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Bedraggled Bird

All right, yes, I admit it. This post is little more than an excuse to announce the publication of a new short story. It’s called Windborne, and it is appearing in Strange Fictions Zine, Friday, April 28, 1:30 EST. Oddly precise, I know, but I guess that’s just the way it is with online zines.

It is a little disingenuous of me to call it a new story. Windborne is at least 12 years old. It was the first story I ever wrote, at least since my college days. I never particularly wanted to be a writer, at least not of fiction. Songs were what I wrote, lots of them. I sang them with several rock bands, then by myself, then only for myself. My musical career traced a long and squiggled line, but that line had a decidedly negative slope.

After that, I got married, had some kids, and settled into a life where my only creative impulses were realized in idiosyncratic woodworking projects. And that was fine. If I was experiencing any great lack in my life, I wasn’t aware of it.

Then, one afternoon I was standing on Moonstone Beach. The kids were playing in the water by the big rock. There were a lot of people there. It was windy but warm. I was standing on a flat rock near the runoff. The wind was blowing full in my face, rifling my clothes. It was one of those winds where a sudden gust can jostle you, knock you off stride—almost, if you let your imagination unreel a bit, lift you up off your feet and into the air.

That’s where the story was born. I stood there, buffeted by the sea wind, and wrote the whole thing in my head.

Later that evening, I wrote it out for real. I showed it to my wife. She liked it. I’m fairly sure I didn’t show it to anybody else for a good—oh, I don’t know—maybe six or seven years.

The first time it showed its face in public was on the Book Country website. Some of you remember that site. Writers posted stories or excerpts from novels, and then everybody did critiques and reviews, made suggestions. Mostly people played nice, but not everyone was above getting petty and personal at times. And that was okay too. If you write for public consumption, you have to get used to the idea that not everyone is going to find it wonderful.

Windborne (and yes, I know the title needs a hyphen, but I didn’t like the way it looked) was the first thing I posted, along with several chapters from my then fledgling novel, Flight of the Wren. Wren mostly got ignored, but Windborne inspired a pretty spirited response. Mostly folks liked it, but there were a few who really didn’t. I didn’t save any of the reviews, but I remember the gist of the critical ones:

“What’s the point of this?”

“This seems unfinished. Is there more?”

“Your protagonist has no character development.”

And, of course, everyone’s favorite:

“Show, don’t tell!”

Pretty standard stuff, and not entirely unfair (though the idea that there might be more to the story always mystified me. How could there be?) In truth, Windborne is a slight thing—a brief, troubling dream with a rude awakening. If there’s a character to be studied, it is the character of the crowd (maybe). If there is a point, well, your interpretation is as good as mine. In case anyone wonders, I made no substantial revisions between the Book Country version and the one published today. I might have smoothed a few ruffled feathers here and there, but it’s essentially the same bird.

Anyway, I hope you like it. If nothing else, it might stand as a message of hope. Twelve years isn’t a lifetime in the publishing world, but it’s a fair chunk of time. This tiny winged thing, after riding the winds for what must have seemed like an eternity, finally found a welcoming shore.

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion

Facebook Street Cafe

My first two weeks:
The humanity cascading down my Facebook page needs filtering, of course. I want to learn from other authors. They get invites. **Purged are the space-wasters – haters, fanatics, scammers and whores may have their story but I am not here to write it. Everyone else is appreciated. Well, I occasionally knock off the loudly ignorant, the maudlin, the chanters of feel-good gibberish, a proselytizer or two, even the emotional yo-yos when they don’t know when to stop. Still, I have over 1400 “Friends.” Some are generous authors happy to share what they know while others would kill your mother for a Popsicle if they were hungry.
But what else should one expect from the crowds on Main Street, Earth?

I am not here to sell books. Happy as I am to see the hits jump on my book’s webpage, I came to see today’s authors and the books they are writing. Posting my book is just flashing my badge.
Most authors seem like myself. They like to write, they like being authors, they don’t sell many books but two out of three keeps them writing. Granted, I’m not friended with James Patterson, Steven King or JK Rowlings but I ‘could’ be chatting up a future Rowlings, King or Patterson. That thought keeps me respectful.

Social media, by its nature, skews the sample towards social people and social themes. There are more women authors on Facebook than men authors. Facebook authors are usually outgoing, happy to share books or thoughts on genres, plots, characters, publishing, marketing or any topic related to life as a writer.
I like them. I learn from them.

It’s a humbling experience. So many people who know more about any topic than do I are happy to set me straight. My reference to the War Powers Act was expanded in a reply from a judge who kindly explained why I was right but …not really on target. My comment in another discussion was labeled a “red herring” by someone who knew.

True, some here have unusual kinks in their DNA helix and always remember that you are talking with faceless strangers even when they put a face to the talk. I received a friend request from an active duty soldier. The photo showed a wholesome young woman in US Army uniform at her desk. Her account page said she was born in NYC, currently living in Damascus, Syria. Right.
Y’gotta love Humans.
**Addendum. Note: Do not use the word “purged” or the phrase “knock off.” My use of those elicited a happily rabid response from a fanatic agreeing on the necessity for “culling the rat fuck bastards” who can “be erased with the push of a button on a suicide vest.”
Apparently, word choice can be critical here.

Writing at my desk with Facebook but a click away is like writing while sitting in a sidewalk cafe where one only has to look up to engage people going by. Talking with people having similar interests is a refreshing break. So if you’re a lover of books, please send me a friend request. I’m in front of Ducky Smith’s SciFi Roundtable cafe. I’ll hold a chair for you.
+++– GD Deckard

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About Writers

Bring Me the Head of Philip K. Dick!

AI-Robot -- PKD

http://www.hansonrobotics.com/robot/philip-k-dick-android/ 

…A human being without the proper empathy or feeling is the same as an android built so as to lack it, either by design or mistake. We mean, basically, someone who does not care about the fate which his fellow living creatures fall victim to; he stands detached, a spectator, acting out by his indifference John Donne’s theorem that “No man is an island,” but giving that theorem a twist: that which is a mental and moral island is not a man.

Philip K. Dick, “Man, Android and Machine”

The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.

—Philip K. Dick

It is amazing that when someone else spouts the nonsense you yourself believe you can readily perceive it as nonsense.  

—PHILIP K. DICK, Valis

This is a mournful discovery:

(1) those who agree with you are insane

(2) those who do not agree with you are in power.

—PHILIP K. DICK, Valis

If you or I ever really accepted the moral responsibility for what we’ve done in our lifetime—we’d drop dead or go mad. Living creatures weren’t made to understand what they do.

—PHILIP K. DICK, Now Wait For Last Year

The appropriate response to reality is to go insane.

—PHILIP K. DICK

………………………………………….

Are you aware that “they” once built an android of Philip K. Dick?

This mechanoid simulacrum was no mere mannequin, robot or cheap A.I. computer program powering a ventriloquist’s dummy but a seemingly sentient creature whose camera eyes focused on your own as you talked. An android so advanced that its eyes would track you if you got up and moved about the room; that listened attentively to your speech, pondered, and then responded in kind. Whose face could display every shade of emotion known to man, and who in turn could read the emotion on your own face.

The android had the corpus of P.K.D.’s works and interviews programmed into its advanced artificial intelligence in order to draw upon this vast repository of Phil Dickian thought to answer questions put to it in near real time. Yet the one question its makers dreaded interviewers asking it above all others was, “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” Because if confronted with this particular dystopian sci-fi interrogative Phil would begin to talk . . . and elaborate . . . and baroquely ornament its answer with references drawn from the entire corpus of human knowledge and divers academic/esoteric disciplines (psychology, sociology, philosophy, religion, history, engineering, physics, astronomy, myth, magic and mysticism, et. al.) until infinity—or its makers pulled the plug.

And I do mean infinity. When programmers examined the queued-up data logs compiled from Phil’s prepared response to this question they found themselves marveling with equal parts rueful humor and bemused horror at the discovery that the android was prepared to discourse on this particular subject . . . forever. Literally—forever: until the end of time. The only way they could get faux-P.K.D. to stop talking about androids dreaming of electric sheep was to wipe its memory clean and start over with a different question.

Came the day one of the principals involved in chaperoning the android to a new convention fell asleep on a plane. Upon arrival at the airport this man woke up, grabbed his personal effects and left the aircraft in a groggy state only to belatedly realize that he’d left the android’s head behind.

It was never seen again.

Run, Dick, run.

…………………………………………..

http://www.memphisflyer.com/memphis/bring-me-the-head-of-philip-k-dick/Content?oid=3191917 

http://www.philipkdickfans.com/literary-criticism/frank-views-archive/philip-k-dicks-final-interview/

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book promotion

Ill-defined and disreputable?

novella

‘Sir, what’s the German for notice?’ ‘Notiz.’ ‘No tits?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Really, sir? None at all?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You just said, “No tits”, sir. Do mean, like, absolutely flat?’ ‘Any more of that, Bausse, and you’re in detention.’

That this and similar episodes are what spring to mind most readily when I think of German at school may well mean that my mind is as puerile now as it was back then. Nonetheless, by way of association, and with much effort, I recall other details too: the scarred wooden desks, the dingy yellow walls and the hapless features of Mr. Graham, whose life we made such a misery.

Also a book with a pale blue cover, The German Novelle, which presumably I read. Like pretty much everything else I studied at that time, I don’t remember a thing about it, except that the Germans were the first to take the novella form, originally established in Italy, and turn it into something with a specific set of characteristics, different from those of the novel. Notably – and here I turn not to my memory but Wikipedia – it is ‘restricted to a single, suspenseful event, situation, or conflict leading to an unexpected turning point (wendepunkt), provoking a logical but surprising end.’

Importantly, length is not a criterion. A Novelle could run to several hundred pages. But these days, when we use the word novella in English, length seems to be the determining feature. And I must admit that when I set out to write one, what I had in mind was something in the order of 30,000 words. But to reason only in terms of length would be a mistake, and run the risk of validating Carl E. Reed’s apothegm of wince number 69: ‘A novella is a book that ran out of steam.’

Stephen King has called the novella ‘an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic’. This hasn’t prevented him from writing several himself, though he points out the difficulty of selling them in the commercial world, being too long for a magazine and too short for a book. While this may indeed be a drawback, it makes the novella an ideal candidate for self-publishing, where a common strategy is to make it free in order to draw readers in to the rest of a series. This was indeed my reason for writing Closed Circle. I’ve read of that strategy many times – now I aim to test it out myself.

Not for a while, though. Because although I’ve finished a version that might pass muster, I’m not satisfied yet. It needs a good dose of improvement, for which I’ll need to let it simmer subconsciously – or whatever books do when we’re not actually working on them – for a couple of months or so. Basically, I didn’t realise when I embarked on it how hard it would be. All writing, of course, turns out more difficult than the initial vision promises, but I grappled with this one a lot. Not that it ran out of steam, on the contrary – it’s got a bit too much. I need to tighten the valves a bit, fix a gasket or two. It might gain a few thousand words in the process, but that won’t matter. It’ll still be a novella, because strangely enough, without thinking about it, I ended up with something close to the definition in The German Novelle. Maybe I did remember something more than the German for notice after all.

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book promotion

Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

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Creation to marketing, obsessive-compulsive all the way. 

I’m working through my novella, revising. Except for one or two chapters in the middle, I’d truly thought it finished, except for commas, etc. Now I find my logic in one area less than acceptable. It sounds pretty good if you don’t think too hard, but when I pick it apart I am unhappy with it. I never did feel it was strong enough, and I’ve also thought I could wring a lot more fun out of it. I hadn’t figured out what to do about it until just the other day.

Motivations are what I fixate on: Does this really make sense? It meets a need, but is it essentially bullshit? My bullshit meter, one to ten, tells me certain behaviors as a basis for subsequent doings are about a five. I still like what I have in general, but I love my new idea. I’m going to fold them together. They do not conflict, they work hand-in-glove.

My first question is: Do you ever feel ready? Do you ever stop cramming your back pockets with scribbled sticky notes?

Chapters one to five are done. Six and seven will get the just-dreamt-up stuff plowed in. The remainder (another seven chapters) is, I believe, pretty OK. I have avoided decisions near the end by treating my novella as a cliffhanger: This might happen, it might not. (My characters may only discuss it. They do a lot of discussing.)

