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  • Writer's pictureBill

How to Write (category: English, Fiction)

Updated: Jul 23, 2021

There are choices: lucid and clear or subtle and multifaceted. Lucid and clear doesn’t mean simple. Mr. Hemingway taught that. The modern exemplar is George Saunders, who can do anything, but when he chooses simple and clear as a style, as taken to extreme in the short story The Semplica Girl Diaries in the Tenth of December collection, it’s as if he’s created a masterpiece painting using only a pencil.

I think the best writer, alive today is, hands down, Michael Chabon. He’s always multifaceted and subtle. Occasionally one of his beauteous sentences can bring a tear to one’s eye. I’m not crediting him with chin dropping plots (I think he’s admitted that a weakness, though Yiddish Policemen’s Union is no slouch) or unique characters (likeable, interesting, but other than the women in Telegraph Avenue, I can’t say memorable). But his masterful sentences akin to Novak Djokovic’s none better, clever and elegant, two handed backhand, make Chabon the heir of Updike, and Chabon has surpassed his father. Chabon can charge almost any sentence with creative elegance. For example, try Manhood for Amateurs (2009), which is a good example because there are no worries about plot, settings, or characters so Chabon can just craft his sentences. Here’s an unusually short example: “After a marriage breaks, there is nothing more pointless than a child, to that child, of that marriage.”

I am sick to death of reading my novel to myself on the final final final edit and still finding how much better it could be. Thinking about Chabon and Saunders, ornate or simple, but always imaginative, clever, and original, here is my early attempt to mess with such things.

I also can't resist telling you that a colleague of mine, in all seriousness, after searching on line for my research publications, came across this one (published in the short-lived Manhattan Literary Review, NY. Summer, 2004), and asked if I had changed my focus of research from lungs to neuroscience.

Jack and Jill: A Reassessment Using Computer Modeling to Predict Outcomes


The denouement of the Jack/Jill relationship has fascinated therapists (mainly of the analytical schools) for decades. With better understanding of neurochemistry and neuroanatomy joined with recent step‑ups in bandwidth, RAM, and gigabyte capacity that allow scenario real‑time visualization and analysis, we have constructed a model that (assuming validity of the input assumptions) will predict outcomes of similar and more complex relationships.


See details filed on www:// In brief, we recast a model of the principal scenario in the relationship, carried out multiple analyses of imaged outputs to find how they were affected by initial assumptions, seeking the core paradigm that was robust enough to rerun despite multiple inputs and one that would predict future outcomes of this and other relationships. We analyzed the data using an IBM very expensive and big computer. This study was approved by the human research committee (Committee On Ethical Approaches to Human Research While at the Same Time Maintaining Research Funding), the Chairman of the Dept. de Mechanismos Electronicos. the Rector of the University,and the counsel for Sr. Jack and Dona Jill. (Full disclosure in this report requires notice that Students Who Prefer Experiments to Be Done Only on Rats was filed and duly noted by the CEAHRWSTMRF or in Spanish, CDFTKDKSKFFKJDKSLOD).


As in the original construct, Jack and Jill were set out on a hike. They were situated in the hills behind Santa Barbara, California, on an afternoon in the summer. (Initial conditions for experiment: fog setting zero; full sunshine; temperature 24 Celsius; Jack 28.26 years; Jill 27 {range 24-27} years.) They were well-fed, hydrated, and dressed in comfortable but attractive clothing that was suitable for their years and bordered on cheap but trendy. Results vary depending on whether lovemaking the night before was inputted (if so, it tended to make analysis more viscous, but overall outcome measures remained unchanged. Results are reported for previous fondling only for ease of analysis).

Illustrative dialogue from outputted scenario, run 34, May 18, 2003:

Jack: “Great day.”

Jill: “You bet.”

[At this point, the Spanish investigator of the team tweaked the background inputs to result in the following:]

Jack: “Darling.” He squeezed her hand and gave her a passionate kiss on her neck, leaving what would be a difficult- to- explain hickey the next day.

Jill: (panting) “Darling.”

And so it went, as they held hands and ascended the trail. After an hour of easy hiking, they stopped for lunch in a grove of eucalyptus. In the redolent shade, they sipped some vino tinto, and ate simply of cheese, bread, and grapes. They lay on a patch of green grass, their bodies touching. Jack thought of how Jill was feeling, spending not a lot of attention on her qualities. Jill thought of Jack’s qualities, and wondered less about how he was feeling, sensibly believing that was his business.

After three months of analysis, inferred central nervous system imaging showed this divergence in approach to the relationship to be capricious and inconsistent. It recurred sufficiently often to serve as an initial matrix‑setting assumption for inputting values for purpose, definitions of reality, mechanisms of making choices, and semi-conscious modes used for maintaining control by both Jack and Jill.

At this point it is appropriate to include discussion between the investigators to give the flavor of the nature of the analytical approach in the same way that Watson described the events surrounding the discovery of the double helix, that other basis for life:

X: “A pail of water. So what’s that all about? The computer suggests over a million possibilities.”

Y: “It’s like money, sex, and air—only important when you don’t have it.”

X: “Is it God? The secret of the Universe that they’re after?

Y: “Your ideas. They are too complicado. We are after all over 90% water so it is to find themselves, I theenk.”

