Saturday, October 28, 2006

Pg. 69: "The Blade Itself"

Marcus Sakey's The Blade Itself hits bookstores in a couple of months. The advance word on the novel is pretty amazing, and you can get a taste of the prose here.

I asked Marcus to apply the "page 69 test" to his book. Here is what he reported:
Page 67, 68, 69….shit.

Page 69 is the beginning of a chapter. With formatting, less than half a page. So what already seems a tricky test—hoping that a single page part way in will be not only interesting, but also somehow symbolic of the capital-N Novel as a whole—this feat now has 50% of the space to work in.


Let’s try page 96 instead.

Would you believe it? Also the start of a chapter.

Two lessons to be drawn here: first, obviously the universe wants me to work with half a page, and second, I should write longer chapters.

Still, far be it from me to argue with the universe. Here’s page 69 of my debut novel The Blade Itself, coming this January:

CHAPTER 13: Better to Roar

The edge of the switchblade glowed with a liquid shimmer, but he’d broken out the whetstone anyway. Patrick held the knife at thirty degrees and stroked in a practiced motion. Once, twice, three times. With each rasping stroke, he remembered last night, and felt a surge of heat and bile.

“He pulled a piece on you?”

“Just let me see it, like it was an accident. Then asked when Karen would be home.”

Poor Danny had been trying to play it cool, but it hadn’t been hard to spot the fury beneath his words. And something else, too. A weird kind of helplessness it killed Patrick to see. He knew what it was; Danny was a civilian now.

And civilians were prey.

He’d raised a burr on one side of the knife, so he flipped it over and began work on the other.

I could explain what’s going on here, that Patrick is the beautiful loser of a best friend to my protagonist, a retired thief named Danny Carter. I could explain that the “he” who pulled a gun is another friend from the old neighborhood, a guy they once trusted with their lives, but who came out the far end of a seven-year maximum security sentence warped and hard, making demands that Danny doesn’t want to pay.

But instead I’d like to say I’m now a believer. Granted, a test group of one is not exactly scientific, but still, if you have a liberal interpretation—and when it comes to judging my own work, I’m as liberal as they come—this page does play into the themes. The Blade Itself is a thriller, yes, but it’s also a class novel about the cost of mistakes and the way the past haunts the future. And I feel like a hint of that nudges out of the end of the passage.

But if you aren’t impressed, let me say that this chapter also includes a humorous anecdote about a stripper, a reference to Marlon Brando, a heartfelt speech, and the line, “No point being bad if you didn’t look good.”

So hopefully page 69 would at least make you want to turn to page 70.
Many thanks to Marcus for the feedback.

I wasn't kidding about the early word on The Blade Itself: it's got glowing blurbs from the likes of George Pelecanos, Ken Bruen, Lee Child, Sarah Weinman, and others. And excellent advance reviews:
"Sakey's brilliant debut, a crime novel set in Chicago, is a must read. From the thrilling the riveting ending, the tension ratchets up to almost unbearable levels."
--Publishers Weekly Starred Review

"What a thrilling ride debut author Sakey has concocted."
--Library Journal Starred Review

"Gritty and full of tension...sure to launch Sakey to the top of the new crime writers list."
Here's a link to an excerpt from The Blade Itself.

Marcus is a founding member of The Outfit Collective, a group blog of Chicago crime novelists including Libby Hellmann, Michael Allen Dymmoch, Sean Chercover, and Kevin Guilfoile. He also runs with Killer Year, an elite society of debut mystery and thriller writers with books coming out in 2007.

Previously here on the blog: I quizzed Marcus about why his bookshelf has so many more male authors than females. Click here to read his reply.

Previous "page 69 tests":
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue