Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells"

Andrew Sean Greer is the bestselling author of The Story of a Marriage and The Confessions of Max Tivoli, which was named one of the best books of 2004 by the San Francisco Chronicle and received a California Book Award. He is currently a fellow at the New York Public Library Cullman Center. He lives in San Francisco.

Greer applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, and reported the following:
Here is page 69:
Later, as we made our way to the restaurant in a cab, I told him I had misstepped slightly in my conversation with his wife, and Felix glared at me with his lower lip pressed out. He was thinking something through. “What do you mean?” he asked. “Of course that’s fine, I just forgot to tell her. She knows Alan, he did my will. Don’t make her think my life is so mysterious, bubs.” He laughed, then looked out the window the way you do in cabs, finger to his chin, and I understood how deep he must be in.

* * *
How strange. To step into the Oak Room in my velvet dress and feathered explosion of a hat, purse under my arm like a baguette, chandelier glitter on everyone’s shoulders and see Alan there!

Sitting at table with his hands in a teepee, waiter beside him, silver hair cut military style, a wide-shouldered suit, but the same square lined face as ever! Same green glazed eyes! Big and broad and healthy as he had been when I’d first met him, years before. I wanted to run up and tell some old Felix joke only we knew and see his Midwestern countenance turn red with pleasure. Then pat my arm to comfort me. Over the beloved dead.

But I couldn’t. Because Felix was not dead. He was here beside me, talking to the maitre d’. And I couldn’t run up to Alan because he didn’t know me. I was only now—as he stood up and visibly, nervously swallowed—meeting him for the first time.

“Hello,” I said, smiling and taking his hand, “So you’re my brother’s lover?”
It makes no sense at all! And why? Because it's a novel with a conceit—that Greta Wells wakes up in alternative versions of her world, ones in which she and everyone she knows are living in different eras—and without understanding that conceit, this just looks like madness! Which is rather fun for me, because of course it is madness! Greta, in whose 1985 her brother Felix has died, has found herself in a 1941 world where her brother is alive! And here she is being introduced to a man she knew very well in her world—Felix' lover Alan—as if they were strangers. To the men, it is normal. To Greta, it is absurd and wonderful. I had a great deal of fun with this scene, but I wonder what on earth a reader would make of it picking up the book!
Learn more about the book and author at Andrew Sean Greer's website and follow him on Facebook.

Writers Read: Andrew Sean Greer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"The Wishing Hill"

Holly Robinson is an award-winning journalist whose work appears regularly in national venues such as Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Open Salon, and Parents. She also works as a ghost writer on celebrity memoirs, education texts, and health books. Her first book, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir, was named a Target Breakout Book. Her first novel, Sleeping Tigers, was named a 2011 Book of the Year Finalist by ForeWord Reviews and was more recently listed as a Semifinalist 2012 Best Indie Book by Kindle Book Review. She holds a B.A. in biology from Clark University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Robinson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Wishing Hill, and reported the following:
Shortly after my dad died, my mother moved to an apartment just two blocks from my house and I assumed responsibility for getting her settled as she mourned her loss. Though my mom is, thankfully, still in good health even in her early eighties, this event inspired me to write my new novel, The Wishing Hill. Checking out page 69 highlights one of the main themes threading through the novel, which is that becoming a caretaker for an aging parent can stir up an emotional tsunami of grief, irritation, rebellion, joy, disappointment—you name it.

The novel's main character, Juliet Clark, gave up her life in California to follow the man she loved to Mexico and pursue her dream of being an artist. When her brother asks her to come home to wintery New England and care for their ailing mother, a flamboyant actress, Juliet hesitates. She and her self-absorbed mother, Desiree, have always clashed. Plus, nobody back home knows about her divorce—or the fact that she’s pregnant and her ex-husband is not the father. Juliet intends to get her mother back on her feet and return to Mexico fast, but instead she's drawn into a a long-running feud between her mother and a reclusive neighbor. Little does she know that these relationships hold the key to shocking secrets about her family and herself that have been hiding in plain sight.…

On page 69, Juliet has come home from Mexico and is visiting her mother at the nursing home where Desiree is recovering from hip surgery. During this scene, Desiree chides Juliet for feeling sad about her marriage breaking up, then has a fit when Juliet says that she has called a contractor to renovate the house to make it more accessible to Desiree as she ages. The tensions between them are plain in this bit of dialogue:
“You've gained weight,” Desiree observed, cocking her head at Juliet. “Stress eating since he left you?”

“Probably.” Juliet crossed her arms in front of the borrowed sweater.

“I don't imagine you can help it,” Desiree said. “It's lucky you can eat, of course. When I lost my first love, Buddy, I couldn't choke down a thing. Everyone kept telling me I should be a model—I was that thin. I'm sure I would have faded to nothing if your father hadn't come along to distract me.”

“You look good now.”

“That's because I make an effort. The difference between looking good and letting yourself go is really just a matter of ten minutes a day devoted to skin care and a little willpower about what you put in your mouth.”
Learn more about the book and author at Holly Robinson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 29, 2013

"Nearer Home"

Born in Miami, Joy Castro is the author of The Truth Book: A Memoir (University of Nebraska), the literary thriller Hell or High Water (St. Martin’s), and the essay collection Island of Bones (University of Nebraska).

Castro applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Nearer Home, which is a sequel to Hell or High Water, and reported the following:
Page 69 quietly suggests several issues that are important in Nearer Home. It opens with the protagonist, Nola CĂ©spedes, going for her usual morning run—which has become anything but routine:
When it’s time to run alongside the length of Audubon Park on St. Charles, I watch for suspicious lurkers. A few joggers run in pairs on the asphalt track. I stick to the sidewalk.
Nola is cautious because she discovered, on her usual run only the day before, a dead body in Audubon Park. And it was someone she knew: her former journalism professor at Tulane. Even though she’s been working the crime beat at the Times-Picayune for a year, Nola is still shaken. Audubon Park and St. Charles are high-end areas of New Orleans; middle-class white people who play by the rules, like her professor, are supposed to be safe there. Nearer Home takes that assumption apart.

It’s also telling that Nola, unlike the joggers who run together in pairs, runs alone. Hell or High Water established her as a lone wolf, and though she’s opening up a bit in Nearer Home, she’s still fundamentally on her own.

In the next paragraph, another key issue arises:
Sweat soaked, I get home and let myself into the silent apartment, reveling in the double shower heads and ample water pressure of Soline’s walk-in shower.
Nola has been subletting from Soline, her wealthy friend, because of the sluggish post-Katrina housing market. As a girl who grew up in the projects, Nola loves the unaccustomed luxuries, but she can’t quite get used to them. For her, there’s a psychological tension between calling it “home” and the fact that it’s still “Soline’s.”
Once I’m dressed for work—black blouse, red skirt—I call Senator Claiborne’s office for an interview. I give my press credentials, leaving out the fact that my usual beat is crime.
Here we see Nola dressing in characteristically dramatic colors. Then she calls the senator whose information has turned up on the dead professor’s computer. The fact that Nola deliberately fails to mention her position as a crime reporter is typical; she’s not above lies of omission, or worse, to get her story. In fact, she tells the secretary that she plans “to write a positive profile, a feature in preparation for his 2010 campaign.”

Because Senator Claiborne’s secretary is reluctant to schedule the interview, the rest of the page consists of Nola’s attempts to sweet-talk her way in the door—which she ultimately succeeds in doing. Very typical Nola.
Learn more about the book and author at Joy Castro’s website and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Hell or High Water.

Writers Read: Joy Castro (July 2012).

Writers Read: Joy Castro.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 27, 2013

"Mystery Girl"

David Gordon was born in New York City. He attended Sarah Lawrence College and holds an MA in English and Comparative Literature and an MFA in Writing, both from Columbia University, and has worked in film, fashion, publishing, and pornography. His first novel, The Serialist, won the VCU/Cabell First Novel Award and was a finalist for an Edgar Award. His work has also appeared in The Paris Review, Purple, and Fence among other publications.

Gordon applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Mystery Girl, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
It was MJ. Apparently she hadn’t gone home after all. I knocked. The voice stopped abruptly, and a brown eye, bright but glazed with a wine reduction, appeared in the little tear. I waved at the eyeball and it blinked. The door opened. She looked a little off, with a crooked smile and a bottle in her hand.

“Why are you still here?”

I gathered from her mutterings that she’d been fighting with her girlfriend, which helped explain her bitter take on relationships earlier in the evening. Drawn by nostalgia, she’d remained in the empty bookstore to drink, recite poetry, and curse womankind, and we ended up moping side by side on the bookstore’s back steps, where her old desk and abandoned belongings had been dumped by the painters. I found such conversations enormously rewarding, being able to rage against my wife, love, and female inconstancy, without threatening my image of myself as a liberated, prowoman type, though I was still too inhibited to refer to “bitches” with MJ’s utter contempt.

In the end, however, even my anti-life-partner turned on me. “You know what your problem is? How come no one wants to read your books?” She drunkenly poked my heart with her finger. “You can’t tell a fucking story.” Especially when drunk, MJ cursed with the relish of the deeply uptight, savoring the juice of her sin, while a degenerate like Milo, who might ask your aunt to please pass the fucking salt, didn’t even realize he might offend.

“What do you mean can’t?” I asked.

“Contraction of can fucking not.”

“I just told you the whole sad story of my marriage.”

“That was a goddamn bummer. A boring bummer. A borner, which is the opposite of a boner.”

“I agree. That’s my point. I choose not to tell stories. They’re borners. Traditional narrative structure seems totally irrelevant to actual experience today. I mean, what in your life has a regular beginning, middle, and end?”

She shrugged. “How about the part where I’m born, live awhile and die? With blank pages before and after.”

“OK, point taken. But then what about all those poets you read? They don’t make sense either.”

“Poems are short. They don’t have to make sense. Like a day at the beach or a quick fuck. Novels take forever. Like life or marriage or grad school. They need some kind of payoff. A reason to go on.”

“Maybe you’re right.” I sighed. “Maybe I’ve just wasted the last twenty years.”

“Well don’t fill another novel bitching about it.” She punched my arm, kind of hard. “Let’s just fuck.”
Hmm. Well first let me admit that I cheated slightly. Too lazy to type in the text, and without a final copy handy, I cut and pasted this from a proof so it may include a wee bit of page 70 too, but it looked like a good place to stop. It is an odd but perhaps fitting sample. MJ is the protagonist’s friend and former employer, a gay woman who owned a bookshop and did grad work on Modernist poetry. Sam, the narrator, is an aspiring (and despairing) experimental fiction writer who ends up working as a detective after his wife leaves him and MJ’s bookshop closes. Here he finds MJ drunk in her now empty shop, and they are arguing about writing, so it has little direct bearing on the plot, but it does I think give us a glimpse of the kind of people I wanted to write about: smart, foolish, passionate, desperate, angry, horny, heartsick and obsessed with literature, life, love but not having much success solving the mystery of any of it. But don’t worry; there are shoot-outs, sex scenes, succubi and Satanists in the book as well, so it is a proper mystery and not just an emotional and existential thriller.
Learn more about the book and author at David Gordon's blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Serialist.

Writers Read: David Gordon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 26, 2013

"The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane"

Kelly Harms is a former editor and literary agent who has worked with a wide array of bestselling and award-winning authors of commercial fiction. She traded New York City for the writing life in Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives with her adorable and sometimes imperious toddler Griffin.

Harms applied the Page 69 Test to The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane, her first novel, and reported the following:
The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane is the story of two women with the same name—and both become convinced they’ve won the Home Sweet Home million dollar house sweepstakes on their favorite cable network. On page 69, Janey (Janine Brown), Nean (also Janine Browne) and Janey’s cantankerous great Aunt Midge have all arrived at the house they all believe they own outright, and are negotiating the terms of their predicament.

Nean (narrating here) has gotten an idea into her head about how to manipulate her competition. And though she knows she’s wading in rather deep, she plummets ahead…
I look back and forth between them, pretending to weigh my options. “I just don’t know who to trust…”

“If you’re in some bad trouble, maybe you should talk to the police. They’ll help you,” Janey says.

“Or just tell us,” says Aunt Midge with a greedy expression. “We won’t tell a soul, will we, Janey?”

I look to Janey for confirmation. She looks at Aunt Midge. “I don’t know… Maybe it’s better if she goes to the authorities with whatever it is.”

“I could never do that,” I tell her. “It’s too, too… dangerous.” Then I purse my lips and look off into the distance as though I’m trying not to cry.

That does it for Aunt Midge. She is frothing at the mouth with curiosity. “Janey, tell her you won’t tell anyone. Swear it.” Her voice is authoritative enough that even I would obey—so I know reliable Janey will do as she says. She nods.

“Fine. I won’t tell anyone. But I still think you could go to the police.”

I wait another moment for the anticipation to build even more, then take another swig of cold coffee. When I’ve swallowed, I look straight at them and deliver the clincher.
And the excerpt must end there! I cannot deliver the clincher because that would spoil some of the surprise. And yes, this book was written with surprise in mind. In some ways it even surprised me as I was writing it—both main characters were so set in their incredibly dysfunctional ways that they were always going off and doing wild and unhelpful things when I was trying to herd them along into the routes of my plot.

Lucky for all of us, I eventually let them take over, and they had a good time of it. As you can see here, Janey’s skepticism—even cynicism at times-- gets right in her way throughout the story. And Nean never, ever once thinks before she acts. What you don’t see much of here is Aunt Midge, who is perhaps my favorite character. She is an instigator of mischief and a lover of life and a true friend through and through to all who meet her. She brings out the best in our two main characters, and it’s no spoiler to tell you that she also brings them together in a lasting, powerful friendship.

Also missing on this page—Maine and the wonderful local food my characters are always feasting on. For those morsels, you’ll have to read on…
Learn more about the book and author at the official Kelly Harms website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 25, 2013

"The Strangers"

Jacqueline West is passionate about stories where magic intersects with everyday life—from talking cats, to enchanted eyewear, to paintings as portals to other worlds. A former teacher, occasional musician, and two-time Pushcart nominee for poetry, West lives with her husband and her dog, a Springer Spaniel mix named Brom Bones, amid the bluffs of Red Wing, Minnesota. There she dreams of dusty libraries, secret passageways, and more adventures for her characters in "The Books of Elsewhere" series.

West applied the Page 69 Test to The Books of Elsewhere, Volume Four: The Strangers, and reported the following:
I had my doubts that the Page 69 Test would work for The Strangers in a way that wasn’t either baffling or boring—because in this case, looking at page 69 means not just jumping into the middle of a book, but into the middle of a series. The Strangers is the fourth volume of my middle-grade fantasy series The Books of Elsewhere. Volume One: The Shadows, Volume Two: Spellbound, and Volume Three: The Second Spy were released in 2010, 2011, and 2012, and obviously, a lot of story has piled up inside of them. But aside from the slightly overwhelming number of characters, this page represents the book almost eerily well.

Page 69 has my central players—12-year-old Olive Dunwoody, who lives in a house with a long, magical, and dangerous history, her three talking cats, who keep watch over the house, her friend Rutherford, a know-it-all with magical talents of his own, and her friend Morton, who is actually a living painting (See? Middle of a fantasy series)—venturing into the abandoned house next door. They’re following the lead of an awkward young man named Walter, one of the strangers alluded to in the title. Walter claims he’s there for Olive’s protection, but Olive isn’t sure.

The Strangers, like other volumes in the series, often hinges on the issue of trust. Olive has been a shy, independent, often lonely person. Placing her trust in anyone, even people she knows well, is a struggle for her, and now that she has so many secrets of her own to protect, relying on others is especially risky. But at the same time, her own curiosity—and her need to protect her home and her friends—pushes Olive farther and farther into dangerous territory…

From The Books of Elsewhere, Volume Four: The Strangers:
Dead leaves crackled beneath Olive’s feet as she hurried after him, with Rutherford, Morton, and the cats close behind. They edged around the corner of the house, through a clump of withered hydrangeas, into the shelter of the house’s back wall. Through the nearest windows, Olive spotted a flicker of light—the faint, floating glimmer of a candle gliding through the house’s quiet rooms.

She glanced down at Morton, but he wasn’t looking at her. He was watching Walter, who had stopped at the back door, with one hand pressed against the wood. Walter’s voice was soft, but Olive caught the stream of words it carried—words from some other language, low and smooth and strange.

“Walter?” she breathed. “What are you doing?”

Walter didn’t answer.

The door creaked open before them. A breath of air drifted out of the darkness inside, cold and smoky with the scent of dust. Somewhere in the depths of the house, the glimmering light bobbed and brightened.

Walter stepped over the threshold.

Morton followed him.

“Morton, wait!” Olive whispered, darting after him through the gaping doorway. The cats brushed against her legs, keeping close. Rutherford hurried behind. “I’m not sure this is wise,” Olive heard him say, before the door banged shut, leaving them all sealed in the dark.
Learn more about the book and author at Jacqueline West's website and the The Books of Elsewhere website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Jacqueline West and Brom Bones.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P."

Adelle Waldman’s writing has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, the New Republic, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, The Village Voice and other publications. She worked as a reporter at the New Haven Register and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal’s website before turning to fiction.

Waldman applied the Page 69 Test to The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., her first novel, and reported the following:
The idea is that page 69 gives a sense of what a book is like, right? I have to say I think my book is either an exception or—equally possible—I have a distorted sense of what my book is like.

To me it seems that page 69 of my book is more descriptive and lyrical than the book is generally. Which isn’t to say that page 69 is very lyrical (it isn’t). But my tone tends to be pretty jokey and wry, even though the book is also, I think, sympathetic to the characters. I don’t tend to do many descriptions of nature or scenery, and I don’t use many metaphors, unless they are intended to be comic, like this one, “Bad service was a source of great frustration for her, an irritant that might at any moment set her off, like science was for the medieval church.” (That’s from page 80.)

On page 69, my main character is on a date that is going well—he is beginning to feel something earnest and sincere. That’s perhaps why the tone is a little different. I didn’t want to undermine the romantic tension. The page even contains a description of scenery: “Nate turned to take in the Manhattan skyline behind them. The chains of white lights lining the cables of the other East River bridges were like dangling necklaces beneath the other brightly lit towers, a fireworks display frozen at its most expansive moment.”

But the next line is probably more typical of the book’s tone: “The view, familiar and yet still—always—thrilling, in combination with the plastic smell of the taxi, made him feel almost giddy. He had a sort of Pavlovian reaction to cabs. He rarely took them except on his way to bed with a new girl.”

From Page 69:
“I want to see your book collection,” he said instead.

“Gag me.”

“I’m taking that as a yes.”

The cab he hailed seemed to move like a bumper car on the shimmering street, spewing water as it slid to a halt about twenty feet in front of them. They ran toward it, laughing drunkenly as they scrambled into the backseat. The small, balding driver grumbled when they told him they were going to Brooklyn and, speaking fiercely into his cell phone in a South Asian language, banged a fist against his doily-covered steering wheel. This also struck them as extremely funny.

Crossing the bridge, Nate turned to take in the Manhattan skyline behind them. The chains of white lights lining the cables of the other East River bridges were like dangling necklaces beneath the brightly lit towers, a fireworks display frozen at its most expansive moment. The view, familiar and yet still—always—thrilling, in combination with the plastic smell of the taxi, made him feel almost giddy. He had sort of a Pavlovian reaction to cabs. He rarely took them except on his way to bed with a new girl.

Hannah’s apartment was right off Myrtle, on the second floor of a walk-up building. She circled the edges, switching on a succession of small lamps. The space lit up only gradually, as she got to the third or fourth one. The wood floors were scuffed, but the walls were a very clean, stark white with original moldings at the top and very few pictures on them. One wall was lined with bookshelves. On the other side, a half-wall separated the kitchen from the living area. The room seemed unusually spacious for New York, in part because it had relatively little furniture. There was, Nate noticed, no couch. No television, either.

She gestured for Nate to sit near the window where two mismatched, upholstered chairs sat on either side of a small, triangular table. On the windowsill sat an ashtray.
Learn more about the book and author at Adelle Waldman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"The Repeat Year"

Andrea Lochen earned her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. While there, she won a Hopwood Novel Award for a draft of The Repeat Year, her first novel. She currently lives in suburban Milwaukee with her husband and teaches Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha.

Lochen applied the Page 69 Test to The Repeat Year and reported the following:
This page captures an important turning point in the novel—when Olive realizes she isn’t the only one reliving the year; her mom’s friend, Sherry Witan is an experienced “repeater” and a possible mentor for her in this strange time travel. Sherry is a socially awkward, brutally blunt character (who was a ton of fun to write!), and instead of giving satisfying answers to Olive’s questions about how a repeat year works, she seems to raise even more questions.

In this section, Olive also starts to fathom the true potential she has to fix last year’s mistakes and rewrite history. Her thoughts immediately turn to her ex-boyfriend, Phil, the man she once thought she would marry. The two were torn apart last year after a serious betrayal, but Phil has no memory of these events. Can Olive save their relationship the second time around?
“For heaven’s sake,” Sherry said, but her voice was kind, motherly. She handed Olive a handkerchief that smelled of men’s cologne. “You’re doing all right. You’re handling this quite well, actually. My first January like this, I spent in bed. I didn’t shower, I didn’t dress, I barely ate. By the end of the month, I was getting out of bed, but only to bring back books from the library. I read books on Buddhism, Hinduism, existentialism. I read Hawking, McTaggart, Kant, Leibniz, the ancient Greeks. I read H.G. Wells’s goddamn Time Machine. And none of it helped. If anything, it made things worse, because I became confused, paralyzed, too scared to try anything. I went back to bed for another month, and I didn’t snap out of it until my husband started talking about Gene McGregor.”

Olive felt humbled. A part of her had always secretly admired the complete abandon with which some people could break down and wallow in their misfortune. Whenever Kerrigan broke up with a boyfriend, she called in sick to work and camped out on the couch for several days watching the Soap Network and eating canned pineapple. But Olive liked to be clean and eat regular meals and keep busy. Moving forward as though nothing had happened was her preferred method of coping.

The fact that it hadn’t occurred to her to look in a book for the answers made her feel dimwitted. She knew who Stephen Hawking was but couldn’t imagine wading through one of his scientific texts. The other names Sherry listed were only vaguely familiar to her.

But what struck her the most was that Sherry had assumed she was weeping out of exhaustion and frustration from the overwhelming prospect of reliving the year, which had blissfully, fleetingly left Olive’s mind for a moment. She had been crying for Phil: the way she had hurt him and her disappointment over how things had turned out for them.
Learn more about the book and author at Andrea Lochen's website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Andrea Lochen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Contaminated"

Em Garner began writing at a very young age, always preferring the stories about what goes bump in the night. An avid reader of horror, science-fiction and fantasy, she first turned her hand to short stories about the sorts of things that hide under the bed…and she kept right on going.

Garner applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Contaminated,  and reported the following:
From Page 69:
My dad had gone to work. My mom, too. Opal and I were home alone. I was sleeping in to enjoy the first days of summer break. The house was quiet, until I heard the neighbors’ dogs barking. They barked a lot, but not like this. Not for so long or so loud. I got up, went downstairs. Opal was at the table eating cereal in milk and reading a book. She heard the dogs, too.

I still thought nothing of it until the dogs, two of them from next door, ran up onto our back deck. Snapping and biting, they paced in front of the sliding glass doors, tails tucked between their legs. They were begging to get in – something they’d never done, even when they came over to crap in our yard. Our neighbors’ dogs were Rottweilers, by the way. Nice dogs, but not timid. They’d run off a meter reader or two before our neighbor got an electric collar for them. It hadn’t stopped them from running over here.

“What’s going on with Tooty and Frooty?” Opal asked me.

Before I could answer, Craig from next door staggered onto the deck. He was wearing a bathing suit, which wasn’t that unusual since they’d put in a pool the year before, and it was hot out. The staggering wasn’t that surprising either, since if he was out by the pool he usually had a couple of beers, too. What did make both of us cry out and back up was the way he staggered into the glass door.

Full on, his head smacked the glass so hard it starred. Bright red blood showed up on his forehead and started streaming down his face. His mouth worked like he was shouting, but I couldn’t hear anything but the barking. The dogs circled his feet, dodging his kicks.

Craig never hit his dogs. They were as much his children as his real kids were. Maybe more, since the dogs usually obeyed him, and his kids mostly didn’t. His dogs were allowed to sleep on his bed with him. They rode in his truck with him. And now he was kicking at them, screaming so loud the veins stood out on his bloody face.
Page 69 is a great representation of Contaminated’s story – real, normal life interrupted by the total dissolving of society. Craig has lost his mind, launching an attack first on his beloved dogs. Then on Velvet and her younger sister Opal. His madness is echoed in the rest of the world, where thousands of people have become brutally violent, rioting, looting and generally going insane. Craig’s attack is only the beginning of events that will turn the world upside down and inside out, leaving it forever changed.
Learn more about the book and author at Em Garner's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 20, 2013

"The Wednesday Daughters"

Meg Waite Clayton is the nationally bestselling author of The Four Ms. Bradwells, The Wednesday Sisters, and The Language of Light—all national book club picks.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Wednesday Daughters, her latest novel, and reported the following:
The flap copy of The Wednesday Daughters, a sequel of sorts to my New York Times bestseller, The Wednesday Sisters, describes it as a novel about “mothers and daughters, best friends who become family, and secrets and dreams passed down through generations.” Much to my delight, page 69 bears this out!

The mothers in the novel are the Wednesday “Sisters” (actually friends) of the prior novel, but The Wednesday Daughters is a stand-alone novel; readers don’t have to read The Wednesday Sisters to make sense of the new book. In the new novel, three friends—ranging in age from late 30s to early 50s—travel together to a writing cottage in the beautiful English Lake District. They are searching for answers about one of their mothers, and about themselves.

Page 69 marks the end of a chapter in which one of the daughters, Anna Page, finds herself lost in a woods on Lake Windermere—which is said to be haunted by the Crier of Claife—just as darkness falls. The passage is evocative of the English setting, although here it looms scary and dark where for much of the book it is the more lovely setting you find rendered by The Tale of Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter (who appears as a character of sorts in the novel) and the poet William Wordsworth, both of whom made this area their homes and wrote about it. Let’s just say that you can’t smell scones cooking in this scene.

It’s also one of the few scenes in the novel in which a character appears alone.

The scene is very much a metaphor for what all three friends are experiencing. Hope, Julie, and Anna Page are lost in some way, just as Anna Page is literally lost here. All three are trapped between difficult choices, just as Anna Page is trapped between what appears to be a poisonous snake on the path going one way, and an unidentifiable shadow in the other direction. All three are examining the turns they’ve made in life just as Anna Page is examining the turns she’s made on the path home, and wondering if they have gone the wrong way.

Will it give away too much to say that the last sentences of the opening paragraphs of the novel read “We are, in the Wednesday Circle, our mother’s daughters … And this is our story, which is, I suppose, a love story. Or two. Or, actually, probably four.”—and that this scene marks a precursor to one of those love stories?

Here it is:
Why had her mother spent all those years holding on to something that never was? Was that motherhood? Sacrificing your own happiness for the illusion of a normal home?

The stone wall [Anna Page had] followed uphill was nowhere in sight, and the path before her forked where she could see it wouldn’t have seemed to from the other direction. She’d have had to look back to the left to see the merging path. Or to the right? One of those funny path drains slanted away at her feet beyond the split on one side. She’d stepped over one, but was it this one? She stepped onto the path without the slanted drain and looked back at the tree with the funny curving split, trying to remember whether this was the angle from which she’d first seen it.

She started paying attention then. The light was fading fast, the air thick with the smell of dead leaves and moss and wood. The quiet of her feet on the soggy leaves and the slippery stone met the occasional scamper of a red squirrel, or a deer, perhaps. Wild boar used to inhabit these woods, Graham had said, but no longer did. Of course, cougars didn’t patrol the streets of Palo Alto, and yet one ended up in a tree on Walnut Drive. The poor creature hadn’t done a thing to anyone, but he’d been shot dead.

Anna Page came to another fork, both paths leading downhill, which should be toward the lake. She took the wider one, thinking surely the path she’d come up hadn’t narrowed as much as the other. When the path forked a third time, both paths heading uphill, she knew she’d taken the wrong fork at the funny tree. And it was getting so dark so quickly.

She was making her way on the slippery rock path, reconsidering this direction, when she heard something. Where her footfalls would have landed, she could just make out a long stretch of what might be wavy gray-red diamond. She backed away slowly, trying to calm the rush of blood through her pulmonary artery, where she might bleed to death in a very few heartbeats were it ever compromised. When she thought she was far enough, she turned to run, only to see a shadow of a figure ahead.
Learn more about the book and author at Meg Waite Clayton's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 19, 2013

"Downfall"

Jeff Abbott is the New York Times bestselling author of Adrenaline, The Last Minute, and the newly released Downfall. All three books feature Sam Capra, former CIA agent turned owner of bars around the world.

Abbott applied the Page 69 Test to Downfall and reported the following:
From Page 69:
Just like his brother, he looked confused, surprised. Life can end in a snap; we wrap ourselves in all sorts of blankets to hide that cruel fact.
Page 69 in Downfall is a very representative page for this Faustian thriller. In it, former CIA agent Sam Capra has already killed a man named Rostov in self-defense in his San Francisco bar. Fearful that an enemy from his spying days has pursued him into his new life, he's stolen Rostov's driver's license before the police see it and has come to the man's apartment to find out why he attacked Sam. But instead he's found a dangerous man already there, going through his attacker's apartment, and an innocent person-Rostov's brother--arrives at the apartment in the middle of their confrontation. In a way it's a perfect microcosm of Downfall. Sam is up against a powerful enemy who thinks nothing of destroying a stranger for his own benefit, and Sam is entirely concerned with saving an innocent stranger--even if earlier in the evening, he's killed the man's own brother.
Learn more about the book and author at Jeff Abbott's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Trust Me.

The Page 69 Test: Adrenaline.

Writers Read: Jeff Abbott (July 2011).

Writers Read: Jeff Abbott (August 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"The Fort"

Born in Ithaca, New York, Aric Davis has lived most his life in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is the author of A Good and Useful Hurt and the acclaimed YA novel Nickel Plated, called by Gillian Flynn a “dark but humane, chilling and sometimes heart-breaking work of noir” and given a “Top 10” Booklist designation in 2011. A punk-music and tattoo aficionado, Davis has been a professional body piercer for sixteen years.

Davis applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Fort, and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test--shockingly--turned out far better in my book, The Fort, then I ever would have guessed. Page 69 has it all, a girl running for freedom her from the man who took it away in the first place. In my page 69, the book starts to change, and the events promised on the back page or the description on your Kindle begin to come clear. Page 69 is far from the middle of The Fort but it is definitely the turning point.

Reading it over again is actually sort of surreal, after all, this is my new book for readers, the book I’m looking at was five manuscripts ago. It’s not every time that a writer looks back on their own work with anything besides derision, but in this case I think I’m clean. The page reads like something that someone I sort of know might have written, much like seeing an old friend in a crowd. It’s only been a year since I wrote The Fort but it was still a pleasant surprise to find myself interested in the story, even though of course I know what happens next. I sure hope that my readers feel the same way.
Learn more about the book and author at the official Aric Davis website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Venus in Winter"

Gillian Bagwell united her life-long love of books, British history, and theater to write her first novel, The Darling Strumpet, based on the life of Nell Gwynn. She has lived in London, now lives in Northern California, and enjoys returning to England to conduct research for her books.

Bagwell applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Venus in Winter, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Venus in Winter, my novel about Bess of Hardwick, happens to contain many of the elements and themes that are central to the book. Bess of Hardwick was born in genteel poverty in rural Derbyshire in 1527, and rose to become the richest and most powerful woman in England after Queen Elizabeth, largely as the result of being married and widowed four times.

Each marriage took Bess higher, introducing her to more prominent and influential people, and each widowhood left her with more money and property. Bess's rise began with her being sent to act as lady in waiting to her distant relative Lady Zouche. Such service was the standard way for young people to be introduced to potential mates and people who could help them rise in the world and come to their aid in times of trouble. Bess's life is a spectacular example of how well this arrangement could work.

Page 69 includes Bess's thoughts about love and marriage, the necessity of making her way in a stratified society, and the treacherously shifting sands of the courts of the five Tudor monarchs whose reigns she survived.

From Page 69:
Bess heard murmurs and sighs. Her master and mistress seemed deeply in love with each other, she thought. She wondered what it would be like to have a husband, to look forward to a man's return and a kiss at the end of the day. The feel of Edmund's mouth on hers during that heady Christmas evening came back to her vividly, stirring a longing within her.

Her mother had sent her to the Zouche household so that she might find a husband, but with so much happening, she had scarcely given a thought to when she might meet a possible match. Well, she was in no hurry. If God wanted her to marry, no doubt He would put the right man in her path.
The festive mood at Oatlands was shattered when news swept through the court that Thomas Cromwell had been executed at Tower Hill a day earlier, on the twenty-eighth of July.

"And the headsman botched the job," Sir George told his wife. "He needed a second stroke to finish Cromwell."

"Heaven and earth," Lady Zouche murmured.

The flickering light of the candle on the table cast an eerie shadow on her face.

"But he had it easy compared to some." Sir George lowered his voice and Bess, sitting some feet away near the fireplace, strained to hear, though she was afraid of what he might say. "The Lady Mary's former tutor, the first Queen Catherine's chaplain, and another were dragged on hurdles to Smithfield to meet their deaths. And Robert Barnes, that Lutheran who helped arrange the Cleves marriage, was burned as a heretic."

Bess felt her throat and chest tighten with fear. She didn't know exactly what it meant to be a heretic. But it was clear that ending up on the wrong side of the king's favor was terribly dangerous. Keep your head down, she thought. Keep a weather eye out, and keep your head down.
Learn more about the book and author at Gillian Bagwell's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"The Age of Ice"

J.M. Sidorova was born in Moscow when it was the capital of the USSR, to the family of an official of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. She attended Moscow State University and the graduate school of the Russian Academy of Sciences. She moved to Seattle, Washington, in 1990 and works as a research professor at the University of Washington, where she studies cellular biology of aging and carcinogenesis.

Sidorova applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Age of Ice, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
The Science of Cold

1775–85

Ice is a chrysalis of degradation. The first coat of ice, when it forms on a live creature, is paper thin and translucent; it humbly repeats every curve and crease of the creature’s body. It could be just a second skin, a molting layer. It could, one fancies, reveal a beauteous metamorphosis when shed—a firebird, an angel. However, ice is never shed. It thickens, instead, not a skin now but a cocoon; no longer humble, it soon abandons any resemblance to the creature it covered. A lump, a rock, it joins with other rocks; a sheet, a glacier; it never releases those it had captured. I dreamed of Anna. I touched her bare shoulders only to feel the first skin of ice under my fingers. It terrified me, because it was I who infected her with ice.

And yet. Abductive reasoning is, I believe, what they would call it years later. Faced with a surprising observation, a mind won’t rest until it conjures a cause from which the observation follows necessarily and logically. That the cause itself may be an oddity is a different matter; besides, given enough time we can construct a whole chain of causes, each progressively less unusual. Thus: why had I been so bizarre on the road to Orenburg? Because I had suffered a temporary debilitation of mind. And why had I suffered such a condition? Due to emotional distress, of course! There was nothing outrageously unusual about any of it, it had no connection to my cold, and it was obviously a onetime ailment, after which I must have developed some sort of tolerance, not unlike a smallpox vaccination.

I truly wanted to believe this. Even when I’d wake up in a sickly gray predawn light, my fingertips still tingling after a dream of having touched Anna’s ice-coated shoulders. Even when I would leave “my” bank of the Neva, the imperial and military bank, with its Winter Palace, its collegiums, its barracks of the Guard, and wander across the bridge to Vasilievsky Island, where a small building of the Academy of Sciences had made its home.
Page 69 happens to be the opening page of the fourth chapter of the novel. It sets the stage for the chapter. Stylistically, it is a reasonable stand-in for the book, and emotionally, it is a fair representation of the narrator’s condition for the next decade or so of his life. Also in this page, one sees an example of obsession with ice typical of the narrator, and the struggle between rational and magical in which his mind is forced to engage.
Learn more about the book and author at J.M. Sidorova's website, blog and the Scribner website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 15, 2013

"Forever, Interrupted"

Taylor Jenkins Reid is from Acton, Massachusetts. She graduated from Emerson College in Boston in 2005. She worked in entertainment and education before becoming a writer, and now lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and their dog, Rabbit.

Reid applied the Page 69 Test to her first novel, Forever, Interrupted, and reported the following:
Forever, Interrupted follows two storylines: The first is the story of how a woman, Elsie, reacts when she loses her newlywed husband, Ben, and has to meet her mother-in-law for the first time at the hospital. The second, is the story of how Elsie came to marry Ben in the first place. Page 69 falls during the second storyline, at the end of Elsie and Ben’s first date.

They have spent an entire day together and are infatuated with each other. Elsie and Ben decide that they are going to sleep next to each other, but Elsie tells Ben she absolutely will not sleep with him on their first date. Elsie’s best friend, Ana, is desperate for information on who this new guy is and keeps texting to find out info.
It was pitch dark as our eyes slowly adjusted, and then there was a buzz and small flash of light. It was my phone.

“He’s still there?” Ana had texted.

I turned off my phone.

“Ana, I presume,” Ben said, and I confirmed. “She must be wondering who the hell I am.”

“She’ll know soon enough,” I said. He put his finger under my chin and lifted my head toward his. I kissed him. Then I kissed him again. I kissed him harder. Within seconds our hands, arms, and pieces of clothing went flying. His skin felt warm and soft, but his body felt sturdy.

“Oh!” I said. “The parking meter. Did you put enough money in? What if you get a ticket?”

He pulled me back to him. “I’ll take the ticket,” he said. “I don’t want to stop touching you.”

As we rolled around each other, I somehow kept to my word. I did not sleep with him that night. I wanted to. It was difficult not to. Both of our bodies pleaded with me to change my mind, but I didn’t. I’m not sure how I didn’t. But I didn’t.
Admittedly, this is perhaps one of the steamier moments in the book. The rest of it is a bit more...clothed. But I do think it’s emblematic of the book as a whole. The story is full of happy, joyful, exciting times juxtaposed with dark, challenging ones. This just happens to be one of the more lighthearted scenes in the story.

On Page 69, we see two people begin to fall in love. And ultimately, that’s what is at the very heart of Forever, Interrupted: those precious moments when you let go and fall in love.
Learn more about the book and author at Taylor Jenkins Reid's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 13, 2013

"Midnight"

Kevin Egan graduated with a B.A. in English from Cornell University, where he studied creative writing under Dan McCall (Jack the Bear) and Robert Morgan (Gap Creek). He is the author of six novels, including the newly released Midnight.

Egan applied the Page 69 Test to Midnight and reported the following:
Page 69 of Midnight ends a chapter and has only seven lines of text. It depicts Tom Carroway entering the New York County Courthouse at dusk and riding the elevator to the fifth floor, where he works as law clerk to Judge Alvin Canter. Carol Scilingo, the judge’s secretary, is waiting in chambers with the judge’s coat on her lap. Even for a short passage, the scene has a quiet feel, with Tom uttering the only two words of dialog: “All clear.”

The situation is this: Earlier that day, which is New Year’s Eve, Judge Canter died while napping in his chambers. Court rules stipulate that when a judge dies his immediate staff retain their jobs until the end of that calendar year. Neither Tom nor Carol can afford to lose their jobs, as will occur at close of business. So they decide to take advantage of the largely deserted courthouse and smuggle the judge’s body to his apartment where, they hope, it will be assumed that he died after midnight in the new year.

On page 69, Tom is returning from staging the judge’s car outside the courthouse. Carol waits in chambers with the judge’s coat on her lap, while the judge himself is rolled up in a rug.

Midnight is constructed in four parts and covers a 72 hour period between December 31 and January 3. Page 69 is representative of the first part of the book, which maintains a tight focus on Tom, Carol, and their execution of what at first appears to be a successful plan to save their jobs. However, the mood of the book changes in Part 2 as the camera pulls back to reveal sinister characters and unforeseen consequences.
Learn more about the book and author at Kevin Egan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Letters from Skye"

Jessica Brockmole's new novel is Letters from Skye. When she's not writing, Brockmole can be found reviewing historical fiction as part of the Historical Novels Review's editorial team.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Letters from Skye and reported the following:
Oh, page 69 is a good one. Elspeth, my reclusive poet, had been trying to overcome her fear of water to leave her native Skye and meet David, her correspondent of two years. “Eight weeks ago,” she writes to him, “I stood on the pier, trying to find the nerve to step on that ferry. I kept my eyes on that horizon, knowing that if I went to meet it, to meet you, everything would change. Not necessarily in the going, but in the leaving.”

But life interrupts her indecision. “Four days before, Great Britain declared war on Germany. While I had sat alone in my cottage, reading through old letters and fortifying my heart, the world went to war.” Up on Skye, isolated from the rumblings that had had brought Europe to the brink of war that hot summer of 1914, Elspeth doesn’t know how the war will change things, whether it will touch her and her family. That hesitation on the pier, and her chance is gone.

It’s a good little sample of Letters from Skye, especially as it comes at a crossroads for my cautious heroine. Her flash of regret at missing that chance to travel across the water, her worry at the onset of war, her guilty stab of irritation at having the world’s battles interfere with her own. The moment the war begins, so do many things for my characters.
Learn more about the book and author at Jessica Brockmole's website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"The Life List"

Lori Nelson Spielman lives in East Lansing, Michigan. A former speech pathologist and guidance counselor, she currently works as a homebound teacher for inner-city students. Spielman enjoys fitness running, traveling, and reading, though writing is her true passion. She and her husband spend their winters cursing the god-awful Michigan weather, and their summers sailing the glorious shores of Lake Michigan.

Spielman applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Life List, and reported the following:
My protagonist, Brett Bohlinger, received one last order from her deceased mother: to complete the life list of goals she wrote as a teen. Problem is, these goals don’t resemble her current dreams in the slightest. In fact, some of them are nothing short of impossible. How can she possibly have a relationship with a father who’s been dead seven years? Or get a horse when she lives in downtown Chicago?

On page 69, Brett stews over goal number one: Have a baby, maybe two. She and her friend, Megan, sit together at a coffee shop, where Megan asks Brett some pointed questions. Brett is forced to admit that the reason she no longer wants children is because her boyfriend, Andrew, doesn’t want kids. She has morphed into the person he wants her to be, rather than staying true to her own dreams. And she still hasn’t told Andrew about the life list she’s expected to complete.
“…But he’ll go ballistic. He wants to buy a plane someday, not a horse! Kids aren’t part of his plan. He made that perfectly clear early on.”

“And that was okay with you?”

I look out the window, my mind stretching back to another time. “I convinced myself it was. Things were different back then. We traveled a lot…he’d join me on business trips. Our lives were so full it was hard to imagine having a child.”

“And now?”

She’s asking for the updated version of my life. The version where I eat alone most nights in front of the television and the last trip we took was to his sister’s wedding in Boston two years ago. “I’ve just lost my mother and my job. I can’t deal with more loss. Not yet.”
Midway through the page, the story shifts to Megan’s dilemma. She caught her boyfriend cheating…again.

Big surprises are in store for both Brett and Megan if the reader chooses to continue reading. Kirkus Reviews claims, “Spielman’s debut charms.” I certainly hope page 69 displays some of that charm!
Learn more about the book and author at Lori Nelson Spielman's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"The Curiosity"

Stephen Kiernan's nonfiction books are Last Rights and Authentic Patriotism.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Curiosity, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Curiosity contains a moment that presented two challenges for me as a writer. That page is the midway point of a two hour long scientific experiment, led by a character named Thomas, which unexpectedly succeeds.

The first challenge was to maintain tension for a long time. My response was to use pacing – periods of lesser and greater intensity – so the situation can build. Page 69 is a moment of relief.

The second challenge was to teach the reader the science of what was happening, without being dull, to make the moment believable and to provide information that will be useful later.

The answer to both problems came in the form of David Gerber. He is a polymath, a computer savant, and a devout Deadhead. While everyone around him believes this experiment could redefine the idea of human mortality, Gerber may possibly be stoned.

Page 69 is narrated by Daniel Dixon, reporter with the fictional science magazine Intrepid:
“Procedure forty-five.” Thomas is grinning like a jack-o’-lantern. “Commence magnetic field.

A technician near Gerber turns a large black dial. “Done,” he tells Thomas.

Gerber turns to me. “Remember magnets when you were a kid?”

“Excuse me?” I say. For nearly two hours, no one has been speaking but Thomas.

“Remember?” Gerber says. “How you’d try to force the ends that didn’t like each other to touch anyway? My family had these colorful letters of the alphabet, for the fridge, right? Those little suckers had surprisingly strong aversion to one end of the other letters. That’s what we’re doing now with the electrons in this guy’s body. Pushing the magnetic dislike.” He sniffs.
“I know it’s complicated science, but I keep thinking about those fridge letters.”

“Gerber,” I reply, “sometimes you are one spacey dude.”

He laughs, then sings quietly. “Friend of the devil is a friend of mine.”

“Procedures forty-six and forty-seven,” Thomas continues as if he hasn’t heard us. “Commence electric signal and initiate reanimation clock.”
Perhaps this is a rule of science writing in fiction: The more complicated the technology, the simpler the explanation ought to be.
Learn more about the book and author at Stephen Kiernan's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: The Curiosity.

Writers Read: Stephen Kiernan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"On the Floor"

Aifric Campbell spent thirteen years at Morgan Stanley, where she became the first woman managing director on the London trading floor. She left to earn a Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Campbell’s writing has won awards from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, a Thayer Fellowship at the University of California at Los Angeles and writing residencies at Yaddo in New York.

She teaches at Imperial College, London and has previously taught at the University of East Anglia, University of Sussex.

Campbell applied the Page 69 Test to her novel On the Floor, and reported the following:
A hard-living investment banker has three days to decide her destiny: 28-year-old Geri Molloy has a rare mathematical gift that has made a huge success on the trading floor. On the surface she looks likes a woman in control of her future. In reality she remains in thrall to the three men who control her destiny: her ex lover, her boss and her reclusive hedge fund client who feed on her success. When she finds herself caught up in a high-stakes takeover, Geri’s life is plunged into chaos and she is heading towards a crisis that will alter the course of her life.

Page 69: It’s 07:29 on January 14 1991 and war in the Middle East is about to shake up the markets. Geri has just stepped into the morning meeting where management is briefing the trading floor on their strategy for war.
I stand up on tippy toes and peek over Al’s shoulder to see Zanna speed-scan the conference room but her professional half-smile includes the whole audience and doesn’t linger on me. Tucking her papers decisively under her arm, she touches the blue Hermès twist draped over her collarbone and takes a step towards the management huddle. I know she is desperate to have a word but I also know that she won’t be given the chance. This is a big day for big boys and heavy weapons and deep voices and the switch to a female frequency might just break the spell. The heavyweight cluster breaks apart and the Grope turns to survey the room, arranging his face into the shape of a beginning. The crowd babble fades to mute. We wait, all eyes on the Grope who nods to his right, ‘Go ahead, Dick.’

‘Well I can tell you one thing. We’re not expecting many sell orders in the oil market the next few days,’ the Head of Commodities breaks the surface tension with a bit of humour.

‘As you know, we’ve seen a steady decline from the $41 peak in October when Saddam threatened to start shooting missiles at Israel.’ He rattles through a retrospective chart summary of where crude prices have traded, tapping a finger on the lingering end point of the line as the screen fades into the dull heartbeat of GOLD.

‘Don’t expect a rally, guys. Except amongst the Swiss of course, who’ll be busy stockpiling in their underground bunkers.’ He grins to signal it’s time for another laugh, before assuring us that the only safe haven will be the dollar. This is a cue to the Head of Foreign Exchange and the screen fades to two charts marked $/YEN and $/DM, both dotting into an upward slope. I lower my head into a discreet yawn, so close to Al’s back that I have to be careful not to get lipstick on his shirt.
I spent 13 years on a trading floor at Morgan Stanley, so I really wanted to bring the reader right onto the trading floor and tell the story from inside the closed and very male world of high finance. This page is very typical of the way in which I write about the markets. But On the Floor is a story about love and money so although we see Geri’s world on this page, we don’t get much of a feel for her character. We do catch a glimpse of Zanna, her “most effective friend” and later in the book Geri will discover something important about their relationship. What really fuels this book is the story of a woman growing up and taking charge of her own life.
Learn more about the book and author at Aifric Campbell's website.

See Aifric Campbell's top 10 list of portrayals of working life in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 8, 2013

"The Execution of Noa P. Singleton"

Elizabeth L. Silver grew up in New Orleans and Dallas and currently lives in Los Angeles. She holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia in England, and a JD from Temple University Beasley School of Law. She has taught ESL in Costa Rica, writing and literature at several universities in Philadelphia, and worked as a research attorney for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, her first novel, and reported the following:
I love this idea of a page test. Here is page 69 from The Execution of Noa P. Singleton:
“I’ve changed my life, Noa. I’m a different person now, and I want you to be a part of it.”

The door to the bar opened and closed, losing a handful of patrons. He looked over, a bit melancholic, as if losing them were somehow as painful as losing me.

“Do you know the owner?” I asked. “We’re practically the only ones here. Did you plan it that way?”

He grinned with undulating pride. “You’re looking at him. And of course not.”

“Okay.”

Nothing else came out, despite his necessitous expectations. Nothing else was planned. He was the one who called this little meeting. My life’s goal up until that point was far from tracking down a missing parent. It’s not like I walked around blaming the world for my problems merely because a one-night stand with my mother twenty-three years earlier resulted in my sitting at this wooden booth in North Philadelphia across from a man with a water bottle on his side like a colostomy bag, clearly on his Twelfth Step toward making sure that water bottler remained a water bottle. Still, he needed some sort of recognition for his evolution. That ridiculous scar over this hip was starting to dance into a pitiful expression of desperation and didn’t seem to stop no matter how many expression of acknowledged understanding I tossed his way.

“Well done, then, Caleb,” I said. “Is that the proper response? You turned your life around…then what? You called me? Congratulations. You did it. You’re, what, a businessmen now or just an alcoholic who owns a bar? Because that’s an effective strategy for reform.”

His brows swam together, constructing a moat of protective lines. Sarcasm clearly hadn’t made its way down the evolutionary track just yet in Dive Bar, Bar Dive. I wanted to say I was sorry, but I wasn’t.

“I just want to know you,” he said. “That’s why I called. That’s all. I want to know my daughter. I made a lot of mistakes, and now I want to fix them. It’s not a unique story. It’s just mine.”
I’m not sure if this page is entirely representative of the book, particularly as the novel is divided into multiple voices and times. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is about a young woman on death row in Pennsylvania and her relationship with her victim’s mother, an attorney, who initiates a clemency petition on Noa’s behalf six months before her execution date in order to commute Noa’s death sentence to a life sentence.

The novel is told primarily from the perspective of Noa Singleton, the young woman on death row in Pennsylvania, in present day prison observations, reflections, and conversations with her lawyers, as well as via flashbacks to her past, exploring her path to prison. This is a scene in a bar in which Noa is attempting to reconcile with her estranged father. It is a significant relationship, but the style isn’t indicative of the entire book and is quite dialogue heavy.

The novel is broken down into six parts, representing the six months before Noa’s execution, or “X-day,” as she calls it. Interspersed between each of the sections is a letter from Marlene Dixon to her dead daughter, Noa’s victim, in which she reconciles her evolving views on the death penalty and comes to terms with her daughter’s death.

Page 69, although not indicative of the novel in full, may be representative of the flashback scenes to Noa’s life, in which we, as readers, begin to piece together the puzzle of what happened on January 1, 2003, the day that placed her behind bars.
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth L. Silver's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 6, 2013

"You Look Different in Real Life"

Jennifer Castle's first novel, The Beginning of After, was named an American Library Association Best Fiction for Young Adults selection and a Chicago Public Library "Best of the Best" Book.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, You Look Different in Real Life, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
"Justine," says Leslie. Her voice catches and sounds froggy. She clears it and tries again. "Tell me about a typical day for you."

"A typical day for me would be..." I pause, glad I remembered to start it off like that, so it will sound better when edited. "I get up. I go to school. After school I come home, or go to my dad's, or walk around Main Street, or hang out at the bakery with Felix." What else do I do? "I go online or watch movies in my room. Homework, of course." Wow. In other words, a typical day for me is a staggeringly boring pile of crap.

Leslie pauses, glancing at her notebook. I can't read her face. "Are you doing any afterschool activities?"

"Not at the moment."

"I thought you played guitar." She's tried to frame that softly, curious and floating, but it still hits hard.

An image jump-cuts into my head. I'm thirteen, seated on a small stage in a church basement without windows, sweating and suffocating from heat and all-over body panic. I'm holding a guitar There are dozens of faces fixed on me, including my parents and sister in the a back row. I'm playing "Scarborough Fair" and although I've been practicing this song for weeks and I know the chords by heart, my fingers aren't doing what they're supposed to. My voice is soft and scratchy, and the ages-old air inside the church seems to be swallowing it up.
I was pleasantly surprised to apply The Page 69 Test to You Look Different in Real Life, and see that, hey, this passage is quiet, but important! In subtle ways, it captures the essence of our main character and one of the book's big issues.

Our narrator Justine is one of five child subjects of a documentary film series that revisits their lives every five years, starting when they were in kindergarten. In the first two films, feisty, creative, big-dream-talking Justine was a breakout star. Now 16, she feels disconnected from her 11-year-old self; she feels disconnected with herself overall...and this is her journey. For me, You Look Different in Real Life is mainly a story about identity, and the various ways we can look at ourselves -- as well as the people around us -- and try to figure out who, exactly, we see. In this scene, filmmakers Lance and Leslie Rogers have arrived at Justine's house to shoot their first interview for the new film, and Justine must face the reality that in the last five years, something has smothered her spark. Justine has an "official" way of creating a then-and-now moment, but my hope is that readers will be inspired to ask themselves, "Am I the person I wanted to be five years ago? And if not, why not, and what can I do about it now?"
Learn more about the book and author at Jennifer Castle's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 5, 2013

"Redemption Mountain"

Gerry FitzGerald has been in advertising for nearly thirty years and owns an advertising agency in Springfield, Massachusetts. He holds a master’s in journalism from the Medill School at Northwestern University and is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He lives in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts with his wife, Robin.

FitzGerald applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Redemption Mountain, and reported the following:
Page 69 is the first page of Chapter 8, making it a shorter page than normal.

Chapter 8 is an important chapter for Charlie Burden, one of the principal characters of the story. At a meeting with his company’s managing partner, Lucien Mackey, Charlie learns that the company and its largest client, the OntAmex Energy Company, want Charlie to take over the construction of a “backwoods coal burner” in southern West Virginia. Expecting to be assigned his dream job managing the construction of a huge hydroelectric dam in China, Charlie’s disappointment is amplified when he also learns that one of the challenges he’ll be faced with in West Virginia, is helping to secure a variance for a mountaintop removal coal mining permit on Redemption Mountain.

Page 69:
Chapter 8

The door to Lucien Mackey’s corner office was open, as it usually was. Charlie Burden rapped a knuckle as he walked in. The senior partner of Dietrich Delahunt & Mackey was hunched over a large conference table that dominated one end of the massive office.

“We fucked this up pretty good Charlie.” He was peering intently at a set of charts that covered every inch of the worn mahogany tabletop that had seen its share of blueprints and maps over the years. His jacket was off, a troubled look on his face that Charlie recognized as the warning sign that this was going to be a bad day for someone at Dietrich Delahunt & Mackey.

Moving closer to the table, Charlie recognized the layout of the CanAmex plant in West Virginia. “What’s the problem down there?”

“It’s pretty simple. The goddamn pond is in the wrong spot. Can you believe that? After all this time? Two years we’ve been building this thing down there, with Paxton and a battalion of contractors, surveyors, engineers and environmental people crawling all over it and nobody notices that the cooling pond is situated on a hundred foot thick ledge of solid bedrock that a fucking nuclear bomb couldn’t blast through. . .” Lucien stopped and took a deep breath to control his anger. He tossed a pencil down on the chart and stood erect, offering his hand to Charlie, smiling thinly, embarrassed that he’d forgotten his manners. “Good morning Charlie. Thanks for coming in early.”

Mackey gestured toward the black leather couch with two matching chairs, separated by a massive glass coffee table. “Come on Charlie, sit down, we need to talk and we don’t have a lot of time.” Charlie sunk uncomfortably into the center of the couch as Mackey took one of the chairs.

“Terry Summers will be along in a few minutes and, well, we need to come to an agreement here, you and I Charlie, before he gets here.”

Charlie had known his boss long enough to know when he was having trouble getting to the point. “Lucien, what’s up, what is it you want me to do? You know we’ll come to an agreement. We always agree on whatever it is you want.”
Later in Chapter 8, Charlie and the readers will meet Vernon Yarbrough, a Charleston, WV lawyer who will play a pivotal role in the machinations and subterfuge at work in the utility company’s efforts to displace a “disagreeable old pig farmer” from Redemption Mountain.
Learn more about the book and author at Gerry FitzGerald's website.

Writers Read: Gerry FitzGerald.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Witch Fire"

Laura Powell grew up in the Brecon Beacons and spent most of her childhood with her nose in a book. She went on to study classics at Bristol and Oxford, then spent five years working in the editorial departments of both adult and children's publishers. She now lives in West London.

Powell applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Witch Fire, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Witch Fire is fairly short, as it’s the end of a chapter. It’s describing the set-up of Wildings Academy, an elite Swiss boarding school where teen witches are sent to keep them out of trouble – and away from the clutches of the Inquisition. My heroes, Lucas and Glory, have been sent there by the WICA, the witch-kind division of the UK secret service, to investigate rumours that the terrorist group Endor has infiltrated the school.

The final line of the chapter is: “Once Lucas and Glory were at the academy, the only people they could trust were each other.” This is a key theme of the book, which builds on the relationship between the two that began in Burn Mark. Lucas comes from a famous witch-hunting family while Glory comes from an equally famous line of witch-criminals. When they first met each other they were mutually hostile and suspicious. Now they’re professional partners-in-espionage, they’ve grown much closer but are still grappling with their own demons, as well as secrets from their families’ pasts. They don’t know it yet, but their undercover mission in Wildings is going to test them like they’ve never been tested before…
Read more about the book and author at Laura Powell's website.

Learn about Laura Powell's top ten heroes in disguise.

My Book, The Movie: Witch Fire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"The Longings of Wayward Girls"

Karen Brown is the author of a novel The Longings of Wayward Girls (July 2013), and two short story collections, Pins & Needles (July 2013) and Little Sinners and Other Stories, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, and named a Best Book of 2012 by Publishers Weekly. Her work has been featured in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories, the New York Times, and Good Housekeeping, and in many literary journals.

Brown applied the Page 69 Test to The Longings of Wayward Girls and reported the following:
Page 69 opens the second part of the novel with a newspaper account of the search for Laura Loomis, a young girl who went missing five years before the events in the book take place—a disappearance that remains unsolved, and haunts the book’s suburban Connecticut landscape. The woods and fields seem safe. They are places where Sadie and her friends set their games and explorations as children, and yet the newspaper article recounts how searchers scoured these places for Laura just years before. Soon, Laura’s disappearance will mirror one triggered by a prank Sadie and her friends play on a girl from their neighborhood. The mystery surrounding the two missing girls has its effect on Sadie as she marries and becomes a mother who still lives in the area, and who must confront her role in the second girl’s disappearance.

These newspaper articles about Laura Loomis appear at the start of each section, and become a separate thread of the story. I felt that their spare language and the simplified account of events they narrate capture the fear and confusion that occurs when a child goes missing. In the book, they chronicle a family’s gradual acceptance and continuing longing for closure.
PART TWO

SEARCH RESUMES TODAY FOR MISSING 9-YEAR OLD

WINTONBURY – June 15, 1974

A massive search for missing 9-year old Laura Loomis was called off by State Police Friday, but will resume at dawn today. The search by more than 800 volunteers was called off about 30 hours after the 9-year old was last seen walking home from a friend’s. Laura, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Loomis, was given permission to visit a friend who lived on her street. When she did not return by dinner time, Mrs. Loomis became concerned, and called the friend, who claimed Laura had left her house right at 4:30, as instructed by her mother. By this time Mr. Loomis, home from work, began a search of the neighborhood with his wife, both calling their daughter’s name. State police were notified at 6:00 PM., and volunteer firemen quickly began a search of the surrounding woods and fields, until dark, when a house to house search was conducted. No leads have developed, says State Police Lt. William Reed. “Foul play is not suspected,” reports police spokesman Dan Fontaine, “but it has not been ruled out.” Late Friday he said that state police are proceeding with the theory that the girl is “missing and lost.”
Learn more about the book and author at Karen Brown's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Writers Read: Karen Brown.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 1, 2013

"Death of a Dyer"

In Death of a Dyer, Eleanor Kuhns's second Will Rees mystery,
Will Rees feels at home. It’s been a long time since he last felt this way—not since before his wife died years ago and he took to the road as a traveling weaver. Now, in 1796, Rees is back on his Maine farm, living with his teenaged son, David, and his housekeeper, Lydia—whose presence contributes more towards his happiness than he’s ready to admit. But his domestic bliss is shattered the morning a visitor brings news of an old friend’s murder.
Kuhns applied the Page 69 Test to the new novel and reported the following:
Wow, what an interesting choice. Page 69 is representative of Death of a Dyer and reveals several of the primary conflicts in the story.

First, Rees's difficulty in readjusting to his home town is clearly delineated. So much of what he remembers about the Dugard community is different now.

He is shocked to realize how his childhood friend Nate (and whose murder he is investigating) has changed. Nate has not only become very wealthy but also a friend of the Carletons, the largest landowners in town. As boys, Rees and Nate had nothing but contempt for James Carleton. But Nate and James became business partners and good friends. And Rees will now have to reacquaint himself with his former nemesis.

And finally, Richard, the prime suspect for his father's murder, is revealed to be courting James' Carleton's daughter Elizabeth and has a notoriety of his own in the town.
Learn more about the book and author at Eleanor Kuhns's blog and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Death of a Dyer.

--Marshal Zeringue