Archive for May, 2010

Social Networking Exposed

Categories: Grump About Town


Categories: Retro Reels

Nicholson’s: Lecherous, Literary Libation

99 bottles of Scotch on the wall or something like that. I count 55. I’ve sampled all of the standards and then some. Islay is my game, though I enjoy a nice Speyside now and then. The list isn’t as strong as it used to be. The Laphroiag 10 is gone but you can find it just about anywhere, so no big loss. And the Longmorn is missing which is a shame since I don’t think you can find it anywhere locally. I love the Lagavulin 16. The list describes it thusly, “Highly aromatic with aromas of smoked game and charcoal, with pleasant dried fruit flavor, complimented by a bold, continuous finish.” As in, that’s a nice bold, continuous finish you have there? Christ! It’s complemented. Complemented. Not complimented.

I’m meeting my friend Mark, who has written a novel. A pretty good one. He is having trouble getting it published, so I offered some sage and humble advice from my literary criticism days. Too many unnecessary words and characters, I told him. I’m trying to coach him through to an 80 proof novel. Vigorous, muscular prose with very little fat is my prescription. Excising words is a painful process for a lot of writers. Like having to choose from among your children. He says he’s making progress. He has eliminated characters and cut scenes. He brings me 200 corrected pages, which I will read over the next several days.

 If there is any one else out there wrestling with the bear, here is my list of rules, gleaned from the advice of others much wiser than myself:

  1. Attribution: Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue and never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”. Okay, very, very rarely ever.
  2. Forbidden words: Never use the words “suddenly” or all “hell broke loose”. Never use the word “then” as a conjunction – we have “and” for that purpose.
  3. Listen: Read everything aloud especially dialogue. How it sounds is hugely important.
  4. Economize: Cut, cut and cut, like crazy, until you can cut no more, until only the essential words are left. Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. Minimize or eliminate metaphors and similes. Learn from the cinema. Don’t overwrite. Avoid distracting adjectives and unnecessary adverbs (try to avoid adverbs altogether). Read Cormac McCarthy.
  5. Habits: Keep a diary and always, always carry a notebook. Make it a habit to put your observations into words. Write first thing in the morning, as early as you can manage. Write 500 to 1,000 words every day. A problem often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk. Edit in the evening. Don’t drink, do drugs or have sex when you’re writing. The best sex scenes are written when you’re not getting any.
  6. Style: Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way.
  7. Read: Read widely but discriminatingly. Bad writing is contagious. In the beginning, find an author you admire and copy their plots and characters in order to tell your own story, just as people learn to draw and paint by copying the masters. Read Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande.
  8. Description: Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Description must work for its place. It can’t simply be ornamental. If description is colored by the viewpoint of the character who is doing the noticing it becomes part of character definition and part of the action. Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world so find a place to stand.
  9. Gestation: It’s the gestation time that counts. The first draft is always shit. Probably the second too.
  10.  Characters: Don’t overcrowd the narrative. Characters should be individualized not functional. It is worth thinking about what your minor characters’ stories are, even though they may intersect only slightly with you protagonists. Make your main character want something. Desire is the engine that drives both life and narrative. Make your main character do something. When you hear someone complain that, “nothing happens” in a work of fiction, it’s often because the central character doesn’t drive the action. Have protagonists pursued (by an obsession or a villain) and pursuing (idea, object, person, mystery).
  11. Pacing: Learn from the cinema. You’ll want to move close, linger, move back, and move on, in pretty cinematic ways.
  12.  Humor: Comedy is as essential a lens on the human experience as tragedy, and it is an excellent ward against pretension.
  13. Life: Shut up and get on with it. Don’t take any shit if you can possibly help it. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied. There is no writer’s lifestyle. All that matters is what you leave on the page. You have to love before you can be relentless. Cheer yourself up by reading biographies of writers who went insane. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.

I’m told that my favorite Nicholson’s bartender, Corbett, has moved on to greener pastures, a gig with a corporate food service vendor. I wish him well. He is missed. I was one of Corbett’s early Scotch mentors but I think he has blown by me by now.

The Lobster Macaroni and Cheese is too rich to be an entree, I decide. It should be a smaller portion and offered as a side dish.

English and Scottish and Irish beers are vastly inferior to American Craft Beer. I drink a Dogfish 60 and a little Ardbeg.

Mark and I don’t talk much about his book. We talk a bit of politics. He leans a little right and I lean a little left but we agree that the charade called the government of the U.S. rarely serves anyone’s interests but their own and their benefactors, whether they dress left or right. We talk about the death rattle of newspapers and lament how few people are reading fiction these days. A quarter of the U.S. population hasn’t read a book of any variety in the past year. A lot of what is being read includes self-help bullshit and “buy low, sell high” business crap. And we talk about women. Our favorite topic.

Erin, the Hostess/Front-of-the-House-Manager or whatever she is called, is squeezed into a pair of red pants. As delectable a derriere as you’re going to find in these parts.

I’m trying to talk Mark into letting me have a go at the screenplay once his novel is polished and placed with an agent. There is enough action and violence and sex to make for good cinema. He appreciates my faith in his work and readily accepts both my criticisms and compliments. The screenplay would be a nice complement to the novel.

Categories: Haunts