A Keyboard, Not a Grindstone

Somewhere up there, a story flows.
Somewhere up there, a story flows.

What have I read this morning? (1.) A sordid story about former big-league baseball player Mel Hall and his victimization of young girls, (2.) a contention that drinking almond milk instead of eating almonds is really stupid, and (3.) a few more pages of American Caesar, a biography of General Douglas MacArthur.

I don’t know how a sick athlete, milk that isn’t milk, and an egotistical warrior are supposed to prepare me for the daily transition from reading to writing (and, tonight, back to reading), but it’s what I know. It’s like an old cowboy song.

Gimme a beer or two and I’ll be fine / At least it worked every other time / I’m a rodeo-deo-deo cowboy / Bordering on the insane.

Hah. That’s laughable. I’m comparing a fat guy sitting in front of a laptop to a cowboy riding a raging bull. During more than half a life writing about sports, among the more frequent complaints was, “Hey, you’ve never even played the game.”

The glib response is, “Hey, I’ve written obituaries, but I didn’t have to die.” That’s a bit simplistic. I tend to respond with, “No, I don’t know what it’s like to toss a no-hitter, but it’s my job to try.” Not try to pitch a no-hitter. Try to write what it’s like.

It’s parallel to changing from non-fiction to fiction. Describing characters isn’t enough. I have to put myself inside a creation, think the way he (or she) thinks, and do what he would do.

This blog was created, in large measure, as a depository of my short fiction. I’ve tried to give my short stories a touch of uniqueness by basing many of them on songs I’ve written. A song is composed of a few verses. A short story has to hold the interest of readers willing to follow the bouncing ball for several thousand words. Using a song or a poem as a basis for a short story involves considerable development. By necessity, it must stray far from the song’s beaten path. I try to insert the mood or experience that inspired the song into the characters who spring from it.

Writing novels must be organized. Isolated events have to be a living branch of the story, not one left discarded and dead after the thunderstorm or tree surgeon swept through.

Short stories are adventurous. I get myself in the proper frame of mind, start the propellers whirring to the contours of the song, and fly by the seat of my pants. I complete the first segment of my junket, think about where I want to fly next, and proceed at the point where it makes some degree of sense. The last landing must be the best one, and I must be delighted with the destination.

It’s hard work for a life of leisure.

Buy my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope. They’re irreverent, and free-wheeling, and there are very few sinners and fewer still saints. My characters, like most of us, are trapped in between. Visit www.montedutton.com.



2 thoughts on “A Keyboard, Not a Grindstone

  1. CA 128, Russian River, and somewhere close by, Alexander Valley Vineyards. Or a drive back down to the Napa Valley and 700-some vimeyards. I am ready to go back.

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