All My Characters Come From Dive Bars

Pretty much any fiction writer will say their characters are as important to them as their kids. Character development is one of my favorite things about writing and I recently came to an interesting conclusion about my process – a large portion of my dramatis personae are inspired from people I met in dive bars. That’s easily where you meet the most interesting people. It’s not the clubs or fancy restaurants or fund raisers or through your college buddies. It’s in real low down places where humanity goes to seek out that which they are looking for – whatever it is, or maybe nothing at all. It’s also where people feel free to show their real selves. There’s no veneer in a dirty, rundown joint that serves the vilest of swill to those either hurting in their souls or merely trying to shake off the weathered skin of real life for a few minutes or hours. Dive bars are where the bedrock of humanity chooses to display their whole beings.

The Anchor

The Anchor – New Haven, CT  – One of my favs – unfortunately gone forever.

I didn’t start frequenting dive bars until my mid-thirties. In my younger days I maintained the public face of a pretty spoiled prick. I would only patronize those places wherein only the crème of the professional crop go slithering about – lawyers, politicians, business people, wannabe business people and that lot. I still go to those places but now it’s with a somewhat jaundiced eye. Those people are a bit boring and ubiquitous in as much as literary interest is concerned. How many different ways can you write folks like that? Desiree became a successful attorney after working her way through law school stripping and tending bar. Conrad always wanted to be an entrepreneur but was only able to afford tuition to the school of hard knocks and had to sell his left shoelace in order to afford the apple that inspired his idea to manufacture left handed apple corers and finally hitting it big.


Give me Tanya; a single sixty something diminutive black woman I met in New Haven, CT who grew up as poor as poor could be but somehow saved up her money and scored a gig working at the Social Security office in San Francisco in the early seventies and then after reaching pension age, moved back to New Haven and became a librarian for Yale. Why is that more interesting than the aforementioned people? Because someone like Tanya will give you their real story and let you knead through the clay that made them what they are and what they believe in. Tanya was grateful for everything that happened to her and although I would argue it was all her – she would say it was luck and happenstance. Try finding a lawyer who would say that! Tanya possesses no ego and practices life on a common sense platform. Except for her trip across country to San Fran, she’s never really been anywhere else. Once a year she takes a vacation – thirty miles east of New Haven where she stays in a Howard Johnsons motel for three days (she takes a train by the way, never got a driver’s license) and eats out at a Friendly’s restaurant. If you’re not from the Northeast – Friendly’s is a step above McDonald’s. Tanya’s advice to everyone is that if you can’t afford to spend twenty bucks when you go to the dive bar – stay home until you can.

Does Tanya’s life sound boring to you? Then you’re not a writer. I could build a hell of a character around her life and a great story as well. Her life is full of good stuff to play with. It has morals, in term of morals to the story and regular morals as well. It shows character, strength, quiet rebellion but rebellion nonetheless and humanity. One could make a nice, quiet heartfelt story about Tanya, the kind you could shop to Reader’s Digest or some fluffy literary rag. Or, if you’re like me, add in some darkness and struggle, shore it up with a few lurid relationships along the way and ending up with her alone, but content and willing to go off into the afterlife with little fanfare, but also no regrets. How about this; a fictional historical chronicle of life as a quiet, but astute young black woman making her own way in the drastically changing United States of the seventies. With a little research and some imagination you could have a Gore Vidal-ish novel to beat the band.

What’s the point of this diatribe? I don’t fucking know. I guess I was thinking about my characters and how they were born and felt like passing it along. For all you writers; if you’re in a bind and need to go and toss some character attributes into your arrow bag then take a little respite to your local dive and spend some time talking to real people. Sometimes your imagination needs a little kick in the ass and nothing is as good as taking cues from actual humans. For readers, if you’re enjoying someone’s work keep in mind the arduous process that goes into creating your favorite made up people and understand it’s about as hard as squeezing a watermelon through a hole the size of a lemon. (See what I did there?)

#divebars #newhaven #jbvincent #theanchor #bukowski








When Great Writers Use Bad Vernacular

Tom Wolfe looking white

Tom Wolfe looking white

The audio version of this post appears below. Just click on “play”

Tom Wolfe is a white guy, a very white guy, right down to that suit he’s been wearing since 1962. Tom says it’s to disarm people in order to get them to see him as a kind of Martian and therefore devoid of any preconceptions about anything – an empty cup to be filled up by the thoughts of whomever he meets. I think he may have drunk some of that Acid Kool Aid while researching for his work back in the 1960’s. I’m pretty sure when people look at Tom Wolfe they see a white guy looking white.

So, it is with great disdain and an almost palpable pain I suffer through his use of what’s commonly known as the black vernacular. I really do love Wolfe’s writing until I get to phrases like this from A Man in Full, in which Wolfe attempts to write some Rap lyrics:








You get that? I don’t. Never heard a Rap song like that before. Tom should have consulted Tupac who was still alive at the time. I would have subbed out that portion of the writing. “Shanks akimbo?”

There are so many examples of just this kind of travesty throughout all of his work. Bonfire of the Vanities is replete with this nonsense and after the first read renders the story unreadable a second time, which is a real shame because the rest of the book is so great.

The interesting thing is, Wolfe is less likely to use this questionable tool with his white characters. In A Man in Full, the protagonist is Charlie Croker who Wolfe describes as a Baker County Georgian from below the gnat line and who came from humble beginnings. Ok. I bet just about anyone living in the United States has an idea how that guy would speak. Occasionally, Wolfe qualifies a phrase or a word from Charlie just to remind us where Charlie hails from by having him use a pithy Southern phrase, as such: “Juh hear that? It’s easy to bet blue chips when you ain’t even got table stakes.” There. Just in case I had forgotten Charlie was from below the gnat line, I got it back. I don’t have to be slapped in the face with Tom Wolfe’s take on a deep southern accent in print form.

And, that’s the way it should be. Good narrative should set up the reader to understand exactly what the character is all about including how he/she would sound off the page.

W. Someset Maugham

W. Somerset Maugham

W. Somerset Maugham pisses me off in the same manner as Wolfe. Luckily, he doesn’t do it nearly as often as Wolfe. Maugham came from an upper class British family and I think it’s fair to say that anyone who knows anything about him shouldn’t have a problem with the moniker “aristocrat”. All of Maugham’s stories do exactly what they are supposed to do – put you in a scene, which makes you feel as if you are part of the story. To me Maugham is absolutely seamless with his narrative until he does something like this from Liza of Lambeth:

“Yus; she says she’s goin’ ter give you somethin’ if she can git ‘old. I should advise yer ter tike care.”

Yeah, ok, I got the jist. But, half the flippin’ dialog in the story is written that way. Admittedly, I’m not up to date on my turn of the twentieth century cockney – but, I’d be willing to wager neither was a dandy like Maugham even though he was employed as a doctor in a working class hospital at the time. I don’t think working in and amongst a certain population qualifies one to speak or write their language. Most of his stuff is written as if talking from the top down social strata-wise; to have him revert to this kind of thing is just insulting.

Does this mean Wolfe is a racist and Maugham is a classist? Not at all, but I do believe they both get away with using that horrible vernacular mechanism because they aren’t bigoted in their respective categories. Wolfe used his cast of New Journalism to mold stories that bring out the differences in race, ethnicity and class in a bold and raw manner. In fact, it became the template for all of Wolfe’s novels and a good portion of his other work – chronicling the injustices as he saw them. Maugham isn’t quite as easy to parse. He has such a huge library of material, some of which does have a common theme, but nowhere near as obvious as Wolfe’s. I do think it’s clear through his work that Maugham had a fascination with the lower classes.

There certainly are times where a writer will get more oomph out of slipping into the vernacular of this or that genre. I found myself in this situation this past winter. In one of my unfinished (aren’t they all?) novels, I have a Scottish character whose personality is layered with brashness, rudeness, and egotism all wrapped up in a coat of animosity towards everyone. I had to decide whether to describe his speaking manner with a few cues here or there, or flat out pull a Wolfe/Maugham and get the Scottish accent on screen. I agonized over this for weeks, each time I started to create the dialog indicative of a Scottish brogue; I called myself a hack and then deleted the whole scene.

In the end, I used a Scottish translator and went the Wolfe route. Am I a hypocrite? Probably. But, here was my reasoning: Nigel, was a minor character who only showed up briefly in one scene and I felt his effect on that scene had more impact when spoken in his native tongue. It was all of about fifteen lines of dialog after which Nigel disappears into the Santa Barbara sunset. I’ve read that page a million times and I’m ok with it.

Well, now that I’ve bashed Wolfe and Maugham, I’ll just sit here and wait for the onslaught!

Welcome to the Lair!

Welcome to the inaugural post of my new blog The Writer’s Lair.

This blog is a shameless vehicle through which to promote my books and gain some traction in the new literary world. As writers and readers alike are aware – the book business is undergoing a cataclysmic change. These days, in order to publish sometime before the “pushing up daisies phase” of your existence, you have do it all yourself. This means you absolutely must become author, editor, publisher, marketer, art director, promoter, publicist and chief cook and bottle washer. Otherwise, you ain’t going anywhere, baby.


In addition to providing a glimpse into my personal experience in this new world, I will also be attempting to bring a spotlight onto other authors’ works as they stumble down the same gnarled path as myself. There is a universe of great new material out there, which hasn’t been published by the big guys and is just whipping around the Internet like a cyber Tasmanian devil.


I also want to promote discussion on the body of work that is already out there. I’m fascinated by authors’ lives, writing processes and styles. I’m especially fond of the dark and twisted scribes of yesteryear. It was Poe who inspired me to write when I was around eight years old and I’ve always had a thing for exploring the morbid recesses of people’s brains, including mine. I’m also a lover of sardonic wit and find that humor mixed in with a fearless lust for delving into topics considered less than welcome in polite society to be a comforting salve in this journey through life.


Hopefully, my posts will bring some entertainment and provoke some thought as to the intentions of writers present and past in how they shape and hone their craft. I also hope to hear what other writers and readers alike have to say about their favorite works and the people who create them. So go ahead and take a look at my very first post Happy Dia de Muertos and let me know what you think.