I was one of the first people in the early 1980s to switch from analog to solid state receivers to increase my musical enjoyment. Not long afterward, I jumped on the CD bandwagon, a victim of commercial hype that promised clean recordings without the cracks and pops of vinyl albums and the portability of those classic silver disks. It didn’t matter I was that guy who bought a brand spankin’ new record, played it once to make a cassette recording, and then re-sleeved it.
Back then, the speakers in my living room were waist high, and had enough bass response to rattle the windows if I wanted rock and roll, and sometimes, I did.
Then came iPhones, and the world now listens to Bluetooth, playing it through ear buds or automotive sound systems that cost more than my first entire car. It sounds great! However, I seem to be the victim of friends and family who want me to hear a new song on that infernal device that absorbs our lives and insist on playing it through a tinny micro-speaker the size of a pin head.
Then not too long ago, I went back to my younger roots, buying a 1970s Marantz receiver. A business half an hour from my house specializes in getting them back up and running, and after a four month wait, it came back looking and sounding brand new. My brother found me a vintage turntable and an old-school 8-track player. I located a like-new cassette player. The Bride and I are back to music full of warm life.
She and I seldom throw anything away. We keep things, though they might be misplaced for a year or two. We have albums, 45s, cassette tapes, and 8-tracks from our larval years. The only thing missing is half my original album collection I left with my starter-wife, who threw them out.
But the Bride and I wanted to play tapes made decades earlier, and after three moves, I couldn’t find them. We searched high and low for a black case full of cassettes and wondered where they’d gone. Determined to find them, I resigned myself to an archeological dig through boxes in closets, under cabinets, and in the attic.
They were no longer in the aforementioned case, but stored in a couple of old boot boxes. Now we’re listening to vintage music that takes us back to a different time, and to my point.
I tell you all that, to bring this forward. I’ve also switched computers a number of times, and though I know most of my material written since 1996 is somewhere in this electronic netherworld, I have trouble finding those files.
See, I used the phrase ‘those files.’ Not stories. Not manuscripts. Not notes. Files. New technology.
We pause here while I go put on a pristine John Denver album I bought 50 years ago. Ah, it sounds just like it did back in 1973.
I continue. The organizers at the Dallas Noir at the Bar asked me to participate, and I needed something special. I seldom write short stories, and didn’t want to read from any of my published books, or a manuscript under construction.
Then I remembered a short period of time ten years ago when I was beset by abbreviated creativity. I vaguely recalled hammering out a couple of stories that might work, so I went in search of them.
I’d run across one of the “files” while working on my latest novel, Hard Country. It was in a sub-file (don’t ask me how or why) along with a shelved manuscript that hadn’t seen the light of day in over 25 years. I virtually dusted off those 350 pages and found a chapter that would fill a hole in this first Tucker Snow novel.
Of course it needed work. I’d polished my style since then, so I got that old soft diaper out and went to work on the vintage/seasoned/almost forgotten story that became an integral part of the novel.
Now I needed that short eight-to-ten-minute story to read at the Wild Detectives in Dallas. I finally found The Safe, 1950s noir about a guy who meets the girl, steals his boss’ safe, and sweeps her away along old Route 66 to a small town West Texas motorcourt.
The piece was too long because some other bad guys ‘peel’ the safe while my protagonists are at the movies, and because I’m a procrastinator, there wasn’t enough time to tighten it up. I dug deeper.
Oh, wait, there’s a novella I’d written back in 1982. Nope, too rough, too many character attributions, and a ton of adverbs. I liked it though, and sent a quick note to a magazine editor I met a couple of weeks ago.
“Dear Bob. You need to publish this western. Sincerely, Rev.”
Bob said yes about ten minutes later. Now I need to get out that old polish rag again and go to work. I pasted that one on my desktop so I could find it again, but I still needed a story for the noir.
The Professional? Did I write that? I gave it a quick read and recalled creating Nick, who’s waiting on a mysterious contact in a local park. Not bad. Needs a little work. Tighten up here, suture there, excise that, blow up the font. It read pretty dang good.
Hang on, y’all, while I stuff an 8-track into the player and listen to The Gatlin Brothers performing Sweet Becky Walker. Gads, that background hiss reminds me of those days in the early 1980s when I was hitting the honky tonks and listening to good country music. For some reason, I smell beer and cigarettes…
…so back to the noir, I printed the story off and headed for the event. Seven other authors and poets were there, and the fun began. I was next to last, and that gave me the opportunity to have a drink and listen to the creativity of others.
Then it was my turn. I slid The Professional from the envelope, took the stage, and read. All went smoothly until the last page. The climax! The cherry in an old fashioned, the candle on top of the cake, burning brightly and ready to blow out. People were on the edge of their seats to see how I wrapped up this story of murder, justice, and criminal professionalism.
Except that last page hadn’t printed. I stopped at the wrap, where it all came together, and guffawed, admitting what had happened and that I’d unintentionally presented a cliffhanger.
Some would be embarrassed, some frustrated, some disappointed, and some mad that they’d made a mistake in front of their peers and strangers. I was none of those. Taking a moment to make some off-the-cuff fun comments, I figuratively swept my hat, bowed, and took my seat to applause.
Like those pops, crackles, and skips on an old record, it’s all just a collection of motes, memories, and scratches that make up life. It’s fun, and entertaining. My unprofessional readus interruptus, or in true Latin, interrumpitur lectio, (dang, Spellcheck hates those four words) made that presentation so memorable it was all anyone could talk about as we gathered ourselves and left.
Embrace the old, life, music, technology, the mistakes you’re bound to make, and blow off some of your old work that’s gathering dust somewhere. It might all just work for you in the end in more ways than you anticipate.