Friday, July 31, 2009

"The Baker Street Letters"

Michael Robertson works for a large company with branches in the United States and England.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to The Baker Street Letters, his first novel, and reported the following:
If you start with page 69 of The Baker Street Letters, you will probably surmise that the protagonist is British and relatively upscale, and that at the moment he is in a decidedly downscale hotel in the United States, searching for his missing brother.

You would need to read the previous pages to know that both brothers are in the United States because of a letter that an eight-year-old girl in Los Angeles wrote to Sherlock Holmes some twenty years earlier.

For a very long time, the Royal Mail has delivered such letters—most of them written as jokes, but others quite sincere—to a British building society that happens to occupy the entire 200 block of Baker Street in London.

Reggie (the protagonist) has just recently located his law practice in that building. He got a great deal on the lease—but unfortunately he did not notice the tiny clause that makes him now responsible for mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes.

The lease requires that the occupant respond to those posts with a carefully worded form letter—and absolutely nothing beyond that—and Reggie would love for it to be that simple. But it turns out not to be, and by page 69, there has been a murder in Reggie’s law office, and Reggie’s brother—the primary suspect—has taken off to Los Angeles.

Reggie is obliged to follow. By the end of the novel he will have dealt with murders on two continents, and with issues that have been simmering for some time between himself, his brother, and a woman they have both loved. But that won’t stop the letters from arriving at Baker Street, and there will be more of those for Reggie to deal with in the future.

From page 69:

“You want a room, I got one available on the third floor. Clean as a baby’s bottom.”

“No doubt. But what about the room where my brother stayed?”

“I don’t know if my staff has gotten to it yet,” said the clerk.

This was sarcasm. Reggie recognized the tone from weekend holidays in Paris.

“May I see it?”

“You can rent it.”

“Of course,” said Reggie. He paid the full day’s rent with his American money and climbed the stairs, carrying his bag with him.

In Reggie’s experience, American hotel rooms typically smelled too much of bleached linen and antiseptic cleaners. Unfortunately, the rooms of this hotel did not have that fault; the corridor smelled instead of mildew and substances best left unidentified.

Reggie found Nigel’s room. For reasons he did not understand, he knocked first. There was no response. Of course there wasn’t. He opened the door.

He realized now he had half expected that Nigel would still be there, despite the clerk’s assurances that the occupant had checked out.

But there was no one.

The bed, small by American standards, apparently had not been slept in. There was nothing lying about on the faded carpeting to prove Nigel had been there, though Reggie supposed the absence of empty beer cans and whiskey bottles might in itself indicate that the most recent tenant had not been of the usual clientele.
Read an excerpt from The Baker Street Letters, and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It"

Maile Meloy is the author of the story collection Half in Love, and the novels Liars and Saints, shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize, and A Family Daughter. Meloy’s stories have been published in The New Yorker, and she has received The Paris Review’s Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award, the Rosenthal Foundation Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2007, Meloy was chosen as one of Granta’s Best American Novelists under 35.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new book, the story collection Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, and reported the following:
This is a long paragraph from page 69 of my story collection Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It. It’s in a story called “Spy vs. Spy.” Aaron’s brother George has invited him skiing, but it turns out he invited Aaron’s college-age daughter (George’s niece) first:

Aaron hung up and spent the rest of the evening fuming at George’s presumption. Aaron’s daughter, Claire, was now a sophomore in college, but he didn’t think of her as someone who could be invited separately on a trip. She was the little girl who had climbed on his head, who had asked him if people could see inside her mind, who had loved his old Mad magazines as he thought no girl had ever loved Mad, giggling at them while he read the paper, asking sometimes to have things explained. Into her teens she had stayed home on weekend nights and watched old movies with him, curled under his arm on the couch, while Bea wandered off, losing interest. He could still feel the weight of his daughter’s head against his chest, and see, cast in silver light from the TV, the rapt absorption with which she watched. The only movie they disagreed on was Rebecca. It was his least favorite Hitchcock, but she loved the sweet, simple girl meeting the rich man with the dark secrets: “I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool,” shouted from his hotel dressing room.

It’s about the way parents struggle to adjust to their children growing up, which is an element in a lot of my stories. I like writing about fathers and daughters, and I like reading about them. Plots about fathers always get to me in movies: I may be the only person who cried at the end of Armageddon.

The story “Spy vs. Spy” is about sibling rivalry, and the girl becomes the center of the struggle between the two brothers. I realized when I was writing the stories in this book that my characters spar in all kinds of ways, but they almost never actually fight. Instead of careful reserve and restraint and tension, I wanted to have a story with an all-out, clumsy, grappling fistfight—on skis, so it’s even clumsier.

The story first appeared on Dave Daley’s site, which serializes short stories. His idea was that we all waste time going online and checking out celebrity photos and gossip sites, so why not read five minutes of a short story? He gets great stories from great writers. Ideally there would be links that said Red Carpet Fashion Disaster! that took you straight there.
Read an excerpt from Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, and learn more about the author and her work at Maile Meloy's website.

The Page 99 Test: Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"A Girl’s Guide to Modern European Philosophy"

Charlotte Greig worked as a music journalist in print and radio before becoming a folk singer and songwriter. She has made five albums and written a book on girl groups, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?: Girl Groups from the 50s On. Greig is also a playwright, for radio and stage.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to A Girl’s Guide to Modern European Philosophy, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my novel A Girl’s Guide to Modern European Philosophy is, in my view, fairly representative of the rest of the book. The narrator, Susannah, comes over as a rather naïve young woman who is attracted to her boyfriend, Jason, because he’s glamorous and worldly, rather than because she feels any deep emotional connection with him. In fact, it is precisely the lack of emotional connection that, in the wake of her father’s death, draws her to him - although at this point, as in other aspects of her life, her unwillingness to engage has started to become constraining.

She describes their lovemaking in a characteristically unsentimental way as perfunctory and not very satisfying. There is a strong hint here that Jason is gay, although clearly, Susannah doesn’t realise it at this stage, and the reader, too, might well not pick up on it until later.

The fashionable retro clothes are described in detail, as is the antique necklace that Jason gives her, because I wanted to get a feel of the period, the early 1970s. I wondered if modern readers would believe that my central character, Susannah, could have a gay boyfriend and not realise it - which actually, was not that unusual at the time - but nobody seems to have complained about it so far.

One complaint I have had is that there is not enough philosophy in the book (others have complained that there is too much). There certainly isn’t any on this page, or on many of the others. That’s because the book is first and foremost a novel, a story. The protagonist happens to be a philosophy student, and when she becomes pregnant by mistake, she turns to her philosophy books - particularly Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling - for help. It’s not a primer. It’s about how ideas can shape and change our lives, especially when we’re young. I think that’s something different, and on that level, the philosophy is there to provide a commentary on, and hopefully illuminate, Susannah’s central dilemma about whether to have an abortion or not, which comes up later in the story.
Read an excerpt from A Girl’s Guide to Modern European Philosophy, and learn more about the author and her work--both words and music--at Charlotte Greig's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"This Little Mommy Stayed Home"

A graduate of Smith College and Yale Divinity School, Samantha Wilde is a yoga teacher, a minister, and mother of two children born within twenty months of each other.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new book, This Little Mommy Stayed Home, and reported the following:
Is it just me or does “69” have vaguely sexual undertones? I can’t say that about my book. The immediate post partum period isn’t the sexiest of times, as any parent knows, and yet protagonist Joy McGuire still manages to find time to fall back in love with her old beau and fall in lust with her yoga teacher while missing her work absorbed husband and changing a lot of cloth diapers.

The book is actually a hilarious tale and the best feedback I get is this: I really did laugh out loud. That said, page 69 isn’t a particularly funny page. Joy is having one of her more reflective moments thinking about her father’s parents and how naturally they bickered. Joy, in her new mom stupor of exhaustion and anger (sometimes at everything), ponders whether “hating your spouse is the stuff marriages are made of.” By the end of the page she is in the presence of her college boyfriend and self-consciously touches her chin only to find “one short, spiky hair,” which begins an unfolding rueful, honest, drama on the mothering of the female body. (She wonders if she will become an old lady with white whiskers, sitting in a nursing home looking “like a half-plucked chicken” and frightening small children.)

How about page 70? That one is much funnier, but then I suppose Joy does have her more serious moments. You can imagine what she thinks when she actually has enough time to pluck her offensive chin hair. Erotic? Not so much. But very true.

My grandfather would sit me down beside him and teach me card games. He was a mean poker player. My grandmother still thought of gambling as sinful. I don’t think she made her way into the modern world. She wore two braids twisted and knotted high on the top of her head. She called my grandfather Pop and he called her Ma and they would shout at each other across the dinner table.

What did you put in this, Ma?

Not good enough for you, then?

They bickered about food, too much salt, too little, not enough meat, not enough vegetables. I don’t think my father thought any thing of it. I asked him once. ‘That’s just how they are. They love each other; they drive each other crazy.’ They apparently also drover their children crazy because my father’s sister, Hilda, lives in some kind of a special group home for crazy people. I’ve never met her in my life. She’s more a legend than a person. I once saw a picture of her as a girl, and she was mystically beautiful staring out at the camera with a shy smile.

It is Aunt Hilda who eventually shows up and changes Joy’s life.
Preview This Little Mommy Stayed Home, and learn more about the book and author at Samantha Wilde's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 27, 2009


Mary Anna Evans is the author of the award-winning Faye Longchamp archaeological mysteries: Artifacts, Relics, Effigies, Findings, and Floodgates. She's now at work on the sixth in the series, Strangers.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to Floodgates and reported the following:
Any writer posting here who will not confess to feeling a chilly hand on the nape of the neck while scanning page 69 is a bald-faced liar or an egomaniac.

Listen to my thoughts while flipping open Floodgates: "What if I indulged myself in two full manuscript pages of aimless musing? What if my characters are eating breakfast and I spent the entirety of page 69 documenting the crispness of the bacon?"

Imagine my relief at finding that page 69 opens with my protagonists, Faye and Joe, talking with the detective who has hired them as archaeological consultants to an unusual murder case. Joe has just made an excellent point.

True to form, quick-witted Faye has interrupted him in mid-thought. But at least she's self-aware enough to realize that, "...once again, Joe was thinking of people and she was thinking of reasons. She then reflected that if Joe intended to talk at any time, for the rest of his life, then his wife-to-be would be smart to buy herself a muzzle--before he bought one and strapped it on her."

More conversation follows, then all three characters bend over some important evidence, two photographs found folded in the pocket of the victim, Shelly. They are aerial photos of Shelly's New Orleans neighborhood, one taken sometime before Katrina struck and one taken immediately after.

Joe's response to a scene that I describe as "a dark and tragic stain" is the only appropriate one, just a hushed whisper that says, "Look at all that water."

In stark contrast, the older photo shows "regular, everyday, dry city streets full of cars, signifying that day-to-day life was proceeding as usual. There were no tarps on roofs nor any swaths of empty land, where the houses that should have been there had been washed away."

After a moment of staring at the enormity of what happened to New Orleans in 2005, Joe brings the conversation back to the murder but, as Joe always will, he does it in human terms. He wants to know why Shelly was carrying before-and-after photos of Lakeview, when her body was found miles away, in the Lower Ninth Ward.

To tell you more of the story, I'd have to turn to page 70, and that's not what this essay is about. Nevertheless, page 69 holds key fragments of the story I set out to tell in Floodgates. It's the story of real people who love each other and laugh and work hard, but who are completely unable to grasp the full scope of a drowned city ... an American city, a city full of people just like the rest of us.

In Floodgates, I try to show you that immense tragedy but, in the end, it's far easier to feel real, personal grief for a single person. So I've given you Faye and Joe and Jodi and their search for justice for Shelly, a woman who died trying to save people she loved and people she never even met. And all the while, Shelly was carrying a photo of her drowned home in the pocket of her wet blue jeans.
Read an excerpt from Floodgates, and learn more about the author and her work at Mary Anna Evans' website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"April & Oliver"

Tess Callahan has an MFA in Fiction from Bennington College and has written for the New York Times Magazine, Cottonwood, The Stylus Anthology: 1950-2000, The Boston College Magazine, New York Newsday and elsewhere.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to April & Oliver, her debut novel, and reported the following:
What luck! Page 69 happens to contain a nugget of dialogue that goes to the heart of April & Oliver. In fact, I briefly considered titling the novel with an excerpt from this page until my writing group convinced me it was a ludicrous idea. They said that my proposed title, The Man Who Couldn’t Burn Toast, sounded more like a Will Ferrell comedy than the dark, enigmatic story of April and Oliver. They were right, of course.

The novel is about childhood friends reunited after the death of April’s teenage brother. Inseparable as children, April and Oliver now find themselves virtual strangers. Oliver seems to have a grounded life as a law student newly engaged to be married. April, with a tendency for recklessness, appears to be headed for a downward spiral in the wake of her brother’s death. Oliver feels compelled to save her, but it soon becomes apparent that he has secrets of his own, and cracks appear in the foundation of his carefully constructed life. The magnetic attraction and polar resistance between the two is driven by a desire by each to recover some lost part of himself that may or may not be recoverable.

On page 69, Oliver is talking with the elderly Nana, who knows both April and him intimately. In the course of conversation, Oliver says, “I hate to break it to you, Nana, but I’ve got my vices.”

