STORY TELLING DO’S AND DON’T’S

Image

Joseph Waumbaugh once said, “You can teach everything about writing except how to tell a good story. Either you know how or you don’t.” I think he’s right. I have a friend who told me he was going fishing on Wednesday. On Thursday I asked him if he caught anything and sat back waiting for the fish story.

“I got up Wednesday morning and felt really tired. I don’t know why, because I went to bed early.” he said. “I took the dog for her morning walk down by the park and when I got back my wife fixed me bacon and eggs for breakfast. A little bit later John came over and wanted me to help him. So I went over to his place and helped him load some lumber in the back of his truck. I should have worn gloves because I got a sliver in my little finger. Once I got back home and dug the sliver out of my finger, it was almost noon, so I went to MacDonald’s and had a Quarter-pounder with cheese, fries and a large Diet Coke for lunch. At MacDonald’s I talked to a guy who said he caught a few catfish a couple days ago down at the river. I went down to the bait shop to get some bait, and when I came out it was raining, so I decided not to go fishing.”

There wasn’t even a story, and it took him fifteen minutes to tell it!

He’s not the only one. I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen since high school. So I asked, “What have you been doing since graduation?” And he said, “After graduation I went home and we had the reception, Sloppy Joes with three kinds of salads, chips and baked beans. The next morning I slept in because I didn’t have any school…” I think he would have went on day by day for the twenty years since I’d seen him if I hadn’t stopped him. There’s an old saying about storytelling, “Begin at the beginning.” Don’t do that. Begin where it is interesting or at least important.

Almost as bad are the people who want to include every detail about everything. If you ask them how the movie Noah was, they’ll say. “We had to stand in line for twenty minutes to get into the theater. Then I got popcorn without butter because I’m on a diet and that way I could get some nachos and a box of Jujy Fruits.” They will tell you every detail about the movie, every line they can remember and even the closing credits. If they can remember, they will tell you the name of the movie’s best boy and key gripper, although people in the movie industry don’t even know what they do. All you want is a simple thumbs up or thumbs down and they go on for hours. Don’t do that!

I have friends who need a jungle guide when they tell a story or they get lost and never find their way out of the wilderness.

My friend: A funny thing happened today at work.

Me: Really. Tell me about it.

My friend: There was this woman who came into office. She had a mole on her right cheek. It was sort of like that mole Beth has on her upper lip that she won’t get removed. She had the one on her forehead removed, but she won’t have the one on her lip removed. I don’t know why. I think she thinks it’s like a beauty mark and makes her look more attractive, but it’s too big for that. Sometimes if you glance at it out of the corner of your eye it looks like a bug is trying to crawl up her nose. Did I tell you, last Wednesday when I was driving home from work, this big June bug started flying around in my car? It freaked me out. I stopped right there on Main Street, got out and opened all the doors until it flew out.

Me: So there was this woman at the counter.

My friend: Right. She wanted to sell this car. It was a ’60 Ford Fairlane 500 like my uncle Fred had when I was little. Except it was green and his was yellow. He used to take us over to Forest City in it. Of course my brother would always get to sit in the front seat while the rest of us would be crammed together in the back. Sometimes we’d play I Spy. Remember that TV show I Spy with Bill Cosby and Robert Culp? I used to love that show, but Dad didn’t. I could only watch it when Dad wasn’t around or if he fell asleep on the sofa. Then I’d change the channel, but if he woke up he’d make me change it to anything but I Spy or I Love Lucy. I loved Lucy. It was one of my favorite…”

Me: So, this funny thing happen at work yesterday?

My friend: Really? Tell me about it.

It’s like they need a GPS to find their way. Something where a voice every five minutes or so says, “Make a U-turn at the next intersection and proceed back to the story.”

The reason this story telling stuff has come to me is I am currently reading a book called Audrey’s Love by Gerri Bowen. It is a time travel romance novel. I just finished a Stephen King time travel novel, and I thought I’d stay with the genre. I am also coming to a part in the novel I’m working on where I need some romance, and it has been a couple of years since I’ve written anything with romance in it. I’m old and I thought reading a romance novel would be a good refresher course. (I toyed with the idea of doing independent research, but my wife nixed that idea. She just doesn’t understand the trials and tribulations of a writer.)

The King novel was written entirely from the point of view of the time traveler, while Audrey’s Love is written from the point of view of the time traveler as well as from the characters in the past. It is a very effective story telling. It allows the author to give out vast amounts of information without having to be boring or long-winded. It also allows the reader to see the same situation from two completely different perspectives. So far it is a very well-written book that has kept my interest where a normal romance novel would not have. It’s simply good story telling…even if nobody has bacon and eggs for breakfast or goes fishing.

sticks         gohpl          NEW 1

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

IT’S A GAS! GAS! GAS!

trixiefarts

 

 

In my first novel, Deputy Lyle Hoffman finds the body of a woman just as the effects of food poisoning start to take effect. What follows is him trying to do the initial investigation with diarrhea and vomiting. I thought my editor would recommend I cut most of it, but she left it intact. She said even the really gross parts were kind of funny. What I was trying to do in most of that first chapter was showcase the difference between the big departments and the small ones. In a big department the deputy would have just gone home sick. In small departments it doesn’t always work out that way. I once spent a twelve hour shift throwing up and looking for bathrooms. When I came in to work I felt fine, but about an hour into the shift I started feeling worse and worse. At one point the dispatcher told me I should go home, but I couldn’t. There was no one to fill in for me. Including the sheriff, we had an eight-man department. The deputy who was supposed to work the staggered shift with me had already called in sick. The sheriff and chief deputy were gone to a school. One deputy was on vacation. One deputy was out of town on his day off. A deputy had just got off from covering the day shift and another had to come in at 0600 hours to fill in the day shift in the morning. That left me to cover the county until morning, puking and crapping the whole shift. Fortunately it was a slow night and nothing big happened.

Everyone goes to the bathroom…except maybe Ward Cleaver. He went six years without using the bathroom, and he was still cheerful–they made them tough back then. In fact nobody went to the bathroom back in the fifties and sixties. The seventies came and Archie Bunker was on the “terlet” all the time. Nobody passed gas on TV or in the movies back then either. You never saw Rickie Ricardo come out of a room waving his hand in front of his nose yelling, “You got some splaining to do, Lucy!” In fact until Blazing Saddles and the campfire scene, flatulence did not exist.

George Carlin had a routine about how nobody thinks their farts smell that bad while everyone else’s could knock a buzzard off a manure wagon. (I cleaned that up a bit.) Women don’t fart, or at least that is what they would like to have you think. A woman would never fart in front of another woman. They would explode first. There are guys, on the other hand, who seem to relish breaking wind. They brag about it. The more people they can get to gag the prouder they are.

It is said that a guy knows he’s in a close relationship when a woman will break wind in front of him. When you’re snuggled on the couch and suddenly you hear a sound like an elephant giving birth and the dog passes out, you know she’s serious about you. Oh, and for the record my wife wants everyone to know that she has never cut the cheese in her entire life.

Below is my review of Stephen King’s book 11/22/63

11/22/63

When Stephen King first started publishing, I was a huge fan. As the years went by and the novels rolled out at a tremendous pace, I found many of his books were long on writing and short on story. My interest waned. It has been a few years since I have read a King book. 11/22/63 grabbed my interest. Jake Epping goes back in time through a wormhole to kill Lee Oswald before he can kill Kennedy on the belief that the world would now be a Utopia if Kennedy had lived—no mention is made of taking out James Earl Ray and Sirhan Sirhan for the trifecta. There is no real supernatural or monsters in the book, other than the time travel and the Past being some sort of entity that resists change, although it doesn’t seem to have a problem making changes in order to prevent changes. The whole thing is a gimmick to provide suspense. It doesn’t work. The Past rises up at inconvenient times to thwart Jake in various ways, some of them ludicrous such as a bookie beating up and attempting to kill a customer because he won a bet. (One would think the bookie’s business would drop off drastically after word got out that if you won a bet you would be beaten up or killed.)

Since the wormhole only leads to a certain date in the past, the first part of the book is Jake killing time until Oswald gets back from Russia. King brings back two characters from another book, which is another gimmick as the characters play no useful part in the story except to dance around as if to say, “Remember me?” and then they are gone. The characters, as with all King books, are very good and well drawn. The book has the same well-written style that has accounted for King’s bestseller status through the years, and there is a good love story buried in there. Perhaps the book would have been better as a novella without the time travel or the Past. At least it would have been shorter.

All in all it is not the worst King book I have read (The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon) nor does it come anywhere close to the top ten. I think it might be a while until I read another Stephen King novel.

sticks        gohpl       NEW 1

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

COOKING FOR SHOW

thGRL8N4RR

If you do someone a favor, the first time they appreciate it. If you do it a second time, it becomes your job. That’s how I ended up doing all the cooking at our house. One evening my wife had to work late, and to do her a favor, I decided to cook dinner. My wife raved about how good the meal was. I’m not a conceited person, but when someone discovers how great I am at something, I’m not going to be rude and disagree with them. I thought it tasted like something you would get in a fine Italian restaurant. My wife went so far as to say it was the best plate of Spaghettios she had ever eaten. The next night she had to work late again. Since I had received so much praise the night before, I decided to make dinner again. This time I wanted to do something fancier and make something you don’t just dump out of a can, so I went to the freezer and took out some TV dinners…the deluxe ones with the apple crisp dessert! The next morning as we were getting ready for work my wife said, “What are we having for dinner tonight?” Thirty-some years later, I’m still doing the cooking.

I really can’t complain doing the cooking, actually I do but it doesn’t do any good. I don’t mind cooking, and my wife does the clean up and dishes afterward which are the chores I really hate. Over the years I’ve learned a lot about cooking and have become good at it. I’m not going to say I’m a better cook than my wife—at least not when she’s close enough to hear me–but I’m more creative. I guess it’s the writer in me coming out. With my wife, it’s as if a recipe is a magic potion that must be followed exactly. If a recipe for chicken cacciatore calls for an eighth of a teaspoon of chopped parsley, and she doesn’t have parsley, she won’t make it. Would a wizard make a love potion if it called for eye of newt and he didn’t have any? It might end up being an Invisibility potion or End-of-the-World potion. If she made the chicken cacciatore without the parsley, it might turn into lasagna or a three-headed troll.

When we were married, my wife went to my mother and found out how to make all my favorite dishes. She did an excellent job making them when she still cooked, which is surprising since my mother never had recipes. I don’t think she owned a set of measuring cups or spoons. She just dumped and tasted and dumped some more until she got what she was looking for. My wife can do the same thing, but when she has a recipe in front of her, she freezes up.

So I do the vast majority of the cooking–soups are my specialty–but my wife still does the baking. I don’t eat many baked goods these days. If my wife wants them she has to bake them herself or do without, and that’s not going to happen.

Anyway my novel County Ops: The Vengeance of Gable Fitzgerald is still available for 99 cents at Amazon for those of you who are interested in a good mystery/thriller at a cheap price. Now I have to go and move a load of blue jeans from the washer into the dryer. I don’t usually do the laundry, but yesterday I did a load and my wife said she never saw the whites so white before. I figure I’d do the blue jeans to surprise her, but this is just a one-time deal.

NEW 1

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

BACK CRACKERS

royalty-free-massage-clipart-illustration-1047961

Awhile ago we got new pillows. They are the gel ones that are supposed to contour around your head and give you the perfect fit. (My wife says in the morning my pillow looks like the mold of a giant rutabaga, but it could be worse. It could be the mold of a giant sugar cube.) We got the pillows because my wife had back problems and she thought the problem might be the wrong kind of pillow. After a week she decided she couldn’t sleep on the new pillow and went back to the old one. I still use the new pillow. Sometimes I wake up in the mornings with a stiff neck. It’s been three months since we got the pillows and no stiff neck. I don’t know if it’s because of the pillow, but I’ll keep using it for now.

The stiff neck has bothered me for years. I’ll get one and it takes about three days for it to go away. I’m not a big fan of chiropractors, but I went to one once about my neck. I was supposed to go on a fishing trip and the morning before I was to leave, I woke up with a stiff neck. The doctor sat me down after I explained the problem and ran a metal probe up and down my back.

He had me take off my shirt and lay face-down on a table with my forehead resting on a pad. When I was comfortable he put a metal rod against the back of my neck.

“Will I be able to feel my legs when you’re done?”

“Ha ha,” he said the way people laugh when they’re actually annoyed.

So he dropped the pad, the metal rod pushed down on my neck and I could still walk.

He sat me up and ran the probe up and down my back again.

“Got it,” he said. “Everything’s good as new.”

“But my neck still hurts.”

“It might take two or three days for the treatment to work,” he said.

So I’m not sure what he accomplished other than making a payment on his car.

Years later I came back from three days of salmon fishing. Three days of casting heavy lures with heavy rods is hard on the back. Usually it takes a week before the muscle soreness goes away. This time after three weeks, my back was just as sore as it had been the first day back. I knew there must be something else going on. I tried to get in to see my doctor, but he was booked solid for two weeks unless it was an emergency. To me if I stub my toe it’s an emergency, but all my limbs were attached and blood wasn’t gushing out of any openings so it didn’t fit their idea of an emergency. After enduring a couple more days of pain, I decided to give a chiropractor one more try.

This time I went to a different one. He was young and friendly. The first thing he did was sit me down in his office without a table or metal rod in sight.

After I explained the back problem to him, he said. “Most chiropractors would just put you up on a table and pop your back into place and be done with it. I believe the problem has to be cured or it will just come back. First what I’m going to do is weigh each side of your body to see if they are equal.”

“Will this involve a chainsaw?” I asked.

“Ha ha,” he said and then continued. “Next, I’m going to take digital pictures of you standing up to see if you are leaning to one side or the other.”

“I don’t think I am,” I said, “because I’ve never toppled over.”

“Ha ha.”Then he explained that I would be coming back twice a week for treatments for the next year or two until the problem had been taken care of or he had his Lexus paid off. (Okay, maybe I added that last part.)

“Are you ready to get started?” he asked standing up.

“Quite frankly, no,” I said standing up also. “If I’m going to invest that much time and money, I’ll go see a real doctor.” (Note: never say real doctor to a chiropractor. I didn’t even get a ha ha.)

So I left without getting treated. The pain went away on its own in another week or so.

I have friends who visit chiropractors regularly and swear by them. They say they have cured their headaches, relieved their back pains and even showed up at their doors with a check for ten million dollars. (Now that I think about it that may have been Ed McMahon.) I’m not trying to discourage anyone from seeing a chiropractor. If you like your chiropractor, you can keep your chiropractor. It just hasn’t worked out for me.

All of my books are available at Amazon

sticks           gohpl          NEW 1

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

HOCH’S CREEK

Big%20Darby%20Creek%20Mile%2036

          I have run into a problem with the mystery I have been working on. To try to work it out I went back to working on my coming-of-age novel. Below is an excerpt. I currently am calling it Hoch’s Creek, but that can change.  It’s still a little rough, so be kind. By the way, County Ops is again available on Amazon for 99 cents.

HOCH’S CREEK

          Weiner stuffed a few more sticks into the burn barrel and put the old refrigerator shelf back on top of it. The fire was going good now, the odors of the previously burned garbage coming out in an aroma of burnt banana peels and magazines which would permeate anything we cooked on the fire. Weiner put the can of pork and beans on top of the shelf. Beside it he put the coffee can of cowboy coffee, two heaping handfuls of coffee grounds thrown in with the water. Picking up the green sticks we had used earlier, he speared a hot dog and held it over the fire. He handed the other stick to me.

            It was about midnight and this would be our third time eating tonight. We had roasted some hot dogs over the fire and ate some chips when I first came over. About ten we had sneaked into his kitchen and robbed half a brick of Velveeta cheese from the refrigerator.  We ate the cheese with a few saltines, washing it down with the coffee. Neither of us drank coffee on a regular basis–my mother said it would stunt my growth. Even now when we drank it, we put enough sugar in it to give us diabetes, but we had to have the coffee to keep us awake. No matter what we called it, sleeping out was never about sleeping. I would sleep tomorrow after I got home. Now here we were again standing by Wiener’s burn barrel ready to suck down more food and the coffee.

            “We should have gone to Chuck’s place at ten,” Weiner said and shot me a sly grin.

            I returned the smile even as a wave of apprehension rolled through me.

            Every time we camped out, Wiener mentioned Chuck’s place.  At ten Chuck Elliot took his little Pomeranian, Puddles, out in the backyard to do its business. Last summer Weiner, Bob Parker and I were camping out in Bob’s backyard. On that night we decided to sneak into the lilac bushes behind Chuck’s house and wait for him to come outside so we could scare him. Ten came and went without Chuck making an appearance. We continued to hide in the bushes.

           At 10:30 Chuck’s sister, Cindy, came home from her job at the Dairy Sweet. Cindy was going into her junior year in high school at the time. Blonde with blue eyes and a body like a mature woman, Cindy was a looker by anyone’s standards.  Shortly after she got home the light in her upstairs bedroom window snapped on. She had left the shade halfway up when she left that afternoon because it had been daylight. We watched as she took the belt out of her pants and then stripped off her pants and threw them on the bed.

            She was standing toward the rear of the room, and because of the angle we couldn’t see anything from the waist down, but just the thought of looking at an older girl standing with no pants on was enough to get our twelve-year old hearts pounding. She began to unbutton her blouse and then walked out of view to the right.

            Immediately Bob and Weiner went back and forth in the bushes trying to find her again. I of course diverted my eyes and said a quick prayer. (And that is the truth no matter what vile lies the other two tell about me pushing and shoving them out of the way to get a better look.) Cindy couldn’t be found from any angle, but after a few minutes something flesh-colored suddenly flashed across the window, and the light abruptly went out.

            Because all we could see was the rectangle made by the foot that the shade was up and maybe an eight inch gap between the curtains, we couldn’t tell if we had seen an arm, a leg or maybe some uncovered girl’s body part that is never left unclothed except for showers and baths—it could just as well have been a peach-colored pair of pajamas or a pink robe. Not knowing what we had seen let our imaginations bloom like vines climbing up a red brick wall. Young boys can see far more with their imaginations than they ever can with their eyes. The story went from maybe seeing a female body part that is normally covered with clothing, to seeing Cindy standing completely naked on the bed in front of a wide open window without a shade or curtain, doing a wild hootchie coochie dance with wild gyrations and motions that would have challenged even the most flexible Olympic gymnast.

            I personally did nothing to grow the story–Weiner was by far the best gardener–but neither did I do anything to correct the record, and I gladly accepted the envy of the other boys, even high school boys, at having seen one of the best looking girls in town naked.

            Despite all the adulation a deep terror burned inside me. Cindy dated Josh Noble who was now a starting linebacker for the high school football team, I lived in fear, and sometimes had nightmares, that Cindy or Josh would hear the story and show up and try to beat the memory from our heads.

sticks           gohpl            NEW 1

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

MAKING SAUERKRAUT

SAM_2257

( I apologize in advance. I had trouble coming up with something to write about this week)

 

         I just finished starting my cabbage seedlings on the silly presumption that there is going to be a spring this year. I start my own cabbage plants because I make a lot of sauerkraut and I have a specific variety of cabbage I like to use to make sauerkraut. (In a week or so I’ll start some tomato plants so I can have different varieties from what they sell in the stores. Sometimes I make spaghetti sauce and salsa out of the tomatoes, but usually I amuse myself by watching the tomato plants shrivel and turn a moldy yellow from blight. Isn‘t gardening fun?) Making sauerkraut is a lot of work, but I think mine tastes better than what you buy in the stores, although everyone who makes their own anything thinks it tastes better. The reason is after you put that much work into anything your mind tells you it better taste better than what you could buy. It could taste like fermented skunkweed to everyone else, but you still think it tastes better. But my sauerkraut really does taste better.

           I’ve been making sauerkraut for years. If we get rain and I actually get cabbages, I make it in a big plastic vat and let it ferment for weeks before putting it in Mason jars and canning it. As I’ve written before, sauerkraut is one of those foods people either love or hate. Some people say when they even smell it they have to run out of the building or they’ll throw up–sort of like the way I feel about politicians. My two oldest kids wouldn’t eat sauerkraut when they were younger, but they eat it now. My oldest daughter says she’s always liked it, but I can remember making Reuben sandwiches for her without sauerkraut or Thousand Island dressing—she was actually having a corned-beef on rye with Swiss cheese, but I didn’t tell her.

            When I was in school I remember reading about the early seafaring explorers who had a big problem with scurvy, which is caused by a lack of vitamin C. Captain Cook, who was probably the most far-ranging of the explorers, took tons of sauerkraut with him in barrels and never had a problem with scurvy, because sauerkraut is high in vitamin C. Of course every time he opened a barrel all the crew who didn’t like it puked and leapt off the ship, and then he’d have to turn around and head back to port to pick up more crew. It’s funny that he got as far around the world as he did.

sticks            gohpl              NEW 1

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL

cartoon-in-mirror

      It’s funny what people see and don’t see when they look in a mirror. Take guys. A guy can have a beer belly that hangs halfway to his knees, be bald except for seven hairs which he wraps around trying to cover his whole head, nose hairs coming out of his nostrils until it looks like he has a moustache, and eyebrows that look like a couple of tarantulas fighting, but when he stands naked in front of a mirror and flexes his biceps he sees Matthew McConaughey looking back at him. And that’s if he’s an average guy. If he’s conceited, he sees Matthew McConaughey’s head on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body when it was in its prime. “Not bad. Not bad.” he’ll say and turn around to get a good view of his back. In his mind his carpet of back hair, that makes him look like he hasn’t fully evolved, will disappear. “I still got it,” he’ll say, even if he’s never had it. Even if he wouldn’t know what It was if It bit him in his double-wide trailer behind. That’s just the way guys are. Reality is more of a moldable concept than a solid ideal.

       Women are different, but just as detached from reality. A woman gets out of bed in the morning and does her best not to look at the mirror. “Look away. I’m hideous,” she’ll say as if she were the Elephant Man. If she does accidentally glance at the mirror, she sees a giant slug that has just crawled out of the primordial slime. I’ve known women who get up in the morning and immediately dash into the bathroom to do their hair and put on makeup before they let anyone see them. They move so quickly you wouldn’t even know they had left their bed if it wasn’t for the slime trail leading into the bathroom.
It’s said that “women dress for other women”, and I think it’s true. My wife doesn’t care if I see her in the morning without makeup and her hair messed. She’ll sit down for breakfast in her jammies looking like she just got out of bed, which she did. It doesn’t bother me either after all these years, but you would think she’d want to look a little more presentable when she’s sitting across from Matthew McConaughhey.

       Women are under more pressure to look good than men. They are constantly presented with models who are seven feet tall and weigh sixty-five pounds, wearing dresses that would be too small for starving Ethiopians. Let’s be honest, of the seven billion people in the world there are maybe sixty-seven women who aren’t models that can fit into the sizes of clothes models wear, and most of them are in third world concentration camps. The only solace a normal woman had was to be able to say, “At least I have boobs,” and then along comes Kate Upton! Is it any wonder women become paranoid about their appearance?

       This is supposed to be a blog about writing so what does any of this have to do with writing…? No seriously, does anybody know…? Okay, let me take a stab at it. When you write a character what they look like on the outside is not nearly as important as what they look like on the inside, and what they look like to themselves. Beauty is not going to stay in a reader’s mind from a few sentences or even a paragraph description. The true beauty of a character comes from how people react to a character and how the character feels about him or herself. As the old saying goes, Beauty is only skin deep…but ugly goes clear to the bone or something like that. Take my wife for example. We were high school sweethearts, and we have been together forever. Both of us have aged over the years, but when I think of my wife I still think of her as that young school girl I met in high school. Sometimes the first impression is the only impression, no matter what the mirror says.

       Just a quick note, in the four months my book County Ops: The Vengeance of Gable Fitzgerald has been out, I have sold more books than I have in the two years my first book In The Sticks has been out there. But I’m not getting any reviews. If you read the book and didn’t particularly like it, I’d appreciate a review. Any publicity is good publicity as long as they spell the name right.

sticksgohplNEW 1

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments