We’re here, the Solstice, the official start of the bleak dark season, jump-started a bit more than usual, right after Halloween. I’m not nearly far enough into the third full-on rewrite of “Swamis,” cutting and chopping and polishing and tightening and (I would love to say) perfecting the plot, honing-in on what is just way too important to me, the dialogue.
There are so many scenes/encounters that I have already cut; some of which I have posted here. There is a certain interplay that I wanted to include, a meeting between RUTH DeFREINES, wife of the recently deceased detective, and the detective’s longtime partner, LARRY WENDELL.
The occasion for this encounter between these two is this: CHULO was murdered, set alight at Swamis. Chulo was a witness to the highway accident, a month earlier, in which JOSEPH DeFREINES died. Ruth and JOSEPH (aka Jody/Joey) DeFREINES, Junior, were involved in the accident. Joey was responsible for his father going off the road. Chulo, at Ruth’s request, lied about Joey being present at the accident scene. Larry, recently separated, has feelings for Ruth, believes she was in the vehicle his partner went off the highway to avoid, and is attempting to cover up what he believes to be the truth.
Not complicated at all. BUT, when Chulo is murdered, Ruth wants to find out what Wendall knows. My dilemma is this: Joey is the narrator, and I am trying to not include scenes he is not witness to. So, I have Larry telling Joey about Ruth attacking him about what he knows about Chulo’s death, or I write that actual scene.
Or I write both and drop one. No, probably both.
All of the characters in “Swamis,” are fictional composites of several real people. My mother would be the obvious model for Ruth. How my mother would react to situations helps, but the real fun is imagining the many ways Ruth, and each of the characters, is different; fictional, but realistic enough that, if you ask me the backstory of even incidental players, I have answers.
I am, clearly, not going to take the time to write the above scene right now. Later. BUT here’s what I was looking for when I did an image search: My real mother worked at the Base Photo Lab at Camp Pendleton in the late 1960s. She worked with Marines who had photographed war and all its aspects, in World War II and/or Korea, and some, no doubt, were taking photographs in Vietnam. My brothers and sisters and I (some portion of 7) went to my mom’s work for at least one Christmas party. Not a fun group, the photographers. Many, including a neighbor we had for a while, had seen too much. If I asked my mom why Scott’s father was so… solemn, she answered, “He was at Iwo Jimo, other places.” These men were damaged- some more than others.
Or so I still believe. Okay, so Ruth works at… yes, the photo lab. It works. Orphaned in World War II Japan, married to an Ex-Marine (if there is such a person), ex hired thug, ex patrol officer… yeah; damaged individuals with a damaged son who either has brain damage or is kind of… dangerous… sure; building blocks for a novel that a reader of the second unexpurgated version described as “Cutsie.”
I can’t leave that at that. He also said, “I see what you were going for here- a slice of life kind of thing.”
Oh? Like… real? I hope so. Without going into the overly-psychedelic or cliched way in which the late 1960s might be and have been portrayed, the setting is mostly bright if not sunny. Joey is, in some ways, like Alice in a different wonderland. Surfers in a time of board revolution, cops with aspirations, marijuana marketeers in a period of rapid and dangerous growth. Do we really remember as much about Alice as we do the characters she meets?
Still, no Mad Hatters or Cheshire Cats, but a logical chain of events in a crazy, real-as-I-can-get-it world.
I am obviously getting too far into whatever writing process I have been muddling/working through, but, if “Swamis” is the last novel I ever write… it is going to, eventually, be tight.
Not that this piece is. BUT while I was looking for some image connected to the Base Photo Lab, I came across the photograph, above. A Marine on a phone, another one behind him. That is what my father did in World War II and Korea. He ran phone lines. The enemy tore them down. They ran them again. He was at Guadalcanal, he interacted with the Navajo Code Talkers (as Trisha’s father, he from the supply side), and I’m not sure where else he served. He didn’t talk to me about it. Saying my father was at Guadalcanal is usually enough.
That’s actually what the scene I haven’t written and might not write hinges on: Detective DeFreines did tell stories from work to Ruth; the guys she worked with did not. Saying someone was at Iwo Jimo is enough. Probably.
Happy Solstice! Peace.
I HAVE TO add that Joey is not me. I do steal some experiences from my life, but no. Not me. Characteristics from several other people are included; Joey’s reactions are imagined. Here’s a line I will eventually cut. It is between Joey and JUMPER, probably the most fictional character in “Swamis.” They are in a critical and dangerous situation. Joey- “We are not friends; but we are… close.”