Monday, February 05, 2007

Pg. 69: "The Art of Losing"

Keith Dixon is an editor for the New York Times. Ghostfires, his first novel, was named one of the five best first novels of 2004 by Poets & Writers magazine.

His new novel, The Art of Losing, releases later this month.

I asked Keith to apply the "page 69 test" to his book. Here is what he reported:
I think the mark of any great book is a consistency of tone and quality, a sense that the writer is in full control of his craft at every step, and for that reason I was immediately intrigued by Marshal’s pg 69 test. What was on page 69 of my novel, and would it pass the consistency test? I was surprised, and very pleased, by what I found.

In The Art of Losing, we meet Michael Jacobs, an obscure New York City filmmaker who has wearied of the slog toward commercial success. He’s turned toward the hunt for a quick buck by his friend and producer, Sebby Laslo—Laslo knows a corrupt jockey and wants to fix a horse race, but with his gambling debts mounting he needs Jacobs to act as the face of the operation.

For a short while Jacobs resists taking part in Laslo’s plan: he’s far too cautious and cowed by the threat of violence (from the bookmakers) and further debt (from the bank); page 69, however, captures the crucial moment, the actual instant, that causes Jacobs to relent. A woman, of course is involved: in this case, Beck Trier, a Danish filmmaker Jacobs has adored from a distance for eight years. Why hasn’t he ever made his move? Because he’s broke. Flat broke, his credit card taken away, and his bank account dwindling badly. On page 69 he’s out for drinks with Beck, accompanied by Wendy Blake, an arrogant chef-friend and his two friends, a newly-engaged couple named Reina and Otso.

The drinks were initially to be paid for by Beck, as a thank-you for Jacobs’ help in editing her latest film. But Wendy insists that the men should order a lavish dinner for all, and won’t take no for an answer. When the bill comes, Jacobs is forced to acknowledge, to his utter humiliation, that he hasn’t even the means to buy Beck, or himself, dinner. It’s this humiliation that goads him—on page 70—to walk straight home and call Laslo, and tell him that he’s in. And from that point on, the book is on rails.

Here’s page 69, exactly as it appears on the page. Hope you like it:

. . . closed-out credit card and had exhausted the goodwill of the bank.

We had a very nice dinner that was privately spoiled for me by the approaching check. I waited for Beck to excuse herself from the table so I could tell Wendy I couldn’t cover the bill, but she never left. Eventually, Wendy snapped his fingers at the waiter—only a chef would have the nerve—and made a writing sign in the air. Two minutes later she dropped the bill before Wendy. He picked it up and frowned at the numbers printed there.

‘You want to give me cash, Mike?’ he asked, still reading the bill.

Reina was showing Beck her engagement ring and explaining the elaborate manner in which Otso had given it to her.

‘I haven’t got it, Wendy,’ I said. ‘All I have is a twenty-dollar bill.’

‘You want to just use your card?’

‘Wendy,’ I said, ‘I mean I haven’t got it.’

You’d think I had told him my mother had died, the look that he gave me. I tried to give him the twenty, but he wouldn’t take it.

While Otso and Reina were saying goodbye to Beck, he leaned down close.

‘I’m sorry, Mike,’ Wendy said. ‘I didn’t know.’

‘I’m the one who’s sorry.’

Oh Jacobs—you don’t know how sorry you’re going to be. Because things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better.
Many thanks to Keith for the input.

Among the advance praise for The Art of Losing:
The Art of Losing is a cool, elegant ride into the kind of trouble that forces a character to learn who he really is, for better or worse. Like James M. Cain, Keith Dixon knows what the ancient Greeks knew so well—it's not the external demons that should be most feared, but those carried within. Smart, quick, potent noir.”
—Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter’s Bone and The Death of Sweet Mister

"Keith Dixon writes some of the sharpest, crispest prose you'll find anywhere. The Art of Losing is a fast-paced novel with a dark vision-its protagonist, Mike, a young filmmaker, feels indebted to an older friend who is an addictive gambler, but Mike is the one who keeps betting on the long odds, while ignoring the real chances offered to him by those he loves. Dixon reminds us of how misplaced pride makes fools of us all. A fine second novel from a writer with talent to burn."
—Tony Eprile, author of The Persistence of Memory
Read Kevin Holtsberry's Q & A with Keith.

In the wake of the Kaavya Viswanathan scandal last year, Keith wrote a satirical report in the New York Times that claimed: "[Book] packagers, who help authors conceive, compose and sell their work, have been doing their best to exert creative influence on novelists, poets and playwrights for hundreds of years, as these archival letters reveal."

Previous "page 69 tests:"
David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old
Mary Sharratt, The Vanishing Point
David Fulmer, The Dying Crapshooter's Blues
Anya Ulinich, Petropolis
Jagdish Bhagwati, In Defense of Globalization
Olen Steinhauer, Liberation Movements
Andrei Markovits, Uncouth Nation
Julie Kistler, Scandal
Robert Ward, Four Kinds of Rain
Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist
William Landay, The Strangler
Kate Holden, In My Skin
Brian Wansick, Mindless Eating
Noria Jablonski, Human Oddities
Ruth Scurr, Fatal Purity
Neal Pollack, Alternadad
Bella DePaulo, Singled Out
Steve Hamilton, A Stolen Season
Eric Klinenberg, Fighting for Air
Donna Moore, ...Go to Helena Handbasket
Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye
Neal Thompson, Riding with the Devil
Sherry Argov, Why Men Marry Bitches
P.J. Parrish, An Unquiet Grave
Tyler Knox, Kockroach
Andrew Rehfeld, The Concept of Constituency
Laura Wiess, Such a Pretty Girl
Jeremy Blachman, Anonymous Lawyer
Andrew Pyper, The Wildfire Season
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know
Meghan Daum, The Quality of Life Report
Scott Reynolds Nelson, Steel Drivin' Man
Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost
Paul Collins, The Trouble With Tom
John McFetridge, Dirty Sweet
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero
Bill Crider, Murder Among the OWLS
Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
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