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.

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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.

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, GoLaurens.com (GoClinton.com 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 montedutton.com and wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.

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 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.

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 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.