The Sunday Salon: What the frak are you talking about?

A couple of weeks ago I checked out the science fiction classic Ringworld by Larry Niven. I first read the novel in high school, and back then I kept getting hung up on the expletive “tanj” the characters — especially 200 year-old Louis Wu — use in place of standard profanities.

Although published in the ’70s, the novel may have been susceptible to the publisher’s taste and policy as far as profanity was concerned, possibly leading Niven to create a substitute. I don’t recall much profanity in the science fiction novels I read in high school.

When I first read the novel, I thought “tanj” might be a non-English word, but I really had no idea back then how to look it up. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I’ve now discovered what “tanj” meant; it’s an acronym for “There Ain’t No Justice,” according to a Wikipedia entry.

The entry itself is interesting because it looks at other science fiction expletives. Of particular interest is the current version of Battlestar Galactica and its version of “fuck” — “frak.” Originally the word, according to the article, was spelled “frack” but producers decided to change to “frak” so it would be a literal four-letter word.

Apparently, according to the entry, “frak” jumped out of hyperspace into mainstream pop culture, appearing in the mouths of characters in the comic strip Dilbert and the sitcom The Office.

It’s interesting to see how language out of pop culture becomes mainstream. I wonder if “frak” will eventually become an official word absorbed into the language like “google,” or fade out like the ill-fated “shazbot”?


Some Gems from Frank Conroy

I wanted to share this post from Richard at Narrative:

Frank Conroy on mystery & memoir

Conroy’s one of my favorite writers. I read his memoir Stop-Time about a decade ago, after trying to write a short story about my then strained relationship with my dad. While Conroy’s narrative about his relationship with his father is absorbing — it’s not the whole subject of the memoir — what drew me in most were Conroy’s sentences — deceptively simple declarative sentences packed with meaning.

Stop-Time‘s also one of the first creative-nonfiction memoirs I’d ever read. It’s a fine example of the form.

Some of  the interview excerpts from Richard’s post that drew me into Conroy’s mind:

“The power and almost obscene wealth of parts of America resemble nothing so much as the Roman Empire. I don’t understand why people aren’t completely scandalized by the degrading of humanity through films and television over the last twenty years, a degradation of the soul. I’m not religious, but I insist on being able to use some of the concepts generally scorned in a secular society. The soul and spirituality are important parts of life . . . . The spiritual emptiness of society is very deep and unsettling, so people are looking for something better.”

“I don’t believe in the natural writer. I believe in the natural reader who gradually begins to write. You can’t write independent of literature, so you read, you read, you read, you read, you read, and then you begin to write.”

The Workshop

By an overwhelming majority 2-1 vote, loyal readers have elected that I keep up with my writing workshop blog.

Because the people have spoken, I will try to keep that blog running.

As an experiment I have posted two stories of my own — one fiction, one nonfiction — for my loyal readers. Please feel free to drop by the workshop, have a look at the stories and critique them if you’d like (at this point critiques will have to be done through comments, until I can further experiment with the site).

Also, feel free to give me comments about how you might improve the site. I need all the suggestions I can get.

John McPhee’s New Book Gets Personal –

When I began my journalism career close to 10 years ago I knew nothing about the terms literary journalism/creative nonfiction. I knew the term “new journalism” coined by Tom Wolfe; I had read his collection of pieces by “new” journalists like Hunter Thompson and Joan Didion. I had also read William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, wherein Zinsser argued that nonfiction was the new American literature. I longed to write the kind of nonfiction Wolfe and Zinsser were describing.

After I started writing at the newspaper, I started making attempts — however mangled — at “new” journalism, which I had learned by then was also known as literary journalism. At the same time I was discovering and reading great talents such as Susan Orlean and John McPhee. Both were inspiring.

McPhee is a favorite. He has a new book out — Silk Parachute. The L.A. Times recently interviewed him:

John McPhee’s new book gets personal –

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Keep the Workshop: A Poll