NVDT #55 – Is the Caper Dead?

Prompt – Does anyone write stream of consciousness or capers anymore, or has the Hollywood hero’s journey ruined that?



My first novel length work went to an editor who usually reads a chapter and page 200 for free to see if she wants to mess with you. She then returns said documents with red ink and a quote or a “no thanks”. I did a Scrivener compile as .docx, but it spit out the whole thing. I sent it with a note saying that I apologize in advance, I had no idea what page 200 really was, read the first bit and pick a page. After about six weeks, I sent her a note. “Hey, did you get my file?”

“Sorry,” she replied, “I read the whole thing. Been busy, I’ll get back to you in a week.”

Her comments were very good, helpful. She busted all my sophomoric writerly junk, which was good. The sad thing for me was 1) she tried to edit out what got her buy into the characters and turn pages and 2) she said – I’m not sure what to do with “slice of life” pieces like this. She went on with “What does he really want? The girl? What’s his motivation?” The same with the female lead. Why is this emotion filtered through “her”? Filters aren’t required. Unless you need them once in a while.

The story isn’t about “him” so much as the female lead and she wants a lot. She’s in there with Jimi Hendrix’s “I know what it is I want, I just don’t know how to go about gettin’ it.”

Back to the editor. Her main comment was that my “slice of life” type thing was difficult to pigeonhole. No heroic story arc, either pulpish or Hollywood or the whodunnit procedural simple or grand soap opera style, no pigeonhole.

After that “the world belongs to the hero’s adventure” rude awakening I went looking for information. Turns out Heists and Capers are genres of their own. You can break capers down any way you want. Tom Sawyer was a caper. Get Shorty and a good many other Leonard’s are lauded as the pinnacle of capers. However, I would throw Hiaasen in there as pretty damn hard to beat. Because of Winn Dixie is a caper if I ever read one. I discovered that even with a formula (heists) require a lot more than a procedural. Capers have no rules at all save outlandish characters and situations or real people in the middle of…something. No rules. Stories.

Did anyone ask Twain what, specifically, Tom or Huck really wanted, what was their “motivation”? Did they ask Leonard or Hiaasen or Westlake or Coyle or O. Henry or Cain?

No. Capers may contain character arcs or not. It is not a requirement that anyone get smarter or better looking or rich. They may contain a story arc of sorts, as in –

Well, one day I pulled into this sandwich shop and then (all sorts of crazy people and shit happened). Or one day I met this girl who wanted to be a women’s rights activist and then (all sorts of crazy people and shit happened, and we grew up). Or maybe even one day I saw all this junk from Katrina, and there was the top to an enclosed tractor sittin’ there and I thought, wow, I need to put that on a swamp boat and then (see above).

This is all you need to get started –

Sunday April 26, 1981, 10:45 AM, Venice Beach, CA.

Jackson had just written, in his head, his personally mandated fluff song of the day while he watched the woman in the ice cream truck embed walnuts into his ice cream. She hammered them into coexistence on a piece of marble tile and she always made it an enjoyable experience to buy ice cream from her, evidenced by her large, full, tip jar. She really enjoyed her job and smiled a lot. She’d told him once it was because a lot of things in her life got worked out on that piece of marble. He took the cone handoff, put a dollar in the tip jar, didn’t bother to look up when he stepped away and onto the sidewalk.

He heard the scream a split second before a violent collision sent him off across the grass rolled up in a ball of asses, knees and elbows. They ricocheted off a fifty-five-gallon-drum-turned-trash-can ten yards from their point of impact and came to rest a few yards from the can. He and whoever, they seemed to be made out of nothing but lightly oiled caramel-colored velvet that smelled like coconut oil and flowers were twisted into a human Rubik’s cube. His left shoulder? Gaw-awd dammit.

A mild Russian accent belonging to a female said something to his nose. She hadn’t lost her Doublemint gum in the collision and was calm in spite of whatever had happened. She had great teeth and her nose, all of her he could really see, looked like the rest of her felt. Slightly oily.

“Hello? I say, Nice to meet you, ice cream no pay attention boy.” She worked the gum. “Dangerous, your way you meet girls. Just to say ‘Hi, girl,’ is too much? You wave. Maybe I stop. Only maybe.” She unhooked from him, one arm and one leg at a time, from under and around him. She rolled out and away and ended up sitting cross-legged and straight-armed, hands on her knees.

He was on his back, one knee up, his left shoulder on fire. She looked at him like a curiosity that had fallen out of the sky. A block of frozen pee from an airliner. Or maybe a piece of Sputnik. She held out her hand.

“Nice to meet you.”

“You said that.”

“You forget the polite way of how to meet a girl, no pay attention, no apology ice cream boy? So I try again for you. Taisia. Nice to meet you?”

“Jackson.” He raised his arm from the elbow, hand up. “All there is, front or back.” She squeezed the offered hand like it had juice in it she needed for something. “Ow. Say that again. Twa-waw-ayzeeah?”

Close. Taw-eezh-ee-uh. You should see in Cyrillic. It becomes more clear for you.”

“No, I shouldn’t.” He rolled onto his right side dragging his left arm and shoulder. “Fuckin’ ow! Jesus.” He stared for a split second. “Do you like wax your entire body?”

“No. Only where you should not be looking so close if you are hurt. For those places you should be one hundred percent of yourself. You? Maybe one hundred and ten. Or twenty.” She leaned forward, pushed him over on his back, sat on him and frowned while she worked her hands over his left shoulder. Her bikini was one of those three poker chips and a couple of shoelaces jobs, and she didn’t wax everywhere. He knew because he was so engrossed in the way the sun and her body fuzz were working together with the perfumed coconut oil that she had to tell him twice to rotate his arm and shoulder.

“With you I repeat everything? Why is that? Nothing broken, you will live. Something hit you?”


“No. I am strong but I am a girl and not so hard to cause pain.”

He thought he might be getting that way and was glad when she stood and pulled him up by his right arm.

“Shirt.” She held out her hand, waited. He obeyed and she got right up on the non-bloody cross-shaped dark purple dent at the very top of his upper left arm. She walked off tiptoe on her skates and re-set the trash barrel they’d knocked over, held his shirt sleeve up to where the welded angle iron support frame crossed in the front of the barrel and nodded.

“Is here.” She pointed at her discovery and a rusty cross on his t-shirt sleeve, looked at him, pleased with her space case ice cream cone boy meets six-foot-four Amazon Russian skater girl train wreck forensics. “Is better you than me, no attention ice cream boy.”

“Any gentleman points for that?”

“Not today.” The backhanded t-shirt hit him in the face with some force. She bent over and started to pick up the trash scattered in their wreck.

Jesus, she shouldn’t be…He pulled the shirt on and squatted to help her with the trash, eyes wide. Sweet, sweet Jesus. He almost forgot about his shoulder before he suggested that she might follow his lead in the squat versus bend.
After they’d dropped the last waxed coke cup and hot dog wrapper in the can, she brushed her hands together, made a face, wiped and squeezed them on the back pockets of his Levis. He could feel it all the way into his shoulders.

“You have car? Mine is too far. I will drive. For X-rays. Come.”

“In skates?”

“Of course I remove them before.” She stitched her eyebrows together, looked at him like he was the most pathetic dumbass on the planet. “I am smart Russian girl, not Polak joke person.”

“You have a license somewhere?” No more bikini than she had on he didn’t want to start guessing.

“Commercial. In my skate.” She let a small grin run across her face to let him know she knew what he’d been thinking.

“Cool.” He handed her his keys. “It’s a stick. Can you handle it?”

“Stick?” She spun his key ring into her palm. “All men, they say to me, ‘Taisia, is like tree, can you handle it?’” She gave him a crooked smile. “But today? Today is good because at last I meet one honest American ice cream boy. I like you too much already.” The open-palm whack between his shoulder blades rattled his teeth.

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NVDT Random – Say What?

It’s not just the news, but they are the meaningless soundbite kings. I’m going to shy away from “Now more than ever”, whatever the hell that means. I’m going straight to assumptive sloganeering.

I see this on almost service truck for any company with more than one employee.

Background checked and drug tested.

“Wull, he said he’d been in stir fur a piece. Turned out he carjacked a kindergarten teacher with a deadly weapon. Not him, her. She shot him twice in the leg with it. But he still went down for 2 to 5 for gross stupidity. So that checked out. An hell, we give him a four-way hit uh windowpane, sent him out to work on the hospital AC. Now, it took him three days, but they dint bitch about nothin‘ after, so he’s a keeper.”

Certified Pre Owned Vehicle

Certified for what? Not being new? Who decides? Sherlock Holmes?

How stupid do they think we are? And what, exactly, does it mean? Even I can tell it’s used car.

Better Products Via Marketing

There’s a big name speaker company out there that would have us believe their countertop radio sounds like a concert hall. They push it hard, find all sorts of were-they-ever-famous types with engineer or producer tacked onto their names. We bought one. Put in good environments, recording studios, real concert halls, auditoriums, and kitchen counters. I said. “You know this thing sounds like muddy shit. Everywhere.” The product manager for speakers said “Better sound through marketing.”

And that’s it. Don’t think. Don’t ask. Believe what they tell you. Because now more than ever.

Like the kid at the mattress store. I finally had to say, “Do I look like I need a 40 fucking year warranty?” Somebody told him that was the kicker pitch, 40 years. No way I’m looking to return that thing when I’m a hundred and something Instead, tell me is it pee proof if my bladder gives it up?



NVDT Random – Crossroads – What the Hell Did You Expect?

That MEME has so much depth and humor I’m using it again

Is this it? The crossroads of experience and time? Where race riots are in their umpteenth sequel? Where I hear my father at the dinner table saying, “Nixon and Kennedy? That’s the best we can do?” Forget politics for a minute. Let’s delve down into predictable daily human stupidity nature.

I have the Neighborhood App. It’s suggested by Ring, my video doorbell people. It’s not much more than a thinly veiled advertising outlet for roofers, plumbers, handymen and women who seem to think their drawer, closet and garage junque is considerably more valuable than it really is, and that someone might need to buy it.

The posts run the gamut from lost pets, I hate (all) the cable companies, why can’t the person at the corner of X and Y mow their damn yard and park their car elsewhere to all the ‘where are my roller skates’ and ‘I just got a Mexican dinner for 6 delivered to my porch that’s not for me’ package delivery fuckups perpetrated by USPS, Uber, UPS, FedEx, and Amazon.

And burglaries. Loose property and/or from automobiles.

That’s the crossroads. My first professional gig, unless you count cover bands in beer barns and topless bars, the occasional commercial and one-man Tangerine Dream in fern bars, was at a video studio in Houston. The first time I went in and ‘auditioned’ there was a sign the seasoned crew had hung in the control room. “Don’t Make Yourself a Victim”. It was from one of their productions, and they claimed it was there to keep them from erasing the wrong tapes, splicing the wrong voice-over, forgetting to hit record.

I got the job as audio editor, background music composer, and video shoot grunt. We made hard hat (safety) movies and promotional/in house education for Texaco, Exxon, Shell, OSHA, Neiman Marcus, Playboy, Weingartens, Safeway/TomThumb/Randalls, the heart hospital at Harris Methodist on and on…The theme of most of them was that “Victim” sign. “Don’t do dumb shit and you won’t get hurt/ripped off/fired/fooled/killed. Pay attention. Follow the rules. And if you’ve forgotten them, here they are.”

I keep my insurance licenses active, though I seldom use them. Those licenses require Continuing Ed. For years I’ve sat through online and in-person presentations by underwriters ‘splaining how you better fix this downspout or your claim will be denied, why your dog is a liability, why they hate indoor water claims and the people who file them. The biggie is always why most companies give you one theft claim every so many years, home or vehicle, or you’re out. Gone. Adios. If you have a couple of theft claims you’re not invited to renew plus no one else wants to write you. Because 99% of the time theft from automobiles is the insured’s fault, it was probably preventable, or it’s fraud. As far as insurance companies are concerned you’re a dumbass and potential liability.

To the present and the Neighborhood App. Almost every theft, because we don’t have many break-ins around here, is down to –

“Godammit, I just left my windows cracked (and the truck unlocked) and now my phone and other valuable stuff is missing”.

The girl in the apartment complex who left (and lost) her brand new MacBook sitting, visible, on the back seat of her unlocked car in the middle of the day, in an apartment parking lot.

Two employees of a local Electrician House Call biz had their phones, wallets, expensive tools, and other stuff stolen from their rolling billboard truck. Seriously, it was unlocked in major metro suburb six houses from a street that will take you all the way back to Kansas? I don’t need y’all working on my air conditioner.

In my area, we have alleys to the garages. We also have ‘bulky item pick up day’. If you don’t want something that won’t fit in the trash you can you stick it out on the driveway or up against the fence and the metal vultures or the city will haul it off. A woman put some metal plant stands at the end of her driveway, spray painted them, went inside. A few hours later she came back, they’re gone! Probably in the same pickup truck with the dead lawnmowers, lawn furniture, toilets and faded PlaySkool yard gear. Don’t leave stuff you want to keep in the “please take me” zone.

My favorite – “Never leave your child alone in the car” Amber Alert! Child in car stolen from C Store!

Talk about ‘it’s only for other people, it’s okay if I do dumb shit’. I just ran in for a minute.  I mean that Victim sign should pop up out of the dash like the BANG flag from a toy gun every time you kill the ignition. Or the Alexa voice saying “Don’t do dumb shit Ms. Jones. Lock your car, take your valuables. Enjoy the rest of your Thursday!”

The unfortunate truth is crooks of opportunity are everywhere and they work 24/7. One guy used to ride his bike up and down 8 lanes wide Preston Road in North Dallas, checking out the cars parked closest to the street. He wasn’t afraid to pop the glass thirty yards from a Walgreens, grab a purse, and pedal away. Why was the purse on the front seat again? Didn’t wanna drag it around a store no bigger than a Walgreen’s?

Recap – I know this is all like saying ‘don’t text and drive’ because I know you don’t but the three people surrounding you at an intersection do so I’ll repeat it.

Don’t Make Yourself a Victim by doing dumb shit. When I hear the OMG my shit’s been stolen stories I want to qoute aloud from an old Point Blanks song what the cops and insurance people are thinking – What the hell did you expect?

Don’t Make Yourself a Victim.

We shoulda had that sign for our drummer who got the clap every time we played the Red Dog. Like it should have at least been on the coasters. And the dancers.




NVDT Random – 1853 and Territoriality

In 1853 Illinois passed a law where if a black person showed up and stayed more than 10 days they got a hefty fine. I thought, you know, drop the racial requirement and what a great idea! Why? Shortly after I read that bit of history I read a post from galby68 wherein he wondered why so many Arizona plates in Portland. I drive around Dallas and often wonder where all the Texans are. Judging by license plates from everywhere, including Hawaii (last I looked there was no bridge), Texans are few and far between. Particularly on weekends when they’re all in Oklahoma or Colorado buying weed or gambling and dumping money into more progressive state’s coffers.

Granted, if I lived in Detroit I’d haul ass outta there ASAP, but otherwise why Texas? Missouri and Mississippi and the Carolinas, Arkansas, Kansas, Arizona, Georgia, New Mexico…Those places are livable. What the hell y’all doin’ here? Besides playin’ with your phones at stoplights and causing everyone behind you to sit through another cycle, or driving the speed limit on the Autobahns or consulting your GPS at 4 MPH and then crossing four lanes of traffic instead of turning around a block further on to get to Chick Fil A?

More than 10 days, no Texas plates? Adios. Except Winter Texans. How can we send the entire senior population of Minnesota back en masse when we can’t even evacuate all the Katrina leftovers from Galveston when a new hurricane threatens?


NVDT #54 – Self Editing, DRE and Logic

Prompt – Do you hurry through a first draft, or are you conscious of flaws as they go down? Has that changed over time?

Well, yes, and no. When content comes, it comes, and yes I monitor it for certain kinds of junk as it goes down and no it’s not perfect when it hits. Catching some of that junk before it lands is easier than it used to be because I hear it now instead of waiting to see it.

But first – I missed last week. Two catch up notes.

LY – I picked up an Elizabeth George wherein feathers clung wetly.

That arc thing – Chekov said that there are only two stories. Someone goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town. Which, depending on POV, could boil down to one story. I’m unsure how procedurals fit in there, but someone has to go on a journey of discovery, and before the rich old man dies a long-lost cousin shows up as a red herring. I answered my question!

Back-handed compliment award – MLB News for this gem, regarding Elizabeth George’s In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner. “At 550 pages, you won’t read this in one sitting, but you’ll want to.” Or wish you could?

On topic – Drafting and self-editing are really a discussion of the result. DRE, or Desired Reader Economy. AW more than touched on that in her previous post about arc, boring the crowd, etc. But it’s deeper than that. Action, resolution, erudition of the protagonist(s) aren’t the answers. It’s easy to become bored, disenchanted, even hostile toward a work that is obviously an edit (or two) shy of shinola.

The elements that comprise bad prose are not (generally) the duty of the Indy editor to repair. They don’t edit content. They fix grammar issues and clams like dropped words, spelling, en and em dashes, propose semicolons. If our work is sophomoric on some level(s), that’s on us. We need to learn to see things like logic, stiffness, REDUNDANCIES. Things that just flat need to go.

My biggest editing tasks post-draft are dumping things (usually ‘splaining) a character or I thought needed to be said/written, expanding or dumping scene fragments and paragraph logic. While paragraphs may read acceptably, I dislike reading my own or other’s work where this sentence needs to go up and this one down or gone. I see paragraph structure as analogous to a righteous sandwich. I’ll bet we’re all picky about the order of various components. How much of condiment X? Top or bottom? Meat, tofu, greenery, veg, dairy…If they are out of order somehow the whole is less satisfying.

Paragraph structure is all about sentences and logical arc.  I’m a big fan of sentences. They’re the stuff of the paragraph sandwich. I have two rules for sentences. Don’t write shitty, illogical ones, throw the excess away, move on to another. DO NOT REPEAT YOURSELF. It doesn’t matter if it’s one word or a couple, or a whole phrase.

Check out this simple one-worder redundancy example – Bobby stood up. Up? We need it why? Bobby stood. The only modifier we might need is if he stood partially erect before painting the table with vomit. But if stood is it, stood is it. Right? We need to catch that “up” before it ever hits the page/screen. Yes, it’s that subtle. And that important.

Good sentence editing will also arrest the development of circuitous thought making it to the page. Consider – A sojourn down a path. We should see it as it rolls by, eyeball and camera style, not go gamboling over the hills and vales and back to the lane and down to the visage of the grand house and back to the lane and what’s the car doing and won’t Uncle Mack be surprised. Drive the damn car down the lane, accompanied by logical travelogue and interiority (if you must) to a conclusion. A paragraph. Or if you’re of that ilk, three pages with head time. But do it logically. 

The other process, if no journey down a lane is involved and you are overcome by the pastoral bug, think of how you would describe a postcard or photograph. The trouble, as in the down the lane example, arises when we try to describe the panorama remixed with the journey.

Fix? Stop at the gate (hotel room door, coffee shop entrance…). Admire the scenery and proceed logically.

We’re all here to learn something. At least I am, and I do. I don’t care about how when I wrote The Day the Dog Ate My Grandmother that just went Tupperware I did this. I care about what “this” was and how did you repair it. This one of mine. Forget context.

She tilted her head to look past him. “Her?” The Asian woman produced a laminated sheet with fluorescent color thumbnails of all the culinary marvels available at Psylla’s, each with Han characters and brief English descriptions and dropped her index finger on one called ‘Weather Lady’.

“Shoulda known.” He studied the menu, the fluorescent globs on tiny plates not registering as edible, regardless of what they were called. She yanked the colorful menu out from under his hand, made it disappear.

“You not regular type for here. I tell her, ‘You no trust young man eat healthy food.’ For you? I have fried egg row. Chicken, beef, vegable…”

What’s wrong? “Shoulda known”. It’s a scene frag. Needs to go or make sense. Even if we know contextually who “he” is with, why or what should “he” have known? The rewrite is here. I should mention rewrite #2. A reader pointed out a gaping hole of assumption that sent me into this add-in to the scene. Throwaway Thursdays are my may-never-go-anywhere drafts, but if an edit that makes sense is suggested, I’ll get on it.

I’m using Richard here for the next example because 1) I’m sure he won’t get his panties in a twist, and 2) I commented on his blog that he should call sometimes before pulling the trigger. I’m thanking him in advance for this example, not calling him out or being some jerkwad internet sniper. We all do this stuff as I mentioned about myself. And his short story I lifted this example from is at once excellent with touches of  The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything, I Dream of Jeannie with a great O Henry twist, and also a classic example of one more pass, please. Think about editing this for logic. The way Richard (and a lot of us) talk about grammar I’m sure someone charged him for the semicolon, leave it alone.

There was just an alarming absence of other people as I walked down the road towards my workplace. I saw a few cats in the windows of the houses; they watched me pass with that unnerving cat-stare. Televisions were on in front rooms. I started to feel fear, just a prickling sensation in my shoulders at first; it took over from my headache.

I only lived a short way away from my office job and unless it was pouring with rain I walked every day. I usually bought a newspaper at the local shop; it was open as usual but deserted. I took…

Can we see what happened there? We’re bypassing just as a throwaway and walking down the road. We get creeped out by cats, get more creeps, and BAM, hold on, we’re back setting up the walk to work. Huh? The logical first line in that series is I only lived…and then the cats and the newspaper, not get halfway down the street and go back upstairs.

We all need to see, clearly, what we’re doing, where we’re going before we hit the publish button.

Analogy – I imagine had Richard docked a ship before he docked a ship, he’d have had a very brief career. Because writing isn’t as dangerous as directing a million tons of steel or riding a horse or handling firearms doesn’t mean we should be any less circumspect in our QC. What’s that line about the pen being mightier? Well, slop kills effectiveness. We need to learn to seek out and destroy our slop and not let it diminish the impact of our words.

Point – Yeah, I see more garf going down than I used to. Yeah, I’m retentive about publishing even a blog post with clams and my iceberg tendency leaves holes I need to fix.

Yeah, yeah, and yeah. Like horseshoes, close enough doesn’t count. Calling it jazz or draft or style doesn’t count. The great jazz pianist Bill Evans said, “There are no wrong notes. Only wrong resolutions.” Dig that? Pick it up and use it the very next time you write a sentence, build a paragraph, compose a story and self-edit. Say what you want, but make it make sense.

Logic, y’all. That’s my .02 on catching it upfront and after the fact.

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Throwaway Thursdays

So this guy inherits a mostly female celebrity softball team, their stated purpose to fundraise for charity. The problem being no one is willing to sponsor them. They all possess a zero softball skillset and blame their morning show leader, Randi Navarro, for dumping them all on “Coach Cowboy”, a stranger who means to find out what makes them tick so he can turn a bunch of temperamental A-list females into a women’s crisis centers fundraising machine. A stranger whose saving grace is he’s okay to look at and fun to be around, has a Golden Globe and a check-stand gossip-newspaper-worthy lawsuit under his belt.

Thursday. Day four of Jackson’s brief lunch meetings with his core female softball team members. He was curious how all the Seven in the Morning broadcast girls found the unhealthiest looking shit-hole places to eat “healthy” food. He’d eaten more saffron, rosemary, balsamic, ginger, thyme, curry, teriyaki, or combo/other infused steamed or wok veggies in the last four days than he’d eaten in a year. Two or three years. Ever, maybe. All of it from questionable looking remodeled and brightly painted old gas stations or little square cinder block huts in strip center parking lots.

In another strip center parking lot outside Psylla’s Garden Delites he looked across another welded-pipe-chained-to-a-light-pole-picnic-table-with-an-umbrella at today’s lunch date, Cicily Warren, Seven in the Morning’s Weather Seven girl. Unlike her pedal-to-the-metal cohorts, Cicily was quiet, almost shy. And pretty, in a classic, wholesome, Miss Iowa Asparagus Queen way. She was also a degreed meteorologist, not another talking head. What she did have in common with the rest of the morning crew was her presentation to him of a little fear, a touch of pissed off, and a whole lot of distrust. They sat, surrounded by traffic noise for a few minutes until she said “perfect” about a crunchy chunk of broccoli dripping with lemon coconut butter. Jackson took it as an opener.

“That wasn’t meant for me, so I guess I’m gonna have to start. The other ladies you work with jumped right in.”

“I can hear it. Who the hell are you? What do you want? They can be like that.”

“And you’re a wait and see?”

“I learned when I was a teenager that there are more important things in the world than my opinion and now it’s hard for me to validate them, even to myself, much less share them with other people. Except for guessing what the weather’s going to do.” She laughed a small, insecure laugh. “They pay me for that.” She dunked more broccoli and gave him a momentary eye lock. “Particularly share them with someone I hardly know who practically demanded a lunch date to discuss topic or topics undisclosed.”

“Point taken. Here it is. My feeling was that you were seriously bummed about the game on Saturday, took you most of dinner to lighten up. That’s why we’re here. I need to know why.”

“It won’t do any good.”

“Maybe not. Try me.” He held up three fingers. “I got a merit badge for listening. Only had to do it once to prove I could. Twice won’t kill me.”

She snarked on some veg. “Randi said you were a natural ice breaker.” She pulled a paper napkin from under his tray, “It won’t do any good because I’m not any good, that’s why.”

“I know this woman, she’s a VP at a big land development company back where I come from. She says ‘Holy Shit’ all the time. So Holy Shit, Cicily. You’re a meteorologist. A for-real scientist. All the city polls rate you number one for accuracy. That looks ‘good’ from over here.”

“Those polls are all Randi and the others and nothing to do with the weather or softball.”

He took a big bite of water chestnut with something limp and green clinging to it to buy time. He’d done this same meeting on Monday, different veggie stand, with Randi Navarro. She’d said their success was all down to Cicily’s perfectly desirable apple pie looks and accuracy because she knew what she was doing, not just smiling and being perky and saying dumb shit about the news.

“Last I looked Randi doesn’t call the weather.”

“No, but she’s why we’re so popular. All big smile and straight hair and that perky cheerleader shake-the-pom-poms-about-everything way she has. I could say sunshine every day it rains and those polls —”

“Sorry, but that song won’t chart. The polls for you are about you, Cicily. Not Navarro. Did you ask the other ladies what we talked about?”

“I asked. They said you wanted us to wait until we’d all done this meeting to talk to each other about them, so we’re being good girls.”

“Cool. I’m gonna tell you something I didn’t tell them. You all say it’s down to somebody else. Every one of you. That’s modest and polite but the truth is it’s all of you, and I can tell by the way you talk about the show and each other that you’re all proud of the job you’ve done. But you’re all missing it. You’re successful and number one in the morning because you’re a team, not because one of you is a standout. So…” he hesitated, stabbed, decided against a lump of orange-ish something in his bucket.

“So?” She checked her watch.

“So, if Cicily Warren can play on a team with the big girls, in the big league, what is there about a goofy little softball team that pushes some button of yours so hard even I can see it hurts?”

She waited. Didn’t eat, didn’t look away. Looked at him like he was a fresh fish being held up in a market. “I’m sure you’ve heard this all week long but I’ll reiterate. We’re terrible. The two guys always say it’s our fault, that we’re beyond pitiful. That we play like girls. We used to say they could help more and stop yelling at us, but they won’t and don’t. And I’m absolutely the worst of all of us, because…Well, because my mom didn’t have the time and we had some problems. No dad, no brothers, and my sister and I never played on a team or learned how to do any of the sports things.”

She’d had her fingers on something in the paperboard bucket she was holding up with her other hand, needed to commit or quit on it. He could see her deciding how much Miss Manners to put into a picnic table lunch with a questionable, just met him softball coach.

He held out another napkin for her, saying “Eat it, whatever it is. You’re killing me and a good story.”

She dropped whatever it was in her mouth, not a messy drop of weird butter to be seen, and took the napkin. “I had a boyfriend in college. He made me play basketball with him for a while. That was almost fun.”

He raised his eyebrows and popped what might have been yellow cauliflower soaked in coconut butter in his mouth, tried not to make a face, waited for her.

“Well, I got okay with throwing it through the hoop but all that ball bouncing and butt bumping and being competitive? I didn’t care for that. We broke up, I went back to the weather and gave up on team sports. Then, last year, Randi said ‘Softball.’ It sounded like fun because it was supposed to be for a good cause and there’s not all that bumping and jumping, but I don’t know anything else about it. Other than I stand out there and wait for the ball and screw up when it comes. And forget swinging that bat thing. I close my eyes.”

“So do a lot of people.” Straight back to third grade. When the pitchers had picked up velocity but not accuracy. To stay in box he’d closed his eyes, swung so hard he broke a bat the first time he’d connected.

They sat in the noise from the One and the sidewalk Muzak for a few, Jackson impressed with how she ate most of the plastic bowl full of coconut buttery veg with her fingers, didn’t make a mess and only needed the napkins for the fingers she used. He stopped stirring his congealing bucket of veg, dropped his spork and a balled-up napkin in it.

“Look, Cis,” he waited for her to drop her spork in her own bucket. “I asked you to do this lunch because the last thing I need is to inherit a fundraising softball team that everyone dreads playing on. And I can tell a couple of you are already looking to book. Truth? I, we really need you to stay. The guys’ll have new manners by Saturday, that’s a promise. And I have a plan to make you and everyone else feel more comfortable playing. I can’t promise sunshine on every cloudy day, but the rainy day blues are over as far as softball and you are concerned. Can we be square on that?”

