The Dutton Deal: My July Newsletter

(Steven Novak cover)

This Week Only! Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for free!

By Monte Dutton

I think this new novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, is my best. Some won’t like the politics. In one way, it’s about a group of people who get themselves in a serious bind. In another, it’s about America, right now, and it hasn’t gotten a bit less timely since I wrote it.

It has not taken off, partly because I don’t have the money to spend promoting it. I need to get it out there in circulation, so I’m putting the Kindle version up for free.

That’s right. Free! Surely you can afford nothing. The sale (or lack thereof) runs from Monday, July 16, at 3 a.m. EDT, to Saturday, July 21, at 3 a.m. EDT (that’s midnight PDT).

Download it for yourself. Circulate word of its, uh, “freebieness” to everyone you know, emphasizing those who have been known to read. Go to Amazon, type me name, and that will take you to my Author Page.

It’s likely that you’ve already got a Kindle app in your device (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, etc.). If not, the app is free. Grab a novel. Don’t cost nothing.

(Steven Novak cover)

Now Available in Audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes)

My stock car racing novel, Lightning in a Bottle, has been deftly narrated by Jay Harper. He did a great job. So did Kenyon Strecker, who expertly narrated Cowboys Come Home, my 2016 tale of a pair of World War II heroes returning home to Texas.

(Design by Steven Novak)

New Job

I am managing the county news site, ( is within it), and that takes me out and about to write about ballgames, political gatherings, and people who have done something of note. Also, editing. Lots of editing and layout. I’m enjoying it. If I didn’t love where I live, I wouldn’t be here.

Facebook Live

Each week, usually on Sunday night at 8, I go on Facebook Live (Monte.Dutton), to perform some songs, talk NASCAR and respond to anything else viewers want to discuss.

I also attempt to promote my Patreon fund-raising site, books, and blogs at and

Between the live show and a replay made available, usually about 350-500 viewers tune in. Join me if you get a chance.

The Next Novel

All my other activities have slowed my progress, but I’m about a third of the way through the first draft of The Latter Days, which will be my ninth novel. It’s about an aging baseball scout and ex-big leaguer who finds a diamond in the rough and attempts to turn him into a big leaguer.

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

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


If Only News Had a Scorebook and a Means of Keeping Score

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, May 2, 2018, 11:03 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

My preferred form of journalism is sports. It’s the source of most of my experience. Recently I’ve been writing lots of news. It’s interesting. I derive some satisfaction. I’ve done it before from time to time.

On Tuesday night, sitting in the home grandstand of Wilder Stadium and snapping occasional photos of the Class 3A playoff soccer match between Clinton and West-Oak, I felt more at home. Sports involves more human drama and less splitting of hairs and reading between lines.

Outcomes are more obvious. A football player either makes a catch, or he doesn’t. When a basketball player stands at the free-throw line with three seconds left, he makes it, or he doesn’t. Even as thousands watch, it’s a matter of the player, and a ball, and a hoop 10 feet off the floor.

It’s just a game. Or a match. Or a race. The far-reaching effects on the world, or the country, or the state, or the county, or the schools, are usually not directly relevant.

The Duke of Ellington supposedly said, “The Battle of Waterloo was on the fields of Eton,” but he claimed he didn’t. I found an account that the original words were written by Montalembert in something called “De l’Avenir Politique de l’Angleterre.”

That’s Charles Forbes Rene de Montalembert. I can’t say I know anything else of him.

Suffice it to say that sports is way over on one end of micro, and news is way over on the other end of macro.

I’d rather watch a walk-off homer than wonder what really happened in executive session.

But “these are times that try men’s souls.” Thomas Paine wrote those seven simple words in The American Crisis, pamphlets published at the dawn of the Revolution, long before Trump, nuclear weapons, illegal immigration and the opioid crisis.

I will never get the days of Friday and Monday back, but almost all of them were spent making calls, leaving messages, writing texts, interviewing by phone, writing new information, updating the story each time it arrived, and thinking it was done before it was. Now it’s just done for now. It’s hibernating until next year, when the General Assembly will undoubtedly take it up again.

With apologies to Robert Earl Keen Jr., the road goes on forever, and the party never ends.


(Steven Novak cover)

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

Don’t Ask; I’m About to Tell

(Steven Novak cover)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, March 24, 2018, 4:46 p.m.

Surprise, surprise.

I awakened this morning to discover that a close friend’s edit of my next novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, had arrived via email.

(Steven Novak cover)

Last night I arrived home from a free-lance assignment to discover that my stock car racing novel, Lightning in a Bottle, is freshly on sale in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes).

My life is in a discovery phase.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a project I’ve been working on for nearly a year and a half. I wrote a first draft. Then, in a burst of inspiration, I set it aside to write two short novels about stock car racing, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated. I never stopped chipping away at Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. While writing the other two, I was editing down the manuscript. By late fall of last year, I had shaved about 15,000 words out. Then I decided to do away with the ending and write a new one. The base was thoroughly self-edited, far more thoroughly than any of my previous novels. I wrote the new ending, which, by the way, at this moment, is “ripped from the headlines.”

This may be fleeting. Headlines are changing rapidly in America.

By Monte Dutton

I’m glad that my editor likes it. It’s hard to be objective. Of course, I like my novel. I wrote it. I certainly didn’t write a bad novel on purpose. The racing novels were short, fun, funny, simple, and, relatively speaking, easy. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is organizationally complex. It’s ambitious, controversial, and far away from its beginning at its end.

Here are some excerpts from my editor’s remarks at the end:

Hell, this thing’s got the makings of a big book!

I figured it would be a good read on the current sorry state of journalism, but I really didn’t expect it to fly off on the particular tack you took. …

Brilliant! You mashed every hot button out there! Dope! Crooked politics! Implied hot sex! Football! …

Seriously. This is a helluva book. If it manages to get out, it may be your best seller yet. It tags a lot of bases. …

Yes. I took him up on his offer of a blurb.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is about a group of not particularly significant people who unwittingly get themselves involved in what becomes first a national and then an international conspiracy. They gradually realize what serious trouble they are in. Some don’t realize it until they’re in it.

The story grows and grows, and, by the end, it involves police, drug dealers, politicians, image makers, businessmen, a newly elected president, his attorney general, and operatives of the Russian Federation.

I don’t where I came up with all this.

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


Why You’d Enjoy a Stock Car Racing Novel … or Two

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, February 28, 2018, 11:17 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

In 2017, I wrote two novels about a young stock-racing ace named Barrie Jarman. Of my seven novels to date, they are the only ones related to each other. I’ve often explained this by saying that once I’ve completed the arduous process of writing a novel, I’m ready for something else. Writing fiction is hard. I have to fall in love with a story to write it.

I spent twenty years writing about real stock-car racing. I traveled all over the country. The sport is now in decline, and I wanted to do something about it. Four years after that chapter in my career ended, I started missing it, and I started reflecting about how it had changed and how it had gone astray in terms of popularity with the general public.

Barrie Jarman became my version of what the sport needed. I created him as a hybrid between the likable rogues who populated NASCAR when I began writing regularly about it and the kids I write about now who play football, basketball, baseball, and other sports.

Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated were also the first novels I wrote in anything other than third person. Charlie Jarman, Barrie’s uncle, tells the stories, which are written in an informal, conversational style. Barrie comes to live with Uncle Charlie because he and his father do not get along. Jim Jarman has a drinking problem, and it fuels Barrie’s resentment. When he moves from Spartanburg, South Carolina, to a cabin behind Charlie’s house in Lacewell Rapids, North Carolina, his lifestyle is as wild as his talent. He and his buddies have grown accustomed to arriving home from the dirt track and partying till dawn, drinking beer and smoking pot while Barrie picks up his guitar and howls at the moon.

Uncle Charlie becomes his steadying influence. He’s his uncle, not his daddy. He doesn’t tell him what to do. When Barrie asks for his guidance, he provides it. Charlie helps him hone both his talent and his work ethic. Charlie is an old hand in FASCAR, which is what the ruling body of stock car racing is in the novels. He opens doors for the boy. He greases the wheels of his career in a low-key, patient way. Charlie directs him on the track as his spotter, and drives his motor coach to and from the races. He lets Barrie learn the lessons on his own.

Barrie’s a stock car racer, but he could be a ballplayer, or a musician, both of which he is on the side. He’s an impetuous, headstrong, rebellious kid who needs the direction he gets from Uncle Charlie. He gets in and out of trouble in both novels, but, in Life Gets Complicated, success goes to his head a bit. New rites of passage teach him new lessons. He pays a painful price for his mistakes.

I’ve always wanted my novels to be funnier than they are. They’re amusing. Writing in first person through Charlie’s eyes taught me how to be funny. If you read the Barrie Jarman adventures, you’ll laugh out loud whether you’re a stock-car fan or not.

For the past few days, I’ve been reviewing the audio version of Lightning in a Bottle, and I feel fortunate that a narrator named Jay Harper has perfectly captured the spirit of the story. He’s made me laugh out loud at my own words. He is Charlie Jarman. I hope we can get together on an audio version of the sequel.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to get the eighth novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, published. It’s a political crime thriller with a theme as contemporary as last night’s news. Its scope gets wider and wider as a group of people stumble unwittingly into forces far beyond their control.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

I’m already getting started on another novel that I’m writing in first person. It’s about baseball, and the narrator grows out of the main character of one of the short stories in my collection, Longer Songs.

Writing it is a return to the irreverent style of the Barrie Jarman adventures, and the plan is to write it while I’m attending real baseball games and writing about them. I don’t have a title yet.

I just have a spirit.

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

No Master Plan

A trap begins with Mickey Statler’s pursuit of a bartender half his age. (Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, October 18, 2017, 9:45 a.m.

The process of writing what will be my eighth novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, has been unique, not because I’ve tried some original new method, or suddenly awakened with some master plan that had earlier eluded me.

By Monte Dutton

It wasn’t a master plan. It was a rapidly changing plan. “Evolved” might be a bit misleading.

Almost a year ago, the first draft was almost completed. At that point, I went off my rocker. I started missing my former profession, that of a beat reporter who traveled around the country writing about NASCAR. I thought about how much the sport changed from 1993, that being the year I, uh, picked up the beat, until now. I also thought about its rise and fall during that period.

(Steven Novak cover design)

What if a charismatic modern kid came along? What if his background matched that of the great drivers of the past? Thus was Barrie Jarman created. In six months, I wrote two short novels, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated. They were fun. They were funny. They appealed to my lingering NASCAR readership, with whom I could more readily connect.

(Steven Novak cover design)

Meanwhile, deep in the electronic recesses of this laptop, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell sat untouched, an orphan novel without an ending.

While I was writing Life Gets Complicated, I started editing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Three times I went through it, cleaning up its inconsistencies, fixing typos, and shaving extraneous portions. That’s been the hardest part of writing fiction for me. It’s hard to take out sections that might be entertaining, thrilling, and/or funny but don’t happen to move the story alone. Over the three edits, I shaved out (and saved for possible future use) about 12,000 words.

(Steven Novak cover)

Meanwhile, the ending I couldn’t quite get settled in my mind disappeared altogether. Current events interceded. The new ending reflects what has happened in the country since the 2016 elections.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is about four people – Mickey Statler, a sportswriter; his daughter Marcia, a college student; Dylan Wannamacher, a prep-school English teacher and budding novelist; and Milo Hirley, a rebellious student at the school – who unwittingly become involved in a national conspiracy that involves drugs, businessmen, politicians, and elements of law enforcement and the military.

It all began with the type of mild question that flows out of one’s mind while he’s watching the news: How come so many people get shot by the cops? Then came another: What if it’s not an accident?

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.
(Monte Dutton sketch)

My first five novels – The Audacity of Dope (2011), The Intangibles (2013), Crazy of Natural Causes (2015), Forgive Us Our Trespasses (2016), and Cowboys Come Home – were all complicated and written in third person. The two Barrie Jarman Adventures, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated, were simple, freewheeling, and written in first person. The stock car racing novels were fun. The other five were challenging. More work was involved. Once Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is out, I may go back to a lighthearted style. At the moment, I suspect that the Barrie Jarman Adventures are ready for hiatus, though I could write ten of them if the market would support them, which I suspect it won’t. In the absence of a real-life Barrie Jarman, stock car racing continues its decline. I’m thinking seriously about a baseball novel, but the novel itself would be funny, not serious.

Now I’m going back to top off Chapter 43 of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Mickey and Dylan are talking about what’s wrong with the world. Little do they know the danger that lies ahead.

(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.