Friday, July 31, 2015

"The Last Pilot"

Benjamin Johncock was born in England in 1978. His short stories have been published by The Fiction Desk and The Junket. He is the recipient of an Arts Council England grant and the American Literary Merit Award, and is a winner of Comma Press's National Short Story Day competition. He also writes for the Guardian. He lives in Norwich, England, with his wife, his daughter, and his son.

Johncock applied the Page 69 Test to The Last Pilot, his first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Last Pilot is a curious one, as it contains the only flashback of the entire novel. I’m not a fan of flashbacks, hence why this is the only one. Before this, however, we see two characters talking about the aftermath of Sputnik, with one—Reverend Irving—deeply concerned about escalating global events:
This country has always been protected by the vast oceans that surround it. Imagine if that could be breached, at any time, in minutes, by a Sputnik carrying an atomic bomb? What if it could shower us with radiation like a crop-duster as it passes overhead?
Grace isn’t so sure, but Irving is fearful and panicked, much like the Administration:
Only last week the Soviets launched another Sputnik—Mechta, whatever that means—that flew to the moon, then into orbit around the sun. The sun! How are they doing this? How are they doing these things before us? McCormack’s right, you know, we’re facing national extinction if we don’t catch up, and catch up soon. We simply must capture the high ground of space. Our survival— the free world, the church—depends on it.
It’s hard to appreciate now, with Earth orbit like an international freeway, the deep fear that the launch of a mere satellite provoked. Johnson said that control of space meant control of the world: “The power to control the Earth’s weather, to cause drought and flood, to change the tides and raise the levels of the sea, to direct the Gulf Stream and change temperate climates to frigid.”

It was the beginning of the space race.

As Irving says, “It’s a battle, Grace. It’s a battle for the heavens. It’s good versus evil and we’re on the front line.”

Or, as a radio announcer put it, at the time Sputnik was passing overhead, beeping down at the sleeping United States, listen now for the sound that forevermore separates the old from the new.
Visit Benjamin Johncock's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"What the Fly Saw"

Frankie Y. Bailey, a professor in the School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany (SUNY), is the author of mysteries as well as non-fiction titles that explore the intersections of crime, history, and popular culture. She is a Macavity Award-winner and has been nominated for Edgar, Anthony, and Agatha awards.

She applied the Page 69 Test to What the Fly Saw, the second Detective Hannah McCabe mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Baxter waved his hand and the jazz musicians swung into action with “When the Saints Come Marching In”.

“Guy had a sense of humor,” Baxter said, waving his hand again to close the hologram.

“Yes, he did.” Wyatt said. “Shall we sit down?”

They took seats around the small table in the corner. As his secretary had said, Kevin Novak was tidy. Nothing on the table.

“Reverend Wyatt,” McCabe said. “Dr. Burdett was able to give us some sense of what had been troubling Mr. Novak without violating the obligation he felt to preserve doctor-patient confidentiality. We know Mr. Novak felt some guilt about his friend’s death and was depressed. We know you referred Mr. Novak to Dr. Burdett.”

“Yes, I thought Jonathan was better equipped than I was to offer the counseling I sensed Kevin needed.”

“But apparently -- from what his wife said -- he was still troubled. So troubled she was concerned about him.”

“I think Sarah’s perception is probably more accurate than mine, or even Jonathan’s. I’m practically a newlywed compared to her and Kevin, but I have learned it’s much easier to present a brave face to the world than to your spouse.”

“Of course, it seems other people were also concerned about Mr. Novak,” McCabe said, taking the opportunity to go in another direction. “Dr. Burdett showed us a tag Mr. Novak had sent him on Saturday. Apparently, when he was at the celebration for Olive Cooper, she was concerned enough to suggest Mr. Novak attend a séance with a medium.”

Wyatt grimaced. “If she meant that Woodward woman, I hope she was joking.”
Page 69 is representative of the rest of the book in that we see police detectives Hannah McCabe and her partner, Mike Baxter, going about their investigation. The tone here is somber because they are in the home of the victim, funeral director, Kevin Novak. Kevin’s wife, Sarah, has gone upstairs to be alone for a few minutes and think about how she is going to break the news to their daughter, Megan. Megan is on her way home. Her brother has gone to pick her up from a sleepover at a friend’s house.

McCabe and Baxter are using Kevin’s study to interview Reverend Wyatt, the minister of the megachurch to which Kevin belonged. The minister and Dr. Burdett, a psychiatrist and family counselor, were there when the detectives arrived. They questioned Burdett first. Now it is Wyatt’s turn. They are trying to get some sense of who might have wanted Kevin dead. They also want to know more about the minister.

As this scene hints, the styles of the two detectives are different. Baxter, the rookie (who spent some time working Vice) tends to be irreverent. McCabe is more serious. Their different styles actually mesh well together. In this second book in the series, they have been partners for about four months. But there is a thread of tension in their relationship that McCabe becomes aware of again later in the book.

Keep in mind that the year is 2020, the near future, and this Albany, New York exist in an alternative version of our world. But the book itself is a police procedural not science fiction.
Visit Frankie Y. Bailey's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Margaret Fortune wrote her first story at the age of six and has been writing ever since.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Nova, and reported the following:
I turned to page 69, and I immediately laughed. Every book has a little back story here and there, and what do you know? This is where I put mine!

Nova is the story of Lia Johansen, a genetically engineered human bomb sent to strike a blow in an ongoing galactic war by slipping onto a rival space station and exploding. However, her mission goes awry when her countdown clock freezes two minutes from detonation. Page 69 is where we find out a bit about this war:
By the time the Celestians caught up, Telluria already had a warship in range, ready to blow them out of space if they even attempted to go planetside. Back-up quickly massed for both sides, and the stand-off began. Of course, a battle over the planet itself is out of the question. Can’t risk hurting the very merchandise they’re fighting over. So both sides kept ships stationed around the planet to keep their rival from sending anyone else down, and took their territorial war back into the inhabited universe, each side trying to inflict enough damage to make the other cry uncle. Just business as usual.
Page 69 is half prose and half dialogue, as the characters discuss the war, its causes, and whether they think the current ceasefire will last. Lia is a silent observer, listening as the others debate the war even as she knows the ceasefire is a sham. After all, people who want peace don’t send human bombs to blow up space stations.
“All I’m saying is, maybe the Tellurians are really serious about peace this time. I mean, if they’re willing to free prisoners and open the negotiations over New Earth—”

“Seriously, Michael?” Teal snorts. “That’s what you think is going on? Everyone has decided to play nice?”

“Why not? They’ve made plenty of peace treaties in the past.”

“Yeah, and how long have those ever lasted?”
While this page contains important information, it isn’t particularly representative of the book. Nova is written in first person, present tense, and as such the prose is immediate and intimate, giving the reader a front row seat to Lia’s thoughts and feelings. Yet this page gives us nothing of the main character, instead focusing on back story and the byplay between two side characters. While I stand behind everything I write, if I had to give out one page to a potential reader, this isn’t the one I’d choose. (Maybe page 134...?)
Visit Margaret Fortune's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 27, 2015

"Scents and Sensibility"

Spencer Quinn is the author of the Chet and Bernie mystery novels: Dog on It, Thereby Hangs a Tail, To Fetch a Thief, The Dog Who Knew Too Much, A Fistful of Collars, The Sound and the Furry, and Paw and Order. He lives on Cape Cod with his dogs Audrey and Pearl. When not keeping them out of mischief, he is hard at work on the next Chet and Bernie mystery.

Quinn applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Scents and Sensibility, the eighth book in the Chet and Bernie series, and reported the following:
Hard to imagine a human story of any kind without conflict, and there's plenty of it on page 69 of Scents and Sensibility. In fact, this conflict - between P.I. Bernie Little and Detective Brick Mickles, former colleagues at Valley PD (all of this seen through the eyes of Chet, Bernie's partner throughout the series) - lies at the heart of the story, although we don't know it yet. Mickles is no cardboard cut-out bad cop - he's smart and funny, and comfortable with words like "nemesis." His understanding of Bernie - "the self-destructive type" - makes a certain amount of sense. The scene on page 69 is all about building tension. On the surface, the two men keep it together, but underneath - well, let's have Chet take it from here, where scents make the most sense.
When two dudes are right on the point of throwing down – meaning two human dudes, although a similar thing happens in my world – you can’t miss a sudden smell that comes rising off both of them, and now we had it big-time. I could feel their muscles loading up – mine, too! – and could also feel their hate for one another, hate being something you hardly ever saw from Bernie. I made sure my weight was nicely balanced, all set for whatever needed doing.
Visit Chet the Dog's blog and Facebook page, and Spencer Quinn's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Peter Abrahams and Audrey (September 2011).

Coffee with a Canine: Peter Abrahams and Pearl (August 2012).

Writers Read: Spencer Quinn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 26, 2015

"Artemis Invaded"

Jane Lindskold is the bestselling author of the Firekeeper series, which began with Through Wolf’s Eyes and concluded with Wolf’s Blood, as well as many other fantasy novels. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Lindskold applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Artemis Invaded, the second book in the Artemis Awakening series, and reported the following:
Starting a page in the middle, not only of a scene, but also of a sentence is a challenge. I’ll admit it.

If I were the person browsing Artemis Invaded in a bookstore, I’d glance back to the previous page. There I’d see a dingbat telling me that the scene started there, so that’s what I’d do, too.

I like the first two sentences: “If there was ever a time Adara was reminded that Griffin had not been born on Artemis, it was when he said something like ‘scout the base of the mountain.’ Clearly, he had no idea how complicated the base of a mountain could be.”

Even for someone who hasn’t glanced at the dust jacket, this tells so much. Griffin is not native to Artemis. Adara is. Adara, however, has come to accept Griffin because she needs to be “reminded” that he isn’t local. This says a lot about both how well Griffin has adapted and Adara’s willingness to accept him as a person, alien or not.

In the next paragraph, Adara provides a swift, vivid description of why mountains are complicated to search, ending with “So it was that Adara did not set out on this very generalized search with a great deal of confidence.”

Searches interest me. They're mysteries in miniature.

Page 69 itself picks up with the search. Almost immediately, there’s conflict.
As they began their search, Sand Shadow was a bit peevish. Explaining to her why they were searching for nothing Adara could precisely define had been difficult. All the puma had gathered was that the end result of their quest would be Griffin’s departure. Since Sand Shadow liked Griffin – she had adopted him as her favorite playmate when they were in Spirit Bay – a search that would end up with her losing her ‘toy’ did not seem worth the effort.
The paragraph pays double because a reader will learn – without having read anything else and without any repetition on my part (as writer) that the goal of the search is something that will take Griffin (not-native) away from Artemis.

So, transportation oriented. Readers who realize that Artemis is a planet will guess that what is being sought is high-tech. If they are familiar with the previous novel, they’ll realize how rare – indeed, how nearly impossible to find – such is on Artemis.

Page 69 ends with a little gem about how Adara and Sand Shadow met – and the nature of their relationship.

So, mystery, conflict, backstory… All in about a page and a half. I’d keep reading!
Visit Jane Lindskold's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Artemis Awakening.

Writers Read: Jane Lindskold.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 24, 2015

"The Perfect Son"

Barbara Claypole White writes love stories about damaged people. She grew up in rural England, studied history at York University, and worked in London fashion before marrying an American professor she met at JFK airport. Her novels include The Unfinished Garden and The In-Between Hour.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Perfect Son, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The interstate petered out into a road that bumped over a metal drawbridge and crossed the Intracoastal Waterway. Clouds consumed the Carolina-blue sky, and the world turned gray. He had reached the end.

Felix parked in an empty lot and, tugging up the collar of his donkey jacket, headed toward the roar of the Atlantic Ocean. If Tom were alive, he would applaud.

The beach and pier were deserted but for a handful of spindly-legged birds skittering in and out of the ocean. His Dr. Martens sank into waterlogged sand, and he became a blip—a tiny, colorless ant in a world without horizons. Monstrous gray waves reared up, crashed apart, and re-formed to barrel forward with the force of a marauding army. The sun appeared for a moment and cast his shadow across the sand, creating a distorted Felix with grotesquely long legs. Next to his left foot, the water had regurgitated the rotting carcass of a pelican.

Wind rustled the sea oats with a tinkling like chimes, but the moment he turned and walked away from the pier, it battered his eardrums and stole his breath. His eyes stung as if pelted by Lilliputian spears. Felix trudged across sand the color of wet concrete. With each step, he could have been dragging chains.

He zigzagged onto a thick layer of shells that crunched and splintered under his boots. Walking became easier, and he marched across the flat grayness as if he were the last soldier on a battlefield.

Mad dogs and Englishmen.

Except not even a stray dog was crazy enough to walk on the beach in this weather. There was no one around, just the mad Englishman.
The page 69 test rocks! Yes, the above section is representative of the rest of The Perfect Son. It tells us a great deal about my flawed, conflicted hero, and it showcases my love of setting. With the wind and the waves roaring at each other, a deserted winter beach echoes Felix’s mood.

When we meet Felix Fitzwilliam, he’s a workaholic trapped in rigid, judgmental thinking. More of an antihero, Felix is about order, reserve, control, and perfection. He’s detached from the emotional life of his family and unable to deal with his chaotic son, who has ADHD and Tourette syndrome. Felix survived a dysfunctional childhood in a wealthy English family because his big brother Tom—whose death still haunts him—was his protector. Now Felix is facing the possibility that his wife could die, and he’s terrified. After leaving her hospital room in Raleigh, North Carolina, he drives until the land runs out at Wrightsville Beach.

This scene seems to pit Felix against nature as he stares at the churning Atlantic Ocean and vows to do whatever is necessary to protect his family. The journey he’s about to embark on—as a full-time parent—will push him beyond his comfort zone, opening him up to self-revelation and a sense of community. It will also reveal the truth: Felix is deeply compassionate and deeply loved—despite his flaws.
Learn more about the book and author at Barbara Claypole White's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The In-Between Hour.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"The Flicker Men"

Ted Kosmatka was born and raised in Chesterton, Indiana, and spent more than a decade working in various laboratories where he sometimes used electron microscopes. He is the author of Prophet of Bones and The Games, a finalist for the Locus Award for Best First Novel and one of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2012. His short fiction has been nominated for both the Nebula and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Awards and has appeared in numerous Year's Best anthologies. He now lives in the Pacific Northwest and works as a writer in the video-game industry.

Kosmatka applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Flicker Men, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Her slender arm curled behind my neck. “Sound can be a flexible too. A catalyst for chemical reaction, or an inhibitor. Start with a maximum frequency density and then carve away those parts that you don’t want to hear. There’s a Mozart concerto hidden in every burst of static.”

Again, I couldn’t tell if she was joking.

I sat up in the lightless room. At that moment, in the dark, we were the same. Only when I turned the lights on would our worlds be different.

“Mornings are hardest,” I told her.

In a few hours the sun would rise. The sickness would come or not come. “It’s time for me to go.”

She ran a hand along my bare spine. She didn’t try to get me to stay.
The top of page 69 in The Flicker Men actually touches upon a theme that threads its way through the rest of the book. What is darkness to one who is blind? The Flicker Men is at least in part an exploration of the ways in which we shape our own realities out of all the potentials around us. Maybe a random burst of static contains every possible sound, just as the waves and particles that impact us and comprise us contain every possible shape of reality. Certain interpretations of quantum mechanics suggest that in some ways, we carve out what we experience and make it real through act of observation. It is not just sound that is a series of waves, after all, but matter itself on some level. Everything. Reality collapses into existence all around us.

Quantum mechanics covers the physics of the very small, but it asks the biggest questions. What is the thread count of reality, and who the weaver, if not us?
Learn more about the book and author at Ted Kosmatka's website.

Writers Read: Ted Kosmatka.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 20, 2015

"Death and Mr Pickwick"

Stephen Jarvis was born in Essex, England. After dropping out of graduate studies at Oxford University, he quickly tired of his office job and began doing unusual things every weekend and writing about them for The Daily Telegraph. These activities included learning the flying trapeze, walking on red-hot coals, getting hypnotized to revisit past lives, and entering the British Snuff-Taking Championship.

Jarvis applied the Page 69 Test to Death and Mr. Pickwick, his first novel, and reported the following:
I can say, quite definitively, that Page 69 is not typical of my novel Death and Mr Pickwick, and I don’t even have to look at the page to know that. The reason is that there is no typical page in the novel. That was deliberate.

You see, Death and Mr Pickwick tells the story of the creation and subsequent history of Charles Dickens’s first novel, The Pickwick Papers, and one of the reasons why Pickwick itself succeeded was that it took readers on a long, rolling journey, in which they were never quite sure where they would go next. I wanted my novel to parallel Pickwick, so one moment we go down into a basement to encounter a mad clown in a straitjacket, the next moment we are in a debtors’ prison to see a man who has spent thirty-two despairing years within its walls. Oh, and then we witness the bloody slaughter of an elephant.

Nor is the timescale confined to the nineteenth century, when Pickwick was created – one section is set in ancient Celtic Britain, another is set on the day that John Lennon was assassinated in 1980. There is a narrator who is a citizen of the twenty-first century.

Or take characters. There is a huge and diverse cast, as was the case with The Pickwick Papers. The main character is Dickens’s first illustrator, Robert Seymour, who shot himself shortly after starting work on the Pickwick project – and, because Seymour dies, there is a large chunk of the book where the main character does not even appear.

You might ask: “How can such a rambling novel possibly work?” All I can say is that it worked for The Pickwick Papers. Indeed, ‘worked’ doesn’t begin to convey that novel’s success. The Pickwick Papers was, quite simply, the greatest literary phenomenon in history. For almost a century, Pickwick was the most famous novel in the world, with probably only The Bible having a greater circulation. In my view, The Pickwick Papers also has the greatest backstory of any work of literature. A story of colossal success, conspiracy, and suicidal genius.

And page 69? Actually, It tells of a famous actress who caused a stampede to get into the theatre – nearly crushing a painter to death - and of a deluded beggarwoman who claimed to be the actress’s abandoned sister. Typically untypical.
Visit Stephen Jarvis's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Ingrid Thoft was born in Boston and is a graduate of Wellesley College. Her interest in the PI life and her desire to create a believable PI character led her to the certificate program in private investigation at the University of Washington. She lives in Seattle with her husband.

Thoft applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Brutality, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“You act like you don’t approve of my methods, but secretly, you think I’m a stellar investigator.”

“Whatever you need to tell yourself,” he said. “See ya.”

He waddled over to the edge of the rink and stepped onto the ice. Fina hightailed it to her car and sat for a moment letting the hot air blow over her, reassessing her earlier conclusion: Even a little bit of Cristian was worth freezing her ass off.

Fina decided to make a stop before heading home and pointed her car toward Newton. The MetroWest suburb was one of the wealthiest in the region, but it also had its share of ranch houses and Cape Cods. Fifty-six Wellspring Street was one of those ranch houses, with a tidy yard and flagpole by the door that always held a season-appropriate flag. Fina pulled over in front of the house and swore at the sight that greeted her.

Once she was out of her car, she hollered at the man in the driveway. “What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing?” Frank Gillis responded.

“It looks like you’re trying to have a heart attack!” Fina went over and took the shovel out of his hand. “First of all, you’re not supposed to be shoveling. Second of all, I don’t even understand what you’re shoveling. This is all going to melt in a day or two.”

“There was a little patch of ice, and I didn’t want the mail carrier to slip.”

“Stop worrying about everyone else.” Fina gently nudged him toward the front door, where she leaned the shovel against the house. “If Peg sees you doing this, she’ll kill you.”

Frank Gillis was the former Ludlow and Associates investigator who’d taught Fina everything she knew—except for the illegal stuff, which she’d learned on her own. Frank was her professional mentor, and he and his wife, Peg, were her second family. They filled the hole in her life created by Carl and Elaine’s lack of parenting skills.
My protagonist, private investigator Fina Ludlow, is independent, brave and doesn’t like to rely on others, but Page 69 in Brutality, the third Fina Ludlow book, illustrates that no man (or woman) is an island. At the top of the page, the reader catches the tail end of a conversation between Fina and Detective Cristian Menendez, her sometimes “friend with benefits.” Fina and Cristian often find themselves at cross purposes when working a case, but there is a deep affection and respect between them that weathers their professional clashes.

After leaving the municipal ice rink where Fina tries to pry information from Cristian, she heads to the home of Frank Gillis, the private investigator who serves as both professional mentor and father figure. Fina’s exasperation with Frank is indicative of her love for him. She prides herself on her resiliency, but knows that if anything were to happen to Frank, her world would be shattered. At the heart of the Fina Ludlow series is a woman in command of her own life, but who has intense connections with a chosen few, including Cristian and Frank. Fina often wrestles with her desire to blaze her own path and her need for meaningful human connections. It’s this juggling act that makes her cases fraught with all kinds of hazards.
Visit Ingrid Thoft's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 16, 2015

"Blood Will Tell"

April Henry is the New York Times-bestselling author of many acclaimed mysteries for adults and young adults, including the YA novels Girl, Stolen; The Night She Disappeared; and The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die; and the thriller Face of Betrayal, coauthored with Lis Wiehl.

Henry applied the Page 69 Test to Blood Will Tell, the second book in her Point Last Seen series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Between Memory and Nightmare
Chapter 18

A screaming siren had torn him from his dreams. Or not dreams,exactly. He had been someplace halfway between memory and nightmare. In a place where she had made that sound, a desperate intake of breath. In a place where his knife flashed silver in the moonlight. In a place where blood steamed in the icy air.

He lay panting on his pillow. It was real. It was real. What would his mother think if she knew?

Another siren. And another and another.

Before he even got out of bed, he called in sick to work. It wasn’t really a lie. He was sick, especially when he thought about what might happen to him.

And then he waited. Waited until there were dozens of people lined up along the crime scene tape. All of them there because of what he had done, but none of them knew.

In his ball cap, he blended in. Just one more gawker. One more lookie-lou. He moved among them, but they did not know him.
Page 69 is from the point of view of the killer. The book was inspired by two real cases.

In one, a fifteen-year-old ending up being the prime suspect in a woman’s murder, and was eventually convicted of it and sent to prison. Even though there was no physical evidence linking them, the prosecutor hammered on the violent drawings the boy liked to doodle. I have seen some of the interrogation footage. He was skinny and his hair hung in his eyes.

The other case was a fascinating one, and I believe I’m the first mystery writer to use it in a book. It involved a millionaire who was tied up and robbed. He ended up smothering on the packing tape used to close his mouth. In the autopsy, the medical examiner swabbed the victim's fingertips and under his fingernails, in case he had fought with his killer. DNA was found, and it perfectly matched a known felon, who was arrested. How that DNA got there is a surprising story.

And this book and it’s sibling, The Body in the Woods, were both inspired by the Multnomah County Sheriffs Office Search and Rescue team, which is made up primarily of teens and routinely does crime scene evidence searches.
Learn more about the book and author at April Henry's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"The Joy of Killing"

Harry MacLean is a lawyer and writer based in Denver, Colorado. He is the author of In Broad Daylight, which won an Edgar Award for Best True Crime and was a New York Times bestseller for twelve weeks; his second book, Once Upon A Time: A True Story of Memory, Murder, and the Law was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; and his third book, The Past Is Never Dead: The Trial of James Ford Seale and Mississippi's Search for Redemption was shortlisted for the William Saroyan Award, given by Stanford University.

MacLean applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Joy of Killing, and reported the following:
From page 69:
A cold blast of air swept up from the river. The train jerked back, and then slipped forward, screeching and creaking, wobbling back and forth. I looked around for the girl, but she’d gone back inside. Given up on me, I thought, which was probably just as well. In those few moments I had felt the constraints of the involvement, the pressure in her eyes. Now I could ride with the Ghost Riders across the devil’s endless sky, hook back up with the train bandits in their hideout in a distant canyon. The train began to roll a little faster, and the lights of the little town on the far edge of the river grew brighter, and I wondered how many people in the houses there were eating or watching TV or sleeping. I wondered why I still felt nothing, despite the bitter wind. I stood there until the train was over the bridge and the clickety-clack sound returned to normal.
Our middle-aged, slightly unstable narrator has slipped back into a memory of his train ride back from an eastern prep school when he was fourteen. An intimate encounter with a girl on the train has caused him to flee to the platform on the last car. He understands that the girl is the thread to unraveling the violent mysteries of his life, and because of this he is both drawn to and wary of her. As our narrator uncovers the story of that night on the train he comes to an understanding of the story of his life.
Visit Harry MacLean's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Joy of Killing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 12, 2015

"Let Me Explain You"

Annie Liontas' debut novel, Let Me Explain You, was selected by the ABA as an Indies Introduce Debut and Indies Next. She is the co-editor of the anthology A Manner of Being: Writers on their Mentors and the recipient of a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund.

Liontas applied the Page 69 Test to Let Me Explain You and reported the following:
From page 69:
“They won’t be able to help themselves,” Stavroula offered, a little breathless. “We’ll sell hundreds.”

Like that time they—she and July—bungled the produce order and got six times the amount of blackberries they should have. What had happened was, she posted a note for blackberries. One of the other cooks posted a note for blackberries. Mr. Asbury posted a note for blackberries. July posted a note for blackberries. Stavroula approved the order for blackberries when she was “multitasking.” Inexplicably, the producer left them two more crates on top of that. By the time they realized, a return was out of the question. They froze some, they unloaded some to other restaurants, they made ice cream and pie, they delegated to glazes and marinades, they served a complimentary compote to guests, they still had a thousand blackberries left, it seemed.

The look July was giving her now didn’t match the delicacy that was July’s July. Rather, it was like the last day of the berries, when she and July surveyed the damage, the hundreds of blackberries overripened into saccharine mud, the dull and damaged skin, the loose, erupting drupelets. The soft, fine-haired mold that spread like a diseased cloth.

That day, it was not exactly disgust that July expressed when she said, “Is it too late for sorbet?” but an exhausted humor that implicated them both. Instead of throwing berries at each other or pushing one another into the sliding, skating fluids of the fruit, as Stavroula fantasized, they used a mop. They took turns wiping and rinsing, even though they could have had one of the boys take care of it. They talked about their fathers.

“Try it,” Stavroula said. She held out a fork. “You don’t like it, I’ll take it off.”
With her fingers, July took a berry with some onion.

“It’s good, right? Take another.”

July slid the menu across the counter. “Change it, Stevie, the whole thing.” She walked off in the white wedges.

Because the entire kitchen was already part of this, and because Stavroula knew it would expose her as much as she had exposed July, Stavroula called after her, “Next week we add Sorbet in Hot July.” It gave the staff permission to laugh.
One thing is clear: if page 1 is the lightning, page 69 is definitely the thunder.

Page 69 showcases the aftermath of what Stavros Stavros Mavrakis, patriarch, sets into motion on page 1 when he sends a scathing email to his daughters and ex-wife. In the letter he urges his eldest daughter Stavroula to grow out her hair—and this is all the push she needs to confess to her boss’ daughter that she’s in love with her. Stavroula, who is a chef, does this by creating a menu entirely inspired by July, whom she’s pined after for years. She attempts to woo her beloved through food (something that would definitely work on me) and begins by serving July the unique dish of onion, blackberries and feta known as July’s July. You can see from the excerpt, though, that, July is not impressed …at least, not yet.
Visit Annie Liontas's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 10, 2015

"The Mountain Story"

Lori Lansens burst onto the literary scene in 2002 with her first novel Rush Home Road. Published in eleven countries, Rush Home Road received rave reviews around the world. Her follow-up novel The Girls was an international success as well. Rights were sold in 13 territories and it featured as a book club pick by Richard & Judy in the UK, selling 300,000 copies. Her third novel The Wife’s Tale is currently in development as a feature film. Born and raised in Chatham, Ontario, Lansens now makes her home in the Santa Monica Mountains with her husband and two children.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Mountain Story, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Smiling, Frankie followed, stopping at the counter. “What’s your name?”

“Byrd,” I said loudly. “He said his name is Byrd.”

“Like…flapping?” Frankie inquired.

“Like Larry,” Byrd grinned.

“Hate the Celtics,” Frankie said. “How do you say “It’s good to meet you in Cahoola?”

“The slang way’s simple. Like saying ‘What’s up?’ It’s Yo arra.”

I lowered my face when Frankie repeated, “Yo arra.”

“The formal version is longer. It’s how you’d address an elder, a teacher, or a cop, for example, You add fah ken ut. Yo arra fah ken ut.”

Yo arra fah ken ut,” Frankie said slowly.

We repeated that phrase to each other, Byrd and me, a thousand times after that day. It was the bedrock of our friendship. I’d once asked him if we’d exhumed the stupid cliché of the wise red man having one over on the dumbass white man. He thought about it for a moment, because Byrd was a thinker, and then said, “Not cliché, brother. Classic.”
I love this test. Well, the page isn’t representative of the entire book but it does involve the eighteen-year-old protagonist, Wolf Truly, meeting his best friend for the first time.

The Mountain Story is about four lost hikers, eighteen-year-old Wolf Truly and three women, strangers, Nola, Bridget and Vonn. To understand the mountain story you have to know what came before. Wolf, our narrator, chronicles the mountain misadventure, and sheds light on the events from the past that brought them all to the mountain that day.

Page 69 is the end of the section where Wolf meets his first, best and only friend, Byrd, upon arriving in Palm Springs from Michigan. Frankie, Wolf’s ne’er do-well father has stopped at a gas station in the desert. Byrd is Native American, a descendant of the Agua Caliente Indians of the Coachella. Frankie mispronounces the name of the Indian band – Cahoola instead of Cahuilla (Ka-wee-ah). He has no idea he’s being made a fool of.
Visit Lori Lansens's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Mountain Story.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 9, 2015

"Anna, Banana, and the Monkey in the Middle"

Anica Mrose Rissi is a writer, storyteller, and editrix; a fan of dogs and ice cream; a little sister; an aunt; and a country mouse who fell in love with the city. She is the author of Anna, Banana, and the Friendship Split, plus three more books in the Anna, Banana illustrated chapter-book series. Her essays have been published by Italian Cooking & Living magazine and the New York Times.

Rissi applied the Page 69 Test to Anna, Banana, and the Monkey in the Middle (the second book in the Anna, Banana series), and reported the following:
In Anna, Banana, and the Monkey in the Middle, Anna and her friends are on a class trip to the zoo. The trip is fun and exciting, but also worrisome for Anna, who feels caught in the middle as her two best friends keep choosing opposite sides on everything…and forcing Anna to choose between them. As Anna describes it on page 59, “I felt like they were playing a game of tug-of-war and I was the rope.”

By page 69, Anna has finally told her friends they’re making her feel like the monkey in the middle, and the girls have found what they think is a good solution: They’ve promised to share things equally, decide everything together, and do all things exactly the same way. That way everything will be fair and no one will ever feel left out…right?

It won’t work out as smoothly as planned, of course (after all, there are still 47 pages to go), but on page 69 the girls are feeling hopeful, triumphant, and relieved…until their classmate Justin comes along to tease them (and eases the tensions with some comic relief). One thing the three friends can easily agree on: Justin is being annoying.

Page 69 doesn’t feature as many adorable and funny animals as the rest of the book (it was so fun writing a book set at the zoo!) or mention Banana, Anna’s very important dog (a dachshund), but it’s a good snapshot of the emotional conflict, and includes one of Meg Park’s adorable illustrations, of Justin teasing Anna and Anna giving him A Look.
Visit Anica Mrose Rissi's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Anica Mrose Rissi & Arugula.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"What Doesn't Kill Her"

Carla Norton is a novelist, journalist, and true crime writer. Her debut fiction, The Edge of Normal, was a Thriller Award finalist and a Royal Palm Literary Award winner. The sequel, What Doesn't Kill Her, has just been released to rave reviews. Norton has also written two books of true crime, including Perfect Victim, which was put on the reading list for the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit and became a #1 New York Times bestseller. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College in 2009. Besides writing books, she writes articles, essays, and really bad poetry.

Norton applied the Page 69 Test to What Doesn't Kill Her and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Did Flint express any resentment toward Dr. Moody?”


“Did he tell you he was planning an escape?”

“Of course not.”

“Has Daryl Wayne Flint communicated with you or shared his plans with you in any way?”

“That’s a ridiculous question.”

“What about his mother? Has she been in touch with you?”

Something snaps shut inside her. “I’m sorry, but I’ve told you all I know.”

“But we have more questions, and we’d like to interview you further. Would tomorrow be convenient?”

She blows out air and has a sudden vision of a tall, Nordic-looking man with a sweep of blond hair and crinkle lines around blue eyes. “Could I speak with Agent Bender?”


“Special Agent Milo Bender. Is he there?”

“Bender?” A pause, a muffled exchange, and then the voice comes back on, saying, “Uh, no, Agent Bender is no longer with the Bureau.”

“Well for god’s sake, he’s the one I need to talk to.”
What a quirky idea! Is page 69 representative of the rest of my book? Intrigued, I quickly retrieve a brand-new copy of What Doesn’t Kill Her, pausing to admire the embossed lettering on the jacket before turning to that page, and then let out a laugh.

I confess that I love this section of dialogue. (Actually, I’m preparing to teach a writers’ workshop on dialogue, so it occurs to me that I just might include this section as one of my examples because… but I digress.)

Okay, the book jacket copy explains that Reeve LeClaire, my protagonist, is a college student who has largely recovered from having been kidnapped and held captive for four years. But now Daryl Wayne Flint, her former captor, has escaped from the forensic unit of a psychiatric hospital. On page 69, Reeve is on the phone with an FBI agent who is investigating Flint’s escape.

Now you are the judge: Skimming this page, would you be inclined to read on?
Visit Carla Norton's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

"The Little Paris Bookshop"

Nina George works as a journalist, writer, and storytelling teacher. She is the award winning author of 26 books, and also writes feature articles, short stories, and columns. Her novel The Little Paris Bookshop spent over a year on bestseller lists in Germany, and was a bestseller in Italy, Poland, and the Netherlands.

George applied the Page 69 Test to The Little Paris Bookshop and reported the following:
From page 69:
He saw her before him in the hours and hours of the weeks following the letter, waiting for a car to pull up outside her house and for Jean to knock on her door.

Summer passed, autumn painted frost on the fallen leaves, winter swept the trees bare. Still he hadn’t come.

He slapped his hands to his face, but would rather have slapped himself in the face.

And now it’s too late.

Fingers shaking uncontrollably, Monsieur Perdu folded up the fragile letter, which miraculously preserved her scent, and pushed it back into the envelope. Then he buttoned up his shirt with grim concentration and groped for his shoes. He tidied his hair in the mirror formed by the darkened windowpane.

Jump out, you vile idiot. That would solve things.

When he looked up, he saw Catherine leaning against the door frame.

“I was her . . . ,” he began, indicating the letter. “She was my . . .” He couldn’t find the words. “But things turned out completely differently.”

What was the word for it?

“Love?” asked Catherine after a while.
Touché. Page 69 describes the bracket of this book, the inner, hidden truth of the story; it is the break down of the psyche of my main figure Monsieur Perdu.

It is a sort of representative. But the important flavouring ingredients are missing: the humour, the books, the cats and the French air on the other 340 or so-pages.

Each book has its own rhythm, an inner melody. Mine is a Tango (Por Una Cabeza), with tears, passion, laughter, melancholy, jokes and sensual acts. On page 69 you will find the key to the book.
Visit Nina George's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Little Paris Bookshop.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 6, 2015

"Beyond Suspicion"

Catherine A. Winn, a former art and elementary school teacher, lives and writes in Texas. An avid reader of all types of mysteries from cozies to thrillers, she’s found writing them to be equally thrilling.

Winn applied the Page 69 Test to her new YA mystery/thriller, Beyond Suspicion, and reported the following:
Page 69 Beyond Suspicion is not representative of the whole book, but it does gives the reader a small peek at the budding romance between the protagonist, Shelby Palmer, and mysterious Matt. I think a reader who likes a little romance in a mystery will want to turn the page and learn more about both characters and why they are trying to alter her appearance from the police.

Here is a quick summary of the circumstances leading up to this page.

Shelby sneaks out of the house and goes to the park where her brother Josh was kidnapped and finds his favorite toy in the woods. Not knowing she’s under surveillance, police suddenly surround her and Detective Rutherford announces triumphantly that criminals always return to the scene of a crime.

But a cute boy, Shelby has never seen before, shouts at them to let her go. All eyes are on him as he and the detective stare silently at each other. Detective Rutherford yields and gruffly orders him to get his friend out of there.

Shelby learns his name is Matt Turner and, though somewhat suspicious of his motives, believes his explanation for doing what he did and accepts a ride home. As Matt helps Shelby alter her appearance by handing her his ball cap, her trust, as well as a romantic interest in him, begins to grow.
...out a wadded up baseball cap. “Here let me help get this thing on you.”

Shelby let him take her hair, twist it up on top of her head, then cover it with the cap. She put both hands on top of it and grinned. “What do you think?”

Matt tweaked her under the chin. “You could be my kid brother. Let’s go, bro.”

Just two seconds ago her tummy had fluttered because he said she was cute. Now he thought she could pass for a boy.

She stifled a snort.

“You okay?”

“Fine, why?”

“You sounded like you were choking.”


They didn’t say another word until they reached the sidewalk.

Up ahead officers were approaching, some with dogs. One officer stopped as they got closer. Shelby lowered her head, put her finger on the nosepiece of her glasses, and concentrated on the cracks in the concrete.

“Move over, Jimmy, and get out of their way.” Matt shoved Shelby’s shoulder, forcing her into the grass as they passed the officers. “Mom’s mad that you left without telling her. You are in big trouble.”

The officer strode past them without showing any more interest.

Shelby looked over her shoulder as they moved onto the sidewalk again. None of the officers turned around. They had already forgotten them. “You should be an actor.”

Matt smiled down at her. When they reached the parking lot he pointed. “It’s the black Jeep Wrangler with the top down.”
This small scene from their first meeting is important to the plot and their relationship. Shelby likes him and he seems to like her, but he keeps asking questions and he doesn’t want anyone seeing them together. Shelby wonders if she should trust him, but she needs his help and brushes her concerns aside only to discover Matt’s secret and her decision to trust him was a huge mistake.
Visit Catherine A. Winn's website.

My Book, The Movie: Beyond Suspicion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 4, 2015

"The Miracle Girl"

Andrew Roe is the author of The Miracle Girl (Algonquin Books). His fiction has been published in Tin House, One Story, The Sun, Glimmer Train, Slice, The Cincinnati Review, and other publications, as well as the anthologies 24 Bar Blues (Press 53) and Where Love Is Found (Washington Square Press). His nonfiction has been published in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle,, and elsewhere.

Roe applied the Page 69 Test to The Miracle Girl and reported the following:
The Miracle Girl features many characters and multiple points of view, so I was curious what I’d find when I turned to page 69. (The book centers on the title character, eight-year-old Anabelle Vincent, who’s in a coma-like state and is supposedly capable of performing miracles. When word of this spreads, more and more people flock to the Vincent’s suburban Los Angeles home, seeking the girl’s help.)

Fittingly, page 69 includes the end of a section that introduces one character (Linda Santiago, a physical therapist who’s taking on Anabelle as a new client) and the beginning of a section that introduces another character (Donald Westerfield, an elderly man who’s drawn to Anabelle because of his dying wife). Re-reading the page reminded me of how much time I’d spent on mapping out the novel’s characters and how they’d appear and intersect throughout the book.

I also remembered how, for a long time, I had a different introduction for Donald; it showed him waiting in line to see Anabelle. At some point, I realized I needed to introduce him earlier to provide him with some back story. Here’s what I eventually came up with:
One morning, in the forty-sixth year of the Westerfield’s marriage, not long after Donald Westerfield had retired from a successful career as a civil engineer, and right before the annual descent of the hectic and draining but also somehow rejuvenating holidays (four grandkids now, and counting), Patricia Westerfield woke up briefly and then went back to sleep.
Learn more about the book and author at Andrew Roe's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Miracle Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Our Brothers at the Bottom of the Bottom of the Sea"

Jonathan David Kranz maintains dual identities as a marketing copywriter and a fiction writer. His debut novel, Our Brothers at the Bottom of the Bottom of the Sea, launched in early June. He lives in Melrose, MA with his old lady and two young adult daughters.

Kranz applied the Page 69 Test to Our Brothers at the Bottom of the Bottom of the Sea and reported the following:
On page 69 of Our Brothers you’ll find:
The Christmas tree lay on its side at the foot of the basement stairs as if it had tripped on the way down and then died there from neglect. In fact, it hadn’t budged since the day in February when, in an unusual display of emotion, Mr. Waters had bear-hugged the tree and lifted it, stand and all, without regard for the strings of lights that remained plugged to the wall or the ornaments that scattered around his feet as he carried it to the basement door and heaved it angel-first into the gloom below.

“There,” he had said, presumably to Ethan’s mother although she had gone upstairs a half hour before, “the tree’s down. Happy?”

Now it was June, the edge of the first summer since Jason’s death, and Ethan stood at the top of the basement staircase, peering into the darkness, burning with indignation: he hadn’t thrown the tree down, but he was going to pick it up. His father had not been pleased when he learned that Ethan had found a job at The Sizzleator, found it without asking, without discussing it, without drawing upon Chuck Waters’ knowledge of, and contacts on, the boardwalk. “You just walked up and asked for a job, just like that?” Chuck had asked.

“Yeah,” Ethan had said. “More or less.”

“The rules have changed,” Chuck said. “At least out there.” That was when he got the idea that the basement really needed to be straightened up and Ethan would be the right man to do it.
By sheer good luck, page 69 happens to the beginning of a chapter, giving it a fortunate coherence. Is it representative of the rest of the novel? I like to think so. Here, we have a very familiar icon—a Christmas tree—applied in an unexpected way. At this point in the story, the tree’s ugly fate suggests dysfunction, one of the manifest ways grief has torn apart Ethan’s family. At other moments, other familiar things—shells, a journal, an empty bottle of Frangelico—fulfill unanticipated roles. If readers like finding a Christmas tree at the bottom of the basement stairs, they’ll probably enjoy the rest of the book.
Visit Jonathan David Kranz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Victoria Shorr is a writer and political activist who lived in Brazil for ten years. Currently she lives in Los Angeles, where she cofounded the Archer School for Girls, and is now working to found a college-prep school for girls on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Shorr applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Backlands, and reported the following:
From page 69:
…The priest came out afterwards with holy water, and everyone came by to stare at the gashes in the door. One old tracker said it was the work of a jaguar, but the children were adamant. It was the lobishomem, the Wolf Man, they'd heard him clearly, even if they hadn't looked him in his terrible face.

What would have happened next, she wondered? Not to the children, but to her, if he came in here? What would he do? Would there be love before the murder? He was a wolf—but he was a man, too. Which was he more? Wolf or man?

She walked over to the shutters, closed tight, as everyone's were, every door and shutter in the whole Sertão, shut and barred before nightfall. The nights were filled with danger, werewolves, bandits, terrors all, to be shut out. But what, she wondered, was she afraid of? Really, what she was afraid of any more?
Page 69 ends a passage where Maria Bonita has just heard about the werewolf coming to her cousins' house in the woods. She is married to the shoemaker then, stuck, trapped in a loveless marriage. Her husband is old, impotent. He has never touched her. She lives in silence. She is desperate. Alone. This page depicts her loneliness and desperation at its height. It is the last moment before radical change.
Visit Victoria Shorr's website.

--Marshal Zeringue