NVDT Random – All The Hype in the World…

Won’t make it any better than it is.

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

I bought a book the other day.

Brand spankin’ new.

For a dollar.

Yep $1.00.

Hardback.

Lightly textured jacket.

Heavy cream paper.

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

Inside that high rent jacket was the original retail price.

$27 US. $36 Canadian.

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

This one didn’t come from a book store.

Nope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Used for a buck fifty-nine.

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

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

Which is why I found it in a cutout bin.

At the dollar store.

Brand spankin’ new.

For a dollar.

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

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

NVDT #92 – Minnie Pearl Syndrome

Or – Your Tag is Showing

Part of Open Link Blog Hop

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

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

Beware of advice – even this. – Carl Sandburg

I have three simple rules about my use of tags.

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

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

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

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

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

Cheesy examples –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What other hoppers think is here

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

NVDT #91 – Random Writerly Concerns – Adjectives

Or – How easily ignorable the written word has become

Or – How the brain autocorrects what we want to read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I guess that’s all we really need,

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

NVDT #90 – Wants and Needs

Part of Open Link Blog Hop

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

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

What Jackson wants The Hot Girl I

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

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

What Deanna wants The Hot Girl I

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

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

What Bobby wants Bobby BSwampVue

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

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

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

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

What Carrie Louise wants Bobby B – Swamp Vue 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Cavanaugh Moreno wants The Great Kerrigan Bank Robbery

“Kerrigan?”

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

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

“What are you thinking, Paro?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you know —”

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

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

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

“If it was straight, hell yeah.”

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

What Monterrey Mick wants

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

What Bernie wants

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

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

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

What other hoppers think is here

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

NVDT #89 – Smells Like Sunshine and Happy

Part of Open Link Blog Hop

The Prompt: What commercial do you hate? What commercial is your favorite? (YouTube link us if possible) Have you ever gotten an idea for a story from a commercial? Note – 2k read.

Richard Carpenter got “We’ve Only Just Begun” from a commercial, so… I should also recuse myself here since hard-hat movies (industrial video of all kind) and myriad TV commercials were my first day job as a corporate musician and remain a side gig to this day. But I won’t.

My favorite commercial? Smells like Sunshine and Happy. From The Hot Girl.

Jackson’s apartment, Long Beach, CA – late summer 1982

“Jackson… I… There’s a…” her pecan sized ice-blue eyes closed, her lips turned tightrope. She opened her eyes, re-inflated her lips, glanced at the ceiling, breathed a barely audible “Shit…

He waited, his back against the refrigerator of his narrow kitchen, unopened beer in one hand, arms folded like a shield. As if it would help if she went full Tasmanian devil.

On the opposite side of his small kitchen divider stood the very attractive, at the moment very tense Kaitlin Everson, the actress whose lawsuits had roared like background noise on cheap tape through almost five months of his life. She absently tapped her fingers on the divider’s tile top while inflicting minor contortions on her camera-loves-me face, the machinations framed by her signature swept up cascade of lazy ringlets over softer waves that fell below her shoulders.

After a short eternity that was probably less than a minute, she finally found him with her eyes. “There’s a long story, Jackson. About… About why I hate musicians.”

It sat on the counter between them. Awkward, slightly embarrassing. Like having a sun pinked fat man in a speedo suddenly show up in your line of sight at the beach.

“I’ve heard some of them.” He considered the urge to kick start their usual venom laced exchanges, took a straight shot instead. “That’s why you’re here, Kait? To tell me a long story?”

“Alix was supposed… She didn’t call you?”

“She said,” adopting an exaggerated French accent, “‘My love, the lovely and most delighted Kaitlin has telephoned. You will speak with her of what she desires, s’il vous plaît?’” He gauged her. Tense, but otherwise nothing he couldn’t have found in a promo head shot, shifted his voice back to normal. “Since no one living has ignored Alix’s s’il vous plaît, here you are. We could have gone neutral somewhere. Or was that the point, to stay out of public places?”

“No…” she turned, made a slow, right-to-left scan of his place. “I heard about this old apartment of yours. How comfortable and real it is. The open windows, the sounds, the sweet monster dog. And about what happens here. I heard… was told that you had eleven top-shelf L.A. women in here on Saturday mornings all summer with zero trippy bullshit. I had… I wanted, to see it.” She stopped her fingers, took a surprise deep composure inhale for someone usually cooler than a bucket of ice.

“So…?”

“So I sat with Randi Navarro and Cicily Warren at a Women in Broadcast luncheon last week.”

“Rubber chicken and a ‘go get ‘em gals’ speech from somebody irrelevant. What else did those two have to say that would put you in my living room?”

“They showed me their personal bio packs. And they were the shit. The supreme shit. Custom hint-of-color-folders, custom cards, embossed calligraphy, perfect complementary colors, not overdone. Definitely not office supply store print shop ready-to-wear. They said massive taste, and they would be the first ones out of any pile. I asked Randi where they came from and she said you were involved, and that… That I should contact the French lady lawyer who untied our two-little-bitches-in-Hollywood knot. She said to call you and that you, that you might let me in on who does that work.”

He caught ‘Your little bitch in Hollywood knot’ before it got out. “Any of them could have sent you straight to the source. No one needed to send you to me like I clear who gets access to that talent. Yeah, I’m involved, indirectly, but it doesn’t matter what I think, or how you and I feel about each other. The point is that a talented person who has something to offer and could make a difference gets hooked up with what they need to advance their career.” He turned, put the unopened beer back in the fridge. “If I had to be ape shit happy with everyone I worked with I’d be screwed. And so would you and so would everyone else in this town.”

“How do we feel about each other? I mean, now that we aren’t…”

“Suing each other? The truth is, you carried the movie that made both of us and everyone involved all temporarily insane, and at long last some money. You’re way too good looking and too talented and your bitch factor is too high for you to disappear. And you’re too smart not to care about something. So I’m down. Like I said, not that it matters what I think.”

“That was the best backhanded compliment I’ve ever gotten. I think.” She leaned both arms on the divider. He stepped up to the counter attached to the other side, thought for a second.

“Look, Kait, I was a green, dopey, shaggy flatland college boy with a deal that fell in my lap. You gave me that shit on your shoes look the day we met and I figured okay, fair enough. I’m not actress bait, drop it and get on down the road. I always wonder why girls who bail on me do it, but I get it. I justify it by telling myself I’m an acquired taste.” They looked at each other for a few, like a lion tamer and a lion, trying to figure out who was which.

“It wasn’t personal, Jax.” She did that thing he thought was a universal girl move, averting her eyes to look at her fingers absently doodling on his tile-topped divider. “Musicians were like a, a bad habit until I started getting real work. After I got the full-time job on the soap, I put that part of me down. Some guys I’d known before wouldn’t let it go, and they did some really stupid, mean shit.”

“I can see how everybody I know who buys strings or sticks would miss you.”

“That’s two believable almost compliments.”

“Don’t faint on me, I’m out of brandy. Finish your story?”

“My story is I got tired of their shit and one night I’d had enough and went off on a B-list spandex hair farmer at the Whiskey. It got turned into ‘Ex-Groupie Soap Star Goes Off’ press. With pictures of me screaming and looking all fucked up. Which I was, screaming anyway, about all their lying bullshit. I had to sue them, all of them, to stop it.”

“So suing musicians is just how you get through your day?”

“You can bag the grin. Randi warned me if I gave you a chance, you’d find a way to get around me. No matter what I put up.”

“Randi and I went a few rounds at first, so she warns every female that’s about to talk to me.”

“She should. And Cicily told me what you did to that piece of work pussy-bait ex-loverboy of hers. I worked a laundromat-on-acid fabric softener spot with that rat fart when I first started, back in high school.”

“Whoa. No shit? The one where the girl pulls her clothes out of the dryer, the guy dumps his clothes all over to run help ‘cause she’s so cute and her clothes smell so good, everything goes all wiggly and BAM, they’re holding hands in a field somewhere?”

“You saw it?”

“Hell yeah. I can’t believe that was you and Gibson. That’s sad, because a lot of us wanted to be the dude in the laundromat. You probably started a whole humongous urban myth about picking up chicks with fabric softener, you being all way wet-dreamable in that almost see-through dress. In fact, I need to call some people and tell them the ‘Smells like Sunshine and Happy’ chick filed a couple of lawsuits to keep from going out with me.”

“You’re not supposed to be funny, Jax. Or nice. Or easy for me to be with, or work with. I emptied my humility piggy bank and rehearsed some deep southern fried Scarlett O’Hara damsel in distress for this.” She crossed her arms, grabbed her lacey blouse with both hands in the center of her chest. “Oh puh-leeeeease, Mistuh Jay-uc-son, you just hay-uv tuh help po lil ol’ me.” She let go, relaxed her arms back onto the divider.

“That has to be the smallest humility piggy bank on the planet and the best Scarlett O’Hara I’ve seen since some guys explained cotillions to me when I was sixteen.” He pulled a pair of business cards from a kitchen drawer, set them on the divider. “You’re helped, Kaitlin. The only rule is don’t try to be smarter than the people who will help you. That about killed the control freak in Randi, but if you like her package, that’s how it happens.”

“Screw that stress. Let whoever it is clean up my press world and drop a quarter in my direction when it’s time to pick it up.” She tapped the counter again, caught herself, shook it off. “Okay. Coming here is what about killed me. And that’s all there is? No ‘who’s on top now.’ No insincere apologies, no name calling, no games? No pinch my left butt cheek until it’s purple?”

“That’s it. Well…”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Is that your hair?”

“For fuck’s… Yes it’s mine. It’s cut longer down the back so I can put the center curls in and it balances. If I don’t put the curls in I have to do all kinds of crap with clips or my hair looks like a horse’s ass from behind. Godammit, I see it. Don’t you even think it. What is it with everyone and my fucking hair?”

“Everybody says it’s a fall. That bass player you got so pissed off at had a curly fall just like your hair tied to his antenna and lime green crotchless panties taped to his back window. He said both of them belonged to you.”

“They weren’t mine. Not my hair, for damn sure not my panties. I mean give a girl some credit for taste. And that waste of air with all of his phony Kaitlin’s groupie swag taped to his car got his ass sued with the rest of them. I am not a groupie and never was, and this is my hair. Once upon a time I liked to hit a fatty and dance and I liked to go out with band guys. Until a few years ago turning twenty-one and regular employment raised my IQ.”

“So you didn’t pull a train after the —”

“NO!” He thought her eyes might catch fire. “You can eat shit and fucking die, Jackson. You’re as bad as all the rest of them.” She spun, steamed for the door.

That’s the Kaitlin I know.” He couldn’t hold the laugh. “Day-um, bitch. Chill. You hungry?”

She stopped at the door, turned halfway around. “You hillbilly asshole. I’m starving.” She did the index finger flip between them. “You? And me? Now?”

“Let’s go. Hangin’ with you’ll make me look good, and we can bust each other’s chops a little longer without blood or lawyers. You forgot these.” He held out the two business cards, tugged on her ringlets when she got close enough to take them. She yanked the cards with one hand, punched him on the shoulder, hard, with the other.

“Fuck you, you, you,” a laugh of her own got out. “You goofy, pickle dick hick.” She shook her hair, checked out Paula’s and Stacey’s Morisé Women’s Initiatives cards, dropped them in a clutch not much bigger than they were. “You’re driving. Because I like your old car and want to be seen riding in it. Since that is so incredibly shallow of me, I’ll buy. But only if you take us somewhere clean in West Hollywood or Beverly.”

She looked up, caught him grinning. “And all that ‘I’m really just a cute, fun guy’ shit you’re working like it would make La Brea belch Elvis back? Buy it a coffin. If anyone asks? We still hate each other. Got it?”

The whole chapter, Used Dog Food, is here

What other hoppers think is here

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

SURPRISE!

