Writing

My own serious stuff; the craft itself; those who inspire me in it; the art of reading.

A Great Line I’ll Have To Work In Somewhere

2010.10.23
By

“IT WAS AT THIS POINT in the narrative when those skilled in the nuances of the oral tradition began chuckling with anticipation.”

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Haiku: First Rain

2010.10.22
By

6:30 a.m.,
And behind my coffee cup,
Earth sips her new skies.

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Fiction: The Little Green Man Who Didn’t

2010.09.27
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HE WAS DANGLING FROM THE upper corner of my typewriter window, upside-down and scowling, when I first saw the Man from Mars.

That’s what he was, no doubt about it. He was three feet tall, emerald green where the spacesuit didn’t cover him, and with more-than-vestigial antennae sprouting from a large bulbous head. His expression mingled disappointed with disbelief, as though his worst hopes had been realized about a minute before he appeared.

“I cannot believe you people,” he was saying. “Just can’t believe it.”

“I’m not sure I believe in you either,” I said.

He climbed down around the sill until his scowl was level with my eyes. “That’s not what I meant,” he said. “Would you mind opening the window?”

“I would,” I said. “How do I know you’re, you know … not part of some invading force?”

“Because I can’t even open the window by myself,” he said. “The latch is on your side.”

“So it is,” I said, and raised it.

He stepped into the room. The spacesuit was ribbed silver and sans helmet, although a tubed canister on his back suggested its existence somewhere nearby. Most likely in a flying saucer, of course.

“This is why I contacted you,” he said, looking up at me with hands on glistening hips. “You remember.”

“Remember what?”

“Remember me. Remember us. The little green men from another world. Few do these days. I mean, you still use a typewriter. And not for irony.”

“I like to pound the words into the paper,” I said. “It feels like I’m sculpting them.”

“Whatever. You still remember the Old Ways.”

“I thought I was the only one who used that term. You mean, of course, when the future was shiny and worth a damn?”

“When there was a future. These days it’s all zombies, and mutants, and vampires, which are by the way the most pretentious of all the undead.”

“No question there,” I said. “But what do you mean?”

“What was the first post-apocalypse you remember?” he asked. “Mad Max, wasn’t it?”

“No, Road Warrior,” I answered. “I missed the first film somehow. But I had a subscription to Heavy Metal. The Church of Moebius.”

“Whatever. Remember the world situation then?”

“Sure. 1980s. Ronald Reagan and the Evil Empire. We kept expecting nukes to drop every evening.”

“Right. Sure did take off, though, didn’t it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Post-apocalypticism. It’s a very seductive look: dead cities, mutants trading in the wrecked underbelly, black trenchcoats, green lighting. It’s very easy. Not like futurism — optimistic futurism, anyway. See the connection now?”

I didn’t, and said so. He looked at me with patience.

“You weren’t expecting the future anymore…” he began.

My heart froze.

He looked at me in sad silence.

“My God. What happened to us?” I asked. “This is why there’s no jetpacks – we’ve torn down all the launchpads and replaced them with franchised dead things.”

“That is about the size of it,” he said. “That’s why I’m here — to say goodbye, to someone who’d miss me.”

“But wait! What about Roswell?” I asked. “Flying saucers are still part of the brain politic.”

He stepped to the window, put a leg up. “But those saucers crashed,” he said. “And you people autopsied the occupants. See?”

Then he was gone.

I hope he comes back.

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Prosatio Silban’s Table Tips: Place

2010.09.15
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SOMEONE ONCE ASKED PROSATIO SILBAN his thoughts on “presentation;” i.e., how a dish should look when it leaves his kitchen. The Cook For Any Price thought for a moment before replying.

“I suppose it depends on your notion of what the food’s for,” he said. “In ancient and epicurean Pormaris, more than elsewhere in the Commonwell, cooking is an art like music, painting or courtesanry. There, the current fashion is to pile the food as vertically as the ingredients and imagination will allow. I suppose it accents the dinner setting.

“My own customers range from wealthy banqueters to the bowl-of-beans poor, but they have one thing in common: they’re hungry. So I try never to let the food get in the way of itself. A pretty plate pleases the soul, and that’s important. But people don’t always know what to do with too much prettiness.”

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Writing News: The Interview

2010.08.12
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HAVING LITERALLY AND FIGURATIVELY “DONE this in my sleep(1)” on occasion as ahem an award-winning reporter for the Sonoma Index-Tribune and Sonoma Sun (and freelancer for the Novato Advance, Petaluma Argus-Courier and The Bohemian) and being somewhat-to-greatly rankled by what passes for “news” these days outside of local outlets and the Daily Show, methinks it urgent to spread some of the skills needed to excel in The Game. Let’s start with the Interview.

The goal of the Interview is to extract information from someone who has it: whether they’re an eyewitness, a neighbor, a mayor, a relative, a senator or just a bunch of old guys reminiscing about Frank Sinatra in the backroom of an old Sonoma bar at 9:30 a.m. on a weekday. You will want to have the following:

- Tape recorder (smaller the better, and with a counter)
- Pad and pen(cil)
- Relevant and brief questions (what, when, where, how, maybe why, and — most importantly — “Anything else you want our readers/listeners to know? Anything I should have asked you, or that you’d wished I’d asked you?” This often yields the best quote of all.)

(Make sure that either tape or pad includes “the scene.” Include lots of color and context, body language, etc., but don’t go overboard at the expense of the nut-o’-story(2); include at least three relevant details. Some disdain tape recorders, but if you’re like me you’ll want people to tell you things in their own words — and you’ll want to quote them accurately. The counter’s for noting what point in the Interview contains The Quote.)

Two types of Interview there are: Field and Telephone.

Field Interviews are, by their nature, unpredictable; this is where your tape recorder is paramount. Identify yourself to the interviewee and give them a graceful way out: “I’m Clark Kent with the Daily Planet; mind if I ask you a few questions?” Keep as open and friendly a face as possible(3). If they consent, begin recording with something like, “This is Clark Kent of the Daily Planet on today’s date, and we’re speaking with …” Let the interviewee speak (and if necessary spell) name and title into the recorder; it both indicates consent and is a good way to break the ice.

If your interviewee is an emergency responder at the scene of something horrible, look for the guys in the white helmets (fire) or in a vehicle on the radio (police or also fire). Remember that while California Penal Code section 409.5d gives you legal access anywhere (your state or country may vary), you are a low priority to those trying to bring things under control. Keep your questions brief and to the point (that’s also a good general rule) and stay well out of the way (I usually back against a tree or something).

Interviewing witnesses and families can be dicey: some folks want to be in the newspaper and some don’t. Don’t push it; some may have a beef with the paper, or reporters in general, or be drunk, or indefinably weird in a way which makes you wish you’d studied finance. Be professional, as though you’re doing something serious (you are). Sometimes that can be contagious.

Interviewing someone who’s been traumatized by tragedy is invasive and, occasionally, necessary. Use extreme care. There is no other advice I can give you.

Other types of Field Interviews (e.g., press conferences, meeting interviewees at their office) are similar enough to the Telephone Interview as to make a good segue.

Telephone Interviews are easier in one way than Field Interviews, if you’re typing the conversation directly into your word-processor (typewriters, not so much). You’re limited in that you can’t see your interviewee’s eyes or body lingo, but if they’re not answering the phone you get to tell the secretary or voicemail “If I don’t hear from you by 2 p.m., I’ll have to write “Could not be reached by presstime.” (You’d be surprised how often this actually works, especially for those whose newsworthiness depends on public image.)

* * *

As nothing else comes to mind at present, I hope this helps those either curious about The Game or eager to play. As Edward R. Murrow said, “Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences. No one can eliminate prejudices – just recognize them.”(4)

———-

(1) Much to either the amazement or confirmed suspicions of my former editors, if they’re reading this.
(2) Picked this up from a former editor-in-chief, who referred to the summing-up paragraph of any story as the “nut graf.” Being a hick, I don’t know if that’s a universal term.
(3) On the other thumb, I used to work with a guy (also award-winning) whose favorite tools were gruffness and insouciance. Whatever works. It’s my nature to befriend people, so I go with that; also, I’ll come right out and say “Explain this to me so that I can see it the way you do.” It seems to me that a successful reporter should pretend to be the dumbest guy in the room — and pay close attention to the people trying to explain things.
(4) He also said “To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful,” which is even more important. Your byline is your reputation — cherish it!

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Prosatio Silban and the Mayor of Ixtachet

2010.08.10
By

EVERYONE WANTS TO BE THE Mayor of Ixtachet, at least until they become so: this Prosatio Silban discovered on a chance visit to the edge of the Blue Void which forms one border of the Uulian Commonwell.

Ixtachet was one of the few villages in the Commonwell not blessed with verdant pasturage and running streams. Instead, its inhabitants lived in a series of cliffside huts, each with a breathtaking view of the Blue Void’s eternal twilight and a small landhold containing a handful of roosts for the precarious-clinging snoat, whose richly flavored eggs were the economic foundation of Ixtachet’s existence. The village consisted solely of the cliffside huts, one public well, and a great warehouse called the Mayor’s House, and was largely unvisited save by those lost or seeking snoat eggs.

As a wandering cook, Prosatio Silban was both – rather, he had been lost until he realized (as one long-schooled in Uulian delicacies) where he was, and the prosperous figure before him had introduced himself as the Mayor of Ixtachet. He certainly looked the part: well-made red and yellow silk robes set with small gems, and well-fed mouth set in a disapproving frown.

“Unless you are licensed by the Victualer’s Guild, I can sell you no snoat eggs,” said the Mayor of Ixtachet. “They have each one of them been marked or spoken for.”

Prosatio Silban displayed a confidant’s smile. “Surely you could spare a single egg – say, sufficient for a half-dozen custards to adorn the table of a discerning Heir Second, as a complement to clinking crystal and after-dinner laughter?”

“Alas, no,” replied the mayor. “I could no more spare an egg than I could spare an Ixtachetian.”

“Why so?” Prosatio Silban asked.

The Mayor of Ixtachet then related his particulars: that his village was the only spot along the Blue Void’s rim where the tentative snoats would roost, and then only under such conditions as could be guaranteed through constant supervision by the entire village. The eggs brought almost incalculable wealth, but so busy were the Ixtachetians with snoat maintenance that they could spare only one day a year to enjoy it: the day they buried the old Mayor of Ixtachet and elected the new. Everyone wanted to be Mayor of Ixtachet – it meant a rest from the ceaseless toil of snoat-watching – and the election generally picked that year’s most charismatic and beloved person; it was considered an act of both mercy and trust.

But the Mayor’s task it was to guard the village’s health as well as its wealth: the vast treasure would also have been his pleasure were not his the hands which repaired and rebuilt, his the tongue which dealt with (licensed) traders, his the eye which oversaw everything and his the shoulders which carried it all, day by day.

This lesson was only learned on the first day, and confirmed by slow experience, because those who learned it were too enfeebled and used up by their service to warn their successors on Election Day.

“All they see — all I saw — is the robes and the restfulness,” said the Mayor of Ixtachet. “Not the responsibility.”

And as Prosatio Silban bade the village an eggless farewell, he reflected: Everyone wants to be the Mayor of Ixtachet – and probably, always will.

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All Purpose Disclaimer

2010.08.04
By

THE VIEWS OF THE AUTHOR may not reflect whatever he’s thinking about now, or however he’s thinking about it, although they most likely did when he wrote whatever you read; thus and likewise, he is not responsible for anything you do before, while, or after you read whatever he wrote. The author’s responsibility is to communicate as clearly as he can at the time he’s writing, and if he’s failed in that mission then by “God” buckle up and try again. While his views may differ from yours, he is a creature like yourself, although perhaps a bit wittier (unless you’re his wife) and with a great delight in Lower North America’s free-speech guarantee, which, despite that some rascals who would abolish it like to hide behind it, he feels to be the greatest thing since Gutenberg. The author further notes that any disagreement is best handled a) openly, b) tactfully, and c) with the calm assurance that “God” makes us all special, and that if you continue to be offended, irked, troubled, disturbed, bored, annoyed, disgusted or negatively impacted by his words, the author sincerely suggests consulting your pineal gland. (Or maybe, read something else.)

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Pithyism #104

2010.08.03
By

WHEN COMPUTERS SUPERSEDED TYPEWRITERS, SPELLCHECK superseded the dread of whole-page retyping — and encouraged laziness.

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From the Ashes

2010.08.02
By

AS DETAILED ELSEWHERE, I DID some freelance work in the early 1990s for an eccentric Northern California non-profit called Obscure Research Labs.

Well… when the phone rings at 3 a.m. and the familiar metallic voice offers an occasional work-from-home project featuring fabulous prizes, free virtual travel and a steady below-poverty income, all I could say was http://metaphorager.net/orl: ORL’s new Facebook page. And I’m told that if enough people “like” it, They might even throw in some food chips. True, it’s a long way to the surface from this new office, but They assure me the packaging will prevent most breakage…

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A Formula For World Harmony, Considered as a Model for the Modern Behavior of its Citizens and Fellow-Beings

2010.07.28
By

LESS ‘TUDE — MORE STUDE’.

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Advice to (Young) Writers

2010.07.27
By

SEEK IMMORTALITY THROUGH YOUR WRITING — not your writhing.

(Adapted from a quip by Ann.)

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Free Metaphor: “Lower North American”

2010.07.26
By

0. CONCISION AND PRECISION ARE ESSENTIAL components of the modern metaphor. What your end-user metaphorager is looking for is light in the mouth and easy on the fingers, especially when describing social groups — you want something tight enough to express the point but loose enough to avoid looking like a stereotyping (and -typical) fool.

1. The challenge is greater when describing cultures within a geographical area. Specifically, what to conversationally call those of us residing between Mexico and Canada? “Americans” leaves out residents of those countries, as well as everyone south until the Patagonians (who, despite their patient excellence for crafting outdoor gear, are sticklers for self-affiliative accuracy). Likewise “USAtians,” which makes us sound like some exotic water dog; “USAers,” which is either a cheerleading squad or a reality-show; “Yankees,” which I object to as a diehard Red Sox fan; and “United States citizens,” whose formal appeal is outweighed by its clunkiness.

2. Therefore, I suggest “Lower North American.” It’s got a nice cadence (“LOWuh NORthuh MEruh Can”), easy informality and even compresses to a txtable “LNA” (which so far as I can see will only confuse us with amplifiers, shy nucleotides and members of the new Let’s Not Ask public-ignorance campaign).

So, friends, next time you’re stuck for a self-descriptive metaphor for hepcats, expats and diplomats, reach for smooth, satisfying Lower North America. Remember: Lower North America. It’s where we are now.

(Link here: http://metaphorager.net/lna)

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