Disclaimer: The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....
What is Winterset Hollow about?
Winterset Hollow is a dark, contemporary fantasy with a few healthy twists and a slo-burn thriller rhythm. It's about a young man and his two friends discovering something they thought they'd never find…and the consequences of that discovery, which turn out to be far more dire than initially expected. It's a fantasy narrative with relatable, real-world themes, and is equal parts tender and terrifying…and I think it's a patently enjoyable read with a big heart.
Set up page 69 for us…
Page 69 falls in the middle of our main character's initial discovery whereupon he finds himself inside the former home of his favorite author. And he's being guided through the halls of the manor by a host he never thought he'd have the chance to meet, namely a rabbit named Runny who was featured in his favorite book…a book aptly named Winterset Hollow. So, in this scene, Runny and Eamon come upon the kitchen where they find another character from the book, a frog named Flackwell, who's busying himself cooking them supper while singing an old folk song.
Do you think this page gives readers an accurate sense of the kind of story that you've explored in Winterset Hollow?
There's solid banter, which is a favorite thing of mine to write—I'm a total sucker for some well-slung dialogue—but there's also a good bit of intuitive narration, which is another big hammer in my toolbox. I love when a narrator can really dig in and root around in a character's head and invite the reader in…and I think that it's necessary in a story like this to really hang a lantern on exactly where on the emotional spectrum everybody is before it all starts falling apart, which is pretty much right around the corner.
“He’s quite the hand in the cookhouse, but I’m sure you knew that,” said the rabbit as he sidled up to Eamon. “But truly, what would Barley Day be without a feast?” The frog’s voice was powerful and dynamic and unrestrained, and Eamon could only imagine the treat he was in for if his passion for performance carried over into his cooking.
“I know this song,” Eamon said wistfully. “I’ve read it a thousand times, but . . . but I’ve never heard it before. Not like this anyway.”
“It’s an old song. Our kind have sung it for generations. It was Edward’s favorite. I suppose that’s why he put it in his book. It seemed too personal a detail for him to borrow at the time, but the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated having something of ours immortalized like that. Not that he would’ve cared, mind you. Always was stubborn as an ox, that one.”
Eamon was well aware that he had asked his share of questions in the short time he had been awake, but with every answer that fell from the Rabbit’s lips, he only found himself feeling like there was more he wanted to know. These histories—they felt like fire in the frozen tundra to him. They felt warm and nourishing and sublimely necessary, and he would gladly have surrendered his coat or his snowshoes or even the very pages of his favorite book to add fuel to its flame. Eamon would have given anything to know them all . . . to drink of their substance and lay about the manor’s grounds fat and happy and deliriously drunk on their charm. Without a moment’s debate, he would’ve traded the sum of his current knowledge for the promise of what was to come, but his host had thus far seemed happy to accommodate his curiosities, and so the possibility that he might be allowed both flashed ripe and ready through his mind.
Jonathan Edward Durham was born near Philadelphia in one of many satellite rust-belt communities where he read voraciously throughout his youth. After attending William & Mary, where he received a degree in neuroscience, Jonathan waded into the professional world before deciding he was better suited for more artistic pursuits.
He now lives with his partner in California where he writes to bring a unique voice to the space between the timeless wonder of his favorite childhood stories and the pop sensibilities of his adolescent literary indulgences. His debut novel, Winterset Hollow, an elevated contemporary fantasy with a twist, follows in that same vein and is available everywhere late 2021.