23 February 2018

Style and Formula in The French Connection - a guest post by Chris McGinley

Let me introduce Chris McGinley, a writer and reviewer whose work has appeared in Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Near to the Knuckle, and Yellow Mama. We were jawing about one of my favorite films, William Friedkin's classic The French Connection, and he had a lot to say. I thought it deserved a wider audience. --Thomas Pluck






Style and Formula in The French Connection
by Chris McGinley

Much has been written about the style and mood of William Friedkin's The French Connection (1971).  Commentators are fond of identifying influences ranging from Costa-Gavras' Z and the Maysles brothers work, to the more recently noted Kartemquin documentaries of the 1960s.  There's been a great deal of talk about long takes, overlapping dialogue and the film's "gritty" verite style generally.  What's so interesting to me, however, is how the elements of cinematography and sound establish the important formal elements of the police procedural in The French Connection.  The scenes unfold in a manner so completely artful and seamless that we forget we're watching a Hollywood cop film.  Indeed, what's unorthodox (and liberating) about the film is not that it deviates significantly from the procedural formula, but that the elements of formula are artfully hidden in its style.

The opening Marseilles scene, and the shakedown at the Oasis bar that follows, establish some narrative basics common to the procedural.  So far, we know we're in the gritty world of undercover narcs who will most likely encounter something outside of their usual experience, something international, something "big."  None of this is especially imaginative or atypical.  But the foot chase that follows the shakedown introduces a few elements unique to the narrative.  First, it initiates a trope that works in tandem with the visual style of the film, pursuit.  Yes, most cop films involve pursuit of some sort, but pursuit in The French Connection represents something larger.  In fact, for Popeye and Cloudy chase is the heart of investigatory work.  They walk, run, drive, stake-out, ride subways, and generally tail their quarry.  Such scenes occupy the bulk of the screen time. There's precious little gun-play and virtually no tough guy talk in The French Connection.  No suspect is ever braced or interviewed formally.   And when there is some dialogue between cop and con, like at the close of the foot chase scene, the film seems to make a point about its uselessness.  (The "pick your feet in Poughkeepsie" comment is to this day still an enigmatic remark, and the cops get nothing important from the pusher they arrest.)  But we are introduced to their singular metier: chase.

It's this element that drives the story, again in some degree like many cop films, but in far greater quantity, and in a manner that serves the stylistic innovation for which the film is so notable.  As viewers, we never tire of the relentless pursuit, nor do we lament the absence of any profiling, interrogation, cop fraternity, or even the sex and romance common to so many procedurals of the era.  This is because the formal feature of pursuit, the detective work at the heart of the film, operates in the service of the film's style, or look.  In the first twenty minutes alone, Popeye and Cloudy follow Sal and Angie across locations in Times Square, the Lower East Side, Little Italy, Brooklyn, and the Upper west Side.  We get swept up not in the dialogue between the cops--or in the commission of any actual crimes--but in the locales and in the way they are presented to us, as naturalistic tableaus often filmed in hand held shots.  Actually, Doyle and Cloudy say little to each other during this first twenty minutes.  They simply follow.  The locations, the neon lights, the grey urban landscapes, and the cars and bridges together form a varied terrain that shapes the aesthetic of the film and simultaneously serves the formal narrative function of pursuit/detection. 

Interestingly, neither Sal, Angie, nor Joel Weinstock utters a single audible word by this point, nor have they committed a crime.   Rather, it's the visual tableau, the film's much-noted "verite" aesthetic, that propels the narrative, not a criminal backstory or a crime witnessed by cops, or even a credible lead.  Initially, the cops' boss, Simonson, tells them that they "couldn't bust a three time loser" with the weak evidence they have on Sal or Weinstock.  And though the first chase ends in a most uneventful moment that would seem to support his assertion, Sal and Angie stuffing the newspapers they sell into the front sections, the cops know that the tail has paid off.  It's led to the Weinstock connection.    

