How the Greech Stole My Novel

Back in the way way backs before the Pandemic That Could, I wrote a novel. And what better month to start a novel than February. I couldn’t wait til the November-writing month of November. The idea ran off with me and wouldn’t let go. So I had little choice.

Now this novel had a heroine who knew how to heroine. It had a hero who had gotten the hero-ing down lickety-split. There were castles and more castles. Queen Victoria even put in an appearanceThere were bandits and more bandits, and ghosts and more ghost. The ghosts kicked the heroine off the plantation. The boat sank. And the heroine was locked up in a nunnery. And reader took the Grand Tour to Istanbul, Constantinople before she made off for Egypt.

The novel took me months to chip away and let the story out of the marble. When I completed the tome, I sat back, lit muself a cigar and grinned. I had come to the end of my masterpiece. Somehow, I worked through all the jokes, and all the times when I didn’t want to write the damned thing. It was done, and I was a happy man. I  saved my work and closed the file. I went to the kitchen, took a grand puff on my cigar and a drink of pinot. Soon the glass was empty. I poured a second glass and walked back to my computer with a big smile on his face. 51,717 words. I was proud of himself.

Lady Whats-her-name had adventures up the wazoo and who knew? Maybe the next novel might bring more adventures. I had only one more thing to do. Upload my words to my online drive. Before he did, there was just one itsy-bitsy change he wanted to make. Change THE END to FINALE. I sat down at the computer, opened the file that contained my grand saga and looked at the page. I was stunned.

The words, all 51,717 of them, had been erased. Where was my work, my months of staying up late and typing out nonsense into the word processor? Hours of trying to think up crap for a useless extravaganza of an exercise.

I stared at the monitor. Suddenly a big mouth appeared on the screen. It said in the crudest possible way, “I’m hungry and I want more words. More words, if you please.”

The Addiction To Write

At the beginning of this Nanowrimo, I thought I would let you writers out there know how special you are.

It takes a certain kind of courage to speak to the world the way writers do. Yes, it takes a lot of guts to put yourself down on a blank page, then send that page out into the world. To do it well is a Big Something Else.

Yet everyday hundreds, thousands, millions of human beings do the brave act. And do it unselfishly. Because there is never enough return to pay for the hours a writer needs to create, even the well-paid ones. It may be in our job description to write and tell stories. But no one, other than a fellow writer, understands the amount of time and sweat required to come up with an idea, develop it into something unique, then fill out that skeleton of an idea with meat and blood and bone.

That bestselling novel that just hit number one on the New York Times list may very well have taken twenty years to get right and to make it sing. The author is declared a genius, then asked to do it again. And again. And again. If they don’t produce by a deadline somebody else set, that bestseller is declared a fluke by the high and mighty. The readers go on to other things.

Writing stories, writing novels, writing itself is more than just something we writers do. It is who we are and what we are. And most of us don’t make it big time. Sure we get a story or an essay or a blog post published every now and then. They are often featured in publications that don’t pay much or not at all. When it happens, we go around strutting our stuff like some rooster in a chicken coop of hens.

Mostly we are battered around by family and friends and community who harp at us to get a life. Go do something productive. The only answer we can give is that we would if we could. Then we’re back to that very thing they call useless. We sit ourselves down day-in and day-out and do the one thing we know that gives us value and brings us pure pleasure.

Along the way we are given a bagful of don’ts. Show, don’t tell. Don’t use passive voice. Don’t begin with the weather. Don’t use run-on sentences. Don’t use -ly adverbs. Never use clichés. Get rid of all the dialogue tags except for “said” and “asked”. Kill your darlings. Write what you know. After a while, we begin to understand that all those don’ts are a line of hooey. After we’ve read a few bestselling, and well-reviewed, writers who break every don’t in the book, we come to understand that the rules can be broken. The important thing is to know the rules, then to have a good reason to kick them in the caboose.

By the time we come to realize this, we have developed a bit of a style of our own. That is when we throw the bag away and do what we please as well as we can.

We are a drunken lot, we writers. Drunk on words. When we finish a good day’s writing, it’s like we’re at a bacchanalia. We want to dance and sing and tell someone, anyone, what we have done. To have that feeling once is a wonderful thing. To have it again and again and again, that is a life. And there is no way I am going to give it up. Like my motto says, “A day without writing is still a day without writing.”

Yes, I am an addict. Unapologetically so. I’m addicted to laying down words on an empty page, and I am proud of it. Do I hear an amen?

Think about it.

Often I let my inner groucho come out for a little looksee. Mostly I do it with language. So here is some thoughts for your edification on Uncle Bardie doing his Uncle Bardie thing.

Language is a wonderful thing I love to play around with. Give me a word like garbage and I am going to be doing a Norm Crosby and say garabage. It’s something I can’t resist.

Did you know there’s supposed to be a funny font? Well, I am here to tell you I don’t think Comic Sans is up to the job. Squirrelly thang, isn’t it? One thing is for sure. It ain’t no Betty White.

Do you know the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? When a pessimist is surprised, it’s a good thing. When an optimist is surprised, it’s a bad thing. Think about it.

Talk about songs. I like to take songs and throw them for a loop. Feliz navidad becomes Police-know-it-all. Don’t think so. Just try it.

And if the humor ain’t flowing. If the laughter ain’t coming out of its hole, here’s some jokes for all you discriminating readers.

Nudist woman says to her friend, “I have a blind date tonight, and I don’t have a thing to wear.”

We all know that strippers are popular for bachelor and bachelorette parties these days. My question is what does a nudist have at their bachelor or bachelorette party? A clotheser.

Nudist mother takes a look at her new born baby and says to the nurse, “He looks just like his father.”

You know what you call a private investigator among nudists? I don’t know either, but it is not a private dick.

What do you call a dad’s bike? A popcycle.

Why is the largest party day of the year in the middle of Lent? I’m talking Saint Patrick’s Day here folks. Think about it.

How do they get those bunnies to lay those Easter eggs? Think about it.

Why is it we go to doctors and lawyers who are just practicing? If you had a plumber who was just practicing, wouldn’t you get rid of him. What happened to my kidney? you ask. Oh, the doctor removed it. Why? He was just practicing. Think about it.

Did you know that Minnesota (mini soda) means little Coca Cola? Did you know that menopause  means little hands? It’s pronounced mini paws. Did you know that Minneapolis means little town?  Minnehaha is little laughter. Think about it.

And think about this. The Oxford English Dictionary people are thinking about adding Mx to their dictionary. It can be used as an alternative to Mr., Mrs., Ms. and Miss. So, when you get married, you will be pronounced Mx and Mx. Big question. Who will be the Mx and who will be the Mx? Puts a whole new spin on the term mxmarriage, doesn’t it?

Tae boo: to scare the pounds off of you.

Punctuation, punctuation, punctuation. What a pain. Guess that’s why it’s called punk-tuation, huh?

When I think semi-colon, I ask when is it going to grow up and become the colon it’s meant to be. I hardly ever use a colon. That way my writing doesn’t need a colonoscopy.

I do love to invent words like curioddities.

Add –licious (-icious) to a word and you have a new adjective. And it ntensifies the experience. Example: googlelicious.

incidii (pronounced en-sid-dee-eye): more than one incidious. As in: The incidii conspired to make me look like a fool.

Bet you think I am getting geniuser and geniuser. One of these days I too might be the geniusest.

And finally, what do Christmas and hip hop music have in common? Wrappers.

Now admit it. You did chuckle a little along the way, didn’t you? C’mon, adimit it. No? Then why are you smiling?

Bon appetit.

A few words about Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms and the short stories of Ernest Hemingway are old friends. So when I recently saw Ken Burns’ three-night documentary on Ernest Hemingway, I was reminded that maybe this would be a good time to visit with them again.

When it comes to Ernest Hemingway, I don’t love him because he loved bullfighting. I don’t love him because he loved fishing and hunting. I don’t love him because he wanted to out-macho every man, and many of the women, he met. And he was always drinking, drinking, drinking.

Many of us have seen or heard the quote mis-attributed to Hemingway, “Write drunk, edit sober.” Who could write drunk the way Hemingway wrote? Nobody, not even Papa Hemingway. Whoever came up with that that quote did not know Hemingway very well.

That was the lifestyle, the celebrity, the legend. That’s why so many readers and so many critics find fault with him. They’re criticizing his lifestyle and the subjects he chose to write about.

For me, it’s the writing. It is the writing that makes Hemingway Hemingway. From the first time I read The Old Man and the Sea, I loved how he could word a sentence.

When Gabriel Garcia Marquez saw Hemingway in Paris in the late 1950s, he could think of only one word to honor Hemingway with. “Maestro.” That was how much Hemingway and his sentences meant to Garcia Marquez. He was saying what the many writers would want to say to their Papa. Of Hemingway, Joan Didion once wrote in the New Yorker, “This was a man to whom words mattered.”

He preferred the basic Anglo-Saxon words of the English language over the Latinized words the English stole from the French. He wrote simple declarative sentences with strong nouns and even stronger verbs.

When he began writing with that style, it was a new way for writers to speak to American readers. Studying Cezanne and sitting at the feet of Gertrude Stein, the young Hemingway took on a literature that was loaded with fancy-dancy words and overly descriptive adjectives and gave writers a new way to speak to an audience.

Because words mattered to Hemingway, he was constantly in search of the “one true sentence.” Ask any writer who cares about their craft. They will tell you what a young writer told his agent, according to Francine Prose in her wonderful Reading Like a Writer. “What he really cared about, what he wanted most of all was to write…really great sentences.”

Later Prose writes, “I’ll hear writers say that there are other writers they would read if for no other reason than to marvel at the skill with which they can put together the sort of sentences that move us…”

Those are the kind of sentences Hemingway wrote. Again and again and again. And it’s why writers pay attention.

Just read the opening paragraph of A Farewell to Arms. “In the late summer of that year we lived in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.” Wonderful.

In the opening of Hills Like White Elephants, ” It’s the same poetic rhythm: “The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads hung across the open door to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building.” So specific, so descriptive.

He can summarize a story in the opening sentence such as the one that opens the short story, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. “It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.” Again and again there is a magic to his writing that few others can give me.

Or the opening sentence of The Old Man and the Sea: “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”

God, I love those sentences.

Doodleboggery

We writers are a peculiar breed. A downright eccentric lot. Many of us live inside our heads, out there in fantasy land where the most interesting things are going on. Which doesn’t make us the most socially adept folks.

Get a bunch of us together in a room and we can go one of two ways. Half of us will talk your head off. The other half will go to a corner and observe. It’s not that half is shy. It is just that they are writers. And there seems to be nary a middle ground between the twixt of the two.

Some of us will let any ole word flop all over the place like a chicken with his head cut off. Some will make the one hundred yard dash for the word el perfecto. Our desire for literarydom can be the difference between digging for treasure or hunting for the holy grail. Some of us are Indiana Jonesys while some are Kid Galahads. Then there are others who would give anything and everything to be the Muhammad Ali of language. But he earned his heavyweight title, and so must we.

When thinking about my own eccentricities, I must admit I have a bit of all these. There are times when I would prefer the corner while other times when I can be the life of the party. Mostly I like to see words stand up and tap a little Fred Astaire across the room. It is a bit of a disease I call Doodleboggery.

When I first invite a character into a story, it’s no Charlie nor Watt nor Janice for me. I go a little funky and call the character something like Doodlebug whether it be a him or a her. I’ve used Mucker, Willy McWhack, George O’George, Helluvagoy, Puddlewhack, Blowfish, Hermittitus, Actina, Elephantitus just to name a few.

Bet you can guess what the Elephantitus is like. His ego fills a room so much that the room explodes and I have ka-blooey all over the place. Yuck. Then I have to clean up the mess. I want you to know it isn’t pretty.

I’ve used Expletive Deleted. All that came out of her mouth was a purple so prose I can’t repeat it here. Shortly after she walked on stage, I did an Elmore Leonard to her. She had her little butt kicked to kingdom come and she hasn’t showed up in any story since. Course there’s always the danger that she will return and be a major nuisance. You just never know.

Characters have a mind of their own and they can Rasputin all over the place. It took the Russian nobility an amazing amount of effort to kill him off. First they poisoned him, then they stabbed him again and again. But he just wouldn’t die. Then they drowned him. The rumor is that didn’t take either. Some say he’s been seen out in Siberia causing major mischief. Maybe we should check with Putin on that one.

That is what I am afraid of when I think about E.D. Had another character with those initials. Just can’t remember what those initials stand for but it’s not Erectile Dysfunction. He had a completely different set of issues. Had a real bad case of the casanova that caused problems up the ying-yang with all the ladies in a story called “Church”. A number of the women in that story, including the minister’s wife, showed up pregnant. I gave him the condom lecture but since when do characters listen. Last I saw him he had a husband after him with a shotgun. He was jumping out of a bedroom window in nothing but his altogethers.

Now this eccentricity that I have to suffer through doesn’t stop with names. It has a tendency to propagate into sentences and sometimes whole paragraphs when I am not sure what should be taking place. Some examples: “She stood on his lawn and hitchcocked her ex, then she went looking for a place to drop his corpus dilecti into.”

Of course, this honors the great director Alfred Hitchcock and the next one refers to the director Francis Ford Coppola. “He performed the coppola early that day, then he took a ride south to his favorite eatery for some pasta.”

You can imagine what a character might do if he spielberged or david-finchered across the planet. I am not quite sure but you can imagine.

Here’s some other ones.

He bonnie-and-clyded his way into the liquor store, pulled his gub and demanded a fifth of scotch from the clerk.” “Gub” refers to an article called a gun mentioned in the Woody Allen epic, “Take the Money and Run”.

“The artist started sloppy but he grew better. Later he found that sloppy was the way to go.” The artist in this one happens to be Jackson Pollack-ing all over the place.

“He grabbed hold of his life and shook it loose of the blues.”

“After six months, Perky broke off her romance with Hunkie. It wasn’t that the sex wasn’t peachy keen. It was. Lots of bodice ripping and muscles rippling. She just couldn’t take any more of his love for mirrors.”

“She’s the Starbucks of my life/I’m the Krispy Kreme of her heart.”

“She sprawled onto the lawn and kissed the ground he walked on. It tasted like chocolate and she had way too too much of a sweet tooth to not take a good bite out of the grass. Over the years that tooth had carried her from Hershey to Giardina to Rocky Mountain Chocolate to the Wee Willy Wonka in search of the perfect elixir. And here it was, in the footprints he left behind.”

And so forth. I know. This eccentricity sounds a little strange as all eccentricities do. That’s why they’re called eccentricities. But what can I do? It keeps my Muse amused. You see, she gets bored easily. And I do not want to bore her. No, sirree. She has a gub too and it is a big one. It is never pretty when my Muse takes over and does a sharknado to my prose.

Anyway all this doodleboggery sometimes leads me out to the edge. Unfortunately this is where it recently led:

“Jan Horstafeller vas a mighty fine fellow. He ate his haggalogen on Vod’s Day, Tor’s Day und Freya’s Day. As he scarfened down his haggalogen, his capagaggas growed to ten feet vide und twenty feet large und Jan Horstafeller vas only a vee bit of a Horstafeller. Haggalogen has tat effect on der person. It enlarges one’s capagaggas enormously. Yah, tat it does.”

I am so sorry but I couldn’t help myself. It’s just a little Doodleboggery.