Thursday, December 28, 2023

"Olivia Strauss Is Running Out of Time"

Angela Brown’s work has appeared in the New York Times, Real Simple, and other publications. She holds an MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two young children, where she is currently at work on her second novel.

Brown applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Olivia Strauss Is Running Out of Time, and reported the following:
It turns out that page 69 is the last page in a chapter and only consists of a few lines. Therefore, I’m going to cheat a bit and talk about page 68, so I have a full page worth of text! On page 68 (and in those brief five lines on actual page 69), the protagonist, Olivia, is at home in her quiet suburb in the evening a few days after her thirty-ninth birthday (earlier that day, she celebrated her birthday with her family). In the scene, she tells her husband, Andrew, that the next day she plans to meet her best friend, Marian, in New York (the events that happen on this day come to serve as the catalyst that propels the remainder of the plot). Halfway down the page, once this conversation is wrapped up, Olivia moves upstairs in her home to tuck her young son, Tommy, into bed, and the two engage in a brief conversation about a dream he was having in which his mother becomes lost.

Honestly, I think I passed the test! I tend to follow a very traditional three-act structure model when I write to help me with my pacing, so it makes sense to me that an important turning point would happen right around this time. This page captures a lot about the story. First, as I mentioned above, it’s the starting point for the big event that pushes the rest of the plot forward. We also get to either see or hear about the novel’s four major characters – Olivia, Andrew, Tommy and Marian – all on this page. There’s a bit of banter between Olivia and Andrew on the top half of the page which I think perfectly captures Olivia as a character – she’s funny and sarcastic and loves to avoid facing her problems head-on, all of which we see about her through the scene here. Later on the page, we also get to watch Olivia as a mother – she’s kind and absolutely in love with her young son though acknowledges that, when it comes to motherhood, she’s definitely not perfect (all things that are really important to her evolution in the book and all of which help her to learn so much about herself over the course of the novel). I think this scene between Olivia and Tommy at bedtime – which is such a private moment between a mother and her child – reveals a very tender side to Olivia’s character, one we don’t always see in the daytime when she’s busy being her sarcastic, sometimes snarky, self. Lastly, the scene (and chapter) ends with Tommy describing a dream he was having at the time his mother walked into his bedroom, in which his mother disappears (Tommy asks her: “Do you promise you’ll never disappear, Mama?”). This is important, I feel, because throughout much of the book this is Olivia’s great fear for herself – that she’ll die young and “disappear.” I wouldn’t call this interaction foreshadowing, though I do think it helps to begin to build upon what ultimately becomes a significant theme in the text.
Visit Angela Brown's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 23, 2023

"To Conjure a Killer"

Clea Simon is the Boston Globe-bestselling author of three nonfiction books and 30 mysteries. Her crime fiction is divided between cozy mysteries (most recently her “Witch Cats of Cambridge” series) and psychological suspense, including the recent Hold Me Down (a Massachusetts Center for the Book “must read”). A graduate of Harvard University, she has contributed to publications ranging from and Harvard Magazine to Rolling StoneYankee, and The New York Times. Born and raised in New York, she now lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, with her husband, the writer Jon S. Garelick, and one (1) cat, Thisbe.

Simon applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, To Conjure a Killer, and reported the following:
Page 69 of To Conjure a Killer:
Her person was speed-walking down the sidewalk when her phone began to buzz again. Considering how rushed Becca seemed, Clara wasn’t surprised when her person ignored it at first, only pulling it from her bag when the vibrating hum kept on, as persistent as a trapped bee.

Pausing on the sidewalk, she frowned at the tiny screen, before finally holding the device to her ear.

“Renee, hi,” she said, beginning to walk again. “Thanks for inviting me last night. I’m sorry if I seemed to run out right when—” She broke off, evidently listening to the woman on the other end.

“No, I’m sorry. I haven’t spoken to him.” Walking this quickly had brought Becca in sight of the brightly colored storefront. “Look, I’m just arriving at work. I’ve got to go.”

