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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #19 – Say What?

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

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

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

“Señor? Señorita? Con permiso?”

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

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

“No problem.”

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

“You read The Friends of Eddie Coyle yet?”

“No.”

“You need to.”

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

Back to the drawing board.

 

THG 3 – CH 22 – Shining Example

Mid August 1979 / Long Beach, CA – Jackson makes it to L.A.

“Shit.” Jackson wiped his forehead with a sweaty dollar-at-the-truck-stop bandana, leaned back in the seat, looked through the glass and a chain link fence at the funky old house behind the parking lot. Grass grown up around an unused lawn mower, a swingset frame, chains but no swings and a pair of bicycles. Next door, to Jackson’s right and past its own overgrown yard with several pieces of long ignored playground equipment was an apartment building. An older, two story shotgun style job with parking underneath an overhang down the right side. There were four windows upstairs, the middle two open and occupied. A blonde kid was looking out of the window on the right and a skinny black guy with three-to-four- inch spiky dreads was parked in the left. Jackson hoped his predicament was entertaining them. He opened the door, thought about going into the bar, finding a phone. Why? He didn’t want a beer and who the hell was he going to call in L.A. and tell them about his car that was leaking coolant from the block and overheating?

“You’re not a regular.” From the little girl in the window. Maybe ten, eleven, blondish, needed a hairbrush. “What’s your name?”

“Jackson. That’s all of it, either way. Story if you want it. How ‘bout you?”

“I’m Sky. My mom’s name is Star, but she’s at work.” She looked down, brushed something off her t-shirt. “Yeah, I know, it’s backwards. Mom should be the Sky and I should be her little shiny Star, but Gramma? She screwed me into ‘splaining that one forever by making Mom Star first.” She shook her head like she had water in her ear, messing her hair more. “Mom, too. She could have given me a real name, you know, that wasn’t more hippie junk.” She disappeared, came back with a can of Coke. “Your car broken Mr. Jackson? My mom’s does that sometimes. Smokes and leaks and won’t go nowhere.”

“Anywhere,” Jackson said. “Won’t go anywhere.”

“Fuck that shit, Mr. Jackson. It’s summer.”

The black guy had been watching Jackson, interested, but detached. Like a man would watch a puppet show or a street mime. “Your momma’s gonna have your bee-hind talkin’ to strangers, Sky.”

“Shut up, Dash. He’s white and clean and prolly lost. He’s not fucked up and ain’t got the shakes looking to leech a pipe hit or for a bindle a freak mighta dropped or nothing.”

“Anything,” Jackson said. “Not looking for anything. Don’t you go to school?”

“Out for the summer. I told you. Are you some kind of teacher? With a broke car? I’m not doing no homework in summer, so you can drop that in the Sky don’t give a fuck can down on the corner.”

“No teacher,” from spiky dreads. “He’s got nearly ex-pired Oklahoma license plates, Sky. I’m thinkin’ runaway. Or maybe a dope mule. Okies need their fix same as anybody else.”

“You a dope runner, Mr. Jackson? There’s a lot of that goes on in the parking lot where you’re at.”

“Nope. Not a teacher, not a dope runner.” He climbed out, sat on the fender of his car and laid out his ‘got lost trying to get to USC’ situation through a chain link fence for a ten-year old girl with a thirty-year old mouth and a chilled black dude hanging out the upstairs windows of some apartments that backed up on a dive bar parking lot not far from the Pacific Ocean.

***

“UCLA is closer, yo, than USC. To where we’re at anyway, ” spiky dreads said. “Me? I’m homegrown Trojan. I grab the express on the corner or catch a ride up the 110 or Ocean, the 405 maybe if I have time. Like how you be needin’ to go when that Day-Glo beast breathes its last. Fact is you need to move your aw-toe out of that lot now, while it will co-operate, or they be towin’ it with you inside. Po-leece in Long Beach need their impound money, bartender gets a piece. Out of state makes you a double hit sucker.” He vanished from the window, came back blowing smoke rings. “Homeless, all that hair and talk of music school speaks such that we may have arrived at a mutually beneficial crossroads, so look here, Casper Jack-sown. I got a no-tow parking pass this side the fence ‘cause I have a place here and no ride. You pull Day-Glo around, park in front or down the other side underneath, number 7. Do the walk through the middle, step on up, hang right. Okies an brothers both second class citizens in El Lay. Less you have some southren background problem with black people an shit.” He held up a pink acrylic bong blocked from Sky’s view by his body, raised his eyebrows.

