Monday, June 19, 2017

Fun with words, or something.

I hate writing about writing, as much as you hate reading about writing about writing, but one thing I have to confess: Continuity is an issue. 

When you’re creating a novel it’s hard enough to get the facts right; if you have the sun set at seven p.m. on Washington’s Birthday in Wichita, someone will be sure to write telling you the sun will have been gone by quarter after six. You big stupid. Well, by then the damn thing is in print, so what are you supposed to do? Fortunately you can look things up very easily these days. 

One problem the writer may still have, however, is continuity. It’s an issue in the movies because scenes are not shot directly in the order in which they are shown, so a character drinking out of a mug in one shot may be shown holding a teacup in the next if the continuity editor or the prop guy doesn’t catch it. 

For the novelist, he may have to break off from working for practical reasons, or because he is stuck, or to find reasons to keep his head out of the oven; it may take him a month to write a scene that would take five minutes in real time. So until he goes into revision, he can end up with something like this:

Joe lit a cigarette slowly, shaking his match out just before the flame reached his fingers. He looked up at the thumbnail moon, the sharp silver sliver cutting through the darkness pricked by starlight. He wondered if the night had ever felt so raw before.

“What’re you thinking about, Joe?” said Sara, huddling deeper into her woolly cardigan on the stone wall. She gnawed on a cuticle cutely as she looked at him.

“Me? Nothing,” he said. “You?”

She chuckled. “Feels like the loneliest spot on Earth, doesn’t it? Nothing around for miles but this guardrail.”

Joe grinned. He took the pack of cigarettes from the pocket of his parka and packed it against his palm. “Heck of a spot to have a blowout, huh, kid?”

Sarah smiled. She took in a deep breath of the chilly night air. He loved the way the words OHIO STATE stretched on her sweatshirt when she did that. Indescribably delicious.

Joe tore his eyes away, looking instead at the dark valley below, sprinkled with lights from the houses and the big Stop & Shop, the glow from its lights the brightest thing beside the heavy half moon. Being stuck on a lonely mountain road with a pretty girl wasn't the worst thing that could happen to a guy. 

What about Millie? he thought, mentally kicking his own mental shin. She’s waiting in Dayton. He thought of her smile, her freckled face, her head full of soft red curls. Will that tow truck ever get here?

Can it, Joe, he thought, putting a Camel to his lips. Keep your sunny side up. He flicked open the Zippo Milly had given him -- the one with the flaming skull on it -- and lit his cigarette. She was so thoughtful that way, buying him cigarette lighters, cartons of smokes, whiskey, pork ribs, barrels of high-fructose corn syrup...

Hey, wait a sec --

“Joe?” said Sara, wriggling with the cold. “I’m cold.”

“Better get off the ground and move around, kid. Or get in the pickup. It looks like rain.”

“I will if you come with me.”

Joe smiled. He looked up at the clouds, wondering if it really would rain. Rain would make these gravel mountain roads really tricky. “Nah,” he said, reaching into his jacket for his Marlboros.  “Gonna have a smoke.”

“That’s your answer to everything, isn’t it?”

Firing up his Bic, Joe said from the corner of his mouth, “Seems to be, lately.”

“Fine.” Sarah got up and walked to the blacktop. “I’m hitchhiking.”

“Okay,” said Jo, flicking his cigarette butt away. “I guess I’ll just have to drink this flask of rye by myself.”

Sara turned and came back, smiling. But then she was caught half illuminated in the brilliant glow of headlights. She turned toward them, shocked, holding up her mittened hand to block the light. Joe was somewhat disappointed to see that it was the tow truck he’d called for. As he drew a cigarette from his pack, the truck pulled up behind his car and its engine cut off.

“Joe!” said a shockingly familiar voice from the tow truck. “Step away from that woman!”

“Millie?” he whispered, a chill running down his neck that had nothing to do with the swirling snowflakes.

“No!” said Sarrah.

“Yes!” said Milli, stepping down from the truck. She had an automatic in her hand and a glint of steel in her eye.

“It’s not what it looks like,” said Joe, lighting his smoke.

“I know it isn’t,” said Millie, her blond hair whipping in the wind. “This woman isn’t Sara Smith, Joe! She’s Sharon Schmidt!”

“My long-lost brother’s daughter!” he said.

“That’s a lie!” said Sharen.

“She knows that with you out of the picture she’s the only living heir,” said Maxine. “She brought you up here and sabotaged your carburetor so she could arrange to -- Look out!”

Sharon charged at Joe with a furious howl, clearly looking to push him over the embankment and down the drop into the valley. Thanks to Mille’s warning, Joe was ready; he clipped Sharin on the chin and she fell to ground like a sack of anvils.

“Nice work,” said Millie, smiling, as she put the gun away.

Joe rushed over and kissed her. Then he said, “Next time you come to save my life, sweetheart, you’d better load the gun. In the streetlight’s glow I could see the cylinder was empty.”

“Oh, Joe, you silly!” said Milly.

Joe smiled as he lit a cigarette. Millie’s tearful eyes shined in the light of his match. Or maybe it was the moonlight.

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