X looked at Y and wondered for the hundredth time why he was stuck with him as a coinvestigator. Where X saw black, Y saw white. X was only in Madrid because his grant was running out and Y had access to a new shared computer facility that was orders of magnitude more powerful than X had at his university in Dubuque.

So they reran the model, and they found that Y’s suggestion gave an 83% likelihood of fit.

Their work continued through the Madrid spring.

—Why the hill? 93% data fit with ‘hill’ as metaphor for ‘life’.

Illustrative example no. 2. (filename C:\researchJackjill\scenarios\may252003\run2\

A cloud suppressed their patch of sun as Jack noticed another couple near them. They were necking passionately.

“Look at them. She adores him.”

Jill noticed the man was older, wore a wedding ring, and his unshined shoes lay akimbo in the grass. One of his socks had a hole in it. His jeans were crusted with days’ old grime. He wore an expensive Rolex watch.

“See how she licks his ear? I can’t stand it,” Jack said and reached for Jill and tried to pull her close.

Jill stiffened and pulled away. “I wouldn’t trust him for a minute.”

“What do you mean? They’re obviously in love.”

Jill stood and brushed off her shirt and turned to see if there were grass stains on her white slacks. Why Jack hadn’t brought a blanket was beyond her. She started back up the rocky path while Jack clattered along behind her. “Jill, Jill. What’s wrong, honey?”

—Jack fell down: 50% fit with accident; 50% with Jill having pushed him.

—And broke his crown: 83% fit with ‘crown’ being synonymous with male ego. Psychological damage only with no somatic trauma, scaling 2 out of possible 10.

—And Jill came, well, rushing, after.

Run 18 synchronized with Jill remorseful, guilty, loving, irritated, resigned, tired, hot, headachy, anxious, caring, and worried about what she would make for supper, as she picks Jack up and dusts him off, remonstrating that he should watch where he puts his big feet on the rocky trail.

X didn’t really like Y. Y often ignored the printouts stacked on his desk in his cubicle. He came to work early, took a long lunch, and often didn’t reappear until four in the afternoon, yawning. Y smoked Gitanes. Ash dribbled down his shirtfront, and the acrid smoke drifted into his red and half‑closed eyes. He looked like an insouciant French actor in the sort of B movies that had a lot of explicit sex toward the end. He spent hours smoking and looking at his screen saver of a small cabin in the forests of Galicia.

On a Thursday morning after altering inputs all night, X had an epiphany that he was sure would bring him new research funding. The central metaphor centered on the planets of Mars and Venus. The more he thought about it, the more excited he became. The concept incorporated much of the Greek and Roman mythology that had been used to good effect by Freud and Jung. His synthesis rounded up in his mind, X sauntered over to Y’s cubicle and sat on the side of his desk and started to explain his insight.

After no more than a sentence or two, Y shook his head, lit another cigarette off the butt of his previous one. “Lo ha hicho.” (It’s been done). “A guy in California. Don’t you look at the self‑help paperbacks in the airport newsstands? Superficial stuff. Describes ways that men and women are different, but it’s phenomenological not mechanistic.” Y stubbed out his cigarette and lit another. “Look at it this way,” he continued. “It’s more of a cultural thing. In my country, we have two verbs that mean, ‘to be.’ One describes the quality of a thing or the person.”

X knew this and didn’t see why he was receiving a grammar lesson when he was sitting on the key to wrapping up their work.

“Look, Y, the crux of my idea is . . .” X said.

Y shrugged and stared at his screen saver. “A door is made of wood—that’s its quality.” He pointed to the small door in the front of the cabin on his screen saver. “But whether it’s opened or closed, that’s its state. Ser o estar. Get it?”

X knew elementary Spanish. “Yeah, yeah, the one’s permanent, the other’s temporary.”

Y shook his head and looked at the ceiling expelling smoke from his nose. “That’s the error. Often what you say works, but it is not fundamentally verdad. Jill thinks with ser and Jack thinks with estar. It’s right there in one of our initial runs in the middle of May.”

“Yeah, yeah, but you can’t just pick less than 1% of all of our data and come to a central conclusion from that alone,” X said and picked the printout from under the feet of Y.

Porque no?” Y said with a shrug.

Maybe Y was on drugs. The past week, for sure, he’d had a concentration problem. It was as if Y had become one of his own computer programs, following his own logic independently of the results that came from the printouts. X only needed him to help on the more difficult programming problems. X thought he would get the first flight out and write up his results alone.

Summary conclusion by administrator of funding agency:

The investigators came to parallel but different syntheses of the data, with no evident consensus. Members of the Peer Review Study Section point out that the best fit result obtained by one of the investigators used little of the data to support his conclusion. Concern was expressed by reviewers that the collaboration may not have achieved results anticipated by the original proposal. Nonetheless, the study section recommended approval for continued study. The importance of the investigation was emphasized, although the investigators have not altogether responded satisfactorily to the reviewers’ concerns raised in the initial review of the proposal and the flaws in their approach remain unaddressed by the investigators. More study is recommended to find which model has predictive power for given couples in the ‘hillside search for water’ paradigm. With elucidation of the Jack/Jill model, application can be made for more complex relationships (e.g., fill in the name of yourself and your significant other here). Funding is recommended with only modest enthusiasm.

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