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May 19, 2005

Like expertise, only different
Posted by Teresa at 10:50 AM * 163 comments

We are this day in receipt of two trade paperback collections of essays, by asst’d authors, on how to write a particular subcategory of Our Beloved Genre.

Of the authors of the essays collected in the first volume, the one with the most substantial English-language commercial fiction credentials once sold a story to a Marty Greenberg/Mike Resnick anthology. The second volume is only slightly better in terms of its authors’ credentials.

The typography and interior design are dreadful. If you’re going to use seriously oversized type for your main text, and justify your columns, there must be hyphenated wordbreaks.

Only some of the advice is dubious or erroneous, but almost all of it is elementary: yup, the constant use of invincible power makes for dull storytelling. At best, it rises to heights like “When you’re worldbuilding, remember that governments always have factions,” or “In a society that has a commonly available technology that can knock down walls, military defense is not going to rely on castles.”

For reasons of tact, I’m not going to quote my favorite piece of bad advice found thus far.

Here are my own pieces of advice:

1. When you’re writing material like this, and you need to show how something should be done, take your examples from the works of well-regarded authors who aren’t you. This will make you look knowledgeable, and avoids potential embarrassment.

2. Consider Diana Wynne Jones’ The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Ask yourself whether you’re saying anything she didn’t already cover.

3. Hasn’t that cat been vacuumed enough?

Comments on Like expertise, only different:
#1 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 01:12 PM:

Cat Vacuuming is going to be an Olympic Sport in 2012. Didn't you hear? Pity these folks lost their amateur standing.

#2 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 01:36 PM:

I do hope these volumes are not the product of a major publisher.

#3 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 02:19 PM:

“When you’re worldbuilding, remember that governments always have factions,” or “In a society that has a commonly available technology that can knock down walls, military defense is not going to rely on castles.”

In the same vein:

When you completely blow up a planet, remember that the work needed to scatter the fragments widely is roughly the same as the work needed to lift a mass equal to Earth up a height roughly the radius of Earth in a earth-gravity (1 G). Are you sure that your superdooperbomb is powerful enough? Do the math.

When your aliens eat people, how does their immune system handle our unrelated proteins and perhaps unrelated amino acids? Why don't they go immediately into the equivalent of anaphylactic shock?

When the NASA/DOD Scientists search for the ET in the dark, and whip a flashlight beam onto him/her/it, why doesn't he/she/it whip a phaser beam right back?

When your spacecraft is in a decaying orbit that must be corrected by the end of the chapter, or fatally plunge into the alien planet's atmosphere, why didn't you just park into a higher orbit in the first place?

Remember that not all aliens speak American. Some speak English, Scottish, or Manx.

Unicorns are not allowed on thin-hulled spacecraft unless a safety-cork is affixed to the sharp horn-tip.

When your unspacesuited human is thrown into a vacuum, do NOT make his/her eyes bulge out of the skull (a la Total Recall, 1990). Read "A Breath of Air" by Arthur C. Clarke first, or watch the scene in 2001 where Dave, without a helmet, has to pass through vacuum to reenter the spaceship airlock.

#4 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 02:34 PM:

For reasons of tact, I’m not going to quote my favorite piece of bad advice found thus far.

Tease!

#5 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 02:54 PM:

I have a feeling I know what at least one of the books is; they've been advertising heavily on some of the sites and podcasts I frequent.

One of my best moments as a Struggling Young Writer(TM) several years ago was walking into a bookstore, gravitating automatically to the "writing books" section as I always did, staring at the shelves for about thirty seconds and having it finally sink in that I didn't need a damn one of those books. None of them had anything new and real to tell me. I knew grammar, I had The Elements of Style, and I read extensively inside and outside the genre. If anything was keeping me from writing a damn good book, it wasn't ignorance of how to do it. It was my own discipline and energy. And the books implying I didn't know how to do it yet were holding me back.

I did get the damn good book written, it's on the desk of someone we all know and admire, and I'm writing another one now. And I haven't picked up another book on how to write. They don't get in they way of time to write; they get in the way of the chutzpah needed to write.

Come to think of it, I believe this was what Lawrence kept telling me over and over at Viable Paradise. Sometimes it takes a while for the lesson to penetrate.

#6 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 02:55 PM:

Mary, I woulldn't worry about it--the sharp-eyed hordes of Making Light readers will have identified the books from the available clues within a day of publication.

#7 ::: Madeline Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 03:03 PM:

Jonathan Vos Post said: Remember that not all aliens speak American. Some speak English, Scottish, or Manx.

Sorry, I'm going to be off-topic, but the word 'Manx' caught my eye and I got all excited. The last native Manx speaker died in the 1970s and, in typical human fashion, we began to panic about the losing the language almost immediately afterwards. Now there's a Manx GCSE (exam taken when sixteen years old), children are taught Manx from the age of seven, and two years ago an all-Manx-speaking primary school started.

The language is back! And it's going to take over the world, oh yes.

I might even try learning it, since currently all I know of my supposedly native language is our national catchphrase, 'traa di liooar', which means 'bah, I'll do it tomorrow' (literally "there's time enough").

[/off-topicness]

#8 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 03:16 PM:

Do not put multiple planes of rings around a planet. Looks cool; not plausible.

Do not parachute your action figures onto the moon. I know that sounds obvious, but I saw a presentation at a Civil Engineering conference of a landing strip on the moon with a space shuttle gliding in. Fluor Daniels or Bechtel was trying to land a NASA contract, and didn't understand the rolling-on-the-floor reaction of the real space engineers, including me.

Madeline Kelly:

I do worry about languages dying, and their entire worldviews with them. Once I saw an estimate that there were over 5,000 human languages (and far more dialects) of which a third were spoken by 100 or fewer elders, with the younger generations not learning. "The Embedding" by Ian Watson had the fate of humanity hanging by an alien thread: only one tiny aboriginal amazonian tribe had the sort of language that could enable First Contact. And thy'd been displaced, nobody knew where, by a dam project.

In a frantic effort to drag you nice posting on-topic:

'traa di liooar', which means 'bah, I'll do it tomorrow' (literally "there's time enough").

So, how does one say "Time Enough for Love" in the Manx translation of the oeuvre of Robert A. Heinlein?

Or a future Simpson's Halloween Special Sci-Fi spoof: "To Serve the Isle of Man"

#9 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 03:22 PM:

JVP:
When your aliens eat people, how does their immune system handle our unrelated proteins and perhaps unrelated amino acids? Why don't they go immediately into the equivalent of anaphylactic shock?

"Dessert?"

"Oh, no, thank you. I'm chordate intolerant."

"So am I. Have you tried Terranex?"

"Terranex? What's that?"

"It's the new supplement for Earth invaders with sensitive thoracic cavities like ours. It breaks down those complex protein chains so your body doesn't have to!"

"I had no idea!"

"For best results, Terranex should be taken every solar cycle. Side effects may include headaches, nausea, or the sudden transformation into a half-human hybrid consumed by inexplicable angst and intent on the destruction of your own race. If irritation persists, please see your geneticist. Now...how about an entertainment lawyer?"

"I'll take two!" [laughter] "THANKS, TERRANEX!"

#10 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 03:25 PM:

But do people speak it and it alone in the home, so their children learn it naturally as a first tongue? If not, it's still dead.

#11 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 03:27 PM:

When your aliens eat people, how does their immune system handle our unrelated proteins and perhaps unrelated amino acids? Why don't they go immediately into the equivalent of anaphylactic shock?

Toxic shock, perhaps. Indigestion, very probably. But anaphylactic shock? Not very likely. Allergic reactions don't tend to take place on first exposure; they're the result of the immune system overreacting to a substance to which it has earlier been sensitized.

It would be interesting, though, to see a story where an alien ate human flesh on one occasion without ill effect, and the next time had an anaphylactic shock reaction! I claim this idea; I get to write the story, me, me, me!!! (It will be comic.)

#12 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 03:28 PM:

Steve Eley: you are the wind beneath my wings.

#13 ::: Fernmonkey ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 03:30 PM:

When your aliens eat people, how does their immune system handle our unrelated proteins and perhaps unrelated amino acids? Why don't they go immediately into the equivalent of anaphylactic shock?

Why aren't cannibalistic fantasy races absolutely crippled with parasites and prions?

#14 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 03:36 PM:

Well, if by "cannibal" we mean merely "eats humans"...

#15 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 03:49 PM:

Xopher:
Steve Eley: you are the wind beneath my wings.

It's been frequently suggested that I'm full of hot air, so I guess this is plausible. Thanks, Xopher! >8->

#16 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 03:58 PM:

Seriously, I'd be interested to know who published these 'essays'...

#17 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 04:21 PM:

Fernmonkey wrote:
Why aren't cannibalistic fantasy races absolutely crippled with parasites and prions?

Maybe they are. Perhaps orks are just elves that took "serving their brethren" too literally.

#18 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 04:24 PM:

Huh. I have cousins who speak Manx, though not as their milk tongue; I hadn't realized it was in any danger. (Their mother, my great-aunt, was from Chester; their father was from Douglas, and that's where they live.)

It's a pretty language; I like it better than Welsh or Irish, from the little I've heard. Haven't talked to Cousin Gwendreth in twenty years, though.

#19 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 04:34 PM:

There's a logical corollary to

1. When you’re writing material like this, and you need to show how something should be done, take your examples from the works of well-regarded authors who aren’t you. This will make you look knowledgeable, and avoids potential embarrassment.

It's:
When you're writing material like this, and you need to show how something shouldn't be done, do not take your examples from the works of well-regarded authors, unless they're you. This will make you look knowledgeable, and avoids potential embarrassment.

I've encountered several writing advice books which failed to meet that criterion. Occasionally, they were right about the bit of prose from a well regarded author being in some way clumsy. More usually, not.

#20 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 04:36 PM:

I may be mistaken, but I think prions are only a concern if said alien race is ingesting the brain matter of their own species. That's what that whole 'Mad Cow' thing was about- unscrupulous cattle ranchers cutting costs by grinding up dead cows, hoof, brain and all, and feeding it to the live ones. Ick. Who needs aliens to be evil, when you have cattle ranchers? Now, alien cattle ranchers, that's plain and fancy Evil.

#21 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 04:47 PM:

And when Homo stultus eats the dead cow that ate the other dead cow, the prion gets the chance to cause variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), just as people who eat their relatives' brain matter (for cultural reasons I won't go into here) sometimes end up with kuru. A prion, not being an organism with picky habits, is just looking for a nicely shaped protein molecule to convert to its line of reasoning.

#22 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 04:57 PM:

Had the previous message been necessary for a science-fiction story, it would properly have been constructed thus:

"Flash, Dr. Zarkov has begun acting . . . strangely!"
"How so, Dale?"
"He didn't look down my dress as I passed the Particle Chamber."
"That is odd. Perhaps . . . no, we dare not suppose . . ."
"Suppose what, Flash?"
"That the Venusian burrito the Doctor consumed at Grgl's Space Cantina contained . . . beanons!"
"You mean . . ."
"Indeed I do, Dale. As you already know, beanons are a variant form created by the Venusians after they developed space travel, in order to reduce . . . methane. But somehow -- perhaps due to the color-blindness, or 'Daltonism' --"
"Hurry, Flash!"
"You're right, I must stay focused. Because of that affliction, the Venusians are not quite the organic chemists they have always desired to be."
"But what does this say about Dr. Zarkov?"
"Since he has just switched the atomic cat vacuum to 'Overload like a sumbitch,' I have . . . my suspicions."
"EEEEEEEK!!!"
"Wow, what a cliffhanger noise that was."

