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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Published by

Phil Huston


9 thoughts on “NVDT #55 – Is the Caper Dead?”

  1. I just write what I’m told, it might be a Caper or possibly a Heroes Journey. It’s unlikely to be Stream of Consciousness, largely because I never really understood all that technical stuff. Any message you get (or what you want to attribute to a character) from reading the prose is down to you. I get people saying things like “I love the way you…….,” or “wasn’t it clever how…….,” and I realise that I never made that connection when I was trying to keep up with the voices in my head. I certainly never planned it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are largely a man/community vs. the “system” sort of guy. Like Jack London was a man vs nature guy. Hero arc. The AP stuff are cozies – semi caper but more personable whodunnit. But here’s the deal, and I’ve said this all along, stories choose us, not the other way ’round. They are looking for a vessel that won’t get in the way too much, from the same place music comes from. My favorite Elmore Leonard quote was when he was asked by another author about his dialog he replied I hear them talking in my head. Don’t you? The ones that find me are more like “Hang on, here we go.” And those connections we never see, never planned to set up? got nothing to do with us.


  2. But you have to have the skill to get it down on paper. And that can be tough. It’s easy enough to get a couple words wrong and change the entire meaning of a page.


    1. Getting it down is the easy part. The difficulty is eliminating the funk after without losing the flavor. That’s what I was saying about sentences and logic driving, not elliptical or circuitous hook-backs.

      My favorite is to see how people use the “you can drop backstory whenever you need it” speedbump style. That instruction is not a license to drop it anywhere. Which might be a good one sometime – how do you drop backstory and have progressed beyond staring at pictures or mirrors.


  3. I love the way you set a scene without broadcasting that you’re setting a scene!

    And i love capers. They are some of my favorites. I love noir, but noir has no heroes. I’m not one of those who likes pidgeonholed fiction. So many bestsellers nowadays are so easily pidgeonholed, i have no interest. Yet i know that’s what editors want – something fits easily into a box..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here we are in Amanda’s kitchen, standing around the island. Two bottles of wine, one red, one white. A crisp dish towel and a limp romaine on a plastic chopping lock with a melted corner. A cherubic porcelain salt shaker, wooden peppermill. An apple, three bananas. PAM olive oil spray, an empty jalapeno beef jerky package. A prescription for the dog, a rabbit ear corkscrew, a Walmart receipt. An empty probiotic gummies bottle, a clipped bag of low sodium Ruffles, a plastic cookie container from the bakery, nothing but crumbs, several bite size Payday wrappers and a random peanut…

      Liked by 1 person

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