PUBLISHED BY: Dell Sweet
Writing Basics is © Copyright 2021 Dell Sweet, all rights reserved.
Dell Sweet is a pen name owned by Wendell Sweet and NetReadz.
Additional Copyrights © 1985 – 2010 – 2012, 2014, 2021 by Dell Sweet, Wendell Sweet. All rights reserved
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This is an exercise in learning how to get past certain roadblocks and get what is in your head down on paper. Additionally, I will show you my own technique to continue to build the story using questions. I will cover critiques, your own belief in yourself, and how to write what you want to write; even if it may not be the day you want to write it.
I am the creator and author of The Earth’s Survivors saga, Billy Jingo and dozens of short stories and other writings including lyrics, plays, prose and humor. I write a monthly blog along with some other writers. Writing is my one real goal in life and has been since childhood. Life simply didn’t take me where I wanted it to. Adults didn’t help me when I needed it, and of course I did even more harm to myself than any of those things did by believing in them. Believing they were gospel. But there is a way I could have avoided that and it is actually very simple: Ignore it.
I had no guide to bring me into my own career, but once I found my way out of addiction I began my journey. I am not a popular author in the sense that I sell millions of books, but I do have fans that are very loyal and keep in touch with me. So, the things I write about here actually work, actually come from my own, real experiences.
I think that 99% of writing ability comes from the gut. That core belief that, One: You can do this, and, Two: It doesn’t matter who disagrees with that statement as long as you continue to believe in it. For all of your life, in everything that you do, you will have critics. Why? Call it part of human nature. Some people are miserable unless they have their hands in someones life. They don’t care about the consequences they may cause you. It doesn’t matter to them if you fold up your tent and move in. You actually mean nothing at all to most of them in a very good way.
How can that be? It can be very simply. You are a step. A step that raises them above the crowd: A way for their lonely voice to be heard. That is all. And it is not personal, because if they cannot get to you they will move on to someone else. The individual person means very little.
Now the second kind of person just means harm. Again, most of the time, it doesn’t matter if it is you or someone else. They will come along and tear you up if they can. I had this happen to me once and was so shocked that I couldn’t think what to do at first. Finally, I got myself in gear. This is the age of the internet and you truly cannot hide if someone wants to find you. Trace this account to that account, to that page, to this account, and soon you’ll have them. It was, in my case, another author who was angry that my books sold better than her books: My introduction to authors and how some of them see each other.
The point is this. These things hurt you only if you allow them to. If you internalize the fact that you are good: Remember that the term good is subjective, and realize that most of the time it is not personal, you will be fine. For those few times that it does seem personal? Well, like I said, it is easy to trace that feedback to an account, trace that to a website, trace that to another account, and eventually you will come to the person hiding behind it.
You are a good writer:
Internalize the fact that you are good: Do you believe you are good? Do you absolutely have to have someone tell you, you are good? This is something no one can do for you. You have to do it yourself. If you feel in your heart that your work is good, cap the whole argument right there. The rest doesn’t matter.
The Term Good Is Subjective:
The term good is subjective to everyone. What you might find good, I may not find good at all. I may not like it. I am very unlikely to go online and say so, that is not how I do things, but I will feel that way. A proof reader may find many mistakes in your work, does that mean your work is bad? No! It only means it needs some help. If you can internalize that the word Good can be subjective it will allow you to remove any idea of a personal attack on you or your work from the equation and that changes your outlook completely.
It is not personal:
The fact is that it most likely is not personal at all, just someones viewpoint. It seems personal because this is your baby. You worked your ass off on it and some clown came along, ignores all of that, and trashes it. It hurts, and when you hurt you react, but you don’t need to. Take a breath. Think it out. Even if it is spiteful, it most likely is not personal, because if it hadn’t been you they chose it could have just as easily been Betsy Blunderbuss and her book on changing diapers. It is not personal.
What I want you to understand is that it doesn’t have to mean a thing to you. Bad feedback will come, so will good feedback. You can be offended, or you can learn from it. Change the way you write. Clean up those constant misspelling errors you have. There are ways around it. No, the person will not take that feedback back, but you will be in a position of knowing you won’t see it come again. You took care of it. You dealt with it and moved on from it.
So I hope you read this material closely. My goal is to give you some technique, but I would also like to get you to help yourself as well. Boost that confidence. This career, vocation, quest, longing is about no one but you.
Dell Sweet: 07-09-2021
It has been a rainy weekend here in New York; in fact it is still raining at the close of this late Sunday night as I write this. We have had some flooding here, but nothing like other communities have had. We have been lucky, most especially with all the snow melt and then more rain we have had on top of that.
I spent part of today updating sites and then working out writing projects, and then found myself in a conversation with someone about writing and how it works for me. I have received a few emails about writing and how I do it: Like I might have some sort of magic formula that I use. I said what I do is take a mental outline of what I want and go from there. Or I could commit those same things to a piece of paper and take it from there. It works the same no matter which way I approach it. So my friend said, “If I write an outline or basic scenario how do I start?”
It is pretty simple. The first thing is that you have to believe in what you are writing. If you don’t believe in it no one else will because you will not be able to convince them it is real or viable. For instance, if you want to write a zombie story but you have no faith that you can, you more than likely won’t write the story because no matter what you do write, you will not feel it, believe in it, and so you will continue to reject it until you hit upon something you do believe in.
Basic Outline: Some kids, let’s say three; go to make sure their grandmother is all right during the first days of the Zombie Apocalypse.
That is my kind of basic outline, usually scribbled on a scrap piece of paper, because it comes to me in the middle of doing something else and I don’t want to forget it. It is not complicated at all. It does not have a lot of meat or direction so whatever way it carries me will be fine as long as there are those three kids and their grandmother. I could keep that in my head, but for me, because of that constant stream of thought that most writers have, I should write it down or it will get swept away by that fast running stream. So I paused in the discussion of writing with my friend and wrote that down, and then went back to discussing other writing problems; like things that stop the story from happening once the outline is written. My most frequent impediment in my early writing was that first sentence:
The zombie walked into the room.
Would a zombie walk into a room? Wouldn’t the zombie shuffle into the room? Of course he would. So I delete all of that and start over.
The zombie shuffled into the room.
Hmm. Doesn’t the zombie seem sort of like a wino now? Or a bum? Just shuffling from here to there? He does. Probably he also has a bottle in his pocket and takes a sip from time to time. This is a goddamn alcoholic zombie that will never get a damn thing done because he’ll be drunk and miss his cues every time. Dammit.
Wait a minute! How do I know it’s a man zombie? I’ve been referring to it as a man, but it could be a woman!
And that is how my first sentence would go. Four hours later I had no more written than I wrote in those first seconds:
The zombie walked into the room.
I don’t know how you write, but my friends that I have talked to have all been in that place where the words seemed stopped, or the phrasing won’t come. The thing is, it doesn’t matter. And the reason it doesn’t matter is that you are allowing yourself to get caught up in all the trivial things of your proposed story, so much so that you have frozen your creativity. You have no story because you are not allowing yourself to write it. You have dammed up that stream; stopped the flow of information. What you need to do is write. Just push past that stoppage and write, and there are a few reasons for that.
First: Write it because writing moves you past that initial word on paper place. Just write. It doesn’t matter if it is misspelled, it doesn’t matter if the punctuation is incorrect, and it doesn’t even matter if you have no idea where you are going with the story; even if it seems to not be adhering to your outline. Just write it. Let it flow. You can fix all the other stuff later. And, you wrote the idea down, so if this story coming to you is not the story you wanted, write it anyway. It is a gift. Take it. Write the other story some other day.
Second: Write it because the words will disappear if you don’t get them down on paper. I have heard many a writer say, “I had better write this stuff in my head down on paper before I lose it.” or “I had this story in my head, I should have written it down, I didn’t and now it is gone.” I have never heard a writer say, “I guess I’ll write this story down that I have stored in my head from two days ago.” They don’t say that because it is gone, so write it down. Yes, a story idea can get in your head and be there for months. Drive you crazy. But that is the idea. The idea without direction, and that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about sitting on the couch watching TV, or driving to work in your car, and suddenly an idea hits you and goes past that and starts to formulate into a story. You can see it clearly, scene by scene, or however you visualize as you write…
…Okay, so there is this woman, and she has the ability to turn into a sparrow and fly. No one knows it but her, and she’s not even sure whether it is real or not, because it only seems to happen when she is sleeping. So how does she know it is real? She feels it. She feels it in her heart and she knows it is real. And then one morning she wakes up and there is a twig in her hand. A twig she remembers plucking from a tree with her beak as she flew as a sparrow in the dream world where she can fly. It is a real twig. A real twig from a place she can only reach in her dreams, but it is proof that that place exists…
Your idea can be like that, more or less complex. That idea is in my notes from 2009 and it is the basis that became The Dreamers. The woman in that idea that I wrote down became two characters. One a little girl named Sparrow Spirit trapped in a stone by trickery, and the other, the dreamer who could fly, became a woman who came to have that power, and had to learn how to use it to find that girl and release her from the stone. The point is I wrote it out. It was not exactly the story idea that came to me, and as I wrote it down it took on a life of its own.
So you have your idea written down, write it out now. See where it is going…
The zombie shambled into the kitchen and looked around.
When I wrote it, I mean when I just let the words go; it went where it wanted to go which is where I wanted it to go in my head. The brain has a pretty good idea of what it wants to do. When I did this earlier today, this exercise with my friend, that is what I wrote: The zombie shambled into the kitchen and looked around.
“So what is that zombie doing in that kitchen?” my friend asked.
Good question. What is that zombie doing in that kitchen? Where is that kitchen? How did the zombie get there? Who did it used to be? Question upon question if you allow yourself to ask them.
The zombie lurched into the kitchen from its hiding place in the garage. It had heard something… Some noise that had drawn it.
When I ask a question, my mind tends to want to answer it. (Notice I re-wrote that first sentence. That happened because the story began to flow. When that happens you sometimes end up on autopilot, along for the ride.) Now I know where the zombie came from, the garage. Why was it in the garage? Where did it come from before that? Does it even know? And I do stop to ask these questions, I just let the stream flow from me and I follow it as it flows: Because that is the other thing about this process. These stories come to you. I could not say where they come from either. Sometimes it feels like theft. They come so fast; so complete. So well formed. The characters all seem to be looking at me and asking, “Don’t you know me?” And I realize I do know them. I don’t know from where, or how, or why, but I know them. They came with the story and they are products of my imagination but my imagination wants them to live, and so it creates them and I am only the vessel with opposable thumbs that writes them out. And that is writing too. Acknowledging that this miracle came through you and you don’t have a clue how it did that. Still, take that gift, write it out and follow it…
The zombie stared around at the disorder of the kitchen. Its vision was not the vision it had once had. The crystal clear vision that the living enjoyed. This vision was more of a knowing, supplemented with shadows, blurred movements, and something else… Light, it decided, and it did not like the light… The light caused its head to ache… The light was… The light was bad, it decided.
The noise came again causing the zombie to tilt its head and stare down at the movement it had felt from the floor. Something squirmed there, moving with a purpose that suggested life.
More is more. The vision sequence came because I asked myself: How do zombies see? The zombie was in the garage. Some noise made it come to the kitchen. The kitchen is a wreck. Why? What is in the kitchen? What was in the kitchen? Remember, it doesn’t matter if there are misspellings, if it is missing descriptive content; we are simply getting the story out. We can come back later and flesh it out.
The cat stared up at the woman where she stood, head cocked, stopped halfway through the garage doorway, as if listening. The woman was different. Her stance: The way she moved. Even her smell was different. And she had not fed the cat in the past two days. Why, the cat wondered, was there no food when there was always food?
She sniffed at the air. The smell was wrong. And something deeper than that was wrong, the cat decided. And just as the cat had made up its mind to spring away from the woman and leap for the front door that lay shattered and open to the elements, the woman bent quickly, snatched the cat up, and brought it to her face. The cat snarled and clawed, but the woman paid no mind. Her strange eyes locked with the cat’s own, and then the woman leaned forward and bit one of the cat’s paws off.
The cat yowled in pain, squirming desperately in the woman’s hands, trying to free itself as the woman turned, shuffled back into the garage and slammed the heavy door behind her. The door rattled in its frame and then the kitchen fell silent.
And there is my story. The zombie came, it was explained, and then it left.
I think we both got a lot out of that exercise and then we began to wonder about comedy and zombies. Could the two mix? I thought about it for a few minutes and then I wrote the story that follows to illustrate how a simple approach of asking myself questions about the scene as I write, and looking at it in a comedic light could get me my story, the story I outlined at first and didn’t write. It is a continuation of the story that was in my head to begin with.
A few last remarks before you read the story: If you are capable of writing you already know it. It is something inside of you, some drive that will never let you be. Not a wish to make a lot of money, because I can tell you that rarely happens. Not a desire to be famous, another thing that happens to only a few and something some of us do not want at all. In fact I have always longed for a writing partner who likes that public attention and will handle all of that public face time so I can simply write. But we writers are all nuts, and so that is something that probably won’t happen because we would probably kill each other.
So it is not those things. It is another thing that eats away at you. It is the sometimes bizarre train of thoughts that parade through your head every hour of every day. Yes, you might think of something else for twenty five minutes, or even fifty, but it is coming back. Somewhere in that hour your mind will turn back to…
…What if there was a guy who lived his whole life as a slave to his computer business. No love life; no down time. And he drags himself from day to day feeling as though something is missing. He has money. He has material things, but his life is lacking something.
So here is this guy and one day the world as he knows it ends. Planes fly overhead and spray this blue shit all over people. The Earth tilts on its axis. The buildings, houses, and roads buckle and are consumed by the Earth in places. And life changes too. Death is now something else. It isn’t death. It is some other sort of life. And just like that his life is completely changed forever… I wonder what he would do. …
And that note to myself became the Earth’s Survivors series. It took me two tries and thirty years to write it out. Most of that was because I left for the streets at age fourteen and spent the next two years living there. From there I went into the service. From there I became married, and life took over. But that need to write that story never stopped. The note above was written in prison, a great place for thinking things through. It made me write it out, and as I followed it, it turned into dozens of composition notebooks full of that continuing story, other stories, short stories, plays, lyrics, millions of words that I finally realized I could write out of me.
You see, writing is not about anyone but you. Sure, the popular authors will say things like “I wrote this one for the fans.” And in some ways that is true, but in all the ways that matter it isn’t true at all. You wrote it because it was in you and it needed to be out, so you opened up that doorway between your mind and your form of expression and you wrote it out of you: Gave it a life. Set it free. It doesn’t matter if ten thousand people hate it. If one likes it? That will make it all worthwhile. So it was for no one but you. It was because it was there and it was time for it to be birthed and you birthed it. So write that stuff inside of you. That is what makes you a writer that stuff that is there and will not let you be: If that is not there you are only a reader.
If you are a writer, don’t let people scare you away from it. I have seen many writers who lived parts of their lives in misery because they truly believed they sucked at writing because some dip-shit pencil pusher told them that. Hey, screw that guy or girl. Are they in your head? Do they see the ideas you see? No. They are the kind of people that like to judge people. Thank God that many of our writers went through that process and passed by it to become the writers we know and love or else the world would be a poorer place for not having them as writers we know and love. Three of my favorite writers, Mark Twain, Stephen King, and Jean Auel, all received bad advice that told them they shouldn’t write. Some of that came after they wrote, some before. Some mild, some horrific, you suck, stop writing, etc.
The thing is that that cannot matter too deeply to you. Yes, you hear it, but do not let it own you, drive you, do not invest in it. What has to matter deeply to you is writing. That sounds selfish and it is. Lovers will hate you. Kids will feel neglected. Life will pass you by and you will wonder where the hell it went to. Other writers will feel jealous, even hate you, or love you or a million other things… Write the stuff that is in your head and demands to be written or else all the bad shit that could happen to you in your life will happen anyway and you will find yourself at the end of your life, a miserable person who never wrote those things and figured out what this world, or that world that existed entirely in your head, was about.
I have been many things in my life. A drug addict, a prisoner, a bad guy, a carpenter, a father, a husband, a friend, a lover, and through every one of those things that I was, I was also a writer, except it was not always as well. Sometimes it was everything. Because being a writer and having these things inside of you that need to be written out can be a curse too. It can cause you to neglect the things you should not neglect. It can cause you to need that drink to cap those thoughts, that drug, that distraction. It is a blessing and it is a curse. And many writers have handled it poorly in public. I don’t handle it in public anymore, but I did, what a mess I made too: The same as many other writers with the same predilections and addictions to sort through. The same obligations they ignored. All to chase that thought to its conclusion. So forewarned is forearmed, isn’t it? Don’t say you didn’t hear the truth from me. And yet, for me, I will still chase that story to wherever the hell it is leading. I’ll open that door, go into that room that I shouldn’t go into, I don’t care.
I was told in my career as a writer that I would not make it. Too much of my past would hurt me. I would not be able to control the bottle, the drugs, the world, the thoughts. The time I spent on the streets as a kid robbed me of an education. If you can not spell and properly construct a sentence, how can you be a writer? The time in prison would work against me. And besides, you suck as a writer too. It all made me laugh. It used to make me mad, but eventually when I learned to look at it for what it was, it made me laugh. It made me laugh because there is not a choice here. It is what I do. I get up every day and do it. I know when I do it that there are people who will hate what I write, hate me, and I know there are those who will read it. That is life. It is the way the world has always worked and nothing that you and I can do will change it: Except you must ignore it if you want to write. Remember two things: One: Only you can say whether what you wrote is worth something. Two: Opinions really are like assholes. Everyone has one and some people seem to have more than one.
I can assure you that I care what readers of my novels think, but I can also tell you that a few years back I pulled the plug on the most popular series I wrote. This is personal and public, heart wrenching and soul quenching. I write. It is what I do: Until I die it is what I will do. That is the passion you need to have to write. If all of those things I just wrote are true about you to any degree? You should stop fighting it and write.
What follows is the balance of the exercise, the little story I wrote. I liked it. I did not ask anyone else…
Copyright 2014 Dell Sweet. All rights reserved.
THE HUNTINGTON RETIREMENT COMMUNITY
Day Three of the Zombie Apocalypse:
“Shush… Shut the hell up!” Danny hissed loudly.
“Don’t be telling me to Shush… Or to shut the hell up either,” Tamara said.
Danny turned around and stared at her bug eyed. “What? Are you frickin’ kidding me? A zombie frickin’ apocalypse happening and you know those frickin’ zombies come right to the goddamn noise…”
“That’s true. They do come right to the noise,” Agnes agreed.
“Girl! What the hell?” Tamara said. She stared at Agnes hard.
“Well they do!” Agnes thrust her hands on her hips, jutted one hip out and tried to look older than her twelve years.
“Both of you all shut the hell up,” Danny said. “Shush” He placed one finger over his lips to illustrate. Just then a sliding, shuffling of feet came to them from the door that led into the garage.
“Oh Jesus, Oh Jesus,” Agnes said in a whisper moan. “That is a goddamn zombie right there… A goddamn zombie… Already ate grandma and now it is gonna open that…” Her words broke off suddenly as Tamara’s hand clamped across her mouth.
“Ain’t no zombie… It ain’t… It is grandma…. We came here to find her, right? Well she has just been waiting back in the garage for us… Only place safe,” Tamara whispered in a squeaky, scared voice. Agnes frightened eyes looked up to her own.
“Mooser?” Agnes asked in a muffled whisper.
“I’m sure,” Tamara agreed.
They had stolen a car in the city and drove themselves out to the Huntington Retirement Community where grandma still lived to make sure she was all right.
The apocalypse had started two days before. Slow at first, just a murmur of problems, but yesterday it had gone full tilt crazy. The zombies were everywhere, taking over the city, but most likely there had not been too many dead rising out this way yet, Tamara thought. The problem was that grandma’s front door had been splintered apart. Someones leg, hairy, so it wasn’t Grandma’s, probably, Tamara thought, had lain just inside the door.
“That’s a mans leg,” Danny had said.
“’Cause it is hairy,” Agnes asked?
“No, ’cause it has got half a…” Tamara had slapped him in the back of the head.
“Don’t you be saying things like that in front of this child,” Tamara said.
“I ain’t no child,” Agnes had said loudly. And that had been when something had crashed in the garage.
“Son-of-a-bitch,” Danny had said, and jumped about a foot off the floor. Now the shuffling of feet came to them again, followed by a low growling sound.
“Oh, Jesus, Oh Jesus,” Agnes said before Tamara clamped her hand back across her mouth.
“Grandma never growled like that,” Tamara said.
“Yeah?” Danny turned and looked at her. “Well maybe that is Grandma’s cat… Probably been locked out there in the garage with nothing to eat for two days ’cause grandma done passed out in one of them dialectic comas, or whatever the hell you call them, so the cat is hungry… I would growl too if I was hungry… What we better do is open the goddamn door up before that cat decides to eat grandma!”
“Are you stupid?” Tamara hissed. “Grandma ain’t got no goddamn cat… Never had no goddamn cat… Hated cats… Idiot.”
“Thasafwukinzwombi,” Agnes said in her muffled voice.
“It’s not a frickin’ zombie,” Danny told her. “See what you done? Scared a little child.”
The garage door rattled in its frame.
“Gwamoo?” Agnes asked.
Danny cleared his throat. He was carrying a huge shovel with a pointed tip that he had found laying in grandma’s garden when they arrived. He tapped at the door with the shovel end. “Grandma?” he asked.
A low snarl came from behind the door, a rustling busy sort of sound and then a solid weight hit the door, rattling it in the frame.
“Stay behind me,” Tamara said as she released Agnes mouth and quickly looked around the kitchen. The door rattled a little harder; her eyes fell on the coffee carafe sitting on the counter. She snatched it up and turned back to the door. The door rattled once more and then stopped.
“I told you it was the frickin’ cat,” Danny said.
“It’s not a…” Tamara began, but just then the door slammed open, bounced off the wall and then closed once more on itself. It had been just long enough to show grandma standing in the doorway, eyes glowing red, something like foam dripping from her jaws, her hands clasping some unrecognizable thing tightly.
“That wasn’t no cat,” Danny said. “That was grandma… Dead… Shit comin’ out of her mouth an…”
The door slammed open once more and grandma lurched into the room. She dropped the stiffened cat she had been holding in her hands onto the floor, and lurched after Danny who stood still, mouth open in shock. His eyes fell to the cat and then flew back up to grandma.
“We came to save you grandma… we came to save you! What the hell you been into grandma…” She lurched forward and fixed him with her yellow-red eyes. “Wha… What the hell you been doing… Eatin’ that cat? What did you eat the cat for, grandma. What the…” Grandma lurched forward again and Danny finally realized that she was coming after him. He turned and jumped backwards as Tamara stepped forward and slammed the nearly full coffee carafe into the side of grandma’s head. The glass shattered, coffee sprayed across the kitchen and poured down grandma’s face in a brown river, shards of glass protruded from her temple. Her face began to twitch and shudder.
They all quickly sidestepped as grandma let loose a snarl and tried to claw Danny with one hand. Agnes began to scream, grandma’s rotting head swiveled toward her and she took a step in that direction. Tamara gripped the handle of the carafe tightly, looked at the sharp curve of glass still attached, and then stepped forward and drove it into grandma’s temple. Grandma collapsed in a heap, her head jerking and twitching, and then silence descended all at once.