“That was weird,” she said to herself as she fished the keys from her bag and let herself in. Turning on the lights and flipping the “Closed” sign to “Open,” she seemed to regain her equanimity. “Maybe Jeff was cheating on her. But if she thinks I’m some kind of femme fatale…”

After hanging her coat in the back room, she grabbed a dust cloth and began to vigorously attack the front shelves, which had gone a bit gray. Clara had just settled on one of the clean shelves, watching as Becca reached for a crystal globe when a cheery jangling caught both their attention. “Welcome to Charm and Cherish,” Becca called, replacing the ball as she brushed the dust from her own top

“And charming it is,” replied the newcomer. Flipping a fall of auburn hair from his eyes, he scanned the shelves with a broad smile, apparently unaware of the dust Becca hadn’t reached yet. As he turned, Clara noticed how short the rest of his hair was, only slightly longer than the neat beard, barely more than stubble, that covered a strong jaw. Taking in his jacket, a dark plaid with the same rust color running through it, her cat recalled that this was what her person would call a style choice. Something that signaled affluence, she remembered someone—maybe Maddy—saying. Whatever it mean, she felt a twinge of concern as Becca glanced
Well, page 69 of To Conjure a Killer certainly drops you in the middle of things! As this page opens Becca, my protagonist and the series’ wannabe witch detective, has just had a bothersome phone conversation with Renee, her ex-boyfriend Jeff’s new girlfriend, a jealous type who has more or less accused Becca of meddling in their relationship. Becca rings off having arrived at her workplace, the magic store Charm and Cherish, so we get a bit of that setting, where so much of the action happens.

Perhaps most important, at the top of the page we get the point of view of her cat Clara, who (unbeknown to Becca) has shaded herself to invisibility and followed her. Plus, the page ends with the arrival of an attractive and apparently wealthy man, hinting at complications to come.

What this page doesn’t have is any hint of the original crime! The reason Renee is so upset – and the reason Clara is worried about Becca – is that Jeff has been murdered and Becca, who found his bloody body in an alley right by Charm and Cherish, is implicated in his stabbing death.

In a way, this page is the calm in the middle of the murderous storm. But Conjure is very much a cozy, with the three magical “witch cats” of the series title at its core. So no matter how complicated the case gets readers can rest assured that Clara and her sisters Harriet and Laurel will do their best to keep their human safe, lending their feline powers to Becca to clear her name and, along the way, solve the central crime.
Visit Clea Simon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 21, 2023

"Life and Death on Mars"

Edward M. Lerner worked in high tech and aerospace for thirty years, as everything from engineer to senior vice president, for much of that time writing science fiction as his hobby. Since 2004, he has written full-time.

His novels range from near-future techno-thrillers, like Small Miracles and Energized, to traditional SF, like Déjà Doomed and his InterstellarNet series, to (collaborating with Larry Niven) the space-opera epic Fleet of Worlds series. Lerner’s 2015 novel, InterstellarNet: Enigma, won the inaugural Canopus Award “honoring excellence in interstellar writing.” His fiction has also been nominated for Locus, Prometheus, and Hugo awards.

Lerner’s short fiction has appeared in anthologies, collections, and many of the usual SF magazines and websites. He also writes about science and technology, notably including Tropeing the Light Fantastic: The Science Behind the Fiction.

Lerner applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Life and Death on Mars, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Life and Death on Mars finds Xander Hopkins, newly drafted into the NASA astronaut program, reviewing a SNAFU in his impending mission to Mars. (Drafted into the program? It’s complicated.) NASA’s lead aerospace contractor is inexplicably turning down orders for the required spacecraft. The Chinese Manned Space Agency surely won’t face such obstacles ….

Page 69 offers an accurate – but incomplete – sense of the novel. On the plus side, there’s a window into a new Space Race, this one between the United States and its new national competitor. There’s the tantalizing implication that private aerospace companies have their own hidden agenda with respect to the race’s outcome.

What this page doesn’t begin to capture is the novel’s sweeping scope: the mad scramble to be ready by the soonest launch window. The months-long flights to Mars. The epic struggles once there. The human drama between and within competing missions. The quest for any trace of possible onetime Martian life. The parallel stresses and strains of an all-too-plausible near-future Earth.

Certainly nothing on page 69 even hints at the title’s teaser that there’ll be a death(s) on the Red Planet ….