“That’s how Okies got the panhandle. Texas wanted slaves and had to fit below that invisible line where life on the other side was supposed to be different.”

“Why there’s more Messicans than brothers in Texas. Come on around, my pale brother. Step up.”

***

Jackson eyed DaShontè Calhoun’s apartment with a touch of fear. Not physical fear, like he was in imminent danger. More like what was going to crawl out from under the pizza boxes and beer and Coke cans and dirty clothes covering the old wood floor and bite him kind of fear. He handed the bong back across the open counter into the kitchen.

“They call me the Dash.” The bong got dumped, rinse water turned on. “That’s gospel, about your name? Just Jackson? Shit’s some easy that way. I’m not here much, so we won’t be a trouble, bein’ up in our respective shit, follow? I eat, I drop off clothes till I don’t have any then I find me a lady can wash ‘em. Where I am, most times. At a lady’s place, know what I mean? The rate?” Dash wrote a number on a piece of thin, six-pack carton cardboard, set it on the counter.

“Double that is right.” Research before he left Vegas told Jackson he couldn’t touch Dash’s deal anywhere in L.A. “You really need a roommate?”

“No. You do.”

“Truth.” He toed a Dr. Pepper can into a small pile of other cans leaning like a snowdrift across the back of a clothes covered couch, held up the piece of cardboard. “You sure about this?”

“Indeed. Place be subsidized in part by scholarship. Only fair not to jack you, you bein’ my steppin’ stone in the di-rection of slum lord and bein’ your first day in El Lay.” He measured all of Jackson’s mental machinations, let the room breathe. “Well, my brother, are we to set a shining example of racial coexistence for the entire city of lost angels to follow?”

“Okay. Yeah.” Jackson flipped the cardboard at a pizza box. “Hell yeah.” They shook, slapped skin and fist bumped over the counter. “Phone there part of the deal?”

“Outbound. Incoming, too, were I to know the number. You see, that telephone line is liberated from the egregiously totalitarian and unsympathetic communication monopoly. If you were, say, to hold the flashlight long enough for me to use the tools liberated from said monopoly I could obtain that information. Sadly, the last time I was in the telephone box across the street after midnight someone called in a black Peeping Tom. Po-leece be prompt about that sort of thing rather than involve themselves with the drug traffic and gun play in the bar behind us, so I had to make haste back to my, our, abode. Where the storm troopers did eventually knock and inquire of me had I seen any suspicious activity, as they often do of this entire complex.”

“At one in the morning?”

“Thereabouts. The gunfire we mention to them is never a concern. Howsome ever a negro pervert on the loose is not to be taken so lightly.” The wink was stagey. “Show you the bus in the morning. We bump to USC with your big brown envelope, get you signed in and up and every which way they be havin’ you.”

Gambits #8

Death By Hygiene and What’s Good For You

The case for roll ons- In 1998 Jonathan Capewell, 16, died from a heart attack brought on by the buildup of butane and propane in the blood after excessive use of deodorant sprays. He was known for an obsession with personal hygiene. His blood level of butane was. 37 per litre, the same for propane. .1 per litre is fatal.

Ladies, if you want to off him for overuse of mismatched man whore products simply over pressurize his Right Guard.

There will be no commentary on how many in WalMart are highly unlikely to die this way.

Eat the Liver. It’s good for you.

Consuming even small amounts of Polar Bear liver can be fatal for humans. Polar Bears, like many arctic mammals livers, contain excessive amounts of vitamin A and can lead to acute hypervitaminosis A.

You know the person. The one your age who has 2% body fat, a weave, and brags about playing soccer with 20-somethings and offers to set you up on a regimen of his bucket a day of vitamins for slightly more per month than the lease on a Maserati?

Liver was a staple in school lunch cafeterias when I was young. I never participated. Keep your eyes peeled for that crazy cafeteria lady signing for a cooler packed in dry ice…If it’s not shrimp or crawfish stick with the green Jell-O full of banana slices.

 

 

 

 

RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #18 – Rules

The only rules to remember are the ones that will get you or someone else killed or maimed if you ignore them.

The rest?

I am one of the worst when it comes to “use trumps rules” if it passes the no death or destruction test. Example 1 –

What is wrong with the old Roland Groovebox to the left? I got it stupid cheap a few years ago simply to see if I could resurrect it. I did. I fixed the display, gave it a bath and set it in the closet. Enter curious four-year-old grandson who knocks it over on its face. After that the volume knob no longer worked.  The short version is that I hardwired the output. Wide open. As if the knob were never there. This box will do what it does without constraint. Who needs a volume knob? The knob is only there to keep the user under control. Like computers on supercars. Not there for the car, but the driver.

Example 2 –

Y-Cables. The input of this reverb device is listening to the FX send from 2 mixers, one of them a sub for a stand full of analog gear. I can hear the hue and cry among audio purists. Resistance! Capacitance! Noise! Bullshit. That reverb doesn’t care, the voltage isn’t going to back up from one cable to the other and cause a blackout over half of Dallas. I wouldn’t do that with real current, but for line level audio? Please. Does it work? Yes. Will it blow up? No. Does it sound good? Some things are difficult to quantify. Like diapers for grown ups – Depends.

***

My point? Summed up by Elmore Leonard in his Ten Rules for Writing

“I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.” By golly, we can learn to finesse without the false sense of ceiling rules and volume knobs imply.

“It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing.” By golly again. If a Y cable puts the cast in the same universe, use it. No matter what anybody says.

“(Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.) If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character, the one whose view best brings the scene to life, I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.”

That right there is a “rule” I can live with. And why I try to stay out of character’s heads and let them walk and talk. Because in truth all we will ever know of anyone is what they show and tell us. All that psychobabble digging around in characters heads is simply writers playing God. Writers who can’t, or won’t, relinquish control and let their characters speak and do for themselves.

RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #17 – What’s My Line?

Which one is better?

From Octopus!

1- She made a defiant face, brought her leg down after what seemed like an eternity to Jackson, dropped in the wooden chair behind her and folded over, shoulders to knees like a dying ballet rag doll.

2 – She made a defiant face, brought her leg down after what felt like an eternity to Jackson, dropped in the wooden chair behind her and folded over, shoulders to knees. A ballet rag doll in the throes of death.

I don’t know. I do know “seemed” is not a fave, except used by a character in dialogue because things are or they aren’t. Or the passive -ing, but there are situations when it’s unavoidable. Nor do I care a great deal for simile/metaphor (“like something”). I know for a fact which one hits harder, and which one is typical middle-of-the-road writing. Is there a time when the characters and the scene require softer language than the fist-in-the-face? Does every line have to hit, or merely make its point and keep going?

There is a fluidity of motion in the first that I like, and a bigger picture of emotional distress in the second. The conflict is that we have, in this character’s mind at least, the possible death of her dream. Here’s a person who has been molded, created, trained to professional perfectionism that has run into a wall. Like all athletes, a possible career ending injury isn’t something to be taken lightly.

Further Consideration – All characters are gifts, even Valley Girl ballerinas, and she deserves the best I can give her as a writer, down to the smallest detail to make her shine. Or is that ridiculous?

Next time won’t be about me, promise. But we all face these things, don’t we?

 

 

Gambits #7

Hey, Let’s Go To The Museum!

Body disposal 101 – The Smithsonian keeps an army of flesh eating beetles on staff. Their purpose? To strip any flesh remaining on skeletons before they go on display. Or anywhere else.

“Mummy!”

“Yes, I know, Norm. It’s a Mummy.”

“NO! IT’S MY MUMMY!”

“Mr. Bates, is there a problem?”

“No, little Norman here thinks every skeleton he sees is his Mummy. A Mummy, I mean. A Mummy.”

“Of course. After all it couldn’t be his Mummy, could it?”

No, no. She’s at home in her rocking chair, rotting, er, uh knitting away. Knitting. Away. Come along, Norm, let’s go look at the airplanes…”