NVDT #79 – Pepper Jack Cheese


Prompt – Do you get story ideas that you know you’ll never write?

Constantly. Scenes, stories, this thing clicks with that visual, what were they talking about, who were they, what was going on and I’ll shell the scene into some characters and, well, they start talking and this happens. The following is a live jam, forgive the slop.

“Either a you morons seen my brother?”

Austin kept his eyes on the insulated half-gallon YETI tumbler he was filling with Coke. “Since when?”

“Since recent, retard.”

“You gonna drop that baby on us right here, Cheryl?”

“Austin, you know that’s not an approved refill cup.” Her eyes shifted to his carbon copy sidekick. “Donnie, you got somethin’ clever needs sayin’?”

“Nope.” He grinned, elbowed Austin’s shoulder. “I tell you what.”

Austin snort laughed, snapped the top on the YETI. “Harper ain’t been around much.” He tilted his cup at the very pregnant girl in a bright yellow and orange over-sized Love’s Travel Stop uniform shirt. “They give you that gold name tag so’s you can give workin’ men shit about their refill cups?”

“Well,” she kicked her hip up against the stainless drink counter she’d been leaning on flat handed, palmed her stomach. “He’s around enough to call me at 11:34 in the P M askin’ questions about cheese.”

“Prob’ly had the munchies, right Donnie? After a long afternoon?”

“I tell you what,” Donnie giggled, elbowed Austin again. Austin got a toothy smile and elbowed back.

“Just what is it with you two ‘tellin’ me what’ an gigglin’ like my twelve-year-old nieces?” She folded her arms, raised an eyebrow.

“Harper hadn’t been good for shit ‘least once a week, sometimes twice since he met ol’ I tell you what. Ain’t that right, Donnie?”

“I tell you what.” They both laughed.

“So tell me what,” Cheryl drummed her fingers on her crossed arms. “Or I confiscate both your illegal refills.”

“Damn, girl. You know what these things cost?”

“I do. And I know what they’re costin’ me in profit-per-square override for lettin’ y’all use ‘em.”

“Listen to you bein’ all Miz manager on us. It’s not like we’re thieves or nothin’.”

“Austin Babcock, it is exactly like you’re thieves or somethin’. I’m gonna count to three. One…”

“Tell her, Austin. Or I will. I love Harper like my bro, but this damn cup cost me a hunnerd bucks.”


“Harper’s got him a girl.”

“Or maybe a voodoo priestess,” Donnie said.

“Yeah, maybe. Whatever, he ends up pretty stupid after bein’ around her. He don’t answer the phone, he don’t show to go pour cement with us on whatever day it is. All he says is ‘I tell you what.’”

“She got a name?”

“I told you, I tell you what.”

“Two and a half…”

“Honest Cheryl, that’s all Harp’ll say about it. ‘I tell you what.’ Says it all different kinds of ways, too, don’t he?” Austin checked his sidekick for backup.

“He does.”

“So where’s he keepin’ her?”

“Marie over to the Microtel said she saw him slidin’ out the side door one afternoon. Since then, nobody sees him on the ‘I tell you what days.’”

“Marie knows. She’s got cameras over there.”

“Only when she remembers to turn ‘em on.”

“Now why would she forget to do that?”

“The casino hookers like that place. It’s clean and half the price of the Hilton. She keeps the cameras off mostly as a courtesy to her clientele.”


“He ain’t lyin’. Not that we know personal about the casino hookers or nothin’. But we asked her after the first time she’d seen Harp do the side door slide if she’d seen him again and she said ‘no.’”

“So my brother’s got himself all tangled up in a casino whore. Jesus.” She came off the counter, hands behind her back, stretched. “No wonder he’s callin’ me at all hours with stupid questions.”

“We didn’t say that…” Austin set his cup down, reached for Cheryl’s shoulders in case she tipped over.

“I’m pregnant, not crippled.” She glared, let it go, patted Austin’s shoulder. “Thanks for the thought. No whore? You sure?”

“Not Harper’s style. An how he is when he comes away from wherever she’s at? Ain’t none of us ever seen enough money to come away from a whore make you feel that way.”

“I will tell you what,” Donnie grinned, hit his YETI, left the elbow bump alone.

“Alright,” she twisted side to side, elbows out, “you two go on. He’ll tell me when he gets to it, I guess. But if you see him, tell him to take his fool food questions down to the IGA from now on. I need my sleep.”

“Don’t expect Harp to do much tradin’ down to the IGA these days. He’ll drive up halfway to the city just for bean dip to save off goin’ there.”

Cheryl stopped her waddle to the front counter, turned, furrowed her brows.

“Laney Carpenter.”

“Austin, puh-leeze. That was what, three, four years ago? Besides, Laney’s a married woman now.”

“Not so’s you could tell. Least not when Harper goes in there. He says it ain’t worth it, her married to that gun crazy long-haul trucker don’t ever wash his clothes or shower while he’s gone. Even heard he cuts off the top of a milk carton, so he has a place to shit so he don’t have to pull —”

“A pregnant woman can projectile vomit for no reason.”

“Right.” He hustled to put an aisle between himself and possible lost breakfast spray. “Anyways, Harp ain’t tradin’ at the IGA, not talkin’ cheese particular since the deli slicin’ is Laney’s little piece of IGA paradise.”

“You tell him what I said about callin’ all hours,” Cheryl barked from behind the register. “And for the record I don’t have the faintest how to tell if the green spots on pepper jack cheese are peppers or mold.” She stood on tiptoe, finger-tips on the counter, hollered “Unless they’re fuzzy!”

Curious what other hoppers use? Check it out here

NVDT #78 – But Before All This Happened, I Was Like, Nefertiri, You Know, In Like a Previous Life


Prompt – What’s your best technique for working around backstory dumps?

Well, flashbacks, dialogue, direct narration, recollection, summary, and exposition. Not in that order.  And it really doesn’t matter. A cliché photo gaze isn’t a gagathon if it’s handled with finesse, the way Helen Simonson does, or woven into the character’s behaviors like Jennifer Egan. Finesse.

However – I waited a day for this one on purpose.

In John Dufresne’s wonderful book The Lie That Tells a Truth he writes about starting in the present of the story. Right now. Not when it started, because scene setting is also backstory, but right now, where the action is. Example –  

Susie and Jill ground to halt in the gravel parking lot. Susie killed the lights on her Wrangler. Jill shuddered, Susie lit a cigarette. “This might not have been the best idea,” Jill said. … oops… Who the fuck cares? Needlepoint meeting? It was a dark and stormy night? What’s the point?

Okay –

“Bitch!” A half empty beer bottle smashed into the chipped linoleum table-top, inches from Susie’s hand. Jill screamed. The jukebox continued to throb out a loud, melancholy country ballad while the man who’d broken the bottle waved the jagged glass hanging from the bottle’s neck in Susie’s face.

Okay, two sentences in and now we have a story. And AFTER the action, here’s the drop.

The cop wore his boredom like it was part of his uniform, as if a woman shooting a man inside Cap’n Ben’s early on Thursday night was business as usual. He licked the end of his pencil, set the tip on a blank page in his open notepad. “Now then, ‘zactly the hell were you ladies doin’ out here again?”

“I had a bad feeling about this when we pulled in,” Jill whimpered.

“Shut up, Jill.” Susie squared up to the cop. “Look. It so happens Jimmy Du-pree run off with Jill’s Amex and a sixteen-year-old from the Coutershine swim team. We been out lookin’ for ‘em. Somebody told us he was trollin’ hereabouts for some oxy to maybe help make her panties fall off.”

“That’d be the swim girl’s panties, not your friend there?”

“Who the hell do you think?”

“Mmm,” the cop scribbled on the pad. “So… you two didn’t call us, you just had to come out an find Jimmy yourselves? This was when, again?”

“Eight, eight-fifteen. We, me an Jill, we was set up at a table. He seen us before we seen him an he knew why we was there, so he walked up, broke a Modelo Dark bottle on the table, made a helluva fuckin’ mess that did, got beer all over both of us. An then him knowin’ I was the one was to give him some shit he stuck the broke end of the damn bottle in my face.” She pushed her palm right up on her face for emphasis.

“An you shot him for that, didja?”

“Goddam right I did.”

“Well, good for you,” the cop chuckled quietly. “He ain’t gonna die on account of it, anyways. Maybe he’ll come away smart enough to at least leave teenage peach be.” He folded his notebook, stuffed it back in his shirt pocket.

“An maybe smart enough to stop stealin’ credit cards from a friend of a woman carries a Glock in her purse.”

“Honey,” the cop looked Susie in the eye, “now you know better’n that. Man’s a pussy an trouble magnet, has been his whole life. Your friend here’s not Jimmy’s first, won’t be his last.” He spit tobacco on the gravel, hitched up his equipment belt, laughing silently again. “That is, lessen that swim girl’s momma gets a holta him ‘fore he’s full on mo-bile.”

The point – anything before the event is extraneous. We know all we need to know about both characters without pages of build up (backstory) and Jill crying at Susie’s kitchen table about Jimmy the perv lothario and us ‘splainin’ everything. As readers we know all that, don’t we? From their behavior and the cop interview, which is part of the action, not a sidebar, or a preface or a flashback.

Flannery O’Connor said: “If you start with a real personality, a real character, then something is bound to happen; and you don’t have to know before you begin. In fact, it may be better if you don’t know what before you begin. You ought to be able to discover something from your stories.” By extension, readers don’t need all of it, either. Start some shit, drop it in gear, get on down the road.

FYI – Storyform is a made up word from Dramatica and has been adopted as trendspeak. They make up a lot of shit over at Dramatica for people who have never studied rhetoric or the classic canons of argument and want to write topical, trendy argument disguised as fiction or sermon specific non-fiction. The difference between backstory and background is purely semantic as they are interchangeable synonyms in major dictionaries.

From the OED  

backstory – noun: backstory; plural noun: backstories; noun: back-story; plural noun: back-stories

a history or background, especially one created for a fictional character in a motion picture or television program.

“a brief prologue detailing our hero’s backstory”

a literary device providing a history or background context, especially for a character or situation in a literary work, film, or dramatic series.

Last two – Backstory the noun was first seen in use in 1982. Prior to that ‘backstory’ was discussed by the various devices used for recollection and dramatic revelation in literature going back to Aristotle’s Poetics. Which is a great read. There’s also some great stuff on Writer’s Digest.

The Big Chief Tablet version is here –https://www.nownovel.com/blog/how-to-write-a-killer-backstory/

Curious what other hoppers use? Check it out here

NVDT #77 – Make It Easy On Yourself


Prompt- What software do you use for your writing? Bookkeeping? Artwork? Calendar?

Scrivener. Quicken. For Digital Graphics Paint Shop Pro (and half a dozen Ashampoo specialty). Outlook.

Scrivener because it works. Where else will you get a novel, screenplay or academic document scene by scene with scene/chapter drag-and-drop capability? No, Leroy gets shot here, and Matilda breaks up with him here. Shit. Matilda needs to become Gretchen. BAM. Global change. I had someone inform me I used the Grave Accent throughout a novel for the French name of a major character, when I should have used the Acute Accent. Morisé, you say? Fixed with two clicks and saved to the dictionary. With folders for graphics, characters, timelines, research – everything is in one environment. I even have folders for scenes and lines I liked, but cut. Because they might be useful somewhere, in something and they sure as hell aren’t coming back from the trash. Except in Scrivener which holds your trash till you dump it, which should be never until you paste it out into a random-scenes-and-shit doc.

There are hundreds of how-to videos for Scrivener. Spend 10 minutes and you can learn to export your book, formatted, with linked TOC, in any format you might need from ePub to PDF to DOCX to the “specific” Apple/Google/Kindle/Nook flavor of the month.

An entire novel, by scene, plus resources visual on the left. I could get rid of them for uncluttered work space, use the corkboard or the notes or the timeline. It also keeps a running word count if you need to hit markers.

Disclaimer. I am not a shill for Scrivener, but I am a huge fan. I was a product specialist for high end audio software(s) and my advice was always buy something stable that will work the way you do. The best software will take into account various presentations and workflows and make automatic the things that should be. Regardless of whether you like post-it notes or XL lists or index cards, or a graphic representation of your work, pick your visual and get after it in Scrivener. I still sketch in Word or whatever is at hand but dump it into Scriv if it’s going to end up over three pages or one scene. And it is cross-platform, including iOS.


Quicken talks to my bank, sorts reports by expense type, by vendor, by whatever. I have been a 1099 guy most of my adult life. You only have to get audited once to know that great notes are your biggest asset. “Well, hell. You aren’t even close to fraud. You just forgot to pay us enough.”


Paint Shop Pro because I started with them way back in the dark ages. Their new product is stellar and a hell of a lot less expensive than the other option. Plus, you get to own it, not rent it. It runs PS plugs. It has a Bob Ross brush set. What more do you want? I rarely create in the digital realm, but I scan and touch up and alter. I should mention I am primarily a pen and ink / black and white person when it comes to rolling my own. Somehow there’s more to Ansel Adams than most of the fade wash water time exposure HD photography I see. I want wallpaper I’ll let Fire TV go random.


Outlook because I’ve used it so long, I don’t know any better. And there’s no two-step BS between it and Windows or Apple either on desktop or iOS. No cloud BS. I plug my phone in, update my contacts and every device I use knows about it. Back it up once in while. Done.

Curious what other hoppers use? Check it out here

NVDT #69 – Whoa! Inter-app Functionality!

ProWritingAid and Scrivener talk to one another!

The other day I pulled the plug for good on Grammarly. Because I final line edit and compile in Scrivener. Since Rev 1. As far I can tell there is no easier way to deal with a multi scene/chapter document. Regardless of how you work. You can be visual, or a retentive outliner, researcher, academic – it doesn’t matter. Scrivener works the way you do. Watch a couple of YouTube videos and you can even stop paying people for your epub formats.

Alas, with Grammarly and ProWritingAid it was always a two-or-three-step process to use them with Scrivener. Copy out, paste into Word or their desktop apps, copy back. After losing all formatting, italics etc. PWA finally got to where it would open Scrivener projects natively. But when reopened in Scrivener? All the formatting, gone again.

After cutting the cord on one overpriced and marginally useful spell checker on steroids I Googled Scrivener and PWA. Lo. Integration. Probably the same ol’ same ol’. Software companies rarely fix what really needs fixing. It should be noted here I was not alone in my complaints and requests for proper integration. Writers’ Productivity Matters, you know?

Today I downloaded, via prompt, the latest PWA. No word about fixes or anything. I opened it, opened a Scriv project I really really really want finished, did some work, saved and closed. Reopened the project in Scriv fully expecting to fix the formatting and re-find all my italics –

Hell No! It Worked!

I had a couple of sync issues that were Windows/One Drive and Scrivener’s problem, tidied that up and BAM.

Working on a Scrivener project in the desktop app of ProWritingAid is like working in a form of Scrivener Lite.

I’m not sure if the world cares or not, but to me this event is a flash of collaborative brilliance.

I am not an actor portraying a Scrivener user, nor am I paid or swagged by Literature and Latte in any way. Scrivener is $49. Jeez, PWA is $79 a year ($59 first year) for arguably the best glorified spell checker. $49 as a one-off to make composition easier than anything you’ve ever used? I’d pay three times that just because

It Fucking Works!