Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Fiercombe Manor"

Kate Riordan is a British writer and journalist who worked for the Guardian and Time Out London. She is also the author of Birdcage Walk and is already at work on her third novel.

Riordan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Fiercombe Manor, and reported the following:
Fiercombe Manor is a dual narrative story about two women living in different times (the 1890s and the 1930s) but constrained by society in similar ways. Both parts of the story take place in the same beautiful but remote Gloucestershire valley, where the women find themselves isolated and eventually begin to question their sanity.

In the 1930s, Alice has been exiled to Fiercombe from London to have a baby out of wedlock before giving it up for adoption. Desperate to distract herself from her own troubled present, she starts exploring the valley’s mysterious past and soon becomes completely drawn into the story of Elizabeth Stanton, lady of the manor thirty-five years earlier.

Page 69 begins with a note written by Elizabeth to her lady’s maid, Edith. In Alice’s time, Edith has become Mrs Jelphs, Fiercombe’s reticent housekeeper, who refuses to discuss her once-beloved mistress. So, Alice finding this note, hidden in an old sewing box, is (rather fortuitously, for this blog!) a key moment – when the two strands of the story begin to entwine in earnest…
My dear Edith,

A little note to tell you that I have gone for a walk to my usual place. I know you fret when I go on one of my wanderings to the other side of the valley, but I promise I will be back before anyone else misses me, and for you, I will be particularly careful (no paddling about on the slippery stones in the stream!). I simply had to go – the morning is so beautiful, the valley laid out before me so invitingly when I looked out the window, that I couldn’t wait another minute. Besides – and though I am afraid to set this down in case I tempt fate and it returns – the sickness hasn’t come this morning. Perhaps it has gone altogether and I will be able to eat a little breakfast when I am back. Will you beg Mrs. Wentworth to keep a scrap for me? You know how she will do it for you even if she does not want to do it for her mistress! If she makes a face, tell her that I must keep my strength up, as my husband never tires of reminding us all…

And if the first of the wild roses are out I will pick you one, for I know they are your favourites.

So there were two Es – Edith and someone who had been her mistress. Perhaps it had been her box once, and she had passed it on to Mrs Jelphs for her service. That made more sense. One phrase in the note had struck me, and I read it again: “the sickness hasn’t come this morning.” Had she been ill, or – I wasn’t sure if my own condition was making me see things that weren’t there – was it morning sickness, and had she, like me, been expecting a child?
Visit Kate Riordan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Hush Hush"

Since the publication of her first novel in 1997, Laura Lippman has won virtually every major award given to U.S. crime writings, including the Edgar Award, Anthony Award, Agatha Award, Nero Wolfe Award, Shamus Award, and the Quill Award. She is a New York Times bestseller.

Lippman applied the Page 69 Test to Hush Hush, her twelfth Tess Monaghan novel, and reported the following:
Hush, Hush begins with a transcript from a documentary-in-progress, one of several included in the book, and it turns out that a crucial one is on Page 69. I think long and hard about everything I do and it was important to me that these transcripts transcend gimmick. I think they do, but I can’t explain how without a major spoiler, so you’ll have to trust me: These are not quick and dirty attempts at exposition.

But what interests me about the transcript on page 69 is that it features a character inspired by a real-life woman who, in turn, inspired this book. Most people remember Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who drowned her five children and was, eventually, found not guilty by reason of insanity. Fewer people know that she had a roommate in the facility where she ended up, another woman who had killed her child in a similar postpartum psychosis. Only Yates’s roommate was released, while Yates remains. I don’t use the woman’s name because what struck me about her story was how quickly her new life was taken from her. She got a job at a Wal-Mart, a television news station broadcast this fact. Her notoriety — not her crime, but the gawkers who came to see her — made it impossible for her to keep that job.

With writing students and my husband, who is also a writer, I often talk about the idea of “flipping it.” I stumbled on this idea while writing The Most Dangerous Thing, a novel that was published in 2011. A little boy has been sexually abused. It is 1980 and his family decides that the best recourse is not to speak of it, ever. On the 4th of July, he shows up to march in the neighborhood parade. In my first draft, he wore a horribly inappropriate costume, his father slapped him. On the next draft, I flipped the scene: the boy shows up in a silly, but hopeful costume. He is dressed as the goalie from the so-called “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic team. He plans to walk the parade route in skates. (Skates with rubber covers on the blades, but skates.) His father and his brothers walk alongside him as he makes his painstaking way, ultimately take turns carrying him. It is a great triumph. But a few weeks later, the father is forced to admit that it has changed nothing. His son is sad, damaged, and they still can’t talk about it. There will never be enough small victories to heal his son.

Flip it. Nice psychiatrists, non-pedophile priests, good girls who turn out to be bad girls, bad girls who turn out to be good girls — I’ve included all those characters in my work after finding the default of my own imagination, then turning the idea on its head. Instead of writing about a woman who wants to disappear, achieve anonymity, I wrote about a woman who wants the world to know what she did and why. So she makes a documentary about her life and seeks out her roommate. In that way, my story traveled full circle.

I had hoped against hope that page 69 would open to a scene in which Tess Monaghan’s daughter has a tantrum in a crowded grocery store. That scene is the touchstone of the book, the one cited by most readers so far, the one that I plan to read at appearances. This scene, by contrast is one of the book’s darkest. The woman being interviewed, Poppy, can be irritating, greedy even, but her breakdown over being asked to describe what she did is very real. “You might think it gets easier to say that.” she tells the interviewer. “But it gets harder. Every time. It gets fucking harder, okay?”
Visit Laura Lippman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"The Iron Ring"

On the day Auston Habershaw was born, Skylab fell from the heavens. This foretold two possible fates: supervillain or scifi/fantasy author. Fortunately he chose the latter, and spends his time imagining the could-be and the never-was rather than disintegrating the moon with his volcano laser. He lives and works in Boston, MA.