The varied landscapes of the film through which the constant chase is conducted, brilliantly shot in their natural dreariness by cinematographer Owen Roizman, should also be understood as a formal narrative element relating to the cops' ability to pursue the criminals.  Until now, the detectives have been confined to Brooklyn, in fact to Bedford-Stuyvesant, and so they must lobby Chief Simonson for a detachment in order to make a plea for the case.  But Simonson is reluctant to allow the cops to go beyond their district, and he supports his logic through chastising the cops who bring in only small time hoods and dealers, though he concedes that they lead the department in arrests year after year.  At the risk of over-reaching here, I propose that the expanded geographical jurisdiction, which the Chief wisely approves in the end, serves the narrative demands of the film as much as it does the work of Popeye and Cloudy.  The cops need to follow the chase wherever it takes them.  It's what they do: chase.  And it's the chase itself that shapes the film's distinctive aesthetic--the under-lit interiors and the sunless and frigid exteriors of the many locations across the city, sites that take the cops well beyond their usual beat, to places both above and below ground.

It's also clear early on that that non-diegetic sound is crucial to the formal elements of the procedural in The French Connection.  Again, the cops don't do a whole lot of talking.  Their continued pursuit of Sal, Charnier, and Weinstock is characterized by a conspicuous lack of dialogue, in fact. But it's the score by avant-garde jazz composer Don Ellis that aids in creating both the tension and movement necessary to narrative development.  It all begins at The Chez, where Popeye and Cloudy go for a drink on the night they arrest the pusher.  Here again the formal elements of the genre, in this instance a hunch that leads to a chase, are presented without much dialogue.  Popeye tells Cloudy he recognizes "at least two junk connections" at Sal's table.  But as he locks onto his quarry, the diegetic music of the Three Degrees' "Everybody's Going to the Moon" fades out and Ellis' high pitched, electronic dissonance rises.  We watch people talk at Sal's table, but we only see their mouths move.  This technique is repeated in the scene where Popeye keeps tabs on Charnier while he dines at Le Copain, and in places elsewhere where neither the viewer nor the cops are privy to an important conversation. 

Instead, it's Ellis' atonal score that heightens the tension in so many of these scenes, creating a narrative momentum where it wouldn't exist otherwise.  For example, consider again the scene in which the cops first follow Sal and Angie.   On the surface, it's little more than a slow speed tail scene around town.  Nothing substantive really happens, and all the cops see is a possible "drop" in Little Italy and a car switch.  At one point, Cloudy nearly falls asleep.  But Ellis' baleful brass notes and discordant passages are used to enliven the scene, to give it tension and motion.  There's a kinetic feel to it that belies the slow speed nature of the "chase."  I won't discuss in detail the several other scenes in which the score heightens the action and supports the element of pursuit, but it happens throughout the long tail of Charnier and company around town, in the stakeout of the drug car, in the Ward Island scenes, and in other places.

It's true that there are a few stock elements of the Hollywood procedural in places, but they seem perfunctory and cliché (almost bogus by design), and it's not at all clear how they function formally in the film.  Simonson plays the role of the combustible chief at odds with the detectives in two separate scenes, the second of which seems entirely unnecessary.  He removes the cops from special assignment, but there are no repercussions to follow.  Popeye is immediately targeted by the sniper and the case simply resumes without further comment from the Chief.  (The cops never go "rogue," as it were.)  Cloudy performs some clever detection in places, like in the scene where Devereaux's car is examined.  But such elements are rare.  No, the film constructs its formal genre elements principally through its style, not through dialogue or the conventions of the procedural like interviews, profiling, tough-guy talk, or even violence (of which there is comparatively little). 

Together, Ellis' avant-garde score and Roizman's changing landscapes, themselves a sort of kinesthesis created through editing, propel the narrative action in a way few other films have ever done.  Simply put, this is why The French Connection is so important to the Hollywood police procedural.  Its formal elements are embodied in large part through its style, something so rarely seen either before or since.



 ---

22 February 2018

Vancouver Author Sam Wiebe Talks About "Cut You Down"

by Brian Thornton
One of Canada's Finest: Sam Wiebe

For today's blog entry it's my pleasure to introduce to you Vancouver crime writer Sam Wiebe. I first met Sam at the 2015 Left Coast Crime conference in Portland, Oregon. We bonded over similar tastes in literature, music and film, and have been pals ever since.. He's coming to the Seattle area next month and appearing in support of the release of a new book entitled Cut You Down.

Now, it's always nice to meet a fellow traveler who makes the same sort of "art" that you make. It's even nicer when the art that fellow traveler produces is the sort of first-rate stuff that Sam Wiebe produces. So we're not only friends, I'm also a fan. Naturally I thought it would be nice to highlight Sam and his work in a blog post in advance of his appearance here next month. He graciously agreed, and the end result you see below. My questions are in bold face.

First, a bit about Sam:

Sam Wiebe was born in Vancouver. He has held a variety of odd jobs, earned an MA in English, published Last of the Independents (2014) and Invisible Dead (2016). His latest is Cut You Down. He has published short stories in Thuglit, subTerrain and Spinetingler, in addition to collecting and editing Akashic Books' forthcoming anthology Vancouver Noir.

And now to the interview:

First, loved both your first novel, Last of the Independents, and your first Wakeland novel, Invisible Dead. Can you comment on how you changed up protagonists between your first and second novel, and let our readers in on why you had to do that?

Thanks! I look at Last of the Independents as my "demo tape." There are things about storytelling I was working out, and not to give away the ending, but that book wraps up Mike's story pretty well. The tone of Invisible Dead was a bit more complex, a bit more grounded in Vancouver history, and I wanted a protagonist who would reflect that. Dave Wakeland is younger than most private eyes--in Cut You Down he's just turned thirty. He was briefly a cop, and spent his youth boxing out of Vancouver's Astoria Gym. In some ways he's a throwback to classic PIs like Lew Archer and the Continental Op, but he's also a young guy trying to make sense of a rapidly changing city. I think of him as the flawed but beating heart of Vancouver.

In your second novel, Invisible Dead, you took what could have been just another depressing missing persons (in this instance the "missing person" being a First Nations–that's Native American for those of us reading this in the States–prostitute named Chelsea Loam) story and really worked it into a superb commentary on the human condition. I felt like we all know a Chelsea Loam, or many Chelsea Loams. And yet she's also such a cypher. How and when did this idea hook you?

I started writing Invisible Dead during the Oppal Commission hearings into the disappearance of hundreds of murdered and missing women, disproportionately low-income, First Nations, and minorities. It's a fraught topic, and it often centres around the serial killers rather than the systemic forces that make people vulnerable. Those hearings were shaped by a very limited narrative of who got to speak and who was to blame. I knew I wanted to write a book that contradicted that. I focused on the disappearance of one woman, Chelsea Loam, as a way to discuss the culpability we all share for allowing people in society to be rendered invisible.

And it's a theme you have clearly continued to work with in your new book, Cut You Down. So tell us about this new novel of yours.

Cut You Down is the second novel about Vancouver PI Dave Wakeland. He's tasked with finding a missing college student who's mixed up in a school scandal, and who was last seen with a group of suburban gangsters. Adding to that, an ex-girlfriend, police officer Sonia Drego, asks Wakeland to check into the background of her partner, a troubled cop who's been acting strange. The book moves from a rapidly changing Vancouver, to the wilds of Washington State, to a suburban gangland where things aren't what they seem.

I was struck by the outsized role played by the city of Vancouver (and its environs) in Invisible Dead. Setting is a crucial, and all-too-often underutilized, part of fiction. So many great writers have made effective use of setting, rendering it so vivid and affecting that it frequently acts almost like an additional character in their work. Thinking of Dickens' London, Saul Bellow's Chicago, Chandler's Los Angeles, Hammett's San Francisco, David Goodis with Philadelphia, and so on. I feel like you've done a great job of channeling Vancouver in much the same way. Was this a conscious choice on your part, or did it sneak up on you?

It was conscious. A big part of that novel was the disconnect between how much I love Vancouver and how horrific some of the things that go on here are. I always liked the way Ian Rankin handled those sides of Edinburgh--the tourist side and the resident side, the rich side and the side for everybody else. Vancouver is heartbreaking in that way. Cut You Down builds on that disconnect even more, getting into gentrification and displacement, and the lengths people will go to maintain their standard of living.

And Vancouver isn't the only changeable element to this series. Wakeland himself seems far from static:. How did Wakeland change for you this go-round?

He’s forced to deal with more of his past—when his police officer ex-girlfriend asks for his help, it drags up both their relationship, and his brief career as a police officer. Trauma and violence and long buried secrets—he’s got his work cut out for him.

Writing a follow-up to a successful first book is always challenging, in ways writing that first book (a challenge of its own) aren't. Can you walk us through some of these challenges specific to Cut You Down?

Sure. Invisible Dead was a case where I knew the story early on, and the revisions honed that. It’s tighter and better than the first draft, but pretty much the same book.

With Cut You Down, there were a lot of things I discovered during the revisions. It changed drastically, and that process enriched it. For example, the suburban gangsters The Hayes Brothers were introduced late, but I love the element of menace they inject, and the fact that they mirror both Wakeland’s and Tabitha’s stories, as young people trying to make sense of a world where the rules of their parents no longer seem to apply. They’re kind of broken versions of Dave—as he says, what he might have been like if he’d had a few more advantages in life.

Music plays such a huge part in your writing. You're obviously a musician. And you're from a pretty musical family, too, right?

I was a drummer--not sure if that counts as a musician or not! My dad was a studio and club guitarist around Vancouver, playing on the Irish Rovers television show and with the Fraser MacPherson Big Band. He still plays jazz gigs around town.

You know the old joke about what the definition of a drummer is, right? “A guy who beats on stuff and hangs out with musicians”?

 I think my favourite is, "How can you tell a drummer is knocking on your door? The knocking speeds up."

Reading your book called to mind the work of the great Irish writer Ken Bruen, who leavens his fiction with musical reference after musical reference, some relevant to the plot, some just shout outs to what the author considers great music. You do a fair amount of this as well. Did these references creep into your work or is this something you've consciously developed?

It's a way to add a sonic element to description, and to give a snapshot of someone's character. I also like throwing in shoutouts to bands from the Pacfic Northwest--in Cut You Down, there are references to Mad Season's Above and NoMeansNo's Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed, among others.

For those of our readers in the Puget Sound area, Sam will be appearing in our back yard in just a few weeks. He's going to read from his new novel on Monday, March 12th, 7 P.M., at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park You can get more details here). 

And that brings us to our last question: Will copies of your other books be available as well?

Third Place will be selling books, and yes, they’ll be in stock!






21 February 2018

There Was A Wicked Messenger

by Robert Lopresti

I have lots of friends on FaceBook, some of them I have known since childhood and some I wouldn't know if they bit me.  That's the nature of FB.

Not long ago one of that latter group contacted me on the FaceBook app called Messenger.  It became pretty clear that something shifty was going on and, checking out that friend's FB page I found a note saying "Ignore any messages from him.  His account has been hacked."  Well, by then I was too interested to ignore them.




Alas, I didn't spot the typos here. (I was in a restaurant wating for lunch to arrive.) I meant to say "I enjoyed their singing but frankly their dancework..."



??? indeed.

At that point I gave up.  But if I had sent one more message it would have gone something like this:

I contacted the sponsors and they said they left the names of some winners on the list at the request of the FBI.  You see, it turns out some real scumbags are trying to rip off the winners. I hate people like that, don't you?  How do they spend all day trying to rob people who never did them any harm and then use those same hands to caress their lovers or comfort their children?  How do they talk to their mothers knowing how ashamed those mothers would be if they knew the truth about them?  Please be careful, my friend. There is a lot of evil out there.

By the way, a few days after this happened to me the same thing happened to Neil Steinberg, one of my favorite columnists.  You can read about what he did here.

20 February 2018

Make Them Suffer--If You Can

by Barb Goffman

Authors in the mystery community are generally known for being nice folks. Helpful, welcoming, even pleasant. But when it comes to their work, successful writers are mean. They have to be.

An author who likes her characters too much might be inclined to make things easy for them. The sleuth quickly finds the killer. She's never in any real danger. In fact, there's no murder at all in the story or book. Just an attempted murder, but the sleuth's best friend pulls through just fine.

These scenarios may be all well and good in Happily Ever After Land. But in Crime Land, they result in a book without tension that's probably going to be way too short. That's why editors often tell mystery authors to make their characters suffer.

Yet that can be easier said than done. If you're basing a character on someone you don't like, then you might have a grand time writing every punch, broken bone, and funeral. But not every character can be based on an enemy. And sometimes characters seem to plead from the page, "Don't do that to me."

It's happened to me. I started writing a certain story a few weeks ago. I had a great first page, and then I got stuck. No matter how I tried to write the next several sentences, they didn't work right. I walked away from the computer. Sometimes I find a break can help a writing logjam. But not this time. In the end, I found I simply couldn't write the story I'd planned because, you see, that plan had included the death of a cat. And I just couldn't do it.
Don't do it!

The publication I was aiming the story for would have been fine with a story that included a dead animal. But I wasn't fine with it. And I knew my regular readers wouldn't like it either. Sure animals die in real life, and sometimes they die in fiction too. But those deaths should be key to the story. The Yearling wouldn't work if the deer didn't die. And Old Yeller needed the dog to die too.

I'm going to refer back to these very points if and when another story I've written involving animal jeopardy gets published. Sometimes that jeopardy is necessary for the story. And that's the key question: is it necessary? In the story I was writing about the cat it wasn't, and I knew it in my gut, even if I didn't know it in my head at first. That's why I couldn't bring myself to write the story as planned. Instead, with the help of a friend, I found another way to make the story work, one without any harm to animals.

It's not the first time something like that has happened to me. About six years ago I wrote a story called "Suffer the Little Children" (published in my collection, Don't Get Mad, Get Even). This is the first story of mine involving a female sheriff name Ellen Wescott. She's smart and honest and way different than I'd planned. Originally she was supposed to be a corrupt man. But as I was thinking through the plot during my planning stage, I heard that male sheriff say in my head, "Don't make me do that. I don't want to do that." Spooky, right?

Sometimes characters
just have to be nice

While part of me immediately responded, "too bad,"--he had to suffer--another part of me knew that when characters talk back like that, it's because my subconscious knows what I'm planning isn't going to work. Either it won't work for the readers, as with the cat I couldn't kill. Or it won't work for the plot, as was the case with this sheriff story. So my corrupt male sheriff became an honorable female sheriff, and large parts of the plot changed. My female sheriff faced obstacles, but she was a good person. That was a compromise my gut could live with.

Readers, I'd love to hear about stories and books you've enjoyed that involved a plot event you didn't love, yet you accepted it because you knew it was important to the story. And writers, I'd love to hear about times you couldn't bring yourself to write something. What was it? And why?


19 February 2018

Why Sara Writes

Sara Paretsky
Sara Paretsky
© Steven Gross
Introducing Sara Paretsky
In 1986, I read the first V I Warshawski private eye book, Indemnity Only. I also was writing a female P.I. novel when I learned women mystery writers at Bouchercon were meeting and forming a group called Sisters In Crime. One major objective of SinC was to raise publishing and public awareness of women mystery writers. This organization was the brainchild of V I Warshawski’s author, Sara Paretsky.

In 1988, I attended my first Edgars and Bouchercon. I quickly learned Sara was passionate about women writers getting a fair shake.

In 1990, my husband and I opened a mystery bookstore in Austin. Three years later, we hosted a mystery convention, Southwest Mystery Con. A small group of Austin mystery women formed a chapter we named Heart of Texas Sisters in Crime. Through that, Sara and I became friends. I’m proud our H•O•T chapter of SinC still meets monthly. I’m proud that Sara still fights for women mystery writers. And I’m honored to introduce Sara as today’s guest writer.

Sara Paretsky and her acclaimed P I, V I Warshawski, transformed the role of women in contemporary crime fiction, beginning with the publication of her first novel, Indemnity Only, in 1982. Sisters-in-Crime, the advocacy organization she founded in 1986, has helped a new generation of crime writers and fighters to thrive.

Among other awards, Paretsky holds the Cartier Diamond Dagger, MWA's Grand Master, and Ms. Magazine's Woman of the Year. Her PhD dissertation on 19th-Century US Intellectual History was recently published by the University of Chicago Press. Her most recent novel is Fallout, Harper-Collins 2017. Visit her at SaraParetsky.com

— Jan Grape

Why I Write
by Sara Paretsky

    Years ago, when I was in my twenties, I heard an interview with the composer Aaron Copland. The interviewer asked why it had been over a decade since Copland's last completed composition. I thought the question was insensitive but Copland's answer frightened me: "Songs stopped coming to me," he said.

I wasn't a published writer at the time, but I was a lifelong writer of stories and poems. These were a private exploration of an interior landscape. My earliest memories include the stories that came to me when I was a small child. The thought that these might stop ("as if someone turned off a faucet," Copland also said) seems as terrifying to me today as it did all fifty years back.

I write because stories come to me. I love language, I love playing with words and rewriting and reworking, trying to polish, trying to explore new narrative strategies, but I write stories, not words. Many times the stories I tell in my head aren't things I ever actually put onto a page. Instead, I'm rehearsing dramas that help me understand myself, why I act the way I do, whether it's even possible for me to do things differently. Where some people turn to abstract philosophy or religion to answer such questions, for me it's narrative, it's fiction, that helps sort out moral or personal issues.

At night, I often tell myself a bedtime story- not a good activity for a chronic insomniac, by the way: the emotions become too intense for rest. When I was a child and an adolescent, the bedtime stories were versions of my wishes. They usually depicted safe and magical places. I was never a hero in my adventures; I was someone escaping into safety.

As a young adult, I imagined myself as a published writer. For many years, the story I told myself was of becoming a writer. Over a period of eight years, that imagined scenario slowly made me strong enough to try to write for publication. After V I Warshawski came into my life, my private narratives changed again. I don't lie in bed thinking about V I; I'm imagining other kinds of drama, but these often form the subtext of the V I narratives.

I'm always running three or four storylines: the private ones, and the ones I'm trying to turn into novels. I need both kinds going side by side to keep me writing.

Paretsky – Fallout
Storylines are suggested by many things- people I meet, books I'm reading, news stories I'm following- but the stories themselves come from a place whose location I don't really know. I imagine it as an aquifer, some inky underground reservoir that feeds writers and painters and musicians and anyone else doing creative work. It's a lake so deep that no one who drinks from it, not even Shakespeare, not Mozart or Archimedes, ever gets to the bottom.

There have been times when, in Copland's phrase, the faucet's been turned off; my entry to the aquifer has been shut down. No stories arrive and I panic, wondering if this is it, the last story I'll ever get, as Copland found himself with the last song. If that ever happens permanently, I don't know what I'll do.

So far, each time, the spigot has miraculously been turned on again; the stories come back, I start writing once more. Each time it happens, though, I return to work with an awareness that I've been given a gift that can vanish like a lake in a drought.

18 February 2018

YTD

by Leigh Lundin


  Just the facts… believe it or not  



Year-to-Date 2018’s 49 Days
the price of conscience
49 ⇧
YTD days since 01 January 2018
18 ⇧
YTD school shootings
8 ⇧
YTD school shootings ending in death
26 ⇧
YTD school shooting fatalities
~1643 ⇧
YTD shooting deaths nationwide
~2862 ⇧
YTD suicide by firearm
~4966 ⇧
YTD shooting deaths + injuries



~$1,677,000
YTD gun lobbying expenditures
~$700,000
YTD NRA lobbying expenditures
~$7,056,537
YTD NRA industry contributions
~$49,000,000
YTD NRA membership dues, fees



327,217,871
US population: people
252,284,978
US population: adults
359,939,658
US population: firearms
200,000,000
military-owned arms worldwide
~27,000,000
police-owned arms worldwide
2
firearms owned by author



135
legislative efforts to weaken gun laws


¹ including legalize silencers and


² allowing mentally ill gun ownership
0
bills to restrict firearms



15,137
registered Washington lobbyists
~75,000
unregistered Washington lobbyists
50
state governors
435
congressmen
100
senators
1
vice president
1
president
?
strikes
0
balls

17 February 2018

Draftsmanship


by John M. Floyd



Offhand, I can't think of many words that have more different meanings than "draft" does. Drafts can refer to breezes, horses, beer, checks, athletics, military service, depth of water, and--yes--preliminary versions of a piece of writing. In other words, you can feel them, harness them, drink them, sign them, get caught by them . . . or write them.

I write a lot of drafts. Mine are usually short, since I write mostly short stories, and the first is often longer than the second, the second longer than the third, and so forth. (I tend to overwrite a bit.) I should mention, too, that my first draft is usually terrible. That doesn't bother me--nobody but me is going to see it anyway--and I think it's better to get as much as possible down on paper than to leave something important out.

I also like to write a first draft all the way through, without stopping to do a lot of analysis on the way. I've never been one of those people who "edit as they go." I don't even pay much attention to punctuation or spelling or grammar in those first drafts. They truly are rough.

A writer friend of mine insists that she doesn't have to deal with drafts--and not because she keeps the windows closed. She just makes every page as perfect as it can possibly be before going on to the next. Her reason for doing that is simple, she says: when she's written the final page of her book or story, she's finished; no corrections or subsequent drafts are needed. The reason I don't do that is simple, too: I might later decide to change something in the plot, or add another character, or take one out, or change the POV. If that happens, and if I've already tried to polish the first scenes and pages to a high gloss, that means I'll have to go back and re-edit what I've already edited. I'm not super-efficient and I'm sure not smart, but I'm smart enough not to want to do the same job twice. Besides, getting the whole thing down on paper, start to finish, gives me a warm and comfortable feeling about the project. It makes it something I know I can handle.

Writing a first draft all the way to the end in one swoop isn't as hard as it sounds, because I'm one of those writers who likes to map the story out mentally before I ever start putting words on paper. I think about the plot for a long time beforehand. Again, that doesn't keep me from later making changes, but it does allow me to have a blueprint to follow when I start writing, and having that structure in mind gives me--as I said--a sense of security. You might not do that or need that, but I do. Different strokes. (By the way, if you outline on paper and if your outline is long enough, sometimes that IS your first draft.)

I occasionally don't even have names finalized when I do a first draft. My hero/heroine might be H, my villain might be V, the hero's best friend might be BF. These are just place-holders, so I can come back later and fill in the names. Same thing goes for locations or situations that will require detailed research, or scenes that need a lot of description--I don't spend the time to do that in first drafts. I'm more concerned about plot points and the flow of the story. (Not that it matters, but I've found it's fairly easy for me to write beginnings and endings. It's the middles that are hard. Maybe that's why I write shorts instead of novels.)

Anne Lamott said, in her book Bird by Bird, ". . . The first draft is the down draft--you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft--you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it's loose or cramped or decayed or even, God help us, healthy." She also said, "Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts."

Readers have often asked me how many drafts I write, of a short story, The answer is, it varies. It also depends on how you define "draft." If you go through a work-in-progress and change only one sentence, is that new version another draft? As for me, I don't usually do many extensive re-writes, but I do go back through the manuscript a few times after a third- or fourth-draft polishing and see if there's anything more that needs correcting or fine-tuning. But, as all writers know, you don't want to go over it too much. When you can read through what you've done several times and not find anything glaring, you're probably finished. If you persist too long, you'll get to the point where changes might make things worse instead of better.

How about you? Are you a draft-dodger, and just edit everything as you go? Or do you rehearse and shoot several takes before you print the film? If so, how many drafts does that usually involve? How do you decide how many drafts is too many? How detailed is your first draft? Do you ever outline beforehand, either mentally or on paper? Do you ever write the ending first?

I once heard that a novelist has to be a good storyteller and a short-story writer has to be a good craftsman. Maybe both have to be good draftsmen.

Now, I wonder if I need to do more editing on this column . . .