He Believes His Words Have Value

Weird. That’s the second comment of mine you deleted. It’s almost like you were happy to pick a fight with me on my blog and make light of the fact that I almost committed suicide. But now that you’ve realised I’m not the ‘crybaby’ you thought I was, you’re deleting comments and running for the hills. You’re a weak piece of shit Phil. You were all too willing to play the bully, but now that you’ve realised that you’re the bitch in this situation you’re clamming up.
For someone who talks about putting on their big boy panties it didn’t take much to upset you. I called you old and irrelevant and you’ve gone silent.
Make sure we don’t cross paths again. Stay off my site, and I’ll stay off yours. Otherwise I’m going to tear you apart, over and over and over again.
Enjoy what’s left of your pathetic existence you decrepit old fuck.

Jesus. People read this shit? Sad really. You’re a talentless hack with a chip on his shoulder. Next time you come to my site and talk shit, make sure your own is a fucking snooze fest. (I liked that one)
I’ve read stories by third graders that are more concise than this rubbish (the period was missing)

Wow. What a heap of shit. Show me brilliance I the face of adversity. You’re a fraud who calls himself a writer, and a pathetic human being.
Terrible blog. Truely terrible. (Truely arrived like that)

Yours “truely” – Chris Nicholas

Now, if you’ve followed this little saga I have not once insulted the artist or his creation(s). Belittled his demeanor or maturity (or distinct lack thereof). I have wondered aloud why the forward to his autobiographical romance novel apology to the woman who broke his heart is the same as his blog and how the two year love affair with that heartbreak is starting to look like a marketing scam. To me. No one else need agree. If anyone has a hard time with that, read his blog ruminations and the forward of his book. They are genetically similar.

I chose to shunt this garbage off to the trash where it belongs. But, not being a thin skinned, weak piece of decrepit shit or some big mouth’s bitch or fearful of words or the threat of physical violence over the internet I will give it the air it deserves. Stay upwind. The real creative genius is exposed in the cheap “personalized” pot shots and vitriolic responses above.

Were I to bother with a response to this, as a creative and fictionalized effort only, I might start off –

“Here’s the deal, Junior. I was getting paid and hanging Addy’s on the wall when the best part of you was running down your retarded two-dollar over medicated crack whore Momma’s leg. Your insults are plebian, your threats empty. Judging by  your track record it’s a good thing you tried to write a happy ending because the only one someone as angry and bigoted as you will ever find is in a Travolta style massage parlor or handful or creme rinse in the shower.”

However I left all that on the table. His insults to me and age in general provide no reason to go down the same “well, you’re so ugly…” path.*

As Mr. Nicholas finds his words so valuable I will put them on display for him. For the last time. This discussion is closed, the hate mongering over. But perhaps his words of age bigotry, threats of violence and general hate should be shared with any and all potential publishers, available here, any time.

Age is the great equalizer, the great revenge. It’s coming for all of us, nobody gets to dodge it unless they go coward. Therein lies the real humor of this little skirmish. For the record “almost” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, all else is merely posturing.

 

*There was an old blues thing we used to riff on, The Ugly Blues. No telling where it originated, but it went like this, sort of –

Baby baby baby
I dunno what I’m a gonna do
Cause baby I done looked in the mirror
And I am ugly down to my shoes

But baby baby oh baby
I doan let it give me the blues
Cause baby oh my baby
You be so motherfuckin’ ugly too.

Silly, huh? You bet it is. Next.

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Random and Rambling NVDT – King Arthur Syndrome, Vitriol, Hate and Factionalization

I think a healthy difference of opinion is a good thing. However, in the last week I have become personally aware of the internet phenomenon that has sparked the culture of factionalization. A real-world version of the nightly news and the speculating talking heads on CNN. Disagree, call someone out for their position and you don’t get reason, you get hate. Personalized, vitriolic, stereotype equivalent of bigotry hate. I don’t disagree with what you say or insinuate or believe, I hate you hate. How you look, what you do, what you wear, what color or age or demographic you are, everything about you. Everything that is you down to your nasty DNA. I fucking hate all of everything that is you. And by the way, everything you are or have ever done or will ever do is shit, your momma’s ugly and so are you, you have to roll in steak sauce to get a kiss from the fucking dog you pathetic miserable excuse for a human being. Asshole. “Fuckwit.”

Wow. Thanks!

No reasoned response. The same old laundry list of how wrong the original premise was, spiced up with some maybe I should find a way to drive over and beat your ass you sorry excuse for a human being who questions me.

All for asking a direct or rhetorical question?

In another post I mentioned a set-to with an internet “editor”. I read his commentary throughout a short story I submitted to a “contest” ($20 entrance fee and editing advice). Some of the advice was sound. My response to a lot of it was “Are you even reading this?” Something I mentioned in an email. Nothing profane. No name calling. I asked if he’d bothered to read the story before he dusted off his editor hat and started commenting. You know, so for the $20 I got an idea of how it read. He blew up, told me I was denigrating the entire process, insulting his integrity and furthermore I was an asshole. I mentioned that one only needed to read his outline of commentary to see that he didn’t get it from word one. He might have been able to offer constructive criticism if he’d read through it and then gotten after it. By God, I was an even bigger asshole then, and jacked out of the contest I would have been a runner up in. Here’s a screen shot of what I sent him along with my questioning of his methodology. Hello? If you’re gonna bluff and bluster for money at least be good enough at it not to blatantly tip your hand. Plus, he missed the hints at intimacy all along the way by writing clever observations like “they sure touch a lot” completely clueless as to where it was heading.

Why didn’t you read the story, earn your $20 and comment on what it was, not what your editor hat waded through? Oops, sorry, I’m a asshole for asking. Or even expecting you do to do what you offered to do for the money. I’m glad this reactionary business hasn’t gotten to plumbers or the pizza place. Yet. The “expert” geezers at the hardware and DIY box store places are getting there.

I can hear Chicago’s updated for the 2k-teens.

“Does anybody know what time it is?”

No, you stupid fuckwad, nobody has time for your pathetic bullshit questions and if they did they’d tell you nobody cares. About time or your ugly ass or the horse you rode in on or your momma or your ugly baby or your ugly dog – Wait, that started to drift off into country. Add a line about your beat to shit truck you sorry drunk unemployed loser with a bad hat and broken razor and it’s a crossover smash.

Jesus. A friend of mine who uses Facebook to do no more than advertise his blues band, led by a fantastic guitarist and long-time band member of John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, told me “Don’t have an opinion on the internet, about anything, unless you want more vitriol spewed in your direction than you can imagine.”

Well, yeah, I can imagine. Now.

Being me, I look for commonality in behavior patterns. What both of these “authors” have in common, reading a couple of free pages of their work, is a workmanlike craftsmanship of patently unoriginal sameness. Adverbs and useless dialog tags and throwaway action tags that define nothing about a character but take up writerly residence indside a formula. They could swap names on the covers and no one would know. Same behaviors, obviously editors from the school of bland, the same “stuff” on the pages. And hair trigger anger fed vitriolic personal abuse if anyone happens to notice.

When, exactly, did it become illegal to have an opinion and be answered with hate? When did reasoned response turn into front and center insult driven hate? When did riots become an answer? When did “asshole” become an answer?

Forget it, I didn’t ask. But I do understand the psychology of factionalization. It’s all about anger and hate as first responders to a question someone might not want to answer. A response modeled by the leaders of the world. King of the Rhetorical Hill via the language of hate and obfuscation. All coming to an inbox or on a blog comment near you.

These episodes should teach me NOT to ask someone if the ongoing almost two-year infatuation with their personal heartbreak saga is real depression, or are they simply milking the crybaby routine in hopes of attracting a wider audience to promote book of similar content. Or are they half-assed con artists or the real deal because the evidence points to…Phil, you asshole! Okay. Maybe I’ll learn better. Not.

I do not ask these things lightly or facetiously. Preying on the susceptible is an unfortunate truth. Like continuing to beat an emotional horse that has long since left the barn for attention or performing at a minimal level for someone’s real money thrown at their dreams raises questions. At least in my mind. What if I was thin skinned and dreamy eyed and spent my baby’s formula money on the entry fee? Sadly, that’s the people they’re looking for. There’s one born every minute, right? The machinations of the capitalistic dream.

I was in the music biz for years. On the product end someone wise once held up a guitar and asked a room full of salesmen, “What are we selling?”

“Guitars!”

“No. We’re selling dreams. And that, my friends, comes with the caveat of responsibility.” He also said, possibly the most succinct thing I ever heard in a business meeting, applicable to everything –

“Don’t confuse the pieces with the game.”

Victims of abuse, rape, any sort of criminal violence, chemical imbalances, I get those as being hard to get around and depression triggers. Not everyone gets raped, beaten into a coma, their vagina filled with lighter fluid and set on fire. That is depressing on any number of levels. So to all the internet I’m so depressed marketers, gauge your level of “should give thanks” over “depression” against something truly sinister. It’s like lactose intolerance, all this marketed personal “depression.” There are places in the world where a thimble full of milk would be a godsend, not a “no thanks, intolerance” wave off.

Down to it, I think if they talk hate loud enough non-stop over you as their only weapon, words become meaningless. We have come to a gazillion meaningless new books on Amazon a day and a gazillion meaningless videos on YouTube a day and a gazillion meaningless hate filled discussions a day all stored on servers with mammoth environmental footprints. Toxicity finds a home creating a toxic wasteland. The meaningless archive. I am reminded of the Krell.

There’s a book in that somewhere. 1984 plus meaningless hate. Forbidden Planet of Cheesy Insults? Any volunteers?

Oh yeah, the King Arthur Syndrome. Ask a question, get an insult. I think these guys were prophetic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSo0duY7-9s

 

 

 

Writerly Concerns #11

Your (used literally) Reality is Showing

Ruminations of Truth and Fiction

There are thousands of quotes about fiction. Here’s a few. Not in depth, just for the sake of this rumination.

From E.M. Forster’s Howards End – Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere.  Taken out of context it still works. The point in the discussion this comes from is that life is unmanageable. That morality and preparedness are useless. A point that makes fiction, as explained to me by an editor one time as “the place where we can cut the shaggy dog elliptical dialogue and other messes of reality.” Where we can introduce enough humanity and emotion to make a direct point, have direct impact, take direct action. Unlike the standing in a canoe feeling real life often offers.

Truth is Stranger than Fiction – I will send you here for the story on that quote. Again, the consensus is that Fiction is bound by rules and imagination and is thereby constrained. Truth is not bound by anything.

David Foster Wallace’s take, that I will have to paraphrase because I can’t find it right now, is Fiction and Truth are not so dissimilar. I’m not sure if that was was a reference to the “realism” school of fiction writing, or the fact that if you look around the world is full of stream of consciousness weirdness. And if you look at it that way, Truth and Fiction are the same thing. One person’s unthinkable Truths are someone else’s Fictions. Further on that –

Consider Thoreau’s Walden – The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. A friend said to me recently, “We all live the same lives in different houses.” The Grand Illusion. Maybe the details change. But to me, like Fiction, Truth is limited by perception. We cannot conceive of an unknown Truth, therefore acknowledge it, if it is beyond our comprehension. Something so bizarre could happen, something we never saw coming, to make Truth all the more strange. But until it happens we are back to square one. Morality and all the other tactile preparedness routines, all the ways we can arm ourselves against unmanageable Truth are futile because all we understand of Truth is what we know. And it’s the unknown that blindsides us. And in Truth? We are never bitten on the ass by anything unheard of, merely mosquitos (metaphorically) that slipped in the back door when we let the dog out to pee.

Why all of this? Truth or Fiction, the Lie that Tells a Truth, the Truth that Tells a Lie? Lying in the face of truth? There’s a big one. It could be a live talking heads news show or a Fifties J.D. MacDonald novel or staggeringly deep Noir-ish psychodrama about losers and lives of lies and deceit or it could be in the kitchen. Well, the why of all of this is that I agree with Wallace. Because I have seen enough and heard enough and lived enough “Fiction” venues playing out as someone’s Truth in the last couple of years to last me the rest of my lifetime.

On top of that the question has been asked “What happened to Happy Endings?” (No, not a Travolta massage). I don’t know.

Even worse, as a proponent of bringing back the Happy Ending I discover they are, indeed, fantasy beyond my grasp to compose. I can’t get there from here. Once I got the characters dirty I didn’t/don’t have an answer for them. Forgiveness? Understanding? Even ignorance. Once the sheen is gone, it’s gone, and I haven’t found the magic bottle of As Seen on TV Happy Ending renewal, complete with microfiber polish cloth, that will help.

The answer, for the record, and this might sound facetious to what happened to the Happy Ending is that a lot of people literate enough to write, even awkwardly, are too old or smarter than I am and have known better all along.

Baggage is baggage. Truth, once it invades Fiction, becomes the incomprehensible, the hurdle no one can jump, the leap of faith no one can take, the suspension of belief or disbelief no one can quite buy into. Because Truth sucks. Escaping it is impossible. That’s what it has over Fiction. If you let your Fiction get away from you with dirty Truths, or your truths with dirty Fiction that MacDonald can’t set straight with at least one or maybe two well placed problem-solving murders, then we’re back to the Seventies where the bad guys win every once in a while. Or more often than not.

Truth, or Fiction? Keep them separate. Once cross contaminated a lot of work gets sent rolling down the drain. Along with a lot of belief systems we are unarmed against and ill prepared to manage. Don’t let dirty Truth ruin your Fiction.

THG 3- Ch 8 – White Buffalo

Talk about draft – I caught myself in the middle of a bunch of tell not show placeholders here. Any thoughts on what’s superfluous will be openly considered. 

Punting on the River Cam Back College / Sunday February 11, 1979

“Fuck off.” Cat’s glare wasn’t anything to ignore. But the asshole who’d rammed their punt was well drunk and shirtless, in February. His three friends were at least as drunk but opted for rugby striped polos and beanies.

“Fuck off yourself.” He shifted his gaze and leer to Deanna. “You’re the new one at Newnham. From the States. Everyone’s on about you. A looker and a brain.” He adopted a sculptural poetic muse, one arm across his chest, the other hand under his chin, face tilted up. “So fair her skin rivals the Queen’s China…Her hair…a tousled frame for eyes and lips that call my name —”

“She said fuck off. So just do it, asshole. Fuck. Off.” Deanna was too tired to get fiery, but totally able to be really, really pissed. Her wet, muddy punting pole hit just behind his knees, from the back by way of the side, and he crumpled onto his friends.

“Bitch…” The laughter from the boat subsided. “It was a fucking joke…” The loud bumper-car punter stayed splayed on his friends, in spite of their shoving, briskly rubbed the back of his leg. “What the fuck…” the laughter kicked back in when he stood, “You hate men or what?”

“Since you asked, yes. We’re lesbians. Very lesbian.” She tried to channel Amanda and Alix. “And very devoted.”

Cat’s face went blank, but without giveaway. Deanna had stepped down into the punt to swat the guy and it was yawing back and forth, her feet spread did no good to steady it.

“Todger dodgers!” the guy yelled, holding his punt staff between his legs. “All for naught no matter what you’ve got!” He had found a cheering section from the other punts, from the bank and a nearby bridge. “Drown like the cats you are!” He bumped Deanna and Cat’s punt again, hard, and Deanna went in the River Cam face first, lengthways, to explosions of laughter from the gallery. When she pulled herself up the punt’s side Cat kissed her, quickly, resisted the urge to spit and helped her back in the punt before she gave the shirtless punter the two fingered salute.

“Here.” Cat pulled her coat and wrapped it around Deanna. “Pull everything under topside”

“I can’t move around in here enough to —”

“Take it off. We’ll not have a pneumonia patient to deal with on top of all the other shit you bring on when you’re healthy.”

“But —”

Off.”

Deanna shed the coat, pulled her sweater, shirt, undershirt and bra over her head in a single, wet mass. The cheers went up again, followed by boos as she wriggled her way back into Cat’s coat. Cat, in stone silence, poled them back to the hire where her punt-by-the month resided.

The roller crew dragged Cat’s boat up, she signed form that disappeared with the roller crew. “I usually go for a drink, after.” She looked at Deanna’s shivering legs flip water from her jeans like a wet spaniel, put a finger on her lips. “The trousers could go as well.” The finger tilted toward Deanna. “The coat’s twice long enough.”

“Jesus, Cat. Maybe for y’all’s Twiggy, Fifteen years ago. So no way. Dealing with that, that, complete drunk shitspeck and all of that American Girl junk like I’m some kind of exotic prize, some magical white fucking buffalo, and the cold river, and I’m cold, so no. Just no. I thought I got rid of all that a long time ago.”

“Could I have my coat back, then?” Cat chuckled to herself, watched Deanna walk away.

“Godammit…” Deanna’s breath fogged while she talked over her shoulder, hands jabbed deep in the borrowed coat’s pockets. “Wasn’t flashing half of Cambridge and making us lesbians enough for one day?”

A thin smile crossed Cat’s face. “I suppose.” Under her breath she mumbled. “All we need is Merriam up to her mischief with Uncle Johnson when we arrive and it more than will be.”

***

Turning gay, even superficially, was the blessing Deanna had sought for breathing room from the gender game distractions under a crushing academic load. She could study and do her work. Be a lifeless, academic automaton. There were still the study advisors, study supervisors, study groups. Study. Day in and day out. Too busy to notice she was lonely. And beside the gay punting on the Cam day it seemed like it was going to rain, off and on, forever.

In rare moments of inactivity she’d feel the cold drafts of loneliness, colder even that the one by the kitchen sink. She knew she’d beaten the guy bullshit in high school with Jackson. He had been so perfect, she’d been so googly eye brain dead nutso for him since the A&W lunch and never quite got around to telling him that. Most of it, yeah, but not the googly eyed nutso. Now he was gone. Not outside or downstairs in his apartment gone, or playing in some awful restaurant or bar somewhere, or on his way home from a class or a practice room, or even in a fine arts studio with his neighbor the scarf wrapped dance major whore Audrey. He was gone. Unfindable gone. Along with the heart no one said she had without him. Well, that wasn’t true, exactly. Her heart was there, it was just, well…What would he think if he really knew she had sold him a lie…

Well, maybe she had made a giant head in her ass episode when she left him out of her decision, pushed him out of her life. Because her last college marathon, the one getting to Cambridge, was nothing compared to Cambridge kicking her “academic marathon stratagy” into the Olympics realm. She could use a warm leg to put her feet on, a leg attached to someone who could read her mind, listen, take her out of it for a Sunday afternoon and make it stop for awhile.

She’d tried it in a study group on the guy from Australia who was too young for the crinkles around his puppy dog eyes, but a week later two girls in their group had Syph. He claimed he got from the cosmetic counter girl at Boots, so he was out for good. Spending half an hour washing her feet didn’t help. Fucking creep. One of the girls had a boyfriend, off on a geology mountain scraping trip. What would he think? No wonder Jax thought her vacation escapades were “jive on the order of politics.”

***

On two consecutive sleep deprived mornings she wrote Jackson letters. One asking him to wait for her. To wait and let her explain everything, polite and apologetic. The other demanded he wait. It was full of sexy innuendo, for her, and hopefully seductive. Both mailed on the same day. The Post Office could find him. Her dad had said nobody could hide from the IRS or the Post Office.

Amanda was gone, too. That lady, God…She’d been more like her mother sometimes than her own. She was strong. Smart. Decisive. Beautiful and fearless and a real lesbian but who cares and major sailor mouth. Everything Deanna wished she was, except a lesbian, and she had and now might never be. Well, potty mouth she had in the bag, but the rest?

They’d walked or shown her the door just because she couldn’t let them know who she was? They knew, they had to. She just wanted to be better. The best, because that would erase it all, wouldn’t it? Didn’t they understand?
They were always pushing her to open up and she didn’t want to, ever, about all that. The only person she’d talked to about it, who understood, was dead. So what was their real problem? So she didn’t tell anybody about some things. She was just going to school, they could get over it. So they canceled a few things. So what? And no heart? Hot girl flunky? They were so full of it. Everything would be fine when she got home. They’d see.

The rain came again and stayed. Even the raindrops and rivulets that ran down the old windows like on her first almost date with Jax had company. Three years started to look like a long time…A loooooong time.

***

West Central New Mexico / Monday February 12, 1979

Jackson worked with Tony two days shy of a month. The evening he took off Tony gave him a heavy woven coat that was too small but fit Jackson like his pajama tux, a pair of fur-lined moccasins his aunt had given him that might have fit Tony when he was twelve but fit Jackson fine, and a hundred dollars folded around what looked like an over-sized business card.

Jackson pulled the card out of the bills, held it up.

“Found it in your pocket when I picked you up. It’s an English-ized Navajo prayer. You must have talked to one of the old Navajo women who makes them or the nun who gives them to walking casualties like you were.” He paused, looked at his recovering friend. “Before you were done for conversation and flat on your face breathing sand. You think you’re past seeing white buffalo?”

“Yeah.” Jackson chased that with a sardonic smile, stuffed the bills and the prayer card in his used-to-be-madras-covered wallet with the only other things in it, his one picture of Deanna and an about to expire driver’s license.

“Tell me again where you end up, star gazer?”

“Where the interstate hits the ocean by fall. I’m accepted probationary at USC until I get the rest of my transcripts in. Those places like test scores, they don’t care who I am.”

“Hardly anyone does these days. L.A. huh? Stay put a minute.” Tony disappeared into the hogan and came out with an address written on the back of a gas receipt, passed it through Jackson’s passenger window. “My daughter. Name’s Opie. She’s with her mother out there around L.A. Someplace called Ontario, but not Canada. If you see her, tell her that her dad worries about her.”

“I’ll try, man. And I mean it, about the money.”

“If you mean it, I’ll see it. If you don’t, that’s our story. Between the stripes, little brother.” He looked off down the rutted dirt road with a small snort. “Best stay in the ruts till you get to where they are.”

Jackson bent down to look out the passenger window. “You saved my life, Tony. Thanks. For real.”

“Don’t make me regret it.” Tony popped the top of Jackson’s car with his open hand and watched him roll away, kicking up a little dust in the New Mexico twilight.

Tony hadn’t had a beer since he’d put Jackson in his truck up in Taos. It was strange he hadn’t wanted one since. Almost every night, on horseback and bundled up against the cold, he and the kid would ride out under the big New Mexico sky. Tony would tell him the Navajo stories his grandfather had made him learn, and Jackson would tell him what woman of the wind had shown him in the desert outside of Taos. Tony looked up, thought about counting Jackson’s stars, but it was still early. They had wondered together on the cloudless nights what the Angels might all be watching on television that lit up their living rooms. He lifted his blanket and saddle off the porch, whistled for a horse. He was going to miss the kid. Spacey little fucker.

***

Deanna’s flat  / Valentine’s Day, 1979

Deanna walked in out of the rain and before her coat was off her flat mates indicated she’d gotten a delivery, it was in her room. More sweaters from mom? No, mom was still maximum pissed. Another Miami Dolphins jersey from her loser brother who couldn’t have gone to help out the Niners? She opened the door to a single red rose in a small, delicate light blue floral Victorian-ish vase, listing to the right on top of her dresser. A transcribed message in a clean, longhand script on the standard florist’s card from FTD was tied around the neck of the vase with a thin, red ribbon.

D,
Rose is for Valentine’s one. Missed CA enrollment deadline. I’m a New Mexican mess. New Messican? Florist cards too small. Next year has to be better. Hope you’re OK. – J

Deanna held the card for a long time before she took it to the kitchen to pin to the wall she and her flat mates used for a bulletin board. She hadn’t been there long enough to clutter it with new memories. The rose was unexpected, but he’d said they had five Valentine’s, let him know by then or before, and now in just over a month the first one was gone. She’d called her mom collect last week. Mom said Jax’s mom didn’t know where he was, didn’t know if he had a forwarding order on the apartment. All anyone knew was he’d called his mother from a pay phone in the desert somewhere a couple of weeks ago. A New Messican. Come on, Jax…

She stared at the nearly empty wall. The card was small but it would help. When she felt the pin push into the plaster she realized that in the midst of all her anger and defiance and justifications she’d missed the fact that her left-behind world wasn’t going to stay orderly, stashed like old pictures in a box that she could open when she returned to show them all what she’d done without them.

THG 3 – Ch 7 – Outside the Lines

Deanna’s flat, Cambridge U.K. / Saturday morning January 13, 1979

After a nasty cup of Merriam’s black tea and a warm toilet seat over water putting off ripe refrigerated air and no air freshener to be found, Deanna, on her first morning in Cambridge, eyed her shoulder high dresser with marked contempt. Like the house, it had to be over a hundred years old. It smelled like disinfectant, dirty underwear and mold, and was bolted to the floor just enough off level so that anything round rolled off the top. Her bed frame was bolted to the floor as well, not close enough to the wall to keep her from getting wedged between it and the bed, and not far enough to walk behind. The mattress, on slats with no box spring, was slightly smaller than a twin, in width, not length. Cat said it had been new when she’d brought it down with her and it “hadn’t seen even the shadow of a shag,” so Deanna was free to break it in as soon, and often, as she pleased. So long as she kept her volume down and told them all about every one of them.

There were two sets of cream colored sheets that fit the bed, a tiny lumpy pillow and a maroon, satin-look nylon comforter. Her own pillows, too-big sheets and the double comforter Jackson had given her as a gift her freshman year were in one of the boxes already in her room. She knew half of her clothes would never get worn, her sheets would never fit, or fit in the dresser or the wardrobe. At least the comforter could be folded double for warmth. She repacked a ship-home box from her excess, a process that would result, eventually, in another joyous conversation with mom about head in the clouds lack of preparation that ended in an expense.

She unpacked her few kitchen items from box number 2, found where things like them were stored and emptied most of her cosmetic case on the dresser and the also attached to the floor night stand. Her final touch was a two-year old picture of Jackson on top of her dresser with what was left of the perfume he’d bought her back when he surprised her with girly gifts. Back before she started building her wall. She pulled the picture down, ran her thumbs down the side of the frame.

