Saturday, April 30, 2016

"Design for Dying"

Renee Patrick is the pseudonym of married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington.

They applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, Design for Dying, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Time to test Edith Head’s advice. I let my tan sweater hang over the matching knit skirt, cinching it with a narrow belt. In my own biased opinion, I looked pretty good. But my ego demanded unsolicited compliments. Any more than the usual number – zero – and I’d declare victory.
“Pardon me,” I said. “Are you done with that paper?”

“I could be, for a smile.”

Despite the ungodly hour I gave him his money’s worth, teeth included at no extra charge.

“Take it and maybe I’ll see you again sometime.” He winked, which I credited to Edith’s fashion tip.
It’s uncanny how page 69 cuts right to the heart of the dynamic that animates Design for Dying, our mystery novel set during the Golden Age of Hollywood. By this point our unlikely detectives have met. Lillian Frost, once-aspiring actress turned sensible shopgirl, recognizes that the gown worn by her murdered former roommate was wardrobe stolen from Paramount Pictures. Lillian’s eye for detail impresses Edith Head, who runs the studio’s costume department in all but name and fears a scandal will jeopardize her hard-won position.

Naturally, they become a sleuthing duo, with Edith as armchair detective and Lillian as leg woman. Those roles are mirrored in their personal relationship. Edith sees in Lillian a smart, resourceful younger woman who has taken some steps on her own but doesn’t yet know which way to go. Lillian immediately views Edith as a role model, an independent spirit blazing her own trail.

How else would a costume designer begin the mentoring process than through clothes? Edith offers Lillian a simple tip to better showcase her appearance. Lillian not only puts it into practice but allows it to work a modest transformation, the good Catholic girl flirting with a stranger on the streetcar to acquire his newspaper – which, unbeknownst to her, contains a valuable piece of information. It’s on page 69 that Lillian truly becomes Edith’s student, embracing the teacher’s oft-quoted lesson: “You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.”
Visit Renee Patrick's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 29, 2016

"Counting Thyme"

Melanie Conklin is a writer, reader, and life-long lover of books and those who create them. She lives in South Orange, New Jersey with her husband and two small maniacs, who are thankfully booklovers, too. Conklin spent a decade as a product designer and approaches her writing with the same three-dimensional thinking and fastidious attention to detail.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Counting Thyme, her debut middle grade novel, and reported the following:
Counting Thyme is the story of a girl named Thyme, whose family moves across the country for her little brother’s cancer treatment. On page 69 [inset; click to enlarge], Thyme is coming home to their apartment in New York City after Val’s first day of treatment. It’s an apprehensive moment because Thyme’s parents haven’t been very forthcoming about what will actually happen to Val. Thyme has looked up lots of information on her own, because that’s the kind of eleven-year-old girl she is…but there is so much fear bottled up inside of her: fear of the side effects of Val’s treatment (which can be intensely painful), fear of what this process is doing to her mother, fear of the unknown future. In many ways, Thyme tries to put off this future by clinging to her past. She wants to go back home. She’s focused on that goal, and is spending a lot of her time on a plan to escape. But in this scene, you see her choose. Even though she’s scared, she opens the door.
Visit Melanie Conklin's website, Twitter perch, and watch the Counting Thyme book trailer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"The Last Boy and Girl in the World"

Siobhan Vivian is the author of the young adult novel The List, as well as Not That Kind of Girl, Same Difference, and A Little Friendly Advice, and the Burn for Burn trilogy, cowritten with Jenny Han. A former editor for Alloy Entertainment, she received her MFA in creative writing at the New School.

Vivian applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Last Boy and Girl in the World, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The DJ put on a fast song. I wanted to sit and wait for Jesse to notice that I’d come back, but that would have been lame. It would be better if he saw me having a blast out on the dance floor. So I said to my friends, “Come on. Let’s get some blisters.”

Elise stood right up with me, but Morgan scrunched up her face. “Maybe in another song or—”

I grabbed her hand and dragged her out to the center of the basketball court.

After a few songs, if it was still raining, I had no idea. I was too busy dancing. Elise mostly swayed to the beat, but Morgan and I used to dance in her basement when we were little, and we had a few routine moves down pat that I eventually forced her into doing with me. I’d always been jealous that she got to take real-deal dance lessons, but she let me wear her costumes, and she’d teach me the moves she learned and it ended up feeling like I’d taken the classes too. We’d even put on performances for her grandmother.

