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.

“BOBBY B? FBI. WE NEED YOU TO OPEN THE 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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NVDT #43 – Don’t Trip

The Prompt – What’s the most unusual experience you’ve ever had? Have you included it in one of your books?

HA!

The young woman who smelled like a sex, weed and alcohol all-nighter walked away down the terminal corridor, her phone in the hip pocket of skin-tight distressed jeans, unkempt ponytail a bouncing pendulum against a black, sprayed-on record company t-shirt.

“God she drives me nuts,” the guy on my right said. “Did you hear all that shit? What is she, twelve?”

“Marketing is full of star fuckers and picture leaners. She’ll wake up one day and hear the ‘hose bag with an Amex’ noises behind her and decide to turn pro.”

“Maybe. Or she’ll keep at it until she’s too old or fat to be cute and fuckable for AR and end up in inside sales. I need a beer.” He pushed himself out of the plastic airport bucket chair. “You?”

“No. But watch your step. The floor’s littered with all the names she dropped.”

“I just stole that one,” he said, kicking away imaginary obstacles. He turned, his foot sideways in a soccer pose. “Think I can hit the Burger King from here with Van Halen?”

***

The direct answer is yes and no. Not about Van Halen, but the prompt. I’ve mentioned before that I was in the music industry for 40 years. And everything that entailed. Everything. That’s a rich experiential tapestry, a deep well, a gold mine of… You get it. To explicitly recount the most unusual experiences would amount to telling tales out of school. By logical extension to use any of that material mandates the veil of fiction. However, my characters arrive with their own tales and I know better than to attempt control of the cosmic radio and do my best to stay out of their way with my nonsense.

In truth, we are the byproducts of our existence, and we occasionally, possibly subconsciously, populate our stories in familiar territory or with a peripheral character we might have known and forgotten.

But when I write? I keep at it like a reader to see how it ends because I don’t know, and I enjoy the ride.

For the sake of the prompt, I offer this from The Hot Girl III.

Since the ‘let’s share’ idea went over like a lead balloon, that’s all I’ve got this week.

 

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NVDT #42 – Pilgrimages and Pugnuckling – Two-fer

The Prompt – Have you ever gone on a literary pilgrimage? If so, where and why?

Yes.

Physical: My daughter and I were guests when Dr. Wife received an invitation to stay at Exeter College, Oxford, all expenses paid, to present part of her dissertation Rhetorical Stance in William Morris (aka William Morris – Reluctant Rhetorician) at the William Morris Centennial. Inundated with Pre-Raphaelites for a week. Went to Kelmscott House or Manor, visited the graves. In London we went to the Tate. While the academics pontificated my daughter and I ran rooms of several other museums (I have an addiction to late Taylor) the rooms and gardens and the alleys of Oxford, walked in the footsteps of Dexter’s Inspector Morse, ate tiny, expensive deli sandwiches and ice cream on the High Street, got off the main drag and collected a pile of local punk band handbills and EP promo from a sympathetic CD/record shop owner. (Who took one look at obliging shaggy Dad and knee-high Doc Martens teenage daughter and saved himself a trip to the dumpster). Rode in a bus the width of the road (with a few academics of questionable hygiene) throughout Oxfordshire and the villages where Marple and Midsomer and Morse turn up all those bodies. I stood in front of a 900-year-old ivy-covered cornerstone where education was taking place while, where I live today, indigenous people were living a prehistoric lifestyle. Just like the rest of us are now.

The other pilgrimage: Occurs every time I drive down to Half Price Books World Headquarters on NW Highway east of Central Expressway. Mask and sanitizer at the ready I visited as long ago as yesterday. More books and music, holy moly. First editions, hardback classics, old original pulps, coffee table books out the wazoo. Self-help, textbooks, sheet music, religion, philosophy mystery, classic fiction… to quote James Brown, “Good Gawd j’awl!”

The real pilgrimage: Every time I open a book it’s a pilgrimage. Of style, substance, structure. I’m a content person. Which brings me to the real meat here. What do we learn from pilgrimages? I won’t dwell on the awful stuff. Here’s the other part of the two-fer I mentioned, garnered from opening a book.

Two-fer

Pugnuckling: When the right word is the wrong word. What do you do? Well, pugnucklers, you make one up.

I busted on Faulkner’s earliest works, drenched in adverbs and repetitive descriptions. But by The Reivers he’d hit his stride and turned the voices of the South into a raucous, racy, whimsical, colorful, sweet as a Magnolia blossom cacophony.

From William Faulkner’s The Reivers.

“It ain’t fair that it’s just women can make money pugnuckling while all a man can do is just try to snatch onto a little of it while it’s passing by.”

How smooth was that? I drop F-bombs like Tarantino or Chili Palmer. However, in my latest excursion, I have characters who have agreed to substitute Madre de Dios for motherfucker when used as a ‘shakin’ my head’ or ‘what else can go wrong’ sentiment.

Bonus. I say we kick the responses to these prompts up a notch. Not that I object to all the subsequent to response marketing hype because I skip the boring parts. I say we respond and offer a chapter, a scene, of something of ours that represents the prompt. Like this week. Who has a pilgrimage out there? Every book has somebody, going someplace, to learn something. Even if it’s a junkyard or a hotel or a library or a graveyard or a dive bar full of aliens and informants. This blog hop is a perfect venue and what a great way to learn something specific from each other. Did you have trouble? Why did character X go there? Did it work? No shit really, I’d gladly read chunks of WIPs or books instead of skipping the “And then I wrote the book/series that made the whole world sing” stuff. Save that for the market. What’s the ever-popular catchphrase, show, don’t tell?

So, I’ll drop one, fear of exposing mediocrity in check. Here’s a link to a pilgrimage bit.

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NVDT #41 – Move On or Serialize?

The Prompt – Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I haven’t considered this. I write what I write.

But- I have a tome sitting on my hard drive that is five seasons of Netflix costume drama. It started life as a coming of age story about a head cheerleader who quits and wants to be a feminist, longs to meet one guy who’s not all hands and bullshit. And a wannabe musician who wants a girlfriend that’s “different.” Throw in a couple of lesbian fairy godmothers, a wise black saxophonist, a no-nonsense guitarist, a superjock big brother and a couple of 70s gender role confused get outta my way (in their own ways) mothers and…Well, it went on forever. Two were plenty. But I got a lot of mileage out of the last three.

Intentional Repeaters – I have several short story characters that repeat. Lamar is looking for the meaning of life in a lighthearted way. Jackson and Deanna, I rip one of their endless chapters of exploits (from those last three books) and turn them into shorts. Can’t just leave fun sidebar character interactions hanging out there.

Bobby B. Bobby allows me to assail all the stereotypes of a series character without becoming one himself. I consider Bobby’s stuff to be my paean to Elmore Leonard/Hitchock/Twain and all other caper storytellers. In a post-Katrina junkyard Bobby sees a top for a tractor, without the tractor, puts it on a swamp boat, meets a boat salesman, and a black lady manufacturing expert who understands automatic weapons and Swamp Vue is born. Bobby wants to learn the custom car business, goes to Hollywood, winds up running across the country with a college-educated bikini model, getting shot at by a phony handicapped pimp and a crazy topless dancer, the FBI in hot pursuit…Bobby sees a big box van with an air conditioner on top and before long, half the politicians, reporters and bad guys in Louisiana are after him and a third-generation Mississippi Madam for her client book. Plus it has parallel storylines and all the stuff a series needs. Bobby would be my series.

Loners – The first-person thing I’m in the middle of as an experiment will be my last. I like the characters, but it’s a one-shot. In fact, if I’m honest, it’s a writing exercise. To see if I could write something I liked, formatted loosely on something I read that was too full of research and filler but otherwise likable.

Here’s my real issue – I don’t need the hero’s epic journey or classic motivation that gets lost in facts and figures or even the old pulp trouble, more trouble, skin of the teeth escape within given parameters. Like me, a lot of my characters have no idea what’s going to happen next. They show up, something happens, next thing you know they’re on the river with Huck and Jim and dressin’ up in women’s clothes.

Point – Now, let’s talk about what bucking that story arc, blah-blah-blah set decoration, infamous Dan A and all the what’s his/her motivation show don’t tell except when you’re skipping the plot holes does to editors and scam artists posing as editors and grammar Nazis.

“Well, with things like this, slice of life, where is it going, what does he want? He says, but… ” No, they both get their asses kicked all summer long, did you not see the train wreck coming?

Seriously? I forget how Tom Sawyer and Becky got lost in the cave, but I remember they did and it was a big scene. Did Tom start out the day with “I’m gonna get lost in the cave with Becky today and cause a real commotion”? I doubt it. So when Bobby doesn’t say “Think I’ll take off with two million dollars and raise some hell” it doesn’t change or default his motivation none. He says he wants to get a “people” education. He damn sure does.

I went to college for a while. Did the concept of stream of consciousness and/or modified postmodernism drop off the curriculum in favor of formulaic spreadsheet bullshit? If so, how did Barbara Park sell so hundreds of millions of  Junie B books?

I get the whole conflict/resolution thing but that’s so overdone without something special, some spice, some people in it. Since the 50s life’s messy little problems have been being solved on television, neatly, in 30 minutes to an hour by understanding parents or quickdraw sheriffs or clever detectives. Enough of that procedural stuff, enough predictable formula arc, enough is three too many red herrings. I want to turn the page to see what happens next to the people. What they get into, what they learn, how they feel, what weirdos they’ll run into next.

To whit. We’ve become so formulaic, so programmed… I watched a Hallmark mystery yesterday (post-surgical pain meds make a lot of things tolerable) that paralleled a recent book review of Stevie’s. Overprotective Mom. The son was cardboard, the menacing gold digger wasn’t menacing or a gold digger just happened to be a potential girlfriend… pretty bland stuff. Everybody had million-dollar teeth, though, and it dripped with stereotypes, half of whom couldn’t even act at that level. But it’s on the air. Somebody like Michelle Frances wrote it and it was pitiful. Except for the teeth. Go Hollywood Society of Cosmetic Dentistry!

Question – When do we quit listening to “Well, it’s not the formula…” and just throw it out there, series or one-shots? I don’t feel I write well enough to say, well, here, read this, will ya? It’s not the same kettle of fish, but…

 

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NVDT #40 – Clam Digging

The Prompt – Your top 5 writing mistakes and/or the ones that make you cringe

1 – Loop-de-loop paragraphs. I learned to beat this. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  I call them “pinball paragraphs” where one minute we’re a backstory line, the next we’re a set descriptive, the next we’re in a head, and that goes ’round in a circle. There are examples of opening paragraphs written this way in this very room.

2 – Words and phrases strung together that sound like writing. I encountered this in the music business as well. Rather than play an entire solo or phrase we called the punch-ins when they rolled by. Art in that process is elbow grease on the seams. Unfortunately, in writing there’s no way to fix people writing what they think sounds like what they want to say regardless of how illogical or supercilious it sounds. Similar to this is a paragraph of undeveloped scenes or thesis statements strung together. This and this and this and this. Whoa. Start with the first one, develop it, logically, next.

3 – Obvious backstory triggers. Mirrors, photographs. Please. Backstory dumps are SPEED BUMPS and corrupt story flow. Following on the heels of cliche triggers is cliche backstory. Lunch with the wise old wizard, the ex-boxer turned private detective with retired or active cop friends and the magic fireplace/doorway/portal are stale. Wise old wizards who might be geezer horse farmers, okay. But the long cloaks and Love Potion #9? We can do better. Drop backstory into dialog or in pieces. Or at least dress it up in a clever way like Helen Simonton. Hackneyed photograph or staring at the fields backstory is exposed by an interruption or an intrusion by a third party. A formula that makes the dump situational and part of something. I’m sure she read the formula somewhere but she does it well. Better yet, let the characters tell us who they are by what they say and how they behave.

4 – Inside out sentences. I am guilty of this in draft mode. It can sound erudite, or stupid, or pontificating. None are as effective as straight ahead. An example would be the dreaded -ing simultaneous action. Putting on the goggles he walked out the door. Sounds like amateur writing night. Jackson put on the goggles as he walked out the door.

Inside out Example  – Jackson slammed the door behind him as he put on the goggles and walked out. You know sometimes it takes a dead eye to see that junk because when we read it, from ourselves or others, our brain fixes it. Slammed was the last, not the first thing, but we make sense out of it because it goes together. Sort of. I see this all the time.

5 – Echoes. Not just words but thoughts, behaviors, descriptions. Saying the same thing twice in different ways. Holy crap. My first time out I had an editor draw red lines through paragraphs with the note “you already said this two paragraphs ago. No need to reiterate, we got it.” That’s writerly ‘splaining. We want to be sure the reader got it so we do it again. I see that a lot in head time, not just narrative. An event happens, we see the characters’ reactions in the scene and then somebody has to take a stroll and explain it all over again for us in their head time.

6 – C’mon, it’s an even number and it’s perfect for this topic – Not knowing when to stop. Wanting to write that last line or two when it was done two lines ago. That’s another sort of ‘splaining I suppose, but I see it in chapter endings all the time. And it’s one of the things I have to go back and whack. When it’s done, it’s done. Example – “And then they packed up and went home” is nothing but extraneous BS word count. Hell, “then” is extraneous word count.

Expanded list – Selling philosophy/religion/agenda via dystopia or straight-up ‘fiction’ just flat pisses me off. If someone writes to sell me something they should mention it on the flap.

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NVDT #39 – If Not Now, When?

The Prompt – How soon is too soon to include an actual event in a fictional story

The average attention span is around 8 seconds. Down from 12 in 2000.

Which screws up content-based marketing. I have Addy’s for 29.5 (30 second) commercials. One had 36 cues. Bip Bam Boom. One was a gauzy, dreamy Mother’s Day ad for a chain of jewelry stores. I wonder if anyone ever heard the tag? Why bother with 29.5s? Because TV stations can’t stay alive selling 7-second ads.

That’s what, 4 ads in the space of 1 with some extra fade time? “FORDS! WE GOT ‘EM!” “FURNITURE! COME GET IT!” “FAT GUY PLUMBERS, ON TIME!” “HOT WINGS! CARRYOUT OR DELIVERY!”

Extend that content thought out to writing a new novel (which explains the plethora of plot holes and unexplained Red Herrings lately). My new book, please review – “Zombies. Lots of them. Fear. Chase. Blood and guts. More blood and guts. Screaming. Sex. More fear. Everyone dies. The end.

Our attention spans are so short we’ve blown off Covid 19 as a death sentence that hasn’t gone away, in favor of making sure we can get haircuts. And nachos. And exercise together in sweaty groups in closed rooms.

My answer – Whenever it suits you. Now is fine for whenever whatever happened or is happening.

Which begs the question – At what point or measure of time from an event does pop-culture fiction become historical fiction? A generation? Five years? Twenty years? When everyone who experienced it is dead? When kids weren’t born when it happened?

The old saying, roughly, is ‘wisdom is the distance from an experience to its understanding.’ Some events take longer than others to grasp their full magnitude, but is it a prerequisite that we understand a current event to use it for a tortilla to wrap around our story burrito?

The 7-second rule says “Nah.” You couldn’t write a YA about the Twin Towers because most of them wouldn’t know what the hell you were talking about. And you might offend some terrorists. Maybe YA’s know about Taylor Swift’s boob job or Demi Lovato’s latest overdose. Maybe. Don’t count on it, because some celebutante just tweeted about how she loves her new custom painted high top Converses. What was I saying?

Quick. What happened 7 seconds ago?

Gotcha.

 

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NVDT – Writerly Concerns #38

Hukt Awn Foniks Werkt Fur Mee

The prompt was – What are your pet peeves as regards grammar and spelling?

Do I have any? Definately. The little red lines under words are their for a reason.

Grammar (as word usage) and spelling should always be correct outside of dialog.

Possessives and plural’s like ladys and ladies except when convention has negated the rules as in mens room since it would be gender inequality for men to get the apostrophe and ladies not to. Or is would that be ladys? Or… Is it correct to say “Excuse me, I’m off to the men ( or women) room? Is that why there are so many nongender synonym workarounds for potty?

All that other punctuation stuff? Is it the week we put punctuation outside of quotes or not? I refuse to believe the first three words of every sentence are an introductory clause. Grammarly disagrees. Imagine that. I use commas for phrasing and timing like rests in music, not “correctly.” It drives English Professor types nuts. Two bad – because —

I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. – Elmore Leonard

I also believe the following true.

Here is a lesson in creative writing. The first rule: do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. – Kurt Vonnegut

1) If it doesn’t work, even if it’s correct, rewrite or eliminate it.

2) If it needs a semicolon or some other oddball punctuation, re-write it. Use a period. Two short sentences do not make the author look stupid. Neither does whacking a couple of words here and there from two windy clauses that could be one good one. There is no sin in the simplicity of ‘Jim kicks Bill.’

Dialog is the exception. I said that already. Why? Good God y’all, people can and do talk some stoopid shit. The cops and crooks on true detective shows? The people newscasters interview who lived through a tornado in Oklahoma? Eyed put up an example but we’d be here all day.

You can’t have characters speaking perfectly but you also can’t cop out and have them speaking pidgin English like bad movie pirates. Dialect and patois, okay, to a point. But there is no reason to have characters speak like extras in Captain Blood. 

The point – Proper usage, conjugation, logical continuity, spelling should all be mandatory when committing writerly narrative to the page. Commas and that semicolon, em dashes (and their usage), ellipses (and the spaces before or after)…even quotation marks, are style choices. (As far as I’m concerned)

Why? Punctuation is something even the Grammar Nazis can’t agree on.

Yeah. Spelling, proper usage, and content – Definately.

Joke. What do divorces and tornados have in common in Oklahoma?

It’s for sure somebody’s gonna lose a double-wide.

 

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RANDOM NVDT – When One Word Will Do

“Look it up and you’ll find your picture.”

So I did. And…

Futilitarian – a person given to useless or worthless pursuits.
— Daniel Lyons’ American Dictionary of the English Language, 1897

So much more descriptive, in a less derogatory way, than poser or poseur. A Futilitarian might be sincere, albeit misguided, ill-equipped, or suffering from cognitive dissonance as regards their ability.

Expanded one could also find uses for this as a religion, a philosophy, an “artistic lifestyle,” a club or organization

Is it a noun, an adjective, or — He was a writer from the Futilitarian school. His writing was Futilitarian. He was a fervent Futilitarian. His platform appeared ambitious but was Futilitarianism exemplified. The doomsayers and soothsayers, pundits and conspiracy theorists, the chicken or egg people, Futilitarians all. This section of highway maintained by the Collin County Order of Futilitarians. Feast Day of Beto O’Rourke, Patron Saint of Democratic Futilitarians. For him, finishing a book is a futilitarian undertaking.

Is an exercise in futility the same as a futilitarian undertaking?

 

NVDT #37 JUNQUE – Here, There, Anywhere

The prompt was – Are Your Settings Real or Entirely Imaginary

I don’t do dystopia or sci fi. Syfy? Siffy? I admire writers of those genres who can make me believe in Foonblat 109. Kurt Vonnegut is magnificent at making real places on the map swirl into his vision. David Foster Wallace can build a place you can believe in, where it isn’t. As can Jennifer Eagan who can put a castle on a hill and make you suspend disbelief. One of my favorites is PD James – she admits to building a fictional English village right on top of an existing one, for location purposes. Like Mexico City on top of that pyramid.

What I do is adapt real places to fit the need. Los Angeles is Los Angeles, Vegas is Vegas, Oklahoma is Oklahoma, Texas is Texas, et al. As Elmore Leonard states, it’s not necessary to go into great detail about places and things, or even people. In Touch, Leonard uses a brewery sign, references to decay, an apartment on a golf course and a run down print shop and that’s about all he says about Cleveland. His point is that readers will fill in all the detail they need. Something often the “author” part of us wants not to believe. Lawrence Block, however, adds the caveat that if you put someone on a bus in NYC there better be a bus line there.

I have characters in an office building that doesn’t exist in Oklahoma, a not there recording studio in Westlake, but fictional office buildings, apartments, houses seem to be exempt from Block’s caveat as those places are generic. There IS a Lowe’s with a Wendy’s in the parking lot every fourth or fifth exit in every major city in America. So to me a recording studio in Westlake, a dance studio in West Hollywood, a shotgun 8-plex on 4th in Long Beach, a high rise condo in San Diego or Santa Monica, they’re all things that are easily “there.”

I’m also a big fan of lines like ‘the gritty air, the smell of diesel on a still day in London…’ That’s all you really need. If more detail is needed, about a shop off Picadilly, dial some in.

Which brings me to one of my pet peeves – descriptive overkill. Lush subtropical vegetation in varying sizes is all I need to know. Maybe some colorful adjectives. What I don’t need is a botanist’s litany of everything green in Louisiana, or to keep a botanist’s handbook handy to read a formula detective novel. Paint the location in broad strokes, fill it with story. Too much junque and I’m out. Unless the ‘tween junque is damn good.

I have a serial running on my site at the moment where I dropped an imaginary town right on top of Lipscomb, Texas. Because I can’t very well insult the sheriff and blow up the bank in Lipscomb. However the feed store I blew a hole in and the Holiday Inn Express in Shamrock, are there. I guess it depends on what you can get away with as to how close you call it.

BTW aside – I have a character who spends three years in Cambridge. Never been. Been to Oxford, but I have Google. If anyone attended Cambridge in the early 80s and wants to talk, send me a note!

I’m interested to see how others handle this one.

 

PART OF OPEN LINK BLOG HOP

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The Wrong Person to Ask

The prompt was – What are your favorite blogging tools?

First of all, WordPress or any blogging is no more or less than a wordy FaceBook. Full of the same self-aggrandizement, poor poor me, and sales scams as FaceBook. Or LinkedIn. Or Twitter et al. Blogging is synonymous with marketing. Which was a sad awakening.

I started blogging to give myself a virtual venue and timeline. Write something, throw it up on the big screen, take it apart. Not unlike my old job. If it’s close, find all the speed bumps, all the clams I possibly can and buff them out. Maybe a movement from adagio to allegro is a jump. Should it be abrupt, or does the allegro need an accelerando passage?

That’s what I do with my blog, for me. And save for a few “okay, let’s play” excursions into capricios and scherzos, maybe a 4 part sonata, that’s been it. What am I writing, as directed by the cosmic radio, followed by how did I do?

So much for musical analogies.

I didn’t show up to market, I showed up to write. To encounter writers who genuinely wanted to be better than they were. I won’t go off into my opinions on all things blogging and the failure of community and a plethora of scam artists other than to agree with Kurt Vonnegut, who said: “If you can do a half-assed job of anything you are a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind.” Welcome to blogging.

Now to offer the one tool every author who writes needs for blogging or otherwise (Aside from ‘pay attention to those little red squiggles under words’).

That tool is – Revising Prose by Richard A. Lanham

The second best tool is content. What gets editors, publishers, and other people’s attention is content they don’t have to read through or around or deal with. They want it consumable, and in the can.

We can brag and bullshit and interview and do cover reveals and trade meaningless stellar reviews with whoever, pump ourselves out there every day and if our content is marginal, sloppy, illogical, boring – if a paragraph is overwritten and can’t follow a straight line then it doesn’t matter. Trust me, at the end of the day all the energy expended on “Buy my book or I’ll shoot this dog”? What suffers most is content. I can say that because over the years I have been handed a bookshelf full of slick “demo” and “promo” CDs with great covers and headshots and competently executed, packaging wise, paperbacks by “compelling authors”. Some are marginal, some worse, some are close but no cigar. Had they edited their material with the meticulousness of the packaging?

Let me tell you something – a recording from a phone set on the floor in a room with people who know what they’re doing opens way more doors than a slick half-assed wannabe demo. Content. 

Even if we’re doing this for “fun” or “fulfillment” our stories and our presentation deserve our very best. Unless we’re simply stringing words together that sound writerly and calling ourselves authors, in which case, step inside hello, we’ve a most amazing show – Blogging!

 

PART OF OPEN LINK BLOG HOP

Rules:
1. Link your blog to this hop.
2. Notify your following that you are participating in this blog hop.
3. Promise to visit/leave a comment on all participants’ blogs.
4. Tweet/or share each person’s blog post. Use #OpenBook when tweeting.
5. Put a banner on your blog that you are participating.