Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"The Haunting Ballad"

Michael Nethercott's work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year, Gods and Monsters, and Crimestalkers Casebook. He is a past winner of The Black Orchid Novella Award, The Vermont Playwrights Award, and The Nor’easter Play Writing Contest.

Nethercott applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Haunting Ballad, and reported the following:
The Haunting Ballad is the second whodunit in my traditional mystery series. It features the sleuthing odd couple from The Séance Society: reluctant young private eye Lee Plunkett and scholarly Irishman Mr. O’Nelligan. It's the spring of 1957 as the detectives enter the burgeoning music scene of New York City's Greenwich Village. A controversial folk song collector has plunged from her apartment roof and foul play is suspected.

This novel’s page 69 is actually a half page, the start of Chapter Seven. It’s an interesting roll of the dice (as, I gather, 69th pages tend to be.) We have here one single paragraph dedicated to a description of the Village street life. Our sleuths are on their way to the Café Mercutio, a coffee house where many of the suspects—folk musicians and Beat poets—perform and socialize. Lee narrates:
After parking, we still had a couple of blocks to walk to the Mercutio. Now firmly in the heart of Bohemia, we navigated through a stream of locals, many young and casually dressed. There seemed to be a disproportionate number of them in black, and several were sporting sunglasses—despite the fact that the sun had gone down. We passed bookstores, record shops, magazine stands, restaurants, and cafés. Leaning against one stretch of brick wall, a dozen paintings, framed and unframed, formed a sort of impromptu art gallery. Most of these works were vivid, chaotic explosions of color, all with price tags affixed. A little ways beyond, standing outside a storefront labeled FOLKLORE SOCIETY, one young man was playing a harmonica while another juggled a trio of alarm clocks. Yes, alarm clocks.
My intent here was to show, with a nice bite-sized sketch, the colorful, lively, quirky world of Greenwich Village in those years. This was the period where the nonconformist Beat scene and the folk music movement were overlapping, and the Village was at the hub of it all.

My stories are very much influenced by the Golden Age writers—Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, and their ilk—and I take the “whodunit” piece to heart. I like a lot of interesting suspects with mysterious backgrounds and cagey motives, and in The Haunting Ballad I’ve attempted to deliver that. The death of the “songcatcher” leads Plunkett and O’Nelligan to a diverse group of suspects including the Mercutio’s eccentric owner, a family of Irish balladeers (who may be IRA), a bluesy ex-con, a hundred-and-five-year-old Civil War drummer boy, and a self-proclaimed “ghost chanter” who sings songs that she receives from the dead. And just to complicate things, one suspect is a handsome, smooth-talking young folk singer who Lee's fiancée Audrey is captivated by.

Along the way, our deductive duo encounters a good amount of puzzling leads, desperate situations, and twists and turns. And, of course, they must answer that core question of all mystery novels: Who done it?
Visit Michael Nethercott's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Séance Society.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 29, 2014

"Blood of My Blood"

Barry Lyga is, in the words of Kirkus, a “YA-rebel author.” He lives in New York City, where he is pretty sure he’s being stalked by a serial killer. Either that, or the guy just likes shopping at the same bodega.

Lyga applied the Page 69 Test to Blood of My Blood, the concluding volume in the I Hunt Killers trilogy, and reported the following:
So, I applied the Page 69 Test to Blood of My Blood. And I crapped out.

Spoilers follow. Beware.

Because page 69 is in no way representative of the book as a whole, unless you count “creepy sense of ickiness” as representative. Which I suppose it is, but only in the most superficial way. Sure, the book is creepy and icky, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

Page 69 is the first page of Chapter 9. And Chapter 9, as luck would have it, is the only chapter in the damn book written from the POV of the Hat Killer.

That’s right: The page I was asked to look to for “representation” is the start of a complete fluke of a chapter, a unique moment in the book, as we look into the head of a character we will never, ever see again, Duncan Hershey, the Hat Killer.

Now, granted, it’s not like it’s a bad chapter. And, yeah, it starts off pretty well: “Duncan Hershey did not anticipate taking any pleasure in killing his wife and children. It was just something he would have to do.”

Some would argue that this is precisely representative of the book: the flat, affectless decision of mayhem, the matter-of-fact-ness of it all.

But the page continues in Hershey’s head and it’s really a sort of checklist almost of what is to come for him. And since (spoiler!) he’ll be killed before the chapter’s over it’s all sort of moot, isn’t it?

Let me try to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse. Even though Blood of My Blood fails the Page 69 Test, I think we can learn something from this failure. Chapter 9 may not be representative of the book itself, but it’s still important to the story. So even if something does not directly reflect the themes of the larger tale, it can still resonate and have an impact on the narrative.

Something to remember the next time the book you’re reading — or writing! — seems to diverge for a moment. Or a chapter.
Visit Barry Lyga's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Space Case"

Stuart Gibbs is the author of Belly Up, Poached, Spy School, Spy Camp, Evil Spy School, and Space Case. He has also written the screenplays for movies like See Spot Run and Repli-Kate, worked on a whole bunch of animated films, developed TV shows for Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, ABC, and Fox, and researched capybaras (the world’s largest rodents).

Gibbs applied the Page 69 Test to Space Case and reported the following:
My completely biased, non-objective opinion is that page 69 of Space Case isn’t really that representative of the book. It’s part of a scene in which Nina Stack, the commander of Moon Base Alpha, is warning 12-year-old Dashiell Gibson, our hero, to back off from pressing her to investigate what he believes is the murder of Ronald Holtz, the recently-deceased base doctor. (Nina, for the record, believes that the death was an accident.)

It’s a necessary scene, as it’s the point where Dash realizes that, if he wants to know what happened to Dr. Holtz, he’s going to have to investigate himself -- but it doesn’t have the humor of, say, page 51, the action of page 119, or the intriguing futuristic science of page 13. (That’d be the science of space toilets, in case you were wondering.) Even pages 68 & 70 on either side of 69 have a bit more zest to them: emotional dialogue, a bit of humor, some fascinating facts about what showers are like on the moon. But that’s the way the type is set, I suppose.

Toward the bottom of page 69, things get jazzed up a bit with a reference to an incoming rocket, which reminds us that this book is actually science-fiction, as it takes place in the relatively near future on the moon, but other than that, 69 is mostly just about moving the story ahead. Which is just how things go in the writing business. No matter how much you try to make every line sing, sometimes in a sci-fi mystery adventure, you just have to tell the tale.
Visit Stuart Gibbs's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Cry Father"

Benjamin Whitmer was born and raised on back-to-the-land communes and counterculture enclaves ranging from Southern Ohio to Upstate New York. One of his earliest and happiest memories is of standing by the side of a country road with his mother, hitchhiking to parts unknown. Since then, he’s been a factory grunt, a vacuum salesman, a convalescent, a high-school dropout, a graduate student, a semi-truck loader, an activist, a kitchen-table gunsmith, a squatter, a college professor, a dishwasher, a technical writer and a petty thief.

His first novel, Pike, was published in America in 2010 by PM Press, and in France in 2012 by Éditions Gallmeister. Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers, a memoir co-written with Charlie Louvin, was released by Igniter Books in 2012.

Whitmer applied the Page 69 Test to his second novel, Cry Father, and reported the following:
I was actually a little nervous about applying the page 69 test to Cry Father. As Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.” Cry Father contains its fair share of all four, and I was scared I’d put off readers before they even had a chance to pick it up.

