How Raymond Chandler Dealt With Excessive Editing

Raymond Chandler: “This is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive.”

From a letter that Raymond Chandler sent to Edward Weeks, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, on January 18, 1947:

A Hard Thing About Being an Editor

You have to love your writers but love your readers more. Some writers can’t understand or forgive that.

Barney Collier to Mark Bowden: “At the Herald Tribune, the Facts Were Exceedingly Straight”

By Barnard Law Collier

In response to yesterday’s Mark Bowden post about fact, fiction, and the New Journalism:

Around me in a far corner of the New York Herald Tribune’s cluttered, nicotine-stained newsroom in Manhattan sat the cream of the best practitioners of the so-called “New Journalism” which, as best defined, was old journalism plus novelistic points of view and cinematic gizmos.

Tom Wolfe was assigned to one neat desk. Jimmy Breslin sat at a brutally beat up and overstuffed wooden hulk. Gail Greene’s desk was Manhattan’s food central. Hunter Thompson’s desk drawers were rich and abundant with pharmaceutical treasures.

Mark Bowden: Why Journalism Can’t Be Both Fact and Fiction

Truth is never less interesting than fiction, and is usually more so. All of us go through life with a general idea about people, places and events that we’ve never seen. That general idea is based on guesswork and is tainted by presupposition, bias, received wisdom, etc., etc. Real reporting replaces such guesswork with a solid, firsthand account, and in my experience nearly always demonstrates that what we thought was true was wrong, in ways large and small. Our world and the people who populate it are infinitely various and complex and are always changing, so a truthful account of anything ought to be, by definition, surprising. That’s why reporting has inherent value: There are things fiction can do that journalism cannot, but truthfulness is the thing journalism has over fiction. A made-up general or prostitute can offer me many things in the hands of a great writer, but it cannot replace the intrinsic value of a well-drawn portrait of the real thing. When a writer embellishes reporting with his imagination, whether by creating composites, rearranging the sequence of events or inventing dialogue, he creates something that is not just a fraud, but which is less than either fiction or fact.

The Blame Game: Something Lawyers (and Journalists) Do Well

Bunny had put on his legal face. No more squeezing of the eyes. No more raising the voice for a slow-witted older man who doesn’t hear too well.

“I want to go back to where we came in—that all right with you? You and the Rule of Law. The Service and the Rule of Law. Do I have your full attention?”

“I suppose so.”

“I mentioned to you the British public’s insatiable interest in historic crime. Something by no means lost on our gallant parliamentarians.”

“Did you? Probably.”

Advice From Robert Anderson That Applies Mostly to Writing Fiction

I tell my students that writing is like painting. At first the painter looks back and forth—from his canvas to the bowl of flowers he is painting on the canvas. But finally his total concentration is focused on what is in front of him on the easel, and it may barely resemble the bowl of flowers.

The same holds true in writing. The writer draws from memory, imagination, and experience, then they melt together and fuse. The best writing, I think, is full of lies that tell the truth.

Is Rating Toddlers a Little Like Having to Rate Writers?

Yesterday’s post about rating writers suggested that editors being forced to give writers a written performance review isn’t much different from how Washington day care centers now give parents a review of how their one-year-olds are doing each day. A Washington journalist with a one-year-old in a DC day care center sends along the daily review she gets:

Nap News

Out like a light____ Bright eyed and bushy tailed_____A little sleepy____


Hungry as a horse_____Hungry as a bird_____Hungry as him/herself_____

Fun Facts

Your child especially like playing with______________________________

At circle today we read_____________________________

How Would You Rate This Writer? Punctual? Honest? Dependable? Cooperative?

Personnel experts like forms—especially annual reviews—to create a paper trail on each employee. As an editor I was introduced to annual performance reviews when the Washingtonian changed hands in 1979. We went from Laughlin Phillips, who had started the magazine in 1965  and cared nothing about management practices, to Philip Merrill, who already owned a successful newspaper that had what amounted to vice presidents for editorial, production, advertising, finance, etc.

When the vice presidents descended on the magazine, I was instructed that all employees would now get a written annual performance review.

Not a Former President? Then It’s Not That Easy to Join a Country Club

ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser at the White House with President Obama.

Former President Barack Obama is staying in Washington, probably until June 2019, while his daughter Sasha finishes high school. The Obamas rented a house just north of the White House and he’ll work on a book about his eight years as president. He will also play golf at Columbia Country Club, according to a Washingtonian magazine story:

Columbia’s board revealed the news in a letter to members on Thursday. “Following careful deliberation, the Board of Governors voted to extend an invitation for Honorary Membership to former President of the United States Barack Obama,” reads an excerpt shared with Washingtonian. “We have received official word from Mr. Obama of his acceptance of our invitation.”

The Best Book About a Magazine Editor

In the narrowest sense, editors lay twitchy hands on someone else’s work, fixing it, patching it, polishing it, and generally trying to keep it upright. In the broadest sense, however, they set the agenda, standards, and tone for a publication. They hire and fire; they pick stories, and the writers to go with them. They must have enough ego to confidently steer talented people, but the will to subordinate it. They must assuage prima donnas, compel laggards, and sober up drunks.