NVDT #91 – Random Writerly Concerns – Adjectives

Or – How easily ignorable the written word has become

Or – How the brain autocorrects what we want to read

Several things came up this last week so I’ll load them up, and try to tie them together.

I received an email from Pro Writing Aid a few days ago. The subject was adjectives. Word choice being one of my causes, I checked it out. You can too – https://prowritingaid.com/Adjectives

Point one – I often wonder as writers if we think about which word to use or if we start throwing words that sound like writing at a scene and hope. I read a lot stuff written like that so I know it’s out there. Why I bothered to learn the business/painters’ emotional color wheel and music’s emotional key wheel is beyond me. Except in advertising all that subliminal shit counts. But otherwise? I see people read through and publish atrocious writing all the time. In that case our brains autocorrect the hash to make sense of the reading exercise.

Which brings me to point two. I read (yes, really) a post the other day about Tolkien’s using only primary (or blended primary) colors in the Hobbit books. No adverbs or added adjectives. Green, blue, white, yellow etc. I will not elaborate on the plethora of bullshit commentary that subject brought out, but suffice it to say there was everything from another example of genius in creating a different word that was flat and different to dimensionality (?) to his innermost psychological workings.

It was brilliant, but not because he was colorblind or his mother fed him too much oatmeal or his writing instructor had small breasts and fat ankles. It was a simple authorial tactic to build reader investment. JRR writes “green.” Okay. Is your green my green, or Jim Bob’s green or Betty Sue’s green? No. When I read that book, that green belongs to me. Without me noticing it. I see my green in his description and I am involved. Slick, dead simple and big time effective use of adjectives (possibly nouns).

Staying with the color thing, think how many uses ‘blue’ has. Adjective, noun, verb. Staying away from determiners is a sure-fire way to avoid confusion, and offer ownership – (n) She was dressed in blue. If that’s it, she’s ours. In this case our brains will fill in the gaps, the right outfit, the right blue.

Next – I answered the call to a blog suggestion this week. Here it is. “Write a top 10 list in the voice of a character. Is your character a person making a bucket list? How about someone listing their greatest fears? What does the list they make say about the character?”

Simple, huh? There were a handful of lists alright. Narrative, bullet points, almost back jacket material. I mentioned that. Nobody said “oops.” Why? What was the word most everyone pegged? List. Like it had been LIST surrounded by air. And they proceeded to read right past “in the voice of a character.” List. Okay, easy. Done. Next? In this case the brain skips what we don’t want to see or have time for.

I learned a while ago that in business most people I dealt with from overlings to underlings decided to open an email based solely on the preview. No, you say! Bullshit. Just like how everyone is against texting and driving and says they don’t and all you need to do to disprove that is look at the car next to you. I got in the habit of starting emails like the sky was falling. I know I often bail on brevity when it’s not business, probably from all that biz brevity. My point is, why has it become impossible to read the whole damn thing, all of it, absorb its meaning, be in the words?

Which brings me to why bother writing like you mean it, in a straight line, when people will take what they want from it like it was a crap sound bite from USA Today?

Last but not least – Earlier today I read one of those modern “free form poetic prose” bits from a site dedicated to that “style”. A site with tons of fawning followers. It read like a narrative Hallmark moment. Which is okay, but don’t call it free form poetic prose when it’s full of glue words and medium strength common adjectives. Even when there’s a power adjective/noun/verb it is usurped by a miasma of surrounding and, and the.

The conclusion – Maybe we write exactly what we mean. Nothing more. No one will bother to read, or will read through our polished, over edited prose looking for the key word(s). We should all be on an Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot Haiku mission. Or a Joe Friday style of “Just the facts, ma’am.”

It’s sad because that’s what I used to do with Spanish when I worked in that environment. I listened for the noun, verb or adjective combo. Necesito un pedal de sostenido para mi teclado marca Korg Em A Uno. Sustain pedal – Korg – M-1.

