NVDT – Writerly Concerns #38

Hukt Awn Foniks Werkt Fur Mee

The prompt was – What are your pet peeves as regards grammar and spelling?

Do I have any? Definately. The little red lines under words are their for a reason.

Grammar (as word usage) and spelling should always be correct outside of dialog.

Possessives and plural’s like ladys and ladies except when convention has negated the rules as in mens room since it would be gender inequality for men to get the apostrophe and ladies not to. Or is would that be ladys? Or… Is it correct to say “Excuse me, I’m off to the men ( or women) room? Is that why there are so many nongender synonym workarounds for potty?

All that other punctuation stuff? Is it the week we put punctuation outside of quotes or not? I refuse to believe the first three words of every sentence are an introductory clause. Grammarly disagrees. Imagine that. I use commas for phrasing and timing like rests in music, not “correctly.” It drives English Professor types nuts. Two bad – because —

I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. – Elmore Leonard

I also believe the following true.

Here is a lesson in creative writing. The first rule: do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. – Kurt Vonnegut

1) If it doesn’t work, even if it’s correct, rewrite or eliminate it.

2) If it needs a semicolon or some other oddball punctuation, re-write it. Use a period. Two short sentences do not make the author look stupid. Neither does whacking a couple of words here and there from two windy clauses that could be one good one. There is no sin in the simplicity of ‘Jim kicks Bill.’

Dialog is the exception. I said that already. Why? Good God y’all, people can and do talk some stoopid shit. The cops and crooks on true detective shows? The people newscasters interview who lived through a tornado in Oklahoma? Eyed put up an example but we’d be here all day.

You can’t have characters speaking perfectly but you also can’t cop out and have them speaking pidgin English like bad movie pirates. Dialect and patois, okay, to a point. But there is no reason to have characters speak like extras in Captain Blood. 

The point – Proper usage, conjugation, logical continuity, spelling should all be mandatory when committing writerly narrative to the page. Commas and that semicolon, em dashes (and their usage), ellipses (and the spaces before or after)…even quotation marks, are style choices. (As far as I’m concerned)

Why? Punctuation is something even the Grammar Nazis can’t agree on.

Yeah. Spelling, proper usage, and content – Definately.

Joke. What do divorces and tornados have in common in Oklahoma?

It’s for sure somebody’s gonna lose a double-wide.



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RANDOM NVDT – When One Word Will Do

“Look it up and you’ll find your picture.”

So I did. And…

Futilitarian – a person given to useless or worthless pursuits.
— Daniel Lyons’ American Dictionary of the English Language, 1897

So much more descriptive, in a less derogatory way, than poser or poseur. A Futilitarian might be sincere, albeit misguided, ill-equipped, or suffering from cognitive dissonance as regards their ability.

Expanded one could also find uses for this as a religion, a philosophy, an “artistic lifestyle,” a club or organization

Is it a noun, an adjective, or — He was a writer from the Futilitarian school. His writing was Futilitarian. He was a fervent Futilitarian. His platform appeared ambitious but was Futilitarianism exemplified. The doomsayers and soothsayers, pundits and conspiracy theorists, the chicken or egg people, Futilitarians all. This section of highway maintained by the Collin County Order of Futilitarians. Feast Day of Beto O’Rourke, Patron Saint of Democratic Futilitarians. For him, finishing a book is a futilitarian undertaking.

Is an exercise in futility the same as a futilitarian undertaking?


NVDT #37 JUNQUE – Here, There, Anywhere

The prompt was – Are Your Settings Real or Entirely Imaginary

I don’t do dystopia or sci fi. Syfy? Siffy? I admire writers of those genres who can make me believe in Foonblat 109. Kurt Vonnegut is magnificent at making real places on the map swirl into his vision. David Foster Wallace can build a place you can believe in, where it isn’t. As can Jennifer Eagan who can put a castle on a hill and make you suspend disbelief. One of my favorites is PD James – she admits to building a fictional English village right on top of an existing one, for location purposes. Like Mexico City on top of that pyramid.

What I do is adapt real places to fit the need. Los Angeles is Los Angeles, Vegas is Vegas, Oklahoma is Oklahoma, Texas is Texas, et al. As Elmore Leonard states, it’s not necessary to go into great detail about places and things, or even people. In Touch, Leonard uses a brewery sign, references to decay, an apartment on a golf course and a run down print shop and that’s about all he says about Cleveland. His point is that readers will fill in all the detail they need. Something often the “author” part of us wants not to believe. Lawrence Block, however, adds the caveat that if you put someone on a bus in NYC there better be a bus line there.

I have characters in an office building that doesn’t exist in Oklahoma, a not there recording studio in Westlake, but fictional office buildings, apartments, houses seem to be exempt from Block’s caveat as those places are generic. There IS a Lowe’s with a Wendy’s in the parking lot every fourth or fifth exit in every major city in America. So to me a recording studio in Westlake, a dance studio in West Hollywood, a shotgun 8-plex on 4th in Long Beach, a high rise condo in San Diego or Santa Monica, they’re all things that are easily “there.”

I’m also a big fan of lines like ‘the gritty air, the smell of diesel on a still day in London…’ That’s all you really need. If more detail is needed, about a shop off Picadilly, dial some in.

Which brings me to one of my pet peeves – descriptive overkill. Lush subtropical vegetation in varying sizes is all I need to know. Maybe some colorful adjectives. What I don’t need is a botanist’s litany of everything green in Louisiana, or to keep a botanist’s handbook handy to read a formula detective novel. Paint the location in broad strokes, fill it with story. Too much junque and I’m out. Unless the ‘tween junque is damn good.

I have a serial running on my site at the moment where I dropped an imaginary town right on top of Lipscomb, Texas. Because I can’t very well insult the sheriff and blow up the bank in Lipscomb. However the feed store I blew a hole in and the Holiday Inn Express in Shamrock, are there. I guess it depends on what you can get away with as to how close you call it.

BTW aside – I have a character who spends three years in Cambridge. Never been. Been to Oxford, but I have Google. If anyone attended Cambridge in the early 80s and wants to talk, send me a note!

I’m interested to see how others handle this one.



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Tave’s note had come from a handheld field printer, a device favored by ticket writing motorcycle cops and intelligence junkie spies.

Shit. Tavius was a closet ice cream junkie, and I needed to watch my back? Because the Dead Bodies in Shamrock weren’t known associates of anyone involved? Fuck. More wild cards.

I pulled the note between my index and middle fingers, curling it in the process. A few miles west of Tavius’s Braum’s Dairy the county roads went “improved,” but unpaved. It was also so flat we’d have nowhere to hide. The good news was Woody’s crew would kick up a dust cloud on the way in. The bad news was they might be able to use it for cover. Regardless of intel, recon and prep, combat scenarios were never ideal.

I called Moreno, gave her the ETA and Best Case engagement crossroads, and suggested the convicts should split up the weapons, maybe steal a vehicle to replace their van since everyone involved was at least vaguely aware of its contents. We went back and forth over everything because she was who she was, and that’s how she was. We agreed on a one-hour early recon on 23, just north of where it T’ed with O road.


I did take Cav’s earlier advice and ventured out to rummage around in my meager storage container leftovers for some clothes. Most of what I found were things I swore I’d never wear again. My airline pilot apprentice uniforms, some Uptown Barbie’s Ken outfits, a few pieces of designer workout gear to be worn but not sweated in. They’d do in a pinch. I kept digging, hit paydirt when I uncovered the “hunting attire” I’d been given on the pretense I would dress up like Duck Dynasty meets Rodeo Drive and go hunting with my once upon an almost wife’s menfolk. The “attire” was still in the REI bag. I didn’t hold with hunting for sport, except Taliban, which was why most of my wilderness drop hunters were survivalists. I had no room in the Cub for homeward bound trophies, and the rule was if they killed it, they ate it. Or left it for the buzzards. All they got to bring home for bragging rights were selfies with a carcass. To each their own.

The “hunting attire” proved to be no more than an expensive camo jumpsuit with a hundred Velcro closure pockets, including an infamous Velcro fly. The whole thing made from lightweight, ventilated moisture-wicking fabric. My desert boots were in the Cub. All I needed was a pair of socks and underwear I didn’t hate.

Every bruise, abrasion, puncture I’d suffered from the wall pushing me into the street let themselves be known when they met the stiff newness of the jumpsuit. It chafed and made noise when I moved. I walked back to the house in it, commando, in flip flops, turned the hose on over my head, soaked the suit and myself to the bone, sat down on a webbed patio chair to air dry.


I must have dozed off because I was dry when the unmistakable insect whine of dirt bikes snapped me awake. Call me suspicious, but after being shot at and two too close for comfort dynamite explosions earlier, I couldn’t think of one good reason for dirt bike riders in the middle of 900 square miles of nowhere. At 1:17 in the morning.

I trotted inside, through the kitchen, down the long dark hall, made the right at the end into almost total darkness, punched in the code to let me in the back door of the office that was the front of the house. Rip had a ten-inch kickstand tablet on the top of a corner file cabinet, the tablet’s sole purpose to monitor his security cameras. I touched the screen to wake it up, finger fanned through several pages of screens sectioned into quad views looking for the dirt bikes. Nothing. I flipped another, still nothing. I pulled out my phone, punched Rip’s number.

“C’mon,” I drummed my fingers on the file cabinet, “answer your goddam –”

“You got company, Paro.” I could hear heavy machinery in the background, a big diesel chugging.

“Can you see where?”

“Due south. Eight hundred yards, closin’ on foot. Night goggles are in the bottom desk drawer. The second switch calls the dogs to the work hangar. Meet ’em there.”

“Why –”

“Do it. There’s a Kalashnikov in that skinny broom closet by the fridge, grab it on your way out. Take it to ’em, Paro, don’t wait around inside and fuck up my house playin’ amateur night at the OK Corral.”

I suppose I’d hoped for a plan. Something besides, “Don’t fuck up my house.” He was right. Badmen who didn’t know, or care how far sound carried from their attack transport was amateur night. I flipped the second switch, as directed, grabbed the night goggles, and beat it back to the kitchen. Only Rip would have ultrasonic dog whistle transducers scattered around the property and a ten-round Russian semi-automatic shotgun in the kitchen closet. One of these days I’d have to ask him why, beyond his usual crackhead burglars response. My handful of shotgun was emerging from the cabinet along with that thought when I heard a single handgun Pop. It sounded like a quarter of a mile away. I put on the night visions, crawled out the back door onto the patio. I’d nailed the distance. One of the two biker-ish types, not so heavy as this morning’s DB, was pushing something with his foot. I tweaked the focus.

Madre de Dios…The motherfucker’d shot one of Rip’s dogs…

I took off running toward the work hangar, flip flops flapping, while the dirt bikers admired their dog killer’s handiwork. I heard three more Pops, different guns, punctuating each other while I edged around to the work hangar’s back door. I shushed the dogs who’d gathered, ushered them inside. I said, “Set,” heard them disappear into the depths of the hangar.

I rolled a mammoth tool chest into the middle of the hangar and parked it before I checked through the row of small windows on the big front hangar door. I saw the two laughing while they continued to pump rounds, Pop, Pop, Pop into the dead dog’s carcass. It made me sick, and it was all I could do not to raise the door and cut them in half with the shotgun.

When they started toward the house, I hit the exterior floodlights and engaged the front hangar door opener. They turned toward the hangar, determined, and erect. Another pair of wild west movie cowboys, from the same casting call as the mercs in Kansas, with far worse tailors. Likely far less skilled than the mercs, but equally dangerous in an undisciplined, unpredictable way. I took the opportunity, with their night eyes blown out by the mercury vapor floods to call them out from behind the tool chest.

“How many times you assholes gotta shoot a dog?”

“So the motherfucker owns it,” the one on my left walked my way and talked, “knows we aren’t here to fuck around.”

“Heard there might be a dog problem,” from the one on my right, drifting further right to get some distance from the other one. “Old an slow. Not much of a dog. Not much of a problem.”

“What kinda sick fuck sends sicker fucks out to shoot a man’s dog?”

Left sider bark laughed. “Gerald Ng.”

“Geraldine? Who the fuck is Geraldine?”

“Gerald. Ng.” They shot each other looks, laughed. “Not Geraldine. Man thinks you know somebody stole something belonged to him, landed a plane here.” 

“Ol’ Jerry. Always good for a laugh.” Who the hell was Jerry Ng? “Which one of you badasses shot the dog for Jerry?”

“That was me,” left sider said, “And it’s Gerald, motherfucker. He hates Jerry.”

“Jerry Motherfucker. I’ll remember that. He hire you ’cause you got that John Wayne walk down or you walkin’ pigeon-toed ’cause killin’ dogs makes your dick hard?”

They both let go of another wasted round, almost in unison. This time into the hangar instead of a dead dog.

“Hard to hit something’s not wagging its tail? Funny, I didn’t see you retards re-clip.”

They were inside of twenty yards. I flipped on the hangar work floods, and when left sider reached for his clip pouch, I dusted his feet with buckshot. Not a direct hit, close enough to catch some damaging pellets, even in boots. The shotgun auto chambered another round with a reassuring ka-chunk, and I buckshot dusted the one on my right.

“A little late to get smart, gentlemen. Step inside. Promise I’ll give you a better chance than you gave the dog.”

The one on the right held his hand up to shade his eyes from the lights, squat scrambled into the hangar. He tried to find me, fired wild once, twice. The slide on his pistol kicked back and stayed. The left-sider, Dog Shooter, blood staining the low end of his jeans, had stopped to shake his feet and call me names. He looked up, pissed off all over his face, started to raise his pistol. I shot just in front of his feet again.

“Don’t wanna kill you yet, Dog Shooter. You’re invited to a party.”

His pistol had stalled on the way up, his face screwed up against more buckshot in his toes. “I come in there, you pussy, ambushin’ motherfucker, the only party’s gonna be me fuckin’ your ass up. You gotta reload that son of a bitch sometime to kill us and when you do –”

“Shut up and get in here, Dog Shooter. I don’t have all night.”

I could see him think about his gun, what kind of shotgun did I have, was I bluffing. But he shuffled into the hangar, trailing blood streaks on the dusty concrete. When he was closer in it appeared I’d done more damage to his feet than I thought. What looked at first like boots turned out to be blood-soaked high-top Converses. Live and learn. At least he was still walking. I punched the remote and the hangar door wound down behind them.

Empty still had his eyes shielded. “Where the hell are you? You said you’d make it fair. Lemme reload. Then we’ll see –”

“I lied.”

I stepped out from behind the tool chest. They gawked for an instant at the clip on the 12 gauge. I anticipated Dog Shooter’s move, blew his gun hand off before he raised the pistol. He screamed, held up the stump, his eyes as wide as ping pong balls. Blood squirted over his head, showered back down on him.

“Better tie that off for him,” I pointed the shotgun at Empty, “or he’ll bleed to death before the party starts.”

Dog Shooter alternated his screams between AhhHEEEE and  Muh-ther-FUCKER,  stuck the squirting stump in his partner’s chest. “Your Belt, goddammit!” He screamed. “Gimme your goddam BELT! Nowwwwwww!

Empty tried to back away, ejected his dead clip to the floor, floated one hand behind him in search of a reload. Dog Shooter followed him, kept screaming, pushing the stump into Empty’s chest. Empty fell backward on top of his hand,  Dog Shooter landed on top of him. I heard Empty’s wrist snap from halfway across the hangar. They were both screaming now. At me, about me, why’d they shoot the fucking dog, fucking shotguns, each other, God, Geraldine…

One of them gurgled, “Now what?”

“Now?” I whistled. Two short, one long. I heard snarls, dog toenails clicking, scratching, skidding on concrete. I raised the shotgun, balanced it over my shoulder. I killed the lights at first sight of the dogs, set the remote on the tool chest. From outside, the muffled screams escalated for a moment before they faded away into the night.










Famous Composer Arrested For Patriotism!!

This date, 1940, composer Igor Stravinsky was arrested by the Boston police. For conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra while they were playing his arrangement of The Star Bangled Banner.

There is still a law on the books in Massachusetts’ General Laws – Chapter 164, Section 9, that threatens a $100 fine for performing any version of The Star Spangled Banner other than the original.

He defended his call on a dissonant dominant 7th as being “more democratic” because it was easier for non-professionals to sing. All copies of the arrangement were confiscated so no one today knows exactly where that 7th was.

Judging by the abundance of singers yodeling their way through The Star Spangled Banner looking for the notes at major, minor and local athletic events, maybe Igor was on to something.

I wonder what Massachusetts does with all those Benji’s?

It should be noted Stravinsky, a Russian immigrant, became a legal US Citizen in 1945. Also, that Grammarly insists Star Spangled should be hyphenated.

In honor of what is usually Tax Day and Igor’s arrest and artistic bigotry –


The Wrong Person to Ask

The prompt was – What are your favorite blogging tools?

First of all, WordPress or any blogging is no more or less than a wordy FaceBook. Full of the same self-aggrandizement, poor poor me, and sales scams as FaceBook. Or LinkedIn. Or Twitter et al. Blogging is synonymous with marketing. Which was a sad awakening.

I started blogging to give myself a virtual venue and timeline. Write something, throw it up on the big screen, take it apart. Not unlike my old job. If it’s close, find all the speed bumps, all the clams I possibly can and buff them out. Maybe a movement from adagio to allegro is a jump. Should it be abrupt, or does the allegro need an accelerando passage?

That’s what I do with my blog, for me. And save for a few “okay, let’s play” excursions into capricios and scherzos, maybe a 4 part sonata, that’s been it. What am I writing, as directed by the cosmic radio, followed by how did I do?

So much for musical analogies.

I didn’t show up to market, I showed up to write. To encounter writers who genuinely wanted to be better than they were. I won’t go off into my opinions on all things blogging and the failure of community and a plethora of scam artists other than to agree with Kurt Vonnegut, who said: “If you can do a half-assed job of anything you are a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind.” Welcome to blogging.

Now to offer the one tool every author who writes needs for blogging or otherwise (Aside from ‘pay attention to those little red squiggles under words’).

That tool is – Revising Prose by Richard A. Lanham

The second best tool is content. What gets editors, publishers, and other people’s attention is content they don’t have to read through or around or deal with. They want it consumable, and in the can.

We can brag and bullshit and interview and do cover reveals and trade meaningless stellar reviews with whoever, pump ourselves out there every day and if our content is marginal, sloppy, illogical, boring – if a paragraph is overwritten and can’t follow a straight line then it doesn’t matter. Trust me, at the end of the day all the energy expended on “Buy my book or I’ll shoot this dog”? What suffers most is content. I can say that because over the years I have been handed a bookshelf full of slick “demo” and “promo” CDs with great covers and headshots and competently executed, packaging wise, paperbacks by “compelling authors”. Some are marginal, some worse, some are close but no cigar. Had they edited their material with the meticulousness of the packaging?

Let me tell you something – a recording from a phone set on the floor in a room with people who know what they’re doing opens way more doors than a slick half-assed wannabe demo. Content. 

Even if we’re doing this for “fun” or “fulfillment” our stories and our presentation deserve our very best. Unless we’re simply stringing words together that sound writerly and calling ourselves authors, in which case, step inside hello, we’ve a most amazing show – Blogging!



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Sex, Liquor and a Jack Taco

“For the last time, Paro, mañana!”

I’d leaned on Cav a dozen different ways attempting to excavate her exact role in the demise of the exploding Honda’s driver, and I’d gotten nowhere. I could hear in her voice that I’d reached the point, or rather she’d reached the point where it was a good thing the only nearby firearm, that I knew about anyway, was locked in my truck and that the heavy objects in the room, like lamps, were bolted down. With those comforting thoughts at hand I decided to shoot for a baker’s dozen.

“C’mon, Moreno –”

Comparo?!” She slammed the drawer she had open, gave me knife eyes. I hadn’t heard my name explode in that tone of voice since I was eight. After that my mother was too busy trying to keep my sister out of a whorehouse or a convent or a home for wayward girls and my father out of a bottle for her to get exasperated with me. In fact, by the time I was nine, I’d become so invisible I could have been on fire in the living room and it wouldn’t have mattered. But Moreno? Her voice, the eyes? She could have set me on fire.