“We all told Randi you were her problem if you started to stink.” She stirred her thickening goo absently, pushed it away. “We’re okay. For now.”

“Good.” Based on what he’d learned from the other lunches, ‘For God’s sake don’t ask Cis anything real about the weather or you’ll be there all day’, he put on his best curious face. “So, Ms. Weather Seven, do you know how the clouds and the sky get all those colors in the morning? The pinks and weird yellows and grays and blues?”

“What’s in the atmosphere acts like color frequency filters.” She eyed him to see if he was paying attention, lit up like he’d flipped a switch. “It all depends on where you’re standing, you know, and what’s between you and…Since you asked, and this might take a minute,” she handed him her empty veg bucket stuffed with napkins. “May I have another, please? Coach? I’m starving.”

He wanted to ask why they all ate funked-up veg instead of real food, wanted to take her to Trini’s in Long Beach, feed her a burrito the size of his forearm. But he walked to the window, leaned on the worn wooden sill under the walkup window, and waited for the elderly Asian woman to look up from a thick, coverless paperback. She nodded at her book, turned down the page set it on the stool when she stood.

“Hep yeww?”

“I need one more of whatever she ordered before I got here.”

She tilted her head to look past him. “Her?” The woman produced a laminated sheet with fluorescent color thumbnails of all the culinary marvels available at Psylla’s, each with Han characters and brief English descriptions, dropped her index finger on one called ‘Weather Lady’. “She eat here all time. Nobody bother her. She the best. She say ‘rain’, I save money, stay home.” She flipped the laminated menu. Taped to the back was Cicily’s Channel Seven headshot, autographed to Sue. “She sign special. For me.”

“Shoulda known.” He turned the menu over, studied it looking for something he might want to eat, the fluorescent globs on tiny plates not registering as edible, regardless of what they were called.

“I tell her,” she wagged her finger in his face for emphasis. ‘Yeww no truss young man eats healthy food’. I truss yeww, yeww not type for here so no waste time.” She yanked the colorful menu out from under his hand, made it disappear. “For yeww I have fried egg row. Chicken, beef, vegable…”

“Chicken. You have anything back there besides soy sauce? Tabasco, hot saw –”

“Green Dragon,” she deposited a squeeze bottle full of green liquid on the sill. “Carefow, boyfren. Set ass on fire.”

Jackson delivered Cicily’s bucket, set his wrapped up eggrolls, and the bottle of sauce on the metal tabletop before he dropped on the iron bench. Cicily lifted the bottle of green sauce, studied it.

“You do know what this is?”

“Green Dragon’s what she said. You wanna slide it back this way? Please?”

She watched him smother an eggroll with the sauce, stab it with one spork and rip off a bite with another. Her expression started with mild curiosity and morphed into borderline horror when he stuck the chunk in his mouth. “Oh. My. God.”

“Not too bad,” he said through a mouthful. “There’s a habanero sauce at this Mexican dive in Santa Monica, La Reyna. The owner, Trey, makes up small batches of it in the back. You gotta ask for it. Ever been there?”

“Santa Monica, yes. The Reyna place, no.”

“We’ll go sometime after a game. The whole team.” He sporked off another bite. “So. You were telling me all about the clouds and the colors?” He caught her staring at her bucket of gooey veg. “Relax, Cis. You can talk and eat. Nobody here’s gonna call our moms or narc you out to the public decorum police at Channel Seven.”

By the time she was done with her veg bucket, frequency filtering, and smog and chemistry and physics, he was damn glad they’d met at Psylla’s Garden Delites in their own rides and she had a meeting later in the afternoon because the girl could talk some science. Forever. Big, capital S Science. Big Science being his big ouch. He acted interested, smiled, nodded, hoped he said “wow” and “cool” in the right places. He didn’t even understand what the hell the H and L meant on the weather map, all he knew was that a smart, pretty girl on TV who was on his softball team did know, and cared enough to tell him and a couple million other people if they needed a jacket or an umbrella before he left his apartment.

Happy to have relaxed, unloaded science and educated a curious, polite, seasoned listener Cicily smiled and waved before she climbed in her car. He waved back, his other hand lingering on the Impala’s door handle while he watched her roll away. It was gonna be okay. He’d listen to Cicily’s big love for science and nutrition, and to all the rest of them and their big ideas, big hurts, big anger if they’d just hang in a little longer.

He unlocked his car, fired it up, sat back, cut a Carefow, boyfren sonic boom fart before he checked the big wall calendar from Peaches Garage sitting in his passenger seat. Tomorrow. Zane Rialta, the hard-ass syndicated gossip show host with the sun-shade boob job. Her husband was a professional jock, so maybe she ate real food. Please. Any more buttery broccoli or Green Dragon sauce and he was going to fart himself right past the weekend.

NVDT Random -Truth in Turd Polishing and a Surprise

This is a two-fer. Scroll to the bottom for the surprise

I still get newsletters out the wazoo from my old career. The one below resonated cross-curriculum. Why? I am personally aware of authors with many books out there I wouldn’t put my name on. Authors with ‘editors’ cashing their checks for commas and semi-colons and leaving disheveled content in place. I have read enough rules to drown in them. I have run the first chapters of respected authors through a handful of writing checkers, read books on style and substance and indeed have polished my own turds beyond a reflective shine, style-wise. But as I have learned with writing, synth demos, sheetrock mud, any sort of tile – micromanagement is a waste of time. Because no two tiles are the same. No wall is straight. No prose or performance is perfect. And I’m only the judge of my effort, not the result.

From Sep, at Unison software. A company that if you can’t write a tune, they have software that will spit one out for you.

Hey Phil, (Don’t you love personalized via database notes?)

My first song that I ever released took me 6 painful months to finish. I must have spent over 200 hours on it…And by the end of it, all the fun had been sucked dry.

But here’s the worst part.

When I finally called it done…And had the courage to release it…It got 50 plays and nobody cared.

The problem was…I was spending all my time trying to make 1 song perfect. There was no consistency or momentum happening to rack up my fanbase.And, I wasn’t giving myself the opportunity to improve at all stages of the music production process.

