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First, we chatted about this new book that I bought, then we ordered lunch. The lunch was fine; our conversation was terse and melodramatic.

After a significant pause, I drop my spoon and begin by sounding unhappily abashed: "Listen, I happen to think it's a great work. Not just good, oh no. But great. Listen, it's not elegant. I'm no Yeats. I can't fill a paragraph with flowery phrases and butcherblock hills. It's not in me.


"Yeah, well, let me break it down for you. We've got two people discussing lunch possibilities and writing. It's not exciting, sure, but it's got merit. You've got to give it that.

"Maybe," Joy says seriously, "But it's like this. It finishes very quickly--"

"It's a short story."

"Be that as it may. You've managed to end it quickly, the characters are blandly unfunny--we only really know their names and that they're eating--and you use too many adverbs. Didn't I tell you about that?"

Now, admittedly, I have become unsure of myself, of my work. I take a moment to slowly and deliberately examine a large potted plant. It sits just off to the left of the cash register. How weird is that.

"Fine," I say mildly. "You're the published one of us, you tell me. You tell me what's what. Go ahead."

Joy stares at me for a minute, and a quiet, creeping smile crosses her pretty face. A smile of cheery commiseration, a smile that says It's okay, good buddy, I'm here for ya. Buck up! Her voice is strong, though, and it commands attention. "Listen to me very closely. You are not a bad writer. The gift's in you, certainly, but you're trying too hard. Things like 'remorseless walls,' or even 'pasty happiness' don't exist. Why include it? I suggest you strip your writing down, my friend, and the rest will fall into place."

Wow, I'm thinking. That's a really nice plant.

Then I said to her, "Well, what if I change the tense of the story, give it a unique feel. Do you think that will, you know, make it sound different? Improve if somehow? And if I get rid of some of the adverbs?" By this point, she was clearly in deep thought, toying with her spaghetti and meatballs with extremely new silverware, her eyes somewhere else. I started to tap my foot impatiently. Ah, distinctly I remember the look on her face, one of extreme concentration. A person can tell when they see this look that she is intelligent, startlingly so, and that whatever she says next will make sense.

What she says next is no exception. "I wouldn't bother with switching the verb tenses. After all, it's just a short story. There is no time for extensive revision of the verbiage in the story. It'd probably make it sound muddled. At least, that's my opinion. Seriously, I'm just hating those adverbs, Dean."

So, my writing's not bad? That's a relief, and I say so, but hold back as much of my delight as I can, attempting (futilely, perhaps) to sound professional. Like I'd told her a minute ago, she's published. I'm not.

Maintaining zero elation is difficult, but I say, "So, It's as simple as that. Lose the adverbs."

"I think so."

"Strip down the writing."

"Yeah." "Stick to the dialogue, strip the rest." "Sure. That too."

"And then what?"

She grins.

"Publish it."