Might NASA in the near future send astronauts to Mars? Yes! The technology “merely” to return to the Moon – and NASA’s going to do that, right? – is almost sufficient. That’s not to say a Mars mission would be easy. Or cheap. Or that survival on Mars wouldn’t be challenging. (Hint: the Martian “soil” isn’t soil. It’s inert dirt. Also, highly toxic with perchlorates and peroxides. A recent, otherwise excellent novel to the contrary, no one is going to grow potatoes in Martian dirt.) Or that everyone on this world will be onboard with the idea of looking for alien life, much less of bringing home possible samples.

Will NASA move anytime soon toward a crewed Mars mission? My guess it’ll take some external impetus – just as the first Space Race was America’s response to the embarrassments of Sputnik and the Yuri Gagarin orbital flight. An impetus like, as Life and Death on Mars posits, China boldly setting out to leapfrog the US space program ….
Learn more about the author and his work at his website.

The Page 69 Test: Fools’ Experiments.

The Page 69 Test: InterstellarNet: Origins

The Page 69 Test: Déjà Doomed.

Q&A with Edward M. Lerner.

My Book, The Movie: Life and Death on Mars.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

"The Emptiest Quarter"

Raymond Beauchemin was born in Western Massachusetts and has lived in Boston, Montreal and Abu Dhabi. He currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario. He has worked as an editor for the Boston Herald, Montreal Gazette, The National and the Toronto Star. He is the author of Everything I Own, a novel.

Beauchemin applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, The Emptiest Quarter, and reported the following:
From page 69:
There is a seam, you said, that runs south from Iraq. It is a vein full of oil, black gold, that will lift the people of Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, all of us here in these desert lands, out of poverty. You stopped, looked up and around at the tents, the dunes farther off, the sky. When you return, you will not recognize us, insh’allah.

You said this with sadness. As if you knew the cost of progress even then. When you return, the barbaric splendour with which the West associates us will not be so barbaric anymore, and splendid Abu Dhabi will be as indistinguishable from a British village as these oilmen are from the agents who accompany them.

You stopped. Then you looked at me as if I, an eleven-year-old British girl of no consequence, could understand all your worries and more: the apprehensions and anxieties of an entire nation. There was such trust and confidence in the way you looked at me that for a moment I believed I could do just that. Your lips spread in the slightest of smiles. You offered me my cup.

I have something for you, you said after taking a sip of your coffee. You reached into your pocket and came out with a jess. You tied it around my right wrist. The leather was rough against my skin, but the gesture was smooth and kind.

We do have hope, you said. We have tomorrow, insh’allah. And we have Allah.

Alhamdulillah, I said.

You must have caught my delighted surprise in myself. You laughed. I laughed. Then you poured us a second coffee.
First, a caveat. The Emptiest Quarter is a collection of three novellas set in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates: “Tent,” “Oil” and “Identity.” Page 69 falls within “Oil.”

The novellas are connected enough, however, in theme, locale and even incidents that have reflections in the other novellas that the page 69 excerpt above is a good indicator of what a reader will find in the book.

There’s the promise of oil riches in 1938, when this segment takes place, and what that will mean to future generations of Emiratis. This struggle with progress comes back within the “Oil” novella; the question of the location is central to “Tent” and identity to, obviously, the last novella.

There’s also love, for country, for one another, for causes. The eleven-year-old British girl narrating the segment of “Oil” where we find page 69 is falling in love with the “you” character she is addressing, though over time finds that the love she thought she felt for him was actually a love for the country, the oases, the souqs and wadis, the sands and the people who make up what became the U.A.E. This love of country is evident as well in the other novellas.

Not that it’s all pretty. There are tensions among the desert peoples in “Tent,” international and economic issues in “Oil” and 21st century/modernization struggles in “Identity,” including the notion of a free press and a kidnapping during the Arab Spring in Syria.

What I found interesting and coincidental about the Page 69 Test is that the text here lands at about the ten percent mark in “Oil,” a turning point in the novella leading to its inevitable denouement and conclusion. You can read more about this structure of novel and storywriting in Jane Smiley’s 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel.
Visit Raymond Beauchemin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 16, 2023

"Hop Scot"

Catriona McPherson was born in Scotland and lived there until 2010, then immigrated to California where she lives on Patwin ancestral land. A former academic linguist, she now writes full-time. Her multi-award-winning and national best-selling work includes: the Dandy Gilver historical detective stories, the Last Ditch mysteries, set in California, and a strand of contemporary standalone novels including Edgar-finalist The Day She Died and Mary Higgins Clark finalist Strangers at the Gate. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, The Crimewriters’ Association, The Society of Authors and Sisters in Crime, of which she is a former national president.

McPherson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Hop Scot, and reported the following:
From page 69:
So I spat on my hands, hefted the axe pointy end to the wall, lined it up like a croquet shot and gave it my all.

‘Ouch!’ I said, reeling away. The difference this time was that the pick-axe, unlike the sledgehammer, stayed stuck in there.

‘Yay!’ said Devin. ‘My turn again!’ He doesn’t have a macho bone in his body, as far as I’ve ever seen. He stepped up and wiggled the point of the axe free. Then he concentrated hard, with one eye shut, and did his best to make the little hole a bit bigger. The axe bounced off the middle of a brick and clattered to the floor.

‘Me again,’ I said. This time I heard a grating sound when I hit the mortar and a few lumps of it fell out. The brick now looked like a loose tooth.

‘Try and snag it,’ I said, handing the axe over again. ‘Pull it.’

Devin hung off the axe handle and grunted like the old man in the story trying to pull up the ginormous turnip, but he didn’t dislodge the brick or even make it grate again. ‘Bang it hard,’ he said, as he handed over to me again. ‘See if you can knock it straight through.’

I squared up the sledge hammer, did a practise shot and walloped the brick smack in the middle. It disappeared, leaving a black hole like a letterbox. We both heard it hit the floor on the far side.

‘Teamwork!’ I said. ‘You howk out a few more, till we can scramble through. ‘It should be easier now.’

‘Are you kidding?’ Devin said. ‘You’re going to delay gratification on this? Not me.’

He plucked his phone out of his back pocket, turned on the torch app and crouched until he was peering through the hole in the wall. Then he froze. He even stopped breathing. He’d been panting from the exertion of wielding a medium-sized hand-tool three times, but now he was silent.

‘Dev?’ I said. ‘What can you see? Have you been turned to stone by an ancient curse?’

He didn’t answer.


Slowly, in a series of jerks, he stood up straight again. ‘Take a look and tell me that’s an old decoration left over from Halloween.’

‘Oh ha ha,’ I said. ‘Come on. Let’s burst through. If we do the other one too we can surprise Taylor.’

‘Just look, Lexy,’ Devin said. ‘Look through that hole and tell me what you see.’
Well, look at that! Actual plot! Page 69 of Hop Scot turns out to be a perfect teaser about the meat of the mystery, instead of what I was expecting: either the narrator/protagonist, Lexy Campbell enthusing about Christmas in Scotland; the Californians kvetching about Christmas in Scotland (No sugar cookies! Terrible water pressure!); Judith and Keith Campbell doing their level best to keep up with the sudden explosion in diversity in their lives; the children fretting about Santa finding them in their temporary home; ornithologist Taylor swooning about the winter birds of Northern Europe . . . Because, in this book, my fictional found family have left the Last Ditch Motel in Cuento, CA, and decamped en masse to spend the holiday with Lexy’s bio-family, in the kind of country house where all Christmas mysteries should take place (right?). It’s perfect, except that the brick wall in the cellar isn’t one brick wall at all. It’s two with a space in between, as Lexy and Devin are finding out on this page.
Visit Catriona McPherson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Go to My Grave.

My Book, The Movie: The Turning Tide.

The Page 69 Test: The Turning Tide.

My Book, The Movie: A Gingerbread House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 14, 2023

"The Blameless"

Ryan Kenedy is a professor of English at Moorpark College. His short fiction has appeared in North American Review, The Greensboro Review, Sou’wester, and San Joaquin Review.

Kenedy applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Blameless, and reported the following:

My Q&A with the author:
From page 69:
“I don’t have to say it.”

“Say it.”

“You already know.”

“I want to hear it, Vivian.” He stared at that mouth of hers. “I want to hear you say it.”

Down along the river, where there was a clearing of sand, they put out chairs and umbrellas and a pair of long tables covered in cloth from end to end. On the tables were bags of potato chips and numerous homemade pies and large bowls of Jell-O and fruit salad. Mothers fixed plates for their children while their husbands stood in circles telling stories and talking politics. Boys and girls chased each other in and out of the reeds, scrambled up the embankment and raced down again, and babies waddled in the sand and cried.

L.T. had volunteered to barbecue. He flipped meat patties and turned hotdogs, stacking the cooked meat on foiled trays for the ladies to put them out on the tables. He heard peals of laughter. The young mothers sat together with their babies between their arms and knees. And the men sat in lawn chairs or stood with their hands in their pockets. By now L.T. knew many of their names but he preferred to busy himself at the grill. He wiped his fingers on a borrowed apron and looked for Vivian, but it was Philip who approached him.
“You are a blessing, Travis. I mean it.”

Philip touched him on the shoulder.

“God is working in you,” he said. “I can see that.”

“Is he?”

“You have a gift for serving others. This is how we serve the Lord, with our hands and feet.”

“I’m just trying to stay out of the way,” L.T. said. “Are you hungry?”

“No, I’m not. Have you seen Vivian?”

“I haven’t.”

“She’ll be down soon then. We’re baptizing Virginia today.”

“I didn’t know.”

“She’s seven now. She understands things well enough. We have to make sure they’re ready.”
Page 69 doesn't work well as an introduction to the novel. The scene is part of an extended flashback in which the main character, Travis Lee Hilliard, a convicted murderer, recalls his tense relationship with a well-meaning pastor (Philip Bigelow) who rescued him off the streets, and the pastor's discontented wife, Vivian, who Travis aims to seduce. Page 69 only hints at these conflicts. The dialogue at the top of the page, for example, suggests Travis's attraction to Vivian, "that mouth of hers," although readers unfamiliar with the novel wouldn't know the speaker is Travis. They might intuit this fact, however, when the narrator says Travis was looking "for Vivian, but it was Philip who approached him." Readers will also sense Travis's reluctance to engage Philip in dialogue. Travis is an outsider who harbors a secret, and he has no interest in God, Philip, or befriending other members of the church. Although the scene on page 69 is necessary and revealing, the novel's central conflict is not between Travis and Philip, or Travis and Vivian, but between Travis and Virginia, their daughter, who in the present timeframe is an adult in her mid-thirties. The backstory helps readers understand how Travis ended up in prison, but the novel is primarily concerned with Travis's life now that he's out on parole and Virginia's determination to confront him face to face.
Visit Ryan Kenedy's website.

Q&A with Ryan Kenedy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

"A Different Kind of Gone"

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

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Different Kind of Gone, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I feel like I want to ask you…”

But Teresa did not seem inclined to finish that thought.

“What? Go ahead.”

“Like I want you to tell me what my life is going to look like now.”

“How would I know that?”

“I know. That’s why almost I didn’t finish the sentence.” She brushed long strands of her blonde hair back, flipping them behind her shoulder. “For some reason I’ve started thinking of you as some kind of expert on everything. Like you know life so much better than I do and can tell me just about anything.”

“I been around longer, is all.”

“You’re not any kind of oracle. I know that. But you seem to be thinking more clearly than I am about how this might play out.”

“Maybe,” Norma said.

“I’d like to hear your thoughts at least. I feel like… like everything changes from here. And it’s got me off balance.”

“Everything does change from here. My ex-husband… back before he was my ex, he used to say ‘Buckle up, buttercup.’ And oh, I hated him for it. But, really, you do need to strap in for this.”


“Well, first of all, I hope you have a plan for her to live incognito.”

“Owen does. Her eyes are her most distinctive feature, so he’s going to get her brown contacts. And of course she’ll cut her hair and dye it. We won’t really know if that’s going to be enough until we see it. And of course we’ll get her a new name with ID and all.”

“It’s going to be a very weird time for you,” Norma said. “You know the way you’ve been living the last couple of days? On pins and needles waiting for news? Going nuts in every possible way because you don’t know if your only child is alive or dead? Well, you’re going to have to keep living like that’s the case. For a very, very long time.”

“Oh,” Teresa said.

“You hadn’t thought of that?”
I’ve done a few of these Page 69 Tests now, and I think this particular page 69 is my pick for representing its book well.

What I like most is the way it drops the readers into a conversation-in-progress, and they can’t quite know what’s going on. But the references are intriguing, and I think the kind of curiosity it evokes is the kind that helps readers decide to buy a book and bring it home. And it’s not a false picture of intrigue, either. It’s what the novel is about.

When I’m working with my developmental editor, she’ll always mark places where she didn’t understand the reference. She’ll say “We don’t know who this is,” or “I don’t know why she said that.” And it’s almost always something I did on purpose. I say “No, you don’t know… yet.” Curiosity pulls me along when I’m reading. I have a shaky attention span, and I need the pulling. Once every one of my questions are settled I might as well put the book down and go for a walk or clean my refrigerator.

The second reason I like the page is because it shows a lot about Norma’s character. The phrase “Norma knows a lot” turns up here and there in the novel. This simple exchange with the “missing” girl’s mother paints a very clear picture of Norma’s competence, and the way others tend to look up to her experience and good sense. And she is the rock at the heart of this book, so that works well, in my opinion.
Visit Catherine Ryan Hyde's website.

Q&A with Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Page 69 Test: Brave Girl, Quiet Girl.

The Page 69 Test: My Name is Anton.

The Page 69 Test: Seven Perfect Things.

The Page 69 Test: Boy Underground.

The Page 69 Test: Dreaming of Flight.

The Page 69 Test: So Long, Chester Wheeler.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 10, 2023

"Above the Fire"

Michael O’Donnell is the author of the novel Above the Fire. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and other publications. O’Donnell has been a member of the National Book Critics Circle since 2005. An attorney by profession, he lives in the Chicago area, where he practices law. He earned his bachelor’s degree with distinction from Indiana University and his law degree magna cum laude from Boston College.

O’Donnell applied the Page 69 Test to Above the Fire and reported the following:
From page 69:
Doug and Jane exchanged a glance as Paul took another long drink from his water bottle.

"And then something strange happened." Paul shook his head. "I returned by way of Route 25 instead of the interstate. Just to see what else I could find. I stopped in Moultonborough--the town with that little fixed-wing airstrip?" He sounded dazed and was practically talking to himself. "I must have gone up and down every road and checked every business on Main Street. Knocked on doors, called out until I was hoarse. There was nobody there. Not one soul."
The Page 69 Test works well for Above the Fire because it lands on a chapter-end and a key pivot point in the story. Doug and his son Tim are hiking in the White Mountains when reports of communication blackouts and fires begin to reach the backcountry huts. In this scene, Paul, one of the rangers of the national forest, has just returned from scouting down below to report what he has seen. His news shows that the uncertain events may be more troubling than simple electrical outages or even fears of war. Something so bizarre and frightening is occurring that it demands a decision for Doug: should he and his son descend the mountain, or stay up high where it is safe?

From a story perspective, page 69 is critical. But for those who approach the book with character foremost in mind, it may be less important. The event that keeps Doug and Tim high above the unstable world will matter less to those readers than what happens to them after they make their decision. How do they interact with each other and with outsiders? What new risks will they confront together? How and when will they decide to rejoin society? This aspect of the book echoes Cormac McCarthy's The Road. In that novel we never learn what has scorched the world; it does not matter. What matters is the relationship of the man and the boy. Yet where The Road takes readers through a relentlessly bleak and savage landscape, Above the Fire immerses them in beauty. Mountains, trees, and fellowship between new friends: these are the guideposts of the story that follows the scene on page 69.
Visit Michael O'Donnell's website.

Q&A with Michael O'Donnell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 7, 2023

"Devils at the Door"

Tessa Wegert is the author of the popular Shana Merchant mysteries, which include Death in the Family (a Book Riot Best Locked Room Mystery), The Dead Season (“Deliciously twisty”—Bookreporter), Dead Wind (Publishers Weekly starred review), and The Kind to Kill (a Strand Magazine Top Mystery Novel).

Wegert applied the Page 69 Test to the new Shana Merchant mystery, Devils at the Door, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Were it not for those flags and the mesh duffles dotting the shore, plus the cars parked nose to bumper along the curb, I would never have known there was anyone underwater. As I watched though, I started to see bubbles breach and ripple the surface. Like a raft of seals coming up for air, one masked head emerged, then another. Over the next few minutes, six bodies popped up in all, and I made my way over to where they were shedding their gear. At the sight of my State Police jacket, several of the divers shrank back. This time of year, when the weather was iffy, I kept it in my car; there was power in the blocky letters on the back, and I liked having the option of using it. Now, it occurred to me that I hadn’t thought the jacket through. Every parent in town was still having nightmares about Leif. It would be hard for them not to imagine the same thing happening to their own kids.

Wait until they hear this death wasn’t an accident.
It isn’t easy being a State Police investigator in a tiny riverside village just south of the Canadian border. In this passage, we find Shana Merchant seeking out the father of a teen who drowned near Devil’s Oven Island to inform him that she suspects foul play. Ford Colebrook is no stranger to tragedy, but his wife drowned just five years prior. And now, the task of telling Ford the only remaining member of his family is gone has fallen to her.

The imagery readers will find on page 69 of Devils at the Door could be seen as a metaphor for the impending homicide investigation, and in some ways also for the story as a whole. Working cases that involve violent crime is all about seeing what isn’t immediately apparent, and evaluating both environments and individuals with a critical eye. At the same time, the divers’ reaction to Shana and her police jacket reflects the locals’ continued unease, a key theme in this novel. Since Shana’s arrival in Alexandria Bay, NY, crime has been on the upswing, and many in the community see her as a plague on their town. Not only are they aware of this most recent death, but they’re afraid for their own children’s safety. The fact that it’s Shana who’s working the case ratchets up their anxiety. Though it’s her job to protect them, she’s a woman that many don’t want around.

But readers are about to find out that Ford Colebrook feels very differently about Shana and the deaths that follow her like a curse.
Visit Tessa Wegert's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Dead Season.

The Page 69 Test: The Dead Season.

Q&A with Tessa Wegert.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Wind.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 5, 2023


Tracy Clark is the author of the Detective Harriet Foster crime fiction series, including Fall (2023) and Hide (2023). She is a two-time Sue Grafton Memorial Award-winning author and the 2022 winner of the Sara Paretsky Award. The four novels in her Cass Raines series (2018-2021) have also been honored as Anthony Award and Lefty Award finalists and have been shortlisted for the American Library Association's RUSA Reading List, named a CrimeReads Best New PI Book of 2018, a Midwest Connections Pick, and a Library Journal Best Books of the Year. A native of Chicago, she works as an editor in the newspaper industry and roots for the Cubs, Sox, Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks equally. She is a board member-at-large of Sisters in Crime, Chicagoland, a member of International Thriller Writers, and serves on the boards of Mystery Writers of America Chicago and the Midwest Mystery Conference.

Clark applied the Page 69 Test to Fall and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I’m Detective Foster,” the Black cop said. “This is my partner, Detective Li. We’d like to ask you a few questions about Alderman Deanna Leonard.”
Hmm. OK. From page 69 of my new book Fall, I think, readers are going to get genre, the sparsest idea about character, yet zero story revelation. In my defense, that’s likely got more to do with typesetting than with my pacing, but I won’t point fingers. It’s almost Christmas. I’m in a nice and jolly frame of mind. Page 69 does, however, end chapter 10 with a pretty dramatic dum-dum-dum, like every good police procedural should, so brownie points for me there.

Former Alderwoman Marin Shaw, from whose perspective the chapter is told, has recently been released from prison after a devastating fall from grace, and she is struggling to get her life back on track. The last thing in the world she wants is two female homicide cops in her face, but there they are on page 69, and neither of them is amused.

Back to the dum, dum, dum. The cops in question, Detectives Harriet Foster and Vera Li, are onto Shaw. She’s lied to them and wasted their time. They now suspect her of murdering one of her former City Council enemies in cold blood. Therefore, their visit is not a social call. No one’s going to be sipping tea and nibbling on dainty cookies. There will be no chuckles for Marin in chapter eleven.

But to the test, my page 69 fails it. The real meat and potatoes takes place a page before and a chapter after page 69. I just missed a passing grade by half a paragraph! Curses!
Visit Tracy Clark's website.

Q&A with Tracy Clark.

My Book, The Movie: What You Don’t See.

The Page 69 Test: Runner.

The Page 69 Test: Hide.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 3, 2023

"The Night Side"

M. M. (Marjorie) DeLuca spent her childhood in the beautiful cathedral city of Durham in North-Eastern England. She attended the University of London, Goldsmiths College, studied psychology, then became a teacher. She immigrated to Canada and lives in Winnipeg with her husband and two children. There she also studied writing under her mentor, Pulitzer Prize winning author, Carol Shields.

She loves writing for all ages and in many genres—suspense, historical, sci-fi for teens. She's also a screenwriter with several pilot projects in progress.

DeLuca enjoys teaching workshops in Creative Writing and the writing process.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Night Side, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Ida went to touch Marsha’s arm but she flinched as if the hand was white hot. “I can help you. I sense something – a darkness surrounding you. A dense and troubling aura. Something or someone that wishes harm on you.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about. Just gibberish like on them TV shows,” said Marsha shaking her off. “C’mon Marion. We don’t need your advice, so get out of my way.”

Ida tailed her along the street, even though Ruby pulled at her jacket to stop her.

“We can help. Me and my daughter. We have the gift…”
The Page 69 Test works, because this page actually touches on the central conflict of the story, the toxic mother/daughter relationship between Ida, a self-professed medium and con-artist and her young daughter, Ruby, who Ida manipulates into unwillingly participating in her many scams. This scene also shows Ida’s uncanny ability to spot her vulnerable future targets, approach them directly on the street, and awaken their deep-seated fears so they feel compelled to look to her for help. In this particular case, Marsha is a lonely single mother with a disabled daughter, deserted by a violent husband and father. Ida drags Ruby along with her even though she hates the whole “game” of luring in potential “clients”. Ruby is a girl with a vivid imagination who is terrified by the suggestion of demons, curses and loose spirits, but her mother ignores her protests. Ruby spends her childhood dreaming of escaping Ida and all her evil machinations.

Unlike legitimate psychics and card readers who provide a reasonably priced service to willing customers, these fraudulent psychics I refer to in the novel, apply high pressure tactics to their victims and often rope them into highly-priced services, then make threats about future bad consequences if the “client” doesn’t keep on paying. Ida is a forceful and charismatic character who intimidates her weakened clients, as are many of these fraudulent psychics. I was inspired to create the characters of Ida and Ruby when I read an article about a scammer who used her teenage daughter to lure in clients by doing a faltering initial reading, then the mother would swoop in and forcefully take over the session. I wondered what that young teen’s life was like. What about her hopes? Her dreams? And so, the character of Ruby was born.
Visit M.M. DeLuca's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Night Side.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 1, 2023

"The Mayors of New York"

SJ Rozan, a native New Yorker, is the author of at least eighteen novels and six dozen short stories. Her work has won the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity awards for Best Novel and the Edgar for Best Short Story. She’s also the recipient of the Japanese Maltese Falcon Award and has received the Life Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America.

Rozan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Mayors of New York, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Mayors of New York is a pretty good sample of the book, though it would confuse a reader trying to use it as a test. It's almost entirely dialogue. Four people speak, and two others are mentioned, so anyone who hadn't been with the book from the beginning would be lost.

Still, the use of a lot of dialogue is typical of my writing, a deliberate choice from the time I started because dialogue puts the reader in the immediate "now" of the story. It's also one of the chief joys I get from writing: trying to capture each character's unique voice -- rhythm, contractions, sentence length, word choice. In The Mayors of New York I had the opportunity to write dialogue for people of a wide variety of ethnicities -- South Asian, Latinx, American Southern Black, African immigrant, Upper East Side WASP -- which was a great excuse for eavesdropping, one of my favorite New York activities. Authenticity, you know?

Bill Smith and Lydia Chin, of course, by now practically write their own dialogue, we've been together so long. Other characters take a little getting to know, a process I enjoy. By page 69 in this book, the two others on it -- the private chef, Rick Crewe, and 15-year-old Madison McCann, the Mayor's daughter -- had made a couple of other appearances, so I felt comfortable with them.

Also on that page is a clue useful later, though the reader doesn't know that. (Oops, did I give something away?)
Visit S.J. Rozan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Paper Son.

The Page 69 Test: The Art of Violence.

Q&A with S. J. Rozan.

Writers Read: S.J. Rozan (February 2022).

The Page 69 Test: Family Business.

Writers Read: S. J. Rozan.

--Marshal Zeringue