The full book will have resolutions to all the speculation. Nonsense that I’ve removed to create a shortie will be restored, and the second half will be completely new. There will be some overlap, most of it in the first quarter, but the novella is meant as a teaser, and will be cheap, perhaps ninety-nine cents, or maybe even a give-away.

Where to publish? Let’s talk about that.

I see ISBNs are pricey unless you buy a block of them. Does anyone have a number to sell? Should we buy a block as a group and share them out?

KindleScout looks interesting. It feels rather like a game to me. Find something great, help it along with a vote in favor. It takes no time, you’re looking at a blurb and a few paragraphs. On Scribophile, however, is a negative review concerning quality of the offerings:

“. . . many of the covers and descriptions are not professional and do nothing to promote the book. One doesn’t even have a picture or a layout, just the title and a sentence describing it. I had to look at it to figure out what was what, which I wouldn’t have done if I weren’t coming back here to comment. Same for the blurb. It’s repetitive, and it’s boring. The sample chapter has no paragraphs and it’s unreadable – spelling, grammar, spaces between sentences.” A few pieces like this would discourage me away real fast.

What are your thoughts on KindleScout/Kindle Select?

Here is the link for an interesting looking post on marketing yourself. I haven’t read it yet, but the response on Scribophile is enthusiastic.

My climb-every-mountain/follow-every-rainbow neuroses may have been counterproductive until now. From here they may be a plus.

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About Writers

Midnight in Paris

Midnight_in_Paris_PosterIf you’ve seen this 2011 movie, then you know it’s about writers. Owen Wilson stars as an American writer in Paris from the year 2010 who stumbles into the roaring 20s to meet the Fitzgeralds, Zelda and Scott; Ernest Hemingway; Gertrude Stein & cohorts. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, the Golden Globe Awards for Best Screenplay and was nominated for three other Academy Awards. Setting aside the astonishing photography, the fun, believable scenes with great writers and artists of the time and the award winning writing, we come to the heart of the story: Everybody believes that the Golden Age of writing is in the past. They missed it and they long for it.

Are we like that? Do we tend to believe that the best 20th Century writers are better than anyone out there today? Are none of the 11 million books on Amazon worthy of future veneration? This is, of course, a matter of perception and we may someday find a book from the last 16 years that went unnoticed at publication but is reprinted for generations because it says something no other book says so well.

As writers, we should be able to say -now- what such a book would be like. I think it would have to tell readers things about their own lives that they don’t understand because they are too close but that a writer, being on the outside looking in, can.

What do you think a new book destined to be reprinted for generations would have to be like?

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About Writers, reading, writing technique

Orson Welles With His Mouth Full of Crackers

The other day, someone on Facebook posted this challenge: “Quick, without thinking about it too hard, what’s the first, most memorable piece of character description that comes to your mind?”

I didn’t think about it too hard. What popped into my mind was: “He had a voice like Orson Welles with a mouthful of crackers.”

I knew it was from Raymond Chandler. It pretty much had to be. After a little digging through the dusty paperbacks, I found it: The Little Sister, Chapter 15.

If you’ve never read The Little Sister, I envy you a little. (Also, why the hell not?) It was Chandler’s fifth novel, and he was at the peak of his form. It may not have been his most elegantly written or most cleverly plotted, but that thing is bursting with gonzo energy.

It is, in modern parlance, cray.

It was Chandler’s Hollywood novel—swimming pools, movie stars, a guy running around sticking icepicks into people. Typical stuff. But this is Chandler. What matters is the writing, specifically the dialogue. Most specifically, the dialogue between Phillip Marlowe and Orfamay Quest, the prim, mousy girl from Manhattan, Kansas, who has come to Los Angeles to find her brother, Orrin. Everything about the case seems wrong to Marlowe, but he doesn’t have anything else to do. After much back and forth, he manages to pry a 20-dollar retainer from her tight little fist and sets off to find her brother.

I don’t want to give you any more of the story than that. Instead, I want to look at one chapter, number 15 to be exact. I could just say “go here and read it” but that wouldn’t make much of a post. For no other goddamned good reason other than my own self-indulgence, I present the entire chapter (Canadian Public Domain version) only slightly annotated. I hope you enjoy it:

Chapter Fifteen
She came in briskly enough this time. Her motions were small and quick and determined. There was one of those thin little, bright little smiles on her face. She put her bag down firmly, settled herself in the customer’s chair and went on smiling.

(I love the energy of this description. We’ve met Orfamay already, way back in Chapter One, but we don’t know what to make of her yet. The tumble of adjectives—small, quick, determined—and especially the wonderful cluster “thin little, bright little”—puts us on our guard. They are sharp and bristly. Orfamay is not to be trifled with, no matter how innocuous and innocent she may pretend to be.)

“It’s nice of you to wait for me,” she said. “I bet you haven’t had your dinner yet, either.”

“Wrong,” I said. “I have had my dinner. I am now drinking whiskey. You don’t approve of whiskey-drinking do you?” (Marlowe is ready to spar.)

“I certainly do not.” (So is she.)

“That’s just dandy,” I said. “I hoped you hadn’t changed your mind.” I put the bottle up on the desk and poured myself another slug. I drank a little of it and gave her a leer above the glass. (There is a game going on. It is not the game Orfamay thinks it is. Ultimately, it isn’t quite what Marlowe thinks it is either.)

“If you keep on with that you won’t be in any condition to listen to what I have to say,” she snapped.

“About this murder,” I said. “Anybody I know? I can see you’re not murdered—yet.”

“Please don’t be unnecessarily horrid. It’s not my fault. You doubted me over the telephone so I had to convince you. Orrin did call me up. But he wouldn’t tell me where he was or what he was doing. I don’t know why.”

“He wanted you to find out for yourself,” I said. “He’s building your character.”

“That’s not funny. It’s not even smart.”

“But you’ve got to admit it’s nasty,” I said. “Who was murdered? Or is that a secret too?”

She fiddled a little with her bag, not enough to overcome her embarrassment, because she wasn’t embarrassed. But enough to needle me into taking another drink. (The nimbleness of Chandler’s prose is awe-inspiring. He establishes character with such quick strokes.)

“That horrid man in the rooming house was murdered. Mr.—Mr.—I forget his name.”

“Let’s both forget it,” I said. “Let’s do something together for once.” I dropped the whiskey bottle into the desk drawer and stood up. “Look, Orfamay, I’m not asking you how you know all this. Or rather how Orrin knows it all. Or if he does know it. You’ve found him. That’s what you wanted me to do. Or he’s found you, which comes to the same thing.”

“It’s not the same thing,” she cried. “I haven’t really found him. He wouldn’t tell me where he was living.” (This is important to the bigger plot. Orfamay has presented herself as the caring sister, tracking down the wild brother who really needs to just come back to Kansas and be nurtured in the bosom of his loving family. Nothing could be further from the truth. Her insistence that “he wouldn’t tell me anything,” hints deftly at her real reason for being there.)

“Well if it is anything like the last place, I don’t blame him.”

She set her lips in a firm line of distaste. “He wouldn’t tell me anything really.”

“Just about murders,” I said. “Trifles like that.”

She laughed bubblingly. “I just said that to scare you. I don’t really mean anybody was murdered, Mr. Marlowe. You sounded so cold and distant. I thought you wouldn’t help me any more. And—well, I just made it up.” (A nice feint from Orfamay, but Marlowe isn’t buying.)

I took a couple of deep breaths and looked down at my hands. I straightened out the fingers slowly. Then I stood up. I didn’t say anything. (The drama of the sentences is understated and yet perfectly clear. No explication. No internal monologue.)

“Are you mad at me?” she asked timidly, making a little circle on the desk with the point of a finger. (Still dancing.)

“I ought to slap your face off,” I said. “And quit acting innocent. Or it mightn’t be your face I’d slap.”

Her breath caught with a jerk. “Why, how dare you!” (Her favorite counter-punch, but even she knows it’s a not a haymaker. She’s just playing for time.)

“You used that line,” I said. “You used it too often. Shut up and get the hell out of here. Do you think I enjoy being dared to death? Oh—there’s this.” I yanked a drawer open, got out her twenty dollars and threw them down in front of her. “Take this money away. Endow a hospital or a research laboratory with it. It makes me nervous having it around.” (Love that bit.  Even in 1940, twenty bucks wasn’t a real retainer, certainly not for the amount of time he’s already put into the case. But the dirty secrets of the Quest family have everything to do with money, and Marlowe’s hip to that already.)

Her hand reached automatically for the money. Her eyes behind the cheaters were round and wondering. “Goodness,” she said, assembling her handbag with a nice dignity.  (Assembling. Nice.)  “I’m sure I didn’t know you scared that easy. I thought you were tough.”

“That’s just an act,” I growled, moving around the desk. She leaned back in her chair away from me. “I’m only tough with little girls like you that don’t let their fingernails grow too long. I’m all mush inside.” I took hold of her arm and yanked her to her feet. Her head went back. Her lips parted. I was hell with the women that day. (Classic Chandler.)

“But you will find Orrin for me, won’t you?” she whispered. “It was all a lie. Everything I’ve told you was a lie. He didn’t call me up. I—I don’t know anything.” (Even when she’s leveling with him, she’s still playing him.)

“Perfume,” I said sniffing. “Why, you little darling. You put perfume behind your ears—and all for me!”

She nodded her little chin half an inch. Her eyes were melting. “Take my glasses off,” she whispered, “Philip. I don’t mind if you take a little whiskey once in a while. Really I don’t.”

Our faces were about six inches apart. I was afraid to take her glasses off. I might have socked her on the nose.  (Fantastic. Marlowe was such a perfect confusion of tough, cynical veneer and soft, almost prudish, interior. Humanity tends to disappoint him, but he’s too much of a romantic to ever truly give up on it.)

“Yes,” I said in a voice that sounded like Orson Welles with his mouth full of crackers. “I’ll find him for you, honey, if he’s still alive. And for free. Not a dime of expense involved. I only ask one thing.”

“What, Philip?” she asked softly and opened her lips a little wider.

“Who was the black sheep in your family?” (Finally. Marlowe is not the know-it-all, smart guy, love-em-and leave-em detective. He’s actually is a nice guy. We’ve know him for four novels now. If he’s sparring with Orfamay, it’s because he knows that she’s more dangerous than she appears. Not that there isn’t some genuine feeling when she says “Take my glasses off… I don’t mind if you take a little whiskey once in a while.” In some ways, she really is the innocent, at least about matters of the heart. She really does want Marlowe to kiss her. But she’s also running a different game, and Marlowe knows it. He’s just not sure what it is.)
She jerked away from me like a startled fawn might, if I had a startled fawn and it jerked away from me. (Also a classic Chandlerism.) She stared at me stony-faced.

“You said Orrin wasn’t the black sheep in your family. Remember? With a very peculiar emphasis. And when you mentioned your sister Leila, you sort of passed on quickly as if the subject was distasteful.”

“I—I don’t remember saying anything like that,” she said very slowly.

“So I was wondering,” I said. “What name does your sister Leila use in pictures?”

“Pictures?” she sounded vague. “Oh you mean motion pictures? Why I never said she was in pictures. I never said anything about her like that.”

I gave her my big homely lopsided grin. She suddenly flew into a rage.

“Mind your own business about my sister Leila,” she spit at me. “You leave my sister Leila out of your dirty remarks.”

“What dirty remarks?” I asked. “Or should I try to guess?”

“All you think about is liquor and women,” she screamed. “I hate you!” She rushed to the door and yanked it open and went out. She practically ran down the hall.

I went back around my desk and slumped into the chair. A very strange little girl. Very strange indeed. (That’s an understatement. In spite of everything, Orfamay intrigues him. He’s even a little touched by her. He’s in shopworn Galahad mode again, only this time around, the damsel isn’t really in distress.)

After a while the phone started ringing again, as it would. On the fourth ring I leaned my head on my hand and groped for it, fumbled it to my face.  (Love that.)

“Utter McKinley Funeral Parlors,” I said.

A female voice said: “Wha-a-t?” and went off into a shriek of laughter. That one was a riot at the police smoker in 1921. What a wit. Like a hummingbird’s beak. I put the lights out and went home.

(I always thought this was just a nonsense joke but Utter McKinley Mortuaries still exist, a fair number of them, around the Southern California area.)

And THAT is the entire chapter. I urge you to go read the whole book. You won’t be sorry you did.

Meanwhile, what’s the first, most memorable piece of character description that comes to your mind?

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