Friday, May 30, 2008

"Holy Moly"

Ben Rehder’s Blanco County mysteries, Buck Fever, Bone Dry, Flat Crazy, Guilt Trip, and Gun Shy, have made best-of-the-year lists in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Holy Moly, and reported the following:
I’m known for writing humorous mysteries, and page 69 of Holy Moly is certainly no exception. That particular excerpt is simply ripe with hysterical lines. Take this exchange, for instance:

“How long was he there?” Tatum asked.

“Maybe fifteen minutes.”

“Any idea why he chose you?”


Come on, is that a zinger or what? You’re cracking up, right? No? Hmm. All right, then try this one-two punch:

“What’d he say?”

“Nothing. He thanked me for my time and left.”

Okay, hold on a second. I’m sensing something. It turns out page 69 really isn’t that funny. In that scene, my protagonist (game warden John Marlin) and a couple of cops are asking a university professor some questions about a dinosaur fossil. The fossil, it seems, has played a role in a recent murder. For some reason—despite the fact that dinosaur fossils are the funniest comic device since the whoopee cushion—I wrote the scene in a straightforward manner. What was I thinking? How did I mishandle such a great opportunity for levity?

Well, let me say this: The rest of the novel is downright hilarious. A regular laugh riot. You’ll giggle, you’ll chortle, you’ll guffaw, you might even titter.

No, really. Trust me.
Learn more about the author and his work at Ben Rehder's website and his blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Thomas Perry is the author of sixteen novels, including the Jane Whitefield series as well as the bestselling novels Nightlife, Death Benefits, and Pursuit. He is the first recipient of the Gumshoe Award for Best Novel, and he won an Edgar Award for The Butcher’s Boy.

He applied the Page 69 Test and the Page 99 Test to his new novel, Fidelity, and reported the following:
I think that the random page test is a fair one. A reader should be able to read one page--whether it's 69 or 99--and make a preliminary guess about the narrative style, the major characters, and the world of the novel, and he should be able to decide whether he wants to spend more time with them.

In my new novel, Fidelity, Emily Kramer, a woman in her forties whose detective husband has been shot to death on a dark street, realizes that her husband's detective agency is not just her only asset, but also her best way of finding out who killed him and why.

On p. 69, Emily is teaching April, the pretty young receptionist, how to do skip-tracing. Emily needs to find ways of keeping the agency solvent, and skip-tracing is something April can--legally and intellectually--do. April is coming to realize that Emily is not the pampered wife she might have assumed. She's someone who has worked, and who knows how to do things. Emily, in turn, is getting a sense of April's naive, sweet nature in her reluctance to help find people who aren't evil, only bad at handling money. What Emily doesn't yet know is that April has a couple of secrets which aren't going to make her happy, but that will dramatically change everything. As the page ends, Emily is acknowledging that a week has passed since her husband's death, and the active police effort is essentially over. If anything is going to break the case, it must come through her own determination.

On p. 99, we begin to see the cost of that determination. A silent male character is sneaking into Emily's back yard at 4:00 a.m. carrying a gun and a ski mask. He's Jerry Hobart, the professional killer who murdered Emily's husband, and who has now been hired to kill her. He knows that the reason his rich employer wanted a private detective killed must have been to hide a guilty secret. The fact that the man now wants the detective's widow killed tells Hobart that the widow must have the secret too. The secret is worth far more than the fee for killing her. As Hobart studies the back of Emily's house, he sees an upstairs window lighted by the wavering glow of a television set. He knows where she is.

I'm satisfied that either of these two pages would give a reader a sense of the way the book is constructed, the natures of some principal characters, and the fundamental contest that unfolds in the book. I can only hope that a browser would find the information intriguing, and become a reader.
Read an excerpt from Fidelity, and learn more about the author and his work at Thomas Perry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 26, 2008


Ellen Feldman is the author of Scottsboro, The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank, and Lucy. She writes both historical fiction and social history, and has published articles on the history of divorce, plastic surgery, Halloween, the Normandie, and many other topics, as well as numerous book reviews.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Scottsboro and reported the following:
Scottsboro is the story of two impoverished white women who accused nine young black men of a rape that never occurred. It is important not only as a record of a heinous racial injustice that dragged on for half the twentieth century, but also for what it tells us about America and its fault lines, and for the personal tragedies and triumphs it set in motion.