Agnes sucked in a deep breath and started to sob in a muffled voice, her face pressed into the crook of her arm.
“I told you grandma had a cat,” Danny said. He stepped forward and toed the cat with one boot. The cat suddenly flopped around and fastened its teeth into Danny’s boot. “The frickin’ cat,” Danny screamed. “Grandma’s cat’s got me!” He remembered at the same second that he had the shovel clasped tightly in his hands and thrust it down, knocking the cat’s head away from his boot. A second after that he bought the shovel down hard, and the cat’s head rolled of into the corner where it snapped and snarled at grandma’s flowered wallpaper. Danny tried to backpedal, slipped and sat down hard.
“Oh for Christ’s sake,” Tamara growled. She stepped forward quickly and crushed the cat’s head with one booted foot. Danny looked up at her.
“I told you she had a cat,” Danny said.
“Oh, Jesus, Oh Jesus,” Agnes said. “This is worse than when Billy Parkin’s showed me his woo who.”
“What?” Danny asked. “Billy Parkin’s showed you his woo who? What the hell?”
Agnes peeked out from the crook of her arm and nodded.
“So what,” Tamara said. She fixed Danny with a hard look, reached down one hand and tugged him to his feet. “Showed me too. Don’t worry, they aren’t all that small.”
“Yeah. Showed me too,” Danny agreed as he dusted his hands against his jeans.
“You were looking at Billy’s Woo who?” Agnes asked.
“Well I wasn’t looking at it… It sort of,” Danny began. Grandma suddenly groaned from the floor and began to squirm around once more. Danny jumped forward and slammed the shovel down on her head over and over again until she stopped. The silence fell once more.
“We had better go,” Tamara said as she stared down at the smashed ruin of grandma’s head. “Find a safe place.”
Danny lifted his eyes up from the floor. Started to toss the shovel away and then decided to keep it. He nodded.
Agnes came forward and threaded one arm into Tamara’s own.
“Ready, punkin?” Tamara asked her. She nodded. The three turned and began to walk from the kitchen.
“What were you looking at Billy Parkin’s Woo who for?” Tamara asked Danny.
“I did not say I was looking at Billy Parkin’s Woo Who,” Danny started as they walked out onto the front walk. The day was fading fast, dark clouds moving in.
“We have to find a place, don’t we?” Agnes asked.
“We do,” Tamara agreed. She looked off down the street to a cluster of buildings that looked promising. Community Center, a sign hanging over the nearest buildings entrance said. She thought for a moment and then moved off toward the building, the others following.
“You did say it,” Tamara said as they walked.
“I didn’t say it,” Danny replied with a shake of his head. “I didn’t.”
The three moved off down the street toward the community center building, their voices a soft hum on the cooling air as they walked.
I hope you got something out of this. I read Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain (Samuel Clemons), it made me want to be a writer, I thought: Except that bug was in me already. I read The Stand (Stephen King) and I realized that people really did write things that mattered. I read Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean Auel) and realized that the past was a real place, alive and breathing.
I mention those books because I want you to read the feedback if you check them out. I’d really wish for you to read those books if they are your speed. Some people didn’t like those books. In fact some hated them. You have to internalize that. Do you want to write? Then write something. Stephen king has a great book on the art of writing, but he loves to talk about writing in the introductions to nearly every book he has written. Samuel Clemons talked about it as well. Jean Auel has given insight several times on what it took to write her book series. Be encouraged. Write. I would love to read it.
It is a beautiful day here in New York. This is the kind of weather I like. 52 degrees, dry, the lawn is mowed, and the house is on pause for my one day of rest, per God. Beautiful. If every day were between 50 and 70 with low humidity I wouldn’t ask for more. Today will warm up I am sure, but I doubt it will get out of the 70’s.
I once moved to the great state of Alabama and lived there for ten years. I stayed so long because where I lived the weather turned exactly this way about mid September to early October and stayed that way until the middle of March. About 5 months of beautiful weather. Native Alabamians thought I was crazy walking around in a pocket T-Shirt while they were in jackets and coats. I stayed because that weather was so perfectly suited to me. Here in northern New York I get a few days a year that are like that: Maybe ten in total. It isn’t enough, but today is beautiful and I’ll take it.
I suppose other people might think that is odd liking cooler weather. I also like the mountains and rainy days too. I think a lot of it is set in our early memories and that is it. From then on, sometimes for reasons we don’t even remember, we like certain things. I can remember three very clear rainy day memories from my early life and those are probably what make up my attraction to rainy days. The first is a small aluminum travel trailer my father parked behind our house. One of those shiny, silver Airstream numbers you could tow behind your car or truck. He ran an extension cord to it so it had power. I can remember standing inside the doorway watching the rain fall just outside that doorway: Listening to the rain pound on that curved aluminum roof. I was safe and dry.
My second memory is a camp I went to as a slightly older child. Lying on the top bunk reading Robinson Crusoe as rain drummed against the corrugated steel roof, the other kids spread around playing board games, writing letters: The rain the reason for the time to be able to read, play, otherwise we would have been doing other camp things I suppose.
The third time was only a few years later, but life had changed a great deal for me in those few years between eleven or twelve to thirteen and fourteen. I was standing in a doorway, rain falling hard, watching the traffic pass me by: Cars shooting up sheets of water as they went by, none able to reach me where I was hidden in the shadows of that doorway. That should be a bad memory, after all I was alone, homeless, a runaway living on those streets, and I should have been afraid, but I wasn’t. I listened to the pounding rain and it made things all right. Made me decide to be alive when my thoughts were dancing on the head of a pin, back and forth… Quit, live, quit, live.
I began to write an account of my life not long ago because someone asked me about it. It is funny when you start to write something, how much more you remember than you thought you did. Some things I was happy to remember, others not so much. I am not going down that road right now, but I have and you can easily find that book, I suppose. For now I will illustrate how you can take those parts of your life and make them work for you as a writer. Take that emotion and write it out of you.
A quick word about what you write: Write what you know. I won’t spend a lot of time on this because it has been pointed out by every writer I have ever read, that when it comes to writing, write what you know. I have done that in every book I have written.
The Earth’s Survivors Books: Candace is someone I know. Mike is a better copy of me. Mike is all the boys I grew up with in northern New York that aspired to those mill jobs that had supported our fathers and grandfathers. Killed them eventually, but we were just dumb kids then. The fathers with mill jobs provided better, and everybody died, didn’t they?
Bob is the Native American man I wish I could be. And it goes on. Ronnie is the part of me that has African American blood. I write what I know. I only get into trouble when I step outside of that.
Billy Jingo (Titled White Trash) is a story about a dirt poor kid who lives in a little dead end town and has nothing. Been there and done that. That book is set in the town I grew up in, and blended with people and places I have known and understand. All things I know.
The Dreamers book is really a book about Native American traditions and beliefs. I studied and read for months to be able to understand Native American religion only to find that there are many versions of it just as there are many versions of Christianity or the Muslim faith, or Buddhism. I studied to find the things that are in my blood that my father would not tell me about, not to write a book, simply to know that part of my bloodline: But when I began the Dreamer’s book I wrote from that knowledge I had learned and internalized by going to traditional Longhouse services for many years, studying, reading, asking elders questions. I took that and the things my Chief gave me and I wrote what I knew. And as I wrote it I added emotion and a story took shape and then found its legs.
Writing is emotion in my opinion. So is artwork, film, storytelling. Some of the best storytellers in ancient history probably learned how to channel emotion into their writing. Jean Auel writes more than a few scenes that illustrate that passing on of stories and the emotion that went into it. I also learned that the Native Americans passed down all of their history that way. If you think about it, they had no written language so they could have no written history. They had fantastic storytellers though. I have sat in services and listened to elders tell the stories of the people and I was taken right there. It is great to know that oral tradition is still alive in most Native American tribes. If it were not, what would be left for the next generation?
Some of the best writers I have read, talked to, known, are able to write their emotion into a story-line and make you feel it. Sometimes I write a piece and re-read it and I cannot get the depth or feelings from the characters. I can play with it until I feel something, or I can set it aside for another day. Usually it is best to set it aside for another day. Maybe it will make sense to me, evoke an emotion, maybe not. But forcing it to be, or mean something that it does not, or to pull out some emotion that is not there, will not work for me. If the second go around does not do it either, then it is usually over for whatever that piece I was writing was about.
What I am saying is there is a time to set a piece aside and go on to the next thing: When I say set it aside I don’t mean to throw it away. I rarely do that, in fact I cannot think of a time that I ever did. What I mean is to leave what is there; words on a scrap of paper, an incomplete document in your word processor: Title it whatever you thought it might be, file it, and move on. I have a real file cabinet because sometimes I write stuff down on real paper that comes to me at 3:00 AM. In it goes. I have a virtual file cabinet on my machine too. All the other stuff goes there. The point is that it has been set aside, but to me set aside is like the Windows Trash Can, it just moves it to an unused part of the hard drive: It does not really erase it. Occasionally I will go fishing there and see what there is to see. Sometimes it is clear to me why I moved a piece there, other times it is not. But that is usually rainy day stuff.
This is another way to approach that writer’s block, or to make a start and get the words flowing, scene writing.
Writing scenes is easier to do than trying to write a story. First, visualize the scene: I am going to write a scene where a car chase happens. It will start in a car lot with two people on the run, and it will end with those people escaping, or being caught, or whatever. Simple rules like that. Then I visualize the scene. We have all watched so much TV that it should be easy to visualize something like that, and some of us have lived interesting lives, we can close our eyes and see the things we want to write. Visualize it and then make it your own. It doesn’t matter if you write only a few paragraphs, doing this exercise over and over will produce the desired effects. Move on to the next scene. Maybe there have been romantic intentions building between these two characters. Write it out in a style that you understand and can express yourself in. Move on to the next scene.
I often read over what I have written after significant time has passed and see gaps: They have been traveling together and they are attracted to each other, but it has never gotten weird? Borderline relationship? I did that with Billy and Beth and so Beth had the talk with Billy. The, we’re friends, talk. Yes I like you, but this can’t work… She even gives him a few reasons why it can’t work. And it makes him think, and her think, because she knows half of what she is saying is an effort to keep something from happening because she is only flesh and blood, if it does happen, she was being honest when she said it can’t work. I wrote that scene and I felt it really defined the characters as individuals. It was a very short scene too, but it set the tone for them. In the end they did sleep with one another. I wrote that scene as a what if scene and it was easy to write from my own experiences too. I then left it in because the thing they were so afraid of, the sexual tension that had built up between them as they crossed the country needed to be expressed. That was a short scene too, but it also helped to define both of them. Afterwards he did respect her, she was afraid he wouldn’t, and they realized collectively that it wouldn’t work. Sometimes life is like that, so I left the scene in.
The thing is, I wrote scene by scene and as I did I began to fall into those characters: I began to think like them. I woke up on those writing days with their love story in my head. I knew it was not going to be the kind of love story fans would equally embrace, but I knew it would be honest because I understood the characters. It is simply another effective way to write to get you past the rough parts. As I have practiced it more and more I have been able to say: I need a scene that starts in Vermont, with these three characters, and ends in New York with them. I need this to tell their short story of where they came from. Then I have been able to sit down and write it scene by scene. Scene one: They are stuck on the interstate. I picture the interstate. What it might be like after an apocalypse has destroyed most of the world. What does it look like? What do they need? How are they traveling? What are the relationship guidelines? Who is with whom? What do they have? What do they need? If I ask enough questions my mind will fulfill the answering and I can write it. It might come slow or fast, and I will stay on it until it quits on me. If it is enough, I work it in, if it is not enough, I start with the questions again. What scenes am I missing? What needs to be told? Where did I leave them? How far away from where they need to be is that? Is it really necessary to tell the rest or can they simply arrive at that place the next time we see them? A few questions will usually give me the answers I need.
Essentially, this is what I do. Every male character has me in it or something I have done, or someone I wish I could be. Every female character has the woman I love, or collectively the women I have loved and, or learned from as a base, and the male characters around her react the way I have reacted, bad or good, or the way I fantasize that it could be, or even the way I have seen other men or women react. I guess writers, probably all writers, do that. Every writer I have read that talks about writing talks about that well: That emotional connection that makes it all work. And then, to top it off, being emotionally satisfied with what you write. To hell with anyone that doesn’t get it, or is jealous of it; it isn’t about them, it is about you. I think that writing is just another form of expressing yourself, like tattooing your body can make it a canvas to express you; your feelings, loves, all of it: Something to make you feel good, not anyone else, although it is a joy when someone else gets it. I think the only thing that can stop you is you. The demons in your head, my head, the stuff we all live with that tries to destroy us even as we try to build ourselves up. If you know that, you can keep it at bay.
I have to fight that tendency in me to always say what I believe. The truth is what I believe and what you believe are not always exactly the same things: As we go through life that is why we learn from different people. We learn compassion from this person. We learn we can be who we really are from another. We develop our talents with the help and support of those most like us. As a writer I think you can write whatever you want to write: I took the Earth Survivors series and turned it into a zombie Vehicle and it did very well until I destroyed it. That was forced writing. To do it I looked at zombie literature, guidelines, etc. and built my character Donita around that. I gave her a name from a woman in my past that seemed like that kind of suck the life out you sort of person and that gave me a base to draw from: To always make her evil in my mind, so that I didn’t romanticize her too much. Otherwise, it would be tough to kill her when I did, lol. The point is I wrote it, not from inspiration, but necessity and I think you can do the same. Connect to that well, just distance yourself from it a little, and write scenes as I did.
One of my points today is that you can and must move past those blockages in your writing that cause you to fail, stop, or do anything else that disrupts that flow of words. And the easiest way to move on is to move that piece that just won’t come together right into the virtual file basket. Start something else, jump into it, if that doesn’t work move it out too. It works for me, but whatever you do don’t actually toss it away. Save it someplace and revisit it. You never know what might make sense in a year, or even ten years from now.
In 2010 I wrote this on a scrap of paper… “War has taken my country.” I looked at it. The imagery had come from something that had popped into my head the way those things do with most of us. Emotion tied into it. A little boy watching war erupt around him. Those sorts of things do not really happen very often in this country, but those things do happen in other countries all the time. The world can be sane, safe, like that rain falling on a tin roof, and then it can erupt into violence and in the space of a few seconds everything can change permanently. I hear people sometimes complain about the American war machine, and I wonder if they have ever really dealt with real life in any shape or form. Without soldiers dying for our freedom, we would be like that little boy watching his world fall apart. Our safe home would not exist. Our ideals would be banished. We could be killed or persecuted for our beliefs. In many countries that is reality.
Vietnam was like that for me. I went into the service at the end of Vietnam, I never went to Vietnam: In fact never went anywhere at all, but I grew up those last few years with the imagery that was on the TV. Reporters following soldiers into war. I notice that does not happen anymore. Not like it was then. I can remember being a kid, watching dead bodies pop up on the TV, men shot down and dying, it was crazy, and I can see why they do not cover war like that anymore. They need the nice, clean, sanitized version for TV. Not so back then. What I saw stayed with me, shaped my thoughts; probably shaped me and thousands of other kids who saw those things. That is where those words came from: That vision of that little boy who was not an American, standing in his village and watching his world change forever: Emotion.
I wrote the note and it went nowhere at all. It was very compelling. It begged me to complete it, but it went nowhere. I filed it in my paper file since I had scratched those letters onto a piece of scrap paper, and I went on to the next thing which was to write several stories in a row. I enjoyed that. Westerns, space travel, cave people (None of it published). All the stuff that interested me that I had not written. Then I began writing a long project, the Earth’s Survivors series, which I had originally entitled the Nation. Not as catchy, and probably a lawsuit if I had gone with that original title.
A year later, a rainy day in fact I happened to pull out all of those notes; a small folder of them from the last year; just to take a look at them and see what I had been thinking about, trying to write. I found that scrap of paper and immediately the whole story jumped into my head. I wrote this…
Lyrics Copyright © Wendell Sweet 2011 ♪ ♫ ♪ Date Written; 04-28-2011
Song Title: War At Home Style: Alternative
War has taken my country… Brother fighting his brother… It will be what it will be… See how we kill each other…
War it ain’t no way to live… It ain’t no way to die… Takes all that you can give… Takes every tear you cry…
Instrumental————-Steel drum rhythm with short lead transition———–
War along the borders… Kills the father and the mother… Soldiers acting on their orders… Little sister… Who will take care of your brother…?
Their blood is crying from the ground… Who will reap the seed they’ve sown…? As you turn to run… pray that God will take them home…
Let me have my country… Leave me to my home… Go back to your land of plenty… Leave this man alone…
You have come to kill the people… Watch them weep and moan… Come to kill our spirit… Why don’t you take yourself home…
See the hills light up with fire… Young men running to their graves… Bad news coming down the wire… But you tell me Jesus saves…
Children sleeping in the gutters… Bodies lying in the street… Machine gun stutters… Pray… Your soul to keep…
Generals send their orders down… From their bunkers underground…
Freedom fighters honor bound… March to death without a sound…
Death is falling from the sky… Did you march today to die…?
Why is no one asking why…? too sad to cry…
See it on your television… It all seems so far away… Think it’s real think it isn’t… Anyway… Don’t affect you today…
Take off your silver glasses… Take a good look around… As your time passes… may be you… that is lying on the ground…
Let me have my country… Leave me to my home… Go back to your land of plenty… Leave this man alone…
You have come to kill the people… Watch them weep and moan… Come to kill our spirit… Why don’t you take yourself home…
Instrumental———————————————-Long Lead———-Steel Drum—————
Justify your means… It is not you who has to die… Tell me it isn’t as it seems… Still… You can not answer why…
When judgment comes upon our heads… We will stand as we must… His words can raise us from the dead… or… return us to the dust…
Instrumental——————————-Short Steel Drum Rhythm——————————–
I got to get away from here… This life is taking a toll… Always living in fear… I am… Less than whole…
Blood is welling up in fountains… Shooting up into the sky… I’m going home to my mountains… There is where I’ll die…
Hook / W Xtro
Let me have my country… Leave me to my home… Go back to your land of plenty… Leave this man alone…
You have come to kill the people… Watch them weep and moan… Come to kill our spirit… Why don’t you take yourself home…
Why don’t you take yourself home… Leave us to our war at home… Take yourself home… Leave this man alone… Leave me to… My war at home… … … …
Why I Wrote It:
When I was a kid Vietnam was all consuming: The hippies hated it (I wasn’t quite old enough to be a Hippie but I liked the drug, rock and Roll, sex culture), society was torn. Young men kept dying. The T.V. was full of news stories. They followed the soldiers into firefights. It was very graphic and there were kids all over the place that sat in front of televisions and watched that violence.
I saw dead men, children. Children crying, burned, separated from loved ones. The song came from that, although, really, war is war. It could be just as applicable to what’s going on now in the middle east… … … …
All the above was written at that single time, in one shot. Maybe it took me a half hour, changing this little thing or that little thing, but not much more than that. The emotion I connected to was strong. The story had, had to wait a year, but it had finally come to me. The little boy is there, and the man I grew into is also there as you read the words. And of course my emotion is there too.
At the time I was in a creative writing class. It was offered so I took it. I didn’t expect much because I had found that most creative writing classes were run by people who didn’t seem to have a lot of creativity, and were populated by people who needed to fill a hole in their schedule. More often than not I would go to those classes and find half the class asleep. There was no interaction, no back and forth discussions. So I nearly skipped this class and at the last minute changed my mind and took it because, well, I needed to fill a hole and decided to fill it with something that at least might offer good written materiel to me. Ironic, I know.
The woman who ran the class actually liked to write. She devised exercises that were interesting and set it up so that we would read the things we had written in class and get feedback on them. Incredible. I had been toying around with this book I wanted to write about a young woman, a drug addict, who was straightening out her life and she stumbles into something she doesn’t understand, dream travel. She discovers it in her sleep. Again this came from a note I had written to myself about this young girl trapped in a stone. What I wrote from that seed was Dreamers.
I had been coming to class and reading the book as I wrote it, an amazing way to write, especially with that book which is such a left field concept that most people would probably never read it. Add to that, that I tried very hard to write the dream sequences as real dreams would be. Disjointed, jumbled and out of sequence to one another, the same way dreams can really be. The feedback was invaluable because it told me whether I was succeeding in still getting the story across or not. That day I decided to take a break and read what had come from the note instead. They got it, they understood it. Something that would not have happened had I not written it down after the first failed attempt, and then waited for the time to come without even knowing if it would ever come around. I went on to write music for that and turn it into lyrics as opposed to a poem of sorts. And then I replaced the piece of paper back into the folder and put it away: Saved it again.
So a few months back I am moving into my new office space (Read that as an unused room in the house), and I am moving files and I come across a mountain of paperwork that has to be sorted and put away. So I came across that folder again and the note. I remembered it inspired me to write those lyrics. I remembered also how those lyrics had started as words on paper and I had nearly left them as poetry or verse instead of lyrics. The next thing I knew I had a pen in my hand. I wrote this…
Tanks On A Blue Sky Day
What if you were standing in your own yard and the world was the same. Great. Safe. Comfortable. And you were standing there in your yard. Just a kid, a man, a woman, the day right there before you. Feeling like the world would always be the same.
And this safety was all that you had known, ever. And the sun was shining in the sky. And then the tanks rolled in. And the soldiers with their guns. The noise incredible. The soldiers glancing at you as they walk past you. Like they know your name.
And everything changed. Your yard was not your yard anymore. Just a piece of dirt and grass with tank tracks running across it. But the sun is still shining… How can that be? And the soldiers are soldiering, they don’t speak. It’s like they don’t even care.
And you turn away, but it is the same all around you. Your friends in their yards. Looking at the same blue sky, the same bright sun. The same tanks. The same soldiers with the same guns. They don’t speak either, but the same questions are on the air.
And you feel like the black clouds should move in and blot out the sun. The bright day should not exist in this world that your eyes see. You blink, but it doesn’t go away, refuses to change. Your whole world has changed and a minute has not expired.
The tanks, clank, clank, clank. On their way to where, you wonder. And the soldiers step, step, step. One foot follows the other never questioning where. The children begin to cry. You think to wipe your own tears from your eyes, but find you are too tired.
The tanks, the soldiers, the sun in the blue sky. The day that started as your own…
The noise, the fear. Time is moving, but you don’t know where it’s going…
Not really poetry, more like verse. Not much of a title, but there is emotion in it just like War at Home: Two pieces from the same note. I stuck the note back into that folder once again, and who knows what it might evoke the next time I pull it out? Sort of like my own Magic Lamp I suppose. But the point again is that I wrote it. It came from emotion because emotion matters. When you connect your writing to emotion it clarifies many things immediately for you. You have hooked it into your own well of experience, whatever pain, hatred, love, confusion or anything else that is in that well is now able to lend itself to that story. For that scrap of paper, for that idea, was only waiting for the right day to make that connection.
In the Example at the beginning, the Grandma Zombie story, you might think, what personal life could you inject into that story? Well, the name of the retirement home was Huntington, my real Grand Mother lived in Huntingtonville. My real Grandmother had a cat. Not a really big deal, but there is truth there, buried in the fiction, that allows me to draw on emotion, and just as important it allows the story to flow because I know this Grandma. She is my own.
