Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns #12

Precision

I like the sound of that word. What it represents. Not all words are like that. How does precision, a very direct and precise word apply to something like writing that can appear from the outside to be playing Legos with words? Choices. We have thousands of word choices. Every character, every scene, every dialogue. Nuance words. BAM words. Words that economize, words that billow out and take up space. Words that define, words that obfuscate, words that lead. Making the choices, that’s the hardest part. Because I can throw down draft as it runs through my head and get close. But then? The work starts.

First, I’ll abuse myself. In THG 3.7 a good deal of word time was spent on describing the flat. I had a reason, a couple of choices, made one that will still work once pared down. The reasoning was “see it through the character.” She lives there, not me. I got busted for that by an editor once. Here it is –

Deanna issued a sleepy snuffle sob, rolled out of a fetal position on her bed, hit the floor on all fours. She dropped her forehead into the shades-of-pink shag carpet in her bedroom, felt a small, cool, bony hand between her shoulder blades.

“Gramma Cora? How long have you –”

The editorial comment was “Why do we have to feel this through Deanna? Why not direct action?”

Consider this. A big shot editor bought into my characters early on, not far from here, and instead of reading the first 20 pages and sending me a quote she read it all. This is a touchy-feely scene. I intentionally put the experience through the character. Now, a professional someone, who bought into it for the very reason of investment in the character wants to hit the equation button and suggest destroying intimacy with the character. Huh? Based on what? A Rule? Something more precise? Precision is how we sculpt our characters and our work, not a formula.

The Hard-Boiled school cuts to the chase. That is not an imperative, even inside the genre, because they can hit the detail switch when needed. Even then, the good ones do it so well you are sold on a character, a situation, a scene – with great economy and precision language. In THG 3.10 I tried that, just for grins, by describing a musical instrument without using any musical vernacular. And three characters with indirect descriptions or third-party information/observation.

On occasion a short string of precise language evokes exactly what you need. Watch a master do that very thing –

They came down to the marina dock in John Tuckerman’s big blue Chrysler Imperial. John Tuckerman was a sort of unofficial assistant to Hub Lawless. He didn’t seem to hold any particular office in any of Hub’s many corporations and partnerships. But he always seemed to be around, laughing, making jokes, making sure of air reservations, hotel reservations, dockage space, hanger space, and so on. They brought two young women aboard. Half the ages of Hub and Tuckerman. Tight pants and airline carry-ons. Perfume and giggles. *

We know what’s going on. We know about both men and their guests and a setup for some future action. From some very precise language. Lawless from Tuckerman’s job description (indirect). Not Jill and Jane and who they are. Perfume and giggles (direct). Later you could split them up that way, if you needed to talk to them. ‘Lieutenant Rogers took the tall, walking perfume counter and I sat down with her partner, a short redheaded professional giggler.’ Regardless. All you need is all you need when you need it.

Song lyrics can do that. Everybody’s heard this one – “A singer in a smoky room. The smell of wine and cheap perfume.”** BAM. There. Whether you’ve been there or seen it a thousand times on TV, you’re there. Precise and economical. Dylan got a Nobel Prize. Often picturesque, not always economical or precise, always a storyteller. “Tangled Up in Blue” is as easily a condition as it is a song title.

Precision language makes short work of what might be considered mundane or difficult tasks. Elmore Leonard (and Steinbeck) suggest not spending too much time describing characters. Particularly main characters. They should belong to the reader. But precision language for bit players, the nemesis, the sideshow, makes loading them into the work much easier because you don’t have to spend time getting to know them and making them work. Or even, as I have witnessed in a number of works, not bothering to give them names. Because, in a group scene, names will kill you. And overload your dialogue tags quota. If, in a scene with four or six or more people, you impose on the reader to remember six or seven names you dug up on a random name generator or researched the meaning of, it’s all gone. The reader walks, all your hard work naming someone who will get shot or eaten or carried off by a Phoenix anyway is wasted. If there are characters the reader has spent time with, use those names, and the interlopers get descriptions. Precision. It’s easier to visualize for the author AND the reader without remembering a name. I did that here, just to see. The scene is action that gets a main character off the mud and back in the game without “all hell broke loose and Mick got away.” Because what the hell kind of cop-out is that, and why read something that doesn’t take you for a ride? Boots and Boxers, Plaid Pants and Red Converses don’t need names at the point of BAM. Bottom line – Authors and readers don’t need a meet and greet on everybody involved.

I suggested in a comment elsewhere that a quick introduction scene was the perfect place to drop character nuggets without overkill. Short, tall, hairy, mercenary. Think harder, direct descriptive words as well. Mousey, fraudulent, a new favorite “shit speck,” deliberate, pensive, fawning, a rednosed walking Kleenex ad, a lip balm addict with an effected limp… uh-oh, muse attack – a contrived, prissy, arrogant and morally bankrupt man full of nothing but a theatrical impression of himself and the faintest whisper of soul. BAM. I liked that one.

Homework. Go find a character you spent too much time, or not enough time on, and give them no more than three, short and precise language lines. No adverb-ly fluff. Direct and precise. Nail them down and move on. While I go fix Deanna meets her flat.

 

*  Excerpted from The Empty Copper Sea © 1978 by John D. MacDonald Publishing Inc.

**  “Don’t Stop Believin’” Perry-Cain-Schon © 1981 Weed High Nightmare Music

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THG 3 – Ch 3 – Alone

Amanda Morisé’s office / Late Monday morning January 8th, 1979

“Cambridge?” The skepticism in Amanda’s voice was almost theatrical.

“Yes, like you.”

“I was being groomed for Cambridge when I was twelve, Deanna.”

“I want to be a smart girl, a smarter girl. It will only make me better.”

“Another member of the Smart Girl club?” Amanda picked up a piece of marble the size of a business card a quarter of an inch thick. The engraved brass plaque read “Sometimes smart girls don’t know shit.”

“Wow.” Deanna felt the weight of the stone before handing it back. “Jackson told me that. This morning, before he, uh…Did he get that from you?”

“No, I got it from him. He told me this the day before your seventeenth birthday when he put you on this road. His point, I believe, was that constantly having to be the smartest person in the room sometimes got in the way of what was important.”

“What could ever be more important? To Jax or anyone?”

“Heart. We had this discussion Saturday. I keep this on my desk and pass it around the office to those who have momentarily lost sight of theirs, as you have. However you have never known the difference between your head and your heart, Miss Collings. In fact I often wonder if you possess the latter. It’s all facts and figures and Jackson’s conducting.”

“Then you don’t understand, either?”

“No. I don’t understand you at all, Miss Collings.”

“Why are you all being so, so fucking weird? What’s to understand? I just need to do this alone. By myself. I need —”

“That’s what this last year has been about? Paving the way for you to make you, by yourself?” Amanda made a tent with her fingertips, gave Deanna the briefest of appraisals. “Very well, Miss Collings. Alone it is.” She pencil punched her phone. “Amber, got a sec? Bring me the Deanna C. Collings open contract file.”

Miss Collings. Not Ms. Collings. Not Deanna, not Deanna Dear, not God fucking dammit what-the-hell Deanna Dear which is what she expected. Simply ‘Miss Collings.’ It took Amber two of the longest minutes of Deanna’s life to enter Amanda’s office through the side door.

“Amber, thank you. I need you stay, please.”

“I don’t like the way this room feels, Amanda. Are you –”

“Yes, I’m sure.” Amanda took the folder from Amber, opened it on the desk in front of her. “Miss Collings, we need to discuss some legal documents with you. If you feel that you would like personal counsel, we can call someone from elsewhere in the building. Would you like your own counsel for this?”

“No. I trust you.”

“‘Love all, trust a few, do harm to none,’ Miss Collings. Are you certain?”
Deanna nodded.

“I need to hear it, please.”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.” Amanda stood the papers in the folder, popped them on her desk, laid them back down. “You are, or rather were, involved in several operations at C.A. Morisé. A number of people here have an investment in you, and we need to sever those relationships and investments. Do you understand?”
“Yes. No. Amanda, what is this?”

“You, on the way to alone.” She spun one of the papers Deanna’s direction. “Your publishing contract. I was a softy when I drafted it. This waiver is a mutual severance of rights. The D.C. Collings materials were developed at the expense of C.A. Morisé. However, this severance gives both you and C.A. Morisé equal right to the material without punitive consequence for use. We can use it. You can use it. We can’t sue each other over who the materials belong to. If you agree, check the box, and sign the bottom. If you disagree, sign the top.” Deanna picked a pen from the row on Amanda’s desk, checked and signed. “Thank you. Wise choice. No more lawyers.”

Amanda removed several more pages paper-clipped together, uncapped her fountain pen, wrote the date and signed the top page. “This is a personal release starting with today’s date. Simply stated, anything you may do or create after this moment in time will be treated as having nothing to do with C.A. Morisé, and releases us from any liability incurred by any action or actions you might take. You are no longer an agent of C.A. Morisé in any personal or professional endeavor. Sign there. Thank you.”

The last document from the file was one page. Amanda turned it towards Deanna like all the rest. “This is your open ended offer of contract for internship employment, available to you upon graduation. You may destroy it, we can keep it on file as it is, or you may waive it now or at any time in the future. We will keep it on file for seven years from the last date of communication with you regarding this offer. After that time your offer is legally voided.”

“I’m coming back, Amanda. I don’t understand all of this.”

“If you fall in love with Alix’s ‘real boy,’ the boy you can share your life with instead of the one you exchanged for this enterprise, send us something in writing to release us from our obligation, because this company is full of lawyers. The only binding obligation is ours to accept you for a year upon your graduation from college unless you waive this. Waive it by signing here.”

No. I’m coming back.”
“‘No’ to waiving your internship?”
“Yes. No, I mean. No, I won’t waive it. I’m coming back.”

Amanda dated the internship form, had Amber and Deanna initial it. From a second folder came two more documents, each with a check voucher attached. “There are a few other contracts we can no show, Miss Collings. They’re simple entry forms. However I need you to waive these two. They are, or would have been, professional D.C. Collings guest speaker appearances where you would have had a chance to tell the world what you think needs to happen and been paid for your opinion.” She turned the papers to Deanna. “Sign here and here. Thank you. There were appearance retainers involved, and we’ll need to refund them. You haven’t been paid yet, so there will be no tax documents for you to be concerned about. Amber, give these two to Bev when you leave, please.”

“Can I take them now?”

“Not yet. Not all lawyering is pleasant, Amber. Miss Collings, do you have any questions?”

“What does the mutual use thing mean, really?”

“That any images, writings, or other materials developed by you or C.A. Morisé during the course of the D.C. Collings project can be used by you or C.A. Morisé or any entity to whom either of us assign agency, in any way either of us sees fit.”

“You could use my stuff to make me look bad?”

“No, that would be unethical, to no one’s benefit and legally actionable.”

“Even Jackson? I saw his signature behind mine. On the last page.”

“He signed mutuality as well. He participated materially on our behalf, and his handwriting is all over your archive documents. If he hadn’t signed, he could sue us both. Are you worried about him using any of our material negatively?”

“No, I guess not. When did he sign it? Today? Has he already been here?”

“Yes, he was here, but not today.” She flipped through the forms in the folder. “November first. He came in and asked me about the waiver I’d explained to him when you signed your contracts several years ago.”

“Is that all he said? Just ‘Where’s the waiver,’ like Jax suddenly got interested in forms?”

“No, he said, in words to this effect, ‘Where’s the hot girl flunky release you told me about. Something’s going on, so I’ll sign it now. Between you and I, D.C. Collings is history, and so am I. I can feel it.’”

“He didn’t say that, he wouldn’t. He couldn’t say that to anyone, ever, about being a flunky and being history.”

“Amber was in attendance then as she is today, Miss. Collings. Amber, please?”

“Those were close to his exact words, Miss Collings.”
Miss Collings? Even Amber? They’d worked together one summer with Jackson and that football player architect. Architectural reclamation Amanda had called it. Amber had covered for them when she and Jackson, that day…When she rented the cold hotel room and made him promise. She’d watched Amber the hippie with a masters become Amber the corporate attorney. Now she was Miss Collings?

Amanda sat back in her chair with a look Deanna had never seen, at least not directed at her. People who did business with C.A. Morisé called it the invisible man stare because it was as if she were looking through whoever her target was. If you had a secret it wasn’t a secret anymore, it was on the desk in front of her.
“Did you tell him, and he was doing his Jackson man thing, keeping your secret for two months? Did you lie to me recently in Boston?”

“No. I didn’t lie, really. Not about that. What I don’t know is how he ‘felt’ anything.”

“Jackson runs on how he feels, Miss Collings. Much like Amber and Alix. Feeling things and being disconnected from reality are not the same. We all obtain our information in different ways. Jackson understands considerably more than you give him credit for.”

“I don’t need another lecture on Jackson, not from you or anyone. I know he’s not stupid. He’s just Jax, that’s all. None of you know him like I do. He must have ‘felt’ a few things from reality. Did you know his SAT scores were higher than mine? He studied with me, prompted me. He says I’m supposed to be the smart one for both of us, and there he is again, out in front of me with his ‘far fetched analogies,’ and his ‘feelings.’ I know who he is, alright? I’m coming back. We…We love each other.”

“Interesting. You know who he is by a test score? And you’love’ for each other is leftover from a once-upon-a-time fairy tale turned sex driven little romance of convenience you have finally destroyed? I believe you know far less about him than you think. Was he a jerk when he told you about his scores?”

“He never told me, really. I looked at his transcripts. They… They were on his kitchen table a couple of weeks ago.”

“If you didn’t tell him you were leaving when you found out, when did you tell him?”

“This morning. Before I drove up here.”
Amanda closed Deanna’s folder and handed it to Amber. “Miss Collings, do you have any other concerns?”

“No, I guess not.”

“Yes or no please.”

“No.”
“You are officially alone. Miss Collings. Good day.”

Deanna picked up two of Amanda’s cards from the small silver tray by the door on her way out. She hadn’t expected alone to feel so…alone.

THG 3 -CH 1b –

Jackson’s apartment / Thursday night January 4th, 1979

Deanna sat on Jackson’s lumpy, furnished apartment couch in typical evening wear and study position. Winter weather knee socks, her flannel boxers and one of his t-shirts, her feet on his thigh. For once she didn’t have a book in her hand, and for once she’d escaped her parents’ winter vacation. And she regretted both. Since high school all she’d ever wanted was Christmas break with him. Hot chocolate and leftover pumpkin pie and deep in the quilts giggly sex. The Niners hadn’t made the playoffs, two teams that made Jackson throw tennis shoes at the TV were in the Super Bowl and she was trapped with nothing to say until Monday and the only way out was a trip to Boston with Amanda.

“Jax? I’m not sure I want to go this time.”

“Call her and bail, D. She’ll survive.”

“I can’t.”

“Sure you can. You oughta go someplace, even with Amanda, ‘cause you’re not much good around here.” He stood up without bothering to move her feet.

“Thanks. A lot.” She rubbed her ankle where it had banged the coffee table. She wanted to stay home. She wanted, for the first time in over two months, to grab the front of his shirt, pull him over on the couch and say Love me, Jax, like you promised. Three more days is all I have with you for awhile. But she couldn’t. Because she’d already shut him off and the minute “Cambridge” was out of her mouth as why everyone had been out of her life for a year, and he knew he was going out of her life for three more she’d find herself freezing in the breezeway on the other side of his door.

***

There was no competition, nothing was “at stake” when Deanna flew in uncomfortable silence to Boston with Amanda to a clinic for presentation professionals being taught by successful men and women from broadcast, politics and the private sector. There were even some theatrical people from the Actor’s Studio, East and West. Before she’d been sure about Cambridge she would have loved it. All she could do was get through it.

Halfway through the first morning session, on the back row where Deanna had parked them, Amanda snapped the lid on her lukewarm rust-water hotel coffee and sailed it fifteen feet to a gray plastic trash bin. She turned to Deanna without waiting to see that she’d nailed it. No rim, no bin, nothing but air.

“Are you going to tell anyone what’s on your mind, Deanna, or have you already told Jackson and he’s keeping your secret?”

“I don’t have a secret,” Deanna lied. “I’m just tired.”

“You should have gone on winter vacation with your parents and gotten some rest.”

“No.”

“They do always seem to end in disaster.” Amanda changed the cross of her legs and the hand the session pamphlet was curled in and went one-eighty. “If you don’t really love Jackson, you should tell him. I believe that you should have told him a long time ago. If you want something else you shouldn’t use him for an emotional and sexual crutch. He deserves better than that.”

“I do love him. You don’t understand. He doesn’t understand. He never has. None of you do. You all see it your own way, and it’s not like that. At all.”

“You’ve never bothered to tell any of us what we should understand.”

“I tell him everything.”

“You tell him a lot of nothing, Deanna. You talk at him. You study, you write grocery lists, send him on errands. You talk about your day, maybe his day. You tell him you love him, you make love. You never tell him how you feel, what you’re dreaming, who you are, who you want to be. Who you want him to be or what he wants to be. How you could be together. The saddest is you both have this wonderful opportunity that most people will never even get a glimpse of, and it’s so superficial it makes me sick. You’re two cute, smart kids fucking, and it’s disgusting to watch you both wasting something that could be grand.”

Deanna, emotionally padlocked, tried to seethe, couldn’t find it and twisted her morning program in half. “How do you know what I tell him and what I don’t? How do you know how I feel about anything?”

“Because I was young once, and madly in love.” She rubbed her hands together, took her mind to a place far away and brought it back. “I gave him all of me. Everything. He was my world. I was so happy I thought I could fly. When it ended I didn’t believe I could ever pick up the pieces of myself and be whole again. I know how it feels to love with everything I have. And knowing how much of me there was is how I rebuilt myself. Love is what we are. Who we are.”

Deanna had heard a world of tirades come out of Amanda’s mouth, but never anything as unexpected as Amanda on Love with a capital L.

“Deanna, I know you can’t, or won’t, give all of yourself to anything or anyone. If that’s what you want understood, find the words. If you wish you could give all of yourself but can’t find a way, you need to find those words. Until you find the words to let everyone know what you need, you’re going to be a very lonely and unhappy young woman. Believe me, abstinence as a higher ground lifestyle or the alcohol and casual sex route at your age both get old, quick. If Jackson isn’t the one for you, surely there’s one out there with your name on him, just waiting.”

Deanna unconsciously bit her lower lip until she tasted blood, heard her pulse pounding in her ears. Shit. She was going to have to tell them both on Monday that she was leaving. Why all this deep love stuff, now? Love and Jackson were going in the same box with Amanda’s fucking D.C. Collings voice of feminism presentations. Amanda could just shut the hell up and leave her alone.

It had been easier to wall it all out when she believed Amanda didn’t understand, but it looked like she did. Deanna loved Jackson with her whole being, but she couldn’t let herself go. No matter what she said it wasn’t really Jax. It was her. She was the one who was always scared when anything or anyone started to climb her fences. She’d had her dreams stolen once, goddammit, and she was still scared. And mad. And nobody got it.

The Hot Girl III – Backstory 1

Okay. Friday again. Hot as Hell. Moved bricks and bags of premixed cement in 108. I’ve stalled long enough, this is me in draft mode. I’ll kick off THG III with some backstory on THG herself, Deanna Collings.  As D.C. Collings, Deanna, under the mentoring of Amanda  Morisé with performance coaching and coaxing from Jackson, is working toward her dream of “Elegant Hell in High Heels” as the young, angry new voice of feminism. She’s also a girl who is pissed off and confused about a lot of things. When reading through this, one should pay attention to the date headers until, coming soon, they all flow without this backstory business. Enjoy. This is chapters of a novel, a real coming of age fairy tale, so settle in. Unless you don’t like it, in which case you are free to leave.

Early July, 1974

Deanna’s summer job with Jackson, Amber the blonde hippie law-schooler from Morisé and the college football player named Bodine who was going to be an architect when football was done, all of them doing architectural reclamation together for Morisé’s Redevelopment branch, was dirty and dusty and hot. Working with the three of them was the only place Deanna had ever felt truly equal. Unlike her old head cheerleader job where she was the younger, sweet public face for a bunch of oversexed stoners, here she was a real part of the team. They sweated together and cussed together. Wore the same kind of work shirts and jeans and gloves and boots. Bodine included them all in every stage of the deconstruction and salvage of old buildings from picking and planning to pry-bars and sledge hammers. She even got badge of honor stitches in her right ring finger, complete with a run to the emergency room and a tetanus shot the day they’d all wrestled a giant mahogany bar out of an old downtown basement watering hole that had fallen victim to urban renewal.

Amanda had come to the site the next day, crossed her arms the way she did and said the bar was too big for anything but a resort hotel or a country club looking to drop in some old pub ambiance, and would be in storage long before it sold or Morisé found use for it in a development, get rid of it. But Jackson shucked and jived with her, made her laugh, said it was “too cool” to waste, and if nobody wanted it he could sell it to a guitar maker. Maybe. Or turn it into several kitchen islands, or a staircase, or badass cases for home electric pianos. Maybe. Or build his dream house around it someday. Maybe. Amanda shook her head, waved Jackson off and told Bodine to have the bar hauled to the salvage warehouse, but not until she got a picture of Deanna resting her bandaged hand on top of it. The picture would go in a frame at 1700 Oilman’s Bank Tower where “girls kicked ass and got shit done.”

Deanna started to get in Jackson’s business for dissing Amanda with his stupid musician BS and dragging a bar into their future house, realized they weren’t married, or living together, and hadn’t even…well, you know…and decided at least that part needed to change.

Wednesday July 28, 1974

Bodine and Amber sat on old, used to be built-in under-counter filing cabinets wedged into the rubble that covered the parking lot of what was once a four story 1919 hotel. They held partially unwrapped half-eaten sandwiches in their hands and were talking about Bodine’s fiance the nurse. Deanna crunched her way over the brick and mortar crumbles, waited until they paused for a bite of sandwich.

“‘Scuse me…But tomorrow?” Deanna squatted by Bodine. “After lunch…You said we’d be finished with the windows?” Deanna had no problem with giant, NFL bound college jocks because her brother was one. She did have trouble asking for favors.

“Well…So could I…I mean if I go, and don’t come back, like on time, or at all…”

Bodine knitted his eyebrows, leaned his head forward a little. “Huh?”

“I mean, and maybe Jackson too…If we…”

Bodine sat up, sandwich wrist on his knee. “Collings, what the —”

“Deanna, let’s take a walk.” Amber floated behind Bodine, grabbed Deanna’s hand and led her off around the side of the building and out of earshot.
“What’s going on, Baby Morisé? A concert I don’t know about? A Thursday special matinee?”

“Um…” Deanna looked over Amber’s shoulder, studied the old masonry work.

“No. I…Well, Beverly said that if I wanted to…You know…With Jackson? ‘Cause we’ve been…We are…That I should rent a really cold hotel room and…Well, I don’t know what the rest is. But…”

“But you ‘want to’.” She smiled and made finger quotes. “You want it to be special and it almost happened somewhere that wasn’t, and you think Beverly knows all about the ‘right way’ to lose your virginity?”

“Well. Yeah. Kinda. I mean it seems like I’m sorta late, you know, and not to be rude or anything, but, well she has done it, a lot I think. And she’s engaged, so…And you’re all cool and California and everything and the Lady Godiva ride…”

“The Godiva ride wasn’t about sex, it was a statement. Like what you’re doing with Amanda and Jackson.” She studied Deanna’s face full of questions. “Is this your idea or his? Because at Morisé we don’t take our cues from men.”

“No…It’s me. I don’t know anything, really. I mean it. But…Well, I want to. And he seems to know…stuff.”

“I’ll bet he does. I’ll have Bev book you into the Sheraton North, the new one with the view, and have them open a room for you early. Leave here for an appointment around ten thirty, one that requires Jackson to drive you.”

“That’s it? I mean what about Bev, and Amanda paying for it and Bodine —”

“Bev has the hotel and Amanda, I have Bodine. All you need to do is pack your lunch box with bubble bath and some body lotion and whatever you want him to see you in before he takes it off for you, and a perfume neither one of you will forget. When you get there make him shave and take a shower, put on one of their giant robes and wait for you while you take a bubble bath that lasts as long as you want.”

“And then?”

“And then?” Amber stuffed her hair back in her hardhat. “That’s when you write your own story and forget about asking me or Bev or anybody else what to do.” She put her hand on Deanna’s shoulder before she walked away. “Does Jackson know?”

Deanna shook her head.

“Good. I wouldn’t give that guy time to think about it or you’ll be in there three days.”

***

Northside Sheraton, July 29, 1974

Jackson leaned on his left elbow, dragged his right little finger lightly over the small scar that followed the line of Deanna’s hip V just to the left of center, inside bikini bottom territory. “What’s with the scar?”

“Hmmm?” She bumped his elbow out from under him, snuggled into his shoulder and rolled her hip up.

“The scar. What happened?”

“Hernia. I told you.”

“Did it hurt? How’d you —”

“I told you forget it, okay?”

“I was just —”

Drop it. I mean it.” She rolled away from him onto her left shoulder and yanked the sheet up.

“I had a hernia, when I was little. Too little to know. But they fixed it. Wanna see?”

“NO.”

“Come on. Before anything grew in down there it looked like an elephant winking at me. Seriously. I used to stand in front of the bathroom mirror and try to get the trunk to raise up so I could make “brrrr rappp” elephant trumpet noises.”

“You are so disgusting.” She rolled up, pulled her robe on. “I thought we’d…and it would be…and you have to ruin it.” She stomped off to the big fourteenth floor window and stared out. “Godammit, Jackson.”

“Hey,” he’d pulled on his robe, untied, put his arm around her from behind. “Sorry. I didn’t —”

“Was I okay?”

“Huh? This isn’t a —”

Was I okay?” She’d ramped up the demand in her voice.

“Yes. Yeah…Unexpected, but great. Why all —”

“Not weird, or, or gross or…” She turned inside his arm and into him.

“No. Deanna, what’s the prob here?”

She dropped her forehead onto his chest. “Did you mean it? About forever?” She looked up, eye to eye. “Love is one of the big words, Jax.”

“I never heard of anyone being labeled sesquipedalian for ‘love’. That was a fifty center, if you’re counting.”

She smacked his robe covered arm. “Honest? You had to mean it.”

“Deanna, I meant it, okay? What’s —”

“It’s all messed up, and gross, I know it is. They messed it all up.”

“They? They who? Nothing was messed up or gross. You’re…” He scrambled through the lyrics of a four hour set, plus a wedding set and then some for the right words. “Angelic. Virginal.” Both made it out without any hint of question.

“Shut up, I am not. You don’t know.”

“I’ll never know if you —”

“Just don’t ever ask me about the scar or me down there, ever. I had a hernia and it, they…Messed everything up. I know they did. So promise? Never, okay? Just forget about it. Please? Promise?”

“Yeah. Okay.”

“Promise about everything?”

“Yeah…” He’d never seen pleading in her eyes, or heard it in her voice, but he wouldn’t forget it.

“Good.” They stood in the window, flashing the world for a few. She kissed him, hard, reached down. “What was that noise the elephant made?”

***

Deanna hit her soft snore and jarred Jackson out of a daydream, the two of them sitting on a bench somewhere…Palm trees. He rolled his shoulder out from under her, shrugged on his robe. He started to pull the covers up, stopped. He bent, brushed his lips on her scar. It wasn’t very big, for all the huge deal she made of it. And nature, left to it’s own devices, would have it hidden a week after bikini season was over. He pulled the covers over her, shook his head. Secrets and scars. Crazy. But Deanna’s kind of crazy beat the hell out of working on Thursday afternoon. He kissed her again. She was even more beautiful when she was asleep. And quiet.

Mescaline Blue

In WC#8 I said “just write it.” You see a character, have an encounter, tune in and let it go. In year 3 of THG III the studio Jackson works out of needs a remodel. That’s the short version. It could have been handled with a paragraph or two of narrative, or the story delivered, as it currently stands in the draft, embedded in 400 words of dialogue that contains other elements. But – I needed a character (I thought), let the tape in my head roll and got a 4k full-blown interaction with two characters. Don’t worry, this is the 1.4k part 1. I won’t use it for the book, but what I said about Writer’s Block. It’s a myth. I met this character when she did my car inspection a few years ago, know nothing about her, but I listened and there she was. I think this is how short story collections are born.

Jackson’s Apartment / Long Bach California, July, 1981

Jackson sat on the edge of the bed in his old apartment’s spare bedroom, gave the well rendered lioness’s head an appreciative eye. It lived in a deep Coppertone-colored jungle, surrounded by a ring of flowers he was pretty sure were coloring book versions of petunias or something, not foliage native to sub-Saharan Africa. The tips of the long grass that weaved through it all and poked out around the top half of the picture created a nice, crown-like effect, but they looked out of place as well. Like Palm Sunday palm frond handouts Catholic junior high school girls could fold into religious origami.

A thin, pale line ran straight across the lioness’s nose and the width of the small, tan, muscular back it lived on. It all reminded him of a pastel chalk art project, as if he had run his little finger across her back and smudged the color off down to the paper. Which is how he decided to wake her up. He dragged the tip of his middle finger lightly from the where the pale line and Coppertone met the new bottom sheet on the new bed in Dash’s old bedroom, across her back and the lioness’s nose to the middle of her rib cage on the opposite side.

She pulled the top sheet straight up her back from her waist, bumped his hand out of its Etch-a-Sketch trance. “Unh-uh, Rafe. Fuck off. Show your latest your morning wood ’cause we are so divorced.” She smacked the pillow with a fist, pulled the other one over her head. “Get the kid ready yourself if you’re so frisky.”

“My name’s not Rafe, I don’t think we were ever married and I’m fresh out of kids.” He’d been awake for a while, was already dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. “Coffee?”

He stood, heard the covers being tossed behind him and some low, exclamatory profanity. He turned and glanced. She did have some squirrel-ly tan lines. White feet, white hands, white butt. Not a bikini white butt, but white from waist high to three or four inches past where everything came together. About a minute later, while he was pouring water in the top of the Mr. Coffee, she blew out of the bedroom in her red paisley bikini panties, clothes clutched to her chest.

“Phone?”

“Right in front of you,” he nodded to the small counter that divided his kitchen from living room. “One in both bedrooms if you need some space.”

She disappeared back into Dash’s old bedroom, he heard her bark at someone on the phone, the toilet between the bedrooms flushed, he never heard the door close or open. Jesus. Two minutes later she was standing at the small divider again, dressed in the red and yellow flowered dress that had gotten them into this situation.

“I hate to be a bitch, but I need to go. Now. We can beat the lock on the 405 or run up through…What?”

“You drove, didn’t trust me. We weren’t that far from here when you passed out at the gas station. I didn’t know where else to take you, didn’t want to troll your purse trying to find out.” He waited for her to wake up, but she was absorbing as fast as he laid it out. “Your pickup’s on the street out front. If you have to book we’re cool. I can get to my car.”

“You don’t mind? Crapola, I’m…I have a time window to beat. I bet you think I do this all the time, huh? Not at all…I told you that, didn’t I? That’s why I’m so scattered. I’m…I shouldn’t be here. Did I drink? Did I explain my tan?”

“A couple of drinks too many and a couple of times explaining a lot of things. Just saw the tan a minute ago. Interesting. Are you a trim carpenter for real?”

“Yeah. My hands.” She rubbed her fingers with her thumbs, screwed up her lips. “Rough. Sorry. I’m not the usual Wednesday piano player’s door prize at Bellacardi’s, am I?”

“I doubt it. Leave me a card, or your number?”

“Right. You’re going to call me. After no car, and no sex and…” Damn, he looked like he might be serious. “Okay.” She pulled an overstuffed red patent wallet out of her purse and sifted through a handful of cards, offered him one.
Jaeyden Hammett Carpentry – Serving the Greater Los Angeles Area. Two state license numbers and a phone number.

“You real busy?” He pulled one of his cards out of the second kitchen drawer he opened, set it on the divider. She picked it up, held it with her teeth and talked around it.

“This week, yeah. I have a remodel finishing up in West L.A. They say the bust is coming. Just my luck, right? Nothing next week yet. What am I saying? Nothing anywhere past Friday. I’m state licensed for trim and frame. Oh, and I’m bonded, too. A hundred grand. I think.”

She pulled one of her hands off shoe duty, took the card out of her mouth and dropped it in her purse. She was trying to talk, hang onto the counter with her elbow, stand on one leg and put on some kind of ankle wrap sandals that tied. The sandal wrap was an attempt to hide where her work boots cut off her tan. Women. He reached out, put a hand on the shoe between them.

“Next week’s job just landed, Jade. Solid. I’ll call.” He nodded at the shoe under his hand. “You might want to blow these off and drive barefoot.”

”Right. You need to get rid of me. Heard and understood. Someone is coming and I need to beat it. I feel so stupid…”

She stopped at the door to organize shoes and keys, fumble in her purse. A kicked around some, hard working, deeply tanned, tiny, no make up thirty-ish female carpenter with a mess of sun bleached hair and more of a mess tan lines under a pretty, probably rarely worn dress.

“No reason for stupid, and nobody’s coming. You had to take off the shoes to drive last night, carried them in when I woke you up.”

“I musta forgot that part.” She fidgeted with her dress, small shrugs, twists. “There was some story, right? One name Jackson? If you do call? Never mind, men don’t ever call me that way.” She dropped her shoes, threw her head back, gathered up a fistful of ponytail and popped a band around it. “They find out I was in the Army and I’m divorced with a kid and what I do for a living and think I’m a lez, so if you do call, I’ll know it’s you.” She picked up her nowhere-to-belong shoes, patted her purse. “And I have your card.”

She poked her head back in just before the door closed. “Thanks, you know…For being…And not getting…” She heard the Mr. Coffee gurgle. “Do you have a styrofoam cup, sir? Or a cup I can borrow?”

He reached up into the cabinet and pulled out a tall, translucent blue Morisé coffee cup, loaded it two thirds full for her.

She tied her shoes together and hung them around her neck while he brought the cup, took it with both hands, held it up to the light. “Amazing glaze. What’s the little gold M for?”

“Mescaline. It’s the only place I know where you can find that color of blue.”

“That’s true, you know, about this blue. But I think you’re bullshitting me about the M. Sir. I’ve seen it somewhere.” She gave him a slightly more relaxed look, between gratitude and mild surprise. “Nice cup. Don’t worry, I’ll get it back to you.” She pulled the door as she backed out, stuck her head around again just before it closed. “Because you are going to call me.”

Random NVDT Reblog

This reads like watercolor, adverbs and tags invisibly meshed into the fabric of the scene. Do it like this? They’re yours.

 

The salon was genteelly alive with an undercurrent of whispered conversations and the swish of butterfly-bright dresses as I entered the room a little after four in the afternoon. With a smile and a cordial how-do-you-do to my old friends, I threaded my way to the center of the room. “Jane,” I said as […]

via Asking Jane Eyre — inksplashstories

Random NVDT “Standards” and a Writerly Concerns Update

Standards are supposed to make life easier. Devices from different manufacturers should talk to one another. My favorite was the original “plug and play.” Not. The same may be said of “class compliant” USB, leading us to believe drivers aren’t needed. Display to multiple monitors? Well, there’s 1.1, or 1.3 or 1.4. Which HDMI? If there were standards, blades or other accessories from one blender or mixer or coffee pot would work with others. “Standards” are set in place to make sure things are “standardized.” Like #2 Pencils whose lead varies widely. Number #2 Phillips screwdrivers. Some are deeper and pointier at the tip, some are more robust. Some are magnetized. Forget all that, lets get to something important. Like synthesizers.

The little white MXR box in the photo – I’ve had that since 1975. I still have it because I know standards are baloney. Several years ago, I decided to back out of the computer and get myself some gear with knobs again. There was all this noise about “euro rack standard” for inter-connectivity. More baloney. I bought a Moog Mother 32. I was so proud. I sold some stuff I liked to buy it, and it cost too much for what it was, but I knew Dr. Bob from way back. It sounded like a Moog. Sort of. I won’t go into why I sold it, but I did. For a combination of reasons. Not so “Standard” factored large because it wasn’t. Just like it wasn’t in 1975 when I went on an adventure from couch surfing in OKC all the way to Garland Texas, home of Arnold and Morgan Music. I bought an Oberheim SEM from Charley Lowe. I called first to be sure they had one. They did, off I went. A cold front blew through while I was gone, and back in OKC I walked from downtown, in my hippie moccasins, in the slush, to where my gear was stashed. I didn’t die. It’s all down to youth, not diet or exercise or clean living.

What? I couldn’t trigger the OB with my MiniMoog? Hold on. I saw Jan Hammer do it. That’s why I…A custom cable? Cinch-Jones shorting trigger to 3.5mm mono +5. Huh? I took the schematic for the cable to the tech at the high end stereo store who always brought my Flame Linear power amp back from the dead. He laughed when I said I thought there were standards, because I’d read about them. Nope. Volt per octave pitch tracking, maybe. The rest? Hah! He built the cable for me, and later a tin project box that did it better. Fifteen bucks. And I had to listen to loud Rolling Stones and his screaming baby when I picked it up from his house.

Then came the synth mess in my gravatar. Four Moogs, an Arp, an OB module and an OB sequencer. That was my fake T-Dream video soundtrack and band synth rig. Without the MXR and a snake nest of cables with transistors inserted in them it would have been chaos. Rather, uncontrolled chaos.

The MXR was designed to take a signal and amplify it, sans coloration. The intended job being to sit on the output of a guitar, gain it up and clip the input of a guitar amp without altering (too much) the guitar’s tone. I stuck that bad boy on the output on the trigger signal of whatever was the boss, cranked it and popped the trigger inputs open on whatever needed to listen. Forty-three years ago. And I’m doing it now? How sad is that?

I worked for the guy who pushed for and developed MIDI to stop all that crap (backstory). But – Sequential and Roland, the two companies who adopted MIDI first? Is 1 zero or is zero zero? Program change 1-128 or 0-127?  Standards. MIDI does work, though. Thank God. Even if it doesn’t require a gazillion colorful cables to do the same thing.

My MXR is still there if I need it to wake up a Moog with a Korg because trigger and gate are the same thing, different names. They’re “standard.” Only they’re not. I like my knob stuff. I like patch cables and all sorts of crazy sounds. I also like program memory, and foregoing that, at least pitch range selectors tied to a tuning so I have a short path back to reality. Even if that is a moral dilemma to some modular synth purists. There’s an old joke, when looking at a big modular synth draped in patch cords and some arteest going all artsy and talking poly rhythm modulations (baloney). The joke was was to elbow the person next to you and call out, “Okay, great. Now quick, tape’s rolling, get us a French horn.”

Which is why I sold the Moog. One oscillator, no range select and bunch of 3.5mm patch points that talked to each other and some of them to the outside world. And one very important one, the gate/trig, that required the MXR to function with certain external devices. Michelin money for a trailer tire? Baloney.

I solved a lot of the “standards that aren’t” with the Arturia Beat Step Pro sequencer. It sends out three sequences on three channels, or a butt load of gate/trig with enough voltage to blow open the most stubborn modern and vintage gear. The old “if they don’t understand you, talk louder” routine. But why should I have to buy another piece of gear to make the children behave?

Next up – power supplies. The MXR was built before wall warts were even imagined. There is no jack for one on the unit I own. 9V batteries only. There were days where it was buy batteries and play, or eat. The first time I saw a Radio Shack 9v wall wart with 9v battery terminals on it I freaked. It might have been $19. Ridiculous at the time. But it beat batteries. I borrowed a rat tail file from the guitar tech at Rock World and cut a hole in the MXR for the wire to escape. And even now wall wart jacks are various sizes, various voltages. Different barrel sizes on the supply, center + or -. Jesus. In my garage I have an old, beat up drummer’s trap case on wheels with years worth of power supplies. When I’m about to get rid of them a use pops up. How crazy is that? Gear does not communicate with each other, cables of different types and specs are required, power supplies are specific, active or passive, got a battery? My kingdom for a battery! My old bass player’s last girlfriend bought him a fistful of rechargeable batteries and a charger to keep him out of homeless shelters just keeping the active pickups in his basses functioning. This is about musicians, people. No wonder any player with money has a tech and IT runs any business with more than three people.

***

Retraction. “Switching on the lights, I trudged downstairs etc…” just reads stupid to me. I have been informed that it is a participle phrase that modifies “I”, the noun, not the (in my mind) associative action verb of trudged and is perfectly “legal” based on the position of the comma and “I”. As you wish. For my .02, that sort of thing, like Garlic and Cumin, starts to own whatever it’s in and a little goes a long way. It gets worse when they are used to modify the subject of a weak verb like “is”. Elmore Leonard sits in the back of my mind repeating, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Follow the action, don’t sort it. Like Deepthroat. “Follow the money.” “Following the money, crooks you will find,” or “you will find crooks” sounds like Yoda, doesn’t it? Stilted? Regardless of my opinion, the one big takeaway is – Do not leave your participle hung out to dry or you will be arrested by the grammar Nazis for exposing your dangling modifier!

Here you go, “ing” as a noun modifier and not a weakened verb.

http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/participlephrase.htm