Friday, March 16, 2018

"Memento Mori"

Ruth Downie is the author of a series of mysteries featuring Roman Army medic and reluctant sleuth, Gaius Petreius Ruso: Medicus, Terra Incognita, Persona Non Grata, Caveat Emptor, Semper Fidelis, Tabula Rasa, Vita Brevis, and the newly released Memento Mori.

Downie applied the Page 69 Test to Memento Mori and reported the following:
Memento Mori is set in the town the Romans called Aquae Sulis – “aquae” because of the natural hot springs that rise there, and “Sulis” because that was the name of the local goddess who supplied them. One of the springs was adapted by the occupying Roman authorities, who poured money into the building of a large temple and bathing complex around it. In the novel I’ve invented some entrepreneurs who have made a disastrous attempt to build over one of the others.

On page 69 my lead character Ruso has just tried to rescue a naked man from drowning in the one remaining “unimproved” spring. This has not gone down well with the man, who was in fact happily communing with his native goddess. Fortunately Ruso, who is married to a Briton – albeit one from a distant tribe – is able to speak to the man in his own language.
…the native said, “At my age I might have died of shock.”

“You might,” Ruso agreed, wondering if this was the prelude to a demand for compensation.

But instead the native busied himself rubbing a graze on his elbow and observed, “A Roman with the voice of a Brigante, eh? We don’t get a lot like you around here.”

“Nor anywhere else,” Ruso told him. “Sorry about dragging you out.” He nodded toward the water, which was now swirling with mud. “Is it good?”

“Your lot haven’t ruined this one yet, but give them time.”

“What’s going on with the one behind the fence?”

The man’s face creased into a grin. “They were told not to interfere with that spring. I told them, my sister told them, their own people told them, but they knew better. Till Sulis gave them a bloody nose.”

“What happened?”

“You can’t disrespect our goddess and get away with it.”
This small scene captures some of the tensions of the story: between the natives and the Romans, and between the religious (who see any misfortune as a sign of the goddess’s anger) and those who consider themselves more rational. Ruso’s British wife has an unshakeable belief in the supernatural, which leaves Ruso himself caught squarely in the middle – a place that’s always interesting to write about, and hopefully to read about, too.
Learn more about the book and author at Ruth Downie's website.

The Page 69 Test: Caveat Emptor.

The Page 69 Test: Tabula Rasa.

The Page 69 Test: Vita Brevis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 15, 2018

"The Third Victim"

Phillip Margolin has written over twenty novels, most of them New York Times bestsellers, including Gone But Not Forgotten, Lost Lake, and Violent Crimes. In addition to being a novelist, he was a long time criminal defense attorney with decades of trial experience, including a large number of capital cases. Margolin lives in Portland, Oregon.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Third Victim, and reported the following:
Is page 69 of The Third Victim representative of the book?: Yes. Robin Lockwood is a new lawyer whose idol is Regina Barrister, Oregon’s top criminal defense attorney. Soon after Regina hires Robin, Regina is retained by Alex Mason, the defendant in a death penalty case. The police believe that Mason, a wealthy attorney, is a serial killer, but he claims he is innocent. The case is complex and Regina must be at the top of her game to win it, but she starts acting strangely and Robin – who has no medical training and has never been in a courtroom - begins to suspect that Regina may be experiencing the onset of dementia. If she is wrong and she confronts her boss she might be fired from her dream job. If she doesn’t do something and she is right, their client could die.

On page 69, Regina wakes up in her house but her bedroom seems strange to her. She has to get to the jail to talk to her client but she can’t find her keys. She panics and this is the first time that the reader realizes that something is terribly wrong with this brilliant attorney.
Visit Phillip Margolin's website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Phillip Margolin.

My Book, The Movie: The Third Victim.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"In Sight of Stars"

Gae Polisner's books include The Memory of Things, The Summer of Letting Go, and The Pull of Gravity. Her new novel is In Sight of Stars.

A family law attorney and mediator by trade, but a writer by calling, she lives on Long Island with her husband, two sons, and a suspiciously-fictional-looking small dog she swore she’d never own. When she’s not writing, she can be found in a pool, or better yet, in the open waters of the Long Island Sound where she swims upwards of two miles most days.

Polisner applied the Page 69 Test to In Sight of Stars and reported the following:
On page 69, my MC Klee (pronounced “Clay”), who is at the beginning of a two-week stay at an inpatient adolescent psychiatric center after an act of self harm, is lost in telling his therapist about his first real date with Sarah, the girl in his new high school who was the first person to take his mind off all the horrible stuff that has happened to him recently.

At the bottom of the page, he stops, mid-story, remembering Dr. Alvarez is in the room:
Dr. Alvarez has put her pen down. Her eyes are closed, and for a second I wonder if she’s sleeping. I can’t believe I’m telling her all this stupid stuff anyway. The small things. The private things. What do they even matter now?

She shifts her feet under the table, opens her eyes, and studies me. “I love Central Park,” she says. “And don’t be fooled by my eyes,” she adds, closing them again. “Sometimes I just listen best this way.”
I love this moment from page 69 because it shows you the skill Dr. Alvarez possesses to bring Klee to her and allow him to trust her, and in fact, shows you the moment he begins to do just that, trust her, which is, of course, key to his healing.
Visit Gae Polisner's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Summer of Letting Go.

The Page 69 Test: The Memory of Things.

Writers Read: Gae Polisner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 12, 2018

"The One"

John Marrs is a freelance journalist based in London, England, who has spent the last twenty years interviewing celebrities from the world of television, film and music for national newspapers and magazines. His novels include The Wronged Sons, Welcome To Wherever You Are, and, newly released in the US, The One.

Marrs applied the Page 69 Test to The One and reported the following:
By the time you reach page 69 of The One, you will have met each of my five main characters, whose stories are contained within their own chapters. The book concentrates on five men and women who for one reason or another, have chosen science over fate to try and find their soul mates. Set in a time when a DNA test is all it takes to find The One you are guaranteed to fall in love with, it’s Nick who comes into focus on page 69. He’s a little different to some of the others as he already has a fiancĂ©e, Sally. She is pushing them both to take the test just to make sure they are definitely suited. However when Nick gets his results back, he learns he is actually Matched with a man. Page 69 finds him coming to terms with that revelation and he is in complete denial. He had his life planned out before him – he was to marry Sally and they’d spend the rest of their lives together. But now he’s supposedly destined to be with someone of the same sex, where does that leave him? Will curiosity get the better of him and will he meet his Match? How can you fall in love with a gender you aren’t attracted to?

Page 69 is quite indicative of the rest of The One. I have tried to create a novel full of twists and turns as each character comes to terms with their differing futures. Hopefully such predicament, like those on that particular page, will make the reader question what they might do if they were faced with my characters’ dilemmas.
Learn more about The One, visit John Marrs's website, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Writers Read: John Marrs.

My Book, The Movie: The One.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 10, 2018

"The Vain Conversation"

Anthony Grooms is the author of Bombingham: A Novel and Trouble No More: Stories, both winners of the Lillian Smith Book Award for fiction. Born in Charlottesville, Virginia, he has taught writing and American literature at universities in Ghana and Sweden and, since 1994, at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

Grooms applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Vain Conversation, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Vain Conversation, the protagonist Lonnie Henson, a 10 year old at the time, is involved in a knotty conversation with the philandering Vernon Venable, a local planter in 1946 Georgia. Venable, under the guise of teasing is trying to gain leverage on Lonnie who has recently stumbled upon him having sex in the woods with a prostitute. The conversation seesaws between gentle teasing and subtle threats. It confuses Lonnie, who is not sophisticated enough to follow Venable’s double entendres. Not only is this scene representative of the twisting uncertainty that entangles Lonnie morally and socially, but it is a pivotal scene. It drives the actions of the first part of the story, nags at Lonnie through for the next two decades, and returns to accuse him at the end.
Visit Anthony Grooms's website.

Writers Read: Anthony Grooms.

My Book, The Movie: The Vain Conversation.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 8, 2018

"The Bad Daughter"

Joy Fielding is the New York Times bestselling author of Someone Is Watching, Now You See Her, Still Life, Mad River Road, See Jane Run, and other acclaimed novels.

Fielding applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Bad Daughter, and reported the following:
I think this page is quite representative of the book as a whole in that it involves a fair degree of suspense and underlines the relationship between Robin and her sister, Melanie. It also points to Melanie’s son, Landon, as a character to watch and be concerned about. Robin’s relationship with her sister is key to the book, and in this page, the reader can see the push-pull between the characters and understand Robin’s ambivalence toward Melanie and why they’ve barely spoken in years. I think - hope - that readers skimming the book and stopping on this page would be most anxious to read on and see what happens.
Visit Joy Fielding's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Bad Daughter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

"The Ghost Notebooks"

Ben Dolnick is the author of four novels: Zoology, You Know Who You Are, At the Bottom of Everything, and The Ghost Notebooks. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, and on NPR. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Dolnick applied the Page 69 Test to The Ghost Notebooks and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Ghost Notebooks is actually a bit unusual. The book is told in the first-person -- a continuous narrative by a man who goes through some painful and scary stuff -- but throughout there's a lot of interstitial material: scraps of other peoples' diary entries, newspaper articles, Q&A's. So page 69 is one of those interstitials -- specifically, it's an excerpt from a book by the mysterious and possibly insane old writer in whose house the novel takes place.

All while I was writing my novel I envisioned it as something like a physical notebook in which someone had handwritten his story -- and I imagined that this notebook, like my notebooks, would be stuffed with all sorts of scraps and lists and handouts. So that's how this unusual shape came to be, and I hope that a reader doing the page 69 test would be sufficiently intrigued to flip directly back to page 1.
Visit Ben Dolnick's website.

The Page 69 Test: Zoology.

The Page 69 Test: You Know Who You Are.

The Page 69 Test: At the Bottom of Everything.

Writers Read: Ben Dolnick.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 4, 2018

"Winter Sisters"

Robin Oliveira is the New York Times bestselling author of My Name Is Mary Sutter and I Always Loved You. She holds a BA in Russian and studied at the Pushkin Language Institute in Moscow. She received an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is also a registered nurse, specializing in critical care.

Oliveira applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Winter Sisters, and reported the following:
In Winter Sisters, page 69 consists of a verbal clash between Dr. Mary Sutter, the protagonist of my first novel, My Name is Mary Sutter, and Gerritt Van der Veer, a wealthy lumber baron in Albany, N.Y. Set in 1879, Winter Sisters follows the fate of two little girls who are lost in a devastating blizzard.

That verbal clash between the formidable Mary Sutter and the powerful Gerritt Van der Veer is couched in courtesy and seemingly like-minded values, but it portends one of the central conflicts of the novel: what degree of agency can women and girls forge for themselves, and to what dangers—personal and public—are they then subjected as a result? But Winter Sisters is threaded with many conflicts woven into more than a few subplots surrounding the girls’ mysterious disappearance, among them the rights of children, widespread corruption, the abuse of personal, intimate, and universal power, and that terrifying 19th century law. In that century’s last decades, women were campaigning for the vote, fighting for changes for protection inside the law, even as they were seeking to protect themselves in a world that paid lip service to their status while undermining them at every turn. The entire city of Albany will be engulfed by the tragedy of the ‘winter sisters’’ fate, requiring Mary Sutter to force a confrontation that is as contemporary as it is historic.

I confess that I love Mary Sutter. I love that she never stays quiet in the face of injustice, no matter the consequences men mete out in their inability to control her. She says exactly what needs to be said at the time it needs to be said and it is always the truth. I was thrilled to spend time with her again.
Learn more about the book and author at Robin Oliveira's website.

The Page 69 Test: My Name Is Mary Sutter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 3, 2018

"Only Killers and Thieves"

Paul Howarth was born and grew up in Great Britain before moving to Melbourne in his late twenties. He lived in Australia for more than six years, gained dual citizenship in 2012, and now lives in Norwich, United Kingdom, with his family. In 2015, he received a master’s degree from the University of East Anglia’s creative writing program, the most prestigious course of its kind in the UK, where he was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury Scholarship.

Howarth applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Only Killers and Thieves and reported the following:
Page 69 of Only Killers and Thieves is a short one, the end of a paragraph at the end of a chapter, so there’s not much to go on there. But taken with page 68 it’s very interesting, in the context of the book as a whole, in that it contains a critical betrayal (albeit off the page) and foreshadows the violence fourteen year old Tommy McBride will both witness and participate in, the guilt he will face, and the spiritual reckoning to come. Tommy and his mother are on a supply run to the tiny town of Bewley, on the very edge of the Australian frontier, but find themselves short on credit and virtual pariahs, thanks to local cattleman John Sullivan, who is pursuing an agenda against the family, and the local Aboriginal people, all of his own:
Mother wasn’t in the church when he got there. The door was already open and he stepped into the shaded porch then scanned the rows of bare-wood benches that served as pews. They were all empty. Not even a priest about. Sunlight fell in broad columns through the windows, and hanging above the altar was a carving of Christ on the cross. A crown of thorns, blood trickling, a scrap of cloth to cover his groin. As Tommy stared at the carving, memories of the hanging tree pulsed in his mind, the bodies dark and disfigured, flies feasting, crows hunched in the branches above, and now he saw all three before him, strung up in this church, two bodies burned and blackened, the other lily-white.

Out he came, reeling through the porch and into the dizzying sun, glancing over his shoulder as he hurried along the street, bundling into people and searching for Mother in the windows of each store. She wasn’t in any of them. He walked the length of the street and came back again, then found her hurrying along the courthouse path, head down, arms folded, hair unraveled from its pin. He went to meet her; she only noticed him waiting when they were almost face-to-face.

‘Tommy? What is it? What’s wrong?’

‘Nothing—where you been?’

‘Church, like I told you.’

‘I went to the church…’ Tommy said, his voice trailing off. He looked beyond her to the courthouse, its thick black doors in a clean white wall, the little yard in front, the grooves of the wooden stocks rubbed so smooth they shone. He focused on Mother again. ‘What were you doing in there?’

‘Nothing,’ she said, touching her cheek.

‘Why’d you go in then?’

‘For goodness’ sake, Tommy. I was just saying hello to an old friend.’

‘What friend?’

‘It’s none of your business. Come on, we’re going home.’

As they walked past the Bewley Hotel, the men at the railing leered. Filthy and ale-faced, Tommy saw how they stared at Mother. He read their whispers, the little comments they made. A voice called after them, ‘I’ve got a shilling you can make, love. Won’t take long. Put a smile on that pretty face.’

Thick laughter went up. Mother took hold of Tommy’s arm and pulled him close, dragging him along the street. When they reached Spruhl’s store, Tommy unhitched Jess and walked her clear of the rail, maneuvered the empty dray, and both of them climbed onto the bench. Tommy glanced back at the hotel. A couple of men had drifted down from the verandah and were idling along the road. One began humping the air. ‘Just ignore them, Tommy,’ Mother whispered. He flicked the reins and they moved on. A glass bottle smashed behind them. Again Tommy turned. One of the men was waving, and on the verandah of Song’s Hardware Store, a slender figure withdrew from the railing and went inside through the door.
In two hundred pages’ time, Tommy will return to Bewley alone, brutally and irrevocably changed by the intervening weeks, and a devastating truth will be revealed. These two Bewley chapters book-end the long middle section of the novel, during which Tommy’s family meets with tragedy and he and his brother Billy take up with a posse of Queensland Native Police, heading into the Outback on a bloody quest for revenge. There is some deliberate mirroring between the two Bewley chapters, revealing the depth of change in Tommy, and, in the second, setting up the denouement to come. Compare the following extract from page 276, after Tommy has realised the truth about all he has done, propelling the novel to its conclusion as he rides back to confront that central deception head-on:
Tommy stopped in the middle of the road, clutching his stomach, his mouth open in a long and empty howl. He arched his back and gazed pleadingly at the sky, the clouds, at whatever lay above, then trudged up the road to Beau and fell against him, his head on his rib cage, feeling the strength of him, the warmth. He unhitched the reins, dragged himself into the saddle, and circled the horse around. Gaunt faces watching him, in windows, in doorways. As he walked Beau towards the edge of town he saw a girl step from the shadows in front of Song’s Hardware Store. She stood at the railing and spoke his name, but Tommy did not turn as he passed. He couldn’t bear to look at her. The way she’d said it—innocently, tenderly—it hadn’t sounded like his name at all.

Ahead the sun was falling in the west, and in the low light the earth and sky and all before him was red. He kicked on and rode right into it. Into the redness. Into the sun.
Learn more about Only Killers and Thieves, and follow Paul Howarth on Twitter.

Writers Read: Paul Howarth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 1, 2018

"The Storm King"

Brendan Duffy is an editor and the author of The Storm King and House of Echoes. In 2015, he was featured in Refinery29's "21 New Authors You Need to Know." He lives in New York, where he is at work on his next novel.

Duffy applied the Page 69 Test to The Storm King and reported the following:
The Storm King is carefully layered novel about a man who’s returning to his hometown after a long absence. The plot has many of interwoven elements, but the narrative’s spine is a murder mystery connected to two main timelines. Our protagonist, Nate, is a bit of an enigma when we begin, but we know that he has some darkness in his past: specifically that he did some bad things in his youth. Page 69 happens to be the last page in a chapter that’s set in his high school days, and articulates the motivation that drove Nate in the past and haunts him in the present:
There were true monsters here at the Lake. Lucy wasn’t one of them, and they didn’t infest the halls of the Night Ship. Beasts like Mr. Vanhouten and Owen’s mom were the real enemy. They infected this town—and like any disease, they had to be treated. Like the pain they caused, they had to be burned away.

“We’ll get him, Johnny,” Nate said.
The others turned to him.
“Your mom, too, Owen.” He felt his mouth crease into a smile.

“What do you mean?” Tom asked.

Nate decided that neither he nor his friends would ever be victims again.

He grinned because he understood that while misery was an affliction, wrath was a tool. While anguish was weakness, fury was power.

He smiled because at last he knew what to do with his unquenchable rage.
One of the recurring themes of The Storm King are the rippling effects of actions, and the event that precipitated this scene is the inciting incident for much of the book’s events.

I should also mention that this conversation Nate has with his friends takes place in the Night Ship, a colossal abandoned entertainment pier on the outskirts of town and one of my favorite parts of the book. The Storm King straddles several genres—mystery and crime, literary thriller and psychological suspense—but the Night Ship and the things that happen there flirt with horror and push right up to the border of magical realism. I love the kinds of books where conventional genres collide in interesting ways. I feel that approaching a book without being bound by genre conventions helps lays the foundation for a truly original story, which is what I hope I’ve delivered with The Storm King.
Visit Brendan Duffy's website.

Writers Read: Brendan Duffy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Geoff Herbach is the author of the award winning Stupid Fast YA series as well as Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders. His books have been given the 2011 Cybils Award for best YA novel, the Minnesota Book Award, selected for the Junior Library Guild, listed among the year’s best by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association and many state library associations. In the past, he wrote the literary novel, The Miracle Letters of T. Rimberg, produced radio comedy shows and toured rock clubs telling weird stories. Herbach teaches creative writing at Minnesota State, Mankato. He lives in a log cabin with a tall wife.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Hooper, and reported the following:
From page 69:
But to me he says, "That's amazing work. Just so good, son. My gosh, you're a natural, aren't you?"

"I can't shoot, but my feet can move."

"We can improve that shot. You release at your peak. Carli used to shoot that way, too, and now look at her."

I nod, because she shoots like feathers on a breeze. But then we are done.
Adam, the protagonist, is wickedly athletic. He's had an amazing sophomore season of basketball, because he can essentially jump over anyone he plays against. He has only been playing for a couple of years, though. In this scene, he is working with the small-college coach in the town where he lives. He's beginning to see how much he doesn't know and how much work he'll have to do. This is a classic sports story trope. The protagonist is committing to do the work necessary. In order for the rest of the book to work, this kind of thing needs to be set up. I want the reader to feel like they're heading exactly into that story. The underdog will fight over hurdles and what doesn’t kill him makes him stronger, all leading to an epic battle, challenging the will, and, of course, ending in victory. But in the second half of the book, the context shifts, and Adam has to prove that he’s learned a lot more than basketball from having been well-loved by his adoptive mother, and cared for by his best friends Barry and Carli, and, then, by being supported by members of the killer AAU team he’s been recruited to play for. The book is in love with basketball (because I’m in love with basketball), but it’s about being a decent human being.
Visit Geoff Herbach's website.

Writers Read: Geoff Herbach.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 25, 2018


Jane Lindskold is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning, internationally published author of over twenty-five novels, seventy-some works of short fiction, and a variety of non-fiction.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Asphodel, and reported the following:
Since Asphodel is a relatively short novel (174 pages in the trade paperback), page 69 falls solidly in the middle of the story.

Happily, though, page 69 provides a fairly good idea of what’s going on – and how very odd those goings on can be. In the first full paragraph, our nameless protagonist gathers up her companions, Muriel and Puck, and heads “for the appropriate window.”
…when we look down we see the world that somehow touches the tower’s base. The shining sands are there as before, but there is no sign of the moon rabbits. Rather than going off blindly, I settle myself in to wait, for if there is anything I have, it is time.

However, as I stare out at the blank white landscape, I let my desire quest out from me, holding all the questions that had filled me as I had laid my plans. Who is the lady? Is she the only person on the Moon? Does she have a house or maybe a palace? What does she do other than stroll about with the rabbits? Are there other creatures on the Moon?

Slowly, as if my questions have created the need for an answer, the perspective shifts so that we are no longer looking down upon the silvery sands, but are looking across the moonscape, as one does a picture – or a TV screen. And there, as if inviting us forth, is a path through the shining silvery white landscape….
Certainly, if I was reading this, I’d keep reading, if only to find out where that path takes them. I might also be wondering how it is that these windows change perspective. I might be teased by the reference to the “appropriate window.” Are there then other windows? Where do they go?

Therefore, rather than reading ahead, I might turn to the beginning, walking with the characters into the puzzle that lies at the heart of Asphodel.
Visit Jane Lindskold's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue