Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns #5

This isn’t creative, but it’s something to share, which makes it SocialMedia content. If it helps, consider it a roasted pepper salsa recipe or a trip to the zoo with grandchildren.

Attention Economy

Not long ago I made mention of Revising Prose by rhetorician Richard Lanham. That, and another of his books, The Economy of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information should be read by anyone who communicates with the written word. In 1979 he identified the burgeoning modern trend of stringing words and prepositional phrases together ad nauseum to make a point. His example was no one can write “Jim kicks Bill” anymore. I won’t plagiarize his work. I will tell you this – read the first chapter (eight short pages) of Revising Prose and it will make you think better, write better, and not commit wordiness to the page. It will scare indefinite comparisons and “is,” “was,” “will be,” “seems to be” “of” and other “weak” verb glue out of your writing vocabulary for any purpose other than dialogue. If you’re like me, the first eight pages will hook you into going further into what I harp on. Sentence length, rhythm and sound. But if you read no more than those first eight pages, your word count will have dropped 45% before it ever hits the page.

I was made painfully aware of the failure to write “Jim kicks Bill” and what that directly entails in my own work, as well as in published authors’. Example – I read Richard Rayner’s 2005 The Devil’s Wind, his paean to Noir. I referred to it in another post, namelessly, as “soft boiled.” It was wrapped in “language” and “writerliness” and when he occasionally hit a “Jim kicks Bill” line it stuck out like a pew rattling fart. Rayner disregarded economy of attention (Elmore Leonard’s rule “Try to leave out the part readers tend to skip”), and I found myself skipping blocks of Rayner’s text that proved he was a writer and had done research but stalled the story. Writerliness that became an overturned eighteen-wheeler on the freeway at rush hour. Had all that excess backstory been committed on the front end and led me into the book on it’s own, defining the character? Fine. War hero changes last name, turns architect. But in the middle of the action here’s an unnecessary two-page flashback?

Virginia Wolff called thoughts “arrows.” Thoughts are often a component of stream of consciousness. Arrows with a point, that hit a target, agreed. Arrows that eat up two pages of word count way past time to be important to our understanding of the character? WTF? Granted, Rayner stylized the novel like a Noir film. I could see Mitchum sweating in black and white, staring into the bathroom mirror reliving his war experience, his white shirt gone limp in the desert heat, tucked roughly into his armpit high pleated slacks belted across his ribs. Close up of his face, maybe he pulls his bottom lids down, cue the WWII bomber footage. But it wasn’t written that way. It was a novel, not a screenplay. Which are Rayner’s claim to fame. Attention economy isn’t on the menu for Hollywood, as witnessed by this season’s incredibly boring three episodes turned into ten of Bosch. The last two aimless seasons of Justified after Leonard died. And furthered into the reading realm by books like The Devil’s Wind(iness).

“Jim kicks Bill”

I stumbled over a 1959 John D MacDonald, The Beach Girls. It has character building with dialogue scenes that should be in a textbook. I had never looked at MacDonald in any light beyond my father’s hand me down pulp with the possibilty of sex scenes. Looking at JDM in the light of verbal economics explains why authors as diverse as Vonnegut, Block, Hiassen, Koontz, Leonard, Parker, King, Philbrick, have all dedicated works to, and sung the praises of, MacDonald. My favorite description of MacDonald is “verbally precise.” Simply because he writes “Jim kicks Bill.”

Following on the heels of war and the first half of the 20th century “attention economists” like Cain, Hammett, Hemingway and Steinbeck, MacDonald leaves no doubt in your mind what is on a waning Southern Belle’s mind about an arrogant asshole. Not, “Sally thought it seemed like she felt angry whenever…” Instead he writes, “When he grins I find myself thinking how fine it would be to kick him square in the face.”* Hot damn. “Jim kicks Bill.” Emotion. No PC. No apology. Real people thoughts. Check this out. It should have its own Flash Pulitzer. “He’s a small souled man, but picturesque.”* BAM. I am amazed at how much story, how many fabulous, precise one liners are in one of those thin JDM books. If reading one does nothing but embarrass you out of trivial minutia in your storytelling and sharpen your “point,” it is worth the read as a textbook exercise.

As an example, I have a now-offended ex-friend who wrote a book. I know the guy can write, so I offered to read it as he beta read for me. It took him and his family 7,000 words to get from the curb to boarding an airplane. Another 6k to get to Paris. He was striving for humor, via overwritten minutia, hyperbole and simile. By the time they were done with the currency change kiosk, before the first security check, I was done and didn’t care what happened after that. Why? Attention Economy. Dave Barry can go to a convention in Hawaii, with his family, take a charter sightseeing boat, eat dinner and have you laughing so hard you might fall off the commode. In 2k. Or go to the proctologist with the same effect in 500. Attention Economy. Think Billy Connolly or Robin Williams on stage. It isn’t a matter of being passively entertained, it’s a matter of keeping up. No special effects. Precision phrasing. “Jim kicks Bill.” I once had a beta reader tell me that with all the dialogue a book I wrote moved almost too fast. I was upset. Now I am proud.

Mind the POV

Every modern editor with a blog has a mantra. “Watch Your POV.” With first person, you really have to watch it, and often need to narrate the adventures of other characters or share scenes with them as they are living through the “I”. Usually. There is a WordPress author, marple25mary, who writes short, delightful flights of fancy vignettes. They involve the same set of rotating characters. I can’t follow them like there’s a story line because my head will explode. They are like cupcakes. I enjoy them for what they are. Down to POV.

For over a year I read her stuff and thought the woman had a monstrous case of AADD. She knows, I mentioned it. I thought she was all over the map. What do Mary’s vignettes, JDM’s The Beach Girls and editorial admonitions have in common? Watch the POV – shift! Each of Mary’s offerings hands the first person POV to whoever is the “star” of the scene. It took me forever to catch that. Every chapter of The Beach Girls tells the story from different members of a boat dock community’s POV. Previously I have only seen drastic POV shift in the epistolary format. Maybe I have led a sheltered literary existence. But it’s a discomfiting mind bender to flip the page and be in someone else’s first person account of an unfolding story. The shifting “I”. Brilliant, if you can pull it off, and in JDM’s case it’s used in a new take on the “stranger comes to town” vehicle. As if everyone in High Plains Drifter is giving their POV of Clint Eastwood. POV shift is easy onscreen. Change camera angles, change the POV. Turn the page, no visuals? Ouch!

To me, “I” is singular. “I” am me. Which is why I usually write third person. “I” am not a gunfighter or skirt hound or detective or leap tall buildings in a single bound. “I” am not important. “I” can see it as a storytelling device. “Let me tell y’all ‘bout the time ‘I’ had a crazy jealous woman in one hand, a scalp hungry Injun in the other, a rattler in my boot and seen the tax man comin’ my way, no horse in sight.” That’s a story, by a single person. But to turn the page and get the woman’s account, and then the Injun’s and then the tax man’s, all in first person?

Gawldamn, I got fences to mend and this damned woman is about a handful of I hate you, good for nothing tomcatting SOB and if you let go of my throat I’ll bite your ear off before I’ll have good hunting with plenty firewood for my winter teepee with this white eyes hair ledgers that tell me I have a decent commission coming on this clown that thinks he can write off sunglasses because he’s outside all the I can’t hold her off much longer. I’ll take my chance with the injun and I’ll kill the SOB’s slutty girlfriend if I don’t strangle first…on and on. I repeat. Ouch.

Watch your POV. Unless you’re Mary or JDM. Mind your attention economy regardless of who you are, or people will skip your writerliness and miss your story. Leave tap dancing to professionals and say exactly what you want the reader to hear. Write your stories with the power of each phrase’s direct effect. If people wrote music like any number of popular authors write books, there would be chaos and people rolling in the streets screaming with their hands over their ears. Much like the first public performance of Bolero.

Takeaway? “Lanham, MacDonald and company kicks Phil’s ass.”

 

Invest in yourself. Lanham is here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpRnAJuy-Ck

*The Beach Girls – © 1959 John D MacDonald

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Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns 4

Pardon me, your writer is showing

Here it Comes – Show Don’t Tell – My Take – For the most part a society that Googles everything from forgotten salad dressing ratios to what does guacamole taste like hasn’t got a clue. I looked it up for us. The takeaway?

“Show, don’t tell” should not be applied to all incidents in a story.

Why not? Because it would take forever to write. Or read. There are successful writers out there who ignore this and write and write and write. And others attributed to the same style write very little. Here we are again with a RULE that means nothing. Dial it up, dial it down, ignore it altogether. Properly applied I believe, as I do about dialogue, it all has to do with rhythm and pacing. Musicality.

The first of two approaches to “show don’t tell” involve using flowery, evocative language. Exercise: Put the reader in the stinky bathroom of a desert gas station. No, just kidding. To what end? To prove you can write about rust stains and dried turds and warped mirrors and peeling paint on cinder blocks and decades of dried urine in the grout for two and a half pages? Maybe, if it was a guy who got beat up by mobsters and left for dead in the desert and you want to put the reader’s face on that floor with him when he crawls in out of the sand. But to me that’s writing to prove you can.

The other approach is drop a few nuggets, let the reader fill in the blanks. Truth – You know we don’t see in color with our peripheral vision. Our brains fill it in for us based on context. That’s the iceberg concept. Hemingway, etc. So if I say to you “a porch twenty feet from the bayou on a humid summer night,” I might offer “pungent” and a mosquito swat that yielded blood and maybe a sweaty bandanna wipe but the rest of it is on you. Because there’s a story being told on that porch and all that flowery sense of place crap is background and there’s no reason to waste a John Williams theme on crickets and frogs and foley work. Personal opinion only. Unless of course you write like David Foster Wallace and then, by all means, watercolor it all together and knock it out of the park for us.

Narrative – Narrative is great to get from impact scene to impact scene, as above. Personally I shorten narrative to it’s extreme cutoff point. Example: Deanna stepped through the steam and the mist, boarded the train more homesick than she ever imagined possible. Done. She gets off the train and the story continues. Narrative is a great device to get some story told from point A to point B and is necessary to kick the story along without the minutia of Deanna brushing her teeth that morning and giving five pages of flashback about why she’s homesick. A decent author would have put us in her shoes chapters ago. Which brings me to –

Narrative excess – An equally wordy writerly option to show, don’t tell excess and a way to show off your research and waste a LOT of time that isn’t show, don’t tell. Unless you want to write about the texture of deciduous tree bark, like the restroom floor example above. Example: I have been reading this damn book that is both a good story and well written and a humongous PIA. I mean the main character gets up off the bed in a motel room from a conversation with a girl (not a sex scene, just dialogue furthering the story ) to go splash water on his face. We are treated to two and half pages of dense, blocks of text backstory. Which could have been easily condensed to a paragraph, or had it been me, three lines. It would have made a great ‘insert backstory video clip here’ in a movie. Maybe. And the whole damn book would have been at least 30% shorter had it been written in a linear time line. The flashbacks and backstory are worse than any Noir film. Like Timothy Leary moments. Exercise: Person sees reflection in sugar dispenser top. Now, jump out of mid dialogue getting the story told into deep reflective space for 600-800 words and then jump back into the convo with other person saying “Are you OK?” “Yeah, just thinking.” Just thinking my ass. Maybe the thought flew by but just reading it my coffee got cold and I’m still in a red vinyl booth in a diner no further along than I was three pages ago.

I don’t call the rules into question or try to sell them or even justify how to avoid them. All I want is for everyone to see that style is everything, and to write like we mean it. Regardless of what it is or where you find your voice. Tell your story. To the best of your ability. Every time. Turn it up. Or turn it off.  Remember, when your fluffy fill up space writer is showing…

And neither should we. Get to the red ‘Vette of your story. Leave the Volvo in the dust.

 

Random NVDT – Vignettes

I’m always harping on do what you do, and do it well. And if there’s something you do well, kick it in the ass. I won’t go in to why we all get sidetracked, but it happens. Whatever it was has hit the road. And now?

I don’t reblog much. But an early days blogging friend has reappeared. And I think everyone should welcome her back. Here’s a classic, damn near perfect, vignette. Sense of place? I can stand on the sidewalk and smell it. We all know it. Few of us would be able to offer it up as magically and effortlessly as this. Watercolor wordsmithing. To me? This is story telling. Cencha, who knows Letti –

 

In the back I could hear the murmuring swell of gossip and repercussions, the rich tide of Spanish swirling like water down a drain.

via Chencha, Who Knows Letti — inksplashstories

Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns 2 & 3

Handling Time – I read another book. Very noir-ish. Well mannered hardboiled. The author used a device for handling time that I got chastised severely for early on by several editorial types. I asked if there was a literary device like the old film trick of calendar pages flying off at high speed. Nobody knew of one. My solution, like this award winning Harper Collins author’s, was to put dates and location in the chapter header. Examples –

11

Burger King on Sunset Blvd, Tuesday February 14, 2005

12

Gus’s Grimy Gulf Station, Needles California, June 2000

 What? Those are out of sync! In the book I caught myself reading right past those tags as I wasn’t used to looking there. Because there were no chapter titles. I’d turn a page out of a Hollywood cocktail party and I’d suddenly be seven years in the past with people I’d never met. A third of the way into the book.

Say you open a story in 2005 and you meet the players wherever. Party, little league game, barbeque. And you develop a story line. Then you want some big motivational or deep backstory for a character, bigger than a couple of lines, so you do the example above, say five years earlier. Character x working in a gas station, 2000. Then you go right back into the “current” time frame of the story with Character x interacting in some event. This all sounds like I’m dogging flashbacks, but those are often internalized and much shorter. This was blatant, here’s a get to know X chapter, out of sync. X’s story is a subtext and crucial, but rather than weave everyone in from the beginning, we are abruptly shuttled back and forth through time. I found it to be an attack on my (elderly) readerly equilibrium. As I’ve been told and told by editors it would be, and DON’T do that. But Harper Collins signed off on it.

Dropping in backstory and flashbacks are an art in themselves. Enough to inflate a character and put heat on them in a moment, not enough to take you out of the story (techniques this author also used very well). Those things are melded into a scene, we watch the character sweat or understand the how/why of their behavior(s). But surprise, Time Machine! Full blown didn’t see it coming silent evil Jack in the Box reads like riding with someone learning to drive a standard trans. I could see the effect the author was going for, like a film effect. We see what’s now, we back up and see what was heading for now. It could have been done with that chapter that was about a third of the way through the book instead tacked on the front end and we follow these people. All in all it read like watching Double Indemnity or Please Murder Me time shift noirs. First person right now action that keeps backing up to tell another story leading up to first person narrating from now story. It sounds clumsy and it is because visuals can clue you any number of ways. Books don’t fade to black and pop up a happy Norman Rockwell moment obviously in the past because of visual cues like the age of cars or fashions or architecture or horse drawn buggies. I’m so gun shy of the time shift technique, after having tried and my hand slapped, I won’t do it again.

But here are those nasty rules that drive us all crazy. Don’t write preludes, drop in backstory when you need it. Okay, but what if there’s an important bit of backstory that is bigger than “Burger King always made Dan sick”? Tell it early, skip a couple of years to now? Don’t start a story with characters in a situation that finishes what you develop before you get there. Okay. In now time we’re talking to Albert, that we don’t know is really Dan with a name change, out for revenge on Burger King. We drop a chapter on why Albert/Dan is pissed a hundred pages into NOW if we can’t write preludes? Well, I’ll write a prelude if I have to. It was good enough for Faulkner and Steinbeck. So there’s my writerly concern number one. How to handle time. Any ideas without breaking a rule, sing out.

Writerly concern two –  LinkedIn is another SM joke like WP and FB and all the rest, but I saw an article fly by the other day. “Don’t make people feel stupid. Drop the Jargon.” Talk about selling me out of reading your story with the title, hell yeah, thanks for the free time. Seriously, there’s only a certain amount of slang and/or vocational or subcultural vernacular people are willing to handle unless you want to narrow your audience to people who work the graveyard shift in dog food plant 17 in Farmersville. Even editors. “Did they really say ‘suck’ in 1979.” I don’t know, and you’re the only one who has asked, so…

I get the need for academic or cop or conspiracy or forensic or history procedural buffs who require their minutia fix. But by and large is it necessary? Like me and Moby Dick as a whaling how-to. I don’t care. Get to the whale. I ran into this issue writing about musicians. No way did I get off into a band futzing with the minutia of setting up, or brand names of things. Why? A very long time ago I learned, as a synthesizer clinician, all most people wanted to do was have fun. “Is that not the wettest, fattest most badass bass sound you ever heard?” “Check it out. We just wrote a song using nothing more complicated than an eighth note!” “Dig this!” I did a clinic tour of Mexico (more than one) and before I went the first time they asked, explicitly, that I NOT be another one of the legion of El Lay shit-jazzers and make jokes about how some sound was used in a US car commercial. So I wasn’t that guy. I played a couple of top Spanish language radio tunes and had them find me a chick singer in every town we hit who wanted to be Gloria Estefan and we tore it up.

Yeah, there will always the pocket protector guys in the back who want to discuss quantize resolution on the knobs or the sequencer, or what sort of quark drive did the Foonblat’s use to get to Boredom Outpost 417-a, but most people just want to make noise or read and have fun. Which is why, even in dystopian made up worlds, ease off the jargon. “Set your phasers to stun” is plenty. The fact that it fits in a holster and stops naughty aliens (most of the time) is enough. Have the creepy mechanic look under the hood, fan the steam, lick his lips and say “May take a day or two to get the parts. Ma’am.” Instead of going off into alternators and muffler bearings. My .02.

Standards update – These two things communicate the same information. The USB obviously communicates all sorts of information.

For size and the cost of a plug a majority of new tactile music controllers/input devices only come with USB. Because of course you’re going to use a computer, numb nuts. Everyone does. Let your computing device sort it out for you. What? You just want to plug this USB only controller into a MIDI device and play. No computer/phone/tablet? Even if the MIDI device is a computer masquerading as a musical instrument? Sorry. You need a host to MIDI box. Sixty to a hundred bucks. One unit at a time, no hub. Why? Computers sort out hubs, fool. Until – Thank God for someone paying attention to the market – This bad boy.

Not only does it host USB to MIDI, no computer (up to 8 devices) it plugs into a PC, a MAC and an iOS device and tells them all about it. All three at the same time! Or three of the same thing! Incredible! I watched a video of someone I trust using it, and I looked at the busier than hell breakout graphic above and BAM. It’s not free, but at least instead of shoving us into a box, it rips the flaps back and says “Outta the box, make noise any way you want.” Way cool. Too bad we can’t write like that and get away with it. Or can we?

 

 

Rasputin

I’m at a loss – There are two books in Bobby B if I flesh out the summer of Swamp Vue’s beginnings with some riotous misadventures. That was a self-imposed ‘write it till it’s done’ project. I could knock those two out in a hurry. Particularly if I don’t fall into my infinite polish a turd system and allow the tolerance for good reviews of mediocrity to be my guide. I have a collab to finish I haven’t looked at in 2 months. I have a real book sitting there that after ignoring it for a while is better than I thought it was. And I don’t know what to do here. Nobody cares, really, but I need a mid-week blog filler. I haven’t got the short story muse right now, Fridays I have under control since I know they’re random. What I want to do is drop part three of the Hot Girl in here, maybe a chapter split, two days in a row? Get some feedback? It’s not the soapy part, it’s the heartbroken OK you go to Cambridge and I’ll go to L.A. Call me if you come home coming of age exploits. Some of it is up here already, out of context. Here’s one more example. Yay? Nay?

The Hot Girl Part 3.1 – Rasputin

Tuesday September 11, 1979 – Los Angeles

The rattle of locks and chains stopped Jackson’s sideways fist from landing on the warehouse door for his third set of bam, bam, bam. The locks continued to rattle against the galvanized door, up the left side, down the right, then the middle. The rattles stopped, nothing happened for long enough he considered announcing himself to see if that would help. An electric motor behind the door started grinding, the door split in the middle and rolled away across the front of the almost waterfront warehouse. Three slightly older girls, all sporting a tangible air of caution, were spread out across the opening, the two on either side holding three-foot long steel pry bars. The middle one looked right and left down the alley with no name, waved to a forklift driver two buildings down before she turned and acknowledged him.

“Jackson?”

“Yeah. I –”

“Who was your ref again?”

“Audrey. Boriman. Atlanta Bal –”

She pulled him inside, the grinding commenced, considerably louder inside than out, and the doors came together behind him with a boom that seemed to reverberate forever.

“Sorry.” All three of them frisked him. “Weirdos. You never know.” The one who’d pulled him inside left them, lifted several industrial breakers and flooded the space with light.

Old welded angle iron and pine-plank bleachers like the ones at high school practice fields were arranged in a loose horseshoe in the middle of the warehouse. He knew by heart from reading the seat bottoms when he was a kid they’d hold “approximately 105 adults or 3, 250 lbs.” On the floor in the center of the horseshoe was a twenty by twenty-foot pad resembling a boxing ring. Its edges, the floor around it and the first couple of rows of the bleachers were splattered with paint.

“Aja,” the middle one, introduced herself. “Hope Audrey knew what she was talking about.” She stripped down to her flip flops. “Hard to find good help these days. Everybody can talk, nobody can do.”

“Uh…” Jackson eyed the other two still gripping their pry bars. “The ad said, ‘Painted Ladies Troupe seeks non-derivative sound artist.’ There wasn’t anything about, um…Clothing being, optional?”

“Are you high?”

“No, but I –”

“Excellent.” Naked Aja grabbed him by the elbow and pulled him across the warehouse while she talked. “What we do is totally dependent on a high level of intuitive interpersonal communication. We can’t…No, we won’t have the integrity of our work disgraced by tainted sensory reception.”

It was getting weirder, but art and dance majors all talked a stream of crazy shit most of the time, with or without their clothes, and he could hang right in the middle of it with them.

Aja marched him to the far, open edge of the splattered pad, lifted the lid on a large wooden shipping crate and proceeded to pull a wide assortment of junk out and toss it in his direction.

Jackson caught a few of them, had to let others clang and bang on the floor. Juggling metallic kitchen utensils and construction site junk in a “surprise, I’m naked!” interview wasn’t what he expected.

Aja continued to toss until she was satisfied with the mess of debris at his feet, dusted her hands. “Make us some music.”

He squatted, went through the chunks of pipe, wooden boxes and paint sticks, kitchen spoons, stainless steel dog food and salad bowls, sheet aluminum, a bowling ball with a chunk missing, a small galvanized wash basin and other junk.

“Lots of it, but not much to work with.” He held up a wooden meat tenderizing hammer, thunked it on a bowl suspended from a banana hanger, got a dull bunggggg for his effort. “Short term interesting, not very good percussion is the only possibility for most of this. The wash basin and some marbles would make a decent groove. Nothing lyrical. I’m not sure what you expect here.”

“You’re the ‘Sound Artist.’ Make something wonderful happen.”

He knew they were waiting for him to fold or build a drum set out of dog food bowls and fold even harder. He looked past the two expressionless security girls leaning on their weaponized pry bars, scanned the warehouse.

“That.” He pointed to the far corner where a version of every church basement and grandmother’s house upright piano sat, adorned with a psychedelic multicolored paint job and partially draped with a splattered canvas painter’s cloth. “I need that.”

“It will never be in tune. Piano players are like gum under church pews, and Piano Man is not who we…” She stopped, weighed his enthusiasm against her cynicism, waved in the piano’s direction. “We let you in.”

There was something unsettling in a naked girl with her fists on her hips in that “You’re wasting my time” way watching him push the piano across the warehouse while the ancient brass casters screeched on the concrete.

He scattered the pile of junk with his foot, spent a few minutes modifying the piano with odd bits and pieces, set a chunk of steel on the sustain pedal. At first he coaxed some eerie, metallic drones out of it by scraping the strings with a steam basket, ringing occasional dissonant bells from the top end with a broken tack hammer. He looked up and all three of them were naked. Rolling all over the mat in and out of what he supposed were modern dance poses. He abused the strings and soundboard with other objects from the floor, monitoring the ‘dance’ out of the corner of his eye and adjusting his output to their activity dynamics as best he could until he smashed a raspy, banged strings-on-aluminum-strip from the upper middle of the sound board and stood, eyes closed and arms wide, while the warehouse’s huge natural reverb decayed around them.

“Cool. The room lets you stand inside it.” He absently set two metal ladles on top of the piano along with several lengths of galvanized pipe. “I need an egg beater like I used with Aud. More dynamics.” He played a slow, out of tune arpeggio, the steel block still resting on the pedal. “I could get up inside of that with one and –”

All three of them, naked and slightly sweaty, hugged him. They helped him toss the excess junk back in the crate and dressed before they led him to a glassed in upstairs office that overlooked the small arena and handed him a steaming pottery class cup.

“Honest to God fresh roasted coffee.”

His first instinct was to refuse. After his last three girls and their Timothy Leary’s Gatorade in New Mexico he liked to watch his drinks being mixed. But they were all drinking from the same pot. He might die crazy, but not alone.

Aja pulled a chair away from an old, metal, paint splattered like everything else in the warehouse work table, pushed a box of donuts his way. “I was afraid you were another Bartok tone cluster wannabe. But…” She looked at him with clear, appraising eyes. “That was amazing. Magical.” She checked in telepathically with her two partners who had left their pry bars downstairs. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” one of the ex-pry bar girls laughed. “Thanks for being the most disappointing piano player in L.A.” A comment that in any other context he might have found disturbing.

***

“You got a gig doing wha?” Dash had to set the bong on the counter while he coughed. “Sheee-it, my man. Fine, nekkid women rollin’ around in paint? However much they payin’ you be too much. As you have piqued my interest, what is the entry fee to witness this creative endeavor?”

Jackson loaded and fired the bong. “Two-hundred and fifty dollars.” He blew a series of smoke rings. “Fifteen hundred in the paint splatter zone.”

“Fuck me, slap my momma, order pizza for later. You shittin’ me?”

“The canvas auctions start at twenty grand. Unless they find something artistically disagreeable on one and cut it up into smaller pieces that add up to more money. I’m going to a show at some Warbucks’ pad in Malibu on Sunday. I have to be ‘Rasputin’ for a while, but you can hang if you’ll play my awestruck, culturally underprivileged token sidekick.”

“Depend first upon what a Rasputin be. I refuse to be seen in such an enlightened environment wearing a Sunset Boulevard at midnight collar.”

“I’m supposed take kitchen utensils out and gently abuse the inside of the host’s grand piano in a cocktail piano version of what I do at the paintings. While they all eat shrimp and talk art and admire their wall size naked chicks in paint art.”

“It is my assumption, as your friend and confidant in this affair, they be payin’ you too much for that artistically suspicious activity as well?”

“Mama said stand up tall when confronted by a truth.”

“I am down, my brother. For shrimp and a rich white people in Malibu tableau I will become the epitome of Buckwheat and suspend belief in any creative photography degree that bears my name.”

Random NVDT- Writerly Concerns

“Switching off the lights, I trudged downstairs and walked to the door. (Character’s) (car) was gone.”

A few weeks ago, I injected something totally random on this site. Not a WP follower harvesting “stick with a plan” thing. Nope. I wrote about a phone app of the musical instrument that changed my life. Back pedal – I changed my life, the synthesizer was the way forward. Writing is the same. I dropped out of college as part of that change. I didn’t believe they could teach me how to write by regurgitating some tweedy old fart’s thoughts on Henry James and Melville. Frankly, thoughts on Melville, to me, would be time better spent thinking about the variances in cottage cheese curds. Personal opinion only.

Today marks another Friday of randomness, which will become a regular thing. I suppose that punts the randomness, save for content. Writing, electronic music, whatever drops. Today? Writerly things. I read a book. Yeah, yeah., seriously. Check this out. Again

“Switching off the lights, I trudged downstairs and walked to the door. (Character’s) (car) was gone.”

Why do I bring this up? As written it is completely devoid of linear logic. Funny how your brain will drag you right through that literary quagmire like it wasn’t awful. Published awful. The author bagged that verb ing followed by action thing throughout the book. Nobody at (publisher) caught it. The critics who raved about the next big thing in formulaic detective fiction missed it. Fair enough – It was written in the Eighties by a successful gentleman who has written many follow ups. The book I read came from the Plano Public Library very cheap book sale. I probably paid a quarter for it. Maybe a dime. Regardless, I buy old and new detective pulp to learn things. How to, how not to. How things have changed.

Like – The author drags out fight scenes like bad TV. You know, till you want to put it down and go feed the dogs and hope it’s done when you get back. The Detective and the bad guy, both well drawn clichés by the way, dance and swing and kick and poke and jab while the Detective does one of those every detective and Perry Mason/Jessica Fletcher/Miss Marple et al bits laying out the case against the bad guy. For like four pages. While they spar. The speculation gets reworded three or four different ways. Okay, we get it already. You say it, he denies it. Rinse and repeat. Fight and talk and fight and talk and fight some more. Whew. After the good guy passes out almost dead and wakes up the nasty end of the bad guy gets narrated, sans anything but a “Well, you know. Gross.” Yeah. Four pages of fight and talk. Yep, he’s gone, call your girlfriend.

Certain old Western pulp writers would do that. Good guy rides into town, gets his ass almost beat to death whipping the town bully. But the whole spaghetti western thing, the quick cuts between the players in a Mexican standoff? Doesn’t drop on the page very well. Even with a lot of call and response dialog.

The point there was violence is boring. Repetitive dialog to wind up a nutcase is boring. Wind it up, blow it up, hit it and keep moving.

Back to that gross end. I mentioned to George F that I have never been able to smack a woman around in fiction or anywhere else. I can narrate it like news. She got beat up. I can describe how beat up. I can’t go beat her up. I had one of those “show don’t tell” a-hole dipstick “editors” push for that in a scene where I had a beat up woman on the floor of a bathroom. What sort of sick f*ck wants to read a blow by blow of how she got there? All that brings me back to the bad logic in –

“Switching off the lights, I trudged downstairs and walked to the door. (Character’s) (car) was gone.” Written after the first person private dick took a shot to the head. Maybe it got to the writer. That was facetious and unkind, and as I mentioned, that crap was all through the book. Why am I harping on this? It looks okay to you? Really? Read it. As written the light switches were along the staircase. Our brains took us to the parking lot, not the writing. Yes, readers are allowed to make logical leaps, but lines like that make your head spin for a fraction of second putting them together. Like Phonics, or horrible spelling. Okay, the verb ing and the comma, we can still derive the intent, but we have to slalom along in the author’s brain to get there.

“I switched off the lights, trudged down the atrium stairs, staggered my good shoulder into the door and pushed. It took most of the energy I had left to focus and scan the parking lot. (Character’s) (car) was gone.”

Logical. Continues the descriptive. I would have put more in, but I’d hate to get busted re-writing two pages of a guy’s book in four lines. As re-written, they are the separate acts, each following in order. Not, as written, a simultaneous Timothy Leary moment to be sorted. These are how I see action co-mingling verb ing modifiers –

“Laughing, Bob tied his shoes.” “Crying, she shoved the runny pecan pie down the disposal.” “Shaking with fear he grabbed the ripcord and prayed.” Hey, that was three-fer! Any points for that?

The ing descriptive is generally used to convey an act that is part of, or to modify, another act. Not for a logical progression of activity, or activities unless what is modified by ing follows or precedes LOGICAL intent. Now this ing –

“Trudging down the stairs, switching off the lights under the starving artist prints that lined the wall as I went, I still managed to find the lobby floor in the darkened atrium. The hard way.” Okay. Trudging and switching. But “Switching off the lights, I trudged down the stairs.” No. It makes my head hurt. It, and its many kin populated a published (many times) author’s work. Come on. If I were to run that past The Editor’s Blog or any number of other legitimate editing resources I’d get basted.

Do yourself a favor the next time you doubt your writing. Pick up a published book while you wait in line somewhere. If you think it sucks, as a writer good for you. When it’s time to move, remember to pick your jaw up before you switch off your brain and trudge on it. (See? Poorly written. What is being trudged upon, the jaw or the brain? It’s a never ending process.)

That was random. And now it’s over. Next week – why “standards” are not. Maybe.

A good resource for formulaic fiction is here

A good resource for well explained grammar rules is here –

My grammar rule follows Elmore Leonard’s advice. Grammar rules shouldn’t get in the way of a story. (Bad grammar, as we’ve seen, often does). And – If it reads like writing, re-write it.

Bobby B – Don’t Let The Pretty Face Fool You

Last One. Unless someone asks for Bobby’s Houma House Denouement 

“All of you. Out.” Liz Vernier’s voice was level with a sharp, beveled edge, and packaged with a glare that could have turned an Arizona swimming pool into a hockey rink.

“But we have more –”

She raised the inside corners of her eyebrows and maybe a quarter inch of her tongue sneaked out onto her upper lip.

“Yes ma’am.”

She, Carrie Louise, Bobby and LBI District Chief Bastik watched the parade of plain clothes and uniformed police from three agencies swivel their hips, shift their holsters and radios in a dance through the narrow crosshatch of legal assistants at their desks in Liz Vernier’s outer office. They re-convened at the elevator, all shuffling, staring at the floor. A pack of sheepish, recently chastised over-equipped and overgrown boy scouts.

Liz kept the glare and focused it on Bobby who had stopped letting it bother him some time back but played along when it was to his advantage. She tapped the tip of a high gloss index fingernail on a yellow and black plastic fishing tackle box.

“What manner of lunacy prevailed on that pea brain of yours to think, even for an instant, that bringing two million dollars halfway across the country in a tackle box was a good idea?”

“He wanted…” Carrie Louise folded her arms tight across her chest, tried to mimic Liz’s stare. “He wanted motel time with that…actress. Bobby B’s in love with his pecker lunacy, that’s what lunacy.”

“CL that’s bullshit and you –”

“You two can do this later. If I’m lucky she’ll kill you. I asked you a question, Mr. B.”

“The tackle box was Annabelle, this morning. She said whoever was after the money probably wasn’t done, so…And the rest seemed like a good idea. I mean, I was coming home anyways, Bernie wanted to see her people –”

“Bernie, Bernie, Bernie.” CL wiggled quote fingers around the name every time she said it. “I’m about sick down to my butt of ‘Bernie’, Mr. B.”

“I’m not telling either of you again.” Liz pointed pistol fingers with both hands, heels still on the desk. “Lafayette? I need an explanation.”

“Another motel –”

“Carrie Louise Roche, shut it and keep it shut.” Liz never took her eyes off Bobby. “Lafayette?”

“Not far from Port Barre. For, uh…Bernadette. We didn’t want to stay in Houston,” He shot the glare back at CL, “And spend another night in a mo-tel. I asked one of those pretty airline counter fellas if there were any other options and they hooked us right up with a ride on a mostly empty corporate charter. It worked out. You know, for Bernie.” Bobby played lost swamp boy for a few more beats. “I wasn’t sure what to do in California, with the money and the bank and all.”

“Your Mr. DeHavilland couldn’t advise you?”

“He was gone. He’s out –”

“Raising investment money for a restaurant franchise that is now guaranteed to be a hit. If I didn’t know better, or thought any one of you involved were capable of pulling it off, I’d say this wild west robbery fiasco and subsequent media feeding frenzy was the marketing ploy of the century. Fading niche content TV host reinvented as hero who saves the day for swamp bred bikini model and a down-bayou rube. Both of whom just happen to work for him. I’m tempted to tell the press this money that raised hell over half of Louisiana is you backing out of the restaurant deal.” She let that sit. “But it seems Mr. DeHavilland and Monterrey Mick the Mouth beat me to it and they have you all tied up in a neat little bouquet of the happy, down home heroes family.” She poked the long, polished nail index finger at her wide-open mouth in a gag me gesture, pulled it and blew a breath out the corner of her mouth. “It’s all a giant crock of gator shit. You and Carrie Louise need to have a conversation. Take it outside and off the premises.”

For the second time Liz and Chief Bastik watched a trek to the elevators. Bastik chuckled silently hard enough to rock in his chair. “Glad I’m not him.”

“She’ll skin him, but I’m afraid she’ll never let him go. What about the bimbo?”

“Two rooms in Lafayette, both slept in. Nothing there. Talked to the housekeepers, they think maybe she intercepted a pizza but couldn’t prove it. Her little machine gun cleared the Feds,” he snapped his fingers, “like that. She’s clean except for running away and joining a militia when she was fifteen. Possible suspicious disappearance of a pizza and looking good in suntan lotion and short shorts aren’t crimes.”

“The last two should be. And you’re all expecting me to believe Bobby is truly stupid enough to wait for Wells Fargo in Huntington to come up with two-million cash because he likes to do business that way?”

“They sent him and two armed couriers to a Brink’s warehouse with a voucher. Paper trail checks all down the line.”

“Damn. What was the noise I heard about the FBI?”

“They were on a gun smuggling case. Macon’s dinks overheard them showing off their badges to the desk girl, called in, thought they’d make great cover to get next to the target.”

“You know that as fact?”

“No, they’re all dead. But what I do know is half-wit dinks and that scenario makes perfect sense in Dinkville.”

“Shit.” She leaned back in her leather exec chair, tossed a pen at her desk. “Macon?”

“Macon was crooked as a Cypress root, and if he knew anything besides what he told us, he took it with him. The only other calls he made that afternoon were LBI business and a couple to a six-dollar burner that pinged down by the river and disappeared. It was obvious he was buying information with rock, Liz. Information someone didn’t want bought. He was a cop, though, so we’ll shake the bushes, bring out the bagpipes and fold a flag. In a couple weeks we’ll shoot a methed up skin head covered in swastikas for resisting arrest and find Macon’s murder in his manifesto.”

“Your idea?”

“No, but it’s the one to run with. Dirty cops are bad press. Dead, white extremist meth head cop killers make everyone happy.”

“White, methed up skin head lives don’t matter? You watch. Somebody’ll be butt hurt, show up at your press conference with a sign.” She sighed, from somewhere deep inside. “The FBI anywhere near this bothers me. What do you think I should do about the money?”

“Bank it. Or burn it if you don’t believe Macon told you everything and you’re still worried about the FBI. And have two mill laying around to replace it.” District Chief Bastik stood, profoundly gay, totally unaccustomed to his uniform and uncomfortable in its forward manliness. “I’ll pass your sincere condolences on to the Director for the loss of one of our rising young stars and he’ll be more than pleased to accept your promise of a generous donation to the fund of his choice.”

“This stinks, Bastik. All of it.”

“Maybe. I wouldn’t let it fester too long if I were you. New plays are most likely being run around us as we speak, and we’re down two snitches and one fixer with a badge.”

Liz watched his slightly pigeon-toed solo through the legal assistants, the big, round brim hat in his hands incongruous until she thought of John Wayne playing a gay cop-o-crat and snark laughed through her nose.

***

Special Agent Hyland brushed the back seat beside him with his hand, as if to rid it of his last two guests. The big Samoan relocated himself from outside, peered out the Lincoln’s front passenger window with the silenced .22 in his right hand, pointed up. “Thoughts, Sir? Divine insight?”

“Orrin Peachman is not a problem. He wants to keep being a loner car and boat mechanic down on the coast, try to grow some decent hydroponic weed in the bedroom his old roommate occupied. He’s a situational killer with small dreams, not a sociopath, and he saved us some cleanup work. Give them the sanitized go-home money and a dangerous admonition, tell Holbert and Keefe to take them to the Lafayette bus station.”

The pistol remained. “The girl? Holbert might kill her for running her mouth before they get across the bridge.”

“That would be a bonus. All Paris knows is that Mick got drunk, told her about a kid with money in a briefcase and she called her Pimp’s bro. She’s too stupid to lie. If Holbert doesn’t kill her, she’ll run her mouth about that Cartel nonsense one too many times and end up face first in a topless bar shitter with her throat cut. Not our problem.”

The pistol came down. “What about the kid?”

“What about him? He sold it in Vernier’s office like he owned it when he could have sold us down the river for having to back out of the frame and leave him high and dry. Instead he out-drove bullets, had cars blow up around him and still stood up for us on this deal because he’s not terribly fond of Liz Vernier, who for reasons known only to her, is trying to rip his girl out from underneath him. He’s unofficial family.”

“Hot pants?”

“Ah. The surprisingly clever, multi-faceted, machine gun wielding Bernadette.” A faint smile crossed Hyland’s lips. “You know, she could have disenfranchised me in California when I handed that pink Ruger back and the money was sitting on the table. I saw it in her eyes. Being with the Agency made me not worth her risk-reward equation, an equation that a less intelligent, purely avaricious person wouldn’t even have run. Don’t let the pretty face fool you, Liko. She and that Annabelle woman are at least as dangerous as we are. In fact, I think I’d rather handle snakes with the unwashed faithful than spend any more time than needed around either of them. And for damn sure only a fool or a rattlesnake with a death wish would get between them and our young Mr. B.”

The Samoan snickered. “Background says Annabelle Monette fed two Florida Matchstick Men to the swamp, sent their jewelry and phones to the man who hired them. You weigh in on that?”

“Swamp Vue didn’t burn to the ground last summer, she and Bobby are still with us. The Matchstick Men are MIA. What I said about dangerous women and Mr. B.”

The Samoan shook his head once, started to unscrew the silencer on the assumption it wasn’t needed, stopped halfway. “The car douche?”

“Nobody listens to Mick. He’s a semi high-profile Hollywood Jester in a Hawaiian shirt. He’ll drop his wrench in one hand and dick in the other lifestyle now that he has Bernadette to contend with as a business partner, not an employee playing T&A delivery girl.”

“Jesus. Out of the fire and into the pan is like a daily with that dude.” The Samoan finished unrolling the silencer, studied Orrin and Paris, both pacing nervously, the two female agents bored, leaning against their car. “Think Vernier will burn the money?”

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