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.

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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.

Adventure Among the Ruins

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, March 8, 2018, 9:03 a.m.

Imagine Professor Indiana Jones, only damaged by the trauma of the Great War.

Imagine the alternative “Indy,” deeply neurotic and wearing a half-mask to hide the part of his face disfigured fighting the Germans, for whom he understandably bears a grudge. He moves to Cairo, purchases a grand house and operates an antiquities shop out of it. He is a learned man.

By Monte Dutton

Meet Augustus Wall, the principal character in Sean McLachlan’s The Case of the Purloined Pyramid. It’s the first in the author’s new series, The Masked Man of Cairo.

Wall enlists the help of another learned man, Moustafa Ghani, whom he finds while investigating an archeological dig. Moustafa is a proud, self-educated Soudanese, both respectful of the ruling British and resentful of their condescension. Then is there Faisal, a resourceful young beggar of the streets, who proves useful on occasion though Augustus and Moustafa try in vain to be rid of him.

Meanwhile, the evil nemeses are familiar. A band of Germans is seeking ancient secrets that will restore their beleaguered nation to what they perceive to be its rightful place. These Germans rather presage the Nazis. They believe Aryan supremacy is rooted in the Great Pyramids of Giza, and they will go to any length to uncover the secrets that lie beneath them.

When the bullets start flying, Augustus has a disquieting tendency to succumb to flashbacks of the horrors he experienced in the trenches of Europe. Moustafa learns to shake him back to his senses. Together they craft a tale of delightful, if often reluctant, cohesion, set amidst a panorama of foreign intrigue and revolutionary tumult.

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my 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.

At Best, It’s Delightfully Bad

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, January 28, 2018, 4:49 p.m.

I read Preacher Man, by Clint Morey, of my own free will. I found it on Amazon. It was a quick read. The sample seemed promising.

It’s preposterous.

By Monte Dutton

That I actually completed a novel I found this insipid is astonishing. It is an inspirational story. It is a quick read. Its absurd plot is written well. Sometimes I chuckled in the same way I might chuckle at the exploits of Jethro Bodine in The Beverly Hillbillies. It reminds me of what I once said about a race car that had an engine running so rough that it rattled the windows of the press box but made it through the whole feature.

“That fellow can build a bad engine good.”

Mark Twain allegedly said something along the lines of, the reason truth is stranger than fiction is that fiction has to make sense.

Preacher Man doesn’t make sense. The reader has to suspend disbelief with cables that would hold the Golden Gate Bridge up.

Luis is a two-bit criminal who accidentally witnesses a drug deal and knows that a corrupt cop is involved. The cop arrests Luis for jaywalking and attempts to kill him by handcuffing him to the steering wheel of his police cruiser, which he leaves on railroad tracks in front of an approaching freight train. Somehow, in seconds, Luis removes the steering wheel and escapes. Then the real Pastor Paul picks him up in the middle of the desert, has a heart attack, and crashes another car. Luis drags the comatose pastor into the town of Borax, Nevada, where he, a young Latino hoodlum, is somehow mistaken for the elderly Pastor Paul, who slowly recovers under the beautiful town doctor’s care. Luis has never been in a church before and has no idea what is in the Bible, but somehow his clueless sermon is acceptable to the local people, and its sheriff, in spite of it being delivered by a man who is handcuffed to a steering wheel while he is delivering it.

Meanwhile, the authorities are looking for Luis, most notably the corrupt police lieutenant who still aims to kill him because he knows he’s on the take from drug dealers, one of whom, Carlos, makes a few appearances of his own.

Borax, Nevada, makes Hooterville seem like a citadel of learning.

The story is inspirational and uplifting. It has amusing dialogue. The Pastor Paul impostor endears himself to the local citizens.

I’ve never read a novel this wildly nonsensical. I kept on reading to see how bad it could be. I wanted to know how the author was going to work his way out of this. I read it off and on because I was diligently completing a novel of my own at the time.

It’s a quick read with lots and lots of very short chapters. I’ve seen movies as bad — I think a movie of this novel would have to star a latter-day Elvis Presley or Frankie Avalon and have musical interludes — and perhaps some sixties sitcoms. Something along the lines of Mr. Ed or My Mother the Car.

Sometimes I watch such a movie or sitcom because it has pretty girls in it, and I’m amused to see how bad it gets.

I guess that’s why I stuck with this one.

There’s a perpetually drunk pilot, a doctor with a modicum of sense, a likable but naive sheriff, teens in love, grouchy old women and an inept football coach.

All the ingredients are in place, right down to a loving God. Maybe you should read it. Maybe you’re like me. Judging from other reviews, lots of readers like it.

As I brace for the author of this work to go online and “one-star” every single book I’ve written, I’d like to invite you to read them for yourself here.

If you enjoy my style of writing and wish to support my modest writing efforts, particularly in terms of blogs about NASCAR and other sports, please consider a pledge on my Patreon page by clicking here.

The Resistance of the Just Soul

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, January 15, 2018, 12:15 p.m.

Fritz Kolbe is just a man. He has no yearning to kill and never does so in Andreas Kollender’s The Honest Spy, expertly translated into English by Steve Anderson.

Perhaps because the novel begins in South Africa, where he is assigned a diplomatic post by the German government, Kolbe never adapts to the hate epitomized in the Nazi regime back home. After being called back to Berlin, Kolbe is appalled at the fanatical devotion to Adolf Hitler in those with whom he works. He leaves his beloved daughter, Katrin, in South Africa to protect her, and she spends the story in what the songwriter John Hartford called “the backroads and the rivers of [his] memory, ever smiling, ever gentle on [his] mind.”

By Monte Dutton

Kolbe clings to elusive humanity, and it alone transforms him into a spy in a world where everyone is suspicious. He sacrifices everything except his decency.

He is a flawed hero who falls madly in love with a soldier’s wife. He inadvertently provides information to the Americans that results in the death of his best friend and the suicide of his best friend’s wife. He loses his love and never enjoys a reunion with his daughter. He doesn’t ultimately get enough credit for what he does.

The story switches back and forth between the events of the war and a telling of his story to two journalists.

As the pages wind down, one has a sinking feeling, knowing that the protagonist will survive, but that he will lose the love of his mistress, Marlene, but not knowing how. The ending falls like cruel dominoes. I was up late last night, unable to set it aside without experiencing the fulfillment of the inevitable melancholy.

Kolbe survives by competence and guile. He makes mistakes but somehow manages to survive. His soul? Not so much. He refuses to accept compensation for his righteousness. Profit would undermine the nobility of his motives.

Based on a true story, Kollender fictionalizes what he must and spins a tale every bit as plausible as the real story likely was. The author manages to find a modest humanity in characters who would seem to have none. He depicts a nation driven to madness with as much understanding as is “humanly” possible.

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For more information about The Honest Spy, sample it here.

Getting High on Jaymo and J.P.

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, December 24, 2017, 11:17 a.m.

I’ve never been anywhere near the same distant universe as J.P. Dooley’s Getting High: The Jaymo Chronicles I, and I haven’t really read another novel like it.

Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Maybe, though it wasn’t a novel.

I’ve written about the dangerous release of post-war depravity in Cowboys Come Home, a novel set at the end of World War II, but that war had little to do with Vietnam, and the two Marines, Ennis Middlebrooks and Harry Byerly had even less to do with Jaymo and Tooker. Becky Middlebrooks, whose wild rebelliousness originated back home in Texas, is slightly closer, but it was a different time. Becky was reacting to the release of homeland sacrifice. World War II was ultimately triumphant; Vietnam was ultimately futile and needless.

By Monte Dutton

How could the world have changed so much? Oh, maybe because Jimmy Mahoney, a.k.a. Jaymo, is a denizen of almost five decades ago. He and his contemporaries live by Hippie Law, which is rather simple: “Whatever you have to do to get high.” It’s more absolute than Libertarianism ever thought about being.

I don’t remember why I bought it in June. It could have been for research. That’s why I read Wolfe’s tale of the Merry Pranksters, but I was already a fan of Wolfe’s revolutionary non-fiction. Some influence came from the writing of fellow Clinton native Joey Holland. Getting High almost got lost in my Kindle. I sampled the detective classics of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett for much of the summer and fall while writing about a stock car racer I invented named Barrie Jarman and trying to rewrite the ending of a manuscript that will soon be out as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

When I finally embarked upon Getting High – not a double entendre – it seemed entirely possible that I would only sample it and set it aside.

But it is well-written. No. It is exquisitely written.

The author is a self-professed graduate of Vietnam and psychedelics, and whatever their deleterious effects, they did not leave his writing skills impaired. Jaymo follows a terrain common to the roads traveled by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider, a classic movie. The interstates have replaced those roads. Dooley’s prose has not.

(Monte Dutton photos)

Kindle is a useful reading vehicle because Dooley’s skilled words are sprinkled with words I do not know, and Kindle allows the reader to look them up instantly where once I kept a dictionary at hand for such knowledge. Some of his words occur in no dictionaries, at least not the ones downloaded into Kindles, but he writes so well that the reader is able to figure them out.

It’s left me contemplative. Yesterday I was as irreverent on Twitter as if I’d been stoned. I was, but on non-stop football. For the last few days, I read it as if I were on one of Jaymo’s benders, jangled in the flow of Dooley’s elegant, if often fragmented, sentences.

The audio version of Cowboys Come Home is available on Audible, iTunes and, by clicking here, Amazon.

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

Forgive Us Our Trespasses, my wild tale of Southern crime and political corruption, is available on an Amazon Kindle sale for $0.99 all week. Download it here.

The books of mine that are not on sale are still quite inexpensive. Shop their impressive variety here.

Signed copies of three of my seven novels — Cowboys Come Home, Lightning in a Bottle, and Life Gets Complicated — are available in uptown Clinton at L&L Office Supply and Ella Jane’s, and in Spartanburg at Hub City Bookshop.

Turning Phrases with a Deft Touch

Raymond Chandler

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, November 27, 2017, 6:32 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Raymond Chandler was an extraordinary novelist and screenwriter. I can only imagine how great a sports columnist he would have been.

This man could turn a phrase. They cascade through his prose like waterfalls.

“… she had a blue mink that almost made the Rolls-Royce look like just another automobile. It didn’t quite. Nothing can.”

“Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl’s clothes off.”

“In jail a man has no personality. He is a minor disposal problem and a few entries on reports.”

“Cops are like a doctor that gives you aspirin for a brain tumor, except the cop would rather cure it with a blackjack.”

He was the type of writer who made a reader want to take notes. His pulp fiction was of a high order. He removed the pulp. For years I watched movies of his books and took notes in the recesses of my mind that I wanted to read them. The Big Sleep. The Long Goodbye. I read the former earlier this year. The latter I just finished.

The Big Sleep was the better movie, though it took the novel for me to realize what entirely was going on. The Long Goodbye is the better novel. It took me a long time to read it because I felt the need to absorb it. It’s not hard to read. One tends to go back and retrace a sentence or paragraph just to experience the full effect of the observations made.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.

Another reason, unfortunately in my case, was that the Kindle edition I purchased was shoddily produced. Whoever provided it must have just run some kind of scanner and never glanced back at what was scanned. If I had a lot more time than I do, I’d have counted all the times “dear” showed up as “clear,” but I never could have kept up with the vice-versas. Pages break after four lines. It’s damned annoying.

The plot is complicated enough without having to be a private investigator, a Philip Marlowe, of the text.

None of this was Chandler’s fault. He died in 1959. He might have kindled romance, but he never owned one.

 

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.