120,000 words & conventional wisdom

I was fooling around looking at the word count of my novel the other day and I stumbled across a number of amusing articles contending that 120,000 words is some kind of magic number that one was unwise to exceed, especially as a first or second novel writer.

My favorite quote so far is:

“Word count limits can seem like they stifle artistic flow, but they exist for a reason.”

Uh, not really.

This is 2020. There are front list books. There are back list books. There long and short list books. But, there is no inherent relationship between word count and quality and I don’t care if the author is a newbie or Dostoyevsky.

The fact is that duration or word count might well be inextricably bound to the depth and complexity of the writer’s vision. If ebooks and contemporary printing technology has brought us anything it should be freedom from arbitrary limits respective to word count and the like.

So, if some stodgy old editor tells you differently, feel free to ignore what they say.

Only the author (and his or her trusted editor) can say whether a book has too many words (or too few).

To say otherwise would be to go back to the 20th or 19th century.

Let’s not…

 

120,000 words & conventional wisdom

We know very little about talent

We know very little about talent. When I saw, we I mean the entirety of folks who have ever asked themselves what talent is. Everyone is pretty sure they can recognize it when they see it. But isn’t there something more? I had a music teacher when I was  kid who said: “A lot of people have talent and a lot of people have discipline and tenacity. What you’ll find in most professional musicians is a combination of the two, and it can’t be beat.”

I agree, but there’s another question: Are discipline and tenacity simply additional manifestations of talent or are they qualities that all of us have access to and thereby not a function of innate ability?

Because if discipline and tenacity are innate talents aspiring to develop them may be like aspiring to be taller.  I think this is one of the most ignored questions in all of creativedom. My belief is that you cannot readily divide talent from drive. And, there’s a good chance that the combination of what we call talent and drive are different sides of the same coin that help our betters to attain artistic heights that are hard for we mere mortals to imagine, let alone  realize in our work.

Bummer, I say.

If all a given writer has on me is that he’ll outwork me, and for whatever reason I do not have what it takes to work at the same level, is he truly the more talented? We’re now likely on the cusp of trying to come up with another better descriptor like capable but every new word you or I come up with will take us right back to the same unanswerable question.

I am a believer is the search for small improvements. I believe that if I can affect an improvement in my drive as a writer, not to the level of someone who can crank out 50,000 words in a couple months, but just an improvement of a couple thousand words a month I’ll be really happy. And, the sequel to may first book will be done sooner.

But, I won’t be any more talented. I guess that will have to be good enough for me.

 

We know very little about talent

Social Isolation Part 2

Why have I always found it so pleasant to drink while I sit in the sun?

IMG_2245

I’m sure I can’t explain it. But, in these days of Social Isolation it still has its pleasures even though for now outside is a front yard rather than one of my local bars or brew pubs.

Plus, I’m dodging some clouds. Still, you know what they say about beggars and their lack of choices.

Now, the thing is I find outside & alcohol mentally provocative. Many times I will find myself enjoying a good IPA (like this one: Santa Monica Brewing Inclined IPA) and about halfway through I’ll get an idea and have to mosey on home to put it down. It’s not true every time but the reaction, or effect, always surprises me when it happens.

And, I do wonder why.

Is it the sun or the IPA or more likely a symbiotic combination? I vote for a symbiotic combination that flows from the sun’s gathering warmth and the mental softening effect of the IPA.

But, there’s something else and again it works in concert with both solar radiation and a good IPA; the lack of hurry, the feeling of easy contemplation, the sense that one is where one should be for that moment.

It’s often hard to create a lack of hurry sense, but that’s what I need.

Anyway, it’s a hard balance to strike and it’s all to easy to take it too far (IPA wise) and to become insensitive (idea wise). The key is to create a combination of balance & opportunity. If I can achieve that balance perhaps I can make some inroads on my book while staying safe. I’m well over halfway through but it’s still a little hard to see the end of tunnel.

I encourage all of you to do the same while being safe.

 

Social Isolation Part 2

Roger Modjeski Obituary

I wrestled with myself about writing this, I really did. I have known and worked and fought with Roger Modjeski since the 1990s. He has been an immense influence on my life as I know I was on his.

He was brilliant.

He was generous.

He was greedy.

He was visionary.

He was shortsighted.

He was my friend & I’m truly sorry he left this world so soon.

This is not an attempt to tell Roger’s life story. It’s more of  stream of consciousness obituary. If any dates  or the timeline of events are incorrect, I’m not really bothered. And, I’m not telling anything that I wouldn’t have said in Roger’s presence. We had an occasionally difficult relationship but an honest one and we were always civil toward one another during our battles.

Roger grew up in Richmond, Virginia, the son of the dean of the dental school at UVA, Peter Modjeski. I mention Roger’s father because it was he who got Roger interested in electronics, tubes and circuit design when Roger was little more than five years old. When Audio Advisor wanted a photo of Roger to include in their catalog, Roger wanted to use the photo of him at six, sitting in his pajamas with the first tube amplifier he ever designed, a single-ended triode, of course. He was a surprisingly outdoorsy kid, loving to fish the local rivers and streams. Roger spoke many times of grilling fresh fish and making hush puppies out in the woods near his family’s home.

Roger experienced a very strong push & pull toward the last of the 1970s that ended with him in California, first working at IBM and later at his then dream job with Harold Beveridge. Bev used Roger’s abilities wisely (for the most part) and Roger developed the RM-1/2 preamp and power supply while he was at the company but soon thereafter Roger felt the push and pull, again that only going into business for oneself can satisfy.

RAM Labs came first, followed by RAM Tube works and finally Music Reference. I heard my first Music Reference product at Brooks Berdans’ store in Monrovia way back when. A few years later I was publishing The Audio Observatory. Being an admirer of his designs, I always sent an issue to Roger. At some point, he wrote me a letter, inviting me to meet with him in Santa Barbara.

RAM 1

Really, though, the real Roger came through in the bit of verse he included on a separate page.

RAM 2

I say the real Roger, but I really meant that this was Roger as he could be, and as I know he strove to be. But, it was hard for him to sustain this kind of sensitivity and reflectiveness, especially when it came to his business.

RAM Labs was born at the perfect time. Had it started a decade later few would have valued his properly tested tubes and engineering rigor. But, in the early 80s folks were just beginning to yearn for it and the attraction to his tubes, once established, continues to this day. Music Reference was founded on Roger’s personal investment of $4,000. That cash built the first run of RM-4 pre-pres and the rest is history.

One of the reasons I sold The Audio Observatory was to go to work for Roger. I’m not sorry I did it though nothing turned out like I expected (does it ever?). Roger detested the processes of building gear as much as he loved designing and prototyping it. The RM-10 was born of his desire to build both an eco-friendly amp and one that got way more power out of a humble pair of EL84 output tubes. Given the right speakers, it sounded (and sounds) spectacular. Its small size kept it from being as respected as it should have been but to those who know there’s no amp anything like it designed or built anywhere.

The RM-200 was my idea. I waxed lyrical to Roger about my Audio Research D-70 MkII and what I regarded (and still regard) as the magic of two 6550s in a hard-driven circuit. Roger listened to me, and he listened to the D-70 MkII. Still, the ARC offended his sensibilities. The driver and input stage were overly complex and the 6550s were simply driven too hard. One day, Roger asked me if a reverse hybrid, one with a balanced solid-state input driving (you guessed it…a pair of 6550s) would have any appeal. I asked him how much it would cost and he said we could sell it for $1850. That number fit nicely with the RM-9 MkII so I loved the idea. Well, by the time the RM-200 hit the market it cost nearly $3000.

Why? Because Roger hated the process so much that he kept raising the price, even before the amp was available and even though out best dealers and distributors had placed cash deposits based on the old price. The truth was that building the RM-200 was fairly easy (especially compared to the RM-9 MkII). Still, it nearly killed Roger and I do not exaggerate. His doctor advised him no fewer than twice to abandon the project and sell the company if he wanted to preserve his health. The RM-200 was everything it was designed to be though a lot of people just didn’t get it. It broke too many rules, spoiled too many assumptions about hybrids, and feeding tubes with transistors. Though we knew selling it would be an uphill battle, the reception (save for Stereophile’s Class A Recommendation) was hurtful to both of us. The price increase simply killed that amp and prevented it from being the unusual classic it could have easily been.

By the time I moved on from RAM Labs we were basically out of the equipment game. There was nothing being built. We had RM-9 SEs on hand and a smattering of RM-4 but that was it. The RM-5, the RM-10 and the RM-200 were all in suspended animation at that point. I had grown tired of making promises to dealers and especially our distributor in Singapore who had made a sizable investment in our gear and tubes. As Roger admitted to me one day, “It’s hard not having anything in your cart to sell.”

I visited Roger a few times while he was still in Santa Barbara and we always had fun hanging out and chatting, never about business. By then, he was building his custom SE stuff. That had been a kind of dream for him for a long time; build one, sell one. You see for Roger, the joy was in The Study as he called it. That was his process of going from inspiration to finished circuit. That was the part he loved and it had nothing whatever to do with business. Most high end companies are the opposite. The designs fly together, be they good or not so good, and then move on to production. It’s time to sell the damn thing is the collective battle cry of the high end.

Roger was caught between those two desires. He believed his real value was as a designer and, of course, it was. He used to say, “Why can’t I just design it and someone else build it?” That made sense, but in the end it was always his company and the idea of prototyping something let alone moving it on toward manufacture without him was unsound. Still, the glory of his designs do and will endure. The RM-10, the RM-9, the RM-5 and the Counterpoint SA-4 are among the most enduring high end products ever; and for good reason.

RAM 3

RAM 4

This Christmas card from way back when will always be how I remember Roger Modjeski. Working alongside him was many things, including fun. I will always wish that we could have accomplished more, with Music Reference especially. But, in the end, we did what we could and we did it our way. I know all of the owners of Music Reference gear will treasure their gear all the more now that he has slipped away from us. For myself, I wish only for one more sunny day in Santa Barbara with him, sitting outside one of our favorite restaurants, talking about the high end and music and life.

 

Roger Modjeski Obituary

The Truth About Drinking & Writing

The truth is that I don’t know very many hard truths about drinking and writing, or even exactly why writers tend to drink. That said, I will say that many of the learned explanations I’ve read don’t show much understanding, let alone truths either.

No less an authority than Psychology Today included gems like:

the drive for success of every kind

the hunger for prestige, fame, and money

Naw, that ain’t it…

Anyway, I do have some ideas (better ideas than those, anyway).

Crafting the Buzz

You’re a wordsmith, that’s great. And, if you drink when you write you also have to be a buzzsmith (yes, I did just invent that word) because too much alcohol, and this is news to no one, blunts perception, true sensitivity and the ability to articulate ideas.

But, what about just enough alcohol? Well, that’s a different story. I contend that, for me, just enough alcohol, just as it facilitates some conversations, facilitates access to ideas and word combinations that may well be elusive in a state of total sobriety.

The general accepted idea is that judgment is the first faculty to be affected by alcohol. But, think about what judgment can mean when applied to writing. It’s easy for judgment to become self-judgment, and self-judgment is very effective in closing down new and novel ways to think about things. Since when has that helped the writing process? There’s a chance that just enough alcohol can open the very doors that need to be open for the ideas to flow their best.

But there’s something else, too.

A Foil Against Writing-Induced Loneliness

I cannot tell you how many times people have asked me how I can spend so much time alone and writing, owing to my basically chatty nature. It’s not only difficult but it runs against some of my most basic instincts to be around other people and talking. When my office is quiet, and it’s dark outside, my first impulse is to call someone on the phone. But, if there’s something I want to write I need to replace that temptation for a while. I start with a snack and follow it with a drink. If I make good progress, I may have another drink, but that’s it.

The law of diminishing returns sets in after two drinks.

Is a Rum & Coke So Different From a Xanax?

When I get home from a long day and a hundred miles or more of driving and I need to write, I’m also going to want a drink. That’s the just the truth without a proclamation of pride or shame. I admit it’s an ongoing balancing act. I admit that I have also written effectively when sober as a proverbial judge. And, sadly very close friends of mine have had their lives ended by the ravages of alcoholism.

So Where Does that Leave Writers and Alcohol?

Writing, like living, is an art. There’s simply no rule book that governs the creative process. I can only say that I seek balance. I want to write. I want to see people and enjoy their company. I want to have a couple drinks and enjoy people and writing sometimes even more when I do without.

All of that said, I want to do all of this safely, in a way that protects me and everyone else. That can be the hard part but it’s also the most important part of all.

Enjoy & create, but take good care of yourself while you’re doing it.

 

The Truth About Drinking & Writing

Everything’s easy, right?

I’ve not been around lately because I am trying to make hay while the sunshines on my second book. It’s coming along nicely, thanks for asking. I have an outside chance of finishing the narrative by my self-imposed deadline of December 31 of this year.

It’ll be close but I might just make it.

Anyway, I was having lunch with a preternaturally nervous and stressed friend yesterday. Does he deserve to be as wound up as he is? I don’t think so but it’s pretty much his natural state. He’s a little better some days and worse others.

We were parked at the bar of the local CPK and he asked why I wasn’t having a beer. I told him CPK had a lousy tap list. They used to make mixed drinks with Pepsi, for heaven’s sake.

He said, “I wonder why some of the local brewers don’t just get a keg in here. It would be easy.”

“Easy?” I said incredulously.

“Wouldn’t it be?” he said naively.

Before I not-so-gently corrected him I reminded myself who he was and how he thought. For him, everything is always simple and easy as long as someone else is doing it. I try to remind him that pretty much anything worth doing is located on the Hard Scale somewhere between difficult and impossible but he’s quite resistant to the reality of all things worthwhile.

Writing a book? Easy until you try.

Brewing a decent red ale? Easy until you try.

Learning a new language? Easy until you try.

Admitting something’s hard shouldn’t scare us away from doing it. We only have to care enough to take the steps that need taking, day after day.

Simple, right?

Just remember that simple isn’t easy.

 

 

Everything’s easy, right?

More good writing advice: Don’t talk your story away.

Don’t think it away, either.

I have to admit I got this one from an episode of The Waltons called The Literary Man from Season One.

A older writer named A.J. Covington passes through Walton’s Mountain and regales John-Boy with tales of his travels and the stories he planned to write. Late in the episode, the old writer confessed to John-Boy that he didn’t really write any more.

He had made the mistake of talking his stories away.

I never heard of that, but it made sense immediately.

There’s something about the rhythm and crackle of decent writing that needs to come to existence on the page, not the tongue.

Once we speak it, we might compromise it somehow.

I don’t tend to talk my work away but I do have a tendency to think about my ideas too much. I try to avoid that kind of thought, though I don’t always succeed.

Instead, once I get an idea about a direction to take or a scene to tackle I try to get right at it; words on paper as quickly as possible.

More good writing advice: Don’t talk your story away.

Best writing advice ever!

I’m in deep into the sequel to my first novel,  John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open.

The working title (and my bet the final title) of the sequel is Cottonwood.

I am dedicated to moving the narrative along at a rapid clip. I hike fast. I play golf fast. I speak fast and I write fast, until I take a break, which I did too often with JJM.

That’s a mistake I will not make again. In fact, I’ve put a serious time limit on writing the narrative to the sequel. I want to finish the narrative by the end of 2019. It’ll take another three to five months to edit and format the dang thing, so it’s really not all that fast compared to other writers.

Anyway, I wanted to pass along the best writing advice I ever heard. The advice is in Doug Nichol’s 2016 film, California Typewriter and it came from the late Sam Shepard.

I’ll paraphrase the advice:

Never quit when you’re stuck. When you start up again you’ll still be stuck.

Now the funny thing is that I rarely consider myself to be struck. If I fail to work on my book it’s nearly always because I’ve been distracted by lesser things like work. But, there’s still a lot of wisdom and usefulness to what Shepard said. Since I heard his admonition I try to quit when I’m on a roll I know I can keep it going later. In fact, a lot of times the momentum of the roll is actually enhanced by the renewed energy that comes from taking a break to go on a hike or drink a fine IPA.

When I do nudge up against stuckness (to borrow a word made up by Robert Pirsig) I dedicate myself to the kind of written thrashing about that, if I’m lucky,  gets a few more words and hopefully good ideas onto the page. The small success of getting those kinds of difficult words down blunts the sharpness of feeling a little stuck and replaces it with the confidence that a way forward can be found with a bit more effort.

Anyway, think about what Sam said the next time you find yourself stuck.

 

 

Best writing advice ever!

One is not enough & four is not too many: My SeeMore FGP collection

I bought my first SeeMore FGP on a whim. The aged FGP was sitting forlorn deep in the used putter orphanage at my local golf shop.

I believe I paid $35 for my belovedFGP.

That FGP marked a significant development for my putting. Before I owned that putter, I had played many different styles of putters, never staying with any one design for long and always being disappointed with my putting.

Then came the FGP. That original SeeMore FGP forever changed my outlook on putting. Putts started to look makable and on good days, easy.

Yup, as of today I own four SeeMore FGPs. The original, the one my golf buddy has named, Big Daddy, stays home during most rounds. It will always be my favorite but I usually find myself using my only new FGP, a limited edition putter (mine is number 45 of 100), when I play. I like the all-black shaft a little better than the two-tone shafts of the originals.

All of my FGPs use brass heads. I have used a stainless version of the FGP before but something about the sound is slightly less satisfying to me. It took me forever to find an all-brass model then one day a fine example popped up with its original cover and a somewhat smooth SeeMore grip.

The SeeMore grip is great for originality’s sake but I prefer the superb Rosemark grip. The IOmic grip in the photo is a temporary stand-in while I wait for another Rosemark.

Used SeeMore head covers are hard to come by in good shape. I wish SeeMore would make a move to covers from AM&E but that’s only because I’m a relentlessly picky SOB. In addition to the old and new original SeeMore covers there’s my new UCLA cover and a simple but high quality leather cover from Stitch Golf.

My latest FGP acquisition is another adopted orphan. Its finish was rough but the face and top line were clean so I snapped it up for $30. I am waffling between the idea of refinishing the crinkle-black finish or leaving it rat-rod style. I did take one liberty with the putter. It was originally built to 36″ so I carefully cut it down to 34″ to match its stablemates and installed the IOmic for now.

In my opinion, the design of the SeeMore FGP is as relevant to putting as the Ping Anser and, arguably, the FGP is the better design from the standpoints of ease of use and pure performance. For players who are wise enough to adopt the design and learn to use SeeMore’s simple, logical system better putting is all but assured. You won’t have to buy four SeeMore putters to learn the lesson. Buy one and you’ll be sold forever.

One is not enough & four is not too many: My SeeMore FGP collection

A Quick Review of the Fifine K669B USB Microphone

Fifine

You can buy this little beauty here.

I’m grateful to Fred Greene, head honcho of the GolfSmarter podcast, for a number of things. One that I hadn’t anticipated was how much I enjoyed being interviewed by him for his podcast. Though it was a little out of my experiential-comfort zone, I really enjoyed it. I’m a born talker (as I think most writers are) but speaking formally over the course of 30 minutes is a different kind of talking than most of us are used to doing.

But, again, I liked it. I soon had the idea of doing an audio version of my golf short story, Kingdom of Dreams. I saw the effort as a study that would help me determine whether I could successfully narrate my novel, John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open.

I think I can.

Though I’m not bowled over by the quality of my narration so far the results seem workable and I’m hoping to get better as I gain experience and learn from my inevitable mistakes.

It didn’t take long to figure out I needed a microphone that was better than the built-in mics in any of my Macs or my iPhone. I asked around and did (very) little research.

A trusted podcaster I know recommended the Blue Yeti but I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about dropping $125 on something that could soon end up collecting dust on a shelf.

So, I decided on the Fifine K669B. I’m mean, it’s only $29 at Amazon and it’s Prime-eligible so there’s very little to lose.

Some of you may know I worked in high end audio for decades and have reviewed well over a hundred high end products. I’ve also been formally and informally involved of scores of recording sessions from pop to classical.

But, I’ve never actually reviewed a microphone. The more I thought about it the more I realized that something really critical to proper audio reviewing was missing.

There’s no reference.

Nearly all of the web and youtube reviews of mics compare one mic to another. I understand this temptation but the better or worse game that’s pretty much useless in evaluating playback gear is even more useless in evaluating source gear.

Why?

Let’s say it again…there’s no reference.

A given reviewer may like the way his voice sounds on Mic A instead of Mic B but that is no predictor of whether anyone else will like the sound of their voice when captured by Mic A.

A significant part of mic performance can be evaluated objectively but most reviewers confine their objective comments to describing features which is fine as far as that goes, but features do not relate directly to quality when you’re talking about audio fidelity.

So, what can I say about the Fifine? I can say it’s fine…for me. It has a fixed cardioid pattern that’s well suited to my simple needs and is truly plug & play (at least on a Mac).

Also, the little fellow is nicely put together, seemingly solid, yet not overly heavy. Some will surely complain about the captive USB cable but at least you know that if you remembered to bring the mic you also remembered the cable!

The only adjustment on the mic is for volume and I found the sensitivity to be plenty wide for my needs and is quite smooth. The volume knob has a reassuringly heavy feel and is easy to position precisely and consistently.

I found set up to be as simple as plugging the mic in and hitting record and I designate the sound quality as just dandy (I know; far too many technical terms).

For $29 there’s just nothing for me to complain about.

Lastly, the Fifine Folks appear to be very responsive at least related to their Amazon sales. This is especially impressive for such an inexpensive product and shows the company understands that early efforts related to customer service will help them build their brand over time.

Well done, Fifine. You’ve done a fantastic job with K669B.

 

A Quick Review of the Fifine K669B USB Microphone