Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"The Midnight Dance"

Nikki Katz is the Managing Editor for SocialMoms.com and ex-rocket scientist living in sunny San Diego with her husband and three children. With a BS in aerospace engineering, Katz first put her writing skills to use publishing four nonfiction books in the puzzle and game genre. She moved on to writing young adult fiction, her favorite activity. Other favorite pastimes include chauffeuring her kids around town, reading fantasy and sci-fi, baking yummy desserts, watching reality TV, and scrolling social media feeds.

Katz applied the Page 69 Test to The Midnight Dance, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
When it seemed like they must’ve gotten lost in the woods, that they’d been circling for far too long and Penny’s legs ached and her eyes had nearly closed with exhaustion, they suddenly burst out of the tree line onto the manicured estate grounds. Penny held her breath as she and Cricket made a mad dash across the drive to the door.

She hated that they were forced to return. Master held all the control and could change her mind on a whim. Perhaps he’d edit her memories of this very night. The thought stopped her in her tracks. Fear swept through her again, rooting her to the ground like one of the trees in the forest they’d just left. “Cricket.” Penny grabbed the edge of his sleeve to stop him.

“Yes?” He was all shadows and puffs of breath in the cool air, but his eyes still made her pulse stutter.

Her voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. “If Master reverts my memories again, makes me forget all that I learned today, will you please find a way to tell me? I—” She choked on the word. “I can’t bear to think of myself going forward, unknowing, letting him manipulate me. I have to know what’s going on, and we have to find a way out.”

Cricket nodded. “Of course. I promise.”
In reading through page 69 of The Midnight Dance I think it's a very valid representation of the book. In fact, it includes a pretty big spoiler for the beginning of the novel!

In this excerpt, we see Penny and get a sense of her despair at the things that are happening to and round her. We also see both other main characters (Master and Cricket) referenced. Cricket is the love interest and this scene is one of the first times Penny starts to acknowledge it.

We also get a glimpse of the setting and the estate grounds. The scenes just prior to this one involve Penny and Cricket traveling through the woods to the border where Penny tries to escape but is unable. She is forced to return to the school and is terrified that she will forget all that has happened.
Visit Nikki Katz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 15, 2017

"The Prague Sonata"

Bradford Morrow is the author of nine books of fiction, including the novels Trinity Fields, Giovanni’s Gift, The Forgers, and most recently, The Prague Sonata. The founding editor of Conjunctions, he teaches at Bard College and lives in New York City.

Morrow applied the Page 69 Test to The Prague Sonata and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test never worked better for any of my novels than it does for The Prague Sonata. On this page my protagonist, Meta Taverner, must make a decision that will dramatically affect the rest of her life. The year is 2000 and Meta has just turned thirty. As a birthday present—an admittedly unusual one—Meta’s best friend who works as a hospice nurse puts her in touch with Irena, a dying Czech who left war-ravaged Prague after World War II and resettled in Queens, New York. With her she brought one part of an anonymous eighteenth-century piano sonata in three movements, a manuscript her friend Otylie BartoŇ°ov√° had broken up in order to make it worthless to the Nazis who were confiscating—read: stealing—any cultural artifacts they could get their hands on. As Irena explained when Meta visited the old woman in Queens, Otylie kept one part for herself; gave another part to her husband, who disappeared into the underground resistance; and placed the remaining pages into Irena’s hands. Otylie’s assumption was that when the war was over they would all reunite and the sonata would be restored as well. But they never saw each other again.

After Irena passes the manuscript along to Meta, an aspiring musicologist who had to abandon her promising concert piano career due to an accident that injured her hand, the young woman must decide whether to leave behind her settled life with her lawyer boyfriend, Jonathan, and go to Prague in search of the missing movements. Page 69 is the portrait of her working through these questions toward a resolution:
The new, strange Meta went surreptitiously to the Cooper Station post office to renew her passport without a concrete travel date in mind. The normal, familiar Meta made sure that when Jonathan’s case was thrown out of court, she organized a private victory party for the younger attorneys in the firm at a local bar managed by a friend. Between giving piano lessons, she spent two days in her small kitchen preparing platters of hors d’oeuvres and elaborate finger foods for the celebration. After Jonathan left for work, the new Meta set about meticulously copying the sonata manuscript at her desk like some secular sofer writing out the Torah. And though she also had a friend make high-resolution scans of each page, which she then printed out on art paper that approximated the weight and color of the original, and even went to the unnecessary length of typing the composition into a Sibelius computer program, she knew that by writing it out in her own hand she would forge a more intimate connection with the heart and mind of its maker. Just as painters often honed their art by copying the masters, many composers copied out works of their mentors as a means of getting closer to the music, note by note, measure by measure. So why not she?
Further along on this page, the reader sees Meta devouring books on sonata theory and poring over unrecorded scores from the period, as neither she nor her mentor recognize the undeniably masterful and beautiful music set down in the manuscript. Simply put, she becomes obsessed with the task of trying to locate the other movements. The pivotal action that happens on page 69 shows our protagonist at the very beginning of a quest that will take her to Prague, Vienna, London, and eventually back to America’s midwest as she attempts to discover the rest of the Prague sonata, as well as her deeper self.
Learn more about the book and author at Bradford Morrow's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Diviner’s Tale.

The Page 69 Test: The Forgers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 13, 2017

"Gray Wolf Island"

Tracey Neithercott’s first book was written by hand and illustrated with some really fancy colored pencils. It was highly acclaimed by her mother. Now she spends her days as a magazine editor and her nights writing stories about friendship, love, murder, and magic. (None of which she illustrates—you’re welcome.) She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, who suggests improving her novels by adding lightsabers.

Neithercott applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Gray Wolf Island, and reported the following:
Gray Wolf Island’s about a treasure hunt, but it’s not about a treasure hunt. It’s about friendship and guilt and grief—and I’m so pleased to see all of that (plus a hint at the plot) is on page 69.

In this scene, main character Ruby is asking her parents for permission to go on a treasure hunt on nearby Gray Wolf Island. It starts with Ruby’s mom acknowledging Ruby’s grief over losing her twin sister:
“I know how much she wanted this for you. I want this for you.”
From there, the scene moves on to Ruby’s guilt over [insert spoilery thing]:
I can’t look at her with all that love just spilling over, everything I don’t deserve puddling in the space between us.
And then it tackles the friendship—and the fact that at first Ruby is resistant to it:
My mom leans forward, squeezes my hand. “I would have hated to see you miss out simply because you can’t go alone.”

“I can go alone,” I say.

“No, you can’t.” I open my mouth, but she cuts me off before I can respond. “That was an order, not a challenge.”
In the final line, the page touches on what the book is about:
“We’re not camping,” I say. “We’re going to find the Gray Wolf Island treasure.”
I hope anyone who randomly flips to that page gets a feel for some of the themes and is intrigued by the plot—and whether they’ll find a treasure at all.
Visit Tracey Neithercott's website.

My Book, The Movie: Gray Wolf Island.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"Death on Tap"

Ellie Alexander is a Pacific Northwest native who spends ample time testing pastry recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouses nearby. When she’s not coated in flour, you’ll find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of research. She is the author of the popular Bakeshop Mysteries.

Alexander applied the Page 69 Test to Death on Tap, her first Sloan Krause Mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Mac. Don’t do this.” I put my hands on my hips. “You know exactly who I’m talking about. I can’t believe you would bring her here—tonight. That’s low. Even for you.”

“Who, Hayley?” He pulled a silver lighter with his initials monogramed on the front from his back pocket and flicked it on and off.  “You look smoking hot tonight, Sloan.”

“Don’t use her name.” I folded my arms over my chest. “You’re smoking again?”

“No!” Mac flipped the lighter off and stuffed it back in his pocket. He moved closer, and lowered his voice. “I didn’t bring her. She followed me here. I made a mistake, but I promise I didn’t bring her. I’m trying to shake her.”

We both turned as Eddie’s voice became louder in the bar. “You’ve got some nerve showing your face here you little cheat.”

I brushed past Mac into the doorway to see what was going on.

Garrett and a staggering Bruin were holding Eddie. He reminded me of an overly carbonated bottle of beer about to blow its cap.

Hayley, the beer wench, chewed on an unlit cigarette. Eddie puffed out his chest like he was about to break free. She cowered and inched her way toward the door.

“That’s right, keep backing up. No one wants you here.” Eddie heckled her. His posture, like a boxer waiting to throw the first punch, baffled me. Why was he suddenly my protector? Or was there more to it? Could he have had a fling with her, too? There had to be something else between them.

As Hayley backed her way out of the pub, Bruin tried to pull Eddie away, but Eddie threw him off.  The motion made Bruin lose his footing. He swayed. The crowd gasped. Garrett caught him with his free hand. This was more drama than Leavenworth had seen in years. Everyone was completely captivated.
I have to admit that my palms were a bit sweaty as I turned to page 69. I love the concept of one page being able to capture the spirit of an entire book. But what if it didn’t? What if page 69 was a total dud, with sentence after sentence of rambling prose? What if there wasn’t a sliver of plot on page 69. Or worse, what if I hated it?

Side note—I’m not sure if this is true of all writers or just me, but sometimes reading my words months or years later tends to make me cringe. I fall down the rabbit hole of thoughts like, “Why did I say that?” or spiral through regrets on word choice and sentence structure.

Fortunately, as I timidly flipped to page 69 my fears were unfounded. Surprisingly I think this one small section gives the reader a solid sense of Sloan and her need to keep up her game face at opening night of her new pub, while internally seething that her soon-to-be ex-husband and the beer wench have crashed the party.

Cheers to that!
Visit Ellie Alexander's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 9, 2017

"Mr. Rochester"

Sarah Shoemaker is a former university librarian and currently lives in northern Michigan.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Mr. Rochester, and reported the following:
Page 69 is an interesting one in relation to Mr. Rochester, because it deals with Edward Rochester’s first attempt to return to his beloved Thornfield Hall after having been absent from there for several years, and, as well, after having been told by his father that the place would never again be his home. The pull of Thornfield Hall becomes a constant throughout the novel, and it is, finally, the test of what he would be willing to give up to win Jane Eyre.

This recurring theme underlies many of Rochester’s decisions. What makes this page particularly interesting is that up until this point, Edward (who is now close to seventeen years of age) has pretty much followed his father’s directing of his life, distant though it may be. It is his first step in becoming his own man. Henceforth he more and more often chooses his own way, though in general it is another five or six years before he fully turns his back on his father after a devastating discovery of how his father has misused him. It is as representative of the book as nearly any other page would be, because Mr. Rochester follows his coming-of-age and coming into his own as a full adult. By the time Jane Eyre meets him, he has become the product of this years-long development.
Visit Sarah Shoemaker's website.

My Book, The Movie: Mr. Rochester.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 7, 2017

"The Dark Lake"

Sarah Bailey lives in Melbourne, Australia and has two young sons. She has fifteen years experience in the advertising industry and is currently a director at creative projects company Mr Smith.

Bailey applied the Page 69 Test to The Dark Lake, her first novel, and reported the following:
By page 69 of The Dark Lake, DS Gemma Woodstock is completely entangled in Rosalind Ryan’s homicide investigation. She is in deep, both personally and professionally, and is trying desperately to manage the emotions that Rosalind’s murder has unearthed. The entire town of Smithson, located in regional Australia, is on edge in the wake of Rose’s murder.

Rose was Gemma’s high school classmate and always had a sense of mystery about her. At the time of her death, Rose was a popular teacher at the same school they attended a decade earlier. She was attacked after the opening night of the school play and there is a lot of pressure on the small regional homicide squad to solve the case. Who could possibly have wanted Rose dead?

Page 69 opens in the middle of one of the book’s flashback scenes and Gemma is reflecting on a three-year-old murder case that she solved. Being a young female in a male dominated work environment, this previous case saw Gemma’s professional challenges brought to the fore but ultimately enabled her to establish herself as a credible detective.

Gemma questioning her abilities is a constant theme in The Dark Lake and looking back on the old case is a good way for her to remember that she has a strong record and needs to back herself.
I don’t know whether Robbie would have killed her that night but I know the part of me that had been dormant for a long time came alive as I stood in that room with my arm out, heavy with the weight of the gun, my body burning with the ability to make the badness stop. It felt incredible.
Solving the Robbie murder case introduced Gemma to Candy Fyfe, the local journalist who becomes the bane of Gemma’s existence. Candy and Gemma are very different and Candy forces a lot of Gemma’s insecurities about her femininity to the surface.
When I was sitting across from Candy in her boss’s office, her perfect dark skin glowing, she was all sisterhood and girl power, and I know I came across as cold and prickly. She was not a good enemy to make but I felt sick and anxious, increasingly panicked about what the last few weeks of my Robbie obsession had allowed me to ignore.
The Robbie murder case coincided with Gemma being pregnant with her son Ben. Falling pregnant was a huge disruption to Gemma’s career and put a strain on her relationship with boyfriend Scott. It also caused a lot of her colleagues to question her ability to continue as a detective.

Over two years later, Gemma is a still a detective and also a mother to two-year-old Ben.
At page 69, the investigation into Rosalind Ryan’s murder is only just getting started, but already Gemma is struggling to manage her intense feelings for Felix, alongside guilt about her faltering relationship with Ben’s dad, all while keeping her reputation intact and her past in the past, as old high school secrets linked to the case begin to bubble to the surface.
Visit Sarah Bailey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 5, 2017

"A Hive of Homicides"

Meera Lester is the author of nearly two dozen nonfiction books and the proprietress of the real Henny Penny Farmette, located in the San Francisco Bay area. Raising chickens and honeybees, she draws on her life at her farmette as the basis of her Henny Penny Farmette mysteries.

Lester applied the Page 69 Test to her latest mystery, A Hive of Homicides, and reported the following:
On page 69 in A Hive of Homicides, the third novel in my Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries, two sisters of Paola Varela, who has recently been shot and whose husband was killed in the same shooting, ask for help from ex-cop and farmette owner Abigail Mackenzie. The police have questioned Emilio Varela, Paola’s brother who is being followed and is under a cloud of suspicion, but Emilio is taciturn. The sisters need Abby—Paola’s good friend--to help them convince Emilio to tell cops the whole truth.

Emilio Varela hates the way his brother-in-law Jake Winston (now deceased) has treated Paola. But Emilio is a keeper of secrets, and one of those secrets is keeping him from being forthright with the cops. His sisters believe he could extricate himself from the legal trouble but if he will just come clean about where he was at the time of the shooting.

It is on page 69 that the sisters first arrive at Abby’s farmhouse to beg for Abby’s help. The scene is both an emotional scene and an important juncture in the story since Abby’s response to the women results in drawing her deeper into the web of lies and deceptions that she must sort through to solve the mystery.

If a reader skips to page 69 to begin reading, I think he or she would continue reading to discover what Emilio is holding back and why he’s keeping a secret at great risk to himself. I believe the reader would also be curious about whether or not Abby is successful in drawing out the truth that either clears Emilio or makes him culpable in the death of his brother-in-law and the wounding of his sister.
Visit Meera Lester's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Murder of a Queen Bee.

The Page 69 Test: The Murder of a Queen Bee.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"A Beautiful Poison"

Lydia Kang is an author of young adult fiction, poetry, and narrative non-fiction. She graduated from Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine, completing her residency and chief residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. She is a practicing physician who has gained a reputation for helping fellow writers achieve medical accuracy in fiction.

Kang's novels include Control and Catalyst.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, A Beautiful Poison, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“But I already read those,” Jasper protested.

“When?” Gettler asked, incredulous.

“I’ve been working here for over two years. I read them during my ... erm ... breaks.”

“While you were in college? A bit early for someone your age, eh?”

Jasper shrugged. “I’m impatient.”

“I see. And you’re a terrible janitor, if you were spending all your time reading.”

“Yes sir, I was.”

Gettler laughed. “Well, I worked”—(woiked—Lord, that accent!)—“the night shift at the ferry while I finished my PhD. Who am I to talk?” He pushed the books aside and waggled his finger. “One other thing.”

“Yes?”

“That dead girl.”

The grin on Jasper’s face melted away. “Yes?”

“Charles showed me the police file while you were dicing up that liver. Our office was not called for an autopsy. Dr. Norris can make a request to open the case, but it’s the police that have the final say.”

“Which means?”

“Which means our department can’t touch that body. And since you’re in our department now, you can’t either.”

Jasper wilted under his steady, icy gaze. What was the point of being here if he couldn’t find out what really happened to Florence? Or show the world that a kid from the Bowery could solve a Fifth Avenue crime?
The book is told in the POV of three characters—Jasper Jones, a poor man who was once rich; Allene Cutter, a debutante on the verge of an unhappy marriage, and Birdie Dreyer, gorgeous and slowly being poisoned to death by the radium she works with in her factory job. They each need each other for various reasons, and together, they are trying to solve murders even as people close to them begin to die unexpectedly.

I love this exchange between Alexander Gettler (a real historical figure—a toxicologist in the first Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York, which opened in 1918) and Jasper Jones, who is desperate to get his foot in the door and prove himself. Bringing Gettler and Charles Norris alive in the story was both humbling and quite exciting, and watching them interact with my fictional characters was delightful. Here, we get to see the parallels of Gettler’s life and Jasper’s, and the point at which they diverge in theirs goals and motives. Jasper is still ruminating about the cause of death of the first murder that appears on page one of the book.

It’s in the next page that we see Jasper’s choice—and you’ll have to read the book to see what it is!
Learn more about the book and author at Lydia Kang's website, blog, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Control.

The Page 69 Test: Catalyst.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 1, 2017

"Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore"

Matthew Sullivan received his B.A. from the University of San Francisco, his M.F.A. from the University of Idaho, and has been a resident writer at Yaddo, Centrum, and the Vermont Studio Center. His writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and other awards, and has won the Florida Review Editor's Prize and the Robert Olen Butler Fiction Prize. In addition to working for years at Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver and at Brookline Booksmith in Boston, he has taught writing and literature at colleges in Boston, Idaho, and Poland, and currently teaches writing, literature, and film at Big Bend Community College in the high desert of Washington State.

Sullivan applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, and reported the following:
I love that this scene from page 69 dives right into one of the main threads of the novel! In it, Lydia and David—the protagonist and her beau—are discussing the crate of books that Lydia inherited after one of her customers, a troubled young BookFrog named Joey, committed suicide in the bookstore where she works:
In her kitchen, Lydia nibbled the crust from her honey toast and waited impatiently for her overworked coffeemaker to finish gurgling. When she looked up, David was there in his towel, red from his shower, smelling of menthol shaving cream. He peered into Joey’s milk crate, which sat in the center of their breakfast table, where Lydia had left it the night before.

“More books?” he said, picking up Joey’s dusty Victorian story primer and turning it over in his hands.

“Can’t ever have too many,” she said lightly.

“Seriously. I like your whole book thing. Just having them around makes me feel smarter.”

“Now, if we could just get you to read them.”

“No need. It’s like free IQ points in every room. On every conceivable surface.”

“Glad to help.”

“Some would call you a hoarder,” he said. “But not me. I call you a collector.”

“That’s the spirit,” she said.

Lydia looked up the length of David’s arm and saw his clean, damp hair and the remnant glow of his shower, and felt the desire to rest her hand on his.
Lydia and David are meant to have a loving banter and a good chemistry as a couple. But as we see here, for all of his kindness, David doesn’t share or particularly understand Lydia’s bibliophilia.

Throughout much of this novel, I was attempting to raise a glass to books and book lovers, but also to use this particular passion as a glimpse into Lydia’s psyche. Beyond acting as her escape, books also act as reminders of her childhood, especially of the happiness she experienced with her librarian father in the years before The Hammerman murders derailed the trajectory of their life. Her early childhood acts as a perpetual Eden to which she is always trying to return. The Bright Ideas Bookstore is as close as she comes to finding that sanctuary again.

Spoiler alert: At the very end of the novel, Lydia ends up feeling more connected to her old friend Raj than to her boyfriend, David… something that has caused some discussion among readers (“Team David or Team Raj?”). The rationale here is that Raj was part of that bookish childhood bliss Lydia has spent her adult life trying to recapture, so he, inevitably, would be the guy who makes her happiest—and who she ends up with. In many ways, David may be a better fit for her, and Raj may be part of an unhealthy nostalgia, but to me there is an emotional truth in Lydia and Raj, in the end, arriving at some approximation of their peaceful life before The Hammerman.
Visit Matthew Sullivan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue