Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Next time you're thinking a book reviewer's lot must be a happy one, if ever you are so foolish as to think such a thing in the first place, bear in mind that as a reviewer one has two choices: one can either (a) say everything that crosses one's desk is just brilliant, or (b) do the job one is being paid for, call things as one sees them, and lay oneself wide open to retaliation from the wounded, angry author.

Particularly if you have a blog with an email address in the profile. Just ask me.

Memo to the negatively reviewed everywhere: in all but a tiny minority of cases, and certainly always in my case, it's not personal. It's about the work. Reject the judgement of reviewers by all means, but pause to reflect that if it were a positive judgement, you'd drink in every word and call it 'feedback'.

Also, as Helen Garner has said more than once about her own work, if you're going to stick your head up above the parapet then you have to expect to get it shot at. Or, as my mum used to say, if you can't stand the heat you should maybe stay out of the kitchen.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Since the Federal Government continues to behave like a sullen and solipsistic small boy on the question of an apology to the Aboriginal people for the way this country has failed them over the last 219 years, and since it's unlikely to change its mind between now and the end of Reconciliation Week, individual apologies while we wait are, I hope, better than nothing. So here is mine.

My own passage along the road of sorriness steers perilously between the all-encompassing Mea Culpa on the one hand and the cry, on the other, of Bunty from Seven Little Australians -- 'I never, it wasn't me, it wasn't my fault!' -- both of which I reject.

From within the pro-apology camp, I don't buy 'We're white, therefore we should feel guilty', but I'm not having 'We have merely to express our sorrow that something bad happened, it's not really an apology', either.

A note on the so-called 'black armband view of history': the meaning of Geoffrey Blainey's phrase, like that of Donald Horne's 'lucky country', has been politically appropriated and badly mangled in its transition to popular rhetoric, and, in both cases, not by accident. But black armbands, as any student of history knows, actually have nothing to do with 'guilt': they are about mourning and remembrance. Happy to wear one, on both scores.

For me at least, there are some fairly direct implications. The Narungga man in the photo a couple of posts back was probably -- nobody knows for sure -- my great-great-grandfather's son. From what I can make out, he stayed with the family because he wanted to, part of one of those loose and shifting constellations of single men that move seasonally round any farm. The patriarch in question, himself a penniless young Cornish immigrant who had worked eight years on the waterfront to qualify for a colonial land allocation, was one of the white men who took advantage of the colony's land policies to displace the Narungga people from Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.

I have benefited directly from that, in ways too numerous to count.

Last winter I stood in the foyer of the Adelaide Festival Centre looking in horror at a huge, brilliant, angry painting by a Narungga artist of dead bodies in the ocean being nibbled and chewed at by sea-creatures, with a little exposition alongside about the old stories of Aboriginal people on Yorke Peninsula being murdered and thrown into the sea, washed by the tide into rocky places where crayfish and crabs lay in wait to gobble them up and dispose of the evidence.

I don't know whether this story is true or not, but I hope to God it isn't. If it is, 'sorry' doesn't even touch the sides.

At that family level, I am sorry for the land-taking, which definitely happened; for the sexual exploitation of Aborginal women, which might have happened; for the murders that I want to believe did not happen -- or not, at least, at the hands of my family, 'not at all' being too much to hope for.

For whatever happened in that place, which for better or worse is also my place, that was exploitative, destructive or cruel; for whatever such activities my ancestors may have taken part in or done nothing to prevent; and for all the histories, all around the country, that are similar or worse: for all those things, on my own behalf and on behalf of my family and my country, I am truly and deeply sorry.

Cross-posted at Pavlov's Cat.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Mixed metaphor of the month

A crikey.com.au reader comments today on the departure from federal politics of Jackie Kelly:

'... she’s been used as the velvet glove to disguise the iron fist of dog-whistle race-politics ...'

Friday, May 18, 2007

Introducing 'Ask the Bronte Sisters'

(Posted last week at Pavlov's Cat.)

Yet again today, as it now seems pretty much every day, I am hearing more public talk of 'education' as though it were simply a buy-able commodity, rather than what it is in fact: an abstract and infinitely complex process of self-development, where responsibility for the process rests equally on student and teacher, and where neither the acquisition of knowledge nor the ability to process it can possibly be measured in money or in any other material equivalent.

And so, in protest against this drift in general, and in particular against the allocations in the Federal Budget for lavish university funding provided the universities in question teach what the Liberal Party wants them to teach, call it 'education', and commodify in it in such a way that its content becomes 'client-driven' and thus freed from all responsibility to truth, or indeed to responsibility -- in protest, as I say, I am starting YET ANOTHER blog.

The exclusive purpose of my new blog is to provide a free-of-charge advice and education service to aspiring writers.

At 'Ask The Brontë Sisters' you can put your questions about any aspect of writing -- characterisation, grammar, manuscript preparation, how to write your Creative Writing thesis exegesis, whatever -- to Emily, Anne and Charlotte.

All three worked as schoolteachers or governesses as well as writing Timeless Classics -- no Satanic postmodernist marxist cult studs relativism for the Brontës, I can tell you -- so they have experience in this area. Their patience with students is, however, limited, as is shown by the immortal words of Charlotte in a letter to a friend, describing her reaction to being interrupted by a small pupil needing help one day while she was in a creative daydream at her teaching desk: 'Just then a dolt came up with a lesson. I thought I should have vomited.'

And Charlotte is a pussycat compared with Emily. Sympathetic they are not. Nonetheless, they will respond to the best of their ability.

(If they feel like it, that is. They are all very highly-strung.)

I shall be available to provide a contemporary persepective on matters that they could not be reasonably expected to be up on. For example, I've supervised and/or examined quite a few MAs and PhDs in Creative Writing, so have a bit of an advantage over them in the How to Write Your Exegesis department, for example, though it's something of which I'm not sure they would approve.

For all your Advice to Writers needs, go here.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

On not giving away the plot

I've just been reading Alison Croggon's stunning review of the current Melbourne production of The History Boys and thinking about some differences: between the 1950s and the 1980s; between England and Australia; and, most of all, between reviewing theatre and reviewing fiction.

What this last difference seems to come down to is that you only 'review' a novel when it's new. And what that means is that part of your unbreakable contract with the reader (to say nothing of the publication for which you're writing) is that you must not give away the plot.

Anyone who's ever studied literature knows that there are some thumping big differences between literary reviewing and literary criticism. The main one is that in literary criticism you are not only free to discuss every aspect of the plot in question but pretty much required to do so. Fiction reviewing, on the other hand, is a bit like foreplay; the pleasures of reading narrative lie mainly in its unknowing, in the way that narrative desire lures and drags you forwards through the story, lustfully wondering what will happen next, revelling in the deferred pleasures of finding out.

So unless it's a new play (and in Australia it relatively rarely is), the theatre reviewier has a shared understanding with her/his readers that (almost) everyone knows more or less what happens in it. The artifact of the play's text is a given, and the reviewer is therefore not only free but, again, required to discuss aspects of the play as a whole thing, entire and intact: structure, characterisations, plot, meaning, ideology. What's being discussed is not just the text, but also the latest onstage interpretation of the text.

With book and theatre reviewing for MSM publication, obviously both are subject to the strictures of publication: in both cases, if you're writing for a newspaper you've got a non-negotiable and usually small word limit, and an editorial requirement that your ideas and language will remain punter-friendly. But on a blog you are freed up to write at a greater level of complexity and at as much length as you like. You can insert spoiler warnings, which is a rather good way of getting around the strictures on giving away the plot, though with fiction as with film reviews this can be frustrating for the reader.

But Alison's review of The History Boys seems to me to be one of those blog posts that demonstrate the possibilities of what blogs at their best can do. It's an ideal medium for reviewing theatre. Theatre reviews are by their nature ephemeral and need to appear straight away; theatre productions are 'news', in that they quickly get old, in the way that books are not. And there's certainly no publication in this country that would run a theatre review of even a quarter this length and complexity -- probably at all, much less in time for potential punters or recent audiences to read it.

In the blogosphere and freed from the cash nexus, though, it becomes possible for someone like Alison to share with her readership the expression of what she thinks and knows, without having to withhold any information or dumb anything down; to share it while it's still current and breathing; and to elevate the level of cultural discussion, among people who find it interesting and important, to far greater heights than anything in the MSM infrastructure could possibly allow.

Cross-posted at Sarsaparilla

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Predicting the Miles Franklin shortlist

Some time in 1981, I made my first-ever soufflé (cheese), from a recipe by Julia Child. To my astonishment, it rose, and it stayed risen. It was delicious. It was, in a word, perfect.

And I have never made another one. I figure the only direction one can go from there is south and I go south way too often by accident as it is.

By the same token, a freak effort off the top of my head last year meant that a couple of hours before the Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlist was announced, I listed my prediction and got a perfect score, which means that any attempt to do it again is doomed to failure.

However, here on the day before the shortlist is to be announced, pressure is being applied. It's sheer madness, considering I have actually read fewer than half the novels on the longlist -- this reviewing-four-novels-a-week-for-the-SMH caper means that my reading patterns have radically changed. But okay, for what it's worth, here is my prediction:

I predict that the judges will take the slightly unusual step of choosing a longlist with only four novels on it rather than five, and that those novels will be, in alphabetical order, Careless, Carpentaria, Dreams of Speaking and Silent Parts.

And I think Carpentaria will win.

Monday, April 02, 2007

New prize for writers: the Barbara Jefferis Award (part 1)

From Susan Wyndham in last Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald:

'... the Barbara Jefferis Award ... is launched today by the Australian Society of Authors.

Offering prizemoney of "at least $35,000", the award will be given annually from next year to "the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society. The novel may be in any genre and it is not necessary for it to be set in Australia."

Among the country's most generous book awards, it is funded by a $1 million bequest from Jefferis's husband, John Hinde, the ABC film critic who died last year. Hinde has also funded a new film script award for the Australian Writers' Guild.

Rosalind Hinde, a Sydney biologist, said her father established the Jefferis Award in his will with "the very clear and strong intention to honour my mother's writing, her feminism and her devotion to other writers".'

I'd hoped to have a long, considered post about this award up at this site before I went to bed last night, but the more I think about it, the more worms -- big fat wriggly ones -- I realise there are in this particular can. Here are a few of them:

What is an Australian author? What does 'positive' mean, and what 'empowers'? What is a level playing field, and why do we need one? How are women currently represented in Australian fiction, how were they in the past, and why is it more complicated than a simple 'for women only' literary prize? Why do people think it's their right to condemn and interfere with what other people choose to do in their wills with their own money?

So I am working on a long post trying to tease out all the different strands of our assumptions about writing and writers, about essentialism and feminism, about nationalism and whatever the other thing is, that are woven tighly up in this new award and the discussion about it. But I may, as Captain Oates remarked, be some time.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Reading notes: We Need to Talk About Kevin

The other day I bought a copy of something that everybody else read two or three years ago but that had passed me by. I hadn't realised it was a novel -- I thought it was some kind of dreary earnest American soul-searching self-help kind of thingy -- or I would have read it sooner.

I'm talking about Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Now I have been putting in marathon efforts to get up to date with the piled-up Magic-Puddingesque workload (I cut, it comes again) of other work apart from the weekly fiction reviewing, and have actually been making tiny inroads here and there -- ensuring in the meantime that I do not actually forget what my friends and family look like, run out of clean knickers, or die of botulism or bubonic plague.

But all such efforts have been blown out of the water over the last 48 hours. Because when I haven't been asleep or out, I've been reading this appalling, brilliant book.

I gather there's some amazing twist at the end. DO NOT I REPEAT DO NOT TELL ME WHAT IT IS and if anybody does I will stalk you down the Interwebs for all eternity. (Has it got something to do with her very very wonky 'handwriting' in the signatures? Are the husband and the daughter, in fact, both dead?)

In the meantime, here's how to win the Orange Prize: write a passage as good as this, and then keep it up for 468 pages.

'But I have a theory about Dream Homes ... Regardless of how much money you lavish on oak baseboards, an unhistoried house is invariably cheap in another dimension. Otherwise, the trouble seems rooted in the nature of beauty itself, a surprisingly elusive quality and one you can rarely buy outright. It flees in the face of too much effort. It rewards casualness, and most of all it deigns to arrive by whim, by accident. On my travels, I became a devotee of found art: a shaft of light on a dilapidated 1914 gun factory, an abadoned billboard whose layers have worn into a beguiling pentimento collage of Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, and Burma Shave, cut-rate pensions whose faded cushions perfectly match, in that unplanned way, the fluttering sun-blanched curtains.'




Well, there's an almost Shakespearean breadth and transcendence at the very end, that looking-family-matters-in-the-eye-no-matter-what business that you get at the end of the four last plays, and quite a few of the others as well. 'This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.'

Cross-posted at Pavlov's Cat

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Remembering Elizabeth Jolley

Elizabeth Jolley, who died in mid-February after a long illness, corresponded with my Austrian friends the Wimmers, Adi and Irene, from the time she met Adi in Perth in 1989 until she became incapable of writing letters, in 2002. Adi, who has taught Australian literature and film at the University of Klagenfurt in the Austrian province of Carinthia for many years, has kindly provided his own memoir of Elizabeth for me to post here.

I met Elizabeth in March of 1989 in her Claremont home, as part of an “orientation tour” of Australia’s most important universities, funded by the (then) generous Australia Council. Somehow we hit it off straight away, and I was allowed a second audience two days later when she showed me round the campus of Curtin University. I remember her appearance the same way as Helen Garner does: she was dressed in simple, unfashionable clothes, and wore good sensible shoes over sensible stockings. I liked her for that.

We talked about Thomas Mann and Rainer Maria Rilke, two of our favourite authors; I told her there was a glorious “Rilke path” running atop the cliff to the east of Duino, overlooking the Adriatic, where Rilke had spent three years at the expense of the castle’s owner, the Count of “Torre e Tasso.” “Ah nice” was her standard reply to me enthusing the beauty of the site. I asked her about Vienna, one of the locations in her hilarious novel Miss Peabody’s Inheritance, and although she knew Vienna slightly she told me she had made up most of the locations as they appear in the novel.

At the end of my visit she asked me where I would travel next. “Ayer’s Rock” I said, not knowing the name Uluru at that time. “You’ll need a bush hat” she proclaimed and disappeared upstairs, returning in a minute with a sand-coloured hat with a floppy brim. Can you imagine my delight? At my request she signed it with a felt pen. I usually wear that hat when I do my gardening, another interest we shared.

From 1989 to 2002 we conducted a correspondence; she also exchanged letters with my wife Irene. Elizabeth was interested in our descriptions of the aftermath of Nazism in Austria, which unlike Germany had got away with sweeping its involvement with Nazism under the carpet, at least until the Waldheim scam.

She also took a keen interest in my research about Jewish exiles, and wrote movingly how her father between 1933 and 1939 had so often put up Jewish refugees fresh off the boat. She had mixed feelings about these visitors; while she understood that they were deserving of support, she also resented that when she came home from school (Sibford, a Quaker boarding school) she had to kip on the living room settee, as her own bedroom was usually occupied. Once such a refugee walked off with her father’s greatcoat, an episode that must have firmly stuck in her mind because she told me that story twice.

Not long after the publication in 2001 of her last novel An Innocent Gentleman, to my growing consternation, her handwriting became unsure, then frail. The lines would begin to dance on the page, and she made spelling errors. Or she added '(spelling?)', like that, in parenthesis. With hindsight, I realize what agonies she must have experienced at the time. Here she was, one of the cultural treasures of her country, a writer with a wheelbarrow full of medals and awards, and she was losing control over her most precious tool, the English language.

There was quite a flurry of letters in that year, as if she had a premonition the time for letters was fast running out, letters in which she would often repeat a narrative of the previous one. But on the other hand, she also told me a very touching and new story, how her mother Grete had quite recklessly ruined the peace of Christmas Eve (it must have been that of 1939 or 1940) with bitter recriminations because upon getting home from her shift at the hospital, she had dared run a bath for herself to get the hospital smells out of her hair. Mother had expected her to join in the singing of Austrian carols under the already candle-lit Christmas tree, and not even Elizabeth’s conciliatory Quaker father was able to calm down his irate wife.

She had an incredibly hard life in the decade 1939-1949, how hard only a few people know, and they are very protective. The full story has never been told.

Elizabeth’s last letter started with the words, “Dear Franz.” I stared at the page and knew we were going to lose her.

