Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Kill the King...

So once upon a time I had all these thoughts about On Writing. After
finals and school and holidays and all that, now I can't remember them.

Anyone else finish it?

Oh and Lisa, did you attempt Nanowrimo this year? I could post this
on the Cupcakes blog but nobody reads that one anymore.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Telepathy or Schmelepathy?

What do you think about King's idea that he is communicating telepathically to us through his writing? (Sorry, I would have a quote here but I don't have my book with me. Perhaps I'll add one when I get home.)

I am of the opinion that it is more a matter of teleportation (beam me up, Scotty!) because while reading we are often transported to another place (and sometimes even another time). Perhaps telepathy is more applicable with textbooks or other writing designed for learning purposes. Either way, I like his point.

Monday, September 21, 2009

We interrupt this program...

...to point out that today is Stephen King's birthday.

Happy birthday, Stevie King!

Alright, I'm off for the night. I'm going to comment on your post in the morning, Lisa. I was totally going to post that TV quote. How funny.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

TV and Storytelling

"I am, when you stop to think of it, a member of a fairly select group: the final handful of American novelists who learned to read and write before they learned to eat a daily helping of video bullshit."
pg. 22

How do you think watching TV helps or hurts writing and storytelling? I took a screenwriting class in college and I think film and writing can have some overlap - plot, characterization, show don't tell, etc.

"Let's get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the sky . . ." pg. 25

I'm sure we'll get more into this later, but as an occasional writer, I think this is soooo true. And it means that if you want to write, you have to show up. You have to make the time to sit down in front of the Glowing Screen of Doom, and see what decides to visit, and then write it down. And sometimes it doesn't show up in front of the screen, so having something to write on at all times is important. Very important.

I think a lot of things in life are like that - if you show up, and sit down, certain things will take care of themselves.

"I was ashamed. I have spent a good many years since-too many I think-being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose) someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that's all." pg. 39

So true. And most of us take it too much to heart. Of course, we can tell our friends what we need to hear - that the people who are out there doing it need to keep on doing it, and ignore the peanut gallery. How do you ignore the peanut gallery in life and get on with business?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Writing on Writers who are Writing

I've been reading the chosen selection.

That doesn't sound like a good beginning, does it? It's funny how much sentiment may or may not be conveyed through lines on paper. Or a screen. Oh communication. But isn't that what writing is all about?

I am enjoying it.

But. Yes, there is a but. First I should clarify that I have never read one of Mr. King's books. Never. I know, that makes me a terrible person, or a lousy book-club member or humanitarian, or whatever. Even I, given my natural propensity to things dark and twisted, view it as an oddity. And perhaps I shall pick one up and read it (suggestions? What is the best, or most important fictional work of Little Stevie King?).

Until then, I have only this nonfiction piece to go on - which is, no doubt, different than a writer's fictional work - and thus I wonder about your comment, Jennie, that Lisa was correct about the author's nonfiction writing. Please explain, if you don't mind.

Back to the but. But, I find I like his accounts of the actual writing experience best. Perhaps that's what I'm most interested in, given it is a book by a writer about writing. Some of the early accounts of his childhood experiences seem a little... derived.

I mean yes, children certainly do stupid things. Everyone has tales of their ridiculous childhood (at least most boys do, I'm not sure about the female population). But some of the moments were predictable and contrived to me. The poison ivy, for example. Every boy scout has a tale of someone they knew doing some such, true or not. It's a childhood urban legend, and I saw it coming a mile off. Perhaps these moments are completely true, but I also have to guess at the nature of a writer, who is by definition, a liar. Writers might like to pretend that they're achieving truth through recombination of experience, of art, of ideas - and in a metaphysical sort of manner, yeah that may be accurate. But life doesn't make for great art, great story arcs, or encapsulated themes. That's why it requires recombination by someone with a sense of the desperation innate in humankind to search for meaning in the chaos. And so, writers lie. It works better on paper. And the best of them stab something close to truth, and others... don't.

My point here is, I really like his moments about his ideas, his writing, his creation because to me, those bits feel real. Some of the others that emerge from his foggy childhood read a bit like stories one tells at dinner parties to provoke a reaction, and nobody really cares whether the details are intact since everyone's had a bit too much to drink anyhow.

There. That said, I am enjoying the book. Comments?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Born Writers

I picked up my copy of On Writing last night, and I've only just begun reading it, but I already found something that may be worth a bit of discussion. In the introduction of the first section (after the hilarious forwards), when King is explaining his purpose in writing this book, he says this:
"It is, rather, a kind of curriculum vitae--my attempt to show how one writer was formed. Not how one writer was made; I don't believe writers can be made, either by circumstances or by self-will (although I did believe those things once). The equipment comes with the original package." (pg. 4, Mass Market Paperback)
I pretty much agree with this idea. However, it also somewhat confirms to me what I have long feared about myself. I am not a writer, and I will never be a writer. I wasn't born with the "equipment". King goes on to say that the equipment is not unusual or unique, and that many people have it to varying degrees. I have enough of the skills needed to write a coherent paragraph or even an essay (college proved that to me), but beyond that, I'm pretty sure it's just not there. As much as I wish it was. Ah well. One thing I do know--I am definitely a reader. I'm very much enjoying the book so far. You're right about Stephen King as a nonfiction writer, Lisa.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with Stephen King on this subject? Or do you believe in the power of self-will? ;) There was an LDS prophet--I think it was David O. McKay...or maybe Spencer W. Kimball--who believed that you can learn to do anything if you work hard enough and practice it enough. He had terrible handwriting and worked and worked on it until he won a penmanship award at school. I don't know...if that were true, wouldn't there be more olympic athletes in the world? More Picassos and Beethovens? Clearly, natural ability plays a huge role in things. But I guess there really is part of me that believes (hopes?) that if I tried hard and long enough, I could excel at almost anything. What do you think?

Under Construction

Please excuse the appearance of the blog right now. Lisa and I were experimenting with new backgrounds, and found this one that we both like. However, that leaves us with color and banner issues to be resolved. Paul is going to help me out with it soon, but until then, do any of you have any input? Opinions? Ideas? Let me know.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Why We Crave Horror Movies

So, I actually teach a shortened version of this essay by Stephen King to my MCATers, and the subtle genius of the whole thing is lost on them. Le sigh. Oh well, we want them to be competent at diagnosing weird diseases and removing funny moles or ingrown toenails, I guess it's ok that they don't always get the intricacies of human nature . . . well, hopefully the future psychiatrists understand this essay.

Personally, I adore it. I think it showcases King's talent in a way his fiction can't. (You can only do so much when your sentences have to be at 8th grade reading level. I'm just saying. Semicolons and dashes rock.)

"Why We Crave Horror Movies"
By Stephen King

I think that we’re all mentally ill; those of us outside the asylums only hide it a little better – and
maybe not all that much better, after all. We’ve all known people who talk to themselves, people who sometimes squinch their faces into horrible grimaces when they believe no one is watching, people who have some hysterical fear – of snakes, the dark, the tight place, the long drop . . . and, of course, those final worms and grubs that are waiting so patiently underground.

When we pay our four or five bucks and seat ourselves at tenth-row center in a theater showing a horror movie, we are daring the nightmare.

Why? Some of the reasons are simple and obvious. To show that we can, that we are not afraid,
that we can ride this roller coaster. Which is not to say that a really good horror movie may not surprise a scream out of us at some point, the way we may scream when the roller coaster twists through a complete 360 or plows through a lake at the bottom of the drop. And horror movies, like roller coasters, have always been the special province of the young; by the time one turns 40 or 50, one’s appetite for double twists or 360-degree loops may be considerably depleted.

We also go to re-establish our feelings of essential normality; the horror movie is innately
conservative, even reactionary. Freda Jackson as the horrible melting woman in Die, Monster, Die! confirms for us that no matter how far we may be removed from the beauty of a Robert Redford or a Diana Ross, we are still light-years from true ugliness.

