Dialogue on Dialogue

Dialogue about dialogue? How can we, you and I? We aren’t in the same room? Okay, I write, you read and accept or reject my thoughts that’s a Semi-dialogue? No matter, what I want to discuss is the second use of the term in the title, the dialogue of characters on the page, not any semi-conversation we have going.
So, what is this thing called dialogue. Certainly, you know it when you see it on the page, it’s always highlighted with “—“, quotation marks, the literary flag that someone is talking. But just putting the character’s words in quotes doesn’t necessarily cut it. Dialogue, particularly in fiction, is a powerful literary device.
Jordan Rosenfeld in Crafting Dynamic Dialogue puts it this way:
Creating Dyn DialDialogue is one of the most versatile elements of fiction writing because it can achieve multiple effects. When done well, dialogue can even be a scene-stealer. Most of the great lines in literature were spoken by character, not narrated.
Powerful statement that. Turning to film along with the stage, the penultimate in the use of literary dialogue, who can forget such gems as: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Or “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Or perhaps, “May the force be with you.” Well, you get the idea. You can add your own favorites to the list or if you’re stumped, “google it”.
I searched for something as memorable from narrative description but pickings are sparse here. I know there are those brilliant scenes or bits of action that exist but we seem to pass over them content in the experience of the moment but not allowing that experience to fix in our memories.

One such is:  “It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.” —To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Even this example is flawed as an argument because it is internal dialogue, monologue. We’ll talk about internal vs external dialogue another time.
Each of us is moved by different aspects of narrative description, but everyone is indelibly marked by a good line of dialogue. That’s how important dialogue can be to a work of fiction.

Gloria Kempton in Crafting Dynamic Dialogue has this to say:
You want your story to be three-dimensional, to include action, narrative, and dialogue. The challenge is to weave these three elements into each scene you write. In a three-dimensional scene, dialogue affects the narrative, and the narrative effects the action.

I respectfully disagree that the order of dialogue to narrative to action is the only order for these three legs of the three-legged stool of story. I think any lineup can be valid, however that is not the point. The main idea to be taken away is that dialogue is a necessary part for the stability of the story-stool. Not true you say. There are successful stories without dialogue. Perhaps the words in quotes are lacking, characters yacking back and forth, but are these pieces devoid of thought, internal monologue (i.e. dialogue)? Perhaps there are examples but generally, I think not many.
James Scott Bell makes this point in Crafting Dynamic Dialogue: (love this book)
The main point is that dialogue is rich soil for sowing conflict and tension. Never waste it with small talk of throwaway lines.
Verbal dueling is one aspect of how characters achieve conflict and an important one. After all conflict drives story and learning how to use dialogue for that purpose is an important weapon in the writer’s arsenal. More on that in future posts.


“Good Morning Hunny Bunn” Ode to a Sandwich

Grumpy doesn’t usually reprise dining establishments, but this is a case of discovering a sandwich so unique that it requires a post of its own. Hunny Bunns Café and Bakery is the location. I reviewed this little gem right there on Mains street in Winsted not too long ago. That review can be found in the archives for those interested. I won’t belabor the details of the restaurant here.

When we last visited, I spotted an item on the menu after we had placed our orders. It was hidden in a blizzard of words and I stopped reading once we’d made our selections. But continued perusal of the menu led me to an unusual dish, the “Good Morning Hunny Bun”.

The recipe began with their signature honey bun. You can see a display of them in the case when you enter alongside the artisan breads for sale. A good six inches in diameter the Hunny Bunns are loaded with cinnamon and white frosting. The mouthwatering pastries are a meal as they sit, but the staff of the café has taken them to a new level of gastronomic delight.

The process begins with the bun halved like a bagel and then grilled, kind of like how New Englanders like their English Muffins, grilled not toasted. A trio of fried eggs and a piece of cheese are layered between, the cheese melted and binding everything together.
The sandwich is served in a basket most commonly used for burgers and a load of friesgood mornning hunny bunn web or a meal of fish and chips. I would estimate the completed Good Morning Hunny Bunn would take up the better portion of a nine-inch plate. It’s best to ask for a knife and fork because I can attest, with molten frosting, liquid honey and cinnamon it will be messy. Fun, but messy.

On paper, this all seems an unlikely mix of ingredients, but to the taste buds, a real treat. Most know the mix of egg and cheese from omelets and other concoctions. But add in the sweet of frosting, the savory pungency of cinnamon, you have the “banana split” of sandwiches.

Happy and I finished one each on this visit reveling in the delight of the flavor and texture all the while struggling to remain relatively free from stickiness. It’s a losing cause, but the Hunny Bunn’s staff graciously supplies extra napkins. Washed down with a cup of delicious Hunny Bunn’s coffee, they do an exceptional job of this beverage, you have achieved gastronomical Nirvana.

But like that culinary delight, the banana split, the Good Morning Hunny Bunn is to be consumed sparingly. A pleasant journey into decadence, I won’t tell you that I am up for a weekly infusion. I suspect frequent consumption would pack on the pounds and clog the old arteries. But occasionally, as a treat, as a reward, like the banana split, it does no harm. And the euphoria lasts at least a week. That’s how I can write this glowing tribute to a sandwich ???

Putanesca, a Bomba & Authenticity Monaco’s – Winsted

Should have done it a long time ago, visited Monaco’s on Main Street in Winsted. Went there once for an investment promotional. Wasn’t impressed, felt the food was mediocre at best. Read a review in some magazine a couple of years ago that said Monaco’s was the best Italian food in the area. Still resisted going there. Funny how that works. Mom’s exhortations on first impressions were spot on.
Grumpy allowed that first impression of Monaco’s to linger for over a decade. There certainly were enough good dining establishments in the area to provide culinary diversion. Didn’t need to expose myself and Happy to mediocrity. But a late decision to go out, a desire to not have to travel too far, and I suppose a little sense of adventure led us to Monaco’s door. Or perhaps it was the “Grumpy” side of me lusting after a “bad” review. I mean, if prior experience was any indicator…. But there was that article? How could one reconcile “best Italian in the area” with my personal experience? Sure, some people think Chef Boyardee from the can is good Italian. Had to try it.
Monaco’s is divided into two sections, three if you count the outside sidewalk dining area they construct in the summer. As you approach to the left is their event room and overflow at busy times. Dimly lit and empty, my first thought, they were closed on Sunday evenings. I began to run down alternatives for dinner. But when we got closer to the front door, patrons became visible through the right side front window. They were open after all. I belabor this point because if you approach the restaurant at a slow time, it is possible to conclude that they are closed when they are not.
An oversized bar dominates the space leaving room for only a half dozen or so booths and tables. An intimate dining experience if the bar is not busy, but I hope on crowded nights they open the overflow dining room because a noisy gang at the bar could ruin your dining experience.
No such crowds when Grumpy and Happy arrived, although only two booths remained open, a good sign. I ordered a Merlot and then changed to a Cabernet. Joked with the waitress that the shift probably didn’t matter as they were, I suspected, all poured from the same bottle. What was delivered was certainly not Cabernet. Sweet, fruity and full flavored, the drink was more like the Merlot I first ordered perhaps even a Barbarossa. A forgivable error that did not warrant a complaint, as the wine was delicious.
The menu is not extensive although there is something for everyone, with chicken, veal and beef items available. They seem to do a lot with shell fish and calamari but neither I nor Happy indulge. Come to think about it I didn’t notice any fish dishes, but I was distracted by the pasta listings. Surprised to see the dish on the menu, I ordered the Putanesca, a true test, I felt, of authenticity.
Now for those who do not know the legend of Putanesca sauce I will outline the story briefly. It seems the “working women” of old Italy would prepare a savory sauce on the fly, dumping in plum tomatoes, onions, garlic, olives, capers, anchovies and aromatic spices. The dish was prepared in haste so the chopping was at a minimum and the vegetables were course. The dish was simmered throughout the day letting the vapors waft out an open window for the sole purpose of attracting male clientele. Pheromone technology applied before pheromones were identified. The recipes in all their variation have survived the generations and most Italian homes have at least one, although the name may have been changed to protect youthful ears.
I am here to attest that the Putanesca at Monaco’s is as authentic as they come. Course chopped vegetables stewed perfectly with all the required ingredients including green and black olives. I was surprised when the waitress offered a choice on the level of heat—mild, medium, or hot. Putanesca sauce is usually spicy, reflective I suppose to the recreation/business activities conducted under the spell of its seductive odors. Not knowing the chef’s hand with spices, I went for the middle of the road. I could have tolerated a little more zing, but there was a bite to the dish, as served, that was satisfying. The sauce can be used with any pasta. Monaco’s serves it with capellini.
Happy ordered a special for the evening, cavatelli with their home made marinara sauce. The pasta appeared to be home made as well. I had a taste and would rank the dish as “highly desirable” for pasta and red sauce lovers.
Portions are a reasonable size, dishes that are easily finished in a sitting, leaving room for desert. We both indulged in that decadent course, taking advantage of a meal that left us satisfied but not stuffed. Happy ordered a bomba, a chocolate covered ice cream ball, an Italian favorite. We hadn’t seen these on a menu for years. I chose a slice of Mississippi Mud pie from the proffered desert tray loaded with a number of fine selections including limoncello, several versions of cheesecake, and tiramisu, to name a few.
My mud pie was smooth and creamy and chocolatey to the extreme.
The bomba was ball of vanilla gelato with a core of cherry all covered in a rich dark chocolate shell. A satisfying finish to any meal. Not sure why they are not served more often, Certainly a testament to the authenticity of Monaco’s.
So that review I read years ago stands up. Monaco’s certainly serves some of the most authentic Italian cuisine in the area. In many ways the meal here brought me back to my childhood years where the Italian mothers in our neighborhood would plie me with good home-made Italian specialties with the exhortation— “Mangiare, Mangiare”.

Ambiance = 7
I am ranking this a little lower than perhaps it deserves because of the potential annoyance of the predominating bar. The bar was largely empty for our meal but it, with its large screen TVs, put a damper on the fine dining aspect of the experience. The atmosphere said pub, pub food, but the cuisine well above that. I know, I know—it’s a Grumpy thing.
Food Quality = 9
Lives up to the reported best Italian in the area. Reasonable sized portions. You won’t go away hungry, but you can get desert without guilt or bloating.
Service = 9
Wait staff is pleasant, knowledgeable and attentive without being overbearing.
Value = 8
Excellent quality, authenticity, and fair pricing adds up to a good value.
Grumpy and Happy will be back.

Once – The Show

Once cover

Grumpy  and Happy took in the musical, Once, at the Warner Theater a few weekends ago. In so many ways a completely unique show.  I have no experience with the Broadway production so I cannot comment from experience on the differences or similarities. However, I suspect, based on a description in the program of the restrictions placed by the original creative team and rights holders, the Warner production bears little resemblance to the Broadway show beyond story line.

No matter, the Warner cast and production crew forged a marvelous and surprising show for their patrons.  Right from the start of the evening we were shocked to arrive well before opening curtain to a stage filled with cast members, each with a musical instrument belting, out Irish tunes and ballads. The immediate thought was that we had somehow arrived late although my phone, when I reached to silence it, read fifteen minutes to showtime. What became obvious as the official program began was that we were witnessing the orchestra tune-up as the cast with their instruments was the orchestra for the entire production, a unique concept in its own right.

So, with the rollicking warm-up, the show opened with energy and an electric excitement that allowed the story line to unfold on the wings of song and brilliant performances.   The audience was swept alone with the energy emanating from the stage. And then came intermission. Now a break in the action is useful to the performers and audience alike. A needed breath is caught, bladders relieved, and concessioners’ pockets are lined with the proceeds from thirsty and hungry patrons. But then comes the second act.

Now I’ve always had this quandary. The classic story is, perforce, a three-act play, beginning, middle, and end. How have we come to structuring musicals in two acts? We are telling a story, albeit with song, but still a story with a beginning, middle and end and essentially all the elements of a good narrative. Often in musical productions the story in the first act progresses through the first two acts of classic story form and sometimes well into act three. Well past the crisis point of the story this leaves only the climax and resolution for the second act of the musical. More often than not this portion seems to be an internal struggle of the protagonist and is, from an action point, boring for an audience.  Unless the song writers are inspired by these last scenes, the show stalls. 

So it is with Once. After a brilliant and inspiring first act, intermission interceded. The show never got off the ground in the second act, at least to the level of the first. The story was into that introspective phase with the resurrection of the protagonist and the producers and cast chose to handle this tricky part largely through spoken dialogue, a shocking change of pace from the nonstop high energy songs.  A pace slow enough to cause the most patient of us to squirm in our seats, some checking cell phones for incoming messages.

And then the dreaded reprise of earlier songs began. Now I have no problem with the use of reprise other than in a way that I think it was originally designed—that is a few bars or a line or two to remind us of earlier action, but come on, the reprise of whole songs? Not just this production of Once, but other shows now use this technique of full tune reprise. To me, it spells laziness, a shoddiness on the part of writers and producers. In Once, reprises account for fifty percent of the musical numbers in the second act. Admitted the tune called “Gold”, done A Capella by the full ensemble, was a beautiful and haunting rendition, but still a reprise from the first act. This phenomenal performance of “Gold” would have stood up on its uniqueness if the other ensuing numbers were not also repeats.

There was much to be commended about this show and the Warner production of it. High energy, unique twists, an interesting story line, and a talented cast all blended well to produce a delightful evening’s entertainment. This production was clearly a success and now it is gone from the Warner stage. I wonder about the Broadway version of the show. Did it die as well in the second act?  Probably will never venture into the city to find out. My penchant for masochism is limited.  Appreciate any input from anyone who has seen the show in New York.

Someone’s in the Kitchen of the Diner

Grumpy and Happy travel “’round the mountain” to and from Pennsylvania to visit family a lot. The five-hour trip invariably calls for a meal stop. Since most of the trip is highway driving, Grumpy has mapped out strategic spots along the route. Diners are the restaurants of choice when traveling. The original “fast food”, the service is speedy enough to keep the stop to a reasonable time and long enough to enjoy the down-time to unwind for a bit from the chore of driving. And unlike the current times fast food joints, the food is good and plentiful.

Two of Grumpy’s favorites are the Alexis and the Hibernia. The Alexis is located just over the bridge in Newburg, NY on Route 84, and the Hibernia is in, surprise, Hibernia, NJ right off Route 80. Both are easy off and easy on from their respective highways. This last trip we hit both.

The Alexis is a vast establishment with five large dining rooms. Hit this place during dinner or lunch hour and they are probably going to be using most of the five rooms. They always seem to have the help available to maintain good service for the crowds.  Open 24 hours a day, maintaining staff levels has to be a nightmare, but they do it seamlessly and Grumpy has never run into a service problem on any of his frequent visits.

The menu at the Alexis rivals a Manhattan phone directory for those of you old enough to remember what those where like. In addition, they always have white board specials numbering anywhere from four to eight items.  Unlike many establishments that move a standard menu item to the specials board Alexis creates real specials, non-menu items with a flair of creativity.  But there is plenty to chose from on the standard menu.  Fourteen burgers are offered, all of different variety, none of differing size if you don’t count the kid’s menu—take that McDonalds. Breakfast can be had all day and includes twenty-two varieties of pancakes and fourteen different omelets. If you can’t find something to satisfy you hunger pangs here you just aren’t trying.

Grumpy chose a chicken cordon bleu wrapper. Did I say chicken.  You bet, about a pound of it, thick cut grilled strips interlaced with sautéed onions wrapped in ham and swiss cheese and the tortilla wrapper. Half the sandwich was suitable for a lunch. Grumpy took the remainder with him for lunch the next day. Just as tasty.

The entrée came with a mountain of fries, a tub of coleslaw, and a kosher dill and no room left for dessert. Although the display case of home baked goodies in the entryway was tempting. Happy always vows to visit just for dessert.

There is a full dinner menu as well as the sandwiches including seafood, chicken dishes, steaks and chops, as well as a half dozen Greek specialties.

The Hibernia Diner is just off the Hibernia/Denville exit on Route 80 in NJ. Again, and easy on and off the highway.  Like the Alexis the menu is extensive multipage although not quite as large. The burger list totals eight but all a different variety not size. Sorry Burger King.

The Hibernia offers a full menu including the sandwiches, breakfast and full meal dinner options. Grumpy ordered one of their signature sandwich option the TBC (turkey, bacon, and cheddar cheese on a ciabatta roll) Delicious. Although a struggle, there was no take out this time.  The entrée also came with fries, coleslaw and a dill pickle. (sound familiar)

It is difficult to separate the two establishments there are so many similarities in menu, décor, service, or quality of food. Both are wonderful places to take a break from the highway and dine on good solid food well prepared. Grumpy would grant the Hibernia the edge for chef creativity with their menu items, while Alexis has an advantage of value with the size of their offerings. The pricing is similar for both restaurants. But the differences would not dictate one establishment over the other.

So, if you are in either of these two areas and need good food or a break from the road and don’t have a lot of time, both are highly recommended by Grumpy as the original American fast food. Worth the little extra time required.

Down the Rabbit Hole With Grumpy

Alice and the catterpillar

Grumpy had the pleasure of attending the Quakertown middle school presentation of Alice in Wonderland. Amazing what the kids and their teachers do these days with theatrical presentations. In Grumpy’s time we were lucky to be able to present a stage play, straight drama, never an involved program such as a musical, there simply wasn’t money nor staff available to pull a more complicated production off.

The Quakertown system is to be applauded for mounting the effort and producing a definite hit. In this era of shrinking funds for the arts, the opportunities for students to Big Alice and the doornobexperience time before an audience shrinks in proportion. Is that important? As one who has witnessed the paralyzing effects of stage fright in adult professionals, Grumpy is here to tell you it is vitally important.  Much of the information we transmit in business and academia is through presentation in front of live audiences. The ability to stand up before a crowd and deliver is paramount.

Glossophopia, the fear of public speaking ranks number one on most lists, well above the fear of death for many people.   Technology has inserted the computer and the cell phone as a wall between parties with texts, tweet, and email the preferred communication devices, all delivered semi autonomously. We rarely have to face our audience until that sales presentation, that paper we are required to deliver. Speaking in public is a valuable life lesson for students and the vehicles for this are woefully on the decline. 

The educational community in the past recognized and provided for the need.  Grumpy remembers the dreaded “Rhetoricals”, where every freshman in his high school had to deliver a memorized article or piece of literature to the entire school.  It was satisfying toThe Queen watch the bully’s reduced to blubbering fools in this event. That is a digression but serves to demonstrate the powerful fear engendered by public speaking, even the physically strong and apparently confident can be brought down by this phobia.

Grumpy had the additional advantage of elocution lessons, foisted on him by a visionary mother. Elocution lessons?  Sounds like electrocution, and at the time for Grumpy it felt that way.  Who today has heard of elocution lessons? Not sure they even exit. Maybe under the guise of speech therapy. Anyway, Grumpy’s training was largely public speaking training and it stood him in good stead for technical presentations around the world.  

And that is why the Quakertown middle school’s presentation of Alice is so impressive, it provided young people the opportunity to appear, sing and speak before a live audience,The three Alices a whole lot of kids. I do not know the exact specifics, but the cast was enormous and essentially a double cast so that as many students who wanted to could participate. Different casts performed at different times. Considering there were three different Alices for each production, a normal Alice, a shrunken Alice and huge Alice, Huge Alicethat’s six students for a single character—count ‘em. Kudo’s to the Chashire cat 2directors. Heard the term “herding cats”… Cheshire or otherwise?






The occasion of Grumpy and Happy’s (that’s Happy Tonotbecooking for those who missed the last blog post) attendance was an invitation to witness the Jayden 3premier performance of Jaden, a surrogate grandson debuting as the Two of Hearts. A close friend of our granddaughter’s since they were toddlers and aJayden 5 constant presence in Grumpy and Happy’s extended family, it was a privilege and pleasure to attend his fantastic  and flawless performance. Proud of this the young man for attempting and pulling off a great show.

Voice – You’ll Know It When You See It – Maybe

In his The Art of War for Writers James Scott Bell relates what a panel of ten literary agents expected from Authors:

Give me a fresh voice.

Give me a one-line hook that makes me want to read more.

The first couple of pages must drag me in.

Write what’s in you.

Grumpy’s not sure if voice was the first or the most frequently mentioned but he has his suspicions based on the fact that he has heard similar cries from the publishing industry—new voice, fresh voice, unique voice. What is this voice of which they speak?

Bell’s panel weighs in on this topic:

                It’s a combination of character, setting and page turning.

                A distinctive style, like a Sergio Leone film.

                It’s who you are.

                It’s personality on the page.

                It’s something written from your deepest truth.

                It is your expression as an artist.

From Grumpy’s point of view, not particularly helpful. They’re all asking for something “Unique” but can’t define it for writers—the old “I’ll know it when I see it” routine.  Grumpy had to look up Sergio Leone. He’s the father of the spaghetti western. Look it up yourself it’s good exercise but adds little to the definition of the term “voice”.

In their collaboration Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King have this to say:

A strong, distinctive, authoritative writing voice is something most fiction writers want—and something no editor or teacher can impart. There are, after all, no rules for writing like yourself.  The trick is not to concentrate on it.

Well, that’s helpful—not. So, let’s summarize. A fresh voice is what is demanded by the industry, but that same industry can’t define what the term means, nor can apparently can they teach the subject so as writers we are exhorted to ignore the topic altogether.

If the topic is so important, there has to be something more, some definition or direction that new writers can look to.

Paula Balzer – Literary agent takes a stab.

“Voice” is what gives personality and originality to a work; It’s almost like your book’s fingerprint—only the author can give a book its own voice and style. It’s that special something that makes one particular book … hilarious and uplifting while another, (on the same topic), might be just plain depressing. Voice can make a book about almost any topic fascinating, from teaching to cattle ranching, and can make the most wretched of circumstances uplifting.

A niggling little hint of the topic, but this statement defies the rules of good definition by using the term as part of the definition.

Don Fry, a writing coach and instructor:

What is voice? Voice is a collection of devices used to consistently to create the illusion of a person speaking through the text.

Devices? Word choice, sentence structure and length to name a couple. Hemingway’s voice was defined in part by his short staccato sentences, Faulkner by his lengthy convoluted structure. Their different uses of grammatical construction contribute heavily to their uniqueness, but that is far from the complete definition.

It is important to stop here and separate the concept of character voice from story voice, and ideally each of these from author voice. Each character in a novel should be a distinct voice, developed by dialog, actions and internal monologue.  Story voice has allowed the industry to categorize our work into the various genres, mystery, romance, thriller etc. Within the genres you can have a sad voice, humorous, tragic, or scary to name a few. But all these options are not the allusive author’s voice.

Grumpy likes a quote from Joseph Bates – author:

If point of view is about the narrator’s relationship to what’s being said, voice is about the narrator’s attitude toward the narrated, revealed not just in what is said but how it’s said.

Not just what is said but how, that’s what gets us going toward a viable definition. Grumpys terms, it’s the tone of the work, happy, sad, angry, creepy, sardonic all those feelings and attitudes that are in an author when a piece is crafted that spill out on the page. Authors voice includes word choice, sentence structure, and grammatical construction along with the opinions and feelings on the subject matter.

Voice is the emotional state of the author, on any one piece, expressed on the page with the unique language style of that writer. Voice is as individual as people and voice will vary from story to story for any one author.  An individual mix of ability and life experience, voice is largely undefinable and causes editors and agents to claim that it is unteachable. Grumpy thinks that is largely true, because you already have your unique voice within you. You just have to allow it to get out.

Ray Bradbury once said, “there are a million bad words in every writer—you just have to keep writing until they’re all out of your system, so give yourself permission to write badly.  Get those words down even if they’re crap.  Don’t judge what you’ve written yet.  Keep going and see what you going to say next. A voice will begin to emerge.”

Well, Grumpy is well over the million-word mark and still hasn’t decided if he has a definitive voice. But he can’t wait to see what he will say next.  That expectation is the challenge that keeps writers at the keyboard.