Monday, March 24, 2014

Spending Time With My Fools

It's not really fair to call drinking a great Southern past time as it's pretty much been a relic of every culture in every country ever since mankind figured out how to ferment just about any organic substance. Hell, in Africa they tap the damn palm trees and make wine of out it. But in the South, I would argue we turn drinking into an art form. We, on the whole, are the least responsible with alcohol, and South Carolina remains one of the biggest drinking states per capita in the nation.

We Clemson fans and our in-state rival Gamecock fans likely have a little hand in those statistics. After all, when you order a Coke from the concession stand at a game (they now have payment plans so you can afford them), savvy soda pourmen know to leave a little off the top so the buyer can slip in a little bourbon. Or a lot of bourbon until your wife bans you from bringing a flask into games because your postgame behavior on the Atlanta MARTA was, shall we say, "poor".

As Hemingway said, "An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend times with his fools." I, however, enjoy surrounding myself with intelligent men who like to act like fools. And we plan to do our share of foolishness this weekend here.

Booze and the remnants of the Confederacy have always produced the best stories, and it is from those I worked a few details into my fiction writing. There is a light of truth in the old joke, "What's a redneck's last words? 'Here, hold my beer a sec.'" (Or sometimes just "Hey y'all, watch this!") Thus I share with you an adventure in Chicago that five Southern boys (one of them being yours truly) had a couple of years ago.

I'm not sure what led us to Streeter's Tavern, but it took us maybe an hour and three minutes to hit legendary status there. I would like to point out that two of our party were a former professional wrestler and a parole officer. I believe these to be somewhat important details. Streeter's had a beer pong table, although you had to use water due to Illinois health code standards. We ran it immediately, and we soon found ourselves surrounded by DePaul students fascinated with these rowdy Southern boys who had invaded their bourgeois abode. We sang boisterously and loudly to every song played, and we soon had the bartender pumping in country tunes.

A line formed at the beer pong table and people asked us if they could sign up to play. One member of our party made up a fake list and acted the role of the beer pong bouncer.

Needless to say, we shut the bar down at 4 a.m. (two hours later than South Carolina drinking times) and stumbled to the subway. There I snoozed all the way to the hotel, and when my comrades roused me at our stop, I discovered that my legs no longer worked and I collapsed to the ground.

I found the only words appropriate: "Help! My legs don't work!"

Those of you who have read Tallyo in the Squat might recognize a similar occurrence with Jimbo on the Atlanta MARTA. One of my buddies dragged me off the subway while the other absorbed the constant slamming of the subway doors against his sides so I could escape. A lone flight attendant witnessed the spectacle and hopefully had a story to tell as she departed across the country later that morning.

Perhaps my friends get drunk so they can spend time with me. Either way, those moments make the best stories.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Sins of Writing

It hardly feels real, but Tallyho in the Squat is finally available to the public. Jump on it today and tomorrow if you want a free copy. Otherwise, it's just three bucks.

So friends and family often ask me about the writing process: Where do I get ideas? How do I find time to write? Why haven't I written a book about that time we got drunk together? Why am I not published yet? Why didn't you dedicate the book to me (I hear that one from my wife the most)?

Tallyho in the Squat isn't the only novel I've written, but the others remain unpublished. It's actually the shortest and the funniest, and because I enjoyed writing it so much, the one I pumped out the quickest. I have two others hiding in the coves of my computer hard drive, waiting one day to see light of morning and hoping to snatch up a byte or two whenever I clean up the laptop.

In writing over the years, I feel I have more authority to tell people what they should not do rather than what they should. Kind of like behavior during drinking. I've got plenty of mileage on how not to behave. So, I present to you, the seven deadly sins of writing:

1. Fear: I believe fear to be the greatest sin and the one that probably holds potential writers back the most. If you are afraid to put your thoughts down into words, if you are afraid to share them with others, and you are afraid to attempt to get published, you will fail as a writer. Not everyone will like what you write. They will be critical. You must accept that as part of the growing process. Even a person who can't write well can point out crucial flaws in your own. I could never play quarterback in the NFL, but I know a butt fumble when I see one.

2. Sloth: Just one more episode of House of Cards and I'll write. Just one more mission on Grand Theft Auto V and I'll write (seriously, that game is the methamphetamine of video games). Just ten more minutes on Facebook. You have to drop the excuses and take time to write. If you're serious about completing a novel, you should set aside at least an hour every day to write. If you think you don't have time, that means something fun will have to take a backseat for a little while.

3. Drink: Don't write drunk. Take that advice from a drunk. Hemingway could do it. Hemingway also had four wives, had his knee practically blown inside out in WWI, enjoyed bare-knuckle boxing for fun, survived two plane crashes, and when he had worn his body down, ate a double-barrel 12-gauge. Hemingway crapped out people like you and me after his breakfast. Writing drunk seems poetic and heroic, but you create two problems: errors and amnesia over what you wrote. If you mix sober writing with drunk writing, it will be the literary equivalent of a one-night stand with North Charleston prostitute after a night on the town.

I am by no means discouraging drinking in general; nay, I celebrate the idea. Your misadventures will form inspiration for your novel just as they did for mine. But keep teetotaling at the keyboard.

4. Posturing: Easy on them fancy words, hoss. Not everyone likes to read a novel with a thesaurus sitting nearby. If you want to emulate Hemingway, keep it simple like he did.

5. Ignorance: By ignorance, I mean not reading. Stephen King once wrote, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write." Simple as that. Reading helps you develop your own voice.

6. Wandering: This pertains to your plot. Have an outline and a plan. Know your characters' motivations and what they plan to do. That's okay if you later deviate; your characters will sometimes surprise even you and steer off into unknown waters. But don't just start writing without some semblance of a story in mind.

7. Lack of Confidence: Believe in yourself. Of those who start writing a novel, only three to five percent actually finish it. Aim for that precious goal. Then you can worry about how to publish it.

So there you go. Should you listen to me? Meh, who knows? I just published a book myself yesterday. Maybe you can find better advice. As King wrote in the preface to On Writing, "...most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don't understand very much about what they do—not why it works when it's good, not why it doesn't when it's bad."

Yeah. What he said.