As much as I was there in the moment, every time a song ended, I’d wonder if Jesse would come find me. When he didn’t, I’d think about going to grab him. Could I be that brave?
I’m lucky! I think page 69 of The Last Boy and Girl in the World perfectly highlights the two main relationships that my main character, Keeley, is concerned with throughout the novel. Firstly, there’s Morgan, her best friend forever. They’ve been experiencing some growing pains to date, but haven’t quite addressed them head on. And secondly, there’s Jesse Ford, the love of Keeley’s life. He’s never paid her much attention before, but now there’s a chance he might be interested in her. This scene takes place during the Spring Formal, during the start of a major storm that will wreck havoc on the town.
Visit Siobhan Vivian's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 25, 2016

"Murder at the 42nd Street Library"

Con Lehane is a mystery writer who lives outside Washington, DC. He's published three crime novels featuring New York City bartender Brian McNulty. Over the years, he has worked as a college professor, a union organizer, a labor journalist, and has tended bar at two dozen or so drinking establishments.

Lehane applied the Page 69 Test to Murder at the 42nd Street Library, the first novel in a new series featuring Raymond Ambler, curator of the 42nd Street Library’s (fictional) crime fiction collection, and reported the following:
From page 69:
When McNulty got a break, Ambler explained the situation.

McNulty gave Benny the lawyer’s contact information. “He’s gonna quote you a big number.”

McNulty said. “He likes to think of himself as high-priced. You tell him I sent you and to see me about the bill. He’ll curse a lot, but he’ll do it.”

Poor Benny, his eyes tearing, his expression helpless, grateful, and befuddled, could barely speak. Ambler left him outside the bar on the corner calling the lawyer on his cell phone.
When he got back to his desk he called Mike Cosgrove.

“You’ve scared my friend Benny half to death,” he said as soon as he heard “Cosgrove” at the other end of the line.

“That’s not something I can talk to you about.”

“He’s a suspect? You’re going to arrest him?”

“You’re not hearing what I said?” It took a few seconds for Ambler to understand that his friend was embarrassed because he couldn’t talk openly and angry because he was embarrassed.

“I know. You have a job to do. Maybe it’s not even you. Still, let me tell you this. I don’t know about the Donnelly woman. But I can tell you for sure Benny isn’t a guy who comes up on someone from behind. If you spent—”

“Ray, please. … I can’t talk about this. But I do have some information on the girl you asked about.”

Ten minutes later, Ambler got off the phone and sat staring in front of him. What Cosgrove told him about Emily Yates hit close to home.
This is the end of chapter six of Murder at the 42nd Street Library. Looking at the page in isolation, there’s a lot readers wouldn't know. They’d get that Benny was a suspect, since it’s a mystery, probably a suspect in a murder. They could get that Cosgrove is a cop, since he’s in a position to make Benny a suspect and might arrest him. But who the hell is McNulty, what’s Ambler got to do with anything, and why is he upset by what Cosgrove has told him about Emily Yates?

Ray Ambler is my main guy in this series. He’s the curator of the (fictional) crime fiction collection at the New York Public Library’s flagship, the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, recently christened the Schwarzman Building but known to New Yorkers as the 42nd Library, based on its location at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. More important, he has something of a track record as crime solver, grudgingly acknowledged by his friend and sometimes adversary, Mike Cosgrove, a NYPD homicide detective. McNulty is the bartender at the Library Tavern, the joint where the library staff often stop off for beer after work. McNulty is actually the hero of my earlier series, The Bartender Brian McNulty Mysteries, that I’ve kept on in the new series.

The situation they’re dealing with is an unsolved murder at the library, where there are plenty of suspects in addition to Benny, and an uneasy sense that the first murder might not be the last. Emily Yates, of the disturbing news, is the missing daughter of a mystery novelist, Nelson Yates, whose donation of his papers to the library, seems to have set off the events that led to the murder Benny is suspected of. To put all of this together, one would definitely need to read more than page 69.
Visit Con Lehane's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Con Lehane & Lola.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 23, 2016


Laura Williams McCaffrey is author of Marked, Water Shaper, and Alia Waking. She is on faculty at Solstice, an MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College, and lives in Vermont with her family. She applied the Page 69 Test to Marked and reported the following:
From page 69:
“‘Kay.” His eyes searched her, but she couldn’t tell for what. “After you left, I noticed the address you gave. The Waterhouses used to own the farm next to your ma and da’s place?”

“Y-yes, s-sir,” Lyla stammered.

“Were you and Gillis Waterhouse friends?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good friends?”

“When we were little, sir. They moved to Digger Street when we were eleven. We haven’t been close friends in a long while.”

“So you haven’t talked much to him in the last few years.”

“No, sir.”

“Great. That’s great. So could you start running around together again if you wanted to?” Officer Riverton asked in a rush.

“I don’t understand, sir,” Lyla said, though she suspected she did.
By page 69, Lyla has been caught by the peace officers, her world’s version of police, in the shadow market, her world’s version of a blackmarket. She’s been marked on the wrist, tattooed as a criminal. This means she’s lost any chance of winning a patron who might send her to university. She’ll be forever stuck working long hours at jobs she hates, earning barely enough to survive.

In this section, the peace officer who marked her has called her back to the prison, and he’s suggested there might be a way she can earn the mark off. He’s questioning her about her beloved childhood friend, Gillis Waterhouse, from whom she’s estranged. Gill has left home, and she knows he’s working for Red Fist, a group of dangerous criminals. A group the peace officers very much want to capture and defeat.

Lyla can already tell that earning her off mark might involve something difficult, perhaps dangerous and troubling. But what choice does she have?
Visit Laura Williams McCaffrey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 21, 2016

"War Hawk"

James Rollins is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of international thrillers that have been translated into more than forty languages. In addition to his New York Times bestselling collaborations with Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy, Grant Blackwood is the author of three novels featuring Briggs Tanner. A U.S. Navy veteran, Blackwood spent three years as an operations specialist and a pilot rescue swimmer.

Rollins applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, War Hawk, and reported the following:
From page 69:
After a couple more drinks with Frank Ballenger at the bar, Tucker headed back to his motel. It had rained while he had been chatting with Frank, leaving the night air muggy and smelling of warm asphalt. Kane sat on the passenger seat, his muzzle resting on the doorframe of the open window.

Tucker sped west away from the traffic of the city, then turned south along the edge of the massive swamp that backed up to his motel. His headlights swept over cypress branches gauzed in Spanish moss. Unseen insects ticked against his windshield.

Suddenly the SUV’s radio blared to life, startling him, making him swerve slightly on the lonely road “…Evening, folks, you’re listenin’ to WTKI, Huntsville talk radio…

Scowling, Tucker turned off the radio. As he did so, the engine sputtered, the dashboard lights flickered, and the vehicle began to slow.


Kane’s head pivoted toward him. The shepherd let out a whine of complaint.

“Hey, it’s not me.”

The radio came on again, then went silent. The windshield wipers began to flap.

What the hell

Tucker steered the SUV onto the shoulder—and just in time. With a double cough, the engine died.

He sighed and patted Kane’s flank. “Buddy, it’s finally happened. We’re being abducted by aliens.”
As a veterinarian, I’ve always loved folding animals into my stories, whether it be an orphaned jaguar cub bonded to its caretaker or a search-and-rescue shepherd who proves that retirement has not dulled its sharp nose.

In my latest thriller, War Hawk, a military working dog named Kane and his Army Ranger handler, Tucker Wayne, are on the road together, striving to escape demons of their past—until that same past comes crashing down upon their doorstep. A former girlfriend, desperate and scared, arrives with a young boy in tow. The pair is being hunted by shadowy forces and seeks the unique skills of this ranger and his four-legged companion to survive.

The first clues to the shocking truth lead Tucker and Kane to the Alabama swamps, where the two begin to discover the scope of the dangers ahead, a threat that will test both their skills and their deep bond.
Visit the official James Rollins website and Grant Blackwood's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"The Other Widow"

Susan Crawford grew up in Miami, Florida, where she spent her childhood adoring her older sister, reading mysteries in a hammock strung between two Banyan trees, and collecting lizards, baby skunks and other odd, exotic creatures.

She later moved to New York City and then to Boston before settling in Atlanta to raise three amazing daughters and to teach in various adult education settings. A member of The Atlanta Writers Club and The Village Writers, Crawford works for the Department of Technical and Adult Education and is a member of her local planning commission. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and a trio of rescue cats, where she enjoys reading books, writing books, rainy days, and spending time with the people she loves.

Crawford applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Other Widow, and reported the following:
From page 69:
She leans against the kitchen counter near the window. Her eyes blur out of focus at a backyard strewn with branches, brown and dead, like skeletons across the snow. Sometimes she hears Joe’s voice, feels him, like a buzzing underneath her skin. A background noise, like trains near the apartment she and Samuel had downtown when they first lived together. They were such a constant sound that almost right away she’d stopped hearing them. She only noticed late at night when they stopped running. She heard the absence of the trains, the silence, and Dorrie wonders if that’s what will happen when she stops hearing Joe.
On page 69 of The Other Widow, Dorrie, Joe’s girlfriend, and so the other widow, is reflecting on feeling the presence of her dead lover, knowing it won’t last forever. Although the book is a suspense, although Dorrie is in danger and struggling to stay one step ahead of her pursuer while she figures out what exactly is going on and who exactly is after her, she is also grieving. Unlike Joe’s real widow, she must hide her feelings. She doesn’t have the luxury of grief. We see glimpses of it in moments like the one depicted on page 69.
Visit Susan Crawford's website.

Writers Read: Susan Crawford (March 2015).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 18, 2016

"A Drop of Night"

Stefan Bachmann is the author of the internationally bestselling novel The Peculiar and its acclaimed sequel, The Whatnot. He was born in Colorado, spent most of his childhood in Switzerland, and is now studying modern music at the Zürich University of the Arts. When he’s not writing, he can be found traveling to someplace chilly, or holed up beneath his college in the dimly lit labyrinth of practice rooms, which may have inspired the subterranean scenes in his new novel, A Drop of Night.

Bachmann applied the Page 69 Test to A Drop of Night and reported the following:
From page 69:
Dorf clears his throat. "Your parents have all been informed of your safe arrival. We will be keeping them updated and will have a complete folder prepared and sent to them before your return. Once the media embargo is over, they'll know as much as everyone. I think they'll be quite pleased with what you are capable of."

I hate how he talks. Like we're not even real people. Like we're a row of dumbbells with painted faces, supposed to nod and smile at his performance.

"The palace," Will says He's fiddling with the silverware, straightening it on the starched linen napkin. "It must have taken decades to build. Versailles took fifty years. How could they have kept something so large a secret?"

Dorf smiles. "They couldn't. At least, not entirely. There were reports of a great undertaking in Pérrone, and certainly local rumors, but many historians thought it was simply another tall tale fabricated by Paris revolutionaries. Slander was rampant against the aristocracy. An underground palace as large as the Sun King's court but buried a hundred feet below ground was probably too ridiculous and excessive a luxury to even consider."
A Drop of Night is a YA thriller about a group of American teens who are given the opportunity to explore a mysterious underground palace built during the French Revolution. It's my first attempt at YA, and also my first attempt writing something not overtly fantasy (though it's still a little fantasy-ish, what with secret underground palaces and such) and it ended up this wild, weird, sci-fi historical horror mash-up about an angry girl named Anouk and her attempt to survive what's in the depths. The modern day scenes are spliced with historical scenes of the wealthy aristocrats who fled to the palace during the Revolution. It took many drafts to sort out.

On page 69 the kids have just arrived at the chateau that now stands above the site of the fabled buried palace. They're being briefed by their chaperone, Professor Dorf, and are beginning to become suspicious that maybe this trip will be dangerous, and maybe something bad is down there, even now, two hundred years later.
Learn more about the book and author at Stefan Bachmann's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: The Peculiar.

The Page 69 Test: The Peculiar.

The Page 69 Test: The Whatnot.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 16, 2016

"Brilliant Beacons"

Eric Jay Dolin is the best-selling author of the award-winning Fur, Fortune, and Empire; Leviathan, which was chosen by the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe as a best book of the year; and When America First Met China.

Dolin applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Soon after the Argand lamp was introduced, Europeans began pairing the lamps with parabolic reflectors, creating lighthouse lights that were far more effective than those that had come before. The reflectors were typically made of metal clad in a thick layer of silver that was polished to a mirrorlike finish to increase its reflectivity. In a few instances a thick plano-convex glass lens—flat on one side, convex on the other—was placed in front of the lamp in an attempt to magnify the light beam and make it stronger, but this addition was soon discarded when it was discovered that rather than magnify the light, it made it worse.
Europeans had long used coal, wood, candles, as well as oil lamps to light their lighthouses, but in the 1780s a major leap in lighthouse illumination took place. It began with the work of the Swiss-born physicist Aimé Argand. In 1782, while living in France, he developed a new type of oil lamp. Instead of a single, solid wick it used a hollow circular wick placed between two thin concentric brass tubes. This arrangement increased the amount of oxygen reaching the lighted wick by forcing air to flow up through the inside of the inner tube, as well as over the outside of the outer tube—more oxygen made for more efficient combustion, less smoke, and a brighter light. The wick could be raised and lowered by turning a knob, and oil was fed by gravity to the wick through a pipe connected to a reservoir.

Page 69 of Brilliant Beacons (half of which is taken up by an illustration) is in chapter 3, titled “Lights of a New Nation,” which follows the evolution of lighthouses from the end of the American Revolution up through the end of the War of 1812. One element of that chapter is the creation of the Argand lamp, and how it revolutionized lighthouse lighting.

Although this snippet from page 69 is quite interesting, I don’t feel it captures the incredible drama of Brilliant Beacons, nor does it give the reader a good sense of the numerous fascinating stories that the book contains. Simply put, Brilliant Beacons, a work rich in maritime lore and brimming with original historical detail, is the most comprehensive history of American lighthouses ever written, telling the story of America through the prism of its beloved coastal sentinels. Set against the backdrop of an expanding nation, Brilliant Beacons traces the evolution of America’s lighthouse system, highlighting the political, military, and technological battles fought to illuminate the nation’s hardscrabble coastlines. It includes a memorable cast of characters including the penny-pinching Treasury official Stephen Pleasonton, who hamstrung the country’s efforts to adopt the revolutionary “Fresnel Lens,” and presents tales both humorous and harrowing of soldiers, saboteurs, ruthless egg collectors, and most importantly, the light-keepers themselves. Once you read Brilliant Beacons you will literally see lighthouses in a whole new light.
Learn more about the book and author at Eric Jay Dolin's website.

The Page 99 Test: Fur, Fortune, and Empire.

The Page 99 Test: When America First Met China.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Leila Meacham is a writer and former teacher who lives in San Antonio, Texas. She is the author of the bestselling novels Roses and Tumbleweeds.

Meacham applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Titans, and reported the following:
Like many authors, I like to introduce my books with a quote. The one I chose for Titans has been credited to Albert Einstein, but in deference to the doubt of that attribution, it is cited as “an old saying.” It reads: Coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous. And so the reader has now been alerted to the probability of Fate having a hand in the story. In the prologue, twins are parted at birth. The boy remains with his parents. The girl is given away. What are the chances that these two will reunite in later years? Please forget any expectation of the pair meeting, being attracted to each other, and disaster following. That’s been done (and done and done). Besides that story line is rather sick, and this author does not do sick. I’m not giving anything away when I confide that indeed they do meet, but “Oh dear!” when they do. The following excerpt will give you some idea.
Neal looked down the long table in the Trail Head and wondered how in the bloody hell it had happened that his worst nightmare had come to life and sat at his table as a dinner guest. The world was an infinite place. Damn, Texas was as big as a country! How was it possible that in all the space in the universe, the child he’d adopted and raised as his own would be dining with her father and twin brother at the same table in her home without any of them having a clue to the other’s identity? What force had collected and driven them into this one chute? He could not shake the gut-emptying feeling that a divine power had herded them here today.
So with that, I leave you with the hope you’ll want to follow the trail in Titans to see where it leads.
Visit Leila Meacham's website.

The Page 69 Test: Roses.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

"The Taming of the Drew"

Stephanie Kate Strohm is the author of Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink and the Confederates Don't Wear Couture.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Taming of the Drew, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“If you’re no angel, Cass” – Taylor turned to me – “what are you doing way up here in the middle of the woods?”

“We work at Shakespeare at Dunmore.”

“What, you an actress, Red?” He straightened.

“We both are,” Amy said.

“Dag, that’s ill, Betty!” He leapt off the steps to join me in the dirt at the bottom. “This shit is mad timely!”
Page 69 lets us know where we are. The Taming of the Drew takes place way up in the middle of the woods, where our heroine, Cass – aka Red aka Betty – is working as an actress in the apprentice company at Shakespeare at Dunmore, an outdoor summer Shakespeare theater in Vermont. Cass is playing Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, and couldn’t be more excited to be acting professionally. Page 69, however, isn’t really about Cass’s acting career at all – it’s about Taylor Griffith, a pro skateboarder with impressive abdominal musculature Cass has just met outside of the only store in town, the Bait ‘n’ Bite. He might speak in nearly incomprehensible slang, but there’s something about him that Cass finds irresistible. It might be the tan. It might be the blinding smile. Or it might be the aforementioned abs. But whatever it is, for the first time in Vermont, Cass feels like her summer might be even more romantic than anything Shakespeare has written.
Visit Stephanie Kate Strohm's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"A Death Along the River Fleet"

Susanna Calkins, an historian and educator, is the author of four historical mysteries set in seventeenth-century London. Her books have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Bruce Alexander Historical mystery award.

Calkins applied the Page 69 Test to A Death Along the River Fleet, and reported the following:
A Death Along the River Fleet opens with Lucy Campion, 17th century printer’s apprentice, encountering a strange woman at the deserted Holborn Bridge, in the ruins of the Great Fire of London. Seemingly out of her senses, the woman speaks of being pursued by the Devil. Barefoot, and clad only in a simple shift, the woman is covered in blood that is not her own. Even more worrisome, the woman has no memory of who she is or what terrible event might have happened to her.

Unwilling to leave the woman among people who might stone her for her strange words and odd spells, Lucy brings her to the house of Dr. Larimer, a physician she has helped in the past. She hopes that he will bring solace to the mysterious woman.

Immediately, there are questions about the woman’s identity. She speaks with the air of noblewoman, but no one is out looking for her. Around her neck, is an amulet full of rosemary. On her body are odd scars, including those made by frequent bloodletting.

In the excerpt on page 69, the physician has spoken of bringing the woman back to where Lucy found her, in the hopes of stirring a memory and helping the woman regain her lost identity.

From page 69:
“If I were not seeing patients all day tomorrow, I would accompany you myself,” Dr. Larimer said. “Lucy, if you do take her over to Holborn Bridge, it is imperative that you ensure that she takes her tincture first and remains well-rested for the walk. You must refrain from agitating her; we have seen how her spells are brought on when she is distressed.” He paused. “There is something about this young woman that concerns me greatly, and the sooner we can sort it out, the sooner we may return to the more trifling matters that fill our days.”
This excerpt very much conveys several key themes of the novel. First and foremost, it conveys the practical search for this woman’s identity. It also gets at, in part, the tensions among the different approaches to resolving medical issues: the scholarly opinions of the day are very much in opposition to the prevailing popular wisdom on how to heal the afflicted. It also says something of the burden that even physicians felt for caring for patients with longer-lasting maladies.

What the excerpt does not show is how Lucy will come to discover the woman’s identity, and determine what the woman had to do with the death along the River Fleet….
Learn more about the book and author at Susanna Calkins's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Murder at Rosamund's Gate.

The Page 69 Test: The Masque of a Murderer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 10, 2016

"Twenty Questions for Gloria"

Martyn Bedford’s first novel for young adults, Flip, won multiple awards in Britain and has been translated into eight languages. His second novel for young adults, Never Ending, was nominated for the Carnegie Medal. He has also written five novels for adults, including The Houdini Girl.

Bedford applied the Page 69 Test to his new YA novel, Twenty Questions for Gloria, and reported the following:
My heart sank when I flipped to page 69 of the American edition of Twenty Questions for Gloria and discovered that it falls at the end of a chapter and contains less than half a page of text. Was there a rule about this – like a minimum-height limit for kids standing in line for a rollercoaster ride? Had my page 69 failed the test already, not on grounds of quality but because it just wasn’t tall enough?

Then I read what was there and my heart rose again. If I’d been allowed to choose any extract to encapsulate what the novel is about, I couldn’t have picked a better one. So, here it is:
D.I. Ryan:Then he disappears for three days. And, when he returns, he backs off, gives you space. Lets you make all the running. Then he’s flirting with you again. Being interested in you, hanging out with you – reeling you back in. Only, he’s so good at it you don’t even realise.

I don’t care what you think, he didn’t trick me or manipulate me. It just wasn’t like that.

D.I. Ryan:
Okay, Gloria – tell me. What was it like?
As you’ll see, this scene is laid out like a script. That’s because this is a transcript of the recording of a police interview, in which Detective Inspector Katharine Ryan is questioning the heroine – Gloria Jade Ellis – about the fifteen days when she was on the run with the mysterious new boy at her school. Gloria has turned up but the boy, Uman Padeem, is still missing and the police have to find out what happened.

I should say that only a handful of chapters are in script form, as the interview unfolds. In between, we have the back story of how Gloria and Uman became such close friends, why they disappeared together without telling anyone, and what took place during the time they were missing.

The police, and Gloria’s parents, are convinced that she was, if not abducted by Uman, then lured away under a spell of infatuation ... and that something bad happened to her while she was with him. In the scene which ends on page 69, D.I. Ryan is asking about the early days of their friendship, when Uman initially came on strong to Gloria, only to back away before being friendly again. Gloria was being groomed, the police believe.

She insists she wasn’t – that they’ve got Uman all wrong, that they’ve got the relationship wrong, too. According to Gloria, she chose to run off with him because he offered her the recklessness and adventure she craved in her life. She wasn’t his victim, she was his partner in crime. The question for the police, and the reader, to figure out is whether Gloria’s telling the truth. And why only one of them made it back.
Visit Martyn Bedford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 8, 2016

"A Lady in the Smoke"

Karen Odden received her PhD in English literature from New York University. She has contributed essays and chapters to books and journals, including Studies in the Novel, Journal of Victorian Culture, and Victorian Crime, Madness, and Sensation; and has written introductions for books by Dickens and Trollope. She has worked as an editorial assistant at McGraw-Hill, as a media buyer for Christie’s Auction House, and as a bartender at the airport in Rochester, where she learned how to mix a mean martini. She currently serves as an assistant editor for the academic journal Victorian Literature and Culture and resides in Arizona with her husband, two children, and a ridiculously cute beagle named Rosy.

Odden applied the Page 69 Test to A Lady in the Smoke, her first novel, and reported the following:
Because A Lady in the Smoke is an e-book, page 69 could be anywhere. But my editor printed out a few copies and bound them for my own bookshelf; and in this printed version, page 69 (a half-page, really) comes at the very end of chapter 7:
“Where are you staying tonight?” Mr. Wilcox asked.

Jeremy jerked his head. “Miz Smith’s boardin’ouse over that way. ‘Taint far. We’re going to Malverton tomorrow early wi’ Mr. Blackstone. ‘E’s bringin’ one of those men with his machine for pi’tures, in case it’s wot ‘e ‘spects.”

Malverton again.

My ears pricked up, and I fiddled with my glove to hide my interest.

Were the pictures to be the “tangible proof” that Tom needed? And proof of what?

I hoped they’d keep talking about it, but all Mr. Wilcox said was, “All right, then. I’ll be in my room later, if Tom needs me.”

Jeremy made a faint gesture of pulling his cap at us and headed off down the street, his hands buried in his pockets, looking rather like a small version of Mr. Flynn. At any other time, it might have made me smile. But the dark that lurked at the edge of the lantern’s arc felt ominous. I glanced sideways at Mr. Wilcox, and his face bore an expression I was coming to know. The lantern might be pushing away the black of night, but it was doing nothing to hold his dark thoughts at bay.
I was surprised to find that page 69 is, in fact, both a pivotal point and representative of the novel in a few ways. First, I tried to make sure that the characters have distinctive voices and relationships separate from my protagonist, Lady Elizabeth. (I have a pet peeve against novels in which secondary characters seem to exist only in relation to the heroine, serving to illuminate or foil her character and/or plot.) The street urchin Jeremy and Paul Wilcox have known each other for years—and I think their familiarity is clear in this passage. Second, Elizabeth is still, at this point in the novel, an observer; but she’s beginning to ask questions, at least to herself. Paul is still, at this point, “Mr. Wilcox” to Elizabeth—but he becomes “Paul” in the next chapter, when she finally asks him why the newspaperman Tom Flynn and Jeremy are investigating this railway crash, and he tells her what they suspect. So it is appropriate that just prior to this turning point, Elizabeth has her own thoughts (in italics, and about Jeremy) and cannot decipher Paul’s, but she is sympathetic to his feelings. And the collaboration that begins in the next chapter is foreshadowed by the way Elizabeth and Paul are linked together inside the lantern’s light as they make their way back to the Travers Inn. (That sounds like rather heavy-handed symbolism—but it was instinctive, not purposeful, when I wrote it!)
Visit Karen Odden's website.

Writers Read: Karen Odden.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

"Eagle in Exile"

Alan Smale writes science fiction and fantasy, currently focusing on alternate history and historical fantasy. His novella of a Roman invasion of ancient America, "A Clash of Eagles," won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate History. Clash of Eagles is the first book in a trilogy set in the same universe.

Smale applied the Page 69 Test to Eagle in Exile, book two of The Clash of Eagles Trilogy, and reported the following:
Roman general Gaius Marcellinus is stranded in the wilds of thirteenth century Nova Hesperia -- our North America. His legion has been smashed by the ingenious and deadly attacks of the Iroqua and the Mississippian Culture, and now he finds himself trapped in the middle of an age-old war of vengeance between these two fierce nations.

Since the loss of his 33rd Legion, Marcellinus has made a precarious life for himself in the great mound city of Cahokia, on the banks of the Mizipi River. But soon more legions will arrive, and a Cahokia devastated by the Mourning War will not be able to resist the power of Rome.

Marcellinus is still Roman to the core. He has sworn his oaths, and will never raise his gladius against his own people. But somehow he has to prevent the destruction of Cahokia at Roman hands, and the loss of his new friends there.

For that, Cahokia must remain strong enough to stand up to Rome on its own terms. And for that, Marcellinus somehow has to engineer even a temporary halt to a war that has lasted for generations. But first he has to stop his nemesis, Sintikala, the woman who leads Cahokia’s Hawk Clan, from slitting his throat. On page 69:
“It has to stop, Sintikala. Because you don’t know, and nobody else remembers [the cause of the Mourning War] either, not Ojinjintka, not Ogleesha, not Kanuna. No one. It’s lost. The hatred lives on. What really happened all those years ago, nobody knows.”

[…] Sintikala spat on the ground at his feet. “And you think that if you talk to the Iroqua of this, they will stop fighting? You will tell them your long, sad tales of the past, and because of that they will bury the ax and we will have peace?”

“Someone must try.”

“Wanageeska, when you looked at the map in my old house and saw where the Iroqua were, you were the one who said we must push them back even farther. That even where they live now, the Iroqua are too close to us!”

“I did say that. But I was wrong. And I also told you a thing that I had only just then realized, that the Iroqua see Cahokia as the giant destabilizing threat. And about that I was right.”

He had lapsed into Latin for “giant destabilizing threat” but it hardly mattered. Sintikala had already pulled her knife from her sheath.
There’s a lot more to come in Eagle in Exile. Marcellinus and Sintikala face a terrifying journey to the heart of the Iroqua territory in the Great Lakes. Later on they will be forced to flee the length of the Mizipi, fight new enemies, and undertake a desperate quest into the Plains. And at any point, Rome’s new legions may arrive. But before all of that, Marcellinus has to persuade a great chief of Cahokia -- a woman he has growing respect and affection for -- that he deserves to live even one more day. And that may be one of the toughest challenges he has yet faced in Nova Hesperia.
Visit Alan Smale's website.

The Page 69 Test: Clash of Eagles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 4, 2016

"The Crooked Heart of Mercy"

Billie Livingston is the award-winning author of four novels, a collection of short stories, and a poetry collection. Her novel One Good Hustle, a Globe and Mail Best Book selection, was nominated for the Giller Prize and for the Canadian Library Association’s Young Adult Book Award. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Livingston applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Crooked Heart of Mercy, and reported the following:
From page 69:
After Cola was born, there was no money for a sitter, so Ben stayed home to look after him while Miriam and the old man went to work. The old man cleaned the floors in public schools. Before that he had a factory job, making tar and concrete—until he crushed his thumb filling drums with hot tar from the spigot. He took what he could get: resentful kinds of work, the kind where you didn’t need an education.
What follows this excerpt is a scene that one reviewer called the most harrowing in the book. “The story itself though,” she added, “is far more concerned with how we connect, recover and heal, than in the machinations of tragedy itself.”

I often write about people with a working class sensibility. In the case of this chapter, I phoned my mother-in-law who grew up in a tough neighbourhood in the Bronx. I asked about her parents, what they had done for a living. Like Ben and Cola’s father, she said that hers “took what he could get: resentful kinds of work, the kind where you didn’t need an education.”

That line rang in my head like a bell. The characters in The Crooked Heart of Mercy are the kind of people who work as laborers, get blisters on their hands and feet, get their thumbs crushed in assembly lines. They are exhausted and those physical and spiritual wounds can cut right through the family.

My intention throughout the novel, though, was to find the light. The word Mercy comes from the Greek, Eleos, which means oil or a balm of healing. Ancient Greeks used olive oil as part of a medicinal healing practice. They would pour it on bruises or minor wounds and massage it in. The Hebrew word, also translated as Eleos or Mercy, is hesed, which means “steadfast love.”

So yes, although page 69 is the grit in the psyche of these characters, the story itself is far more concerned with mercy, how we connect, love and heal.
Read more about the author and her books at the official Billie Livingston website.

My Book, The Movie: Cease to Blush.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 2, 2016

"The Storm Sister"

Lucinda Riley is the New York Times bestselling author of The Orchid House, The Girl on the Cliff, The Lavender Garden, The Midnight Rose, and The Seven Sisters. Her books have sold more than five million copies in thirty languages She lives in London and the English countryside with her husband and four children.

Riley applied the Page 69 Test to The Storm Sister, the second installment in the seven book series, The Seven Sisters, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I opened my eyes feeling shaky with relief and concentrated on climbing off.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Theo eulogized, “I mean, the views climbing up here are spectacular, but I think this has to be best.”

As I’d had my eyes tightly shut all the way here, I didn’t know anything about the views. He took my hand and led me across some rough, dry grass, and I saw ancient olive trees peppering the sloping land below us, which fell sharply into the sea beyond. I nodded to indicate that yes, it was.

“Where are we going?” I asked him as he continued to lead me on through the olive grove. I couldn’t see a single dwelling in front of us. Only an ancient barn, probably meant for the goats.

“There.” He pointed to the barn and turned to me. “Home sweet home. Isn’t it amazing?”

“It’s … I…”

“Ally, you’re awfully pale. Are you feeling okay?”

“Yes,” I assured him as we finally arrived at the barn and I wondered which one of us had lost the plot. If this really was his “home,” then even if I had to walk every kilometer back down in the dark, I would. I wasn’t spending the night here for anything.

“I know it looks like a shack at the moment, but I’ve recently bought it and I wanted you to be the first to see it, especially at sunset. I know it needs a lot of work, and of course the planning regulations here are fairly strict,” he continued as he heaved open the splintering wooden door and we entered the building. Through the roof, in the twilight, I could see the first stars beginning to appear in the enormous hole above me. The interior smelled strongly of goat, which made my already churning stomach turn over again.

“What do you think?” he asked me.

“I think that, as you say, it has a beautiful view.” As I stood listening to Theo explaining how he’d employed an architect, and his plans for the kitchen just here and a huge sitting room there and a terrace beyond overlooking the sea, I shook my head helplessly and stumbled outside, unable to stand the smell of goat any longer. Running over the rough, dried earth outside, I managed to get round the corner of the barn before I doubled over and dry-retched.
This page for me is bittersweet given what happens to Ally, my main character, along the course of the story. Here, she is at the very beginning of her relationship with fellow sailor and captain of her crew, Theo Falys-Kings, as he shows her his ‘home’ on a small Greek Island. It is an untypical scene for Ally, as it is a moment of vulnerability – and Ally prides herself on her strength and bravery. As a professional sailor, she has an iron stomach, and a nose for adventure … but certain events throw her life out of order, and she has to dig deep inside herself to find her way to happiness. I have an intense admiration for Ally, her humour and her passion. Theo is a true match for her – he is a natural leader, intelligent and kind. They both have a zest for life, and they have each been waiting for that perfect person to share their lives with. But this is only page 69 after all, and the book is called The Storm Sister for a reason…
Visit Lucinda Riley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue