NVDT Book Review- Two I Wish I’d Written

Dear Mrs. Bird, A.J. Pearce – Briarpatch, Ross Thomas

Before I move on to a few books that will show up only because they present issues with writing, the publishing industry or perception and I get to a short story that’s talking to me, let’s do these two.

First, it’s rare, and wonderful, to read two books almost back-to-back where I learn things, have other things reinforced and am entertained all at once.

Dear Mrs. Bird – A.J. Pearce 

As you can see from the graphic, Dear Mrs. Bird made the rounds of an elderly ladies’ book club before it came to me. The ladies rated it a 7. If I were grading it solely on the “story” I would have gone 8 or 9. Not that it’s a story unlike any ever told, but it’s written so damn well it could be about changing various model year Volkswagen brake pads and I’d still go that high.

Why – The protagonist’s voice never falters, her presence never out of character, her emotions tangible, her situations believable. The writing is the same. No dips, no sidetracks, no distractions, no over writing, no author anywhere in sight. No slop. I mean no slop. Not that a Grammar Nazi or ProWritingAid couldn’t find fault, but on The Story Is The Most Important Thing level, it’s as good as it gets. I think I had to read one sentence twice, and that one was on me. Emmeline, the lead, reuses a few adjectives three or four times throughout the book, (I checked) but never to where you recall it from the previous page or chapter. They are always in keeping with Emmy’s voice and it’s to the author’s credit that she didn’t hit up the Thesaurus for something that would make her look erudite and her character out of character. What I need to say here is this is how stories should be told. Engaging and never about the author, even when using the most conversational tone. You read this book as a journey with the protagonist, Miss Emmeline Lake, right behind her eyes.

Major Observation Point – The author employs a stylistic nuance that I had to stop and figure out where I’d seen it and Why It Worked So Well. When any phrase or referenced dialogue hit cliché or sloganeering or spoke to a Broader Issue, it’s capitalized. Where, oh where oh where I asked – Aha! A. A. Milne’s The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. As readers, we associate caps with proper nouns, but not in Pooh, and not here. Which made perfect small containers for Larger Concepts and eliminated the need for quotation marks or awkward reference or defining tags. Here’s an example of both, perfectly executed in quick succession —

Miss Knighton, a freckly girl of about my age with pretty green eyes and unfortunate hair, looked at me blankly.


“Yes, which floor is her office on, please?”

“Well”—she paused, as if it were a trick question—“this one.”

Miss Knighton struck me as quite young to be An Eccentric, but I said Righto as I was new and you don’t make friends if you’re standoffish.

– Dear Mrs. Bird

Lifting the quotation marks and the use of a strong verb to avoid the authorial injection of Emmy felt or thought keeps us right in the scene. I can’t think of a better example of This Is My Book, Thank You head time that doesn’t read like head time. Add this style feature to the little things like Dialogue First, Please and Straight-Line Story Telling with one-and-two-line backstory drops where appropriate and you get a book that’s fun, heartbreaking, courageous, and all the other adjectives best left to liner notes and press releases. It was all of that and more for me, and I found Being Emmeline for the journey was Never A Bad Thing.

The takeaway, besides no slop – Find out what you’re good at, Miss Lake, and then get even better. Mr. Collins to Emmeline. A true He Who Has Ears To Hear, Let Him Hear quote if ever there was one.

Briarpatch by Ross Thomas 

More About Me – I set parts 1 and 2 of a Grand Unfinished Project I wrote to relearn writing, for lack of anywhere else, in my old hometown. I named it but used (mostly) disguised or fictional locations. My first editor suggested I change it to a place like that town and not naming it outright. I listened, and in later episodes the protagonist and others refer to it euphemistically, with made up nicknames. I didn’t go back and fix it because I didn’t know how to artfully describe the general geography. Learning is part of why we read, right? Well, turns out Ross Thomas grew up where I did. And this book takes place there, just like early parts of mine, only he never calls it by name. Too bad proximity doesn’t make me Ross Thomas, but now that I’ve seen it done, I get it. It would be easier for me, as I spend much less time in specific, recognizable locations that would need renaming. Further, I knew exactly where this took place when early on Thomas’s character mentions the city as being home to Two Notorious Inventions – the parking meter and the shopping cart. Only natives would know that. Here’s a blurb from Amazon that got it all wrong.

“A long-distance call from his small Texas hometown on his birthday gives Benjamin Dill the news that his sister Felicity—born on the same day exactly ten years apart—has died in a car bomb explosion.”

To whomever—Not Texas, and the town’s not that small. But as my friend Jackson’s California Publicist says, “You can’t be an Okie, even if you are. You’ve got the accent, and Texas is so nouveau.” Need I mention “car bomb explosion” is redundant in the extreme? Enough of Me And What I Learned.

Briarpatch won an Edgar Allen Poe Award in 1984 for Best Novel. The author won The Edgar in 1967 for Best First Book. I know why. This thing screams Modern Noir. The pacing is a work of art. Fast, slow, nerve-wracking, witty, snide, observant, sensitive, deadly–all when called for. Dialogue tags? A page can go by without attribution. It’s not needed. We know who’s talking, and how they say what they say keeps us in it with tone. In fact, I read this as I was feeling guilty about scenes in My Last Work where I let the characters talk without me and decided if it’s good enough for my homey Ross, then it’s Good Enough For Me.

The story(ies) in Briarpatch are convoluted, full of enough Shadowy Red Herring Corners to keep the Spooks And Spies And Conspiracies crowd happy without beating it to death. As one review suggests, watching Thomas juggle and never drop two plot lines is almost as much fun as reading the book. Thomas’s first book weaves four different times and locations. In the interviews I’ve read, Thomas always states that he didn’t know how his books would turn out when he started them. Which explains why reading them you never know where it’s going or what’s going to happen. The other thing that happens, like any good book, is when you put down a Ross Thomas, you’re never where you were before you read it. When big time award winners call Ross Thomas the Elmore Leonard of politics, believe them.

Takeaway “… (A) whole shelf of books with his name on them, in none of which one will ever encounter an ill-chosen word, an infelicitous phrase or a clunky sentence.” From Lawrence Block’s foreword to a reprinting of Briarpatch.

When I say I wish I’d written these two books, it’s not because their subject matter represents the Greatest Stories Ever Told, although Briarpatch is right up my alley. To me, both books exhibit the difference between marginal to good, workmanlike Close Enough For Horseshoes And Hand Grenades writerly output and elite craftsmanship. It’s not simply down to an understanding of the little things, of skilled mechanics and the finesse that keeps you turning pages without getting kicked out of the story. It’s being a big enough storyteller to put your best into it and get the hell out of the way. These two books do that, in their own way, and both represent, to me, the highest form of craft. If it’s not story, it’s not there. The story lines and styles might not be for everyone, but whatever you write, these are Stories About People, and textbooks for How It’s Done.

NVDT Book Review

Just an Odd Job Girl – Sally Cronin

I mentioned I read waaaaay out of my usual Reading For Entertainment sphere beginning sometime last summerFor those reading this you know by now I don’t do book reports. For all the finer points of the story, the characters, the plot, summations and all of that you need to read the book for yourself. All the And Then Imogen Does This or That and Golly What a Laugh are for readers to discern. To me, reviews should be impressions of the Product, not a retelling.

4.5 Stars– Sally always turns out something good, and always has wonderful things to say about Indie books and authors where, for the life of me, the best I could do for some of them would be in the “Nice sweater. It really hides your double chin” vein. That is all to say Sally is a Saint in the world of Indie Authors, and yes, I know it’s difficult to knock on anything that reads like a memoir if it’s well done, and this one is.

So why 4.5 on an easy “Five for what it is” book? Because I take a multi-faceted look at books, and lately I have been leaning on What It Could Have Been barring certain mechanics. In this case a comparison might be made to a five-star restaurant using plastic utensils. We are served a wonderful dish on a paper plate vehicle.

My .02 – Enough mid-life women dumped for the sultry secretary by men too innately stupid to see past the end of their peckers. While late in the book the ex and his wife’s failure to adapt to a baby is humorous, it’s also, as is the alone in mid-life by aforementioned stupid men, beyond stale. This sort of fictional memoir, replete with all the peripheral Mr. Mom letting the “I” binge eat, lose self-esteem and identity and then recover, would be better off leaving all the cliché vehicles at the front gate and entering the missive without them. These well-written, colorful, conversational style scenes would shine much brighter without the cliché tarnish. All a reader needs to know is the woman is single, in mid-life, and has applied for a job. Thinking of all her past jobs before becoming the once Mrs. Haus Frau and preparing to pull herself up by the bootstraps is story enough. Even the blurb could do without the dumbass husband, who we see throughout the book in various positions as boyfriend, non-boyfriend, eventual husband and ex. All we need to learn on the front end is the chump is gone. We’re here, now, with this pleasant, humorous woman and her crazy quilt of experiences and for my money the story is its own backstory and requires no set-up mechanism of Why Or How I Came To Be Here. “I” am here, and here’s some stories.

Does that sound harsh? Maybe so, and maybe it’s a preference. However, anyone who disagrees that tired set-up is acceptable in the memoir format, particularly one that covers a lot of ground, I commend them to Sandra Cisneros’s vignettes in The House on Mango Street or Eudora Welty’s Thirteen Stories. Or even the refried trickster fables of Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus. The narrator, the “I” is on a porch or in a park or kicking bricks in the Barrio and shares a story with us. I can see Sally Cronin’s narrative voice looking out her window, sitting in her garden, taking a walk, looking in the mirror, bustling about town feeling both determined and out-of-place, telling her stories as shorts, without the “I’m here because I married a dick head”. There are reviews out there who disagree and wholeheartedly embrace the Louse Of A Husband set up. Hear this -I am not suggesting jump in In Media Res, but The Odd Job Girl is why we’re here and her stories stand up by themselves. We should meet the “I” as she is and let her talk, sans distraction.

