To a real writer, “business-speak” is a dirty word

“If you write to impress it will always be bad, but if you write to express it will be good.”

Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) – Playwright and novelist

If we’ve spent any time at all in the business world, we’ve all been there… Those interminable, business memos written to impress us with the writer’s expertise and professionalism but are nothing but jargon-filled blather that says little if anything.

Settings #19 – Atti’s childhood “studio apartment”

The Ro Delahanty-Atti Mehra friendship was living proof that opposites attract. They were opposites in physical size and appearance – Ro was tall and slender, Atti was short and thick… Opposites in personalities – Ro was Ms. Responsibility, Atti was Ms. Impudence… Even opposites in their childhood “rooms” – where Ro grew up in a typical split-level home youth bedroom, Atti had for all intents and purposes her own studio apartment.

When the Mehras moved to Lee’s Landing they bought a house in north central Lee’s Landing, although they didn’t know it at the time, not from the Delahantys. Ro and Atti met when she enrolled in the fifth grade at Emerson Elementary School; they became quick and close friends, quite possibly because in many ways they were each other’s alter egos.

Atti’s father was going to be the new head of the local community college’s choral music programs and director of the Illowa Community Chorus, which was sponsored by the school, while her mother landed a job teaching in the hospital-based Austin-Mercy School of Nursing in Lee’s Landing. So, they were amenable to each using one of the more conventional bedrooms in the house as their home office and ceding to Atti the studio apartment above the garage that had originally been intended as a kind of guest suite.

It was huge, three times the square footage of Ro’s bedroom; it even had its own private, three-quarter bath and even its own outside entrance at top of some stairs at the back.

Where Ro tended to be fastidious about her room, it was always picked-up, the clothes hung neatly in the closet or folded in her dresser, Atti’s studio was chaos personified, ankle deep in dirty clothes, dog-eared magazines, and “stuff,” the use of which was often puzzling.

In one corner was a deep purple colored sectional sleeper-sofa that regularly hosted Ro’s and Atti’s frequent sleep-overs. There was a pair of wide, cube-style bookcases with baskets that were supposed to serve in place of a conventional chest of drawers, and a fat, tube-based color TV and DVD/VHS player on a wheeled media stand in a corner.

Two long, folding-leg tables set side-by-side dominated the middle of the room. A pair of roll-around stools facilitated access to the two computers, each with a pair of monitors, numerous drawing pads and a litter of half-done sketches, art books, and colored pencils and pens.

On the wall above the sofa was the huge, ghoul-image laden, five-panel Iron Maiden rock band poster. Other posters around the room featured the Doom video game warrior blasting away at a horde of demonic figures, the lonely urban mood of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust poster and the leering, skull head spoof of Hello Kitty called Hellkitty.

But there were also several dozen samples of Atti’s own drawings tacked to the walls; ranging from pelt clad, prehistoric era warriors with spears to armored knights with swords, from modern day military types wielding fierce-looking automatic weapons to futuristic fighters with blasters – they were equally divided between male and female. But there were also a few drawings obviously inspired by the anime style, and even some gentle, whimsical animal characters that might fit right into a Walt Disney film.

So, it should be no surprise Atti’s ambition was to become some sort of computer graphic artist.

Next: The “old” Sheriff’s Department headquarters next to the courthouse in downtown Lee’s Landing

© 2019 Dave Lager

The Five Major Qualifications for an Author

I saw this posted recently on Mark Dawson’s SPF Facebook page; found it thought-provoking. Inspired by Ikki Kajiwara (1936-1987), author, manga writer, film producer:

1) Never create a superficial piece of work. Turn every drop of blood into words!
2) Do not indulge yourself in the flowers of temporal popularity. Dig up the soil to spread your roots deep below.
3) Even if you attain some status, do not linger on it. If there is a choice between peace and storm, choose the storm.
4) SUPER IMPORTANT- Never cry after being defeated. Research your defeat and make it the mother of your victory.
5) Even if you follow all the qualifications, never think you are always correct. Let everybody around you be your master.

Settings #18 – Ro’s childhood bedroom was “typical,” but only to a point…

For one, it was what at the time was the standard child-sized room for a split-level, thirteen by twelve.

For another, it had all the requisite furnishings: A single bed against the far wall to the right of the door, with a chest of drawers in between; a bi-fold closet door covering half the left wall and a desk and small, three-shelf bookcase pushed up against the other half.

But that’s pretty much where the room’s “typical”-ness ended…

For example, as the bedroom of a little girl, there wasn’t even a hint of frills or lace anywhere to be seen. Her cotton chenille bedspread was a plain khaki with a vague stripe pattern woven-in and the window treatment was a bamboo slatted shade that could be raised and lowered from above – most of the time it was all the way up.

There were no boy band or teen hunk posters. Instead, the posters Ro had tacked to the wall above her bed extolled the exploits of several of the strong women she admired – Molly Pitcher, the Revolutionary War heroine; Sacajawea, Lewis and Clark’s invaluable guide; and Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the world’s first great female athlete.

Nor was there a doll of any kind visible in the room, except for Peter Panda (shown above).

A three-foot teddy bear, he had been a gift from her Aunt Eileen – her mother’s sister-in-law – on her second birthday. He had immediately joined Ro in her bed, only moving over to his present perch atop the dresser in her sixth year. While a parade of other gift dolls – Aunt Eileen was sure every little girl loved playing with dolls – had followed on birthdays and Christmases, including lots of Barbies and Barbie accessories, these had all soon ended up stored away in Ro’s closet, still in their original, unopened packages.

Over the years Ro’s relationship with Peter evolved from childhood cuddle-mate to a teenager’s and young adult’s friend and confidante; she came to think of him like the Wilson character in the Tom Hank’s film “Cast Away.” When Ro moved into her new apartment, Peter Panda came too, assuming his usual position atop a dresser in the bedroom.

The bookcase next to the desk added even further to the room’s “un-typical”-ness, since by the time Ro was a teenager it mostly held her collection of ribbons, medals and trophies from competitions as a skeet shooter, then later as a judo student, and finally as a handgun target champion.

But by far the room’s most dominant – as in totally out of proportion to the room’s size – and most disconcerting feature was Mike’s old recliner wedged between the foot of her bed and the nearly floor to ceiling casement windows that offered a wide view of the backyard and the grove beyond. In fact, unlike how seating is normally placed looking into a room, the chair faced outward.

Which came first: The chicken of the egg? Ro “inherited” the chair at her own request on her twelfth birthday. It was also the same day she had her first period. So, was there some cause and effect relationship? But which might be the cause, and which the effect?

Regardless, it soon became Ro’s habit to sit in the chair for hours, sometimes before climbing into her bed, sometimes getting up in the middle of the night…thinking. In fact, that’s eventually how she came to think of it, as her Thinking Chair… Pondering all the big and little questions youngsters have growing up: Who am I? Where do I fit in? Do I even want to fit in? Why does my brother have loads of friends and I don’t? Do I even want those kinds of friends? How come I’m not closer to my mom? Do I even want to be? Shouldn’t I be wanting to go to school dances? The answer to that question was a shudder.

The windows were open whenever possible – nine, even ten months a year – so she could listen to the sounds of the night birds and the movements of the night critters and the sighing of the night breezes in the woods behind the house; it was a routine that would carry over to her new apartment.

Next: Tuck’s new condo

© 2019 Dave Lager

Settings are important

“A novel grows out of a sense of place. A story might have some pompous theme but, really, its meaning must come from an organic relationship with its setting.”

Jane Langton (1922-2018)

Thanks, Jane, for helping me rationalize why I have thousands of words of “background” on my characters and their settings, most of which won’t – can’t – end up in the actual story narrative, but I’d certainly like to think informs where that narrative is going.

Setting # 17 – Ro’s childhood home

Ro grew up in a classic 70s-era split level home at 3230 East York Ridge Lane in Lee’s Landing, Iowa.

It was one of several dozen virtually identical homes on the cull de sac. While the original developer had made some effort at individualization – using different treatments for the portico over the front door and/or a variety of exterior coverings, like faux stone or shake-shingle siding – they all had the exact same lot dimension – eighty-feet wide by a hundred-and-twenty-feet deep – the exact same four-level, three bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath interior layout; the garage and driveway in the exact same position; even down to the single maple tree in the center of every front yard that after thirty years finally began to look like a real tree.

But Mike Delahanty, like several of the owners, had added his own touch of uniqueness to the cookie-cutter place by building a porch-like deck across the front accessible from the driveway up several wooden stairs.

The Delahanty’s home was on the north side of the cul de sac; like all the other properties on that side of the street, it was backed up against a grove of mature trees along the boundary marking the edge of the city’s Meadows on Shadowbrook Golf Course.

The entry to the house was really a short hallway. An archway on the left led to the living room filled with high-end casual furniture and lots of modern art, all thanks to Kate Delahanty’s design skills and catalogs of furnishings.

The dominant mood-setting feature, though, was a reproduction of her favorite artwork, Howard Hodgkin’s abstract “Keep It Quiet,” with its bold swaths of burnt orange, deep red, and a smattering of browns and blacks. It was the first thing you saw when you glanced into the living room from the entrance foyer. The view through the room’s several near floor-to-ceiling windows was of the deck and the maple tree and street beyond.

Behind the living room was the kitchen and a large, casually furnished dining room with a big picture window looking over the grassy yard and the grove of tall trees beyond.

The first floor’s color motif, also Kate’s influence, was a bold contemporary rich cream with a relaxing sky-blue accent.

To the right of the entranceway were two short sets of stairs, one leading up, the other down.

The “up” stairs accessed the bedroom level. Off a central hallway to the right was the bathroom Ro and her brother used and then Kate’s and Mike’s master suite, with its own dressing area and bath. Patrick’s bedroom was the first on the left, Ro’s the second.

The “down” stars took you into a long family-TV room, which was behind the garage. A sliding glass door led into the backyard. This level had its own half-bath.

Another short set of stairs led from the family room down to the home’s fourth level, under the living room and kitchen-dining area. Originally intended for entertaining, with a bar and adjacent game room, Kate used the bar area as the home office for her business, Kate Delahanty Design, and Mike used the adjacent game room, accessible through a set of French doors, as his den cum music room.

Kate’s home office had wall-mounted bracket shelves with big books of fabric wall coverings and window treatment samples and office and commercial furniture catalogs. Her “desk” was a large slab of inch-thick black particle board set on a pair of stainless-steel sawhorses. The walls were decorated with large posters from her favorite musical groups, like the Warhol-inspired Beatles’ “Sea of Color” poster and the Chicago band’s poster featuring a silhouette of a saxophone blowing hearts.

Mike’s smaller and cozier den-music room was furnished with his big recliner, a loveseat, an end table and a floor lamp, but was dominated by one entire wall of thick, two-by-twelve board shelving Mike had built to house his several hundred vinyl albums and CDs. Most were his extensive collection of classical music, with a smaller, but noticeable portion dedicated to Kate’s preferred 60s and 70s rock artists − Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, Elton John, the Eagles, and Bonnie Raitt.

Both rooms had their own stereo systems.

In other words, while there were lots well-used common family areas in the house, each member also had their own space they could retreat to.

Next: Ro’s bedroom

© 2019 Dave Lager

Loners by nature

“Most writers write to say something about other people – and it doesn’t last. Good writers write to find out about themselves – and it lasts forever.”

Gloria Steinem (1934- )

So, I guess it’s understandable, forgivable, and even legitimate, that as writers we are introspective – otherwise known as loners − by nature.

Settings #16 – Ro’s study

But it was the home office-study that most reflected the apartment occupant’s personality.

Just to the left of the door was her desk and office chair, with the pair of two-drawer filing cabinets beside. Hung on the wall above the desk were more than two dozen mostly eight-by-ten candid photographs of her family, Mike, Kate and Tuck; her best friend, Atti Mehra; her cousin Justin, except because they had pretty much grown up together, they acted more like a brother and sister; and Sonny Colletta, her first serious boyfriend, as well as a variety of other relatives and childhood friends mostly taken at Mike’s famous Fourth of July bashes.

On the opposite wall were several three-shelf bookcases, one was packed with the textbooks for her online bachelor’s in law enforcement classes, while the other two were filled with medals and trophies from her years of judo and shooting competitions. Next to the bookcases, in the corner by the closet door, was her gun vault. In it were her the nine millimeter Glock 34 and quick-draw holster she used for shooting competitions; her Ruger Mark II Government Competition Model .22 LR, the gun she’d learned to target shoot with; a Browning BPS 12 gauge for skeet shooting; and a Stevens Model 311A .410 shotgun, the gift from her father with which she had first been introduced to shooting when she was ten years old.

On the wall above the bookcases were posters for her three all-time favorite movies: The Godfather, which she considered the finest American movie ever made; L.A. Confidential, a modern noir film about two cops who lose their way, but ultimately find redemption; and Aliens, James Cameron’s second installment of the Alien series, precisely because she identified with the take-charge, kick-ass Sigourney Weaver-character, Ellen Ripley.

But the most prized item in the room was a beat-up old recliner over by the sliding glass door – what she thought of as her Thinking Chair. However, instead of being positioned to look into the room, as a chair typically would, it was turned so its back was to the room and someone sitting in it could look out at the woods behind the apartment, just as it had been similarly positioned in her bedroom to look at the grove of trees behind her childhood home on York Ridge Lane.

The chair had been “inherited” from Big Mike on her twelfth birthday, when her father had decided to replace the then already twenty-year old chair in his den-music room with a new one. But rather than let him throw the old one away, she’d asked for it to be moved to her bedroom; after all, it was the recliner in which as a toddler she had curled up in his lap and nodded off to sleep listening to Mozart or Hayden or Beethoven. Even though by the time it was moved into her apartment Big Mike hadn’t sat in it for nearly a decade, she imagined – she was pretty sure it was her imagination – whenever she plopped into the chair she could still catch a faint whiff of the Irish Spring soap he always showered with.

It was called the Thinking Chair because over the years she’d spent lots of hours in that chair – ironically though it was a recliner, she’d never reclined it – when she couldn’t sleep at night or when she was wrestling with something.

Next: The house on York Ridge Lane

© 2019 Dave Lager

First drafts…

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) – Fantasy novelist

Absolutely… I tend to think of my first draft as simply getting the story out of my head and onto paper − well, in this day and age more like onto my hard drive – so I can then work on it, and work on it, and work on it…

Settings #15 – Ro’s apartment

Ro’s two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of Building Six in the Westwynd Complex – it was on the left at the top of two flights of stairs – was oriented east to west. The view from the front, to the east, was of her building’s parking lot, Westwynd Drive and the clubhouse beyond. The view from the back, to the west, was of the Bottoms.

You entered the apartment into the living room, which had a sliding glass door and small balcony overlooking the parking lot. On the opposite side of the living room was a galley kitchen and small dining area.

Instead of positioning the sofa on the long wall of the room, as might have been done by most, Ro had placed it across the room, giving it a feel of being wider than it was. Instead, against the long wall was a wide bookcase, a 27-inch TV on the top at one end, her stereo on the other end. The shelves hosted her collection of mostly classical CDs and DVDs of her favorite movies – the CDs outnumbering the movies by a factor of ten to one.

Down a short hallway from the living room were the bathroom, positioned on the left behind the kitchen, a small bedroom straight back and a larger bedroom to the right, behind the living room.

Ro had decided to use the small bedroom for sleeping and the larger bedroom as her office-study. The latter room also had a sliding glass door and small balcony looking out at the trees.

Kate, who had a warehouse full of furniture – mostly “trade-ins” from customers whose offices Kate Delahanty Design had redone over the years – had offered her daughter anything she wanted to help get her place furnished. There were lots of high-end solid oak desks and bookcases, leather executive office chairs, designer branded sofas, and ultra-modern chrome coffee tables she could choose from.

But the pieces Ro selected might best be described as “eclectic comfortable,” which meant they had no discernible “look,” like modern chic or traditional Colonial. The desk and bookcases for her home office-study were very utilitarian – and cheap – composition board. The two-drawer filing cabinets were beat-up metal. And her “dining room set” was really a plastic conference table and matching chairs.

Not particularly conscious of it, Ro had approached the furnishing and decorating of her apartment from the perspective of pleasing herself rather than making some sort of fashion statement to impress visitors.

Even the “art” she chose for her walls reflected this predilection: they all meant something to her, personally.

For instance, in the bedroom she hung two large framed Ansel Adams black and white posters: “Oak Tree, Sunrise” and “Birds on the Beach,” because to her their message was of peace and joy.

On the living room wall were three colorful poster-size artworks, copies of the project Atti had submitted as part of her applications for the computer graphics program at Columbia College in Chicago. One was of a Conan-like warrior, clad in leathers, bulging muscles, a sword hilt visible over his right shoulder; another appeared to be a riff on a Flash Gordon-character, clad in a close-fitting, one- piece jump suit with a stylized lightning bolt emblem across the chest and a blaster in each hand.

But it was the middle poster that meant the most to Ro. The character in the poster was, in fact, a stylized rendition of her; it had her short red hair, except it looked more like flames in the poster, and a fierce warrior frown, suggestive of the “cop face” she would later cultivate when she became a deputy.

Clearly charging into some dangerous situation, she was wearing a quasi-military tactical vest, a badge-like emblem on the front. Her left hand was firing a huge automatic pistol, a long gout of flame erupting from the barrel. The other was stuck out high and to her right, clenched into a formidable fist, and had apparently just delivered a devastating blow to a bad guy who was out of frame, but whose feet could be seen upended behind her.

Even Ro’s dad, Big Mike, who was an accomplished amateur chef, contributed to the “apartment project,” putting together an assortment of pots and pans, utensils and some old dishes and flatware to help get her kitchen situated. Oh, and he added a cooler full of frozen dishes he’d made to stock her freezer, because he knew his daughter did not share his passion, let alone patience for “from scratch” cooking.

The only items Ro ended up having to buy for herself were a bed and chest of drawers – Kate didn’t have any of those in her warehouse – an assortment of sheets, pillow cases and towels, and a safe for her guns.

Next: Ro’s study

© 2019 Dave Lager

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