably discharged from active service in 2012.

After his discharge, Milas earned both his BA and MFA in creative writing. As a student, he studied with writers such as Marianne Boruch, Roxane Gay, Brian Leung, Robert Lopez, Terese Marie Mailhot, Julie Price Pinkerton, Donald Platt, Sharon Solwitz, and others.

Milas applied the Page 69 Test to The Militia House and reported the following:
All four of the main characters are mentioned on page 69 of The Militia House, which includes three complete paragraphs and some change. They have just returned from their initial excursion to the eponymous haunted house and are coming to terms with the experience. Vargas examines a souvenir that he's brought out with him as Blount tries to take a nap. Johnson is outside behind the team's living quarters smoking a cigarette when the narrator, Corporal Loyette, asks to see the photos on Johnson's digital camera. However, all of the files on Johnson's SD card have been corrupted. When he takes a new photo he finds the camera now works properly.

This test works great for The Militia House for a number of reasons. In the most superficial way, the three paragraphs describe a self-contained moment, more or less, following the previous page and preceding the next one. More importantly, this self-contained moment at least allows for the potential to be unsettling. Sure, as a luddite myself I could be persuaded to believe that a digital camera in 2010 was able to corrupt files on its memory card at random, but in the context of the book this is a moment where we could also assume something supernatural is occurring. maybe. For me, this is a great page to serve as kind of a movie trailer moment for the book because it reflects on the type of influence The Turn of the Screw had in the way Henry James leans on ambiguity as spooky stuff happens. My hope is for The Militia House to get under readers' skin in the tradition of Henry James and Shirley Jackson, so this page does well in representing the whole of the book's project.
Visit John Milas's website.

Q&A with John Milas.

My Book, The Movie: The Militia House.

--Marshal Zeringue