They’re Only Words, and Words Are All I Have …

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Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, June 1, 11:39 a.m.

Monte Dutton

A half hour ago, I was trying to catch up on email, text messages, posts, tweets – the bare necessities of life – and I heard NASCAR driver Christopher Bell say his car was “migrating” in the turns. I’m guessing he meant it was “wandering up the track” in the turns, though migrating takes a specific course and there’s not much wandering to it.

It’s just the latest word that is charmingly stupid on TV. Another of those words is “stupid” itself. “He’s so talented, it’s stupid.” Pitchers can’t “locate” their pitches. Sometimes they try to “elevate.” Most times commentators speak of “strategy,” they are really talking about “tactics.” Strategy is the game plan. Tactics is what to do on third-and-long.

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My writing colleagues know of my stern opposition to the use of the word “carnage” to describe an auto racing crash. As a part of the dying generation that took Latin, I know the root of the word is “flesh, meat.” Carnage involves massive loss of life, bodies lying on a battlefield, the victims of slaughter. It should not be used for a bunch of modern centurions climbing healthily from their destroyed chariots. I consider such use of the word rather vulgar.

When most announcers say “mano a mano,” they use it as if it meant “man to man.” It means “hand to hand.” They say “literally” when they mean “figuratively,” its opposite.

To each his own. The President of the United States considers “impeachment” a dirty, filthy word. He thinks it so filthy that he screams that it’s “bullshit” on live TV. One of few areas President Twitter and I see eye to eye is that, for both of us, filthy words have changed.

11:53 a.m.

Over time, the pronunciation of words changes, not to mention the meanings. When I was in school, “divisive” was “di-VI-siv”; now it’s “di-VISS-iv.”

If a person was “transparent,” one could see right through him. He was insincere. Now he’s a paragon of openness; he’s “accountable.”

Then are there the changes in meaning of “queer” and “gay.” My grandmother used to say anything she didn’t understand was “awful queer.” Every time I sing the Charley Pride song “Crystal Chandeliers” – … So you traded me for the gaiety of well-to do … And you turned away from the love I offered you … – I am aware of listeners snickering.

Most people care less about words than I. It’s because I am a writer, or, at least, that is my intention. On my good days, I am a writer. Sometimes I’m just a typist.

This is fair. I care less about engines than engineers.

12:03 p.m.

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Which brings me to a final topic. If a person majored in engineering, it doesn’t make him an engineer. He has to put it in practice. The NASCAR driver Ryan Newman is not an engineer. He’s a driver. He majored in engineering at Purdue.

I majored in history (and political science) at Furman. It doesn’t make me an historian. I make use of my double majors. Newman makes use of his, but by trade he is a racer, and that was the right call.

Much of what I know, I learned by trial and error. That’s why writers get gradually better.

 

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 is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

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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Pick My Fiction Up on Your Way Down

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, May 7, 2019, 12:23 p.m.

Monte Dutton

It would probably be easier to write a song. A song can be quick and clever. A blog requires a bit more wisdom. It has to be more than clever. It’s not as complicated, but there’s more heft in its thoughts.

Not that I’m an expert in either, or fiction, for that matter. I try. I try a lot. I think I’m getting better, but I know I’m not objective about my own work. Of course, I like it. Most people don’t write shit on purpose unless they’re in business or politics.

Mark Twain as at least one of those who said that truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense. All eight of my novels are commentaries on the absurdity of their times. Most of the times were now, but I also wrote about South Carolina in 1969 and Texas in 1946.

Either all times are absurd, or I failed about 1969 and 1946.

“All Times Are Absurd” would be a good song title if “absurd” wasn’t so difficult to rhyme.

“Unheard” is probably best. “Bird?” “Blurred?” Pretty slim pickings and harder still to let the word fall naturally. I might make a good line in a song but not a whole song (I write as some songsmith begins a Grammy winner.)

(Steven Novak design)

In Texas, a wildness descended over the land because fighting men came back from Europe and the Pacific to find that, in a different way, the world had changed forever back home, too.

In South Carolina, the wildness descended among black and white alike because of the rapid change of going to school together. The kids found football in common. They ran, blocked, tackled, threw, caught, and sweated far faster and better than those around them.

Not even the past has provided relief from the present.

Three of my novels – The Audacity of Dope, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – prominently showcase corrupt politicians. One, The Intangibles, has a corrupt administrator. One, Crazy of Natural Causes, involves a corrupt evangelist. Four – The Audacity of Dope, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Lightning in a Bottle, and Life Gets Complicated – provide major roles for corrupt officials. Two — Cowboys Come Home and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – are chock full of corrupt businessmen.

There’s a heap of corruption in my fiction. All have a vein of satire. Three – The Audacity of Dope, Crazy of Natural Causes, and Cowboys Come Home — are amusing. The stock car racing novels, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated, are funny.

Or those were my intentions.

 

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 is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

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.

Just Some Writer Staring at the Wall

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Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, April 13, 2019, 2:27 p.m.

Monte Dutton

It has not been uncommon for me to express the belief that the biggest problem facing writers is simple.

More and more people write, and less and less people read.

It’s sort of a double-edged sword, particularly if one happens to write books. Getting them published is easy. Getting them sold is hard. The pie is the same size. The slices grow ever tinier.

Beyond that, though, people think writing is easy. Maybe it is. Maybe it seems really difficult to me because I am a simpleton. I find it quite challenging. Another issue is economic. Some, maybe most, attach degree of difficulty to money earned. Most writers don’t make much money. Therefore, it must be easy.

Lots of people – someone walks up to me at about an average of once a week, and I seldom frequent literary societies – have a book they either want to write, have written, plan to write or want me to write for them.

“I got this great idea for a book …”

Most of the time, I offer mild encouragement. Sometimes I offer practical advice. All of the time, I say that all of my time is spent writing what I want to write, and, with respect, I don’t have the time to write what someone else wants to write. Writing is too difficult for me to dedicate myself to a project I don’t love.

Sometimes there are words that aren’t spoken: I can write, too. Anybody can write. After all, you can write. It can’t be that hard.

Maybe it’s because they have become adept at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and, momentarily, Snapchat. I’m on two of those regularly and a third occasionally, but it’s a long way from whatever it is on Twitter (280 characters?) to 280 pages, which are quite a few more typewritten (keyboarded?), double-spaced.

It really hasn’t changed since the time my grandmother, gone over 30 years now, asked what I did for a living.

I told her I was a writer. Mama Davis looked at me as if I had told her I flew rocket ships, or picked up trash off the side of the road, or robbed banks. Each would have made her equally incredulous.

“See, I go to ballgames, and I take notes about what happens,” I said, straining to make it plausible, “and I write a story about it, and they pay me.”

“Well, I declare,” she said.

 

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 is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

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.

Foundered on the Rocks of Paradise

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Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, March 25, 2019, 12:52 p.m.

Monte Dutton

I’ve been reading three books at the same time. One is in hardcover. One is in my Kindle. One is in my phone. The last two could be read in either. For no apparent reason, I read one strictly in one and one strictly in the other.

My ninth novel is on hiatus. I think about it constantly. It’s going to take off like a rocket when it takes off at all. I’m very occupied. I have much to do each day. It’s hard to open a manuscript, write three paragraphs, and set it aside. Some people can do it. I need time for at least eight pages.

Soon. When a free-lance assignment is done. When the taxes are filed. Soon. Soon. Soon. When. When. When. It’s. Going. To. Happen.

In the face of all this, I am having a creative awakening. I’ve really enjoyed music. For more than a year now, I’ve had a Facebook Live (Monte.Dutton) show each Sunday night, usually at 8 p.m. EDT. I sing and play guitar. I talk about the NASCAR race. I mention the latest small-town eccentricities. I tell folks where they can find my blogs and books. I encourage them to contribute to my Patreon page.

Mostly, though, I just have fun.

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Have you noticed that people have, in general, become more contentious? Perhaps politics and sports set the tone, but people seem to be willing to argue about anything. They eavesdrop on other conversations, itching for an opportunity to join in.

What? Y’all talking about Trump?

No. We’re talking about trumpets. I like them in “Ring of Fire.” You know. The Johnny Cash song.

Oh.

At an interview the other day, I managed to get in a debate over the Oxford comma. The Oxford comma. We were talking about trumpets, of course, and I mentioned that I wrote novels.

What do you think about the Oxford comma?

I interchange.

What?

I interchange. When I’m writing fiction, I use it. When I’m writing journalism, I don’t.

That makes no sense.

It’s a matter of style. It’s used in fiction. It’s not in journalism.

Oh, okay. It just seems like you should be consistent.

You’re a lawyer. That’s why you like the Oxford comma. I like it, too. I just go by established rules.

With a novel to finish, I spent the weekend on sports rundowns and schedules, reading, and idly trying to find close endings in college basketball games. I edited obituaries, compiled arrest reports, and inquired about the circumstances of various wrecks and crimes. I watched stock car racing more closely than anything else because I like it, I used to write about it for a living, and Martinsville was a track I particularly liked. I liked this race, too, and even wished occasionally I was there.

