October 25th, 2006

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Recommended link; writing science fiction...

Please read "Let's put the future behind us," over at Charlie's Dairy -- http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2006/10/lets_put_the_future_behind_us.html -- in spite of the fact that it's long. It's all about why the market for science fiction is allegedly dwindling away to nearly nothing and what ought to be done about that, assuming that something can be done about that. Recommended. Sample, to justify my enthusiasm:

"Firstly, let me tackle the reason for the decline in the SF/F readership over time as a proportion of written fiction. I don't have quantitative data to hand, but I believe we can attribute it to the fact that the civilization we live in is changing so rapidly that we're all exposed to rapid technological change all the time. SF as a genre evolved during a period of industrialization and standardization and rapid linear progress. It was both an escapist literature and a didactic form that lent its readers some exposure to new ideas about how they might live in future. But things have gone non-linear, and a lot of the future has arrived today, albeit in bastardized form."
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Writing nonfiction; family newslettering; afterword excerpt...

There's a nine-page chunk of The Grandmother Principles on the subject of writing a family newsletter. That's too many pages to post here, but I'd like to post a bouilloncubed excerpt -- if I can figure out what it's safe to leave out. I know I can leave out all the stuff about "production and distribution," because I've covered that in other newslettering posts. Let's see...


Things happen in families and take on a significance that no one outside the family could possibly understand. Unless someone is the designated rememberer, the time will come when people inside the family won't understand either. Why did Grandmother Crawford never send a Christmas present to the youngest grandchild? Why was the road between Uncle Jim's and Cousin Mario's farm called Sinner's Lane? Why did Grandfather Lee refuse to speak to his sister for seventeen years, even though she lived across the street? Why did Great-Uncle Howard set the barn on fire? Nobody knows. Nobody remembers.

People faced with puzzles like these tend to make things up. ... You don't need to let this happen, but you need the written word to prevent it. You can't be sure that you'll have a willing descendant to pass all the information along to orally, as happens in many traditional cultures. You can't be sure that at family gatherings there'll be people eager to hear you talk instead of watching the football game.

A family newsletter will solve these problems and is a wonderful ongoing gift that will be treasured -- as long as you appear to do it effortlessly. If you appear to be working your fingers to the bone doing it, everyone will feel guilty, and then it will be a burden instead of a gift.

Writing the Newsletter [effortlessly]

The first thing you do is take a cardboard box (or a roomy basket, or a very large envelope) and write "Newsletter Stuff" on it. Put it in a convenient spot, somewhere where you won't trip over it and other people won't rummage through it. Then start throwing newsletter material in there as you come across it or as it occurs to you. ... While the material is piling up, sit down and design your first issue. Here's a sample design, with comments, to get you started and show you how easy it is to do.

The Smith Family Irregular
Issue #1, December 2006

[The word irregular in the newsletters's name is an important part of doing this the easy way.]

What's Happening

[Here you put all the news you're willing to print. ... If you write pleasant chatty letters easily, model this section on your usual letter. If not, get a copy of a newspaper from any small town and read the local news column -- the one about who visited and who had a party and who's sick and who had a baby -- and use that as a model.]

A Family Story For Your Collection

[Here you put the story that explains why the Smith men are supposed to eat a bowl of pinto beans for breakfast for Father's Day, just as you'd tell it if you were talking and had a willing audience.]

Announcements From Your Editor

[This is the perfect spot come the day you want to tell your family something like this:

"I want all of you to know that I have decided to go away for two weeks, from January 9th to 23rd. I have a very good reason for going, I assure you. I don't intend to tell you what the reason is, you'll just have to trust me this time. And I know I can count on you not to let my water pipes freeze while I'm away."]


Here you put a quotation or a joke you think everybody would enjoy, a recipe or a good craft idea, a book you'd like to recommend, or anything else you'd like to pass along that doesn't fit anywhere else.

The End

Let the Newsletter Stuff box fill up and don't worry about it until it's full enough. When it is, dump the contents out on the floor or anywhere else that's convenient and sort it into piles according to your newsletter design. A pile for "What's Happening," a pile for "Miscellaneous," and so forth. Then write your first issue as outlined above. A family newsletter has two purposes:

**To help you knit the family together, even if they're widely scattered around the world, even if they rarely have a chance to meet.

**To provide you with a way to get information out to family members promptly and accurately, at your own convenience, in your own style, and without being interrupted or contradicted.

The hard part is getting that first issue done. Just get a first draft finished. That's what I do, even if I'm writing a whole book. Once you have a draft in front of you (and if you're working on the computer, that means a printed-out draft), the newsletter exists as a physical object in the real world. You can then look it over and do any fooling about with it that strikes you as necessary. ... And that's Issue #1. From then on, your newsletter will be simplicity itself. ... Like so many things, the first time is the hardest.

The Grandmother Principles, by Suzette Haden Elgin, Abbeville Press (NY), 1998 and 2000; pp. 31-38.
21 principles, all tested. Lots of good cartoons. Useful sidebars. If you're a grandmother (biological or honorary), or you have a grandmother (biological or honorary), please don't let the fact that foomf has suggested that Grannies should be drowned in a vat of pickle brine keep you from reading the book. My word on it: It won't turn you from a granny into a Granny.
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Linguistics; Say & Tell question...

Recently the Ask-A-Linguist panel got a question asking for help explaining to non-native speakers when -- in English -- you should use the word "say" and when you should use the word "tell." The question got answered, but I'm not satisfied. What is it about "say" -- and what is it about "tell" -- that results in data sets like the one below? [Where an asterisk means that it's not acceptable English and a question mark means I'm not sure if it's acceptable English or not.]

1. Tell him to wash the dishes.
2. *Say him to wash the dishes.
3. I said that she was late.
4. *I told that she was late.
5. I told her that she was late.
6. *I said her that she was late.
7. I told a joke.
8. *I said a joke.
9. Say to them, "I need help figuring this out."
10. *Tell to them, "I need help figuring this out."
11. Don't ask; don't tell.
12. ? Don't ask; don't say.

I need help figuring this out. Maybe the answer is something obvious to everyone but me. Maybe the answer is eloquently set forth in a classic article I've never read. Any suggestions you might have would be welcome.