NVDT RANDOM – A Little Dab’ll Do Ya

Transitive verb (archaic): Absolve, Pardon, Acquit, Clear, Expiate

Origin: Middle English, late 12th century (earliest known reference): from Anglo-French assoilé, past participle of assoudre to absolve, from Latin absolvere

This word is so perfect, and so wrong, in so many ways.

“Lester’s gonna raise all kindsa hell he finds out you locked his ass inna holdin’ tank for two days now ‘at Nuella done confessed to killin’ Shorty.”

“She confessed lessen ten minutes ago, but you two bein’ kin an all,” the Sheriff tossed a ring of keys at the deputy, “go on, assoil him and send him home.”

“The priest did what to you in the confessional?”

“I don’t want an apology from the state. I want a complete assoil.”

“I would’ve thought you got enough of that in prison.”

NVDT Random – Another Book Review

Flat Crazy

Ben Rehder

4.7 Stars

4.7? Published by the mainstream. There were a few editorial brain farts. And it could have stood a touch of dialogue editing, at least for a native Texan speaker. Fixing those would have really sealed this one. Told in an often funny “Holy shit” omni third person that puts you in the scene with the scene maker is exceptionally well done. Some leading narrative and ‘splainin could go away, but in this form it seems to be a required component. Also, this is not a book report, or a plot summary, or any of that. Simply my impressions of construct and how the book worked as a whole.

The story goes that someone gave Ben Rehder a Carl Hiaasen book. After reading it, he supposedly said, “I can do that.” And he can. (Did). I’m not sure if he went through an early Hiaasen and built a template, but he nailed the format. Many authors have used successful formats where they fill in the chunks with their own story. Hiaasen’s same narrative style is present as well, with a Texas accent. All the way to the same “comes down to it” moment for the protagonists and an epilogue for the bit players. Like Hiaasen, the interjections of the bit players have something marginal to do with the story, but are there more for levity until needed to perform some plot sealing function. How boring would a procedural about murder and hunting ethics be without a first class cast of well-written stereotypes? Well written being the key. Keeping the lid on some of these people must’ve taken a lot of effort.

The key players – A not too serious ex-convict hunting guide in a trailer in Central Texas isn’t unusual. One who keeps unintentionally killing or maiming people to cover up his deer trophy con job makes for a stellar stereotype. As does the telling of his not-all-here brother, damaged by a high voltage shock. A Marlboro Man Game Warden and a Sheriff named Garza is nothing unique to the Hill Country, either, but they are played well. The best thing about this book, to me, was Rehder’s true-to-life (mis)behaviors and reactions from the entire cast. Even when they were outside, they fit like a jigsaw puzzle.

Plot Lines – One involves the “oops” murder of a deer hunter who realizes he’s been scammed by his guide and the guide’s continual fuck ups trying to cover it up. The second comes from a Mexican day laborer taking an emergency dump in the woods who claims to have seen a Chupacabra – a mythical Mexican/South American version of Big Foot. This sighting causes the “wetback” to run pants down screaming out of the woods and into the path of a truck. When the body count escalates and the media feeding frenzy takes over is it murder or the Chupacabra?

Warning. You might need a program to keep up with the cast, just like with Hiaasen. Are there superfluous people and encounters? Possibly. But that’s all tapestry. I’m still wondering why we needed the Chinese midget porn stars and their producer. In the end, the fake antlers that started one of the two parallel plot lines are at last recovered through them.

Rehder breaks every rule we’ve been hammered with for “modern” writing. He opens with a passive verb. The entire book is shot through with narrative leading, character opinions and a conversational style. Again, shades of Hiaasen. One minor complaint from me would be honest to God Texan speak requires timing interrupters. Doing Texan verbatim without them made the dialogue in places seem unnatural, even if it was note perfect.

My takeaway from this book was a fun, who knew who the hell was going to end up where read, like a good early Hiaasen. Great characters, great reactions, what could have been slapstick was right on the money, not over or underdone. You can read the blurbs on Amazon.

Will I read more Rehder? Certainly. Particularly since I only made it about a chapter and a half through one of Anne Hillerman’s New Mexico Navajo books. That’s a whole other topic.

Now, for some musings on the muse. Flat Crazy was published in 2004. I left Austin in 2002. Fast forward to 2015 when I decided to write again before my sell-by date was at hand. Prior to the last couple weeks, I’d never seen this book before, or heard of the author. However, Rehder has a character, a Nightly Pulp News show anchor. Female, attractive, etc. named Rita Villareal that is so similar to one of my own as to be creepy. Beyond that, there are many other crossover type castings and scenes. Caliche roads and driveways. One stoplight towns. Helicopters landing in backyards, gum chewing gold diggers, transparent liars… I wonder, did they hitch a ride when I left Austin, or is there a commonality of experience that falls into these tales?

NVDT Shorts – How They Get Away III

Clown Car

“Going to Texas for a grocery run,” Harper folded the bed lid down on his good pickup. “Got the freezer in the back. You need anything from Costco or Sam’s, now’s the time to holler.”

“Damn, Harper. No notice?” Cheryl’s tongue poked a bump in her cheek while she thought. “Can I text you a list?”

“I wanna go!”

“Waco, your uncle has better things to do than babysit you.”

“Baby sittin’ is that thing,” she pointed at her baby brother. “Please?

Harper watched the dynamic, waited, caught his sister’s expression start to soften.

“She can come, Big Sis. I need to hear some new music, anyway. But,” he eyed his ten-year-old niece, “you can’t hang on the phone the whole time. The point of a road trip co-pilot is to entertain the driver with stories, program the GPS so I don’t get lost, fly the playlist and pass stuff from the munchie bag.”

“You already know where you’re goin’, an your truck knows my phone. Mom?” Waco raised her eyebrows, checked in with both adults.

“Whatever,” Cheryl shrugged through baby bounces. “She gets under your feet or turns full nuisance, park her in the back with her phone and drop the lid.”

***

“So, what happened to you and that lady from the casino?” Waco shifted sideways in the passenger seat, legs crossed Indian style.

“She wasn’t from the casino. I met her at the casino.”

“Like a pickup?”

“Jeez, kiddo… Yeah. Kinda like that.”

“Mom thought she was a prosti-whatsit. Like you were payin’ to be with her. Like that show on Netflix.”

“Your mom has a vivid imagination and needs to put some control on your TV.”

“Why? That stuff’s in the library, and on the internet. So…?”

“We met. At the casino. She was fun to be with. A lot of fun. I thought we were doin’ okay, but…”

“But what?”

“Okay. Gotta promise – you can’t tell a soul about this,” knowing she’d tell everyone who’d listen. “Cause it’ll make me look bad.” He made the cutoff from 70 to 377 South, reset the cruise control. “So, I’m rockin’ along with this girl, thinkin’ we would hook up for the weekend, and I called her. I guess it was on a Wednesday? Anyway, our last couple of calls hadn’t gone all that smooth, but I thought it was down to timing. You know, interrupting each other in the middle of work, stuff like that. But the last time she seemed even more not into it than the last couple of times I’d called. We were talking, though, or I was, and then her doorbell rang. She says it’s the tree guys or the pool guys, somebody like that –”

“She has a pool?”

“Yep, a big one. And a big ol’ yard full of trees.”

“Wow… Who was it? The tree guys or the pool guys?” She put her palms to her cheeks. “Maybe she had another boyfriend!”

“Never found out. See, what happened was when she saw whoever was in the driveway and heard the doorbell, she said, ‘Just a sec’ and put her phone down. I could hear her explaining something to whoever it was and heard her shut the door. And then she walked right past her phone like I’d never been there and went back to loading her dishwasher. I knew because I could hear water running and the dishes clanking. I waited a couple of minutes, to see if she’d remember I was there, but she didn’t. I hung up. That’s that.”

“She just like blew you off?” He had her full attention. “To do the dishes?”

“Yep.”

“Wow… I thought gettin’ blown off for a baby was bad.” She reached down to the floor, stuck her hand in the plastic bag from the Love’s her mom managed. “Crunchy Cheetos oughta make you feel better.” She handed him a small, crinkly bag. “They always do me.”

***

The Honda van pulled up and stopped in the crosswalk, narrowly missing Harper, Waco and the large, jovial black lady they’d talked with on the way up the parking aisle at Sam’s.

“Honey,” the black lady said, “they coulda missed seein’ you and the girl. But me?” She scrunched her face up.

“You are kinda hard to miss.”

She was hard to miss. Not only the size of an NFL lineman, but dressed in a fuchsia-colored velveteen workout suit and safety orange cross trainers. As they stepped around the van the passenger side sliding door opened and about a dozen Asians from nine to ninety piled out, clown car style. Inside at the cart corral they all vanished inside, abandoning the eldest, a frail gray-haired female. Harper stepped around her, fished a cart out of the line, pushed it toward the black lady. She smiled, took the cart and got swallowed by the shopping cavern. Harper pulled another cart, checked the alignment, motioned to Waco who took the handle and pushed it toward the door. He pulled one more basket, offered it to the Asian lady, took a step –

“Hickey dickey tickey tah.”

Harper checked in with the Asian grandmother. She motioned to the four lanes of baskets. “Hickey dickey tickey tah.”

“Do you want a different basket… Or…?” He pulled another basket loose, offered it to her.

“Hickeydickeytickey tah!” She was edging up on the universal if-no-one-seems-to-understand-talk-louder routine, grabbed the front of a cart from two lanes over.

“That one? You want that one? Fine.” Harper pulled the cart loose after untangling the baby seat belt that had strung three carts together.

“HICKEY DICKEY TICKEY TAH!” she said, pushing the cart back and forth about six inches.

“Fuck me.” Harper tested the cart for her, rolling it back and forth. She pushed it away. Pointed to another lane.

HICKEYDICKEYTICKEY TAH!”

Harper shook his head, offered a palms up sorry-I-don’t-get-it shrug and followed Waco into the store where a blue vested chubby man with a Slavic accent asked, “What you do to dat womans?”

“Nothing. She wants something but it beats hell outta me what.”

“Maybe she tink you work here. Happens all time. I go see.”

They heard gramma go off one more time before the glass door slid shut, watched her and the eastern bloc man shake basket handles, talk in raised voices and gesture a lot with their hands.

Turning from that, Waco immediately stopped by a big display of new iPhones, pointed. “Hickey dickey tickey tah?”

Harper put up a playful stern face. “Hickey dickey tickey tah!”

“Darn it,” Waco said, pocketing the sale flyer and sighing theatrically. “Hickey, dickey, tickey, tahhhh…”

***

Harper answered his phone on the third ring. “Hey, Cheryl.”

“Hey yourself. Harper, we can afford to buy clothes for our own daughter.”

“I know that. But we had time, and she had the plan worked before she ever got in my truck this mornin’. She found out all on her own that FM 289 is Preston Road in North Texas and Surprise! There’s the mall, Uncle H!”

“And, being the sucker you are, you pulled right on in.”

“Hey, I got a couple of huge Snickerdoodle cookies and a jalapeno pretzel for my trouble.”

“Also on your dime. Great. I’m not even gonna ask her what kind of junk she ate because I can’t get a straight answer out of her since she got home. And look, I’m not jumpin’ your shit, Harp. It’s just that she knows I would never buy her a pair of jeans with holes in them and you’re a chump for that kid. What do I owe you?”

“Nothin’.”

“Not even for the Sam’s and Trader Joe’s run and the stack of Costco Margherita pizzas?”

“Nope. Tell Randall I need to borrow him and that humongous pressure washer of y’all’s sometime soon.”

“Fair enough, but make it a weekend. And, uh, Harp? What I said about Waco and no straight answers? What the hell does ‘hickey dickey tickey tah’ mean?”

NVDT Shorts – How They Get Away II

Fragile

“Heard you hired Old Man Pritch-ard to run your weed farm. And that he’s growin’ Christmas trees now on the grazin’ end of his property. Down to you sendin’ a row tiller out there an spottin’ him the shoots.” Randy pushed his cap back, wiped his forehead. “How much of that’s true?”

“All of it.” Harper tossed the shovels into the bed of his work truck, started the compressor for the water tank. “Hose is on your side. You plan to start unloadin’ that concrete sometime today or you gonna call Cheryl and tell her you’re eatin’ with me tonight?”

“That shit won’t fly.” He rolled some of the hose loose. “She pulled some steaks ‘fore she left for work.”

“Damn. I miss a birthday, or what?”

“She saw some YouTube thing about how to cook steaks like a steakhouse. Says she wants to try it.”

Harper looked across the truck bed, raised an eyebrow.

“Somethin’ about how steaks don’t always have to be my responsibility or some shit.”

“Or some shit. This came up after y’all went up to the city for your anniversary?”

“What are you sayin’, Harp?”

“I’m sayin’ charcoalin’ steaks doesn’t mean turnin’ ‘em into charcoal. If I recall, you fed her a steak at Daffodils,” Harper reached in behind the seat of his truck, pulled a four-foot level. “After that she might’ve realized you weren’t all that in the steak cookin’ department. You bring your level?”

“Yeah.” Randy disappeared into the cab of his truck, reappeared with his own level. “Ya think?”

“Now I know where your daughter gets it. ‘Ya think’ what?”

“About me an grillin’.”

“I don’t have to think, I know. You got a reputation for turnin’ a twenty-dollar piece of meat into a hockey puck.” Harper grinned. “Why I won’t let you near my meat.”

“Fuckin’ pervert.” Randy shouldered a bag of Quikrete. “Where we startin’?”

“It’s your fence, but I say we do the gate posts first so they’re right before we burn one and drink a beer.”

“Or three.” Randy dropped the bag, went back for another, Harper behind him. “You never said the why about you and Old Man Pritch-ard.”

“The man grew prize winning tomatoes the size of volleyballs for years. Without chemicals.” Harper let his Quikrete drop at the nearest hole, knocked the dust off his gloves. “When I got to more greenhouses than I could say grace over and not being a farmer by training or nature, I knew he was the man I needed.”

“I thought there were consultants for you weed barons.”

“You want to spend your days listenin’ to some overpriced California fuck head consultants talkin’ their buckets of air non-stop?”

“Hell no. I just never figured Pritch-ard bein’ one to throw in with a weed man.”

“Never figured I’d own three dispensaries in small town Oklahoma, either. And he came to me with the Christmas tree idea.”

“What’s your cut?”

“Nothin’. He said he was getting’ too old for the hooved variety of ranch work and figured Christmas trees were a good bet not to wander off like cows and sheep and those damn mules of his. I could see him thinkin’. Downstream thinkin’, you know?” Harper lowered a 4×4 into a hole, slapped his level on it. “Like it wasn’t time to chuck it and quit, but time to reset his view of himself and what he could do with where he was at. So, I said ‘Come work for me and I’ll set you up. Like a signing bonus’.”

“I never was an idea man. Can’t see the Christmas trees for the forest most of the time.”

“Yeah, but you know how to get shit done. Lots of guys can figure, not many can do.”

“Nice try.” Randy leveled the back side of the pole, waited for Harper to get a solid grip before he flicked open a Cabella’s promo mini lock-back and sliced open the Quikrete bag. He started to push it into the hole with his boot, stopped, scanned the ground around them. “Where’s the damn hose?”

Harper nodded toward his truck. “Somebody who was supposed to get it forgot it.”

“Goddammit.”

“I got the post, Randy.”

“Right.” He headed for the hose dangling from the truck mounted tank. “Randy the doer, not the thinker.”