This is shorter: How to connect to the emotion.
I have explained what I wrote from emotion, but not how I tapped into that emotion. That is simpler still, and if it is not you should not consider writing.
Writers, every writer I know, have spoken to, spent time with, is messed up. Something is not quite right with that person, me included. Maybe it is a big problem, many problems, or maybe it is many small problems. But if you truly examine that statement, is anybody quite right? Anyone at all? I don’t think so. We are all flawed. We have all used and been used, bullied and been bullied, loved, hated, been lonely, bored, happy, ecstatic, depressed and the list goes on and on. It is why we can all relate to one another on the most basic levels. Writers just seem to have more to draw on. More experience from life. They have learned it is right there to draw from, but most of the time that has not been the issue at all. It is there and it will not go away.
No, I have not lost my mother so I cannot know for a fact how it feels to lose your mother. My friend has though, and she has talked about it and helped me to understand the parts I didn’t know. Even so, I don’t know how it will affect me completely, and that is sort of like writing. If I had to write a story about a man or a woman losing their mother I would first relate it to things I do understand that are similar, losing my father, my uncle, aunt, yes even when my dog died. That is an emotional place. Once I am there my mood is going to change drastically: I am going to remember holding my uncles hand as he lapsed into a coma at nearly 4:00 AM. He died about 12 hours later. I am going to remember that my father died with things unresolved between us and how it hurts to feel that, that can never be fixed. And I will remember that that same uncle whose hand I held as he passed away was like a father to me. He came and picked me up when my time on the streets was done. He loved me. I will think about how my trusty companion of fourteen years, Bear, passed away and how I could not even be there to hold him as he did. And then I will think about the real fear of losing my mother, the last parent: The person who has always loved me. Then I will remember the things my friend said to me. How she misses her mother all the time. How it never really goes away.
After that I am in that place where I am connected to that emotion, I only need to write it out. And to be honest, I would not want to take myself to a painful place like that and not write it out, express it.
When I begin to write it may not be pretty: It may only be a note that I write that will be expressed fully years later, but it may be the story whole and complete coming right then. And whatever way it does end up it is connected directly to that emotion, and so every time that I read it I am instantly re-connected to that emotional well that it came from, and if I write it well enough I can pull the reader right into that same well along with me.
Have you never watched a movie and become emotional? Watched a favorite scene that took you someplace? Read a book that made you cry, love, feel? That is because that writer has connected that emotion to themselves and then conveyed it to you via their writing, imagery.
The Writer Andrea Scroggs writes and illustrates Graphic novels. She is able to take that emotion, lock it into her artwork, her sentences, and make you understand exactly what she wanted to convey.
The thing about writers is connecting with that place, channeling it into the story and then letting it go. Not always easy, but always necessary to really write. The reason to write it out should be obvious, if you do not it can infect you, depress you, ruin your life. That is why so many writers are living on the edge of what they consider the real world. They cannot step into it, yet cannot live without it either. Depression, alcohol, drugs. Good mental health means connecting and then walking away after the story is written. Let it go, get it out in that story, verse, lyric. That is what writing from emotion is all about. It makes a strong story and hopefully it makes a strong writer too.
I am not saying that the only strong emotion is sadness, or fear based. There are many happy wells you can go to as well. Don’t think so? Actually think about it. There may not be dozens and dozens right there on the surface, but they are there. As humans who like to think a lot we tend to, at times, only look at the negative things. I know I do, but if you look you can find those good moments. You just have to let them be what they are.
A moment of complete joy and happiness for me was watching my son being born. An amazing thing for a dumb young guy who had not thought past more than his tiny little world, and circle of knowledge. I could not imagine a stronger moment of happiness. But I could continue to follow that thought and remember that my wife and I split up not long after that. I could follow that thought to another negative thought and on and on. And that is what we sometimes do. I am saying get that one good thought and stay with that. Play it in your mind, over and over if need be until you are sure of it. Now go find another good thought. The first time a girl kissed you, or a boy. The first time it was summer and school was over for the next few months, and the world was yours. Or maybe the first car you bought: First home; the first time you did twenty miles on a bike. My point is that those good things are there too, and you can tap into them as easily as you can tap into the bad stuff.
Have you loved? Drank to excess? Lost someone you thought you couldn’t live without? Drugged? Gone to prison? Fell into or out of love? Left your home? Lost your home? Husband? Wife? Watched your children grow up? Those are the places you need to go to, to get the emotion you need. Don’t live there, but get to know it, understand it. And the fact is that you know it anyway. To be honest, anyone who has ever been hurt or helped by anything has learned from it. Now I am telling you to learn to write from it. It may not be pretty at first, but as you do it you will get better at it.
“The day was hot, the air felt clogged with moisture. So much moisture, in fact that it felt just like breathing water, or what I imagined water would feel like if you breathed it. Choking, gagging, impossible but you did it anyway…” That is from an unpublished story about a trip to Texas on a bus, and stepping off that bus into the midday heat of a small Texas town…
This story below was written years ago and published on the first writers site I ever owned back in 1985 or so. It is the same well of emotion that I went to, to get War at Home and Tanks on a Blue Sky Day.
By: Wendell Sweet, all rights reserved.
PUBLISHED BY: independAntwriters
Copyright © 1984 – 2013 – 2015 & 2021 by Wendell Sweet All rights reserved
“Stay down next to the friggin’ bank, Johnson!” Beeker yelled.
Beeker could see that Johnson probably wouldn’t be hanging around for long. He didn’t have the sort of balls that Simpson had. And a fire fight was no fuckin’ place to have to baby sit. Why was it that he always ended up with all the ass-holes any way?
They had been pinned down in this particular position, a sandy beachhead, for fourteen days. Sand and water in front of them: Jungle behind them. The VC were on the other side of the river, and if the man upstairs, the man that pulled all the friggin’ strings Beeker liked to think, didn’t do something damn soon they might not see fifteen.
The fire was just as heavy as it had been on the first day. Non-stop. Round after round of machine gun fire, and mortar rounds that came so fast it was hard to tell when one ended, and another began. But the man upstairs, now that was something to consider. What was it with him, anyway? Vacation? A little mental constipation? Just how long was long enough, for Christsakes. Johnson crawled over, eating some dirt as he came. But at least he had crawled. The numb son-of-a-bitch had walked the first few times. Like he was out on a goddamn Sunday stroll.
“Sergeant Beeker?” he whisper-yelled over the sound of the gunfire. “Shouldn’t we maybe ought a return fire, sir?”
“Hey, fuck you, if I say we lie low, we lie low. Now, shut up and crawl your white-ass back over to your position, mister, NOW!”
Johnson went, he didn’t have to be told twice. Beeker was one mean bastard, and he had absolutely no desire to mess with him. Even so this whole situation didn’t set well in his mind, and that was mainly due to the fact that it didn’t make any sense. And how in hell could it? He asked himself.
There was no answer, because there could be no answer at all. Fifteen days ago he had been safe and sound in… In… It wouldn’t come. Someplace. He had been someplace, not here, and he had been safe, and he had been sound, he could remember that much. He could also remember waking up here with Beeker, Philips, and Ronson. In the middle of… Of… Where am I? He didn’t know that either and they weren’t disposed to tell him. Other than waking up in the middle of this fire-fight, he couldn’t remember jack-shit. He made the outside perimeter, and curled up into a near ball as he pressed himself into the dirt embankment.
“About fucking time,” Beeker yelled above the roar of gunfire…
They had been pinned down for the last several hours, with heavy fire from the North Vietnamese regulars. It had finally fallen off somewhat. It was time to make a move, and Beeker was no fool, he had every intention of getting his men the hell out. They’d already lost four good men on this mission. He couldn’t see losing anymore. He looked across the short, smoky distance, directly into Ronson’s eyes, and signaled left, away from the sand, towards the jungle that pressed in from behind them. A quick sideways flick of his own eyes told him that Johnson and Phillips had caught it too. Beeker signaled Ronson out first, then Phillips, and then Johnson. It was a slow go, belly crawl for the first few hundred yards. The bullets continued to whine above them, but they all made it one piece. Two hundred yards in they were able to stand. The jungle finally offering some protection. Beeker led the way quickly, yet carefully, through the lush greenery. The others fell in behind him silently. Two miles further through the dense jungle, they finally lost the distant sounds of gunfire, and the jungle fell nearly silent. They fell silent themselves, moving as quietly as they could from tree to tree. Aware of the noises that surrounded them. A short while later when the gunfire had completely fallen off, the jungle seemed to come back to life. Bird calls, and the ever present monkey chatter. That was a good sign to Beeker, if the jungle was full of NV, the birds sure as fuck wouldn’t be singing. They pushed on through the night, and morning found them… Morning found them…
… “Oh, man,” Ronson complained.
“Fucker dropped the ball again,” Beeker agreed wearily. He was leaned back against the side of a burned out hut, smoking a cigarette he’d pulled from inside his jacket.
Johnson didn’t have the slightest idea where they were, let alone what they were talking about. Beeker had led them through the jungle and at first light they had come upon a small village. They had crept in warily, ready for whatever lay before them. There had been no need, it was empty, save a couple of dozen scattered bodies, busy gathering flies. He had thought Beeker would move on. He hadn’t. They were still here. But where here was, and how Beeker had found it, eluded Johnson.
“Sure as fuck did, he always does towards the end though,” Phillips agreed. “Gotta work it out… Make it just right. Set it up for the next one.”
“Yeah, well, we made it this far,” Ronson said. He grinned, and then the grin turned into a full fledged smile, and he began to laugh. Phillips joined him, and a second later, when Johnson was sure Beeker was going to open his mouth to tell them all to shut the fuck up, he started laughing too.
“Oh… It’s good, look-at-him,” Ronson said, holding his side, and pointing at Johnson, “He don’t have a friggin’ clue.” That seemed to drive all of them into hysteria, Johnson saw. Including Beeker, who was usually hard-nosed and moody. He was doubled over too. Holding his sides. Tears squirting from his eyes.
“That true?” Beeker asked at last, once he had managed to get the laughter somewhat under control. “That your friggin’ problem? Is it, Johnson, you don’t have a clue?” he stopped laughing abruptly, and within seconds Ronson and Philips chuckled to a stop. “Do you have the slightest idea where your white ass is?” Beeker asked seriously.
“No… Well, a jungle, I guess,” Johnson answered.
“No… Well, it could be a jungle, I guess,” Ronson mimicked in a high falsetto.
“Is it?” Johnson ventured in a near whisper.
“Look…” Beeker waited for silence. “Take a break, it’s gonna get worse. Why don’t you have a smoke and kick back… Enjoy the break?”
“Well, the thing is that I don’t smoke, bad for the lungs. I’m pretty careful about my health.”
“Really?” Beeker asked politely. He chuckled briefly, lit another of his own smokes, and then spoke softly. “I would like your complete attention, Johnson, do I have it?”
He cut him off, his voice a roar. “In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a fuckin’ war goin’ on, you pansy mother-fucker. A fuckin’ war, Johnson, you understand that, you ain’t gonna live much fuckin’ longer anyway. Get with the program mister, now!”
Johnson’s eyes bugged out, but as Beeker finished he forced himself to speak. “I know that… I can see that… It don’t mean I havta die though, not necessarily.”
“Man, Beek, don’t waste your time, he hopeless, same old shit, like Simpson. Like all those friggin guys before Simpson,” Ronson said.
Beeker drew a deep breath, winked at Ronson, and then spoke. “Yes it does,” Beeker said calmly. “It does because you ain’t a regular. You ain’t been here long enough, and you don’t mean a fiddler’s fuck to anybody. And that sucks, but that’s life, Johnson,” he paused and looked over at Ronson. “How long was the man upstairs gone the last time? Fourteen days, am I right?”
“As rain,” Ronson replied coolly. “He always slows down toward the end.”
“And where are we now?”
“Seventeen?” Phillips asked.
“Uh, uh,” Ronson corrected, “Eighteen, man, remember? Sixteen was when Simpson bought it, and this ass-hole came into play. Replacement, supposedly.”
“Right!” Beeker said. “It is eighteen, and that’s why nobody gives a fuck about you, Johnson. Eighteen’s too far, we’ll be done at twenty, he never goes past that, and I’ll bet bullets to bodies you’ll buy the farm long before we’re done with eighteen. Depends on how long the man upstairs gives you, see?”
“No,” Johnson said slowly, “I don’t see.” Seventeen? Eighteen? What the hell was that all about? He wondered.
Ronson chuckled. “I think he’s confused, again, Beek.”
“I think he was fuckin’ born confused,” Phillips added.
“Seventeen? Eighteen?” Johnson asked aloud. He didn’t get it, not completely anyway.
“Have a cigarette,” Beeker told him.
“I told you, I don’t…”
“Yeah, right, fuck that noise, there’s a pack inside your jacket… Check it… See if I’m right.”
Johnson fumbled with the jacket snaps, and finally pulled the jacket open. A half pack of smokes resided in the inside pocket. A silver Zippo tucked in beside them. He looked up with amazement.
“So?” Beeker asked, smiling widely.
“One of you guys stuck them there, while I was sleeping, has to be,” Johnson said.
“And when was it that you were sleeping, Johnson? For that matter, when were any of us?”
Johnson thought about it. Had they been awake for fourteen days? Not possible, he told himself. He Looked over at Beeker. Beeker just smiled.
“None of us have. None of us have to, unless he makes us… Don’t you get it yet, Johnson?”
“Yeah, don’t you get the feeling someone’s putting words in your mouth?” Ronson snickered. He began to laugh once more.
“Can’t be,” Johnson mumbled.
“It is, and hey, it’s a bitch ain’t it? But think of it this way. Us three have done this… Five now?” he asked to no one in particular.
“This will be six,” Phillips replied.
“Jesus, has it really been six?”
“This one makes it,” Ronson agreed as he stopped laughing once again. He leaned back against a nearby tree and fired up a smoke. His eyes twinkling as they locked on Johnson and Beeker.
“Okay, it’s six. You’re an extra, Johnson, you got wrote in to replace Simpson at Sixteen. You see the man upstairs figures it like this. You gotta kill somebody off every once in a while, right? Otherwise, he’ll lose the reader’s attention. So he writes in disposable’s. Yeah, man, it’s a bitch, but it’s you. It sure as hell isn’t gonna be any of us. You don’t kill off the main guys, it don’t happen,” he softened his voice. “Look, it was hard for Simpson too. He kept him with us for better than ten chapters, and you know, I liked that sucker. He was all right for a white dude.”
Johnson swallowed hard, lit up one of the smokes from his jacket, and leaned back against the side of the hut. The silence held.
“So,” Beeker finished quietly, “you gotta deal with it man… You just got too… It won’t be long…”
There you have three expressions from that same well of thought and emotion. They were written over the space of 30 years. It seems impossible to me that, that could be true as I can remember writing them out, the story, Firefight, the lyrics, War At Home, and the verse Tanks On A Blue Sky Day, like it was thirty minutes ago.
I will just remind you: Believe it or not some people hate my writing. Amazing, right? All joking aside, that happens to be as true for me as it is for anyone else. The thing is there are people that hate what I write. Go read some of my reviews and you will see that, but you will also find reviews written by people who like what I write. It will be the same with you. I have a friend that I am constantly reminding that she is good. I mean so very talented, but it doesn’t matter what I say if she doesn’t believe it inside of herself. That is where you need to go with what you write. I do not mean to close yourself off from criticism or feedback, you need that. How else will you know when you provoke someone strongly? What I do mean is that you must know in your heart that once you get past the writing errors and mistakes that we all make (Read some history about any writer at all) you are good. You are writing something that is worth reading and interesting. And you do not need someone to tell you, you should know it inside of you, because you wrote what you like. What you know and understand. Read it through. Do you like it? I mean before anyone else has said a word, do you like it? If so, the rest doesn’t matter. If you like it, someone else will too. If you get it, someone else will as well. Don’t expect everyone to get it or like it. Understand that some will not and that most of those that do not are the ones that will do reviews. So you have to look past all of it and know that you like it and therefore it is good.
To take this concept a bit further; when I was writing another novel in a popular series I write I took that short story Firefight and reworked it as a Zombie drug test vehicle. It had been published as a short story, but as inclusion in a novel it became read by people who would have never explored that strange little story.
Dreamer’s was like that. Here I am writing a book that is not written in a traditional style. I published it and no one bought it. But I knew enough then to know that if you don’t have zombies or an in somewhere in publishing, you are not going to get people to flock to what you write (Zombies now, Vampires back in the 80’s). It is going to be harder. All you can do is have that faith that it is good. Continue to plug away and build your self confidence. It doesn’t matter whether you ever sell a single copy of your books at all, it only matters that you believe in yourself. Maybe that book was not the book that will do it for you, maybe the book that will do it for you is the next book in the magazine, and if you do not have faith in yourself you will stop and that book, that one that is the one that makes it, will not get written.
Another problem that is not a problem for me, is a man writing a female character, or a woman writing a male character. At first it was. Somehow I convinced myself that men and women are completely different and therefore I could never write like, or about a woman because I am a man. And that might be true in as far as it goes. A story that is written by a woman might contain things I could not match because I could not understand them. But I know women, and I am no longer shy, I will ask about what I don’t know. And I will understand it, but as a man, I still might not capture what the woman wrote. But that doesn’t matter in almost all the important cases, because I want to write a female character: I don’t want to become a female, I don’t want to be let into the secret society of women, and by the way, if there is a secret society for men I have never been invited in: Either because I am unacceptable of because it doesn’t exist. I don’t want to do anything other than write a female character that seems like something a woman might write: A character another woman can identify with: A female character that seems real, believable. It should not be a big deal to do that.
First of all, as a man or a woman, you know far more about the opposite sex than you think you do. It is like I started out saying, you remember more than you think you do. All those little remarks, mannerisms, ways of talking, handling problems, you remember those things and you do understand them. You don’t have to jump to the stereotypical male or female either. Have you, as a woman, ever seen a man cry? Never mind the old school thought that men aren’t supposed to cry, men cry all the time in public now, and as a man I can tell you they cried before too, in private maybe, but they cried. The differences between a man crying and a woman crying are not that much. It sometimes may seem as though the man is a little more emotional. But if you think that through you will see that that makes perfect sense. Men are not used to dealing with strong emotions in that manner. Sure, we are supposedly living in a politically correct world where men are not physical or aggressive. Bull.
Men are still raised in almost all societies to be aggressive. To hide emotion, and so when a man cries it might seem to you to be more intense, but in reality it probably isn’t. It is a man expressing the same emotion, maybe in a slightly different way, but they are expressing it. The man is the same as the woman then, right? No, of course not. The part you remember is all the men, you as a woman, or all the women, I as a man have known. Are they all the same? No. Pick one and use it the next time you write about a man or woman. Or pick more than one. Let me give you an example. This is Beth from the Earth’s Survivors books:
L.A.: 2:00 am.
The night wore on. The morning came and went and the club shut down for another day. Beth worked at cleaning up the last little area of the bar as two of the dancers finished their drinks and hushed conversations, smiled at her, and walked away. A short conversation with Jon, he had probably made some crude remark; Beth had seen how both of them had instantly stiffened their backs after he spoke. It wasn’t just her, Jon was an actual creep. Whatever he had said, the two girls chose to ignore it, turning away, making eye contact with Beth, waving as if they had been at the bar talking to her, and when Jon looked back to see who they had been waving at they slipped out the door. Jon made his way over to the bar.
“You scared my honeys away,” he told her.
“I think you can do that all on your own,” Beth told him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jon asked.
Beth frowned and shook her head. Sometimes she wondered if Jon even knew what a creep he was. How he made the girls who worked here, her included, feel. “It means that not everyone is always on the same page,” Beth said. She had changed her mind at the last second. She had to work here. Jon was the nephew of the owner. Creep or not he was part of the package.
Jon looked confused.
“Jon, Jon, it means that sometimes you just have to let things happen. Go slow. A girl wants to think it was her own idea to like you,” she told him.
“Yeah… I can see that, but when you need it you need it. Some of these bitches need to be on point.” One finger disappeared into his nose and then he seemed to suddenly remember she was there. “You know, me and you need to hook up. I got …” One massive hand settled onto his shoulder, and he stopped in mid sentence.
“Disappear, Jon, Jon. I need to talk to Beth right now,” Tommy told him as he sat down on one of the stools.
‘We was just talking, Uncle Tommy.”
“Right, and now you’re done talking… Unless you’re not? Am I interrupting you?”
Jon turned beet red. He laughed to hide the embarrassment. “No… No,” he turned and walked away.
Tommy turned to Beth. “I guess you’ll have to get used to the kid. He’s a pain in the ass, but he’s my pain in the ass… Load to bear,” He turned and watched Jon step out the door to the parking lot. “Jon, Jon,” Tommy yelled. Jon poked his head back in the door and looked at his uncle. “Take a good look around out there, make sure the lot’s empty, and the girls all got to their cars okay.”
“Okay, Uncle Tommy,” Jon called back. The dopey smile that he usually wore settled back on his face as he stepped out into the darkness. Tommy turned back to Beth.
“Billy Jingo,” he said.
Beth looked at him.
“I think that kid is bad news for you… Not telling you how you should live your life, just distributing advice… A girl like you, a dancer, don’t need a distraction like that. The customers don’t want to see no boyfriend hanging around. Spoils the fantasy.” He held her stare.
“It’s not like that, Tommy. Billy is a friend only… Lives in the same building.” She had caught the fact that he had said she was a dancer. Something she wasn’t yet, unless…
“Uh huh, but he wants you. The kid is like a love sick puppy. If you could step back and look at it you would see it clearly. Are you telling me you are smart enough to handle Jon, Jon, and you can’t see this Jingo kid has it bad for you?”
Beth shrugged. “No… I know… I know that, but he knows it isn’t going to happen. He knows what the deal is.”
“Good… That’s all I’m saying, but you need to tell him to stay away… Can’t be hanging around while you’re working… See?”
Beth nodded. “I see.”
“Good, cause next week you start as a dancer. I know you…” He stopped as Beth lunged across the bar and hugged him, squealing as she did. He hugged her back, laughing.
She kissed his cheek, and then her smile went away a little as one of his hands cupped the side of her breast. Her eyes focused on his. “I think we’ll become good friends, Baby,” he told her. She nodded as his hand roamed a little further, and then trailed away across the flat plains of her stomach. She pulled back. Tommy wore a crooked smile on his face. “So we understand each other?”
“Yeah,” Beth told him.
“So smile then. Let’s have a drink… On me… Pour us something good, Baby,” Tommy told her.
Beth smoothed her skirt flat as she stepped out into the darkness of the parking lot. She had spent over a month trying to convince Tommy to let her dance. She had gotten her wish, and more than she had bargained for, a relationship with Tommy. She wasn’t sure how that was going to be defined in public, but in private it was going to be defined as a sexual relationship. He had just defined it for her, she would have to wait to see what the public definition was going to be, but she had a good idea how it was going to be.
Nan, the dancer Tommy was currently seeing was going to be upset. Tommy was not subtle. It had been clear that they had been seeing less and less of each other. She had no doubt that her first night of dancing he was going to make it clear she was his. Like a dog marking his territory. She sighed, off the street but still getting fucked for money. She hated putting it that starkly in her head but that was the plain truth. She was still selling it, just different terms, better money; better protection. She heard footsteps running behind her and her breath caught in her throat. She turned as the club door that exited to the parking lot banged shut.
“Beth,” Jon yelled. “Beth.”
She stopped and waited.
“Uncle Tommy said I should drive you home… He don’t want you walking.”
She sighed. She had half expected it. Jon ran the twenty feet from the door to where she was. She changed direction and walked slowly toward Jon’s car. Well, she thought, at least there would be no more bullshit from Jon.
Or, Candace Loi from the same series.
Shop and Save Convenience store: Candace Loi
“Last one,” Neil said.
Neil was a detective for the Sheriff’s department. It was closing in on 2:00 AM and he and his partner Don had just come back from six hours of sleep to get a jump on the day. Yesterday one of the checkout girls had disappeared between the Shop and Save and home. Earlier this morning she had turned up dead in a ditch just a quarter mile from the front door. The techs were still processing the scene but it was looking personal. Stabbed to death, multiple wounds, no defense wounds, at least none that he or Don had been able to see, and fully clothed. Her purse had been found nearby; wallet and cash inside. They would know more in a few days once the coroner did her magic. It all pointed to someone she knew, and they had no known boyfriend. The trailer park where she lived had turned up nothing, they had questioned some people at the convenience store, but some had been off shift, so, here they were back at the store questioning the other employees.
They had commandeered the night manager’s office which was barely larger than a broom closet, but at least it was a place to sit with enough space left over to call in the workers and ask their questions. Free coffee via the same night manager, who had still not gone home, was taking a little of the six hours of sleep sting off, but to Neil free coffee in a convenience store was like a whore offering a free shot of penicillin to the first twenty five customers.
“Who’s next?” Don asked.
The last half hour they had been interviewing the people who worked the same shifts as Amber Kneeland.
“Candace loi,” Neil said.
Don looked up and stopped writing in his little notebook. “How do you,” spell her name, he had meant to ask Neil, but she was right in front of him.
“EL. OH. EYE,” she said with a smile.
“Vietnamese?” Don asked. She was obviously mixed race, African American and Asian, he questioned himself.
“Japanese,” she told him.
“Nice name,” Neil said, “Candace.”
Beautiful girl, Don thought. “Did you know Amber Kneeland? Sometimes works this shift?” he asked.
“Not really,” she answered. “I mean, I met her, but only in passing… I just started here myself.”
She really is beautiful, Don thought. “You wouldn’t know if she had a boyfriend… Other friends?” he asked.
Candace shook her head. “Sorry,” she said… “What has she done?”
“Nothing,” Neil supplied.
“She went missing last night,” Don said. “Turned up dead this morning.”
Candace shook her head. “Oh my God that’s horrible. She was such a nice girl… Quiet.”
Neil nodded his head. “So maybe you did know her a little better than you thought?”
“I just started here a few weeks back, and like I said, I don’t really know her… But it might be a girlfriend not a boyfriend.”
Don looked at her. “You wouldn’t know who?”
“No. It’s just a rumor. Someone said it to me… I don’t even remember who… But I’ve never seen her with a guy, and I have seen her with other girls… Maybe also the way she looked at me a few times…”
“Go out with her?” Don asked.
“No… Never… I…”
“Don’t swing that way?” Don added.
Candace frowned slightly before she answered. “I work. I don’t swing any way. But if I did she wasn’t my type. She never asked me out, I never asked her out.”
“Didn’t mean to offend you,” Don said. He shrugged. “She’s dead.”
“She would probably do the same for you,” Neil said.
Candace nodded. “That really is all I know. I hope you find who did it though. She seemed like a nice girl,” Candace said.
“You don’t seem the type for this… Bagging groceries at 2:00 am,” Don said, changing the subject. “You aren’t local or I’d know you… This city really is small despite the base.”
Candace smiled. “Came here a year back with a boyfriend, Army. He left, forgot all about me, I guess. I had this idea of modeling… Tough to get a foot in a door though.”
“Wow, if he left you behind he must be a fucking idiot… Any good?” Neil asked.
“Excuse mister smooth there,” Don told her. Neil feigned a hurt look and Candace laughed. “He meant have you done anything? I know somebody… Might be interested.”
Candace arched her eyebrows. “I can model. I did a You Jeans ad back in Georgia a few years ago. I just need to prove it to the right person.”
“Escorting? It’s strictly escorting, no funny stuff. Dance clubs… Clothing modeling,” Neil said.
“Probably start out escorting… Dance a little… Then if he likes you he’ll put you into the modeling end of things. He owns a lot of shit… Several car dealerships across the state… Some of the biggest dance clubs, clothing outlets, those bargain places, but still, modeling is modeling, right? Not the big name stuff, but it’s a foot in the door,” Don added.
“I can do that,” she said slowly.
Neil passed her a white business card with his own name scrawled across the back. “Tell him I sent you… That’s my name on the back.”
“Jimmy Vincioni,” Candace asked.
“Just V… Jimmy V, good guy,” Neil said.
Candace nodded and tucked the card into her front jean pocket. “I’ll call him… Thanks. Look…” Her voice dropped to a near whisper. “I’m pretty sure she had a girlfriend here… I just don’t know who,” Candace added quietly.
Don finished writing in his notebook, nodded once he met her eyes and then shook the hand she offered. She walked away.
“Beautiful,” Neil said.
“Absolutely,” Don agreed. “You ain’t getting none of that though.”
“Yeah? But if Jimmy V hires her? It’ll be the next best thing.”
Don shook his head, but smiled. His eyes rose and watched as Candace walked away. “Guess I’ll have to have a few drinks at the club if that happens.”
Neil chuckled low. “You and me both,” he agreed.
Two female characters written by me, a man. It works because I went with what I knew. I did not go for stereotypical women, but women who were composites of a few women I have known in my life. Beth is loosely based on four women. The first and most obvious was a woman whom I met in the early eighties when I drove a cab for a living. She was a dancer at a little club whom I picked up every early morning and drove back to her hotel room…
The heavy gray clouds are piling up in the south, something that probably moved in from the Gulf and has now made its way to us. Rain later on seems a sure bet. Hopefully it won’t pull in higher temperatures along with it.
I would like to continue from the last chapter. Women I draw on when I write my own female characters…
(A non-fiction piece from my days of driving taxi)
The Last Ride is Copyright © 2013 – 2015 Wendell Sweet All rights reserved
THE LAST RIDE
It was early in my shift. I owned my own taxi so I could pretty much pick which 12 hour shifts I wanted to drive. I drove nights so that I could be home with my son during the day while my wife worked. I had told myself for most of the last year that I should stop driving taxi, settle down to a real job and be more responsible. And then a Conrail contract came along and then the opportunity to work with another driver who handled the airport contract, and suddenly I was making more money than I could have reasonably expected from what I would have considered a straight job.
The hours were long, but there was something that attracted me to the night work: Always had been. Like my internal clock was Set to P.M.. It just seemed to work and after a few failed attempts at day shift work, I gave it up and went to work fulltime nights.
I was never bored. The nights kept me awake and interested. They supplied their own entertainment. Conrail crews, regulars that called only for me, the assorted funny drunks late at night when the bars were closing. Soldiers on their way back to the nearby base, and a dancer at a small club just off downtown that had been calling for me personally for the last few weeks: Using my cab as a dressing room on the way back to her hotel. It was always something different.
Days, the few times I’d driven days, couldn’t compare. Sure, there was violence at night too, but it rarely came my way and never turned into a big deal when it did.
It was Friday night, one of my big money nights, about 7:00 P.M. and my favorite dispatcher, Smitty had just come on. He sent me on a call out State Street that would terminate downtown. Once I was downtown, I could easily pick up a GI heading back to the base for a nice fat fare and usually a pretty good tip. My mind was on that. My mind was also on that dancer who would be calling sometime after two AM, and who had made it clear that I was more than welcome to come up to her room. It was tempting, I’ll admit it, and each time she called she tempted me more. I figured it was just a matter of time before I went with her.
I really didn’t see the lady when she got into my car, but when it took her three times to get out the name of the bar downtown that she wanted to go to, I paid attention. Drunk. It was early too. Sometimes drunks were okay, but most times they weren’t. This one kept slumping over, slurring her words, nearly dropping her cigarette. I owed the bank a pile of money on the car and didn’t need burn holes in my back seat.
I dropped the flag on the meter, pulled away from the curbing and eased into traffic. Traffic was heavy at that time and I pissed off more than a few other drivers as I forced my way into the traffic flow. I had just settled into the traffic flow when a glance into the rear view mirror told me my passenger had fallen over. I couldn’t see the cigarette, but I could still smell it. I made the same drivers even angrier as I swept out of the traffic flow and angled up onto the sidewalk at the edge of the street. I got as far out of the traffic flow as I could get so I could get out to see what was up with the woman in the back seat.
I was thinking drunk, at the time but the thought that it could be something more serious crept into my head as I made the curb, bumped over it, set my four way flashers and climbed out and went around to the back door.
She was slumped over into the wheel well, the cigarette smoldering next to her pooled, black hair: In her hair I realized as the smell of burning hair came to me. I snatched the cigarette and threw it out then shook her shoulder to try to bring her around. But it was obvious to me, just that fast that the whole situation had changed. She wasn’t breathing.
I reached in, caught her under the arms, and then suddenly someone else was there with me.
He was a short, thin man wearing a worried look up on his face. Dark eyes sat deeply in their sockets. His hair hung limply across his forehead. He squeezed past me and looked down at the woman. He pushed her eyelids up quickly, one by one, and then held his fingers to her lips. He frowned deeply and flipped the hair away from his forehead.
“Paramedic,” he told me as he took her other arm and helped me pull her from the back seat.
We laid her out on the sloping front lawn of the insurance company I had stopped in front of and he put his head to her chest.
He lifted his head, shaking it as he did. “Call an ambulance,” he said tersely.
I could feel the shift in his demeanor. He wasn’t letting me know he could handle the situation, like when he told me he was a paramedic; he was handling it. I got on the radio and made the call.
The ambulance got there pretty fast despite the traffic. I stood back out of the way and let them work on her, raising my eyes to the backed up traffic on occasion. The paramedic had torn open her shirt. Her nudity seemed so out of place on the city sidewalk. Watching the traffic took the unreal quality of it away from me. I watched the ambulance pull away, eased my car down off the curb and back into the sluggish traffic and went back to work.
I got the story on her about midnight once things slowed down and I stopped into the cab stand to talk to the dispatcher for a short while. His daughter knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone at the hospital. The woman had taken an overdose: Some kind of pills. It was going to be touch and go. He also had a friend in the police department too. She did it because of a boyfriend who had cheated on her. It seemed so out of proportion to me. I went back to work, but I asked him to let me know when he heard more.
The night had passed me by. The business of the evening hours catching me up for a time and taking me away from the earlier events. I was sitting downtown in my cab watching the traffic roll by me. It was a beautifully warm early morning for Northern New York. I had my window down letting the smell of the city soak into me, when I got the call to pick up my dancer with the club gig.
“And,” Smitty told me over the static filled radio, “your lady friend didn’t make it.”
It was just a few blocks to the club. I left the window down enjoying the feeling of the air flowing past my face. The radio played Steely Dan’s Do It Again and I kind of half heard it as I checked out the back seat to see if the ghost from the woman earlier might suddenly pop up there.
The dancer got in and smiled at me. I smiled back but I was thinking about the other woman, the woman who was now dead, sitting in that same place a few hours before. The dancer began to change clothes as I drove to her hotel.
“You know,” she said, catching my eyes in the mirror. “I should charge you a cover. You’re seeing more than those GI’S in the club.” She shifted slightly, her breasts rising and falling in the rear view mirror. We both laughed. It was a game that was not a game. She said it to me every time. But my laugh was hollow. Despite her beauty I was still hung up on someone who had been alive in my back seat just a few hours before and was now dead. Probably being wheeled down to the morgue where my friend Pete worked. I made myself look away and concentrate on the driving. She finished dressing as I stopped at her hotel’s front entrance.
“You could come up… If you wanted to,” she said. She said it lightly but her eyes held serious promise.
“I’d like to… But I better not,” I said.
She smiled, but I could tell I had hurt her feelings. It was a real offer, but I couldn’t really explain how I felt. Why I couldn’t. Not just because I was married, that was already troubled, but because of something that happened earlier.
I drove slowly away after she got out of the cab and wound up back downtown for the next few hours sitting in an abandoned buildings parking lot thinking… “I was only concerned about her cigarette burning the seats.”
I smoked while I sat, dropping my own cigarettes out the window and onto the pavement. A short while later Smitty called me with a Conrail trip. I started the cab and drove out to Massey Yard to pick up my crew. The dancer never called me again…
The dancer is not the complete focus of that story. Two different women take the focus, the one that dies and the dancer. The dancer was where I went for my first look at Beth. For the purposes of the story I did not go into a lot of detail about the dancer, but you could assume that I had been picking her up every night for quite some time and that we probably had conversations and you would be right. What I got was the sense of a woman who did what she had the ability to do. Not because she was a whore, or a slut, or a loose woman, but because she wanted to live. Yes, she offered more than conversation and I turned her down, on another night I would not have turned her down most likely. That fact doesn’t make her or me either saints or sinners, just human beings. She seemed honest, unapologetic for the life she lived, I loved that. She was not pretentious; she was simply alive and living. She was great as my initial Base for Beth.
My second mold was my mother who has worked hard all of her life. She has been afraid in situations, I am sure, but she always did what she had to, to get by or survive and take care of myself and my siblings. That is real, not a composite, and I wanted Beth to have strength like that. I have met other women with that strength too. It is something I admire, something I think is sometimes lacking in female characters, so I wanted my Beth character to have it.
My third mold was my first girlfriend. Maybe in my head, we never actually made it official, but she was a funny person. Bold; unafraid of life. She went for the things she saw that she wanted in life. She kept a positive outlook. She didn’t let the fact that she was a woman become ammunition to others to slow her down. I remember falling in love with her about three minutes after I met her. She was just an awesome person and she happened to be a woman too. One of the first women in my life that made me stop looking at women in a stereotypical way. I wanted Beth to have that strength.
My last mold was a buddy’s wife. I got to know her a little, and one night when we were drinking she told me a story about her life…
Lyrics Copyright © Wendell Sweet 2011 ♪ ♫ ♪ Date Written; 01-24-2011
Song Title: Vegas Style: Alt
It’s snowing in Watertown… Kat’s packing the car with Jo Jo… They’re leaving for the promise of a better life… Someplace…
Instrumental ———————————— Small Lead transition into song tempo —————-
They left the small town for Las Vegas… Kat she wants to see new places… Run the bases… And Jo Jo’s born to be told, you can tell… He takes her west where the snow never fell
But there ain’t no easy life in Vegas, it’s just a little brighter than some of the other places… Times are tough… You can see it in the faces… When’s enough, enough? And who decides? It’s tough…
Instrumental ——————————————Small Transition —————————————
The pretty lights will make you blind… to the things you got to do. So you put them out of mind…
Someday, you know, you got to get wise… Time keeps slippin’ by… You fall through the cracks if you don’t compromise…
Time goes by and they find themselves sleeping in the car. Kat, she finds a job dancing at a bar, and Jo Jo fills in pouring drinks most nights… But he… Hates the dancing. Hates the men… Hates the life…
And some days Kat’s thoughts are so black, all she can think about is going back… Promises… You know they don’t amount to jack when life ends up like this… When it… moves past promises…
Instrumental—————————— Long Lead ———————————————————-
Jo Jo ain’t got much to say… Feels like he… Pissed his life away… Wakes up to do the Jo Jo show… Believes that’s just the way that life goes…
He’s just trying to make his way through it all… Waiting for the curtain to fall… But maybe it fell and he’s just waitin’ on last call… Hard to tell… Maybe it’s just as well…
Instrumental —————————————–Small Transition —————————————
The pretty lights don’t seem so bright when you’re working through the long night to the gray daylight…
And sometimes all you want to do is pack it in… But life here beats you down so hard… Don’t know where to start…
Instrumental—————————– Short lead transition ———————————————–
Kat, she sleeps through the day… Gets up for work and dances the night away… Walk this way… Slide down the pole… Some days it’s like it’s all she knows…
Just smiling her way through it all… Listening… Waiting on the curtain call… Sometimes she wonders is it her last curtain call? It’s all numbers… Still, she wonders…
Instrumental —————————————Small Transition —————————————
The pretty lights will make you blind… to the things you got to do. So you put them out of mind…
Someday, you know, you got to get wise… Time keeps slippin’ by… You fall through the cracks if you don’t compromise…
Instrumental—————–Transition to end –slower —————————————————
And it’s raining… In Vegas… as they make their way home… Still looking for the promise of a better life…. Someday….
Why I Wrote It:
(Note: Additional work 05-15-11 / 05-16-11 There is music for this written in C)
I knew a girl who lived that life. She left Watertown and ended up working in a bar in Florida. One night, over thirty years ago, she told me about it. I remembered that conversation and wrote the song about it.
Jo Jo is modeled after me. The aimless life I used to live. I put the two things together and wrote the song…
That was my last piece for Beth. I made those connections in the blink of an eye. I didn’t have to explain them or show you the work that lead me to them, but it will be the same for you when you get there I am sure. The thing is to delve into your life. What was your mother/father/aunt/uncle/ex-wife/husband/minister/boyfriend like? Write it. Remember, characters that are non typical are more realistic in the long run. They are also more interesting to the reader, I think and as you personalize them you base them on your own history and so they take on the characteristics that women or men you have known possessed, and they also become much easier to write because you know them.
Obviously you can’t write about someone’s life. In this society where everyone seems to have a lawyer in their back pocket and some lawyers are willing to file a lawsuit for anyone that has a retainer, you may worry that you are, but I would say to you: Examine that. Are you writing what they know? No. You can’t. You are not them, you cannot know what they know, so you cannot write about them in that manner. You are writing about your memories of that person, your impression, and there is nothing wrong with that. If that ability was taken away from us, we, as writers, could go ahead and throw away our pens. It would all be over.
That is substantially different from taking a true incident and writing your own story around it, exploiting that person. Instead you are taking several people, blending them together, adding the things you believe about life, people, society and coming up with your own character that is grounded in reality. In fact, the few times I have taken an honest look at my characters and compared them to the people I thought that I had based them on, I have realized that it may have started that way, but they took on a life of their own. And that is the way good characters should be, they same as good writing.
Another problem is we sometimes let a friend or family member read our work and we don’t get the response we hoped to get from that friend or family member.
I gave a copy of my first book to every family member that I could find. That means I spent what I considered to be a boatload of money buying copies so I could do that. A month later I wrote and said, “Excuse me, but have you had time to read my book yet? I put a lot into it and I think it is good and I would really, really like to have your opinion.” I waited, but not a single person wrote back. Huh, I thought. I must really suck very badly. I reminded them a month or so later “Hey! Me again. Just wondering if you read my book yet. Let me know!” Nothing.
Well, I’ll be damned, I thought. I knew I wasn’t the greatest of writers, but I have read published stuff far worse than what I write, and besides I poured my heart and soul into it.
I realized then that you have to find your audience. And your audience is there. They don’t know you yet, and you don’t know them yet, but they are there. They are there sitting patiently and waiting for you to publish that book so they can fall right into it.
Did you notice that I went to my humor well and injected a little humor into my re-telling of passing books out to my entire family and not one reading it or commenting? As you can imagine I was crushed, but I learned from it. I realized that my family didn’t write the book. They had no emotional attachment to it, so I went ahead and published it and not long after I got some real feedback that I needed. I found people that liked it. Still do like it, and identify with the characters. Of course I found people that hate it, hate the style of writing and that is to be expected as well. My point is I based my faith in my ability on me, no one else. Yes, it was good to get feedback, and I took some of it and rejected other parts of it, but the main thing was to get it into my head that I had to like it first. If I didn’t like it, believe in it, have faith in it, then it was dead already. I might as well bury it.
Again, we are not on impossible ground, we just have to know where we are. Nobody gets to go through life without being smacked around a little. Either life does it to you or other people do it to you. Sometimes it can destroy you if you allow it to, other times it hurts, makes you cry, but you pick yourself up and get your ass back in gear and go. You learn from it. That lesson is usually like this:
“Wait a second, goddammit. Did I do anything to deserve to get used like that? No!”
“Does he/she really hate me? Why? What did I do?”
And that might go on a little, but you will come to the realization that you didn’t do anything at all. You were just you and some people like you and some people don’t. Before you know it you meet a woman/man that does like you as you are, does accept you. Maybe that takes some time, but as long as you don’t stop looking you will find out how to be you and be liked. It is that simple. And you know what? It might not be five thousand people that like you. It might be five million, it might be less. But when you learn that, know you are able to be liked, appreciated you now have another well to draw from. That is the same well you should go to for the basis of your confidence in yourself as a writer.
The reasoning is clear. You may live, as I do in a small town/village. Things in a small place are small: Small post office. Smaller roads; smaller school. But in another way that is all dead now. With the advent of the internet that has all opened up. The world, literally, is right there at your fingertips. And how many people do you suppose are similar to you in your likes and dislikes? Millions? Thousands? A million? A million people out of the entire world is a small number. I would say it is safe to assume that there are a million people out there that would like your writing if you can get it to them. That is your strength. You have been down that road, all the way down that road, you know there are people who do like you, now apply it worldwide and you can see what you have: Another well of strength to draw from.
Now that doesn’t mean all of those people are ever going to know about you. They might not, but if you never publish your work they will never have that opportunity and that would be a loss for you and for them. So go to that well where you have that emotion stored from that time you were rejected, put down, passed over, and then go to that other well of strength you used to get past that. Maybe the Bible, Quran, prayer, friendship, something inside that you can not even explain. Whatever it is, go to it. Tell yourself that you personally have that faith in yourself. Believe it.
Last words: Family. Family is what we have to turn to for our strength usually, right? Not at all times. We turn there, but it doesn’t always help, in fact sometimes it hurts. They seem to be more hypercritical of us than anyone else, or, they never read that book you sent them. Jesus went back to Nazareth to preach and was rejected there among his own people. They said, paraphrased, “What is this? This guy is a carpenter’s son, he’s not a prophet or a God or a messiah.” They rejected what he had to say. How many writers have you read that said their families encouraged them and read their work? Not many. Not many because it didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean they hate you, or your work. If it was someone else who published it and they read it they might even like it, but it wasn’t someone else it was you. And you are Mary’s/Bob’s/John’s kid. “Yeah, I went to school with you. You aren’t a writer, you work down at the Walmart, right?” And there you go.
So don’t look for what isn’t there. If you get that support great, but it isn’t a given and you shouldn’t let it impact you negatively if you don’t find it. Go to that well of strength and get what you need, and then publish your work.
Wendell (Dell) Sweet wrote his first fiction at age seventeen. He drove taxi and worked as a carpenter for most of his life. He began working on the internet in 1989 primarily in HTML, graphics and website optimizations. He was honorably discharged from the service in 1974.
All music, lyrics, or additional written materials in this book, unless otherwise noted, are Copyright © 2021 Dell Sweet.