A little cheesecake…

…Goes a long way.

Well, it goes a long way on Mother’s Day. For my wife at least. 🙂

Oh, and not just any cheesecake, either; we’re talkin’ French cheesecake.

We can’t celebrate too much in our current circumstance, but we did manage to get a little treat for her for Mom’s Day. I was willing to go farther, do more, but she insisted on the low-key, low-cost celebration method. It’s been our MO for a number of years now.

Still, we, the family, are grateful for her and we love her. Anything we can do to show that appreciation is better than nothing, and we’re grateful God gave us a chance to do just that.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

In other news, I finished reading my buddy Sherri’s new(er) book. It’s been a long time coming, and she’s worked her tail off to get it ready. She honored me by choosing me as one of her beta readers, and I have to say, the book was so good I read it all in two sittings (and if it had been a book or if I had a better laptop, it may have happened in one night, though I don’t know if I read fast enough for that anymore).

I met a young writer (I don’t know if he’s a writer or not, but he oughta be if he ain’t) over on my deviantART page who wrote a bit of micro-fiction I found amazing. I mean, a lot of good stuff packed into just a tiny word count. Not as limiting as Twitter, of course, but still. He managed it beautifully, and it made me think … I love doing short pieces. I like to write. What about doing #FridayFlash again? (Or is that #FlashFriday? Doggone it, I can never remember.) I know my wife won’t like the idea. She says I get torpedoed so much when I do it because it’s just not my forte, my format. But … oh, so tempting. Like the chocolate I know will taste soooo goooooood, but give me heartburn and acne later. *Sigh*

On the back forty…

I didn’t say anything because it probably isn’t worth saying anything about, but I had a job interview last Thursday. I spent more than ninety minutes with a man expecting to spend less than forty-five minutes with me. Yes, I was slightly embarrassed, and said so at several points. He assured me, however, he was enjoying our conversation and was happy to have answers which weren’t two sentences. (Apparently, someone had answered most or all of his questions with two-sentence replies.) So, I suppose that’s good.

The drawback of this is, I don’t have his name or email address to forward a thank you note. I’ll have to send that message to the recruiter and hope she can properly channel it. I’ll have to remember to do that today.

I should find out later this week whether my long-winded responses earned me a second interview, a shot at the job, or just another trip to the round file for my resume.

Anyway, if you’re the praying type, you know the drill. If not, wish me luck anyway, okay? I need all the positivity I can get my hands on. 😉

That’s about it. How’s it by y’all? Have a good weekend?

-JDT-

All original content © 2010 DarcKnyt
ALL rights reserved.

That’s right … I AM, aren’t I?

My wife and I were having a discussion just the other day about writing. I was talking about something I read online.

At one writer’s blog, another writer gave advice and/or critique to the first writer about the industry and its processes. The commenter left little doubt through grammar and usage about their skill level. To be sure, though, I followed the name link back to the commenter’s blog and read a few excerpts. They were at best pedestrian; at worst, poor.

That gave me pause. How did one author give another input and critique when they clearly lack the skills themselves to give that advice?

I dug a bit deeper and read the piece being commented on a second time. It seemed strong to my eye – well-written, correct style, grammar, usage. The prose looked good. Far superior to what the commenter displayed, at least. I scratched my head a bit more. I decided to go back to the commenter’s site and look around. Maybe I got a bad example; maybe it was a rough, unedited draft. Maybe it was deliberately poor for the sake of the story.

Nope. Categorically, it was pretty bad writing. And then I stumbled upon something – the commenter had been published in a couple of small online publications and had a book contract pending with a small, independent publisher.

I checked out the publisher as much as possible but … well, most of you know my situation and I won’t hammer on it here. Let’s just say I didn’t get very far with that.

But I still found it interesting how a clearly inferior writer made it to the ranks of a “working pro” while someone with greater skills and talent hadn’t. AND, that the weaker of the two gave advice simply because they felt they were a “working pro”.

I said so to my wife, along with my hope that I’d never be one of those “working pros” who look down their noses at someone who hasn’t been published yet, even if they’re clearly a better writer than I. I lamented being willing to give someone else advice just because I achieved something they hadn’t, by whatever circumstance.

She looked at me for a minute, tossed up a hand and said, “But – you are a working pro.”

It took me a minute to realize she was right. I’ll be published soon. I’ll have my name on books in bookstores, on the shelves. I’ve been paid to write, and paid pretty well. I’ve made more on a single book deal than many writers ever make.

I’m a “working pro”.

How cool is that? I think it’s pretty frickin’ cool. So, all you writers can look for me to give you advice and tell you what’s what in the industry and how to get it done, because I know. I’ve been there, done that. I’m an authority.

I’m a “working pro”, after all. 😉

-JDT-

Rediscovery

You know, I thought it would be a lot of work – hard, tedious work – to get back to my languishing manuscript and start editing it. Again.