***

Harper sat on his truck’s rear bumper, legs out, heels dug in, tipped back his beer. He watched Randy’s truck kick up dust as it rolled away before he dropped the empty bottle in the plastic trash bag with the empty Quikrete bags, picked up his phone.

“Cheryl?”

“He on his way home yet?”

“Yeah. But…”

“I didn’t like the sound of that ‘but’. And don’t make some stupid fart joke.”

“He told me about you thawin’ some steaks… I maybe let the cat out of the bag on his steak grilling skills.”

“You mean his lack of steak grilling skills. What are you telling me?”

“That he might have his feelings hurt a little and it wouldn’t kill you not to rub it in when your steaks aren’t—”

“Charcoal? What else?”

“He got to feelin’ a little low about bein’ who he is. Workin’ for the man, not bein’ Shark Tank material, all that.”

“That’s ridiculous, Harper. And it’s pretty shitty of you to hint around about how I might drop my bitch a notch ‘cause the man’s not Superman.” Dead air. “Harper?”

“Not hintin’ big sis. He wants to give you the best he’s got, and he just found out he sucks at part of it.”

“An inconsequential, infinitesimal part. The man is a freaking floor foreman at the tire plant. He works his ass off for us around here. His kids love him, I love him, the dog loves him. What’s the big whoop about burnt steaks?”

“Inconsequential, infinitesimal?”

“You aren’t the only one who went to college.”

“Alright. It’s a man thing, and he’s bummin’. All I’m sayin’”

“Oh, great. I have one baby, Harp.”

“And tonight you might have a spare.”

“How’s the gate?”

“Bad ass. Spring loaded, auto close latch. No more pig shit covered dog or wandering goats down to forgetful daughter or wind a notch over a breeze.”

“Alright, I’m in. Hold on a sec… Waco? Hey, your Uncle H says two bucks if you deal with your baby sister when Daddy gets home… Yeah? Three? Okay, I’m back. You sure about the gate? What about the mess y’all always make when you do this kinda shit?”

“I told you about the gate. We only drank two beers, so it’s right and he’s not comin’ home lit,” he lifted the trash bag into the truck. “The mess is in my truck.”

“That’s for damn sure.” A few beats passed. “Thanks, Harper.”

“For the gate design I got off the internet, the fence repair, the heads up on Randy or Waco’s three bucks?”

“All that.”

“There a steak done right for me in this anywhere?”

“Don’t push it.”

***

I haven’t had time to do much of anything for two weeks except some editing. I sat with the intent to finish the towel saga, or an expanded riff on the Christmas Tree farm. Forty-five minutes later they’d gotten away from me. Again. Seems like in my short stuff the characters know what they want to talk about. I quit fighting them years ago. I hope Cheryl kicked her bitch down a notch and Waco kept her end of the bargain. Harper’s good for the three bucks.

NVDT Shorts – How They Get Away

“I really appreciate this, Harp.” Cheryl pushed the baby carriage back and forth, a clock pendulum on half time. “My baby girl loves her some big wooly dog, but not…”

“Reckon that’s what brothers are for.” He reached in the back seat of his pickup, pulled a stack of old bath towels, dropped them on the gravel drive. “Not that hosin’ off stinky-ass dogs was ever on any list or anything.”

“Me, too Uncle H. I really ‘preciate it.”

Harper checked the lanky eight-year-old girl in cut-offs and faded red tank top sitting on the back steps.

“You in some kind of trouble over this dog stank, Whacko?”

“Harper, you know that makes her mad.”

“What happens when your parents give you a stupid name like Waco, huh, kiddo? Runs in the family, though, stupid names.” He winked at the girl. “Trouble?”

“Double trouble. Double stupid.” She gave her mom a glare, stood and brushed the back of her cutoffs. “But, um, yeah. It’s kinda my fault you’re here ‘cause Flower, um, sorta got out the way back gate. When I was, um…”

“Bein’ a space cowgirl?”

“Before you go callin’ anybody names it was you bought her that Kindle thing all loaded up with crazy books about smarty pants little girls who can’t behave.”

“Yep. An I hear she’s readin’ like three grades ahead now.”

“Where’d you hear that?”

“Uncle Harp an Miss Gunnison get along.”

“Of course they do.” Cheryl shook her head, Harper pulled off his work shirt, tucked his undershirt back in, picked up the towels and carried them to a warped, wooden in-need-of-paint all-in-one picnic table set up in dry grass off the back patio of his sister’s house.

“Randy ever wants some help loadin’ this piece of shhh-” he glanced at the baby carriage and his niece, “…crap off somewhere, tell him to call me.”

“’Crap’ ain’t all that much better, little brother.”

“For this piece of crap, it is.”

Cheryl barked a short laugh, put her finger to her lips, tilted her head toward the carriage.

“She slept through my truck, big sis. She’s not wakin’ up for nothin’ any time soon.” He checked back with his niece. “Where’s Flower, kiddo?”

“Side of the house. In his kennel.”

“Dawn and a bucket?”

“By the hose. There’s a wash mitt, too.”

“You not comin’?”

“Well, I…” her eyes bounced between her mom and uncle.

“She almost barfed puttin’ him up, Harper.”

“Aha. So Flower got himself into some righteous stank.” He nodded toward the towels. “You gotta help dry, kiddo. Can’t count on other people, even Super Uncle, to clean up your whole mess.”

“Yes sir, I know, but, but,” she ramped up some righteous kid sized indignation. “I didn’t make him go off, go off an… an waller all over in old man Morgensen’s pigs’ shit. He done that himself!”

“Oh. My. God.” The carriage pendulum stopped. “Young lady, that is–”

“Probably exactly what you or Randy said when Flower showed his stankiness at the door.” He raised an eyebrow. “Huh, Cheryl?”

“You stay out of this, Harper. Waco Justine, we will talk later.”

“Yes ma’am.” She rolled her eyes, did the hands in pockets kid amble around the side of the house with Harper. He leaned toward her, lowered his voice.

“Find a way to wake your baby sister up and get her hollerin’ before your mom gets too wound up on you repeatin’ her. She’ll forget all about it.”

Her eyes widened. “Ya think?”

“I know. Your dad and I did it to her when you were a baby. Take the long way around the house, meet me at the towels.”

***

The last post was about surprises. I have said many times I put the characters together and keep up. Only this one had a premise going in, built into the old dog towels. About how there was this one-stoplight-and-it-didn’t-work town in nowhere west Texas called Lost Socks. Where towels and socks that go missing from the dryer end up. Well, the best laid plans and all that took a hard left at the picnic table. But I thank Cheryl, Harper, Waco Justine and Flower for the ride.

Sit down, listen, and off they go. No wonder I never get anything done.

NVDT Random – Inviting Surprises

Guest Episode

I subscribe to and follow few things, but I receive a newsletter from David Limrite, a graphic artist. I’m not sure I would even like his art hanging in my space, but he has a consistent style. It’s obvious he’s looking for something, and his newsletters are positive without a saccharin component. I thought his latest was a good take on “the muse”, something universal to creative. Writers should have no difficulty reading this cross curriculum. The bolding is mine.

***

I love when surprises show up in my work. You know, when something appears in a painting you are currently working on that you didn’t expect.

It could be an unusual texture, a completely different color that you don’t normally use, or an unplanned juxtaposition of elements that end up working in a quirky way.

I love when this happens. And I welcome it.

However, these surprises don’t just happen by themselves. They only happen when I show up in front of my easel and work. Surprises only happen when I am trying stuff, experimenting and taking risks.

In order for surprises to present themselves, I have to set up situations that invite them in. I have to be applying paint to canvas. I have to be making marks with charcoal on paper. I have to be gluing collage on a wood panel.

I also have to be looking for and be open to surprises showing up. And welcoming. And willing for them to make a surprise appearance.

I must be present during the creation of my pictures. I have to be watching what is happening on the surface of my painting while I am working on it. I have to pay attention.

Show up, make your art, pay attention, and allow yourself to be surprised.

Best,

David

NVDT Random – STFU and Running Stop Signs

I mentioned in the last book review that the author’s novella was a blessed relief from some epic wordiness. I have two indie books on my Kindle that are good stories. Well, one might be three good stories.

STFU #1 – This is a grimy, well painted modern noir where I had to give up after a couple of chapters and tours around the characters’ heads reached graduate level school of redundancy school. I get it already. After the second or third tour of the head time gallery chapters following on the heels of a meaningless ‘how to set up a web-site’ minutiae chapter written solely for ramping up a co-protagonist’s anxiety? We know she’s uptight and out of options from 30 pages ago. I don’t care anymore. Where’d the conspiracy story this is setting up go? STFU already. It’s a great setup, well described, we understand the characters after they meet in chapter one. If the characters were only making scale, they’d still bankrupt the entire production. Put their asses to work. Ephemeral Noir doesn’t require extra words on the same subject.

STFU #2 – This one is War and Peace, The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything and baseball all go to lunch, meet a bunch of their friends who talk over each other and can’t figure out how to get home. There are three good stories in this book. One of them, sans all the peripheral crap, would be funny as a rom-com caper without the gold watch and baseball. As the gold watch component and baseball would be a great rom-com caper sans the background noise. As it is, nothing is central to the story except a season of baseball games full of authorial direction, and as many adverb laden tags as a Nancy Drew. I think because this book is the author’s baby, he wanted nothing left to chance so we’re never participating, simply waiting to be told what just happened and what’s next. I discussed this reading effort, without name, with a friend of mine and described the story line as resembling a clothesline, complete with a ton of loosely related shit hanging off it. All they have in common is being in the same load of laundry.

The author gets off some good humorous licks and some outright funny direct and indirect puns, but sadly, like the socks you really need, they’re buried in the laundry basket. I’m almost finished with this one and I want to like it, but I’m not sure which book of the three will win. As a cheat, I read the last page –

Last note on STFU – detail. Both specific to scene and specific to era. Some is good. An editor told me, “Unless you are operating in a specific costume drama time frame, drop the time capsule bullshit.” What she meant by that is what something costs and how to build a website and how to fix a lawnmower is all outdated by the time you run spell check. A contract for stealing your life savings is no more than that, and it’s all us readers need. Think about this. If you changed a few things, like mode of transportation, most classic entertainment lit would stand up today. Jim kicks Bill. Detective Foonblat made a call. We don’t need what rev iOS the phone has, or even if it was a cell phone. Readers will put a phone in his hand. Didn’t you? How simple is that? I could change the names and a few scene details and publish Gatsby by another name tomorrow because it’s a freaking story, not a head time playground or someplace to dump useless specific information. So get the funk out and tell the damn story.

Running Stop Signs – It’s over when it’s over. Does no one read, or study chapter endings? Or scene endings? I ask because regardless of style or wardrobe construction certain things (metafiction and postmodernists may stop here) are gifts to the reader. If the scene changes, let us know. The *** works, double space, anything except the sudden jolt. WTF? We were just in the bar and now it’s raining at Jane’s house a week later? Huh? When a scene stops, stop. And let us know.

I don’t know about you, but I want to turn the page to see what they get up to next, I don’t want the last bit tied up with a bow and told what I just read and what’s about to happen. Here’s a rule I learned. The last couple of lines I want to write? I don’t. Or I whack them and see how it reads. Regardless of what you write, study the best as that’s the bar to hit. I know it’s a painful buzzkill for “damn mom, I just want to write,” but whack that shit. Readers don’t need it, authors don’t need to write it. I want the flavor of the book I just read to hang with me.

What I’m talking about is, for lack of a better word, “portending”. Author tells reader what to expect. Often found in conversational cozy type tales, it is acceptable, almost a bonding experience in first person, but I still don’t see the point. I take a line from Laura Levine’s Death by Pantyhose – Nothing, I thought, could possibly go wrong on such a spectacular day. I’m sure the gods had a hearty chuckle over that one.

I’m a Laura Levine fan, but did we need that telegraphing last line to keep reading? No. I’d have turned the page without it. And been more involved than with it.

Here’s some other recently encountered classics. From Jim Thompson’s Texas by the Tail – “And then they all had a drink together. Or maybe two, who knows…” That’s pure author. Could have ended more satisfactorily with an edit of the last line of dialogue preceding it. A good mid-century Noir killed by cliché.

I’m going to drop attribution for a few of the next ones, for the author’s sake because it’s not my intention to embarrass anyone. “You live and learn, and boy have I learned.” That is the last line in a final scene that cheats the intensity of the book. Several lines from the last scene could have been added to its predecessor for added emotional impact, done.

… she had groped for her cell phone. (female) recorded a short message on (male’s) phone, “You are the luckiest man in the world.” And he was.

Not only was this exchange prefaced with a hundred words of He thought and She thought author direction and miscellaneous peripheral action getting to it that could have been reduced to one good line, and since by now we know what’s up between these two when it’s not being buried in separate story lines, “You are the luckiest man in the world,” says it all.

Stop when it ends. Here’s the story to this point. Make me turn the page or end the book. But stop all the portending and telegraphing and telling me how I should feel and how everybody else feels because outside of a few chatty styles it’s a reader loser. Let me see the characters, not the author. Think about it – Oh, you’re telling me things are going to get shitty? Well, I can wait for that instead of turning the page to find out. Oh, turn the page and discover this book is going to repeat like the coda of “Hey Jude” or “Message in a Bottle” for fucking ever? I must read a contract, build a website, learn about Gulf Coast flora or stamp collecting to get through this? Never mind. Jim broke the gun down. Bill collects stamps in his spare time and seeks out stamp shops when he travels. Hank’s girlfriend says she loves him in dialogue.

Even Jane Austen used the page turn convention of hang time. It’s not difficult, just stop. Don’t ‘splain, don’t speculate for us, don’t tell us what we just read and its import. Show us the story. Anything else is an insult. To the reader and the work.

Jim, crouched over the glass shards, chanced a look through the splintered window frame. “Whataya think they’re up to out there?”

“Dunno,” Bill shoved shells in his pistol, spun the cylinder. “But they’re gonna have to come up with somethin’ new. We done run outta glass for ’em to break.”

or

Harper sat, fingers crossed and watched the ball sail end over end through the uprights with no time on the game clock. He hunched over, pounded his fists on his knees. “Yesssssss.” He knocked the coffee table over. “Yes yes yes.” Somewhere his phone beeped a voice mail alert. He scrambled through pizza crusts and Shiner cans, found it. Jackie? Holy shit, Jackie! He punched the screen, held the phone to his ear. “You, Mr. Harper Crosschambers, are the luckiest man in the world.”

The End of Part 1/ Chapter 3/ Scene 7 / Book

How difficult is any of that? All we gotta do is STFU.

NVDT Random – Another Book Review

Scam! By Stevie Turner

Five Stars

Another cover-to-cover indie. This one because I said I would, and I needed something to read to get out from under some seemingly unending epics. I was not let down.

This is a well-crafted story and, though called a “novella,” it is an appropriate length for a modern fiction work weighing in with a 23.5k word count. It starts out as the story of a young woman who wants her own home so she can get out from under her in-laws and gets scammed out of her down payment savings. At this point it could go moralistic about the consequences of greed and impatience but does not. Instead, once we meet everyone and the scene is set, readers are taken on a surprise ride of consequence(s) far more dire than pissed off and embarrassed over identity theft. I’m going to stop there as far as the story line. Read it and you’ll see.

Any technical issues? Considering the material and the commercial quality of the work, I would say none that got in the way except several pages of a contract I could have done without. I see that stuff, my eyes glaze over I and skip ahead to story. I had issues with certain aspects of the work as regards the character dynamics as well, but to call them out would give the story away, and those issues do not reflect on the quality of the work, but on my preferences. Overall, this is a damn good book, regardless of whether I agree with the characters behavior(s). To get bumped out of my comfort zone and still feel like I read something that was a professionally written, solid story is a good thing.

I said surprised, but I shouldn’t be. And here’s an honest bit of prejudice on my part—I see the author’s subject matter and many of her covers and I think “Wasn’t this an episode of Law and Order? Or maybe a redux of this or that movie?” But they never are. Because the author can take everyday people (characters) and imbue them with humanity and freshness even when treading on what would outwardly appear to be worn ground. No easy feat. Stereotypes and cloning are easy. Believable characters and situations of the everyday world are not. Even Stevie’s bit players ring true. The protagonist’s discomfort with mother-in-law, husband’s laissez-faire assumption of comfort on his home turf—in fact, both sets of family are believable enough to live down the street. Because they aren’t over or under written cartoons.

Technical stuff—This book was edited by Denna Holm. Having read Stevie’s earlier self-edited or beta reader efforts, it was obvious. At least for the first 18% where I don’t recall being ejected, coerced or seduced by substituted dialog tags or adverbs. In fact, it seems all the “getting to it” portion of the book was pretty flawless. After that the adverbs and “replied” “asked” etc. tags kick in, but the structure and dialogue remain sound. There are readers in the world and styles of writing that require some of that, so again, as it wasn’t egregious, no fault, no foul.

The ending made me feel a little pulled up short, like a wedgie. But it was a slice of time novella. An episode. This would make great fodder for a 90-minute pick your Brit detective serial, or better yet, that Welsh thing Thirty-Five Days.

Postscript – There are lines I wish authors would not write, or stop writing, or edit out at the end of chapters or books, but that’s a whole other post.

NVDT Random – Lemme Tell Ya How it Feels

Emotion Tells – I have discovered this subject is fraught with division. Some consider a lengthy interior monologue to be “showing”. I disagree, but if you’re a regular you know how I feel about head time.

My experience with emotion tells involves things like “heard,” “felt,” and “smelled.” The first time an editor told me to pull a “felt” I was angry. What? You want emotion, yet you’re telling me not to let the primary protagonist “feel”? Worse, I wasn’t offered any solutions. Like, well Phil, you ignorant dumb fuck, work it out. Which I did. Here it is, simpler than all the histrionics of fiction experts. Felt, heard, smelled, touched – they’re all weak. Worse, they’re filters. Using one and thinking, “Bill felt Jim’s kick” puts us in touch with Bill is fallacy. It’s pushing us (the reader) further away. Add an adverb and it’s patronizing. For the slightest moment. Emotion tells reside in the same place with explanatory dialogue tags.

Erlene hesitantly touched the stove. It felt cold. She called for Larry to come have a look. See that? I just told you about Erlene and the stove. There is no investment for the reader.

Erlene caught a breath, held it, sidled up to the stove. She closed her eyes, reached out and tapped it with her index finger. Cold. She relaxed, opened her eyes, hollered, “Stove’s colder’n a whorehouse fulla nuns, Larry. Ain’t nobody been around here any kinda recent like.”

Okay, not genius. But you get the idea. Plus, we get to know a little about Erlene. The point – Get rid of weak, lazy verbs in storytelling. Not just in tag-land but emotion-land. There are times to add some word count, and times to put gas in the weed eater. Long flowery sentences full of extra words, adios. Lengthy descriptions, adios. (Mor-on that in a later post). Words that engage and get the action out of the character’s head? Hell yes. I read an example somewhere – Bill thought the ladder might be unsafe. Well, yeah, it’s boring. The ‘Splainer went on to write an epic paragraph about Bill scaling the rickety ladder. Which was overkill for me, but if used as a tension builder, sure.

There’s still an early Deanna tell I need to fix where she “felt” her grandmother’s cold, bony hand. That was the one I got busted for. After I learned that “Deanna thought she might be pregnant, but thankfully wasn’t” was only a placeholder I had to force myself into an exercise in interior and exterior emotional shows. Liked to killed me.

Without the pill Deanna was used to irregular, but not twelve days late irregular. She wasn’t sleeping or following any of her health and scholastic regimens. She paced, worried, and cried off and on for eighteen hours before she called Alix.

Allo oui?”

“Alix, I… I did… Something. Stupid… I think…”

“Thought is most desired, my love. What thoughts most recent bring tears to your voice?”

“I… I might be… I mean I could be…”

“You have spoken with the doctor, no?”

“No. I…”

“Instead of knowing you have made an illness of yourself with worry? You must know of your condition, my love, as worry most becomes the solution of nothing.”

“I know, I know. From facts we discern issues and from issues we discern action. But -“

“Your ‘but’ arrives without relevance, my love. Make no excuses. Discover your condition as fact first, no?”

“I haven’t gone because I know if I hear it for real, I’ll have to… decide. Something. And I’ll have to talk. Mom, Amanda, Jackson… They already hate me… “

“As you have spoken in our work, part of being a woman is to make the decisions most difficult. Without knowledge we become reckless, no? Attend the doctor. After you will know and decide as your heart speaks. Think, my love. Call me as you wish. Decide. What you need, regardless of decision, I make available to you. Do not think of the time most proper to call. Or of your mother, or of Amanda or le petite amor. We are agreed, oui?”

Deanna settled the phone, lay sleepless on her bed another seven hours hoping what she thought were cramps really were, not phantoms or from her stomach churning. She crawled out of bed as the sun turned night into a lighter shade of foggy Cambridge gray, showered and was on her way to the doctor she wished she’d never had to meet, ever, when she felt the cramps take over her abdomen. So strong she stumbled into an alcove out of the freezing mist to sit. If the cramps would just stop long enough for her to catch a decent breath… Goddammit, I have enough to explain without being late… She doubled over on the steps, her body exploded in release. She convulsed, wretched up bile, leaned against the cold, damp stone, choking back sobs.

She forced herself upright and ran. Ran like she’d die if she didn’t outrun the demons that had wrapped themselves around every moment of her life for the last month. She passed her flat and kept running, north up the river walk, past Trinity, across her baby bridge and the river into St. John’s Chapel where wet, cold, hungry, exhausted and thankful she landed on her knees two sections from the Altar. Too wasted to pray, she simply was. Extant between exhaustion and sleep. She stayed that way until her thighs locked up and she fell on her side, curled up in a ball on the padded kneeler and passed out.

A woman swishing a mop banged it on the short wooden wall separating the pews from the main aisle. “Canna fetch a priest, lass?”

“No.” Deanna pulled herself to her knees. “Hell no.” She rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. “No men. No priests. No lovers, no liars, no pretenders, no perverts. No nothing. Ever. From any of them. Never. Ever.”

“There’s dead men gone six hundred years and more beneath our feet.” The woman stabbed her mop in the bucket, sloshed it onto the floor, chin pointed to a stone wall broken by stained glass. “Some woman in the ground a’side with grass for a gown as knew them would say six hundred and a stone wall’s not long enough away. Count your blessings, child.” She maintained the rhythm of the mop. “It’s a game to them, love, but our lives to us. More careful you’d be at putting it about in future, I’d say. That’s advice true as no vicar can give. Free offered, to be free taken.” She leaned her mop and walked around the corner, returned with a worn but functional lady’s Mackintosh. “’Ave this against the rain. Wrap your sweater about your waist as you leave. You’re a right mess below.” She turned, reloaded her mop. “I’ll have my Mack back and clean when you come next for a proper go at Mass.”

NVDT Random – Jim kicks Bill – A Book Review

The Ballad of Mrs. Malony – C.S. Boyack

I recently read an Indie from cover to cover. Something I haven’t done in ages. What’s more, I gave it five stars on Amazon. Not because an Indie author made it all the way through but for how he made it through. That’s right. The author STFU and let the story talk.

One of the few blogs I subscribe to is Roberta Writes. Truth? I shy away from her most of the time because of her professional relationship with someone I consider (personal opinion only) one of the major frauds in the Indie publishing biz. But Robbie is everywhere, all the time. I mean like a rash. She’s promoting and interviewing and being interviewed by other Indies. A real hustler in the Indie domain. I think the majority of those things are circle jerks, but she “had on the show” this Boyack guy and his Hat books. I didn’t read the entire interview or review, only enough to get that a hat was a main character.

What?

How the hell did I sign off on a Cat in the Hat style hat that assists an ingenue Danger Barbie in vampire hunting?

I opened the book and wasn’t offered a choice. Chew on that for a minute. First point in author’s favor. No bullshit. No sales pitch. No (listen carefully) authorial ‘splaining nonsense. No in-depth history of vampires. No super queen of the night how bad ass Danger Barbie is descriptions. This book is an exercise in STFU and let the story roll. We find out all about the hat and the DB, whose name is Lizzie, by listening and following them around doing their thing(s). How righteous is that for an Indie?

Pros – Consistent voice. Very few useless tags. Sensible dialogue. You know, the kind that sounds like people only it’s moving the story forward or solving the usual Indie author problem of POV and head time with dialog. Not bunny chasing, ‘splainin’ and author insertion.

Cons – the author’s language only kicked me off the page maybe three times, and all three involved to “sit upon”. Completely out of tone. Like he had an English Teacher moment.

Suggestion – Lizzie, who plays upright bass (with the Hat’s help) in a cover band always “keys” her damn mic before talking. I was 42% of the way through when I learned she was wireless, and a little later headset wireless. “Keying” a mic is ancient broadcast, CB/short wave, and Pilot terminology. I did the pro audio industry for a living, so even something as generic as switched would sit better in the mix.

The book weighs in at 33.4k word count. Not long. Like a Laura Levine. Even some shorter Leonard. I would quibble with the slow spot on their stake-out (hey, a pun!) in the middle as a missed opportunity for some sudden monster in the car window moments, but hey, that’s me.

I don’t read vampire books, or horror or fantasy. But I read this. To me Mrs. Malony was a good, old fashioned character driven caper romp. Even in the minor slow spot the author never veered off course into author land and to me that’s five-star territory. Anyone who wants to see a modern version of how it’s done as applicable short form technique should pick this up.

I’ll read the next one to find out if the Hat gets his fog machine.