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Hereford Eye
June 4th, 2004, 10:06 PM
Reading these threads I am prompted to consider the following, each an excerpt from a published work, some more familiar to readers of sff than others but all written by recognized talent. When you read these, what is your first instinct? Do you want to grab the text and make it right? Can you accept that the words are just as they are supposed to be?
There are times, like the first, that I can, that I think 'wow' and wish I could match the talent. There are times like the third that I think "I do that and it is hard, isn't it, to follow the thought." The book it calls home won a Pulitzer Prize, deservedly I think.
The second seems to be several paragraphs rolled into one but Jack knew it was cold, didn't he? And the last is just plain delicious. DA had a way, didn't he?

“He watched her pour into the measure and thence into the jug rich white milk, not hers. Old shrunken paps. She poured again a measureful and a tilly. Old and secret she had entered from a morning world, maybe a messenger. She praised the goodness of the milk, pouring it out. Crouching by a patient cow at daybreak in the lush field, a witch on her toadstool, her wrinkled fingers quick at the squirting dugs. They lowed about her whom they knew, dewsilky cattle. Silk of the kine and poor old woman, names given her in old times. A wandering crone, lowly form of an immortal serving her conqueror and her gay betrayer, their common cuckquean, a messenger from the secret morning. To serve or to upbraid, whether he could not tell; but scorned to beg her favour.” James Joyce Ulysses

“It was bitter cold. As the trail wound, a quarter of a mile brought them to the dancer’s cabin, by which time her moist breath had coated her face frostily, while his had massed his heavy moustache till conversation was painful. By the greenish light of the aurora borealis, the quicksilver showed itself frozen hard in the bulb of the thermometer which hung outside the door. A thousand dogs, in pitiful chorus, wailed their ancient wrongs and claimed mercy from the unheeding stars. Not a breath of air was moving. For them there was no shelter from the cold, no shrewd crawling to leeward in snug nooks. The frost was everywhere, and they lay in the open, ever and anon stretching their trail quickened muscles and lifting the long wolf-howl.” Jack London The Scorn of Women

“He barely looked at them. Things on his mind, Quoyle thought, like whether or not the roof would lift off. But he shouted answers. Tickle Motel. Six miles east. Third time the year the door was off. First time the sign was off. Felt snowly all morning, he bellowed as they pulled onto the highway. Waved them into side-blown snow.” Annie Proulx The Shipping News

“They walked quite near the watchers beneath the tree, swinging lanterns that made soft and crazy lights dance among the trees and grass, chattering contentedly, and actually singing a song about how terribly nice everything was, how happy they were, how much they enjoyed working on the farm, and how pleasant it was to be going home to see their wives and children, with a lilting chorus to the effect that the flowers were smelling and particularly nice at this time of year and that it was a pity the dog had died seeing as it liked them so much. Arthur could almost imagine Paul McCartney sitting with his feet up by the fire one evening, humming it to Linda and wondering what to buy with the proceeds, and thinking, probably, Essex.” Douglas Adams The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Any outrageous copy mistakes are mine and not the authors'. But, folks, most of what look like mistakes are exactly the way they were written and published.

June 4th, 2004, 11:31 PM
Joyce. Jerky reading. Drift off, go back. What was that? When done, read again. Different, I get more. Want more. Reach for Reading List and Pen. Write Uly... Damn, already on the list, and I thought I found a new one.

London. Smooth reading. When done, I have no idea what I have just read, because I forgot to pay attention.

Proulx. Read, shrug. Interesting enough to go on reading, were there more. Not interesting enough to seek out.

Adams. Read, grin on face. Would look at cupboard at my copy and indulge in fond memories, but cupboard is in another room.


Putting on the editor's hat, I'd probably have issues with Proulx, but the quote's to short to see whether the "faults" are something I "don't get".


Thankee much, for this thread. Personally, I'd rather read interesting than flawless. And, often, 'flaws' make for interesting.


Grabbing random book's that lie around:

"As Celia bent over the paper, Dorothea put her cheek against her sister's arm caressingly. Celia understood the action. Dorothea saw that she had been in the wrong, and Celia pardoned her. Since they could remember, there had been a mixture of criticism and awe in the attitude of Celia's mind towards her elder sister. The younger had always worn a yoke; but is there any yoked creature without its private opinions?" George Eliot Middlemarch

"Reports & rumours reached us of how the rest of Van Diemen's Land was seething; how many & more convicts were escaping to join bushranging gangs growing in both size & ferocity. Some, hopelessly ineffectual, others pointlessly cruel. But the sum of their ventures was that the rule of English law was collapsing." Richard Flanagan Gould's Book of Fish - a novel in twelve fish

"Sis opened her eyes and quickly turned away. She'd been down in the tunnel for so long that the light scalded them, and besides, they had clearly developed some sort of abstruse technical fault, because as soon as she'd opened them she'd imagined seeing what looked like a scene from an old horror movies, with Boris Karloff and - who was the other one? Bela Lugosi? Something like that. Anyway, her eyes were clearly on the blink. She rested them for a moment -
'Igor? Igor! Don't just stand there gawping. Get those people out of my laboratory.'
This time, Sis's eyes opened wide, and to hell with the brightness of the light!" Tom Holt Snow White and the Seven Samurai

Random selections. I haven't even read the Holt-book yet.

Rocket Sheep
June 5th, 2004, 12:12 AM
We never cared how Douglas Adams wrote... we just wanted more.

ironchef texmex
June 5th, 2004, 02:02 PM
This is my goal as a writer. I don't care about the money.


I read an article by Harlan Ellison where he was reminiscing about the days when editors tried to carve up his stories. "But I meant to do that, he'd say."

I'm sure the greats have all sorts of reasons for bending the rules of English Lit, but for me it breaks down into two general kinds of reading: a style meant to flow and a style meant to lay a minefield.