He was happy, smiling. They were happy. The picture a souvenir from a road trip to the Texas State Fair their freshman year. Just to prove they could disappear for a weekend. Not ask anyone and just go somewhere, spend the night in a LaQuinta, “bone like bunny rabbits” and give their parents the finger. Their romantic teenage getaway went downhill when they’d both barfed out the window of his car after eating greasy yuk fair food all day in the heat and chased it drinking trunk-of-the-car temperature liquor store beer they’d bought on the way in. Beer twice as potent as the watery Okie beer they were used to. By the time they got to the motel they both had the trots and he’d had to make a toilet paper run at midnight because they were too embarrassed to call the front desk. In the bag with the ten pack of toilet paper was a can of Lysol air freshener. Jax didn’t say anything, but used half the can. The next morning they were over it, took a long, soapy shower together and made love until checkout time.

As they pulled out of the motel parking lot he’d said, “You know, before last night, I backed off laying cable until you were out of my apartment. Like you weren’t supposed to know I took a dump or something. Well, that’s over and now we know more than we ever wanted to about each other. We catch the flu together and we can tell everybody we’ve been to for real live-together boot camp, huh?”

This morning, though desperately needed, there was no air freshener. No Jackson, no hot soapy shower. Definitely no sex. She’d made it to Cambridge, the hard part was over. She could relax, be herself again. She set the picture back, wanted to cry, and scream, and kick the dresser. Goddammit he should be here. She should have told him, should have…

“Shit.” She looked around the gloomy room. “Shit, shit, shit.”

Merriam popped her head in the door. “All’s right, love?”

“Yeah…No, it’s not, really.” She held her hands out, fingers spread, interlocked them. “Is there ever a time,” she moved her locked hands in and away, slowly, “when it all comes together and just fucking works and makes sense?”

“I’m chemistry. That sounds like physics. Or theology. I know a few of both lot, if you’d fancy a go at them. Eggs are up as well.”

“In a minute.” Deanna touched the glass on the picture again, said, under her breath. “Just wait. I’ll be back.”

She had no idea when she’d boarded her plane yesterday that “wait” was the last thing on Jackson’s mind as he wandered the northern New Mexico desert outside of Taos, his brain somewhere out on the rings of Saturn, the rest of him on the way to dying of exposure. Nor did she have any idea that the promise of her, the future of her, the hope of her, everything she’d been since she was seventeen had been canceled, boxed, sealed and archived before she even left the country.

***

Central New Mexico / Saturday January 13, 1979

Tony Nakata walked away from the drug dealing “jewelry” girls, their vocal and gestured profanity in his wake, fired up his truck, filled it with a “pay you when I get paid” tank of gas and took the two-lane 503 out of Santa Fe. He picked up the narrow ridge of 76 to Taos at Chimayo. Just in case the kid had gone mission wandering, looking for God. You never knew what someone might go looking for on peyote. Late afternoon he rolled up on Taos, cruised in diminishing circles from the outer perimeter of town for an hour. He turned right on the north edge of old downtown as the sun was going down and spotted his target in an unpaved alley, leaned up against a run down, empty clapboard house not far from Kit Carson’s.

Jackson was incoherent but mumble quality responsive. And filthy. Covered in dried vomit caked with dust. No telling what he’d taken voluntarily, or what the psycho dope girls had done just to fuck with him after they’d emptied his pockets. Pushing into three days was a touch long for him to still be gone from a peyote party. The kid’s body temperature was down from exposure, he was gray from dehydration and shock-ish. Tony grabbed a rolled up blanket out of the rotting plywood-lined bed of his truck, wrapped it around Jackson tight as a body cast, belted him into the passenger side. He tried to get some luke-warm coffee down Jackson’s throat but he started to choke and drool, the coffee running down inside the blanket adding another layer of funk to his barf crust.

Tony took a hit of the coffee, tossed the remains from the thermos cap out his window. “You’re not much good for conversation,” he scoped the mumbly mess of head and hair poked out of the blanket next to him, “but you know your coffee.”

Tony drove back to Santa Fe with the heater cranked and a bandanna over his nose against Jackson’s stink. He pulled up at a pay phone in front of the grocery store where the kid’s car was parked, dropped a quarter, punched in all the numbers Sheffield had given him and pressed the freezing handset to his ear. It rang half of once.

“Nakata, Shef. Got your kid.”

“Breathing or bagged?”

“Breathing. Some chicks dealing on the square got ahold of him. He’s one fucked up filthy-assed pup.”

“Sure it’s him?”

“Yeah. Keys in his pocket fit the car. Found ID in the trunk in what’s left of a wallet. It’s him. Next?”

“Move his car before they tow it, put him in a cheap motel, stay with him till he comes back. If it takes more than a couple of days, drop him at a hospital, call me.”

Tony stared at the receiver for a few, hung it up. No way. He was broke until the money for finding this stinky little fucker showed up. A couple of days worth of babysitting a trashed by choice long haired white kid in a Motel 6 wasn’t Tony Nakata’s idea of a good time, even at Sheffield’s day rate that was more than he’d see in two months doing as little as possible on the rez.

He called his brother to come get the kid’s ride, re-wrapped Jackson’s blanket and drove out to his hogan. He threw Jackson over his shoulder, carried him inside, put him on a cot in one of the two rooms. Tony forced two bottles of water into him then sat down in a worn-out leather chair covered in heirloom quality Navajo blankets to keep the springs out of his butt. His feet went up on a red plastic milk crate, he wiggled the coat hanger attached to a small black and white tv on another milk crate next to his knee, and waited. The night man at the Motel 6 in Albuquerque would comp him a voucher for a week so he could claim the expense for Jackson’s recovery or hospital drop. Then he could buy some beer and maybe a steak that somebody else cooked. Six month’s easy money and dinner on the town for a week’s work.

***

Central-West New Mexico / Sunday evening January 14th, 1979

Jackson came back, mostly, in just under twenty-four hours, and proceeded to eat everything edible in Tony’s cabin. When he started on some six-month-old frozen tamales like they were Popsicles Tony made him stop, threw him in a lukewarm shower, bundled him up and took him to his aunt’s where she fed him a hot, spicy stew full of unknown things, fresh tamales and coffee that would jump start the heart of a dead buffalo.

Tony’s brother-in-law had driven Jackson’s car over from Santa Fe while they were gone, left a note that said it was running fine, minus a tape player and radio.

Jackson, wrapped in his rescue blanket because his jacket still reeked of vomit, stood under the night sky on Tony’s rough, dusty, warped plank porch,and stared at his car for maybe ten silent minutes. Tony put his hand on Jackson’s shoulder.

“There’s a month of work, more or less, needs doing around here. I’ll blow it off, waste time, won’t get around to it without help. Some of it, like the roof and the stock tank, I won’t ever do by myself, even if they both give out.” He stared off at something in the mountains for a couple of heartbeats, kicked a tumbleweed off the porch. “Might be a good idea to make sure you’re hitting on all cylinders before you take off. Whatever’s waiting will keep. The shape you’re in?” His gaze returned to the black against midnight blue mountains. “The only thing waiting for you out there right now is Coyote.”

Jackson knew he was wobbly, had maybe enough gas to get to the Exxon station on I-40. The forty dollars he kept under the insole of his boot didn’t look as big as it used to without the four hundred he used to have in front of it. He wasn’t interested in meeting or being eaten by a coyote, in spirit or flesh, and was in no shape to talk to anyone in admissions at USC. Something he was already two days late for. He was screwed, and baked, and knew it.

“It’s cool? If I hang?”

Tony’s big, gloved hand that had landed on his shoulder earlier gave him a healthy squeeze. “You don’t mind doing a little work, we’re cool.”

Tony Nakata and the new kid, both wrapped in blankets, sat on the dusty porch, stared at the starry sky and talked for hours.

After four days, just to total out that week he was going to bill for the Motel 6, Tony drove to the gas station pay phone in Crownpoint, started talking when he heard the half ring stop.

“Your kid’s back.”

“He still there?”

“Yeah. He’s hanging, helping me out till his shit’s stirred straight.”

“How is he?”

“Little fucker works his ass off and kicks mine is how he is. For my aunt’s tamales.”

“Client needs a little more than he’s industrious and how he feels about your aunt’s tamales, Nakata.”

“Make something up ’cause there’s not much else to it. We work too hard, talk a little, tell some jokes. At night he stares at the sky. Told me he’s never seen so many stars, makes me look at them with him, and tells me the angels must love my place because they can see their way home from here. Says the wind can talk. I can’t tell yet if he’s all there and outside the lines sometimes is who he is, or if he lost a few steps in Taos.”

“The client says he’s that way. She won’t say he’s spaced out, but she says things like sweet, kind, intuitive. Just took a heartbreak hit earlier than expected. He’s not a pussy, can play himself some rock n roll and he’s got the stones to get up in a full grown, powerful, rich woman’s shit. Aside from the space cadet bullshit he makes sense the rest of the time, handles tools okay?”

“Yeah, like a pro. He laid the roof out in the dirt three times before we bought anything, saved me a hundred and twenty bucks. Said he learned it from an All American center. He’s not a pussy. ‘Sweet and kind’ I don’t know. He gets too sweet or kind or intuitively orders me flowers I’ll run his ass off.”

THG 3 – Ch 6 – No Wellies

While a pissed off, poorly organized Jackson headed out of Oklahoma at 105 miles an hour for an unexpected meeting in the New Mexico high desert with Destiny, let’s not forget THG herself’s equally, yet differently, mis-envisioned adventure that set this all in motion is also underway.

Deanna lifted the tall, clear, cheap glass with air bubbles pasta jar, another Pier One college apartment accessory that sat on Jackson’s kitchen counter for two years collecting change, and felt another cold shot of alone waft through her as she noted the jar’s lack of heft. Nearly full before Halloween, it was now down to a couple of inches of change. She’d never explained when Jax had asked how metal coins evaporated. She’d shoveled most of it into a pay phone in front of the 7-11 in the townie part of their college town, hoping she wouldn’t be seen calling the future “flatmates” she’d chosen from lists provided by Newnham College and a Cambridge student housing clearing house. She’d made three calls to the pair of Scottish girls, couldn’t reverse the charges or put them on anyone’s phone without getting busted. Funding the calls had fallen to Jax’s pasta jar. And he’d left the jar in the lettuce box full of her stuff. Goddammit. He knew. Some of it, if not all of it. That was why when she’d just spewed it out on him he hadn’t seemed surprised at all, gave her a time line ultimatum and walked. He was probably burning one with his artsy-fartsy friends, laughing about her “charade of secrecy,” his big joke on Deanna “empty” apartment like he was really gone.

She’d chosen the flat mates because the rent was all she could afford with the money she’d stashed from her living expenses. Mom would have to pay the rest later from the college fund and the money Gramma had left for her that her parents were in charge of and Mom….God. Based on how Jackson and Amanda had pretty much hung icicles on “See ya,” dealing with Mom boiling over was really, really going to suck. A lot. Money this and expensive that and why did she always have to go off the deep end, why wasn’t she reasonable, why was her head always off in the clouds. Which was way better than where her brother and probably Jackson behind her back said that it was most of the time. Well, fuck them and the whole head up her ass parent money thing. They hadn’t used any of her college fund except for her apartment and books, and they shouldn’t complain when they found out about England, really, because Doug’s college had been free. Well, except the lawyers. And the agent. But they’d get that back, mostly. At least the agent. Doug was off to the NFL and most of those guys bought their parents new houses and German cars and stuff so what if Cambridge was expensive?

The jar in her hand had become a gazing ball, full of everything Cambridge swirling around. One of the future flat mates, Merriam, was her age. The other, Catorina, a year older. They’d said the flat was a two bedroom, but a gift from Catorina’s fiancé had made another bedroom available, but didn’t explain. Her room would be between Merriam’s corner room and the recently remodeled up-size “loo” in the other corner. It wasn’t “posh,” wasn’t a dorm or an expensive, modernized concrete and glass box stacked on top of another, but it was close in. There was a combination newsagents’, grocer and post office shop around the corner, along with a Chinese take away, walk up fish and chips and a small, decent pizza and Italian restaurant the girls said were all mixed in with the row houses. A community green grocer’s co-op had opened a few blocks up, a Boots cosmetics, pharmacy and lass’s necessaries a decent walk or short bike away, and a homey pub full of “average” locals an easy drunk’s walk. If she fancied the high life she could drop over three blocks and trod up the River Cam to where the “Crests and plaids lot” hung about. They’d described the flat as old-ish, and new-ish, and reasonably clean and had half a sidewalk, unlike the street over where the doors opened on the curb to the street.

Merriam was headed for graduate work in Chemical Engineering with her eye on America after, Cat was in her early days of a Masters of Finance, and had a job waiting back home in Aberdeen with a Danish owned international trading and brokering house. Merriam called Cat a boring, judgmental, hard-drinking might as well be married cow. Cat described Merriam as a queerish bit of overfed perverse fetishist. They both had an easy laugh and told her never mind the age of the building, a Yank lass would ruin the neighborhood anyway, come along, bugger it all up and be quick about it.

