Passing The Page 99 Test

Ford Maddox Ford once said, “Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.”
Marshal Zeringue started a fascinating blog called The Page 99 Test and applied Ford’s theory to a wide range of new books and classics. He invited Kathleen George to administer the test to her new novel AFTERIMAGE, and here is her reaction:

I’ve sometimes administered something like the Ford Maddox Ford test on my own when browsing in a bookstore. Perhaps I didn’t go to p. 99, but I opened the book at random to see if the author’s voice was clear and compelling. Now I’ve been asked to do it to my own book — and that’s a test all right! I look at the bookshelf nervously. Will I protest? Will I say, “Oh, but there’s so much more scene description elsewhere,” or “Oh, oh, if you would just check out this other character, I think you’d be pleased.”

So I heave a breath and open to p. 99 and I find that that’s the scene in a poverty-ridden household in which the young rookie detective Colleen Greer is questioning a man about his daughter whose body has been found in the park. The man is lithe, gorgeous, alcoholic. Does he know anything at all? Is he hiding knowledge? Is he completely innocent?

The fact is, I’ve found a somewhat representative scene. Colleen Greer is trying to be polite. There is a horrible tragedy sitting in the room and yet she’s quietly pressing him for details. And she’s listening closely to the facts that she will have to sort out — the alibi he gives her.

As I was writing this scene and others, the characters were (always are) very real to me. I can feel the pace of their heartbeats, I know when they swallow, I know when something gets caught in the throat. That means that, for moments, I must be them. Then, too, I think I know how they smell — breath, underarms. That means that in other moments I stand beside them. I also watch them interact. To do that, I have to stand back a few feet.

Inside: Deon Washington is heartbroken, confused, and hungover. Next to: He smells of sugar, alcohol, sweat, and sex. A few feet back: He hands over pieces of his life, bit by bit, as he can, to Colleen who treats them objectively, both of them focusing on ordinary details and putting off, for a time, the enormous grief for what has happened.

So, Kathy, did your book pass the test?


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