I think the first two examples (Joyce and London) are the kinds of stuff that flow. I like the second kind better. Flowing prose has the same sort of effect on me that it sounds like it has on Dawnstorm; my eyes gloss over the words. I want to read language that makes me trip as I go. Examples like the last two are more suprising to my mind. I have to read them aloud in my head and the results make more of an impact. It seems more forceful to me.

Who knows, maybe one day I'll have enough clout to write my own literary minefields without having them carved to pieces. I can hope. :D

June 6th, 2004, 02:02 PM
I'm confused -- what rabble is being roused here exactly?

Rocket Sheep
June 6th, 2004, 09:00 PM
Wow! A one-line post from KatG! Well done. :D

I believe that WE are the rabble that should be aroused into sparkling insightful and witty debate about how the above authors went against all advice that WE (me especially) have been issuing lately.

HE's so cute when he goes fishing, don't you think?

IMHO (and I'm often wrong even tho I've had the chance recently to talk to some bigwig editors, wrongness is a deeply ingrained habit), I don't think the passages from Jack or Annie would make it in today's more fickle market. But who knows. James wrote that passage with a good solid voice, that's still fairly popular, and Doug was utilising the tone of the hairy dog story, hard to do without going into fields of corn but marketable if you can pull it off.

As far as telling a good yarn, all the above authors obviously did that extraordinarily well. Whether they would hit the bestseller list in 2005 if they started writing now is another matter.

There, that's a little debatable. Maybe I'll come up with sparkling witty and insightful later.

Hereford Eye
June 7th, 2004, 08:14 AM
The Shipping News Annie Proulx, Simon & Schuster, 1993.
Sheepie: Things have changed a lot in the last 10 years?

June 7th, 2004, 12:50 PM
I feel roused (or should I be aroused?) and can I consider myself rabble and not be offended? (rabble (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=rabble) - The lowest or coarsest class of people). I think I'll just be a roused rambling rabbler and be happy with that.

Firstly: I agree that Adams should come back from the dead and write some more. I think he faked his death and is hiding with Hitler and Kenedy on the dark side of the moon until a future date when they'll all come back and declare it all a big joke.

Secondly: London was great with words, wording, word-smithing, et al. Though it took me 2 or 3 times of reading certain paragraphs of his (the one mentioned included), once I understood it, it was a thing of beauty that I could never duplicate.

as for Proulx and Joyce, I've never had the pleasure of reading their material and these paragraphs (being out of context as they are) confused the heck outta me. No idea where they came from or where they were going. My guess (I like to guess a lot) that these paragraphs fit into a grander scheme of the word tapestry and make better sense when read as a whole -vs- read singularly.

I doubt that today (in 2004) any of these would be allowed to go on (unless Adams came back from the dead that is) and would be snubbed and snobbed out of existence before a reader would get to enjoy them. It's alwasy been said that you should assume your reader is smarter than you, but I think that has changed as of late and you should assume only that your reader can read. I think a lot of writing gets 'dumbed down' so those who started reading Harry Potter (I won't go bashing here as I enjoyed the books for what they are) are able to read 'high-fantasy' without getting confused.

To sum up my roused (or was it aroused?) ramble, I would never think to break out my own red pen and mark up the work of another published author. I have had some pieces of my own work critiqued by others and they wanted to re-word things and after I explained it, they got it. I had made the assumption they would get it and I made an ass out of me and umption. Sometimes I word things to force the reader to read and re-read a particular section to drive the point home and to make the reader think instead of just ploughing ahead and perhaps missing the point I was trying to make. I don't do this often which is perhaps why it confuses my regular readers (I have a merry band of test readers for my short stories) but I did, however, get them to pause exactly where I wanted them to and do exactly what I wanted them to do. Think.

*whew* Too much thinking for one day. I'm going to sit back and try not to do any more for the rest of the day. :)

Hereford Eye
June 7th, 2004, 01:19 PM
I think that was the point I hoped I was attempting to make, Maus 99, that writers do things that editors do not want to trust but must. There are no omniscient writers as there are no omniscient editors. There is no one way that things should be written or read. It may not fit a given publisher's approach to the game but that doesn't make it wrong; just unpublishable by the publisher.
This makes a good editor worth their weight in gold because they have no axe to grind, they have no POV to pursue; they simply read and react and ask questions. Particularly the questions. What was it I had in mind and am I expressing it as clearly, as poetically, as esthetically as I want to? My favorite editor's question was delivered three times: "What POV are you using?" Took three times for me to hear her point. I am little dense now and then and throughout the day.
So, when you read the paragraphs, what is your first instinct? To try to understand the writer's intent or "fix it" because the damned fool obviously had his or her head inserted in a rectilinear aperture? The very best editors, I think and believe and hope, have the first instinct: to try to understand.
Quite often, here in the Writing Thread, I don't get the impression that this is our first instinct. Hence, rousing the rabble to protest.

June 7th, 2004, 01:33 PM
Point well taken. I guess my point was lost in my ramble. I always try to understand first. If I don't get it, I try again. If I still don't get it, I move along and see if it fits into a grander scheme. If I still don't get it (and it's bugging me) I usually end up putting the book down. Unless asked, I've never tried to edit another's work. It just isn't in me. :)

As for this forum, we're all trying to learn. If the writer is strong and convicted (maybe that's not the right word) they'll defend their writing against attack, but take the attack as a critique of another writer's style or opinion. Never should a writer change their writing based on someone's opinion unless that someone wants to pay you for your work. Then it comes down to do you want to be publised or not.

I have been guilty on this forum of critiquing and correcting the work of others, but only if asked. Never have my words meant to injur or harm an ego.

I'm rambling again. ;)