She had no frame of reference for what they described, but in her head it was everything Blake’s “green and pleasant land,” everything every period piece movie she’d ever seen, all spinning around in a cheap pasta jar with the last of Jackson’s change she’d use to call, tell them when to expect her. It all sounded so perfect and different and scary and not at all like the postcards and the romantic, pastoral paintings of England she’d been looking at since she was little or the visions that danced in Jackson’s soon to be empty pasta jar. But it was real. And really about to be hers.

***

Friday morning Deanna’s furious and frightened mother pulled up to the curb at international departures and popped the rear hatch of her station wagon. She’d already laid out the Cambridge was expensive, no scholarship assistance and it cost a small fortune to fly and she would see her daughter when she came home, if she made it home, to Deanna. Repeatedly. Mom Collings, for the first time in a long time, took her daughter’s hand, rubbed it lightly between her own, and looked her in the eye.

“My baby…” Deanna could see the tears held in check behind her mother’s eyes. “I do hope you make it out alive.” She let that breathe. “You…You’re not who you think are, alone, and you never will be. If you ever realize you’re not a one woman show, come home. If not,” she sighed, studied their entwined hands before bringing her eyes back to her daughter’s. “Then set the world on fire, sweetheart. Because if you don’t and we lose you? If you, and everything wonderful you are and could be ends in nothing? It will kill me, too.”

“Mom…” Deanna had been in England in her head for a year. None of them got it. She threw her left arm around her mother’s neck, whispered “I’ll be okay, mom, really.” She squeezed the arm, kissed her mom’s temple, said “Love you” and was on the sidewalk with the big black man who’d pulled her suitcase out of the back of Mom’s station wagon, handing him her itinerary and two dollars.

Jackson had told her back in high school, before they were ever them, “Always over tip and don’t be a dick to waitresses or bellhops or valet, even if they don’t do anything but hand off your food or your suitcase or your keys.” She remembered asking, with a touch of snotty, “Why?” “Because once they’re out of sight they have more ways to fuck with you and your food and your shit than you’ll ever know.” She’d rolled her eyes, gone along with it when he was around, on the cheap side. Seeing the pile of everything she needed to hit England at stride trundled off on a cart with an unsmiling stranger eyeballing the pair of ones in his hand like they were dirty before he stuffed them in his uniform shirt pocket she wished, just once, she’d really listened.

***

Deanna stood in the cold evening rain across the narrow street from what was about to be her new flat. It was a far cry from Blake’s “Green and pleasant land.” Six small student flats in a hundred and ten year old, three story brownish gray brick building covered in dead ivy vines. Six bicycles scattered in front, all with baskets. Rain dripped from the plastic flowers wrapped around one of them. How six apartments could be in there seemed impossible. But there were two on each floor, they’d told her. The ground floor, the greenish door on the left was hers, the window box full of plastic flowers a token to homey-ness. The middle door was the stairwell to the upper floors. The door to the right of that a mirror image of hers.

“Mid-Victorian” Cat had told her. That was why the black pipes for sewer venting were bolted to the outside next to the gutter downspouts. Deanna had hoped it would be one of the little houses with a big window, a stone wall out front with a gate and small, crazy garden for a front yard. Instead there were narrow, barely there sidewalks on either side of a narrow street full of old row houses painted startling colors. The street itself was lined with parked cars all pointed one direction, a few small motorcycles and a million bikes. Streets barely as wide as a car. How did people drive here?

She crossed the street, her big, bright red American Tourister suitcase and make-up case in tow. She’d had to put her leather purse on her shoulder under her red London Fog. Her hair was wet and stringy and it was cold enough to make her nose red. She dropped the knocker twice.

The girl who answered had dark auburn hair, some freckles under a light dusting of face powder and didn’t miss many meals.

“You’ll be Deanna.” The girl took in the bright red coat and suitcases, shook her head. “Bloody landing beacon, you are. Come on, don’t stand about in the rain. Cat? Our lass from the colonies is arrived.”

Another girl appeared in the dark, back corner of the room. Deanna’s height, trim, blondish, angular and severe, dishtowel in hand. “Bloody hell…She’ll not be run down on Merton in that.” Dishtowel girl gave Deanna the once over, frowned at her wet, low heeled dress shoes. “No Wellies? You weren’t told it rains here?” It took Deanna a few seconds to process that from “Nwellies? Ya wernatole eh rines ere?”

“Yes. No. No wellies. Those are rain boots? Rubbers, my dad says, and mom says galoshes. Do I need them? I sort of threw all this together in a big hurry.”

“Will you have a listen to her, Cat? Sounds a bit off, but she’s a fine eyeful of lass.” Merriam had taken Deanna’s coat and hung it on a coat rack that stood in the middle of a drip pan. “Scotch, love? We’ve a beer as well.”

“Seven-Up?”

“Fizzy drinks are in a cold case in a shop ‘round the corner.” She pointed at a small, square box under the sink. “Fridge space is premium. Food and beer win the day over fizzy. Have a sit. Cat?”

Catorina explained the flat layout, without moving anything but the dishtowel at the end of her arm. “Down the side, our Merriam, you, our new lass, and the loo in the corner, just there. Across the back the table for study and fine dining, and kitchen, as it is. Not much in the way of cupboard, we share all that’s there, the odd cups and plates. Choose what you like, we’re not much for standing on Her Majesty’s ceremony here.” Cat’s dishtowel gesturing hand folded back in and she waited for comment from Deanna.

The kitchen, as it was, contained a recent, small, four burner gas stove top-oven combo with what Deanna would discover was the ubiquitous teapot on top. Next up an old, deep, wide, chipped ceramic sink with eighteen inches of counter space on either side over cabinets left, right and under, more cabinets above, all with mismatched patterned curtains for doors. A window by the table and a window over the sink, both looked into the alley behind, all of it open to the main room. A short, narrow door opened under the stairs to the upper floors, another door just to the left into the alley. A fireplace on the wall opposite the bedrooms was surrounded by built-in bookshelves, mostly devoid of books. The largest, newest fixture in the flat was a chocolate brown sleeper sofa two thirds the width of the room, that sat on a plush dark blue rug. Folded out it became Cat’s “bedroom.”

“Wow. Cool. Kinda small, really, but cool. And, not that I’m a bitch or anything, but it’s Dee – anna, not Deena.”

Cat’s eyes left Deanna for Merriam and they sputter laughed. “A Colonist, but not a bitch, studying English and having a go at our speech, eh Cat? Deanna it was and is, love.” It still sounded like Deena.

“Um…” Maybe it was a nickname thing. “Okay.” Deanna took in the entire flat again. “I guess that’s all, huh? Except for the rolled up blue foam thing by the fireplace?”