In actuality, I’ve spent a total (compressed, all-mashed-together time) of maybe six or eight months working on this thing. The rest of the time I fought through blocks, I fought critiques which left me tail-spinning, I fought through that stupid I-get-sleepy-when-I-open-my-document thing which happens … all of them internal mental issues, of course. But whatever the case, I had a hard time getting to it. Then the death knell tolled – I got more than halfway through what I determined would be my final edits when the thumb drive on which I’d saved most of my work died unexpectedly.

And without a back up anywhere.

I never really recovered from that one. It demoralized me to the point of being unable to get back on the saddle. So I didn’t. I tried a couple of times, but … my heart just wasn’t in it.

Then, about a week and a half ago, I decided … what the heck? What’s it going to hurt? I haven’t done anything, not really, concerning writing in so long I probably can’t make any improvements anyway. I’ll just … look at it. What’s the harm?

Before I knew it about an hour and a half passed, and I’d condensed the document from a full chapter of about 1200 words down to about 800. I decided it wouldn’t do to have an 800-word chapter, so I went on to the next one. Same thing. I combined them.

I felt pretty good. It was easy to do – I was surprised how easy it was, actually. I spotted the problems and issues and fluff without much forethought. I cleaned up the prose after gutting it. I realized how weak, flabby and bloated the prose was and … well, gutted it. That’s the best word I can use to describe the process. I wish I could do the same to my body – just open it up and slash out everything I don’t need. Man, I’d be about 145 pounds and 5% body fat. That’s how it oughta be.

Anyway, next day I did more of the same. I ended up taking three chapters of my “second edits” and combined them into a single chapter of about 3200 words. Then I went on to the next chapter, and the next, and the next. So far, I’ve mashed six chapters down into two, and that process isn’t completed yet as I write this. There are more to do, and many to be discarded. I found entire chapters I could dump during my last edits; this time the reduction will be even more dramatic, I’m sure. Last time I took the document from 94,000 words down to 87,000. I’m not sure I’ll have 70,000 when I’m finished with it this time.

In some ways, it’s scary. I can’t explain how I’ve been growing as a writer. I’m not writing. I’m not reading. I’m not participating in critique groups. I’m not part of a writer’s circle. Every once in a while I read craft blogs by writers and occasionally I’ll wade through one an agent posts, but for the most part I don’t have the resources to do that (long story which most of you already heard). But here I am, able to look at work I haven’t seen in eighteen months or so in any way and I’m able to improve on it, smooth it out, reduce it, tighten it, make it … passable.

Then it occurred to me: Maybe it’s because of  the work I did with the #flashfriday pieces and the technical book. (Okay, it didn’t occur to me – it occurred to my wife and SHE occurred it unto me, sorta.) Staying within very restrictive, tight guidelines and practice minimizing my prose made me stronger. MUCH stronger. And it shows.

I’m excited now. I jumped back onto my edits at a point I called Chapter 14 before. I have thirteen chapters which I’ve had the temerity to call “completed” staring me in the face, waiting for me to open them, daring me to see what I can do. Can I edit, reduce, tighten, strengthen, and retain the integrity of the piece? Its humor, its characters, its banter and wit (such as it was)? Or will I edit the life out of it?

One thing becomes obvious in this. I’m still growing as a writer, even though I’m not writing, and that is clearly the work of God in my life. You may disagree, but that’s the way I’ve seen this, and He deserves the credit; any talent I have comes from Him anyway. And because the growth is still happening, the process has become fun again. I’m excited about it again. And one other thing has become obvious for me too.

At the end of this process, this reduction and editing round, I will know whether the original story is worth saving or if it’s time to move onto something else. And just having that resolution alone is worth more to me than I’m able to express. I feel a freedom I haven’t felt in about three years. I can’t wait to see how this all turns out.

Stay tuned if you’re a mind to.

-JDT-

All original content copyright 2010 DarcKnyt
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Another Rough Weekend

I had another round of rough critiques on my last #fridayflash piece this weekend. I don’t really mind, and I did set this one up as an exercise and asked for input, but sometimes people are just rude in their criticisms. I guess that’s fine, but I still find it unwarranted and distasteful. I certainly wouldn’t be so rude to anyone else. Then again, I guess I’m not a critic and I wonder how many people would disagree with how I’ve handled my input and feedback. Meh.

Still, most of the feedback I got was helpful and constructive, so as much as a blow to the ol’ ego as it is, I have to say I’m learning stuff. Last weekend it was cut adjectives; more of that this weekend but now I can add in sentence length. I think that’s what most critics meant – too many sentences of similar rhythm and pattern and length. Ah well. Live and learn, right?

I also found Saturday night on the Internet very quiet. I shouldn’t be surprised I suppose, but it seemed a lot of people didn’t hang out despite the huge snow storm in the northeast and being so close to Christmas. (Actually, maybe that latter bit is the reason after all.)

GREAT football game on Saturday night. I know my buds Sherri and Courtney Vail are happy campers today. My son is too; he couldn’t have been happier his new man-crush Tony Romo and the Cowboys upset the Saints. The game came down to the last six seconds and it was a thrill-ride. Great stuff if you’re into that sort of thing – and I am. Heh. And the Titans and Dolphins played a nail-biter that went into overtime. And how about the Steelers, coming back in the final seconds to win with NO TIME on the clock? Wow! Awesome. Quite a few games came down to the closing seconds before being decided as teams are battling for playoff spots. In fact, a whopping 24 teams were still in contention as of this weekend, so some excitement and desperation mixed for great games.

Nothing much else happening here. It was a quiet weekend, which I like, and so I’ve nothing to offer today. Not really. With Christmas so close at hand, I’m sure things will slow down here in the coming days. My posting will be day-to-day; I have stuff going on and I’m not sure how to organize it all yet. Stay tuned if you’re a mind to.

Hm. Let’s see … nope, I guess that covers it.

How was your weekend?

-JDT-

All original content © 2009 DarcKnyt
ALL rights reserved.

Post Critique Syndrome

Hangover1 Okay, so most of you are probably aware of the discussion which occurred on my fiction blog over the weekend. I posted a bit of a novel I’ve been kicking around for a few months. It’s the opening. But I posted it as a piece of #fridayflash, which is limited to about a thousand words. I wrote the piece at about 3 a.m. on Friday morning, read it and trimmed to to under 1K, then posted.

And it promptly met with mixed reviews.

Most folks found it entertaining and emotive, but some questioned the direction I chose for the piece. New blog buddy Linda had some excellent things to say. Foremost among those was use of the term “post critique syndrome”. It’s very much like PTSD in some ways. I was shell-shocked, discouraged, a trifle depressed and in the end, just wished I hadn’t posted the piece at all.

But CalliopesPen showed up and offered me some outstanding, glowing words. I sat and basked in them for several hours before I could even realize I had no words to describe how she’d made me feel. Sherri was also encouraging, and my loving wife? Well, she’s always the most amazing and supportive of all. Those who enjoyed it really did. Those who thought it could’ve used a bit less had me on several counts – too much adjective-spicing, too abrupt an injection of the fantasy element (even though this was deliberate, the 1K limit made the couple of sentences I used for that portion of the story severely inadequate), should’ve said more with “less words” [sic].

Then, Linda went a step further. She emailed me a line-edit critique of the piece.

It was amazing how many mistakes I’d made. How much I’d been lazy about the writing portion. I tried to work the piece as both a study in character and a fantasy-western piece, and that just didn’t work, period. I did overuse adjectives. I made sentences more complex than they had to be. Some of the wording could’ve been smoothed out and solidified by just saying the plain, ordinary thing I intended. But no, I tried to get all literati and eloquent, and boing! – weak piece. Big surprise.hangover

In the end, what happened here can be boiled down to this: I tried too hard while not trying hard enough. I didn’t put enough effort into cleaning the prose, and I put too much effort into trying to “write”, like I think I’m supposed to write, like I’ve always told myself I write. Different pieces cry out for different voices to me. I’ve written some which were deliberately lyrical and lilting in tone. I’ve written them punchy and direct. I’ve written in the style of Poe and Lovecraft. I’ve written like King, and like Hemingway. In all of that, I never lost sight of the writing and the style.

In this short bit, I did absolutely lose sight of the writing. I blame those who came by and offered only accolades for previous works I’ve done. (Just kidding.) It inflated my ego to the point I thought I wouldn’t get anything but glowing reviews for this one too. (Not kidding there; my ego was out of control this time. I didn’t even imagine I’d get so many people calling out my flaws.)

Well, I’ve learned my lesson. I got over my PCS, and moved on to the point of being my usual, thick-skinned self (with a little more humble added, me hopes).

I’d love to do another character study, but this time I’m going to stay focused and remember my KISS principle. Finding the best way to say something with as few words as I can is the goal. One of the comments I received stated “I’d never suggest you eliminate adjectives from your writing.” That person is being honest, but for me, the best medicine is the harshest. Taking things to their extreme as much as I can helped me break my hangover2 addiction to, reliance on, adverbs. This part about the adjectives is the next step. Finding the best noun-verb combination to say what I want to convey is the best medicine for me. It’s just how I work best.

So next Friday, if I have time to do an entry, I promise to make it better, and pay attention to those things I didn’t pay attention to this time. I promise to apply the lessons I learned from all the wonderful people who challenged me to stop trying to pull a fast one, stop thinking more of myself than I ought. Most of all, I promise to apply the lesson of humility I learned. It was long overdue and desperately needed.

So, to Linda, CalliopesPen, Sherri, Louise, Al Bruno III, and every one of the great people who sounded off on the piece – thank you. I needed you this weekend and you delivered. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

So … how was your weekend? What did you all do? Have fun? Ready for Christmas yet?

-JDT-

All original content © 2009 DarcKnyt
ALL rights reserved.