Suficiente! Consíguelo?” She slammed another drawer.

“Enough. I get it.” I wasn’t sure she bought the sheepish shrug.

Bueno.” She slammed the closet door but didn’t come away empty-handed. She popped open a plastic bag the hotel had thoughtfully supplied for send-out dry-cleaning, in a town without a dry-cleaners, and we started to load it up with used napkins and the empty comida especial containers.

Mira, mi Amor,” she smacked my hand, stopped loading, one wrist reflexed to her hip. “Right now? If I told you everything, I would have to kill you. I might anyway if you don’t reach down in this bag, ahora mismo, and dig out the fork you just threw away.” A fork she mentioned in elaborate detail did not belong to her, or me, and if I wasn’t paying enough attention not to throw real eating utensils away, maybe I should stay home tomorrow.

“Home? Mañana?”

“Don’t be cute.” She pinched my cheek. “You should change clothes while you’re there.”

I reminded her that she’d turned my life into a country song about a guy who’d lost his trailer, his truck, his dog and everything else he owned. That the cargo shorts, t-shirt, and underwear she’d washed was it, except for the few remaining pairs of underwear I’d bought in Houston. Underwear I considered one-use disposable, not to be laundered and suffered through a second time. All that misery, I told her, for a woman who hardly let enough of herself show, or stood still long enough to cast a half-assed shadow.

Pobrecito. You still have your toy airplane, and me. And this.” She handed me another in the long line of burner phones we’d exchanged. However, it was the first from her. I tried not to make a face, failed. “Don’t be afraid to use it, Paro. It’s a hacked Sat with a tower chameleon.”

“A Sat tower what?”

Vamos, Comparo.” She ushered me to the door with the trash. “When your friend informs you of Woody’s intercept location, you will immediately inform me. Repita por favor?”

“When I know, you’ll know. But why? To bring the Convict Cavalry? I thought they were mine, and you had mail carrier duty.”

“Woody is morning business, even if we have to take our business to him.”

“There’s a joke in there, about morning wooo –”

“Save it for me. Forever, posiblemente. What I was going to say is that no one in Kerrigan expects their mail to arrive before one o’clock. Three if the regular went ‘feeshin’’ in the morning.” She furrowed her brows. “You do have eyes on Kerrigan?”

“No. That was your…I thought -” Hell, it didn’t matter what I’d thought. I could see her wanting to say something like ‘Shit, Paro, are you fucking stupid or what?’ I didn’t wait for it.

“The truth is I was supposed to take my mission directives from you, and so far all I’ve gotten, from you, are some romantic vagaries, texted invitations to ambushes, an introduction to the Convict Cavalry, an excellent meal and a Tom Clancy phone.” I held it up between our faces before pocketing it. “Everything to do with your mission has been brought to me not by you, but indirectly through a smarmy, greedy assed wild card chiropractor, a magical piece of laminated paper that might have come from a dead once-upon-a-time mob accountant, and a couple of alphabet soup agency types with God knows what agendas. All of them blowing their version of how it’s going to go up my ass. And all you can say when I ask is fucking mañana? We were supposed to rob a bank, Moreno. Mañana. That was it. I was supposed to fly that cash off into the sunset for you to build a wild animal rescue park-slash-halfway house for convicts. A few hours ago I found out that was complete bullshit, just like the Company’s starting a gang war with it was bullshit.”

We studied each other’s faces in a half and half Mexican standoff.

“Well, your bank’s already been robbed, Cav. The cash is stashed. Technically I’m done. But here I am, dynamite going off all around me in Shamrock fucking Texas, and I have this strange feeling that I haven’t even gotten started yet. This whole six-ways-from-Sunday, ‘sausage, sausage who’s got the sausage’ flyin’ blind with alphabet soup suits’ shit is exactly what got me marshaled out of the service. And how I lost my licenses to fly after the last time one of your ‘plans’ went tits up, or tits down, right before my eyes.”

There. I’d said it.

“Romantic vagaries?” She bit on her lower lip, slowly dragged it out from under her front teeth.

“Have I not made it clear…” She let go of the door, kissed me. I could still taste her homemade salsa verde on her lips. She grabbed a fistful of my shirt and locked on my eyes. “You are involved in ‘this shit’ with me, Comparo Riordan, for the very same reasons the militarys and the alphabet soups said to you adios,cabrone.” The hand not clutching my shirt was gesturing in, to out, to a finger in my chest, her chest, out again in rhythm with her words.

“When I discovered myself in deep water again, yes, I ask for you to assist me. You, exclusively. I trust you, Comparo. And you only. Why? In Columbia I was nothing to you but a skinny, dusty, mouthy, filthy haired woman in boy’s fatigues. You said as much to me, to my face, but you risked your life to save mine. You could have walked away, ass covered, and never looked back. Twice now you have done this much for me. And you feel you must ask why I shot a man pointing a gun at you? In all this demencia you are el hombre mas perfecto. For me, for this, for… She kissed me again, more of a lip brush, let go of my t-shirt, smoothed out the wrinkles.This,” she flipped her hand dismissively, frowned. “All of this…suits’ shit…is bigger…No. Was bigger than the accident of you and I. Now…Mañana, Paro. Por favor. Si?”