The novel begins with three quotations that illustrate the three main themes of the book.

“I was scared before, but it wasn’t nothing to how I felt now. I knew if a white woman accused a black man of rape, he was as good as dead.” Clarence Norris, the last of the Scottsboro boys.

Racism is the dominant thread of the story, and p. 69 illustrates it in the starkly personal terms of one of the women who cried rape. It also demonstrates the reason I chose to write a novel rather than a nonfiction book in order to dramatize the human dimensions of the story.

The second quote, from the poet Langston Hughes, suggests another aspect of the Scottsboro case.

“Who ever heard of raping a prostitute?”

Scottsboro turned sexism on its head. Northern liberals, who under other circumstances would have defended the two girls as victims of social and economic injustice did their best to vilify them as part-time prostitutes. Southerners admitted the girls might be women of easy virtue, but they were Southern white women of easy virtue.

The third quote is from one of the prosecutors summing up for the state in the second round of Scottsboro trials in 1933.

“Show them that Alabama justice cannot be bought and sold with Jew money from New York.”

Most of the lawyers who defended the Scottsboro boys were Jewish. Many saw this coalition of Negroes and Jews as an unholy alliance. I see it as an admirable and enviable moment of coming together, especially relevant to our times.
Learn more about the book and author at Ellen Feldman's website, and read her essay, "75 Years After Scottsboro," at the Huffington Post.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Kate Mosse is the author of the New York Times-bestseller Labyrinth. She is also co-founder and Honorary Director of the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction, which annually celebrates and promotes the best works of fiction written by women throughout the world.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Sepulchre, and reported the following:
Thursday 15 May was paperback publication day in the UK. A box of the small format copies of Sepulchre turned up and I pulled one from the box to find out exactly what happens on page 69.

Sepulchre is a timeslip novel. That means it has two storylines - one set in the 1890s and one in the present day - that are told separately. By the end of the book, each plot reaches its own climax and the chapters switch more and more quickly between the two time frames.

I wrote the two storylines in Sepulchre separately, then intercut them, getting rid of duplications and redundancies in order to - I hope - generate pace. The book starts in 1890s Paris but page 69 is early in the second section, introducing my modern heroine, the American academic and author Meredith Martin.

Two things happen on page 69. We get to know Meredith as she journeys from London to Paris, through the Channel Tunnel and down through the slag heaps and flat lands of northeast France. We also find out about her fascination with the life and musical career of Claude Debussy, the brilliant, innovative fin-de-siècle composer. It's an establishing scene, like a long shot in a movie, leading up to Meredith's first moment of crisis on the streets of the French capital …
Read an excerpt from Sepulchre, and learn more about the book and its author at the Sepulchre website and Kate Mosse's website and her blog. View the video trailer for Sepulchre.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Whale Song"

Cheryl Kaye Tardif is a freelance writer, TV, movie and book critic and the bestselling author of three novels set in Canada: Whale Song, The River and Divine Intervention.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Whale Song (featured last year on My Book, The Movie), and she reported the following:
I've heard many different numbers used--page 30, 40, 50 and 69 being the most popular. I sometimes think I should plot them out more carefully, but when it comes down to it, I never know which part of my novel will show up on these pages. So it is a reward (and a relief) when I discover these pages hold something captivating, as in Whale Song's page 69. The story's narrator is young Sarah Richardson, who has left behind her best friend in the US and moved to an isolated town on Vancouver Island, Canada. Sarah's world changes from rolling fields to the mysterious ocean, native Indians, fascinating legends and a terrible secret. On page 69, Sarah is with her mother and father in a research schooner. They're hoping to see the majestic killer whales that Sarah is so drawn to and her father is teasing her, pretending to be a shark. The scene opens, and if music were to accompany it, you'd hear the familiar Jaws movie theme music.

