Thursday, March 22, 2007

"No Dominion"

"I write pulp. I write noir. Open one of my books," read the opening lines at Charlie Huston's website, "and you'll see I'm not lying. I write about people killing each other and suffering or not suffering the consequences. I write about the halt and the lame and the addicted."

Joe Pitt, the protagonist of Already Dead and No Dominion is addicted -- to blood.

Huston applied the "page 69 test" to No Dominion and reported the following:
McLuhan, huh? Page 69, huh? Man, I’m still trying to figure out hot and cold media. Well, academia may be years behind me, but a bit of textual analysis never hurt anyone. It just hurts the books. Prying between all the words like that, brushing commas and hyphens to the side to see what they’re obscuring, you can never get the book back the way it was after that.


Anyway, I write pulp. Some of the pulp I write involves vampires. So, cracking the most recent of those, No Dominion, I flipped to page 69 to find the following (69 is, by the way, a page I frequently take note of. Not because it allows me to peer into a book’s soul, but because the inner eleven year old in me still likes to giggle from the back row of class when he sees that suggestive number in any context).

-Yeah. Except me. Guess I must just be the lucky one.

The door opens and the Count comes back in. Pigtails bounces off the couch and runs to him.

-Score! Score! Score!

Figure a score for me, too. Figure I get to see first hand what the shit is and then I can go fill Terry in and that will make this about the easiest job I ever had.

The Count returns to the couch, Pigtails riding on his back. He shrugs her off and she plops onto the cushions. He’s carrying a large, padded manila envelope. He opens it with a little flourish and produces a pint IV bag of blood.

Shit. No score. Just a late snack.

He sits. Poncho takes an IV needle and hose from beneath one of the napkins on the coffee tray and hands them to him. He carefully inserts the needle into the valve. A drop wells up and leaks out at the opening. And I smell it. Even in this loft, stinking of the three of them, I smell it.

-Don’t drink that.

The Count looks up.


-Don’t drink it. It’ll kill you. It’s infected. Can’t you smell it?

So what do we have here?

Almost entirely dialogue, which is fairly representative, as my work is dialogue heavy. Deals with blood, also representative in a vampire book. And alludes to the use of infected blood as a drug; a major plot point of the book.

Looking at this page, I’d say it could give the reader a pretty damn clear idea of what the book is about, the style in which it’s written, and whether they might want to read more.

Then again, page one could do pretty much that same thing.

Or page two. Or three. Or eighty-seven.

Fact is, any book of any internal consistency, should wear its heart on any given page. Whether that makes judging the appeal of that book on the basis of a single page valid in any way is another question.

I generally check out the first sentence of a book. If I like it, I read the one that comes next. If that one lives up to the standard set by the first, I’ll peruse the third. And so on. Until I determine by some subtle alchemy that I am looking at a book I either don’t want to put down, or can happily return to the shelf.

Truth to tell, skipping to the middle of a book to get a taste of it always seems like a bad plan. What if that’s the page on which the protagonist finds out about the affair his father had with his…? Or whatever. An utterly innocuous detail on a random page can, once you start from the beginning, ruin the entire experience of reading all that precedes it.

No, the page 69 test is not for me. Neither as practice, or as valid theory.

Plodder that I am, I’ll take my books one word at a time, in the order set down. Reserving the right, always, to close the book should the words cease to add up.
Visit Charlie Huston's website and read an excerpt from No Dominion.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue