Sunday, December 25, 2011


Tony D'Souza's first novel, Whiteman, received the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His second novel, The Konkans, was called a "best novel of the year" by the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Poets & Writers Magazine.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Mule, and reported the following:
Page 69:
“I have to know right now.”

“I’ll take a break and call Henry,” she said, still whispering.

There was a coffee shop a few doors down from the WaMu, I went in and ordered a drip. I bought a copy of the Herald Tribune, scanned it with my phone out on the table as I waited. The front page above the fold was about the Sarasota real estate implosion, the massive condo project was indeed about to go bust. I couldn’t care about any of that. In a minute, my phone rang.

Rita said, “How much if we get a pound this time?”

“Five grand.”

“Then we’ll have the money ready.”

I hung up and did the math on my phone. Now I needed the rest of the baby’s college money. A minute later, Mason was calling. I held the phone to my ear, glanced at the other people sitting at their tables. They had no idea what I was doing. Mason said, “I want two this time.”

“Can you really handle that much?”

“I met new people because of what we did.”

“You have to send me half the money.”

“No problem, James.”

“It has to be cash.”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

I remembered what Darren had said. I said to Mason, “Money orders. I’ll explain it later, but do it just like I say. Go to three different places and get an order at each place for one and a half. Then go to one more place and get a final one for five hundred, and mail them all to me. You have to get them in the mail today to give me enough time.”

“I’ll get on it right after work. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.”

I crunched the numbers on my phone, calculated the gross and net. Could I really make that much? I called Darren as I
I really like this exercise of dipping into my book at page 69 and seeing how it captures/reflects/shares the tone of the complete story I was trying to tell. In a lot of ways, this is the sort of thing I do at this stage of my career anyway. Every night before writing, I get nervous, wonder if I can do it, if the words and story will still be there, if the Muse will come to me yet again. Butterflies in my stomach and endless doubt. Sometimes I take a book down from the shelf, one that I’ve written in the past, and open it to a random page. I have been publishing for 13 years. There are stories I’ve forgotten I’ve written, passages from my novels that I no longer recall. When I reread whatever random page it is, I remember the night I wrote it, what that felt like, what the Muse felt like, and I take some succor from it. I also see the unity of my work, that there is a marriage of theme and language in my writing that is only mine. It’s like looking in the mirror at my own face.

Page 69 from Mule is a rather mundane one in a book with lots of tense events. Here, James is putting together his first major cross country deal, involving dope peddlers in three states. All the major elements of Mule are on this page, from the mention of the failed condo project in passing in the newspaper—the recession is the ever-present backdrop this story is told against. James’ recognizing that none of the other people in the cafĂ© know he’s setting up a drug deal on the phone captures how this adventure will isolate him from the world, empowering him at times, and ultimately leaving him utterly alone. And the lingo and specific details of the trade that make the book feel real are here in James’ explaining to Mason how to use different money order shops to avoid leaving a paper trail. Not an explosive page, but a necessary one. This page ‘turns,’ and moves the story along. A writer couldn’t ask for more.
View the trailer for Mule, and learn more about the book and author at Tony D'Souza's website.

--Marshal Zeringue