#23 ::: Madeline Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 05:35 PM:

[off-topicness continuing]

Jonathan Vos Post said: So, how does one say "Time Enough for Love" in the Manx translation of the oeuvre of Robert A. Heinlein?

According to my not-much-use Manx/English dictionary, it'd be something like "Traa dy liooar dy graih", which is literally "Time enough to love".

I can't find "for" anywhere in there but it turns out that "soodraght" means "the recussion of a wave on the shore" so it wasn't an entirely wasted effort.

Kevin Marks said: But do people speak it and it alone in the home, so their children learn it naturally as a first tongue?

Yes! The Manx Nationalist movement started doing that a few years ago. In fact, one of my piano students goes to the Manx-speaking school, and both her parents speak only Manx in the home. I find it a little unsettling: because she's grown up surrounded by Manx language she has certain deficiencies in her English -- such as not knowing the English month names.

Lawrence Watt-Evans said: I have cousins who speak Manx [...] their father was from Douglas, and that's where they live.

Douglas is too big for me. But it does have its cultural highlights: the museum has a piece of talking slate.

It's a pretty language

From the bits I've heard over the years, it's more spitty than pretty.

[/off-topicness]

Sorry about that. I can't help myself when I see anything Manxish out in the Big World Beyond The Sea.

To be slightly on-topic, I'm writing a children's book set in a reimagined Norse kingdom (don't tell me it's a naff over-used idea! I'll worry about that when I've finished it) and I'm wondering how much I should let Gaelic and Old Norse infiltrate the language of the story. So far everyone's just talking away in English, although I have on older character speaking the way English turns out if you literally translate Manx (eg. "I was hunting the narwhal when I was young" rather than "I hunted...").

In other words, how much is too much?

#24 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 05:51 PM:

Isn't the standard 1950's sci-fi answer to the man-eating alien problem the old "you are what you eat" response? The alien doesn't "digest" you the way you might digest a hamburger or a nice green salad; rather, the alien "absorbs" you, so that your biology becomes part of its biology. Your genes become its genes, your chemistry becomes its chemistry, your memories become its memories, just as it's absorbed countless alien species on worlds without number.

It's a metaphor for how the communazis will take over.

#25 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 06:31 PM:

Clearly, the aliens who can eat you have correspondingly similar protein structures, making you digestible; those who do not will just kill you.

#26 ::: Madeline Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 06:32 PM:

Your genes become its genes, your chemistry becomes its chemistry, your memories become its memories, just as it's absorbed countless alien species on worlds without number.

"You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile."

#27 ::: Sian Hogan ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 08:33 PM:

Hi there people!
(I am a long-term lurker responding to the lure of Madeline's mention of Old Norse and Gaelic).

I hope this isn't too off-topic.

Madeline: I would say that you would fairly safe putting in as much Gaelic and Old Norse influence into your story as you are tempted to. Firstly, it will probably add more depth to the concept, and authenticity to the tone. Secondly, it will undoubtedly make the story popular with adults who are interested in those languages and cultures, as I am. (I'm currently an undergraduate reading Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, which is a very cool degree.)

But probably most importantly, a children's story is the best place to "get away" with influences from other languages and cultures. I mean, children and young people are learning all the time, with a much higher rate of vocabulary-increase than the majority of adults, so its a lot easier for them to feel comfortable with the unfamiliar. So if you want to use Old Norse and Gaelic, I don't really see any problem with adding as much as you feel suits the story and the characters.

On a more on-topic note: it is not always wise to criticise advice just for being elementary. Most elementary advice tends to have plenty of people failing to follow it, and these may possibly be the same people who would happily spend good writing or pleasure-reading time reading a book telling them how to write.

#28 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 09:03 PM:

Andy wants to know what the talking slate says.

#29 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 10:24 PM:

When I stayed on the Isle of Man, I played music and danced with a Manx folk group. The family that seemed to run the group was raising their two youngest bilingually (Manx/English). So while the parents speak it as a resurrected second language, the kids are growing up with it.

#30 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 10:33 PM:

Slightly on topic...

I've just been glancing through an unread overdue library book before
returning it. It's a collection of interviews with American writers, none of
whom I've heard of (which proves nothing). On skimming through the different
interviews and mini-biographies, I find that most of them have an MFA in
creative writing from some university or other, many of them tech MFA
creative writing, and most of them are English Lit. lecturers or similar.
Unfair though it may be, i feel they are not the real thing, but some
delicate protected species like the Giant Panda or the Kakapo parrot which
wouldn't cope in the wild.

#31 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2005, 10:46 PM:

Steve Taylor:

So true. The wild MFA rarely breeds while being observed, for fear that some other MFA will use the events in an academic novel. Nor has the MFA been successfully bred in captivity, as the captive MFA does not want to reveal gender, for fear that it might not be politically correct in the department in which captive. Cloning has been suggested, but no MFA has yet given informed consent, always insisting on maintaining ownership of intellectual propertry rights of its own DNA.

It has been hypothesized that the MFA can breed asexually, by converting some of its students to transform into new MFAs. It has not been determined where MFAs go when they at last depart the protected environment of the campus, although analogies to the "elephants' graveyard" have been made.

#32 ::: JonathanMoeller ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 01:56 AM:

It appears the essay-writers have embraced, no, *assimilated* the following profound philosophy, albeit in literary form:

http://www.despair.com/consulting.html

#33 ::: Shannon ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 02:33 AM:

From my experience, it seems like the best writing books aren't "how-to" books about writing. Instead, they're stories from that particuar writer's life on how he/she solved a problem and maybe their solution would help you out too. They tend to strive less to be universal but achieve it more. My favorite is Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.

#34 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 03:07 AM:

I may be mistaken, but I think prions are only a concern if said alien race is ingesting the brain matter of their own species.

Humans got it from eating cows, who got it from eating the remains of sheep, who had scrapie. Eating other species is risky.

#35 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 03:09 AM:

On skimming through the different interviews and mini-biographies, I find that most of them have an MFA in creative writing from some university or other, many of them tech MFA creative writing, and most of them are English Lit. lecturers or similar.

So they are literally cannibals?

#36 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 03:13 AM:

A prion, not being an organism with picky habits, is just looking for a nicely shaped protein molecule to convert to its line of reasoning.

The prion is the viral/protein hybrid molecule.

#37 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 03:13 AM:

Are you sure that your superdooperbomb is powerful enough? Do the math.

Excuse me. Did you not get the part about it being a SUPERDOOPER bomb?

And math is hard.

*ahem*

I agree with Shannon. I like to read "here's what makes my writing tick" by good authors because, well, it's interesting. As advice, not always so good--what works fine for Author A would surely never work for Author B, or necessarily even for my own humble self.

#38 ::: Madeline Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 05:38 AM:

Sian Hogan said: I mean, children and young people are learning all the time, with a much higher rate of vocabulary-increase than the majority of adults, so its a lot easier for them to feel comfortable with the unfamiliar.

And I had reasoned the exact opposite, stupidly. Thanks for your advice -- from now on I'll feel free to pepper the story with as many quirky words as I like.

--------------

Vicki said: Andy wants to know what the talking slate says.

As you walk past it lights up and shouts, "Hold on there, fella! I'm a piece of Manx slate! I--"

At which point it's interrupted by a piece of talking lead. I generally try to walk past it at least five times whenever I go to the museum.

jennie said: When I stayed on the Isle of Man, I played music and danced with a Manx folk group.

The Isle of Man being what it is, I probably know them.

--------------

About "how to write" books. I would've thought that the best and most useful advice for any new writer would be to read a lot (both good and bad books), to analyse what they've read (to work out why it's good or bad), to write a lot, to analyse what they've written, repeat.

#39 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 06:35 AM:

TomB: yes, I phrased that badly. Should have read something like "The prion, not being an organism, lacks picky habits."

I did one story about prions, but if you blinked you would have missed it.

#40 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 06:46 AM:

"And don't forget - because Earthlings' biochemistry is so different from ours, they have zero calorie content. Which means you can eat as many as you like - without spoiling your appetite!"

Anyway, this comment is rubbish. “In a society that has a commonly available technology that can knock down walls, military defense is not going to rely on castles.” Two words. Cannon; Vauban. Fortresses survived as the basis for defence for at least half a millennium after the invention of cannon - we were still having to deal with them in 1945. You just alter the design (sloping glacis rather than high vertical walls) and the materials (brick, rammed earth and, later, reinforced concrete and steel, rather than stone and wood).

#41 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 07:21 AM:

To give the . . . well, essayist, since none of them seem to be actual fiction writers . . . a bit of credit, I think there was a valid point on artillery vs. fortifications there, considering the intended audience. There's a major difference in the popular imagination, and a real enough one as well, between the defensible house, used for quotidian life between sieges, that is what most people think of as a "castle," and an artillery fort, which is primarily a military structure.

Note that the person didn't say "fortifications," and I'm pretty sure that was deliberate. If you already know exactly what is meant by mamelon and ravelin, you don't need this advice, but if you don't, you may need it bad. What's being said here is, "if the Bad Folks have cannon, your feudaloid nobleoids are not going to live in a crenellated stone jernt with wimply roundtowers and a port's-yer-bleepin'-cullis." The reason I believe this is the essayist's intent is that I've seen this juxtaposition in waaaay too many slushpile fantasy yarns, and one or two that made it into covers.

Obligatory semi-irrelevant note: there was a splendid essay in Viator a number of years ago on the "gynnes" that Malory kits out Mordred with, which T. H. White portrays as cannons (for reasons more complicated than mere history). The author makes clear, without any fuss, that what are being referred to are "engines," siege equipment of the Rock, Wall-Piercing, Spin-Stabilized, Discarding-Clumsy-Gynner (WaPiSSDisCluG) and ballistic-cow variety.

#42 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 07:42 AM:

OT: TomB, I find your comments useful and interesting, but whenever I see your name, a perverse part of my brain goes "We sail on the sloop TomB..."

I'm sorry about this. I can't help it. /OT

#43 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 08:34 AM:

Mr Ford: I see what you mean. Once again I feel my lack of experience of having to read through vast slushpiles of bad fantasy fiction - hiatus vix deflendus.

But (obligatory nitpick) if you wanted to have feudalism plus cannons (rather than, as happened in our time, feudalism plus bows, followed by centralised kingly states plus cannons) then the feudal lords would live in Vauban forts rather than crenellated piles, and stand on top of their scarps and glacises, rather than their battlements, to thumb their noses at the King, yes? And all the social dynamics, etc. would be pretty similar to knights-in-armour feudalism - except that Vauban forts are really boring from the cover artist's point of view.

#44 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 08:58 AM:

Remember that not all aliens speak American. Some speak English, Scottish, or Manx.

But lots of planets have a North.

#45 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 09:35 AM:

Mr. Ford, you were absolutely correct the first time. I was just using your comment as the lead-in for a very stooped joke. My apologies.

#46 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 09:58 AM:

TomB wrote:
Humans got it from eating cows, who got it from eating the remains of sheep, who had scrapie. Eating other species is risky.

