Cousin Oliver was not invited

‘Brady Bunch’ cast members reunite at TV family home: Six cast members of “The Brady Bunch” gathered Thursday in Los Angeles at the home that was featured in the opening and closing of the sitcom. HGTV purchased the home in the Studio City neighborhood in Los Angeles for its new series, “A Very Brady Renovation.” (AP)

David Hewson: Mistakes to avoid when writing a series

The British mystery writer weighs in:

Like most series writers, you see, I never set out to go down this path. I wrote the first Costa book as a standalone and was then asked to turn it into a series by my publisher. After which I made it up as I went along, mistakenly sometimes though I’m pleased to report the errors I committed were by no means rare.

Here, when I set out to write the Amsterdam series, are some of the pitfalls I told myself to avoid.

One of the mistakes he cites: Failing to plan for how the series will deal with the passage of time, as the years go by between books in the real world.

Different series writers handle the passage of time in different ways. Spenser and the other characters in the Robert B. Parker series aged at a rate of 1:2 for the real world for a decade or so, then it appeared they just stopped aging. In the early books, written in the 70s, Spenser referenced being a Korean war vet and an ex-boxer who once fought Jersey Joe Walcott. In the last books by Parker, written in the 2000s, those references are left out.

In the Nero Wolfe books, the characters stay exactly the same age throughout 30 years, while the outside world progresses. In the first book, Nero is in his early 40s and Archie is about 30 and they’re toasting the end of Prohibition. As the series hit its prime, Archie is enlisted in the Army during World War II — fortunately assigned to stay home in Manhattan. In the last book, Nero is in his early 40s and obsessed with Watergate, and Archie is about 30.

By the way, both the Spenser and Nero Wolfe series were continued by other writers after the original author’s death. I read one of the Spenser novels by Ace Atkins; it was pretty good. Surprisingly, it was better and more true to the characters than the later Parker novels were.

I also read one of the Robert Goldsborough Nero Wolfe novels, and found it disappointing. He had the details right, but the voice was off. For example: The book was written and set in the 80s, and the mystery revolved around some detail of personal computing technology. Archie had become a PC expert by then, and provided a clue to solve the crime. Nero Wolfe was portrayed as an antiquarian who disdained PCs.

But I thought that was precisely the opposite of the spirit of the books. Archie, as a man of action, would have disdained PCs in the early years. He’d have learned to use one, because he did Wolfe’s office work, but he would have no particular affinity for them. However, the sedentary genius Wolfe might have taken to PCs, because they are logical like he is, and he can use one while moving nothing other than his fingers and eyes.

“Stranger Things,” “love letter to the VCR era,” taps into older, darker American myths

The 80s influences of “Stranger Things” are obvious — Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, the “Goonies” and other 80s movies that appealed to preadolescents of that decade. But Joshua Rothman at The New Yorker finds an older, darker influence: H.P. Lovecraft

The scientific worldview says that the universe is neutral. It doesn’t care if you live or die. But Lovecraft had a different view: The universe is evil. It hates us. And it’s supremely powerful, inhabited by entities who are to us as we are to insects, and are eager to torment us just for giggles. In Lovecraft’s view, the Earth is a tiny little island of relative safety that could open to that wider, hostile universe with a single pinprick of reality. In Lovecraft’s view, the pinprick came from miscegenation — racial contamination — Lovecraft was a full-throated bigot who hated and feared brown-skinned people and Eastern and Southern Europeans.

But Lovecraft has many heirs and imitators today, and they substitute other forces for racial impurity. In the case of “Stranger Things,” the horror is unleashed by US government scientific bureaucracy, as it often is in King’s novels.

Rothman identifies two target audiences for “Stranger Things:” Adults who were children in the 80s and view the series as a big ol’ nostalgia wallow, and children who look back on that era as a golden age before they were born, sort of like the 50s were viewed when I was a teen-ager in the 70s.

I’m from an older generation; I turned 20 in 1981. I enjoyed the nostalgia of “Stranger Things” because the period portrayed on the show was not all that different from the early 70s, when I was the same age as the show’s child heroes. As kids in the early 70s, we roamed freely around the neighborhoods on our bikes and engaged in nerdy pursuits without parental supervision. We didn’t have Dungeons & Dragons; that hadn’t been invented yet. But we played marathon games of Risk.

This idea of the universe being actively hateful and evil is a new one for me. I’m a rationalist, I don’t believe that the real universe is evil. An indifferent universe can be hostile enough at times.

But the idea of an actively hostile and evil universe certainly opens possibilities for fantastic fiction.

Joe Haldeman said that in science fiction, the universe is neutral and knowable through reason and science; in fantasy, the universe is unknowable; and in horror the universe is hostile. (I think he said that — he said something along those lines but I may be misremembering the specifics.) While science fiction and fantasy are usually paired together as “fantastic fiction,” science fiction’s actual closest sibling is the police procedural, Haldeman notes.

Science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle is possibly the first author to write a novel on a word processor

Word processing has transformed the way writers work, a transition from typewriters to electronic writing that happened in a  few short years, starting in the mid-70s and ending by 1984 and 1985. The transition has been largely overlooked by literary historians, but now Matthew Kirschenbaum, an English professor at the University of Maryland, has written a history, “Track Changes” (great title!). He talked with Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic: How to Write a History of Writing Software

Writers of genre fiction — particularly science fiction — adopted word processors long before literary writers. That’s not necessarily because science fiction writers are technology focused (I’ve been surprised myself by how Luddite science fiction fans can be in their real-life use of technology), but because genre writers need to work fast, and turn out a lot of work at high volume.

Robinson writes:

[Kirschenbaum’s] new history joins a much larger body of scholarship about other modern writing technologies—specifically, typewriters. For instance, scholars confidently believe that the first book ever written with a typewriter was Life on the Mississippi,by Mark Twain. They have conducted typographical forensics to identify precisely how T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland was composed—which typewriters were used, and when. And they have collected certain important machines for their archives.

One day, a similarly expansive body of work may exist for writing software—and Kirschenbaum will be one of its first builders.

In the interview, Kirschenbaum addresses the question of which author was the first to write a novel with a word processor.

We can’t know with absolute certainty, I don’t think, but there are a couple of different answers.

If we think of a word processor or a computer as something close to what we understand today—essentially a typewriter connected to a TV set—there are a couple of contenders from the mid- to late-1970s. Notably Jerry Pournelle, who was a science fiction author. He is probably the first person to sit and compose at a “typewriter” connected to a “TV screen”—to compose there, to edit, and revise there, and then to send copy to his publisher. That was probably a novella called Spirals.

But there are earlier examples. Len Deighton, a highly successful author of British high-tech espionage thrillers, bought an early IBM word processor in the late 1960s. It wasn’t recognizably related to the word processors of today; the user typed on an IBM Selectric MS/ST typewriter that simultaneously recorded text on magnetic tape and conventional paper.

Kirschenbaum notes that secretaries, usually women, were the first to use word processors. Indeed, I remember that in the 1980s and well into the 1990s, successful men couldn’t type — typing was clerical, menial work, something that most men simply did not do. The transition to personal computers led to a brief bloom of typing classes — although the word “typing” had girl-cooties, so these classes were called “keyboarding,” or even “executive keyboarding.”

Me, I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a writer, and even in the late 70s it was obvious to many of us that personal computing was the future. I taught myself to touch-type when I was about 12 years old, and I took a typing class in high school to brush up on those skills, along with a few male friends who were also active in the computer club.

Back to Kirschenbaum: Even though the MS/ST lacked a screen, he calls it the first word processor because it stored the text electronically.

Your “screen” was the sheet of paper you had in your Selectric typewriter. You did your typing on the Selectric—which is the same typewriter, for example, we see in Mad Men; it’s a famous ’60s-era electric typewriter—and if you made mistakes, you would backspace. You would get a mess on the sheet of paper that was currently on the Selectric, but the correct sequence of character strokes was being stored on the tape. Then you would put a clean sheet of paper into the typewriter and it would automatically print out, sort of player-piano fashion, the text stored on the tape’s storage.

This unit sold in the 1960s for $10,000. That’s obviously quite a lot of money, and IBM used the term word processing as a marketing device.

Deighton wrote on a conventional Selectric, then handed the typescript to his secretary, Ellenor Handey, to retype it using the MS/ST. Therefore, I call shenanigans on Kirschenbaum’s classifying Deighton as the first author to use a word processor, simply because he wasn’t the one using the MS/ST. Still, it’s an interesting anecdote — Deighton was on the edge between non-word-processor users and word-processor users.

And importantly, Kirschenbaum says the essential thing about the word processor isn’t the screen, it’s the fluid, electronic nature of the text.

Microsoft Word is still the gold standard for writing software; even people who write primarily for the Internet — including most of the technology journalists I know — use Word. That absolutely flummoxes me. Even today, Word  seems to me to be software designed primarily to produce printed hardcopy, often ornately formatted in ways that writers don’t care about. It’s not designed for articles, blog posts, or books; it’s designed for corporate annual reports.

Until recently, I preferred to write in text editors designed by and for software developers. Now, there’s a new generation of word processing software developed primarily for people who write electronically; Ulysses for Mac is one of those apps, which is the one I use. Scrivener is a more well-known example.

A lot of writing today gets done in email applications and web browsers — specifically the text entry box of Facebook, Twitter, etc. I’m writing this post in the composition window of WordPress. I’m writing on a plane (Kirschenbaum discusses how word processors have changed WHERE we write, as well as how), and I don’t currently have an Internet connection. I really, really hope I don’t lose my work, but WordPress is pretty good about that.

And of course, writing on mobile phones is hugely popular. Maybe the people who are toddlers today will never learn to keyboard; they’ll just thumb-type.

Kirschenbaum also talks about writers he calls “refuseniks,” who were adults in the 70s and 80s and who refused to use word processors. Harlan Ellison is possibly the most outspoken example, still pounding away at a typewriter. Cormac McCarthy is another example.

Another example, not mentioned by Kirschenbaum in this interview: Our friend the science fiction writer Joe Haldeman, author of “The Forever War” and a couple of dozen other, excellent novels. Joe is no refusenik; last time I talked tech with him he was a user of a Mac, iPad, and iPhone. But he likes writing his first drafts in fountain pen on bound, blank books. He says he just writes better that way.

I’ve added Kirschenbaum’s book to my Amazon Wishlist. And, hey, there’s another idea for a book: How digital technology changes the way we read. When I was a teen-ager back in the 70s, I could easily read two or three books every week. Now, I read a half-dozen books a year, if that. I have to make a conscious effort to set aside some time every day to read books. Most of my reading time is taken up reading articles.

 

70s one-season wonders: TV sitcom themes

Featuring:

  • “CPO Sharkey,” with Don Rickles as a naval chief petty officer
  • “Quark,” a space opera sitcom starring Richard Benjamin
  • “Associates,” a James “Taxi” “Cheers” Brooks sitcom featuring a very young Martin Short
  • “The Paul Lynde Show,” with the zany premise that Paul Lynde was heterosexual.
  • The Bob Crane Show, with the zany premise that Crane was not a degenerate perv
  • “Lotsa Luck,” starring Dom DeLuise (I remember the theme for this – still an earworm for me, all these years later)
  • and “When Things Were Rotten,” a Mel Brooks Robin Hood parody starring Dick Gauthier and a cast of Brooks regulars. That theme is another earworm for me. They robbed the rich, gave to the poor, except what they kept for expenses. Yay for Robin Hood.