Paxton Smith – “The Hot Girl” is No Longer a Myth

Six years ago I wrote a book. Make that several. They chronicled the life of a young, angry, would-be “Feminist”, “Women’s Rights Advocate”, “Libber” named Deanna Collings. Then #metoo hit and it felt opportunistic to let go of a what amounted to a coming of age fairy tale with a cast of female characters from sledge hammer moms to the interns working for a pair of rich, powerful lesbian fairy godmothers. And the evolution of an eventual boyfriend.

A number of people told me no such girl existed. Or that she wouldn’t behave the way she did, or swear like her brother or be such a romantic or drive like Danica Patrick or know how to hotwire her brother’s old motorcycle. Or be a cool and klutzy ex-cheerleader, pretty and smart, risky in some ways and not in others. I quit listening because 95% of Deanna Collings is a patchwork quilt of the same people who told me she wasn’t all that.

However one beta reader, a middle school teacher, mentioned seeing a Deanna type pass through every couple of years and hoped they made it without being waylaid by pitfalls from bad boyfriends to Stepford Syndrome, things Deanna and other female characters encounter along the way. The teacher even sent me a school picture of what she thought Deanna looked like. Which was interesting because over several books Deanna is never described in great detail. On purpose. I set her up to belong to the readers from page one.

MEET PAXTON SMITH – The other day a local girl pulled a Deanna Collings at her valedictorian address. She removed a subversive substitute speech out of her commencement gown to supplant the one she’d had approved. Kick ass, Ms. Smith.

Maybe I should dust off the first two THG’s, rethink the title, sharpen my editor’s crayon. Because the world needs more Paxtons and Deannas.

Gambits #14 – Pesky Caucasians? Turn up the Country Music

Attention: All those seeking equity and equality who aren’t already running our local governments, city councils, school districts, hospitals, sports franchises, school boards, economic development campaigns or spending tax dollars for Covid Vaccination Sites where white people aren’t, listen up.

A study by researchers Steven Stack of Wayne State University and Jim Gundlach from Auburn University hypothesize that topics often present in the lyrics of country songs — such as “marital discord, alcohol abuse and alienation from work” — can foster a suicidal mood among those who are already at risk.

The researchers performed a multiple regression analysis of 49 metropolitan areas and found the greater the airtime devoted to country music, the higher the suicide rate. In their paper, the researchers explain that “the effect is independent of divorce, southernness, poverty and gun availability.”

The retort is that depressed white people simply seek out country music. You know, for that “Bummed but not the Lone Ranger” feeling of false empathy from a puppet pop star. Before they pop themselves.

This study was done two decades ago, so with with the deep inroads pop has made into country maybe things have changed. But I doubt it. Hell, enough Taylor Swift would make make anyone as suicidal as hearing Achy Breaky Heart ever again. But the main themes in country haven’t changed. A whopping 75% of country songs are the old heartbreak numbers. Add in the collateral damage from lost love and “dee-vorce” and there goes the truck, the double wide, the farm, the kids, the dog, all with drinkin’ as the usual offered solution and you have 98% of country music.

So, Sha’niqua, you wanna turn the little community college Becky’s outta the blood lab? Turnin’ up the R&B or BCA won’t help, but changing it to country will.

Think I’m foolin? Download the text.

Two funnies from my career in music: A conversation at a small, grimy cinder block bar outside Cheyenne, Wyoming, where we asked someone in the parking lot: “You got room for live music here?” “Why hell yeah. We got room for both kinds. Country and western. Which one are you boys?” Standing outside the Ryman in downtown Nashville with two geezers, one holding a violin (sorry, fiddle) case, the other a mandolin case while a hired gun guitar player threw down some serious shred warming up at sound check inside. Fiddle geezer looks at me and his friend, saying: “That shit rat there?” He thumbed the Ryman’s open door, spit a stream of tobacco juice into the street. “That shit rat there is whut the hayul’s wrong with country music ennymower.”

Or is it the fact that’s it’s all one song, as shown from 6 top songs being indistinguishable?