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 montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

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

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

 

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A Matter of Convenience

(Monte Dutton sketch)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, March 22, 2018, 11:30 a.m.

Science fiction is hardly my field of expertise. I just happened to dream up this scenario overnight and felt compelled to write it all down in the form of a short story.

Dagwood Brandt made a fine living preaching against preaching. The executive director of AFG (Americans for Freedom from God) was addressing an audience of 5,000 non-believers in the Zenith Municipal Civic Center.

By Monte Dutton

“Let me stress, friends, the importance of the American Dream,” he said. “Our members vote in both parties. They serve our country’s military. By standing up for the self-evident truth that freedom of religion means freedom from religion, let us all stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but, at the end, let us omit the restrictive phrase ‘under God’ from the exit.”

I pledge allegiance / To the flag / Of the United States of America / And to the republic / for which it stands / One nation / indivisible / With liberty and justice for all.

Dagwood felt flattered when he noticed that some people in the audience swooned and fainted. Perhaps it was the opposite of the Holy Spirit.

Sir Harold Hutton, founder and chief executive officer of Eton Analytica, calmly suggested to his executive secretary, Edith Trumbull, that Reginald Hughes, executive director of the international corporation’s PRP (Population Records Project), be summoned to his office.

“In the flesh, Sir Harold?” she asked.

“In the flesh, Edith. This is rather untidy matter requiring personal interaction in my estimation.”

“Very well, sir.”

The eclipse.

Miss Trumbull put on her thinking cap, literally, and sent brain waves to Hughes, who was on assignment in Buenos Aires. He was at lunch when the message arrived, chatting with Argentina’s commerce minister, an old friend. Hughes explained to Porfirio Cruz that he was wanted immediately back in London. They shook hands and embraced, as was the Argentinian custom.

“Ah, my friend, it was always a small world,” Hughes said. “Now it has become tiny.”

Returning to the Eton Analytica’s Buenos Aires tower required twenty minutes. Returning to London took fifteen seconds. Teletransportation was not only instant. Over time, it had proven cheaper.

Miss Trumbull told Hughes to go right in because Sir Harold was expecting him.

Hutton was reading something or other and looked over the top of his reading glasses – they were such a quaint anachronism of his – as Hughes walked in.

“Do sit down, Reg.”

Hughes did so. Hutton looked calm, but he seldom became agitated. “We’ve gotten ourselves into a bit of a testy patch,” he said.

“Oh?”

“We’ve had a bit of a problem with the PCI program,” Hutton said.

The worldwide public knew the PCI (Population Control Implant) as the CLI (Convenient Life Implant). For twenty-five years it had been inserted in the necks of children at birth. Over the intervening period of time, the bulk of the world’s population had agreed to be implanted voluntarily. It made their lives easier. It registered them to vote. It voted their wishes. It paid their bills. It drove their vehicles. Life without it had become obsolete.

The secret was that it also controlled the length of their lives, though randomly.

“Yesterday evening, in Zenith, Wisconsin, an audience of some five thousand adherents attended a speech delivered by Dagwood Brandt. Do you know of him, Reg?”

“Why, yes, Sir Harold. He’s a rather well-known inspirational figure in the States. What is it? Americans for Freedom from God? He rather plays against type, this Brandt fellow,” Hughes said. “He preaches against preachers, as it were.”

“It was rather an unconventional speech,” Hutton said. “As opposed to providing the audience an initial means of participation, this Brandt fellow waited until the middle of his speech, at which point he directed the crowd to recite the American Pledge of Allegiance, but to omit the part of the pledge where the words ‘under God’ are used.”

“I don’t catch your drift, sir.”

“In audience of roughly five thousand, thirteen dropped dead.”

“I see,” Hughes said. “Oh, dear.”

(Monte Dutton sketch)

The implants had been inserted in billions of the world’s citizens with an ulterior, carefully guarded, motive. Global security meant maintaining adequate resources to feed, house, and transport the planet’s growing population. The PCI was an effective instrument of zero population growth. It monitored glitches in the brains of humans. Each was programmed to identify a habit oft repeated. If this habit – hundreds of thousands were installed, randomly assigned – wasn’t completely and accurately processed, it was as if the subject forgot his password, to compare it to an archaic term. If he or she forgot his or her password, he or she died suddenly, painlessly, and, almost always, without undue notice. Sir Harold had tirelessly and secretly worked to persuade the world’s rulers to adopt the PCIs. Most of its victims were old and susceptible to dementia. As their mental proficiency diminished, the likelihood of a glitch increased. The lives of the living were thus enhanced, unburdened by a need to care for the infirm and sickly.

“Do you catch my drift now, Reg?” Sir Harold asked.

“The thirteen who died were those who had randomly been programmed with the words of the American pledge,” Hughes said. “When they skipped ‘under God,’ they simply died. Forgive me, sir. I’m still digesting the implications.”

“Do you find it odd, Reg, that such an inordinately high percentage of people at a single gathering would be susceptible to this one glitch among millions that are randomly assigned to the individual implants?”

“I find it impossible, sir,” Hughes said.

“Furthermore, could it be that, somehow, through some unexplained interaction between the brain and the device, the number of glitches has somehow spread or multiplied?” Hutton asked.

“No, sir. It cannot be.”

“I’m afraid, Reg, that it apparently can,” Hutton said.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

“The program has always worked perfectly,” Hughes said. “The most common casualty has been among the religiously devout. Typically, the subject becomes drowsy once in bed. Let’s say this person’s randomly installed glitch is the Lord’s Prayer. He may skip over part of it as he tumbles off to sleep. The second most common casualty is in those who are impaired from the use of alcohol or drugs. These deaths are routinely ascribed to excessive drinking or a drug overdose.”

“Yet this instance involves not the religious but the irreligious. Not the addicted but the sober,” Hutton observed. “Not the preferable candidates for winnowing out of the population, but the ones society would deem worthy of long and fruitful lives.”

Hughes’ face was ashen.

“My God,” he said. “What have we done?”

“What have you done, Reg?” Hutton asked.

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

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

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

The Greatest Movies Ever by No One’s Measure but My Own

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, March 18, 2018, 10:08 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

My favorite movie hasn’t changed since I saw it. I vaguely remember seeing it at the Broadway Theatre when I was very young. It occurred to me that I should make a decision on my top 10 movies of all-time. Most have been in place for decades. I’m fonder of old movies than young ones. Many of my new favorites have gotten old.

1. Lawrence of Arabia. To understand it’s brilliance, one much watch it on a large screen that captures the sweep of the desert. Peter O’Toole’s performance is as breathtaking as the scenery. Director David Lean taps into the passion of an extraordinary, complex man.

2. Patton. The real Patton was less physically imposing and had a squeaky voice. George C. Scott is so powerful that he becomes the real Patton.

3. Giant. My father’s favorite movie. I had family contacts in Texas growing up. Elizabeth Taylor was never more lovely. As a kid, I loathed James Dean’s role and admired the traditionalist Rock Hudson.

4. Little Big Man. To me, this is Dustin Hoffman’s tour de force. He is a fictitious survivor of Custer’s Last Stand. Richard Mulligan portrays Custer as deeply neurotic and egotistical.

5. Pulp Fiction. I saw it first in Daytona Beach, when a friend and I slipped away from the race track for a matinee. When John Travolta plunged the syringe into Uma Thurman’s chest, it was the highest I’ve jumped in the past 20 years.

6. Crazy Heart. I read Thomas Cobb’s novel twenty years before the film’s release. Bad Blake reminds me of my father, who died in 1993. I love country music. The novel was loosely based on the late, great Hank Thompson.

7. True Grit. The original. They’re both brilliant. I prefer the John Wayne version for one silly reason. Glen Campbell is so bad it amuses me. He is the only flaw in an otherwise perfect movie, and somehow I enjoy it more as a result.

8. Casablanca. It has everything — mystery, evil, humor, unexpected twists – and Humphrey Bogart, who made lots of great movies, was at his very best best. Claude Rains is probably my favorite character actor.

9. The Bridge on the River Kwai. Another Lean classic, though Lean’s movies were hardly lean. Two of my favorite lines are at the end. Alec Guinness’s “My God, what have I done?” and James Donald’s “Madness! … Madness!”

10. Citizen Kane. Orson Welles went after William Randolph Hearst in a manner so brilliant, ruthless and wickedly satirical that the result in real life was the ruination of both men. Sometimes a movie can be entirely too passionate.

It didn’t take that long to come up with a top 10. The honorable mentions were hell, and I’m sure I’ll be thinking of others that should also be included for the next week if not the rest of my life.

Advise and Consent

All the President’s Men

Animal House

The Apostle

Bad Day at Black Rock

Bang the Drum Slowly

Being There

The Best Years of Our Lives

Big

The Big Sleep

Blazing Saddles

Caddy Shack

The Candidate

Cat Ballou

Coal Miner’s Daughter

Cool Hand Luke

The China Syndrome

Dazed and Confused

Dial M for Murder

Duck Soup

The Electric Horseman

Elmer Gantry

A Face in the Crowd

Fever Pitch

Field of Dreams

Forrest Gump

Gandhi

The Godfather

Goodfellas

The Graduate

Grand Prix

The Great Escape

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

High Noon

His Girl Friday

It’s a Wonderful Life

Judgment at Nuremberg

The Last American Hero

The Last Picture Show

Le Mans

The Lion in Winter

The Maltese Falcon

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Mister Roberts

Mister Smith Goes to Washington

My Favorite Year

Network

No Country for Old Men

On Golden Pond

The Outlaw Josey Wales

A Passage to India

Rear Window

Red River

The Right Stuff

Rio Bravo

Save the Tiger

Schindler’s List

Tender Mercies

Titanic

Walk the Line

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Young Frankenstein

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

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

Join me live on Facebook after 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.

Run Along, Nothing to See Here: Just Random Thoughts

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, March 16, 2018, 4:15 p.m.

Trial and error. Risk and reward. Deadlines and commitments. Random meetings.

By Monte Dutton

A few nights ago, I bumped into a man I grew up with at Dollar General. I bought some soap and a box of Raisin Bran. Even though I live in a small town, and I haven’t made a trip that was even mildly ambitious in over a year, I don’t actually see everyone. I hadn’t seen this guy in ten years.

He was aware I write books. He’s still in town. He looks a bit the worse for wear, but I do, too. I knew his mother and father had died. I wasn’t sure he hadn’t. He looked a little pale, but I’d be very surprised if he was a ghost.

Some people I bump into a lot. Some people I wish I didn’t.

Such meetings are awkward. Time has too many gaps. Both parties are ill at ease because they’re worried they’ll say the wrong thing. Being ill at ease is what leads one to see a grieving person at a funeral home and ask, “How you been doing?”

And it leads to another lie. “I’m fine.”

Mayor Bob McLean welcomes eclipse celebrants to Clinton.

I’ve talked to the mayor, the city manager and a councilman today. Pretty soon, I’m liable to start thinking I’m somebody.

It is popularly believed that I love Clinton. I don’t. I just know it. Over my life I’ve gradually concluded I’m unfit to live anywhere else. As we used to sing when the band played the occasional knockoff North Carolina’s fight song: “We’re Clinton born and Clinton bred, and when we die, we’ll be dead as hell.” It’s the Clinton Red Devils. Get it?

Clinton High School opened a baseball-softball complex in 2017. Between the two diamonds is a building that provides concessions and relief for both. They share a flag pole, too, which means that when the national anthem is played, everyone at the baseball game stands at attention facing uphill and over the top of the grandstands. It sort of makes me feel as if the flag is gallantly streaming o’er the ramparts.

Sometimes I wish I could use a dial phone again. Not all the time. Just occasionally. For old times’ sake. I’d gladly give up Facebook direct messaging. If Twitter wants to go back to 140 characters, it’s fine by me. All it would do is shorten my book promos. I’d rather social networks didn’t give me enough rope to hang myself. What’s a click between friends?

I like the first week of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament better than the last one. I’m fond of upsets.

It is time to get the taxes done. Damn it.

I find baseball relaxing. I do not find walk-up music relaxing.

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

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

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

My Mind Is Tired and Incapable of Suitable Organization and Motivation

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, March 10, 2018, 11:57 a.m.

It’s been a busy week. I got more done on Friday than any day in quite a while. Everything worked. Interview subjects called me back promptly. By the time I got finished writing about a soccer game and talking on a radio show while it was going on, it was 10 p.m. From 7 a.m. till whenever it was that I fell asleep in a recliner, I wrote about high school soccer, prayer breakfasts, a fictitious baseball scout, NASCAR, played music, and took some really bad photos.

Now it’s Saturday.

By Monte Dutton

NASCAR practice is on TV. I’m not as motivated. I’ve got to decide which book I’m going to read next. My thoughts are racing, but they aren’t coherent or cohesive.

My next novel is still under consideration by a publisher. The way I figure it, they accepted a few quickly and rejected others quickly. Now they’re making a harder decision about mine and some others. Somewhere, someone is standing up for my manuscript, and someone else wants to reject it. How they sway others is what will determine the fate of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Coincidentally, it will likely be out sooner if it is rejected, but that’s only if I decide not to await word from other publishers and self-publish. It’s going to be published. It’s too much work to set aside.

It’s funny how, no matter how old one gets, the stupidity of words and terms one has taken for granted one’s whole life suddenly occurs. Last night I heard a TV personality ridicule Daylight Savings Time. It should be Daylight Saving Time. As he noted, it’s not a bank.

I’ve had my deliberations over thousands of words. Why is an athletic director the director of athletics? Is it RBI (runs batted in) or RBIs? Why is a man with a bat in his hands a batter in every instance except when he gets hit by a pitch, at which point he strangely becomes a “batsman”? Why does the lead lap have a tail end?

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

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

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

A Cold Pastime So Far

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, March 8, 2018, 1:41 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I’ve written about my first two baseball games of the spring. The home team won both. Both were in dramatic fashion. Both had runners cut down on the basepaths with disastrous consequences. One was a bit of a long shot, and the other was damned near a miracle.

One is here, and one is here.

Already, I’m weary of being cold. I’ve had enough of overcoats. I’m ready to put squishy playing surfaces and cold feet behind.

I’ve gotten accustomed to the scorebook I bought on the way to the Shannon Forest-Laurens Academy game. I keep forgetting to take my binoculars. My mind wanders a bit as I try to remember a major-league player who wore the numbers of every player on the field. I quibble about the occasional scoring decision and resolve to put it in the book my way. I tell stories that make everyone nearby realize how old I am.

Both local teams about which I regularly write have new coaches, Luke Tollison at Laurens Academy and Tom Fortman at Clinton. I’d never met Tollison until Tuesday’s game, but I wrote a profile of Fortman when he took the Clinton job. I enjoyed talking with them after the games.

Shannon Forest and Laurens Academy are both Crusaders. Crusaders are popular among the private schools. I saw a Crusaders-Crusaders basketball game a couple weeks ago.

Both Belton-Honea Path and Clinton wore gray uniforms on the Red Devil diamond Wednesday night. It wasn’t confusing because the visiting Bears wore dark, steel gray.

I was pleased Shannon Forest wore green. Names should have a reason. I think a Riverside ought to be next to a river, a Hillcrest at the crest of a hill, and a Palmetto at a place where it ought to be possible to grow them. Here in town, a school that was once on Bell Street burned to the ground over half a century ago, and a new school was built that wasn’t on Bell Street, but the school remained Bell Street.

What was I writing about again? Oh, yeah. Baseball.

Wil Tindall seems to play the entire infield for Laurens Academy. He was one of two players — Clinton’s Caleb Riddle was the other — who began a play by making an error and ended it with an alert defensive move.

At one time in Wednesday night’s game, Clinton (3-2) was leading, 3-0, in spite of walking 12 B-HP batters. The Red Devils held on, 3-2, in spite of 13 free passes and a like number of stranded Bear runners.

So often I finish watching a baseball game and mutter to myself, “Damdest game I’ve ever seen.”

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.