Friday, April 27, 2012



C. Neuroticus Absolutus


I finished reading the Chapter 1 draft of my novel. Discussion of my work began.
“Rewrite that weak start,” a woman across the room said. “Call me Ishmael? There’s no way that will sell. What kind of name is Ishmael anyway? You need something American, something with punch, like Bubba, Butch or Rambo.”
Call me Bubba? I thought. “But the narrator of the story is from the Mid-east and…”
“Listen, I’ve written thousands of queries and I know what they want. Nobody gives a big road apple about the Mid-east or people from there.”
That would destroy the exotic and mystical backdrop of my story, but I said, “Good point,” and wrote it down. “…Bubba, Butch or Rambo. Thanks.”
“You can’t be too careful nowadays,” the guy to my left said. “Using a foreign name in your writing can get you labeled as an ethnic, racially-biased or xenophobic writer. Then it’s over. No agent or publisher will touch you.”
“But my professor proofed this and said …”
“Professor?” Lefty scoffed. “What the hell does he know? If he was any good, he wouldn’t be teaching school. He’d be retired on a beach somewhere, living off his royalties. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
Ouch! The professor’s supporting comment was my ace in the hole, my last line of defense, now gone in a heartbeat.
“Where did you get the title Moby Dick anyway? Sounds erotic, like some off-color joke,” Nola Jenkins said. As the eldest member of the club, we called her Ma. “And why Dick? Why not just come out with it? Moby Prick. Moby Penis. Or why not just call it Mopy Dick and be done with it? No sense beatin’ round the bush, if you’ll pardon my pun. Make it an erotic Arabian story,” Ma chuckled. “Moby probably isn’t a real Arab name anyway.”
“It doesn’t resonate with me,” said Matilda, who had published in Logging for Women—the large-print issue. “Your premise is inconceivable. A white whale? Is this some kind of veiled discrimination?” she sneered.
“Are you an expert on cetaceans?” Rudy asked. “I spent a week on a Japanese whaling ship. Never saw a white whale. Never heard anyone mention one.”
Damn! I cringed as Rudy and Matilda whittled my legs from under me.
“Your characterization is anemic at best,” Matilda continued. “Your backup stories are implausible, the depiction of your scenes sound like you’re describing a page from a kiddy pop-up book, and your verbal portrayal of the mid-eastern crew is anti-Semitic. I spent half my life in Israel and this won’t set well with the Jews.”
After her verbal whipping, she stared me down. I wondered if I was bleeding anywhere.
“Thanks,” I said, checking her ring finger. Suspicions confirmed: no wedding band. I’d heard that real witches seldom marry, or stay married for long.
Byron pointed his meerschaum pipe at me with well-cultivated snobbery. “You can self-publish,” he said. “’at’s what I did. There’s nothing more ’umiliating than ’aving a ’umongous ass who calls ’imself a editor rip the ’eart and soul out of what you poured your life into. Self-publish and you’re the boss.” Byron, a fan of the Geiko gecko, dropped H-es like they were contaminated with fly poop.
“…self-publish,” I echoed and scribbled another note. “That’s expensive, isn’t it?”
“You get your money back easy,” Byron continued. “’aul a couple ’undred copies to a book fair, set up out in the parking lot, put up a sign and watch ’ow fast they go.”
“Get some little price stickers like they use for garage sales,” a woman in a pink blouse, flip-flops and camo pants advised. “Price your book at $30.00, scratch it out, but not so’s you can’t read it. Then write $24.95 above it. People can’t resist bargains.” Her head went up and down like a bobble-headed Elvis in the rear window of a car.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I was hoping for some advice on the story. I figure I’d better get the story on paper and edited before worrying about marketing. Horse before the cart, you see? ”
“Clich├ęs like that will get you a reject letter faster than a sailor on a streetwalker,” Billy Bob informed.
The aqueous fluid in my eyes boiled. “I thought it depended on things like the coloring of the character, his or her education level, the genre, era and the colloquialisms of the geographic or ethnic setting.”
“Where the hell did you get that crap,” Billy Bob asked. “Wikipedia? You can’t believe a word you read in Wikipedia.”
What the . . .? I’m trying to get a decent critique and we haven’t gotten past the third word!
“Let me see if I got this,” I said, adding to my notes. “Screw Wikipedia.”
“Right on, buddy boy,” the thirty-year Army vet agreed. “Screw everybody. Didn’t have Wikipedia when I was in intensive care at Walter Reed in ’52. Couldn’t pee straight for six months. There’s something to write about. Anyway, there was no Internet back then, and . . .”
“We appreciate your service to our country and the sacrifices you’ve made, Sarge, but I’m just trying to get a critique of my novel here.”
“Screw you and screw your novel!” Sarge stood and shook his fist at me.
“Screw you too.” I stood up next to the towering vet and sucked in my belly.
“You can’t do that! I screwed you first!” Sarge said, whining like a lost puppy.
“Sit down, dipshit.” Billy Bob grunted and gave Sarge the finger.
“Listen guys, all I want is a critique,” I said, my eyes tearing.
“Behave guys,” Miss Sweet Cheeks said sweetly. The room quieted as the men hungrily contemplated the depth of her cleavage. “I like your story. You could make one improvement, though. It would flow smoother if you leave out all the attributes. And don’t y’all think he should omit all the adverbs?”
A roar of consent shook the room.
“Hooah!” Sarge roared. “Screw the attributes and the adverbs!” He waved his fist again.
“Would y’all shut up? Please?” Annie Mae spoke from her wheelchair. She pushed her thick glasses back on her nose and her eyeballs ballooned like a bug under a microscope. “I don’t like your characterization of Ahab. He’d play better as a kind man who smiled once in a while instead of the misanthropic peg-legged old grouch you portray.”
“Yeah! What she said,” Sarge injected. He elbowed Byron and whispered, “What the hell does mis-frigging-antelopic mean?”
“’ell, man, ask ’er It’s ’er word.”
“Are you looking down your nose at us again, you bloody slut?” Ma asked Annie Mae.
“Well, I finished high school, if that’s what you mean. By the way, don’t you have some whoring to do at your retirement home, you wrinkled old bitch,” Annie Mae responded.
Ma climbed on the table, jumped on Annie Mae and knocked her from her wheelchair. “Haiyaaa!” Annie Mae cried as she karate chopped the old woman. Ma was up in a flash.
“Rock on, Annie baby!” Byron yelled as Annie Mae’s skirt flew over her head.
“You perv!” Bobble-headed lady downed Byron with an uppercut. She kicked him in the groin as he got up.
The club president banged for order with his shoe and everyone sat down. “A real productive meeting, everyone,” he said. “Same time, same place, next week. We’re adjourned.”
In the parking lot, Sarge, Billy Bob, Byron, Bobble Head and Miss Sweet Cheeks came over to me. “We don’t want no troublemakers in our club,” Billy Bob said. “You’re a pervert and your writing is shit. On top of that, you’re a damned A-rab sympathizer.”
Sweet Cheeks elbowed out Billy Bob and put a finger in my face. “Don’t ever come back here. I don’t know if I can stand anymore of you looking down my blouse, you sex maniac!”
“You been looking down her blouse?” Sarge asked, taking offense. “Well that cuts it right there.” He balled up his fists and grunted, “I’m gonna whip your scrawny ass! Hooah!”
Before Sarge could move, Annie Mae flew across the parking lot in her wheelchair and caught me head on. I sprawled on the asphalt and uttered a stream of apologies as Ma beat me with her cane.
“You’re an offense to writers everywhere!”
They finally drove off and left me bleeding on the asphalt in the church parking lot.
Well, maybe I’ll join Writers Anonymous. And if I ever ask for a critique again, it will be by mail or via the Internet.

Friday, April 20, 2012


C. Neuroticus Absolutus
The pundits of successful writing tell us to make the first sentences of our stories leap off the page and grab the reader’s attention. Consider Shultz’s character Snoopy’s novel which starts with, “It was a dark and stormy night,” a quote from the 1830 Bulwer-Lytton novel Paul Clifford. Make fun if you will, but is that beautiful or what? Only seven words to set the mood, the scene and to capture your interest.

Inspired by Snoopy, I’ve tried to write an introductory line with the same attention-grabbing impact. The best opening seven words I’ve ever penned are: “She had big tits. Really big tits!”

Kind of grabs you, doesn’t it?

J.M. De Long, on his website, advocates going through your manuscript and removing the intensifier very every time it appears. What drivel! Compare: “She has large breasts,” to “She has very large breasts.”

The first sentence describes a familiar sight: Large, but rather ho-hum breasts. The very in the second sentence—from my unpublished novel Bazoombas!—tells us there is something exceptional about these breasts. With these words the author reaches out from the page, snatches the reader’s attention and simultaneously provides a titillating image of the character’s attributes. I immediately want to know more about this character, especially her breasts. Is she proud of them? Apologetic? Are they perky? An obvious burden? Award-winning? The product of surgical augmentation? Do they hang below her waistline? Are they psychologically uplifting to her, or a depressing nuisance? What other unusual attributes does she have? Curvaceous hips? Long lithe legs? Buck teeth? Pattern baldness? Thick ankles? Halitosis? You’ve captured my attention. Quick! Tell me more!

Well, forget ho-hum breasts. It was the intensifier very that grabbed your attention, admit it!
Ed Sullivan said, “We’ve got a really big show!” Drop the really and substitute a stronger word, Browne and King (Self-editing for Fiction Writers) might advise. But it’s not “a big show,” a great show, or amazing, huge, brilliant, humongous, rhinocerine or even elephantine. . . it’s “a REALLY BIG show!”
No, thank you, Mr. De Long, I’ll keep my intensifying verys and reallys. They’re for those who wish to follow me on my imaginary adventures—and have fun along the way.

The opening lines from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859) are often quoted:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

In Chapter 1 (titled Show and Tell), of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Brown and David King introduce the phrase “Resist the Urge to Explain,” and lovingly reduced it to its least common denominator: R.U.E. I suspect our linguistic authorities would say something like, “Get to the point, Mr. Dickens. Don’t tell. Show!” and might suggest, “Things were such a mess I just wanted to slice my wrists!” as an alternate.
“And for Pete’s sake, Mr. Dickens,” they might add, “get rid of that weak be verb was. Worse, you used it eleven times!” Verbs must be strong, bust you in the chops, keep you on the edge of your seat, our authorities insist. But I wonder how Browne and King would improve on Dickens’, “Marley was dead . . .” without raising the word count or inserting a bunch of adverbs and adjectives that will only get in the way of conveying a simple fact: “Marley was dead.” A be verb followed by a past participle? The dreaded passive voice! Tsk, tsk, Mr. Dickens, where’s the action?

What if I just want a quiet read in my old wingback in front of the fireplace, my slippered feet on an ottoman? Many mature readers still like whodunits with detectives who use their brains instead of Aston Martins upgraded with MI6’s latest 007 spy package, or Israeli Uzis, karate chops, 9 mm Austrian Glocks or Japanese ninja stars. Imagine:
  • Miss Marple at the wheel of the 1968 Mustang GT 390 fastback in the famous Bullit auto chase
  • Perry Mason bedding Della Street in the presidential suite at the Hyatt
  • Nick and Nora Charles as they duke it out with the Chinese mob ala Bruce Lee as Asta chews on Jet Li’s ankle (Oh, crap! I just used the deadly as construction—twice!—and buried the action in dependent clauses!)
  • Joe Friday not getting the facts
  • Or Sherlock Holmes waiting for the results of a DNA analysis (“It’s elementary, my dear Watson!”)
Many of us still like humanly fallible characters with humorous quirks, imperfect bodies and lack the slightest inkling of super powers. Besides, all that constant action wears us out!

As for removing the ly adverbs from your writing as Browne and King propose, I suggest they check out the work of one of the best-selling fiction authors of all time: J. K. Rowling, whose liberal use of adverbs must drive Browne and King mad. Bless billionaire Rowling for ignoring the conventional wisdom and writing a series so enjoyable that literally millions of children became avid readers, if only for seven delicious volumes. Through these young readers adverbs might live on in our lexicon.

For the rest of us hopeful scribes and scribblers, be careful where you get your advice, especially if it stimulates your olfactory nerves with aromas reminiscent of third-world lack of plumbing.

As for you, Mr. Dickens, shape up!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Those Pesky Esses



C. Neuroticus Absolutus


(Pant Rant*)

You’ve been there, in the men’s department in a national chain store when a clerk opines, “This is a nice pant, sir.”

Augggh! I fight the urge to heave. My teeth gnash, scrubbing off another layer of enamel and my eyes pop out far enough to slam against the lenses of my glasses. I want to scream, but my wife would probably bash my head in with her pocket tome (it’s far too big to be a pocketbook). I’d choke the clerk like a chicken, but I can’t be sure the security camera behind that upside down iridescent dome in the ceiling isn’t looking at me. So, I bite my tongue, swallow hard, count to ten and forgive the old man. It’s obvious he can’t help talking like that—he has a New Yoik accent. Damn Yankee!

In English, we generally give special recognition to the anatomical parts of our body that appear in pairs. This is also true for their related accoutrements. Feet, arms, legs, eyes, breasts, balls, etcetera—English weds them as plural pairs or sets. A pair of shoes, a pair of socks/stockings, a pair of glasses, a set of balls, a pair of legs, a (great) set of boobs, a pair of gloves, a pair of pants to mention a few of the most common. Note that the plural forms by the addition of “s” to each of the aforementioned words (except feet, which is the plural of foot). Foot gets additional attention—as do other numerical quantifiers—when used in measurements; e.g., “He’s 6-feet tall,” and “It’s only 12-miles long.” Many are confused, including lyricists: “Six-foot-two, eyes of blue…” In the American south, “Only 12-mile to go,” is often heard. Our quandary with the ubiquitous “s” is transferred to an array of measurements such as pound, dollar, and others like rapper 50 Cent. The plural “s” problem is easily transferred to the possessive case of nouns; e.g., “give me a nickel worth of licorice” instead of “a nickel’s worth.”

Back to my frustration with pant. Here are a few synonyms.
Pantaloons (Pants is the abbreviation for this word.)
Knickers (What? No singular form? Egad!)
Breeches (From breech: the buttocks, rump; the lower part of the torso.)
Britches (Is there even a singular form for britches? Britch? No, no singular form.)
Drawers (No singular form meaning garment with openings for the legs)
Capris (Short for Capri pants)
Pedal pushers
Swim trunks
Skivvies (General military use for underpants; not used when going commando.)
Panty hose (from hosiery; stockings, leggings, nylons)
Long johns
Chaps (Only half a pant, perhaps, but they cover the legs.)

Notice that all these words are related to legs, of which we are generally born with two. A shirt, undershirt, blouse, tube-top, halter, jacket, leotard, coat, et al are not related to our arms, but to the trunk, the torso of the body. When adorning our arms we speak of sleeves. By this definition, the garments jock/jockstrap and brassiere are apparently related to the trunk of our body. No matter the size, a singular noun describes the garments that cover both sets of these appendages. As for glasses, the Greeks screwed up this concept with monocle.

The ne’er-do-wells who wish to mutilate our English language conventions, by changing the word pants to PANT, will undoubtedly fail. Try the following phrases on your friends, family and co-workers and perhaps you’ll see why.
You have ants in your pant.
Liar, liar! Pant on fire! (Perhaps you’re half-assed?)
Keep your pant on. (See Liar, liar! Above)
Don’t get your panty in a wad.
The ballerina wore pink tight.
Long john kept the old miner warm. (Maybe the old miner reciprocated.)
I’ve lost my glass. (Thus, you can’t see clearly, or you can’t imbibe further?)
I’d like to get into her pant. (Good luck with that, Slick.)
She has great leg.

Put on your glass. (You either wear a monocle or are a Cyclops. How about that? A singular word ending with an “s”. Plural: Cyclopes. Blame the Greeks again.

As for “A great piece of ass,” you have two cheeks but only one ass. Or maybe not. It is the lower part of your trunk, unless you’re an elephant. Or a wooly mammoth.

The Japanese language has no plural form for nouns. Imagine my consternation when friends spoke of boob, breast, or bosom.

Of course, all the Japanese sales clerks say, “This is a nice pant.”


* Pant Rant: An alternate title suggested by Edna Whittier or the Valley Writers Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club.