RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #23

On Fiction

1

“The original sin is to limit the Is. Don’t.”
― Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

2

“If you will practice being fictional for a while, you will understand that fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies and heartbeats.”
― Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

 

 

Used Dog Food

According to a good many modern authors, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” changed how dialog drives story. Even new guys like David Levine and old hats like Nelson Demille. So if you can do this bit at 65% narrative, without travelogue and excessive tags, and keep the people personal I’d like to see it. Otherwise, save the lengthy bear chased the dog sled over the hill and through the woods for Jack London. My people talk because they can tell their stories better than I can.

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

“There’s a long story about why I hate musicians, Jackson.”

Kaitlin Everson, the actress responsible for the lawsuits that roared like background noise on cheap tape through almost five months of his life stood on the other side of his small kitchen divider, nervously tapping her fingers on the tile top. She looked good. Dangerous. The perfect, swept up cascade of ringlets over dark waves, sprayed-on yellow capris and a snug, lacy sleeves to her elbows top. He stayed with his back against the counter on the opposite wall of his narrow kitchen, arms folded like a shield. As if it would help if she went full Tasmanian devil.

“I’ve heard some of them. Variations on a theme of the real one, probably. That’s why you’re here, Kait? To tell me a long story?”

“Alix didn’t call you?”

“She said ‘My love, the delightful Kaitlin has telephoned. Speak with her, s’il vous plaît?’ No one living has ignored Alix’s s’il vous plaît. So here you are. We could have gone neutral somewhere. Or was that the point, to stay out of public places?”

“No. I heard about this old apartment of yours. What happens here. How comfortable and real it is. The open windows, the sounds, the sweet monster dog. I heard you put eleven top-shelf L.A. women in here on Saturday mornings all summer and there was no trippy bullshit. I wanted to see it.” She stopped her fingers, took a surprise deep breath for someone usually cooler than a bucket of ice. “I sat with Randi Navarro and Cicily Warren at a Women in Broadcast lunch last week. They showed me their personal bio packs and they were the shit. The real shit. Custom color folders, custom cards, embossed calligraphy, perfect complementary colors, not overdone. Definitely not office supply print shop ready-to-wear. They said massive taste, and they would be the first ones out of any pile. I asked Randi where it came from and she said you were involved and that…That I should contact the French lawyer who untied our two-little-bitches-in-Hollywood knot, and you might let me in on who does their work.”

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

“How do we feel about each other?”

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

She’d leaned both arms on the divider, he stepped up to the counter attached to the other side, thought for a second.

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

“It wasn’t personal, Jax. Musicians were like a bad habit until I started getting real work.” She did that thing he thought was a universal girl move, averting her eyes to look at her fingers absently doodling on his tile-topped divider. “After I got the job on the soap and I put that part of me down, some of those guys did some really stupid, mean shit. I went off on one at the Whiskey one night and it got turned into ‘ex-groupie soap star goes off’ press. With pictures of me looking fucked up and mad as hell screaming about all their lying bullshit. I had to sue them all to stop it.”

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

She didn’t want to buy it. The humor in his voice, his eyes. “Randi warned me you’d find a way to get around me, no matter what I put up.”

“Randi warns every female that’s about to talk to me.”

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

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

“You saw it?”

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

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

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

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

“That’s it. Well…”

She raised one eyebrow.

“Is that your hair?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s go. I can hang with a hot actress, and we can bust each other’s chops a little longer. You forgot these.” He held out two business cards, tugged on her ringlets when she got close enough to take them. He laughed again, she yanked the cards with one hand, punched him on the shoulder, hard, with the other.

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

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

***

Morisé – 1700 Oilman’s Bank Tower

“Kaitlin Everson?” Paula set the folder on top of everything on Stacey’s desk. “I missed the legal do-si-do, but I got the word upfront from Studley. Do we have right of refusal?”

“Alix said that we all underestimate the Director of Women’s Initiatives. That he has turned a negative into a positive and has now completed the process for which he has been in training.” She watched Paula’s face go question mark. “Yeah, me neither. Something about forgiveness and the big picture. Shannon has thinned Kaitlin’s bio to bullet points for me, and Kaitlin is ready for the initial preferences call. Which is you. They’ll shoot the interview in Zane’s green room, edit her aircheck, Jackson will smooth it out next door at Air Biscuit. It’s a genuine project.”

“Don’t you think it’s amazing how they do those interviews? It’s just two people in chairs in Tits’ small warehouse and it looks like someone’s badass living room or the Parthenon or some beach that’s too clean to be real.”

“What is more amazing, Paula, is that Alix threw him and Kaitlin together without an ambulance on standby and that you get away with calling Zane Rialta ‘Tits’.”

“Studley says Alix sent Kaitlin to him with a s’il vous plaît, and everybody out there calls Zane ‘Tits’. It’s like her unofficial celeb toe tag.”

“I’m not sure about the toe tag, but the s’il vous plaît explains this.” Stacey handed Paula a copy of True Star that had landed with the morning mail. “They’re a quarter page in the gossip section, on the patio at a burger place. Smiling. He must have had to send his soul out to the cleaners after.”

“The smile tells me the picture is doctored.” Paula pulled on the sides of her mouth with her index fingers and made a face before she opened the paper, shuffled through to the middle. “‘Heart Throb Actress Starring in Real-Life Romance!’ Who writes this used dog food?”

“People like us who don’t quite have total autonomy about what they publish?”

“Somewhere in that, I heard ‘We’re doing Kaitlin Everson, Paula. Get over it’.”

 

Anonymole has decided on a whiff of an idea from me that September is scene month. Not every day, but often, we should offer a short scene that stands alone and when you walk away you have a decent idea of what’s going on and might want to turn the page. This is number 8 or 9 or 10 of “Hukt awn seens werks fur mee!”

RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #22

Authenticity –

“You’re telling me nobody in Washington DC has a piano you can rent?”

“No.”

“Not Washington Music or Venneman or the Steinway Hall or any of the back-line places? Jesus, you’d think there’d be a shit load of pianos in DC. All the parties and weddings and receptions, hotels.”

“No, man. I’ve called them all and nobody has a grand piano I can rent. That’s why Rick told me to call you. He said you could hook me up.”

“Rick?”

“Wakeman. He’s coming in to play a classical music concert. A live broadcast, and he needs a good piano.”

Right. Rick’s a real comedian. Here we go. “I can get you a ProMega3, from Chicago, with Rick’s programs blown into it. Have it there in three days.”

“What? A Pro…What?”

“A Generalmusic ProMega3. It’s a physically modelled digi –”

“A digital piano? No way, I can’t have that. Those sound like shit, everyone will know, Rick will hate it.”

“Rick won’t hate it, that’s why he told you to call me. It’s not a sampled piano. Yeah, those all sound like audio Polaroids. But this is a real-time physically modelled instrument, sympathetic resonance figured on the fly like a real piano, all the math done by the physics department at the University of Padua. Padua being where the piano forte was invented.”

“It’s still a digital piano, no matter how good it is. It isn’t an authentic piano. I have $5,000 microphones set up in here for a real –”

“Riddle me this. You put five of those microphones on the piano. Run them through the board –”

“A digital console with high end Prism ADA converters. Those things are –”

“Ten grand a pop. Great. What do you have at the end of that signal chain?”

“What do mean, what do I have?”

“You have a digital piano. Just like the one I’m offering you. Five high end mics, data conversion to harmonic and volume modelled envelopes, real time resonance. The sound board and wooden case is done with math, not samples. It’s as authentic as your mics and digi board. If anyone notices or complains, I’ll eat it.”

“Well, hell, we’re out of time now, I don’t have any choice. And Rick said…Shit…Are you sure you don’t have a real piano?”

“Positive, but I’ll send you a ProMega3. Tell Rick everybody loves a clown and to poke around the first bank, Herbie Hancock’s fave Fazioli tweak is in there. Sound check for Artist Not Present in Rick’s case is number 2, RW Stein. Any problems, call me.”

A week later I make the call. “Anybody complain about Rick’s piano?”

“No. Did you hear the show?”

“Sure,” I lied. “He’s crazy funny and can play his ass off.”

“Yeah. So, uh, look, how can we get two of those ProMega things for the studio?”

***

All you have to do is make me, or any reader, believe it. I have a WIP set in LA in the early 80s. I wasn’t there, I was in NorCal. I have friends who were. What is needed is “A studio in Silverlake.” It works because there were a lot of them. A high-rise ocean-front condo in Santa Monica. Yeah, duh. A funky old 8 plex apartment in Long Beach. L.A. is the global center of funky small apartments that could have been shotgun houses, old motels, two story office buildings. They’re in every TV show ever shot in L.A. from Dragnet to Transparent. I read Laura Levine’s fluffy mysteries, her heroine lives in an apartment in West Hollywood. Some colorful neighbors, funky houses. Traffic sucks on the 5, the 1, the Harbor Freeway, Santa Monica Blvd. Of course it does. Who am I to quibble? Fancy restaurants on the beach, Mexican places with huge burritos, everybody accepts that. More importantly, it’s enough. Robert Parker used to beat me with Boston, but not too hard. Tony Hillerman could put me in an old beat up Suburban in the New Mexico desert with few words and a few mountains. Elmore Leonard, Get Shorty in L.A. Are there any map coordinates?  No. Descriptions of big houses and restaurants and grubby offices. Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely. A dumpy house, a grimy bar, a nut-case estate. For me? In and Out Burger on Beverly. A vegetarian walkup in the parking lot of a strip center, or off the 1 in Malibu. Pre-War apartment courts on the bay in Huntington. They’re there. Why not? Authentic is the story, on a believable set.

Authenticity, then, does not require 200 pages of Irvine Welsh’s phonetic Scotts, or an accurate down to the nails in the shutters description of a side street in the Bahamas or a page and a half of verdant pastures or a horticulturalist’s coffee table book version of Louisiana garden and potted plant life. Or $20k worth of mics and preamps. Authenticity is a few locations, a few props, carried by the story. All the set decoration in the world isn’t the story. If the story works, it could be next door or a far-off land. Make me believe the characters and their stories without gumming up getting them around and putting them somewhere. Authenticity is the story. 

***

Authenticity – When asked about Jeff Beck’s guitar rig his tech answered with all the right techy stuff. He finished by saying “But he could play an old Masonite Silvertone through a Pignose and he’s still gonna sound like Jeff Beck.”

More Authenticity – Rick’s version for an Australian magazine. Zoom to read.

 

 

 

RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #21- Guest Shot

Fix it in the mix

A saying widely used both facetiously and in earnest in the music biz. Generally alluding to a high suck factor in a recorded performance that can be buried or overdubbed.

Here’s David Limitre’s take on FIX from a shotgun come-read-my-blog email. But I liked it. Because it is about word power. How we associate, how we interact with a word.

FINALLY! I may be getting a handle on this color thing. At least, what I want to do with color. I experimented with toning the ground first. Then the color seemed to appear quite naturally. You be the judge. 11”x 8”, collage, acrylic and graphite on wood. © 2019 David Limrite

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
Henry Ford

Hi Phil,

Eliminating The Word “Fix”

If you use the word “fix”, as in, “Something is wrong with my painting, so I need to fix it”, I would like to suggest that you eliminate the word “fix” from your vocabulary.

To me, the word “fix” implies that my painting is broken and needs repairing.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with your painting. If you are having the thought that you need to “fix” your painting, all it really means is that your painting is not “there” yet. It means that your painting is currently not looking how you want it to look. Yet.

All it really means is that your painting is unfinished, and that you have more work to do.

It probably means that you want to re-work some parts of the painting. But, it definitely does not mean those areas are broken.

Eliminating the word “fix” from my vocabulary has provided me with a much healthier way of self-evaluating my work in progress. And, it helps me have a better attitude about going back into my paintings to re-work them.

Eliminate the word “fix” and let me know how much better you feel.

Best,

David

David is here: 

For all I know he’s the Dan Alatorre of painting, but I don’t care. Painting is one of those things like singing. You get it or you don’t. You can or you can’t. Kind of like writing. Some would be better off dictating. Remember when Herb Alpert and Burt Bacharach tried to sing? Like totally thank God for like Dionne Warwick, right?

RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #20 – More Is Too Much

If you cannot learn to love real art at least learn to hate sham art and reject it. – William Morris

I’ve had a theme in my head for some time now. It escapes editing and goes off down the rabbit hole. Because it is ill-defined. Excess? (yes, to me) Sloppy? (not always) Lazy? (lots of toil involved in some cases) Self-serving? (difficult to say). Style? (close, but…) Wanking? (depends on sloppy or lazy)

What I’m trying to get to is superfluous content, author agendas (preaching), and the middle of the road. By MOR I mean clichés, weak language, lack of logic. Which brings me to Lester Dent. If you don’t know Lester Dent there are numerous websites dedicated to the man who prototyped the superhero, much as Morris did for fantasy. Dent’s “Doc Savage” was better looking and more charismatic than all the 007s, had more toys than Batman or M dreamed of. Without Doc Savage Stan Lee would have had no one to put in multicolored spandex. Dent’s take on pulp construction is short and explicit. It should be studied for no other reason than the discovery of truth in short noir-ish fiction formatting. To the point –

Dent told a funny story about setting, and fooling editors (and readers). If you want a story set in an exotic locale, foreign land or someplace you’ve never been you had to sell it. The editors were fearful of misrepresentation and exposure of the author as a phony. Dent’s example was Egypt. To con an editor into believing you’d been to Egypt, or were an amatuer Egyptologist, throw in a local character saying something in Egyptian. Use the old ploy of having another character translate it, or the main character translate it himself. “Yes, Afkhan, I know it’s a tree.”  It also helps to find some pictures of the area to recreate, if only briefly. I would suppose along the lines of the distance between two pyramids a character had to cover without being shot. Palm trees or whatever, a crazy colorful bazar (Indiana Jones). A little of that and the editor signed off on Egypt. Note – a little. Just enough to sell it, not a full-blown travelogue for Egypt (or wherever).

I mention this because I have read some books lately that are more travelogue than story. I enjoyed Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand save for the scheduled injections of rural Sussex that rivaled the output of the Romantics. She said in an interview that those parts of the book were a romanticized paean to her homeland. At least she owned it. And she could have pushed a real modern race/bigotry agenda in the book. Instead she made it a classic shot of Jane Austen-ish satire of manners with a touch of romantic fairy tale for the 21st century. Good for her. But I still flipped through the many pages of pastoral mist on England’s green and pleasant getting to the story. I should add I learned a couple of things about backstory insertion and character exposure tricks from that book.

Another glaring example is James Lee Burke. The man has sold a gazillion books. I picked up his Creole Belle at the library to see why. After maybe forty pages I have a couple of story, a lot of opinions about New Orleans, way too damn many descriptions of plant life. Characters can’t step out of a door without witnessing a half page laundry list of flora and bugs and snakes and the various states of the water – black in the shade, green with algae, glistening from a streetlamp and rain drumming in various quantities on every surface imaginable. I shouldn’t have had to get out my iPad and Googled botanical pictorial lookups to refresh my memory on caladiums and rhododendrons and fifteen other types of plants on the patio of an office building we’ll never go back to. Everything is described in massive detail. Substance rehab, stinky trailers, all a reason to go off for a page or more on philosophy and agenda and the evils of the world, the nasty yanks and the brave confederates. Some with not so transparent preaching ascribed to them. Do we really need all that shit to find out where Creole Belle went?

Tony Hillerman can put you on a rutted road in the New Mexico desert without all that. Robert Parker can put you on a corner in Boston, all you need. He can even wax good versus evil. You know Spenser and Hawk are hard guys without constantly being reminded of it. Yet Burke throws it in every couple of pages. Maybe because his big tough guys talk, on occasion, like teenage girls. “Isn’t that neat?” Like a couple of tough guys I read about trapped by gunfire saying, “What shall we do?” That wasn’t Burke, but he gets close. By page 40 we have been reminded 5 or 6 times the detective’s sidekick’s secretary is an ex nun. And the only dialect is Cajun Creole, from Creoles or Blacks. Everyone else reads exactly the same. Even the lady detective we’ve been reminded 4 times makes people uncomfortable because she’s a lesbian. You think we got the nun and the lesbian by now?

When people write like that, I wonder what they’re selling. Simonson admitted it. She also admitted to no liking the weather, the food and warm beer. All things she left out of her postcard from Sussex. All things Burke overdoses on. Minutiae. I find myself wanting to shake the book to get the crap out of it and get to the story. How much description do we need? How much clutter, how much crap?

***

The William Morris quote was taken out of context to sound elitist. I did that on purpose. It is offered below as contextual. Had I used it all up front it would have obviated the need for this post. That is, if you get it.

Simplicity of life, even the barest, is not a misery, but the very foundation of refinement: a sanded floor and whitewashed walls, and the green trees, and flowery meads, and living waters outside; or a grimy palace amid the smoke with a regiment of housemaids always working to smear the dirt together so that it may be unnoticed; which, think you, is the most refined, the most fit for a gentleman of those two dwellings?
So I say, if you cannot learn to love real art; at least learn to hate sham art and reject it. It is not because the wretched thing is so ugly and silly and useless that I ask you to cast it from you; it is much more because these are but the outward symbols of the poison that lies within them; look through them and see all that has gone to their fashioning, and you will see how vain labour, and sorrow, and disgrace have been their companions from the first — and all this for trifles that no man really needs! – William Morris, speech in London 1880

Two Updates –

1 – Someone asked me where I got the trite rant from – Here you go.

Thick tendrils of mist embraced the thick bases of the gnarled trunks transforming them into tortured faces. Deep knotholes became dark, hooded eyes and missing chunks of bark, sighing mouths. Frothy fronds of foliage framed  (Say that fast three times) the desperate looking figure like wild unkempt hair.

Margaret stood for a long, immobile second at the top of the stairs. The cellar, with its gradually unfolding secrets and strange silence, attracted her. She knew she couldn’t go there, but it sang an alluring siren song that was difficult to resist.

Roberta Eaton Cheadle.

Look for Roberta’s book The Nethergate to be published in September. I smell my favorite internet “editor” all over that. I made a comment about the redundant use of thick, the alliteration and the complete lack of logic in the second bit. I was told “We all like different things.” Count me in the group that likes things to make sense. My wife reads me excerpts from her freshman comp students. I considered them expert at stringing words together for effect not sense. Now I know published authors do the same.

2 – If you wondered, which I doubt, what I did to fix my own perfect sounding but illogical line in Octopus! you may go see the whacked version.

If you’d like to know William Morris The William Morris Society is a good place to start. He is considered by many, including Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, as their greatest influence on fantasy, utopia/dystopia and faerie stuff. Be advised do not go into that Morris lightly because a lot of it is in honest to God Olde and Middle English which is a lot harder to read than the pidgeon/pirate talk we have today. Plus it’s like really long. His speeches, though, rock. A consummate, if reluctant, rhetorician.

RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #19 – Fatuous, Trite Crap

Wanking – To pursue or perform something halfheartedly, improperly or without a clue in a middle of the road same ol’ shit manner. “Oh shit, that dude’s not really gonna not play Stairway to Heaven again, is he?” I managed a chain of 17 music stores and gave the staff at each location a chunk of brick shaped foam with “Wanker Brick” stenciled on it that they were free to throw at the Jump and Stairway people.

Here’s another one. I knew a guy in San Jose who could play any hot lick by any guitarist. He would string them together in a sales demo. Customers thought he was a God. The problem was, that’s all he could do. He couldn’t play in a band, never got a call back from an audition because all he could do was string phrases together that “sounded like” music. People used to ask me way back when, what is your problem with (the band) Kansas? I would say put it on and I’ll call out the trite rock phases strung together to create American Prairie Prog. That’s a whole other discussion, but the comparison stands.

None of the Dan Alatore school reads this so it’s okay for me to have an opinion that is personal only, and not put forward as fact, but I see a lot “Go, Tiger!” comments on his follower’s blogs where the content is no more than trite phrases, often illogically strung together to form short scenes. Usually of the ohmygoshangolly there’s a hole in the universe in my basement! (or my horse drawn coach, old well, farmhouse, castle, swimmimg pool etc.) If you want that, someone who does it with a very postmodernist and literate flair is here.

Otherwise, save the Nancy Drew time traveler to be amazed by the wonders of unfolding secrets in a dark basement. How does she know they are unfolding? Don’t ask me, it’s dark and she is immobile at the top of the stairs. Cosmic flashlight maybe? Eyes adjusting to the dark? Don’t mention that sort of thing thing, though, because in that universe it is perfectly acceptable to be illogical and whimsically day dreamy like a small town home schooled teenager without access to the internet or cable.

I recently saw someone make character struggle equations as they relate to Tolkien. Please. William Wallace Cook’s Plotto and Georges Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations line all that out. Which brings me full circle to Fatuous, Trite Crap and Wanking.

Sure, there’s a formula. Holy moly look at Lester Dent, more copied and plagiarized and ripped off than any author since the 1930’s. He had a formula. There’s a formula for anything we want to write. The key is not to fill the pages with trite crap and borrowed phrases that “sound like” writing. Characters get into situations and things happen. Obstacle and conflict. We can do it Nancy Drew style, or we can just wank how we think we read what a successful or admirable author wrote, or we can try to write something that jumps off the page or tells the same old story in a good way. But we should make it about something, or someone, and not just wank our way through a formula or middle schooler’s day dream diary. We should write like we mean it. Even if it’s predictable (and it is) crap.

 

Hugger Orange

“Fuck…” Jackson planted his left foot, palms flat on either side of his gas cap, stepped into the push. “You sure the brake’s off, it’s out of gear?”

Dash leaned against the open driver’s-side door, flicked sweat off the end of his nose. “Tasks such as this are why auto-mobiles and I are currently at odds.”

“Fuck.”

“You ’bout in desperate need of a more di-verse and entertaining dialog. ‘Nother half a block, all we need.”

“You said that two, three blocks ago. Why the hell did we go to Venice Beach anyway?”

“I painted you a verbal picture of mustachioed muscle men in mi-nute elastic panties and beautiful women on roller skates in far less. You were overcome with a need to see those wonders for yourself. I was obliged to accompany, you a stranger in a strange land and all.”

“Fuck…”

“Must I admonish you further?”

“Whose idea was Ripple or whatever that was we put in the radiator?”

“The mixture of ‘whatever’ be a varietal blend of leftover fluids found in the Venice trash, and was installed under decree by committee. We come close to makin’ it, though.”

“Said the Titanic to the iceberg.”

“See what you come out with, you think on it?”

***

Jackson backed out of the passenger door of his dead ride with a shopping bag full of six years of console, under seat, trunk and glove box junk. He stepped away a few feet, took it in. All the memories. All the bullshit. There was still a quarter of a tank of gas in it. All he needed was a match.

“Somethin’ on your mind, Casper? I perceive a vibe that bodes ill for this sad piece of industrial sculpture.”

“Maybe we get a keg, throw a block party with a bonfire.”

“Block party in El Lay always a winning proposal. Famous bands and topless women a given. But an auto-motive bonfire spells R-I-O-T to the po-leece. We be fingerprinted and on Channel Seven ‘fore the fire’s out.”

“Fuck.”

“There you go again.”

“I can’t afford to fix it.”

“Don’t want to afford to fix it. Howsome ever,” Dash turned his palm up in a game show model’s ‘here’s your new washer and dryer’ move. “Even in its current immobile state ride still looks cock. If you will allow me to speak on your behalf with a brother I know who specializes in vee-hicular transactions I might persuade him to offer you a modest amount of cash or functional in-kind trade for your lifeless possession.”

“You have a friend who deals in dead cars?”

All kinds of cars. Magic is afoot in East Compton, my brother. Buster put a black Jag-u-ar in one end and a red Lincoln pops out the other. Same may be said of dead or damaged in, alive and well out. Shined all the hell up and runnin’? This’ll be seriously ripe for a low down and payments guaranteed to last longer than Star Trek reruns. Buster will perceive, as I do, that a Messican or pimply-assed kid will think their dick grew three inches they find themselves behind the wheel of this aww-toe.”

“He’ll keep it the same color? I’d hate to —”

“Output color depends entirely on condition and Buster’s means of acquisition. It’s legal and wrinkle free. Only his feelings on Day-Glo Orange come into play.”

Hugger Orange.”

“Nigger, please. A rose by any other name, we understand each other?”

***

Jackson followed Dash down from the wrecker cab in a swirl of east Compton dust. Dash took a fistful of cash from a tall, skinny kid with red eyes and an eighteen inch ‘fro, disappeared through a heavy, steel-clad door. A few long minutes passed and from the minor sea of Quonset huts and rutted gravel a primer coated 1964 Impala SS with shiny bumpers, pimp wheels and zero trim pulled up purring smooth and low like a fat cat in a circle of sunshine. A sweaty, wiry gray-haired black man in grease stained pin-stripe overalls stepped out, leaving a hint of Bay Rum and an old time barbershop in his wake.

“You bein’ the only thing white I see ‘sides the garage door, this’n must be yours.” He stepped around, popped the hood, spit tobacco juice in front of Jackson’s feet. “Supra Sport Shivvies came stock with a 409. Big and dumb as our current crop a heavyweights. I put this new 327 crate motor in yestiddy. Old with no blue smoke keeps the gov’nor happy an the po-leece away. Break ‘er in easy she’ll stay that way. ” He dropped the hood, wiped his hands on the red shop rag hanging from his back pocket, spit again. “Small block’s lighter, lets you keep some rubber on the tires, drives past a gas station ‘casionally. Axe me, rides some better, too, all that weight gone. Had in mind to paint it, but you come along.”

He paused, examined Jackson like a man encountering a disease. “Air conditioner blows cold, no back seat, no radio. No charge for the trunk mount spare cover. It come in from somewhere, don’t fit nothin’ else, tired a walkin’ around it.” He held up the keys, dropped them so quick Jackson almost missed the mid-air save. The old man nodded, spit another stream of tobacco juice. “The Dash be along drekly with paper an plates.”

Jackson watched the man walk away, his bowlegged side to side gait kicked up light puffs of gravel dust, a walk punctuated with an off-beat sway of the shop rag hanging from his pocket and an every fourth step spit. “Nice to meet you, too.”

***

“Needs paint. Legal, mostly. Nothing due, no change, even up.” Dash put his hands on the door sill. “You an Ellis get on?”

“You mean the old guy who spits redneck diarrhea, no. No handshake, no thanks. No take it easy, no fuck off kiss my ass honky punk. Must’ve left all that in the same place as the back seat and radio.”

“No radio?” Dash’s head rolled back. “Muh-ther fuh…” He tossed the plates and registration on the passenger seat, went back through the heavy door, wasn’t gone long, wasn’t happy coming out. He landed in the seat, right leg still out, hand on the door. “Hang left, follow the drive around back. Stop where I tell you.”

Jackson stopped on command, Dash slid out, vanished behind a corrugated metal door, was back in under thirty seconds with a nearly new Delco combo radio and cassette player from a Cadillac. He eased back into the passenger seat, set the radio where the back seat should have been. “Radio’s for the shit paint job. I told the motherfuckers, you know, I be ridin’ in this aw-toe and you were cold as ice. Next thing I’m back, askin’ all them old domino an Jack niggas sittin’ around, you know, what’s their fuckin’ damage, where’s my fuckin’ radio? They tryin’ to fuck a brother ‘cause I brought a deaf dumb and blind cash money client to their criminal empire? Motherfuckers. ‘Take the deal, fool, you an the ghost take a walk’? Fuck they doin’, talkin’ that shit to me? Thinkin’ I didn’t come up in here, don’t know their shit?” He took a breath, smacked the door sill. “Fuck it. You drive, I’ll di-rect. Weekend comin’, college calls on Monday an I need some unwind time. You’ll be droppin’ me down to Lakewood at my little slice of heaven’s place. I’ll draw you a map home from it on the way.”

Jackson drove south out of east Compton, Dash ranted on Buster’s crew like they were his dysfunctional family while he took a BIC Stick and drew a map on a paper napkin that would have done a retentive Renaissance mapmaker proud. He had Jackson roll up slow on a semi-residential, semi-small business street in Lakewood and stop near the middle of the block.

“You get to the crib, call your people. Tell ‘em you’re alive and where you’re at, how wonderful your new friend Dash Man be. ‘Cause if San Andreas opens up an your white ass drops they can tell the bloodhounds start lookin’ for you in Long Beach. They need to find you and this ray-dee-oh on the west side, don’t need nobody sniffin’ around my shit in Compton. Least till Buster’s player’s caught some chill.”

“Anybody. You don’t want anybody, or anyone, sniffin’.”

“You gonna be the grammatically co-reckt English Nazi all the fuckin’ time? I thought you played music or some shit.”

“Habit. Can’t get sloppy. People take you more seriously when you don’t talk like a refugee from a corn field full of single-wides.”

“Your accent don’t clean up soon you’re gonna need all the help you can get you expect to gain some on serious.”

“Doesn’t. Not don’t. Accent doesn’t clean –”

“We have arrived, Jeeves. I doesn’t require your services any longer,” he interlocked his fingers, popped his knuckles. “You straight on how to get to the crib?”

“Yeah. And ‘don’t.’ That one was ‘don’t.’ Like that shit’s bad for your hands, don’t.”

“Get back to me, I ‘don’t’ got room in my head for any of that shit today. You know where the stash is. Blank’s for the drive.” Dash tossed a thin black cigarillo on the empty bucket seat, lit one of his own and walked away. Jackson leaned over to pick it up, looked out the window and damned if they hadn’t pulled up in front of a beauty shop called Little Slice of Heaven.