Well, mostly. Prions also have a nasty tendency to spontaneously manifest every once in a while. It just won't transmit beyond an individual unless somebody's eating the brains or nervous system.

Reading about prions has been one of my creepier Scientific American moments in recent months. Learning that proteins can spontaneously misfold in such a way that they become resistant to heat and chemical destruction, and can also actively misfold other proteins in exactly the same way, killing advanced organisms in a very nasty and cross-species transmissible manner, was one of the few scientific discoveries lately that made me wonder whether there was a God after all. Alas, this God could not be a wholly benevolent one.

#47 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 10:02 AM:

Xopher, it is not clear whether that perverse part of your brain likes me. It is perverse, after all. But I am charmed nonetheless.

FWIW, and further OT, the handle came from a perverse part of my career, after a few years of working on an undead project. The company is legendary for its killed projects, and it seemed only proper that there be a tomb e-mail address. After a couple more years I finally got caught in a layoff, but hey, it was grim while it lasted.

The company also had electronic ordering for business cards, with a check box for whether you were requesting an unusual title. I respectfully asked my boss whether he thought "Propeller Head" was an unusual title. He said no, so I didn't check the box, and the order went straight to the printer.

#48 ::: slacktivist ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 10:10 AM:

Tact is overrated -- what's your favorite piece of bad advice?

#49 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 10:31 AM:

Steve, of course you are right. The first prions had to come from something other than injestion, and if it can happen once, it can happen again.

Prions seem sneaky and underhanded only because we are used to DNA-based pathogens. Resistance to heat is a natural characteristic of proteins. DNA denatures (comes apart) at much lower temperatures. When we cook a pork chop well done, it destroys any bacterial and viral DNA, leaving the proteins essentially intact.

An enzyme is a protein that acts as jig, holding molecules in positions that massively favor a particular chemical reaction. When you consider that, and the complexity of protein folding, it seems only a matter of time that a protein would evolve that had an alternate folding configuration that happened to be enzymatic for forcing other copies of the same protein into the same configuration.

Please note that I am not a biologist, so my take on the science is simplistic and could be wrong. I was fortunate to work on peptide synthesizer software in the early 1990s. One of the chemists, who really was brilliant, had invented a new peptide synthesizer and was using it to make prion fragments for Dr. Prusiner up at UCSF. One day he showed us a small vial of clear fluid and said it probably wasn't liquid death but he was being very careful with it on general principle.

#50 ::: MW ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 11:15 AM:

From a short-time lurker:

Isn't the lure of all self-help writing books that they (the authors) will make it somehow easier for you (the aspiring writer) to tackle a project that's inherently daunting, no matter how you slice it?

I have examined Ms. Wynne Jones's book because so many friends recommended it, but must admit that all others send me scurrying for the hiles.

That said, reading through some of the material on this site has been an enlightening experience.

#51 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 11:59 AM:

So, Madeline, is Manx just Gaelic with phonetic spelling?

:-)

#52 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 12:42 PM:

What really ended the days of fortified stone castles was the birth of Johann Pachelbel. Besiegers would just stand outside and play his Canon over, and over. The walls could take it, the defenders couldn't. Some got Canons of their own, but what could mere clergymen do?

Andy wants to know what the talking slate says.

"Flintstone -- you're FIRED!"

(Canon... fired... ah, forget it.)

#53 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 12:45 PM:

"An enzyme is a protein that acts as jig, holding molecules in positions that massively favor a particular chemical reaction." -TomB


*admires that phrase*
*grabs it*
*scuttles off with it to coo over it*

#54 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 01:03 PM:

TomB: Xopher, it is not clear whether that perverse part of your brain likes me.

All of my brain likes you (except for the part which hunts and kills things it likes...it would like you if you were made of tofu). I don't know whether I'd sail on you (if you somehow became a sloop, which seems unlikely), but how can I not like someone who ordered business cards with "propeller head" on them? I'd have to exile myself to gafia at once, and even then the avengers would come for me.

I'm ashamed to admit that the 'tomb' reading never occurred to me.

Ken MacLeod: Manx is a Gaelic. The other two are Scots and Irish. (Well, there's Northumbrian too. Maybe others I haven't heard of.) The Gaelics are the languages spoken by the Goidelic Celts. Common Celtic also branched into Brythonic, which gave rise to Cornish, Welsh, and Breton, which are, note, not Gaelic as some people have said.

Also, Irish Gaelic is spelled pretty phonemically (no language is spelled phonetically, and thank the gods, because that would be impossible to use on a daily basis). It just has different principles than you're used to in English. And, like English, it goes morphophonemic to capture certain phenomena to make reading easier. For example, 'mh' (broad) spells /w/ (in the dialect I learned). That seems weird until you realize that /m/ and /w/ alternate in Irish (apostrophes indicate slender (palatalized) consonants):

Maire ('Mary') is /mar'e/
a Mhaire ('o Mary') is /a war'e/
English 'c' is sometimes /s/ and sometimes /k/; this captures k/s alternation (yes, and it was called that way before slash) and makes it easier to see the relationship between e.g. 'electric' (ending in /k/) and electricity (where the same morpheme is realized to end in /s/).

#55 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 01:04 PM:

elise, I liked that too. I knew WHAT enzymes did, but this is the first time I felt I had any idea HOW.

#56 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 01:16 PM:

An enzyme isn't just a jig - some of them have moving parts. Check out the '97 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry (Paul D. Boyer and John E. Walker for their elucidation of the enzymatic mechanism underlying the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)). It's got a little wheel that moves ADP through the works.

Also, the virus/protein thing is one hypothesis, but there are others. I dare say it is still pretty deep in the "not well understood" catagory.

#57 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 01:19 PM:

TomB and elise:

Well, if I may channel the only other Science Fiction author than myself whom I know wrote a doctoral dissertation on Enzymology with an off-the-cuff definition: an enzyme is an organic or organometallic nanomachine that catalytically performs a dynamic, pattern-recognition, repair, regulatory, motion, and/or topological action or actions on a substrate molecule, which might be another protein, DNA, RNA, or otherwise.

Isaac Asimov tended to include Enzymes in his very definition of Life. More recently, we have found that RNA can act as an enzyme which catalyzes other RNA, thus leading to the hypothesis of the "RNA world" before proteins were invented.

Note than an enzyme may have more than one active site, as is essential for allosteric enzymes, which perform a regulatory feedback action, where their catalytic capability is modified by the concentration of a second molecule, usually the endproduct (endproduct inhibition).

In my dissertation, I proved (with lots of clever equations) that a system of enzyme, with substrate flowing in, product diffussing out, and the concentrations of all intermediate metabolites considered, can be a nanocomputer. The enzyme metabolism nanocomputer performs functions including: filtering out kT noise, amplifying, oscillating, phase-shifting, transmission of "enzyme waves" through chemical phase space, and the ability to modulate messages and compute functions.

I've been making presentations at international conferences ever since my PhD dissertation was neither accepted nor rejected. The world has begun to ask, and measure in the laboratory, the questions that I fully answered 28 years ago. My goal was to (1) understand metabolisms more correctly in the Laplace Transform math; (2) to reverse engineer metablisms to be nanocomputers (and in doing so, mine was the world's first dissertation on not-yet-named Nanotechnology).

A professor at UMass/Amherst has replied (email) to an earlier posting by me on Making Light, admitting that the Chairman when I started their (the plagiarist) was a nasty piece of work, but weakly defending the chairman who blocked my PhD as, admittedly not capable of being an adequate Chairman, yet a nice enough guy on his own, and involved in amateur productions of Gilbert & Sullivan. Well, much as I love G&S (as did Asimov, greatly), the *sshole Chairman also stopped me from getting the MFA in Poetry that I was close to receiving, and delayed my own professional production of operas by several years. But I Digress.

Of course, what TomB says is more compact. But I published first;)

#58 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 01:21 PM:

Urm, Xopher --

That was Ken MacLeod the actual Scot. Whose family hails from, if memory of Ian Banks' Raw Spirit is working, the Isle of Lewis.

I think you may have missed a gentle inter-Celtic-fringe dig, there.

#59 ::: Eimear Ní Mhéalóid ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 01:22 PM:

(Blah blah on the three Gaelic languages deleted since Xopher's comment explains it beautifully. Though we better distinguish between (Scottish) Gaelic and Scots.)

I can mostly figure out written Manx but I have to read it with my lips moving, a bit like what I had to do to read Feersum Enjinn. So I sat muttering for a bit before concluding the Irish translation of Madeline's phrase would probably be "Tráth go leor".

Flann O'Brien / Myles na Gopaleen once did the reverse in his column, in a piece with some English dialogue by two of the characters written phonetically for Irish speakers. Xopher, you might find this entertaining: SÉAM ÓLD DEÓC"


#60 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 01:29 PM:

The connection between Celtic, Gaelic and Mythology hinted at in my (huge, slow-loading)page:

THEOLOGY: Science Fiction or Fantasy about Religion.

Traditionally, very little Science Fiction dealt with Religion,while a major segment of Fantasy and Horror was predicated on Religious beliefs.

To oversimplify, Science Fiction is Materialist in essence, about a science/engineering/technology universe in which there is very little room for God. Fantasy and Horror, on the other hand, often depend upon an explicit border between Natural and Supernatural, and on the distinctions between Good and Evil, and are therefore essentially about God or His/Her absence.

H. P. Lovecraft pointed out in "Notes on Interplanetary Fiction" that religion was a local Earth custom, like Royalty, which had no significance whatsoever in other parts of the astronomical universe. James Blish strove, in fiction and critical essays, to establish exactly the opposite point of view....

Celtic:

The Celtic Pantheon has been heavily strip-mined by modern Celtic Fantasy.

Technically speaking, there are at least 3 different branches of Celtic myths:
(1) Wales and Cornwall [the "Insular Brythonic"]
(2) the Western Highlands of Scotland, the Isle of Man, and Ireland [the "Goidelic"]
(3) Brittany ["the Coninental Brythonic"] as best surveyed in modern Fantasy by Poul and Karen Anderson.

Celtic deities, who include Cernunnos, Lir, Lugh, and Mabon, were described in the Mabinogion. The magical Tuatha De Danaan ousted the Fir Bholg from Ireland. Nuadha, the leader of the Tuatha De Danaan, lost his arm in the battle and had a silver prosthesis, thus becoming renamed Nuadha Airgedlamh (of the Silver Hand), and he lated abdicated to make way for Lugh. Eventually, the Tuatha De Danaan were in turn ousted by the Milesians (Gaelic Irish) for whom the Tuatha De Danaan were worshipped. The name "Ireland" comes from the Tuatha De Danaan goddess Eriu, which
became Eire, as she first foretold that the land would be ruled by the Milesians.

#61 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 02:15 PM:

Lawrence, how small are the odds that a bunch of unknown names could sell a project like this to a major publisher?

I'm not going to identify the books. I'm already feeling like I've been unkind.

Steve Eley, you hit the nail on the head. It's easier to read about writing fiction, and to write about writing fiction, than it is to write good fiction. ... The ad for Terranex is lovely.

Alter: Amen. Also, make sure your example of an author doing something wrong isn't actually an example of that author doing a different thing right.

Mike, I figure the aliens will stuff their prey into vast gleaming unsympathetic structures that turn out to be silos. After a composty long wait, they'll feed the results to an intermediate organism they'll subsequently eat.

Steve Taylor: "I've just been glancing through an unread overdue library book before returning it. It's a collection of interviews with American writers, none of whom I've heard of (which proves nothing). On skimming through the different interviews and mini-biographies, I find that most of them have an MFA in creative writing from some university or other, many of them tech MFA creative writing, and most of them are English Lit. lecturers or similar. Unfair though it may be, I feel they are not the real thing, but some delicate protected species like the Giant Panda or the Kakapo parrot which wouldn't cope in the wild."

See also, Todd James Pierce. I credit my most recent illumination on this subject to Mythago, for referring to academic literary magazines (usually named something like The Thingummy River Review) as "fanzines." Suddenly it all became much clearer to me.

Shannon, you should try Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings. I think you might like it.

I think my equivalent education consisted of researching and writing lord-knows-how-many author bios while working on the Chelsea House Library of Literary Criticism. After a while you start to get a sense of the pace, patterns, and characteristic follies of the profession.

TomB: "So they are literally cannibals?"

Are you going to tell me you've never heard of textually transmitted diseases?

Sian, Madeleine, kids may have a higher tolerance for unfamiliar concepts and vocabulary, but they're going to be spending part of that on unfamiliar material from their own culture. Pile too much additional strangeness on top of that and they'll balk like any other reader.

Ajay, what Mike said (especially the part about the "...siege equipment of the Rock, Wall-Piercing, Spin-Stabilized, Discarding-Clumsy-Gynner (WaPiSSDisCluG) and ballistic-cow variety"). If I'd meant fortifications, I would have said so. One truly does see a lot of submissions where societies capable of generating explosions are nevertheless putting their faith in curtain-wall construction.

Want to catch my attention? Discuss firing rates.

Slacktivist: An excess of tact is not usually one of my failings. Feel free to assume there's a reason for it this time around.

MW, if I tried to figure out why aspiring writers do half the things I see them do, my brain would seize up.

Ken, I thought Gaelic was just Gaelic with phonetic spelling ...?

#62 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 02:17 PM:

That was Ken MacLeod the actual Scot.

Ulrp! <blushes>

#63 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 02:24 PM:
JVP: Unicorns are not allowed on thin-hulled spacecraft unless a safety-cork is affixed to the sharp horn-tip.
Apropos of very little, this brought to mind a genuine product that I didn't even realize there was a need for until I ran across it the other day: the impalement-proof lightning rod. I was particularly amused by the dead-serious safety sign.
#64 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 02:24 PM:

The name "Ireland" comes from the Tuatha De Danaan goddess Eriu, which became Eire, as she first foretold that the land would be ruled by the Milesians.

Well, no. Mythically, maybe. But in fact 'Eire', 'Ireland', 'Erin', 'Eriu' all come from the same root as 'Iberia', a name for the place where the Goidelic Celts (I keep wanting to call them the Goidelim) were before they came to Ireland (and thence Alba and Mannin). 'Hibernia' is also from this root.

I guess it's possible that Eire was proximately named for Eriu, who after all was a river goddess. But she was named for the same thing that gave Iberia its.

#65 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 02:28 PM:

That'd be like Columbia, then?

#66 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 02:32 PM:

Columbia the gem of the ocean?

Not too sure of the history there, but it sounds right.

#67 ::: Neil Gaiman ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 02:48 PM:

When I was about 20 I read a book from the 1950s that I bought in a jumble sale on how to write and sell fiction. All manner of sensible advice, which washed over me and I've forgotten, all except one thing. "Everything in a contract is negotiable, including the date," it said, somewhere in the chapter on what to do once you've sold something. And it's pieces of advice like that that get you through a career as a writer with your sanity intact.

#68 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 03:06 PM:

Teresa, when I was at Barnes and Noble today, I ran into a book and thought of you:

Some Writers Deserve To Starve: 31 Brutal Truths about the Publishing Industry by Elaura Niles.

Among the advice was "working on conferences is a good way to meet writers and agents, but never, ever kidnap those writers and agents..."

#69 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 03:08 PM:

David Gerrold's book on writing SF, alas, is good but for his tendency to use himself as examples of doing things well.
This isn't vexing except in the chapters where there's maybe a paragraph of "how to do it" followed by a three or four-page sample; if I want to see a good sex scene, I know where to find one. If how to write one can be intuited by simple observation, then I wouldn't have bought the how-to-write book in the first place...

#70 ::: Lisa Spadafora ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 03:11 PM:

Steve Taylor:

I’ve been an inmate on that particular ward, and know how much time MFA programs spend sneering at, um, just about everything…“popular” fiction, sf, the bestseller list, books people outside of academia have actually heard of or care about (or, I don’t know, READ). These people cornered the market on the “who-is-a-real™- writer” game.

But for some reason your post struck a big ol’ nerve, I guess because there are some writers with the credentials you mention that I’d hate to see anybody miss...so I hope no one minds, if, in that spirit, I offer one for your (possible) delectation…Tony Earley, most especially his story “Charlotte,” which can be found in a collection called Here We Are In Paradise.

(I realize it’s hardly new and for all I know y’all already know it already, but it’s the first thing that came to mind and I love it too much to try and think of any thing else…)

#71 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 04:04 PM:

Columbia - named after Columbus - was an alternate name for America? That's all I know.

Plus I find it amusing to think of "British Columbia" being the equivalent of "British America."

#72 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 04:24 PM:

John M. Ford: I think the Malory Viator issue you mean is this one: Mahoney, Dhira B. "Malory's Great Guns." Viator 20 (1989): 291-310. Before Brepols took over publication/distribution, you would have been able to download the article for free.

On Manx: There are sound samples, recorded in the 1940s, of native speakers here. My favorite is the one about the pig.

#73 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 04:38 PM:

Some Writers Deserve To Starve: 31 Brutal Truths about the Publishing Industry by Elaura Niles.

This book is notorious in certain circles. For an amusing afternoon, check on what Ms. Niles has done to make her such an expert.

#74 ::: scapegoat ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 05:02 PM:

-I have a hard time understanding why anybody interested in world building would feel it necessary to read a book on how to do it. But that's just me.

-I was flipping through some literary journals the other day, and I wondered to myself if anyone had ever attempted to write a code for randomly producing literary magazine fiction. I bet it could be done.

-My favorite analogy for enzymes is that they are the farmer holding the chickens neck before lopping its head off. I didn't make it up, but I use it in my classes.

#75 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 05:28 PM:

Lisa S.: Indeed, that's the one. I have a photocopy of it around here somewhere, but that's like saying that there's a perfectly good Hasselblad body lying around on the Sea of Tranquility.

Lynn White, Jr. has long been one of my hero-persons, but most of the folks who know me have probably heard that to exhaustion already.

The downtown library used to get Viator, but they stopped a number of years ago, I assume because of budget limitations (and I won't make unkind guesses about of what they're probably buying with that fifty bucks). Shakespeare Studies disappeared at about the same time. At least there are about twenty volumes of each in the stacks (though they're inaccessable for another year, and I haven't read all of them. ('Course, they're inaccessible for another year due to construction, but that's a whole 'nother kettle of Erasmuses.)

#76 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 05:34 PM:

But lots of planets have a North.

Matt McIrvin, Whovians all around the worlds that have a North salute you.

#77 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 05:51 PM:

James D. Macdonald: For an amusing afternoon, check on what Ms. Niles has done to make her such an expert.

AmEricaHouse?! She went with PublishAmerica in its larval stage?!

#78 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 05:53 PM:

I apologize for exagerating the more nuanced position of the person who contacted me off-line regarding the Chairman who kept my PhD from me. For the record, he did not claim personal knowledge that the previous Chairman (a well-documented plagiarist) was "a nasty piece of work" (my phrasing, not his). What he actually wrote was: "[former Chairman] A**** left at the same time I came in -- I met him only once, briefly, at a Ph.D. defense but from all accounts I don't regret missing him."

Of the next Chairman, who drove away 1/3 of the department's faculty, denied the right of a documented dyslexic to have his wife read aloud his written doctoral qualifying exam questions, denied the validity of grad students who had degrees from Paris and Cambridge, he actually said: "B** G***** is still around and is a friend of mine, but from knowing him I can't imagine he was very effective as a chair."

I'm still baffled that B** G***** is a Gilbert & Sullivan afficianado. I tried discussing poetry and song lyrics once, and he denied having any ability to appreciate poetry. In a document that I submitted, related to my (successful) appeal of his unmerited termination of my TA for him, I cited a number of poets who were also scientists, and he admitted knowing the identities of none of them.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he may have mellowed out, after the utter fiasco of his Chairmanship. Arc of character, in the Hollywood phrase.

Computer Science, UMass/Amherst, should still be actively seeking a way to grant me my long-delayed PhD, without my having to fork over $25,000 in advance. I certainly don't mean to alienate the honorable gentleman who is a guest of Teresa on this blog, nor to in any way drag others here into the mess that blighted my career, as the very reasonable and calm co-blogger may still be able to mediate a process that leads to a win-win resolution.

Call me old fasioned, but I do believe that people can change for the better, however rarely we see that. I also believe that people can help to repair old damages, heal old wounds, and justify the capability to forgive.

I'm obviously an irritating person at times, as my own family and friends remind me, managing to offend even the near-unflappable Teresa. Here I am, on a break from my 33rd College Reunion at Caltech, mingling with Nobel Laureates, having to ask everyone if they know of any job openings. In a story, I know that I could solve all these problems for my characters. In real life, other people stubbornly insist on having free will, and not acting according to my plots.

#79 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 06:02 PM:

Indeed she did. She went with PublishAmerica back before they changed their name.

Further Intensely Catty Comment about her other qualification for writing this book deleted as this is a family web log.

#80 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 06:54 PM:

Scapegoat, I had to read all the stories submitted to OMNI's libraries when it was on AOL. Some people simply don't know enough about rocks and people to build believable worlds.

#81 ::: scapegoat ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 07:14 PM:

Marilee, I am sure you are right. People should have at least a rudimentary understanding of physical science to write believable science fiction. But they probably won't know that they fall into this category until somebody tells them.

#82 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 07:25 PM:

One of my more entertaining lessons in taking "how to write" books with a grain of salt was the "how to write erotica" written by a gentleman who told his readers to remember that men like reading f/f but women don't like reading m/m. Naturally, I hastened to share this fact with the members of the nearest slash mailing list...

#83 ::: Madeline Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 07:36 PM:

I'd apologise for using this thread to ramble on about Manx, but I'm much too delighted to feel sorry.

Ken MacLeod said: So, Madeline, is Manx just Gaelic with phonetic spelling?

I'm sorry, did I forget to say that "traa di liooar" is pronounced "bite my bottom"? Oops. ;-)

With the caveat that I'm making this up as I go along, I suspect that Manx is spelt in a more straightforward manner because the Manx people were illiterate -- it being more convenient for the Scottish and English overlords to keep us as ignorant and downtrodden as possible [/shoulder-chip]. All the stuff that was written down was written down by people who could speak English, and were trying to spell it the way it sounded to them. There aren't any great Manx Gaelic sagas (although we did have an excellent Manx dialect poet -- T.E.Brown). All we have are Manx folk songs, which were written down by English collectors.

It's possible that I'm wrong about this, of course.

Eimear said: I can mostly figure out written Manx but I have to read it with my lips moving [...] the Irish translation of Madeline's phrase would probably be "Tráth go leor".

Annoyingly, it doesn't work in reverse, so I spent most of my holiday in Eire staring blankly at road-signs. The little bits of Manx that I know being mostly placenames, I had hopes that I'd feel at home -- sadly not the case.

Teresa said: kids may have a higher tolerance for unfamiliar concepts and vocabulary, but [...] Pile too much additional strangeness on top of that and they'll balk like any other reader.

Point taken. Too much is too much. But I feel more confident in using a little now.

Lisa Spangenberg said: On Manx: There are sound samples, recorded in the 1940s, of native speakers here. My favorite is the one about the pig.

The pig one is fantastic! It reminds me of one of the sound samples in the Douglas museum, featuring an old man saying "eight shillings" in Manx over and over again in a really angry voice.

The sad thing about people speaking Manx again is that they only have these old recordings (and the memories of older Manx residents) to guide them in pronunciation. They might be saying everything with a dodgy accent -- they'll never know.

#84 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 07:43 PM:

Some people simply don't know enough about rocks and people to build believable worlds.

I immediately thought, ". . . to tell the difference between them," but as so often, Mark Twain beat me to it.

Though many of you know this, I suppose I ought to belatedly do Full Disclosure and note that my name does appear on a Littel Boke of Auctorial Counsells (or) Slush of Despond, though not, I hasten to add, one of the two that started this thread.

#85 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 07:47 PM:

"Inaccessible." Bergen Evans on a bleepin' stick.

#86 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2005, 08:02 PM:

There are collections of songs, some clearly secular carols, a bit like the Hebridean stuff collected (and revised) by Alexander Carmichael, from the eighteenth century and some of the Book of Common Prayer bits are metrical--so we do have meter and rhyme to give a bit of help.

Plus we know that Scottish Gaelic and Manx Gaelic were always mutually understandable--and the orthographic differences, mostly having to do with v-c-v patterns, are a good guide to pronounciation.

The orthography was, deliberately, standardized as part of the translation of the Book of Common Prayer.

There are Manx glosses in early Scottish sermon collections, for instance. There's also a tendency to mis-identify Manx as Scottish Gaelic, so keep a good thought. We may find more.

#87 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 12:50 AM:

I credit my most recent illumination on this subject to Mythago

Well shucks. Now, after a long, hard week of churning out documents with phrases like "Attached hereto as Exhibit A" and "does not conform to the requirements of C.C.P. section 2030" sprinkled liberally throughout, I feel like I've been of some literary value.

Those MFAs always puzzled me. In no way to dis people who have them, but it always struck me as a little...um...inbred.

#88 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 01:53 AM:

On Vauban-style fortifications and the survival of curtain-walls in an age of explosives.

Writers who don't seem to consider the matter do annoy me. Some historical novelists and fantasy writers have actually mentioned the problem, some in cliche terms, others with signs of real consideration.

I once spent a fair amount of time trying to work out the pattern (if any) of transition from one style to another. I quickly came to agree with those historians who pointed out that economics had to be a big factor. A lot of money had gone into the existing old-style fortifications, and they still worked just fine IF your enemy couldn't afford real siege artillery and competent engineers, or didn't have them available at the time and place.

(Christopher Duffy pours scorn on various unprepared besiegers and defenders in his "Siege Warfare: The Fortress in the Early Modern World, 1494-1660" -- one might suppose that the English Civil War was a scheduled event, and the teams should have trained better!)

So some people kept old fortifications in some sort of working order, since they were much better than nothing, and much cheaper (and easier to justify!) than a whole new defensive system. Just the thing for surviving a short civil war, minor war of religion, peasant revolt, etc.

And they worked well enough for short-term defense that the new centralized authorities made a point of demilitarizing the "obsolete" castles at any opportunity, by demolishing sections of curtain walls or truncating towers; often both.

Then, too procrastination may be one of the more neglected "driving forces" in history. Consider the neglect of the fortifications of Vienna, until earthworks became the only real alternative in an emergency -- and turned out to be very good at stopping artillery fire.

#89 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 02:07 AM:

mythago: MFAs... inbred.

I must say that gives a whole new slant to the "MF" part.

--Tim Walters, M.F.A.

#90 ::: Lazette Gifford ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 05:16 AM:

I sometimes read the Making Light journal. It's fascinating, amusing, and often thought provoking. And thought-provoking is what happened with this post, though not quite in the way that maybe was intended.

I can't say anything about the layout of the books, having no idea what they might be. Maybe I have them -- I have some very odd writing-related books in my collection.

What I can address is the very basic level of information that appears to be in these books.

Every single day I work with people who have never written a full story in their lives. I watch them struggle with the very basics. It may seem obvious to people here that 'the constant use of invincible power makes for dull storytelling' but it is not obvious to some new writers. They'll learn it eventually if they learn at all, but some of them learn with the help of books that give them very plain, simple advice. Many learn all on their own -- but not all writers are going to pick up on information in the same way.

I'm not a great writer. Not even a particularly good one, when it comes down to it. I am still learning and willing to learn, though. However, even without any outstanding credentials, I do know some of what can help others -- and one thing I've learned is that sometimes with those true newbies you need to start at the absolute bottom information. It's not that they don't truly know it -- it's that no one has told them it's okay, this is what you can do -- though not always what you MUST do. Sometimes all they are looking for is reinforcement, or simple little steps to make that will help them get up the hill a little ways.

It's easy once a person has learned the basics to forget what it was like to really not know anything at all about writing as an art rather than a pastime. I remember reading several books on writing before I found something that even explained the term 'world-building.' I still read new books on writing when I have the time, just to find those little gems that will help me help others. Sometimes reading about things I already know sparks a little bit of 'Oh yeah. That's what I've forgotten, overlooked, or ignored.' The truth is that no one really knows what's going to help someone else. But sometimes people try anyway, and they put out books, or run websites for the masses, or workshops for the few.

Some do better at teaching others, either in person or in print. But I've also seen people who 'have made it' decide that there is only one true way and ruin a new writer who just isn't made in the same mould.

Not all writing books are good for every writer -- that's kind of obvious. And, of course, few writing books have advice that won't be countered by someone else who does things differently. Some books even have straight out bad advice -- and some are a mixture of all levels. But please consider that sometimes there is advice that might just be set at a level too basic to seem helpful to someone who already clearly sees their own path.



#91 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 07:35 AM:

Like many here, I'm sure, I have my small shelf of books on writing. What strikes me as interesting, though, is how most of them are books aimed at writers who are starting out, learning the craft, trying to find an agent, etc.

What I don't see, and would be interested to read, is a book about the next level--which for me means a book that addresses that smaller but not insignificant pool of writers who have entered the "over 90%" mark, the ones who don't immediately get tossed like the rest of the slush, but who get considered, worried over, considered again, but not quite yet. In other words, a book that considers the intangible factors that lead to success for writers who work there way on their own to a certain point and then have to find the means--spirit, foritude, stamina--to stay with it while they wait for luck or chance to intervene.

"Somebody's gotta love it" is the Hollywood term. But it's true. With the market being what it is today, you need to find that editor/agent who loves your work so much they are willing to stick with it as much as you.

I would like to read more from writers who have been through that process, and their editors and agents--because the 90%-ers need that inspiration more than yet another book on how to avoid 'said-bookism', plot-holes and character arcs.

#92 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 08:14 AM:

And they worked well enough for short-term defense that the new centralized authorities made a point of demilitarizing the "obsolete" castles at any opportunity, by demolishing sections of curtain walls or truncating towers; often both.

The term for doing that, if anyone's interested, is "slighting."

---------

The objection to these particular writing books, unless I'm misreading, isn't that they're written at a basic level. Lord knows that we all start somewhere! The objection is that they're written by folks who themselves have never published commercial fiction.

#93 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 09:55 AM:

Castle? That's not the best defense.

How Much Do You Need To Know To Take Down The Mafia Or Destroy A Computer Network?
Source: American Physical Society
Date: 2005-05-20
"... It should come as no surprise that crime rings and terrorist networks go to great trouble to keep their most powerful and highly connected members secret. The bottom line: secrecy is the best defense for networks under attack, and good intelligence is vital for taking networks down...."

#94 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 11:41 AM:

"Sacre merde! This was our goofe majeure -- to tell the Boche where the Maginot fortresses were located. Quelle bleeping typique of the Third Republic."

#95 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 01:06 PM:

talking slate ... talking lead

Oh dear, this brings up vivid memories of Islay the Begging Dog in central Sydney. Since it is within 50 metres or so of a major SF & F bookstore, perhaps I should alert any possible visitors. It is actually part of an elaborate cover for an air outlet/inlet for the underground pedestrian walkway that joins the basement level of the Queen Victoria Building with the railway station underground at Sydney Town Hall.

Sadly, the very dour ex-Dublin statue of Queen Victoria nearby is facing away from her little terrier, rather like the way the twin statues of Victoria & Albert the Good at Queen's Square (formerly Chancery Square) between various historic sites, the Law Courts, St James' church and Hyde Park, appear to be sulking after a marital tiff; and Matthew Flinders' statue is separated from the one of his cat Trim, "The best and most illustrious of his Race", who stands on the Mitchell Library windowsill*. (Guide to Sydney's Green Plaques)

It's one of the city's busiest central spots, so, though I usually suceed in getting past without alerting it -- a talent sometimes honed on automatically-opening doors -- an unknowing, or curious, tourist ... or one of those locals (you know who you are) is forever setting it off on its spiel asking for donations in the wishing well. Perhaps the idea was inspired by the piece of Blarney Castle embedded in the same object.

*During recent building works, a special frame was made in the hoardings so Trim wasn't covered up.

By the way, does the Manx slate ever end its tale, or is it always truncated?

#96 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 01:25 PM:

Comments on Several Things:

Scapegoat: I have a hard time understanding why anybody interested in world building would feel it necessary to read a book on how to do it. But that's just me.

I don't have a hard time with seeing the need for a book on how to better develop a world. There are such books out there - ones with the calculations for those whose definition of realistic world means scientifically feasible, and Theoretically there must be some decent ones with discussions of culture and economics for those who don't care if two moons is unrealistic, but do care to make a reasonable culture (Although the latter kind of people usually prefer to read history, since most such books aimed at least at the fantasy crowd have had their nakedness pointed out not only by fools and small children, but by the savvy as well).

What confuses me is that anyone who knows enough to know their world-building is mucked up would try to learn how to world-build from any elementary-level writing book.


Lazette:

Your point about new writers is well made, and it's the reason I periodically do things like recommend Card's Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy to total newbies to the genre, even though by the time I started reading it, I could find nothing in it I didn't already know. Or Stephen King, though *some* of his comments and methods of story-writing don't work for me, because it's plain they worked for him, and someone else might find them a perfect match.

OTOH, I generally trust that the people here know an elementary writing book from a bad writing book.


John Farrell: What I don't see, and would be interested to read, is a book about the next level--which for me means a book that addresses that smaller but not insignificant pool of writers who have entered the "over 90%" mark, the ones who don't immediately get tossed like the rest of the slush, but who get considered, worried over, considered again, but not quite yet.

I've seen precisely one book advertised that way - Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass.

I've heard LeGuin's The Language of the Night similarly described, and I quite like it on its own merits, but it's not set up or sold as a how-to-write book, rather a book about her own writing. In a way this makes it more useful, as your conclusions are drawn by you from inference, not told to you by a possibly dubious authority. (perhaps something like the reason Shannon says she likes Bird By Bird)

I've been told of one more SF one that's supposed to be good and non-basic by Melissa Scott, but I've opted not to look for any more such books right now.

When I do feel the need to cat-vacuum, or even, rarely, to search for the nugget of useful theory that will get me unstuck from whatever's wrong in this story, I've been finding as much advice on websites and message boards. I admit, the "90% of everything is crap, and of the remaining 10%, 90% of that is for beginners" holds true, and the wading is sometimes harder, as it's often all in one place. But at this point in time, I trust my personal filters to pick out the BS, and if I can't find the precise answer to my own question, I can always ask directly at one of the more reliable places, and then wade through the answers.

#97 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 02:12 PM:

Yog - Oh my - I didn't look at the book in detail, just that the title reminded me of so many things Teresa has complained about over the years.

Now that I think about it, she also has a whole chapter in there about sex...

#98 ::: Lazette Gifford ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 02:20 PM:

I guess I wasn't clear in my first post. (Comes from writing something at four in the morning before I go to bed!) I wasn't judging whether the books were good or bad -- I haven't seen them, so I don't know. I was only pointing out that there is a level of new writer who can be helped by basic advice that seems obvious to others.

#99 ::: Lazette Gifford ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 02:29 PM:

Ah, one more note. If the books had been written by those who had published commercial fiction, and said the same things, then they would automatically be better? (grin)

I know what Yog means, though, really. If they would have bee written by someone who had extensive publications there would be more insight into the full process.

But again, not knowing the books myself, I can't judge whether these books are helpful or not to anyone.

Having (as I said) worked with a lot of new writers I can say that sometimes things most people take for granted still need to be taught. I think sometimes the writers who have gone that steps into publication don't see back to that very beginning.

But then I think new writers should read all kinds of writing books (and fiction of all kinds) to find what really helps them. I don't think there's one true way or one book with all the answers.

#100 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 03:06 PM:

Yeah, and this could so easily devolve into the standard "God I hate newbie writers who think they don't sell because publishers and editors are in cahoots to deny their genius" rant.

The rant has endless truth to it, yes. We all know it. But once in a while you'll read a newbie writer's first real shot at a pro story, and against your will you realise that you are looking at pure, solid gold. Happened to me recently, and it makes it all more, much more, than worthwhile.

#101 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 03:25 PM:

If the books had been written by those who had published commercial fiction, and said the same things, then they would automatically be better? (grin)

I'm sure Teresa would be the first to say that having A Big Name is no guarantee of a) talent or b) the ability to offer useful advice. (Again, the most helpful books on writing by Big Names I've seen are about "This is what has worked for me." The ones that dictate you MUST write in a particular way or do particular things strike me as the natterings of authors who are so wrapped up in themselves that they cannot comprehend people doing something different.)

That said, I believe Teresa's point is not so much that these books are elementary as they are egotistical. People telling you how to write probably ought to have some reason (e.g. lots of publications, years in the industry) that writing advice from them is good advice to which a new writer should hearken.

As well, using one's own work as an example of What To Do suggests that the author doesn't have that good a grasp on what really good writing is. If, across the vast world of literature, I had to say "Now, here's a sterling example of how to do great dialogue," and can't think of any better example than my own writing, you really ought to wonder about that advice.

#102 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 03:26 PM:

Among the many problems that the Donner Party faced, they were following the instructions in a guidebook written by someone who had never personally followed the trail he recommended.

#103 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 03:53 PM:

I must admit, there is a certain charm to the idea of watching _____ and ______ in a knife fight over who gets to eat the other.

#104 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 03:56 PM:

While we're Manxing about, the national motto reminded me of an apocryphal professor of Gaelic, Irish, I think, who was asked whether that language had an equivalent of the Mexican expression mañana. "Maybe," he said, "but I'm not sure it has the same sense of urgency."

At some point, it'd be neat for me to learn a little Manx, since with a Douglas Adams level of improbability, I am named for the two largest settlements on said island, even though my parents had never heard of the place. ("We liked the way the names sounded," is what my mom said.) Gotta finish Polish first, though.

#105 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 04:03 PM:

Yog...[bows low before the wisdom of the Yog]

#106 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 04:45 PM:

Doug wrote:

While we're Manxing about, the national motto reminded me of an apocryphal professor of Gaelic, Irish, I think, who was asked whether that language had an equivalent of the Mexican expression mañana. "Maybe," he said, "but I'm not sure it has the same sense of urgency."
I was told that that said by the late, and fabroulous, Proinsias Mac Can, of the Dublins Institute for Advanced Studies.
#107 ::: Bill Peschel ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 05:19 PM:

John Farrell: What I don't see, and would be interested to read, is a book about the next level--which for me means a book that addresses that smaller but not insignificant pool of writers who have entered the "over 90%" mark, the ones who don't immediately get tossed like the rest of the slush, but who get considered, worried over, considered again, but not quite yet.

Lenora Rose: I've seen precisely one book advertised that way - Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass.

Me: I still like "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" by a couple of NY editors who found themselves farmed out in the early '90s. Plus, let me add to that "The Career Novelist" by Maass.

The worst book on writing advice I found was "The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book" by Susan Page. Her non-fiction advice told you how to write a book like hers (she's a self-help author). Her fiction advice was even worse, considering she had never sold a piece of fiction in her life, unless you count her relationship books.

#108 ::: CEP ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 05:21 PM:

Part of the problem with the whole "castles and gunpowder" argument is that it reflects only part of the military equation. (Dusts off Command Military Historian credentials.) There are at least six other factors that have to work together to make castles truly obsolete:

* Supply of gunpowder and munitions
* Sufficient food supplies to support a beseiging army (if only to protect the cannon from a sally by the defenders), but
* Food supplies restricted enough to restrict social mobility, else you end up with continuous-fronts and a different set of problems entirely
* Socially, easy availability of weapons to the "lessers" that can kill their betters (a castle is still an effective defense against peasants armed only with pitchforks!)
* Terrain suited for domination by a fortification, or set of fortifications
* Strategic movement capability to bypass the fortifications

Castles will still be useful in a "gunpowder and cannon" world, even without Vaubon's changes in fortification design. Remember, the whole point of the German blitzkrieg was to avoid ever having to assault a fortified position! Further to that particular example, the German army conquered France through the Ardennes in 1940 in no small part to avoid the Maginot Line of fortifications.

Then there's the whole issue of the psychological value of prepared defensive positions; but that's obviously well beyond the capabilities of most of the [insert unfavorable description here] who write pseudomedieval military fiction to consider.

#109 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 05:23 PM:

Fortunately for the Donner group, their copy of Brillat-Savarin was written by a seasoned pro.

#110 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 06:16 PM:

But seasoned before or after writing it?

#111 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 06:18 PM:

What I want to know (having just seen Kingdom of Heaven dir. Ridley Scott) is where did Saladin get all the gasoline for the big-ass Molotovs that he was tossing into Jerusalem at night by trebuchet? And how did he transport it from wherever he refined it to Jerusalem?

I figure, given the quantities he apparently had on hand, that he must have laid track and run in with tank cars.

#112 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 06:19 PM:

I don't really go for "how-to" books on writing. The only one I ever really read cover-to-cover and that contained meaningful and useful advice was Stephen King's memoir on writing -- and I didn't read that until after I'd sold my first couple of novels.

In contrast, workshops have proven really, really useful to me -- as long as they included a spread of abilities that bracketed my own (including folks who were ahead of me as well as behind).

Is it reasonable to suppose that reading how-to books is a form of cat-hoovering? (At least, when you consider that the alternative is to, like, actually write something and then figure out what you did wrong?)

#113 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 06:20 PM:

Thank you for typing that, Xopher, so I didn't have to.

#114 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 06:43 PM:

James D. Macdonald wrote:

What I want to know (having just seen Kingdom of Heaven dir. Ridley Scott) is where did Saladin get all the gasoline for the big-ass Molotovs that he was tossing into Jerusalem at night by trebuchet? And how did he transport it from wherever he refined it to Jerusalem?

Might it have been meant to be Greek fire, or rather, the Arabic version thereof? Joinville has some pretty horrific descriptions of it, including enemies placing it in containers and hurling them over walls.

It happened one night, whilst we were keeping night-watch over the tortoise-towers, that they brought up against us an engine called a perronel, (which they had not done before) and filled the sling of the engine with Greek fire. When that good knight, Lord Walter of Cureil, who was with me, saw this, he spoke to us as follows: "Sirs, we are in the greatest peril that we have ever yet been in. For, if they set fire to our turrets and shelters, we are lost and burnt; and if, again, we desert our defences which have been entrusted to us, we are disgraced; so none can deliver us from this peril save God alone. My opinion and advice therefor is: that every time they hurl the fire at us, we go down on our elbows and knees, and beseech Our Lord to save us from this danger."

So soon as they flung the first shot, we went down on our elbows and knees, as he had instructed us; and their first shot passed between the two turrets, and lodged just in front of us, where they had been raising the dam. Our firemen were all ready to put out the fire; and the Saracens, not

-97-
being able to aim straight at them, on account of the two pent-house wings which the King had made, shot straight up into the clouds, so that the fire-darts fell right on top of them.
This was the fashion of the Greek fire: it came on as broad in front as a vinegar cask, and the tail of fire that trailed behind it was as big as a great spear; and it made such a noise as it came, that it sounded like the thunder of heaven. It looked like a dragon flying through the air. Such a bright light did it cast, that one could see all over the camp as though it were day, by reason of the great mass of fire, and the brilliance of the light that it shed.

Thrice that night they hurled the Greek fire at us, and four times shot it from the tourniquet cross-bow.

From here pp. 96-97. The Memoirs of the Lord of Joinville. Trans. Ethel Wedgewood. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1996.

#115 ::: Madeline Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 06:47 PM:

Doug said: At some point, it'd be neat for me to learn a little Manx, since with a Douglas Adams level of improbability, I am named for the two largest settlements on said island, even though my parents had never heard of the place.

So does your middle name begin with 'R'? I ask because I can't quite believe that anyone would name their child either Peel or Castletown...

If it does begin with 'R' then you're named after three rivers: the black river, the clear river and the wild garlic river.

--------------

In all this discussion of castles and fortifications I see that no-one has brought up the apparently essential strategically placed gorse bushes. The castle around the corner from my house is surrounded by them -- deliberately planted by Manx Heritage. Is this a common thing in castle defence?

#116 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 07:08 PM:

Is it reasonable to suppose that reading how-to books is a form of cat-hoovering? (At least, when you consider that the alternative is to, like, actually write something and then figure out what you did wrong?)


Charlie: It most certainly can be a form of cat-vacuuming. Ditto looking at web-sites on the same topic. There *are* times and places it's legitimate to go reading the better writing books - says one who has found that the best such books send me reelign off to lay nown more words. (There's a handful of essays in the 1991 Writer's handbook which excuse its continued presence on my desk though every single market therein is obsolete. They're my sure-fire emergency re-reading bits, and I can't bear to rip away the useless 3/4 of the book out.)

This is why, even when I have a legitimate question I tend to try to do the most of it at work, where I sit for eight hours a day with six hours' worth of work (Alas, scattered through the hours, not neatly bunched), and little to no opportunity to write. Then, when I get home, I have no excuse.

#117 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 07:10 PM:

Nah, Lisa, I know about Greek Fire. The stuff they were throwing around in Kingdom of Heaven was gasoline, for sure. You can see it best in this trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/fox/kingdom_of_heaven/online_menu.html

#118 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 07:18 PM:

Lenora--
I may have that book by Maas (I know I have one of his). It may be The Career Novelist which Bill (thank you!!) mentioned. I also have the Self-Editing for Fiction Writers--thanks again, Bill. So, you've both sent me back to my third floor bookcases.

I also need to get off my ass one of these days and get Teresa's Making Book--just because the more you know about the business, the better.

#119 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 07:19 PM:

Planting gorse to defend your castle isn't going to hurt. Well, it is, but you get the . . . uh, never mind.

"Now, look, Jeeves, I like a good kipper as much as the next lordling, but what exactly are we attacking this place for? Is it to do with whatever's happened to all these cats?"

"I could not say, sir. Matters of the nobility filter down slowly."

"Well, there's the old defensible pile itself, best be about it. My tin hat, my trenchant thingummy, Jeeves. . . Holy palmers and naphtha, Jeeves, please tell me that stuff around the walls isn't what the old Wooster fetlocks think it is."

"I am afraid your first impression is correct, sir."

"My first impression of gorse was as a quite young man, and all those after have only deepened the irritation. I came here for a nice storming and a lamb shank afterward, not a reiteration of late adolescent nights fleeing across darkened tiltyards."

"I believe it comes under the heading of noblesse oblige, sir."

-- A Lyttel Geste of Sir Bertram

#120 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 07:38 PM:

I was going to add an intelligent remark about Hollywood's feu cheesois, but it was driven right out of my head by the epic quoted above.

I'm not going to see Kingdom of Purgatory until it comes out on DVD--that way my medievalist friend in Atlanta and I will be able to IM and laugh our way through it. (Lisa, would you care to join us?)

#121 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 08:52 PM:

I too found the aforementioned Self-Editing For Fiction Writers extremely helpful at the time I was first pointed at it, but my favourite "how to write" book is Lars Eighner's "Elements of Arousal". It's focused on gay erotica, but much of it is useful for fiction writing in general. I still occasionally use it for both cat-vacuuming purposes and Actual Useful Work.

The Tough Guide To Fantasyland would be on the list of useful "how to" books, if it weren't such an excellent enticement to cat-vacuuming. :-)

#122 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 10:53 PM:

It's the nature of nonfiction publishing that more books are aimed at the beginning level than the advanced level--people get discouraged and drop out, so there are always more neophytes than journeymen. You see the same thing in language book; there's always Spanish for Tourists, Spanish in Three Minutes a Day, and so on, but to find a decent advanced text you've got to go to college textbooks.

But I believe that when you're at the 85th or 90th percentile of the way to "publishable," the rest of what you need to know can't be taught from a book. From critique and teachers--maybe. But mostly you learn that sort of thing from reading and writing and living; the best advanced course of study is to figure out what you need to do better, and find some novels that do it better, and learn from them. (That said, I like John Gardner--though he's dated--and LeGuin's "Steering the Craft" as nonbeginner writing books).

#123 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 11:15 PM:

I like William Zinsser's On Writing Well for non-fiction writing, but I had a disquieting experience with it. My friend and ex-roommate Mike returned from his first organic chemistry class chuckling over his lab manual, which was written in a terse and witty style that I thought I recognized. When Mike could be persuaded to leggo the book, I checked the acknowledgments. The author effused on the virtues of Zinsser and plugged his guide. That frightened me, because while I like Zinsser's style, I want to sound like Andy Perrin when I grow up, not William Zinsser. I think there's a danger in following one writing guide too closely.

#124 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2005, 11:35 PM:

Ian observes

And they worked well enough for short-term defense that the new centralized authorities made a point of demilitarizing the "obsolete" castles at any opportunity, by demolishing sections of curtain walls or truncating towers; often both.

Or damaging the towers' foundations with explosives to make them unusable? IIRC, Cromwell did this to Corfe castle (out of pique, said one source) after it held a strategic ]pass[ against his forces for an annoyingly long time -- and made enough of a name for itself that Keith Roberts repeated the holdout and destruction in the last section of Pavane.

#125 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 04:48 AM:

To fess up my ignorance, I really didn't know that Manx was a Gaelic, and am delighted to learn it.

#126 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 06:58 AM:

Several bits:

There's also Scots English. And Broad Scots.

T--I used "textually transmitted diseases" in a number of my speeches years ago and perhaps in TAKE JOY. Yes, I am one of those writers who has written books on writing. But at least I have credentials. I think that gives me a bit of leeway and will probably keep me off your list!

Neil--I heard Asimov give the advice that "Everything in a contract is negotiable, including your name and the date." Whether it was original to him I don't know.

JVP--You have probably forgotten (or perhaps you never knew) that my husband is a past chair of the UMass Computer Science Department. (Not the chair you are castigating I hasten to add.) But probably best to keep that particular catfight off this blog.

All: Recently, I have enjoyed the Stephen King book ON WRITING for essentials and the Julius Lester ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND OTHER. . .(Have forgotten the rest of the title) for soul. Leslea Newman's WRITING FROM THE HEART is quite lovely, too. Disclaimer: Lester and Newman are good friends of mine so I may be biased.

Jane

#127 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 07:54 AM:

Julia, thanks for mentioning Lars Eighner's "Elements of Arousal". I've had many pleasant hours reading Eighner's work, and I hadn't heard of the book, which I'm going to try to get.

Ken MacLeod: To fess up my ignorance, I really didn't know that Manx was a Gaelic, and am delighted to learn it.

[wipes brow with relief] In that case I take back my Ulrp!

#128 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 10:24 AM:

jane:

I knew your husband in his official capacity, and admired him without reservation. I have seen him since I was booted from the collapsing department, including at the 25th departmental reunion. I never asked him to assist in resolving the mess which fools had caused, as he was already correctly performing his tasks with honor and distinction.

"Catfight" is too mild a term for self-defense against destructive and criminal acts by a plagiarist, but I have moved the discussion offline.

I hope that I have not offended you or your family in any way. I deeply love your writing; you have always been more than kind to me and my family; and perhaps your books that you gave me, which I read aloud over and over to my son, influenced his own professional writing, which began when his age was in single digits.

#129 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 11:33 AM:

You know, ordinarily I cringe at my typos, but this one I quite like.

Fabroulous. I think I'll work up an I.E. root and etymology and keep using it. If others pick it up, we'll get it into the OED.

Mac Cana truly was fabroulous; a genuine scholar and good person.

#130 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 11:56 AM:

I have to second the recommendation for Lars Eighner. HIs fiction and his writing advice is wonderful, even though he's wrong about contractions (he says don't, and he doesn't in his own work, but the reason it works when he doesn't use them is because the contractions slow down the dialog and indicate a kind of drawl for his characters without any stupid spelling, and not because of a general rule).

His fiction's great too. Nobody writes about sex in a more interesting way than he does.

#131 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 12:36 PM:

Xopher: as far as I know the book's currently out of print, but it seems to be reasonably widely available second-hand, and there is an online version available at Eighner's website:
http://www.io.com/~eighner/books/lavender_blue/index.html

The first edition was called "Lavender Blue" - I have the later edition titled "Elements of Arousal". It's quite old now, so some of it is seriously outdated (such as the sections on computers and taxes), but it's well worth getting hold of a copy.

#132 ::: Gluon ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 01:12 PM:

I went to check on the availability of Eighner's book and found this.

I've seen some inadequate summaries at Alibris before, but this wins a prize.

#133 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 01:44 PM:

Gluon: I've seen some inadequate summaries at Alibris before, but this wins a prize.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for linking that. I couldn't breathe for several minutes. I suspect that one will be Particled posthaste.

#134 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 02:10 PM:

The use of the word "excited" is good.

#135 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 02:49 PM:

Actually, the reason aliens can digest humans is that their body is augmented by the remarkable scrapplefish, which converts tissue into something usable.

#136 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 03:35 PM:

Madeline, yes on the 'R'. What are the relative sizes of the places in question? The dark water I knew; where do the other two rivers come in?

Having "Castletown" for a middle name would have been neat, and not out of the question -- it was the late '60s and all -- but my parents are pretty mundane. (Although they did have an early paperback edition of The Illustrated Man...)

#137 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 03:40 PM:

their body is augmented by the remarkable scrapplefish, which converts tissue into something usable.

A scrapplefish would, then, be an aquatic spambot?

#138 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 03:54 PM:

"The stuff they were throwing around in Kingdom of Heaven was gasoline, for sure. "

Eh, they didn't have gasoline in those days, but we don't have Greek Fire, so I think it's a wash.

#139 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 03:56 PM:

"A scrapplefish would, then, be an aquatic spambot?"

Nah, I was thinking more of a babelfish for food.

#140 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 03:58 PM:

"If the books had been written by those who had published commercial fiction, and said the same things, then they would automatically be better? (grin)"

Well, if the person has been published, it strongly suggests that they spent some period of time trying to be published, and failing.

I think that someone who has failed and succeeded generally will have more valuable insights than someone who has only failed, or only succeeded.

#141 ::: Shane ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 04:03 PM:

My personal opion: "How to write 'Blah'" books are not worth their weight in toilet tissue."

#142 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 06:07 PM:

Shane, have you ever actually written a book? And compared the process to a "How to write 'blah'" book's description of said process? Forgive me if I come over as being a little bit aggressive, but ex-cathedra statements on a topic one has no demonstrated experience of are at best unhelpful and at worst actively un-helpful, and if you're going to volunteer your opinion in such forthright terms you ought to explain yourself further.

(Maybe I'm just a bit narked right now from trawling through my amazon reviews -- Duuh, Ugg not like book! Book write in words Ugg not understand! Book bad! -- but that sort of blase statement out of left field strikes me as being singularly unhelpful. Now, if you'd started it with "In my experience ..." rather than "In my opinion ..." I might feel differently.)

#143 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2005, 07:23 PM:

Charlie Stross, if you're having a bad review day, might I call attention to this one?

The two Merchant Princes are a bribe I'm offering myself for completing another chapter.

#144 ::: Madeline Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2005, 06:11 AM:

Doug said: What are the relative sizes of the places in question? The dark water I knew; where do the other two rivers come in?

Douglas is named after the two rivers that flow into the harbour: the Dhoo and the Glass (although I might be spelling the second one wrong). 'Dhoo' is Manx for black (cf. the Moddhey Dhoo, the spectral Black Dog that haunts Peel Castle) and obviously the Glass is the clear river -- but looking at them both now I have to say that they're equally muddy and scummy.

Your 'R' name is the wild garlic river. I think the 'ey' suffix is the river part, since Laxey means 'salmon river'. Ramsons are wild garlic, which grows everywhere over here and is just coming to the end of its beautifully stinky season).

Douglas's population is approximately 25,000 people -- much too big for my liking. I'm not sure about other town statistics but I think their populations are roughly 5 - 10,000 each. It wasn't until I moved to England that I discovered how wrong my definition of a 'big town' was.

Ken MacLeod said: To fess up my ignorance, I really didn't know that Manx was a Gaelic, and am delighted to learn it.

And I'm delighted to learn that you live on the Isle of Lewis! The 4th chapter of my children's story was set on that island (which I have never visited) and the circularity of me writing about Lewis and you commenting on Manx is pleasingly tidy.

John M. Ford wrote: "My first impression of gorse was as a quite young man, and all those after have only deepened the irritation."

Perfect. Just -- perfect.

#145 ::: Madeline Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2005, 06:13 AM:

Gah. Apologies for the redundant ) up above. I deleted the first but forgot about the second.

#146 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2005, 11:59 AM:

Madeline, ooh thanks! I never knew that important stuff.

While not on par with "Castletown" as a middle name, "Wild Garlic River" is a great moniker in any context.

On "big towns," here I was thinking that Munich was nice and cute at about 1.2M. Atlanta is sorta my frame of reference, which was about as big as Berlin when I moved away, and is headed towards being as big as Denmark. (Though I hasten to add that I lived four years in a place with about 2,000 inhabitants and learned quite a lot.)

#147 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2005, 12:27 PM:

Madeline Kelly, Doug, et al.:

Folks on Trantor refer to Coruscant as a "small town."

Chongqing, a.k.a. Chungking ["Double Celebration"] is the largest, most populous of China's four provincial-level municipalities, and the only one in the more sparsely populated western half of China. Chongqing might be the semi-mythical State of Ba (巴國) that began in 11th century BC, when the Ba people began living here. Hard to be sure, as they were destroyed by the State of Qin in 316 BC. The Qin emperor ordered a new city to be constructed, called Jiang (江州) and Chu Prefecture (楚州).The municipality of Chongqing had population of 32,355,000 in 2004. It is now, 2005, considered the biggest city in the world. And most Americans either never heard of it, or think it's just a brand name of canned Chinese food.

Where the ruins of Angkor Wat now lie, damaged in genocidal war, was once the largest city in the world. Angkor Wat is now remebered, except by paleoarchaeologists, a temple complex in Angkor, Cambodia, attributed as the work of Suryavarman II (AD 1113-1150). Biggest in the world, now a small town tourist destination.

Boston was once the largest English-speaking city in the world.

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.

#148 ::: Dave MB ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2005, 01:16 PM:

JVP says: "Boston was once the largest English-speaking city in the world."

Really? I'm more of a Boston chauvinist than the next man
(for example, I belong to one of the at least two religious
denominations headquartered there) but I can't think of any
time in history when Boston was a larger city than London.

This page:

http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/year1/numerical/problems/london/london-pop-table.html

says London was 200,000 in Shakespeare's time and
larger thereafter -- Boston was about 10,000 in colonial times
and 135,000 by 1885...

Unless this is a trick statement of some sort, like Melbourne
being the largest Greek city in the world, but I can't make sense
of it.

Am I missing something?

ps: Let me add my condolences to the many others

#149 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2005, 01:56 PM:

My favorite book on how to write is Rita Mae Brown's "Starting from Scratch". It's more a book about how *she* writes, but it has useful bits - like be sure to eat properly, get enough fresh air and exercise, and there is absolutely no reason for a writer to drink, smoke or stay up to all hours. Not that you can't do these things, but I really have met fledgling writers who think if you drink enough, you can write.

"No Plot, No Problem" by Chris Baty is very useful if you are going to do NaNo - National Novel Writing Month. I found it very useful to turn off my internal editor for a month, and just write. (Small brag, I wrote 51,000 words in 30 days. Very small brag, because it was a terrible novel. But it was useful to open the floodgates.)

#150 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2005, 04:52 PM:

Re "Kingdom of Heaven" -- Adrienne Mayor's _Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs_ (Penguin, 2003) has a rather stomach-churning chapter ("Infernal Fire") on the incendiary weapons and tactics available in the ancient world. A lot of the naturally occuring petroleum products of the Middle East were quite easily weaponized (though of course very dangerous to work with). In the trailer, in addition to fire arrows and fire bombs, it looked like they used a technique mentioned in this chapter -- fill an enemy's sapping tunnel with flammable gas and ignite it, turning it back against him (though poisonous fumes were more widely used and safer for the defender -- fire could bring down the tunnel and whatever was above it). "Naphtha projectiles" were a favorite weapon in this part of the world before and during the middle ages. The Black Stone in Mecca was split into three pieces when a naphtha projectile caught the covering on fire in AD 683. So it looks like the firefight shown in the trailer might be a fairly accurate depiction of war at this time -- at least this aspect.

#151 ::: Aquila ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2005, 05:08 PM:

Erm, Philadelphia was supposed to be the largest English speaking city after London at the time of the American Revolution. I can't find any related claims for Boston.

#152 ::: Lazette Gifford ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2005, 05:47 PM:

I realized, finally, what it was about all this that struck a nerve. (I have never been accused of being dense. Well, not often. Really.)

For five years I've published an ezine called Vision. We're on issue # 27 right now. It's filled with articles about writing by writers, and for many it is their first taste of publication. Like every other writing-related set of instructions, not every article will be helpful to every person. In fact, I often choose a number of articles that are contradictory -- because you never know what will help someone, and because there is no one true way. That's a personal philosophy of writing, and I try to carry it through in Vision.

I certainly wouldn't expect the majority of people here to read Vision and find anything useful. It is aimed at a basic level and most of you are obviously beyond that point. However, Vision is fairly popular and I get many notes from new writers who have found help from one article or another.

I am purposely not posting links because I am not here to troll for writers. However, I would like to have more articles from published authors -- but it's a kind of Catch-22 problem. They don't need the type of material the ezine publishes, so they aren't aware of it, and even if they were they are often too busy to contribute. And, of course, I don't pay very much which puts the publication below the horizon for many professionals.

Many of you here will likely think Vision is a very bad idea and that the people involved do not have the expertise to know what they're talking about. I (obviously) disagree. The articles mostly revolve around 'this is what has helped me' and 'this is what I've learned from others.' I try to get an interview with an author or publisher for every issue as well. So where does one draw the line between who should offer help to others and who shouldn't.

And, my basic question again, maybe phrased a little better: If two people give the same advice, but one is a big name published author and the other is not, does that mean the advice is good from one and bad from the other?

#153 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2005, 06:11 PM:

Janet, I believe Jim's objection to the Flaming Infidel Blasters was not their presence in the film -- such use is well documented -- but the effects shown, which are more about what will look impressive to contemporary audiences used to watching Stuff Blow Up than what the actual effect might have been like. It's something like the rifle bullet that knocks the target twenty feet downrange, or the principle that any crashing automobile not occupied by a protagonist will detonate like a Titan booster that's had a boo-boo on the pad. Movie bangs are, for quite understandable reasons, supposed to look impressive; people who design actual explosive munitions hardly ever pack them with flour and gasoline to make the fireball bigger.

#154 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2005, 06:25 PM:

Depends on the advice, Lazette.

My biggest objection to neos doing writing-about-writing, aside from their inexperience, is that it so often becomes a substitute for actual writing. If you want a measure of the problem, just look at how many people out there have degrees in Creative Writing -- advanced degrees, in some cases -- but no real sales.

(Other substitute activities: holding conferences about writing. Editing anthologies of work by writers who aren't yet good enough for commercial publication. Spending more time at workshops than you do at your keyboard.)

I recently heard got to hear Neil Gaiman talk about learning to write, and about a conversation he'd had with Gene Wolfe.

I hope I'm going to get this right.

Neil said he'd told Gene Wolfe that he'd written a novel, and that, having done so, he now knew how it was done. Gene Wolfe said no; what he'd learned was how to write that novel. He'd learn how to write the next novel in the course of writing it.

There's a great deal of truth in that. When you write a novel, you're not writing the perfect form of the theoretical novel. You're telling a specific story about specific characters, settings, circumstances, et cetera. Theory is good, hurray for theory, but what writers primarily need to be wrestling with is the writing itself.

#155 ::: Ruth Temple ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2005, 07:50 PM:

Tom B.
So they are literally cannibals?
They may be literary cannibals.

Mythago:
And math is hard.
*ahem*

I suddenly have the urge to say, "put the first-edition talking Barbie™ down. Step away from the math-impaired Barbie™!"

Teresa:
what writers primarily need to be wrestling with is the writing itself.
Yes. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
True of any art, science, or metier.

#156 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2005, 12:14 AM:

T, the same is true of any artistic endeavor. One learns how to do a particular dance, make a particular painting, write a particular article, or even (to take the artistic metaphor so far away from balance that it can't even see the fulcrum) sell an appropriate book to the particular customer.

It's all 'pataphysics at that point.

#157 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2005, 02:52 AM:

Oh, no, Ruth, this is Female Science-Fiction Author Barbie™! You know, the one who can't possibly understand physics and ought to leave the he-man Gentleman Scientist talk to the menfolk with three Ph.Ds?

Lazette, I'd like to see a link. To me, there's a very big difference between "Hey, let me share my experience about what works for me" and "Let me, The Published Author, tell you what writing's all about and how it should be done." Vision would only be a bad idea to the extent that people feel able to make sweeping or authoritative pronouncements based on little or no experience.

#158 ::: Lazette Gifford ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2005, 03:12 PM:

I'm having server connection problems and keep getting dropped every couple minutes. Very annoying. The local people have been working on it for two days now.

www.lazette.net/vision

That should get you to Vision.

The link to back issues takes you to a page that has a very nice listing by authors and there are a sprinkling of names in there that people might recognize.

#159 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 12:46 PM:

The Merchant Princes books are fabroulous: smart, fun, startling, and packed with skiffy vitamins and minerals.

#160 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2005, 03:28 PM:

This came in on a library rss I get:
Manx names: http://www.iomonline.co.im/ViewArticle2.aspx?SectionID=870&ArticleID=1041772 and http://www.gov.im/mnh/heritage/library/publicinfo/manxNames.xml

And Mike, I see what you mean -- among other things, the graceful swan-dive off the siege tower onto the carefully hidden mattress isn't necessarily the most realistic response to being covered in flaming oil, but it sure does make an impressive picture on film.

"Johnet"

#161 ::: Madeline Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 12:18 PM:

Thanks for the links, Janet. I saw something about this in the Manx Independent -- seems like a good idea.

I do wonder what they mean about the names being "acceptable for the purposes of modern day civil registration". I was under the impression that if you could call your child "Zowie" then really you could call your child anything you want. What's "acceptable" for a name?

I'm shocked to discover that the Manx version of my name is "Malane". I don't feel like a "Malane" at all. Something's gone badly wrong with the universe.

Oh, and "Juan" is pronounced as it's spelt (so that you hear the "J") and not as if it were Spanish. Popular belief here on the island is that a ship from the Spanish Armada was wrecked off the southern cliffs (now known as Spanish Head) and the survivors became part of the community. As a result, people from the south of the island were more likely to have swarthy skin and black hair (like my maternal grandfather). And we liked the name "Juan", even if we couldn't pronounce it properly.

I don't know if this story is true -- and the government's website suggests that "Juan" is just another Manx name -- but I prefer to believe it. Life needs a bit of romance.

"Malane" *ugh*

#162 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2005, 02:00 PM:

Hey, I'm a walking, typing piece of Manx heritage!

Douglas Ramsey Merrill

#163 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 08:25 PM:

Absolute power is boring. At least give yourself some limits, or the reviewers will just send it to the smallest room.

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