Wanna know how sausage is made? Well, look elsewhere, because I am not the man to break anyone of their enjoyment of sausage. Or scrapple, for that matter. Maybe Spam. But that would first take some research about how Spam is made. (Note for future column: Find out how Spam is made.)
But I’ll do the next best thing, and ruin your idea of what fiction writing is like.
Best-Case Scenario: Bits of conversation and data and half-strung theories all connect with each other up in the ol’ noggin. Then finally it boils over, and you’ve got yourself an idea you want to convey, and a way to get to it.
Then there’s…ugh…the rest of the time. The times when you come up with a few lines of dialogue, that you have to attribute to…well, something. So you put together a character who’d say those lines. Hoping the character will jumpstart the beginnings of a plot.
But it doesn’t. So, clever soul that you are, you start in the middle, and hope a story will branch out to the beginning and the end on its own.
This does not usually work. It’s like a non-pet-owner buying a leash, expecting that at some point, he’s going to want to walk a dog. It’s not the dumbest idea ever, but there sure are smarter ways to do it.
I was poking around a loose-ideas folder, when I came across this forgotten gem. A few fully-formed characters with only a vague zygote of a story to call home.
Still, these four characters: Wally (barbeque joint owner and part-time detective), Constance (his clever and business-minded gal-friday), Anna 1-2-3-4 (novelty surf-punk-lounge singer), and Kirs Norris (a confused east-coast transplant)…they’re still in the back of my brain somewhere, hoping for a decent plot to play around in.
Until that happens, I thought I’d offer this. Two brief chapters of a book that never was, called “Kirs Gets Going.” If you have any thoughts toward what this might be, post them in the comments. Because god knows I don’t. Yet.
Chapter ?. Wally’s Lesson
Out on the deck, overlooking the Pacific Ocean at sunset, teaching was going on. It was not going well.
“Okay, do you know what you did wrong this time?” Constance asked.
Constance shook her head and replied, “Don’t be a sore loser. See, back where you moved your rook here” – she picked up Wally’s rook and mimicked his approach – “You should’ve been more aware of” - here she picked up her own piece, pointing it at him - “my knight.”
“Let’s play checkers.”
Constance sighed patiently, what Wally had noticed was fast becoming a signature sound. “You’re the one who wanted to learn.”
“That’s right, because I read The Big Sleep again.”
“And Marlowe plays chess with a pen-pal. I thought it was cool. Maybe get me one of those.”
Constance did her best not to smirk, though she was clearly enjoying dominating her boss, chess-wise. “Okay, so let’s say you meet Marlowe and he says, ‘Hey there, fellow gumshoe. How about let’s play chess?’”
Wally pinched his chin between his thumb and forefinger. After a moment’s thought, he asked, “You mean, after I point out to him that he’s fictional?”
“After that, yes.”
“Well, I suppose I’d hope my easy-going charm would win him over in spite of my poor gaming skills.” He sat up from the deck chair restlessly and kicked off his sandals. “So we’ve got the stage set up for Anna 1-2-3-4?”
Constance checked her notebook even though she didn’t need to. “Yup.”
“And the fridge is stocked?”
“Because we’ve been getting hit hard lately with the Dos Equis. Early summer, you know.”
“And Kirs Norris is still incommunicado?”
“Okay.” Wally unbuttoned his white linen shirt and marched down to the beach. “I’m going for a swim. Throw something at me if she calls.”
INTRODUCTION: Anna 1-2-3-4
Her father was Jerry O’Hara, Los Angeles- born son of Irish immigrants, who, in the mid-sixties to early-seventies, was both a studio drummer and a mildly successful stand-up comedian (his chief gag being that if a joke didn’t go over, he would stamp over to his drum kit and provide his own rim-shot). He traveled all over the map, but made his name specifically in both L.A. and Maui. It was during one of his Maui gigs that he met Kaipo Acoba, a dancer at a resort.
She was charmed by his easy-going sense of humor, and soon emigrated with Jerry back to L.A. After the birth of their first child, Charlie, the couple—urged by Kaipo—decided that the Hawaiian islands would be a better environment in which to raise their children.
When they had their second child, Anna (at which point Kaipo indulged Jerry’s sometimes juvenile sense of humor by accepting the punnish full name), they looked more closely at the notion of raising their children in both their worlds—the resort-spawned serenity of Maui as well as the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles.
And so it was in this environment of (some might say) half-developed logic that Anna was raised. She learned how to please crowds and crack jokes from both her parents, with a little help from her older brother, Charlie (another story for another time). But she managed to surprise everyone by developing a luscious singing voice that neither parent could account for.
By 21, Anna was headlining piano bars all over southern California. By 23, she was looking for a back-up band that could play her musical tastes, which ranged from surf-rock to punk, all the way back to swing standards. She decided to seek out what would become “Anna 1-2-3-4 and Her Amazing Likenesses.”
Jerry O’Hara’s quirky sense of humor had clearly rubbed off on Anna. Enough so that initially, she looked for a backing band made up exclusively of drag-queens. What she found problematic was finding drag-queens who were both 1) decent musicians, and 2) willing to dress like her.
After some disheartening results, she took up the advice of her friend, saxophonist Will Dimitri (who would become the leader of The Amazing Likenesses): get good musicians first, and then a tailor who could make suits to mimic Anna’s hipster-tiki-grunge style of stage-dress.
The gag worked, and with a little perseverance Anna had a solid backing band, plowing through thrash renditions of Dean Martin tunes and torch-song Bad Brains covers, among other musical ideas that ranged from genius to hare-brained.
Anna 1-2-3-4: a redheaded hula-goddess. Jazz-punk songstress for the laid-back alleyway of the 21st century.
So it should be no wonder that Wally O. – barbeque proprietor, beatnik detective – developed a fondness for her almost immediately….