Also on display here is the author’s wonderful way of presenting characters with just enough description to make them our own. There are short gems in here every bit as good as MacDonald, Chandler, pick your author who only needs a line to put you in the characters’ space.

Last Call – If you want to read a Very Good Version of the discomfort and ultimate satisfaction of youthful to adult job hunting, job finding, job doing, re-careering and all the oddball characters and situations you’ll meet along the way, as well as some not overindulgent or overdone Discovering of Self, this is a Very Good Version, ex and all.

NVDT Book Review

Falling – Stevie Turner

Last summer I started reading waaaaay out of my usual Reading For Entertainment sphere. Falling was the jumping off point.

4.5 Stars Is it my kind of book? Not really. Is it ambitious and well executed? Yes.

First off, this is a long book. Back in the 80s it would have been in the Jackie Collins Sweeping Saga category. However, unlike Collins, this is an Epic Character Study, not an excuse for the what-a-web-we-weave with sexual indiscretions across multiple generations.

As an Epic Character Study, I stand in admiration of the author’s tenacity and ability to maintain continuity. Other than that, anything I say about this book would be a spoiler. Indeed, the last line of the blurb is tantamount to a spoiler. I quote—

James Hynde, fortified by several tots of whiskey, climbs up onto the roof of Parker Mews’ multi-storey car park and peers over the parapet. The game is up. The police will soon seize his millions, the Maserati, the London townhouse, and the Caribbean mansion on Windjammer Island.

Should he jump feet first or hold out his arms and topple over and over like a somersaulting gymnast? He closes his eyes, feels the breeze on his face, and pitches forward into the unknown.

Sixty feet below, Olivia Benet, a budding ballerina, rushes along Parker Mews towards the entrance to the multi-storey. Her interview for the Royal Ballet had taken much longer than expected, and she has but a few short minutes left before her parking ticket expires.

James has no idea of the consequences his action will have on his and Olivia’s lives.

See? I’d just as soon not know anything but a suicidal dude’s on the top of a car park and a ballerina is running for her car… I should have to open it to hear the thump.

When I read this book, after the initial BAM, I kept being reminded of a line from Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

“What’s that smell in this room? Didn’t you notice it, Brick? Didn’t you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room? There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity.”—Big Daddy.

I say that because every character in this book oozes mendacity. In fact, after a while when the two leads might appear to be honest, as a reader you are cautious to believe them. Which is a feather in the author’s cap. Telling you why the deuteragonists court each other, ultimately leading to marriage, divorce, a run-in with the London Deli Sandwich Mafia, ex-wife, more deli chicanery and misbehaviors In the country, which are only a few in a long string of broken and super-glued dreams, would spoil the book.

The character cast is deep, well drawn, and in keeping with the mendacity theme. Nobody shows up not wanting something and willing to tell a lie or three to get it. The ensuing Epic Character Study wrestling after each introduction is enough to keep you paying attention. And I don’t read this kind of thing.

The author does an excellent job hiding both the leads’ motivations for the first third of the book, so when the mendacity driven by avarice seeps out, it’s both startling and rewarding. In an Oh Dear, these people are kinds of fucked up way. After that, I felt like there was some occasional redundancy, as no one seems to learn anything from their misadventures and the same ol’ shit lands them in yet again another mess. Short version, male lead has a bad habit or two, and it fucks them up. Repeatedly. And often

I will confess to several trifles with Falling. Everyone takes way too many deep breaths, exhales, holds their breath, blows out a breath, sucks in a breath. I know everyone needs to breathe, but hardly a page goes by without someone breathing as a tag. Breath as a modified noun, breath as a verb. Rarely with an adverb, though. There are a few ‘whens’ and ‘thens’, nothing out of the ordinary. There are some chapter/scene endings that suffer from the same authorial leading as the last line of the blurb, but nothing major. What I call Very Acceptable Book Practices, personal preference aside.

My major trifle was with the male lead, whose addiction, though well written umpteen different ways in umpteen situations that drive the trials of this book, is a one-trick pony. Save for the female lead’s few encounters with shit heads who aren’t the lead. Yep, he’s pretty much bad news from page one and plays ‘the won’t do it again’ guilty puppy routine to the hilt, even from jail, but keeps doing it. Well enough for all but a few to keep buying it.

My favorite part of this book is toward the end when the deuteragonists discuss turning their diaries of life as a disappointing series of lies and cons and lost opportunities into a book, a work of Misery Lit that at once seems to explain this book and gives a post-modernist nod to breaking the fourth wall without coming right out and winking at us.

About Falling. These are some Contagiously Engaging Very Sick Puppies and if the human drama is your cup of tea, the author does a great job of portraying them. You’ll turn the pages just to see who will tell what lie or run their trip on whom next.

This is also, by far, including the few minor gripes, the most well written of Stevie Turner’s books. While I dislike most of her cover art and feel they do a disservice to her content by putting clip art people on the cover instead of leaving them to the reader, this one is so Escher-esque and outside that I can handle it. Take that comment with a grain of salt because Stevie’s books are about people. With at least one character who has a socially predatory psychology. And an author with a dry, dark sense of humor about some of the worst behaviors.

NVDT Writerly Thoughts – That AI Thing

ChatGPT. What’s all the noise about? I’ve been hearing about it indirectly as the better half is a comp and lit professor. Most of her students are literacy victims of no child left behind. The “fear” is that ChatGPT and other such programs will perform a wide variety of scholastic writing assignments, creating a dreadful and dire scenario of allowing the marginally literate to pass into the workplace unhindered by any absorbed education in written communication.

I got news for everybody. They hired the nurse who works for my urologist on her big smile. sing song voice and ability to fill out a size too small scrubs, not her ability to transcribe the Doc’s notes in anything resembling English, or any other language. Trust me, I’ve had to decipher them. And Chat GPT had nothing to do with it. I’m sure her aunt, her sister, her boyfriend or the untraceable resources on the dark web only students are aware of got her through a community college MedTech program that requires at least two semesters of C or better in English comp.

Enough of that. Curiosity and need sent me to ChatGPT. I knew how the ending of Murder in Sepia should go, but I wanted to see how AI would handle it.

Below are the two AI and my version, which I edited to the flow of AI. What I will give ChaptGPT that should be noted by all is that the AI engine writes logically and in a straight line. No elliptical redundanies in the body of text. No bad logic. Too many passive verbs, and I really dislike AI’s tie-it-up endings which reek of author leading. The last line of both generative examples are amateurishly redundant and/or leading. Things we already know, or the characters (should) have resolved between them, stuck instead to a character like an author’s “here’s what to get from this scene” post-it note. Otherwise? I borrowed the intro from #1, the mouse pad and the straight line.

Here’s my AI prompt – write a scene of a woman very angry about Barbie decorations in her office.

AI #1 – “What the hell is this?!” Maria stormed into her office, a pile of pink and purple streamers clutched in her hand. She slammed the door behind her and glared at her coworker, Rachel, who was standing in the corner with a sheepish expression on her face.
“I, um, I thought it would be a fun surprise,” Rachel stammered.
“A fun surprise? A fun surprise is a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates, not a goddamn Barbie-themed office!” Maria threw the streamers onto her desk, where they landed in a tangled heap.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. I just thought it would be a fun way to brighten up the place,” Rachel said, trying to placate her irate boss.
“Brighten up the place? This is a professional office, not a kindergartner’s playroom! And what is this?” Maria gestured to a plastic Barbie doll that was propped up on her bookshelf.
“I, uh, I thought it would be cute,” Rachel said, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Cute? This is not cute, this is disrespectful and condescending. Do you think I’m some kind of child who needs to be entertained by childish decorations? I can’t believe you would think this is acceptable.” Maria was fuming, her cheeks red with anger.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. I’ll take everything down right away,” Rachel said, her eyes welling up with tears.
“You’d better. And if you ever pull a stunt like this again, you can find yourself another job,” Maria said, her voice dripping with fury.
Rachel nodded meekly and quickly set to work removing the offending decorations, while Maria sat down at her desk and tried to calm her racing thoughts. She couldn’t believe that someone would think it was okay to decorate her office like this, and she was determined to make it clear that she would not be disrespected in her own workplace.

Regenerate response

AI #2 – Samantha stormed into her office, fuming with anger. As she slammed the door shut behind her, she took in the sight that greeted her. Every inch of her office was adorned with pink and purple Barbie decorations. There were Barbie posters on the walls, Barbie figurines on the bookshelves, and even a Barbie-themed mousepad on her desk.
Samantha’s face turned red with rage as she stormed over to her desk and grabbed the mousepad, tossing it across the room in frustration. “Who the hell decided to turn my office into a Barbie wonderland?” she yelled, pacing back and forth.
She couldn’t believe that someone would have the audacity to decorate her space without her permission. It was her office, after all, and she should have the final say in how it was decorated.
Samantha was so angry that she could hardly think straight. She grabbed one of the Barbie posters off the wall and tore it down, crumpling it up into a ball and tossing it aside.
“This is ridiculous,” she muttered to herself, still pacing around the room. “I’m a professional, not a six-year-old girl. I refuse to work in an office that looks like this.”
Samantha made up her mind then and there to have a serious talk with her boss about this disrespectful and unprofessional behavior. She was determined to put an end to the Barbie madness once and for all.
*****ME – Friday, Late Afternoon
Bash made sure the parking lot door latched behind him, turned, took two steps, got body slammed into the wall by Candi storming out of her office. “You!” She shook a handful of pink and purple streamers in his face, her eyes on fire. “What the hell is this?!”
“Uh… dunno?” A shrug and mock serious appraisal. “Birthday leftovers?”
“Try again, genius.” Another shake of ribbons. “Well?!”
“‘Well?’ Well, hell, Candi. I just got here.”
“Just got here? It’s five-thirty, Bash. Where the hell have you been all day?”
“Uh… Court?”
“Bullshit.” She reached back, slammed her office door, glared him out.
“Okay, court,” he dodged the fist of ribbons, “and a complaint. Couple of early weekend drunks out on 337 plinkin’ mailboxes with a hand cannon.”
“Yeah? So where are they?”
“Last I saw? Cuffed to a concrete parkin’ lot barrier behind the Parlo cop shop.”
“Not your problem, not your business?”
“Just like these ribbons you need to get outta my face.”
“Useless,” she stomped off down the hall. “God damn useless.”
He leaned across the hall, opened her door to a full-on World of Barbie. Two-foot-tall pink Barbie ponytail silhouette logos on the walls, a Welcome Home Barbie banner stretched across the room, pink and purple streamers hung everywhere. A dozen Barbies in as many outfits strewn across the desk. Several perched on the computer monitor, the desk phone receiver hung from a surfboard between two more. Streetwalker Barbie in a short skirt leaned provocatively against the desk lamp, one in scuba gear stood inside the pencil cup while golf Barbie set up a for a putt on top of a Barbie waving from her Jeep mouse pad. He shook his head, laughed to himself, eased her door shut.
SHERIFF?” Candi’s voice echoed in the hall. “You can’t hide, Harden.” She threatened the empty hallway with the clutch of ribbons, opening the few doors that lined the walls. “I know this was you. CHIEF!? Goddammit, where the hell are you?”
“Candi?” Betty stuck her head out of the foyer. “What’s the matter, girl? All ribbons and no kiss goodnight?”
“Betty?” Candi stopped, let the clutch of ribbons drop to her side before offering them for view. “Kiss goodnight my ass. I tell a story on myself, and suddenly, BAM, I’m a fucking laughingstock.”
“I, um… I’m not sure I follow…”
“I stole a Jeep, Betty. A long time ago. Unfortunately, it was a custom-built, one-off Barbie Jeep.”
“That’s, um… News. To me.” Betty’s chin kicked out sideways, her eyebrows crawled together.
“I didn’t take it because it was a fucking Barbie Jeep. I took it as collateral. And now,” she shot frustrated looks around, “Now,” she held her finger and thumb together, “I let a teeny, tiny bit of myself out and what do I get? HA, HA, Candi’s got a Barbie fetish.”
“Um, you know, AC, you might be readin’ a tad too much into the uh… Barbie stuff. In fifteen years, I’ve never known the Sheriff to be, well, mean, so I’m pretty sure he, if all this,” she flipped the ribbons with her hand, “is his doin’, he must’ve reckoned it would be a fun surprise.”
“A fun surprise? Fun? A fun surprise is a nice bottle of wine or a box of Swiss chocolate, not a goddamn Barbie World office!” Candi threw the streamers into the Sheriff’s empty office, where they landed in a tangled heap on his desk.
“Anything you want me to tell the Sheriff if I see him?”
“Betty, I wouldn’t put those words in your mouth. Just tell him… You know what? Don’t tell him shit.” She wheeled around, saying over her shoulder as she went, “Let him think he got away with his embarrassing little shit show.”
She hit a solid, purposeful stride to the next-to-last door, threw it open. “Bash? You never saw me today. Don’t say a fucking word to—”
“Me?” Harden rubbed his nose while extricating himself from behind the door. “Sorry, Cotton. I didn’t mean to piss you off. I thought you’d appreciate some more redecoratin’ around here.”
“Re decorating?! I try to bring a hint of professionalism to this office, and what do I get? A fucking third grader’s bedroom! And this!” She pointed to a life-size inflatable Barbie doll in a Team USA tank top and American flag bikini bottoms leaning drunkenly against Bash’s guest chair. “What the hell is this?”
“I kinda figured we could put it out front by Betty. You know, like a mascot.”
“Mascot?! MASCOT?!” Her cheeks flushed, “This… THING, is the most disrespectful, condescending piece of man world bullshit since—”
“Gettin’ screwed outta bein’ paid for T n A disguised as professional beach volleyball?”
“Yeah,” she fumed. “Since that.” She stomped out, slammed the door. Harden yanked it open.
“Look, Cotton,” the Sheriff, hands wide, open
“Don’t try to apologize,” she kept her back to them, held up a double handed one-finger salute, “Fuck both y’all.”
“Hey, I was just ribbin’ ya, you know? Like a welcome home surprise. I’ll take it down as soon as—”
“The hell you will.” She spun around. “GOTCHA!” She hit them with a wide, toothpaste commercial quality smile neither had seen before, honk-snort laughed, threw her arms around the Sheriff’s neck. “It’s nice to be home. It’s nicer to have someone take time to do the nicest thing anybody’s done for me in forever.” She reached one arm out to Bash, pulled him in behind the Sheriff and into an awkward group hug. “This is one of those times winning does look like it oughta. Thank you,” Betty stuck her head in the room, got a wagging fingers wave. “All of you.”
Harden, still flushed from the sheriff sandwich hug, followed her out the parking lot door, Bash on his heels. She broke into an easy jog, turned, jogged backward, called out, “Last one to Earl’s gets the check.”
“So,” Bash put on his sunglasses. “Looks like you’re buyin’ barbecue.”
“You’re still a little short in the britches around here to know all the shortcuts, Cochise. But,” nonchalant, “if I happen to be the last one there,” Harden held his sunglasses out, checked them with a squint. “I’ll make a point a writing both your asses up for speedin’.”