“Yeah. I ‘si.’”

I didn’t, but I had to say it because she was right. Whatever was going on had been around long before I stepped in it. Age hadn’t improved the smell any, though.


I tossed the dry-cleaner bag of trash in the dumpster, fired up the rumbling old Ram. I eased past the barricades and police tape that had been put in place to block off the parking lot from 13th street and the gaping hole in the feed store wall. There was a woman in a yellow reflective jumpsuit using a hitch dolly to trundle a United Rentals of Amarillo gas-powered work light around the scene. She was taking pictures of small Honda pieces, maybe even small assassin pieces, and bagging them. I waved when I drove by. She ignored me. Must have known she’d be spending the night in the Holiday Inn, and it was my fault. I flicked on my lights, rolled out onto Main, and turned south.

I’d eaten enough of Moreno’s TexMex, or CaliMex as she preferred to call it, for half a dozen lumberjacks. I was sated for the moment, and more concerned with dozing off at the wheel over the next 60 some miles than contemplating whatever mañana or my curiosity about all things Moreno might put up on the big screen in my head. Things like had I just eaten my condemned man’s last supper.

I switched on the radio before I was out of town. Imagine my surprise, Country Classics. It was Marty Robbins, and damned if he wasn’t singin’ about falling in love with a pretty senorita out in El Paso. I’d read somewhere the Grateful Dead covered “El Paso” over 400 times in their live shows. Wondered if Marty cared whether fields full of acidized Dead Heads had tripped to his song that many times. Marty was dead, had been for a while, so no. Wondered then if any of the Dead’s versions would clock in under five minutes for radio play. But they were the Dead, so no again. I cranked the volume on Marty. It was shaping up to be a long hour’s drive.


When I idled into the vehicle hangar. Rip was walking toward the Cessna, holding one glove while he pulled on the other. He stopped, waited for me. I stepped out of the truck, a few feet away I turned and armed the alarm then covered the ground to Rip.

“Tell me somethin’ good, Paro.”

“Moreno says she popped a random iceman with your stainless Walther.”

“You apologizin’ for her?”

“Nope. Thought you should know, in case it was new enough to have ballistic fingerprints.”

“Heard there wasn’t enough left of that fella to make a Jack in the Box taco. Wouldn’t worry, I was you. ‘Less a course you forget to clean it.” He tugged on his remaining glove, flexed his fingers. “I know about that ‘cause I talked to Sheriff Long this afternoon. Bein’ as he’s the County Mountie, an Kerrigan, chicken shit burg it may be, is still the county seat. An in light of all the nut cases and excessive weaponry floatin’ around I figured it was my duty to call an suggest that he might wanna take off fishin’ tomorrow. Know what he said?”

“I look telepathic?”

“Truth told you look like hell and smell like girly-man fabric softener. Anyway, Bob answered his phone standing in the Tarryall River there outside Lake George, Colorado, doin’ exactly what I was about to suggest. He’d even given the County admin folks tomorrow off, an left word that come mornin’ they should let any drunks out the basement.”

I must have looked confused, if not telepathic.

“The jail, all two cells of it, are in the basement of the Courthouse, Paro. Never been much serious crime up that way, mostly ‘cause their ain’t many people. But the Highway Patrol takes occasion to drop off drunks there. Not all drunks, just the obnoxious or vomitous varieties. Generally, they’ll just run the cheeful or passed out ones on into wherever their district is. Pampa, Borger, ‘Rillo. Run ‘em in and knock off early ‘cause they’re home. But out there ‘tween Pampa and the Oklahoma borders ain’t much they can do with a real pain in the ass drunk save drop ‘em in Kerrigan. That’s why ol’ Bob leaves a key out so the HiPo can drag ‘em down the outside steps there and throw their drunk asses in a cell. ‘Cept for the Trooper was stayin’ over to Canadian with that woman. He’d drop all his HiPo baggage in there, sometimes two, three to a cell. Fella was big on arrestin’ an thumpin’ on alleged dope dealers. Till he an the woman –”

“Rip? The sheriff? Kerrigan?”

“I’m gettin’ there.” He gave me a bushy eyebrow squint. “Who pissed in your boots, you’re in such a all-fired Goddam hurry? That girl kill a friend a yours gettin’ the gun dirty? No? Then lighten the fuck up, will ya? Jesus, all these damn phones an gadgets and shit these days are gettin’ everbody’s panties in a big-hurry twist.”

“That sermon’s dyin’ here, Pastor Taylor.”

“I can see that. Well, turns out the Trooper an the woman were runnin’ themselves a ‘Gentleman’s Retreat’ –”

“In Canadian?”

“Everybody needs to get laid. Sex an liquor, son. Folks’ll drive hours for either or both. Friend a mine, he’s one a those’ll drive three hours for decent Scotch. He was the Trooper an the woman’s landlord. He got a call from a neighbor a their’s one mornin’ sayin’ water was runnin’ outside onto the patio from under the back door. He goes over an finds the Trooper an the woman dead, along with three or four all kindsa fucked up teenage girls sittin’ around in their skivvies, smokin’ weed, oblivious to the sink overflowin’ and the bodies in the kitchen. Sheriff Bob had to come back from a vacation to deal with it. Y’know he needed to ID the Trooper with fingerprints since most a what used to be his head was stuck to the side a the fridge. Bob said the walls a that kitchen looked like a lasagna night food fight.”

