RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #27

Fluff and Shite Episode 2

January 31st was the feast day of St. John Bosco. A Nineteenth-Century Italian and patron saint of editors. I put a dollar in the slot and lit a candle. I need all the help I can get. First-person has made me downright effusively verbose, style-wise. See there?

I noticed something strange about the book. “The pages don’t have numbers on them, Don.”
“No,” he said. “You just open it and whatever you need most is there.”
“A magic book!”
“No. You can do it with any book. You can do it with an old newspaper, if you read carefully enough. Haven’t you done that, hold some problem in your mind, then open any book handy and see what it tells you?”
“No.”
“Well, try it sometime.”      Richard Bach – Illusions

“There’s a book for that.” One of my favorite lines when I am asked how/where/when about writing, or getting stuck writing, or flat confused. Not that I read them cover to cover or adhere to their rules. But what the Reluctant Messiah suggests is, as one of my favorite characters would say, “A natural fact.”

1553 – Sounds like that dark lager I like from New Belgium. Not near as much as Reasonably Corrupt from Great Raft, a dark that you can forget for twenty minutes and still drink. There I go. What’s on the jukebox in Mullinville?

1553 – (ahem) – Thomas Wilson published The Arte of Rhetorique. Written to help fledgling poets and writers develop their craft. He got on straightaway to thrashing the wordy nonsense that I refer to as “words strung together that sound like writing.” 400 years in front of Lanham. One of Wilson’s examples of what to avoid –

“I cannot but celebrate and extoll your magnifical dexterity above all others. For how could you have adepted such illustrate prerogative and dominical superiority if the fecundity of your ingeny had not been so fertile and wonderful pregnant?”

Huh?

We like to be liked, told how wonderful we are. It’s “a natural fact.” I don’t pick up books or seek out criticism to be coddled. It’s unnatural. Why? I worked “creative for $” since I was 20. I supported myself with it from 25 on. It is not a thin-skinned gig. Artistic directors, producers, the client(s), the company, the focus groups…All have opinions. As the creative, yours doesn’t count. You can sweat blood, follow the directives and hit the deadline and watch everyone in the room sag when it runs. Two choices. Whine and make excuses or listen, retreat and repair. Hey, it’s not my skateboard or gas station or Neiman Marcus. My point is – I put that “kick me, please” attitude on myself. If it makes my skin crawl, even a little, it’s wrong, somewhere.

Take “Crossroads.” It makes my skin crawl a little. I could cut 250 from that, easy. More like 500 in my normal style because I could cover a lot of ground with shifting third person POV, see a more omni view of what’s going on instead of shadowing one character. My dilemma is that I want more than the meeting with whoever will ‘splain the setup, tough talk and gunfire. More than a classic pulp, less than a moralizing Travis McGee. The extra words, head time (for ‘splaining), all that stuff is really troublesome. I run the risk of stringing words together that sound like writing.

Consider “Crossroads” again. The denouement, flying away? It was three times as long before I whacked it, and could go altogether. In fact, it could all go as far as I’m concerned after “greasy spot in the dirt.” But it would require some (a lot of) excess suspension of disbelief. And it serves three purposes. It clears most of the question marks in the air about the vehicles and the bodies, gets him in the air and we get some character glimpse humor.

Granted, I could have walked him to the café and back, ruminating or moralizing or both. climbed into the plane and taxied with him. I could have dropped everything after the gunplay and caught it up in conversation with Rip or Moreno. Earlier I could have gone off on enlightened racists and deeper ‘all the casualties of war.’ Or fields of wheat and farmers and drought and…Jeez, 3k, 3.5k by then? I’m not that fluffy. If I want a sermon I’ll go to church, a history or sociology or botany lesson I’ll go to school. I figure most of you feel the same way.

I wouldn’t have this problem if it was as simple as “I stopped at the store with Nana’s shopping list. Three apples, brown sugar…” Stop after shopping list. Screw the recipe. “Nana and I spent the next hour putting the nutmeg in the cinnamon before we…” Stop. “Nana and I spent the next hour getting covered in flour and assorted ‘makins’ while we assembled her from-scratch blue ribbon apple pie.” Rule one. If it’s not a cook-book, dump the recipe.

But – This is not so simple, at least for me. Not a story told in my usual style. Not a story I want to thin out when it is about more than a superficial greed and money caper. Seriously, in a straight caper with a twist, what the hell am I doing with Rip riffing his allegories, Moreno playing the love card, Paro shifting from just a dude with a plane to pulling combat and in charge dude from his front pocket now and then?

Truth? I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but it’s about to go sky-high. I can see the bloat, but until Paro tells me the next chapter and it’s in the can I won’t know exactly where. I’ll find a place in draft 2 to whack and catch up. Maybe. Maybe I’ll exceed my self-imposed word limit and run this linear until it blows up.

“There’s a book for that…” Yes, I just haven’t picked it up yet. For now, I’ll do the best I can with the fluff and shite I have and consider it a learning experience. At least, as I discovered opening The Arte of Rhetorique, I haven’t quite hit the pompous inkhornism bar Wilson admonished against. But it made me more aware of my failings than it bolstered my ego.

Feel free to like this post and say something supportive. Or tell me a harsh truth!

 

 

 

 

RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #26

Gimme a Dollar’s Worth – The Fluff and Shite Episode

“I’d rather get on with the plot than fluff out half a book with shite just to make the 90,000 words that agents are looking for.” – Stevie Turner

Amen. I mentioned in my last Writerly Concerns about generic advice, real skillsets and understanding how to apply them and telling our stories our way as best as we can. How to identify what makes the story flow, haul ass or slow down and fit into itself not some bullshit factology numbers and hack formulas.

Check this out. Someone once asked Eddie Van Halen how he tuned his guitars. Ed said, “I tune them to themselves.”

Give that a minute to gain the weight it deserves.

The second bit of Stevie’s quote is very telling of the bullshit factology we’re presented with every day. “90,000 words that agents are looking for.” I can’t find an explanation. But I do have some data. Data is boring, but this is simple, average word count comparisons from authors who sold/sell a lot of books. Do not use this data as bullshit factology, but reference. Remember what EVH said? We should tune our books the same way.

First, and this one is blatant. John D. MacDonald’s “A Deadly Shade of Gold.” I say that because emblazoned on the cover is “A double-length adventure in the brilliant new series…” It clocks in with a 110k word count from an author/series that averages 59k. How did he do it? Is there more brilliant adventure? No, instead of a typical ‘I stopped and ate lunch in the hotel lobby before going up to the room’ as we’d find in something like “The Quick Red Fox” we get lunch with Travis McGee. For a page and a half. Complete with phonetic dialect from the waiter. Trav tells us about the quality of his sleep. He describes not a ‘rag tag assemblage’ of fishing boats, but every one of them. Not ‘California beach bunnies’ but down to their sprayed on wet suits and ‘unblemished by character’ complexions. How many books are on a shelf, what they are. The ‘double-length adventure’ is the same Travis McGee adventure with descriptions of the wallpaper and extended moralizing.

Modern authors, I’ll pick on Balducci and Burke, who average in the 127 to 135k range. I would like to read Burke but I don’t want to keep a botany text handy for his descriptions of Louisiana. Somehow, even with too much “silvery moonlight” and Nancy Drew adverbs Faulkner’s “Mosquitos” makes you sweat and feel and be New Orleans and the swamp without the proper names for all the subtropical greenery. I almost bought a recent Baldacci hardback off the Twofer $10 table at Barnes and Noble. The raw materials are worth more than $5. Number One New York Times Bestseller. $5. I popped it open and the dialog was so stilted it would have embarrassed a Hallmark Channel scriptwriter. I put it back. 127k of call and response dialog and fashion/objects description fattening up what one reviewer called “familiar ground.” 127k that, like Burke, felt slow and obese.

I almost picked up his “How to” on writing mystery and suspense, but his latest sitting like a beautiful red turd in the punchbowl at $5? No thanks. We have the internet and the plethora of Dan Alatorre’s and his clones to charge money to teach us hack formula. (personal opinion only)

Helen Simonson’s “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” was a best seller at 130k and save for the extra pages, often inserted in moments of character rumination, devoted to descriptions of England’s Pastoral Green and Pleasant Land it never felt “thick.” She painted the story and its myriad cultural clashes with thoughtful care and very little preaching or flagrant agenda.

Jennifer Egan. The female David Foster Wallace. Love or hate her work, “The Keep” hits 76k. We get the castle experienced, not narrated. The entire book is full of experience through the characters, how things feel. Never does she say “the castle, imposing and mysterious” to get it out of the way and tell us where we are. An amazing book, even if you don’t like it or the characters. Liking it’s not the point, it’s an exercise in literary immersion that most of the franchise 130k crowd couldn’t hit in a million of their words describing the interior of a BMW where a boring conversation takes place.

Lets get to some people who sold books, movie rights, tv-series and won awards from their peers. Even some of the old-timers big shot authors point to.

Dashiell Hammett. “The Thin Man” 59k. Most of his average right in there. The same with Chandler. Sounds like MacDonald.

Elmore Leonard. “The Switch,” “Tishomingo Blues,” “Maximum Bob,” “Get Shorty.” 75k to 78k. “T Blues” felt a little heavy at 78k down to the Civil War reenactment and history lessons. But still, EL was a mid 70k author.

Robert B Parker. Like Hammett, Chandler and MacDonald, “Painted Ladies” hits 59k. Right in the pocket with the rest of his hard-boiled detective novels. He stretches it by 7 to 10k in some of the non-Spenser works.

Tony Hillerman. I have no bias because as a kid I went with my father on Saturdays to Tony’s father’s photo studio in Oklahoma City. Tony wrote like watercolor on glass and will put you in New Mexico talking to Navajos like you’re there with zero effort. “Coyote Waits” is representative of his award-winning work at 73k.

Let’s not forget the serial ladies.

Patricia Cornwell. Mid Scarpetta series hits that 130k mark. Franchise author land.

Mary Higgins Clark, like PD James. Runs from 83 to 135k, depending.

I won’t go into King, because it took me a year one week to read “The Stand.” He can write what he wants. And the Brits in the Colin Dexter line? Sheesh.

My point? Where the hell is that 90k number coming from? 

Narfling another Garthok – I had one, first of a series I’d thought about. The series could have run a million words. The first one, the edited (and I thought whacked down) draft went out to beta readers and editors. It weighed in at 110k. Everyone and I mean everyone, quit about 75k and said “that’s enough of that. Wrap it up. We get it.”

Which is exactly how I feel. Mid-seventies is perfect. Plenty to get it told, to get ahold of, but not too much time on the wallpaper or beating the characters to death. To me, 130k is like all you can eat for two dollars. And a dollar’s worth is all you need. Or, in some cases, can stand.

RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #25

Narfling the Garthok

Ever noticed how most all the ‘net writing advice on offer is generally useless, soft focused if focused at all, shotgun style generic and a good bit of it pay to play and how most of that isn’t much better than the free stuff? There was a key word in that sentence. If you missed it, I’ll be back.

We are offered opinion. Often based on what I call “bullshit factology.” You know, where self-styled marketers and editors and writing coaches have percentages for everything. Dialog vs Narrative, Action vs Head Time, Violent Action vs Character Moralizing, per page reader economy and why do we need to see this through the character or show, don’t tell. Notice those last two are in direct contradiction. Not so long ago I got both suggestions from the same editor, in the same chapter! Don’t open a scene with weather, open a scene with weather for tone. Lead the reader, let the reader decide. Don’t preach but – what is your character’s motivation (preaching being the easy way out). Don’t moralize but humanize your characters, what are they feeling? Let the reader decide what they’re feeling…

See what I mean? All of those conflicting suggestions are backed up with “bullshit factology” claims. Be they in marketing numbers and percentages of books sold in a given format in a given genre or by examples of “successful” authors. Like politicians, always using an example that serves the seller’s point. A bunch of snake oil salespeople with “proven formulas for your success” are teaching people to write and publish, treading on the writer’s dreams with their “voice of experience” and allowing them to publish poorly written crap that sells to a dozen relatives, everyone in their writing group and a few unsuspecting strangers who are all too polite to say it sucks.

Well, they don’t suck. Stories don’t suck, skills just need to be addressed before cover reveals and interviews oh my golly gosh I wrote a book full of dystopian gibberish. With a cool cover.

I bring this up because I have recently been Narfling my writer’s Garthok. To do so successfully I returned to the tomes of real teachers, real editors, real rhetoricians. They ask the hard questions and show real-world examples without saying “this is the gospel according to me. Adjust and use to taste.” Am I the only one who wants those hard questions, and their answers?

I don’t like sports analogies but here I go – The quarterback, the guy running the huddle on the football field? I had that job in my distant youth and I can tell you he does not bend over in there and say, “Okay, you big guys block and you three speedsters go out there and run around and I’ll throw the ball to somebody.” Except Patrick Mahomes, and he only does that when the pocket collapses. Without skills honed by practice into second nature intuition and instinct, he’d be getting knocked on his ass in the backfield all Sunday afternoon by people three times his size, not going to the Super Bowl. The point. A play is called based on a number of factors presented by the defense and then recognizing the skills needed to be productive in the moment. Like writing, or any art.

Oh yeah, the keyword back there? Generic. One size fits all. ‘Splaining, usually their take on the formulas. Bull. Shit. Everything has to drive the story. Reader economy. Mandatory story arc. I could repeat the first paragraph but I won’t.

Where is the story in all that? All the way back to the Ancient Greeks and the canons of rhetoric (which are rarely discussed by the Indie writerly) we come to the hard questions – What is our story? Who is our audience? What is our style? No, not the formulas, our personal style. Our voice. And, like any professional speaker, do we have the skills to tell our story to our audience? Do we even know how to check for that? If any of our answers are in the vicinity of “I wanna be (insert author here)” and we want to write more Hogwarts or conspiracy theory spy novels or (insert genre here) just like the person who wrote them in the first place then stop, right here, because we need to decide who we are and find the skills to express ourselves.

Do we know how to ramp our work up or down for the project at hand? Classic example, and I have used her before. PD James can take two to four pages to describe a freaking kitchen. Longer for a garden. Half a book could be given over to describing a country house, interspersed with the story. But – I got a collection of her short stories as a gift. And man, you can see her taking an author’s axe to all that atmosphere and boiling it down to four or five words. She’s as good a sketch artist as she is in the mural painting business. She admits in the forward that it takes a concentrated effort to get there. Knowing what we need to do is a skill. Knowing how to do it is also a skill. James didn’t change her voice, she adapted her voice and style to fit the confines of the product. And that doesn’t come from generic formula bullshit factology. It comes from knowing the basics, and ourselves, well enough to tell our story, our way, in a given format.

Another one, and this is hilarious, Dashiell Hammett short stories? A Hammett novel minus everything but the violence. Wham bam boom, almost non stop shoot ’em ups.

My point(s) in all this, besides bad, muddle through it generic advice is winning over learning the basic skill sets is this – Story first. Content first. Voice first. Our chosen audience will tell us, sans bullshit factology, what they like. PD James sold a lot of books where for pages at a time the story was up on blocks and not driven anywhere, but readers were presented with an atmosphere. Personally, I can do without so much of that, but knowing it is a viable (and oft used) stylistic tool is one more thing in the toolbox.

We have arrived at that – The Toolbox. And my latest Narfling the Garthok. I am writing a first-person caper with too many players, on purpose. To see if I can do it without the classic info dumps inherent in first person because one can’t see what else is going on, how others are behaving. Everyone complains about them, the info dumps, everyone points out a “great author” who didn’t use them and again I say Bull. Shit. Hammett, Chandler down through the ages of Parker and MacDonald and Connelly et al, they all end up in someone’s house, or a restaurant, or a police station or an alley where “somebody” spills the beans on the layout and the players. Christie did it by assembling everyone in a room and ‘splaining away the MacGuffins and red herrings. Barnaby or Morse have their eureka moments, after 400 pages, and they decide it was the meek, glasses-wearing nephew who killed everyone. No. Not going there, either. This is a caper, and unlike so many who try lately, I refuse to have the gaping plot holes, to have someone say later, well, what happened to the Cadillac and the body? Where side characters are who we meet on the way through the adventure, not unlike a PD James kitchen or a well-drawn MacDonald character thrown in Travis McGee’s way. No lengthy moralizing, no is this good or bad, who is evil, what is evil. Is just is. Elmore Leonard excelled at it in things like The Switch. Only that was third person. First-person is a bitch without the dumps, but I know it can be done. I’m trying to do it the way I suggest we all write – without accepting the generic advice – and telling our stories, our way, to very best of our ability. Raise your personal bar. Narfle the Garthok.

RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #24

Favorite Conversations

From: William Faulkner’s Mosquitoes

“Well, it is a kind of sterility — Words,” Fairchild admitted. “You begin to substitute words for things and deeds, like the withered cuckold husband that took the Decameron to bed with him every night, and pretty soon the thing or the deed becomes just a kind of shadow of a certain sound you make by shaping your mouth a certain way. But you have a confusion, too. I don’t claim that words have life in themselves. But words brought into a happy conjunction produce something that lives, just as soil and climate and an acorn in proper conjunction will produce a tree. Words are like acorns, you know. Every one of ’em won’t make a tree, but if you just have enough of ’em, you’re bound to get a tree sooner or later.”

“If you just talk long enough, you’re bound to say the right thing someday. Is that what you mean?” the Semitic man asked.

“Let me show you what I mean.” Fairchild reached again for the book.

“For heaven’s sake,” the other exclaimed, “let us have this one drink in peace. We’ll admit your contention, if that’s what you want. Isn’t that what you say, Major?”

“No, really,” Major Ayers protested, “I enjoyed the book. Though I rather lost the habit of reading at Sa — ”

“I like the book myself,” Mark Frost said. “My only criticism is that it got published.”

“You can’t avoid that,” Fairchild told him. “It’s inevitable; it happens to everyone who will take the risk of writing down a thousand coherent consecutive words.”

“And sooner than that,” the Semitic man added, “if you’ve murdered your husband or won a golf championship.”

“Yes,” Fairchild agreed. “Cold print. Your stuff looks so different in cold print. It lends a kind of impersonal authority even to stupidity.”

“That’s backward,” the other said. “Stupidity lends a kind of impersonal authority even to cold print.”

Fairchild stared at him. “Say, what did you just tell me about contradicting myself ?”

“I can afford to,” the other answered. “I never authenticate mine.” He drained his glass. “But as for art and artists, I prefer artists: I don’t even object to paying my pro-rata to feed them, so long as I am not compelled to listen to them.”

“It seems to me,” Fairchild rejoined, “that you spend a lot of time listening to them, for a man who professes to dislike it and who don’t have to.”

“That’s because I’d have to listen to somebody — artist or shoe clerk. And the artist is more entertaining because he knows less about what he is trying to do. . . And besides, I talk a little, myself.”

 

There are several of my favorite lines about writing and writers, “artists” in general, in this work from 1927. Quotes more applicable to today’s explosion of stylistic and “voice” sausage in the cavalcade of self-published casseroles that almost read like writing. A number of conversations in this work are textbook examples of how characters can have opinions and preach for the author’s POV without “preaching.” We get Faulkner’s take on artists, art groupies and pinball relationships wrapped up in a novel, not standing in front of his soapbox.

Aside – God knows I love to see Grammarly telling me how to correct (sterilize) Faulkner. 

 

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

 

 

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.

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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.

 

RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #19 – Say What?

“Hey!” The middle of the pack, size and age wise, from the table full of after work happy hour females grabbed his arm, turned him slightly. “Yeah, you. Austin.” She flipped his name tag with her left index finger, out and ready to stab the shaggy college boy waiter in the chest. “What was that about, giving us the finger, calling us ‘the mean girls’, huh?”

“Whoa…I didn’t give anybody the finger. You wanted more chips, I pointed with the finger I could use, called Dominguez to set you up.”

“Right.” She twisted his wrist enough to see the pen clasped against his ticket book with his index finger. A small, brown, springy, mustachioed man carrying a tray of full chip baskets, stopped, blocked by the scene. Engraved on his name tag, DOMINGUEZ.

“Señor? Señorita? Con permiso?”

Austin backed out of the woman’s grip, bowed slightly. Dominguez passed sideways between them, dropped the first basket of chips at the women’s table.

Her face took on the look of a squeezed beer can before she brushed off his arm in a feeble attempt to erase some leave behind of embarrassment. “Sorry…”

“No problem.”

She dropped her eyes and hurried back to the table. The woman who had been seated next to her waited for her to drop, furrowed her eyebrows, leaned forward so she could see her friend’s face. “Jeannie? What the hell?”

“Nothing. I…Shit. I thought he gave us the finger, said something, you know…Never mind. We need to tip him like we’re half drunk and think he’s cute.”

You need to tip him like you are drunk and think he’s Brad freakin’ Pitt. Jesus, girl, you coulda gotten us all thrown out.”

Dominguez rounded the corner into the waiter staging area, empty chip basket tray tucked under his arm, paused by Austin.

“’Ey, amigo, the mean girls. They are happy now?”

***

Does everyone see what’s happening here? Noisy probably franchise Mexican restaurant, cocky long haired college boy waiter, table full of after work women in as many sizes as ages? Do you need the decor? Blow by blow, sitting down, history, drink order? I could have had him explain the Doh-meeng- gez/ The Mean Girls, explained the noisy restaurant. Why? A good scene, to me, isn’t about the ambience. People will tell the story. Dump the exposition, get right in the middle of it.

When I first started writing again, call it 2015, I dropped straight into it, whatever the scene was. Right off the bat I got beat up. Where are we? How did we get here? What’s it look like, how does it smell. I went on the scene building quest. I learned that you can dial it up or down, depending on if you think the scene needs it. And if you’re good you can condense a few big sensory things and get on with the story. And if it’s a re-visit, something happening where we’ve been before, (or is generically ubiquitous) just go on in and make yourself at home.  The Hundred Acre Wood is not about the Hundred Acre Wood, you know? We go there and magic happens, we don’t get a thesis on deciduous tree bark.

I noticed in my last story upload that the location and characters were condensed, but it seemed like everyone knew where we were. Saw the people, got the story. I mention that because after several books lately I’m off that big scene building thing. I studied and even the best dystopias, like Vonnegut, are sketched. In a good author’s work people emerge quickly. MacDonald is the master of condensed appearance and behavior if one wants to give out a character’s polaroid. A page and a half of the English countryside, or Los Angeles or New Mexico or the Rocky Mountains or Egypt. Why? “Some people like that.” Good for them. Some people like adverbs and dialog tags and I’m not much for those, either. The point is, write for yourself or you’ll derail yourself. Next time, a funny story about Egypt and the little magic trick of a few foreign language words.

***

In 1970 Elmore Leonard’s agent called him. The conversation went something like this –

“You read The Friends of Eddie Coyle yet?”

“No.”

“You need to.”

That goes for all of us who would write in the less flowery American Noir style. A style which I feel needn’t be limited to crime novels.

Back to the drawing board.