To this, Nana sassily replies, “Well, I certainly hope so. A man who goes through life without burning a piece of toast will never get what he wants.”

Oliver is a man who desperately needs to make mistakes. This is apparent to Nana, but not to Oliver himself.

Nana adds, “Now April, she’s another story. Can’t put a slice in the toaster without burning down the house.”

“Well, I’ll try not to go that far,” Oliver replies.

“Unless that’s what it takes,” Nana says.

Oliver is vaguely unsettled by her quip. Part of him – a part he doesn’t readily acknowledge – knows that his wizened old grandmother is on to something.
Read an excerpt from April & Oliver, and learn more about the novel and author at Tess Callahan's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 24, 2009

"The Embers"

Hyatt Bass is the writer, producer, director of the award-winning feature film, Seventy Five Degrees in July.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to The Embers, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 is not fully representative of the book in that it focuses exclusively on Joe, and the novel is about the entire Ascher family. Moving between Joe, his ex-wife Laura, and his daughter Emily (and also between past and present), The Embers forms a portrait of a family haunted by tragedy and yearning to rekindle the deep bonds they once shared.

Thematically, though, there’s a lot in this page that gives a sense of the journeys of these characters. Joe, a famous playwright, has been unable to work since the death of his son, Thomas, fifteen years before—an event that devastated the family and that has been blamed on Joe. He is now at a hotel in the Midwest, where he has been sent to write a travel piece for a magazine, but is trying desperately to write a new play. There are two scenes here (the tail-end of one, and the beginning of another). In the first, Joe chats with Ingrid, a precocious adolescent girl he’s befriended in the hotel garden. With her lofty dreams and lively personality, Ingrid reminds him of his daughter, Emily at a time when she was still innocent—not only because of her age but because she had not yet experienced the heartbreak of Thomas’s death. In the second scene, Joe listens to tapes of his old work—mostly one-man shows about the deception and cruelty that often riddles adult relationships. In the wonderfully naïve Ingrid, he sees the potential for new subject matter and a new play that he hopes will win back Emily’s respect and affection. Like his daughter and his ex-wife, he longs for redemption and reconciliation, and searches—often clumsily—for a way to reconnect.
Read an excerpt from The Embers, and view the video trailer.

Learn more about the book and author at Hyatt Bass' website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Blake Crouch is the author of Desert Places and Locked Doors.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to his new novel, Abandon, and reported the following:
My new novel, Abandon, is about a mining town of the same name high in the Colorado mountains, where every last resident disappears on Christmas Day in 1893 (for you East-Coasters, think the Lost Colony which disappeared from Roanoke Island around 1590). My book interweaves two time periods….the last 24 hours leading up to Abandon’s vanishing in the past, and a present-day group that hikes into the ruined ghost town, hoping to solve the mystery of the disappearance. This present-day group includes a paranormal photographer, a psychic, a history professor, two backcountry guides, and my protagonist, Abigail Foster, who is a journalist.

Page 69 is an excellent representation of Abandon. This high-octane excerpt occurs in the present-day section, finding Abigail in a great deal of trouble. It’s her first night in the ghost town of Abandon, and the party’s nighttime exploration of the ruins has been interrupted by…well, they aren’t sure yet. But one of their guides has just been stabbed, another member of their party gone missing, and Abigail is literally running for her life from three shadows that have just emerged from the mist in pursuit of her.

Page 69 is the start of Chapter 16…


The ghost town screamed by in a blur of fog. Abigail glanced over her shoulder, saw movement in the mist, though she couldn’t tell if they still chased her. She had put a hundred yards between herself and the hotel when she veered off the main street and bent over. Having come from sea level in Manhattan, the thin air of Abandon crippled her lungs. She crawled through a hole in the side of a building, tried to turn on her headlamp, then remembered the bulb had burned out.

It took a moment for the faintest suggestion of shapes to appear—a table, dismembered chairs, tall windows, remnants of a stove. Abigail stood in the dancehall.

At the far end, the ceiling had collapsed and crushed a small stage.

Footsteps approached from outside. In quick, careful strides, Abigail traversed the rotten floorboards. Some creaked under her weight and she couldn’t help but think of the staircase in the hotel, how suddenly it had given way. She stopped where the floor had fallen through, looked back toward the double doors that opened out onto the street. Abigail couldn’t hear the footsteps anymore, only her accelerated breathing. The sound of whispering passed through the broken windows and something ran by on the street.

She dropped down through the hole in the floor, a nail catching on her parka, ripping through the sleeve, her pink fleece jacket, her long johns, all the way to her skin.

With less than three feet of space between the floorboards and the ground, she crawled away from the hole, through puddles of freezing water, until she found a dry spot.

Crouched in the darkness, shivering under the floor of the dancehall, she felt a warm trail of blood meandering down her right arm.
Read an excerpt from Abandon, and learn more about the book and author at Blake Crouch's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"This Wicked World"

Richard Lange published his first short story in 1994, in New Delta Review, and his story "Bank of America" was selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery Stories of 2004. His acclaimed short story collection Dead Boys was published in the U.S. by Little, Brown in 2007, in Italy by Einaudi and in France by Albin Michel. Lange was the 2008 recipient of the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a finalist for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to This Wicked World, his debut novel, and reported the following:
This Wicked World is a crime novel set in Southern California. It’s the story of Jimmy Boone, former Marine, ex-con and onetime bodyguard to the stars. As the book opens he’s bartending at a joint on Hollywood Boulevard and trying to keep out of trouble. Of course, he can’t, and soon finds himself investigating the mysterious death of a Guatemalan immigrant. Bad craziness ensues as he crosses paths with a vengeful stripper, a vicious crime boss, a dog-fighting ring, a beautiful ex-cop and a homesick drug dealer and finds himself fighting for his own life and the lives of those he loves.

Page 69 is a confrontation between some of the bad guys in the book, one in which not everyone gets out alive.

There's a crash in the kitchen, a dirty pot settling in the sink, and the white guy flinches, snaps his gun toward the sound. He's breathing funny and sweating like he just ran a mile.

"What's that?" he asks sharply. "Who’s back there?"

"There’s nobody else," Eton says.

"Probably a fucking rat, huh?"

"I don't know, man. Maybe. Now, look…"

"You look," the black guy says, taking a sudden step into the living room. "You've got five minutes to pack a bag. Taggert's tired of your excuses. He's foreclosing on this place."

"You, too, twink," the white guy says to Virgil. "Hit the road."

"Wait," Eton says, his voice strangled into a pathetic whine. "Let me call my friend Olivia. You know her, right? She'll straighten this out."

Oh, yeah. Now Virgil remembers. Taggert is Olivia's boyfriend out there in the desert. She mentioned him on the phone once. Virgil is so nervous, though, he can't decide if this is good or bad for him.

