Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"Imperial Valley"

Johnny Shaw was born and raised on the Calexico/Mexicali border, the setting for his award-winning Jimmy Veeder Fiasco series, which includes the novels Dove Season and Plaster City. He is also the author of the Anthony Award–winning adventure novel Big Maria and the urban-crime novel Floodgate.

Shaw applied the Page 69 Test to the latest Jimmy Veeder Fiasco, Imperial Valley, and reported the following:
While this page mostly exists to do some table-setting for the scenes to come, it does introduce one element of Imperial Valley that is slightly different than the two previous books in the series.

Jimmy Veeder and Bobby Maves, the protagonists of my series of fiascoes, are the source of a slew of bad ideas. With good intentions but dubious solutions, they throw themselves at a problem with more passion than brains, often making things worse. Which has meant that their better halves, Angie and Griselda respectively, have always been too smart to participate. Important characters, but sensible ones as well.

In Imperial Valley, they don’t have a choice anymore, allowing Angie and Griselda to participate fully in the fiasco, showing that they have just as little common sense as Jimmy and Bobby, but easily as much grit and tenacity. From the threat of Mexican cartels deep in Sinaloa to kidnappers back at home in the California desert, they are fully tested when family is at stake.
The Numbnut Twins agreed to stop tailing us within the city of Mazatlán. It might have been in Sinaloa, but Mazatlán was one of the safest cities in Mexico. Old people retired there. However, they insisted on joining us on the trip to Coatepec. In their mind, the country was where bad shit could go down, and they wanted to be there if it did. Who knew what kind of nonsense went on out in the rural Sierra Madre?

I figured no harm having an extra couple people. Whether Mexico or the US, small towns held their own secrets. And their own screwy form of danger. Cue the banjo music.

“I don't like you, but we can't let nothing happen to you,” Luis said. “If Tomás Morales wasn't our boss, I'd mess up your buddy for that bottle shit.”

Bobby laughed. “Why is it guys that think they're tough always start sentences with ‘I'd fight you, but...'?”

“When this is over, homes,” Luis said, “and your women aren't around to protect you, we'll go.”

“That's going to be fun,” Bobby said.

Angie looked at Griselda. “Men are fucking morons.”

“Stupid fucking morons,” Griselda said.

Excerpted from Imperial Valley: A Jimmy Veeder Fiasco by Johnny Shaw with permission of the publisher, Thomas & Mercer. Copyright 2017 © Johnny Shaw. All rights reserved.
Visit Johnny Shaw's website.

The Page 69 Test: Plaster City.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 27, 2017

"Gather Her Round"

Alex Bledsoe grew up in west Tennessee an hour north of Graceland (home of Elvis) and twenty minutes from Nutbush (birthplace of Tina Turner). He has been a reporter, editor, photographer and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. He now lives in a Wisconsin town famous for trolls.

Bledsoe applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, the fifth book in his Tufa series, Gather Her Round, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Gather Her Round, protagonist Duncan Gowan has just been awakened by his mother, and his best friend Adam. With a raging hangover, he tries to recall just what he did the previous night. Duncan has no trouble, however, recalling his discovery that Adam had been sneaking around with Duncan’s girlfriend Kera, who’s been killed by wild hogs.

This page lets you into Duncan’s thoughts, and helps lay the character groundwork for what he’ll subsequently do. Duncan isn’t a bad guy, but he gives in to his worst tendencies, and digs himself deeper with each decision. His desire for revenge goes awry in unanticipated ways, and despite his efforts to move forward and do what’s right, sometimes you can’t escape the past. It’s the same inevitability that motivates characters in classic Appalachian murder ballads.
Learn more about the book and author at Alex Bledsoe's website.

The Page 69 Test: Wisp of a Thing (Tufa #2).

The Page 69 Test: Long Black Curl (Tufa #3).

My Book, The Movie: Gather Her Round (Tufa #5).

Writers Read: Alex Bledsoe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 26, 2017

"Wonderful Feels Like This"

Sara Lövestam, a writer as well as a huge jazz music fan, lives in Sweden.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Wonderful Feels Like This, newly released in English, and reported the following:
Wonderful Feels like This is about the bullied teenager Steffi, who finds comfort and happiness in old jazz music, and her friendship with the 89-year-old man Alvar, who was once a famous jazz musician. So let me check page 69 in the US version of this book...
She has a brilliant idea, but her Pappa doesn't get it. He's even pretty upset. Steffi hears it as his v's turn to b's and then sees his expression change. "What are you saying?" he exclaims, and his usual calm eyes have become fiery. "How did this man contact you?"

"He's my friend, even though he's really old."

"You may not talk to this man ever again! Do you hear me? Next time he tries to talk to you, just say no! Tell him your pappa refuses to let you meet him! Do you understand?"

Steffi is filled with rage and can feel irritating tears form. "Do YOU understand?" she asks, and is amazed at her loud voice.

"Going to Karlstad with a man is OUT OF THE QUESTION!"

It's impossible to have a discussion with Eduardo Herrera. Hard to believe he and she are even related, when she understands so much and he understands so little.
Hm, nope. This page is not representative for the book. Very rarely does Steffi fight with her father - actually, the fight on page 69 is the only fight they have. A representative page would probably feature any of the conversations between Steffi and Alvar, preferably accompanied by a 40's jazz tune on Alvar's old funnel gramophone. The only way this passage does represent the book, is that the fight Steffi has with her dad is about Alvar. Of course, at this point in the story her father doesn't know that the "older guy" is actually 89 years old and staying at the retirement home...
Visit Sara Lövestam's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 25, 2017

"Dare You"

Jennifer Brown is the author of the young adult novels Shade Me, Bitter End, Perfect Escape, Thousand Words, and Torn Away. Her debut young adult novel, Hate List, was chosen as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a VOYA Perfect Ten, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

Brown applied the Page 69 Test to Dare You, the second book in her Shade Me series, and reported the following:
Dare You begins with Nikki getting herself into trouble on graduation night. Getting into trouble seems to be Nikki’s specialty, but this time she’s gotten herself tossed into jail, where she finds out she’s a person of interest in Peyton Hollis’s murder. On page 69, Nikki has just been sprung by none other than Detective Martinez, the officer who helped her—whether she wanted him to or not—with the Hollis case. Just when Nikki had decided to trust the detective and let him into her life, he bugged out. Nikki hasn’t seen or heard from him since her showdown with Luna Fairchild, and she is pissed. Most of page 69 is her laying into Martinez as they leave the police station:
“How could you not know? You were there that night. You were the first officer on the scene, in fact. You followed me everywhere to solve it. I told you where Peyton’s car was. You were supposed to finish Luna. You said you were going to. And instead, you’re turning the case onto me? You’re deciding that some bullshit witness and a half-empty pack of cigarettes mean I was the one who murdered her? I let you in and you completely sold me out. And now you show up, months later, with coffee—” I crammed my cup into his console, a drop sloshing out of the lid and landing on the edge of his seat. “And get me out of jail that you’re trying to put me into? You make zero sense.”

“I’m not trying to put you in here. I have nothing to do with it,” he said, taking off his sunglasses and tossing them onto the dash. His dark eyes searched mine. “You’re your own worst enemy, Nikki.”
Truer words have never been spoken. Nikki is her own worst enemy, and her stubbornness in accepting the detective’s—or anyone’s—help threatens to undo her time and again. What the detective doesn’t realize, though, is Nikki’s rant is her way of saying she does want his help. Even if she doesn’t realize it herself, her anger over Martinez’s absence is an expression of how much she wants him in her life.

What I love most about page 69 is that it’s our first look at Nikki’s reunion with Detective Martinez. We get to see that they will be working together once again. And we get to see the fire behind their relationship.

It’s the beginning of a lot of heated banter…and possibly just a lot of heat.
Learn more about the book and author at Jennifer Brown's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jennifer Brown & Ursula and Aragorn.

My Book, The Movie: Life on Mars.

The Page 69 Test: Shade Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 24, 2017

"The Cutaway"

Prior to writing fiction, Christina Kovac worked in television news. Her career began with a college internship at Fox 5’s Ten O’Clock News in Washington, DC that turned into a field-producing job—making minimum wage while chasing news stories, gossiping with press officers, and cultivating sources—while somehow making rent on a closet-sized apartment on Capitol Hill. After a stint as weekend editor at WRC TV and senior editor at the ABC affiliate, she went on to work at the Washington Bureau of NBC Network News, as a desk editor and news producer in such stories as that of missing DC intern, Chandra Levy.

After being late to pick up her kids at daycare one too many times, Kovac left television to start a writing career. Now she writes psychological thrillers set in Washington, DC.

Kovac applied the Page 69 Test to The Cutaway, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The conference room was crowded. Ben was at the far end of the table, his head down with his ball cap flipped backward, scribbling dark lines across his reporter pad. Nelson slouched next to him, chin on palm, half asleep. In my chair was the blond beauty queen from the lobby the day before.

“We haven’t met,” I said.

She took my hand. “Heather Buchanan.”

“You’re new, so you probably don’t realize you’re in my chair.”

“There are others,” she said, looking through me.

She had TV starlet written all over her, and I was pretty sure, Mellay wrapped around her finger. Maybe I couldn’t help my meeting being stolen by Mellay, but I’d damn well keep my seat at the table.
This is the beginning of Chapter 10, a catch-up chapter. The reader has just come from a chapter with a lot of information about the case of a missing woman, and now, the main character sorts through it with her news team. What’s interesting is that while there’s no plot movement, but the attitudes and motivations that create the plot are apparent: The Cutaway takes place in Washington DC, a city that seethes with ambitious people constantly maneuvering for position, trying to take or hold onto their place at the table, and where it’s very easy to lose everything very quickly. There are a lot of nasty tricks. And it’s also a place where people in politics, law enforcement, and media are willing to use the disappearance of a missing woman to further their career goals. Of course, there’s still that person who cares about the truth and is willing to fight for it. That’s Virginia Knightly.
Visit Christina Kovac's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Cutaway.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 23, 2017

"One Good Mama Bone"

Bren McClain was born and raised in Anderson, South Carolina, on a beef cattle and grain farm. She has a degree in English from Furman University; is an experienced media relations, radio, and television news professional; and currently works as a communications confidence coach. She is a two-time winner of the South Carolina Fiction Project and the recipient of the 2005 Fiction Fellowship by the South Carolina Arts Commission. McClain won the 2016 William Faulkner–William Wisdom Novel-in-Progress for “Took” and was a finalist in the 2012 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Award for Novel-in-Progress for One Good Mama Bone, her first novel.

McClain applied the Page 69 Test to One Good Mama Bone and reported the following:
Actually, page 69 could not be more representative of the book. One Good Mama Bone, at its core, is about the relationship between a human mother, Sarah Creamer, and a mother cow named Mama Red, who becomes Sarah’s confidente and teaches Sarah what it means to be a mother. This is the page they meet, after the mother cow has broken through a barbed fence and come through the darkness four miles for her calf, who – because of Sarah -- was taken from her the day before. Sarah had been hearing the calf’s cries through the night, but when she wakes that morning, all is quiet, and that’s what draws Sarah outside to find a large cow standing beside the calf she had bought the day before. The calf is nursing the mother cow.
Chills spread over Sarah’s body. The mama cow had broken free and come for her calf.

Sarah had taken her child away. She took a step back. How could she have done that?

The mother cow held her eyes on Sarah, circles of soft brown that welcomed, not chided. The cow began to chew, her mouth moving in a rhythm, slow and steady. It was one Sarah recognized. It was the rhythm of her arm, stirring a pot of grits. It was the rhythm of love.

“How’d you know?” Sarah’s voice full of hush. “That’s a long way for you to come. And in the pitch black, too. How’d you know?”

The mother cow raised her chin and sent forth a sound, a short one, yet deep, even vibrating. The sounds the steer had made were deep like that, but his were long, intended for the long haul, for his mother, who heard and who came. Sarah knew now who he had been calling. His mother. Such acts had never occurred to her. Neither a child’s calling nor the mother’s coming.

She thought of Emerson Bridge and looked back towards the house, to his window, where six feet away, he lay. “I got a boy, too.”

The mother cow’s neck now was stretched to her far right, the bottom of her mouth and chin moving along the ridge of her calf’s back near his tail. She began to lick, making long runs with her tongue. Her breath, hot against the cold, hung in a mist. And then rose high in the growing light. Sarah stepped forward and leaned in, in the hopes that the mist would come find her, that it would trudge across however far it needed to come, even knock down a fence or two, to come find Clementine Florence Augusta Sarah Bolt Creamer.
Another wonderful thing about page 69 is it carries one of my favorite POVs, that of Mama Red, in a kind of omniscience. We’re privy to what she sees and hears. This is when she first sees Sarah, setting their relationship in motion and referring to Sarah as “the gentle wind.”
The mother cow heard a squeaking sound behind her and then a slap slap. Her calf ’s head was beneath her, nursing. She turned to face the sound. He lost his grip on her teat but caught it again.

The day’s light had begun to appear. Someone was moving towards them, someone the mother cow did not know. She positioned her body so that her calf was tucked in behind her, protected. He was not free to run like she was.

This someone wasn’t as tall as the farmer or his workingman. This one moved slowly the way a gentle wind blows grass. The mother cow was not afraid. She straightened her body, bringing her calf within view of the gentle wind that came to stand just out from them.
Visit Bren McClain's website.

My Book, The Movie: One Good Mama Bone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"Goodbye Days"

Jeff Zentner is the author of the William C. Morris Award winning book The Serpent King (2016) as well as Goodbye Days (2017). He lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He came to writing through music, starting his creative life as a guitarist and eventually becoming a songwriter. He’s released five albums and appeared on recordings with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Thurston Moore, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, and Lydia Lunch, among others.

Zentner applied the Page 69 Test to Goodbye Days and reported the following:
Page 69 of Goodbye Days couldn't be more representative of the book. What's occurring on that page is the tail end of a conversation between my protagonist, Carver, and the grandmother of one of his best friends, Blake, who has died in a car accident that Carver believes he may have caused by texting the driver. In this conversation, the grandmother, Nana Betsy, is trying to persuade Carver to spend a “goodbye day” with her where they do the things that she and Blake loved to do and memorialize his life. She believes that Carver, a talented writer, is carrying pieces of Blake’s story that she doesn't have: “Point is: if anyone can write Blake’s story again for one more day, it’s you.”

Carver, for his part, is torn: “I don’t want to say no. But I can’t bring myself to say yes.” He knows Nana Betsy doesn't hold him culpable for the accident. But he's not sure he agrees with her:

"'But. Are you sure you want me?' Because I wouldn’t want me."

The entire thrust of Goodbye Days is that idea that everyone is a living, breathing repository of stories, and that we live after death in the sharing of these stories. Page 69 contains one of the simplest, most straightforward sharings of this idea.
Visit Jeff Zentner's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Serpent King.

The Page 69 Test: The Serpent King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Dead Letters"

Caite Dolan-Leach is a writer and literary translator. She was born in the Finger Lakes and is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and the American University in Paris.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Dead Letters, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Dead Letters lands you in the middle of one of my favorite scenes of the book, and incidentally, one of the most gruesome. The scene is a flashback from Ava and Zelda’s childhood, and is a Gothic-infused memory that Ava recalls as she reflects on the twins’ approach to joint decision-making. In this scene, the sisters begin with the best of intentions — rescuing some orphaned rodents — but it is a task clearly beyond the scope of their childish abilities. They end up complicit in their tiny charges’ gory deaths. I love this scene for its dark imagery, but also because it demonstrates the accidental cruelty of children, and the way in which the proximity of death can be both traumatic and staggeringly matter-of-fact when you’re young and don’t yet have a solid grasp on mortality. In this scene, we get to see Ava and Zelda take distinct approaches to guilt and obligation, though both ultimately retreat from responsibility. The scene is a tidy microcosm of their future: how the sisters will handle caring for those who are unable to care for themselves.

Talking about this book to others, I always refer to it as “The Dead Baby Mice” scene. I have used it for a reading because it reads like a very short story — if it was a standalone micro-fiction, this scene would be the one that sums up Ava and Zelda and their snarled relationship.
Visit Caite Dolan-Leach's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Follow Me Down"

When not writing, Sherri Smith spends time with her family and two rescue dogs, and restores vintage furniture that would otherwise be destined for the dump. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada, where the long, cold winters nurture her dark side.

Smith applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Follow Me Down, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I sat down. “You found her body?”

Liam nodded, tucked his greasy chin-length hair behind his ears, picked up the joint, and inhaled deeply, then flicked it into the grass. “Yeah, I can’t get it out of my head. Seniors were let out early to join the search parties. A lot of people were just, like, happy to get out of school, but I really looked, y’know?” His bloodshot eyes flickered over me; he stroked the corner of a very wispy mustache with his thumb.

I pushed him to tell me more. It didn’t take much. It was obvious Liam liked telling it since he’d parked himself here looking for new people to tell it to. Never once did he ask me who I was.

“That morning it was already really hot, and after a couple of hours, the guy I was with said he was getting heatstroke and had to take a break. Total pussy. So I kept going, and I ended up by the river. And yeah, I was gonna take a piss. I drank, like, four bottles of water at this point.”

I nodded, tried to look impressed.

“I was close to the river, just behind the tree. I unzipped, and when I looked down, there was something next to the tree, tangled up in the leaves.
On page 69 of Follow Me Down, Mia is at the scene (a sprawling wooded park) where her twin brother, Lucas, allegedly murdered his student. She needs to do this because she is still locked up in that bubble of shock when everything feels unreal. On page 69, she is talking to a seedy teenager who discovered the murdered teen’s body and is clearly hanging around the park looking for new people to share the gory details with. I think page 69 is representative of the entire book, since it captures the did he or didn’t he question that Mia struggles with, the way the town is quick to believe that Lucas is a twisted killer, and brings Mia closer to confronting a past she wanted to forget.
Visit Sherri Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"A Shattered Circle"

Kevin Egan is the acclaimed author of Midnight, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013, as well as numerous other novels and short stories. He has spent his entire legal career working in the New York State court system, including lengthy stints as law clerk to two state Supreme Court justices. He graduated with a BA in English from Cornell University and teaches legal writing at Berkeley College in Manhattan.

Egan applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, A Shattered Circle, and reported the following:
Barbara Lonergan, wife and secretary to Judge William Lonergan, is extremely devoted to her husband. Prior to the start of A Shattered Circle, a fall from a ladder has left the judge with traumatic dementia. This condition would force many judges into retirement, but not Judge Lonergan; he has Barbara to support him, protect him, and run interference for him.

Page 69 of the novel is equally divided between the tail end of a flashback from Barbara’s past and her current condition. It is a quiet page, not representative of the rest of the book in which there are four murders and, very nearly, two more.

The flashback recounts Barbara’s girlhood on a broken down farm in upstate New York, her arrival in New York City, and her early years working in the courthouse steno pool. Barbara’s current condition is to lie awake beside her innocently sleeping husband and wargame the perils she expects to encounter the next day. One peril frightens her more than the rest. An embittered litigant has filed a grievance against her husband, and opposing the grievance can expose his mental state. Barbara’s insomnia is productive. She comes up with a strategy she believes can preserve the judge’s career and reputation.

On a symbolic level, page 69 recapitulates the Lonergans’ story. Barbara’s vigilance erects a protective circle around the slowly failing judge. But something in her past, hinted at in the flashback, contributes to shattering that circle.
Learn more about the book and author at Kevin Egan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Midnight.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 18, 2017

"Deranged"

Jacob Stone is the byline chosen by award-winning author Dave Zeltserman for his new Morris Brick series of serial-killer thrillers. His crime, mystery and horror fiction has won top praise and has been translated into six languages. His novels Small Crimes and Pariah were both named by the Washington Post as best books of the year. Small Crimes topped National Public Radio's list of best crime and mystery novels of 2008 and is being made into a feature film.

Zeltserman applied the Page 69 Test to Deranged, the first Morris Black thriller, and reported the following:
Page 69 is only a paragraph, so instead I looked at page 68. This page has Morris meeting with the FBI profiler and going over aspects of past murders associated with the killer. Deranged is a fast moving thriller that’s either showing the current action or flashbacks to the past to explain how the killer got to where he is, so this page was what I call necessary glue to keep the plot moving.
Visit Dave Zeltserman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Deranged.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 17, 2017

"A Death by Any Other Name"

Tessa Arlen, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Arlen applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Death by Any Other Name, the third book in her Lady Montfort mystery series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“In my opinion, Mrs. Jackson, our wonderful old traditions and our great families are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. I dread to imagine the future. Being in service is certainly not the same as it used to be in the old days, especially if we work for the likes of Mr. Haldane.”

Good grief, thought Mrs. Jackson, it doesn’t get more honest or outspoken than that. She felt her cheeks color. There was a palpable animosity radiating from the butler. His face was without expression, but his eyes were blazing with the intensity of his meaning. She felt quite uncomfortable by this outward expression of emotion. In all her working life she had never heard an upper servant be quite so contemptuous of his master in such a dramatic manner. Why does he continue here if he dislikes his employer so much? Good butlers are hard to come by it would be easy for him to find another place.

“Mrs. Armitage did not use tainted fish in her kedgeree, Mrs. Jackson I can assure you of that. She is a careful and conscientious woman and took pride in her work. Mr. Bartholomew was maliciously poisoned by someone staying in this house on the day he died; I am quite convinced of it. Mrs. Armitage was used as a scapegoat by someone callous and unprincipled enough to ruthlessly eliminate someone he called his friend. The doctor’s death certificate was a cooked-up lie and the inquest was a sham. And as a result a hard-working woman was accused of being so slovenly in her work that she caused a man’s death.” To Mrs. Jackson’s acute discomfort the butler’s demonstrated his outrage: his eyebrows had practically disappeared into his hairline, his arms were stretched out on either side of him palms upwards as if he were appealing to higher authority than the British legal system.
Page 69 for A Death by Any Other Name offers an amusing glimpse into the book’s secondary theme, the complex relationships between men and women in service to the privileged members of Edwardian society in 1914, and in particular the snobbery of upper servants which reflected the great class divide between the aristocracy and self-made men.

Mrs. Jackson, amateur sleuth and the housekeeper to the Earl of Montfort, is deeply shocked when Mr. Evans, the butler of the house she is visiting, has no problem whatsoever in describing his nouveau riche master in less than flattering terms, even going so far as to almost accuse him of being a murderer who has unscrupulously framed his cook for accidentally poisoning one of his guests!

It was well-accepted that Edwardian servants were often far greater snobs than the people they served, especially those who worked for the aristocracy. Mr. Evans now butler to the uncouth Roger Haldane of Hyde Castle had at one time worked for people he would have referred to as the quality and has no qualms about expressing his disgust for his new master who has completely remodeled an old castle into a luxurious, brand spanking new house as vulgar as the up to date furniture he has furnished it with. Clearly Mr. Evans believes that Rupert Bartholomew’s death by food poisoning is no accident and it is Mrs. Jackson’s uncomfortable job to pick her way through the quicksand of relationships both upstairs and down to help the Countess of Montfort discover who wanted Mr. Bartholomew dead!
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

The Page 69 Test: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman.

The Page 69 Test: Death Sits Down to Dinner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"A Boy Called Bat"

Elana K. Arnold writes books for and about children and teens. She holds a master’s degree in Creative Writing/Fiction from the University of California, Davis where she has taught Creative Writing and Adolescent Literature.

Arnold applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, A Boy Called Bat, and reported the following:
This page actually has very little text on it, as most of the page is taken up by one of Charles Santoso’s wonderful illustrations. The little there is reads:
because the only thing he could think about was the wet, uncomfortable stain on his shirt.

Dad’s apartment was in a complex that had a pool and a workout room. Kids under thirteen weren’t allowed to use the workout equipment,
But, the illustration is actually quite telling, even apart from words. It shows Bat, who has spilled his cocoa down the front of his shirt, and Dad, who looks mildly alarmed and a bit annoyed. Dad is wearing one of his trademark baseball caps; Bat is holding what is left of his cup of hot chocolate. Bat’s relationship with Dad is sort of strained; he stays with Dad every other weekend, which he has mixed feelings about; Dad isn’t always sensitive to Bat’s particularities; going to Dad’s apartment this weekend means leaving the new skunk kit at home with Mom for three whole days. So things are already a bit fraught before the hot chocolate spill.

A Boy Called Bat is about an autistic kid who loves an orphaned baby skunk, and it is also about family dynamics, emotional struggles, fledgling friendships, the joys of research, and the importance of a network of caring adults in the life of a child. I hope that a reader flipping to page 69 would be compelled to flip back to page one, find a cozy corner and perhaps a bar of chocolate, and would settle in for a good read.
Learn more about the book and author at Elana K. Arnold's website.

The Page 69 Test: Burning.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Everything Belongs to Us"

Yoojin Grace Wuertz was born in Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to the United States at age six. She holds a BA in English from Yale University and an MFA in fiction from New York University. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and son.

Wuertz applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Everything Belongs to Us, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He pulled out two long plastic sleeves, which he rolled over his shirtsleeves. Namin thought, I don’t even know how much to pay him. Somehow the idea of asking how much the service cost was more than she could bear. He stepped into the bathroom, ducking around the doorway to find the light. His apron was tied smartly behind him, the two sides of the bow perfectly symmetrical. The knot was tight against his back, and he was squatting to examine something. Namin tried to rehearse what she would say when he came out. Would they make small talk? Would she ask how his wife—who was nauseated not by him, but by the new creation of their child—was faring this morning? And this last plagued her worst of all: Should she apologize for the mess? Or was the right answer to pretend there was nothing to be ashamed of, nothing he should feel ashamed of?

Namin took a book and waited outside, leaning against the outer wall of her house. She pretended to read, even turning the pages at proper intervals, but the text was just lines on a page, nothing she could form into meaningful words. When a neighbor came by and asked what she was doing, she avoided answering but managed to ask how much she should pay Mr. Hong.

“You mean you really don’t know? I guess even a college student like you has to have something to learn.”

It was irritating to have her flaws pointed out so baldly, but Namin understood the neighbor meant this in a friendly way. This was the way of Miari—opinions were free and abundant. Namin would always be measured against her status as a Seoul University student, an ongoing honor that still earned her a measure of local celebrity. But the attention cut both ways as even the most casual acquaintances felt free to dissect her shortcomings as if she were a member of their extended family.
Namin is a student at an elite University in Seoul in 1978, but because her family is quite poor, they don’t have indoor plumbing. Usually it’s her older sister’s job to track down the sanitation worker and beg him to empty their latrine, but her sister has shirked her responsibilities. Now Namin is dealing with the hated task, but she feels awkward and embarrassed, as many of us might in her circumstances.

Two things strike me about this passage. The first is the juxtaposition of low and high class that Namin struggles with throughout: the urgency of her overflowing latrine against her attempt to focus on her textbook, which represents her elite education and her way out of poverty. I think that line about her town’s attention cutting both ways captures the central dilemma of her life. Her education and the status it affords her is a double-edged sword because it both lifts and differentiates her from her community.

My second note is remembering that this scene was built from my mom’s memories of the hated latrine in the homes of her childhood and youth, which distressed her so much she had nightmares into adulthood well after life became more comfortable. Sometimes it might be easy to assume that people who are born into difficult circumstances “get used to” their challenges. That somehow it bothers them less than it might bother us, who enjoy greater privileges. But my mother’s memories made me realize that hardships are traumatic no matter how much it might be normalized as the day-to-day reality. I recall this astounding, sobering statistic I once read, which is that there are currently more cell phones in the world than working toilets.
Visit Yoojin Grace Wuertz's website.

My Book, The Movie: Everything Belongs to Us.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"Never Let You Go"

Chevy Stevens's novels include Still Missing, Never Knowing, and That Night.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Never Let You Go, and reported the following:
Never Let You Go is told from two perspectives. Lindsey, the mother who believes her ex-husband, recently released from prison after ten years, is stalking her for revenge, and Sophie, her teenage daughter who is trying to reconnect with her father. Page 69 is the opening to the first chapter where we hear from Sophie. We learn that she has been keeping a large secret from her mother. She's been writing letters to her him while he's behind bars and opening a Pandora's box unresolved emotions. I hope the reader will be drawn in to her life, her longing for a father, and see that Sophie doesn’t understand the danger that she is putting them both in.
Learn more about the book and author at the official Chevy Stevens website.

My Book, The Movie: Still Missing.

The Page 69 Test: That Night.

My Book, The Movie: That Night.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 13, 2017

"The Dog Who Was There"

Ron Marasco has a B.A. from Fordham University at Lincoln Center and an M.A. and Ph.D. from UCLA. Along with his work as a writer, Marasco has also acted extensively on TV—from Lost, to The West Wing and Entourage, and appeared opposite screen legend Kirk Douglas in the movie Illusion, for which he also co-wrote the screenplay. He originated the role of Mr. Caspar in Freaks and Geeks, and most recently has been playing the oft-recurring role of Judge Grove on Major Crimes. He lives in Stamford, Connecticut.

Marasco applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Dog Who Was There, and reported the following:
The Dog Who Was There takes place in Biblical times and the lead character is a small, sweet mongrel dog named Barley who’s trying to make his way in the brutal world of Roman-occupied Judea. The city is tense with upheavals over an influential teacher from Galilee named Jesus Christ who’s been preaching nearby. With Roman authorities on high alert, Barley’s current master--a rough-around-the-edges homeless character named Samid--is taken away, leaving Barley on the side of a dirt road that leads to the marketplace.

Barley looks up the empty path, hoping for someone to come along and play with him. After a long while, two young boys come skipping down the road, followed by their merchant father. Barley wags his tail madly at seeing them. And the boys’ eyes light up at the sight of a scruffy roadside dog looking over at them with pleading eyes.

By Page 69 the smiling boys have tossed something toward Barley who thinks: A stick! Fetch! They want to play! Just like Barley’s master Samid used to! After looking around eagerly for where the stick landed Barley turns back toward the boys just as something hurls past his snout, grazing his flappy ear with a sharp sting. The boys are not throwing sticks; they are throwing rocks. The boy’s don’t want to play. These are boys who want to hurt.

As Page 69 begins, Barley is shaking his head to chase away both the pain of his ear and the sadness he feels that some human beings are not kind. The boys and their father continue on down the road, leaving Barley alone but still believing that, somewhere in the world, is a Master who will be good to him. By the end of page 69 Barley’s ear feels better, his hope is intact, and the penultimate line of the page describes Barley continuing on his way, trotting along a “thin and twisty road with no idea where it would take him.”

So off he goes: a small dog with a faith that could put human beings to shame.
Learn more about The Dog Who Was There at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 12, 2017

"Pilgrimage to Murder"

Paul Doherty studied History at Liverpool and Oxford Universities, and is now headmaster of a school in Essex. He is the author of more than eighty historical mysteries including the Hugh Corbett, Mathilde of Westminster and Canterbury Tales medieval mystery series.

He applied the Page 69 Test to A Pilgrimage of Murder, the 17th book of the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan, and reported the following:
Page 69 of A Pilgrimage of Murder is very much representative of the novel. It describes one last futile attempt by the rebels in London to assassinate John of Gaunt, the regent they truly hate. The attack is the last echo of a theme which has dominated the lives of Cranston and Athelstan and indeed the city of London and the country.
Visit Paul Doherty's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Pilgrimage of Murder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 10, 2017

"The Typewriter's Tale"

Michiel Heyns is Professor Emeritus in English at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Author of numerous academic works and radio adaptations of Henry James's and Elizabeth Gaskell's novels, Heyns wrote the chapter on Henry James for the Cambridge Companion to English Novelists. He is winner of the Thomas Pringle Award for journalism 2007, and the Sol Plaatje Award for translation, 2008 and was winner of the Sunday Times Fiction Award 2012 for Lost Ground. The French translation of his novel The Typewriter's Tale was shortlisted for the Prix Femina Etranger, and won the Prix de l'Union Interalliee.

Heyns applied the Page 69 Test to The Typewriter's Tale and reported the following:
The Typewriter’s Tale dramatises and explores the tension between the life of letters, as exemplified by the great novelist Henry James, and the claims of the life of the senses and passions, as experienced by his young typist (“Typewriter”), Frieda Wroth. Page 69 usefully encapsulates a central moment in this conflict, and in the central intrigue of the novel.

The page starts on a knock at the door (“There was a tap at the door”) – a time-honoured harbinger of drama. The knocker is only “the little butler”, Burgess Noakes. But he comes bearing a telegram to Frieda Wroth, and it is a telegram of some import, from Morton Fullerton, the dashing young American journalist with whom she has just had a breathless fling. (“Arrived Paris but thinking of Rye” the telegram reads.) Somebody reading only this page would know that Frieda is embroiled in some intrigue that involves finding something belonging to her employer, (“There were so many places they could be”,) more specifically a bundle of letters. (“Impelled to recklessness by Mr Fullerton’s graceful reminder, she went up to the cabinets and opened the first. …. A cursory glance sufficed to assure Frieda that there no letters there.”) The reader would also gather that Frieda is drawn into this intrigue by an undertaking to an absent person, possibly a lover (“Mr Fullerton had apprehended her uncertainty and was sending her this encouragement.”).

It is admittedly mainly at the level of practical intrigue that the page is representative of the novel as a whole, but it also encapsulates Frieda’s central quandary: her split between loyalty to her employer (“Frieda’s training and instincts combined to make her avert her glance”) and infatuation with her seducer. Thus the divide between life and letters that the novel explores is here dramatised through the juxtaposition of the telegram (the urgent messenger of passion and intrigue) and the letters (the record of friendship and fidelity), with Frieda as the mediator between the two, as, in typing, she mediates between James and his creations. Though the typewriter is merely a recording agent, she has a tale of her own.
Learn more about the author and his work at Michiel Heyns' website.

The Page 69 Test: The Children’s Day.

My Book, The Movie: The Typewriter's Tale.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"The Weight of This World"

David Joy is the author of the Edgar nominated novel Where All Light Tends To Go (Putnam, 2015), as well as the novels The Weight Of This World (Putnam, 2017) and The Line That Held Us (Putnam, TBD). He is also the author of the memoir Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman's Journey (Bright Mountain Books, 2011), which was a finalist for the Reed Environmental Writing Award and the Ragan Old North State Award.

Joy applied the Page 69 Test to The Weight Of This World and reported the following:
One of these days I’m going to write a scene on page sixty-nine of a manuscript just for this test, just for this blog, and inevitably either my editor will cut the scene or something will happen in design that puts it a page short or a page long so that once again I’m left with nothing. That’s my way of saying, just like last time, page sixty-nine doesn’t do a whole lot to capture the overall mood of my second novel, The Weight Of This World. What we find on that page is two addicts, Aiden McCall and Thad Broom, rummaging through a house for anything they can sell or use to get high. What that scene does capture, I guess, is the narrative trigger of the novel, the catalyst of the rest of the story, which is this: when Aiden and Thad witness the accidental death of their drug dealer and a riot of dope and cash drops in their laps, their lives are blown apart on a meth-fueled journey to nowhere. You can turn to page seventy, but I don’t think you’ll find a happy ending.
Visit David Joy's website.

Writers Read: David Joy (March 2015).

The Page 69 Test: Where All Light Tends to Go.

My Book, The Movie: Where All Light Tends to Go.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

"The Fifth Letter"

Nicola Moriarty is a Sydney-based novelist, copywriter, and mum to two small (but remarkably strong-willed) daughters. In between various career changes, becoming a mum, and completing her BA, she began to write. Now, she can’t seem to stop. Her works include the novels Free-Falling and Paper Chains, and the novella Captivation, as well as contributions to two U.K. anthologies. She was awarded the Fred Rush Convocation prize from Macquarie University, along with "Best Australian Debut" from Chicklit Club.

Moriarty applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Fifth Letter, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“What?” said Deb as she stood up and crossed to the phone. “All I’m doing is making sure there’s not an urgent message for her or something.”

Deb picked up the phone and frowned down at the screen. Then she brought it over to Joni and held it out in front of her. Joni read the text that was showing up on the home screen. It was from Josh and all it said was, take your tablet.

“That’s weird, right?” said Deb.

“Why?” asked Joni. “He’s just trying to help her remember to take her tablet. No big deal.”

“Yeah, but what tablet? And why is it so … so commanding? Like he doesn’t even say, ‘Hey, babe, just a quick reminder,’ or anything like that.”

“Maybe he was typing it in a rush. And could be she’s just on a course of antibiotics for something.”

“I still don’t like the way it sounds.” Deb put the phone back where she’d found it and then sat down on the floor again to pick up one of Joni’s pencils and continue coloring. Though now her pressure on the page looked a little harder than before.
The Fifth Letter is about four women in their thirties (Joni, Deb, Trina and Eden) who have been friends since high school. On a girls’ weekend getaway, they decide to share anonymous confessions in letters in an attempt to reconnect as they’ve drifted apart a bit in recent years. However, the letters only serve to push them further apart, especially when Joni discovers the charred remains of a disturbing fifth letter in the fireplace.

In this extract from page 69, Joni and Deb are looking at Trina’s phone without her knowledge and Deb is concerned about the tone of the text message from Trina’s husband. Even though it’s focused in on one character’s issues, it’s actually a decent representation of The Fifth Letter as it deals with the themes of secrets and mystery and, without giving too much away, Deb is actually right to think there is something sinister about this particular text message. This is also the type of conversation I could imagine having with one of my own friends if I had doubts about the intentions of another friend’s partner. It’s not that I would want to talk about a friend behind her back, but I think it’s something we all do at some point in our lives, and it’s definitely something that the four women in The Fifth Letter do a lot.
Visit Nicola Moriarty's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 5, 2017

"The Lost Book of the Grail"

Charlie Lovett is a writer, teacher, and playwright, whose plays for children have been seen in more than 3,000 productions. He is a former antiquarian bookseller and an avid book collector. He and his wife split their time between Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Kingham, Oxfordshire, in England.

Lovett's novels include The Bookman's Tale: A Novel of Obsession, First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen, and the newly released The Lost Book of the Grail.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Lost Book of the Grail and reported the following:
From page 69:
Arthur turned from that familiar spot back into the shelter of the cloister walk. By the time he reached the library there was a spring in his step—a spring that immediately fell flat when he saw the morass of wires, computers, tripods, and cameras that took up the entire far end of the room. The cathedral library had found a new constituent, thought Arthur, and he wasn’t at all convinced that was a good thing.

“Good afternoon Mr. Prescott. Nice day at work?” Bethany had her hair pulled back and was wearing a worn pair of jeans and a crisp new T-shirt bearing the crest, such as it was, of Barchester University. A hairband did little to restrain the wisps around her forehead. “Took me all morning to finish setting up, but I’m really getting down to it now.”

Arthur sighed wearily. Not only would he not have the peaceful dimness of the library to himself, he would be subjected to the clicking of Bethany’s camera as an incessant reminder that the world of the book was being eroded in his very presence.

“How long are you going to be here?” he said with an audible sigh.

“Wow, way to sound welcoming.”

“I’m not trying to be unwelcoming; I’m just seeking a piece of information.”

“Well, judging from the number of pages I’ve gotten done this afternoon, because like I said I spent the whole morning setting up and then went to the refectory—is that what you call it, or is it just the café? Anyway I had this ploughman’s lunch thing with, I have to tell you, the best cheese I have ever put in my mouth. And my grandmother lives in Wisconsin.”

“I’m sorry,” said Arthur, interrupting when she seemed about to take a breath, “but does this have anything to do with my question?”

“How long am I going to be here, right. Well I think I can probably digitize an average of about one manuscript per day, so I guess that’s forty-one days.”

“There are eighty-three manuscripts,” said Arthur firmly.

“No, there are eighty-two manuscripts. The first thing I did when I got here was count them.”

“Well, I have been working at Barchester Cathedral Library since before you were born,” said Arthur harshly, exaggerating his point. “I have examined the collection in detail and I keep a copy of Bishop Gladwyn’s...
As usual, page sixty-nine proves an important turning point in The Lost Book of the Grail. Although the two main characters, Arthur and Bethany, have met before, this is the first time we see Bethany’s invasion of Arthur’s favorite spot. Near the top of the page, he enters the cathedral library, expecting a quiet afternoon of reading and research in this secluded, ancient room. Instead, he finds Bethany (who has come to Barchester tasked with digitizing all the medieval manuscripts in the library) surrounded by the tools of her trade—a “morass of wires, computers, tripods, and cameras that took up the entire far end of the room.” At this point, Arthur is still antagonistic towards Bethany, and this disruption does nothing to help.

But the story really gets going at the bottom of the page. The working title of my novel was The Lost Manuscript, because much of it concerns the search for a missing medieval manuscript and the secrets it contains. And it is on page sixty-one that Arthur first gets a sense that a manuscript is missing—though he will not believe it for a few more pages. When Bethany says that she has eighty-two manuscripts to photograph, Arthur insists that there are eighty-three in the collection. Their disagreement will play out in the following pages and lead to the discovery that a manuscript has gone missing.

With the two main characters, a bit of their early conflict, the introduction of one of the primary mysteries in the narrative, and the central setting of the Barchester Cathedral library all coming together on page sixty-nine, I’d say it’s a good representative of The Lost Book of the Grail.
Learn more about the book and author at Charlie Lovett's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Lost Book of the Grail.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 4, 2017

"Swiss Vendetta"

Tracee de Hahn is the author of the Agnes Lüthi Mysteries published by St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books. The first in the series, Swiss Vendetta, was inspired by the 2005 ice storm that ravaged Geneva. De Hahn was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and spent most of her youth in Kentucky. After receiving degrees in Architecture and European history from the University of Kentucky she moved to Switzerland with her husband. Currently they and their two Jack Russell terriers live in Virginia.

De Hahn applied the Page 69 Test to Swiss Vendetta and reported the following:
From page 69:
“He was a good man, and he loved his sons. Remember that. And he was so proud of you.”

“Don’t say things to make me feel better. I won’t have it.”

“He was proud of you.”

“You didn’t even know George.” Her voice quavered. She remembered Carnet arriving at the scene seconds after her: taking charge, making sure she was away before she learned more of the horrific detail of the drop from the bridge onto the road; before hysteria could settle in.
Above is the first twenty-five percent of the sixty-ninth page of Swiss Vendetta. The mystery at the heart of the book centers on the stabbing death of an art appraiser on the lawn of Château Vallotton in Switzerland. The main character, police inspector Agnes Lüthi, is called to the scene on her first day at work after the death of her husband and it turns out to be a very unusual day, even for the Violent Crimes division. When an ice storm of historic proportion descends, she is trapped, along with her colleagues and the suspects, as the power goes out and the roads close.

Agnes’s quest to find the murderer is at the heart of the book, however, on a different level Swiss Vendetta is about her internal struggle to understand her husband’s suicide. His death has caused Agnes to question her own actions and those of everyone she knows and the passage on page sixty nine centers on that theme. The dialogue on this page is between Agnes and her colleague Robert Carnet. They are discussing Agnes’s husband George and we understand her determination to separate home life from work, at the same time we know that it might not be possible.
Visit Tracee de Hahn's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Tracee de Hahn & Alvaro and Laika.

Writers Read: Tracee de Hahn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 2, 2017

"What You Break"

Called a hard-boiled poet by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan and the noir poet laureate in the Huffington Post, Reed Farrel Coleman is the New York Times bestselling author of Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series. He also writes the Gus Murphy series for Putnam. The first novel in that series, Where It Hurts, is nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel of 2016. He is a three-time recipient of the Shamus Award and four-time Edgar Award nominee in three different categories. He has also won the Audie, Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards. He lives on Long Island.

Coleman applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, What You Break, and reported the following:
When most people from outside New York picture Long Island, they conjure up images of the Hamptons, the Gold Coast, Montauk, the North fork wineries, Gatsby staring longingly at light at the end of Daisy’s dock. But that’s not the Long Island I know. As I have said many times, I live in Suffolk County, the same county as the Hamptons, but the Hamptons might as well be on Mars. A crucial aspect of the Gus Murphy series (Where It Hurts, What You Break) is the physical nature of Long Island and how the physical nature of the island impacts its citizens sociologically and economically. This passage from page 69 is a perfect example of that. I will let the passage speak for itself rather than explaining.
… Spicy’s chicken, ribs, and collards were top shelf, according to the cops who worked the Fifth Precinct. And the place was probably the only spot where the citizens of North Bellport and Bellport crossed paths. Those railroad tracks might just as well have been a wall or a moat, but you didn’t need physical barriers when economic ones were just as effective and far less conspicuous. That was how segregation worked on Long Island.

I drove with my windows down to take advantage of the rare warmth of the day. Only a few seconds after taking the right fork off Montauk onto South Country Road, I could smell ocean almost as if I was standing on the beach. I didn’t know whether it was because we were surrounded by Long Island Sound on the north and the Atlantic on the south that we were nose-blind to the smell of sea water or because most of us lived along the spine of the island, just one side or the other off the LIE, far away from any body of water larger than an in-ground pool…
Visit Reed Farrel Coleman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Where It Hurts.

--Marshal Zeringue