Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"Goodbye Days"

Jeff Zentner is the author of the William C. Morris Award winning book The Serpent King (2016) as well as Goodbye Days (2017). He lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He came to writing through music, starting his creative life as a guitarist and eventually becoming a songwriter. He’s released five albums and appeared on recordings with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Thurston Moore, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, and Lydia Lunch, among others.

Zentner applied the Page 69 Test to Goodbye Days and reported the following:
Page 69 of Goodbye Days couldn't be more representative of the book. What's occurring on that page is the tail end of a conversation between my protagonist, Carver, and the grandmother of one of his best friends, Blake, who has died in a car accident that Carver believes he may have caused by texting the driver. In this conversation, the grandmother, Nana Betsy, is trying to persuade Carver to spend a “goodbye day” with her where they do the things that she and Blake loved to do and memorialize his life. She believes that Carver, a talented writer, is carrying pieces of Blake’s story that she doesn't have: “Point is: if anyone can write Blake’s story again for one more day, it’s you.”

Carver, for his part, is torn: “I don’t want to say no. But I can’t bring myself to say yes.” He knows Nana Betsy doesn't hold him culpable for the accident. But he's not sure he agrees with her:

"'But. Are you sure you want me?' Because I wouldn’t want me."

The entire thrust of Goodbye Days is that idea that everyone is a living, breathing repository of stories, and that we live after death in the sharing of these stories. Page 69 contains one of the simplest, most straightforward sharings of this idea.
Visit Jeff Zentner's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Serpent King.

The Page 69 Test: The Serpent King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Dead Letters"

Caite Dolan-Leach is a writer and literary translator. She was born in the Finger Lakes and is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and the American University in Paris.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Dead Letters, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Dead Letters lands you in the middle of one of my favorite scenes of the book, and incidentally, one of the most gruesome. The scene is a flashback from Ava and Zelda’s childhood, and is a Gothic-infused memory that Ava recalls as she reflects on the twins’ approach to joint decision-making. In this scene, the sisters begin with the best of intentions — rescuing some orphaned rodents — but it is a task clearly beyond the scope of their childish abilities. They end up complicit in their tiny charges’ gory deaths. I love this scene for its dark imagery, but also because it demonstrates the accidental cruelty of children, and the way in which the proximity of death can be both traumatic and staggeringly matter-of-fact when you’re young and don’t yet have a solid grasp on mortality. In this scene, we get to see Ava and Zelda take distinct approaches to guilt and obligation, though both ultimately retreat from responsibility. The scene is a tidy microcosm of their future: how the sisters will handle caring for those who are unable to care for themselves.

Talking about this book to others, I always refer to it as “The Dead Baby Mice” scene. I have used it for a reading because it reads like a very short story — if it was a standalone micro-fiction, this scene would be the one that sums up Ava and Zelda and their snarled relationship.
Visit Caite Dolan-Leach's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Follow Me Down"

When not writing, Sherri Smith spends time with her family and two rescue dogs, and restores vintage furniture that would otherwise be destined for the dump. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada, where the long, cold winters nurture her dark side.

Smith applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Follow Me Down, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I sat down. “You found her body?”

Liam nodded, tucked his greasy chin-length hair behind his ears, picked up the joint, and inhaled deeply, then flicked it into the grass. “Yeah, I can’t get it out of my head. Seniors were let out early to join the search parties. A lot of people were just, like, happy to get out of school, but I really looked, y’know?” His bloodshot eyes flickered over me; he stroked the corner of a very wispy mustache with his thumb.

I pushed him to tell me more. It didn’t take much. It was obvious Liam liked telling it since he’d parked himself here looking for new people to tell it to. Never once did he ask me who I was.

“That morning it was already really hot, and after a couple of hours, the guy I was with said he was getting heatstroke and had to take a break. Total pussy. So I kept going, and I ended up by the river. And yeah, I was gonna take a piss. I drank, like, four bottles of water at this point.”

I nodded, tried to look impressed.

“I was close to the river, just behind the tree. I unzipped, and when I looked down, there was something next to the tree, tangled up in the leaves.
On page 69 of Follow Me Down, Mia is at the scene (a sprawling wooded park) where her twin brother, Lucas, allegedly murdered his student. She needs to do this because she is still locked up in that bubble of shock when everything feels unreal. On page 69, she is talking to a seedy teenager who discovered the murdered teen’s body and is clearly hanging around the park looking for new people to share the gory details with. I think page 69 is representative of the entire book, since it captures the did he or didn’t he question that Mia struggles with, the way the town is quick to believe that Lucas is a twisted killer, and brings Mia closer to confronting a past she wanted to forget.
Visit Sherri Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"A Shattered Circle"

Kevin Egan is the acclaimed author of Midnight, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013, as well as numerous other novels and short stories. He has spent his entire legal career working in the New York State court system, including lengthy stints as law clerk to two state Supreme Court justices. He graduated with a BA in English from Cornell University and teaches legal writing at Berkeley College in Manhattan.

Egan applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, A Shattered Circle, and reported the following:
Barbara Lonergan, wife and secretary to Judge William Lonergan, is extremely devoted to her husband. Prior to the start of A Shattered Circle, a fall from a ladder has left the judge with traumatic dementia. This condition would force many judges into retirement, but not Judge Lonergan; he has Barbara to support him, protect him, and run interference for him.

Page 69 of the novel is equally divided between the tail end of a flashback from Barbara’s past and her current condition. It is a quiet page, not representative of the rest of the book in which there are four murders and, very nearly, two more.

The flashback recounts Barbara’s girlhood on a broken down farm in upstate New York, her arrival in New York City, and her early years working in the courthouse steno pool. Barbara’s current condition is to lie awake beside her innocently sleeping husband and wargame the perils she expects to encounter the next day. One peril frightens her more than the rest. An embittered litigant has filed a grievance against her husband, and opposing the grievance can expose his mental state. Barbara’s insomnia is productive. She comes up with a strategy she believes can preserve the judge’s career and reputation.

On a symbolic level, page 69 recapitulates the Lonergans’ story. Barbara’s vigilance erects a protective circle around the slowly failing judge. But something in her past, hinted at in the flashback, contributes to shattering that circle.
Learn more about the book and author at Kevin Egan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Midnight.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 18, 2017

"Deranged"

Jacob Stone is the byline chosen by award-winning author Dave Zeltserman for his new Morris Brick series of serial-killer thrillers. His crime, mystery and horror fiction has won top praise and has been translated into six languages. His novels Small Crimes and Pariah were both named by the Washington Post as best books of the year. Small Crimes topped National Public Radio's list of best crime and mystery novels of 2008 and is being made into a feature film.

Zeltserman applied the Page 69 Test to Deranged, the first Morris Black thriller, and reported the following:
Page 69 is only a paragraph, so instead I looked at page 68. This page has Morris meeting with the FBI profiler and going over aspects of past murders associated with the killer. Deranged is a fast moving thriller that’s either showing the current action or flashbacks to the past to explain how the killer got to where he is, so this page was what I call necessary glue to keep the plot moving.
Visit Dave Zeltserman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Deranged.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 17, 2017

"A Death by Any Other Name"

Tessa Arlen, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Arlen applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Death by Any Other Name, the third book in her Lady Montfort mystery series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“In my opinion, Mrs. Jackson, our wonderful old traditions and our great families are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. I dread to imagine the future. Being in service is certainly not the same as it used to be in the old days, especially if we work for the likes of Mr. Haldane.”

Good grief, thought Mrs. Jackson, it doesn’t get more honest or outspoken than that. She felt her cheeks color. There was a palpable animosity radiating from the butler. His face was without expression, but his eyes were blazing with the intensity of his meaning. She felt quite uncomfortable by this outward expression of emotion. In all her working life she had never heard an upper servant be quite so contemptuous of his master in such a dramatic manner. Why does he continue here if he dislikes his employer so much? Good butlers are hard to come by it would be easy for him to find another place.

“Mrs. Armitage did not use tainted fish in her kedgeree, Mrs. Jackson I can assure you of that. She is a careful and conscientious woman and took pride in her work. Mr. Bartholomew was maliciously poisoned by someone staying in this house on the day he died; I am quite convinced of it. Mrs. Armitage was used as a scapegoat by someone callous and unprincipled enough to ruthlessly eliminate someone he called his friend. The doctor’s death certificate was a cooked-up lie and the inquest was a sham. And as a result a hard-working woman was accused of being so slovenly in her work that she caused a man’s death.” To Mrs. Jackson’s acute discomfort the butler’s demonstrated his outrage: his eyebrows had practically disappeared into his hairline, his arms were stretched out on either side of him palms upwards as if he were appealing to higher authority than the British legal system.
Page 69 for A Death by Any Other Name offers an amusing glimpse into the book’s secondary theme, the complex relationships between men and women in service to the privileged members of Edwardian society in 1914, and in particular the snobbery of upper servants which reflected the great class divide between the aristocracy and self-made men.

Mrs. Jackson, amateur sleuth and the housekeeper to the Earl of Montfort, is deeply shocked when Mr. Evans, the butler of the house she is visiting, has no problem whatsoever in describing his nouveau riche master in less than flattering terms, even going so far as to almost accuse him of being a murderer who has unscrupulously framed his cook for accidentally poisoning one of his guests!

It was well-accepted that Edwardian servants were often far greater snobs than the people they served, especially those who worked for the aristocracy. Mr. Evans now butler to the uncouth Roger Haldane of Hyde Castle had at one time worked for people he would have referred to as the quality and has no qualms about expressing his disgust for his new master who has completely remodeled an old castle into a luxurious, brand spanking new house as vulgar as the up to date furniture he has furnished it with. Clearly Mr. Evans believes that Rupert Bartholomew’s death by food poisoning is no accident and it is Mrs. Jackson’s uncomfortable job to pick her way through the quicksand of relationships both upstairs and down to help the Countess of Montfort discover who wanted Mr. Bartholomew dead!
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

The Page 69 Test: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman.

The Page 69 Test: Death Sits Down to Dinner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"A Boy Called Bat"

Elana K. Arnold writes books for and about children and teens. She holds a master’s degree in Creative Writing/Fiction from the University of California, Davis where she has taught Creative Writing and Adolescent Literature.

Arnold applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, A Boy Called Bat, and reported the following:
This page actually has very little text on it, as most of the page is taken up by one of Charles Santoso’s wonderful illustrations. The little there is reads:
because the only thing he could think about was the wet, uncomfortable stain on his shirt.

Dad’s apartment was in a complex that had a pool and a workout room. Kids under thirteen weren’t allowed to use the workout equipment,
But, the illustration is actually quite telling, even apart from words. It shows Bat, who has spilled his cocoa down the front of his shirt, and Dad, who looks mildly alarmed and a bit annoyed. Dad is wearing one of his trademark baseball caps; Bat is holding what is left of his cup of hot chocolate. Bat’s relationship with Dad is sort of strained; he stays with Dad every other weekend, which he has mixed feelings about; Dad isn’t always sensitive to Bat’s particularities; going to Dad’s apartment this weekend means leaving the new skunk kit at home with Mom for three whole days. So things are already a bit fraught before the hot chocolate spill.

A Boy Called Bat is about an autistic kid who loves an orphaned baby skunk, and it is also about family dynamics, emotional struggles, fledgling friendships, the joys of research, and the importance of a network of caring adults in the life of a child. I hope that a reader flipping to page 69 would be compelled to flip back to page one, find a cozy corner and perhaps a bar of chocolate, and would settle in for a good read.
Learn more about the book and author at Elana K. Arnold's website.

The Page 69 Test: Burning.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Everything Belongs to Us"

Yoojin Grace Wuertz was born in Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to the United States at age six. She holds a BA in English from Yale University and an MFA in fiction from New York University. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and son.

Wuertz applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Everything Belongs to Us, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He pulled out two long plastic sleeves, which he rolled over his shirtsleeves. Namin thought, I don’t even know how much to pay him. Somehow the idea of asking how much the service cost was more than she could bear. He stepped into the bathroom, ducking around the doorway to find the light. His apron was tied smartly behind him, the two sides of the bow perfectly symmetrical. The knot was tight against his back, and he was squatting to examine something. Namin tried to rehearse what she would say when he came out. Would they make small talk? Would she ask how his wife—who was nauseated not by him, but by the new creation of their child—was faring this morning? And this last plagued her worst of all: Should she apologize for the mess? Or was the right answer to pretend there was nothing to be ashamed of, nothing he should feel ashamed of?

Namin took a book and waited outside, leaning against the outer wall of her house. She pretended to read, even turning the pages at proper intervals, but the text was just lines on a page, nothing she could form into meaningful words. When a neighbor came by and asked what she was doing, she avoided answering but managed to ask how much she should pay Mr. Hong.

“You mean you really don’t know? I guess even a college student like you has to have something to learn.”

It was irritating to have her flaws pointed out so baldly, but Namin understood the neighbor meant this in a friendly way. This was the way of Miari—opinions were free and abundant. Namin would always be measured against her status as a Seoul University student, an ongoing honor that still earned her a measure of local celebrity. But the attention cut both ways as even the most casual acquaintances felt free to dissect her shortcomings as if she were a member of their extended family.
Namin is a student at an elite University in Seoul in 1978, but because her family is quite poor, they don’t have indoor plumbing. Usually it’s her older sister’s job to track down the sanitation worker and beg him to empty their latrine, but her sister has shirked her responsibilities. Now Namin is dealing with the hated task, but she feels awkward and embarrassed, as many of us might in her circumstances.

Two things strike me about this passage. The first is the juxtaposition of low and high class that Namin struggles with throughout: the urgency of her overflowing latrine against her attempt to focus on her textbook, which represents her elite education and her way out of poverty. I think that line about her town’s attention cutting both ways captures the central dilemma of her life. Her education and the status it affords her is a double-edged sword because it both lifts and differentiates her from her community.

My second note is remembering that this scene was built from my mom’s memories of the hated latrine in the homes of her childhood and youth, which distressed her so much she had nightmares into adulthood well after life became more comfortable. Sometimes it might be easy to assume that people who are born into difficult circumstances “get used to” their challenges. That somehow it bothers them less than it might bother us, who enjoy greater privileges. But my mother’s memories made me realize that hardships are traumatic no matter how much it might be normalized as the day-to-day reality. I recall this astounding, sobering statistic I once read, which is that there are currently more cell phones in the world than working toilets.
Visit Yoojin Grace Wuertz's website.

My Book, The Movie: Everything Belongs to Us.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"Never Let You Go"

Chevy Stevens's novels include Still Missing, Never Knowing, and That Night.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Never Let You Go, and reported the following:
Never Let You Go is told from two perspectives. Lindsey, the mother who believes her ex-husband, recently released from prison after ten years, is stalking her for revenge, and Sophie, her teenage daughter who is trying to reconnect with her father. Page 69 is the opening to the first chapter where we hear from Sophie. We learn that she has been keeping a large secret from her mother. She's been writing letters to her him while he's behind bars and opening a Pandora's box unresolved emotions. I hope the reader will be drawn in to her life, her longing for a father, and see that Sophie doesn’t understand the danger that she is putting them both in.
Learn more about the book and author at the official Chevy Stevens website.

My Book, The Movie: Still Missing.

The Page 69 Test: That Night.

My Book, The Movie: That Night.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 13, 2017

"The Dog Who Was There"

Ron Marasco has a B.A. from Fordham University at Lincoln Center and an M.A. and Ph.D. from UCLA. Along with his work as a writer, Marasco has also acted extensively on TV—from Lost, to The West Wing and Entourage, and appeared opposite screen legend Kirk Douglas in the movie Illusion, for which he also co-wrote the screenplay. He originated the role of Mr. Caspar in Freaks and Geeks, and most recently has been playing the oft-recurring role of Judge Grove on Major Crimes. He lives in Stamford, Connecticut.

Marasco applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Dog Who Was There, and reported the following:
The Dog Who Was There takes place in Biblical times and the lead character is a small, sweet mongrel dog named Barley who’s trying to make his way in the brutal world of Roman-occupied Judea. The city is tense with upheavals over an influential teacher from Galilee named Jesus Christ who’s been preaching nearby. With Roman authorities on high alert, Barley’s current master--a rough-around-the-edges homeless character named Samid--is taken away, leaving Barley on the side of a dirt road that leads to the marketplace.

Barley looks up the empty path, hoping for someone to come along and play with him. After a long while, two young boys come skipping down the road, followed by their merchant father. Barley wags his tail madly at seeing them. And the boys’ eyes light up at the sight of a scruffy roadside dog looking over at them with pleading eyes.

By Page 69 the smiling boys have tossed something toward Barley who thinks: A stick! Fetch! They want to play! Just like Barley’s master Samid used to! After looking around eagerly for where the stick landed Barley turns back toward the boys just as something hurls past his snout, grazing his flappy ear with a sharp sting. The boys are not throwing sticks; they are throwing rocks. The boy’s don’t want to play. These are boys who want to hurt.

As Page 69 begins, Barley is shaking his head to chase away both the pain of his ear and the sadness he feels that some human beings are not kind. The boys and their father continue on down the road, leaving Barley alone but still believing that, somewhere in the world, is a Master who will be good to him. By the end of page 69 Barley’s ear feels better, his hope is intact, and the penultimate line of the page describes Barley continuing on his way, trotting along a “thin and twisty road with no idea where it would take him.”

So off he goes: a small dog with a faith that could put human beings to shame.
Learn more about The Dog Who Was There at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 12, 2017

"Pilgrimage to Murder"

Paul Doherty studied History at Liverpool and Oxford Universities, and is now headmaster of a school in Essex. He is the author of more than eighty historical mysteries including the Hugh Corbett, Mathilde of Westminster and Canterbury Tales medieval mystery series.

He applied the Page 69 Test to A Pilgrimage of Murder, the 17th book of the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan, and reported the following:
Page 69 of A Pilgrimage of Murder is very much representative of the novel. It describes one last futile attempt by the rebels in London to assassinate John of Gaunt, the regent they truly hate. The attack is the last echo of a theme which has dominated the lives of Cranston and Athelstan and indeed the city of London and the country.
Visit Paul Doherty's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Pilgrimage of Murder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 10, 2017

"The Typewriter's Tale"

Michiel Heyns is Professor Emeritus in English at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Author of numerous academic works and radio adaptations of Henry James's and Elizabeth Gaskell's novels, Heyns wrote the chapter on Henry James for the Cambridge Companion to English Novelists. He is winner of the Thomas Pringle Award for journalism 2007, and the Sol Plaatje Award for translation, 2008 and was winner of the Sunday Times Fiction Award 2012 for Lost Ground. The French translation of his novel The Typewriter's Tale was shortlisted for the Prix Femina Etranger, and won the Prix de l'Union Interalliee.

Heyns applied the Page 69 Test to The Typewriter's Tale and reported the following:
The Typewriter’s Tale dramatises and explores the tension between the life of letters, as exemplified by the great novelist Henry James, and the claims of the life of the senses and passions, as experienced by his young typist (“Typewriter”), Frieda Wroth. Page 69 usefully encapsulates a central moment in this conflict, and in the central intrigue of the novel.

The page starts on a knock at the door (“There was a tap at the door”) – a time-honoured harbinger of drama. The knocker is only “the little butler”, Burgess Noakes. But he comes bearing a telegram to Frieda Wroth, and it is a telegram of some import, from Morton Fullerton, the dashing young American journalist with whom she has just had a breathless fling. (“Arrived Paris but thinking of Rye” the telegram reads.) Somebody reading only this page would know that Frieda is embroiled in some intrigue that involves finding something belonging to her employer, (“There were so many places they could be”,) more specifically a bundle of letters. (“Impelled to recklessness by Mr Fullerton’s graceful reminder, she went up to the cabinets and opened the first. …. A cursory glance sufficed to assure Frieda that there no letters there.”) The reader would also gather that Frieda is drawn into this intrigue by an undertaking to an absent person, possibly a lover (“Mr Fullerton had apprehended her uncertainty and was sending her this encouragement.”).

It is admittedly mainly at the level of practical intrigue that the page is representative of the novel as a whole, but it also encapsulates Frieda’s central quandary: her split between loyalty to her employer (“Frieda’s training and instincts combined to make her avert her glance”) and infatuation with her seducer. Thus the divide between life and letters that the novel explores is here dramatised through the juxtaposition of the telegram (the urgent messenger of passion and intrigue) and the letters (the record of friendship and fidelity), with Frieda as the mediator between the two, as, in typing, she mediates between James and his creations. Though the typewriter is merely a recording agent, she has a tale of her own.
Learn more about the author and his work at Michiel Heyns' website.

The Page 69 Test: The Children’s Day.

My Book, The Movie: The Typewriter's Tale.

--Marshal Zeringue