Luckily, this is what I got when I flipped to page 69:
Patterson drives the long way back from the Walmart in Alamosa, his truck bed full of supplies. After salting the stump, he hadn’t been able to think of anything left to avoid town with this morning. He drives past side roads flicking away to bleak little clusters of trailers. Over a cattle guard into ranchland, through ranging beef cows as alien in the greasewood and sagebrush as water buffalo. Smoking cigarettes and watching a bank of clouds form in the gray sky, long streaks of rain striking down on the western rim of the valley. Watching those clouds darken from gray to black.

It’s about two miles outside of San Luis that he runs across the Wild Mustang Mesa four-wheeler, abandoned by the side of the road, smoke pouring out of it. Patterson parks the truck and is walking back to take a look when Emma pulls up in the Wild Mesa Mustang truck behind him. “Is he here?” she asks, running to him.

“Not as far as I can tell,” Patterson says.
No drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity. Not even a hint. Instead, a quiet description of the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado where the novel is set. Which is perfect. The San Luis Valley is the bleeding center of the book. It’s the kind of open, spare Western landscape that’ll break your heart.

Of course, there are also hints of what’s to come. When Patterson and Emma find the man they’re looking for, that’s when Patterson’s carefully sewn-up life starts truly unraveling.

But that’s still a little ways off, only threatening.
Visit Benjamin Whitmer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"In the Red"

Elena Mauli Shapiro was born in Paris, France, and moved to the United States at the age of 13. She has amassed several degrees in literature and writing around the San Francisco Bay Area (Stanford University, Mills College, UC Davis), where she still lives with one scientist husband and two elderly half-Siamese cats who spend all day following sunbeams around the house. Her novel, 13 rue Thérèse, was released by Little, Brown in February 2011.

Shapiro applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, In the Red, and reported the following:
Page 69 of In the Red:
Amy unbundles some hundreds and places them in the little top tray. She pushes a button; there is a leafy whir. They watch the machine pass the bundle and display the expected “100.”

“So,” Amy asks, “have you ever been in love?”


Irina looks her coworker in the face, unsure of what is happening.

“Have you ever been in love?” she repeats.

Is Amy joking? Of all the words to say in a goddamn vault, “love” must be one of the most misplaced. Irina sees nothing but earnestness in Amy’s face, which is in itself a trifle unusual. So she answers, simply, “Yes.”

Irina sighs. She thinks she’s given enough of an answer, but Amy isn’t moving, isn’t taking the cash back out of the counter to rebundle it. She plainly expects more clarification, and asks for it. “How was it?”

“It was a fucking disaster,” Irina says.

Amy considers this answer and then shrugs. “Sounds about right,” she says as she reaches for more of the money.

Irina does not yet know that this is normal. Being hermetically sealed in the vault alone with another person can do that.Maybe it’s the confinement, all the sounds of the outside world totally blocked off by the layers of metal and concrete. Something about the vault will make a banker tell another banker about the abortion she’s never spoken of with anyone before; it will make a banker ask another banker—a near stranger—what fears keep him up at night.
What is on this page:

• Falling in love is a fucking disaster.

• Confinement and money do strange things to people’s minds.

I think this is actually a pretty good capsule of the book as a whole! The page 69 test totally works.
Visit Elena Mauli Shapiro's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"The Angel of Losses"

Stephanie Feldman studied writing at the University of Pennsylvania and Barnard College. NPR calls her first novel, The Angel of Losses, "a breathtakingly accomplished debut" and The Washington Post describes it as "a journey of fantastic tales, stormy family ties and a tragic discovery of redemption that will break your heart." Barnes & Noble has named the book a Discover Great New Writers selection for fall 2014. Feldman lives outside Philadelphia with her family and is at work on a new novel.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Angel of Losses and reported the following:
The Angel of Losses is a few different stories in one: mystery, fantasy, historical, and domestic realism. I'm afraid that last element sometimes gets lost in discussion about the book, so I'm glad that page 69, the first page of chapter three, is about the two sisters at the heart of the novel.

Marjorie, a young graduate student, narrates The Angel of Losses, and here she describes the beginning of her younger sister Holly's conversion to Orthodox Judaism, which ultimately leads to the sisters’ estrangement.
During Holly’s first semester at college, she fell into a whirlwind romance with a guy on her floor—he was tall, pre-med, from Connecticut, so good on paper that my mother began fantasizing and fretting about their life together. I hated listening to her excited speculation. I had never had a boyfriend serious enough for those kinds of conversations, and her claims of pride over my English Department awards sounded dry, forced. I was jealous.

My sister didn’t have a lot in common with her roommate, an Orthodox Jewish girl from Brooklyn who seemed to have arrived at school with a hundred of her closest friends. She was nice, but she ate at the kosher cafeteria with her girlfriends and disappeared all Friday and Saturday. Holly spent more and more time with her boyfriend. They slept in his room almost every night, studied side by side for Chemistry 101 and Introduction to Architecture, arrived at every party hand in hand.

My mother’s worries shifted from the future to the present. “I think he’s Holly’s only friend,” she said.
I like that we end here on that line, suggesting Holly's loneliness, something that Marjorie fails to recognize until it's far too late. The Angel of Losses is about a rebellious wizard, a sinister angel, a family curse (or gift)—but it's also about how two sisters get lost in their own grief, and ultimately, find their way out of it again.
Visit Stephanie Feldman's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Angel of Losses made Nicole Hill's list of five of the best new girl-powered sci-fi and fantasy novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Silent Murders"

Mary Miley is the winner of the 2012 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Novel Competition. She grew up in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and France, and worked her way through the College of William and Mary in Virginia as a costumed tour guide at Colonial Williamsburg. After completing her masters in history, she worked at the museum and taught American history at Virginia Commonwealth University. As Mary Miley Theobald, she has published numerous nonfiction books and articles on history, travel, and business topics.

In 2013 Miley introduced her Roaring Twenties series with The Impersonator. She applied the Page 69 Test to Silent Murders, the second book in the series, and reported the following:
Here’s page 69:
They shot rapid-fire questions at me, alternating between them so there was no pause for me to rest or reflect. I was certain they already knew the answers, but they argued with me on nearly all of them as if everything I said was a lie. I made sure to throw in that I worked for Douglas Fairbanks. The name didn’t flicker an eyelid.

After what seemed like hours of questions about Esther, they turned to Bruno Heilmann and worked their way through the time I had spent at the party, accusing me of sleeping with Heilmann and every other man at the party, demanding to know who I’d spoken to, what I’d seen, whether I’d been upstairs, and when I had arrived and departed. I soon learned not to pause to think, or one of them would snarl, “Just answer the question, sister, don’t think up lies.” When we reached the end of the questions, they started over. Same questions. And then a third time. I figured they were trying to fluster me into giving different answers that they could twist into some semblance of guilt, but someone accustomed to repeating the same act on stage three, four, or five times a day is not going to get rattled by repetition. I got slapped several times by the standing detective—not much harder than a stage slap—and finally he said, “Okay, sister, we’ll see how smart alecky you are after a night in jail.”

They led me out of the miserable little room and there, at the door that led to the cells, stood Carl Delaney. It felt wonderful to see a friendly face, even if it was a cop. “I’ll take her in,” he said. They handed me over with no comment and left.

We stood in the hall for a few minutes, saying nothing, waiting for I didn’t know what, until Carl opened the door to the main room and looked about. “They’re gone. Come on. Can’t let you go home, but you don’t have to spend the night in the pokey. Sit here.” He pointed to a beat-up leather chair in the corner by the main door.

“Who are those guys?” I asked him.

“Tuttle and Rios. Detectives assigned to the Heilmann case.”
Open to page 69 of Silent Murders and you’ll find fairly representative slice of my story. In this, the second Roaring Twenties mystery, it is 1926, and Jessie has recovered from the injuries she sustained in The Impersonator when she took on the role of a missing heiress in a scam to inherit the girl’s fortune. She has since moved to Hollywood and taken a lowly “Girl Friday” job in the silent film studio belonging to movie stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Running errands for Fairbanks gets her invited to a party where a famous director is murdered. In the scene on page 69, Jessie is being questioned by some rough detectives who suspect her of being involved in the crime. Which she is.

One of the underlying premises to my series is that growing up in vaudeville has led Jessie to develop skills that help her solve crimes. This passage illustrates that premise with a small example: she is not rattled by repetition at the police station because she is accustomed to performing the same routine several times a day. The scene also serves to introduce honest cop Carl Delaney (honesty being a rare trait among Prohibition-era policemen), who becomes an important character in Silent Murders and in future books of this series, two of which I’ve already completed. I have a horror of deadlines and so stay well ahead of them!
Learn more about the book and author at Mary Miley's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Impersonator.

Writers Read: Mary Miley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 22, 2014

"In a Handful of Dust"

Mindy McGinnis is an assistant YA librarian who lives in Ohio and cans her own food. She graduated from Otterbein University magna cum laude with a BA in English Literature and Religion. McGinnis has a pond in her back yard but has never shot anyone, as her morals tend to cloud her vision.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, In a Handful of Dust, and reported the following:
When I turned to page 69 of In a Handful of Dust, I realized I'd lucked out. It's definitely representative of the book as a whole, and also does a great job of offering some plot setup, including Lynn's reasoning about their chosen path. Walking to California - normally an unheard of thought - makes sense to her, and she explains why, which also gives a broader sense of the world outside of Ohio, something you didn't see in Not a Drop to Drink:
One, we don't know for sure of any places set up with these desalinization plants on the East Coast. Your uncle said before he died that people in Entargo had word that the West Coast had pockets of stability, real electricity even. No one's heard a peep about the east. Two, Stebbs says even before the Shortage the east was packed full of people, the west more sparsely populated. Even though it'll be easier to find water in the east, there's also more people wanting it.
Another thing that Page 69 illustrates about Dust is that there's going to be a slightly lighter tone than Drink along with the narrator shift. Dust takes place ten years after the events in Drink, with Lucy as the main character. Her outlook on life has always been laced with humor, and she enjoys needling stoic Lynn:
Lynn: "Desperate people do desperate things."

Lucy: "Like walk across the country?"
And lastly, Page 69 also gives the reader a sense of the danger that envelops the book as a whole. It doesn't need to be stated that two women walking across a lawless country will face threats, but there are smaller dangers that present their own types of problems:
Lucy reluctantly brought her foot out from under the blanket and put it on Lynn's knee for inspection. Lynn's mouth went back to a flat line when she got a good look at the blister.

"Lord, child, I wish you'd worn a better pair of shoes."
Overall I think readers will enjoy Dust, as it broadens the landscape that Lynn and Lucy must survive in, bringing new dangers and pushing them both out of their comfort zones as they continue to grow.
Learn more about the book and author at Mindy McGinnis's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Not a Drop to Drink.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"Wouldn’t It Be Deadly"

Two award-winning authors, Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta, have teamed up under the pseudonym D.E. Ireland. Their debut novel, Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, is Book 1 in the Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins mystery series. These longtime friends and Michigan residents have a number of publishing credits under their separate names, including novels and novellas in historical and contemporary romance, historical westerns, mystery and fantasy short stories, numerous articles, and even a one-act play produced off-Broadway. They’re both Anglophiles, history nuts, and big fans of Edwardian era dramas such as Mr. Selfridge, Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs.

D.E. Ireland applied the Page 69 Test to Wouldn’t It Be Deadly and reported the following:
Higgins is a renowned phonetician who has publicly exposed his professional rival Emil Nepommuck as a criminal. Although Higgins is arrogant and short-tempered, he is neither malicious nor unkind. Therefore he is upset to learn someone has murdered Nepommuck following the shocking revelations in the newspaper that morning. Page 69 indicates to the reader that Higgins is a decent man capable of feeling guilt for his actions, even though the murder victim is not deserving of anyone’s sympathy. This page also reveals that Higgins cares for Eliza’s good opinion and knows she will not approve of his rash – if understandable – reaction.

In fact, his decision to expose the Hungarian is fueled by resentment: Nepommuck hired Higgins’s former pupil Eliza as an instructor and then took credit for turning her from a Cockney flower girl into a lady. Both Eliza and Higgins know it’s a lie. What they don’t know yet is that Higgins is now the prime suspect in Nepommuck’s death. After all, he had motive and opportunity, especially since no one can verify his whereabouts during the time of the murder. And although Eliza suspects Higgins is not being entirely truthful with her about where he was that fateful morning, she knows he is not capable of such a violent act.

Indeed this is the calm before the storm.

From Page 69:
If ever a scoundrel deserved a comeuppance, it was that blasted Hungarian. And seeing as how he had lied about so much else in his background, Higgins was amazed Nepommuck had been honest about being Hungarian. Since the lying bloke was fluent in thirty-two languages, he could have passed himself off as a native of any number of countries. It certainly would have made sense for Nepommuck – or Bela Kardos as he was really called – to have taken on another nationality along with that fabricated royal lineage.

Higgins could only guess that the mountebank genuinely missed his homeland. The tiresome fellow loved to prattle about the glory of the Carpathian Mountains and the beauty of the Danube. He had even extolled the wonders of Hungarian cuisine, which as far as Higgins knew consisted largely of goulash.

Nepommuck wouldn’t be suffering homesickness any longer. Higgins was shocked at how quickly word of the murder had traveled from the police to the evening editions of the penny dailies. For the past hour, newsboys had been crying out, “Disgraced Hungarian Royal found murdered at Belgrave Square!” from every London corner. Of course, Higgins had felt compelled to buy a copy. And he was dismayed to read that a Miss Doolittle had found the dead body. Higgins knew that Eliza wouldn’t forgive him for this, not with her damnable moral code.

In fact, he could hear her now, “Look what you’ve done, you arrogant bully. Just look what you’ve done!”
Learn more about the book and author at D. E. Ireland's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 19, 2014

"When We Fall"

Emily Liebert is an award-​winning author, New York Times bestselling editor, and TV personality. Her books Facebook Fairytales and You Knew Me When are available across the globe. Liebert is a graduate of Smith College and lives in Connecticut with her husband and their two sons.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, When We Fall, and reported the following:
Wow! Fortunately, Page 69 of When We Fall is a pretty good one. Before checking it out, I was dubious, since it’s so close to the beginning and things typically tend to heat up toward the end of books…but, alas, there’s a lot on this page. Page 69 is at the end of Chapter 5. It’s a scene at Allison, the main character’s, home. She’s chatting with Charlie, her dead husband’s best friend from summer camp where they all met. She’s recently moved back to the town where she grew up, over a decade after losing her husband in a tragic bus accident. On the first day of her son’s school, Allison meets another mom named Charlotte who promptly introduces her to her husband…Charlie. Page 69 shows Allison and Charlie talking about Jack—Allison’s dead husband and reminiscing about their time at summer camp together. It gives you a glimpse into their rekindled friendship, which will cause problems later in the book. And it gives you a sense of who Allison is, where she’s come from, and the kind of guy Jack was. No big plot twists here, but I think (hope!) that a reader would be intrigued enough by who this Charlie character is and how he’s connected to Jack and Allison—beyond their time spent at summer camp—to want to read on!
Learn more about the book and author at Emily Liebert's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Night of the Jaguar"

Joe Gannon, writer and spoken word artist, was a freelance journalist in Nicaragua during the Sandinista Revolution, writing for The Christian Science Monitor, The Toronto Globe and Mail, and the San Francisco Examiner. He spent three years in the army, graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and did his MFA at Pine Manor College.

Gannon applied the Page 69 Test to Night of the Jaguar, his debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It had begun as envy, Malhora knew it. But it had transformed into something else that May Day party at the Cuban embassy (in Mexico) when he’d felt compelled to not only lie about knowing Montoya, but to regale one and all with tales of their friendship. And he had pursued a friendship with the ungrateful son-of-a-bitch – had teamed up with him in State Security in the early days of the Revo, only to discover the “great man” was a wild-eyed dreamer, the worst kind of romantic bourgeois. And then that night in Los Nubes when Malhora had killed for the first time. Montoya had come running out of the darkness and struck him! Not even a manly blow but a backhanded him like a servant who’d broken a family heirloom. Malhora’s feeling had hardened into cold hate, and he had filled a file with Montoya’s drunken fall since. And who was the great man now?
It is so amazing that on page 69 is single most important scene for what is really happening in the novel – in the deep back-story, but also in the deepest recesses of Ajax Montoya’s heart.

Vladimir Malhora is the villain in the novel – a bureaucrat who sat out most of the insurrection against the Ogre in Mexico doing vital clandestine work, but who was never a grunt on the ground in the mountains where the dying and killing was done. All of Ajax’s loyalties are based on those he shared the hardships with all those desperate years in the mountains, the men and women who made the Revo.

This p. 69 paragraph recalls the very moment when Ajax realized that the Revo he fought for was not the Revo he was living. It is the moment he drifted away from his old comrades, from his then wife, a star of the Revo, and slowly settled into isolation, drunkenness and despair.

Hemingway, in Spain in the 1930s, was supposed to have said that communists make the best rebels and the worst governments. Malhora is the guy – the kind of person – who flourishes during peace time when the quotidian choices to be made in governing, that is to say the compromises of politics, can turn the stark black and white of war into the wooly grey of peace.

Nicaragua in the 1980s was a football to be kicked about in the Cold War between the American and Soviet superpowers—the Marxist Sandinistas sided with the Soviets and America’s Ronald Reagan set out to punish them for their temerity. It was a hot proxy war in a dirt poor country. Malhora represents those who embraced that role, Ajax is of those who still pined for the earlier, simpler goals.

At one point he is called to task by his best friend and now ex-wife for putting his own agenda before the Revo’s.

Ajax replies, “I didn’t fight all those years to be a pawn, anyone’s pawn in some Cold War chess game.”

“Then what did you fight for?” his friend asks.

“Flu shots and flush toilets... Equality before the law.”

“Well, what you got was superpower Cold War chess games.”

How that switch occurred, and its cost in blood and souls, is all laid out on page 69.

On a side note, it is right on this page where my 11-year-old daughter, Valentina, gave me a great piece of advice -- the passage quoted had begun with "Malhora hated Ajax Montoya, he always had." She said she found that line "cliched", said "I've read that before, Daddy." So I cut that line and the paragraph now reads in the book as you see it here. It was an improvement and she is my first reader now!
Visit Joe Gannon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Into the Grey"

Celine Kiernan is an award-winning author of fantasy novels for young adults. Her critically acclaimed work combines fantasy elements with the exploration of political, humanitarian and philosophical themes. She is best known for The Moorehawke Trilogy, a dark, complex trilogy of fantasy YA books set in an alternative renaissance Europe. First published in Kiernan’s native Ireland in 2008, the trilogy has since been published in 15 different territories, and translated into 10 different languages.

Kiernan’s fourth novel, Into the Grey (aka Taken Away) – a YA ghost story set in 1970′s Ireland – won the 2012 CBI Book of the Year (formerly The Bisto award) and the CBI Children’s Choice Award. It is the first book to have won both categories. It won the RAI Book of the Year 2013, and has been shortlisted for the Sakura Medal (English High) 2014. In 2013 the Irish Times named it as one of the best children’s books of the past 25 years.

Kiernan applied the Page 69 Test to Into the Grey and reported the following:
What an interesting page for you to have chosen! I do actually think it’s very representative of the rest of the book.

This scene – where one twin supports the other as they quietly face their fear – comes at a time when a slow build up of creepy occurrences is just about to explode into full on paranormal catastrophe. In a world before mobile phones, video games, and the internet, these boys have found themselves separated from their friends and their home, and immersed in a haunting which has been going on, unnoticed, for their whole lives. Their family is too distracted by grief and stress to be of any use to them. They only have each other for support - but they are about to lose each other, perhaps for good.

My use of identical twins is not random, and neither is my choice of 1974 as a setting for the book. Ireland was still very much torn by divisions and secrecy then. Many people did not talk about their past, and so did not recognise themselves in the stories being taught about Ireland’s history. The idea of looking at your own face in the mirror – of looking at your beloved brother’s face – and not recognising what you saw, is something which echoes not only with my own recollection of being a teenager (no longer a child, not quite an adult, not yet knowing where you fit into the world) but also the larger dislocation of my country, that didn’t yet know how to respect the fallen on either side of a divide which would continue to split families down the middle for decades to come.
Visit Celine Kiernan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"The Undertaking"

Audrey Magee worked for twelve years as a journalist and has written for, among others, The Times, The Irish Times, the Observer and the Guardian. She studied German and French at University College Dublin and journalism at Dublin City University. She lives in Wicklow with her husband and three daughters.

Magee applied the Page 69 Test to The Undertaking, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
‘I don’t give a fuck about the Jews and communists, Faustmann. Only food. That’s all we want. Tell them to hand it over.’

Kraus was agitated, hungry for his men. The villagers were still. An old woman spoke.

‘She says they have nothing left,’ said Faustmann.

‘Right then,’ said Kraus. ‘We’ll just have to find it ourselves. Let’s go.’

They crashed into the small houses, ripping up floorboards, emptying cupboards, cellars, vats and wardrobes, unearthing potatoes sunflower seeds, bread and apples. But no meat. Kraus stormed back into the yard and the men followed, stuffing bread and apples into their mouths. He grabbed an old man by the collar of his tattered coat.

‘Where are the animals? Where’s the meat?’

Faustmann translated the sergeant’s fury.

‘We don’t have any,’ replied the old man.

Kraus pulled a warmed pistol from inside his tunic and placed it against the man’s head.

‘Where is it? My men need meat and I am going to find it.’

‘We don’t have any. It’s all gone.’

Kraus squeezed his finger against the trigger and the old man fell to the ground, a puff of body heat and a scarlet flush across the muddied snow. The villagers covered their mouths, frozen, until a young woman with long dark hair hanging from beneath her brightly coloured cotton headscarf stepped forward.

‘I will show you,’ she said.
The German soldiers on the Eastern front during WWII are growing more desperate, and more violent. Winter is coming and army supply lines are floundering. Food is hard to find. This scene is a turning point in just how far these men will go to secure it.

Is page 69 representative of the whole novel? Well, yes, it is as The Undertaking is about inurement, about how we close our eyes to events around us in order to improve our lot. In order to survive. That inurement is gradual, one corrupting decision making the next step a little easier until all around us is chaos.

In the novel, we follow Peter Faber and Katharina Spinell, two ordinary Germans who marry without knowing each other, he to secure honeymoon leave from the front, she to gain a pension should he die in action. The Undertaking explores what it was like to have been an ordinary German during that period, following Katharina as she wends her way towards the centre of the Nazi party, Peter as he approaches Stalingrad, each of them corrupted by the decisions they make, by the decisions foisted upon them.

The writing is spare, leaving space for the reader to ask what he or she might have done in similar circumstances.
Visit Audrey Magee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 15, 2014

"Six Feet Over It"

Jennifer Longo holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Theater from Humboldt State University. She credits her lifelong flair for drama to parents who did things like buy the town graveyard and put their kids to work in it-because how hilarious would that be? Turns out, pretty hilarious. Longo lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband and daughter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Six Feet Over It, her debut novel, and reported the following:
This must be some whacky party game the kids are playing at slumber parties that freaks everyone out because it is so accurate! Page 69 of Six Feet Over It completely encapsulates Leigh’s (the main character) conflict in a nutshell!

A girl called Elanor, who wants to be Leigh’s friend, is giving Leigh the inside scoop about an apparent romance blossoming between Elanor’s brother, and Leigh’s sister. All the while Elanor is talking Leigh’s in her head thinking This girl is so nice I wish I could be friends with her but then I am toxic and if she was friends with me she would probably die, and I am so happy for my sister but also I am so jealous why can’t I have fun and have a boyfriend and now I feel terrible for being jealous I am circling the drain here seriously, this Elanor person is so nice I want a friend so badly what the cripes is going on….

That’s not a quote, that’s all badly paraphrased but you get it…Wow! I am going to read page 69 of every book I pick up in the store from now on, and if I think it’s compelling I’ll buy it. Delightful! Thank you so much, and remember – badly paraphrased. The actual prose in Six Feet Over It is so much better than that. I swear. Kirkus gave it a star, I’m not kidding.
Learn more about the book and author at Jennifer Longo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 14, 2014

"Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon"

David Barnett is an award-winning journalist, currently multimedia content manager of the Telegraph & Argus, cultural reviewer for The Guardian and the Independent on Sunday, and he has done features for The Independent and Wired. He is the author of Angelglass (described by The Guardian as “stunning”), Hinterland, and popCULT!

Barnett applied the Page 69 Test to Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon, the second Gideon Smith novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Lyle moved on. “And then we have Texas. It was always wild country down there. The warlords started off as British governors, but a few of them got together after the Wall was built, decided they didn’t want to pay their taxes and didn’t want to be beholden to a London that had cut them off with the Confederacy and French Louisiana. Neither did they like being told they couldn’t keep slaves. They didn’t want any part of the Confederacy, though; they wanted to live their own way. They’re godless, violent slavers, Mr. Smith, who will stop at nothing to ensure their anarchic, lawless way of life is preserved. They’re killers, ravishers. They make their own rules, and they aren’t the rules of civilized men. They take what they want and murder anyone who tries to stop them.”

Lyle fell silent, and Gideon asked, “Mr. Lyle, how much do you know about our mission?”

Lyle looked around the table. “You all have the necessary clearances?”

“Of course. You can speak freely here. I would trust Mr. Bent and Rowena with my life. Have done, many times.”

Lyle nodded, though he still seemed cautious. “I received a full briefing, of course, about what you’re doing here. From the highest authority.”

“Oh, get on with it, Lyle,” said Bent. “You can say his name. He won’t magically appear behind you. Walsingham gave you the full rundown, did he?”

Lyle appeared to relax. “Yes, Mr. Walsingham. He told me that you had secured from Egypt an ancient weapon, a fabulous brass dragon that flies and shoots fireballs, powered by unknown machinery.” Lyle shook his head. “What a marvel. What a thing. Imagine what uses such an infernal device could be put to.”

“That’s the problem, Mr. Lyle,” said Gideon. “We do imagine what it could be used for. That’s why we have to get it back.”
How strange, that page 69 pretty sums up the entire plot. Gideon Smith and his cohorts are in America to track down the stolen brass dragon, Apep (as detailed in the first book, Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl), and the Governor of New York, Edward Lyle, is appraising them of the situation in the America of this alternate-timeline. To wit, the American revolution never happened. The British control the East Coast, the breakaway Japanese faction known as the Californian Meiji is on the West, and in what we know as Mexico – New Spain in this world – the Spanish still hold sway. Gideon is inevitably bound for Texas, a lawless former British colony now run by warlords, chief among them the half-man, half-machine Thaddeus Pinch, ruler of what used to be called San Antonio, but is now just “Steamtown”.

Would this make you want to read the whole book? I hope so. It gives a flavour of the alternate-history of Gideon’s world, and features three of the main characters of the entire series – Gideon, the journalist Aloysius Bent, and the airship pilot Rowena Fanshawe. I’ll be keeping a close eye on my page 69s in future!
Visit David Barnett's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 12, 2014

"The Sheltering"

Mark Powell's novels include Prodigals (nominated for the Cabell First Novelist Award), Blood Kin (winner of the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel), and The Dark Corner. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Breadloaf Writers' Conference. In 2009 he received the Chaffin Award for contributions to Appalachian literature. Powell holds degrees from Yale Divinity School, the University of South Carolina, and the Citadel. He is an associate professor of English at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, and for three years taught a fiction workshop at Lawtey Correctional Institute, a level II prison in Raiford, Florida.

Powell applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Sheltering, and reported the following:
Amazingly—because who knew such a thing could be done?—The Sheltering fails the page 69 test. Or perhaps it passes with such blinding fury and speed that—nah, it doesn’t. No Spoiler Alert here: page 69 reads PART THREE. (In its defense, the letters are large and the font is elegant.) But maybe this is the key to the book after all. The Sheltering follows two slowly, but inevitably connecting plotlines and what could be more representative than balancing between the two? In the first, Luther Redding flies a drone over Afghanistan from the bowels of a Tampa Air Force Base. When he dies in a car wreck, erased as quick as a far-away target, his wife and two daughters are left with little more than the aftershocks. In the second plotline, two brothers (one home from Iraq, the other released from prison) set off on a drug-fueled road trip. One narrative is about absence, about the way in which our American lives are so often lived by proxy. The other is about the visceral nature of being alive, how, despite our best efforts, we still live in bodies. Our lives seem to float between the two—our hallucinatory swipe-screen personas versus the hunger of flesh—so perhaps it’s fitting that page 69 does the same?
Learn more about The Sheltering at the University of South Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Don't Let Go"

Michelle Gagnon has been a modern dancer, a dog walker, a bartender, a freelance journalist, a personal trainer, and a model. Her bestselling thrillers for adults have been published in numerous countries and include The Tunnels, Boneyard, The Gatekeeper, and Kidnap & Ransom. Don't Turn Around and Don't Look Now are her first two novels for young adults.

Gagnon applied the Page 69 Test to Don't Let Go, the third book in the Don't Turn Around series, and reported the following:
I’ve done this test a number of times now, and this is by far the best page 69 I’ve encountered!

Ok, here’s why:
“That’s what your friends said.” Loki shook his head. “No one moves. Now who the hell are you, really?”

Daisy clung to Teo, both arms tight around his waist. He clasped her hands, cursing himself for listening to Peter. They should have left last night; he should have trusted his gut. After everything they’d been through, he and Daisy might be shot in the middle of nowhere by some freak.

“I contacted you on The Quad last October,” Peter piped up. “When I was going to brick Pike & Dolan’s servers.”

“A lot of people know about that,” Loki said. “Doesn’t prove anything.”

Peter and Noa exchanged an uncertain look, and Teo’s heart sank. Was it possible they’d never even met this guy before? And what was up with the fake names?

“The pedophile case in Greenwich,” Noa finally said. “We worked together on that.”

Loki tilted his head and said, “Tell me how.”

“How what?” Peter asked.

“How did we get him?” Loki snarled.

“I posed as a twelve-year-old girl and chatted with him while you sent his jpgs to the local cops,” Noa said. “Anything else you want to know?”

The shotgun lowered a fraction of an inch. Loki stared at them for a beat, considering. Finally, he said, “So you are who you say you are. Doesn’t matter. How the hell did you find me?”

“I, uh . . . tracked your IP address,” Peter said. “Sorry.”

Teo held his breath, braced for another gunshot. Based on Noa’s reaction earlier, this wasn’t something hackers took well.

“You what?” Loki sounded genuinely perplexed. “Seriously? Not cool, Vallas.”
So in this scene we’re meeting Loki for the first time in person (as opposed to the offscreen presence he had in Don't Turn Around). Loki easily became my favorite character in this book, and possibly in the entire trilogy. He’s a hacker/survivalist who is big and brash and charming (and maybe just a wee bit unbalanced and paranoid). I don’t want to spill any spoilers, but thanks to Loki’s security measures, Noa and Peter’s next escape from the folks at Big Evil is truly epic.

He also manages to inject a considerable amount of humor into the story, which is critical in a thriller; otherwise reading it starts to feel a bit relentless. Just because I can’t resist (Loki!), here’s another of my favorite exchanges with him:
“Got it!” Noa said triumphantly.

The pressure abruptly eased, replaced by a dull throbbing. “Let me see it,” Peter gasped.

She lowered a pair of tweezers down in front of his eyes. Peter frowned: They were clamped around something way too tiny to have caused so much pain. “That’s it?” he asked, dumbfounded.

“You’d think it would have ten fingers and ten toes, the amount of noise you made,” Loki grunted. “No wonder women have the babies.”
Classic Loki. I promise he won’t disappoint.
Learn more about the book and author at Michelle Gagnon's website.

The Page 69 Test: Don't Turn Around.

My Book, The Movie: Don't Turn Around.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life"

Catherine Reef is the author of more than 40 nonfiction books, including many highly acclaimed biographies for young people. She lives in College Park, Maryland.

Reef applied the Page 69 Test to Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life, her new young adult biography exploring the tumultuous lives, marriage, and work of the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and reported the following:
Frida & Diego is subtitled Art, Love, Life. Many of its pages look at the subjects as artists, but page 69 finds them enmeshed in “love” and “life.”

The marriage of Frida and Diego was battered and damaged by the infidelity of both spouses. On page 69 Frida is reeling from the worst blow Diego inflicts on her, his affair with her sister Cristina. It is summer 1935, and she has left Mexico to stay in New York with friends.
Observing her life from this great distance, Frida understood that she still loved Diego and he loved her. The affair with Cristina would end, and he would have others; he was never going to change. “I cannot love him for what he is not,” she concluded. So she forgave both Diego and Cristina, although the affair had not yet waned, and when fall came, she went back to San Ángel. She returned stronger, more independent, and vowing to live a meaningful life on her own terms.
Rivera also engages in introspection—a thing unusual for him—and he acknowledges a side of himself that is less than admirable, the satisfaction he takes in hurting women he loves. “Frida was only the most obvious victim of this disgusting trait,” he admits.

But what happens after Frida gets home? Leon Trotsky enters the story. The old freedom fighter and his wife have been living under a death sentence after being expelled from the Soviet Communist Party by a pathologically suspicious Joseph Stalin.
Anyone who spoke out against Stalin or his policies would be sent to a gulag (forced-labor camp), where starvation and brutality were the way of life, or exiled to Siberia, or killed. Terrified of enemies real or imagined, Stalin had millions of Soviet citizens put to death. In 1929 Trotsky was forced to flee. In his absence the Soviet government staged a series of trials that were rigged to frame him for plotting from abroad to assassinate Stalin.
Like vagabonds, the Trotskys have bounced from Turkey to France and Norway, never permitted to settle permanently.
Anytime, anywhere, Stalin’s supporters might track him down and execute him.
As we reach the bottom of page 69, Rivera receives a letter from a friend in the United States, asking if Mexico might give the Trotskys asylum. Rivera was a communist who opposed Stalin’s policies, and he was prominent and politically active, so for him to receive this request made sense. But we must turn the page to learn that he then appeals to President Lázaro Cárdenas, who welcomes the Trotskys into the country, setting the stage for further betrayal.
Visit Catherine Reef's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"Rainey Royal"

Dylan Landis is the author of a debut novel, Rainey Royal, and a linked story collection, Normal People Don't Live Like This. Her work has appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories 2014, the New York Times, Tin House, BOMB and elsewhere. She lives in New York.

Landis applied the Page 69 Test to Rainey Royal and reported the following:
My page 69 opens in a high school art class, where a tall, shy girl named Leah—the unnamed giraffe, below—is being bullied by two lionesses: the troubled and talented Rainey Royal, and Rainey's best friend Tina. But Rainey's mind is wandering. She's thinking about her father, Howard, a brilliant slimeball jazz musician who has been giving Tina clarinet lessons, and maybe some other kinds of lessons, on the side.

Rainey loves Howard, and she loves Tina, but the combination of the two is more than she can stand.
Mr. Knecht, oblivious to the hazards of placing two lionesses with a giraffe, has seated her with Rainey and Tina. Tina can't draw well either, but she has the advantage of not giving a fuck. Also, she has the advantage of Rainey, who leans over when Mr. Knecht isn't looking and lightly chisels Tina's linoleum, adding gesture and grace.

Every time Rainey starts to ask Tina to come over, she hesitates; she envisions Howard giving her breathing lessons from behind, breathing being a big deal for musicians. Breathe from here, she imagines him saying, his hands over Tina's lower abdomen where—as she conceives the body—clothes tumble round in a hot dryer, and then, sliding one hand up to her breastbone, not from here, he would say, and it would be pure Howard to do this, and it makes Rainey sick.
Page 69 is pure Rainey, and pure Howard. He has no boundaries, and I loved writing him. It was cathartic—for reasons having nothing to do with my own wonderful family—and it let me be outrageous in ways that felt peculiar to New York in the 1970s. That was an era when I felt intensely alive, as teenagers do: every nerve ending awake. But I was as interested in writing the small, revealing details as in the in-your-face sex and drugs of the time.
She wonders if she can tell Tina to leave the goddamn clarinet at home. She is afraid that Tina might bring the loaner, swing it insouciantly, like a purse.
I loved writing Rainey. What I shared with her personally were my troubles and my fears, and the intensity of my female friendships. But she was the artist and the rebel I longed to be.
Visit Dylan Landis's website.

Writers Read: Dylan Landis (November 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 8, 2014

"The Badger Knight"

Kathryn Erskine is the acclaimed author of many distinguished novels for young readers, including Mockingbird, winner of the National Book Award; The Absolute Value of Mike, an Amazon Best Book and ALA Notable Book; and Quaking, an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Badger Knight, and reported the following:
From page 69:
When Father sees me, he calls out, “Adrian! Do you know where Hugh is?”

I walk toward him and call back, “No.” It’s an honest statement. He’s on the road somewhere, heading northwest, but I don’t know exactly where he is.

“Did he tell you where he was going?”

“To weed the fields.” That also is true.

Father cocks his head at me, narrowing his eyes.

I try to appear as innocent as a babe. “Look!” I say, now standing in front of him, holding up the rabbit. “We’ll have a fine supper!”

“Aren’t you worried about your friend?”

I wonder if I’m playing my role right. “Hugh is well, I am sure.”

“Well on his way to battle, is that it?”

