Still the best.

A note on our type problems: J.C. is aware, and is working on it from his vacation in the Upper Peninsula, where wi-fi is something no one’s really heard tell of yet. Good news: This seems to be a home-page problem. In the meantime, if you click the headline, it’ll take you to a separate page (with comments) where everything’s OK. Noted? Noted.

EDIT: Type problem seems fixed, for now. Thanks, brother Jim! Also, a version of the Eaton Beaver clip is now linked in comments. Thanks, Duffy.

It’s a measure of how scattered I’ve been of late that I’ve been sitting here for two days thinking I have nothing to write about, and then — forehead slap — I remember that I went to see Elmore Leonard last Thursday. He did a read/chat/sign at Border’s, supporting his new one, “Road Dogs.”

The reading was brief, just the first page of the novel, which in the usual fashion, starts halfway down the page. Maybe three paragraphs, after which he said, “And that’s what the book’s about,” shut it, and started talking. He was aided in this by his son Peter, who just published his second novel — it’s a father-son book tour. The two chatted back and forth for about half an hour, took some questions, signed some books. Among the highlights:

Peter talked about the party his father threw for the cast of “Out of Sight,” after they wrapped shooting in Detroit. He walked into the dining room to find George Clooney had just arrived and was standing by himself. They chatted for a while, and then “the women heard he was there.” Surrounded.

The “10 rules of writing” were delivered at Bouchercon, the convention for crime-fiction writers, and were something he just whipped up on a legal pad. Today the list is a book, and one of the most often-quoted in stories about him, probably because they’re short, snappy and don’t require much introduction. One of the rules: Never use a word other than “said” to carry dialogue. Another: Use no adverbs. Because they suck. (In the signing line, I told him about the reporter for the Ohio University Post who used “ejaculated” to describe an exclamation. His editor announced to the room: “Someone ejaculated on Tim’s copy.” That was hard to live down.)

My favorites were the stories about the old days, about being called in to a movie set to convince Charles Bronson — I assume this was “Mr. Majestyk” — that yes, his character would have a particular female character with him in the pickup truck during the big chase scene, because otherwise who would be driving when he crawled into the bed with a shotgun to fire at the bad guys? (“I don’t know why the producers couldn’t have told him that.”) But also about the era of pulp fiction, which he barely touched on, other than to say he’d been paid 2 cents a word for “3:10 to Yuma,” “which was the top rate for the pulps.” I wish he’d talked more about this bygone era in American fiction, where so many great writers paid their dues and learned their craft. (I was once lucky enough to interview an expert on the mass-market paperback, and I could have talked to him for hours and hours about cover art alone.) Fiction workshops are all well and good, but there’s something to be said for strong characters, snappy dialogue and the whip of the market as a navigator of plotlines. Every so often Leonard is asked why he switched from westerns to crime fiction, and he always shrugs and notes that that’s what the market wanted at the time. Try telling that to the next MFA you meet.

(That said, my favorite MFA, Lance Mannion, is a great respecter of genre fiction and its writers. So this may not apply to all of them.)

Martin Amis, in an essay about Leonard collected somewhere, described his writing as jazz, and that’s the truth. He said he doesn’t outline his novels, never knows where they’re going to end until they do, and that sounds to me like a nice bebop solo, the trumpeter stepping out to noodle around with phrases, themes and melodies for a while, until he’s said all he has to say and steps back to let someone else take a turn. Leonard is Miles Davis with a pen.

I bought “Road Dogs,” which I’m interspersing with “The Quiet Girl,” two books that couldn’t be more different. If Leonard is jazz, Peter Hoeg is atonality, translated from Danish. I can only recommend one, and I think you know which one it is.

So, a little bloggage? Sure:

A tale of two Michigan economies — Ann Arbor and Warren. From the WSJ.

The right’s talking points on Sotomayor, by Dahlia Lithwick, another writer nearing national-treasure status.

Only in Detroit: A city councilwoman is billed a pittance in property taxes for a decade. How much of a pittance? Try $68 a year. Turns out the city records show her address is a vacant lot. Her reaction: Huh. I wondered about that. Now it turns out she probably won’t have to pay much at all. This city. I ask you.

Only in Detroit Journalism: Yes, I saw the “Eaton Beaver turns 69 today” clip from one of our local TV station’s happy-birthday roundup on the morning show. No, I cannot direct you to it, as the station has effectively wiped out the clip. More proof every news organization needs an editor well-versed in dirty jokes, puns and Johnny Fucherfaster stories.

And now, I have a barn to raise and a day to do it. Onward to the work pile.

Posted at 9:15 am in Current events, Detroit life, Popculch, Same ol' same ol' |

39 responses to “Still the best.”

  1. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on May 27, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Somebody needs some Amish in their life. Or at least a couple of families worth.

    A personal observation about comments and newspaper websites at the end of previous thread, if anyone has a counterargument.

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  2. Connie said on May 27, 2009 at 10:04 am

    I had plenty of Amish in my life this past weekend, as I spent a day exploring rural LaGrange. The field with four large draft horses and their new born colts was the high point of our day.

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  3. Duffy said on May 27, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Eaton Beaver turns 69 today

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  4. nancy said on May 27, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Thanks! I knew it was out there somewhere.

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  5. Conan the Libertarian said on May 27, 2009 at 10:48 am

    I did not like Quiet Girl at all, Sam I Am. Atonal? Sure. If by “atonal” you mean “complete mess.” It reads like the first draft of something submitted to a local writer’s critique circle.

    I blame the translation. Smila wasn’t that bad.

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  6. jeff borden said on May 27, 2009 at 11:06 am

    If you are seeking gifted Scandinavian writers, check out “Let The Right One In” by John Ajvide Lindqvist.

    True, it is a vampire novel and it was made into a pretty wonderful and deeply creepy little movie, but the book is so much denser and more complicated. His prose conjures up the chill to the bone winters you’d expect in the suburbs of Stockholm, while his descriptions of the characters are simple yet vivid. Like Stephen King’s “Carrie,” which was a suprisingly tender look at an abused and unloved high school girl, this novel is as much about an outcast 13-year-old trying to cope with clueless adults and a vicious band of bullies as it is his is growing friendship with a creature of the night.

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  7. ROgirl said on May 27, 2009 at 11:16 am

    The trickle down effect…Detroit style.

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  8. beb said on May 27, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Type problem not fixed. Just FYI.

    Rates for pulp writers varied a lot. A penny a word was pretty standard, some publishers tried to hold the line at 2 cents a word but that didn’t work out. Those that survived into the 50s tended to pay closer to a half-cent a word. When he wrote 3:10 Yuma Leonard was an average writer, so getting 2 cents a words was pretty good. Some authors vdid get paid a lot better than that, though. Max Brand, for one was getting five cents a word, and writing over a million words a year. Of course he name sold magazines so he was worth it.

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  9. moe99 said on May 27, 2009 at 11:23 am

    “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo” is good Scandanavian writing. And more in Elmore Leonard’s genre.

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  10. MarkH said on May 27, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Whoa! That Zap Comix reference sure time-warped me back to college in a few nanoseconds. I still have six or seven issues tucked away in storage somewhere. Original ones, too; 40+ years old.

    As with all things Leonard, nice post today, Nancy.

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  11. Sue said on May 27, 2009 at 11:42 am

    The only time I have ever seen “ejaculated” used instead of “said” or “cried” or “exclaimed” is in old children’s books. I know it’s in the Five Little Peppers series (1881, believe it or not I have a copy of the first book right here) and in the Anne of Green Gables series (about 1911). I’ve never seen it in the Little House books or in Louisa May Alcott’s books, that I recall. I always thought it was odd, first as a kid because the word sounded strange and later when I found out what it meant. And for some reason, as I remember it was always female characters who were ejaculating.

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  12. Jen said on May 27, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    I’m pretty sure there’s at least one place in the “Harry Potter” books where J.K. Rowling uses “ejaculated,” because it made my sister and me giggle. What can I say? We’re immature.

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  13. nancy said on May 27, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    “Ejaculated” is very 19th-century British usage, for sure. My dictionary describes it as “dated,” and you’d think J.K. Rowling would be a little hipper, but given the length of her manuscripts, maybe her editors just plain gave up.

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  14. John said on May 27, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    “Robin Hood tore his leather jerkin off”. That is the line that always got me to giggle.

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  15. del said on May 27, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    I’ve actually heard religious talk of something described as ejaculations to the Blessed Virgin — i.e., ejaculations as little prayers.

    Jeff’s photo of everyone needing some Amish in their life looks like socialism, Conan.

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  16. paddyo' said on May 27, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Yes, Del, we who grew up Catholic said “ejaculations” all the time, to the Blessed Virgin and various other saints and embodiments of God — the Sacred Heart, Mary Help of Christians, St. Christopher, etc.

    As for that Detroit councilwoman, I think she’s just coined the the new Next Big Buzzphrase (for clueless dolts, anyway):
    “Huh. I wondered about that.”

    That’s a dealbreaker, ladies ….

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  17. Allan Connery said on May 27, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Type problem persists on my Mac (OS 10.5.6) when I look at your site with Safari 3.2.3, but everything’s fine with Firefox 3.0.10.
    Your old pages (back to March 27, as far as I looked) also have the type problem in Safari.
    Excuse the geekitude, but some of this might be useful to your trouble-shooter.

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  18. moe99 said on May 27, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    When I see a picture like the one Jeff has posted, what I see is a headache. Washington is one of 6 states in the nation where the state insures and maintains its workers’ compensation fund. It usually works out quite well–without a third party insurer taking its cut, we can offer better benefits at a generally better price than you can find in third party states. However, if you are an for profit employer and you have people working for you, regardless if they are paid, you have to cover their workers’ comp premiums.

    The law is clear: workers cannot bargain away their rights.

    This leads to problems for me like that pictured above, when the owner of the farm is presented with a notice of assessment for unpaid premiums, penalties and interest. It’s a work in progress.

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  19. Sue said on May 27, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Sorry, but I’ve been turned off on the “Gentle Amish” stereotype ever since I found out about the Amish/puppy mill connection. Good people don’t do that, and an insular society that is as self-policed as they are shouldn’t tolerate that kind of cruelty (in the name of just-good-business or not) among its own members.

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  20. del said on May 27, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    When I first saw the movie Witness in 1984 I was taken with the romantic ideal of Amish life. But now, the take is quite different. Songs of innocence — songs of experience.

    Moe, in Michigan there are work comp shoot-through cases by which the general contractor (barn owner) owes comp premiums for all the uninsured sub-contractor’s labor (Rudolph Nureyevs). But the problem is avoided in the Amish photo because such workers would not fit within the definition of covered help as they must work 35 hours a week for 13 weeks a year.

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  21. del said on May 27, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Our state “privatized” the State work comp insurer some years back. Read: the GOP governor gave a little sumpin’ sumpin’ to his peops.

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  22. moe99 said on May 27, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    Del, there is no minimum work requirement to be a covered worker in Washington state. In fact the 6 part statutory test that you have to satisfy to be considered an independent contractor is extremely difficult to meet and you have to meet all 6 parts of the test. So, it’s more of a headache here.

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  23. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on May 27, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Actually, that was Alexander Godounov (sp?) in “Witness”; he was in a bunch of movies after his dance career and died fairly young — didn’t make the shift to Hollywood and movies too well, as i dimly recall.

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  24. nancy said on May 27, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    He died of the Russian national disease: Alcoholism. In Hollywood, of all places.

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  25. Catherine said on May 27, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    I wonder what Elmore Leonard would do with the Clark Rockefeller case? Don’t know if anyone else has been following it, but it gets headlines here because of the San Marino connection (that’s the wealthy LA suburb south of Pasadena, not the republic). He is considered a person of interest in the disappearance of a couple there in 1985. When the new owners excavated the backyard of their house to build a pool, human remains were found wrapped in trash bags. The LA County Coroner has never managed to definitively identify the remains, and the Sohuses remain “missing.” The rest of his story is equally fascinating:

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  26. del said on May 27, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    One common feature of all states’ comp laws, I think, is that they initially exempted farm workers, domestic servants, etc. from coverage.

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  27. Dexter said on May 27, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    I retired from Eaton Corporation, the Cleveland-based giant. You can only imagine all the eatin’ jokes….

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  28. Julie Robinson said on May 27, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Useless trivia from IMDB: Viggo Mortensen made his movie debut in Witness as one of the Amish.

    Useless trivia from me: I got to see both Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov dance in Chicago when they were at the peak of their careers. Don’t think I ever saw Godunov, but the other two fully lived up to their reputations. Magnificent! What a lucky kid I was. Thanks Mom & Dad.

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  29. ROgirl said on May 27, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    All that talk about “ejaculation” and the Catholic church got me thinking about this.

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  30. moe99 said on May 27, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Del, no farm workers’ exemption from coverage in WA state. Way too high on the injury scale there. Need to insure for the risk.

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  31. del said on May 27, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    In Michigan “migrant workers” were the ones exempted, not farm workers — but that’s been fixed.

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  32. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on May 27, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    That sculpture made even Dan Brown’s toes curl.

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  33. mark said on May 27, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    Treasury should purchase a controlling interest in the Amish, so they don’t continue to engage in hard work and contribute to their community without the necessary permits and payment of fees. Anybody else notice how much of the meat and produce is coming in from Mexico these days?

    And what a tough week for Barry. After months of building international consensus on the incompetence of Bush, the evil of Cheney and the arrogance, selfishness and malfeasance of America pre-Obama, the “axle” of evil spits in his extended hand. Iran invites him to a debate at the UN and North Korea invites him to a war.

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  34. alex said on May 27, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    Well, hell, Mark. The libertarians ought to run a full slate of candidates in ’10 and ’12 since they know so much better than anyone else what the American people really want. Maybe you and Sheriff Ostrognai could challenge Lugar and Bayh for their seats and then do an Obama and run directly for president and veep. (Besides, the sheriff has prettier gams than Hillary and unlike Palin can probably name a few of the newspapers she has ever read, so you’ll have your work cut out for you if you want to be top dog.)

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  35. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on May 27, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Oiks. The understory of newspaper meltdown, and it isn’t up in the newsroom — it’s over in sales.

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  36. alex said on May 27, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Good piece, Jeff (tmmo). And you can tell it’s a raw manuscript, typos and all, but the content’s very prescient.

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  37. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on May 27, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    This passage just shocked me with its obviousness, that i stupidly had never considered in these terms:

    “That truth is this: There is no demand for messages. And there never was.

    In fact, most advertising has negative demand, especially on TV. It actually subtracts value. To get an idea just how negative TV advertising is, imagine what would happen if the mute buttons on remote controls delivered we-don’t-want-to-hear-this messages back to advertisers. When that feedback finally gets through, the $180+ billion/year advertising market will fall like a bad soufflé.

    It will fall because the Web will bring two developments advertising has never seen before, and has always feared: 1) direct feedback; and 2) accountability. These will expose another divine awful truth: most advertising doesn’t work.”

    If i’m tracking the self-quoting properly of Searls (he’s the guy who took the pictures i linked for Deborah’s benefit t’other day), he wrote this stuff back 10 plus years ago . . . i think.

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  38. beb said on May 27, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    Ten years ago Doc Searls pined for a way to have the “mute” button on your remote send a message to advertisers saying “Not interested.” We have that today, indirectly, with TIVO. TIVO can track who’s skipping over commericals as well as what people are watching and how often a show is viewed, and lots of other creepy stuff like that. Advertisers are already claiming that that an obligation to watch commercials, or that skipping commercials is a form of piracy. As Searls notes the TV market is between advertisers and broadcasters, viewers don’t have a dog in this hunt. And as it stands advertisers and broadcasters have long colluded to pressured TIVO and competeting Digital Video Recorder makers to not include advertising skipping software, no matter what consumer demand for such might be.

    I don’t see the Internet devouring TV because there’s more to a good program than a HD camcorder. You need good writers, actors, set designers, stunt coordinators, etc, all of which take money. Maybe television will become direct to video/pay-TV, with nothing free. Or it will consolidate into fewer channels with advertising.

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  39. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on May 27, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    Yeah, but with this kind of economic downturn, and i’m not even talking about auto companies who have floated more than their fair share of the ad biz, the narcotic quality of advertising sales force lingo is no longer taking effect. “Your Jedi mind tricks don’t work here.” Those buying ad space/time are wanting proof that their dollars are buying something, and they’re getting smart about knowing that this is now knowable. So they can keep us from being able to delete the ads from TIVO, but they can’t keep the business folk from asking for proof of life . . . and it turns out the hostage died years ago.

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