Rip lifted and reset his Confederate Air Force cap, took a slow look around the cloudless night sky. We both took note of some distant, barely visible lightning, probably over eastern New Mexico. I hoped that was where it stayed.

“So…” Rip carried on, “Bob’s tellin’ me nowadays he takes a few more vacations than he used to, ever since a couple years ago when FedEx started droppin’ off envelopes ‘bout three times a year with ten grand cash in ‘em. Along with suggestions of a couple days comin’ up he might wanna take off. Says that money’s how he put security cameras in the Courthouse an rebuilt the gazebo in the square. Also how he hired that slew a Messicans to clean up the old amphitheater he uses for those yodellin’ folk singer weekends he puts on. An how he came to truck his patrol car over to Elk City where some relative’s kid put all those useless fuckin’ lights on it.”

The quiet hung in the steamy night for a few beats. I felt like I was waiting for an encore from a suddenly darkened stage before the lighters came out. I flicked an imaginary Bic.

“All that was you tellin’ me the Sheriff’s on one of those suggested vacations as we speak and not to worry about Kerrigan collaterals?”

“Roger that. ‘Cept be careful who you kill tomorrow. Bob hates gettin’ called home early from vacation.”

Madre de Dios…

“Whoa, Rip. Where the hell you off to…” I checked the time on my new burner, “at ten-thirty at night?”

“Meetin’ some folks from the highway department.” He backed away, offered me a loose salute. “Lawn Jockey dropped by, left a note on the kitchen table for ya.”

What Do You Wanna Be When You Grow Up?

Well, I didn’t want to grow up to be a grown up, for damn sure. Seriously. Who wants to be one of those?

“A professional electronic instrument and audio clinician is simply a clueless punk kid who didn’t quit.” – Phil Huston (paraphrased from Richard Bach)

My first real “I wanna be” was cartoonist. Maybe a cartoonist who was a Forest Ranger. I could sit in the fire towers and draw cartoons of my animal friends. Or a football player. Forget that. Or a piano player. Then girls came along. I got a cool, garage band Vox organ, I was going to be Paul Revere and the Raiders, by myself, tri-corn hat and all and the girls would swoon like they did on Where the Action Is every afternoon. It’s good to dream when you’re young, even if you’re clueless.

When I sat down at the piano to play a tune I could hear the entire arrangement in my head, tried to beat it out of the piano. It drove my father, the part time cornet player in a big band in college, crazy. Save that image of me.

The cartoonist thing moved into art. Pen and ink, mostly, and I had a thirst for books and writing. I had gathered enough credit hours to surf through my senior year in high school, but instead I took three English classes. Senior English, Great Books and Literary Criticism. The last one being not at all about criticism in the usual sense but in dissecting lit. Like Great Books only deeper and with a sharper scalpel. Taught by a professor from OU. In the meantime, I won ribbons for “art” that my teacher submitted to all the local shows. I never understood it. You don’t get ribbons for not working hard, and I never worked at it. I busted ass for a while on piano and never got squat but a plastic bust of Beethoven. And that was for showing up, not playing. Mom liked the art ribbons, though.

That was all background noise. What I really wanted to be from 16 was a player. A “cool guy.” Juggling four girlfriends at different schools and trying to keep my Camaro shiny and shag as many spares as possible in my free time while not getting arrested or shot or beat up by an angry other boyfriend or a big brother. Then, as all good things must –

Just before my 19th birthday I ran face first into misogyny, racism, classism, weaponized sex…a moral tarpit operating under the guise of the university frat/sorority system. I had pledged, and I liked girls. A lot. One afternoon my moral center was challenged to its core. I had to choose between belonging, and wrong. I made the choice and rescued a very drunk girl from ending up as system sanctioned rape bait by dragging her out of the frat house away from the dudes who were waiting for her in the back and across the street into the arms of her sorority sisters. Over the next week I gave everything I thought I should have been for 19 years the finger. The frat, the wannabe future Country Club Hostess of the month girlfriends, the Camaro, pre-law, whatever the hell that was…all of it.

I wandered aimless and lonely for a while, until one night I decided I wanted to be Keith Emerson. Actually I wanted to be ELP.

That riff is documented in the link. What I ended up wanting to be after 11/23/1973, and didn’t know it at the time, was a synthesist. But it dawned on me soon enough and I knew I wanted to be an honest to God, avant garde sonic arteest. Electronic music hit all the checkboxes I’d stumbled though in life. Art, music, sound, the ability to make those arrangements I heard in my head in a whole other realm of sonic reality. While everyone else went to college to become whatevers, I stayed up late learning to use an instrument I couldn’t even read the manual for when I bought it. I had an insatiable appetite for it. To learn it, to understand it. Because it spoke strange, fascinating things to me I’d never heard before, and I wanted to make it speak for me. Bear in mind you couldn’t walk into your local four-year university or strip mall music store and get a degree or lessons in electronic music back then. I was on my own in Oklahoma, Moog in hand, starving, playing space fart “head” music anywhere I could. Libraries, planetariums, art in the park weekends. I played for modern dancers, ballet dancers, mimes, hypnotists, strippers…in four years I got pretty good at it. I had to get the hell out of Oklahoma, though, or starve.