"Da...dum. Da...dum. Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum!"

It was a good thing I hadn't seen the movie Jaws back then or I would have been petrified of the ocean.

That night, after we left the harbor, we bought burgers and fries at Myrtle's and took them home to eat. While my father and I wolfed ours down, my mother picked at hers.

"Aren't you hungry?" my father asked.

My mother shook her head. "I'm tired, Jack. I think I'll go to bed early."

I watched her, thinking her behavior seemed odd. My mother was a night owl, often painting until the wee hours of the morning. She rarely went to bed before midnight.

"Good night, Mom," I said.

Halfway up the stairs, she lurched to a stop.

My father pursed his lips. "Dani, are you okay?"

She turned slightly, her face an insipid gray. Her mouth moved, but I didn't hear a sound, except the clatter of my fork as it hit my plate.

"Dani?" My father's voice trembled with fear.

I swear that from that moment on everything moved in slow motion. My father pushed himself away from the table, just as my mother tumbled down the stairs and landed with a thud on the rug below.
"Oh God," he moaned, calling her name repeatedly.

He reached her side, knelt by her body and felt for a pulse. In a flash, he scooped her into his arms and strode to the door.

"Sarah!" he yelled over his shoulder. "Get in the car!"

I followed him outside and stood motionless while he draped my mother across the back seat. When he slammed the door, I climbed in front, terrified by his intense expression. He jumped in beside me, revved the engine and the car squealed out of the driveway.

"Daddy, what's wrong with her?" I asked tearfully.

His face went rigid and the muscle in his jaw clenched. "I'm not sure, Honey-Bunny. We'll take her to the hospital where the doctor can examine her." His eyes darted behind him. "Dani, can you hear me?"
Read an excerpt from Whale Song, and visit Cheryl Kaye Tardif's website and the official Whale Song site.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Donald Ray Pollock's writing has appeared in, or is forthcoming in, the New York Times, Third Coast, The Journal, Sou’wester, Chiron Review, River Styx, Boulevard, Folio, and The Berkeley Fiction Review.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Knockemstiff, and reported the following:
My book, Knockemstiff, is a collection of loosely connected short stories set in and around the tiny community of the same name where I grew up in southern Ohio. Most of the characters in my stories live somewhat sad and sordid lives, feeling trapped in situations from which they see no escape (this could be viewed as the main “theme” of the book). Many of them turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, violence, and fantasy, as ways to deal with their frustrations and regrets. As for applying the Page 69 test to my book, I’d say that that particular page is fairly representative of the rest of the book, being the final three paragraphs of the story, “Giganthomachy.” Teddy, a young boy, lives in Knockemstiff with his mother, who is employed in a meatpacking plant. Though a decent woman in many ways, she sometimes likes to imagine that her son is a famous serial killer. After spending the day with William, a neighbor boy with a physically abusive father, destroying an ant hill while pretending that they’re saving the world from monstrous giants about to take over the world, Teddy goes home to deal with another sort of fantasy. Below is the next-to-last paragraph on page 69:

Later that night, my mother told me again that I looked just like my father, and I wondered if that was make-believe too. She was lying on the bed in her silk robe, the scent of her perfume filling the hot room with flowers. Reaching over, she turned down the lamp that sat on the nightstand. Then she tilted her head back, and taking my hand in hers, guided the kitchen knife to her soft throat. “Okay,” she whispered, closing her eyes, “who do you want to be tonight?”
Learn more about Knockemstiff and the author at Donald Ray Pollock's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"The German Bride"

Joanna Hershon's short fiction has been published in One Story, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Post Road, the literary anthology Brooklyn Was Mine, and was shortlisted for the 2007 O. Henry Prize Stories. Her novels include Swimming, The Outside of August, and the recently released The German Bride.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the new book and reported the following:
Berlin, 1863. After two Jewish girls sit for a portrait painter in their father’s Berlin parlor, Eva--the youngest of the two—begins a secret and illicit affair with the mercurial (and gentile) painter, which results in tragic consequences--not only for Eva but her family. Tortured by her secret, in addition to her bottomless grief, she quickly marries the charismatic Abraham Shein, a successful merchant living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who has returned home to Berlin, in search of a bride.

