Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"The Albuquerque Turkey"

John Vorhaus is the author of The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even if You’re Not. An avid poker player, he has written several books on that subject, including the bestselling Killer Poker series and the poker-world novel Under the Gun. A veteran creative consultant, he has taught writing in twenty-four countries on four continents, most recently running the writing staff of the Russian version of Married ... with Children.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel The Albuquerque Turkey and reported the following:
I had a friend who read sitcom spec scripts for a living. Her draconian practice was to read one page of a script at random, and ask three questions. 1) Do I get a laugh, or at least a good, solid smile? 2) Do I get a sense of the story? 3) Do I have a reason to turn the page.

Tough test, that one. Draconian, yeah. I wonder how (this part of) page 69 of my comic-mystery, The Albuquerque Turkey, stands up:
[I] could see in Allie’s face that she knew this was coming, expected it, approved on some level, and yet didn’t entirely like it. It was weird. The part of her enamored of Woody couldn’t dismiss a death threat out of hand. Other parts of her no doubt feared buying into his play, for that’s a move no grifter loves, running someone else’s script. Plus there was the elephant in the living room of whether I was merely looking for an excuse to go off the reservation.

How did I know she had these thoughts? Because I had them, too, exactly. I’ve always said that the trick of reading people’s minds is just reading your own. Ninety percent of everything everybody thinks is the same stuff. Which means if I was worried, Allie was worried, not just about Woody but also about me. About us. “Look,” I said, “I honestly don’t know if Woody’s in trouble or just dragging me into something ugly, but I can’t find out from here. So I just need to know that you believe I’m doing all this for the right reasons, and not because I can’t hang straight.”

Allie wrapped her arms around my neck. “Radar Hoverlander,” she said, “you’ve never hung straight in your life.” Was that an endorsement? I couldn’t tell.
Do I get a laugh or a good solid smile? I suppose the line about Radar not hanging straight qualifies, but I think you need to know the characters better to know for sure.

Do I get a sense of the story? Well, yeah. It’s Radar and Allie against Woody, whoever Woody is, plus Radar against his own crooked demons.

Do I have a reason to turn the page? Again, yeah, but that’s only because I know that page 70 contains the immortal line, “Parsing public records is a bit like reading tea leaves; you think you’re reading, but maybe you’re just reading in.” Will others be likewise motivated? I can only hope.

Really, though, what else can a writer do but hope?

I think a fairer test would be to read chapter one. If you dig one, read two. If you enjoy two, read three. And so on. Around here we have a saying, “If you’re doing something and you can’t stop doing it, keep on doing it.” That seems to be as good a rationale as anything for reading page 69 or, indeed, any page at all.
Read an excerpt from The Albuquerque Turkey, and learn more about the book and author at John Vorhaus's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue