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February 24, 2004

Elmore Leonard’s ten rules
Posted by Teresa at 12:20 AM *

If there’s a better set of rules for writers, I don’t know it. Read this, it’s good for you.

Comments on Elmore Leonard's ten rules:
#1 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 12:30 AM:

That link is broken. Knock the o out from between the equals sign and the first quote mark.

#2 ::: ben ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 02:10 AM:

What Avram said, and the entire piece might be summed up as follows:

If you had to tie yourself into a pretzel to write that part, you might advise the reader that they can instead spend that reading time on a visit to the bakery for a real pretzel.

Perhaps I'm brave or even bigheaded for going there, but such was my takeaway.

(I wish he'd raised the business of the turtle in Grapes of Wrath for contrast... and I devour Steinbeck, all the same.)

#4 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 04:13 AM:

Hooptedoodle is a fine thing when done well, but I find it seldom is.

#5 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 07:17 AM:

I'd comment at longer length, but right now I have to log off and go work on my novel's prologue.

#6 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 08:37 AM:

Damn, there goes my opening sentence: "It was a dark and stormy night..."

#7 ::: Mer Haskell ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 08:47 AM:

Finally! Someone admits that prologues are the most unnecessary, annoying thing in fiction.

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 08:50 AM:

All fixed.

The rule Patrick and I most admired -- aside from all of them, that is -- was #10, "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."

#9 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 09:04 AM:

Hmm. Far as I can tell, these ten rules all boil down to one thing: "good prose is unobtrusive". Alternatively: "pyrotechnic prose may light your fire, but your readers will most likely respond by reaching for the extinguisher."

And, most importantly of all, "never use ten words where one will do."

#10 ::: j blegaa ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 09:13 AM:

Here's another set of rules - not necessarily *better*, but darn good: http://www.holtuncensored.com/ten_mistakes.html.

#11 ::: Ray ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 09:37 AM:

Well, some good prose is unobtrusive. Some good prose stops you in your tracks, forcing you to go back and read that last paragraph again because it was so good. Some good prose works force you to constantly think about the fact that you're reading, which is 'obtrusive' if you look at it the wrong way.
But no matter how visible you intend your prose to be, its probably a good idea not to use many exclamation points, or synonyms for 'said', or adverbs. They're not just visible - they're ugly.

#12 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 09:51 AM:

Just to be flippant, what's wrong with "Write what you think is cool?"

#13 ::: Shelley ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 10:22 AM:

The rules are entertaining, but when I read them I think of Sebald's "Vertigo" (with Sebald's own, unique unbroken paragraphs filled with seemingly disconnected ramble that flows beautifully), or Agee and Evan's "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" (another favorite, where Agee spends pages just describing a simple kitchen), and I think that there are no real rules of writing -- there are people who want to be writers, and people who are writers, and rules are made for the former but broken by the latter.

And that was one long paragraph, probably breaking some rules along the way. Does that make me a writer?

Too circular, my head is imploding, my pen leaking. I said.


#14 ::: Ray Girvan ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 10:29 AM:

And more in the same vein: Turkey City.

#15 ::: Emmet ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 10:30 AM:

I can see the point of these, if what you want is to write like Elmore Leonard. On the other hand, when I think what an application of these rules would do to The Worm Ouroboros or the Gormenghast books, or even The Lord of the Rings, I find myself wanting to carefully take them somewhere a long way away and leave them there.

#16 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 10:32 AM:

Skwid: nothing wrong with it at all -- as long as you recognize that the readers may not share your opinion.

#17 ::: Rachel Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 10:36 AM:

Lovely. It boils down to "write from a reader's point of view," at least in the rewrite stage (personal emendation--do whatever you have to in the first draft stage).

re: Going easy on dialect: I couldn't agree more, unless you're Mark Twain, and we already had one of him. Even Shaw, who wanted everyone to spell everything phonetically, wrote exactly three lines of Eliza Doolittle's Cockney as pronounced, then, giving up, wrote:

[Here, with apologies, this desperate attempt to represent her dialect without a phonetic alphabet must be abandoned as unintelligible outside London.]

If he couldn't do it, you can't either--and no one wants to try to read it!

#18 ::: Andrew Shultz ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 10:45 AM:

Good stuff that, and not just for fiction. I can think of many technical documents I read that could have done without the part that readers tend to skip. Good technical prose is only as obtrusive as necessary.

But then, I've been reading too much of the stuff recently.

#19 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 11:21 AM:

Emmet: Thank you for saying what I was thinking.

Teresa: I never skip anything when I read. Nothing, not the back copy, not the summary on the endflaps, not the verso of the tp. So of *course* I don't skip any of the actual story.

MKK

#20 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 12:04 PM:

Hmm. I read things for different reasons. Some writers are good at spinning a good yarn, and others at sentential craftsmanship. These are a great set of rules for the former, but not so good for the latter. If the plot is the only important thing, excellent rules to follow.

But I've read stories where hardly anything happened, hardly anyone said anything, and most of the description was of the inside of the characters' heads. Alice Walker's "Olive Oil" left me in tears, for example. Elmore Leonard could not have written it, and nor could Alice Walker if she'd been following his rules.

Still, I'll keep them in mind...if only to aid in understanding when I get my rejection slips.

#21 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 12:21 PM:

Ah, if only Little, Big had been written with those rules in mind. Then I wouldn't weep with envious despair at the beauty of the prose, and at how I'll never be John Crowley; nor would I be rendered impotent at my keyboard afterward for hours at a stretch.

#22 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 12:22 PM:

MKK: but do you save the cover copy & blurbs for last? I've started doing that because I'm becoming more and more spoiler-averse.

#23 ::: Seth Ellis ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 12:37 PM:

Elmore Leonard's advice actually boils down to "make the parts readers tend to skip easily skippable, so the readers can get to know them better on the second or third re-read." For me, a book without the "skippable" parts generally isn't worth re-reading, however good I thought it was. I've read a few of Leonard's books, for instance, and while I remember enjoying them immensely at the time, I can't remember a single thing about the books themselves. Whereas I have to admit I could eat Italo Calvino's books for breakfast every day, even though they tend to consist of all the skippable bits with the story surgically removed.

#24 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 01:08 PM:

3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue.

To this day, I still read James Blish's two books, the Issues at Hand volumes, and especially enjoy rereading his essays on "Said-Bookisms."

"Good morning," he pole-vaulted.

#25 ::: Alex Roston ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 01:50 PM:

"3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue."

I've just read a few pages in two of my favorite books, Beryl Markham's "West With the Night" and John Varley's "The Golden Globe," with an eye to the use of "said."

It would appear that "said" is used by itself about ninety percent of the time, and it is never modified by an adverb. When said is not used the appropriate verb - whispered, chanted, answered - is substituted, sometimes with appropriate modifiers. It seems like the use of a word other than "said," is used by both authors to indicate that the piece of dialogue is very important and that the reader should pay close attention.

The places IMHO where these two books read best is where no verb is used to indicate dialog. Instead, the piece of dialogue is linked to a person and an action, as follows in this bit from "West With the Night:"

"Can you walk, Kosky, I must follow Buller. He may get killed."

"The Murani smiled without mirth. "Of course, Lakweit! This is nothing - except reward for my foolishness. I will go back to the Singiri and have it attended to. It is best that you lose no time and follow Buller. Already the sun is sinking. Go now, and run quickly."

No "saids" at all. And it reads beautifully.

This implies an extremely complex rule set, but Leonard summed it up nicely.

Alex

#26 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 01:58 PM:

J. Blegaa, fine and good if the Holt Uncensored rules work for you; but I disagree with more of them than I agree with. If you believe what they say, S. J. Perelman and P. G. Wodehouse can't write.

I think Elmore Leonard's rules are excellent, taken collectively rather than as applicable single rules for all occasions; but they're superseded by the great and primordial rule of writing, which says that if it works, it's not wrong, and if it doesn't work, it's not right.

More on this anon. I have a book that needs making.

#27 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 02:01 PM:

That's good. And a really bad writer doing exactly the same scene would have generated a line something like this:

"Of course, Lakweit!", the Murani smiled mirthlessly.

#28 ::: Alex Roston ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 02:27 PM:

Simon, that was wonderful. I'm putting the two phrases together for contrast, printing them out, and taping them to my mirror:

"The Murani smiled without mirth. "Of course, Lakweit! This is nothing - except reward for my foolishness. I will go back to the Singiri and have it attended to. It is best that you lose no time and follow Buller. Already the sun is sinking. Go now, and run quickly."

A really bad writer doing exactly the same scene would have generated a line something like this:

"Of course, Lakweit!", the Murani smiled mirthlessly.

Alex

#29 ::: Alex Roston ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 02:36 PM:

Sorry for the above. The italics should have extended down for a few lines more.

Alex

#30 ::: Katherine F. ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 02:47 PM:

Hmm. Taking these rules one by one:

1: don't open with weather: it's not specifically weather he's referring to here so much as atmospheric description in general. William Goldman says you can't open a screenplay with a courtroom scene because there's too much going on that needs to be described, and whoever's reading the script will get bored and give up. The trouble is, it's very hard to make an atmospheric description gripping. You really do need to be Mervyn Peake to get away with it, and a lot of people give up on Titus Groan early on because it's just too dense.

2: avoid prologues: errr... "Prologues are just backstory" -- well, yes, but backstory can be extremely important to the main plot, to the extent that revealing it through flashbacks or dialogue or scattered hints can make it unnecessarily hard to figure out what's going on, or can force the writer to shoe-horn backstory into a place where it doesn't fit. Probably too many novels have prologues, but sometimes a prologue is exactly what's needed.

3 & 4: bookisms & Tom Swifties: this should be obvious, but it isn't. "Never" is a bit too strong, but only a little bit.

5: exclamation points: yes, and this also applies to semi-colons. More so if you love run-on sentences.

6: "suddenly": Oy. I agree completely with this, and it's so hard.

7: dialect: Well, Irvine Welsh gets away with it, but he's an exception. And even Trainspotting has long stretches with no significant amounts of dialect.

8 & 9: descriptions of characters and places: Depends. Sometimes detailed descriptions are necessary, or at least desirable; sometimes they're not. (Again, I refer you to Titus Groan. Every character, down to the Grey Scrubbers, the servants whose hereditary task it is to wash the walls of Gormenghast's kitchens before the cooks arrive, is described in microscopic detail. Every room, every corridor, every speck of dust. It makes the book a slow read, but immensely rewarding.) I think Leonard's expressing a preference here, not picking out a universal truth.

And as for rule 10: different people skip different things. Some people skip the battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings; some people skip the poetry; some people skip the scenery descriptions. If he's saying "write what you like to read", that is good advice, and surprisingly un-obvious. (If you can't stand to read it, why should anyone else bother?) But he seems to imply that everyone skips the same bits, which is Just Not True.

I think the Pat Holt Ten Mistakes that j blegaa mentioned is better, though.

Of course all of these lists of rules should include Rule #0: Follow the rules 99% of the time, but ignore them if breaking them allows you to do something wonderful.

#31 ::: Seth Ellis ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 02:59 PM:

Katherine - What a great run-down. I agree almost entirely, especially about Titus Groan, but please don't make me give up my semi-colons. I love the little things.

#32 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 03:46 PM:

I agree with them, in principle. I also saw here what I expected to see, which was a host of well read (and attentive readers) pointing out that really good/great writers break the rules all the time.

