Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch
After the Fall 2016

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Would you please squeeze my succulent peaches?" she asked.

A woman asked me that the other day in the Produce section of Harris Teeter, Charlotte's world-class grocery store.  This was a grown woman in a business suit of a decent cut...a little on the mousey side but not unattractive...and there she stood with a peach in each hand, each peach the size of a small--well, you know...and she wanted, winky-wink, my opinion about the firmness and the ripeness of the pair at hand.

No, thanks.  Freud said something or other about cuteness and sex.  And whatever he said, I agree.  You go, Sig.  There's room for humor and wit in sex, room for both raunch and romance.  But, as I now work on the sex scene in our novel, I'll pass on succulent peaches, juvenile James Bond-type puns, winky-winks and smirky-smirks...and show two adults at play, as adults.

Here's hoping readers get off on the diff.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Slide Over and Hear Writing's Feelthiest Word!

The feelthy word is:

Strategy.

There's no shortage of good advice on plotting, characterization, pacing, punctuation...But strategy, if it's considered at all, has a vaguely feelthy, manipulative ring.  As if great writing comes about through a magical combination of the right chemicals or drinks ingested, the right number of notches on one's bedpost, the right stands taken and the right enemies fought, the right things liked, the right things loathed--and if all of these things come together, making one a Writer...why, the books pop out and there we are:  on the right talk show or loving the right Bunny at Hugh's mansion.

We talk about drafts and revisions, for sure.  But not in terms of strategy but rather as some boring price we must pay.  But my own eyes were opened when I read Coach Joe Gibbs' Game Plan for Life.  The book includes samples of Gibbs' own game plans, breaking down the plays by feet to be accomplished.  Or, as Al Pacino roared in Any Given Sunday:  It's a battle of the inches!

Tonight, I sat down once again with the new book's first fifty pages before I pass them on to five beta readers. For the first time in my writing life, I composed a chart:  what's accomplished in each chapter...appearance of back story...number of pages of dialog...appearance of clues...etc.  Another chart will tackle only the first first five pages--all that some agents will read.  A third will deal exclusively with the only chapter afflicted with Back Story Blues.

I feel feelthy doing this--and I'm here to say that I love it.   Bring the battle of the inches on!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On Getting Out of the New Ghetto: Age

It's the only ghetto that everyone grows into.  And the voices behind us grow ruder and more relentless:  'Step aside, old fool!  Make way!'

Writers have pretty much always had to battle their way into print.  The thing of it was, in the old days, writers had time to build a loyal audience while they went on to master their craft.  Today Elmore Leonard and Dean Koontz never would have got the chance to write the breakthrough novels it took them so long to accomplish. 

Ten years to mastery is a yardstick often used in any art, from martial to literary.  For some writers, however, the time needed may be fifteen years...or twenty...or even more.  And most of the writers I've met would say, 'Fine, I'm in this for the long haul.   I'm after greatness, whatever it takes.'   But here's the new catch that awaits them:  however well they handle they obstacles they face--family, financial, health, time--they'll be seen as from the new ghetto of age by publishers looking for something young and fresh.   And what a drag this is for readers, who--God love them--groove on the mastery and confidence that come from the long haul.

So, should we panic?  I think not.  Sensei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido and the patron saint of SOGs (Slightly Older Guys and Gals) still rocked on the mat in his nineties.  We can't be kids and mustn't try.   But we can be rockin' SOGs with the hardwon discipline and craftsmanship we've managed to snag through the years...and whatever spectacular lit tricks we've managed to stow up our sleeves.

Let's hit the mats and not go down on our ghetto's bloody streets.  SOGs of the trade--unite!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Offering #5

"The four greatest words a man can learn are those he shouldn't have to speak.  Everything about a man should say these words instead:  from his tone to his eyes to his posture.  If he's really, really good, he can do it on the page.  And what are those four little, beautiful words?  'I'm lookin' at you. '   No woman or reader or target for an ad can resist anyone who has mastered those words."
--Casey W., West Coast guru who made his fortune and retired when most men are barely beginning

Prowl through any bookstore and heed your own responses to books you pick up and put down.  You're bound to see that those you buy are those that leave you wet from feeling the author is lookin' at you:  s/he knows what you want and delivers the goods in the most caring and confident way.  It's all about you and fulfilling your needs. 

Those you don't buy are the Me-Me's:  vanity productions or mental masturbations.  Pass. 

Practice intensely:  I'm lookin' at you.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

How to Get Goosed by Good Luck

Luck loves hip, happening peeps, I believe.  And we all begin by thinking that we're hip, happening peeps.  At some point, we can count on this, misfortune is sure to arrive.  Here's the catch:  bad luck seems to feed on spiritual 'joints' that have already been stressed...just as toxins in our body tend to attach to pre-traumatized joints.  My right shoulder, dislocated twenty years ago, flares up every now and then when I'm not eating right.  Ditto a knee cap I broke.  So far, so bad.  Now what about those spiritual 'joints'?  Lose your job, you start to fear you'll never find another one--and this tends to cripple the job-getting mojo, manifesting what we fear.  Or:  go a while without sex and you begin to fear never again getting lucky in bed...the very fear tending to worsen your luck. 

And so on and so on till we are not cool.  Till we're no longer hip, happening peeps who can climb mountains and figure stuff out.  Toward the end of my time in the desert, I could barely decide anything for myself or work out the simplest things.

I began with a mantra from Robert Greene's work:  Act like a king to become one.  And act like a hip dude to catch Good Luck's eye.  Learn, somehow, to figure out the ins and outs of this computer without asking everyone.  Make bold decisions.  Take chances and fail, but learn from every failure.  Make every move count and live fully each day with the sense of oneself as a happening peep that Good Luck would be dumb not to goose. 

Step by step, move by move, the stressed joints get their grooves back and Bad Luck's toxins disappear.

This is my report.

Reb MacRath
The Electrifying New Internet Sensation

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Your Life Depends on Answering: Portfolio or Paper Bag?

Portfolio Peeps dress to kill, attend the better writing schools, plug into the right networks, turn out uninspired but competent books they pitch like pros with rules absorbed from manuals for PPs.

They get most of the jobs, they land most of the book sales, they live in nice homes in the hills.

Paper Baggers, though, are their nemeses.  PBs are fierce, high-flying hawks that have sharp eyes for the main chance and can plunge from the sky at astonishing speed...and soar back up with rich rewards snatched from the maws of PPs.

Example:  The scene is a waiting room in a prestigious advertising agency.  Six PPs with hairdos no fingers are allowed in sit there in their killer suits, tapping their palms on their plus portfolios, all loaded with ads that are all by the book.  Who's that fellow in the corner, though, the one in the jeans and Doc Martens?  When's the last time he had his hair cut?  What are those, love beads, round his neck?  And, my gawd--really, nooooooo! Instead of a portfolio...could he possibly be holding a small brown paper bag?  What's going on here?  Could that crumpled paper bag contain one sample of his work...the only sample needed? 

Example:  Query letters.  The bigger agencies receive hundreds of queries a week--and agents have started complaining that many of these sound the same.   But of course!  Most of the PPs who've sent them have read the same guide books or been to the same web sites.  Grab your socks, though, and hear this:  one of the nation's top agents recounts that once she received a three sentence query on cheap stationery that knocked her right out of her chair.   She did not reveal the sentences that led her to say yes.  But we can be certain that a Bagger had sent her the query.

Today I think with pleasure on the great Baggers I have known.  The great Baggers I have read.  And I draw both comfort and inspiration from there.

Down with the PPs--up with the PBs!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Beat the Clock: Continued

The submission method preferred by most agents:  complete the novel first, however long that takes, then start sending queries.  The query process will take months at least.  Possibly much longer.

Meanwhile, Brad Strickland and I are up against a juggernaut, scheduled to arrive next year, with a storyline sharing at least one huge ingredient.  We started first, which doesn't count.  Besides, we don't compete with it but hope to synergize.  To that end, writing well--even writing brilliantly--can only be part of our game plan.  Our timing and our marketing will have to be world class.

Our progress report to date:
1)  Amy Strickland, Brad's daughter, completed a bold and breathtaking business card that captures the tone and the style of the book.   Meanwhile, Brad and I have decised a bold plan for the use of the card.
2)  Brad and I have decided to first approach his agent in mid to late November with the novel's first fifty pages.  Fingers crossed.  But better to know than to wait till next spring.
3)  We've begun to assemble a carefully chosen group of five beta readers to sneak preview the same fifty pages.
4)  Meanwhile, Brad works on the last pages I sent him while I go through the last section I'll write and wait for his revisions.  While he writes the ending, I'll go through all of his corrections and proposed changes so far.
5)  Today I began to consider a plan for New Year's--to keep us on track while allowing a rest from the intensive writing and editing.  The plan for his approval:  each of us will go through the 'completed' manuscript with his own list of things to watch out for:  time line, effectiveness and fairness in the layout out of clues, character development, consistency of imagery, etc.  After this dual cakewalk, the draft that counts:  the final one!