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Wednesday, Not Addams

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Let’s put it this way:  I never want to revise a book this way again.

I finished up this morning and then looked through the pages I have that I can consider “done,” and what I’ve noticed is that it’s not that I’ve changed all that much as a total of the book, but that I keep changing the same things over and over again.

I know there are a lot of people out there who work piecemeal and even like it, but I am obviously not one of these. 

If I think about it, I am not even one of these when I read.  I like my books to feel whole and complete in a way that is not just the sum of their parts.

With this, I just kept doing things and then redoing them and then putting them back to the way they were before, so that now nothing feels as if I’ve got it right. 

And then, of course, the inevitable happened.  I looked up this morning, double checked the edit letter, and realized that at the end of it there were a stack of queries of small things on a page by page basis that I hadn’t even realized were there.

These are not huge deals, and they can be done in a couple of hours, but still.

The plan now is to do those first thing tomorrow morning, then start on Friday reading through the entire manuscript from top to bottom, just to see if it feels right.

And then I’m going to declare myself done, because I’m going to be out of time.

This is the second time in three years I’ve gone sort of bezerk over revisions.  I figure my editor is just sitting somewhere being grateful that I didn’t do what I did with Wanting Sheila Dead and rewrite the whole thing from scratch.

But something is wrong with my head these days, anyway, and I’m not too sure what to do about it.

Maybe it’s just this latest round of everything going wrong at once, but I’m becoming practically reclusive.  I usually have several days during the year when I have friends over, or students, or somebody.  This year I did nothing but work on Memorial Day, and I seem to be setting myself up to do nothing but work on the Fourth of July. 

I almost never talk to anybody on the phone except for lawyers. 

And I have no idea if that’s something I want, because I’m sort of unkinking from all the crap, or if I’ve just been sort of stunned into immobility.

I do think that it’s entirely possible that these revisions wouldn’t be taking so long to do if I was in my usual frame of mind.

Whatever’s going on, I feel sort of listless and lethargic, and nothing I do seems to be worth the time and trouble to do it.

I expect I’ll snap out of it eventually, but in the short run it’s not the cheerfulest I’ve ever been.

But, for the record, a couple of notes from over the past three days:

First, Cathy F knows I think she’s a paragon among psycholigists, but I was very careful to say that I was NOT talking about academic psychologists, but about what went on in K-12 schools.  And I think I’ve got that pretty well taped, at least as far as it concerns CT.   For better or worse, we have been saddled with a generation of school teachers, school nurses, and school social workers who have been encouraged to think of themselves as “experts” and of parents as (at best) dangerous obstructions, if not downright toxic elements in the lives of their children.

And all of that has been accompanied by a near mania for conformity–anything that does not conform to what these people have decided is “normal” is automatically viewed as “disordered,” as what somebody in the comments called “issues.” 

Even the kind of thing that seems to me to be self evident–for instance, that not all people want to “belong” or to “fit in” with whatever group they happen to be among; or that different people may feel differently about time spent alone and some people may actually like it–is undiscussable.  The kid doesn’t have a ton of friends?  There must be something wrong with her.  Find her a therapist.

Welcome to my childhood.  And that was well before this wave of coercise psychobabble.

Second, I don’t agree with whoever said that every book presenting an argument should be properly footnoted and sourced.  There are different kind of books, and I see nothing wrong with straightforward polemics that don’t pretend to be anything else.   Those can be a lot of fun, and the sourcing would add nothing to them.

My problem with Gore’s book is that he declared his intention of countering a culture that had abandoned reason and the resort to facts, and then he didn’t give me facts.

But even in a polemic, I’ll willing to say this:  particular is better than general.

“The study called ‘Evidence for Anthropogenic Global Warming in Polar Ice Cap Formation 2001-2007″ by a team of climate scientists led by Dr. Howard Fiddlecrab at Johns Hopkins University concluded that between .4 and .7 inches of ice was lost in Antarctica each year from 2002 to 2006.”

is an intrinsically better sentence than

“One study done by climate change scientists suggests that it’s possible that as much as .7 inches of ice is being lost in the Antarctic every year.”

The first sentence imparts actual information.  The second sentence imparts mush. 

That would be true even in a polemic. 

What’s more, putting words into quotation marks when they do not represent the actual quote is just sloppy.   These days, all you need to do is Google it.

If you want to see a polemic on the liberal side that is well written, try Eric Altermann’s Why We Are Liberals. 

Like the Gore book, it’s essentially preaching to the choir, and if you come in from the other side you’ll do a lot of eye rolling, but it’s well written, it states its particulars and it delivers actual information.

And it was clear and detailed enough so that, by the time I had finished it, it helped me understand why I’m a libertarian and not a liberal.

And also where my tendencies run closer to liberal than conservative, and where closer than conservative than liberal.

I’m going to go off now and get something to eat.

Written by janeh

June 29th, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses to 'Wednesday, Not Addams'

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  1. Love the title of today’s blog entry. Made me laugh out loud.

    I’m still stuck on this idea from yesterday about what makes a book bad. I’ve been thinking about it since then and trying to organize my thoughts. I can agree with you and Robert completely about books like Gore’s. Clearly stated thesis, arguments supported by factual data that comes from reputable sources that are actually cited, arguments that are logically supported in terms of reasoning — lack of these results in a book that I think objectively can be called bad. Although I think Robert’s statement that “the best books will be true” leads to a different discussion altogether.

    I’m interested in hearing your ideas about what makes a book bad if it is a work of fiction. I think that the factually erroneous information is part of it, although I am willing to overlook minor factual errors if the story is compelling enough. There are a couple of the things that tend to make me label a fictional book as ‘bad.’ One of those is violence, sex and ugliness that are gratuitous – they do nothing to move the story forward and their purpose seems to be only to be as disgusting, dark or depressing as possible. Another is when the protagonist with no redeeming qualities whatsoever – a character I can in no possible way like or whose actions I can by no stretch of the imagination justify. Another is lack of a point. I don’t have to agree with your point or even like it, but I do want there to be one and I want to know what it is. One more thing for me is too many loose ends. An example of this for me would be “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.” Yes the story was interesting enough to pull me in and some of the characters compelling enough to make me want to know how they got where they were and what made them tick. There were even parts in the book where I laughed out loud. But, the book was full of strings that got introduced and seemed significant, but then were dropped completely and never resolved. When the book ended, I was frustrated and felt cheated. I guess I like my fiction a little ‘neater’ than that.


    29 Jun 11 at 1:21 pm

  2. I like the title, too!

    When I get in one of those screwy moods when I can’t do anything, I tell myself I must need a break and quit worrying about it. That’s a great improvement from what I used to do, which involved working myself up into a state because I wasn’t doing what I expected and needed to get done.

    What I hate most in fiction in stuff that jerks me out of the story, although vivid and violent sex scenes are number 2; well, probably a 1 or 2.

    I suppose it’s mostly a failure of plot development, although sometimes I find a character who isn’t just boring but totally unrealistic as well. If I’m happily reading along and suddenly I find myself wondering why on earth the heroine is eating a lovingly-described meal when she had just been pursuing the villian down a dark alley, or some important bit of information is just casually mentioned – what do you mean, the stepmother has been plotting the family downfall for years, and no one bothered mentioning her behaviour until now? – I think it’s a bad book. It’s the way I got fed up with the Tudors on TV when they had the wrong sister of Henry VIII marry – and murder!! – the wrong king. Some things I can ignore if the book is otherwise strong; Some things just grate on me too much for me to consider a book to be a good one.


    29 Jun 11 at 2:42 pm

  3. Good title, and I agree about polemics. But the reason I don’t think they need to be sourced is that they’re not going to persuade anyone. They may be “non-fiction” in the librarian’s or book-seller’s sense, but they’re entertainment. The book that convinces me I’ve got something important wrong needs to be very carefully sourced and not to skip any steps in the reasoning.

    Bad (fiction) books: My quarrel with objectively superior literature is more at the top end than the bottom. I think most people would agree that a novel is worse in which the author forgets characters’ names, or when someone died, relies heavily on coincidence or loses track of sub-plots. But all these things can be found in Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories and Edgar Rice Burrough’s “Mars” books. For a hundred years, their virtues have outweighed their faults for many readers.

    And it’s in assessing virtues that the whole thing falls apart. From sentence length and vocabulary through sex and violence to politics and philosophy, what is pleasing to one set of readers is an impediment to others. It depends on the prior experience and taste of the reader–which is the very essence of “subjective.”

    Me? I expect a historical or contemporary mainstream novel to get its facts straight, and a fantasy or science fiction novel to be consistent in its facts. I expect characters to behave in believeable ways for comprehensible motives. Sex and violence I can take or leave alone but an author has only a limited number of pages: I expect anything described in detail to illuminate character or advance the plot.

    (OK, unless I bought the book for the sex and violence. This is not unheard of. But I do have my standards: I’ll not sully my shelves with graphic descriptions of getting a bill through the legislature or winning a legal appeal unless the book has redeeming social value.)

    What puts and keeps a book on my shelves, nine times in ten, is interesting people in an interesting situation, with clever dialogue or authorial voice as bonus. And if we all agreed on what was interesting, the country would only need about 500 new fiction titles a year.


    29 Jun 11 at 3:58 pm

  4. Everyone likes the title. I don’t get the joke, but I like the title. :-)

    Like Cheryl, I hate being jerked out of a story. Anything that blows my suspension of disbelief, eg Patsy’s incredible account of Scarpetta’s scuba diving exploits in the northern mid-winter on a mothballed nuclear sub, will turn me off a book and author in a flash. Anachronisms, be they material or “attitudinal” annoy me to what I suspect is an unreasonable extent. Historical books, whether fiction or not, really annoy me when they analyse and criticise historical events/characters from modern points of view as yet undreamt of at all relevant times. It wasn’t a book, but the movie Pearl Harbor lost me at the trailer depicting bombs being dropped, and falling vertically, on what was clearly a nest of 1960s-vintage destroyers, Charles F. Adams class DDGs if memory serves me. Compare that sort of sloppy rubbish with Spielberg’s and Hanks’s work, particularly their brilliant “Band of Brothers” where every little detail from combat clothing to weaponry were painstakingly researched and recreated. It’s so good that footage from my previous favourite war movie about the same battle, Battleground”, which was made in 1949 when the period materiel, clothing and weaponry would still have been thick on the ground, could have been seamlessly spliced into several episodes and nobody would have noticed.

    I am getting old and crotchety, I know, but I think I can fairly say that the British series “Downton Abbey”, set in the early 20th century, is about as bad as it gets on the anachronism scale. It has twisted all my knobs and jerked all my chains in just about every episode to date, yet I find it compulsive viewing. If I see another actor going through what they think is the business of “smoking cigarettes” without actually knowing how and with evident disapproval, I’ll scream. If I see another actress playing a middle- or upper-class woman in a British period series smoking in public at all I’ll scream. Ditto wearing seamless stockings – and so on and so forth and I’ll shut up now.


    29 Jun 11 at 9:42 pm

  5. And speaking of polemics and polemicists… RAMmers will know of my admiration of Christopher Hitchens despite my disagreement with many of his political stances. I’ve just added another to my list – Oriana Fallaci – and I’m surprised that it’s taken my so long to discover her and to add her to my list that also includes Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Thomas Sowell among others somewhat less notable. I’m currently reading Fallaci’s “The Force of Reason” and regret the wasted years of not having discovered her before her death.


    30 Jun 11 at 2:32 am

  6. Mique, you want movie anachronisms? PATTON. Meticulous 1942-45 uniforms, but every tank ON BOTH SIDES is a US M-48–like watching a movie set in the depression with everyone driving Corvettes. Don’t get me started on CROMWELL.


    30 Jun 11 at 5:35 am

  7. Well, what should we expect? The general was called Patton, the movie was called Patton so the tank just has to be a Patton. Hollywood logic. :-)

    Great movie, despite that. He must have been a fascinating man, and it would have been interesting to have got him and Guderian in mellow moods in the same room.


    30 Jun 11 at 5:52 am

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