Jim Flynn is a humorist, writer and novelist. He is available for speaking engagements. To contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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This week I’m including an excerpt from the fourth JR Johnson novel, working title: Useful Idiot.
As I look back at the first three, I’m gratified that some people are fans, but realize that I have to do better. There are a million mistakes that rookie novelists make, and I made about 500,000 of them.
My friend Bob is usually a great sounding board, but even he tells me that I am extremely tedious when I start explaining things like plot structure and Point of View characters. When I get into one of my long-winded pontifications, Bob tells me that I’m starting to sound like the character Ted Striker in the movie Airplane, whose story was so boring that he drove his seat-mates to commit Hari Kari. After tolerating a few minutes of one of my self-indulgent lectures, Bob will say, “Jimbo, I’m standing on the railing. Please stop or I’ll jump!”
As a service for those reading this, I’ll summarize: It’s important to stay within the guardrails and drive the story forward. Most of the mistakes can be fixed by keeping this idea paramount.
I may end up rewriting the first three books. We’ll see. Meanwhile, Useful Idiot will be done when it is ready. Maybe six months, maybe sooner.
The excerpt below is not the very beginning of the book, it is about 20 pages in, but gives the tone and direction without divulging too many secrets:
The Russians had tried to kill me, on two separate occasions, right on U.S. soil. In fact, on the red dirt soil of Spicewood, Texas. After I survived the assassination attempts, the Russians released the Deep Fake. Maybe a billion people had watched the video.
Barbara Jean and her parents had seen the Deep Fake before me. When she confronted me with the video, I stood there with my mouth open. It looked so real and convincing that I didn’t blame people for thinking it was genuine.
Then my lovely mother-in-law had taken me aside and touched my elbow with her hand. “JR, we know that’s not real,” but my father-in-law, the baggy assed rancher and oil baron Cletus Parker looked at me with a cold stare and said nothing. I can tell he believes in his heart that I’m a dadgummed Big City pervert, not worthy of his daughter, who despite being the mother of two children may still be a virgin. If you’ve ever had a father-in-law, you’re familiar with the look.
After the Deep Fake came out, I was having a tough time getting anyone at my club to play golf with me. I was hearing some very lame excuses. Oh, I’d love to play with you JR, but my golf clubs need custom regripping. Maybe next year.
Barbara Jean and I were separated, though not by some fancy legal document, but by good old-fashioned miles. Our households remained as unconsolidated as our futures – a merging now as likely as a snowball's chance in Texas. There I was, lounging in my Barton Creek office, the crown jewel of Austin, where civilization isn't just a word, it's a lifestyle. Quite the contrast to Barbara Jean's neck of the woods – or should I say, hicksville.
Austin is now a melting pot of what people think of as Texas, big money, cowboy boots and country music, the South by Southwest Festival, a college town, the state capital, and the hipster lifestyle, recently made more complex with the avocado toast new money tax refugees filtering in mostly from Silicon Valley.
Barbara Jean was on her ranch in rural semi-arid Spicewood, a farm community that never heard of hipsters, and every second person is wearing workaday Carhartt overalls. People in Austin wear overalls only to be ironic. Spicewood’s about 35 miles away, but some of the old timers there never go to Austin. Barbara Jean is someone who’s comfortable in both worlds. I feel like a phony outsider when I’m on her ranch, but at least my stiff new Carhartts were getting broken in before we stopped living together.
Barb and I were entangled in a mess much more complicated than your average lover’s quarrel. As I sat in my casita stewing over Two Hands having all that money, my distrust of people was simmering beneath the surface. Ever since that revelation about my mother and father when I was eighteen – a secret locked away in the back of my mind – trust became a luxury I couldn’t afford. But after what I learned back then, every relationship, including the one with Barbara Jean, felt like walking through a minefield blindfolded. She, in her Spicewood sanctuary, had become just another reminder of the distance I kept from people.
So many times in my life I’ve been on the outside, looking in, but this time was different. This time I was way outside, and it was starting to take a toll on me.
By The Way: The photo above is an AI generated picture of Barbara Jean. I have done similar renderings of all the main characters for my own benefit, so I can look at the character when I am writing about them. There will be some more reveals in future weeks.