"Nope. No calls, no bullshit," the black guy says. "Everything's been said and done."

The white guy darts over to Eton and jabs him in the chest with the barrel of his gun. "Pack! Your! Fucking! Bags!" he yells.

There's another noise, the old house popping in the heat like it sometimes does. The white guy backs off and looks up at the ceiling with bulging eyes, like he’s afraid something might drop on him.

"This isn't happening like this," Eton says. "Not to my nana's house." He stands, a chrome revolver clutched in his fist.

There’s lots of action like this in the book, but also lots of memorable characters, both good and bad. While always mindful of keeping the story moving, I also tried to put the reader inside these characters’ heads and let the characters explain why they do what they do. They’re all lost and lonely in their own ways, and I hope that even the worst of them will earn, if not your sympathy, at least your understanding.
Read an excerpt from This Wicked World and learn more about the book and author at Richard Lange's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Summer House"

Nancy Thayer is the New York Times bestselling author of nineteen novels including Moon Shell Beach, The Hot Flash Club, The Hot Flash Club Strikes Again, Hot Flash Holidays, The Hot Flash Club Chills Out, and Between Husbands and Friends.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her latest novel Summer House, and reported the following:
Summer House is about one turbulent summer in the lives of the Wheelwrights, a fortunate and complicated family who gather at their summer house on Nantucket island. The stories are told by three women:

Charlotte is 30 and adores her grandmother but chafes at the pressure from her parents to marry the right person and have babies.

Helen, 60, longs for grandchildren and worries about her rebellious, alcoholic son. She’s also trying, as always, to fit in with this close-knit and rather stuffy group. Oh, yes, and she thinks her husband is having an affair.

Nona is 90, and trying to love both her children, Worth, and Grace, and their spouses and children, equally. She remembers when she first came to this house in the summer, when she married her husband, just before he shipped out to Europe during WWII. Her mother-in-law was vicious. Nona wants to be loving.

Page 69 takes place in the kitchen of the summer house. It’s a seemingly calm, ordinary moment between Helen and her sister-in-law Grace. Grace’s three daughters do everything right. They don’t rebel, and they’re certainly not colorful. Helen’s three children are, well, extremely colorful.

This morning, Grace is miffed because her mother, Nona, wants Helen’s opinion of what to wear to Nona’s 90th birthday party.

Grace just breathed through her nose like a bull.

“What does Nona need?” Helen asked reasonably.

“She wants you to help her choose which dress to wear tonight.” Grace’s lips thinned. “Although why she needs your opinion, I don’t know.”

Mellie looked up from her breakfast. “Duh, Mom. Look at yourself and then look at Auntie Helen.”

Grace wore sensible khaki shorts, a green polo shirt, and leather moccasins. Helen wore a filmy, flowery sundress, the sort of thing she loved wearing on the islands in the summer, and even though she had basically the same sensible chin-length cut Grace had, Helen’s hair curled in the island humidity, giving her a softer, more feminine appearance. Also Helen wore jewelry, loved jewelry, and not just the staid pearls Grace brought out for dress. Today Helen wore a glass flower on a silver chain hung with bits of beads, and her favorite bracelet, a cuff of thick twisted silver. She wore it when she needed courage, knowing that this sort of superstitious thinking was another quality that set her apart from the real Wheelwrights.

Grace didn’t react to her daughter’s remark. Grace didn’t care about vanity, she cared more about virtue, and considered herself the more responsible mother. The better mother. Helen and Grace had always done their best to get along, and over the years they’d developed a kind of vigilant cooperation, like two mama tigers carrying a bone too heavy for one. And Helen silently admired Grace, even if she didn’t especially like her. Helen thought that Grace secretly liked Helen, a little bit, but didn’t admire her.

This domestic scene, with its gentle, commonplace tensions, is like the first bubbles on the surface of a volcano that is almost ready to erupt. The first explosion will take place that night, as the family leaves for Nona’s birthday party.
Read an excerpt from Summer House, and learn more about the book and author at Nancy Thayer's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 20, 2009

"Personal Effects"

J.C. Hutchins is an award-winning novelist best known for his 7th Son technothriller trilogy, which he released as free serialized audiobooks from 2006-07. With approximately 100,000 downloads of his episodic fiction still occurring each month, 7th Son is the most popular “podcast novel” series in history.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to Personal Effects: Dark Art, his debut in a new supernatural thriller series, and reported the following:
In one key way, page 69 of Personal Effects: Dark Art is very representative of the novel -- it features a nearly full-page watercolor illustration, one of dozens featured throughout the book. What little copy accompanies the illustration focuses on the family life of the book's protagonist, Zach Taylor.

But page 69 [at left, click to enlarge] is a relatively calm moment in the spooky stuff that unfolds in the supernatural thriller. Zach is an artist (the illustration on page 69 was painted by him), and an art therapist at Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital, a hopeless mental institution with a bloody history. He's an optimistic dude, and very gifted at gleaning meaning behind his patients' artwork and therapy sessions ... until he meets his latest patient, Martin Grace.

Grace is a suspected serial killer, is psychosomatically blind, and doesn't want to be treated. In fact, he says a demonic entity called The Dark Man is responsible for the murders he's accused of committing. As the story progresses, Zach uses Grace's personal effects -- the items that were cataloged during Grace's processing into Brinkvale -- to sidestep his patient's belligerence and learn more about his past. In the process, he discovers some terrifying secrets about Martin Grace, excavates a government cover-up ... and learns that The Dark Man may be real, and may now be hunting the Zach himself.

In a groundbreaking twist, those "personal effects" that Zach collects actually come with the book. Photos, IDs, business cards, legal documents, artwork ... every item that Zach discovers during the course of the novel comes in a pocket on the book's inside cover. Combining clues in the book's text with clues found in those tangible, absolutely authentic-looking personal effects, readers are sent into a story-enhancing narrative that unfolds via phone messages and websites. The coolest part: this narrative information is stuff our hero Zach may never discover himself, making the reader not only an active participant in the story, but wiser than the book's protagonist. It's pretty spiffy stuff; Publishers Weekly recently gave it a starred review.

So, while page 69 of Personal Effects: Dark Art certainly evokes some of the creativity of the book's hero, I'd recommend flipping a few pages earlier -- and certainly later -- into the story for the real thrills and chills...
Watch the Personal Effects: Dark Art book trailer series and learn more about the book at the official website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 19, 2009


J. Courtney Sullivan is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, New York magazine, Elle, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Allure, In Style, Men’s Vogue, the New York Observer, Tango, and in the essay anthology The Secret Currency of Love (Morrow.) She contributes to the website, and is co-editing an anthology about young women and feminism with Courtney E. Martin. She serves on the advisory board of Girls Write Now, is a graduate of Smith College, and works in the editorial department of the New York Times.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to Commencement, her first novel, and reported the following:
Commencement is a novel about four very different friends—Celia, Bree, Sally and April—who meet as dormmates at Smith College and remain close years later, even as they follow divergent paths into adulthood.