So, eventually, I came to realize something key.

Quantity is more important than quality.

I know this sounds weird. After all, aren’t all your songs supposed to be special?Isn’t it more important to make 1 amazing song than 10 good ones?

Actually, no. And there are 2 reasons why:

1. It’s not up to you.

You don’t decide which songs become hits and which ones don’t. You may think you do, but at the end of day you have very little control over what songs resonate with the public. And which ones completely flop. Even the top producers I know can’t guarantee their songs will be hits. And I had absolutely no idea my remix was going to get 20 million plays when I first released it.

In reality, every song you make should be your best effort. But then it simply becomes a numbers game. Some songs will stick, some won’t. However, you can up your chances by finishing and releasing music consistently.

2. Don’t be so tough on yourself.

You know what sounds stressful? Putting insane amounts of pressure on yourself. And saying the next song I make has to get signed. Or has to get 1,000,000 plays. Or has to make X amount of dollars. It’s great that you’re ambitious. But who needs that pressure?

Your music will strike a chord with the public when it’s ready to. Again, all you can do is make music to the best of your ability. And make a lot of it.

Plus, intense pressure isn’t fun. And we’re making music here. It’s supposed to be fun before anything else. Let me leave you with one analogy.

Making music is a lot like sending bottles out to sea. You keep sending them and sending them, until one day, a bottle comes back to you.

That’s what making music is like.

That bottle may back to you in the form of a hit song. Or an awesome record deal. Or a dream set at a major festival. Or perhaps just the satisfaction of creating a finished work you can be proud of.

But the point here is — just keep sending those bottles.

Have an amazing week,

PS from the blog author – The formula works, as long as you clean it up!

BONUS SURPRISE – Sir Mashalot – the top 5 or 6 country songs over 5 or 6 years. More punch-ins than Steely Dan, more sameness than a table full of “NYT Bestselling Authors” at pick-your-book-store. This is how hilarious all aspects of publishing and delivery are. If you can’t get this in your region Google Sir Mashalot Country Mix


Throwaway Thursdays

I read Hiaasen’s line about enduring and durable stereotypes again and thought, you know, I have tons of stuff that will never see the light of day. Like how I originally got the matchstick men (arsonists) to Louisiana to burn out Bobby B.

Anthony “Big T” Gallanti, a florid, cigar wielding man and Anthony “Little T” Mursko, Big T’s thin, dark, Hitler mustached sidekick stepped off the curb in unison. Big T and Little T, both sported identical slicked-back black-from-the-same-bottle hair, old school Wayfarer shades, and air travel rumpled linen suits.

The Lincoln driver smiled to himself. “T for two” Sammy’d called them.  A pair of classic, straight out of the movies crime family errand boys dripping sweat in the unfamiliar cut-it-with-a-knife Gulf Coast humidity. They tossed their bags in the open trunk of the aging salt and sun ravaged Lincoln. The curbside back door swung open. Tony put his foot in, got his knee slapped.

“Do ya mind?” The yellow with green palm foliage Hawaiian shirt clad driver tossed several Le Canard Boueux beach towels over the backseat’s expanse, leaned over, started straightening them.

“C’mon, Bumblefuck,” Big T fanned himself with a week-old Times-Picayune sports section he’d liberated from the plane’s library. “It’s fuckin’ hot out here.” Big T stuck an unlit cohiba in the side of his mouth, patted himself down looking for a light.

“Yeah, well,” Hawaiian shirt was saying, “I just got my velour steamed, see? An I don’t need no sweaty ass monkey butt Yankee hotshots screwin’ it up a’ready. Maybe I got a date or somethin’, don’t want my ride smellin’ like pits an man whore deodorant. An don’t even think about lightin’ that thing. Got it?”

“Got it.” Big T stuck the cigar in his shirt pocket slobbery side up. “What I don’t got is how come none of yous Gulf Coast guys get regular haircuts? Or shave when you meet family from outta town?” Man whore. Dude wasn’t Sammy’s cousin I’d cut his balls off right here.

“No point in either. Wind and humidity…Can’t put enough man whore shit in your hair to stop it havin’ a mind a its own. An it’s not that hot, either,” the driver went on. “Like 93, 94. But the heat index—”

“Save the meteoroctology lesson and get happy with the fuckin’ towels. Soon.”

The driver appraised his drape and tuck job, fell back into the front seat. “I was just sayin’, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”

“Will ya shut the fuck up about humidity?” Big T flicked sweat off his eyebrows, dropped into the back seat, slammed his door. “Gimme snow any fuckin’ day.”

“Never heard a nobody throwin’ their back out shovelin’ humidity.”

“I tole you,” Big T stuck a pistol over the seat and his hand went numb. So numb maybe it was cut off.  Worms were crawling up his arm, through his body, his eyes went in and out of focus, his earlobes, a body part he never thought about, throbbed. Steel balls wobbled up the backside of his legs, convened at his rectum, and continued on up through his bowels in a helix pattern. The driver turned around, held what looked like a long butane grill lighter an inch from Big T’s nose.

“Eighty-six million volts, ‘Bumblefuck’. Modified. This thumb dial here? Milliamps.” He poked Big T in the nose, “They’re the killers. I run it up halfway? Cooks your brain, inside your fuckin’ head. You’re sittin’ there, I’m sittin’ here, you look like you only your brain is boilin’, starts runnin’ out your eyes. Once you smell that shit? Trust me, you will never forget the smell of brain cookin’.”

The driver turned back to feed his ticket to the automated parking lot attendant. “My nephew built it. He’s thirteen. It charges with my phone charger.” He swiped his credit card, took the receipt. “Pretty fuckin’ amazing.” He tossed another towel over the seat. “Stuff this down the front a your pants. You won’t feel it when you piss yourself an I told you already ‘bout my seats.” He checked both his passengers in the rearview. “Start feelin’ the urge to drop a deuce, sing out, I’ll pull over.” In acknowledgment, Big T vibrated side to side, his shoulders up and down like a see-saw.

“Good.” The driver turned his attention in the mirror to the Hitler ‘stached shadow. “Questions?”

“What’s the range on that thing?”

“Fixin’ to find out you don’t take your hand outta your jacket.”

“We’re good.” The hand came out. “So, amigo…gettin’ the seats steamed. That a regular appointment thing, like women and their fingernails? I might could use a connect, you know. The old lady, she’s always spillin’ some shit in the car.”

“I take it on a as-needed basis. Too often, an the cleaner they use rots the foam. This is my third set a seats, an this color’s gettin’ hard to find. Why I’m so picky.”

“Good to know, about the rot.” Little T watched his partner’s spazzing go from rapid to a slow wavy undulation. “Maybe you got another towel?” Little T held an empty hand over the seat. “Y’know, case he don’t really know when the turd that ate Manhattan’s gonna cut loose.”

NVDT #53 – Pinkly. That -LY Thing. Again

Prompt – Are adverbs really the devil? If they sneak in occasionally, does it mean the writer is lazy?

I went on a rant a couple of years ago about -ly adverbs. Particularly adverbs where they didn’t belong. It was part of the whole franchise author, ‘who’s writing this crap anyway’ rant. Here’s what sparked it.

“The rain was washing the blood pinkly away.” – Robert B Parker, School Days

Oh. My. God. Really? Try pinkly in a Scrabble game and see how far you get.

Awkward adverbs –  I finished Carl Hiaasen’s Razor Girl. Classic Hiaasen. I think there were three or four adverb dialog tags in 90k. They were so rare the few used stuck out like a cowbell in Kenny G. I wondered, why not forego them altogether? Don’t argue with the star? Lazy editor?

Adverb laden – I always use the same two or three examples, and the first is a classic example of maybe, at times, it’s okay. It’s certainly easier. That example is the opening of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. (Link) If we’d had to get the backstory on all those girls and their attitudes with body language, action, and/or hard verb tags it would have taken up pages. Adverbs lead us by the nose through that living room. In fact that’s what adverbs do. Stop the reader from making decisions and tell them what to think. I also mention Faulkner’s Mosquitos. More adverbs than a Nancy Drew mystery. More silvery moonlight than should be legal. But it’s a marvelous social satire in a classic vehicle. What would it have been without adverbs? Who knows. The man has a Nobel Prize, though, and Mosquitos was one of his very early works.

Outside dialogue – Pro Writing Aid has all these wonderful reports. How many adverbs outside dialogue. Three in 2600 words. I am informed editors hate adverbs and they are the sign of amateurism. Tell that to Hiaasen and Rowling and a long list of Nobel Prize winners, including Americans such as Faulkner, Morrison, Hemingway. Outside of dialog, foregoing tags because that is lazy, I see lines like “grossly underestimated”, “impossibly buff”, “completely insane”, as “oddly useful” on “certain occasions”. Where I veer on that would be “she tapped peckishly at her salad.” That’s in there with “pinkly”. Rewrite that one and don’t use another adverb like disinterestedly or morosely or the other cop-out, simile/metaphor. Think one verb, a direct BAM word, not a sorta verb and amplifier. Tough, huh? Work, even. Why bother when all those picky editors we were warned about let that shit slide? Because even if you give up, trying makes you better, forces you to look at your work one sentence at a time.

Not all adverbs are bad – We use them frequently as clarifiers – adverbs of place, degree, time, question, amount, affirmation or denial. It’s the adverbs of manner that are killers. Check out this writing advice from the internet -“While it’s almost always better to do without an adverb if you can, adverbs of manner are almost universally bad.” WTF? I mean I get it, but adverbs compounded with bad structure and repeaters? Further on that writing advice thought –

Here’s an interesting chart on adverbs from Ben Blatt’s Nabakov’s Favorite Word is Mauve. I would urge you to check out some of Blatt’s research. He was prompted by all the writerly advice that seemed to run counter to what he experienced reading.

Funny how authors who vilify adverbs have made some measure of peace with them.

“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

That’s writing. As far as adverbs outside dialogue, when in doubt, cast it out. But if you need it to paint a scene, there you go. I’ll close this one out with the best line about a writing truth I’ve seen in a long time, complete with adverbs.

Later, watching his future ex-wife slide into a yellow Lambo driven by an impossibly buff young airhead, Coolman could only marvel at the durability of stereotypes. – Carl Hiaasen, Razor Girl

A quote that begs the question that would do for next week – “How much time do you spend developing your stereotypes?” Don’t anybody get butt hurt, we all do it. Hiaasen wrapped 90k around them. Successfully. Again.

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Happy 808 Day!

1980 to 83. That’s it. Three years. Easily the most used, abused, sampled, looped, and heard by all drum machines in history.

Why? The thing sounded like the cheezy beatbox in home organs. Boom chikka chikka. Little filtered analog noise bursts crammed into audio envelopes. Tish tish tish clack boom. I mean Kraftwerk made of it by sampling their own voices and using them as a beat track on Boing Boom Tshack from Electric Cafe

Except…unlike the CR78 and other drum machines of the presampling era, the 808 had  variable tuning. No, not the city in China, but actual pitch up and down on the klacks and booms. If a car has ever pulled up beside you and rattled your windows with low-frequency Boooooooom…. Boooooooom that’s the 808. Stretch and distress and compress that low kick until it never fades and rattles your windows when it goes down the street. A sound, we learned, that keeps an amplifier buried on the power supply rails until it burns up.

People will complain about all the kinds of music that sound brings to mind but be advised, plenty of pop and rock songs were demoed with the 808. And more million-selling R&B than you can shake your booty to, jazz, acid jazz, smooth jazz…everybody incorporated the sounds of the 808. In fact I’ve used 808s widely myself in everything from cover tunes to electronica to synth space fart tracks.

Gain access to a state of chill and some headphones, here’s some 808 in a hippie redux context

Why again? Because I was inspired by the old 60s synth instrumentals and hearing a Muzak version of Jethro Tull (?!) in an HEB Grocery store in Austin, TX and figured, you know, I do that &*^% for a living.

Happy 808 day, even if you’re not all that happy about how it’s found its way into everything music-wise.