Neil Simon is probably most famous for writing The Odd Couple in 1965. The original production won 5 Tony awards (including one for Simon). It was adapted into a very successful movie (Simon was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay), three different television series (one of which was nominated three times for an Emmy and won three Emmys and one Golden Globe for the leads), and a cartoon. Simon reworked the play twice over the next several decades: once with gender bent characters, and one just to update the dialogue and situations which had become a bit dated.But he wrote a lot of other plays and movies. A few were autobigraphical (The trio of Bright Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, and Broadway Bound, for instance, which were all later turned into movies). Most of his plays and movies were comedies, yes, but many dealt with serious interpersonal issues, sometimes in heart-wrenching ways. On the other hand, he could write incredibly zany comedy. For example, the 1965 movie After the Fox was an over-the-top parody of every caper/heist film ever. While 1976’s Murder By Death is an equally mad parody of every murder mystery movie and novel ever.
As Playbill noted:
‘Simon also made his mark as a creator of original screenplays, writing the scripts for the 1972 critical hit The Heartbreak Kid, which was directed by Elaine May; The Out-of-Towners, starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis as hapless visitors comically victimized by New York City; Murder By Death, a spoof of the detective genre; and the 1977 romantic comedy The Goodbye Girl, which starred his then-wife Marsha Mason and helped to make Richard Dreyfuss a star. He was nominated for an Oscar for the latter, as well as for the films of California Suite, The Sunshine Boys, and The Odd Couple. He won a Golden Globe for The Goodbye Girl, and was nominated for The Sunshine Boys and The Heartbreak Kid.’
I’ve only gotten to see stage versions of two of Simon’s plays (The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park, both by community theatre companies), but because he wrote many original film screenplays and adapted a lot of his plays to movies, I’ve seen a lot of his work. And one thing that I have always envied about his writing is how much he could convey with just dialog. The dialog is always witty and sharp. When it’s funny, it is hilariously so. But he also had a knack for placing a dagger of human frailty into the dialog, so that you are laughing, and then brought up short as a character’s pain or fear is laid bare.
For a few decades, Simon really ruled the American theatre stage in comedy. Don’t believe me? The promotional campaigns of most movies focus on the lead actors or the director, right? When movies were made from Simon’s plays and screenplays, the promo’s led with the author. It was “Neil Simon’s California Suite” or “Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys” or “Neil Simon’s The Out-of-Towners” and so on.
His plays worked because the characters in them, no matter what circumstances we met them under, felt real. Their fears, their hopes, their drems, their foibles, and most importantly their relationships always rang true. He was a master at dialog, but his dialog worked because he made us believe in the characters speaking his lines.
It’s an accomplishment every writer longs to achieve. Simon honed his craft during years of writing for radio and television. It took him years of hard work, careful observation, and then fighting to make each line count. When he hit his stride, he made it look easy.
So join me in raising a glass to Neil Simon, the playwright who taught us that life is weird, and that’s why we love it.
The sad reality is that no matter how many criminal convictions and guilty pleas are racked up around Trump, his supporters will never abandon him. Congressional Republicans have made it clear they won’t fulfill their Constitutional duties (the President was impeachable on violation the Emoluments Claus of the Constitution practically on day one) unless they perceive that sticking by him is going to harm them. So there isn’t going to be a crack in that solidarity until after the midterms, at the earliest.
But still, the wheels of justice grind on. And guilty verdicts will keep piling up.
Meanwhile, I continue to try to find ways to keep my levels of outrage down to manageable levels. Getting caught up on shows via the DVR and Netflix, helps. Getting back to by big pile of to-read books also helps.
What are your strategies to reduce stress?
It isn’t the first one I’ve owned. Back in the ’90s I had one medication that had to be taken five times a day. That was no fun, let me tell you. So I had a pill minder back then that actually consisted of seven little four-compartment pill-minders. On a Tuesday morning I could pop up Tuesday’s four-compartment piece, take the morning pills, and then put the Tuesday minder in my backpack, go to work, and throughout the day take my other doses.
That served me fine for years. Even though as it got older most of the words printed on the little lids had rubbed off, and a couple of the little lids wouldn’t stay latched as the little plastic catches wore down. But the penny-pincher inside me kept saying that I could keep making do with it. Despite a few times when I had to dig around in the bottom of the pack to find the pills that had fallen out.
But my meds changed. The one that had previously needed to be taken as five little pills every four hours or so was replaced by one larger pill just once a day. Other medications that had come in small pills were replaced with new ones in very large pills and I had to admit that the old rickety minder with it’s tiny compartments wasn’t right any more. I just needed one with larger compartments divided into only a morning and evening for each day. So I bought a new one (the one pictured above). Which worked fine for years, until one lid broke off week before last.
I figured, oh, it’s just one day, and beside, I don’t carry this thing around with me any more, it stays home, right? Except just about every time I picked it up to open a compartment and take out the pills for that morning or evening, I’d spill some or all of the pills out of the broken compartment. I had to admit it was time to buy a new one and throw this one away.
The new one is pretty and new and shiny… and has a different kind of locking mechanism that means when I unluck, say, Wednesday morning’s compartment, all of the morning compartments are unlocked. So I have to be careful to relock each of the others each time.
Which gives a bit more insight into the sorts of behaviors that could turn one into a full-on hoarder: sometimes we hang on to things because they are familiar. And when we are forced to swtich to a new thing, we find things that are different from the old thing annoying. Because of the years of familiarity, very tiny inconveniences become very outsized annoyances.
The last couple of days while I’ve been using the new minder, I’ve been thinking about how my out of proportion annoyance is not unlike the irrational way that people often react to changes in society in general. Those of us who have spent our whole lives struggling for equal rights often find ourselves having to ask others (sometimes our own relatives) why it bothers them so much? How can decriminalizing my love life possibly hurt them? How does legal recognition of my marriage possibly hurt them? It isn’t logical.
And that’s precisely right. It isn’t a rational response. It is an out-of-proportion reacting to change. Men kissing men in public was unheard of when they were younger, why can’t it stay that way, they ask? And so on.
This doesn’t mean that they are right. Just as me clinging to the broken pill-minder did me no good, them clinging to the past does nothing good. There are notions that belong in the dustbin of history. Hoarding prejudice isn’t the answer to anything.
Before I comment further (and link to some other reactions to the ballot), I should list the actual winners, just in case you haven’t found this information elsewhere:
Best Novel — The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin
Best Novella — All Systems Red, by Martha Wells
Best Novelette — “The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer
Best Short Story — “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™,” by Rebecca Roanhorse
Best Series — World of the Five Gods, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Best Related Work — No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, by Ursula K. Le Guin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Best Graphic Story — Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood, written by Marjorie M. Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form — Wonder Woman, screenplay by Allan Heinberg, story by Zack Snyder & Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs, directed by Patty Jenkins
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form — The Good Place: “The Trolley Problem,” written by Josh Siegal and Dylan Morgan, directed by Dean Holland
Best Editor, Short Form — Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
Best Editor, Long Form — Sheila E. Gilbert
Best Professional Artist — Sana Takeda
Best Semiprozine — Uncanny Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Julia Rios; podcast produced by Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky
Best Fanzine — File 770, edited by Mike Glyer
Best Fancast — Ditch Diggers, presented by Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace
Best Fan Writer — Sarah Gailey
Best Fan Artist — Geneva Benton
Best Young Adult Book — Akata Warrior, by Nnedi Okorafor
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer — Rebecca Roanhorse
First, Nicholas Whyte has a breakdown of the statistics and voting that I found fascinating. Cora Buhlert has some very insightful (as always) comments on the winners. Camestros Felapton has his Hugo reactions and the comments contains some great observations. And Alexandra Erin has some interesting thoughts about conventions, awards, fandom, and what it all means.
A lot of the other blog posts and stories you will find out there are focused on N.K. Jemisin’s historic win: she’s the first person ever to win the Best Novel Hugo three years in a row. Two years ago it was big news that she was the first African-American woman to win in that category. As one person observed on Twitter: that historic first was more about how exclusionary society and the Hugos had been during the 60-some years of Hugos before that. So that win was only historic because the community had previously been less than welcoming. This year’s historic moment is much better: she’s won three times in a row because her novels are awesome.
The fact that I even point this out is used by certain people to try to prove that these wins are undeserved, or that those of us who voted for these works are doing so for some kind of political messaging rather than because we actually like the stories in question. And all I can say to them is: we already know you are bigots and a-holes, so we don’t really care what you think.
But, in the interest of full disclosure, I will let you in on an important detail (which I didn’t quite realize myself until a few minutes ago when I dug out all my Hugo ballot emails from my email archive): at none of these last three years did I chose Jemisin’s novel as my number one choice on the ballot. Each year her novel was my second choice. This year, for instance, I really quite liked her book, and it was a difficult choice, but there was another novel (Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee) that I liked slightly better. Similarly last year and the year before there was another book that I liked better than Jemisin’s, so I put them just above hers. Do I wish that my choices each year had won? Well, yes, but I was also quite happy that Jemisin’s book won each time, because I liked each of them, too.
That’s because I’m able to understand that just because I likes one book slightly more than another that doesn’t mean that my favorite is somehow inherently a superior work to the others. Which isn’t to say that I don’t believe there aren’t ways to grade the quality of the writing or plotting or execution of a story, just that everything else being more-or-less equal, my tie-breaker is going to be different than yours.
It is true that I find stories written by women, people of color, or queer people are more likely to resonate with me in ways that stories by white cisgendered heterosexual guys do not. That isn’t because the white cis het guys are inferior to the other people, it’s because in our society white cis het guys get to operate on the lowest difficulty setting and thus are less likely to perceive some aspects of our society that the rest of us have to deal with. I’m a white guy, yes, but I’m also an out gay man who as a child was unable to hide my queerness; growing up I experienced society differently than my straight contemporaries. I saw unfairness in places where they found opportunities. I saw barriers where they found open doors and welcoming arms. The way I was marginalized isn’t the same way that people of color or women and so on are marginalized, but writers from those groups ran into similar barriers and injustices. Their perspective is going to be, in many cases, more like mine than not. So, yeah, I find the stories they tell and the viewpoints they employ more interesting.
So, yeah, I’m more likely to read books by these authors—not because I’m refusing to read white cis het guys, but because they are more likely to be recommended by the reviewers I have learned have similar tastes as mine, they are more likely to write about subjects I find interesting, and (most importantly) when I begin reading their stories, I’m more likely to be pulled in and keep turning the pages.
I read stuff written by men. I vote for stuff written by men. Checking my ballot, I see that works written by men made it into the top half of several categories on my ballot. But I had to go look—I didn’t remember because that is not how I choose which pieces to vote for. By the time I’m fiddling with my ballot, moving the entries around, all I’m thinking about is the story and how I felt while I was reading it.
I only nominate stories/magazines/shows/podcasts I have read/watched/listened to. Once the ballots are out, I do my darnedest to read all of the things that made it to the ballot that I haven’t already. And when I’m reading, I’m not thinking much about the author. Because if they have done their job, the story is going to consume my attention.
To sum up, I quite enjoyed this year’s ballot. I have a couple more authors on my list to look out for. It was quite fun. And as I said after I turned in the ballot, now I have a lot of other things in my to-read pile that i need to get back to.
But, before I close, I highly recommend you watch N.K. Jemisin’s 2018 Hugo Award Best Novel acceptance speech.:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
They aren’t always happy when I tell them that this thing they have gotten into spirited arguments with their spouse/relative/co-worker over doesn’t have a clear answer.
They are even less happy when I tell them that it does have a clear answer, and they are partially correct but have misunderstood the actual rule. I’ll give an example.
Which of the following do you think is correct:
- A FBI agent called me today about the threatening letter I reported to the police.
- An FBI agent called me today about the threatening letter I reported to the police
I’ve had a huge number of engineers who insist the first sentence is correct because “you only use ‘an’ when the next work begins with a vowel.” And they are sort of right, but completely wrong. Whether one uses the indefinite article “a” or its variant “an” isn’t determined by the spelling of the following word, it is determined by the pronunciation. Because most people pronounce that three-letter initialism FBI as if it were spelled “eff-bee-eye.”
It isn’t whether the next word begins with a vowel, it’s whether the next word begins with a vowel sound.
If that’s still a little too vague for you, you can use the instruction given in the Elements of Grammar by Margaret Shertzer: “Use the indefinite article a before words in which the first sound is a consonant, a sounded h or a long u… Use the indefinite article an before words in which the first sound is a vowel, except long u, and before words beginning with a silent h.”
The reason that pronunciation determines which word is used is because written English is not a programmatic system for creating sentences nor an algorithmic apparatus for manipulating the alphabet. Written English is a methodology for representing the speech of English speakers. And when you try to pronounce a phrase like, “a hour” it feels wrong. The “uh” bleeds into the “ow” sound. Some people literally can’t force themselves to say it without the “nnnn” sound in there to break them apart; that’s how deeply rooted the habit has become.
This is a bit of a ramble to get to my point (and to introduce a new series of posts I’ve been plotting for a while): using language is not like assembling a piece of furniture. Language can be ambiguous and still be proper from a grammatical standpoint. Words have different meanings in different contexts. Sentences usually provide enough context that which meaning the author wants is clear. But sometimes the ambiguity is the author’s intent. That’s how much of poetry works; a line or group of lines are constructed in such a way that several meanings of a particular word are evoked, in order to create a synthesis or a juxtaposition of the concepts.
One of my problems when I am copy editing someone else’s work is not just that I have a bad habit of unconsciously decoding common typographic errors (so I literally don’t perceive the wrong word a person has written in some cases), but also because I love the many variant ways that language can work. Enforcing a standard style guide is difficult, because sometimes, even though a sentence in a particular article or instruction violates the guide, it more elegantly conveys the meaning than one which followed the guide.
This isn’t to say I don’t have my own style preferences that I will enforce on others if I’m in an editorial role (copy editors I have worked with can tell you about the long rows we’ve had because I insist that the only acceptable spelling is “okay” and not “OK” for instance), but I also know that those instances are preferences that I’m insisting on because I like them, not because there is an absolutely right or wrong answer to the particular question.
There are times when ambiguity is bad. There are times when you have to make the meaning crystal clear leaving as little doubt as possible about the exact meaning of a particular description or instruction. Most of those cases have to do with procedures which people are undertaking: instructions related to medical conditions, or repairing equipment, or recording legal documents. But quite often in fiction, a little ambiguity is required; it provides the wiggle room necessary to breathe life into your story.
“Semicolons revel in ambiguity; ambiguity is beautiful.”
This is hardly the first time I’ve written on this topic, of course: Editing is not about understanding the semi-colon and similar arcana.
The con chair asked Mary Robinette Kowal (who I quoted in one of those posts) to assist in repairing the programming grid. She’s run programming for more than one Nebula conference (and I believe a few other conventions) and seemed a good choice. She made a couple of short comments online right after agreeing, in which she said she had several volunteers to help, and would be too busy for the next several days to answer any questions from people not directly involved.
The con has subsequently published a new schedule, which looks much more diverse (in both topic and participation). I’ve seen several of the pros who had previously said they would withdraw from programming to make room for others since post that they had agreed to participate in at least one event in the new schedule.
I’m sure it was a mad scramble, and my hat’s off to the staff for realizing they needed to fix the problems, for being willing to accept help when it was offered, and to everyone who pitched in. It looks like a great program. I hope this was a learning experience for some people.
And I hope everyone who attends has a fabulous time.
But the best commentary I’ve seen on the topic of convention programming, the desire some fans have to only include popular/well-known/established writers, et cetera, has got to be the amusing short story Cora Buhlert posted a few days ago: Convention Programming in the Age of Necromancy – A Short Story. You should go read it there, because it’s hilarious, but I will include the opening to give you a taste:
At the daily program operations meeting of a science fiction convention that shall remain unnamed, the debate got rather heated.
“We absolutely need to hold the ‘Future of Military Science Fiction’ panel in Auditorium 3,” the head of programming, whom we’ll call Matt, said.
“And why?” his fellow volunteer, who shall henceforth be known as Lucy, asked, “Is military SF so important, that it needs one of the bigger rooms, while we shove the ‘Own Voices’ panel into a tiny cupboard?”
“No,” Matt said, “But Auditorium 3 has air conditioning.”
Lucy tapped her foot. “And? Are old white dude military SF fans more deserving of coolness and air than own voices creators and fans?”
Matt sighed. “No, but Heinlein’s reanimated corpse is coming to the panel. And trust me, he smells abominably. Oh yes, and he’s declared that he wants to attend the ‘Alternative Sexualities in Science Fiction’ panel, so we’d better put that in a room with AC, too.”
A personal note: The first time I was in charge of programming for a convention was an accident. I was on staff as the convention book editor (and I was also responsible for laying out the pocket program), and had previously been a panelist at the same convention. The person who was in charge of programming missed a couple of meetings as we were getting down to the wire, and she wasn’t responding to e-mails or phone calls from anyone. I was getting frantic because I didn’t have content for the program books. Many of us who had responded to the programming survey were worried because we hadn’t heard what panels (if any) we were on.
Turned out that the person in charge of programming had had a massive stroke and was in the hospital for an extended time. The hospital had not been able to contact her daughter (who was also on con staff, but she lived on the other side of the country, and her job at the con was strictly on-site. The daughter was on an extended business travel thing during the weeks all this was going down). The upshot was that at nearly the last minute to finish the program books, we found all this out, and suddenly I was in charge of programming. With the help of a couple of other people (and with a pile of email messages once we redirected the programming alias), I put together a programming grid in about three days. It wasn’t the best programming grid I ever saw, but we got it done.
And panelists were happy. We got a lot of compliments on the programming.
And that’s how I ended up in charge of programming for the following two years at that convention. We had a slightly less frantic process the next two years.
The woman who had the stroke did get out of the hospital and even attended the next couple of year’s convention in a wheelchair. Sadly, one of the things my successor had to put in his first grid as programming lead was a memorial service for her.
I wish I had a more upbeat ending to this tale.
The only conclusion I have is: running programming for a convention takes you in directions you never expected. It is an adventure, but remember that one of the definitions of “adventure story” is something really awful that happens to someone else.