28 September 2008


The word "Orwellian" is overused and practically a cliche. Here is a Wikipedia overview. Often, it refers to the sort of double-speak and propaganda he dramatizes in 1984, the book for which he is most famous. George Orwell was a journalist and essayist. In 1946, he wrote an iconic essay entitled "Politics and the English Language," (read it, go ahead, then come back; we're not going anywhere) in which he argued that debasement of the English language betokens a debility of political thought. Here's a quote:
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: 1. Could I put it more shortly? 2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you -- even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent -- and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.
(It is as true of the spoken language as it is of written discourse.)

This phrase was brought to mind recently by this interview (and this blog post) with the person who was selected by the Republican candidate for President of the United States of America as his running mate, the person who will be one 72-year old heartbeat away from being the leader of the so-called "free world":

It's a jumble. Word salad. Talking point mish-mash. Incoherent. Stupid. It's as if she's trying to say things that will please the listener—she's obviously trying really hard. She wants Couric (and her morning show constituency) to like her and she wants to sell a palatable political product. But because it is so obviously canned (and garbled), the listener can't determine what it is she's selling—whether it's a pig in a poke or well-reasoned policy formulation. "Don't worry about the verbiage. Trust us. It doesn't matter what we say, we're Republicans. We're the good guys. Those other people are bad. You can tell because they come off all high-and-mighty. Elitists, don'tcha know. They want to talk to the enemy. We're tough and we will take a stand. We just can't articulate it right now."

Did her job interview with Senator McCain go equally as well. Did he even talk to her before selecting her? If this woman applied for a job as your office manager, would you hire her? What about your CFO? COO? CEO? If she botches simple declarative sentences this badly, how much worse will she botch the job of Vice Presidency?

Words matter.

26 September 2008

Should We Be Afraid? Very Afraid?

Well, at least wary. Very wary.

Defense and Treasury are the two most important responsibilities of the Executive. This guy has made a mess of both departments. The question is: After his misadventure in Iraq, why should we trust him now? Is he going after the right culprits?

And why does it take a comedy show on basic cable TV to point out the obvious flim-flam that's going on. Where are the real news analysts? True pundits?

Sometimes you just want to bang your head on a wall.

25 September 2008

Make Lemonade!

Now here's a man with a plan! The more I read of this guy, the more interested I grow. James K. Galbraith's column ("A Bailout We Don't Need") in today's Washington Post makes just plain good sense. Some quotes:
Now that all five big investment banks -- Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley -- have disappeared or morphed into regular banks, a question arises.

The point of the bailout is to buy assets that are illiquid but not worthless. But regular banks hold assets like that all the time. They're called "loans."
If there are no more investment banks, who, then, are we bailing out?
He argues we should take that $700 billion and

(1) increase the $100k cap on FDIC deposits;

(2) put $500 billion in the FDIC and those agencies investigating fraud;

(3) put the remaining $200 billion into a reserve fund for recapitalizing banks, much as Warren Buffett did in taking preferred shares and warrants from Goldman Sachs;

(4) create "a new Home Owners Loan Corp., which would rewrite mortgages, manage rental conversions and decide when vacant, degraded properties should be demolished. Set it up like a draft board in each community, under federal guidelines, and get to work;"

(5) "Reenact Richard Nixon's great idea: federal revenue sharing. States and localities should get the funds to plug their revenue gaps and maintain real public spending, per capita, for the next three to five years" to aid ailing state and local governments which are feeling the pinch;

(6) "enact the National Infrastructure Bank, making bond revenue available in a revolving fund for capital improvements. There is work to do. There are people to do it. Bring them together;"

(7) supplement the dwindling Social Security fund and retirement funds invested in the stock market by imposing a transaction turnover tax on stocks;

(8) then, the clincher,
"If the 1960s were about raising baby boomers and the '90s about technology, what should the '10s and '20s be about? It's obvious: energy and climate change. That's where the present great unmet needs are.

So, let's use the next few years to plan, mapping out a program of energy conservation, reconstruction and renewable power. Let's get the public sector and the universities working on it. And let's prepare the private sector so that when the credit crunch finally ends, we'll have the firms, the labs, the standards and the talent in place, ready to go."

Indeed, instead of corporate socialism (or corporatism) which favors the very perpetrators of this alleged crisis, use the rescue to position the economy for future growth in profitable and mutually, publicly beneficial areas. Plus, this plan has the beauty of addressing the presumed cause of the problem (underwater mortgages and fragile bank assets) rather than the whole over-leveraged mortgage-backed securities house of cards that fueled such enormous profits over the past several years and which have now dried up precipitating the President* to call a 'crisis'.


Amid the chaos of the political campaign and the alleged financial meltdown and Wall Street bailout (about which more later), never forget: the Bush administration condoned and promoted torture in contravention of U.S. and International Law and treaty obligations, not to mention all standards of morality and human decency.

In today's New York Times we read that high level Bush Administration officials—Condoleeza Rice, John Ashcroft, and Donald Rumsfeld—played "a central role" in meetings to determine whether so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" (i.e., Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rove-speak euphemism for torture) should be used:
Senior White House officials played a central role in deliberations in the spring of 2002 about whether the Central Intelligence Agency could legally use harsh interrogation techniques while questioning an operative of Al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah, according to newly released documents.

In meetings during that period, the officials debated specific interrogation methods that the C.I.A. had proposed to use on Qaeda operatives held at secret C.I.A. prisons overseas, the documents show. The meetings were led by Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, and attended by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top administration officials.

The documents provide new details about the still-murky early months of the C.I.A.’s detention program, when the agency began using a set of harsh interrogation techniques weeks before the Justice Department issued a written legal opinion in August 2002 authorizing their use. Congressional investigators have long tried to determine exactly who authorized these techniques before the legal opinion was completed
There are documents. And these meetings took place before the CYA memos-to-file from John Yoo and the DOJ were produced to "justify" their crimes. Were VP* Cheney's and Pres.* Bush's fingerprints on any of them as well?

Who cares, right?

UPDATE: In answer to our rhetorical question above, Andrew Sullivan, for one. And he gets a heckuva lot more readers than WoW. Way to go, AS.

22 September 2008

Transportation Authority

One of our long-time web favorites, Denis Dutton over at Arts & Letters Daily, points us to this article in Scientific American: "The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn." Read it. Go ahead, and come back.

First, some quotes:
Why does our brain seem to be wired to enjoy stories? And how do the emotional and cognitive effects of a narrative influence our beliefs and real-world decisions?

The answers to these questions seem to be rooted in our history as a social animal. We tell stories about other people and for other people. Stories help us to keep tabs on what is happening in our communities. The safe, imaginary world of a story may be a kind of training ground, where we can practice interacting with others and learn the customs and rules of society. And stories have a unique power to persuade and motivate, because they appeal to our emotions and capacity for empathy.
Because there are so many diverse forms, scholars often define story structure, known as narrative, by explaining what it is not. Exposition contrasts with narrative by being a simple, straightforward explanation, such as a list of facts or an encyclopedia entry. Another standard approach defines narrative as a series of causally linked events that unfold over time. A third definition hinges on the typical narrative’s subject matter: the interactions of intentional agents—characters with minds—who possess various motivations.

However narrative is defined, people know it when they feel it. Whether fiction or nonfiction, a narrative engages its audience through psychological realism—recognizable emotions and believable interactions among characters.

“Everyone has a natural detector for psychological realism,” says Raymond A. Mar, assistant professor of psychology at York University in Toronto. “We can tell when something rings false.”

But the best stories—those retold through generations and translated into other languages—do more than simply present a believable picture. These tales captivate their audience, whose emotions can be inextricably tied to those of the story’s characters. Such immersion is a state psychologists call “narrative transport.”
“One might have expected natural selection to have weeded out any inclination to engage in imaginary worlds rather than the real one,” writes Steven Pinker, a Harvard University evolutionary psychologist, in the April 2007 issue of Philosophy and Literature. Pinker goes on to argue against this claim, positing that stories are an important tool for learning and for developing relationships with others in one’s social group. And most scientists are starting to agree: stories have such a powerful and universal appeal that the neurological roots of both telling tales and enjoying them are probably tied to crucial parts of our social cognition.

As our ancestors evolved to live in groups, the hypothesis goes, they had to make sense of increasingly complex social relationships. Living in a community requires keeping tabs on who the group members are and what they are doing. What better way to spread such information than through storytelling?
“If you’re training to be a pilot, you spend time in a flight simulator,” says Keith Oatley, a professor of applied cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto. Preliminary research by Oatley and Mar suggests that stories may act as “flight simulators” for social life.
In support for the idea that stories act as practice for real life are imaging studies that reveal similar brain ac tivity during viewings of real people and animated cha­racters. In 2007 Mar conducted a study using Waking Life, a 2001 film in which live footage of actors was traced so that the characters appear to be animated drawings. Mar used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan volunteers’ brains as they watched matching footage of the real actors and the corresponding animated characters. During the real footage, brain activity spiked strongly in the superior temporal sulcus and the temporoparietal junction, areas associated with processing biological motion. The same areas lit up to a lesser extent for the animated footage. “This difference in brain activation could be how we distinguish between fantasy and reality,” Mar says.

Nothing really new to report here. This is a summing up of several scientific points of view seemingly converging around a consistent hypothesis. Fair enough—and a good starting point.

If you've been following our own thoughts on this subject, you've watched as we walked through James Wood's recent book: How Fiction Works, concluding that he gave short shrift to the centrality of story in the operation of fiction. You've also read our own first investigations into the (dare we call it) universal importance of what we're calling "Ur-story" to fiction. The studies cited by the Scientific American study identify three basic narrative patterns that, they say, account for roughly two-thirds of the most respected narrative traditions:
As many as two thirds of the most respected stories in narrative traditions seem to be variations on three narrative patterns, or prototypes, according to Hogan. The two more common prototypes are romantic and heroic scenarios—the former focuses on the trials and travails of love, whereas the latter deals with power struggles. The third prototype, dubbed “sacrificial” by Hogan, focuses on agrarian plenty versus famine as well as on societal redemption. These themes appear over and over again...
Our own exploration attempted to reconcile these themes (as well as that of comedy!) to the basic thesis of the Ur-story series of posts, to wit: that all fiction is grounded in the all-too-human response to the burgeoning consciousness of one's own mortality—the heroic quest, the romance, comedy. 'Models of consciousness' we called them. We also brought the Ur-story thesis to bear on the foundation of Judeo-Christian religion.

Nigel Beale, over at Nota Bene Books, has posted a couple thoughts on this matter here, here, and here apparently defending Wood's approach to the topic by siding with Forster over Aristotle.

We don't necessarily buy into Forster's distinction between story and plot—summarized as time-sequence vs. causality. For a good discussion, see Scott Esposito's take on Aspects of the Novel here at Conversational Reading. We find 'story' to have an altogether more noble place in the novel: indeed, it is the substance of the novel. Character without action is static. The novel is dynamic: it is a character in action—whether it is deciding on a course of action or refusing to do so. In choosing or in acting the character is revealed. This is the story. And the character's decision or action is motivated by who he is and this arises from his story, which we maintain has to do with his response to the human condition of mortality, aloneness, and loss. Thoughts, descriptions, characteristics, tags, ticks: these things do not make a character. What defines a character is what he does. Story, to us, is something much more than Forster's time sequence.

This is not to say plot is unimportant. The novel does not operate in a vacuum. No choice is made without some lead up and no choice is without consequences. The plot, as Forster maintained, does operate on the cause-and-effect level. And when a the writer has a character 'in story', plot is often neglected: that is to say, often it is enough in literary fiction to give the internal motivations for a character's action—plot be damned. In fact, plot is hard for the literary writer whose main concern is character and character development. Plot is easier to do in the genre novel—where the character's existential concerns are often irrelevant or peripheral. Window-dressing, at best, that slows down the pace. In the so-called character-driven novel, weaving thematically-consistent external motivating factors into the weft of the story (i.e., plotting) stretches the writer beyond the "method" approach, the "journalling" or whatever the current argot is for inhabiting the fictional mind-space of the character. The reader must see the character in action. In this sense, we diverge from Forster. His "the king died and the queen died" is not a true story. When you get to "the king died and the queen died of grief" you are getting closer to story. Plot, on our view, is more "how" than "why". Thus, if the queen threw herself upon her dagger or flung herself from her tower or challenged the dead king's usurper or led her people into a futile battle or refused to eat or strolled naked upon the cold night parapets or inexplicably fell into a coma or fomented a rebellion by sleeping with every commoner or foreigner she met or brought ruin upon the kingdom and eventually herself by squandering its treasury or... (we could go on), you have the rudiments of an interwoven story and plot—how she acted out in response to the king's death which, in turn, brought about her own demise. The act itself—say, leaping from the tower—causes her death: that is plotting. But the desperation that lead to that leaping is her story. Why leap? Why not passive-aggressively have a courtier push her? What does the action reveal about her inner turmoil? This is the kind of question story raises and, hopefully, answers.

The informative, instructive, socializing, aspects of fiction identified in the Scientific American article make no sense in the context of a static character. The character must be seen to act, and the reader must understand what drove her to decide to act in precisely the way she did: what did she know, what prompted her, what was her emotional arc. If she is merely reactive, an effect, determined, passive, at the whim of the plotting, she will be wholly uninteresting. Something about her must set her and her responses apart. This is the story. And story is what keeps us reading.

15 September 2008

What Makes People Vote Republican?

Not sure he quite nails it, but Jonathan Haidt has a theory:
...the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. When Republicans say that Democrats "just don't get it," this is the "it" to which they refer. Conservative positions on gays, guns, god, and immigration must be understood as means to achieve one kind of morally ordered society.
Though commentary on this piece is all over the place, you can follow the discussion here.

Our view comes in from a slightly different angle. You can follow our position in our "swarms" theme-blog and in some of our more specific blogs on politics. The authoritarian mind-set of the Republican convention was evident in the near-unanimity of their cheerleading support of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Nobody really knew anything about her (save for a few knowledgeable insider advisers from the Crowd Kristol set). Yet, with the announcement of this non-entity, the crowd went into spasms of hero worship based solely on the insiders' marketing campaign. Nobody asked questions; nobody questioned the authorities. Nobody asked if she was the single best Republican (or Demopendent, a/k/a Joe Lieberman) the party had to offer for the position. They just fell in line.

Citing the definitive 1950 work of Adorno, et al., Wikipedia's short introductory article on the "authoritarian personality" defines the phenomenon like this:
These traits are conventionalism, authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, anti-intraception, superstition and stereotypy, power and "toughness," destructiveness and cynicism, projectivity, and exaggerated concerns over sex. In brief, the authoritarian is predisposed to follow the dictates of a strong leader and traditional, conventional values.
The point being: it takes both sheep and shepherds to make a herd, and the authoritarian personality accommodates both, in fact requires both. Social adhesion and cohesion in multicultural circumstances require so-called strongmen—think Tito. And the authoritarian personality needs the strongman to project them from their perceived and manufactured enemies, but more specifically—wait for it—their own darker instincts.

13 September 2008


David Foster Wallace apparently found dead of suicide at the age of 46. Sheesh. That's no jest. Love it or hate it, IJ is a major work and DFW's work must be reckoned with. May Oblivion find you at peace.

10 September 2008

Popularity in Art

Check out this post by Steven W. Beattie over at That Shakespeherian Rag—and our comment thereon. Guy seems to be pretty much on target. Commercial appeal is an underlying theme in our recent series: Mein Kleine Geistkampf, inter alia, and, frankly, among most writers.

08 September 2008

Quark, Quark Muster Mark

Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure he hasn't got much of a bark
And sure any he has it's all beside the mark.
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake Book II, Ch. 4

10 September: The first attempt to circulate a beam in the LHC will be made on 10 September at the injection energy of 450 GeV (0.45 TeV). This historical event will be webcast through http://webcast.cern.ch, and distributed through the Eurovision network. See http://www.cern.ch/lhc-first-beam for further details.

Is this the end of the world as we know it? Some seem to think so: "skeptics have filed suit in U.S. District Court in Hawaii and in the European Court of Human Rights to stop the project."

Big Science.

05 September 2008

An Event

Marilynne Robinson's new novel, Home, appears to be out.  Two in-depth reviews make me want to read it:  James Wood's in The New Yorker and Rachel Cohen's in the new Bookforum.

Working Title: Toys in the Attic

For those of you still interested in peering under the hood of this putatively creative mind, we offer this latest installment of the series of posts about which of the novels-in-progress to complete.

In our review of Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang, we referred you to a series of brilliant novels we found intriguing and compelling for their depiction of evil protagonists in the tradition of Crime and Punishment: Vladimir Nabokov's classic and controversial Lolita (1955), John Fowles's The Collector (1963), Evan S. Connell's The Diary of a Rapist (1966), John Banville's Booker-nominated The Book of Evidence (1989), and James Lasdun's The Horned Man (2002). All are told in first person—though The Collector has a middle section told from a POV other than the protagonist. We've long wanted to write a novel along these lines. Sex, misogyny, torture, murder, rape, madness, sociopathy, depravity: all fine subjects for the fictional mind.

Needless to say, this promises to be a somewhat darker novel than the other three I've outlined. I haven't conceptualized it quite as thoroughly as the others—that is to say, I have considerably more work to do on it to bring it to fruition. The premise has the protagonist sitting in a quiet, hidden corner in the attic of his home. He has just learned he's dying and has only a very short time to live. He's going through a box of memorabilia. His immediate dilemma is whether and how to tell his wife of twenty or so years that he's dying or simply to disappear one day and not return. The memorabilia, it turns out, are from past 'relationships' or 'affairs' he's had through the years; thus, much of the book will be told from the POV of his memories. However, as each so-called affair is revealed through whatever token he pulls out of his box, it becomes clearer to the reader that these were no ordinary relationships. His evilness starts coming through as he reviews what he considers to be his life's work—really, the only thing he's ever been truly successful at.

Story questions, naturally, involve his motives for his actions (if there are any, or they prove merely to be outcroppings of his character) and his reasons for staying with his wife and not adding her to his list of victims—these must be thematically and causally connected. The plot, as noted, will follow his decision how to deal with his imminent dying: will he have an 'epiphany' and come to grips with who he really is and punish himself? will he kill his wife? will he slink off into obscurity? will he find a way to perpetuate himself and his deeds such that his evil lives on after him? what will he do with his tokens, i.e., the evidence of his deeds?

The protagonist will not be immediately likable, but he will be complex and intriguing. That has to be his hook. The sociopath, particularly the borderline personality, is inherently seductive. I don't conceive of him as being deformed physically—that seems too obvious, too done already. Yet, there has to be some interesting flaw that we keep coming back to. The wife, too, though a lesser character in terms of presence, will need to be filled out—even if she's mainly off-screen/stage, so to speak. She's got to play a prominent role in his thoughts, and her character must be, therefore, larger than life—I'm thinking Kohler's wife in Wm. Gass's The Tunnel, here. Each relationship will represent a deeper stage in his depravity, though the figures won't be so much symbolic as emblematic; one way I've been toying with is to have each 'victim' represent a missed opportunity for the protagonist along the course of his life, one which if he'd taken would have made his life less miserable (at least he believes).

Unlike the other three, I have yet to write a word on this novel. Nor have I outlined it. If I chose it, I would have a lot of work to do. The work would be fun, but hard; the psychic delving would be intense and isolating, calling perhaps for greater strength and stamina than the others. The other projects in this series have their elements of darkness, but this one would be a deeply dark canvas: entirely chiaroscuro, perhaps. There is less room for the sort of humor I was able to bring to EULOGY. One limitation: this novel demands to be written in first person POV and not free indirect style. EULOGY was an intense first person POV and took place over the space of one hundred hours of what amounted to solitude. I had hoped to try out my chops with the third person in writing this next book; and the other three books in this series certainly allow for that. First person POV is more like 'method acting' writing; free indirect style is somewhat less demanding, giving the writer some breathing space to be himself. If I choose this book, I will have to completely submerge myself in the character of this monster.

Other issues. Query: Could I make it a worthy contribution to the tradition of novels I mentioned above or would it be entirely derivative? Query: Could I make it more than a mediocre piece of psychological realism? Query: Is the subject matter simply too touchy for the current market—I mean, after all, doesn't the public want to see things from the POV of the good guy and to see the bad man get his comeuppance at the end?

As I mentioned, this is the type of novel I've long wanted to pursue. So, what's a boy to do?

04 September 2008

It Can't Happen Here

Maybe it's just me. But doesn't this remind you of something from an earlier epoch:

Couldn't be.

They wouldn't be so blatantly subliminal in their symbolism.

Then there was all that mocking, ridicule, sarcasm, and derision from Romney and Giuliani. Really distasteful. Hateful. Resentful.

Nah, it can't happen here.

03 September 2008

Schadenfreude Redux

With respect to the last post, let's be clear about something: ever since at least Ronald Reagan's "We begin bombing in five minutes" supposed "open mic" gaffe, this gambit has been a consistent way of conveying a message in an 'off the cuff' sort of 'off the record' 'plausibly deniable' kind of way. Don't kid yourself, Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy were not candid. Their remarks were surely scripted. The only question is what message were they trying to get across, and to whom.

It seems at first face they are telling McCain that the establishment of the party (which they represent) is unhappy with his choice.

But was there anything more to it? Part of the majesty of the Democratic convention was their setting up of all the putative dramatic tension between the Clintons and Obama. Hillary's gracious speech was the climax of Act 1, then the tumblers fell with Bill's ending Act 2 and setting up the expectations for the climax, and then, on Thursday night, Obama strode operatically on stage and in an orgy of hope and glory all the tension was masterfully relieved. With that in mind, let's look beneath the surface of the Noonan/Murphy gaffe. This is show biz, after all, and the aim of the convention is to rally the faithful to the cause of its leader which is to take the battle (your battle) to the entrenched establishment in Washington, D.C. Was this 'slip' representative of the 'obstacle' they were setting up like a straw man for their leader to knock down? Was this part of the heightening of the tension which must be relieved before the convention ends? Are they merely playing the part of the 'enemy' McCain must conquer through sheer force of his will and audacity in a show of patriotic gore? Given that they are PR professionals of the utmost rank (one does not write Presidential speeches or become a chief political strategist if one is chopped liver), I'm leaning toward the latter interpretation: the gaffe was scripted and these hardened pros were using the medium in a guerilla marketing sort of way. Political theater. Full stop.



The word, ladies and gentlemen, is Schadenfreude. (And it has everything to do with the weeping and gnashing of teeth going on in the plutocrat party in power, and nothing to do with the poor exploited teenagers and the shotgun wedding they are going to have to endure unless McCain/Palin loses) Oh yes, the other word is 'narrative'—something we pay close attention to around these parts. And then there's 'cynical': important word that. (BTW: None of this makes any sense unless you click on the link above or here.)

Thus endeth the vocabulary lesson for the day. Good luck on the SAT.

Working Title: Jonesey

This is the next in the series of posts on novels in development. Today's story: Jonesey.

Jonesey, a simple, sheltered young man who finds himself alone in the world after the death of his mother, must summon the courage and wit to defy the conniving fraud claiming to be his father who suddenly reappears and tries to involve Jonesey in a criminal enterprise. Only the odd, ghostly young woman whom Jonesey meets on his daily walks seems to offer him any hope of escaping the tyranny of the stranger.

The inspiration for this novel owes something to John Hawkes's gripping The Lime Twig as well as Melville's essentialBilly Budd. The plot follows Jonesey as he is drawn deeper and deeper into the scheme of the stranger who claims to be his father. At first, he doesn't really understand what he is getting involved in; only as things get hairier does he recognize that what he's doing might be wrong. The story, beyond the awakening of an authentic moral sensibility in Jonesey (before he has merely done what his mother told him to do), deals with Jonesey's abject aloneness in the indifferent world of an industrial city much like you might find in North Jersey and the absence of true sources of aid and comfort. He can find companionship only with an evil con-man and his compatriots. Is relatedness worth the price? Or, is goodness itself enough?

Jonesey is a compelling character, easy to sympathize with because of the death of his mother and his 'specialness'. He has been sheltered and protected from the 'realities' of life by his devoted mother, and now he is all alone and vulnerable. (Of course, this ties in nicely with our Ur-story thread herein; and that's a good thing we think.) Her death, though unexpected and sudden, leaves Jonesey with a house and a small trust fund to see him through, so long as he is frugal and follows her thorough instructions. The man who claims to be his father is evil—human, but evil. It becomes apparent he has designs on Jonesey's paltry inheritance and the house where he claims he once lived (when Jonesey was a mere baby). It's also clear he has grand schemes in which he can use Jonesey because of Jonesey's innocence and naivete; though it is not hard to imagine what will become of Jonesey once the man no longer has use for him. The character of Jonesey, I think, will be hard to write—a delicate balance between competence and mental deficiency, innocence and knowledge (in the mythical sense). The character of the father will be fun to write: a writer's dream (much like the Judge in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.

I have drafted only the first chapter of the book, but I like it. I find it compelling on many levels. I have a vague sense of where the book's going, though I haven't conceptualized the specific schemes and crimes in which the father seeks to involve Jonesey. That will involve research, planning, and imagination. Likewise, I don't have a full outline or a sense of all the scenes and chapters yet. It will be an adventure, unfolding as it goes along (not, in itself, necessarily a bad thing). And I still have a quandary about the girl: I won't go into it here, but it involves her very nature, its mystery, and how much to involve her in the goings-on. I love the setting. I love the darkness of the father-figure. I love the chance, with the girl, to toy with reality and realism. I also love the theme of the naif abroad—which is, indeed, the theme of my first story which will be published soon. One other thing Jonesey has going for it: it picks up on the theme with which I ended EULOGY, a young man confronting his own essential aloneness in the world after the death of his mother.

When You're Right, You're Right

I encourage you to check out this post: "The Minds of Characters" at Dan Greene's essential The Reading Experience. FYI: I threw in a little comment.