Habershaw applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Iron Ring: Part I of the Saga of the Redeemed, and reported the following:
Page 69 in The Iron Ring (or as close as I can figure it for an e-book) finds the reader in an interstitial scene showing the Mage Defender, Myreon Alafarr, pressing her case to pursue the archvillain, Tyvian Reldamar. At this point, our characters have just survived one major confrontation and are now setting up to hurtle towards another. Here’s we’ve got a little bit of world-building as Myreon stares up at a statue of Finn Cadogan in the courtyard of the Thostering Academy—a training school for professional mercenaries:
Myreon looked up at one of the four great heroes of the age… She knew that Master Defender Tarlyth as well as some of the older Sergeant Defenders in Galaspin Tower had served alongside Cadogan’s ‘Iron Men’ in Illin. When they spoke of him, it was only to say he was a soldier of integrity and steadfast courage.

“I know what you’re thinking.” Tarlyth said, grinning up at the statue. “That it was all a myth. That we old men have cooked up stories about Cadogan and Varner and Marik the Holy and Perwynnon and the rest.”

Myreon sighed, but didn’t say anything.
The world is full of myths, many of which we buy into every day without thinking about it. We idolize the past, we glorify the future, we lie about ourselves to ourselves. What page 69 hints at is how pervasive these myths are and how they are both constructive and destructive. Lying, after all, has it’s good points.

Would a person read past this page? I would hope so—we’re on our way somewhere right now, and I’m just about to introduce a pretty seedy bounty hunter. This is a moment of introspection strung between moments of excitement and adventure. This is an effect I work very hard to create in The Iron Ring, because I think explorations of morality and truth are only made better when spliced in with swordfights, derring-do, and man-eating monsters.
Visit Auston Habershaw's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Dorothy Parker Drank Here"

Ellen Meister is the author of Dorothy Parker Drank Here (2015), Farewell, Dorothy Parker (2013), The Other Life (2011), The Smart One (2008) and Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA (2006), as well as numerous essays and short stories. She teaches creative writing at Hofstra University Continuing Education, mentors emerging authors, lectures on Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, and does public speaking about her books and other writing-related topics. Meister is the voice of Dorothy Parker on her hugely popular Facebook page.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Dorothy Parker Drank Here and reported the following:
In Dorothy Parker Drank Here, the ghost of the great wit loiters in the Algonquin Hotel bar, desperately lonely and looking for company. She could very well head into the white light as all the others before her have done, but Dorothy Parker rejects eternal peace, and hopes to find someone else who feels the same way.

On page 69, the book flashes back to the day Tallulah Bankhead dies and passes through the Algonquin. The brash, outspoken star has strong opinions of her own, and provides an illustrative example of Dorothy's loneliness, as well as the outsized personalities of both women. Here's a snippet, taken from the scene on page 69, as Dorothy Parker and a young bartender behold Tallulah's appearance...
As they watched, the form became more real. And then there she was—a lithe and glamorous star, draped in liquidy satin.

"Well," said Tallulah Bankhead, "that was quite a ride. And how perfect that it ends here, where it all began."

"Welcome to hell," said Dorothy Parker.

Tallulah approached and kissed her on the cheek. "Darling," she said in her famously throaty voice, "if this were hell, Louis B. Mayer would be tending bar. Give me a cigarette, and tell me who this divine creature is."

"Johnny," Dorothy Parker said, "say hello to Tallulah Bankhead."

"Charmed," said Tallulah.

"Miss Bankhead."

"Johnny sticks around after closing to make me drinks," Dorothy Parker explained. "And he only fainted the first four times I appeared. Now we're old friends, aren't we dear?"

"Yes, Mrs. Parker."

"Fainter or not, I think he's perfectly lovely."

"Save your breath, Tallulah. He's not our type."

She paused for a moment as it sunk in. "I see. Pity."

"He's already made you a drink. Bourbon, right?"

"You are divine, Dot. And Johnny darling, don't put away that bottle. I plan to be tight as a tick before I make my final exit." She sat down with a dramatic sweep of silk.

"Exit?" said Dorothy Parker. "Please don't tell me you plan a hasty retreat."

"Daddy's been waiting a long time."

"Let him wait a little longer."
Visit Ellen Meister's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 23, 2015

"Across a Green Ocean"

Wendy Lee is the author of the novels Across a Green Ocean (Kensington) and Happy Family (Black Cat/Grove Atlantic). Happy Family was named one of the top ten debut novels of 2008 by Booklist and awarded an honorable mention from the Association of Asian American Studies.

Lee applied the Page 69 Test to Across a Green Ocean and reported the following:
Across a Green Ocean is the story of a Chinese American family dealing with grief. A year after her husband’s death, Ling Tang is considering embarking on a new relationship. Her daughter, Emily, an immigration lawyer in New York City, is dealing with a difficult case and an even more difficult marriage. Finally, her son, Michael, who is gay but never came out to his family, decides to take a trip to China to find out more about his father’s past.

Page 69 is entirely about Emily. It starts with a scene between her and another lawyer at her firm:
“Friends,” she said, clunking plastic glasses with him. But she knew the person who wasn’t chosen as partner would have to leave the firm. There would be no way that you could stay at a place that had effectively snubbed you. And after that happened, she and Rick could probably never be friends again.

So in a way she treasured what she thought of as her and Rick’s last summer together. She grew to appreciate their late nights, that they were able to share the same frustrations and minor breakthroughs. She was reminded of all the hours they had spent together over the past six years, knowing he was toiling away in the office down the hall, eating the same terrible takeout, turning off the lights long after the janitors had cleaned the floors.
Sounds like a typical workplace drama, right? What you don’t know is that prior to this, Emily has just found out that her client, an illegal immigrant on the verge of deportation, has died in detention. Because she was so close to the client’s family, that tragedy throws her into a tailspin. It also reminds her of her father’s death, which she hasn’t properly processed, the year before. At 32, Emily considers leaving her job, her husband, and her entire life behind, but she doesn’t know what for. In her family, Emily is the responsible sibling, the one who always does the right thing, but now she’s starting to question what’s right for her.