I’m in the conflicted state of being both content and unsettled. They’re like The Odd Couple, sniping at each other over the weekly card game.

 

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 is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

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.

They’re Only Words, and Words Are All I Have …

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Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, February 2, 2019, 1:49 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I just checked the TV listings and see that PBR Bull Riding is on from Oklahoma City. Now, PBR stands for Professional Bull Riders, so what the message on TV indicates is that what is on is Professional Bull Riders Bull Riding.

What a surprise that professional bull riders would be riding bulls.

This is nothing new for a man who grew up hearing people refer to “PC College,” which, of course, is Presbyterian College College. When my job was writing about NASCAR, I was aware of the signs all over the state capital of Virginia that offered directions to “RIR Raceway,” and just in case you are tempted to dismiss this as Southern ignorance, Michigan had signs, the last time I went there, that read “MIS Speedway.”

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I could be wrong. Bull Riding could be sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon. After all, I am conversant with song lyrics that read: Gimme a beer or two and I’ll be fine / At least it worked every other time / I’m a ro-deo-deo-deo cowboy / Bordering on the insane. I’m familiar with the way Jerry Jeff Walker sang it, but it was written by Dave Gilstrap.

As a boy, I wished I was Irish, but both sides of my family are as English as English can be, all except for my grandfather Hudson Davis, who had dark complexion because he had some Cherokee blood. If I were in politics, President Trump would undoubtedly call me Geronimo.

As I’ve gotten older, though, in part because I write for a living, I’ve grown to love the English for their economy of language.

I love you, Heathcliff.

And I you.

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In the South, or the States in general, we have no economy of language. A Southerner asks, “What time is it?” An Englishman asks, “Have you the time?”

A Southerner dallies with words almost constantly. He (or she), instead of asking, “How are you?” might ask, “How you been gettin’ along?”

“Fine, and you?”

Southerners can “fine, and you” back and forth for five minutes. On this side of the pond, we tie our words up in knots, use too many of them, and prove we aren’t very smart by using words we think will show others we are.

Many occurrences in life routinely described as “surreal” aren’t. Many events described as “historical” are really “historic.” “Ironic” seldom is. I had a friend in college who used general terms of derision. I called it his “word of the week.” For a while, it was “brutal.” Then it was “obnoxious.”

That guy’s brutal. This game is brutal. Last night was brutal. The weather is brutal. This chicken is brutal.

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Kids today are fond of code words that can mean almost anything. Turnt. Lit. Faded. They rise up and subside as adults slowly figure them out. That’s why God gave us an Urban Dictionary on the internet. Nowumsayin?

For my entire career as a journalist, I have been conscious of people saying “like I said” of something they haven’t said.

Writers are often sticklers about language because, well, they write. Most people don’t care, which is why language keeps changing and not for the better. They become annoyed when some wiseacre such as I says that “black ice” is just another word for “ice.” Sometimes they try to defend it.

“Black ice is a slicker because it is a frozen mixture of oil and water,” someone told me.

“Oil and water don’t mix,” I said.

“Oh.”

Life is hard / No matter where you go / It’s a tortured path / Tough row to hoe / When the wheels spin / Got a heavy load / Hoping I can get / To the paved road.

 

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 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 is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

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.

Style and Sox and Storms, Etc.

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Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, October 9, 2018, 1:57 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

One consequence of working for a news website while writing fiction at the same time is the constant clash of styles.

I even have a style for this blog. If this was on GoLaurens.com, “South Carolina” would have been “S.C.” and “October” would have been “Oct.” My ever-varying sticklishness takes a lot of time, adapting all the news releases that invariably have styles of their own.

I use the “Oxford comma” in fiction but not in journalism.

The styles evolve. Just this morning, after noticing the style of a web story, I succumbed to the pressure to use “from 7-8 p.m.” instead of “from 7 to 8 p.m.,” even though I still think the former reads awkwardly.

As a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, I’ve felt all day as if the Sox’ 16-1 conquest of the New York Yankees was some kind of demented trick.

If it’s any other game, I switch to something else. If it’s the Red Sox, I hang on every pitch. That’s why I saw Brock Holt do what no one else has ever done: hit for the cycle in the postseason.

I’m scared right now, but last night I slept soundly.

Two storms in three weeks!

The first one wasn’t much of a hindrance here, though it was devastating to much of the Carolinas. This time, we don’t know how much we’re going to get it, but we’re going to get it. Michael won’t be a hurricane by the time it blows through here like a runaway train, but it’ll leave a mark.

If we’re lucky again, the path will take it southeast.

I don’t know what to do but wait.

It would be better if it was called global weirding instead of global warming. No one can deny the weirding.

The older I get, the more I like trees and skies.

My washed-up baseball scout and his otherwise undiscovered prospect are on the way from McCormick, South Carolina, to Sherman, Texas. They’re taking their time. When last I encountered them, they were sitting at a minor league game in Augusta, Georgia.

They’re waiting on me. I created them. I determine their story. I know where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.

I have to write it down.

 

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 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 is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

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.

Words and Lyrics and Titles and Tunes

(Photos courtesy Pixabay)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, August 26, 2018, 2:42 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I listened to a Johnny Cash song that had slipped my mind.

“See Ruby Fall.”

I feel I know exactly how Cash wrote it. He was in his tour bus, heading through the country, probably in the mountains of the Appalachian chain, and he saw an old barn with “See Ruby Falls” painted on the roof. He picked up his guitar, started strumming a familiar, easy chord progression and crafted himself a simple story about a fallen woman.

This may be untrue. I didn’t read it. It just makes sense that this was how he wrote it. It reminds me of another extemporaneously written Cash tune, “San Quentin,” which he wrote the night before he taped a famous album there.

Cash I ain’t, but I’ve written songs that way.

“No matter where you go, there you are” came from the sign-off message of a country D.J. “I Got Cash Money (and I’m Workin’ Steady)” was based on my exasperated reply to a fellow in a New Hampshire general store. “Furlough Blues” is a considerably exaggerated account of when all my fellow newspaper employees and I had to take a furlough back when the end of the business was just beginning.

It’s a similar process to the way my novels get named. I never have a title when I start. At some point, while writing it, one comes along. In fact, several come along, and pretty soon I settle on one.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

I think the one I’m writing now is going to be The Latter Days, but there’s still plenty of time for it to change. My life has grown busier in recent months, and I’m writing it very slowly.

It could be this is a good thing. By the time I sit down to write another chapter, I’m well prepared for where it’s going to go. I’ve thought it through. I’ve taken the required “mulling time.”

Or, quite possibly, this could be a rationalization.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

The Audacity of Dope occurred to me shortly after I read Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. The 44th President of the United States had no influence at all on the story. It was about an unlikely hero who had no desire to be one. His desire was to write songs, play them in small bars, and smoke weed. Riley Mansfield wouldn’t let himself be pushed around. Like it or not, he was a hero. He had the audacity of dope.

The Intangibles came from the slogans on a high school locker room wall. It was set in a time even more tumultuous than this one. Set mostly in 1968, it’s about high school football at the center of general upheaval in the South. It was a time when young people questioned everything, and for good reason, but the intangibles were their anchors, keeping them from straying too far.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Crazy of Natural Causes was about a man who lost everything and had to rebuild himself from scratch in ways of his own design. The conclusions drawn by Chance Benford were based on his untutored reactions to upheaval. It was the most original and offbeat of my eight novels.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses was the tale of a bad politician and a good cop and the impossible odds faced by the latter, Hal Kinley, in stopping the former, Denny Frawley, from being elected governor. Frawley exploits the law, covers it up, and surrounds himself with thugs, some of whom are in his family. The law Frawley exploits is all that can stop him.

I love a good yarn about a man’s frontier being fenced in. Cowboys Come Home, set at the end of World War II, is an unconventional, modern western. A pair of Marines come home hoping they’ll never have to use all they learned in the Pacific. They couldn’t be more wrong. The world has changed back in Texas.

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

I wrote two 2017 adventures – they’re my only novels that are linked to each other – about Barrie Jarman, a stock car racing phenom who is the modern equivalent of the moonshine-running hellions who built the sport. Barrie is a charming rogue with an adventurous spirit and a taste for forbidden fruit. FASCAR, the fictional ruling body, hasn’t seen his like in thirty years and isn’t at all ready for the figurative Lightning in a Bottle he brings to the sport.

Barrie’s life is no longer but a dream in the sequel, Life Gets Complicated, which was inspired by the words of a Statler Brothers song.

Life gets complicated when you get past eighteen / But the Class of ’57 had its dreams

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Then there’s this year’s release, which is my most ambitious, most abandoned and revamped, longest, and most complicated so far and likely ever. From the time the term became popular in reference to gays being allowed to serve in the military, it occurred to me that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell applies to much more than that narrow issue.

Incredibly, little that has happened since I wrote it makes the novel less plausible. What starts out as a bleak depiction of a laid-off journalist turns gradually into the story of people trapped in a web of international intrigue involving politics, corruption, assassination, Russian collusion, and marijuana trade.

Current events damned near make it believable.

Whew. That’s why the next one’s about baseball.

 

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 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 is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

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.