I let the rabbit dangle in the dirt and sigh. It’s no use pretending. I can only try to make him see reason. “Hugh wants to help his father—”

“Even though his father forbade it? You’re his best friend. Couldn’t you stop him?”

I shake my head. Indeed, I didn’t even try. It was me who put the idea in his head. But he would’ve gone, anyway, I’m sure of it.

Father sighs. “I must try to stop him.”

“What? Father, he left many hours ago. You’ll never catch up with him.”

“Stupid fool!” Good Aunt shrieks from behind me.

I cower, expecting a thrashing for something I’ve done or not done, I don’t know which.
Because of their great archery skills, Adrian has encouraged his friend, Hugh, who is almost of age, to sneak off to battle. Even though Adrian is two years young, he plans to do the same thing in order to prove he's a man and counter the negative opinions of him resulting from his albinism, small stature, and asthma. It would also be nice to get away from his awful aunt.

Page 69 is representative in that Adrian follows his urge to do what's right, yet struggles with deception, throughout his adventure. Although he's scared, he's determined. And he's a loyal friend -- even when it goes against social norms.
Learn more about the book and author at Kathryn Erskine's website.

Check out Erskine's top 10 first person narratives.

Coffee with a Canine: Kathryn Erskine & Fletcher.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"Play Me Backwards"

Adam Selzer was born in Des Moines and now lives in Chicago, where he writes humorous books by day and researches history, ghost stories and naughty playground rhymes by night. After eleven published books, including the acclaimed Smart Aleck's Guide to American History and I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It, not to mention How To Get Suspended and Influence People (which people try to ban now and then), he is just famous enough to have a page on wikipedia. He has been described as "subversive, but in a fun way....like the offspring of Bob Dylan and some Muppet."

Selzer applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Play Me Backwards, and reported the following:
On Page 69, we find our hero, Leon, contemplating whether or not Stan, his best friend (and manager at his job) could possibly really be the devil, as he’s claimed to be since the age of 9.

Leon considers the old story that you can hear Satanic messages in rock songs by playing them backwards, and gives a few famous examples. He’s heard samples of them online, and notes that to him, they never sound like they’re saying “Satan.” It always sounds more like “Stan” to him.

This is something I noticed years ago, and is the exact reason why Stan has the name that he does (despite the fact that you practically never meet a “Stan” under 50). When I was in high school, I stumbled across a terrifically ridiculous book called The Devil’s Disciples: The Truth about Rock at a used book store. I used to find books like that quite a bit - I remember reading one thing claiming that rock bands hired witches to write their lyrics, then took their melodies from ancient Druidic manuscripts. Where they were getting all these manuscripts wasn’t specified.

Anyway, Devil’s Disciples had a whole section exposing the “backmasking,” and I wanted to hear it for myself. Leon can easily hear samples online, but I happened to be a teenager in the era when it was hardest to hear things played backwards. It’s not so hard with a vinyl album or an mp3, but CDs can’t be played backwards easily. I had to copy the section I wanted to hear onto a tape, snip the section of tape out, then tape it back in upside-down. I wrecked several blank tapes trying to get it right.

Most of the time, I felt like it took a lot of imagination to hear any sort of messages in the garbled sounds of a song being played backwards. Now and then, though, there’d be a real message that was clearly intentional - you could tell because it sounded like gibberish played forwards, but was perfectly intelligible reversed. 90% of the time, it was the artist playing a joke. There was one song - I think it was the J Geils Band - that, when played backwards, clearly stated that “you don’t have to be a genius to know chicken shit from chicken salad.”

My two favorite examples came from Weird Al Yankovic, who has, to my knowledge, two intentional backwards messages. In “I Remember Larry,” there’s a garbled section that, when reversed, says “You must have a lot of time on your hands.” In his early classic “Nature Trail to Hell,” a backwards playing reveals Al saying “Satan eats Cheez Whiz.”

In the draft of what became page 69, I contemplated including Al’s line about Cheez Whiz, if only to explain the fact that Stan is seen eating Cheez Whiz right from the can in several scenes throughout the book, but decided to just leave it as one of those “let’s see who notices” jokes.
Visit Adam Selzer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 6, 2014

"The Furies"

Natalie Haynes is a graduate of Cambridge University and an award-winning comedian, journalist, and broadcaster. She judged the Man Booker Prize in 2013 and was a judge for the final Orange Prize in 2012. Natalie is a regular panelist on BBC2’s Newsnight Review, Radio 4’s Saturday Review, and the long-running arts show, Front Row. She is a guest columnist for The Independent and The Guardian.

Haynes applied the Page 69 Test to The Furies, her first novel, and reported the following:
There are two narrators in The Furies: Alex, who is telling us what happened a year ago, at the same time as we are following her through the fall-out in the present day. And her story is intercut with a diary, written by one of the troubled students she teaches. Page 69 is a diary entry, and it is very representative of the book.

Firstly, we get a sense of the increasing obsession of the diary-writer, who is beginning to fixate on Alex: on where she is when she’s not in the classroom, and what the rest of her life is like. That’s a theme of the book: it is all about obsession and how that kind of monomania can lead us inexorably to all-out madness.

We get a sense that the diary-writer knows what she is doing is wrong – she makes excuses for the fact that she has been riffling through Alex’s desk to try and find out more about her. When you are making excuses to a diary, you know you’re heading down a dark path. But she’s not lost to us. She knows what she’s doing is wrong, and she tells us that she feels guilty: guilt and blame are also key themes of The Furies.

Here’s (some of) page 69, to prove it:
Yes, you read that right: I feel guilty. Because we gave our work in on Thursday morning. And I asked her when we would get it back. No-one else seemed interested, but I wanted to know. And Alex said she’d try to read them that evening and we could pick them up from her classroom the next day, even though we didn’t have a lesson.

So I thought she must be coming in on Fridays now. I figured whatever it was she used to do on Fridays was done, and now she would be at Rankeillor Street every day like the rest of us are.And so me and Carly went down to her room on the Friday – even though Carly had skipped the last lesson so didn’t have any work to get back – and she wasn’t there. It was weird being in there without her, actually. It looks exactly like it did last term. I mean, exactly: Alex hasn’t put up any posters or pictures, or anything. She doesn’t even have stuff on the desk or in the drawers or anything. Maybe I shouldn’t have been looking. But we wanted to know
Visit Natalie Haynes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 5, 2014


Laird Hunt is the award-winning author of a book of short stories, mock parables and histories, The Paris Stories (2000), and five novels from Coffee House Press: The Impossibly (2001), Indiana, Indiana (2003), The Exquisite (2006) Ray of the Star (2009) and Kind One (2012), which was a finalist for both the 2013 Pen/Faulkner award and the 2013 Pen USA Literary Award in Fiction and the winner of a 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction.

Hunt applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Neverhome, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Neverhome my protagonist, Ash Thompson, and two of her comrades known only as “the Akron boys”, find themselves attending a strange ceremony in a town hard hit by the Civil War, in which locals clearly suffering a collective trauma are taking turns sitting in a chair and speaking some kind of truth to their fellows. As Ash and the Akron boys watch, a woman named Annie takes her place. She is by her own account not well thought of by the town but she has a secret: “I know how to find the places where the world won’t ever see me. I can walk in the shadow and I can walk in the light.” The Akron boys think she and the rest of the town are drunk, but Ash wants to listen. No doubt, she recognizes something of herself in this woman who has a secret (Ash after all is disguised as a man). In a way, this moment is a microcosm of the whole novel, which is narrated in the first person by Ash, and involves her telling her own deepest secrets. In a sense, she too can walk without being seen in shadow and walk without being seen in light. Of less generalized import but no less worth observing about this page 69 is that we are treated to a little of Ash’s colorful turn of phrase about a third of the way down. She says of Annie’s small voice that it is “About the size of a popcorn kernel only got heated halfway at the bottom of the pot.” Ash’s world is built up out of compressed but colorful sentences like that one.
Visit Laird Hunt's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"The Spirit and the Skull"

J. M. “Mike” Hayes was born and raised on the flat earth of Central Kansas. He studied anthropology at Wichita State University and the University of Arizona and lives in Tucson with his wife and a small herd of German Shepherds.

Hayes applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Spirit and the Skull, and reported the following:
The Spirit and the Skull's page 69 describes my Paleolithic hero's encounter with a Great Bear, Ursus arctodus simus. One of the largest terrestrial mammalian carnivores to ever live, it might stand six feet tall at the shoulder and weigh a ton. Upright on its rear legs, it towered to twelve feet in height.

Raven, my hero/narrator, is escaping an awkward situation with Down, the daughter of his band's leader. Running seems better than explaining until the two of them slip through a thick grove of willows and Raven finds himself nose to nose with the monster he fears more than any other. With good reason, as the flashback at the bottom of the page begins to explain.

It's representative of the book because Raven's life has suddenly turned very complicated. Concerned because of his advanced age (just over 40) that he's at risk of losing his place in the band of immigrants he's entering the New World with, Raven has begun searching for ways to make himself useful. He scouted for the path to lead the band from the tundra to the Earth Mother's promised land. He found a mammoth they might kill, big enough to feed them for weeks. But his band has also suffered a murder—something unthinkable. It must be solved and dealt with. Raven volunteered for that job, too. His problem is the girl he's with seems his most likely suspect, though he's falling in love with her. So it's not like Raven lacks for problems without meeting a Great Bear. Raven, the band's Spirit Man, suddenly wishes he believed in those spirits because he can't imagine how he's going to survive without divine intervention. His situation is a little like you or I taking a short-cut through a tunnel and discovering the light at the end is an oncoming train—the kind of thing that can ruin your whole day.
Learn more about the book and author at The Words & Worlds of J.M. Hayes website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

"Designated Daughters"

Margaret Maron grew up on a farm near Raleigh and lived in Brooklyn for many years. Returning to her North Carolina roots prompted Maron to write a series based on her own background, the first of which, Bootlegger's Daughter, was a Washington Post bestseller and swept the major mystery awards for 1993.

Maron applied the Page 69 Test to Designated Daughters, the nineteenth book in the acclaimed Deborah Knott series, and reported the following:
In Designated Daughters, Judge Deborah Knott's aunt has been smothered on her deathbed, so the question is why kill a dying woman? The DDs of the title are a support group of caregivers with all that this implies, but the book has flashes of humor, too. On page 69, Deborah's husband Dwight, a sheriff's deputy, has asked Deborah's cousin Sally to come over and watch a DVD they've put together of the many people who were in and out of the room right before the murder. Sally and Buzz own a nearby campground on a lake.
"Mr. Kezzie and Miss Sister are coming over to our house tomorrow to watch with us. Why don't y'all come, too? Around 2 o'clock?"

"That'll work for [my brother] and me, but Buzz can't come. He's giving a waterskiing class then."

"Still a little chilly for that, isn't it?" Dwight asked.

"Oh, you know Buzz. He's well insulated and we've got wet suits if someone wants them."

Like [my brother] Haywood, Buzz must weigh close to two-seventy, so yes, he's very well insulated. I spent a moment trying to imagine him on water skis in a Speedo and then I spent another few minutes trying to get that image out of my head.
Learn more about the book and author at Margaret Maron's website.

My Book, The Movie: Designated Daughters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"The Alliance"

Shannon Stoker has been writing her entire life. She decided to give writing a serious try after her husband bought her a small dog as a birthday gift. Nucky stole her heart immediately and she wanted a job that provided more flexibility to stay with him.

When she’s not writing Stoker enjoys watching an insane amount of television shows as well as horror movies. She got a little taste of television herself when she competed on an episode of TLC’s Four Weddings. You can catch her episode in replays on the channel. Her latest book is The Alliance: A Registry Novel.

Stoker was born in Clawson, Michigan and raised in Elgin, Illinois. She currently lives in DeKalb, Illinois with her husband Andy and small dog Nucky.

Stoker applied the Page 69 Test to The Alliance and reported the following:
From page 69:
“You did fabulous today,” Flo said. “May I come in?”

“Please,” Mia said.

The Prime Minister walked in and sat down on Mia’s bed.

“I am surprised nobody commented on my accent,” Mia said.

“I may have told them my guest suffered from a speech impediment and not to make note of it,” Flo said.

Mia laughed a little at Flo’s ingenuity.

“I have to say I think it is good enough to fool an American,” Flo said. “And everyone traveling with us tomorrow knows of our plans.”

“When I first arrived you said I would be part of those plans,” Mia said.

“And you will,” Flo said. “Right now there isn’t much to discuss. We land in America and we will be escorted across the country to the Capital. Then I will attend your husband’s wedding while the group breaks into the Mission and destroys the Registry. Then you will be broadcast on television and share your story with the world complete with proof you are who you say you are.”

“It doesn’t sound like I have much of an active role,” Mia said.

“You have complete discretion for whatever words you chose dear,” Flo said. “And what you say is the most critical part of all of this. Never underestimate the power of words. In the event we are unable to wipe out the Registry your words might still spark a rebellion. You are a leader Mia.”
On page 69 Mia is having a conversation with a new character, a sort of role model for her. She is being complimented but also kept out of plans still. I think this a great snapshot of the transition she is going through. In The Alliance her primary concern to herself is to have more of an active role in the choices that affect her.

The way that she backs down and accepts that she still doesn’t really have a say in what is going on is perfect for how her personality is at this point. I think she is still very eager to please. I really like how this snapshot sets up her character evolution.
Visit Shannon Stoker's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Shannon Stoker & Nucky.

Writers Read: Shannon Stoker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Dear Committee Members"

Julie Schumacher grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from Oberlin College and Cornell University. Her first novel, The Body Is Water, was published by Soho Press in 1995 and was an ALA Notable Book of the Year and a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Minnesota Book Award. Her other books include a short story collection, An Explanation for Chaos, and five books for younger readers. She lives in St. Paul and is a faculty member in the Creative Writing Program and the Department of English at the University of Minnesota.

Schumacher applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Dear Committee Members, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Should Ms. Temple matriculate at Torreford State under these conditions, I shall wish her well and be the first to welcome her to “the writing life,” which, despite its horrors, is possibly one of the few sorts of lives worth living at all.

Jay Fitger
Professor, Creative Writing and English – Payne
My jaded letter-of-recommendation writer, Professor Jay Fitger, exhibits his most admirable and despicable traits in this particular letter – on page 69 of Dear Committee Members – which he submits on behalf of an undergraduate, Iris Temple, who is applying for MFA programs in Creative Writing.

Never content to limit himself to the attributes of the people he recommends, Fitger lashes out as he sees fit. He spends very little time describing Iris Temple’s qualifications, instead summarizing his own personal and literary frustrations, and then critiquing the MFA program to which he is submitting his letter.

On the plus side, his critique is based on a demand for equity and funding for Iris Temple, as well as a defense of arts education – provided students don’t go deeply into debt to receive it.

I confess I am terribly fond of Jay Fitger – though I would not ask him to write me a recommendation.
Visit Julie Schumacher's website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Julie Schumacher.

--Marshal Zeringue