The tagline of this blog, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is “Putting words in a row since 2001.” It occurred to me recently that I’ve never explained where that phrase came from.
It’s from a Robert A. Heinlein novel. But not, as you might expect, from his science fiction. Heinlein wrote one fantasy novel, Glory Road, that deserves a lot more attention than it gets. It’s the story of an American soldier, just discharged after a tour of duty in Vietnam, who finds the following ad in the classified section of a French newspaper:
ARE YOU A COWARD? This is not for you. We badly need a brave man. He must be 23 to 25 years old, in perfect health, at least six feet tall, weigh about 190 pounds, fluent English with some French, proficient with all weapons, some knowledge of engineering and mathematics essential, willing to travel, no family or emotional ties, indomitably courageous and handsome of face and figure. Permanent employment, very high pay, glorious adventure, great danger. You must apply in person, 17, rue Dante, Nice, 2me etage, appt. D.
Intrigued, he answers the ad and is hired to escort and protect a beautiful woman (and her manservant) on a perilous journey through a fantasy world populated by ogres, minotaurs, Rodents of Unusual Size, and dragons — at the end of which they must enter an evil stronghold and recover a priceless artifact.
At one point during the journey, the travelers stop for the night and camp under the stars. The protagonist finds himself afflicted with insomnia and appeals to the manservant for help:
But I didn’t go to sleep. The truth is, I’ve got a monkey on my back, a habit worse than marijuana though not as expensive as heroin. I can stiff it out and get to sleep anyway — but it wasn’t helping that I could see light in Star’s tent and a silhouette that was no longer troubled by a dress.
The fact is I am a compulsive reader. Thirty-five cents’ worth of Gold Medal Original will put me right to sleep. Or Perry Mason. But I’ll read the ads in an old Paris-Match that has been used to wrap herring before I’ll do without.
I got up and went around the tent. “Psst! Rufo.”
“Yes, milord.” He was up fast, a dagger in his hand.
“Look, is there anything to read around this dump?”
“What sort of thing?”
“Anything, just anything. Words in a row.”
“Just a moment.” He was gone a while, using a flashlight around that beachhead dump of plunder. He came back and offered me a book and a small camp lamp. I thanked him, went back, and lay down.
When I first read Glory Road, that scene stuck in my mind because I have the same problem. I always read for a few minutes before going to bed, and if there’s no reading material available, I have trouble composing myself for sleep. So when I was casting about for a way to describe the process of writing, the phrase “words in a row” popped into my head. Now you know; it’s all Heinlein’s fault.