Save the ‘tween here and there stories, the one-man Tangerine Dream in a yuppie fern bar and soundtrack for industrial, promotional, advertising and training movie stories and skip ahead to San Jose 1982 when I got hired by the premier synth company of the time as one of the three global sales/demo/sound design guys. Companies come and companies go but I stayed in that tier of the music business for thirty years as clinician, rep, artist relations manager, product manager. I learned more about sound and music and artists and art than I could have imagined or even begun to understand back in ’74. And I got paid for it. Still do, occasionally.

In 2015 I decided to write again. Not owner’s manuals or “how to” articles but stories. I had stories burning a hole in me. Not tales out of school from the music biz either, buy Zappa’s book for that, but stories about “women’s lib” and women’s struggles. About bank robbers and a kid from Louisiana who looks a lot like a modern Tom Sawyer if you look hard enough. Stories with a Rock n Roll sensibility. And a sense of moral center in the face of “those people.” The people I ran away from becoming.

So here I am. I got paid to do what I wanted to do, and from what I can tell, what I’ve heard from friends of my youth, is that it doesn’t get any better than that. Would I have rather (insert music biz escapades here) than been an oil land man, petro-chemical lawyer, regardless of the money and the big house(s), ranches, cars? Are you kidding? How many land men get to sit on a piano bench, trade simple tone clusters and talk piano sounds with Herbie Hancock? Drink wine and talk smack with Keith Emerson?

Did I see any of that coming, starving in OKC? No. I just kept hammering away at getting good at what I was doing. And here’s a truth – I try to apply all the “close isn’t good enough” expectations of a professional clinician to my writing. Which many would say makes me a turd polisher. Which many would also say makes want to take some of the paragraphs that people have published and say “are you fucking kidding me?”

I used this quote the other day, but it applies here.

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach



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RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #36

Oops – Wrote Myself Into a Corner

Ever written yourself into a corner? I did. Recently. Here’s how I did it.

One day I was speeding along at the typewriter, and my daughter – who was a child at the time – asked me, “Daddy, why are you writing so fast?” And I replied, “Because I want to see how the story turns out!” — Louis L’Amour

I grew up on Louis L’Amour. My father consumed Louis L’Amour books like he did Rolaids as a traveling salesman, Fig Newtons (should they be eaten with the fingers?), Cheez-Its and cigarettes at home. The L’Amour’s that were open on their face, resting on the ugly dark green plaid chair in the den, were to be left alone until they ended up in the magazine basket. Once fallen, they were mine.

I won’t laundry list the authors who have said, in words similar to L’Amour’s, that they “Just write” and go where the story goes. That’s how I write. I write like I’m watching the story unfold. That was all fine and dandy until a story bit me on the ass a week ago when a character said something totally unexpected. Her line made it so that I had to quit hanging scenes of story wallpaper and get on with the damn story. Instead of following my “the story tells itself” mantra I was so shocked by the turn of events that I turned “writerly” myself, and discovered I wasn’t “writerly” enough. I should have closed my eyes and swung for the bleachers when that curveball came off the mound and not been so shell shocked about the fact that I hadn’t seen it coming.

I was utterly unprepared. Ill-prepared. I didn’t have a carryover phrase in the can, or even in mind because I had been so surprised. I mean I had an inkling of who was who, how it would end, but I’d been farting around getting there. In one simple line, a character wrote the end of the story for me. But I couldn’t just jump straight to gunfire and helicopter chases and throwing everyone under the special effects and violence bus. I needed to write, but I had no idea what. I avoided it. I wrote bits from further along. I took stabs at future scenes. I took shelter-in-place naps…

“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” ― Jodi Picoult

Well. No shit duh.

I wrote. And wrote and overwrote and deleted and kept this thought, tossed that one. In the midst of tangential character and caper chaos no one seemed to know, or wanted to tell me, or readers or even each other what the hell was going on. I started to get off into character headtime to ‘splain, but God knows I hate much head time.

“The more you write, you learn that some of these things are just too damn difficult, and they turn out to be boring when a guy’s just inside his head a lot. For example, in Listening Woman, the second chapter — when I first wrote it, Leaphorn’s alone in the police car, and I go back and arrest a kid and stick him in there with him. Give him some company. It was just a learning process…(head time is) kind of a problem as a read, too, I think. I’m very conscious of the impatience of my reader…(and) that he’s got a limited amount of tolerance for me to screw around with.” – Tony Hillerman

But I had to get the story’s “issues” (call them plot holes if left alone) out in the open if the coming showdown was to make sense. Without telegraphing the conclusion. Without head time. I relinquished control and tuned back into the fact that the story is always better at telling itself than I am. Set up the characters, let them do their thing. Don’t get so waffled when they surprise me.

This is not easy, people. If it is, shame on you. I leave you with this gem.

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” — Richard Bach



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