Page 69 is a remarkably representative excerpt of The German Bride. We find Eva and Abraham—along with their wagon driver Tranquilo-- on the Santa Fe Trail, which may as well be the edge of the earth. Eva has retreated into the freight wagon and fallen asleep in the porcelain bathtub, which goes on to play a pivotal role in the story. This scene sums up not only the persistent guiltythought-loop of Eva’s life, but evokes the isolation that now defines her. It’s this struggle against isolation that shapes the novel, and how, in the face of our fears, what most defines us—maybe more than our choices-- is our desire. So here is p. 69 in its near-entirety:

Had Heinrich set his sights on Henriette, by now Eva would not be risking her life in a shoddy wagon on the open frontier, but instead in her father’s comfortable home enjoying afternoon coffee and cakes, perhaps recalling that brief period of time when the painter came daily—the painter who was so very serious, so keen on Henriette. Eva somehow did not question that had she not been with Heinrich, her sister and her nephew would be alive. She took comfort right then, if only very briefly, from her own secrets. If there was little rectitude at her core, then there was certainly familiarity. Never had she so recognized its virtue.

In what seemed like only moments, the sun shone brightly. She could feel the heat coming through the floorboards, how the dust that wasn’t in her throat was spinning like tinsel through shards of light. Eva emerged from the cool tub, drew the heavy leather aside, and at first only noticed that Abraham still slept. It was strange to see him on his back, on the ground, exposed. For a moment she felt as if she were dreaming when she saw what lay beside Tranquilo, barely a horse’s length away. She didn’t scream when she saw the wreckage of oxen and wagon, petrified as ruins against the morning light. She didn’t wail when she saw what she realized were hundreds of envelopes scattered about like remnants of muddied snow: all those letters—she would think of them later—all those sentiments left unexpressed, aborted on the trail. She couldn’t find breath to gather sound in her throat when she saw two bodies splayed like kindling. Two men, scalped. She knew the word but until now she hadn’t fully understood the meaning. She turned away but in the other direction were the ashes of another man. He had been tied to a tree and burned. He was naked. She needed water. She called out but the only sound she heard was Tranquilo’s low man. These men would need to be buried. She felt the earth closing in over their heads, filling up her own dry mouth.

They had, unknowingly, slept on the site of a massacre.

Abraham sprung up, clutching his gun, and pointing it in her direction. His eyes were wild and when they met hers, there was no trace of recognition.
Read an excerpt from The German Bride, and learn more about the author and her work at Joanna Hershon's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 16, 2008


Joel Goldman is the author of Motion To Kill, which introduced trial lawyer Lou Mason. Mason reappeared in the Edgar nominated The Last Witness, Cold Truth, and Deadlocked, which was nominated for a Shamus award.

His new novel, Shakedown, begins a new series featuring FBI Special Agent Jack Davis. Goldman applied the Page 69 Test to the new book and reported the following:
Page 69 of Shakedown captures the fundamental conflict confronting FBI Special Agent Jack Davis. He has lost control of his life. His wife has left him. Five people have been slaughtered in a drug house he and his Violent Crimes squad had under surveillance. And, the Bureau has sidelined him because of a bizarre, unexplained movement disorder that makes him shake when he should shoot. He has gone from being the ultimate insider, the one calling the shots, to an outsider looking in, not knowing who to turn to for help.

Page 69 is the first page in Chapter 11. Jack considers who to ask for help finding a doctor that can diagnose and treat his condition so he can reclaim his life. He doesn't want to ask his wife. He doesn't trust his one-time friends at the FBI. He seeks the advice of Kate Scranton, a forensic psychologist skilled in reading involuntary micro-facial expressions that expose the true face behind the mask. Jack relies on hard evidence like DNA, fingerprints and fibers in his search for the truth. Kate puts her faith in what the face reveals about the heart, mind and soul.

Forced out by the Bureau and worried that his daughter is caught up in a web of corruption and deceit stretching from the FBI to the drug house where the murders were committed, Jack tries to save her and himself. He's blindsided by more than his movement disorder.
Read an excerpt from Shakedown, and learn more about the author and his novels at Joel Goldman's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"House Rules"

Mike Lawson is the author of three Joe DeMarco thrillers: The Inside Ring, The Second Perimeter and, new in bookstores very soon, House Rules.

He applied the Page 69 Test to House Rules and reported the following:
This turned out to be a fun and enlightening exercise. The first thing I noticed was that there was enough information on that page to give someone a basic idea of the plot, but what was more interesting was how much that particular page revealed about the character of my protagonist, Joe DeMarco.

On Page 69, DeMarco has just woken up after spending the night with a woman he just met. She picks up the paper and sees the headline: Terrorist Shot on D. C. shuttle. Later, when DeMarco is reflecting on the newspaper article, he gives a brief summary of the plot: that there have been two recent terrorist attacks on the nation’s capitol and a maverick senator is trying to pass a law that would negatively affect Muslim Americans.

But what I particularly liked about page 69 was what it said about DeMarco’s character. At the very top of the page DeMarco says: “… there should be some way to stop time and cause all relationships to stay forever at the four day point.” This remark is very indicative of DeMarco’s bad luck with women and his past relationships.

Later it says: “He (DeMarco) read the three articles on the hijacking attempt, skipped the editorials on (the Senator’s) bill, and then, because he hadn’t kept his ear to the ground as directed (by his boss) he called Jerry Hansen at Homeland Security. Jerry wasn’t in. Too bad. He’d tried.” This is typical of DeMarco: a guy that doesn’t particularly like his job or his boss, and isn’t going to kill himself to make his boss happy.

In summary, Page 69 was quite revealing in terms of basic plot information but more revealing in terms of my protagonist's attitude toward women, his attitude toward life in general, and portrays him as the just-trying-to-get-along guy that he is.
Read an excerpt from House Rules, and learn more about the author and his work at Mike Lawson's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 12, 2008


Sherri Rifkin, a former TV marketing executive, lives in New York City, where she writes for a variety of entertainment and media clients, including Bravo, USA Network and the Style Network.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, LoveHampton, and reported the following:
If readers cheated just a little by starting at page 68 (I think that’s legal in most states, as long as you’re over 18) of LoveHampton, they would be at the beginning of Chapter 5, “June JuJu,” which when coupled with what happens on page 69, is the point at which protagonist Tori Miller commences her ascension within the Hamptons social scene.

She has just received a pivotal e-mail from one of her new summer housemates, Cassie, known as the “Fashionista Socialista” to Tori and her two best friends/employees, Jimmy and Jerry. The decidedly fabulous yet heretofore elusive Cassie has invited Tori—who is just reentering the world after a two-year long self-imposed “personal hiatus”—to a party in the Hamptons for the coming Saturday night.

Page 69 is definitely representative of the tone of LoveHampton in that it conveys the sense of humor of and rapport between the characters.

“Guess who Cassie just invited to a party on Saturday night?”

“Don’t you mean the Fashionista Socialista on whom you have a secret Sapphic crush?” Jimmy, holding a fresh cup of coffee, comes up behind me to peer over my shoulder at my computer.

“I do not.” I minimize the email screen before he gets a chance to read it.

“OK, right. You just rave on and on about how effortlessly gorgeous she is and how fabulous her clothes are and how she’s always dashing off to dinner parties and how handsome, debonair men are constantly falling at her feet because you don’t have a mad crush on her.”

But what this page doesn’t fully communicate is the heart of the book—which is Tori’s struggle with her own sense of self, where she fits (and where she doesn’t) and with whom. Tori has joined this house without knowing anyone, which has inadvertently given her a unique opportunity to reinvent herself and more importantly, discover who she really is.

I chose the backdrop of a summer share house in the Hamptons because it provided an exaggerated yet concentrated social scenario for someone who was uncertain about her personal identity to try on being someone else for size for a few months. Whether or not someone has been to, knows or cares about the Hamptons, I think most everyone has had an experience in their lives when they went somewhere or did something new without knowing a soul, e.g. attending college, moving to a new city or even starting a new job. Of course, not everyone takes that opportunity to reinvent themselves or try being someone they’re not, but that’s not to say that perhaps the idea hadn’t entered their mind, even if only for a second…which intrigued me as a writer and hopefully will do the same for potential readers of LoveHampton.
Read an excerpt from LoveHampton, and learn more about the author and her work at Sherri Rifkin's website and her blog.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Yellow Medicine"

Anthony Neil Smith is the editor of Plots With Guns and the author of Pyschosomatic, The Drummer, and the newly released Yellow Medicine.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Yellow Medicine and reported the following:
One day, I hope one of my page 69s is full of dirty, raw, squishy sex. But not this time. Yellow Medicine's 69 is the beginning of Chapter 7, wherein our protagonist Billy Lafitte, bent cop and Southerner exiled in Minnesota, is on the phone with Drew, the girl he loves who doesn't love him back (except for that one time he fucked her rotten, baby), because her psychobilly band, Elvis Antichrist, just got a surprise gig a couple of hours away in the Twin Cities. Hmmm. Suspicious? Not at the time, but it will be. I mean, later.

But one line here sums up their relationship: "Always good to hear from her, heartbreaking as it was."

If not for his love for Drew, Billy wouldn't even be involved with most of the mess that happens in this book--including severed heads, amateur terrorists, an ex-partner with a secret, and a frame-up. But she asked for a favor, not for her but for her loser boyfriend Ian, and Billy responded like a puppy waiting for his treat. A stupid choice, but it's hard to say no when your heart is pumping twice as fast every time she looks your way.

Does it sound romantic? Maybe I'm just trying to trick you. After all, if it was all sweet and lovely, it wouldn't be noir, would it?
Learn more about Yellow Medicine and its author at Anthony Neil Smith's website and his MySpace page.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 8, 2008

"The Pearl"

Douglas Smith is a Resident Scholar at the University of Washington and the author of the prize-winning books Working the Rough Stone: Freemasonry and Society in Eighteenth-Century Russia and Love and Conquest: Personal Correspondence of Catherine the Great and Prince Grigory Potemkin.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, The Pearl: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in Catherine the Great’s Russia, and reported the following:
How do you write the biography of someone who left behind no letters, no diary, and no memoirs? Where do you find her, flush her out into the open, make her talk?

This was the task facing me when I began researching the life of Praskovia Kovalyova, a serf born in 1768 who became Russia’s greatest opera singer, performing as “The Pearl,” and the mistress and later secret wife of her noble master, Count Nicholas Sheremetev. Theirs is one of the greatest love stories in European history, and also one of the least known, in part because we know so little about Praskovia’s life. None of her personal papers have ever been found. It’s possible that none every existed, although it has been suggested that the Count destroyed whatever she may have written after her death in 1803 as part of his effort to shape her legacy.

To write such a life requires adopting strategies different from those used by biographers blessed with subjects with rich paper trails. It requires visiting repeatedly the places where they lived, scrupulously studying their portraits, and immersing oneself in the day-to-day affairs and mundane details of the world they inhabited.

And it requires exhaustive panning for gold. With no personal archives forming a rich vein and an easily followed path of research, this biographer has to move mountains of dirt, slowly sifting and hoping to catch a tiny glimmer of his heroine. The search for Praskovia led me to hire a dozen researchers. Together we spent nearly six years examining thousands of archival documents across Russia on the trail of this spectral serf diva.

Our efforts were well rewarded, and we were fortunate to retrieve many long-lost gems that go a long way to retrieving her life. One of them is on p. 69. It is one of my favorite, for it allows us to actually hear her voice, a voice that has not spoken in over two centuries. No other sound can be as sweet to the biographer’s ear --

These years were the most productive of Praskovia’s career, filled with never-ending rehearsals, performances, and the demands of learning new roles. Between 1784 and 1786, she appeared in six operas: The Three Farmers by Nicolas Dezéde, L’infante de Zamora by Paisiello, The Parting, or the Hunters’ Departure from Kuskovo, a comic opera written for the Sheremetev theater, Grétry’s The Marriage of the Samnites, and The Beautiful Arsene and Aline, Queen of Golconde by Monsigny. Seven other operas and comedies premiered on the Sheremetev stage during these years. The names of the performers are not known, but it seems likely that Praskovia sang in some, if not all, of them. Some of Praskovia’s sheet music for a few of these operas, bound in soft marbled covers, has survived. An unknown hand has marked in the score for The Beautiful Arsene the parts for “Parasha,” “Arina” (“The Sapphire” Kalmykova), “Andrei” (Novikov), and “Anushka” (Anna “the Emerald” Buianova). The music for Monsigny’s Rose and Colas has instructions penned in specifically for Praskovia (“Parasha, sing this vaudeville 3 times”) and minor changes to her arias to tailor them to her voice. The music for Joseph Haydn’s Stabat Mater has also survived, with notes to Praskovia and a few others.14 These old pages even offer clues to how Praskovia talked. The music for Nicolas-Marie Delayrac’s Nina is marked in places for Praskovia to drop the broad unstressed “o” of her youthful Yaroslav accent for the more common sounding “a” (kagda for kogda, gavari for govori) and to soften her hard “ch” (shto for chto, kaneshno for konechno).
Read more about The Pearl and the author at Douglas Smith's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"Spider Star"

Mike Brotherton is a professor of Astronomy at the University of Wyoming, Laramie and the author of two novels, Star Dragon and Spider Star.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Spider Star and reported the following:
Page 69 of my second science fiction novel, Spider Star, is told from the point of view of Sloan Griffin, a member of the Specialist Corps in training to be a space explorer. She's a tough but secondary character, letting us see how the arcology of New Colchis on the colony world of Argo is responding to the activation of an alien doomsday device that has been accidentally triggered. It's a little slower than other parts of the book, setting scene and character building rather than advancing the plot much. As the action moves from Argo to the world of dark matter, the Spider Star, where the technology behind the doomsday machine originally came from, the strangeness and pace both accelerate.

Spider Star is a scientifically informed tale of humanity juxtaposed against a challenging, alien galaxy where threats obvious and subtle lurk. The page captures someone letting that realization sink in. And that aspect of the story is really just a metaphor for our own world which has threats great and small, obvious and subtle, both for the individual and our society as a whole. There are various sorts of doomsday scenarios that we as humans on Earth might trigger ourselves, unknowingly, too. We turn off thoughts, however, of nuclear exchange during the Cold War, for instance, or terrorist attack today, and get on with life. It's a big dangerous world out there, and we haven't been given a guidebook.

The book's two main characters, Manuel Rusk and Frank Klingston, represent two approaches to how to approach unknown challenges. Manuel is young and aggressive, looking to make his mark, but not as careful as he should be. Frank is older, a protective father, who needs to overcome his cautious nature to achieve success. Both approaches have their merits, but require a measured balance.

Page 69:

Still, she had her own speculations about Manuel and his mood. In the past, she would have expected him to spend time with her after such a difficult experience, but maybe they weren't as close as she thought they were. Or times were worse than they'd ever had been since. He'd been steadily building distance, albeit not a tremendous amount, since he'd been named head of the Castor 6 mission.

As she strolled along the slidewalk, still tired and achy under the full Agotian gravity, she watched the people on the slide and the ones along the mall, in front of the shops and seated at the restaurants. Everyone on the planet had to be under stress. Were they acting normally? Could she just look at them, and tell that things were different?

Griffin considered a couple leaning toward each other at a table in front of a pizza parlor. Young, maybe still teenagers, a blonde-headed boy and a dark girl. Their hands lingered together on the table, but they weren't holding hands despite the conspiratorial closeness of their heads. Maybe they weren't lovers, and she was seeing sexual tension? Or maybe they were siblings? Then they were gone, carried away by the never-pausing slidewalk. Another couple, middle-aged, stood staring at a window display showcasing holographic clothes flashing over two mannequins. Was it desperate shopping? Or was it normal?

What could be normal now?

She'd seen the surface of a moon explode. Didn't they understand it could happen here? Right here? With only hours' warning?

Maybe they did. Maybe they didn't. Maybe they were in denial, willfully or not. Or maybe it could be characterized in a more positive light. Maybe it was defiance.

But what else could they do? Hide in their apartments? Shriek in terror and run about pulling at their hair?

And it was a very nice day, heading into evening. Sunlight...
Read the prologue and first four chapters of Spider Star. Learn more about the author and his work at Mike Brotherton's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Karen Harrington is the author of Janeology, a psychological thriller about the causes and effects of nature and nurture on one woman.

She applied the Page 69 Test to this work and reported the following:
Page 69 is page one of the chapter showing Jane as a nine-year-old long before she goes on to commit the crimes that will put her in a mental hospital, causing one to wonder: is this the turning point where her life pivoted for worse? My answer: yes.

This chapter was originally a short story, written in my quest to be a voyeur to the day in the life of a criminal. The question was: Are bad people born or made?

Here, Jane has recently been abandoned by her mother after a botched shoplifting attempt where her mother left her to take the rap. Her mother sped away and later died. Now, sitting in a holding cell, Jane overhears the officers.

Texas – 1976

The blue Buick had come to a stop five miles from the Texas-Mexico border. There were two survivors, both sitting in the front. Apparently they had picked up a hitchhiker. That was the one in the backseat, the one they said hurt my mother. The others didn’t have to go to the hospital. Not a scratch.

I sit in a jail room and try to overhear more while the lady cop makes phone calls. The other officers drink coffee and talk about me. I guess they think I can’t hear them, but I can.

“The kid must be upset,” I hear one of them say. “We’re waiting for her father to come and get her. A Samuel Downing of Del Rio. He didn’t sound too happy about having to get her.”

I hear another officer say that some of the blue vinyl had stuck to the dead man’s face and peeled off when they got him out.

“He was done for, plain and simple,” someone said. “An eye for an eye and all that jazz. Justice on earth or on a piece of toast.”

I wish I had a piece of paper to write down what he said. I want to remember “justice on a piece of toast.”

Jane continues to relate her life to the lady cop throughout this chapter. As she describes her life with her mother, relating things she’s too young to know, she reveals herself as both child-like and worldly at once, a trait she will carry forever. By the end of the chapter, her primary concern is not that of her own well-being, but of what has become of her cat, Gene, and who will feed him if she doesn’t go home right away. And one can understand why. You really want to get that cat for her! You wonder if it would have made a difference in her ability to parent her own children later on. Of course, only Jane could answer that truthfully. I know I’d like to ask her.
Read an excerpt of Janeology and read more about this author at her website or visit her blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 2, 2008

"Roux Morgue"

Claire M. Johnson's first novel, Beat Until Stiff, was nominated for an Agatha for Best First and won the 1999 Malice Domestic Writers Grant.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her recently released second novel, Roux Morgue, and reported the following:
Pretty nice for me that page 69 of my book says just enough about my character to get you a thumbnail sketch of my protagonist. Mary Ryan is feisty, smart, and a little pig-headed. She's not a rule breaker per se, but she's also not the sort of person who lets rules stand in her way.

In the second installment of this series, Mary Ryan finds herself teaching back at her old alma mater in San Francisco. The city plays a minor character in this book. San Francisco is a food town, with more restaurants per capita than any other city in the United States. Not evident from reading this particular page is that this book has a lot of commentary about the food scene on the west coast, the food business itself, and what a pain in the neck it is to find parking. Mary Ryan barely has time to finish buttoning up her chef's jacket before she finds herself knee deep in murder, breaking and entering, money-laundering, blackmail, professional sabotage, and computer hacking. Business as usual.

This is not your usual cookbook mystery; there are no recipes in the back. But if you like snarky, witty protagonists who can wield a knife, this book is yours to savor.
Learn more about Roux Morgue and its author at Claire M. Johnson's website and her blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue