RAMBLINGS ON WRITING
C. Neuroticus Absolutus
THE WRITERS CLUB CRITIQUE
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? ”
“Clichés 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.