NVDT #96 – Ophidiophobia

Part of Open Link Blog Hop

The Prompt: Write a scene or story that includes a character who has a phobia. What do they fear? How does this phobia affect their life?

Among my plethora of nutcase characters, and few new lurkers, I could post novels. But there isn’t time for Deanna’s vagina or Paro’s helicopters. In fact I’m gonna cheat and drop a rerun that started life as a prelude, never intended as a self contained short, won an award long ago from Stevie Turner’s site, got tweaked and entered elsewhere and won several more.

Gator Bait

Carrie Louise screamed a split second before the shotgun blast. Birds exploded from the cypress canopy, the surface of the water boiled with leaping frogs, crickets, surprised fish and a lone gator. The sound and accompanying activity rolled away across the bayou in an expanding halo. Bobby couldn’t look down where he hoped his feet still were, saw the look of sheer panic in Carrie Louise’s eyes, steeled himself and waited for the blast from the second barrel. CL was shaking so hard she couldn’t pull the hammer back. Bobby took a second, glanced down to see the snake that had dropped into the boat from the tree branches overhead slither through the new hole in his dad’s old, flat bottom swamp skiff. CL screamed bloody murder again when she couldn’t make the sawed-off shotgun work, started to launch it into the swamp after the snake when Bobby snatched it away.

The silence in the aftermath bordered on church-like except for the soft gurgle of the swamp slowly filling the boat.

“Dayum, girl.”

“Dayum yourself, Bobby B.” CL, white as a ghost, held her legs out straight in front of her above the encroaching water, narrowed her eyes. “It was a, a…A snake. You saw it. I…And…You know how much I hate fuh, fuh, snakes.”

“Do for a fact.” He wiggled his feet to prove they were still there, whistled softly. “Dayyy-um.”

Bobby had no idea how deep the water was, but he dumped what had drifted into his dad’s waders, pulled them on and tied a knot in the shoulder straps while the boat slowly settled toward the water line. Under her breath Carrie Louise cussed a blue streak of randomly constructed profanity, her heels now resting on the rusty oarlocks, swamp water closing in on her cutoffs.

He stepped out into water waist-deep on his average to a little tall, twelve-year-old frame, let the breath he’d been holding go. His dad’s waders were up to his chin, so unless a snake slopped over the top they were good. He sloshed the few steps to Carrie Louise.

“When I turn around, climb on my shoulders. Baby style, not piggyback.”

“Okay. But you can’t drop me in, in there. In this…You can’t.” She looked over her shoulder in the direction the snake had taken off, climbed on his shoulders. She wrapped her arms around his forehead, her legs tucked under his arms, heels almost touching the base of his neck.

“You see a gator, CL? Or another snake?” He handed off the shotgun. “Holler and let me shoot. Got it?”

“Okay. How far is it, you think?”

“As far as it is.”

Big help. Do NOT drop me.” She shivered involuntarily. “Please.”

“No need to get all polite, CL. You have the shotgun.”

Bobby took a minute to get his bearings, knowing how his dad was gonna raise all sorts of hell about the trolling motor. Once dad knew he could find it and the water wasn’t very deep they’d be back to get the motor, take it home, dry it out and rebuild it on the garage floor. He’d rebuild it, dad would drink beer and give bad advice, mom would put some vodka in her iced coffee or tea and read the latest and greatest from the library where she worked. And pretend to watch them like she cared while whatever was in the oven turned black.

***

Carrie Louise climbed off his shoulders on to dry ground and screamed again when Bobby waded out. Another snake had hitched a ride, its fangs embedded in the thick rubber heel of the waders. Bobby saw CL point the shotgun at his foot and screamed with her. She shoved the shotgun into his chest, took off down the finger of two-lane ruts that cut through the swamp. Bobby pointed the shotgun down, put the barrel against the snake’s head and pushed until it lost its grip and recoiled away. He had one shell in the sawed-off swamp boat gun, and he might need it for more than a snake dumb enough to hit waders.

***

Sheriff Sheridan Wylie, a little overweight in a uniform and life vest that fit a couple of years ago, swung Terrebonne Parish Swamp Patrol Boat number 2 alongside the finger of dry land, tossed out a grappling hook. He watched the two stragglers in the shimmering heat haze headed his way, waited for them to come into focus, his .40 caliber Smith & Wesson, safety off, behind his back.

“Well, I do declare, look what’s wanderin’ in out the haze. Carrie Louise Roche and Bobby Buisson. Y’know, when I got a call about two kids with a shotgun wandering the Mauvais Bois I thought maybe I had me some lost poachers or the next Bonnie and Clyde. Hell no, what turns up ain’t nothin’ but Houma’s own double trouble.” He waited for them to get within arm’s reach, held out his empty left hand. “You might crack that shotgun open and hand it to me, young Mister B. Go a looooong ways toward keepin’ my blood pressure under control.”

“Yes sir.” Bobby broke the sawed-off open, offered it butt first. “Sorry.”

“Think nothin’ of it. What’s a lethal weapon or two between friends?” Wylie took the sawed-off, holstered his pistol. He unloaded both shells from the shotgun, dropped them in his life vest pocket, set the shotgun on top of the instrument and radio cluster. “You can give this sawed off I don’t know is the wrong side of legal back to your daddy after I’ve carried you two home. And you done told me about the spent shell.”

“CL’s scared of snakes.”

“Am not.” She threw an elbow into Bobby’s side. “Don’t like ’em much, that’s all.”

“Is that right?” Wylie offered both hands, helped them step off into the boat. “Life vests are in the box under the aft seat. Gotta be a longer version of ‘scared of snakes’ puts you two on foot in the bayou. Bobby?”

“You know daddy’s rusty old skiff, one used to be kinda green? She blew a hole in the bottom of it tryin’ to let a snake know she didn’t think much of it droppin’ in.”

“Damn, girl.” The sheriff checked their vests, cinched down on Carrie Louise’s. “You kill it?”

She shook her head.

“For a fact?”

She nodded.

“Dayyy-um, girl.”

“That all anybody can say?” Carrie Louise dropped on the aft bench, hung her head in her hands.

The sheriff and Bobby shared a look while Bobby collected the hook, dunked it a few times until the mud was gone. When he dropped it in a bucket on the deck the sheriff idled the boat around and out into the swamp in no kind of hurry.

“Either a you two been gone so long anybody’d be worried enough I should call?”

“No sir. Daddy’s out on the rig, mom’s at work.” He checked CL, still moping. “Mama Roche said be home before dark or she’d throw dinner out.”

“Be a shame to waste Mama Roche’s cookin’ on that lazy ol’ bag a bones.”

“Daddy’s quit drinkin’.” Carrie Louise raised her head. “Again.”

“I was meanin’ that ol’ dog of y’all’s, Carrie Louise. Not your daddy.” He squeezed the trigger on the mic. “Wylie, Bayou two. Armed poachers turned out to be a pair of swamp rat minors name of Buisson and Roche. Had ’em a shallow water equipment failure. No casualties, no prisoners, no backup or medical required. They’ll need deliverin’. May take me a while. Bayou two out.”He let the radio squawk back, hung up the mic, leaned against the instrument panel where he could keep one eye on the swamp and one on CL and Bobby, held the boat on course with his forearm on the wheel.

“Now we got y’all’s particulars out the way, lemme tell you two what I need.” He throttled the boat up a touch.” I’m headin’ back in no big hurry ‘cause y’all are gonna spin me one hell of a lot better stow-ree ’bout that spent shell. Tellin’ you now it better have a 15, maybe 20 foot gator and a witch and a toothless coonass pervert or two in it, ‘cause bein’ as we’re out here and it’s hotter’n hell an all? I’ll be stoppin’ in at the marina for a ring-of-fire hot link, some of Louella’s fried shrimp bites and an Abita Amber just this side of ice. On the Parish dime. And I’ll need to write me up a nice report when I get back to justify burning half a shift and a butt-load of Parish gas in them two Hondas back there rescuing a couple born on the bayou kids who should know better than blow a damn hole in the bottom of a boat.” He gave Carrie Louise a fatherly squint. “An me just puttin’ down ‘girl don’t like snakes’ in that big ol ‘precipitating action’ box ain’t gonna cut it.” He turned back, idled the boat up a little. “There’s water an Cokes in the ice chest if you want any. Go easy, Carrie Louise. Ain’t nowhere for a girl to pee for a good forty minutes.”

***

An hour and a half later Sheriff Wylie dropped them at a makeshift dock on Bayou Black across the street from Bobby’s house. Bobby went home carrying the unloaded sawed off and his dad’s waders, Carrie Louise huffed off to her house next door with a greasy paper bag of leftover spicy shrimp bites.

Fifteen minutes passed before she banged on the screen door to Bobby’s kitchen. He toed the door open, her eyes said she’d been having an angry cry, most likely from a Momma Roche ass chewing. She shoved a plate with a huge slice of peach pie and rapidly-losing-form-in-the-heat whipped cream at him.

“Momma says she guesses thanks for saving me from bein’ gator bait. I told her it was snakes, but she said thanks anyway, even though a Houma girl dumb enough to blow a hole in a boat mighta been justifiably left behind. And to say I’m sorry about your dad’s boat and scaring you shitless with the shotgun and almost blowing your foot off.” She heaved a big sigh, scuffed his back step with her foot. “She’ll see that we make it right, when we can.”

The sadness coming off of her was tangible, along with leftover steam from how mad she’d gotten on the ride back when Bobby and the Sheriff had joked and laughed about her blowing a hole in the boat and not killing the snake the whole way and coming home to her momma piling on.

“You tell Momma R not to worry. CL. I’m figurin’ I’ll tell Daddy I did it. ” He shrugged one shoulder, took the pie plate. “Dad’ll drop a couple M-80s to run the snakes an gators off so I can hook up the motor an fish it out pretty easy. And it won’t be near as bad a ‘Bobby you dumb ass’ sermon as telling him I let a girl beat me to the snake-and-gator gun.” He lifted his chin , held the door open for her. “Come on. Pie this size needs two forks.”

“You sure? About the boat and all?”

“Yep.”

Sure sure?”

“Yep.”

“Like certain sure?”

“C’mon CL, do I look like I’m standin’ here air conditionin’ both our back yards changin’ my mind?”

“No… ” She stepped past him into the kitchen, opened his fridge. “So I guess that means you have a couple of new shots of Cool Whip or maybe some butter pee-cawn ice cream in here to go with that extra fork and this big ol’ piece of my momma’s blue-ribbon peach pie?”

What other hoppers think is here.

Yeah, yeah. I’ll use anything for a writing exercise.

NVDT #95 – No Prompt Day – Instead – A Lesson from History

NOT Part of Open Link Blog Hop (EDIT – surprise surpise – the link reappeared)

The Prompt: I think it was something about when is your best time to write or when do you manage TCB, but the invite vanished. So…

I like to read authors before they were classics, icons, Nobel winners. Because I learn a lot and it gives me hope. Not of writing anything Nobel worthy, but telling a decent story with some skill.

In another blog I mentioned Faulkner’s Mosquitos. Written in 1927 it highlights the same issues of publication writers face today. Popularity of sports stars and celebutantes, high profile society murders, nepotism. Along with, as today, not everyone was literate, or had the price of a magazine, much less a book. But there were a gazillion more outlets for the written word because there was very little competition for entertainment. Movies were silent and for the most part a novelty. Records sounded like shit, more novelty. Radio wasn’t even in it’s prime. Forget about TV and every streaming content provider putting different faces and locales on nine or so scripts. With all its inherent faults Mosquitos was a searing social satire, a fun story, well drawn and palatable. In some ways timeless. No mean feats for a beginner.

Recently I’ve been reading early Hammett.

Dizzy yet?

I often bag on the Danger Barbie and Hunky Ken format. Like a lot of TV and streaming content from Hart to Hart and Hunter to Murder she baked/cooked/wrote/reported/stumbled over/librarianed/bookshopped/fished/ on Hallmark. I have even stepped in that format. My once white Reeboks are irreversibly stained. See? Just writing about it brought out an adverb. Well, Danger Barbie and Hunky Ken are another post, but for the meantime lets shift gears to –

There’s a website out there called The Cozy Mystery Listhttps://cozy-mystery.com/blog/ Not only does it have recommendations and what’s new, but if you desire you can search for Danger Barbie cozies by occupation. There are pages of bakers and chefs and librarians. So much derivative shit it would be impossible for anyone to read all the mystery solving bakers, much less the librarians and retired or shamed CIA hit women with bi-sexual tendencies.

Such may be said of all the con jobs sage advice “editors” and “mentors” that, like the Sirens, call you to their altars and for a fee will show you how to write “perfectly formulaic drivel like me” and open the doors of publishing for you. (You still out there, Dan?)

What the fuck does all that have to do with early Hammett and early Faulkner?

In November 1923 The Black Mask magazine published Hammett’s “Second Story Angel”. If you write you need to read it. That’s all I’m gonna say.

The PDF of “Second Story Angel” is out there for free. If you can’t find it, ask me. It’s amazing to me how many people miss the irony in the title alone, much less the story.

What other hoppers think is NOT here this week. (EDIT – Yes it is)

Yeah, yeah. I’ll use anything for a writing exercise.

GUS

September 2009 – March 2021

In the beginning he was Mr. Brown, the color of his yarn collar. The first time I met Mr. Brown, easily the largest of the litter, he lumbered up, crawled in my lap, all over me, chewed the knees of my jeans, jerked his head up like he’d just awakened, ambled over into a corner of the large concrete slab greet-the-puppies pen where he dropped a hefty deuce. He walked past me and we shared a head nod acknowledgement of a job well done. He waited for all the other puppies to climb up on the dog hammock before he climbed through them and collapsed on top of the pile. Done. I knew I didn’t need another dog, but knew I needed this one, knew his name was Gus before he got old enough to come home.

To make that work for the breeder he became Kenwell’s Run Free Saint Augustin.

Gus was a product of an oops litter at the breeders. No, not a puppy mill, but an AKC Irish Setter Breeder of Merit. I say that to keep any would-be Animal Rights Activists out of Gus’s story. A story that has been in the gel process for a while.

Is that a ball out there?

I wanted to tell the messy and often comical stories of his reaction to stress being to pinch a loaf. Or two or… He was an 85 pound Irish. He shit like a horse. In the vet’s office, in my Jeep, at the St. Francis blessing of the pets…

But that wasn’t his real story. Or his real gift. He was known as my heart attack dog, although I never had a heart attack. I had inexplicable (to this day) blood pressure that could have run a road grader. No blockage, no plaque. Just pressure. I was still freaked out, dealing with all that mortality junk without an answer 5 months after the fact when I met Gus. When he got big enough, which didn’t take long, he’d jump on the bed, stretch out longways next to me, breathe all over my face with dog breath that would peel paint. I couldn’t get angry with anything that glad to see me.

He learned, sort of, some leash manners and as for years with one dog or another, sometimes two or three, we’d head off on the morning two-miler.

Gus the Graduate

I hooked a setter with radical rambling tendencies to Gus. It was like finding a mobile anchor. Chester would dive bomb a squirrel or a bunny or a tulip, hit the end of the short leash, fly up in the air, come back *splat* shake it off and Gus wouldn’t flinch, he’d just keep on. He was solid that way. In fact when I hear the phrase “do/did me a solid” I think of Gus. He did us all a solid just being himself.

When he was about five or six years old he got seizures. An 85 pound dog in the throes of a seizure is frightening, heartbreaking, confusing… We tried vet after vet trying to get him some help. At last we got a vet who was all vet and not chrome and glass and little Muffy specific. We put him on Kepra XR. After more, but smaller seizures the real vet landed on Kepra XR 750, twice a day and 2.5 phenobarbitals. 1 in the morning, 1.5 at night.

Now, if that was me I’d be so fucked up I couldn’t hit the ground with my hat. And there I was, on my own load of RHBP meds feeling sorry for myself. In the throes of his early seizures he lost some control of his right back leg. According to the vet there was nothing physically wrong with it. No torn muscles, no breakage. One of the seizures snapped something upstairs. It didn’t seem to phase him.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. When you’re this big it’s ALL small stuff.

And that’s what I learned, what we can all learn from Gus. For seven years he’d play ball till he or I dropped. He out-paced everyone on the walk. When it was down to him and me every morning he dropped the nonsense and walked a straight line (in a hurry). Up until the day he said, “I’m done” he got up every morning and gave being a dog everything he had and never missed a step.

Old Gus and Ubiquitous Ball

How many of us waste too much time on how sick we are(‘nt), the pills or “responsibilities” we endure, how pitiful we decide our situations are and here’s this damn dog, more fucked up than a squat junkie, ready for the game. Every minute of every day giving ‘dog’ his best shot. It’s embarrassing, you know?

He was the Gentle Giant that pooped when he was scared, greeted me with a slobbery tennis ball and an 85 pound lean against my thighs, had a ridiculously thick undercoat that made him look, and often smell, like BigFoot. And most days I still miss him like a leg.

Dogs don’t live long enough, the good ones are irreplaceable and take a piece of our hearts with them. So Gussie, old buddy, this one’s for you. If I’m lucky, and half what you thought I was I’ll see you again. If not, thanks for knowing when to chill regardless, blowing all of my unfounded fears over what is beyond my control out of the water with a tennis ball, a leash and an indefatigable, undruggable joy for life. For showing me a new morning full of zoo breath every day instead of one just like yesterday’s.

If your puppy bed’s too small but it makes you feel good, sleep in it.

NVDT #94 – Audio Books – Write Music or Die

Part of Open Link Blog Hop

The Prompt: Are audiobooks the future of book sales? Do you have your stories on audio?

Some say yes. The plethora of podcasts and the ubiquitous ear buds say yes. What is really happening on the phone while “working”? Any sort of podcast, music, Netflix, audio book. Just because someone is walking their dog or staring at a computer screen doesn’t mean they’re disconnected from e-tainment.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Elmore Leonard – 10 Rules for Writing

Not to belabor a point, but if you don’t write rhythmically, or somewhat musically, or chase bunnies or take too damn long to get from the road up the driveway to the house or throw logical construction out the window, you are doomed. People will tolerate a lot of slop in copy – look at the news – but getting way off into plants or hobbies or minutiae or “world building,” all that stuff that eats up word count dies on the ears unless you do only the minimal amount to paint the picture and get on with it. Why? This is by and large a 4 x 4 backbeat audio universe. Somebody starts telling you a story and goes off into the pastoral landscape what do you do? Thanks for the slides of your vacation, but was there a story in that somewhere?

Make it interesting and give your voice talent some leeway in how they handle your work. I read in one of these hops recently where someone “read’ an audio book and the use of said got annoying. A decent VO will read it down once for rhythm, timing, certain verbosities and echoes. They’ll red-line what doesn’t work ‘out loud’.

For example, I read a PD James a while back where he and she said said said over one word dialogue back and forth, no way to confuse attribution. Out loud it would have sucked more mightily than it did on the page. Also, a good VO understands inflection and even if as writers we are dumb enough to write asked or said after a ? a good VO will inflect the line and drop the attribution.

Unless there’s a point to using one, avoid poncey, too mellifluous, strained, harried or stiff readers. Depending on content someone relaxed who can dial it up or down as needed is the best choice.

I’ve done voice over, voice over production, foley, post processing and sound design for a living. I have more gadgets for voice manipulation than crumbs in a sat-on bag of tortilla chips. Of course they help. A little reverb in a deep cave, some vocoder on a robot or even a gender shifting plasma. But gimmicks won’t save the day. Unless you’re making action movie serials and then the gimmick is the whole deal. Get the story out, then hit it with post.

What’s needed most of all? A book with a story, not a lot of writerly bullshit. Because commentary or scene shifts out of left field, opening up on people or relationships not yet in evidence, head hop time… all those traps jump out, and once airborne make the listener go WTF? Unless they’re punishing themselves with Umberto Eco read by someone from Hollywood. Which would have to be read at half speed for me.

If your VO won’t self edit, consider submitting an edited copy, sans the stuff that doesn’t work as ear instead of eye food.

I’ve had audio books that I’ve done focus research on for authors, and bunny chasing is their number one rip-the-headphones-off complaint. So get from point A to point B without the vacation slides for audio books. If you think reading and writing have become soundbites, audio is far worse.

My .02.

What other hoppers think is here

Yeah, yeah. I’ll use anything for a writing exercise.

Gambits #15 – Crazy Ways to Die

Over 90 people are killed every year in riding lawnmower accidents.

That’s more than the average for death by sharks, bears and alligators combined – in spite of Hollywood, those average about one each per year. Lawnmowers were higher than snake bites (6) and venomous spiders (11).

In fact there are only 4 “freak” accidents that kill more people than lawnmowers. Angry deer (no shit) at 200, electrocution at 400, carbon monoxide at 430, and the most boring “accident” of all, falls, at 36,000 plus.

I wonder how tractors fit into that? I have secondhand personal knowledge of a death by tractor followed by suicide of the perpetrator.

I suppose it would be a forensics nightmare. Murderer catches old Bob out on his mower, out of sight of the house maybe, or nobody’s home. Put a rock in the path, a bonk on the head, Bob goes headfirst over the front, gets chewed into hamburger. Most of those mowers have a kill switch in the seat, but if most people are like my father-in-law was, that switch got deactivated the first time it was a pain in the ass. No pun intended. Or maybe, like the two neighboring politicians in Virginia who got off their mowers and into fisticuffs over who was mowing what they shouldn’t be, well, you have the perfect setup.

Or like the ever popular somebody killed the competitive bike rider, think about sabotage on the hot-rodded riding mower circuit.

So think outside the box. Killed by an angry deer is so predictable. I mean think of all the scripts and real murders where somebody got shot “accidentally” while deer hunting when all they needed to do was offer to carry Bob’s gun and piss off a deer. Death by riding mower takes some imagination, or a serious case of stupid.

NVDT #93 – Human Candle

Part of Open Link Blog Hop

The Prompt – If your character wanted to wear a disguise, how would they dress?

“You called me, Deanna. You asked me if I had time to talk and I told you ‘save whoever’s dime you’re on.’ I don’t know how to say that in Ye Oldy Cambridge, but try to pick this up. No. I don’t have time. In fact, I need to boost, yesterday.”

“Boost?”

“Jet. Boogie. Skate. Hit it. Skedaddle. Git. Make like a cowpie and hit the tr—”

“I get it, Jax. But… Well, I’m not used to it. American talk and everything. Lately. I mean, like since —”

“Almost a year?”

“Don’t play victim, Mister, I mean it. You were the one nobody could bloody find since January. And, and I really needed you. A couple of times.”

“That’s remarkable. You didn’t ‘bloody’ need me or anyone else there for what, two—”

“Stop it. Okay? I know I was, well, not very… Where were you?”

“A lot of places. Look–”

“Summer?”

“Summer I was in Vegas dressed up like Paul Revere, playing piano for gangsters in tuxedos and their movie star friends. When I wasn’t being a hooker houseboy.”

“God, Jackson. Can you pile it any higher?”

“You asked, And I’m serious, I gotta —”

“Boost. I know. What can possibly be more important than us finally talking?”

“I have a Rasputin gig in Malibu.”

“Rasputin? I thought… Well, like, wasn’t he really tall, and big? With a beard? How can you possibly—”

“I have the beard. I blow my hair out all crazy, hit it with some cheap hairspray. Ratty bowling shirt, some baggy plaid, double-knit golf pants tucked into work boots from Goodwill. Bam… Rasputin.”

“Come on, Jax.”

“What can I say, it’s L.A. I’m part of the tableau for the Painted Ladies when they show up in clothes at some Daddy Warbucks’ who bought their latest wall size —”

“What do you mean ‘in clothes’?”

“It’s a long story.”

“I have time.”

“I don’t.”

“Well, tell me what you do, as Rasputin I mean, and you can go.”

“D, it’s the old eggbeater piano routine, only I get paid serious jack. I really don’t —”

“That? The egg beater? I mean it, I hate… Serious ‘jack’? Forget it. Okay, after. What do you do with your, your beard and crazy hair and eggbeater after whatever with the painter ladies in clothes?”

“Nothing with them. I’m still Rasputin, though, so I get extra mileage from the prep by doing a walk-on show at Transit. It’s an art bar off Sunset. Only for that I twist my hair into a cone and spray paint it orange. Like a traffic cone.”

“Jackson, you are so full of shit. I ask you what you’re doing that’s so important we can’t talk and all you can do is make up stuff and lie, lie, lie. Gangsters and, and hookers and lady painters and traffic cone hair… I would think after all you and I, and, and… everything that you’d at least—”

“Nice talkin’ to you, to, Deanna. Gotta go.”

“Wait! If your hair really is full of hair spray?” The handset was on the way to its cradle. “Remember the Fire baton routine—”

*click*

“You heard the lady.” Dash handed off the pink acrylic bong, kept the lighter. “Allow me.” He turned the BIC all the way down, clicked it several times.

“You can turn it up. The baton routine wasn’t me.”

“Maybe not.” The BIC caught, Dash pocketed the lighter while Jackson coughed. “Still. No need to add human candle to your already exquisitely outside resume.”

What other hoppers think is here

Yeah, yeah. I’ll use anything for a writing exercise.

NVDT Random – All The Hype in the World…

Won’t make it any better than it is.

As writers, our inboxes are constantly assaulted by the latest “What Readers Want” and “What Publishers Want” infomercials from writer’s aid websites, publishers and editors. All full of quantified data molded around the messenger’s claim. What if we took time to check out the real world?

I bought a book the other day.

Brand spankin’ new.

For a dollar.

Yep $1.00.

Hardback.

Lightly textured jacket.

Heavy cream paper.

No fewer than nine author testimonials. Some I’d never heard of, but several pillars of the wordy type cop genre. Even the ones I didn’t recognize were noted as NY Times bestsellers (of course). Along with the usual brand name rags like The Observer, and The Guardian.

Inside that high rent jacket was the original retail price.

$27 US. $36 Canadian.

Fuck me. I can buy real literature from Half Price Books for two bucks.

This one didn’t come from a book store.

Nope.

It was in a bin at Dollar Tree just like the bins where they pile up shitty tools, five packs of colored electrical tape, foam paint brushes and neon plastic fly swatters.

I hope the irony of a “best selling” hardback book at Dollar Tree wasn’t lost on anyone.

There’s a great review of Sirens here: https://charles-harris.co.uk/2018/05/seductive-sirens-joseph-knox/ Written, no shit, by one of those nine bestselling author’s dad.

I’ve read small pieces of Sirens. You know how you pick up a book you paid a buck for, glance inside just to see what it is because you set it down someplace in the way. Here’s an interesting observation. If you read the brief review, you know the lead comes in weak. I looked at this baby-faced kid who wrote it whom we are told runs, I assume that’s important to keep his cherubic cheeks pink, and once worked in bars, bookshops and was a buyer for some book chain.

And there it is. Several urban myths and much writerly advice bullshit blown out of the water. He’s writing what he’s read, stuff you can find every day in The Guardian and on ID’s streaming murder procedural porn, or even in my Character Bullpen or Gambits posts, but has no real idea how his characters got to be who or what they are. From what I’ve read it also has more than its share of adverb-ly dialog tags, and weak or downright bad dialog from what are supposed to be “streeters”. There’s a two-fer of myths exposed right there – publishers hate adverbs and it’s all about content, not who you know. My opinion is you aren’t going to learn to write “street” jogging around suburban Manchester and London, reading tough guy books, buying mysteries for a book store and watching a few Tarantino movies. But I do know if you bang on the back door of a concert they’ll let you in if they know you.

I see the author now has 3 books in the series. The original (the one I have, 2018) is still $8.99 on Amazon. Over $11 for the Kindle. That’s like the $2 I paid for air the other day after my TPM lit up on the interstate. The newer books escalate in price to $16.99.

Used for a buck fifty-nine.

Is that price really “Publisher overstock with possible minor shelfwear, remainder un marked” or an indication of what readers and Random House think how much of their investment is recoupable? What did the warehouse sell them to Dollar Tree for?

What do readers want? I can’t speak for all of them, but I damn sure don’t want to shell out a tank’s worth of gas coin, or even tire air coin, for a mediocre book.

Which is why I found it in a cutout bin.

At the dollar store.

Brand spankin’ new.

For a dollar.

Regardless of how wonderful many important, best selling authors are still telling everyone it was.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty clean, mostly goes in a straight line and with the exceptions of being flacid and predictable is a decent, albeit paint by numbers low fat vanilla coffee creamer “gritty crime novel” book. What the hell do you want for a dollar? A keeper?

NVDT #92 – Minnie Pearl Syndrome

Or – Your Tag is Showing

Part of Open Link Blog Hop

The Prompt – Do you use said or asked after a ? or tag your interruptions? Any punctuation that bugs you? What’s the hardest for you to get right?

I’ve posted on this before, several times. This one is more concise.

Beware of advice – even this. – Carl Sandburg

I have three simple rules about my use of tags.

Rule 1) I rarely use said or a variant synonym unless the story/scene or laziness demands.

Why? Said is the most widely used, nearly invisible (and unimaginative) authorial insertion add-a-beat verb out there. It lasts just long enough to buy time. A breath break. “But damn,” he said, “it’s boring.” The use of synonym said-isms is somewhat more interesting but their use requires care in the picking or they become blatant authorial interjections and overpower the dialogue. Action/Reaction tags are great as well but need to be handled more by ear than eye so they don’t disrupt the rhythm of the spoken scene and turn it into narrative.*

2) No reliance on an -ly to ‘splain dialogue.

I never say ‘She says softly,’ If it’s not already soft, you know, I have to leave a lot of space around it so a reader can hear that it’s soft. – Toni Morrison

3) I never use redundant tags that punctuation has already accomplished. i.e. “Bitchin’!” Nancy exclaimed. “What flavor?” Bob asked. What the hell was the punctuation for? ! is fucking “exclaimed” and ? is fucking “asked” and ? is not fucking “said.”

Cheesy examples –

“Please…” Maddy begged/implored/beseeched/supplicated/intoned/pleaded, “will you listen?”

All of those said-ism verbs overpower the single word “please.” Think about her state of mind or the state of mind you want conveyed. Consult The Emotion Thesaurus if need be. Use phrasing, italics, an action. Consider this – see what might happen if we dropped the authorial ‘splainin’ verb altogether, got the hell out of her way.

Please…” she searched Ben’s eyes/grabbed the front of his shirt/hung her head/gripped the edge of the table, “will you listen?” Now we know a lot more about the situation. Be sure the action supports the dialogue. See how having her do something to advance or enhance the story instead of us telling the readers how it is with a said-ism keeps their heads in it and us out of the way –

“Please…” she lowered her head, palms pushed into the table, “just go. Now. Okay?”

Avoid the urge to add ‘splainin’ to those actions, like lowered her head “in resolution” because actions speak for themselves.

The hardest for me to get right? Giving the words too much room under the assumption the dialogue carries itself as I transcribe it. I would write dialogue only because that’s what I hear. Adding in where I see it happening is the work.

TIP – If you want to up your action/reaction game? Transcribe a scene from any TV show or movie with the actors’ movements.

“Fuckin’ allergies.” Tim rubbed his nose. “Not your best idea, Johnson.” He stopped the nose rub, stuck his pinky deep in the left nostril, rotated it. “You got anything else?”

“Much deeper, bro, you gonna strike oil. Or put your fuckin’ eye out from the backside.”

Tim pulled his pinky, inspected it, wiped it on his jeans. “I’ll worry about my eye.” He bent, blew his nose in a wastebsket. “You trot down to the corner Walgreens for some Dayquil. Hustle back with it. An bring us back a better plan while you’re at it.”

* Stevie Turner can tell you all about me and ‘stay the hell out of characters’ heads in the middle of a conversation’.

What other hoppers think is here

Yeah, yeah. I’ll use anything for a writing exercise.

NVDT #91 – Random Writerly Concerns – Adjectives

Or – How easily ignorable the written word has become

Or – How the brain autocorrects what we want to read

Several things came up this last week so I’ll load them up, and try to tie them together.

I received an email from Pro Writing Aid a few days ago. The subject was adjectives. Word choice being one of my causes, I checked it out. You can too – https://prowritingaid.com/Adjectives

Point one – I often wonder as writers if we think about which word to use or if we start throwing words that sound like writing at a scene and hope. I read a lot stuff written like that so I know it’s out there. Why I bothered to learn the business/painters’ emotional color wheel and music’s emotional key wheel is beyond me. Except in advertising all that subliminal shit counts. But otherwise? I see people read through and publish atrocious writing all the time. In that case our brains autocorrect the hash to make sense of the reading exercise.

Which brings me to point two. I read (yes, really) a post the other day about Tolkien’s using only primary (or blended primary) colors in the Hobbit books. No adverbs or added adjectives. Green, blue, white, yellow etc. I will not elaborate on the plethora of bullshit commentary that subject brought out, but suffice it to say there was everything from another example of genius in creating a different word that was flat and different to dimensionality (?) to his innermost psychological workings.

It was brilliant, but not because he was colorblind or his mother fed him too much oatmeal or his writing instructor had small breasts and fat ankles. It was a simple authorial tactic to build reader investment. JRR writes “green.” Okay. Is your green my green, or Jim Bob’s green or Betty Sue’s green? No. When I read that book, that green belongs to me. Without me noticing it. I see my green in his description and I am involved. Slick, dead simple and big time effective use of adjectives (possibly nouns).

Staying with the color thing, think how many uses ‘blue’ has. Adjective, noun, verb. Staying away from determiners is a sure-fire way to avoid confusion, and offer ownership – (n) She was dressed in blue. If that’s it, she’s ours. In this case our brains will fill in the gaps, the right outfit, the right blue.

Next – I answered the call to a blog suggestion this week. Here it is. “Write a top 10 list in the voice of a character. Is your character a person making a bucket list? How about someone listing their greatest fears? What does the list they make say about the character?”

Simple, huh? There were a handful of lists alright. Narrative, bullet points, almost back jacket material. I mentioned that. Nobody said “oops.” Why? What was the word most everyone pegged? List. Like it had been LIST surrounded by air. And they proceeded to read right past “in the voice of a character.” List. Okay, easy. Done. Next? In this case the brain skips what we don’t want to see or have time for.

I learned a while ago that in business most people I dealt with from overlings to underlings decided to open an email based solely on the preview. No, you say! Bullshit. Just like how everyone is against texting and driving and says they don’t and all you need to do to disprove that is look at the car next to you. I got in the habit of starting emails like the sky was falling. I know I often bail on brevity when it’s not business, probably from all that biz brevity. My point is, why has it become impossible to read the whole damn thing, all of it, absorb its meaning, be in the words?

Which brings me to why bother writing like you mean it, in a straight line, when people will take what they want from it like it was a crap sound bite from USA Today?

Last but not least – Earlier today I read one of those modern “free form poetic prose” bits from a site dedicated to that “style”. A site with tons of fawning followers. It read like a narrative Hallmark moment. Which is okay, but don’t call it free form poetic prose when it’s full of glue words and medium strength common adjectives. Even when there’s a power adjective/noun/verb it is usurped by a miasma of surrounding and, and the.

The conclusion – Maybe we write exactly what we mean. Nothing more. No one will bother to read, or will read through our polished, over edited prose looking for the key word(s). We should all be on an Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot Haiku mission. Or a Joe Friday style of “Just the facts, ma’am.”

It’s sad because that’s what I used to do with Spanish when I worked in that environment. I listened for the noun, verb or adjective combo. Necesito un pedal de sostenido para mi teclado marca Korg Em A Uno. Sustain pedal – Korg – M-1.

I guess that’s all we really need,

Since no one bothers to read. Hey! I’m a poet!

NVDT #90 – Wants and Needs

Part of Open Link Blog Hop

The Prompt (Devolving into Marketing Bullet Points): Write a top 10 list in the voice of a character. Is your character a person making a bucket list? How about someone listing their greatest fears? What does the list they make say about the character?

Well, I was gonna bail. But I couldn’t let Richard take the heat for being the only one to actually write something. Most people don’t want much. Mostly they want to be loved and get where they need to be to get something done.

What Jackson wants The Hot Girl I

It was a sunny Palm Sunday in Oklahoma, and Jackson figured the little chapel in the old St. Mary’s Cathedral was the right place for her to be hanging out and listening. He sure hoped she was. He took all the money he’d gotten in his last paycheck from the restaurant that fired him, five dollars even, folded it and put it in the slot at Mary’s feet. He lit a candle and touched her feet, crossed himself. He hoped she knew he was serious. He’d thought about bringing flowers but going overboard to butter her up was stupid because she’d spot it. And all the masses he’d stayed awake through as an altar server while Monsignor Mumbles rambled on about the importance of creating family gathering Hallmark moments with or without a holiday attached should count for something.

“All I want… is to be cool.” Did she get it? “Okay. Sorry. Real cool, you know, not a, a poser…” Jackson squeezed his eyes closed as tight as he could. “And a girlfriend that’s special, and different, just for me.” There. It was out. Short and sweet, don’t waste her time. How hard could it be, anyway? Mary was like Super Mom. He touched her toes again. The sooner she got on girlfriend and cool, the better.

What Deanna wants The Hot Girl I

On that same Palm Sunday in St. Anthony’s, the oldest Catholic Church in Wichita, Kansas, a few scattered clouds cast occasional deep shadows in the corners of the sanctuary. In one of those corners Deanna Collings, a pretty young girl in self-exile, took all of her money from not eating lunch for two days, three dollars and seventy-eight cents in change, and dropped it in the slot at the feet of another Mary. She made a face while she waited for the noise to subside, folded her hands and softly closed her eyes.

“I want someone who will think I’m special. Just me, just who I am, who will love me forever.” Manners, Miss Collings. “Please.” She lit her candle, crossed herself, and really, really hoped Mary had heard her. She had to, it was a prayer and everything, and Mary was a girl. She closed her eyes again. “Could you put a rush on that guy who thinks I’m special? ‘Cause many more handsy asshohhh… um, guys, and I might join a convent.” And I know you don’t want me in there…

What Bobby wants Bobby BSwampVue

Senior Eldridge stood between Bobby and his son Junior, an arm around both their shoulders, looked over the parts scattered around between the machines and through the open hanger sized door into the back lot of Celitore’s old shop.

“What the hell you plan on buildin’ th’all this shit, Bobby?”

“Boats, Mr. Eldridge. Air-conditioned swamp boats. Came to me in a dream.”

“I was you I’d stop eatin’ Mama Roche’s Jambalaya late in the day. She gets her sausage over to Rupert’s.” He crushed out a cigarette under his work boot, gave Bobby a sideways glance. “Shit’ll make you crazy. Before it kills you.”

What Carrie Louise wants Bobby B – Swamp Vue 

Carrie Louise had on work boots with her cutoffs and tank top, her hand on a SURF LOUISIANA surfboard with a metal room fan bolted to the back end like a propeller driven swamp boat, the board mounted on a pole stuck in half a whiskey barrel full of cement. She was toe kicking the barrel a little harder than absently.

“Bobby, I don’t want to learn how to weld.”

“Every party has a pooper. You don’t wanna learn you can hang and watch me.”

“Imagine the joyous memory that’s gonna bring me in the old folks’ home. Me and that ol’ numb-nuts whatsisdoodley, I forget his name because he was so boring. We were a real pair of weldin’ demons down to his machine shop.” She walked around the surfboard pole, hanging on it like a lamp post. “I want to go to Lafayette before school starts. To a real movie. Not X-Men but something with half a plot. And I want to eat some of that shrimp done up right three kinds of ways like they do it at LeCroix’s.”

“Half a plot with some slow, noisy slobbery kissin’ probably, and shrimp roulette?”

“Only if you make me.” She batted her eyelashes. “If we leave early, we can do all that and be home by midnight, can’t we?”

What Cavanaugh Moreno wants The Great Kerrigan Bank Robbery

“Kerrigan?”

She turned and I could feel her eyes behind the sunglasses. “We’re going to rob the bank, Paro. There, en el medio de la nada, Tejas.

Rob a bank in the middle of nowhere. Shit. My wiser, self-preservationist self, Tavius, the CIA’s order and my recently reinstated licenses all got into an argument.

“What are you thinking, Paro?”

Fu-uhk me was what I was thinking. I said, “I’d love to help you rob a bank in Kerrigan, Cav. What are friends for?”

What Bobby wants Bobby B – Monterrey Mick’s Mad Mods

He kept his eyes on them while he bent side to side and rummaged around in his cargo pockets. “Looks all the hell to me like y’all got business in the Big Red Stick. Business somebody, or a shit load a somebodys, don’t want done.”

“So far you’re telling a good bedtime sto –”

“Forget it, Bernie.” Bobby wadded up his sweat soaked t-shirt and threw it in the Stinger. “That’s almost the story. We got shot at on the bridge, dumped the car south of the barge loaders, hooked it over to the Standard side where a friend of mine left me this boat. Also seems to have left us a piece of shit for a map sayin’ there was a shallow here fishermen used to get from the channel into the Tensas. Along with some shrimp salad my neighbor’s momma made sittin’ on a block of dry ice in a cooler. Shrimp salad still ain’t thawed, couldn’t find the shallow. You’re lookin’ at where we’re at.” He picked up the rope. “We need to get on to Baton Rouge. You gonna stand there and talk or you gonna help?”

What Agent Hyland wants Bobby B – Monterrey Mick’s Mad Mods

The Samoan finished unrolling the silencer, studied Orrin and Paris, both pacing nervously, the two female agents assigned to them bored, leaning against their car. “Think Vernier will burn the money?”

“If she does, she has to replace it from somewhere. We have her trail either way. Speaking of money…” He waved toward Orrin and Paris with the back of his right hand. “Pay them off. We’re done here. No place on Earth smells like Louisiana and I’d like to forget how I came to know that. Soon.”

What Creighton DeHavilland wants Bobby B – Monterrey Mick’s Mad Mods

“How do you know —”

“We’ll get to that. Are you tangled up emotionally, real or imagined, with the lovely not-a-real-parts-girl but plays one on TV Bernadette Evrard?”

“No. I mean, I don’t know if we’re friends or if she’s a misdirect or even authentic. I’m trying to play it flat, like Mitch told me. See it all, and wait.”

“She is who she says she is. And she’d like to like you, as a friend. Something about you cutting her some slack, being a sweetheart instead of a dick. Could you work with her?”

“If it was straight, hell yeah.”

“Good. She’s smart and has half a plan herself. If she’d fuck her way into the entertainment business she could start in prime time but that’s not her. She doesn’t want screen time, short or long term. She wants management. For that desire to benefit us all,” he pointed finger pistols at Bobby with both hands. “I need to redirect both of you to an entertainment vision beyond the ends of your noses. Let’s go eat breakfast.” He dropped his sunglasses back down, stepped around the side of the Porsche. “Been to Malibu yet?”

What Monterrey Mick wants

“Perfect. Me gone with his money and no worries, him here with my estrogen and overhead headaches? Sounds like Shangri fucking la to me.” Mick adjusted his girdle, pulled down his shirt, popped a Xanax and a thumb-sized vitamin. “I have to pull this gig off, man. Eating rabbit food and listening to women talk because I can’t afford to rent quiet ones is killing me.”

What Bernie wants

“Ms. Evrard, you were allowed to stay because you have a reputation for being smart and overly curious when it comes to money. And you can act a little, if need be. You also have a temper and tactical firearms certification. I don’t want you getting the wrong idea when you see us running money in and out of your burger joint project to catch money launderers and end up killing these two boys right out from under me.”

Bernie stepped around to the table, looked at Bobby and Creighton out of the corner of her eye, collected all the papers and handed them to Hyland.

“I would shoot them for that. If I didn’t know.” She leaned over the table, checked the pizza boxes, pulled one her way and frowned. “And now look here, Mr. FBI. I don’t care who your uncle is. If you don’t leave me some of that pineapple pizza, you’ll be on the short list of getting shot right along with them.”

What other hoppers think is here

Yeah, yeah. I’ll use anything for a writing exercise.