“I took a risk.”

Lessons in storytelling by Larry David

Lessons in storytelling by Larry David

The headline for this blog post comes from an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry David’s character, Larry David, offers it as an explanation to his wife Cheryl, played by Cheryl Hines, when she asks why he would say something so socially unacceptable to another human being. He took a risk in an attempt to be honest to another person, and he failed miserably. That’s what made it so funny.

It sums up how I feel when I think about the stories I write under C. Hoyt Caldwell. Succeeding as Mr. Caldwell isn’t nearly as important to me as taking risks as Mr. Caldwell. I go down some dark roads in an attempt to tell an honest story. Not honest from my point of view, but from my characters’ various points of view. They say and do things that I am embarrassed and shocked by, and I love it. It’s really a blast.

There are parts of The Closeout Kings that I know will offend some readers. As a reader of the material, I even felt it might have gone too far, but as the writer, I knew the material called for it because it advanced character, conflict, and action. Those are the only things I can and will concern myself with. If I start considering how the story will affect the reader, then I’m not really writing. I’m pandering.

Can I take risks as R.W. Ridley? I hope so. Oz’ tale isn’t your typical Young Adult series. There are some very adult themes that he has dealt with and will deal with in the final installment. My goal with Oz all along has been to take him from a boy to a man over the course of the series, and that in and of itself is a risk in the Young Adult market. I never think about category and genre when I write, so that may be why some of the major publishers who’ve thought about picking it up eventually passed because they didn’t know where to place it. I’ve been told on a number of occasions by editors that Oz sounds too grown up. I agree. He does. But there’s a reason for that, and hopefully I can make that clear in Book Seven.

So, here’s a little helpful tool for readers as you flip through the pages of a book. If you are offended by something you read, ask yourself if it reveals something to you about the character and/or story. If it does, then the author took a risk in an effort to be honest. Can you really be offended by that?

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It is so wrong for me to be this excited about a movie… about turtles!

Okay so they’re mutant and ninjas, but that’s still no reason for an intelligent 48-year-old man with no kids to get so excited about their upcoming movie.  The fact that they’re teenagers alone should keep me from seeing this movie, but I’ll see it, and most likely by myself in an attempt to hide my shame.

 

Why am I reading with a southern accent?

Tennessee Ernie Ford: "It was a dark and stormy night, y'all."

Tennessee Ernie Ford: “It was a dark and stormy night, y’all.”

If you’re familiar with Bad Way Out, you know that the grammar of the narrator, ER Percy, is horrible.  He’s a hillbilly with no use for fancy talk.  So it’s understandable that you read that book (internally or aloud) with a thick southern drawl (as the extremely talented narrator Mr. Nate Daniels did in the audiobook version).

The Closeout Kings is told using a third person omniscient narrator. All the characters are decidedly hillbilly, but the narration is a simple, straight read.  So why then am I reading it with a southern accent?  It doesn’t make sense to me, but every time I pick up a couple of pages and read it I become Tennessee Ernie Ford.

I may have to record a reading and post it to totally humiliate myself.  Maybe then I’ll drop the dang twang and start reading it like a normal person.

The metaphysical wackiness of writing

Based on all the feedback on Facebook, here, and in the non-internet world, this looks like the winning cover.

Based on all the feedback on Facebook, here, and in the non-internet world, this looks like the winning cover.

As I announced yesterday, the first draft of C. Hoyt Caldwell’s latest book is… well, in the books. It’s done. Finished. I put a literal and figurative period at the end of it and shut it down, but only for a week or two while I decompress and gain some perspective.

The book, The Closeout Kings, focuses on a female deputy and some backwoods hit men for a hillbilly crime family. Without giving away too much information, they discover a human trafficking ring in their mountains and set out to do something about it.

As I wrote this book, I would frequently step away from it because I thought it was either too unbelievable, or because it was just too depressing to think about all the time. Every time I would take a break, the issue of human trafficking would rear its ugly head in a news story on radio or TV. It was almost like this story was chasing me down.

Last night before I went off to bed, I decided to watch Letterman for a laugh. Much to my surprise Jimmy Carter was his guest and he was talking about… human trafficking. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had just wrapped up my backwoods tale of young girls being abducted and sold for profit, and here was the former leader of the free world saying it’s the worst humanitarian issue we are facing today.

This happens to me frequently when I write, and I have no explanation for it. Elements of a story will just pop up in the real world and give me a little nudge, a reminder that my characters are anxiously waiting for to me get on with it and finish. This go around I even got the flu, and it prevented me from writing for about two weeks. My head hurt too badly to form a coherent thought. During the worst part of the flu, I constantly smelled cigarettes. We don’t smoke in our family. I’ve never seen any of our neighbors smoke. Who does smoke? Step Crawford, one of the hit men in my story. Every time I smelled the burning menthol, I could imagine him standing next to me in disgust because I had let something as silly as the flu keep me from telling his story.

Well, it’s done now, Step. You can stop blowing smoke in my face.

Here’s Letterman’s full interview with Jimmy Carter last night.  The human trafficking bit starts at about the 10 minute mark.  I was surprised to discover that Atlanta has become an important hub of the modern slavery trade:

BOOM! The first draft of The Closeout Kings is done!

I just typed “The End” on the first draft of C. Hoyt Caldwell’s next book, The Closeout Kings! And, it is such relief! This one has been hard because of the subject matter.  Trying to make a story about human trafficking enjoyable is as hard as it sounds.  Is it any good?  No.  Not at this stage.  This is the first draft.  First drafts are normally dreadful.  I have some rewriting to do, but the story officially has a beginning, middle, and END!

You’ll notice two things about this post. One, I called the book The Little Deputy and the Closeout Kings in a previous post.  The little deputy has been pulled from the title.  Not because she’s less important than the closeout kings, but because graphically I couldn’t pull off the long title when it came to designing a cover.  Plus, The Little Deputy and the Closeout Kings sounds a little like a children’s book.  It just doesn’t fit the genre.

The other thing that you’ll notice is that I’m talking about C. Hoyt Caldwell on my R.W. Ridley blog when in the past I said I wouldn’t unless something big happened.  Well, completing a first draft is big so there.  Stop judging me.  There’s a possibility that I may rescind that rule anyway.  I haven’t made a final decision yet, but I am leaning that way.

Now for the fun part.  I created a couple of cover options for this book, and posted them on Facebook.  I was stunned and pleased by the great response I got from my Facebook Friends.  They gave me some really good feedback and based on that I’m down to two possibilities.  Take a look and let me know which one you like better.  I’ve made them about the size they’d be on an online retailer’s website because that’s where about 99% of my sales come from.

Do you like cover A or cover B?

Do you like cover A or cover B?

 

The scariest 2:42 you’ll spend today or tomorrow or the next day

This short film by David F. Sandberg had me on the edge of my office chair.  It’s called Lights Out, and my advice is to keep the lights on while watching this… Actually just keep them on.  Never, ever turn them off again.

Lights Out – Who’s There Film Challenge (2013) from David F. Sandberg on Vimeo.