Thursday, May 24, 2018

"The Cactus"

Sarah Haywood was born in Birmingham. She studied Law at Kent University and Chester College of Law, then worked as a trainee solicitor in London.

After qualification, she moved to Liverpool, working first as a solicitor, then as an advice worker with Citizens Advice. She subsequently joined the Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman, where she investigated complaints about lawyers.

Haywood completed an Open University Creative Writing Course, followed by an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She lives in Liverpool with her husband and two sons.

Haywood applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Cactus, and reported the following:
At the age of forty-five, Susan Green finds that her carefully-constructed world is turned upside down; one of the catalysts is her unexpected pregnancy. The soon-to-be father is Richard, a man with whom she’s had a ‘relationship’ of mutual convenience based on the strict understanding that there’s no emotional involvement from either party. The Cactus is written from Susan’s perspective, so we’re in her head the whole time. Page 69 begins with her explaining to the reader why she’s ended the arrangement with Richard, who, annoyingly, is standing on her doorstep:
I could imagine the scene being played out: I tell Richard I’m pregnant; he assumes I’ve done it deliberately because I want a baby or some kind of permanence to our relationship; I try to convince him that it’s the last thing on earth I’d want to happen; he offers gallantly to pay for the termination and accompany me to the clinic; I seethe with anger at his condescension and pity. No, much better to end it cleanly and swiftly.
It’s clear from this paragraph that Susan is a strong-minded, independent woman. All well and good, but she’s taken it to extremes. She refuses to be swayed by emotion and is determined to rely on logic alone when making her life choices. She never lets down her guard, so she can never be hurt.

Later on page 69, Richard, who has no idea that Susan’s carrying his child, endeavours to persuade her to resume their personal arrangement. In the course of his appeal, he says:
“I understand why you sent (the message ending the relationship). You want something beyond what we currently have, some guarantee that you won’t be alone as you enter middle age. I didn’t think I’d be able to make such a commitment, but if not doing so means I’m going to forfeit our time together, then I’m prepared to give you what you want.”
Richard genuinely believes he’s offering Susan what she desires: more regular contact and a greater commitment from him. We know better. With his self-conscious magnanimity, Richard’s not only being as tactless as Susan can be herself (“alone”, “middle age”), he’s also completely misinterpreting her motives.

So, is page 69 representative of the rest of The Cactus? Not entirely. There’s an element of humour, as there is throughout the book. Here, it’s in Richard’s pomposity and obliviousness; in the rest of the novel, it’s in Susan’s rigid but misguided opinions, and in the eccentric people she encounters. Page 69 gives both a snapshot of Susan’s character early on in the novel, and the background to her decision to proceed with the pregnancy alone. What’s missing, though, are the other main plot threads: Susan’s efforts to overturn her mother’s will favouring her brother, Edward; her exploration of her family history; and her developing relationships with Edward’s best friend, Rob, and her neighbour, Kate. It’s these experiences, as much as the prospect of becoming a mother, which cause Susan to bloom.
Visit Sarah Haywood's website.

Writers Read: Sarah Haywood.

My Book, The Movie: The Cactus.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"Onyx & Ivory"

Mindee Arnett is the author of the critically acclaimed sci-fi thriller Avalon as well as the Arkwell Academy series and the newly released Onyx and Ivory. An avid eventer, she lives on a farm near Dayton, Ohio with her husband, two kids, and assorted animals. When not telling tales of magic, the supernatural, or outer space, she can be found on a horse, trying to jump anything that will stand still.

Arnett applied the Page 69 Test to Onyx and Ivory and reported the following:
From page 69:
…but the threat of the wilders wasn’t new, just the notion of them banding together. Even still, he couldn’t see their threat being the reason a magist would invent a spell that could kill so quickly. Wilders weren’t to be executed on the spot but taken prisoner for the Purging, a ritual designed to rid the world or their magic once and for all.
The above quote from page 69 of my latest book, Onyx & Ivory, is surprisingly indicative of the rest of the story. It deals specifically with the heart of the external conflict and plot—the ongoing political struggle between the two groups of magic users in this world, magists and wilders. Without giving away too many spoilers, readers will eventually discover that the main difference between these groups is more political than physiological (magicological?). In other words, one group of these magic users, the magists, have been recognized as being useful and safe by the powers that be. They’ve been embraced by society at large and even enjoy a privileged status among the people—hence their ability to invent new spells and use them. The other group however, the wilders, have been deemed dangerous and are forced to live in hiding.

The point of view character in this passage is Corwin Tormane, the second born prince of the high king, and a person who just so happens to be in a position of power. This conversation, taking place with one of the magists, is the start of Corwin’s journey in realizing the politics involved in singling out one group of people or another, and what he might or might not need to do to correct the situation.
Visit Mindee Arnett's website.

The Page 69 Test: Avalon.

Writers Read: Mindee Arnett.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 21, 2018

"The Blues Walked In"

Kathleen George is the author of The Johnstown Girls, a novel about the famous Johnstown flood. She has also written seven mysteries set in Pittsburgh: A Measure of Blood, Simple, The Odds, which was nominated for the Edgar® Award from the Mystery Writers of America, Hideout, Afterimage, Fallen, and Taken. George is also the author of the short story collection The Man in the Buick and editor of another collection, Pittsburgh Noir. She is a professor of theater arts and creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh.

George applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Blues Walked In, and reported the following:
On Page 69 of The Blues Walked, Marie David, who has worn nothing but stitched and mended hand-me-downs all her life buys a new coat. It’s not exactly new in that it has been returned to Gimbels after too long a time by a customer who changed her mind. This purchase is representative of a couple of things (I am thrilled to learn.) It’s the coat that will make her look much more sophisticated than she is and will cause her to be mistaken for Lena Horne. It is also like a coat Lena remembers from her childhood, something her father bought her, in a rich royal blue. The coat links these two women who are of different races and economic backgrounds. The things they share are emotionally bare childhoods and a love of movies, a love that has both of them dreaming about being discovered and put on the screen.

They also share a fascination with a charismatic young man Josiah (a Negro in the language of the day) who wants to be a movie director. They know there is something special about him. Both of them respond to his kindness and his emotional intelligence. When he’s jailed and accused of murder, both women go to the jail protesting. The officers only see a blue coat in one case and coifed hair and dark skin in both cases. They are not looking. They already have opinions about race and those opinions toss everybody—and unfortunately Josiah—onto the expendable pile.

I’m thrilled to learn that page 69 “talks” the language of the book. This test is always a terror. What if there’s nothing there? I always ask before I look. Whew.
Learn more about the book and author at Kathleen George's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 20, 2018

"The French Girl"

Lexie Elliott grew up in Scotland, at the foot of the Highlands. She graduated from Oxford University, where she obtained a doctorate in theoretical physics. A keen sportswoman, she works in fund management in London, where she lives with her husband and two sons. The rest of her time is spent writing, or thinking about writing, and juggling family life and sport.

Elliott applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The French Girl, and reported the following:
In The French Girl, page 69 spans the end of one scene and the start of another. Nevertheless, the combination rather neatly captures not only the essence of the novel but also that of the main protagonist, Kate. By page 69, Kate is both struggling with the re-surfacing of painful decade-old memories, stirred up by the discovery of the corpse of the eponymous French girl, and grimly aware that it would take something of a miracle to save her fledgling business. Both are taking a toll on her sense of self, as we see in the first section when she catches a glimpse of her own reflection in a shop window:
I disconnect then look up to see my ghostly self hovering in front of a swimwear montage, a smile still in place from the phone call that fades as I watch. The promise of a new life, a different life, still lies tantalizingly in reach.
In the next scene, we see two inherent characteristics of Kate’s personality: her commitment to facing her difficulties head-on, and her dark humour. We also see Kate’s warmth for Tom. It becomes clear to the reader that his presence back in England, after a long period living in Boston, is an emotional crutch for Kate; we begin to worry that she might be blinded by their shared affection:
I’ve been expecting a call from him, to tell me he’s awarding the contract to a rival firm. I could do without the final nail in the coffin…but why delay the inevitable? “Put him through, please.”

The phone in front of me buzzes after a moment. I find a smile to drape on my lips. “Good afternoon, Gordon. How are you?”

“Very well, thank you. Is this a good time?”

“Absolutely. Fire away.” Fire away. Not that he can really fire me since he’s never actually hired me, but still, the inadvertent gallows humor amuses me. I will tell Tom that later, I think. I can already see his eyes crinkling above that unmistakeable nose.
So: memories and ghosts and for Kate, a shifting sense of her own place in both her past and her present. I think it’s a fairly representative page. But perhaps you should buy the book and judge for yourself.
Visit Lexie Elliott's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 19, 2018

"Sign of the Cross"

Glenn Cooper graduated with a degree in archaeology from Harvard and was formerly the Chairman and CEO of a biotechnology company in Massachusetts. His previous thrillers, including the bestselling Library of the Dead trilogy, have sold six million copies in more than thirty languages worldwide.

Cooper applied the Page 69 Test to his new religious conspiracy thriller, Sign of the Cross, and reported the following:
My favorite page in the book! Well, maybe not, but an interesting page to illustrate an important point about Sign of the Cross in particular, and thrillers in general. In the book which is the first in a new series, Cal Donovan, professor of history of religion and archaeology at the Harvard Divinity School, is asked by the Vatican to investigate the case of a young Italian priest who develops the stigmata of the wounds of the crucified Christ. Is the priest a faker or might this be a real miracle?

The page involves the book’s antagonist, Schneider, and his nefarious organization, and here I use the device of a new recruit to illuminate some of the group’s backstory. Thrillers, by nature, cannot work without the duality of a protagonist and an antagonist. I’m not the only thriller writer who’s found that coming up with strong, believable, multidimensional bad guys is really the name of the game. Good guys are easy to invent, bad guys are hard. Early on in my writing career, a mentor who earned his bones in the thriller game told me to study Ken Follett’s The Man From St. Petersburg, where equal page count is devoted to the protagonist and the antagonist. That lesson stuck with me and I take a measure of pride in crafting good bad guys.
Visit Glenn Cooper's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 18, 2018

"A Lite Too Bright"

Samuel Miller was born and raised in Vermillion, South Dakota, and now resides in Los Angeles, where, in addition to writing, he directs music videos and coaches Little League Baseball. He began writing his first novel while on tour in a fifteen-passenger van with the rock band Paradise Fears. A Lite Too Bright is his debut novel. Currently he attends graduate school at the University of Southern California. He credits his existence entirely to two spectacular parents, three brothers, one sister, and the best and sweetest puppy dog on the whole planet, Addison.

Miller applied the Page 69 Test to A Lite Too Bright and reported the following:
Page 69 of A Lite Too Bright is entirely dedicated to a public address announcement made by the conductor of the Zeyphr train (his second of six such announcements in the novel), alerting the train passengers their next stop is Elko, Nevada. While this may not contain much literal information about the plot, I think it captures the essence of the book in a couple of subtle ways:

The conductor is about as modern, middle America as you can get; he sounds like someone straight out of my youth, false enthusiasm & all, & to me, a lot of this book is about trying to create that world for the reader. He's expressing his frustration with people getting off to smoke at stops when they're not supposed to; but truly, as he reveals, his frustration is with the organization & bureaucracy of his superiors. Truthfully, he doesn't care about what people do, he just hates that he's made to care, because he has to, because of the way systems of power & money are structured in the world-- also an over-arching theme & common attitude amongst characters.

Mostly though, it just tells the readers where we are....
Visit Samuel Miller's website.

Writers Read: Samuel Miller.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"The Accidental Bad Girl"

Maxine Kaplan was born in Washington, DC. She and her twin sister spent their early childhoods trotting behind their journalist parents as they traveled around the world, eventually settling in Brooklyn, NY. Maxine graduated from Oberlin College in 2007. Following a long stint in the world of publishing, she has worked as a private investigator since 2009. She lives in her adopted hometown of Brooklyn, NY, with her lovely husband and complex cat.

Kaplan applied the Page 69 Test to The Accidental Bad Girl, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Accidental Bad Girl is both representative of the book as a whole and not representative. I don’t think this page out of context will give away the central conflicts of the book; it doesn’t tell you anything about the plot or even the genre. But what I think it does convey is the underlying conflicts of the book—the themes that undergird all the action. Specifically, this page concerns the contrast between reputation and lived experience; between trust your interpretation of your actions over the wider world’s impression of them. It also highlights the focus on sexual double standards and the slut-shaming that we still haven’t gotten over as a society, and which teenage girls deal with on a daily basis.
“Kendall, talk to me,” she said earnestly, grabbing my wrist. “I’m your friend.”

“Get away from me,” I hissed at her, trying to extricate my arm.

Audrey suddenly let go and buried her face in her hands. When she looked up there were tears in her eyes. I would have been impressed if I hadn't been there the first time Audrey cried on demand, to get out of trouble when she snuck into the hotel pool on the eighth grade field trip to DC. But I had been the only one there, so when she did it now, a hush fell over the hallway as Audrey hunched over and her shoulders shook.

“When you did what you did with Grant, I was angry, but I hoped our friendship would eventually get past it,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, it was a real betrayal, but I told myself to remember how frustrating it must have been for you, to watch your friend with the guy you secretly wanted. I felt bad for you. But it’s because I assumed you liked him, not that it was about sex!”

She drew a raggedy gasp and continued, with narrowed, clear eyes staring straight at me. “Now I’m just worried about you, Kendall. Despite everything, I still care about you and I don’t want you to put yourself in dangerous situations. Grant is one thing, but strangers? Where are you meeting these guys? How old are they? Are you being safe?”

At each question, her voice went an octave higher, painting pictures in my head—and everyone else's heads.
I’m actually pretty pleased with page 69 as representative of Bad Girl. Gives nothing away while telling you what it’s worried about. Not a bad test...
Visit Maxine Kaplan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"Nightblade's Honor"

Ryan Kirk is an author and entrepreneur based out of Minnesota. He is the author of the Nightblade series of fantasy novels and the founder of Waterstone Media.

Kirk applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Nightblade's Honor, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I have, of course, heard the stories of the skill blades possess, but I have never seen anything like that in my life. How good are you?”

“Better than many, but far from the best,” she replied. Telling the truth also felt good. She was tired of hiding and lying just to stay safe.
Unlike my last attempt at this experiment, in this case, page 69 is a wonderful microcosm of the book as a whole. In the scene, Asa, one of the protagonists, has just been discovered as a nightblade. Nightblades have protected the Kingdom for many years now, but at this time in the story, they are being hunted for their perceived crimes, and Asa has been on the run since the beginning of the book.

As I was writing this book, I was fascinated by the question: "What happens when society turns its back on its protectors?" Within this scene, one possibility begins to play out as a retired soldier realizes the person he invited into his house is much more than she seems. This is the beginning of a series of scenes I greatly enjoyed writing, and so I'm excited it popped up on the Page 69 Test!
Visit Ryan Kirk's website.

The Page 69 Test: Nightblade's Vengeance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

"Bad Cops"

Nick Oldham was born in April 1956 in a house in the tiny village of Belthorn on the moors high above Blackburn, Lancashire.

After leaving college and spending a depressing year in a bank, he joined Lancashire Constabulary at the age of nineteen in 1975 and served in many operational postings around the county. Most of his service was spent in uniform, but the final ten years were spent as a trainer and a manager in police training. He retired in 2005 at the rank of inspector.

He lives with his partner, Belinda, on the outskirts of Preston.

Oldham applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Bad Cops, and reported the following:
I scoffed at this concept! Until I read page 69 and began to think that maybe it was representative of the rest of the book, and I suppose that one should be able to take any random page and apply that question ... But my page 69, much to my delight, said so much about the book. First of all, I think it's quite a funny page – Henry Christie is being tailed by two corrupt but inept detectives who do not like each other very much, one of whom has been eating too much fast food which plays havoc with his digestive system, and also discloses Henry's love of carrot cake – but it is also something more than this, and I think the book is summed up in a short sentence said by one of the bad guys to the other as they drive past Henry, who is sitting outside a cafĂ© eating said cake, as this bad guy suddenly realizes something profound about Henry: 'This fucker is gonna haunt us.' And in that succinct phrase we readers learn something (which we may already know about Henry if we've read other books in the series): Once Henry Christie is on your tail, he is not gonna let go, whatever the cost.
Follow Nick Oldham on Facebook and Twitter.

Writers Read: Nick Oldham.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 14, 2018

"The Perfect Mother"

Aimee Molloy is the author of the New York Times bestseller However Long the Night: Molly Melching’s Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph and the co-author of several non-fiction books, including Jantsen’s Gift, with Pam Cope.

Molloy applied the Page 69 Test to The Perfect Mother, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69:
“What’s your story?” Colette had asked Winnie. But she waved away the question.

“We’ll save that one for another time,” she said, rifling through her wallet. An older woman in front of them turned, a paper cup of roasted nuts in her hands. She smiled, noticing the rise of their bellies. The woman placed her free hand on Winnie’s arm. “You have no idea what you two are in for,” she said, her eyes moist. “The world’s most wonderful gift.”

“That was sweet,” Colette said, after the woman walked away.

“You think so?” Winnie wasn’t looking at her, though. She was staring past her, beyond the stone wall, into the park. “Why does everybody like to tell new mothers what we’re about to gain? Why does nobody want to talk about what we have to lose?”

As she climbs the steps of City Hall, Colette’s thoughts turn to the caption she’d read under Midas’ photo: The baby’s Sophie the Giraffe, a plastic squeak toy from France popular with American parents, and a blue baby’s blanket are also missing. The police are asking anyone with information to call 1-800-NYPDTIP.

Whoever took Midas: why would they take those things? It’s good news, Colette decides, stepping into the elevator. After all, only a person who loves him—or at least someone who doesn’t intend to hurt him—would think to also take his favorite blanket and toy.
How interesting! I think the page 69 test works quite well here, as it raises two questions central to the mystery of what happened to baby Midas, who was abducted from his crib while his sitter slept on the couch.

First, Colette is remembering back a few months to a conversation she had with Winnie (it is her son who was abducted). Winnie and she were still pregnant and Colette remembers an odd comment Winnie made that day--“Why does everybody like to tell new mothers what we’re about to gain? Why does nobody want to talk about what we have to lose?” This comment would come to haunt Colette, making her question what role, if any, Winnie had in what happened to her son that night.

And second, it sets out that whoever took Midas also took his favorite blanket or toy. Hmmmm…what could that mean?
Visit Aimee Molloy's website.

Writers Read: Aimee Molloy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 13, 2018

"Positively Izzy"

Terri Libenson is the cartoonist of the internationally syndicated daily comic strip, The Pajama Diaries. She was also a long-time humorous card writer for American Greetings. She won numerous awards for her greeting cards and was the creator of a top-selling card line, “Skitch.” Terri has also written for,, and

Libenson applied the Page 69 Test to her new graphic novel, Positively Izzy, and reported the following:
Positively Izzy is told from the perspective of two girls, Brianna and Izzy. Page 69 falls during one of Izzy’s chapters. Here, we see Izzy’s mom walking in to their apartment with groceries, ready to chastise her daughter after finding something which turns out to be Izzy’s unfinished take-home test.

This page represents Izzy and her mother’s relationship, which is an important part of the story; Izzy constantly fails to be productive in school, and her mother always worries about her. It’s a tension that builds until an ultimate conflict occurs between mother and daughter. Page 69 is a big predictor of what’s to come.
Visit Terri Libenson's website.

Writers Read: Terri Libenson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 11, 2018

"Orphan Monster Spy"

Matt Killeen was born in Birmingham, in the UK, back when trousers were wide and everything was brown. Early instruction in his craft included being told that a drawing of a Cylon exploding isn’t writing and copying-out your mother’s payslip isn’t an essay “about my family.” Several alternative careers beckoned, some involving laser guns and guitars, before he finally returned to words and attempted to make a living as an advertising copywriter and largely ignored music and sports journalist. He now writes for the world’s best loved toy company, as it wasn’t possible to be an X-wing pilot. Married to his Nuyorican soul mate, he is parent to both an unfeasibly clever teenager and a toddler who is challenging his father’s anti-establishment credentials by repeatedly writing on the walls. He accidentally moved to the countryside in 2016.

Killeen applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Orphan Monster Spy, and reported the following:
I’m a bit sceptical of the concept behind this, mostly because text and layout vary between editions, however page 69 of the UK edition of Orphan Monster Spy is indeed a bit pivotal. It’s the moment that The Captain is confirmed as a spy as a result of Sarah’s investigations…
“Some things, I don’t know what they are. But you’re a spy.”

“That so?”

“If those things weren’t locked up I wouldn’t have been sure, but they were hidden, so they’re secret. That makes you a spy.”

It’s also the moment she is given her little monster identity, the start of her journey to become a spy herself.

Sarah opened the card. There she was, standing against the hall wall, with the name Ursula Bettina Haller. Most miraculously of all, the papers were unstamped. There was no red J, no police station attendance stamps. Ursula was German and she wasn’t Jewish.

“Why are you doing this?” Sarah felt something – an itch in the corner of her eyes, and it left her breathless. It took her a few seconds to recognize the emotion, so long had it been since she’d been grateful. It made her feel vulnerable and she was immediately suspicious of it.
She ceases to be the orphan from this point on. It marks the end of the “origin story” and the start of the mission. I used to read this bit on my author visits…I’ve been advised to go for a more high-octane bit.
Orphan Monster Spy is on Jenny Kawecki's list of seven YA titles with undercover spies.

Follow Matt Killeen on Twitter.

Writers Read: Matt Killeen.

--Marshal Zeringue