NVDT #52 – The Story Knows How Long It Is

The graphic is from one of JMW Turner’s sketchbooks. It could become eight feet tall and 15 feet wide hanging on the wall in the Tate, or stay small. Still a great story.

Prompt – “Although I have written a short story collection, the form found me and not the other way around. Don’t write short stories, novels or poems. Just write your truth and your stories will mold into the shapes they need to be.” Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn’t planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?

I believe the works, the stories, find us. They’re out there, floating around in the cosmic radio waves, waiting for one of us to be receptive instead of all “writerly” or “authorial” and there we are. The story sets its own boundaries for disposition as regards length, tone, setting.

Now, having said that, half or more of my shorts are reworked chapters or scenes plucked from longer works. I’ll have need for a short story submission, and “Oh, look. This’ll work.” You could do that ‘excise a short story from a novel’ with any number of novel artists. Those same artists have short story collections full of things that became novels (or didn’t) much the same as an artist’s sketchbook has impressions that may or may not become paintings. Sometimes, as in the case of Turner, the sketchbooks are works of art in themselves.

A different scenario is when a story will prompt with a line from a dead friend or an experience remembered that, when I sit down with it, will unravel into short form. Maybe. In a recent case, several of an old friend’s stories were the foundation for a caper novel. See, there I am again. The story knows best.

Lifted examples – Gator Bait, Octopus

Came this way examples – Like a Violinist, Chesterfield’s Woman (a personal favorite)

Genre is an activity and topic I shy away from altogether. I don’t think about any of that. I am not a formulaic or spreadsheet writer. I write stream of consciousness. Sort of. An editor once accused me of writing “these slice-of-life things”. It came off like I was an idiot for not writing heroic journey or procedurals or a twist murder walkaway or baking cookies with momma or escaping the trailer park or my alcoholic parents argued all the time memoirs. I was proud of the “slice” tag. Because, even if I’m no genius, that puts me in damn good company.

Point – As the quote for this prompt suggests, let the story find you. Write whatever it turns out to be. What did Hemingway say, paraphrased? Write one true sentence and the rest will follow. Where that sentence comes from is, if we get out of our own way, always a gift that deserves whatever it wants from us, be that 1 page or 3 pages or 300. Or 3 of that 300 that needs some air.

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NVDT #51 – You know, brownish hair, about so tall, energetic…

The graphic is from one of JMW Turner’s sketchbooks. You could tell people it’s a Louisiana swamp, Grand Teton Lake or somewhere in the Alps and they’d go, “Well, yeah. Okay.”

The prompt – Do you draw your main characters so that a forensic sketch artist could put them on the cover, or do they belong to the reader?


Not principal characters, not even more well-drawn peripheral characters. There should be enough information to evoke an image from imagination or exposure in the reader and no more.

I’ve been taking my time getting through Hiaasen’s 2016 Razor Girl, wherein the eponymous character is never detailed. We build what she might look like out of other character’s reactions to her (male and female), suggestions as to size, how she walks, how she talks, how she behaves. But not once does Hiaasen stake out several paragraphs to define her.

I realize description is a given in certain fantasy/Syfy/romance/dystopian genres. I mean dirty angel wings, a lizard tail and feet like a 400-pound duck, or six-two, the color of expensive chocolate, ripped, six-pack abs and Dolly Parton’s hair are iceberg quality in that stuff. For me? That’s plenty. For some who require detailed, in-depth physical descriptions, it is not. Know your audience.

I think it is important that we convey enough to make sure the reader gets it, but no more. In the short story Octopus the story lets us know, through the story, the main character is a 22-year-old professional ballet dancer with an ankle problem. There are word drop descriptions of flexibility and this –

Jackson knelt, thighs wailing, in front of the dead ballerina doll’s color of a slightly over baked biscuit ballet bun.

Now we know what color her hair is, sort of, depending on your version of a slightly overcooked biscuit. Anyone who has seen or known or been or even been around a ballet dancer, or taken or had a child take ballet class or watched the Nutcracker is perfectly capable of rolling their own Logan Bevan-Burns. I believe it’s my job to offer the reader enough to put the characters up on the big screen in their heads, and an opportunity to hang out with their version of her. No two experiences are the same if I keep my writerly self out of the way.

Point – in Writerly Concerns #22 I addressed authenticity. You can read the whole thing, or the Readers Digest version below –

Authenticity does not require 200 pages of Irvine Welsh’s phonetic Scotts, or an accurate down to the nails in the shutters description of a side street in the Bahamas or a page and a half of verdant pastures or a horticulturist’s coffee-table book version of Louisiana garden and potted plant life. Or $20k worth of mics and preamps. Authenticity is a few locations, a few props, carried by the story. All the set decoration and character description in the world isn’t the story. Make me believe the characters and their stories without gumming up getting them around, dressing them up and putting them somewhere. Authenticity is the story.

Takeaway – For me. When I sent out betas of The Hot Girl (parked for edits and a new title) I asked for pictures of what the crew thought she looked like. No two were the same. Even with the description of unruly, dark auburn hair (but then maybe I’d edited that out), I got blondes, brunettes, redheads, all attractive, wholesome, cheerleader-y, class president types. Which she was, only with attitude. Someone we all know, or knew. To a person, all the betas populated the story with their own version of Deanna Collings visuals. Many of them were teachers who said,  “I see her every year. All the promise and brains and idealism and I pray she makes it.” Same story, same girl, a dozen different physical representations. As Deanna would say, “I’m like twelve different people, Jackson. How cool is that?”

That’s exactly what I’m after. A story, a journey, that belongs to the people who read it.

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NVDT #50 – Who Does Your Hair, Baby Tarzan? The Yard Man?

But first – if you must use adverbs, use big, unusual ones. Querimoniously. “With complaint”. She stared at the boiled octopus and sighed, querimoniously.

The Prompt – How do you decide to dress your characters?

Circumstantially? Is that an answer? Not that they walk around naked but I might put something on them to set a style or a need. Main characters I will dress for effect but I fall far short of describing them in any detail. For most of a book I have a main character in a tux that fits like pajamas. For peripheral characters, I might not bother at all. Or, I might not bother with names and their clothing is who they are. Easier to see than ramble on about.


Bernie eyed the two antsy, shuffly, rumpled men standing in her doorway at the Best Western. “You’re who, again?”

“FBI.” The one in hooded sweats and ratty Red Converses with frayed laces flashed a badge for a spilt second.

“Yeah. FBI,” the other, shorter one said. He had borderline mutton chop sideburns and was wearing what looked like plaid double knit golf pants from the Seventies, complete with two-tone patent leather shoes.

“Yeah?” Bernie shifted her gaze back and forth between them, her finger twitched on the Ruger behind her back. “Our regulars are where?”

“Hadda go. Home. Back. Home. To the office,” Plaid Pants jammed.

“That’s right.” Red Converse’s backed him up. “The home office. Re, uh, re, uh –”

“Reassigned.” Plaid pants elbowed his partner. “You got the money, babe? We’re ready to move. Out.”


….. The bearded man in nothing but boxers and untied work boots walking toward them with a semi-automatic pistol in his hand didn’t look happy.

“What the hell y’all doin’ down here?” The pistol flew up, popped twice. Plaid Pants grabbed his left upper arm, howled, and threw his gun twenty feet in the air. “You ain’t hurt,” Boxers and Boots raised his voice to command level and directed with the pistol. “Get on over there with the other three. All of you, hands on your heads.”


With a hand on either jamb no beard, Converses, faded jeans, blue and white squares thrift store bowling shirt Jackson leaned in the doorway to Paula’s graphic design office.


In fact, she was getting blown out by an unfamiliar young woman with shoulder-length dark hair, a lifelong Arizona desert tan, makeup barely, and thin, colorful feather earrings that must have been a foot long. Otherwise, she was in business-esque attire except for white high top Converse basketball shoes lightly dusted with glitter and a smattering of synthetic gemstones. Her outfit topped off by a beautiful, unusual color of blue baseball cap with a gold, embroidered M. The seam where the bill and hat came together decorated with tiny pink rosebuds. When Amanda commented on how unusual her outfit was, the girl had called it redneck Victorian casual.


After four takes of doing it for the camera, the Hollywood girl who was on the edge of too perfect from her teeth to her tan to the way her Daisy Dukes seemed to be part of her behind and wasn’t a parts delivery girl but played one on Monterrey Mick’s Mad Mods, dropped a sponsor’s logo covered box full of nothing on a tool cart next to Bobby.


“Wet T-shirt contest?”

“Not so’s you’d know.” Bobby forearmed the sweat out of his eyes, dropped the rope he’d been trying to pull the Swamp Vue Scat up onto the hard-packed mud bar between the north end of Standard Channel and Little Tensas bayou.  He measured the weathered man in worn camo cargos, knee waders and a long-sleeved work shirt. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bernie reach behind her back and go full vigilant. “We for sure didn’t advertise.”

“Most folks, even the city types, they leave a boat in the water, walk the dog with a leash.” Waders took a deep drag on his cigarette, stole a glance at Bernie through the smoke. His sloping shoulders drooped further when he exhaled. “You don’t appear to be natives.”

“Houma.” Bobby waited for the smoke to clear, tilted his head toward Bernie. “She’s Port Barre.”

“Ma’am.” Waders lifted a black Yamaha cap, smiled with a touch of leer. “All the good lookin’ women Port Barre way keep pistols in their shorts?”


The blonde man with the sharply trimmed, dark auburn sideburns stepped from his spot leaning against the tree and fell into sync with Jackson’s lazy amble toward Broadway. The man’s blue windbreaker rustled lightly with his walk, his shoes made no sound at all. He was a touch shorter than Jackson, five-nine, maybe ten. He put out a dense, close-fitting force field vibe like he was made out of bricks.

“I wasn’t going to like you,” ski jacket said.


Kaitlin Everson, the actress responsible for the lawsuits that roared like background noise on cheap tape through almost five months of his life stood on the other side of his small kitchen divider, nervously tapping her fingers on the tile top. She looked good. Dangerous. The swept up cascade of ringlets over silky dark waves, sprayed-on yellow capris and a snug, lacy sleeves to her elbows top. He stayed with his back against the counter on the opposite wall of his narrow kitchen, arms folded like a shield. As if it would help if she went full Tasmanian devil.


She eyed the idling diesel box van that blocked off the narrow street in front of her flat, looked at the two men in daylight. Where did Jackson find these guys?The taller one with long, grown out beyond shaggy surfer hair, blonde goatee, Laguna Beach Tunnel Hustler t-shirt, jeans with holes in the knees and a palm tree earring. Dorch. Sheezus. The other one shorter, wider, a long, skunk striped ponytail, flowered surf jams, untied workboots and spray-on white undershirt over a serious didn’t-get-it-in-England tan was a for-real weight lifter. Torch. Good God, she was up for a second M-Phil being dressed, timed and led around by guys named Dorch and Torch?


The lanky, former All American mid-thirties black guy, overdressed in a trendy, peg-legged weird shade of blue straight-out-of-the-Sixties suit brushed his hands together like he’d somehow gotten dirty on his cat-like climb of the 2×12 plank stairs. He beamed a thousand-watt smile in my direction. “You look surprised to see me, Casper.”


I know I’ve probably said this a thousand times, but dialog will often tell you what someone looks like. To you, as a reader. One more and I’ll stop. Here is a guy meeting a Hollywood Press Agent for the first time. I don’t need to use the words boistrous, loud, any of that. What she says is who she is.

“Jackson, shake hands with Shannon Latouche. She’s our talent press agent for Twice Is As Good As Forever.”

“Nice to —”

“You are fucking killing me. Oh my God. Who does your hair, baby Tarzan, the yard man? Do you own a razor? Smile. Okay, that’s good. Thank God your mother knew about dentists. Take your shirt off.”


“Take your shirt off. Good. You could use a little weight, not too much.” She lit a long, white filter cigarette. “You work out?”

“Yeah, I —”

“Good. Don’t stop. Eat a little more, protein mostly. Grab a burger, throw all of it away except the patty. An extra one every day until you pick up three to five pounds.” She pinched his chest. “Your cheeks will go chipmunk. Five, and no more. And keep them hard. Don’t go up a pants size, get meatier, not bigger. There’s a difference.” She pinched his waist for effect. “Run. Not too much, it kills your knees and I swear to God it makes people walk weird, but it’s good for your complexion. Get healthy. Stay healthy. Be healthy. Take your shirt off when you run. Anytime you’re outside,” she blew smoke sideways, ashed in someone’s nearby coffee cup. “I don’t need the makeup nightmare of dealing with redneck ring and farmer’s tan. Don’t stop working out. In fact, work out more. Where’s that damn phone?” Someone behind her set it on the desk she was leaning on. She pulled a small, green booklet out of her purse, flipped a few pages, dialed. “Olin? Shannon. Oh, you are too sweet. Kisses back. Neck up, this is the guy. Yeah, urban rugged. You’re my man, Olin.” She blew out a short cackle. “You are so naughty, darling. Okay, one of them.” She set the receiver down, looked at Jackson. “What was your name again?”


“Oh, that is terrif. Western-y. How tall are you?”

“Five eleven. And a half. Sometimes three-eighths, sometimes five-eighths —”

“Five-eleven. Couldn’t we just say six? No? No. Do me the biggest and don’t talk so much. I like it, honestly, the little accent, but slower would help. You’re not a hick, the drawl is good. Think about your golden radio voice. Practice on the phone. Call people, have normal conversation, only lower, and a little slower. Too slow with that you’re a Gomer. Tomorrow, three o’clock, with Olin.” She scribbled in the little green book, ripped a page out. “Here’s the addy. Sit in the chair, practice your voice. He knows what I want. You’re going to be gorgeous, I can tell. Where’s the girl?”

Jackson got ushered out of the small office the same way he’d been ushered in. Quickly.



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There are some particularly wonderful words available for everyday experiences. Gore Vidal, writing as Edgar Box (because he’d been blackballed for not being a “right thinker”), has a character say

“…what was that wonderful word they use to describe someone being pushed through a window: defenestration?”

Here’s another one to help us all forget sanitizing, cleansing, political correctness, censorship, mob intimidation to tow the line even in fiction. Ready?

Bowdlerizing – the act of rewriting earlier works of fiction without their “salty” language. Popularized by Thomas Bowdler. Dig this. 1754-1825. His main work was an expurgated version of Shakespeare. He was not the first, as Nahum Tate and John Dryden changed up King Lear and The Tempest, respectively, a hundred years earlier. Lear got a happy ending, sounds like an opportunity for Travolta to make his Shakespearean debut or Hugh Grant to ‘bone up’ on his classics. In The Tempest re-write, Ariel got a girlfriend and more supporting cast members. Like there weren’t enough people on that little island already. Can anyone say Gilligan’s Island?

Why, you may ask, do we need another word for fucking up Huckleberry Finn? Because fucking up is exactly what it is, but fucking it up implies that changing it is wrong. We should all believe that there is something inherently wrong with Huckleberry Finn that needs changing for the good of our eight-second attention span “culture”. After reading this the other day https://raimeygallant.com/2020/07/14/democratizingthepublishingindustry/  I saw intimidation as censorship being perfectly acceptable to “artists” and “creatives”. I replied that this was tantamount to censorship, and was immediately censored. I was even on my best behavior. Still, no room for reasoned argument when marketing yourself as sympathetic to trend speak in an attempt to sell politically correct spineless drivel to watered-down minds.

I read another justification on how this behavior wasn’t blatant censorship by intimidation from someone who said that Woody Allen didn’t have a constitutional right to having his work published. True enough. He can farm it out himself or try Jim Bob’s alt self -publishing. They have accused Woody of being a perv. Proven, I believe. Maybe, like prisoners, he shouldn’t be allowed to monetize his story. But publishers offering a deal and subsequently excusing themselves down to intimidation? Maybe if Woody had Bowdlerized his story?

Look, throughout my career I have made many friends who aren’t “breeders”. But I also like Chick-fil-a. Like me, Chick-fil-a is entitled to their opinion. Just because I don’t agree doesn’t mean waffle fries are off my menu. I do avoid Hobby Lobby, though, because what medications a woman takes is her own damn business, not management’s. Again, freedom of choice and opinion. A rapidly vanishing option in today’s reactionary environment.

I write a line in fiction from some crazy gun-toting characters, “The nigger’s good as dead we leave him here. Let’s go.” As a writer I want to show them as crazy, gun-toting racists. You read that, you get it. If instead I write, “And they were both wrapped in confederate flags and were card-carrying racist Klansmen.” At that point I’m telling and selling, not the characters. Ten years from now, no one will know what a Confederate flag is. It would be nice if Klansmen became obscure. But I promise you until we unweight the “bad” words, no one will forget the N-word. And brothers can blame brothers for that. Check out these racist, sexist, exploitive lyrics as published by Sony for Tinashe’s “2 On”. Anybody from @BLM or @MeToo camped outside Sony? Hell no.  But if I have a street character in proper character say to another “If you a lame, nigga you ain’t making no noise” I’ll be shunned, clucked, tutted and touted as a racist profligate. But for Tinashe and the $? Plus sexist stuff in there is so way gone it’s unbelievable sisters would let it slide. And this is Sony people, not Jim Bob’s alt self-publishing. Where is the outcry?

The New McCarthyism – Bari Weiss’s resignation letter to The New York Times makes it perfectly clear that homogenous, narrow, trend speak is the new norm for fear of social media backlash. Back in the early Fifties, last century for the children out there, McCarthyism was out to expose all the sorry, pinko, commie rat Socialists doing business in America. Mostly actors and writers. If you got called in for being a Commie, your career was over for a while, maybe forever. I recently read several “pop” books from the era. By the various authors’ tones, it was obvious where they stood. Mickey Spillane was selling himself hard with his preaching and railing against the commies, his hero a one-man vigilante against all things commie and our “way of life.” Gore Vidal, already blackballed, had his characters comment satirically about narrow-mindedness in high places.

And that’s the real issue. Narrow thinking. Narrow pleasing. Narrow interpretation of facts and events so as not to piss anybody off. Sanitary little scenes and sanitary characters. Screw that. Sony is still raking in the $ for Tinashe. If you aren’t offended as a woman, not just of color but any woman, and the implication that “you a lame nigga” if you don’t party hard in a Mercedes, then be offended by the dichotomy in our culture of pandering to ANY social media mob oriented trend speak rightness and then backing up to the pay window with your hand out.

Tell your story. Tell it straight. Be true to your characters. Before you can’t. If your ganstas talk like gangstas you’re apt to offend some gangstas. Too effing bad. Like “cleaning up our act” as creatives is going to straighten out the gangstas?

NVDT #48 – Okay, Now What and Other Minor Epiphanies

The Prompt – Have you ever let a story write you into a surprise corner? Do you backtrack or shift gears?

All the time. And I wait it out. Or I sit down and say Okay, y’all, now what? Sometimes it works, sometimes they get way off in the weeds and I whack it back, save it as another file and wait.

Most recent – Fuck me, Paro.” Tave gave me an iron man squeeze. “You did have a plan.” He lifted his head skyward at the sound of an approaching helicopter. “What you got in mind for that?” This, from an exercise. I had this whole final scene in my head. Boom. The story had a different idea. In fact that entire WIP has been one surprise after another.

In the weeds – I had a nice little two-parter coming of age happy ending I wanna be a women’s rights activist when I grow up. The heroine had other ideas. “I need to…” She paused, caught her breath, let it out in a rush. “I’m leaving for Cambridge, the one in England, on Friday. I can finish my degree and maybe get a double Masters, they call them MPhils, in three years, maybe less…”  Great. Thanks, Deanna. So 250,000 words later we’re off in neverland, I’m trying to keep up. They told me how it ended. I gave up. Who has that kind of editing time?

And it wasn’t just her – Her soulmate Jackson, half a world away, shows up to sub for a rockstar buddy winds up inheriting a softball team full of A level Hollywood females   …Randi Navarro gave him a lady handshake, waited a little long to let go, followed it with her big, expensive Number One in the AM TV anchor smile. “Jacksass, Jackson, Jax, whoever you are…as of now, you are the new manager of whatever the hell we are. I like you. And I don’t. So.” She handed Jackson a brown manila envelope she’d been sitting on. “I kept it warm with my best asset, just for you. I’m done with the captain, manager, phone girl BS. I dealt with this ship of fools last year.” She found everyone else with her eyes. “This is my last roundup as trail boss, everybody, then our new middlefingerforward cowboy is up. We play Country Safe Insurance in twenty minutes, right here.” 

I have book two of a serial character in the can – I went back to the undone book one and said okay, whatcha got.     The sixty-foot-long string of fire along the back wall of SwampVue’s old galvanized odds and ends warehouse didn’t go up with the special effects wooomph Bobby thought it should have. Okay. How the hell did we get here?

The list goes on. I’m curious what others do in this situation because as I said earlier I have about 250k (three books) worth of following Jackson and Deanna and supporting cast around, beyond the two that started it. And I’m not sure WTF to do with it. I’ve gotten some good shorts out of pulling chunks. But jeez, you know? I was thinking instead of linearity just dropping alternate bits until she comes back and at last exposes her motivation. Bobby B? That crew is Louisiana chilled so they’ll wait for me to come back from the “exercise.”

What I do when they write me into a corner is wait for what’s better than I had in mind to surface. I can write and write and write and get nowhere or I can listen and answer the doorbell when they call.

I tried to explain it once in a short. Reading further, as always, is optional.

THG 3- Ch 10 – Minor Epiphanies

Albuquerque, New Mexico / Thursday February 15, 1979

The Taco Bell sat up on a hillside not far from the University of New Mexico. Jackson gauged the steepness of the hill and landed on indecision. Six weeks ago he would have popped the clutch, hit the hill hard and hoped all of his wheels came off the ground Smokey and the Bandit style when he cleared the top, landed, drifted and stopped before he hit the retaining wall. All he could see now was his car on its top, sliding back down the hill. He wasn’t alone. The lot was empty except for two Jeeps. The Taco Bell was in overflow, the street so jammed he had to park a block away.

He picked up his order, tried to shake off five weeks in the desert where he’d babbled to the wind before he’d moved up to horses and a big, solemn Navajo. Last night in the Motel 6 was the first time he’d seen televison in six weeks, understood why he hadn’t missed it. He stared at his enchirito, knew something needed to gel besides enchilada sauce and cheese. Quick. The hundred bucks Tony had given him wasn’t going to last long. He took a deep breath, let it go in a low, slow whoosh. He’d managed to re-acclimate to reality but his social skills were in tatters and there was no place else for him to sit. He could pace around rubbing shoulders and kicking feet saying “sorry…” while the plastic cover on his enchirito got steamier or drop into the one vacant chair in front of him, beside her. Long, straight brown hair. A lot of thin abalone, silver and turquoise bracelets and a big leather purse. And an enchirito. He dropped.

“No place else. Sorry.”

“You’re fine.” She said without looking up, checked, just to be sure. He smelled like soap, had on goofy moccasins and put out a spacey vibe, didn’t really look at her. She offered him a friendly on the cool side smile. “As long as you watch your elbows, Geronimo.”

“I do a better Tonto. Less pressure, you know?” He thumbed the lid off the enchirito and slid it under the bottom. “‘Yes, Kemosabe. Me go get horses, put out campfire’. No hero stuff required.”

She laughed. “Careful. This is Tonto Central. You must not be from —” She stopped, watched him dip his spork slowly into the enchirito, turn it in measured half-circles, each lower than the turn before until it was loaded to perfection, last turn in the cheesy sauce picking up an olive slice. She continued to watch, transfixed, as the spork traveled in slow motion to his mouth, none of it getting on the beard he needed to shape or get rid of.

“Religious experience?”

“Had one of those.” His eyes and enigmatic smile were momentarily a thousand miles away, the spork suspended in midair. “Been living in a hogan, doing some work for a Navajo guy. Coffee, fry bread and tamales. Eggs and beans once in a while. This is manna.”

“You seriously think God gave Moses enchiritos?”

His second perfectly loaded spork blew into his tray. She immediately reached out with a handful of paper napkins and wiped it down, caught the question in his eyebrows.

“Habit. Student teaching. Primary. They stuck me in kindergarten. None of them can eat without it ending in disaster.” She reached out for round two of the cleanup. “You’re not the usual muttering vision quest vagabond type we get around here. You flunk out, lose your compass and your razor at the same time?”

“I flunked advanced girlfriend. She went to England, I took a drive.” He rubbed the beard he’d forgotten about. “I was supposed to be in school a month ago.” He lifted the reloaded spork around her stewardship of his mess.

“Took a drive?”

“Looking for Los Angeles. I turned right at Albuquerque and got lost for a month, my survival cash got hijacked. Now I need to hang for a while. Find a job, make some traveling money.”

“Where’re you staying?”

“I just got back a couple of days ago. I can keep doing the cheap motel till I get a job or run out of money. Then I’ll —”

She dropped a roll of papers on the table, slipped the green rubber band off and flattened them into a short stack of Xeroxed ads.

Private Patio Home – Near Campus
Rent Only – Bills Paid
Personal Hygiene a MUST
UNM Preferred

He tapped the address at the bottom like it meant something. “Nice idea, but I’m more U of nowhere headed for USC.”

“Yeah. But you’re clean and not too weird and we eat the same. People call me crazy but I accept things like you landing next to me as minor epiphanies.”

The spork stalled mid-flight. “I get that.”

“Good. One other girl and a guy and no weirdness ‘cause nobody’s screwing anybody. There’s two guys, actually, but one of them owns the house and he’s never there.” She turned his way, her elbow on the table. “He works construction. Sometimes.” She made the universal for crazy finger rotating by her head move. “He wants to write acid head mysteries. Like Castaneda meets Miss Marple? We pay for his house, he eats ‘shrooms and disappears for a couple of weeks. There are mountains of notebooks in the garage.”

The spork stalled again, his head turned so he could see her. “You read any of it?”

“I tried. It reads like what I think happened to you when you turned right in Quirky the first time and missed USC.”

“Maybe it’s contagious. I’d feel better if it was.”

“Don’t get high on that feeling. It’s more like stupid. The best time to say ‘no’ isn’t the next time.” She stood. “If you’re following me I…We can go to the house and I don’t have to hang these posters.”

“Sure you don’t want to audition more weirdos?”

“Seen one, seen ‘em all, right?” She held out her hand. “Carmel. Or Mel. Or Lita. Don’t ever call me Karma. Education and Philosophy.”

“You have a handful, I have one.” He took her offered hand, light squeeze. “Jackson. Front or back, either way. Story if you want it.”

“Later.” She smiled, shook her hair and picked up a key ring that had at least fifteen keys and a long, fringe-y leather thing with turquoise and silver beads hanging from it. “Lucky for me today was one and done. Génene, the other girl? She has a test tomorrow. What do you know about transportation economics?”


“You’ll be an expert by this time tomorrow.”


“Yeah. Look at me. I student teach five-year-olds. Last week I helped her study and learned all about container metrics and Inland Marine insurance and more other kinds of useless information than I thought existed. I can’t believe people get into doing shit like that for a living. What about you?”

“I’m a musician.”

“Oh yeah?” She raised an eyebrow, shrugged her purse up. “I really can’t believe people try to do that shit for a living.”



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NVDT #47 – Excuse Me Your Rules Are Showing

The Prompt – What generic ‘rules’ did you abide by when you started writing that have gone out the window?

“Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.”Claude Debussy

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” – Pablo Picasso

Adverbs are the devil, said is it, blah blah blah. My favorite is Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules for Writing. Of which he said there was an 11th he cut for space, and it is “Throw out all 10 rules if it makes the story better.”

I do not pretend to be a great artist, but I understand the rules. Understood the rules. I got into electronic music, by that I mean as a user not an appreciator, and the “regular” rules went out the window. I know what Picasso was saying. Okay, here’s a canvas and some paint. Here’s a keyboard with black and white keys, knobs and wires. What happens next is not how you trained, but where you use that training to find your voice. And that is the entire discussion of rules. Except for this one.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” – Ernest Hemingway

Back to the prompt – I signed up for an online writing class at Stanford. The course was titled “Setting the scene. The building blocks of story.” I assumed, foolishly, that we were to be instructed in the finer mechanics of setting a scene, “rules” for good ones. I have dissected literature since I was 12, I was ready. Let’s get it on. Wrong. It was the elements of fiction for idiots broken out over 12 or 16 weeks. I want that I have my wife’s PowerPoint. I also discovered that student scenes were to be no longer than 750 words. They could be garbage and “everyone’s a winner” rule applied. I raised hell and applied for my $ back. I got it. My final upload to that class, exactly 750 words, is below. It also exists on my site, but here you go. I broke every rule I could think of, the wrong way. Humorously, of course. No offense to anyone writing their memoirs or cookbook mysteries this way.

The Magic Typewriter, by P. Huston

Looking out his window of the house he’d lived in for 54 years, Bob seen a pickup truck. Parked in front of his house. It was his neighbor Darnell again. By golly, Bob thought angrily, today was the day it stopped. Knowing in his mind Darnell, attempting to avoid the heatwave later, would be sitting on his pickup drinking beer.


About one o’clock in the afternoon Bob, walking purposefully across his lawn, was confronting Darnell.

“Darnell, you have to stop parking in front of my house,” Bob said, testily.


“It’s very unattractive and I do not like looking at it,” Bob replied.

“Think of it as sculpture. Modern art.”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in a long time. I’m not the only one, you know. The Mexican woman across the street is tired of it, too!!!!” Bob proclaimed noisily.

“The one with the little dog that looks like a woman who has sex for money’s bedroom slipper and poops on the sidewalk? I’m awfully tired of seeing that.”

“You wouldn’t see it if you parked in front of your own house,” Bob said, firmly.

“I’ll think on that for a while, Bob. Later. Too gosh darn hot right now.”

Bob, walking away stridently thought Darnell the most boorish person ever to live in the house next door. Slamming his door Bob was walking into the dining room where his mother, dead these 20 years, had kept 183 penguin mementos, acquiring them in her travels as a military nurse. One with sunglasses leaning on a palm tree, one as the handle of a coffee mug. One with a clock in its belly, one…Wait a minute, does anyone really care? No? Sorry. Bob had the cleaning lady dust them once a month never having the heart to box them up.

Well, enough of Darnell. Bob, lifting the lid on mother’s old Remington Travel Riter and sitting and inserting paper and typing he began…


“Darnell, is that beer cold?” his sister Monik hinted, tentatively.


“Could I have a sip?” she asked, hopefully.

“No. It’s my last one.”

“Didn’t Momma teach you any manners?” she demanded, haughtily.

“They wore off.”

Monik walked away huffily in disgust. Well, she thought, Darnell was the worst brother ever but she decided cleverly to walk around the side of the house and hide behind an overgrown boxwood and wait patiently for Darnell to set the beer down and go inside to answer the call of nature knowing he did that regularly.

Sure enough, after a few minutes, Darnell set the Colt 45 Tallboy in the ice chest sitting in the bed of his truck and went inside.

Monik, running to the truck, drank hastily all the remaining beer.

Darnell, returning, tipped the can to his lips expecting beer, then pulling it away, looking down inside it.

“Monik, did you drink my beer?”

“No,” she said, averting her eyes and looking away.

“Yes you did.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes you did.”

“Okay, maybe I did. So what?” she retorted hotly, wondering what sort of stupid big brother thing Darnell would do now.

“Girl, I told you it was my last one. It’s 112 degrees and the air conditioner is broke.”

“Get over it,” she said, dismissively. Turning, she was watching Darnell walking to the front, reaching inside, walking back with something in his hand.

“What do you think you’re doing, Darnell?” Monik asked, apprehensively.

“I told you.”

“Darnell –” And she was looking at her brother. Shooting her in the head.


The policeman leading Darnell to the squad car with another policeman, asking him curiously, “Why did you do it? What were you thinking?”

“Ask the idiot who wrote this.”

“Him?” The policemen guffawed immodestly. “We did. He said this was Limited Omniscient. Didn’t you see it? You got no tags, no interiority. Besides, what’s in a man’s head who shoots his sister over a beer?”

“That’s not fair,” Darnell said, blubbering sadly.   (ooops)

“Coulda been worse. Coulda been Objective. Or Journalistic. Woulda been over a long time ago.”

“Yeah, and we wouldn’t have gotten any lines!” The two policemen shoving Darnell in the car laughing and laughing, thinking they were the two funniest policemen on Earth.


Bob watching gleefully the tow truck pulling Darnell’s pickup away. Rubbing his hands together briskly, stepping lightly to the table he was snapping the latches on mother’s typewriter, closing the lid gently. Darnell was handled. The Mexican woman’s bedroom slipper pooper would have to wait for another day.


Fact -In the midst of the 1980 heatwave a Houston, Texas man shot and killed his sister for drinking his last cold Colt 45.



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NVDT #46 What’s Your Name? Who’s Your Daddy? Can You Write Like Me?

The Prompt – The Publishing Industry – There have been many industry changes in the last decade, so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?

I struggled with this prompt because it’s loaded. Let’s back up an additional 10 years  (2k/2010) to a time when several hundred years of content delivery paradigm disappeared. *Poof* In the last 10 years (2010/2020) publishers of anything creative have been trying to find solid footing in vapor and are currently grasping at all the old school stayin’ alive methodologies to maintain a dwindling income stream. I decided to break it down into a few obvious and digestible chunks and leave out the peripheral observations. Like good barbecue or the Blues. Bear down on the meat. Ease up on the potato salad.

The two most disturbing things to me in the last five to ten years are franchising and blatant nepotism (which includes Brand Crossovers).

Franchising: Take a look at the NY Times Bestseller List. Aside from the usual box office guarantees (possibly) written by the author listed on the cover, there are at least two box office names in bold print. Across the bottom in a lesser font “with Author You Never Heard Of.” I see this quite often of late. I have one on my bookshelf now I bought for $1 at the library. Another James Patterson with another AYNHO. Is this the ultimate fan fiction payoff? Write a story using famous author X’s character’s, not even bother to redecorate the set? Is this the new wave of Nancy Drew*/Hardy Boys/Mack Bolan? Crank out 70 to 115k that fits the costumes for Patterson, Clancy, and others? Parker’s Jesse Stone and Spenser cheesy re-ups? We don’t care if you can write or not, have an original idea or not, we have a name that sells books, send us your fan fic.

Also, of particular note on the NYT list is the Grisham novel. The plot teaser is an author of murder mysteries gets murdered on a resort island during a hurricane. OMG! How original! Didn’t I see that on Death in Paradise a couple of seasons ago? Grisham (maybe) is now stuffing Christie formula for mailbox money? What next? Every murder procedural on television having a parachute failure episode in the same season? Oh really? That’s been done? Ooops.

Nepotism: Anne Hillerman, Alafair Burke, the Leonard boys. Joe Hill and Owen King (Stephen King), Emma Straub, Nick Harkaway (John LeCarre). Martin Amis, Mark Vonnegut, Christopher Milne, Page Stegner, Carol Higgins Clark. The list goes on and on. This is not sour grapes or to say that none of those people are talented and creative in their own “write,” but I am also reminded of two stories from the music business, where I spent my professional life.

One – Imagine trying to break into the music business in the Mid-Sixties. The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Hendrix, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Sam & Dave, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, the Yardbirds, Stevie Wonder, the songwriting and studio machines. That list goes on forever, too. Average Jim Bob with an acoustic guitar is looking for some elbow room in all that? Not gonna happen. Unless Paul McCartney’s girlfriend is your sister, he tosses you a few songs he doesn’t need, maybe produces the session and lo, you’re out of the coffee-houses, have four hit records, and become a music industry millionaire lifer named Peter Asher. I wonder did he ever send his sister flowers?

Two – I recall, in my early impressionable youth, hearing a song on the radio by Gary Lewis and the Playboys. When it was over the DJ said, “And that just goes to show that you can get a record deal no matter who your father is…”

So tell me, you’re an Indie author with a bag of short stories. Good short stories. Tom Hanks has a collection, too. How “good” they are is anyone’s guess. I’m betting they’re not bad, but not the new Hemingway. Whose will be on the shelf with fewer than five other choices in Walmart? Because they’re an essential business and bookstores are not? Yours? Mine? Or Tom Hanks. God knows I respect padding your resume with cross-curriculum activities, and Tom is a very talented guy in many respects. But so are myriad others, who will never even get a read or a marketing dollar because The Brand sells the product for the publishers. Free money. Why look for talent or art when here’s some free money? This is the same reasoning behind bands with tie-dyed oxygen tanks selling tickets at Casinos.

Add franchising and nepotism together, along with a dwindling income stream even from the sure-fire box office draws, vanishing brick and mortar bookstores selling stacks of $28 “NY Times Best Sellers” off the $2 and $5 table, and no real plan for going forward, the collapse of the publishing industry (as we’ve known it) is imminent. Anyone who hopes to catch a ride before the ship sinks needs to think long and hard about what to offer them other than your best shot. Because that doesn’t seem to be what they want.

As Faulkner wrote in Mosquitos, 1927 –

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

“It’s inevitable; it happens to everyone who will take the risk of writing down a thousand coherent consecutive words.”

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

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

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


What I’d like to see in the next 10 years? A workable, equitable, modern delivery paradigm. Something like socialized publishing maybe? No. Or a freaking lottery? Anything beats Amazon et al’s stranglehold on Indies and Big Publishing’s apathy and continued scraping the sides of the already baked cake bowl for $.

Don’t look to the music industry for a solution, even though it went down first. They still haven’t figured out how to pay songwriters in the latest century.

*Not to disparage Nancy Drew, who, like her film counterpart in the 30s, Torchy Blane, were original female cultural icons. Girls who kicked ass and took names and showed men how it was done. It has been written in academia of Nancy Drew’s impact that one would have to go back to ancient goddess mythology to find a more heroic female figure. The analogy being a deity got dropped in the middle of things to right the wrongs against everyday folk. That’s Nancy Drew, role model to generations of Twentieth Century girls. Why aren't one of you President yet?


NVDT #45 – Bachman, Box, Westmacott and Broklifarts

The Prompt – Do you write under a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, would you ever consider it?

No. But there are plenty of reasons why “you” (literal usage) would choose to

  • You write crap. But you’re pretty sure that one day you’ll get better and write something significant.
  • You’re on the lam.
  • You don’t want to embarrass or offend your mom.
  • You obtain your material from the lives of people you know.
  • You obtain your material via access to protected information like medical, legal, financial or other “privacy protected” files through work or “friends.”
  • You want to write something out of your usual content type or style.
  • You ghostwrite.
  • You have more books as yourself than the publisher or public wants in a year.
  • You write for publishing house serials or monthly release shelf fillers akin to Romance or Adventure Hero.
  • You have a reputation, good or bad, to uphold.
  • You are beautiful, rich, desirable, normal, ugly as a mud fence, too old, too young, too fat, too thin, bald, hospitalized, toothless, incarcerated or institutionalized, are vulnerable or have vulnerable family and don’t want/need weirdos knocking on your door.
  • You have an unfortunate birth name. Seymour Butts, Ima Broklifart, Colin Ostemi, Hugh Jorgasm (well, that one might work for certain genres). I could boil this down to the old Oklahoma Indian joke, “Why do you ask, Two Dogs Fucking in the Mud?”

In my part of Texas alone, the original HEB Grocery chain started life as H E Butt Grocers. Urban myth claims his first name was Harry. In truth, Howard. For years, smack in the middle of North Dallas off 635, Dedman Memorial Hospital. Hell yeah, I’m sick. Take me there.

Consider it?

Further to the above, consider the what and why of a few of those who have.

Kilgore Trout haunted Kurt Vonnegut his entire life. Trout was pigeonholed by critics as science fiction and Vonnegut swore that prevented any of them from seeing his work in its true light.

In brighter light, Agatha Christie wrote romance novels as Mary Westmacott and got away with it for 20 years.

Richard Bachman got six or seven on the shelves, allowing Stephen King to beat the “one book a year” publishing mafia restriction before he was outed. Side note, what’s with that one a year? McDonald published three a year in the 50s, plus short stories. There was no public or corporate outcry.

Going deep literary, George Eliot covered many tracks, some subsets of the list above and not all circumspect, for Mary Ann(e) Evans. Separating her from sexist pigeonholing and her existing success as a translator, journalist, editor and critic.

Mark Twain had a “ring” to it that Samuel Clemens did not.

Edgar Box wrote several formulaic, clever, highly satirical, funny, early Fifties pulps. They are a revelation in how much social satire you can pack in a first-person whodunnit. Turns out Box was Gore Vidal.

Box is also a lesson in extremes if you pair him with, say, Spillane’s One Lonely Night or McDonald’s All These Condemned. All from the same time period, all completely different takes on society and politics. I digress.

For me – There is no point in being someone else, other than hiring a person 30 years younger with all their hair and 3% max body fat to do my publicity tours once I hit the million mark. I’m not holding my breath or auditions.

Seriously, I don’t see the point. I have written owner’s manuals, how-to manuals, monthly columns on tech for songwriters, even presentations and columns for (this will kill some of you) Maranatha and the top mag for church music ministers, among others. Under my given name. I thought one time that, golly, what if somebody read something I wrote and protested “No way the dumb hippie sonofabitch I knew could’ve written this!” Or refused to read it because my name was on it. In the general scheme of things it is, 1) highly unlikely anybody would read it, and 2) what’s half a dozen lost sales? Besides, there’s plenty of “me” out there, name wise. Let the weirdos show up in their driveways.

A few thoughts –

Evans used Eliot to avoid sexist stereotyping, among other things. Regardless of the name she used, she was successful.

Bachman sold a lot of books, even got a movie deal, before anyone knew he was King.

Westmacott’s romance novels sold, even without Christie’s name on them.

Box got excellent reviews and sold some books for Signet before the global success of Gore Vidal.

Crossing curriculum boundaries, Paul McCartney has produced, written, and sold chart-topping hit records under half a dozen names.

If you can write, you can write. No matter what you call yourself for comfort, privacy, or any of the myriad other reasons. But a free word of advice – if your last name is Broklifarts? Change it.



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Mexican Standoff

I stayed limp, let my head fall when the whale let go of my collar, dumped me on a dusty plank floor. I took the drop with a glancing blow to the right corner of my forehead. Still, a stiff price to pay for authenticity. I’d kept my head down during the drag for the same reason and that cost me any idea of who was where inside the bank. It had revealed there was very little light. Or sound. The helicopter’s whine and slow whomp… whomp… whomp of the rotors was missing, replaced by a soft hiss and the rolling of air around the room. I cracked my left eye open, squinted through my eyelid. All I could see were Moreno’s turquoise and white cross-trainers a few feet away and beyond her, a dark wood-paneled half wall topped with pebble glass. I knew by the rounded toe of his boot jammed into my side that Whale was on the other side of me, and my hair let me know the top of my head was very close to something solid.

It was so quiet I could hear fabric crinkle with movement, fingers on a desk or tabletop above me. On the other side of the hard thing next to my head, the slight shuffle of several sets of nervous feet. It was too quiet for the now eight people inside and a helicopter in the backyard.

Flyer, over my head somewhere. “Let’s see what Moreno’s brought us.” The rip of plastic perforation. “You do know it’s illegal to impersonate an employee of a government agency?”

“It hasn’t bothered you.”

Jesus, Moreno. You’ve already pushed the envelope, let it ride.

“I told you she’s not as clever as she thinks,” Flyer, dry. “This drive look right to you?”

A lengthy pause. “Yes. The seal is as it should be.” Very formal, with a slight Asian accent.

“She could have swapped it, easy.” Whale said.

“I do not agree.” Again, the Asian. “However, in the name of safety, you may inquire further of her.”

“Cavity search?” Whale offered. One snort from the other side of the room. If Whale moved toward Moreno, it would be time to go superhero. I inhaled slow and deep, fought a dust driven sneeze.

“That’s the problem with you people,” Flyer said. “Always in the gutter. There is only the slightest possibility that someone like her pulled a rabbit out of her hat—”

“Or a flash drive out of her snatch.” One snort again for Whale’s routine.

“As I was saying,” Flyer, dismissive now, “there’s no need for stupid and clumsy. One of you,” a finger snap, “wand her.”

Footsteps traveled from behind whatever I was up against and a set of shiny black boots stopped in front of Moreno’s cross-trainers. The NTSA paddle slid down the outside of her left leg, disappeared up the inside, came back into view on the inside of her right leg, skipped outside, disappeared upward. Shiny Boots betrayed very little motion while the wand worked her arms and upper body.

“Nothing. Not even bra hooks.”

“You sayin’ that’s a free-range pair she’s got in there?” Whale again.

“No. And someone needs to shut el cerdo gordo’s mouth before I do.”

Easy, Moreno. The last I looked you were unarmed and the fat pig had an Uzi.

“Gimme that wand,” Whale said. “I don’t think you checked her cooter long enough.” Shiny Boots froze for a second, stepped towards Whale.

“You don’t think, lard ass, because you can’t.” Through my cracked eyelid I caught him pointing the paddle at Whale. “How about I shove this up your cooter?”

“I don’t have a cooter, asswipe.”

“Yeah? When was the last time you actually saw your dick? Two, three hundred pounds ago? You were what then, eight? Nine?”

Whale started to step over me.

“Gentlemen?” The Asian, more directive than question.

Shiny Boots went back where they came from, I could feel Whale’s foot poised above me. Between my shoulder blades if it had come up and to the right the way I felt it leave my ribcage. The last thing I needed was him taking his frustration out on me. I rolled under the foot, grabbed it with both hands, my left not being a lot of help, and twisted with everything I had. Whale lost his balance. I rolled back where I’d been, accompanied by the splonk of a dropped cantaloupe, followed by a grunt before Whale landed on top of me. I groaned, not just for effect.

“Stupid and clumsy.” Shiny Boots had returned, lifting from my left, with help from the Whale’s other side until I could feel his bulk next to me instead of on me. I groaned again.

“You.” I was tired of none too gentle boot toes in my side, even shiny ones. “Get up.” Shiny Boots grabbed my left shoulder, I groaned in earnest, made it to all fours, Shiny Boots saying, “Watch your head,” while he palmed the top of my head, pushed me backward. “Or you’ll end up like lard ass next to you there.”

Upright and next to Moreno I made a minor production of ‘coming to.’ I bent forward, rubbed my eyes, and the back of my head while I mumbled “whew” and “what the fuck” and moaned while I studied the room. If anyone had seen me dump the Whale, they didn’t mention it.

Once I had a perspective on the room, I knew why. Anything I’d done hidden from view by everyone but Moreno because my head had been up against the bottom of a huge, old-fashioned, pool table-size oak desk. In the middle of it, a computer monitor the size of a Hilton Executive Suite television. Everyone was on the other side of all that except Moreno and me. And down-for-the-count Whale.

Flyer sat behind the desk, his right index finger on a flash drive. Behind him, two Agent-of-the-Month poster boys in rumpled off the rack suits and shiny black boots. Just to his right stood Captain LaSalle’s disco vampire. A ghostly thin Asian, six foot six or seven easy, his shaved head covered in colorful tattoos like the remaining Jumbo security next to him. The only visible weapon was the Uzi on a sling over the standing Jumbo security’s right shoulder.

“You must be Ng.” I focused on the tall Asian. “What do you feed these clowns?”

Jumbo security raised the Uzi, and there were guns everywhere.

“I’m askin’ ‘cause this one doesn’t look so good.” I pointed at the blood on the corner of the desk, and down to more blood oozing from the fallen Jumbo’s head. “How’d that happen?” I had to wait for an answer while Ng pushed his Jumbo’s Uzi down and the agent twins to put their matching Kel-Tecs back inside their suit coats.

“Thought he was about to stomp you,” the agent who’d pulled me up said. “Pissed off about not getting his snatch check.”

“Then,” his agent twin suppressing laughter, “the fat, one-legged bastard lost his balance, whacked his fuckin’ head on the desk.”

“Serves him right,” Moreno gave me a quick sideways glance, “for being a pig.”

“Yes, it does, and so he was.” Flyer reached in an outside pocket of his suit coat, pulled out the evidence bag with the knife I supposedly used to kill Third Eye Horseapple Nose. “But your turn, for being a royal pain in my ass, is coming.” He must’ve read my mind because he turned to me saying, “When the time comes it will appear you killed her with this,” showing me the knife. “Then you’ll kill yourself.”

“What if that’s unacceptable?”

“We’ll take care of the details for you.”

This bank robbery of yours is getting better by the minute, Moreno.

“So where’d you get the knife? Tavius been one of yours all along?”

“I wouldn’t have him as a gift, Paro. Let me tell you about Tavius,” Flyer lifted the flash drive now, tilted it my way. “You understand disposable. Understand this. This man, this record-setting, blue-chip running back blows out of Louisiana like a hurricane,” anger rising in his voice. “He’s going to be Army’s great black hope. Maybe even a Heisman candidate. His sole mission in life to get us into an actual bowl game. A legitimate one, not the Bears Shit in the Woods bowl or the Microwave Mystery Meat Burrito bowl or some other pity fuck bowl, but a real bowl game. Army. Against, oh, Oklahoma. Or Georgia. Michigan, Ohio State, Miami. Fuck, who cares? Anybody with a program. What’s he do? He gets hurt. The fucking pansy gets hurt, can’t play. We still have to educate his ass and give him a fucking job?” We held eye contact, Flyer pointing the flash drive, some kind of professor, I should understand his thinking. I’d never understand these guys.

“All well and good,” Ng, bored with Tavius’ blown recruiting and Army stuck in the bargain basement of pity fuck bowls history lesson. “May we continue?”

“Right.” Flyer broke with me, turned his attention to the monitor.

“Excellent.” Ng stepped closer to Flyer, bent down, their heads level, both staring at the monitor. Ng flicked his left wrist and produced a flash drive like a magician pops a plastic flower out of his sleeve.

“What’s that?” There was something in Moreno’s voice that worried me.

“This, Ms. Moreno,” Ng said, not taking his eyes off the monitor, “is why I remain unconcerned about your having replaced the original drive. A child with a rudimentary grasp of technology can reproduce even the most sophisticated microscopic etching and electronic seals.” He took Flyer’s drive, poked it in a slot on the side of the monitor, continued to watch the screen. “But this,” holding up his drive again, “will run a check on the data in the device you delivered.” He felt down the edge of the monitor, inserted his drive in a vacant slot. “If for any reason they should disagree, I will cut off pieces of your friend until you tell us what you’ve done with the proper device. If you outlast him, I will start over with you.” He raised his eyes from the monitor to hers. “If you know anything we should know, inform us now. You will be saving us all valuable time and your friend considerable pain.”

Madre de Dios, Moreno. If you ever even thought about it, tell him. Now!

Satisfied with her silence, Ng dropped his eyes back to the screen. “Shall we?” He tapped a slim keyboard on the desk.


We waited, Flyer and Ng engrossed in whatever was happening on the monitor, the Agent Twins and remaining Jumbo feigning indifference. The bank was air-conditioned, air flowing up from vents in the floor. I was sweating.

Ng and Flyer gave each other looks that said Moreno hadn’t screwed with the drive, ill-gotten gain was having an excellent day and I wouldn’t be any losing parts. Yet. Ng tapped the keyboard again, pulled his drive, stepped back, pleased with himself. “Congratulations Ms. Moreno. Your delivery passed the test. Flyer, you may execute the transfers.” Flyer reached out, tapped the keyboard.

I don’t know what happened on the monitor, but Ng’s eyes went ping pong balls. He pulled a long-nosed .22 target pistol out of the tight pea-green suit. With his composure disintegrating he pointed the pistol at Flyer’s head, screamed in falsetto, “You fucking idiot!”

All the guns came out again. Jumbo’s on Flyer with Ng’s, the Agent Twins, one on Jumbo, one on Ng. No one in the bank gave us a thought except Whale, who moaned, tried to sit up. I reached down, grabbed his Uzi, tossed Moreno my Walther no one had bothered to search me for. I pushed moaning Jumbo back down with my foot on his throat, my Uzi on the other Jumbo. From where I stood, Moreno’s aim centered on Flyer.

“Mexican standoff,” I shrugged my sore shoulder, Moreno saying to Ng, “Tell us about it.”

“The drive, this idiot…” Ng was shaking, his high, girlish scream only slightly modified. “It didn’t open the accounts. It’s, it’s fucking eating itself!”

Moreno stepped to the desk, leaned in, her gun still on Flyer, turned the monitor halfway around. She watched lines of code stream for a few seconds. “So it is,” and turned the monitor back.

NO!” Ng, almost in tears. “Goddam you!” The pistol came back level with Flyer’s head, wavered toward Moreno, not knowing who to blame.

“Put the gun away, Ng.”

“What?” He looked at me, lost, his entire universe collapsing on the monitor.

“Put the gun away,” I repeated. “There’re people in here I’d rather shoot than you, but you’re the flash point. Get your shit together, put the gun away, we all get to breathe a little longer.”

“What?” Again, like I was a bad dream.

“I shoot you,” I nodded at the agents. “They shoot Jumbo. I think she’ll shoot Flyer. We take our chances with the agents.”

“Oh…” Ng, bewildered, lowered his pistol. Flyer reached for it.

“Nuh-uh, cabrón. Leave it.” In that moment, by tone of voice alone, I thought Moreno might have shot Flyer in the forehead just to see the look on his face.

An explosion outside rocked the bank. Another, smaller explosion blew open the back door allowing white, sulfurous smoke to pour in. A shotgun blast through the smokescreen knocked the last Jumbo off his feet. When the smoke cleared Rip Taylor stood in the hole that had been the incongruous steel back door, shotgun in hand. “Ng? Sorry, lyin’ cocksucker. You owe me six million dollars, an airplane and a woman.”


NVDT #44 – Characters

The Prompt – What are your favorite kind of characters to create? To read?

I don’t create characters. They show up. Unexpectedly, at inopportune moments, always with something to say. Even in this first-person thing I’ve almost completed that started as a clinical exercise. They write me into corners, change course, change their minds. Particularly in this one. Exerting any measure of control is a waste of time. I always say, “Let the story tell itself.” Which means let the characters tell it. And they will, even if they have to bump me from my chair to get on with it. Something that really surprised me with an exercise. I should have known better. I’ve tried exercises before, and they’ve always gotten away from me.

You have to understand. I wanted to write forever. I walked out of college because I refused to regurgitate the opinions of tweedy professors. “Hold on,” I said, “I did this as a freshman in high school. Where’s the good parts? Where’re the prompts? When do we write?” We didn’t. We wrote more book reports. So I walked.

When I first began writing again in 2016 after a long hiatus in the music biz, I sat down, started something, it sucked. After two or three days I sat in my chair, staring at the monitor, bummed. Woe is me. Then, as always happens to me, a doorbell goes off in my head. This time a girl named Deanna Collings appeared on my shoulder. “Yeah it pretty much does really suck,” she said, “and you know better. Writing is just like music. So erase all that junk and listen. I’m the story you want to tell. I’ll tell it, you write it.”

They ALL do that. If I struggle with their names they mope, stay quiet until I hear it. Then, BAM, they have a voice. They have production meetings without me, show up in my head. It’s all I can do to keep up.

What kind of characters do I like? Characters who talk and it’s believable. Who do believable things. Even if they do a few unbelievable things, that’s okay. Like Cary Grant in North by Northwest. Or most Hitchock. Average person has to step into the breech.

What I don’t like is cliché characters unless they are well-drawn. Which is why I love Laura Levine’s fluffy Jaine Austen series. Jaine is a cliché of her own. Underemployed, frequently caught with dinner on her blouse, paint in her hair and wishing her pants fit. Yes, Laura’s screenwriter shows, she telegraphs some things. But her books are streamlined, a breeze to read and I never feel slimed or shorted or steamrollered, just out of breath and looking for chocolate with Jaine. Laura’s peripheral characters are better drawn than most stereotypes. Not just that you know a smarmy real estate agent, but you know this one. With no effort. Effortless characters, that’s what I like. John D. MacDonald and Elmore Leonard are rocket scientists that way.

I like to hang out with my characters, no matter what they do. I say never worry about your characters or your story, they’ll sort it for you. I’m curious to see how others work theirs. And because I’m still going to stick writing in here anyway, here’s one where I never saw any of this coming. You can read it if you wish.

From Bobby B.- Monterrey Mick’s Mad Mods

Bernie was laughing when she answered the knock on Bobby’s apartment door. Monterrey Mick pushed her and the door into the wall, lurched into the compact living room.

“Mick? What the — ”

“Shut up.” He reached across himself with his left hand, spun her, shoved her at the round kitchen table littered with wadded up Taco Mejor wrappers, her purse and several open file folders. Bobby and Creighton sat on the far side of the table with three opaque plastic champagne flutes and an open bottle of champagne.

Bernie recovered, shoved Mick’s shoulder. “Look, jerkwad, I get enough of your shit on the clock.” She started to shove him again, and he pushed her back.

“No, you look.” Mick pulled a ridiculously long-barreled, nickel-plated wild west revolver out of his jacket. He wavered for a few seconds, like the weight of the gun had altered his balance. “All of you look.” He leveled the TV gunslinger special on each of his targets, moved it back and forth between them. “Two million. That’s all I want. All I ever wanted. Two mill and I’m out of here, nobody gets hurt.”

“That line is beyond stale, even in Hollywood.” Creighton took a sip from one of the plastic glasses. “Christmas Eve, Mick. Money like that is three days away, best case. Besides, you’ll just blow it on hookers and coke and be done inside a year. If it doesn’t kill you, you’ll be homeless somewhere they have zero pity for broke Americans.”

“Fuck that, and you. I stay here and I’m a restaurant? I’m a fucking artist. I turn rusty iron into dreams and you fuckers want to put empty, painted shells of muscle cars in an over-sized gas station with my name on it? Where mom and dad and their greasy-fingered little screamers can eat designer burgers and cheesy fries while they watch junior college mechanics slap Bondo on some yokel’s Ranchero? That’s somehow better than killing myself with hookers and blow?”

Bernie shoved her hand into her purse, lifted it off the table, pointed it at Mick. “No you don’t, Mick. No, no, no. Not this time, buddy. I’ve waited five years for my chance out of bikinis and cutoffs and off the TNA wagon. No way do you screw this up for me.”

“What the hell, Bern,” Mick laughed. “You got a loaded tampon in there?”

Bernie shifted the purse a few degrees to her right, and it barked like a Chihuahua muffled in a fat lady’s arms. Just behind Mick and a little to his left, a framed starving artist print of rain-slicked streets in Paris dropped to the floor and shattered. Mick jumped and the cowboy gun boomed a shot into the floor. When Mick looked up Bernie’s purse had disappeared and she had a two-handed grip on a pink Ruger 380 pointed straight at his chest.

Mick checked Bobby and Creighton, couldn’t decide where to point the king-size cowboy pistol.

Creighton held up his hands. “We’re unarmed, there’s no money, so you two shoot each other or work it out before Santa and the pizza get here.”

“You don’t get it. None of you.” Mick looked like he was about to cry. “I just want the money. No restaurant, no more custom cars, no more TV show. No fucking grief. I want out the pile of shit my life’s turned into, and two mill isn’t too much to ask. I made people happy. I deserve it. If it’s a year-long funeral procession, I don’t care. Hear that? I. Don’t. Care. Two million doll—”

BAM, BAM, BAM, loud and sharp rattled Bobby’s front door.


“Way too much fun now.” Bobby shook his head once, raised his voice. “It’s open.”

The door banged into the wall again. Two men stepped inside, one black, one white, both in jeans, t-shirts and blue windbreakers, their badges on lanyards around their necks. They spotted the pink Ruger and Mick’s long, shiny cowboy special, pulled their handguns and modern danced a slow, bowlegged cross step around the room. A tall man in dark slacks and a crisp white shirt with the cuffs rolled up walked through the middle of all the guns like they weren’t there, set a briefcase on the table in front of Bobby, and offered him a small, relaxed smile.

“Agent Hyland, Bobby.” He scooted the taco wrappers out of the way with the briefcase, dropped it to flat. “You have pizza on the way?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Perfect. I’m originally from outside Omaha. Bum Fuck USA. Out where they say boredom breeds excess? I thought we knew how to cut loose come Christmas time.” Briefcase man hooked his sunglasses on the lanyard that held his badge, looked around the room at all the players, the guns, the purse with a hole in it, the taco wrappers, the champagne bottle, the shattered bad art. “But I gotta hand it to you, Bobby,” Hyland nodded his approval. “You throw one helluva Christmas party.”


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