February 14, 1998 to February 21, 1998

Jack Beslanwitch jack@forwriters.com http://www.halcyon.com/columba/ Sun Feb 22 12:10:54 PST 1998

p.s. Many apologies, I was doing something at church with my laptop and thought I was updating the webpage for our episcopal church. What actually happened was that the Notebook got replaced with that file and all the postings since mine last night got wiped out. Please repost. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I really do not.

Jack Beslanwitch jack@forwriters.com Sat Feb 21 23:16:53 PST 1998

    Lively as we want to be :-). Love it. Actually, I caught what Philip was trying to say the first time and was about to quote the Kipling statement again, but I'll refrain. Simple enough said, we each have to make the judgment about how our characters are going to speak. This is our own creative judgment call and well in good. I know one character in at least one story of mine who would have "sniled" fiercely and beaten me severely around the head and shoulders if I had kept him from speaking filthy as he wanted to be. :-)

However, I wanted to touch on something else in regard to violence other than levels of attack and control starting with snarling and cussing and ending with dead bodies. One element that I was hoping we did not pass up on before we leave the discussion of violence was the whole question of cultural and social abuse.

   Actually, the point I am rambling away with here is how abuse in many forms become the driving force in families, cultures, religions, cults, etc. and become not the aberration, but the accepted and even desirable norm. In the nineteenth century, spare the rod and spoil the child was carried to extremes. When we cringe in horror at a rape or a group of kids ganging up and beating another bloody we are horrified. But what truly horrifies me is instances of cultures that looked upon violent abuse of their children, their women, of subsets of the overall culture or a perceived group of anti-socials as being appropriate for singling out and abuse because of the rightness of the prevailing culture, family and so on. The Nazis or Pol Pok and the Khmer Rouge are too easy examples. Better examples of what I am alluding to are say a certain city in Oregon (the name escapes me at the moment), where the local city population passed an initiative denying gays any legal rights against discrimination at which point a lesbian couple who were evicted from the apartment they had been living for many years by the "right thinking" owner of the apartment. Continguous to this time frame were a number of crimes of hate against gay individuals that some felt sanctioned to express by the tenor of the votes and the time. That is an example of societal violence. Other examples are nineteenth century capitalism and child workers in factories or small pocked infested blankets sold to indigenous populations as a matter of policy, genocidal policy as it happened and perhaps one of the first uses of germ warfare. Women in china forced to bind their feet to the point of disfigurement and see it as a bound duty and thing of beauty. Poverty and hunger were noted, I believe by Ghandhi, as the ultimate forms of violence.

   Well, I think I just drifted off on a very wide tangent and rant. Don't know if there is any meat there for chewing on and I do have a more congenial topic not relating to violence that I hope to bring up in the next day or two. But I throw this variation on the violence theme out there for consideration.

Sat Feb 21 22:52:50 PST 1998


You are the very soul of analysis and eloquence. In fact I am so overwhelmed by the eloquence of the day's postings that I, intimidated as I am, will simply say goodnight.


Gary S.

P.S. Just one more thing. T.M., I'm not sure I was up to making all the connections in your message. I just wonder if you ever considered that your former teacher may have wanted to read your "book."

Robin Robf1000@alltel.net Sat Feb 21 19:13:51 PST 1998

The main point of the discussion on foul language appeared to be about its effectiveness in literature. On that note, I have read a few articles about how to handle that and be true to the character speaking (Let's face it, even if we don't speak that way, we're not all writing about a bunch of angels). In them, it is suggested to consider your audience, and go from there.

Who is the audience? I personally wouldn't want to limit it to a small group. We know that most adults would accept a certain amount of offensive language, but that would limit the audience. It would prevent some adults and hopefully most youths from reading.

So if you want to reach a larger audience, you could still let your character get enraged and spout off, but you could pick this to be a time of 'tell', instead of 'show'. Explain that someone loses their cool and swears, cusses, whatever. Just like with violence, sometimes its better to let people wonder.

Foul words do lose their impact. We as writers might be more effective, though, if we describe the feelings, the physical reactions and the results of rage. We will offend less people, thereby enlarging our target audience and chancing more sales.

Just a thought.


Philip mclaren@magna.com.au Sat Feb 21 18:30:18 PST 1998


You must be smoking some of that good weed that the north is famous for. You obviously missed what I actually posted: "I'm one of those who believe that you and I should be able to write whatever we want."

Get me off your list.


Colleen cstapley@dmci.net Sat Feb 21 18:22:53 PST 1998


I am so glad I got my glasses on before reading the notebook this evening. One thing we don't lack here is opinions. I am the first person to admit to using inapp. language at times of stress, but with the arrival of my offspring I found that perhaps I wanted better for him. He repeats all he hears and has a memory a mile long. He deserves the best and I am afraid so do all young people I write for. If the word is absolutely apprp. in context and intregal to my story and characters I will still use it. But, if it borders on useless then it is gone. I want what I write to have an edge of quality to it that sets it apart. But I do not want to be told I am not allowed or permitted to use words I choose. Freedom is a double edged sword, with every right there is also a responsibility. They go hand in hand. I will always be a responsible writer. I have had adult book ideas I knew would fly, but I CHOSE not to persue them because the subject matter is unsettling to me and I do not want to be responsible for the way the material would be received. I feel I have a right to judge what I add to the volume of literature that exists but fully understand my responsibility as a writer and how what I write will effect those who read it.
I honor the freedom, but then I expect that it is used to it's fullest potential to enhance humanity and artist expression. Sometimes artists want the right to use language etc. as they see fit, but then don't want responsibility for that priviledge. Look at the can of worms I opened and it's not even fishing season....I also like to avoid conflict so take it easy on eachother, or I will choose not to ask any more questions.

Goodweed of the North bflowers@northernway.net Sat Feb 21 17:21:55 PST 1998

Hayden; You are right in some cases. Let me explain my earlier comments. I know there are people who hide behind "The love of God" instead of facing crisis. I will not use Him as an excuse for any of my actions. Yes I do believe my talents are a gift or a blessing. I also know my mistakes are my own and due to my own choices. I don't fault anyone for speaking as they see fit and don't expect anyone else to choose my life choices.

Then again, I do expect the freedom to choose to not use profanity or vulgarity, without judgement from others. I give others that right to speak freely. I also choose not to smoke. Does that make me hide behind the surgeon general. No. My choices are mine to make. Also, I really don't think I am any better than anyone else. If you knew some of my freinds, (who use rough language regularly), you would know what kind of person I really am.

I agree completely with the reasons given for the use of explitives. It is a way to growl, to vent frustration, to release pent up energy. It is a tool used by many to exercise control. But I have to say, that in the twenty-one years since I chose to remove those two forms from my vocabulary, I can remember one time, when I almost bounced off of the back of a motorcycle, I slipped up.

I have developed other coping mechanisms to handle anger and frustration. Its just my nature to be patient, and find other ways to release. Intense activity is a great release for me. I ride dirt bikes, snowmobiles, downhill ski, Judo, Kuk Sul Won, etc. I have been known to lose my temper and even bounced an individual off of a couple of trees when he made me mad. I am not a pacifist. I do stick like glue to my beliefs.

As for writing, I have much to learn. Phillip and Hayden, I admire your work and have re-written much of my work because of your advice, and example. In fact, Hayden's last bit of advice is causing me to re-write my entire first novel. You guys are priceless to the writers group. But you have your values and standards, which I have no trouble with. Please let me have mine.

Seeeeya; Goodweed of the North

By the way, this is one of my coping mechanisms, to explain or even lecture rather than let my frustrations build up. I don't mean to imply that I was in any way frustrated by the comments in the notebook, rather, I'm just trying to let you know who I am. You are partly right though. I have to admit that. Even though I am not a pacifist, I am by nature a peace maker.

Philip mclaren@magna.com.au Sat Feb 21 16:37:56 PST 1998


Well done Hayden!

I'm one of those who believe that you and I should be able to write whatever we want. You don't have to read my work - that's your choice, a choice I uphold. I choose not to read thousands of books.

So many hangups, so many obstacles: it seems some people in our group make it so difficult to succeed as writers, it's like you're creating fall back positions, reasons or things to blame, safety nets, in case of failure. Why start out with so many restrictions on what or how you will write?

Hopefully if you find that dynamic work, that gut-burning manuscript you feel so passionately about requires profanity, sex or swear words, you won't shirk the task.

Michele: I think you were referring to Glaswegian James Kelman who won the 1994 Booker Prize for his book 'How Late it was, how late'. This is a brilliantly conceived work of art which is regarded as having stamped forever in literature the distinctive style of the language of ordinary Scots of the late 20th century. James succeeded in having the work published by a snobby English controlled industry in the UK - and so powerful was the work it took out the prestigious Booker Prize. Usually when this book is discussed, there is no mention of the mind boggling story found within the clever, well constructed framework of 'new' language. Personally, it was a gift to hear James read his work: the authentic narrator's Scottish voice of the prize winning book. James Kelman and his wife are friends of mine, they were guests in my home and we talked about his work and writing in general for a week solid. He is presently lecturing at a Texas university for a year - hopefully he is writing as well. From where I sit, it's a shame people who haven't read his work condemn it out of hand because they heard he uses a lot of profanity and swear words: narrow.


T. M. Spell TMSpell@aol.com Sat Feb 21 16:33:57 PST 1998

Hayden, you wrote: <>

Sorry, but I can't figure out what this means. It sounds like some of the politically-correct-speak that drove me nuts when I went back to university for graduate studies in English literature. One of my professors had built her career, and secured tenure, on the hypothesis that "a woman's body is like a book." She probably explained this to me from a dozen different angles, but for the life of me I never could figure out what she was talking about. I was an A student (except in *her* classes), which implies that my mental equipment is in pretty good working order, but, still...huh?

Some of the world's most renowned pacifists didn't/don't believe in God and can't be said to be using religion as a violence-curbing mechanism. I don't see how your comments regarding using God as a barrier between the flesh and the psyche applies here for them.

Seeking enlightenment.... --T. M. Spell--

Hayden Grayell JLJPetersen@bigpond.com Sat Feb 21 15:33:32 PST 1998

Hi Gang, how the f... are you all? (Please read on for an explanation of why I drop that in here.)

Why *do* we swear?

Not long ago I was asked to curb my swearing when I visited a friend. I don't usually have a mouth that runs away with itself, (well, maybe only when Gariess is about :-) ) so it was quite a shock to realise that I was letting fly. After a lot of apologising and even more thinking I decided that there was a particular reason for it.

I ended up with the following thoughts.

Let me generalise and say that aggression/passion/violence are attempts to gain some advantage over a situation. Swearing is an agressive act even when done in the most harmless of situations, such as when you are stunned by winning a million dollars in a lottery: the "Well, I'll be f..." sort of response.

We all swear when something is frustrating us beyond our limits of endurarnce. We all swore when we were teenagers...admit it!...and most of us would all swear if the boss told us he had cut our wages in half and was going to double our workload. In each situation events are beyond our control. (I can even prove that swearing when you win a million dollars is the situation getting beyond our control.) Nature is to blame. We are creatures of comfit, who resort to violence in stages. First the snarl, then the snapping jaws, then the lunge for the throat. In other words, first the f* off, then the production of the weapon, then the use of that weapon.

Swearing is a vocalised snarl, the first stage of violence.That's why we have swearing matches between close friends, that's why some countries have nuclear arsenals, that is why we try every means before we resort to all out war but when we go, we go for the throat.

Dare I take the extra step of saying swearing for fun is play-acting the first step of violence? Yeh, why not? Just as sport is the play-acting for violence of the third stage.

So how does swearing at a friend's house fit in all of this? Territorial disputes. His new wife was, as all new wives do, just laying on the controlling thumb a little too thickly, and though I acknowledged her right to do it, I was still subconsciously rebelling against it. Swearing instead of any other level of violence.

And how does "how the f* are you" fit into this little scheme of mine? Play. Just good old fashion play that most people understand and allow to happen.

One last point. With respect to Goodweed et al, I believe the use of faith to hold back any stage of violence is *not* the complete displacement of violent action--even though it is taking the aggression and turning it into a pacifist stand. And that is one heck of a hard thing to do. Something beyond the beast in most of us. It seems to me, thought, that it is another way of *snarling* by saying "you do what you want with your aggressive animalistic impulses, I have conquered my aggression and have the love of a God to quench my anger". Pacifism is also a weapon. Taking a pacifists stand is taking out the weapon. Only very strong people can use it successfully. And I applaud those people. But it is not, in *most* situations/literature at least, the final stage of violence. So often we see characters who are pacifists or "men of faith" who finally resort to physical violence to gain what they need over the bad guys. Maybe martyrdom is the realisation of the use of pacifisim at the most "violent" level.

I feel that there is something else hiding away in all that I have said, somewhere. Something that has to be discussed as well...though it will take a little thinking about to drag it out of the closet of my cluttered mind.

And if you don't believe what I have said, I'll punch out your F*'n lights!

Joan rhodda@montana.com Sat Feb 21 13:15:18 PST 1998

Hi all--

HELP! I've posted a small bit on the Workbook--my contribution to violence. Would someone please look at it and help me with it. This is an area I really struggle with, which is the main reason I've only been monitoring the conversation on the Notebook this week, rather than adding to it. The only thing I know as a reader is that if it's too gory, I'll probably put it down. For me, as with sex in writing, I think it's more interesting if there is less of it, but what there is is full of impact. That's what I'm struggling to achieve in the Workbook submission---the physical violence in that scene is intended to portray the emotional violence that has been done to him as he sees what's been done to his people.

About swearing, I think if it's appropriate, put it in. But again, if there's too much, it either loses its impact or just becomes sickening (and the book gets put down).


Kirstin Ramey winged_magic@hotmail.com Sat Feb 21 12:08:02 PST 1998

I think that the youth of today, especially the kids that attend my high school, don't really think of swearing as bad. I know many people who can't say a single sentence without swearing. I personally don't swear and neither do most of my friends but none of us are ever offended or surprised when some one does swear. So, when we read a book or see a movie or TV show that uses swearing it sounds normal and realistic to the world around us. I know that the kids at my brothers junior high swear a lot more than the kids at my high school. I have two view points on this subject. 1) Swearing is used so much with youth that it has really lost it meaning and none of us really care if it is used and are sometimes surprised when its not, and 2) Swearing needs to be cutback on because we are using it so much.

Why does everyone always say don't use four-letter words? I can think of many inappropriate words that don't have four letters. I can also think of may four-letter words that are appropriate such as love, dogs, hand, work, book, . . .


Sat Feb 21 10:49:37 PST 1998

Let me support my point with a single example.
When Bill Cosby made his first stand up recordings back around 1960 when censorship was still very strong in the media, the word "Christ", as an exclamation, was allowed to stand. Cosby didn't use four letter words because his material, although adult oriented, was still considered fit for the family. I know that this is a greater transgression to religious people than the common anglo-saxon four letter words, and some of you may feel that such priorities are unfair. I simply point out that censorship has a bigger problem with obscenity than with profanity because it's believed that obscenity will offend the greater number of people. I rest my case. You may all have a go at me now, should you be so inclined.

Warmest regards,

Gary S.

P.S. Hayden, where are you, mate? Why haven't you been sniping at me lately. I feel neglected.

T. M. Spell TMSpell@aol.com Sat Feb 21 05:31:10 PST 1998

Gary, you wrote: <> I don't think Colleen was worried about adult eyes on this board, but of the young adult readers who sometimes visit and participate here.

<> This depends largely upon whom you talk to. I am much more offended by the profane use of Christ's name in a movie than by any number of expletives revolving around bodily functions or the sex act. I wholeheartedly and unreservedly support an artist's right to use whatsoever language to tell whatsoever story s/he chooses, even, say, (gag) Larry Flint, but there's no moral principle that says I have to *like* what they produce.

Colleen, of course your question falls outside of that extreme, I think. What language you use is entirely up to you, not your workshop.

And Rhoda, you don't need to apologize for having your own moral standards. I know you're not trying to force anyone else to adopt them and it's your right to choose what kind of art you patronize.

Mutual respect. By golly, it seems to be going around here.

Best to all. -- T. M. Spell --

Goodweed of the North bflowers@northernway.net Sat Feb 21 03:12:48 PST 1998

Hi everyone. This is a tricky subject. Because of religeous beliefs, I hold with Rhoda. The words God and Jesus are used far too casually in the entertainment world and throughout society. I distresses me greatly. I know of a tremendously coherant and large group of people who feel the same way. As far as those words which are used for "shock" value, or which refer to sexual acts, etc., they are used more and more in the entertainment industry as well. That is because many writers and screen writers see themselves as artists. Art reflects the society from which it is spawned.

I know all the words and at one time used them myself, profusely. I do believe in God and Jesus Christ and had to make a decision for myself. That choice was to not use "foul" or offensive language, and to set an example both for my family, and for those around me. It has brought me respect from my co-workers, who after several years of trying to get me to slip, or compromise my standards, now avoid that same language when I'm around.

I know that rough language is a reality and is the norm in most places, (I was a U.S. sailor for ten years and language doesn't get much worse than on an aircraft carrier with 5,000 other men). Because I won't use profanity in my writing, I must be more creative to bring some types of emotions out in my characters. I know they are much more difficult to make believable because of this. However, I feel I personally have no choice. I chose a particular set of moral standards for myself and must live them in everything I do. To do anything else would be hypocritical.

I do want to emphasize that these choices can not be forced upon others by myself. I also believe that each person must make their own decisons and be able to exercise their free agency. Nor can I judge another for those choices they make. Except where anothers actions may cause harm, either morally or physically to myself or a member of my family, or anyone else I see, I have no right to tell another how to behave.

Toby B. sent me an e-mail one time because I suggested his posting had too much profanity in it. I agree with the e-mail he sent. He must follow his own standards. In his story, the rough language was realistic and not used for shock value, and was not gratuitist. I could not write his type of story due to my own convictions. That doesn't mean he is wrong, just that we are different.

I only caution every writer to write to their own standards and be true to your beliefs. Success achieved by betraying your own morality does not bring any happiness, but will cause great personal trial. If you are comfortable with the use of powerful and profane or vulgar explitives, use them. I have chosen another path for myself. I must try to be an example to others. But that is my choice alone.

Seeeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

Michele michelefry@geocities.com Sat Feb 21 02:08:16 PST 1998

On the topic of Profanity and swearing I'm with Rhoda. I don't like profanity - it upsets me me but most of the folk I know will misuse Jesus's name easily. I realise that this is a very personal thing. On the topic of swearing I think that sparing use of swearing is as Rhoda said, more effective. I myself will say things like Sh*t when totally provoked beyond endurance and most people are shocked when I say it because it's a rare occurence. On the other hand my brother swears all the time and I get really mad at him - to me overuse of swear words demonstrates either a poor vocabulary (which my brother hasn't got - he's well read and intelligent) or inate laziness (which is my brother's problem - he's just too lazy to think of another word instead)
However these are personal opinions only and I understand Gary saying that his character wouldn't be his character without the "profanity" he describes (and I haven't actually read his piece on the Workbook as yet). If anyone is worried about whether editors will reject MS with profanity/swearing in them just look at Trainspotting or the one that won the Booker (I think last year) by the Glaswegian, which according to the press reports (I haven't read said book - as you can probably tell since I can't even remember what it's called !) was liberal in its use of F***.


psouza@capecod.net Fri Feb 20 21:56:06 PST 1998


If you can't even tell us what the word is, how can you think it might be appropraite for children?

I don't subscribe to the dictionary definition of profanity that Rhoda mentions. The word has taken on too much new meaning in the time since that definition was made. It is too cumbersome to sort out whether or not objectionable words debase religious matters. If we prioritize all the questionable words, they don't shake out according to the religious qualifier. The "F" word is generally considered more objectionable than "Jesus" used in the profane sense.
Whether it makes sense or is technically incorrect no longer matters. That's just the way it is.

I have to use the "F" word in my work because I have characters and situations that defy believability, if I don't. You can read my current posting in the workbook as an example of what I say, here, and you will find that it is possible to create the situation without the language, but who would believe it? Does anyone think that Leo Fenn could get through this scene without using this word? If he could, he simply wouldn't be my Leo Fenn.

So long, for now.

Gary S.

Rhoda rfort@infoway.lib.nm.us Fri Feb 20 19:47:36 PST 1998

Colleen and other kind folks looking over the Notebook.

I must admit I made a mistake in my last post by not making the distinction between profanity and other four letter words. After I put on my last post, I got to thinking of the word "profane" and looked it up in the dictionary. Profane is defined: 1)not concerned with religion or religious practices. 2) serving to debase or defile what is holy--irreverent. Profanity is using profane language. Oftentimes we think of the word "profanity" lumping together irreverence with crude terms concerning excrement, crude sexual references, female dogs, and products of unwed mothers. Such references though unpleasant are not profanity.

Colleen's four letter word might not have been profane at all.

To me, profanity is a bigger problem than the use of other types of four letter words. Profanity is a religious issue. I look upon taking the Lord's name in vain as a much more serious thing than using references to the matters listed above. I personally take seriously the commandment of not taking the Lord's name in vain. I find it very offensive when I'm at a movie or I'm reading a book where Jesus is not mentioned in good way. While I can sometimes justify a crude, four-letter word, I can never in my own writing justify a truly "profane" word.

I didn't mean to make so much of Colleen's innocent little question, but I didn't want to be misunderstood in my previous posting.


Rhoda rfort@infoway.lib.nm.us http://www.epubs.com Fri Feb 20 18:38:15 PST 1998


I have no actual experience with this problem, but I have heard that many publishers of young adult literature are very strict about the use of profanity. Amazingly enough, there are adult publishers that sneer at the sight of commonly used four letter words.

I have been often tempted to use a four letter word or two in my work. First I try to determine if the word actually fits the character and situation. If if passes that first test, I then try to determine if there is a nicer word that sounds as believable. I usually talk myself out of using the bad word and opt for a less saltier one. I personally don't like profanity, though I must admit there are situations where it might fit.

There is too much profanity. I hope I don't sound too puritanical to say that. Strong, profane words are like garlic or horseradish and can be effective when used sparingly. Unfortunately profanity is used so much that it has lost its power to shock or add emphasis, and instead of making a character sound strong or salty, it only makes them sound crude.

I would say, Colleen, that if you must have the word, and it only appears once, leave it in. I really can't believe an editor or agent would turn a manuscript down only on the basis of one word. If your story does get published, the editor will have his or her own way with it, and many words and phrases will get changed.

Hope this helps,


Colleen cstapley@dmci.net Fri Feb 20 15:08:58 PST 1998

I have returned from the land of the sighted. Now my spectacled peepers can review some of the postings. By the way I look great in my specs! Uh-oh...violence...I don't use much in my children's stories so I can't help you there. I am ultra sensitive to it I guess. We stopped getting the newspaper and that is one thing I haven't missed. I know it is ugly out there, I just don't want to hear it daily. I do have a question,on a somewhat similar topic. I chose to use the word,-----, (four letters) in a piece I am developing in the young adult genre, and a critique group at a workshop suggested I shouldn't. It was in conversation and appropriate to the context of the dialoug. What do you think? I still feel I should use it but now I would like some other opinions. Certainly the teenagers have heard a few choice words by the time they get to my book. Let me know what you think.

T. M. Spell TMSpell@aol.com Thu Feb 19 16:33:16 PST 1998


Thanks for the info on King's rat scene. The commentary on it that I had read was probably by someone who'd read the unexpurgated version in Playboy and learned of the story behind its resurrection.

Pat, you're the second person I've encountered on the web in the past week to comment that King seems to be slipping. And here I was worried that I was the only one who had noticed. He's taken to stereotyping his characters, and to delivering social commentary on various issues in some books for pages and pages, during which the characters and the plot and the *story* just...stop.

Interesting what you said about your friend trying to get you to read *Thinner.* When I was a teenager (right around the time King's first book had hit the stores), that was how a cousin of mine was about *Carrie* -- "you've *got* to read this!" I didn't get hooked then, but a lot of people did, and King became America's Boogie Man one fan at a time. Having observed how the Bachman books took off in the same way, it's interesting to think that if all memory of Stephen King's past successes were to disappear from our minds collectively tonight, he could rebuild his fabulous career one book at a time all over again.

T. M. Spell TMSpell@aol.com Thu Feb 19 16:14:31 PST 1998

psouza@capecod.net Thu Feb 19 15:58:23 PST 1998

It would be interesting to know how my prior posting got integrated with someone elses at the end. I assure you I know nothing of Bilbo Baggins nor anything about his manner of executing his bodily functions, or even that he is a he, for that matter.

psouza@capecod.net Thu Feb 19 13:50:12 PST 1998

Joan and Goodweed,

My thanks to you for your instructions on posting to the workbook. Between both sets of directions I managed to make it work. Any time I manage anything remotely technical, it is a triumph.

T.M., Hayden, and everyone who contributed information about King And Bachman,

I thank you for satisfying a long held curiosity about King. Some books now make the claim that they are written by King as Bachman. I guess this recent edition declaring that Bachman died some years ago is just a silly-assed attempt at keeping the confusion alive under life support. God help us; what an industry we are up against.

It's curious to me that being a book mill is something to avoid. I wish to hell I was a book mill. I know it produces some foolish devices, ie current topic, and some lame rumors such as: King employs several ghost writers who produce books for his outlines, but I guess it comes with the territory. Has a prolific writer ever been known to actually have done that?

I spend months writing nothing because I can't decide what choice is worth my next effort. I hate it when I work on a thing for weeks and find I just don't know how to go any further with it.

On the subject of dealing with violence, which is pretty much unavoidable for murder mysteries. I will post a chapter from the same novel from which my current posting is taken and you can tell *me* how I handled it, if you are so inclined.

My best to you all,

GAry S.

Victoria victoriastrauss@juno.com http://www.sff.net/people/victoriastrauss Thu Feb 19 07:27:57 PST 1998

Hey, everyone--

This isn't on the topic, but it is germane to writers...I am in the process of building a page for the SFWA website that will offer cautions and information on the many scams focused on writers. If any of you have been the victim of a scam, or have heard of one (other than the biggies like Edit Ink, Woodside, and Commonwealth), or have come across useful information or advice for writers on any of these issues, please e-mail me and let me know.

Thanks much.


Philip mclaren@magna.com.au Thu Feb 19 02:43:38 PST 1998

HELLO EVERYONE: on our topic.

They think twenty-eight of my extended family were murdered, butchered by hand in one of the most infamous crimes in Australia's history.

Eight civilian men were hanged for the offence - the first and only time anyone was brought to justice for mass murder of indigenous people in Australia, this despite numerous historical accounts of similar slaughters. The entire scene and testimony was well documented by the clerks of our Supreme Court. Short swords, daggers and a machete were used.

They only estimated the victims totalled twenty-eight because all were totally dismembered and some torsos appeared to be missing. Babies heads were used for sport. I wrote about this slaughter in my first book (but not the sport with the babies) and I know my finished work shocked our nation.

This is violence.

Now I've ruined everybody's day.


Jack Beslanwitch jack@forwriters.com Wed Feb 18 23:50:19 PST 1998


     I have to agree with your friend in that the justaposition of the mundane with the violent is all the more powerful. It would be assumed that given the time to really get to know this person it would be even more so. Black and white. Good and Evil. Peaceful and violent. Putting one against the backdrop of the other brings the latter into sharp clarity. Also, it sets the mood of the piece as well. Locks it in.

     William Gibson in his opening line of Neuromancer, 'The sky was the color of television tuned to a dead channel' thrusts you willy nilly into a distopian expanse with that one line drawing the sky in terms of something like the static on a television screen. You know you are somewhere edgy, strange and violent.

BTW, whatever I have does not have me down in bed and hoping I will go to sleep and only wake up when it is over.

Oh, and Philip: Lucky you!!! Enjoy the sun and the surf for the rest of us that are enduring drizzle down overcast and cool. Well, enough of my own disjointed maunderings. Take care everyone. (Cough - Cough - Sniffly :-)

Pat Christensen pat@acronet.net http://acronet.net/~michael Wed Feb 18 21:52:10 PST 1998

I probably shouldn't weigh in on this Stephen King discussion, since I think he's slipped quite a bit in recent years, but...

As I understand it, King achieved a certain amount of success and, as many successful people do, began wondering if his publishers were buying him for the quality of his books, or the marketability of his name. So he began selling under a pseudonym, Richard Bachman.

I hadn't heard about the rejections, but I'm sure there were a few, if only those that said, "Sorry, too much like Stephen King. Come back when you find your own voice."

But eventually he did begin selling the Bachman books. "Thinner" was the first big hit he had, although "The Running Man" did o.k.

I remember when "Thinner" first came out, because a friend of mine was reading it and kept insisting that I should, too. But after hearing her description, I decided it must be just another cheap King rip-off attempt and so I didn't bother. Less than a year later, someone twigged to the fact that "Bachman" and "King" wrote incredibly similar prose. Rumors and speculation began flying, both in private and in the media, and finally King broke down and admitted publically that he was, in fact, Bachman.

At that point he "killed" Bachman, since he'd proven his point and Bachman had "outlived" his usefullness.

That was, by the way, also the genesis for The Dark Half.

By the way, I just had a compliment on part of a novel I have been working on, a mystery. In it, my main female character is raped, and my friend reading it gave it back to me and said it gave her an upset stomach. I asked when and she said, "the part where she gets raped."

"You mean the scene in the hospital?"

"No, before that, when she actually gets raped."

Understand my glee. That scene reads as follows (Kelly, the main character has gone out to the store for some food):


I window shopped on my way to the deli. The winter coats were out and I had my eye on a camel-colored, calf-length wool that was, and would always be, out of my price range. Still, dreams are free and why not?

In Shorty's, I didn't dawdle. I bought half a dozen onion bagels and a pint of cream cheese with chives. Lox? Ugh, you can have it. But nuke those puppies for half a minute and slather on the cheese...heaven on a plate. I did pick up a nice little zinfandel, though, a rare treat. Then I headed back to my apartment.

On the way home, I was raped.


That's it. End of sentence. End of chapter. The next chapter opens in the hospital afterward. I was worried it was too casual, too quick. But my friend swears it was the juxtaposition of the rape against the casual, even warm part just before it that gave her a stomach-ache. There was, as she said, no warning.

Mind you, it was probably more upsetting for my friend, since this happens at the end of the third chapter and she's had all that time to get to know the main character and care about her, but I was still pleased.

I think I might just leave it like this.

Maybe, if I get brave enough, I'll post the first three or four chapters in the Notebook and see if anyone here thinks it needs more, though.

Toby B bcbuctsa@bluffton.edu Wed Feb 18 19:01:57 PST 1998

Hi all-

I appreciate everyone's sympathy for my plight, but I will probably tough it out here for at least one more year. If that is the only problem I have in life then I am a lucky man indeed!

On gratioutis (sp) violence- I'm all for it.

Just kidding. If it fits use it, if it doesn't, don't. I'm not really sure what my beliefs are on writing about all that, I go on instinct, as each story seems to have a different setup, and should therefore be handled accordingly.

I just posted the first half (maybe third) of a story, I would appreciate any remarks made!

Philip mclaren@magna.com.au Wed Feb 18 16:46:35 PST 1998


It is a stunning morning here in Sydney: blue sky with a few small clouds about, sunny and warm (75F) with a moderate, relentless surf rolling up the beach. Today at low tide, I walked the length of our local beach here at Newport, and back, and it was so stimulating and breathtaking that I vowed to do it every morning - summer or winter. I did this for years in the past and now I will again.

I planned to write something about this week's topic today but can't. I just don't want to get into that head space - life feels too good. Maybe another day. I will just say that when I do chose to write violence I do it in graphic detail. Violence is a shocking thing.


Jeff England jae1968@earthlink.net http://home.earthlink.net/~jae1968/index.html Wed Feb 18 16:12:32 PST 1998

T.M. Spell,

The article on Stephen King's rat scene that was "censored" from Salom's Lot was originally in Playboy, and then later reprinted in Bare Bones, Conversations on Terror with Stephen King. The editor from Doubleday thought it was too graphic, so King had the poor guy die by being impaled on knives. Bare Bones is an interesting book, by the way, and pretty relevant to the topic.


T. M. Spell TMSpell@aol.com http://members.aol.com/TMSpell/index.html Wed Feb 18 13:24:34 PST 1998

Gary S.,

I wish I could recall where I read the article with the info on Stephen King's butchered rat scene in Salem's Lot, but for the life of me can't. *Someone* with an inside scoop (a Writer's Digest article or how-to book, maybe?). Sorry to be so uninformative all of a sudden.

My best guess on the Bachman situation is that King is doing what many prolific authors do when they produce multiple books in a year -- publish two at the same time under different names, thereby doubling their royalties without looking like book mills. In King's case, I can't figure out why his publishers don't just put them both out under the King byline. Everybody already *knows* the man is a book mill -- but a top-quality one -- so who *cares* if he has two or three books out simultaneously? This is just one of those mysteriously asinine publishing "rules" that can't be broken until someone powerful enough steps on the industry's neck and demands a change.

TTFN -- T. M. Spell --

Ben Woestenburg ice pick@rogers.wave.com Wed Feb 18 12:42:52 PST 1998

Hello all. Sorry to hear about your illness Jack. I'm catching a bit of a cold too myself, but at least it's nothing more serious than being stuffed up. It goes away as soon as I go outside. Personally, I'm into the 'hot toddies' remedy myself.(Like that comes as a big surprise for everyone I'm sure.)

Viloence. I've just finished reading something that was viloent. A Micheal SLade novel. It was just something I found laying around so I thought I'd give it a shot. It was violent, but not any more viloent than anything else. I don't know what it is with me and violence. Nothing really seems to shock me. I can watch it on T.V., or at movies, and it doesn't bother me. I watched WEST SIDE STORY with my daughter, and she didn't want to watch the knife fight. I tried to tell her it was a dance, but she said, Nope. I think a lot of how I look at Violence has to do with the visual images I saw as a child myself. Watching the Vietnam War every night at dinner with good ol' Walter Cronkite may have had something to do with it. Seeing people being shot and killed over roast beef and gravy seemed like the norm to us I think.

As a result, when I write anything violent, I do it quickly, without really feeling the pain. Pain is such a strange thing to describe anyway. One person's idea of what hurts and another's are way out there. I cut a fingertip off and mangled another one up when I was about 23. I went to the doctor to get demoral as a pain killer because the guy I was living with was a pill popping, junked up, acid freak, and a real good friend -- long story -- but I didn't need them. We just took them to get, well, you know...out there. But is that pain any different than the pain a child feels when he/she falls and scrapes a knee? I think the latter is probably the more painful to me, because I always felt the pain my children went through. So if I blind my hero, I don't want to gross anyone out by describing what he went through -- fluids and all that stuff -- but take it from another character's p.o.v., like the guy that actually orders it done, asking why the eyes aren't being burned out of their sockets; that's what he was expecting, and that's what he wants.

As for violent sex, better for me, personally, to leave it off screen at some points of the story -- like when dealing with the heroine as she recalls what happened the night before -- and bring it to the forefront at other points of the story so you get a real hate-on for the antagonist. Who the hell wants to like someone like that in the first place? Better to show him as an asshole from all sorts of different perspectives, and usually violence is the only way to bring those characteristics across. But that's the difference between the good guy and the bad guy anyway, isn't it? One of them is a nice guy, the kind you wouldn't mind sitting down and having a beer with, and the other is the kind of guy you'd want to cross the street just to try and avoid running into. I think we've all known people like that at one time or another in our lives. I know I have. Street fighters, drug dealers, strippers, ex-cons, drunks and junkies, musicians, artists, carpenters, masons, nurses, teachers, millworkers. Some were nice, some weren't. Some lived for violence, and some lived by violence; but I think in every one of the people I met, there was at least one small redeeming quality that had drawn them to me, or me to them, and I try to put that in the people I bring to life on the page.

Violence is fast. Most of the people I hung out with in my twenties would be finished their fights before I made it back from the bar and ordering our drinks. I would just see someone being thrown out by the bouncers and ask what all that was about. I never got into fights myself, because I don't have that sort of nature. I'm a passive man so to speak. It's never been a big part of my life, so I don't make a big deal out of it in my writing. I'm not afraid of it as a visual enhancement, but not for the gratuitous merits of the writer. If it doesn't move the story, or bring out something of a character's personality, why am I using it?

Well, it's time for me to go now. The wife just got home and has phoned, looking for trouble. If I was smart, I'd take her out for lunch and wine and dine her, but I don't think that's what she's looking for. She loves it when I'm on the afternoon shift and the kids are in school. So do I.

Michele michelefry@geocities.com Wed Feb 18 00:48:51 PST 1998


you poor thing - my heart goes out to you - I'm not much of a fiction reader myself (so it seems very kind of me to be here at all when you lot are all fiction writers :-) LOL !!) but I understand that to be without the books you want (whatever genre they are) is purgatory !! Don't stay there ! Do what someone else suggested and find a different place (school/college) to study - don't torture yourself in such a way - that's more violence to the mind that body but it's unacceptable !!


You poor thing - lots of honey and lemon (or hot toddies if you prefer them !!) are my recommendation.


Jack Beslanwitch jack@forwriters.com Tue Feb 17 23:08:34 PST 1998

Hello all. Philip, loved the piece about basic life functions in the Notebook. I had forgotten that, but remembered it as soon as I read it from my first read of your book. Well, I am kind of bumbed. Down with the plague with temperatures in the to middle 101 point whatever. Not sure what that is in Centigrade, but hot nonetheless. Had to cancel my monthly Seattle HTML SIG and am sitting here feeling a little sorry for myself.

Then again, maybe I should use the coughing, sore throat and all the rest as a testimony to the violence our own bodies do onto us. This is getting a little too morose. Take care everyone, stay healthy and good writing.

Clyde Dixon noxid@pacifier.com Tue Feb 17 22:12:10 PST 1998

Leave it to Philip to do for literature what "All in the Family" did for TV, to boldly "go." I especially like the emptying of the mind that flows onto the previously used landscape.

We are having a house warming this weekend--just the excuse I needed to get the office organized, it's still a mess from the move. Perhaps, I may actually get some writing done--now that I can almost see the desk.


Hayden Grayell JLJPetersen@bigpond.com Tue Feb 17 21:15:16 PST 1998

Gary S.

The local "goss" on the Bachman/King affair is that Stephen King wanted to be certain that his reputation as a brilliant writer was firmly grounded on his talent/ability, rather than on being the right person at the right time...or a matter of chance, you might say. So, in order to test it, he wrote under the name of Bachman for a while and submitted the work to the publisher. If the gossip is to be believed, he was rejected. I do not know the validity of the gossip, and I hope he will forgive me posting it here if it is just a urban myth, but if it is the truth, it proves he is as human as the rest of us. We all want to know our reputations are worthy of us. We all have some humility hidden inside us, no matter what level we achieve.

Or, then again, maybe he was trying to truly gauge how close he was to Godhead.

Whatever the reason for the use of the name, he is still a brilliant writer. Why the Bachman novels are now being produced when they were rejected in the first place is another question.

So, if it is the truth, then Bachman did in fact die a while ago.

Do other successful writers do the same?

psouza@capecod.net Tue Feb 17 20:42:46 PST 1998

One other thing. I remind myself of Inspector Columbo with that line. Who can tell me how to paste a piece onto the workbook without retyping the whole thing, directly? Can this be done? Does it depend on the browser? I use Netscape with Windows 95. That should narrow it down to a few million distinctions. Keep in mind that I have the computer literacy of a laboratory animal.


Gary S.

psouza@capecod.net Tue Feb 17 20:29:34 PST 1998


Smart bit of observation you make on King's masterful execution of the method for suspended disbelief. I've read a lot of King but "Salem's Lot" is one of the few I didn't
read; might be the only one. I do consider him a super writer. Where do you come by this inside information? It sounds like the kind of nocturnal ejaculation one might expect of an editor. It might have had something to do with being one of King's earliest works. He was probably still in the "getting intimidated" stage.

King is a great study in the use of detail. He can do page upon page and move a story along for a only a minute or so. I have been reading this Richard Bachman thing: "The Regulators." Is Bachman a name he uses when he's not at his best or is just stirring the pot? The cover states that Richard Bachman died some time ago. I always thought Bachman was a fictional writer. Is it that King and Bachman have a history of relationship and King writes in his name, today, as an homage? Unconfuse me, people. I know he wrote the "Talisman" under both names, or there were actually the two of them, then. I leave you now, stumbling and bungling my way, blindly, as I go.

Gary S.

T. M. Spell TMSpell@aol.com http://members.aol.com/TMSpell/index.html Tue Feb 17 17:21:01 PST 1998

Subtelty is nice. Suggest the horrific rather than go into overkill describing it. It's a valid approach, but not my spin on things. I prefer the Stephen King method of going into every shuddering detail of what a horrible experience is like for an ordinary, easy-to-identify-with person. But this also requires an ability to make the non-horrible details as realistic as possible as well. Quite a stretch, and I'm not likely ever to get as adept at this as Stephen King...but it's something to shoot for.

By the way, King pulled back from a visceral horror scene in Salem's Lot, cutting a scene where one of the characters is eaten alive by rats. However, when he cut the scene to satisfy his editors, he didn't cut the plot threads leading up to the moment, and the ragged edges showed. I wasn't particularly anxious to read a scene where someone gets eaten alive by rats, but having been led by the hand up to the moment, it was disorienting to have the character in question fall into the basement and get impaled on a bed of nails, while the sub-plot revolving around the rats just disappeared into a sinkhole in King's mind. I consider this a lesson on how *not* to edit an extremely violent scene. Splatter, trickle, or put a Band-Aid on the moment -- but don't play stupid, lazy tricks on your reader.

Tue Feb 17 11:30:30 PST 1998


I can't imagine a more ironic and dysfunctional set of circumstances than what you have gotten into. If you feel you are hopelessly committed to the Heartland for now, then I suggest you plan to come East for Graudate School. Coming to Boston would be finding the Promised Land for you. Just imagine, Cambridge, Harvard and the Weidner Library. You can take a look at the actual Guttenburg Bible. Even the municipal library in Cambridge has seemingly endless stacks and all the current manna.

What a place for the scholarly. I remember a day, not so long ago, when Robert Frost waved from a window off Harvard Square to hundreds of students who had jammed the streets to honor his visit. It put a lump in my throat. I stop now, for I have miles to go before I sleep.

Regards to all,

Gary S.

Toby B bcbuctsa@bluffton.edu Tue Feb 17 08:58:55 PST 1998

It's even more frustrating, consider, I used to read a book a day until I reached college. My parents wonder why I go book crazy whenever I come home, I go to the library and check out ten books or so and read, then go back for more, depending on how many days I'm home.

Toby B bcbuctsa@bluffton.edu Tue Feb 17 08:56:17 PST 1998

-It sucks to pick out a piece of fiction here at the college, and see that I'm the first person in almost fifteen or twenty years to take it out! I have a thirty book collection on a bookshelf here, and it is the bigest on campus as far a fiction, let alone sci fi. It's ironic, as everything I feel I need to learn and enjoy doing centers around such books, which are not here. Maybe its why I get stir crazy here when I'm locked in for the winter. I would love to go to another college with a better literary tradition, but oh well, I take what I get.

psouza@capecod.net Tue Feb 17 01:11:53 PST 1998


You seem to have credited me with someone else's comments.
But you are right, it's not like me to slip quietly away, although that is just what exsidious is.

Hayden, mate. Forgive me for not having spoken to you directly. I simply haven't had the occasion these last few days. Whatever I say, here, is always to you and to everyone. By the way, that was a very good posting on the use of violence, Hayden.

Rhoda, good luck with your pirates, or I suppose I should say, your heroine.

Carry on, all,

Gary S.

Philip mclaren@magna.com.au Tue Feb 17 01:02:47 PST 1998


I pasted a piece of my work in the Workbook especially for you.


Hayden Grayell Mon Feb 16 18:53:59 PST 1998

You have touched on the subject of my own work at the moment. I have a character that is going to be banished from a colony for a crime they did not commit. I didn't want it to be a murder, 'cause that crime is becoming almost acceptable... You know, someone is always being killed in books, so it doesn't have the punch I wanted.

But rape. My god, there is a crime that will never sit easily with me, or with a lot of people, and therefore my emotional state as I write will reflect it. After all, my wife was a victim of an escaped convict's anger, and even writing this passage here has my blood pressure really pushing the upper levels. Descriptive imagery of the act will not work as a plot device, but suggestion will. Dark grunting shapes, tearing sounds, brutal shadows lunging and hissing. The mere word holds the power, just flood the senses with sound and smell and taste without mentioning anatomical details. If you name an anatomical detail, it is assumed by some nebulous mindplay that it can be clearly seen or felt; but 'suggest' it and you have stronger atmosphere, more powerful tools for dragging the reader kicking and screaming into the act. Don't believe me?


Now, did you see the leg in your mind? I bet you did, even if it was only a stick figure version or a vague shape.

Enough from me.

Clyde Dixon noxid@pacifier.com Mon Feb 16 18:43:18 PST 1998

Pat's comments remind me of the difference between a good scary movie and the likes of the modern slasher movies--IMAGINATION. It is so much more effective to suggest than it is to show or tell all. The reader/viewer will fill in the details with images from within their own head, internal images that will have a power that mere words on paper lack. The purpose of the words, after all, is to conjure up images in the readers mind--the fewer words that entails the more effective and unobtrusive the writing.

I think that this approach works well for sex/violence, and damn near anything other than instructions on the operation of nuclear devices.

Philip's comments on "vital parts that are present in real life" reminds me of my favorite missing moments in almost all writing--when do these people go to the can? Can't you just see Bilbo Baggins relieving himself on a tree, only to discover that the "tree" is a rather ill humored ent.

Well, good writing and remember to use the can now and then,

Hayden Grayell JLJPetersen@bigpond.com Mon Feb 16 18:36:00 PST 1998

Hi gang.

We are almost dealing with the same methods here, aren't we? I mean, the portrayal of violent action is usually the end result of violent tension being built up to a state where it must be consumated with action. Mystery does the same, builds up the tension and expectation and then consumates it with some expression of force/truth/whatever. SO the question of how we do it can be carefully answered with "only after the tension has been built". Some foreplay please!

But that still doesn't answer the question of when it is gratuitous, both sex and violence. (Can you have gratuitious climaxes in mystery? I suppose you can.) If you build up the tension/expectation to an appropriate level, and then drop into the climactic action, there must be some "length" to the action which is justified by the level of tension that has led you there. Full noun grunting heart thumping sex may be required if the tension has been maintained all the way through the book/story. The reader should be "paid" for what they have been through. But putting the same scene in half-way through is inappropriate. It become gratuitous.

The same with violence. Since most of my writing is in the fantasy genre, I am dealing with quite constant "threat" against the protagonist, and I use cool or cold description of violent action to keep the reader ticking along to the next passage, though using the current action to create the tension which will result in the main "battle". Again, the reader is kept just off-footed, but then repaid for their "tolerance" with the final fifty sprays of blood and a like number of blows of the hacking swords as the dragon loses its head.

As an aside, the reader has to know how the character feels after each action. Not by saying "Arden felt elated...etc" but by showing the changes coming over them. The need for another belt of whiskey, or the smoothing down of a cape etc. The reader's empathy with the protagonist/s counts for some justification of the strength of the climax.

Well, enough from me.
Gary S- you don't speak to me anymore. Was it something I said?


Rhoda rfort @infoway.lib.nm.us http://www.epubs.com Mon Feb 16 18:24:35 PST 1998


Poor man. No books. I can't think of anything more horrible. Don't you have a Barnes and Noble, a Borders, a Waldon Bookstore, anything? You can always pop over to Amazon and order one of Philip's books. I keep telling myself I am going to do that, and I will, Philip, just as soon as I get over my jitters about ordering over the Internet. I got rid of my television almost a year ago. I did it mainly for my seven year old son who was addicted to the Cartoon channel. When we neglected to renew our cable after we moved, we found a remarkable improvement in my son's general attitude. I told my husband long ago that when we lose control of the TV controller, TV goes. I miss television sometimes, but not near as much as I thought I would.


I can't imagine you going quietly away. You are far too exsidious for that sort of thing (Forgive me, I couldn't resist.) You made an excellent point about not writing too much emotion and giving a chance to let the reader's imagination kick in. I am still deciding if I completely agree with that. I did have an author friend one time who advised me to wring out emotion from my writing. Resist the temptation to make your characters cry over their circumstances. Make the reader cry for them. I've tried to heed that advice as much as I could.

As to this week's topic, I am struggling with this very thing. Today I wrote a near-rape scene in my current project. My heroine gets taken by Saxon pirates, and I now have the challenge to present the terror and ugliness of this situation. I've had to describe body parts and acts I don't like reading about let alone writing about. I hate violence, but in this circumstance I can't avoid it. To a good Christian girl in the Dark Ages, getting abducted by the heathen Germanic host was a fate worse than death. I have always been amazed how many books have been written that have romanticized such a situation. The best of my pirates are brutal and violent. Sometimes they can be kind and generous, but they live and function in a lawless, violent society, and their behavior has to reflect that fact. How does a nice Baptist girl present this situation in a way she is comfortable with? I don't think I can be comfortable. The day I can understand a murderer or rapist is the day I begin to seriously worry about myself. I really relate, Philip, to what you said before about your mother and fellow church goers reading your books. I can't candy coat this situation. To make it less than horrible would rob my book of any credibility.

While writing this, I certainly do not want to concentrate too heavily on the evil. I want this book to be inspirational. I am going to pay special attention to everyone's thoughts on the topic. I think I could learn something here.

Well, I must run and help my son with his homework. See you all soon,


Pat Christensen pat@acronet.net http://www.acronet.net/~michael Mon Feb 16 15:50:35 PST 1998


That post, that one that started "Toby -- a college without a decent fiction collection. Yike!" was mine.

I meant to put my name, etc. on it. Always best to own up to one's own arrogant opinions (might as well own up to them if you're going to spread them around out there without benefit of a pooper-scooper), but I goofed and filled out the body of the letter first, got done and just forgot.

Thirty lashes with a wet gigabyte, I guess.


Mon Feb 16 14:19:08 PST 1998

Toby - A college without a decent fiction collection. Yike! Now there's a nightmare I'd want to wake up from as soon as possible. But what a story idea. A school without books. Not a school with a lot of high-tech equipment substituting for books, but a school where books are the enemy, to be avoided for being dangerous and evil. What sort of teaching would go on there? O.k., back off, all of you! It's my idea! I saw it first!!!

As for the sex/violece/how-to discussion, I personally think that, the hotter the fire, the colder the description. That should go for sex/violence/horror, all the strongly felt emotions in fiction. I used to tell horror stories to children, and I learned that, the more matter-of-fact and even low-key I could make my presentation, the more horrified would be their response.

The trick, I think, is to let the reader experience the emotion for themself. Don't do it for them. Lead them in the general direction, then let them go the last bit of distance themselves.

You can give me all the graphic descriptions of sex and violence you want, but that won't chill me half as much as my own imagination could if you just gave me the proper hints and turned me loose with them. Step back from the moment and describe it.

One of the most moving short stories I ever read was in college. Another student had written a story of a mother grieving for her dead daughter. The mother had taken all the daughters clothes, cut them up and was sewing them into a quilt.

It was a dispassionate story, with small flashbacks to the daughter's life as each new block was added to the quilt. You never got a full description of the mothers grief, except at the end when a few teardrops that fell on a piece of faded pink silk were noted to have left a stain that wouldn't come out in the wash.

But, when we were done reading this piece, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. And that included some pretty emotionally cold people, most of whom admitted later that they hadn't cried in public since kindergarten.

There is no need, in love or hate, to "give" the reader all the emotional details. Sometimes, even most times, it's best if the reader is left to supply these for him/herself. That's what makes books the most truly interactive of all the media.

And now I'll climb down off my soapbox and go away quietly.

Thank you for not stoning me before I made my escape.

Philip mclaren@magna.com.au Mon Feb 16 13:42:15 PST 1998

GARY: No, you didn't get me wrong but you didn't get me right either - I don't think you are obliged as writers to write about sex and I certainly didn't say that all aspect of life must be written about by all writers.

Mostly, if you write about the many facets of life and don't include love and/or lust and/or sex, for my money, you will not have done your job. You don't have to agree, please carry on, but my advice is to include these vital parts that are present in real life. I'm not suggesting in what detail a writer ought to plunge in doing this but if it's not there you will be copping out - including in mystery writing (pardon the pun).

In life Detective Inspectors are real people and appear at work with smiles on their faces and a spring in their step every so often. In the books you speak of the real mystery may be why (pardon this pun also).

The books of great American mystery writers Walter Mosley and James Elroy both ooze sex. I've discussed this with both of them - we are agreed (sorry about the name dropping).

There are problems associated with sweeping statements but in general, I stand by what I've said especially as advice for writers looking to be published. But do as you wish.


Jack Beslanwitch jack@forwriters.com Mon Feb 16 13:26:58 PST 1998

    After getting back from the weekend I discovered a couple of things. Some great ideas and responses to the whole issue of romance, love and sex in story. I also found it was time to archive. I have retained the last two days including Philip's and Trudy's comments. And I would also like to encourage people to continue the discussion of romance and love if they desire.

    However, as a flipside to the romance discussion, I was wondering if we could discuss how best to express conflict, argument and violence into a story. Where is it gratuitous and where does it advance the story. Are there similarities for how we gingerly deal with touchy subjects like sex in story that have bearing on how we treat and deal with violence in a story.

Toby B bcbuctsa@bluffton.edu Mon Feb 16 11:44:30 PST 1998

I don't know if I feel obliged to throw in gratiotious (sp) sex, but if I feel that is the natural direction I will deal with it. What I want to point out is that not every Male Femal relationship is destined to end in SEX. In some places, yes, but in others, no, it doesn't fit. I like Heinlein's approach, he has sex. but the relationship between the two characters is where the interesting stuff happens (I think).

For my next experiment, I will be trying to do my best to stay way the heck away from the TV. There are no good librarys (with fiction) here were I am going to college (nowhere, Ohio), and I have re-read my own collection four times over now. There is a used-book store half an hour away, I just got paid, i think I'm going to go and buy about seventy dollars worth, should keep me for a couple weeks. I will be so glad when I leave college and cable TV, and get a job so I can afford BOOKS.

Good to see you back Phillip!

Write lots all...

Joan rhodda@montana.com Mon Feb 16 09:01:22 PST 1998

Dear all--

Your comments on love/sex in writing have been so thought-provoking and thorough, that I haven't wanted to felt a need to enter anything. But I do have one thought.

I think with sex in writing, less is more. Don't get me wrong; I do believe it has a place. But if you read a book where you keep getting hit over the head with it, the nouns, adjectives and verbs for the act soon all run together, and it's "ho hum, wonder when this one will end and we can get on with the action." Sometimes a slinky negligee(sp?) which hints at what's beneath it and sometimes allows a peak, is more interest-piquing than a simple nude body (figuratively speaking). I think all the comments on sexual tension are right on point. Will it happen? When? How? What will cause it to happen or not happen? the reader wonders. Then "Darn! they missed it again!" and the pages keep turning.

I don't know that every book has to have sex in it, but for me there needs to be romance or love in a book--even if it's only a suggestion in the background.

Just random thoughts! Happy belated V-day to all.


psouza@capecod.net Sun Feb 15 23:49:39 PST 1998

Just one thing I want to adress on the current topic. Philip makes the judgement that we are obliged as writers to write about sex. He says we are not doing our job, if we don't, or if we ignore the issue.

I disagree that any aspect of life must be written about by all writers. I include some sexual tension and some resolution as well in my work but I believe I could choose not to. Too many writers feel obliged to deal with sex and many do so poorly because they really don't like it and therefore, don't handle it with the same energy and imagination as in their chosen themes.

If what Philip mandates is so, there are many mystery writers who don't do their jobs. Maybe I am taking Philip wrongly on this and have held him to a narrower position than he actually takes. I apologise, if this is so.

I would like to suggest some discussion on fiction that exists between Short Story and Novels. Perhaps I should say, "seems not to exist." I have heard of the Long Story, The Novelette, (I can't live without my spell check; double letters: my curse.) and the Novella.

What are the categories that exist between 5,000 and 60,000 words. What are the markets like. Don't ask, right?
What can you all say about this big void in the print business?

So long for now,

Gary S.

Philip mclaren@magna.com.au http://www.Geocities.com/Athens/Forum/5135 Sun Feb 15 17:27:10 PST 1998


Well done! There has been good work posted on this week's topic.

I think it can be tricky writing about attraction, love and sexual activity, especially when you've developed characters of different time periods or from varying countries and social backgrounds. As writers, we often have to manoeuvre in these delicate, emotionally charged areas often outside of our own experiences.

I believe that in real life, mutually sexually attracted people will want to consummate their relationship.

In my second novel my main characters - who were both married to other people - did not consummate their relationship. The intense sexual tension throughout the book was very deliberate. I am in no doubt the story would have deteriorated had they done so.

Seduction, love, romance, lust, sex and fucking are near to being the most important and natural, physical and emotional features of life; the latter has been absolutely essential to the survival of our kind. If as writers we write about people and dodge around these parts of life, we will simply have shirked our duty. We should write about attraction, the coming together of lovers and lusters and we should do it without guilt or self censorship (we know your spouse, mother, father, siblings, friends and church-going neighbours will read it). As a beginning writer, the creation of some of my more tender, intimate love scenes caused my wife to laugh out loud - she doesn't laugh anymore. I hope this is because I am now a better writer. You will get feedback: at least two close friends on separate occasions said they feared for my wife's safety because they'd read several rape scenes I had imagined and detailed (I realise rape is not on topic).

We should write these story components with the same enthusiasm and creativity that we apply to every other part. I believe many of us mature as writers when we are able to deal with this very natural part of storytelling.

If we write about shopping, driving cars, raising children, church, religion, sports, food, music, dancing, drinking, drugging, killing, wars, history, time travel, space exploration, geography, politics, seduction - it follows we will write about love, lust and the sexual act. How much detail you present is up to you, as always. But why would we choose not to write about this? You will know if you are dancing tiptoe around these areas, and you'll know why.

While the location and atmosphere are important to such scenes, it will be the nouns we choose to describe our anatomy and the verbs associated with the physical action that present the real challenge. Your work will be open to the numerous and varying personalities of your readers. You will need all your skill as a writer to present us with convincing seductions and the sexual activity and conduct of your characters.

Mars and Venus: I celebrate the differences in men and women, in life and in my work. Set aside what literary preferences or sexual stimuli the sexes may generally indulge in, I believe some of the psychology implicit in the differences, stems from our physiological characteristics: men are stronger than women and have external genitals which sexually project, while women are weaker than men and have internal genitals which sexually receive - projectors and receptors. We are dynamically opposed, nothing alike. Why should we want to be alike? I have never understood the constant preoccupation, surprise and marvel at the sexes being unalike. Can't we simply accept and celebrate the differences? Throughout time, as mammals, our species were attracted to satisfy powerful urges which we wanted to either flow in to us, or out from us - as individuals we craved the experience and still do. How could these powerfully satisfying differences not have impacted on the way we think?

In order to escape the applied Darwinism in this, we have to overcome the powerful psychology which takes form as we mature, and place less emphasis on the physiological features we are born with. Some of us are able to make this leap intellectually, but not all: our jails and hospitals are still full. But most of us do understand that male bullies no longer have exclusive mating rights with submissive females. And aided by medical science, we are already overcoming Darwin's natural-selection, survival-of-the-fittest theories: weaker and sickly people are now able to produce offspring and live as long as the 'fittest'. We are in a state of flux.

Once again I say that in real life, sexually attracted people will want to consummate their relationship; the seduction, placing, wording and pacing of this stuff in a story is in your hands.


Trudy tkf@fundy.ca Sun Feb 15 15:25:58 PST 1998

Hi all, it's wonderful to see so many new names, as well as a few faithfuls. I've really only scanned the postings here and the topic of love, romance and sex intrigues me so I'm sure I'll enjoy reading everyone's ideas on that, especially your's Ben...nice to see you're still around with your interesting ideas; hope all is well.

Philip, congrats on the Lightening Mine...too exciting!

As for me, some of you are aware of my struggle with cancer from a molar pregnancy. I have recently finished a third round of chemotherapy and they are very optimistic this will be the end of it. God I hope so. As some of you know being touched by cancer is a terrible thing and when you can get it into remission it's quite exciting. I think I'm almost there! I am slowly dealing with all of this emotionally as I feel stronger physically and am actually planning to query some magazines to see if they would be interested in stories about this rare cancer...I almost feel guilty trying to capitalize on this, but hey it's happening to me so why not eh?

Take care all. I hope to be back participating in the conversation soon. Trudy.

Return to For Writers Only