Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Head Games"

Craig McDonald is an award-winning journalist, editor and fiction writer. His short fiction has appeared in literary magazines, anthologies and several online crime fiction sites. His nonfiction books include Art in the Blood, a collection of interviews with 20 major crime authors which appeared in 2006, and Rogue Males: Conversations and Confrontations About the Writing Life, a second collection of interviews to be published by Bleak House Books.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his just-released debut novel, Head Games, and reported the following:
Head Games centers on Hector Lassiter, a legendary Black Mask Magazine-era crime writer turned novelist and screenwriter.

The line between Hector’s crime fiction and his life is at best, blurry. Hector also exerts a kind of treacherous pull on those around him. As one pivotal character introduced on page 69 of my novel later remarks on being in Hector’s presence: “You find yourself warped or transformed by his writing. You find yourself speaking in the cadence and language of his characters. In his presence, you sometimes feel like a character in one of his books.”

Hector is 57 when Head Games opens. He has recently lost a child and, a short time later, his wife. (Rumor has it Hector may have contributed to his own widowing…)

Head Games opens in a cantina in Juarez, Mexico where Hector and a young poet-cum-freelance writer sent to profile Hector for True Magazine gain possession of the long-ago stolen head of Francisco “Pancho” Villa.

Legend has it Villa’s skull was filched on orders of the grandfather of U.S. President George W. Bush for the Yale fraternity Skull & Bones.

Head Games
mixes fact and fiction and brings Hector into contact with several historical personages. Some key scenes unfold on the set of Orson Welles’ noir classic Touch of Evil. On page 69 of Head Games, Hector is reunited with his old friend (and sometimes bedmate) Marlene Dietrich. Hector and Marlene are united/divided by their vexed relationship with author Ernest Hemingway. Their ensuing exchange eventually inspires some lines from the film:

The trailer door opened a crack — opened with a squeak. This dark face with chiseled cheekbones was peering at me; disarmingly dark hair and burning eyes. Marlene turned her head a bit; considered me through the cracked door.

I was taken aback by her hesitation. It had been a few years, granted. We hadn’t crossed paths since Paris, during the liberation…staying in touch by phone. It had been a few miles and a few too many drinks, maybe. But, Jesus Christ, had I truly slid that much? I said, “Christ, Kraut, don’t you know me? I’m Hector Lassiter.”

Marlene Dietrich smiled. She feinted a playful swing at my chin. She held her thumbs just like Papa had taught her to so she wouldn’t break them on impact. Gutturally, she said, “Ah, Hec’, you look like hell, sweetheart.”

Within a few pages, a machine gun attack breaks out on the set of Welles’ film, and a chase ensues that stretches across the desert southwest and several decades of American history, eventually resulting in Hector crossing paths with a Yale alum named “George W.”…
Read an excerpt from Head Games and learn more about the novel and author at McDonald's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue