Around these Parts, Things Are Roughly the Same

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, April 18, 2018, 1:45 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Baseball season has begun. Tax season has ended.

The Red Sox are off to the best start in team history. That’s good. My taxes are filed. That’s good, too. When the federal refund crackles across fiber-optic lines into my bank account, it will be better.

A website for which I write crashed for four days. That was bad. It’s back up. That’s good.

On the local front, Phillip Dean, who once worked for me in the Furman press box, is moving to Spartanburg to be principal of Reidville Elementary School. Clinton won the annual county track meet with Laurens. The Red Devil tennis team is strong, as usual. The soccer team pulled off a big 3-2 upset in Newberry last night. I had a great time at a fundraiser for Clinton’s youth tennis programs on Saturday night. It was the first time in quite a while I played music on a stage, but that was truly the least of it.

The weekly Facebook Live, after Monday’s rain-delayed Bristol stock car race, drew a surprisingly large number of viewers. Per spectator, it was probably the best NASCAR race in decades.

The Red Sox and the team they are currently visiting, Anaheim, are the hottest teams in baseball. The Braves are hanging in there. The Dodgers and Cubs have been slow to get going.

If President Twitter were any crazier, he’d be running a cut-rate electronics showroom. Syria just bombed Syria, so we bombed Syria to stop Syria from bombing Syria some more. The president is turning a porn star into Clara Barton and her lawyer into Clarence Darrow.

I guess the world has been crazier, but the law then was west of the Pecos.

 

(Steven Novak cover)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

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This Was a Friday Night that I Ain’t Got No Money

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, April 14, 2018, 1:30 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Friday was incomplete on the sports front, that is, unless going to a gathering to support youth tennis counts as sports.

It didn’t seem particularly sporting. The food was great. A bunch of people got together to play their guitars and sing songs. I talked with people I don’t see very often. Chuck Waldron, who loves tennis as much as I love writing, asked me to participate, and I’m going to the fundraiser tonight with my guitar and some signed books for the silent auction. I’ve known Chuck and his brother, Glenn, for my whole life, or, at least, since I started going to school.

You’ll have that if you live in your hometown.

I took some photos of the soccer match between Mid-Carolina and Clinton at Wilder, a stadium that yawns for soccer matches. (I don’t mean that the crowd was quiet, but rather that the local football stadium affords plenty of room for a spring sport.) It’s a better place, though, than the other field used for soccer on the Clinton Middle School grounds.

The reason I watched soccer was that it started earlier than baseball, and I had someplace to go. Mid-Carolina won, 3-2, but it was exciting, and I stopped in a parking lot to talk on the radio on the way to the barn out in the country where the ribs, tenderloin, Frogmore stew, cake, brownies, and guitars were. Some people brought beverages.

As it turned out, the local website (GoLaurens/GoClinton) for which I work crashed, rendering local news effectively less worthy, and it messed up the timing of a story I had written earlier in the day and made the soccer match and baseball game less pertinent, particularly since, at this moment, the website is still down.

Dr. Steve Gaines and I talked about our days as football teammates, and I watched some kids from the Clinton High tennis team play pool. Outside, I played a couple of my songs to Lynda Mills, who taught me high school math. She left early because she was planning to play tennis this morning.

This environment was conducive to hearing slightly familiar people say, “You don’t remember me, do you?”

“I recognize you, but I can’t remember who you are.”

Next are the hints I don’t get.

“Seriously, who are you?”

It’s impossible for this to be comfortable. Then I found out the other fellow was combining me with my brother, which is hard to do.

I got home and learned with great satisfaction that the Red Sox won again.

(Steven Novak cover)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

Kids Don’t Make Me Feel Young, but I Remember What It Was Like

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, April 11, 2018, 9:59 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The day was, in hindsight, just what I needed.

I didn’t sleep well Monday night. I dreamed vividly. It was one of those long, drawn-out visions of frustration. I couldn’t shake it when I went to bed. It continued vividly through the night.

Fortunately, Tuesday was a day I got out. I had a free-lance assignment at city hall, which here is called the M.S. Bailey Municipal Center. The subject was recreation. My idea of recreation these days is going to a meeting.

I came home and wrote the story. Then I wrote some more. It’s a common pattern for a writer.

In the late afternoon, I drove over to Clinton Middle School for a tennis match. Red Devils are habitually good at tennis. This has been a tennis town as long as I can remember. The Clinton High School team hasn’t lost a region match, and by that I include individual matches, this season. I took lots of pictures. I had to be quick for a slow man. By the time I got from one end of the courts to the other, it was all but over. Clinton 6, Newberry 0. Number one doubles wasn’t required.

I mostly chatted with the coach, Clovis Simmons, but it was enough of an interview to fill the needs of a story.

When describing events that overlap, I’m not as comprehensive. I drove from the middle school, where the courts are, to Clinton High School, where the softball park is. Chapman won that game, 6-2. It was tied until the sixth inning. The Lady Red Devils played well; they just got beaten. It happens.

It was Senior Night. Taped farewell messages from each player to their sport, their teammates, their parents and their school blared over the P.A. before the game. The girls got flowers. Even the Panthers’ fans liked them.

I didn’t keep score. I just scribbled notes and asked the lady who kept the book a few questions. The stories were short. I had two of them to write, three if you count a little roundup of other spring sports, which I don’t.

I talked to a lot of people, not for the stories but just making conversation. Tennis players. Fans. Parents. Coaches of other sports. Sometimes someone makes a comment that winds up in a novel. Fiction is a way to change the names to protect the innocent. The character I make up probably isn’t much like the kid who just got through playing doubles. In a different circumstance, though, he might say the same thing. It helps to gain a little insight about what makes people 42 years younger tick. How they interact. Kids have changed a lot, but not as much as you’d think.

When I left the ballpark, my phone informed me the Red Sox were leading the Yankees, 5-0. I thought to myself, by the time I get home, New York will be ahead. It was actually 5-1. I put some coffee on. I started dickering with photos I’d taken. Boston scored nine runs. 14-1.

To make a long story short, I slept well last night.

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

The Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Imagination

(Steven Novak cover)
By Monte Dutton

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, April 6, 2018, 10:45 a.m.

This week has seemed slow. Most seem fast. Yet my life has been full of activity.

First the audio version of my stock racing novel, Lightning in a Bottle, was released. The audio version is fantastic, thanks to the diligent work of narrator Jay Harper. He made the very best of what I wrote.

(Steven Novak cover)

Then, on April Fool’s Day – I trust the date is not telling; Lightning in a Bottle was released on the same date a year earlier in print and Kindle – my new novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, hit Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Meanwhile, my next novel, The Latter Days (unless a better title happens by), is five chapters into a rough draft. It’s about baseball. Last year’s novels – Life Gets Complicated is the sequel to Lightning in a Bottle – were quick reads, humorous and fun to write. The Latter Days is going to follow that formula, except not about stock car racing.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a return to the serious. You won’t find a book on the market that is more current. Out of all the tasks I’ve undertaken in the year to date, by far the most time has been devoted to writing a new ending. America may go to war next week. The world is turning so fast that it’s impossible to keep up for long. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell at least hits the ground running.

Readers who like the way things are won’t like the brand-new tale of crime, politics, and corruption. It might make them mad. It’s almost impossible not to make people mad. That’s another characteristic of our time. Many people assume anyone who disagrees with them is stupid. That lack of civility – that inability to respect the view of others – is itself stupid. The only people who are really stupid are those who think everyone who disagrees with them is.

Of course, you may disagree. If so, there’s no need to read Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

I’m kidding. Everyone should read it. I’m jaded, too.

(Joe Font cover design)

Lightning in a Bottle was the most fun to write of any of my novels since the first, The Audacity of Dope, which was published in 2011. By the way, it seems pretty current these days, too. I knew it was ahead of its time when I wrote it.

In Audacity, Riley Mansfield is a rebellious, pot-smoking, hard-headed musician. In Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated, Barrie Jarman is a rebellious, hard-headed stock car racer who would smoke pot if his career would let him. I had lots of fun inventing both of them.

I like flawed heroes matched against unscrupulous villains. Like what I encounter in real life, the world of my fiction contains no saints and only a few sinners. Most characters are somewhere in between, though evil lurks out on the fringes in the form of villains such as Jed Langston (Audacity), Ned Whitesides (The Intangibles), Buckley Cumberland (Crazy of Natural Causes), Celia Tragg (Forgive Us Our Trespasses), Glen Trimmel (Cowboys Come Home), Cade Rawlings (Lightning, Complicated), and Wade Sanderson (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell).

Three of them are still around at the end of their respective yarns.

Perhaps one day I’ll settle into a pattern, a formula. I’m just waiting on one that works.

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

It Could Be Worse, but It Could Be Better

Setzler Field Newberry College (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 1, 2018, 4:48 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

On Saturday morning, I left a couple small crises behind me as I drove down U.S. 76 to Newberry College, there to join my friends Brent and Sharon Sanders to watch their daughter, Hailey, play women’s lacrosse for Tusculum College against the Wolves.

This was my second women’s lacrosse game. In the visiting grandstands of Setzler Field, I felt a bit like Andy Griffith, who, early in his grand career, cut a record entitled “What It Was, Was Football.”

What It Was, Was Lacrosse.

The Pioneers won, 20-12. Hailey, a defender, scored one of the points and played, as best I could tell, a smashing game, or match, or, uh, round.

I wore the only orange shirt in my wardrobe. I hoped it would help me fit in.

From left, Brent, Hailey, Sharon, me. (Facebook)

Brent and I make good companions, particularly at football games, where we have similar amounts of sense. I didn’t take my camera. For a day, I wasn’t about that life. I didn’t take pictures. My picture was taken. I had my phone, the better to keep up with small crises from afar.

The photo of Setzler Field above this blog was one I took a while back when in the area. It hasn’t changed much since I played at it. That was in 1975. Only the turf has been changed to protect the innocent.

I like the drive to Newberry. There’s a flimsy fence stretched out in front of what used to be the post office in Kinards. I’m always tempted to stop at Wise’s B-B-Que, but instead I had a peanut butter shake from the Zesto near the stadium. I don’t have shakes often. I picked the right one.

What better way to return to normality on my return to the Pleasantville limits than to go to Dollar Tree, where I felt like I had won the lottery by finding a new carabiner clip for my phone holster. The one from the factory had broken somewhere between Clinton and Newberry.

(Steven Novak cover)

The coming week holds promise. I’ve got a lot to do but should have a lot of time. It’s Spring Break in the local high schools, so the typical crowded sports schedule is nonexistent. By the time the ballgames resume, it will be warm and pleasant, and the rest of the spring should be mainly a matter of avoiding thunderstorms.

(Steven Novak cover)

The new novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, has been accepted for publication, and, amazing me as it always does, is already available in paperback at Amazon. The Kindle version will be available in a few days. Also fresh on the market is the brand-new audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) release of Lightning in a Bottle, brilliantly narrated by Jay Harper. Jay is on board to narrate the second Barrie Jarman Adventure, Life Gets Complicated, but there’s no hurry on that. Maybe the stock car racing stretch drive in the fall.

Fenway Park, 2007. (Monte Dutton photo)

Baseball is underway, and it’s so far, so good for the Boston Red Sox, whom I worship. The pitch was great, the hitting unspectacular, but the Sox managed to win three out of four in St. Petersburg, losing the season opener 6-4 when erratic fireballer Joe Kelly squandered a 4-0 lead. Boston then edged the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0, 3-2 and 2-1. Now it’s two games in Miami before the Fenway opener on Thursday, once again, against the Rays.

Kelly, by the way, managed to earn a save in the series finale, though he allowed two two-out hits before striking out Denard Span to end the game.

I just started a novel on baseball. I hope to get out to some minor-league games, in addition to the several high school games I see every week. I’ll be looking for items that will provide inspiration for the book.

It’s spring break at the high schools this week. I’m going to try to catch North Carolina A&T at Presbyterian on Wednesday. The Blue Hose, Clinton, Laurens and Laurens Academy all have losing records thus far. Three of them didn’t last year.

But … it’s still, uh, relatively early.

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

The Eighth Novel Is Out!

(Steven Novak cover)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 1, 2018, 12:24 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will make some readers angry. What doesn’t?

This novel is either my best or my best mess. I did my best. I put lots of effort into it. No one is objective about oneself. The readers decide for themselves, and their verdict is the one that counts.

This tale begins with isolated incidents.

A veteran sports columnist unexpectedly loses his job.

A rebellious young writer takes a weed-clouded trip to Southern California with a tawdry dropout.

Darin Fowler, armed. (Monte Dutton sketch)

An English teacher at a prep school toils in vain on a breakthrough novel, watching his teen-aged pupils grow rebellious and decadent and wondering if he is part of the solution or part of the problem.

All are related. All are drawn together as they gradually learn they are pawns in a vast illegal conspiracy.

The columnist’s new job is not one he chooses. The young writer mistakenly believes she is selling drugs by choice and rationalizes it in the name of writing a tell-all novel. The teacher sees in his charges mistakes he has already made.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

One is another’s daughter. She is the other’s lover.

Everything will be fine as long as they are obedient. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Against the backdrop of a presidential election, a group of powerful men work to corner the market on the illicit sale of marijuana. They have members with ties to tobacco, entertainment, law enforcement, national security, and politics.

Innocent people are being shot down in the streets by policemen who never are punished. Could this be more than coincidence?

(Monte Dutton sketch)

The plan seems perfect … until the election of Martin Gaynes, a man as corrupt as those who run the Consortium. Extreme measures are necessary as a potential dictatorship rises in the tumult.

No one, no matter how far from the center of power, is safe. No one can afford to mind his (or her) own business. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell becomes dangerous, impractical, and deadly.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

It began with two thoughts. One was that the title phrase, once used to describe a policy regarding gays who serve in the military, applies broadly to our lives. This novel has nothing to do with military service at all.

I watched the spread of incidents involving shootings of innocent people that were explained away as mistakes. The police thought a cell phone was a gun. They had a warrant for one person and shot another because of mistaken identity. For some reason, the surveillance cameras were turned off.

I thought, what if they weren’t mistakes? What if they were hits?

The idea grew and grew, repeatedly overrunning its banks.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been driven by this urgency to get it out because, as of right now, it’s current. Things in this country are changing so rapidly that a novel that is ‘ripped from the headlines’ is fleeting. Also, truth is so strange that it’s hard to write fiction. Right now, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is up to date with the culture around it. The evidence suggests this won’t last long.

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

Johnny Comes Lately

John Steinbeck

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, March 30, 2018, 1:32 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Hindsight is supposedly 20/20, though I’ve often found memories to be considerably photoshopped.

For instance, it just occurred to me that I have something in common with John Steinbeck.

Hint: It’s not talent.

I’m not particularly modest. In fact, I’m not remotely modest. I think it’s hard to be internally modest and write fiction. Fiction is hard. It takes guts. It takes thick skin. That’s why the brashness is buried deep in the soul.

I doubt I’d be a writer if not for Steinbeck.

If I’m not mistaken – it’s one of those quotations that has been used by so many people, it’s hard to discern the original – Coach Jake Gaither said of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, “He can take your’n and beat his’n, and his’n and beat your’n.”

As writers go, Steinbeck was the equivalent of an all-around ballplayer. His classic works, The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, used to intimidate me. I couldn’t write well if I was reading them. Steinbeck crammed more into a sentence than I could get onto a page. He paralyzed me a few times. I stared at computer screens.

But Steinbeck was not always that intimidating. He also wrote short, comic novels that made me laugh out loud. Cannery Row. Tortilla Flats. Lots were in between, profound commentaries with lighthearted moments. Of Mice and Men. The Winter of Our Discontent. I’ve devoured everything Steinbeck wrote. Collections of stories he wrote while a war correspondent. Stark tales of good and evil in which good didn’t always win. I even read a book of the notes between Steinbeck and his agent while he was writing East of Eden, which he thought was his masterpiece, and I do, too.,

(Steven Novak cover)

I just finished a weighty tome. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a dark commentary on modern morality. It’s outrageous. It’s controversial. (Just what isn’t nowadays?) It’s amusing in places, but it’s not a pretty tale. It’s my best attempt to make what’s going on in the world seem somehow plausible. How did this happen? How did it come to this? It’s my answer to what in hell happened?

It’s important. It takes a toll. I’ve agonized over it. I’m agonizing over it now. Writing it made me a bit neurotic. I wrestled with it, and shaved a lot out of it. Then I rewrote what was left. Then I wrote a completely different ending. Then I read it again, and edited it again, and tried to convince myself that it makes sense. My editor thinks it makes sense. Whew. There exists evidence from one other person on earth that I’m not delusional.

It follows the course of fiction I was taking with The Audacity of Dope, The Intangibles, Crazy of Natural Causes, and Forgive Us Our Trespasses. Then I needed a break. First I wrote a long, but fun, tale of the modern West (post-World War II) called Cowboys Come Home, which was kind of my ode to another literary favorite, Larry McMurtry. It also gave me a chance to use my history degree. I enjoyed changing the brand of beer from Falstaff to Lone Star because the former wasn’t available in Texas in 1946.

Last year, I had fun. I wrote adventures about an outrageous young stock car racer, Barrie Jarman, called Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated. I loved making up tales about Barrie. I’ll write another someday. I’ve just glutted the market for now.

(Steven Novak cover)

As soon as the current muddle – the audio version of Lightning in a Bottle is just out, and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is about to be out in print and Kindle, and I’ve been (I hope) putting the latter to bed this very morning – is done, I’m going back to the next funny, irreverent, free-wheeling, first-person romp, which is now four chapters long. It’s about an aging baseball scout and his discovery of a diamond in the rough he thinks he can carve into a big-leaguer. It’s a perfect time to write it. Watching actual ballgames can provide me with ideas and inspiration.

Maybe, just maybe, I’m doing what Steinbeck did. It didn’t occur to me until I was wrapping up Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I didn’t do it on purpose. I did it to keep my sanity.

That could have been the deal with Steinbeck.

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

Join me live on Facebook after most NASCAR races. I’ll play songs, shill my writing, and engage in a discussion about the race and whatever else you’d like to ask. It’ll start a few minutes after TV network coverage ends.