Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee, A Writer's Life For Me

Remember this song from Pinocchio?

A writer’s life for me
A high silk hat and a silver cane
A watch of gold with a diamond chain

A writer’s life is gay
It’s great to be a celebrity
A writer’s life for me

A writer’s life is fun

A writer’s life for me
A wax mustache and a beaver coat
A pony cart and a billy goat

A writer’s life is fun
You wear your hair in a pompadour
You ride around in a coach and four
You stop and buy out a candy store
A writer’s life for me!

(Lyrics: Ned Washington, except for my changes)

Not exactly as you remember? Can you spot my changes? Pinocchio had been convinced he would be an actor, not a writer. But hey, at one time I thought that’s what a writer’s life would be. Sort of.

There’ve been no coaches for me, I don’t have a beaver coat, and my hair will never be in a pompadour, so here’s my updated version of what I’d like my writer’s life to be:

I get up early to write. Early is good because the house is quiet and there are no distractions. I’m not tempted by the Internet or Twitter or Facebook that early, for some odd reason. I’m ready to write. After I get my brain to wake up, of course.

I write until my brain has had enough or the muse has left the building. Or both, which is usually the case. That might happen in two hours or it might happen in four. Rarely more than four. I write in my office, which has a lock on the door to prevent others from wandering in to give me a kiss or ask me if I need anything or to tell me they’re going to the store.

I write every day. EVERY DAY. Even Christmas--at least a page--and even on my birthday. Even when my wife and I go away for the weekend. If I’m writing, I’m writing. I can take a break from editing or formatting, but not writing. The muse is fickle and does not like to be ignored. Ignore the muse and she might leave me alone for days or weeks, and that would be bad.

Once I’ve written, the rest of the day is mine. I’ll exercise, spend time with family, cook, read, and maybe even relax in front of the TV with my wife. Maybe do some writing-business like talk to my agent or publisher.

That’s about it for my dream writer’s-life, when I’m creating. If I’m editing, I can do that anywhere there’s a desk. Changes are made on paper then input into the computer later. Easy.

In reality, as I’m not yet supporting my family with my writing and I have a day job, I write at odd times and in odd places. We don’t have a spare room in our condo so I have to leave the house to find the solitude I need.

I can write almost anywhere family or friends are not, because they feel like they’ve got to talk to me even though they see I’m busy writing: the library, a coffee shop, a cafĂ©, the break area of a grocery store ... Almost anywhere.

When writing in public, I have my noise-canceling headphones--I don’t care if people think I’m being rude wearing them in public--and I write with the either the OmmWriter or iA Writer apps on my iPad. OmmWriter is nice for times I’m writing in noisy environments because it comes with it’s own soundtrack. Writer is simpler to use and links with Dropbox for easy access to my files.

My time is restricted now; I don’t have four consecutive hours for writing every day. I have to take what I can get, when I can get it. It’s almost impossible for me to write in the evening; my brain seems to be unable to focus on writing then. I suppose I could train it to, but I like to spend that time with my wife.

And of course, there is currently no agent or publisher to talk business with; I’m self-published. They may change, or it may not.

If you write, what is your ideal writing day or schedule? What compromises do you have to make now because of family commitments or a day job?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Taco-Truck Tacos and Accuracy

Earlier, near the ranch home of Gus Carlisle, Eric Donaldson and Isaac Roberts pulled into an almond orchard. They shut off the 1968 VW Bug, grabbed their plates of taco-truck tacos and gobbled the food, taking care that nothing fell on the floor or seats.

“What time is it?” Roberts asked.

“Nine-thirty,” Donaldson said. He wadded up his paper plate and foil and threw them into the orchard.

“Better go get that,” Roberts said. “John said not to get sloppy. The cops could get your DNA off that.”

“John can kiss my ass. My DNA’s not in the system and this will be over in a few days anyway. I’ll be sitting on a beach in Fiji, where they don’t extradite.”

Roberts thought about that, threw his garbage out his window and said, “John can kiss my ass, too.” He had no idea if his DNA was in the system.

They checked their 9mm Browning Hi-Power Mark IIIs, removing and reinserting the magazines. While suppressors weren’t necessary in the country, they’d brought them anyway; there was money to burn and using them made the men feel like James Bond.

“Let’s go,” Donaldson said. “I’m sick of sittin’ in this shitty little car.”

They got out and walked through the orchard to Carlisle’s house. While doing surveillance, they saw Carlisle enter the house only through the front door, never the side door, which is closer to the detached garage. They would cover both doors to be sure.

Roberts took up his position in the back yard while Donaldson went to the front. They swatted at mosquitoes and waited.

When I first wrote this scene, I had Roberts and Donaldson grabbing their bags of taco-truck tacos. My wife read the draft and said “Taco trucks sell plates of tacos, not bags.”

I wouldn’t know that because I don’t dine at taco trucks. Growing up, we always called them “gut trucks” or “roach coaches.” I don’t know if they have to be licensed and inspected by the health department; if they don’t, I don’t wanna eat their food.

My wife eats their food, though, and she feeds it to the kids. So far they’ve survived. I chalk it up to their iron stomachs that undoubtedly produce copious amounts of strong hydrochloric acid.

Apparently taco-truck tacos have become so popular that local sit-down Mexican restaurants have put them on their menus. I ordered them once (at a sit-down restaurant, one clearly displaying the date of their latest successful health department inspection). They weren’t bad, but they weren’t anything special either. Meh.

My wife will eat taco-truck tacos but she won’t eat sushi. Go figure. Aren’t they about the same?

I had to change the text in my novel because I’m a stickler for accuracy. But really, who would have caught that? Would I have gotten angry fan mail that said “Hey Powers, taco-truck tacos are served on plates you moron! Get your facts straight!”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Using (Poor) Grammar to Help Dictate Pace

In my last post here, I introduced Fred Reese and Jim Waterman, two oldtimers from my novel CANALS. In that post, we learn Fred is upset at how the country seems to be awash with rude people.

Here's another excerpt from CANALS, also featuring Jim and Fred. I've ignored some rules of good sentence structure in the final paragraph to change the pace of the narration, to let the reader known something might be about to happen:

“All volunteer personnel are to move fifty feet away from the canals immediately,” the radio clipped to Fred Reese’s belt said.

Fred had another cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, and he held a fishing rod in his right hand, at least in his mind’s eye. He didn’t ordinarily smoke so much, but because he knew it really bothered Jim, he kept one going. He mostly just let them burn down; no need to inhale to get Jim’s goat.

He knew he’d have to remove the earplugs sooner or later, but right now later sounded better than sooner. He cast out with his imaginary rod.

Jim heard the radio crackle but was too far away to make out the words and too stubborn to cross the street to find out. “He’s wearing the damn thing, let him answer it.”

The light flickered again: Jim walked back to the battery, kicked it, walked back to the railing and heard the radio again, turned his head to yell at Fred and walked into the thin stand holding the light, knocking it over the railing. He reaches and catches the stand but a bolt pops off and the light falls and is dangling two feet above the water, held only by the wire attaching it to the battery. He grabs for the wire, hears glass breaking followed by a brief blinding flash, then everything is black but the yellow-orange circle of light in the center of his vision where the bursting bulb has seared his retinas. He swears and gropes for the wire.

Jim Waterman’s vision had just returned when he found the wire. He hesitated and considered letting the damn thing go. What, would they dock his pay?

Just then he felt something sharp prick his hand. He quickly jerked the hand up, looked and blinked, squeezing his eyes shut before reopening them: his hand wasn’t cut, it wasn’t there. Blood squirted from his wrist and arced into the canal.

He leaned over the railing to look for his hand; it would need to be reattached at the hospital.

Three black heads came out of the canal, their mouths agape, showing silver blades that glinted in the ambient light. One bit down over his head but did not decapitate him, the other two latched onto his shoulders: Jim Waterman was pulled him into the water before he could make a sound.

It doesn't end well for Jim. Oh well, that's what you get for having a minor part in a horror novel.

But back to the pacing. An editor or my high school English teacher would love to attack the last paragraph of the first excerpt. They'd add commas and break sentences up and get rid of most of the "and"s and ... Well, they'd muck with my pacing.

I think a fiction writer can ignore some of the basics of grammar to dictate pace, or even mood. In fiction what matters is, what effect does the writing have on the reader and are you entertaining or enlightening them? I don't seek to enlighten, I seek to entertain. I think I do that well.

Don't overdo it, though. If used too much it can tire the reader and/or lose its effectiveness.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Country Is Awash With Rude People

“What’d they say?” Jim asked Fred, yelling across the street through cupped hands. Their road was busy and a steady stream of cars whizzed by.

“They said turn the lights on and leave them on all night,” Fred called back.

“See, I told you they thought we were a bunch of stooges! They think we’re so stupid we have to be told to turn the lights on.”

Their lights had been on for ten minutes and their canals were well lit. Fred stood and looked over the railing into the water. At first he’d been intrigued by their assignment, thinking they might be doing something important, but so far they were batting five hundred; four pairs of jogger/walkers had heeded their warning, but four others had not, and they had been rude. He was used to kids being rude, but adults? Couldn’t they see the city was serious about this?

His mind wandered and he thought about the state of society in general. People were rude now. No one used turn signals anymore, they just drifted into your lane when they felt like it. No one held doors for others and men didn’t give up their seats to women. When he was young, that was automatic. He blamed women’s lib. And the cell phones: he couldn’t have a meal in a restaurant or watch a movie without two or three of them going off. Worst thing was, the idiots took the calls, yapping at their table as if everyone wanted to hear the details of their pathetic lives, or, if they were at the movies, they would rush out of the theater whispering, as if they were neurosurgeons being summoned to perform emergency brain surgery.

The country was awash with rude people.

Fred worked himself into a funk and thought about packing up and going home, or anywhere he wouldn’t have to listen to Jim Waterman complain. Or put up with rude people.

Instead, he lit a cigarette. People of his generation saw a thing through to the end. If a guy said he was going to do something, he put in his time and finished. He didn’t leave the ballgame in the eighth inning to beat the traffic, he waited until the last pitch was thrown.

He puffed and heard Jim yell, “I can smell your stinky stick all the way over here, Reese!”

Fred wished he had brought earplugs, then remembered he had. Gladys made him tote one of those ridiculous kits around wherever he went: Band-Aids and tweezers and gauze and disinfectant and a little tin of Tylenol and ... yes! Ear plugs.

He popped them in his ears when he was sure Jim wasn’t looking.

He smiled and puffed. Let the fool talk all he wanted.

This is a scene from my horror novel, CANALS. Fred Reese and Jim Waterman are two senior police volunteers, part of the "geezer squad" called on by Captain Bozeman to keep people away from the canals, where a nasty monster was biting and eating people. As you read, they were batting five hundred, which, for you non-sports people, means they only succeeded fifty percent of the time.

Fred has a lot of time to think, and because of his unpleasant partner, Jim, his mind drifts to the sad state of things in the country.

I admit there's some of me in this scene. I'm not a geezer (except to my teenage daughters) and I don't smoke, but I loathe rude cell phone users, which is almost every cell phone user, and I hold disdain for bad drivers. Quite frequently, the two are the same.

Adding to the list of rude people I dislike, which may well show up in my writing, are:

People who leave their shopping cart in the middle of the isle while they comparison-shop brands of canned green beans. What's the difference between a $.79 and a $.89 can of beans, other than ten cents? I don't know but I'll have the answer in twenty minutes. Why don't you use the other isle; can't you see I'm busy?

People who drive railcar-sized vehicles they pull in front of you at the gas station as you pump the final gallon into your tank. They're so big you can't get around them and so have to wait fifteen minutes while they pump forty gallons. Your revenge? It cost them $130 to fill their tank.

People who have no idea what they want, even after standing in line for ten minutes. This happened at the ticket counter of a local arts center. A woman made the cashier explain every show and exactly where every seat was located, while we waited behind her. The cashier called another lady out to help us, and we had to move the rude lady's purse because she'd left it front of the second register.

People who let their children, even encourage, yell and scream and jump on the furniture in your doctor's office reception room. No explanation is needed.

A little bit of myself crept into my second novel, THE MIGHTY T, too. How could it not?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Wizzy And The Traffic Light

Frank got the call from dispatch at one, just as Doris sat his burger down on his table. He listened to the message, but was sure he’d misheard so he thumbed the radio button and said, “Come again, Thelma? I didn’t copy that.”

Thelma repeated the message, Frank thumbed the radio off and said, “Well, shit. Wrap this up to go, would you Doris? I got a call.”

“Damn, Frank. I woulda put it a bag for you if you’d asked. Now I got another plate to wash.”

Frank gave Doris ten dollars, said “Keep the change, for all your trouble” and left Wilber’s Diner, climbed into his old Jeep Cherokee and headed into town.

Buckley, Montana, population two hundred, had one traffic signal, out front of the post office, which also served as the library and video rental store. Across the street was a Shell station.

Frank parked behind the Shell, crept around front and peered across the street at the post office. A rifle fired, the crack echoing across the street. Frank ducked behind a gas pump, though better and ran into the Shell’s office where he found Lenny, who owned the gas station, crouching behind the counter.

“What the hell, Frank?” Lenny said.

“How long’s he been there?” Frank said.

“Sonabitch’s been shooting that twenty-two of his for a half hour now! He’s gotta be drunk. Goddamn, who sold Wizzy booze?”

Frank raised his head and peered through the window. “There ain’t but one store in Buckley, Lenny. Who’d you think sold it to him?”

“Henry knows better than that, don’t he? Don’t he know why Wizzy can’t have no booze?”

“You’d think, after what happened last Thanksgiving.”

“And the Fourth of July.”

Frank crept to the door and yelled across the street, “Wizzy, this here is Frank. What the hell you doin’?”

After a pause, a voice echoed back, “Frank, don’t you try nothin’! You stay put ’till I’m done!”

“Wizzy, for God’s sake, put the twenty-two down and come on out before someone gets hurt. You don’t want no one to get hurt, do you Wizzy?”

“You shut up, Frank! I can’t take this no more and I mean to end it right now.”

Another rifle crack, and a bullet caromed off the traffic light’s metal casing, making it swing back and forth above the intersection.

Frank ducked back into the office and said to Lenny, “It’s the stoplight, ain’t it? He’s shootin’ at the stoplight. Goddamn Wizzy.”

“Wizzy’s a good shot,” Lenny said. “Best in the county two years straight. He shoulda’ hit it by now. He’s already fired seven or eight times.”

“When Wizzy’s been drinkin’, he couldn’t shoot an elephant if he was sittin’ on it.” Frank blew out a breath. “Well, I suppose if he can’t hit the stoplight, he can’t hit me, either.”

Frank went out front again, this time as far as the street. With hands on hips, he hollered, “You come out now, Wizzy! Just lay the rifle down and come on out. We’ll forget this whole thing happened.”

“Like hell, Frank! Every time I come to town that damn light is red! Every time! You hear me Frank? I spent half my life sittin’ at that damn light, and I ain’t gonna do it no more.”

“Wizzy, we only got one stoplight. Now come on, you’re scarin’ Lenny.”

Wizzy’s twenty-two cracked again and Frank ducked, but didn’t run. “Goddamnit Wizzy!”

Frank could hear Wizzy muttering and swearing as he reloaded the single-shot rifle, then thought he should’ve charged him after he’d shot; he might’ve grabbed him before he reloaded.

He opened his mouth to holler when the rifle cracked again. This time sparks flew off the stoplight and glass tinkled down to the street. The light blinked a few times, then went out.

Wizzy whooped and laughed, came out of the post office, laid the rifle on the sidewalk and said to Frank, “I ain’t never gonna sit at that damn light agin, I tell you what.”

“You’re the dumbest drunk I ever saw, Wizzy,” Frank said. “Not only do I gotta haul your ass to jail for distrubin’ the peace, you’re gonna hafta pay for that light to be fixed. I bet it’ll cost you three hunderd.”

“I ain’t payin’ fer no light what has a red part. I tell you what, Frank. I ain’t.”

This will be me one day. When I snap, it’ll be over the damn traffic lights. They’re always red. How much of that is a man expected to take?

Much thanks to Wizzy for letting me borrow his name for this short story. Wizzy’s a colorful character from my book, THE MIGHTY T. He’s been great to work with.

P.S.  Here's the link to my other Wizzy post:  << Click here >>