Adi Wimmer

Monday, March 12, 2007

New prize on the horizon (with the inevitable segue to Patrick White)

Susan Wyndham at Undercover has some advance knowledge of a new Australian literary prize to be announced at the end of this month.

If it's as lucrative as the Miles Franklin and its terms 'are likely to be inspiring to some but also controversial', then it should get a lot of press when the official announcement is made on March 31. What the 'controversial terms' part suggests to me is that the prize may favour a particular demographic. The young? The female? The gay or lesbian? The *gasps, makes sign of cross* multicultural?

If that's the case, here in the land of literary hoaxes, such a substantial offering will no doubt attract people out to make some sort of point. I know other countries have literary hoaxes too, but it seems to me that what with Ern Malley, Gwen Harwood, Helen Demidenko, Paul Radley, Wanda Koolmatrie, Wraith Picket and that's just off the top of my head, we are punching well above our weight.

I've been on a few judging panels for literary prizes over the last decade or two, and in that capacity have kept an increasingly jaded and suspicious eye out for anything that looks as though it could be a hoax. Most of these things are perpetrated by people out to either get around the terms of the prize in order to (a) win it (Paul Radley's uncle wrote the book he won the Vogel with), (b) fight skirmishes in ideological/aesthetic flame wars (Ern Malley), or (c) (closely related to (b)) make various ideological/political points (Demidenko, Koolmatrie, Harwood, Picket. Spot the real person in that list).

The 'Gotcha!' impulse behind this kind of thing has always struck me as a bit of a double-edged sword. If the motivations of the people behind the Wraith Picket/Patrick White hoax (and I still think that if they were going with anagrams then they should have called him Keith Crapwit) had been different, they could have spun that puppy 180 degrees and said 'Look: no fewer than twelve literary experts have said this guy isn't any good. Perhaps it's time to re-evaluate him. Perhaps his work was mediocre all along.'

Not that I would ever claim such a thing myself, believing as I do that literary value is not absolute, and belonging as I do to the generation for whom Patrick White's work was a major formative experience, for whom his literary gifts are self-evident, and for whom his ideological freight was and is a great deal less simple and more radical than was claimed in Simon During's correct-line little book. But it's something that they could, if they'd been on the other side of the culture wars, have very easily done.

As it is, the conservative hoaxers seem to have shot themselves in the foot. What they wanted was to cause further damage to all those naughty lefties who are trying to destroy "our" heritage by not teaching Australian literature in "our" universities. (Which is, of course, factually quite wrong, as with the claims from other conservative culture warriors that "the feminists" have been silent on the subject of repellent fundamentalist-Islamic practices and beliefs regarding women. When in doubt, make stuff up.)

What they have created instead, quite unintentionally I'm sure, is a new upsurge of interest in White himself: there's now a blog devoted specifically to an online Patrick White reading group, an upcoming conference devoted specifically to his work and reputation, and an all-day event at the National Library, where Friday March 30th will be Patrick White Day.

But creating this new wave of interest in a writer who was an acknowledged homosexual and whose work introduced the country's fiction readers to new ways of thinking about Aborginal Australia, about class relations, about multicultural issues long before that was what they were called, and about autonomous, unforgettable female characters at the centre of a story (Theodora Goodman, Laura Trevelyan, Elizabeth Hunter, Ellen Roxburgh ... the list goes on) may not have been quite what the conservative elements had in mind when they set out to humiliate the contemporary literary left and score points in the culture wars.

Cross-posted at Pavlov's Cat.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Let's just try that again

Oh dear, look at this poor shockingly neglected blog.

For some reason, posting about things literary on a separate blog got much harder after the Google/Blogger upgrade made it impossible to keep this blog completely separate from Pavlov's Cat. That and the flat-strap workload since Boxing Day have kept me away from here, but I'm going to have one more go at keeping this as a separate reading/writing blog, rather than merging it with PC completely.

I wouldn't want the people who are only here because they're interested in literature to have to wade through all the other stuff at PC (photos of cats peeking up out of shopping bags or sound asleep on piano stools in front of the opening movement of the Moonlight Sonata, long raves about movies, bits of song lyrics, short raves about the lies of politicians, recipes for gingerbread, polemic, garden photos, cultural analysis, smart-arsed remarks about Ralph Fiennes, Peter Garrett, Dolce e Gabbana and so on, tales of What I Did on My Holidays, hymns of praise to the ripeness of the tomatoes, and various other such grab-baggy threads and patches as daily life is made of) just to get to the bits about books and writing. So I will try to write here regularly at least once a week.

Let us begin, then, with the ongoing task for which I've been trying to get into a method and a rhythm (though perhaps not the rhythm method -- productivity is the goal here) of reading four novels a week to write short reviews of them for the Sydney Morning Herald. I've been doing this job since Boxing Day and it is, as I was warned by my editor, gruelling -- especially as it would be suicidal to give up any of my other gigs, even if I wanted to -- but it is also quite exhilarating.

There's the excitement of finding unfamiliar writers whose work I really like, the discipline of reading the occasional book I hate and then writing a fair review of it in 180 words, the sanity-enhancing requirement of the routine necessary to meet a regular deadline, and the pleasure of being able to pass on the books when I finish them to people I know will really appreciate them.

(I'm trying to remember when it was that I stopped collecting and hoarding books and began to do desperate, frequent culls in order not to get pushed out of my own house by the encroaching piles. Probably about 1990.)

But the best thing about this gig is the astonishing breadth of subject matter and material in the books that arrive at my door. In only two months of doing this job I've read books set in France, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Japan, the Netherlands, Botswana, Nepal and Wales; in Beijing, New York, Canberra, Oslo, London and Vienna; in 19th-century Louisiana, 1940s East Germany, the Arctic in the 17th century, and in various fantasy worlds both futuristic and medieval-derived.

I've read novels translated from the Norwegian, the Spanish, the Danish and the Dutch. I've read crime fiction, romance, fantasy, chick-lit, high-lit, low-lit, lit lite, and lit extremely heavy. I thought I knew a fair bit about fiction, but it turns out I only knew a fair bit about the fiction I knew a fair bit about.

People who don't "get" fiction no doubt think that it teaches you nothing. But I know a hell of a lot more than I did eight weeks ago about Cuban refugees to New Jersey in the 1960s; about the state of Christiana (old name for Oslo) in the late 19th century and the fact that the Missing Link between Crime and Punishment and The Trial is Knut Hamsun's Hunger; about the forced evacuation -- Die Flucht, 'the Flight' -- by the Russian Army of twelve million East Germans in 1945; about the Sri Lankan civil war and the methods and motives of the Tamil Tigers; about class tensions in the town of Syracuse in upstate New York; about octopusesque corruption in contemporary Beijing ...

You get the picture.

During my life as an academic, fiction was what I mostly taught and a lot of it was 19th-century fiction at that, so reading two, sometimes three novels a week, some of which were six or seven hundred pages long, was the norm -- and as all academics know, reading or re-reading the things you have to teach is the most pleasant part of the work and is merely the tip of the iceberg.

So by comparison, this job is heaven. Occasionally when I'm whingeing about my Wednesday deadline, my best mate reminds me that what I do for a living is read stories, at home, and, more often than not, lying down on the sofa.

It's a hard life, but somebody's got to do it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On the Difficulty of Teaching Creative Writing

Cross-posted at Pavlov's Cat

I've been teaching creative writing on and off for 25 years and have written and spoken many, many words on the subject. But this -- from a short story called 'WritOr' in a book called Touchy Subjects by Irish-Canadian writer Emma Donoghue, of whom I had not previously heard but of whom I most certainly expect to hear more in the future -- says it better than anything I've ever said myself, or anything I've ever read or heard. It doesn't quite cover all the bases -- but it covers most of them.

The writer considered whether to tell BJ that to print five hundred copies of his so-called coming-of-age novel was a criminal waste of trees as well as his ex-girlfriend's money. That it would never get reviewed, stocked, or bought. Instead he dragged the dog-eared manuscript towards him and opened it at random. "This sentence doesn't have a verb."

The gilt shades looked back at him blankly.

"If you don't know what a verb is, BJ, why the fuck do you imagine you can write a novel?"

Tears skidded down BJ's face. The young man tried to speak; his Adam's apple jerked. He bent over as if he'd been stabbed. There were salt drops on the writer's desk, on the manuscript.

"I'm sorry," the writer said, breathless, "I'm so sorry --"

But BJ didn't seem to hear him.