“You’ll have Merriam show you what she gets up to with that when you’ve set your kit and joined us proper. Wouldn’t do, you running down Newnham in tears your first night in.”

Writerly Concerns #10 – Content Forward

Style, Substance, and The Wisdom of Nacogdoches

I returned from a week off to discover discussions of style. On the heels of several discussions about marketing and design and what amounts to curb appeal. As well as a debate with myself about the futility of why bother furthering this adventure because of my opinions (and choices) in regard to those subjects are often unpopular. But writing, or any creative adventure, (I’m a synthesist for God’s sake) is not about being popular, or conventional, it’s about discovery. You wouldn’t know that by all the discussions of mechanics.

I also discovered the internet is not the medium for writing anything of significance, either to an audience or ones self. He said, petulantly. Or, He said, nose thrust up theatrically in the universal pose of snobbery. Or the style choice of “point made, no attribution.” Or delete past “thrust up.” Choices. Everywhere. How we say what we say and what we don’t.

I read a lot of authors. Rarely entire books. Like listening to a song for the production values, not the song. I read some earlier P.D. James, before she became a franchise. Only two chapters for “style”. I learned two things. I had to read several pages of dialogue before I found any tags. Yay! I learned how to (my opinion) overwrite staging a scene. Something she was famous for, creating atmosphere. Down to how many dirty Kleenex were on the overly described flaws in the kitchen table. She would fail miserably doing that on a short attention span blog post.

I read J.D. Macdonald. I noticed he repeated a word, often in the same sentence, often in the same paragraph. Today Grammarly or an editor would say “You used (word X) three lines ago, third time on this page. Don’t you own a Thesaurus?” He evoked the same sense of place as James, in far fewer words. Less detail, no Kleenex, but as a reader you were right there. Do we need descriptions of filth or clutter? I don’t know. Fast food bags and a week’s worth of dishes in the sink does it for me. I do know he nailed Latin dance music of the 50s without a single bit of musical or musician vernacular, as well as the two people dancing to it, the night, the room, all of it in about as many words as I’m using here. BAM. Otherwise, his characters and their perceptions of each other vs who they were to themselves and their relationships was almost overwritten. No points off though, he was using all of them to beat the various forms personal condemnation might take while backstorying a murder. The murder of consequence only as a vehicle for all the character study.

I read David Foster Wallace. Okay, that’s literature. This piece was like Vonnegut,  skating with one foot on either side of the absurd as if it were perfectly real. But that’s life, really. There are times that Wallace is excruciatingly detailed and hilarious at the same time. Like British comedy. Push the timing limit envelope as far as it will go. He is also invisibly poignant to the point of pulling your heart out. He has the angst of MacDonald lost in society, the atmosphere of James, internal and external. As an added benefit, you never see his education except when he flogs the entire academic/pop culture/publishing industries and tells a ridiculous story embedded in black comedy social commentary. If you find the opportunity to read “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way”, do it. (It is not a discussion of the painting from 1861 by the same name.)

Did I mention I was out of town? Spent a day and a half in Mendocino, California. If you watched tv in the Eighties it was really Cabot Cove, Maine. Hometown to Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote. In P.D. James’ Devices and Desires her forward is a location disclaimer. Between two points in the real world she created a false, detailed location for her story. Wallace as well has us in a place so real yet unreal. MacDonald sets a fictitious house on a real lake. His characters occupy pretend places in real places. I think we should all do that, save for historical (yawn) novels. Build a sense of place out of a place. Nobody needs a Hollywood or Bermuda travelogue. As deep as P.D. James, as deceptive as Murder She Wrote, as un-real real as Wallace or MacDonald (or pick a big leaguer).

Got off topic there – What they all have in common (save Wallace) isn’t geographic misdirection, or the depth or lack of “atmosphere,” but the parade through character flaws of possible suspects. I discovered further down the road the following day that Raymond Burr’s winery had been sold. Perry Mason was another one of those parades.

It’s all style. Same formula. Flesh it out or pull it in. Deep content or cardboard.

Wallace alone writes stream of consciousness without “arc” or “formula.” Here they are, three strangers, not very sympathetic going through a hell of a boring day. On the surface. The good guys and the bad guys and the fairy godmothers aren’t wearing black or white hats or long tulle skirts and waving wands. They’re ad executives and rent a car counter agents and wife stealers and all kinds of people who can wreck your mind and your life if you let them, just like all the characters in all the other books. Only without being wrapped around a murder or an event. They just are. Like us. (Absurd) or touching Stories of People. Steinbeck does that on occasion as well.

I have seen Hemingway and Steinbeck and London bandied around as style models. All very different. A good deal of a Hemingway isn’t on the page. Steinbeck once said that Of Mice and Men was a way bigger story than a hack like him could write. (!) Clue – All the authors you remember force you into being with their characters. You go OMG, or WTF. Even if you don’t particularly like them, or they aren’t all that sympathetic, maybe they’re even jerks. But we follow them because –

There are no tricks. Since ancient times the Canons of Rhetoric will give you a work. Add Aristotle’s three major styles to work the scenes and draw your audience in. Work your characters and readers emotions up and down with language appropriate to what you want them to feel. No magic, no equations, no “style” copy. Say what needs to be said to put you and the reader and your characters in your scene, and delete everything else.

I think of style in terms of music. Music happens in the spaces between the notes. The story is told in the rhythm and pacing of those spaces. What’s not there is the reader’s, or listeners. And that’s why they’ve opted in. Not for our wonderous prose or flashy hemi-demi-semi quavers, but what we offer their imaginations with a story or piece of music.

My point – I think maybe we should be more concerned with how we sculpt our content than tricks and equations and curb appeal. There I am with those damn opinions. I will leave you with a true story from the music biz, names and all, as a parable.

Willie Nelson cut an album called Nacogdoches. In, of all places, Nacogdoches. At a studio in that same town owned by a friend and client of mine, Dana Woods. There’s a much longer story about that studio for some other time. Onward. Willie went to East Texas to cut a handful of standards with some old guys he’d known forever. Songs like “Stardust” and “How High the Moon”. Classics. Dana invited me for rough mixes night. The small control room is reasonably crowded, lights flash, the Mac screen scrolls. Willie is off to the side leaning elbows down on a rack cabinet, listening. First tune rolls by. Everyone nods, maybe a low-key muso only insider comment floats by. Dana’s intern ostentatiously effused, “Wow. That was a great cut.” Tunes and scene repeat, as do intern’s enthusiastic variations on “That was a great track.” After about five or six “Man, that was a great track” opines, Willie looks up, still in his rack lean, drawls in that unmistakeable nasally twang –

“Y’know, it’s hard to cut a bad standard.”