I think page 69 is a decent representation of Emily’s character and her conflict in the book. However, there isn’t anything about Ling and Michael, who are both undergoing their own relationship and personal dilemmas, and whose stories are equally vital to the plot.
Visit Wendy Lee's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Across a Green Ocean.

Writers Read: Wendy Lee.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"Green on Blue"

Elliot Ackerman is a writer based out of Istanbul. His fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and Ecotone among others. He is also a contributor to The Daily Beast, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as a White House Fellow in the Obama Administration. Prior to this, he spent eight years in the military as both an infantry and special operations officer.

Ackerman is a decorated veteran, having earned a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his role leading a Rifle Platoon in the November 2004 Battle of Fallujah and a Bronze Star for Valor while leading a Marine Corps Special Operations Team in Afghanistan in 2008.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, Green on Blue, and reported the following:
About half way down page 69, Mumtaz, one of the elders from Gomal, an embattled village along the Afghan-Pakistan border, objects when Commander Sabir, the leader of a local militia, wishes to build an outpost near his home: “You say you wish to build this outpost to protect us, but Gazan only attacks this village when you are here. You bring the war with you, and if you build an outpost it will never leave.” These objections come at a shura, a sort of town council, held by Commander Sabir to gain the elders’ consent to his plans. The paradox of protection is a central theme in the novel, one represented by the construction of this outpost. Do wars eventually perpetuate themselves, causing us to fight enemies of our own creation? Or is a strong defense necessary? On page 69, Mumtaz’s objection to the outpost: “You bring the war with you, and if you build an outpost it will never leave” is one half of that argument. The other half plays out in the bloody pages which follow.
Visit Elliot Ackerman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 20, 2015

"The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell"

William Klaber is a part-time journalist. He lives in upstate New York on a hill overlooking Basket Creek, a short way upstream from where Lucy Lobdell lived 160 years ago.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell, and reported the following:
It is 1855. Lucy Lobdell has cut her hair and run off to live as a man. She goes to Honesdale Pa, a busy canal town awash in new anthracite money and pre-civil war politics. Taking the name Joseph Lobdell, and calling herself the Professor of Dance, Lucy opens a dance school (all true). It goes well. No one suspects. But one student, Lydia Watson, rebellious daughter of a prominent family, takes a liking to this new guy who kinda knows what a girl likes. Lydia arranges for violin lessons after the twice weekly dance classes. In their private time together Lucy (as Joseph) and Lydia discover a friendship. Lydia is ahead of her time. She thinks church is stupid and is outraged by the lot given to women. Drawn to Lydia but afraid to tell the truth, Lucy continues posing as a man. Things progress. When others are not there Lydia addresses Lucy as Joseph and not Professor Lobdell. She is smart and provocative. On page 69 the violin lesson is interrupted by a sudden thunder storm and they both go to the window. Lydia seems entranced.
“When I was little,” she said, “Mother would let us run in the rain behind our house wearing hardly a thing.” She paused in the remembering. “If we were in a meadow out of sight, Joseph, I would do it now. Would you join me?”

“You would not,” I said, all the while imagining her in the rain, shift clinging to her flanks. “And no I wouldn’t join you. I’d like to keep my reputation and remain in town a little longer.”

Lydia laughed. “Well, aren’t you the modest one. You’d have to promise to cover your eyes and never tell a soul.”

Cover my eyes? Never tell a soul? I knew what she was doing and this time I wasn’t going to play the prude. “I think, dear Lydia,” I said, now meeting her eye, “the most I could promise is that I would not tell.”

I saw her start to color….
Visit William Klaber's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"The Chosen Prince"

Diane Stanley is the author and illustrator of more than fifty books for children, noted especially for her series of award-winning picture book biographies. Her novels for older readers include Saving Sky, Bella at Midnight, The Mysterious Matter of I. M. Fine, and the Silver Bowl Trilogy, The Silver Bowl, The Cup and the Crown, and The Princess of Cortova.

Stanley applied the Page 69 Test to The Chosen Prince, her latest book for young readers, and reported the following:
I turned to page 69 of The Chosen Prince and found myself at the beginning of an important scene—which was just getting up to speed but definitely hadn’t gotten there yet. It’s mostly dialogue between two people you wouldn’t know about a situation you wouldn’t understand out of context. So I cheated by flipping back to the previous scene:
Alexos watches his father with something akin to awe. How does the king maintain such incredible control? He sets the laurel crown on the oily, sweaty brow of a peasant lad who has just defeated a host of young aristocrats—and does not look amazed. His son and heir, the future savior of Arcos, has publicly shamed and disappointed him—and he shows no anger or despair. Teo is weeping and making a scene. Ektor ignores him. He goes through the ceremony of praise to the goddess in a calm and dignified manner. He acknowledges the cheering crowd of commoners, delirious with pride that one of their own has won the laurel crown, and guides young Peles of Attaros to his proper place for the procession back to the palace.
Never once does he show any feeling at all.
Never once does he look at his son.
This scene is definitely representative of the book. It even highlights one of the major themes, the striving son who can never live up to his father’s expectations. Reading that snippet would definitely make me curious and willing to take a second look. So at least it passes the Page 67 test.
Learn more about the book and author at Diane Stanley's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Princess of Cortova.

My Book, The Movie: The Chosen Prince.

Writers Read: Diane Stanley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"A Woman Unknown"

Frances Brody lives in the North of England, where she was born and grew up. Brody started her writing life in radio, with many plays and short stories broadcast by the BBC. She has also written for television and theatre. A Woman Unknown is the fourth book in her 1920s series featuring Kate Shackleton, First World War widow turned sleuth, published by Minotaur Books. Murder in the Afternoon, third in the series, was named a Library Journal Best Mystery 2014.

Brody applied the Page 69 Test to A Woman Unknown, and reported the following:
On page 69 of A Woman Unknown, Kate Shackleton arrives at Kirkley Hall to visit Philippa, the American heiress widow of Everett Runcie, banker and member of the British aristocracy. Kate last saw Everett and Philippa at York races. There, Everett blatantly paid more attention to his mistress than to his wife. He was later found dead in a hotel room, after spending the night with “a woman unknown” in order to give his wife grounds for divorce.

Through Kate’s eyes, we see the ancestral home where the Runcies lived when not in London. The house and grounds reflect not just Everett Runcie’s decline and fall but the changes that have taken place across the years. The house was built at the height of Empire when Britain was a pre-eminent trading, and looting, nation. During the 1914-18 war, the building was used as a hospital. Thanks to Philippa and her deep coffers, it has been beautifully restored. Kate waits in the drawing room, uncertain whether Philippa will see her.
It is a Georgian building, on land that once belonged to the monks of Kirkstall Abbey. The Runcie family acquired the property a century ago, and made extensive alterations when they were in the money. Little by little, with the ebb and flow of fortunes, they sold off the adjacent farmland. Even so, extensive grounds still surrounded the house. It was said that the magnificent beech trees had been planted to represent the layout of troops at the Battle of Waterloo. Wellington himself held pride of place, in the shape of an oak tree. Over a hundred years on from planting, the beech tree troops, officers and men, threatened to dwarf the old oak leader, Wellington.

Emerging from the cover of the trees, I approached the house. Pillars framed the entrance, and on either side of the pillars stood plinths that held two magnificent Chinese lanterns, looted at the time of the Boxer Rebellion.

I lifted and dropped the heavy knocker. After a moment, the butler appeared. He remembered me from this summer’s garden party, and ushered me into the panelled drawing room, all gold leaf and brocade-covered furniture. I stood by the bay window, looking out onto the garden, waiting to receive a message thanking me for my call and saying that Mrs Runcie was indisposed.
Learn more about the book and author at Frances Brody's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dying in the Wool.

Writers Read: Frances Brody.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Utopia, Iowa"

Brian Yansky is the author of Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences and its sequel, Homicidal Aliens and Other Disappointments, as well as Wonders of the World and My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World. His new novel is Utopia, Iowa.

Yansky applied the Page 69 Test to Utopia, Iowa and reported the following:
Page 69 of Utopia, Iowa, reflects the novel in some ways but not in others. Page 69 is comic and there are lots of comic moments in the novel. Page 69 is in a classroom at school; there are also several pages in the novel set in school—so it is representative of that. My character is, in some ways, the average teen on page 69—at school, joking with friends. But what this page doesn’t show is that he’s many other things. He’s also a boy who sees ghosts, more specifically two dead girls who want him to help them find their murderers, and who is himself being pursued by a dark force creeping into town. Page 69 reflects the strand of the novel that is ordinary and the style of the novel, but not the fantastical elements and the strangeness of Utopia, Iowa. Hey, it’s just one page. I do my best to weave several stories together in this novel, some realistic and some fantastical.
Visit Brian Yansky's website.

Writers Read: Brian Yansky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 16, 2015

"Butterfly Kills"

Brenda Chapman began her writing career in children’s fiction. Her YA novel Hiding in Hawk's Creek was shortlisted for the CLA Book of the Year for Children. Her first adult mystery, In Winter's Grip, was published in 2010. She lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Chapman applied the Page 69 Test to Butterfly Kills, the latest novel in her Stonechild and Rouleau mystery series, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Butterfly Kills, Kala Stonechild is reminiscing with a woman named Marjory about a recent disappointment by a family member that haunts Stonechild still. Marjory is not a close friend, but she knows Kala from her childhood living on Birdtail Reservation and has an idea of how tough life has been for her in the intervening years. Kala is reluctant to speak about herself in this scene or to share any feelings about that period of her life when she was in foster care and moved from one family to another. The passage further reveals that Stonechild is restless and unattached, unsure about staying in Kingston for longer than a few months. Page 69 gives a taste of the continuing storyline about Kala Stonechild—my conflicted, solitary main cop—and her demons, which are slowly revealed throughout the series.

This sliver of the novel also shows that I am as interested in writing about the lives of my continuing main police characters as I am in the cases they are solving. This reflects my own penchant for reading police procedurals that delve into the background stories of the detectives and develop their characters and relationships along with the unfolding murder investigations.
Visit Brenda Chapman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 14, 2015

"A Killer Retreat"

Tracy Weber is the author of the award-winning Downward Dog Mysteries series featuring yoga teacher Kate and her feisty German shepherd, Bella. Weber loves sharing her passion for yoga and animals in any form possible. The second book in her series, A Killer Retreat, was released January, 2015 by Midnight Ink.

Weber and her husband live in Seattle with their challenging yet amazing German shepherd Tasha. When she’s not writing, the author spends her time teaching yoga, walking Tasha, and sipping Blackthorn cider at her favorite ale house.

Weber applied the Page 69 Test to A Killer Retreat and reported the following:
From page 69:
We found Rene in the center’s main office, seated strategically close to an empty wastebasket. Bruce held Rene’s forearm, pressed his fingers against her wrist, and looked at his watch. Emmy hovered beside them, looking concerned. Sam rushed up to Rene and kneeled down beside her.

“Honey, what’s going on? The hostess said you collapsed!”

“I’m fine, Sam, really. I didn’t collapse. I threw up in the bathroom, and when I stood up, I got a little dizzy, that’s all. Honestly, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. It’s just this stupid stomach bug.” She sagged back in her chair. “I haven’t eaten since that pie after lunch. I probably have low blood sugar.” She swallowed hard. “But the thought of eating …” She shuddered. “Please, everyone. Let’s call it a night. I’d like to go back to the cabin and lie down.”

“In a minute,” Emmy replied. “Let Dad take a look at you first.”

Rene made eye contact with me, pointed at Sam under the table, then gestured with her eyes to the door.

Message received.

“Come on guys,” I said. “Let’s wait outside and give them some space.” Sam didn’t move. “You too, Sam,” I added.

He placed his hand protectively on Rene’s back. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Rene sat up straighter and smiled at him encouragingly. “Please Sam, I’m feeling a little claustrophobic. Give me a few minutes.” She gently nudged him toward the door. “I’m OK. I promise.”
A Killer Retreat is a lighthearted cozy mystery, but beyond that it explores relationships. What happens when normally good people face challenges in the relationships they hold most important? Do they face those challenges head on? Do they hide from them? To what lengths will they go in order to keep their secrets? And what, ultimately, can be learned from the truth? In that vein, this scene explores one of the important themes of the work, even though it has nothing to do with the murder investigation.

Rene is hiding something from both her husband, Sam, and her friend Kate, the protagonist in my series. They’re all enjoying a dinner together at a vegan restaurant when Rene disappears, only to be found passed out in the restaurant’s restroom. The scene is typical of first part of the book in that the relationships are stilted—not quite right—and we as readers don’t know why.

Bella—a hundred-pound German shepherd who is one of the primary characters in the story—isn’t in this scene, and Bella pretty much steals every scene she’s in. So from that standpoint, this scene is atypical. Still, it shows that Rene is hiding something from her husband and sets the stage for a future conflict.
Visit Tracy Weber's website, blog, and Facebook page.

Coffee with a Canine: Tracy Weber and Tasha.

The Page 69 Test: Murder Strikes a Pose.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 13, 2015

"The Marauders"

Tom Cooper’s work has recently appeared in Oxford American, Boulevard, Gulf Coast, Mid-American Review, Willow Springs, and dozens of other magazines and journals. He lives in New Orleans, where he writes and teaches.

Cooper's newly released first novel is The Marauders.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Marauders and reported the following:
I’ll spare you the passage, since it’s meaningless without context. But someone is getting peppersprayed on page 69. The phrase “What in blue fuck?” is invoked.

I’ll be honest, I think the novel builds slowly. It’s character driven. Around page 69 readers might wonder, “What the hell do these different characters have to do with one another?” A little investment is required from audiences used to the breakneck pace of typical crime and mystery. It’s a slow burn, but once the cauldron starts bubbling, yadda-yadda. Or so readers have told me.
Visit Tom Cooper's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Marauders.

Writers Read: Tom Cooper.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 12, 2015


Cat Hellisen is an author of fantasy for adults and children. Born in 1977 in Cape Town, South Africa, she has also lived in Johannesburg, Knysna, and Nottingham.

She sold her first full-length novel, When the Sea is Rising Red in 2010. Her children’s book Beastkeeper, a play on the old tale of Beauty and the Beast, is now out from Henry Holt and Co.

Hellisen applied the Page 69 Test to Beastkeeper and reported the following:
I wasn't exactly sure what page 69 would hold, but it comes after Sarah's father (who is slowly transforming into a beast after his wife left him) has dropped her off in a castle in the middle of nowhere and informed her that she has to stay with a grandmother she never even knew existed. She's trapped; alone with people who are supposed to be her family. Her grandmother is cold and severe, and, as Sarah has just discovered, keeps Sarah's grandfather in a cage. In a darkened hut, Sarah has just come face to face with him – a beast chained and rancid - and is expected to believe that this was once a man.
“I don't know what I believe,” Sarah said fiercely into her hands. I don't know what's real.
She's still trying to pretend that the magic around her is some kind of elaborate trick, searching for a way to escape the castle and the forest, and track down her father. I always feel a little sorry for her because she's so brave despite her situation, and yet everything is so hopeless. Somehow, she just keeps going. Because she's definitely more awesome than me.

Page 69 is something of a balancing act, where the main character is standing on a tightrope of disbelief. There are, as she points out, two truths, though they can't both be true at the same time. (She's wrong about this, of course). It's not long after that she commits herself to the reality of magic, and the curse that is destroying her family.
Visit Cat Hellisen's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Beastkeeper.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"The Price of Blood"

Patricia Bracewell taught literature and composition before embarking upon her writing career. The first novel of her trilogy about Emma of Normandy, Shadow on the Crown, was published by Viking in 2013. The second book in the series The Price of Blood has just been released.

Bracewell applied the Page 69 Test to The Price of Blood and reported the following:
The Price of Blood is the second novel in my trilogy about the 11th century queen of England, Emma of Normandy. It was a turbulent time in England’s history, and page 69 begins with the report of a brutal punishment meted out by the king to two of his subjects – an event that actually occurred.
Without waiting for permission to speak, he cried, “There is word from Windsor that the lords Wulfheah and Ufegeat have had their eyes put out!”

The needle slipped from Emma’s hands, her gaze drawn immediately to where Aldyth and Hilde sat frozen, their faces ashen. They stared back at her with horror in their eyes until Aldyth collapsed forward, wailing as if she’d taken a mortal blow. Instantly Margot was at the young woman’s side, wrapping a comforting arm about her while Wymarc swept a protesting Robert from the floor.

Emma grasped the young slave by the arms and pulled him toward her. He was new to the court, still raw and untutored, sold into slavery during the worst of the famine when his parents could no longer feed him. He had meant no harm. He had only been eager to tell her the news, but a slave who could not hold his tongue was of no use to her.