I guess that’s all we really need,

Since no one bothers to read. Hey! I’m a poet!

NVDT #90 – Wants and Needs

Part of Open Link Blog Hop

The Prompt (Devolving into Marketing Bullet Points): Write a top 10 list in the voice of a character. Is your character a person making a bucket list? How about someone listing their greatest fears? What does the list they make say about the character?

Well, I was gonna bail. But I couldn’t let Richard take the heat for being the only one to actually write something. Most people don’t want much. Mostly they want to be loved and get where they need to be to get something done.

What Jackson wants The Hot Girl I

It was a sunny Palm Sunday in Oklahoma, and Jackson figured the little chapel in the old St. Mary’s Cathedral was the right place for her to be hanging out and listening. He sure hoped she was. He took all the money he’d gotten in his last paycheck from the restaurant that fired him, five dollars even, folded it and put it in the slot at Mary’s feet. He lit a candle and touched her feet, crossed himself. He hoped she knew he was serious. He’d thought about bringing flowers but going overboard to butter her up was stupid because she’d spot it. And all the masses he’d stayed awake through as an altar server while Monsignor Mumbles rambled on about the importance of creating family gathering Hallmark moments with or without a holiday attached should count for something.

“All I want… is to be cool.” Did she get it? “Okay. Sorry. Real cool, you know, not a, a poser…” Jackson squeezed his eyes closed as tight as he could. “And a girlfriend that’s special, and different, just for me.” There. It was out. Short and sweet, don’t waste her time. How hard could it be, anyway? Mary was like Super Mom. He touched her toes again. The sooner she got on girlfriend and cool, the better.

What Deanna wants The Hot Girl I

On that same Palm Sunday in St. Anthony’s, the oldest Catholic Church in Wichita, Kansas, a few scattered clouds cast occasional deep shadows in the corners of the sanctuary. In one of those corners Deanna Collings, a pretty young girl in self-exile, took all of her money from not eating lunch for two days, three dollars and seventy-eight cents in change, and dropped it in the slot at the feet of another Mary. She made a face while she waited for the noise to subside, folded her hands and softly closed her eyes.

“I want someone who will think I’m special. Just me, just who I am, who will love me forever.” Manners, Miss Collings. “Please.” She lit her candle, crossed herself, and really, really hoped Mary had heard her. She had to, it was a prayer and everything, and Mary was a girl. She closed her eyes again. “Could you put a rush on that guy who thinks I’m special? ‘Cause many more handsy asshohhh… um, guys, and I might join a convent.” And I know you don’t want me in there…

What Bobby wants Bobby BSwampVue

Senior Eldridge stood between Bobby and his son Junior, an arm around both their shoulders, looked over the parts scattered around between the machines and through the open hanger sized door into the back lot of Celitore’s old shop.

“What the hell you plan on buildin’ th’all this shit, Bobby?”

“Boats, Mr. Eldridge. Air-conditioned swamp boats. Came to me in a dream.”

“I was you I’d stop eatin’ Mama Roche’s Jambalaya late in the day. She gets her sausage over to Rupert’s.” He crushed out a cigarette under his work boot, gave Bobby a sideways glance. “Shit’ll make you crazy. Before it kills you.”

What Carrie Louise wants Bobby B – Swamp Vue 

Carrie Louise had on work boots with her cutoffs and tank top, her hand on a SURF LOUISIANA surfboard with a metal room fan bolted to the back end like a propeller driven swamp boat, the board mounted on a pole stuck in half a whiskey barrel full of cement. She was toe kicking the barrel a little harder than absently.

“Bobby, I don’t want to learn how to weld.”

“Every party has a pooper. You don’t wanna learn you can hang and watch me.”

“Imagine the joyous memory that’s gonna bring me in the old folks’ home. Me and that ol’ numb-nuts whatsisdoodley, I forget his name because he was so boring. We were a real pair of weldin’ demons down to his machine shop.” She walked around the surfboard pole, hanging on it like a lamp post. “I want to go to Lafayette before school starts. To a real movie. Not X-Men but something with half a plot. And I want to eat some of that shrimp done up right three kinds of ways like they do it at LeCroix’s.”

“Half a plot with some slow, noisy slobbery kissin’ probably, and shrimp roulette?”

“Only if you make me.” She batted her eyelashes. “If we leave early, we can do all that and be home by midnight, can’t we?”

What Cavanaugh Moreno wants The Great Kerrigan Bank Robbery

“Kerrigan?”

She turned and I could feel her eyes behind the sunglasses. “We’re going to rob the bank, Paro. There, en el medio de la nada, Tejas.

Rob a bank in the middle of nowhere. Shit. My wiser, self-preservationist self, Tavius, the CIA’s order and my recently reinstated licenses all got into an argument.

“What are you thinking, Paro?”

Fu-uhk me was what I was thinking. I said, “I’d love to help you rob a bank in Kerrigan, Cav. What are friends for?”

What Bobby wants Bobby B – Monterrey Mick’s Mad Mods

He kept his eyes on them while he bent side to side and rummaged around in his cargo pockets. “Looks all the hell to me like y’all got business in the Big Red Stick. Business somebody, or a shit load a somebodys, don’t want done.”

“So far you’re telling a good bedtime sto –”

“Forget it, Bernie.” Bobby wadded up his sweat soaked t-shirt and threw it in the Stinger. “That’s almost the story. We got shot at on the bridge, dumped the car south of the barge loaders, hooked it over to the Standard side where a friend of mine left me this boat. Also seems to have left us a piece of shit for a map sayin’ there was a shallow here fishermen used to get from the channel into the Tensas. Along with some shrimp salad my neighbor’s momma made sittin’ on a block of dry ice in a cooler. Shrimp salad still ain’t thawed, couldn’t find the shallow. You’re lookin’ at where we’re at.” He picked up the rope. “We need to get on to Baton Rouge. You gonna stand there and talk or you gonna help?”

What Agent Hyland wants Bobby B – Monterrey Mick’s Mad Mods

The Samoan finished unrolling the silencer, studied Orrin and Paris, both pacing nervously, the two female agents assigned to them bored, leaning against their car. “Think Vernier will burn the money?”

“If she does, she has to replace it from somewhere. We have her trail either way. Speaking of money…” He waved toward Orrin and Paris with the back of his right hand. “Pay them off. We’re done here. No place on Earth smells like Louisiana and I’d like to forget how I came to know that. Soon.”

What Creighton DeHavilland wants Bobby B – Monterrey Mick’s Mad Mods

“How do you know —”

“We’ll get to that. Are you tangled up emotionally, real or imagined, with the lovely not-a-real-parts-girl but plays one on TV Bernadette Evrard?”

“No. I mean, I don’t know if we’re friends or if she’s a misdirect or even authentic. I’m trying to play it flat, like Mitch told me. See it all, and wait.”

“She is who she says she is. And she’d like to like you, as a friend. Something about you cutting her some slack, being a sweetheart instead of a dick. Could you work with her?”

“If it was straight, hell yeah.”

“Good. She’s smart and has half a plan herself. If she’d fuck her way into the entertainment business she could start in prime time but that’s not her. She doesn’t want screen time, short or long term. She wants management. For that desire to benefit us all,” he pointed finger pistols at Bobby with both hands. “I need to redirect both of you to an entertainment vision beyond the ends of your noses. Let’s go eat breakfast.” He dropped his sunglasses back down, stepped around the side of the Porsche. “Been to Malibu yet?”

What Monterrey Mick wants

“Perfect. Me gone with his money and no worries, him here with my estrogen and overhead headaches? Sounds like Shangri fucking la to me.” Mick adjusted his girdle, pulled down his shirt, popped a Xanax and a thumb-sized vitamin. “I have to pull this gig off, man. Eating rabbit food and listening to women talk because I can’t afford to rent quiet ones is killing me.”

What Bernie wants

“Ms. Evrard, you were allowed to stay because you have a reputation for being smart and overly curious when it comes to money. And you can act a little, if need be. You also have a temper and tactical firearms certification. I don’t want you getting the wrong idea when you see us running money in and out of your burger joint project to catch money launderers and end up killing these two boys right out from under me.”

Bernie stepped around to the table, looked at Bobby and Creighton out of the corner of her eye, collected all the papers and handed them to Hyland.

“I would shoot them for that. If I didn’t know.” She leaned over the table, checked the pizza boxes, pulled one her way and frowned. “And now look here, Mr. FBI. I don’t care who your uncle is. If you don’t leave me some of that pineapple pizza, you’ll be on the short list of getting shot right along with them.”

What other hoppers think is here

Yeah, yeah. I’ll use anything for a writing exercise.

NVDT #89 – Smells Like Sunshine and Happy

Part of Open Link Blog Hop

The Prompt: What commercial do you hate? What commercial is your favorite? (YouTube link us if possible) Have you ever gotten an idea for a story from a commercial? Note – 2k read.

Richard Carpenter got “We’ve Only Just Begun” from a commercial, so… I should also recuse myself here since hard-hat movies (industrial video of all kind) and myriad TV commercials were my first day job as a corporate musician and remain a side gig to this day. But I won’t.

My favorite commercial? Smells like Sunshine and Happy. From The Hot Girl.

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

“Jackson… I… There’s a…” her pecan sized ice-blue eyes closed, her lips turned tightrope. She opened her eyes, re-inflated her lips, glanced at the ceiling, breathed a barely audible “Shit…

He waited, his back against the refrigerator of his narrow kitchen, unopened beer in one hand, arms folded like a shield. As if it would help if she went full Tasmanian devil.

On the opposite side of his small kitchen divider stood the very attractive, at the moment very tense Kaitlin Everson, the actress whose lawsuits had roared like background noise on cheap tape through almost five months of his life. She absently tapped her fingers on the divider’s tile top while inflicting minor contortions on her camera-loves-me face, the machinations framed by her signature swept up cascade of lazy ringlets over softer waves that fell below her shoulders.

After a short eternity that was probably less than a minute, she finally found him with her eyes. “There’s a long story, Jackson. About… About why I hate musicians.”

It sat on the counter between them. Awkward, slightly embarrassing. Like having a sun pinked fat man in a speedo suddenly show up in your line of sight at the beach.

“I’ve heard some of them.” He considered the urge to kick start their usual venom laced exchanges, took a straight shot instead. “That’s why you’re here, Kait? To tell me a long story?”

“Alix was supposed… She didn’t call you?”

“She said,” adopting an exaggerated French accent, “‘My love, the lovely and most delighted Kaitlin has telephoned. You will speak with her of what she desires, s’il vous plaît?’” He gauged her. Tense, but otherwise nothing he couldn’t have found in a promo head shot, shifted his voice back to normal. “Since no one living has ignored Alix’s s’il vous plaît, here you are. We could have gone neutral somewhere. Or was that the point, to stay out of public places?”

“No…” she turned, made a slow, right-to-left scan of his place. “I heard about this old apartment of yours. How comfortable and real it is. The open windows, the sounds, the sweet monster dog. And about what happens here. I heard… was told that you had eleven top-shelf L.A. women in here on Saturday mornings all summer with zero trippy bullshit. I had… I wanted, to see it.” She stopped her fingers, took a surprise deep composure inhale for someone usually cooler than a bucket of ice.

“So…?”

“So I sat with Randi Navarro and Cicily Warren at a Women in Broadcast luncheon last week.”

“Rubber chicken and a ‘go get ‘em gals’ speech from somebody irrelevant. What else did those two have to say that would put you in my living room?”

“They showed me their personal bio packs. And they were the shit. The supreme shit. Custom hint-of-color-folders, custom cards, embossed calligraphy, perfect complementary colors, not overdone. Definitely not office supply store print shop ready-to-wear. They said massive taste, and they would be the first ones out of any pile. I asked Randi where they came from and she said you were involved, and that… That I should contact the French lady lawyer who untied our two-little-bitches-in-Hollywood knot. She said to call you and that you, that you might let me in on who does that work.”

He caught ‘Your little bitch in Hollywood knot’ before it got out. “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. Yeah, I’m involved, indirectly, but it doesn’t matter what I think, or 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 hooked up with what they need to advance their career.” He turned, put the unopened beer 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? I mean, now that we aren’t…”

“Suing each other? The truth is, you carried the movie that made both of us and everyone involved all 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.”

“That was the best backhanded compliment I’ve ever gotten. I think.” She 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 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. I justify it by telling myself I’m an acquired taste.” They looked at each other for a few, like a lion tamer and a lion, trying to figure out who was which.

“It wasn’t personal, Jax.” 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. “Musicians were like a, a bad habit until I started getting real work. After I got the full-time job on the soap, I put that part of me down. Some guys I’d known before wouldn’t let it go, and they did some really stupid, mean shit.”

“I can see how everybody I know who buys strings or sticks would miss you.”

“That’s two believable almost compliments.”

“Don’t faint on me, I’m out of brandy. Finish your story?”

“My story is I got tired of their shit and one night I’d had enough and went off on a B-list spandex hair farmer at the Whiskey. It got turned into ‘Ex-Groupie Soap Star Goes Off’ press. With pictures of me screaming and looking all fucked up. Which I was, screaming anyway, about all their lying bullshit. I had to sue them, all of them, to stop it.”

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

“You can bag the grin. Randi warned me if I gave you a chance, you’d find a way to get around me. No matter what I put up.”

“Randi and I went a few rounds at first, so she 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 ex-loverboy 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, the 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 wanted to be the dude in the laundromat. You probably started a whole humongous urban myth about picking up chicks with fabric softener, you being all way wet-dreamable in that almost see-through dress. In fact, I need to call some people and tell them the ‘Smells like Sunshine and Happy’ chick filed a couple of lawsuits 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 lacey blouse with both hands in the center of her chest. “Oh puh-leeeeease, Mistuh Jay-uc-son, you just hay-uv tuh help po lil 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.” He pulled a pair of business cards from a kitchen drawer, set them on the divider. “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 Randi, 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, shook it off. “Okay. Coming here is what about killed me. And that’s all there is? No ‘who’s on top now.’ No insincere apologies, no name calling, no games? No pinch my left butt cheek until it’s purple?”

“That’s it. Well…”

She raised an 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. Hangin’ with you’ll make me look good, and we can bust each other’s chops a little longer without blood or lawyers. You forgot these.” He held out the two business cards, tugged on her ringlets when she got close enough to take them. 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 clean in West 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?”

The whole chapter, Used Dog Food, is here

What other hoppers think is here

Yeah, yeah. I’ll use anything for a writing exercise.

NVDT #88 – Rita Hayworth’s Impossible Dress and Other Lethal Misconceptions

 “The trouble with my husbands was they all married Gilda and woke up with Rita Hayworth.”*

Part of Open Link Blog Hop

The Prompt: What historical/public figure would you most like to learn more about? Would you ever write about them?

I should recuse myself. For two reasons. 1) My mother researched the snot out of someone with the idea of writing a book about them. One afternoon she huffed down from upstairs, poured vodka into a big glass of iced coffee. Which was her leftover float-a-spoon strength regular morning coffee with ice cubes. After a while I asked her what was up. She said: “Don’t ever go deep on any of your heroes, Philip, whoever they are. Because they all have clay feet.” 2) After (a lot) of years as an Artist Relations manager, among other things, I got to hang, work, eat, drink with a number of heroes from my youth and other people’s heroes as well. Not unlike Rita’s husbands. I don’t care what passion, talent, public persona famous or infamous someone has, in any field. They are just people. They burp and fart and put their pants on one leg at a time and might hold a fork like a shovel and make pig noises when they eat. What I’ve discovered is that the stories from the cul-de-sac of pick-a-town are often more interesting than the ones that shaped history. Because first, we must remember that history is written by the victor’s to promote their leaders, and nobody famous or infamous did it by themselves.

I’d like to be the guy that made extra-strong coffee for Beethoven, or let my buddy Monet hit me up for my last five bucks. Would I write about them? Never seriously. All we need to know about them remains. I mean Gilda rocked the silver screen, so who cares how Rita kept that dress on? To that end I offer this little ditty about (mis)perceptions —

***

Alderson watched the green dress disappear behind the shush of the antiquated door closer, let the room decompress. It took him a while but he got around to “Cute girl.”

“Little tall for ‘cute’.”

“You’re probably right. Woman told me, oh, thirty years ago now, ‘Save cute for little girls under three, or grown girls under five-three’. That one was neither.” He leaned back in the leather executive chair held together with black duct tape, propped a shiny shoe up on an open bottom desk drawer. Alderson looked a smooth, tan sixty. I might be the only person alive who knew that landmark was nearly twenty years gone.

“You ever think about a new chair?”

“I’ve liked this chair, maybe longer than you’ve been alive.”

“Looks it.” I was rubbing my index fingers with my thumbnails, noticed it, stopped. Alderson wasn’t paying attention. He stared at the door, manicured fingers laced over his vest, rolled the slim dead cigar to the other corner of his mouth.

“What would you call her?”

“Who?”

“‘Who’ shit, Comparo. The Latin cover girl with insurable legs.” His fingers rippled on the vest. “She must work out. Spanish girls don’t get definition like that liftin’ babies and skillets.”

“Was that racist, or sexist?”

“All of the above. I was married to one once, gives me a right.” He produced a thin, silver lighter from the vest, lit the cigar, the lighter disappeared back where it came from. “I tell people I’m so old I can remember where stereotypes come from, lived a few of them.”

“There’re people who would still argue –”

“And there are people who can still go fuck themselves. I say walk a mile in my shoes, assholes, then we’ll talk.” He changed tone, leaned on “What would you call her?”

“Who?”

“Unless there’s a fuckin’ owl in here that bit’s stale. If it was ever fresh.”

“Some days I’d like ‘Bitch’,” I followed his gaze that had shifted to the gray drizzle outside. Drizzle that obscured the parking lot, streaked the dust on his window, turned the green dress he was looking for into a blur. “If I could get away with it.”

“We both know that’s out. What else have you got?” That sat on the desk between us while I shrugged into my black, not-as-waterproof-as-advertised windbreaker. I checked Alderson, the cigar was out again, our eyes locked.

“Lethal.”

*This quote has been rehashed so many times – shortened, expanded, inspected, spawned social debate. This is a version a friend of mine got from the source when Ms. Hayworth rehashed it during his interview with her for TV Guide.

NVDT #87 – To Epistolary or Not

Or – When a Letter is More Than a Single Phonemic Unit

The Prompt: Dear Diary. Write a diary entry or a letter from your character’s point of view.

Part of (not so) Open Blog Hop. In the spirit of fairness this first bit was on-the-fly.

Darling,

You’re just going to have to learn to like it, Jax. Darling, I mean. Like I have had to learn in Cambridge graduate school from hell that it doesn’t matter what I think, or how outrageous or sexist or complete bull the patriarchal hierarchy spews, I accept it, field it and spew it back. That really gross thing you used to say about ‘education by regurgitation’ is my quotidian existence. Like that one? You owe me a fifty-center in return. And God, Jax, if I thought the world held the line on one opinion I’d quit and come home tomorrow, learn to cook and sew and all that girl shit I kind of skipped on purpose, but I am only two terms away from Dr. Shirotra, who is the female antithesis of the other Dons and directs the women’s studies program. So there is hope.

I heard how Alix had to bail you out of your middle finger trouble in California, and I was like ‘seriously, Jax? Really?’ But it made me think. And the more I thought about how you and Amanda coached me I realized that I am a figurative middle finger with a voice. You weren’t trying to make me jealous or mad with what you said that time about that folksinger dentist’s presentation and her being able to sell ice to Eskimos. It was something you needed me to hear, wasn’t it? Maybe all of this academic regurgitation is my purgatory for not listening when I had the chance.

***

I have used letters several times as a way to stay out of character’s heads. Rather, a different road to their heads to show balance to their behavior(s). I dislike writing things like ‘Jean’s embarrassment over the bar episode deepened over time, etc. etc.’ Because that’s me, writing. Telling. However, letters are a form of narrative disguised as interior dialog. But unlike ‘over the hill and through the woods’ narrative, they belong to the character, not the ‘author’.

In my case, I needed a way for a self-exiled protagonist to come to grips with the consequences of her behavior.

No one letter is representative. If you choose to read them, Deanna’s first series of reaching out and attempting damage control is here – https://philh52.wordpress.com/2018/10/18/3141/

So long as no one is offended or oppressed by an author in possession of a fine arts degree, from a country with colonialism in its past, and you want to see epistolary elevated to art form, check out Griffin and Sabine. A book Kurt Vonnegut called “…a masterpiece in four dimensions.”

What do other authors think? Check it out!

NVDT #86 – Write, or Draw?

The Prompt: Inspired by a comment on a recent post. Discuss:
It never fails to amaze me that ALL the books ever written are made up of just twenty six letters.

Part of Open Link Blog Hop

Once we get past the supreme vanity that there’s only one alphabet, think about how many more books there are out there that translate into a 26 letter system!

What gets me is how many languages have alphabets of more letters, and some much fewer than ours. The Hawaiians have 10? Maybe? Most (not all) Native American tribes had no written language, so a combination of Latin/Roman script (thank you, Monks) phonetics and diacritics serves to form their language from pieces of ours. Arrogant, you say? Who knows. Without a written history once the last storyteller from a tribe dies, they never were. So maybe loaning them a toolbox of letters and a liguist or two to get it down on paper isn’t a bad thing. Particularly when their language is more disciplined than ours.

Step away from our phonemic linguistic form of letters that have no intrinsic meaning to logograms and it’s a whole other thing. I believe a logogram system serves to reduce ambiguity by vocabulary reduction. For example, there wouldn’t be 154 synonyms and antonyms for “cheap” on Thesaurus.com. However, based on context, the hanji means cheap. Or relax. Even “Set your cheap ass in this here chair and relax” with the same character twice would be unambiguous.

And without logogram languages, tattoos (tah-ooze for the Brits) would just go to hell.

Check out what others think on this week’s –

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NVDT #85 – Before and After

The Prompt: Prologues and Epilogues. Yes or no?

Part of Open Link Blog Hop

How do I answer that? Key Lime Pie or Lemon Meringue? Tell me sir, have you stopped beating your wife? There is no good answer.

So I figger it’s like them growed up diapers. Depends, don’t it?

Prologues are backstory or in-depth scene setting. Weave backstory into the piece or drop it in when you need it. Unless the prologue is by necessity of length and serves to define some point of “history” or “perspective” for the story. Or as writers, we find ourselves in need of ‘splaining. As my high school Great Books/English/Lit Studies teacher said, “If you must write prologues, study Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s prologues. Not Dryden’s.”

In that light not all prologues are bad. Will had reason enough to set a plain stage with words. Different stories have different set-up and detail requirements.

I thought I needed a prologue to set up book one of my “Whatever the Title” coming-of-age. Wrong. What I needed was the story of causal events for the essential characters, pre liminality. A true part of the story, not tidbits swept into a neat pile of “Before, and then this begat that and that begat those …” Most of that prologue is up  – Deanna, with Two Ns, White Lies and Dirty Laundry. Here’s my favorite chunk –

Heart

From The Hot Girl – Part One

“Daddy?” Deanna watched her father pull another card from another vase of flowers, put it in a stack with others just like it before he tossed the flowers into a rolling trash can, dumped the vase in the sink and set it on a nurse’s cart. “Why are you keeping the cards?”

Doc Collings turned toward Deanna from the other side of what had been her Gramma Cora’s hospital bed. “So your mother can send them ‘thank you’ notes.”

“Mom hates cut flowers. What’s she going to say, ‘thanks so much for sending dying flowers to my dying mother’?” She hadn’t expected him to wince.

“Flowers are okay at our house, DeeDee. Twice a year.”

“I know. Valentine’s and your anniversary. But you buy mom plants.”

“Sometimes what your mother says is okay, and what she really thinks is okay, are entirely different. She pretends tolerance for flowers on days where flowers are the norm. And tolerance for your brother or you giving her flowers or something fattening is different from her fully accepting it as okay across the board. Like with me. I don’t gamble with your mom. If I know where the strike zone is I don’t get fancy and try to throw curveballs.” He held his hand out perfectly flat. “I go straight down the middle. Living plants, in pots, are in the strike zone every time.”

Doc Collings’ stood silent. His sports analogies worked with his super jock son, but here he was lost. Alone, attempting meaningful conversation with his daughter. Who, since she’d outgrown her Sting-Ray bike and Barbies lived on an intellectual diet of Romantic poetry, art books, Medieval versions of fables and fairy tales, and top-forty radio. And until his mother-in-law’s failing health had sent her to live with them a couple of years ago, there hadn’t been anyone else in their house who “got” the post grade school version of Deanna except their black lab, Hayden.

“DeeDee,” He tossed another handful of flowers. “Your grandmother knew you cared.” He spun a guest chair around and sat in front of her. “She had the nurses hang all the art book pictures, all your notes and poems and Polaroids you brought her. She was so sick the last week or so she didn’t open anything.”

“I looked for this card forever…” Deanna stared at the unopened envelope in her lap, a thumb and finger holding it on each side. “If she’d just opened it… Maybe… ”

“There was no magic in that card that would have saved her.” He ran his hand through his hair, left it at the back of his head. “I know how it hurts when you lose someone you love. In ways you can’t explain to anyone. My parents are both gone, my brother died in the war… If you live long enough you lose people… And the truth is there’s nothing anyone can say… or do… to make it easier. I wish I could, but…” He reached out, put his hand on top of hers, took the card and gave it a long look before he handed it back. “Deanna, when things like this happen? The old saying about how ‘it’s the thought that counts’ is true. She knew how you felt, card or no card. Believe me.”

She searched his face, registered the hurt and confusion. “It’s okay, Daddy. She told me before. About her heart and everything.” She glanced around the room, landing in turn on the stripped bed, dying flowers, empty vases and back to her lost father. “And how if I gave myself time, I’d realize the heart that doctors understand isn’t the most important one I have.”

I could have gone back in time from somewhere in the middle for all of those. Not. That’s an old trick for killing time or a transparent excuse to get a (very) slow story moving.

Regardless of “genre,” the story starts where the story starts. If you don’t have a body, at least be interesting or entertaining.

As regards epilogues, my opinion is if we told the story well enough, done. Judging by a lot of current “literature” I’ve  read it seems to be okay even if there’s plot holes galore. Epilogue material should be handled in the denouement. If that can’t be done rewrite the last couple of chapters. The one exception would be a case of where, beyond the main characters, there’s an ensemble cast that contributed significantly to the whole. Like an American Graffiti epilogue. But that is far from mandatory. Elmore Leonard almost takes an epilogue approach at the end of Touch where he wraps up several main characters in the aftermath of chaos but it’s like American Graffiti, only part of the final chapter. The main players get a couple of lines and the two primaries ride off into the sunset. A “tidying up” denouement. Otherwise, as an editor once said to me, “Don’t cheat. Finish the damn story.”

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