Homage to Elmore Leonard

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   Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Good Writing

  • Never open a book with weather.

  • Avoid prologues.

  • Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.

  • Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.

  • Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than

  • two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

  • Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

  • Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

  • Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

  • Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

  • Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Princess Pinky And The Funnel of Doom

All hell broke loose and the tornado was the least of it. Suddenly, and as wildly as the rotating twister that bore down on Cradleboard, Texas, Libearle and Manruth Arrant screamed as one unit, flew out of the house, down the driveway (where gravel was flying up all around them like popcorn poppin'), and hurled themselves towards the advancing vortex of destruction.

Hauling ass in the opposite direction, his bluetick coonhound, Jubal, in the passenger seat beside him, Kyle Haney, with pedal to floor in the rusted out deathtrap he tenderly called Chevy Baby, just missed colliding with the Arrant girls as they rounded the corner at a remarkable clip, considering their age and size. Chevy Baby’s brakes were unreliable on a good day but Kyle Haney slammed his foot on them anyway, simultaneously hitting the clutch and throwing the transmission into first gear. Screeching metal on metal, the pickup slid to a stop in a cloud of dust. When it cleared, Kyle Haney and Jubal were staring at the Arrant girls who were staring back at them, their eyes as startled as a black-tailed jackrabbit when it’s been caught in Chevy Baby’s one good headlight. The girls were not six inches from the pickup’s grill.

“Good God, girls! Where the hell you goin',” Kyle Haney hollered as he flew out of the truck.

Libearle and Manruth looked at the grill in front of them, then at each other and, for the second time that day, began to scream. They screamed and they didn’t stop screaming till Jubal, who had never uttered a sound in his eleven years, started to bay. All three humans looked in astonishment at the dog.

Kyle Haney had suffered many an indignity on account of Jubal. A coonhound in the panhandle with nary a tree in sight? That was bad enough but a coonhound that wouldn’t even howl at what he’d tracked or where he’d tracked it was an impediment to a man's esteem, so obvious that most every living soul in Estacado County felt compelled to make a joke of it whenever Kyle Haney was within earshot.

"Hey, Kyle Haney, that ole' bluetick of yern's 'bout as useful as a football bat," followed by the inevitable hailstorm of cackling. Lord knows, Jubal was an odd creature. For starters, his color pattern couldn't make up its mind––mostly dark charcoal, with white ticking that passed over his face on a heart-shaped mask of blue and distinctly out of place with the brown ears. The ticking swapped color abruptly at the top of Jubal's haunches where it was now charcoal and ran down all four tan legs––fishnet stockings that completed the carnival appearance.

This impressive new sound from the dog started as a low hum in the back of his throat, then picked up pitch and volume till not even the tornado roaring towards them could drown it out. No one moved. Jubal stopped abruptly. His eyes darted between the three humans and they could see the weight of distress pushing in on him before he threw himself into a crouch on the cab seat and put his paws over his eyes in disgrace.

Kyle Haney snapped to and bellowed his own distress at the Arrant girls to get the hell in the truck.

“Kyle Haney,” screamed Libearle.

“We cain’t! We cain’t! Ya got to help us,” Manruth wailed desperately, a savage wretchedness contorting her doughy face. “Princess Pinky’s headin' fer the twister,” they screeched in concert.

The tornado's sound was almost unbearable. A hundred times greater than the freight trains on the Kickapoo line, clawing up your spine and thundering like Old Testament God before exploding your head to pieces.

All at once the dust and debris, that had a moment before been shrieking all around them, dropped. Their ears started popping at jackhammer speed as a tremendous pressure fell upon them. The smell of rain and newly mown grass filled their nostrils. Then total stillness. They turned toward the tornado and were all struck with horror. It was upon them. In an instant the four souls found themselves, along with Chevy Baby, inside the column.

A smooth wall of cloud surrounded them. Smaller twisters gyrated inside the wall before breaking free and continuous little lightning bolts emitted a bluish light. They could see everything as clear as could be. Libearle and Manruth reached for each other's hand. Manruth then reached out with her free hand and Kyle Haney took it. The three of them stood like that and waited for their fate, knees trembling.

And then they saw it! Princess Pinky's face, eyes feral with fear, emerged for an instant in the cloud wall and, before he knew what had transpired, Kyle Haney was alone. The girls had thrown themselves into the twister. It happened so fast that Kyle Haney couldn't hold onto Manruth's hand or even shout for them not to do it. Time stopped.

[for readers who tend to skip, please do not read the next five paragraphs]

Kyle Haney was about to cry. He lunged into the cab of the truck and held onto Jubal. His thoughts were no longer on whether or not he would die today. He thought only of the Arrant girls and how little he had really known them. Had he ever seen one of them without the other? He never had. Were they twins? They were similar and, while they were not identical, there were rumors. Nobody would ask them for fear of offending, as there might be a considerable age difference. What everyone did know was how devoted they were to Princess Pinky and that the girls were never seen without her. "How the hell did that critter get loose," he lamented out loud. Jubal was quivering.

Kyle Haney had been in their house once to help them out when their dishwasher was spewing water all over the kitchen floor. The house was a typical ranch house with two bedrooms, dinette, sitting room, single bathroom, and a small, fenced-in backyard. There were pictures of Princess Pinky everywhere – on walls, tables, the small upright piano in the sitting room, and on every shelf in the house, including the ones in the kitchen.

Everything was pink, broken only by bits of white or chartreuse where trim or a leaf pattern was needed. Curtains, wallpaper, tablecloth, dish towels, doilies on the arms of the two over-sized loungers, the crocheted runner on top of the old TV, the throw blanket on the back of the sofa, and even the sofa itself was upholstered in a pattern of pink peonies, roses, and hydrangeas. Kyle Haney felt dizzy, as if he'd stepped into the creation of some creature who was trying to pass as human without really knowing how. Princess Pinky, dressed in a pink ballet tutu and a pink satin bow around her neck, sat in a swirled up donut of a pink fleece blanket on the sofa. Her eyes followed each movement the Arrant girls made and her ears flew straight up whenever one of them got close to a cookie jar that sat on the kitchen table. The jar was labeled Treats For A Princess.

The Arrant girls were genial enough, but in a way that revealed a single-minded attention only to their pudgy canine ballerina. The geyser in their kitchen fazed them only inasmuch as it might get Princess Pinky's paws wet. When he had patched up their dishwasher, the sisters offered Kyle Haney some pink lemonade and sugar cookies. The sugar on the cookies was pink. Kyle Haney looked at the sugar and thought this is what that drug called crystal must look like. Libearle broke one of the cookies into tiny pieces, put them on a saucer, and placed it on the sofa beside Princess Pinky. The broken cookie pieces disappeared, poof, without any detectable movement from Princess Pinky. 

Kyle Haney felt a deep sadness that the Arrant girls and Princess Pinky had met their end. He started to think about the other residents of Cradleboard and he felt sad some more because he was such a solitary man who never got to know the workings of others' hearts or dreams.

[please continue to read]


And then, there they were. The wall of the twister just burped them out. Libearle and Manruth, all a jumble of  plump limbs, pink housecoats, and curlers partially ripped from their hair, were attempting to get up off the ground without letting go of each other because, there between them, was Princess Pinky! Kyle Haney did start to cry then and when he finally looked up, it was gone. The twister had passed over them.

The sun was high in the sky, and bright, as they watched the tornado move away from them, break up, and disappear. It had come and gone without touching a single house or building in Cradleboard.

"I'll drive you home now, girls," Kyle Haney said. His voice was unrecognizable to him, slight and wobbly.

"That's all right, Kyle Haney," they said in unison. Their voices seemed different, too. Manruth barely whispered, "We ain't got far to go and it don't look like Chevy Baby really wants to hold us all." 

It was the truest statement Kyle Haney had heard in a long while and he almost started crying again. He looked at the Arrant girls as if they were creatures that had, heretofore, been undiscovered by man.

Next morning, the headline in The Lone Star Lore read, MIRACLE! CRADLEBOARD SPARED TERRIFYING TWISTER. No one had seen what had happened to Kyle Haney and his dog Jubal, the Arrant girls, or Princess Pinky. And no one would ever know what happened. Not one of them, Kyle Haney nor the Arrant girls, ever spoke a word of it.

Every now and then, Kyle Haney would see the Arrant girls 'walking' Princess Pinky on Main Street, the walking part being something the girls alone did because Princess Pinky's paws never touched pavement or sidewalk again. Kyle Haney would nod to them and they would nod back and move on. From his seat in Kyle Haney's new, second-hand truck, Jubal would see the girls and Princess Pinky and a plaintive, barely audible squeak would escape before he remembered he was a dog that didn't cry.

Chevy Baby was the only casualty the day they survived the funnel of doom. She got Kyle Haney and Jubal back out to the ranch and then never ran again.