Bree is a southern belle who arrives on campus engaged to her high school sweetheart. Her life takes an unexpected turn when she falls in love with a woman. There’s a popular acronym at Smith, SLUG, which stands for Smith Lesbian Until Graduation. At first, Bree believes the term applies to her, and that she will end the relationship once she leaves school. But it lasts long past graduation, a complicated and sometimes heartbreaking fact for Bree, whose conservative family can’t quite get their heads around the idea.

Bree and her girlfriend Lara meet while working at the campus bookstore. They are instantly drawn to one another. An early draft of the book contained a scene where the two of them sat on a bed together, flirting with the possibility of becoming more than just friends. What came next was more or less left up to the imagination. My best friend read the draft and said, “This is the least hot lesbian sex scene of all time. You need to spice it up.”

The revised version of that scene is the first thing that many readers mention to me now, and it begins—where else?—on page 69:

One Friday night, they were in Lara’s dorm room talking, sitting on the bed with Alison Krauss singing in the background. Lara leaned over and kissed Bree’s neck gently, moving her lips over Bree’s jawbone and onto her face, up to her lips.

“Is this okay?” Lara whispered.

Bree couldn’t say anything but yes.

As they kissed, Lara moved her hands under Bree’s dress and over her skin, making her tremble. “Take it off please,” Lara said.

Nervous and exhilarated, Bree slid the dress over her head and let Lara unhook her bra. She didn’t know what she was doing. It seemed that this should be easier, more intuitive than fooling around with a guy. After all, Lara’s body was so much like her own…

It gets hotter on page 70, trust me.

Is the passage indicative of the book as a whole? Not exactly, though there are a few other bodice-ripping sections that follow. But Commencement is a book about the choices—romantic, professional, political and personal—that shape us. And Bree’s choice to follow her heart is a bold one, which sets her on a path she never could have imagined.
Read an excerpt from Commencement, and learn more about the book and author at J. Courtney Sullivan's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 18, 2009

"Everyone She Loved"

Sheila Curran is the author of Diana Lively is Falling Down.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, Everyone She Loved, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Everyone She Loved, a father is driving his two daughters home from school. It’s an ordinary scene in every way. The conversation bears the typical markers of normal family interaction: sibling rivalry, teenage angst, parental peacemaking. Readers opening here might think the father’s left his big boy pants at home. Why is he letting the teenager speak to him with such apparent disrespect?

Even when he gets to the point of reprimanding her, it’s so mild. What’s going on here?

“Listen, Dad?” Tessa asked, when they’d reached the front door. Suddenly she was filled with an urgent flash of panic, a need to keep her father and sister right where they were. “Can’t you just stay in town? June’s only gonna make a fool of herself at competition anyhow.”

Joey’s “Tessa!” had a strangled sound to it. June was still in the car, well out of earshot, but Tessa’s comment was still unacceptable. He shook his head. “Siobhan says she’s got a lot of talent.”

Tessa dropped her backpack in the front hall before turning back quietly to her father. She shook her head at him. “Dad, she is playing you.”

“She’s ten years old, Tessa.”

“Not June, Dad. Think! Like Mom used to say, whose bread’s getting buttered in this transaction?”

“I don’t want to hear another word—“ Joey whispered, fiercely protective of June’s confidence. He looked up to see Lucy trotting down the stairs, wiping her hands on the tail of her work shirt.

The numbers 6 and 9 are identical shapes, they are also opposites, upside down. And Tessa’s world, like that of every other person in this page, has had her life pulled out from under her. Nothing is as it seems.

Tessa – at first glance – is gorgeous, but she is also way too thin. She may seem critical of her sister, but the truth is that Tessa’s the protective one, seeking to spare June from being made fun of for being overweight at a dance competition where most of her peers will be slim and trim.

Both girls have used food as a means of coping with the grief of losing their mother nearly two years before. At this juncture, their father – still in mourning as well – is too aware of his daughters’ fragility to respond with anything but sympathy.

Another set of opposites mentioned in this page are also not whom they seem. Lucy – a voluptuous painter -- is Joey’s late wife’s best friend. She’s been helping raise the girls since their mother’s death. Lucy – who’s known the girls forever- is as unsettled and tentative as Joey, having lost her friend and watched the children she loves as her own suffer so deeply. On the other hand, Siobhan, the newcomer who Tessa believes is “playing” her father is a fitness expert trained in the treatment of eating disorders. She is brimming with the sort of certainty and simplistic answers that can only be found in a rather young, rather inexperienced person who’s never undergone the sudden shocking loss of someone she’s loved.

Our title, Everyone She Loved refers to the community who were most devastated by Penelope’s death: Joey. Her widower, the girls’ mother, and four of her dearest friends, each of whom must discover how to make things right, even when everything has been turned upside down.

And so this is a book, at heart, about switched identities, about making judgments before you’ve had the life experience to know that nothing is as simple as it looks, and finally, it’s about how even when we get turned upside down and don’t recognize what’s left of us, there’s a friend out there, at least one, who can recognize us for what we are, and help us find our way home again.
Read an excerpt from Everyone She Loved, and learn more about the book and author at Sheila Curran's website, blog, and Facebook page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 17, 2009


Anna David, author of the debut novel Party Girl, has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Playboy, Details, and many other publications. She is the sex-and-relationship expert on G4's Attack of the Show and is a regular guest on Fox News's Red Eye.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, Bought, and reported the following:
I have to admit that putting Bought to the Page 69 Test was a bit unnerving at first, because the page happened to fall on one of those scenes that I rewrote endlessly in an attempt to make it work and I still wasn’t that happy with in the end. It focuses on the protagonist, Emma (a journalist temporarily posing as a kept-woman-in-training) being schooled by a professional kept woman on how to take the expensive handbags male clients provide and return them at Bloomingdale’s.

And then I got to the last sentence of the page, where Emma stares “at the pile of bags, not quite able to ask Amanda why converting goods into cash is any different than simply accepting money in the first place.” And I thought, Ah, ha! That actually is representative of exactly what the book is about.

While Bought, on the surface, is a glitzy tale of Hollywood excess which asks unpleasant questions about how all women use their sexuality to get what they want, the underlying theme for me has always been about the difference between who we are and who we look like we are, and the little lies we tell ourselves in order to construct those false images.

The “prostitutes” in the book get quote marks around their profession because they don’t consider themselves prostitutes: they sleep with men in exchange for gifts or to have expenses covered and because cash never (or rarely) crosses their hands, they staunchly insist that what they’re doing is wholly different from the activities of the “whores” they so deride.

But it’s the notion of the image we construct of ourselves that’s most fascinating to me. The main prostitute Bought focuses on is Jessica, a worldly, well-educated, cultivated, impossibly put-together, and controlling diva who looks like she’s got everything – and everyone – under her control but who’s actually teetering on the edge of emotional, spiritual and literal collapse with every breath she takes.

After living in Hollywood for so long – and spending many of those years interviewing celebrities – I became more and more interested in the false selves people craft and manipulate and how easy it is to get others to buy into and believe them. And celebrities certainly aren’t the only ones doing this: I know that it’s when I’m feeling the most insecure that I’ll often act the most brazen, and when I look like I most have it together professionally is often when I’m the least centered because I’ve been focusing all my energy on my external self.

Emma’s thought – that, essentially, returning expensive bags at Bloomingdale’s is the same damn thing as just taking money in the first place – is the first time she notices one of these girls lying to herself in order to justify her actions, and then using that lie to build a false image. And Emma’s journey in the book is really about discovering just how many of these lies she’s bought into her whole life. Page 69 is actually – rather amazingly -- the beginning of her ultimate conclusion.
Read the first chapter of Bought, and learn more about the book and author at Anna David's website and blog, and at the Bought website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Heroic Measures"

Jill Ciment is a professor of English at the University of Florida. Her books include the novels, Teeth of the Dog and The Law of Falling Bodies; a collection of short stories, Small Claims; and a memoir, Half a Life.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, Heroic Measures, and reported the following:
On page 69, we find Alex and Ruth, the seventy-something hero and heroine of Heroic Measures, enduring the last few minutes of an open house. They’ve just put their apartment of forty-five years on the market. As a microcosm of the narrative, it’s not a bad example.

The page opens with a question. Alex asks two potential buyers in matching red parkas if the police have apprehended Pamir, the missing driver of a tanker truck that is “stuck” in the Midtown Tunnel. New Yorkers are panicked it’s the next terrorist attack.

The buyer, who hasn’t taken off his hood, shakes his head no.

“We have a million-dollar decision to make,” the other hood answers. “Turn off the goddam news.”

Alex and Ruth then slip back into their bedroom to phone the animal hospital. Their dachshund, Dorothy, seventy-something in dog years, has just undergone back surgery. The night before, Alex and Ruth had found her paralyzed on the kitchen floor. The entire open house has been spent waiting to find out if Dorothy will survive the surgery, let alone walk again.

One of the novel’s intents is to constantly juxtapose Dorothy’s plight with the city’s terror. The initial idea for the novel occurred to me shortly after 9/11.

Lost dog and cat flyers invariably catch my attention, and I make a special effort to look out for those missing pets. I remember one such flyer--a lost gray cat--adhered to a lamppost in my old neighborhood, the East Village. The next day the towers fell and in the aftermath, flyers for missing persons--photographs, which tower, what floor--began to share the lamppost. At first, nobody covered the lost cat poster, but eventually it was plastered over: the human tragedy consumed the animal's plight. If a novel can be reduced to a single image of conception, then the lost cat poster is responsible for Heroic Measures.

Page 69 ends with another potential buyer interrupting the private, heartbreaking moment Alex and Ruth share when they learn Dorothy hasn’t yet awoken from a seizure. The buyer, oblivious of circumstances, asks a most trivial, but practical question—their stove is missing a knob and he wants to know if he buys the apartment, where can he get one.
Read an excerpt from Heroic Measures, and learn more about the book and author at Jill Ciment's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Ewan Morrison is the author of the novels Distance, Swung, and Ménage as well as the collection of short stories The Last Book You Read. He also writes a weekly column for Scotland on Sunday under the name Weegie Bored.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to Ménage and reported the following:
Page sixty nine of Ménage seems, at first, totally atypical in that it barely contains mention of the protagonists – since the book is about a ménage a trios and so has three main characters this seems very strange indeed.

However, page sixty nine is a big symbolic pivot, one that propels the three rather innocent young friends: Dot, Saul and Owen, into a world of transgression from which they will emerge lovers in a ménage a trios who ultimately abuse and exploit each other.

It is 1992, Hoxton, London - the centre of the Young British Art Scene (Damien Hirst, et al). And Dot, Owen and Saul are struggling to be artists but - they need a catalyst.

On page sixty nine they are embarking on their quest to ‘turn their lives into a work of Art.’ They set out to pay a visit to Edna -‘The exemplary living artwork’. She is an enigma, they think her ‘seer-like’, ‘like an oracle’; she has gone to the very limit of the known world in drug induced hallucination. In her ‘dreadlocks with ribbons, Kaftans, Kimonos and Jesus Sandals’ it is as if she were ‘Some kind of hybrid Hindu Swami meets Rastafarian bong Queen, meets … Hare Krishna.’

Saul dresses androgynously to meet his guru with ‘Chanel Scarf round and his waist and two beauty spots.’ There is much laughter and nervous excitement among the three.

But Edna they will discover by the end of the book is no seer. Edna is not even a woman, but a very confused and damaged older man with fake breasts, a fake history and a drug addiction that’s forced him into dealing narcotics.

Saul, Dot and Owen set out, all three ‘bouncing along, arms interlocked’ unaware that Edna symbolises not the peak of artistic success but a downward spiral that awaits all who accept the Faustian pact of turning ones life into a work of art.

Such is the portentous innocence of page 69.
Learn more about the book and author at Ewan Morrison's website.

Read Morrison's essay "Death of a Nihilst or Obituary for a Nobody," which reveals the background for Ménage.

Ménage has been released only in the U.K. to date, yet it is available to readers around the globe via

Read Morrison's top ten list of literary ménages à trois.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Bury Me Deep"

Megan Abbott is the author of the novels Die a Little, The Song Is You, and the 2008 Edgar winner, Queenpin.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, Bury Me Deep, and reported the following:
For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard of Winnie Ruth Judd, the so-called “Velvet Tigress,” accused of murdering her two female friends in 1931 Phoenix. I’d always thought of it as one of those tawdry 1930s tabloid tales James M. Cain (Double Indemnity) would pluck from the headlines for his novels. But the more I read about the case, the more complex it seemed. Was it a case of cold-blooded murder, Winnie Ruth driven by jealous rage? Or was it, as she claimed, self-defense, a spat among friends turned violent? Or were those rumors of a frameup true? Winnie Ruth Judd became, for me, not a murderess but a lonely woman, deserted by her husband in the depths of the Depression, and quite possibly innocent of the crimes.

Bury Me Deep is my fictionalized telling of the case. Winnie Ruth becomes Marion Seeley, an abandoned wife who finds herself drawn to two of the town’s exuberant party girls, Louise and Ginny, and their dashing benefactor, Gentleman Joe Lanigan.