Bottom line? I think if a writer is struggling with a scene’s flow, or is stuck on behaviors or actions, this is a great tool. I also think there is much to be learned from a bare bones structural presentation. And, not to put too fine a point on it, I’ve opened books written on the same level, with the same “bad” habits and less dynamic range. And if you use this technology to get past a roadblock and take the time see it as a suggestion, knead it into your own voice it’s free education, not a substitute. Any agrees or disagrees, get after it.

The graphic is also AI from Dall-e

NVDT Book Review

Nocturnes – Kazuo Ishiguro

Two and a half stars. The author is a Nobel winner and these shorts are damn close to a waste of time. Like being on a cross-country flight stuck in the seat next to the mad dude reciting his boring, banal, nobody understands my life situation in a dull monotone.

I read Nocturnes because it was a gimme from the publisher’s rep that my wife left lying on end tables around the house. I picked it up when it stopped moving as it was a heavily promoted “must read.” I don’t know who decides those things, but by reading it, I felt I was doing my literary due diligence. My reaction to finishing it was a resounding “Huh?” I showed it to my wife whose best professorial assessment was “When I finished it, I didn’t feel like I’d read anything.”

I tried, in vain, to find some inner artistry, some deeper meanings, some exotic form of construct and couldn’t. There is nothing in Nocturnes resembling nightfall or music. Save for music serving as a vocational commonality between characters in most of the stories, never as a metaphor or form of construct. No deeper than it played, it could have been any vocation.

In my eyes, Nocturnes appeared flawlessly vapid. A Superficial work about Superficial People, deliberately drawn without a hint of narrative passion. However, in all the reviews and criticisms I read, not one mentioned the thematic thread that slapped me in the face. Selfishness. Every character has their own variation of being under-or-completely unappreciated and the center of their own universe. Marital partners, guitarists, a saxophonist, a cellist and old “friends” all perceive themselves as imposed on, internally or externally, with some mostly indirect discussion/perception of what-is-success.

The flat style made suspending disbelief during the few moments of slapstick difficult. In fact, one scene reminded me of the same sort of one minor thing leads to a real mess in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim but here the pages (seriously) of activity feel forced and the protagonist’s perceived dilemma ultimately leads to nothing. They’re both British, and the humor was on the order of Fawlty Towers, however Nocturnes’ timing was off. I am not one to flip through pages of humor, forced or otherwise, but here I fanned forward a few times just to see how much more I had to endure to get back to a story.

Dialogue and narrative never popped. The style of the book, which I’ll call flaccid, was understatement taken to an extreme. Uber flat, correct, almost clip art construction. The only way I can explain it, and I hope this isn’t too farfetched –

In music, every note played by a human is nuanced. Timing and dynamics. These two things can be captured by technology. Such a capture gives one the ability to adjust a performance to spreadsheet grid “perfection.” What happens when all the timing is corrected to the nearest perfect timing grid and all the dynamics flattened to the same velocity? The music, now perfect and sterile, is no longer musical. That’s this book. To me. And I’m not alone, although I feared at first I might be. That’s sad as the author has a musical background and a Nobel prize for literature. But this ain’t how he got it.

Many, and I mean a LOT of critics, basted this book with more venom than I could mount towards it. I suppose the author’s rep and pre-sales for a letdown performance were grist for the WTF mill. I went into it knowing the author was a Nobel winner and was sorely disappointed. But then they tagged Bob Dylan, so who’s next? Paul Simon? Bruce Springsteen? Ice-T? Before I quote from the New York Times, I should note that the dust jacket claims the book to be a NYT Bestseller.

Excerpts from Christopher Hitchens in his October 1, 2009 NYT Review  – “I became dispirited as I noticed that Ishiguro almost never chose a formulation or phrase that could be called his own when a stock expression would do… But these five too-easy pieces are neither absorbingly serious nor engagingly frivolous: a real problem with a musical set, and a disaster, if only in a minor key, when it’s a question of prose.” You can read the entire in-depth review here.

The washed-out nature of this book, while harping on selfishness and them-using-me-using-them themes and having nothing to do with a genuine sense of place or music, begs the question of expectations of authenticity. Do we read all of a Nobel winner’s work expecting to be bowled over? Do we expect the title to have something to do with the structure? In this book, the only Nocturnes, or that time of day when daylight is slipping away, and the moon is rising, are only evidenced in several stories where the relationships are waning from sunny days through that time when everything is gray and colorless. Now, if that’s what Ishiguro was looking to convey, he made it. He could even now be laughing his ass off that only a few got it. But it turned off even those who went that way. Hitchens again – “Understatement is one thing, but in aiming for it, Ishiguro generally achieves the merely ordinary.”

Worth a ‘note’ – Hitchens also commented on a dialogue habit in these stories and I am, as a student of dialogue, obligated to quote him. I’ll go first. I have discovered there has to be a conversational trigger to get back story in. Even my most verbose characters need a trigger, some give and take. And I have been shamed in the past for backstory dumps. In Nocturnes there is no such warmup. An old crooner pulls up a chair to chat with a roaming pickup band guitarist in Venice and dumps his guts. A guy who hasn’t seen his “friend” in years dumps his guts. This (non-musical) motif repeats so often Hitchens writes – “As if in recompense for this banality, Ishiguro does like to afflict his characters with something like Tourette’s syndrome. Whether it’s Venice or Malvern, it is perfect strangers who are told, without any appreciable loss of time, that the long-standing marriage of the person who is doing all the talking is coming to an end.”

The takeaways -Trickle that backstory. Write like you mean it. Modulate intensity. Look for the word, not the first or easiest, particularly when using an adverb. There are many instances in this plodding book that resemble the lazy Indie where everyone’s action tag is to take lots of deep breaths. What we can learn here is damn near perfect sentence and paragraph structure, in the most boring and technical sense. Almost like AI. That someone needed to inject some peaks and valleys and personality into. That discussion is coming.

NVDT Writerly Thoughts – Books

For the next week or so I will try to regain my rhythm from the last six weeks of chaos. And what better topic than books? I fell behind in reviews both random and owed. I can spend time getting caught up with opinion and observation on those and other things while devoting a few minutes a day to fixing what’s in the can.

The books in the photo are the variety I dislike taking to Half Price Books. I shouldn’t, because they fetch more revenue than run of the mill fiction. But in truth, as I have come to learn, they could be of enormous value to anyone who wants to be an “author”. That points directly back to what I have learned about the Indie species and their 8 million books a year (like the 8 million songs a year on pick your streaming). That is the want to be, or by golly I am because I have a cover authors who, without much background or training throw money and effort at what can be an unrewarding, often hostile hobby. Which leads, loosely, into-

I recently read a pair of reviews from the prolific and industrious Robbie at Roberta Writes. One was about some dysfunctional sisters, the other sounded more like fun than psychobabble. I mentioned to her that the sisters book reminded me of Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.”, a work widely anthologized in prominent English texts for (many) years. By an author who won the Pulitzer and runs with the likes of Faulkner, Kate Chopin, Flannery O’Connor. Robbie’s comment was she’d never heard of Welty or the story but would look them up. This on the heels of words about Virginia Woolfe that were on the shady side of superficial (no offense intended). It left me thinking. Holy shit, Virginia Woolfe is like Mozart or Beethoven. And that’s where the last two books on the right would make a huge difference for all the chartered accountants, software and hardware and nuclear engineers, rocket scientists and volleyball coaches and ballroom dancers and medical assistants and geothermal mineral hustlers and rig hands out there who write from a shallow well of exposure. Which isn’t a condemnation, merely an observation. I couldn’t do most any professional gig that didn’t involve audio or niche marketing.

But I’ve read and been beaten with these books since elementary school. Which is when a lot of folks won an award for writing something. Like my daughter who got published in a national anthology of grade school bards for her poem “Goodbye Eight”. It’s pretty cool for an eight-year-old. However, had she not improved she’d never have made it through law school. I say that not to denigrate early acknowledgements, but to put them in perspective. You know, how come, if we were such brilliant kids, there’s not a Pulitzer among us?

That’s why I hate to drop these books off when I’d much rather give them to someone who could use them. Because I know when I cringe at the output of all these “authors” with stars in the eyes and a cacophony of bad writing habits, when I read published short stories with more holes than Swiss Cheese and half a dozen voice changes or is so stiff and formulaic as to resemble stone masonry, that the “author” is not to blame. Nor are these authors bad, stupid people or hopelessly misguided. They are underexposed. If you want to fix race cars you have to learn how to take them apart and put them back together and work. If you want to write a good story, read a thousand. Read them analytically. Study them like a mechanic, not a worshipper. That’s what the sort of books in the picture teach. Like how Woolf collapses time in Mrs. Dalloway or uses musicality in her short stories. I mean disemboweling art is a prerequisite to understanding it.

I had a professor once say to a room full of us aspiring creative correspondents of the human condition, who all squirmed under the reading load of “lit-tra-choore” that the reason we had to read and write and then read and then write was because no matter how clever we thought we were… dig this…”Ladies and gentlemen, it is because you currently approach the process of ‘authorship’ from a broad base of ignorance and an overabundance of conceit.”

To the 8 million new “authors” a year out there, read. Then read academic criticism, which really isn’t criticism. Here’s a great take on short story writing, tone, construction, and Virginia Woolfe. Not only did she work at it, she elevated it. This is how it’s done. By an artist, and someone who understands mechanics on a higher level. https://journals.openedition.org/jsse/690

We can’t all be Virginia Woolfe. Nor should we feel like failures if we aren’t. But we should learn to broaden our base of ignorance and give the story its best shot, regardless of style or genre.

Oops, here’s a PS to all those who think they’ve invented genre bending and world building by taking a little from here and a little from there and invented something “new”. The mechanics for doing exactly that, (along with a LOT of other stuff) with examples, are laid out in the Norton Field Guide. In fact, while I folded clothes on Saturday I watched an example of how that blending and bending can make money and be terrible at the same time. Cowboys and automobiles. The Three Mesquiteers. Jeezus. John Wyne, on horseback, chasing cattle rustlers in trucks. Now would I have known to call that without having expanded my broad base of ignorance? Hell no, I’d have been happy as pig in poop after I dropped my nickel at the cinema.

Go write something. Unlike me, be sure to write something worth reading!

NVDT RANDOM – A Writerly Thought- Bracketing

For short form read only…

There is a third thing I thought of yesterday when I hit Publish on “Birdsong”

You might not get it if you’ve never been a religious, or in some sections of a society a secular lector, or a scripture reader of any sort or read scripture from a missalette, Sacred Epistle or lectionary, even given a time windowed speech, but here is the solution for ten pounds of words for a five-pound scene.

The chosen scripture etc. is the same as a scene in fiction (Duh). That scene might have a point that can be reached without all the begats and sidebar stories and scene setting or personal anecdotes. (That Paul. He was a real corker). When that happens, and the presider wants to get everyone out in time for a noon kickoff or an early spot in the buffet line, they take advantage of an “abridgement without abridging” trick. I quote directly –

The Revised Common Lectionary, 2012 edition, states “Owing to the overall length of the[se] readings, options in versification are provided for several passages.”

In plain speak that relates to “for short form read only bracketed text(s)” or “for long form include bracketed text(s)” depending on how the editors decided it should be marked. This is not a matter of parenthetical content, but one of ‘for a quick read, skip the hooptdoodle, writerly flights of fancy and excess set dressing and get to the miracle, murder, or other plot point.’

We need such a thing in modern fiction. Like yesterday’s long, downhill brakes-on bit from me. Myself as example of “for short form exclude bracketed text(s)”


“He figures what people tell each other is between them. [Like what they tell other people is none of his business unless there’s a crime in the middle. I learned right off that we keep what we know to ourselves or among ourselves and rely on other people being gossips. He told me he worked on the principle that to most folks, a question is like putting a nickel in their ear and all you have to do is sit back and they’ll tell you more than you wanted to know.”]

In fact, this single example could have several bracketed chunks, pick one, following a simple “No” to the question asked by the deuteragonist. Or, heaven forbid, stricken in total save for “No.”

I do know better. I’ve already made my excuses for tempo…


The result is that as a reader we could be reading along, hit the bracket and skip down to a continuation of what’s necessary and not get mired in backstory, historical context, wordy ‘splainin’, bunny chase dialog and all the other ways we insert ourselves to broadcast, “Look at me, I did some research, memorized a postcard or gramma’s kitchen and I’m writing now!”

Don’t get me started on books that need a bracket on the first and last page. Around the first and last words. I’ve read a few recently.

NVDT RANDOM – A Little Dab’ll Do Ya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NVDT Shorts – How They Get Away III

Clown Car

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

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

“I wanna go!”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Like a pickup?”

“Jeez, kiddo… Yeah. Kinda like that.”

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

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

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

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

“But what?”

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

“She has a pool?”

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

“You are kinda hard to miss.”

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

“Hickey dickey tickey tah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

NVDT Shorts – How They Get Away II


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

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

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

“Damn. I miss a birthday, or what?”

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

Harper looked across the truck bed, raised an eyebrow.

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

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

“What are you sayin’, Harp?”

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

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

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

“About me an grillin’.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s your cut?”

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

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

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

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

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


“I got the post, Randy.”

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


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


“He on his way home yet?”

“Yeah. But…”

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

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

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

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

“Charcoal? What else?”

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

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

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

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

“Inconsequential, infinitesimal?”

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

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

“Oh, great. I have one baby, Harp.”

“And tonight you might have a spare.”

“How’s the gate?”

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

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

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

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

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

“All that.”

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

“Don’t push it.”


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