Painful Uploads

I had to go upload the SSRLP again yesterday.

It was a messed up situation. The contact at the firm who contracted me said I needed to upload the SSRLP stuff to an FTP site (for those who are curious, ala CalliopesPen et. al, that stands for File Transfer Protocol and is a method of moving chunks of data across computer networks). But the site she cited (no pun intended) wasn’t the the same site the IT contact gave me. So I uploaded to the site which had my folder on it. And it was the wrong one, of course.

So off to a high-speed connection I went. That is, the public library, which is convenient and nice and free. All things I adore.

Problem is, the bandwidth on the FTP site I was supposed to use ain’t near as high as the one to which I’d already uploaded. And copying from one to another is verboten for some reason. So I struggled for more than two hours to get that puppy back up there in the right location. They have it, but I left the library with a migraine and sore jaw muscles from grinding my teeth. AARRRGH!

Meanwhile, my wife had to pitch in and help by taking over. Not only was the site slow, it timed out easily, so I had to upload one.file.at.a.time.  O. M. G.

Well, it’s finally up there. So even though it was finished, I guess now it’s really finished.

I don’t have a good reason for not telling you about it now. I just feel uncomfortable, like I might be violating a confidentiality agreement. Which I don’t have. So I suppose before very long I’m going to have to bust out with the ‘fess up. Bear with me while I muster the nerve.

The hard part’s over. I hope. Now I can sorta celebrate. I guess I should really get to that point sooner than later, shouldn’t I?

Anyway, not much else happened yesterday. The agony of upload and migraine proved too much for me, and the job search languished undone. I’ll have to hop back on that today.

Hope you’re all well. God bless and I can’t wait to be back to you full-time with my own connection soon.

-JDT-

Updates and Such

So, I told you all yesterday I finally finished the Super-Secret Real-Life Project (SSRLP).

With that off my plate, I can now do some other stuff. One is blogging on a semi-consistent basis. I hope to revive this thing as much as possible, but there are still some requirements for patience from all of you. For one thing, I still don’t have Internet access except through public channels. I’ll leave that to your imagination. What it means is, my wife and I have one computer which can consistently get on the Internet, and she has a lot to do each and every day. Another thing it means is, I might not be around to comment on YOUR blogs as much as I used to be. I’m sorry about that, everyone. I’m trying to at least READ your blogs, but commenting takes a LOT longer than it used to and I just can’t spend that much time doing it anymore. I’ll try, but no promises. So I’ll get on when I can and update when possible, but the job search thing has to take priority.

Yes, the job situation hasn’t changed. I still don’t have work. And now that the SSRLP is over, I have to look for one with every ounce of energy with which I dedicated myself to the SSRLP. Keep prayin’, y’all. We need all we can get.

My beloved remains confident we’ll be okay, but I have doubts. I know the economy is supposedly improving but I find that to be a crock. In my experience, things haven’t changed much in the last fifteen months and until and unless I see a change, I won’t consider it “better”. That’s just me maybe.

As for writing – well, let’s just say the SSRLP was sort of writing. Not what I wanted to do but something I could do. It’s better than nothing. So, when I think I can spill the gory details, I will. I’m not sure I can’t now, but I have to clarify a few things first. Then I’ll dish. Promise.

Football – well, I watched the Pro Bowl this last weekend. That was sort of like the world championship of flag football in a lot of ways. The AFC took the trophy and they will likely have their representative raising the Lombardi trophy also. Not my choice, but my prediction.

And other than that, there’s been nothing to report. A  lot of butt-in-chair time. A lot of stress. A lot of complaining and drinking coffee. OH, and we got an emergency extension for the unemployment benefits with nothing but a phone call, which was awesome. God is good! We’ll survive another couple of months before the hammer falls, at least.

There’s been a lot of spiritual growth. I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer. My buddy Raga did something awesome for us. We’re all joy and aglow with happy right now. So, that’s that.

How’s it by all of you?

-JDT-

Growing a Novel – Book Thoughts

I’ve done a lot of reading lately.  I’ve ground through about six books in two weeks, in fact; and a fair number of those were books on the craft of writing.

One I chewed through was Sol Stein’s How to Grow a Novel, and I complained in a previous post about his clear and unmitigated slant against what he calls “transient” fiction (which would be commercial, or genre, fiction to most everyone else).  The book didn’t hold any mystery solutions for me; that is, it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know already, unless you count Stein’s shameless and repeated plugs for his previous book, Stein on Writing.  And the subtitle is, “The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and how to Avoid Them.”  I didn’t get a lot of that out of it either.  Not as I can recall, anyway.

I’m sure Stein’s a big deal – just ask him, he’ll tell ya – in the publishing industry, but he set a tone of “only literary fiction is real fiction” to me which sort of put me off through the whole thing.  One achievement he did manage, however, was to get me curious about literary fiction.  I’ve had literary fiction described as fiction in which the plot unfolds within the characters, fiction which is internal and not external, fiction which only shows evolution of person, fiction which makes statements and offers insight about human nature (gimme a break!), and fiction which does not sell (ha!).  Still, I don’t really think I understand literary fiction or how to write it, despite my best attempts to glean information from Stein and others.

What Stein wants is fiction which talks of human nature in high-brow terms, but what he wrote (one of his novels, at least) is a story about a high school magician wannabe who hires a lawyer to represent him in a trial when the school bully is killed.  The lawyer, it turns out, is a character he ended up returning to later.  But isn’t that sort of commercial fiction?  I don’t know.  Anyway, I was supremely disappointed with How to Grow a Novel because, after all Stein’s posturing and puffing and self-adulation, I expected him to be able to teach me something, guide me through the differences.  But alas, I don’t think literary fiction can be taught, because it’s so doggone subjective.  Subjects, characters and internal angst.  That’s what literary fiction’s made of.

So, I disregarded most of what Stein had to say about the publishing aspect of writing, mostly because the book is more than 10 years old and I don’t think the information’s valid anymore.  A lot’s changed, after all.  But the rest of the book?  Well, the section on dialog was all right, I suppose.  There’s nothing, whatever, on story structure I can recall (I finished it about two weeks ago as you’re reading this), so if he discussed it, I missed it.  I probably wouldn’t pick it up again, frankly.  Stein’s too self-impressed and too literati (at least, he thinks so) for my tastes.  And I’ve had better how-to books in front of me, to be honest.  Stein on Writing might be more to my taste, but I can’t find a copy at my library, so until I stabilize financially, that one’s out.  In the end, Stein’s book wasn’t super-memorable for me.

Anyone out there familiar with literary fiction, can you recommend some books I can read to get a good feel for it?  Authors you’re particularly fond of?  Writers, are any of you doing what you believe to be literary fiction, or are you all commercial writers like me?

-JDT-

All original content © 2009 DarcKnyt
ALL rights reserved.

“Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”

The question “Where do you get your ideas (from)?” is one every writer of any fame, however small, is going to be asked.

Back in July, my beloved got to meet her new favorite author at our local library.  He’s a mid-list, run-of-the-mill sort of author, not a blockbuster like Clancy, Patterson or King, but he’s talented and writes books LOML really enjoys.  So, when Ben and Kristy came through and enabled us to go have him autograph his latest book for her, it was a treat.

What my love heard amounted to a discussion of his newest book and an FAQ.  One of the things he addressed first is the old “Where do you get your ideas (from)?” question.  (Yeah, that last preposition is part of the question around these parts.  *Sigh*.)

I complained – and still do – about this.  Other artists in other media, with the exception perhaps of Gary Larson and his destined-to-live-forever The Farside comic strip, don’t get this question.  No one asked Bach where he got his ideas; no one asked DaVinci or Michelangelo where they got their ideas; no one asked Picasso where he got his or what the hell was wrong with him.  No one asks Britney Spears where she gets the ideas for her concerts, songs or dance moves.  No one quizzes ballerinas how they got into ballet or where they get their inspiration.  No one asked Walt Disney where he got his ideas.

Nope, it’s only writers, for the most part, who get this question.  “Where do you get your ideas (from)?”  It’s a little annoying, frankly.

Writers, like other artists, are generally inspired by a lot of things.  Anything can provide story ideas.  I had a slew of them years ago when I saw a car abandoned on a lonely, dark country road.  My wife and I went on for hours making up stories of serial killers and femme fatales, unsuspecting travelers with car trouble running afoul of murderous farmers or cops with compulsions for sex slaves and bloodshed.  Songs can inspire.  Other books can inspire.  I know one writer who started her bard’s journey because she wanted to write fan fiction for Avatar: The Last Airbender.  (Yeah, the cartoon.  Whatever floats your boat, I guess.)

Inspiration can’t be qualified, quantified or even summarized well, by artists or by writers.  In the end, writers are just artists in the medium of words; we paint pictures we hope our readers can see and enjoy.  Stephen King calls this “mental telepathy”, wherein a writer and reader, separated by time and space, share mental images to varying degree of success.  But only writers are asked wherefore that inspiration comes.

Perhaps it’s because we work in words we get this so much.  Everyone uses words in some capacity, but because writers weave dreams, nightmares, stories and plots and characters and make words seem so alive, so full of vigor and vibrancy, so much like art … well, maybe the non-writer can’t understand how our words are so differently assembled than theirs.  It’s easier for them, perhaps, to see lines, brush strokes, colors and textures on a page and wonder at the magic they convey because they know they themselves lack the ability (talent, training, effort) to do it themselves.  So they accept it for what it is.  But for writers, well … we all use words, why are yours so … different somehow?

Could that be it?  Is that perhaps the reason writers are grilled about their ideas?  Because deep down most people feel they know how to use words, use them everyday, and wonder if they, too, could do this writing thing?  Or is it something more, something I’ve not seen, something I don’t yet understand?

What do you think, writers?  And readers, what compels you, if you are so compelled, to ask that question of authors you love?

Sound off, y’all.  I’d love to hear from you.

-JDT-

All original content © 2009 DarcKnyt
ALL rights reserved.

Book Review – Jump Start: How to Write…

FireShot capture #001 - 'Amazon_com_ Jump Start_ How to Write From Everyday Life (9780195140422)_ Robert Wolf_ Books' - www_amazon_com_Jump-Start-Write-Everyday-Life_dp_0195140427Over the weekend, I read Jump Start: How to Write from Everyday Life by Robert Wolf.  I mentioned part of it last week, but wanted to give a full review.  It’s not a new book – it was published back in 2001 – but since I’ve only recently been reading about the craft of writing rather than learning from other writers, I suppose the information in it is new to me.

The author is the founder of Free River Press, which grew out of writing workshops he put on throughout the Southeast and Midwest in which he encouraged people to think about their lives through writing, and gave them practical tools to perform the task.  He targeted small town farmers and even homeless people as he worked with them to develop their ability to write.

Jump Start is broken into seven very easy-to-digest chapters, each of which is made of up a bit of information relay, then examples of the discussed technique, followed by exercises for practice.  The chapters each cover various aspects of the author’s workshop seminars.  The first chapter addresses preliminary matters, in which he emphasizes the importance of writing (practice, practice, practice!), reading, memorizing special passages of favorite books (yeah, even fiction), and several other things he feels are valuable practice to prepare for writing.

The second chapter covers strategies for either getting started in writing, or breaking writer’s block down.  This is my favorite chapter, for obvious reasons, and represented solid gold.  The techniques included free writing (which I talked over with you last week), storytelling (I also blogged about this one), Jack Kerouac’s favorite technique of spontaneous prose composition, “sketching” (which is just like it sounds, except with words instead of lines) – and this can also be used as note taking for fast-action events or fast-moving ideas – and a couple of others.

Chapter three discusses observation, and how to use the other techniques to capture your observations.  Whether people or places, whether edited or raw, the author shows some examples of observations from his workshops.  Portraits are especially cool.  Chapter four goes over writing and revision, and how to work through the other techniques learned to compile a more finished product.  Chapter five discusses dialog and conversation, including accents and dialects, which are fun and a weakness of mine.  Chapter six is focused on how to go about writing a memoir, from recollection through to decisions about relevant stories for storyline and theme, and the final chapter is all about group exercises in the event you’re working with a teacherless sort of group or class.

I can’t say enough good things about this book.  At 155 pages including the credits and bibliography, this book is packed full of real, digestible information and excellent examples.  The exercises will be sure to challenge you and are set up for use either alone or with a group.  The author’s experience in helping people write is clear and obvious, and his language has been adapted to suit every level of understanding.

On a scale of one to ten, I’d give this a ten.  But that’s me.  It’s small, a quick read, delivers excellent information, has exercises to reinforce the concepts and principles, and really does provide great techniques to give the writer that Jump Start so many of us desperately need.

If you get a chance to read it or pick it up, and you haven’t done so already, you won’t regret it.

-JDT-

All original content copyright Darcknyt, 2009
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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