- Towel day is on its way—Saturday, May 4th, 2013
- American Rhapsody—Saturday, December 29th, 2012
Joe Eszterhas wants to be Hunter S. Thompson, but he’s not. He fills American Rhapsody with wild rantings, and then offsets it with wilder rantings from his “darker side”, meant to make his rantings seem more truthful.
Some of it rings true, such as when he talks about Hillary Clinton strategizing her husband’s political resurrection. Some of it rings false, such as when he implies that he smoked thai with Sharon Stone—who he created, he tells us, since he wrote Basic Instinct—and then had sex with her by her dollhouse drinking Cristal. Hell, it’s Hollywood, it easily could have happened, but it sounds like a high school student making up a story about the prom queen.
Unlike Thompson, there is no greater meaning to the wild rant, no greater truth illuminated by the semi-truths and complete fabrications. He’s a Hunter Thompson for Hollywood.
He has little in the way of introspection. With one hand he can write about how ridiculous it is for conservatives to think the media is out to get them. With the other he can write things like “There were a few people in Hollywood so far out on the radical Left that they smiled when Ronald Reagan was shot.” Eszterhas himself wanted to do a movie in the Clinton years excoriating the “resurgence of right-wing militias” as racist and anti-Semitic. He refused to make his villains more human when asked to to improve the story.
And then with his third hand he masturbates in public. Toward the middle of the controversy he writes an entire chapter on Clinton’s habit of masturbating rather than completing the sex act. Clinton, he writes, could have “freed men and women everywhere from the disdain and prejudice they were victims of.” Instead, Clinton skulked away like PeeWee Herman did, “ashamed of what he’d been caught doing—what most of us had sometimes done—in that theater.”
He also goes back and forth here between talking about “militant onanists” and “the awesome and vast silent majority”, between “them” and “us” as if he rewrote this section poorly perhaps after realizing that maybe the “vast majority” of Americans have not masturbated in public, and would definitely be ashamed to be caught doing so.
Among all the faux-gonzo, the weirdest story, to me, is that according to Eszterhas Monica Lewinsky learned how to please President Clinton by reading Gennifer Flowers’s book about their affair. I knew that there had been accusations before, at the time. I don’t recall knowing that at least one of the accusers had already had a book out about it.
Another thing I didn’t know—so I guess I learned something from the book—is that the Starr report also said “They engaged in oral-anal contact as well.”
- Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News—Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
If you tell someone who’s not an alcoholic that he’s drinking too much, he’ll take an interest in your statement. He might be incredulous, but he’ll ask things like, “Do you really think I’m drinking too much? Have I gotten out of hand?” Your allegation might come as a surprise to him, and he might doubt you, but he’d probably be curious to find out if maybe he does have a problem, or if, at least, he’s engaged in behavior suggesting he’s got a problem.
He’ll actually cast his mind back to nights when he was drinking, trying to remember if he did something embarrassing.
Now, take an alcoholic who knows goddamned well he’s an alcoholic and has chosen to continue being an alcoholic and is pretty goddamned sick of people telling him he’s an alcoholic because he just wants to keep on drinking at an alcoholic level. Now tell him he’s got a problem. He’ll tell you “I don’t have a problem, you have a problem, now why don’t you mind your own business instead of sticking your nose into other people’s lack of problems?”
He’ll be angry about it because 1, he knows you’re right, but 2, he has no intention of ever changing this and just wants you to stop noticing he’s an alcoholic.
You can see the same dynamic more generally in any relationship. Person 1 makes an unfounded accusation against person 2, and person 2 will make an honest, possibly confused attempt to think back on what they could have done to elicit such an accusation. Person 3 makes a well-founded accusation against person 4, and person 4 goes ballistic.
This echoes what Goldberg wrote, toward the end of his book:
What a bunch of hypocrites, I kept thinking, these people who examine anybody and everybody’s life but will “never” forgive me for writing about their liberal bias.
The Dan Rathers of the world don’t try to crush you if they think you’re full of crap. They simply ignore you. It’s when you taunt them with the truth that they get really frantic and try to inflict pain, if for no other reason than to show everybody else in the newsroom that the cost of breaking the sacred code of omerta will be very high.
Ace hadn’t read Goldberg. It’s just an obvious point. Goldberg slammed into the same thing in 1996 when he, as a CBS employee, wrote about media bias for the Wall Street Journal. Goldberg got into trouble at CBS for writing what was basically a fisking of a CBS colleague’s on-air condescension toward Republican primary contender Steve Forbes’s flat tax proposal.
- You can’t handle the truth—Saturday, November 3rd, 2012
Warren Lewis revealed the source of wisdom today: Pittsburgh.
At two o’clock in the morning in a bar in Pittsburgh in a place you’re never going to be again, a guy puts his arm around your shoulders and tells you the truth.
Tess Gerritsen revealed the secret of being an author during the keynote at lunch:
As authors we race headlong into conflict. We take a bad situation and make it worse.
We race headlong into conflict. What everyone else is fleeing, we must embrace, if we want to be true to our craft.
- Let the reader be smart—Friday, November 2nd, 2012
I’m sitting out in the dark right now with the stars overhead. The touchingly funny keynote by Jacquelyn Mitchard is over (that’s where the amazing sunset came from). Most of the attendees are now settling in for the night, but the hard-core late-night read-and-critique will be starting in about an hour with Mark Clements. I think I’ll read from a page of thorny dialogue in the current book.
In two of today’s sessions the benefits of confusing the reader have come up. I made the point after hearing criticisms of one writers use of lingo in a horse novel that some of the best books have opening lines, paragraphs, and even chapters that confuse the reader until they learn the language of the story. I did not mention, but was thinking specifically of Katherine Dunn’s amazing novel Geek Love. The first time I read the opening chapter it was incomprehensible—until I learned the language of the characters. I kept reading because the confusion was itself a compelling mystery. Of course, it does make it that much harder for the writer, to maintain reader interest long enough for them to grok your story.
Mike Farris said something similar in his nuts-and-bolts session on querying.
Don’t make anything 100% clear until you have to. Let the reader feel smart.
I think that letting the reader—or viewer, in the case of movies—“feel smart” is half of what makes some works great. Flexible interpretations make better stories.
- La Jolla Writers Conference 2012—Thursday, November 1st, 2012
Yes, I am once again at the La Jolla Writers Conference. Learning to write. Because it’s hard, man!
I kid, only slightly. I think this is the third year in a row I’ve gone; before, I went every two or three years and took the time off on off years to sit my ass down and actually write. I signed up last year at the conference because I expected to be finished with my next book by now. As you can see from the progressometer in the sidebar, I am not. This leaves me in a bind because I am completely uninterested in what other people1 think of what I’m writing while I’m writing it. Even my girlfriend hasn’t seen most of it.2
If there are worse places to be when writing a book than at a conference of writers, I suspect they involve criminal danger and the threat of random violence.
- The Powers That Be—Monday, October 29th, 2012
I am currently writing a satire about the Washington, DC news media. David Halberstam’s novel about the rise of the industry is a gold mine. The insights into how the press sees itself is invaluable. When writing about the Washington Post, Halberstam notes that “in Washington reporters were not only stroked during the day but invited to the best homes for dinner at night.”
The Powers that Be is a rambling, shaggy dog of a story that ends in Watergate. Halberstam treats the news organizations that took part in it as if they were individuals, the New York Times and her younger brothers, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, and their cousins, Time Magazine and CBS, taking them from the formless void to Watergate. In the beginning, there was nothing; then great men toiled and created the journalistic principles that allowed for Nixon to get caught in the Watergate scandal. I almost think he’s saying that there were Watergates throughout the Roosevelt years, the Eisenhower years, and the Kennedy years; and only during the Johnson years did Vietnam provide the practice they needed to take on the president during the Nixon years.
The book is, basically, the story of the rise of the Washington press. The DC press is a lagging mirror to the rise of DC power as seen in Washington Goes to War. Halberstam describes FDR’s Washington revolution this way:
In the new order, government would enter the everyday existence of almost all its citizens, regulating and adjusting their lives. Under him, Washington became the focal point, it determined how people worked, how much they made, what they ate, where they lived.
This was how DC became what Halberstam called “the great dateline”. FDR was the lone professor in the Washington School of Journalism: he skillfully manipulated and dominated the news by always providing so much that “reporters never had time to go to other sources; if they tried, they might make today’s story better, but they would surely be beaten on tomorrow’s.”
It wasn’t just that the rise of the President’s power meant a rise in the DC press. The rise of the DC press is also the rise of the President. It’s easier to cover one man than to cover several hundred, and so that one man becomes more influential.
Those who were powerful and well-regarded in Washington were powerful and well-regarded within the profession. Journalism fed off government and government centered upon Washington.
- Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy—Sunday, October 28th, 2012
I’ve written before about how easy it is to vote as someone else in San Diego. Turns out my experience is an old one. Writing about Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall fame, Fund says:
The historian Denis Tilden Lynch describes how thugs would go from one polling place to the next, impersonating citizens who hadn’t yet voted.
One such “repeater” posed as the dignified pastor of a Dutch Reformed church. The election clerks asked him his name.
“Jones,” shouted the repeater, startling the poll workers with his scraggly beard, unclean face and whiskey breath.
“What is the first name, Mr. Jones?” asked the election clerk.
“John,” snarled the repeater.
“The Reverend Dr. John Jones, pastor of the Dutch Reformed church around the corner?” asked a clerk.
“Yes, you dirty, lousy @$#%%^**!” exclaimed the repeater. “Who’n else did you think I was, eh?”
The officials let “Reverend Jones” vote.
Works the same way for me, except that in my case they don’t know me and they give me my first name if I miss it by a few letters.
Stealing Elections goes over the same things—how easy it is to subvert our current voting system to fraudulent purpose, and how often it does, in fact, happen despite claims to the contrary. One of the fascinating things to me is how much politicians will resist good reforms that also carry high popular support. In the United States, people don’t just overwhelmingly support voting reforms, they overwhelmingly support specific proposals. A voter photo identification requirement carries an 80% approval rate, “including three-fourths of Democrats”.
Unlike the caricature usually provided by the media, voter ID requirements go out of their way to provide options for everyone. Georgia’s 2005 reform provided that:
Acceptable forms of ID included a driver’s license issued by the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) or photo ID issued by any state or by the federal government (which would include passports and college IDs issued by Georgia’s university system); an employee ID issued by Georgia state government, a local government, or the federal government; a military ID; or a tribal ID. Anyone declaring indigence in an affidavit would get a photo ID from DDS free of charge, and the state was going to provide a mobile bus system to provide ID cards to locations remote from DDS offices. Voters without a photo ID at the polling place could vote using a provisional ballot; that ballot would not be counted unless the voter returned to the registrar’s office with photo ID within forty-eight hours of the election.