Page 69 is actually both an oddity in the book and, somehow, its truest page. The book is split up into sections, each one beginning with an introduction of sorts, a retrospective take on the events from an outsider’s viewpoint. While the rest of the book is seen through Marion’s fevered eyes, these opening sections remove us from Marion and give us a distance. They also tell us a lot about the heavy judgments laid against her by the “upright town’s folks.” Page 69 is the damning voice of Ina Curtwin, one of Marion’s coworkers, condemning Marion and her wayward friends:

“I told Mrs. Seeley to keep her distance from those two. But Marion, she liked their lively ways.

“Everyone knew about Louise, like what happened at the Dempsey Hotel. How someone called the law because there was a ruckus and there she was in the fifth-floor corridor going on two o’clock in the morning, only one shoe on and they brought her in and they let her go because some calls were made. She had friends. The right kinds, it seems. And all her friends have wives.

“And that Mr. Lanigan. He’s one of those. All those big fellas strutting around with fancy waistcoasts and running the town. Well, he’s an Elk. A Grand Knight with the Knights of Columbus. He sits on the Chamber of Commerce, handing out favors. If he weren’t a papist, he might be mayor.

“All those comers, every June they send their wives eighty miles straight up into the mountains. the Hassaymapa Mountain Club, they call it. Then, back here in town, they make hay all summer long. The office girls. Girls that work at the shops. And the nurses. Always the nurses. And there was talk of Marion being Mr. Lanigan’s summer gal, only it was still spring. I didn’t talk of it, but others did.”

“See, I walk in the Lord’s path of kindness and I figure I’ll tell Marion that there’s buzzing in the air and she might do best to keep her quarter, to walk in churchly ways. After all, she is a married woman and, the way it sounds, those girls are running a regular operation there. Wild parties and who knows what. Those girls have no starch in their pleats, do you know what I mean to say? When Louise Mercer walks, there’s nothing that stays still. And the other one, one hears tell, she haint stood upright since Hoover took oath and sunk us all.

“But Marion, she don’t care to listen. Like I said, she liked their lively ways.”

In many ways, this is the whole of the book—everything that will lead to a terrible crime. The clanging verdict on these women, and the threat they represent. And, most of all, Marion’s secret desire to be a part of that exciting world Louise and Ginny promise. She can’t stop herself.
Read an excerpt from Bury Me Deep, and learn more about the book and author at Megan Abbott's website.

At The Rap Sheet: The Story Behind the Story: “Bury Me Deep,” by Megan Abbott.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"The Memory Collector"

Meg Gardiner's Evan Delaney thrillers feature a smart-aleck freelance journalist, deal with religious extremism, a high school reunion killer, and sex, drugs, and rock’n'roll. Stephen King calls them “simply put, the finest crime-suspense series I’ve come across in the last twenty years,” and China Lake won the Edgar award for Best Paperback Original of 2008.

Her Jo Beckett series, featuring a San Francisco forensic psychiatrist, debuted in 2008 with The Dirty Secrets Club. The novel was chosen one of the year’s top ten thrillers by, and won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Procedural Novel of the year.

Gardiner applied the “Page 69 Test” to The Memory Collector, the second Jo Beckett novel, and reported the following:
In The Memory Collector, forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett hits the ground running. And she has to sprint to keep up, because she’s out of her professional comfort zone.

Normally Jo performs psychological autopsies for the San Francisco police, to determine whether a victim’s death was natural, accident, suicide, or murder. But in this book she has a live patient. Ian Kanan has arrived home from a trip to Africa suffering from anterograde amnesia. He cannot form new memories. Every few minutes he forgets where he is and what has just happened. Jo must find out what has caused his devastating condition.

When Kanan disappears from the hospital, Jo’s job becomes critical. Kanan is a former mercenary. He may be seeking revenge against those responsible for his amnesia. Worse, people who were on his flight into San Francisco begin to show the same symptoms. Jo must track Kanan down and find out what is destroying his short-term memory before disaster strikes.

The book runs at high speed. And page 69 finds Jo enjoying a rare chance to catch her breath. She’s committed to her job, a thorough professional, sharp and empathic. But she’s not obsessed. She has a life, and a sense of humor, and a new man.

Page 69 gives readers a sense of all that.

The day outside had turned from gloomy to Hell, yeah.

Her house peered out across rooftops from the top of the hill, past the slick green of the magnolia in her back yard, over Victorian apartment buildings and houses painted Matchbox car colors. Beyond a neighbor’s Monterey pine, past neighborhoods that rode the hills and valleys like homes on a rolling sea, past the dark forests of the Presidio, was the Golden Gate Bridge, pulsing red in the stormy afternoon light. She twisted her hair up into a swirl and captured it in a claw clip.

She was halfway down the stairs when the doorbell rang. Her heart gave a kick. Probably FedEx, or Wendell the mailman on an amphetamine bender, doing his rounds five times faster than his colleagues. And five times worse. Probably delivering the wrong mail to everybody on the hill again.

But if it wasn’t Wired Wendell, the possibilities distilled to
Oh, crap and Should have put on lipstick. Jo crossed the front hall and opened the door.

Gabriel Quintana stood on the porch. He was holding a sack of doughnuts and two cups of coffee large enough to power a top fuel dragster.

“Can I corrupt your day?” he said.

She smiled.

Taking the doughnuts, she let him in. “Bring me sugar, butter, and caffeine, and you can take my soul.” They walked down the hall to the kitchen. She looked in the sack. “Oh, yeah. What do you want me to do? Name it. Rob a bank? Toss one of those chocolate puppies on the counter and point me at a teller.”

“That’s not what I want.”

He set the coffee cups on the counter. He wrapped an arm around her waist, pulled her against him, and kissed her.

She didn’t need lipstick after all.

In the story, Jo barely gets any time alone with Gabe. By page 70, their moment is interrupted. Jo spends the rest of the novel trying, with comic frustration, to get her new boyfriend by himself.

It’s one of the things that I enjoyed most about writing the book.
Read an excerpt from The Memory Collector, and learn more about the book and author at Meg Gardiner's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Jennifer McMahon is the New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Island of Lost Girls and Promise Not to Tell.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel Dismantled, and reported the following:
Dismantled tells the story of the Compassionate Dismantlers, a group of college students who band together to form an outlaw art group based on the belief that true art is about taking things apart, not putting them together. The group disintegrates when their leader, Suz, dies and the others decide to cover it up. Ten years later, two of the members, Henry and Tess, are living with their nine-year-old daughter an hour’s drive from the cabin where the Dismantlers spent their final summer. Although they’re trying to keep up the pretense of normalcy, their marriage is falling apart.

When other former Dismantlers receive mysterious postcards bearing Dismantler slogans, a series of tragic events is triggered. It seems as if someone, or something, is determined to dredge up the past Henry and Tess have struggled so hard to put behind them.

On page 69, we find the modern day Henry struggling to begin a sculpture (something he hasn’t attempted since his college days as a Dismantler).

The wood guides the sculpture.

The wood alone knows what it wants to become.

These were the things he believed back in college, this naïve notion of ethereal messages that it was up to him to pick up on, to spell out with his mallet and chisels.

‘Sometimes I think we’re just conduits,’ Tess told him once, years ago, when she sat in his studio space in the corner of the sculpture building at Sexton. ‘Like the art that we make can’t possibly come from us. Do you know what I mean?’

She was sitting cross-legged on the floor, cradling a mug of coffee in both hands. A small-framed, compact girl who hardy took up any space at all, yet she’d say these
things with such fierce intensity in her eyes that they came out like the words of a giant.

Henry nodded. Yes. He felt that way all the time. He was just a pair of hands – someone, something, else was doing the real work.

Dismantled is a complex book – it’s told from multiple points of view, there are characters masquerading as other characters, an imaginary friend who seems to have an agenda all her own. It’s full of twists and turns and deception, none of which are evident on page 69.

Dismantled is also about a broken family and the ways they are each trying to understand the past in order to live in the present. Page 69 is representative of the book in that it gets inside Henry’s head, and takes us from the present day storyline back into the past. It gives us a glimpse of Tess and Henry as idealistic young artists, and shows the older Henry feeling lost and inept. One of the challenges for these characters is facing the ghosts of their past selves – which is almost more frightening than facing the real ghost they come to believe may be haunting them.
Read an excerpt from Dismantled, and learn more about the book and author at Jennifer McMahon's website and MySpace page.

Watch the Dismantled video trailer.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"The Missing Ink"

Karen E. Olson, author of the Annie Seymour mystery series, applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, The Missing Ink, and reported the following:
In the first tattoo shop mystery, The Missing Ink, tattooist Brett Kavanaugh is drawn into a missing persons case when a potential client disappears. The last place she was seen was at Brett’s shop, commissioning a devotion tattoo with the name of her fiancé in a heart.

I had no idea what Page 69 would tell me, but when I flipped to it, I realized that it does give a clear picture of Brett’s personality, as well as Bitsy’s, her shop manager. It’s also pivotal in illustrating the surprise when it’s discovered that the name the client wanted on the tattoo was not the name of her fiancé, thus, pulling the reader into the story even further.

But Bitsy wasn’t the only one getting screwed.

Chip Manning was, too.

Because the camera zoomed in on my sketch. Complete with the “Matthew”
inside the heart.

Alison Cho didn’t notice. She put the piece of paper in her lap and
thanked me for my time.

It was over.

I stood up, trying to yank the mike and wire off my person and was happy
to see the producer come over to me. I assumed he’d help me out, but his mouth was set in a grim line.

“That drawing. It was the wrong one.”

Alison’s head snapped back. “What?”

“It was the wrong drawing.” He looked at Bitsy, who’d come up next to me.

“Why didn’t you give me the right one? Was it because we didn’t put
you on camera?”

So Bitsy’s attitude had not gone unnoticed.

From the look on her face, I could see she was going to say something
she’d probably regret, so I jumped in. “It was the right one.”

His gaze moved from Bitsy to me. “But it said Matthew. Not Chip, or even Bruce.”

“That’s right.” I met his stare.

“You mean she wanted a tattoo with another man’s name on it?”
Read an excerpt from The Missing Ink, and learn more about the author and her work at Karen E. Olson's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Zadayi Red"

Caleb Fox has lived in many worlds. Raised in Cherokee country, he received a scholarship from Columbia University and moved to New York. Later he moved to Los Angeles where he wrote for newspapers, magazines and movies. Raised white and Christian, Fox was intrigued on a visit home to discover that his family was half Cherokee. He began to explore the great myths of Indian cultures.

His novel Zadayi Red is a fantasy set in prehistoric America. After the last page turned, he caught one of the characters for a quick interview.

“Su-Li? Su-Li? Would you give us a few words?”

The buzzard turns his head and studies you and me. In my mind, and yours, he says, Okay, you’re the writer guy. Su-Li sounds incredibly weary. Who’s this?

“A reader interested in our novel Zadayi Red. I know, you’re about to go back to the land where the Immortals live, but may we just ask a couple of questions?”

I’m worn out with mortals, says Su-Li.

You whisper, “How does he talk without sounds?”

“Magic,” I whisper back. “Spirit power.”

You look at me impatiently. Su-Li does the same, but harder.

I speak to the buzzard quickly, before we lose him. “Su-Li, tell us what you did on earth.”

I was the spirit guide of a medicine woman.

“Did you like being on earth?”

Living around death... His voice is full of sorrow.

“Tell us something about your life here.”

“I want to go home. Why don’t you show him? Let him read, uh, uh, page sixty-nine.”

I don’t like it.

Hey, it’s just like he cracks the book in a store.

“Okay,” I say, “give him a little more help. Let him see it, like a movie.”

Su-Li nods.


When people got a got look at the intruders, they dropped their jaws. Tsola was blindfolded, steadied on one side with a hand on the back of a black panther. On the other side Sunoya bore a buzzard on her shoulder and held Tsola’s arm.

“That’s Su-Li on the young woman’s shoulder?”


“Spirit guide. I don’t believe this.”

“You’re seeing it.”

Courtesy swerved like a drunk. A child cried. People actually spoke aloud. Some of the twelve chiefs half rose—not a single Peace Chief or War Chief had ever seen the Wounded Healer. Every head craned toward the slight figure of the tribe’s Seer.

Sunoya didn’t know which was bigger, astonishment at the unprecedented appearance of the most powerful chief of the nation, or fear of the black cat.

“The old woman is holding that panther?”

“No, he’s like a seeing eye dog. He also guards her. He shifts shape at will from human to panther.”

“Who gets a guard like that?”

“The Wounded Healer, the Medicine Chief of the entire tribe.”

“Why is she blind-folded?”

“She lives so far in the Cavern that her eyes can’t take light any more.”

As we watch, the old woman sits by the sacred fire and begins to unwrap the hide bundle she carries.

“I have to stop the movie, sorry. You’re not supposed to see the contents of the bundle.”

“What’s in it?”

“The most terrible news the tribe has ever had. Su-Li, explain…”

As I speak, the Immortal Buzzard winks once and dematerializes.

“How’d he do that?” you say. “Where’d he go?”

“Home. To the Land beyond the Sky Arch, where the Immortals live.”

“I’d like to go there.”

“If you read Zadayi Red, you will.”
Read an excerpt from Zadayi Red, and learn more about the book and author at Caleb Fox's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue