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

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

"The Peacock and the Sparrow"

I.S. Berry spent six years as an operations officer for the CIA, serving in wartime Baghdad and elsewhere. She has lived and worked throughout Europe and the Middle East, including two years in Bahrain during the Arab Spring. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and Haverford College. Raised in the suburbs of Washington, DC, she lives in Virginia with her husband and son.

Berry applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Peacock and the Sparrow, and reported the following:
On page 69, protagonist Shane Collins, a spy, is covertly visiting Poppy Johnson, an expat wife with whom he’s having an affair. Poppy lives in an elite gated community nestled within the Budaiya slums of Bahrain.
Surrounded by slums and prey to stray rubber bullets, Three Palms had even higher walls than Riffa Views. A gated community in the middle of Budaiya appeared odd only if you failed to realize expats could get obscene gobs of house here for the money: gargantuan villas, real marble floors, an Olympic-sized swimming pool if you were lucky. No greenery, no sidewalks for dogs and kids, daily unrest in the streets, but it was all worthwhile, they swore—the Johnsons, the Chaplain and his wife, other expat-resident faithful. Something exhilarating, I suppose, in the contrast of geographic proximity with metaphoric distance, the slums just close enough to remind Three Palms dwellers they lived in a different world.

I hated coming to Three Palms. It was a security risk, I warned Poppy Johnson time and again. Eventually the guard was bound to figure things out, spill the beans for the right sum or favor. Then there were her neighbors, rubbing their backs against the windowpanes, noticing when a man’s hair grew thinner, a woman fatter. Once discovered, I warned her, our affair would travel through expat circles faster than a refugee at night. Poppy had waved her hand dismissively. My neighbors wouldn’t know if a terrorist pulled into my driveway.
This excerpt gives a fair sense of my whole book. While not as action-based as other parts, it touches on key elements of the story.

Primarily, this passage shows the decadence of expat life abroad and its contrast with surrounding deprivation. My book is rife with contrasts and juxtapositions: wealth versus poverty; a small militarized regime versus masses of poor revolutionaries; beauty in squalor; the exhilaration of entanglement. Contrasts are at the heart of the Arab Spring.

This excerpt is also about protagonist Shane Collins’ affair with expat wife Poppy Johnson. Collins is an unremorseful philanderer who disdains fellow expats and grudgingly slogs his way through life, so this passage captures his tone well, giving an accurate glimpse of his personality and worldview, at least in the early portion of the book. (It also shows that he thinks like a spy, evaluating security risks.)

Setting was a crucial element of my story, and this excerpt, like the rest of my book, is descriptive and atmospheric. Bahrain is essentially a character in my story—it’s as complex and changing as a human—so I wrote about it as richly and fully as I would a person.

Finally, savvy readers will find a T.S. Eliot reference in this passage. Literary references are sprinkled throughout my book: Edgar Allan Poe, C.J. Koch, even Shakespeare.
Visit I.S. Berry's website.

Q&A with I.S. Berry.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 29, 2023

"The Paris Deception"

Bryn Turnbull is the internationally bestselling author of The Woman Before Wallis and The Last Grand Duchess. With a master of letters in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews, a master of professional communication from Toronto Metropolitan University and a bachelor's degree in English literature from McGill University, Turnbull focuses on finding stories of women lost within the cracks of the historical record.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Paris Deception, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Extraordinary,” Goring breathed, and it felt to Sophie as if she’d stumbled upon an intimate moment, the Reichsmarshall caught in something private, obscene. “Simply extraordinary.” He looked up. “Richter, my dear fellow, come closer.”
Page 69 of The Paris Deception draws readers into the real-life Nazi theft of artworks from Jewish collectors and families. We see Hermann Goring – and Goring’s right-hand man, Richter – negotiate for the seizure of Vermeer’s Astronomer from the ERR, the German art commission responsible for stealing art from its rightful owners, while Rose Valland, a French curator who works within the Jeu de Paume, raises objections that are quickly overlooked.

This page does give readers a good insight into The Paris Deception because it provides the real historical context for the story that follows. The Paris Deception follows two fictional characters on a mission to safeguard looted art by replacing the originals with forgeries, and while their mission is imagined, the theft of artwork by Herman Goring and other high ranking Nazis was only too real. The scene in question illuminates the first of far too many seizures of artwork by Goring himself, who viewed himself as a connoisseur, and was inspired by the real-life memoirs of Rose Valland, who was in the room when the theft of the Vermeer occurred.

One of the most chilling aspects of the Nazi theft and destruction of artwork was the fact that many members of the Nazi top brass considered themselves to be cultured people, dedicated to the preservation of certain kinds of art and literature while destroying whatever they felt to be “ideologically impure”. Starting on page 69, Goring provides his self-serving justification for stealing artwork from Jewish collectors, and to me this is the most terrifying part of the novel: to see how high ranking Nazis were able to reason their way into dehumanizing others. It was an important inclusion, and sets the tone for the many thefts and injustices that follow.

Of course, this event also serves as the inciting incident, so to speak. Sophie, our eyes and ears within the Jeu de Paume, takes Goring’s words and actions as a challenge, and begins to steal works of art to safeguard them for their rightful owners.
Visit Bryn Turnbull's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Paris Deception.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 27, 2023

"Your Plantation Prom Is Not Okay"

Kelly McWilliams is a mixed-race writer. Agnes at the End of the World was a finalist for the Golden Kite Award, and Mirror Girls was a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection and Target Book Club Pick. She’s written for Time, Bustle, and Publishers Weekly among other outlets.

McWilliams applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Your Plantation Prom Is Not Okay, and reported the following:
On page 69 of my novel, my main character, Harriet Douglass, has just walked into the old plantation house next door to argue with the actress planning to turn it into an offensive prom and wedding venue. The actress is in the middle of a party, but Harriet doesn’t care. She must confront her, and tell her that what she’s doing is wrong. The scene cuts straight to the core of the story, which is about a contemporary teenaged girl’s struggle to protect a sacred historical place from grave misuse.

In the South, only a few plantation museums teach the history of human enslavement from the perspective of the enslaved. Most of them champion fine furniture and architecture, while underplaying the horrible fact of enslavement—if they bother to mention it at all. Harriet, who grew up on a museum doing the hard work of telling the truth with her professor father, finds this so abominable that she struggles to control her temper at this point in the story. It’s a fine snapshot of the novel as a whole, because Harriet’s character arc is all about learning to channel her overwhelming anger into powerful activism. It’s the very essence, in this young adult book, of her coming-of-age.

From the top of the page:
There are too many white people in this house, nibbling tiny canapés. I cannot—repeat, cannot—wig out. I struggle to relax my chest. Breathe in, out.
There’s also an interesting conversation, below that, between Claudia Hartwell—the actress-turned-wedding-planner—and her daughter Layla (who disagrees with her mother’s choices, and is allied, for now, with Harriet), about social media. When Layla objects to her mother’s pandering to the movie star who hopes to get married there soon, her mother snaps back:
“Watch your tone, young lady. Sunny’s been dreaming of her fairytale wedding since she was a little girl, and she won’t let anything ruin it. Not allergies, or internet trolls, or anything.”

Trolls? Is it too much to hope that Sunny Blake and Randy White are already getting dragged online?

“Those weren’t trolls,” Layla says heatedly. “People have every right to be mad about a movie star’s plantation wedding!”
In the end, it will be through social media, and especially TikTok, that Harriet puts the heat to Claudia Hartwell’s plans—though she doesn’t know it yet.

All in all, I have to say, the Page 69 Test performs exceptionally well for Your Plantation Prom Is Not Okay. Both the main argument of the book and its eventual solution are made reference to in one conversation!
Visit Kelly McWilliams's website.

The Page 69 Test: Agnes at the End of the World.

Q&A with Kelly McWilliams.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

"Playing It Safe"

Ashley Weaver is the Technical Services Coordinator for the Allen Parish Libraries in Louisiana. She has worked in libraries since she was 14; she was a page and then a clerk before obtaining her MLIS from Louisiana State University.

Weaver applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Playing It Safe, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Playing It Safe sees my heroine, Electra McDonnell, sharing a dance in a pub with her military intelligence handler, Major Ramsey, as they’re undercover trying to catch a band of Nazi counterfeiters during World War II.

The test does a nice job of introducing the two lead characters as well as highlighting certain elements of the book’s plot.

A reader browsing page 69 would get a good idea of the dynamic that exists between my characters. As Ellie and Major Ramsey dance, they discuss the case and what they’ve learned so far. Readers will get a glimpse of Ellie’s more sanguine outlook on things and the good-natured humor with which she views even unexpected obstacles. In contrast, the more formal, non-nonsense personality of Major Ramsey is also on display. While they are opposites in this way and have their conflicts, there is a clear sense of unified teamwork between them–and in this scene it’s especially apparent since they’re on the dancefloor, literally moving in sync.

There is also mention of a mysterious death that has occurred and the subsequent investigation Ellie and the major have been conducting. A reader opening the book to this page would have hints of the adventure–and perhaps even the danger–that Ellie and Ramsey will face over the course of the story.

In the case of Playing it Safe, the Page 69 Test does a great job of giving a sample of the tone and plot of the book!
Visit Ashley Weaver's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Most Novel Revenge.

The Page 69 Test: An Act of Villainy.

Writers Read: Ashley Weaver.

The Page 69 Test: A Dangerous Engagement.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 22, 2023

"Don't You Dare"

Jessica Hamilton was born in Australia but grew up in Canada. She has lived and worked in the Czech Republic, Taiwan, India and Japan. She studied writing at the Humber School for Writers as well as George Brown College. She lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, son, and daughter. Her debut novel is titled What You Never Knew.

Hamilton applied the Page 69 Test to her new thriller, Don't You Dare, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Don't You Dare begins with these two sentences, "There were some rules. Or at least the guise of rules; who could actually put boundaries on what we'd created." Page 69 is the beginning of a flashback section of the novel. The novel has a dual timeline of present day and past, which is a college setting. The page outlines the dynamic that Hannah, my main protagonist, her best friend, Scarlett and other best friend, Thomas, have developed in their friendship which crosses boundaries between the platonic and the sexual. One main element to the threesome's friendship is the playing of something called The Daring Game, giving one another dares to complete. Another quote from page 69 explains this intense, risk taking dynamic, "We only wanted each other, the Daring Game, and our nights twisted together in Thomas's bed, one body of three."

If browsers were to open my book to page 69, they would get a very good idea of the whole work. What is described on page 69 about the relationship of Hannah, Scarlett and Thomas is essentially what becomes replicated in the present-day timeline—the sexual attraction, the obsession with the Daring Game and having complete disregard for others to get what they want. Page 69 provides a brief glimpse into what was the foundation of their friendship back in college and therefore what Hannah and Thomas would quickly return to when reunited sixteen years later. It also gives the reader the ominous sense that only bad things could come of the risk taking and debauchery of their threesome dynamic which is also the sense that the reader has in the present-day timeline when Hannah and Thomas pick up where they left off even though Hannah is married with two children. Don't You Dare is essentially a novel about making bad choices to escape from the things you don’t like in your life, on page 69 Hannah says, “For the first time in my life, not fitting in with the masses felt like something I’d chosen.” In college the bad choices were made in order for her to feel like she fit in somewhere, in adulthood her bad choices are made to escape a rocky marriage and the boredom of day-to-day adult life—either way, bad choices lead to bad outcomes and therein lies the heart of Don't You Dare.
Visit Jessica Hamilton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 19, 2023

"Murder for Liar"

Verlin Darrow is currently a psychotherapist who lives with his psychotherapist wife in the woods near the Monterey Bay in northern California. They diagnose each other as necessary. Darrow is a former professional volleyball player (in Italy), unsuccessful country-western singer/songwriter, import store owner, and assistant guru in a small, benign spiritual organization. Before bowing to the need for higher education, a much younger Darrow ran a punch press in a sheetmetal factory, drove a taxi, worked as a night janitor, shoveled asphalt on a road crew, and installed wood flooring. He missed being blown up by Mt. St. Helens by ten minutes, survived the 1985 Mexico City earthquake (8 on the Richter scale), and (so far) has successfully weathered his own internal disasters.

Darrow applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Murder for Liar, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Desdemona, but my friends call me Dizzy.”

“If I save Brenda, I’ll probably get to call you Dizzy, right?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I was flirting. In the midst of this absurd situation, in front of virtual strangers, I was actually flirting.

“That’s right,” she answered, smiling again.

“Pardon my curiosity, but aren’t you Black anyway?” I asked. “I mean under the shoe polish or whatever.”


“Never mind.” I paused and thought a moment. “What are the other alternatives?” The wind kicked up right then, whistling in my ears. I zipped my nylon jacket and turned up the collar.

“We can’t leave her,” the man said.

“And we’re not about to call 911,” Dizzy added.

“Jail isn’t an alternative,” Zig-Zag agreed. “Brenda’s wanted as it is. She’d probably get two or three years.”

“Why? Did she blow something up? Two or three years seems rather extreme for criminal trespass.”

Everyone looked at everyone else.

“Maybe,” the large girl replied.

“Great. Is there a bomb up on the tower?”

“No,” the man answered. “We had other plans, but they’ve been scuttled.”

“So will you do it?” Dizzy asked.

Obviously, the sane choice was to drive home immediately and go back to sleep. But I found I didn’t want to do that. What I wanted to do was concoct convincing reasons to myself to stay and help. I tried for a while, but I couldn’t think of any, so I just said yes,
I think the page is representative of my writing. There's looming action, breezy dialogue, a glimpse into the head of the psychotherapist protagonist, and the passage introduces one of the novel's main characters. If someone hated this page, they probably wouldn't enjoy my book.

It's unfortunate that it isn't until a good way into the text that a reader who limits herself to this one page finds out that the characters are discussing a protester who's scared and frozen on a power tower.

I can see how some other pages would misrepresent my book. There's a major twist that leads the reader astray for a time. And Tom the protagonist goes through a transformative process in order to cope with various extraordinary events--including murders. A random page might merely represent a stage in Tom's process as opposed to defining his character. For that matter, when bizarre things happen with no context, they might mislead the reader into thinking the book is a fantasy or even a horror novel, which it is not. All is eventually explained in a satisfying denouement.

I like the page 69 concept. As a therapist, I wonder about the choice of the number 69. What would Freud say about Marshall McLuhan's psyche?
Visit Verlin Darrow's website.

Writers Read: Verlin Darrow.

My Book, The Movie: Murder for Liar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

"Murder on Mustang Beach"

Alicia Bessette is the Edgar® Award-nominated author of the bestselling Outer Banks Bookshop mystery series. Before writing fiction, she worked as a reporter in her home state of Massachusetts, where her journalism won a first-place award from the New England Newspaper & Press Association. A pianist, published poet, and enthusiastic birdwatcher, she now loves living in coastal North Carolina with her husband, novelist Matthew Quick.

Bessette applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Murder on Mustang Beach, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Murder on Mustang Beach, book 2 in the Outer Banks Bookshop mystery series, your heroine Callie Padget visits the vacation home occupied by the relatives and friends of a murder victim. Callie is shown the last known photograph of the man who was killed. It was taken during a deep-sea fishing excursion.
I had the same sobering thought as when I saw the wedding photo. There he was, so alive, so animated—when in reality he was cold as a headstone, lying in the morgue.
She goes on to observe the quirky décor surrounding her:
… the living room was brimming with bric-a-brac. There were stacks of old books, which I definitely would have riffled through if weren’t trying to be unobtrusive. There was a crate of hammered screws. A basket of whelk shells. A doll carriage spilling over with dolls. In fact, now that I looked, well-organized junk was pretty much everywhere, next to little signs saying FREE. Apparently, not many renters had taken advantage of that offer…
Page 69 pretty well captures the vibe of the cozy mystery. While Murder on Mustang Beach is on the lighter, breezier side of crime fiction, Callie keeps in mind that murder is no laughing matter, and that its repercussions are far-reaching. Her sensitivity makes her a trustworthy sleuth.

Speaking of sensitivity, I’d say that page 69 showcases Callie’s powers of observation. She lets her senses guide her, taking in sights, sounds, smells, and so on. It’s a habit she developed during a previous stint as a newspaper reporter, and it serves her well as she tracks down killers.

Page 69 also hints at the bibliophile themes in Murder on Mustang Beach. Callie works in a small island bookshop and finds loads of inspiration within the pages of books. It’s no wonder she has to resist the urge to paw through the titles inside the rental home!

Murder on Mustang Beach is the sequel to book 1, Smile Beach Murder. Eleven months have passed. Spring is blooming as Callie’s soon-to-be boyfriend nears the end of his year-long celibacy experiment, so there’s lots of tension and energy crackling in the salty air of Cattail Island, where Callie lives, loves—and solves crimes.
Visit Alicia Bessette's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 15, 2023

"The Rules of Us"

Jennifer Nissley (she/her/hers) is the author of the queer young adult novels The Mythic Koda Rose and the newly released The Rules of Us. Although her first love is writing, she is powerfully attracted to video games, horses, and pretty much any piece of clothing or interior design with an animal on it.

She received her MFA in Fiction from Stony Brook Southampton and lives in Queens with her spouse and their pets, but sadly no horses.

Nissley applied the Page 69 Test to The Rules of Us and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Rules of Us features a pivotal conversation between the protagonist, Jillian, and her ex-boyfriend, Henry. Not only have Jillian and Henry recently both come out as gay, and broken up as a result — they’ve also just learned that their plan to remain best friends, and attend the same college together on a prestigious scholarship, is in serious jeopardy. Despite their meticulous planning, they’ve failed to meet all the scholarship criteria, and must now enroll in a summer class to demonstrate “academic well-roundedness.” Now, on page 69, the two unexpectedly find themselves at odds as they grapple with that mistake.

Nobody was more surprised than me to discover that page 69 is, in fact, quite representative of the book! At its heart, The Rules of Us is about how Jillian and Henry coming out, and breaking up, shatters their view of themselves and their relationship—platonically, romantically, and every shade in between—which leads to messy but necessary growing pains for both of them. Page 69 represents the beginnings of that tension. Readers also get to see the differences between Jillian’s and Henry’s mindsets here, and catch glimmers of how that will lead to more intense conflict later on.

Henry approaches the problem pragmatically, attempting to explain to Jillian what “academic well-roundedness” means according to the scholarship’s website and how they can correct their mistake. But Jillian is letting her fixation on the fact that they misinterpreted the criteria at all get in the way of moving forward to a solution. She’s also still reeling from the revelation that she and Henry are both queer, and nursing a not-so-very-secret infatuation on Carla, a cool girl at school. In a matter of days, the boundaries and structure she reveled in with Henry were upended. This unexpected scholarship trouble only throws her further off balance.

So, when Henry tells Jillian, “If we want to get this scholarship, we need to play by their rules,” Jillian doesn’t hear this as a plea for flexibility. Instead, she digs in harder, telling readers, “I hear what he’s saying, and I get it, but honestly, this well-roundedness requirement doesn’t feel like playing by any sort of rule at all. It feels like kissing Henry with a head full of Carla, every rule you’ve ever stuck to switched up midgame.” Perceptive readers might sense that Henry’s becoming a bit frustrated with Jillian’s rigidity in his quest to define himself beyond her. And they might also see that Jillian, for as much as she insists on knowing Henry inside and out, isn’t picking up on these clues at all.
Visit Jennifer Nissley's website.

Q&A with Jennifer Nissley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 12, 2023

"A Wealth of Deception"

Trish Esden loves museums, gardens, wilderness, dogs and birds, in various order depending on the day. She lives in Northern Vermont where she deals antiques with her husband, a profession she’s been involved with since her teens. Don’t ask what her favorite type of antique is. She loves hunting down old bottles and rusty barn junk as much as she enjoys fine art and furnishings.

Esden applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Wealth of Deception, and reported the following:
On page 69 Vermont art and antique dealer, Edie Brown, is examining photos she’s received from a friend. They are of collages created by an elderly and reclusive outsider artist known only as Vespa.
…I set to work downloading the photos from Jimmy’s email—a total of twelve images. Besides the beach scene, there was a collage of a railroad station, reminiscent of the townscape in tone and theme. Jimmy was right. The photos I’d taken had been poor at best. Still, like my photos and unlike the images of Vespa’s work I’d seen online, Jimmy included extremely close-up shots that allowed me to view what I assumed had gotten him excited.

Identical small “V’s” were scratched into both pieces. Actually, in the case of the beach scene, there were a bunch of “V’s” disguised as stylized seagulls, some right side up and others upside down, all perfectly symmetrical. Both pieces also featured a man looking away from the viewer. I’d noticed a similar man in Anna’s townscape, standing in an alleyway near a puddle of blood. At that time, I’d guessed he was relieving himself. I wasn’t as sure about that anymore…
A Wealth of Deception is the second book in the Scandal Mountain Antiques Mystery series. Like the first book in the series—The Art of the Decoy—the mystery isn’t centered on a murder investigation but rather on an object and a crime. In this case the book’s focus is a townscape collage that has the earmarks of a Vespa piece, but the owner insists it was created by a relative who’s suffered a traumatic brain injury and does art for therapy. Determined to uncover the truth, Edie’s sets out to verify or disprove the piece’s provenance. As such, page 69 gives the reader a good look at A Wealth of Deception’s main plot, the book’s tone, and a peek at what it’ll be like for the reader to solve the mystery alongside Edie. However, I should add that Edie gets in a lot more trouble and dangerous situations than this snippet might lead a reader to believe.
Visit Trish Esden's website.

Q&A with Trish Esden.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

"The End of The Road"

Andrew Welsh-Huggins is the Shamus, Derringer, and International Thriller Writers-award-nominated author of the Andy Hayes Private Eye series, featuring a former Ohio State and Cleveland Browns quarterback turned investigator, and editor of Columbus Noir. His stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Mystery Magazine, the 2022 anthology Paranoia Blues: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Paul Simon, and other magazines and anthologies. Kirkus calls his new crime novel, The End of the Road, "A crackerjack crime yarn chockablock with miscreants and a supersonic pace.”

Welsh-Huggins applied the Page 69 Test to The End of The Road and reported the following:
Page 69 of The End of The Road is the beginning of Chapter 15, narrated from the perspective of J.P., a sheriff’s deputy introduced a few chapters earlier. In the scene, J.P. is eating lunch on a Friday afternoon at the Dutch House Inn in the small (fictional) town of Darbytown, Ohio. He’s feeling a little guilty about being at the restaurant because his wife, June— away for a few days visiting her parents—prepared an enormous sandwich for him that J.P. promptly ignored in favor of dining out. As he considers the weekend ahead, his server—Tina, a distant cousin—arrives at his table and underscores the nature of small-town gossip by immediately asking J.P. about June’s trip.

A browsing reader who opened my book to page 69 would find herself in media res without a strong sense of the plot. The novel is told from the perspective of three characters—J.P.; a young woman named Penny out to avenge her boyfriend’s shooting; and Pryor, the villain who shot and left the boyfriend for dead before disappearing. Several major developments have taken place before we meet J.P. at the restaurant, including the shooting; Penny’s anguished decision that she must go after Pryor alone, without involving the police; and hints from Pryor about the crime he’s intent on carrying out next. A few more chapters must pass before J.P.’s relationship to any of that becomes clear. That said, page 69 gives the reader some insights into J.P.’s personality and the milieu of the world he lives and works in.

The End of The Road loosely uses the structure of Homer’s Odyssey to tell the story of Penny’s own odyssey in pursuit of justice. The action rotates between her, Pryor, and J.P., with one of my goals being to gradually weave together the three characters’ stories until they are brought together in a climactic finale. Although Penny and Pryor knew each other distantly before the events of the novel begin, neither had any reason to interact with J.P. without the circumstances that ultimately force them to meet. Before that fateful moment, Penny and J.P. both embark on bildungsroman-style travels that will either make or break them. If nothing else, the brief glimpse we get of J.P. on page 69 suggests how his journey is progressing so far.
Visit Andrew Welsh-Huggins's website.

My Book, The Movie: An Empty Grave.

Q&A with Andrew Welsh-Huggins.

The Page 69 Test: An Empty Grave.

Writers Read: Andrew Welsh-Huggins.

My Book, The Movie: The End of the Road.

--Marshal Zeringue