Reset the Streak

Yep.  Already need a reset. This week has been hectic. I’ve worked an incredible amount of overtime.  I won’t put numbers to it, but suffice to say I worked overtime last week, and managed just fine to get some writing in every day. This week I worked OVERTIME.

And it’s a learning experience.  As I’ve mentioned before on this site, I’m a slow learner. (I’m also stubborn).  I swore, while I was going through the lay-off period, that I would never give myself SO much to a company like I had at the last two.  Alas, I still have a lot to learn about achieving some life balance.  And the power of saying “no.”

It was also reminder of one of my best practices.  Get what’s important to me* (writing and exercise) done first thing every day. When I do this, nothing the day throws at me can de-rail those priorities.  I failed to do this on Wednesday morning, and no writing got done. In fairness to myself, Thursday wasn’t going to happen out shear exhaustion anyway.  Friday, I probably could have/should have gotten a run and some writing in, but I slept in (until 6 a.m. haha), and chose to spend time with family* after work.  So, I lost three days. Two of those days I lost that I feel I could have written and run, but I chose not to.  One of those days, I lost because… well, because me.

So, on that ‘me’ thing, I’m trying to figure that out. I know I have to concentrate on being less busy.  On one hand, I know I perform much better when I have a regimented day. When I know I have to work my hour of writing into a relatively full day, I generally do better than when I have a ton of free time on my hands.  But it’s a delicate balance, and my days can get away from me like they did this week. I know there’s an answer.  Add this to my priorities for the year, too!

My streak ended at 7 days. I wrote today, so now it stands at One. And that’s okay, because I know I can get up and write and run (7.5 miles) tomorrow.

I re-read The Deep Blue Good-by by John D. MacDonald this week for maybe the sixth time. I love the book and the entire Travis McGee series, and I just wanted to revisit it and see what I could pick up on and learn from JDM. There’s surely a lot of stuff, but what I focused on was the balance JDM achieved in his action scenes of pace and enough depth of detail that he doesn’t leave the reader filling in too many blanks. I’m currently writing a chase scene on the beach, and I am trying to borrow from the master on keeping those scales level. It’s a lot of fun to write.

I’m also nearing the finish of Pepper Pike by Les Roberts.  Also a PI novel, featuring Milan Jacovich, and set in Cleveland.  So far, so good. I feel like I’ll be continuing on with this series.

We lost Neil Peart this week. I knew I had a lot of friends, who are Rush fans, but I had no idea the sheer number until my Facebook feed got lit up with them mourning his death. I’ve never been much of a fan of Rush, or Mr. Peart, but I’ve always admired their abilities (in the case of Peart his skill with the drumsticks in his hands is undeniable). Something to keep in mind. Just because something isn’t to our tastes, doesn’t mean anything about the quality of the work.

Looking forward to the week ahead. Long run tomorrow, which I hope I won’t suffer from the missed days this week. Then, who knows, maybe I finish a book (?). I certainly don’t know how it ends yet.

*Obviously spending time with Jill and Dylan trumps even these, but I’ve learned also that if I get the writing and running done first thing it frees up the quality time in the evenings.  Of course, I failed miserably this week, and saw maybe 5 minutes of them on Wednesday (actually think I missed Dylan completely).

–TD

Words this week – 3,417

Words so far this year – 7,926

Current Streak – 1

Longest Streak to date – 7

Miles Ran/walked this year –  15.5

 

2020

But first 2019…

As I mentioned in my last post, I ended the year in a new job. That is going well. And is all positive.

Some other ways I ended the year:

  • In December, I took a day off and made a whirlwind tour down to Florida and back to deal with a family legal matter. It was ridiculous in a way that typically would make me furious…especially at others involved.  Instead?  I got to see my father and stepmother, and spend some rare (and far too little) quality time with them.
  • On Christmas day, I finally got around to watching the film noir Christmas Holiday, something I’ve wanted to do for maybe the last 10 Christmases (is that a word?). It’s a Siodmak film, which makes it worth watching in its own right, but how can a film noir fan pass on the opportunity to watch it on Christmas Day? (It’s available on YouTube to watch any day FWIW). It wasn’t my favorite Siodmak film (Criss Cross), but I could think of far worse things to waste time on.
  • I ran three 5k races between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed participating in these events.  And I also forgot how the adrenaline takes over!  Despite telling myself each race, “I’m just going to take it easy this one.” I improved my times each time out.
  • My last read of the year was The Virginia City Trail by Ralph Compton. Recommended for fans of westerns and/or historical fiction. It very much reminded me of Lonesome Dove but it moved along at a brisker pace. I even wonder if Lonesome Dove’s fictional characters were based on the historical characters found in Compton’s book.
  • My last run of the year was 7 miles!  It shocks me to even type that.  On that run, I encountered a herd (?) of five deer. (Unless I’m getting my runs mixed up). Incredible experience, and when I finished I was disappointed…
  • Since Labor Day weekend, when I accepted the new job offer, I have lost 42 lbs. Going back further (about a decade), I am down 119 lbs. from my highest weight. You read that correctly.

Now 2020.

I have some goals, but I’m going to mostly keep those to myself.  Some of them are very high reaching, and I’ve learned that voicing them just gets criticism…especially writing goals…I will share the simple one.

Write. Every. Day.

and if I fail?

Don’t attempt to “catch up”, just jump back on the horse and start another write every day streak. The longest streak I’ve ever managed was sixty days.  That time I set out to match Joe D’s 56 game hitting streak. I’m not sure what 366 streak is out there to emulate, but I’ll pat myself on the back every time I bag another Joe D.

(One note – I only consider new fiction as writing.  So these posts don’t count, email doesn’t count, outlining, character development, and rewriting wouldn’t count either…if I did those things, editing stuff that comes back from the copy-editor doesn’t count either)

So far, I have written over 1000 words every day…and I’ve worked overtime. So, I feel like I’m off to a decent start.

The first book I’ve finished reading in 2020 was Kristen Lepionka’s Shamus Award winner What You Want To See. 2nd in her Roxanne Weary Private Eye series.  It was excellent just like the first. I am now reading Pepper Pike by Les Roberts…the first book to feature Cleveland P.I. Milan Jacovich. It was a Christmas present.  I have a good half dozen other presents to keep me busy reading in the early months of the year.

I have a short 3-mile run in the morning, so we’ll call it a night now.

Happy New Year readers!

–TD

————————————————————————

  • Wds this week — 4,509
  • Wds this year — 4,509

 

Influence

person standing with windmill background

This is going to be one of those typical, rambling, Tony’s been drinking the Faulkner Kool-aid again posts.

Last post I mentioned James Lee Burke as my literary hero. Oddly, I don’t really see much influence in my work. That comes with the caveat, that I don’t consciously set about writing like Burke or MacDonald or Spillane or Parker or whoever.

But reflecting on some of my creation, I am able to see some of the fingerprints, and as much as I’d love to write as rich and deep as Burke does about his setting, it just doesn’t seem to be in my toolbox yet. (Writing deep about setting is something that I set about, and I’m pretty happy with… I’m just not a master).  But leaving Burke behind for a moment…

John D. MacDonald is my favorite author, and I love his Travis McGee series. Having grown up in Florida, finding the beach-bum salvage consultant whose adventures occurred in familiar locales was a joy to my teen-aged self.  He was a bit of a loner (save his chats with Meyer and his many escapades with the fairer sex), who lived a pretty spartan existence upon his houseboat.  It’s impossible not to admit that some of this seeped into Fuzzy Koella.

But there’s another P.I. with whom Fuzzy shares more genetic code — Jim Rockford of the TV’s Rockford Files.  Rockford, too, is an offspring of McGee (acknowledged by the creators)… Rockford isn’t in the houseboat, though. He’s in some, probably non-compliant, trailer out by the Pier. Fuzzy’s in a renovated maintenance shed at the marina.  Ok, so they’re all beach bums… but McGee handles himself just a little (lot) better than Rockford and Koella.  Where McGee often gest the best of his foes when it comes time for bare knuckles, both Rockford and Fuzzy are, well, sort of bumbling fools and often end up getting their ass kicked. Hell, Rockford rarely carried a gun…when Fuzzy does he’s more likely to end up losing it in the fracas.

I didn’t set out to write “my” Rockford, but I’ve watched all the episodes. I’ve read all of the McGees multiple times. It’s impossible that some of the influence would not seep into my stories, unless I actively guarded against it. And why would I want to do that?  I love those stories.

There’s another popular P.I. whose shadows can be seen filtering into my stories.  Again, I’ve read all of the Spenser’s. I didn’t really see the influence (other than, yes, we both write/wrote P.I. stories) until my father referred to Jimmy Alou as the Hawk character.  “The sidekick with the gun.”

I’m gonna go all Harold Bloom, and suggest that influence goes back much further and is inescapable. Bloom somewhat controversially suggests that all Western literature can filed into one of two camps. Cervantes. Shakespeare. I tend to agree with him, though I think there is more cross pollination of the silos than he seems to suggest.

So, while Fuzzy Koella is IMO of the Shakespearean school, a mostly “lone wolf” internal looking character, the Fuzzy/Jimmy relationship is very much a result of the Cervantes literary tradition… they are Quixote and Pancho.  Spenser and Hawk are as well (though I’m not sure Spenser is quite as easily identifiable as Quixotic).

Anyway, not that I’m claiming I’m on par with Cervantes (and yes I’ve read Don Quixote in its entirety — I recommend it) or Shakespeare, but it is an interesting reflection to me. Robert B. Parker started his famous Spenser series very much as a throwback to Chandler/Marlowe and by extension Shakespeare, but when Hawk strode into the series there was a  noticeable pivot. I think, nowadays, most writers draw on both schools throughout their stories (as I do, without really realizing it), but to my mind Spenser hopped in the Cervantes silo when Hawk came along and the series never again was Chandler-esque. Parker left Shakespeare behind until he was approved to write some Marlowe novels by the Chandler estate.

Wow. You can’t say I didn’t warn you!  Of course, none of that Cervantes/Shakespeare stuff touched on the sidekick with a gun…which is a trope of the P.I./detective sub-genre (Spenser/Hawk, Dave/Clete, Cole/Pike, Easy/Mouse).  I read a lot of P.I. fiction. The only reason I don’t read as much of it as the most hardcore Romance reader reads her/his favorite genre is because there simply isn’t as much of it. The point being I crap out those tropes and the structure without even thinking about it. I’ll leave that up to the reader whether that is a good thing or not. I’ll just continue to follow Fuzzy around, and watch him stumble into danger with or without Jimmy along.  Until, of course, Fuzzy’s told me all the tales he needs told…

–TD

Photo by Arunita DH on Pexels.com

 

James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke is my favorite living writer (and he is a writer…he continues to write into his 80s). He’s also my literary hero. Those two things aren’t necessarily inclusive, but  for me Burke is both things.

The hero part comes from his persistence in getting his novel The Lost Get Back Boogie published. Burke was published in his twenties and met with some critical acclaim for his literary novels. Then, he went nearly a decade without being published. Boogie was rejected over 100 times by editors before finding a home with LSU Press. It went one to be nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.  His next novel was The Neon Rain, a literary detective novel which paved the way for his best-selling career. He’s also my hero for being a “literary” genre writer. He is without any doubt in my mind the greatest living  American writer of prose. Seriously, I’d put his craft up against Pynchon, DeLillo, Morrison and McCarthy any day. Burke comes out on top in this reader’s mind.

In today’s environment of ghostwriting and collaborative, Patterson-esque writing, it would be easy to conclude that 80+ year old Burke may go down that path. But only if you have never read his work. His voice (see yesterday’s post) is so compelling, so unique that it simply cannot be replicated.

No, we will know when Burke has stopped writing. Unfortunately, it will be when he has passed.

There are plenty of reasons that he is my favorite writer that has nothing to do with him being my hero, though.

He writes vividly of setting. (One of those settings being lush, south Louisiana)

His characters are colorful, larger than life beings.

He writes unapologetically of the violent tendencies of man. And he does so in a way that makes you realize that the violence victimizes the inflictor as much as the victim.

His explorations of evil are downright Biblical.

He believably covers themes of the struggles of the poverty stricken in the face of greed.

He does all of the above in the mystery/crime genre framework.

 

April Writing Stats

April 1 – 1038

April 2 – 1072

Total – 2110 words

 

 

 

 

Voice

greyscale photo of man singing
Photo by Thibault Trillet on Pexels.com

Of all the elements of writing (fiction), the one which I hold highest is Voice. Maybe your characters are two dimension cut-outs or your plot is like a train rolling down the tracks or maybe your setting is paint by numbers… if the voice is compelling you’ve got me.

It shows up in the characters…it shows up in the author. And there isn’t much anything you can do to build it in my opinion.  Which comes across as “either you got it or you don’t.”

Talent.

I’m not sure that’s the case. I’m sure some authors’ voices appeal more to my taste. Some, dear reader, appeal more to your taste. But I think more than anything else in writing, your voice is like fingerprints… we all have a voice.  The trick is to use it. Believe in it. And protect the hell out of it. And if your voice doesn’t appeal to every reader. Amen.

When I write a thousand words in an hour without any thought of where it’s going just listening to the characters and tapping away at the keys, and then cycle back and see there’s only some typos to touch up, maybe a little extra depth, etc, but damn this is pretty good!  That isn’t a random act of fate (okay, maybe it is)… it isn’t a  mistake.  It isn’t the 9-iron you blade thin from 140 yards out that rolls up and tucks in next to flagstick. It’s the power of Voice, without the shackles of critical writing…free of re-writing and style manuals.  It is the artist. It is me.

If I leave well enough alone…

 

April Writing Stats

April 1 —  1,038 words

Tabletop RPGs and Writing

 

otus

Every Friday night I run a Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) game for my son and his buddies using the edition of the game I first played back in 1981.

Every other Sunday I run a game for my son and his buddies and some of my gaming buddies (read other 40-something geeks).  We use the current (5th) edition of the game.

The Friday night game started with an old-school, open sandbox style module, but quickly has devolved into me completely making stuff up as I go.  I do probably less than 15 minutes of prep for this game every week.

The Sunday game, I am running one of the published adventures for the 5th Ed. game. As written, it’s very railroady.  And focused on running the players through a story.

The roleplaying game phenomena has an interesting timeline, which I won’t go much into, other than to say it has produced some distinct styles of play.  I’ve spent plenty of time in the “collaborative story-telling” school of play (hell, one of the more popular RPG systems is called The Storyteller System), and as much time in the “it’s a game stupid” school.  And in all the space in between those two extremes!

Oddly, I find myself mostly in the game-ist side right now.

Why oddly?

Because I am currently writing a post about the similarities in my writing process and my gaming table.

Right… I probably should get to that.

What I have found… I’m at my best when I am mostly winging it at the table.  This shouldn’t be much of a revelation.  The best game I’ve ever run was nearly 10 years ago (yes I remember a single night of gaming a decade ago), and I’ve come to refer to as the Doppleganger Murder Mystery extravaganza.  For that game, I created a handful of 7-sentence non-player characters. Gave the players a situation, and let them have at it.

Today, in that Friday night game, I’ve been known to create the dungeon whole-cloth as I’m drawing it out on the map for the players.  No prep whatsoever. Just, what would be cool right now?

Sunday game with the pre-written adventure?  We’ve spent 3 sessions in the “episode” that allows the most free-styling in the whole adventure.  And next session will be in that episode at least partially as well.  I don’t think there’s any coincidence there.  (I obviously don’t want to leave this place).  But even when we are “on the rails”, my favorite parts (and I think the players’) are random encounter rolls and when the players completely go bat-shit crazy off the tracks.

What this all comes back to… why am I surprised? Even as a Dungeon (Game) Master, I want the experience to match the players’. I don’t want to know what happens, and I certainly don’t want to know how things end.  It’s a game after all.  Not a story. <grin>.

But since, we’ve mentioned story. When I’m the Dungeon Master of my novels, stories, etc. I don’t want to know how the games end, either.

In both cases, with players and readers… I strongly believe, if I don’t know where things are heading there’s a good chance they don’t either.  If they do?  More power to them. They’re smarter than me.  And I’m okay with that.

— TD

Both of my books are widely available, and I would love to have you as a reader.  Universal links:

Everything is Broken

and

North County Girl

 

More Critical Reading

Simple, lazy post today.

If you’re interested in reading some more thoughts on Critical Reading give Harvey’s post a read:

https://hestanbrough.com/the-daily-journal-sunday-march-17/

I commented on his post regarding the re-reading enjoyable pieces…if you re-visit the Reading for Pleasure post, you’ll see that conceptually we do the same thing (i.e. in our own way).

A lot of interesting insight into how Harvey copy-edits…and what he expects of first readers.

Thanks all readers for the interesting comments on yesterday’s post.

— TD

 

 

Critical Reading

This is a continuation, of sorts, of the infamous Critique post and the less controversial Reading for Pleasure post.  I guess the flip-side of seeking Critique is participating in Critique as a reader.

I take that back. It’s not really a flip-side.  My position is the same.

The problem is the same. And in the Reading for Pleasure post, I pretty much laid it out. I’ve spent years tackling a reading critically problem.  It surfaced when I started “learning” to write, and going to peer critiques. Here’s the thing… critiquing is mind numbingly easy.  When you start from a position of trying find what’s wrong…you will.  Give me a week with Shakespeare, Gatsby, Hemingway… I’ll find something to criticize. But, good Lord, why would I want to do that?

The Lonesome Dove post showed that I haven’t completely conquered this demon, though I wasn’t overly critical… and I am REALLY enjoying this book.

So the selfish answer is I don’t want to critique because it is no fun. I read to be entertained.  The other collateral damage I’m trying to avoid is that reading critically means less time in my creative mind… not to mention, giving criticality that kind of power over my reading gives it an “in” when I sit down to write.

What does this means for fellow writers?  Do I not want to read your stories, poems, essays?

I do.  I want to read and enjoy them. I would be honored.  If your stuff is on the market, I’ll most likely purchase it (or borrow from library) and read it. If I don’t purchase it, and you share your work with me, I will be grateful and thank you for the opportunity to enjoy your work.

Unfortunately, if you come to me and ask me to share “what’s wrong with it?”  I won’t be able to help.  That’s critical reading, and I won’t purposefully take on that task for the selfish reasons I mention above.  I will, however, share one of my core beliefs:

The greatest quality an artist can have is belief in oneself.

–TD

 

Ideas

bulb close up electricity energy

Readers ask, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Writers bemoan, “I have so many ideas.”  Or, “I’m writing my current story, but I’ve got this great idea for the next one and all I want to do is write it.”

I have learned to shut down the idea factory.

Writers are advised, “Carry a notebook. You never know when you will get an idea, and you don’t want to forget it.”

I don’t write them down for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’ve shut down the idea factory, and only open it when I sit down to write.
  2. If the idea is really worth anything, it would be worth remembering.

Ideas are everywhere. I have zero fear that I will lack for ideas. I do however fear that the sheer number of them will become debilitating. Or the shiny, fresh idea will distract me from the current work.

Keeping Heinlein’s Rule #2 in the front of my mind helps with this.  If I am adamant about finishing what I start, then my creative mind will shove those fresh ideas to the corner closet, and focus on keeping the current work shiny and fresh.

You Must Finish What You Start.

A simple tool to keep ideas from overwhelming the process.

Back to the reader’s question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

The answer is simple. I get them from the process. Writing regularly does that. I know if I sit down and write… If I sit down with a character in a setting… if I ground myself (and by extension the reader) in the setting with that character… I will never want for ideas. Story will happen.

As an example, have you ever had a dream that was so realistic that it felt you were living it, despite the fact that the people you encounter are people you have never met in real life, and despite the fact that the locales are places you have never been to?  Of course, you have. This is the reason a lot of writers keep a notebook and pen on the bedside table to write down their dreams when they awake. ( I don’t do that either. ) Do you ever wonder where those ideas come from?

Probably.

Have you ever found an answer?

Probably not.

I think the answer is simple. You put yourself in a position to create those dreams. Namely, you go to sleep… and all of those critical voices that would suppress the creativity in your waking hours are asleep, too.  And your creativity awakes like a toddler put down at the playground. And there you have it, a great dream. A great story.

And that is how it works, if I just sit down regularly to write. If I don’t worry about if it’s any good… If I don’t worry about having a working “idea”.  Just sit down, and follow my characters around. They’ll get in trouble…they’ll do unbelievable things… they’ll probably do things a lot more interesting than real life. It is not my job to pass judgement on those things or criticize or tell them about some really cool idea I have about what they should be doing.  My job is to record them, as if I were recording one of those dreams I mentioned above…like the writer who keeps the pad on the bedside table. Except, I’m doing it real time. I’m recording the dream at my keyboard as it is happening.

–TD


 

Both of my books are widely available, and I would love to have you as a reader.  Universal links:

Everything is Broken

and

North County Girl

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