And we go to have fun.

Ah, but this is where the ground starts to slope away, isn’t it? Because this is a very peculiar sort
of fun, indeed. The fun comes from seeing others menaced – sometimes killed. One critic has suggested that if pro football has become the voyeur’s version of combat, then the horror film has become the modern version of the public lynching.

It is true that the mythic “fairy-tale” horror film intends to take away the shades of grey . . . . It
urges us to put away our more civilized and adult penchant for analysis and to become children again, seeing things in pure blacks and whites. It may be that horror movies provide psychic relief on this level because this invitation to lapse into simplicity, irrationality and even outright madness is extended so rarely. We are told we may allow our emotions a free rein . . . or no rein at all.

If we are all insane, then sanity becomes a matter of degree. If your insanity leads you to carve
up women like Jack the Ripper or the Cleveland Torso Murderer, we clap you away in the funny farm (but neither of those two amateur-night surgeons was ever caught, heh-heh-heh); if, on the other hand, your insanity leads you only to talk to yourself when you’re under stress or to pick your nose on your morning bus, then you are left alone to go about your business . . . though it is doubtful that you will ever be invited to the best parties.

The potential lyncher is in almost all of us (excluding saints, past and present; but then, most
saints have been crazy in their own ways), and every now and then, he has to be let loose to scream and roll around in the grass. Our emotions and our fears form their own body, and we recognize that it demands its own exercise to maintain proper muscle tone. Certain of these emotional muscles are accepted – even exalted – in civilized society; they are, of course, the emotions that tend to maintain the status quo of civilization itself. Love, friendship, loyalty, kindness -- these are all the emotions that we applaud, emotions that have been immortalized in the couplets of Hallmark cards and in the verses (I don’t dare call it poetry) of Leonard Nimoy.

When we exhibit these emotions, society showers us with positive reinforcement; we learn this
even before we get out of diapers. When, as children, we hug our rotten little puke of a sister and give her a kiss, all the aunts and uncles smile and twit and cry, “Isn’t he the sweetest little thing?” Such coveted treats as chocolate-covered graham crackers often follow. But if we deliberately slam the rotten little puke of a sister’s fingers in the door, sanctions follow – angry remonstrance from parents, aunts and uncles; instead of a chocolate-covered graham cracker, a spanking.

But anticivilization emotions don’t go away, and they demand periodic exercise. We have such
“sick” jokes as, “What’s the difference between a truckload of bowling balls and a truckload of dead babies?” (You can’t unload a truckload of bowling balls with a pitchfork . . . a joke, by the way, that I heard originally from a ten-year-old.) Such a joke may surprise a laugh or a grin out of us even as we recoil, a possibility that confirms the thesis: If we share a brotherhood of man, then we also share an insanity of man. None of which is intended as a defense of either the sick joke or insanity but merely as an explanation of why the best horror films, like the best fairy tales, manage to be reactionary, anarchistic, and revolutionary all at the same time.

The mythic horror movie, like the sick joke, has a dirty job to do. It deliberately appeals to all
that is worst in us. It is morbidity unchained, our most base instincts let free, our nastiest fantasies realized . . . and it all happens, fittingly enough, in the dark. For those reasons, good liberals often shy away from horror films. For myself, I like to see the most aggressive of them – Dawn of the Dead, for instance – as lifting a trap door in the civilized forebrain and throwing a basket of raw meat to the hungry alligators swimming around in that subterranean river beneath.

Why bother? Because it keeps them from getting out, man. It keeps them down there and me up here. It was Lennon and McCartney who said that all you need is love, and I would agree with that.

As long as you keep the gators fed.

Stephen King's On Writing

Alright - our current book is Stephen King's On Writing, a book I have read but which the rest of you have not. I've been wanting to reread it anyway, so I'm not complaining. :-)

As far as editions go, I have the mass market paperback, copyright 2000. It has the image Jennie has graciously posted for us under Now Reading of the chair and rejection letter. However, I have some sort of hazy memory of a Barnes and Noble shelf with a trade paper version of the book with an identical cover . . . we can always reference sections and numbers within sections, but the book has no table of contents, so if you have the flexibility, grab the mass market edition for ease of referencing stuff.

Actually, here, I made us an incomplete Table of Contents (mass market):
C.V., sections 1-38, pg. 4
What Writing Is, pg. 95
Toolbox, sections 1-5, pg. 102
On Writing, sections 1-16, pg. 134
On Living: A Postscript, sections 1-7, pg. 255

I say incomplete because there are three forewords, a page with amusing contradictory quotes, and an example of editing . . . you shall see. Be sure to look at all the pages, I think you'll enjoy them.

Peter has suggested that when King has a writing exercise suggestion, we gamely try it out. I recall something about a sentence/story starter that King said he would read if you finish it out and send it to him - and I love the idea of being able to whine on the blog about how Stephen King is failing to respond to correspondence. Peter and I will partake in those, perhaps over on the Cupcakes blog, and Jennie can harangue us a teensie little bit every now and then, when she feels like it. Or write too. :-)

So - sally forth and get your paws on a copy and jump in. Post whenever something tickles your fancy or annoys you. And remember to check the blog and comment on others' posts with salient points, or stories of creme brulee disasters, or whatnot.

Over and out, L.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Short Diversion

Hey, Amanda and Peter! Get thee to a bookstore or library, stat! You two must read The Hunger Games and it's brand new sequel Catching Fire. (Amanda- I can't remember if you've read it yet or not.) You will both love it. And Lisa and I need people to rant and rave about it with. They are both incredibly fast reads (a couple hours for Lisa and one James-interrupted afternoon for me) with thrilling, action-packed story lines. It's dark, with quite a bit of gory violence (especially considering it's a YA book), but it is a good story. Very good. More than very good.

Lisa posted a spot-on review on Passage of Swallows of Catching Fire. It's spoiler free, so go ahead and read it. I think book reviews are Lisa's calling in life. I mean, she's been recommending books to me since elementary school, and she has never once disappointed me. We need to spread the word about her new(ish) blog, don't you think?

Really, though. Read them. Even if it means sitting in a Barnes and Noble for a couple hours at a time if you don't want to buy them and the library has a waiting list 100+ people long. It will be time well-spent.

And then we can all freak out together that we have to wait A WHOLE FLIPPING YEAR for the next one. Won't that be fun? :)

Monday, August 31, 2009

It Lives! IT LIVES!

I shall call it - Smith's monster! Ok, not quite the same ring to it. Btw, we need to read Frankenstein sometime. Maybe October?

Peter has requested that we raise this blog from the dead, and Jennie and I are cautiously optimistic. We have determined that it is my turn to pick, and I am planning on doing either Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird or Stephen King's On Writing. Peter, I think I remember that you have Bird by Bird and have not read On Writing. Is that true? Although I'll pick a book I've already read, I don't want it to be something two of us have read. My goal is to pick something somewhat episodic so that we can post while we read without destroying the content of the plot (although the above books have narrative components, there is no plot per se, which I think could be good). Another I idea I had was Saul Williams She which is fun modern poetry, and quite short. That or something similar might be a good pick for the holiday months. :-)

Jennie, is Amanda interested in joining us on this? I need to think if anyone else might like to join the group - possibly my roommates, although I'm not sure they have enough time to commit to it. Perhaps I could open it up to Facebook friends and you could create an entrance exam? Hahaha - I like it.

Ok, that's all for now! And check out my rarely updated reviews blog, Passage of Swallows. I'm posting tonight and will post ASAP once I've gotten my pretty little hands on a copy of Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games. Peter, read it ASAP, it rocks. And you love angry-people-suck-humankind-is-lamepants stories.

Ms. Secretary, tag away, I don't know what to do. ;-)

BTW, what is Frankie doing to Susan from the Discworld series???