Saturday, January 19, 2008

Wake up, America, and get a life

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt ... wait, this just in: There are no regular readers of this blog. Perhaps it has something to do with the infrequent updates, which now coincide roughly with lunar eclipses. And maybe the reason for that is, I haven't read any fiction worth blogging about for the last couple of months. Yes, I know it's out there; I just haven't read it. In fact, I haven't done much of anything except play a dumb computer game called "Lord of the Rings Online" and go to work. No excuses here; I'm going to lay it all off on Seasonal Affective Disorder. Won't you please help?

So. No books on the nightstand; let me talk about work. For the past year and a half, my job has consisted of editing letters to the editor. It has exposed me to the dark underbelly of this community -- a world of querulous oldsters, mostly, and a few other bitter souls to whom the rules of grammar and spelling are further evidence of Mainstream Media elitism. It is a world where no argument can't be improved with a liberal sprinkling of exclamation points, no point can't be driven home with random and frequent capitalization. In this world, all thoughts, no matter how convoluted, are summarized with the phrase, “Wake up, America!!!!!”

It's dangerous, dirty work. But somebody has to do it. Otherwise a lot of this stuff might not get in the paper. Without skills like mine, you'd get one long, rambling letter each day, instead of a lot of short ones. And how else would readers learn of liberal plots to socialize America, and conservative plots to nuke Iran? How else would they know that the war in Iraq is not working out so well, or that illegal immigrants are interested chiefly in forcing us to learn Spanish?

In this spirit, here are a few tips for submitting letters to the editor. Follow them, and no matter what newspaper you're writing to, I guarantee your prose will see print. Or not.

  • Exclamation points: One is too many. If you find yourself repeatedly tapping that key, ask yourself why there are no exclamation points in the Gettysburg Address.

  • Capital letters: Making any word or phrase in your letter all caps is the same as scrawling it in crayon. You look like a lunatic.

  • Length: At our paper, the guideline is 200 words, so most letters arrive at 500. The Gettysburg address was 272 words. Unless you're writing about an issue of equal significance, something shorter should suffice.

  • Colorful fonts: Highlighting the thesis of your argument in red or green Rockwell Extra Bold does not make it more convincing; it makes your letter look like a pitch for penis enlargement, which already accounts for about 92 percent of my e-mail.

  • The word “lose”: That's how it's spelled: L-O-S-E. Not “loose.”

  • “So-called”: People use this phrase to denote sarcasm, but it never works. “Our so-called leaders” or “my so-called parents” have roughly the same tone – that of a sullen seventh-grader.

  • “Get a life”: This phrase, considered a hip dismissal of another's argument for about three weeks in 1987, now carries the same intellectual heft as the F-word. Its only meaning is that the speaker is incapable of saying anything else.

I could go on and on. In fact, I have gone on and on, quite a ways past 200 words. But then that's why the Good Lord gave us blogs, isn't it?


Petrona said...

As one who has spent many a year editing "letters to the editor", I cracked up at your post. So true, so true! And they all feel they have to "shout", disagree and get stroppy in order to get published -- they could just make their point, which will do -- as they could tell if they read any published Correspondence (as we call it) pages.

I am a regular reader of your blog -- I appreciate there is only one of me, but I am definitely a regular. The beauty of RSS is that each time you post, however rarely, up it pops in my reader, so I miss none of your gems.
all best

(I seem to be using a new google function that links direct to my blog but insists on calling me Petrona).

Peter said...

LOL!!! LOL!!! This is REALLY GOOD!!!

At your newspaper, you call these people lunatics. At mine, we call them community voices.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Peter said...

Do you think your editors would consider publishing that as an op-ed piece?
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Dave Knadler said...

Peter, I think not. It might be seen as snide and insulting to our regular correspondents. I'm fine with that, but others might say this is no time to be alienating our last loyal readers.

Dave Knadler said...

Maxine, I'm flattered. And delighted to know that you also have some experience with reader correspondence. As much as I complain, I do consider the job entertaining.

dave_lull said...

D. Keith Mano, a brilliant novelist and journalist, laid down the law on exclamation points: "The exclamation mark should be used only in dialogue, and then only when the speaker has just been disemboweled."

And Dave, I'm a regular reader of your blog, too. Infrequent updates? I hadn't noticed: I don't use RSS feeds, so I visit your blog regularly (though the time between visits is getting longer because my list of blogs to visit is getting longer and I don't make it completely through the list in as timely a fashion as I used to) and because my memory isn't what it used to be, I probably (re)read your latest posting, no matter when you posted it, and think it's a new one.

Jessie K said...

Good one, dad. Funny!