Monday, November 17, 2014



Ramblin' man with a typewriter. Such a gloriously dangerous combination. (Photographer unknown)

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.

Thank you, Mister Thompson. That will be all. I can only hope and pray to someday witness such a succinct and universally accessible introduction flowing from my subconscious to my filthy mangled fingers and splattering across the page. It will happen if it's meant to. In the meantime, I'm making do with what I have.

At a glance, you can tell I'm an uneducated knuckledragger. I'm fine with that, but it must drive you nuts. Sorry. I'm a genuine fraud (that little oxymoron says plenty). I learned the English language second-hand by interpreting the droppings of automotive editors. That got me through elementary school, but by age 14, classroom time was interrupting my street racing activities to the point that I quit school and left home to run the streets full-time. Professional fourteen year old street racers driving gravel-driveway beaters don't make a very cushy living, but there is a credible education to be had out there in the realities not acknowledged in schools. By voting age, I had acquired sufficient skills to survive, which is about all I did in the ensuing forty-plus years of blue collar manual labor. It took an economic ass whipping, a terrifying leap of faith, and the loving belief of a stalwart sweetheart to prepare me for finding my intended role in the world - at a keyboard, of all places. Today, all three of the above key elements remain wholesomely active in my life. Since this is the only day I can live (yesterday's gone, tomorrow never gets here), I'm savoring it for all it's worth.

The above life-altering events are detailed elsewhere on this blog, but aspiring writers may be interested to learn that there are other, much simpler and easier ways to sneak into authorship. There are actually libraries full of instruction manuals on the topic - some written by actual authors. Below are some thoughts on the subject, culled from my experience (which consists largely of sidestepping any awareness of how things are correctly done, so I can create "my own unique style"). Do yourself a favor and don't follow that example.

If becoming a writer is on this year's To Do list, there's still time. Here's what you do: First, write like the wind. Just put your fingers on the keys and wiggle them around like blown radiator hoses or spastic squid tentacles, while imagining you're enlightening the human race to the inner workings of life itself. You know more about this than you know, but that insight can't surface until you've wiggled enough fingers to give them a chronic case of arthritis. Before that happens, take an English class at the local community college, or at least buy an English textbook (much faster than translating ancient obsolete techspeak from arcane machinery repair manuals). Once you've acquired a basic understanding of the language and overcome the base human fear of dictionaries, you're ready to run.

At this point, you've narrowed your search for the genre you were born to write about down to two: The one you find irresistibly seductive, and the one that intimidates the living crap out of you. The scary one is what you want, if you're willing to freefall into the dark and experience some growing pains. So the average bear goes with the pretty one, and writes fluff for twenty years before realizing they've been writing fluff for twenty years, but it's too late now to start over, so what the hell, and next thing you know, you're getting word that the bear fell into an incomprehensible depression and suicided by "road testing" a Buick Enclave (whatever that is) straight into your uncle's strip club on the edge of town. It happens every day.

Me, I'm hoping to split the difference: Hot rod photojournalism looked sexy to me because I knew the subject matter, yet was ignorant of how it was processed into words and pictures. Mystery is so alluring. My curiosity was itching to dive into the deep end of the writers pool. And I think my sleazy ego had designs on getting famous, but my first taste of that was very sour, thank God. The hook then became the challenges of upping my skills and the satisfaction of making others famous, while I hid in their shadows. Much better. And those challenges exposed my limitations, inspiring me to discover more meaningful and efficient use of my tools. The goal now is to become fluff-free and write from gut-level of the realities lurking under the surface. That's the goal. It will happen if or when it's meant to. I'm willing to give it a hundred percent, so at least I can still live with myself if nothing happens.


Shop manuals can make for pretty dry reading, but they usually get us where we need to go.

The line from repair manuals to literary instruction is every bit as linear as one would suppose.

I've posted this before but it bears repeating, so I'll run it here also, too, as well. Thanks Frank!

Revisiting the classics is always refreshing and rewarding. This week, I'm juxtaposing Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird ("Other than writing, I am completely unemployable.") against Steven Pressfield's War of Art ("An artist must be a warrior.") Both deal more with understanding gut-level creative challenges than the nuts and bolts of writing. Consequently, both are on the SGE Highly Recommended list. Also on the list: Stephen King's On Writing (Photo unavailable). Note: Anne Lamott may be America's most inspiring and entertaining living author. She probably won't live forever, so get on it. (Scotty shot)

You know this guy is a real writer, because he's wearing glasses. And using a borrowed pen. Real writers don't make much pen money, but they get to call themselves real writers, so it evens out. (Photo courtesy of Mary Wilkins-Kelly) 


Get down and dirty. First drafts can legally be shot from the hip, and need only include the what, when, where, how and why. Don't sweat grammar, story arcs, or any of that schoolhouse jazz. Just jot down the facts as direct from your gut as possible. Closing your eyes is helpful - really. You'll end up with an indecipherable mess, but somewhere in the jumble, the facts and crucial emotions that make any story worth telling will reveal themselves. EXAMPLE: "billl  jackson lunches at10,000fuchin rpm!!! the coop  gose wheelsup oonevery shify 9.34 ay147mph and no lift to the last turnout" Do this, then move to Step Two...

If you haven't already done so, become a psychopathic serial slasher. Developing a taste for bloodletting is imperative to survival and the only way to clean up the mess made above. The ancient mantra, "Kill your Little Darlings" is not so much Shakespearean plot device as a caution to jettison dead weight. It refers to cutting out any phraseology you find so cute/clever that you're willing to write around it to save it. Wrong. Save yourself! Little Darlings are fear-driven assassins, dispatched by your ego to ensure failure. They are your enemy, disguised as brilliance you don't yet possess - demonic mirages. Kill them before they kill the realization of your potential. KILL THEM!!! EXAMPLE: "The coupe became a 10,000 RPM pogo stick on wheels, jumping for joy at each slap of the Hurst knob, and only hunkering down on all fours for a kamikaze charge at the sand trap! A 9.34 glowed as if arc welded onto the scoreboard, as monsieur Jackson blurred past it and vanished into the night!" Fun to write, perhaps. More importantly, painful to read. And since publishers pay by the word - too wordy. If you don't have the humility or discipline to self edit, the publisher will gladly pocket your pay and let the janitor to do it for you (I'm still renowned for my razor sharp trash bag folds and gleaming toilets. CRC carb cleaner was the secret to my restroom success. I've been editing and writing ever since).

Be succinct. EXAMPLE: "The coupe ran a wheels-up 9.34 at 147 MPH". Nothing else matters.

Terminology reveals your credibility level. "The coupe's focal points are obviously the gnarly blown motor and wicked roof chop." Cars don't have roofs, buildings do. Motors don't run on fuel, engines do. Such former red flags have somehow become acceptable in recent years. But their use instantly alerts knowledgeable readers to inexperience, which casts doubt on the storyteller's qualifications and the scruples of the publisher that hired the flaky writer. Bottom line: Know your subject, or write about something else.

Faithful SGE readers are painfully aware that I break all of the above rules on a regular basis. This blog is my laboratory, with experiments (like this one) conducted weekly. But I follow the line while writing on the clock, in consideration of precious readers, paying publishers, and stressed editors. Blogging is more like jamming, where mistakes are rewarded with winces, chuckles, and lessons learned. Just like a Grateful Dead concert. Write on, man!




This just in from Motormouth Ray: "A momentous occasion for the Goat project! I finally got it out of the garage and took it for its maiden voyage around the neighborhood, under its own power. Apparently, the shorty mufflers bolted to the headers attracted more than a few people, as I had a steady flow of them stopping by the house to check it out. A little more wiring, an interior install, and whatever minor tweaking comes up, and I'm good to go. Let's cruise!" I nerfed Ray for the rake-enhancing parking job, and received this reply: "I had to put the car on the apron, so the back might be high enough to allow sliding under and torquing the rear suspension bolts at ride height. That's the God's honest truth!" Uh huh... Well, congrats anyway! It's just heartwarming to know another old Goat is roaming the earth. 

Besides his coveted Pontiac Hilborn injection system, Ray is also intrigued by this 12-barrel tunnel ram swap meet find...

... but he could also craft a Poncho version of this 16-barrel intake, spied on a '66 Olds. Perhaps this decision should be decided by popular vote. What say ye, readers??? (Photos courtesy of Motormouth Ray)


Uber rodder and obscenely wealthy best-selling author Jim Lindsay checked in this week from the storied El Mirage dry lake, 100 miles out in the desert from Los Angeles. Lindsay made the looong tow south from Shedd, Oregon to test the results of a recent dyno session. He reports the blown flathead improved noticeably from previous runs, but suspects there's still more in it. We suspect more dyno time to be in Lindsay's future. Book your session now, Jim - race season is just around the corner! (Photo courtesy of Jim Lindsay)


Jumpstart Kid Lance Sorchik actually stayed home this month! Lance knocked out some customer artwork, and even wrenched a bit on his '33 hair blower project. Last week's agenda was a folding soft top, orchestrated by friend Bob Eckstadt at Bob's Upholstery in Hamburg, New Jersey. We'll let Lance narrate the action...

"Hard to explain, but there are some pretty funky shapes that appeared in the process of pulling and tugging the material into position - some I love and will keep - others, not so much. But all bad issues are now figured out and on their way to being resolved. I'm the pain-in-the-ass that asks Bob to do the impossible and watches him kick and scream through the whole process - then wets his pants when he 'gets it' and can't believe he did it! We work well together."

"I made four sets of wooden top bows before I got the attitude right, chopped the irons, and planned how the top will fold into the body cavity without hitting everything that's in the way. The rear's laid-forward look required mounting the bows in non-stock locations, but man, does it look good from the side! The windshield posts were chopped 5", then cut into three pieces each and re-arranged so the top irons would slip into them easily, then all was welded and re-chromed. Lots of time in this one, but I'm really proud of this piece. I still need to put the rear window in (a cool old original chrome frame with pits like salt on a pretzel) and fix some small issues, but you can get the gist of where I'm going with this." Decades after first corrupting me, Sorchik remains a bad influence. Thanks Lance!
(Photos courtesy of Lance Sorchik)


Seasons Greetings from a clean-shaven (yet still out-of-focus) Dr. Lockjaw at Custom Metal in Applegate, Oregon! Print this photo and hang it from your Christmas tree (or rear-view mirror). 

We're still crawling like infants on the SGE Model A project, but are at least crawling forward. All four shock mounts are now fabbed and tacked in, and their linkages should be installed next Sunday. We're finally making plans to bring in the engine and trans for mock-up, which will be a giant leap toward finalizing all remaining design parameters. (Fuzzy Scotty shots)

Some imagery I keep in the SGE Model A file, for inspiration. The end result should be somewhere between the crusty green drag beater and the blue high-zoot-mobile, with the attitude of the red roadster - a snarky high-zoot beater, if you will - like the Bo Jones Lakes Modified T that planted this dubious seed in my head all those years ago. Like all of my projects, this one's been a long time coming. And yes, I'll be running a Weberized 2.3 Liter Ford and a 5-speed. Affordable cross country adventures are the goal.



If an image is artful enough, it doesn't require a descriptive caption. A herd of rabid squirrels can pull off that trick every time.

This no-name steel tackle box jumped out at me while browsing a local thrift store last week. Tool storage space will be sparse in the SGE Model A, so I snapped it up. It should hold plenty of credit cards. And tools, of course. It will absolutely be crammed with tools! Guilty pleasure: I'm stoked to restore this box and paint it to match the car. Then I'll need a crybaby doll, and a billet parking cone, and... (Scotty shot)