“You are never to speak in my presence until I give you permission to do so, whatever the message you carry. I shall punish you if you ever burst into my chamber like that again. Do you understand?”

He nodded, his eyes wide and frightened.

“Good,” she said, drawing him still closer. “Now, tell me,” she said more gently, for his ears alone, “what else do you know of their fate?”
It was a difficult scene to write because of the number of characters present and because the situation was one where several things happened simultaneously, which is always a challenge for a writer. I had to decide how my focal character was going to respond to so many factors at once in a way that would make sense to the reader. In addition, Emma had to be authoritative as well as compassionate.

I also used this scene to reveal some of the realities of this period of English history: famine drove people to desperate measures; slavery was an accepted element of Anglo-Saxon society; and punishment, at least in this instance, was carried out at the king’s pleasure. It was a harsh world, and my heroine – a young queen – has to forge her place in it.
Learn more about the book and author at Patricia Bracewell's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Shadow on the Crown.

My Book, The Movie: Shadow on the Crown.

Writers Read: Patricia Bracewell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"The Forgetting Place"

John Burley worked as a paramedic and firefighter before attending medical school in Chicago and completing an emergency medicine residency at University of Maryland Medical Center and Shock Trauma in Baltimore. His debut novel, The Absence of Mercy, received the National Black Ribbon Award in recognition of an author who brings a fresh voice to suspense writing.

Burley applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Forgetting Place, and reported the following:
When Dr. Lise Shields arrived at Menaker State Hospital five years ago, she was warned that many its patients—committed to the correctional psychiatric facility for perpetrating heinous crimes—would never leave. “The word asylum,” she notes, “has long since fallen into disfavor to describe institutions such as this. And yet, for places like Menaker, I’ve always preferred the original term. For although we attempt to treat the chronically impaired, much of what we offer here is protection—an asylum from the outside world.”

Protection is a recurring theme in The Forgetting Place, a novel of psychological suspense that explores the illusion of safety in our lives and the measures we are willing to take when the welfare of those we love is threatened. On page 69 of the novel, Lise’s patient Jason Edwards is recounting an assault he sustained as a teenager, and how his older sister—his protector—responded to that incident:
“The second time they came for me was in the school bathroom,” Jason tells Lise. “I fought back hard that time—hit one of the boys, Tim Maddox, in the windpipe, putting him out of commission. Clayton Flynn took a kick to the knee that I hope he still feels on rainy days, and I kept swinging at Bret Forester’s pimply, bulldog face, trying to break his nose for the second time. But there was a fourth boy, Billy Myers, who was mean, quiet, and probably the only one of them with true lethal potential. He’s locked up in a maximum-security prison somewhere right now, I just know it, but on that day he snuck up behind me while most of my attention was on Bret and he hit me in the back of the head with something hard and metal, and that’s all I remember of the fight until I woke up to a small crowd of students around me, some teacher’s voice calling my name, and my head resting on the lower lip of a urinal.

“They took me to the hospital—my fourth visit in two months—only this time the ER doctor was a woman who made small noises I couldn’t interpret and shook her head as she examined me. They did a CT scan of my brain, which was thankfully normal, kept me overnight for observation, and discharged me the next morning with a diagnosis of concussion.”

Jason’s eyes cleared for a moment. “My sister came to visit me in the hospital,” he recounted. “She sat at my bedside and studied me, saying very little. I had other visitors, of course, but it was her presence that I remember the most. We must’ve spoken to each other during that visit, but the only thing I remember was what she said to me just before leaving. She walked over to the bed, leaned forward, and planted a kiss on my forehead—which was pretty unusual behavior for her. She drew back a bit, observed me with a calculating look. I thought she was going to give me a brief lecture, tell me something useless like how I needed to stop fighting and just stay away from those kids. But what she instead said was, ‘This will not happen again.’ Then she turned and left, leaving me to wonder how she could promise a thing like that. Yet, somehow, I believed her, and a half hour later I pulled the string to shut off the fluorescent light above my bed, closed my eyes, and slept better than I had in weeks.”
Jason’s sister will go on to back up her promise with near-lethal consequences, leaving Jason to wonder if the protection she provides is more dangerous than the original threat. It is a question the reader must also consider as the protection and threats of Menaker State Hospital continue to unfold, blending into each other until they are as indistinguishable as the infinite caverns and recesses of the human mind.

The Forgetting Place: Where the past waits to be discovered once again.
Visit John Burley's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: John Burley and Sterling.

The Page 69 Test: The Absence of Mercy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 9, 2015

"The Secrets of Midwives"

Sally Hepworth has lived around the world, spending extended periods in Singapore, the U.K., and Canada, where she worked in event management and Human Resources. She is the author of Love Like The French, published by Random House Germany in February 2014. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two children.

Hepworth applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Secrets of Midwives, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“How is Laura?” I asked.

One of us had to bring her up. True to his word, Sean had married the Texan cashier from his grocery store. With frizzy, peroxide-blonde hair and hips to match her generous breasts, she was far from classically beautiful, but she had a pretty face and a friendly disposition. The kind of woman who, after three years being married to an OBGYN still got choked up when he told her about a delivery. Not the kind of woman you felt good about betraying.

“Fine,” he said. “Thanks for asking.”

“Tumor’s still shrinking?”

He nodded. “Now they’re saying it’s the size of a pea.”

Nine months ago, the tumor had been the size of a baseball. It had started with a headache. Sean had popped Laura a couple of Tylenol before work one morning and by the time he got home, it was a migraine. Three days later, she was blind in one eye. Thanks to Sean’s connections at St. Mary’s, Laura was able to get in for a CT scan right away. The prognosis hadn’t been good. But according to Sean, Laura liked nothing more than proving people wrong.
“She thinks it’s this green tea diet she’s been on. Loves telling me that doctors know less than nothing when it comes to people’s health.” Sean laughed, shaking his head. “It’s more likely to be the surgery, chemo and radiation therapy, but I’ll credit the tea, if it makes her happy.

“Whatever it is, I’m glad it’s working.”

“Yes,” Sean said. “Me too.”
So … what the heck is going on here?

In this snippet, my character, Neva, is reassuring her very married friend, Sean—with whom she shared a regrettable one-night fling some months ago—that he is not, in fact, the father of her baby. This snippet also reveals that Sean’s wife has been very ill.

This page is actually a pretty good representation of the book, as it touches upon the main storyline of the novel – the mystery of who has fathered Neva’s baby. This page also does a remarkably good job at giving a flavor of the book, hinting at mystery and the complications in the lives of the players involved.
Visit Sally Hepworth's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 8, 2015

"The Kind Worth Killing"

Peter Swanson is the author of two novels, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, and The Kind Worth Killing, available from William Morrow in the United States and Faber & Faber in the United Kingdom. His poems, stories and reviews have appeared in such journals as The Atlantic, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Epoch, Measure, Notre Dame Review, Soundings East, and The Vocabula Review. He has won awards in poetry from The Lyric and Yankee Magazine, and is currently completing a sonnet sequence on all 53 of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. He lives with his wife and cat in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Swanson applied the Page 69 Test to The Kind Worth Killing and reported the following:
Flip open to Page 69 of The Kind Worth Killing and you can read the first page of Chapter 7. What will you find out? You'll find out there's a narrator named Ted, who is convinced that his wife is cheating on him. Even so, they are planning a trip to the coast of Maine, where they are building a second home. I would say that this one page is pretty indicative of the rest of the book. The central theme of trust and duplicity is right there on the page. There are many narrators in my novel, and none of them know everything, of course. So a lot of the book hinges on who has what information, and who doesn't.

Of course, looking at one page of the novel means that you might not realize that there are several narrative voices, and that Ted, central to page 69, might be only a bit player in the book at large. Notice I said "might be." He might also be the central role. You'll have to read more than one page to find out.
Visit Peter Swanson's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Kind Worth Killing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 6, 2015

"Before He Finds Her"

Michael Kardos is the author of the novels Before He Finds Her (2015) and The Three-Day Affair, an Esquire best book of 2012, as well as the story collection One Last Good Time, which won the Mississippi Institute of Arts & Letters Award for fiction, and the textbook The Art and Craft of Fiction: A Writer’s Guide. His short stories have appeared in The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, Harvard Review, and many other magazines and anthologies, have won a 2015 Pushcart Prize, and were cited several times as notable stories in Best American Short Stories. He was named by Library Journal as a Big Breakout Author for February 2015.

Kardos applied the Page 69 Test to Before He Finds Her and reported the following:
From page 69:
In the kitchen, Meg was peeling magnetic letters off the refrigerator and dropping them on to the floor. “I was thinking we could get pizza for the guys,” Ramsey said. “From the good place.”

“How long do you think rehearsal will go?” Allie asked.

“Don’t know—but I’ll make sure we turn everything down at eight.” Meg’s bedtime.

“Because I was hoping you and I could have some time tonight.”

Already the plastic letters were everywhere. Now Meg was over by the toy barn. When she threw a plastic pig across the room, Allie said, “Sweetie, don’t throw the animals,” and Meg pursed her lips and slammed a cow onto the ground.

“Are you little mad?” Ramsey asked her, and cursed himself for forgetting to use this surefire trick back at the park.

Big mad,” Meg answered, already smiling, her anger allayed by their inside joke.

Ramsey winked at Meg and said to Allie, “The thing is, this isn’t some ordinary jam session. We got a gig coming up.”

“You do?” Feigned astonishment. “Why, I had no idea.”

Okay, he deserved that. He’d been yammering on about the gig for weeks. But Allie only knew the half of it.
Long before page 69, we sense that something is not right with Ramsey Miller. He’s a long-haul truck driver who has just sold his truck—his livelihood—and come home to his wife Allie and daughter Meg after eleven days on the road. Turns out, he’s a Doomsdayer who is convinced that on Sunday evening, in just two days, the earth will suffer a cataclysmic, all-human-life-ending event. But before that happens, he really wants to gig one time with his garage band, in public, at a block party he decides to host. On page 69, he is breaking the news gently to his wife that, alas, he has no time for hanky-panky—not with the gig to get ready for.
Learn more about the book and author at Michael Kardos's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Three Day Affair.

My Book, The Movie: The Three-Day Affair.

My Book, The Movie: Before He Finds Her.

Writers Read: Michael Kardos.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"Phantom Limb"

Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), Dennis Palumbo is now a licensed psychotherapist and author. His mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand and elsewhere, and is collected in From Crime to Crime (Tallfellow Press). His acclaimed series of crime novels (Mirror Image, Fever Dream, Night Terrors and the latest, Phantom Limb) feature psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, a trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police.

Palumbo applied the Page 69 Test to Phantom Limb and reported the following:
In the hardcover edition of Phantom Limb, a reader perusing Page 69 would indeed find some of the elements that make up a Daniel Rinaldi thriller. It’s the chilling climax of an abortive ransom delivery, and gives a good picture of Rinaldi’s reaction when thwarted or frustrated. We also see an example of his difficult relationship with the Pittsburgh Police, as well as Rinaldi’s concern for crime victims. Lastly, there’s a foreshadowing of further trouble at the bottom of the page that helps build suspense. Since I strive for both well-rounded characterizations as well as thrills in these books, this page, as luck would have it, offers the reader both.
Learn more about the book and author at Dennis Palumbo's website.

My Book, The Movie: Night Terrors.

Writers Read: Dennis Palumbo (May 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"Wink of an Eye"

Lynn Chandler Willis has worked in the corporate world, the television news business, and the newspaper industry. She was born, raised, and continues to live in the heart of North Carolina within walking distance of her children and their spouses and her nine grandchildren. She shares her home, and heart, with Sam the cocker spaniel.

Willis applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Wink of an Eye, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I went to a different program and did a quick background check on Mr. Peterson. He was born in El Paso, thirty-eight years old, married to Susan Peterson, no kids. He’d been with the Winkler County Sheriff’s Department ten years. Prior to that, he spent five years with the Border Patrol. No demerits, not even a speeding ticket.

I switched programs and did a more advanced search, digging deep into his financials. His tax records indicated his net income was $42,000; Susan pulled in $27,000 as an administrative clerk at Kermit Regional Hospital. Not a bad joint income. Their credit history was clean, nothing out of the ordinary. They paid their few bills on time; their credit-to-debt ratio was minimal. There were no bank notes, no car payments, no mortgage payment. Utilities, insurance, home owners’ association dues, and an American Express with a small balance appeared to be their only bills.

The Petersons’ joint income was good, but not that good. Since when did cops live in a neighborhood with dues? The tax value on their home was $335,000. Impressive home on a cop and a secretary’s salaries. Although they had no kids to support, it didn’t explain their high standard of living.

I hooked up the portable printer and printed Petersons’ financial information, wondering if he could really be that stupid. Cops on the take get busted everyday for living above their taxable means.

Gram looked over the printout. “Isn’t this illegal?”


“What you’re doing. That there’s personal information.”

“That’s what I get paid to do, Gram. Find out stuff like this.”

“But they ain’t paying you for this job, are they?”
Is page 69 indicative of the rest of Wink of an Eye? Yes and no. Yes, it shows a small part of the technical aspects of Private Investigator Gypsy Moran's investigation. Gypsy is a modern-age, tech savvy investigator with information gathering apps at his fingertips. Not all of his investigative work is done in surveillance mode from the captain's chair in his van.

Page 69 also gives us a glimpse into Gypsy's wise-cracking grandmother's personality as well as their love-hate relationship. It also exposes one truth Gypsy would rather forget about—he agreed to do this investigation pro-bono. So, yes, he's tech-savvy, a thorough investigator, has a love/hate relationship with his grandmother, and a big ol' Texas-sized soft heart.

What it doesn't give us is the smart-ass, cocky, guy's guy who can take a punch as well as throw one. It doesn't give us the touching, emotional relationship developing between Gypsy and the twelve year-old boy who hires him to investigate his father's so-called suicide. It doesn't give us the heated passion of a rekindled old flame, nor the budding interest in a sexy reporter. It doesn't set the scene of the tiny west Texas town of Wink where sweat trickles from your brow as the heat rises in rippling waves from the scorching asphalt.

Page 69 is good unto itself, but there is so much more to that sexy Private Eye called Gypsy.
Visit Lynn Chandler Willis's website.

My Book, The Movie: Wink of an Eye.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 2, 2015

"Monday's Lie"

Jamie Mason was born in Oklahoma City, but grew up in Washington, DC. She’s most often reading and writing, but in the life left over, she enjoys films, Formula 1 racing, football, traveling, and, conversely, staying at home.

Mason applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Monday's Lie, and reported the following:
I was so excited to take The Page 69 Test to see what I could pull from a random excerpt, but alas, there’s not much at all on page 69 of Monday’s Lie. It’s the end of a chapter and only a few lines ended up on page 69. Dee’s brother, Simon, is steering the conversation with his brother-in-law, Patrick, back onto its happy tracks after a little episode. The siblings’ hyper-tuned skills of observation spur them to intervene in the outcome of a burglary. By page 69, it’s all over but the crying. Patrick disapproves and Simon smoothes it over.

“Patrick gave over to smiling, his resistance and bother over what had just happened was helpless in the full shine of my brother’s charm.”

Now if you’d asked me about 169, well, there’s a big fight on 169 that’s bubbling with reveal and intensity and a slip up that might very well push the whole works off the cliff, teetering, tipping, don’t say it Dee… but you didn’t ask about page 169.
Visit Jamie Mason's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 1, 2015


S.G. Redling burst onto the scene with Flowertown, a high-octane conspiracy thriller that earned her fans around the globe and was followed by bestsellers including the space adventure Damocles and techno-thrillers The Widow File and Redemption Key. In her latest novel, Ourselves, Redling charts new territory – and puts a fascinating new twist on vampire lore – in telling the story of the Nahan, a human race who live among, but are startlingly different from, “common” humans.

Redling applied the Page 69 Test to Ourselves and reported the following:
Ourselves takes us into a hidden world of predators who live among us. The Nahan have manipulated myths about monsters throughout history to hide their presence. They’re human in every sense – complicated, dangerous, and emotional. They have strong social ties, deep mythology, and strict rules for interaction with the outside world.

From Page 69:
“What about school? If you had applied yourself more in school you would have had the grades to get into any college you chose but instead you and Louis had to party and play and fool around. And now neither of you will be able to get into college on your own. Do you think Aricelli is going to need her transcripts doctored? No, she managed to get the grades—”

“Mom! We’re not talking about Aricelli. Or college. This has nothing to do with—”

“It has everything to do with college! It’s called having options, Thomas.”

“And stop calling me Thomas! My name is Tomas!”
This wouldn’t have been my first thought when asked for a representational passage but I’m surprised how fitting it is. We’re thrown into this shadow world in our midst, meeting these people, the Nahan, who can be so different and so dangerous, but here we see how very human they are. Right before this scene, Tomas has realized he’s called for an incredibly difficult path – training with the Storytellers. This is a life-changing decision that will impact their entire community. It requires a huge sacrifice and brutal training.

But first, he has to get yelled at by his mom.

Is there anything more human?
Visit S.G. Redling's Facebook page and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Ourselves.

--Marshal Zeringue