Friday, March 9, 2012

Where Did That Come From?!

At Pavilions, I got the battered fish I've been waiting all week for (Fairly decent, but the crust at the edges was too hard), and while Meridith and I ticked a few tasks off her Pavilions list, I found in the cart a Las Vegas travel guide published by the Los Angeles Times. I flipped through it, finding ads for the Stratosphere, Carrot Top, Menopause: The Musical, and an ad for Phantom of the Opera, announcing "Final Months - Performances End September 2, 2012".

On the third to last page, there was a brief article about the Pinball Hall of Fame on East Tropicana Avenue, with photos of pinball machines and players framing it. The final three paragraphs nearly made my heart stop.

For two years now, I've had an idea for a novel that partly involves pinball, that's also a modern-day adaptation of a classic novel. The twist is that I haven't read that novel yet. I will, but what I know of it so far made me think about setting it in the United States today. I think that will only be made stronger when I actually read the novel.

The last three paragraphs in that article presented to me clearly what motivates my main character, why he's doing what he's doing. I'd been having trouble thinking of the "why" in the few times that I considered this novel, and this revelation makes me much more excited to work on this. I brought the travel guide home, especially for that article.

After dinner, I opened up the Word file for my novel and received a major shock: I wrote half a chapter, and I didn't even know I wrote it! I don't even know when I wrote it. It had to have been before I finished writing my share of What If They Lived? Maybe I had done it to let off some stress from working on that book.

The two pages, 1,287 words, read well enough, but it obviously needs a lot of work and certainly more words. I read it three times, and found that it captures the atmosphere I want. After I read those three paragraphs in that travel guide, I also was thinking about who these two characters would be, why they are the way they are, not knowing that here it was for me, already planned out.

It's a first-person narrative, from the perspective of the unwitting sidekick to the main character. I'm going to stick with that because I think if I wrote it from the perspective of the main character, it would be crazier than a reader could stand. What's the truth? What's not? The sidekick, incredulous as he becomes, at least remains clear-eyed about the journey taken.

But then, it could all change. I'm not sure yet. I'm still learning about who these two guys are. The only thing I'm sure of is that my working title is not going to be the actual title. Too obvious twice over. There's nothing in either word that would make someone want to pick up my novel to see what it's about.

The other day, I finished reading On Gratitude, which has interviews with celebrities about gratitude and what their favorite things are in their lives, and their working methods, especially those of the writers interviewed. Danielle Steel was one of the interviews, and she says she works on three to five books at a time. I can't get there yet. After we move to Henderson and I get settled, I want to work on two writing projects concurrently, but that's probably as far as I'll go. I'm going to read the source material for this novel, though, and get to know my characters more, because I want this one to work. I feel like this one could be something good.

Busted Flat in Baker

I am never unsure about what to read next, even with the hundreds of books stacked in my room. My mind goes wherever it wants and is strict about it, so I just finished reading On the Road with Charles Kuralt by Charles Kuralt, who also inspires me in my writing by his warm, easygoing style, also prevalent on camera in his "On the Road" series for CBS Evening News all those years ago, as well as host of CBS Sunday Morning. Charles Osgood, the current host, seems inspired by him, just as gentle as he was.

On the Road with Charles Kuralt contains transcripts of 91 of his "On the Road" segments, nicely laid out with images from the broadcasts included.

One chapter is called "Busted Flat in Baker" and the accompanying image is of two guitars, a clock, a model of a horse, a bowling ball, and a rifle resting on a floor. I've transcribed the chapter below, because it's exactly what Baker feels like, even today, and it's how I want to write it in my eventual play to be set there.:

Let's say you're driving home to California from Las Vegas. And let's say you're broke. And let's say you've been driving ninety miles through the desert with nothing to look at but that hot sand and the gas gauge, which is riding on empty. Well, when you see the sign that says BAKER, naturally you take the exit. Baker is at least somewhere in the middle of nowhere: a hot, dusty string of gas stations where a busted gambler might figure if he can talk fast enough he can talk himself into a tank of gas. It turns out that this is exactly what thousands of busted gamblers figure every year.

Bob Kennedy, who works in one of the filling stations, says Baker must be the fast-talking capital of America.

KURALT: What sort of things have you been offered down the years?
BOB KENNEDY: Oh, watches, rings, all sorts of jewelry. Clothing, tires, tools---you name it. If it's been made, it's been offered. They come out with some ridiculous things.
KURALT: But they get you to pump that gas first---
KENNEDY: Oh, yeah.
KURALT: ---before they admit they're broke.
KENNEDY: Oh, yeah.

Bob Kennedy has lost track of the number of old cars he has taken possession of in return for a bus ticket to Los Angeles. And gas station owner Ken George has a gaudy collection of clocks and watches and guns and radios that used to belong to motorists headed home from Vegas.

KEN GEORGE: Stories change from gettin' robbed, losin' their wallet or people just come out and tell you the truth. "Look, mister, I've lost my money in Vegas. Could you loan me two dollars and somethin' worth of gas?" You know, and of course, you get so many of these people comin' through, pretty soon you start asking for collateral.
KURALT: What kinds of collateral have you been offered?
GEORGE: Huh! Well, there's been cases where even people's kids have been offered as collateral.
KURALT: It strikes me that, living in Baker, you could pick up a bargain from time to time.
GEORGE: Well, yeah, you can pick up a bargain from time to time, but what is a guy gonna do with six or eight bowling balls when we don't have a bowling alley? Heh!

To operate a gas station here, as Bob Kennedy and Ken George and all the others will tell you, is to run a hockshop in the desert. The Las Vegas winners, of course, never slow down. They zip past the exist on the Interstate, humming a happy tune.

The losers stop at Baker.

Baker still doesn't have a bowling alley. No money in it. It's just a temporary stop for those who are Vegas-bound and heading back to wherever they live in the L.A. region. I still don't know how people can live in Baker, but they do, and those are two. I'm fascinated by it every time.