Take the weather. f'r'instance, I happen to think one of the best opening lines in a book was, "It was a dark and stormy night," because it set the mood, totally, and completely (the next line in the book I have in mind introduces us to the protaganist, and uses the weather to sketch a sense of her, but I digress).

Mind you the book to which I attach it is L'Engles, "Wrinkle in Time," not the vast tome Bulwer-Lytton wrote with the same opening (Snoopy's book, for those who don't know is comprised of bits and pieces of the latter novel).

As for dialect, I will use to Twain to make an amendment: Only use it if you know it, inside and out. "Huckleberry Finn" is great, but I find "The Prince and the Pauper" unreadable. On the other hand, he didn't try for dialect in "A Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" and that worked just fine.

Terry

#33 ::: Laura Kinsale ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 04:12 PM:

To Elmore Leonard, I say, "Piffle."

But then, I love Georgette Heyer. And I think I started an Elmore Leonard once and never finished it, but I can't remember. Which should tell you something.

Not only is every reader different, what readers want changes. This list of "rules" is tatamount to this season's list of "What Not To Wear."

But for those afraid of having people snicker and point at them behind their backs, having a list is a comforting thing. To the rest of you, have courage, and write your story the way you think it is best told. It may be those electric blue suede shoes are just the right touch.

#34 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 04:15 PM:

Charlie, I don't think I've proven myself cool enough to expect my ideas of cool to match many...nay, anyone's idea of cool.

Frankly, I'm one of the least cool people I know...which at least makes for some interesting schtick.

#35 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 06:01 PM:

I thought that the key to Elmore Leonard's rules was made clear in many cases:

"If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want."

"There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's ''Sweet Thursday,'' but it's O.K. because ..."

"Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word."

and so on.

In other words, any rule can be broken *IF* you know exactly what you're doing (Corollary: A lot of newish writers, myself included, who think they know exactly what they're doing don't, so it never hurts to at least look over your prose with these rules in mind).

If I took these rules as absolutes, I'd dismiss them all, even the last. If I take them as written, with all their caveats, they make sense.

#36 ::: Alex Roston ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 06:45 PM:

I thought about my "extended" rules for dialogue, and did a little rewriting on my current effort with them in mind. I changed a lot, but I didn't change everything.

It does works better now, however.

Alex

#37 ::: Karen Junker ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 07:10 PM:

To paraphrase a writer friend - I'd carry dog poo in my bare hands for miles to write like Atwood.

At this stage, I reckon it's too soon to know if breaking a few of Elmore's rules would help.

#38 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 07:40 PM:

Elmore's rules: Number One (Never start with the weather) reminds me of one of Mark Twain's forwards, where he famously excuses the lack of weather in the entire book. (I then spent much time as a small child, looking for weather, and as it accompanied a compendium of Twain's work, and not only the original book to which it had been attached, I actually found some weather somewhere, and was disappointed and elated at the same time. I think the weather was in Roughing It, but I don't quite remember.)

I too think NEVER is a bit harsh when it comes to never using a word other than said to carry dialogue or when using adverbs. On the other hand, I have read a lot of Anne of Green Gables and The Girl of the Limberlost and find certain parts hard to read without giggling because of the authorial choice in adjectives. For example, the Girl of the Limberlost ejaculates, expostulates, and pants. A LOT. (David Eddings also suffers from "said-isms".) I think the same rule that applies to exclamation points should apply to verbs-other-than-said and adverbs--but with slightly less stringent ratios. Like maybe one every twenty pages. If necessary.

Random question: I have prologue disease...and I'm honestly trying to clear it up. But what do I do if I have necessary information from the viewpoint of a character, who while important to the story, isn't one of the two main view point characters? Also, this period of time happens just before either of those two characters is born. I had considered letting them find the information out through several methods, like reading a journal or talking to the minor character involved, but she's just not a chatty Cathy and she doesn't write anything down, being a paranoid little bugger. I also need to seed the information fairly early on, as it leads to certain other events....so what to do about the prologue? Chop it up, and intersperse it throughout the book? Or make it the first chapter, and suddenly in chapter two, jump to the first of the two main characters? Are there any circumstances where the very concept of a prologue won't make readers skip twenty pages? (As per rule ten.)

Holt's rules: The repeats - Diane Gabaldon is a repeat offender on this one, as she keeps describing Brianna's "blue gaze" or "blue stare" or whatever it was. I just remember that she used it a few times on two different, if related characters. Since the story is related in first person though, would that make it an acceptable usage, as people often give little idiomatic phrases to habits of other people they know well. Perhaps that was the character's own recognition pattern for the other two characters.

Also, if you use a word or derivatives in a differing way...ie...using the noun form or the adjective, or to describe differing things, is it considered resting on a crutch word? While not the most stellar prose in the world, the "abrasion" examples seemed to differ enough that I might not have noticed it twenty pages later. On the same page perhaps or in the same paragraph, perhaps--but not unless it was the exact phrasing, used to describe the same thing as before. (The use of such a word might be deliberate, trying to enforce a particular metaphor.)


#39 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 07:55 PM:

The master rule for writing is this:

You can do anything at all, provided it works.

#40 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 08:54 PM:

I have to admit, I felt for the poor fellow over in
Slushkiller who asked something along the lines of
"How do I tell when it's good enough?" to get hit
with TNH's "It depends." Of course, that's better
than what I felt like saying, which was, "When it
no longer sucks."

I don't mind Ten Rules lists, but I'd feel better if
they were called "Ten Heuristics." If Writing Good
Stuff was just a question of finding a magic recipe,
writing would be an engineering degree. (Cf. Fritz
Leiber's _The Silver Eggheads_, if you can find
a copy.)

#41 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 08:55 PM:

Hooptedoodle.

Pardon me. I just really like that word.

Hooptedoodle. Hooptedoodle. Hooptedoodle.

Okay, continue with whatever it was you were doing.

#42 ::: Adriana ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 09:00 PM:

Stephan -

I wrote that. I hated the answer I got, but I guess its true. There's a really good short story by Raold Dahl about this man who invents a machine that writes novels and short stories. Good writing can't be mass-produced, can't be defined - you just have to write it and if it works it works and if not you have to find something that does works. If it's not bad, it's good, and if it's not good, its bad, and there's no real machine that cn tell you the answer.

Sometimes I think math is a lot simpler than writing.

#43 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 10:13 PM:

The more I learn about writing, the more parallels I draw with the acting training I got in college. I remember an instructor saying once that there wasn't really a way to teach acting - only a guide to some of the problems and pitfalls that come up when you do it. You get a toolbox of stuff that's potentially useful (and advice on a couple of things that almost always don't work), but figuring out when, or if, you need the right tool is up to you.

So there's no magic formula, no advice you can get that will turn you from mediocre to brilliant, or cure you of a tin ear, or assure you that if you just follow the instructions and Don't Do These Things you will make Art (and a pile of cash). There are no turn-by-turn directions, only maps of inhospitable territory with a few hazards marked out and "Here Be Dragons" scrawled in at the outer edges. And the patchy, unreliable, contradictory accounts of a few of the explorers who have gone before.

I suppose the problem is that almost everyone suffers from "Yes, but when I do it, it will work," and some of them are right.

#44 ::: Christina Schulman ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 10:20 PM:

As rules for writing go, I particularly like Gene Wolfe's rules in the Turkey City materials. ("Resist the temptation to overexplain. Your readers are smart.")

There's something poignant about Wolfe's name being misspelt throughout that page.

Karen Junker wrote:
To paraphrase a writer friend - I'd carry dog poo in my bare hands for miles to write like Atwood

Does that work?

#45 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 10:26 PM:

SEARCH FOR: Prologue
REPLACE WITH: Part One

Well, hey, that was an easy fix.

#46 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 11:07 PM:

Briefly, to Adriana: As someone who got her bachelor's in math and has no academic credentials in writing/English/literature, but is by no means a mathematician (as much as she would have liked to be), your comment made me pause. Certainly before I hit 9th grade geometry I would have said almost anything was easier, or at least more fun, than math. Writing came naturally (for some value of "naturally") and math didn't. Years later, having tasted the appetizer to the appetizer of theoretical math, I'm not so sure. If I were of mathematical calibre to (someday) do original research, I'd be doing it; but what little I glimpsed suggests that the creativity and aesthetic sense that go into mathematical creation/proof are ineffably difficult to learn, just as the creativity and aesthetic sense that go into verbal creation are.

Of course, any real mathematicians, let alone mathematician-writers, on this thread will now trounce me. But I can't shake that feeling. I wouldn't sell my soul for better writing, because it's something I know the hard way I can develop in myself. There have been times I'd've honestly sold my soul to be a true mathematician, however, because I'm not at all confident of it.

Okay, now the writers on this thread will hunt me down and flog me with a wet em-dash...

#47 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 11:26 PM:

Adriana, TNH-- apologies. Nothing like misremembering who wrote what what where to look dumb.

As far as math being easier than writing, or writing easier than math, it's not worth worrying about.
You start saying things like "This blob of marmalade makes a better hammer than this dead fish."
They're two different skills-- although they do have one thing in common, in that there's no way to learn
how to be an insightful mathematician except to try to do it and hope for the best.

(Side note: per Goedel's work, there's no machine that can tell whether a mathematical theorem
is provable or disprovable, either.)

#48 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 02:54 AM:

Hooptedoodle. Hooptedoodle. Hooptedoodle. Hooptedoodle.

#49 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 03:09 AM:

For some but not all people, writing is easier than math. For some but not all people, math is easier than writing (especially fiction). For some people in some circumstances, they can switch.

Making any of these generalizations global merely annoys the pig.

#50 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 03:28 AM:

Take the weather. f'r'instance, I happen to think one of the best opening lines in a book was, "It was a dark and stormy night," because it set the mood, totally, and completely

And let's not forget "It had begun to snow."

#51 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 04:19 AM:

"Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters."

Implying weather is, obviously, an entirely different coil of trope.

#52 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 05:26 AM:

"Of course all of these lists of rules should include Rule #0: Follow the rules 99% of the time, but ignore them if breaking them allows you to do something wonderful."

I think this is implied in his comments on Steinbeck. To those who dismiss his advice by listing authors who successfully pursue the opposite approach - reread what he says about Steinbeck.

I just read the TLS comment (see backtrack link) and I think it needs to be observed that these rules represent his personal approach, and his comments on Steinbeck show he does not think people need to follow them slavishly, even if they work for him.

Wow, I never thought I'd type Steinbeck's name four times in one day.

#53 ::: ET ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 07:43 AM:

> per Goedel's work, there's no machine that can tell whether a mathematical theorem is provable or disprovable, either

That's not exactly correct. In any formal system there's a theorem that can be defined but can't be proved or disproved. That doesn't mean that it can't be done for most theorems.

As for the article, I find the discussion of it as "rules of writing" kind of funny. Elmore Leonard specifically starts with "These are rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible..." These rules have a very specific purpose -- to make the writer invisible in the story. It'd be interesting to argue whether they serve this purpose well and which writers have broken them and yet remained invisible (I'm not knowledgeable enough to argue this), but arguing about breaking them without regard to invisibility is taking them out of context. (Of course, my own reaction was similar when I read them, but I realised it was because some of the writers I like are deliberately not invisible.)

#54 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 07:55 AM:

Gordon Dickson wrote: "Fall through the words into the story."

Which is good advice for writer and readers.But it is ADVICE not a set of rules. I am always leery of rules about writing because the best books and the best writers break these rules all the time. (As Leonard points out.)

And while I don't put myself in that top tier of rule breakers by any stretch, I can think of stories and books in which I have broken every one of Leonard's rules and still written pretty well. (Though I gave up exclamation points after the first fifth of my writing life, and have never had a character grunting a sentence.)

Jane

PS Given the choice between a handful of doggie poo and another Margaret Atwood book, I know which one I would choose. YMMV

#55 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 09:12 AM:

I don't think anyone here has yet mentioned the rules George Orwell suggested at the end of his excellent essay "Politics and the English Language" (1946), so I present them here.

... one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

It has some other nice observations about usage in his time, many of which are still applicable.

And after all that kerfuffle for his Centenary too (Is a Centennial different?) Or was it that everyone was sick of hearing about him after that?
A sad side note. His works are/were available online here in Australia at
http://whitewolf.newcastle.edu.au/words/index.html
but I believe that with our new "Free Trade Agreement" with the USA extending copyright from 50 years after the author's death to 70 years, that will no longer be legal.

#56 ::: redfox ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 09:34 AM:

The Murani smiled without mirth.

Though I'm with everyone in general on the subject of what makes for good dialogue, this is a strange example, because to me this sentence is terrible: clunky, stilted, perhaps necessary, but nothing to pull out for admiration.

(That's not to say that the whole doesn't work out to be good, but all the discussion of how a bad writer might have messed up this particular lovely bit of writing is blowing my mind, just a bit.)

#57 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 09:45 AM:

Since I would carry the poo to grow up to be Jane Yolen, I would agree that, yes, YMMV.

---L.

#58 ::: Alex Roston ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 11:37 AM:

The Murani smiled without mirth.

Though I'm with everyone in general on the subject of what makes for good dialogue, this is a strange example, because to me this sentence is terrible: clunky, stilted, perhaps necessary, but nothing to pull out for admiration.

You're right. Taken out of context, it does look clunky. However, it fits perfectly with the descriptions of the Nandi tribesmen through the two preceeding chapters. The book is an incredible example of what can be accomplished with absolutely minimal prose. I'd happily sell my soul to write like her.

I can only suggest reading the book, of which Hemingway said, "...she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer." Here are the first two paragraphs:

"How is it possible to bring order out of memory? I should like to begin patiently, like a weaver at his loom. I should like to say, 'This is the place to start; there can be no other.'

"But there are a hundred places to start for there are a hundred names - Mwanza, Serengetti, Nungwe, Molo, Nakuru. There are easily a hundred names, and I can begin best by choosing one of them - not because it is first nor of any consequence, but because here it happens to be, turned uppermost in my logbook. After all, I am no weaver. Weavers create. This is remembrance - revisitation; and names are keys that open corridors no longer fresh in the mind, but nonetheless familiar in the heart."

What I also find interesting is the number of "mistakes" she made in the first two paragraphs. I see a paragraph that begins with the word "but," two uses of a semicolon on the first page of the manuscript, a non-parenthetical dash, incorrect use of a semicolon in the second paragraph...

The copy in my hand is the thirteenth printing. I think that for this particular book the power of her language and her vision carries the reader through all her "roughness" as a writer.

Alex

#59 ::: Cryptic Ned ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 11:39 AM:

Is there a list anywhere of writers' "crutch" words? For example, Garcia Marquez must use "lucid" at least 15 times per novel, and I don't think it's all the translator's fault.

I read a couple of Robert Asprin's "Myth INC" books, but as soon as I realized that there are literally ten different "said-words" on every page, I was literally unable to read them anymore. What a lot of effort (I imagine him saying "hmm...is Aahz grimacing this response? No, I think he's sighing. Or maybe he's just responding! No, too boring.") to create the appearance of pointless stupidity.

#60 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 12:55 PM:

Leonard's #8 rule (don't describe your characters) strikes me as being not such a bad idea, though I sometimes think there should be something to give an idea of what they look like, if not necessarily a straight physical description or a characteristic. That becomes a list, and who needs that? [YMMV, of course.] Maybe just something at the character's introduction, to give the idea, and then not give it again, at least not for a long time (unlike Robert Jordan, who mentions Warders' hard faces and tense stances every chance he gets).

My favorite character description ever is from So Long And Thanks For All The Fish:

"If you took a couple of David Bowies and stuck one of the David Bowies on the top of the other David Bowie, then attached another David Bowie to the end of each of the arms of the upper of the first two David Bowies and wrapped the whole business up in a dirty beach robe you would then have something which didnít exactly look like John Watson, but which those who knew him would find hauntingly familiar."

Utterly, totally absurd and brilliant.

#61 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 01:15 PM:

I will freely tell you that when I receive a submission which begins with a Prologue, I turn over all those pages and begin reading with Chapter One. Later, I'll figure out if the Prologue is necessary.

Sometimes I do this with works under contract as well, but I do it uniformly with submissions. The vast majority of unpublished or little published writers do not write good Prologues. They give away too much of what is to follow or reveal the villain/evil of the work right up front, even if they think they're being cagey; they set the Prologue 100 years ago but don't convincingly write about 100 years ago; whatever is discussed in the prologue doesn't come back into the book until more than halfway through, leaving the reader wondering for 100 pages or so what the writer was talking about; etc.

Reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe out loud to my daughter this week made me painfully aware of another recommendation: long paragraphs should consist of more than one sentence and any sentence during which you must stop for breath more than twice probably needs to be more than one sentence. Unless you're C.S. Lewis, of course, and maybe even then, sometimes . . . .

#62 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 01:24 PM:

Charlie Stross: your Lemma might, for mathematical precision, be rewritten from

"And, most importantly of all, 'never use ten words where one will do.'"

to

"And, most importantly of all, 'never use ten words where eight will do.'"

Counting words in a sentence, or letters in a word, is something that people tend to do while constructing 666 from the letters of George W. Bush AWOL, or because they've been up 48 hours chugging Open Cola and writing software.

BUT:

my shortest publication ever was a self-referential sentence that Doug Hofstadter ran in Scientific American, and included in his anthology "Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern"
by Douglas R. Hofstadter (Paperback reprint- March 1996):

Yes! It's on page 26. But I forgot my account's password on Amazon, so they can't violate Doug's copyright by showing me my own sentence in his book without my emailing them to ask for a reminder for that password.

Anyone else able to find that super sentence? I vaguely recall him calling it a gem, or masterpiece, or something.

How much can one earn, selling a sentence at a time?

Quite a lot, actually, if that's a 1-sentence Treatment, such as some Guild writers have sold to Hollywood studios!

Darn, now where is my copy? I've got to find it and put it on my Math webpage. It's so easy to misplace a single sentence in a household with roughly 500,000 sheets of paper...

#63 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 01:41 PM:

Robert L: It had begun to snow.

What's that from?

"The door dilated." A famous Heinlein opening line - except I don't know what work it's from. He uses it in "Friday," but I have a feeling he's echoing something earlier, and more famous. This page attributes the line to "Gulf," while here it's attributed to "Beyond This Horizon." Heinlein seems to have used it a few times.

The line was cited as the perfect science fiction opener, since it is both familiar and strange. To have a door open is perfectly mundane and ordinary, but to have a door dilate, now, that's strange and stfnal! Must be some kind of door that operates like a camera iris, eh?

Later, Isaac Asimov showed how that's twaddle. The best shape for a door is rectangular, unless you're in microgravity, which Heinlein's door wasn't.

There is a rule implied here about the writing of hard sf.

#64 ::: Katherine Farmar ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 01:47 PM:

"When you get stuck, don't think about the words. Imagine it better and keep going." (Jack Kerouac, quoted here by Gene Wolfe-with-an-e-dammit at Turkey City)

Now, I don't know whether that would work for everyone, but that's almost a perfect description of how I work. When I get stuck, there are two possibilities: I know what I'm thinking about but I can't find the words; or I don't know what I'm thinking about because I haven't imagined it well enough. Even the first is usually best remedied by imagining the situation differently, so that I can find the words. Focusing on words is a very good way of getting irreversibly stuck.

#65 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 02:25 PM:

(Thread drift warning...)

Goedels work has a boatload of implications, one of which being that any finite state machine designed
to prove or disprove theorems in a formal system will be unable to prove some true theorems and
unable to disprove some false theorems. For more than any sane person could want to know about this,
Hofstadtler's _Goedel, Esher, Bach_ beats the point to death.

#66 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 02:55 PM:

Continuing the thread drift, the Hofstadter work made great 12th grade reading other than the fact that all those darn IB exams kept getting in the way of finishing it until after graduation. I make no claims to have understood it. Brilliant book, though, if you're willing to make the time commitment (6 months in my case).

Sanity...who needs sanity.

#67 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 02:56 PM:

Mitch, "It had begun to snow" was the opening sentence of Mr. Earbrass's novel in The Unstrung Harp. The last line, incidentally, was "It was still snowing."

---L.

#68 ::: Alex Roston ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 03:19 PM:

My very favorite opening line is "I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills."

Alex

#69 ::: Holly M. ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 03:53 PM:

Mitch wrote: "Isaac Asimov showed how [...] The best shape for a door is rectangular, unless you're in microgravity...."

Does anyone know why submarine doors (in movies, anyway) are always ovoid, or at least with rounded corners? I assume it's so you can run a watertight gasket around the perimeter?

Melissa, I can't describe how validated I feel that you skip the prologues in submissions. I've been telling my writers' groups for years that nobody wants to read them.

I especially hate the "excerpt from a historical treatise" prologue that likes to squat in epic fantasy and space opera novels. The fact that C.J. Cherryh did it in _Cyteen_ is no excuse.
When I see one of these in an amateur writer's work, it's an 80% probability that the writer is basing the story on a role-playing game.

PicusFiche, I don't know if this helps, but the prologues I've seen that worked were told in real time; they were scenic and so lacked that ponderous "introductory notes" flavor.

Once--only once--I was forced to put a prologue in a story because it was one of those childhood trauma things. The hero's decision making processes depended upon what had happened back then, and no matter how hard I tried it wouldn't work smoothly into the story in mere conversation --there was too much of it, and the emotional impact too important.

The movie "Knockaround Guys," used a prologue in a similar way for a similar reason, and it worked (although I realize I may be the only person in America who liked that movie).

#70 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 05:50 PM:

I feel vaguely guilty: I have an allergy to most prologues, and I do wholeheartedly support Melissa's decision to skip them in most submissions. After all, even George R.R. Martin's new series, whose firsyt book at least got heaping praise, had a prologue that merely annoyed me.

But I also took the first four pages of an opening chapter and split them into a prologue. I then looked at it hard, several times over, and the prologue is now 2 1/2 pages. But I have not yet been able to justify removing it, or reintegrating it into the novel. My publishing record suggests I am not yet one of those who does know what they're doing. (My ego says otherwise, but then, that's the ego's job.)

Does this make me a bad person?

#71 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 09:27 PM:

The opening and closing line in The Fairy Chessmen (1951), by "Henry Kuttner": `The doorknob opened a blue eye and looked at him.'

That's stuck in my mind's eye for years, even when I've completely forgotten the rest of the story, its name, and the author (who I vaguely remember was the pen name of a pair). But that's not uncommon for me. There are several stories I'm still trying to track down from memories of vivid scenes.
Actually. Does anyone know if a lot of stuff was cut from The Sheep Look Up (John Brunner <ahem>) when it was reprinted? Either there are several bits from my 1960s/70s reading I can't find in the new edition or I'm melding other stories or books into it.

#72 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 09:28 PM:

Is the prologue problem solved by simply calling the prologue "Chapter 1"? Or is there something deeper at work?

#73 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 09:40 PM:

The prologue problem is solved by calling it "Chapter One" or by putting the information elsewhere in the book. Either solution is valid.

(Of course, there are times when a prologue is entirley reasonable and Just Fine. Those times when I've done 'em, for example.)

#74 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 12:44 AM:

The SF approach to the "prologue problem" used to be to make it part of chapter 1 but print the whole thing in italics. When I began reading SF (longer ago than I like to admit) I quickly learned that I should not expect a passage in italics at the beginning of a story to make sense, but I should read it anyway because the story would be a different story, not as good, if I didn't have those particular question marks hanging in the air.

All the same, long passages in italics (by which I mean anything more than a third of a page) are hard to read. I'd rather have such a section labeled a prologue and printed in normal type.

I guess what I'm saying is, there's a legitimate artistic purpose to be served by a disconnected passage at the beginning of a story. It can set a mood, pose a conundrum, give a perspective, provide a clue, signal the type of story to come, all as part of the reader contract. It's too bad that a lot of writers don't use this tool well, but that's no reason to skip all prologues. That will only ensure that you miss the instances where the prologue was an essential element.

No use saving it for later -- after you've read the rest of the story, it won't be the same. Of course, a really good writer uses this fact; it is often rewarding to turn back and read the prologue again once you've reached the last page, to see how different it is. (A really, really good writer then sucks you into re-reading the whole story.)

#75 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 09:54 AM:

Mitch, the prologue problem is not always solvable by calling it Chapter One. If the prologue is significantly disconnected in time, pov character, or tone from the rest of the novel, then calling it Chapter One merely places the reader's discontinuity at the beginning of Chapter Two.

I'm not saying that no one should ever write a prologue, but most beginning/unpublished writers do not know how to write them well, and therefore reading a prologue does not give me, when I am wearing my editor hat, a true sense of the writer's ability.

Good writers can break the rules successfully. Charles Grant's books, especially the Oxrun Station series, nearly all begin with landscape and weather, and he does it evocatively. Quinn Yarbro's Saint-Germain novels include multi-page letters, memoranda, and reports, in italic, between the chapters, often about, from, and to people who don't ever appear in the main body of the book. These add depth and texture to her world-building. In another writer's hands, such epistles would be tedious beyond measure; in Quinn's, they are a treat.


#76 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 10:11 AM:

PiscusFiche: you can have the minor character tell your POv character. Or you could have them tell someone else with the POV character eavesdropping. Or you could have them drop a mysterious hint and then have either the POV character or someone else torture it out of them. You could have them confess on their deathbed. You could have them confess the essentials on their deathbed and die in the middle such that the priest who breaks the rules to tell the POV character about this weird confession doesn't know everything, and the rest can become clear later. This is the same if it's backstory or a point of view about something or anything at all.

All of these work, and all of these are things with story-nature, by which I mean that they dangle enticing hooks to other things and would be interesting to read, some more than others.

Getting the information across while keeping POV discipline can be hard, and sometimes you just have to face it that this particular piece of information is just going to remain invisible from the pit, no matter how cool it is, because you can't wangle a way of getting it in. But you know, the author is supposed to know more about things. This is a good thing. This helps. So while you can rage about your unchatty minor character and I can curse the obtuseness of my first person narrator who doesn't see whole categories of things, we have to do that on our own time, because knowing things that don't go in is OK as long as it doesn't hurt the story.

Looking at the story from on top so that you know what's essential to go in to set up what you're doing and what you're going to do later is a very useful skill to cultivate.

#77 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 11:03 AM:

I'd say there should be about two rules for writing, and maybe they're guidelines.
1) Enjoy what you do, and
2) Try to get paid for it.

Incidentally, some above conversation reminded me of a demi-joke that was trying to form in my mind as I drove to work the other day. There's two guys at computers, and one says, "Hey, how do you spell 'Hofstadter?'" and the other says "Google Escher, Bach."

Um, then suddenly they slipped on a funny banana peel!!! (I forgot to mention, the one guy was really tall, and it was snowing.)

#78 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 04:12 PM:

I've always been rather fond of the old "Encyclopedia Galactica" trick, much used in the science fiction of the 1930s-50s, parodied in "Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" in the 1970s, and not much used since.

If you need to do an info-dump, make it into a quote from a fictional reference book. Better still if the reference book is a history book or encyclopedia, describing, from centuries later, the momentous historical events which are the subject of your story.

Both Katharine Kerr and Steven Brust have had fun with this idea recently, pretending that their novels are historical romances written, centuries after the fact, in the fictional worlds they created. Kerr and Brust have both included introductions and afterwords in their novels describing the travails their stuffy, academic historians and translators had in bringing their works to the public.

Norman Spinrad used a variation on this gimmick in "The Iron Dream," a rather heavy-handed sword-and-sorcery epic purporting to be by one Adolf Hitler, a minor figure in German politics in the 1920s who immigrated to the U.S., became active in the new phenomenon of science fiction fandom and publishing, and eventually published a few novels. "The Iron Dream" is the name of a book containing Hitler's novel, "Lords of the Swastika," written in the 1950s, along with foreword and epilogue, supposedly written by college professors, describing the cult following the novel has achieved. Spinrad even created a fictional Also By This Author page, containing the other novels this writer supposedly created, with titles like "Lightning War" and "The Thousand Year Empire."

As I describe "The Iron Dream," it sounds like it's in horrible taste, but I think actually Spinrad manages to pull it off. One of the things he's really doing, of course, is asserting that good people might become monstrously evil in another environment - his fictional Hitler is described as really a good guy, extremely well-loved in sf fandom, a figure like Asimov who achieves great success but never considers himself too much of a bigshot to get his hands dirty with hektograph ink.

#79 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 05:52 PM:

Mitch, here's my favorite quote-from-nonexistent-reference:

You'll find peroxide toothpaste very useful. Blood does stain the teeth so, whether it's yours or someone else's.

--Catriona Rua, A Guide For the Newly Embraced, page 144.

But then there's also my email tag:

If you didn't like something the first time, the cud won't be any good either.

--Elsie the Cow, Ruminations, page 14

#80 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 06:36 PM:

Good ones, Xopher. Did you make up the Elsie the Cow item? And I assume the "Guide for the Newly Embraced" is for vampires? What story or stories is it from?

#81 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 07:54 PM:

My first encounter with "encyclopedia galactica" was actually in Jane Yolen's Dragon's Blood, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Then there were the White Jenna books doing storytelling-as-anthropology, weren't they? (I apologize profusely if I'm getting this all wrong; it's been a long time.)

Jack McDevitt's A Talent for War refers to fictional reference works, quite adroitly--or at least, I really really want to read Man and Olympian.

#82 ::: Alex Roston ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 10:55 PM:

Jack McDevitt's A Talent for War refers to fictional reference works, quite adroitly--or at least, I really really want to read Man and Olympian.

The great Jorge Luis Borges used fictional references works all the time in his writing, and I really enjoyed them.

I suspect that fictional references become tedious in the nth book in a series when the author is using them in a lazy, bored, or boring manner just because s/he did it in the first (n-1) books. For excellent examples of how fictional references read after too many books, check out "Parrots of Dune," "Macaws of Dune," or "Lorikeets of Dune" by Peter David and Frank Herbert.

Or better yet, don't.

Maybe the real rule about fictional references is that one shouldn't use them as chapter headings?

Alex

#83 ::: Mary Messall ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 12:02 AM:

A little late for relevance, but Jonathan asked, "Anyone else able to find that super sentence? I vaguely recall him calling it a gem, or masterpiece, or something."

Sure enough, page 26 spilling onto 27:

"Several of the real masterpieces sent in belong to what I call the /self-documenting/ category, on which a simple example is Jonathan Post's 'This sentence contains ten words, eighteen syllables, and sixty-four letters."

Certainly fewer would not do.

#84 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 10:56 AM:

Mary Messall:

Thank you for unearthing that gem!

Reminds me of the tale I heard on NPR a few years ago. They interviewed a famous Garbologist. Asked him "What was the most valuable thing you ever found in excavating urban garbage?"

He said that he'd found a diamond. Unfortunately, his cleaning crew accidently re-threw it out from his workshop.

There is a website listing fictional references, giving author, title of actual book, title of imaginary book, and imaginary author of imaginary book.

Do imaginary authors get imaginary rejection letters?

#85 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 11:25 AM:

Mary Messall:

and thank you again! I've used what you found for me. It's now up near the very top of:

MATH Pages of Jonathan Vos Post

since it is, technically, one of my first published works of Mathematics.

On an earlier thread I mentioned the concept of the LPU: the Least Publishable Unit. The journal Science (or was it Nature?) had an article about how the average scientific paper published was becoming shorter, and had more coauthors. They speculated that evolution was driving towards the LPU. An LPU can still be cited in the footnotes of other papers, included on one's curriculum vitae, and help in the "publish or perish" treadmill.

Next issue, a letter to the editor asked (I paraphrase slightly due to deteriorating memory):

"Is a letter to the editor a LPU? p.s., if this letter is too long, I can make it shorter."

There is a tradition in Science Fiction of the LPU, also.

Most cited, Fredric Brown's (I hope):
"The last man on Earth sat alone in his room. There was a knock at the door."

Then other writers started making even shorter works. Forry Ackerman still boasts of his 1-letter LPU...

#86 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 11:29 AM:

Mitch: they're both mine. And yes, the "Embrace" is the process by which a human is turned into a vampire...Catriona Rua is famous for mentoring these folks. Allegedly.

I haven't used the reference in a story - yet. Catriona herself appears in my story Catriona, which is legally unpublishable (as Our Hostess puts it) in its current form, and probably infinitely rejectable even if I file off the serial numbers. Stream of consciousness writing, even if intermittent, doesn't tend to appear in the magazines, even if it's really really good, and I have no idea if my story is or not.

Statistically, probably not.

#87 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 12:17 PM:

Why is "Catriona" legally unpublishable?

#88 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 01:33 PM:

It's got too much specific Rein-Hagen stuff in it. It's on the border of fanfic. Fortunately, that's also the most tedious bit, and "filing off the serial numbers" will also make it a better story. The only thing I don't think I can get rid of is the word 'embrace' itself, which may not even be original with Rein-Hagen.

(Rein-Hagen is the author of Vampires: The Masquerade, which is an FRP that got made into a TV series called Kindred: The Embraced. I don't use any of the specific characters from either, but the origins show. It will probably be obvious even without the "serial numbers," but I think I can get it to where it doesn't actually violate his copyrights.)

#89 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 03:24 PM:

Jonathan: on Safari, the window-top page-title for your mathpage shows up as "Pi: MATH Pgaes of Jonathan Vos Post." (Don't know how to type pi-the-Greek-letter offhand...sorry.) FYI.

#90 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 05:20 PM:

I try to remind myself of the Primordial Rule on a regular basis, and have been trying to teach myself where the line between "works" and "don't work" is by re-reading my book as if I were a reader and not a writer (as Teresa might put it "with my reader mind"), and saying, "If this were someone else's book, how would I feel about it?"

This is a very, very difficult trick, but I highly recommend trying it.

I pulled out nearly half a chapter during my second revision pass becase of this, because I almost got bored. I discovered that my characters shrug so often that it's amazing they have not developed permanent hunches, and tried to tone it down somewhat (although considering that they spend a lot of the book in a state of perplexity, there was a certain amount that was inevitable). There were some other things that came up, but those two stuck with me.

Anyhow. I always treat "rules" as "guidelines", with the sole exception of basic grammar rules.

Dialogue tags are one of the things I disagree on. I think 'replied', 'answered', 'commented' and 'asked' are all nearly as invisible as 'said', and work just as well. I also think that 'muttered' or 'murmured' (and, of course 'whispered') are all perfectly valid tags, provided they're accurate when invoked. I even have been known to use other tags. There are, of course, ridiculous dialogue tags.... but not every dialogue tag is ridiculous.

Xopher: 99% of White Wolf is taken from other sources originally, so I'm not sure it matters how much you steal from them.

But I'm not still pissed about their suit against Sony for Underworld or anything.

#91 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 05:48 PM:

...provided they're accurate... Yes, I'd say "'DON'T YOU EVER DO THAT AGAIN!!!!' he murmered" would be pretty bad... :-)

Interesting point about White Wolf...maybe I'll look at R-H's bibliography and see if I can find an earlier source for 'embrace' as the vampirification process. Still probably not a publishable story for reasons of quality, but worth knowing.

I hadn't heard about their suit. I should rent that movie.

#92 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 06:55 PM:

Do save yourself the four dollars, Xopher. As far as myself and everyone else subjected to the movie at the time was concerned, it was an unnecessary gore fest, with all the best parts shown already in the previews.

However, if you have other reasons to see it, such as a fascination with close-up shots of beating hearts - or really, any reason other than to check whether it's REALLY plagiarism - by all means, give it a rent.

Just don't say I didn't warn you.

#93 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 07:13 PM:

For the opposite view... I haven't seen it yet, but a friend of mine, who most emphatically is not normally terribly into dark/gothy horror movies, highly recommended it, and the friends who are into such things mostly liked it as well.

Granted, greencine might be a better choice than Blockbuster, but then, when isn't that true?

#94 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 07:17 PM:

Mitch Wagner Sayeth:

>Later, Isaac Asimov showed how that's twaddle. The best shape for a door is rectangular, unless you're in microgravity, which Heinlein's door wasn't.

>There is a rule implied here about the writing of hard sf.

Well, it's probably not the one Heinlein had in mind, but...

...the rule is that humans don't always, or even usually, design things in the best way.

If a door was dilating in one of my stories, it would be because the politician who commissioned the building was trying to make a statement about being prepared for the future, or because the architect was trying to win an award for originality. It would cause plenty of problems, and the people who worked in the building would complain about it to each other constantly. Eventually, however, they would end up being sort of fond of the awkward thing, and defend its utility to any outsider who dared say that it was, maybe, not the best possible design.

In my world-building notes, the phrase that comes up most often is "The logic goes something like this..." When I talk with friends who've seen my background, that phrase alone is enough to indicate that I think someone's actions are A) well thought-out, and B) stupid.

#95 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 08:09 PM:

In passing, architectural notes: technically, a sliding door also dilates; if I wanted to make a reference to an iris, I'd just curve the sliding edges. IIRC, iris forms are used in solar energy technologies--very high tech shades in conjunction with glass walls.

#96 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 10:29 PM:

Holly M, if no one has answered, I believe it's easier to make a seal on an ovoid or round form. I do know (from an hidden past as a Tupperware Lady) that the round or oval seals ALWAYS make a water and air-tight seal, and can be put in a cooler with ice safely, the square or rectangular ones are okay with keeping air out, but water CAN get in.

I would think that anti pressure seals would be better in rounded forms. Corners can make inconvenient gaps....

my 2Ę, ymmv.

#97 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2004, 03:35 PM:

I've noticed the domain hooptedoodle.com is available, and it's been a continual effort to talk myself out of registering it.

#98 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2004, 04:27 PM:

Mitch: Why would you want to talk youself out of that? It sounds perfectly delightful. Maybe I should rename my blog hooptedoodle. Or use it as a regular heading withing my blog for the frivolous stuff. Hmm...

I'm currently sitting in a panel on intentional communities (at Potlatch) and I think hooptedoodle.com would be a great place to start a community. Of course, I want you to do it.

MKK

#99 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 03:18 AM:

Mitch--
As I describe "The Iron Dream," it sounds like it's in horrible taste, but I think actually Spinrad manages to pull it off. One of the things he's really doing, of course, is asserting that good people might become monstrously evil in another environment - his fictional Hitler is described as really a good guy, extremely well-loved in sf fandom, a figure like Asimov who achieves great success but never considers himself too much of a bigshot to get his hands dirty with hektograph ink.

You read it and I haven't, but as you've described it, I have to say it sounds like it's in horrible taste because it is in horrible taste. It's one thing to assert that a blameless or even exemplary person in real life is, in a fictional dimension, a mass murderer, and another thing to assert the reverse. Hitler's victims weren't fictional, nor were they consenting players in Hitler's story. They were real. They were living their own lives, they were their own and belonged to themselves, not to Hitler (or the author), when he used the power of the state to have them tortured and killed.

I think that one can get away with that if the perpetrator-cum-fictional-saint is Nero or Caligula, but at the moment there are still a number of living people who can point to empty places at their table, and then point to Hitler as the architect of their loss. The difference between good taste and bad often lies in no more than knowing when it's okay to speculate out loud and in public about such things, and in this case, I don't think that particular 'when' is yet now.

Though I think you should at least register 'hooptedoodle.org'.

#100 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 09:24 AM:

Disagree strongly. Was sickened by cynical use of beat-up fuss about poster on similar theme for last year's Adelaide Festival to excuse a sponsor in financial trouble to pull out.

Is old platitude, truism, esp in "speculative fiction", to speculate how things might have turned out if one particular person or event had happened differently. Have heard, eg, if Hitler killed in WW I, etc, etc.

Background of The Iron Dream is world in which Holocaust (as it's now called) and other WWII events haven't happened. The prologue <ahem> takes this for granted & is written as introduction presenting this as controversial 'lost' science fiction story by now-dead author. In it you see his obsessions & ideas, and his vision of how World War II would have gone. You can also see how it wouldn't (and didn't) work.
Reminds us how we can live around people without knowing what they might be capable of given the right circumstances (& perhaps wonder what we might do set in different situations ourselves).

Fictional editor I think (been a decade+ since read) says that of course civilized people couldn't possibly do some of the things he writes. Perhaps is partly a warning that we shouldn't forget & become smug that our society couldn't deteriorate.
From memory Hitler's described as a bit eccentric, with some odd opinions <no one anyone knows, then> and not a first-class writer but a well-known personality in the genre.

It must be part of being a thinking human being that we can allow ourselves to consider these sorts of subjects, not just react in a blind unreasoning way. That is just the reaction that demagogues & dictators & propagandists want to get by 'pushing buttons' - look at the Disinformation discussion about a button-pushing piece that tries to distract & dirty the debate. Especial function of sf. Nurses can't care without controlling both disgust & compassion.

owowow - hand still exciting colours, textures, but can't let pass after last year's example & evolving bigger debate. Paracetamol; bed.

#101 ::: S. E. Curnow ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 03:33 PM:

Tersesa, Thank you for a very interesting topic. Although, I think, most of the questions have been answered here, I have one more on the topic of writing, it's very simple but something I am unsure of. When writing a novel, do contractions annoy an editor? Should we, in text, write out he had instead he'd, or is it acceptable nowadays to write couldn't, shouldn't etc.?

#102 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 04:28 PM:

Epacris: Reminds us how we can live around people without knowing what they might be capable of given the right circumstances (& perhaps wonder what we might do set in different situations ourselves).

Thank you for saying what I wanted to say when I read that comment.

I remember when I was a kid, studying World War II in school, and a friend of the family helped me with a paper. She went through striking out all the places where I'd written things like "monster" or "inhuman," telling me, angrily, that hatred and fear are all too human. That the only exceptional thing about Hitler was that he managed to act on his beliefs, and we needed to keep our eyes open for when somebody like that came into power again.

This was a woman who was permanently scarred from her time in Dachau. She would have thought a book like The Iron Dream above an important reminder.

And oh, yes, of course my teacher thought my paper was inappropriate. Everybody knows Hitler was a monster and that a real human being would never conceive of genocide.

#103 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 05:42 PM:

I remember when I was a kid, studying World War II in school, and a friend of the family helped me with a paper. She went through striking out all the places where I'd written things like "monster" or "inhuman," telling me, angrily, that hatred and fear are all too human. That the only exceptional thing about Hitler was that he managed to act on his beliefs, and we needed to keep our eyes open for when somebody like that came into power again.

But did she then suggest you write in that he was a wonderful guy, beloved by all who knew him? That's what I understood to be the Hitler of The Iron Dream from Mitch's description, which may well be my faulty interpretation. I'm sorry, I think that level of revisionism for so recent an historical personage to be in poor taste.

#104 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 06:55 PM:

But did she then suggest you write in that he was a wonderful guy, beloved by all who knew him? That's what I understood to be the Hitler of The Iron Dream from Mitch's description, which may well be my faulty interpretation. I'm sorry, I think that level of revisionism for so recent an historical personage to be in poor taste.

I am given to understand that The Iron Dream is a novel based in an alternate universe, not a piece of historical documentation, so saying it's revisionism isn't really fair. I don't think anybody suggested that the author believed what he wrote was the truth. And people did like Hitler, even in this universe. Some even loved him, and found him likable. How odd to suggest that nobody liked him. Didn't all that badness happen because too many people liked him?

To answer the question, she insisted that I write about how he was a human being, and that any human in his position was capable of coming up with the same sort of idealogy. She wanted me to talk about how Hitler was a product not of some awful mutation, but of his time. How hate is part of the human condition, and the development of a moral sense is critical because we will always have to oppose hate. With Hitler gone, we are not free to relax and think all is well and it will never happen again.

Bear in mind that this is somebody who was betrayed by a neighbor. She knew very well that it was not Hitler alone who made the Holocaust happen. Hitler didn't go from house to house rounding up jews, gypsies, gays, and other undesirables all by himself while all of Europe tried to stop him. Ordinary, likable people, the sort of people who tell really funny stories, or who come and sit with a sick friend in the hospital, those people can also be a part of a horror.

#105 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 08:36 PM:

Pericat - Dod I say the Hitler in "The Iron Dream" was a wonderful guy, beloved by everyone who knew him? Perhaps I did, and if I did, I may have overstated the case. The Hitler in "The Iron Dream" was extremely well liked in sf fandom, and there's no evidence presented in the novel that this popularity was undeserved.

Spinrad is arguing for the plasticity of the human condition. Put a person in one circumstance, and he becomes the reviled symbol of evil, the most hated and feared person in the 20th Century. Put him in another circumstance and he's a harmless eccentric, liked by his neighbors. As Alyse alludes to, the difference between the good guy and bad guy isn't innate, it's a matter of the choices we make.

But Spinrad is doing more than that: he's pointing the finger of accusation at Americans in general, and at sf fans in particular. They're the ones who - in his fictional universe - have made "Lords of the Swastika" a classic.

Also: What Alyse said.


#106 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 02:26 AM:

Ayse: I am given to understand that The Iron Dream is a novel based in an alternate universe, not a piece of historical documentation, so saying it's revisionism isn't really fair.

Then I don't know what to call it that makes the distinction between "story with characters made up out of whole cloth" and "story with characters drawn from recent history but who behave completely differently." Smells like revision spirit from here, but I will accept any other term you like.

(Actually, having now looked the thing up, it's satire. And Hitler as a character doesn't seem to appear in it other than as looney dead author guy.)

And people did like Hitler, even in this universe. Some even loved him, and found him likable. How odd to suggest that nobody liked him. Didn't all that badness happen because too many people liked him?

I didn't suggest nobody liked him IRL. I stated baldly that painting him in story as deservedly loved by all who knew him for his worthy character and good works was in bad taste.

To answer the question, she insisted that I write about how he was a human being, and that any human in his position was capable of coming up with the same sort of idealogy.

Thank you. That is certainly arguable from either pro or con, but not as a matter of taste.

Mitch: I appreciate the clarification of that novel's premise.

Spinrad is arguing for the plasticity of the human condition. Put a person in one circumstance, and he becomes the reviled symbol of evil, the most hated and feared person in the 20th Century. Put him in another circumstance and he's a harmless eccentric, liked by his neighbors. As Alyse alludes to, the difference between the good guy and bad guy isn't innate, it's a matter of the choices we make.

If one's value system is considered only as part of the choices, then there's not much to argue with there. However, if one's values are considered to drive one's choices, then the essential difference between the good guy and the bad guy is not solely a matter of circumstance and opportunity. What you're describing as "eccentric" I'm still seeing as "barking mad, albeit charismatic, racist", if the author is true to character, and if the author isn't, then I'm not seeing the good taste part.


#107 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 03:15 AM:

The novel may well be in very poor taste. Art often is.

I'm not a big believer in judging people by their "value systems." I don't judge most people at all, actually, and to the extent that I do, I look at their choices - at what they did.

Jean Paul Sartre described a woman with a terrible anxiety that she would sit on the porch of her house and solicit strangers for sex. She was a modest woman, with conventional middle-class values toward sex, but the thought that she might solicit strangers terrified her. Sartre writes that she was RIGHT to be terrified, what she was afraid of was her own free will, the recognition that the only thing stopping her from sitting on the porch soliciting strangers was her own choice not to do so. And she could choose to do so at any time.

Likewise, any one of us could become a colluder in genocide, or a brave, virtuous person who resisted genocide. We might be faced with the circumstances, and make the choice. None of us has a "value system" that makes it impossible for us to participate in atrocities; all we have are the choices we make every minute of every day. There is no predestination, you might even say that there isn't even any causality when it comes to matters of free will.

Most of us simply do what is expected of us by our peers and by people in authority. Within the past decade, middle class men in different nations of the world, have been ordered by police, at gunpoint, to rape their neighbors. It has become a standard strategy of genocide. These were people just like the people reading this message thread. It could happen here in America, simply because it could happen ANYWHERE. What would you do? How do you know?

Spinrad wrote the novel "The Iron Dream" around 1970, when there was widespread belief that there was something special in the German character that made the Holocaust possible, something that set Germans apart from other people. "The Iron Dream" argues that the biggest monster of all might not have made the evil choices he made.

I think that Spinrad is also commenting on something disturbing in science fiction fandom's love of uniforms and pageantry.

And he is also commenting on the nature of symbols. In Spinrad's alternate universe as in our own, outcasts and people who wish to appear dangerous and threatening have adopted Hitler's regalia, including the swastika. The introduction and afterword to "The Iron Dream" note that motorcycle gangs, in particular, frequently fly the swastika and other regalia of Hitler's cult novel, just as motorcycle gangs in real life sometimes flew Nazi regalia. And yet the regalia meant different things in different milieux.

Why is it that lower-class, uneducated men who think of themselves as outlaws like to adopt the regalia of Nazis and the Confederacy - losers?

#108 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 03:17 AM:

In other words, Spinrad isn't trying to be a revisionist and say that Hitler was better than he was. He's issuing a warning, saying any one of us could be as bad as Hitler.

#109 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 03:36 AM:

S. E.: I have no contacts in the editing world, but I do have an answer to your question. I would say that, if your novel calls for it, contractions are fine. It would go with the rule of dialogue tags being invisible; you don't want people stopping to stare at your character as he/she says, "I would not mind if it were to rain today." Unless that character speaks deliberately for some reason, as part of his/her, well, character.

Do not write in a way as to obfuscate your point or story. Write so that it flows.

#110 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 12:49 PM:

Likewise, any one of us could become a colluder in genocide, or a brave, virtuous person who resisted genocide. We might be faced with the circumstances, and make the choice. None of us has a "value system" that makes it impossible for us to participate in atrocities; all we have are the choices we make every minute of every day. There is no predestination, you might even say that there isn't even any causality when it comes to matters of free will.

Right on, Mitch! And let me add that this is one of the many kinds of harm done by the notion that thinking about something is as bad as doing it (as far as I know, a Christian notion). I prefer the Mary Renault parable about a man who kept some money for a travelling friend, and gave it all back when the friend returned; if the trustee was going hungry while the friend was gone, that increases, rather than decreases, the honorability of his actions.

If I am tempted to bad actions, but resist, I am to be judged by what I have done, not by my temptation. I keep choosing not to act on these impulses.

When I hold a baby in my arms, the terrible vision of how easy it would be to harm hir is what keeps me gentle and careful. If I think s/he's indestructible, s/he's much more likely to come to harm.

So it is with democracy, freedom, liberty; many Jews in Hitler's Germany didn't get out in time because they didn't believe they were in danger - they were assimilated, they were German, they were on good terms with their neighbors, and It Can't Happen Here.

Well, it can. It can happen anywhere, even in America. And to be frank, I think I'm beginning to smell smoke.

#111 ::: S.E. Curnow ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 01:40 PM:

Alice, thank you, it's a question that's come up several times and I've never received an adequate answer. My instincts say to write it out, although I don't bother in a first draft, but sometimes it does sound better. To follow the flow is good advice. Thank you.

#112 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 02:03 PM:

You're very welcome. I'm always glad to help.

#113 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 05:58 PM:

Bless you, Yoon Ha Lee!

Nano-Con-report below, plus thanks.

You kindly informed me on February 27, 2004, 03:24 PM:
"Jonathan: on Safari, the window-top page-title for your mathpage shows up as "Pi: MATH Pgaes of Jonathan Vos Post." (Don't know how to type pi-the-Greek-letter offhand...sorry.) FYI."

I didn't know how to type the π symbol until I did a "View Source" on the page of someone who did know. It's four symbols in a row:
&

p

i

;

all in a row.

Anyway, I have corrected that typo thanks to you. And just in time!

I spent a lovely 3-day weekend just south of the San Diego City Border in Del Mar at a ConDor. Really well-run small con, third year in a row for me. I was on two panels with Vernor Vinge. Besides being a great author, he was a Math Professor. I wanted to show him my Math Pages, and it would have been embarassing if it showed him my "Math Pgaes" instead.

One panel, "Back to the Moon?" had me, my Physics Professor former NASA-researcher wife, Dr. Geoff Landis, Prof. Vernor Vinge, and Prof. Gregory Benford. Now (even if you exclude me) that's a Worldcon quality panel.

In my Math class today, I again proved to my students that I make errors at the whiteboard, find them when I check my answers, and get them right the second time around. So it's OKAY for them to make mistakes, so long as they try to find and fix them.

That's a good lesson for anyone. That's also why one should appreciate the majority of Rejection Letters....

#114 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 07:04 PM:

Jonathan: Ah! Consider me πlightened. Those panels sound wonderful. (This from someone whose reaction to the fact that Hans Bethe was around Cornell as an emeritus was, But he's Hans Bethe! He can't be within walking distance! To which my boyfriend replied, What did you think you were going to find here? To which I said, I dunno, but it's like discovering walking into a town full of unicorns and gryphons, creatures beyond my mortal ken.)

If I were at all mobile, I would love to sit in on one of your classes. I remember one of the uphill things about student-teaching in a high school Algebra II classroom was trying to convince kids that it's okay to make mistakes at the whiteboard, because then everyone can learn from them, and that in fact people can sometimes learn more from a mistaken answer than a cookie-cutter canonically correct answer.

This is not to say accuracy isn't important in math, but to encourage students to self-check answers (even at the basic level of, Why am I getting a negative length for this rectangle?!) and watch problem-solving/error-correcting methods in action; to learn that something in math is not true because the teacher said so, but because of a consensus of principles. (I'm saying this badly. Urgh.)

Seconded on the rejection letters. As my mom drummed into me, errors are an opportunity to figure things out. Even if the cooking experiments are less than fortunate sometimes...

#115 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 07:04 PM:

Just a word or two more on _The Iron Dream_, though I think it's been pretty well covered: I've always seen it as pretty much a pure piece of commentary on (a certain type of) Science Fiction.

By recasting the story of the third reich into a SFnal framework, and by relating the story in the upbeat gosh-wow tones of Golden Age adventure SF, it accuses certain SF (I would think Doc Smith's Lensman books, for instance) of giving a sugar coated version of extremely unpleasant political systems, painting a world where it really is for the best that One Strong Man make the decisions, and where those decisions always turn out to be correct. It also accuses us as readers of swallowing this sort of thing uncritically.

As someone who discovered the Lensman books at the age of nine, I plead guilty, with mitigating circumstances. I still reread them now and then too.

There are two things I'd never accuse _The Iron Dream_ of being - one is 'fascist', and the other is 'subtle'. For all it's crudeness though, I think it suceeds in what it sets out to do, as it makes a very smooth transition from being (at the start of the book) the sort of cheesy adventure writing which is a guilty pleasure, to being (at the end of the book) a revolting and tedious rant, disconected from reality. I see this all as Spinrad being in full control of the work, and getting exactly the effect he was aiming for.

I'm not sure if this interpretation of the book is how others see it, but for what it's worth, that's what I see.

#116 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 08:02 PM:

Mitch: I'm not a big believer in judging people by their "value systems." I don't judge most people at all, actually, and to the extent that I do, I look at their choices - at what they did.

Likewise, any one of us could become a colluder in genocide, or a brave, virtuous person who resisted genocide. We might be faced with the circumstances, and make the choice. None of us has a "value system" that makes it impossible for us to participate in atrocities; all we have are the choices we make every minute of every day. There is no predestination, you might even say that there isn't even any causality when it comes to matters of free will.

Most of us simply do what is expected of us by our peers and by people in authority. Within the past decade, middle class men in different nations of the world, have been ordered by police, at gunpoint, to rape their neighbors. It has become a standard strategy of genocide. These were people just like the people reading this message thread. It could happen here in America, simply because it could happen ANYWHERE. What would you do? How do you know?

Whatever I would do, I do make a distinction between "choice" and "coercion", and between someone who is forced at gunpoint to do things he himself thinks are terrible, and someone who does such things freely, who seeks out opportunity to do them, because his values inform his choices in those directions. Person A does not value or desire his neighbour's pain, or his neighbour's death; these things are not good to him, nor do they become so when he is forced to do them. Person B has formulated or absorbed a set of values ("racial cleansing is necessary for the good of the country") that lead him to choose to approve actions as well as act in ways that cause others severe pain, suffering and death. These are not equivalent situations or levels of responsibility, though they may appear so if one looks only at the choices or the results. If you examine their values as well as their choices, crucial differences emerge.

In other words, Spinrad isn't trying to be a revisionist and say that Hitler was better than he was. He's issuing a warning, saying any one of us could be as bad as Hitler.

I believe I have already acknowledged that Spinrad was not doing what I understood him to be doing originally.

Xopher: Right on, Mitch! And let me add that this is one of the many kinds of harm done by the notion that thinking about something is as bad as doing it (as far as I know, a Christian notion). I prefer the Mary Renault parable about a man who kept some money for a travelling friend, and gave it all back when the friend returned; if the trustee was going hungry while the friend was gone, that increases, rather than decreases, the honorability of his actions.

I don't think anyone's yet suggested that thinking about doing something wrong is as bad as acting on that thought.

If I am tempted to bad actions, but resist, I am to be judged by what I have done, not by my temptation. I keep choosing not to act on these impulses.

And if you blink and fail to resist? Or things don't turn out the way you expected? Would you not want whoever you're answering to to show even a teeny bit of interest in what you were thinking?

So it is with democracy, freedom, liberty; many Jews in Hitler's Germany didn't get out in time because they didn't believe they were in danger - they were assimilated, they were German, they were on good terms with their neighbors, and It Can't Happen Here.

Well, it can. It can happen anywhere, even in America. And to be frank, I think I'm beginning to smell smoke.

Yes. And I agree with you that smoke isn't the same as fire. Though if you want to prevent Those Things from happening, it might not be an utter waste of your time to examine the similarities between the values of National Socialism and those of the emergent right-wing in America, before the latter act.

#117 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 08:04 PM:

Sorry to chime in so late, but I was recovering from Potlatch.

I did a lengthy review of "Underworld" for my weblog (http://www.livejournal.com/users/bedii/3501.html if anyone cares), but the shortest review I can give is that it fits the definition of "A tale told by an idiot." Although the 70mm print of Krull that's scheduled during the Cinerama film festival is almost as bad. Oh well, it'll stun those who complain about "How the West Was Won" into submission...

#118 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 08:26 PM:

pericat: "Whatever I would do, I do make a distinction between "choice" and "coercion", and between someone who is forced at gunpoint to do things he himself thinks are terrible, and someone who does such things freely, who seeks out opportunity to do them, because his values inform his choices in those directions."

That's a good point.

I mentioned the example of cases where men have been forced to rape their neighbors. In many of those cases, the threats were not against the men themselves, but rather their families.

#119 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 11:40 AM:

pericat: I don't think anyone's yet suggested that thinking about doing something wrong is as bad as acting on that thought.

I didn't mean to imply that anyone had said so here. It's a strong thread in society, though. Someone wrote to an advice columnist about being tempted by pedophilia; the advice columnist got all sorts of letters about how the guy should be killed, or at least reported etc. But he hadn't done anything. Moreover he knew he had a problem, and was writing to ask what to do about it. The columnist had given him advice that basically amounted to 1) stay away from kids at all costs, and 2) get help (with some help on how to get it).

But pedophiles are, you know, icky and bad, so we have to punish them before they actually do anything, right? Well, not in America.

Me: If I am tempted to bad actions, but resist, I am to be judged by what I have done, not by my temptation. I keep choosing not to act on these impulses.

pericat: And if you blink and fail to resist? Or things don't turn out the way you expected? Would you not want whoever you're answering to to show even a teeny bit of interest in what you were thinking?

Well, it gets complex. I think if someone intended a good result, and a bad result happened, and a reasonable person would not have predicted the bad result OR the person in question was impaired in some non-voluntary way, society should be lenient. But not for just giving in to temptation. If the pedophile-in-thought I mentioned earlier becomes a pedophile-in-deed, he should be punished no matter how long he resisted first.

Basically, I think thought should sometimes be a cause for leniency, but should never be a cause (by itself) for punishment. About things like hate-crimes laws, I'm ambivalent. No, that's not strong enough: I feel, as Tom Lehrer once put it, "like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis."

pericat: ...if you want to prevent Those Things from happening, it might not be an utter waste of your time to examine the similarities between the values of National Socialism and those of the emergent right-wing in America, before the latter act.

I agree completely.

#120 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 12:43 PM:

I'm ambivalent on the subject of hate-crime laws myself, but they do have a sound grounding in legal philosophy.

The rationale is that if somebody comes to my house and beats me up because they don't like me, personally, that's an attack on me and me alone.

However, if someone attacks me because I am a Jew, and makes that fact known, well, then the attack is not just on me. It is intended to send a message to every Jew in the vicinity, and every sympathizer with Jews, and the crime should be punished accordingly. It is not just an attack on the person who was attacked, it is a threat to everyone in the victim's peer group, and in many jurisdictions the simple act of making a violent threat is a crime.

#121 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2004, 01:27 AM:

Mitch: In many of those cases, the threats were not against the men themselves, but rather their families.

Yeah, that's about ten times worse, I'd say.

Xopher: Someone wrote to an advice columnist about being tempted by pedophilia; the advice columnist got all sorts of letters about how the guy should be killed, or at least reported etc. But he hadn't done anything.

I remember that one; it was scary how rabid some of those letters were.

Basically, I think thought should sometimes be a cause for leniency, but should never be a cause (by itself) for punishment.

Hm. It seems to me that reasonable people do dumb things all the time, not necessarily terrible things, just dumb. Or fail to do the right smart thing. And someone or thing gets hurt. I was thinking, after I wrote what I did, about A Map of the World. There's a greater impetus now than used to be to criminalize tragedy. It's no longer enough to accept responsibility, one must also accept blame. I don't see this as a positive development.

Mitch: However, if someone attacks me because I am a Jew, and makes that fact known, well, then the attack is not just on me.

More than that, the hate crimes I've heard of are distinguished by their viciousness in comparison to similar sorts of attacks done from other motives.

#122 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2004, 05:45 PM:

pericat: Hm. It seems to me that reasonable people do dumb things all the time, not necessarily terrible things, just dumb. Or fail to do the right smart thing. And someone or thing gets hurt. I was thinking, after I wrote what I did, about A Map of the World.

"A Map of the World"? Is that a book? I'm not familiar with it.

There's a greater impetus now than used to be to criminalize tragedy. It's no longer enough to accept responsibility, one must also accept blame. I don't see this as a positive development.

Interesting. I'm not sure what you mean. Explain, please? With examples?

#123 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2004, 06:45 PM:

Quick check in Amazon - A Map of the World, by Jane Hamilton. "In A Map of the World, appearance overwhelms reality and communal hysteria threatens common sense."

Or was it other bits?

Gottogo now

#124 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2004, 10:50 PM:

A Map of the World is a book that was also made into a movie. I've not seen the book anywhere, but I rented the video last year since it had Sigourney Weaver in it. (She's good, but it does have serious problems with story flow.)

Basic plot as I remember it, is that while being babysat, a toddler wanders off from the house and falls into a culvert, swollen from recent rains, and is drowned. The woman who was babysitting accepts immediately full responsibility, but as time goes on, the community pressures the police to investigate the incident as a criminal matter.

The desire is to assess blame, and exact retribution, because if terrible things can happen even to ordinarily sensible and reasonable people, then no one is safe from chance. Therefore, "She Must Have Done Something/She Should Have Known" are the whispers that go around the town as parents count the noses of their lambs and promise themselves that they'll always be smarter than that, and refuse to remember all the times they weren't and just got lucky.

#125 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2004, 04:46 PM:

I think this "Map of the World" problem is a subset of a much bigger problem, where people with only a surface understanding of a conflict think they know who's right and who's wrong. The police arrest someone for a high-profile crime, the suspect does the perp walk, and right away most people will assume - more than assume, they will KNOW - that the defendant is guilty. They must be guilty or the police wouldn't've arrested them, right?

#126 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2004, 05:50 PM:

Mitch writes:
> I think this "Map of the World" problem is a subset of a much bigger problem, where people with only a surface understanding of a conflict think they know who's right and who's wrong.

It manifests itself in reverse too, as people not only assume there's always a black hat in any conflict, but also that there must be a white hat. This leads to the assumption that any group being horrifically treated must automatically accrue some moral virtue. Former Yugoslavia and most of the Middle East illustrate this nicely.

#127 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 01:37 PM:

I used to be a smalltown newspaper reporter, and we found ourselves in a real Catch-22 when reporting crime.

Should newspapers report on crime news in detail? In particular, should they report the name of the accused?

You know, on TV dramas, whenever they have a character who's a sleazy journalist, the sleazy journalist character will always say, smugly, "The public has a right to know!" Well, the sleazy journalist character is RIGHT. The public DOES have a right to know. If YOUR next-door neighbor was arrested for molesting children, wouldn't YOU want to know about it?

On the other hand, if we disclose the name of someone who was arrested for something, we knew that a huge subset of the public would assume that person is guilty. They wouldn't just assume it - they would KNOW it.

So what do you do? This was not a hypothetical question for us, it was something we faced on the job every day. And I never found a satisfactory answer to that question, which was one of the reasons I don't do that kind of work anymore.

#128 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 06:24 PM:

Mitch, maybe I'm just missing something, but... no, I don't feel a need to know if my next-door neighbor is arrested for molesting children... but I would want to know if he were convicted of it.

I'm of the opinion that since people do jump to the "arrested = guilty" conclusion that probably at this point it would be immensely better to not report arrestee details, otherwise known as "Why the name 'Laci Peterson' makes me want to scream." If someone confesses, fine. If they're found guilty, fine. But until then, I don't think there's any compelling need to release the details, and there are reasons not to.

(On the other hand, I dislike Megan's law, so go figure.)

#129 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 07:45 PM:

Tina - If we don't report who's being arrested, how do we know that the government isn't simply disappearing people?

The idea behind the free press is that everything happens out in the open so that we, the rulers of the U.S., can see how our employees, the government, are doing the business we hired them to do. Journalists are simply intermediaries in that regard.

#130 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 08:13 PM:

Oog. If police activity is not reported, then what we have are secret arrests. And the number of arrestees in a given shift is not sufficient reportage for a non-police state. Their names and addresses need to be reported, so folks know what's happened to their friends and neighbours, and aren't left thinking they've been secretly hauled off to the local Gitmo, or been knifed and dumped in the river.

It's a real dilemma.

#131 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 08:14 PM:

(that's what I get for wandering off from the computer.)

#132 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 10:17 PM:

"If police activity is not reported, then what we have are secret arrests."
"Their names and addresses need to be reported, so folks know what's happened to their friends and neighbours, and aren't left thinking..."

Am I missing something? Don't you get a phonecall when you're arrested? Does the whole nation have to be informed simply to ensure that interested neighbours don't fabricate rumours?

I've seen enough cases of false accusations resulting in arrest. The public do not need to be informed of arrests. The person arrested needs his/her rights. They include the right to inform friends and relatives of the reason for their disappearance.

Just yesterday I heard that a local school teacher was cleared of a child sex abuse charge levelled by a group of school girls. In court it was shown that the teacher had an iron-clad alibi and that the girls had conspired to cause him trouble because one of them hated him intensely.

Should the press have had the right to publish the teacher's name? The story they had been told looked damning. There were multiple witnesses making the claim. The arrest was made just at the time when our newspapers were full of stories about priests abusing their charges.

We are presumed innocent.

#133 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 11:06 PM:

Mitch, I think you're seeing an either/or where I see at least a trinary state.

The newspaper pursuing the existence of the arrest and the name of the arrestee does not obligate them to release the name even when they report an arrest has been made. And as long as someone outside the gub'mint knows, they can choose to release it.

I mean, don't get me wrong, I get your point, but I'm thinking in terms of information flow, not information acquisition.

Alternately, I suppose my personal answer would be to just downplay the nature of the arrest, e.g., instead of saying "John Doe was arrested under suspicion of criminal misuse of the apostrophe", say, "John Doe was taken in for questioning regarding this incident of bad grammar", which shifts the emphasis away from 'suspicion', if I were concerned that otherwise John Doe might be disappeared.

There's probably no perfect answer here, though.

#134 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 03:28 AM:

Virge: Should the press have had the right to publish the teacher's name?

Technically, they have that right. The question is whether they choose to exercise it or not. In the case you mention, I would think that a long piece on the girls' duplicity as a followup would be an appropriate way of handling the situation, but most news editors would say that that was "not news."

#135 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 11:10 PM:

Ayse,
With any sizeable delay between the arrest and the court case, you can almost guarantee that the accused's life is destroyed. Headlines spouting sensational charges attract attention. It's already too late by the time a followup piece is published. You're right. It's not news.

At least in some states of Australia there is protection for the accused until after the commital hearings. In the name of justice.

We, the public, have a right to hear about the machinations of government. We have a right to hear about actions and decisions that affect us.
We don't have any right to hear about the accusations made by one person against another unless we are affected by that information.

#136 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 02:11 AM:

With any sizeable delay between the arrest and the court case, you can almost guarantee that the accused's life is destroyed.

Oh, yes, but for some reason the "free press" seems to take an unseemly pleasure in destroying people's lives, as if printing the news was all about making things worse for some people in order to entertain most. It's a great story! How can you possibly not tell this story to the whole world? Who cares if it might not be true, if the guy might be innocent and we're trying him and finding him guilty without access to the facts of the case? Anyway, the other papers will tear him to pieces, so we can't look like we dropped the ball.

...

I had a hard enough time being asked to soften a harsh review of an advertiser's product when I worked at InfoWorld. I don't have the sort of ethics required to work in a daily newspaper.

#137 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 03:43 AM:

Ayse, were you actually told in so many words to soften a review because the product came from an advertiser? Or is that simply what you assumed happened?

I worked at daily newspapers for four years. There are ethical people in that profession, and unethical ones, just like any other.

When it works, the principle of a free press is based on the supposition that the public is the government, that no one has a right to say that you should not have information in your possession because you are not wise enough to use it right.

Notice when there is discussion that newspapers ought to suppress information, it's always other people who would abuse it. Never us. If we're informed about arrests, we would always put the information to the right use. It's those other people who can't be trusted to govern themselves.

#138 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 03:19 PM:

were you actually told in so many words to soften a review because the product came from an advertiser?

The conversation went like this:

Senior Editor: This review is unacceptable. It really tears Company X to pieces.

Me: Well, their product really was unacceptable. If you look at the performance versus Company Y's product, you see that they aren't even within an order of magnitude on the numbers. Also, their customer service was appalling, considering that this product costs $50,000 for a basic install.

SE: But, look, we know it's bad, but we can't just say that.

Me: We've always said it before. And we're supposed to print what we find, which is that Company X's product is unacceptably bad.

SE: I know, but ad revenues are down. Company X is a huge advertiser, and they're expecting this to be at least a good review.

Me: I don't know why they would expect that. We don't tell them what the results are before the paper's in print.

SE: Let's just say that they have been led to believe the review will be favourable. Now, I need you to change it.

Me: I can't change it. Not unless we redo the testing and somehow it comes out better. Because right now, this product has certain definite performance problems and the company has service problems, and this review reflects that. If I change the review, what am I going to say?

SE: Something more positive. Something... nicer.

Me: You want me to make something up?

SE: If you need to. We have creative license here if we need to tell a story.


It was at that moment that I decided that if I was going to sell my soul for money, I would do it outright and work at a company that didn't pretend there was a wall between advertising and editorial.

There had always been an implied thought that a negative review (or a too-positive review of a competitor) might make an advertiser pull their ads. I ignored it and focussed on giving our readers the best reviews and the most honest reviews possible. But after we got a new managing editor, the ad/edit wall came crumbling down, and I was asked to bring problems with products to the attention of their sellers, so they could correct them before the review went to print (but not before people had bought the product, of course). And then this.

I know there are ethical people in publishing. At the time I was supplementing my meager income from InfoWorld as a freelance writer for a number of magazines, and they mostly let me say what I want -- because my subjects were rarely advertisers. But the responsibility of the free press is great, and I think a lot of editors lose sight of the people and the lives behind the "that's a great story!" moments.

#139 ::: Greg ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 05:54 AM:

Just to travel way back to the start of this, I can't see why semi-colons should be avoided.

The Edwardians used them all the time, and I'm basically with Michael Moorcock in thinking that as a group they wrote better English than anybody.

#140 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 05:09 PM:

Alyse - That's certainly disappointing about InfoWorld.

#141 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 05:30 PM:

Greg, while I love semicolons, I hope you're not with Moorcock in any other way.

#142 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 02:16 AM:

The other day I saw my copy of "The Iron Dream" on the bookshelf and took it out and read over the collateral - the phony afterword and bogus About the Author and Also By This Writer pieces.

It seems to me that the author - the real author, Norman Spinrad - is being more straightforward than I was remembering earlier. The fictional pulp writer named "Adolf Hitler" is described as well-loved in sf fandom, but Spinrad doesn't mean for us to see him as a good person. On the contrary, he is, while charming, a man who, during the last weeks of his life, while most likely dying of syphilis, wrote a hateful novel about genocide. If the author himself and his book are popular in that alternate reality, it's a condemnation of sf fandom.

I'm also left wondering just why a talented writer like Spinrad would write a 250-page bad sword-and-sorcery novel, even if Spinrad was Making a Point. I mean, couldn't he have made the same points with just the afterword and the collateral material?

I'll describe the novel itself in another post, maybe. Bed now.

#143 ::: Adiva ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 03:59 AM:

hi

how can I get Elmore Leonard's Rules of Writing
can you mail it to me?

thanks
Adiva

#144 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 07:24 AM:

Adiva, the boldfaced words "rules for writers" in Teresa's original post (the one at the top of this list) are a link the the list. Just click on them. (The link was still working just fine a few seconds ago.)

Mitch, it is conceivable that Norm could have "made his point" with just the ancillary material, but it's also a fact that there were readers who didn't understand what the "scholarly" stuff was doing in the book. (I'm not saying there were many such people, but they did exist, and I've met a few of them.) Part of The Point is that "Lords of the Swastika" contains a lot of characteristic elements of adventure pulp; I believe (and some things Norm has said cause me to think this) that the reader is supposed to be pulled along with the story, in the way that even bad pulp can, and at some point wake up to "what he's eating" (Norm's phrase). The time it takes readers to notice the subtext (or not) is part of the message. We're not told whethe the people who (in the frame) dress up as "Lords" characters for Worldcon masquerades have bought into the novel's philosophy, or whether they just think the outfits (which in that world don't have the connotation they have in ours) look cool; what, for comparison, are we to make of all those Imperial Stormtroopers? And, too, the afterword isn't entirely a denunciation of the book; it takes place in the author-Hitler's alternate universe, where there was no World War Two but there -is- a Cold War, and hints that the book might have something to say about the "real enemy" America faces -- which, for some people, was a real subtext to the postwar period.

I think the book is a -tour de force,- but a difficulty with doing such a thing, putting the pedal to the floor and never winking at the reader, is that some readers will not notice the roadsigns. That's not to condemn those readers; the writer is doing a risky thing and had better be aware of it. I've never heard Norm be condemnatory of the people who wished he hadn't tricked out the cool adventure story with all that apparatus, but I do think that the existence of such readers make one of his points more tellingly than a book that was more obviously a pastiche could have done. That, I would think, is "why he did that;" what the readers take away from "Iron Dream" tells us things about the their, as well as the author's, point of view.

#145 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 02:22 PM:

John M. Ford - I'm somewhat surprised to hear that some people didn't get that "The Iron Dream" was a pastiche; the indications were pretty obvious. I mean, it's a novel supposedly by Adolf Hitler, there's got to be something going on there.

"The Iron Dream" is about, among other things, the power of symbolism. In the universe of "The Iron Dream," a full-dress Nazi uniform is as innocuous as a Star Wars stormtrooper costume in our world. (But, as you note, how innocuous is that stormtrooper costume?)

We see the power of symbolism in the real world when the occasional person comes along, every few years, who is attempting to use the swastika in its more innocent, pre-Nazi meaning. Asian Indian heritage architecture is festooned with swastikas; these buildings were built many centuries before the Nazis. Likewise, swastikas appear in American Indian decorations. But people who publish photos of these things today will likely be criticized by people who see the swastika as irrevocably linked to Nazism.

Likewise, Microsoft recently had to re-release a set of dingbat fonts after a swastika was discovered in the set.

Here's my story about costumes and symbolism: As I've said elsewhere, I don't go to many cons (even though I have enjoyed all the cons I go to). Once, about 10 years ago, I was attending one of the Silicon Valley cons, and drove off the hotel site with Mark Kreighbaum and Connie Hirsch for dinner. As we were returning, I commented about the hall costumes. I'm ever the armchair psychologist, so I noted that sf fans, as a group, tended to be picked on as children. I noted that so many hall costumes included multiple weapons, especially impressive edged weapons, big-ass knives and swords. I said I thought the people wearing those costumes were, perhaps, afraid.

I didn't mean to suggest that these people were actually, literally afraid of attack or ready to do violence. I was commenting on psychological symbolism - that whatever was happening in their minds was happening on a subconscious level.

But Connie and Mark weren't buying it, they said I was overthinking the whole thing.

This discussion happened while we were cruising the parking lot, looking for a space. Meanwhile, we approached a car that had just parked. A guy got out of the front seat, he was dressed in a long black robe. Obviously a con-goer in a hall costume. He went around the back, opened the trunk, and proceeded to pull out and don the rest of his costume: crossed swords at his back (katana and the other one, the Japanese thingies). Long sword and dagger at his waist. Another, long dagger or short sword horizontally, at the small of his back. Yet another knife vertically, between his shoulder blades. Total of seven swords.

We watched this silently for several minutes, and then Mark said, "You know, Mitch, you may have a point."

(If I were Jonathan Vos Post, the passengers in the car would've been Eleanor Roosevelt and Isaac Asimov.)

I am not commenting on this from the Cosmic Observer point of view, by the way - I was a bookish kid myself, and got a share of beatings, and I freely confess that part of the fantasy of action-adventure stories is the vicarious pleasure of kicking the asses of people as have asses what need kickin'.

And I think part of the appeal of vampire stories is the fantasy of being a powerful, conscienceless creature who can torture and kill people just because they're annoying.

#146 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 07:12 PM:

Mitch Wagner: good story. Good point.

Speaking of me speaking of Eleanor Roosevelt:

The Jessups were driving Eleanor Roosevelt to a party in Manhattan. The senior Jessup was a World Court judge, who wrote the first book for the United Nations on Space Law. His son is now the General Counsel to the National Art Gallery.

Anyway, as they told me, Eleanor Roosevelt apparently fell asleep in the back seat, and was snoring. They awakened her upon arrival, and commented "it's a shame you fell asleep. We had a wonderful conversation."

"Yes," she said. "I was asleep, but..."

and she responded to several of the threads of the conversation that she'd slept through.

I've left Isaac Asimov out of this story so as not to be too obviously engaged in self-parody. But I stand by that story, as told to me by the Jessups.

#147 ::: Stefan Sees Content Spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2004, 02:00 AM:

Sheesh.

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