The Library in the Palm of My Hand

(Monte Dutton sketch)
(Monte Dutton sketches)


I spent most of Thursday back in time.

It was New Year’s Day of 1947, and LSU and Arkansas were playing to a scoreless tie in a Cotton Bowl contested in snow and ice. That much is true.

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

The game was taking place amid fiction. I completed the longest chapter to date in my new story, Cowboys Come Home, set in postwar Texas, where a couple Marines, home from the Pacific, find themselves in the middle of a mess that involves cattle, oil, politics, millionaires, a failed bank robbery, and the murder of a lawman.

Other than that, it’s pretty mundane.

The Intangibles (Neverland Publishing LLC), novel number two, was set in the 1960s, when I was in elementary school but old enough to remember the events of the time. Cowboys Come Home takes place in another part of the country at a time when my mother was entering grade school.

Crazy of Natural Causes (Kindle Publishing) is a contemporary novel, as was my first, The Audacity of Dope (Neverland). Crazy is set in the hills of Kentucky, where I have friends and have frequently visited. Cowboys Come Home is in Texas, north of Dallas-Fort Worth, near the Oklahoma border, and that is another area I know, though I didn’t know it eleven years before I was born.

WIN_20150227_202945What makes writing historical fiction a little more time-consuming is the need for research. Were this an earlier time, I’d be spending most of my days at the local library, but, thanks to the research capabilities of electronic devices, I just do a lot of “googling,” looking up photos of a 1939 Chevy’s dashboard, how many cars in the forties were equipped with radios, whether or not Falstaff beer was served in Texas then, whether bottles of bourbon were equipped with corks or screw-on caps, and what year the Pentagon was completed (1943). Some research along these lines takes place in every chapter and sometimes again when I go back to edit.

The latest chapter, the 24th, takes the length up above 65,000 words, and I’m shooting for 80,000. If this is like the first four, that won’t be a problem. In fact, it seems as if, every time, first I think I’ll never make the story long enough, and, eventually, I have to go back and delete extraneous parts of the story to boil it down and make it better. First the emphasis is on addition, and then it turns to subtraction. Then, if I’m displeased, I may turn to division and multiplication, but let’s hope not. Metaphor and simile come more naturally.

Some readers thought Crazy of Natural Causes rambled a bit too much. Most didn’t think so, but some thought it rambled, but the rambling made the story more entertaining.

In the words of the late, great Waylon Jennings, “I’m a rambling man. Don’t mess around with any old rambling man,” and, as Popeye the Sailor Man was fond of saying, “Iyam what Iyam.”

(Monte Dutton sketch)

My writing style is based on planning that is organized but not to extreme. I begin each novel with an outline, but it’s really general. I like to have room for detours that may occur to me while I’m wandering along in the direction of where I think the sun will set. While I’m writing, I record these changes by adding layers of detail to the outline after completing each chapter.

Man, I hate that. I’m pleased. I’m thinking, Man, this is really bad-ass, and then I’ve got to go back through it, fix typos, change a little here and there, and record it in detail in that outline. It wouldn’t be as boring if not for the timing. At the point where I feel invigorated and refreshed, I have to turn to boring record-keeping. It’s an important reference tool, though. One wouldn’t want a cowboy who rolls his own tobacco in Chapter 2 smoking storebought Chesterfields in Chapter 17.

The way to fix a red Jeep in Chapter 4 that turns yellow by Chapter 21 is not to write, “The Jeep, which Harry and the boys had painted yellow in their spare time …” The way to fix that is for the Jeep to stay red. The outline keeps me straight on the facts I invented.

(Graphic by Meredith Pritchard; cover by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Graphic by Meredith Pritchard; cover by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

I hope you’ll take a look at my books, most of which are available here:

Follow me on Twitter @montedutton, more irreverently @wastedpilgrim and more literarily @hmdutton. I’m on Facebook at Monte.Dutton, and I invite you to join The Audacity of Dope group. You can find me on Google+ and Instagram (Tug50), too. I write more often about things that are real at

Forgive Us Our Trespasses, a crime novel set in a small Southern town, will be out soon. Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know the release date as soon as I have one.



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